How HBO’s Watchmen breaks the mold of an already broken construct

Wanna feel like the smartest person in the room when talking about comics? Just bring up Alan Moore’s Watchmen and feel your nerd IQ rise by the minute as you name drop that thing from 30+ years ago that Time put on their best novels list so it’s now become impenetrable to any and all critique. The original Watchmen comic is like the kid that plays volcano in a match of rock-paper-scissors– it’s completely unexpected, yet so genius in both concept and execution that you can’t help but feel more inspired than mad at it. So much so that it’s become one of those properties you just feel awkward making fanart of because the series is just that untouchable. It has reached this special place in pop culture nerdery, transcending any real fan critique and demands reverence more than anything else.
At least that was before DC realized they could make more money off it. Following the sub-par 2009 movie adaptation, the floodgates for additional non-Alan-Moore-approved Watchmen sequels came into light. With prequels and sidestories and a current comic going as far as linking series god stand-in Dr. Manhattan to the creation of DC’s comic universe (just as dumb as it sounds), it felt like Watchmen was catching up with its 80s peers in spawning an endless supply of ungodly spinoffs and unwarranted merch, which in the case of Watchmen feels like that much more of a sin considering how anti-conglomerate the series is. It’s like seeing an again rocker come to accept the establishment that led to their inception and string of greatest hits in the first place– sad, a little bit awkward, yet still small-time enough to barely even make your own personal radar to really care one way or another.
Then… a light. Before its airing, HBO’s Watchmen was set up for so much failure. Alongside what’s become Alan Moore’s standard non-blessing to adapt/continue his original comic, was a rather childish retort from the showrunner in response, claiming “I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, ‘F— you, I’m doing it anyway.'” It was like watching a family argue at the dinner table and you’re not exactly sure if you should tough it out or uber home. Even the trailers themselves were this weird amalgamation of cryptic bullshit that you weren’t sure was high art or pure schlock. Everyone was so prepared to shit on this series and yet the first episode hits and bam, good episode. Next week comes around and “whadufuq, it’s still good.” And again and again every week until it finished and you’re just sitting there like a dumbass in the afterglow of the spectacle you just witnessed.

HBO’s Watchmen is a particularly fascinating beast in that it’s good 100% on it’s own merit, with the fact that it’s a comicbook sequel being a footer note at best. While the series itself is absolutely drenched in throwbacks and Easter eggs and references and other clickbaity subject matters, I would argue that it could survive without all that because its core is just that powerful. You have the built-in pretentiousness of an HBO show working in tandem with the pretentiousness of a highly regarded 30 year old comic and together they work to create this uniquely weird, dramatic, sad masterpiece.
Remember when Amazon streaming started adapting Man in the High Castle and how it was kinda interesting until the premise ended up feeling too painfully real after the election? HBO Watchmen is like the opposite of that. It works on account of it has its pulse on the shittiness that is modern America and it’s able to show you this equally shitty alternate modern reality that’s juuuuust good enough for you to consider wanting to be part of that world instead. Taking absolutely everything the original comic established, the HBO show presents a 2019 world still reeling from the effects of the long line of deceit the original had plotted out back in the 80s. Now in a world averse to technology, we’re stuck in this radio communication era that’s become more focused on bettering the world based on correcting wrongdoings from the past rather than starting anew with technology for the future. What results are white supremacists under a very different world context, and an overarching story that pretty much tricks you into watching what develops into a full-on comicbooky comic book adaptation come its final two episodes.
Where the Watchmen comic has you witness a sole person follows through on a worldwide scale atrocity, the HBO show makes YOU consider the atrocity for yourself alongside the repercussions that world must endure.

Stranger Things 2 lacks that 80s drab, and this bothers me

It’s not exactly the hottest take to say that Stranger Things season 1 is a spectacular show. The season so perfectly emulates an ‘80s movie to the point that you could believe that it’s something actually made during the 1980s. From its mix of child-centric adventure and sci-fi, to its casting of perfectly misfitty characters, the first season of Stranger Things, while very story-centered, also took the time to nail every nook and cranny of minor details, helping boost its ‘80s aesthetic from a simple gimmick to a strong, functional facet of the show itself.

That’s not true for the second season.

Even ignoring the wholly disliked episode 7, Stranger Things 2 while likeable enough is a general mess. Its cast is too widely dispersed from each other to make any forward progress in its more immediate plot points, new characters are introduced to little effect, and most importantly of all: the ‘80s aesthetic that made  the first season so enjoyable has all but faded (er… “been polished severely”?).

Yes, all the likeable misfits are back, with their long-range walkie-talkies and lack of parental supervision among rooms with wood-paneled walls and cube TVs, but there still remains something a bit off: the lighting. A major factor that added to Stranger Things’ first season was how it treated lighting as a major tool to mold their perfectly dated world. Even on sunny days, scenes were washed over in this intentionally grimy manner that served as the series’ own world-building. Not only did lighting play a crucial role to better play up the series’ horror aspect, but it made the more tame dialogue-heavy scenes that much more convincing—your eye being slowly drawn towards the uncomfortable excess of drab-colored rugs among other dated room décor.

With Stranger Things 2, the cast and setting are still appropriately 80s, but the noticeably bright lighting is enough to take you out of scenes entirely. It’s the same kind of distracting that comes from having a particularly bad actor on scene, or a musical score that just doesn’t jive with the scene it’s in. You think it’s minor until you see just how much the work suffers when it’s poorly done. Stranger Things season 1 transcended ‘80s homage to actually feel like something made from that time. Meanwhile, Stranger Things 2 felt more like a modern-day movie playing dressup with outfits and sets from a time long past. It’s the Sandlot 2 of Netflix shows. And I don’t think anyone wants to be that.

Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good and I will fight anyone who tells me otherwise


Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie is good. Not ironically good, or good-for-an-adaptation, or so-bad-it’s-good. Just… good.

And yet I’ve heard so much backlash from the anime community (read: not fan community, but the anime community as a whole), nitpicking over how it isn’t a 1:1 adaptation, how everyone in the cast has been whitewashed (and I guess “blackwashed” in the case of the character of L), among what’s probably a million other arguments for why this movie shouldn’t have been made. Even before official production on the movie began, it had so many cards stacked against it. So of course, if you can’t please the core audience most likely to be interested in the movie, then what’s the point?
But even with all that in mind, I still stand by my statement. Netflix’s Death Note movie is a good movie. Why? Because it’s able to distance itself from the rose-tinted expectations of fans and actually capture Death Note’s essence—an essence that a lot of fans tend to avoid entirely.

Similar to how shonen manga are so much more than their surface-level fights and are able to really delve into more complex themes of friendship, humanity, and even politics, so too does Death Note’s initial allure give way to “ulterior” themes for those willing to dig past its grimdark exterior. At its surface, the original Death Note manga comes off as this giant artsy-fartsy showdown of the minds—this really clever story of cat-and-mouse that touches on themes of morality and godlihood. Its main character is a hyper-intelligent, unflawed high-schooler who oh-so-cooly takes it upon himself to judge the wicked. It is probably one of the most unapologetically pompous shonen series in recent history starring a Barry Sue protagonist with everyone else bending to his will. But it’s for that very same reason that a lot of high-schoolers were drawn towards it. And probably why a lot of fans look back on the series with the same kind of disdain as something like Linkin Park (pre-Chester’s untimely death, anyway)—because the series at its surface is so caught up in its own srs bsns drama, that in hindsight, we can’t help but view the series as nothing more than “baby’s first serious non-punchy manga.”

But what if Death Note wasn’t as serious as people remember it being? What if beyond its blatant religious imagery and rambling monologues on morality, the series was nothing more than a B-movie complete with over-the-top deaths thinly justified through the existence of a magical killing notebook?


That’s what Netflix’s Death Note realizes, and it brings that into the spotlight in full force.

Rather than the perfectly perfect Light Yagami, we have a purposefully whiny shitstain that is Light Turner. Rather than seeking out godlihood, he uses it as an excuse to get in the pants of a one Mia Sutton (who sidenote: is a large step up from the original’s Misa Amane). Rather than the in-your-face mental face-offs between Light and L, the movie’s centerpieces are its Final Destination-esque criminal deaths. The movie strips away any of the original’s subtlety to the benefit of better getting across that Death Note was never about answering nth level questions on life, death, killing, etc, but to centerpiece an unlikeable person’s fall from grace via the most in-your-face, gratuitous visuals and laughably serious demon lore. It embraces its campiness, and is able to utilize it to its full extent, resulting in a beautifully shot, dutch-angle-filled, oddly 80s soundtracky, CW-tier-acting, romp of a movie where you’re absolutely certain Willem Dafoe enjoyed his role playing a slightly less gremlin-faced version of himself.

I’m glad it’s in talks for getting a sequel and I spit in the face of anyone that says the original has aged well enough to the point that they’d prefer that over this.

I thought Spider-Man Homecoming wasn’t all that great, but at least hear me out on this

Even disregarding superhero burnout, and fanboy wanking, I just couldn’t enjoy Spider-Man: Homecoming.

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My Two Cents on the Iron Fist Debacle

Lemme first say I have no interest in watching Iron Fist. Being panned across the board aside, I just don’t have time to invest 13+ hours into a series that’s ultimately homework for whenever Netflix/Marvel releases The Defenders.

Rather, I’d like to bring up how Netflix’s previous Marvel series have proven that a socially conscious series can work and yet for some reason wasn’t the logical path to take come time to adapt Iron Fist for a modern audience.

Whether it be a black man, woman, or blind man, each previous Netflix series was able to take a marginalized group of people and empower them without coming off as too obnoxious about it. Each show made a point to treat their star as a person first and hero second (if that). It never bothered with spoon-feeding the audience the character’s “blackness” or “femininity” or “handi-capable-ness” because doing so would be a disservice to the character as well as the viewers. If the Saturday Morning Cartoons of yore were any indication, tokenization was a very obvious pitfall to avoid for the creative teams involved.

iron_fist

So what makes Iron Fist such an exception? Besides the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” natural problem of having to adapt an outdated premise to appeal to mainstream and hardcore audiences, I personally believe going the route of recasting our titular character as an Asian-American is just too much for even today’s modern mindsets. While women, black people, and (to an admittedly lesser degree) the disabled have been successfully integrated into American society, the concept of an Asian main character, not to mention one that’s a superhero, is just too novel of a concept for American-made live-action dramas. And taking into account where Asians fall in modern America, it’s not too surprising. Rather than trying to integrate into societies, it’s become more commonplace for first-gen Asians in America to stick together as a community. Things like Chinatown, Japantown, and Koreatown where the common language spoken is anything but English serve as a safe haven to the according immigrants, but this strange, unapproachable-except-for-touristy-visits, foreign… thing for anyone else. To write a story trying to immerse the audience in that world when that world is so inherently unapproachable to any other American (read: white people) is apparently too big of a hurdle to even bother trying to jump over.

Sure, the counter-argument would be that you’re playing into stereotypes to have an Asian know martial arts, but if every prior Marvel Netflix series were able to successfully establish, break, and exceed stereotypes, I honestly don’t see why Iron Fist wouldn’t dare to follow suit.

But whatever, man, I’ve got plenty of other series to binge on already.

#Pick #A #Side–Captain America: Civil War Review

Captain America: Civil War is a thematically confused mess of a movie.

Ok, maybe that was coming off a bit harsh. As many gripes as I had with the movie, the things it did well were enjoyable. Newcomers Spider-Man and Black Panther felt comfortably familiar to the series and were able to be of oddly large amount of use to the movie’s plot. The big superhero fight the title alludes to was stupid yet gratifying to watch (seeing Spider-Man piggyback off War Machine was just one of its many highlights). And on the whole it made me excited for the future of Marvel’s movies rather than anxious over the burnout that you’d expect come thirteen of these movies over the course of 8 years.

That said, there was plenty wrong with Civil War, too.

civil war title
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3 Things I Liked in the Live-Action Attack on Titan Movie

Was the live-action Attack on Titan movie bad? No. Would I watch the live-action Attack on Titan movie again? No.

(insert "they wasted all their budget on trailer-specific scenes" joke here
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s three movie-only details that were pretty enjoyable: Read more of this post

Spoiler-Free Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

As ultimately forgettable as the first Amazing Spider-Man movie was, I do appreciate the fact that it stuck closely to certain aspects of the main Spidey universe. Peter Parker tinkering away in his basement working on things besides flashy spider-themed spandex, mechanical web-shooters, Gwen Stacy in all her thigh-high-wardrobey-goodness (I actually don’t know how canon that is, but it does fit her character at least aesthetically)… Sure it had its problems, but as a whole, it was inoffensive and certainly wasn’t a disaster.

My opinion remains with its sequel.

ASM2 poster Read more of this post

Spoiler-Free Review: Gravity

With movies in general, it’s easy to get caught up in a running list of “things” needed to keep audiences entranced through the entirety of the film, whether it be from dialogue, special effects, constantly shifting scene locations, cast size, etc. So to see a modern day movie take a rather minimalistic approach to their story-telling while still maintaining a quality story is nothing short of amazing.

Gravity 2013 Movie Poster

As suggested by the trailer, Gravity is something of a disaster movie, with all the disaster focusing primarily on a one Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock). Stone is a medical engineer who’s received six months of appropriate astronaut training and is currently in space alongside some other astronauts when they’re unexpectedly hit with by a cluster of debris from a destroyed satellite. Having been cut off from Mission Control, Stone must rely on her own limited training to get herself out of this fix.

Now on paper, it sounds like some standard stuff that isn’t exactly new to the world of movies. But where Gravity truly shines is in its execution. Rather than keeping to a standard big budget movie-telling format of having a large cast and cutting from mission control to the characters in space, the entirety of the movie focuses on Stone’s character. No cuts to what’s going on at Earth; no flashbacks when Bullock’s character starts giving some backstory and reason for viewers to care for her well-being… actually, I’m pretty sure the camera makes a point of either keeping focused on Stone, or switching to a first-person perspective as Stone fumbles her way through one disaster after another (really, the movie gives Bullock little to no time to breathe either due to the stress or the literal inability to breathe because well… space situations can do that). And it’s that amount of focus that gives the movie a real sense of isolation from the world, in both a beautiful and frightening manner.

You would think that with the movie having such a focused perspective for its story-telling that it would result in certain scenes becoming too chatty (or worse: too exposition-y), but the dialogue is actually kept at a rather nice balance alongside the destruction sequences. The somewhat smug and chatty Astronaut Kowalski (George Clooney is right at home as this guy) properly sets the stage and overall feel as we’re introduced to their world in space and doesn’t come off as too overbearing, keeping in mind that Bullock is the true star of the movie. Bullock’s character keeps to herself, but as she realizes the fix she’s gotten into, she begins to take a more proactive role, relying solely on what she herself is capable of doing given the situation and the handful of metaphorical bones thrown at her. Her acting is spot-on from beginning to end, (for the feminists out there) her character of Ryan Stone proves to be a very strong, independent, and capable person, and (for the dudes out there) she looks pretty good doing it, without coming off as ludicrously fanservice-y (#demlegs).

Action (er, “destruction”) scenes are over-the-top, but service the plot well, as space debris is whipped and turned about without coming off as wanton destruction. Coming from someone that hasn’t exactly been wowed by 3D in movies, I actually really enjoyed it this time around. Like the special effects themselves, the 3D is treated in such a manner that directly services the plot and is consistent throughout the film, so you don’t feel like you’re cheated “3D wise” by just having the one scene that looks really good in 3D and the rest just kinda being okay. While there was clearly a large amount of special effects used, you are never given the feeling that the effects were put first, with story second. Everything is kept tight, and compliments each other accordingly.

My one semi-complaint would be the handful of baby imagery. While I understand how this relates to Stone’s backstory, I found it coming off as more of a stretch than anything else. Regardless, it does prove to be some of the most beautiful shots/scenes in the movie, so I won’t make too much of it.

As a whole, Gravity was a somewhat simple story, executed in a unique and even beautiful manner, giving a real feeling of isolation in the vastness of space.

Movie adaptations of videogames are bad? OBJECTION! Live Action Ace Attorney Review

I don’t know what’s been in the water in Japan, but of the live action adaptations of previous works to have come from the country, I can’t think of any as of late that I’ve found particularly well… good. The 20th Century Boys trilogy definitely had the production value, but was ultimately mediocre at best. The same can be said about the live action Beck, Solanin and Bunny Drop movies, all of which stuck decently well to the source material, but just didn’t have that certain flair that made the movies themselves work as not just adaptations, but good movies in their own rights.

So you’d think with something as ridiculous as an Ace Attorney movie, I’d be subject to yet another mediocre adaptation. We’re talking about a movie based on a videogame… not only that, but the creative team behind the movie actually decided to stick with the characters’ over-the-top wardrobes and hairdos. The last time I remember an adaptation doing something like that was back in the live action Speed Racer adaptation, which pretty much solidified my opinion that it is impossible to directly bring over something so off-the-wall crazy into a live action setting without being distracting/silly/seizure-inducing.

And yet for some reason, the Ace Attorney film pulls it off with such finesse that you wouldn’t even think that such was ever considered a problem in previous works.

Ace Attorney Live Action PosterComing from a person who hasn’t played any of the games, I can say with confidence that the movie does an excellent job of building interest in the franchise for non-fans such as myself not because it was so bad that I felt the need to see the superior source material, but well… the opposite. Ace Attorney does an excellent job of not only establishing its characters and surroundings, but also pulls off weaving such an intricate story that remains interesting from start to finish.

Characters from titular ace attorney Wright and prosecutor/rival Edgeworth to Butz and Gumshoe to even random secondary and even tertiary characters in the background look like they’re pulled right out of the videogames, wacky hair and all, and yet for some inexplicable reason, none of the designs are distracting (with some exception to the court’s judge character, who is so hilariously and intentionally deadpan that I’ll let it slide). Rather, the offbeat designs bounce well off the equally insane courtroom, which looks perfectly normal with the exception of the gigantic holograms showing various pieces of evidence throughout the trials that take up most of the story.

The handful of times the characters traverse outside of the courtroom, we are treated with equally alluring settings and flashbacks that also look relatively normal with the exception to some slight quirks. You’d think with the majority of the movie taking place in the courtroom, however, that things would get stale fast, but with the story’s near breakneck pacing (admittedly, I needed my more game-familiar friends to break things down for me) and lovable characters across the board, the total run-time of 135 minutes goes by like that.

To say that Ace Attorney is a good videogame-gone-movie still wouldn’t say much considering the absolute crapfests of game/movies preceding it. Rather, it is an excellent movie in its own right from beginning to end and is not only the first live action Japanese movie I thoroughly enjoyed, but the first movie adaptation of a videogame that I sincerely wish gets a sequel.

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