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Guardians of the Galaxy

August 17, 2014

What seems to be an odd choice by Marvel Studios to follow up with their blockbuster “The Avengers” is proving to be a thrill ride. Marvel has tapped its long history and aree mining gems of stories that are continuing to be popular. While it would be nice to have tent pole titles like the “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Spider-man” folded back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the success of the Marvel movies would not be possible without them.

It has given Marvel the means to take stories that many of us comic book fans grew up on and bring them to life. None of these movies were disappointing, as they breathe life to great characters.

For “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it expands the Marvel Universe to cover the world outside, where Thanos, the Chitauri, and other alienraces reside. It serves as a bridge to “The Avengers” and the ever growing continuity that the films share.

The film starts off with a young Peter Quill who witnesses the death of his mother due to cancer. His favorite belonging is a mixtape of his mother’s favorite music that she grew up with. Upon her passing, in anguish, he runs out of the hospital, and is suddenly kidnapped by aliens.

Over twenty years later, we find Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) grown up and now part of the organization that kidnapped him, The Ravagers. He is seekinng an orb as part of his treasure hunting day job. He finds the orb he was hired to retrieve in an ancient ruin of a city. He is nearly stopped by Ronan the Accusor’s men. Ronan (Lee Pace) is trying to track down this artifact for Thanos (an uncredited Josh Brolin) who is secretly collecting these artifacts for his purposes. He sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb.

Quill, who is trying to sell the orb to his employer, is also hounded by his father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker) who have been ate each other’s throats for some time. The sale does not go well,m as Gamora tries to take the Orb, while Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) had followed him and plan on taking Quill as bounty, put on by Yondu.

The whole capture ends up in a fiasco, and they get sentenced by the Nova Corps to the Kyln prison. Here their paths cross with convicted killer Drax (Dave Bautisa) who wants to use Gamora as bait to strike back at Ronan the Accusor for the death of his family and homeworld.

The group finally hatch a plan to escape and retrieve the orb to be sold to another buyer- Tanelee Tivan the Collector. The daring escape takes the group to Knowhere, the remaining head of one of the Celestials, an ancient being of the universe, where the skull had become a mine and home to many thieves and pirates. Herre the Collector had taken refuge with his vast collection,

Here it was revealed what was in the orb that was so important. It was one of the Infinity Gems that had immense power, used in ancient times to destroy worlds.

Upon learning where the Infinity Gem was, no thanks to Drax, Ronan retrieves the stone and infuses its power into his hammer. He then sets off to destroy Xandar, having been their mortal enemy- he blames them for the destruction of his people.

Having lost to Ronan, Quill sets off with Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and the Ravagers to go and stop Ronan, setting aside their persoanl issues and to something for the greater good. He managrs to unite this band of misfits to go after Ronan and stop his plans.

This film taps into the parts where we only got some ideas from about life in other parts of the galaxy, which was hinted at by “Thor” and “The Avengers.” It gives us a “Star Wars”/”Flash Gordon” like adventures with relatively unknown characters that are anything but two dimensional. This harkens back a bit to those grand space operas with just the right amount of drama, camp, and pathos to drive the story along.

The characters have scarred backgrounds that drive the to what they are. They choose to rise above that and face their enemies. They still do this while keeping their rogue elements. There is a lot of room for characters to grow and be defined, with more villainy and adventures to come. This overall is an entertaining, action-packed romp that leaves us wanting more.

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The Lone Ranger

May 11, 2014

Westerns are not everyone’s forte. I am not that big of a western fan, although there have been many well crafted western movies out there. Many of them are clever and aren’t cliched or stereotypical. I like the classics as well as some of the modern ones that weave a good story around great acting.

I happened to watch The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer recently and found to to be a charming but flawed western. I like the idea of bringing some heavy back story for the lead characters. I thought it was a very ambitious attempt to make both characters likable, flawed, human characters.

The story is a nice variation of the Lone Ranger’s origin story of how he was left for dead and swore revenge for the death of his brother, a captain of the legendary Texas Rangers. It makes John Reid (a underrated Armie Hammer) not an actual cowboy himself, but a city lawyer.

His path crosses Tonto (a hammy Johnny Depp) when Reid is deputized as a Texas Ranger to help bring in the notorious Butch Cavendish (screen stealer and unrecognizable William Fichtner) and his men. Led by John’s older brother Dan Reid, they had set off in pursuit of him when they were betrayed by one of their own and taken down by Cavendish. The monstrous Cavendish kills Dan Reid and eats his heart. John and the others are left for dead.

Tonto finds and buries the men, but discovers that John is alive and believes he is a ‘spirit walker’ who was sent to stop Cavendish, who Tonto believes is the wendigo, an evil flesh eating spirit in the guise of a human.

Tonto begins to guide John with solving the reason behind his brother’s death. It somehow has ties to the expansion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and a cursed silver rock. As the story unfolds, it is shown what Cavendish has been up to, impersonating indians and raiding frontier outposts. This brings in a corrupt calvary Captain Jay Fuller (Barry Pepper) who uses his influence to conduct raids on Indian villages and use these tribes as scapegoats to what was really happening.

One of their leads takes the pair to a brothel where they meet Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter) who reveals some of the clues behind the conspiracy at work. It has something to do with accursed silver rock and the expansion of the railroad.

In further pursuit of their leads, the pair are captured by a Comanche tribe. We are introduced to Tonto’s backstory, being a youth who traded the silver rock and the source to a pair of men, one being Cavendish. These two men proceeded to annihilate Tonto’s tribe to help keep that secret. Now an outcast of his own people, Tonto seeks redemption by stopping these men.

John and Tonto escape their captivity as Captain Fuller and his men decimate the tribe. They find Cavendish at the silver mine, but John decides to capture Cavendish instead of killing them. When he brings him to Captain Fuller, he is betrayed and we learn that the man behind this is Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson-love his villains).

John is set to be killed by Cavendish and his men, but is saved by Tonto. John’s sister-in-law and her son Danny are held hostage. Having no other alternatives, John escapes the his captors with the aid of Tonto, and resolves to stop Cole and Cavendish from taking control of the railroadand using thier stockpile of silver to finance their criminal activities.

This leads an all out assault on the day of the joining of the Transcontinental Railway. It is a high speed chase by horseback and by train as John and Tonto stop the men from taking over the railway and gettingaway with murder.

I found a lot of this movie to be fun and exciting. There are some off-putting moments that I think that derailed (get it?) the story. I thought the villainy was quite apt for this movie- it was what drove Tonto to be shunned by his people. I think if he were to be betrayed as a little darker and edgier, he would be a much more interesting character.

There is some light-heartyed spots in the film that just plays out weird. I did not like the cuts to the present as the aged Tonto tells his story. While I like the story in general, that bit of disruption just stops the movie for me. It works with “The Princess Bride,” as you are being told a story within the movie and you are part of it. That bit of narrative is disjointing to me.

Johnny Depp is a terrific actor, but I think his Tonto should have been more of an edgier, unpredictable sort. Armie Hammer is a striking leading man in this feature, but plays a little too much of second fiddle to Depp’s Tonto. Their balance is off as a hero and sidekick go.

The villains of the movie are slick and dangerrous- both Wilkinson and Fitchner are scene stealers, slowly burninng up their screen time with nuanced performances.

I think this interrpretattion of “The Lone Ranger” had the potential to bring this classic hero tomodern times. It just lacks that urgency to stop the villains schemes and needs a little more drama for the characters to bear. It just falls short of being that blockbuster film.

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Nausicaa 0f the Valley of Wind

May 4, 2014

I had been a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s work since first being introduced to it back in the late 1980’s, having seen “Castle in the Sky: Laputa” when it first came to the US and finding his manga in my comic book shop. “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” is a powerful cautionary tale of ecology and the human condition. It dives deeply into philosophy and what it is to be human as well as how we affect our environments.

The animated feature of “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind,” is more of an encapsulated version of this, delving into the issues of war, and fighting for the right reasons. It too shares the message of how we humans have abused the Earth and how it is healing on its own without our help. It adapts the work of his manga, which was still ongoing, giving the story a bit of levity- it has a beginning and ending, where we learn that we must stop fighting amongst ourselves and work with nature instead of against it. This theme is among many of Miyazaki’s films, giving them that extra warmth and urgency.

I was fortunate to find that the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco was showcasing a screening of most of his and Studio Ghibli’s work. I was able to procure tickets to see he screening of “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” and hope to see additional screenings as well. This was the original Japanese language film with subtitles.

“Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind” begins with Master Yupa exploring another village destroyed by the ‘Sea of Corruption’- a vast stretch of swamp-like land with huge fungal plants populated by large insects, the largest being the Ohmu- a noble, multi- eyed creature in essence is a giant potato bug. Master Yupa encounters the young Nausicaa who had been exploring the nearby toxic forest, collecting samples and finding a large molting of an Ohmu. She had deftly saved Master Yupa from the Ohmu, who was enraged by the accidental death of some insects.

They both return to her home village, the Valley of Wind, where the small village had survived thanks to a consistent wind keeping the encroaching toxic forest from spreading into their area. Master Yupa meets with the Village chief and Nausicaa’s father Jhil, where he learns of the spreading of the Sea of Corruption. Master Yupa has been seeking the meaning behind this forest for many years and hoping to help other with the means to keeping the forest at bay.

During the night a Tolmekian aircraft had crashed just outside of the Valley. It had carried prisonsers from the city of Pejite, including the Princess Lestel. Despite Nausicaa’s efforts to redirect the craft away from the village, it had crashed in the nearby cliffs. She tried to save Lestel, but she had died from her injuries.

In the wreckage of the plane, there was a giant pod containing some form of life form. It was the rumored God Warrior, a relic of the Seven Days of Fire, where the modern world was destroyed by these powerful creations. Not soon after the Villagers had taken the painstaking task of clearing the crash of its dead as well as clean their fields free of the powerful fungi that make up the toxic forest, the Tolmeckian Army led by Princess Kushana and her aid Kurotowa, invade the Valley. In the process, they had slain Jhil. Enraged, Nausicaa killed the men who had slaughtered her father, only to be stopped by Master Yupa.

She regained her senses and had the villagers stand down to the Tolmekians. The village was then set up to play host to the giant God Warrior, while Princess Kushana takes Nausicaa hostage as a prisoner of war to prevent the villagers from rebelling. She is taken along with her friends to Pejite.

Along the way, she is attacked by Asbel, prince of Pejite, taking revenge for the destruction of Pejite. In his atack, he is distracted by Nausicaa, who bears a resemblance to his twin sister. He is shot down by the remaining corvette fighter.

Meanwhile Mausicaa and her trusted friend Mito prepare a daring escape from their doomed aircraft. She also saves Princess Kushana in the process. They burst free of the cargo plane in the valley’s gunship, which resembles a large moth. They circle back to find their comrades who have made a landing in the ‘Sea of Corruption.’

They had landed in a Ohmu’s nest, where Nausicaa was able to commune with the monstrous creatures. She then pursues Asbel to save him from the wrath of the insects. She and Asbel crash into the forest below sinking into a sandy pit.

Meanwhile Mito and the others circle the toxic forest and then return to the Valley, where Kurotowa and his men set up a chamber to revive the God Warrior. Master Yupa spies on them, then finds Mito and his men on the outside of the village on the shores of Acid Lake. Here he confronts the imprisoned Kushana about her intentions with the God Warrior.

Nausicaa and Asbel has survived the crash and found themselves in a clear clean area deep underneath the forest. The water and ground have been purified by the large, now petrified plants of the toxic forest. It was the missing piece of the puzzle that Nausicaa had been trying to solve- the purpose of the Sea of Corruption. It was there to help cleanse the world after man had destroyed it. The results were that it was now a clean arable place with fresh water.

Nausicaa and Asbel fly on her glider to the city of Pejite, only to find it completely destroyed by insects. It was the countermeasure that the Pejtian army used against the Tolmeckians. They would use the insects to rampage and destroy the Valley of the Wind, the God Warrior, and Princess Kushana and her forces. Nausicaa tries to escape with Asbel’s help, but is overwhelmed and captured.

The villagers of the Valley of Wind had taken up arms, not against the Tolmeckians, but against their own protective forest, which had been invaded by the dangerous spores of the Sea of Corruption. They burned down the forest that helped protect their village for centuries. They then turned against their captors after a long struggle with the forest.

Nausicaa is aided by Asbel and Lestel’s mother, whom they smuggle out of captivity to where Nausicaa could escape on her glider. Her escape is cut short by Tolmeckians who were hunting for the Pejitian frigate. She manages to flee as the Valley Gunship comes in to stop the corvette fighter. Master Yupa saves the Pejitians as Nausicaa and Mito race towards the Valley to stop the oncoming rampage.

This anime makes use of key elements found in the manga while making it both a cautionary tale as well as a cinematic adventure. While you want to hate some of the characters, you won’t as they are portrayed as being human and flawed. The scenarios that they are thrown in are subtly dangerous, much like a war movie where you can’t really trust a side. It does end well, making the story stand out as a single saga, and not necessarily a long drawn out epic. The manga does that, which give the characters real depth and gives the world a even grander scale.

The heroine of Nausicaa is a powerful character, both a capable woman and skilled at flying as well as fighting. She proves to be both a strong, yet vulnerable character who bears the weight suddenly thrust upon her with dignity and a layer of hope.

The story unfolds well, centering around the Valley of Wind, making it a character itself. It is the life and shelter for a village of people. The role of the Ohmu also lends to a bit wisdom and philosophy- much like a whale, this intelligent creature shows that there is a role that nature is playing and they are the guardians of that role.

“Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind,” is one of Miyazaki’s more personal efforts, breathing life to his manga creation. It limits the character to its cinematic trappings, but does so deftly that it does not lose its strengths after its near 20 years since its inception. His works get better and better, but this is where it began for him- one of his greatest creations. It is a must read manga as well as a must see film

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Heavy Metal 2000

March 1, 2014

On a dreary afternoon, I was surfing the web, watching my favorite Youtube channels- Geek and Sundry’s TableTop hosted by Wil Wheaton, Co-Optitude with Felicia and Ryon Day, Awe Me’s Man-At-Arms, and many others. Somehow I stumbled upon someone’s posting of “Heavy Metal 2000.” I decided to give it a viewing. I was a little disappointed that it was a linear story, as the first “Heavy Metal” movie was an anthology of animation that had strange, crazy stories set in a science and fantasy world. There were multiple stories with different characters and designs, with a mix of music that made it like the progenitor of many music videos to come.

What I liked about “Heavy Metal” was that it told a story that was loosely connected by a tiny thread that linked each story. In a way, it was much like the magazine- a series of mature themed stories of fantasy and science fiction created by a cadre of genre artists and writers. Many mainstream comic book publishers would not print these stories as they would not fit within their company’s paradigm.

I did enjoy the story, as it reminded me of the often epic stories that graced those pages. The animation was crisp and solid, featuring character designs by Simon Bisley and Kevin Eastman of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. The main character of Julie is modeled after model and actress Julie Strain, who was once married to Eastman. She also provides the voice of the character.  Strain is known for being a Penthouse Pet and a B-Movie actress, starring in many productions.

Also lending their voices are veteran actor Michael Ironside and rocker Billy Idol. Both provide interesting characterization to their animated counterparts. While Ironside give a good performance as the villain Tyler, it is the unusual casting of Idol as the mysterious Odin that makes for watching. I didn’t recognize Idol’s speaking voice and found it to fit the look and feel of the character of Odin.

The plot of the story was much like a pulp novel from the 1950’s. The animation lends itself to a more European style, and less ‘Anime’ style. It was rather slick with a mix of traditional looking animation and some computer generated effects. It was quite stylized.

In this story, a mining expedition uncovers what appeared to be an unusual crystal. The lead miner Tyler takes hold of this crystal and is immediately driven insane. He kills his colleagues and crewmates, taking over the ship to pursue the crystal’s home.

The crystal is the key to a lost temple that houses a fountain of youth. It was cast and hidden away never to be found again, as its creators had intended to hide the temple from others who would abuse the power of immortality.

Tyler’s madness leads him to the planet Eden, where he attacks and kills most of the inhabitants. Here pilots Julie and Kerrie along with their father protect their colony from outside hostiles. Their colony- much like a weight station for other space farers- serve as a rest stop to other colonies. Julie manages to escape the sudden attack, while her sister Kerrie is captured, along with other colonists who are used to supply the water of the fountain of youth. The water has trace amounts of this water to which the in habitants have within their system- and in Tyler’s madness is using the fluid from their bodies to heal himself, like an addict. Tyler and his crew leave to continue to search for the source.

Julie manages to survive and seeks him out at another port, where she attempts to kill him in revenge at a strip club. Tyler destroys the club, and is injured in the process, where he ingests his immortality serum to heal.  Julie teams up with Germain, one of the pilots of the mining ship that Tyler commandeered, to pursue Tyler.

They manage to follow him to the ship before entering into hyperspace. They attached their ship to Tyler’s. They are soon discovered and the resulting attack forces them to crash land on the planet of Oroborus, the home of the temple. Far from the temple’s location, Tyler sets up a base with the remains of his ship and sets off for the temple. He finds a race of humanoid lizards, whom he takes over by killing their leader in a gladiatorial fight for power. He uses this as an army to take on the temple and the guardians.

Julie manages to survive the crash and once again pursues Tyler. She meets the mysterious Odin and the rock creature Zeek along the way, who take her to find Tyler. She tries to assassinate him through seduction. Zeek intervenes saving her. They manage to find Kerrie and eliminate the mad doctor who was responsible for extracting the immortality fluid from Eden’s citizens. Julie, Kerrie, Odin and Zeek return to the citadel where the temple is hidden in.

Tyler rallies his army and prepares to take on the stronghold, while Julie takes the warrior rites of Odin’s people, preparing her for her final confrontation with Tyler. What ensues is a battle for control of an ancient power that could lead to a terrible era ruled by insane immortals.

“Heavy Metal 2000” is not quite the epic level of animation as I hoped it would have been. It is still a solid piece of entertainment that is engaging, sexy, with the right amount of science fiction and interesting characters. It is a fine fantasy story of revenge that seems to have some clichés in it, but there are some surprises that make it interesting.

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Man of Steel

March 1, 2014

I am a fan of Superman. I do enjoy watching the many versions of the character in live action and in animated form. So far though, I think the animated version Superman portrays him the best, with the television versions following very closely. I enjoy their takes on the character, making him unique to the series mythos and staying true to the origin story and other key points that make the character.

The films however have received a bad rap. While the actors portraying Clark Kent and his alter ego do not seem miscast, they do encounter terrible storytelling. It is hard to top Christopher Reeve and his portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton in the first two Superman movies. While the sequels to the movies suffered much in the same way as Batman did before Christopher Nolan bought in real worldliness to the films, Superman almost had a new start with “Superman Returns.” However, there were many missteps in the story that made the movie fall flat. While an enjoyable yarn, it rehashes some of the too familiar schemes of Lex Luthor and tried to tie it to the original Christopher Reeve movies.

This time around, Christopher Nolan lent his help with producing another attempt with reinvigorating interest in Superman and his cast of characters. Zach Snyder was chosen to direct, with a resume that has comic book movies “Watchmen” and “300,” he seemed an ideal choice to take on the character. In this version, he takes Superman on a personal odyssey of self discovery and given many of the background characters some depth and more story.

“Man of Steel” is more the story of a god that walks among men and this same god looking for his place in the world. It hints at the growing pains the young Clark spent as his alien physiology adapted to the world around him, and how it alienated him from others. It also gives the classic origin story more levity by giving Superman’s birth parents Jor-El and Lara more than being simple exposition.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with snippets of Clark’s life, past and present intertwining with events unfolding in his present. It can be a little disorienting and seem a little jumbled, but, it is done rather tastefully to match the tones of the scenes. They tell the origin story as if we haven’t seen it before.

The planet of Krypton is a terraformed world that is dying from its own devices. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Antje Traue) plan to save their son using the meager resources he has to create and craft a ship to carry his son to Earth, a scouted planet that may be home to the next Krypton. Shortly after Kal-El’s birth, General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup to overthrow the current government. Jor-El manages to steal and encode into his son the codex of the Kryptonian species, a database of genetic information that someday would be used to revive the Kryptonian race via their process of reproduction through artificial means. General Zod catches up with Jor-El and kills him before he could stop the launch of the capsule with infant Kal-El.

General Zod and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone, where they would be indefinitely incarcerated for their war crimes. Shortly afterwards, the planet Krypton explodes.

The ship crash lands in the town of Smallville, Kansas, near the family farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who found the infant Kal-El and adopted him as their son.  His growth in our world was difficult, as his physiology took time to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere.  These changes isolate the young Clark from the rest of his classmates and childhood friends. Concealing his abilities proved difficult, as he saves his friends and classmates from a near fatal bus crash. Clark learns that he is not from the planet Earth, but in fact a survivor from another world that is alien to him.

Fast forward to the present, and you see Clark (Henry Cavill) wandering around doing odd jobs and traveling, helping others as it allows him. He save an oil rig crew from a fiery explosion, but in turn has to move on from his job as a fisherman on a trawler. He is making his way north.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has been granted permission to see a mysterious alien structure that the military is trying to investigate. Clark has also managed to sneak onto the work site as a civilian member of the exploration team. The structure turns out to be a Kryptonian scout ship that had landed on Earth a long time ago, and was one of the scout ships that alerted Jor-El of Earth’s potential for colonization. Clark discovers his history through the avatar of his father Jor-El.

Due to the events at the alien ship, Lois decides to work on finding this mysterious person who has been performing superhuman feats to protect others. Her  investigation leads her back to Smallville, where she encounters him again.

Freed from the Phantom Zone incarceration, General Zod and his followers manage to cannibalize their prison into a ship. They searched for the remaining Kryptonian colonies that were scattered across  the galaxy, finding none that had survived. During this search, he learns of Earth and it being home to the last surviving Kryptonian, the infant son of Jor-El. Upon arriving at Earth, he threatens its citizenry unless Kal-El steps forward.

Clark surrenders to the US government, hoping that his surrender would help render a truce or as an act of peace between the surviving Kryptonians. Zod has ulterior motives that lead to a knock down drag out fight with the fate of Earth at stake, as Zod activates a terraforming world engine to start work on turning Earth into a new Krypton.

I found this movie to be a bit of fresh air to the Superman series of films and his 75 plus years. It takes many of the elements from the comics, a few bits of lore from the various TV, serials, and animation and mixes them together to make a very modern take of the hero we know and love. It does go over the origin story again, only giving the characters of Jor-El and Lara, not to mention the other Kryptonians, more depth and levity to their characters. This was a utopian society that was suddenly collapsing, giving rise to the military coup led by General Zod. He  did what he thought was best to help wrest control from the seemingly ignorant government.

While Clark’s story continued on Earth, it was less of a happy experience as depicted in comics and animation, rather it was the worst imaginable as his body changed and having little control of it. It is far off from many of his television depictions, as is more closely resembling his growth in the TV series “Smallville.”

His growth into the role of Superman was well conceived, following many plotlines from the recent comics. This gives the character of Superman more human flaws and makes for a much more relatable character.

Henry Cavill fills this role nicely with a nobility that slowly grows from his humble beginnings. Michael Shannon  makes for a good General Zod, making him more of a realistic soldier trying to save what he believes is right and important. His actions don’t necessarily make him a complete villain, more of a man trying to save what he can the best way he knows how. It is a very interesting role for him. Russell Crowe is a scene stealer, giving the very important role of Jor-El much more definition. Amy Adams seemed well cast as a bit world weary yet still curious Lois Lane. She lacks a bit of the fiery charm that makes the character interesting.

Overall I thought this was a nice updated take on the greatest hero created. It modernizes him to fit in with the times, it fits a lot of classic stories into the movie, and delivers a lot of action and character. While it falls flat in some areas, there are some that breathes new life into the characters and makes for a more rounded story.

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Rurouni Kenshin- The Movie

February 8, 2014

Seeing a live action version of your favorite anime and manga is a bit of a trip. In some cases, you can’t predict what you are going to get to see, whether it’s an encapsulation of the series, or if it is a ‘reimagination’ of the given material. Either way, it is often a mixed bag of results with casting, the story, and how the whole movie flows together.

After seeing several live action adaptations, I had come to the startling revelation that it is really cosplay in action. Actors are suited up as your favorite anime persona, acting out the character and the given story. In most cases, since this is a 90 minute to 2 hour movie, it is a condensed version of the original story.

I recently found a copy of “Rurouni Kenshin” live action. Not long ago, it was announced online and I squealed. It actually looked rather good and very promising as adaptations go. I hoped that it wasn’t going to be a bland or flat adaptation. After watching it one evening, I found it to be a rather faithful adaptation, albeit a condensed version, of the first series of the manga and anime. I rather liked how the story was structured, and added in the key elements of both story and character to make it a grand story.

Like any martial arts movie, it has some flaws- special effects, stunts, and some props just seemed a little fake-looking. It does have the look and feel of a period piece, but the hyper-reality that the manga and anime have doesn’t translate 100% to the screen. I am actually glad about that, making sure the film has more realistic roots while making it gives it credibility.

The opening sequence is excellent, showing how Himura Kenshin, or Hitokiri Battousai in his last act as a member of the Revolutionary Army. He abandons his sword as he walks away from the war. His sword is not left alone for long as another survivor takes up his sword.

Ten years later, he emerges as a wanderer, living a rather vagrant life. He wanders into Tokyo and encounters Kamiya Kaoru, a local kendo instructor. She mistakenly accuses the newly arrived Kenshin of being the mysterious Hitokiri Battousai, who has been slandering her family’s martial arts school, claiming that he was using that style.

Elsewhere, Takani Megumi is trying to flee from her current employer Takeda Kanryu, a business man who is a smuggler, weapons, and drug dealer. He has his men execute the workers Megumi uses in her job making opium. She flees and is pursued by Udo Jin-e, Kanryu’s top assassin. In his pursuit, he slays all of the officers that Megumi comes into contact with when she surrenders herself to the police.

Kaoru is on her way home, when he encounters Jin-e, the one who claims to be the Hitokiri Battousai and has been sullying her family name. She tries to fight the powerful Jin-e, only to be saved by Kenshin in an amazing display of agility.

Returning Kaoru to her family dojo, Kenshin tends to her injuries. She allows him to stay as thanks for saving her. The modest Kenshin leaves letting her rest.

Later, a local gang tries to take over the Kamiya Dojo, where Kaoru is teaching the only student she has, the orphan Myojin Yahiko. They are overwhelmed by the thugs, when Kenshin steps in to intervene. He unsheathes his sakabato and defeats every one of the gang, not killing any one of them.

Kenshin is arrested for carrying a sword (illegal at this time) and is thrown in jail. He is later found out by Saito Hajime a former rival during the Bakumatsu, who had become a Police officer. He is bought back to Yamagata Aritomo who tries to recruit him to become an assassin for him once again. Kenshin refuses, and after a duel with Saito, he is released. Kaoru picks him up from prison and takes him home to the Kamiya Dojo. Meanwhile, Yahiko helps Megumi hide from her pursuers at the dojo.

They try to enjoy an evening out at a local sukiyaki restaurant, when Kanryu tries to recruit Kenshin after learning that he is the true Hitokiri Battousai. Kenshin refuses, and is then challenged by Sagara Sanosuke, a local brawler. He is nearly beaten by Kenshin, who refuses to draw his sword.

For his refusal to be hired by Kanryu, he has his men poison the local well water near and around the Kamiya Dojo. The training hall becomes a makeshift hospital, as Megumi treats all of the people who have gotten sick from the poisoned water. Megumi returns to Kanryu, intending to kill him.

Kenshin is angered by the threat and upon learning that Megumi has returned to Kanryu’s side to stop him. He goes to stop Kanryu and his men, and is joined by Sanosuke. The two take on Kanryu’s men who are no match for the pair. Kanryu is also prepared with his elite guard, and his top assassin Jin-e, who has his own machinations for Kenshin.

This is in my humble opinion a fine condensed version of the “Rurouni Kenshin” manga and anime. If you have seen or read either the manga or anime, you can pick out all the key scenes from the series. What gives this movies some volume is how these rather iconic scenes are sequenced out into the movie. It gives the characters an introduction without lengthy exposition like in the series.

The episodic nature of the series worked in the film adaptation’s favor, being to take large story areas and rearranging them into a cinematic experience. It is refreshing to see this interpretation play out in a film structure , with each plot point being used well, leading one to the other up to the climatic showdown.

“Rurouni Kenshin” is one of my favorite series of anime and manga. Seeing it in live action can be a little jarring, but it takes the fantastic story and elements and puts it into real world context. It makes for an excellent adaptation and an entertaining film.

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Doctor Who- Day of the Doctor Review

January 8, 2014

Due to work commitments and scheduling, I won’t have as much time to writing blog entries celebrating the action adventure, science fiction, fantasy, anime, video game, nerdy, geeky stuff that I love. I am going to try and get as much adventure watching as I can and comment on all those fantastic things that we all come to love and enjoy. For now, I hope to write at least every other week on something that I have recently watched or am rewatching for the millionth time.

To start off this year, I watched two “Doctor Who” episodes. I did not want to venture outside as I was also a bit under the weather. So I watched these episodes with great interest and happiness.

“Doctor Who” has reached a milestone as one of the longest running TV shows ever broadcast. Sure there’s a long 16 year gap, where there wasn’t any live action shows, but like “Star Trek,” it remained popular through repeats and other media, like radio and books.

This passing year marked the 50th Anniversary of its debut. A time traveling fantasy showcasing history, science fiction, and drama, it was meant to be an entertaining children’s show. It has exceeded this and has become a world-wide phenomenon.

“Day of the Doctor” marks the time traveling Doctor worst day, and how he manages to change this with the help of the past, present, and future selves. It can be a little confusing, or ‘timey whimey’ to follow, but it is a satisfactory yarn that I wish was a little bit longer, more grand, and epic. Not that it wasn’t, I wanted it to be bigger than it was.

John Hurt plays the “War Doctor” during the time in the Doctor’s life where he fought for Gallifrey against the Daleks in the Time War. It was he who was responsible for the destruction of Gallifrey and all of its people, along with the Daleks. He carried this horrible responsibility and memory for a long time.

For the present incarnation of the Doctor as portrayed by Matt Smith, he reunites with his “Impossible Girl” companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) for another adventure, when they are suddenly taken by UNIT (Unified Intelligence Taskforce) led by Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), daughter of the Doctor’s friend Brigadier Allistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. They are asked to investigate a strange issue at the National Gallery. The Doctor’s ship, the TARDIS, is air lifted by helicopter to Trafalgar Square, with him and Clara in it.

At the National Gallery, they are presented artifacts belonging to Elizabeth I, who put the Doctor in charge of the Undergallery, a stash of relics that she deemed too dangerous for public consumption. This includes a three dimensional painting of Gallifrey’s  city of Arcadia. This depiction is of the last day of the Time War where the planet was destroyed by the Daleks.

Kate brings the Doctor to view other three dimensional paintings, where apparently something escaped from the painting. The Doctor was analyzing the mystery at hand when a time vortex appears in the room. The Doctor becomes frustrated at the sudden appearance of the vortex, recalling the events that lead to it, and tosses a reclaimed fez into the vortex, then following shortly after.

Meanwhile, back in time, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) romanced Elizabeth I (Joanna Page), believing she was in fact a shapeshifting alien known as a Zygon. Instead it proved to be his horse that was the alien. While trying to elude the Zygon, the Doctor encounters a pair of Elizabeths.

While trying to figure out who the real Elizabeth is, a fez comes through the time vortex that appears before them. Shortly afterwards, the Eleventh Doctor appears. The two Doctors trade pleasantries as they come to realize who they both are. They dismiss the Elizabeths in order to solve the puzzle of why they are together in the same time period. The War Doctor appears, looking for the Doctor.

It turns out that the War Doctor had stolen one of Gallifrey’s most dangerous weapon, “The Moment,” a sentient weapon of mass destruction. The Moment takes on a familiar avatar, the “Bad Wolf Girl” (Billie Piper) who is molded after the Ninth and Tenth’s Doctor’s companion Rose Tyler. She takes the War Doctor on a journey into his future self to see what happens as a result of the decision that he was about to make.

The three Doctors are taken prisoner by the Zygon version of Elizabeth I and imprisoned in the Tower of London. While trying to figure out a way to escape, they bicker amongst themselves on the many issues of their lives. During an idle moment, they figure out a way to do a massive calculation that would deconstruct the prison door.

Meanwhile, Kate and Clara go to the Black Archive, a repository of all the alien technology that has been encountered  and collected that has an association with the Doctor. They hope to use a Vortex Manipulator to send someone back in time to rescue the stranded Doctors.  We also learn that the Zygons are the invading force that had burst out of the paintings through some sort of event. They are massing and are trying to force a takeover of the Black Archive.

Clara manages to escape from the Zygons and rescue the Doctors, noting that the door was unlocked all the time. Elizabeth I turns out to be the real one, manipulating the remaining Zygons to lock themselves away in the stasis cube created three dimensional paintings. After a brief marriage ceremony between Elizabeth I and the Tenth Doctor, the Doctors and Clara return to the future to stop the invading Zygon forces taking over the Black Archive and threatening humanity.

After seeing the results of his actions, the War Doctor travels back in time to The Moment, and plans to set off the device. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors appear planning to help him shoulder the burden. Clara is disheartened by their planned action, noting that she could not imagine her dear Eleventh could hold the immense responsibility.

This sparks a defiant moment for the Doctors, noting that they still have a chance to change the future. They formulate an audacious plan that has little chance of success, the alternative being no better. The plan is to be carried out by all thirteen versions of the Doctor.

This is by far a fantastic story of redemption for the War Doctor. John Hurt is both fatherly and hilarious, scolding his younger selves as well as still being curious and thoughtful. David Tennant and Matt Smith are a perfect pairing, playing off of each other’s characterization of the Doctor. Smith portrays him as a wily animated sort, while Tennant is both laid back and fierce. They riff off each other’s lines like musicians, both raising each other’s performances.

The story can be a little confusing- it’s a time travel show- but if you pay attention to the story and follow along as the characters explain the events that are occurring, it won’t seem overwhelming. The show does succeed in bringing all thirteen versions of the Doctor into play, although only briefly, and the way it is done is truly exciting. I wish some of the other Doctors could have interacted together in some way, but that would have been very difficult.

Having been a newly anointed Doctor Who fan, I found this hotly anticipated anniversary episode to be everything it set out to do. I only wished there was even more to it. Something to make it more beefier. I wanted it to go on even longer. At the end I hoped it blossomed into even more adventures, and in a way it does. It makes you want to see all the different adventures. With fifty years worth of television, film, radio, and other media, it’ll leave you wanting more.