Tagged: review

Netflix Hidden Gem: Ernest and Celestine

French animation isn’t something that’s on a lot of radars in the US. With major houses like Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and Dreamworks (and even Ghibli for a bit) taking up the major real estate in theaters and awards shows, it can often seem surprising when a quiet French animated film starts to get even a little recognition. And when it gets nominated for an Oscar, chances are quite good that the film is going to be worth your time.

When I saw that the English dub of Ernest and Celestine was available on Netflix, it was a no-brainer. The only choice I needed to make was what type of tea to drink while watching.

Based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent and made on a shoestring budget, Ernest and Celestine tells the familiar story of two unlikely friends who manage to create a home and family together. It’s familiar, yes, but it’s also warm, sweet, and perfectly crafted.

Celestine is a young mouse living beneath the streets of a city inhabited by bears. Each night she sneaks into town to steal the teeth that young bears leave under their pillows for the Mouse Fairy.  These teeth are then used by other mice to repair their own damaged and missing teeth. Sadly, she’s not great at her job and the dentist she works for threatens to fire her if she doesn’t improve. Desperate to make her quota, Celestine gets caught in the city above and finds herself in the paws of Ernest the bear.

First things first, the animation is gorgeous. With hand painted watercolor backgrounds and matching Flash animation, the soft tones result in a visual style that is extremely enjoyable to look at. Everything feels soft, cozy, and dreamy. It’s a children’s book come to life with mice scurrying across pages and bears quite literally lumbering around. Yes, it’s very cute, but it’s never cutesy or sickeningly sweet. The tone and the stylistic animation complement each other, and it works just as well during the darker moments as it does during the lighter ones.

Additionally, this movie is funny. It’s hard to explain why, but there is something about the slapstick and physicality of the characters that made me smile a lot. The timing and pace never feel heavy, so when a character trips or runs into a wall, the audience is given just enough time chuckle without feeling as though the movie is waiting for you to congratulate it on how clever and funny it is.

Lastly, the voice acting in this film is great.  The cast is filled with distinguished, talented, and familiar names like Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, and Paul Giamatti. Celestine herself is voiced by Mackenzie Foy, who does a charming job of making Celestine both empathetic and brave.

So, go ahead and add Ernest and Celestine to your Netflix queue and maybe someone other than me will start gushing over it to her friends and online. Hey, it could happen!

Already seen Ernest and Celestine and looking to expand your horizons when it comes to animation? Specifically French films?  Here are a few recommendations (many of which can be found on Netflix):

Triplets of Belleville
A Cat in Paris
Tales of the Night
The Rabbi’s Cat
Secret of Kells (French-Belgian-Irish)
The Little Prince (2015)

Backseat Gaming Challenge 2: In Which My Boyfriend is Toast

Note: This is part two in a series where I am choosing games for my boyfriend and I to review together – he plays, I watch, we both write stuff.  His comments are in bold. If you are looking for part one, feel free to check it out here.

i-am-bread

At first I thought this could be a fun kinda game, like Surgeon Simulator but . . . read on.”

I Am Bread (IAB) is a game with a very simple premise: bread wants to be toast, and the more delicious the toast it may be, the closer each dreamy-eyed piece of toast is to reaching its own personal carb-rich nirvana.  Or something like that.  In other words, you play as a piece of bread and in every level you need to find more complex ways of toasting yourself without becoming wet, covered in bugs, and completely inedible.

So toast, um . . .Yeah. The game also rewards you if you are able to crash into various jams and jars to make yourself more edible and tasty, but most of the time trying to get them proves to be more trouble than it’s worth. Also I don’t really like jam on my toast so I let my disdain for anything other than butter keep me from getting the highest score possible. The better, more yummy stuff you spread on yourself and the quicker you toast the bread, the higher the score.

As I watched the trailer for this game, I got excited.  I had visions of hilarious Rube-Goldberg type puzzles in an ever more complex quest for perfect toast.  The boy and I would chortle heartily as we nibbled on delicate toast points and shared deep conversations about the art of perfect toast making, teasing each other affectionately about proper toast “doneness” and butter ratios.  The reality ended up much much different, much sadder, and with significantly less toast.

Actually, the puzzles are clever in that there is often more than one option to get toasted. At one point, while I was struggling to figure out how to reach a light bulb in one part of the game, my conversation with Smal with something like this:

Boy – Ugh, isn’t there any easier way to toast this bread?

Smal – How about if you use the straightening iron on that table?

Boy  – What?!?!?! That’ll never work. It doesn’t get hot enough!

Smal – Oh believe me, as a girl who has tried to tame these curls, it will get hot enough.  In fact, I might have some scarring on my scalp to prove it if you want to check it out… *almost too proud

Seeing how I  was struggling to reach that damn light, I figured what the hell?  If she was wrong,  at least it would earn me an “I told you so” that I could save for the next MarioKart match or something (Smalerie note: That will NEVER happen.  I will drive you off the Rainbow Road first…Furiosa style!). And when I reached the straightening iron something magical happened. It started to toast the bread. Of course it required a lot of flipping over and around to get the thing properly toast but it worked. (Smalerie note: Of course it did!)

In the far chance that a die-hard IAB fan finds his/her way to this site, I just want to let you know that I am fully aware that there are some aspects of this game that are supposed to be bad.  I am a huge fan of something being just so bad that it whips all the way back around to good again.  Seriously, when I saw that The Boy owned Killer Clowns from Outer Space on DVD, I knew I had made the right choice in life mate.  But I digress, let’s get down to the actual review.

Image-13-1024x576

So close and yet so far…

IAB can seem very charming at first.  The graphics are adorably old-school and simple.  Play in story mode and you are treated to a story about a man who is seeing a psychiatrist not just because he recently lost his job, but because he can’t understand why he keeps coming home to find a single piece of toast waiting for him.  Lastly, to finish up my list of positives for this game, some of the ways you can make the toast (when there is no actual toaster around) require quite a bit of creative thinking on behalf of the player and that adds another level of game play other than just moving the bread from one point to another while avoiding obstacles.

I suppose if you’re Talkie Toaster from Red Dwarf, this game would be perfection as the bread is always looking to get toasted and Talkie is obsessed with making toast. On the other hand the game has a Team Fortress 2 (TF2) level where you find The Heavy sleeping and have to sneak by him to get yourself toasted. Now anyone who knows me, knows that I really like TF2 and was curious to see how the two games would tie in together after the TF2 Bread update.  Still, even with TF2 involved, it was hard to enjoy the special IAB level because no matter how you package it, it was still IAB.

And speaking of moving that piece of bread around, this is where the game can be excruciatingly frustrating.  We were unable to access the tutorial for some reason, so The Boy jumped right into the first level.  Almost 20 mins later, he was able to get a handle on the controls well enough to drag his soggy and bug covered piece of bread into the toaster…to hopefully die and never darken our door again.  The challenge is that a slice of bread has 4 corners and each of those corners are controlled by a different button.  Add the analog stick, and you get, well, The Boy – wanna help me out with this one?

The controls for the game seem simple enough. Each corner of the bread corresponds to one of the 360 controllers buttons and you want to position one or more of those corners so that you can pivot and move around. For example, if you happened to have a slice of bread in front of you and you wanted the bottom right to stick to a window, you would press the A button. This would than allow you to re-position the bread however you choose using the analog stick. However, if you wanted the corners to grab instead of stick, then the trigger buttons are what you want to use. Confused? Good, you now have the knowledge to play the game. I kinda get the idea of how the controls should work in that if you want your slice of bread to swing from one part of the wall to another you grab part of it and swing kinda like swinging from monkey bars. However you if you aren’t really good at coordination, (which is why I could never make it to hard mode in Guitar Hero), you’ll really struggle with the controls. I could talk more about the game itself but I think I said enough as is.

So, even when I took the time to play around in Free Mode to just get a feel of the game, the movements I was able to make with my frustrated button smashing made my piece of bread act like an apathetic jellyfish with spatial relations issues.  Not particularly fun, and certainly not something I am planning to play on my own either. Even watching was painful because everything was just so slow and just seemed to make The Boy sad.  In the end, I would give this game 2 out of 5 succulent raspberry Toaster Strudels.

Also not for me and not something I plan to play again.  2 out of 5 S’mores flavored Pop Tarts.

So, have you ever played this game?  Love it? Hate it?  Think we should stop loafing around and review a particular game?  Let us know in the comments below.

Netflix Hidden Gem: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Ok, let me stop you right now.  If you don’t care for anime, you might want to stop here and check out any previous posts you might have missed or come back next week.  I am not saying that I don’t want you here, because you know how I feel about you, but the truth is that anime and manga can kinda be a tough topic for the the Ladies of Comicazi (some of us are more for it than others), so I will understand if you would rather look at these cute pictures instead.  No really, I get it.  Anime isn’t for everyone.  And this can be particularly true when we are talking about anime that involve underage girls running around in very short skirts.

Madoka

Cue the Magical Girls.

So, everyone who wants to be here is still here?  Wonderful, let’s do this thing.

Continue reading

Slimed!: A Review of Words

slimed-cover

In some ways, my timing for this review could not have been worse. After the recent storm of press Mathew Klickstein has received after his nauseating and infuriating interview in which he manages to show the world that he is both racist, sexist, and does not understand the basics of forming and communicating an argument, I was loathe to give him more coverage. In fact, I was pretty close to just returning the book to Amazon and calling it a day. Then two things happened. One, I realized that in all the hullabaloo, there was very little talk about the quality of the book itself. And two, Cartoon Sara and I got invited on a radio show to talk about Klickstein, his book, and Nickelodeon in general. At that point, the cat was out of the bag about my planned review and there will be no going back.

And so, for the approval of the Midnight Society, er um, I mean the dear folks who take the time to read my rambling blog posts, I am going to take the time to try my hardest to ignore Klickstein as a person and address him as an author. The purpose of this review is to focus on the book as presented and determine just how well it can stand on its own.

Nickelodeon_Snick_Logo_1993_d

Saturday Night Nickelodeon

Slimed! is an oral history. This fact is both the book’s blessing and its curse. Presented as a series of loosely organized quotes, Slimed! is extremely difficult to get through. Rather than presenting the reader with an organized narrative of the events that led up to the heyday of Nickelodeon, the author chose to be completely absent from the book. This decision might have been made in order to let those interviewed speak for themselves, but instead it simply muddies the reading experience. Each chapter is named with a very general theme and what follows are snippets back and forth from the 100+ people Klickstein interviewed. As I read it, all I could imagine was Klickstein cutting up the transcripts of his interviews and haphazardly gluing them together as best he could. This results in an uneven if not jarring reading experience as you try to stay on top of what exactly each interviewee is talking about. You basically have to hope that you are able to figure out when they have switched from talking about one show to another. Also, if you are not already familiar with the names of the actors and creators of most of Nickelodeon’s shows, you are going to find yourself spending just as much time looking up who everyone is as you will actually reading the oral history itself. It’s a slog, and if you are like me, you just might hit a point where you just don’t care anymore and just do your best to push on.

(Nick) bluescreen

Much harder than it looks.

The frustrating thing about this is that the solution to the problem could have been simple. In fact, there could have been quite a few solutions that could have made reading Slimed! a much more enjoyable experience– a chapter written by Klickstein introducing his credentials, link to Nickelodeon and interview process, chapter intros reintroducing the main players in each section, or maybe Klickstein himself could have been just have been a little more focused and selective about who he interviewed. Yes, all those people being involved in this book is a very cool thing, but with a cast of thousands it can be very hard to get a clear picture of any individual experiences at all.

That isn’t to say that this book is completely without charm. In fact, there are several entertaining anecdotes to be found: from the origins of the iconic green slime to why those kids on Nick Arcade always looked so stressed and confused in the final Virtual Reality round of the game show (hint: everything they saw was backwards from the way it was on screen). If you are a die-hard fan who is willing to work for it, you can certainly find something in this book to enjoy.

So the question that remains is if this book is worth your time. Unfortunately, that is a hard question to answer. I think that this book best serves those who are more than casual fans. Knowing the names of a few big players before you start reading goes a long way. As for me, I think this book and I are pretty much done with each other. It was a nice enough fling, but the lack of organization and context is not really something I want to deal with again. So while Slimed! is not the Nickelodeon book I was hoping for, I am hopeful that the press Klickstein has received does show that there is an audience for the subject matter, and a bright and intelligent audience at that. If Slimed! opens the door for more 90s nostalgia and pop culture analysis (especially about Nickelodeon) then that is certainly a good thing. Let’s just hope that the next book is written by someone with a more organized and caring hand.

If you haven’t read Slimed! and want to decide for yourself if it’s any good, please comment below by December 3rd. I will be giving my copy of Slimed! away (complete with a few bonus goodies) to one of our readers.

Now reprise the theme song and roll the credits…

Review: Lego Disney Princess Sets

Cartoon Sara and Tiny Doom have joined forces for total juggernaut of a post!  Lego+Disney+Princesses!  Will the blog survive?  Eh, probably.  Below we review 2 of the Lego Disney Princess sets (we skipped Cinderella’s Castle,Ariel’s Magical Kiss and Rapunzel’s Captivity, er…Creativity Tower).

Tiny Doom: My perspective on the Lego “Friends” line has been a long time coming.  And well, it’s complicated.  I was a lucky kid.  My dad was always very supportive of non-traditional toys for girls.  He never bought dolls.  Instead he brought home “Construx”, “Capsela”, and other toys in blue boxes (yes, I  made a motorized dinosaur for a school project).  The world continued to turn.

While I feel one could argue that Lego sets are largely gender neutral, Lego does have the “Friends” line that is specifically marketed to girls. The Friends themselves are shaped differently than the traditional Lego mini figures and the sets are a more gender-skewed in terms of subject matter and coloring.  The Lego Friends camp, shop, and play music in a magical pink and pastel colored world.  

This is the direction they went with  the Disney Princess sets.

Cartoon Sara: My relationship with Disney licensed toys is a tough one, particularly when it comes to the merchandising juggernaut that is the Disney Princesses. I’m a longtime Disney fan and the chance to have toy representations of some of my favorite characters is one that I jump at. Or I would, if there were more that met my standards. Admittedly, I am pickier than the average six year old girl at whom these toys are aimed. But you would think that, of all the various companies that create Disney Princess products, at least one would be interested in making figures or dolls that were as screen accurate as possible. Unfortunately, capturing the look of the characters seems to take a back seat to making minimal tweaks to the Barbie mold, or having the doll light up, or making collector-aimed dolls that look very fancy, but not very accurate. The biggest case of “so close and yet so far” for me was the “Animator’s Collection,” a series of high end dolls based on top Disney animators’ drawings of the characters…as toddlers.

With Lego, my expectations were different. Lego is not in the business of making faithful figural representations of licensed characters. Instead, they translate characters into their existing mini figure style, with the classic cylindrical yellow faces, c-grip hands, and block compatible feet. That’s part of the fun of licensed Lego characters: seeing how they look in the Lego style. So surely that was what we’d be getting with the Lego Disney Princesses, right?

The Sets

Tiny Doom: You would think so wouldn’t you CS?  Especially since Lego mini figures do come in the mermaid and red-headed archer variety.  But sadly, no, and this brings us to my first issue with these sets.  This is really my issues with the Friends line in general.  After all the mini-figures are a huge part of purchasing a Lego set.   So when it comes to Lego Friends, why not a traditional mini-figure?  Why the need to Barbie-ize the iconic shape of Lego Mini figures?   Friends figures are thinner and taller and therefore lack the feel of a Lego mini-figure. I don’t think it’s made them any cuter, just perhaps less interesting.  Functionally, the figures are not articulated so Merida can’t hold her bow properly.  The hair for these figures is also a bit more rubbery with matte-ish finish.  Perhaps that is supposed to be more realistic?  I can tell you one thing, it doesn’t snap on to the head as well, and that’s annoying.  Additionally, Ariel and Merida have the same faces.  That seems a bit lazy to me, or is the message here really that Disney Princesses are that interchangeable?

image

I realize I am biased, but I think Wyldstyle and Lego me are much cuter.

Cartoon Sara: The sets themselves suffer from some of the same problems as the figures. Neither one is outright bad and if all you’re looking for is a set to build, you won’t be disappointed. This is the classic Lego building experience with the nice, clear instructions and bricks that snap together with ease (and require the strength of a thousand weight lifters to separate), plus a newer innovation: numbered bags separating the pieces into groups. But if you’re hoping for environments from the Disney Princess films faithfully replicated in brick form, you may be disappointed with Lego’s offerings. In part because each princess gets only one or two sets, as opposed to the more generous offerings for movie licenses such as the Harry Potter or Star Wars films, the sets aren’t so much sets for a single scene as hybrids of various parts of the films. Instead of an accurate Lego version of Ariel’s grotto, we get a weird small environment with an archway and Triton’s trident inexplicably mounted overhead. Merida’s Highland Games fares a little better by including part of the castle and some archery targets. But it also seems to borrow from other parts of the movie by bringing in a fish on a spit and Merida’s three brothers as bears. From a play standpoint, this set at least gives kids more options for what their minifigs can do in the play set. But from a Disney nerd standpoint, it’s not as exciting as seeing every last detail of a classic Disney scene remade in Lego. Continue reading

Captain America 101: An Intro Course to Winter Soldier

CaptainAmericaWinterSoldierFirstPoster

Because waiting until April is going to be REALLY hard…

For a lady who spends a lot of time talking and writing about comics, there are times when I am shocked by how little I seem to know about them.  Out of the four ladies, I think it is safe to say that I discovered comics the latest.  So while I am always reading and exploring new comics, I have found that I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do. Part of this catching up involves me going back and seeking out the “classics” – the ones you MUST read, the ones that made such an impression that they changed the character or the genre itself.

I know I’m not the only one with an interest in such things.  The comic book sales each time a new Marvel or DC film comes out is proof enough of that.  So while I educate myself on why there are two Human Torches and and which Captain Marvel says “Shazam!”, I thought it might be helpful to share what I’m reading and how accessible it might be to those of us whose main source of comic book universe info comes from movies and cartoons.  The plan is a simple one: read the books and then share a lot of the who and what you need to know so you aren’t spending too much time looking up things on various wikis rather than enjoying the story.  Think of it as our own comic book Cliffs Notes – a little something to help you out so when the big reveal comes at the end, you get it…mostly.

Continue reading