Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Star Trek Beyond

This is going to be difficult to pick apart, as it's a really solid and entertaining film. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Star Trek Beyond is the best live action Macross film I've ever seen.

Seriously, they are incredibly similar:

The protagonists are drawn into a fight with creatures that are somehow connected to humanity.
Said creatures are focused entirely on conflict.
Thus the film focuses about the question of whether peace or violence is better for the progress of the species.
Of course, it is optimistic, saying that while violence is inevitable, peace is better and should be striven towards.
Music is used as a weapon.
People die, and it is genuinely touching.

It is quite obvious that Simon Pegg wrote it, with a greater than usual emphasis on Scotty, and a joke which seems very reminiscent of Dr Who (when The Beatles were referred to as classical musicians)

The film is not perfect, but I find it very difficult to think of any particular criticisms. It's funny, thoughtful and entertaining, with very good special effects.

I'd recommend watching it.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

Before release

When the new Ghostbusters film was announced, I saw the announcement surrounded with rhetoric that the all-female cast was to counter the "imbalance" or the first films. In my opinion, pushing equally hard in the opposite direction is not a way to be progressive. "Two wrongs don't make a right" as the adage says.

Eventually the trailers came out, and they made the film look atrocious.
They mention that "30 years ago New York was saved by 4 friends", pitching this film as a sequel. They featured a few jokes, most of which seemed incredibly unfunny.

"How hilarious! She's implying that the ectoplasm went into her vagina! And she's a woman! A woman being crude is funny, right?!" You know, gross out humour that isn't funny in the first place, let alone when relying on the gender of the person for shock value (which would of course only actually shock people who haven't ever talked to a woman in their entire life)

Oh, she licked her gun, and the test of the main gun didn't have enough power, curving downwards. Both are going to be interpreted as phallic, aren't they?

Oh, the black actress is basically being a completely racist stereotype. Remember how Ernie Hudson's skin colour informed his entire character in the original? You don't? Good, because it was completely irrelevant.

Oh, the film is going to feature the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man at some point... who crushes the actresses... Yet they don't die...


Overall, the trailers and marketing made the film look like an unfunny, racist, slightly sexist cartoon, claiming to be a sequel to the original. Something strongly attempting to convince me it's progressive, whilst actually being unfathomably regressive.
The marketing made the film look atrocious, is what I'm trying to say. This was extra frustrating because if one were to dare expressing such an opinion, it would seem that legions of internet denizens would descend to accuse you of being a misogynist. Ad honinem is far easier than debate, or appreciating that people have different opinions, and this easy route is unfortunately extremely popular.

After release

Wow! That was surprisingly good!
Whilst most of the stuff from the trailers is in the film, the trailers were incredibly misleading. There is some crude humour, but that is a very small proportion of the film.
They largely stay away from sex jokes - the aforementioned bit where they test the main gun was just left with a "that was disappointing", so kudos.

Patty, as played by Leslie Jones, does not actually portray a racist stereotype. She plays a very likeable character, and does it very well.

Holtzman, the engineer, is a genuine delight as well. I'm particularly fond of a section where she's dancing around in the lab to something in the vein of WHAM! or Lionel Ritchie, and when it's switched off she makes a comment about thinking it was Devo.

There is a lot of new technology in the film, which is really cool.

There is a very large variety of ghost designs, perhaps inspired by the cartoon. Once again, very cool.

All of that being said, there are some definite negatives.
Some of the jokes fall completely flat. For example, the characters are in a meeting and about to be kicked out of the University. While the person in charge is getting ready to say "two words", the main characters are predicting what he's going to say... while sitting about a metre away from him. Not only would he be able to hear exactly what they're saying (and should react accordingly) but it's simply not very funny.

Despite absolutely not being a sequel in any way, shape or form, the film does make many references to the first film, but then doesn't go as "big". When looking for a base of operations the team are offered the fire house, but because they can't afford it they settle for a room above a Chinese takeaway.
The climax of the film takes place in a hotel with a dark history, sort of like the first film (which was apartments)... but they don't leave the ground-floor.
It keeps comparing itself to the first film, and then intentionally not doing things as well.

Which makes the villain even more of a conundrum. He's a white nerd who has been bullied, and is a fan of a book that the main characters published. Some have interpreted this as a metaphor for fans of the original films, with the film directly attacking them. Whilst I didn't interpret it that way, it is completely understandable.
To me, the villain was a caricature of the people who posted the more toxic comments on the trailers on youtube. Whilst this may make it sound like I enjoy wearing headwear to block RFID signals, because the film references youtube and comments as well, it made me think that the blow-back was artificially inflated in order to make the people who watch the film dislike the villain (hey, it's easier than actual characterisation).

The cast from the original film have cameos, but Bill Murray's is utterly terrible. Allegedly he only appeared because Sony were going to get litgious if he didn't - and it shows!

Conclusion

Overall I thought that this film was surprisingly funny, though that might be because my expectations were extremely low. Your mileage may vary, depending on your interpretation. Mine was that this is funnier but not as scary as Ghostbusters 2, but inferior to Ghostbusters 1 in pretty much every way, including the special effects.
The marketing was beyond misleading, and was in fact outright lies. Sony should fire whomever made the trailers.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

The original Independence Day is a fun 3-hour film by Roland Emmerich released in 1996, wherein aliens attack Earth, but are defeated by Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith using a computer virus. This is a big plot-hole in the theatrical release, but was apparently covered in deleted scenes.

It was a little bit flawed, but well put together and really enjoyable.

Now, 20 years later, we have a sequel.

The story is that Earth has implemented alien technology into our own, essentially becoming something like X-Com. We have achieved world peace, have fusion drives, and an outpost on the moon.
Since the first film, all of the aliens on Earth have been catatonic due to not having their leader controlling them (except for some in Africa, which hunted humans, because this film doesn't want to be consistent).
All of the characters who were psychically assaulted by the aliens in the first film have been having visions and headaches, and think the aliens are coming back.
They do, and things explode.

Those things include Canary Wharf. I know that it would need to be recognisable, otherwise the viewer won't care, but why Canary Wharf? Surely with alien technology at our disposal we would build something better than the Shard?

The film makes no attempt to build up characters, possibly on the assumption that most of it was done in the first film, but also makes no effort to build up suspense.
For example, there is a familiar character from the first film, who gets established as being somewhere unspecified in a couple of seconds. Then, when things are starting to get exciting, this character is in peril. However, it was not established that they would be in peril, they just are, and then there is a resolution in a matter of seconds.
This feeling of being rushed and lazy pervades the majority of the film.

China is a pretty huge market, which films now specifically cater to. That isn't a problem in itself, but this film does not handle it well.
There is a Chinese female pilot in the main elite squadron, but there is nothing particularly memorable about her. She presumably had a name, her uncle works on the moon, and she is the love interest for another character.
At the end they get together, but in doing so they didn't share any development or growth, unless it was off-screen. It just is.

The film has a couple of homages to films in other genres, a bit like the first one did, but all it does is remind the viewer that they could be watching something better.

Brent Spiner reprises his role as Dr Okun, who has been in a coma for 20 years. If you remember the original, he was the main researcher in area 51, who admitted that alien technology was way beyond ours.
So why is he surprised when an alien calls humans primitive? That's just inconsistent and terrible writing.

The morning before seeing it, I watched Chris Stuckman's review of the 1990s Captain America film:


At the climax of that Captain America film, there are two fights going on, and the camera cuts between them and different angles so quickly (less than a second per shot) that it comes across as a completely inept attempt to try and be exciting, instead making the audience physically ill.

Independence Day 2 also makes this mistake, especially at the end.

The quality of everything: writing, special effects, acting, directing all greatly deteriorate as the film goes on. By the end it felt like it was simply box-ticking. Like they had a checklist of things that films of this genre do, and were hurrying to do each one.
Which is made even stranger by the fact it was also directed by Emmerich.

It feels like there is a huge amount of footage missing, and I wonder if perhaps the budget ran out part way through. That would go some way to explaining why there was a decent (though slightly lazy) first act, while the rest of the film felt rushed and looked abysmal.


My rating? Don't bother.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

An open letter complaining about Amazon.com

Dear Amazon,

At the time of writing I am filled with anger and frustration.

You see, I am a fan of the Zero Escape games, and I was very much looking forward to the release of the third one: Zero Time Dilemma.

As is usually the case with these, there was a special edition announced which included the game and a replica of the watches the characters wear within it, for no extra cost.
As usual, it was only available in the US, evidently being a deal with amazon.com specifically.

Since I had no indulged in the watches for the previous games, I decided to do so this time, especially as it is the last in the series. So I placed my pre-order for the PSVita version (as the Nintendo 3DS is region-locked) within hours of being able to do so, on June 25th 2015.

As I live in the UK, I then proceeded to live the following year without visiting Amazon.com at all (instead visiting the .co.uk version, which has different data) during which time my credit card expired (but I was sent a replacement one with the same number). As you might expect, it didn't even occur to me to update my payment information.

Then finally, on Tuesday 28th June 2016 the game was released. However, my game was not sent out, as there was a manufacturing issue with the watch, so they were waiting for stock.
Helpfully, Amazon emailed me telling me this, and that they were therefore going to send the game and watch separately, and even give me a $10 voucher as recompense.

I emailed Amazon pointing out that I live in the UK and thus might get charged by customs twice rather than once. They offered to refund me the cost of any secondary customs charges, which was very generous of them.

Then on Friday 1st July at 22:34 GMT I received an email telling me that I would receive confirmation when my order ships. At exactly the same time I received an email telling me my order was cancelled due to my credit card being declined.

I was at the cinema at the time, and eventually went to bed without checking my email until the Saturday morning, when I started panicking.
I changed my billing information to be accurate, but could not access the order, as Amazon for some reason only lets you see cancelled orders if they were placed in the last six months, rather than if they were cancelled within the last six months.

I emailed Amazon in the morning to explain the issue, but did not get a response for a fair few hours (at which point it was a poorly formatted boiler-plate message about shipping - evidently whomever was in charge of responding didn't actually read my message.)

In the afternoon, before I received the unhelpful response, I started a chat session with a customer service representative (who shall remain nameless as I harbour no resentment towards particular people in this story).
They were also unable to help, first of all offering me a free replacement watch. Whilst generous (especially if I had decided to take the piss and order a Rolex, which I didn't because I'm not that kind of person) I felt this missed the point. It wasn't the fact I didn't have a watch, it was the fact that I was not allowed to have the watch I had ordered, and was forced into this situation without any warning or leeway.

Eventually the representative told me that the game and watch bundle would come into stock on Prime day. I specifically asked twice if they were telling me that some of the very limited stock of this bundle was kept back especially for Prime day. After asking for the second time, and a very long wait, they told me that was the case.

I contacted Aksys, the publisher of the game, via the contact form on their website if they could verify that information for me, but I did not hear back.

Now Prime Day has come, and has been going for over 12 hours. Currently the product in question has not appeared on the list of available deals, nor does it look likely to.
Much as I would love to spend 24 hours waiting for something that seems unlikely to happen, I have to be reasonable about this, and give up.

As such I have missed out on a product that I ordered well over a year ago, both due to my mistake, and due to Amazon's atrocious user experience and sub-par customer service.

However, I believe Amazon can (and should) learn from this experience - what follows is my advice on how to drastically improve Amazon from the customer's perspective:

My Advice to Amazon:

1) Warn customers that their payment methods are due to expire.

You undoubtedly store this information, so it would be very helpful to warn customers that their credit card details are about to become invalid.

2) Introduce a grace period for failed orders.

You should give customers a reasonable amount of time, e.g. 24 hours, to correct mistakes on a failed order, rather than just instantly selling the potentially very limited stock to whomever next comes along. Their money might be just as good as the first person's, but since they placed the order it's safe to assume they actually want the product.

3) Fix the cancelled orders interface.

In the last fortnight it appears Amazon.com have changed the wording on the cancelled orders interface, but it remains incorrect on the Amazon.co.uk interface. In both cases there is a link to view all orders, so you can go through your history, but my cancelled order still does not show up. I would still argue that the interface should show orders that were cancelled in the last 6 months, as the date when the order was created is completely irrelevant to what the user would want to see.

4) Don't lie to your customers.

Evidently in my chat with the customer service representative I was lied to so that I would stop complaining. A simple case of "there is nothing I can do" would have been far preferable to telling me to wait a week and then waste my time trawling through a haystack of deals to find a non-existent needle.

Hopefully if you follow my advice above, your service will be vastly improved, and you can prevent yourselves from losing customers in the future.


Sincerely,

Joseph Dowland

Friday, 17 June 2016

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This year at E3 Nintendo demonstrated their newest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild.
As soon as I saw the trailer I started theorising on when it takes place on the timeline, and it appears many other people have done the same, even making videos about it.

Never one to not leap on a passing bandwagon, I'm tempted to make a video, but doing so takes a lot of time and effort. I'm definitely lacking in the former at the moment, so instead I'm writing this post.

The Zelda timeline as written in the House Historia spurs into three due to Ocarina of Time:

One where Link is defeated by Ganon/Ganondorf.
One where Link defeats Ganon in the future, then disappears when he travels to the past.
One where Link, now a child again, gets Ganondorf arrested and executed before he manages to actually commit a crime.

As a side note, I find this a bit problematic. Twilight Princess takes place in that last timeline, and Ganondorf gets exiled to the Twilight dimension. However, since he was arrested and executed before Link drew the Master Sword from the pedestal in the Temple of Time, unlocking the seal on the Sacred Realm and allowing Ganondorf to touch the Tricorn, the Triforce should be safely locked away. But it isn't. Unfortunately some mental gymnastics are required, like saying that time operates differently in regards to the Sacred Realm.
The truth is, Nintendo don't care about this as much as the fans do.

In Ocarina of Time, when Link first draws the Master Sword from its pedestal, Rauru the Sage of Light tells him that he wasn't old enough, so his body hash been kept safe for 7 years.
Whilst it could simply be interpreted as him being unconscious for that long, the fact you can go backwards and forwards through time says to me that Link's consciousness was transported through time, but his body wasn't.

This is very important.
The trailer for Breath of the Wild features a Korok. These are plant creatures which the humanoid Kokori from Ocarina of Time eventually changed into by the time of Wind Waker.
These characters so far have only appeared in the Wind Waker timeline, which is the "adult" one where Link defeated Ganon as an adult, then disappeared.

The opening of Wind Waker states that Ganon was resurrected, but the Hero of Time (Link from Ocarina of Time) didn't reappear to fight him, so the Goddesses flooded Hyrule.
The reason Link didn't reappear is because though his body existed, his consciousness was missing.

The trailer features a voice telling Link to wake up, and apparently the beginning of the game involves Link waking up in some kind of cryogenic chamber.
I believe this is adult Link's body that has been preserved since Ocarina of Time.
However I have no explanation as to why it can move without his consciousness. Maybe it's been so long thar young Link is dead, but having someone resurrect into their own body but it an alternate timeline is a very odd and barely coherent concept.

I haven't seen the gameplay footage from the demos yet, as I'm oddly reticent to sit through five hours of other people playing a game. However, from screenshots I've seen, there is an old man who looks like the King from Wind Waker who starts you on your quest, and refers to "Calamity Ganon". Does this mean something, or is it just reusing a similar character design?
Since the environment appears to be the flooded Hyrule, but not flooded at the time, but also very devoid of humanoid life, does this mean that this takes place after Hyrule is no longer flooded? Long after the end of Wind Waker? Or is it before?
If the latter, it would imply a doomed quest, so I doubt it.
Maybe this is another split, on the Wind Waker line? Currently we have no reason to believe so, but Skyward Sword featured time travel, and some sci-fi elements that are similar to what we've seen so far.

To quote Bob from Reboot: "No-one knows for sure, but I intend to find out!"

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Warcraft: The Beginning

I have not played any Warcraft game, with the exception of World of Warcraft, which is incredibly boring due to it's nature as an MMO.

So when I went into Warcraft: The Beginning, I knew nothing about it, apart from it being based on the games and directed by David Bowie's son.

The story is that the Orcs are coming to the (world? country? continent? dimension? planet? The film is very unclear) of Azeroth using "fell" magic, which requires living sacrifices to work and corrupts the areas in which it is used.
The Orcs, being war-like, want to ravage and conquer, taking more prisoners so that they can bring yet more Orcs through.
The current denizens of Azeroth, who are primarily human, are not fans of this idea.

That's about as much as I can say without going entirely into spoiler territory. This is in part due to the fact that the film covers so much in it's two hour run-time that it seems incredibly rushed.
It's an odd paradox, where the film feels overly long, but extending the length so that events could be better paced would have made it feel shorter.

The story seems very cliched, but it does make some very courageous moves, which is should be applauded for.

The film features of a lot of CGI, but once again it's so pervasive that it's doesn't detract from the suspension of disbelief.

Apart from the pacing (which was a severe issue), the only major flaw I can think of is in the sound design is at times poor, with the noise of magic spells being cast being far louder than the things characters are saying.

There is a good sense of humour pervading throughout the film, including a joke in regards to a particular WOW spell.

There are also other references but these are a bit more flawed. For example, a particular demon appears who I think I've seen in artwork surrounding the games, and was obviously recognised by the fans of the games, but it was completely lost on me, especially because the film made absolutely no effort in explaining it.

Conclusion

Overall, I found that I didn't care for this film. It did too much in too short a time, and would have greatly benefited from further development in almost every area of the story. The film does deserve some praise for being willing to buck the trend and not be formulaic, but in the end was not much more than average.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Imagine me in 1991, 5 years old, watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Shredder has managed to get the same ooze that created the titular turtles, and is about to use it to create two mutant underlings.
"I'm going to see Rocksteady and Bebop in a film!" I probably thought, excitedly.
He uses the ooze, and everyone in the cinema is greeted by Count Duckula, and Man-bear-pig.



Fast forward just under 25 years. I'm going to turn 30 very shortly, and I am sitting in the cinema again, seeing Bebop and Rocksteady on the big screen, and having my seat intermittently kicked by some little shit young child who evidently has no manners.

Dreams do come true, but they're never perfect, and often quite late. Much like getting Lego Sonic the Hedgehog.

I think I should specify some important context:
I do not care for Michael Bay. At all.
I remember enjoying The Rock, but I wouldn't say it's memorable.
I think I've seen Bad Boys 1 & 2, but I don't remember them.
I have seen all of the Transformers film, and despised all of them. In fact, when I saw the fourth (which was the second one I saw) I sincerely spent the last hour of the film praying for the sweet release of death.

However, I have greatly enjoyed both of the recent Turtles films. This is probably due to Bay only being a producer, and not actually being in a particularly influential role.

Special Effects

Once again, this is an effects heavy film. For the most part it is passable - not great, but because it's constantly there it's not jarring and doesn't take you out of the film. However, there is one particular section in a river, and I swear, the effects were unbelievably good!
It's odd, most of the time wet textures are what ruins good effects or graphics, where everything, no matter what the texture is meant to be physically like, looks like it's covered in slime.
Not so, here. Honestly, it almost looked as if the Turtles were animatronic puppets like in the originals.

Megan Fox

Megan Fox reprises her role as April O'Neil, once again looking and acting far more human than in the Transformers films. She isn't just a damsel in distress, but takes an active role in events (but sometimes it doesn't work out so well).
There is a short (and early) section shown in the trailers where she dresses in a schoolgirl outfit, and the camera lingers. However, contextually, though obviously still for the male gaze, it doesn't seem anywhere as exploitative as you'd expect from a Bay film (it's in fact a distraction for the purposes of espionage).
For the rest of the film no such thing happens, so it at least gets it out of the way early.

Camera Work

The camera work in the film is actually really good - the action scenes don't shake the camera too much, so the action is easy to follow.
At the end, when the film is reaching the climax, the dutch angles come out. Dutch angles are when you tilt the camera to indicate that something is horribly wrong, but they only work when contrasted with normal shots (hence why Battlefield Earth is both terrible and amateurish).
I noticed it, and felt impressed. The director uses his tool-set correctly.

Casey Jones

Casey Jones is played by the guy from Arrow, as the audience was loudly reminded by the shitling young person sitting behind me. I honestly can't remember how Jones was in the cartoon, but I do remember him in the first film. There is a definite contrast here, as the character is less of a charming badass.
Shortly after he is introduced, he points out a plot-hole with the events that are happening, which is somewhat appreciated - if the film didn't point out "this is stupid, but necessary for this scene to work" it could be used as a criticism against it.

Will Arnett

Will Arnett proves once again to be really good comic foil. He might be type-cast, but he's brilliant at it.

Bebop and Rocksteady

Yes, Bebop and Rocksteady are here! Yes, they are annoying, but being incompetent comic sidekicks that's kind of the point. Bebop is played by Gary Anthony Williams (who I recognise but I'm not sure what from) and Rocksteady is played by Seamus "The Great White Shark" from WWE.
Though Rocksteady having a strong Irish accent is different from the cartoon, it doesn't feel out of place (except for one scene where he says "Whoops, my bad" - I'm not sure why. Maybe the lips didn't quite match)
Overall I think they were done well.

Throught the film, the liquid that can transform things (like the Turtles into humans or Bebopy and Rocksteady into a warthog and rinocerous) is referred to as "Ooze" - from this it seems fairly evident that the film makers were very aware of the second original film (and the disappointment that arose from it) and so were trying to, not make up for it, but make sure that they didn't repeat the same mistakes.

Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry plays Baxter Stockman, who is probably going to get mutated into a fly in the next film. The only reason I bring this up at all is that I watched someone's review where they mentioned him as a negative.
I hate him donning a fat-suit and being an unfunny racist stereotype as much as the next man, but let's be fair - Gone Girl proved that he is in fact a really good actor.
Here he does a perfectly fine job.

Conclusion

All in all, though this wasn't a particularly good cinema going experience for me, it was a genuinely entertaining film that basically felt like the cartoon had come to life.

One terrapin out of a mongoose.