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Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Four: Balance] (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 13, 2015

TheByteDaily

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Four: Balance] (TheByteScene Review)

4 Spectacular-seasons-of-Television out of 4

I’d like to begin my review for the final season of The Legend of Korra by stating precisely how much I’ve enjoyed this series’ writing, characters, plot, animation, music, and direction. After two years, four seasons, and 52 episodes, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to be a part of Michael Dante DiMartino’s and Bryan Konietzko’s vision of their world. Thanks to the talented work of Janet Varney, David Faustino, P.J. Byrne, Sychelle Gabriel, J.K. Simmons, and Mindy Sterling, characters like Korra, Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, and Lin not only came to life onscreen, they felt like real people. The efforts of Jeremy Zuckerman to give the world of Avatar a musical voice was not only successful, but it sets the standard for success, and I hope that future showrunners give their composers the kind of freedom that Konietzko and DiMartino gave Zuckerman.

In Book Four: Balance, Konietzko and DiMartino bring their story of Korra to a stunning, moving, and deeply human conclusion. Their character writing – as well as their decision to out Korra as a bisexual woman – will surely resonate in the annals of television history. When I say that there hasn’t been a show like The Legend of Korra in a long time, I also mean to say that I hope the future of animated television will look to Korra as a benchmark of subtlety, grace, and animated splendour.

However, my swelling praise comes with a single rejoinder: for as much as history will study The Legend of Korra as an example of television-done-right, historians will also study Nickelodeon as an example of television-networking done wrong.

When Nickelodeon announced The Legend of Korra‘s third season, they did so with the least pomp and circumstance that comes to recent memory. Ignoring the fact that four episodes were leaked online well before Nickelodeon had even announced an air-date for the third season, Nickelodeon’s announcing of a 13-episode season merely one week before it was to air was simultaneously beguiling and astonishing.

I failed to mention my extreme disappointment in Nickelodeon during my review of Korra‘s third season for the simple reason that I believed the series’ troubles to be over. Not content with forcing the show online after choosing to air two episodes weekly, Nickelodeon set up further barriers for Konietzko and DiMartino by slashing their fourth season budget. As a result of Nickelodeon’s actions, Balance – a 13-episode season – really featured 12 episodes and a clip-show.

Nickelodeon has, for reasons that grasp comprehension, obstructed, impeded, held back, and disadvantaged one of the finest offerings of children’s entertainment and animation. I will say this, however: I do not review The Legend of Korra as a great show despite its disadvantages – nor do I believe that it is a great show in spite of its disadvantages. Even with its enormous mishandling on the part of its studio, this is a show that has repeatedly surpassed and subverted expectations time and time again.

The notion of subverting expectations is key to deconstructing exactly why The Legend of Korra is such a spectacular work of art.

The distinctions between television and cinema are so obvious and so vast that it is often difficult to realize that the only real difference between the big and small screens is the fact that TV has more time to tell a story. Ignoring marketing, securing an audience, financing a budget, and even attracting talented artists, the simple difference between television and film is a difference in runtime.

Moviegoers have two – possibly three – hours to grow close to characters, actions, plots, and situations. In comparison, fans of television have weeks – often literal seasons – to analyze, discuss, nitpick, and watch their favourite televised moments over and over again. TV creators – more so than filmmakers – are tasked with creating individual stories that grasp their audiences’ attentions, while simultaneously combining into a logical, cohesive, and comprehensible whole.

When I first watched The Legend of Korra‘s first season, I did so with a group of Avatar-fascinated friends who made an active point of discussing theories and speculating about where the show will go next. We came up with ideas and possibilities, we used our almost encyclopedic knowledge of Avatar lore to interact with our viewing of Korra’s story. In short, we tried to figure out what would happen next.

Time and again, Konietzko and DiMartino subverted our expectations. Not only did they do things we never thought of, they took the paths of least and most resistance almost simultaneously. Their narrative choices forced us to reconsider our original theories to the point that it’s safe to say that I was completely wrong about Amon’s identity.

Balance takes place three years after the conclusion of Korra’s story with Zaheer and The Red Lotus. It’s been three long years since she’s seen her friends – and since Mako, Bolin, Asami, and Tenzin have interacted with their Avatar. The world has changed, kingdoms have fallen, and new enemies lie on the horizon. What remains, however, is the single, undeniable conclusion that this is a story about a girl coming to terms with her identity and place in the world.

The Legend of Korra is a story about a girl, whereas The Last Airbender was a story about a universe. What Balance emphasizes, more so than any other season of Korra, is that this is a story about Korra first and the Avatar second.

When we first see Korra, almost a full 20 minutes into Balance‘s first episode, we see her battered, bruised, and broken. Her emotional journey – though filled with experience – is far from complete and certainly far from over. First, we spend time with the rest of Team Avatar, and then we meet our Avatar in a state of complete incoherence. Through episodes like Korra Alone and The Calling, we learn about Korra’s struggles in a way the series has never truly addressed. Instead of seeing her as an omnipotent leader – or a foolhardy, arrogant showoff – we see her as a person struggling with understanding her notion of herself.

Korra’s story has always been about identity – about coming to terms with the past and using it to inform the present – but the show has often focused on other characters precisely because Korra’s chosen identity is often unlikeable. Balance brings Korra’s emotional journey to an end by reconnecting the audience with the character. Simply put, Balance makes us like Korra again. We see her humanized, de-powered, unable to act, emotionally vulnerable, and damaged, and this allows us to see her as a single, imperfect person.

Balance further introduces the perfect foil to Korra in the metalbending, would-be conqueror Kuvira. Through no large amount of subtlety, Konietzko and DiMartino paint Kuvira as the perfect antithesis to Korra. Whereas Korra is uncertain of her fate, Kuvira commands her future. Whereas Korra is unable to lay claim to her sense of self, Kuvira is determined in her purpose and person. Whereas Korra is now humble, Kuvira stands as a deity to her people. The Yin-Yang dynamic that has always informed the Avatar world’s heroes and villains continues through Korra and Kuvira in an obvious – yet never overdone – way.

In a way, Balance is The Legend of Korra‘s least ambitious season yet. When compared to the loud, proud, and bombastic third season, Change, Balance stands as an almost quiet, laid-back epilogue to Korra’s story. In fact, the epilogue-like nature of Balance speaks to an interpretation of this season not as the end of Korra’s story, but the beginning of unseen adventures in the world of Avatar as a whole.

Make no mistake, Balance features dynamic animation, big action scenes, and loud moments – the two part finale, Day of the Colossus and The Last Stand feature a giant made of platinum – but it is a character-driven, emotionally-tense season of television. More so than any other season of Avatar, Balance is about people instead of actions. The notion that television has a longer time to tell story comes into play, and the idea that Balance serves as an epilogue gives its audience plenty of time to say goodbye to the characters and world that they have spent almost nine years with.

I’ve attempted to put off writing this review simply because I don’t want it to be over, but I realize that all great things do not come to an end once we finish experiencing them. Surely, the only thing more powerful than experiencing something great is remembering something great.

I will take a moment to address the series’ final scene.

A relationship between Korra and Asami has officially been confirmed by both Konietzko and DiMartino, and I have few opinions on the matter. I will say this, however: there are people who care very much about the notion that two women can not only love one another romantically, but that they can do so while also feeling romantically attracted to men. Accepting bisexuality is the next great sexual hurdle that our culture will need to overcome, and The Legend of Korra‘s decision to acknowledge even a remote possibility that heteronormativity and homonormativity are not humanity’s only options for sexual preference is bold.

Then again, no one should really be surprised that The Legend of Korra is sensational after all these years.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (TheByteScene Review)

Date: December 26, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

1.5 Unnecessary-Sequels out of 4

Peter Jackson’s third Hobbit film, and his final entry into Tolkien’s Middle-earth universe, is nothing if not consistent. At a lean 144 minutes, the film is the shortest Jackson-produced, Tolkien-based feature; it is beautifully constructed, with stunning visuals, colours, and sounds. However, its plot is almost nonexistent, its characters quickly grow stale and boring, and its stunted pacing leaves much to be desired. As the final film to a 13-year franchise that has produced some of film’s greatest scenes, strongest writing, and most compelling moments, The Battle of Five Armies is a disappointing feature that plays more like a two-hour-long video-game cut-scene than a film with any real cinematic heft.

Picking up mere moments after The Desolation of Smaug‘s breath-taking cliffhanger, The Battle of Five Armies signals the end of its first half hour – and the Smaug story arc – by delivering the conclusion to last year’s Hobbit film. Infuriating is the manner in which Smaug’s highly anticipated destruction of Laketown – featured in much of the film’s promotional material – feels like an afterthought in this film. Instead, Jackson and his creative team seem more interested in staging the film’s eponymous battle. Undeniably beautiful as the battle truly is, the large chunk of screen-time afforded to the conflict between the Elves, Dwarves, Men, and two armies of Orcs is completely wasted on what amounts to nothing more than theconcludingsetpiece to an otherwise unnecessarily lengthy franchise.

On the topic of endings, The Battle of Five Armies is not the satisfying cinematic conclusion that Jackson and the film’s marketing team would lead audiences to believe. Arrows wiz by, Dwarves violently bludgeon Orcs, and alliances are forged, torn apart, and reforged, but the entire affair plays out as if screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro had planned out setpieces first, and literature last. Delivering the film’s emotional heft is left to Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield – the Dwarf prince who has spent the entire Hobbit franchise struggling to reunite with his ancestral home. In this film, the Dwarves summarily reclaim the Lonely Mountain, and audiences are left wondering what the point of it all was – if there is a point at all.

Armitage’s Thorin spends most of this film suffering from dragon sickness – a psyche-altering affliction that results from overexposure to gold and wealth. Thorin becomes greedy to an unmitigated degree, and while this examination of greed is brief, it’s presence infuriatingly hints at a stronger, more compelling film lurking beneath a surface blanketed by violence and too much CGI. As the Dwarf king stumbles and skulks about his castle – starving for the Arkenstone that solidifies his leadership as Dwarf king – we’re painted a portrait of a damaged man searching for purpose. Thorin has spent his entire life fighting for his home – now that he has it all, his body and mind begin craving desires that he can’t possibly nourish.

A particularly powerful scene, in which Thorin’s psychological well-being is mirrored in his setting, is skillfully captured by Jackson’s camera, which twists and turns as Thorin sinks into a golden floor. Another moving scene occurs at the film’s climax: cold, snowy wind blows atop an Orc-infested hill as a stealthy team of Dwarves climb to begin their assault. As the wind blows, the audience feels a mix of dread and excitement. We know that this is the final battleground for many of the characters we’ve connected with over the past three films, and Jackson deftly reminds us of the great stakes in play with a simple windy preface.

Peter Jackson has always been a director capable of delivering moving, powerful, and human moments. Though his films are largely characterized by their grand staging and awesome battles, his real skill as a director – as an artist – is in conveying great emotional depth in small, simple scenes. The Battle of Five Armies, however, is not a movie concerned with emotional weight. It is, quite literally, nothing more than the final, epic battle found at the conclusion of every great action film – fantasy or otherwise.

Some fans of Jackson’s Tolkien films might find solace in the occasional brief mentions of the rest of the series. As Lord of the Rings veteran Billy Boyd plays out the credits with “The Last Goodbye,” we’re reminded that The Hobbit serves as the literary precursor to The Lord of the Rings. However, fans of cinema – and fans of Tolkien’s work – will be greatly disappointed in what is a spectacularly mediocre conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable trilogy of films.

If it at all appears that my true disappointment lies in the fact The Hobbit was split up into three movies – instead of the more logical two – allow me to dispel any uncertainty. The Hobbit should have been split up into two movies, instead of three. There is simply not nearly enough material for three films and, as Jackson showed in An Unexpected Journey, including every minor detail from the source material is not only blatant pandering, it stretches and bloats a film to the point of boredom. There’s a reason that almost every adaptation of Tolkien’s novel is split into two parts – An Unexpected Journey and There, and Back Again. Tolkien’s novel is not a lengthy literary legend; it’s a satisfying children’s book that touches on themes of home, family, compassion, and charity. If not children’s fiction, Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a succinct introduction to the world of Middle-earth.

Watching The Battle of Five Armies, I considered a possible universe in which The Hobbit was shortened to two films – or even to a single, cohesive, compact movie. Perhaps Thorin says it best: “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Three] (TheByteScene Review)

Date: December 21, 2014

TheByteDaily

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Three] (TheByteScene Review)

3.5 Reconnected-Earthly-Tethers out of 4

The idea that sequels never truly live up to the quality of their originals is not an idea purely founded in angry message boards. With a few rare exceptions, sequel films, prequel novels, and remake TV shows are almost never as good as the originals that spawned them. Part of this has to do with the risk assumed by creators, and part of this has to do with audience nostalgia, but the fact remains that it’s nearly impossible to capture the pure vivid emotion that results from viewing something great for the first time. Something amazing – something truly original – is difficult to recreate, simply because the mere act of recreation results in a diluted end product seeking only to appease fans or make money.

Understandably, fans of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender were cautiously optimistic when Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino announced plans to return to the universe they created. The story of Aang ended so neatly, and the central conflicts had been resolved so compactly, that it was difficult to imagine any possibility of expansion. However, Konietzko and DiMartino proved both fans and critics wrong when The Legend of Korra debuted to resounding fanfare and praise. Not only did it manage to capture the Asian-influenced, literary greatness of the original, it managed to present a story filled with narrative complexity, driven by compelling characters. Korra, at the very least, was interesting, and her legend was captivating enough that fans were more than satisfied with its continued production.

The Legend of Korra, up until the moment season three debuted, was not as impressive as The Last Airbender, however. From a purely objective perspective, the vast world-building, character development, and plot progression found in Korra’s legend very rarely reached the levels of excitement and intrigue produced by Aang’s world and its story. Speaking from a fan’s perspective – a perspective filled with subjectivity, and nostalgia – The Legend of Korra could barely hold a candle to the legend of Aang. With an often lacklustre second season that barely held itself together, and with an expansive and complicated mythology that required time and effort to appreciate, Korra’s second season almost threw her off the throne created by Aang.

This brief history lesson in the world of Avatar is necessary, because it succinctly presents the complex set of emotions that results from producing a powerful form of literature. Make no mistake, The Legend of Korra is, and should be, held up to the quality of The Last Airbender. It is inappropriate to call spin-offs mediocre without comparing them to their peers – Korra is consistently one of the strongest shows on television, and that includes its second season – but it is completely appropriate to call spin-offs weaker than their originals when they truly are weaker than their originals.

It seems, at this point, that I have complaints about Korra’s third book – about her second chance at producing affect in her audience. It seems that I didn’t enjoy the story, or its characters, and I’m about to tarnish the series.

Simply put, I must state that Book Three: Change is perhaps the greatest season of television produced by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. More than meeting the quality of its predecessors, Change attains a level of complexity, intrigue, and compelling narrative structure that has not been seen, and most likely will not be seen, by fans of television, literature, and Avatar for an exceptionally long time.

The story picks up approximately two weeks after the universe-altering Harmonic Convergence that shifted balance in Book Two. While the world slowly adapts to Korra’s decision to keep the Spirit Portals open, and spirits and mortal creatures now freely interact, there’s a prevailing air of uncertainty in the world. In more ways than one, this season is about change, as well as the universe’s tendency to throw us into complicated situations that are often beyond our control. As the Avatar – the bridge between both worlds – the full brunt of insuring harmony has been placed squarely on Korra’s shoulders, and the season’s opening moments quickly tells its audience that people are not happy. The world needs its Avatar now more than ever, and sadly, the general public seems entirely displeased with both its elected officials, and its unelected protector.

Korra’s chief personality trait has always been her hotheadedness. In short, Korra has a short fuse, and though her growth has been evident in the past, it’s obvious that her inability to truly fulfil her duties is baring down on her. After all, she’s the Avatar, and it shouldn’t be so difficult to help spirits and mortals. This notion that Korra is not fit to be Avatar actually conceals a deep underlying problem within the world Konietzko and DiMartino have written thus far: Does the world really need an Avatar? It’s a question that was presented early on in Book One: Air, and it was a question that sometimes appeared in Book Two: Spirits, but if there is a central theme past change, in Book Three, it’s the notion that the world no longer needs its great spiritual leader.

This theme of necessity and spiritual pragmatism interacts with Change‘s universe, where mortals are having a rough time getting used to their spirit brethren. More importantly, this theme of necessity ties in with Korra’s constant struggle to understand herself. After all, if the world doesn’t want the Avatar, then the world doesn’t want Korra, and her entire existence is pointless.

As if an existential crisis isn’t enough to deal with, new Airbenders have begun popping up all over the world, most likely a result of the change brought on by Harmonic Convergence. The rising of the new Air Nation plays into Book Three‘s central conceit. Using the airbenders – who are in dire need of direction and training – Team Avatar uses the opportunity to get out of Republic City and help Korra focus on her Avatar duties. However, the new airbenders are especially important to Korra’s airbending master, and Avatar Aang’s son, Tenzin, who’s eyes well up at the possibility of seeing his father’s dream of a world filled with airbenders come to fruition.

Tenzin’s scenes – where he interacts with new airbender recruits in both an enlisting and education sense – are a delight to watch, and J.K. Simmons lends his natural exasperation to a character who simply can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be an airbender. In Rebirth, the season’s second episode, Tenzin tries and fails numerous times to convince would-be citizens of the Air Nation to fulfil their spiritual obligations and their humanitarian duties. It comes to no surprise, much heartbreak, and a little delight when doors slam in his face because he’s either too pushy or too ignorant to realize how difficult it can be to sacrifice one’s entire life to fulfil someone else’s dream.

Tenzin’s character arc also heavily features his eldest daughter, Jinora, coming to her own. In the past season, Jinora served as Korra’s guide through the Spirit World, and her involvement in bringing down Unalaq was essential to the survival of the entire planet. A talented airbender, and a strong spiritual leader, Jinora’s arc is tightly bound to the Air Nation’s fate. Jinora wants the tattoos bestowed upon airbending masters, and though she deserves them, Tenzin’s love for his daughter blinds him to the truth that one airbending master – one leader – is not enough to guide an entire nation of people.

Leaders in the world of Avatar are a funny bunch. In the past, audiences have watched dictators grow before their eyes, mad geniuses free entire cities, and reluctant Firelords rise to the occasion, but Korra introduces one more archetype into the foray: Earth Queen Hou-Ting. Konietzko and DiMartino have never shied away from using history as a blueprint for characters – Phoenix King Ozai seemed like the lovechild of Hitler, Mussolini, and Genghis Khan – and Queen Hou-Ting is no different. Heavily based on Empress Dowager Cixi of the Manchu Yehenara clan, Hou-Ting is a seemingly benign despot intent on overtaxing her citizens to death. When a bandit cries out to Korra, “You’re fighting for the wrong side,” in The Earth Queen, we can tell that he’s not wrong.

Queen Hou-Ting, however, is not Book Three‘s central antagonist – she’s more of a political adversary whose decision to wrongfully imprison airbenders to serve the Earth Kingdom rubs Team Avatar the wrong way. This decision is not one without precedent – citizens of a nation are legally bound to protect their nation when conscription is enforced, and airbenders from the Earth Kingdom are still legally citizens of the Earth Kingdom. It’s this kind of political manoeuvring that enables Konietzko and DiMartino a chance to present the true villains in a more relatable light.

The Red Lotus, led by new airbender Zaheer is an anarchist sect that branched away from the Order of the White Lotus when White Lotus members chose to bring their secret society into the light. Comprised of members all over the world, the Red Lotus is the closest thing to a terrorist organization that the Avatar world has ever introduced. What truly makes them so compelling as villains is their ideological devotion to the notions of anarchy.

There are two ways to make compelling villains: have them overpower the protagonist so we care about the redemptive journey, or have them connect with the protagonist, so we’re left unsure of our own moral convictions. Zaheer falls into both categories; a two-week-old airbender with immense knowledge of airbender poetry, form, and culture, his ideological viewpoint is the logical extension of Air Nomad philosophy, and his anarchist beliefs force the audience to confront the truth: The world would be better if we didn’t have so many powerful people messing it up. Zaheer isn’t wrong when he says that world leaders are an outdated notion, and he’s not wrong when he says that we’d all be better if we could make decisions for ourselves.

Voiced by Henry Rollins, who presents a performance devoid of major emotion, Zaheer is an ideological and physical force to be reckoned with. Fascinating is the way the other Red Lotus members treat him as their leader; as a short man with a fierce physical bend, and a set of powers roughly two-weeks-old, the fact that a dangerous waterbender, a powerful lavabender, and a combustionbender treat him as their leader is indicative of deep character complexity. This ability to convey depth of character – the skill to tell audiences a lot by saying very little – is exactly the kind of writing that Konietzko and DiMartino are renowned for. It’s exactly the kind of writing that made The Last Airbender so great – that, and the martial arts sequences.

Studio Mir, thankfully, returns to create the animation for Book Three, and their return also brings back the incredible fight choreography that the series has been known for. Bending finally feels real again, thanks greatly to amazing cinematography and directing by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu, Colin Heck, Ian Graham, and Melchior Zwyer, as well as music and sound editing that makes bending sound possible. Furthermore, locations look large and expansive, colours blend together to form backgrounds akin to paintings, and the use of lighting to highlight, showcase, hide, and subdue is spectacular. This is a masterfully created series, and the Earth kingdom’s browns and greens, and Republic City’s blues, reds, greens, and yellows are made impressive and interesting because of a studio willing to make the extra effort required to draw the most out of a palette.

More importantly, characters look like real people, instead of drawn figures moving their bodies. When Korra speaks, her eyes light up, her eyebrows move, her lips purse, her face contorts. When Jinora bends, her body strikes, her frame dances. Even Zaheer – whose entire schtick seems to be that he’s calm and collected all the time – seems menacing, imposing, and even threatening when lighting changes the shadows on his face and the camera moves from long shot to medium shot to close-up to wide-angle and back again.

Avatar The Last Airbender was a show about a universe; it’s entire premise was that a powerful cosmic and spiritual force had to save the world from an evil mortal exerting his twisted will over others. In contrast, The Legend of Korra is a show about a person – really, a show about people. Not to belabour the point, but the show’s title reflects the idea that this is Korra’s story – not her world’s, but her own. Regardless of where she goes, who she meets, or what she sees, this is a story about Korra’s fears, apprehensions, successes, and failures. Unlike Book One and Book Two, however, Book Three spends significant time on other characters, as well as other stories. Audiences learn about Mako and Bolin’s Earth Kingdom family, we learn about Jinora’s struggle for identity, and we finally learn the history behind Lin Beifong’s scar.

Lin’s arc, in particular, is brought into extreme focus when Team Avatar travels to Zaofu, a city created by Toph Beifong and led by Suyin Beifong, Lin’s younger half-sister. There’s a reason Lin is so tightly wound, and it all has to do with Toph’s extremely hands-off parenting style and Suyin’s lackadaisical attitude during their youth. As an overarching plot point that serves to characterize a popular character, there’s little reason why Konietzko and DiMartino should have presented Zao Fu. Instead, the decision to focus on the development of someone other than Korra is deeply tied to the series’ – and the franchise’s – focus on world-building.

Over the course of 13 tightly-packed episodes, Konietzko and DiMartino deliver an expansive story about an entire world, and what makes much of this season so exciting is the wide playing field the creators have afforded themselves. Make no mistake, this is Korra’s story, and her involvement in the plot is still integral, but by exploring other characters – like Suyin and Lin – the creators manage to produce a character-driven story about an entire world. This is important because it removes the narrative burden off of a single central character – Korra – and places the burden of intrigue on other equally compelling individuals. This isn’t to say that The Legend of Korra needs to be a copy of Game of Thrones to succeed, but in a fictional world that practically begs to be expanded, world-building is one of the most beneficial facets to explore.

After Book Two, I was cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of Book Three. For the first time since Avatar the Last Airbender, however, I’m genuinely excited to see what comes next, and I look forward to being a part of Korra’s story next season when it comes to the stunning conclusion I’m sure is in store.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC(EK)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (TheByteScene Review)

Date: August 22, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

2 Rather-Mediocre-Spider-Men out of 4

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is by no means a good movie. Tonally unaware, lacking in appropriate definitions of pacing, featuring a convoluted plot, and clearly created to set up future films in the franchise, director Marc Webb’s latest feature plods along in a heavily populated sea of better comic-book movies.

Interesting is that Marc Webb has failed at learning from the mistakes made by Sam Raimi in his take on the character in Spider-Man 3. Raimi’s film was criticized for an unnecessarily lengthy run-time, a cast of poorly developed characters, and a convoluted plot that fails at telling a compelling story. There are parallels to be drawn between the two films, and there are lessons to be learned for future filmmakers. What upsets me, as is common with these kinds of movies, is that beneath the mess of overproduced CGI and a soundtrack loaded with blaring dubstep lies something good, perhaps even something great.

In the sequel to Marc Webb’s original The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker is still trying to juggle his life between normalcy and crime-fighting. Returning to the role is Andrew Garfield, whose Parker is less maladjusted chemistry-geek and more average-everyday-teenager. His nemeses in this film are a cavalry led by Paul Giamatti, Jamie Foxx, and Dane DeHaan as classic villains Rhino, Electro, and Green Goblin. Also returning are Emma Stone, as love-interest Gwen Stacy, and Sally Field, as aunt and maternal-figure May Parker. The cast is talented, and it’s clear that every actor tries as hard as humanly possible to inject relevance and emotion into otherwise one-dimensional characters.

However, despite herculean efforts, there is nothing any of these respected and compelling actors can do to save an excessive script. Worst of all is Giamatti’s role as Russian mobster-turned supervillain Aleksei Sytsevich. So gloriously over-the-top is the performance that Giamatti constantly seems to be one linguistic step away from asking Spider-Man if he ordered a plate of pirozhki.

Penned by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinker, the film’s script is tonally unaware to an almost comical degree. The truth is, there are three stories being told here.

The first is of a couple struggling to stay together despite being torn apart by uncontrollable circumstances. Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and he has a duty to protect the people of New York; Gwen Stacy is a scientific genius fresh out of high-school being recruited as an Oxford Scholar. Their lives are destined for separate futures.

The second is of a lonely electrical engineer whose desire to be recognized drives him to insanity. Max Dillon (played by Jamie Foxx) works for leading corporate empire OsCorp, and while his superiors recognize his skills, they fail to give him credit for his work. One day saved by Spider-Man, Dillon develops an obsession with the hero, and goes mad once he is transformed into the blue-skinned living battery Electro.

The third, and arguably most interesting story, is that of two boys angry at their fathers for deserting them during their youth. Harry Osborn (played by Dane DeHaan) is the son of dying corporate emperor Norman, and heir to the OsCorp throne. Norman’s illness is hereditary, and in an attempt to save himself (and his son), he sends Harry to boarding school while he attempts to find a cure. Peter Parker is the son of former OsCorp researcher Richard. Richard discovered OsCorp’s dirty secrets, and in an attempt to save his son, he vanishes, leaving the boy with Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

Disappointing is the film’s decision to try to expand and tell each of these stories simultaneously. Alone, there is material enough for three or four separate movies. Together, the multiple plots take away from each other, leaving the audience unable to focus on any individual conflict. It’s not that Marc Webb is a bad director – the fact that individual scenes draw in the audience and stimulate us is proof of Webb’s talent. The problem is that the film is unable to successfully unify its themes of loss, love, hope, and redemption.

Between Peter, Harry, Gwen, and Max is a venerable who’s who of troubled geniuses, but because they exist in a script unable to figure itself out, their stories are unsubstantial.

A glaring tonal imbalance is equally evident in the film’s score. With music scored by Hans Zimmer, Marc Webb, Pharrel Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, and David A. Steward, it appears that the only unity The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can muster is in disharmony. The movie sometimes feels like a comicbook movie, sometimes feels like a romantic-comedy, and sometimes feels like a Skrillex-music video.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 made a lot of mistakes and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 repeats almost every single one of those inconsistencies. Important to recognize is that Marc Webb has not created a bad movie. What he has created is an incoherent mess that is often entertaining and always infuriating. I mentioned earlier that the film clearly sets up future movies in the franchise. Sony has already announced that there are scripts in the works to expand on characters from the Spider-Man universe. I genuinely hope that the filmmakers attached with those projects learn from the mistakes made by The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC(EK)

Guardians of the Galaxy (TheByteScene Review)

Date: August 9th, 2014

TheByteDaily

Guardians of the Galaxy

3 True-Sci-Fi-Epics out of 4

At this point in cinematic history, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the latest addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a hit. In fact, there was little doubt that director James Gunn would succeed at translating the cosmic comic book team to the cinema screen. Certainly, any doubt that Guardians of the Galaxy would succeed only truly came from the cinema elite and nervous fans worried that Marvel’s string of successes would somehow end with this latest feature.

Interesting is that, unlike the remainder of the MCU’s source material, this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy is only 6 years old. While the original Guardians were first introduced in 1969, the team containing the characters Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Groot, and Gamora (including a rotating selection of other characters) was first introduced in 2008 as a reboot of the original 1969 team. Make no mistake, however, the idea that Marvel was interested in introducing a cinematic iteration of the team was never a sign of studio arrogance. As new and obscure as the characters may be, I find it very difficult to believe that Marvel would allow one of their properties under their direct control to perform poorly.

Whereas Sony and Fox have been fighting their hardest to maintain some control over their respective franchises with varying results, Marvel Studios has yet to truly produce what anyone can call a bad movie. Even their lowest rated and poorest earning films have still been at par with almost all of the best produced cinematic superhero offerings. What I’ve come to realize about the so-called “Marvel Method,” and what I hope other studios like DC hope to learn, is that the best superhero movies aren’t truly superhero movies. Instead, they’re genre films that simply happen to feature superheros at their core. Utilizing a more recent example, Captain American: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World succeeded because they worked within the confines of their respective genres (a spy-thriller and a fantasy film respectively) while also featuring an already popular series of characters.

Keeping in mind that the best comic books have been stories that just so happen to feature an already established cast of characters, Marvel Studios seems to have realized that making a good movie is all about focusing on the importance of writing, characterization, editing, and cinematography. There was a time when superhero movies were, at best, attempts to satisfy fans who wanted to see their favourite characters on film and were, at worst, cash grabs made by studios trying to push comic books. In today’s cinematic age, thanks largely in part to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superhero movies are nothing more than well-made genre films.

In this same vein of cinematic purity, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy succeeds because of its adherence to the qualities of great science fiction and its decision to subvert the boring tropes that bog down weak sci-fi features. Characters whiz about in deep space amid a gorgeous landscape of stars and galaxies and planetary conflict set to an epic score undercut by hilariously anachronistic pop music. Characters are diverse and well-written with their own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies. There are multiple spaceship battles utilizing a variety of cool advanced technology. Most importantly, there’s a clear distinction between traditional effects, make-up, and CGI that makes even the most impossible visuals seem possible and real.

The main cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel as the voice of a talking tree, share a cohesive and familiar chemistry. Furthermore, the underlying themes of their friendship – wanting to do more with their unimportant lives – is surprisingly mature given the fact that Bradley Cooper voices a genetically enhanced raccoon and Vin Diesel’s only line is “I am Groot.” Cameos by Benicio del Toro (as Taneleer Tivan The Collector), Josh Brolin (as intergalactic warlord Thanos), and Glen Close further appease fans of the original source material.

Heroes aside, however, I was disappointed by the film’s cast of villains. Lee Pace stars as the film’s main antagonist, Ronan the Accuser – a warhammer wielding radical hellbent on the destruction of an entire galaxy – and I was left underwhelmed by the character. Compared to the broad scope portrayed by the film’s cast of heroes, Ronan is relatively flat and one-note. Secondary antagonists like Nebula (played by Karen Gillan) and Korath (played by Djimon Hounsou) are equally dull.

Cinematography by Ben Davis allows the film’s more poignant moments to shine, whereas action and grandiose scale are perfectly encapsulated in every subsequent scene. Director James Gunn has his tongue placed firmly in his cheek as the film finds the perfect balance between earnestness and not taking itself seriously in any capacity. Each sequence feels like Gunn is inviting the audience into his absurd, surreal vision of a very real galaxy.

Impossible to avoid mentioning are the film’s stunning colour palette – which should be used as a recruitment effort by NASA to convince people that space is awesome – and the film’s song selection – a collection of songs that score every scene with humour and emotion. Praise must be given to Tyler Bates, whose musical efforts deserve to be studied.

My only real complaints with the film are its forced efforts to tie-in the already established Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy is undoubtedly part of the expansive MCU, and because of this fact, Thanos, the Infinity Stones, and the Nova Corps are introduced simply because future Marvel films require the set-up. Allow me to speak as a fan for a brief moment. Thanos was introduced as the man-behind-the-curtain in 2012’s The Avengers. It’s been two years, and moviegoers and fans alike have been waiting for the culmination of his grand plan, yet his reveal in this film is nothing more than an uninspired cameo. What should have been a grand reveal is admittedly rather weak.

Ignoring my complaints, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantasticsci-fi feature that stars a talented cast clearly in tune with each other and their director. It’s well written, well shot, well edited, and contains an absolutely amazing soundtrack.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subcribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC(EK)

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Season Two] (TheByteScene Review)

Date: July 1st, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Legend of Korra (Book Two: Spirits)

3 Dichotomous-Comparisons-Of-Good-And-Evil out of 4

Within the universe of Nickelodeon’s Avatar, everything is about maintaining balance. For every action, there’s an opposite reaction, and for every success there’s an accompanying failure. With the end of Book One, Korra had brought balance to the world, having completed her story arc while simultaneously connecting with her spiritual side and learning how to airbend.

The problem with the conclusion of Book One, however, is that Korra’s story was, for all intents and purposes, complete. The great evil had been vanquished, the great personal struggle had been overcome, and all was right in the world. To top it all off, series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko even wrapped up Korra’s romantic tribulations by bringing her together with Republic City firebender Mako.

Book One was never intended to be the beginning of a grand story. Quite the contrary, with The Legend of Korra‘s now first season, Michael and Bryan’s original intentions were to create a 12-episode miniseries for fans of their original show. It was a chance to tell a quick story about the next avatar and expand their creation’s universe, certainly not a chance to extend the franchise with four new seasons. With the revelation that Nickelodeon had picked up the series for three more seasons, all of the personal struggle Korra overcame with Amon and the Equalists had to be erased to make room for more character growth and more obstacles to bypass.

Spirits therefore, is troublesome as a season specifically because it serves as a character and partial series reboot, tying in Book One’s accomplishments while wiping Korra’s personality slate clean. At the conclusion of Book One, Korra had gained insight and maturity. At the beginning of Book Two, however, Korra is back to her snarky, arrogant self. She ignores Tenzin’s advice, clashes with Mako, abuses her avatar powers, and proves to be a general annoyance to audiences who have already witnessed her evolution.

By all accounts, Korra is now a full-fledged avatar, having mastered all four elements and gaining control over the omnipotent Avatar State. As far as anyone is concerned, her journey is complete, and any other adventures are merely extensions of her responsibilities as the avatar.

The first half of Book Two, therefore, attempts to present audiences with a compelling reason to continue watching Korra’s journeys as avatar. To do so, the show uses spirits and the spirit world as one more lesson Korra must master in order to truly call her journey complete, introducing the character of Unalaq (Korra’s uncle) and the concept of dark spirits.

I prefer to look at Book Two as consisting of two halves. The first half, comprised of the first six episodes, is the weaker portion of the season. The animation is weaker, the plot struggles to find a meaningful foothold, characters are all but rebooted to their Book One selves, and the lack of a compelling villain makes watching the show feel like a bother.

Many of my major complaints with the first half of Book Two have to do with the weak animation. For visual mediums, two components are paramount: Visuals and Writing. Weak writing can be forgiven in favour of marvelous visuals, and weak visuals can be forgiven if the writing is entertaining and compelling. Sadly, the writing and animation of the first six episodes in Book Two are mediocre at best.

The decision to switch from Korean Studio Mir to Japanese Studio Pierot proved to be a major misstep on the part of the showrunners. Though the series’ painting-like backgrounds remained, characters are static and lifeless. Furthermore, action sequences driven by kinetic movement are boring and lacking in vitality.

Issues with the first half of Book Two extend beyond visual quality. In terms of writing, because Michael and Bryan were busy setting up mythology and plot-threads for the second half of Book Two (and by extension, the rest of the series) the first six episodes are all posturing and no payoff.

Episodes like Rebel Spirit and both Civil Wars are heavy on build-up with little delivery, and feel tedious to sit through. It goes without saying that episodes one through six are better when watched a second time, but the expectation that audiences will sit through boring television the first time around is a dangerous risk to take.

Perhaps Book Two’s greatest failing is the lack of a compelling villain in Unalaq. Certainly, he does bad things and hurts people, but his reasons for doing so are difficult to ascertain. I don’t mean that I don’t understand why he does what he does, I mean that I don’t really care that he does anything in the first place. Unalaq is introduced as the spiritual leader of the Northern Water Tribe intent on unifying the Southern Tribe into his control. He’s disappointed with the world’s lack of spirituality, but because spirits and spirituality have always been secondary concepts in the Avatar universe, it’s difficult to truly identify with his concerns. Unalaq becomes one more villain acting simply because he’s evil.

Starting with the masterful Beginnings episodes, both Studio Mir and writing the Avatar series is famous for make a return. Telling the story of the first person to gain the title of Avatar, Beginnings describes how Aladdin-like street rat Wan goes from stealing bread to saving the world. Answering long-standing series questions about the nature of bending, the origins of the Avatar spirit, and the role of Spirits, Beginnings is the best part of Book Two, and perhaps a highlight for the entire Korra series.

Choosing to animate the pair of episodes with an East Asian ink wash painting and woodblock motif, Studio Mir’s returned involvement with Korra serves as a series return to form. Following Beginnings, the remaining episodes in Book Two (and the rest of the series) are animated by Studio Mir. With the Korean studio return dynamic facial expressions, a camera that shakes and stutters with every punch, and characters who don’t feel like static images on a page.

Most importantly, Beginnings serves as the long-awaited explanation for the actions of season villain Unalaq. He plans on opening the gates between the spirit and mortal planes using the power of the ancient dark spirit Vaatu. Once Unalaq’s motivations are made evident, he becomes more than just another bad guy. Yes, it’s the standard fantasy fair of light versus dark, but for a season composed of tedious and seemingly disconnected plot threads, it’s good to know that there is method to the maddening first-half chaos.

Despite my grumblings, the first half of Book Two isn’t without highlights. Howard Hughes-like inventor and businessman extraordinaire Varrick helps keep things interesting even though his involvement in the main plot is minor at most. That being said, Varrick is the secondary plot’s driving force, working with Asami and Bolin to create propaganda against Unalaq. There’s a satisfying undercurrent of duplicity with Varrick, and much of Book Two’s first half is more interesting because of the scenes where characters (and the audience) struggle to identify his alignment.

Also part of the secondary plot, Tenzin’s relationship with his immediate and extended family serve to raise questions of legacy and family in compelling ways. Tenzin’s arguments with his siblings Kya and Bumi bring years of tension and difficulty to the surface while also adding an extra dimension to the character of original series lead Aang. It turns out that Aang wasn’t the greatest father to his three children, and they all blame each other and themselves for not being able to live up to his expectations.

Interesting is how the series tackles the issue of brotherly love. Disregarding the Tenzin family drama, every major villain introduced in the Avatar universe – Ozai from The Last Airbender, Amon from Book One, and now Unalaq – is somehow bound to a brother.

The idea that two brothers could walk down wildly separate paths is at the heart of the balance dichotomy inherent to the Avatar franchise.

Without a doubt, Book Two’s most compelling storylines have very little to do with Korra, whose childlike insistence on barrelling through obstacles instead of rationally thinking about them cause trouble in-world and with the audience. My real gripe with Korra’s character has little to do with the way she was written and everything to do with the reboot Michael and Bryan felt was necessary for the series. Korra’s decision to abandon her airbending and spiritual mentor Tenzin in favour of spiritual guidance from Unalaq, for example, doesn’t make sense within the context of her Book One self.

Indeed, most of Korra’s decisions seem contradictory to the growth she achieved in Book One. I look forward to seeing how Korra’s character will continue to evolve following the conclusion of Spirits, as I have no doubt that her character will bear closer resemblance to the Korra at the conclusion of Book One now that Book Two has ended.

Ironically, despite Book Two’s conclusion bringing on great change for the Korra series, there is now a satisfying return to normalcy in the Avatar world. In a cathartic way, The Legend of Korra has shrugged off the burden associated with being a descendant of The Last Airbender, and with a firm understanding that Korra is not its predecessor, the show has a chance to truly achieve the greatness it deserves. Truthfully, along with the return of Studio Mir, Korra accepting that it will never be The Last Airbender makes me the most excited for Book Three.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC(EK)

Pacific Rim (TheByteScene Review)

Date: September 9th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Pacific Rim

3 Giant-Robots-Fighting-Giant-Monsters out of 4

It’s a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters from a different universe. No, really, Guillermo del Toro, the famed director behind Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone, and a wide array of other films has returned to create a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters from a different universe. And it’s awesome. No, seriously.

The movie’s premise is simple, succinct, and straightforward: Giant monsters from another dimension named Kaiju attack Earth from a breach in the Pacific Ocean and the world’s governments work together to create giant robots named Jaegers to fight the unearthly threat. Taking place days after the Jaeger programmed is decommissioned, four remaining Jaegers set up a final resistance against the Kaiju menace in an all-or-nothing gambit for the fate of the world. Again, the movie’s premise is straightforward, and little time is spent on meaningless exposition; despite, or perhaps due to, the film’s ambitious nature, the plot is streamlined and all character interactions are limited by purpose.

What is the point of the conversation, what purpose does it serve to have these characters meet, how is the plot affected by this piece of dialogue? Once a scene answers these questions, the movie quite literally returns to the action, drawing in the audience with visuals, CGI, graphics, robots, monsters, and set pieces that are operatically epic. The film’s pace carries the audience from set piece to set piece choosing to spend time on creating a world where the Jaegers and Kaiju reign supreme.

Above all else, Pacific Rim is an exercise in visual mastery.

Created by artists whose love for the Mecha and Kaiju genres, and tokusatsu is abundant and evident, the movie radiates in subtle homages, references, and pastiches to the works of masters such as Ishiro Honda, Hideaki Anno, Go Nagai, Akira Kurosawa, Yutaka Izubuchi, and Yoshiyuki Tomino.

To those unversed in the staples that these creators and their works pioneered, the movie is loud, beautiful, epic, and awesome. A score by Ramin Djawadi creates a powerful atmosphere that the movie relishes in exploring, and though blockbuster action is present, watching Jaegers pummel, and get pummeled by, Kaiju is akin to watching master warriors dance around a large apocalyptic canvas. The fight choreography is akin to watching violent ballet; Jaegers and Kaiju match one another’s moves like dancers who have spent years learning each other’s intricacies and idiosyncrasies, and discovering new ways to adapt and conform to them.

Yes, the film’s plot is thin. Yes, the characters are fleshed out just enough to explain their motivations. Yes, the action is loud, bombastic, frequent, and worthy of the “Summer Blockbuster” distinction. Beyond these criticisms, Pacific Rim is beautiful, expertly choreographed, beautifully directed, and spectacularly scored.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

– SC(EK)

Understanding Film Critics; Yet Another Frivolous Article on the Importance of Argument

Date: September 7th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Understanding Film Critics; Yet Another Frivolous Article on the Importance of Argument

I fear becoming a movie critic.

To anyone who claims that fear isn’t real, and that it’s nothing more than a metaphysical extension of danger, I say this: Start writing movie reviews. There’s something about criticizing movies – compared to criticizing music, books, or even theatre – that somehow manages to enrage entire populations of the educated world. Truthfully, there’s something about criticizing movies that makes me fear writing too many movie reviews without producing a completely unrelated article. Even if I consider writing an opinion piece about movies instead of an actual movie review, I still manage to send nervous chills down my spine. Interestingly enough, for anyone who pays attention to my frequent absenteeism, it can be noted that most of the articles I write before a major hiatus are about movies.

There’s no need to be needlessly ambiguous with my critical fears; my worries have nothing to do with the enormous public backlash my reviews conjure within society. Quite the contrary, I absolutely love it when I start a needlessly detailed and incredibly laid out argument about the current trappings of the silver screen. Putting it delicately, I’m afraid of writing too much about movies because of the small percentage of the population that doesn’t understand the need for criticism, critique, reviews, or opinion pieces on the current state of art, media, life, the universe, and everything.

Putting it indelicately, there are people who don’t understand why it’s important to criticize everything, and these people scare me. Granted, previous articles have approached the ridiculous notion of “Questioning Everything” with the necessary quizzical-questioning glare that Socrates himself would surely embolden. Still, I find it’s far easier to tackle a single sample rather than the entire population, so I’ll continue discussing my fears nonetheless. Back to my point, I’m scared of becoming a movie critic because of the people who unironically argue the need to criticize.

I hope my point is made clear even at a perfunctory glance: I’m scared of becoming a movie critic because of the people who argue that we don’t need to argue about movies. I’m scared of writing too much – too often – about movies because of the people who attempt to dismiss, dismantle, and destroy the idea of criticism while simultaneously exercising, employing, and engaging their very rational desires to criticize and argue. Despite what a poorly educated pacifist might say, the universe runs on the intrinsic idea that there are positives and negatives, and these positives and negatives always interact even on microcosmic scales.

I admit that my explanation of quantum theory distracts from my argument regarding criticism, so I’ll be brief in my digression.

Why is it so important for me, or anyone, to criticize anything? Because that’s the whole point; without criticism, without argument, and without debate, things have a tendency to fall towards calculated tyranny and an eventual acceptance of blatant complacency.

Certainly, for all of my criticism of Transformers: Dark of the Moon not a single penny was withheld by the people who helped produce its billion dollar profit margin.

That is a very strong argument against film criticism.

For all the time invested into pointing out cinematic flaws, people still watch “Bad” movies, and for all the work done pointing out cinematic ingenuity, people will still avoid “Good” movies like I imagine medieval Europeans avoided the bubonic plague.

This is a strong argument regarding all forms of criticism.

Eventually, regardless of the work one might put into criticizing anything, one’s effort will be an exercise in futility. Presidents won’t be impeached – they’ll be re elected; governments won’t fall – they’ll simply become more intent on inconspicuously brutalizing their people; and Michael Bay won’t be driven out of Hollywood by a crowd carrying pitchforks and torches – he’ll go on to direct another Transformers sequel and Pain and Gain (which, admittedly, wasn’t absolutely terrible).

I argue that results are only one part of the overall structure, and that meaning and knowledge are equally important derivatives.

Why is it so important for me, or anyone, to criticize anything? It’s so we can learn something instead of sheltering ourselves in a cocoon of safety and self indulgence. Why is it so important for me to call a movie bad? It’s so I can start an argument and try to understand why I might be wrong, and why someone else might be right.

I’m still scared of becoming a movie critic, but thanks to this article I’ve learned that I’m only scared of being called one. I might never pursue cinema in any way after this article, but at least now I know that my fears are less physical and more entirely immaterial.

In any form, criticism is an extension of self-examination, and I argue that there are few things less frivolous in this universe than attempting to understand this universe.

This has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC (EK)

Man of Steel (TheByteScene Review)

Date: June 16th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily

 

Man of Steel

 

4 Superpowered-deity-figures out of 4

 

The world isn’t ready for a superman.

 

For the duration of Man of Steel’s 143 minute running time, that is the single most discussed question the film attempts to tackle. Ignoring the multitude of philosophical questions that arise at the existence of a superman, none is more pertinent than the issue of how we as a planet will react to their existence. In my conclusion, the world isn’t ready for a superman.

 

The planet Krypton’s core is about to collapse on itself from an accumulated waste of resources over countless generations. The Kryptonian scientist Jor-El alerts the high council of this information, only to have the elders scoff at his insubordination and arrogance. The Kryptonian general Dru-Zod enters the council chamber announcing a coup d’etat, claiming that the high council has reigned for too long producing too little for the people of Krypton. Zod agrees with Jor-El’s sentiments, but differs in the application of his beliefs.

 

Played with little effort by Michael Shannon, General Zod lacks the gravitas one would attribute to a military general, or a villain of any kind. Instead, he serves as a man forced to play his hand at the announcement of the genocide of both his people, and his planet. Under different circumstances, Zod would be less of a terrorist, and more of a revolutionary. Played masterfully by Russel Crowe, Jor-El has given up on his planet’s salvation, and has placed his faith and his hope in his newborn son, Kal-El. Sending Kal-El to Earth in a ship marked with the House of El’s seal, the Kryptonian scientist knowingly changes the fate of both Earth and Krypton.

 

Believing that the day will come when Kal-El will be able to lead the people of Earth into the sun, Jor-El assumes that we will be ready for the arrival of a saviour.

 

This son of the house of El grows up on a farm, raised by two Kansas farmers in the town of Smallville, USA. Their names are Jonathan and Martha Kent, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. The boy is raised as their own; naming him Clark, Jonathan urges his alien son to hide his powers to avoid exposing himself to the horrors and condemnation of the human world. Struggling to find a balance between helping and hiding, Clark’s eventual journey is chronicled in flashback sequences edited to near perfection with the events unfolding on-screen. If there’s anything wrong with the movie, it’s the herculean task Jonathan asks of his adopted son. The idea that a hero must hide himself away for the right moment, hiding his powers, and forcing himself to avoid being an instrument of salvation is almost incomprehensible. Regardless of the audience’s own beliefs, it’s impossible to deny the truth in the elder Kent’s words; the world is not ready for a superman.

 

Henry Cavill plays a different kind of hero than Christopher Reeve; Cavill’s is more stoic, more real, with fewer lines of witty banter or snappy dialogue. What can be said in a paragraph of monologuing is delivered through a single glance, half a minute’s worth of dialogue is resolved in a conflicted stare. Cavill is able to portray a character bogged down with the notion that he must wait for the right moment, while never knowing when that moment will reveal itself. His acts of heroics are carried out in the shadows, and when his moment finally reveals itself, the burden of truth weighs heavy on his shoulders.

 

This is a Superman in an age where supermen no longer belong. This is a superman struggling to come to terms with both his humanity, and his alien heritage. That he falls for the human Lois Lane, played well by Amy Adams, and is forced to battle his own people to protect his adopted home is only the tip of Superman’s existential crisis.

 

Interestingly, action carries the majority of the film; the movie opens with the destruction of Krypton, and only takes breaks to let Clark Kent grow up and General Zod to distance himself from humanity. Whatever exposition exists in quiet, solitary moments, but philosophy, symbolism, and imagery permeate the entire movie. For a summer blockbuster so full of action and movement, and a hero so impossible to connect with, David S. Goyer writes a script begging to be challenged and analyzed, and a character begging to be related to. The film grows with the character, allowing the audience to grow in turn. The soundtrack is deep, eclectic, and visceral, giving a conflicted character varying levels of resolve. Hans Zimmer manages to perfectly convey the Superman that Zack Snyder has directed.

 

The film concludes that the world needs a superman. I argue that this is true; we need a superman. However, I genuinely believe that the world is not yet ready for one. Man of Steel is one of the greatest representations of the Superman character, and should be congratulated on finally bringing the essence of the character to mainstream audiences. By focussing on the man, and using the super as a plot hook, the film manages to convey a universe larger than our own, inhabited by beings beyond our comprehension.

 

I end with a final word regarding the movie’s critical and popular reception. This movie, and every aspect of it’s release including its soundtrack, has divided audiences.

 

It should.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the avid blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

Star Trek Into Darkness (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 17th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Star Trek Into Darkness

3.5 Ignored-Federation-Directives out of 4

 

The last time J.J. Abrams had his name attached to a Star Trek movie, he managed to reboot the entire film franchise while finding a way to introduce new viewers to the original series that captivated and entertained audiences for years. He was able to craft a well-written movie that focused on its characters and their relationships to each other, while insuring that cinematography, special effects, sound direction, and editing were all treated with respect and admiration. Utilizing the original series as a framework, Abrams insured that the rebooted film would have its roots planted firmly in the original franchise, meaning that though the film would be exist in its own universe, it still treated its source material with respect, admiration, and honour.

 

This time, with the ironically named Star Trek Into Darkness, he managed to do all of that again, recreating what was amazing about the original series in a fresh, interesting way tying characters, plot, and the original mythos into a single comprehensible and incredibly comprehensive beast of a movie.

 

With Klingons too!

 

The Enterprise crew is tasked with finding and eliminating John Harrison, a man at the heart of a terror attack on a Federation records facility in London who ends up killing Kirk’s mentor and the man who encouraged him to join Starfleet. The plot concerns itself with revenge, and thanks to the presence of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, there’s quite a bit of discussion regarding the moral and ethical virtues of revenge.

 

What made the original Star Trek series so amazing was the way each character fulfilled a role on the Enterprise, all while existing beyond their titles. Each character received fair treatment, and their characterization did not begin and end with their positions onboard the travelling vessel. The importance of the entire crew of both the Enterprise and the actors starring in the show tied the show’s plot together with the overarching themes of exploration, adventure, and science.

 

In order to insure the new franchise succeeds, Abrams expertly tackles the disjointed unity the crew shares in their infancy by having them constantly bicker, banter, and crack jokes with one another in a realistic and human way. Kirk is Captain of the Federation vessel, but he is still young and naive despite his experiences. Spock, the analytical, logical Vulcan mind shows his humanity with his friendship with Kirk, romance with the ship’s communications officer Uhura, and the relationship he shares with the rest of the crew. The loss of even a single central character marks the loss of a family member in the mind of both the remaining crew, and the audience. This familial importance is central to the second Abrams helmed Star Trek film, with the movie actually beginning in media res with Kirk almost losing Spock at the risk of violating the Federation’s infernal Prime Directive.

 

This mention of the Prime Directive marks the beginning of an onslaught of nods, references, hat tips, homages, and callbacks to the original series and the original films. Which is to say nothing of Leonard Nimoy’s brief cameo as Spock Prime.

 

A common criticism of the original Abrams Star Trek movie was that the film spent too much time stopping mid action to quote the original series in a self-referential way. As a way to insure the audience realizes it’s watching a Star Trek movie, many believed the script was interrupted to bring back a kind of nostalgia. The detractors who felt the first film’s script was weaker because of the Original Series nods will not enjoy this Star Trek movie. The only critical solace I can provide for those detractors is insisting that Abrams does a masterful job of uniting new and old in a single interesting package.

 

I realize that my defence may fall on deaf ears.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness features remarkable performances from each member of its crew, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the rogue Federation officer turned terrorist John Harrison is brutal, terrifying, and, quite simply, fascinating. He plays a character at odds with the Federation (just like literally every Star Trek villain ever) who embodies everything Starfleet stands against. His horrific brutality is fascinating because it invokes a performance that is both the antithesis and a parallel to that of Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk.

 

Suffice it to say, Cumberbatch’s soft spoken terror is played to great effect, and he is a worthy adversary to Kirk, the Enterprise’s crew, and the entire Federation as a whole.

 

Fascinatingly, the latest Star Trek film is everything that a good episode of Star Trek should be. It focuses on the characters, the villain, the Federation, and on the USS Enterprise’s evolving nature as both a peacekeeping vessel and the unifying force that brings together the assortment of personalities that form its crew. Abrams has crafted a sequel that is equal to its original film and the franchise from which it deviates. There’s a kind of consistency that isn’t always afforded to sequels – which many feel should bigger and bolder than the originals. Abrams takes this notion and spins it on its head, creating a sequel that is neither bigger nor bolder, but is, instead, simply amazing Star Trek.

 

As far as Star Trek movies go, that’s an accomplishment all unto itself. As far as movies go, that’s a compliment of the highest magnitude.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK