Bridge of Spies

bridgeofspies

James B. Donovan is chosen to represent Rudolf Abel, a man charged with treason for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. However, contrary to what people expected of him, which was just throwing something out there for the sake of maintaining appearances, Donovan actually does his job to the best of his ability, even managing to avoid the death penalty for Abel on the basis of future use as a bargaining chip to use in case any US personnel are captured by the USSR. This opportunity comes to arise when Gary Powers, a U-2 pilot, is captured. Donovan thought that his involvement with the entire affair was over, however he is the one that the Soviet Union ends up contacting, and hence despite having no involvement, he is the one that ends up going to Berlin on behalf of the CIA to negotiate the trade.

***

The movie features two phases, the first is the court case, which is relatively short and acts like a sort of prologue, and the second is the actual negotiations and prisoner swap, which is the core of the film. The court case actually felt somewhat slow despite its length, however the rest moved very fast. It was a good look into the history surrounding the period, especially highlighting the differences and similarities between the USA and USSR, and it was also pretty interesting in terms of watching Donovan step up to the plate and do quite a bit more than was expected of him. Beyond that, though the plot was told reasonably well with some solid tension at points, overall it was a pretty standard flick through and through lacking any especially interesting characters or plot elements. The cinematography and soundtrack were decent.

A film that is a good historical timepiece relating to espionage during the Cold War, but isn’t all that interesting beyond that. 

 

7/10

Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection

mgslegacy

The Metal Gear Solid series by Hideo Kojima is one of the most well respected game franchises in the world. From its debut on PS1 all the way to it’s somewhat lack luster ending on PS4, it has continued to push the bar and consistently be excellent. The Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection is a remastered collection of the core games in this franchise,: Metal Gear Solid, it’s sequel Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a prequel to both of those Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a sequel to Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and finally a sequel to Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Across this collection, which spans three generations of consoles, the series shows tremendous growth and tells one hell of a story.

The first game was pretty rough all around, not just in graphics as you would expect from a PS1 game, but also in terms of mechanics. The stealth features work pretty well, and seeing as they’re at the core of the game that makes the game quite good in its own right. The combat and especially armed combat was quite finicky and didn’t feel all that refined however, which made boss battles especially annoying. The area to explore was also only decent, though the back tracking was somewhat annoying. In terms of story, it features Snake breaking into Shadow Moses to prevent terrorists from stealing a special type of nuclear launcher, Metal Gear REX. It was pretty solid with a number of interesting twists, but overall a pretty standard plot all things considered. There were a lot of great characters though in terms of design and personality, though the story wasn’t very character oriented.

The second felt like a much more polished version of the mechanics from the first for the most part. It played largely the same and was also set for the most part in a singular complex. The weapons combat was considerably improved due to using first person when shooting, which vastly improved the boss battles, and hand to hand combat also felt less finicky. The exception to that is that the game also features sword combat, which played terribly. The stealth largely felt similar to the first game but less rough with more variety. There was back tracking in this as well, but it felt less annoying, in part because the area being played in looked nicer, as well as the areas playing differently from prior traversals. In terms of story, it features Snake now being part of an NGO dedicated to stopping the spread of Nuclear Weapons, but it then switches over to playing as Raiden, another agent, who has to infiltrate Big Shell to prevent terrorists who have taken over it from causing a major ecological disaster, though things get a lot more complicated. The story was tremendously different from the first one, pulling crazy twists in terms of characters, having completely ridiculous twists in terms of plot, having way larger than life characters, and pushing forth messages about society and information that were all kinds of insane, but in the end it was undoubtedly incredibly awesome. I think in terms of story, this may well be when Kojima was at his peak.

The third is a prequel that takes place long before the first, featuring Snake’s father, so to speak, as he gets involved with a conflict centered around the Cold War. In terms of game play, its pretty different from the first two, featuring a number of features such as stamina and silencers as well as much more verticality and a different camera system. All of this makes the game feel very different, so it felt somewhat awkward at first, but ultimately I would have to say it resulted in a solid improvement to the game play in all aspects: stealth, combat, etc. The story was a lot more focused than Sons of Liberty in that it was a standard Cold War espionage flick, about US spies secretly working to sabotage the USSR and deal with betrayals, however it was a tremendously good one featuring a number of tremendously amazing characters, and a story that hit stronger emotional notes than any of the previous ones. It did somewhat lack Kojima’s unique charm though. The theme music was also great, and using it during the final battle added to it tremendously.

Peace Walker came out after MGS4, but was a PSP game and is a sequel to MGS3, while MGS4 is a PS3 game and sequel to MGS2, so it makes more sense to play it directly after MGS3. However, this results in a game that is tremendously different from MGS3. It features completely redesigned combat featuring third person shooting and very different level design. The stealth I think worked tremendously better, and felt much more precise, though I feel the boss battle game play felt very different from what makes MGS, MGS and I wasn’t much of a fan of it. It also features a game play loop with doing missions, main and side, to contribute to base and personnel management and using those to grow and evolve for later missions. It was a very satisfying to see your organization grow, though the loop eventually gets repetitive. It was also annoying how sometimes it would present roadblocks with having to wait for things to happen related to said growth in order to progress with the story. In terms of story, it features the Snake from MGS3, now Big Boss, as he creates a mercenary group that helps Colombia deal with the CIA having projects within their borders, but ultimately results in a larger conspiracy involving the birth of Metal Gear and larger organizations.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a sequel to MGS2. It plays like an evolution of MGS3 but with some aspects like armed combat being more like MGS: PW, which makes sense as it was released between the two. It features solid stealth game play and great combat, especially the boss fights, ultimately resulting in it feeling the most polished of all the games. Furthermore, it also features the widest variety of locations that are in general a lot bigger than in any previous MGS game, and the graphics are of course also the best in this collection. The new characters and character designs are also great, and it’s quite evident that the improvement in graphics capabilities was used well. In terms of story, it wraps up the story being develop in all of the previous games with the various conspiracies and multiple conflicting factions. It was just as convoluted and messy as the second, arguably more so, but in the end it manages to wrap things up tremendously well, though the complete last story event felt quite a bit forced. The throwbacks to the previous games were also handled tremendously well, especially the return to Shadow Moses, the Psycho Mantis fight, and the final fight. The soundtrack was also excellent. Ultimately a Solid ending to an incredibly series.

A fantastic series with great stealth game play that evolves quite a bit, and a tremendously convoluted story that still manages to be amazing.

10/10

A Hideo Kojima Game

The Peanuts Movie

peanuts

Charlie Brown is seen by many as pretty pathetic and is strongly lacking confidence in himself due to the fact that nothing ever seeming to go as the wants it to. However, when a new student, a little red haired girl, comes to his school, he tries to make an effort to change to impress her, though as always things never work out as he planned.

***

The Charlie Brown movie is exactly what I expected it to be, and that’s great because it was incredibly funny and touching.. It was very true to the characters, especially Charlie Brown and Snoopy, but everyone’s character showed through to at least some degree. The plot was incredibly fitting in showing off the core of Charlie Brown, in that he’s a character that may be fail often for ridiculous reasons, but has a good heart. It was really simplistic in a sense, but it just fit so well. And the side story with Snoopy was interesting as well and I think helped with preventing the pacing from getting too slow. The animation quality and style were great, being different from normal animated movies but fitting quite well, the soundtrack was also fitting.

Exactly what one would expect from a well made Charlie Brown movie.

8/10

I really hope we get another one, though I’m reading that may not happen for a while.

Also, what was even the little red haired girls name? Good grief.

Samurai Flamenco

samuraiflamenco

Hazama has always wanted to be a super hero since he was a child. Hence, while working as a model, he’s secretly been going around dressed in costume as Samurai Flamenco to fight crime and aid citizens in need, which considering that crime is low mostly amounts to stopping petty crimes. However, still being a vigilante, he ends up having a run in with the police, specifically officer Gotou, who is skeptical, but eventually comes to support him on his quest, and becomes a close friend. However, things don’t stay peaceful forever, rather things escalate tremendously quickly, and Hazama must prove that he’s worthy of being the hero Samurai Flamenco.

***

This is a show that I just couldn’t figure out. It starts off being about Hazama trying to be a super hero in a normal world that doesn’t need super heroes, but still manages to be a hero successfully because he understands that truly being a hero means an unyielding commitment to justice. But then suddenly there are supernatural elements with monsters straight out of super sentai, but Hazama manages to rise to the occasion and successfully becomes a superhero to defeat the supervillain. But then another villain shows up and Hazama is suddenly on a super squad that he manages to lead to victory once more. But then suddenly there’s a massive political conspiracy framing him and his squad, but he manages to persevere through that as well and clear his name. But then it turns out the true villain was actually aliens, who lead him into an existential crisis, but one that he gets through again through being a hero. And then suddenly he meets god and it gets incredibly meta, after which things finally seem resolved and the world goes back to how it was before, pretty peaceful. But then he suddenly gets a terrorist stalker.

It’s just everything from sentai jam packed into a 22 episode show. It’s actually surprising how much they got in, but the blisteringly fast pace was pretty cool. Still, since its throwing in every cliche and trope possible, sometimes it felt like it was a homage, and sometimes it felt like it was trying to delve into being something beyond just simple homage, more of a deconstruction, and sometimes it simply felt like satire. There was so much going on, and it was incredibly rough and messy, with rapid tone shifts and some major abrupt shifts from solid comedy to super serious melodrama. But the plot was still awesome with a tremendous amount of variety, and the characters and growth were awesome as well. That is until a certain point. There is a point in the anime where I feel the show should have ended, at around when he chooses that he doesn’t want the heroic world to continue. I feel that was a great place to end it, and was sort of surprised that it still had another arc, wondering what they would do. Ultimately, I feel that while the rest of the arcs were super messy, they still aligned themselves with a core spirit that was present throughout the show. However, this last arc felt very off and unsettling more than anything, and ultimately felt like it completely veered off what the rest of the arcs were building, making the ending an unsatisfying train wreck that diminished the value of everything the came before.

The art and animation were decent. The soundtrack was good. The OPs/EDs were decent, with the second OP being especially great, though the second ED with the marionettes was kind of creepy.

A very fast paced and rough anime that seems to be homage, evolution, and satire of super sentai, and is quite good at being so, but completely falls apart towards the end.

 

7/10

Aldnoah.Zero

aldnoahzero

Humanities first trip to the moon involved the discovery of the remnants of a lost ancient civilization, including a gateway to Mars. A longer expedition led to discovering greater ruins of that civilization on Mars, including some sort of ancient technology that bestowed its first finder with the ability to use Aldnoah, a source of endless energy, as well as bestow the ability to bestow the ability to channel Aldnoah upon others. This man uses this power to declare himself emperor of the new empire of Vers, named after the lost civilization, and bestows several ‘Knights’ with Aldnoah to act in his stead. These knights quickly create a powerful civilization on Mars, however, the existence of endless energy does little to combat the fact that very little resources exist on Mars, and though the colony had greatly grown in population, discontent had as well. The emperors sole son fearing a rebellion channels this discontent to hating Earth, which the population buys hook line and sinker, and ultimately he leads an invasion of Earth. While Aldnoah may not help with resources, it is invaluable in terms of military prowess, and at first it seems that Earth’s forces are completely and utterly outmatched, being defeated by powerful mecha’s called Cataphracts piloted by the Knights, that while few in number, are capable of defeating entire armies. However, the overuse of the Moon-Mars gate results in its implosion, taking most of the moon with it, killing the prince and causing major devastation on Earth. The Emperor declares an immediate cease fire, however, Vers’ forces don’t make the long journey back to Mars through space, but rather stay in ‘Castles’ orbiting Earth, waiting.

Fast forwarding to 15 years later, the prince’s daughter, Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia has come to befriend a ‘Terran’, Slaine Troyard, who has told her many wonderful stories about Earth, and she has decided to visit Earth as a good will ambassador. However, during said visit, a terrorist group attacks her motorcade, killing everyone involved, and sending Earth and Vers back into conflict. Compared to last time, Earth is far more prepared, making major steps in military technology and creating their own mass produced cataphracts and requiring the entire population to go through military training to use them in school. However, despite their efforts, the power gap is still incredibly evident. However, one highschooler, Inaho Kaizuka, ends up getting thrown into the conflict, and using his incredible perception and well calculated strategy manages to be a force to be reckoned with all on his own, and in many instance the only one that can truly take Vers head on, especially considering how there’s far more to the war than it seems.

***

Aldnoah Zero is a show that is incredible moment to moment. From the beginning, watching Earth fall was incredibly unsettling. There was an incredible sense of desperation to it that set the tone for the entire series. That led into the set up for Inaho, who is shown as just a kid at first, but it quickly becomes obvious that he is the most overpowered character in the show by far simply on the basis of his intellect (though he eventually gets ever more overpowered later on due to various circumstances). The action is intense and great, and when Inaho finally manages to pull off some ridiculous trick that breaks all expectation and allows him to defeat someone that he should have absolutely no ability to damage at all, it is incredibly exhilarating and satisfying. This is enhanced by the great animation, especially for mechs, and the down right exceptional soundtrack.

However, while the moment to moment story is great, the overall plot is somewhat of a mess. The background and set up are actually great, with the conflict between Earth and Vers, as well as the political themes woven throughout it. However, the plot in terms of dealing with the various characters is completely haphazard. There are a lot of reasons for this, though the most obvious would be that Slaine made less and less sense to me as the story went on, and as he became more and more important the story seemed to get more and more awkward, ultimately coming to an ending that while not horrible, resulted in a web of relations between characters that were incredibly frustrating. Now that’s not to say that I hate the guy, he definitely had a lot of great moments, but in regards to his entire character arc, I just don’t understand him. In regards to many other characters on Vers’ side, I was similarly confused about their motivations. Though I could certainly sympathize with Asseylum and Lemerina, that made how the writers chose to end their stories seem even more weak. There were what I felt were pretty strong romances there that just ground to a complete end as if they didn’t matter at all towards the ending, which was very frustrating. And while I greatly enjoyed Inaho’s character arc as well as many of the side characters, it wasn’t enough to hold up the entire plot. Especially considering the ending, while while not bad, and certainly wrapping up most everything, still left a lot to be desired. So while there is a lot of good in the plot, there are a lot of major problems that you need to put some effort into looking past.

In terms of design, it’s fantastic. There is a strong contrast between Earth and Vers that appears in everything from the character designs to the mech designs, allowing them to do very well in terms of design across a very wide range. The animation being great also helps. The soundtrack as I stated before is also incredible and fitting. The first OP I thought was fantastic, and exactly the right tone to get the viewer hyped for each episode, and the EDs were a perfect send off depending on tone. The OP/ED of the second season were decent, but definitely a step back, though the throwback to the first OP at the end was much appreciated. The tag line is cheesy but cool at the same time.

An anime that looked at in pieces is incredible in almost every aspect, with how it’s all wrapped together, especially including it’s ending, preventing it from being great.

8/10

Zootopia

zootopia

Judy Hopps has always wanted to be a police officer in the great city of Zootopia. She does her best, graduates police academy as a valedictorian, and arrives for her first day of work, prepared to finally acheive her dream. Then she gets assigned to parking duty. Unfortunately for her, Judy Hopps is a rabbit, and no one takes rabbits seriously as police officers. Still, she does her best. But on her very first day, she ends up getting hustled by the con artist fox Nick Wilde, so things are not going well for her at all. However, afterwards she finally seems to get her big break. She is tasked with finding an otter named Emmitt who had disappeared alongside 14 other predators, but with the condition that if she fails she has to resign. Knowing that she needs all the help she can get, she ropes the reluctant Nick into assisting her through blackmail and they both tackle the case head on. However, as they delve deeper and deeper into the case, they discover a major conspiracy that rocks the very foundation of Zootopia to its core.

***

There’s something special about great family movies, especially the animated ones, that just seems sort of magical. This film manages to hit that sweet spot perfectly. Its set in a super diverse city with a large number of biomes and a large number of types of animals inhabiting said biomes. This gives it a very fantasy like feel to it due to all the variety. However, the actual plot is much more grounded in reality. It imparts a very strong message about how despite all of us being different, we all need to work with each other and get along, which is tremendously relevant these days. Yes, to some degree this is kind of ridiculous because the story invokes predators getting along with their prey, which is kind of weird, as well as a lot of other inconsistencies or points that are awkward when you think about them. However, because the setting works so well for what they were trying to convey, and the fact that a good film can be structured in such a way that viewers can gloss over such details while watching, I think it managed to work out tremendously well. The plot itself was pretty predictable, with the true villain being pretty obvious from the first scene they’re in, however the duo of Judy and Nick played tremendously well together in getting through that plot, both of them growing tremendously because of the trials they go through as well as strengthening their bond with each other, ultimately coming to a fantastic ending that wraps things up perfectly and brings things full circle. All of this is done with fantastic animation and artwork, great comedy, and a great soundtrack featuring Shakira who seems to be a lot better than I remembered.

A fantastically animated movie about coming together despite differences.

 

9/10

This seems more ripe for a sequel than any other Disney movie I can remember in recent memory. Really hope we get it.

Plastic Memories

plasticmemories

For lack of a better place to go, Tsukasa ends up working at Sion Artificial Intelligence Corporation. SAI is the only corporation in the world that creates Giftias, androids with artificial souls indistinguishable from normal humans, and hence is incredibly cutting edge and an amazing place to work… for the most part. Tsukasa ends up working for Terminal Service, a much smaller, much more relaxed, and very separated branch from the main company that deals with a certain problem. Giftias all have a common issue that SAI has been unable to solve, in that after 81,920 hours they quickly begin to lose their memories, and eventually end up going berserk. Terminal Service is a division that handles collecting Giftias before their expiration date, and essentially putting them to sleep forever, which is quite a depressing job. This is usually done in pairs, a spotter and a marksman, one human and one Giftia. Tsukasa is immediately paired with a girl named Isla, who is a veteran but somewhat clumsy at her job. However, together they work off each other and make a great team, getting incredibly close to each other in the process. However, Isla is a Giftia, and like every other Giftia, her expiration date too is approaching.

***

What should you do if you have a predetermined life span? Live life to the fullest. That was the point of this anime. It was very clear, and a solid world was created around that point. While there was obviously denial from some of the characters related to this point, it was light, and it was highly emphasized that this point was what truly matters, and hence there wasn’t any major conflict or narrative effort given to going in a different way. And hence it focused solely on honing in on that one point, which was a great decision as it ultimately it did a tremendously good job at it. There is still value to life, even if all that remains at the end is nothing, not even memories. Rather, everything matters more when you know it’s going to end.

These points were thrown out a bit more explicitly than one would expect, arguably too blatantly, but this I think actually helped out, as it gave the viewers a lens to look through focusing in on the key themes immediately, even before the plot really started moving. And in that regard, it starts moving very quickly, not dancing around the key issue of Isla being the obvious main character that this effected. Rather, it foreshadowed her purpose from the beginning and brought it to the forefront relatively quickly, developing the character relationships and plot from there. The relationship between the two was incredibly well done in that both grew tremendously, Isla especially, and in an incredibly way considering her circumstances. It gives the viewer a sense of what should be coming doom, but as it faces it head on with such sincerity, it ends up becoming something more that’s difficult to describe, with the closest explanation I can think of being the theme park metaphor given in the anime.

The anime isn’t completely sad from beginning to end as one would expect of such circumstances, it has a surprisingly large amount of comedy and light hearted moments, and even the ending isn’t purely sad. Despite everything, Isla truly grew to accept things and be happy. It was definitely one of the most emotional endings I’ve ever seen, due to how great the romance between the two key characters was and how solidly it developed them as a normal couple dealing with a difficult situation, and I certainly wouldn’t call it happy enough to considered it bittersweet, but it wasn’t completely sad either, it was something more that I am also having trouble describing.  This concluded with an epilogue that also cements that feeling and the theme of moving on, but refrains from showing key details to also keep the ending featuring Isla as the last keynote viewers remember.

There were some parts that felt out of tone, like the combat, though a bit of variety does help, and there were certainly other interesting characters with their own short plots, but overall it was a very focused plot brought to a priceless conclusion. The OP/ED and OST were great and fitting. Isla’s face varying in the OPs was an incredibly good touch in hindsight. The animation and art were solid.

A sad but beautiful anime about the value of life. 

9/10