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Category: Film & Television

Review | The Willoughbys

Posted in Film & Television

The Willoughbys went completely under my radar, not so surprising I suppose when you consider that it’s an animated film that doesn’t fall under the ever-encroaching umbrella of Disney. This in itself was quite a nice surprise as most non-Disney animated films tend to have a completely different vibe about them, such is the case with The Willoughbys.

Based on Lois Lowry’s novel of the same name, The Willoughbys follows the story of the neglected Willoughby children who hatch a plan to escape the thrall of their terrible parents by orphaning themselves – yes, you read that correctly, and it wouldn’t be an adventure if that plan didn’t turn out to be a needlessly elaborate plot – which it is, but that’s part of the fun of course.

Like so many animated films before it, The Willoughbys is based on a novel.

The Willoughby children consist of Tim, the rational eldest, Jane, the fun-loving middle child and the creepy twins named Barnaby (yes, both are named Barnaby). Tim is also obsessed with the once-proud history (and mustaches) of the Willoughby family, and wishes to recapture that lost grandeur however impossible that may be, his parents being the biggest obstacle of course.

One day, a baby is dropped off at the gates of the Willoughby house, and news of yet another child prompts the Willoughby parents to kick out all their children who may return provided they get rid of the infant. Needless to say, this puts all kinds of things into motion, including the idea of creating a travel brochure of dangerous places that would lure the parents to certain doom, thus orphaning the children…just as they wanted.

The Willoughbys is narrated by a blue cat (voiced by Ricky Gervais), adding a nice storybook feel to the atmosphere, further enhanced by the beautiful storybook-esque animation of the movie. While the overall story certainly lacks the scope of say your typical Disney animation or story of it’s ilk such as A Series of Unfortunate Events, it is a heart-warming and enjoyable tale all round, even if some of the plot devices – such as the baby at the doorstep are a bit clunky (the baby is literally just a trigger to progress the story and has no real bearing on the welfare of the Willoughby children.

I’ve never heard of Bron Studios however, looking at their Wiki page, they seem to have released many, many films since 2010 so it may be worth taking a look at their library, you never know what you might find. In conclusion, Netflix’s latest animated film while certainly worth a watch, leans a bit too much into style over substance as while its animation is undoubtedly delightful, there isn’t enough here to warrant repeated viewing.

Score: C

Review | Avenue 5

Posted in Film & Television

I’ve had Avenue 5 in my downloads list for quite sometime now but somehow managed to put off watching it until now, it seemed my wife and I reached the point where we’d caught up with all the weekly shows as well as the binge-worthy ones. I believe I presented it as – “Well, might as well check this one out, it’s like the Orville, but with a luxury cruise ship instead of an exploratory one…oh, and it has House in it and Josh Gad – Gaston’s right-hand in the live-action Beauty and the Beast.”

That was enough to sell it – so we watched it all in two days.

So some important things to know, season one consists of 9 half-hour episodes, it ends leaving you wanting more and HBO have already renewed it for a second season – this last point is especially important due to how season one ends, so it’s better to know this going in for obvious reasons – especially given the cutthroat nature of prime spots, viewership numbers and all that other shit that goes on in the background that pretty much controls the fate of your favourite shows.

So why write an piece on this show in particular? Well, I enjoyed Avenue 5, it’s light-hearted yet clever at the same time, and the melting pot of characters including Hugh Laurie (obviously) make this the perfect distraction for the COVID-19 induced lock-down most of us seem to find ourselves in. Besides, black-comedy space shows are welcomed amongst the wealth of Star Trek reboots, Star Wars sequels and other endless space-operas trying to make their mark in the sci-fi department. Seth MacFarlane had the right idea with The Orville – a show that’s certainly humourous, but at the same time, oozes charisma, wit and has a penchant for clever story-telling.

So, without giving too much away – Hugh Laurie plays Ryan Clark, captain of the luxury cruise spaceship Avenue 5. Despite having to placate the thousands of spoiled, self-absorbed and often-times just plain shitty passengers (there’s a Karen on board, *eek*), the nightmare is compounded when the ship’s engineer is impaled to death and the ship itself is knocked off course, turning an 8 week journey into a 3 year nightmare.

Thankfully for us, this creates the perfect condition for humour as the funny and quite-frankly ubsurd (at times) interactions of Herman Judd (Josh Gad) – billionaire owner of the Avenue 5 whose name is quite literally plastered all over the ship, Head of Customer Relations, Matt Spencer (Zach Woods, Silicon Valley), no-nonsense Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura) and second engineer Billy McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow) all play off of one another beautifully, oh, and not forgetting the absolutely deplorable Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front), who as you can imagine really lives up to being a Karen.

So why haven’t you heard of Avenue 5 you might ask yourself? Fuck all marketing from what I can see and relatively low IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores are most likely the cause, but don’t let the idiotic opinions of aggregation sites deter you, Avenue 5 is an enjoyable watch, that opens itself up to a lot of potential for upcoming seasons should this cruise ship manage to navigate itself up and above the ocean of shitty, heavily-marketed mediocrity that seems to so-often plague our screens.

Score: B+

Game of Thrones – A Retrospective [Spoilers, Ahoy!]

Posted in Film & Television

Ever since it first aired back in 2011, Game of Thrones quickly became the most watched and easily the best series ever made as its viewership continued to grow with each passing season.  Now it’s 2017 and we have reached the end of the 7th season with one final season scheduled to hit our screens sometime next year.

Keeping in line with a 10-episode structure since season 1, fans (myself included) were disheartened to hear that Season 7 would only consist of 7 episodes.  Thankfully, my spirits were raised given just how good this season proved to be as it once again retained (increased certainly) its ultra-high production value and concluded with a feature-length final episode.

I have also read that season 8 will consist of 6 feature-length episodes so it will undoubtedly be the spectacle everyone expects it to be.  Given the fact that we now have to wait a year for this fantasy epic to conclude, I’ve decided to re-watch GOT from the beginning and possibly begin reading the novels, although since season 6, the series started to diverge quite a bit from the novels.  I would also like to ensure that I finish Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before the film adaptation releases next year as well as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (before I watch the much-talked about series) although time is not always so merciful.

Needless to say, there were also many revelations revealed in season 7 as well as the very satisfying death [finally!] of the slippery Petyr Baelish.  The Night King’s newly-acquired frost dragon destroys The Wall – a colossal fortification that stretches for 300 miles and is 700 feet tall, which has kept the undead out of the Seven Kingdoms for centuries and Jon Snow is revealed to actually be Aegon Targaryen who ends up sleeping with his aunt – fan favourite, Daenerys Targaryen.

Further to the popularity of the show, The Hound has inadvertently spawned a new meme/fan-favourite in the form of “Dumb Cunt” a bad-ass wight (season 7, episode 6) that even has his own discussion thread here.

‘Stark sisters’ Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams have also found additional popularity in the form of their hilarious carpool karaoke antics, so all-in-all, The Game of Thrones has proven to be something of a phenomenon. Hell, just Google any of the actor’s names and you will find a multitude of articles pinned to the landing page.

Game of Thrones is so popular that it even has a presence in other high profile shows such as The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon and Leonard purchased a replica of Longclaw which proceeded to become a permanent fixture in their apartment.

There is just simply too much to talk about when it comes to Game of Thrones and I’m pretty certain the phenomenon has been the subject of many student’s thesis’ exploring the sociological impact it’s had and so forth but the simplest piece of advice I can offer is that if you have even the faintest hint of interest in the fantasy genre, that you check out Game of Thrones – it’s not overly fantastical in the beginning as it slowly introduces the supernatural/magical elements as the story progresses so its accessible to both seasoned fantasy fans and novice watchers alike.  In closing, I suggest that you just don’t form any attachments to the characters too soon as everyone is fair game in Game of Thrones.

Review | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted in Film & Television

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Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, epic space-opera

Director/s: J.J. Abrams

Running Time: 135 mins

Budget: $200 million

Released: 16 December 2015

Plot:

Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

 Review:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably one of the most anticipated films in the last decade (since 2005’s Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith), and after many teasers and much hype it is finally here.  With new and old faces alike and promises of a back to basics, practical effects-driven Star Wars experience, The Force Awakens promises to undo the damage that the prequel trilogy has done to the franchise’s credibility with director J.J. Abrams at the helm.  Backed by Disney’s inexhaustible financing, the 200 million dollar  sci-fi epic is a visual spectacle and opens a wonderful new chapter to the Star Wars universe.

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So the first paragraph pretty much tells you that The Force Awakens is good, and it is – real good, and if you were able to avoid the hype machine then you will probably have enjoyed this film even more.  I make a point of limiting my trailer watching to the odd teaser only as trailers have a way of spoiling films in my opinion, don’t believe me, then check out the Rise of the Silver Surfer teaser trailer which revealed the entire Human Torch/Silver Surfer chase scene – that was the defining moment for me.  Anyway, I digress, as a huge Star Wars fan I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens and it definitely had that nostalgic, classic Star Wars feel to it although it’s still not as brilliant as the originals, least of all Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

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So let’s start with the good stuff.  Firstly, fans have been clamoring for that original Star Wars feel since Return of the Jedi, while I for one did enjoy the prequel films, many people did not.  J.J. Abrams has managed to produce a film that is something of a love-note or ode to fans of the first trilogy.  Abrams’ attention to detail has enabled him to add all the essential ingredients to The Force Awakens that was sorely lacking from the prequels with the result that we are given a true Star Wars experience.  The acting is spot on, the effects are amazing and most of all, the film is just plain fun.

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So what’s it all about then? Well without giving too much away – The Galactic Empire has been succeeded by The First Order, armed with a new breed of Stormtrooper, Star Destroyers and the mysterious Kylo Ren, The First Order wishes to seek out a droid named BB-8 which holds the key to finding Luke Skywalker, who has since gone into exile after failing to re-build the Jedi Order.  A scavenger named Rey discovers BB-8 and together with Finn – an ex-stormtrooper, Han Solo and Chewbacca, they set off to help the rebel cause and put an end to The First Order’s new Starkiller base.

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So all-in all a pretty solid premise however, in an effort to re-create the original Star Wars flavour, The Force Awakens borrows heavily from A New Hope, and this is one of the key points of criticism of the film. It follows the original formula a little too closely, as broken down below:

  • Luke Skywalker, farm boy on desert planet forced to leave his home to find his destiny | Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet forced to leave her home to find her destiny.
  • Both Luke and Rey cross paths and join forces with Han Solo and Chewbacca
  • The Galactic Empire is embroiled in a battle with rebels | The First Order is embroiled in a battle with rebels.
  • R2D2 carries crucial information to the rebel cause, as does BB-8.
  • Both films have planet-sized world-ending weapons, namely The Death Star from the original trilogy and the new Starkiller base of the First Order…
  • …which leads to the fact that both bases have exposed weaknesses susceptible to a small rebel attack force.
  • Darth Vader | Kylo Ren

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So while there are a lot of similarities, The Force Awakens is still a great film, and a great gateway for the newer generation to experience the old Star Wars nostalgia so many veteran fans will tell you of.  The other criticism is that Kylo Ren is a rather weak villain, a poor facsimile of Darth Vader. While this may be true, as Vader was definitely on a different level, I believe that Kylo Ren was purposely made to be weak, as he struggles to embrace the dark side of the force and follow in Vader’s footsteps.  It’s also worth noting that Kylo Ren is undoubtedly being groomed for an ‘ascension’, no doubt in the next couple films, and I think that’s where we’ll really see his power and true potential as a worthy villain.

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Furthermore, there is a lot to like about The Force Awakens – the TIE Fighters, X-Wings, Millennium Falcon and various nostalgic locales (akin to Endor and Hoth) combined with fresh faces and just enough fan service (Han, Chewy, the Falcon), make for a great sci-fi experience and needless to say everything is looking flawless thanks to big-budget nature of the film.  The Force Awakens feels like the true continuation of the Star Wars Saga, not that I’m discounting the prequels, only that the prequels seem far removed (almost like a different series of films) from the dusty, retro-future styling of the originals and Episode VII.

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Conclusion:

So were I to nit-pick, I’d say it would have been nice to have seen a bit more lightsaber action, at its heart, The force Awakens is a space opera and is rather devoid of the epic lightsaber duels we have come to expect, although I expect they will become more frequent in the upcoming sequels and apart from the similarities with A New Hope, I can’t really fault The Force Awakens, it’s a solid sci-fi epic and worthy chapter to the Star Wars mythos.  Highly recommended.

Score | A

Review | Ant-Man

Posted in Film & Television

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Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, comic-book adaptation

Director/s: Peyton Reed

Running Time: 117 mins

Budget: $130 million

Released: 29 June 2015

Plot:

Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.

Review:

Admittedly, Ant-Man was one of the Marvel films that I put on the back-burner, having no real desire to rush out to the cinema and see it as I would with say, The Avengers or Iron Man.  Indeed, Ant-Man doesn’t really have the cash-cow potential of the ‘bigger’ (sorry, couldn’t resist…) Marvel heroes, but that’s not to say that Ant-Man doesn’t deserve recognition as this film is extremely enjoyable and has all the right ingredients for a successful superhero entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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The premise is a simple one, soon after ending a stint in prison, long-time cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) goes back to his ways after he struggles to maintain employment due to his shaky history.  A heist goes “sour” after Scott breaks into an old vault that seems to have nothing of worth save for a strange suit and helmet which he steals anyway.  Turns out the suit belongs to Dr. Hank Pym, a brilliant scientist who has designed a special serum which works in conjunction with the suit allowing the wearer to shrink in scale and increase in strength.  Together with Dr. Pym and his daughter – Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Scott must master the suit’s power and infiltrate Pym Technologies in order to steal (and destroy) a prototype serum (reverse-engineered) which Dr. Pym’s former protégé – Darren Cross, wishes to weaponize for military application.

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As expected, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is in the role of antagonist and also has his own prototype suit (intended for soldiers) – The Yellowjacket (a Yellow Jacket being a type of predatory wasp) which he will use to battle Ant-Man with.  Ant-Man is definitely on a smaller scale (again, couldn’t resist) compared to films like Guardians of the Galaxy and the aforementioned Avengers, there’s no world-ending premise or alien overlords but Stark is name-dropped several times as is The Avengers so much so that at one point Scott goes toe-to-toe with one of them.

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“…it’s clear that Marvel wish to fully integrate each one of their heroes into the MCU however minor they may be…”

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Hope is Scott’s love interest in the film (though initially the relationship is antagonistic, as expected) and is set to become Wasp for the sequel – Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018).  Ant-Man will also play a role in Captain America: Civil War so it’s clear that Marvel wish to fully integrate each one of their heroes into the MCU however minor they may be.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Hank Pym was originally the creator of Ultron in the comics however, it was decided to cast Tony Stark as the killer-robot’s father as the producer’s felt there would have been too many ‘scientist characters’ vying for screen time in Age of Ultron.  It’s also worth noting that in the comics, Scott Lang was the second Ant-Man, Hank Pym being the first (having created the super-suit and so forth).

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Perhaps the strongest aspect of Ant-man is its humour.  Paul Rudd does a fantastic job of keeping the audience engaged and entertained, whether it’s banter between allies or smack-talk against foes, Ant-Man will have you chuckling throughout the film’s duration.  Michael Douglas did a good job of portraying Hank Pym and while Darren Cross was definitely not in the same league as the likes of Ultron, Thanos and the other big bads, he did a fine job keeping us entertained as the malicious ex-protégé with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.  It’s also worth noting that this film did a stellar job of making us care about ants (or perhaps one in particular) and managed to use them to great comedic effect at certain points.

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In terms of visual-effects, Ant-man is top-notch.  The shrinking effect is implemented well and all the ‘giant’ environments are wonderfully done, reminding me of the classic film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids – a film that I found utterly captivating and engrossing as a child.  Ant-Man managed to capture some of that aforementioned nostalgia for me (especially since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids also featured an ant ‘hero’).  The Ant-Man suit has also been brought to life wonderfully although, the central colours of the suit have been reversed – the primary colour now being black, accentuated by red on the chest and shoulders. Undoubtedly, this change was done in order to streamline the suit’s transition to the silver screen.  Needless to say, the Ant-man’s Formicidae compatriots are animated brilliantly too.

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Conclusion:

In conclusion, Ant-Man is a great addition to the MCU roster.  It’s funny, action-packed and certainly does its comic-book namesake justice.  Even though Ant-Man isn’t in the same league as the other flashier Marvel films, it holds its own, offering a hugely entertaining and interesting adventure despite the various predictable plot elements present here.

Score | B

One-Punch Man | ワンパンマン

Posted in Anime, and Film & Television

Not since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann have I enjoyed an anime as much as One Punch Man.  Like many anime series’ before it, One Punch Man started out as a manga [漫画] – but not in the typical sense mind you, One Punch Man started out as a web comic in 2009 (ongoing) created by ONE (a pseudonym obviously), which he serializes on his own website, meaning he doesn’t get paid for it.  ONE is a manga artist in a hobbyist capacity, however, he has reached a level of success that many professional manga artists would be envious of after One Punch Man went viral surpassing 7.9 million hits by June 2012.

Yusuke Murata illustrates a digital remake of the manga series which has since been licensed for an English remake by Viz Media, which brings us to the anime adaptation which began airing last month.  Currently, 5 episodes have been released and I assure you that each one of them has been awesome.

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As pictured, the anime adaptation does a good job of reproducing the manga’s art style as well as capturing Saitama’s plight of finishing every opponent with a single blow.

One Punch Man centres around the story of Saitama, an exceptionally powerful ‘hero’ who battles countless villains and monsters who find their way into City Z, defeating them effortlessly in a single punch.  Unfortunately, Saitama’s immense power has made him bored and so he is constantly seeking out stronger opponents in the hopes that they may provide a decent challenge for him.

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I have yet to read the manga, and as far as the series goes for the moment, the source of Saitama’s power seems to be a complete mystery as his self-proclaimed source of strength is certainly questionable, as Genos (Saitama’s disciple) points out.  Saitama claims that he trained for 3 years (100 squats, 100 push-ups and a 10km run each day) to the point where he became so powerful that he went bald.  However, as determined in the series, his training regime is of moderate difficulty for the average person and would certainly not amount to the level of power that Saitama exudes, so I have my suspicions that Saitama is something else all together.

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One Punch Man has the perfect combination of humour and action making for an extremely fun viewing experience.  For the most part, Saitama is portrayed in an odd, potato-headed style that admittedly took a little while to get used to, but worry not for the moment he starts fighting, the visual style adjusts to match the intensity of the action.  The battle sequences are wonderfully animated in a crazy Naruto-esque style which is then offset by gruesome bouts of ultra-violence as monsters get shredded and torn apart indiscriminately in fountains of blood and viscera.  The level of violence creates a nice contrast to the subject matter which you’d be forgiven for thinking was purely comedy.  On the subject of comedy, Saitama puts out facial expressions that rival Great Teacher Onizuka’s, accentuated by Saitama’s ridiculous costume and overall attitude to any given situation.

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Blood and gore ensue as Saitama dispatches enemies with minimal effort.

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Saitama prior to his training.

Interestingly enough, Yusuke Murata entered a competition at age 12, in order to design Mega Man villains and won twice, and it’s interesting because like Mega Man, Genos is a cyborg-type character having been developed by a very Doctor Light-esque type scientist so perhaps it’s just mere coincidence that Murata would find himself involved in such a project.  Another key aspect of One Punch Man is that no one seems to know who he is with the result that Saitama receives no recognition at all, and in fact at one point in the series he and Genos enroll in a  Hero Test Exam with the result that Genos scores higher than Saitama because there are people after him/monitoring him who aren’t even aware of Saitama’s existence.

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The typical expression of Saitama’s enemies – dumb-founded and confused as monsters, aliens, mad scientists and more are all systematically defeated.

It’s worth mentioning that the opening sound track is one of the best that I’ve heard in a long time, composed by the Japanese group known as JAM Project, the opening track, entitled – The Hero!!, is reminiscent of Maximum the Hormone exhibiting the same amount of crazy, unrelenting energy and power synonymous with the band.  So do yourself a favour and pick up JAM Project’s single – The Hero!!

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Yes, in case you were wondering , that is indeed a kunai stuck in the back of the big guy’s head…

In conclusion, the first 5 episodes have really been outstanding and if they can keep up the momentum throughout the course of the series, then One Punch Man is set to be one of the greats.  I will make a point of reading the manga too (picked up the first 8 volumes) as it will no doubt be just as crazy as this anime adaptation.

So if you’re looking for something fun, yet action-packed, you can’t go wrong with One Punch Man.