Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oscar Clip: A Commentary of the Film "Spotlight"

Breaking News!
Batman teams up with the Hulk, Sabretooth, and Irene Adler to bring down a cover-up of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests.
Well, sort of …
Spotlight, a Drama directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy, stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and Rachel McAdams as The Boston Globe’s investigative unit known as “Spotlight”. The team is motivated by their new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) to investigate claims that the Archbishop of Boston knew about a local pedophile priest abusing children and did nothing to stop it. As the team investigates, they unravel a grander cover-up that is massive and world-wide. The series of expose articles they would publish shocked the world and won the team a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for public service.
The movie of their journalistic efforts is rightfully award winning as well. Spotlight is a tactfully done drama with a great ensemble of actors. The film focusses solely on the discussions of the journalists , preferring to allude to the acts of the priests instead of actually showing it. My only critique of the film is how boring it feels. Two hours of office discussions and investigative montages get a little tiresome, despite how well the actors milk emotion out of every scene. The drama and tension can feel forced at times. It’s as if the actors are doing their best to distract you from how boring the movie is, forcing Oscar style performances out of the most mundane of tasks. I believe Mark Ruffalo should be awarded an Oscar for “Most Dramatic Hailing of a Cab”.
Critique aside, Spotlight delivers an emotional tale of what courageous journalism looks like, and the personal sacrifices it takes to get your news to print.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Good and The Bad of Film Nostalgia

     The past month has been a barrage of nostalgic excitement for me. Every few days a new movie trailer came out that teased a rebirth of some of my favorite movies and comic books. I felt like a kid again talking about Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman and Batman, the X-Men, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Warcraft, and Independence Day again with fresh excitement. It’s exciting to feel the imaginative awaken inside in anticipation of going back to familiar fun.
     Then I watched this …

UNCANNY VALLEY (2015) from 3DAR on Vimeo.

     ... and I thought why don’t they make a movie out of this? Come to think of it, why don’t they make something new and original. I’m tired of sequels, prequels and reboots. Where’s the next George Lucas? Where’s the Steven Speilberg of our generation, to give us a new adventures we’ve never imagined before?
     The obvious reason is money. Hollywood isn’t willing to take financial risks anymore, with 90% of the big budget films being based on other material. Whether it’s based on a book, comic, or another movie the source material has a proven profitability. A bestselling book guarantees ticket sales. A movie remake generally attracts fans of the original. With comic books they can assume a percentage of it’s readers will pay to see the movie. An independent script may host a genius story, but it’s financially risky. There’s no data to prove it won’t lose money. And that’s sad.
     Or is it? There was a time when unless you had access to an independent theater or attended film festivals you rarely got to see independent movies. Great Scott, it’s now 2015! After decades of internet growth, independent films are now easily available to anyone willing to simply do the work of looking for them. Even more exciting is computer animation has gotten so affordable many amatuer film makers are capable to produce quality effects from the comforts of their home. It’s worth it to seek them out.
     And is cashing in on our nostalgia such a bad thing? As a fan I’ll scream NO! I mean Star Wars is back, and that’s just awesome. Sequels can provide a new depth to the characters we’ve already come to know and love. We learn more about the world they live in, and experience more of the tone and adventure we enjoy. That said, sequels can also ruin a franchise as often as they invigorate it. Here’s where you probably thought I was going to Matrix bash, but I think Terminator 3 takes the cake on franchise ruiners.
     So what’s the point? I don’t know. I’m torn between my love for my favorite franchises and my desire for original cinema. I’m own worst enemy, complaining about the lack of original films while I stand in line to see the sixth Star Wars sequel. And of the independent, home-made short films I have been watching they’re mostly fan films for these very same franchises. It’s great stuff too. So what do you think? What independent media are you enjoying? Whether it’s fan fiction or original, I could use some suggestions to branch out of my major media funk.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Magic of Cute Droids: A Commentary on Star Wars The Force Awakens

A long time ago, in a decade not too far away … 

Return of the Jedi was released both exciting and depressing the world with what was thought to be the last Star Wars movie. Thirty years later, and through three questionable prequels, we’re finally treated to the film extension we’ve dreamed of. Albeit not from the creator we always imagined would helm it. Nope, we got a sequel directed by J.J. Abrams of lens flare fame. Oh yeah, and it's licensed by Disney. Who would have seen that coming in the 80’s? All that aside, the trailers and commercial evidence raised hopes for a fan driven return to the look and feel of the Star Wars universe we knew and loved.
So did Jar Jar Abrams deliver?
Yes …
    The real question is, can I fully answer that without spoiling it for you? I hope so, but before we move on know that part of the fun of this film is the adventure of not knowing. I myself had one of the surprises spoiled for me, but there’s more than one surprise in store for you. Still, I recommend living under a rock until you see this film.
Still with me? Good, then here’s an attempt at a spoiler free commentary of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Did you like Star Wars: A New Hope? Yeah? Excellent, then you’ll love The Force Awakens. Abrams has learned from his trial and error experience in Star Trek to deliver a Star Wars movie that feels and breaths like the original yet has new personality and life to it. Perhaps giving Star Wars to a new director was the best thing that could have happened for the franchise? After all The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best of the series, was not directed by Lucas. Abrams does a real fan service in this film masterfully mixing a retelling of A New Hope with an introduction of new heroes and villains.
That retelling is interestingly enough this movie’s greatest strength and weakness. It’s a new A New Hope. Like a symphonic cover, The Force Awakens hits note after note of the original that sparked it all. It has a similar plot. It has reluctant heroes who find their motivation to stand up to evil. It has similar spaceship battles. It has cute droids ...
Stop there! BB-8 is pure genius. It’s amazing how they make a bucket of bolts into such a heartwarming character.
While the cookie cutter repetition of A New Hope is a bit of a turn off, it’s done so well with it’s mix of new characters who are appeasing and relatable. It took maybe ten minutes into the movie before Rey and Finn had me on the edge of my seat rooting for them. The Force Awakens also has a modern tone to it that helped stand out alongside it’s accomplished feel of a canon Star Wars film. I have a funny feeling that Abrams used this retelling strategy to comfort and win us fans over to trusting him as he begins to take us down a new and dark path into the Star Wars universe.
I left this movie extremely satisfied, and yet so hungry for more. Maybe there was some subliminal messaging in the film, because I now crave more Star Wars. I want to read the books. I want to learn more about the new family dynamic. I want to play some video games. Star Wars is back, and I’m excited for what’s to come. This next few years is going to be a great new chapter for Star Wars fandom!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Tribulation (Early Demo)

     It's been too long ... a year in fact, but the time has come! I have access to my musical equipment. Let the jams begin!

     I couldn't even wait to put this out. This is the first new track I've started working on.

     Man it feels good to make music again!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Classic 80's Toys We Might See in TMNT 2

When I was a kid I wasn't a kid, I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! I did enjoy the TV show, but the center of my childish focus was the toys. All my favorite childhood TMNT memories were from my pretending and playing in that ninja turtle world of my imagination. Even when I first saw the 1990 movie I thought where are my favorite toys? Where's the Turtle Van? Where's the Mousers? Where's the wacky inventions of Donatello?
Then I grew up (arguably) and entertainment became all about story and character development. I know, boring right? 2014 arrives with a new TMNT movie comes where the turtles are ugly, the story is full of plot holes, and the characters are as dry as the cheesy jokes they spat yet somehow I enjoyed it. I even left that theater smiling a bit. How is this possible?
    Childhood Connection.
    The style and tone of the film reminded my senses of watching the 80’s TMNT cartoon of when I was a kid. And as ugly as the turtles were, they reminded me of my old toys. They had accessories galore and they threw themselves around like a child imagines his toys fighting when he throws them around. Now it’s 2015 and there’s a new trailer for a second TMNT that looks to feature even more action inspired by the toys and television show of my generation.
    So to explore this idea here’s a listing of some of my favorite 80’s TMNT toys I think we might see come to life in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

The Gang is All Here

    Out of the Shadows will be the first TMNT movie to feature every character of the original launch of toys. This is mostly due to it finally featuring Shredder's misfit sidekick's Bebop and Rocksteady.
    "Bringing the Mohawk back, good for you.”


    This was a skateboard vehicle that had a large propulsion fan on the back, and a spring loaded kick attack on the front. It was a huge toy, but a fun one knocking bad guys over with it’s foot attack. While we won’t see this version of a skateboard in the film, we do see Michelangelo always having a skateboard strapped to his back. Plus I could have sworn I saw his skateboard boosted with rocket power in the first movie, which again reminded me a bit of this old toy.

    Baxter Stockman

    Baxter was a pretty lame character in the old cartoon show, but as a toy (with the help of our imagination) he was awesome. He looked gruesome and could fly, always a plus for kid’s play. He was one of my favorite villain toys to play with. While the Baxter of TMNT 2 looks to be more influenced by the original comic book version of the character, I’m hoping we’ll see a mutation into the gruesome fly of my childhood.

    Another hope for having Baxter Stockman finally in the movie franchise is to see the mousers come to life. These toys were awesome as they had mechanical chompers and were big enough to play pretend with in role-playing scenarios. Plus they’re a classic foe for Master Splinter. There’s no evidence that we’ll see these in the new movie but a geek can hope.

Party Wagon / Pizza Thrower

   One of the scenes from the new trailer that reminded me most of my old toys was the scene with the turtle’s retro-fitted dump truck that shoots sewer lids at the bad guys.
    My memory failed me a bit, but I smiled and thought this is just like the old turtle van that shot man-hole covers! It’s more of a combination of two old toys, the Party Wagon and the Pizza Thrower.
    Still it’s a fun idea, and I hope for the new generation that they’re releasing toys of this new vehicle that can shoot disks like that.

    While it’s pure speculation, the opening of the new trailer has my hopes up for an inclusion of Dimension X to the movie franchise. And what would a movie with Dimension X be without our favorite wise-cracking brain Krang? I can’t really explain why this toy was a favorite of mine. He didn’t come with the classic body suit, and eventually I lost the robot legs (as most kids I knew did). Yet Krang himself somehow always hung around in my toy chest. He makes for a great mastermind in any childhood imagined plot, and was a classic enemy for the turtles. I’m wondering though if they are going to bring in Krang, would he be inspired by the 80’s cartoon or would they just introduce his species like the original comic book? What do you think?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Splendor: A Splendid Game for the Entire Family

    In a time where the classic board games of our past have turned digital, taking away from the fun and education of simple math, you might be searching for an new alternative to games like "Monopoly" or "Life" for your family. If you're a fan of Renaissance era artwork and nobility, then search no further. There is "Splendor".
    Published by Space Cowboys and designed by Marc Andre, "Splendor" is a resource management game where the players are gem merchants competing to buy gems, mines, and shops for prestige. The first player to reach 15 prestige points by the end of a round wins the game. During their turns players can collect gems, buy cards (which represent various mines, transportation, and shops), or claim a hold on cards to prevent other players from claiming them. Players must choose wisely what gems they do collect, as the game's supply is limited to 40 chips which sets the competitive tone between the players for achieving their win. As the players gain properties eventually they can earn visits from notable nobles of the game, who also add prestige points to the players. The gameplay quickly gains speed and momentum as the gem chips start to dwindle on the board as well as the property cards. This brings a real sense of excitement to the game as the predictable winner can suddenly find himself losing as strategies play themselves out in the final rounds of the game.
  The artwork, by artist Pascal Quidault, is superb and gives the game a painted elegancy that a Renaissance styled board game demands. For a price varying from $20 to $30 depending on the retailer, the game's pieces of 40 gem chips, 90 cards, and 10 noble tiles are of a sturdy quality. "Splendor" brings an edge of speedy gameplay and competitive spite to a game genre that can sometimes be simplistic and boring. But much like the Renaissance period it represents, "Splendor" excites the senses with both it's bright nobility and it's dark greed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

You Get What You Pay For: A Review of the Nextbook Ares 11

    Back in my early twenties, when I was inexperienced … oh who am I kidding! Back when I was young and dumb I used to buy everything in the cheap, store brand versions. That included shoes, which I used to buy from Walmart for $10. I didn’t care how bad they were, ten dollars was a great deal I couldn’t pass up for work shoes. I was just going to tear them up anyway, right? That’s right and tear them up I did. Every month those cheap shoes had to be replaced with another cheap pair. Well it’s only ten dollars, surely I can spare that every month but after eight months of replacing these cheap shoes I realized how I had spent what I could have spent on one pair of good shoes to last the whole year. And if you include the gas I spent to go to Walmart seven additional times, really the cheap shoes ended up costing me more in the long run. It was a lesson I learned the hard way but the fact is you get what you pay for, and it’s wise to invest in quality.
    Wait, I clicked this link for a review of the Nextbook Ares 11! What the heck does this guy’s stupid shoe story have to do with anything …”
    The Nextbook Ares 11 is the Walmart store brand of tablets, and like those shoes you get what you paid for. From the box it looks comparative and promising for a $197.00 price tag. It has a sleek look to it’s design, with the blue edging and blue backlight to the keyboard. It has 64GB of storage which can be extended to 128GB with the use of a Micro SD card expansion. The tablet has a crisp looking 11.6” display running at a 1366x768 pixel resolution. There’s a modest but capable Intel BayTrail-T CR Quad-Core 1.83 GHz CPU and a GEN7 GPU processor inside. One of the greatest selling points for me at it’s price is the inclusion of a backlit keyboard attachment. And the tablet has lots of ports including 2 USB ports in the keyboard, a Micro HDMI port, a Micro USB port, and also the Micro SD slot I already mentioned. It runs on Android’s Lollipop 5.0 operation system. Oh did I mention it’s under $200!! What a deal!
    Then  we get home with it and start to use it, and the shoe begins to wear thin quickly.
    The first issue with the device is memory. It can handle singular tasks fairly well with a bit of longer load time than your average tablet, but once you try to run multiple Apps at once the background apps begin to shut down. For example when facebook’s Messenger App pops up with a message the App can shut down as you're in the middle of typing your reply. You have to stop what you’re doing and load the App as the main application of focus to have a chat session. This is especially annoying if you’re someone like me who likes to listen to music while you browse the Internet or type documents in your word processor. I’ve fiddled with the settings as much as the OS allows. I’ve minimized my Apps to just two, the music and my simple word processor, and still after about a minutes time of typing the music quits. So kiss multitasking goodbye!
    The rest of the issues seem minor again considering the tablet is so modestly priced. Yeah it’s bulky and gets hot. Sure the keyboard is a little awkward to use and the mouse pad actually gets in the way if you’re typing too fast. I consistently hit the mousepad with my spacebar thumb, popping my typing text to a random spot on the top of the screen. The speakers are a joke, as is the camera but what’s my battle cry here … you get what you paid for. The load times can linger on, and the gaming performance is a bit laggy on the graphically intense games.
    Did I mention the bang for your buck? For singular tasks it gets the job done and the display is very nice all things considered. Video play is bright and crisp, as long as your video App is the singular application running. The keyboard setup is very handy for a writer like me, with an easy detachment to switch the tablet to a convenient, but heavy, reading device. For a Walmart brand device it could be worse, but one could easily argue it could be better. Is it a worthy investment, hell no! But for someone who’s struggling financially it offers some nice features that the $200 market usually doesn’t get. Choose wisely because, one more time, you get what you paid for.