Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Pop Culture Haikus: Disney Renaiisance Edition

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

When I was growing up during the 1990s, there were a lot of great entertainment options available to me.  Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, and Kids WB all had great lineups of live-action and cartoon shows that could keep me entertained for hours before and after school.  I subscribed to a host of interesting magazines (Nick Mag and Disney Adventures, you will be missed!) and read through an endlessly-growing collection of books.  One of the most memorable entertainment sources for me during this time, though, was the long string of fantastic animated films released by Disney during this time.  This period has become known as the Disney Renaiisance because the quality of the animation, artistry, music, and other elements of these films were amazingly high; I was a bit too young to appreciate such finer details, but I did really like these movies.  As a small tribute to this period from 1989 to 1999, I present the following Pop Culture Haikus, one seventeen-syllable poem for each film released during this time.

The Little Mermaid

Sea girl meets nice boy./Mean witch steals ocean girl’s voice./Witch becomes fish food.  Nice boy is confused./”Why does the nice girl have fins?”/Just kiss the girl, boy!

The Rescuers Down Under

Aussie boy is kidnapped./Cute U.N. mice rescue him./Boy saved by vermin!  This had an eagle/that the Aussie boy flew on./That’s all I recall.  (Still, that eagle ruled!/Come on, a freaking eagle!/I ride eagle next?)

Beauty and the Beast

Girl meets furry boy./Beast defends her, loves her true./Aw, they got married!  Gaston was a jerk./He didn’t treat Belle nice much./Furry boy much nicer!  Feel bad for Gaston, though./Being thrown off cliff must hurt./Hope landing was soft!

Aladdin

Boy meets nice princess./Boy uses magic to impress./Girl likes real men more.  Jafar wants power./Magic makes him more snake-like./Audience: “Boo!  Hiss!”  Genie is funny./True, he turns into weird things./Still, he’s pretty nice.

The Lion King

Mufasa has son,/Dies at hands of jerk brother./Can son become king?  Son gets two new friends./They tell him, “Not to worry.”/I think he should care.  Simba faces Scar,/Surrounded by hot lava./Better than Ali fight!  Peace reigns in Pride Lands/Because Simba won the battle./Life’s circle rolls on!

Pocahantas

Princess meets nice boy./It’s reverse of Aladdin!/Disney recycles plots!  John Smith is nice man./He loves native princess much./Doesn’t quite get girl.  Radcliffe big, greedy./Cares nothing for natives, only gold./He’s a blowhard jerk!  Pokey and John meet,/Get along though differences/Keep them both apart.

Hercules

A kid from the gods:/”Greece is chock-full of monsters./Let me save it, please?”  Hades, big bad guy:/”Jerkules wins, I burn up./Get me an aspirin!”  I like the muses much./Best Greek chorus ever filmed!/”That’s the gospel truth!”  Pegasus was neat./Large white winged horse impressed all./Rainbow Dash still coolest!

Mulan

Legendary girl/Saved China from the Hun hordes,/Also found husband.  Mushu is cute help./He’s rivals with small cricket./They’ll soon get along fine.  Shang is big captain/In fledgling Chinese army./First big test is Huns.  Mulan can help out./She’ll go as a boy soldier./She’s tougher than most!

Tarzan

Legendary man/Raised by apes, king of jungle/Heard this all before?  Terk’s Tarzan’s best friend./Brooklyn accent in Africa?/Normal for Rosie!  “Trashin’ the Camp” song/Backstreet Boys sing great doo-wop!/Too bad the camp’s trashed…  Clayton hunts big apes/Tarzan says, “That’s not okay!/This hunt is postponed!”  Ape man meets Jane girl/Ape man likes Jane girl heap lots/Maybe they’ll elope?

Do you like Disney?/How about these haikus?  Hmm?/Leave comments below.

Tiny Death Star iPad Game Review: The Force Is Small With This One

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

 

Kinda looks to me like the "Globe of Death" from the circus.

The Empire’s ultimate weapon, in handy diagram form. Doubles as a cute hamster ball!

Tiny Death Star , I think, is an amusing game for the iPad that combines the premise and basic game mechanics of Tiny Tower, another hit iPad game, with the vast interstellar possibilities of the Star Wars universe.  Instead of Tiny Tower‘s premise of contstructing a massive skyscraper in which virtual “bitizens” can live and work, the player for Tiny Death Star  instead takes on the role of a teeny-tiny Darth Vader and builds a massive portion of the infamous Death Star space station.  At the start of the game, a miniscule Emperor Palpatine informs Vader that the building of the Empire’s ultimate weapon requires a great deal of funding.  To obtain the necessary galactic credits, he assigns Vader (alias, you the player) to the job of Imperial Landlord, moving various denizens of the Star Wars galaxy into apartments on the Death Star, putting those new residents to work in various restaurants, gift shops, and other stores, and extracting secrets from captured Rebel forces.  Will Vader prove himself capable of managing the galaxy’s most terrifying “ant farm,” or will it all blow up in his dark helmet-covered face?

I’ve played a bit of Tiny Tower before, but I stopped playing it and took it off my iPad.  I am not quite sure why: I think it was either because I found the basic game play a bit bland or I was not fond of its presentation of a combination apartment/office building.  Weirdly enough, Tiny Death Star is the exact same game as Tiny Tower with a Star Wars coat of paint, but I find this version much more compelling.  It is probably just due to the material being used, but let’s face it, watching small Stormtroopers and droids go about their daily routines isn’t something you see every day.  In addition, there is also a steady stream of miniature bounty hunters, aliens, X-Wing pilots, Han Solo lookalikes, and a host of other familiar faces among the itsy-bitsy crowd.  If you play long enough, you’ll even see a few of the really big players in the Star Wars  saga drop by.  Early in the game, I received a visit from Jar Jar Binks who used his long tongue to snag a sandwich from a high shelf in my cafe; unfortunately, he also caused a portion of the ceiling to collapse.  (Don’t worry, this was only in an in-game movie and everything was fine once the movie finished playing.  I’d still like to know why Jabba the Hutt fell through the ceiling, though; just how did he get onto the Death Star, anyway?)  If these special character cameos keep coming, I will be one happy Padawan (junior Jedi Knight; Yeah, it’s not my favorite Star Wars terminology either, but if I was eight years old again and able to swing a lightsaber around with Yoda as my teacher, I’d put up with any terrible name I was given!)

Seeing new characters is great, and keeping the Death Star up and running for them to enjoy is almost as fun to me.  My main duty as Imperial Landlord consists of managing my growing collection of residents and making sure they are in positions where they are able to generate the most credits.  Each of them has a series of numerical ratings attached to them indicating which type of work they perform best (retail, service, manufacturing, etc.).  A worker with a high retail rating placed in a retail job will, of course, generate considerably more income than someone with a low retail number.  Each resident also has a “dream job,” a particular place they would especially like to work.  If they are placed in that location, they generate a bit of a bonus income on top of their regular contributions.  I only have a few stores open on my Death Star at the moment, so my work force is not as productive as they could be.  I’ll need a bit of time to get things up to lightspeed, but once they are perfectly aligned, I will no doubt have one of the best sales groups in the cosmos!

What is really pushing me forward, though, is the potential for the game to tell a compelling story.  The building of a structure as huge as the Death Star is an interesting situation to play with, and Star Wars is fairly famous for game-changing plot twists (Vader being Luke’s father, for instance).  I can only imagine what might happen with an apartment complex smack dab in the middle of a gigantic space battle.  What happens if Rebel X-Wings take a few shots at the Death Star and ruin my new balcony?  What if the Wookiees (Chewbacca and his family and friends) and the Mon Calamari (Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar and the rest of his kind) don’t like each other and want to be kept as far away from each other as possible?  Just when in the Star Wars timeline does this game take place?  I don’t want no stinkin’ trench run ruining my well-intentioned apartment-empire!

The combination of Star Wars and real estate development has made for an exciting combination so far.  I think I will be sticking with this game for far longer than I did Tiny Tower.  I just hope that the experience lasts longer than the real Death Star did in the movies!

What are your feelings on Star Wars?  Would you be willing to play Tiny Death Star, and if you have, what do you think of it so far?  Do you think the Rebels would notice a bunch of apartment towers jutting outward from the surface of the Death Star (just seems like a huge security risk to me, is all)?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you faster than it takes Han Solo to make the Kessel run (12 parsecs is a long time, you know!).

Pop Culture Questions: Only the Lonely Edition

Friday, October 11th, 2013

question-mark-63979_150I had a sudden flash of inspiration this morning and for whatever reason I have a bunch of new Pop Culture Questions to ask (and answer, naturally).  I also have Roy Orbison’s song “Only the Lonely” stuck in my head at the moment because I was thinking about making this edition all about lonely or isolated characters.  But then again, a lot of these guys do make friends along the way, so maybe they aren’t really all that lonely after all.  Either way, I think they are all great characters and certainly deserving of a little attention, so here’s my two cents on them.

Will Bolt be all right after the events of Bolt?

 Disney’s Bolt tells the story of a dog who is the lead star in a hit TV show filmed in Los Angeles in which he is portrayed as a secret agent.  Bolt has been led to believe that his fictional secret agent life is real (the show’s director surmises that, “If the dog believes it, the audience believes it.”), which has in turn caused him to become intensely protective of his owner, Penny (played wonderfully by Miley Cyrus, years before that whole “twerking” thing got out of hand).  One day, the director decides to set up a “cliffhanger” to increase the show’s ratings, and so Penny is “kidnapped” right in front of Bolt’s eyes (in reality, she is just taken off the set and hidden away from Bolt).  The poor dog is heartbroken and determined to get his owner back, so he subsequently breaks out of his trailer, accidentally gets trapped in a shipping box bound for New York City, escapes his confinement, and goes on an epic cross-country journey to reunite with his owner.  By the end of the movie (kind of a spoiler here, but since it’s a Disney movie, I don’t think it should be much of a surprise), Bolt has reunited with Penny and they both (along with her mom and a few tagalong friends Bolt meets on his journey) retire from acting and move to a ranch house in Oklahoma, far from roving TV cameras and any hint of danger, where Bolt can live out the rest of his life as a normal fun-loving dog.

I love this ending, but I have two major problems with it.  One: Are Bolt and his family truly safe from the TV world?  Who’s to say there isn’t some TMZ-type gossip monger out there looking to do a “Where Are They Now?” segment on Bolt and they’re slowly narrowing down the spots he could be hding in?  I know from experience that once those cameras find him, they’ll just keep on coming and never, ever leave.  In this age of Google Earth and elaborate information sharing and social networking, the odds of Bolt and his family simply disappearing from public view are, in my view, slim to none.  Two: Is Bolt capable of thinking and behaving like a normal dog after all he has been through?  He’s a TV dog who, until just recently, thought he was an action hero.  He’s hard-wired to dodge bullets, subdue bad guys, and routinely perform extreme feats of derring-do.  And you expect me to think that Bolt is just going to forget about all this stuff and go back to fetching a ball and sitting, rolling over, and doing all the normal things other dogs do?  I can easily imagine Bolt one day snapping back into TV hero mode and nearly taking a bite out of the mailman who he perceives as an agent of the “green-eyed man.”  One thing’s for sure, though: he’s definitely going to be the most athletic, agile pet on the block.

Do Garfield’s Halloween plans for this year include crushing loneliness?

Whenever Halloween comes around, I always seem to recall a particular sequence of Garfield comic strips I first came across in one of the orange fat cat’s excellent reprint collections.  It first ran in newspapers from October 23-28, 1989 (check out all six strips in the sequence in this RetroJunk article) and is quite possibly the weirdest and most thought-provoking series of comic strips I have ever read.  Garfield wakes up one fine Monday inside an abandoned, boarded-up version of his house.  There isn’t any food in the house, and more disturbing, Jon and Odie are nowhere to be found.  Garfield looks around a bit and discovers that the house has been sold and that neither he nor his family have lived at the house in years.  By the end of the week, the feline has nearly succumbed to loneliness.  In desperation, Garfield admits that he needs Jon and Odie.  After he does this, things suddenly turn back to normal.  Jon and Odie are back and the house is just as it has always been.  Garfield embraces Jon and Odie and the week ends on a happy note.

These Garfield strips are very special to me.  They are rather insightful about the human condition and the need we all feel (or should feel, anyway, I think) to depend on and help others to survive.  As much as Garfield likes to belittle and tease Jon and Odie, he needs them in order to keep his sanity.  Without them, he is just a cranky cat with a knack for routinely eating every morsel of food near him.  Such a creature couldn’t possibly survive for long without a little help and love.  Good thing Jon and Odie have plenty of love to go around.  (By the way, the article mentions that the Garfield sequence bears a strong resemblance to the “Valse Triste” sequence from the Italian film Allegro non Troppo.  I really like this piece of animation with a ghostly cat wandering around an abandoned house; it makes a perfect companion to the comic strips, so check both of them out and tell me what you think of them.)

Does this Squidward “Alone” sequence from SpongeBob Squarepants truly stand alone as the greatest expression of loneliness in animation history?

Okay, deep breath here: the above clip from SpongeBob episode “SB129” features Squidward Tentacles standing in a white void (well, it’s not entirely white: there are a few colored squares off in one corner and an astonishingly weird series of sound effects filling the void slightly) and expressing satisfaction at finally getting away from the eternal (and yellow, porous, and spongy) bane of his existence.  After he says he is all “alone,” he shrinks down into nothingness while versions of the word “alone” in various fonts, sizes, and shapes pop onto the screen.  All of those “alones” shrink down and disappear, too.  I have seen this sequence literally tens of hundreds of times since it first aired in 2000, and I still can’t figure it out.  Is Squidward literally alone?  Is he just imagining the void and all those people saying “alone” over and over?  Where is this white void, exactly?  What time and space does it occupy?  According to the SpongeBob Wiki, it’s called “Nowhere.”  I don’t know about you, but I sure think this place certainly takes you somewhere all right.  Also, how would you know if you were in the middle of “Nowhere?”

How do you feel about loneliness?  Do you feel better alone or with company?  Do you like the Lone Ranger?  Fill the comment box below with your thoughts; sentences make it feel less lonely.

“Disney’s Think Fast”: A Magical Time with Trivia

Monday, September 30th, 2013
Who's the leader of the club?

Darn, this mouse’s head is everywhere!

You never know what you might find when you go off the beaten path.  For instance, I recently went on a garage sale trip with my parents and came back with a highly unusual game, a trivia extravaganza known as Disney’s Think Fast.  I remember reading about this game on Wikipedia and watching a handful of YouTube videos of other people playing, and wondered if I would like playing it if I ever got my hands on a copy.  Well, I have finally gotten my chance to do so, and I am pleased to report that it is indeed a rapid, fun, magical trivia tussle.

Disney’s Think Fast is a 2008 game for the Wii and PlayStation 2 (I played my version on the latter system) from Disney Interactive Studios in which players get to play through a question-filled game show themed after the wide world of Disney movies.  The set on which the game is played is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head, the Genie from Aladdin  is your host, and your selection of contestants includes Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Scrooge McDuck, and even some relatively obscure characters such as Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and even Magica DeSpell (one of Scrooge’s rivals from the old Ducktales TV show, and she’s voiced by her signature voice actress, June “Rocky the Flying Squirrel” Foray!).  One to four players use special game show buzzer-shaped controllers to battle their way through five to seven rounds of regular trivia, Pictionary-type drawings, and quirky mini-games.  Highest score at the end of the game wins!

For my first time playing, I played a seven-round solo game as Goofy and the setting was at London’s Regents Park from 101 Dalmations (you can pick different backgrounds as well including Hawaii from Lilo and Stitch, Ariel’s grotto from The Little Mermaid, and the Pride Lands from The Lion King).  Most of the game was made up of trivia questions as one might expect: a question would pop up with various pictures representing the possible answers.  I picked answers by pressing the corresponding colored button on my controller.  If I chose the right answer, I got points, but if I got the wrong answer, I lost points.  I knew some of the answers, but not all of them.  It was a nice mix of questions, some of it based on Disney, and some based on real-world analogues to Disney characters and locations (Which of these animals is most similar to Lady from Lady and the Tramp?  Choose the picture of the dog for the win!).  The Pictionary drawing round was surprisingly similar to the straight-up trivia rounds: identify the character or place being drawn from a field of choices. 

Things got a bit strange when I  got to the “special guest” round.  I did not expect Lucky from 101 Dalmations to read questions about his movie, but then I thought, “Wow, it’s awesome that there are other characters here I didn’t know about!”  Apparently, other “guests” can appear based on the location you play in, so if you’re in the Pride Lands for instance, Simba will stop by, or if you’re playing in Hawaii, Stitch becomes the guest.  I can’t wait to see what Stitch might be like; he’s one of my favorite Disney characters from recent times, so I think it’ll be pretty cool to see him again!

One mini-game showed up during my solo play.  It involved spotting the differences between a group of Grecian urns featuring the muses from Hercules.  The instructions for this game stated it would get harder as time ticked away, but I did not notice any particular increase in difficulty.  The only major change I noticed was that the muses started wearing sunglasses, which did make them look quite silly to me!  I think the only way that an increase in the level of difficulty might be a major factor is if a young person was playing this game, but, with a little help,  they might do well because the differences are usually very obvious.

Overall, my first time playing Disney’s Think Fast left a very favorable impression on me.  The questions were a nice mix of easy and obscure stuff with a few stumpers that threw me off guard.  The presentation is top-notch with some great shout-outs to different Disney properties, and the Genie makes for a great, if somewhat hyperactive, game show host.  I think this game might be a big winner with my family and friends at parties.  There’s room for up to four players with everyone having their own buzzer controller, so I would not mind having three more human opponents to share the magic with me.  This game gets a big thumbs up from me!

How good are you at trivia games?  What’s the most obscure piece of trivia you have ever heard of?  Let me know in the comments.  Until next time, keep wishing on those stars and always let your conscience be your guide!  (Pinochio is still cool with the kids, right?)

Pop Culture Questions: Superman Edition (Still Alive at 75)

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

I haven’t done an edition of Pop Culture Questions in quite some time, but I bought a magazine this past week that gave me the inspiration to write another one today.  It was an issue of a teen gossip magazine, Life Story, dedicated to Superman on the eve of the release of the Man of Steel movie and coinciding with the comic book icon’s 75th anniversary.  The cover promised a comprehensive overview of Superman’s life in comics, television, movies, stage shows, and many other forms of media, and a quick skim through the magazine showed this to be true (There really was a stage play at one point, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman).  The magazine has also caused me to think of some puzzling questions regarding the Man of Tomorrow such as…

How come Superman is 75 years old, but still looks so gosh-darned young?

I am well aware that Superman’s character has been rebooted and revised countless times over the past three-quarters of a century.  I still feel, however, that it is strange to have a character at 75 years of age who rarely shows any signs of his long life.  By now, I’d expect Supes to have a bald spot in place of that wind-swept mane of black hair, a hunched back instead of a straight posture, or even him taking a crosstown bus to a crime or natural disaster instead of flying everywhere.  But instead, all I’ve seen for the majority of my life has been a young big blue Boy Scout in the prime of his life and health.  I have seen an old or aging Superman occasionally, but usually as the result of a strange spell cast by his enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk, and even then, that appearance only lasted for one story at a time.  Whatever magical fountain of youth Supes has been soaking in off-panel for all these years certainly must be working well for him.  I wonder where it’s located…probably some forgotten corner of Oz…

How come Clark Kent has the most effective disguise in the DC Universe?

For the longest time, I thought that Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent was the most obvious secret in the history of comic books.  Beyond a change in costume and a more well-maintained head of hair, the only significant change between Superman and Clark is a pair of glasses.  (Of course, some might say Clark appears to be noticeably lacking in muscle tone, but I’ve noticed that in recent years, the Daily Planet‘s most famous reporter has looked better and better in this regard, so I tend to ignore that part these days.)  Yet, outside of a select few other heroes who know his true identity, no one can connect the two together.  I’ve come up with two conclusions: either Clark’s disguise is as effective as Boris and Natasha’s costumes on Rocky and Bullwinkle at fooling the general public, or everyone in Metropolis is deliberately ignoring the fact that two of its most famous citizens just so happen to have a very strong resemblance to one another.  Either way, I find both sets of circumstances very telling indeed of the collective sanity of the ordinary peoples of the comic book universes we enjoy so much.

How come Superman is sometimes called the “Man of Tomorrow?”

I appreciate the fact that Superman has acquired many colorful nicknames over the years, all of which tend to represent an aspect of his character.  “Man of Steel” for bending steel bars and being as strong and tough as that substance.  “Man of Might” for being, well, mighty and strong.  “Big Blue” for wearing a suit composed mostly of one particular primary color.  One nickname of Supes that I never could stand, though trust me, I’ve tried, is “Man of Tomorrow.”  I think it’s supposed to be a vague representation of the hope for a brighter future the people of the 1940s and early ’50s had in mind, but I think it looks oddly out of place today.  If I didn’t know any better, based on this nickname alone, I’d make the assumption that by this time tomorrow, we’d all be able to fly, shoot beams of heat vision out of our eyes, and dash off to rescue young female reporters from malfunctioning jet liners.  I think it’s time we found a better way to express hope than saying “Man of Tomorrow.”  How about “The Man We Could Be?”  Supes has always been an upstanding U.S. citizen, a practical paragon of virtue.  Why not use a nickname that reflects such lofty aspirations?  D.C. Comics, I’ll be awaiting my cut of the check.

Are there any questions about Superman or any other aspect of pop culture you’ve always wanted answered?  Let me know in the comments, and your query might become part of the next installment of “Pop Culture Questions.”  Up, up, and away!

Random Top Five: Favorite Lines From Disney’s “Bolt”

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I caught the last few minutes of the Disney movie Bolt the other night and, having nothing better to do at that particular moment, I decided to watch the heck out of those last few minutes.  This film about a talking TV dog named Bolt, a cynical cat named Mittens, a Bolt-obsessed hamster named Rhino, and their cross-country mission to reunite Bolt with his owner, Penny, has become one of my favorite movies of all time, and my mom really likes it, too.  If I see it playing on TV, I’ll tell my mom about it and we’ll watch it for a few minutes.  It certainly helps that the movie is full of clever and funny dialogue that I often find myself quoting when I am bored.  Here’s five of my favorite lines from Bolt that I’m sure might get stuck in your head as well.  If you want some more great lines to pull out of your pocket anytime, check out Bolt‘s WikiQuotes page.

5.  “This greatly irks me, I am irked!”  (Dr. Calico)

At the beginning of the movie, the viewer is treated to an “episode” of the TV show Bolt stars in.  The plot basically involves Penny’s father being kidnapped by the evil Dr. Calico and Bolt and Penny racing off to save him.  When Calico receives the news of Bolt and Penny’s actions from one of his henchmen, he says the quoted line above.  For some strange reason, my mom and I find this line incredibly funny, even though the movie acts like it’s no big deal.  I think our appeal for this line stems from the fact that Calico says “irk” twice, which is thoroughly unnecessary and absurd.  I view it in the same manner as the classic Monty Python sketch where everyone in a restaurant keeps repeating the word “Spam” in conversation.  It’s unusual to hear the same word repeated multiple times in a row, so I definitely notice it when it does happen, and considering the movie has been very serious in tone up to this point, this line turns on the funny faucet full blast for me every single time.

4.  “I know this dog…no, no, I don’t know.  I thought I knew.”  (Pigeons)

When Bolt begins his journey to find Penny, he is still trying to figure where to go and why none of the superpowers he believes himself to have are working.  Seeking help, he tries talking to a group of pigeons.  The birds, although well-meaning, do not provide much assistance.  In fact, they struggle to even remember Bolt at all, even though they appear to be familiar with him in some way as the above quote alludes to.  Throughout the scene in which the pigeons appear, a series of buses drive by, each having a billboard for Bolt’s TV show on its side with the dog’s likeness prominently featured.  The pigeons fail to notice these, even as it seems they are just about to have a moment of recognition.  These pigeons are some of the funniest characters in the movie, and they turn into a running gag as the movie plays; no matter how many clues are around them, the pigeons don’t ever recognize him.  This is some great, simple stuff that is just plain funny.  What more can I say?

3.  “Now I’m concerned on a number of levels.”  (Mittens)

Mittens is a black-and-white stray cat who joins Bolt early in his trek across the United States.  She tries her hardest to make Bolt reconcile his superpower delusions with reality, often to little avail.  Her attempts in doing so are further fouled up with the addition of Rhino, a hamster who watches Bolt’s show religiously and has become an unabashed fanboy for his favorite hero.  When Bolt and Rhino first meet each other, they become fast friends, formulating plots to get back at Dr. Calico (at this point in the film, both the dog and the hamster think Penny has been kidnapped by the show’s main villain).  Mittens, the most sane member of the main cast at the moment, expresses her unspoken thoughts about the mental state of the group with the above quote.  It’s a blunt statement and based mostly on first impressions, but I appreciate its “in-your-face” nature and how it showcases Mittens’s personality so effectively.  She does become a much nicer, more forgiving character as time goes on, but I think this is my favorite moment with her.

2. “What?  What is this red liquid coming from my paw?””  (Bolt)

As I mentioned earlier, Bolt’s perception of reality is greatly flawed throughout most of the film.  He has existed in a “bubble” for most of his life, never venturing outside of his TV show’s fictional world.  Therefore, it comes to him as a great shock when, after making a reckless jump off a moving truck, he experiences great pain.  More evidence of his mortality emerges when one of his paws apparently starts bleeding (it’s hard to tell since the movie never actually shows the bleeding paw, or any blood for that matter).  This is a great surprise to him, causing him to deliver the above line.  It’s not the line itself that makes me like it so much.  It’s the way that Bolt’s voice actor, John Travolta, delivers the line that makes it a winner for me.  Travolta’s voice registers surprise and a bit of wooziness due to Bolt’s slow recovery from the fall he just took.  He sounds adorably dopey for the few seconds he says this line, in a rare moment of quiet between a big stunt and further plot development.  It’s one of those “blink-and-you’ll miss it” moments you only get in animated films, and one that always gives me a little smile whenever I see it.

1. “Ring, Ring.  Who is it?  DESTINY?!  I’ve been expecting your call.”  (Rhino)

Rhino, the hamster, is my favorite character in Bolt, hands down.  The things he says throughout the film are some of the funniest, wittiest, and most memorable lines I can ever remember hearing for the first time and instantly liking.  There’s a handful of lines from him I could have put in this spot (his “Let it begin!  Let it BEGIN!” is one I’m particularly partial to), but if I wanted to sum his character up with one line, this one would be it.  He takes the mission of saving Penny quite seriously and fancies himself as a secret agent of sorts, the kind you might find most often in the movies.  Naturally, this role entails delivering cheesy dialogue on occasion, something this line does very well.  It’s funny, serious, somewhat cliched, and amusingly original, all at the same time.  Definitely a line worth keeping on hand in my view.

Have you ever found yourself quoting your favorite movie or TV show?  What are your favorite lines and why?  Leave your lines and your stories in the comments.

“Superman Unbound”: A Classic Super-Tale

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Last week, I wrote about Iron Man 3, a superhero film which I thought was absolutely fantastic.  There’s another film coming up in June, Man of Steel, featuring a new version of Superman which I am gung-ho about seeing.  I’ve seen the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve in the title role, and if the new guy can perform as well as Reeve did, I think we might have a new hit franchise on our hands.  I sure hope this film is as good as Superman Unbound, a direct to video animated movie I purchased last week which I feel presented a great classic Superman story with a few new wrinkles tossed in to keep the character attuned to modern sensibilities.  It feels to me like the original superhero is making a big comeback, and this animated film certainly does seem big in my view, even if it is a bit on the short side (about seventy-five minutes to be precise).

Superman Unbound is a loose adaptation of a recent storyline from the Superman comics, but you don’t have to read the original story to understand what is going on; I didn’t even know it was based on a comic before I started watching, but now that I have, I think I’ll check out the comic version to see what’s different between both versions.  The basic story is a retelling of Superman’s first encounter with the evil alien android Brainiac.  It also concerns the “Man of Tomorrow” having to deal with two very important women in his life, one being well-known reporter Lois Lane and the other being his cousin from Krypton, Kara Zor-El, better known as Supergirl.  It’s a simple tale with fewer elements to it than Iron Man 3‘s story has, but it still delivers a big message in the end, is generally a great story, and finds a nearly perfect balance between serious and campy.

I was fascinated by the way the film’s producers took classic elements from past Superman stories and gave them slight tweaks to give them interesting updates.  For instance, the film’s version of Brainiac takes some cues from his classic appearance from the 1950s and ’60s with green skin and purple armor, but also has beefy-looking muscles popping out everywhere on his body, making him look, I feel, like a crazed space-faring bodybuilder, definitely the type of great menace I’d like to see Superman going up against.  Lois Lane has gone through some changes, too: she is not a “damsel in distress” but rather a self-confident, defiant person who is just as strong emotionally as Clark Kent’s super alter ego is physically.  Speaking of Clark Kent, he and Lois are actually dating at the beginning of this movie.  This stuck out to me immediately because I do not recall ever having seen Lois and Clark dating very often before, not even in the comics; they have had their fair share of candlelight dinners in the past, but I usually see a relationship at the beginning of a comic or movie where they are  just getting to know each other or at the end after they have gotten married.  The “in between” phase shown in this movie adds many interesting new dimensions to their relationship I would like to see more of in other Superman depictions.

Another classic element which plays a big role in Superman Unbound is the bottle city of Kandor, Krypton’s capital city in a bottle which was shrunk down by Brainiac and placed in a bottle on his ship before the planet exploded.  I thought it was a somewhat laughable concept in the comic books, but it is treated respectably in the movie.  At times, it even becomes a metaphor for how Superman treats Lois and Supergirl, keeping both of them in figurative “bottles” of his protection, even though they repeatedly prove they are capable of fending for themselves.  I thought this was an unorthodox parallel to draw; it didn’t actually come to me until after I heard the filmmakers talking about it on the movie’s audio commentary.  Once I started thinking about Lois and Supergirl’s situations in this way, though, I was glad they made the extra effort to utilize Kandor in a way beyond just being a weird sci-fi prop.  Incidentally, considering all of the “bottled up” stuff in this movie, I think it could have been called Superman Uncorked or UnbottledUnbound just sounds too generic to me.

Superman Unbound tells a fine tale of classically defined super-heroics and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  If you can’t make it out to the theaters to see Man of Steel or any other movies this summer, I’d highly recommend giving this one a try.  You can find Unbound on DVD and Blu-Ray for a pretty inexpensive price; I went for the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack for the ability to watch the movie two different ways. Both formats offer extra features including mini-documentaries on the history of Brainiac and Kandor which I feel are worth a look if you’re curious about seeing how those evolved through comics and TV appearances leading up to the Unbound movie.

Between this post and the Iron Man entry, I’ve definitely got superheroes on the brain!  Do you have any favorite superheroes?  Why do you like them?  Would you be interested in seeing them take part in new adventures?  Leave your super-thoughts in the comments below.  Up, up, and away!

Iron Man 3: Reflections on Robert and Tony

Monday, May 6th, 2013
"Yes, I am Iron Man. I am also IN FRONT OF Iron Man. Think about that now, huh?"

Robert Downey Jr. promoting the first “Iron Man” film in 2008. He subsequently suited up and flew away from the red carpet, screaming out the “Money” theme from “The Apprentice” as he flew away.

The title of the movie may have been Iron Man 3, but I came away from it feeling that it could have also been titled Tony Stark: The Movie.  I went with my parents to see the newest comic book movie blockbuster last Friday and was naturally blown away by the special effects, but more than anything else, I was fascinated by the evolution throughout the film of Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Tony Stark, as he reevaluated what he had done with his life.  I don’t usually see this kind of exploration in superhero movies, or in most movies I like to watch, but here it was truly something special.  I am not going to spoil anything too deep about the movie’s plot for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.  I just wanted to talk about an aspect of the movie I thought was worth bringing up if you want to go see it and one which I felt was simply outstanding when I reflected on it afterward.

Robert Downey Jr.’s fifth go-around as Tony Stark (fifth if, in addition to the Iron Man series, you count his cameo appearance in The Incredible Hulk and his co-starring role in Avengers) is once again a masterful performance which is stronger than just about any other performance in a superhero movie I’ve ever seen.  Robert and Tony have both been on the comeback trail for quite a while, and this film, in my view, represents both of their finest hours to date.  Robert’s performance has taken on an extra dimension; his character is no longer completely self-assured, but there’s still enough of his trademark confidence and swagger left over that it is still fascinating to me to see him in action.  Robert looks more comfortable in Tony’s shoes than he has ever been.  Tony says several times during the movie that it is virtually impossible to separate Tony Stark from the Iron Man identity; in the same light, I believe that it is clear that Robert and Tony are by now largely one and the same person.  I can’t really keep them separate in my mind.

I was glad to see a little teaser after the credits stating that Tony Stark (and Robert in the same role, I hope) will appear in future Marvel movies.  I think this is a great move considering that, in the comics, in addition to his association with Iron Man, Tony is just as well known for creating all sorts of fantastic high-tech stuff, particularly for SHIELD, the Avengers, and other big peacekeeping organizations.  I would like to see this role extend into the next set of Marvel movies, with Robert becoming across as a character between Howard Hughes and Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies.  He could be an eccentric inventor who gets on everyone’s nerves a little bit but makes up for it with cool and practical technology.  This kind of role could keep Robert busy for years in a position similar to Dame Judy Dench as M in the James Bond movies.  In my opinion though, Tony Stark seems a lot more fun to hang out with than Dench’s M; what do you think?

To me, Iron Man 3 was more about Tony Stark than it was about Iron Man.  Tony was the one who had to solve the most problems and he did so admirably.  Sure, Iron Man’s battles were fun to look at and very impressive on screen, but I was more interested in Tony’s personal story.  I’d like to see where both Robert and Tony go from here; it should be an engaging ride.

I highly recommend you go to see Iron Man 3 in the theaters.  It’s a big, action-packed, hilarious romp and one of the best “feel good” movies I’ve seen since Christmas.  It is an excellent end to an endlessly entertaining superhero movie saga, and I am interested in seeing if anyone can top it.  If you go to see the film, be sure to come back here and leave your thoughts about it in the comments.  I felt very happy and satisfied after seeing this film, and I hope you will, too.

Flying High with “Iron Man 3” on the iPad

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Iron Man 3 is coming out in theaters this week, and with it has also come a brand new game for the iPad which I have been exploring for the past few days.  One thing I like about this game is that it is a variation on an “endless runner” in the tradition of other iPad games like Temple Run.  Normally, in these types of games, you basically run continously on an endless path and try your best to not run into or get hit by anything in your way.  The Iron Man 3 game puts a twist on that formula; instead of running, you fly through the sunny skies of Malibu and the concrete jungles of New York and blast away enemies with your repulsor rays in what I think might be the world’s most awesome shooting gallery.  I think it is a very good game with some nice graphical details, particularly the myriad suits of armor you can dress your virtual Robert Downey Jr. character in, but there are a few tiny problems which have dampened my experience a bit so far.

I do like how the game’s story starts where the Iron Man 3 movie ends, but there are no details given as to the movie’s ending (I think it’s safe to assume Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man survives).  Tony spends his days doing test flights around Malibu and New York with his army of armors and attempting to figure out the plans of the A.I.M. terrorist organization.  Each new day you play brings with it a new mission related to the story, usually detailing the involvement of a new boss character who has a vendetta against Tony.  At the beginning of a boss fight, the boss character and Tony (who doesn’t sound like Robert Downey Jr. at all, by the way, but the guy doing the voice does have nice, dulcet tones) engage in a brief dialogue exchange revealing the boss’s motivations and reasons for working alongside A.I.M.  After you beat the boss, they typically taunt Tony with some variation of, “I’ll get you next time,” then fly off to goodness knows where to show up again on another day.  Outside of these missions, you probably wouldn’t even know the game had a story, but it has kept me coming back to the game every day to see what happens next.  It’s a little corny, but I like to think of it like an old movie serial; you get just enough characterization and plot twists keep you coming back.   

As I mentioned above, the visual details in this game are top-notch.  The various Iron Man armors stand out the most to me, no doubt because they are the one thing I have been staring at the most.  The way that light reflects off of the armors and how every detail of each armor, from bolts to weapon attachments and even helmet shapes, stand out making them a pleasure to play with and ogle at in the main menu screens (when you start up a new game session, you can also examine each armor in considerable detail like you were in the showroom of a car dealership, a very classy feature in my view).  The Malibu environments you fly through, including beaches, busy city streets, Air Force bases, and car tunnels, are slightly less detailed but I think they are just varied enough that your eyes won’t get too bored.  The New York areas, which I just recently discovered after a plot twist in one of the main storyline missions, are a bit prettier and more varied with gleaming glass skyscrapers (some of which are on fire or falling to the ground due to missile attacks from the sky; I wonder if those missiles are the result of what happens in the movie?), underground subway tunnels, and harbors teeming with boats, crates, and construction.  The enemies you’re blasting away are somewhat plain-looking, mostly flying bullseyes and guys with jetpacks and bulky armor.  They are designed to only be on screen for only a few seconds, so I guess I can’t complain about them too much.  However, this same design treatment seems to have been given to the boss enemies, including famous villains from the Iron Man comics such as Russian Iron Man clone the Crimson Dynamo and giant-head-on-a-chair MODOK.  When I first saw these guys in the comics, they were huge and menacing, but in the game, they’re as small as the regular enemies and don’t really stand out too much visually.  Also, the boss fights seem, to me, much less epic than I feel they should be.  I hope more compelling bosses will be included in updates to the game in the future.    

The bosses are a cakewalk compared to the regular enemies.  Many of these guys carry huge lasers with them which are tough to dodge at times.  In addition, a lot of missiles show up in large groups with only a small hole in between to fit through.  I cannot tell you how many times my runs have ended due to my being too inundated with constant bombardments to move out of the way of one of these things.  I think I’m supposed to move out of their way and fire back, but that’s hard for me to do because I have to hold the iPad with one hand and move around the screen with the other.  I just can’t find the dexterity to move and fire at the same time.  If the game was a little more generous with the amount of time it takes for enemies to fire their shots, I could move out of the way a little better.  I wouldn’t mind this high difficulty at an arcade, but since I’m playing on a mobile device, it just makes the whole process of starting my run for a high score all over again just a smidge more irksome. 

One issue which I feel might become more irritating if it becomes prolonged is the game’s insistence on making you wait for things to happen.  A small portion of my time in the game so far has been watching timers count down while my armor’s health meter recharged for another run, an upgrade to the amount of my armor’s health or increased damage or special attacks took its time to be implemented, or waiting for a whole day to see the next part of the game’s main storyline.  These timers are generally short but can also be bypassed by paying a certain amount of in-game currency (which can be replenished by either picking up more of it in the game or spending some real-world money to increase your coffers).  As I have unlocked more armors and upgrades through regular play, I have noticed that the time for certain things to happen has gotten noticeably longer.  Early on, I could start another run right after I had finished my previous run, but now I have to wait a minute or two to start again.  In other “endless” games like Temple Run, you can play again automatically without any delay.  I could do this in Iron Man 3 as well by playing with a less powerful armor while my preferred one recharges, but I don’t really have much desire to do this because the game practically encourages you to use your most powerful armor to get the most distance, currency, enemy elimination rate, etc.  Patience isn’t typically a virtue valued in the “endless runner” genre, so I have little idea why it would suddenly be embraced in Iron Man 3.

Overall, I do have a few complaints about the Iron Man 3 game, but there are some things I do like which keep me coming back for more.  The story is serviceable, the voices of all the characters work well for a quick thrill, and going for all the new missions and upgrades is a compelling pastime to me.  Difficulty and underwhelming enemies aside, this game isn’t half bad in my eyes.  I definitely want to see more of what this game has to offer, even if I have to get hit by more of those darn missiles.

I’ve played a bit of the Price is Right Bingo game and it’s better than I thought it would be, but I want to hold off on the full review until after I’ve explored it some more; I’m still on the opening Cliff Hangers room and there’s still two rooms left to play for now, so I’ll catch up to you on that front.  I’m also looking forward to watching the Iron Man 3 movie this weekend, so I might post a review of that next week as well.  What do you guys think of my plans?  If you’ve played the Iron Man 3 game, what do you think of it so far?  Are you planning on watching Iron Man 3, and if so, what are you most looking forward to seeing in it (personally, I want to see how the movie treats long-time comics villain the Mandarin)?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.