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“Warcraft” Review

A Vibrant World Meets a Dull Story

warcraft-movie-live-actionFew fantasy franchises capture the attention of audiences the world over and make a notable impression upon the mainstream like Warcraft, which has existed in various video game iterations since the franchise’s debut in 1994. It’s a world rich in history, species, heroes, villains, and mysteries. With writer/director Duncan Jones at the helm, the beloved videogame world makes its way to the big screen with Warcraft, and it takes those many elements and brings them to life in an unadulterated form. If only the movie had also brought along a compelling narrative or any emotional investment in its many characters.

Like many of its games, Warcraft centers on the conflict between the humans of the world of Azeroth and the orcs of the world of Draenor, who have invaded Azeroth due to the slow death of their world. As these massive legions of warriors look to make this new world their own, the human kingdoms seek to stave off the invasion while a small group of noble orcs rebel in search of honor and a better world for everyone.

Warcraft’s greatest strength also happens to be one of the largest parts of its own undoing: a massive focus on bringing every possible aspect of the franchise to life in this live action adaptation. While the efforts to make each species look just right, have each location become a breathtaking recreation of the places fans have loved for decades, and have each piece of the lore in its proper place for this adventure should be lauded for their painstaking detail, the focus on fan service also comes at the cost of a satisfying and active narrative.

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“X-Men: Apocalypse” Review

The X-Men Go Big and Fall Apart

x-men-apocalypse-movie-posterWhen director Bryan Singer and Fox Studios gave the X-Men franchise a much needed in-continuity soft reboot with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film series was given needed freedom to do what they want, how they want. In 2016’s latest entry into the series, X-Men: Apocalypse, the Singer-directed franchise goes bigger and more bombastic than ever, but the results wind up being muddled, familiar, and frantic, even if the extra-large canvas of the film allows for more spectacle than ever before.

Set in 1983 and continuing the reborn franchise’s trend of leaping a decade between movies, X-Men: Apocalypse is mostly concerned with the rise of the ancient and all-powerful Egyptian mutant known as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), who awakens after a centuries-long slumber to conquer the world. Meanwhile, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his school for young mutants are forced to join the battle while former ally/enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is pulled into the conflict after a life-shattering tragedy.

The X-Men films have often leaned on the mutant metaphor for telling a story about outcasts and those on the fringes of society due to being born different while still throwing in action-focused, team-centric tales of superheroics. Here, the metaphors are by and large dismissed in favor of big summer action blockbuster thrills. And while not every X-Men film has to be about the oppressed, a lack of any subtext within X-Men: Apocalypse definitely leaves the film feeling like nothing more than an ephemeral bit of CGI-laden diversion.

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“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” Review

Heroes in a Half-Assed Shell

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-out-of-the-shadows-2016-reviewThe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is, inherently, silly. But for a concept as convoluted as mutated ninja turtle brothers who love pizza, fight crime, encounter aliens, and occasionally time travel is, TMNT can be pushed and pulled in different directions while still working incredibly well as a fun and massive franchise. After the 2014 live action reboot debuted to big numbers yet serious complaints from fans and critics alike, the newest entry in the franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was clearly designed as a course correct for the film series, embracing big and colorful characters and an extremely heightened sense of fun akin to the early ‘90s cartoon series, yet with the special effects steroids that are par for the course with a Michael Bay-produced film.

That embrace of everything wild and wacky about the turtles is certainly commendable in its efforts, especially given the dark, faux-edgy, and oh so very misguided nature of the 2014 film. But there’s still a sense of watering down felt throughout Out of the Shadows, a certain demand to filter everything through the “Bayformers” lens that leaves things feeling surprisingly bland at points. Yet the vibrant strangeness of the TMNT series is here to a greater degree than ever before, helping to propel the film and bring it closer to the desires of longtime fans. It’s also plotted like an early ‘90s cartoon, filled with sudden character introductions that lack any real meaning, world domination plans that have no real purpose, and vague world-ending weapons that need to be both assembled and defeated in a very video game logic sort of way. If the logic feels thudding to the point of brain damage, it may just be that way on purpose. The only option is to either roll with the punches or get knocked out by them.

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“Seven Samurai” – Character Informs Action

Legendary director Akira Kurasowa’s 1954 epic Seven Samurai is a titan in the world of filmmaking. Often seen as the pinnacle of the director’s career, Seven Samurai has not only directly inspired remakes, it also informed and inspired countless directors in careers that have spanned the decades since. There are countless elements to Seven Samurai that make it an all-time great. Everything from shot composition to story execution to the way the director exquisitely blends emotion with plot. It’s a movie that can be proclaimed as one of the greatest ever made without any real objection from anyone with knowledge of film.

But what makes Seven Samurai so powerful is its emphasis on character above all else, with our investment into the various protagonists of the film propelling every aspect of the story.

Yes, Kurosawa’s epic is filled with action, romance, humor, tragedy, and spectacle, but these many elements all hit the mark so perfectly because the viewer is above all invested in the people at the center of the story. By doing so, Seven Samurai becomes a film that has an epic sweep in its scope, yet consistently feels like an intimate character drama, no matter how big the battles get or how massive the 3 hour and 27 minute runtime may be. It’s a priority that fewer and fewer big budget spectacle films have had in the decades that followed, yet it’s a crucial element that has caused this samurai epic to be a lasting pillar in the history of film while so many others have faded away.

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Best Saxophone Solos in Music

15 Pop Songs With Sweet Sax Solos

I love a great saxophone solo. Whether that’s in jazz or pop music, there’s something that just feels fantastic when the blaring notes of a saxophone rip through a song at just the right moment. While the greatness of the saxophone solo in mainstream pop music came to prominence in the 1980s, it’s been making its mark on music in the years before and the decades after.

The following 15 songs have fantastic saxophone solos that elevate them to the next level. From the cheesy to the pitch perfect, each of these saxophone solos are just right for any fan of the instrument and music in general. And if you don’t love saxophone solos, then I just have pity for you.

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Batman Day 2016: My Top 7 Articles on Batman

September 17 is the third annual Batman Day, celebrating The Dark Knight and his many adventures in the more than 75 years since his debut in Detective Comics #27. While a fictional character who is known and loved around the world like Batman doesn’t need a dedicated day to be celebrated, it’s always fun to have another chance to show The Caped Crusader some love. And in the course of the more than three years that Crisis on Infinite Thoughts has been running, I’ve created numerous pieces on comic books, films, cartoons, and many pieces of lore surrounding Batman.

My love for Batman was sparked at an early age, with Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series beginning its run on television when I was very young. These early episodes hooked me into the world of Batman when I was still learning to love superheroes and the imprint that the show had on my formative years has informed much of both my love for the character and my broader personal tastes concerning heroes and media in general.

The following five articles are some of the pieces that I am most proud of from over the years. Check them out, learn something new about Batman, and have fun celebrated one of the most enduring and vibrant fictional characters of the modern age. Happy Batman Day!

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Worst Movies 2016

2016: The Year of the Botched Blockbuster

The summer of 2016 has come to a close and with it ends one of the most disappointing blockbuster film seasons in a very long time. From movies that radically split public opinion to would-be summer hits that made audiences stay away from the theaters in droves, 2016 has been filled with disastrous big budgeted action spectacles. It’s clear that both audiences and critics alike were worn down with blockbuster fatigue as the summer wore on, with quite a few high budget films failing to perform as studios expected.

But it’s not just box office returns that were a clear indication of audience disappointment. There seems to be less and less of a tolerance for big dumb spectacle at the theaters these days. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean that audiences are always seeking out critically acclaimed independent films, it does mean that many more are simply staying away from the newest blockbuster film.

Maybe movie studios got overconfident in the power of pre-established properties and nostalgia? After all, 2015’s Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens rode those factors to record-breaking results. Or maybe this was all just terrible coincidence of countless in-process problematic films finally coming out at the same time? In any case, name recognition before film quality led to some serious stinkers. Let’s find out what made 2016’s films into what they are and what it could mean for the future.

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Star Trek at 50: The Enduring Meaning of Gene Roddenberry’s Message

Creator Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Series debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966, making today the official 50th anniversary of this massively influential science fiction franchise. Through soon-to-be seven television series, 13 films, and multiple book, comic book, and video game incarnations, Star Trek has grown to be one of the most important franchises in modern entertainment. But it wasn’t always the case.

Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek took two television pilots to go to series, which is highly uncommon, only for the series to struggle through consistently low ratings and an eventual cancellation after three seasons. But the world of Star Trek was incredibly vibrant, even in its early days, leading to an endlessly devoted fanbase of Trekkies that led to a follow-up animated series and multiple films before reaching its heyday in the 1990s. While the franchise has had rough patches over the years (most recently with the alternate timeline reboot leading to little more than three films in seven years), the heart and soul of the series has kept Star Trek endlessly relevant and constantly fascinating.

Roddenberry’s vision of the future is an ultimately optimistic one. One in which the people of Earth have found permanent peace by moving beyond violence and the discriminating lines of racism and sexism. But that’s not to say that the path to a better future was an easy one or that the people of a far better Earth are perfect. The fictional timeline leading up to the world of Star Trek was marked with numerous devastating wars, including The Eugenics Wars, World War II, and multiple wars with alien races once interstellar travel was established, including battles with both the Kzinti and the Romulans. The path to true progress and a better future was a painful one, making the idealistic future of Star Trek feel all the more real. But once humanity united as a people, a greater future beyond our planet was made possible.

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Every Superman: The Animated Series Episode Ranked, Part 2: #20 – 1

As part of celebrating the 20th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series, we finish our countdown of every single episode of the cartoon. From the debuts of terrifying villains to humongous intergalactic clashes to team ups with a certain Dark Knight, these 20 episodes are the best stories ever offered by the DC Comics Books series.

For #45 to 21, read Part 1 of Every S:TAS Episode Ranked.

20. New Kids in Town

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There’s not nearly enough time spent in Smallville throughout the course of Superman: The Animated Series, so an entire episode set in Clark’s rural hometown is very welcome. Not only that, but it’s a time travel episode and it introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes! As Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Chameleon Boy chase a Brainiac from the 31st Century into the past, they wind up in Smallville at the time Clark Kent was a teenager. Of course, Brainiac is there to wipe him out of existence. It’s sort of like Back to the Future crossed with Superman, which is a great compliment. And while the Legionnaires themselves are a bit bland, young Clark and the time travel shenanigans make for a fun time.

19. Identity Crisis

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As a villain who is a polar opposite to Superman, Bizarro most often functions as either a joke character or a tragic one. Here, the emphasis is much more on the tragic and the result is far better than any follow-up stories featuring the character. In an attempt to replicate the alien physiology of Superman, Lex Luthor creates an imperfect clone whose biology quickly degrades into the monster known as Bizarro. It’s the twisted logic of Bizarro that makes him both hero and villain, as he cannot tell right from wrong. It all leads to a climactic showdown and a heroic sacrifice that caps off the tale in a most fitting manner.

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Every Superman: The Animated Series Episode Ranked, Part 1: #45 – 21

September 6 marks the 20th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series, creator Bruce Timm’s follow up cartoon series to Batman: The Animated Series. Premiering in 1996, S:TAS was the second entry in what would soon come to be known as the DC Animated Universe, eventually leading to the revival of B:TAS and the eventual premiere of the Justice League team-up series.

While S:TAS is not as fondly remembered as the Batman cartoon series that preceded it, Timm worked similar magic in this animated interpretation of The Man of Steel. From the character’s classic origins to his escalating battles with the villainous Darkseid and the legions of Apokolips, Superman: The Animated Series sought to bring every classic element of its hero to life faithfully.

Inspired by Max Fleischer’s cartoon serials of the 1940s, Jack Kirby’s 4th World comics, and John Byrne’s 1986 modern reboot of the character, Timm and his Warner Bros. team sought to make Superman: The Animated Series a tribute to both the classic and modern versions of the hero. Over the course of almost four years and 54 episodes, they created one of the best versions of Superman ever seen on screen.

Follow along for a celebratory ranking of every episode of Superman: The Animated Series, with multi-part episodes grouped together, and let us know your favorite episodes in the comment section below!

45. Superman’s Pal

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When Bruce Timm himself proclaims an episode to be the worst thing they ever did on the show, it’s hard to argue with the man. And Superman’s Pal, which focuses on Jimmy Olsen as he deals with overwhelming fame due to being identified as The Man of Steel’s best friend, is shoddy. It doesn’t get any better when Metallo is introduced as a last minute villain, who is defeated by Jimmy splashing battery acid on him. It’s all dumb. Let’s move on.

44. Unity

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S:TAS often found its greatest strengths in relying on well-established characters and pursuing a more classic sensibility in its storytelling. Unity does neither of those and it shows. Starring Supergirl (with Clark conveniently written out of the episode), Unity sees a roaming preacher come to Smallville who is actually a grotesque, tentacle monster who plans to take over the world one person at a time. It’s gross, dark, and weird, but not in a refreshing break from the normal episode sort of way. As such, it turns out to be a misfire in general.

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