The Neon Demon (2016): Better Writing and Exploration of Characters Could Have Made This a Classic

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    “The Neon Demon” is a horror film that could have been a great classic. It had so much going for it in the themes, ideas and even the characters…but due to lack of development of the characters really failed to deliver on it’s intriguing premise making it more of a film akin to “The Lobster” rather than John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” It’s a film I’d still recommend as it is good, but it fails where it has to and that is what keeps it from being great…for my non-spoiler thoughts.

     The film was directed, co-written and co-produced by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws and Polly Stenham and co-produced by Lene Borglum.

     The story involves aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) moving from a small town in Georgia to Los Angeles to get a start in the modeling business. All is not as it appears to be though as rivals have plans for her that go far deeper than she can ever realize.

Spoilers ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is cool! The modeling industry in L.A. is such a great place to have the threat of confined spaces and the city and since modeling…body horror or all the different ways people try to fit in by changing their bodies…within horror and thrillers there is so much that can be done with that.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is picturesque and had so many beautiful images. Even if the images themselves were often beautiful for the sake of beauty or symbolic for the sake of symbolism, they were still stunning.

The Soundtrack – Cliff Martinez created an amazing synth heavy soundtrack that gave a sci. fi. horror feel to the film that sadly was never delivered on. I was expecting to see actual demons rather than implied demon models and some sort of real body horror or at least deep psychological horror…and while there are disturbing scenes the music was far better at tension than the story was.

Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves – These two play characters whose stories I wish we could have gotten! Hendricks plays the Manager of a modeling agency who has Jesse lie about her age to get the job (What lead her to be that way? How did she become head of the agency? I wanted to know!) and Keanu Reeves plays a corrupt owner of a motel who uses runaways for sex and exploits models. He’s an evil dude who I wanted to know on how a person could get that way…instead they are side characters who only act as motivation or threat…

The Cons: The Demons – The motivation of the demons seems to be power and destruction but I never got why. They merely existed to exist and exist as symbols of how an industry and being so focused on self can consume you and lead you to consume others. That is cool but even that idea isn’t fully explored because the characters feel unfinished. They exist as half-formed ideas which is a shame as the actress are at least decent at their roles.

Characters Never More Than Symbols Who Aren’t Fully Explored as Symbol or Character – It isn’t just the demons who have the problem of never becoming full characters, Jesse has the same problem too. Everyone exists as threat or motivation for Jesse or I guess the Demons at the end so in the end the story is not fully formed as those who inhabit it never fully become characters and are stuck existing as concepts and ideas.

     If the characters had been fully fleshed out and we had fully explored the depths of the evil of the demons and the industry as it is presented in this film this is a horror film that could have been one of the greats and truly a classic. Because it failed in execution I can only say it is really good but not great though. Lack of character exploration can bring any story down whether it is film or book and this film really suffers from that. I’d still recommend it though and I hope to see more of Refn’s work.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

The Nice Guys (2016): A Solid Action Comedy That Celebrates Absurdity

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   Shane Black is a great director…he is most in his element when he is doing buddy cop type comedies like Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3” being forced not to use his suit as an out, “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang” had the everyday guy in over his head in a bigger conspiracy and forced to work with someone opposite of him and that film is a classic and one of my all time favorite films…”The Nice Guys” follows that same sort of deal and is one of the greats of this year because of it.

     The film was directed by Shane Black who co-wrote it along with Anthony Bagarozzi and the film was produced by Joel Silver.

    The story takes place in 1970’s Los Angeles and follows hired muscle Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and corrupt private P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as they are forced into working together and  following up on a missing person’s case related to the porn industry and a porn film where all the cast members are getting killed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the 70’s and how it is presented is wonderfully sleezy and corrupt, which is the perfect character for our main leads to inhabit as they are a part of that same corruption but have enough of a heart to shine a light on it. It’s really beautifully presented.

The Cinematography – Philippe Rousselot does a great job presenting very tightly paced scenes that give tension to even conversations between characters as everyone feels confined, even when they are running. This helps raise the tension which compliments the action.

The Action – The action is fantastic! There are quite a few gun fights and fist fights and each of the fight has stakes. Even Crowe’s Jackson who is an enforcer has a hard time sometimes which shows how strong the government agents are. It isn’t easy for these guys even when they are in their element.

The Writing – The writing is fast, witty and funny and presents the absurdity of our characters’ lives and situations. This is really what makes the story so fun as like “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” we are waiting to see if the characters will win despite their own flaws and everything else and this film presents that beautifully.

The Comedy – The comedy is solid and due to the absurdist nature of so much of what is going on we have jokes that are created out of the strange situations are characters find themselves in and how broken and absurd their lives are.

Holland – Gosling plays this P.I. scumbag who comes around in the end. His core question is “Am I a good guy?” Which his daughter answers with a resounding “no” at the beginning, but by the end he proves he is capable of it. A lot of the empathy for the character comes from Gosling’s strong performance as he’s an overall despicable person through most of the film.

Jackson – Crowe is the enforcer with a heart of gold as we find that his best moment was standing up and protecting people and throughout the film he is given the choice to kill or save and dealing with his core nature of being good or bad as well. Crowe is hilarious in how genuine he is in everything, even though he is a hardened killer.

Holly – Holly is the heart of the film as she is the one who inspires Jackson and Holland to be good. She also helps solve the case too as she is one of the few who knows what is going on a lot of the time or happens to be in the right place at the wrong time.

Okay: Amelia and her Activist Group – We gets bits and pieces about what they are fighting for but we never know the full corruption of what the Car Industry and Government were doing and most of the characters, including Amelia die until we can ever get to know them.

The Cons: The Villains – There aren’t really any good villains. The Doctor is interesting in that he seems to be a serial killer but they never really go into that and Amelia’s mother is just an unknown factor as are her agents. The Porn Enforcers are just sleezbags so at the end of the day the villains really bring the film down. None of them stand out on why they are fighting for what they are fighting for.

   What really brings this film down in the end is we don’t really get to know or come to care about Amelia. We know she is an activist and her bringing down the corrupt relationship between the Government and Car Industry is cool but we never get to know her as a person or get more about her relationship to her mother, who is the big bad. This film is seriously worth checking out though! This is Shane Black in his element and Crowe and Gosling have hilarious chemistry that really carries the film as each of their dysfunctions brings humanity to them. Check this film out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time – A Gonzo Type Adventure Brawler Through Time

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   “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time” is the most bizarre side scroller game I’ve beat since the “Metal Slug” series. Like the TMNT Franchise there are enemies that are all over the map in themes and the fact that the turtles are fighting them through time makes it even more crazy. Suffice to say I enjoyed this a lot. This is my first time playing the Arcade version all the way through and I’m glad I got to do so with a friend.

     The story is insane as it involves Shredder stealing the Statue of Liberty (really) and when the Turtles try to stop him he sends them back in time to face his minions through time and space.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is insane and gonzo and very much captures the world of TMNT which came around out of a satire of Frank Miller and American comics obsession with Ninjas and Samurai. The 80’s show almost satires that and this is that same world with some sadly annoying 90’s “Cool Kids” vibes. The Turtles are the most annoying part of this game…but their villains are fantastic and even the Turtles have some redeeming aspects.

The World – The world is amazing! You fight in “Modern” times (90’s in the game), ancient times, the old west, the future and eventually Krang twice…each level is unique and the style of gameplay for each level even varies. You can also fall and die, which reminded me of Battletoads. This game was challenging at times because of how the world was designed.

The Levels – The levels are unique and a lot of fun and the Bosses give a level of flavor to each level that “X-Men” never did. Where that game most areas were copies of one another with harder bosses, this one changed setting and how you had to fight…you would fly on skateboards in the future to fighting on a train in the old west. They put effort into making each level mean something.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is great. I’m a Donatello player as I like range fighting and he’s my favorite of the Turtles and you have a bunch of ways to fight enemies so you don’t get flanked as easily as you get flanked in “X-Men.” Gameplay this is superior though “X-Men” has more friends who can play.

The Bosses – The bosses are fantastic! Baxter Stockman is the first fight and Fly Guy is a tough fight so when you beat him it is rewarding. Tokka and Rahzar were great from the “TMNT2: Secret of the Ooze” and the and the comics were great too and took a while to beat, as was Leatherhead and Krang. Krang you fight in 2 forms and Shredder has a one hit kill that will end one of our lives. So the bosses in this are overall great.

Okay/Pro: The Turtles – Annoying puns (and I like puns) and 90’s “cool” isn’t my thing. I liked the Turtles in their first film and the more 2000’s Turtles since they had distinct personalities and hadn’t been Michael Bayed.  I should check out the current 3D Turtles too, even if just for curiosity’s sake.

The Venue – The venue has some games that steals quarters and the bar isn’t open until 5pm and and is cash only…so those were all cons against it. Being there with 2 of my friends and beating a game there and the fact that they have 2 levels of games are a plus. Come here if in Portland, but seriously check out Salem’s “Coin Jam” if you can.

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The Ending – They get the Statue of Liberty back and credits roll. It was more rewarding than playing it over again with “X-Men.” Given how long my friend and I were playing this was great and the story actually ended.

The Cons: The Chapter Titles – Horrible puns and I like doing puns. This game made me understand why my partner and some other friends hate puns. One can only take so much if they aren’t good….

    This was an awesome experience and I’d say that the TMNT games on the SNES are just as good. This was so much fun to play through with a friend who like a brother. TMNT was gonzo level fun with a level of randomness to the levels and humor given that Shredder stole the Statue of Liberty just to laugh at the Turtles. They clearly had fun making this game so if you have up to 4 friends, check this game out where you can.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

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X-Men (1992 Arcade Game) – A Solid Brawler in the X-Men Universe

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   There is something wonderful about arcades, especially arcade games you can do co-op with friends. For some of my time this week when 2 friends came down to visit my partner and myself that was the experience. There were Barcades we vsisited. The Coin Jam, which if you are ever in Salem I highly recommend and Ground Kontrol. I’ll talk more about Ground Kontrol in the next review, suffice to say though, if you are ever in Salem, Oregon check out the Coin Jam. It was here the 4 of us beat X-Men Arcade.

          “X-Men” was created in 1992 by Konami and is a Brawler/Beat-emup style game that up to 6 people can play.

      The plot involves Cyclops, Storm, Dazzler, Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler working to save Professor X and to stop Magneto.

The Pros: The Venue – The Coin Jam is a great venue. The food is affordable grill food, they host tournaments and have a huge selection of games and a decent selection of beer. This improves the experience with friends everytime.

The World –  The world of X-Men is great and we get to go to Asteriod M, where Magneto’s headquarters are in this game. I would have liked to see more of the world but we get to meet Sentinels, Reavers and mutant crocodiles which add nice flavor to the world.

The Characters – The characters are great! We got the X-Men against the Brotherhood which is classic X-Men. Some of the bosses are actually difficult too, reflecting how hard they are to defeat in the comics.

Okay/Pro: The Bosses – Back when I wasn’t playing with friends to win Blob and Nimrod were the ones who would always wreck my partner and I when we played the game, with 3-4 people though the most difficult bosses were Nimrod and Juggernaut. Mystique appears and sets all the past bosses on you but she’s nothing compared to the final fight and is largely a multi-mini boss fight. I would have liked to see her shape-shift in the battle beyond just pretending to be Magneto giving a fake-out before the last battle with Magneto himself.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is solid. Each of the mutant powers are unique and though there aren’t any good ways to cancel out getting overwhelmed beyond more people playing, the mutant powers are really cool and can be quite deadly against bosses and enemies. Juggernaut and Nimrod are one of the few who had to hit a lot by the mutant powers to be taken down.

Okay: The Enemies – The basic enemies that aren’t bosses are okay. They aren’t super creative but I like that we fought Sentinels and their boss Nimrod and some of the creatures later one have some neat designs they just aren’t great.

The Ending – The war continues and it does set up the show as it is meant too…which was bad. A videogame should have a good ending. You pour all your time and money into something (like any story be it book, film, show or game) and that should be rewarded…and doing it over again isn’t a reward, that’s Pac-Man level creativity.

    I beat this game a long time ago in Elementary school with my brother and second cousin. Ii was one of the first games I ever won and game me fond memories of San Francisco given how young I was. Coin Jam is one of my favorite arcades I have ever been too and for a game that you can play co-op with friends at an arcade, “X-Men” is a solid game to catch out if you are ever there. The only real criticisms is Magneto’s plans are never really clear or fleshed out and the ending isn’t anything special, it feels unfinished and after you just start the game over…for all the quarters machines like this take I expected better for sure. The characters, gameplay and world of the X-Men are great though and the fact that it is at the amazing Coin Jam is all the more reason to check it out.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

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Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A Masterpiece of Animation With an Unforgettable Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

  “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my favorite movie of the year. Whether it was hold that place remains to be seen but thus far, it is the most perfect film I have watched this year. Not only is the stop-motion animation and soundtrack amazing but the story and characters kept me involved through the entire story, and the story starts out slow to let know become familiar with the world. You should see this film, I want more films like this to be made and it needs all the support it can get, given it is only Laika studios that is keeping this form of art alive.

   The film was directed by Travis Knight, who was also one of the producers, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler with the other producer being Marc Haimes.

    The story involves Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose eye was stolen by his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and must not go out at night unless his grandfather finds him and takes his other eye. During the village’s festival he stays out too late and finds himself hunted by his two Aunts (Rooney Mara) who have come to take his other eye at his Grandfather’s behest. He must collect his father’s armor, sword and helmet in order to stop the Moon King and is helped by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a former samurai turned into Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) along the way.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and full of amazing monsters! From a Garden of Eyes, Witches and Gods to a Ten Foot Skeleton…this is a world that is lived in and all the powerful for it as it embraces Japanese mythology while creating a mythology all it’s own.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, Dario Marianelli manages to create a soundtrack infused with magic that is full of power in depth, where you feel each loss and the power behind each action or fight.

The Writing – Marc Haimes and Chris Butler did a fantastic job on the writing! There is powerful drama and humor that gives it a balance that doesn’t really exist in “Deadpool”(which is a favorite film). It is their mixture of humor and drama mixed with a powerful message and characters are what made it my favorite film this year thus far.

 The Animation – “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my first Laika film. Suffice to say after this I plan on watching the rest of the films they’ve made. Stop-motion animation is a lost art that they keep alive and continue to improve upon.

The Characters – The characters are extremely memorable! Each of them is an archetype to some degree, but also manage to get beyond those archetypes in how they are written. They have humanity and flaws and it makes them worth rooting for or makes them feel threatening.

Hosato – George Takei plays one of the people in the village who takes care of his daughter who is Kubo’s biggest fan. He’s a nice solid presence in the film and in a way reminds Kubo of the fact that he believes his father to be dead at the beginning of the story and his mom is only lucidly present of him…

Kameyo – Kameyo is the older woman who is a beggar in town and the soul of the town. She is a mother figure to Kubo a bit as she is one who looks out for him and helps him with his storytelling. Brenda Vaccaro is fantastic.

The Sisters – The Sisters, who are Kubo’s Aunts are amazing! Rooney Mara gives a haunting performance as these two mask wearing witches who are so powerful that they kill both Kubo’s mother and father. They are one of the best animated threats I’ve ever seen.

Beetle/Hanzo – McConaughey is wonderful in the role of Beetle, who we learn was turned into a Beetle by the Sisters and the Moon King to punish him for leading their sister out of immortality. He has a lot of humor to him and isn’t very bright but his heart is in the right spot and he has great humor. His death is powerful too as he risks his life to protect Monkey/his wife Sariatu.

Monkey/Sariatu – Theron plays my favorite character in the film. Monkey and her Sisters are the best parts of the film. In Monkey we get the strength of her personality and her love for her son and husband while as Sariatu she is a traumatized shell destroyed by her family being cared for by her son. The dichotomy is powerful and gives her humanity and depth. She was a God and gave it up to protect Hanzo from her family…She is the best part of this film.

Kubo – Kubo is a great protagonist who feels very much like Link a Zelda game but has so much more depth and layers to him as we see him finally allowed to be a kid after he leaves the village and is collecting his father’s sword and armor. Before that he is forced to be an adult caring for his mother and making money for food. He had no childhood until his life was at risk and seeing how they explore it is something you have to see for yourself.

Facing Loss – He loses both his mother and father twice, both times as they protect him and in the story we see him face that loss and remember the memories as well as honoring them with the lantern ceremony the village does as who they both are live on in him. The missing of another never goes away, but those we lose become a part of us like the strings on Kubo’s instrument.

The Power of Story – Story is a major theme as the Grandfather is trying to force his story upon his Grandson and make him like him, the village story of his Father’s past is never finished until he becomes a literal part of it when myth (his grandfather the Moon and his Aunts) hunt him and the stories of the dead are interwoven through the film. The self and it’s connection to story is powerful…how a story can change or be erased is captured in the story of his family as at different points they lose their story.

The Hero’s Journey – Kubo’s Hero’s journey is powerful as he discovers connections only to lose them and has to adapt to change all around him. From his mother becoming Monkey, his father being a live and Beetle…to losing them both and in the end having to care for his Grandfather who loses his memory as well. Even as he discovers joy and childhood circumstances force him to lose it and from it find himself.

Okay/Pro: Raiden the Moon King – Raiden has great minions in his daughters and I liked the fact that he is like a sympathetic old man until he turns into a monster…in the story it is left open too if he ascended to Godhood and was once human or was forced into humanity by Kubo…there is so much possibility in this character that I can’t just put him as okay as he is interesting in what they do with him.

    Minus the fact that Raiden is a bit underdeveloped (though still interesting)…this is  a film that I can’t really find any faults with. Kubo doesn’t really get his happy ending, his parents are dead and he has to face it. This is a film that is well worth your time and you should really see it if you have the chance. Give strength to these stories that don’t exist as franchises and are timeless and powerful. This is the best film of the year I have seen thus far and is well worth your time, it is in the timeless stories that we are reminded of our own and this story does it with unforgettable power and beauty.

Final Score: 10 / 10. First perfect film of the year.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): An Amazing Celebration of Magic, Childhood and Madness

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“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is a well deserved for a reason. I completely understand that when I did poll on which film to honor Gene Wilder should be reviewed that this was the one that won out. This film that really displays how brilliant, talented and creative Gene Wilder could be and why the world lost on of our greats. I can’t wait to continue going through his filmography and learning more about the history of this fascinating and talented man.

     The film was directed by Mel Stuart, written by Roald Dahl (who also wrote the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the film is based on) with help from David Seltzer and produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper.

         The story involves Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finding a golden ticket and winning entrance into the magical Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) with four other children. Things are not as they appear though, as both Wonka and the factory are full of unpredictability and danger.

The Pros: The World – The world is one full of magic that is close to ours but manages to satire ours through exaggeration. It is imagination and possibility and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all.

The Writing – Dahl’s writing is brilliant. He is one of my favorite authors and he did a great job making this screenplay. He knew his characters and how to adapt them and his world screen as he worked within the limitations given and in the process created a rich story full of drama and humor.

Snapshots of Humor – A psychologist trying to use a person’s delusions to find a golden ticket, a dictator in Paraguay, the homes of each of our children that aren’t Charlie…each of these is a snapshot of some sort of corruption that in using the golden ticket as the focal point provide a wonderful satire of the different forms of corruption.

The Comedy – The comedy is brilliant! Dahl’s dry humor and satire combined with Wilder’s wit, sarcasm and energy made this film most memorable as both a drama and a comedy.

The Oompa-Loompas – The Oompa-Loompas are refugees who work at the factory. They are fascinating as we see those who lost everything teach those who materially have everything. These guys are brilliant and I really like their songs and designs. The orange face and stark colors live in the popular culture now on what an Oompa-Loompa is.

Willy Wonka – Gene Wilder owns this role. Wonka is a man who you never know if he’s telling the truth or not. He comes in limping and after walks fine, and this was done by Wilder himself to make the audience question everything Wonka does. Wonka than proceeds to let peoples’ vices destroy themselves and he doesn’t care at all except to mock. This is a man who sees himself above it all and is living in his world of madness and imagination…yet he has a good heart, he rewards Charlie for doing the right thing and it is in his relationship to Charlie we see the compassionate core underneath the lies, sarcasm and trickery. He is easily one of my favorite characters in fiction and Wilder made the character larger than life and the best part of this film.

The Take on Vices – Each of the 4 kids are different vices. Violet is spite, Mike is anger, Veruca is greed and Augustus is gluttony. At different points Charlie experiences each vice but grows beyond them by choosing compassion and courage in the end, something they all lacked and each them is destroyed by their vice in turn in the Karmatic place of the Chocolate Factory.

The Good and the Bad in People and Children – Children are celebrated in this, but they aren’t idealized. 4 of the kids are little monsters and even Charlie can be a brat sometimes. Dahl was honest about what it means to be a child and it is in this work we see how they grow and that actions have consequences that will hopefully help the kids stuck in a bad place in their actions, to grow up.

Celebrating Creativity and Invention – The core of the story is a celebration of madness and creativity. Wonka’s world is pure imagination and what he is seeking is an heir with that same madness who can see the bigger picture.

Okay/Pro: The Music – The music is memorable and good but not great. I’d never seek out this music to listen to it on my own…it works for the film though with “Pure Imagination” being the best and most memorable song in the soundtrack.

Charlie – Charlie is flawed and it makes him human. All the other children and their parents are terrible, while Charlie in looking out for his family can become like the other kids too. Charlie is greedy or angry sometimes and that’s okay. It makes the good choices he makes all the better.

Grandpa Joe – I liked Grandpa Joe but since we never learn why he became bedridden it takes away from part of what drives him to get out of bed. I like how he is a mentor and father figure to Charlie though and that he calls out Wonka for not giving them the prize at the end as promised. He’s a stand up guy.

The Other Kids and Their Parents – The other kids are alright. Augustus is forgettable as his mother but the Teevee’s have an energy about them and the Salt’s are great representations of greed, while Violet and her huckster father are entertaining in their own way. I’m not putting them as a pro though since they aren’t complex. They are interesting but lack major complexity.

Okay: Pacing – The pacing is a little all over the place at times, with the scene where Charlie and Granpa Joe take the Fizz drink as the best example. Wonka and the group just go away when before every mistake that the kids make is recognized by the group as Wonka shames their for their vice. This is the only time where he holds off on shaming until after the tour is completed.

The Cons: Certain Songs – Certain songs go on a little too long or mess with the tone a little bit. “Cheer up Charlie” definitely goes on too long as does Veruca’s song. This is made up for the fact that musical isn’t terrible but I’d only describe music as memorable and good, but not great.

     There was so much that worked in this film and managed to push it up from good to great. The greatest credit goes to Wilder with his chaotic take on Wonka whose performance was full of anger, empathy, compassion and madness. There is a reason the film is called “Willy Wonka & and the Chocolate Factory” and not Charlie. Charlie maybe the main character but the action and drama all relates to the antics and choices that Wonka makes and the gambit he puts into play to find his heir.I can’t wait to read Dahl’s original book. Dahl having power over turning his book into film was masterfully done by the studio and with Wilder’s performance and Stuart’s direction a masterpiece of art that celebrates the very nature of art and creativity was born. The three men have all passed on now but their vision, their metaphorical Chocolate Factory lives on in the lives they touched and the art they created. R.I.P. Stuart, Dahl and so recently now…Wilder. To remembering the dreamers and the dreams they made.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 1 – An Amazing Space Fantasy Full of Humor and Drama

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   “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” is one of the best animated shows I have seen. It is one of those like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” that manages to have both innocent humor and a deeper message beyond the simple fantasy that the story entails. There is philosophy worth exploring in this story and it makes me want to see the original (Beast King GoLion and Voltron: Defender of the Universe) that inspired this new take on it.

    The series is a Korean-American animated show that was produced by Dreamworks with Netflix.

    The premise involves our main characters discovering the Lions that are made to form Voltron and the Castle where Princess Allura and Coran have in hibernation. Their leader is Shiro who escaped from the Galra Empire as together the five soldiers create Voltron to liberate the Galaxy from the evil Galra Empire.

This review contains SPOILERS, so be warned.

The Pros: The World – The world it takes place in is wonderful! The Galra Empire has created civilizations of refugees (Coran and Princess Allura) and even those who aren’t refugees are civilizations that are caught in the crossfire or enslaved to their power. This gives a powerful reason for Voltron that the story uses to full degree.

The Soundtrack – Brad Breeck created an amazing electronic 80′ style soundtrack that is able to capture tension and the wonder of Voltron magically. I seriously can’t wait to play games to this soundtrack.

The Animation – Studio Mir did an amazing job on their animation! It reminds me of old 80’s anime mixed with the much clearer colors and lines of modern anime making it very much something that has no comparison.

The Comedy – The comedy is innocent and wonderful…Hunk is used for comedic relief but there is also great stuff done with Coran’s larger than life personality and the rivalry between Keith and Lance.

The Civilizations – The civilizations are great! They have unique ways of speaking and looks and history that you really have to see for yourself. They aren’t just aliens of the week, they are people in their own right.

The Characters –  The characters are the strongest part, they are simple archetypes given depth and made memorable in the process.

Commander Sendak – Sendak is one of the greatest commanders of Emperor Zarkon and we see why when he nearly captures the Castle and manages to drive Shiro into a trauma filled rage. What happened to him is still up in the air but I’d like to see him again. His robotic arm is pretty amazing too and I like his bat-like design.

Coran – Coran is the comedic relief for a lot of it but we see that he is a good mentor too as he helps the soldiers grow up and we see that what keeps him going is his love for Allura and following her and guiding the main crew. He is a character who in lesser hands would have only remained comedic relief but rose beyond it.

Princess Allura – Allura is amazing! She is a healer (she heals an entire planet) a warrior (She rescues Shiro) and a well rounded character who mourns her family and her father but has to let them go in order to save them all. She is probably my favorite character in this series. She is an amazing space elf (look at her design and her place within this universe, her and her people are space elves).

Witch Haggar – Haggar is a better vilain than Zarkon…her creatures cause the most damage on planets and she is the one who destroys Allura’s wormhole that leads to the crew getting separated at the end of the season.

Emperor Zarkon – Zarkon was once the Black Paladin (Shiro’s role) which makes sense why he wants to claim Voltron. This fact alone gives him so much depth, he is Sargeras, Morgoth and every other fallen Paladin in fiction and he’s been winning for a while. At this point our heroes have only liberated 2 world and injured his capital. He’s fine and a great threat for future seasons.

Pidge – Pidge lost her father in the war against the Galra (he was captured) and her story is a girl going undercover to become a soldier to find and rescue her dad. She is amazing and it the tech and hacker whose arc is realizing that others have lost their dad’s too and dedicating herself fully to the Paladin Cause.

Hunk – Hunk is the comedic relief who is a coward until he discovers why they fight when helps liberate a world, from here we seee him become a leader and find his confidence. He is still the Bolan/Sokka of the group but he grows up.

Lance – Lance is the guy who thinks he is everything and his arc is being knocked down pegs and finding humility. He was explored the least this season, so I’m curious where his arc goes. What arc he does have is getting over his hatred of Keith.

Keith – Keith is amazing! He takes on Emperor Zarkon on his own which gives Shiro time to free Allura and get back into his lion. His arc is getting over his rivalry with Keith and learning when to fight as he is the angriest of the group and always ready to fight.

Shiro – Shiro is the leader whose arc is facing his trauma and helping the rest come to believe in the cause. He is the oldest and has a mech arm from experiments that were done by the Druids. He is pretty amazing and his arc is still going to be taking control of the Galra tech as it has been used against him a few times now.

Voltron – Five multi-colored Lions that care about the Paladins in them and become a giant mecha-Knight. This creature is amazing and I can see why they give time to have the sequence where it is created, cause it is really cool.

Facing Trauma – Another theme is the facing of trauma, whether it is Allura facing the death of her father and people and letting go, Shiro healing from his torture and the crew facing the fact that they are soldiers unprepared for the war. This theme of trauma is faced on a individual and civilizational level.

Justice – The theme of justice is one that pervades the film. Pidge decides to stay rather than look for her dad, Hunk discovers courage and Allura faces the loss of her family…in all cases the need for justice against the Galra Empire helps our characters to grow.

Okay: The Ending – The ending leaves things open for future seasons, which at this point I don’t like as much due to “Firefly.” Unless you know that you are going to get another season don’t have a cliffhanger ending. Assuming that nothing bad will happen and we get a Season 2, I liked the fact that the Lions and crew are now all separated throughout the galaxy.

  This is a show I’d highly recommend. Netflix has been putting out gold and chances are you will see me reviewing many of Netflix shows. This was a show that had solid base and managed to give depth to a simple premise and characters and in the process create a memorable story that I can’t wait to see unfold. Whether you like animated shows or animes or don’t…this is a show that is worth checking out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Voltron Legendary Defender