Movie Review: Moana (2016)

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Moana (2016)

I cannot help but feel like I’ve already written something about Moana, that I’ve gushed about it somewhere…

But I can’t find it, so clearly I must do it again.

Let’s start with: I was not expecting such an epic Disney princess to emerge last year, which is silly of me, because aren’t all Disney’s princesses epic? (Even the ones who aren’t considered official princesses! Moana is the chieftain’s daughter, after all.)

Moana of Motonui has been chosen by the Ocean to play a very special part in Disney’s film: the Hero. She’s not waiting for a hero to come find her and rescue her, and Moana (the movie) isn’t about that at all. Moana is about Moana rescuing herself. Well, rescuing everyone else– and rescuing herself by proxy. About growing up, and doing the right thing even though the right thing is hard. About being stubborn, and sticking to your guns, and believing in yourself.

So much of this movie is about believing in yourself.

Born the chief’s only child, Moana stands to inherit leadership of her tribe. He’s been training her for that role her whole life. There’s just one little problem: she’d really rather… not stay on land for it. She doesn’t want to. She tries really hard not to not want to, but she doesn’t want to. It works about as well as expected. Which goes over about as well as anybody could have thought it would. Because nobody goes beyond the cove, and nobody truly leaves the island.

The whole thing is set in Ancient Polynesia, and I’m no expert in the culture, the location, the mythology– but I understand the people who crafted the movie and plot went out of their way to learn those things from the people immersed in them. I know that they also collected local talent for the voice acting, which boosts it to an A+ for me.

One of the interesting things was the music. There’s at least one entire song that never got translated to English, which gives the whole thing very much a more realistic feel to it, and I was very proud of that fact. All too often I feel that I’m not invested enough in things, but that one song being beyond me– I don’t know the words, but the words didn’t matter. I didn’t have to know the lyrics to get drawn up in it.

Also “You’re Welcome” is going to haunt me for years.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

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The Last Starfighter (1984)

Sometimes you have to shake the dust off the good ol’ times. You  have to look at your childhood and say, yes, this one.

The Last Starfighter is one of those. I don’t remember the first time I saw this; I was young, impressionable, and enthralled with space movies. It was probably around the first time I saw the Star Wars films, come to think of it, which, uh, wow, that was a time ago. Star Wars is a different post, eventually, when I get around to it.

In the meantime, this film is over thirty years old, and managed to age pretty remarkably well. Okay, sure, the digital graphics are pretty outdated, but it was made thirty years ago, you have to give it a pass. The storyline, though, the character design, the plot? None of it comes off as cheesy, none of it is badly written. The costumes are solid, props are well made, and, well, I just love it, okay? There’s not a lot of I can tell you without absolutely gushing about this movie.

It doesn’t matter that it’s old. It was well done. And if you can get over the fact that some computer-generated graphics are a little jarring after we’ve been spoiled by new-age things so long, I heartily recommend it to you.

It’s not Star Wars. But then, nothing can be Star Wars. The Last Starfighter is just what it says on the tin, and nothing else.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

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Wonder Woman (2017)

So, for my birthday I might have gone to the store and splurged a little. I might have bought a whole lot of superhero movies. And one of those movies might have been Wonder Woman.

I have a lot of respect for how they did this movie, but there are some things about it but did not trip my trigger. Or rather they hit the ‘no’ button, and they hit it hard enough said it’s hard to get over. Of course I can’t tell you about those because they’re spoilers but they do exist.

So to start I loved the graphics of this movie and the character design. The costuming was on point, although I admit I don’t know enough about that era say how accurate it is. Still everything looked excellent from a design point of view. Interestingly I finally discovered what the eagle motif on Wonder Woman’s costume is supposed to represent. As a girl I thought it was supposed to represent the eagle of America, however growing up and having researched more of the Amazon mythos and Greek mythology in general, I realize that it’s supposed to be the eagle of Zeus.  I’m still not sure what the colors are supposed to represent besides looking super pretty on her.

The other characters are likewise done very nicely with subtle details that hint at larger portions of their personality, which is good because we don’t really get to see that much of them. I could have spent another two hours learning purely about the rest of the cast, but I understand that it is a movie about Diana, so at this point it’s really just me being nitpicky. Nevertheless the lack of them leaves me feeling like something is missing in the movie.

The fight scenes in this movie are absolutely epic and there are quite a few to be very proud of. Wonder Woman is designed and comes off as a very powerful and sophisticated combatant and the way the other characters respond to this is amazing to behold.

One of the things I could have done without in this entire movie, however, that I can mention because it is not actually spoiler, is I could have happily gone without a romantic subplot anywhere at all. I understand that’s not true with a lot of people, but to me it felt awkward and extremely uncomfortable to witness.  Perhaps it would have bothered me less if we had more time of them interacting, or if a particlar segment had been removed, but as it stands it was just really strange for me personally.

I would have also been more gratufied for a longer ending. Something more satisfyingly conclusive, but that could just be me being greedy for more content, as is one of my flaws.

I cannot wait to see more of Wonder Woman.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: The Great Wall (2016)

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The Great Wall (2016)

So even adhering to my no-spoilers rule, there is so much I could talk about in this movie that I could vomit words at you for days and still, somehow, find more. I’ll try not to do that. But where to start?

Let’s try with what it says on the tin.

“The Great Wall tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure.”

The opening covers, also, how long the wall took to build and asks the question: what were they trying to keep out?

I’m sure there are a lot of mythos about why the Wall was built, and some were true and some possibly weren’t. No one currently alive lived in that time period, so no one can say accurately that any myth or legend is wrong, only improbable.

We do know a lot of people were hunting for black powder at the time the movie is set, and anyone who brought it home would have been set up for life, which is what starts are opening scene: possibly the only white guy in the movie and his cohort are heading for China and dealing with bandits along the way.

And that’s one of the things I love about this movie. Not because it’s got diversity– and let’s be realistic here, a movie set in China about Chinese legends is about Chinese people, so the Chinese people don’t count as part of the diversity for the movie, the non-Chinese people do– no, that’s not it. But the movie deals with very serious, realistic hazards of the time period: bandits, long stretches of limited supplies, and how very dead you can be if you lose your food. Also the hazards of native fauna.

Although native is somewhat subjective, given the movie…

The ‘elite force’ in the movie is a massive army based entirely on the Wall, which I can gleefully tell you without spoiling makes an amazing fortification. That’s part of the reason the wall exists, right? Fortifications. The army is carefully designed and fully functional, and if they existed in that context today, nobody would dare dream of invading China. Or, you know, anywhere else with similar fortifications.

I kind of want to build those fortifications. Between those and the army, they’ll make a mean reference for tabletop campaign.

I think everything the people in this show pull off is within the human limits, given proper training and equipment. And I mean a lot of proper training. Please do not watch this movie and then try it at home. I’m serious. If you want to try some of this, go find proper methods of doing it. Bungee jumping, wall climbing, learn you some martial prowess. And then remember that even this army doesn’t do it without safeguards unless they have no choice.

The graphics for this movie were superb. I know a lot of it was computer generated and much of this likely took place in front of a green screen, but unless you know for sure which is generated and which is animatronics, it’s unlikely you’re going to guess it. I can’t say for sure animatronics are in this movie, but considering the huge comeback they’re making, I also can’t say they aren’t. Terrifyingly everything in this movie looks real enough, and plausible enough, that I should be very suspicious of alternate realities where they went over and filmed this nonsense occurring.

The plot of the movie is good too. It’s not a “hero from another land” — or at least, not in the traditional sense. Sure, he’s great at warfare. Sure, the movie focuses on him. But all movies have to have a lead point of view somehow, even if that’s just you. And it’s unlikely actual traders would have gotten very far, why not send a mercenary who knows how to fight and keep himself alive?

The characters are real, intrinsically human instead of two-dimensional cookie cut-outs. And for William, the POV character? His redemption arc is pretty solid.

Bonus for those of you who get twitchy? No romantic subplot!

–Natasha
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Shop Rec: Rawr Dragon Creations

One of the things I like to do when I can’t make my words behave is go window-shopping. I can’t actually buy anything, as I’m currently broke and out of space (what I wouldn’t give for a Bag of Holding,) but every so often I come across truly interesting bits of trivia or absolutely amazing shops. One of those shops is Rawr Dragon Creations.

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Rawr Dragons sculpts itty bitty desktop critters by hand, meaning there are no two pieces exactly alike. According to research, a lot of her dragons are inspired by plucking d20s out of a hat, which goes to choose a color scheme and then spirals outwards from there. Sculpting isn’t my area of expertise, so I can’t go to say much about the process, and I hesitate to ask the artist in case they accidentally leak a trade secret!

Although they do post a lot of in-progress works, so you can see dragons taking shape piece by piece. I probably wouldn’t be able to do anything half as good, so it’s a good thing Rawr Dragons is doing it instead– the artist has way more experience than I do, and every day of it shows! I think one day I might have to save up some money and buy a piece. You know, right after I get a display case. I wonder if she’d sign a card and ship it with?

Of course, there probably wouldn’t be a large market if she did just one type of dragon. I understand the above is a ‘curler,’ and isn’t she a beautiful thing? I can’t even start on how delicate the fins look, and ‘delicate’ isn’t usually a thing I associate with sculpting. Usually you think strong flower vases or something, but I think the edges of these might cut me if I ran my finger along the edge! How cool is that?

Look at this little guy? Wouldn’t you love to find him in the pumpkin patch? Speaking of.. Apparently Rawr Dragons has one of those too. I think these are keychains? But they’re super cool for leafy little orange emoticons. I’ll take the little one in the back, second from the left!

I’m not sure what the going price for Rawr Dragons’ work is right now, but even if it’s a little out of your price range, it’s definitely super cool to go browse! Take a peek, and tell her I sent you!

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

On the list of new age remakes I was leery about, Beauty and the Beast sat pretty high. It wasn’t the most special of my Disney Princess phase as a child, but it was important— and it colored much of me as an adult, up to and including my ‘objects have personality’ obsession.

Disney covered a lot of my formative years, alright?

But I probably shouldn’t have been the least bit apprehensive. The remake was amazing. They did some minor changes, rearranging the song layout and adding and removing some of them to better fit the video. Other minor issues were done, such as with the town, trying to add more impact to why Belle was such an outcast, I suppose. It did well.

Keeping with my No Spoilers, I can’t detail to you a bunch of why I liked this movie. However, you might have heard that they changed the Dress. The dress I can talk about, because it’s been all over the internet, and it’s gotten a lot of flack. But honestly, the new movie’s dress is gorgeous. Simple pictures cannot do it justice, and it feels more like Belle to wear something like this than the traditional ballgown from the animated version. It’s covered in real gold leaf; it’s not simply yellow. I recommend watching it in high definition on the big screen, but if you have to wait until it’s out on disk, HD is probably a must.

Disney says that they’re going to do some more remakes, and I heard the rumor that the next one is Mulan. With Mulan being my favorite, I confess to being worried about it– but Beauty and the Beast has alleviated some of my fears.

–Natasha

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Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed (2016)

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Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Following the story of Callum Lynch, descendant of Spanish Assassin Aguilar, the Assassin’s Creed movie provides another installment of the series of the same name, as well as marking the first Blockbuster– but not the first movie of the franchise, which gleefully sprawls from a whole slew of video games to novels, comic books to fan-made movies and animated shorts.

The Assassin’s Creed series has proven to be a durable sort to cover multiple media, and good enough to attach deeply to many multitudes of people throughout the world. But while we’re not here to talk about the series on the whole today, just this one movie, there is a little context you have to know about it.

Assassin’s Creed is based on the idea (among other ideas) that through the use of specific technological advancements, the lives of our ancestors can be re-lived by tapping into the genetic memory they pass down through our DNA. In Assassin’s Creed, the machine that lets us do this is called the Animus. Chiefly the Animus is built and used by the Templar Order, who are at war with the Assassin’s Brotherhood and.. uh. Well. What they’re trying to do overall is a little fuzzy, and I wont spoil what they’re trying to do in the movie because of my no-spoilers policy.

Which is, incidentally, why no one has seen this review yet, even though I bought and watched this show weeks ago. I was just way too excited and couldn’t figure out how to discuss the movie without spoiling something. So I had to sit on myself or risk word-vomiting to the whole world. Which would have been downright unacceptable.

So I can’t talk overmuch about the plot.

But I can talk about how much I love what they did with it. I admit to having been a little unsure originally, because game to movie adaptions are done with about as much skill as book to movie adaptions, but this turned out really, really well. The movie manages to stand alone, though having context of the games and novels enriches the flavor somewhat. The technological progression is done well, too– I was glad to see how the Animus evolved. I was also glad they picked a character who hadn’t got much play in books, games, or comics. It really gave us a chance to flesh out the world somewhat, and it has permitted fans to continue world building on their own without feeling like all their work has been sabotaged by the creators.

As to graphics, well. My brother could probably tell you more about how smooth it is between real film and computer generated graphics in the movie, but if I didn’t know that there’s really just some things we can’t pull off in real life yet, I wouldn’t have any idea there were any comp-gen. Scene transitions and how it’s set into the show are really smooth and seamless, which just goes to show how far we’ve come in the film age.

For an Assassin’s Creed movie, there was significantly less blood than I thought there might be. Less is more, show don’t tell, are both good descriptors, and the movie did well on both points, providing just enough of an info dump– spread out far enough, no less– to give the viewers an understanding of the overall history for the world the movie is set in. It makes it accessible for the people who’ve never touched any of the rest, which is extremely important from a marketing standpoint.

That said, don’t assume it’s safe just on my word about it. If you’re unsure if you want to watch it, you can always have a trusted friend watch it first to make sure nothing will cause any issues. Or if you’re worried about your children, you can always watch it to ensure it’s at a grade you’re comfortable with them watching. But I do highly recommend this movie, both to hard-core fans and newcomers alike.

–Natasha

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