Tag Archives: Movies

Top 10 Films of 2016

Yes, I am extremely late in writing this. You may think “why bother making a top 10 films of 2016 list by this point? We’re more than five months into 2017 now!” Well, this is my site and I can do what I want on it. That’s reason enough for me.

In all serious though, I intended to write this some time ago, but there were a number of 2016 films that I had wanted to see that I didn’t get around to until much later. Now that I’ve seen them, I can write this with a deeper knowledge of 2016 films.

Of course, keep in mind that this is my own personal list. Ergo, my personal taste will probably make this look wildly different than many other lists. For example, I like movies that actually gain an audience and make money  a lot more than professional award committees seem to. Sure, I’m open to liking any movie if I think it’s good (hell, sometimes I like movies that I know are bad, if they provide enough entertainment). But I’m not going to place some critically acclaimed, artsy films just to make me look more “legit.” I like what I like, so that’s what’s going to be here.

As a whole, I don’t think 2016 was as good of a year for movies as 2015, but it still provided some gems. These are said gems that I really liked.

But first, I’d like to give a shoutout to both Dr. Strange and The Founder, both of which I greatly enjoyed and wish I could place on here as well. But top 10 is the tradition, and it’s a perfect number that appeases my OCD. So they have to settle for runners-up spots. Still, one’s a great superhero movie that changes things up by actually including magic (instead of skipping around it like Thor) held together by Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen. The other is a surprisingly engaging look into the origins of the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant chain, lead by a great performance by Michael Keaton.

Okay, now onto the top 10.

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Star Wars Day 2017: Why We Love Star Wars

It’s May the Fourth! Star Wars Day! The day in which we celebrate all things Star Wars (except the prequels… and those Ewoks TV movies). I was unsure what to write about to celebrate the occasion. I was tempted to write reviews for some of the Star Wars films, or write a blog about why – contrary to many Star Wars fans – I greatly prefer The Force Awakens over Rogue One. But I think I’ll save those for another day (soon).

Earlier today, I found this video in my recommendations on YouTube. It’s a video of an old television appearance by film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who defend the Star Wars films from a rather prudish critic who is less enthusiastic about the franchise.

 

This video inspired me to write about something that I actually intended to write some time ago: Why Star Wars is so special, even in a time when fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters are no longer as rare as they were when Star Wars first made its impact.

Critics of the Star Wars franchise often deride the series for being “all about the special effects” (much like the prudish critic in the above video does, as he makes an incoherent analogy about a dog’s tail to go with it). While it’s true the visual effects of Star Wars were revolutionary, the real treat about Star Wars is its imagination.

All the visual polish in the world wouldn’t mean a damn thing if what it brought to life had nothing to it (just look at all the visual effects movies today that fall by the wayside). What makes Star Wars stand out so much is the imagination at play in its world.

There are countless aliens and creatures, many of which are truly original and inspired to behold. Considering the closest thing Star Wars has to a rival is Star Trek, a series in which the majority of aliens just look like people with varying odd-looking foreheads, the fact that Star Wars was able to bring to life so many unbelievable creatures made it captivating to audiences.

The “wow, look a that” factor, prominent as it may be, is probably the least of Star Wars’ imaginative triumphs. The world (or should I say Galaxy?) of the series is a unique blending of genres that creates something truly original.

Because of Star Wars’ popularity, we often take for granted how inspired its setting is. People who refer to Star Wars as “sci-fi” are only looking at things from face value. Sure, it’s set in outer space, and many of its machines look like something we can only imagine being products of the distant future. But Star Wars, from the offset with the immortal words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” immediately informs us that it’s more akin to fairy tale than science fiction.

Jedi like Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi, as well as Sith such as Darth Vader, are more or less wizards and sorcerers. The Force is their magic, and the heart of the series’ mythology. We also have princesses, animal sidekicks (Chewbacca), and robots who have more personality than real-life humans. If Star Wars were strictly sci-fi, an uppity, whiny droid like C3-P0 could never exist. But with the fantasy and fairy tale elements in play, we can happily embrace the idea of a robot who cracks jokes and has panic attacks.

Star Wars isn’t just sci-fi and fantasy, either. It also has elements of westerns and samurai films, as well as war dramas. It’s a franchise that takes all these radically different pieces, and puts them all together in a coherent whole. Very few franchises even come close to pulling such a thing off.

Of course, these things still wouldn’t mean much if Star Wars weren’t also compelling films in their own right. Though the prequels certainly leave a glaring blemish on the franchise, as a whole, there’s a reason why the Star Wars films have remained the most influential of blockbusters.

I wouldn’t often use the word “purity” to describe the appeal of a film, but I think it’s incredibly fitting when describing Star Wars. Not pure in the sense that it’s completely void of evil (this is a series in which the galaxy is ruled by a lightning-throwing sorcerer). I mean pure in the sense that it has no ulterior agenda. It’s a simple story of good and evil that adopts the iconic “hero’s journey” structure of the myths of old, and uses its wildly original world to introduce us to memorable characters.

Though the likes of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo may be a bit archetypal, they easily stand out over any other characters of their ilk by the simple touches the films (and actors) gave to them. Whatever similar characters existed beforehand have long-since been rendered obsolete. Anyone else who fits into such archetypes is now compared to those found in Star Wars, who are unlikely to be displaced from their pedestals.

Another aspect that makes Star Wars so appealing is that it is a film series anyone can enjoy. In the above video, Siskel and Ebert (rightfully) defend Star Wars’ placement as a children’s film, whereas their opponent John Simon derides it for its childlike elements.

The thing is, Star Wars works because it’s a children’s film, but one that doesn’t talk down to children. It’s fun and imaginative, and littered with memorable characters that could appeal to anyone. It’s the kind of film a kid can (and will) easily enjoy, and the adult sitting next to them can enjoy every bit as much.

A lot of Star Wars fans don’t want to admit that it was always a series aimed largely at children, but that’s exactly what’s allowed it to endure. If Star Wars were a series aimed squarely at science fiction enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine it would have anywhere near the level of timelessness that it does. Many people (such as myself) have grown up with Star Wars, and new generations are continuously doing the same. It’s a film series made for kids, and because of that, it has managed to break age barriers and be appreciated on a universal level.

In the video, Ebert and Siskel also mention how, back in the early 80s, younger audiences really didn’t have a whole lot of options when it came to quality entertainment. Most kids movies at the time were dumbed down, because they were made for kids. Star Wars, on the other hand, gave children a whole mythology to embrace. It captivated audiences’ imaginations, and continues to do so to this day.

In this day and age, children do have a few more options when it comes to quality entertainment, due in large part to the influence Star Wars had on filmmaking. But while Star Wars may continue to be endlessly imitated, its only really been duplicated by, well, more Star Wars movies.

It’s true, Marvel has put out some great family entertainment, as have a few other studios and franchises. But really, the only better family films around are all in the realms of animation. Disney has been on a hot streak in recent years, Pixar’s resume speaks for itself, and Studio Ghibli sits at the very peak of this mountain. Outside of such animated endeavors, however, Star Wars is virtually inapproachable in its imagination and appeal. Though Star Wars’ storytelling may not boast the sophistication of Pixar or Ghibli, its execution in storytelling easily stands above any of its live-action peers. Even Marvel’s best haven’t come close to being as captivatingly imaginative as Star Wars’ galaxy far, far away.

That’s not to say that the Star Wars films are perfect, of course. Even my favorites of the lot (Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens) have some issues. But anything the (non-prequel) Star Wars films may slip-up on, they more than make up for with the purity of their imagination and storytelling. And that’s why it has drawn in so many fans in a way very few – if any – franchises have.

Why so many people love Star Wars shouldn’t even be a question. The real question is why wouldn’t we love Star Wars so much?

“Also Rey is my waifu.”

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Disney has struck gold with their recent string of live-action remakes to their classic canon of animated features. Though their earlier efforts such as 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2014’s Maleficent weren’t very good, they still brought in enough box office revenue to ensure Disney would continue with their sub-genre of live-action remakes. 2015 saw Cinderella receive the same treatment, and though it wasn’t great, it was an improvement over the preceding features. It was with 2016’s The Jungle Book where the concept of Disney animations turned live-action really hit a home-run. The Jungle Book was not only a technical marvel, but it was an improvement over the animated original in terms of story and character development. So it seems Disney has now managed to make these live-action remakes worthy of their beloved animated counterparts by this point.

However, there was a large amount of skepticism in regards to what was to come after The Jungle Book, as Disney planned to remake Beauty and the Beast as their next live-action adaptation. This was a risky move for two big reasons.

The first is that, although Beauty and the Beast is twenty-six years old as of 2017, it’s still a much more recent feature than the other animated films Disney has chosen to remake so far, meaning it’s a much larger target for millennial cynicisms and dismissals.

The other reason is that Beauty and the Beast is quite likely the most acclaimed Disney animated feature in history. The other animated movies Disney remade were enjoyable to varying extents, but there was definitely room for improvement (even if the live-action remakes didn’t always achieve that). Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, is so charming, sweet and entertaining, it didn’t really need a remake. I would even say it was my favorite non-Pixar Disney animation up until Frozen was released twenty-two years later. Disney was taking a big gamble with this one.

I’m happy to say that I ultimately feel this new version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a highly enjoyable movie. Though it never reaches the same heights as the animated original, it’s a more than worthy retelling that does justice in reimagining the film so many of us have grown to love.

The story is nearly identical to the original. A young prince (Dan Stevens) is vain and selfish, and is punished for his ways by an enchantress, who places a spell on the prince that transforms him into a beast, and the staff of his castle become anthropomorphic objects. The only way for the prince to break the spell on himself and his staff is to learn to love another, and to earn their love in return.

Some years later, in a small village not-so-far removed from the castle, a young woman named Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her tinkerer father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Belle doesn’t fit in with the rest of the village, being a well-educated bookworm in a town filled with more simple-minded people, such as the brutish Gaston (Luke Evans) an accomplished hunter and the most respected man in town due to his good looks, who is obsessed with making Belle his wife (due solely for the fact that she’s the most beautiful woman in the village).

One day, Maurice gets lost in the forest on his way to the market, and ends up becoming the prisoner of the castle ruled by the prince-turned-Beast. Belle goes to rescue her father, and ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner. From there, Belle befriends a number of the castle’s staff, such as Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) who has been transformed into a candlestick, Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), who has become a clock, and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), who has become a teapot. The castle’s staff believes Belle could be the one to break their curse, but winning the Beast’s affections is easier said than done.

So the story is lifted almost directly from the animated film. That’s probably for the best (why fix what isn’t broken?), but there are some slight changes to certain scenes in an attempt to add more to them or make them fit more into the ever-so-slightly different tone. Some of these changes are fine (Gaston is more immediately villainous here, as opposed to the comical buffoon who slowly degrades into a monster by the third act). Others, however, can feel a little bit like padding, with the most notable example being a largely out-of-place flashback to Belle’s childhood, which details the tragic events involving her mother, and why Maurice has raised her alone.

I don’t want to sound too hard on the scene, because in terms of emotion, it does a solid job, and actually adds a bit to this version’s take on Maurice’s character. But it also happens at kind of a random moment, and the method in which the film gets us there feels kind of shoehorned.

With that said, the film – as a whole – does retain much of the animated original’s charms. The iconic musical numbers such as Belle, Gaston, Be Our Guest, the titular Beauty and the Beast, and The Mob Song are all here, with most of the cast providing solid recreations of these classics (though with all due respect to Emma Thompson, the kindly vocals of Angela Lansbury just can’t be recreated). Emma Watson does sound a little auto-tuned (at least during her character’s self-titled musical number), which is a little distracting as she’s the main character, but the songs are so great it’s hard to be too critical.

There are also a few additional songs added in this version, and though they’re unlikely to become as immortal as the returning songs, they still make for some great musical sequences. The best of the new batch are probably Days in the Sun and Evermore, the latter of which rectifies one of the few questionable omissions from the original by giving the Beast his own solo number.

The film also follows in the footsteps of The Jungle Book by being an absolute marvel to look at. The CG used to create the Beast and his transformed staff is impressive, and the art direction, set designs and costumes do a great job at bringing the animated source material to life. It’s just a really pretty film to look at.

As enjoyable as the film is, Beauty and the Beast just can’t quite recapture the same magic and excellence of the animated film. Some of that is simply the differences in mediums, with certain elements just not being able to translate as perfectly as you’d wish they could.

For example, in the animated film, when Maurice first meets the talking candlesticks, clocks and teacups of the castle, he’s more curious and delighted by the occurrence than anything, and there’s something charming about that innocence. Sadly, that just wouldn’t translate into live-action, so when Maurice finds a talking teacup, he does what someone would do in real life, and out of fright, tries to get the hell out of there. It makes sense in this version, but obviously that’s a bit of the original’s charm that simply can’t be recaptured in a live-action setting and feel natural.

Another small example (strangely also involving Maurice), comes when we are first introduced to the tinkerer. In the animated version, Belle – after hearing the entire town sing about how she doesn’t fit in – asks her father if he thinks she’s “odd.” He replies – after emerging from under one of his contraptions wearing a goofy helmet and comically large goggles – “My daughter, odd? Where in the world would you get an idea like that?” In this version, Belle asks him the same question, and Maurice’s response remains identical, only this time with a much calmer voice, and he simply continues work on one of his inventions, without the ironic visual gag to go with it.

These kinds of things aren’t too big of deals, and are certainly no deal-breakers. But I do see them as simple reminders that the animated film was perfect as it was, and that there are some elements that simply work in animation, and lose a little something when brought to the realms of live-action.

With all that said, this Beauty and the Beast is a worthwhile retelling of the beloved animated film, which ultimately does a terrific job at bringing its source material into a new medium. All while providing a solid cast (also including Josh Gad as Gaston’s sycophantic lackey LeFou). Emma Watson certainly looks the part of a Disney princess, just as Luke Evans is a perfect match for the vain Gaston. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are highlights of the film through their banterings as Lumiere and Cogsworth. Throw in some wonderful music both new and old, and some shiny new visuals, and you have a worthy modernization of one of Disney’s most timeless films. Even if it didn’t necessarily require one.

 

8.5

You Don’t Have to Look Like a Character to Relate With Them

Now it’s time for something more controversial. Well, it shouldn’t be controversial, because what I’m about to say is based on individualistic ideals. But in this day and age when everyone is so “politically correct” it seems like it’s considered taboo to see people as individuals instead of simply identifying them by skin color or sexual orientation. But I’m going to say it anyway.

Simply put, I detest this recent idea that people need a fictional character to fit into their demographic in order to relate with them. It serves only to shoehorn characters into media that often have no defining characteristics other than fitting into said demographic, and ultimately only serves for the people who threw the character into the mix to give themselves a pat on the back for how “inclusive” they are.

All this ends up doing is damaging stories and the characters themselves. You can’t simply toss in characters solely for the sake of representing a specific group, and expect there to be anything more to those characters. They just become a token, which is more insulting than anything else.

What I really can’t stand is that media is forcing this idea on people that it’s necessary for movies, games, TV shows, etc. to include such token characters, because if they don’t, then they “aren’t being inclusive” and are “backwards thinking” and crap like that. They insist that entertainment needs these characters in order for people who belong to any given group to relate with them.

That’s a load of BS.

At the end of the day, we’re all people. Things like skin color and sexuality don’t mean a damn thing. We all understand emotion, and any given person can potentially relate to any character, provided there’s an emotional connection to be had.

If you want a good example of what I mean, take a look at Bambi. Bambi is a film where the characters aren’t even human, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling sad when Bambi’s mother is shot by a hunter. It’s a sad moment, one that any human can feel for, even if the characters in question are deer.

These days, you’ll always hear people say how a certain movie or game wasn’t “inclusive” enough, because it didn’t include a character that belonged to X group of people. But why does that matter so much? What should be important are the story and characters themselves (and in terms of games, the gameplay). If you have good enough characters, and are given reasons to care for them, why does it matter what they look like?

Now, I’m not saying anything against the inclusions of such characters, but you can’t just shoehorn them in just to fill a quota. That will only end up hurting the stories they are a part of. They’ll just be empty characters that will exist for the sole purpose of the production crew being able to pat themselves on the back.

It’s entirely shallow to think that someone can only relate with a character if they look similar or have the same lifestyle as themselves, to the point of being insulting.

Going back to using Disney as an example, people are always jumping down Disney’s throat to include more ethnic characters in their animated films (something which Disney has actually continued to do for decades). The great irony here being that you’ll see children of all colors wearing t-shirts with Elsa or Moana on them. Kids don’t give a damn about what color the character is, they (rightfully) just love the characters, and relate with them because of who the character is, not what they look like. And that’s exactly as it should be.

Why do we, as adults, now have this idea that it’s impossible to relate with someone who isn’t like us in appearance? It’s just utter nonsense. If a story is good enough, and the characters compelling enough, anyone can relate to them, because we’re all people. If a movie or game just so happens to not include a character from a certain background, that doesn’t mean that movie or game has anything against people of that background. Stories have to care about stories first. They shouldn’t have to feel the need to mark a checklist of “inclusiveness.”

After all, it would be impossible to manage to squeeze in representation for every existing group of people, and still tell a coherent story with meaningful characters. Should a movie just be an extended clip of people walking in a line, with each person who walks by the screen fitting into a different group? Yeah, that would make for some good entertainment.

Again, it’s incredibly shallow to think someone can’t identify with a character if they don’t fit square peg into the same demographic. People are people, and anyone should be able to relate with a good story and memorable characters. We can all relate to emotion. No one can relate to a token.

Power Rangers (2017) Review

I enjoyed the new Power Rangers movie. So sue me. Obviously, you don’t go into a movie called Power Rangers expecting anything resembling a deep story, you go in expecting to have a fun (if maybe a bit insane) time. And I ultimately felt Power Rangers delivered on that, even if it takes an excruciatingly long time to get there.

Back in the 90s, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was the biggest thing on children’s television. The show was a unique specimen in that it took stock footage from the long-running Japanese series Super Sentai – a super hero show in which a multi-colored team of heroes battled monsters with giant, dinosaur robots – and not only dubbed it, but also filled in the non-super hero-y parts with a teenage sitcom with American actors.

In retrospect, it sounds like the most insane concept ever, and in many ways it was. But it worked. Spinoffs of both Super Sentai and Power Rangers continue to this day in their respective countries. And during the 90s, it was the centerpiece of children’s popular culture much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before it, or Pokemon after it.

I should know, I was about four-years old when Power Rangers came into existence, and like so many children, I was hooked. Again, this is a series that had super heroes, dinosaurs, robots and monsters, and then threw in the stories of a group of teenagers that actually aimed to be relatable (if campy) around it all. What kid wouldn’t like this?

Now, like so many other 90s franchises, Power Rangers has received the nostalgia-fueled Hollywood blockbuster treatment. And while I will certainly say it’s a greatly flawed film, by the end of it I was having a good time. While many such reboots just don’t work, Power Rangers does manage to tap into the nature of its ridiculous source material and give you what you came for.

Suffice to say the story is the best kind of nonsense. As the film’s mythology goes, every planet that houses life has a “Zeo Crystal” hidden somewhere within it, which can grant ultimate power. 65 million years ago, the Power Rangers were a band of aliens trying to protect the Earth, after one of their own, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) went rogue and tried to steal Earth’s Zeo Crystal. The dying leader of the Rangers, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), then called down a meteorite to stop Rita from gaining the crystal, and to ensure life would be allowed to continue on Earth.

“They may not be the Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad, but they’ll do.”

Fast-forward to the present day, and the Zeo Crystal’s location is now buried deep under the city of Angel Grove, where five teenagers, Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), Trini Kwan (Becky G) and Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), inadvertently uncover five mystical tokens during one of Billy’s exploits to an abandoned mine, which he does to continue in his deceased archeologist father’s footsteps.

“I don’t know, a simple poster might be a better wall decoration…”

Upon finding the tokens, the teenagers are given newfound strength and superhuman abilities, and eventually uncover a hidden spaceship in the location they found the coins. The spaceship is tended to by Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader), an ancient robot who “uploaded Zordon’s essence into the ship’s matrix.” Zordon then informs the teens that by finding the tokens, they are destined to become the new Power Rangers, with Jason becoming the leading Red Ranger, Kimberly the Pink Ranger, Billy the Blue Ranger, Trini the Yellow Ranger and Zack the Black Ranger. With their new roles as Power Rangers, they must prepare for the return of Rita Repulsa, who plans on constructing a golden goliath named Goldar in order to find the Zeo Crystal (which just so happens to be buried deep beneath a Krispy Kreme).

Yeah, it’s insane.

Honestly, once we actually get to the Power Ranger-y bits, it’s a lot of fun. The grave problem with the film, however, is that it just takes way too long to get there.

The build-up to the teenagers becoming the Power Rangers takes up the majority of the film. This might not be so big of a problem, if this extra time were spent on things like character development. Instead, it all just seems like build-up for the sake of build-up, and a good deal of awkward dialogue doesn’t help things, either.

Now, in its defense, the film does try to give a little bit of attention to its characters’ backstories: Zack has an ailing mother, for example, and Billy is probably the most interesting character, having a form of high-functioning autism that gives him an incredible memory at the expense of basic socializing skills. The problem is that these character moments are very short-lived (especially for Zack and Trini, whose introductions in the film feel incredibly sporadic).

You could compare the situation to the 2014 Godzilla film, in which the whole reason audiences came to see the movie (in that case, Godzilla) doesn’t get nearly the amount of screen time you’d hope for. Though Power Rangers is probably more guilty. At least in Godzilla’s case, its titular monster had origins in a serious drama (let’s not forget Godzilla was originally an allegory for the atom bomb). But Power Rangers was always so ridiculous, that there’s really no reason to try to take things so seriously and hold off on the Rangers, Zords, and giant monster battles.

With all that said, once it all picks up, and the Rangers (finally) don their costumes, ride in their dinosaur-shaped Zords, and have the inevitably ridiculous showdown with Rita Repulsa, it’s a whole lot of fun.

“65 million years never looked so good.”

Speaking of Rita Repulsa, Elizabeth Banks has to be the film’s best singular asset. She seems to be having an exceptionally fun time hamming it up as the evil witch, and just brings a whole lot of energy and humor to the film.

In the end, Power Rangers was never going to be a cinematic classic, nor is it as ridiculously fun as it could have been, since it staves off the good stuff for far too long. But thankfully, the payoff at the end, coupled with Elizabeth Banks’ over-the-top performance, makes it all worth it in the end. And in a time when entertainment is becoming insanely preachy and self-righteous, it’s kind of nice to see a movie that’s okay with just being insane.

 

6.5

Kong: Skull Island Review

Though the giant monster genre may not exactly be a critical darling, there are at least two giant monsters in cinema with legacies so strong that even the more prudish film-lovers show them a degree of respect. One of them is Godzilla, who has seen a recent return to form in both his native Japan with the acclaimed Shin Godzilla, as well as making a splash with western audiences with his 2014 American reboot. The other iconic giant monster is King Kong.

While the original 1933 King Kong may not wow today’s audiences with its special effects, it remains heralded for how much it pushed filmmaking techniques forward, as well as its genuine storytelling prowess. It’s still entertaining, and is held in such high regard that its remakes in the 1970s and 2000s were seen as big deals, with the filmmakers behind those remakes (particularly Peter Jackson and his enjoyable-but-overly-long 2005 film) showing a great deal of respect to the source material.

Now we have another reboot of the King Kong franchise in the form of Kong: Skull Island. Though unlike the previous films, this is not a remake of the 1933 movie. Instead, it’s a reimagining of the Kong mythology that serves as a means to not only reintroduce Kong, but also to combine his world with that of the 2014 Godzilla, to create a shared cinematic universe between the behemoths.

Of course, this isn’t the first time cinema’s two most famous giants coexisted. Toho once made their own King Kong Versus Godzilla in the 1960s, which delighted the Hell out of me when I was very young. Of course, today, King Kong Versus Godzilla can only be enjoyed in an ironic sense, as the film’s special effects were laughably bad even in their day, and it’s not exactly a movie that had a strong narrative to fall back on.

Still, King Kong Versus Godzilla established my love of giant monsters from an early age, and now I’m ecstatic that the two legendary monsters have the chance to have an epic encounter worthy of their names.

The good news is that Kong: Skull Island doesn’t just serve as a means to prep Kong up for his inevitable encounter with Godzilla (though it does that, too), but also makes for a highly entertaining film in its own right.

“The film features numerous awesome creatures besides Kong.”

What struck me as kind of funny is how different the tone is in Skull Island than it was in the 2014 Godzilla film. In the 2014 movie, the film really tried to treat Godzilla with nothing but reverence (sometimes to its detriment, as Godzilla only had a handful of minutes of screen time). It was a serious, dramatic film, and a mostly good one (albeit with some great flaws). But here, Kong is only treated with reverence in select moments. For the most part, Skull Island just wants us to have fun and to show how badass King Kong is. The plot has serious elements, but the tone of the movie is a lot more focused on action, comedy, and fun than Godzilla was.

Personally, I don’t mind that. So many blockbusters these days try to be so dark and edgy, that a genuine good time seems increasingly rare. Though I respect Godzilla’s efforts for trying to present things as serious as possible to respect its titular lizard, Kong: Skull Island serves as a nice counterbalance to it. This is a movie all about having a fun time, and it succeeds.

“Tom Hiddleston seems to be cosplaying as Nathan Drake for the majority of the film.”

Kong: Skull Island takes place shortly after the Vietnam War (making it a prequel to Godzilla). Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a leading member of the government organization Monarch, and is leading an exhibition to the mysterious Skull Island, under the pretense of mapping out the island. He recruits a tracker in James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer in Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Lieutenant Colonal Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) along with his with entire squadron, who are to escort the mission.

Naturally, it’s anything but an easy ride, as Skull Island is surrounded by perpetual storms, and shortly after arriving, many of their helicopters are downed by the giant ape known as Kong. The surviving members of the group (namely the main characters) then meet up with Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a cooky and eccentric US soldier who’s been stranded on Skull Island since World War II.  The group then plans a way to escape from the island, all while surviving the many dangers it entails, the most prominent of which being vicious, reptilian monsters dubbed “Skullcrawlers.”

It’s silly and simple, yes. But it’s also a lot of fun. The special effects are great, the action scenes are exciting, and the film is a lot more generous with its giant monster fights than the 2014 Godzilla film. Not to mention John C. Reilly gets some terrific comedic moments and one-liners.

“Confirmed: John Goodman makes any movie better.”

Admittedly, the film has its flaws. Namely, the characters are all pretty stock, and pretty much fit into their generic adventure movie roles. It’s a shame, because the film features some great actors, but they only have so much to work with in regards to their characters. John Goodman especially seems underutilized, much like Bryan Cranston was in Godzilla (though admittedly Goodman has a better showing than that).

It’s as if both the 2014 Godzilla and this film showcase the good and bad of both of their approaches to the material. While Godzilla focused too much of its time on the humans at the expense of the giant monsters we all wanted to see, Kong: Skull Island spends so much time on its action that its characters are never allowed to become anything more than archetypes. Hopefully future films in this crossover franchise will learn to find a good balance between entertainment and depth.

Still, Kong: Skull Island is tremendous fun. It delivers solid blockbuster entertainment, and serves as a fitting introduction for King Kong’s placement in this new shared Monsterverse (King Kong is much larger than he’s ever been, with the film making a point to mention that he’s “still growing,” as to make him a worthy opponent to Godzilla). The wait for future giant monster showdowns is looking promising, and hopefully the inevitable encounter between King Kong and Godzilla will be one for the ages.

 

7.5

The Appearances of Animated Characters are NOT Offensive

*Warning! The following blog will “trigger” SJWs. But that’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.*

Tracer

 

Something that has recently become one of my great pet peeves is the idea of forced “social representation” and political correctness that is imposing its way into creative media. I know, I just made myself the enemy of the internet, since in this day and age everyone loves to brag up how “open-minded” they are, and yet have an entirely black and white view of people who agree and disagree with them (with the slightest disagreement resulting in utter vilification, of course). But here we are.

Anyway, the two main areas of this forced political correctness that really annoy me are the idea that any and all possible groups of people must be represented in any given work (because why care about the actual depth of a character when you can merely create a token?), and the idea that the physical appearances of animated characters are somehow “offensive” and “represent stereotypes” and “give people unrealistic body images” (it’s almost like they’re fictional characters or something).

I’ve already written a bit about the former in my blog explaining why Disney making Frozen’s Elsa a lesbian would be a poor decision from both a creative and social standpoint, so I’ll be focusing more on the second idea of appearances this time around. But before anyone gets the wrong idea (lord knows this politically correct age loves to twist people’s intentions just to give them something to hate), I have nothing against seeing diverse characters in fiction. In fact I welcome it. But the problem arrises when it becomes forced, and people start caring more about throwing in characters for the sole purpose of representing a particular demographic. I’m all for a character of any race, culture, sexual orientation, or whatever other category, provided they weren’t merely an afterthought that was tossed in for the sake of having a character of whatever category they fall under. It only turns movies, shows, games, or whatever else into simple political pandering, not to mention suppresses creativity for the sake of filling quotas. An actual character being created who happens to fall under a specific demographic is infinitely more meaningful than a character who’s just whipped up for the sole purpose of representing that demographic.

Now with that out of the way, let’s get to my main point. And that’s the appearances of animated characters. You’ll often hear people bemoan Disney princesses, for example, for being “too skinny” or that their appearances “reinforce stereotypes.” This is, of course, complete and utter BS.

Yes, Disney princesses are often slender, but why is that a problem, exactly? You’ll often hear people claim it gives girls “unrealistic body standards” and other such nonsense, as if these animated films are telling people to look like these characters, as opposed to the characters simply looking a certain way.

People seem to forget that caricature has always played a prevalent role in animation. If you want a character to appear goofy, you might give them an elongated torso and lanky limbs, so that their movements reflect the character’s goofy nature. Just the same, if a female character is supposed to be pretty and on the thin side, you exaggerate those features as you would any other. It no way, shape or form are they telling people to look a certain way.

"They're smart, independent, and teach valuable lessons to young girls. But oh no! They're pretty! Someone call the thought police!"

“They’re smart, independent, and teach valuable lessons to young girls. But oh no! They’re pretty! Someone call the thought police!”

Some people complain that Disney never has any variety in their characters’ appearances, which isn’t exactly an accurate claim, considering some of their characters, such as those in Lilo and Stitch, present less slender character designs. Of course, those characters also receive flack for being “offensive.” So artists like those at Disney are really just in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation when it comes to the politically correct.

I also have to wonder what is considered so offensive when female characters look feminine? Look, I get it, not every girl and woman is into traditionally feminine things, and that’s great. But why is it considered such a bad thing for female characters to be feminine? Femininity is, for obvious reasons, a predominantly female thing, so why is the idea of a female character exhibiting feminine qualities considered such a taboo in this day and age? Has our idea of gender roles really become so mind-numbingly simplistic that our idea of progress is simply “do the opposite because reasons?”

This of course doesn’t just apply to animated films and Disney princesses, but video game characters as well. A recent example would be, of all games, Overwatch. Despite the fact that Overwatch actually manages to achieve a genuine sense of diversity and representations in its cast of characters, the game received some pre-release flak due to the game’s mascot character – a spunky British girl named Tracer – having a victory pose that was deemed as being “too sexual.” The pose in question  (seen above) was simply Tracer facing her back to the screen, and since she’s wearing a skin-tight bodysuit, it emphasized her *gasp* butt.

One of my main beefs with this non-issue is how the pose really isn’t that sexual. Is it sexy? Sure. Sexual? Not really. I mean, human beings do indeed have butts. I would assume that a video game character would also have a butt. That is of course unless developers are expected to give all of their female characters an anatomy reminiscent of Rayman, as a means to not “trigger” anyone.

"Rayman has no butt. All is right in the world."

“Rayman has no butt. All is right in the world.”

What makes this whole thing worse is that Blizzard, the developers of Overwatch, actually caved in to the pressure and replaced that harmless pose with a less “triggering” one. Naturally, internet hipsters hailed this as a victory for feminism, when in reality it was nothing but a loss for free speech and artistic integrity.

Another example of a false “correctness” in video games occurred with Lara Croft’s redesign with the rebooted Tomb Raider series. Now, I fully understand that Lara Croft’s character design was becoming a little ridiculous, but when the developers stated they reduced Lara Croft’s breast size so that she “could be taken seriously,” I though that was a bit eyebrow-raising. So just because a woman has a larger chest, that means she can’t be taken seriously? I find that statement to be infinitely more sexist than any character design.

So long as the emphasis is placed on the character themselves, does it really matter what they look like? Aren’t these same critics always preaching that “it’s what’s inside that counts” (genuinely sound advice) and that “all body types are beautiful?” If that’s the case, why are they so offended by the appearances of fictional characters?

I can’t exactly say I’m one who rallies towards overly-sexualized characters (the primary reason it took me longer than most to get into Bayonetta was because of its emphasis on sexualization), but it is the creators’ rights to do whatever they want with their characters. If you don’t like something, you don’t like it. That shouldn’t mean that the artists and creators of the world should pander to your feelings and change their creations.

You’ll often hear people give the “argument” (I use that word very loosely here) of “it’s 2016,” as if the current year has anything to do with anything. You might as well counter argue with “the sky is blue” or some other blunt non sequitur.

Yeah, I understand that these people are supposedly arguing that times change, and modernization is in order. But it seems to me that telling people what they can and can not make is the exact opposite of modernization. Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean someone else can’t make it.

I know, saying all this would label me as a “misogynist pig” to the Social Justice Warriors of the internet (despite that I greatly value women and am all for female empowerment in media), but I believe the artistic integrity of creators is too valuable of a thing to just throw away just so some SWJs can get a false sense of self-righteousness.

"Jessica Rabbit is one of the most prominent animated characters with sex appeal. But she's also probably the most complex character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

“Jessica Rabbit is one of the most prominent animated characters with sex appeal. But she’s also probably the most complex character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

The simple point is that creators should be allowed to make their characters look however they want. It’s their right as creators. They shouldn’t be shackled by political correctness. No one’s forcing them to like what creators make. Why should creators be forced to cater to people who whine?

Look, if a character is designed to be nothing but sex appeal, and has nothing else to them, you have every right to complain (but you also shouldn’t demand the creators change things just to appease you). But so long as the character has something to them, shouldn’t that be far more important than what the character looks like? It is possible for a character to be feminine and sexy and still be a deep character. This doesn’t even just apply to women either. But even though male characters receive similar caricaturization to female ones (would you argue that Disney princes aren’t also exaggeratedly attractive?), people are more conveniently hush hush on that subject.

No animator or game developer is telling anyone they need to look a certain way because of the way they make their characters look. That’s just how they make their characters look. So long as there is something to the character on the inside, why are people so focused on what they look like outside? Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a animated character by her curves.