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Good thing black power is so highly combustible! Amirite? Eh, EH?? (please don’t wiki the combustibility of black powder)

SPOILER FREE feelings on Black Panther incoming! (or at least veeeery light spoilers, nothing that wasn’t in trailers)

I’m writing this after just getting back from seeing Black Panther, and I’m still kind of shaking with energy, it’s SO DAMN GOOD. First thing I did when I got home was purchase the film’s musical score on iTunes, because it’s SO DAMN GOOD. I think the music may be contributing heavily to why I love this movie so much, as well as the super slick costume and set design work. But that’s not to say the narrative itself is bad, in fact it may be one of the most (if not THE MOST) rock solid stories to be featured in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date, with clear character arcs and motivations, and well realized and contemporary themes. The cast is extremely likable, with great chemistry all around (although, to be fair, this is true for pretty much all MCU films, always top notch casting). There’s also a refreshing  reduction of Joss Whedon-style snarkiness. There’s a good bit of humor, but there aren’t any jokes robbing the emotional and dramatic scenes of their impact. I can only HOPE to get a new Star Wars films that’s daring enough to try this.

But most MCU films tend to let their soundtracks bleed into the background. Black Panther lets its score dictate the operatic drama of the story, a very old school mentality that I alway welcome! The events that play out feel grandiose, and it’s very easy to feel the weight of what’s at stake. Where the vast number of Superhero movies involve a specific doomsday weapon or monster, Black Panther’s threat is more the potential for a destabilizing world leader with vast military power and a fanatical drive to use it, a scenario which is all too relatable. The main villain is also not unjustified in his goals, although his abrasive personality and willingness to sacrifice allies makes him hard to side with from an audience’s perspective.

The only criticisms I have are very minor. I’d have liked to see a few more humanizing moments for Kilmonger to pump up the tragedy of the conflict between him and King T’Challa (not that it isn’t plenty tragic as is).  There are also a lot of cartoony looking bits where CG’d characters get thrown twenty or thirty feet through the air and it only knocks the breath out of them. It’s a bit immersion breaking, but by now I just kind of accept it in movies. Also, the couple of fight scenes that take place at night ranged from hard to follow to very hard to follow, although that could have been the lighting in my theater. The scenes might be more visible once I’m watching it on my TV at home. This is some minor stuff. Overall, I was completely engrossed in Black Panther, and would highly recommend it to pretty much anyone, it’s an all around top notch crowd pleaser.

I’m not sure where it lands in my MCU movie ranking. I haven’t rewatched The Avengers in a long time, but I tend to tout that as my favorite, with Winter Soldier just below it. Black Panther may tie Winter Soldier for me, although, dang, I really love hellicarriers (and Cap)! Also Black Panther is a stronger stand alone story, with a fantastic conclusion and epilogue while Winter Soldier is more of an Empire Strikes Back style to be continued. Either way, I’m now very excited for Infinity War.

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ONLY ONE SHOT LEFT? Gotta make it count!

While on vacation, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I subjected myself to the live action Ghost in the Shell movie. It was freely available, so I figured why not see how badly they butchered my favorite anime? The answer is ‘excruciatingly badly’. I could probably write several pages on how antithetical the Paramount Pictures film is to the manga/movies/anime it’s supposedly basing itself on, but I don’t got time for that right now, so I’ll just make a list (my favorite!). SPOILERS AHEAD BUT WHO CARES THIS MOVIE IS TERRIBLE:

Section 9 is apparently under the financial control of a for-profit robotics company that is run by an evil man. At no point in the movie (that I recall) are we told that Section 9 is Public Security, although Aramaki does state he answers only to the Prime Minister. In the GitS animated film, Motoko is basically stuck working for Section 9 because her military grade cyborg body is owned and maintained by the government. She does not directly rely on a for-profit corporation to maintain her body. Nor is Section 9 funded by a third party entity, they simply received funding allotted in a government budget, which allows them to pursue legal cases impartially (or at least that’s the ideal).

Chief Aramaki is played by Beat Takeshi, who, although being a well known Japanese actor, doesn’t seem to be able to speak English (that is not meant as a criticism towards him). All his dialog is in Japanese, while everyone around him clearly understands him but answers all his questions in English. I just think this is an odd film making decision. They could have easily included some automated translation technology. I would normally just assume everyone’s cyberbrains where auto translating, but no one has cyberbrains in this version of GitS, it seems.

Batou has human eyes at the start of the movie, and then loses them and gets his characteristic cyborg eyes. They look awful. Also Batou is mostly human in the live action film, as The Major is explicitly stated to be the first person to be successfully fully cyborgized with only a human brain remaining. In every other version of Ghost in the Shell, Batou and Motoko are mostly cyborg. Making The Major ‘the first fully cyborg body’ removes much of what makes the GitS world fascinating and unique, as this is now new technology and not tech that has been fully integrated into our society.

The world of live action GitS is cartoonishly garish and ugly. There are silly hologram ads everywhere, many of which are building sized. It’s clearly more interested in looking like Bladerunner than like GitS, but Blade Runner’s world feels far more believable in its holographic advertising. Most of the ads in live action GitS don’t even seem to have any text or explanation of what they’re advertising. Also there are brightly colored neon lights in every corner of every building and it’s just weird and ugly.

The plot is a generic ‘amnesiac super soldier goes against orders from her morally dubious handlers to discover her mysterious past’. It’s pretty obvious where it’s going, and none of the twists are very shocking. She just finds out she was some Japanese girl that the evil robotics company kidnapped so they could have more human guinea pigs to experiment on, and suppressed her memory.

Oh yeah, she’s a Japanese girl who was put into Scarlett Johansson’s body. Like, it’s the most controversial thing about the movie, and for good reason. There are plenty of struggling Asian American actors who can’t find high profile, non-stereotyping roles, and along comes an American studio film about a highly competent, professional Japanese woman who’s respected by her peers, and they cast Johansson. Pretty shitty thing to do, but who’s gonna see this garbage if it doesn’t star a known quantity, right?? Oh yeah, there’s even a second prominent character who is also a Japanese person put into a white person’s body. Stay classy, Paramount Pictures.

Every member of Section 9 in live action GitS is happy to murder/execute suspects who have already been incapacitated. Every member seems to think of themselves as Judge Dredd, with no interest in due process. Compared to the great lengths the animated Section 9 members go to to keep suspects alive and build up evidence for legal cases, live action Section 9 is a hilariously incompetent team. Essentially every problem in live action GitS is solved with a gun, while there are plenty of episode in Stand Alone Complex where no one even fires a shot BUT HOW CAN YOU KEEP AN AUDIENCE’S ATTENTION IF NO ONE’S GETTING SHOT BY THE GOOD GUYS??

There are several scenes from the original GitS film that have been sort of hacked up and pasted into live action GitS. These are the most infuriating parts of the movie because they make less sense than the rest. The garbage truck man from the original manga and film still gets his memory hacked to make him think he has a kid and ex-wife. In the original story the false memories gave him motivation to commit a crime setting up communication relays through public phones. In the live action movie version, there is literally no reason for his memory to have been hacked, as the man antagonist (up to this point) hacks him into some sort of gun toting berserker who tries to shoot up the good guys with ZERO provocation (why is this garbage man so heavily armed and where did he get these guns??). He’s probably the only suspect Section 9 bothers to take into custody instead of just executing with a shot to the head, all so they can have the classic interrogation scene where he realizes his memories of his family aren’t real. What’s REALLY bizarre about this scene is that they have him in some sort of retraining contraption that allows him to strangle himself TO DEATH instantly after he becomes distraught that he has no real daughter.

On top of that, none of this serves any purpose in the context of the live action film, as Motoko only questions her own memories after the super-hacker Section 9 is chasing explicitly tells her that the evil robotics corporation is lying to her. Why have the interrogation scene with the garbage man if it does not lead Motoko to question her own memories, or even philosophize about how much of us as individuals are tied to our past experiences, as she does in the original film? It’s like some executive watched the animated film, and said “we need to put this scene, this scene, and this scene in the movie, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it!” And so they did it, even though it added nothing to the film’s own story or these versions of the characters.

Also, live action Major is literally only a full cyborg for ONE YEAR, apparently spending nearly all of that time working for Section 9, implying she immediately went from being just some random kidnapped girl to being an impossibly amazing super soldier who can leap into a gunfight against a dozen armed people and come out almost completely unharmed. In the GitS anime, Motoko Kusanagi has been a full cyborg body user since her preteens, and we’re specifically told that it took her a long time to become as competent as she has, through good, old fashioned, hard work. Also, she never leaps into a massive gun fight of her own free will without a clear strategy as that would be insanely stupid.

In the original GitS film, there’s some pervy Japanese kink to Motoko’s optical camo as she basically gets naked when she uses it. The anime series discarded that concept for much more practical tactical armor with built in optic camo, which is totally fine. But the live action movie makers felt they wanted to preserve the ‘strip naked’ aspect of the camo, while also being a PG13 film. So what we get is The Major’s cyborg body being not anatomically correct, and looking more like a snug fitting body suit. I’m definitely not saying we needed a naked lady jumping off rooftops, but what we get in this movie is hardly titillating, so why not go the route of the anime series and just give her the full body armor? She wears it through most of the movie’s action scenes anyway.

And now I’ve written way more than I intended even though I said I didn’t have time! Oh well, I guess it was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to hold back my frustration (And truth is there’s still quite a bit more I want to rant on about this dumb movie).

I also re-watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a much better movie co-starring Scarlett Johansson), and MAN, I forgot how much I like it! It’s probably still my second fav Marvel movie after The Avengers.

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Our armies can’t repel firepower of that Badassitude!

I beat Horizon: Zero Dawn, and I think it’s one of my favorite games of all time. Probably up there with Metal Gear Solid 2, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Onimusha, and Ocarina of Time. Oh geez, all my favorite games are SO OLD. Well, not anymore, I guess! I’ve also been playing the Shadow of the Colossus PS4 remake, it’s pretty rad, although it fails to recapture the magic I felt when I first played the game on PS2, not that reproducing that feeling in a remake is a fair expectation. I envy anyone picking it up for the first time.

I can’t wait to see Black Panther, but I’m currently on vacation, and do not have a movie theater easily available to me. I’m sure it’s great, don’t spoil nothin’! I only just learned about afrofuturism and now I’m all in on that aesthetic. I did see another movie recently, Jumanji. Not gonna lie, it’s kind of a good time, if you don’t think about it too hard. The script is a little more solid than a lot of recent comedies that rely way too much on adlib gags that don’t lend themselves well to scripted films. But Jumanji is a solid narrative with simple, but effective character arcs. It have no pretentious aspirations like the 1995 film of the same title, which skewed pretty heavily into the melodramatic. Amusingly enough, the new Jumanji actually sets itself up as a soft reboot, sequelizing itself  to the original through a bizarre bit of unnecessary continuity. But I admit I’m a bit of a sucker for film continuity, so I mostly enjoyed the handful of references to the ’95 film. But I think anyone’s enjoyment of 2018 Jumanji is going to come down to their fondness for Dwayne Johnson’s charisma and well timed, but not very substantive gags and slapstick.

WAIT, my list of favorite games didn’t even take into account my early childhood PC gaming years! the X-wing franchise (including TIE Fighter, of course), Wing Commander Privateer, Commander Keen 4, Command & Conquer (the original).

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I think it shows the weakness of the writers of this comic that they keep coming back to kidnapping as a plot device! (Did I say weakness? I meant genius.)

I watched the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie on Netflix, and, man, what a slog. I guess it’s not totally unwatchable, but it’s pretty clear the Pirates franchise is incapable of doing anything beyond retreading the tropes of the first film with diminishing returns. But, you know, I totally get it. That first movie is lightning in a bottle, a refreshingly clever, quirky script that revitalized the dead pirate film genre. It was a big risk that was likely to fail, but instead it became a pop culture phenomenon. Unfortunately, all the sequels have seemed out of touch with what made that first movie work so well. I think one of the biggest problems is that in the first film, Jack Sparrow is a clever person that everyone assumes is an idiot, while in all the sequels Jack Sparrow is a complete moron that everyone assumes is a genius. There’s no longer a sense that the audience is in on Jack’s clever gambits, or that he’s outsmarting his adversaries. Instead, it’s all just bumbling dumb luck. In part 5, the effect seems to have softened a little, because now everyone knows Jack is an idiot AND he acts like an idiot, leading to a character that is basically despised by everyone, including himself. Once again there is a cursed captain out for revenge while also looking to break the curse, and once again Jack is roped into helping some people who would otherwise prefer having nothing to do with him to find some magical trinket.

About the only thing I like in Pirates 5 is the stubborn obsession with lore continuity between the films, even if I don’t much care for the lore itself and its general lack of logic. Jack’s compass is still a point of interest for yet another cursed pirate, and this time the compass displays some new abilities, like reawakening an undead crew when he sells it to a barkeep. The question as to who made this compass or where it came from continues to go unanswered, despite it being the seemingly most sought after magical item in the world. Captain Barbossa is carrying around Blackbeard’s sword from the previous film, which is kind of neat. The Black Pearl is still miniaturized and trapped in  bottle through most of the movie (still no explanation given as to how that happened, and the solution for releasing it is hilariously simple). We also get the brief return of Will Turner, still cursed to ferry the dead in Davy Jones’ Flying Duchman. But the weird thing is that he’s apparently gone all barnacle gross, like the old Flying Duchman crew, which is strange, since that the whole barnacle encrusting issue had been resolved at the end of the third film.

The obsession with lore has also brought up the rather bizarre question of the physical passage of time in these films. The main characters that are not Jack Sparrow are the fully grown children of Will turner and Barbossa. I don’t know how old Jack Sparrow was supposed to be in the first film, but at least 20 years must have passed since then. Considering all we know about Jack Sparrow’s history, its hard to imagine he’s younger than 30 in the first film, putting him probably somewhere in his 50’s in Pirates 5. Granted, Johnny Depp actually IS 50-ish now, but considering the lifestyle of pirates, the pirate character he portrays should probably not be as fit and healthy as the millionaire moviestar himself. But, you know, whatever.

The movie does a terrible job explaining why its villain is a villain. He’s literally a guy that hunts pirates and shows them no mercy, which is probably a good thing since pirates are lawless, violent men who pillage, rape, and murder. Even in the Pirates of Caribbean universe pirate crews are shown to have these tendencies. It’s pretty hard to condemn Captain Salazar for wanting to get revenge on Sparrow. If the guy has one major foil, it’s his inability to use his own curse to the best of his advantage. The curse itself seems to make no sense, as we learn that he became undead when killed in a particular cursed location, but we’re shown a ship destroyed in that same location and the crew of that ship seems to have not become undead. Inconsistent curses seem to be a staple of the series at this point, though.

There’s also a scene with a young CG Jack Sparrow that is all sorts of uncanny valley. AND a trident of Poseidon that conveniently ends ALL CURSES EVER when broken, and, LUCKILY, is easily broken! There’s also some veeeery questionable physics applies to nearly every action scenes, possibly more so than the previous films. And there’s Barbossa’s death scene, which makes little sense and doesn’t even seem deadly. I mean, he fell into water, but I guess we’re just supposed to assume he died. I’m pretty sure Geoffrey Rush’s contract ended, so he was probably just eager to get out.

The real question I have is, are we done with Jack Sparrow? This movie has an end credits stinger that seems to imply Davy Jones has returned to terrorize Will and Elizabeth Turner. Considering Depp is a known domestic abuser and alcoholic (there are plenty of rumors about him actually being drunk on set), it feels like Disney would want to start backing away from him as the star of the franchise. I won’t deny that he is what made the first film special, but at this point, Jack Sparrow is just as tired a retread as the innumerable cursed pirate crews that hunt him.

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There’s a thin line between heroism and insanity/death/religious conviction/take your pick.

Oh, The superbowl happened! That’s nice that’s cool yay BUT, we also got this trailer for a little movie that I probably shouldn’t get too excited about:

Thing is, Disney keeps making these INCREDIBLE Star Wars trailers that just punch me in the gut and drag me right back onto the runaway hype train. I know it’s gonna derail and throw me into a pit of disgruntlement, but I just can’t not keep climbing back onboard. Ugh, prequels are NEVER good, but AHH, it looks like it could be a a fun time!

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*BANG!* *POW!* *ART OBSCURING SOUND EFFECT!* Oh no, Tanaka!!

 

I’ve watched a decent amount of anime stuff lately. Amazon.com discontinued it’s annoying Anime Strike service, allowing Prime members to watch any of the shows previously locked behind that paywall. So I watched Land of the Lustrous, which received a notable amount of internet buzz. Unfortunately, it was far more narratively bland than I’d expected, with a slow, meandering plot that presents a very alien and obtuse scenario, while continuing to pose questions that receive no answers. The show is basically about a bunch of literal gem girls, who live on a small island and fight aliens from the moon  for…reasons (?). It does have an incredible soundtrack, though, and the first season ends in a place that at least has me intrigued enough to watch a second season, although somewhat begrudgingly. The animation style is a fascinating mix of very fluid CG and traditional. It’s probably the best looking CG anime series I’ve seen, not including movies like Gantz:0 and Captain Harlock, which are a CG visual feast.

Having said that, I watched the Captain Harlock movie on Netflix and absolutely loved it! That’s not to say it’s a brilliant piece of fiction, it is a story that should sink with the number of plot holes it’s sporting. But what I like about Harlock is its unabashed embrace of swashbuckling scifi fanatasy space opera tropes while taking itself dead seriously. I found myself smiling like an idiot the entire time, it’s quite the ride if you just want to engulf yourself in a hilariously melodramatic space adventure. If i had to describe the story in one sentence, I’d call it the most over dramatic retelling of Pixar’s Wally that you can imagine.

Finally, I watched an episode and a half of that Devilman Crybaby show everyone seems to love on Netflix, but determined it wasn’t for me. not only did I feel embarrassed watching it, but the way it treats its female characters turned me off intensely. The animation style was interesting, but not enough to hold my interest through all the cringe worthy bits, of which there are many.

One of the others shows on Amazon that I’ll likely watch next is Made in Abyss. Great looking animation and an intriguing premise, what more could you ask for?? Aside from a competently told story and well written characters, of course.

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It’s all coming together!

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Here they come!

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Uh oh, we’ve got incoming!

I saw Last Jedi for a second time, and enjoyed it quite a bit more upon subsequent viewing. Most of the issues I had with it are still present, but I was surprised at a lot of subtle dialog that I hadn’t quite caught the first time around that sets up character motivations a bit better than I’d given the movie credit. I was also more willing to embrace a lot of the silliness, but I couldn’t help noticing many of the same jokes fell flat with this second audience that did with the first. Something about the comic timing in the film is a bit off. The Kylo Ren and Rey interactions felt even more powerful this second time around, as did Luke’s ruminations on his past failings. Even the casino stuff felt slightly more tolerable, although the Rose/Finn adventure is still easily the weakest and most meandering part of the film, even if there’s some okay theme building in it (winning by saving what we love instead of destroying what we hate, and all that). Overall, I think The Last Jedi is a pretty good film if you focus more on what characters are saying and less on what they’re doing (which often doesn’t make a ton of sense). It’s a fairly quotable film! And I still love the scene where Kylo tells Rey her parents were garbage.

Also, has anyone played Horizon Zero Dawn? I recently started playing it and it’s INCREDIBLE.

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It’s an Xmas update! And General Tanaka’s got it all figured out.

I saw The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro’s latest cinematic undertaking. It’s hard not to view the movie as a highly niche film that probably won’t appeal to a general movie going audience, as it’s an R rated film that revolves around the romance between a mute woman and a sea monster man. That R rating is for the full gamut of language, sex, and violence, albeit used smartly to heighten tension and flesh out the cast. But as someone who enjoys a movie with great characterization, this one hits the sweet spot, with a relatively small cast bursting with unique personalities. I’ve grown further enamored with small scale storytelling in genre films, maybe because of my own exhaustion over the brutal onslaught of overstuffed plots and expansive casts in Hollywood blockbusters. In that sense, Shape of Water feels like a relief. I also strongly appreciate a lot of the foreshadowing in the script that results in some great setups and payoffs.

It’s not a perfect film, though, mostly in terms of its pacing. There’s a heist sequence about two thirds of the way through the story. Right after that, when you think things are about to kick into high gear, the movie actually slows down quite a bit to expand on the unorthodox romance plot. Although the romance is a major focus, the result is the deflation of much of the film’s building tension. Although that tension eventually does come back in heavy doses as the movie closes in on its emotional climax.

Overall, this is probably one of Del Toro’s most solid films to date. Not as bogged down in tired cliches as his Hellboy films, nor as muddled in deus ex machina plot mechanics and half finished characters arcs as Pacific Rim. Infinitely better paced than the beautifully shot Crimson Peak. Perhaps not quite as masterfully envisioned as Pan’s Labyrinth, but probably more of a narrative crowd pleaser in the end. Good luck finding it in theaters, though. The Shape of Water’s release has been very limited.

 

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