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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Sin City - A Dame to Kill For, The Maze Runner

It's taking me longer than I anticipated to get back into the swing of reviewing things again here on Beta is Dead (the previous blog was actually started after I was half-way through this one). To make matters worse both the movies we’re looking at today are pretty much old news and you’ve already either seen them or at least decided that you’re not going to bother seeing them. The cost of being idle is high when you’re a writer, I guess.

Anyway today we’ll be looking at two film adaptations, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Maze Runner. Sin City 2 is the long promised sequel to the 2005 film and both movies are (mostly) based on the comic of the same name by Frank Miller. Now I’m not sure what the shit took so long for this movie to get made but here’s a list of movies Robert Rodriguez chose to direct over Sin City 2 during the near decade gap:

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005)

Planet Terror (2007)

Shorts (2009)

Machete (2010)

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011)

Machete Kills (2013)

No less than three kids films and a full length version of a fake trailer AND its sequel (neither of which were all that great). Planet Terror is the only film on that list that doesn’t feel like a waste of time to me. Oh yeah, Frank Miller directed The Spirit in 2008 and it was one of the worst films of the decade; that’s not as important but it’s still notable.

The Maze Runner is based on a young adult novel of the same name by James Dashner that originally came out in 2009. And…that’s pretty much all I know about it. The Maze Runner did extremely well in the Box Office while Sin City 2 was a major bomb, possibly the biggest bomb of the summer. But as we learned from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Dredd, and any Transformers movie monetary success does not always determine the film’s quality.

Two reviews after the jump.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kickstarter Weekends: Like Father, Like Daughter; Zombie ApocalyOOPS!

By my calculations (i.e. I looked at the archives) it’s been about eight months since the last Kickstarter Weekend. Aside from the obvious glitches this summer with me working on my novel I think the major reason for this has been that I haven’t been visiting Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites as often as I used to. Perhaps my obsession over them has cooled off. That successful, but ridiculous, Potato Salad campaign that floated around everywhere certainly didn’t make me too eager to visit any projects for a while. I should point out that the most interesting crowd funding project I came across during the off time was Hullabaloo, a steam punk hand drawn animated short film starring a strong female lead character (!) that made 588% of its goal on Indiegogo. I would have blogged about it if I wasn’t so distracted this summer but obviously it didn’t need my help.

Anywho today I’ve decided to get back on the horse, so to speak, and look at two new projects. In this case both of them sort of tugged on my heartstrings as the creators remind me of what I myself might need to do in the near future to see my own dreams and vision come to fruition, more so than the average campaign I cover. But before we get to talking about the new stuff we need to revisits the old stuff…and it looks like there’s a lot of old stuff.

Michigan City Vandals Album Project: Funding Semi-Successful

Final Earnings: $1,150 ($5,000 Goal)

This project failed to meet its $5,000 goal but because the Michigan City Vandals were using Indiegogo it would seem they got to keep what they made (to a point; Indiegogo’s cut was probably pretty steep). As it’s been such a long time since the campaign ended the album has since been recorded and released so I guess it all worked out in the end. I’ve listened to it and I think it’s pretty good. You can find (and hopefully buy) it here.

One Nation - Out of the Darkness: Funding successful!

Final Earnings: $13,515 ($13,000 Goal)

Another close call but the project managed to end in success. As far as I can tell they’re still working on getting the book itself done but I haven’t heard a tremendous amount of things about the comic lately. Of course that’s partly because I sort of forget to keep tabs on it over the summer. Oops.

Water War: Funding Unsuccessful!

Final Earnings: $0 ($30,000 Goal)

This one bums me out but in a way I’m not really surprised. The concept of this film was amazing but the presentation of the project was overly ambitious. With a super long KS video (not to mention several prequel videos!) I imagine a lot of potential backers backed away without giving it a fair shot. Director Josh Nikolas had vowed that he’d try to make the movie even if the campaign failed but I’m not certain what, if any, progress has been made since then. As of right now it seems that my dream of seeing a flick about children shooting each other with squirt guns and being over dramatic about the whole thing will remain just that; a dream.

Robot Heart: Funding Successful!

Final Earnings: $28,914 ($3,000 Goal)

Absolutely no surprise here since the project was funded before I even got to post the last KSW. I do want to mention that since I posted that last KSW one of Kawehi’s video covers (I think it was “Heart Shaped Box”) and went viral and she has become massively more popular and famous than she was before. In fact she’s had another project on KS since the last one and it not only got funded super quickly it made $42,972 ($3,000 goal)! Wow! [EDIT: The new project is still ongoing as of this writing, though not for much longer, and has picked up even more money than originally reported].  Overall this makes me feel really good as I get to see someone I’ve admired do very well after seeing them struggle with their art in the past plus it gives me some hope for my own artistic endeavors.

Then again if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that "hope" is bullshit and poisonous. F**k it, let’s move on.

Two new projects after the jump.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

State of Beta is Dead

Hello everyone. If you’re a regular reader of Beta is Dead I’m sure by now you’ve become concerned by the severe lack of updates, especially based on what I said earlier this year about possibly quitting the blog business altogether. Or perhaps you didn’t really give a shit and didn’t even notice. Either way now that it’s October (…really?) I figured I give an update about what’s been going, what hasn’t been going on and what my plan going forward is.

The lull in updates has primarily been due to two factors. The first is personal and as you should know by now I don’t like using this blog as a live journal. Still if you’re a loyal reader and have been upset from the lack of hearing from me I suppose you would want some sort of explanation. Long story short this past July something made me very, very sad and my ability to function was impaired but is now relatively fine. The second reason is that I spent the second half the summer being obsessed with finishing my novel. As you probably noticed I have stats for book projects I’m currently working on post on the sidebar and if you were observant you may have seen the word count for “Project Brothers” skyrocket over the past few months. I put everything in my life on hold while I worked on it. I managed to post a few blogs during this period but the more I wrote of my novel the more it felt like any other writing was a distraction.

Somewhere along the line I went from “I’ll work on this review later tonight” to “f**k everything that isn’t this book, goddamn it!”

So anyway the first draft of my first novel, “Project Brothers” (clearly not its real name), is done so my obsession has died down and bit. Beta is Dead is, um, not as dead as the name implies and I’ll be attempting to get back into groove of writing shortly (easier said than done as it’s taken me three days to actually even start this blog). I also have something I’m working on but it’s better not to talk about it now in case it doesn’t work out. I will just try to do reviews until I get back in the habit of writing blogs.

That all said November is coming up. For the last couple of years I've tended to take November off to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Since I basically took September off doing it again so soon seems pretty lousy. Also I’m unsure I want to try to blaze through another 50,000 words of a new book when I probably should be editing the current one. As of right now I haven’t decided what I’ll do but I’m leaning towards skipping it this year. We’ll see.

Anyway bottom line is that I’m sorry I was gone but now I’m back. I also still haven’t seen the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie yet so my sanity is relatively intact.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (Film)

I’m sure by now we’re all aware of Marvel Studios' latest offering, Guardians of the Galaxy; judging by the Box Office numbers we’ve all gone to see it at least once. Tagged as Marvel’s riskiest film to date GOTG managed to become one of the year’s biggest hits. I am a little late to the party as my current life situation did not allow me to see this film at a Thursday midnight showing like I would have years ago but I was able to see it after opening weekend and I feel I can properly review it today. However before we get into the movie let’s look back on the comic that inspired it.

First appearing in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 in 1969 the original Guardians of the Galaxy seemed to be Marvel Comics’ answer to DC Comics’ Legion of Super-Heroes, in that both were about a superhero team operating about one thousand years in the future. GOTG was more of a rebel faction fighting against an alien empire rather than a team of super-teens fighting future crime. This incarnation of the team lasted for some time but was never really popular outside its niche audience and never received an abundance of attention outside the hardcore comic book fanbase (which is why you’ve probably never heard of Charlie-27; I sure as hell hadn't).

Cult worthy title or Silver Age silliness?
You decide!
In 2005 Marvel launched a pretty massive crossover event called Annihilation that untied most of their cosmic (i.e. “outer space”) characters in one epic storyline. The comic was extremely well received despite still being more of a cult hit, and ended up getting several sequels and spin-offs over the next few years. One of those spin-offs was a rebooted Guardians of the Galaxy book in 2008. Rather than taking place in the far future this title took place in the Marvel Universe proper, just in space, and was formed by several per-existing cosmic characters: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Phyla-Vell (the third Quasar), and rapper Adam WarRock Adam Warlock, who is definitely not a rapper. Though pretty much being exclusively fifth-string characters the team carried on the reputation Marvel had created for itself in recent years for their best storytelling being in the cosmic portion and thus the title garnered a very vocal following.

While the book has been off and on the radar since it's initial launch someone over at Marvel Studios thought it’d be an a awesome idea to make a film version based on the cult title that features characters that no one in the general public had ever heard of. And as the film has made millions and millions of dollars it’s hard to say that wasn’t a brilliant move. This film was directed by James Gunn who also directed the cult films Slither and Super, which makes him an interesting choice to helm this flick. Many people are saying this movie was very good but there are also people who are saying it’s highly overrated. Seeing as I can think of at least one other film that was highly overrated by the internet in recent memory (coughcoughfrozencouch) I think it’s best I examine it myself.

They're like the Avengers...IN SPAAAACE!!
Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: This review contains some spoilers. Nothing too bad, and really nothing that hasn't been floating around already, but they are still there and unmarked. Read at your own risk.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Anime Review: Kill la Kill

The last year or two there have been a handful of anime that have been so successful in Japan that their popularity has bled over to the United Sates. There have been enough titles that have done this lately that I am legitimately wondering if we’re on the verge of a new anime boom. I’m talk about shows like Attack on Titan, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and, of course, Sword Art Online which as you know I was very fond of. Even the new Sailor Moon anime, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal, has generated a tremendous amount of buzz. But of all these surprising hits I’m willing to bet that Kill la Kill is the goddamn strangest.

Kill la Kill was directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi and written by Kazuki Nakashima, the same team responsible for Gurren Lagann, one of the most popular anime of the last decade. This show was the first full length show to be produced by Trigger, a brand new studio. Debuting in 2013 it only wrapped up a few months ago and the turnaround of it showing up on various streaming services was pretty fast. Licensed by Aniplex of America as of this writing Kill la Kill has not yet been released on home video in the USA but is has been shown on Hulu and Netflix.

The internet has been abuzz about Kill la Kill for months now and I was seeing references and debates about it for quite some time before I bothered to give it a shot. And really I only did it so I could see what all the fuss was about. Well I have and I’ve got an opinion on it.

Full review after the jump.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sequel to the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which itself was a reboot of the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. “Rise of” was surprisingly well received and a sequel was approved fairly early on. As the film takes place some years after the first one, and after the ramifications of the ending, the entire human cast has been replaced. So if you were hoping for another James Franco centric film I guess you’re out of luck.

This flick was directed Matt Reeves who previously directed Cloverfield and Let Me In, two films that were met with positive reviews in the past. Still despite his talent one must wonder if “Dawn of” will be able to capture lightning in a bottle again now that it has a someone new at the helm.

Full review after the jump.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Transformers - Age of Extinction

So I should probably talk about Bayformers, huh? No use putting it off anymore.

In the mid-2000s toy company/barons Hasbro decided to start trying to make movies based on their various properties. Transformers was the first to make the transition and many TF fans were pretty worried from the get-go. Once production started there were two primary concerns: 1) Hasbro is notorious for not giving a shit about their properties so long as the can sell kids toys so there was no guarantee of quality of film from their involvement. 2) Michael Bay was hired to direct the film which was a red flag because Bay has previously proven to not be all that good when it comes to things like “character development” or “plot” and prefers EXPLOSIONS when making movies.

The film, called “Transformers”, was released in 2007 and despite being overly juvenile, oversexed, slightly racist, possessing an overreliance on the human cast, featuring Megan Fox in any capacity, Dull Surprise, and no Transformer having anything resembling a three dimensional personality or an character arc and having hard to distinguishing character designs the film at least wasn’t awful. At the time this felt like a victory.

The film was a big success and thus a sequel hit theaters in 2009, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Now it would take me an entire blog to explain just how terrible this movie is so for now I will just say that it was truly one of the worst flicks I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Everything bad I mentioned about the first one returned in droves in the second one. It’s like when you meet a friend’s dog once and its fine then the next you see the thing it tries to rip your throat out. Still the film did even better than the first, despite being insanely awful, and thus Transformers: Dark of the Moon was released in 2011. This film was better than the second but ultimately it was still a very bad movie for all the same reasons the previous ones were bad movies. It’s biggest plus was that Megan Fox was fired but then she was replaced by English actor model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who never acted before this and it showed (incidentally in the three years since this film came out the only gig I’ve seen her as having is in the upcoming Mad Max sequel, so I’m guessing Hollywood figured her out).

Also these movies introduced Transformer testicles
Never forget. Never forgive
By the way in Dark of the Moon there is totally a scene where Optimus Prime and the Autobots allow the Decepticons to blow up a big chunk of Chicago in order to teach humanity a lesson for trying to force them off Earth. This totally happened and I mention it now because this will be important later.

After three terrible but highly successful films Michael Bay decided to step down from the franchise following the third one, giving the series a possible chance to be helmed by a better director…until he changed his mind and signed up for a fourth film after all, Transformers: Age of Extinction. With a completely new human cast this appears to be the start of a second trilogy with several of the stars signed up for two more films. It’s also pretty much made ALL THE MONEY so there’s no way to avoid this terrible future. Anyway I did get around to seeing Age of Extinction and most of you likely know I’m a big Transformers fan. Thus my wrath will be swift. 

Full review after the jump.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Maleficent

Let’s talk about Disney Princess for a second.

One of Disney’s bigger money making operations Disney Princess is a multimedia merchandise platform featuring various female characters (not all of them princesses) from their feature length animated films aimed at young girls and pretty much no one else, much like action figures based on action cartoons are aimed at young boys and no one else. There are a lot of questions about the anti-feminist nature of this franchise and honestly that’s too important a subject for me to write extensively about in an intro like this but I think that while their depiction of women and defined gender roles can be troubling there are certainly examples of good female role models in place, such as Mulan who I always thought was a badass. However the further back in time you go the less legs you have to stand on as the classic depiction of Princess in Disney’s catalog are clearly sexist and clearly represented Walt Disney’s idea of patriarchal system. If the main character of your film is a woman who is basically waiting an hour and a half for a dude to come rescue, and then marry her, then your movie sucks, plain and simple.

This brings us to Sleeping Beauty, possibly the most obvious film to fail in this regard. Based on at least two fairy tales we all basically know the premise of this story; Princess Aurora gets got by an evil fairy and falls into a coma until the man of her dreams waltzes into town and sexually assaults kisses her while she’s under, magically freeing her from her curse. Aurora is such a prop in her own movie that she has less than twenty minutes of screen time. She’s such a non-character that I suspect the average person wouldn’t even know her name aside from being called “Sleeping Beauty”. Now the flip side of this is despite the uninteresting lump of uselessness that was Aurora this film also introduced us to one of the coolest Disney villains ever conceived: Maleficent.

Now Maleficent isn’t exactly a great character either, as her major motivation stems mostly from “because I’m evil, stupid” but her design, power set, scope and even her name are all make for an very memorable villain. She routinely places high in Top Disney Villains lists all over the internet and continues to be used as an antagonist in various Disney projects, probably most famously in the video game series Kingdom Hearts. With this in mind it shouldn’t be too surprising that Disney is making a film featuring Maleficent as a protagonist, epically when we consider the incredibly successful musical Wicked which similarly took the villain of a classic story and flipped her role. This film also follows in the footsteps of recent flicks Snow White and the Huntsman (which in retrospect I probably scored too high) and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (which I fully plan on never watching again), modern reinterpretations of classic children’s stories/fairy tales aimed at wider audience and not simply little kids. In some case they’re darker in tone and in most cases they are far more complex. With first time director Robert Stromberg at the helm where does Maleficent stand in this relatively new genre?

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: This review contains some spoilers , so if you were aching to see what boils down to be a kids movie you better proceed with caution]