I didn’t see any movies at the theater this month, so I won’t be reviewing any new stuff – but I have been re-watching the Harry Potter movies. The final chapter is coming out shortly, so it seemed like a good time to catch up on what all happened.
Just a heads-up – this is not a spoiler-free review. I will ruin endings here.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (“Sorceror’s Stone,” for any philosophy-fearing Americans out there.)
Believe it or not, seeing this in the theater was the first time I had ever heard of Harry Potter. Before this, I never heard of the books, didn’t see any movie trailers, or hear any word-of-mouth about it. I didn’t even know it was playing until my friend spontaneously started screaming “WE HAVE TO GO SEE HARRY POTTER NOW!!!” So we drove down to Cold Lake for a midnight showing, and imagine my surprise when I saw the lobby packed. With adults no less – not a single child to be seen anywhere except on the movie poster. I was really out of the loop back then. And it was a pretty damn good movie. I’ve read all the books since then, and even today, I think Chris Columbus did a bang-up job on it. The cast is perfect, the art design is flawless, the music is memorable, and the first movie on it’s own set the standard for the rest of the series. Let’s Nitpick: I’m still peeved with the ending of this movie. Why do the teachers reward Harry’s reckless disregard for the rules by giving him the House Cup? What example are they setting? I want to see a version where they give Harry and his friends all those extra points for defeating Voldemort, but still give the House Cup to Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff because they studied and passed their exams.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (AKA “Harry Potter and the Hurray for Harry Potter”)
On another viewing, I think one is both my favorite, and the most underrated of the series. There’s tons of action, I love the art direction, there’s much darker tones, and what’s more, it’s a perfect stand-alone story where every scene provides yet another subtle clue to the big mystery. There’s no cliffhangers, no villains get away, and you don’t have to start from the first movie to enjoy this one. But on top of that, it’s also probably the most faithful of the movies – dropping virtually nothing from the book (to my recollection anyway.) Let’s Nitpick: The only downside to not dropping anything from the book is that this is probably the longest of the movies. Also, at the end… Dumbledore cancels exams as a reward? Those seventh years really need those exams, Dumbledore. Don’t ruin their lives just to make the 2nd-graders happy. I swear this school system is rigged just to make sure Harry Potter doesn’t have to study.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (AKA “Harry Potter Scared Stupid”)
I know this one’s supposed to be the most critically-acclaimed of the series, but I personally found it to be really silly. They swapped out directors at this point, and then mixed in more slapstick comedy, blue filters, and slow fades-to-black. Although it does have some great visuals, (especially on the scenes with the Dementors and the werewolf) this remains the one movie that really sits on the fence for me. Something about it reminds me of an Ernest movie for some reason. Let’s Nitpick: In the last half-hour of the movie, they use Hermione’s magical hourglass to go back in time and resolve all their problems. Then they proceed to never use this device again in any of the movies (especially when it really matters.) It can’t be that hard to fabricate an hourglass either if the teachers are letting third-graders walk around with them. Also, what’s up with that song at the beginning? Did the music teacher think “Something Wicked This Way Comes” would be a great way to ring in the new school year?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (AKA “Robert Pattinson and the Stroke of Bad Luck”)
Another director swap at this point (Mike Newell) turns “Goblet of Fire” into a very rushed, but still very entertaining movie. In fact, this one seems more like a sports movie the way they handle it. There’s a lot more school spirit and the students act like real people rather than wizards. The Tri-Wizard tournament lends to some great action sequences as well, and I only just noticed David Tennant (Doctor Who) as one of the bad guys this time around. Awesome! Let’s Nitpick: This one marks the first time that you really can’t jump into a Harry Potter movie without seeing the first three. There’s so many obscure side-characters popping up, and important plot elements are randomly re-introduced from previous movies. Of course, if you’ve gone this far already, you probably already saw the first three.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (AKA “Harry Potter vs. The Establishment”)
With David Yates at the helm, he returns the series to the old Columbus style, albeit more darker, but still retains Mike Newell’s habit of not bothering to provide background information. Still, I think this one’s pretty awesome. Imelda Staunton puts on the best performance of the series as Delores Umbridge – a villain who embodies every despicable thing we could ever hate about a villain. Then we’ve also got Helena Bonham Carter as her awesome freaky self. I really liked the story’s approach to having all the characters rebel against authority – because when wizards rebel, everything explodes. Let’s Nitpick: I’ll tell you this much – the IMAX 3D version sucked (post-conversion crap.) And at the risk of sounding like a book-nerd, I really think they should have put the original ending battle into the movie, because the movie version was pretty lame by comparison.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (aka “Harry Potter and Something Vaguely Sinister is Going On”)
During a second viewing, I realized that there’s really no story in this film. In fact, the book’s the same way. It’s just a series of events throughout the school year that range from terrorist attacks, cheating on tests, and Harry snogging Ron’s sister. In fact, for the first two hours of the movie, there’s no actual mission – no mystery for Harry and the gang to solve, other than how to get their teacher drunk so he can spill the beans on how to defeat Voldemort. After that, the movie begins and ends pretty quickly. Still, I really enjoyed watching a lot of the nonsense as Harry and his friends just fart around all year, especially the scenes where Harry gets high on luck potion. Let’s Nitpick: What bugs me is that throughout the movie is a sub-plot involving Malfoy and a magical cabinet. In the book, this is a relevant plot-point, since the cabinet later enables Voldemort’s henchmen to infiltrate and attack the school, resulting in a chaotic battle between the students and the Death Eaters. Unfortunately, in the movie, the epic battle never happens. They infiltrate the school, mess up the dining hall and then… leave. They do burn down Hagrid’s hut, but otherwise… what’s the point? Why sneak in Death Eaters? Was Hagrid’s hut really that big a threat?
Harry Potter and the Draco Malfoy Puppet (AKA “Draco likes Pliers”)
And there we go! All caught on my wizard stuff. Now I just need to remember every tiny plot detail for the next few weeks until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) starts… AKA “Harry Potter and the Neverending Camping Trip.”
I’m render-wrangling again, so I’ll just review something in the meantime.
For the last year or so, they’ve been replaying all these old classic cartoons from my childhood on Teletoon Retro (a Canadian channel.) I don’t do much TV watching these days since I’ve got people lending me box sets of Dexter, Entourage, and Gilligan’s Island to catch up on. But whenever I do catch one of these old shows, it’s interesting to see which ones have aged better – now that the rose-colored glasses are off – and which ones have gotten on my nerves.
The following lists are entirely my opinions, so no offense is intended if I happen to rag on one of your favorites. After all, at one point, these were all my favorites too.
Five Cartoons That Aren’t Holding Up Well For Me
Sylvester and Tweety
Out of all match-ups between Looney Tune characters trying to eat each other, this is the only one where I can’t bring myself to care as to whether Tweety gets caught or Sylvester gets clobbered by the dog. I just don’t like Tweety and… Sylvester keeps reminding me of Rob Schneider. In fact, there’s the whole problem right there. Much like Rob Schneider, Sylvester doesn’t have any original material and has to rely on his co-stars to keep the show interesting. This is why they’ll often swap out Tweety for someone else – because watching Rob Schneider get clobbered by a kangaroo is far more entertaining than watching him not eat a bird.
I tried watching this show again shortly after the movie came out and couldn’t get past eight episodes. They just recycle the same two-part story over and over again. Even Scooby-Doo had more depth than this one. Oh-no! A cliff! How will Speed get out of this? Stay tuned to find out! (Spoiler: He pushes the car’s jump button.)
The best parts of this show involve the theme songs and watching Chief Quimby explode. Otherwise, this show gets really annoying once the M.A.D. agents show up and try kill Gadget. They have only one job, but they always follow the same stupid three-step plan on how to do it. 1) Disguise themselves, 2) sneak up behind Gadget, and 3) ??? (the show never gets that far because they end up tripping over Gadget while he’s smelling a flower or something.) Also, listening to the sound effects on this show is like hearing someone button-mash an iPhone soundboard. They only have about five sound effects, but you’ll hear them all a hundred times before the credits run.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
I think R&B was a well-written show for it’s time, but what kills it is the bad production design. The jokes are rushed, the timing is off, the voice acting is horrible, and they’ll sometimes screw up the animation cels on a character, causing their eyes and mouth to fall off their face. I know animators were pressed for time back then, but even the Flintstones knew how to keep limbs attached to torsos.
Transformers, G.I. Joe, and He-man
These are great shows to riff on with friends because of how ridiculous they are, but to sit and watch any of them alone can be very brain-damaging. The plots are stupid, the dialogue is stupid, the animation is stupid, and the characters always resolve their problems by shooting at each other until somebody runs away. They’re guilty pleasures at best, but ultimately, they’re just 30-minute toy commercials. Grimlock still rules, though.
Five Shows I’ve Grown To Appreciate More
Coyote and Roadrunner
If you’re like me and have forgotten how every single trap backfires on the coyote, then this is a brilliant show to watch. Will the boulder hit him or miss him this time? Sometimes it misses, but rolls over onto him. Or maybe he’ll walk away from it and accidentally step off a cliff. Or maybe all will be well until the roadrunner hits him with a truck. It’s the show that keeps you guessing!
I forgot how dark this show is. Some cartoons like to teach children to share and play nice; Astro Boy likes to teach children that they will someday die. I’m not joking – every other episode ends in Astro Boy failing to save the day, and mourning a friend’s death as a result. So why do I think it’s a good show? I think I just like the contrast between the parts of the show that seem targeted at preschoolers, and the other parts of the show that would scar them for life.
This show is just bad-ass.
I’m still going to argue that this is one of Disney’s best. Yes, even better than Ducktales or Rescue Rangers. The animation is great, the characters are likeable, the stories are awesome, and they did a really good job building an entire culture and mythology around these bears. Not bad, considering all they had for subject matter was candy.
Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Freakazoid
Steven Spielberg rocks at making cartoons. End of story.
Courtesy of Geekologie, is this video of a little robot girl (HRP-4C) dancing at a Digital Expo, and I rank it as both amazing and incredible creepy. Amazing in the sense that we now have robots who can dance around without wheels, and creepy in the sense that some engineer somewhere probably modeled this thing after his daughter (I know I’d feel uneasy knowing there’s a digital doppleganger of myself walking around and performing at shows.)
I still can’t see any good to come out of making robots look exactly like humans. Once that technology’s perfected, what do we do with it? Robots by themselves can be useful, but where in society can they benefit from sharing our faces? I’d never once walked up to a clerk, secretary, or salesperson and thought “boy, I wish this person was a robot.” And if I did, I certainly didn’t think “boy, I wish this person was a robot who had a human face.” If I’m going to be served by a robot, I want them to be more like Johnny Five or C-3PO. I need to know I’m dealing with a machine. Otherwise, the technology would only serve to deceive us, leading to immoral uses (like building the perfect sex-bot, or planting a robot assassin in the White House.)
I’d rather see them start building robots that resemble CGI characters, like someone out of a Pixar movie as opposed to straight-up real life. Sure, CGI looks fake, but in some movies, it’s just the right amount of fake. It’s easier to empathize with Woody or Shrek than it is to stare into the cold dead eyes of Tom Hanks from “The Polar Express,” and it allows people to reconnect with robots on a more familiar (and better-tested) level. It’s one of those cases where I don’t think they need to cross the uncanny valley, but that’s just my opinion.
I’ve seen plenty of videos where one person will compose an entire song by editing together several videos of themselves playing each instrument. But this marks the first time I’ve ever seen the same thing done with them playing multiple video games. The difficulty in creating this has to rank right up there with firing rockets into space.
So the other day, we were browsing around Google’s image search, checking out random things out of curiosity (random things being homemade video game weapons and hot chicks dressing up like Metroid) when the subject of Final Fantasy came up. Someone who had never played the games before asked “if I only ever play one, which one should it be?” And to my embarrassment, I found this was one of those odd subjects I can’t shut up about.
I haven’t actually played all the games, but if I have any say, the most relevant games in the series are probably parts 6 through 10. So if you’re only ever going to play one, just pick from the following list to see which one better suits you.
Final Fantasy VI: The Critics’ Choice Where it stands: Well-received by fans and critics alike; is often considered the best of the series; has a great story; is very challenging; tons of playable characters; has set the standard for most modern RPGs Drawbacks: 8-bit graphics; one of the harder games
Final Fantasy VII: The Fan-Favorite Where it stands: Probably THE game to play if you only ever play one of these; is the most popular of the series; has the most iconic characters; the most memorable weapons; another great story – heck, they even made a movie out of this one. A movie, I might add, that makes no sense unless you play this game first. This one really needs a PS3 remake already. Drawbacks: Early 3D graphics look like crap; also, I’m pretty sure the main character gets molested by a group of men while wearing a dress in one scene. Should be noted that the die-hard fan-base for this game can be completely insane at times, and this game may cause you to join them.
Final Fantasy VIII: The Guilty Pleasure Where it stands: My personal favorite (maybe because it was the first one I played;) boasts some of the best-looking cut-scenes; is very well-paced with lots of missions Drawbacks: Has an annoying level-up system; emotional scenes are too drawn out; also, if you’re one of those people who is easily offended by plot-holes and retarded characters, you might want to avoid this one. On the other hand, if you enjoy plot-holes and retarded characters, welcome to the best game ever!
Final Fantasy IX: The Underdog Where it stands: Often called the most underrated of the series; has a great story; lots of humor; awesome cut-scenes; lots of missions; creative gameplay – could probably be the best of the series if not for… Drawbacks: Every character looks like a creepy baby doll. Seriously – how did they spend 4 years making this game without thinking “maybe we should revise the character design?”
Final Fantasy X: May Contain Nuts Where it stands: Probably the easiest in the series; the fights are well-scripted; the PS2 graphics are pretty good; is very cinematic Drawbacks: Much like FF8, can be very retarded, if not more-so. You really have to be in a cheesy mood to enjoy it (as well as stomach the horrible “laughing scene.”) Bonus: Can be played in tandem with FFX-2, which is basically the “Charlie’s Angels” version, and is ten times more retarded (or more fun.) FFX-2 is the only one in the series that lets you gang up on your enemies. Either way, these are the most “popcorn movie” games of the series.
Beyond that, I’m not a fan of FF12 (the 10000-Mile Jog) or FF13 (the one that caused my brain to explode after one hour.) And FF11 is just a multi-player thing that nobody got into.
Or alternatively, forget Final Fantasy and go pick up a copy of Chrono Trigger for the DS. I have nothing bad to say about that game.