29 August 2014 @ 11:32 pm
The title is an example of abbreviations gone wild, but also of my increasingly short memory span. I completely forgot I watched How to Train Your Dragon 2, so I thought I'd bring it up while discussing Guardians of the Galaxy.

HTTYD 2 was nice, in the same way that Iron Man 3 was nice. A sense of a job well-done but not really as amazing as you'd prefer your fond memory of it to be, and altogether 30 minutes too long.

It's been a while ago now, but the main thing that bothered me at the time was Hiccup's development - or lack thereof. He's hit a wall in his development and hasn't really learned to be anything better than he was. In the first movie it was about him and Toothless overcoming their flaws (a softie in the midst of Vikings, a dragon without a tail fin) and making the best of their assets. The second movie was...well, I have no idea. Hiccup is still the same awkward kind soul, but the struggle isn't there. He's like Thor in Thor 2, or Po in Kung Fu Panda 2, or Kira in Gundam Seed Destiny. He's had his character arc and the writers have no idea what to do with him again.

Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, is the dark horse of the northern summer season. To pull the words from another site, Marvel has successfully bookended the summer with two critically acclaimed and commercially proven movies, the first being Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Everything about GotG, from the concept to the concept art to the eventual trailers, was an unknown and a possible disaster in the making. Fans were excited and anxious in equal measures. Sure, the comic crowd who knew Rocket Racoon and Groot loved them before they started speaking, but how will the mainstream audience perceive them? And how are they going to be portrayed?

One of the film's greatest successes happen to be these two characters, and possibly the greater success arising out of that is you don't actually consciously think of them as two animated avatars. You don't watch Rocket and think, "Gee, that's a cute fluffy puppet". They're ridiculous concepts, but so rich in their characterisation that you forget their comical sources.

I've seen one negative review of GotG so far and it was in Chinese. I guess a lot of its humour translates quite poorly across languages (and cultures). For the English-speaking audience, though, the humour is well-timed and perfect-pitched, weaving through a story that was surprising in its tenderness, owing in no small part to its five main characters. I was going to say Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana did a really good job, but I think every one of the five has been amazing. A motley crew of marginalised antiheroes, each with a chip on their shoulder, thrown together. They protect the galaxy not because they're heroes, or that they have to, but because they want to. There's something raw and intuitive about their motivation, compared to the Avengers' more lofty moral grounds.

I know I'm asking a lot, but the price of freedom is high, always has been. But it's a price I'm willing to pay! If I'm the only one, then so be it. But I'm willing to bet I'm not. -- Steve Rogers

When I look around, you know what I see? Losers. I mean people who lost stuff. And man, we all have, a lot. But now life's given us a chance. To give a shit. And I am not gonna stand by and watch as billions of lives are being wiped out. -- Peter Quill

All rallying speeches are the same to some extent, but they're also excellent reflections on the characters who speak them. Rogers is always going to be the straight-up perfect American soldier, who would live and die for freedom. Quill has the heart of gold wrapped in a weasly exterior and steeped in Tony Stark's sarcasm-sauce.

The appeal of GotG is not the conceit of them being antiheroes, but that they are all fundamentally good people ruined by misfortune, now finally given the chance to be the person they want to be. This certainly gives them a layer of complexity that is not afforded by the likes of Thor or Steve Rogers.
11 May 2014 @ 01:36 am
I actually garbled a lot about this after watching it yesterday, so I'm in a bit of a word-drought regarding it.

I think people are fairly divided as to which was the best Marvel "Phase One" pre-Avengers movies - while the majority seem to favour Iron Man, a large number are divided between Captain America and Thor - which is a good thing, really. It is after all a huge franchise, and you can't appeal to everyone at once - so the next best thing is to appeal to different people with different franchises.

Personally I thought Captain America was a weaker outing for Marvel. Something about him just didn't quite connect with me, and while the underlying message echos with anyone who had ever been bullied, the rushed and perfunctory 3rd act left behind a generally sour taste. Added to that, while all of the characters were cheerfully likeable, none of them were all that memorable.

The Winter Soldier is a much more...heroic movie, in the sense that all major characters had a moment to shine. You don't remember Steve Rogers for dancing around the stage in tights and leather boots, but you will remember him for silently analysing the crowd who joins him in the elvator, before he laconically wonders aloud, "Before we get started, does anybody want to get out?"

I don't think the movie passes the Bechdel's test, but as someone had pointed out, at least 4 important hanging-by-the-thread rescues were engineered by the strong female cast. For once, there's more than just Black Widow kicking ass, too, even if she does the bulk of it. The Black Widow actually gets a bit more beefed out in her role. Scarlett Johansson's particular shade of carrot is still disagreeing with me, but she's no longer the token female ninja warrior, and saves Steve's ass in more ways than just physical combat.

In a sense, The Winter Soldier is almost an ensemble movie, though not quite. Whereas Thor was very much self-dependent, a lot of the plot in The Winter Soldier could not have happened if it was just Steve Rogers alone. Steve is a much more reactionary character than his superhero peers, though that is not exactly surprising given his role and his inherent inclination to trust people.

My only disappointment is that I feel I still don't have a grip on Steve's character. He's selfless, yes, but he also has very personal attachments. It won't be the first or second time he's run after Bucky into danger. But at the same time he's also the person who can detachedly tell his comrades that he was going to 1) crash his ship, 2) shut off the space portal with Iron Man still stuck outside or 3) bomb the ship he's still on. I feel there's some sort of conflict in this, that in crisis he can make these noble, difficult and somewhat emotionless decisions - and yet he seems very much driven by compassion and emotion.

However, whereas the first movie like a awkward tie-in with The Avengers and hence leaving a bad taste behind, the gigantic SPOILER that happens at the end of this one capped it for me. It was brave and promises new directions and new battles and new stakes. The problem with success is that once you find it, you become terrified of changing, and you reach a state of stasis that inevitably degenerates into tedium and disappointment.

The fact that Marvel was keen to ruin one of the most convenient and in a way stabilising existences in their universe was encouraging to see. I think the issue with Marvel and in particular their formula of a villain lasting only one movie ends up with some poorly developed villains but also movies that don't have any sense of stake. You know your heroes will survive.

I hope in the near future (though when I say near, that will still be at least 2 movies away) the stakes become higher and it would be great to see one or two heroes being written off the roster. It's not a thriller unless no one is sure that everyone will still be there at the end.

Edit August 2014:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier blu-ray proves that this is a film that still performs on rewatching. Even after transitioning to the small screen, the iconic action sequences - the Lemurian Star, the car chase, the elevator scene and the other car chase - are still gripping and intense. The Nick Fury car chase sequence loses some of its majesty (though I'm not sure that's the correct adjective) but still keeps you on the edge of the seat throughout the whole ten minutes.

Action aside, the story has enough nuances to still feel fresh on repeat. A good artist does not pass judgement; he merely raises debate. There's something patronising about impressing a message into a movie that will be screened across the world in different languages and cultures, and most mainstream movies avoid that for commercial reasons more than anything else.

Nevertheless, the ethical dilemma raised in the movie is still thought-provoking the second time around. The concept is not new - I'm sure I've seen it in any number of Japanese and Hollywood dystopian settings - and it's frightening because of its familiarity and imminency. What if, you could eliminant threats before they happen? What would you sacrifice for security? Freedom? Privacy? The presumption of innocence? Can you really reduce an individual down to a mathematical equation of probability?

On second viewing, I think my disappointment lies with the titular Winter Soldier. As the directors said on commentary, the hero is often only as good as the villain. Tony Stark has managed thus far with terrible villains because he's actually his own worst enemy. Thor was only interesting because Loki was fascinating. Everyone is an enemy to each other in ensemble movies like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy so the point is moot.

I think the Winter Soldier could have been more, yet at the same time I don't think they could have fit any more without slowing the pace down too much. I hope this is addressed in the next movie because it would make up for what's lacking in this movie - the dynamic between Cap and Winter Soldier, the tragedy and disbelief and the see-sawing between trust and mistrust that made the Thor-Loki dynamic so magnetic. The Winter Soldier was a terrifying menace, and Sebastian Stan did bring a hint of vulnerability in the rare moments that his character was exposed, but there was not much more.

That said, the Steve-Bucky bromance is probably the least convincing of all I've seen. Oddly, the Steve/Sam dynamic is the most natural brothers-in-arms of the lot. Tony/Rhodey always has a sense of vague insincerity in that Rhodey has a conflicting obligation to the army, and he seems more exasperated with Tony than friendly.
22 February 2014 @ 02:13 pm
Had another strange dream today, but unfortunately I forgot most of it.

There was an orphan kid who was rescued by a spy agency and trained as a spy. He gets stopped by a colleague who's interested in a relationship, but after getting rejected, suggested that they invest together in a business venture. He declined it and said he was saving his money up.

Then he ran into his boss (who looks like M ==;;; I haven't watched Bond for like 2 years so I dunno where that came from) who suggested he was lying. He was in fact donating all his money to some sort of research in digital espionage. Then he asked the boss if that was a good idea as it would be very powerful if the project succeeds, and she says there's always been the problem when you develop something that it could fall into the worng hands.

They walk into a research facility, and he gets concerned and says he shouldn't be privy to a lot of what he's seeing. She disagrees, and he gets angry and points out to her that field agents can get caught at any time and he doesn't want to have secrets he can give away. Then there was an interest discussion about how sometimes when they get caught they may have to pretend to agree to double cross, but that will plant a seed of doubt in their own loyalty which may grow to wonder which side they're loyal to.

Weird thing that no one died (oi..)
10 February 2014 @ 04:47 pm
I have less and less patience these days to sit down and go through most of the season's dramas. When I saw the initial ratings for the season I was a bit shocked. Apart from S ~ Saigo no Keikan which is rating consistently well, no other drama managed a pilot rating of above 15%...a fairly dismal outing for the season. I couldn't stomach the inevitable angst of Ashita, mama ga inai (about the troubled journey of a group of young orphans trying to find a place of belonging) I ended up watching S ~ Saigo no keikan and Shitsuren Chocolatier.

Let's just say, the ratings are justified.

S ~ Saigo no keikan (The final police)
Every season there's 1 or 2 or 5 police/detective dramas, each with a different quirk. Affiliation with a professor in neurology (Mr Brain), or a professor in physics (Galileo), specialising in antiterrorism computer espionage (Bloody Monday), solving "psychic" cases (Kiina), solving "psychic" cases until it looks like X-men in Japan (SPEC), department headed by a strong female (Boss), department headed by strong female with tragic past (Strawberry Night). Like medical dramas, the other staple of J-dora, they guarantee ratings of above 10% and frequently above 15%.

As is usual with police dramas headed by two male characters (curious that - never happens in female-led police dramas, but this is Japan), we are given two opposing personalities standing on the same frontline. Kamikura Ichigo, the hot-blooded naive idealistic passionate policeman who, in an RPG, would be a melee fighter. He is offset against Soga Iori, an cool-headed pragmatist who is an elite sniper. They end up on two different squads with separate ideals: SAT, whose role is to dissipate an acute situation swiftly and efficiently with whatever force necessary, and NPS, which seeks to preserve the life of everyone involved in the situation, including hostages and criminals.

Call me heartless, but I find it hard to agree with NPS's noble ideals in the sort of time-critical and stressful situations they come across. Is it really worth it to put hostages or other innocent bystanders at risk to keep the criminal alive? I understand the reasoning Kamikura gives, though some of it is full of so much vengefulness you wonder if that's even what the scriptwriter intended. He says that once the criminals die, the victims' loved ones will never get an answer. Yes, an answer would be nice, but sometimes you never get an answer even if they stay alive, and is it really worth risking other lives for an answer?? The second reason he states is that once criminals die, they will never repay their crimes and repent...which just sounds full of anger and unfulfilled vengeance. I actually find this a more acceptable motivation especially given how much passion Kamikura puts behind his actions - but you would not expect such anger from someone who was just a bystander and not directly a victim.

It's nice to see Mukai Osamu in a role like this. I don't know why people say they weren't sure if he'd suit the role given that he always has colder/effeminate roles. I don't know why people say he has effeminate roles =___=;;;;;; He's one of the few popular Japanese actors/idols who looks convincing as hot-blooded and brash. I always find him less convincing in some of his more "effeminate" roles, e.g. in Mei-chan no Shitsuji. I sort of find his aura a bit similar to Tamaki Hiroshi...there's a more...hmm, "straight" feel to them than a lot of the other Japanese idols, which was why I found Tamaki so disturbing in Ooku.

Ayano Go is growing on me. I don't know why for years I thought I disliked him >___> I mean I saw him in Gantz and liked him, and the only thing earlier than that I might have seen him in was Gold, but I can't even find his character on the chart for GOLD. I managed to dislike everything in that drama, including the usually gorgeous Amami Yuki. But Masami and Takei Emi kinda killed it for me...and I must've associated Ayano Go with that >__>

Anyway, I've really diverted from topic. The point is, the drama itself is very well constructed, with some solid action interspersed with light-hearted humour. Both Mukai and Ayano are excellent in their roles, and it's nice to see Ayano get something meatier to emote with after the insipid Saikou no Rikon. Kamikura is easy to like and Mukai plays him convincingly, but I don't know how many people agree with his ideals, and so far he's been VERY lucky not to have any casualties. I mean, dude, even Kenshin fought with a reverse-blade sword! And even Kira fought with a super powerful GUNDAM that just manages to disable suits instead of blow them up! Like, I'm not against your peace-loving spiel but do you really have to charge into a gunfight with nothing but your fists?? Disbelief is getting harder to suspend, man.

Shitsuren Chocolatier (Heart-break chocolatier)
A teenage boy trips over a beautiful girl on the way to school one day and falls irresistibly in love. But she's the queen bee of the high school, and her goal is to date every hot guy in every year...and obviously our main character isn't on the list - never mind that he's played by Matsumoto Jun from the ever popular boy band Arashi. In order to get close to the goddess of his dreams, Sota sucks up to her boyfriends instead (where is the logic?), goes to domestic classes and learns to make chocolate, because that's what she likes. Finally! One week before a Christmas several years later, she agrees to going out with him. They even share a kiss! But she can't see him for Valentines...but that's okay, she'll see him the day before!

Except when she gets the box of lovingly hand-made chocolates, she rejects him, because she realises he actually loved her. "But...we've been going out!" he cries, and she cocks her pretty head and says, "Going out? But we haven't even had sex."

Ummmmmmmmm..............that was about the part where the awkward long silence came between my mum and me.

Shitsuren Chocolatier's failure is that it's not really suited to be in Gekku, during the Valentine season.

The plot leaps and bounds ahead without regard to logic or reason or any sense of propriety. Sota goes to Paris on a whim and buys his way into an apprenticeship at a famous chocolatier shop with...a manga magazine. 6 years later he comes home, and Saeko, the girl he's still pining for after all these years, pays him a visit, which turns into a date at the which she tells him she's getting married...and would like him to make her wedding cake.

He was heart-broken for all of 30 seconds, and then he decides to jump right into it. After all, what is marriage to another man but just a small obstacle on the path to true love!! Never mind that she's a taken woman now, she's always been someone else's woman but still flirted with him! He's always had a chance, and it's now closer than ever! A wedding band is nothing but a thin string of metal! Oh...but just while he's still waiting to get that dream girl, a man's gotta deal with his needs, so think nothing of having a sex-buddy on the side while pining for true love.

Can you see the WTF written all over this? As a manga, this is probably okay, to be read and seen as a joke. But as a drama, I can't see this being acceptable in a country that is still largely conservative and pro-monogamy. I'm surprised by reviews saying that people should stop complaining about Saeko because "at least she's enthusiastic in seeking love". That's not the point. The point is that she is a married woman, and she is still flirting with a guy who is still clearly hung up about her! The fault isn't her entirely, because Sota is the one who thinks "so what if she's married? We can be adulterers!" But Saeko is also the one who purposely wears a tiny dress that barely covers her legs when she turns up to his house, and is disappointed when Sota doesn't copulate with her then and there. Not that he didn't fantasise about it in detail.

My issue isn't that these things are portrayed, but that it's portrayed in such an ambiguous way as to say that adultery isn't a bad thing, that it was okay to be married and pursue an old flame.

The series is gorgeous. Ishihara Satomi is more gorgeous than she's every been. Most of the major characters are gorgeous eye candy...but watching it just gives me the greasy unclean feeling of soured mayonnaise...rather than the elegant bittersweet of dark chocolate.
10 November 2013 @ 07:12 pm
Nothing beats a hearty tomato soup to stave off the winter chill...or what's left of it as the cold wind propels us along to summer. Most cuisines have some variation of it, whether it's the minestrone or solianka or the Vietnamese Bo Kho.

I make this often enough that I thought I should write the recipe down instead of looking it up every time.

Curry powder: I use a Chinese mix, but almost every curry mix is different so find one you like
Tomatos or tomato paste
Beef: brisket, or chuck steak works very well too

Nice to have
Fish sauce: the presence of fish sauce defines this as Vietnamese, but it's not essential
Bay leaf
Chinese five spice powder: there are a number of spices that are not usually present in curry, in particular star anise and a higher proportion of cinnamon
Vegetables: carrot, radish, potatos, parsnip, celery are some ideas

1. Cut everything into 1-2cm size cubes
2. Marinate the beef in curry powder, fish sauce, five-spice powder and pepper. This is the most important step, especially if you're Asian and don't like the taste of gamy beef.
3. Brown onions and garlic, then brown the beef on all sides
4. Add water and throw in all the vegetables. Add the tomato paste, lemongrass and bay leaf
5. Simmer for 1.5-2 hours (the beef will start getting coarse after this). Skim the oil and fat off.
6. Add salt and more pepper to taste
01 November 2013 @ 11:14 pm
8 ICU admissions, 2 trauma calls and 1 cardiac was All Hallow's Eve and clearly something was on the rove.

It's never a good idea to watch anything after an extremely long and exhausting night shift...but then again, there is probably no better judge of quality than whether a movie is still enjoyable for someone who's too tired for patience or humour.

A lot of reviews said the movie was incredibly funny, but though it did make me smile a few times it wasn't as comical as people made it out to be.

Once again, Loki is the highlight of the film. Every time I watch something with him, I fall more and more in love with this character. As Chris (Hemsworth) and Tom himself have pointed out, Loki is loveable because underneath all that charm and mischief, there is a raging storm of jealousy and grief and anger and indignation, yet underneath all that, he is driven by a deep yearning for a place of belonging, a family, a home, a clan to call his own.

Most characters in these high budget blockbusters get called well-developed with two layers...a villain with three conflicting sides that all form an integral part of almost cheating. Now play that off against Thor, who forms the core of his negative feelings as well as positive connections, you get a very watchable onscreen dynamic, even without all the "bromance" calls.

The two central characters (...sorry Jane, but Loki definitely seems to wrangle more weight) and the family dynamics carry the emotional weight of the film...though when I say weight it wasn't very heavy even with the film's one emotional turning point. Oh, the scene was very well-done, but it was (probably appropriately) overshadowed by the fallout from such an event. Last film the family dynamic was chiefly focused on Odin's growing frustration and Frigga's milder exasperation with Thor's arrogant antics. It's nice to get a bit of Loki versus the parents in this movie...which almost parallels that of Thor's in the first: the son they still love and clearly had better expectations of, caught up by his own obsession with power and authority and an arrogance he doesn't even realise he has.

As likeable as Loki is, he needs Thor to play off against and vice versa. Thor is unfortunately a much more two-dimensional character. He is - as Tom calls it - the sun to Loki's moon, and like the sun it shines with the same drearily immutable brightness everyday. He is more mature now; the sight of him smiling, quietly lost in thought, at the banquet table is a far cry from the boy-man at the beginning of the first movie. It's hard to say whether the events of The Avengers touched him - certainly not as much as it's freaked Tony Stark out - but he's a guy seasoned by battle, and now seasoned by life. But he comes alive when Loki enters the scene. It's nice to see him hold his own against Loki this time, to surprise the God of Trickery with his own tricks.

Jane unfortunately becomes fodder. She spends two-third of the film being the damsel in distress, and it's not quite redeemed by her achievements in averting Malekith's efforts in the final scene. Speaking of Malekith, he was probably the most maligned villain next to the Mandarin. It was very hard to care for a character whose motivations were never explained, especially when you've preceded him with the incredibly nuanced Loki. In fact, a lot of the side characters are maligned. I found Darcy to be really annoying this time around. Her perkiness seemed shoehorned in and jarred against the rest of the tone. The fatherly Erik Selvig similarly was reduced to a delirious old man who was introduced running around Stone Henge buck naked...and it was never explained.

It was an enjoyable film, and personally I think it's a bit more cohesive than the first one (though people's mileage vary). The climax actually feels like a climax, and the stakes are better matched to a movie that encompasses multiple realms. That said, strip away the family dynamics between Odin, Frigga, Thor and Loki, you get an flaccid film with a weak plot and pointless villain and pathetic heroine. it for the messed up Odin family.

Random aside: to me, Tony Stark and Loki are likeable for similar reasons. They're both outwardly charming, mischievous...almost anarchist characters. But both of them hide this incredible vulnerability that are so perfectly portrayed by their respective actors. Both are very lonely people who don't know how to form solid relationships, and while superheroes are inherently lonely, they're both very bothered and driven by their loneliness. You can argue that Stark became Iron Man because he became so aware of his loneliness that he wanted to do everything in his power to protect the bits of warmth that he knows. Loki is just given an extra layer of a misplaced revenge story.
22 September 2013 @ 11:35 pm

最近心情不好,又跑去翻了下《銀魂》。真是神品啊,多麽差的心情都可以被鼓舞起來。雖然我只是看了銀魂2010年和2011年兩年的什麽“櫻花祭(偽)”和“反省祭(同偽)”。沒有比看聲優們當場飆演技更讓人熱血翻騰的事!!尤其是中井桑摘自104集那段獨白,從十四那底氣不足的偏高聲綫,毫無痕跡地轉成土方的低沉冷峻……啊啊啊啊~~~ (此人崩坏中)

好吧算我偏心,其他人其實也都很厲害,竟然一次都沒有卡詞也太彪悍了說。銀時的聲音雖不是我的菜,但杉田真的把感情控制的很好,讓這個常年死魚眼的主角又可以吐糟又能齷齪又能卑鄙又能英勇無比。嗯。也算厲害。(銀:喂,你對我的最高評價好像就是個“也算厲害”,我難道不厲害嗎,我好歹也算是主角不是嗎!) 唉~我真的還是很喜歡石田的聲音啊啊~~雖然每次在聼現場錄製都會覺得跟記憶中有差別,上次看SEED的現場配聲也是覺得阿斯蘭不太像,回音的效果嗎?(啊,不過最遊記現場配聲可是超~~~級~~~溫柔的八戒聲哦~~~聼得我冒粉心了~~~) 還有配登勢老太太(忽然感覺到一股寒意?)的那位大媽也很厲害,跟本人的聲音聲調出入很大!

話説我發現一個很雷的事實,而且是遲遲發現的那種,所以很雷……就是演“金時”的那位中什麽的(中村:喂!中村很難記嗎?你個中井都能記,中村有難麽?),原來是杉田(也就銀時)的流傳數年的眾所皆知的大……呃……閨蜜 (中村同杉田:閨蜜能亂用的嗎!) 都坦坦蕩盪地說過什麽 “啊~此生有XX,吾已無憾”什麽的,不叫閨蜜,你們是多想被直接呼成基友啊你們!話説你們的角色監督是多麽的惡趣味啊,好找不找非要找上銀時的那個啥來做金時………………*扶額狀*


07 September 2013 @ 10:49 pm
So in the last 3 days after coming off 6 days of 12-hour shifts with an interview in between...I think I've managed to sleep 40 hours or something Orz

The byproduct of that is, of course, being bombarded with my oddly psychopathic dreams. This morning there were two groups of superpowered kids fighting each other, like it was a long-going feud. It was taking place at an abandoned stretch of beach, with an old bridge and storage containers on one side, then opening out to the ocean and overgrown with tall yellow weeds. In the end there were only two girls left and one of them smashed the van that the other girl had arrived in. The other girl had to fish it out of the ocean but that took so much effort that she couldn't fight any more, which was just as well because the first girl was very tired as well. Then, a hundred metres or so from where they were, there were kids from the two groups secretly meeting...not to conspire, but because they had met each other outside of their fights and had made friends. Since then, every time they needed to fight each other, they simply withdrew to the side and hid away. It was like the nerdy bunch at school, they just sat there and read. Slowly, other people from their groups joined them, a boy and a girl who were not supposed to leave their base, etc. One of them walked out onto the beach and saw the two girls from earlier wandering slowly along the shoreline, just taking the time to enjoy the scenery instead of trying to kill each other. They were invited to join the others, and it turns out to be a strangely peaceful group.

And yesterday there was a dream of a house getting swarmed by attackers...and a girl skating down the stairs and charging into the house to fight...and scary giant stalkermen....
26 June 2013 @ 03:54 am
It's rare that I watch a movie after which I end up agreeing with probably every review I've come across, both positive and negative.

It's been probably 10 years since I read the book (feel tremendously old at the thought). I remember liking no one in it, except maybe the narrator Nick, but oddly enough I enjoyed the book. In a way the course of the tragedy ran a bit like The Chocolate War: shit may hit the fan but it never falls on the rich and powerful. I remember disliking Daisy a lot, I remember her mostly for her superficiality and weakness that went unpunished. Gatsby was a genius and a fool, and a hopeless romantic who fell in love with a dream that wasn't worth the effort.

The movie made Daisy a lot more easier to sympathise with, or perhaps I hadn't bothered to read the nuances properly. I never thought that Daisy had any real feelings for Gatsby, attracted simply to his huge estate, the endless parties, the "beautiful shirts" and so on, the love of being loved. Hence, when beckoned to leave the security of her life, she hesitated and chose instead to break Gatsby's dream. The movie suggests more, that she perhaps did have some sort of love for Gatsby, that the five years had mattered...though that might just be Nick's wishful thinking.

Nick is a little too...unjaded in this movie, if that were possible. That said, I much prefer Tobey Maguire here than as Peter Parker. LOL.

A lot of people really enjoyed Dicaprio's portrayal, but something was off for me. To begin with, his accent was jarring, an uncomfortable mix of almost-British but mostly-American, yet not in that vintage way in yon days of ole. Then...perhaps I'm remembering my Gatsby wrong, but as talented as Leo is, I wasn't convinced. I wasn't convinced that Nick could be convinced, that the jaded man could look back on this version of Gatsby and say with heartfelt sincerity that he was the most hopeful man he was ever likely to meet. This is because despite that purest, dearest of dreams, Gatsby was a man with faults, yet the movie had opened with the lines - and hence challenged us to accept - that he was the only one in the story above reproach. The movie, and Leo, really wasn't able to redeem Gatsby from the lies and the falsehood and what seems like the overarching vanity of his actions by giving the audience the conviction of his vast imagination and the vitality of his dreams.

Then there are the complaints of Luhrmann's directorial style, and boy are there many, and many I agree with. There is a lot of glitz and glamour and head-spinning shots, but it doesn't give you much breathing space to appreciate the depth of the emotion. This matches the superficiality of the age he's trying to project and perhaps of the story as well, but sometimes it's hard to be convinced it was intentional. It is as gimmicky as Joe Wright's Anna Karenina and I say that without compliment. Gatsby's first appearance was made into a dramatic revelation resplendent with fireworks set to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The last time I heard that song was in a ridiculously joyous rendition by the S Orchestra in Nodame Cantabile, and I just could not take that scene seriously. The reunion between Daisy and Gatsby was hilarious and sweet but so tonally different from the rest of the movie that it seemed to have dropped in from a chick-flick.

The style is show and tell, and by that there is a lot of show and a wholly unnecessary amount of tell. As people have pointed out, many scenes are accompanied by Maguire's reedy-voiced narration. There is little regard for subtlety and little need for interpretation. Everything is presented on a platter with a commentary and a detailed placard. The friggin, pardonnez mon Francais, narration even appears as typed text on the screen. A less patient audience may feel rather insulted.

It is a spectacle, an extravaganza, a high octane vehicle of glamour and whatever else the media have called it. It is something to be seen once and forgotten, and let the book be remembered instead.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
06 May 2013 @ 05:06 am

Watched Iron Man 3 a couple of days ago, and in some ways it's better than I expected. It's somewhat like the feel of The Avengers, in that despite its multiple imperfections, it's a far more enjoyable product than the sum of its parts.

There's no arguing that the Iron Man franchise is the international money horse of the Disney/Marvel-owned cinema universe (in distinction from the Sony-owned Spiderman who due to these factors is unable to join the Avengers on their foray despite being a key member of the team). One can argue that without the success of the first Iron Man, there would be no Marvel cinema universe...and perhaps there would be no rekindling of RDJ's career.

It's worthy to note that RDJ's contract with Marvel actually ends with this movie, so he is not contractually obliged to continue his stint as Tony Stark, though he clearly is very fond of the character.

Assuming that this is RDJ's final outing (as unlikely as it seems at this point), I think it makes a good final installment of a trilogy - or perhaps in all, Tony's 5th official appearance.

I was a bit hesitant about the news of Shane Black directing. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was critically acclaimed, but I thought the flavour was too macabre and cynical for Marvel. The feeling of KKBB is like a dark fairytale, like maybe the original Grimm tales, full of gore and betrayal and happy endings at a Pyrrhic price.

In that respect, I was wrong. And as Shane Black and RDJ promised, the third movie stripped down the superfluous action and got closer to Stark's vulnerabilities. The script reads tighter than IM2, though the awkward ad-libbing is still obvious in some scenes. It doesn't quite reduce Stark to the level of helplessness in IM1, but it puts him in a tight spot for most of the movie and allows for an easy flow of an abundance of well-choreographed action scenes.

It was also nice to see a continuation of The Avengers storyline. Several of the pre-Avengers movies were accused of being too light on its own plot and too heavy on hinting to the combined movie. IM3 is fortunate in that it's the first movie to follow The Avengers and it doesn't need to carry the mantle of building up the Avengers' second outing. All it needs to do is acknowledge that Manhattan had happened, and it does so nicely by extending Tony's range of emotions and hence actually requiring RDJ to do some of his excellent acting.

In fact, as the story flows, we forget to wonder why Iron Man didn't call for help from the Avengers. For Tony Stark, his fight has always been personal. When Captain America stood on the Helicarrier and accused him of fighting only for himself...there was no argument. Tony is not a soldier or a mercenary, he's a self-made vigilante who would never drag other people into his personal battles.

One thing Shane Black excels at is creating some very dimensional characters. Despite a large number of new characters introduced into the cast, many of them are quite memorable, and yet the old characters are still further developed.

Pepper Potts manages to be amazing in this movie. She's not the helpless damsel-in-distress she's always been, but a totally kick-ass woman in her own right. Gwyneth Paltrow has been saying for a while (since completing filming) that she wanted to leave the franchise, but apart from replacing her I don't see them writing Pepper out of the picture. This version of Tony is far too attached to her, and he'll just have a major meltdown if anything happens.


Now, onto the flaws, and there's a few. Firstly, the trailers are pretty misleading, though that in itself is not necessarily a flaw. But the trailer gave the impression that the Mandarin was the major villain in this movie...when in actual fact, he's not, and that is a pity.

Sir Ben Kingsley is an amazing actor, who can turn from a threatening dictatorial presence to a doddering old junkie in the next, so it seems an enormous pity that the plot wastes his talent in revealing the Mandarin as nothing but a mannequin. In the comics, the Mandarin is Iron Man's greatest nemesis. He is to Tony Stark what Loki is to Thor (though obviously...different in many ways). I do hope he makes a reappearance at some point...and that brings me to the second point.

Aldritch Killian is too weak as a villain. Oh, physically he is almost invincible, sort of like a conveniently more destructible version of the Wolverine. But as far as villains go, Iron Man has had a run of three poor villains. The first was motivated by greed, the second by revenge, and this guy by...what? Both? Tony Stark still stands as the most visible superhero within the Marvel cinematic universe. He is a weapon-maker who spouts ideals of peace and green-love and all things, that would to a cynical eye look, hypocritical. It is time that he meets someone who can match, not only his cleverness and strength, but who can also shred his flimsy ideology to the rubbish it's worth. People adore him because he wins...but what happens when he loses, will his ideology still look so appealing then? That would be very interesting to explore and I think it should take someone like the Mandarin to test his mettle.

Thirdly, while the action scenes are very fun to watch, there's a lot of flaws abound. The logic of the suits and of the Extremis virus haven't been planned that well, and the abilities of each armour unit and each Extremis host vary wildly from scene to scene, from battle to battle. The thing about video games is that it doesn't just have to look cool, there has to be rules and the rules have to be enforced. IM3's most visible flaw is that no one's bothered to think of the rules and as a result there is a movie filled with enemies that would be indestructible up until the moment they're dispatched with one simple blast.

Aldritch Killian and the Mandarin were not the only ones who were slighted in their development. I expected more of Rebecca Hall's character...but she didn't last long. And despite her being pretty spunky and Pepper being actually cool, the movie still failed the Bechdel test.

It was a very enjoyable movie, and it amended at least one flaw of the previous Iron Man movies, which was that the climax here actually deserved to be called a climax. What it would benefit from is actually finding some villains with good ideological conviction. Other than that, the logic of the suits and the powers of the Extremis hosts could have done with some more thought...because it does get distracting eventually.