Monday, August 29, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is easily one of the best and most visually beautiful animated films I have seen. It is an amazing blend of mostly stop motion animation and some cgi. Laika, the production company behind Kubo, has been steadily building it's resume and skill level at what seems like the almost lost art of stop motion. The first Laika film I saw was Paranorman, a kids supernatural comedy. Their next film, The Boxtrolls was a also a  family friendly fantasy adventure that got a little dark at times, but was mostly light and comedic. I enjoyed it a lot. Their other projects include Coraline and doing the animation for Tim Burton's, The Corpse Bride. With Kubo and the Two Strings, they go much further into the fantasy adventure territory. And while technically a family film, it's rated PG, it gets dark. There are funny moments, but this coming of age tale will pull at your heart strings. I'm trying REALLY hard not to give any spoilers.

Kubo lives with his mother in a cave overlooking the ocean. His mother suffers from memory loss and will occasionally become lucid enough to be her normal self and tell Kubo tales about his father, a Samurai. But mostly she remains catatonic, staring off into the ocean. Kubo does his best to take care of her and makes some money at the nearby village by making origami creature come to life as he tells stories. He is only supposed to be out only during daylight because his grandfather, the Moon King can see everything at night and wants to find Kubo and take his other eye. The Moon King succeeded in taking one of Kubo's eyes when Kubo was a baby, which is why his mother ran away with Kubo and hid in a cave.

The story really begins to kick in when Kubo fails to make it home before nightfall and is met with his aunts, his mother's sisters, who wish to take Kubo to the Moon King. Kubo's only hope is to find three pieces of ancient armor that can defeat the Moon King. His mother sends him on a quest to find the armor with a talking monkey that she brought to life from a charm. Kubo and Monkey are joined by Beetle, a former samurai who served Kubo's father but was cursed to live as a man/beetle monster by Kubo's aunts.

Laika really ups their game with Kubo and the Two Strings. As I stated earlier, it is a visually beautiful and stunning film. You almost want to believe it is all cgi, but the stop motion characters are that well done. If not for the movie posters you might even forget the star voice cast which includes Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, and Ralph Finnes.  Kubo at the very least should receive a Best Animated Feature nomination at this year's Academy Awards and I think it should win. Not only is the animation incredible, but the character designs are amazing. You should really go see this film. I can't wait to see what Liaka produces next.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Is MARVEL pandering?

pander (pan·der)
To do or provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable. (Merriam-Webster)

Is Marvel Comics, or MARVEL in general, pandering to the masses? I'm only asking because I recently saw some comments online claiming that Marvel is pandering by introducing new characters that are more diverse. Specifically the comments were in reference to the character of Ironheart taking over Iron Man's duties in the Invincible Iron Man comic. In case you were not aware, Ironheart is a female African American teen who is a genius that got into M.I.T at age fifteen and built her own Iron Man suit. But the pander label was also in reference to several other characters taking on the names and roles of iconic, longstanding Marvel characters. 

Thor is now a woman, Jane Foster. (unless of course Thor is a dude again. These things are hard to follow sometimes.)

There is/has been a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. He was in a different universe where Peter Parker died but is not in the main Marvel universe. It's comics. Things get complicated.

Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) briefly took on the role of Captain America. Cap is also an African American Woman in the Spider-Gwen series. Yes, more alt-universe stuff.

Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel. The original Ms. Marvel is now Captain Marvel.

Oh and the new Iron Man/Ironheart, meet Riri Williams.

This "pandering" may also be in reference to actors of more ethnic origins taking on the roles of traditionally white Marvel characters in Marvel movies like Idris Elba as Heimdall in the Thor films and now Zendaya portraying Peter Parker's girlfriend, Mary-Jane Watson.

But is this pandering? Marvel is trying to appeal to a more diverse audience. And it is working. But are these changes "not proper, good, or reasonable?" A better question would be, REALLY? This is an actual question people are asking? These are fictional characters. Comic book fictional characters where even if someone dies (especially the popular/iconic ones) they will not stay dead. And why not put a spin on a characters race and/or gender. It's like James Bond. Every actor brought something to that role and different charters bring different styles and points of view to the heroes they become. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. And lets be honest, something like making Thor a woman isn't as dumb as making the original Captain America an agent of Hydra. Because that just happened recently. (Not that Jane Foster becoming Thor was dumb... You know what I mean.)

But probably the most important reason for making these characters more diverse is because it is in the very spirit of the United States. We are supposed to be able to aspire to anything. To dream big. And it is way easier to dream when you can see people that look like you being great and doing great things. It means a lot when you can point to a character like Captain America and tell a kid of any race or gender, "You can be Cap." And when you can go and read literally decades of comics that feature the characters you know and love, why is giving someone “different” a shot at an iconic role such a big deal? I thought all that mattered was if the story was good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trek should be on TV

We are getting closer and closer to the airing of the new Star Trek series, Discovery. It is an exciting thing for Trek lovers and sci-fi enthusiasts. Trek has not been on TV for a while now. But as much as I love Star Trek, I'm not sure I'll be tuning in because I don't see the point. After the premier episode, I'll have to subscribe to CBS's streaming service to catch the rest. Netflix will also be getting Star Trek: Discovery, but only for international streaming. Not that I am a Netflix subscriber. I suppose this is all well and good in the modern era of streaming series and movies, but it is a major departure from how people grew up with Star Trek. You used to be able to watch it for free over the air. Okay, some people caught the various series when they were rerun on various cable stations.

So my main concern, well more like personal feeling, is that Star Trek has always been  something for the general public, especially with it's message of inclusiveness and hope. It has always been a beacon of diversity on television that was easy to access for people with and without the money to afford cable. But CBS is asking fans for more. To pay for the privilege of watching something they have always been able to get for free. It makes sense from a business standpoint. There is a loyal fan base who will pay for the privilege. And having Star Trek as an anchor for a streaming service is good business too. But it is not in the spirit of Star Trek in my opinion. Star Trek has always shown a hopeful and diverse future for humanity that you didn't have to pay for monthly. It had it's moments of dark and edgy, but the core of the series is was always hope. It might make good business sense to charge for Star Trek. After all, the property does belong to a company that needs to make money to survive. But it is the right thing to to. The new ways of delivering entertainment are great. But delivering a vision of the future never needed a paid subscription. With all the other content CBS has, does Star Trek really need to be online only?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Suicide Squad

This review will contain some SPOILERS so keep that in mind as you read.

I was worried about all the negative press Suicide Squad has been getting but honestly, I like the film. It is by no means perfect. You don't have to be a film expert to notice how edited this movie is. But as choppy as it is I liked it more then Batman V Superman. Not to say that I didn't like Batman V Superman, but that film suffered from maybe getting overly complex with the story. Suicide Squad is a pretty straight forward villain is making something to destroy the world kind of thing. Not really all that original, but you come to this film for the cast performances. And the cast brings it.

Suicide Squad is based on the DC comic series of the same name. In the comics, a rotating roster of villains is forced together to go on covert suicide missions for the government. If they fail then they are left with the blame. Or they die. It's also refuse to follow orders and they die, as seen in the trailer. So lets get to the squad.

Deadshot (Will Smith)
Deadshot is a master assassin who is an unnaturally talented sniper and skilled with guns in general. It still looks like Will Smith playing Deadshot, but he was still pretty good.

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)
Harleen Quinzell was a psychiatrist who became obsessed with and fell in love with the Joker.

Other than having some for of "condition" nothing is stated how Waylon Jones had crocodile features. But people treated him like a monster so he decided to become one.

Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney)
An Australian thief and killer who is good with boomerangs, Digger Harkness is also a bit crazy and unpredictable.

El Diablo (Jay Hernandez)
One of the most powerful members of the squad, Chato Santana was born with the power to make fire. And when he gets mad he can loose control. 

The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)
Dr. June Moone is an archeologist who had the misfortune to discover an ancient and extremely powerful witch imprisoned in an idol. The Enchantress now possesses Dr. Moone.

Slipknot (Adam Beach)
A specialist with ropes, knots, and climbing, Christopher Weiss unfortunately doesn't last long in the film. I'll get to that later.

Katana (Karen Fukuhara)
Tatsu Yamashiro, a government operative, is an expert swordsman who wields Soultaker, a blade that traps the souls of its victims. She is not

Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman)
One of the best Special Operations officers in the U.S. military, Flagg is tasked as the squad's handler and commander.

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis)
Waller may as well be a villain because she is scary and borderline evil. She is a government agent will do almost literally anything to protect the United States such as gather a group a villains and use them to covertly fight evil under the threat of death.

The Joker (Jared Leto)
The Joker is the Joker. Though we don't get a whole lot of time with this incarnation. And not a member of the squad. The Joker fill more of a subplot in the film. You get some Joker to fill in Harley Quinn's backstory.

So as choppy as the movie is, I thought it was great. It is a lot of fun in spite of the editing. You can feel how much they tried to get the film to match the first two trailers. But by far what makes the film suffer most is the Enchantress/Flagg romantic subplot. Waller, being the evil manipulator that she is, arranged to have Flagg and Dr. Moone/Enchantress work together, setting up a romance to develop and it works. This gives Waller leverage on Flagg, essentially forcing him to stay under her command and to be the handler/leader of the team. I really don't think this subplot was necessary. It could have been just as easy to keep the Enchantress as the big bad and give Flagg some emotional layers in other ways. Ditching the romance would have also given more time to develop the characters of the other squad members. Granted, each of the Suicide Squad members have very unique personalities and traits that shine. They didn't need much development for you to know what they are about. But a little more screen time would have been nice. Especially for Slipknot who ended up being a throwaway character used to help the story along. It's a shame because like the others, he has a unique look. You just don't really get a chance to get to know much about him before he gets killed off. Oh, The Enchantress ended up being the big villain of the film. You might have gotten that from the trailers.

Which kind of brings me to my other minor beef with Suicide Squad. Why did all the brown guys have to die? We don't get much in Slipknot's heritage, or background but the actor who played him is Native American. Then El Diablo... Talk about layered. He is a former LA gang banger whose fiery powers come, as he describes it, from the devil. He tells the team that he always had the powers and became stronger every time he used them. Then after a accidentally wiping out his family, he resigns himself to being locked up and never using his power again. We also get to see El Diablo at full power later, turning into an Aztec or Mayan fire demon. Then he dies. He would have been one hell of an interesting character to keep around and build up.

And it's not beef or a problem, more like a minor disappointment. Jared Leto doesn't get much time to shine as the Joker. You get how this Joker is crazy and he is creepier then previous incarnations, to me anyway. But we didn't get any funny out of him.

Anyway, some good things. I appreciated the references to Harley Quinn's origin in the animated series such as the brief appearance of the original costume and the Mr. J and Puddin references. The future Justice League member cameos were pretty good to. Stay for a mid credits scene in case you have yet to see the film. Also, Amanda Waller. This is a film loaded with evil and villains, but Waller is the scariest person on screen. Viola Davis sells the dangerous. There are moments that want to make you say "DUDE." Which brings me back to the main reason to see this film, the characters. Hopefully the next film will be a little more even, but I can't stress how much I liked this movie even with all it's flaws.