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Sunday, April 19, 2015

16 Thoughts and Reactions to Big Hero 6

If you're like me, you're probably getting tired of sequels, reboots, live-action versions of animated classics, spinoffs, and so on.  All I want are movies that stand on their own two feet with their own unique premise, unconnected from any other film franchise.  Bonus points for superheroes, awesome character development, and nonstereotypical female characters.  An Oscar win doesn't hurt.

Big Hero 6, guys.  Apparently such a movie exists.

Here are 16 of my thoughts:
  1. Hiro is adorable.  Protect this child at all costs.  He even has the same hair as Hiccup. He reminds me so much of Hiccup, actually.  He's constantly underestimated and can't always keep up with people on their level, so he invents his own and blows everyone away with it.  I have a lot of respect for that.  
  2. What kind of college even is this?  Hiro gets in without even taking the ACT.  He only visits once.  Where are the admissions counselors?  The awkward campus tours?  (Also, he graduated high school at thirteen and then didn't go right to college?  I'll suspend my disbelief about the microbots and superheroes in general, but this one isn't getting past me without comment.)
  3. I'm really liking this cultural fusion.  It's San Francisco, but a whole lot more Japanese.  The kabuki mask thing is a nice touch.  I want to know how this setting came to be.  
  4. SCIENCE.  That's it.  That's all I have for this reaction.
  5. This movie is several different movies rolled into one.  Mismatched team of superheroes?  It's The Avengers.  Baymax's red robot armor suit?  It's Iron Man.  All that hero/villain revenge scheming?  It's Megamind.*  Main character builds robots?  It's, well, Robots and maybe a little Meet the Robinsons.  Scrawny kid doing big things?  How to Train Your Dragon.  Gogo's entire suit/ensemble?  Straight out of Tron.  
    Obligatory group shot courtesy of every superhero movie ever.
  6. Look at this character development GO.  Hiro goes from mopey to excited to mopey to VENGEANCE IS MINE to healthy emotional healing.  Many movies (especially animated ones) pick one trait and develop that.  The character arc goes up and only up.  Hiro's goes up, down, around, and underneath.  It gives the movie so much honesty, since that's exactly how real-life character development happens.  It's messy.  It's not always moving up.  
  7. Me: If the robot dies, I'm gonna--are you kidding me right now?  You have to see it coming.  When does the sidekick/pet/mentor ever survive?  Baymax is a little of all three, so you know something's up as soon as he's introduced.  And then Hiro made the red armor.  Let's think about this.  Robot that looks oddly like Iron Man is flying into an inter-dimensional wormhole in the sky during the movie's climax.  Yeah, that's not going to end well.  
  8. It's actually unpredictable and I appreciate that.  Every Disney movie is going to be at least a little formulaic (as in, they can't pull a Snowpiercer on us and completely destroy all of our hopes with the ending).  You know it's going to have a happy ending, but Disney is free to get there however they want.  The setup makes this seem like it's going to be a little-kid-gets-beat-and-vows-to-take-down-bullies-with-even-cooler-robots story.  And that lasts, oh, 30 seconds and then it's already turning itself on its head.  And then we have villains that aren't the real villains, characters who show completely new sides midway through, and so much more.
  9. Is it just me, or does Alan Tudyk have the same role in every new Pixar movie?  Need someone to play your secondary villain, the one you set up as a villain and hint at his evilness but it turns out the real antagonist is someone else?  Alan Tudyk is apparently your guy.  (He's Alistair Krei in this movie and the Duke of Weselton in Frozen.)  In other news, he is a leaf on the wind.  Watch how he soars.  Here's a completely relevant video clip.
  10. Me: Oh, this is cool, oh this is cute, OHHHHhhhhhh.  Okay, fine.  We'd gone about 20 minutes without a major catalyst, so something was obviously coming, but still.  It's all "Yay, cool robots!  Look at Tadashi being all brotherly and supportive!  Look at this kid Hiro go!  Look at this burning building!  Yeah, we got you.  Sorry, not sorry."
  11. Is that Mako from Pacific Rim or do I just have some weird Freudian attachment to Pacific Rim that I can't get over?  The answer to both of these questions is probably yes.  

  12. I'm discovering my love for colorful movies.  This, How To Train Your Dragon 2... I appreciate movies that, unlike Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, have color to them.  It's not all dark, black, and night.  The setting and general visual aesthetic of Big Hero 6 have color.  It makes everything seem more vibrant and real.  
  13. Fall Out Boy.  In a Disney movie.  Hiro and the team have their little pre-battle montage and suddenly I'm hearing Patrick Stump's voice blasting out of the speakers.  The song itself works well (even if it is edited), but Fall Out Boy is an interesting choice.  Let's introduce children to emo pop punk at a young age!  "Immortals" is a great song, but as much as I unexpectedly and inexplicably love the entire album, maybe small children should stick to Kidz Bop before they go after American Beauty / American Psycho.  
  14. Wait, there's a female character that's both feminine and busting up some bad guys?  I didn't even know that was a thing.  I mean, look at this girl.  She has long, blonde hair.  She likes pink.  She's wearing a dress.  And she's still as effective on the team as everyone else?  Without giving up her femininity?  She's actually using it to her advantage?  Is that even legal?  What is this madness?    

  15. That being said, I still don't think it passes the Bechdel Test.  The Bechdel Test isn't necessarily any indicator of female portrayal in a movie, but it's always a start.  Unless I'm forgetting something, even Big Hero 6 isn't quite there.  (The Bechdel Test website lists this as a pass, but it's a no from me.  That's a brief exchange, only two or three lines, and isn't a full conversation.)
  16. Whatever you do, stay after the credits.  If you felt like this movie was missing something, chances are it's because you just went a whole superhero movie without a Stan Lee cameo.  Just...don't turn off the DVD player quite yet. 

Did you see Big Hero 6?  What did you think?

*Guys, Megamind looks dumb, but it's actually a masterpiece of complex character development.  I swear on Sherlock series 4 that I'm not joking.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blood of My Blood (Jasper Dent #3) by Barry Lyga

Jazz Dent has never been closer to catching his father.

Jazz has been shot and left to die in New York. His girlfriend, Connie, is in the clutches of Jazz's monstrous father, Billy--the world's most notorious serial killer. And his best friend, Howie, is bleeding to death on the floor of Jazz's new home.

Somehow, these three must rise above the horrors and find a way to come together in pursuit of Billy.

But then Jazz crosses a line he's never crossed before, and soon the entire country is wondering: "Like father, like son? Who is the true monster?"

From New York City to the small town of Lobo's Nod, the chase is on, and this time, Jazz is the hunted, not the hunter--while Billy Dent lurks in the shadows.

And beyond Billy? Something much, much worse. Prepare to meet...the Crow King.

Released: September 9th 2014    Pages: 464
Publisher: Little, Brown              Source: Library

I loved I Hunt Killers when I first discovered this series in February of 2014, but Game wasn't up to par.  Sure, it had all of the action and mystery that I expected from the series, but I found myself disappointed with the lack of attention to the psychological aspect of psychological thriller.  It was good, but it suffered from middle-of-the-trilogy sagging.  

Blood of My Blood, as the finale, does not have this problem.

In this final installment, Barry Lyga has brought back the nature vs. nurture tension in full force.  Now that Billy Dent is on the loose again, it seems that only one person can stop him for good--Jazz.  It becomes a race to stop a serial killer without becoming one.  In this, it raises some ethical questions: would Jazz be right to kill Billy?  Does Jazz himself deserve punishment for things he's done?  I'll admit to doubting Jazz, especially in the second half.  This is the brilliance of it.  I'm rooting for this character, but I'm not sure anymore if he's above becoming a serial killer.  And yet, some part of me still wants to see him succeed.  

Like I wrote in my review of I Hunt Killers, this series takes nature vs. nurture to a whole new level.  What if you had both working against you?  In this book, Lyga delves deeper into this conflict than ever before.  The world is pushing Jazz to his limits, and it makes him genuinely unpredictable.  I thought I had him pegged, but then he turns this inside-out.  

The plot itself can be just as unpredictable as Jazz himself.  It drops a few big reveals throughout--but some aren't reliable.  Then you adjust, try to figure out what's coming, but you're wrong again.  We learn things about Jazz's past, his family, and himself.  Connie and Howie's chapters are slower, since most of them take place in hospitals, but they provide some necessary breathing room.  

The epilogue gives just the right amount of closure.  It's not all happy, but with this series, "and they lived happily ever after" would feel wrong.  The aftermath of a childhood like Jazz's isn't pretty, but Barry Lyga writes it honestly, and that's all that matters.  Overall, it's a satisfying ending to the series.  I Hunt Killers is still my favorite of the three, but Blood of My Blood carried enough intensity and depth to give the series a strong finish.

Similar Books: It deals with the same nature vs. nurture issue as Project Cain, and is a YA serial killer book in general like Dear Killer.  It also reminds me of Boy Nobody.
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Friday, April 3, 2015

9 Mini Thoughts & Reactions to Movies

Under normal circumstances, I would have done a Thoughts & Reactions post for the two movies I saw in theaters over Christmas break, plus the ones I watched on the airplane going to and from Rome.  However, as you can tell, this never happened, and since then, I've accumulated a list of movies I'd like to talk about (even briefly).  I thought some reaction was better than no reaction, and I haven't done one of these posts in awhile.  Instead of full reaction posts for each of these, I'm going to list 5 thoughts for each.

Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb (2014)
  1. I'm not sure why this movie was necessary, but I'm glad it happened.
  2. Jedidiah and Octavian make these movies a thousand times better.
  3. Rami Malek (Ahkmenrah) is actually fantastic.
  4. I didn't know I needed that much closure from this series, but apparently I did.
  5. It's Night at the Museum, so it would've been fun no matter what.

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

  1. Some of the special effects look fakey, like Legolas running up a crumbling cliff.
  2. Me during half of this movie: THORIN, NO.
  3. I will never forgive New Line Cinema for not naming this There and Back Again.
  4. But that final scene, where it loops back to The Fellowship of the Ring, almost makes up for that.  Almost.
  5. It has some lovely moments.  It has epic moments.  It has eye-rolling moments.  I'm left with a general feeling for this series that's somewhere between lukewarm and warm, but never more.

The Maze Runner (2014)

  1. The story is interesting, but the main character (Thomas) isn't.  This flaw has more to do with how he's written in the book than the movie itself.
  2. Some pieces of lackluster dialogue might also be the problem.
  3. The Maze looks exactly like I pictured it.
  4. I love how the thing that confuses the boys more than anything else is Teresa.  "It's a girl."  "What do we do with that?"
  5. For me, it lacked the intensity of the novel.  I'm not sure why.

Pacific Rim (2013) 

  1. The male lead and the female lead don't end up together.  I thought it was going to happen, but then they just hugged at the end.  (Actually, it's bad that this is so rare, but that's a different story.)  Their relationship is adorable.
  2. It focuses more on the action than the character development, but it has several quiet, tender moments that really get to you.
  3. It's refreshing to watch a movie that isn't a sequel, adaptation, or remake.
  4. Alright, fine.  It's no masterpiece.  It feels a little rushed, and it'll never win an Oscar.  But...

Snowpiercer (2014)

  1. I can't possibly cover everything about this movie in only five points, but I can sum up a lot with this: This is one of the most intense, suspenseful, and absolutely gripping things I've seen in a long time.  (Also, I highly recommend watching it on a train.  That only adds to the experience.)
  2. The pacing feels oddly episodic, since they move one train car at a time.  It has this simultaneous slow-fast feeling.
  3. The worldbuilding of this=WOW.
  4. I did not see that ending coming.  It changes everything.  It's harsh, but it works so, so well.
  5. Dystopian ice age.  Revolution that takes place entirely on a train that never stops.  Chris Evans.  What more can I say?
Lucy (2014) 

  1. this a thriller or a nature documentary?  Sometimes, it's hard to tell.
  2. I wish this at least tried to make some vague scientific sense.  Or any sense at all.
  3. There is no character development other than Lucy's growing powers.  She's punching things, blowing things up, and creating mayhem, but we're never given a reason to care.
  4. The ending special effects are cool.  I'll give it that.  But Lucy...becomes the universe?  Um, okay.
  5. That's how I felt about the entire thing.  "Um, okay."

The Great Gatsby (2013)
  1. Visually, it's fantastic.  It's colorful, vibrant, and exciting.
  2. The dialogue feels awkward and over-the-top, as does some of the acting.  (Leonardo DiCaprio, I'm looking at you.)
  3. Then again, maybe any adaptation of The Great Gatsby has to be excessive.
  4. The overall movie doesn't seem to take itself seriously.  I don't think that's the right tone for this story.
  5. It's pretty, but something about it felt off.  I can't pin down exactly what.

Avatar (2009) 

  1. The special effects budget for this movie would be enough to run a small country, but it paid off.  The visuals are utterly fantastic.  It creates a gorgeous, detailed world that's just plain fun to see.
  2. The romantic subplot comes out of nowhere.  There's no chemistry between Jake and Neytiri; the only reason it didn't surprise me was because you almost never see a movie without romantic/sexual tension between the male and female leads.
  3. In 2009, I kept hearing how anti-Christian this movie is.  Um, what?  Yes, I suppose it's anti-Christian if your definition includes the portrayal of any non-Christian religions.*  
  4. I had also heard about its hard-hitting environmental messages--this, on the other hand, is absolutely true.  It's basically a high-budget Fern Gully with some Pocahontas thrown into the mix.
  5. If you can look beyond the in-your-face subtext, it's an exciting, game-changing science fiction film.  It's not the highest-grossing movie of all time for nothing.
Shutter Island (2010)

  1. Much of this movie's brilliance is in its atmosphere.  The eerie cinematography, the pacing, the often-frightening flashbacks...
  2. The intensity is on par with Snowpiercer, but in a completely different way.
  3. That ending.  I...what...hold up...  I'm so impressed.  This is fantastic writing.  
  4. It messes with you.  You think you have it figured out, then it throws a bombshell at you.  Then it subverts itself again, and you're left not knowing whose words to trust.
  5. It's a psychological thriller with heavy emphasis on the psychological.  It's a smart movie that requires you to pay close attention--exactly my type of story.

What good (or bad) movies have you seen lately?

*Actually, if that's the case, then you might as well call The Passion of the Christ and The Ten Commandments anti-Christian.  I don't think that's what those critics were going for.  But that's beside the point.
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