Given how I’m spending the weekend at Katsucon, and how discounting Akira, I haven’t reviews an anime series since this time last year, I figure I’m overdue for one. Luckily, one of the shows I’ve been watching just aired the series finale on Toonami last night, so I imagine today is a good day to look back and review what may be one of the most interesting anime series’ I’ve watched in a good while – and I mean that in both good and bad ways. This, my dear reader, is Sword Art Online.
Sword Art Online is based on a series of light novels, and prior to its port to Toonami, already had quite a meager media and merchandising empire in Japan, and given the utter amount of Sword Art Online merchandise and cosplayers I’ve seen at Katsucon, I’d wager it’s already made something of a splash here on our side of the pond as well. Is it worth all the hype though, or even worth watching though? Read on and find out my dear readers!
In the near future, where virtual reality is commonplace, and the most hotly anticipated virtual MMORPG, Sword Art Online, has just launched with over 100,000 people logging in to test their digital mettle against the best virtual reality has to offer. Unfortunately, the players get far more than they bargained for when they find they cannot logout – the game’s creator Akihiko Kayaba, in a mad desire to lord over his creation, has trapped them within the game until the last level is cleared and the final boss is defeated. Worse yet, the game’s ‘no respawn’ point takes on a whole new meaning as now if you die in the game, you die in the real world as well. With no way out, the world of the game and the quest to escape it consumes the players completely, as the quest to beat the game quickly morphs into just one of surviving another day.
All of this is largely viewed from the perspective of the main protagonist, Kirito, a hardcore gamer who serves as the main window into the world of the game itself for the viewer, as we watch both him and the developing virtual society around them evolve. Watching him interact with the various other players trapped in the game, the niches they’ve carved for themselves, the sociological and psychological exploration of all these people trapped in virtual reality changing as time goes on is one of the biggest draws to the first half of the series.
As the arc goes on, I actually finding myself wishing it would add some filler, or take more time to develop it – the set up for the first half of the show is fantastic, and it really leaves you wishing they’d used the other half of the series to explore it further.
Of course, a major part of that is – SPOILERS – they switch gears in the middle of the series when they beat Sword Art Online in a sudden twist, and the remainder of the show follows an adventure through a different virtual MMORPG, Alfheim Online, which as opposed to the life or death struggle of Sword Art Online, centers on either trying to rescue the love interest from the second villain – more on that in a moment – or a slightly jarring incestuous love triangle that comes out of nowhere, and thankfully, goes nowhere.
With yet another snow storm ready to blanket the Eastern seaboard with yet another blizzard, I can imagine more than a few of you are sick of snow. While granted, I am an exception – I live and breathe for the cold – I can certainly sympathize, yet I would ask those worn thin with winter to try to look on the bright side. Among other things, its perfect soup weather, and I have the perfect soup to recommend to warm your bones and stick to your ribs: the Original Soup Man.
For the uninitiated, The Original Soup Man brand may be offering some of the best soup available on store shelves. It began as a New York City restaurant opened by immigrant soup chef Al Yehaneh in 1984 quickly became a New York City landmark known for two things: the strict rules of its crabby restaurateur, and a bowl of soup so good it would change your life. Needless to say, the latter must have been more powerful than the former, because it had people lining up around the blocks every day of the week.
While the names Al Yeganeh or Original Soup Man might not be known too widely outside of New York City, I guarantee more than a few score of you know of it already by ways of the Seinfeld episode they inspired, the “Soup Nazi”, the plot of which revolved around a no-nonsense restaurant owner that offered life-alteringly good soup. Originally livid about the representation – Yeganeh was so furious he demanded an in-person apology from Jerry Seinfeld, whom evidently giving an insincere one, was soon after banned from the establishment – Yeganeh then smartly decided to market that infamy, and launched both an Original Soup Man restaurant chain and an in-store brand of his soups, both of which have been expanding ever since.
While the soup may not have been good enough for Jerry Seinfeld, plenty of other people have proven willing to sing the praises of the Original Soup Man. Endorsed by celebrities from NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal to former Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander, and most recently getting coverage during the Super Bowl. Critics have been singing Original Soup Man’s praises for years, including Zagat, and Consumer Reports calling the brand’s Chicken Vegetable Soup “the best Chicken Soup in America”.
As a gamer, I am a long-time fan of the work of Sid Meier, and especially of his Civilization series, to which I have lost hours of my life beyond measure in global conquest schemes that would make your typical tyrant blush. So needless to say, a recent offering by the fine folks at Humble Bundle caught my eye.
For those who are unaware, Humble Bundle is a series of special offers made from various sources, including authors, game developers, and musicians where they offer a selection of different packages of their collective works, offer them at steeply discounted rates that are chosen by the buyer, and the profits are often split between the bundler and a charity of their choosing.
In this case, we have the Humble Sid Meier Bundle, which as far as I can tell, offers every game Sid Meier has slapped his name on after Alpha Centauri. If you donate only a cent, you will get the complete edition of Civilization III and Civilization IV, both of which are classic strategy games, 2013 tactical dogfighting game Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol, follow-up Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies, and 2006 business sim Sid Meier’s Railroads. If you donate more than whatever the average donation price is – as we speak, it’s around six dollars – you’ll get Civilization V as well as its Gods and Kings DLC, the former of which was the first video game I reviewed on the site back in 2010, and still one of the best, the latter its brilliant expansion pack. Better still, if you donate more than $15, you will get Civilization V: Brave New World, last year’s DLC pack that added some facets and factions to the game that all but made the game an absolute must-own. All with the soundtracks from the incredible Civilization games thrown in for free.
You know what’s great? Lego. Like a good number of you I’d wager, I have many cherished childhood memories of spending many ours constructing or deconstructing the iconic Danish construction toys, spending many happy hours ranging from turning my bedroom floor into a web of undersea bases from the then-in-vogue Aquazone Lego sets, to several less happy hours of my parents yelling at me for having just stepped on a wayward piece.
You know what’s not so great? Movies based off of toy brands. With few exceptions, these are almost always the textbook definition of bottom of the barrel film-making, and unfortunately, thanks to Michael Bay’s heinous Transformers movies making a mint, there have been an increasing number of attempts by Hollywood to cash in on it, most infamously with Battleship, an experience in cinematic torture that remains one of the worst films I’ve officially reviewed.
So what do you get when you put them together? The LEGO Movie, which admittedly does raise a few eyebrows for all the wrong reasons, and like many others, I was initially fast to write this one-off as another movie-length toy commercial, or at least until I saw the actual commercials for the film. Rather than looking like a train wreck, the trailers teased a colorful film filled with some zany humor and apparent energy, and myself and many others began paying attention to what was quickly proving to be promising puzzle of a film.
Does this movie defy the odds and present us a well-assembled blockbuster, or have we gotten a glorified toy commercial that completely falls to pieces? Enough build up! Join me my dear reader, as I give deliver some constructive criticism of The LEGO Movie!
February is turning out to be a big month for me it would appear my dear readers – hot on the heels of a pair of cover stories for some local magazines, I can add yet another columnist position to my ever-expanding resume.
For those who have been keeping up with some of my recent career developments, you’ll know a few months ago, I began a columnist position with the Commonwealth Times, and a co-hosting gig on the radio program Saturday Night at the Movies, which sadly, has been put on hiatus at the moment. While I’ve got another big development in the wings – more on that when it comes – for now, allow me a moment to announce that I am now a contributor to the VCU restaurant and food review website, Shaferbird!
For the uninitiated, Shaferbird is an outlet of VCU’s Mesh Media, dedicated to reviewing local restaurants, sharing recipes, and discussing anything and everything dining and food related. The Shaferbird website itself has recently undergone a major graphic overhaul, and taken on a number of new contributors as part of an ongoing relaunch, yours truly included. It’s with some pride to say my first article for them, a comparison of the two major hot dog joints near campus – both of which, I’ve reviewed previously here on Korsgaard’s Commentary – is the first article posted as the site begins its renaissance.
January is always something of a dead zone for movie releases, but this year we’ve really been skimming the bottom of the barrel. A few passable offerings like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit aside, the month has been dominated mostly by the dregs of Hollywood, like a pair of found footage horror movies or a Hercules film starring an extra from the Twilight films. Still, January also often proves fertile ground for the rarest of Hollywood offerings these days, the so-bad-its-good brand of B-movie. To this, I, Frankenstein looked ready to deliver.
Just by watching the trailer alone, you could immediately tell two things: that this was made by the folks behind the Underworld movies, and there is no way that this would be a good movie. Still, something about it made me think it might have offered the sublime experience only a schlocky B-movie could offer so I held out some hope – that is, until the reviews started pouring in, hovering dangerously near zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. My blood ran cold as I approached the ticket counter, filled with existential dread as I braced for what critics were condemning as an abomination.
Does the monster defy the critics and provide a good time, or should we get ready our torches and pitchforks? Call me mad my dear reader, but join me as I review, I, Frankenstein.
My dear readers, what I am about to show you may well be one of the most insane and/or brilliant creative works we have yet produced as a species. There have been crazy, low-budget genre films before, but this movie quite literally has everything. The trailer alone promises a movie that takes kung-fu, hard-boiled cops, 80s action flicks, vintage video games, time travel, Vikings, Nazis, Dinosaurs, robots and combines them all to make what appears to be the ultimate cheesy 80s-style action movie. This, my dear readers, is Kung Fury.
As the trailer says, he’s a kung-fu renegade cop, whom in a quest to travel through time and kill Adolf Hitler, aka Kung Fuhrer, gets trapped in the Viking age, and enlists their aid in his crusade to beat Nazi Germany into submission. If the trailer is any indication, it looks to be an unabashedly awesome homage to classic eighties action cinema, where your cop who doesn’t play by the rules can beat any foe with the power of Kung-fu, be they street thugs or mystical Chinese warlords. As an old school action junkie, and a connoisseur of cinematic cheese, I was sold, and if Kung Fury put an ear-to-ear grin on your face as big as mine, then take a look at this.
Though the 30-minute film is already finished, a Kickstarter was opened the day after Christmas to get funding for the special effects, with director David Sandberg asking for $200,000 to do so. In less than a week, the Kickstarter met and broke that goal, more than doubling the original goal by the start of the New Year. With the initial goal met, the Kung Fury Kickstarter has set an ambitious stretch goal: $1 million dollars, which if met, will see the 30-minute short film expanded into a full-length feature film.
Godfather of the modern techno-thriller Tom Clancy passed away last year, leaving an enviable body of work crossing multiple genres and mediums, including a number of films based on his work, most centered on the adventures of his Jack Ryan character. Jack Ryan, unlike many similar thriller protagonists ranging from Dirk Pitt to Jack Reacher, has had some success at the box office, and while not the centerpiece of a franchise like genre gold-standard James Bond, or even genre silver medalist Jason Bourne, has been at the center of a series of loosely connected films ranging from smash hits like The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games to disappointments like The Sum of All Fears. Still, the possibility for a franchise remained tantalizing, and possibly lucrative, which brings us to today’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
The movie is a reboot of the Jack Ryan films of sorts, with the hopeful plan being a franchise stemming from here, finally giving Ryan the long-elusive success of James Bond or Jason Bourne at the multiplex. Unlike prior films, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not based on any work of Tom Clancy’s, but instead off an original screenplay by David Koepp, and while swapping one of the most successful authors of the modern age for the screenwriter behind Indiana Jones and the Graveyard of Dreams or Men in Black 3 might not instill much hope, the cast and crew might. Chris Pine is the latest actor to play Jack Ryan, following in the footsteps of skilled actors like Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford (and also Ben Affleck) while Kenneth Branagh does double duty as director and playing the lead villain.
Can Tom Clancy’s Cold Warrior find new life at the box office, or is this movie pretty much the sum of all fears? Without remorse, join me as I review Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
It’s been a little over a year since Disney bought Lucasfilm, finally getting Star Wars out of Fatbeard’s grubby clutches, and breathing new life into the beloved space opera series by announcing their future plans for the franchise, including a sequel trilogy kicking off with an Episode VII directed by JJ Abrams and written by Lawrence Kasden, due out in 2015. Since then, they’ve been making headlines for rumors surrounding the new films, to the various efforts to bring Star Wars more under the Disney banner, ranging from putting Lucasarts out of its misery to transitioning the Star Wars comic titles from long-time publisher Dark Horse to Disney-owned Marvel. Most recently and most controversially however, was the announcement that Disney had plans to create their own official canon for the Star Wars Universe, setting aside the decades old Star Wars Expanded Universe.
While I can understand the outrage some of the Star Wars fandom has expressed over this, I’m largely optimistic about this move. For all its popularity, and the crucial place it has enjoyed in the Star Wars fandom, the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a mixed bag that for every good work, has three or four bland to terrible ones. The utter volume of material in the Expanded Universe is often so wildly diverse in everything from plot arcs to tone that even Star Wars die-hards have trouble keeping it straight, let alone any newcomers. A pruning of the material is long overdue – take what characters and details work in the Expanded Universe and promote them to canon, get rid of what doesn’t, and create something streamlined and fantastic.
Cleaning house is long overdue, and with Disney creating their own, it allows any future Star Wars films greater flexibility, and there’s nothing keeping Disney from using characters or details from the EU in the future. Plus, given the magnificent work they’ve done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’d say they’ve more than earned the right to be taken on good faith for their plans for Star Wars – like I said before, they’re not going to do anything that might jeopardize the viability of milking the Star Wars franchise for decades.
That said, if there’s any part of the Expanded Universe I hope survives in some form or another in the new Star Wars canon, to say nothing of the upcoming sequel trilogy, its Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. For those unacquainted or unfamiliar with the Thrawn Trilogy, I’m not exaggerating when I say the trilogy of books released in the early nineties may well be one of the most important developments in the history of the Star Wars franchise, as the novels breathed new life into the saga, kick-started the Expanded Universe, and to this day remaining one of the best works of modern science fiction in or outside Star Wars lore.
Covering three books (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command), the series begins roughly five years after the credits rolled in Return of the Jedi, as the fragile coalition holding the New Republic together is threatened by a resurgent remnant of the Galactic Empire, which has rallied behind the brilliant Grand Admiral Thrawn, who thanks to a cunning mind and brilliant strategic planning, threatens to undo the hard-fought victory of the Rebellion. Heroes old and new are going to need to rally together to fend off the latest threat to peace in the galaxy, even as they struggle to hold the Republic together.
With our look back at the ups and downs at the movies we had in 2013, its time yet again to showcase some of the movies in 2014 I’m looking forward to. It has the makings of a deeply interesting year – there are a number of highly anticipated sequels, some real gambles, and some early signs of rising movie trends. There are more than a few movies already turning heads, and the ones below are some that I’ve got my eyes on. What about you? Feel free to leave a comment telling me which movies this year you’re looking forward to, or ones that you’re dreading – for now though, let’s begin!
Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit – The recently departed Tom Clancy’s signature spy had more than a few films based on his exploits, ranging from The Hunt for Red October to The Sum of All Fears, but this marks the first real attempt to create a true franchise around the Jack Ryan character. Consider me interested.
I, Frankenstein – Yes, it looks like a B-movie riff on the Underworld films only with the leather-clad Kate Beckinsale has been swapped out for an angsting Aaron Eckhart – but of course, it’s the utter schlock value that forms a great part of the appeal, doesn’t it?
The Lego Movie – Maybe it’s just the many happy childhood memories of mine that revolve around these sets of building bricks, but I’m intrigued by the idea of a Lego movie. Also, let’s face it, the possibilities for dozens of Lego related puns for a review has me salivating.
The Monuments Men – I love a good war movie, and the angle of following an allied unit tasked with going behind enemy lines in World War II, with the aims of recovering or salvaging works of art pillaged by the Nazis is a very interesting one. Topped off with a cast that includes George Clooney, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, this may be worth checking out.
Non-Stop – While granted, the last time I got excited about an early-year Liam Neeson action movie, it resulted in one of the most depressing movies I’d ever reviewed, this one should be a safe bet. Neeson plays an Air Marshall in a cat-and-mouse game with a hacker and killer who is seemingly three steps ahead – when will they learn not to earn the wrath of Schindler’s fist?
300: Rise of an Empire – I know that it’s been delayed multiple times, that it’s being released nearly eight years after the original film, and that the trailers are missing that intriguing spark that even the trailers for 300 had. Still, I’ve been waiting on it for a while, and if it’s even half as quotable or insanely entertaining as the original, I’m more than willing to put this movies name to the test.
Muppets Most Wanted – The last Muppets movie was a delightful slice of nostalgia that left me in laughing fits. This one looks like it will be all that and more, plus, Ricky Gervais, Tom Hiddleston and Christoph Waltz are involved, so the amount of off-beat European charm should be off the charts.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The first of 2014’s entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe sees Captain America coming to terms with the America of the modern age, his unease at the methods used by the good guys, and his confrontation with a conspiracy that will affect his past and the future of many others. The movie looks like it has the makings of a brilliant political-thriller with some superhero action infused into it, and a few notable developments are clear even in the trailers that have raised a few eyebrows.
Sabotage – On one hand, this is a Schwarzenegger movie with a promising concept and an up-and-coming director. On the other hand, the screenwriter is Skip Woods, the man responsible for wrecking the X-Men and Die Hard franchises. This one could go either way.
Godzilla – Pacific Rim made waves last year for its delightfully enthralling narrative that put humanity in a war against trans-dimensional giant monsters. Of course, when it comes to giant monster movies, there can be only one King of the Monsters, and this Godzilla reboot looks to declare his triumphant return. Quick to comfort concerns that this will be a repeat of the Roland Emmerich disaster, this is a joint project between Legendary Studios and Toho, and if early teasers are any indication, we’re in for a beastly good time.