Sunday, 14 July 2013

TV Series Review: Merlin (2008)

Title: Merlin (TV Series 2008)
Creators: Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy
Original broadcast: 2008-2012
Series length: 5 seasons, comprising 13 x ~45 minute episodes per season
Status: Complete
Classification: PG
Genre: Historical fantasy, Family, Action/Adventure, Comedy

Man. Where do I even begin?

This show. This show. I invested five years of my life in this show and what started out for me as light-hearted squee morphed into some sort of rabid hate-watch towards the end. The finale made me so mad that instead of sleeping I spent a night rolling angrily around in bed. When I finally fell asleep, I woke up the next day, still mad.

So yeah. If you’re looking for a rant, you’ve come to the right place.

(Review behind the cut. Warnings for foul language and major spoilers, including the finale. For those who haven’t seen the show but are thinking about it, they’re the sort of spoilers you’d want to know about before you decide to watch. Trust me.) 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Movie Review: Monsters University

Title: Monsters University
Director: Dan Scalon
Year Released: 2013
Running Time: 104 mins
Classification: G
Genre: Animation, Family and kids, Comedy

The most anticipated prequel has hit the screens, Monsters University!

Monsters University is the story of how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) meet before Monsters Inc. If you don’t know who Mike and Sulley are and have no idea what Monsters Inc. is, then you must go, now, watch Monster Inc. then come back to this review.
If you have seen Monsters Inc. go re-watch it anyway.

But first, Blue Umbrella, the most recent Pixar short played before the movie is brilliant and is completely new to the design of Pixar. If anyone can make people feel for inanimated objects, Pixar can. 
Back to the review.
Monsters University did not leave me disappointed and is exactly what I thought the movie would be. I wouldn’t say it was the best but definitely is on par with Monsters Inc., if not, then a little less only because it uses the same characters in Monsters Inc. so doesn’t feel original – which it shouldn’t feel, since Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters Inc.  

The start of the movie is just too cute. Little Mike is sooo cute to the point I felt disappointed when older Mike gets off the bus in front of the University. This movie is purely about chasing your dream and not giving up. Mike is inspired to be a Scarer and will do what he can to be one. The storyline is very cliched. It has your usual jocks, cheerleaders, punks and losers. Both Mike and Sulley have to prove their worth by joining forces with the members of the Oozma Kappa fraternity (the losers) to win the Scare Games. The only thing not cliched about this movie is there is no love interest which is a plus. There was no room for it.

Monsters University has all the ‘Pixar’ needed to make it a funny family film. If you have seen Monsters Inc. you will love the guest appearances in this movie. As for the new characters, I found Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) terrifying and I use the word terrifying because I don’t like anything that has more than 4 legs. Eeuuggghhh……
The character designs of the Dean and Art (Charlie Day), a member of the Oozma Kappa fraternity was the most interesting. I may not like insects, but for the role of the Dean, an insect was the most appropriate. As for Art, he is just all furry with tree trunk legs and tiny arms. A little bit awkward appearance-wise but the most mysterious and funny of them all. As for the other Oozma Kappas, they were ordinary. I understand that’s the point but their unique abilities were awkward. It made the last competition unconvincing even though Pixar did its best to illustrate Oozma Kappas' weaker potentials. I felt more towards the Oozma Kappas as a group rather than them as individuals.

There is some character development in this movie, mostly focusing on Sulley… and Randall has some screen time. It’s not a very successful development when most people know how Sulley and Randall will be in the future. The focus of this movie is on Mike and I loved it. In Monsters Inc. I favoured Sulley over Mike. I found Mike bossy and a little selfish. In Monsters University, he’s still a little selfish but it was driven by his dream. He might be bossy towards the Oozma Kappas, but he never gave up on them and did his best to help. This is typical of the main character in college films but having believed Mike was bossy and selfish, it was nice to see it wasn't the 'true Mike’.

My favourite part is the end of the film and how they become Scarers. It’s not what one might think it would be, but it proves hard work does pay off. There are funny scenes but I preferred the story itself. The funny bits were a bonus.

I’ll definitely be re-watching Monsters University again and may even follow that with Monsters Inc. True to a Pixar film, I’m sure there are a lot of Easter egg surprises in the film I have missed. I enjoyed Monsters University and recommend everyone to go watch it, just remember: relax and enjoy. Mike and Sulley will always be the lovable monsters they are.

Terri’s Rating: 4/5

Note: There was one fault I found. I may be wrong but in Monsters Inc. as Mike and Sulley walk to work, I’m quite sure Mike mentions he met Sulley.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

Title: Despicable Me 2
Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Year Released: 2013
Running Time: 98 minutes
Classification: PG
Genre: Comedy, Kids and Family, Animation, Action/Adventure

(Note: this review contains spoilers for Despicable Me (the prequel))

2010’s Despicable Me stands out as one of the more original kids’ films of the last five years. In that movie, evil genius Gru (Steve Carell) attempts to steal the moon. Because of plot reasons, Gru adopts three little girls. Because it’s a kids’ movie, Gru relinquishes his villainous ways to become a good father. All in all, it’s a pretty cute film, full of laughs and “awww”.

Understandably then, you had to wonder where they’d go with Despicable Me 2. It necessarily lacks the villainous glee of the first movie, which is both good and bad: good, because it means there’s character development; and bad, because it’s not as original. In the sequel, Gru has his hands full being a parent and intends to start a business making jams and jellies. All seems well until he is suddenly kidnapped by Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an agent from the Anti-Villain League. Apparently, someone has created a chemical that turns its victims into mutant purple killing machines. The AVL “recruits” Gru in the hope that his expertise in villainy will enable him to uncover the identity of the villain responsible. Personally, I liked that they made Gru an “ex-villain” rather than a sudden, all-out hero.

Like the first movie, there are plenty of laughs to go around, whatever your age. The humour ranges from slapstick, mostly played out by Gru’s adorable Minions, to send-ups of stereotypes, like the improbably tough Mexican wrestler villain El Macho and the fitness freak blonde girl with whom Gru goes on a date. I actually laughed out loud a lot during this movie, which is more than I can say for most comedies.

From the promotional materials and from the moment she shows up on screen, you know that Lucy is Gru’s designated love interest. Gru’s daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) also gets a love interest in the form of the dashing Antonio (Moisés Arias). Sadly, the romantic plot developments in the film felt exactly like that: they were moments I felt I had to endure in order to get to the rest of the story and were only palatable when intertwined with comedy, like when Gru goes all overprotective dad over Margo’s new boyfriend.

The animation is cute and colourful and I found myself admiring Gru’s home décor more than once. The 3D is used effectively: I liked that I was able to look into the sets, rather than at them, particularly in big, busy locations such as the mall. If you want to get the “most” out of the 3D, then you may want to stay for the credits as you’ll get to see some Minions shoving stuff at you through the screen.

Conceptually, Despicable Me 2 is “less” than its predecessor: the villain protagonist angle is gone, a predictable romance plot has been added and there’s less interaction between Gru and his kids. That said, I think I liked this film more. While Gru’s relationship with his daughters is more static, there are still plenty of heart-warming “family” moments of the kind that made the first movie so memorable. There’s also a greater sense of chaos compared to the very plot-driven prequel and I’m pretty sure it’s funnier as well. The cute little Minions also get to play a bigger part, which, admittedly, may or may not be a good thing, depending largely on whether you’re a parent who’ll now have to fork out on Minion toys (now available at a store near you).

Despicable Me 2 is a fun, funny, fluffy family movie and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It’s no masterpiece of cinema, but with the current crop of movies out right now you could easily do worse.

Alex’s Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, 1 July 2013

Book Review: The Fallen Series

Title: The Fallen Series

  • Book 1: Fallen
  • Book 2: Torment
  • Book 3: Passion
  • Book 3.5: Fallen in Love
  • Book 4: Rapture

Author: Lauren Kate
Year Published: 2009 - 2012
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Fallen, the first book in the Fallen Series: A young girl named Lucinda “Luce” Price, is sent to Swords & Cross Reform School after being accused of murder. There she falls into a love triangle between the sweet-talker Cam and the cold, mysterious yet handsome Daniel.
It is like any YA romance. Luce is torn between two boys and spends most of her time worrying about them and the rest avoiding floating dark shadows only she can see – it is a fantasy novel after all. Of course the real storyline is why Luce is drawn to Daniel (cold mysterious boy) even though he actively distances himself away from her and what is he hiding.

To be fair, a friend told me the entire story before I read this series. I found the storyline typical in the way of the 'early' romance, but refreshing when it came to YA fantasy. If it wasn’t for knowing what was to come I don’t think I would have continued to book 2. Fallen lacked depth in all the characters and I didn’t care much for them even though the book ended with the intention of the reader wanting to know why and how.    

*Warning spoiler*
Book 2, Torment, felt like filler. There was no need for it and nothing happens. This book was only written to enhance the danger Luce has on her life (which isn’t much) and was like a tip toe in cold water before jumping into book 3.
At the end of book 1, we find out Daniel, Cam and most of the Swords & Cross students are fallen angels. They were banished from heaven centuries ago because Daniel had broken the rule and fell in love with Lucinda. In every 'Lucinda life time', Daniel, being an angel can not die, will meet Lucinda and fall in love with her again and again. When Lucinda realises the truth she bursts into flames, most of the time in Daniel’s arms, and is then reborn again with no memories of their past life…. yep, I dig the whole reincarnation thing, just not sure about the spontaneous combustion...    

Essentially in Torment, Daniel leaves Luce at a school for Nephilim (angel half breeds) and then goes off to form more secrets and make more mysteries.

Passion is by far the most interesting book of the series. Luce travels back through the centuries to her past lives in order to escape the present, and to learn from her past. It is mentioned quite often, every life Luce arrives at, there is a lesson to be learned. Besides from Daniels devotion to her, I don’t see the lesson. I don’t understand why Lauren Kate, the author, continues to write it when there is no obvious lesson.
Many of Luce’s past life stories are bittersweet and romantic. It is these stories that are most memorable. Luce also has the ability to take over the body of 'past life’. I hate it. Every time she does it, it feels like she's depriving ‘her past self’ (technically not her) from Daniel…. very selfish.
Overall, Passion deals with mostly the travelling and Daniel trying to find her. The main storyline may be simple, but I enjoyed the minor stories in between the travelling…
What can I say, I am a romantic-ish person.
Fallen in Love sets during a particular time in book 3. It focuses on the one place and time with most of the characters. It’s not great and there is no need to read it. I suggest skipping over and heading straight for Rapture.

Everything merges in Rapture, with the biggest question answered and a double twist. The answer to the question is predictable, the double twist was unexpected. I like part of the twist but had trouble believing the second as it damaged the reputation of a well known angel. Rapture contains more action and expands on the bigger picture. There is a small quest, some deaths and some 'baddies' thrown in there to keep it interesting. Then there is the end where everything sort of falls into place with one or two unexplained things (which maybe left for a spin-off)? 
The end is predictable but is the best and appropriate for angels who fall in love.

The one smart detail Lauren Kate had in the books was to name God 'The Throne'. The Throne, in the novel, is selfish, vain and unfair. But by using the name The Throne, it is less likely to be compared with.......God. And she had The Throne as a woman. (Thumbs up from me, not that it really matters.)

This series could and should have been shortened to keep it more interesting but then again I personally like fast-paced novels. There was a good base storyline which could have been written better. Did I enjoy the series? Some parts. Will I recommend it to readers? Only to people who love YA romance. So if you like YA romance, I say go for it especially if you think reincarnation is romantic.   

Terri's Rating: 2.5/5