Reviews

Yoga Hosers – A Spectacle of Fun

Kevin Smith’s latest movie, Yoga Hosers, hits theaters tonight! His new movie stars his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, as well as Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp. The movie is part of the True North Trilogy which began with Tusk and now continues with Yoga Hosers. While this review is basically spoiler-free, there’s a fee notes about general plot as well as a couple of cameos you might not have expected. But I promise we don’t give away the Canadian farm.

I was recently given the opportunity to attend a pre-screening of Yoga Hosiers as part of a Q & A session with Kevin Smith and his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith. During this session Smith discussed why he decided to create such a bizarre movie and how he plans to tie it into his “True North Trilogy”. He explained that he simply was excited to make a movie that was “fun and starred his daughter”. Whether this movie is critically perceived as a masterpiece or not, simply put “he didn’t care”. Although some would be quick to label him, I found his attitude to be inspiring. People are very critical and often depend too much on the general population’s opinion, NOT their own. So here’s my opinion on Yoga Hosers, and how it was so bad, it became good.

Yoga Hosers - band

This film takes place directly after the events of “Tusk” (the first installment in the “True North Trilogy”) and pretty much stars the same cast reprising their roles for this film, turning a pair of one-scene characters into its main protagonists. Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) and Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) pass their time obsessing over pop cultural and yoga. While the Colleens struggle with standard teenage normalcies like crushes and bad minimum-wage jobs, a secret Sausage-Nazi invasion is happening right beneath their noses, or feet.

Who doesn’t like a film about two female leads stopping a hostile Manitoba Sausage-Nazi takeover? That’s right, Sausage-Nazi’s!

Yoga Hosers Sausage Nazi

This film comes jam-packed with endless cheesiness, sarcastic references, and Canadian slams which is all a part of the Kevin Smith charm. It’s very reminiscent of a younger Clerks that somehow tangled with Gremlins.

The effects are what you would expect from a B-Grade movie. Character introductions are handled with 8-bit Technicolor cutaways, comic-style fight scenes, and a black/white flashback to provide some context regarding the ridiculous Sausage-Nazi villains. All stylistic approaches Kevin Smith added to throw this semi-horror and semi-action movie over the top on its imagery.

Yoga Hosers - poster

In my opinion, the best parts of this film are the cameos. Johnny Depp nails it, with his peculiar role of Guy LaPointe. Justin Long couldn’t have been any funnier as an “out of his mind” Yoga instructor. It was quite refreshing to see both Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp have a natural chemistry that extends beyond the big screen.

By no means is this a good movie, but it has something few movies have, FUN. Of course, hearing Kevin Smith’s explanation of this movie helps for understanding this bizarre spectacle, but I personally enjoyed it. I didn’t take it seriously and I didn’t have any expectations. Yoga Hosers was a fun transition from its seemingly disturbing predecessor, Tusk. I am looking forward to seeing Jay and Silent Bob in the final installment of the True North Trilogy:  Moose Jaws.

I give this movie a solid 3 out of 5 UFO’s.

Yoga Hosers – A Spectacle of Fun

There’s A New “The Room,” And It’s SLC Punk 2

As I teenager, I was into punk. More accurately, I thought I was into punk, though I was probably into a dozen related things, most of them more mainstream for real punk culture and that would be called a myriad of childish names by people who considered themselves real punks. However, I lived in a small town with a population of a few thousand, so there were few people to contest that claim. Because of this, I took the 1998 film SLC Punk as a truth about punk culture. It’s various pauses in story to drop scenes of punk history were either affirming for information I thought I already knew or informational about things I couldn’t find elsewhere. Mind you, this was early in the Internet age for a teenager. Social media was non-existent, Google was effectively an idea of the future, and information was limited to 56k. In other words, what I knew of punk came from word of mouth, the local library, and this movie. With that in mind, I also refuse to rewatch it even for the sake of context for this article, because it will probably make me feel like an idiot. I view this movie with tinted lenses, and I remember it fondly. It seemed like a compelling story about real characters who resembled much of what I knew punk culture to be: flawed, anxious, and ultimately self-destructive. No real punk stayed that way. The sequel, released recently to Netflix, suggests that the Internet would have made that film both painful and irrelevant. I also can’t make up how terrible the dialogue is.

Before you continue past the jump, there will be spoilers in the rest of this review. So if you haven’t seen Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2 and you don’t want spoilers, stop now, queue up your Netflix, and then join me later.

SLC Punk 2 - Image 1

While it seems to have had some interest in it’s initial release based on the number of Indiegogo contributors listed in the credits, my only knowledge of SLC Punk 2 came from it being recommended on Netflix. Apparently, Netflix knows I love bad cinema. This film may be the newest and one of the strongest additions to the “So Bad It’s Good” genre of B movies.

The film starts with some brief introduction to a main character near the end of the story. We see our hero, Ross, being beaten up at a punk show. Ross would be best described as a teenage boy who read about Nick Cave on a Wiki but never heard any of the associated music. He is established as “too straight edge for the straight edge kids,” and then promptly spends the entirety of the film drunk and on mushrooms. For how subversive the film treats the character, refusing to let any other character accurately give him a classification of subculture, Hot Topic had been around for 17 years in 2005, when this film is set, and he looks to have taken most of his visual and character traits from the 2005 sale section. He’s blocky and stiff in appearance, always wears a sport coat, spends his film conflicted and romantically broken. Seem familiar?

The film is narrated by the character’s father, Heroine Bob, who died in the original movie. This isn’t a cameo. Bob is a solid 20% of the film, narrating, directing the audience’s understanding of the scenes, and doing the punk history that Matthew Lillard’s character did in the original, speaking directly to the camera. What I remember as a character from my teens seems to me now more of a Quentin Tarantino impression, with the strange, eager excitement of a teenage boy jammed into a man’s ability to convey them. Bob tells us that his son, a unique white rose of independence, is heartbroken and his mother has no idea where he is. That’s basically the entire film. His way of explaining this is by describing his son the way a LiveJournal profile might describe it’s author. Another descriptor might be “stilted.” This could be said for most of the adult actors in the film, who are returning cast of the 1998 SLC Punk  film. I am somewhat confident in that all of these people are decent at their craft, but this movie does it’s best to be certain to undermine those capabilities. Camera angles seem more forced, as if the director was limited to long scenes in wide shots and close-ups, dialogue does it’s best to emulate Clerks, and the characters are reduced to even more finite cardboard cutouts of what they were before. There’s a woman who runs a steampunk shop, a man who runs a black metal shop, a junkie everyone thought was dead, and a guy who essentially runs Suicide Girls. This is 2005, so I can believe a steampunk shop and Suicide Girls being both new and thriving (despite no customers coming into the shop over the course of the film), but a black metal shop? Is this an RPG game? How can a shop that only appears to sell guitar amps, pointy guitars, and swords survive, even pre-economic crisis?

This  also brings us to one of my favorite scenes, and one that seems to misunderstand story writing, character, and law. Ross, heartbroken and riding with his friends, demands more beer. He stops at a gas station, grabs a 30 pack, and pays the man at the register with a $20, telling him to keep the change. As he exits, the cashier asks if he has ID. He replies, “yes,” the cashier shrugs, and the scene is over. There are so many similarities to The Room’s flower shop exchange that all this gas station needs is a doggie. The cashier definitely seems like an actual cashier they roped into saying a line and this situation wouldn’t happen even in a teenager’s dreams.

SLC Punk 2 - Image 2

SLC Punk 2 spends most of it’s time padding out runtime with dialogue that doesn’t matter to the story and hopping from the three teenager characters driving to a punk show and a myriad of Bob’s friends from before he OD’d gathering together to support his baby momma and help her find her son. The film seems to depict a group of men who have watched over Ross as a child in the absence of a father, rebellious boys grown into supportive men caring for a child in need. However, they all also seem surprised by the existence of the others in the young man’s life, if not entirely unfamiliar with each other since Bob’s death. How do a group of people all working to help raise this kid not run into each other in a decade or two?

In keeping with the style of the first SLC Punk, there are scenes in which the narration jumps in to allow Bob to explain punk culture. While the original film seemed creative and fun, giving these scenes a childish style that matched the theme, this one simply seems to be weak in it’s ability to edit, relying on cheap Adobe presets and reusing several of it’s quirky images, in particular a shark biting something. Similar strange editing choices, namely scenes with glaring ADR and jump cuts to attempt to put a band-aid over mistakes, make some of the second act difficult to watch, even for a movie watched for the sake of being so bad it’s humorous. I’m not sure if style has changed so much as to make this seem amateur after time or if the crew on this film simply wasn’t as good at shooting and editing as the original.

The other most striking scene, no pun intended, is the one moment of weight that is attempted with these characters. Ross’s friend Penny, who I haven’t mentioned prior because she does little up to this point but drive the car, stops to speak to her father. He aggressively remarks about where she has been, asking if she’s been “slutting around with her faggot friends.” Riddle me that logic, to which she quietly says, “yes.” He then punches her in the face. She responds by taking Ross’ cane and beating the father’s windshield. For a man so abusive as to beat his child, he doesn’t do anything to stop her but shout, and she flees to her car, telling him he can “jerk himself off.” We are faced with child and sexual abuse and then immediately removed from any responsibility for that issue. It isn’t brought up again, and outside of Ross trying to get her to date him, she isn’t given much screen time after. She is the Denny of SLC Punk 2.

The movie ends with a punk show, which seems to be the film’s main interest. According to IMDB, it was funded by Indiegogo donations and attended by more than 2000 fans. Ross storms the stage to insult punk in general, he gets beat up, and the adults save him. Everyone is happy and the story ends. As a whole, this movie seems to want to emulate the style of a film made prior to the common use of digital editing and film, which makes it’s cheap imagery seem less charming and more like a YouTube channel. The movie overuses and abuses punk songs, and if you turn on the subtitles, the songs frequently give the singer of the band a credit. Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but in a world where information is so available, referential films seem more painful and less entertaining than they would have in the late 90s. Rather than feeling like you’re in on the knowledge this film offers of a subculture, it feels like you’re having something explained to you that most people already know. When you pair that kind of awkward over-explanation with strange performances, clunky writing, and culture that is more eye-roll worthy than interesting, you’re getting a movie that feels like a live action version of the “My Immortal” fan fiction.

Have you seen Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

 

There’s A New “The Room,” And It’s SLC Punk 2

Shin Godzilla – Kaiju done right

It seems that 2016 has been a year of huge potential with mixed results, many tent pole films and many more reactions to them. This could simply all be down to the source material: characters with per-existing histories and fan bases that make it difficult for studios, directors, and actors to please. All this aside, it has been an emotional roller coaster of a year for fandom film goes.

Earlier this year when I posted an article about this summer’s Godzilla movie and how it was going to be done by the original studio that created the character, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely excited. What has also had many  of us fans very excited, and also a little concerned, was that this newest film was going to be a complete reboot – and it wasn’t going going down the retelling route.

For those of you who may not be Godzilla fans, there are some things that have always been canon in the Godzilla mythos: his origin, what he is, when he appeared. Like Superman or Captain America’s origins, there are some things about the big G that have been sacred to fans all around the world. But when the original studio decides to reboot the franchise itself and it acknowledges it is going to be a modern and very different retelling of the origin story…you need to have faith, but you can’t help but feel a little concerned too.

Our faith was rewarded, because they delivered.

Purple may be a new look, but it looks good

Purple may be a new look, but it looks good. The violet color is actually symbolic of death in Japanese culture.

The overwhelming consensus from from western fans who were lucky enough to see the film in Japan and those from the home nation of Japan, is that the film, while different, was masterfully done.  It has also been highlighted on many sites posting reviews of the film. The Japanese members of the fandom are usually the harshest critics out there – and yet so far they are the biggest supporters.

But it gets better…..this Godzilla is coming to the USA. Funimation, the company that distributes other Japanese media in the United States (the Dragonball franchise for example), has announced that Shin Godzilla will be coming to the USA for a theatrical release in late 2016. No date yet on that release, but with roughly four months left in 2016, you will not have long to wait.

Look away if you want to be spoiler free as I will be giving a rough synopsis of the plot. There is also one spoiler image as well, so if you want to save yourself a legitimately fun surprise, best to wait it out.

The film opens with some mysterious problems occurring in Tokyo Bay. Before you can say “I think it’s a monster” an enormous tail appears in the bay. This is right off the bat in the film and it takes no time to build up a threat. Godzilla is here and it really starts to hit the fan quickly. This is quite the refreshing change from other Godzilla films and it addresses one of the key fan complaints against the 2014 Hollywood outing.

The other thing that I should mention is that Godzilla doesn’t seem quite himself….spoiler image coming up folks…..

He evolves during the course of the film…

dramatically…

…more than once….

 

The first two forms of Shin Godzilla

The first two forms of Shin Godzilla – these are Bandai figures. As of yet no official pictures have surfaced online with as much detail.

The Proto-Godzilla does what Godzillas do best and starts running riot. It is here where the film starts to show some of its true colors. We go to rooms full of Japan’s government representatives as they stare in disbelief at what they are seeing and try to manage some kind of response.

I should mention that Godzilla originally served as a commentary for the current state of affairs in Japan and in this first reboot since the original film, the studio stayed true to that idea. The theme of politicians talking and debating until they are forced to act is a reoccurring plot point in the film and while a few fans have complained that the amount of time spent on this element could have been shortened, I think that this issue the film highlights couldn’t be any more current. The Japanese representatives spend a lot of time arguing about what should and can be done, but by the time they are able to come up with a plan…the problem has shifted sideways on them. Godzilla changes for his second time (the second form is pretty unnerving to look at by the way).

So at about this time, the USA comes into the movie. The US military helps the Japanese have a go at the walking disaster that seems to love populated areas, but nobody seems to be getting anywhere against the monster using conventional weapons, much to the concern of the US.

Then, Godzilla evolves into his third and final appearance of the film, the one we have been seeing in all of the trailers and lets just say he packs a mean punch.

Tension starts to reach a critical point when the US representative tells the Japanese that they have a deadline to sort this monster business out or it’s nukes away. Say what you will about the political undertones, it definitely ratchets up the tension.

I will not give away more after that because what comes next is crucial to the climax of the film. However, lets just say that the film ends with something of a cliff hanger and what I think is a pretty interesting way to finish the movie which will no doubt be the first installment in a series of new Godzilla films.

And a new series there will certainly be, with this movie already being almost twice as successful as the 2014 Hollywood Godzilla during its opening weekend in Japan. It would seem unlikely in this day and age that a sequel not be made.

So for those of you who would be considered “Western Audiences”, you may have to wait a little while for him to get to you, but this Godzilla is coming your way and if it’s one thing we all know – good things are worth waiting for.

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So how about it folks? Are you excited to see this new Godzilla? Will you see it in the US theaters?

Are you more excited to see where this version of the Godzilla franchise is going or the US one?

Comment below!

Shin Godzilla – Kaiju done right

Stranger Things: Spoiler-Free Review

Are you a fan of classic 80’s child adventure stories? I’m talking about Goonies, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Flight of the Navigator, Stand by Me, The Wizard, Explorers, and The Last Starfighter, just to name a few.

Well, you’re in good company. A set of twin writer/directors Matt and Ross Duffer, known as The Duffer Brothers also enjoyed those movies and have decided to grace us with a mixture of those ideas with large doses of practical and computer special effects. Welcome to the world of Stranger Things.

Synopsis

“When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl.” To say the least, that description only scratches the barest surface, as this series defies genre. It’s a Sci-Fi/Mystery/Thriller/Action/Drama love note to that era of Flock of Seagulls haircuts.

As a Netflix Original Series, Stranger Things was bound to be at least decent. It’s sitting side by side other great shows, including Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Upon first glance, the one thing I noticed was how well this show is put together. From the smallest detail, to the largest story arc, everything is dripping with 80’s. There are throwbacks via posters on the walls, t-shirts, and even the telephones and cars in use are very true to the year. The only thing that may have seemed out of place is the vernacular, the words they used. But, since I only spent a few years in the 80’s, I may be mixing fiction and reality. Which is bogus to the max, like totally.

stranger-things-poster

Review

Seriously, though, the writing, directing, audio, music choices, casting, acting, special effects, and everything else all coalesce into something that major Hollywood movies are currently having great difficulty in achieving, unity. Stranger Things acts as one story set in its own universe. There is no one piece where you can look and say, “that doesn’t belong” or “they should have done that better.”

The episodes are displayed as chapters in a book. If this were a book that I was currently reading, I would read it cover to cover continuously.

Stranger Things is rated PG-14, and I would not suggest it for anyone who is susceptible to nightmares or fear of the dark, as this will exacerbate those conditions. There is a fair amount of blood and violence, a lot of swearing, and just a smidgen of teenage sexual situations. This is one of those rare times where I will side with the ratings and say, maybe the younger kids should sit this one out.

StrangerThings

What do you think about Stranger Things? Have you already binge-watched it? Let us know in the comments!

Stranger Things: Spoiler-Free Review

Star Trek Beyond: Spoiler-Filled Review

For those who don’t know, I’m The Star Trek Dude on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve also recently begun my Trek Watch in which I am reviewing literally every official episode and movie of Star Trek including The Animated Series. Even though my plan is to do this in order (TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, and Enterprise with the movies interspersed as they happen), I thought I would take this opportunity to review Star Trek Beyond while it’s fresh in my mind. The review below is from my Trek Watch site, so please check out the rest of my reviews that are ongoing at TheStarTrekDude.com. You can find the original Start Trek Beyond review article here: thestartrekdude.com/star-trek-beyond

Stardate: 2263.02
Year: 2263
Written by: Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Direct by: Justin Lin

This review, like all on this site unless noted otherwise, will contain spoilers but since the movie just came out, I wanted to warn you.

My Trek Watch is being shifted a bit in honor of Star Trek Beyond which opened in theaters today. Star Trek Beyond is the third film in the Kelvin Timeline (previously dubbed JJ-verse by many, myself included) and the 13th film of the franchise. The movie was co-written by self-proclaimed Trekkie and Trek actor, Simon Pegg and directed by Fast & Furious director Justin Lin, another self-proclaimed Trekkie. The film stars the returning cast which includes Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Bones), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), and Anton Yelchin (Chekov). We are joined by two newcomers in the main villain played by Idris Elba (Krall) and a new protagonist played by Sofia Boutella (Jaylah). You might remember Sofia Boutella from Kingsmen, as she plays Samuel L. Jackson’s #2, the woman with the blade legs.

Star Trek Beyond - Posters Small

Alright, let’s talk about the film. Star Trek Beyond takes place just about 3 years into the Enterprise’s Five Year Mission. This might even be a bit of a nod to The Original Series, since it was canceled around the time this movie would have taken place. I love the way the movie begins. We are shown a Captain Kirk who is bored, tired, and disenchanted by the chair. He even makes an inside-joke about things feeling episodic. I laughed. What I liked about this was the parallels to Captain Pike of the Prime Timeline in “The Cage”. Both characters had lost their sense of adventure and drive for exploration. They had lost themselves a bit and didn’t know what their next step would be. Both even thought about leaving the Enterprise.

In the meantime, we had Spock’s interesting arc of conflict dating back to the 2009 film. He is constantly struggling with his duties to Starfleet and his duties to the Vulcan people in the aftermath of Nero. In a truly touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Spock learns that the Ambassador has died. This is an incredibly complex situation. What does it feel like if a version of yourself dies? How can one know?

Things don’t stay dark the whole time, though. In fact, I found that the film brought a sense of light and brightness to the franchise we had not seen since Star Trek: Insurrection. I found that this movie enjoyed the spirit of The Original Series but did so in the 21st century when movies are more fast paced and action packed.

The overall plot is solid. I also really liked the origin of Krall, even if some critics claim they caught on immediately. I did not. I found Krall to be a menacing character as well. He is powerful, intelligent, and dedicated to his cause. The characters have fun and/or important arcs that are all more or less resolved by the end of the film. Again, Chekov has the least going on but he did get more screen time than Into Darkness. Jaylah was a nice breath of fresh air too. Her speaking style, visual appearance, and attitude made the movie more enjoyable and brought a sense of wonder with her.

Star Trek Beyond - Krall

The character relationships are the best part of this movie from a story perspective. Bones and Spock have some wonderful moments both humorous and serious in nature. When Spock is close to death, it is their respect and friendship that keeps them going. Since 1966, we’ve watch Bones and Spock trade barbs. McCoy would throw a “green blooded” insult and Spock would reply with something intellectual yet sarcastic. What some don’t realize is that they were true friends with deep respect for one another. Beyond showed this better than any film before it and I loved every second. Seeing the characters paired up differently was also fun. We had Kirk and Chekov, Uhura and Sulu, Scotty and Jaylah, and Bones and Spock as I mentioned.

Spock Jaylah and Bones

What sold this movie to me, as a Trekkie, is its understanding of the franchise and canon. While the 2009 film obviously referenced the Prime Timeline it didn’t add anything outside of Spock Prime. At the same token, Into Darkness ignored the Prime timeline all together with the exception of Khan’s existence. Star Trek Beyond does exactly the opposite throughout the film. First, we have all of the Star Trek: Enterprise references like the Xindi and Romulan Wars, MACOs, and the formation of the Federation. We even got a glimpse of that era’s uniforms and the USS Franklin is clearly based on the NX-01 Enterprise design from the TV show, even if it’s different. But that’s not where it ended. We got references in basic dialogue like Chekov’s tale pertaining to the origins of Scotch, straight from TOS. Kirk even makes a statement about “absent friends” in his toast toward the end of the film. The birthday references are there too. These were echos of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock but in a different light for different incarnations.

The resolution for the film is fun, for me at least, but flimsy at best. I saw some similarities to how the Borg were handled at times during Voyager with the whole disrupt communication concept and I can appreciate all of the ships in the swarm functioning that way but I don’t understand why they blew up anymore than I understood it in the Voyager episode “The Swarm” when those ships exploded due to a phaser feedback… but at least that was an actual weapon. But, as I said, the scene and music is fun, so I’m going to let it slide because Trek has done worse before and it’s my only serious gripe for the film.

USS Franklin

Finally, we had the major tribute to Nimoy. Quinto’s Spock is looking through a box of items from Spock Prime. He then pulls out a small case where a photo slides out. I expected just a picture of Nimoy as Spock, maybe young, maybe old but just something to say goodbye one last time. We got so much more. We got the iconic photo of the original crew, similar to the one below. We got to see the Kelvin Timeline not only honor Nimoy in his passing but honor his Spock, his Kirk, his Enterprise, and his crew. It was a picture I never expected to see in new Trek and an acknowledgement of the franchise’s history that was perfectly deserving on its 50th year.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Crew

In the credits, we got a final goodbye to Nimoy and the film’s dedication to Anton Yelchin. While Nimoy’s loss was a major one for many in the Trek community and beyond, Yelchin’s was shocking and painful. He was so young and his presence will be missed in everything he could have been a part of. I fully support Abrams’ and the studio’s decision not to recast Chekov.

To end on a positive note, Star Trek Beyond was a fantastic birthday present to a franchise half a century old that has hit every corner of this globe. It captures the spirit of The Original Series while pushing forward in its own right, respecting the franchise every step of the way. I loved it and can’t wait to see what’s in store for Star Trek 4 and the upcoming TV series on CBS.

May you all live long and prosper.

For more of my thoughts on the film, catch the Screen Heroes podcast episode #31 with a live broadcast Tuesday, July 26th at 8PM CST at twitch.tv\griddaily or listen to the recorded episode at griddaily.com

If you have thoughts or are interested in more, go to TheStarTrekDude.com!

Star Trek Beyond: Spoiler-Filled Review

Star Trek Beyond: The Spoiler Free Review, It’s Fantastic

But I’m sure you’ve already heard that it’s good or that some reviews not liking Star Trek Beyond for its lack of depth, you know, the kinda of depth of classic episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever” or “Balance of Terror”, for example. What some people forget is that on average The Original Series was far from perfect. Depending on who you ask, only about half the episodes are really good. What brings fans like me back continually are the characters and how they interact. I’ll sit through some of the worst TOS episodes if the banter between Spock and McCoy makes me smile and if it has a theme or at least some solid message I’ll have a good time watching it. And that’s what Star Trek Beyond is, a simple character driven story with a theme. Its theme is camaraderie plain and simple. There are also much more sublet nods to ideas of globalization and provincialism and sense of wonder. Sometimes all you need is a nod if you want to focus more on the characters and you’ll have a great film.

Plot:
The plot is functional, nothing too elaborate, but it gets the job done. There are no big loop holes or dramatically illogical moments like what was found in Star Trek Into Darkness. But it does lack the freshness and charm of something like an origin story that is found Star Trek (2009). At no time was the story dull or boring, even during the moments of exposition and story setup it was fun to watch. The film moves from start to finish in a quick way that will leave you feeling like it’s going to end way too soon but the pacing never disappoints.  Interestingly enough where you could argue Into Darkness failed at plot twists and surprises, Beyond does a much better job at it. You’ll definitely want to avoid spoilers with this one.kirk-yorktown-uniform

Cast and Acting:
This film’s saving grace is its cast and acting. I know it’s been said before but if you think these actors have hit there mark before, you’ll be blown away with how they’ve improved on capturing the characters. They all feel much more visceral. Most noticeably is Karl Urban’s McCoy who is given a far greater role in the story. He’s your battle medic alright. And McCoy is gonna make you laugh, let me tell you.

karl-urban-almost-said-no-star-trek-beyond

The new comers to Star Trek, Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella, are well done also. You’d think Idris Elba, being so buried in makeup would be a mistake. When I first saw the trailer, I was reminded of the Remans from Star Trek: Nemisis, shallow Nosferatu like aliens that were flat and dull, more monster than villain. But Elba pulls it off well. He has a certain speaking cadence like Bane from The Dark Knight Returns but it’s actually much closer to how Ceaser speaks in the Planet of the Apes remakes. It draws you in, eager to hear every word, it keeps you hanging on his words. The villain interestingly enough has a not too subtle character arch that when it reaches its climax is interesting and adds to both the story and characters motivation, if a little to late.

bts-idris-elba-justin-lin

Sofia Boutella’s female heroin character, Jaylah, has some range as well. She portrays her as a strong and cunning independent survivor. Yet Boutell gives Jaylah a much needed vulnerability at times. Something that other space fairing, sci-fi flicks didn’t do with there stick fighting female leads (cough, cough Force Awakens). It’s Jaylah’s vulnerability with her strength that makes her compelling in the opposite way of how Rey was handled in Star Wars.

jaylah-franklin-chair

Script:
Much of the charm and fun from Star Trek Beyond comes from the clever script. Cheeky one liners and interactions between characters are what makes this film exciting during the down time between the action scenes. McCoy and Spock’s interactions are some of the best moments with the film. But every character has his or her scenes and contributions to the plot; no character is wasted and everyone has a reason to be there.

jaylah-scotty-scanning

The only draw back at the end is the problem solving felt a little too collaborative. Like cheesy 90s sitcoms where couples finish each others sentences when faced with a problem, it felt like they where kicking a ball back and forth and it felt a bit too forced.

Action:
The action is real good but perhaps not as good as something like Force Awakens. True, there are some moments where Star Trek Beyond introduces some very interesting shots and camera work that depict actions scenes in zero gravity in a new way, both in space and hand to hand combat. But these shots don’t always pay off. When they do, they’re something special.

kirk-motorcycle

Oddly enough though, the infamous motorcycle scene is actually pretty darn good. When I saw it first in the trailer I was reminded of the lame dune buggy scene from Star Trek: Nemesis. But it fits with the story and is fun to watch. I actually liked it. Kirk was the action hero we always knew he was.

Lastly, the space battles where good but not overly so. Much as with the plot, the strength is with the characters not the space ships.

Special Effects:
Actually, I was slightly disappointed with the special effects. Generally most sci-fi films do a great job at this, heck even fan films can have some great stuff. But there are some moments here and there where I guess they got overly ambitious with shots and angles and didn’t have the budget to make everything look perfect. I mean don’t get me wrong, the film overall looks great but early on in the above mentioned motorcycle scene for example,  it looked sub-standard, perhaps because they wanted an interesting pan shot for the camera. It may be from lack of budget more than lack of vision though.  I got to hand it to them for trying an interesting shot though. I’m no special effects purists.

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Overall:
Star Trek Beyond is a fantastic film but if you’re an old school Trekkie that hated the previous two films then there really isn’t much here you’d like. As for everyone else, you’re going to enjoy yourself with Beyond. It feels like a love letter to The Original Series, at many times echoing it in form and function. Though not a film with intellectual depth, it stands on par with the complexity found with Star Trek: First Contact easily and in many ways surpasses it. It’s an incredible bounce back from the shortcomings of Into Darkness and though in may not have the charm of the 2009 entry, it feels much closer to the source material than many other Star Trek films. In many ways, it was much closer to Star Trek: The Motion Picture as far as look and feel to The Original Series. That’s pretty darn impressive in itself.

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What did you think of Star Trek Beyond? Do you think Justin Lin was up to the task? Comment below with your thoughts!

Live long and prosper.

Star Trek Beyond: The Spoiler Free Review, It’s Fantastic

Pokemon Go: Tips and Tricks for your PokeAdventure!

So you just downloaded Pokemon Go to your Android or iOS device and you want to be the very best, like no one ever was?  You came to the right place.  We at The Grid Daily are here to make your journey to being a Pokemon Master as painless (and hopefully as fun) as possible.  Note that all these tips and tricks were gleaned from playing in the beta, so some of this information may be different at launch.

Pokemon Go Beginner’s Guide:

First things first, to learn to play the game, make sure you watch the quick start guide.  It wasn’t required in beta, and I didn’t know it existed, so my first day with the game was very confusing.

When picking your team, it may not be in your best interest to select the same team as all your friends playing the game.  The only battles in the game currently are at gyms, and if your team already controls all the gyms in your area, you won’t be able to control that gym until someone from another team defeats whoever is currently holding it.

You start out with the ability to catch one of the 3 starters, so make sure when they all pop up you tap the one you want the most, the other two will be gone when you capture it.pokemon capture

This is the screen you will see after tapping a Pokemon on your overhead map.  The button in the upper left corner lets you run from a Pokemon if you can’t capture it for some reason, or if you just don’t want to capture it. The backpack icon in the lower right hand corner lets you select different types of pokeballs or items to use in battle.  The camera icon above it allows you to take photos of the Pokemon you see in the wild.  The “camera” slider in the upper right changes the background to a fake world behind the Pokemon instead of using the actual world around you.  This will save battery life if you are having issues with that.  The CP number is the relative strength of the Pokemon.  You will be able to capture higher CP wild Pokemon the higher level you are.

As for actually capturing wild Pokemon, on paper, it seems very simple and easy.  However, it definitely takes practice.  The goal is to swipe the pokeball up to throw it at the Pokemon, and hit it with the ball.  The Pokemon doesn’t want to be captured, and will do things like jump out of the way and swat away the ball.  Once you hit the Pokemon, that is the first step.  Just like in the previous Nintendo Pokemon games, it will attempt to escape the ball.  The circle that comes up around the Pokemon when you are about to throw generally signifies the difficulty of the capture.  Green is easy. The closer it is to a red color, the more difficult it is.

The Pokemon can run away too, so make sure you do what you have to do to capture them!

The blue posts on your map are “Pokestops”.  These give you free items to use on your journey, and are the only way to get higher capture-rate great, ultra, and master balls, so make sure you hit every one you can!  They reset after five minutes, so take a bit of a walk and come back and grab it again.

The larger towers you run into are Pokemon Go’s version of gyms.  The color of the symbol shows you what team currently controls the gym.  If it is the same as the team you are on, you will not be able to take over the gym by defeating the leader.  You can still get EXP, but that is all.  If it is controlled by a different team, and you defeat the Pokemon, your team will now control the gym and you will be able to place your own Pokemon there to defend it.

Battling at the gym is fairly easy.  Tap on your enemy to attack it, swipe left and right to dodge attacks, and long press the screen to activate a skill once you fill up your ability bars.

Pokemon Go General Game Play Tips:

Once you have mastered the basics, here are some general game play tips for you.

Use lucky eggs and incense whenever possible while traveling.  Lucky eggs double your EXP gained from catching Pokemon, and in the early levels, that means leveling up MUCH faster.  Incense increases your chances of having wild Pokemon show up around you and is very handy.

Whenever you catch a duplicate Pokemon, make sure to hit the “transfer” button to send it to the professor.  This will give you items that you need for evolving your Pokemon.

While at a pokestop, you can use a lure patch, which will increase spawn chances of Pokemon around the stop for a short time. This bonus can be shared by all players at a stop, so make sure to use these when you have some friends around for maximum effect.

If your Pokemon are hurt during a gym battle, make sure to use potions to bring it back to health. They will not heal over time, and there is currently no such thing as a Pokemon center in this game.

Throughout your Pokemon Go journey, you will find eggs, which hatch into Pokemon as well as giving items necessary for evolution. Make sure you begin incubating these eggs as soon as you find them, as some of them can take up to 10 km of walking to hatch.

Speaking of walking, your distance isn’t registered in steps, the distance is tracked by GPS.  So if you walk around a lot at work, but stay in the same relative area, you won’t get any credit towards your egg incubation progress.  Also, any speed over 10 MPH isn’t counted towards your total, so car trips don’t help.

You can increase your Pokemon CP by evolving it or by using the “power up” function.  The items you get from controlling gyms and transferring Pokemon to the Professor are what you need to power up your Pokemon.

If you plan on playing this game a lot, INVEST IN A POWER BANK!  This game will chew up your battery and spit it out, so having some extra juice will be a good idea.

Also, look at your carriers data plan. This game averages around 10mb/hr of data used up, so if you have a very low data plan, you may want to change that.

And with that, you are well on your way to becoming a Pokemon Master. Good luck to you, and may your journey be full of Flareons and Mewtwos.

Let us know your thoughts on Pokemon Go by commenting below! Which team did you pick? Did you catch any cool Pokemon? We want to know!

Pokemon Go: Tips and Tricks for your PokeAdventure!

HTC Vive Review

I recently had the chance to try the HTC Vive, the next generation virtual reality peripheral.  I spent about 4 hours taking things for a test spin, poking, prodding, and testing the hardware capabilities. Going into this I had questions about the Vive and this new VR wave in general. Is it a gimmick? Is it truly as immersive as they say? Most importantly, is it worth the money? Well I’d say sorta. Here’s what I think of it so far.

Brief History of VR

I don’t know, I’ve always been drawn to new takes or concepts and I’m always on the look out for new ways to interact with technology, but ever since VR was first touted in the 90s with films like Lawn Mower Man, I was always let down. Gimmicky devices like the failed Nintendo Virtual Boy had left me jaded as to the possibility of having anything like the Holodeck anytime soon.

Wii Comparison
That being said the Vive bares some similarities with Nintendo’s Wii. Both are creative and innovative ways of interacting with a games. They also are both great at bring otherwise non-gamers in to gaming. Interestingly, because of the unique interface, it poses both a puzzle and an opportunity to make games.

The Wii brought motion controls to the fore front and virtually every other gaming system incorporated a wiggle, wag, or a wave into there list of user controls. More Importantly, although the Wii was slightly gimmicky it opened up everyone’s eyes to a new way to play. The Vive is at a very similar crossroads. I believe it is the first VR device that is actually up to the task.

Wii

Level of Immersion 
All of the hardware allows an unprecedented level of immersion.  Every movement and location is tracked flawlessly in real time 1-for-1, enough to fool your instincts up to the nearest millimeter. The 3D vision from the headset coupled with precise motion controls tricks your mind into thinking you are actually in the game. Proof of this to me was treating the virtual world as if it where real.

In one game, although I knew support beams and furniture wasn’t actually there, I had to fight the urge to place the real life controllers on them. I often found myself bobbing and weaving around obstacles that weren’t actually there. Not to mention the actual game mechanics. When the in-game baddies charged in to attack I flinched and backed away, much like a child would when first experiencing video games. I was having as much fun as that small kid playing games for the first time.

Games covered
I played three games and for the most part they reminded me of the Wii Sports and Wii Play games. Sure, incredibly fun to play in their own right but they were fairly simple in both look and function. They are often meant to demonstrate a concept or idea that would otherwise not even be possible on other platforms. And much like the Wii, they were meant to give both game developers and game players ideas of what the Vive can do for gaming. Let’s take a look at those three games next.

Space Pirates: takes inspiration from Tron Legacy. It’s a basic shooter with a techno feel and neon look. You hold lasers in both hands and shoot down drones in a kind of futuristic trap shoot, except the clay targets are shooting back. You fire in powerful slow moving shots or in much weaker rapid fire. To help you out you can draw a shield barrier that can protect you from one angle as your enemy tries to circle around and hit you in the flank. When this fails you can actually dodge and move out of the way in a “bullet time” style when time slows down.

Space Pirate GIF 1

On the whole Space Pirates was a fun challenge as it gets progressively more difficult. Groups of drones hold formation in front of you to draw your attention while others flank you. After learning this trick I’d draw my shield between me and the formation and take out the flankers when they popped up over the horizon. Both your pistols and movements are tracked flawlessly 1-for-1. It felt much more like playing a sport than actually playing a game. Exactly the kind of immersion I’ve been graving.

Space Pirate GIF 2

The Lab:  not so much a game as it is a platform for VR ideas. Many of the features of The Lab are only marginally interactive. The robot repair sequence or solar system model have you more as a passive observer. My favorite by far was the bow and arrow simulation. Holding the bow in one hand and pulling the arrow back felt incredibly realistic. It took some getting used to but it was very satisfying when I got the hang of it. But the amateur astronomer in me was giddy walking around the solar system, chucking planets that I grabbed along the way. This was obviously a great educational or professional tool. Imagine looking at a chemical molecule and walking around inspecting it. The Lab was all done in the Portal video game feel with GLADOS making appearance. As you might imagine it was incredible funny.

The Lab

Zombie Training Simulator: as an avid shooter fan I really wanted to try this one. Sure the zombies coming at you where only cardboard but everything else was realistic, especially the firearms. Besides, I wanted a more realistic shooter than Space Pirates. I was curious at just how easily you could look down real iron sights in the game. At first, my reflexes brought the gun on target, much as it would with something like what a Colt 1911. The in-game guns would shoot like I was pointing my finger at the target, very realistic. At greater ranges the Glock’s U shaped irons sights weren’t that useful but other guns like the MP5 and M4 allowed from the shoulder firing, much as you would in real life. It all felt realistic and accurate. Having to manually aim like this would make “run and gun” tactics in modern day shooters like Call of Duty obsolete, rewarding skill and reflexes, not foolhardiness.

Zombie Training Simulator

Final Thoughts
The HTC Vive is an incredible experience that everyone can enjoy. Sure the price tag is steep ($800, about 1 months rent) but it’s a first step in a completely new frontier of gaming that other game makers are sure to follow. And it’s true that there aren’t many 3rd party developers or in-depth games just yet. But  I imagine as time goes on prices will drop and more and more people will adopt. Developers will follow and we will be living in a new era of gaming. The Vive is more than just some gimmick but for what it’s promising and the price, I’d wait a little longer. Trust me, if I had the money to spend, I’d buy a Vive. I’m ready for VR.
Pros:

  • Immersive beyond compare
  • Clever use of motion controls simpliefies gameplay, no need of multiple buttons
  • A new way to play, making even mundane gaming chores fun
  • Cheap games

Cons:

  • Price tag reminds me of the Sega Saturn’s initially high price
  • The headset isn’t terribly comfortable and sometimes you don’t want to move around a front room just to play a simple game
  • Due to the 3D drain on the system and motion sensing there isn’t much computer resources left for pretty games
  • Not much 3rd party support just yet

Have you had a chance to try any of the new VR platforms? Comment below with your thoughts!

HTC Vive Review

Independence Day: Resurgence – Spoiler-Free Review

It’s been 20 years since the original Independence Day attack our movie theaters. The original film was fun, intense, and a little over the top, true to a 90s action film. Bill Pullman’s presidential speech has held up as one for the ages. Over the years, we’ve heard talks of a sequel but it never seemed to happen. By the 10 year anniversary, I was fairly certain we’d never see a sequel, no returning mothership, no adventure into space, nothing. I guess I just didn’t wait long enough.

My girlfriend probably said it best: “Roland Emmerich Roland Emmerichs all over this Roland Emmerich film.” There’s no question whose film this is and whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is up to you. I’ll provide my thoughts in this spoiler-free review but keep in mind that I’ll be noting things that do appear in the trailers and perhaps a couple of things noted in interviews.

Independence Day: Resurgence takes place 20 years after the first film in an alternate future where the events of The War of 96 actually happened. We’ve had alien ships laying around we could take apart and reverse engineer to help advance our technology. This movie does not exist in our 2016 but instead in a 2016 where the world has come together as one, where new technologies have lifted our civilization to two decades of peace. In the meantime, we’ve been preparing in case our enemy ever return. Well, if you can’t tell from the poster alone, they do come back and this time with a MUCH bigger ship.

Independence Day: Resurgence – Cast

The cast is real hit and miss. We have some great returning cast members including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, and Vivica A. Fox. How much these Independence Day veterans play into the story varies but I will say that I really enjoyed Judd Hirsch’s story even though it’s a little tangential to the overall plot. Bill Pullman has a solid role as well and one that lives up to what I hoped it would. His story was worth the wait, in my opinion. Jeff Goldblum can easily be considered a co-star or supporting actor. He’s in most of the film and has an integral part in the story and the future that’s come to be. Brent Spiner, for those who didn’t know from interviews, returns. His character was never confirmed dead and instead has been in a coma for 20 years.

Independence Day Resurgence Poster

The new cast includes Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, and Maika Monroe. Monroe plays Patricia Whitmore, the President’s little girl from the first film all grown up. Monroe does a fine job but I’m unclear as to why they recast Patricia’s character and didn’t bring back Mae Whitman who still acts. People I’ve spoken to believe it’s a physical attractiveness issue since her character plays the love interest of Hemsworth and Mae Whitman is a lot shorter than Monroe. Either way, it’s fine. Monroe does a fine job but at the end of the day, her character is more intended to push the stories of her father (Bill Pullman), her love interest (Hemsworth), and her best friend (Usher). Speaking of Usher, he plays Dylan Hiller, son of Vivica A. Fox’s character and step-son of Will Smith’s character from the first film. As most know, Will Smith did not return for the sequel. Reasons why vary but in order to handle that in the film, they had to kill off the character, something that’s addressed quickly in Independence Day: Resurgence but it needed to be done. Usher plays an ace pilot like his father who is still friends with Patricia Whitmore from the first film. Usher does a solid job and I’d like to see him in more. I hope this movie gets him some additional roles that are more high profile than When the Game Stands Tall or G.I. Joe: Renegades. Finally, we have Liam Hemsworth. I think it’s painfully clear that his character Jake Morrison was originally intended to be Will Smith’s character but it was rewritten when Smith couldn’t\didn’t return. Much of what Morrison does fits the bill for Steven Hiller (Will Smith) in not only tone and style but in consistency with characters from the first movie. With that in mind, Liam Hemsworth can’t live up to Will Smith and that hole is noticeable.

Independence Day Resurgence - Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner

Other cast include an incredibly underused Angelababy (whose real name is Angela Yeung Wing). She plays Rain Lao, another pilot who represents China, one of the main powers to help build this new world. When she is involved, she’s great, but she is pushed to the side most of the time to give screen time to Hemsworth and Usher. It’s unfortunate as she is one of only two Asian characters in the film and only one of three females. Lastly, there’s Deobia Oparei who plays a Warlord named Dikembe Umbutu. The story of him and his people is very cool and I’d like to watch a miniseries or movie just about their experiences. Unfortunately, his character is paired with the comic relief and is used as a balance to that for much of the film. His power and presence, like Angelababy’s, is wasted in a movie trying to spotlight Hemsworth and Usher while still providing enough screen time for the returning cast members.

Independence Day: Resurgence – Story

The story is fine. It’s an easy progression from the first film and doesn’t really surprise much if at all. It’s a little formulaic but it is Independence Day and if you expected some high level psychological masterpiece, you’ll be disappointed. The pacing is very similar to the original film with a few twists and the end of the movie definitely takes a different direction from the original. It’s hard not to compare and I know I’ve done that a lot here but the movie tries the multiple story concept the first did and it just doesn’t do it as well. At the end of the day, it’s an alien invasion film. The part I really don’t care for is the over the top nature of the new ship. It’s massive. Completely massive. So massive that it broke  the immersion for me. I love sci-fi and give a lot of passes to such films, trying not to question the real scientific nature of what’s going on because it’s just a movie but in this case I need Neil deGrasse Tyson to let me know if a ship that large could land on Earth without cause a lot more damage than it did.

Independence Day Resurgence Mothership

Independence Day: Resurgence – Special Effects

Okay, these are pretty good. The movie’s budget was significantly lower than other big block busters like Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War but I think overall, the special effects were better. There’s a lot going on with immense city destruction, buildings being thrown around, futuristic fighter jets, alien space craft, etc. and they all look really great. My girlfriend noted she didn’t care for some of the blue screen work but I honestly didn’t notice much outside of the big anniversary celebration scenes. Without spoiling anything, it’s clear that some things that were practical effects in the first are definitely CGI now. Some of those things look awesome in CGI and a few look a little more obvious.

Conclusions

I like the movie. As I said, it feels like an appropriate progression from the first and it opens up the possibility of an exciting sequel concept that I’m looking forward to. I loved what they did with most of the veteran actors who returned and I enjoyed the new universe they built. The alternate 2016 is awesome and I really appreciate that there were major effects of The War of 96. The special effects are solid overall even if some are over the top. It is a disaster movie in the end. Independence Day: Resurgence takes itself more seriously than the original but does not leave humor out. I mean, how can you with Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner on the cast? And even though Bill Pullman gets another speech, it just can’t compare to the original.

Independence Day President Speech

What did you think of Independence Day: Resurgence? Comment below!

Independence Day: Resurgence – Spoiler-Free Review

Finding Dory: Spoiler-Free Review

Finding Dory (2016)

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell

Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Synopsis: Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as the forgetful blue Tang fish with a friendly personality, as she remembers a key moment from her past and goes on a journey to find the things she’s lost along the way.

Review:

As with any Pixar movie, there was a short movie before the feature presentation, this time, it was Piper, a heartwarming story of a young sandpiper, learning to feed itself, but, also that some things which may seem scary at first could simply be hurdles to be overcome. It’s a sweet little clip, and, if you don’t care about the story, you should marvel at the details. Feathers, water, shells, and even sand are just barely on this side of the uncanny valley.

Ellen DeGeneres slips seamlessly into the role of Dory, just as the movie slips seamlessly back into our lives. It’s difficult to remember that Finding Nemo came out in 2003. We get a split-second recap of the first movie, just to remind anyone who didn’t want to admit to watching the first movie before entering the theater. During the recap, we get to see young Dory, which is probably the cutest thing ever, especially if you didn’t just watch Piper.

Finding Dory - Dory

When Dory is suddenly reminded of something she forgot, it starts a hide-and-seek/I Spy journey to her home, and her forgotten family. Her adopted family, Marlin and Nemo accompany her on this journey, with the help of an adventurous Turtle. Dory blunders her way into dangerous situations and blunders right out of them again. Some of the creatures they meet along the way consider fish to be food and not friends. Along with including nearly every character from the last movie, we get to meet a lot of new friends, including Hank, a suspicious camouflaging “Septopus” and Bailey a self-conscious beluga whale, who is next door neighbors with a near sighted whale shark.

This film served as great entertainment with its colorful cast and easy going feel. The plot is not as straight forward as you would expect from a kid’s movie, but, the twists and turns aren’t exactly sharp either. This is definitely a movie that will be enjoyed by children as well as the adults sitting next to them.

The one actor that gave this reviewer pause was Sigourney Weaver, who plays herself, or rather, her voice as the overhead announcer for the Monterey Bay Marine Life Aquarium, which has a “Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Release” motto.

As with any Pixar sequel, this one simply isn’t as good as the original, in this reviewer’s opinion. However, as stated earlier, with how seamlessly it segues into the first movie, you can hardly tell they are 13 years apart. Also, it’s worth it to sit through the credits for a humorous end-scene that tie the two movies together even tighter than before.

Finding Dory: Spoiler-Free Review

Pokémon Go: First Impressions from a Beta Tester

If you have been living under a rock, Pokémon Go is a new mobile game launching this year from Niantic, the studio behind the Android game “Ingress”.  It allows Pokémon fans to do something they have always wanted to do, be the “Ash Ketchum” of their own personal Pokémon journey.  This game is now in the beta testing phase and a slew of invites were sent out this week to bring in more testers.  I was one of those lucky enough to be chosen for the test , and now that I have had the game for a few days, I decided to do a short article to give my thoughts on the game as it currently exists.

Just to preface this, I will not be giving out any information as to actual game-play mechanics.  As a beta tester, I am subject to an NDA, and I will not be breaking that.  This article is just to give my impressions having played the game for a few days.  If leaks are what you want, there are plenty of places out there to get that information.

Pokemon Go

Capture Pokemon in their first augmented reality adventure.

To start with, the game is quite fun to look at.  The graphics are quite good for a mobile game.  I am playing the game on a Nexus 6P, and it looks great  on the 5.7 inch screen.  The AR (augmented reality) portion of the game works quite well, making it look like the Pokémon are actually in front of you.

Pokemon Go

Explore your real life surroundings to capture imaginary Pokemon.

The most surprising part of Pokémon Go, for me anyway, is that it makes you actually want to leave the house.  I am not generally an active person, but this game has succeeded in making me want to leave the house and explore.  Just yesterday, I went out to go try and add a few more species to my Pokédex, and I found myself walking further and further from my home, trying to hit that next Pokéstop or gym.  There aren’t many other beta testers in my area that I have seen, but I imagine once the game releases, it won’t be uncommon to run into other people playing, hanging around those landmarks in the game.

And it is there that I think this game will succeed.  Whether you are a fan of the original Red and Blue, or a newer fan who enjoys the 3DS games, you will find something to love in Pokémon Go.  I will release a full review, as well as a tips and tricks article, once the game is closer to release and the NDA is over.

 

Pokémon Go: First Impressions from a Beta Tester

Project Nemesis: The Next Big Thing

I love kaiju, and have ever since I can remember. What is a kaiju you ask? Essentially, “kaiju” is a Japanese word meaning “Strange beast”….or “giant monster”.  They can be found in all manner of media but these are not be known by and large for being the most artful of cinematic or storytelling experiences, however a legion of like minded science fiction fans love them. I am not sure what the draw  is for the rest of the fandom, but for me, it is the size and scope of the issue. The resignation of protagonists that know there is no escaping the destruction to come, the futility of trying to negate the threat, as well as the absurdity of the threat, and yet there it stands, looming.

It is hard to create a serious kaiju story considering what the antagonist has to bring to the table. For one, how does such a huge threat go unnoticed, and if it is capable of avoiding notice…well, how the heck does it do that? These can be pretty hard questions that the storyteller has to answer before the story can be taken further, and considering how much surveillance  the world is under today, it is no wonder that fresh new takes on kaiju are hard to come by.

The next item that has to be addressed in any kaiju you are coming up with is how tough should it be? In a world of nuclear weapons and advanced military technology….most nations these days could theoretically wipe your standard 1950’s style kaiju off the map. So either you have to come up with some creative way of explaining why the military is hanging back or you have to overpower said antagonist to the point where the story is not as interesting to read.

Perhaps the most driving plot point behind a kaiju is its origin. Lets examine the big three…Godzilla, King Kong and Gamera. These are arguably the most well known kaiju that there are, and they each have fantastic origins, even if they border on the slightly mysterious.

Godzilla: A relic from a bygone era, awoken/mutated by modern nuclear weapons he comes surging out of the oceans to vent his rage on anything in his path.

King Kong: An intelligent, social creature isolated on a prehistoric island all alone, fighting to survive.

Gamera: The GMO of your nightmares, he was created by an advanced civilization thousands of years ago to serve as a protector from another race of deadly creatures.

Being a huge fan of the genre, I take a glance at anything new to hit the market.  Now that means I take a look – all too often I have been let down by authors whose hearts are in the right place, but they have written stories without researching what has come before…or practicing their own writing skills. So a few years ago, when I saw Project Nemesis pop up on Amazon, I let it sit there for a while. My mentality is that if it is actually a kaiju story, the momentum behind it will be as unstoppable as the creature(s) held within its media. So here I am a few years later. Project Nemesis is now a series of novels, a game and as of this summer, a comic. Now all of this aside, there are many stories out there that get loads of publicity, but I wouldn’t give them a second of my time. A very popular series of novels about vampires and werewolves being one clear example.  However, after catching a glimpse of who was involved with the comic, I knew that there really must be something to this novel I had seen.

So I went ahead and purchased the first book in what has now become a series; Project Nemesis. I can safely say that I read that one start to finish in a day and ordered the second one while taking  food break from the first.  I have since read the sequel in a day and Have ordered the remaining novels.

project_nemesis_by_sharksden-d8t3pyt

Awesome alternate cover art for the novel version of Project Nemesis

These books and this kaiju are pretty damn awesome folks.

So lets talk about the novel. Firstly, at 288 pages it is not overly long or short, it’s a decent sized read. What makes the book a stand out for me though is the build up, and the growing momentum you can feel the farther you read into the book. I was really impressed by this because normally in this genre, the story falters when said larger monstrosity is not around to wreak havoc.  If you know a kaiju fan, you can ask them if they know the phrase “fast forward to the good bits” – they will probably laugh and tell you how the monster parts of all the old movies were great and the bits in between with the people were boring filler.

I can honestly say that Project Nemesis has the best kaiju filler material of anything I have seen or read. It is a monster and a story powered by strong character development. The reason that these sections of the book succeed is because of the main protagonists and normal way they think and react. Something I have gotten sick of is a single, male protagonist who is an expert at every form of martial arts and fells people left and right like some kind of action hero.  Project Nemesis threatened to start out like that, only our protagonist drives up to a cabin, opens the door, mistakes a sleeping mama bear for a bean back and then spends a rather humorous, if thrilling pages trying to get himself out of a mess. The next morning he is woken up by a knock on the door from the real bad ass who happens to not only be a woman, but a capable woman as well. I can safely say I was very proud of the author for not reducing her to a damsel in distress not once and for portraying her not as a one dimensional romantic object, but as a normal person who could hold her own.

The kaiju’s origin is what gives the novel its momentum, and adds a lot of the darkness and plot movement while  the creature is not on the pages.  Nemesis, as the monster is named, did not start out as a monster, she (and I also think its awesome the monster is a female) started as a murdered little girl.  The basic origin of said creature is that a biotech company is trying to come up with a way to grow human organs for transplants. Quite noble I’d say. However, when they add a little mystery DNA to the of the organs they are trying to clone….things get a bit out of hand. Of course, the company that is doing this really wasn’t all that noble, and they knew what they were injecting into said organ mix, however they did not tell the people who were actually growing the organs.  Our main protagonists, who happen to be a mix of law enforcement/government agency are just inspecting a disturbance and get pulled in at this point – and for a lot more than they bargained for.

Now I am not going to give away any more plot than I already have because when telling people about a thriller/horror with kaiju in it – what is the point of making a recommend when you give away all of the fun bits?

That said, I am going to do you a solid. After reading the book, I got in touch with two people who have helped breath some life into Nemesis. First is the author of the novels, Mr. Jeremy Robinson who was kind enough to answer some questions for The Grid about Project Nemesis the book and some of the side “Projects” that have sprung from it.

How did the concept for Project Nemesis come to your mind? Specifically, the creature’s origin?
The initial trigger for creating Project Nemesis came about when my editor, who knows how much I enjoy kaiju stories, asked me, “What haven’t you written a kaiju novel yet?” My response was basically, “Uhhhhhh,” and then I started working on it. The rest of it is kind of a merger of elements. I wanted the story to take place somewhere new for a kaiju, so I put it in my backyard, literally (the FC-P Crow’s Nest is located in my childhood neighborhood). I wanted the monster to stand out visually, so I included the glowing membranes and hired Matt Frank to flesh out the design I’d written in words. As for the creature’s origin, that’s one of those weird elements that comes out of the creative ether. I close my eyes and let my imagination run. I came up with a bunch of origins that didn’t work (and I don’t remember) and then the idea of having the creature be spawned, in part, from the DNA of a murdered little girl. It’s a horrible thing, but I knew it was right as soon as it entered my head. I then researched gods of vengeance, found Nemesis, and that’s when it all came together.

The pacing of the story in my humble opinion is well done, it does not go from zero to apocalypse in 2-3 chapters, there is a steady build that comprises most of the story. Was this a deliberate choice, or did it just flow out that way?
Most of my novels move at the same kind of pace. It’s something I’m well known for and have honed over the 30ish novels I wrote before Project Nemesis. Fast pacing was something I worked on for years. It’s a tricky balance to keep things fast, but also let readers get to know the characters. But I’ve been doing it long enough now that the pacing just flows. I don’t really have to think about it anymore. It’s more like instinct.

Let's just say the sequel has a "go big or go home" mentality.

Let’s just say the sequel has a “go big or go home” mentality.

Stemming off of my last question, was the origin the majority of the story because you already knew you would be writing more than one book?
I knew I wanted to write more than one story, but I had no idea how people would respond to a kaiju thriller, which didn’t

exist before Nemesis. Yes, there were a handful of Godzilla novels in the 90s, but they weren’t exactly thrillers (with that pacing you mentioned). So when I wrote Nemesis, I didn’t know it would become a five novel epic. I ended the first book in a way that could have stood on its own or lead into a sequel. To my great delight, Nemesis was a fantastic success worthy of multiple sequels, a video game and a comic book. I’ve currently writing the fifth and final Nemesis book, and am still having a blast.

So you make it perfectly obvious that you are an avid kaiju fan. What is your favorite kaiju film and why?
It’s always hard for me to pick a favorite. I have different favorites for different reasons. My top pick from childhood is Godzilla V. Megalon, with Gigan and Jet Jaguar. You can see the influence that movie had on me in Project Hyperion. As an adult, I’ve always had a soft spot for Godzilla 2000, not just because it’s a really good Godzilla flick, but also because it’s the only Toho Godzilla movie I saw in a movie theater. I’m also a really big fan of all three Gamera movies, and prefer them over most Godzilla movies, aside from the two I mentioned.

What got you started in the kaiju genre?
Like most nerdy kids growing up during the 80s in New England, I spent Saturday mornings watching a TV show called Creature Double Feature. Project Nemesis is dedicated to the show. Every Saturday (after watching Force Five, The Herculoids and Thundaar the Barbarian) I would watch whatever monster movies were playing, which more often than not, included Godzilla. I sat on the living room floor, eating Cocoa Pebbles at the coffee table and drawing Godzilla, Harryhousen monsters and my own creations. It’s probably a weird thing to say, but these memories of being creative while watching monster movies, are some of my fondest childhood memories, and kaiju were a big part of that.

Now the first novel has been translated into comic form, can you tell us a bit about that process? What was the biggest change between that and the novel?
The good news is that I wrote the comic book so the tone and voices of the characters are the same, as is the crux of the story. All of the important stuff is there. But you can’t make a six issue comic book out of a 300 page novel without cropping stuff. Most people notice that the bear scene near the beginning of the novel is missing*, but it’s still alluded to. Other than that, the comic is mostly missing details from certain scenes that had to be compressed. The history of the Crow’s Nest. The history of Truck Betty. Mostly background type stuff, and action that is good fun, but not integral to the plot. The biggest challenge was deciding what to cut. I wrote longer versions of each script and then went through them all, hacking them down to 22 pages each. It’s never easy to cut stuff (I rarely have to do it in a novel) but the end result was fantastic, so I got over it.

* Joe from The Grid here….the bear scene is hilarious and awesome, but only readers of the novel get to know why

Ok, a potential spoiler, in the first novel, what was the most fun part to write?
The most fun, well that would be just about any time Jon Hudson opens his mouth. He’s sarcastic and says what he thinks most of the time. He’s also verbally creative, so I had a great time coming up with creative insults and phrasing. And I think his voice is what keeps the book fun. Nemesis is a tragic story. It’s dark and twisted. And without Hudson, it could have been a really depressing read. But Hudson brings the fun to any situation, so I really enjoyed writing him. Answered without a spoiler!

Jeremy and I carried on a conversation as I read the sequel, and as a recommendation for anyone who reads the first book and wants to jump to the second, you may be better reading his other novel, Island 731 before continuing to Project Maigo, the direct sequel to Project Nemesis. It will not hurt you if you jump straight to the sequel, but you may have even more fun with it if you already know some of the other characters that are brought in ahead of time.

The other person that I spoke to was the ever awesome and all around artist spectacular, Mr. Matt Frank. Matt had the job of fleshing Nemesis out as a monster based on Jeremy’s descriptions. He is also the artist for all of the interiors of American Gothic Press’ Project Nemesis comic. The comic itself is a slightly shortened version of the novel, but having been able to see a few panels, I can tell you that no punches are being pulled when it comes to the horror or darkness found within the pages of the novel.

I asked Matt to sit down and pull some of his favorite pages that he did for the Project Nemesis comic and explain why he enjoyed these scenes so much. So without further adieu, Matt’s choice picks from the series:

project_nemesis__1_pg_1_by_kaijusamurai-d9av8qv

This page is a great example of collaboration. Jeremy and I went back-and-forth on this scene a few times, Originally I believe he wanted it to be the entire scene of Maigo’s murder from the book, but I suggested that we keep it short, simple, and shocking. A slow reveal of the catalyzing moment for the entire story. Jeremy then put the Nemesis mythological quote over it, and the page just sings as a result. Diego’s colors are on-point here as well.

project_nemesis__1_pg3_by_kaijusamurai-d9av8rt

Diego’s colors really bring this one together. it’s a fantastic compliment to the cool colors of the previous page, and I’m particularly proud of how my lines on panel 4 beautifully dance with Diego’s soft reds. It’s a great “DAMN” moment.

project_nemesis__5_page_4_by_kaijusamurai-da218mt

Out of all of the books this is probably my favorite splash page of Nemmy (notice how all of my favs are near-full-splashes?) I was really just having a ton of fun with her anatomy here, trying some new poses and positions throughout the book, and this one caught my eye. It’s funny how an artist can look at his old work and say “Oh, did I draw that?!”

Now, as if Matt’s inside panels weren’t enough of a treat, the real comic collectors out there can hunt down and collect alternative covers done by the legendary science fiction illustrator, Bob Eggleton. I have attached my personal favorite cover that he has done below.

ProjectNemesis bob

So for those of you who would like a summer read that breaks the mold, and also gives you something to move onto once you have finished the first novel, I recommend Project Nemesis as a stand out option. It takes the genre to places it hasn’t really strayed conformable into before, and gives fan service to everyone already familiar with what kaiju have to offer.

Project Nemesis and the three novels continuing the story, Project Maigo, Project 731, and Project Hyperion are available now, you can find them quite easily on Amazon.com. The fifth and final novel in the story, Project Legion, will be available in October. For even more kaiju thrillers from Jeremy Robinson, be sure to check out his newest kaiju thriller, Apocalypse Machine, and the upcoming new kaiju series, Unity (available in July). To stay up to date, with all of his projects, visit his website at: bewareofmonsters.com and subscribe to the newsletter. Jeremy was also kind enough to let me know that while the comics run for Project Nemesis is wrapping up, a collected trade paperback by American Gothic Press will be released sometime now and the end of September – so look out for that if you want to get the story and Matt’s amazing art as well.

For those of you who are fans of Matt Frank, you can visit his site at www.mattfrankart.com  and see some of the amazing art that he has done for other projects.

Now obviously you are going to read the books and the comic, who wouldn’t after a shout out like that!? But what we would really like to know, once you have read the books, seen the comic….is do you want to see a film version come to life?

Otherwise give us a shout and say what you enjoyed most from reading either the novel or the comic!

Project Nemesis: The Next Big Thing