Friday, October 31, 2014

The Second Disc: A Good Use of 3D?

You know... just when I think I've seen everything, something comes along that gets me as excited as I was when I first discovered how film can be art. A rare occasion that equally rarely lives up to the hype whether built internally or forced down my throat. What gets me the most excited is when I find out about something that may have otherwise flown under the radar, missing me entirely. The latest to do this is Jean-Luc Godard's new feature, Goodbye to Language.

Am I excited because this is the newest movie from a legendary director? No. Actually, I looked through his filmography and somehow I've never seen any of his films (as far as I can tell.) A little embarrassing since I consider myself to be a huge film buff. Whatever. It's not always what you watch but how you appreciate it. I still haven't seen Casablanca or Citizen Kane so let's get beyond the 'Film Love 101' bullshit and get to the point.

The reason I'm interested and excited is because of... 3D...

I usually take every chance I get to bad mouth 3D. It's a dumb gimmick that rarely works. When it does work it provides a limited time spectacle because you'll quickly be distracted by how dark or blurry the screen is. Whereas when it doesn't work everything looks like a diorama set or you see double. Sad considering 3D has been in and out of film since at least the 1950's, if not sooner.
[Editor's Note: The earliest 3D film screening dates back to 1922. It didn't become popular until the 1950's.]
That's a lot of time with little improvement. That's almost like if movies didn't go from B&W to color, but went from B&W to almost color, adding a few primary colors every couple decades.

Like other innovative ideas it usually takes a couple risk-takers, or experimentation that either does or doesn't work out in order for it to catch on. Even things like close ups and jump cuts required some people to think outside the box and experiment despite the technology being there under their noses.
In a way that's what Goddard aimed to do with this new movie. He's took the really old technology of 3D but finally put a new spin on it, or so I hear. I haven't actually seen the movie. Hence why this isn't a 'review.' Just a report of what I've read and why I'm fascinated.

Sadly there's not a ton of information about the film. Even the Wikipedia and IMDB page is surprisingly thin. In a way that's fine since overexposure could ruin the experience you would eventually have. Not that the plot or anything else is important in this post. We're talking about the 3D.

I know only so much about the technical aspects of 3D. So I can't say for sure how he did some of these things. This is just a report on what I've read.
For one, Goddard found a way to enhance the depth of vision in the 3D, figuring out how to make it work closer to the way human eyes actually work. Going back to the diorama commentary, I've noticed how in recent 3D movies there's only been a couple layers before hitting the flat background like it's a video game from ten years ago. And while I hadn't seen a 3D movie in a couple years, I coincidentally saw three movies in 3D just this last year to varying results. Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Even though I felt X-Men was the best example of the three I still felt the 3D came and went in quality. Partly because of that lack of layers and very flat background. According to the articles I read on Goodbye to Language, Goddard found a way to utilize many more, as high as SEVEN OR MORE layers! It adds a sense of depth modern cinema fans could go ape shit over. And this was done in an art film without a fucking RED camera and trillion dollar budget.

It's really good this 3D came from this director and that it's an art film. In a way that allows the obvious visual style shown in the trailer. Which I will lay out right... Contains full frontal nudity.

It has that low budget indie look to it. You may even be asking, "How the hell could that do 3D well?" Which is where the visual style works in it's favor. The film runs at a higher than usual framerate. To put it in perspective, most movies run at approx. 24 frames per second. That's partly what gives it that 'cinematic' look. When it runs higher it gives something of a 'home video' look to it. Which is why the movies you make on your iPhone look different than even the found footage movies. They run at a different frame rate so they look different.

When movies run in a higher frame rate they tend to look better in 3D and this is no exception. And having that 'home video' style intentionally done raises the 3D to a better level, which can only really work with an art/indie film like this. A couple years ago when The Hobbit Part 1 came out a lot of people complained how fake it looked compared to the rest of the LOTR movies. That's because it utilized a slightly higher frame rate. It's a tricky thing to get around and you'll likely sacrifice one thing for another but never fully achieve both.

Next, to state the obvious, 3D is filmed with two cameras side by side because that's how eyes work. Goddard's most notable experiment here was doing something simple but not so obvious. Separating the two cameras filming not as centered, sometimes filming entire scenes in different rooms. He messes with your vision but, from what I can tell, achieves something wonderful and unique.
To explain further... Goddard would keep one camera steady on a single object or action, like a chair or someone playing the piano, then go elsewhere with the other camera. If you watched the trailer you'd notice a couple moments had a blend of two images. This is the park I was explaining. Apparently when your mind tries to mix the two into a 3D image (like 3D normally works) it makes an incredibly unique image.

And that's a quick introduction to what reports are claiming Goddard does with the tech. The plot of the movie could be hit or miss seeing as it looks experimental and potentially pretentious. Something I would have automatically liked when I was first starting college. The way I see it, it doesn't really need to be a well written or well executed movie as long as it can prove more can be done with the technology. The story and almost everything else can take a back seat, so long as the visuals and the advancement of the tech get center stage.
May sound hypocritical since I've complained many times in the past about modern movies being a big, stupid spectacle with no substance. That's different. Stuff like that (like the Transformers movies) are a clear cash grab from the start. Goddard didn't do Goodbye to Language for the money. He did it for the art and experimentation.

Without a doubt this is the most interested I've been in 3D. Period. Still, the saddest part of all this is I may never get a chance to see it. While the city I live does play more obscure titles now and again it doesn't play as many as it used to. Even the Sundance theatre here plays a ton of mainstream movies with a few artsy ones in the mix. If it did come here I would be first in line! And watching it at home wouldn't be the same. Sure I'd give the movie 'as-is' a shot but it wouldn't be the full experience. Lastly, I doubt 3D TVs with a 3D blu-ray player could achieve the dept of 3D Goddard uses in this. Something tells me he experimented with high end equipment that can only be done theatrically with limited results at home.
...just a hunch.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 20

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"Conceptually great with a good use of color and lack of color. Just wish it expanded the plot more (which I'm sure the book does, calm down.)"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 19

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"Oh my goodness... this here movie... I, I... wish it wasn't over.
Seriously... you should watch it... or else... my name it's not Clover!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ignorant American Gaming: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

History: Ni No Kuni was originally announced in 2008 in the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. This collaboration between the game developer Level-5 and film production company Studio Ghibli began the animation aspects of the game around this time, as the animated sequences are essentially a new Ghibli movie.

There are two versions of this game. One for Nintendo DS and one for Playstation 3. The DS version was released only in Japan on December 9, 2010 to very high praise. The Playstation 3 version was released almost a year later on November 17, 2011 in Japan, and the rest of the world in early 2013. While the Playstation 3 version plays much different than the DS version due to difference in hardware, it was also very highly praised.
The game did so well that two mobile games were released exclusively in Japan. One being an episodic prequel role playing game, while the other was social card game.
A special edition of the Playstation 3 version, known as The Wizard's Edition, was made and included the game, a little bit of (not necessary but nice to have) DLC, a plush figure of your sidekick Drippy, and a 300+ page hardcover Wizard's Companion book (sort of a strategy guide.) However due to a glitch on the Namco Bandai website they oversold and had to cancel many orders. The orders that were cancelled were compensated with the game, a $20 Club-Namco voucher (for use on games and other products on their website) and a hardcover strategy guide (not sure if it's the same as the original book included but I doubt it.)

Personal History: First time playing through this game. Am very familiar with Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movies, though. Have seen most of them so I'm definitely familiar with the style

Availability: The DS game was only released in Japan, but the PS3 version was released worldwide. So if you want to play the 'original' game you'll have to know Japanese or play a translated emulation. The PS3 version is very common, going for less than $20 online for a disc copy.

Version I Played: American release, digital download from PSN store.

Review: I wonder how many people picked up this game for the same reason I did. It's the Miyazaki/Ghibli video game. Everything about it from a storytelling and stylistic viewpoint it is real-deal Ghibli. Sounds great! Most of their movies are instant classics, worthy of repeat viewings. So a game with a similar story and visual style sounds like a win! In a way it is. The animated sequences look JUST like their movies. And the in-game graphics even hold up with the style.

For comparison sake...

Here's a screenshot from an animated sequence...

...and an unrelated shot from in-game.

That's the first thing I give this game credit for. It grows from a Ghibli concept and keeps it up. It's far from using a familiar visual style to sell an RPG. Not one chance. That's because Ghibli was involved from the beginning.

The plot is pretty standard for them. A child is forced to deal with mature issues wherein he or she will grow, usually ending in a positive or morally uplifting light. May or may not include a fantasy world and monsters.
In this case our hero is Oliver. When he and his friend Philip try out a new vehicle Philip made in his garage, they crash and Oliver almost drowns. He is saved by his mother (who has heart issues.) Sadly the rescue proves to be too much for her and she dies immediately after saving Oliver. The tears Oliver cries after her death brings to life a plush doll Oliver has had almost his whole life. Drippy, a fairy from an alternate world, comes to life from that doll. He takes Oliver to the other world, explaining everyone has a "soul mate," which in this case means an alternate version of the same person between these two worlds. They believe that finding his mother's soul mate could help them find a way to bring her back to life in Oliver's world.
And so our adventure begins.

This is a very welcome change as most RPG stories, or the method of telling them, simply do not appeal to me most of the time. Weird considering RPGs are in my top 3 gaming genres. Still, most RPGs are either Tolkien rip offs or full of anime cliches. While Ni No Kuni has anime roots it doesn't share some of those cliches. Ghibli has always been an exception to the rule because they approach their anime movies differently than others. Many times being called the Disney of Japan. So the story, while typical Ghibli, was not a typical video game story. And since this was made from the ground up to be a game and not a movie it had gaming in mind.
More on the story later, cause it has plenty of ups and downs.

It's a little surprising I decided to invest my time in this game. A while back I tried the demo and I didn't like it. Still I felt it had potential. And at $5 on sale I figured it was a good investment.
You see, the demo dropped you in the middle of the game, which is a bad thing. The battle system is a mess you have to grow into. Being thrown in, in the middle is tough. In the actual game it slowly teaches you over many battles as the game progresses. It gives it to you piece by piece. The demo slapped you in the face with the full thing.

The battle system tries to mix action and turn based elements into one. Meaning while you run around freely and everyone attacks independent of one another, you select your actions via menu selection instead of button mashing ala Kingdom Hearts. It's a simple approach that unfortunately causes a lot of problems where I'm fumbling my controller to do what I want.
You freely move your character around with the joystick, and you select your action with the directional pad. Tell me you see the problem from the start! Since the action is action based you have to physically run from the enemy to avoid being hit. So in order for you to dodge some attacks while selecting your next action you either need to stop dead in your tracks, select the action, potentially taking a hit, or awkwardly try to control both the joystick and d-pad at the same time.
Thankfully the game is willing to pause the action when you go into the item or familiars menu.

Believe it or not I enjoyed the convoluted battle system in Final Fantasy XIII more, and that was a big mess, too!

Yes, familiars. Ni No Kuni takes a Pokemon route by expanding your horizons of growth through hundreds of creatures. Much like in Pokemon you are given one from the beginning and collect more along the way through battles. This offers a lot of variety since they all are built with different core abilities (drawn from the same standard RPG tree, mind you) and can be customized, even evolve. It's a neat idea and you'll actually use the familiars 99% of the time since playing as the actual characters is as pathetic as trying to slapfight a bear. It doesn't get you far.
I really wish I was able to get into this aspect of the game more. Sadly the game does little to make you want to explore it. They're introduced as a core element but then drop off the map quickly from there. You can hold up to three at a time per character and I had familiars I never changed out. The one I used the most was the one I given at the start of the game. I had no reason to switch him out because he was working so well for me.

This cute little bugger. Just look at him!

Such a missed opportunity... or is it? I guess I don't know since I didn't explore it deeper. But the game didn't entice me to. It looked at me and said, "These are there. They're pretty cool, I guess. Don't feel pressured, though. Maybe it's not that important." Unlike one of my favorite RPGs of all time, Persona 4, a game structured so you constantly switch, upgrade, and collect as many personas (their 'monsters') as possible. Sure I bet you could get through Persona 4 with mostly the same group of personas. It would be a longer, more tedious experience, though. But Ni No Kuni didn't have that. Could I have progressed through the game quicker if I did explore it? Maybe. Not to extreme levels, though.

Outside the unique approaches I quickly started to realize how it was a facade hiding something simple and generic. I'm not upset I didn't find it cathartic. I mean under the skin of this game's visual style and exciting story is a generic video game with little to offer.
The game goes so far to have all the cliche elemental levels. I kid you not. There's the forest level, desert level, ice, lava, and technically water. While these environments are all beautiful, it feels paper thin, with the NPCs only offering a little bit of depth. While the story starts strong it quickly becomes a sight-seeing trip, finding an excuse to hit every corner of the world map. At least it makes it easy to keep track of your progress. Rarely do you revisit old areas, and if you do it's brief.

Sadly I found a big, similar problem like I did with Xenoblade Chronicles (oh, look, a review of that game) and that's with the story. Like I just mentioned with this game, it starts out strong. Then, I feel it doesn't get interesting again until damn near the end. Like Ghibli wrote a script to a fun, exciting adventure where the first and third act were paced just right, but act two had to be stretched for the sake of length.
Doesn't help you can't power through certain sections. Many times I found myself overpowered for one boss, only to be destroyed in seconds by a mini-boss in the next area. Leaving me with the need to get in endless battles slowly leveling up. Thankfully this wasn't as bad as Xenoblade where I leveled up at an average of one level per hour. This was easily done in half the time in Ni No Kuni. So if you like grinding then you've come to the right place.
On the other hand I did have some fun leveling up and that's because of the side missions. There is a plethora of side missions and bounty hunts here. And unlike other RPGs where the results aren't that exciting, this game offers something great for every mission. Tons of cash, items to use in battle, or in the case of bounty hunts, TONS of experience points. But the best part is the stamp system.

Like getting a free coffee at the gas station

Every side mission offers a different number of stamps. When you fill up the card (or cards depending on the reward) you can redeem it for bonuses. Bonuses include getting more experience per battle, higher chance of enemies dropping items, running faster in the world map, and so forth. These are a huge benefit to the game and a great incentive to do side missions. If anything this is what kept me playing. It was the most satisfying part of the game.
That says a lot considering I dumped a lot of time into the game. Playing it the way I did with a pretty tight focus on side missions it took me around forty hours to complete, half the time of Xenoblade. It certainly wasn't the story that kept me in, seeing as how it didn't entice me throughout. I did enjoy plenty of elements of the ending, though. Some nice twists and turns that are definitely predictable, but good to know they went the direction they did.

I really wanted to like this game more. Some fine tuning of the battle system and story work would be great. At least in the middle. But something about Ghibli that automatically should have told me I wouldn't like this as much as others IS the story.
I prefer when Ghibli does the more down to earth, realistic approach instead of balls to the wall fantasy. It explains why Whisper of the Heart is in my top 10 favorite movies of all time, whereas fan favorites like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are not (but still appreciated.) I think it's because anyone can do other world fantasy in a whimsical way. We see it all over the place. Leaving this game with little to stand out among the rest. As much as I prefer the more down to earth dramas Ghibli offers, something's telling me that wouldn't make as good a video game. Unless they took the Shenmue route, of course.
But even examining it with other Ghibli in mind it doesn't even stand out that much compared to their fantasy titles. Everything is as you'd expect it. It goes the direction you'd imagine it would. In short, it's definitely a predictable Ghibli story. If it were an actual movie it would likely live among the moderately popular titles instead of the heavy hitters everyone references and talks about.

Look... I still enjoyed my experience. It had enough going for it where I had fun playing. If I didn't I wouldn't have finished the damn game. Plus I wanted to see how it all ended. The easy recommendation is if you're a Ghibli fan you should check this out. But even that may be tough. This game is in an odd middle ground where fans of the movies may not be able to get into the RPG elements, depending on their experiences with video games. Whereas RPG fans may not be able to get into the mechanics. It's definitely trying to please many people at once. Does it fail? Yes and no. It's just so... meh... to me... with elements of good hidden between the cracks.

I got it for $5 on a good digital sale. I didn't not waste my money. It's currently $20 or less on average. You can do a lot worse in this day and age of gaming. Maybe pick this up over a five hour, $60 FPS campaign with questionable multiplayer. Who knows? Maybe this will be the bridge that gets you into RPGs. It is far more approachable than the heavy handed Final Fantasy games.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: Carrie

Version I Watched: Netflix streaming of the theatrical cut.

History: This is the third adaptation of Stephen King's first published book of the same name. Carrie was first adapted to film in 1976 and is considered a horror classic. The next adaptation was a TV movie in 2002. The story was rarely touched outside that, the only others being an attempted stage musical in 1988, a sequel to the 1976 movie released in 1999, and the 2002 made for TV movie intended to start a TV series. With that in mind this new adaptation is technically only the third released adaptation since the book came out in 1974.
When this new adaptation was announced Stephen King himself asked, "Why? When the original was so good?" But shortly thereafter suggested Lindsay Lohan be cast as Carrie. It was eventually given to Chloe Grace Moretz, which marks the first time Carrie was played by actual teenager. Moretz was 15 when filming, whereas all previous Carrie actresses were in their late 20's.
While intended to be a more faithful adaptation, the response was that it took quite a bit from the 1976 adaptation instead. Overall it received mixed reviews almost literally cut down the middle at a 49% per Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the mixed reviews it was still a financial hit. It was made on a $30 million budget and earned back just under $84 million worldwide.
The blu-ray release contains and alternate opening and ending. The alternate opening was based on a scene from the book from when Carrie was a child. The alternate ending isn't strictly based on a scene from the book, but expands on a briefly mentioned sub-plot.

Personal History: First viewing of this adaptation. I did see the 1976 version many years ago. So long ago I barely remember it. I may have seen the 2002 TV movie version as well but I don't remember. Lastly, I've never read the book despite being a big fan of Stephen King's work.

Review: In case you jumped straight to this section and not the initial details, I feel I should point something out for this review. It has been years since I've seen the 1976 Carrie. So many that I barely remember it. I don't remember if I've seen the 2002 TV movie version and I've never read the book. So my Carrie knowledge is very limited. Meaning this will be reviewed strictly on it's own merits and the little, hardened knowledge I have about the older movie and source material.
I'm actually thankful of this. Sometimes a new adaptation of a book can be a good thing. Even if an older version was really, really good it doesn't mean there can't be new ones. Just because the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was so could doesn't mean David Fincher couldn't make a US adaptation. They're both great and there's enough room for both of them. With that said I always try to keep an open mind with new adaptation unless I have really good reason not to. I'm just glad I don't remember the older (I refuse to say original because the only original is the fucking book) so I can take this new adaptation at face value.

And let me tell you... a lot better than I thought it would be.

Carrie took a risky yet worthwhile route by keeping a strong focus on the drama instead of strictly the horror. Despite the intense opening where Carrie's mother Margaret (played by Julianne Moore) violently gives birth to Carrie in her own bed, then considers murdering her right out the womb with a big, rusty scissors. We later learn she does this out of religious guilt because of the way Carrie was conceived.
It immediately jumps to Carrie as a 15-16 year old (I think... maybe a little older) teenager with a troubled past is made very, very clear, affecting her physically. As seen when she has her first period not until this age. To make matters worse it happens while she's in the locker room shower after P.E. class, AND she doesn't know what it is so she panics thinking she's dying. Her bitchtastic classmates throw tampons and pads at the scared, nearly naked Carrie laying on the shower floor, while screaming "Freak!" over and over again. All while one of the girls films it on her cell phone.

Now despite the initial praise I gave it before that opening synopsis, I must say everything from here is a hit and miss from scene to scene.

First, almost everything that's a hit happens when Carrie is on screen. Especially the scenes when she's at home with her insane mother. As I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago, Carrie's mother is very religious, but giving the term 'extremest' modesty. Every she speaks it's as if she's preaching a sermon while on the verge of tears. When she feels guilt or tries to keep herself from sinning she inflicts pain on herself using her fingernails or sewing needles to pierce her skin. Sounds like something of a cliche for the horror genre, but Julianne Moore nails it!
Her performance is absolutely incredible! May even be one of the best performances I've ever seen her do. Seriously! I went through her filmography and of all the performances I've seen her do, I definitely enjoyed this one the most. And of course I can't talk about performances without talking about Chloe Grace Moretz, Carrie herself, and one of my favorite young actresses who has an incredible career ahead of her. She embodies Carrie so well as the sad, scared, and confused teen with strange abilities that it felt like she actually lived it. At no point does her character change or drop. She is 100% consistent and I can't think of a modern, young actress who could have done it better.
I'm not kidding. If you watch this movie for anything watch it for their performances. They make all the bad parts worth going through.

Of course with this movie being set in a high school there's going to be a fair share of crap to wade through in the pool of movie watching.
With the two powerhouse performances by our leading ladies, there are oodles of cliches and crap that come from some of the remaining actors. Most, if not all of them, were the students or faculty at the school. Many of their performances were exactly what you'd expect them to be. Nothing interesting and is definitely predictable. Bitchy prep girls, the rebel teacher, the principal is a bumbling buffoon, and of course the bitchiest of all the bitches' dad is a lawyer. It got hard to watch in some of these scenes as so many characters weren't worth looking into. Sure there was Sue who was the one nice girl to Carrie, as was Tommy, but even those two had their lacking.
Really most of the high school stuff that doesn't involve Carrie, like the prom prepping montage, is just stupid and annoying.

The other big problem I had was introducing certain elements but never expanding, or not expanding on the way it could. This was most present when the bullies filmed their harassment on Carrie with their cell phone. Only a couple scenes later it was uploaded to an unnamed social networking site. Then it just... kinda goes away for a while. Even when the bulliest of bullies is confronted by the principle, her P.E. teacher, and her lawyer father about looking on her cell phone she simply starts shivering saying, "isn't this invasion of privacy or something?" and walks off, never talked about again.
I realize the book was written in the 70's, but if you're going to play around with a great modern element that could give a new spin on an old classic don't make it seem like a big deal when it clearly isn't. Don't just save it for the big climax (because we all knew that was coming anyway.)

One part I was super excited about, but gave me mixed results, was the iconic prom scene. Even if you've never seen any Carrie movie or read the book you are likely familiar with this. The scene where Carrie is named Prom Queen as part of a practical joke. Then while accepting she is dumped with a bucket full of pig's blood, wherein she snaps by killing damn near everyone while tearing the school apart with her telepathy. Every video cover of every version of this story (and some of the book covers) show Carrie covered in blood. It can be seen at the top of this review...

...and here...

...and here as well.

Seeing how this plays out is always cool since different interpretations give different results. The results here were mixed for me.
For one it was horiffically beautiful. It was shot and designed so well that I couldn't take my eyes off it from the moment the blood hit her head. Between Moretz's performance and the design of the scene it felt like Carrie belonged in that blood soaked dress. Like she somehow looked at home in it, in some strange twisted way. This, blended with the bully video from earlier playing in the background, then her anger slipping out destroying the high school makes for an exciting scene.
What I didn't like, though, was that this interpretation was a tad over the top. Seeing as Carrie's powers are strong I can appreciate her letting it all out, leaving the school in ruins. What I didn't like was how it felt more like a scene out of the 2009 action/sci-fi movie Push. When she started flinging her arms around in an explosive manner (sometimes literally) it really took away from the horror.

Over the top is easily the best way to describe what I didn't like. Too much of it was over the top. The effects, the way it plays out at the end, just too modern and in your face. Which is a shame because the dramatic scenes between Carrie and her mother are so good I would watch a movie entirely set in their world and nothing else.
The combination of those two leaves us with a movie that is dividing not only it's audience but itself as well. For every fantastic moment it has it also has an equal amount of annoying, stupid, or not well thought out crap.

Unwatchable? Definitely not. I would recommend any Stephen King fan gives it a try at least. There's enough here to satisfy even if you have to get through the garbage. Again, I cannot stress enough how amazing Moretz and Moore did in their performance. It's a rarity to see a really good horror movie as is. But a brialliant performance within that horror movie? Even rarer. This new interpretation definitely stands out over most of the other passable horror that comes out every year. Like the Ouija Board movie. Seriously, who thinks THAT will be any good?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 18

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"This movie was made in 2003. It likes to remind you every five minutes."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 17

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"It's crazy, loud, and stupid... but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Second Disc: When a Franchise Ends, or My Thoughts on the How I Met Your Mother Finale

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, the finale aired back in March. But I don't have any form of cable setup in my apartment, basic or whatever, so Netflix is where I get a lot of my entertainment. So I realize this is a belated response, but maybe not for all of you. Especially if you're like me and prefer watching shows when you can actually control when you watch it. A shame it took six months for the final season to hit Netflix... but oh well. At least I got to see it the way I like to.

First, for context, my perspective on the franchise as a whole. If you don't care about that and just want to know what I thought of the ending then scroll down to the BIG BOLD LETTERS that scream ENDING!

Obviously I enjoyed the show a lot if I went through all nine seasons of the show. My easiest review of those seasons is that it's definitely a step above the typical studio audience sitcom, despite essentially being what you'd expect at the same time.
I liked the unique approach it took. It had a very clear intent from the beginning. Technically told entirely in flashbacks with the occasional flash forward to show how key moments play out years later. In fact, the thing I liked most is the flash forward element. It set certain details in stone, forcing the writers to head that direction without jumping the shark too hard along the way.
It's a shame the characters we're supposed to care about were a mixed bag. The show revolves around Ted Mosby. A single fifteen year old living in a thirty-something's body looking for his one and only. While this is his story, his portions are far less fun and interesting than the other characters. When you've got a great couple like Marshall and Lily, for example, it's hard to compete.
To keep this portion short I'll say this is one of the few modern TV comedy exceptions in my book. So many sitcoms are popular yet forgettable. So for one to rise above the ashes on a major network that says a lot. While it was spread thin in maaaaaaany spots keeping each season at 20-24 episodes each I still found all nine seasons of HIMYM more enjoyable (and definitely more dramatically pleasing) than the six seasons of The Big Bang Theory I've seen so far (another sitcom I enjoy, just on a different kind of level.)
Then we get to...

I'm definitely not alone in saying the ending was a disappointment. Fans exploded anger after it aired and I can understand why.
For those who need a reminder, or just don't care enough to watch (but are reading this for some reason) here's what happened... Most of season nine was the weekend leading up to Barney and Robin's wedding. After the usual up's and down's the group goes through the wedding happens with everyone learning a lesson about themselves and one another (it really does boil down to it that easily every season, doesn't it?) There are tons of changes happening in this finale. Marshall and Lily are moving to Italy for a year, and a surprise no one in their group saw coming, Ted is moving to Chicago for a new job and a new start. Ted is damn near on the bus out of town when he takes a shot at talking to the bass player from the band at the wedding, waiting at the same bus stop (already set up as 'the mother.') Ted decides to stay in New York.
The final episode is a two parter. Barney and Robin's marriage fail after three years, Barney then knocks up a girl and becomes a dad, Marshall eventually gets to be a judge around the time they are expecting their third kid, and Ted and Tracy ('the mother') have been engaged for five years with two kids. They get married, quickly detail some more of their life in a montage, show she gets sick and dies, "and that, kids, is how I met your mother." But it doesn't end there. The kids point out how most of the story was about Robin, saying it's obvious their dad still has a thing for her. "Dad, it's been six years since mom died. Maybe it's time to move on" the daughter says. Ted gets the iconic blue horn, stands outside Robin's apartment window and... that's it. Suggesting he finally gets the girl he's been after.

Wait... what?

The immediate and most obvious response is how tacked on it feels. The two part episode spent forty minutes time telling you how everything has changed and will never be the same. It flat out tells you what happens to them and how happy they become later in life. Then they throw it out the window and say, "Nah, Ted is still the same. He still loves Robin. Go get the blue horn and call it a day."
It's an ending that only makes sense as an attempt at fan service. Fan service that obviously failed since the core audience went nuts with anger. That and it's a cop out ending. So many sitcoms end the way you'd expect them to in the most predictable way possible. This being that cliche only done in a slightly unexpected way.

But of course the biggest sin is that they tacked on this cliche ending just after they did something few sitcoms do. Give a satisfying end with characters that actually grow and change for the better, even in a realistic way in some aspects.
The ending is such a step back in terms of growth.

I spent nine seasons not really liking Ted. I always felt he was too whiny and annoying. Which is fine in some cases, for a lovable loser, only I didn't find him very lovable. Which is bad because when you fail to make a lovable loser all you're left with is a loser. I was rooting for him for the sake of the plot of the show. It got pretty interesting from time to time when he'd date a new girl. It gave you intrigue, wondering if this was "the one," making you think like Ted. But I never felt he grew much until the last season.
Then he kept falling in and out of love with Robin. Someone I was down with at first only to be more annoyed the more Ted obsessed. She herself would have doubts if she should or shouldn't be with Ted. Putting him through constant annoyances, dragging him through the dirt, never giving a straight answer.
Then at the end Ted changed. It was a nice change. Finally a new Ted. Almost everyone else in the show had growth and change. Marshall and Lily most of all (while retaining that youthful goofiness about them.) Even Barney had a lot of growth throughout the years. So in the final moments of the show when Lily says, "No, this is different" it actually FELT different!

So when the story goes through the very well done two part finale only to end with the most predictable and insulting (to the characters) way possible... I, too, felt disappointed.
I felt having Ted wind up with Robin was an insult to the beautiful relationship they developed between Ted and Tracy. A love story that was told in less than half a dozen episodes that was leaps and bounds better than the season after season of falling in and out of love of Robin. The biggest reason being that it felt far more realistic and passionate. Whereas Robin felt like a high school crush that took him way too long to get over. Someone he fell for long before he grew up and finally became a man.
So instead of taking the great ending they had (Tracy can live or die... whatever) they take a plot device that kept the show running for years and called it destiny because of how much he obsessed. That's not good writing, that's convenient writing. Convenient writing that renders Ted's relationship with his REAL love of his life completely moot. So just because Robin said "Maybe I should be marrying you, Ted" in a late, late episode that means she's justified a relationship with Ted? No, not a chance. She had her chance and she screwed up. Ted's an idiot for wanting to deal with that train wreck again, even if his wife died.
I would be more okay with the ending if the same thing happened but he wound up with someone else. I understand as people get older, their spouses pass, and they re-marry for companionship. This didn't feel like that. This felt like his relationship with Tracy barely mattered, and that it was something to go through just to get to the grand prize known as Robin.

In super short... Robin doesn't deserve Ted, Ted should not have gone to her after he already married the love of his life, and it should have ended when he simply said, "and that, kids, is how I met your mother."

I did see the leaked alternate ending. Closer to what I wanted. Even went so far as to have Ted say "everything I did lead to this point." So much better. Not much else to say about that. The alternate did it better while the canon ending did it wrong.