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Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Note: I haven’t read the original Japanese novel, manga, anime, etc. So this is just my reaction to the movie as its own movie.

Just when would we get the next great sci-fi action movie? That’s a question that’s been floating around for a while, ever since we got Predator, Aliens, and the first two Terminator films. A worthy successor to those classics of yore wouldn’t come until 1999’s The Matrix. Yet the subsequent sequels utterly failed to live up to that original’s legacy. The next great work in the genre wouldn’t appear until Neill Blomkamp’s out-of-nowhere tour de force District 9 in 2009. And once again, the question arose… how long would it be until we got another sci-fi action flick that would earn a place among the pantheon? Well thankfully, I think that question’s once again been satisfactorily answered with Doug Liman’s superbly satisfying Edge of Tomorrow.

The Japanese author of the original novel stated that he got his inspiration for the story from playing video games, and that’s been well translated to the movie. The scenes and indeed the entire narrative are structured like a video game, with death after death, retries again and again. There’s a true sense that Tom Cruise is reverting back to the same checkpoint save again and again, without any convenient F5 quicksaves in sight. Edge does not purport to be a true video game movie, but in its depiction of repetition of action and experience, it succeeds far better than any existing video game movie at conveying the raw essence of the video game experience. It’s quite an amusing thought and made me wonder… why is it that we keep getting bad video game movies but movies *about* video games tend to be great (The Last Starfighter, King of Kong, Wreck-It-Ralph, EoT)?

Simply put, the movie is imbued with a great balance of comedy, tension, and emotion. That careful balance of humor and action is often difficult to get just right, as evidenced most obviously in Michael Bay’s filmography. They need to harmonize with each other to form an appropriate tone that’s inviting and encourages the audience to climb aboard and go with the narrative. Marvel’s been incredibly successful on this front and Edge is another example of nailing the tone exactly right. That interplay of comedic timing and kinetic action is probably most effectively conveyed in these hilarious montages of Tom Cruise getting knocked on his ass over and over again by training spider drones. The humor truly works and feels natural and also completely serves the overarching story being told. Doug Liman’s past work has been a bit varied as far as tone goes, with the Bourne Identity being a very deadly earnest sort of spy thriller, while Mr. and Mrs. Smith was a completely flippant and over the top comedy romp. Edge neatly fits into a middle ground between these two extremes, with equal doses of seriousness and silliness. It never feels forced, but evoked a strong sense of what Zhang Yimou once said about his movie To Live: “There are tears and laughter, one following the other in a gentle rhythm like the breath of a bellows.”

Now, for everyone who watched the trailer, one thought generally came to mind: “Hey, this looks like Starship Troopers crossed with Groundhog Day.” And ya know what? After watching it, I would say… yes, that’s pretty much what this movie is. Totally. It is very accurate to summarize it in one sentence as being Starship Troopers (the novel) combined with Groundhog Day. But that’s perfectly fine, since that’s still not a movie we’ve ever seen before. Why not combine a gritty, war torn, power armored dystopia with Harold Ramis’s feel-good time travel classic?

The triumph of the movie is how effortlessly it weaves the two concepts together. You don’t feel that it’s just been cobbled together in a hazy, disorganized evening by Hollywood scriptwriters high on caffeine and coke. The universe actually feels cohesive and lived in. And while you’ll feel greatly reminded of Groundhog Day, you’ll also notice that it utilizes all the good ideas of Groundhog Day. First of all… they know exactly how to edit the time loops. The scenes are paced in a way that you’re able to gradually sink into the premise and overall universe, and then speeding things along and eventually cutting out unnecessary filler scenes once the audience is fully immersed and no longer need the hand holding. The movie takes off the training wheels and suddenly you realize that Cruise’s character has jumped from dying a few times to dying a few hundred times. The core concept requires a solid grasp of editing and compressing scenes for maximum effectiveness in order to not lose the audience’s attention with the repetition, and Edge succeeds as well as Groundhog Day did all those year ago.

Secondly, they film all the takes from different angles and perspectives, in order to again bring a little something new each and every time Cruise repeats his day. One scene may play out only slightly differently, but it’s filmed from the opposite end of the room. Or a closeup might change to provide a long shot. These little techniques, again derived from Groundhog Day, all work to reduce the time loop repetition and keep the viewer engaged in the story.

Now, Edge is a time travel story. As such… there has to be some sort of sci-fi explanation. Groundhog Day didn’t, but it’s more the exception than the rule. The time travel rationale in this movie is… well, crazy. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you dwell on it. They do sketch out a reason for the time loops, but it’s incredibly far-fetched. But at the end of the day... so what? It doesn’t much affect the rest of the movie, and they don’t actually dwell on it. It’s a flimsy device that enables the movie to go where it needs to, and that’s all they demand of it. You’re not focused on the reason why, because Liman is too busy showing off all the crazy spectacle and action and human drama that’s the actual heart of this film.

Now that I think about it, Source Code is another one of those sci-fi movies that resembles Groundhog Day. And its rationale for the repeating time travel trips was just as crazy and far-fetched. A military computer simulation that actually turns out to be a real honest device to access alternate timelines in the space time continuum? Sheer bonkers, right? Yet that didn’t stop me from enjoying the narrative and rooting for Gyllenhaal in his quest to save that commuter train. See, in my view… if a movie works emotionally, then it really doesn’t matter if the actual internal logistics don’t fully make sense. It just has to work on that gut level. “Frequency” is a good example, because while the time travel depicted in that movie was sloppy and incoherent and ultimately nonsensical when you try and analyze it, it did work for me at the end of the day because it had emotional resonance and catharsis and delivered all the feels.

Now look guys, I’m no Tom Cruise fan. Personally, I think the guy is off his rocker. I didn’t care for him when he robbed the world of a young vibrant Katie Holmes, and I certainly don’t care for his nutty embrace of Scientology. But… you can’t fault the guy as an action star. Tom Cruise’s performance here is not completely out of his wheelhouse, but he does provide a neat little twist at the beginning, where his character is made out to be a flat out weaselly coward. It can feel a little reminiscent of Sharlto Copeley’s Wikus, but Cruise does pull it off in a convincing manner. You can find a lot of fault with the guy in his personal life, but I didn’t think about any of that while watching Edge. When he turns it on, the guy does remind you why he’s one of the last remaining Hollywood action stars.

Emily Blunt. You wouldn’t think of her in this sort of action heroine role, just off the top of your head. Or at least, I didn’t. She doesn’t come immediately to mind when you’re asking for someone to play the next Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. Yet that’s pretty much exactly what she did. Blunt’s Rita Vrataski is right up there with those indomitable women of action, thanks to her acting chops and uh, amazing yoga prowess? Boy, I could stare at that long, loving pushup shot of her, all toned and sweaty, all day. Tom Cruise’s last sci-fi flick Oblivion was majorly let down by a miscast love interest, in my opinion. Edge thankfully avoids that unfortunate mistake and gives us someone who fully deserves the nickname “Full Metal Bitch.” There aren’t too many kickass female action roles in general, so it’s especially nice to see that Blunt does full justice to hers.

Of the rest of the cast, Bill Paxton sticks out as an amazingly delightful platoon sergeant who probably represents what Hudson might’ve eventually become if he’d survived that unfortunate xenomorph incident on LV-426. The guy looks like he’s having a ton of fun and you can’t help but smile along with him, the Kentucky hardass with a shit-eating grin. The supporting cast of roughnecks, J-Squad, doesn’t make much of an impression and almost feels like set dressing. At least until the end, where they finally do reappear and we get to see them in action at last. I was waiting for that and it felt good that Cruise was finally able to relinquish a bit of screentime to the lowly grunts, courageously fighting with their admittedly non-superhuman abilities.

If there’s anyone that feels wasted in Edge, it’d have to be Brendan Gleeson, who plays the gruff and stubborn General of the allied invasion force. The problem here is that they apparently told him to way underplay his role, to the point where he lacks any real energy and feels completely flat and insubstantial. The reason we love watching Brendan Gleeson act is because he always exudes this lively, cantankerous attitude… a sort of larger than life screen presence. So to see that completely drained in favor of restraint on his part just seems to miss the point of casting him in the first place. He doesn’t do a bad job at all, and the part isn’t particularly noteworthy in how it’s written, but I still felt like they made a wrong choice with going in that direction.

Now, the one big criticism that I imagine most can level at Edge of Tomorrow is simply that it’s very derivative. That’s a striking similarity it shares with Cruise’s last sci-fi film, Oblivion. One of Oblivion’s key criticisms from reviewers was how it felt derivative of other films. And the same can be said of sections of Edge. There’s the movie’s opening, which shows Liman ripping off the opening to Saving Private Ryan about as blatantly as possible. There’s even a shot of a guy wandering around while on fire. Liman’s basically smacking you over the head with Omaha Beach sand at that point. Of course, the time travel loops are all reminiscent of Groundhog Day and Source Code, by necessity. Cruise’s role as an initially cowardly and contemptible desk jockey has strong parallels to District 9’s Wikus. The military exo-suits can’t help but remind you of the Mech suits in James Cameron’s Aliens and Avatar. And even a brief car chase through a parking garage evoked a sense of Liman’s past work in Bourne and Mr and Mrs Smith.

So yeah, that stuff is all there. But frankly, the movie is so damn fun and energetic and inviting that none of that really bothered or annoyed me. It definitely could have, if the movie had simply limped along and given you time to pause and notice. But the pace and humor work splendidly to carry you along on this great, well-oiled machine of a story. Sometimes, a movie is more than just the sum of its parts, and it can succeed on sheer quality of execution. I think “Predator” is a great 80s example of this. When Siskel and Ebert reviewed it, Roger Ebert acknowledged that it was basically Commando crossed with Aliens, but so what? At the end of the day, Commando crossed with Aliens made for a fantastic action flick. Edge of Tomorrow follows in the footsteps of that McTiernan classic.

Now, let’s talk about the “Jacket” exo-suits. When they were first unveiled in studio pics last year, they looked pretty damn clunky and awkward to me. And while the film does initially portray them that way, with soldiers doggedly trudging forward in a dense, mechanical cadence… you do get to see them used later on in some awe-inspiring, surprisingly balletic maneuvers when Cruise finally gets the hang of it after 100+ deaths. The evolution of his expertise and gradual leveling up, so to speak, is well communicated to the audience. And again, the video game parallels are easy to grasp, since a newb to a brand new game will often feel as if his control of the player character is clunky or awkward. How better to visually show that then to stick the main protagonist of your film into an actual clunky, awkward, heavy exo-suit? But later on, once you’ve mastered the controls of the game and grown confident in your own death-dealing abilities, the player avatar starts to feel like a second skin and your button presses and aiming maneuvers feel synchronized and natural. That’s exactly what Cruise and Blunt show off once we get far enough into the film and you do get wonderful eyefuls of the exo-suits at their full potential.

I was surprised they didn’t have some sort of neuro-link for the pilots to interface with, in order to control the two over-the-shoulder cannons. Something along the lines of the neuro-links you see in shows like Exo-Squad, for example. It seems a little hard to believe that a soldier would be able to aim both the arm weapons and the shoulder cannons from one joystick/pad on the right hand. Though honestly, I do think the most unbelievably aspect of the entire movie has to be the fact that in this war torn future, we still decide to fight our battles against monstrously large, armored alien beasts with… 5.56mm ammo. This seems incredibly silly to me, considering that 5.56mm has been complained about in the past as lacking sufficient stopping power to kill humans in battlefield conditions. And yet they still use this for fighting off giant, insanely quick monsters from space? C’mon. Considering the exceptional strength granted by these new exo-suits, I would’ve thought they’d want to mount .50 cal machine guns or something. With 5.56mm, well… I think I can kinda see why the human race has been losing this war.

Liman consistently delivers great action scenes throughout the movie. And not just the pure action setpieces themselves, either. The whole setup… building up to the action scenes is also legitimately thrilling and perfectly executed. A slow, long, loving camera shot of an enormous metallic sword, before being picked up by a practiced, confident, armored hand. Shots of giant metallic boots stomping in unison against the tarmac. A close-up of grim, paint-chipped skullheads on ominous heavy helmets. These are all action movie basics that are often forgotten by fresh-faced directors today, yet add so much when correctly shot. The anticipation of the action is often just as magical and mesmerizing as the action itself, and Liman has been around the block long enough to know how to carefully facilitate this process as effectively as possible.

The alien designs were new and imaginative for me, and actually brought something new to the table. Memorable alien designs are hard to come by these days, and the most enduring ones are still the Xenomorph and the Predator, both from the 80s. These aliens were legitimately surprising and threatening in appearance. About the only thing I could think of to compare them to might be the aliens in Crysis. Though even so… these aliens actually warped around the battlefield in a dizzying manner. Initially, you’re simply witnessing the human forces suited up in their big bulky robot suits and wondering how the aliens can possibly withstand this militarized metal juggernaut. But once you catch sight of them in their spectacular entrance during the Omaha Beach scene, you quickly realize why humanity is on the losing end of this five year long war. The sheer speed and ferocity of these monstrous alien drones is dazzling and overwhelming to the eye, and utterly outmatch the ordinary soldiers in their slow, clunky robot suits. The way they seemed to warp around the battlefield was also a nice touch that evoked video game memories, at least for me. Back when I used to play multiplayer Rainbow Six on a 56k modem, players would often seem to warp around the level, which made for an annoying target to kill in a firefight. I’m not sure if that was intended to be a video game reference or just a nice sinister attribute for the movie’s antagonists, but either way it makes for a cool visual effect.

[SPOILER]The stakes are upped once we get to the final action sequence, because he can’t reset. It felt so much more intense and dangerous since we know these people are in real danger and only have one life left. I was reminded of Inception, once you finally learn that dying in the dream will send you down to Limbo, instead of simply waking you up. Suddenly, the safeguards were all thrown away and we were out in uncharted territory, without any backup. It was the “Shit just got real” moment of the movie. And here, the loss of the alien blood worked just as well. You’re right on the Edge… of your seat. Did I just do that? Boy, that’s a bad line. I’m a bad person. I’ll stop.

So yeah, they go and crash the troop transport right into the Louvre and get knocked down a bunch of concrete shafts. But hey… they’re actually okay. They’ve made it this far. Cruise brushes himself off, grabs his shotgun, and grimly declares “We’ve been through worse.” That right there is one of the great cheer-worthy moments of the movie, for me. It so simply and aptly summarizes the trials and tribulations that they’ve been through to reach this point, and acknowledges the way they’ve both honed their minds and bodies through a lifetime of retries, for this one final chance to defeat the alien invasion. In video game terms, you might say they’ve both leveled up high enough in order to face that ultimate boss. In another lesser movie, that line might not hold any real resonance, but after what we’ve been through with these two characters in the last hour and a half… it feels earned.

Okay, so let’s talk about the kiss at the end. I’ll be honest, I mentally screamed “No!” when they actually went for the kiss at the end there. I was angrily wondering why they went for that, when the entire movie as a whole had done such a good job of letting them form a connection through the loops without establishing a traditional Hollywood romance. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense to deliver a love story while in this war torn hell, where they’re fighting for their lives and trying to save the human race from extinction. Oh, and also dying over and over again. In the midst of all this chaos, there’s not much room for love. So that kiss at the end felt like a retreat from what most of the movie had established. I couldn’t help but think back to Pacific Rim and how Del Toro deliberately kept Raleigh and Mako from kissing at the end because it wouldn’t have been right, and wished Liman had had the good sense and restraint to make the same decision here.

But then I thought about it some more, and my mind changed. Given the situation they were in, where Rita had laid out the grim reality that they’re both probably going to die in the next five minutes… that kiss took on a completely different tone as a last human goodbye between soldiers who realize that death is imminent. So it wasn’t so much of a romantic kiss as much as a final exchange of weary camaraderie. A pure expression of humanity between comrades in arms, who are sacrificing themselves in service of humanity. When I mentally reframed the scene in this context, the kiss really didn’t bother me anymore, and it did feel justified and unobtrusive. Maybe not everybody will see it that way, but I think it’s at least a valid interpretation to ponder.

The happy ending. I’ve read a lot of people aren’t happy about the happy ending. And yeah, I can kinda understand why. It does feel like a little bit of a cheat. But I’ll be honest, it didn’t really bother me. The movie does visually explain it, with the Omega’s lifeblood completely enveloping Cruise’s dying body. I mean… if you were able to buy into the whole absurd notion of alien blood allowing a person to travel back one day in time in the first place, I don’t see how this new scenario is any more ridiculous or hard to buy into. Alien blood doing time stuff… it made sense to me heh. And when you really think about it… the happy ending seems rather de rigeur in this time travel subgenre. Groundhog Day, Source Code, Déjà Vu… they all have happy endings. Perhaps it would’ve been a refreshing change to see Edge break this tradition, but I felt fully satisfied with the ending we got. It made sense with what we were shown, and didn’t feel like a cheat in my eyes.[/SPOILER]

The movie knows exactly what it wants to be, but it doesn’t set out to be some low grade, mindless summer blockbuster. You can feel while watching that it legitimately wants to be an ambitious, satisfying sci-fi action flick with an emotional core that resonates with the audience, and it executes near flawlessly on that. As a finished product, it is a fine, fine example of something which ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts. And after having watched Godzilla recently, just let me indulge for a sec and say how happy I am to finally get a movie with some actual heart and humanity. To invest in and root for characters that aren’t just flimsy cardboard cutouts staring blankly. The contrast between the two films is astonishing and really makes one appreciate the carefully thought out direction and heartfelt dedication of Doug Liman.

I can’t think of a better movie this year.

8.8/10

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NECA 1/4 scale Striker Eureka

Third and final Jaeger: Striker Eureka. "First and last of the Mark Fives." Though hopefully, NECA sees some good sales for this one so they might go back and give us the fourth Jaeger, Crimson Typhoon. I understand why it wouldn't make financial sense to go and make 18 inch versions of obscure ones like Horizon Brave or Tacit Ronin, but it really hurts to see my shelf with three of the hero Jaegers. There's an obvious hole there waiting to be filled. (that's what she said!)

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Striker is the largest, by mass, of the three NECA figures. His head is about on equal level with Gipsy Danger's, while his jetpacks make him the tallest by a hair. This is probably oversized compared to the movie version, where Striker looked to be about a head shorter than Gipsy's tall lanky form, emphasizing its short, powerful bulldog-esque physique.

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An interesting new wrinkle is the fact that Striker's two large fin-shaped jet thrusters on his back come separately, so some assembly is required. At first, this seemed an impossible task. Striker, just as the other NECA Jaegers before it, is mostly made of tough vinyl. So you see the male plug on the jetpack, and it doesn't slip comfortably into the hole on the back. I was jamming and jamming on it for a while before giving up. So like, I was totally about to start bitching about how this vinyl bullshit was screwing up the figure, just like Cherno, when I went online and looked up a youtube review and found out that you're supposed to use the hairdryer technique to soften up the hole so the plug goes in easily. And lo and behold, on the back of the box... there's some instructions to do just that. Doh, what a fool I was. So... just a note to anybody else: it's not a design defect, you're just meant to heat up and soften the hole. Lesson learned.

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Here's a closeup of the detail on Striker. It looks really good, especially the molded detail on top of the cockpit. It's all film accurate and doesn't look warped the way that some vinyl features on Cherno did. Overall, I feel like they really learned from their mistakes on Cherno and got the quality control to where it needed to be. The feet are also flat and firm and plant perfectly on level surfaces. Really good changes after the last figure. The cockpit itself is rather large, so you don't get super good articulation with head movement. Side-to-side movement is good, but that's about it. There's no looking up or down.

One thing you definitely notice right off the bat is that Striker is by far the least weathered of the three Jaegers. There's some battle scrapes here and there, but for the most part this looks like a factory fresh model. I think that's okay though, since Striker is the most advanced Jaeger in existence and so it logically makes sense that it'd have taken less damage than the war-weary Cherno and Gipsy.

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While I'm really happy with the detailing on the figure, there are some design quirks that could've been worked on. The large wrist blades flip out from the arms and you can have them deployed just like in the movie. However, there's nothing that snaps them into position, they're simply operating off of friction, so if you're careless and bump the blades accidentally, you can just swing them into overlapping arcs, which looks bad. I just wish they'd made some sort of wrist stopper there to keep them from colliding into each other.

While the problem with Cherno's joints were that they were way too tight and constricted, NECA seems to have gone to the other extreme for Striker and made shoulder joints that are way too loose. Once again, instead of going for pricier ratchet joints (those are the ones that go "click click click" when you rotate the joint and are some of the strongest joints in action figure design) NECA went for cheaper ball joints that mainly rely on friction against the socket. This means that all too often, the arms of Striker will just fall down and droop. And you look at Striker's arms, and they're big and long and heavy, like a gorilla's arms. There's really no way that loose shoulder joints are gonna be able to support elevated arms like these in the vast majority of poses that you can think of. I've gotten them in some poses in these pictures by toying around with the arms for a while and finding sweet spots to relieve the stress on the joints, but it's not ideal by any means. Elevated arm poses are going to be a constant problem.

Another tricky thing about the figure is that the big finned jetpacks on the back are somewhat weighty and noticeably shift Striker's center of gravity backwards, resulting in a much more funky, top heavy figure than either Cherno or Gipsy. So you really need to check the balance and be sure of the pose, or else a slight loosening of the leg joints anywhere will either send it falling backwards from the weight of the jets, or forwards onto its face. I've already had it fall off the table once, thank god it's made out of tough vinyl and my floor's carpeted.

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Here's how it looks with the light up feature. The top of the cockpit lights up, along with the lights on the chest. It's way way less bright than what you get with Cherno's lights, and feels like more of a nice warm glow than some crazy strong floodlights, which is nice.

There's a few problems with Striker, but its presence as a display piece is pretty damn impressive. Unlike with Cherno, they really got the details right and it all feels like a quality factory run. The loose shoulder joints and top heavy nature of the torso slightly detract from the playability, but it's not bad enough to stop me from recommending it.

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NECA 1/4 scale Cherno Alpha

Finally got the rest of the 18 inch NECA Pacific Rim jaegers. First up is Cherno Alpha, a lot of people's favorite jaeger. Unfortunately, this uh, this came with a whole bunch of problems. Problematic, I think I'd consider this one problematic.

First of all, the first Cherno I got from Amazon was defective. The hip joint, you can see it from this pic:

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This is how it's supposed to look normally. Well, the first one, which I didn't take pics of, the front piece of that hip joint was bent outwards out of the socket and detached from that darker center core piece in the middle of the ball. Obviously, this was completely bullshit and not my fault, so I just went and got a replacement from Amazon, which came quite quickly. So... right off the bat, there's a bad experience. But the second one, it didn't have any hip joint malfunctions, so all seemed well. Oh, not at all, in fact.

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Here it is. Looks pretty nice, huh? On first glance, yeah it does. I've got it posed like how it was right before that classic Cherno fist-smashing move in the film. The detail and weathering are about what you'd expect from that first 18 inch Gipsy Danger. Not great, but overall pretty good for how much it costs ($90-100). The big structural change they made was to space the legs out farther from the center. In the film, Cherno had its legs closer to its centerline, emphasizing the top heavy nature of the robot. I suspect that NECA decided to spread the hips out for stability reasons, which makes sense.

Cherno looks best from the straight front view. That leaves a good impression. But look at that third pic, from the side. Now, you start seeing that there's a huge gap of nothing between the torso and the uh... the reactor "helmet" that makes up the top of Cherno. The figure is made so that that top helmet is attached to the rest of the robot by a ball socket joint and you can really move it around to accommodate the movements of the arms. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the area between the helmet and torso is completely empty and certain camera views will expose this truth blatantly. This was definitely not true in the movie, where Cherno seemed completely solid and thick from the bottom of the torso to the top of the head.

The other big problem is that NECA seems to love to make most of these 18 inch figures out of thick rubbery vinyl or some vinyl-like material, instead of straight plastic like most toys. The big issue with this is that the vinyl can warp and distort and give way more than you'd expect. That's good for taking punishment while your kid plays with it, but bad in some other ways. For example:

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Look at the top of the cockpit covering. It's off-center, warped and leaning off to the left. That's just real bad looking. That is something that you most likely will never find on a normal plastic toy, but the flexible vinyl material will not conform as often and you end up with these lousy results. It's also a problem with arm limbs, where the sockets aren't made from plastic ratchet joints, but are instead ball joints where the joint itself is made from tough vinyl, going into sockets that are made out of vinyl. This arrangement is unforgiving with tolerances and in Cherno's case, the shoulder joints were tight to the point of absurdity, as it was just a big vinyl ball stuck in a really tight and constricting vinyl socket. The only way to loosen up the joints and actually get the arm to move was getting out the trusty old hair dryer and blowing hot air to soften the vinyl. So I mean... sure, there's a way, but it's a shitty solution to a problem that shouldn't exist.

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The poor use of vinyl in 90% of this figure also results in this above picture. As you can see, the foot isn't planting flat on the table. The entire vinyl foot has warped out of its intended mold shape and gotten curved. Which ya know, isn't very good for a foot's function. Stuff like this is all over the figure and getting a good proper unwarped Cherno from the factory is probably like hitting the lottery. I guess they must exist, but why take the risk?

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Oh yeah, here's how it looks with the lights on. Uh, as you can see, this fucker is really fucking bright. Like, ohmygod bright. Of the three 18 inch jaegers, Cherno has by far the brightest lights. I mean, I don't see why anybody would want to have the lights on like this, it's uncomfortably bright to look at for any length of time.

Also, I'll note that this Cherno figure is not quite to scale with Gipsy Danger. Of the 3 NECA jaegers, Cherno is by far the shortest, which isn't right. If you think about it, Cherno with its bigass reactor helmet would probably be the tallest. I'd say Cherno is probably undersized by about 25% from what it should be. Sucks for any big Cherno fans.

Bottom line: This is a really bad figure. It's a big decline from NECA's Gipsy Danger, which was wholly free of these problems and had pretty good poseability. Wouldn't recommend anybody spend 100 bucks on Cherno.

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Daredevil season 1

It really did pretty much everything right. It got the action right. It got the characters right. It got the romance right. It was dramatic and effective in its twists and turns. Where it goes with characters like the Russian are places that feel fresh and alive and not generic television plotting. In fact, it really reminded me of the first season of Breaking Bad. When you get to the second or third episode and it goes into the situation of Crazy-8... it feels surprising and unexpected and dramatically gripping. You're caught off guard because it doesn't go through the expected motions, and there's nothing to do but watch with bated breath and see exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes. That's exactly the same way I felt about this first season of Daredevil. You don't know what's going to happen and you don't know how the characters will react and deal with it. That's a treasure. Even with a character that could've been a cheap caricature like Marci, the show goes and shows that no, it can elevate that past your expectations and refuse to take the easy road. Instead of being a throwaway gag, Marci turns into a real person who has reactions and feelings and something beyond the shallow exterior. It's these little things that add up and really make you appreciate the deft execution of this show.

The producers said they were inspired by the Bourne films, and that's completely evident right from the beginning. The hired assassin that tries to get Karen, as well as the bowling alley hitman, are completely analogous to the various "assets" that go hunting after Bourne. It's okay though, because when you really think about it... was Nuke from Miller's "Born Again" really all that different from the superhuman Bourne "assets?"

With Daredevil, it gave us Marvel's best supervillain in the Kingpin. It probably gave us Marvel's best romantic interest in Karen Page. It's given us the best realization of a Marvel setting. The Hell's Kitchen depicted in this show wholly does justice to the Hell's Kitchen that we've seen from Miller and other acclaimed DD writers. It is the suffocating cesspool of corruption that we read about. It does feel like the Kingpin is a grand puppetmaster pulling on strings, or a big fat spider, sitting at the center of a tremendous web of crime and graft and everything unsavory you can imagine. Gradually through the season, the entire landscape somehow morphs from a brightly lit New York into one long trail of corpses leading up to Wilson Fisk's penthouse. That's the Hell's Kitchen that we know from the comics, the one that Miller so marvelously crafted with his narrative power. Even in great past superhero movies like Nolan's TDK... we're told about the police corruption, but we never really see it. It's not encompassing and enveloping the way it is here. It doesn't wallow in it the way that Daredevil does. Daredevil goes and shows you exactly why you shouldn't utter the Kingpin's name. It shows you why people are afraid, and how far the Kingpin's reach is.

Well, okay... so they didn't get the red Daredevil costume right. They botched that one. But that's pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Marathoning Daredevil over a weekend was truly one of the most enjoyable and impactful entertainment experiences of the last couple years.

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ThreeZero's Titanfall Atlas 21 inch

Well, I think it's about time to show off ThreeZero's Atlas.

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Obviously, it's from Titanfall. ThreeZero seems to specialize in putting out robotic designs, they've released some Japanese anime robots and also Chappie from the movie, so yeah... it seems to be their wheelhouse. This particular figure is a 21 inch tall Atlas. Though 21 inches is the max height, it's really more like 19 and a half inches if you have the legs bent in more of a chicken walker stance the way I do. It won't hit 21 inches unless you have the legs straightened out all the way. But that's no fun, right? It's got the chicken toes and everything...

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I decided to customize my Atlas with some extra knick knacks and accessories to really give it a unique look. I didn't want it to look bland. Though, I will say... ThreeZero did a fantastic job with the weathering, they really seem to excel in that field. All the weathering you see in the pics is their handiwork, that actually wasn't something I put on. It's some sort of tampo factory process that gets all that nice detailed weathering on, because it simply looks too good to be slapped on there manually by some minimum wage Chinese factory worker. They really got the applications and everything, and it looks super nice.

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If you want to see all the alterations I've made, just google up a few pictures of the vanilla ThreeZero Atlas and compare. Most of what I used was just readily available 1/6 scale accessories on ebay, mostly Hot Toys and Dragon. Surprisingly affordable stuff, even. I still have plans for a few more additions, like smoke launchers on the hips. There's some third party metal ones made for 1/16 scale King Tiger tanks that I've just ordered, so those should look pretty good.

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As you can see, the figure is lit up with red LEDs inside. They're powered by batteries that you stick in a little compartment on his back. There's actually an option, they let you either have him lit with blue or red lights. I simply prefer the red because it really harkens back to the Heavy Gear glowing camera eye look, and obviously you can tell that the Respawn designers really cribbed a lot from stuff like Heavy Gear and VOTOMs. So yeah... my Atlas is always gonna be red.

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Now, the thing is... the playability with the pilot figure is not that good. The Mech and the pilot are both 1/12 scale, but the pilot seems overly big for the Mech, and it's a huge pain in the ass to actually fit him inside the cockpit of the darn thing. It's tight and cramped and just not that good for any actual playability. You'll be torturing yourself if you actually like moving the pilot in and out of that cockpit. The Mech really feels like it was built for a 1/18 scale figure, because then you do have the room and it won't feel horribly restrictive. Now, I suspect that they got the actual scaling correct, since they took the CGI files directly from Respawn. However, in a video game, you can obviously cheat and get away with polygonal figures that don't need to worry about clipping or anything like that. So I think the problem is just that the necessary allowances and space requirements of a real physical figure are somewhat greater than what a video game model requires and they didn't take that into account. As a result... yeah, it sucks getting the pilot inside the Mech, so I just stay away from that entirely. Which is fine, because he actually looks pretty cool manning that machine gun on top of the Atlas.

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The Atlas is somewhat pricey at over 400 bucks, but when you consider the exquisite weathering and poseability of the thing, it's actually a really good deal. Especially compared to other competitors like Hot Toys.

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The Flash season finale

Welp.

There's good, and there's bad.

The Bad: Poor writing on Barry's dad. They never convinced me why his dad would not want him to go back and change the past. He'd get his wife back. He'd get his life back, without being stuck in a shitty prison. This is something that any normal person would say yes to. But Barry's dad is the complete opposite, and giving out some hazy, half-baked platitude about maybe Barry losing something within himself or whatnot? I didn't really even understand what he was talking about. It was just odd and a poorly-thought out rationale.

Barry's mom. He doesn't save her. He just stands by and lets her die, based solely on seeing future Barry gesturing to him to stop. Cmon, man. This made absolutely no sense. This has been torturing Barry for his entire life. The idea of going back and saving her has been on his mind for half of this entire season. Yet when the time came, he just completely gave up, even though this whole opportunity was risked on a chance of a singularity possibly destroying the entire planet. WTF? Just lame and incomprehensible.

Yeah, they went and gave him a final farewell to his mom, blatantly ripping off the ending to Mark Waid's Superman Birthright. That had emotion, sure. But I wasn't invested in it, because I was just stuck wondering why he idiotically refused to save his mom. And also... just noticing the fact that Nora Allen's stab wound to the heart was apparently lazily applied with some ketchup packets at the last minute. What was that all about?

The Good: Eddie's sacrifice. Okay, this was something I never saw coming. Eddie pulls a Looper and shoots himself to wipe Zoom out of existence. It was shocking and emotional and a great farewell to Eddie. It completely worked. Seeing his lifeless body tragically getting swept up and sucked into the singularity was really quite stirring. It's a funny thing... right after I was super bummed out about how they completely botched the Nora Allen subplot, they go and reel me right back in with this great ending to the Iris and Eddie subplot.

And of course, getting to see the huge singularity sucking up Central City at the end. Sure, it doesn't look as good and as polished as what we saw in Man of Steel, but comparing it to the metrics of a normal TV show... this looked damn amazing. We see now where the money actually went when they skimped out on the CGI effects for last week's episode. It was well spent and appropriate for a season finale.

Reflecting back on the series as a whole so far... yeah, this was one hell of a ride. Definitely the second best superhero TV show I've seen this year. Daredevil pulled off everything pretty much perfectly, so it gets the nod, but Flash is right there behind it.

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Review: Aldnoah.Zero season 1

This show, it uh... it makes no sense. Humans landed on Mars in the 1970s and by 2015 they're a completely different culture and empire and they all hate people on Earth and want to conquer? Duder, that don't make no sense. That's just really whack.

And I was actually digging the show at first, despite that. I read that the producer was inspired by Man of Steel (which is insane and ridiculous, btw) but I got a much stronger sense of BattleTech in the roots of the show, in particular the Clans. If you really looked at it, it feels a lot like the 3049 Clan invasion. The Earth Mechs are all weak and incredibly helpless in the face of the overpowered Martian Aldnoah Mechs, just like how Inner Sphere Mechs were completely outmatched by the Clan OmniMechs in BattleTech. And Slaine, being this captive ward of the Martians, was kinda like Phelan Ward in Clan Wolf. The Martians wanted to conquer Earth because Mars had scarce resources, just like the Clans did in the Kerensky Cluster. And the Martians' use of ancient Aldnoah tech was kinda like how Clan tech was built off of old Star League technology. So... there's quite a lot of similarities there. I thought that was neat.

***SPOILERS past this point***

But you know, the show just doesn't make sense the more you watch. Slaine is constantly beaten over and over again by his adopted Commander dude, which just feels brutal and over the top. So then when he finally finds out the truth and acts compassionately toward Slaine, I was like... dude, no. I still fucking hate you cause you've been beating the crap out of this little guy with your cane for the last 10 episodes. You don't get to be the compassionate father figure now, you fuck. I mean really, the show runners actually thought they could get away with that character turn?

The overall animation is fine. I mean, the CGI is there, and it looks bad, and CGI in anime always tends to look bad and not good, and it's here and it looks bad. But I guess that's kinda the state of anime in 2015. You just gotta accept it. The characters look.... well, really identical. Like, at the end of the first episode, the main character loses a friend who flies off of the back of the truck, and I couldn't tell who was who. They both looked pretty much identical. That's really a problem. And it happens with other characters. Inko and the main character's sister also look identical, except that the sister has slightly longer hair. But in some shots, that's not all that apparent. They just all look the same. It's a problem, man. And also, when the characters are in profile, they all look like they're talking out of the side of their mouths.

The Martians only apparently have 37 Mechs or something. 37 Mechs to conquer an entire planet? I'm sorry, but no matter how overpowered you are, and they certainly are incredibly overpowered... you need way more than 37 units. That's completely insufficient to pacify a whole planet. Not to mention that the Martian Mechs themselves feel more like they were designed to be video game bosses rather than actual coherent military units. In a real military, you'd probably build a whole lot of Mechs with those long range killer lasers (ya know, that Mech in the intro we never actually get to see in any of the episodes). Instead, you've got Mechs like one with an invulnerability field, which is really good, but which is also only armed with... big ol' bear claws. That's right, they invested in an invincible juggernaut Mech who's only offensive ability is to get real close and melee you. And which spends about half an hour chasing after a truck helplessly, because it has no guns at all. Again... they only brought 37 of these things to conquer a planet? When one needs to lumber after a fleeing truck for long stretches of time? Does this make any sense at all? This is video game boss logic.

The aesthetic designs of the Martian Mechs are really terribad too. They uh, they don't seem to make any sense. Like, they legitimately look like they'd bang their giant toe spike up against their knee or their arm against their torso as soon as they actually tried to move. It's ridiculous how loopy they look. The Earth Mechs are... better, but also real generic. They look like the generic Macross-style robots, but with giant over-sized fins attached to their ankles. That's not a real great look. The guns also seem to follow the generic look of other mecha anime, with short bullpup rifles. Muv Luv Alternate had the same looking bullpup rifles. I guess Japanese anime studios like the look of stubby bullpup rifles.

The main character is completely... a robot, I think. He's got nothing there. He's a brilliant genius dude, but he's very unemotional. I didn't care for that at all. The whole being-a-genius thing isn't that bad, after all Ender's Game is one of the best scifi stories ever written, so I can deal with a main protagonist being real smart, but Ender actually had some depth and there were things going on in his psyche and emotions and you felt for him. This main character... no, didn't feel for him at all. Just blank, like a video game avatar or something. And plus, he goes and shoots down Slaine after he helped him out, like a huge asshole. Why would we, as the audience, like this guy after he goes and does a dick thing like that?

Slaine is a whole lot better. I'll say that, I liked Slaine a lot. You felt for Slaine and what he was going through. Well, except for the last couple of episodes, when his character becomes oddly written and does inexplicable things. He finally finds out who the main culprit behind the conspiracy to assassinate the Princess is, but uh, this master villain guy doesn't kill him, but hands him an uber Mech. Why? What is the logic behind this? And then, in the final episode of the season, Slaine goes and saves the villain while they're engaged in a Mech duel. Why? Why would he save this guy who tried to kill the princess who he's in love with? I don't understand any of this. I think I was paying attention... but I don't get it.

So yeah, I don't know if I'll watch the 2nd season. It hooked me in with the BattleTech similarities at the start, but the show really went downhill in a hurry. And visually, the Mech designs stink. I heard somewhere that these show runners wanted this to be a Gundam-killer or something. Well, that ain't happening. The designs of the Martian Mechs look terrible. Giant top heavy torsos on really small legs? That's your idea of good design? I mean, I don't see how that's gonna appeal to otakus who have grown up adoring Gundams, with their giant oversized legs and small arms. That's not a recipe for success. And the Earth Mechs look way too generic to leave any sort of impression.

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First Impressions of Daredevil

Watched the first episode last night. Thoughts:

I really liked it.

The intro is a bit strange. At first, I thought maybe it was blood, but it looks too bright. So if not blood, then I guess it's... just red paint? Red candle wax? Not sure why they wanted to go that route.

Hell's Kitchen feels just bright and fresh and Sam Raimi's NYC-esque in the daytime. That's a very good choice. But at night, they seem to have gone for a toned down Punisher Warzone take, with lots of harsh yellow lighting. I'll have to see more, but I think it's a good look. From the spectrum of tv superhero shows I've watched, I'd say Flash has the most naturalistic looking city, while Daredevil is skewing towards the more exaggerated feel of Gotham, but not quite going as far. Again, I'll need to see more, but I'd say they've found a good balance.

Of the three leads, I've been really happy with Foggy and Karen Page. I'm quite familiar with the actor playing Foggy. He's been in the great indie "Cheats" as well as Ashton Kutcher's "The Butterfly Effect" and Denzel's "Deja Vu." The guy is just naturally charismatic and his chemistry with Matt is on point. You really feel for the guy, knowing that he's going to eventually be a third wheel with Matt and Karen (if they go down that comic storyline route). Not as familiar with Karen Page's actress, cause I sure as hell didn't watch Tru Blood, but she really impressed me. It really helps that she doesn't have a smidge of that annoying, cloying quality that seems to infest all of the female love interests on the CW's superhero shows (Lana, Laurel, Iris). The real genuineness of Karen Page here and her interactions with these two green lawyers is so damn refreshing and welcome to my jaded eyes. There aren't any lovey dovey eyes or anything, it feels like how realistic people would behave.

And then there's Matt Murdock. The actor playing him obviously doesn't have the strong heroic chin of a Ben Affleck, so I feel like he's playing up more of the nerdy legal side of Matt so far. That's the impression I'm getting. There's also the inherent challenge of the role, being as most actors' best tool to work with are their eyes. Here, this is pretty much taken away since we're dealing with a blind guy. So right from the start, the poor guy's handicapped in what he can convey. I think he's doing a good job, but overall my reaction is... just not really completely blown away like I was with the other two.

The action scenes are great and exactly what you'd want in a Daredevil show. They aren't quite up there with what we've seen in movies like The Raid and Winter Soldier, but for a tv show, it's pretty much as good as you can hope for. Unlike some portrayals of Batman, the young DD here does not take guys out without suffering a single hit. You feel every punch landing on Matt and it helps humanize the guy.

Of the other characters shown, I think the most important one is going to be the Kingpin's lackey. He seems much more assertive than Wesley in the comics, so perhaps he's not actually Wesley? But he kinda looks like Wesley, with the glasses and all. Wesley always had this meek and mouse-like quality in the comics, which was a striking contrast to the horrors he could unleash with just a simple phone call. The guy playing the role here is much more of a confident and sinister taskmaster, which probably allows for more story possibilities down the road for the show.

Overall, I think it's off to a great start. The delight of getting a true origin story for Daredevil's universe is definitely here, as opposed to Affleck's film. These aren't bigtime lawyers yet, they're straight out of law school in a dinky little apartment, and you even get to see the handwritten office sign which is just fun. You can see how they're going to gradually put all the pieces together and it feels fresh and rewarding. In Manohla Dargis's review for Batman Begins, she ends with describing how the movie "invites us to watch Bruce Wayne quietly piecing together his Batman identity, to become a secret sharer to a legend, just as we did once upon a time when we read our first comic." That's the same sense I get with this show.

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Review: Her

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for these sorts of sci-fi stories. I really enjoyed WALL-E and Robot and Frank and Moon’s GERTY. I suppose I’m just attracted to stories where you can find real humanity in inhuman constructs? To be able to convey that level of depth and natural essence from a robot just strikes me as an impressive achievement. And Samantha in Her is no exception. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is completely natural and expressive, while communicating a distinctive otherworldly nature that feels both intimidating and enticing. You fully buy into the idea of Theodore falling for her because of her performance, and the great rapport between them makes the movie come alive. Spike Jonze invests the story and dialogue with a lot of heart and truth.

And that’s really what shines about this movie, the truth within it. Jonze manages to verbalize and convey all those feelings and emotions we’ve ever had about a relationship and the aftermath of a breakup. “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt.” Who among us hasn’t felt that way and related to what Theodore is going through? I know I have.

Through simple cuts and edits, we get to see the subtle observations that Jonze has about love and life. Take the sleazy and clumsy audio booty call in the beginning of the film, where Theodore chats up random strangers on his earpiece. It's simple lust that's driving him. But later, he has a similar scene with Samantha, only it's imbued with quite a different emotional state. Two ostensibly identical actions, coming from different places and with vastly different results. It's the little things that define our meaning in life.

Most sci-fi futures tend to be dominated by steely cold blues and grays and you sense that humanity is being drained away by the uprise of technology. Her smartly steers away from this aesthetic in favor of warm pink and orange hues that are welcoming and inviting and feel suitably human-centered. The optimists haven’t all died out in the future, it turns out. The entire setting feels lived in and grounded, which lends believability to a movie premise that already requires the audience to take a leap.

The movie does present us with this wonderful and imaginative speculative fiction to think and ponder on, but it never feels like it’s taking over. Her is very much of the same school as WALL-E in its structure. WALL-E had these big heady science fiction ideas and concepts that it played with, yet at the end of the day it was at its core a simple love story, between two robots. Her is modeled in the same way, in that it depicts this near future civilization with expressive AIs and people sinking deeper and deeper into isolation through technology… yet Jonze keeps his eye focused on what the true heart of the story is, which is Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. Some people have voiced their view in how they wanted the entire movie to purely be a meditation on this larger technological revolution and the implications of such, in the grand tradition of speculative fiction, but I definitely prefer the approach that Jonze took here. He melded together the larger canvass of a thoughtful, intriguing sci-fi future with a small, intimate love story, and in my eyes it felt seemingly effortless.

As much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, relationships are rarely as simple as two beings melding seamlessly into one. All too often, we find ourselves trying to get through the little hiccups along the road. No, it’s rarely that huge, bombastic fight that we see in some movies… more often it’s simply two humans who are trying to fit together an imperfect jigsaw. Watching the movie, I felt myself completely entranced by the small scenes, like when Theodore is sitting on a sidewalk, asking why Samantha audibly breathes while she’s talking. These little moments feel so genuine and raw and refreshing because they are the unfortunate aspects of relationships we all have to encounter and get through, and yet never quite see depicted onscreen in other movies.

The movie ends with a mildly optimistic conclusion, but it’s not a typical Hollywood happy ending. Jonze doesn’t go for a slam dunk finish, but leaves it open ended for your imagination. Where does Theodore go from here? It’s up to the audience to decide for themselves. Much like real life, we’re left to simply… move on and continue. To grow and form new connections. Just as Samantha had to grow and evolve and form new connections, so must we in our lives. The journey continues, and as one stage of it ends, another must begin. Theodore’s previous failure to connect with his ex-wife led him to Samantha, and her loss has now propelled him forward into another opportunity for growth. Theodore’s uncertain future is simply a new stage of his life, and I appreciated Jonze’s restraint in ending on an open question mark.

Just as Theodore fell in love with Samantha, so did I with this tender, sincere, expertly-crafted gem. It’s the rare film that leaves you feeling rewarded, respected, and reinvigorated with life.

10/10

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