Review: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 (movie)

Set in the near future and fictional setting of San Fransokyo, Big Hero 6 concerns the exploits of a young genius (Hiro) and a medical robot (Baymax) created by Hiro’s older brother. When Hiro is the victim of a horrible tragedy he becomes the unwitting patient of Baymax who wants only to ease the boy’s pain. Hiro chooses to cope by turning Baymax into a crime-fighting super robot. The plan soon escalates when Hiro’s friends attempt to help with the coping and become caught up in his plans as well; each one gains a science-powered super suit that focuses on their own areas of expertise.

Working under their own mostly-ridiculous nick names (Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Fred…), the six individuals quickly band together and become San Fransokyo’s most prestigious super team: Big Hero 6.

The Good: There is so much to love in this movie. To get the balloon-bot out of the way I’d have to say that Baymax is fore front of it all. From his inspired, practical, and comical design to the perfect way he is voiced. Baymax never strives for comedy, he simply does and the results are so earnest and awkward they amuse. He has fast become a favorite, at first due only to “Hairy baby” but evolving into a good heroic role model. His only goal is to help and heal, but he does eventually resort to violence and danger in an effort to stem criminal elements; finally eschewing it when the violence begins to damage those around him. And he’s so cute.

The rest of the characters are also well done, though the film focuses primarily on Baymax and Hiro. While they may get a bit shorted on screen time they do all carry strong personalities and get a couple of moments each to shine. Fred seems like the easy favorite but I really liked Wasabi as the almost ‘everyman’ of the group; also Hiro’s aunt.

The design and art direction is very pleasing to the eye. San Fransokyo is a lot of fun and the villain comes across as pretty creepy in a cool way. It’s almost a testament to the character design that they all seem to get a bit less interesting when they put on their uniforms. Still awesome though. They also capture the eye well and help ground the movie’s action scenes. This lets the film use its medium to do fast past, over the top action but still keep it grounded and believable. No one feels floaty or gets lost in the shuffle.

Big Hero 6 runs a pretty tight line between exciting and funny. Baymax’s initial awkwardness during tense moments gives way to honest affection and dedication. As does Fred’s nerdy behavior and his own excitement over becoming a hero. They manage to generate a lot of heartfelt laughs that help drive the movie when it goes into action mode and ultimately gives the movie a lot of heart.

The Bad: The movie does feel a bit short. Its early game is very good but when the end hits, the viewer is left with a bit of unfulfilled expectations. I almost felt like it reached a point where they had to check off boxes on some sort of list. This is not meant to undermine the film entirely, it’s a lot of fun and I enjoyed it, but once the kids becomes super heroes the movie ramps up to the final conflict pretty quickly.

Big Hero 6 also doesn’t do enough with its primary assets. With several enjoyable characters it does relegate most of them to ‘other guy’ status. This movie is very much “The Hiro and Baymax show” and Hiro’s conflict is central to the film’s plot, nearly eclipsing any super heroics. Between that and my preference for balloon Baymax over super-Baymax I was left with a bit of a lopsided feeling over all. This sounds very much like a fiddly problem (as both halves are done decently to great and I feel unsure on them) but it does hurt the film over all with uneven tonal shifting.

The Fiddly: Not much here. I will say that while not a fan of the Big Hero 6 comic book I have done a bit of research into it. The movie and comic are both separate entities but I do appreciate how the creators attempted to stick with existing character names and managed to duplicate the powers (roughly) but from a science medium. Very cool way to adapt and update an existing franchise.

As a final note I do frown a bit at how the names (in film) are achieved. In short, the character of Fred is described as attributing the nicknames to each character. While funny, this does feel like it is in danger of becoming an overused trend (Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cisco on The Flash comes to mind as immediate examples.), and an almost a sad way to write off ‘silly’ names for characters. Again, it usually amuses me (Especially Micky; he got name game, son.) but it does feel like an easy out to explain away aspects current audiences might question.

Final Statement: While not the best film in any of the categories it falls under, Big Hero 6 is an awesome film that deserves watching and delivers laughs, action, and drama. Baymax is a great example of a hero and it’s nice to have a world where friends help each other and no one is too cool to accept a hug from the big, warm, balloon robot.

Rating: 4

1- A cool idea or minor sprinkling of moments.

2- Just short of being ‘good,’ maybe catch it on TV

3- Perfectly serviceable; you should see this, maybe not in theaters

4- Absolute must see; a fine example of film making

5- Either a game changer, or a time worn tale done near perfection

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Review: Disney Infinity 2.0

Disney Infinity 2.0 (Video game)

The second generation of Disney’s Infinity game series takes a bold leap into the world of super heroes, basing the entire launch off of their success with Avengers. For those unfamiliar with the Infinity (and also Skylanders, but the game play between the two is different) phenomenon a bit of explanation: Each game series features a central hub device and a series of cool looking mini-figures that contain system information that allows that character to be downloaded into the main game and also stores upgrades. Figures are not system specific and can be used on any hub.

The player uses these figures to run around in various playsets, play mini-games, or access the ‘toy box’. The playset is activated by placing the Avengers’ Tower on the hub, the mini-games come on flat disks, and toy box is always available in the menu. The basic playset for version 2.0 is an Avengers scenario involving a plot by Loki to freeze New York. It feels somewhat MMO like in that you find a character with an ‘!’ Above their head and they had out missions like my Grandma hands out candy on Halloween.

The base game also comes with two mini-game disks: one is a tower defense set in Asgard (and plays like Dungeon Defenders for those familiar) and the other is a 3/4 view prison break set in space. The toy box is a world creation system and, much like Little Big Planet, players can create worlds and games and upload them for others to play in.

Actual game play is pretty simple, consisting of an attack button, jump, interact, and a special button. As you complete tasks you gain experience and can upgrade your character along a skill tree. The skill tree feels reasonably robust and features four areas: melee combat, ranged combat, health and healing, and super ability.

The Good: The game looks beautiful. The aesthetic is that you are playing as toys come to life, so each character is stylized by team Disney and look really good. This helps give the game its own feel and lets it get away with ‘big red buttons’ without seeming silly. Respectively, the toys themselves look very cool, and would make fun collectible statues in their own right. It also boasts some fun details: cars and people are knocked aside by flying characters, and the buildings take superficial damage from strong attacks.

Version 2.0 also boots a pretty large play area, and running around New York (or flying really) is a lot of fun. Combat feels similar across characters but there is enough variation to make each one feel appropriate. I have actually heard, many times, this game compared to the Lego games. I would say that the combat is similar but the Lego games have a deeper puzzle mechanic. This game feels like it was meant to evoke the feeling of pulling a couple of He-Man figures out of your closet and smashing them together in grand combat. I mean that in the best possible way.

The toy box mode feels pretty robust and even the tutorial was pretty fun and took m a couple of hours to complete. Some of the creations boost a lot of creativity and all together it seems like a very fun mode. I also imagine it is possible to create the included mini-games in the toy box mode, so that speaks to the level of creativity available to those with the skill and time.

The Bad: There are a few dark spot. One being the whole set up of figures and playsets. While there are figures out there for some popular characters (such as Wreck-it Ralph, Aladdin, and Baymax) they can only operate in toy box mode unless they have a specific playset allocated to them. And some of these characters have no allocated playset. For example, if you were to buy Aladdin he would only be usable in the toy box (and the mini-games) so if you have dreams of an Aladdin/Black Widow romp through the Avengers’ tower you will be disappointed. Compounding this is the division of the Marvel heroes into three separate playsets- Avengers, Spider-man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Each playset has their own list of figures (and Nick Fury is aligned to spider-man instead of Avengers even though he is in avengers as an npc) and a couple of characters that can cross over (Fury is not one) by collecting specific tokens.

This seems like a huge mistake to me from both a ‘fun’ view and a financial one. There are characters I have considered buying that will go uncollected as I essentially have no need for them. Granted the playset is supposed to be only one section of the game, it still represents the basic jumping in point. Disney even launched a standalone starter set for those not interested in super heroes. It features Merida, Stitch, two mini-game disks and no playset. I have considered picking it up for the two characters (much love for Merida and Stitch) and game disks but again the figures would be mostly useless. Is it weird to have Aladdin and Stitch running around the Avengers tower fighting Frost giants? Yes. But, as a child did I ever mix my toys up and have Cobra try and take down Luke, Leia, and Voltron? Yes, yes I did.

Also loading times are pretty atrocious, specifically loading the character into the game. I admit the tech is impressive but I get tired of waiting for an area to load and then my character and then my girlfriend’s. Especially if I should accidentally enter an area I didn’t intend to and have to go back.

There also appear to be a few assorted glitches, mostly minor. Thor sometimes waves his arms and moves his mouth when loading but no speech comes out. Also Black Widow will talk to Thor specifically (Awesome!) but he either ignores her or simply refers to her in a generic, Midgardian, way.

The Fiddly: So to use items in the toy box you have to ‘buy’ them using blue sparks. They are also ‘bought’ in a certain, skill tree like, order. This limits what you can get and the order you can get it in. This feels surprisingly limiting (again, just like disallowing certain characters in playsets) given how much freedom they claim. But you are mostly showered with blue sparks; you get them everywhere and any time. They appear in most broken wreckage and that wreckage will regenerate when you come back, along with the sparks. So what I’m saying is that it feels silly to put a limit on the creativity and then simply wave that limit with crazy abandon. It’s like telling a kid that he can’t have ice cream unless he eats his vegetables, but then replace vegetables with potato chips.

Also, given the nature of the toy box mode it’s understandable that many of the created sets will be lackluster. Some have been boring, and some have been broken, but some were pretty cool. I played one that involved me going into the swamp to rescue kids; it involved atmospheric noises and a shift to night time. Pretty cool stuff.

The price tag is also a small issue. I cannot complain as I received my copy as a gift (Thanks Mike!), but the base set is expensive and the figures are not cheap. I imagine collectors and parents of small children will have a problem keeping up but given the price of toys currently, it might be acceptable to pay fifteen bucks for a statue that ‘comes alive.’

Final Statement: All in all Disney Infinity 2.0 just feels fun. It won’t task any brain cells but the characters feel right and playing the game is a blast. At times it can be overly simple or oddly limiting, but considering what all it actually accomplishes these are small complaints. There is a lot to like here and the game is fully playable with the main set alone, so if you feel the urge to give it a try go ahead and go for it.

Movie Review: The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers (Movie)

3 Stars

Set in a failing hotel The Innkeepers focuses on a final weekend and the deeper mystery of what once occurred in the depths of the business. Two young slackers take up the task of running the place for less than a handful of guests. Luke is an amateur ghost hunter, convinced the hotel is haunted. Claire seems to be happy to be employed.

As the two employees strive to keep each other entertained suspicious events keep stacking up. Seizing an opportunity (and with the help of a guest), they begin to dig deeper into the haunting and murders that once shook the hotels walls.

The Good: This is truly a character focused movie. Much of the time is spent exploring the lives of the two leads, Claire in particular. Because of this we become invested in them and care a bit when bad things begin to happen. It also serves to create a slow burn, with the mystery and scares coming in slowly. And when the haunt does happen it feels very tense and a bit surprising.

The hotel also looks very good, and feels just creepy enough to be believable but overly ominous.

The Bad: While we do get to know the characters, they aren’t the most interesting people to be around. They are fun enough to watch, and I found them likable but I never quite got behind them.

The actual scares run a bit short. For such a great buildup I would have enjoyed sticking with the horror for a bit longer. Also the epilogue felt pointless, failing to really wrap anything up or gives us any larger purpose.

The Fiddly: I bought this movie solely because of the awesome box art. I’d consider this a plus for the movie, but it’s not really important enough to bump the movie up.

Also a secondary character has an entire history and story arc that really feels a bit convenient. A known actress turned mystic who has come to spend a night in the hotel. It feels like it would have been enough to make her a visiting mystic, instead of a favored actress who just happens to have skills the main characters need.

Final Statement: Ultimately The Innkeepers is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the movie world. It has good ingredients and you look forward to it, but it takes too long to assemble and the fun bit doesn’t last nearly long enough. Finally you are left with the pointless drudgery of cleanup.

Rating:

1- A cool idea or minor sprinkling of moments.

2- Just short of being ‘good,’ maybe catch it on TV

3- Perfectly serviceable; you should see this, maybe not in theaters

4- Absolute must see; a fine example of film making

5- Either a game changer, or a time worn tale done near perfection

Game Review: The Evil Within

The Evil Within (video game)

*This review was written based solely upon my experience with a rental copy; time did not permit me to actually finish the game.

A quartet of cops race to assist their brethren; a massacre is occurring at the local asylum, maybe mystical in nature. Set primarily in the over-the-shoulder third-person genre, The Evil Within concerns the lead among the law officers and his run-in with dark and unnatural forces. Far from a simple maze-like asylum crawl, The Evil Within focuses on unnerving the player and keeping him on his toes in rapidly shifting settings.

The Good: This game has good ideas, and can manage a few tense moments. A couple of times I simply watched myself die because moving meant certain death and I wasn’t sure how well I had hidden.

I also like the pretty big plot beat that occurs very early on. It piqued my interest and made me curious as to the nature of this game.

It also keeps most of the ammo away from the player, and sets a low limit on how much you can carry. In addition it makes the foes surprisingly durable so as to deter combat.

There is also an interesting mechanic used for improving stats. Essentially the player enters a separate ‘dimension’ and accesses various character options and bonuses there. I found this particular area to be creepier and more evocative than the rest of the game and would love to have a follow up directly centered on this area.

The Bad: Right off the bat the graphics felt a couple of years behind. I don’t consider myself a slave to pretty graphics, or even realistic depictions, but in horror it is so important to bridge that disconnect. A dismembered body early on had no gore, just a texture map on a flat surface that squirted blood. At one point the protagonist was submerged in a horrific amount of blood, but seconds later his shirt was a crisp white again. When fighting for my life, I should to stop to consider what detergent the protagonist uses.

Also the environments feel rather bland. The experience ranged only from dilapidated, rust-coated buildings to the village from Resident Evil 4. In fact I’d say it’s scary how close the early game mimics RE4. It’s not that rusty environs are bad, but they have become a bit tired and must be used well. Even Silent Hill wasn’t all-rust-all the time. The rust was a horrific shock after so much time in the sleepy main world.

I’ll lump the next two problems together: control and animation. This game controls horribly. First off you play the game at a constant mosey, Able to sprint for very short periods before succumbing to exhaustion. And while opening doors has two options they are extreme ends of the spectrum: slowly open the door silently while the camera zooms in on your back or slam that sucker open and scream hallelujah. A third option would be nice, perhaps a way of opening them in a standard fashion without alerting the neighbors.

There are also precision problems. The aiming is sluggish and nearly useless if you are within one room length from a foe. You also stutter step so disarming the insta-kill trip wires is much more difficult than needs be. Every animation happens in a lackadaisical fashion. Lever pulling is pure torture and hell to time. And if a man with a chainsaw is chasing you, just forget about going out the window. You can’t jump out, only climb slowly and methodically while precariously positioning your posterior towards him.

Also, despite the withholding of ammo it is pretty easy to look like the Punisher. At one point I found myself with a pistol, shotgun, grenade, hand axe, and a crossbow that could fire normal and exploding bolts. It is somewhat balanced out by the ease of which you can be killed but the limited checkpoints mean that you may often find yourself recollecting all these items and reassigning them to quick slots over and over.

Apparently you can just turn your lantern on with a magic thought though.

The Fiddly: First, I was forced to install this game. I can understand a forced install for a game like Destiny, it’s online all the time and needs files to update. But Skyrim didn’t require an install, so what makes The Evil Within so special?

Secondly, while the unknown is scary I do occasionally require information. Early on I found a box of matches and a dead body. I was told that I could burn dead bodies but not why I should. I presume not all of them are as dead as they appear, but was I supposed to burn bodies I killed? Headshots didn’t seem to have specific purpose so it is possible nothing truly dies, but I walked round for a while and no one got back up. Also burning is an option, and there were bonfires, but there was no way to drag a body to the fire.

Bottom Line: The Evil Within is an ambitious game that holds some fun scares and a few good ideas. Unfortunately it is held back by lackluster presentation and horrible game play.

Movie Review: Annabelle

Annabelle (Movie) 3-Stars

A side story to The Conjuring, this film examines the history of the creepy collectable Annabelle, beginning as a gift from a doctor-to-be to his wife, a soon-to-be-mother. Trouble soon finds its way into the young couple’s lives and follows them in the form of creepy doll as they attempt to make a better life for themselves.

A film of close horror, Annabelle seems to mirror the growing dread in urban environments that rose at the end of the seventies. Using well realized locations and keeping the action contained to specific areas and a small, select cast it allows the scares to linger in the viewers’ comfort zone. As a plus to this Annabelle does feature a tight group of characters who trust and believe in each other and in this way presents a fairly balanced fight between a demonic doll and a coping couple.

The Good: The cinematography and settings are well presented here. Mostly eschewing the outside world, Annabelle takes the time to establish locations and gives the viewer time to familiarize themselves. While it doesn’t wear it’s seventies film inspirations quite so bravely as The Conjuring it does capture the look without feeling cartoony.

The acting and writing feel solid as well. The two leads seem outwardly bland but manage to pull across a bit of warmth and most importantly fail to make stupid choices. When the wife confides her fears to her husband he actually takes her seriously. Amazing!

Some of the scares are pretty effective as well. Far from being a Chucky rip off, Annabelle wisely uses mood and tricks to convey horror as opposed to simply showing a doll walking around. This manages to make the doll creepy, and remain so as opposed to feeling comical.

There are also a couple of really effective scares. The first is the establishing event, which builds wonderfully and made me very uncomfortable. The second was a race to an elevator that rips some sacred safe-ground out from the viewer’s feet. These two moments manage to both quickly scare us and then let the horror linger for longer than we might find comfortable.

The Bad: The pacing feels a bit off. Early on there is a great sequence that builds upon all the facts as we have been presented. I had very high hopes at this point and settled in for what might just become a new horror classic. Unfortunately, instead of building tension and escalating slowly until a truly scary finale, the movie simply bounces between calm moments and horror. Expositions, scares, exposition, scares, rinse and repeat until you hit the long scare that wraps it all up.

There is also a bit of muddling with the origin and the capabilities of the creature. It feels like they wanted to tell the story of a woman possessing a doll but were constrained by previous lore and had to abide by that. Plus at one point the creature impersonates another character but it felt wrong for it to do so. Perhaps this should go under fiddly, but it flat pulled me out of the movie.

The Fiddly: That doll. When we first saw Annabelle she looked quite beaten up and perfectly creepy. Here we get a chance to see her as she looked initially and she still looks too horrific to make an appropriate gift to the wife. That said I have seen several classic dolls that are far scarier than one would think a kid should have (my grandmother once possessed a large doll collection, some of them were truly terrifying) so it has historical precedence.

The close-knit setting also presents a few problems. While it mainly serves to keep the horror contained and fresh it also limits the story to a few plot contrivances. An integral character seems to exist almost magically near the couple and has all the resources to help. There is also a pair of minor characters that raise a few questions that are never addressed or mentioned again.

Final Statement: Annabelle is a perfectly fine horror movie that holds a few moments of greatness. Unfortunately, it falls short of its predecessor and is held back by its own scope and pacing.

Rating guide:

1- A cool idea or minor sprinkling of moments.

2- Just short of being ‘good,’ maybe catch it on TV

3- Perfectly serviceable; you should see this, maybe not in theaters

4- Absolute must see; a fine example of film making

5- Either a game changer, or a time worn tale done near perfection

Video Game Review: Destiny

Destiny (Video game)

Billed as a quasi-MMO, Destiny is a on-line only first-person shooter with friends. Your goal, as a warrior appointed by a giant holy golfball, is to scour Earth and its nearby bodies waging war on the darkness. This is achieved by choosing a career: Titan (warrior), Hunter (Rogue), or Warlock (Warlock). Operating from a base-tower you engage in ground strikes, story missions, and team-based competitions. Every victory brings you loot, vouchers for future loot, and experience used for leveling up and acquiring new abilities.

The Good: Destiny features impressive graphics, with some stunning visuals for those who love dilapidated buildings, sweeping vistas, and skyboxes. The controls feel tight and feature more weight and tangibility than Bungee’s previous outing Halo and its brood. Some shooters (such as Halo) feature gunplay that feels very light and anemic. If those games are the equivalent of firing a watergun at a paper target, Destiny is more like a fast-paced nerf game.

The ability to seamlessly connect to friends at any time is a welcome ability. I very much enjoy the spirit of the game, that the players are controlling future-knights and joining up to quest and serve the realm. This fact alone has had me searching for used copies of the game.

The game also features ‘patrol’ missions. These basically let you drop into the overworld and mess around for a while doing low-stakes fetch quests or simply engage in random gunplay. I appreciate this; sometimes I have an hour or less of free time and I just want to goof off for a bit. It’s nice to have a way of doing so without having to worry about plot or missing important things or getting wrapped up in a mission and running out of time.

The Bad: Mostly, the game is boring. The plot is non-existent or, even worse, fleshed out online via synched accounts and collecting in-game resources. For those who played Mass Effect imagine that every unlocked codex entry required that you stop playing and get on the internet to read. For all the talent they got in the voice acting department there is little for those guys to do. As a fan of voice acting this is a pretty severe crime; they have engaged in stunt-casting and deprived actual voice actors of needed work.

There is also very little real variety. When creating a character you pick from three races: humans, and two non-humans that are given no explanation for being. The difference between classes is also minimal, sharing most assets and even individual abilities are just various flavors of what the other two classes can do.

Apparently the game shifts gears and really gets into high gear when you reach level twenty. But by then you will have put in nearly as many game hours and now face a difficult slog in continuing to level thanks to a completely random, loot-based system.

The choice of missions is also annoyingly small, considering all the grinding and loot-scouring you will need to do. Also missions contained in an overworld all share the same area and start you in the same location each time. And despite taking place on different planets (The Moon isn’t a planet, but you catch my meaning) the physics never change. There is a brief mention of terraforming, but then why must you wear a created-character-concealing helmet to breathe?

The Fiddly: I’ll admit to not playing any of the PVP. I have heard good things, but from the onset it felt limited and wasn’t really my area of focus. I’m very big into gaming with friends but not strangers. Unless it’s me and my friends versus those strangers.

Also I have some problem with the level of customization and the uneven application of it. You create a face, but for the majority of the game it is concealed. You may try to find a cool looking helmet but will be forced to abandon it when a better one comes along– that or die easily. An option to layer a specific color scheme over all items would be appreciated here.

There is also the problem of your vehicles. You may buy a new ship or jetbike but the difference is purely cosmetic and in the case of the ship it simply changes your loading screen. This shows an awareness that players will want to buy the biggest and make it pretty but apparently this mindset didn’t carry over to armor customization in any way. I would also like it if I could control my ship during the loading screen. Watching it calmly fly along while I wait for the next area to load is boring; let me do barrel rolls or drift about. It keeps me amused.

Final Statement: After all the hype Destiny proves to be a competent, but bland, shooter. Any noble ideas behind the game seem to have been filtered out and have lead to the most expensive browser game ever.

Welcome and an Intro

Hello and welcome to The Well-Read Bear!

Please excuse any mess, I’m still getting things up and running. Expect this to be the only true status quo.

This blog will serve as a space to host my various opinions on a myriad of media. The bulk of which will be reviews, done in a format highlighting what I liked, what i didn’t, and what felt strange or off-putting. I’m an avid reader, gamer (board, video, and other), and goer-to of the movies. All are open game for my reviews.

In addition I plan to do a few book to movie comparisons, opinion pieces, and concept rewrites of certain media. So yes, maybe I’m somewhat full of myself. Hopefully I will at least be entertaining. Later this week: a review!