Thursday, March 26, 2015

'Paddington' Could Be This Year's Best Family Movie



I have never read the children books, but I watched the cartoons fondly back when I was a kid.  Thus, I can claim that I have familiarity with the source material, and I believe that the movie has perfectly depicted the clumsy but well-meaning, marmalade-loving bear from “darkest Peru.” 

Paddington is as heart-warming and adorable as the best of Disney movies (which, in my opinion, are the greatest family movies out there).  Yes, I went there.  It’s just that wonderful.  Every aspect of Paddington resonates with timelessness and charm – the plot isn’t exactly novel, but the familiar nature of the story is so amiable that it’s still refreshing overall; the kind of humor delivered is clichéd, but everything else is just clicking very well that it does generate genuine laughs; the CGI is impeccable; the narrative romanticizes London as setting to great effect; and its family-centered message truly hits home.  It definitely has the makings of a classic.  Watching it will leave a cozy, warm feeling inside.      

The supporting cast to the CGI bear did a swell, believable job in interacting with the lead character.  The Brown household is easily likable.  Peter Capaldi is simply being the lovable, eccentric Doctor Who that I know.  And Nicole Kidman is a delightfully campy villainess that reminds me of Glenn Close’s Cruella de Vil in the live-action 101 Dalmatians movie.  

It’s still early in the year.   But Paddington, for me, is already the go-to family movie of 2015*.  And it has raised the bar so high for upcoming G-rated films that it’s going to be very difficult to knock this movie off its pedestal in my eyes. 

*It was released in 2014 in the UK.  But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s a 2015 movie.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

'Kobe Bryant's Muse' is My Highlight as a Laker Fan This Season



I thought that the 2013-2014 Laker season was “rock bottom” for the franchise, but, boy, I was sure wrong.  This current Laker campaign is turning out to be even worse as the team’s horrible record has made them eligible for the top 5 draft picks (hope they get the next “great Laker” out of it, though).  Aside from the occasional highlights from young Laker players (I hope Jordan Clarkson would prove to be the next Kobe for the Lakers), there aren’t much to delight on as a Laker fan right now.  And that’s why I’m happy about the latest Showtime documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse.  It proved to be the thing I derived the most enjoyment out of as a Laker fan this season.  In the midst of another depressing Laker season, this beautiful documentary somewhat cheered me up.  

Kobe Bryant has always been my favorite NBA player, and I’ve come to admire his talent and drive.  Kobe Bryant’s Muse is a great thing for a fan like me because it provided the most in-depth look ever on how the Kobe Bryant we love – or, in the case of others, hate – came to be.  Kobe served as the sole voice of the documentary, and there are no other place – interviews, documentaries, etc. – where we can find Kobe being as candid and as vulnerable as he was in Kobe Bryant’s Muse.   Listening and watching Kobe talk throughout the 1-hour and 23-minute documentary – as he thoroughly and honestly revealed his thoughts, struggles, and emotions during the important points of his formative years and career – was a gripping experience. 

The documentary took a gloomy, minimalist approach in its production.  The supplementary “narrative” footage were limited to Kobe’s Achilles injury from 2013 and his recovery process.  Other video clips featured were mostly muted, and simply served as “visual aid” on whatever topic was at hand.  There were no insights or interviews of other people regarding Kobe.  There were no flash and flare.  The primary focus was (almost) all about Kobe talking to the camera, “up close and personal”, in a dim setting.  And it worked, for the tone was compatible to Kobe Bryant’s own character.  Yes, it was grim, but it was never dull.  Rather, it was direct-to-the-point, analytical, and compelling.  As a documentary, it was savvy and gorgeously-made.     

Prior to the release of this movie, Kobe Bryant was quoted as saying that he “didn’t want to write a book”, that he doesn’t “have the patience for that,” and that’s why he did Kobe Bryant’s Muse.  So, basically, Kobe Bryant’s Muse is a must-watch because this is not just any biopic/documentary.  It is Kobe’s actual autobiography.   And until Kobe finds the “patience” to write an autobiographical book – which I hope will still happen – this is the best we can get for now.    

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Live-Action ‘Lupin III’ Movie is a Big Pile of Disappointment



I was greatly looking forward to this movie ever since I became aware that a live-action Lupin III movie was on the way and saw some teaser images and trailers.  It was released in Japan (and limited releases on some parts of the world, maybe) in 2014, but it was only this year that most of us got the opportunity to see it (the release of DVD and Blu-ray was recent).  Unfortunately, the result of the long wait for it is a big pile of disappointment.  Lupin III’s such a disappointment that it took me four part-by-part viewings before I could watch its entirety; I couldn’t watch it in just one go. 

To be fair, my expectations were probably too high, hence, the big disappointment.  I was hoping it was going to be a live-action The Castle of Cagliostro (I mean, have the same quality of that classic anime movie, not necessarily have the same plot).  At the very least, I was hoping it would be as authentic and appealing as the live-action Ruruoni Kenshin.  But it was not to be so.   

The live-action portrayals of the Lupin III characters have been almost fantastic.  I have nothing negative to say about the characterizations of the adapted characters in general.  However, I have a couple of problems with the particular portrayal of Arsene Lupin III.  There was noticeable emphasis in making him a badass combatant – an “action hero” – but, on the other hand, a lack of stress on what makes the iconic anime character truly awesome.  Sure, in the anime, Lupin can also throw a mean punch once in a while as well as be an impressive shooter, but that’s not how the character is defined.  His distinctive traits are his wits, slipperiness, and unpredictability; beneath the goofy, playful appearance is a sharp, creative, and tactical mind.  There were moments when I can see these elements in the live-action character.  But, unfortunately, those moments were not sustained for me; the excessive way he was being sold as an “action hero” just proved to be too distracting.  I would have considerably preferred more for the character to be straightly depicted as the extremely versatile escape artist and master of disguise that he is – a facet of Lupin that was only minimally used in the last act (just another disappointment in a big pile of disappointment) – than just another generic “action hero.”

However, the characterization flaws would have only required a tweak or two to fix.  The movie’s biggest problem is its mediocre story.  With the anime series/movies as benchmarks, the live-action movie was an unimpressive tale that such delightful property as Lupin III is undeserving of.  The plot attempts to be several things at the same time, including being an Ocean 11-esque heist film, but lacked enough suave and twists to pull it off.  I also hated that there were so many unnecessary plot elements and additional characters.  I know the movie would have worked so much better if the plot was kept simple.  The narrative just felt so forced – from the dialogues down to the humor.        
  
As far as the action went, the highest points were scenes wherein the kickass samurai Goemon is involved. In comparison, the rest of the action scenes were often slightly entertaining but unremarkable.  With the decision to consciously be an “action movie”, its action ironically failed to engage me.  The messy camerawork during action sequences doesn’t help either.       

Lupin III is an accurate picture of the word “disappointing” (especially if you adored the anime), but I’m also not completely comfortable of directly branding this movie as “awful.”  It does have a few redeeming factors.  Example, thinking of it as a “cosplay play”, I did find it fun to see Goemon, Jigen, Fujiko, and – despite my minor nitpicks on him – even Lupin being brought to life in live-action.  And, maybe, if I didn’t have such high expectations for this movie – and take it as it is, a stupid-and-shallow action-comedy movie – I could have completely enjoyed it, too. 

But here’s to hoping to a better sequel (if any).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Top 10 Time Travelers


Time travel stories, when done right, are thoughtful and absorbing.  Fascinating plot elements like alternate timelines, paradoxes, time loops, re-writing of history, and others can arise from time travel stories.  But, more importantly, time travel stories are made more interesting by their featured time travelers – how they get to travel through time, their motivations/reasons for doing so, and how they use time travel to their advantage.  Here are my favorites…    

10.) HENRY DeTAMBLE

 
Henry DeTamble is the time traveler in Audrey Niffenger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, which was also adapted into the film of the same name starring Eric Bana.  DeTamble has a fictional genetic disorder that makes him randomly and uncontrollably time travel to the past or future.  But despite his condition, he was able to develop and maintain a romantic relationship with Clare, who became his wife. 

The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of the most creative utilization of time travel in a story.  The love story of Henry and Clare is made very unique and interesting because of Henry’s peculiar time travel ability, which made possible a couple of remarkable convergences between the couple during their lifetime.   The Time Traveler’s Wife is something worth reading/watching personally, and I won’t spoil anything here to deny you the pleasure of witnessing this extraordinary story for yourself.  

Also, if I’m to make a modern League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this character has a spot on my team. 

9.) BOOSTER GOLD

 
Coming from the future, Booster Gold makes use of his knowledge of historical events and futuristic gadgets to be a superhero in the present.  A showboat and a fame-hog, his initial motivation for being a superhero was to enjoy the celebrity status that comes from being a superhero and then exploit his popularity to obtain a luxurious lifestyle.  However, overtime, though still retaining some of his self-promoting ways, he learned how to be a genuine, selfless hero.      

8.) HANK MORGAN

 
My most favorite book by Mark Twain is The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  The story tells of a Yankee named Hank Morgan, a superintendent for a factory of firearms by trade, who finds himself mysteriously transported to the place and time period of King Arthur’s reign after being hit on the head by a crowbar.  Armed with his ingenuity, modern knowledge, and manufacturing proficiency, Hank gradually rose in influence and power in England – continuously developing the country until it got to the point that it possessed 19th century infrastructure and technology.   
 
7.) KANG THE CONQUEROR

 
A 30th-century native, Kang is one of the most notable villains of the Marvel Universe.  Ever since he discovered the time travel technology that Dr. Doom (an ancestor of his) had developed, Kang has ever since been traveling the time stream and devising schemes to conquer the world’s timelines.  But superheroes like the Avengers and Fantastic Four are fortunately always there to stop him. 

Because of his time traveling nature, at least two alternate selves of Kang have spun-off in the timeline.  The first of which is Immortus, a future version of Kang who agreed to preserve timelines for the Time-Keepers in exchange for immortality.  The second one is Iron Lad, the teenage version of Kang, who is appalled of the man he will grow up to be and vowed to avoid the evil path that his future self will take.        

6.) PHIL CONNORS

Phil Connors is the main character of the classic movie Groundhog Day.  Unlike the other time travelers of this list, who traveled to the future and/or the past, Phil is instead stuck in a time loop – forced to re-live the same day again and again. 

Introduced as a pessimistic, egoistic weather reporter, he was tasked to cover the Groundhog Day celebration in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  It was an assignment that he didn’t want to do, and it was apparent from the way he grudgingly delivered his report and his persistence of living the town as soon as possible.  Unfortunately for him, a blizzard forced him to spend another night in the town.  However, waking up the “next day”, he discovered that the day had repeated itself for him.  This was also what he discovered the “following day”, and the “next”, and so on; Phil had to go through Groundhog Day at Punxsutawney over and over again.         

At first, Phil just used the time loop as an opportunity to fool around – which included unethical acts as picking up girls and stealing money from an armored car.  He eventually got exhausted of the time loop, and sought to end it by killing himself.  However, no matter how many times he tried killing himself, he would always find himself waking up – alive – to live through another Groundhog Day. 

Phil, in due course, decided to use the time loop to improve himself.  With unlimited time at his disposal, Phil proceeded to learn various skills and expand his knowledge.  He studied literature and taught himself to speak other languages.  He also learned how to ice sculpt and how to play the piano.  Moreover, he used his familiarity of the day’s events to help people around the town, making him popular and much well-liked in the town in just “one day.”

After becoming a better person through the entire experience (which probably lasted thousands of days) – and winning the girl of his dreams through honest, natural means instead of manipulations (as what he attempted during the first days he was stuck in the time loop) – Phil finally found himself free from the time loop, and decided to permanently settle in Punxsutawney which he learned to love.

5.) CABLE

Nathan Summers a.k.a. Cable doesn’t have much exposure nowadays but there was a time when he was the most popular X-Man next to Wolverine.  I adored this character during the peak of his popularity.  He’s kind of an awesome mash-up of Captain America (the tactical capacity and instinct of a soldier-commander), Forge (cybernetic enhancements and technology manipulation), the Punisher (the anti-heroic, badass persona; and the proficiency and affinity for big guns), and Prof. X (powerful telepathic and telekinetic powers).  
 
He is the son of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Madelyne Pryor (Goblin Queen), the clone of Jean Grey.  He was born in the present timeline but was sent to the distant future and grew up there.  When he returned back to the timeline of his birth, he had already grown to an adult.  In the present timeline, he founded the X-Force and has constantly allied with the X-Men, even becoming a member at some point.  He has several times traveled through time, and has even been described by Beast as having “latent time-travel abilities.” 

4.) & 3.) DR. EMMETT “DOC” BROWN & MARTY McFLY

The classic Back to the Future trilogy is considered by many as the greatest time travel story in film ever, regardless of having a couple of plot holes.  The trilogy’s two main characters are high school student Marty McFly and the eccentric Doc Brown.  The former served as the central protagonist of the story, traveling to both past and future timelines by the use of the DeLorean time machine that the latter invented.  Marty was the first one to experience time traveling with the DeLorean, but after his initial adventure to the past (in the first movie), Doc Brown became a constant time travel companion (in the second and third movie). 

2.) THE TERMINATOR

The Terminator is not only one of the greatest cyborgs, one of the greatest ex-“bad guy” protagonists, and one of the most recognizable badass characters in fiction, but he’s also one of its greatest time travelers.  The Terminator was originally sent by the Machines from the future to the present timeline to kill the mother of John Connor, the leader of the human resistance.  However, the subsequent versions of the Terminator that traveled back in time were reprogrammed units sent by the humans to protect a young John Connor.

1.) THE DOCTOR    
 
“The Doctor” (his real name is still unknown) is one of the most iconic and most unique fictional characters ever.  He is the titular protagonist of the long-running, beloved TV series, Doctor Who (which I only got into last year).  In the show’s 50 plus years, thirteen actors have portrayed the Doctor without breaking continuity.  This has been made possible due to a plot device called “regeneration” – an ability of a Time Lord to assume a new form (changing in appearance and personality) whenever his mortality is at risk (getting fatality injured or getting too old).  The image I chose for the Doctor is that of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, who is my favorite so far (my second most favorite, for the record, is the current one, Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor).             

The Doctor is the only non-human time traveler in this list.  He seems human in appearance but he is in fact a Time Lord.  Time Lords are natives of the planet Gallifrey and can travel through space and time with ease by means of sentient time travel machines called TARDISes.  The Doctor’s TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) is permanently stuck in the form of a 1960’s style London police box because its “chameleon circuitry” is broken (and the last setting that it was set on was that of a police box). 

Always enthusiastic for new adventures and eager to share them with friends (known as “companions” in Doctor Who terminology), the Doctor is constantly travelling across the universe and through different time periods.         

Monday, March 16, 2015

If I Were a Little Girl, I Would Have Been Blown Away by 'Cinderella'



I liked the movie, but the “Cinderella” tale has been told so many times already in so many ways that there will be always a part of me that will think of Disney’s live-action Cinderella as needless and uninspired.  Moreover, the anime series Cinderella Monogatari will probably always be my most favorite version of the Cinderella story ever, and every other version that I would encounter would always pale in comparison.  So, at most, I consider Cinderella a fun, pleasurable movie that is definitely recommendable for the whole family to watch.  It’s good entertainment, but not remarkably great. 

But that said, I nonetheless understand the charms of the movie.  If I were a little girl of around six to ten years of age who went to watch it in a theater this past week, I would have been blown away by the experience.  The Frozen Fever short film that ran before the movie would be a wonderful treat already.  But it would be mere appetizer to the bright, optimistic loveliness of the movie.  I would have adored everything about it – excitedly consuming all the pretty things I’m seeing.  I would probably have been giggling in delight, like the little girl that I am, during and a few hours after the movie.

Cinderella flawlessly embodied into film the kind of emotional sense of wonder that fairy tale stories aroused in us when we encountered them for the first time as kids.  A big chunk of the credits for this impact definitely goes to the stunningly gorgeous production value – from the costumes to the set, everything about it was an aesthetic success that brought the fairy tale-ness of the story to life.  The visual effects also considerably added to the enchantment.  The sequence where the Fairy Godmother prepared Cinderella for the ball has been especially spectacular.      
             
“So its form is lovely, but how about its substance?” you might ask.  Well, a large part of the story still possesses the worn-out plot elements of the Cinderella story.  Still, there were enough original ideas to make this retelling worth checking out.  It’s actually well-written and well-directed.  Cinderella was pure cotton candy, but though it was not significantly thoughtful, it however has enough thematic and character depths to avoid being “infuriatingly sweet and dumb.” 

After Maleficent and Cinderella, I’m still not a fan of Disney’s recent decisions of adapting their classic fairy tale animated movies (which themselves are adaptations of classic fairy tale literature) into live-action movies.  It gives the feeling that they are beginning to lack the imagination for developing original material.   However, after Cinderella, I also start to get the feeling that I might get used to the trend after all.     


Miscellaneous musings: 
  • Cinderella won the day with her grace, positive attitude, and femininity.  In a “modern” culture which prefers its heroines to have tough, no-pushover personalities, I find this aspect of Cinderella refreshing.  There is as much strength in answering cruelty with kindness as kicking scoundrels’ butts. 
  • The cast had stellar performances all around, but Cate Blanchett killed it as the Wicked Stepmother – she was a very interesting, complex villainess.  But, hey, you don’t expect something lesser from a talented Cate Blanchett.     
  • Next to Cinderella’s blue dress, the Wicked Stepmother had the best dresses.  Yep, I noticed and appreciated the dresses.     
  • I find Helena Bonham Carter’s role as the eccentric Fairy Godmother funny.  Not only because of Ms. Carter’s performance, but also because of the fact that the last time she was required to wield a wand for a role, she played the awesome, bloodthirsty Bellatrix Lestrange.  It was an amusing contrast.    
  • Her time in the movie was short, but I really enjoyed Agent Carter as Cinderella’s mother.
  • Honestly, prior to watching the movie, I had no idea that Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, and Hayley Atwell had roles in it.  (I had zero foreknowledge of what I would be getting from this movie.  I never read articles and never watched trailers about it prior to watching.)  Their appearances came as surprises to me.  Hence, I was easily delighted, approving, and welcoming of their performances.
  • Again, I’m not excited of the prospect of having more live-action adaptations of classic Disney animated features.  But, honestly, I’m intrigued on how a live-action Beauty and the Beast (which is currently in production) would look like. 
  • Also, I think that the best Disney animated movie that would be perfect for a live-action adaptation is The Black Cauldron.  Make it happen, Disney.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Profound Message of "The Emperor's New Clothes"



Walt Disney’s Emperor New Groove turned out to be a thoughtful, very hilarious animated movie, but it doesn’t have the depth of the classic short story that inspired its title.  “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was first published in Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales Told for Children. First Collection., and it’s one of my most favorite “children fairy tales” ever, for it is an amusing tale that conveys a thought-provoking, profound message. 

The story tells of a vain, probably narcissistic emperor whose only concern is wearing the most exquisite clothing and updating his extensive wardrobe collection.  One day, two swindlers presented themselves as tailors to the emperor and offered to weave for him a special, extraordinary clothing that has a remarkable feature: it is rendered invisible to those that are incompetent or stupid.  The emperor’s vanity and curiosity got the better of him and he commissioned the two swindlers/tailors to make it.  Furthermore, he believed this will allow him to kill two birds with one stone – aside from getting to wear this special clothing, he would also be able to determine which among his subjects are stupid and incompetent.  And so, the two swindlers – having been provided with the gold payment and elegant materials that they asked for – proceeded to “work” on the fabric.  People, of course, didn’t see a thing, but not wanting to be considered “stupid and incompetent” talked and behaved as if they have seen it.  The emperor himself, when the fabric was presented to him, was horrified for he can’t see anything, but had to carry on as if he did.  With no one admitting that he actually couldn’t see anything, but pretended that he could because of the self-conscious fear of being shamed and exposed as stupid or incompetent, nobody was able to realize that others were also dealing with the same predicament as his.  The emperor even paraded the “clothes” in front of his people, but he was in fact naked the whole time.  Everybody knew that the emperor wasn’t really wearing any clothes, but they cheered and praised the “emperor’s new clothes” for they didn’t want to be branded as stupid or incompetent.  The ruse would have continued if not for an innocent boy – who had no concern of his self-image but merely acknowledges whatever his eyes show to him – that loudly pointed out the fact that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.  The father initially hushed him, but that one remark of honesty incited the crowd to admit to themselves that the boy was right, that they can’t see any clothing, that the emperor was indeed naked.    

The tale illustrates a sad facet of Men’s depraved nature.   The truth is something we will repress it if it will cause inconvenience and unpopularity.  We are more concerned with maintaining our comfortable status quo; we are more concerned with what people will think of us.   Hence, we prefer conforming to the popular thought of the majority, even if what we honestly perceive is actually the opposite of that.  We pretend to adore the beauty of the emperor’s clothes when in fact what we really see is the nakedness of the emperor.  We readily embrace hypocrisy if it’ll preserve our pride rather than undergo the uneasiness brought by truthfulness.  

And the absurd thing is that the “popular thought of the majority” is sometimes itself an illusion.  Everyone is afraid to speak the contrary in fear of being ridiculed as foolish.  But, ironically, by trying to protect his image from being deemed foolish, one is actually being foolish by carrying a pretense.   Just like the emperor who wanted to avoid humiliation by actually doing something humiliating – parading himself nude in front of his people.   

In this world dominated by superficiality and hypocrisy and vanity and lies, we really need more people that have the childlike boldness and non-hesitance to straightforwardly blurt out the truth.  Oftentimes, at the early stage of falsity, all it takes to break the general facade is a tiny voice that can candidly point out that the emperor has no clothes on.  One drop of honest declaration could lead to the eventual admission of the truth by the majority who initially chose to repress it. 

Indeed, it is important to call the bluff of falsehood as early as possible.  For if no one would do so, this falsehood would eventually evolve into delusion.  And delusions are harder to break.  When it reaches this level, untruth is adopted as the majority’s accepted version of “the truth”, and declaring the genuine truth then will result to graver persecutions (e.g. death).  So at the earliest opportunity, it’s imperative to demolish falsehood, before it becomes terminal.

Still, regardless of the extent of falsehood’s influence, whenever we encounter truth, we are morally obligated to uphold it, no matter what the degree of difficulty we could receive from doing so.  “The truth shall set you free.”  Freedom is what’s at stake here.  And great will be the punishment for those who knowingly and pridefully suppress truth and practice duplicity – it’s going to be worse than suffering the laughter and shaming from parading naked in front of people.      

Sunday, March 08, 2015

'Agent Carter' is Good, but Not That Good



For the record, I like Agent Carter.  Its first season has been genuinely entertaining.  The production value of the show was impeccably gorgeous – it successfully rendered the the era it is set in.  And the bickering and chemistry of Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis resulted into many engrossing and amusing moments.  However, I won’t be declaring that Agent Carter’s 8-episode season has been strong and very exciting.  It’s a good show, but it isn’t really a “must-watch” one.

Agent Peggy Carter is not a boring character at all.  Again, she and Edwin Jarvis make good TV when partnered together.  And as a female character, she’s as strong, independent, and appealing as you would expect from a lead heroine.  Moreover, her struggles for personal validation in a man-dominated world – to shed the typecast of being Captain America’s dame, to be taken seriously by her peers, and to be judged by her own merit – add additional depth to the character.  But it’s not enough to make her significantly rise above other badass, competent, attractive heroines.  For me, she’s only a tad above “generic.”   

The plot of the first season was lackluster.  It didn’t really enrich the MCU’s TV world-building, and the narrative didn’t have a “gripping” factor.  Heck, I probably wouldn’t have tolerated the story if this has not been made by Marvel.  A big part of what kept me following the narrative was because of – again, for its third mention – the great fun in all the scenes Peggy and Jarvis are together.    

Agent Carter didn’t provide much points for Marvel’s campaign of gaining a dominating foothold in the small screen as they do in the big screen.  Marvel is doing a swell job with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and they will always have a huge advantage because their TV universe is shared with their movie universe.  However, DC is still on the lead so far.  DC’s Arrow and The Flash are the benchmarks here.  Those two shows are generously pumping DC mythos into the construction of a DC shared TV universe.  Hence, more and more DC comic book characters are being adapted into the small screen.  It’s a superhero universe after all, and DC is just delivering what is expected from such: superheroes and superhero mythologies.  I understand that Marvel is maybe trying to be “diverse” and “fresh” in its TV programming by producing material like Agent Carter.  But they have to remember that what they have in their hands is a superhero universe, and in a superhero universe, adaptation of superheroes and superhero mythologies – especially the familiar ones – are just much more desired and exciting than spin-off series of a secondary non-superhero character.  No matter how beloved she may be, Peggy Carter is just not an equal to Green Arrow or the Flash. 

It’s true that Marvel does have a couple of upcoming Netflix web TV series featuring Marvel’s street-level superheroes, starting with a Daredevil series in April, and only then could we really tell how much Marvel has caught up (or is lagging behind).  But my main point is simply that, in a superhero market that has Arrow and The Flash in it, an Agent Carter – and something that lacks impact to boot – will definitely pale in comparison and won’t be fully appreciated.      

Friday, March 06, 2015

Chain of Thoughts: February's 'Spider-Man' Happenings


Last February was a big Spider-Man month.  First, the epic “Spider-Verse” concluded. Second – and most importantly – Marvel and Sony reached a deal to bring Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!   Here are my musings…

Part 1: Spider-Verse

→ “Spider-Verse” wasn’t perfect.  But it had a lot of good things going for it.  I greatly enjoyed the premise and the story, and I’m mostly satisfied with how everything unfolded.  Seeing all of those Spider-Men (and –Women) banding together was awesome.   However, I don’t believe that it made true to its promise to feature “every Spider-Man” ever.  But I have to give props to Dan Slott and his people, for it was obvious that they truly tried.  There were plenty of delightful surprise participants. 
Example: Supaidāman and Leopardon!
→ I also appreciated a lot the inclusion of the cartoon-y, lighter versions of Spider-Man – like Spider-Ham, the Spider-Man from the Hostess snack ads back in the 70’s and 80’s, the Spider-Man from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (there were many deaths among the ranks of alternate Spider-Men but this one was what disturbed me most), the Spider-Man from the campy 60’s animated series version, the lil' Spider-Man from Bullpen Bits/Mini Marvel (just a cameo though), the Spider-Man from the popular Capcom crossover arcade games, the newspaper strip Spider-Man, and the Spider-Man from the Ultimate Spider-Man TV series.
→ Too bad that Marvel’s Sony deal couldn’t have happened earlier (or the Spider-Verse story couldn’t have happened later) for it prevented the use of the Spider-Man from the awesome Spectacular Spider-Man TV series (which, if I understand it right, is co-owned by Sony).  The writers, however, used a clever approach in referencing the cinematic versions of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.
Along with a mention of the Spider-Man: Turn of the Dark version
→ It seemed that the Spider-Man from the awesome 90’s animated series was not included (if he was, I haven’t caught sight of him).  Even if I’ve always had the skepticism in me of the truthfulness of the claim that all Spider-Men will make an appearance, I was still surprised that that version was not given a part in the story.       
→ I acknowledge that the featured “Spider” characters have been extensive already.  But I was really expecting a Spider-Army of Captain Britain Corps proportions, especially in the climactic battle.  But the mass of the Spider-Army – which I presume were the recruits of Miles Morales’ team (his was the only logical contingent that could have brought all those Spidey cameos in the final battle) – were mere “glimpses” during the chaos.  The ambiguity of the attendance and quantity of the different Spider-Men in the final battle was likely to be Slott’s way of implying that “every Spider-Men ever” were participating in the climactic battle.  It’s kind of disappointing, really.
The best look of the assembled Spider-Army during the final battle was from Spider-Verse #2.       
→ My biggest nitpick with “Spider-Verse”, however, is that my most favorite alternate version of Spider-Man – Spider-Man Noir – was sidelined early in the game.  Bummer. 
→ At the end of “Spider-Verse”, what does Otto’s instruction to his Anna Marie AI mean?  Did Otto Octavius prepare a contingency plan to reclaim Peter Parker’s body?  Will it activate after a hundred days?  Is SpOck or Dr. Octopus set to return?  Will I be compelled to write a series of love-hate blog posts once again?  
Uh-oh.
→ I was hoping that something awesomely creative was intended for Silk.  But being “The Bride” is not enough at all.  I still have the same issues on her as before.  If she would have been a Spider-Woman replacement for Jessica Drew, then that would have been a lot, lot better for the character.  At this point, for me, she just seems to be a gratuitous additional Spider character that made the crowd of present Spider-characters feel more crowded and contributes in the diminishment of the uniqueness of Spider-Man.  Silk, however, is popular enough to receive her own ongoing series.  Hopefully, my opinion for the character might improve during this series’ development.
It was really funny that these two still commit PDI even in the midst of their Spider brethren.
→ The Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy introduced in “Spider-Verse” was also popular enough to receive her own series.  She’s indeed an intriguing character that deserves more exposure so that her character and universe can develop further.   The only bad thing about it?  Spider-Gwen is a stupid, unimaginative title for the series.
→ Spider-Woman rocked in “Spider-Verse”, and she has her costume updated afterwards.  I’m kind of split regarding the change.  I already got used to the original look, but she definitely was in need of a costume upgrade.  Best thing about it was the banter between her and Carol Danvers as they make fun of each other’s past costume choices.
Hahahaha.            
→ In the aftermath of “Spider-Verse”, some of the Spider-Men, led by Spider-UK, decided to continue teaming up, and their adventures are going to be the basis of the Secret Wars’ spin-off series, Spider-Verse, coming later this year.  That’s cool.  I definitely want more team-ups of different Spider-Men from different universes.

Part 2: Spider-Man Joins the MCU
    
→ I got wind of the announcement that Marvel and Sony has agreed to let Spider-Man join the Marvel Cinematic Universe while browsing my Facebook newsfeed on an afternoon, after a tiring work-day.  After reading the headline, I went…



It was a surreal moment for me.  I’ve always wanted for Spidey to be in an Avengers film.  (But, to be honest, I will give this up in a heartbeat for a Spider-Verse movie instead.)
This scene is from the Avengers 2 trailer, and someone edited Spider-Man in.  Cool.
→ I’m very excited for some news on how Spider-Man will be introduced to the MCU.  But I hope that Spidey’s inclusion to Marvel’s Phase 3 plans won’t sacrifice the development schedule and quality of the originally planned Marvel movies
→ When announcement that it’s almost definite that the next film version of Spider-Man won’t be white, my elation transformed to horrified distress.  And it’s not a racist thing.  It’s simply an ignorant, bigoted thing for someone to accuse another of racism simply because he prefers Spider-Man to be white.  (Heck, I myself am not even white.)  It’s just that Spider-Man is my most favorite character that has originated from comics, and I just want Spider-Man to be as accurate and genuine as possible when translated into the big screen.  It is imperative that that Spider-Man should be Peter Parker because the qualities that made me love the character is essentially founded in him.   
→ The counter-argument is to point out that Peter Parker already had two different cinematic depictions before.  Well, that may be true.  But this is a different thing.  This is the first time Spider-Man will be teaming up with other Marvel heroes in the big screen, and I badly want it to be Peter Parker having this cinematic honor.  Miles Morales has to wait.
→ Of course, none of those qualities that made Peter Parker integral as Spider-Man is because he is white.  So am I good then with a non-white Peter Parker?  Still, a no.   Peter Parker/Spider-Man is such an important, iconic character that accuracy on the race is still a significant part of his individuality as much as what his sex is.  Making Peter Parker black or Hispanic makes me as uncomfortable and upset as making him a girl instead (like “Petra Parker.” Ugh).  In the same way, I will be extremely upset if Sherlock Holmes is depicted as an American woman instead of a British male (heck, I hate “Joan Watson” of Elementary, even though I find the show entertaining).  Sex and race might not be the most important substances of what makes a character special, but they are still a big part of how the character is consciously defined.  Changing the race or sex when depicting a character – especially if it’s an iconic one like Spider-Man – in another medium could take a lot out of the character.
→ So, please, please, Marvel.  Let Peter Parker be the Spider-Man of the MCU.  And white.         

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Top 10 Science Fantasy Books


“Science fantasy” (also known in longer form as “science fiction fantasy”) is a subgenre (as well as a mashup) of both science fiction and fantasy.  A science fantasy story could either be packaged as a science fiction story that has fantasy elements, or a fantasy story that has science fiction elements.  This is a list of my favorite books (or book series) that make use of both science fiction and fantasy tropes in their storytelling. 

10.) Apprentice Adept Series by Piers Anthony

The setting of this series is on the “twin”, “mirror” worlds of Phaze and Photon.  They occupy the same space in two different dimensions, and are, basically, alternate worlds of each other.  They are distinct, however, in their “nature” – Phaze is a world of magic, while Proton is a world of science and technology.  Moreover, their inhabitants have alternate versions of themselves existing on the other world.  It’s a very intriguing, unique premise, and I applaud Piers Anthony for thinking of it.  

9.) Shannara series by Terry Brooks

 
I’ve always known the Shannara series’ reputation but it was only recently that I got to read The Sword of Shannara.  I’ve always thought that Terry Brooks’ Shannara books are purely high fantasy.  But then I learned that Shannara’s fantasy world is set in our “future” instead of our “past” (which is the usual of most fantasy settings).  After a nuclear holocaust caused by a “Great War”, humans mutated into traditional fantasy races like Men, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls; and Elves revealed themselves after being in hiding for a long time.  Technology has been wiped out (though computers and robots are featured later on the series) but magic is rediscovered.               

8.) The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Also known as the Heir to the Empire Trilogy (after the title of the first book), the Thrawn Trilogy is considered by many (me included) as one of the greatest tales from Star Wars’ Expanded Universe (EU).  Since it’s a Star Wars story, it automatically falls into the science fantasy category because of the presence such mystical things as “The Force” in this fictional universe. 

The Thrawn Trilogy, starting with “Heir to the Empire”, follows the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  It continues the story of Luke, Lea, and Han as they aid the struggling New Republic in becoming a stable government as well as deal with the remnants of the Empire. 

Though the Thrawn trilogy, along with other EU properties, is now officially declared non-canon (in the aftermath of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm), it is nonetheless a very delightful story, as it accurately captures the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy and really felt like a rightful continuation.  In addition to that, the trilogy also introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn – hence, the name of the trilogy – who is arguably the greatest Star Wars villain after Darth Vader.
   
7.) His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

 
Despite its atheistic themes, His Dark Materials is a fascinating work of fantasy which involves witches, talking polar bears, and “dæmons” (the “souls” of humans embodied in animal form).  But the story also feature science fiction tropes like steam punk machines, multiple universes, and conscious particles called “Dust” (supposedly likened to Dark Matter, but in the story, it served as the basic, common composition of all energy and matter in the multiverse). 

The story focuses on Lyra Belacqua and her friends and allies, as they travel across different parallel worlds to learn more about “Dust” and save the multiverse from doom.  Along the way, Lyra is being pursued by agents of the tyrannical Church, which desires to kill her.  Meanwhile, her father, Lord Asriel, has amassed a massive coalition of various armies from across the multiverse to challenge the Kingdom of the Authority.

6.) Dune by Frank Herbert

 
Dune tells the story of Paul Atreidas, who grew up to become the enigmatic Muda’Dib, avenge the treacherous plot that was done on his family, and reclaim control of the planet that is rightfully his.  It is one of the most important science fiction works ever, but it was only recently that I got the chance to read it, so I wasn’t able to consider it for my top 10 science fiction books list.  That’s why I’m now giving it a slot here.  

Dune is considered by most as science fiction (while Dragonriders of Pern, which is part of my top 10 science fiction books, is actually considered by many as a solid example of a science fantasy.  So, if you want, we can just pretend that these two switch lists) but, nonetheless, I can find some fantasy elements in it, particularly Paul’s superhuman power of  being able to see past (by accessing his ancestors’ memories), present, and future at will.    

5.) Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer

 
I encountered both Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter at the same time, when I was in my Grade 6.  But though Harry Potter turned out to become more popular, it was Artemis Fowl who won in my heart.  I loved the premise of a boy criminal mastermind who initially was an adversary to the Fairy People – outsmarting and defeating them for the first time – but developed into an ally and friend later on.  In the AF universe, the Fairy People utilize not only magic, but high-tech gadgetries as well – making this series a product of science fantasy.   

4.) Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (illustrator)

 
Described as a mix of Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet, and Game Thrones, this ongoing comic book series from Image Comics is my most favorite comic book of 2014.  It’s definitely one of the greatest science fantasy stories I’ve ever encountered.  

Saga tells the delightful story of Alana and Marko, lovers who respectively came from the planet Landfall (technologically-advance race) and its moon, Wreath (magic-wielding race) – two opposing sides in an interplanetary war that has been going on for a long time.  

3.) The Stand by Stephen King

 
It starts with the makings of a classic apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic tale.  An extremely deadly bio-weapon called “Captain Tripps” was accidentally released to the world which wiped out around 99% of the world’s population.  Then, in the second part of the story, fantasy came into play as the few human survivors were supernaturally drawn towards two destinations.  The first group, which was made up of the good guys, were led by a common dream to seek the 108-year old woman, “Mother Abagail”, and with her leadership, they established a community in Colorado which they named “Free Zone.”  On the other hand, the bad guys assembled in Las Vegas, under the evil magician Randal Flagg (a recurring villain in several Stephen King books).  Inevitably, the two groups would clash, and it’s up to a small group of Free Zoners to stop Flagg and his army.   

2.) The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis

 
The Space Trilogy is C.S. Lewis’ attempt on science fiction.  However, it’s much apparent that he’s more of a fantasy person as he opted to put a lot of fantasy themes in it, especially in the last book, That Hideous Strength.  It mostly involved the character Dr. Ransom’s travels to other planets (Mars or Malacandra in the first book, Venus or Perelandra in the second book) of the solar system which are actually inhabited worlds.  As far as profound and brilliant Christian themes and analogies are concerned, The Space Trilogy is as rich as Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters

1.) The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

 

The tale of the quest of Ronald Deschain and his ka-tet towards the Dark Tower is, in my opinion, Stephen King in his zenith.  The Dark Tower series is one of the greatest pieces of literature I’ve ever read.  King pulled off making a grand epic by combining themes from various genres – like science fiction, fantasy, horror, Western, Arthurian romance, and others – as well as incorporating elements from his other writings (like The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, and Insomnia) and even himself into it.  It’s so gripping and dynamic that it’s as if the nature of what makes it compelling is as metaphysical and magical as the tale itself.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To Love is "More than Words"

It has been more than three years since I last shared in front of everybody on our church's Wednesday service.  And this is my first time to share as a cell group leader (since during the past two years of leading my own cell group, as part of their training, I assigned my cell members to do the sharing whenever it's our cell group's turn to share.  Now that all the [regular] members have shared already, it's now my time to do it)...       

(RE: John 13:31-38)

One of my favorite songs is entitled “More than Words” which states that merely saying “I love you” is not at all an absolute confirmation of the authenticity of one’s love.  There is also the saying, “Love is a verb.”  It means that love is something that requires actions. 

In our passage, Jesus commands us to love each other.  And according to verse 34, the love that we show has to be the same kind of love that Jesus has shown us.  And Jesus’ kind of love is packed with substantial self-denying actions.  This is the kind of love that made him willingly humble himself to wash the feet of his disciples.  And this is the kind of love that made him willingly lay his life on the cross for us. 

Therefore – just like what the song “More than Words” stated – there is more to loving our brethren than just saying to them “I love you in the Lord” whenever we congregate.  We should show it through Christ-like action, also.  There should be willingness to serve, to be deferent, and to sacrifice with glad hearts.  We should be ready to give up our privilege, resources, or convenience to show the love of Jesus Christ.  And this love even extends to the point we should be ready to lay our lives for each other.  Just like Jesus.     

Now, carrying out this command to love each other in such a way that Jesus showed is incredibly difficult, if not virtually impossible – especially if the mandated recipient of our love is “unlovable.”  That’s why to carry out Christ-like deeds, we definitely need Christ-like motivations.  Where did Jesus draw his strength to love the unlovable?  The glory of God (verse 31 and 32)!   Jesus knew that the glory of God is supremely worth every sacrifice and every labor.  Jesus loves his Father and His glory, and Jesus loves glorifying His Father.    

In the same way, the only we can truly carry out Christ’s command to love – or any of His commands for that matter – is if we also supremely love and value Jesus Christ.  That He is a Superior Treasure that is worth giving up everything in this world.  And, thus, for Jesus’ sake, we will love others as He loved us – willing to deny any personal benefits, comforts, and advantages for others.  Jesus is infinitely worth it.  And through our loving actions, others can also see and experience this truth.        

So, basically, the key for us to be able to love our neighbors as ourselves is to first love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind.  Before we can sincerely tell others, “I love you in the Lord”, we should be able to sincerely say, “I love you, Lord.”  Furthermore, we can also logically conclude that the extent of how we carry out the commandment of loving others is directly proportional to the state of our love-relationship with God.  Our love for God is reflected on how we demonstrate our love for others. 

But, personally, when I evaluate myself of the times I say “I love you, Lord” or “I love you in the Lord” – of how substantial or shallow my words really are – I feel like Peter who declared, “I will lay down my life for you” (verse 37) but when action was required of him succumbed to denying Jesus three times.  My hypocrisy distresses and appalls me. 

But I’m comforted of the fact that Jesus grants repentance and restoration.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Peter was transformed into a resolute, courageous apostle of Christ – used by God to considerably spread the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension.  And when the time came that it was required for Peter to lay down his life, he truly did, as legend tells us that Peter was crucified upside down (by his refusal to be crucified the same way as his Savior, since he felt unworthy to be so) for his faith.  There is truly redemption in Jesus Christ, and for that, I’m eternally thankful.       

As application, I ask forgiveness for my hypocrisy, idolatry, selfishness, and lack of love.  And I thank God for his promises of granting anything I ask that will ensure my joy in His glory.  Thus, I ask the Holy Spirit to truly renew my nature so that I can totally love and value God above everything else, and, as a result, I can also be able to have genuine, Christ-like love for others.       

Thank you and to God be the glory.