Thursday, May 22, 2014

My 2014 Summer Movie Ventures #2

Written: May 17th-22nd, 2014
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; very passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit... and occasionally movie watcher from time to time.  So my 2014 summer movie experience started with a sequel of a reboot in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so what better choice to watch next than a reboot of a movie that's been around for a long time... sixty years in fact.  This is 2014's Godzilla, but first the trailers that played beforehand.
<----trailers---->
Lucy - This looks like it could be a very good movie with an interesting premise behind it; plus Scarlett Johansonn and Morgan Freeman are always fun actors to watch.  Also, I'd like to see where it all goes with all the sci-fi qualities and aspects.  What would happen if you could tap into 100% of your brain.
 
The Giver - I read Lois Lowry's novel once back in middle school, I own a copy of it, and I remember having liked it.  The trailer that I saw did not look anything like the novel I read; I don't care if Jeff Bridges is in it, this addition to the YA genre looks like it's going to bomb.
 
Interstellar - Christopher Nolan's latest feature that he's currently working on has got an emotionally enriching and very good-looking trailer.  The premise seems interesting, and it is just highly intriguing in terms of everything.  Oh, and what's a Nolan movie without Michael Caine in it?  It's nice to see that Anne Hathaway will work with him again after The Dark Knight Rises.  I'm curious to see it this November.
 
Edge of Tomorrow - Another trailer that's got me sold based on the premise, this one involves Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt as they relive the same moment after they die, only they get smarter and wiser.  I wouldn't mind watching this one.
 
Deliver Us from Evil - Since Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger did not make its profit in theatres last summer, producer Jerry Bruckheimer parted ways with Disney, and his first non-Disney producing  endeavor in a very long time claims to be based on "actual events" that "were kept under wraps until now".  This looks like crap, I'll say it right now, at least that's how I felt when I saw the trailer.  I thought that it kind of showed the whole movie and relied on cheap scares.  Also it's too damn dark to see.
 
How to Train your Dragon 2 - I loved the original that came out four years ago and I really cannot wait for this one to come.  It looks so colorful and fun and introduces new characters and I'm highly looking forward to this one.
 
Into the Storm - This has got to be one of the vaguest trailers I've seen in some time.  So it starts off with "This sound" and then says "You won't forget" or something similar, and then it just cuts to people getting swallowed up and/or trying to get away by twisters, which look nothing like a storm but a supernatural disaster.  The color tone was also turquoise blue-ish, and while I don't think it looks terrible it doesn't convince me, simply put.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Godzilla (2014)
Director: Gareth Edwards | Rated: PG-13 | Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 | Length: 2h3m
Saw on May 17th
 
It's incredible that Godzilla has been around for six decades now and how much impact it's had on everyones' lives.  ...  Let me rephrase that: Godzilla, known as Gojira in native Japan, was one of those iconic movies that's inspired and enthralled millions, even though the effects do not hold up very well; but it has introduced the world to the "king of monsters" himself Godzilla.  The movie and creature helped inspire numerous sequels, spin-offs, rip-offs, countless references, and of course a couple of reboots that were done by American studios, among others.  The first reboot of which was conceived by Roland Emmerich back in 1998, and the second one having come out sixteen years later by Gareth Edwards.
 
I haven't seen Edwards' previous feature Monsters but I have heard good things about it; when news came that Godzilla would be rebooted again this year I was of course very curious as to how it would be like.  Certainly it would be a lot better than Emmerich's infamous take, right?  Certainly this would do the giant lizard creature justice and set things right for him, right?  Certainly this would be an incredible and enjoyable adaptation, right?  Okay, before I continue I should note that the theatre that I went to see this movie had a slightly darker projector than it should have.  At first I thought this won't affect the movie at all, I can enjoy it for what it is.  God, was I wrong about it not affecting the movie experience for me at all, but I'll get to that soon.
 
In 1999 a scientist called Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) discovers in the remains of one of the large fossils along with his colleagues at the Phillipines islands that one of the eggs have hatched.  At the same time at the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant, Joe Brady (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) to investigate what may be causing the recent seismic damage.  Unfortunately there is a radiation that's leaked, killing the core crew inside, including Joe's wife, and on his birthday no less; resulting in a quarantine of the area.  Fifteen years have passed since then where Ford (CJ Adams as a child, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as adult) Brady, who's since joined the army and become a lieutenant and father, gets a message that his father has tried to trespass a quarantined area.  Reluctantly Ford agrees to join Joe (who's become obsessed with finding the cause since his wife's death), but they both get caught once found looking in Janjira.  At that point a monster called a MUTO gets on the rampage, recruiting at least one more in the process, threatening to cause harm to the world populace.  With little choice they've only got one option that can take them on.

I'm just going to address the acting first because I do not want to upset the faithful and longtime followers just yet (because trust me, there have been upset commenters jumping on people that spoke lowly or weren't as enthralled with this movie, and I don't wish to put up with that).  The acting is really good, and everyone turns in a solid performance.  The lone standout is Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, who gives it his all in this movie (just like Hugh Jackman gave his all in last year's Prisoners) in the times that he's onscreen, and you miss that in-depth performance once he's not shown.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a solid job as the main human protagonist of the movie, and Elizabeth Olsen who plays his wife is okay.  Ken Watanabe is good, but it felt to me often that sometimes he spoke in riddles which admittedly made me antsy, and it's clear that he's got a backstory that is never explained.

When comparing the effects to the original, it just jarring.  The original wasn't known for having groundbreaking special effects, but thanks to the evolution of technology throughout the decades Gareth Edwards and team found a way to bring Godzilla to life like never before.  And whenever he's shown he looks astounding, and the MUTOs look nice too with the CGI.  I found it interesting that the movie started with multiple stock footage from the past, and production-wise it looks like a lot of effort was put into it and I respect that.  The movie is accompanied by a riveting soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat, who's proven that he can create distinctive soundtracks that leave an impact on viewers (for more reasons than one); examples being The King's SpeechArgo, Rise of the Guardians, Zero Dark Thirty, and the very recent The Monuments Men.  The soundtrack is also one of the high points of the movie (effectively creating a sense of atmosphere and tension) for it does a very good job at keeping viewers engaged despite Godzilla's very meandering pace.

One of the things about this movie version in particular is how its pace is very slow right from the get-go.  I know that it has to follow the golden rule of the monster feature set by Jaws: don't show the titular monster until you're an hour in; but the first hour goes by very slowly.  Even after Godzilla makes his first full appearance the movie's pacing feels deliberate when it's not on him, even though the MUTOs (one of them has wings, so technically that would make it a MUFO) make an appearance before he does.  It also doesn't help that the majority of the movie focuses on characters who are largely uninteresting, with the exception of Bryan Cranston's Joe Brady who's only in the movie for about the first half hour (yet he was in the whole trailer).  I was also taken aback at how little screen time the main Kaiju has; I don't expect him to appear throughout the entire running length, but I would've loved to have seen just a little bit more of him in the movie.  He's pretty cool when he's around, but there are a couple times when he will appear and then cut to a different scene.  Why?

I mentioned before that the projector at the theatre I saw this in was a little darker than it was supposed to be, and there's a reason for that: the majority of the scenes are either dark or take place at night.  Now, maybe these would be effective if they were shot with a little bit of clarity and could work for the eyes.  But that's the problem that the projector created: it was hard to see what was going on half the time because the screen was so damn dark, and even if you could manage to make out what has occurred it unfortunately takes the enjoyment out of it (and the deliberately slow pace did not help matters).  Dark scenes are fine once in awhile, but for the bulk of the film?  It's one thing if you're trying to emulate the atmosphere and tone set by the original movie, but it's another when it gets affected by a faulty projector.  At least there were scenes that didn't take place in the dark or were set during the night.

But even if that were not the case, I still left the theatre with mixed feelings on the movie.  Also, I don't know if anyone has addressed this, but this is a very humorless, heavy-handed film.  Unless you count the times that Godzilla was onscreen or a couple unintentionally funny moments, I don't think I smiled or laughed once while watching it.  I'm not saying Edwards should have made this movie a comedy, and its relentlessly serious tone does give it an edge over Roland Emmerich's silly 1998 adaptation, but I don't think it would've hurt to incorporate a scene or two that lifted your spirits and made you smile (intentionally).  There were a couple moments that brought to mind Jurassic Park (helicopter surveying an island forest and a shot of a character wiping a foggy glass to see what's going on) and Godzilla 2014 even has its own "Boomer will live!" moment (speaking of Emmerich... I can't be the only one that had that pop up in their mind once that happened).  Oh, yeah, the movie went there, which makes it one of the few lighter moments in it.
 
Watching this made me think back to how I felt after watching Elysium; I didn't think it was great but I didn't think it was bad either, but I just didn't feel all that highly about it (actually I had mixed feelings on it but could appreciate all the effort that was put in to it).  Although I kinda liked Elysium more in this regard, if only because of Sharlto Copley.  Despite Godzilla 2014 being two hours it felt like a much longer movie; and I wouldn't have minded the slow pace so much if there were more interesting characters outside of Bryan Cranston's Joe Brady and Ken Watanabe's Serizawa.  But as it is I felt this movie to be a bit polarizing.  The dark and night scenes wouldn't have been bad if not for the fact that it's the bulk of the movie and the fact that I saw it with a faulty projector, making it hard to see what the hell was going on.  I would've liked it if there was just a fraction more of Godzilla in it (as I didn't think there was enough of him here), but as it stands its okay.  I didn't see it in 3D, but there were a couple moments I spotted that were obvious 3D-ploitation (like his roar in front of the wire and red balls).
 
I guess I had high expectations for this movie, even though I'm not a fan of the Kaiju I was looking forward to watch this film.  And I admit I was a little disappointed, though I did like it a little (it's a rental for me personally).  It's better than the Emmerich version by a tad much, but if there were intentional humor and had a vast majority of interesting characters than I think I would've liked it a bit more.  I blame the projector for all the dark scenes being made darker, and while I don't mind the serious approach, I wished that it was easier to see what was happening during those moments.  Desplat's music was one of the major things that were great about the movie (there is even one cue from 2001: A Space Odyssey), and when Godzilla appears (in the twenty-thirty minutes that he's onscreen) onscreen he's awesome, especially when he roars.  I didn't go in expecting something like Pacific Rim (they're both different movies), but I was expecting something a little better in the end.
 
If you like Godzilla and are a fan then I think you'll like this movie.  If you're expecting the best, stick with the original.  If you want to watch an adaptation that is better than the Roland Emmerich version then here you go.  If you're looking for interesting human characters to root for then you may want to lower your expectations and maybe watch something else.  If you want to see Godzilla kick ass once more on the big screen, then this isn't a bad diversion.  There have been differing opinions on this movie; some thought that it was really good, some thought that it was just good, others thought it was either okay or not so special.  I wished I liked Godzilla 2014 more, but I guess I shouldn't complain; at least it wasn't bad (or offensively bad) like Verbinski's The Lone Ranger or say Batman and Robin.  I know a lot of effort was made to bring this movie to the screen, and I really respect that; I know I said that many times before, but because there are commenters going gung-ho regarding the movie I realize that I'm treading on deep ice.
 
Final Rating:
3/5
 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My 2014 Summer Movie Ventures #1

Written: May 16th-17th, 2014
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; very passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  For this post I've decided to go in a different direction, try something new.  Like most people I not only play video games but I also watch movies and TV programs from time to time, and many of those times were in the theatres.  I wanted to discuss my thoughts on the movies that I watch this summer and reflect my thoughts on them here, which is actually what I thought of doing last year but because I didn't finish writing my thoughts on all those that I saw in '13 which prevented me from going forward and submit it (in retrospect, I shouldn't have waited until the end of the summer to try to talk about the movies; fourteen movies is a lot during one season).  Well, I've decided that I'm just going to divulge my thoughts on the individual movie, one by one.  As I type this I've only seen one so far (soon to be two), but it's better to start off this way while I still remember it.  The first movie this summer was The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  But before I talk about that movie and how I felt about it, I'll give my brief thoughts on the trailers that played beforehand (in random order):
<----trailers---->
X-Men: Days of Future Past - With the exception of X-Men Origins: Wolverine I personally enjoyed all the movies that were about the X-Men and Wolverine.  It'll be interesting to see the First Class mutants and the present-day mutants together in this big venture.  Judging from the trailers it looks like it's going to be a big epic, which I hope it will be.  Also, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is always awesome, and I'm really looking forward to that.
 
Earth to Echo - It's very vague what the overall conflict behind the story is (the entity that's trying to go after the main protagonists), but judging from this trailer it sort of feels like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind only seen through constant found footage.  The alien looks cute with its big eyes, but I think I'll wait until I hear more about it; when it got to the last moment I was like "Really?  Wow."  Who knows, maybe it'll be decent?
 
22 Jump Street - I've seen and liked all the movies that Team Lord/Miller directed (among them The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the predecessor 21 Jump Street), so I find it very exciting that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are teaming up once more as undercover cops.  The trailer was very funny too, and I hope the movie's really good and fun.
 
Annie (2014) - The play and all its adaptations is one of those cases of "love it or hate it" among people, but I personally like the story of little red haired orphan Annie, including the 1982 John Huston movie and the made for TV 1999 Disney version; I think it's a charming period piece with timeless musical numbers and good characters and story, but to each their own (also I have a fondness for both versions).  Fascinatingly they're updating the story for contemporary times, which is interesting.  If there is one caveat that I have with this version it's that Jamie Foxx isn't playing "Oliver Warbucks", he's playing "Benjamin Stacks".  I don't think it's a secret why the name rubs me the wrong way, it sounds a little demeaning and wrong to me.  But hey, I think that he might play a good father figure regardless; certainly Foxx will perform better there than he did in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but we'll get to that when we get to that.  Next!
 
A Million Ways to Die in the West - Gee, that's a mouthful.  I'm not really a Seth MacFarlane kind of guy, but the trailer looked very fun.  Also it's got lots of big names going for it; Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris.  I mean, this looks huge, but it also looks like it could fall on itself too.  I'd still like to watch it out of perverse curiosity, and the trailer was funny; I just hope this isn't another case of what happened with last year's The Lone Ranger by Gore Verbinski where the trailer deceived you into thinking it would be good (only to find out going in that it wasn't).  I did love that Doc Brown cameo in the end (that was hysterical), I hope they keep that in the movie.
 
Maleficent - This is another one that I'm interested in, if only for the fact that Maleficent is one of the best Disney villains of all time, and to see that a movie is dedicated to her is half-awesome and half-disconcerting.  We all know her fate in Sleeping Beauty (maybe they'll change it somewhat, seeing that they're giving it a darker flavor), and I have a feeling that we may find ourselves sometimes rooting for her and sometimes not.  And with all apologies to Elle Fanning, her Aurora does not look sixteen at all (least she doesn't look it to me).  It looks good, but I hope the story itself will be too; also Sharlto Copley (who played the batshit crazy bounty hunter Kruge from Elysium) is in it, and he's a fun actor to watch.  Still, I'll try to watch this with an open mind.  Also, first time directing gig for the man helming the movie, so we'll see how this goes.
 
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) - Hell no, I'm not watching this one, I've already made up my mind on it!  It's not the fact that Michael Bay is involved (though that doesn't really help) or the fact that Megan Fox is in it.  It's not the fact that they're rebooting the Turtles again (seriously, how many reboots does this thirty-year old series need?).  It's not the fact that it looks like it's going to be crap (which it likely will be) that's making me not watch this.  No, it's the turtles themselves that don't make me want to watch this one, and for good reason: they are CGI/motion captured/live action humanized turtles, and it looks absolutely disgusting to me personally (especially on the big screen).  I hope I don't watch this one.
 
I probably missed one but those were the ones that I could think of at the top of my head.  And now, time for the movie!
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Director: Marc Webb | Rated: PG-13 | Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 | Length: 2h22m
Saw on May 4th
 
When Marc Webb rebooted New York's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man two summers ago it performed really well with critics but it has polarized countless viewers, in particular those who were very attached to Sam Raimi's trilogy which preceded Webb's movies.  People either loved the first The Amazing Spider-Man or they hated it, and personally I liked it a lot.  Though I can see why people had problems with it, including the fact that many elements in the first act were brought up in Raimi's first Spider-Man movie before (Peter Parker lives with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and receives spider-like prowess, he tests them out, Peter and Uncle Ben argue, Uncle Ben gets shot and killed, Peter becomes Spider-Man, Spider-Man tries to hunt down who killed his uncle, Peter learns that with great power comes great responsibility).  But there were several elements that distanced itself with the Raimi take, and it was a serious and more fun approach as well with a clever wit and script, in my opinion.  To each their own.
 
And now we start off this year's Summer movie season with the sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and if you thought the direct predecessor polarized viewers then this one is no different.  A part of me was looking forward to the movie, and a part of me felt hesitant too.  But once I went to see it at the end of the day I'm glad I watched it, though I can see why it's gotten a 53% at Rotten Tomatoes (the lowest score a Spider-Man film ever received, and the first that got a Rotten status).  It's got so many good elements but it's got so many issues as well.  It also doesn't help that it's come out exactly one month after the near-excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I can see how comparing the two features may not work in this movie's favor.
 
Years after the events of the first The Amazing Spider-Man Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), also known as Spider-Man, is battling evildoers protecting the city of New York, having just graduated from college with his love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).  Peter, wanting to be with her, is also keeping himself distant due to a promise he gave to her late father Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) to keep her safe because he loves her, resulting in an on-again/off-again relationship.  Meanwhile Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a socially inept employee at Oscorp, has a freak accident which turns him into Electro.  At the same time Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) has just returned to New York and inherited Oscorp after the passing of his father (Chris Cooper), trying to get ahold of himself due to an illness that is slowly killing him (until *spoiler*, he becomes the Green Goblin).  We find out what happened to Peter's parents and what their secret is; oh, and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) is in it too.
 
So judging from that paragraph I just wrote you can see part of the problem with the movie: it's unfocused.  There are numerous cases of exposition which will be thrown at you, and unless you're familiar with the comics or the series (like I am) you're going to be lost and confused.  There's also the fact that there are too many villains, which is the same problem that plagued Spider-Man 3, and it makes me wonder if studio involvement was responsible (oh who am I kidding, of course it was!).  For the most part the movie will center on Electro, with Harry Osborn's Green Goblin and the Rhino sharing little screen time combined.  As unfocused as it is though, at least it's not painfully unfocused like Ridley Scott's Prometheus, thank God!
 
Andrew Garfield plays a very likable Peter Parker, for he's cool, clever, and engaging and when he dons the Spider-Man outfit he cracks jokes even as he battles criminals which is great.  It's different than Tobey Maguire's take on the role over a decade ago, but that's what makes it interesting and nice!  Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is a great character, and a fan favorite among fans of the series, for she'll help and use her knowledge when it counts.  The chemistry between the two really works, and the scenes when the two are together are some of the best in the movie, even though their relationship is on-and-off at times.  Dane DeHaan plays a very decent Harry Osborn, and I think I like his design more than James Franco's (must be the hairstyle), plus his quips were legitimately good; and Paul Giamatti plays a very enjoyable Rhino in the few minutes that he's onscreen.  Chris Cooper and Denis Leary serve as cameos, while Sally Field's Aunt May is still likable even though her role's been reduced here.  And then there's Jamie Foxx's Max Dillon.  Oh God,... Jamie Foxx.
 
First of all, he's a very good actor and he'll turn in a good performance every now and then... this isn't one of those times.  When we see him as Max Dillon, long before he becomes Electro, he plays the socially awkward comic relief and it's just silly (and it doesn't fit the tone of the movie).  Even his theme when the movie cuts to him is so ridiculous to take seriously (you'll have to hear it to believe it); in one moment he acts as if he's got a case of schizo talking out loud to nobody (as he engages in his obsessive fantasy; he even has a Walter Mitty moment at one point).  Comparisons of his Max Dillon were made to Richard Pryor's Gus Gorman from Superman III, and yeah, that's not far from the truth.  But here's the thing: Gus Gorman was a more dignified klutz/comic relief than Max Dillon was in this movie.  Give Pryor some credit, he was at least funny a couple times during that movie; Foxx not so much (I'm sorry to say this, but he's much worse here, embarrassing even).  And when he becomes Electro he's adorned in electrified cyan CGI with a fittingly raspy electrifying voice, later on designing his own outfit with lightning bolts on it (give the movie some credit, at least the design is less embarrassing than the original one in the comics), though some of the dialogue feels meh.  Oh well, at least Max Dillon/Electro doesn't have more screen time than Spider-Man does in a Spider-Man movie like Gus Gorman had more screen time than Superman in a Superman movie three decades ago.  Same sadly cannot be said for Dane DeHaan's and Paul Giamatti's villains.
 
Harry Osborn gets into the movie around thirty-forty minutes in, and he'll begin as a victim who'll try to deviate from his father's role and try to get his normal life back until he gradually loses his sanity and goodness due to the lethal illness that he's got and becoming the Green Goblin... a full fifteen minutes before the movie ends (the design for this version: yikes!  It is crazy!).  The Rhino, who starts off as Aleksei Sytsevich, only appears during one of the beginning portions of the movie and during the end, which is a shame because Paul Giamatti's hamminess to the role made him enjoyable (and the Rhino suit at the end looks awesome).  A lot of the time though we'll be focusing on Jamie Foxx's role, and you'll be yearning for the others as soon as he's on screen.  If they shared equal screen time that would've been great, but as it is it just wasn't meant to be.
 
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks really great and colorful, and the production designs look near flawless.  It's almost like watching a comic book come to life (heh, based on a comic book), and it's very pleasing for the eyes.  The visual effects are very good too, in particular the web slinging, the electricity effects that abound whenever Electro's around, and the slow-mo moments look very cool (I didn't see it in 3D, though I heard that its implementation is not bad).  The red in Spider-Man's suit and the cyan from Electro really pops out at you.  While I admit that I miss James Horner's music from the first Marc Webb-featured Spider-Man flick, I did get a kick out of Hans Zimmer's work for this installment (especially the epic-sounding supercharged Spidey theme with the trumpets blaring) as I thought that his cues fit perfectly for the film... well, most of them (Max Dillon's theme being the exception).  The script is witty and clever, and when the moments were funny they were genuinely funny.
 
So why was I hesitant to watch it then?  Well, if you're familiar with the comics there is a shocking moment which is very heartbreaking that I honestly was hoping against hope would not happen in this movie.  But, it's inevitable, and despite the shock at first it's a very emotional and well-done scene, and I think this is the closest that I cried during a Spider-Man movie (that scene still haunts me almost two weeks after I've seen it).  A lot of you will already recognize what I'm referring to, but for those that have not seen it I'm trying to sound as vague as possibly can so that I don't end up spoiling it for you.
 
Okay, so despite the exposition that's tossed at you from time to time, the fact that the narrative is a little disjointed, the bad shaky cam during one of the first scenes, the fact that there are too many villains, Jamie Foxx doing a not-so good Max Dillon/Electro (in my opinion), and the fact that it's uneven at times, did that prevent my enjoyment of the movie in general?  Not really.  I still liked it, and it was better than I thought it was going to be.  Many times the wit made the movie fun for me, and it worked to such a degree.  It's also nice to see that Felicia Hardy is in the movie as one of Oscorp's employees.  I mean, it is Felicia Hardy, right?  They didn't say her last name, but I assumed that it must've been her... Webb wouldn't just create a minor character that shares the first name as a key character in the comics, would he?  Because if that's the case, then that would be pretty stupid.  I can't be the only one that thought of that.  Also, Stan Lee cameos are always a blast, no matter how brief they are.
 
There is even a clip during the credits that shows an event from X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Ooooh, would this be connected with Spider-Man in any way, or was it just a freebie scene from that movie?  Because either way, I'm okay with that.  What's pretty neat is how each movie starring the webhead gets even longer, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 being the longest entry so far at a hundred forty two minutes.  For the most part I had a fun time watching this movie, and I had a more fun time watching this near-two and a half-hour long movie than I did Man of Steel or Gore Verbinski's freakin' The Lone Ranger personally (I like the former a little, I hate the latter a lot).  It's not as great as the first The Amazing Spider-Man, in my opinion, but its heart is definitely in the right place and it is not a bad way to start this year's summer.
 
If you're a Spider-Man fan you might enjoy this movie for its fun colorful action and clever and well-written wit.  If you're looking for the best Spider-Man movie, you may have to look elsewhere.  If you liked the predecessor you might like this one too.  If you didn't like the first rebooted movie then this won't change your mind.  If you're looking for a sort-of equivalent to Superman III in terms of tone, this movie will be interesting to you.  Just try not to compare it to Sam Raimi's trilogy and you might have a good time (who knows?).  Honestly, I'm glad I watched it, and I wouldn't mind watching it again when it comes out.  =)
 
Final Rating:
3.5/5
( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )

Monday, May 5, 2014

Toy Story (SNES) Review

Written: May 2nd-5th, 2014
Year: 1995 | Developed by: Traveller's Tales and Psygnosis | Published by: Nintendo | Distributed by: Disney Interactive
 
Some of the image quality might be off due to a recent problem I've had with Windows Media Player, so I had to settle with Windows Movie Maker to obtain them.  ...I know, bummer, but I had to work with something.  Just a bit of heads up.
 
In the mid-80s there was a company that was formed by the name of PIXAR (initially called The Graphics Group) founded by John Lasseter, who had released a series of computer-animated shorts that received high acclaim such as The Adventures of AndrĂ© and Wally B, Luxo Jr., Red's Dream, and Knick Knack.  With the success of their 1988 short Tin Toy, which was based on a toy's perspective, Disney had asked them to make a movie which revolved around toys, only bigger.  After several rewrites and drafts, PIXAR would go on to create the first ever animated movie entirely made through CG: that movie was the 1995 classic Toy Story=)
 
Toy Story impressed and enthralled critics and audiences since release, and for good reason.  Not only was the 3D impressive for the time (still holds up for the most part), but it had a really good cast of actors, a memorable soundtrack led by Randy Newman, plus a really timeless and well-crafted story (with a lot of wit and heart too).  The screenplay was written by four people, and one of them was Joss Whedon; yes, the same Joss Whedon that wrote and directed Marvel's The Avengers back in 2012, which is awesome!  =D
Image from Wikipedia
That movie was awesome too, and I cannot wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron to come out next May.  He also helped create shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., produced and co-wrote for The Cabin in the Woods, et al.  He even penned the script for
Image from Wikipedia
eeheeuhhhhhhh, I don't think he wants to be reminded of this one.  =|  The point is that the man overall has an impressive resume and the movie was and is to this day a really well-deserved success.  And being the success that it was it warranted two very good theatrical sequels, a series of shorts that take place after the third movie (spoilers?), a Halloween special that I have yet to see (maybe I'll catch it this October), and of course a string of video games.  Some... better than others.
I didn't see the movie in theatres back when it first came out (I was four at the time, but I do recall having seen a trailer of it), but I did get introduced to it after it came out on VHS (unfortunately it wasn't letterbox formatted, which meant I had to sit through a pan-and-scan version; on the bright side the movie's not as wide as say 2.40:1, so not much was lost in the cropping, thank God... long story short, I loathe pan-and-scan with a passion and would rather watch a widescreen movie in widescreen as opposed to a 1.33:1 cropped up version of it).  I've enjoyed the movie a lot since the first time I've seen it, and it wasn't until 2009 that I got to see it for the first time on the big screen back-to-back with Toy Story 2 (in 3D) in preparation for the then upcoming summer's Toy Story 3 (which I also saw in 3D).  Good times!  =)
 
There were many video games based on the movie (and its sequels), and like many kids at the time I got to experience them around the same time or shortly after that they came out.  And for those that are wondering, yes, I did play all three video game adaptations that were made for the PC: the interactive novel, the... other interactive novel (I guess?  I didn't play that one as much), and of course the PC port of the MegaDrive/Genesis game.  And let's be honest, any platformer based on a license available on a PC was almost always available on the MegaDrive/Genesis first (though I speak from personal experience).  That was the first time that I played Toy Story (which I first knew about in the promo that played after the credits ended in the VHS tape), and months later when I visited my relatives I was ecstatic when I found out that one of my cousins had it for the SNES.  I was also surprised to see how... distinct both versions were, but I'll get to that later.
God, I miss that old Traveller's Tales logo... really takes me back  =(  Why did they have to change it to a bland one years ago?
 
The thing about Toy Story was that it was a fully CG-animated movie, so people wondered if it was possible to play it on the 16-bit console while emulating its look and feel.  With a little inspiration from Rareware's Donkey Kong Country that came out a year prior, developers Traveller's Tales and Psygnosis (the same team that brought us Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse/Mickey's Wild Adventure) proved that they could, at least as best they could, but more on that later.  Toy Story for the SNES was one of those games that were distributed by Disney Interactive and released by Nintendo, but it wouldn't be the last time (same also occurred for Maui Mallard and Pinocchio).  But I've gone on long enough with this intro, how does the game fare compared to its source material?

No radio is voiced by Jon Lovitz in this game,
or in the movie for that matter  =(
Andy [insert last name here] is a little boy who has always enjoyed playing with his toys, especially Woody his longtime pullstring cowboy doll.  When humans are around the toys pretend to be lifeless, but once they're out of the room the toys come to life anthropomorphic style.  Then on Andy's birthday Woody and the toys (fearing their replacement) listen in on what toys he was given for his birthday.  And just when it seemed that it was over, a surprise present pops up in the form of Buzz Lightyear.  They all introduce each other, but there are two problems: a) Buzz doesn't realize he's a toy for he thinks he's a real space ranger, and b) Buzz is getting all the attention because of all the cool gadgetry (even by Andy) which makes Woody very jealous (he's long considered himself to be Andy's favorite toy).  Days before Andy's family moves out of their home they decide to go to Pizza Planet and he's told he can only bring one toy; planning on hiding Buzz 'til they come back, he controls RC Car to do the job but knocks Buzz out the window by mistake, which make the other toys very upset and vengeful at Woody.

Pop goes the "?" balloon
On the way to Pizza Planet the family fills up the minivan's fuel, and at that moment Buzz confronts Woody and they fight, to which they become stranded after the car leaves.  After hitching a ride to the arcade restaurant the two find their owner but Buzz gets distracted and enters a claw machine shaped just like a rocket, filled with Little Green Men aliens.  Unfortunately, the next in line for the game is Sid, Andy's sadistic neighbor who not only destroys some of his toys but combines elements of two toys to create "things"; after failing to escape the Claw Woody and Buzz get caught and dragged to his home.  Woody and Buzz will have to work together in order to get out of here alive.  Will the two learn that they've got friends in each other and get to Andy before he's too far to reach?  ...  Wow, so this is what summarizing a movie's plot is like.

The CLAAAAAAAW
The controls for Toy Story are simple as there are only two main actions: jumping and whipping with Woody's pullstring.  In the options you get to choose between NES-style (A to jump and B to whip) or SNES-style (vice versa); I always choose the latter because that control scheme is more comfortable that way.  You can also set up how many lives you wish to start with and whether to enable the storyline or not (not that it makes a difference as it's the same game regardless).  In this sidescrolling platformer Woody doesn't attack enemies, rather he stuns them momentarily with his pullstring.  He can also use it while ducking, while in midair, and he can even swing through a series of hooks with the pullstring to progress forward.  The jumping and whipping controls are decent, and what's fascinating is how there are a few areas that deviate from the genre.

RC Car about to hit Buzz
There are a couple of areas where you must race RC Car to the end of the stage where turning one direction is either done with the left or right buttons (he rotates 360 degrees), all the while collecting batteries so the remote control's energy doesn't die.  There is a stealth kind of stage where you have to sneak by without getting hit by falling or oncoming obstacles.  One of them involves flying your way through, and there is even one area that is viewed entirely in first-person view, which is pretty neat.  While there aren't that many stages that stray far from the sidescrolling formula, it does make things a little fresh while they last.  Woody has a health system that's up to 5, which can be replenished with a yellow star.  Should you gather enough regular stars throughout the game you might earn a continue (as from the get-go you've only got one).  There are also checkpoints which will prevent you from starting from the beginning of the area once you lose a life, which I feel works.

Impressive for its time, this 3D segment looks
a bit dated today
One of the main draws of this game was that its visual style was close to that of the movie, and looking at it today it's clear that it has aged a lot.  The characters, enemies, and items were prerendered in 3D, but mixing them alongside 2D backgrounds and platforms makes it reeeeeeally stand out like a sore thumb.  One of the reasons the Donkey Kong Country trilogy's visuals still look good to this day is because everything was prerendered in 3D and not just the characters (the backgrounds were drawn of course but they were designed in a way that it helped blend in).  Here, not so much.  Though to be fair there are elements that aren't bad.

Swinging away
For example, a lot of the areas look good, detailed, and colorful with some neat usage of Street Fighter II-like parallax scrolling (right down to the floors as you move left and right).  Most of the character models look a little fresh (with the exception of Woody, who looks like he's in need of polish, and the kids chasing their paper airplanes in Pizza Planet, who look like cardboard cutouts) despite showing a bit of age, especially RC Car and Rex.  The first-person area inside the claw machine looks very decent what with the 3D navigation involved (though the texture looks fairly dated), bringing to mind first-person shooters like Doom, and it makes me wonder if Traveller's Tales used a special chip to make that possible.  The animations are really fluid, and some of the foreground shelves have book spines that make clever nods towards previous PIXAR fare, such as Knick Knack and Tin Toy (nice).  The cutscenes from time to time even have screen captures of the movie, which surprisingly look rendered very well in 16-bit format (I still think they look good), and before each stage the memo/instructions are posted on an Etch-A-Sketch.  That is clever!  =)
Some things might stand out, and while it doesn't look as great as it did way back when, Toy Story for the SNES does still look a tad bit decent, even if time has aged it a lot.

Forget Woody's nightmare, I have a feeling
this portion in particular gave most children
nightmares!  =<
Soundwise, SNES Toy Story is okay.  The instrumentation is interesting what with the hard piano and some of the brass instruments that are played.  Here's the thing, though: a lot of the music here has got a samey feel to them, for some areas have different music that either ends or has a flourish in a very similar fashion, and I do mean similar.  For the bunk of the soundtrack it's rather laidback at points, which isn't a bad thing by itself, but for an action/platformer it sounds very unusual (this isn't Super Metroid).  Most of the songs are passable, but there are few which are likely to grate on people's nerves (Sid's room... with the banging sounds of a tool left and right).  >_<  Some of the highlights I feel are the song that plays during the first area, the third area where you compete against Buzz, the area where you confront Buzz, the playful sounding sleuth area in Pizza Planet, and the eerie-sounding music that plays during the "Really Inside the Claw Machine" 3D portion.  The rest, though... could benefit from either better composition or being redone all together.  =(

"I'm sorry I couldn't stop them from selling
you in the third movie, RC Car!  Ahhhhhh!!!"
How about the music that was lifted from the movie?  The movie's music was done by Randy Newman, and while his reputation nowadays is polarized among others, the songs that he wrote for the movie are fun and timeless.  During the title you get to hear the song "Strange Things" (sans the lyrics) which sounds very faithful in 16-bit format, only with a tad quicker tempo.  The full song too, which is a plus!  =)  For the longest time I've been curious as to why "You've Got a Friend in Me" (the movie's key song) wasn't playing in this song when it was available in both the PC and MegaDrive/Genesis versions.  Well, turns out they actually made the song in SNES format but some technical issues prevented it from playing in-game.  Just go to YouTube and The Cutting Room Floor if you don't believe me!  And the strange thing: peculiar instrumentation and faster tempo aside, it doesn't sound half bad!  What the hell?!?  So instead of listening to this wonderful song play during the cutscenes and credits (like you could in the other versions), all you listen to during these moments here is silence, which feels downright creepy and unsettling!  You know it's one thing if a song is made but is never used deliberately but it's completely another for a song to be made that was meant to be used but couldn't play due to technical issues!  Really upsets me!  >=(

Commander Peepers (c) Craig McCracken, Disney / Made by me via MS Paint
This is aimed at the game, not the game's composers
Wow, I never realized how terrible Pizza
Planet's service was
The sound effects are very decent.  The effects for when you collect the stars are nice (though a bit loud when several instances are played at once), the sound effect for when you bounce on a ball sounds rubbery, and RC Car makes squeaking sounds for when he turns or revs up.  The only sound effects I didn't like were the constant banging and hammer sounds that took place in Sid's room, over and over and over and over again, and it's made all the worse because they outsound the music (yeah, it's that annoying).  There are also some soundbytes from the movie, with phrases such as "Helloooo!", "To infinity and beyond," and "Yeeha!", et al; voiced faithfully not by the cast of the movie, but by several notable Disney voice actors, including Jim Hanks (Tom's brother who voiced Woody in the first segment of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins) and Corey Burton (who not only gave the voice for Captain Hook in the times he's spoken in Disney's House of Mouse (someone had to write that) and Return to Never Land but also gave the voice to the ship's captain in the Wander Over Yonder episode "The Ball").  Just to give some examples.

Must progress by rope
When Toy Story the video game came out it was a huge hit, seeing that the movie was a box office success at the time.  And while this game was successful in terms of sales, that didn't say anything about its overall reception.  Since it came out its polarized gamers, with some gamers falling in the camp of liking it while also creating a camp that did not like it, for various reasons all together.  Reasons people would like it: it's charming and colorful, with some decently designed areas, incorporating some stages where you stray from the regular formula, the visuals faithfully capture the look of the movie (for the most part), and the controls are good.  Reasons people would not like it: it's challenging, the areas are short, until you get three hundred stars in the game you've only got one continue, the obstacles could've been improved here and there, Woody's invincibility time is about a second long, it has to be beaten in one sitting, and the game itself is fairly short too.

Woody, incapacitator of Potato Heads
One of the main drawbacks to Toy Story is that it's a very short game, and the brevity of its areas helped contribute to that.  Most of the areas are pretty straightforward (with some upper levels in a few of them), while two of them is open-ended in design.  A few of them are just a single segment, and that's relegated to boss battles.  What prevents them from being mindlessly boring are the obstacles that are laid about, and from time to time there are checkpoints that help you on your way.  Woody only has a health of five, but it doesn't fully replenish itself once you get to the next area, which may have turned off a lot of people.  Now it's not so much an issue that it has to be beaten in one sitting (as it's not a very long game), but the difficulty did not please everyone considering that it was aimed for younger gamers.

Get the toys back in their place before Andy
comes back
I don't consider Toy Story to be a thoroughly hard game per se, though there are obstacles to go through that demand a little challenge.  This is one of those trial-and-error kind of games, in particular during a couple boss fights where following the proper pattern and timing your attack right is an absolute must.  Speaking of timing, there is one area where there are moving platforms and you must jump on them at the right time to get on them otherwise you'll fall and have to go up again.  There are times when obstacles may rise up or fall down right in front of you, meaning you'll have to stop until the way is clear, sometimes back to back.  A couple of the stages are timed, meaning you'll have to do everything you can in that allotted amount of time.  I can see what Traveller's Tales' intentions were with the difficulty for this game, but it overall feels underwhelming with not as many enemies as there should be and could benefit from more interesting versatility.  For the most part I find Toy Story to be very manageable (I was a kid when I first played it, and I found it hard at the time, but the game got a little easier for me the more I played it), but there is one area that will prove to be a big task to get through alive: escaping from Sid's dog, Scud.

Oh yeah, because that's clearly how claw
machines work on the inside!  <_ font="">
There are a few force-scroller stages in this game, with a couple of them being likened to obstacle courses.  The first one where you ride on Rex is manageable enough, but when you escape with Roller Bob they try to throw everything at you all at once requiring to react in the nick of time, even as Scud trails right behind you as bombs and rockets are being thrown at you simultaneously.  It's beatable if you persevere, but its frenetic pace and hammered-in obstacles make it the only difficulty spike in the overall package.  I won't say that adding challenge to a kids' game is ill-advised per se, but if you're going to do that then make sure that there's room for smooth maneuverability and manageability too.  No kid will be patient enough to get through that force-scroller area in particular (if they get that far), even if the rest of the game is slow paced.  There is a code which enables complete invincibility throughout the game; I'm not saying you'll need it exactly, but if you don't feel confident playing the legitimate route here is what you have to do:
in the first area right next to where the Bank is (by the toy biplane on a string), bounce on the ball and land yourself on the bottom drawer.  At this point crouch yourself until you see your health star spin left and right.  Congratulations, now you're invulnerable to not only health loss but life loss as well!  Unfortunately it'll make the difficulty even more underwhelming than it already was.  =(

Getting into gear
Toy Story the video game's heart is in the right place and it clearly shows its ambition throughout, but its brevity and underwhelming difficulty drag the experience down a lot.  Some of the stages that stray from the platforming genre are nice, but there could've been more.  While the majority of the game is manageable, Scud's stage is the only one that will truly prove to be herculean.  Its slow pace makes it somewhat manageable, but I would've appreciated some more engaging versatility and some more obstacles to add a tad more challenge.  The visuals, dated though they may be, do look decent but are not in any way, shape, or form seamless with the 2D backgrounds and prerendered characters.  The soundtrack is okay (with lots of low points here and there), but I'm very disappointed that "You've Got a Friend in Me" actually was composed for the SNES but could not be played when it was the main movie's song, especially since it sounds really good.  The gameplay is good but I wish there was more, as even at seventeen stages (eighteen in the MegaDrive/Genesis version) it's a short game given that many of its areas aren't that long.

Gears, gears, everywhere!
I do still have fondness for this game and there are moments that I find fun in it from time to time, but its underwhelming structure left a lot to be desired.  A lot of the areas and key moments were lifted from the movie, and I like that, don't get me wrong, but I can see how one may find this game to be bad.  I don't consider it bad personally and I do get that its ambitious, but it is a heavily flawed game which could've used some more polish and clean up to make it a little more enjoyable and exciting; but for what it is, SNES Toy Story is average fare.  Though as far as average fare is concerned I'd much rather play this game than the blandly uninteresting Super Adventure Island or the depressingly and unenjoyably stale Mega Man VII.  But then, I'd rather play any game that doesn't make me feel depressed.

Just import this game if you don't believe me!
A dark and grim story coupled with demanding high difficulty: because that's not going to upset anyone at all!  Gosh-dammit it all, Namco!
If you're curious about Toy Story on the SNES it's worth a try to see what the only 16-bit video game adaptation of a PIXAR movie was like, though you may have to lower your expectations.  If you're in the mood for a manageable movie-licensed platformer, this one's not so bad.  If you're looking for the best movie-licensed title you'll find on the console, your best bet is Disney's Aladdin.  If you want to play a game where some stages stray from the formula, then you should try it.  Just don't expect too much if you decide to go in; not as good as the movie it's based on (obviously), but while it could've been better it could've been a lot worse too.  Still, I'm glad I got my thoughts on this game out of the wa---
Did you say "worse"?
Oh, no!  >_<
Because I just so happened to have found a diminutive version of this game
Y-You don't mean...
Oh yes!  I am referring to that version: the Game Boy version
Game Boy version?  You're telling me there's a Game Boy version of Toy Story?  Have you seen the game I just reviewed?
Yes, but I'm afraid in that your time spent with this review you've forgotten that there was just such a version
You're lying!  You don't know what you're talking abut!  That is the most ill-advised thing I've ever heard in my life, for there could be no good coming from th---
D'OH!!!
Have fuuuuuun~
*shakes head* I hate you...
 
TO BE CONTINUED...
5.5/10

( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )
 
P.S.: Yes, the Game Boy version is real, and I can tell you right now that it's not up to par with the SNES version.  At all!
 
P.S. 2: I like to pretend that Traveller's Tales never changed their logo; it was fine and endearing and charming and likable.
 
P.S. 3: I think that Disney's House of Mouse is okay.  I liked it at the time that they showed it, but a part of me has always felt that it's just not great (and in retrospect, it's not, but the Disney ensemble was nice and clever).  As flawed as Return to Never Land was, I personally don't think it's bad as for the most part it's a very decent sequel to Peter Pan.  Captain Hook is a real highlight in both movies.
 
P.S. 4: And yes, I am aware that Corey Burton also voices Captain Hook in Jake and the Never Land Pirates.  I just never watched that show, not a single episode; but the animation does look endearing and colorful from the promos I've seen of it, even one they actually showed in theatres believe it or not.
 
P.S. 5: And while we're still on the subject of Peter Pan, may Bob Hoskins rest in peace.  He played a very fun and enjoyable Smee in Steven Spielberg's Hook, and all those other fun and enjoyable roles he's played in his career.  It'll never be the same without him.  ='(
 
P.S. 6: In irrelevant news, I just saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I liked it, personally; but I'll never look at its predecessor the same way again.  Not a bad movie to kick off 2014's summer, though I do understand why it's got middling reviews.
 
P.S. 7: Thank God the Toy Story trilogy came out in theatres way before very late 2013, otherwise we'd have had to put up with the annoying videos before and after the trailers played with the condescendingly obnoxious narrator and the red balls in AMC Theatres that they still play today.  It may be cute the first time, but over half a dozen times later it's grating and you hope that it ends really quickly!  >=(  WHO OKAYED THIS?!?!?
 
P.S. 8:
Oh, Buzz, you showboat.
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great summer!  Take care!