0032: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed.jpg

Rating: 10/10

The earliest surviving animated, feature-length film, made in Germany by pioneer Lotte Reiniger.  Though there were two others before produced in Argentina they are considered lost and they didn’t use “shadow puppets” painstakingly edited frame-by-frame like this movie, as this technique was produced by Reiniger herself. What comes from it is something that is a style all its own and worth watching if only for its animation, but it also tells a story that is very unique and made all the more interesting by in the way its presented.

Prince Achmed is a man being tempted by a demon who is able to change forms. The prince runs from him but the demon comes around at every turn, finding ways to tempt and taunt him wherever he goes. It feels a bit like he’s travelling through the 1,001 Arabian Nights, even going so far as meeting Aladdin as this demon stays in pursuit. Still, very enjoyable and most of the animation is pantomimed with very little intertitles, making it seem more modern than it should considering how early into animation we were at the time.

The use of shadows makes it very unique, and it brings out the art very well and I can honestly say I haven’t seen animation quite like it anywhere else, even in the modern day. This movie was almost lost as well, that is until a nitrate of the film was found and painstakingly restored in 1999. I have to give everyone kudos for that, as there are so many lost early films, it’s great when one is able to be brought back to life.

I also have to compliment the score. It’s not the score from the original showing of the film, but it works perfectly for every scene and sounds more like classical music than anything else, which reminds me of Fantasia. Having a scene that’s reminiscent of the Night on Bald Mountain sequence helps.

Why you should watch it before you die: Aside from it being the earliest feature-length animated film, it’s also something that was pioneering animated movies for the next 90 odd years. It’s unique in its own right and is definitely worth its 1 hour 10 minute runtime. Recommended, but doubly recommended if you’re interested in animation in any regard.

SCORING:

+7.5: an enjoyable and unique experience

+1: Beautifully animated

+1: Wonderfully scored

+0.5: Bonus half-point for coming back from the dead

Vixen Season 2

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Rating: 7.5/10

Vixen Season 2 chronicles the events after the first season as a new enemy comes forward. One who uses the powers of the fire totem as he battles with our heroine. She must recruit her sister, the one who betrayed her in the first season, in order to take down this new threat.

This short season is great, so great I’m surprised they haven’t started a full half-hour show for it already, but being that this is the last of it with no more to speak of (though I now have The Ray to look forward to) I don’t think I’ll see much more of this version of the Vixen anytime soon, unfortunately.

It’s an action-packed sequel to the first season, and probably even better if watching them back-to-back. Very fun action with a better story that the first season. My only complaint is that the ending feels a little rushed, as if they were setting up another season which isn’t going to come. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a cliffhanger.

SCORING:

+7: Great followup to first season

+1: surprisingly good animation

-0.5: Ending leaves me wanting more, sigh…

Arrow Season 3

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Rating: 9/10

Oliver’s past leads him to Hong Kong and the League of Assassins, led by Ra’s al Ghul. In the present day, Ra’s and others from Arrow’s past have come to destroy Star City unless Oliver joins Ra’s al Ghul’s team by his side as a brainwashed tool.

The first two seasons of Arrow were good, but this is the season when all the characters really come into their own and the stakes are raised higher than ever before. Ra’s al Ghul makes a great villain and I think this version might be one of the best to grace the screen. I also think that Maseo, a character more involved in another character’s backstory than anything else, gets a very good part in this and you really get to feel for the character and his story and how it interlocks with both his wife, eventually the hero Katana, and how he affects Oliver Queen and the Arrow in both past and present. I also like that Laurel has come into her own so hard that she’s upgraded to superhero.

My only real complaint is that Roy kind of falls out of favor in this one and becomes a bit of a lame duck, unfortunately. He was cooler when he was on the drug that turned him into a unhinged murderer. Oh well.

SCORING:

+8: possibly the best Arrow season so far

+1: great villain

+1: Masuo and Laurel upgrade

-1: Roy downgrade, though not to Tommy levels, fortunately

The Flash Season 1

The Flash Season 1.jpg

Rating: 6/10

Barry Allen is struck by lightning as the particle accelerator explodes and that transforms him into the Flash, Central City’s favorite super speedster! Along with him comes many other meta-humans, and a hidden threat he didn’t even know he had who might be the key to solving his mother’s murder.

This first season is pretty good aside from two things. Firstly, the Eddie-Iris-Barry love triangle feels basically like a shot-for-shot remake of the Tommy-Laurel-Oliver love triangle from the first season of Arrow. All the way to *SPOILERS* Tommy/Eddie being related to the main villain in some way and then dying, nobly, on the last episode of the season. Related to that is my second main problem, that they stole the ending to Looper. I mean, they stole it, we all saw them steal it. That movie was only two years before the start of this season, so it’s not like it’s faded from our memories and its some kind of homage or something, because it isn’t. It’s just a way for the writer’s to get rid of an unlikable character, and I feel they could have done something better than this.

Anyway, aside from that, the casting is superb as Caitlyn, Cisco, and Wells are all great additions throughout the twist-filled season. And Barry is the best Barry who ever Barry’d.

SCORING:

+7:Exciting first season and introduction to the metahuman section of the Arrowverse

-2: Eddie, just Tommy-I mean Eddie

-1: Stolen Looper ending, that is doubly bad because it makes absolutely no sense as it would have created a time paradox so hard the whole universe should have blown up

+1: Great characters all around

+1: Best Flash on screen so far

Constantine Season 1

Constantine

Rating: 8/10

Since I’m using a list and all these shows end simultaneously on it, I’ll just make these quick reviews.

Constantine was produced on NBC originally but was bought by CW for their app, and then bought again just recently by the soon-to-be-released DC Universe app, and now it looks like Matt Ryan is joining the cast in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow season. I still kind of hope Constantine gets another season, even if it never will.

Constantine is your friendly neighborhood demonologist and magic user, who discovers a woman who can psychically see people and places where hellspawn have gotten loose. Constantine partners up with her, with a little help from an angel named Manny, to rid these demons all across the country.

I think that this is actually one of the best comic book series made in recent years, and it’s too bad that it didn’t get more seasons. Maybe it was just overshadowed by things like Supernatural or Black Mirror that it didn’t find the audience it could have had otherwise. I think that Matt Ryan is perfect as Constantine, and his ragtag friends do nothing but help the show.

My only real complaint is that more people didn’t watch this awesome show. Why not America?

SCORING:

+10: BEST SHOW EVA!

-1: Okay, not really…

-1: Penalty point for not having more fans and still being on the air for my enjoyment

Vixen Season 1

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Rating: 6.5/10

The Arrowverse viewing order list I’m using puts watching this whole first season a little over halfway through the other shows’ seasons. Being that this is a very short series, which you can watch for free (with commercials) through the CW Seed app, I’ll make this a quick review.

Vixen is a superhero who calls upon a magical necklace, or”Totem,” to use the power of any animal. In this season, she discovers an enemy who has been hunting her for many years.

This has some great action, and one fight where both Arrow and Flash fight Vixen, and Flash runs the slowest we’ve ever seen! It’s some great cartoon action though and makes me think they should make more animated superhero shows for adults. I mean, this is pretty cool, and not specifically aimed at adults, but it would be nice to see this as a primetime program with a half hour per episode rather than half hour per season. Still, looking forward to more when I get to it in my list.

SCORING:

+6: Decent animated, superhero micro-series

+1: Action is very well done

-0.5: The story is practically brushed aside to make room for the action, understandable at only a few minutes per episode

Arrow Season 2

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Rating: 7.5/10

Once again, spoilers follow.

After the death of a friend, Arrow decides that he can no longer go around murdering people, even if they deserve it. As he develops a new way of doing things, his team grows as a new threat to Starling City is discovered: a deadly drug that turns the people who use it into mindless killing machines. It’s also being produced by an old enemy, one from Oliver’s past life on the island of Lian Yu…Okay, it’s Deathstroke.

This season has a noticeable upgrade in production value and the action and martial arts specifically look and feel like a great improvement from what there was in the first season. Here they took a focus of much more action and much less melodrama and it only works for the betterment of the series.

Though at first it felt like they took all of Tommy’s whininess and gave it all to Laurel but her part gets a bit better about halfway through the season, but only a bit. Getting rid of Tommy though was an improvement in my honest opinion. He was just a part of the show that didn’t quite work. Maybe in something like a high school teen drama but he clashed significantly with this gritty superhero program. I’m glad they did something with Laurel’s character in this season that wasn’t just transforming her into another Tommy. Though, at first, I thought that was exactly they were doing.

I really like the villain in this one. I think they do a good job first showing him as Slade Wilson, then after the mirakuru, the drug that transforms people into monsters, he becomes Deathstroke, whose soul purpose is to revenge a death that was only kind of Oliver’s fault. It makes for some interesting storytelling and the way they mix the continuing story of Oliver’s stay on the island and how it affects the story in the present is very well done throughout the season.

SCORING:

+6: Very enjoyable throughout

-0.5: Laurel’s character for the first six episodes or so but she gets better

+1: Great villain

+1: More explosions and less drama than the first season

 

Arrow Season 1

Arrow Season 1.jpg

Rating: 8.5/10

I have been a bit too busy to watch movies lately so how about this new series where I eventually review all the Arrowverse shows. I like to put them on in the background while I’m working on my book and I’ve seen them all before. Not gonna review every episode though, I just don’t have the time.

Okay, SPOILERS follow, but something I noticed about all the shows in this particular shared universe, is that it’s really hard to talk about anything in the show without spoiling something.

Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is a spoiled rich kid whose boat sinks and he’s left stranded on an island for five years. When he comes back, he comes back with a mission. One given to him by his father, who died shortly after the boat sank. But admitted to Oliver that he worked with evil people in a conspiracy to destroy the worst parts of the city to eliminate crime. It’s a bit ridiculous if you stop and think about it, but creates great moments of drama and action, and a final act to the season that stands out among all episodes as some of the most exciting.

I like most of the dynamics in this season, such as the conflict between Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) who is trying to take down the Hood (as Queen’s vigilante persona is called in this season) is just as interesting to watch as the Hood taking down some criminals in an action packed sequence. I also like John Diggle (David Ramsey) and how he starts off being a bodyguard for what seems like just a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t like being followed, but when he discovers Oliver’s secret, the first of many to do so, he’s at first apprehensive that he’s murdering people, but once Oliver explains that it’s “only bad people” everything is fine…for some reason.

The other character I really like is Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards). I heard she was only going to be a one-shot guest star but I’m glad they realized Rickards just works on the show and I couldn’t imagine the show without her.

This is a more realistic take on the character, as is the second season, though that all kind of goes out the window once the Flash is added to the mix and they make the change to be more of a straight-comic-book show, but I like how it is here showing the stakes it would take to really be a superhero, one who has more going against him than for, but so driven that nothing can stop him from completing his task.

That’s something else I really like about this season, but I guess I’m just a sucker for in depth character development, Oliver isn’t doing this to be a hero. He’s just a vigilante, and takes some real convincing to do anything that’s unrelated to his “Kill These People” list, such as stopping a family of bank robbers that he’s against taking any action until Diggle convinces him otherwise. From the get go, he’s just in it as he sees the people on the list as a target for revenge against the death of his father. As he goes through it he starts discovering they were more involved with his death than he would have thought. But he doesn’t start out as the hero DC fans might expect from this character. And Amell’s performance as Queen is one that strives in this internal conflict, one who doesn’t want to be the hero Starling City needs, he only wants his revenge (whether he admits it or not). Once he’s the only one who’s able to save the city when it’s needed most. Doesn’t mean he succeeds though, something else I like about this series is that it’s willing to show Oliver fail, and he does…kind of a lot actually.

I have two complaints, the first is Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). Don’t get me wrong, Donnell is a good actor and he’s obviously doing the best with what he’s given, just all his parts throughout this season are riddled with cliches and some pretty stupid decisions. I like when he takes the initiative and becomes Oliver’s club owner, and when he discovers Oliver’s secret and makes him morally question what he’s doing. But these are just two scenes in 23 episodes, the rest of the time, whenever he walks into frame something in my brain knows it’s just going to be a scene that isn’t interesting and kind of feels more like it was hastily thrown in there to eat up screen time than anything else.

I’m also not the biggest fan of love triangles, especially ones that just take the formula of a love triangle without really changing much or making it interesting. You know what’s an interesting love triangle? The one between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine from the X-Men. It has levels and dynamics to it that I could fill a whole article about if I so chose. Here though it feels somewhat sloppy, and the Tommy’s decision to break up with Laurel because Oliver still has feelings for her is just dumb as a major plot point.

My other complaint was some of the drama was a bit soap-opera-y, but I’ll just chock that up to being Tommy’s fault.

Final Thoughts: If you’ve seen Iron Fist before this you might see some similarities in the first few episodes between the two, but Oliver Queen has one thing Iron Fist didn’t have in his first season: a character arch.

SCORING:

+7.5: Great start to a few parallel-universes full of superheroes

-2: Tommy…just Tommy

+1: Everyone else is a solidly-written character

+1: Great character arch for Queen

+1: Bonus point for realizing Rickards should be a mainstay as Felicity Smoak