Monday 28 January 2013

Movie Review - Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony

The Brony culture has become one of the biggest sources of controversy on the internet since its inception in 2010, when the acclaimed My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic television series began airing in the United States and attracted an audience beyond its targeted young girls due to the appealing art style, voice acting and substantial writing. It seems only natural for such a craze to be documented in a major fashion, and after a long history of funding and expanding, the long awaited fan film Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans of My Little Pony arrived last week to a pleasant success - but is it really as heartwarming as people make out?

The documentary covers the lives of multiple 'bronies' from the USA and UK and their journey to the annual BronyCon event. We get an insight to their lifestyles and how they deal with joining such a controversial fandom - intercut with this are loveable fan animations, where a university professor pony (John DeLancie) sings a lecture to his class about the nature of the fanbase and its various sub cultures, as well as interviews with the cast and crew including Lauren Faust (producer) and Tara Strong (voice of Twilight Sparkle) alongside a handful of first hand convention footage.

The documentary is wonderfully shot and fantastically animated when it comes to those segments, but it is insanely biased to the culture at hand. Nothing negative about the Brony fandom is ever mentioned, aside from a minor (and funny) reference to clopping (Google at your own peril). It feels like the documentary is treating the subject matter as a cure for cancer and enforces an idea that you should feel bad for not liking the show. I for one enjoy it, but I don't like the culture - does that make me a bad person? This film likes to think so.

I can't help but think the main people documented in the film are overreacting in levels beyond measure - most of them claim to have had nothing worth it until MLP came into their life, and this crude use of such melodrama isn't heartwarming in the slightest; more than anything it's just corny and annoying. I admire the passion of the fans and the fantastic charitable work they participate in, but you can not be a Brony and be just as loving. This film really shoves a confused message in your face that being a Brony is the 'perfect life'. I know it points out the flaws of societal acceptance, but it ignores any meaningful criticism of Bronyism and opts to point out acts of violence and hatred upon poor, innocent fans. Yeah, we're not all like that.

It's an entertaining and admirable effort, and one that I truly respect. But it doesn't document the culture of Bronies. Instead, it completely sucks up to them and refuses to tolerate those not accepting of it. This isn't an honest look into the fandom, but a criticism of those who don't like it. Really biased, and an insight into the fandom that isn't so sappy or one sided would've made for a far more enticing watch.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Movie Review - Monsters, Inc. 3D

Three dimensional film has become a huge trend in modern cinema and one that paves the way for a slew of major rereleases that exploit the graphical effect to boost their box office earnings - Disney launched into this trait with The Lion King 3D at the end of 2011 which, despite being nearly two decades old, managed to top $150 million worldwide - making it a roaring success even without its $750 million earnings from previous releases. After Beauty and the Beast hit UK cinemas last year, now comes the first Pixar flick to make use of this trending attribute - Monsters, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. takes place within the fictional city of Monstropolis, where best friends Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) work at the eponymous factory to provide global power through scaring children. Though scaring is an easy feat, it's made clear by the CEO Henry Waternoose (James Coburn) that a single human touch is fatal - making the sudden appearance of a little girl in the factory shock a poor Sulley and force him and Mike to return her to her rightful door before their ruthless rival Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) or the governing Child Detection Agency can stop them.

Pixar's 2001 hit proved to be an innovation for both the company and computer animation in general, with a higher focus on lead animators per character and the immensely tricky task of realistic fur rendering to bring protagonist Sulley to life through CGI. The end result, even twelve years later, is nothing short of stunning - Monsters, Inc. is a colourful and exceptionally beautiful film with fluent animation, fantastic lighting and some impressive visual effects. It's hardly different with the 3D effects, which never hurl any surprises at you and end up being a conservative creator of depth. Half the time I felt like I was watching a brilliant film with sunglasses on.

The cast is mint, with stars Billy Crystal and John Goodman injecting a lot of humour into our main characters (especially the former) and Buscemi portraying a comedic yet cunning villain in the form of Randall Boggs. The late James Coburn also delivers an excellent if short role - I could go on all day about this but the simple fact remains that Monsters, Inc. contains some of the best voice acting in a Pixar hit. Randy Newman also composes a beautiful soundtrack, packed with emotional enrichment and an equal level of memorability. Dare I say, it makes me, er herm, randy. That's disgusting, I apologize.

Though this 3D release is gratuitous and lacking novelty (proven by its disappointing box office run), Monsters, Inc. remains an exceptional film from beginning to end with tons of charm, emotion and visual splendour  You won't be blown away by the tacked on effect and it may not be worth the investment to some, but even getting to relive its glory on the big screen yet again is a delightful treat in itself.

Friday 18 January 2013

Movie Review - Django Unchained

If you're a fan of film or a respectable human being, you know who Quentin Tarantino is - known for his trademarks of non linear storylines, stylistic violence and black humour which thrusted his debut Reservoir Dogs into the world of success, he has since become a trusted filmmaker in the big budget filmmaking sector, maintaining creative control over his personal projects even with huge budgets and all star casts tied to them - it's been three years since the renowned director brought us a genre film of epic proportions, but now he's back in business with his latest Western hit: Django Unchained.

In 1858 United States, oppressed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) is freed from his ruthless owners by dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who requires Django's memory of the brutal Brittle brother murderers to fulfil a recent bounty. Following their success, Schultz hires Django as his bounty hunting assistant having freed him from slavery, eventually leading the two on a long rescue mission at the infamous Candyland plantation where Django's wife (Kerry Washington) remains a slave under the control of the charming but wicked Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Though modest with visual effects, Django Unchained still manages to be a damn fine looking film thanks to expert cinematography and stunning locations. The mountainous regions of the American South along with the expansive greenery of the Candyland plantation, or even the murky Western towns, capture the vibe of the genre perfectly and add up to a visually impressive project. It's all complimented too by a jazzy soundtrack, seamlessly blending an original score and established musical hits.

At 165 minutes, Django Unchained is a monster and one that undeniably does not earn its run time - the film is far too long and could quite easily be cut down by some 45 minutes due to so much squandering and drawn out conversational scenes. You might know that Tarantino is known for scenes of people talking which somehow manage to be exceedingly entertaining, but the effect doesn't consistently work in this film; things can feel unnaturally stretched, especially when it comes to the ending. Thankfully, the majority of Django is brilliantly crafted; it's funny as hell, hell bent on the comic violence and delivers more stunning characters from Tarantino, as well as a fantastic script full of rich dialogue. Jamie Foxx can feel a little bit dull as our eponymous badass, but the acting is also universally excellent - Waltz's performance rivals his stellar role from Inglorious Basterds quite easily and DiCaprio plays a villain ravaged in finesse and charm but with a brimming sense of cruelty dwelling inside.

Django Unchained proves Tarantino is an expert at spanning multiple genres when it comes to his craft, and nobody does it quite like him. But as for his latest project, it's a less substantial and gripping effort than before and one that really doesn't know when to stop when it comes to wrapping up its various plot elements. It's a great laugh and yields that signature Tarantino charm with excellent characters and eclectic dialogue, but the run time really takes its toll and this lack of engaging material across a near three hour film can create the same effect in the audience. A strong effort, but not quite the masterpiece I expected.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Why I Love Pokémon

The newest generation of the famed Pokémon franchise was announced today via Nintendo's first Nintendo Direct of 2013 - its paired versions, Pokémon X Version and Pokémon Y Version are set to be released for the Nintendo 3DS this October across all major regions. While this announcement completely caught me off guard (Generation V is not even two years old outside of Japan), I couldn't help but jizz with excitement - the new 3D visuals, dynamic battle setup and promise of a new, expansive region and 100+ new critters to capture and collect are all promising signs that Generation VI will make me play my 3DS until it overheats and explodes.

So, why am I here today? Well, with Generation VI arriving in just nine months, I feel it's time for my retrospective of one of my favourite video game franchises of all time. As usual, the best place to start is the beginning...

Generation I

Released in Japan as Pokémon Red Version and Green Version in 1996, the localized versions which would later be dubbed Red and Blue did not arrive in shops overseas until the end of 1998 - they were based primarily on Pocket Monsters: Blue, a special edition release of the aforementioned Japanese titles that featured updated sprites and dialogue. These games spearheaded the unique paired releases of Pokémon titles and the gameplay became a phenomenon amongst players - Red, Blue and Green have since sold around 30 million copies worldwide, and you can be sure they'll pop up in many best games ever lists. For me, they reek of nostalgia, but are genuinely fun titles that have aged well - my brother owned both of them but lost Red Version after a while. I myself had the third release, Yellow Version, which featured Pikachu as the mascot. I would often get stuck and confused, which is amusing seeing how linear and user friendly Pokémon really is. Everything from the fantastic 8-bit music to the expansive world of Kanto to even the hilariously odd sprites and glitches leaves a wonderful mark, and I can only hope they soon arrive on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. Make it happen, Nintendo.

Generation II

The second generation of Pokémon took over a year to reach regions outside of Japan once again, but the wait was worth it - Pokémon Gold Version and Pokémon Silver Version introduced players to the world of Johto (which was never previously discovered, despite being right next to Kanto?...) and brings 100 new Pokémon to the table. They are without a doubt part of my personal favourite generation of the series, backed by really good storylines, fantastic Pokémon designs and music which is literally heaven in audial format. The games also expanded beyond the monochrome style of Red and Blue with vibrant colours thanks to the Game Boy Colour, and this allowed for improved character sprites and more appealing landscapes. Even the third iteration of this generation, Pokémon Crystal Version, was the first to feature animated Pokémon sprites, which at the time was very impressive, and all three versions included a real time day/night feature. I was always a big fan of Lugia so Silver was my option - but either way, this generation is simply the finest of the Pokémon timeline. 

Generation III

The third generation of Pokémon still took around four months to bless shops overseas, but compared to the previous generations, this wait was fairly modest - these were the first titles for the Game Boy Advance and consequently used the improved hardware to adopt new mechanics. Double and tag battles were implemented, as well as a greater emphasis on weather and its influence on the battle, with some routes plagued by sandstorms and others by vicious rains. The storyline of these games was incredibly compelling, with the stakes raised higher than ever before as legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre are reawakened; leading to their subsequent battle which threatens the world of land and sea. A third iteration, Emerald Version, was released two years later and was the only version of this generation's original releases that I owned. Though it had a few stinkers in regards to its new Pokémon, Generation III was a fantastic entry to the canon - it makes me feel so old to remember the adverts I saw on TV for it many years ago. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, enhanced remakes of the Generation I classics, also saw a release in this generation, with beefed up graphics and music which made them an even more delightful experience.

Generation IV

Pokémon's next generation once again leapt to new hardware - the Nintendo DS. Pokémon Diamond Version and Pearl Version were released in Japan at the end of 2006 and other territories during Spring 2007 - new concepts that have since become commonplace in Pokémon gameplay include the use of online play, allowing you to battle or trade with other folks over Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, as well as improved 3D graphics, touchscreen controls and over 100 new Pokémon as always. I'll clear this up before confusion arises - I fucking love these games. But they do not leave much of an impact. By that I mean while they are very, very good, they do not build much upon the formula outside of standard hardware improvements, and the online integration is rather primitive. The story also reaches levels of absurdity and so much more could've been done with the DS in terms of visuals. The third release, Pokémon Platinum, came and went for me but the enhanced remakes of Generation II's titles, HeartGold and SoulSilver, proved to be my favourite games of the franchise.

Generation V

The announcement of the Generation V Pokémon games back in early 2010 was one that garnered much interest - having gone from colours to metals to vibrant jewels with past titles, Nintendo leapt back to a more basic contrast with Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version, released at the end of 2010 in Japan and during Spring 2011 in other countries. Not only was the monochrome title choice a point of interest, but so was the very fact that this generation did not leap to a new console - it was once again at home on the Nintendo DS, so it seems odd that they managed to improve so much upon the past releases. Black and White introduced a new dynamic camera in the battle system, fully animated Pokémon sprites, a much greater emphasis on 3D visuals and a narrative that is far more integral to the characters and Pokémon within it - and also one that is incredibly engaging. It also introduced more Pokémon than any other generation, and while it too had a few rubbish ones, the new lineup was universally outstanding. Black and White come incredibly close to being my favourite games of the series, and I highly recommend them to anyone who owns a Nintendo DS. As for their sequels, I haven't played them and am not really fussed, so I can't comment.

That brings my Pokémon retrospective to a closure - I hope you enjoyed it, and will join me and many others in the anticipated wait for X and Y this October! Rejoice!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Most Anticipated Films of 2013

Before 2012 came to a close, I gave you my most loved and hated theatrical releases the year spawned - and now, as a new year begins, so does a new wave of cinema. Without further ado, let's delve into five of my most anticipated films of the next twelve months!

#5 - Django Unchained

Tarantino's latest flick hits UK cinemas this month, though it's already been out in the US for over a week. It's been met with astounding critical success and strong box office takings, and that's no surprise; Tarantino is no stranger to any fan of film, and his unique love for violent aesthetics, rich dialogue and nonlinear storylines have been renowned factors of his many projects. It was summer 2009 when Tarantino last brought us a project of this scale, and it's been too long - bring on January 18!

#4 - Monsters University

Pixar's summer release of the upcoming year once again goes back to one of their established franchises (well, films) but this time reverses the storyline - delving into the college life of characters Mike and Sulley from their famed 2001 hit Monsters, Inc, Monsters University reveals to us their initial rivalry (with Sulley being somewhat of a bully and Mike a nerd) which eventually became friendship. Visually it looks excellent, even with tacked on 3D, but I'm more looking forward to their rendition of these monstrous characters in school life - it's sure to make room for a lot of giggles and wit. Plus, it's Pixar, who will always deliver the best of the best.

#3 - Wreck-It Ralph

Though it hit US theaters in November last year, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph isn't due for a UK release until February - which is annoying to say the least, but not unusual for a Disney flick (it's happened for well over ten years). The film essentially unites a number of gaming icons across the industry, in the same way Roger Rabbit did with animated characters, into the story of Ralph, a video game villain in a local arcade who is determined to prove he can be a good guy. With a worldwide gross of around $276 million at the time of writing, Wreck-It Ralph hasn't quite matched the success of Tangled but is far from a failure - kudos to Disney, I can't wait to see it.

#2 - Iron Man 3

For the third and (probably not) final installment to the Iron Man trilogy that established the Marvel Cinematic Universe, former director Jon Favreua steps down from the helm for Shane Black to take his place in this year's Iron Man 3. This time around, Ben Kingsley portrays our sinister villain in the form of The Mandarin, the leader of the Ten Ring terrorist group that kidnapped Tony Stark in the beginning of Iron Man, and the stakes are higher with Stark seemingly trying to protect Pepper, 'the one thing I can't live without', from the many people who are after his life. In a manner similar to Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 seems to revive the evil organisation present in the first film but in a much more dramatic fashion - even going as far as to have them open fire at Stark's luxurious mountainside home with him and Pepper unarmed inside. Shit. Looks good.

#1 - Man of Steel

Christopher Nolan is done with Batman - but not with DC Comics. It's been seven years since Superman invaded our cinema screens with the mediocre Superman Returns, but director Zack Snyder and producer Nolan are set to bring him back in a grittier and more character driven adaptation, but still with plenty of action. Immediately upon seeing the much darker, textured blue suit (with no red pants!), it's clear this Superman isn't one to point and giggle at; and along with the emotionally powerful trailer from July 2012 as well as the equally stunning one from last month, Man of Steel looks like it's set to be an action packed yet character focused portrayal of a beloved hero, and I can only hope it matches the quality of Nolan's Batman trilogy. Supes deserves it.

So there you go, my most anticipated of 2013. Come July, I will have fulfilled watching them all - it'll be interesting to see how they all pan out. Until then, see you soon!