Sunday, August 07, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I saw the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I am deeply impressed.

I honestly was expecting a great movie. I was not expecting a powerful, moving, and in some ways, important film.

It was all of that.

Yes, I'm tired and impressionable and a ganglion away from my raw emotions right now, but the initial trailers really mislead about what the movie has to say. There's deeper stuff here.

James Franco does a solid job. Well cast, emotive, and not over-used. John Lithgow is brilliant, and his portrayal of a victim of Alzheimer's is poignant and moving and appropriately hard to watch. No, it doesn't show us what it is to live with the disease day in and day out anymore than a movie sex scene shows what a lifetime romance is, but his portrayal is at least less tawdry.

And Andy Serkis gives one of the most powerful utterances I'm heard in a film in a long, long time.

But what's important about a science fiction movie with apes?

I dunno -- maybe what it says about medical ethics, humane treatment of lesser creatures, family love versus obligations, desperate hope in the face of futility, greed, playing god, and revenge versus reckoning?

You know -- light, sci-fi fare.

The film is a prequel to the 1968 film -- and yes, there are earlier entries in the franchise (I had to argue that point with a cheeky cashier who not only didn't understand The Customer is always Right, but she also doesn't know her classics).

Rise does a good job setting up the small set pieces needed to dovetail into Planet of the Apes, and other than one over-done piece of dialog, wasn't hamfisted about it (the extraneous bit of dialog was jarring, and would be OK for homage, but not prequel). On the positive flip side, there's a bit of nifty easter egg here for the first film's leading man.

There also are some neat solid artistic-but-not-art-house composition and shots in the film, if you're into that kind of thing (I am).

On a not-quite-minor point, I'm impressed with the movie's clever use of end credits as epilogue. Some, "But how did" questions get deftly answered in the graphics there. Cheeky Cashier missed that.

I recommend the film. It's not War and Piece, but it is a solid offering that pulls the bandage off of some unresolved debates, watch the small moments, and enjoy the fun ride.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Superman & Batman: Apocalypse

I finally got around to watching Superman & Batman: Apocalypse.

Despite some occasional shortcuts on the animation side, this is one of the more solid comic book animation offerings.

Definitely not kiddie fare, it's a great reprise for Tim Daly as Superman and Kevin Conroy as _the_ Batman.

There is some interesting concantenation of a few start arcs, but there's some meaty content here, and a good expression of the Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman interplay.

There's also a pretty impressive sequence showing what a battle between a Kryptonian and Darkseid should look like.

Definite recommend.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I'm a fanboy, and I dug the new Thor film.

Good balance of giving Thor something worthy to fight, and following comic canon.

Maybe more later.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hawaii Five-0

One of the pleasant surprises for me in the recent television season has been the Hawaii Five-0 reboot from CBS.

To be honest, I really didn't have much by way of expectations for the series.

Now, I say that, but since Alias, I do give pretty much anything from writer/producer Alex Kurtzman a chance (mostly for his mad production skilz). Same for his partner, writer/producer Roberto Orci (mostly for mad writing skilz).

And I'm a big Daniel Dae Kim fan (he plays Chin Ho Kelly in the series). Since I think I first noticed him a The Pretender episode in the late nineties, I've realized this dude is one of the consistently hardest working working actors I follow (seriously, look up his IMDb rap sheet; you'll say, "Oh yeah, that guy!").

I've been impressed with Grace Park (Kono). Having intentionally missed the whole Battlestar Galactica reboot, I wasn't all that aware of her work (which is my shortcoming, because she's been busting it for years). Though I did remember her as being one of the dancers in Romeo Must Die. Because I'm a guy.

And Scott Caan ("Danno")? I dig him in everything from Ocean's Eleven / Twelve / Thirteen, Boiler Room, to Entourage. He adds a heart to the show as the mainland-displaced, divorced dad madly protective of his daughter, and willing to sacrifice anything to be available to her. He does that role really well, and with trademark Caan snark (like father, like son; but make not mistake, Scott is his own man).

I was also curious to see how Aussie Alex O'Loughlin handled an all-American lead roll as Commander Steve McGarrett (spoiler: he handles it well).

The show started off expectedly rocky, and the cast got past it's pilot and start-of-season jitters early, and the writing, camera work, and O'Loughlin mugging the camera thankfully went away quickly, so that the show didn't become a cartoon of the action-forensic genre.

Sure, the non-main cast acting (with some exceptions) is still uncharacteristically weak, the product placement commercialism is at times distracting and fourth-wall breaking, and the Iron Chef fixation is ... odd, but overall, the series keeps getting stronger.

And though I've been meaning to write about the series for a while, it was this week's episode, Episode 20 -- "Ma He Kahakai" ("Shore"), that prompted me to write. There is so much going on in this episode, that if you're invested, you may find yourself tired at the end of it.

And it's not about the series, or even the episode, per se. It's about character, heroism, and sacrifice -- topics that have been consuming me over the past few months in particular.

Be warned, there are some **spoilers** below.

At its core, this episode is about heroism -- no matter the cost.

Series lead Commander Steve McGarrett is wired as a hero. Mere minutes into the episode, he discovers a body, and he jumps down a cliff to investigate, and has a fall that shatters his arm and nearly kills him. And he goes back to work, as if nothing has changed. He works with a conviction and focus that makes a broken limb an incident, not an inhibitor. He doesn't complain; he works. It'd be easy to dismiss this as unrealistic writing (feel free to), but we've got 20 episodes of consistent character development that sets it aside as being tremendously congruent with the series and the character.

And for series faithful, we finally find out the secret behind Chen's "dirty" cop disgrace -- Chen dismissed from the force, accused of stealing money.

It turns out his cop uncle (played by hard-working actor Sab Shimono) took money to pay for a black-market kidney for his dying wife, Chen's and Kono's beloved aunt. Chen didn't know about, but when he found out, he took the fall on behalf of his uncle. He lost his job, his badge, his reputation -- and he did it willingly, so that his uncle would be free from jail, and could take care of his wife. Family before reputation (which, for me, means he didn't lose his honor).

When kid-cousin Kono finds out, she's furious, and wants him to tell people, so he can clear his name. He says he won't, because he wants to keep protecting family. In so doing, he potentially estranges himself from his last remaining family advocate. More sacrifice.

But you know who the biggest hero in the episode is?

It's the fisherman, the barely named Jack Leung (actor/producer Joji Yoshida) - dead before the show starts, making an appearance only as a body at the beginning of the show, and as a disembodied "vic" photograph throughout the episode.

This man was a father and a grandfather. His only run-in with the law was an assault charge days before the story's events, when he was beaten for refusing to be part of drug running operation. Integrity. And he was working day and night jobs (unbeknownst to his son), so that he could put his family financially in the free and clear. Sacrifice and humility.

It's this man, who -- while working his night job -- saw the perpetrator of a cold murder case board a plane, he pursued information about it, and was ultimately killed for doing so. He didn't cower. He didn't turn a blind eye, pretending he didn't see anything. He didn't deceive himself as, "Naw, I'm probably reading too much into it."

And, because he pursued it, the murderer is caught, extradited, and is going to be tried -- bringing justice and potential closure to the surviving parents of their murdered 19-year-old daughter.

It cost this man his life. In an anonymous, unglorified, non-televised act of heroism that he never even got to witness.

I hesitate to call this the "best" kind of heroism. But it feels pretty important. God willing, it becomes more and more common in our character disordered, not-my-problem, "heroism is for TV, not the workplace" world.

I hope you won't dismiss this rambling because it's spawned by a TV show. For me, entertainment is an outlet and encouragement for character -- good and bad. It's bigger than what's shown on screen. The biggest foil isn't the characters on-screen -- it's the audience.

Quick aside number one: The father of the murderer is trying to excuse his son's actions as a "mistake; a stupid mistake". Danno holds him accountable:
"A stupid mistake? He strangled that girl. He strangled her because she wouldn't go up to his hotel room. And he dumped the body in the ocean. That's not a stupid mistake. That's what your son did."
Quick aside number two: The victim's (Jack Leung's) son is played by James Kyson-Lee (most people probably remember him as Ando Masahashi in the Heroes TV series.). I've written before about how inspired I am by him. Another amazingly, amazingly constantly working actor.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Super Hero Squad Show

I'm a big fan of Marvel's Super Hero Squad franchise.

It started with the wicked awesome, mini, mildly deformed-style toys, branched into online comic strips (followed by an ongoing comic book series), a video game (lately followed by another), and then the TV series.

Every expression of the franchise has got its merits, but it's the TV series that's currently scratching my fanboy and professional itches.

Why? How about top-notch voice work form the likes of Tom (Spongebob) Kenny and Japanese anime and action cartoon demigod Steve (Spike Spiegal) Blum?

And while I've been wanting to do this quick write-up for a while, it was the recent episode, "Lo, How the Mighty Hath Abdicated!", written by Charlotte Fullerton, that reminded me what works for this series.

A lot of comedic animated series try to hit at two levels -- kids and adults. What surprises me is SHS successfully hits those two levels, and a third -- the Marvel fanboy.

In this particular episode, you get to see comic mayhem (a la Loki and the Enchantress), which is entertaining for kids and adults alike. Add to that subtle jokes like an Elvis-themed Asgardian wedding officiator (trust me, it works), fanboy comic mythos allusions to the complex relationship between Magneto, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver, and even a comic re-enactment of one of the more touching moments in The Wizard of Oz.

Other episodes have clever, almost dallying-with-the-line adult jokes ("Move it, asteroid clown!"), and subtle clever references to Star Wars, other pop culture tropes, and even past Marvel animated forays (the introduction of Firestar spawns a "Reptil and His Amazing Friends" moment); entertaining, above the heads of the younger audience, but engaging for adults.

And while the first season stayed largely planet-bound as the Squadies gather fractured infinity gems in opposition to Dr. Doom and his ragtag crew, season 2 has gone cosmic, possibly following the lead of the Marvel publishing line's wildly successful print series.

I highly recommend the series for fans of clever writing, solid voice acting, kid-plus-adult friendly entertainment, or pop culture and fanboy tributes. And any combination thereof.