Reflective

the lonely and great god ~ goblin

From the director and scriptwriter who brought you the phenomenon Descendants of the Sun, comes another phenomenon, The Lonely and Great God ~ Goblin.

900 years ago, a general returned victorious from war, only to be accused of treason by his king and killed. As he lay dying, his own blood dripping from his sword, awoken by the prayers of the people he had protected, he turned into a "goblin". His immortality is a curse, a punishment to bear for the thousands of lives he had killed with his sword. The only one who can release him from this curse is "the goblin's wife", someone who can see the invisible sword in his chest and pull it out. 900 years later...he saves the life of a pregnant mother who was meant to die in a hit-and-run accident. A child who should not have been born comes into this world and grows up, able to see supernatural beings...and the sword.


If this was a *cough* novella, it would be encapsulated with 大叔年上x陽光少女,副CP重生

And I think therein lies its problem, for me.

A large age gap is a bit of a landmine for me, even more so if the younger character starts off in high school. I mean technically it shouldn't matter, right, because we've had Twilight tell the world that it's okay for centuries old vampires to hover outside (or inside?) the bedroom of a 16 year old girl. Fortunately the ahjussi is the more passive one in the relationship, so it doesn't feel like something illegal is happening...

But because of my personal taste, I can't get into the romance between the two main characters, and I ended up skipping almost all of their scenes after the first few episodes.

The more interesting story comes in the middle and is courtesy of the two side characters, the "grim reaper" (or one of) and the boss of a fried chicken shop.

The thing about 重生 (rebirth) stories is that it provides the perfect background and atmosphere to 虐 and 騙眼淚. It really is the highlight of the story - the love between a sister and brother, a husband and wife, and a general and his liege.

其實我的淚點不算低(有看到悲慘世界最後一幕才落淚的光榮?成績),但是11到13集那段莫名地一直戳我的淚點。金善和金信相認的時刻(覺得這倆兄妹好慘,雖然都是心甘情願地被利用),王黎想起記憶的時候,以及最後王黎和金善雙雙投生的時候。話説第一次金信跟地獄使者對質的時候,使者滿臉流淚地嗚咽“我是王黎嗎”,我也在一邊同情淚一邊想鬼怪叔能衝著這可憐鬼下手才怪,只是陰陰那一集哭得實在太頻,到最後鬼怪叔跟他道別消失的時候,他又開啓淒美人落淚模式,我直接出戯翻了個白眼。

雖然我最心疼的是堅強溫柔的金善,但編劇還是成功地把王黎洗白了。他是不適合作君王,過於懦弱,也過於多情。由於一直被灌輸他的身份低賤,由於沒有得到父王的愛,他太過自卑,明知道是錯的也不敢跟奸臣說不,直到這份懦弱和自卑蒙蔽了他的眼睛,讓他真的以爲金家會對他不利。然而在他認爲會威脅他的人死去后,真正的威脅才顯露了出來,他卻又無力掌權,僅僅沉溺在自己的悔恨和哀悼中,選擇自殺死去。而真相就像金信說的,王黎並不是他自以爲得那麽沒人愛(好中二的思維?),他的父王、妻子和大將軍都曾因爲愛著他而守護著他,最有也都為他而死。

最後吐槽一下:金大將軍您說您當時走過來其實只是想跟王上轉達他父王的遺言順便把奸臣砍了,這事您當時打一下招呼啊,不然您手握長劍面帶殺意地走過來不嚇壞小孩子才怪…………

There's some undeniable holes in the plot, like why random people kept saying the main girl will die if the guy doesn't but in the end the girl dies anyway...and the guy stays immortal anyway??? In fact the plot holes detract so much from the main romance that the side story, being more emotionally piquant to start with, stood out a lot more.

It's a bit of a shame that the main girl had no role in the past. I don't think it is a flaw per se, but somehow her lack of involvement and the way her character is construed makes her seem really bland in the face of the cruel star-crossed destinies that the other 3 people went through.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the plot is pretty good for about 7 episodes...and that would be episodes 1-3 and 10-13. I personally skipped the rest, but your taste will vary.
Jdrama

a life ~ itoshiki hito

When did Fuji's golden chicken of Gekku start laying turd piles? And when did Johnny's golden boy become a turd magnet?

Probably around the same time.

Kimura Takuya used to be the guarantee of golden ratings, but his last few dramas have been disappointments to the channels. To be absolutely fair, the ratings for all dramas have been going downhill in the last decade. In recent years you'd be lucky to find 3 dramas that rate above 20% in a year, or 3 dramas to rate above 15% in a season. With that in mind, the fact that Kimura-led dramas have still been able to pull in audiences of close to 15% is actually not that bad, until you consider that the supporting cast all consist of main star quality/popularity actors, then the rating appears mediocre against their combined star power.

The thing is, I never really understood the appeal of KimuTaku or his acting. His posturing isn't as obvious as many of the other JE graduates, and he manages to emote adequately for every scene, but his characters are never sufficiently different from each other.

But this time, more than any other year, KimuTaku needed this drama to do well. Still floundering in the aftermath of SMAP's messy breakup (it's embarrassing enough without the government coming out to apologise because they had hired you for the Olympics), KimuTaku is really putting his eggs in this basket. Never known for being the most easy-going person to work with, this time he reportedly splurged 1 million yen on buying the entire cast and crew...custom made jackets?

The supporting cast has such stellar names as Asano Tadanobu (you last saw him in Thor, unless you saw Silence), Takeuchi Yuko (a shade of her commanding presence in Strawberry Night), Matsuyama Kenichi (you've first met him in Death Note and you'll know he's a formidable young actor in his own right), Kimura Fumino (a rising young actress who has enough presence to hold her own), Nanao (a decently popular actress who unfortunately gets typecast in anego roles), as well as a string of respectable older supporting actors. As you might see, if you know anything about Japanese dramas, these are all people who would at any other time be leading their own series.

Then it's a wonder how the script manages to take these photogenic actors with likable personalities, and write them into a story about the most gratingly immature and unprofessional doctors you'll ever have the misfortune of watching.

As the story goes, Okita (Kimura) has spent the good part of the last 5 years in America, learning amazingly advanced surgical procedures. It turns out his best friend Masao had gone behind his back and suggested to the hospital president that he be sent to America. With him out of the way, Masao married Okita's ex-girlfriend-or-crush-or-just-some-girl-he-liked-practising-sutures-with-Danjo Mifuyu (Takeuchi), who also happens to be the president's daughter, so then Masao climbed into the vice president's role. It's quickly clear that Mifuyu is Desdemona with her head in the clouds, and Masao snuggles with the hospital's medicolegal solicitor at work but sleeps in a separate bed to Mifuyu and their daughter.

Rounding up the cast is an uncaring surgical director, Matsuyama's hot-headed young doctor Igawa, and Kimura Fumino's refreshingly feisty (and smart) scrub nurse.

If I didn't know that Matsuyama and Takeuchi (and Asano) are more than capable of holding down amazing characterisation, I would have blamed the jaw-hurting ensemble on their acting. Asano brings a complexity to Masao's jealousy, but Matsuyama and Takeuchi manage to have a combined IQ of a squirrel, and I blame that on a terrible script that has characters spew out stupid things to create conflict only for the sake of conflict.

For example, the storyline of the first episode was Mifuyu's father (i.e. the president) needed a valve replacement, but developed a severe post-op complication. While Okita tried to find the surgical solution to fix it, Mifuyu yelled at him that she doesn't want any more surgery because "you promised it would be okay!" and "I'm saying this as the next of kin!" Then the next day when Okita interrupted the surgical department meeting, requesting to go ahead with the surgery that he has worked out, all the of the surgical department opposed him but all of a sudden Mifuyu stands up and asks Okita to save her father. What was the whole point

Then the second episode was about a man who had his thoracic aortic aneurysm stented, but developed a post-op complication due to a (rare) aberrant right subclavian (i.e. the artery that supplies his right arm came off the "wrong" side of the aorta), and his right hand was affected because the stent blocked off the supply.

When Okita put forward that they should go in and fix the problem, the surgical director overruled him based on the fact that "this will amount to admitting to a medical error and they'll sue us" because "we are a top hospital providing top quality medical care so we can't do anything that suggests we have made a mistake".

What. The. Actual. French.

Let's not even go remotely into the ETHICAL issues of KNOWING there is something you can fix and KNOWING there is a solution but choosing not to do it. I'm pretty sure that LEGALLY you can be dragged through the court and beyond for NOT DOING IT. In fact, I am pretty sure that is what MEDICAL MALPRACTICE is, given that there is CLEAR INTENTION and CLEAR HARM.

I'm sorry, that's the moment I decided this drama was too retarded to be worth my time. Any doctor or nurse standing in that room should go read the Hippocratic Oath and get their licence revoked.

This drama is clearly written by someone who have no idea how health professionals actually think and work. It's also written by someone who has a terrible grasp of character, and you have two major characters (Mifuyu and Igawa) whose personality switch dizzyingly from scene to scene, depending on whether the director needed them to be whiny rats or tail-wagging sidekicks.

I'd like to say you can watch this if you like the actors, but I feel like I'm angrier because I know what they're capable of, and the script has not been kind to anyone except the golden boy who's already lost his halo.
Geek

red oil wonton

It's one of my favourite dishes at 鼎泰丰 (Din Tai Fung), the deliciously numbing and slightly chilli oil, and the (really quite good) fat noodles soaking up the juice.

The "red oil" is a versatile mixture used in a several of my favourite Szechuan cuisines - the chilli oil wonton, the cold noodles, and add it as topping to your favourite noodles.

I did this as an experiment, but it actually turned out rather amazing. This is quite a versatile recipe, so you can alter whatever spices you prefer to be in there.

A) Dry ingredients (alter this to taste):
- Sugar
- Salt
- Crushed Szechuan pepper 花椒
- Crushed fennel seeds 茴香籽
- Crushed fried red onions 炸紅蔥頭 (you can get these from SE Asian shops)
- Crushed fried garlic 炸蒜
- Chilli powder or crushed dried chillis 辣椒粉或干辣椒碎 (one recipe suggested 3 different types of powder, I happened to have some chilli powder I got from Coles and a bag of crushed chilli from a Korean store, though to be honest I'm not connoisseur enough to taste the difference)
(Optional) Sesame or crushed peanuts
(Optional) Pepper 胡椒
(Optional) Lithospermum 紫草 - supposedly this, in Chinese medicine, counteracts the "hot" effects of the other chillis/peppers that's added to this

B) Oil ingredients:
- Fresh ginger
- Fresh garlic
- Fresh shallot
- Dried Szechuan pepper
- Dried star anise
- Dried cinnamon (I actually forgot this, but it didn't seem to affect the core of the taste too much)

The idea is that you use low heat to deep fry all of the ingredients in (B). Unlike in other Asian stirfry cuisine where you typically heat up the oil before adding in the spices, you actually put the ingredients into cold oil and slowly heat it until small bubbles ooze, and let it cook until the ingredients turn crisp. Then you discard the spices in the oil and pour the oil, while hot, onto all the dry ingredients.

To make the sauce for the wonton or the cold noodles, mix one part of the chill oil/paste to one part Chinese vinegar (or black vinegar) to one part soy sauce.

You would definitely scoop some of the crushed/ground spices along with the oil, because that's where the flavour pops.
Gundam 00

time, the final frontier

Firstly, congratulations on surviving 2016 and welcome to 2017.

2016 was certainly an interesting year, not just because of the number of shock celebrity deaths (RIP). It showed us there are flaws to every form of government, including democracy, and it gave us a world that proudly preys on our fear of "them" and "those people".

“There is a curse.
They say:
May you live in interesting times.”
---Sir Terry Pratchett


But my subject is actually much more mundane. I recently watched The Martian and following that, because it's still touted as a masterpiece, Interstellar.

I'm beginning to think I'm not really a sci-fi fan.

They were both nice movies, though Interstellar felt about 1 hour too long. The pace was slow, perhaps to give the audience time to absorb the beauty of space and the gravity (hah) of the situation. I liked that Murph (and Brand) was a strong female who was pivotal to the plot (and to solving humanity's plight) without serving a romantic role. The trouble was, as clever as the conceit was, there was too much gobbledygook going on towards the end that, given how realism had grounded much of the movie, came to its undoing as it gravitated (hah) too close to fantasy. The snippet where Cooper enters the black hole and transmits the secret quantum message to his daughter was particularly gobbledygook. Nolan has authored some clever stuff, and you're much better off appreciating his genius in something like The Prestige or Inception, both of which were also better served by their pacing and atmosphere. The music was starting to really grate after 2 hours and 50 minutes of ominous swell of strings chorus, and again (?) you have Hans Zimmer to thank. As usual with Nolan's movies, the quality of the cast was superb, especially in the actresses for Murph.

To its credit, Interstellar's slow pace gives the audience pause to think about what humans are doing to Earth, about the moral dilemma of a world crises - do we choose to turn a blind eye and hide in a shell of ignorance, or do we take the higher intellectual ground of saving the species, or do we bank on our empathy and fight for those we care for? The movie seems to support the last option, and we like to believe that it's empathy that makes us human - but as it questions even in the movie, so often an individual's empathy is short-sighted, given only to those we have contact with. Is saving the species, rather than the individual, the real moral high ground?

Space, the final frontier, said Star Trek, but Interstellar suggests that there is another frontier out there, beyond the three dimensions, that the humans will conquer. Time, the one thing that has always been constant in our existence, the one thing we cannot escape nor alter. But Cooper suggests that humans conquered time to deliver him the message for him to save mankind.

The Martian is a much lighter film in terms of its mood but also philosophy. Quite a few of the same cast appears, supported by a bunch of MCU veterans (especially the two who've recently appeared in Doctor Strange). Like Interstellar, it's a story of survival but on a one man scale. It's a movie of optimism, not only in the old Chinese adage that "the heavens will not give you a road that ends you", but one that also believes in a world where people will come together to save one man. It's a story that empowers nerds and scientists, if that needed to be done, although it is a bit incredible the amount of knowledge Matt Damon's character possessed to survive on his own. Reacting hydrogen with oxygen? I don't think I learned that in biology.

And at the birth of another year, let's commemorate the passing of the last with the poem endlessly referenced in Interstellar.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
--- Dylan Thomas
Reflective

doctor strange

In a movie that draws heavily from Oriental philosophy/ideology, and in fact has multiple parallels to the Dreamworks panda story, it's only appropriate to use Master Oogway's icon to represent it.

I actually ended up watching this movie twice, more out of circumstance than because I felt particularly compelled to, the first time in 2D and the second time in 3D. I don't know if it's because 3D glasses never fit me very well but although the visuals were indeed a tad more impressive in 3D (it would be much better on IMAX, I'd imagine), you miss out on the nuances of the actors' expressions, in particular Tilda Swinton.

I think people have already said all that's needed to be said about this movie. It's a par performance by Marvel, upping the bar for imagination and visual representation, and barely clearing it from a plot and character point of view.

Unlike his incredibly popular turn as Mr Holmes in Sherlock and (for me at least) a riveting presence as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange is just...par. I mean, from where I stand, there's definitely humour in the familiar caricature of awkwardly narcissist surgeons, but whether it's the slightly distracting almost-American accent (he sounds much better than RDJ sprouting British, so there's that) or the failings of the story, Strange is unfortunately not as charismatic as Tony Stark or Thor, not as funny as Peter Quill, not as morally straight as Steve Rogers, and not as personable as Scott Lang. Marvel's leading men had always led the story, the plot there only as an embellishment to display their best qualities. It's not as though Benedict hadn't pulled his weight, and it certainly isn't that he is incapable of doing great or lovable, but unfortunately Strange is neither, and that is this movie's greatest misstep.

There were some great acting from everyone involved, which unfortunately only further highlighted the thinness of the plot. Rachel McAdams did what she could with 15 minutes of screen time for a warm and compassionate ED doctor (where do you find one of those these days? LOL), and was a lot less grating than the last token girlfriend *cough*Nat Portman*cough*. Mads Mikkelsen also did what he could with a largely 2-dimensional villain in Kaecilius.

I think my greatest frustration is that the stems of the plot are there, but the story wasn't allowed to develop into a rich canopy. To draw on the Kungfu Panda analogy - if a cartoon could make you shed a tear at a doddery turtle's ascent to the stars, there's no reason it couldn't have done the same here. Similarly Kaecilius and Mordo were both short-changed in terms of their character (well, in terms of character even Stephen Strange was short-changed, so I suppose all that's not surprising). The betrayal these 2 students felt, and in particular in the case of Mordo, if the movie had given a little back story to explain why he was so fiercely adherent to the idea of "rules", then Marvel would have created one of their best antiheroes next to Loki, but alas.

There was a lot of controversy about the casting of Tilda Swinton. It's ironic to call it "not whitewashing when the character was white to start with" when the original character was Asian and much of the movie's imagery and even some of its philosophy draws on Asian culture. To her credit, Tilda Swinton makes the Ancient One great, but I have no doubt there are equally capable actors of Asian descent that could have done this. That said, her portrayal of the Ancient One with a mischievous twinkle and fleeting moments of vulnerability certainly made her the most interesting character in this movie.

She also has the best quote - "We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them." - neatly foreshadowing perhaps not only her students' downfall but also her own.

I am very fond of Benedict (and also of Rachel and Chiwetel), so I do want to see more of them, but while this has been a stunning visual experience, I really hope the story gets much better by the second time round.
=====================================================================================

As an aside, I've seen a few sites talk about when Doctor Strange was set, and one of the makers came out and said that the movie started in 2016. Without arguing over how long Strange would take to master sorcery - just from a medical point of view, the guy was in a car accident (it's amazing how he managed to get out of it without brain injury when his face is all smashed, but hey, creative license). Then we see him wake up with external fixators, then he flips through 3 hand X-rays, representing a progression in time - the first one when the ex-fix's were in, the second when they were out, and the 3rd when more pins were removed. Following that, at least one major surgery was depicted, followed by a period of rehab. The impression you get from the movie is that he had more surgeries (likely with rehab in between) before everyone had given him up and he had to search out Pangborn.

In the "leanest" case scenario, we're talking about: accident - ex-fix - ex-fix out - pins out - rehab - surgery - rehab. This is a process that would have taken at very minimum 3-4 months, though if I were to factor in other surgeries and in real life terms, I'd be estimating a year or even two. This does still give enough time for Strange to arrive at the same chronology as Thor: Ragnarok by 2017. To be honest I think it doesn't really affect the Marvel continuity if he had been around earlier because he would have been immersed in training, and may not even have heard about Sokovia or whatever.
Geek

a bunch of movies

A few months ago I went to New York, and as often happens on these 20+ hour flights, I caught up on a few movies. As often happens when you are sleep-deprived, cramped into a tight space and struggling to hear the dialogue over the drone of engines, these are usually not the best circumstances to meet a movie (or anything/anyone) for the first time. Sometimes I wonder if airlines should change the name from "entertainment" to "procrastinator" or perhaps more aptly, "sleep replacement therapy" - for those moments in life when you're too uncomfortable to sleep, too tired to read, and...well, there really isn't any option apart from trying to raid the galley for the 5th time for biscuits.

By the way, JAL has some really amazing snacks. Definitely worth the raid...ahem.

Strayer's Chronicle
This one I actually watched last year on our way via Japan. It's the sort of dystopian science fiction that Japan seems to love churning out - ala Gantz, SPEC and Shin Sekai Yori. Perhaps a little too similar to X-men than it intended to be, but much smaller in scale. In the near future, scientists have worked out a way to create "superhumans" via one of two methods. The first group "Team Subaru", to which the main characters belong, were born from mothers who had been placed under prolonged extreme stress during gestation. This group has heightened senses and perception, at the price that when they reach "adulthood", they undergo an abrupt breakdown and die - that process occurring at any point after they reach teenage years.

The second group "Team Ageha", are Magneto's team the antagonists, having been created from recombinant technology that spliced animal DNA with humans. Their DNA had been coded so that they were unable to live past the age of 20 (I can't remember if it was this movie or another that talked about telomeres, but the concept is similar).

The result is painfully akin to a watered down version of X-men, where the two groups of children meet as enemies and eventually unite in the common cause of preserving their line. Unfortunately, a recurrent flaw of these dystopian science fiction stories is that the final reveal, the big boss's motivation, the cruel hand that drove their fate...is incredibly uninspired and underwhelming. Think Death Note and its nihilistic "after death there is nothing" message, or SPEC and its ludicrous retconning.

What it does differently to the much glossier X-men, and in no small part due to the young age of its cast, is the sense of family between its characters. Japan seems to be able to do the tenderness of a family a lot better than Hollywood, but it may be more due to the cultural structure than scripting. The adoration the younger kids have for their big brother Subaru, and the responsibility he feels towards his charges, the bickering between the Ageha members while always watching out for each other...in the end you feel bad for them, because these are vulnerable kids who should be coming into their prime, and are yet faced with the imminence (and certainty) of death.

I wouldn't have placed Okada Masaki as an action hero, but he did a fair job here, having enough presence to pull off the thoughtful big brother and a keen fighter who can predict other people's moves before they make them. The kids all turn in on par performances, though this was probably an item that should have stayed a book where morals and social values could be explored without undermining an action-packed climax.

Kung Fu Panda 3
These days, everything must have a sequel, and when things have a sequel, they must be a trilogy. Hollywood logic *eye roll* Franchises that have so far been undone by the need for trilogies include and are not limited to The Hobbit, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean and....Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.

In this perfunctory and forgettable final entry, we meet Po's (real) dad and a village of similarly fat and silly pandas. I don't really understand the logic of "we almost got killed because we knew kungfu so let's hide in a place where no one can find us...and purposely not learn kungfu". I'm pretty sure they'd kill you even faster....

Anyhow, I've seen talks on the net complimenting the climax on the way it portrays the importance of attaining inner peace, of looking within, of letting go of the attachment of life and death...but that's giving the movie way more credit than it deserves.

Funny and colourful, but unfortunately no longer as impressive as when the first movie was released, though to its credit, it's still much less hamfisted with the "be yourself" message as most other Hollywood animations out there...

Spotlight
This was the movie that won the Oscar. I feel watching it on the plane really didn't do it justice. Set in 2000-2001, a group of columnists expose the long-standing child abuse perpetrated by church priests(?) and protected by a society that did not want to know it.

It's really a sad movie that passes such keen criticism on the damaging inertia of society. People, involuntarily or not, protect the perpetrators and cast out the victims, because to do otherwise - especially in this case but also in other circumstances - would be to defy some part of their own beliefs.

In the end there was no powerful corporation, no scheming villain, no unscrupulous thugs...just lots of embittered and angry people who tried to make things right, and on their way discovering that the barriers that had prevented them were so insidious and institutionalised that they almost could not pinpoint it.

I think the most poignant scene was when Rachel McAdams' character tried to calm Mark Ruffalo's character down, and as they sat outside in the dark fuming, McAdam's character says in a sad, wistful tone, "You know...I used to go the church, then life got busy...but I've always thought I'd go back one day, you know, when I get older. But now that I've read all these...I don't know. I don't know if I can sit there, knowing what they've done."

For a lot of people who still have a belief, it's a very sacred, pure thing, whatever the religion. That moment after the newspaper was in wide release and McAdams' grandmother reads it, then puts a trembling hand down...it was terrible, not just what the perpetrators did to the victims, but to do so from a position of trust, and what it meant for the masses who had turned to them for purity and purpose.

Jurassic Park
I hadn't been meaning to watch this, given how reviews had been, and how scathing dear Joss Whedon had been about its use of regressive gender tropes.

What can I say? I think my brain had been pretty numb by this stage of the trip, which meant this was the perfect combination of running-screaming-shooting-and-rinse-and-repeat to engage your time without needing a functioning brain to actually process any of it. The CGI was nice, the main characters were gorgeous, there were predictable but not altogether too stupefying ebbs and flows of tension. Did someone die? I think someone did, but frankly I can't remember, so can't have been important.

I liked Chris Pratt from GotG, and if I had time I'd watch Parks and Recreation, but somehow Jurassic Park took an all-round fun and charming guy and turned him into a sour bore.

So it was fortunate I watched this in a state of stupor that I would forget it before GotG 2 rolls around, I suppose.

That was not a review.
Gintama

summer 2016 dorama: ie wo uru onna / 家売るオンナ / woman who sells houses

When you read the synopsis, you wonder how this could possibly be interesting. Sangenya Manchi is one of the top/legendary salespeople-real-estate-agent in her company. This is the story about how she sells houses..............

Not only that, Kitagawa Keiko pulls one of her most expressionless blank-faced acts, not that this is her fault because Sangenya is supposed to have 3 expressions - normal expressionless face, faint slight-relaxing-of-jaw "ochita" (got them) smile, and her ヽ(#`Д´)ノ GO!

In fact, most of the central characters are caricatures - from the icily efficient Sangenya, to the puppy-like Iwano, the try hard Mr-Nice-Boss Yashiro, the company "prince" Adachi, the waste-of-oxygen Shirasu, the cute-happy-to-be-adultress secretary, the sexy bartender....

Fortunately, it takes these caricatures and runs with it, doing what Japan does best, which is live-actioning what is essentially a moving comic book.

You keep watching because of the comic interactions, and then a few episode in you realise, actually, it's a pretty damn good drama.

As opposed to the tropey central cast, the guest stars are much more well-defined and multi-layered. The script is written by a woman, and after a while it shows - the amazing thing is that this show, not only in its central cast, but also in the numerous guests each episode, has an abundance of strong-willed, independent women that Japan often tries to pretend does not exist.

And through these women (and men), the series is actually a shrewd and often painfully realistic dissection about what family is supposed to mean. Rather than taking the moral high ground or the idealistic sundrenched tone of many a Japanese series, it accepts that reality isn't perfect and sometimes it's not possible to fix what has long been broken.

Sangenya's approach is incisive but also warmly empathetic, and she addresses what the customers need rather than what they want, and in that way reflect upon what "home" (ie) is supposed to be. For example, in the first episode, she convinces a gynaecologist couple to buy a unit much smaller than what they wanted or what their means could afford. Her reasoning, as she points out, is that their young son doesn't need a big empty house where his family is never home, but rather, a place close to where the parents work and a small living area where - in the rare moments that the family is home together - they can bond tightly, at least until the child is old enough to get past his loneliness.

In the second episode she addresses the Japanese "hikikomori" phenomenon, and in a twist on the usual J-dora way of encouraging these people to step out of their shells, she reasons that it's unreasonable and unrealistic to expect a man who's been cut off from society for 20 years to relearn the skills to live in society again, so she creates a home where he could self-sustain his wealth while living in as much isolation as he can.

Then there's the pair of lovers who adore each other emotionally but can't stand each others' living habits, the divorcee who keeps trying to get back with a guy she doesn't love but really just needs a home where she can be with her girl friends, the father and son who really want to live together but are too scared to bring it up with their hawkish wives who can't stand each other, the divorcing couple who actually become closer after given some distance....

It's a nice reflection of how society has evolved, and how the idea of home doesn't have to be the nuclear family. It can be for one person, it can be for a group of like-minded individuals who want to grow old together, or even the idea that a family can have two homes and be better off for it.

It's also a gentle illustration of how Japanese women are also evolving - that they can be measurably better than their male counterparts at their jobs (Sangenya and a number of other female guests), that they can now be single, that they can now be divorced, that they can now be the breadwinner while their husband looks after the domestics. Japan is without a doubt catching up with gender equality, but even these days the dramas that come out of Japan can be so...implicitly sexist in what they expected of the two genders. Female main characters are rarely high-ranking, high-achieving or highly skilled in their field, and if they are (e.g. in Doctor X) there's always friction with hoards of ageing men that try to maintain their iron grip on authority.

It is a fun series and the strategies about selling the right house for the right person are interesting, but the pleasure is the underlying commentary on society and the quiet revolution it leads for the overturning of Japanese gender stereotypes.
Gintama

summer 2016 jdorama: ON ~ Ijou Hanzai Sousakan Todo Hinako

Ratings: 6.6-9.6%

The name is a bit of a mouthful, in both Japanese and romaji: ON 異常犯罪捜査官・藤堂比奈子, meaning "unusual crime detective Toudou Hinako".

Another entry in Japan's ample catalogue of police dramas, ON comes with a bit of a twist - the main character, Toudou Hinako, is a detective, but under the cover of her righteous profession is a darkness she's torn between hiding and unveiling. She is "emotionally cold", so whereas most people would react with some degree of horror or sadness to a murder, she has only an intellectual fascination. She is drawn to them because she wonders what it takes to become a murderer - and what it would take for herself to cross that line, to "flip the switch" - and hence the title, "ON".

This is not actually as unusual a premise as the series tries to make it out to be. The police drama genre has no shortage of borderline sociopaths, such as the enduring creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What does make it unique is the gender of its lead - in both a genre that is traditionally led by men, and in a character trope that is traditionally assigned to men (at least in main or major characters).

Starring as Toudou Hinako is Haru, in infinitely better make-up than last season's Sekai Ichi Muzukashii Koi. She gives Toudou an innocence that saved the character from being painfully bland. Toudou is fascinating, if only in a metaphysical way. Unlike, say, Sherlock or Kimura's character Tsukumo Ryuusuke in Mr Brain, Toudou is amazingly socially appropriate in spite of her supposed lack of empathy. Perhaps sadly reflective of gender roles in Japan, the highly intellectual Toudou has studied the behaviours of those around her and emulate them in order to "fit in" - as opposed to Tsukumo or even Nakai Masahiro's autistic Ataru, who are allowed to be their unconventional selves and still be considered "great". Apart from her lack of empathy, Toudou does not have the usual characteristics of this trope of being disinhibited and overbearingly egotistic, and if you didn't see her face off with crazy murderers with that excited glint in her eye, you would think that she's just a reserved and smart girl.

The series also takes a slightly aberrant route that does not focus on crime-solving as much as it does on Toudou's quest to define herself and her own motivations. From that end, it's an introspective series that isn't often seen in this drama, and it poses some interesting discussions about the creation of serial killers, and the effect of personal choice versus environmental selection pressures. It was also interesting to see Toudou's perspective turning from "I approach murderers because I want to find out if they can drive me to finally kill, as I am destined to" into "I approach murderers because I want to prove to myself that I will make the right choice and not kill them".

Opposite her is Hayashi Kento, whom I've never watched before but puts up a thought-provoking portrayal of a conflicted, well-meaning forensic psychologist. Many of the deeper philosophical reflections come from him, one of the more interesting and always topical observations being a (rather off-hand) "weapons do kill people" - that the possession of a weapon both enables and psychologically reinforces the intent to kill, and may be what causes people to take that step across the line.

The other major character is Yokoyama Yuu's short-fused policeman, who likes to beat up murderers ever since his own sister was murdered 5 years ago. I've previously enjoyed Yokoyama's portrayals of some odd-balls in various dramas, but he's really quite forced and awkward here. This was especially poignant in a scene in the final episode where he meets with Hayashi Kento's psychologist, as he struts his Johnny's Junior stage walk while Hayashi lowers his head and looks exactly like the self-effacing psychologist he is meant to be.

Rounding out the main cast is Kaname Jun in a surprisingly bland turn as a fellow policeman that likes Toudou but never gets noticed. The older colleagues provide a parental role to Toudou that helps lead her out of her moral quagmire, but in themselves are quite forgettable. Apart from home, crime scenes and work, there are odd intrusions of scenes in a maid cafe, which often come off as cringe-inducing than cute or funny.

For a series that focuses more on the psychology than crime-solving, its crime scenes is more bloody and confrontational than most other Japanese series I've seen, not for the weak in stomach and definitely not to be watched during dinner. The plot is rather simple but between the philosophical musings and the atmospheric music and camera angles, it's surprisingly easy to digest. Worth a watch when there is nothing else to see.
Gundam 00

captain america: civil war

Starring the amazing Spiderman...as opposed to The Amazing Spiderman.

It's only just opened so I'll start with the non-spoilerific version:

It's not hard to see why it's scoring above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has its flaws - I'm not a fan of the shakycam, and if you had time to think about it, parts of the plot do seem forced and crowded, and it certainly counts somewhat on the audience to already be invested in the characters.

My biggest trepidation going into the movie was how it would handle the conflict. Would it lean too much towards Cap because he's the main character, or too sympathetic towards Iron Man because of RDJ's star power? Would the justifications be forced? Fortunately, the movie does an impressive job of giving each key character a consistent, logical and sympathisable reasons for choosing the side that they do, and while the events leading up to the two big showdowns are a bit contrived, the complexity of emotions and loyalties (as well as some highlight quirky moments) certainly make those flaws easier to overlook.

Unfortunately, I feel you have to already be invested in this universe, not necessarily as a diehard fan, but having at least watched and appreciated the character arcs throughout the Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-man and Avengers franchises. Then, does it make sense that Tony would take an accusation so personally, that Steve would question the judgement of those governed by ulterior agendas, that Natasha would choose the most utilitarian route.

Without those movies, it's hard to grasp how much Tony's parents and their sudden deaths had shaped his behaviour prior to him maturing into Iron Man, and how desperately he needed closure. Without those movies, it would also be hard to grasp why Captain America is drifting further and further away from the role of a "model" soldier, and why he would put so much on the line to protect a criminal. I've said before that while Steve is a soldier and understands the misfortunes of war, Tony fights for very personal and sometimes very egocentric reasons, and it's never been more painfully obvious than here. He fights because he wants to be a hero, he wants to do good things, he wants to save people, and he doesn't have Steve's capacity to take it in his stride when his mistakes have a name and a face and an erased future. The story gives them time to explore what they believe in and what their bottom line is, but they bring into the argument a respect for each other...so that by the time Tony says that iconic line, "But so was I [your friend]", you believe him, and by the time you see that iconic 3-way fight, it hurts to watch them.

The characters new to the roster include Black Panther, Spiderman and Ant-man (where do the hyphens and capitals go, anyway?) and they are a delight in an otherwise heavy, unrelenting chase. This is practically an origins story for Black Panther, and despite being only on the sideline he manages to have a complete character arc in one movie. The bug bros (as opposed to the science bros? XDDD) similarly had an amazing introduction into the greater MCU, both with their wide-eyed fanboyism, and Spiderman finding time between his excessive chatterboxing to fight cool.

I don't think I spoil anything by saying that the villain is Baron Zemo. I think reviews are quite divided on him: not "the Mandarin" divided, but there's a camp that say he's the usual boring Marvel villain, while another says he's the next best thing after Loki. Personally I think I agree with the latter - he has one of the better motivations in the stream of drab villains after money (Obediah Stane, Darren Cross), power (Ronan, Red Skull), petty revenge (Whiplash, Aldrich Killian) and whatever the heck was Ultron. His role was relatively light, but (without any spoilers) his story bears strong parallels to what several other characters in this movie experience, no one could fault him for doing what he did or the way he's decided to execute it (even though from a plot perspective, his plan was a bit too contrived). I mean, couldn't he have just emailed the video to Tony?

It's a movie I think that will have people take away different things. Is it complex and profound? Not really, it's certainly less about politics this time around and more about character-centric things like personal beliefs and family and modus operandi. But it is a beautifully constructed ensemble piece, where each character gets a moment to shine, and several of the major ones get a fully fleshed character arc.

And for me, I think it will stay one of my favourite MCU movies to date, even if it ends on an oddly disheartening note.
Jdrama

descendants of the sun (complete)

It's not often that stories make you feel both satisfied and dissatisfied with its conclusion.

The thing to remember about Descendants of the Sun is that it is ultimately a love story, rather than a war story or a medical drama, and as far as the romance part of it went, it was as perfect as love could be. Every couple had a happy ending, and apart from the odd glitch/argument between the secondary couple, their relationships were all impressively mature and rational.

On the drama side of things...well, let's say that it felt like that part of the story ended at episode 12. Sure, a few things happened in episode 14 and 15, but those were really afterthoughts. After the tense and tight Uruk arc, the plot line after returning to Seoul was bordering on recklessly flippant.

I know a lot of people have been talking about the Yoo's resuscitation - to be honest, I switched off my brain after he rolled out of the ambulance because I knew it was going to be =____= I've seen people talk about the beeping of the machines are wrong - let's be fair, the beeping of the machines is the least of the problems with that scene. In a real resus you're less likely to pay attention to the alarms than the actual patient and what the alarms/indicators read.

In particular - and firstly, kudos to the filming crew to actually be correct in using the defibrillator on someone who is showing ventricular fibrillation on the rhythm monitor - but after 2 shocks, the monitor is still showing VF (i.e. he may/may not have output but it's a shockable rhythm and NO ONE would call a stop at this stage, especially on a young fit patient) - the junior doctor says, "all signs of life is extinct". Umm....

I don't even know why he has a dressing on his abdomen which in no way explain the pattern of blood splatters on him and at this stage I'm too afraid to ask.

His predicament lasted all of 10 minutes, which.......while it frees him up for plenty of comic/romantic relief, really doesn't do any credit to what the series had been able to achieve.

The "deaths" in episode 15 ultimately feels like a retread of exactly what this scene entailed, except dragged out over 40 minutes and overturned in the last 5 minutes with what I thought was a poorly scripted episode ending...I don't mind that he comes back, but I think the reunion would have been better left completely to episode 16 so that episode 15 ends on a cliffhanger.

I think episodes 13-16 really dragged the series downwards, even though the ending was happy and complete. There was a lot of romcom which were sweet but done at the price of treating the more serious and dramatic moments with gravity.

Episodes 1-12 (well...okay, 3-12) were great in the way it successfully married medical/military thriller with rom-com, with some wonderfully written characters and some very witty dialogue. Episodes 13-16 sank more and more into cheesy rom-com territory, and the higher the stakes (and there were some good poignant plot points in those last 4 episodes), the more ridiculous it seemed when they were resolved so glibly.

It will still remain one of the better K-dramas I've watched (erm, out of 5? LOL) but the last 4 episodes really were quite anti-climatic and worth watching only because the actors manage to carry it on charisma alone.

But Captain Yoo and Doctor Kang, I think, will always be my favourite couple