Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Fantastic Four

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell
Directed by: Josh Trank
Language: English
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes

As tired as I am with these rebooted franchises and superhero movies, lately they've been surprisingly great. Marvel has stepped it up quite a bit and Christopher Nolan took a new perspective of the iconic Dark Knight. While there have been a few misses in the sea of superhero movies, I suppose there were some people excited for this reboot. I don't know. I thought the 2005 version was pretty good, although I know it wouldn't work out casting wise if they decided to put them together with the X-Men or the Avengers.

Young Reed Richards is determined to invent a machine that will teleport matter from one place to another. With the help of his new friend Ben Grimm, they make significant progress on their project and catches the eye of Dr. Franklin Storm at a science fair. Dr. Storm invites Reed to be apart of his huge teleportation project and scientific institution. Teaming up with Sue Storm, whom Reed met earlier at the science fair; her brother Johnny Storm, and Victor Von Doom, Reed hits major success with the teleportation machine and decides to try it out with accompaniment of Reed's childhood friend Ben.

Honestly, I think the 2005 version of Fantastic Four had some mixed reviews. Some people thought it was a bit cringeworthy, while others thought it was entertaining enough. I already mentioned that I enjoyed it and didn't have any major problems with it. It had plenty of action and I found the characters entertaining. I have yet to see the sequel in its entirety, but what I have seen didn't seem too terrible. Of course, this review is about the newest rendition of the comic book foursome. I suppose there was a lot of hype surrounding the film and lately Marvel has set very high standards when it comes to comic book movies. Having last seen Ant-Man in theaters, I expected another entertaining Marvel film. I didn't have any expectations set going into the movie, so my mind was very open to this reboot...even though I found it slightly unnecessary.

When the movie began, things seemed very promising. It offered plenty of backstory on our characters Reed and Ben, which was an interesting decision and offered a little more detail to those characters compared to their adult forms in the 2005 version. I was also curious how things would progress and how they would obtain their powers. When Victor entered the scene, he was different than I expected. He wasn't an obvious bad guy character just waiting to be mutated into evil, he was a normal young adult that had some slacker habits and of course a crush on Sue. As the story moved forward, I was enjoying all this background on these characters and once they decided to be the first human test subjects on their teleportation machine, I was getting excited for what would happen for these characters when things went awry. Before going any further with the story, let me touch on some positives. For the most part, I enjoyed the characters. There might've been a few small things that bothered me about their personalities like I wish Johnny's cockiness and troublemaking ways felt more natural. Also, I thought the visuals looked alright. It was nothing spectacular, but not unbelievable.

Now for the unfortunate negatives. As much as I enjoyed the offer of background for Reed and Ben, Reed's past of being shut down by his teacher for wanting to build a teleportation machine and even at the science fair, it seemed extremely unbelievable. In a time that fosters creativity to our children (I believe schools still do that), I can't imagine a teacher telling a child that they can't do something because it's not possible or is silly, especially when his dream was very realistic. If he said he wanted to be a superhero or a unicorn tamer as a career, then I can somewhat understand the teacher disapproving his choice as that isn't a real career. In short, the movie's version of 2007 felt like 1970's instead. Meet the Robinsons did a better job at a kid with big dreams and him participating at a science fair than this movie. For the most part, I did enjoy the characters, but certain aspects about them were lacking in places. I already mentioned that I wished Johnny's rebellious actions felt more natural and less cliche, but Victor's character seems completely forgettable. Once he kinda sorta becomes Dr. Doom, his power is intimidating, but his cause is weak and his character design doesn't help him be intimidating. As much as I wanted to enjoy his power, I couldn't help but laugh at his appearance. Also, now that I think about it, Ben is a little forgettable, especially he becomes The Thing. The way they received their powers is poorly executed as well and felt like a bunch of interns decided to throw rocks into Ben's pod and just randomly set Johnny on fire. It was too silly! The biggest problem with this movie is the story. It has a good beginning, but there's no build-up, no climax, and nothing at stake. There's a big decrease of action compared to the 2005 adaptation and that's what made it entertaining. For the most part, a lot of elements in this movie is paint by numbers and even the characters predicted it.

Fantastic Four in one word is underwhelming. Even though I had no expectations going into it, I somehow felt a bit disappointed by this reboot. While the character background was interesting and some of the characters were alright, the unforgettableness of some of them, bad character design, and lack of a threat left me unsatisfied. The director had some good ideas going on, but the execution was cut short. Whether there really was discrepancies between Miles Teller and the director or even the director and the production studio, I really don't know, but it's obvious that there were issues somewhere to achieve this unfortunate outcome. This movie isn't the worse of the worse, but honestly, I would suggest skipping out on it.

Rating: 2/5

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

It seems like every video this band releases gets me excited and this is no exception. The song starts with extremely high energy and some aggression that I see every now and then from them. The video is pretty simple, but it has high performative elements, especially when it comes to their bassist. There's a little bit of story interlaced between the band moments with a little angel and assuming little devil. The members seem dead in a car and a man is trying to figure out things...I'm guessing. Nonetheless, I know death and torment is looming around these characters.

"サヨナラ狂詩曲" by sibilebashir
This is a band I randomly came across somehow and it reminds me of a forgotten and accused Gazette copycats [_vani;lla]. Their vocalist has a bizarre appearance and doesn't mind taking some sexy, yet violent risks with an unsuspecting man. The story is amusing and strange, but you can't help but keep watching this oddity of a story. The music, I'll admit, isn't for everyone as the vocal style is a little off putting or strange at times, but the music matches the strange happenings of the visuals.

"Kyousou Royale" by GOTCHAROCKA
Mixing elegant, polished visuals that you would see in new Vidoll, Versailles, and D PVs and adding their own fun little flair to the style is a refreshing change for the band. The music is everything fun in the sound and I enjoyed watching each member bounce around as they perform for us. I like the simple concept of puppetry and even this Hizaki look-alike playing around with sweet, handsome Jui.

"Awaken" by TimeZ
I saw this video on TeeTop's KPop list. I thought I'd look up the whole video and I ended up enjoying it. The story isn't anything new, especially if you're into the kpop genre. The boys are spies and are trying to capture this beautiful female criminal using disguises, technology, and various other clever strategies to get close to her. The song is a nice, easy listen with a very catchy chorus. Their voices are easy on the ears and I'm kinda tempted to check out their other songs and maybe even their Korean material.

"Cold Sweat" by Tinashe
Remember Rihanna's "Disturbia" video? This video is a more simplified version of that. This video is very stripped down and effectively edited to portray lack of control or even insanity. Tinashe performs her song with passion and torture as she utilizes body language to match the tone and content of her lyrics. This is one of my favorite tracks on her latest album, Aquarius, and it's nice seeing such an effectively beautiful and dark video to match such a great, haunting track. This video simply proves that you don't need a lot of flair and props to project emotional struggle.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: UnREAL Season 1

Title: UnREAL Season 1
Starring: Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Craig Bierko
Language: English
Genre: Drama
Episodes: 10

The few times I watch Lifetime, which is around Project Runway season, I didn't hear too much about this show and when I did, nothing obviously clicked in my head to check it out. It wasn't until a very good friend recommended it to me that I decided to check it out.

Reality TV producer Rachel Goldberg returns to the new season of "Everlasting", a popular dating show, after an epic meltdown the season before. With a reputation to rebuild and the show's demanding executive producer Quinn King breathing down her neck, Rachel must pull out all the stops in what she does best: manipulating the contestants to create the outrageous drama the viewers of "Everlasting" expect. [source: Wikipedia]

One sick day, I decided to browse through On Demand on my TV and marathoned 6 episodes of the show and I found myself hooked to this crazy trainwreck. The show really appeals to my old love of romantic competition shows as well as my interest in filmmaking. Every now and then, I would have flashbacks of being on set during my TV production class, but also reminded me how much I enjoyed old VH1 and MTV love competition shows such as Flavor of Love, I Love New York, Rock of Love, etc. It was interesting putting the actions of this show in context with what happened in the shows I watched as well as things I experienced in my production class. Before I move onto my opinion on the show, I'll quickly explain what "Everlasting" is. "Everlasting" is a dating reality show similar to the The Bachelor. They take a handsome, rich or well-established bachelor and several eligible bachelorettes in a huge mansion in search of love. Ultimately, the bachelor will decide which lucky lady will be his bride. In the case of Adam Cromwell, this season's bachelor, it's an opportunity to clean up his image of being promiscuous and wild. Now, let's get into the details of this first season!

UnREAL, from a filmmaker point of view, does an amazing job of handling two storylines: the "Everlasting" storyline with the bachelor Adam and the contestants and the storyline with the crew of the show. I can't imagine how anyone would be able to put together and film a show about making a show. It sounds really complicated and I admire that ambition that the creators have comprised. The story is very well paced and it never feels like things are dragging along because of the drama. For those who enjoy more serious romantic reality drama, whether it's The Bachelor (which I've never seen a single episode of) or the trashy romantic reality like Flavor of Love, then you'll enjoy how the show unfolds as there is a nice balance of both types of drama in "Everlasting" and the actual show.

Next, I want to talk about the characters. Starting with the cast involved in our reality show, we get about as much of an opportunity to learn about these women as well as Adam as you would watching an actual dating competition show. They have their confessional moments, one-on-one time with Adam, activities with the other women, and some interactions with the crew. Each contestant has their own developmental process, whether it's naturally progressing to true romance and drama or it is cleverly manipulated by someone in the crew. I was slightly guilty for having my own favorites like a real reality show on which contestant I wanted Adam to choose, which means this element was crafted very well. Then we have the characters part of the crew, which have as much drama to have their own reality show. Chet, the creator of "Everlasting", is a drug addict and is currently involved in an affair with Quinn, the show's executive producer; Quinn struggles with ethics and her relationship with Chet and tries to put most of her focus on being in charge of her own show or just boost the ratings of "Everlasting"; and our shining star of the show Rachel struggles to rebuild her reputation as a producer while trying to figure out her own romantic affairs at the same time. Because the show offers so many different situations and obstacles for all these characters, there's never a dull moment in the story and somehow it doesn't clutter up the progress of the dual storylines either. It also manages to make all these flawed individuals both unlikeable (to some extent, depending on the character) and sympathetic (also depending on the character). No one is really all that innocent when it comes to the reality TV industry and Rachel and Quinn face some difficult choices.

For all those who enjoyed the likes of The Bachelor and/or those questionable dating competition shows you've seen on VH1, then you'll enjoy this show of un-reality in reality. The characters are entertaining and provide plenty of drama and emotions and the story is very well paced and shot. It's also very addicting. I'm very surprised and impressed by this show. Good job, Lifetime! Fortunately, UnREAL has been renewed for another 10 episode season, which will premiere in 2016.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: Kuroko no Basket Seasons 1-3

Title: Kuroko no Basket
Language: Japanese
Genre: Comedy, School, Shounen, Sports
Episodes: 75 (25 episodes each)

After watching both seasons of Free!, I was willing to try another sports anime in its place. Kuroko no Basket was another talked about series among my friends and it looked very entertaining and fun.

The Teiko Middle School Basketball Team. The class that produced three perfect seasons in a row, with five once-in-a generation players, called "The Generation of Miracles." There was another player who all of them respected... A legendary 6th player. An up-and-coming power player, Taiga Kagami, is just back from America. When he comes to Seirin High School, he meets the super-ordinary boy, Tetsuya Kuroko. Kagami is shocked to find that Kuroko isn't good at basketball, in fact, he's bad! And he's so plain that he's impossible to see. But Kuroko's plainness lets him pass the ball around without the other team noticing him, and he's none other than the sixth member of the Miracle Generation. Kuroko makes a pact with Kagami to defeat the other members of the Miracle Generation, who have all played basketball at other schools. A battle of light (Kagami) and shadow (Kuroko) begins! [source: MyAnimeList]

Similar to Free!, I was curious how an anime could make basketball entertaining enough to make 3 seasons. I don't find basketball a boring sport in the least. In fact, basketball is one of my favorite sports to play. Initially when watching the first couple episodes, I found myself instantly hooked. From time to time, I had to break my two episode limit just to find out what's going to happen next. It was an eager feeling I didn't have with Free! very often, but I'm sure it's because the show partially depends on its action and cliffhangers to keep you watching. I'm not saying that Free! is bad with keeping the action entertaining, but the show focuses more on its characters' growth and relationships. Kuroko no Basket puts you into the action like you're part of the team. It does focus on its characters as well, but uses the action as a cliffhanger to keep viewers watching.

Instead of making one long anime series with three arcs, this series decides to carry on its story through 3 seasons, continuing right where the previous season leaves off, but concluding certain parts in that season as well. The first season brings our team together and focuses on their growth and skills through training, camp, a Summer Cup, and so on. The second season presents the big challenge of entering the Winter Cup and the third season focuses on the intimidating semi-finals and saying farewell to the third years of each team, especially Seirin. Another interesting element I noticed that goes with the continuing story along 3 seasons is revealing each member of "The Generation of Miracles". Along with the amazing action of each game, the mystery of the members and skills also keeps you watching. With that, let's delve a little deeper into the elements I enjoyed the most about this series.

First is the story. Growing up as a 90's kid, we've had an abundance of underdog team stories, so seeing that sort of formula can easily become boring. When a movie or series does present failure, especially if the team doesn't win the championship, it is a nice change of pace, but can conjure up two different feelings depending on the audience's relationship with the characters. Kuroko no Basket fortunately doesn't completely fall into that category. Seirin is a strong team that has experienced its ups and downs. Since this follows a high school team, we have newcomers joining that need a bit of polishing, which the show successful paces out and develops. The story displays a great deal of care when establishing previous relationships with the third years, giving us enough background that's necessary for the moment with certain characters such Kuroko's past with "The Generation of Miracles" and Kagami's time in America, and presenting tension when introducing a new threat in the basketball circuit. This series doesn't mess around with filling in historical holes for its viewers when the time is right and the best example is how the series spaces out the introductions and abilities of "The Generation of Miracles". Second are the characters. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the characters in this show as much as I did. There were moments I disliked certain members of "The Generation of Miracles", but over the course of 3 seasons, my feelings tended to shift naturally, like Daiki Aomine and Midorima Shintarou. Yeah, I wasn't particularly fond of those two for a while. But there are some intentional characters that you're not going like at all, which shakes things up in the story as well as any emotions you may have for Seirin and the other teams. These characters are very well developed and they make you feel involved in the team's activities and the fluctuating energy of each game. Lastly, the animation is very fluid and colorful. Some of the key players, especially "The Generation of Miracles", have their own distinct colors such as Kuroko is blue, Kise is yellow, and Midorima is green whenever they use their special moves. Sometimes basketball can be very fast paced, but the animation during the games vary from slow tense moments on specific characters, big reveals of power, and gripping tension among the players. I'm very impressed by the skills the animators utilized to make each game exciting and inclusive.

Overall Kuroko no Basket is a fantastic sports anime! There's a variety of characters, the story is well paced and developed, and the animation is vivid and smooth. I also enjoyed the prequel, Kuroko no Basket: Tip Off, which delves further into the relationship and development of "The Generation of Miracles". I highly recommend this series if you enjoy basketball or simply sports anime. It has great characters, adds something fresh to the "underdog story", and includes the viewer in the action through each game.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Throwback Thursday Review: Usher's "My Way" (1994)

Usher - My Way (1994, USA)
Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: You Make Me Wanna..., My Way, Nice & Slow

Similar to Aaliyah's One in a Million, I always thought this album was the first for Usher, but he had a self-titled debut in 1994. I've never listened to it and I probably never least for a while. So, why am I reviewing this album instead of Usher? Well, most people probably got into Usher around this time and this was the first album of his that I owned on CD. So, let's move onto the review!

"You Make Me Wanna..." was my introduction to this fine young R&B talent. I think back then I had an instant crush on Usher, but also this video was just different than anything I've seen when I was younger. It was a solo artist with a very easy, but subtly sexy vocal style and amazing dance moves. The technology back then was pretty impressive by making multiple Ushers while he did chair choreography with himself, but also mixed it up with back up dancers. The style and beat had a nice balance of hip-hop and R&B. The visuals were simple and very 90s, but the song is something that's hard to forget. It's a song to make the ladies pay attention to the smoothness of Usher and for the men to learn how to be smooth. He was the perfect young talent to mix it up back then.

"Just Like Me" is a track I don't even remember listening to. It is a smooth R&B track featuring the rap stylings of Queen Bee herself, Lil' Kim. It's a nice song to nod along to. Lil' Kim's contribution is very...her. It doesn't deviant too far from the topic at hand and makes me yearn for the days when rappers didn't stray far from the main subject of a song that they're guesting on.

If I didn't already develop a crush on Usher, then "Nice & Slow" would definitely guarantee to get me drooling. Young me didn't fully grasp the contents of this sexy R&B track, but all I knew was a little something awakened for this man...some sort of appeal. Listening to this song now, I can admit that this is still the most amazing "panty dropper" track ever. From the intro of Usher's whispered phone call in nothing but a towel to the memorable sensual chorus, this song is a dangerous trap of wetness. Forgive me for my lewdness, but this was an effective R&B song to keep fans happy. The video has some odd gangster story or whatever. I don't know. It's kinda random for this sensual song and it's probably laughable on mute, but as a song, it's still very enjoyable to this day and a great follow up. Also, Rain reminded me how dangerous this song is. It really is too sexy for its own good.

I remember going to my cousin's sleepover, listening to this album, and having to power through "Slow Jam". It was a song that her and her friends loved to repeat and I would be in the background rolling my eyes or trying to ignore how boring or perhaps adult it is, meaning that this song really wasn't for young me. Back then and now, I can acknowledge that it is a good duet with Usher and Monica. Their voices compliment each other's very well and I can see this being a great choice for a first dance at a wedding or even one for the older crowd to push the young crowd off the dance floor to show them what real love is. Nonetheless, past me and present me would rather skip this ballad as it really isn't our thing.

"My Way" solidified my love for Usher. While "You Make Me Wanna..." was charming and flirty and "Nice & Slow" was sensual and mature, "My Way" was a humorous but confident track. I remember enjoying the music video a lot. It had an amusing concept featuring R&B singer Tyrese as the rival. Looking at it now, I see that the visuals have taken some influence from Clockwork Orange and I believe Warriors. The song is more upbeat compared to the other two music videos, but it still had this connection of getting the girl's attention. If I had to pick one video from this album that showcases Usher's talent the best, it would be this one. His voice has versatility in tone and delivery, it has a fun beat and visual concept, and the choreography is very entertaining.

"Come Back" is a track...I really don't remember listening to. Honestly, I want to say that I stopped listening to the album after "My Way" or just skipped ahead to the final track. Anyway, it features producer Jermaine Dupri opening the song with a not so great rap. The song is...okay? It's definitely not the best track compared to the first half of the album. The beat kinda overpowers Usher's young developing vocals and the content is a little silly.

"I Will" is a pseudo-R&B ballad...well, it would be a pseudo-R&B ballad by today's standards. It's another mature track that focuses on "you" the listener. It's a sensual song to make the fangirls squeal, but it pales in comparison to the effortless "Nice & Slow". It does offer a nice beat and the vocals are good, but it's not very memorable to me.

Just looking at the title "Bedtime" doesn't even sound like a promising song really isn't. It's another slow R&B track that's a little more romantic than sexual compared to "Nice & Slow". The vocal arrangement is pretty impressive and beautiful, but not really a track that I would listen to often.

"One Day You'll Be Mine" kinda rounds off this slight narrative throughout this album. It's a slightly more upbeat song compared to the previous three tracks and samples a familiar beat by the iconic Isley Brothers. Ah, we meet again gentlemen. Of course, I think most people my age would think of Ice Cube's "Today is a Good Day" before they think of The Isley Brother's "Footsteps in the Dark", which honestly I had the help of Wikipedia for that. Listening to it now, I think I'm more distracted by the beat to even pay attention to the lyrics, which is not a good thing, but it is cohesive to the album.

The album concludes with an extended version of "You Make Me Wanna..." which has this weird sound distortion at the beginning and a longer intro. I have no idea why this track exists in the first place, since the original does a pretty effective job with the length it is.

My Way was a successful gateway for myself and I'm sure many others around my age to appreciate and drool over the new talent that is Usher Raymond. Jermaine Dupri did a great job polishing him up and getting more people to notice him because he's had a great career. Sure, he's had some questionable moments with his music career, but there is no doubt that he has been an amazing influence for future R&B talents worldwide.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

"Automatic" by Red Velvet
I feel bad for this group. They've received a lot of backlash due to the situation with f(x) and they really don't deserve that. Similar to "Be Natural", this is a very mature concept that I'm surprised that SM Entertainment pulled out. Let's start with the obvious not in a box approach. Just the amount of effort put into the editing and angle choices is very sophisticated and fits this sensual, mature tone of the song. Even though it's minimal, I enjoy the choreography and their voices are very lovely. I'm looking forward to listening to their mini-album.

"Love or Die" by Choix2
I'm very happy I gave this newcomer a chance and his mini-album is wonderful. I'm looking forward to reviewing it for you guys. As for the video, it's kinda cliche, switching from shots of him singing alone, with a group, dancing in a group, and a little bit of story. Nonetheless, I like this fusion of rock and R&B. It has a great arrangement and combines idol elements with a Seo Taiji style in the visuals. I'm really hoping this isn't a one off because I would love to see more videos from this artist...and perhaps less sparkling grill. In short, it's a very powerful piece that doesn't need too much flashy visuals to get its point across.

"S Mastering" by Anda
Formerly known as Andamiro, I was happy she came back with some new music. She's one artist I will be talking about more in the future, because I feel like she deserves more exposure. But let's focus on her comeback video, which is a little different than her Andamiro material, but doesn't stray too far away from that style. It's still quirky and cute, but has a little more maturity to it. Of course, not too much that it seems out of place. Her vocals might bother some people with its whispery tone, but it fits this laid back tone that'll make you bob your head. I hope she continues on this fun, grown-up direction.

Arena settings have been used before in jrock (and I'm sure in other genres), but each one takes the bands' unique styles to make it something different and this is one of them. This high energy song makes you feel like you're part of the neon light party with the band and fans. It's a simple concept, but it combines almost surreal visuals with real showmanship. There's plenty of good shots of each member, the band as whole, and the synchronization from the fans and members that you would find at a live show.

Remember Seremedy? Better yet, remember YOHIO? Well, he was a thing in Japan for a while and then...I hadn't heard anything for a while until this band arrived. The sound is mixture of his solo work and his previous band with a darker, harder edge. It's not all aggressive guitars and growls, there are some nice light breaks in the verses where YOHIO's voice gets to shine through. Some might miss the lighter, androgynous, or evenly princely appearance, but I think this slightly insane, dark version of him as well as the band suits him just as much. The visuals are simple with some individual shots of each member, YOHIO going nuts, a few goth images, and the band rocking out together.