5/25/16

ULTRAMAN SAGA - REVIEW


Released in 2012, Ultraman Saga was a Japanese superhero movie set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities are being invaded by Godzilla-style monsters as a team of big robot-controlling tough gals and the last remaining giant heroes try to defend what's left.

Mixing CGI, colourful anime visuals and dudes in monster/Ultraman costumes, this is a modern precursor to Pacific Rim with a proudly retro look and feel. It is a sequel to Ultraman Zero: The Revenge Of Belial, released two years prior, and stars familiar faces from the series as well as members of the J-pop group AKB48 because pop stars make excellent actors, as we all know. The good thing about this one is you don't need to know anything that happened before because, fear not, the film is packed with flashbacks and exposition so it's all pretty self-explanatory. Hell, even without the subtitles I'm sure any non-Japanese speaker would easily figure out the plot: monsters bad, everyone else good.

The aforementioned pop stars initially do a decent job as Team-U, the monster attack team who fight the Kaiju in mech-suits, even if their robots run like they're tripping on their own shoelaces. It's when they're required to show more emotion later on that the film gets rather tiresome. Tonally, Ultraman Saga is all over the place, which is to be expected from anything resembling anime, but it's a shame the over-the-top robots vs monsters vs giants dynamic and the space-set action devolves into an over-sentimental and clumsily comedic soap opera about a reluctant hero and his defunct predecessor. Whenever the monsters show up, the film picks up but the second act is still sluggish.

While the design of the monsters is admittedly awesome, one of them being a land shark with a drill for a nose, it would have been cool to see a few more and I would have gladly sacrificed every scene involving some whiny kid for a couple more battles or at least some scenes showing what has become of the rest of the world. Ultraman Saga, you've guessed it, is mostly nonsense and is as predictable as a Power Rangers episode. Having said that, it is endearing in how ambitious and earnest it is: fans of the Godzilla movies and this type of cartoonish Japanese sci-fi should enjoy parts of it.

Ultraman Saga is an uneven and goofy effort with enough charm to make it watchable. The fight scenes are entertaining and the costumes are enjoyably retro but the characters are just too one-dimensional to pull off the more emotional moments.

5/24/16

5/23/16

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE - REVIEW


In 1991, everyone's favourite ninja turtles came back for a live-action sequel with a rather long title. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze wasn't as violent or as dark as its predecessor, much lighter in tone, but it still did well at the box-office.

Critics weren't quite as enthusiastic about this one since it clearly wanted to stay closer to the cartoons rather than introduce a moody element the way the first movie did but audiences still enjoyed the turtles' ninja antics. The plot, this time, involves the "ooze", the toxic green goop which once turned the titular teens into mutants as the scientist who created it (played by David Warner) is kidnapped by The Shredder with the goal of creating two monsters powerful enough to get rid of the turtles for him. A pizza delivery boy who practices martial arts (Ernie Reyes Jr's Keno) helps the turtles on their quest to find out the truth about their origins and defeat the bad guys.

Once again, the puppetry and animatronics are pretty good in this film although the fact the voice cast has changed a little can be a bit distracting: all of a sudden Raphael now sounds like Joe Pesci? The fight scenes are much sillier than in the first film as the turtles seem to have a little too much fun beating up the Foot Clan, especially in the opening scene set in a toy shop. Paige Turco now replaces Judith Hoag as April O'Neil and there's no sign of Casey Jones so expect some big changes but fear not: Vanilla Ice makes a cameo appearance, inventing the ninja rap before your very eyes in what is arguably the most 90's scene ever recorded on film.

This sequel is still just as charming as the first film and fans of the cartoons should definitely enjoy it. The two new monsters, Tokka and Rahzar (both voiced by Frank Welker), are enjoyably goofy here and would later appear all over the Ninja Turtles lore (video games, comics etc.) despite the fact they were originally meant to be Bebop and Rocksteady. The scene where they mistake Shredder for their mother is still very funny. Unfortunately, the ending we're given is yet again anti-climactic as Splinter shows up to save the day (again) before the turtles face-off against a mutated Super-Shredder, played by wrestler Kevin Nash, who crashes a pier onto himself and disappears in seconds (again). There was definitely room for improvement with this second film but overall it worked surprisingly well.

Secret Of The Ooze may not appeal to adult viewers as much as the first film did but fans of the Ninja Turtles will no doubt have fun with it. It's silly and cheesy at times but it's also charming and funny, not to mention entertaining throughout. It won't make you any smarter but, at the very least, it'll get you to order a pizza so there's always that.

Go ninja go!

5/22/16

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990) - REVIEW


With the popularity of the cartoon series reaching its peak, it was inevitable that Hollywood would attempt to make a live-action movie based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so, in 1990, we got to see Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo in their first film.

As excited as we were about that prospect as kids, the odds that the film itself would be any good were pretty low. It would later spawn two sequels and countless tie-ins, so it certainly did its job at the box-office and came out at the right time. But this wasn't just a lucky shot in the dark, this was a decent TMNT movie, believe it or not. The tone of the film was slightly darker than the popular cartoon, and therefore a touch more in line with the comics, but it still captured the fun, cheesy aspects we all enjoyed about the animated series. The turtle costumes looked great for the time and were more consistent/convincing than in later films, especially in terms of puppeteering, and the voice cast, which included Corey Feldman, fit really well with their respective characters.

Other characters introduced in the film included Splinter (voiced by Kevin Clash), April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) and, of course, The Shredder (James Saito). You might also be able to spot a young Sam Rockwell in an early role as a thug. It's a solid cast and, even though a lot of the turtles' jokes are groan-worthy, they are a likeable team and the script does well to keep the story simple yet involving. The turtles and Splinter were created and animated by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and they are still an impressive achievement. The main complaint one could make about the film is that the ending is rather anti-climactic: it builds up to a confrontation between Splinter and The Shredder but it lasts about five seconds and then the film is pretty much over. The recent Ninja Turtles movie would finally give us a proper version of that fight. 

Here's a film franchise fans of the TMNT remember fondly and it's easy to see why as the films have enough charm and are fun enough to make them instant guilty (or not-so-guilty) pleasures. This first outing is particularly well made and it holds up surprisingly well.

Cowabunga, dudes.

5/20/16

FAREWELL, FAMIKAMEN RIDER - REVIEW


After the sad, sudden passing of online critic/Youtuber Justin Carmical, known to many as JewWario, a couple of years ago, some of his friends including Kaylyn Dicksion (aka MarzGurl) got together and completed a story he had planned on filming in his honour.

Farewell, FamiKamen Rider was born.

A no-budget venture, it's very clear from the get-go that this is a fans-only type of project for anyone who enjoyed JewWario's videos and the FamiKamen Rider reviews so reviewing it like a blockbuster would be unfair. As the title suggests: this is a farewell, a loving homage to the late reviewer who started this whole thing but also a celebration of the Kamen Rider franchise. In the vein of Ant-Man, Kamen Rider is an insect-themed superhero who appeared in manga, TV series and movies in Japan from the 70's onwards. FamiKamen Rider was a take on the character created by JewWario so he could review various obscure Japanese superhero films and games. The theme song was put together by MarzGurl and SadPanda (Julien Diaz) and a handful of such videos were put together prior to this film including this review of clumsy soda mascot Pepsiman:


Famikamen Rider was a terrific idea for a review series and the natural progression was, indeed, a movie so it's a shame that Justin Carmical couldn't complete it himself but his friends certainly put a lot of effort into doing just that and it's obvious he would have been proud of that achievement.

The film sees Marzgurl meet a rare game collector called Chris (Chris Gloria), who finds the FamiKamen Rider's cartridge at a yard sale, and they both set off on a mission to take down a new threat. Along the way, Marzgurl teaches Chris about the lost hero and his alter-ego JewWario and they fight a variety of enemies. They also meet SuFamikamen Rider, another hero based on Carmical's other character Yanki J. It's a well-meaning journey and, although the film could have easily been half an hour shorter with the first and last Acts feeling a tad sluggish at times, the fight scenes are particularly fun: the visual effects from Matt Burkett and Zach Hurst work really well. And even though the acting is done by non-actors and the poor sound quality can be distracting, the more emotional moments still resonate.

Farewell, FamiKamen Rider is not a big online project like other Channel Awesome productions such as Suburban Knights or To Boldly Flee but it does exactly what it set out to do and you can tell that, not only did a lot of effort go into it, but also a lot of heart. It's a worthy send off with cameos from other internet critics such as Linkara (Lewis Lovhaug) and Obscurus Lupa (Allison Pregler) but it's one that only true fans of JewWario's work and dated Japanese superhero lore will "get"/enjoy.

Here's to you, J-Dub.

You can watch the whole film on Youtube here:

5/18/16

DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE - REVIEW


An unlikely favourite comic-book movie of mine growing up was Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, the 1975 big-screen adaptation of the old Lester Dent pulp magazines. I was later surprised to learn that, not only did the film receive negative reviews and failed at the box-office upon its release but the French dub inexplicably gave Ron Ely a lisp.

Don't ask, I don't know...

While the film tries to stay true to the character of Doc Savage and his story in the comics, it also keeps a tongue-in-cheek tone throughout, occasionally poking fun at the dated nature the pulp hero. This might have confused audiences back in the day who may have expected a more earnest action film, sort of like how Last Action Hero didn't do well with reviewers who weren't expecting a flood of in-jokes. But although Doc Savage has its cartoonish moments, it's not really a spoof and it captures the spirit of the titular hero and his adventures rather well. Doc Savage is given his own patriotic theme song, he has his own code which he recites with pride, he's got subtle powers and his team is multi-talented and courageous. Watching it back in the day, I had no problem understanding that parts of the film are goofy and funny while others are more typical superhero fare so it's a shame that most critics didn't.

But how does the film hold up today?

The good news is that it's exactly as I remember it: fun, clever, original, silly and well worth checking out. Doc and his team, The Fabulous Five, are a likeable bunch and seeing them work together against a common threat or even bicker amongst themselves is always entertaining. There's plenty about the iconography of the character to like including all sorts of bizarre gadgets (extinguisher globes, anyone?), a Fortress Of Solitude/igloo, a cool gold car and plane, the heroic score, Doc's charm and super-strengh. It all makes for an old-fashioned yet appealing superhero in the vein of The Rocketeer or Zorro. If only the movie The Phantom had been as humorous and clever as Doc Savage. If anything, this movie was ahead of its time as, nowadays, superhero movies are generally more self-aware but, having said that, reviving pulp heroes of the 30's is never a box-office sure thing, to say the least.

Just look at The Lone Ranger.

The plot of the film sees Doc Savage learn of his father's death somewhere in Central America. Soon after, his life is threatened and his office is broken into by a native of the Republic Of Hidalgo, where Doc and The Fabulous Five travel to soon after. There, they find that Doc Savage's father was in fact murdered and that there is corruption brewing between a wealthy entrepreneur (a villainous Paul Wexler) and the local government, specifically Don Rubio Gorro (Bob Corso), who sleeps in a giant baby crib. Highlights include animated green snakes, a hilarious multi-martial arts end fight scene, a river of gold and the best bad guy evil laugh you'll ever hear. Ely is perfect as the lead and captures both the heroic and ridiculous aspects of his character perfectly and, although some of the smaller roles are purposely corny, most of the cast is pretty spot-on.

Believe it or not, Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze still holds up and, while one hopes its bad rep will one day fizzle out, this is a film that might just be destined for cult adoration. I, for one, always enjoy revisiting it as it's a fun, charming ride which doesn't take itself too seriously yet respects its source material enough to pay genuine homage to it.

An underrated, dated treat.

TASTIN'... M&M's CHILI NUT


I taste one of M&M's spicy new flavours.

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