Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chain of Thoughts on Avengers NOW!


Post-AXIS (Marvel’s upcoming mega-event featuring the X-Men and the Avengers), Marvel will be having another relaunching scheme called Avengers NOW!  Basically, it’s another Marvel NOW! – build new and initially intriguing status quos, rebrand many titles with a bunch of issue ones, and, voila!, watch the sales skyrocket – but only this time around, it is, obviously, more centered around the Avengers.  At this point, I’m still cool with another relaunching, but if there is going to be another NOW!-type attempt to boost comic book sales next year – like an X-Men NOW! – then I will be real annoyed.  Sure, it makes business sense, but in a creativity stand-point, it will feel gimmicky and gratuitous – bankrupt of any genuine imagination.             

Anyway, some few thoughts…
 
→ This promo art depicts the characters that will be significantly involved in Avengers NOW!.  I understand that these merely mean that new comic book titles will headline or will include these characters.  Nonetheless, utilizing these characters to promote something called Avengers NOW! gives the implication that ALL these characters in the promo art are going to be members or contributors to an Avengers team or, at least, an Avengers-linked comic book title.     I will be really disappointed if this won’t be so.  Because calling the whole thing Avengers NOW!, and then featuring these characters in its promo but actually not involving them at any form at all with the Avengers is somewhat exploitive and lacks sensibility . 
→ There are massive changes on all three major Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.  And I’m not too excited about these changes.
→ First, there will be a new Captain America.  It seems that 90-something-year-old Steve Rogers will lose the super-soldier serum in his body, retire from superheroing and adopt more of a “strategist” role (same as the time he was “the Captain” – commander of both the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. – while Bucky a.k.a. Winter Soldier was bearing the “Captain America” mantle) in the Avengers, and hand the shield and the “Captain America” name to Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon.
→ Among the changes on the top 3 Avengers, this is the one I don’t like at all, for a couple of reasons. 
→ No, I am not particularly against a black Captain America (that’s silly), but I’m against anybody else aside from Steve Rogers becoming Captain America.  Though I don’t feel strongly about it as much as I feel about somebody replacing Peter Parker as Spider-Man, I am still uncomfortable about someone else other than Steve Rogers as Captain America.  Captain America is one of those superheroes in which many of the reasons that make them lovable are rooted on their alter egos’ characteristics.  Steve Rogers is a magnificent tactician; a moral badass; a charming, gruff old-timer (since he’s from a different time); and an embodiment of many of USA’s perceived quintessential values.  His characterization and character history makes him the perfect “Captain America.” Sam Wilson is indeed a fine superhero, but no other Marvel character’s characterization and character history can match up to the kind of pedigree that Steve Roger has.  Besides, some other heroes – Hawkeye and Winter Soldier – had been “Captain America” before, but the name always comes back to Steve Rogers because no one else is really worthy in the end.  The name is his birthright.
→ I also don’t like the character design of this new Captain America.  Since Sam Wilson is no super-soldier like Steve Rogers, and his only form of “super”-power is probably the ability to communicate and control birds (lol), it makes sense that he would opt to keep his Falcon wings (so he can still fly).  Still, wearing wings and carrying the Captain America shield at the same time awfully looks inelegant, clumsy, and inconvenient.  The best weapons that Sam Wilson can carry while having wings are guns, as awesomely depicted by Anthony Mackie’s Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
→ Also, a “Captain America” should always be the leader.  It feels a bit off for “Captain America” to be just a regular member of the Avengers (though it has been done), merely following orders instead of giving them.  Sam Wilson is a soldier and is smart, but he’s no Steve Rogers (again, Rogers is a magnificent tactician).  He wouldn’t be quite as good as Steve as a field leader for the Avengers.  We don’t know yet if Sam Wilson’s Captain America is going to be a regular member or the leader of the Avengers.   But either way, it’ll be underwhelming.
→ Something will happen that will make the Thor we know no longer worthy to possess Mjolnir.  (It all makes sense now why he is wielding Jarnbjorn instead of Mjolnir in some promo artworks for AXIS.)  There is going to be a new wielder worthy of Mjolnir, and this new wielder is going to be a she!  However, she will not only inherit Mjolnir, but the “Thor” name as well.  Wait, what?  
→ According to Marvel’s press release:
“This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is Thor. This is the Thor of the Marvel Universe. But it's unlike any Thor we've ever seen before.”
Hmmm.  I like the character design and the concept of a girl wielding Mjolnir, but I think it is dumb and senseless to suddenly set “Thor” up as a girl just like that.  Come on, Thor is the god – not goddess – of thunder.  It’s not like “Thor” is a mere superhero code name like “Captain Marvel” that can just be adopted by either sex with no problem at all (it actually worked perfectly for Carol Danvers).  “Thor” is the actual name of a male character.  From his mythological origins to the character popularized by Marvel, “Thor” is an established masculine name for an established male fictional character.  Just as it feels absurd to read something like
“This January: Peter Parker loses his powers, which are mysteriously transferred to Carlie Cooper!  With Peter Parker no longer needing and capable to own the ‘Spider-Man’ name, Carlie Cooper will assume the name to herself, to become the all-new ‘Spider-Man’ – not ‘Spider-Woman’ (that’s taken already), not ‘Spider-Girl’ (also taken), and not ‘Lady Spider’; she is Spider-Man from now on!  Don’t miss the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1!”
so is what I felt when I encountered this the-new-Thor-is-a-girl announcement.    
→ We still don’t know much about this new Thor.   But I think she will be introduced at the culmination of the ongoing Thor-Loki-Angela tale in the “Original Sin” event.
    
→ Since the whole SpOck thing is now over, the “Superior” adjective is very much available for the taking.  And the new owner of such obnoxious description is Iron Man, which I think is a character that is actually a better fit for it than Spider-Man.  Unlike the first two Avengers undergoing dramatic changes mentioned above, the man behind the superhero name will remain the same with “Iron Man.”  Still, despite of Tony Stark remaining as Iron Man, the new Superior Iron Man status quo change is as dramatic as if a new character is inside the armor
→ From Marvel’s EIC, Axel Alonso:
“What you're seeing in Superior Iron Man is a Tony Stark who’s seen both his worst and best impulses all let loose. It is Tony, but he’s going to be in a zone now where he’s never been. He's more ambitious, cunning, egotistical ... all of those quantities are unharnessed. He has a vision for the world. I like to think his position is defensible — controversial, but defensible.”
→ Ooooh… Among the three changes – Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man – this is the development I am fascinated the most.  I’m not saying I approve and am thrilled about it.  Not really.  But it’s legitimately interesting; the premise sounds intriguingly sensible and solid enough.   
→ Considering the fact that Tony Stark behaved very much like a supervillain during the “Civil War” event a couple of years ago, a darker, “mad-genius” rendition of the character, that would readily proceed to call himself “superior” regularly (just as what Doc Ock as Spidey had done), could probably work.  I’m expecting this new Tony Stark to be something like Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias (from Watchmen) in terms of methods and rationalization, and be a bigger A-hole than Robert Downey, Jr.’s MCU portrayal. 
→ Also, since Tony Stark is the one bankrolling the Avengers, how will this development affect the team and his role in it?  Another interesting detail to ponder on.
→ Between these and the whole “Death of Wolverine” thing, some big and controversial shake-ups are happening to Marvel’s most major heroes that long-time fans (at least, Spidey is done with his turn with this stuff… hopefully) might find upsetting.   I’m not much bothered about these developments since nothing is permanent in comics.  After my whole experience with SpOck, I am more confident of this truth.   It’s even probable that everything will be back to normal – Steve Rogers is Captain America once more, Thor has his Mjolnir and “Thor” name back, and Tony Stark is a “good guy” again – sooner than later.  I’m gonna chill, and give these new stuff a look. 
→ Let me take this opportunity to detail some developments I actually want to see in the Avengers books, of which I wish Avenger NOW! is actually all about. 
  1. Spider-Man in the Secret Avengers.  Considering Peter Parker’s parentage (Richard and Mary Parker were C.I.A. and then S.H.I.E.L.D. agents), there is an awesome plot to be made from there.  I would love to see some regular espionage-style superheroing from Spider-Man (in his black costume, of course) in a Secret Avengers roster. 
  2. The memberships of the characters I’ve enumerated in my “Top 20 Characters I Want to Become Avengers” list. 
  3. MORE DOOMBOT!  Seriously, Avengers A.I. was an awesome comic book, and Doombot was the most awesome thing about it.  Definitely would love to see him in a more prominent Avenger role. 
  4. Moon Knight and Daredevil back as Avengers.
  5. Moon Knight and Hyperion simultaneously in an Avengers team.  And with a lot of exposures for both.  Being analogues for Batman and Superman, respectively, I would find such happening extremely amusing. 
  6. Hulk and Red Hulk simultaneously in one Avengers team.  Two Hulks might seem redundant.  But I just feel that it’s going to be awesome.
  7. This crazy roster: Captain Marvel (leader), Hyperion, Moon Knight, Doombot, Gambit, Howard the Duck, Hercules (or Hulk and Red Hulk at the same time), Echo (resurrect her!), Falcon (patterned with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon), Scarlet Spider (or Spider-Man 2099), Hank Pym (with yet another new superhero name), Human Torch (as a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four at the same time), Starbrand, Emma Frost (seriously, the Avengers should always have a capable telepath among them.  It’s what has been lacking in most of the team’s rosters through the years), Hawkeye (but Emma Bishop instead of Clint Barton), Mr. Immortal, Phil Coulson (serving as an official Avengers member and S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison), and Loki.  You can check out my rationale for some of these names in this line-up in my “Top 20 Characters I Want to Become Avengers” list.  The three main Avengers – Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor – will be in sabbatical from being Avengers during this time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Be. Still.



Whenever there are storms in my life,
God responds with two words:

"Be. Still."

Either He addresses those words to the storm
Or He addresses them to me.

Either He calms the tempest -
preventing that threatening external stimuli from continuing.
Or He calms my restless heart in turmoil -
giving me internal peace despite the raging storm around me.

Either way, His message to me is the same:
"I. Am. God."

To question Him, I dare not.
He is always in control.
And everything happens in accordance to His perfect, wise will.

Every storm is an opportunity to be awed by God.
His supremacy and goodness always reign.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Do We Need to Consider Nutrition and Eat Healthy Foods? (A Lecture for Nutrition Month)

I was tasked to deliver a short lecture last Monday (July 14) for our students to commemorate Nutrition Month.  This was how it roughly went…

Good morning.

I am here to deliver a short lecture on the significance of being concerned with eating nutritious foods.  Some of the details I will be sharing here are merely taken from your Health lessons.   Nonetheless, I hope that at the end of this short lecture, you will realize the relevance of eating healthy in your lives and be compelled to do your best to maintain a healthy diet.
   
Part 1 – The Body’s Need for Proper Nutrition

Let us start this with a simple question.     
It’s a misconception to think that one is “malnourished” when he or she is thin, and someone is “healthy” when he or she is fat.  Being “well-nourished” is NOT defined by how thin or fat you are, but whether you have the right amount – emphasis on “right amount” – of vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components that the body requires to function.  Both being too thin and too fat are usually indications of malnourishment – meaning the “right amount” of nutrition is not being met. 

How can we make sure that we are getting the right amount of nutrition from our food intakes?  That’s what the food pyramid is for…

Many nutritionists consider this as the most definite, most comprehensive way of determining the right amount of food intake to ensure that we get the appropriate amount of nutrition that the body needs.  It’s very easy to understand: those that are in the base are the kind of foods that you need to take the most, and as it grows closer to the tip, the less you have to eat such kind of foods.  I will not discuss the food pyramid in detail.  It’s just to introduce or remind you of what guide you can use for a healthy diet.

Part 2 – Some Consequences of Not Getting Proper Nutrition

Now, let us proceed to look at some of the most common diseases that arose whenever there is lack of nutrition in the body, and some of the foods you can eat to avoid them. 

Part 3 – There is a Reason Why They Are Called “Junk” Foods

When we eat healthy foods, the body gains access to and breaks down necessary nutritional components like vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and amino acids so it can repair bodily wear-and-tear and refurbish cells.  However, in junk foods, there is a deficiency of nutritional components in them or none at all.  Aside from that, the toxins in junk foods put strain on the body because it has to work extra hard to flush them out of itself. 

Eating too much junk food can also lead to serious conditions…

Part 4 – Some Tips for Eating Healthy

Here are some basic tips for you as you start adopting a healthy diet…  
 

Part 5 – The Theology of Eating Healthy

As Christians, the Scriptures have provided some implicit insights with regards to the need to eat healthy.   I found four.  Let us read...
      
As Christians, our bodies are the temple of God.  We have a responsibility to take care of it, to keep it healthy.  Moreover, we need to glorify God in all our actions – and the Scripture openly includes eating, since it was the chosen example.  Do you think we are glorifying God in our eating if we are deliberately and gratuitously consuming stuff that can give harm to “God’s temple”?  There are consequences if we are not faithful stewards of these bodies God has given us. 

Eating should not be an end itself.  We should be conscious that eating is designed by God to give “fuel” to our bodies so that we can do the tasks that He entrusted to us and carry on His will in our lives.  I am not saying that it isn’t right to derive pleasure from eating, but, again, it should not be the end purpose itself.  We don’t enjoy earthly delights just for the sake of enjoying earthly delights itself.  Every pleasure we choose to partake in should always lead us to the glory of God (that is for another topic).    So, as we enjoy eating fried chicken, we always need to remember to thank God with each bite for the pleasure it gives us (delicious foods and meals in general are God’s gifts) and remind ourselves that the enjoyment we are deriving from eating  fried chicken is nothing compared to the enjoyment found in God alone

Lastly, there is no actual forbiddance in eating junk food.  It is not sinful to eat chips or drink soft drinks.  But, again, whenever we allow ourselves to exercise our freedom – and that includes eating junk foods – we need to think well if it’s beneficial to us, if it will help our purpose of glorifying God.        

It is up to you to make a decision out of your personal conviction from the Holy Spirit.  But let these Scriptures be your “food for thought” on your choices regarding your diet.  A Christian will always need to consider the glory of God in everything that his life touches on.     

Part 6 – Conclusion

In closing, I guarantee you this: Eating healthy will greatly help you in your school work.  I want you to ponder on this.

Kim John, stand up and please read the slide…

Zion, please read the next slide…

Next, David Daniel, please stand up and read…

Lastly, students, let us all read together…

Amen.  You can forget everything what T. Bernel has said to you, but just remember this one thing: to glorify God in all things, even your food choices, fitness, health, everything.  Glorify God in all things.      

Thank you very much for listening.   

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Top 10 Magicians in Fiction


For this list, what I mean here by “magician” is any character that wields and dabbles in magic – wizards, witches, warlocks, sorcerers, sorceresses, clerics, and the like, as long as it was established that their powers originate from “magic” of some sort.  Thus, the scope for this list covers a lot of ground so a lot of characters are missed out.  Any depiction of Merlin, the legendary wizard that served as adviser and ally to King Arthur, who has been the archetype for many wizard-characters – wizened, wise, and proficient in magic – did not even get a spot in the list.  That’s how crowded the choices for this list are.        

10.) SABRINA SPELLMAN

I really enjoyed the different incarnations of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”  Whether in Archie Comics’ stories, in the live-action sitcom, or in Sabrina: The Animated Series, Sabrina’s adventures are always amusing.  The character’s premise is quite interesting: a young witch lives with her more powerful witch aunts and a smooth-talking cat (a warlock punished to become a cat for his world domination aspirations), as she learns the proper way of using her powers while struggling with the daily trials that a teen girl has to deal with.  Fun.
  
9.) ZATANNA

 
The DC Universe has a mob of magic-users (there are three that made this list, Zatanna being the first one), and Zatanna was the first one I got to really like.  What made her initially fascinating to me is because of her “day job” as a stage illusionist; her being a practitioner of both stage and real magic, I find that really cool.  She also has a very, er, appealing outfit. 

8.) DOCTOR FATE

Doctor Fate’s mythology and character history makes him a very interesting character.  He also has one of the coolest superhero appearances ever.   
     
There are different people – both male and female – who have taken the mantle of Doctor Fate.  But the essence of the characters are basically the same: they have been chosen to wield the Amulet of Anubis, Cloak of Destiny, and Helmet of Fate; granting them immense magical powers to serve as the avatars of the Lords of Order, particularly Nabu, in their war against Chaos. 

7.) SCARLET WITCH

It can be argued that Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet With, at some point, is the most powerful character in this list.  Originally, the Scarlet Witch’s magic was merely portrayed as “hexing,” the ability to manipulate probability.  But it was later revealed that her powers are bigger than that, that her magic is even capable of altering reality itself.  She has been able to re-write reality that made mutants reign supreme over humans, extinguish the mutant X-gene, conjure children for herself, raise the dead, and other god-like manifestations.   After the events of “The Children’s Crusade” storyline, her powers returned to her previous “hexing” levels.    

6.) WILLOW ROSENBERG

Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow has one of the most captivating and complexly executed character developments that have ever been done in fiction.  Willow was introduced early on the story as Buffy’s sidekick/bestfriend.  She was initially a shy, nerdy girl that lacked confidence.  Nonetheless, she has inherent magical powers and aided Buffy in her vampire hunting escapades.  As her study of witchcraft progressed, her confidence gradually grew with her mastery of magic.  However, she also become more and more dependent – addicted – on magic.  This eventually led to darkness corrupting her; triggered by heartbreak, grief, and raged due to the loss of the love of her life.  She would serve as the main villain of the show’s sixth season, in the path of destroying the world. 

5.) BELLATRIX LESTRANGE

I liked this Harry Potter villainess so much – as brilliantly portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter in the movies – that she is one of my choices for 20 female characters in fiction (She’s no. 15).  She’s also the only Harry Potter character that made this list. 

Bellatrix is a sadistic, mad villainess whose primarily concern is to create chaos.  She has proven to be the deadliest and most ruthless among Voldemort’s chief Death Eaters.  And in the Harry Potter movies, the character is a more captivating and terrorizing antagonist than Voldemort himself (again, thanks to Ms. Carter’s performance).           

4.) JOHN CONSTANTINE

 
The greatest magician in the DC Universe is, hands down, John Constantine.   Constantine is a cynical, cunning, and snarking anti-hero that efforlessly wins you over despite being a big a-hole.  He is mostly selfish and manipulative, but he is sincere in doing some good in his life and protecting his friends, no matter how it takes. 

He has immense magical powers and great knowledge of the supernatural.  However, he mostly relies on his quick-thinking, smooth-talking, and slyness to win confrontations.  He is a natural con man, and has been able to fool and manipulate, not only people, but demons and other supernatural beings as well. 

3.) DOCTOR STRANGE

 
Stephen Strange, M.D. doesn’t need to adopt a flashy code name to distinguish himself as a magician-superhero.  What he has in his actual name is mystical sounding already.  

Doctor Strange is the “Sorcerer Supreme.”  This implies that he is arguably one the most powerful, if not the most powerful, magic-user in the Marvel Universe.  Doctor Strange is primarily concerned with defending the world from magical and supernatural threats, but, being an Avenger, has been occasionally tackling with “down-to-earth” concerns.

He is one of Marvel’s most fascinating and complex characters; I’ve always wanted to see this character to be portrayed in a live-action movie, and I am happy that movie is reportedly on the works for Marvel Studios’ Phase 3.           

2.) GANDALF

Gandalf the Grey – later, the White – is one of the important characters in the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its prequel, The Hobbit).  He is a wizard of the Istari order and a member of “Fellowship of the Ring.”  Without his wisdom, initiative, and courage, Sauron wouldn’t have been defeated.  In fact, for me, Gandalf was the most significant contributor to the salvation of Middle Earth (one of the reasons why he is high on this list). Really.  Frodo and Aragorn had been indeed heroic and were major factors to Sauron’s demis, and they are worthy to be celebrated.  However, it was due to Gandalf’s guidance and urging that made it possible for Frodo, Aragorn, and the rest of Middle Earth to step up and rise from the occasion.       

Sir Ian McKellen played Gandalf magnificently in the LOTR movies and in the ongoing “The Hobbit” movie trilogy.     

1.) FAIRY TAIL

I find no other interpretation of magic that is more delightful than what was done in Fairy Tail.  The manga’s titular magicians’ guild, Fairy Tail, is a collection of very enjoyable characters that wield various themed magical abilities: sword, size-enhancement, summoning, transformation, iron, fire, water, wind, ice, lightning, and several other kinds and motifs.  Fairy Tail’s ensemble of magicians is the best in fiction.  

Thanks for the Memories, Pau


Most awesome Pau Gasol art I've ever seen. 
It is recent news that Pau Gasol has turned down the Lakers’ offer to stay and decided instead to go to the Chicago Bulls.  So, this is it then.  It’s time to part ways, hence, I am compelled to write this brief tribute for one of my most favorite players that ever wore the purple and gold uniform.

Outside of winning championships, my most exciting experience as a Laker fan was learning that the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol during the 2007-08 NBA season.  I can still remember that moment and feeling when I went to Yahoo! Sports’ NBA page and read the headline, “Lakers Acquire Spanish Treasure” or something of that effect (can’t remember the exact words).  My heart leaped.  Then I read on to check out what the Lakers had to give up to acquire Pau, and I was extremely astonished.   I was expecting that Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom was part of the deal, but it was not so.  It was merely for Kwame Brown, a member of the Lakers’ roster so terrible in basketball that even Laker fans themselves booed him, and some other irrelevant pieces.  Though one of those “irrelevant” pieces was for the rights for Pau’s younger brother, Marc Gasol, who turned out to be a legitimate All-Star, and at this point, a more prized player than Pau, but back then, the trade really felt so ridiculously one-sided to the Lakers’ advantage that I was completely stunned.  It had been quite surreal.  Stephen A. Smith’s legendary analysis of the trade, wherein he hilariously destroyed Kwame Brown (“Kwa-meh Brown is a bona fide scrub!”), only helped in making my elation during that time more memorable. 

At that moment of Pau Gasol becoming a Laker, it really felt to me that winning the championship again was tangibly near.  The Celtics would delay it from happening during that season, but the next year, in just his second season as a Laker, Pau Gasol was instrumentalal in making it finally happen.  And in the season after that, it happened again, and winning that one against the Celtics made it even sweeter (Pau Gasol was fantastic during that Finals). Those were glorious days for Lakerdom.       

Shaquille O’Neal was definitely the more dominant player, but Pau Gasol was the more suitable fit to partner with Kobe Bryant.  Kobe provided the cunning and aggressiveness, while Pau provided the discretion and level-headedness. They were able to quickly establish rapport with each other, as this was apparent when merely half-a-season (Pau Gasol was traded midway the season) of playing together, they were able to reach the Finals, and then, in just their second year, they were able to win the championship.  And, clearly, Kobe likes, appreciates, and respects Pau much more than Shaq.     

I found no other NBA player that can play with the same kind of finesse and intellect that Kobe Bryant has except for Pau Gasol.  He probably equals Kobe in terms of basketball IQ and richness of skills (but in a different context, of course).  His passing, pivot, and post moves were the best I’ve ever seen in a big man of the 21st century NBA. 
I'm gonna miss his gorgeous footwork...
...and his innate versatility.
Pau Gasol was a graceful, fun thing to watch.  Besides Kobe, I have enjoyed watching no other Laker except Pau.        

I’m real sad to see him go.  I prefer for him to re-sign with the Lakers, and to retire as a Laker in the future, but I am not bitter regarding his decision to leave.  There is no reason to.  It was within his right to leave, and during his seven seasons playing in purple and gold, he had done his duty and had produced countless good memories for Lakerdom.  I am grateful that the Lakers got to have a player like him.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Romance of Playing Keyboards



I’ve been an amateur keyboardist now for about three years.  I was originally a guitar person, but circumstances compelled me to adopt the keyboard as my primary instrument since 2011 (I learned how to play it a year prior).  I still play guitar once in a while (and bass occasionally) whenever I’m required to do so, and this particular instrument will always hold a special place in my heart.  But at this point, I have grown to love the keyboard the most.    

There is this distinct pleasurable charm found in playing the keyboard.  There is something romantic about it that I can’t really put my finger on.  

Maybe it’s the kind of versatility that it possesses that other instruments don’t have.  Sure, there are thousands of sounds you can get out of the guitar with the help of guitar effects.  But the different, unique sounds that can be produced and simulated out of the keyboard are unparalleled. 

Nah. That’s one of the things to love about the instrument.  But, no. That’s not entirely it.

Maybe it’s because there are just too many guitar players out there already, too many who subscribe to the guitar’s musical philosophy.  So I prefer to be unique, and go for a lesser fancied instrument and approach on making music: the keyboard.    

The guitar’s seemingly fundamental nature is to be “aggressive.”   There is this need to draw attention to itself.  It is indeed awesome, but in a gratifyingly badass kind of way.   On the other hand, the awesomeness of the keyboard relies on its ability to gently captivate and woo with its refined allure. 

Sure, there are times that the keyboard significantly blares prominently; especially if its purpose in the song is to simulate the elements of brass instruments or to serve as the central factor in stirring up the listener’s emotion.  But there are more times that the keyboard is subtle.  You can’t really hear it without making a conscious effort in finding the sound it produces that is lost among the more dominant sounds of the other instruments.  But it’s there, providing the needed sound that holds everything together, in which absence would leave the metaphorical musical equation incomplete.

Just like the drums, the keyboard is in the “background” of the performance.  But the drums are easily noticeable by its loudness.  The keyboard, however, is comfortable at truly being in the background.  Just there enjoying itself, making music, lost in its own little world, content in supporting the other instruments, with no real priority at all in being recognized. 

I really can’t properly explain why.  It’s magical.  That’s just how it is: I found myself preferring the musical attitude that the keyboard brings.  For me, there is something greatly appealing and touching about it. 

Maybe I’m just born to be a keyboard player.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

'Young Justice' Season 3 Should Be Continued As a Comic Book



Post-Justice League Unlimited, there are three superhero animated TV series that I extremely liked:  Spectacular Spider-Man, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Young Justice.   These three are also perfect examples of awesome, well-written TV animated series prematurely cancelled so that the networks can make room for way dumber, awfully-written cartoons that the producers can redirect their resources to, since these would actually prove to be more profitable for them.  All these three shows only had two seasons.  It’s so, so frustrating.     

Of course, I would love to have Season 3’s for all three of them.  But that is quite unlikely to happen in TV format.  But what about as a comic book series?  Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel had their respective subsequent seasons done as a comic book series after its TV conclusions/cancellations.  The unfinished tale of Samurai Jack is being continued now in a must-read ongoing comic book series from IDW.  Even the Firefly/Serenity story is being continued in a comic book mini-series.  Hence, it’s a plausible option.  But among these three – Spectacular Spider-Man, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Young Justice – it is Young Justice which story I would love the most to get continued as a comic book series.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, short-lived as it may have been, had a definite finale.  It would be nice to have more of it if the series had not already provided a satisfactory conclusion.

Both Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice still have a lot of unresolved plot points.  But I think Spectacular Spider-Man won’t be as much action-packed and fun if it isn’t an animated series.  Josh Keaton voicing Peter Parker/Spidey is significantly part of its charm.  And the wacky, exciting action that Spectacular has is fantastic in cartoon format.   Thus, I don’t think Spectacular Spider-Man would work as well in comic book format.  Any continuation should be done in a renewed season on TV (which, again, is unlikely to happen) or a direct-to-video animated movie.  Moreover, I don’t think Marvel can easily make a comic book series based on the animated series since, if I get it right, the show is partly owned by Sony (that’s why the show opted for Tombstone to serve as the “Big Man” crime boss, since the right for Wilson Fisk a.k.a. The Kingpin is with Fox at that time as part of its Daredevil licensing deal with Marvel.)    

I would like Young Justice’s Season 3 to be continued as a comic book since, among the three, it is the most likely to make the move from TV to comics and still retain most of the great quality it had from its original medium.  There’s also the fact that I like Young Justice best among the three.
   
Young Justice had everything: an exceptionally fresh and rich depiction of the DC universe; intense drama and action; interesting storylines; exciting plot twists; sharp and smart dialogue; wonderful animation; engaging characterizations; a great diversity of heroes and villains; and humor.   Its premise of a team of superhero sidekicks/teen superheroes that operates as a “junior” squad engaging in covert missions or serving as an auxiliary arm of the Justice League when required is perfectly executed, which resulted in an overwhelmingly awesome product.   I can’t find any other property that revolved itself around superhero sidekicks or teen superheroes – whether in comic books or TV or any other medium – that have been more delightful and enjoyable as Young Justice.     

Young Justice was overflowing of potential.  It could have been a second, fantastic DC animated universe in the making; could have become more awesome than the classic DC animated universe that Bruce Timm built and maintained (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, etc.).  Other shows could have spun-off from it.  It’s a great waste of promise, really. 

The waste of the show’s awesome potential can no longer be fully recovered (unless the series and its universe are continued in TV or direct-to-video animated movies).  Still, some of it can be salvaged – at least as far as having the opportunity to give it a fitting end is concerned – by continuing its Season 3 as a comic book series.  In its finale, Nightwing has returned the leadership of the team to Aqualad and asked for a leave of absence; Wally West, a.k.a. Kid Flash, has seemingly perished by disappearing out of existence while saving the world alongside Flash and Impulse (the whole thing reminded me of Barry Allen’s sacrifice in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in the comics.  Everybody thought that Allen was killed during the event, but his existence was merely displaced.  I theorize that this is also what happened to Kid Flash here, and that in Season 3, it would be revealed that he is still alive); Vandal Savage has taken control of Mongul’s War World and has allied the Light with Darkseid; Lex Luthor seems to be on his way on becoming UN Secretary General; and the “Team” is now stationed in the Watchtower, to work side-by-side with the Justice League.  Aside from tackling those details, there’s still a lot of the DC Universe to cover as material for future stories.   Moreover, the “Team” is likely to expand – other members will be promoted to the Justice League, and new faces will join – to keep the roster diverse, fresh, and engaging. 

So that’s why a Young Justice Season 3 needs to happen.  If not as an actual series continuation on TV, then at least as a comic book.  Make it happen, DC!  Please?

Seriously, DC, don't deny me the reunion of Artemis and Wally.  Don't be cruel.

Friday, July 04, 2014

It's Official: the Upcoming 'Flash' TV Series is a Must-Watch



I just got to chance to watch The Flash pilot that has been leaked in the Net.  And, boy, I will definitely watch every single episode of this new series once it finally gets officially shown.

Though I adored the first image of the titular character, the trailer for the pilot never made the show appealing to me.  It felt underwhelming.  So, since there’s a  TV shows that I’ve been watching already, and a lot more cool shows worth watching are coming, I decided that I would give it a pass for the time being and would just check it out in a later time (or if there’s enough awesome buzz of its awesomeness), like I have done with Arrow, the show it spun-off from, so far. 

But then the pilot was leaked, and since 24: Live Another Day and Defiance are the only shows I’m currently watching these days – for the majority of TV shows I’m following are still in hiatus or aren’t being aired yet – I have the time and proceeded to check it out.   And despite of it being basically the same thing that the trailer had already revealed (seriously, if you have seen the 5-minute trailer, then you have watched the entire plot of the pilot), watching it in its entirety made me excited for the rest of the show.  Heck, I like it so much that there’s a good chance I might even pick up Arrow, too.  

I’ve always been reading that Arrow is doing a good job covering as much of the DC Universe as possible.  Between Arrow and The Flash, we might see an epic DC TV Universe happening.  And if DC even manage to get the upcoming Constantine show to be part of the same universe Arrow and The Flash are existing in, though improbable and undisclosed at this point, then that could be another big step for them.   

As for Gotham, I’m not expecting it to be connected to Arrow, The Flash, or Constantine.  The premise of Gotham just doesn’t feel right being in this potential shared universe.  Besides, so far, I do not like the gratuitous need of infusing a lot of the Batman mythos in it when we’re not really getting a legitimate Batman show in the first place; everything just seems to me as a poor gimmick devoid of creativity.  So far, this show still hasn’t provided enough reason to make me watch it once it’s aired.

Regardless of whether an extensive and abundant DC TV Universe will come into fruition or not, The Flash is probably going to be worth watching as it is. 

The lead alone seems sufficient enough to carry this show by himself when required.  I’ve always loved “the Flash” character, but I’ve always preferred Wally West over Barry Allen.  However, The Flash’s Barry Allen is “Peter Parker-esque” – it’s as if there’s a lot of Parker’s trademark geeky charm, strong sense of moral responsibility, and bearing in The Flash’s depiction of Barry Allen – making this version mightily interesting.  If this is sustained through the show, there’s a chance that this Flash could become my favorite speedster.  

I also approve of the use of an exploding “particle accelerator” as the main catalyst for the creation of “meta-humans” like Flash in the show’s universe.  Just like Smallville’s use of “green meteor rocks” (i.e. Kryptonite) as plot device to provide super-powers for the antagonists that young Clark Kent had to face, this is also what The Flash’s “particle accelerator” explosion has provided: a common origin for the existence of superpowers, which made the production of super-powered antagonists that the hero has to face less complicated and more convenient for the plot.   But unlike Smallville’s decision of using green Kryptonite as power-giving rocks, which I recognize as necessary but still stupid, the course that The Flash took is far more brilliant and plausible (in fact, the mechanics of how Barry got his powers here was probably a better origin).   So this is how Flash’s gallery of rogues is going to be launched in this show.  The pilot had Weather Warlock.  Reverse-Flash, Killer Frost (who is surprisingly an initial ally), and Gorilla Grodd appearing in future episodes was also hinted by the pilot.   I can’t wait to see the rest of them, since next to Batman and Spider-Man, the Flash is the superhero that has the most interesting collection of arch-villains. 

I’m really looking forward to get into this series.  If the pilot was any indication, it’s going to be pretty rewarding.  The pilot laid down a solid premise and cast, and it has tons of potential to be worth getting excited about. 

The Flash is set to officially premiere on October.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Top 10 Movies of 2014 That I've Seen So Far


Ah.  Half of the year has passed already, and it’s time once more to list the movies that I liked the most in the first half of the year.  Compared to 2013, this year’s first half was loaded already with several noteworthy films that I contemplated to make this a top 20.  But, in the end, I still decided to stick with the usual ten spots (and go for 20 spots for the second half, just like for last year’s list).

Before I get started with my picks, let me rant a bit about some 2014 movies of the first half…

Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, and Afflicted (according to the buzz, probably the best “found footage” horror movie in recent years) are the movies that appears to be pretty great but I haven’t gotten the chance to watch yet.  Of course, they still have their chance to be featured in the second-half, if I got to watch them before the year ends.  

It is rare for me to praise Filipino movies (awful in general), especially of the romantic genre, but Starting Over Again was something unexpected.  It could be the most different – hence, the greatest – Filipino romantic movie I’ve ever seen.   It was surprisingly original and smart for a Filipino film.   It still had flavors of commercial cliché cheesiness that Pinoy romantic movies are known for, but it also had tidy editing and a fresh narrative that contains a couple of clever dialogue.  The transition between heavy dramatic scenes to hilarious comedic scenes has been done well.   It also has one of the most impactful and most remarkable ending ever done in a Pinoy movie, but it was an ending that only Filipino audiences (or those that are familiar with the local showbiz scene) can really appreciate.    

Maleficent’s attempt to have a sophisticated narrative by reinventing Disney’s take on Sleeping Beauty kind of failed.  The narrative remained weak.  There were some clever exploitation of plot details that I appreciate – like making the king a mad and paranoid wreck, since, really, only someone insane would command the collection and destruction of all spinning wheels in the kingdom, regardless of an existence of a curse.  Overall, it was only a little bit above mediocre entertainment, and, for me, this whole movie was needless.  It’s best redeeming factors are the magnificent visuals and Angie’s smile.   

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit did plenty of liberties to the characters and the mythos.   I understand that the charm of Tom Clancy’s “Ryanverse” is its dependence on the relevance of the international political atmosphere it was set on.  Hence, there was a need for “modernization” for the movie to capitalize.  Still, the Jack Ryan character that Clancy originally created was a man of his time, and that he was beloved as he originally was.  In additional, the movie put emphasis on making him as much of a spook action hero as James Bond.  It cheapens the character.  Yes, the original Ryan character was forced into fighting situations, but his real charm is his intellectual capabilities.  In the movie, his brilliance as an analyst has been depicted, but it lacked enough stressing.   Still, I’ll take it.   Despite of not giving the character full justice, I still appreciate the reinvention.  It was entertaining enough to make me support any plans of a franchise (just have to think of it as an “alternate universe” Jack Ryan).   Lastly, Kevin Costner’s new-for-the-movie character was an interesting badass; but it would have been better if the character was from Clancy’s Ryanverse, like John Clark

As for DC’s animated movie offerings this year, Justice League: War was exciting enough but still disappointing.  But, I admit, that I think of it like that mostly because of my dislike for DC’s New 52 reboot and I don’t appreciate the fact that it crossed over to DC’s animated movie universe.  On the other hand, I did like Son of Batman, maybe just because it’s Batman we’re talking about.  (The upcoming Batman: Assault on Arkham looks to be the best of the lot this year.)

Snowpiercer was a sci-fi movie I’ve been looking forward to.  I was drawn to it by its silly but intriguing premise: the last of humanity are operating in a caste system within a long train that makes one full travel around the world in a year while the world outside freezes.  It was intense and solid at its first two acts, but I find the last act weak and unsatisfactory.  Really, if not for that disappointing third act, this movie could have made it into a high spot in this list.  

I expected the reboot of RoboCop to suck.  It didn’t.  It had surprising depth and could even be more thoughtful than the original.  It had great action scenes, and the redesign of RoboCop, my most favorite cyborg in fiction, ruled a lot.  In fact, if I just get rid of my nostalgic affection for the original, I might even say that this reboot is as good as the original.  If this is a top 11 list, the 11th spot will go to this movie.   

I think those are all the movies, which are for me, worth commenting on.  Let us proceed to the top 10…   

10.) 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

The thing that really bugs me about this film is the “Rise of an Empire” subtitle.  Why is the title like that?  What “empire” was rising in this movie?  Persia?  But Persia was already an empire in the story.  Greece?  That doesn’t make sense, Greece was no empire.  Am I missing something?

Anyway, 300: Rise of an Empire is far from brilliant.  And it can even be considered as an it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good kind of movie.  But that is a quality that I actually am willing to watch and enjoy.   

Though I like the first 300 movie more, this follow-up was hardly lacking – as far as using the first movie as benchmark.  It possessed the same elements that made its predecessor beloved (at least, by those who became fans of the movie): a dumb but engaging story; a stunning, comic book-y visual style; and a wealth of gratifying and gritty violence.  The sea as a brand new battlefield also made the action fresh and rousing.  
  
The hero, General Themistokles, is no King Leonidas in terms of badassery, but he is still a pretty solid warrior and his tactical abilities are worth appreciating.  The movie is also greatly benefited by an immensely charismatic villainess, Artemisia, who was played awesomely by Eva Green.   (Artemisia is likely a wrap for my choice of movie villainess of the year.)

The ending made the possibility of a sequel open.  If there is one, I hope they make it soon to wrap the story up.  Though that would seem unlikely at this point, since 300: Rise of an Empire was based on the upcoming graphic novel, Xerxes, and there is no material yet to base a third movie from.  Of course, opting to not base the story of the third movie on a comicbook source is always a possibility, too, but not plausible.     

9.) EDGE OF TOMORROW

After last year’s collection of sci-fi disasters like After Earth, Oblivion, and Elysium, I am so grateful for Edge of Tomorrow.  It had the right dose of humor; fantastic pacing; spectacular action; a legitimately interesting story; an intelligent but easy-to-follow narrative; strong and likable characters, and good character developments; praiseworthy acting all around (especially by Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton); and an effective utilization of its sci-fi premise.  It was a sci-fi movie done right. 

I was able to read the American graphic novel adaptation of the highly-praised All You Need is Kill novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the material the movie was based on, before I got to watch the movie.    Per what I observed, I find All You Need is Kill’s plot more complicated than Edge of Tomorrow’s.  The movie’s plot was clearly dumbed down.  The ending, especially, was given a generic and underwhelming “happy ending” treatment.     Nonetheless, despite the diluted plot (probably a necessity, so it can have Hollywood success) and lacked of real profundity, Edge of Tomorrow was still exciting and smart.  I was satisfied.        

8.) IN YOUR EYES

This movie has Joss Whedon’s touch, so it’s worth watching.  Its well-written script (done by Whedon) was brilliantly implemented by Director Brin Hill.  I understand that this movie is not for everybody.  Others – even Whedonians – have found this boring or uninspired.  But I truly like it.   

The movie is about a man in New Mexico and a woman in New Hampshire that have the ability to share each other’s senses and feelings because of a mysterious psionic reason (the “how” is unrevealed and irrelevant in the narrative).  The premise was simple but it was fantastically used to produce a unique romantic story – a wonderful tale of two flawed individuals, though physically leagues apart, gradually found the best kind of empathy with each other, lighting each other’s lives in the process. 

7.) X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

This movie is a good movie, but I’m not going to rave about it like most are doing.  I felt that it’s a bit overrated.  There were a lot of awesome moments, yes, but they weren’t able to distract me from the dumb plot details.  Also, it had a good narrative, but, for me, there was not enough action that is fit for an X-Men comicbook movie. 

As for its effect on the X-Men movie universe, it did some important cleaning up but it hardly cleaned up the continuity mess.  There are tons of nagging questions still left unanswered – like how Ian McKellen’s Magneto got his powers back – and it felt like no solutions have been figured out.  The resolution of the story did negate X-Men: The Last Stand, so I guess we have to be satisfied with that for now.       

As I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph, I have problems with the plot.  But my major nitpicking was how it would have been easier for Wolverine, Prof. X, and Beast to resolve their problems if they haven’t busted Mike Fassbender’s Magneto out of prison.  Seriously, the bastard actually just made things complicated for them. A lot of the crisis could have been avoided if Magneto remained in prison.  The Magneto-in-prison plot detail was needless.  The writers couldn’t think of a more clever way of bringing Magneto to the equation than by making the heroes break him out of jail?  Because by doing that, then it is the heroes that brought the problem the plot requires them to face upon themselves.   And I find it stupid.  The only positive thing out of it is it was an excuse to use Quicksilver (he aided the others in breaking Magneto out of jail) on the movie.  Quicksilver was awesome, but underused.  Still, I think the writers should have made an extra effort of figuring out of a way of how to use him without the whole breaking-Magneto-out-of-jail thing. 

Nonetheless, I am satisfied.  Mostly because “please do not suck” was the only requirement I had for it. If anything else, this movie made me excited on where it is heading from now.   This movie established everything needed to enable a healthy X-Men franchise.    

Really looking forward to Apocalypse.  The chanting of “En Sabah Nur” at the end credits excited me a lot.     

6.) AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

This is the Spidey movie that received the lowest grade from the consensus of critics.  I acknowledge that this movie has many flaws, unnecessary liberties on the Spidey mythos, and a great amount of cringe-worthy dumb details in the plot.  It was also maddening that plenty of footage in the trailers did not make it to the final cut of the movie, making it a bit confusing.  

But as a big Spidey fan, I’m a bit biased, so The Amazing Spider-Man 2 got this high in this list. Besides, I legitimately enjoyed it.  Despite its blemishes, the movie has its enough share of redeeming factors. 

The script is bloated, and definitely suffered from Sony’s money-grabbing greediness as it attempts to create an MCU-kind franchise revolving around Spider-Man.  But, still, it felt to me that the essential recipe of this becoming a truly amazing movie is there.   They just did a bad work cooking it and added too many other unnecessary additional ingredients that ruined what could have been one delicious dish. 

It has kick-ass action sequences; between this and its predecessor, the Amazing Spider-Man franchise clearly possesses the better and more Spidey-accurate fight choreography than the original trilogy. 

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s performances were extremely solid. Moreover, there was fantastic chemistry between the two; it clearly helped that they are a real life couple.  Despite the corniness sometimes, they are overwhelmingly more fun to watch than Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst.             

Ever since the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, I maintain the opinion that Garfield is a bit better Spider-Man than Maguire.  And Amazing Spider-Man 2 enforced this.  Maguire was great, but it is Garfield’s Spidey that effectively reflected the atmosphere, heart, and joy of being Spider-Man.  It’s a plus, too, that his wiry but muscular physique is more Spidey accurate. 

The main criticism on Garfield is he he’s a less geeky and awkward Peter Parker, whom Tobey perfectly embodied.  But I argue that that might have been true at some time, but in the comics, Peter Parker has gained more confidence over time.  Yes, suddenly kissing his girlfriend in front of the stage during graduation is actually something the present comicbook Peter Parker can do, as what Garfield did (I read that that was unscripted).  If you follow the comics, you will see that Peter Parker is now cool; he’s still a geek, but he’s a cool geek nonetheless.  And Garfield has the same demeanor as the present comicbook Peter Parker.   

I also appreciate that Garfield’s Spidey is more of a smartass than Maguire’s, since wit and sarcasm has always been an integral element of the Spider-Man character.  Still, the great comicbook wisecracking and humor are not yet fully translated into movie medium, but at least Amazing is making an effort (just a little bit more is needed). 

I have one big nitpicking with Andrew Garfield’s Spidey though: there is a lack of significant display of Parker’s intellect – another integral feature of the character.  Peter Parker is a genius, and that aspect has not been stressed enough in the last two movies.  In fact, it seems that Amazing’s Gwen Stacy was actually smarter.  Why was Gwen Stacy the valedictorian?  Though I guess that was done to make Gwen’s valedictory address – its message an important element to the plot and Peter Parker’s character development – possible.           

As for the villains… well, they were part of the flaws of this movie.  They were clichéd and campy, especially Electro.  They were fit for Joel Schumacher’s Batman films rather than in today’s superhero movie climate that got us Heath Ledger’s Joker and Tom Hiddleton’s Loki.  But considering the parameters they were given, I think the actors did okay.   

Again, I understand why others – even true Spidey fans – would pan this movie.  But, to me, this is still a movie about Spider-Man – a truly amazing character – and it’s worth watching. 

5.) THE RAID 2: BERANDAL

I greatly adore the first movie, The Raid: Redemption, and I’ve been excitedly looking forward to the sequel as soon as I’ve known that it was being made.  I had high expectations for the sequel, hoping it to be more awesome.  The Raid 2: Berandal was worth the wait and is awesome enough.  But by overall quality, I like the first one more.         

Berandal starts with Rama, a few hours after the event of the first movie, meeting up with Bunawar, the leader of a small, clandestine (and probably also illegal) police task force that aims to expose corrupt cops and bring them to justice (or execution, maybe).  Bunawar attempts to recruit Rama to join his squad and go undercover, but he refused.  But after learning that Bejo, a new mob boss, murdered Andi, his brother (I was a bit disappointed that the character was killed of unceremoniously, considering that he proved to be as much as a martial arts badass as Rama when they took on “Mad Dog” in Redemption), and realizing the imminent threat to his family, Rama eventually reconsiders and accepts.  And that’s the central plot of the movie: Rama’s infiltration of the crime world to gather enough evidence to bring down the corrupt cops that work for the crime families, especially the police commissioner himself.    

Just like Redemption, Berandal is overflowing with badassery.  There were tons of awesome, vicious, and fantastically-choreographed fight scenes here as the first one.  But it felt to me that the notable fight scenes in the first movie had been crisper and more evenly distributed throughout the film.  Still, there were still a couple of action sequences here that were more creative than those in Redemption.
     
With the story not confined anymore in just one building as with Redemption, there is room for a more sophisticated narrative than the first one, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a better story.   In fact, it provided more opportunities to notice plot flaws. 

For example, in a story where whole crime organizations were involved, there was a shortage of gun-wielding goons.  Seriously, in the climax, *SPOILERS* Rama was able to bring down a whole crime organization with just his bare hands.   He brought no gun with him in his assault on the crime organization’s base.  But that was fine, since every single gangster possesses no gun anyway.  (/smh.)  Rama wouldn’t have survived the first minute if the gangsters had guns with them.  Instead, Rama was able to beat them all up singlehandedly with his badass close-combat skills – picking them off one by one in a sequence that felt like a video game hero going through the video game’s different levels until he gets to the “boss round.”  I know that showcasing martial arts action is the whole point of this movie.  But the writers should have figured out a clever way of bringing that about, which Redemption was able to accomplish, instead of opting for the stupid decision of using a gun-deficient criminal organization.

Nonetheless, overall, despite some dumb details, Berandal’s narrative is engaging and intense – there was never a dull second at all. 

One of the things that Berandal has more than Redemption is the collection of notable villains.  Most notable of all are “Hammer Girl” and “Baseball Bat Man.”   They are badass killers but the “hammer” and “baseball” motif brought a bit of cartoony wackiness to the plot (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  Nonetheless, they were amazing as advertized, especially “Hammer Girl.”  “The Assassin” was also a great villain; he is clearly Berandal’s answer to Redemption’s “Mad Dog.”   

Speaking of “Mad Dog,” I was initially confused when I saw him alive in this film.  It was clear that he was brutally put down by Rama and Andi in the first movie, and it was impossible to survive that.  It was only on his third or fourth scene that I realized that this was the same actor but it was a different character altogether.  Strange casting decision.        

4.) VERONICA MARS (THE MOVIE) 

It was only last year that Veronica Mars got on my radar after its epic Kickstarter campaign for a movie, in which its targeted $2 million dollars were met in just ten hours.  I was greatly intrigued because of this incredible feat.  Is it really that great that its fans are compelled to swiftly raise money so that a movie continuing the story can be made?  I proceeded to watch the original three-season TV series run... and without effort I began to love the show and the character (she’s now my favorite female fictional character next to Buffy) much.  It is indeed deserving of a movie, and was undeserving of a premature cancellation.  After finishing my Veronica Mars marathon, I was greatly looking forward for the movie. 

Watching the entire TV series run and being a fan will definitely make you value and take pleasure in this movie more.   Nonetheless, the movie is as well-written, as smart, and as delightful as the TV series, that, I think, even those that aren’t familiar with the show can still appreciate and enjoy this movie as it is.     

The movie’s story takes place nine years after the events of the TV series’ third and final season.  Veronica Mars has left Neptune and is now pursuing a career as a lawyer in New York.  She is compelled to come back to her hometown when her ex-boyfriend Logan Echols (*wink*wink*) asks her help after he was framed for murdering his girlfriend.  In Neptune, as she works on the case, she encounters again her friends, former classmates and acquaintances, and adversaries (all the characters that you care to see from the TV series made an appearance); attends her high school reunion; rekindle former flames (*wink*wink*); realize her real calling; and just be the awesome and lovable gumshoe that she is.

3.) THE LEGO MOVIE

The Lego Movie is actually a hundred-minute Lego advertisement.  And instead of Lego paying to get their advertisement watched by an audience, it is us, the audience, who actually went to pay to watch it.  Strange, eh?  But we don’t mind.  Because even if it’s true that this is merely an advertisement masquerading as a movie, it’s fine with us since this is definitely the most epic and most entertaining advertisement ever. 

The Lego Movie is very enjoyable and funny, possessing a cool plot concept and a lot of solid gags.  It has delicious animation, easily lovable characters, wonderful twists, and one of the greatest portrayals of Batman ever.  Moreover, there’s a (spoiler?) thoughtful reflection about collecting toys included in the plot, which as a toy collector, I have to appreciate.  

In a sense, it was also an epic crossover movie.  Almost every property licensed by Lego was brought together in this movie.  So we get to see Star Wars characters, LOTR characters, the Justice League, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NBA superstars, historical figures, and others interacting in this movie!   

This movie, truly, can be summed up perfectly by its theme song – “Everything is awesome.” 

2.) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Best.  Marvel.  Movie.  Ever.

And coming from someone who watched Avengers, thought of it as the greatest thing that happened in the big screen ever, and re-watched it at least a dozen times already at this point, that’s saying a lot. 

It was well-paced, well-acted, well-written, and well-directed; it had the right balance of superb action and thought-provoking plot.   

It’s so amazing how Captain America: The Winter Soldier was able to capture the same kind of depth, sophisticated but relatable themes, and grittiness as The Dark Knight, but still have itself perfectly incased in the fantastic, comic book mood that Marvel Studio movies are known for.  At this point, Winter Soldier is the benchmark of further comic book superhero movies.    

There were ample character developments and there were no uninteresting characters here at all.  Even with no Red Skull-level major comicbook supervillain used in this movie, Alexander Pierce, Brock Rumlow (Crossbone in the comics), and the threat of Hydra is so emphatic and legit that they were sufficient.   The Winter Soldier himself was intense and fascinating.  How Batroc the Leper was portrayed was also nicely done.  Secondary superheroes like Black Widow (her usual awesome) and Falcon (a delightful badass) were never neglected, always being relevant and having significant screen time.  But even with all these active characters happening around him, Chris Evan’s Captain America remained the center of this movie and exceptionally stood out; there was no distraction to the true star of the story.        

I’m really surprised how big and ambitious the plot of this movie is.  It truly shook the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its foundations.  It had significant effects n the status quo.  It was even the catalyst needed by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to jump from a show struggling with mediocrity into one of the most exciting show to look forward to each week.     

The first of two movies from Marvel Studios this 2014 simply tells us that Marvel is still on a roll and continues to climb new heights.  We still have the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy this year, and then we got the culmination of “Phase 2” with Avengers 2 next year.  And there’s every indication that everything in MCU will just get bigger and better from this point on.  Can’t wait! 

1.) HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

This is the first time since Toy Story 2 that a sequel of an animated movie of awesome quality has outshined its predecessor.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is epic in every sense of the word.  It was a perfect mix of spectacular visuals and an extremely beautiful story.  I think HTTYD 2 winning the Oscar for best animated feature is a sure thing already. 

The story is set five years after the events of the original movie.  The Viking village of Berk is thriving; dragons are now living among the village people and everyone finds friendship with dragons agreeable and preferable over the years of fighting them.  The main character, Hiccup, and his friends are now all expert dragon riders.  Hiccup basically has the same personality and motivations as the last time we saw him.  He is struggling with his identity; to succeed his father as chief of the village doesn’t appeal to him and prefers to rather go exploring with his Night Fury dragon, Toothless.  It would take the discovery that his mother is still alive living among dragons and a confrontation with Drago Bludvist – a ruthless, mad villain who enslave dragons and use them to go conquering, terrorizing, and pillaging lands – to make Hiccup realize what direction he should go with his life.   

HTTYD 2 has solid humor, but not necessarily the LOL-inducing kind.  But like the first movie, the narrative didn’t really rely on hilarious gags anyway, but on delivering a strong, excellent, and heartwarming tale.  The narrative and the characters are so engaging and charming that I was made completely invested in every detail of the story.  Thus, as the story progressed, I was so immersed on the movie that I was effortlessly being moved by both plot and character developments.

HTTYD 2 is probably my most favorite 3D animated movie that I’ve ever watched, at least visually.  It had gorgeous visuals; it greatly reminded me of Avatar.  And I mean that as a good thing.  Not only because I actually liked Avatar, but also because even the haters of that movie who think of it as steaming pile of crap will concede that it’s at least a beautiful steaming pile of crap because of its breathtaking visuals.      

Putting all of these into consideration, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the best 2014 movie so far.