Author

About the Author
Co-founder of The Grid: A Sci-fi Frontier, Timothy Jackson is a middle school social studies teacher by trade. When he is not teaching, he is consuming and analyzing the nerdy spectrum of books, movies, video games, and television. Oh, and he likes to write too.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review with Spoilers

Before I begin, this review DOES have SPOILERS from the film.

Ten years ago, I walked out of the theater convinced I had seen the last Star Wars movie. The Skywalker saga was complete and George Lucas had pledged no more movies. However, on this Thursday, I found myself in a theater for yet another Star Wars viewing. And so, after ten years, it would seem my Star Wars journey had come full circle in seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Overview

Following Luke Skywalker’s disappearance, the First Order (or the new Empire) has made a bid to take over the galaxy and squash the Resistance. One thing stands in their path, the last of the Jedi. Both sides scramble to find the last piece of a map that will lead them to the infamous Jedi Master.The Force Awakens: Rey and BB-8

The Force Awakens: Good

1.I was honestly expecting the first scene of The Force Awakens to be reminiscent of the 2009 Star Trek movie. However, this was not the case. The pacing was actually slower than expected. Nevertheless, it was fitting for the movie. After all, A New
Hope 
started off a bit slow. Rest assured, The Force Awakens has its fair share of action sequences but it does not sacrifice story and character development in favor of said action.

2. The movie nostalgia did not flaunt itself in the viewer’s face. There were plenty of callbacks to the previous movies, but they made room for the new as well (albeit new characters and plot points).

3. The lightsaber battles were messy. This may seem like a bad thing, but all lightsaber wielders were actually quite inexperienced. It took a lot of work to make the battles engaging and realistic to the skill of said force users. It was actually refreshing to see a grounded, realistic battle instead of a choreographed, over-the-top battle.

4. Although we do not have confirmation that the new darkside users are Sith, they definitely follow some of the same rules. In particular, the sacrifice. All Sith must make a sacrifice before reaching their true potential in the darkside. This was a philosophy that was shared in The Force Awakens.

5. John Williams’ brilliant music shined throughout the film. He brought in plenty of new themes, as well as some well-timed older themes from the original movies. It was certainly a treat to hear John Williams Star Wars music again.

6. All of the new characters are well developed and relatable. Rey proves to be an ideal female protagonist. Finn is a character who is scared and uncertain. As for Kylo Ren, he is an enemy of unrefined and unfocused power. All characters have their flaws, and they are better for it.The Force Awakens: Kylo Ren

 

The Force Awakens: Bad

There is little to complain about in this film, but I was a bit wary of the many references to A New Hope. A droid with important information… A deadly weapon of destruction… I admit that these plot devices worked well for this movie, but the parallels are hard to ignore.Star Wars: The Force Awakens X-Wing and TIE Fighter

Conclusion

This was certainly the movie that Star Wars fans were expecting in 1999. It is sure to please both old and new fans alike. The Force Awakens could’ve easily trudged down the action-ridden path that has made Star Wars famous. However, it holds back the action, which makes it more meaningful. Character development, in the form of all of the leads, are excellent. And the ending of the movie was nothing short of perfect.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review with Spoilers

Spectre Review

Overview

After a tip from a reliable source, James Bond goes on the hunt for a shadowy criminal organization known as Spectre. However, what he finds is that not only does he have a personal connection from his past with the organization, they have had a hand in all of his missions to date.

Spectre: The Good

1.Since Casino Royale, the Craig films have strongly hinted at possibility of a return to the Spectre crime organization from the Connery films of the ’60s; however, they were unable to properly do so since they did not have the rights to the name “Spectre.” Thankfully, the rights were obtained for this film and now we know that the crime organization of the Quantum from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are in fact one and the same.

spectre 62. The opening sequence of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico City was absolutely fantastic! The cinematography pans the camera to follow Bond dressed in a sinister skull mask and skeleton suit. When he reaches the hotel room with his companion, he ditches the costume for his trademark suit. The music does a wonderful transition from the sinister percussion to the Bond theme that we all know and love. This was an excellent way of introducing our hero as he is in the middle of spy subterfuge.

3. Thanks to Skyfall, the Bond inner circle is all here: Bond, Moneypenny, Tanner, M, and Q. It was good to see them all together since the recurring characters of past films have consisted of Bond, M, and Tanner. All of the inner circle contributed to film in their own way. This movie certainly had a revival of the old formula from the ’60s and ’70s.

spectre 74. Dave Bautista proved to be an excellent silent henchman who stalks Bond throughout the movie. He reminded me of both Jaws and Oddjob as he continually attempted to sabotage our hero’s efforts.

Spectre: The Bad

1. Certain actors were unfortunately underused in this movie. Monica Bellucci had very little to do and was only in the film for a few minutes before they quickly wrote her out of the movie. Even Christoph Waltz did not have nearly as much screen time as one might expect. I wanted to see more of these two wonderful actors in their respective roles but was sadly disappointed.

spectre 52. Although Waltz did the best he could with what he had, his character was a bit dumb in thinking he could thwart Bond with his various schemes. If Spectre really did manufacture all of the trouble in the previous Bond films, then why were they just dumb in this one? To make matters worse, Waltz’s character was supposed to have a past connection with Bond. Would he not know Bond more intimately than the previous villains? Oh, and on a sidenote, when you have captured a spy and you notice that he is wearing a wrist watch, it would be wise to confiscate said watch since most people do not wear watches anymore. Just a thought.

3. I’ve mentioned that Spectre was supposed to know all about James Bond, both his weaknesses and strengths. And yet, this movie was probably the easiest on Bond of any of them. Bond thwarted plan after plan with little to no personal injury or sacrifice to himself. This struck me as poor writing, allowing the hero to get by so easily.

spectre 44. I despised the romance between Bond and Swann. It was very superficial. I know. I know. Bond movies are supposed to have superficial romances, but the writers wanted us to think Swann (Lea Seydoux) was as special as Vesper or even Tracy (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). As much as I love Seydoux from her work in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Inglorious Basterds, she did not strike me as anything more special than the usual Bond girl. There was little chemistry between them and the relationship was based on Speed, a relationship founded on a mutually intense experience.

Spectre: Conclusion

I was never expecting this film to surpass the mastery of Skyfall. I doubt anyone was. However, with the same director returning, this film still had the potential to be a spectacular Bond film. Rather, it turned into a decent sequel, not a good sequel, but a decent one. Oddly enough, Spectre‘s plot was reminiscent to another recent spy movie’s plot, Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation. Both films deal with a shadowy organization that seems to know our hero intimately. However, Ethan Hunt had a much more difficult time than James Bond. Perhaps we needed a new director for Spectre. Sam Mendes did express a reluctance in returning to the franchise. Then again, perhaps all of the problems can be blamed on the script. Wherever the blame falls, Spectre is certainly a movie worth seeing but sits at being a “good” film instead of an “excellent” one.

Spectre Review

Bridge of Spies: Review

In 1957, the Cold War was well under way with both the Soviets and the Americans planting agents of espionage in enemy territory. When one of the Soviet spies, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), is caught by the FBI, insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited to give him a proper defense. However, Donovan goes above and beyond when he manages to keep Abel from getting the electric chair. Instead, he proposes that Abel may prove to be a decent trade should one of the American agents fall into Soviet hands. His prediction ends up being valid when pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) crashes a spy plane in Soviet territory. Now it’s up to Donovan to negotiate a trade of spies between hostile nations.

Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) on trial in the Soviet Union.

Following movies like the largely fictional Warhorse and the “there’s something missing here” Lincoln, Bridge of Spies makes for a fantastic return to the sort of movies that that we love from Stephen Spielberg. This movie proves that Spielberg can still make a good film without all of the awkwardness that his previous two films afforded him. The cinematography is clever with the peculiar artistic angles that we have come to expect from a Spielberg film. The opening of the film shows Abel; however, as the camera pans back, we see that it is actually Abel looking at himself in a mirror. Then we see that it is in fact Abel looking at himself in the mirror as he is painting a self portrait. It’s a clever and inventive way to start the film, and the cinematography continues to gain ground from there.

Although John Williams, who usually composes the music for all Stephen Spielberg films, did not compose this film (he is most likely far too busy with The Force Awakens), Thomas Newman (Skyfall) does a good job making a subtle score with all of the grace that one could be deceived into thinking that he is Williams.

Abel (Mark Rylance, middle) and Donovan (Tom Hanks, right).

Speaking of Rudolf Abel, Mark Rylance portrays the character in a very eccentric and sincere way. From his slight quirks as a character, like when he asks the FBI agents if he can brush his teeth upon arrest, to some of the more intimate character scenes with Donovan, he is fun to watch and a welcome addition to the screen during his scenes. Likewise, Tom Hanks once again proves his acting ability as he plays an insurance lawyer reluctant to defend a Soviet spy, despite his vast experience going all the way back to the Nuremburg Trials.

Truth is often far more interesting than fiction. In this case, sticking to the true story of Donovan delving into the complicated politics of the Cold War was both intriguing and educational. After all, who doesn’t like to see legitimate espionage methods firsthand (like the enigmatic trick coins). Also, one striking scene has Donovan crossing the Berlin Wall via train. He witnesses just how far people will go to get away from East Germany. It’s a powerful scene to say the least.

Although Bridge of Spies does run a bit on the long side, it is well worth the two hours and twenty-one minutes of your time. Watch the true story of Cold War espionage and politics come to life. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.

Have you seen Bridge of Spies yet? Let us know your thoughts on the new Spielberg\Hanks film in the comments!

Bridge of Spies: Review

Doctor Who: Underwater Ghost arc review

Overview:

In this arc of season 9 of Doctor Who (“Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood), the Doctor and Clara find themselves in an underwater base built amid a flooded town. Oh, and the base happens to be inhabited by ghosts who are doing more than just haunting the base’s occupants. It’s up to the duo to solve the mystery of the ghosts and try to stop them.

The Good:

Before he was a ghost…

Toby Whithouse usually writes one or two episodes of Doctor Who per season. His episodes (which include “School Reunion,” “Vampires of Venice,” and “A Town Called Mercy”) always tend to be fun and interesting. I suppose you can count me as a bit biased since he also ran the BBC version Being Human. While this episode isn’t my favorite penned by Whithouse, it definitely lives up to the title of fun and interesting.

The idea of exploring ghosts was not as trite as one might think. Season 7 also had a ghost episode (written by the ever wonderful Neil Cross) but dealt with the more mysterious and unseen ghost. These ghosts were very much visible and creepy. Just look at the eyes. Do you see any? That’s because there aren’t any!

The Doctor plays the Doctor Who theme song.

The Doctor plays the Doctor Who theme song.

Also, this particular episode of Doctor Who did something rare for the series, they crossed timelines within the episode. In other words, the Doctor actually went back in time and saw his past, a past we had already seen in the episode. It was very much Back to the Future Part II-esque and was a lot of fun to see him bumbling around like Marty and Doc Brown.

Lastly, the second episode dealt with a paradox that is quite common in time travel, who came up with the idea first? The Doctor opens up “Before the Flood” with a hypothetical story of a time traveler who goes to the past to meet Beethoven. However, Beethoven doesn’t exist. Fortunately, the time traveler brought along copies of all of Beethoven’s works and transcribed them down, thus making himself Beethoven. So the question remains, who truly wrote Beethoven’s works? It was a mysterious opening that immediately followed with the Doctor taking his now trademark electric guitar and riffing along to the theme song.

So many people to be haunted by ghosts.

The Bad:

I didn’t care for most of the minor characters like I did for the Doctor and Clara. That’s probably why the deaths had no meaning for me. They were just killing off the least important/least likable characters. If death is just going to be meaningless, then there is no point in having it be apart of the story. And on that note, there is no point in trying to convince us that you are going to kill off the Doctor or Clara. We know they have already filmed the entire season and that it’s highly unlikely either one will be killed off this early in the season.

Ghost town?

Conclusion:

This was not a bad arc of Doctor Who but it was also not a strong arc like the previous Dalek story. The story itself became much more interesting in the second episode when we are given a glimpse into the town before it met its watery grave, not to mention the discussion of time travel paradoxes. However, something was lacking here. And it probably had something to do with the fact that I was not invested enough in the minor characters to actually care what happened to them.

Doctor Who: Underwater Ghost arc review

Star Wars Figures: 1995-Present

When I was 8, I was walking down the action figure aisle with my dad. As I gazed upon the seamless displays of toys, my eyes fell upon a C-3PO glistening in its shiny gold paint. At the time, I had never heard of Star Wars (Mind you, this was at the tail-end of the Star Wars dark age in the 1990s when there were almost no toys or products to speak of. The C-3PO I saw was the beginning of the return.) but I was very much into robots. So, as an avid robot lover, I asked my dad what that was and if I could get it. His response was along the lines of, “Oh, that’s C-3PO from Star Wars. I think you’re old enough for that.” If he knew what would happen next, he probably would have never let me get my first Star Wars figure.

Within a week, I had also gotten R2-D2. Playing with the two droids was odd since I didn’t know what either one sounded like or what their backstory was. But I can assure you that the two of them had some grand adventures even if they had nothing to do with Star Wars. Shortly thereafter, my dad finally tracked down Star Wars: A New Hope and thus officially began my Star Wars action figure collecting. With this article, we shall go through the past 20 years of Star Wars figures leading up to the recent release of The Force Awakens figures. Now, mind you, this is only a part of my collection and not an exhaustive presentation. Let’s just say I would need a lot more space if I were to show my entire collection. Now, without further ado…

1995: The Return of the Figures

image2

It is a fact that there few to no products released during a certain span of time following Return of the Jedi. This was a dark time for Star Wars fans as they had almost no books and toys to collect. Nevertheless, with the publication of Timothy Zahn’s incredible Heir to the Empire, the products were coming back. Here’s a shot of the original set. Note that Leia was included into this set later and that I considered myself a bit of a painter back then and tried to do the Toy Story 2 restoration to some of my figures. These were quite simple and also very hard to find at the time. For the next few years, though, the main molds for the figures would be used for a variety of figures. Luke and Han always had the same head regardless of the figure. They did not bother messing with the mold until much later. Figures during this era were $4.99 apiece.

1996-1998: The Special Edition

image3

Shortly after the 1995 releases, Kenner must have realized they could still sell Star Wars stuff without there being a movie in theaters. They therefore expanded the Star Wars line to include some more figures. Of course, when the Special Edition was released in 1997, a plethora of action figures hit the market. It was at this point that I could not keep up. So I had to pick and choose which ones I wanted. You’ll notice that the detail is much more enhanced (the Leia’s don’t look like men!). Yoda included the backpack that Luke carries him around in while the Dagobah Luke was sold separately. In fact, Luke could not stand properly without the backpack. The Jawas’ eyes actually glow when you hold them up to the light. But, with any run, this one hit its end in due time. Tarkin and the spy from A New Hope were the last figures I purchased from this era at around 90 cents apiece.

1999: Figures can talk!

image4

Yep, that’s right. Star Wars figures could talk! With the arrival of The Phantom Menace, Hasbro included computer chips for each action figure. When the chip was scanned by a Commtech Reader (you can see that under the destroyer droid), the lines from the chip could be heard. The inclusion of the computer chip made the $6.74 price tag more than worth it. You can certainly see an evolution with this line. The figures were much more poseable, which made putting Darth Maul into fighting moves much easier. Detail was insane as well. You just have to look at the C-3PO to see that. You will also notice the battle droid on the STAP. That one was actually an Episode I preview that was released before the actual Phantom Menace line. And the last bit of information on this one pertains to the Sebastian Shaw Anakin Skywalker standing next to Qui-Gon. This one was in a series of flashback action figures in which you had a little card that showed you what the character looked like before and after. By the release of Anakin Skywalker (2001), the commtech chips were no longer offered with the toys but the price remained the same.

2002: Using the force

image5

First, figures could talk. Now they can use the force… with the help of magnets. Hasbro included a number of magnetic variations into their Attack of the Clones line. You’ll notice Obi-Wan is hanging onto the assassin droid. And, in fact, you could run around the house with that droid with Obi-Wan dangling for dear life (trust me, I tried it). However, the magnets were not as strong as Obi-Wan’s. That’s one reason why Anakin’s arm is somewhere deep inside my Attack of the Clones box… along with the Tusken Raider’s head. Lightsabers had a tendency to fall out of the Jedi’s hand. Oh, and I don’t know what the lightning is all about with Aayla Secura. It came with her and looked cool, I guess. But hands down, one of the coolest toys was the Jango Fett action figure. Not only could you remove his helmet and play shenanigans to Kenobi with his cable, but you could also fire a missile out of his jet pack just like the original Boba Fett. Did I also mention that R2 can blind you with his light because he can. Beware!

2005: Revenge of the Sith

image6

This was the peak of Star Wars figures during the prequel era. These figures had a good balance of detail along with some fun slashing action. I was disappointed with the Emperor, who does not wear the awesome fighting robe from his duel with Yoda. But it’s sort of full circle with C-3PO, whose appearance looks much like it did in 1995 (albeit more detail) with the shine. These were a good line… even if they may have gone a bit far with the “Anakin battle damage” action figure.

2006 to the Present: End of an era

image7

With the end of Star Wars as we knew it, the action figures started dwindling down. I more or less went into retirement since my interest had turned to video games and I did not have the budget for both. I occasionally purchased the random figure here and there, but I mostly just looked. Hasbro also seemed to see that they needed to release different items. So they turned to the EU. In particular, Knights of the Old Republic and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars. Cad Bane was probably the only figure I bought during Lucas’s Clone Wars run. Otherwise, this was a pretty dead decade for me with collecting.

2015: The Force Awakens

image1

Well, I just had to come out of retirement for the new movie. These new figures are fun, but they are not nearly as poseable as their predecessors. It’s unfortunate really. It’s almost a step back to the days of 1995. They’re still fun, but the Black Series for the 3 and a half inch line seems to be where all of the poseable figures are going. Those are a bit too expensive for my taste. I will say that I got the X-Wing primarily because you can actually remove Poe’s helmet with that set. The single figure has his helmet permanently on and obscuring his face. Also, BB-8 is in the back, but he isn’t removeable. That’s probably a good thing since someone should always stay with the ship.

Do you collect Star Wars figures? How long? Do you have a favorite line? Do you collect other Star Wars stuff? Let us know in the comments.

 

Star Wars Figures: 1995-Present

An Ode to the Spaghetti Western

I first started watching Westerns for research for a book I was writing at the time. However, I became increasingly frustrated with watching 1950s Westerns over Netflix. Hondo was lackluster and insultingly racist for me. Shane was boring and had an annoying kid to top it off. It was not until a friend turned my attention to Spaghetti Westerns that I started getting somewhere.

Shane wears the white hat that was typical of Westerns before the rise of the Spaghetti Western.

Shane wears the white hat that was typical of Westerns before the rise of the Spaghetti Western.

By the end of the 1950s, Westerns had become trite and, one could argue, preachy. These offerings were also very clean. 1953’s Shane follows an ex-gunslinger who has to choose whether or not to stop a group of outlaws from harassing the farmers and the town. But the message feels forced and is essentially a call to action, not to mention most of the supporting characters came off as annoying. These films also featured bloodless violence and villains who were honestly not scary. In High Noon, we see the villain for a total of maybe ten minutes. Of course, in that film, it could be argued that the town itself is the villain, but that is a discussion for another time. And then there was the realism or lack thereof. I mentioned that these Westerns were overly clean and they were also clean in clothing and appearance. The Wild West is dirty and brutal. The Western films of the 1950s did not get this fact across. It was time for a change.

Enter The Spaghetti Western

The Spaghetti Western first saw prominence in the early 1960s. They were so named because they were usually foreign-made and featured a predominantly Italian cast both in acting and production. The man who helped usher in the Spaghetti Western was Sergio Leone, an Italian director who could not speak English but had always been fascinated with the Old West. So how was the Western changed with the rise of the Spaghetti Western?

A sweeping shot from the legendary cemetery scene in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, which is arguably the most famous Spaghetti Western.

A sweeping shot from the legendary cemetery scene in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, which is arguably the most famous Spaghetti Western.

Grit and Realism

The American Westerns of the 1950s were clean and unrealistic. Most likely, this was because filmmakers sought to make films that were family friendly and thus could make more on tickets. Nevertheless, in 1964, Sergio Leone introduced to a new kind of tone for a Western with A Fistful of Dollars. The environment was harsh and brutal. Forget walking along the street in broad daylight. You could get shot and killed in the very next instant. The characters were also rugged. Most had beards or just did not shave often.

We were also given a new kind of character, the anti-hero. Clint Eastwood had been working on a television series called Rawhide but wanted something more challenging than always playing the stereotypical white hat hero. His character in A Fistful of Dollars was just that, an anti-hero. He was not a virtuous character trying to apply justice. Rather, he was a quiet, cigar-smoking stranger who was just trying to get by like everyone else. But unfortunately for him, he got thrown into situations and had to fight his way out. The cinema had never seen this sort of character in a Western before.

Sergio Leone (left) and Ennio Morricone (right) together redefined the Western.

Sergio Leone (left) and Ennio Morricone (right) together redefined the Western.

Music

A Fistful of Dollars was also the first time that director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone teamed up. Suffice to say, this duo changed the course of the Western sound. Leone had bemoaned American Westerns for having an overly symphonic sound to them. He wanted a completely different sound. The producers of Dollars urged him to meet with Morricone, who had just finished composing a Western for them. It turned out the two of them wanted the same thing.

Morricone not only changed the sound for a Western, but redefined the expectations for Western music. His work used nontraditional instruments like vocalizations and a mariachi-sounding trumpet. The main theme for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly featured a coyote-like yell that was unheard-of at the time but is now legendary. And one cannot forget that a harmonica was a lead instrument in Once Upon A Time in the West. No other composer would dream of trying something like that, but not only does it work, but it was also pivotal to the sound and plot for the movie. Expect to hear more from Ennio Morricone in this December’s The Hateful Eight.

The harmonica was key to both the music and plot of Once Upon a Time in the West.

The harmonica was key to both the music and plot of Once Upon a Time in the West.

Legacy

Westerns were never quite the same after the rise of the Spaghetti Western. Even John Wayne movies started changing with the advent of the Spaghetti Western. True Grit and Big Jake both saw an edgier, dirtier, and rougher side of the actor than in his earlier work. Music for Westerns has also changed with Morricone’s frontier sound providing a template for modern-day composers. Imagine playing through Red Dead Redemption without hearing the occasional strum of the electric guitar. It all goes back to Ennio Morricone. But most important of all, Westerns are now realistic and gritty in true representation of the real Old West of the mid-1800s. We don’t often see Westerns, but all Westerns owe a debt of gratitude to one visionary director who wanted to overturn all expectations for the Western.

An Ode to the Spaghetti Western

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

Overview:

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a downloadable title available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, as well as their next generation counterparts. The story follows the quest of two brothers looking for a tree that will cure their sick father. Along the way, they encounter wild animals, trolls, giants, cultists, and many other strange things, some good and some not.

The Good:

1. Brothers is a truly unique game in how it handles both protagonists. The older brother is controlled through the left thumb stick and left trigger. The younger brother is controlled through the right thumb stick. This can really play tricks with your mind if you’re right-handed like me and the brothers somehow end up on opposite sides of the screen from your controller. I had to stop more than once to get them switched around. Nevertheless, this setup made for some rather interesting puzzles that challenge parts of the brain one does not usually use.

While flying, you have to move the brothers left or right to steer the glider.

While flying, you have to move the brothers left or right to steer the glider.

2. This is a platform game and, as previously mentioned, it has a lot of puzzles that require the brothers to work together. However, each brother has his own skill-set. For example, the older brother can pull levers while the younger brother does not have the strength. Meanwhile, the younger brother has the ability to slip into places that are too small for the older brother. The collaboration of the brothers is a lot of fun and it is nice to not be totally alone in those dark and dangerous places. The brothers are also different in their personalities. Whereas the older brother is more mature and strong, the younger brother is compassionate and a bit of a goof.

3. The supplementals of Brothers work quite nicely. The graphics are not high detail like a Call of Duty title or Mass Effect. Rather, they are more like out of a storybook like Fable‘s graphics. This fits the fantasy genre quite well. Likewise, the music enhances the experience and draws on emotion with a sound that has a sort of wooden flute as the lead instrument. There is also no spoken dialogue, but the game makes it pretty easy to know what is going on based on tone of voice (they do speak but it’s no language I know) and symbols.

The brothers meet plenty of strange people and things, some that will help you and others that will not.

The brothers meet plenty of strange people and things, some that will help you and others that will not.

4. Level design is not lazy in the slightest in Brothers. The player goes everywhere from a village, caves, mountains, the air, a giant fortress, among other places. With the exception of the first section, I was never bored with the setting. Rather, I was drawn into it and wanted to keep playing. Add terrors and monsters to the equation and you have a diverse and dark game-play experience.

The Bad:

1. Minor glitches still hurt this game. The only ones I came across involved the older brother (never the younger brother surprisingly) getting stuck in areas and not being able to move. I would have to reload a checkpoint to be able to get out of it. Since the game saves fairly frequently, this was a minor concern. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a nuisance.

2. I am still not sure how I feel about the ending. I will not give it away here, but the story takes a rather bold move that may upset certain audiences. I give it credit for boldness, but I’m truly not sure if it was the right move.

brothers3

The brothers have to work together in puzzles. In this one, one grips a surface while the other swings across to the other side with the attached rope.

Conclusion:

I have never played a game quite like Brothers. The control scheme is innovative even though it can be trying at times. The story is dark and sometimes even brutal. The game is very short, but for someone who does not have too much time to spend on video games nowadays, I like a decently short game. If you’re one for a variation on platformer games, then this is certainly a game you should check out.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

D23 News: Star Wars

We’ve been hearing a lot of Disney news over the past couple of days due to D23, an expo put on by the official Disney fan club. But with Disney news, we now get Star Wars news! There are three major things happening with the Star Wars universe…

Concept art for the Star Wars parks.

Concept art for the Star Wars parks.

1. Disney Star Wars Theme Parks

The theme parks are finally coming! In both Anaheim, CA and Orlando, FL, Disney will be opening up lands and rides that will finally feature Star Wars. We don’t know too many details right now, but we have concept art and can rest assured that they will properly make the world of Star Wars come to life. Find out more here.

2. Colin Trevorrow to Direct Episode IX

Although not coming out until 2019, Episode IX now has a director. Colin Trevorrow, best known for his work with Jurassic World, will be directing the final movie of the new Star Wars trilogy. We already knew Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) would be helming Episode VIII. More information on Trevorrow’s new gig here.

Colin Trevorrow will direct Star Wars Episode IX.

Colin Trevorrow will direct Star Wars Episode IX.

3. Rogue One Cast Announced

Lastly, Rogue One is well into production and now has a cast. This cast includes Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale), Alan Tudyk (Firefly; I, Robot), and Riz Ahmed. We’ll be seeing this one hit theaters in 2016.

 

The cast of Star Wars: Rogue One.

The cast of Star Wars: Rogue One.

D23 News: Star Wars

The Age of Animated Sequels

While teaching Ancient Japan to my students, I became interested in Japanese customs and entertainment. Naturally, I immediately gravitated to legendary anime film maker Hayao Miyazaki and his work with Studio Ghibli. The vast color and creativity of his movies were not only entertaining, but also made me want to dive into the creative well and write my own stories. However, as I watched more and more of Miyazaki’s films from My Neighbor Totoro to The Wind Rises, one thing became very apparent: Studio Ghibli, and especially Hayao Miyazaki, was not in the habit of making sequels.

sequels2

My Neighbor Totoro, a film that would probably get itself a sequel if it had been made today and in America.

This is in harsh contrast to most animation studios that are headquartered in America. Dreamworks Animation has made two sequels to Madagascar, as well as a spin-off movie about those zangy penguins. Pixar has made two sequels to Toy Story with a third in development. Then there’s Blue Sky studios, which has made a remarkable three sequels to their Ice Age moves with a fourth slated for release in 2016. And yet, since its establishment in 1985, Studio Ghibli has not produced one sequel. So the question is why do American studios insist on making so many sequels instead of creating original animated films?

To help us answer these questions, let’s look at the man behind most of Studio Ghibli’s films, Hayao Miyazaki. In 2010, Miyazaki was talking about creating a sequel to Porco Rosso, a 1992 film about a 1920s pilot cursed with the face of a pig. However, Miyazaki recently “claimed” he was retiring from film making after finishing The Wind Rises (I say “claimed” because the director has claimed his retirement and then come back many times). So a Porco Rosso sequel is unlikely to happen. But this was in 2010. Why did he move on to other projects? Well, the answer is probably fairly simple. In my opinion, Hayao Miyazaki is someone who is not interested in exploring what has already been explored. He would rather chart new territory. That is why we only see original movies from him rather than a plethora of sequels.

yoko_out

The Wind Rises was Hayao Miyazaki’s last film. And still, he has made no sequels.

With that knowledge, we can truly address the question of why American animation studios create sequels. It’s actually quite simple: they are safe. As with any capitalist society, money is at the core. Why try to create something new when you can take something people already love and make more of it? It’s always a risk to make an original movie. What if people don’t go to see it? What if it doesn’t make enough money to make up for the investment? Studios as a whole want to curb this by just making sequels. Sequels are familiar, safe, and generally easy money.

Now this philosophy was not always the case in the genesis of animation. Take Walt Disney Animation studios. It was not until 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under that Disney created a sequel to one of their previous movies. Later on, Disney started cranking out home video releases of all manner of sequels to many of their classics. But why did Disney take so long to start making sequels? This goes back to a quote from the founder, Walt Disney, “I’ve never believed in doing sequels. I didn’t want to waste the time I have doing a sequel. I’d rather be using that time doing something new and different…” So, put simply, Walt Disney was much like Hayao Miyazaki in that he would rather work on “something new and different” than slashing out the old hat.

sequels4

“You can’t top pigs with pigs.” This was said by Walt Disney concerning the sequels to Three Little Pigs, which, according to Disney, were not as good as the original.

I am most certainly not saying that all animated sequels are bad. There are many that sometimes even surpass the originals. However, one has to wonder how many good and exciting original movies we are missing as a the direct or indirect result of a sequel. In the future, perhaps visionaries like Hayao Miyazaki and Walt Disney will once again find the advantage of creating new animated films for audiences. Until then, the theaters shall ever be populated by the descendants of the original film. This is the Age of the Sequel.

The Age of Animated Sequels

Positronic and Bicentennial Man – Retro Review

Isaac Asimov’s robot stories have always been a major influence to my writing. So, when I found one I had not read, I thought I’d pick it up. In the 1970s, Isaac Asimov wrote a novella called The Bicentennial Man. The basis of that story was about a robot who wants to become human. In the 1990s, Asimov and Robert Silverberg wrote an expanded The Bicentennial Man into a novel called The Positronic Man. The basis of these two works serve as the source material for the 1999 Robin Williams movie Bicentennial Man. This review will look at The Positronic Man and the Bicentennial Man movie.

The Novel

The Positronic ManThe Positronic Man takes place in Isaac Asimov’s robot universe. All robots are governed by the three laws, laws that cannot be overridden:

Law One: A robot cannot harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Law Two: A robot must obey all orders from a human unless such orders conflict with the first law.
Law Three: A robot must preserve its existence, unless such preservation conflicts with the first or second laws.

Robots are common in this world but also mistrusted and looked down upon because it is feared that they will eventually take over the work force. This makes it hard for the U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men to manufacture and sell their products. As a gesture of good faith, a well known government official, Gerald Martin, takes in a NDR robot. The robot, affectionately named Andrew (N-D-R. aNDRew. Get it?) by Martin’s youngest daughter.

Andrew displays traits that are not common for a typical robot. First, he shows creativity by becoming a master woodcarver. But it doesn’t stop there. As his master starts to become very old, Andrew asks him to grant his freedom. Through a series of legislative acts, Andrew is eventually granted his freedom, becoming the first and only free robot. But Andrew desires more. He is never content with being a robot. His endgame is to actually become a human, complete with all of the imperfections and disadvantages associated with it.

The novel is well written, complete with all of the complexity and charm of an Isaac Asimov book. But as you experience the life of Andrew Martin, you are constantly asked the question, what makes a human being? By the end of the book, that question is answered in a profound and impactful way.

The Movie

Bicentennial ManThe Bicentennial Man movie roughly follows the plot of the novel. However, it makes several changes that honestly do not make sense. The biggest change was adding a love story element. I suppose that this adds motivation to Andrew wanting to become more human. However, he wanted to become a human long before he met the girl. The romance felt out of place, especially since it did not occur until relatively late in the film.

The movie is also too small scale. For example, Gerald Martin flat out grants Andrew his freedom without even bothering to go through the legal process. It makes very little sense. What happens to Andrew after Martin dies? A simple piece of paper would not suffice. Rather, the law would need to officially recognize Andrew’s freedom. This was very well-thought out in the book but horribly overlooked in the movie.

But then there are all of the technical problems with this movie. For example, why does Andrew seem very clumsy and has a tendency to break things when he is supposed to be good at carving wood? But one of the biggest technical problems of all is when a robot is told to turn off a human’s life support system. A robot could not do that because that would VIOLATE THE FIRST LAW!

The last major problem was the problem of the movie itself. It was made in the time where movies tried to get PG ratings so they could convince families to go see them. However, Bicentennial Man is far from a family film. And the changes to the story, especially the addition of the romantic elements, definitely make it a bad movie for a family outing. Along with trying to be a family movie, it also attempts to be a comedy. Although comedic elements are welcome, they feel wedged in and out of place. All of these factors make for a very lackluster movie with very little feeling.

Conclusion

There is honestly no comparison. The novel is far better than the movie. The characters and people Andrew befriend in the book are interesting and rounded. It’s very disheartening as Andrew watches them grow old and eventually die. The movie touched on this point, but left out some of the cool characters in favor of the love story. If you are looking for a good movie to watch in Isaac Asimov’s universe, look no further than I, Robot.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? Comment with your thoughts.

Positronic and Bicentennial Man – Retro Review

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Review

The latest Mission: Impossible installment hit theaters this weekend. Here’s my spoiler free review of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Overview:

Following the events of Ghost Protocol, the IMF is under investigation for their often explosive tactics. Leading the investigation is CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Amidst the political problems, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has found evidence of a terrorist organization known as the Syndicate. As the IMF is under threat of being permanently shut down, the ranking head of the IMF, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), urges Ethan to hunt down and expose the Syndicate in what could be his last mission.

Rogue Nation – The Good:

1. There are many returning faces in Rogue Nation. In addition to Renner, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg reprise their respective roles of Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn. It was nice to see Luther back as he only made a cameo in Ghost Protocol.

Simon Pegg reprises his role as Benji Dunn in Rogue Nation.

Simon Pegg reprises his role as Benji Dunn in Rogue Nation.

2. Rogue Nation also has a few new characters as well. Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) serves as the head of the Syndicate and as a sort of Moriarty to Ethan. We are also introduced to Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an agent of the Syndicate whose own loyalties prove to be a mystery throughout the film. It was nice to have another female character in the franchise who was quite competent and also has an interesting background.

3. The opening of Rogue Nation is hands-down the best one of the series. It features the exceptionally real airplane stunt performed by Tom Cruise instead of a stunt double. The scene is intense and fun with Cruise hanging onto the airplane as it takes off. In addition to serving as an excellent hook for the audience, it also leads right into the rest of the plot rather than just being a standalone scene.

Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation.

Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation.

4. The film follows all the rules of a Mission: Impossible movie with action, twists, as well as an “impossible” break-in to a well-guarded complex. The formula is an old one, but it still seems to work for Rogue Nation.

Rogue Nation – The Bad:

Since Mission: Impossible III, we have been seeing a lot more returning characters to the sequels. But once again, the previous female agent, Jane Carter, from Ghost Protocol is not among them. It felt a bit unbalanced with a team of guys working together instead of at least one female. And yes, we get Ilsa, but, as previously stated, she is a wildcard. We don’t know where her loyalties lie until the very end of Rogue Nation.

Rogue Nation has plenty of action.

Rogue Nation has plenty of action.

Conclusion

 

It’s sort of strange to think that Tom Cruise has been making Mission: Impossible movies for almost 20 years, but he’s still throwing himself headfirst into the role. It’s unclear how many more of these movies he has in him, but, as long as they prove to work with the excellent formula set up in the previous films, I for one will continue to watch them. Rogue Nation still does not surpass Mission: Impossible III for me, but it’s a fun movie that has earned a place in the franchise.

Have you seen the latest installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise? Let us know your thoughts on Rogue Nation in the comments below!

 

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Review

Ranking The Mission: Impossible Movies

Since its revival in 1996, Tom Cruise has starred in five Mission: Impossible movies. The fifth one, Rogue Nation, hits theaters today. These movies are a testament to the time in which they were created. The somewhat over-the-top gadgets have gotten more advanced and less clunky over the years, the plots have adapted to the times, and the action sequences have become more complex. This list will rank the Mission: Impossible movies starting from the worst and working our way to the top. So let’s plunge right into what the worst that the franchise has to offer…

4. Mission: Impossible II

Mission: Impossible 2

After the successful first movie, it was inevitable that a sequel would be made. However, this movie had a very different tone from the original Mission: Impossible. This could be attributed to the new director, John Woo, who specializes in making action movies, as opposed to Brian De Palma, who can certainly do action but is also known for making thinking and complex movies The Untouchables and Scarface. There was certainly a lot more action going on in this film. However, that is the nature of a Mission: Impossible film. More problems lied with poor supplementals. By supplementals, I mean production values. First, the music was atrocious, which is a surprise from Hans Zimmer, who is a prolific composer nowadays. His overuse of the electric guitar as a lead instrument did not work well for this movie. Second, the cinematography is flashy and oftentimes irrelevant. Whether it’s strange fights in the sand, four different angles of Ethan Hunt aiming his gun before he fires, or the birds flocking in a cellar, the cinematography draws the viewer out of the movie with its lack of subtlety.

Supplementals aside, this movie had some problems in the story department as well. The romance plot was terrible. We knew Ethan Hunt would never end up with a thief, and their romance being almost entirely built off of a narrowly-avoided car crash is a sloppy addendum. Lastly, there was the supposed twist. The first Mission: Impossible made the twist almost entirely about the masks, which worked well with that film. Mission: Impossible II tried to use the masks as well. Unfortunately, the twist was fairly predictable and lackluster, like the rest of this movie. Mission: Impossible II remains the worst of the franchise.

This film gets one fancy camera angle out five.

3. Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

There is not much bad you can say about this film. It has a strong cast with Simon Pegg reprising his role as Benji from M:I:III and Jeremy Renner as a former IMF agent with tragic past. However, after Mission: Impossible III, this film felt like a step down. This was not a personal story for Ethan Hunt and lacked the character development of the previous. It also lacked Luther, who only provided a brief cameo in the film. However, the plot is fun and, while Ethan Hunt does not have much character development, the supporting cast has plenty with Benji entering field service for the first time and the revelations of Renner’s past. And let us not forget the cool stunt work on the skyscraper.

This film gets three and a half skyscraper climbing stunts out of five.

2. Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible served as a revival of the franchise from the 1960s. It even featured a character from the old show, Jim Phelps, as played by Jon Voight. This film is a meticulous spy movie in the same realm as From Russia With Love. Danny Elfman’s musical score perfectly creates this tone without much bombast. There is not as much action as any of the others, but the twists and turns keep the film from getting even close to boring. We also have some rather enjoyable gadgets with the gum explosive and the camera eyeglasses. With its twisted plot and ’90s technology, this film is a fun trip down Nostalgia Lane.

It gets four NOC floppy disks out of five.

1. Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible III

After the lackluster second movie, it was nearly six years before audiences saw another Mission: Impossible film enter cinemas. The wait was well worth it with J.J. Abrams taking the helm as director. Mission: Impossible III‘s primary objective was to focus on Ethan Hunt as a person and it does so wonderfully. Ethan is no longer on active field duty but instead trains recruits. He is engaged, which further keeps him from wanting to go back into the field. However, when his superiors ask him to take one last assignment, Ethan’s personal life becomes threatened. Throughout the film, it is the protection of his fiance that drives him, which is why this film has found its way to the top of the list. Of course, Mission: Impossible III has incredible action sequences, a wonderful score from Michael Giacchino (who was just beginning to become well-known at that point), and a solid cast. One would be remiss in not mentioning Philip Seymour Hoffman’s incredible job as the villain.

Mission: Impossible III gets four and a half wind farm chase sequences out of five.

Do you agree with our list? How would rank them? Let us know in the comments!

Ranking The Mission: Impossible Movies