Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chain of Thoughts: I'm a Bit Upset That 'Secret Wars' is Looking to Be Another 'New 52'



To be fair with Marvel, details are still not definite at this point, and it might not turn out to be too “New 52.”  Still, I’m a bit upset, for a couple of reasons:
  • There were some cool things about it, but in general, I really hated DC’s “New 52” reboot.  So with what seems to me Marvel’s attempt to “New 52” its own multiverse, it gives me unfavorable vibes. 
  • In connection to the previous bullet, I hate the commercial aspect of it.  Is Marvel trying to replicate DC’s commercial success (though brief)?  In fact, it was also announced – in an apparent cash-grab tactic – that Marvel is partnering with Hasbro, Funko, Upperdeck, and others for merchandising tie-ins.  I have no problem with Marvel thinking of ways of making more money, but, to me, it feels like all of this is being done principally out of making money from the hype, with the creative and sensibility aspects not being thoroughly considered.  It’s infinitely worse than NOW!-ing everything.   
  • Speaking of NOW!, I find it a lack of forethought in conducting significant and innovative status quo changes with Avengers NOW! when everything is going to be reset and changed again anyway by a subsequent reality-altering mega event.               
  • One of Marvel’s edges through the years over DC is being able to figure out a way to keep its main universe’s continuity existent and compressed.  Hence, in Marvel’s main universe (Earth-616), no matter what is the “today”, all the things that happened from issue number one to the present issue – regardless of how many years it took in real time – have occurred within a ten to fifteen year period.  Though not perfect, it satisfies every Marvel fan, and – compared to DC’s confusing pre-“New 52” continuity (try researching for Hawkman’s history) – it makes the history of the Marvel Universe comfortably neat.
  • The Ultimate Universe used to be awesome.  Then Ultimatum happened.  From then on – with some rare worthwhile instances (like what was done in Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates; I really liked this series) – the Ultimate Universe became garbage.  Cancellation of the Ultimate Universe is long overdue; the opportunity to send off Earth-1610 with a bang has passed already.  Doing it now in “Secret Wars”, with an attempt to salvage some of its facets, makes it pretty anticlimactic and seemingly desperate.   
  • From Marvel EIC Axel Alonso: “The Ultimate Universe, the Marvel Universe, they're going to slap together. Imagine two pizzas: They're going to combine toppings, some toppings are going to drop off. And that is the Marvel Universe moving forward. It's more than the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, it's all the universes you can imagine. That is the Marvel Universe going forward.”  Interesting analogy.  But it’s very likely that I will find some “toppings” dropped off from Earth-616 worth lamenting and griping about.  And, seriously, post-Ultimatum and post-Cataclysm, with the exception of Miles Morales, there are no “toppings” worth saving from Earth-1610.  However, I admit that I find it intriguing what “toppings” from the multiverse will become part of this new Marvel Universe.  By the way, will the “Earth-616” numbering of this new Marvel Universe be retained?    
  • Spider-Verse is pretty awesome.  And it’s looking like Secret Wars – with different versions of Marvel characters from different universes instead of just Spider-Men – is merely a bigger version of it.  It’s not really a major nitpick.  But looking at it this way, some of the novelty of the premise of Secret Wars is lessened.
  • The train of teasers back in 2014 on Secret Wars, which mostly alluded to notable Marvel events, are revealed to be new comic book series titles that will spin-off from Secret Wars.   More titles and details are to be announced in the next two weeks.  So far, the upcoming series (based on the teasers) then are going to be Civil War, Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies, Years of Future Past, Planet Hulk, Armor Wars, House of M, The Infinity Gauntlet, Old Man Logan, Inhumans Attilan Rising, The End (which appear to be all about the Ultimate Universe’s end), Age of Apocalypse, Future Imperfect, The Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows (which I hope would truly bring Pete and MJ back together), Avengers vs. X-Men, and X-Men ’92 (based on the beloved animated series classic).
  • I’ll probably follow-up on this after two weeks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'Justice League: Throne of Atlantis' is the Least of All 'Justice League' Animated Movies So Far



At its core, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is simply an attempt to introduce Aquaman to this animated universe since he was set aside for Shazam in Justice League: War (in the comics’ New 52 – in which this new DC animated universe is based on – the original seventh member of the initial Justice League line-up was Aquaman and not Shazam); the whole story merely served as the vessel and padding for it.  The movie also established the romance between Superman and Wonder Woman.  And aside from these two details, I find nothing appreciably special about the movie.  The overall narrative just feels so generic – it’s as if I’ve already seen this kind of story too many times before.  

I have a couple of nitpicks with JL: War, but I still found it better than JL: Throne of Atlantis.  The former has been more action-packed and had better character moments – both in quality and quantity.  In fact, if I’m going to rank all Justice League animated movies so far, JL: Throne of Atlantis is at the bottom (for the record, JL: New Frontier is still my most favorite). 

However, this is still the Justice League we are talking about, and the characters – and the team in general – is worth being excited about.  Watching all these superheroes interact is always worthwhile.  Heck, I would probably still watch a Justice League animated movie even if it’s just them hanging out in a cafĂ©, trading banters and wisecracks for one hour.  Thus, JL: Throne of Atlantis is still entertaining enough, but only because it’s a film featuring the Justice League.      

Still, I consider this new Justice League universe a work in process, and I’m very much willing to give it more time to develop.    


Miscellaneous musings (some spoilers):
  • Considering that they lacked chemistry in JL: War, I was hoping that the heroes would have already “warmed up” by now.  At the end of the movie, the Justice League is just only about to undergo the process of, as Batman puts it, “solidifying this team.”  But, once again, I’m willing to give time for improvement, including team dynamic.  Hopefully, by the next movie, they would truly be a perfectly compelling and thrilling team. 
  • If all this actually leads to Lex Luthor joining the Justice League, as with the comics, then this “New 52” inspired DC animated universe might turn out to be a brilliant idea after all.   
  • I understand that the DC animated features are more adult-oriented now.  But I still cringe whenever some expletives are spoken.  This is probably just the guy in me who considers the Timmverse, kid-friendly Justice League animated series as the definite animated take of the Justice League.   
  • Though it seemed that he was underused here compared to other JL movies, Batman was still awesome in every second he was in.
  • The thing I liked most about JL: Throne of Atlantis is Nathan Fillion returning to voice Hal Jordan/Green Lantern.  I had hated the A-hole Green Lantern in JL: War (voiced by Justin Kirk).  I don’t know if it’s just an illusion because I adore Fillion or if Fillion is genuinely just that perfect with the role, but it empathically felt like Green Lantern was suddenly perked up with charm and personality just because Fillion voiced him in this movie.
  • Green Lantern’s vacuum “cleaner-mecha” construct is definitely inspired.  Two thumbs up. 
  • Strange that Mera has been given more moments to be a badass than Wonder friggin’ Woman
  • John Henry Irons a.k.a. Steel had a cameo.  I consider it a “cameo” instead of an “introduction” since, as far as this animated universe is concerned, I doubt that Steel is going to be featured further and become part of the Justice League in the future.  Cyborg makes Steel redundant.      
  • The best moment of the movie is probably the part where Aquaman summoned a great white shark to devour Black Manta – Deep Blue Sea-style.  It was simultaneously hilarious and badass.  I never followed the New 52 Aquaman comics (where he has been redefined as a badass superhero after years of being ridiculed by comic book fans), but I know that the sequence was a reference to a similar moment in the comics.       
  • Was there really a need for Ocean Master to kick every Leaguer’s butt so that Aquaman can be brought to a position to shine by being the one beating him?  Boo.  I know that this movie is Aquaman-centric, but still, I didn’t like it at all.  Felt too indulgent – the dumb kind.
  • I’m tired of the idiocy of stories allowing underwater conversation through actual oral communication.  Unless the mechanics are explained, I always find it a distracting plot hole.    
  • I applaud DC for continually kicking Marvel’s butt in the direct-to-video animated features category.  I still can’t believe that, up until now, Marvel still hasn’t figure out how to fight back.  They have plenty of good materials to adapt – but they don’t.  Marvel has more success and know-how in universe-building (as proven by its shared cinematic universe) but they aren’t applying it on animated features.  I’m just baffled.        
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us is one of the most awesome comic book series right now.  And it’s the storyline/universe that I really wish DC would adapt next into an animated movie series. 
  • Next from DC Universe Animated Original Movies this year: Batman vs. Robin.  Can’t wait. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Chain of Thoughts: 2014 Highlights


Time for another late annual recap.  I will just copy last year’s format.

How I will remember 2014 for:
→ The expression “Boom panes!”
→ I could hear John Legend’s “All of Me” everywhere. 
→ ALS Bucket Challenge.  I didn’t find it fun at all.  Still, I hope it did indeed raise money for that cause though.
→ Loombands.  Now, that was a fad that died pretty quick.
This was a unique and ironic game because whoever plays this game will surely be frustrated by it but won't be able to stop playing.
→ Speaking of fads, there was the widespread addiction on Flappy Birds.  Personally, I didn’t get to play this app game, thankfully.  I did play Zombie Tsunami for a while though.   
→ Oh, and speaking of app games, if I had avoided Candy Crush in 2013 because of its addictiveness, it was in the summer of 2014 that I got to be briefly hooked on it. 
→ Tech support ended for Windows XP.  My five-year old netbook is still on XP. 
→ Speaking of my netbook, in early December, its monitor gave out; the damage was unfixable.  To still use it, I had to remove its monitor and attach a desktop monitor on it.  Fun set up actually.  Anyway, I now seldom use it now since my father gave me his laptop (Thank you so much, Papa!).                
→ The number of TV series titles I’m following significantly bloated in 2014.      
→ I re-discovered the awesomeness of file sharing.  I probably obtained nearly a terabyte worth of games, comics, movies, and TV shows from it.  (One of the probable reasons why I got into – as well as rewatched – a lot of TV series in 2014.)
→ At year end, I had 15 books in “The Pile” – books I bought which I haven’t finished or started reading yet. 
→ I had two trips this year.  In March, we had a mission trip to a leper community in Quezon.   Then in May, we participated in a Youth Camp in Cavite. 
→ I became back-to-back Bible Quiz champion in our church.  It was an awesome feel-good experience.  Best of all, the first prize was a tablet. 
→ I’m not much of an enthusiastic techie, and with a netbook and a smartphone, I found no use with the tab at all for a couple of months.  But then, I realized I could now play Plants vs. Zombies 2 because I now have a tab.  I remembered that I’ve always wanted to play this game ever since its release but wasn’t able to because I had no smartphone or tab.  Later in the year, I would also discover the special delight found in the practicality of an e-book.  So, thanks to the tab, 2014 was the year I finally got into e-book reading.
→ I passed the LET.  Yay
→ I had the silver anniversary of my journey towards Eternity (or I had my 25th birthday, if you didn’t get that).
→ I actually only learned for the first time that the 1989 Batman movie was released in June 23 – the same date I was born!  (Aside from the movie’s silver anniversary, in 2014, it was also the 75th anniversary of Batman’s first comic book appearance.)
No big deal, really.  Still, it felt kind of awesome sharing the same birthday with the Batman movie.
→ There were a lot of terrific comic book happenings, but probably the most exciting were the return of Peter Parker and the epic “Spider-Verse” event (which I urge Sony to adapt this into film).
→ In manga, Naruto and Kuroko No Basuke ended.  Both aren’t particularly exciting finales.  I’ve already grown tired of Naruto, but out of nerdy obligations, I still saw it through till the end.  And the finale of Kuroko No Basuke had been disappointingly bland and underwhelming.  Hunter X Hunter, after years of hiatus, finally picked the story again, but after a few chapters, went on another indefinite hiatus.  Boo. 
→ After years of providing our province’s electric needs, ALECO (Albay Electric Cooperative) had been taken over by San Miguel Corporation.  It was renamed APEC (Albay Power Energy Corporation), and, I think, for the first time in history, a private company now controls the power in the province of Albay.  During its first year of operation, APEC had earned the ire of the Albayanos.  Throughout most of the year, parts of the province had been plagued by infuriating sets of brownouts due to APEC’s incompetent management; rumored sabotaging by unhappy laid-off employees of ALECO (that has been fired due to their connections with its corrupt administration); presumed maintenance of its electric distributing system (and, maybe, even some overhauls); and, simply, the lack of power supply (the country will be facing a power crisis this 2015).  There was even a lengthy time during May – which had an awfully hot weather – when we didn’t have electricity for several days because APEC wasn’t able to promptly replace the broken components of a substation.  APEC was incapable of solving the crisis at hand by themselves, and it had to take the active help of our provincial governor for it to be addressed.  And despite of all their faults, they had the gall to overcharge their clients.  All of these exasperating things about APEC prompted me to coin the hashtag #APECfail (a pun for “epic fail”, get it?).          
→ Typhoon Glenda hit my hometown in July.  It was a legit destructive typhoon.  There were a lot of damages.  It even brought down my alma mater’s “Centennial Tree” – an iconic acacia tree that had been more than a hundred years old – which was able to withstand even the infamous “Reming” back in ’06, hence, I was a bit shocked when I learned that it was finally felled by a lesser storm.  Post-Glenda, I was actually expecting that we wouldn’t have electricity for about a month minimum.  But I was delightfully surprised (considering APEC’s problems) that it only took five days.  It was God’s grace, since, in many parts of the city and province, it took several weeks – and even months – before they got their power back.   
→ We were, however, spared from Typhoon Ruby in early December, ensuring an enjoyable Christmas since there would be electricity then.
→ There were some noteworthy airplane crashes.  But the most intriguing was definitely the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) back in March 2014.  In the middle of its scheduled flight from Malaysia to China, less than an hour after its takeoff, the plane disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens.  Up until now, nobody knows what happened – whether it was hijacked, or crashed, or whatever.  It just… vanished.  And despite a multinational investigation and the largest and most expensive search-and-recovery venture in aviation history, there is still no answer – its disappearance still wrapped in Amelia Earheart-scale mystery.  Hence, it was inevitable for this to become another subject that conspiracy theorists can eagerly offer insights on.
→ Aside from the missing MH370, the most notable tragedies this year were the sinking of a South Korean ferry which took 304 lives – mostly students; the Ebola epidemic in West Africa; ISIS terrorizing in Syria and Iraq (in a related matter, I learned that the UN actually put hacks like Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha in charge of their peacekeeping forces… just sayin’); and Kim Kardashian’s terrifying butt-naked pictorial.
→ Robin Williams passed away.  Well, there were a couple of prominent celebrities that died in 2014.  But Williams’ was probably the only thing that mattered to me.
Goodbye, Genie.  Be free.  (sniff)
→ “The Sony Hacks.”  Sony experienced several attacks by hackers named “Guardians of Peace” (GOP).  GOP released in the Internet several secret and critical information regarding Sony’s upcoming projects as well as copies of some unreleased movies.  Then, later, it was revealed that the likely suspect behind the attacks was North Korea because of their displeasure with “The Interview” – Sony’s comedy movie that ridiculed NoKor dictator, Kim Jong-un.  There were threats that a terrorist attack of “9/11” proportions would happen if Sony released the movie.  To my astonishment, despite Fed reports that such threats are unfounded, Sony actually folded and decided not to release the movie (eventually, Sony opted to release the movie but online).  This was really worth noting and being perplexed about since it’s the first time this happened.  Jimmy Kimmel reacted: "An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent."  I totally agree. If it worked this time, it will definitely be tried again and again! What's stopping the bad guys from moving on and anonymously targeting another movie they don't like? 
→ In probably the most epic casting news ever, Marvel hired the awesome Benedict Cumberbatch to play Dr. Strange!  I’m just crazy for Cumberbatch right now.  The man is extremely talented and charming.  2014 was the year he jumped past Nathan Fillion as my most favorite actor.
→ Warner Bros./DC revealed how Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman will look like.
She hasn't won me over yet.  But at least she bulked up.
→ In one of the most idiotic things in, well, ever, Hello Kitty is officially revealed to be actually NOT a cat but a little girl.  Wait, what?             
→ In relation to their involvement with Janet Lim Napoles and the “pork barrel scam”, senators Revilla, Jinggoy, and Enrile were sent to jail.  Prior to getting jailed, in an attempt to win public sympathy, Revilla did some of the most absurd, hilarious, and shameless gimmicks in the already ridiculous history of Philippine politics.     
→ Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s political enemies in the Senate unearthed some of his dark (no pun intended) secrets when he was still the mayor of Makati City.  The senators had actually provided some compelling accusations, and Binay, in return, didn’t provide a compelling defense at all.  He did challenge Sen. Trillanes to a televised debate, but backed down when the senator accepted (Binay was probably bluffing and didn’t expect Trillanes to bite).
One of the strongest arguments that support the senators’ accusations that surfaced in Facebook is this simple infographic that compares the cost of building the Makati City Hall 2 vs. the building of London’s City Hall. 
→ This year’s hottest government corruption scandal (this is like an annual thing already) is tied between Binay and the discovery that crime lords incarcerated in New Bilibid Prison are living luxuriously like, well, crime lords.  They have first-class accommodations, drugs, money, stripper bars, and Jacuzzis.  And one named Herbert Colanga was even able to nurture a musical career while in prison – and actually found success!    
→ Everyone’s favorite senator, Miriam Defensor Santiago, announced that she has cancer.  Despite of this, she still remained the most entertaining and most prolific senator in the Senate.   
→ Back in August, an MRT train got derailed and rammed into a concrete barrier in which around 36 passengers got injured.  This accident renewed attention on the horrible conditions of MRT.  And while I lamented on the fact that the Philippines still doesn’t have a modern rail system yet, MRT management and DOTC just pointed fingers at each other in whose fault it was.
→ The Philippines filed a case against China in the world court regarding the latter’s invasion of the former’s Scarborough Shoal – and beyond.  The Philippines has a strong case against China, but I’m a bit skeptical that anything will really come out of it.  If China is proven in the wrong (which is quite apparent), I doubt the United Nations will really actively enforce the ruling.  Remember Iraq?  Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, had continually violated UN treaties, but the UN never really made any move – only the US did.
China is still pretending that they lack common sense. 
→ What’s great: Pacquiao earned wins over Timothy Bradley and Chris Algieri in 2014.  What’s not-so-great: he became a coach-player in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
→ After a 27-game losing streak in a span of two years, the UP Fighting Maroons won a game during UAAP 77 (which the NU Bulldogs won in dramatic fashion).  The team was celebrated as if they had actually won the championship.  The university threw a bonfire party, there were TV guestings, and the UP Chancellor was even quoted of saying, “We have proven that we excel not just in academics” (lolwut?).  I really found it hilarious.  This win would serve as UP’s only win this season as they finished with a 1-13 record. 
→ Despite being eliminated in the first round and a 1-4 record, Team Gilas Pilipinas had an impressive performance in the FIBA World Cup.  There was a lot of hype and excitement.  Then, the team fell flat in the Asian Games.  To be fair, overall, the Philippines sucked in the 2014 Asian Games (1 gold, 3 silvers, and 11 bronzes. Ugh).
Kobe looks amazing in black.  He's the Black Mamba after all.
→ Kobe Bryant finally got to wear a black jersey in a game!  I’ve always wanted an official black Laker jersey (which only happened during 2013-2014 season) and I’ve always wanted to see Kobe play in such jersey (Kobe only played six games in the 2013-2014 season and never had a chance to wear it); it had been long overdue.  Ok, this seems pretty petty.  But, as a Laker fan, there’s not much to rejoice about in 2014  The Lakers completed their most horrible season in history (and are now undergoing what looks to be a worse one).  Spurs won the championship, now tying the Lakers with the most championships of this era.  In the offseason, Pau left the Lakers.   There was a slim chance that LeBron would choose to go to the Lakers, but he instead went back to the Cavs.  And the most exciting Laker thing I had in 2014 was probably Linsanity joining the Lakers.  That’s just sad.
→ WWE had its historic Wrestlemania 30.  And Undertaker lost his match with Brock Lesnar  – destroying his perfect Wrestlemania record.  In my opinion, Vince McMahon’s  decision to let Lesnar be the one to beat the Undertaker in Wrestlemania was a big mistake. 
→ Hoverboards have not been invented in 2014, so there will still be no prevalence of commercial hoverboards in 2015 as Back to the Future II had predicted (bummer).  However, there are some intriguing developments in cybernetics.  A guy named Les Baugh, who had lost his two arms, received two mind-controlled cybernetic arms!  They’re not yet permanent add-ons, but the researchers are optimistic that such technology would soon be.
2014 could have been the dawn of cyborgs!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top 10 TV Shows of 2014

                
The volume of TV shows I’ve watched and followed in 2014 has dramatically doubled from the previous years’ set.  Hence, with a comfortable pool size, I can now, for the first time, make a top 10 list of my picks for the best TV shows of 2014.

Before I proceed, these are, in no particular order, all the TV shows I’ve watched and followed in 2014 (I’ve mentioned some already in a past post) but didn’t get into the top 10: The Blacklist, Castle, Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, Psych (ended in 2014 after an 8-season run), Almost Human (unfortunately cancelled), Dracula (finished; I believe that it was a mini-series, but the ending was as if there’s a season 2 – there is none), Defiance, The Big Bang Theory, The Legend of Korra (I marathoned this during Christmas break), 24: Live Another Day, and Constantine; while these are the TV shows I gave up on and dropped after watching a few episodes: Gotham, Warehouse 13 and Crossbones.   
 
10.) HAIKYUU!

This anime taught me a lot about volleyball, and this is also my pick as the best anime series of 2014.  I already shared my thoughts on this exciting and fun anime in Haikyuu! Made Volleyball Awesome to Me” – click the link to read the full article.      

9.) MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD

When it started in 2013, AoS had a slow start.  It was almost always deficient of any exciting, notably fun thing.  Only Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson was keeping it afloat.  It felt tedious often, as if I was watching it out of obligation of being a loyal Marvel fan.  Everything felt mediocre during its first dozen episodes or so.  Then in 2014, once it had its tie-in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, AoS immediately became a bona fide intriguing TV series worth watching.  From then on, I was greatly looking forward for the next episode.   And now in its season 2, this show keeps getting stronger and stronger with every episode.       

8.) THE FLASH

When I saw the trailer for this series’ pilot – which already basically gave away its entire plot – I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it.  Then, the pilot was leaked months before its official start.  I found the time and opportunity to watch it… and I was hooked (read more about it in “It’s Official: the Upcoming Flash TV Series is a Must-Watch”).

Grant Gustin’s Peter Parker-esque Barry Allen is the best version of the character ever.  The character’s lovable geek persona just resonates with disarming appeal.  Next to the lead character, Jesse L. Martin’s Detective Joe West and Tom Cavanagh’s Dr. Harrison Wells are also fantastically engrossing characters to watch.     

This show has some problems; the two major things being: a.) lack of chemistry between Barry Allen and Iris West; and b.) suffers cheesy, uninspired writing half of the time.  Nonetheless, the potential of and the good things about this show still outweigh the negative stuff.

The peak of this show, so far, is the “Flash vs. Arrow” episode – the first of two crossover episodes with Arrow – in which the Arrow and the Flash get to fight each other.  Despite the limitations of a TV budget and production parameters, the fight scene blew me away.  It was stunningly terrific. 
    
7.) ARROW

Watching The Flash paved the way for me to watch Arrow for the first time.  I was excited of the prospect of an extensive DC shared TV universe, and I intended to catch up with its flagship series and trace its foundation.  I started with season one and found it entertaining but not as awesome as I was expecting.  But in its second season, however, the kick-assery and narrative improved a lot – I became an invested fan.   It’s not perfect, but I find a lot of awesome stuff about it (along with other current DC TV series, I listed the things I like about it as well as those I don’t in my article evaluating DC’s TV programming).  It’s my hands down choice for best DC TV series right now.         

6.) I HEAR YOUR VOICE

This originally ran in 2013 in Korea, but it only got into Philippine TV in 2014, so I will count this as a 2014 TV show.  I am completely surprised how this Koreanovela has won me over.  I tried watching another Koreanova, Pinocchio, trying if I can replicate the experience I had with I Hear Your VoicePinocchio has the same writer and lead actor as I Hear Your Voice, but the former doesn’t have the same depth and delightfulness as the latter.   I Hear Your Voice is truly special.  Heck, I even compared it with the classic Huckleberry Finn! ––     
  For me, I Hear Your Voice is something like how a certain gentleman valued Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  This gentleman went to Mark Twain and told the author he wished he didn’t read Mark Twain, and was willing give a hundred dollars for it to be so.  His reason?  So he could have again the pleasure of reading Huckleberry Finn for the first time.
  Really.  I found it astonishing that I found myself wishing I haven’t seen the series yet, so I can have the pleasure of watching it for the first time.  I Can Hear Your Voice is that awesome.

5.) BLACK MIRROR – CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

Before this special, I had never been aware of the existence of Black Mirror, a British science fiction anthology series that is very Twilight Zone-esque – hence, extremely fascinating, dark, intriguing, and smart.  I haven’t seen any previous episodes yet (it has, so far, two series – the last one still back in February 2013 – with three episodes each; a total of six episodes before this Christmas special), but I bet that this Christmas special has perfectly defined the overall exceptional quality of Black Mirror.

2014’s Christmas special, entitled “White Christmas”, is a tremendously absorbing three-part tale that featured two terrifying technologies.  First, the capacity of “blocking” people in real-life (just like in Facebook).  Second, “cookies”, a device where one’s thought patterns is extracted and stored, creating a digital copy of the consciousness of that person.  This digital copy is at the mercy of the person that holds the “cookie” and is forced to become a slave of its original/owner.        

4.) DOCTOR WHO

I’ve always been meaning to get into Doctor Who – primarily because I know that the Doctor is one of the most unique and interesting fictional characters ever, and I want to enjoy the character – and it was only this 2014 that I finally get to do so.  When it was announced that the Doctor will undergo another regeneration with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, I decided to finally start getting associated with Doctor Who.  Before the 8th season started, I proceeded to watch its key episodes, especially “Day of the Doctor” (its 50th anniversary special) and “Time of the Doctor” (when Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor regenerates into the Twelfth Doctor).  Just as what I had been suspecting for a long time, Doctor Who indeed turned out to be a show that is truly in accordance with my tastes; I was immediately charmed by the show’s quirky science fiction premise and rich mythology.

3.) TRUE DETECTIVE

My take on it:
  Next to Sherlock, True Detective could turn out as my most favorite TV show for 2014.  It was extremely engaging and thrilling that it was completely hard to turn away from it; I watched all episodes of the first season (pre-downloaded) in one sitting (that has to be something around eight hours straight).
  I’ve noticed that all of the TV shows I currently like and follow have elements of humor in them.  So it was kind of an “odd-man-out” case for the grim True Detective with me.  Despite having a “serious” tone, the show still mightily appealed to me.
  It’s just that there are a lot of things to love about this show.  First of all, it was an intelligent detective-mystery story, and I’ve always loved the genre.  The opening theme was also pretty fine and catchy.  The narrative and dialogue (especially whenever Rust is involved) were completely rich, stimulating, and simply well-written.  But the show’s finest appeal was the strong and captivating performance of its leads, Woody Harrelson and Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey.  The creepy and grim sensibilities also mightily boosted the mysterious charm of the entire tale.  Heck, the mood was gothic enough to provoke many fans to expect that a Lovecraftian, supernatural twist was going to happen.

I wrote the stuff above before I got to see…

2.) ORPHAN BLACK

I love Orphan Black.  I adore Tatiana Maslany.  This show is awesome.  There’s nothing left to say.  Read my full ravings in “I Orphan Black

1.) SHERLOCK

Sherlock is already a lock for one of my most favorite TV series of all time.  If it had been an already finished show, it would have qualified for my “Top 20 TV Series (That Had Already Concluded)” and it would have ranked second there.  Hence, I never had any struggle on what my number one choice would be.  What I wrote before…     
Hands down, Sherlock Series 3 is the greatest thing that came out in TV this year.  At this point, it seems unlikely for any other series to replace this as my favorite TV series this year.  Its Series 3 was just as excellent, intelligent, creative, funny, clever, and pleasurable as the previous two seasons – probably even more so.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman remain fantastic and charming as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.  If I will rate this show out of five stars, I will give it a six.  That’s how much I think highly of Sherlock.
…held true throughout the year.  

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Top 20 Movies of 2014 I've Seen in the Second-Half of the Year (+Top 10 Movies of 2014)


For 2014’s movie list, just like last year, I will be enumerating the top 20 best movies that I’ve seen in the second half of the year – regardless of whether they were released in the first half or second half – and, then, from this list and from my first-half edition list (read that one first), I will pick my top ten movies of the year. 

(And, just like every year, there are a couple of movies that I missed watching that would have likely made the list if I was able to.  These were John Wick, The Imitation Game, Unbroken, and Birdman.)

20.) SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

 
Just like the earlier sequel film of 2014 based on Frank Miller’s work, 300: Rise of an Empire, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For also carried the same visual and narrative theme of its predecessor.  Though I find the tales of the original 2005 film greatly better in general than the ones in A Dame to Kill For, the stories featured here are still gripping enough to keep me invested.  A lot of critics pan this movie, but, for me, though it’s definitely inferior to the first movie, it still possesses the same gritty neo-noir appeal that made the first movie entertaining.  Also, the performances of Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are simply magnetic.       
 
19.) 22 JUMP STREET

This is the funniest movie of 2014.  Really.  Just like before, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill killed it.  The goofy chemistry and genuine comical talent of this duo flawlessly carried the comedy of this movie.  I really applaud and appreciate the fact that this movie relied on legitimately hilarious content in creating laughs, instead of going the “crude debauchery” route (i.e. the humor in the overrated This is the End).  Moreover, the closing sequence of this movie – where it makes fun of itself as a sequel, as well as any potential sequels – was gold!                

18.) THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1

 
It was clear that Mockingjay suffered from being split into two parts.  The movie is as thematically rich and dramatically intense as its predecessors, but the action was lacking.  I like how the movie further explored the power of propaganda through Katniss’ struggles while serving as a propaganda tool.  But, seriously, Katniss only gets to shoot one arrow in this movie?  Yes, she took down that aircraft, which is badass, but I saw that in the trailer already.  With the lack of great, notable action sequences, which the previous two films had in droves, Mockingjay Part 1 ended up being tedious at times and not as fun as I was expecting.

I know that Mockingjay Part 1 will work best when watched back-to-back with Part 2 in 2015.   But by its own, clearly, Mockingjay Part 1 is the least of the franchise so far.           
   
17.) GODZILLA

For some, Godzilla was a disappointment.  And I understand why, for the supposed star of the movie – Godzilla – actually only had 8 minutes of screen time.  Out of the movie’s 2-hour running time, that’s just about 7%!  The griping is justified. 

Nonetheless, for me, the movie was able to successfully utilize the human drama that the narrative mainly focused on to enhance the glory and magnitude of when Godzilla is finally revealed – short time his appearance may be.   How?  The human characters and how the existence and emergence of monsters got to affect their lives served as the audience’s lens – a kind of worm’s eye view to the whole thing.  By witnessing it through the point of view of human beings – who are just small, helpless, irrelevant worms beside such something grand as Godzilla – the movie wants us, the audience, to emphatically grasp that, in this movie’s universe, Godzilla’s emergence transcends human history.   And, I think, the movie pulled it off very well.  Godzilla gets an exhilarating re-telling of his origin, and we were awed by it all. 

16.) HERCULES

I would have loved it more if it’s an actual depiction of Hercules’ mythological adventures, but I appreciate the reinvention done here nonetheless.  In this movie, Hercules is actually a leader of a band of interesting mercenaries (one of which is a female archer that would have made my “top 10 fictional archers” list if I had encountered her then).  He is truly a formidable, strong warrior but his great strength isn’t supernatural at all, and his divine parenthood is actually just a ruse.  Stories of his feats and accomplishments are greatly exaggerated so that his fame and reputation will become more legendary, hence, he and his friends will gain more employment, receive greater rewards and payment, and intimidate future opponents.  

The story isn’t particularly smart or original (in fact, most critics hated this movie), but it’s a very entertaining sword-and-sandal film.  The action is top-notch, and there are some legitimate twists that I was not really expecting.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, given his background and physique, really thrives in such “comic bookish” roles like Hercules; he was a great delight to watch.

15.) AFFLICTED

Afflicted is a “found-footage”-style horror movie done right; it has comprehensibly gorgeous cinematography (considering its genre), thrilling action sequences (especially the stunning first-person action scenes from Derek’s point of view), and genuine scares.  The premise: filmmakers Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, playing fictional versions of themselves, proceeded to go on a year-long travel around the world and make a documentary-vlog about their experiences.  Along the way, Derek hooked up with a girl named Audrey, who left him unconscious and bloodied in his hotel room.  Derek recovered and dismissed the whole incident, but later in their trip, he would discover that he has been dramatically changing into a vampire.                            

14.) GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

I haven’t checked yet, but I bet that the makers of 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom are the same ones that made Grand Budapest Hotel.  The latter simply has the same narrative style, humor, production value, and viewing experience as the former; hence, I got the same enjoyment from Grand Budapest Hotel as I got from Moonrise Kingdom.        

13.) BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM

This is, hands down, the greatest direct-to-video animated movie from DC this year.  Set in the universe of the Batman: Arkham video game franchise, the focus of this film is actually on the Suicide Squad, with Batman serving a supporting role, as they are tasked by Amanda Waller to break in Arkham and extract information from the Riddler.  As expected from such set-up – and with the Joker notably incarcerated in Arkham – chaos ensues, to us viewers’ delight.    

12.) NIGHTCRAWLER

We’ve already seen countless movies that feature a sociopath, but this neo-noir crime thriller was able to deliver a unique sociopath tale.  It’s a dark but enthralling story about a sociopathic thief named Lou Bloom (great performance from Jake Gyllenhaal) that underwent a “career change” after discovering the thrill and money from being a “nightcrawler” – an independent media man that shoots footages of crimes and accidents and then sells them to news agencies.  That may sound like a boring premise at first, but, I assure you, it’s not.  I know, I first thought so, too, but I gave it a shot, and found it a very compelling watch.      

11.) WHIPLASH

 
In this movie, J.K. Simmons magnificently plays a hotheaded, terrorizing jazz maestro who verbally abuses his students at a regular basis (it was revealed later on that he’s that fearfully intense so that he can squeeze the best out of his musicians and hopefully transform them into jazz legends).  Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher, spews insults and scoldings that would make hardened drill sergeants cry; it’s quite entrancing to watch.   Only an actor like Simmons, who got to flawlessly bring J. Jonah Jameson to screen in the Spider-Man franchise, can truly deliver such electrifying performance.        

Oh, Miles Teller’s character is actually the main protagonist of this movie, a drummer who trains under Fletcher and who is determined to win his approval.  But Simmons’ intensity and prime A-holery truly stole the show. 

This movie is also worth watching over because of its music.  “Whiplash” and “Caravan” are pure eargasm.   

10.) 'RUROUNI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO' & 'RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE LEGEND ENDS'

These are, technically, two movies.  But in essence, they are actually just one movie-story split into two parts, and released into two separate dates during the year.  So I evaluated them as if they are just one movie, and allocated a spot for them as if they are just one movie.   

The Rurouni Kenshin movies – including the first one in 2012 – are the greatest live-action adaptations of an anime ever done (as of writing, I haven’t seen the new Lupin III live-action movie yet, and, from the trailer, it looks amazing.  I also have high hopes for the Attack on Titan live-action movie in 2015).  The production value is fantastic – really bringing to life the characters and setting of the anime.  I truly appreciate the movies’ effort to be as authentic and accurate as possible. 

The story from Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends is based from the anime’s arc with Shishio and his Juppongatana.  The movies were, understandably, unable to be faithful to the detail and there were a couple of notable liberties.  However, the theme was generally faithful. (I was, however, disappointed that Cho’s whip-like Hakujin-no-Tachi sword was not featured in his appearance in Kyoto Inferno.) I also noticed some dumb details in the plot – like, why is there a need to ride a boat and get on Shishio’s ironclad to fight the bad guys there, when it’s possible to just pound it with cannons and sink it from shore? – but the positives still overwhelm the negatives.    

The fight scenes were gorgeous – especially the climax in The Legend Ends wherein everybody wanted a piece of Shishio.  Next to The Raid 2, the Rurouni Kenshin movies have the best fight scenes of 2014.         
   
9.) PREDESTINATION

This 2014 Australian movie is to be generally released early this year, but since I’ve seen it in 2014 already, I will consider this for this list.  I won’t give much detail regarding the plot – only that it’s a captivating and clever time traveling tale – for the narrative relied on some twists to blow the viewer away.  I’ll let you have the pleasure of having these twists – and the rest of the story – be unfolded for you.  Now, personally, I was able to easily predict what these twists would be (there were too many clues, actually), but I was still able to enjoy them when they were revealed.  

8.) BEGIN AGAIN

Begin Again is supposed to be a 2013 movie, but it was only seen in film festivals.  It was only released theatrically for mass audience in 2014, so I will consider this a 2014 movie. 

At first, I thought that this was going to be a shallow rom-com flick, but it’s not.  It’s actually a thoughtful musical comedy-drama, and, no, (SPOILERS?) the characters of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley didn’t romantically hook-up at all.  And it’s actually brilliant.  When the narrative seems to be teasing of going there, it just stops itself in a fun way – developing their friendship instead.  It was truly more satisfying than making them a couple.  

The story is about a down-on-his-luck, ex-record label executive (Ruffalo) and a singer-songwriter (Knightley), who recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend/songwriting partner after he became a pop star, as they collaborate into recording an album set in different places around New York City.  And going through this unique recording project – as they bond, share their musical tastes with each other, learn more about themselves, and turn into better individuals – a beautiful story of friendship and music unfolds.      

My favorite part of the movie was when Ruffalo’s character heard Knightley’s character sing for the first time.  It was in a bar, and Knightley’s character, who has just recently been broken-hearted, was invited to sing by a friend that had a set that night.  She was singing an originally composed song of hers while playing an acoustic guitar.  But Ruffalo’s character was revealed to have a special talent: when drunk, he can imagine out how musical instruments will sound like.  So while she was singing, he imagined out an entire band arrangement for the song.  It was awesome.    

7.) INTERSTELLAR

Being a Christopher Nolan movie starring Matthew McConaughey, there was a lot of expectations for this movie.  Personally, it didn’t meet my expectations.  It’s a truly good sci-fi movie, but I was hoping to be blown away, and I wasn’t, really.  Nonetheless, Interstellar is a well-acted, well-directed, thought-provoking, and visually appealing film that possesses the same emotional depth and charm of 2001: A Space Odyssey.         

6.) DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ praiseworthy acting, directing, plot, and visual effects (especially the work on the apes) magnificently worked together to deliver an emotional and intelligent story that considerably improved – and outdid – the original franchise it was based from. 

The story takes place a decade after the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Human civilization has collapsed, and humanity itself is in the brink of extinction.  The ape community that Caesar has started in the woods outside of San Francisco at the end of the first movie is now thriving.  However, tensions are mounting high between the apes and the human survivors living in the ruins of San Francisco.  And despite Caesar’s best efforts of keeping peace, the war between apes and humans is inevitable. 

5.) GONE GIRL

Gone Girl is an intense and absorbing mystery thriller from start to finish.  Set in a small town in the US Midwest, the story is about a man (played by Ben Afleck) suspected of murdering his wife (played by Rosamund Pike) who has gone missing in their 5th anniversary.  In the public eye, the two were having a blissful marriage, but after her disappearance, details slowly unraveled regarding their marital turmoils; evidences start to pile up against the husband.  But did the husband really murder his wife, or was he merely set up?

4.) FURY

This movie, about an American tank crew (their tank is the one nicknamed “Fury”, hence, the title) during the Allied invasion of Germany in WW2, could be the greatest war movie I’ve ever seen since Saving Private Ryan.   The action scenes were grippingly terrific – completely capturing both the awful brutality and stirring animation of war.  The narrative is well-layered, emotionally rich, and dynamic.  These two – the great action and narrative – kept me completely engrossed all throughout the movie.         

There was stellar acting all around – from Brad Pitt to Logan Lerman – making the characters all easy to invest on.  But the surprise is Shia LaBeouf.  He was genuinely fantastic here.  I never liked the man this much ever since his goofy days in Even Stevens.          

3.) THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

The Desolation of Smaug is still my most favorite movie in the trilogy, but The Battle of the Five Armies is nonetheless a pleasurable and satisfying conclusion.  I appreciate the beautiful and intense battle scenes, the strong character moments, and the usual spectacular visuals.  I never had any dull moment at all.               

The Hobbit trilogy isn’t as good as the LOTR trilogy, but I’m glad it happened.  Seriously, I don’t understand the hate on Peter Jackson’s decision to expand The Hobbit into three movies.  It’s not as if the padding done on the story has been sloppy work, nor did it compromise the theme and general plot of its source material.  In fact, the additions of Jackson – despite the needlessness of some details and subplots – have been awesome.  Yes, stretching it was a clear cash-grab tactic.  But, on the other hand, we get to have a delightful, enjoyable piece of epic fantasy three times in the past three years – one for each year.  I, for one, am thankful. 

2.) BIG HERO 6

Big Hero 6’s plot makes an effort to be unpredictable, but, because of this, actually ends up being predictable instead.  Moreover, it feels that this has been meticulously engineered, down to the last detail, to become a perfectly charming, adorable animated movie that would have both critical and commercial success.  And it worked!  Despite being sort of “artificial”, everybody – including yours truly – loved it.   

I believe that Disney will make more animated movies based on Marvel Comics properties (I hope I’m right).  Big Hero 6 has been a great start.  Shared Marvel animated universe, anyone?         

1.) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

I wrote during the first-half that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the “Best. Marvel. Movie. Ever.”  Months later, GotG handily took that title.  (It’s awesome.  Marvel Studios’ movies are getting better and better.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Age of Ultron ends up taking the title from GotG, and then Ant-Man takes the title from AoU, and so on...) Though it doesn’t have the depth and thoughtfulness of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, GotG is still the better film for being a delightfully perfect mix of wackiness, fun, humor, heart, and charm; nostalgic music; remarkable characters; fantastic visuals; engaging action; and an exciting, light-hearted comic book narrative.    

Back in February 2014, I already called for it being terrific:  
Guardians of the Galaxy could likely turn out to be Marvel Studios’ greatest hit.  I’m not just optimistic about it, I’ll even dare say that GotG could even become a bigger thing than Star Trek and Star Wars
The potential is there… I’m predicting that it’s going to be bizarre, dynamic, funny, action-packed, and thrilling.
It’s almost scary how accurate I was.  Okay, it’s probably not yet close of becoming a bigger thing than Star Trek and Star Wars.  But I believe that GotG has brought the same sense of awed enjoyability as these two.   Nonetheless, Guardians of the Galaxy, for me, is the greatest thing that ever came out of the big screen in 2014.  

*   *   *
TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2014

10.) THE RAID 2: BERANDAL
9.) GONE GIRL
8.) VERONICA MARS
7.) FURY
6.) THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
5.) THE LEGO MOVIE
4.) BIG HERO 6
3.) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
2.) HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
1.) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY