“San Andreas” Review (Spoiler-Free)

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My mom and I decided to take an impromptu trip to the movies today. Given how movie theaters up here are still aiming to bring in the post-supper crowd before summer hits, my mom and I had two options that fit our time frame: “Aloha”, a rom-com with Bradley Cooper, or “San Andreas”, a disaster flick with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Having known nothing about these movies until viewing their trailers today, I figured an action film was the more interesting option. And while I can’t say for sure if I’m right or wrong about that, I WILL say that this one’s…pretty much forgettable.

The plot goes like this: Dwayne is Ray, an LA firefighter who regularly rescues people via helicopter and such. Ray’s going through a divorce and is feeling estranged from his wife, Emma, and daughter, Blake. But when a seismologist played by Paul Giamatti discovers that California’s San Andreas fault line is starting to collapse, Ray is forced to jump into action to rescue Emma and later Blake before San Francisco falls.

The first thing that went through my head, aside from how the first character we see onscreen is such an idiotic driver, was how much like Roland Emmerich’s films this seems like. It’s easily the most Emmerich film I’ve seen that isn’t directed by Emmerich. For starters, you get some splices here and there to get a sense of the carnage and death happening, mostly thanks to some decent acting once in a while, but the death toll never really hits home all that much. All of the characters come across cookie-cutter and a bit two dimensional, and some are barely seen before they’re unceremoniously killed off. I will give the director some credit, though, in that he contains his central cast to a minimal amount, making it easier to follow them and attempt to care (though again, cookie-cutter).

Most of the acting here ranges from okay to bad, with my personal good highlights being Dwayne and Paul’s performances. I felt like out of everyone they were trying the hardest, though I did also find myself actually enjoying the one kid character, Ollie, as well (I usually find child actors annoying). Carla Gugino had a good moment here or there, but most of the time I felt unattached to her character. But unfortunately, I just felt all of these talented actors (including poor Ioan Gruffudd – he can’t catch a break here) were wasted. It’s a shame, because I wanted to like these characters so much more.

The biggest sin is that the writing overall is just…bland. Not only does it create cookie-cutter characters, but the plot hits the usual disaster movie cliches (although it’s lessened slightly by focusing mainly on earthquakes) as well as standard “save so-and-so” cliches. It didn’t make it hard to watch or even overly boring, but I could easily predict where the plot was going (for what’s there) and how some scenes would play out. Again, though, some credit is due: I kept expecting certain characters to die and more often than not it didn’t happen. The director at least had the sense to not go death-crazy to try to keep us invested in their plight. There’s even a nice moment near the ending that depicts rescue teams piling into San Francisco, though it’s immediately made incredibly ham-fisted and cheesy by the ending itself.

So, if the plot, characters and cliches are all standard disaster fare, was there anything I took away from the movie that I liked aside from the occasional performance? Well… The biggest highlight of the movie is by far the effects. You almost feel at times that you’re at ground level and dealing with the quakes, and the destruction would easily make Emmerich proud. It looks gorgeous and the action scenes were easy to follow and kept the pace moving along well enough, which only seemed to slow down during a lot of the more talky scenes. My only issue on a technical level is the version we saw. In our theater, we experienced what’s called UltraAVX 3D, which is basically a theater with a huge screen, top-notch sound system, comfy-ish leather chairs, and of course 3D tech. While the screen lent to the disaster scenes and the sound as well, I hardly noticed any 3D. My mom even agreed with me that it was very lackluster. Don’t waste your money on the 3D if possible.

Overall, “San Andreas” was, like I said, a forgettable movie. It’s sad that a lot of that can be contributed to the cliche script and characters, especially when the action scenes were easily the most entertaining part. I feel hard-pressed to recommend it to the average movie-goer, but if you like dumb disaster films, this is slightly above the usual Emmerich fare. Go in for the destruction and that’s pretty much it.

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My Current Obsession: Marvel’s Daredevil

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Given my recent forays with DC lately between “Arrow” (still have to watch most of Season 3) and now “Flash” (2 eps in and thoroughly enjoying it), I didn’t expect to want to try diving into yet another superhero show. When I heard about the Netflix version of “Daredevil”, I was intrigued yet wary about it. For one thing, I had never been overly interested in Daredevil as a character, though some of that wasn’t helped by the awful theatrical cut of the Daredevil movie. And for another thing, I didn’t want to burn out on superhero shows. However, with the urging of my friends and fiance, I decided to give it a shot. I gotta say, I’m only 4 episodes in as of writing this, and I was hooked by the end of the first.

One thing that eased my worries going in was the show’s length. At 13 episodes spanning about 45-50 minutes each, it’s tailor-made for binge watching. To avoid getting burnout, I’ve set “Arrow” and “Flash” on the back burner to watch this, and I’m uberly glad I did. Not that I feel the dark tone would conflict with those two, but it feels nice to focus on one at a time. This show was created by one of my favorite Joss Whedon writers, Drew Goddard, and so far I consider it one of the most solidly written shows I’ve seen to date.

Of course, given that I’m not even halfway through the show yet, there’s still a lot I don’t know about where it’ll go in terms of plot or character development. But what I DO know is that I absolutely love the performances here. This is one of the best casts I’ve seen and I don’t feel like there has been any obvious weak links so far. I love Charlie Cox as Matt, far more than Ben Affleck’s interpretation. He just seems so confident and yet relatable in his struggles to clean up New York’s crime syndicate. I love his pal and law partner Foggy as well, especially when he gets serious about his job. I really thought I’d find his comedic sidekick act to be annoying, but I haven’t minded him one bit. I enjoy the female characters as well, Karen and Claire, and hope to see more of their involvement in the story. I LOVE Ben, both as a hard-hitting journalist and all-around character. Having studied journalism, I just wanna hang out with this guy and work alongside him. I loved getting to see Matt’s father, Jack, during flashbacks of his childhood and the great chemistry between his actor and the child actor. And, of course, I adore the baddies. The Russian brothers have a great connection to one another, the Kingpin’s associate Wesley is conniving and smug and played by the perfect actor, and I both loved and am scared of the Kingpin himself. I enjoy Vincent D’Onofrio as an actor, especially a TV one, and his early portrayal here was unexpected and just awesome.

I love how this show is shot too, almost standing out like a graphic novel. The use of shadows and colored lighting makes everything pop, and the show isn’t afraid to get a little gruesome to show realistic injuries. I appreciate how realistic the action scenes come off too, and they’re always shot in a way so that you’re never once confused over what’s happening. I like how Matt’s strong sense of hearing is portrayed by slowing things down and amplifying sounds around him. I also like the sparse but good references to the Marvel films, specifically the Battle of New York that took place in “The Avengers.” And I like how the flashbacks to Matt’s childhood give us a little bit of information at a time to let things build and develop naturally. Honestly, the only bad things I’ve had to say about this show to my fiance have been extremely minor nitpicks and nothing that took away from the quality of it.

I feel like this show is easily one of the best things Marvel’s put out, both via its movie and TV offerings. One thing I couldn’t stand with dark shows like “Gotham” was how almost laughably corrupt everyone was and how hard they tried to make Gotham dark. With “Daredevil”, New York feels like a real city that naturally has a seedy side, and I believe that these crime syndicates would do what they could to achieve power. Overall, I would recommend this show to anyone looking to either get into a more realistic superhero show or to just continue with the Marvel universe. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the rest of Season 1 has to offer, and I just know I’ll be on board for Season 2 by next year.

“White Night” Review

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Well, it took longer than I was hoping, but I finished the next Dresden instalment, “White Night.” And before I get into the plot and such, I will say that I found this one to be pretty straight forward compared to some of the more twist-heavy ones I’ve covered. That said, just what is the plot to this one?

A recent string of apparent suicide cases causes Karrin Murphy to bring Harry in on the case. His discoveries soon lead him to dive into the world of the White Court vampires to find out who the true culprit is. But he also has to contend with keeping his new apprentice, Molly, out of trouble, and the reappearance of an old flame. Will Harry find the killer in time before more victims appear, including possibly himself?

As I said above, this book felt pretty straight-forward and there weren’t really any twists until near the end. One thing I really liked was the focus on the White Court and the various factions within it, including bringing back Thomas and his family. I thought the plot did a great job of utilizing them and also fleshing out the White Court in general after all the focus on the Black Court and especially the Red Court lately. I also didn’t mind the reappearance of a certain character (who I of course won’t spoil), as they played a pretty sizable role in the events that take place. There was definitely setup of a minor plotline for later stories, and I’m interested to see if that’ll come into play. The book also uses ghouls to tie into both the main plot and a flashback. I felt this was really well done and highlighted how much Harry’s changed over the past few books.

As usual, I enjoyed Murphy’s role in the story and even Marcone gets in on the action again this time. Despite him being a jerk, I still find his character super interesting and he gets a little more background revealed here as well. But if I had to pick a character that I enjoyed the most, I really liked the developments made with Lasciel (aka “Lash”). I was worried her involvement in Harry’s life would become repetitive, but some interesting conversations take place between them in this that really expanded on her character and motivations. I wasn’t overly satisfied with how she’s handled near the end of the story, but that’s mostly because of the book’s implication and not her as a character.

I did have a couple nitpicks with this one, however. First, I was able to tell who one of possible suspects was right away, though there’s a twist involving said character that I wasn’t fully expecting. The reason I could guess it was this character was because Jim Butcher creates a way too obvious red herring to distract from it. Maybe I’ve just gotten better at spotting red herrings like that, or maybe it was just written way too blatantly, but I soon wanted the main characters to hurry up and figure it out so the story could move along.

My other complaint centers around Molly. As a character, I still don’t like her overly much. She did earn some points from me for a scene before the final confrontation, but I’m typically not a fan of rebellious, kinda whiny teenager characters. However, my main issue with her is that the books, especially this one, continue to sexualize her. Okay, I know she’s like 19 (so thankfully legal), but when you have guys like Butters and even freakin’ Harry (I know he needs to get laid but still) noticing how physically attractive she is, it feels just icky. I sincerely wish this becomes less of a thing in the later books, because it was the biggest thing that bothered me here (though it WAS kept to a minimum, thankfully).

Overall, “White Night” was a pretty good story. Without an abundance of twists, it was much easier to follow even early on than some of the books I’ve read, and the focus of the White Court was very much appreciated since I consider them my favorite of the big three. Considering how far into the series we are and how much has happened, I wouldn’t recommend trying to pick up and read this without context. However, as part of the series, I think it’s a solid entry and that goes especially for some of the book’s character-driven moments.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” Review (Spoiler-Free!)

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With only a week left in my stay at my aunt’s house, I’ve finally seen the second “Avengers” movie. I plan to blog about the next Dresden title over the following week, but for now I had to talk about this one. Why? Aside from having blogged the first film, this was my most anticipated one of the summer blockbusters. As stated in the title, I’ll try to keep things spoiler-free for the sake of anyone who stumbles across this blog and still hasn’t seen it. First, though, let’s get into the basic premise.

After the events of an excursion to retrieve Loki’s scepter, Tony Stark gets caught up in creating the ultimate A.I., dubbed “Ultron”, to protect the world from powerful threats. Unfortunately, Ultron becomes self-aware and decides he must change the world by eliminating the Avengers with the help of the Inhumans known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Now the Avengers must stop Ultron before he causes untold damage to the world and to them as well.

As much as I’ve enjoyed every one of the Marvel films in some way (though “Iron Man 2” and “The Incredible Hulk” still rank the lowest for me), “The Avengers” is still my favorite of the bunch. I just loved the team dynamic of putting these characters I’d sat and watched in the same room and watching them band together. Loki was far more enjoyable for me than in even “Thor” and I loved the typical Joss Whedon snark throughout. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and the plot was pretty simplistic even for a Marvel film, but it was a fun romp. I went into “Age of Ultron” with the hope that I would be at least very entertained, and despite some issues, I did enjoy it.

With the sequel, I found myself enjoying a lot of the individual scenes more than the overall plot. That’s not to say that I found the plot bad (though I felt not much happened till about halfway through), but there were a lot of great character moments and action scenes (some not related to the plot) that I thought stood out more. The opening scene against Hydra, the action involving the Hulkbuster, the quiet moments between the Avengers themselves – all of these scenes were contributed to how much more of a team they are compared to their growing pains in “Avengers.” The action scenes did seem like a step up from the first movie and the snarky humor was intact, though I felt there was less of it this time. As usual, Stan Lee gets his traditional short-but-sweet Marvel cameo and it was a pretty good one. However, I found the film had some scenes that felt like they had no connection to any development from the preceding films, and because of it the film felt like it’d been noticeably cut down. Maybe that’s just my observation, but that’s how it came across to me. Luckily, the pacing for this 2 hour and 12 minute movie was good despite the slow build of the plot. I felt like it breezed by just by how much I was invested in all the action, and there’s plenty of it throughout.

As usual, the individual members get something to do here along with working as a team. A lot of focus is put on Tony as he’s the one to create Ultron and goes to great lengths to deal with the consequences of it. Thor, Cap and Hulk all get nice quiet moments to coincide with awesome action scenes, and thankfully Hawkeye actually gets some development and more to do here (though he’s still the least interesting of the group). Black Widow also gets a bit of development (along with an awesome light-up suit) and we learn more about her past at one point. I did know about the controversy surrounding Black Widow going in, but my biggest issue with her was the lack of continuity from her previous appearances (though one line of dialogue did make me cringe, not because of the controversy but because of how ham-fisted it was). She takes an interest in someone that didn’t seem to match up with any of her previous appearances (basically comes out of nowhere), but she at least still gets her fair share of the action. I was wishing she had more to do whenever an action scene wasn’t happening, though, and she does unfortunately get caught up in some stereotypical plot shenanigans during the climax.

This time around, we have two new characters, twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. If you’ve seen “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” you already know that another version of Quicksilver was present there. Personally, I preferred that actor’s portrayal over this one as his Quicksilver seemed to have more of a personality despite his limited role. I did, however, like the effects on this Quicksilver’s super-speed. Scarlet Witch mainly serves as a plot device, and while I liked how her powers were portrayed, the way they were utilized mostly ended up being a bit pointless. I felt that these characters may have had more scenes to further flesh them out, and I kinda hope they did because they sorely needed them. I wasn’t all that interested in what they were doing until the climax, and they were easily one of the biggest disappointments for me.

Thankfully, the villain, Ultron, was not a disappointment. As much as I love Loki and always will, Ultron was a great foe and James Spader did a fantastic job in the role. Ultron is equal parts an intelligent threat and sometimes humanized one, even capable of making the occasional snarky wisecrack. His “birth” was one of my favorite scenes in the first half hour of the film, let alone the entirety of it. I found myself anticipating another scene with him just because he was such a joy to watch. It was a blast watching the team go up against him and I loved how the final battle with him played out. Definitely one of the movie’s highlights, at least for me.

Overall, I feel like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was a fun watch, though opinions may be split on it. On one hand, it does a lot of things better than “Avengers,” but on the other hand there are many issues with it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s at least followed or enjoyed any of the Marvel films and especially the first Avengers film. For me, despite my personal gripes, I got the very fun-to-watch sequel I was hoping for. Give it a watch and decide for yourself if it was worth the wait.

Big Dogs vs Little Dogs

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As I sit here at my aunt’s house only three days into their trip, I’ve come to a realization: If I ever get a dog, I definitely want a big one. Why? Well, there are various reasons, but these repeated dogsitting bouts I’ve had taking care of my aunt’s Pomeranian have cemented that for me. Let me add, though, that despite never owning a dog of my own, I’ve always loved dogs (big AND small), and I’m not trying to say that one is better than the other. These are just my personal reasons for why I feel I’d prefer a bigger dog in the future.

To start off, the Pomeranian I’m dogsitting is at least smart enough to know not to step into the busy road my aunt’s house is connected to. However, because he’s such a tiny fluffball, it’s easy to lose sight of him even while I’m also outside. While I’m not worried about losing him, my aunt has a decently big property and plenty of places for him to sneak out of view. I feel like for my own sense of security, I’d want a bigger dog to avoid this issue entirely.

Now, I can’t speak much for bigger dogs and how often they eat/digest food, but this particular Pomeranian needs to be taken out to use the bathroom fairly often. Even something as simple as a drink of water seems to go through him in no time at all. I know, this could easily differ from dog to dog despite the size, but the only benefit I’ve found from this is that, of course, the little guy has very little…ahem, droppings. But even that has a downside because they’re also harder to spot (thankfully I’ve avoided them by some miracle so far).

Of course, one of the things people always love to bring up and even joke about is how little dogs are ankle-biters and yippy to boot. I’m lucky that this one isn’t big on biting, but he does like to bark a lot in the right circumstances (especially when he sees my mom – she’s not a dog lover). Considering he’s not the smallest breed out there, his bark definitely could be worse, but it can still grate from time to time. That’s not to say big dogs aren’t just as annoying, but I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some that barely did bark (though I assume they were trained not to).

If there are some reasons why I think having a little dog would be beneficial, it’s that they don’t take up much space, therefore making great apartment dogs, and they’re less of a hassle to cart around for long-distance trips. But personally, I was always more interested in the dogs I saw in media while I was growing up, whether they were a German Shepherd, Dalmatian, Husky or Golden Retriever (to name a few). Sure, there was the occasional small dog I found cute, but I was always more drawn to those big breeds. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my dogsitting, it’s that all dogs, no matter how big or small, crave care and attention. I just hope that I can give whatever dog I choose all the love and care it deserves…and maybe even own another cat some day too.