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.

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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.)

Initial Thoughts: Anime Summer 2013 Season

Another season, another batch of anime to spot check. With this being my second “real” season of checking out multiple anime as they air, I like to think I’ve learned some things about which titles to stick with and which to drop like a bad habit.

(Insert standard disclaimer of me just being one guy that doesn’t want to sift through multiple episodes of garbage before officially deeming it unwatchable. Sometimes I side with the common opinion on anime of the season. Other times I won’t. It’s kinda expected when you try to develop these things called “opinions.”)

And now, in no particular order…

WATAMOTE – No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular

WATAMOTEI read a couple chapters of the Watamote manga a while back and thought it was decent enough—a story about an unpopular girl that’s too caught up in her own delusions of what high school should be like to really develop something of a friendship with any of her peers. It had this whole unapologetic feel about it, especially when it came to main character Tomoko and her sincerely “hard to watch” embarrassing attempts at being more social. In general, its subject matter felt like something I’m sure most anime/manga enthusiasts could relate to. And if skimming the internet’s proven anything, it’s definitely done at least that much.

But I still can’t get into it.

Watching the first episode of the anime, all the problems that only felt minor in the manga felt more noticeable now that I was watching it in all its animated glory. Pacing felt slow, especially for a series that leans more towards a comedy. Scenes with Tomoko’s extended musings about defending her unpopularity seem to ramble for longer than necessary. And the general feel of the series just makes me not like her as a main character. Rather than taking all her undesirable habits and turning them on their head into something funny and enjoyable to watch, I’m led to believe that I’m supposed to cling to her character based solely on the relatability of her problem, which I personally can’t do.

Not saying I’m in denial about having never been in an awkward situation. My having a blog pretty much hints that I’ve had at least a good handful of awkward situations in my life. Just saying that WataMote isn’t my cup of uh… awkward tea.

(I will say Tomoko’s relation with her brother is probably one of the most accurate portrayals of a brother/sister relationship in all of anime. The degrees of “not caring” her brother has about her own problems is painfully accurate.)

Blood Lad

Blood LadI feel I’ve seen this show before, except done a million times better. Oh yeah, I did. Last season.

Blood Lad is yet another anime about a quirky demon and his developing interest in the human realm. Though rather than initially being a textbook baddie that develops a soft spot for humans and their daily strives, the demon in question is essentially a Japanophile. And a really obnoxious one at that.

Furthermore, the constant use of reference humor in the first episode alone just rubs me the wrong way. I get that we’re talking about a demon Japanophile, but when some of his most recent references are about Dragon Ball, signs usually point to the rest of the series’ humor being of the “least common denominator type.” And anime fans as well as the viewing public deserve better.

(Though considering that Grown Ups 2 actually happened, as well as half the trash that airs on the big 3 networks, I honestly think this is what a majority of us deserve.)

Chronicles of the Going Home Club

Chronicles of the Going Home ClubSpeaking of shows you’ve seen done better before…

For those living under a rock, the “cute school girls forming a club about nothing and having equally ‘nothing’-types of conversations” has been done a million times over to the point that I feel like if another show of similar genre pops up next season, I fear the worst (insert Ghostbusters “dogs and cats living together” bit).

Don’t get me wrong; I feel like treading the same genre past said genre’s peak is possible. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment that was last season’s Aiura. Then again, maybe the 4 minutes per episode was more helpful than I initially thought it was.

Whatever the case, Chronicles of the Going Home Club is essentially an empty husk that shows exactly how far we’ve gone from the likes of Haruhi, Lucky Star, etc. The entire cast is bland and uninteresting; the goofy situations they get themselves into have been done and done a lot better; its inexplicable seal mascot just doesn’t cut it; even the animation feels like something from 5+ years ago.

I will say that the one thing the show has going for itself is its almost Animaniacs style of self awareness, with characters constantly mentioning things like the ending theme animation. Though I’m sure even that tiny sliver of light won’t be enough to make this show shine.

Servant x Service

Servant x ServiceServant x Service is essentially the third season of Working!! except with an entirely different cast and setting. I like to think both shows take place in the same universe a la The Cosby Show and A Different World.

The main characters are a batch of social workers going through the everyday ins and outs of working for the man, with most of the humor coming from the characters’ own specific brands of wackiness rather than coming from the situations they get themselves into. You have Lucy, the well endowed main character that’s become a public servant to seek revenge on the public servant that OK’d her disgustingly long legal name; Miyoshi, the fresh out of college worker that just found her first job ever; and Hasebe, the slacker that surprises everyone whenever he gets one of the other two out of a jam. Each character, as well as the supporting cast has his or her own shtick, but for a show like this, it works.

It’s one of those shows that has a unique enough premise that hasn’t been done to death (yet), so I’m pretty forgiving when the jokes are mediocre at best. It knows exactly what it wants to be, aims for that, and is pretty decent when it comes to delivering. One of the few shows I’m actually following this season.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

aka "swimming anime" if tumblr is any indication

aka “swimming anime” if tumblr is any indication

Free! is this season’s Flowers of Evil, in that all its negative hype seems to be working for it. For the uninitiated, the show originated as a 30-second animation bit that exploded on the internet and resulted in a full-on show not only being made, but being made by Kyoto Animation (Haruhi, Lucky Star, K-ON!, etc). All its hype came from the fact that the 30-second bit well… appealed mainly to the female demographic in the most visual way possible. Or at least that’s how most people would put it.

I’d go into a ramble on the issue myself, but I feel like Mr. blogsuki worded it perfectly (check out the rest of his blog, btw):

“Women fanservice would be non-threatening guys who know how to install kitchen cabinets and crown molding, hence why the Property Brothers have three shows on HGTV right now. Boy fanservice would just be nakkid ladies. Men fanservice would just be nakkid ladies. So it’s a bit charming Kyoto is approaching Free! as they would K-On!.”

The main characters in the show are essentially gender-swapped versions of the ones most anime fans are familiar with, which is its main draw. You have the overly cutesy one, the brains, the serious-minded one, and the rival to the serious-minded one. It’s a formula that’s been done time and time again, so who’s to question it?

I will say, though, that as incredibly “for the ladies” as the 30-second bit was, the first episode seemed significantly tame (sans the ending animation, at least). If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was more of a sports anime than anything else. All it needs is the super finicky female sports club manager and we’re set.

As for whether or not I’ll actually keep up with it past the first episode, I can’t say. Part of me is sincerely interested in just how a “manservice” show will go, while the more sensible part of me just doesn’t care. Like I said, I think of it as the Flowers of Evil of this season.

Gatchaman Crowds

Gatchaman CrowdsI never watched Battle of the Planets or G-Force: Guardians of Space, and I’m sure I’m better off watching this reboot of the Gatchaman franchise without having done such.

From what I’ve gleamed of the original series, it’s essentially Power Rangers in anime form. 5-man team, mecha, forces of evil… pretty standard stuff. The problem with the jump to this reboot is just how downplayed the actual team’s been so far. Three episodes in, and only two of the crew is given any significant screen time, with the rest given just enough time for a snarky one-liner or two.

Seeing Gatchaman Crowds from a more objective standpoint, the focus mainly on Gatchaman members Hajime and Sugane works decently enough. Sugane is the seasoned vet, and a straight-shooter when it comes to getting his bad guy. Hajime, meanwhile, is the “think outside the box” rookie that the team needs. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, and three episodes in and it works alright enough.

Where the show really shines is in its world-building. In a world where not only are smart phones used in the noblest way possible, but moleskin notebooks are the hot commodity for civilians and superheroes alike—it makes for an interesting setting, at least. To have scenes with the Tiger & Bunny-looking Gatchaman mechas duking it out with flying rubiks cube monsters be less interesting in comparison to scenes with civilians saving each other with the help of their GALAX phones is interesting to say the least.

The show’s pacing so far is surprisingly slow, especially for an action series, and the character designs are a bit out of the ordinary (think Tatami Galaxy minus being paired with beautiful backgrounds, so I start to mind) but to have the underlying message so far be that the civilians are the true heroes leaves me interested as to where the show will go from here.

Yami Shibai

Yami ShibaiAt about 4-minutes per episode, Yami Shibai is essentially Are You Afraid of the Dark? for people with even shorter attention spans. Like most shows of this type, episodes have either been hit or miss (unsure how to feel about having the source of the jump scare be immediately arrested in the following scene), but the traditional Japanese paper puppet-style of animating the majority of the series as well as its short run time is enough to keep me following.

Turning Girls

Turning Girls…speaking of 4-minute shorts with limited amounts of animation.

Turning Girls is about a group of twenty-somethings living in what the Naruto series has coined as “the springtime of youth” (yep, it’s 2013 and I’m making a Naruto reference). The number of misadventures the trio of girls goes on reminds me of some of the less sadness-inducing scenes in Solanin (or any Inio Asano work, really) in that they probably aren’t the best of its kind, but you can really relate to the cast and their seemingly aimless meandering through their late twenties.

So basically, all the relatable-ness that I should have felt in WataMote ended up here in my case.

Monogatari Series: Second Season

Monogatariah, the piece de resistance.

Funky naming aside (Nisemonogatari and Nekomonogatari aired following the original Bakemonogatari, so this isn’t a “second season” by any stretch), like most returning series, I’m sure most are already decided. And while a majority of the internets deem the Monogatari series as nothing more than an incredibly text-heavy fanservice show with nothing of any substance, I can’t disagree more. The text-heavy conversations the characters have among each other on the surface seem so superficial, but as the episodes progress, you begin to see just where the meaning behind the conversations go. And when that moment clicks, you feel a certain sense of being treated to something so much more than what one would initially expect.

The general premise of “oddities” taking over people is second banana to this series’ top-notch writing, which is honestly all I could ever ask out of any series (How you gonna reference something said in the first series’ character commentary three shows later and not be praised? HOW?).

I can’t praise this franchise enough, and for those willing to delve into something more atypical, I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Or you’ll bitch about how you have to read so many subtitles, which… I mean c’mon, really?

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.

Final Thoughts: Anime Spring 2013 Season

Following multiple anime as they air is a very strange sensation, especially if most if not all of those titles wrap everything up in one season. What seems like a random mishmash of generally unrelated titles suddenly show some similarities as they decide exactly how they want to wrap things up. Anyways, here’s the run-down on all the shows of the Spring season I actually took the time to watch all the way through.

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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.

Gabe Finally Watches Green Lantern: The Animated Series (2011)

The DC Animated Series that ran from the early ‘90s to well into the ‘00s has to be one of the greatest television achievements in that it was able to take a running list of series and have them all take place in one solid continuity. While literally pages upon pages of backstory exist for nearly every character from Batman, to Superman, to the rest of the Justice League, each series was also able to work on a more focused, episode-by-episode, basis. So when I realized Bruce Timm, one of the creators behind the DC Animated Universe was behind the Green Lantern Animated Series, I figured I’d finally give it a shot.

Green Lantern TAS logo

Although Green Lantern: The Animated Series is technically not considered part of the same universe as the previous DC Animated Series, it definitely has the same feel as them. Getting past the art style of the series (which is essentially a 3D rendering of the 2D art style of past DC Animated Series), it takes similar cues from past DC works in that it drops viewers in the middle of the superhero doing their superhero-ing, summing up the details you’d expect from a hero’s backstory in an offhanded comment without bogging down the flow and general story progression. You’re immediately introduced to Hal Jordan, a noble human that represents the Green Lanterns for that particular sector of the universe, and his daily routine of handling intergalactic space policing with his job as a test pilot on Earth. Soon enough, the plot is kicked into gear when word on the street is that certain somebodies have been killing Green Lanterns across the worlds. Of course Hal, with his distinctly large sense of justice, takes matters into his own hands, resulting in his stealing a Lantern ship to track down the organization behind the killings.

What really makes the first season of the series is its sense of chemistry between Hal and everyone else that finds themselves as part of his crew. Hal is joined by fellow Green Lantern and resident tough-guy Kilowog, ex-Red Lantern and source of tension Razer, and the ship itself in sexy robot girl form, Aya. The cast’s interactions with each other is interesting in that each character actually interacts directly with the other members, rather than one speaking to a general whole as other shows tend to do. Hal not only shares personal dialogue between Kilowog, but also does so on separate occasions with Razer and Aya, and the rest do the same. It’s a simple thing to take note of, yes, but it’s something that really makes you grow attached to each character and is something that I personally missed the most once I got to the second season, which leaned more towards expanding the Lanterns’ world over character building.

Another aspect of the first season’s charm was just how tightly knit the plot was. Since the cast’s ship is limited to how far it can travel, not to mention finding out who the Green Lantern killers are with as little casualties as possible, something of a time stamp is made for the heroes, resulting in episodes that just fly by. It’s not a “popcorn series” by any means, but considering I was able to plow through the entirety of the series in less than a week, it is “popcorn” in the sense that the series isn’t bogged down by slow story-telling or sluggish dialogue.

Now with all this talk focused solely on the first season, you would assume that I would have some contempt for the second and final season of the series. It’s not bad by any means, but the quirky character interactions and all-around fast storytelling did come off as noticeably lacking. I can understand that since the main cast has been established that such interactions don’t need to be made as prominent, but the storytelling at times came off as unforgivably slow, especially when you consider that the stakes have been significantly raised. Later plot developments that tie in loose ends with the first season only further remind me of how I enjoyed those earlier episodes more so than the latter ones. It was just the type of season that took some time to build steam, and even at full speed, something just felt a bit off.

Still, even with the personal complaints I had with the series, Green Lantern: The Animated Series was one of the few American animated series as of late that was well worth it. And with all the flack GL’s gotten after the unanimously horrible live action movie, I say it’s about time things start looking up for him.

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.

Initial Thoughts: Anime Spring 2013 Season

You know how in Pee Wee League Sports when the coach would give awards to everyone on the team regardless of how crappy the player was? This is my anime equivalent of that.

As of late, the Spring 2013 lineup has been the first time in probably ever that I’ve followed so many titles. Now a good three or so episodes into a chosen few, and I feel like some initial thoughts are to be shared. So without any further ado in no particular order…

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