#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
Read more of this post

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.

Approved for Adoption – French Movie Review

While the general plight of growing up Asian in a predominantly non-Asian community may not be the most mainstream of stories told, it has been run into the ground at least for the audience that said story is being aimed at. Recurring themes of redemption from your parents conflicting with goals of making them proud, having dreams forced upon you by another, a general coming of age tale done Asian American (replace “American” with any other secondary culture) style… it’s not exactly something Hollywood would give a second glance and from what I’ve been exposed to, I’m of the camp of “you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times.”

Or at least I would have said that before seeing Approved for Adoption.

Approved for Adoption

Approved for Adoption (or Couleur de peau: miel, translating to “Skin Color: Honey”) is a French film telling the story of the influx of Korean adoptees from the perspective of the movie’s writer/director Jung. Right off the bat, Jung weaves an interesting tale of being adopted into a French family at the age of five, establishing an interesting dynamic not only between Jung and his adopted parents, but between him and the family’s biological children.

The movie is based on Jung’s graphic novel of the same name, bringing his sketchy art style to life and near-seamlessly melding it together with CG animation (think Monster House style) as well as live action footage of Jung himself as he roams the streets of Korea 40+ years after having left said country. Switching between styles keeps things fresh, but doesn’t come off as quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake, as each jump in aesthetic serves as a proper lead-in for the scenes to follow.

Growing up, you never really question the order of things, especially within your family, and Approved for Adoption successfully runs with that theme. As we follow Jung through his almost Dennis-the-Menace-like childhood, the fact of him being a Korean child in a French household is downplayed for the most part (sans visits from blatantly racist extended family) and things feel more like a film about family rather than about a Korean facing identity issues. Earlier scenes help develop the sense of belonging Jung has with each of his family members to the point that you really feel for each of them once the drama is delivered come the latter half of the movie when the elephant in the room that is Jung’s past is better inspected.

Suddenly this well-meaning family you’ve seen in its childhood has exploded into scenes of drama and introspection without anyone to truly blame for the shortcomings involved along the journey. You feel for Jung and his fish-out-of-water dilemma, but at the same time you feel for his parents and siblings who honestly have no way of relating to his problems or finding a solution to them themselves.

By the end of the movie, you’ve been exposed to so much misfortune along with signs of hope that any clear-cut finale would be an insult to what has developed so far. Rather, you are left with a lot to think about, and signs that while things may get bad, there will always be time to take on your problems one step at a time.

(Approved for Adoption was seen at San Jose’s CAAMFest. Check local theaters/festivals for showings.)

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.

Why I Didn’t Like “Man of Steel”

I watched the midnight showing of Man of Steel a couple weeks back and just couldn’t bring myself to do a post about it because it left that bad of a taste in my mouth. But upon seeing that the movie is actually collecting something even remotely resembling mixed reviews, I just felt the need to get my own thoughts out on the matter. Because, y’know… it’s clearly an important hot-button issue that needs to be addressed.

man of steel poster

From the get-go, things do start at least somewhat promising, with the Kryptonian Zod pretty much establishing his spot as the movie’s main baddie by killing Super Man’s dad as the baby Supes is sent off to Earth before the planet Krypton explodes. But then you begin to realize that the sense of urgency you’d expect with a dying planet is seemingly nonexistent (even the characters that know about their own planet exploding really take their damn time getting stuff done) and you immediately start to fear how the rest of the movie will play out.

As Clark crash lands on Earth, we’re treated to an incredibly choppy sense of storytelling, as we jump back and forth from Clark traveling the world as a drifter, to his earlier days trying to adjust to life as a normal schoolboy, hiding any signs of his powers. You would think these scenes would bounce well off each other and make you really develop a liking to Clark and see him as more than just this indestructible super-being, but every one of these scenes ends up falling flat, never going that one more mile to really make you feel for the character.

Things only become more muddled when secondary characters are slowly introduced. Characters like the love interest in Louis Lane and her gruff boss at the Daily Planet seem to only exist to detract from Clark’s main story, and the fact that they’re played by Amy Adams (of Enchanted fame) and Laurence Fishbourne (The Matrix among other things) just makes things that much more awkward to watch. Adams’ acting is decent, but comes off as too “Disney Princess”—the exact opposite of the fast-talking snarky Louis Lane that the movie tried to portray in terms of her given lines. Meanwhile, Fishbourne has something of a problem balancing his emotions, as he goes from over-the-top jerk boss, to caring older gentleman during a time of crisis (he has a similar problem in his role on NBC’s Hannibal). The only casting among the main characters that didn’t feel out of place was Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel, Super Man. Though his performance is definitely wasted here due to lines that seem to be inconsistent with the tone of the film in general.

As the movie continues, Clark finds what fans will identify as The Fortress of Solitude, where the movie’s script realizes that not much of a plot has gone on until this point and decides to dump everything then and there. Rather than working up to the point that he deserves donning his iconic red and blue outfit, Clark is literally presented the suit as something of a birthright. And once Zod makes his predictable appearance on Earth, things further degenerate into a generic big budget action film (complete with a death machine that emanates skrillex-y wubwub sounds), with some of the most boring fight scenes I’ve seen as of late. You’d think with all the big time movies working in stylized action into their works, that Man of Steel would hire a halfway decent fight choreographer, but no. As super-powered as the hero and baddies were, their clashes were on the lower end of entertaining.

But what really killed this movie was the overall sense that the people involved just didn’t have an understanding of what it means to be Clark Kent. Now, I’m not an avid Super Man fan myself, but watching the movie just gave me the impression that Super Man was written by someone that was probably as well versed on his lore as well… me. Sure, he looked the part, but the writing clearly didn’t make the most out of the character and what he stands for. Too late into the movie are we presented with little moments where Clark talks of being a small-town kid when we should have been presented with not only moments that demonstrated that trait, but also how said trait affects how he uses his powers and how the humans around him react to it. What we got instead were a handful of mishmashed flashbacks that were severely lacking in a common theme that you can stick with throughout the movie.

I can’t speak for the hardcore fans, but to me, Super Man is essentially a tragic mulatto, struggling between being a Kryptonian and being an Earthling. Man of Steel treats Super Man like it wasn’t sure what to make of Clark in the first place, so why should I even be invested? Plenty of people have already called this latest movie out for lacking a soul, but there honestly isn’t a better way to phrase it than that.

Spoiler-Free Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

When JJ Abrams was tasked with making the Star Trek franchise commercially accessible back in 2009, I’d say he did a pretty good job—characters and general situations that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in parodies rather than in their native habitat suddenly became relevant and… well, I don’t wanna say “cool” since that would be pushing things, but at the least the franchise was back in the public eye for doing what it did best in the form of a blockbuster movie. And while the sequel didn’t necessarily disappoint in that respect either, I just felt like Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t tap into the potential that is almost fifty years of source material to work with.

Star Trek: Into Darkness posterThis time around, the crew aboard the Enterprise isn’t the only ones in direct danger, as an unknown terrorist has their eyes set on the entirety of Starfleet. Revelations are made, people are killed, betrayals are had, and things are decently wrapped up in around 2 hours. I wouldn’t say it’s an incredibly by-the-book sci-fi movie, but it isn’t exactly groundbreaking by any means either. Similar to the previous Abrams Star Trek, all the tension and plot-building in Into Darkness isn’t your typical gradual climb up to a climax. Things slow down, speed up, halt completely, and meander in an almost aimless sense. Then again, the main characters are a crew of explorers, so such an aesthetic works to a certain degree. Still, something about the movie just didn’t sit right with me.

Perhaps the movie suffers from the standard sequel problem of simply seeing if it can get away with more of the same. Yes, performances are great, settings and costumes are visually stunning (Uhura’s covert “civilian” clothes are disgustingly stylish), and there were a good couple of lines that really did give me chills from their emotional impact, but nothing seemed to try to go above and beyond expectations. This is especially apparent in the character arcs of Kirk and Spock. Yes, their characters have already been established in the previous movie, but that only makes me wonder how said characters are further developed this time around, and (more importantly) how that will tie in with the story. What we get is an initial setup of Kirk and Spock’s conflicting opinions on following Starfleet protocol, only to have the general theme lost halfway through for the sake of plot twists, and then shoehorned back in for the finale. Maybe it’s not as bad as I put it, but I hesitate to say it’s spectacular by any means.

I did enjoy seeing where Earth sits in the Trek universe, with the first terrorist attack being on a Starfleet building in London, though it also led to my wondering why the scope was immediately broadened to space for the majority of the movie. From the get-go, it is made clear that the villain’s plans had some direct affect on Starfleet as a whole, so to have things solely focused on the Enterprise crew made it seem as if a lot of off-screen goings-on were being skipped over. Maybe such consequences will be told in the next movie, but to hold off until then results in the story not being as strong as it could have been.

Another point I must bring up are the little nods towards the old-school Star Trek material. Now, I am by no means well or even decently versed in Trek lore, but internet humor has made me privy to at least a handful of tidbits, nearly all of which were paid homage to in some shape and form in this movie resulting in my just being taken out of the movie’s world if only for a bit. That’s not to say little easter eggs in movies are horrible; if that were true, Stan Lee’s IMDB page would be considerably shorter. The problem is when the easter egg goes from being in the background (Iron Man’s Ultimate Comics suit in the third movie) to the front and center of the action (“I’m the Juggernaut, bitch”). And in the case with Into Darkness, one particular scene is near identical to a certain scene from an old-school Trek movie, to the point that any seriousness and emotional impact intended was just lost on me—a guy who at best has seen one or two DVR’d old Trek movies.

As a whole, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a serviceable action/sci-fi movie. Though from a franchise as long-running as this that has only just recently been put back on the map with the Abrams movies, you would think that absolutely every effort would be made to make sure the franchise doesn’t go back into obscurity. I wouldn’t exactly call this a popcorn movie, since the occasional Trekkie jargon does involve some form of thinking on the viewer’s part, but maybe that’s just the direction that popcorn movies are taking as of late.

Spoiler-Free Review: Iron Man 3

Of the Marvel movie universe titles, the Iron Man franchise was clearly one of the more shining achievements of the bunch. Not only did it start off the string of Marvel titles leading up to The Avengers, but it was a smart, fun romp of a movie that was able to establish one of the lesser known comicbook heroes (at that time, at least) and turn him into a household name. That only made things so much more disappointing when its sequel Iron Man 2 ended up being such an uninspired, bland, movie-length commercial for The Avengers movie. Thankfully, the awkward middle-period remains just that, as the third installment in the Iron Man movies returns to its roots, while taking the bits and pieces from 2 that people will admit to liking.

Iron Man 3 movie poster

Getting past the initial shock of everything taking place around Christmas (guess around when this movie was supposed to be released) Iron Man 3 does an excellent job of not only bringing titular character Tony Stark back to the roots of his first movie in hunting down terrorists and bringing ‘em to justice (no quirky bird-obsessed baddies here!), but it also gives enough of a spin on his repertoire of abilities, making fight scenes feel fresh and not Iron Man 2-level boring. The movie baddie this time takes on the form of The Mandarin—a terrorist that takes pleasure in hijacking American broadcasts to spread his hatred of the country. The movie does a fine job of keeping any details on his true identity fuzzy, building up to a twist that while tension-deflating, works as a whole. Action is equally top-notch, with Iron Man having evolved his fighting style after three movies (and a spinoff movie). Rather than brute-forcing his way through fights with his standard repulsor blast, a new spin has been put to use that while somewhat unrealistic in comparison to the goings-on of the first movie, proves quite the spectacle to watch (the list of people under “Visual Effects” during the end credits understandably takes up a full one-and-then-some screens).

Story-wise, the movie takes place a while after the events of The Avengers, with Tony having seen better days, as the trauma brought on by risking his life to fight hordes of aliens has left him feeling far from refreshed. With all the pent up stress, Tony has been spending the majority of his time tinkering away at different iterations of the Iron Man suit, obsessing over wanting to protect those with the power he has been granted. What he fails to realize, however, is that being a hero doesn’t necessarily mean helping the helpless. And in that sense, the movie ends up playing out similarly to Spider-Man 2 (another spectacular Marvel movie). Time and time again throughout the movie, Tony is dropped into situations where he must rely on the help of others when he has become so accustomed to the reverse being true. It’s an incredibly humbling realization for the bold and brash Tony Stark, and serves as a fitting place to end his story movie-wise (though we all know that isn’t true).

As a whole, Iron Man 3 has done more than enough to escape the rut of mediocrity that was Iron Man 2, setting the bar for the second wave of Marvel movies disgustingly high.

Extended Tweets: Adapting the Bone Comics

boneWas on a Mariah Carey musical kick on YouTube and noticed that her general look in the Butterfly music video looked a lot like Thorn Harvestar’s in the Bone comic. I get that the fictional fantasy world Bone took place in was primarily white, but I’m sure a young Mariah Carey would have been an exception had a live action movie been made (I mean, she did pretty well in Precious from what I heard, though that was a good number of years later).

… either that, or animate the movie and have Mariah as the singer for an epic inspirational late-90’s/early 00’s type of tune while the end credits roll. I could totally imagine a Bone movie being more possible at around the same time as something like Disney’s Atlantis or Titan AE. Then again, it would probably have the same levels of critical acclaim as them, too, so maybe it was for the best that it hasn’t happened yet.

Still. A Bone movie would work beautifully as a hand-drawn movie. Don’t wanna be nitpicky, but I’d rather Wikipedia be lying about a CG animated trilogy in the works. I mean I’m sure the fact that they’re splitting the movie into a trilogy suggests some care will be given to the franchise, but going the CG route for animated works as of late seems to be a decision made “because all the cool kids are doing it” rather than the aesthetic working well with the story and characters.

%d bloggers like this: