Niko (Level 8)

Back from recording over three hours of @CineGeek webcasts. Now to get to @MTAC work... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
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(As usual, crossposted from NikoScream. Hopefully my post about AWA this weekend won't be as late.)


Dragon*Con 2009. One of the largest fandom conventions in the country, Dragon*Con takes over four hotels in downtown Atlanta every Labor Day weekend. This year was the 23 year, making the convention as old as I am. This year was my second time going.

Dragon*Con makes experiencing the entire con difficult. It’s really a group of several mini-cons (not like Transformers Armada) with its several programming tracks, some of which having more content on their own than some other complete cons. All of these are spread out among the four convention hotels. If your interests are spread out among several fandom genres, expect some walking.

Registration to such a large con would understandably take a while. Despite reserving a fan table, we still had to go through regular registration. Surprisingly ot much of a problem. Friday morning registration actually wasn’t that bad, getting done under an hour. This is primarily because of the flood of pre-registration attendees on Thursday night for the Friday morning 10 a.m. Shatner/Nimoy panel (William Shatner’s only panel all con). From what I hear, that line wrapped around the hotel registration was in a couple of times. To these individuals, I must thank you for making my registration experience quicker than expected.

Most of my convention time was spent manning the GMX booth ( What is GMX?), even more so than usual, so I don’t really have many events to talk about. Panel-wise, I mostly hovered around the anime and animation tracks, which were a floor below our booth. How to Run a Convention is pretty self-explanatory, and that one, I was on with probably the least experience of the panel.  Animation at War was an informative and entertaining look at the history of animation going into WWII and its use as propaganda, mostly from the US side (a similar panel with Russian emphasis was the night before). Fans and Freaks discusses the con documentary of the same name by Steven and Suzie Lackey (check out their CineGeek site yours truly writes for). This panel was the last in the room for the night, so we stayed after and recorded an episode of the CineGeek podcast.

One especially neat event was the Mad Scientist Ball. Why? Because effing tesla coils. And pie.

What really makes the convention is, of course, thepeople. The awesome people. People like the very cool MomoCon crew, many of which also run the D*C Animation Track. People like Neil Kaplan, voice of Optimus Prime in Transformers: Robots in Disguise (second TF reference in this article), posing with our Optimus standee at the GMX booth. People like local prop god/Apparition Abolishers/Disco Trooper Chris Lee. People like the random visitors and cosplayers that talked to us at the booth and took photos with the GMX Girls. People like whoever controlled the R2-D2 for Thriller dancing alongside the GMX Girls. People like random MTAC/GMX staff I get to hang out and bond with.

People and the random encounters and happenings we do together are what make every convention. While I didn’t go to most of the events I wanted to or see many guests, I had a great time hanging out with people. That’s what matters. That and actually managing driving in downtown Atlanta, my greatest accomplishment of the whole trip.

This piece has taken longer than it should. Oddly enough, it’s not really that long. Dragon*Con is definitely one of those cons that requires a good decompression period afterwards. After thinking about the whole trip, it was fun. Even if you don’t attend most of the con’s events, it can be fun with the right people. Just goes to show that no matter the content, it’s always the social experiences that make the con, the convening that makes the convention. With thousands and thousands of people attending Dragon*Con each year, social experiences are in no short order

 (To find more of my D*C photos, check them out on Facebook.)
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(originally posted at NikoScream)

To start off with full disclosure, I haven’t read the book (or any Harry Potter books). I haven’t even seen the previous movie.  This may give me an advantage as a watcher unbiased by the source material, but should that matter? Does being a fan of the original work hurt or hamper the adaptation viewing experience? That’ll come later. Now, onto the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie.

It was decent. I don’t really have much to say. This is a long movie, over two and a half hours, yet it doesn’t feel particularly long, or that too much is happening to keep track of. Pretty much all the characters were done well in their development, from Harry’s anger to Draco’s nervousness, from Hermione’s jealousy to Ron’s love sickness. The awkwardness of teen romances is well handled, which is good because there’s plenty of it. It seems like even wizards-to-be are not immune to high school relationship drama. The kids of the series are acted out quite nicely.

This movie isn’t perfect though. Its major problem is in the climax. It’s anticlimactic. The subplot of the mysterious Half-Blood Prince is revealed to little to no effect. The final fights are essentially over in a blink of an eye. The important character death at the end hardly has a reaction from the cast aside from a light show. The movie is pretty solid for the most part, but once we get to the Dumbledore/Draco confrontation, it goes down hill.

I did notice something when discussing the film with friends who have read the books. With most superhero films, I’m along with many fans worrying about getting the characters right and sticking with the source material and not screwing with the story too much. Sometimes I forget how it is on the other side of the audience, the side that doesn’t care about the source material.

Adaptations into movies are tricky, even with small and complete source material like the Harry Potter franchise (Yes, it is small compared to the multiple decades of any given comic book franchise). Not only will everything not make it into the film version, but there may be plot changes to better suit the medium. Subplots may be altered or even cut altogether.  This becomes especially tricky when subplots in one part of a multipart franchise become essential to the plot of a later part. The absence of such subplot in an adaptation may lead to outrage to source material fans, claiming it has ruined the future story. The flaw in this thinking? Assuming that the latter plot will go unchanged without any adjustments to fix any gaps because of a missing subplot. It can be difficult to judge the accuracy of an adaptation of a multipart series until the entire series has been adapted.

So what makes a successful adaptation? In my opinion, keeping the characters true to who they are, and keeping the minimum basics of the underlying main plot solid. By character, I don’t mean exact physical details or trivial actions. Otherwise, I’d be complaining up and down that Peter Parker’s eyes are really hazel and not blue. I mean the basic core of the character, the past that forms the character and the way the character would act in any situation that may be adapted or original.

Does this mean fans should give adaptations a break? Depends on if the characters and basic plot hold true. Organic webshooters don’t change much about who Peter Parker is and what he does, yet Superman and Lois having a kid changes the characters’ dynamic and likely kills further franchise development. Making Optimus Prime an extended engine truck with a moving mouth doesn’t keep him from being the awe-inspiring leader of the Autobots, but making Galactus into a cloud kind of kills any actual character Galactus has. Everyone will always have minor bones to pick, but understanding the basics and keeping them intact will lead to the original fans likely enjoying the work. Of course, if the original work sucks anyway, all bets are off.

Back to Harry Potter. From my limited knowledge, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a good adaptation. The characters and the plot feel right and flow well. Thematically, it could have been improved at points (namely the climax and the end), but otherwise, it’s a decent movie and does the original work justice. Criticisms may be well founded and deserved, but really it’s not all done yet anyway. There are still two more movies to go before one can truly judge the actions of this movie doom the plot of the next.

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(Crossposted from NikoScream)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the latest in Michael Bay’s foray into the multi-million-dollar toy commercials that are the Transformers movies. Returning are stars Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky and Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes, as well as Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving reprising their voices as Optimus Prime and Megatron respectively. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is essentially better than 2007’s Transformers. Bay manages to turn everything up a notch, which unfortunately includes some of the weaknesses of the first movie.

This movie takes place two years after the first one. The Autobots have entered into a deal of asylum with the U.S. government and work with it to take down rogue Decepticons. However, the higher ups in the government are a bit weary and suspect of the Autobots, believing them to be the reason for Decepticon attacks. Meanwhile, Sam is off to college and hopefully a normal life. That doesn’t work too well with the information of the All Spark downloaded into his head.

Cue Decepticons hunting him down and Autobots fighting to protect him. Throw in scantily-clad hot girls, slow motion and explosions, stir with a Bad Boys 2 poster and you have a Michael Bay film whether you like it or not.

Probably the best part of the film is the greater concentration on the Transformers. Decepticons other than Megatron actually get real dialog this time. Starscream, who got screwed in the last movie with no real lines or character, is as cowardly yet power hungry as usual, not to mention he actually talks. Soundwave (with his original voice from Frank Welker) forgoes his traditional boom box form for a satellite, yet it actually works for him. While he doesn’t fight himself, Soundwave does launch out Rampage, who does keep true to his jaguar-like form.

As for the Autobots, they’re here in full force as well. Optimus Prime is as awesome as he should be. Probably the top three fights in the movie are his, and he’s good in them. It’s no wonder why he’s the leader of the Autobots when he takes on Megatron, Starscream and other Decepticons all on his own. Not to mention Peter Cullen continues to deliver that iconic and awe-inspiring voice of his.

While Ironhide and Ratchet don’t get as much screen time as in the first movie, we do get introduced to plenty of new Autobots who followed Optimus’ message at the end of movie one. Sideswipe is a new Chevy Corvette Stingray concept, which works for a sleek design in both vehicle and robot modes. Then there’s the Arcee team, a trio of female motorcycle Autobots lead by Arcee. There’s also Jetfire, portrayed as an elderly Transformer with an SR-71 Blackbird jet mode. To ease some worries about Jetfire, while he has a cane that actually is integrated into his transformation, he does use it as a weapon. That’s probably what its real purpose is, while Jetfire uses it as a cane due to malfunctioning legs.

The film also does well to include more aspects of Transformers mythos. Energon exists, as does a certain Matrix of Leadership, oddly lacking finger grips though. We also have the existence of other Primes in the past, showing that the Prime name is a name of leadership.

The plot is fairly cohesive, more so than the first one. There are no real out-of-place subplots, and everything ties into the main story. Still, a good deal of the scenes could have been shorter, as the movie really does not need its two and a half hours of running time.

Going in that direction though, one of the things that should have been cut down is the comic relief. The comedy gets old quick in my opinion. While Sam’s parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) comedic character development and Agent Simmons (John Turturro) wardrobe malfunction is bearable, there are a few more relief characters than necessary.

First we have Leo (Ramón Rodríguez), Sam’s know-it-all college roommate with a penchant for whining and complaining and who just happens to run a conspiracy website featuring robotic aliens (What a coincidence on Sam’s part). He doesn’t feel like he adds anything to the film. However, he one thing well, and that’s making Sam far more likeable in contrast.

Then we have Skids and Mudflap, two annoying Autobot twins. As established in the first movie that the Autobots learn about Earth from the internet, these two must have went to the most ghetto website imaginable. They talk with street-thug accents. Neither is particularly bright. Skids even has gold-and-silver-plated buckteeth. Anyone who found Jazz offensive in the first movie will have a field day with these two. I just found them annoying and hardly redeeming. Heck, even Wheelie is more likeable.

Similar to the first film and despite more focus on Transformers, this film still has too much concentration on the humans. The similarities to a teen romance drama are still strong, especially at Sam’s college with rowdy frat boys and compromising situations with girls who are not Sam’s girlfriend Mikaela. While I wish there is less, it’s still fairly concentrated in just the first half and is left alone as the plot progresses.

The final battle does concentrate more on the human soldiers fighting. However, given that the Transformers get the focus in the several fights spread throughout the movie, and that the soldiers are supposed to be working with the Autobots as equals, it does only seem fair and forgivable.

One final problem the film has is keeping track of Transformers. There are a lot of Decepticons, most of which aren’t distinguishable. It’s sad having to rely on the toys to tell us who’s who. Also, we have the Constructicons, and they do form Devastator, yet there are Constructicons fighting while Devastator fights elsewhere.

Speaking of Devastator, yes he has testicles, and yes that scene is ridiculous and unnecessary.

Overall, it’s a decent movie. The best way to recommend this is if you liked the 2007 Transformers, you’ll love this. It is a better movie. However, if you hated the 2007 film, be it from too much people, too stupid comedy, distaste of designs or just too much Bay-ness, you won’t hate this as much but you still probably won’t like it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and so did some of my more old-school Transformer fan friends, so you might too.

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(Crossposted from NikoScream)

Admittedly, I didn’t care for Tomica Hero Rescue Force when it first started in 2008. I watched the promo video and the first episode and was done. The rescue team theme seemed too gimmicky, and the show seemed to hammer us with promoting the toys (more so than usual). So why did I watch the 2008 Rescue Force movie? Combination of continual praises I’ve heard and a guest role by Hiroshi Fujioka (the original Kamen Rider 1). And how did that go?

Well, I may have to give the series another try.

The movie really has two parts. There’s the main movie, Tomica Hero Rescue Force Explosive Movie: Rescue the Mach Train!, and before that, there’s the comedic 15-minute bit Explosive Run! Tomica Hero Grand Prix. The Rescue Force team competes in a race sanctioned by the United Fire-Defense Force to see who’s the fastest. Along the way, Neo Terror (or Thera. I’ve seen it either way) butts in and joins the race. It’s not quite as wacky as Wacky Races, but it made me chuckle a bit.

Rescue the Mach Train! is about the Rescue Force’s efforts to stop a hijacked global train from colliding at the end of its line, causing a massive explosion in a major town that could kill millions, including those on the train. Along the way, there’s plenty of action as Rescue Force battles Neo Terror minions who try to stop them.

The plot is fairly captivating. While the danger could be enough for the feature film, a couple of Rescue Force team members and a new friend getting caught up in make it somewhat personal for the team and increases the suspense. Neo Terror also sends plenty of opposition along the way, giving Rescue Force a good fight or two. Well, not so much Rescue Force as much as just R1 and R2.

Rei and Juri, R3 and R4 respectively, are two victims of circumstance in this film, and that unfortunately sidelines them from major action. I find it odd that the two female members miss out on all the action other than evacuating civilians and tending wounds. I don’t know if it’s like this in the series, R3 and R4 operating more in a support role to the male R1 and R2, or if R1 and R2 are supposed to fulfill a more combative role, but it just seemed kind of off balance. Especially considering R3 beat all of them in a sparring match at the beginning. Both R3 and R4 seem capable of action. Maybe they just got the short straw this time and I’m just reading too much into it.

Hikaru and Kyousuke, R1 and R2 respectively, handle most of the fighting and foot work, with a little help from R5/team captain Eiji Ishiguro and the new R0. They range from fighting to vehicle driving to train jumping, and all together, they seem pretty up to the challenge.

The new toys, I mean tools, are out in full force. The movie introduces us to the Rescue Diver, which seems to be a flying drill tank (instead of some aquatic vehicle that actually, oh I don’t know, dives). The Rescue Diver combines with Rescue Striker for not one, but two new forms. There’s also the debut of the Zero Fire, R0’s Rescue Vehicle carrier, coming with its own set of Rescue Riser, Shovel, Drill, Turbo and Dozer. R0 also has his own personal Core Striker Fire and new weapon Rescue Zamber, which changes forms between a javelin and a pick ax. Confused? Like I said, Rescue Force is a big toy commercial, which isn’t new. However, it feels like it’s overloading its audience with too many new toys.

And of course, we have the movie’s true star: Hiroshi Fujioka, better known as Kamen Rider 1. In this, however, he’s R0, a previously unknown member of Rescue Force. Might as well be Kamen Rider 1 given how much he shows up the Rescue Force team. He even refers to them as “youngsters.” When out of his R0 gear, Fujioka dresses in style by sporting a nice black suit and hat.

There’s a small subplot with a girl named Miyuki who wants to be a dancer. By small, I mean she’s just there to fill the role of the innocent needing not only help but also inspiration from the heroes to pursue her dream. She’s also a good reason for the dance number at the beginning and end.

To wrap it up, Rescue the Mach Train! is a decent movie. Its strengths come from a suspenseful danger, plenty of action and a well-done new character with Hiroshi Fujioka. Its shortcomings mostly come from shortchanging its female Rescue Force team members and saturating itself with new toys. Even if you never got into the series, you may enjoy the movie. Add to that the amusing Grand Prix short. With both parts together clocking in at just under an hour and 20 minutes, it’s worth your time to check it out.

Little side note: Some characters from Madan Senki Ryukendo make cameo appearances. I’ve only seen one episode of Ryukendo, but if you’ve seen the series and enjoyed it, keep your eyes open.

Liked the review? If so, please digg. If not, please respond with constructive feedback.

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(Crossposted from NikoScream, where there are more pics. Please Digg)

The latest Super Sentai Vs. special, Engine Sentai Go-Onger VS Gekiranger (2009) teams up the 31st sentai series JyuKen Sentai Gekiranger with the then-current 32nd series Go-Onger. Released as Go-Onger was wrapping up its run, the Go-Onger team meets the Gekirangers and join together to fight the combined efforts of the Gaiark Pollution Ministers and a RinJyuKen scientist trying to steal the sealed Long from Jan (GekiRed).

The special opens with GekiRed fighting off a Nunchaku Banki that knows Rin Jyu-ken (Bankis are the monsters of the week in Go-Onger, while RinJyuKen is the antagonist martial art form in Gekiranger). Then GekiBlue and GekiYellow show up to help. Right as the Go-Ongers arrive on the scene to fight the Banki, the three Gekirangers and the Banki are rushed away to another dimension. GekiViolet and GekiChopper then show up for classic/cliched mistaken identity. After introductions and help from Master Shafu, the Go-Ongers and GekiViolet and GekiChopper go to the other dimension and fight along side the Gekirangers. Finally, cue opening credits about nine minutes into the video.

It’s a nice little team up. The silliness of the Go-Onger team, a factor some found annoying in the series, isn’t obnoxious here, and the Gekirangers play off it well. GekiRed’s made-up language actually allows him to communicate with the Engines’ own silly and random words.

For those who don’t really care for the Engines, don’t let them keep you away from this. They’re really not in this much (a plot point, actually). Plus, when they get into the mechs, they almost immediately go into Engine-Oh formation, so not much weird eye movements from them. If you really hate them, however, there may be some scenes you don’t like, but come on. All Super Sentai has some silliness. This special has a good balance of it and action and plot.

Speaking of which, the plot works for what it is, as a chance to bring together the two teams to fight an enemy they couldn’t defeat alone.  The main problem is it doesn’t seem like the Gekirangers really try their hardest or that they couldn’t win on their own. With the exclusion of the Super Geki forms and Geki Fire, the Gekirangers are almost taking it easy, possibly because the Go-Ongers and Go-On Wings are there to pick up the slack with their unnecessarily humongous Engine-Oh G12.

If we have to pick which series is more important and featured in the plot, it’s honestly Gekiranger. We pick up where the series left off with GekiRed guarding the sealed Long and returning from the traveling he sets out on at the end of Gekiranger, and the plot continues points established from there. The principle enemies are from Gekiranger, as the threePollution Ministers’ involvement is all but gone by the final fight. The Go-Ongers are important too and have plenty of plot development in the special, but it feels it more heavily favors the Gekirangers. Being the Gekiranger fan that I am, I’m fine with that.

There are attempts to tie the two series together. Hanto (Go-On Green) used to work at the Kyoryuya Curry Shop from Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger, of which Miki from Gekiranger used to be a regular customer (as well was Morio Makino from GoGo Sentai Boukenger as we found out in the last VS special). Also, because they have to be so perfect, the Go-On Wings trained in GekiJyuKen when they were young.

Unfortunately, as with most VS specials, this doesn’t impact Go-Onger whatsoever. Therefore, the Go-On Wings’ knowledge of GekiJyuKen and what the Go-Ongers learn go out the window at the end of the special.

All in all, this is a fun team up. Both teams work well together. It’s great to see the Gekirangers and their friends and foes again. While the Go-Onger series didn’t grab my attention for the whole thing, they were entertaining in here. If you like either of the teams, especially Gekiranger, then give this a watch.

And after the special, there’s a couple of Go-Onger musical numbers from a summer ‘08 live show to enjoy. If you don’t like the Go-Onger music, stop at the “The End” credit. Otherwise, it’s a decent extra to a fairly decent team up.

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