Thursday, December 30, 2010

Despicable Me (2010)

Important information here.

The Plot. This is a story about a villain, Gru, who starts to get worried about being old and that he is being replaced by younger villains who can do worse things as one of his rivals steals one of the Giza pyramids. He then comes up with a plan to use a shrinker to shrink and steal the moon, which would grant him the name of the ultimate super-villain. While stealing the shrinker his rival, Vector, steals the shrinker instead. Gru is trying to get into Vector's fortress, but it would seem that the only people who get in are three little orphan girls who sell cookies. Gru then decides to adopt the three girls to get access to the shrinker.

General thoughts. This is a funny and sweet family animation. While having quite a predictable plot, it focuses on the emotions and humor and it does a great job on the humor part.
Gru has a group of little yellow minions to help him with his evil deeds and also an old genius Dr. Nefario. The minions are the main thing that make this animation worth the time. They are purposely made very cute and funny, they speak funny and some of them have some weird additional features, like for example, one of them functions as a glow-stick at one point. It's unclear as to if the minions are created by Dr. Nefario or Gru or hired to work for them. Since they seem to be quite willing in taking part in experiments and such, it'd make much more sense if they were built or bred, but at one point Gru discusses payment with the minions and at many instances they appear to have money of their own. Quite confusing.
A thing I wasn't too happy about was the voice-actor casting. Steve Carell played the part of Gru. While Gru was a large, villany fellow, he should have had a deeper, meaner voice, but Steve Carell's voice of Gru was more like an annoying skinny dude with a slight Russian accent. I get it, Russian sounds evil, but not when it's whiny like Carell's. The other larger role was Vector, voiced by Jason Segel. Now, Segel has a very recognizable voice, but for some reason I couldn't sense any of that. Almost as if it's been modified for the part. Since Vector is a skinny geeky kid and Segel's voice is the voice of a larger adult man, the modification does make sense. Anyway, I think they could have found more suitable voice actors for both parts.
All in all, I enjoyed this very much. Would I see it again? Unlikely, since while very funny and entertaining, it wasn't exactly special or noteworthy in any way. Except for the minions, I loved the minions.

I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a funny and cute children's animation. Pretty standard, but good enough. Watch it for the minions.

6/10 Flogs
(1 extra Flog for minions)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

Important information here.

The Plot. This is a true story about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The story goes about how the site was created and revolves around two lawsuits, one against the twin brothers who had the original idea of such a site, on which Zuckerberg based Facebook and the other against his original business partner and CFO of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin. As the story develops following the two lawsuits at the same time, the story of Zuckerberg and Facebook unfolds.

General thoughts. This movie makes Zuckerberg look like a naive child working with evil grown-ups who use him for their own gain. It felt like Zuckerberg was suddenly thrown into the real world and didn't know how to cope with all the complicated business and relationships. This is a sad story about why you shouldn't do business with your friends.
The thing that makes this movie somewhat interesting is the way it was written. The plot is divided into two parts, each a law-suit in the present, while the descriptive sub-plot is the same for both of them and the actual plot runs in the background of these two lawsuits.
Being a Facebook addict myself it is really interesting to see the history and the evolution of it. While I'm also somewhat involved in the software industry I liked how they didn't over-simplify the programming part, leaving it pretty much what it really is - a lot of boring-looking text that can do wonders when used in a correct combination. Some movies tend to make programmers and hackers more interesting by either having the heroes type really fast and do really cool stuff with just a few lines of code or make the whole process look pretty and graphical, when in reality it's not as adventurous. It was nice that they tried to make the hacking part at the beginning realistic. What Zuckerberg explained as 'hacking' really is not too difficult to accomplish, given that the information is not protected properly.
Also, as somewhat of a surprise, Justin Timberlake had a major role in this movie, playing Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. While I'm not a fan of the man, I think he handled himself quite nicely. An unlikable slick character sortof suits him.

I'd recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in the people behind Facebook. Otherwise, it's an okay movie, but nothing spectacular. And yes, I will post this on Facebook.

6/10 Flogs

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ninja Assassin (2009)

Important information here.

The Plot. The story tells about a young ninja, Raizo, who is an orphan raised by the Ozunu ninja clan, but ends up turning on his clan at one point. He is then hunted by his clan, while he tries to come up with a way to gain access to and kill the head of the Ozunu clan. The main story arc is about a young ambitious Europol investigator Mika who discoveres that ninjas still exist and operate in the modern world and are linked to many high-grade assassinations. While Mika is about to be executed by a ninja, Raizo steps in and rescues Mika in order to use her to get to Ozunu.

General thoughts. Well, it was about time they made a proper ninja movie.  This wasn't much anything above an average Hollywood action flick, but it it is quite a nice ninja movie. A lot of special ninja equipment, a lot of ninja tricks and a LOT of blood.
I think the amount of gore deserves a special mention. At one point the protagonist kills a man, but doesn't succeed to do so right away and ends up stabbing the poor bastard a lot of times, every time producing a bucket of blood. He ends up covered in the stuff. While really nice and atmospheric, the amount of blood just makes this movie a tad silly.
Since this movie was built on action rather than the plot, the effects are usually quite nice. There are a lot of slow-motion shots to show off all sorts of extreme martial art stunts. And to balance it all out, there was a whole lot of ninja philosophy involved, with lifestyle tips and everything.
The story, while pretty standard, was nice. It had a romantic arc to show the morally nicer point of view to being a ninja. Nothing unexpected there - boy falls in love with girl, girl is killed, boy wants revenge. But I did mention that this is a pretty standard plot when it comes to Hollywood action flicks.
The part that bothered me was that while being all Japanese with their gang of merry nin, they didn't mutter but a few Japanese words during the whole movie. A little bit disappointed there.
Also, chilling on a nail-pillow isn't ninja, it's just basic weight distribution, where your body weight distributes equally, not leaving a whole lot of weight for any single nail.

I would recommend this one to any ninja fans out there. For anybody else this would just seem like a waste of time. This is a nice action flick with a lot of martial arts and ninja tricks, but not much of a masterpiece when it comes to cinematography or writing. They even used hand-signs for some brief moments. A lot of shurikens flying around, try not to get hit.

6/10 Flogs

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Death Note (2006-2007)

Important information here.

This is a short (37 episodes) anime series.

The Plot. The story goes about a very bright student, Light Yagami, who comes across a strange notebook titled "Death Note". In the note, Light discovers a set of rules for the usage of the note and that the note can be used to kill people. The rules state that Light has to envision a person's face and write down their name in the note. There is also a way to specify how a victim dies. If the way and the time of death is not specified, the victim dies of a heart-attack 40 seconds after the name has been written in the note. When the way of death is written, there is an additional 6 minutes and 40 seconds to specify the way the person dies.
Light, being a very smart youngster, decides to use the note for good. He starts eliminating criminals to make the world a better place. A few days after Light begins using the note, he is visited by a strange monster which apparently only he can see. The monster presents himself as Ryuuk, a shinigami (death god, grim reaper) and also the original owner of the note Light now has. He explains that when a Death Note is dropped in the human world, the human who picks it up becomes the owner of the death note until death. The shinigami will follow the owner and can give out information about the death note, but not help the owner to know peoples names and information. There is a possibility where an owner of a death note can exchange half of their remaining life time for the power to use the eyes of a shinigami, which give the person a power to see any person's remaining life time and the real name.
After a while, the police becomes suspicious of continuous and systematic deaths of criminals and a team is put together to investigate. As this case becomes increasingly difficult, an outside expert, who presents himself as L, is hired to assist with the case. L doesn't reveal any information about himself, which makes it impossible for Light to kill him.
Meanwhile the public becomes aware of criminals dying and also comes to the conclusion that a mysterious person is behind the killings. The public names the hero Kira (Killer), since the real identity is unknown. Since Kira is doing a good thing for the public, the majority of people side with him and support his actions.

General thoughts. This is anime series is really awesome. The main reason for this is the excellent writing. While the main idea seems uninteresting, once you sit down and watch a few episodes, it starts getting really interesting. The thing that makes Death Note so awesome is the battle between excellent minds. At a very early point in the series it becomes clear for L, that Light is Kira, but there is no way to actually prove it, since Light is very smart and doesn't make any mistakes. The whole series actually revolves around the characters outsmarting each-other and trying to gain information on the real identity of the other person. For L, it is important to prove that Light is Kira, for Light, to eliminate L, he needs to find out his real name.

A very interesting touch in the L vs Light is the actual difference between the two characters. Light is portrayed as a handsome young man, popular with the ladies, outgoing and social, as L is portrayed as a geeky, sad and lonely youngster. The writers went even as far as Light using a PC and L using a mac.
A thing that made this series especially wonderful was the sheer amount of plot-twists. Most episodes had 2-3 plot twists and the episodes themselves were the standard 20 minutes long. This makes Death Note the most unpredictable series I've ever encountered. Every episode is full of exciting moments, where you just need to know what do they think of next. There aren't many logical aspects that the writers might have over-looked. Everything is very thoroughly thought through.

In a way, this series shows how power corrupts even the most powerful minds. The power to decide if a person lives or dies made Light believe that he was a god. Step by step you could see how the power got hold of him, messing with his power to reason. But Light doesn't give up. There are a lot of moments, where you would think that now Light gets caught and given the unpredictable nature of the series, it wouldn't even be too unexpected.
Also, it is very difficult to write a lot about Death Note without spoiling it. A great deal of things change over the duration of the series. The writers weren't planning for this series to last, so a lot of characters can end up dead at any moment.

This series is awesome. I recommend this one to all anime fans and any people who like the trillerish style of writing. Even if you don't like anime, the only anime-style silly-looking things are the shinigami and there are only a few of them. A fair warning, though, this series needs some attention and isn't suitable for people who don't like to concentrate too much on something or just don't have the attention span. I myself enjoy watching things that need a lot of concentration and where you need to pay attention to the little things.

9/10 Flogs

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bleach (2004 - )

Some information here.

This is a running anime series. I figured that since it reached it's 300th episode, this would be a good time to write something about it.

The Plot. The story goes about Ichigo Kurosaki, a high-schooler who has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. He has always seen them and is used to them being around. One day some strange things start happening in the city. Ichigo witnesses what appears to be a huge monster chasing a soul. He rescues the soul and sees a young girl in a black robe wielding a sword. Next night the same girl appears behind Ichigo's window and states that she is indeed a shinigami - a death god whose job is to take care of the souls of the living. Her name is Rukia. It is revealed that the monster Ichigo saw earlier that day was a Hollow - a soul that hasn't moved on turned into a monster hunting for other souls. It is a shinigami's job to eliminate these monsters. Soon after, the monster attacks Ichigo's home and when Rukia is injured in the battle, she offers Ichigo to take over for her. Rukia gives Ichigo her powers and accidentally gives all of her powers and is left powerless. Ichigo then proceeds to take over the duties of a shinigami.

A bit about the world of Bleach. The world consists of the real world, where humans live, the soul society, where souls go after death and Hueco Mundo, where Hollows live. The three worlds need special gateways to be traveled between. The soul society is also a home for the Shinigami. It is a headquarters for the Gotei, or the 13 protection squads, each led by a captain, with the Captain-Commander leading the first main squad and the whole of soul society. The occupants of the Hueco Mundo fall into three main categories - the standard Hollow, the Menos Grande and the Vasto Lorde or Arrancar. These are all different levels a hollow is able to reach.

The main power source of a shinigami is their Zanpakuto, typically katana-type weapons that have actual souls as a power source. When a shinigami learns the name of their Zanpakuto, they are able to call out it's power to aid in battle. This is called a Shikai or Initial Release. At one point the most powerful of shinigami learn to release the next level of their Zanpakuto, the Bankai or Final Release. When a shinigami gains the ability to Bankai, they have a chance to become a captain of the 13 Protection Squads. High-level hollow also gain the ability to use a Zanpakuto which when released becomes a part of their body, giving armor and additional powers.

A bit about the characters. The main protagonist is Ichigo Kurosaki. He starts out with the basic shinigami powers given by Rukia, but since Ichigo's power, or spirit pressure, is really high for a human, his Zanpakuto takes a much larger form than usual. Later on, Ichigo is joined by his classmates Sado Yasutora, who gains a powerful arm to use in battle, Ishida Uryu, who is the last of the spirit-bow wielding Quincy, and Inoue Orihime, who can manipulate time on certain objects, thus having the ability to heal serious injuries and also use the same power to shield herself and others from harm.

General thoughts. I've seen all the 300 episodes and all 3 movies released and I must say, this is quite entertaining. In the anime tradition it has a lot of silly anime moments with silly anime background music but I guess that's just what you'd expect from an anime.
There are a lot of different story lines which are often difficult to place in the timeline, considering the powers the characters have developed and there's a single central storyline about a power-hungry shinigami wishing to take over the world.
A thing that makes Bleach stand out from so many other anime series is the excellent writing. There are genuinely some moments where the plot goes a totally unexpected way and this is what makes it so interesting to watch. Almost like a 'what'll they think of next' type of experience. Also, the characters are constantly evolving and at some point I saw that the writers don't have many ways to evolve the characters to beating stronger opponents, so they just think of something totally unreasonable and silly.
This show also, like so many other anime series, puts a lot of emphasis on strategies in different situations, to rather beat their opponents with more than mere power. Of course, there are characters who rely only on them being extremely powerful, but there are only a few of those.
There is no doubt in my mind that this series will continue for quite some time. While the previous story-line is coming to a conclusion (as it seems at this point, could go some other way also), a new direction is already emerging.
I do enjoy the flow of this show. There are only a couple of filler episodes in the whole series, but to extend the main story, they tend to stick a season with a totally different story-line in the middle of it.

Anyway, I'd recommend this series to anyone who wants to make a first move towards the anime world. This show has all the anime characteristics while they don't actually over-do it too much. A great show.

8/10 Flogs