Star Trek Discovery: early impressions

2 Oct


After the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery, my reaction wasn’t the resounding “Yes! Yesss!” I had so hoped for. Instead, it was a much more muted, “Okayyy…it’s not terrible.” There were a couple of interesting things there. It was visually stunning. There were some intriguing characters and performances (most especially Michelle Yeoh’s). The perspective of a secondary officer as the lead character showed promise…

After watching episode three, my attitude has shifted from “Is this good?” to “Is this really Star Trek?” and not an action / special effects show masquerading as Star Trek?

Even before the typical Trekkie arguments (Canon versus non-canon? “Prime” or reboot timeline? Why do the Klingons look like blue-skinned, earlobe-less Ferengi?) I find myself searching for the core elements that define Star Trek for me. I appreciate that they are trying to appeal to a new, younger audience. I just wish that direction didn’t have be at the expense of people like me.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] Mainly, I am still searching for a  character I actually like. The lead character Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) is an imperfect, damaged character. While flawed characters make for compelling television, especially in modern science fiction (The Expanse, Black Mirror), this hasn’t compelled me to root for her so far.

Star Trek is meant to represent an ideal: the pinnacle of mankind’s noble aspirations. At this point in the series, I am still searching for a character that represents that ideal. (Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou came very close until a Klingon stabbed her through the heart in Episode 2!) Instead we have key players who disobey orders, choose violence over peace and justify deplorable means to achieve questionable ends.

I’m also looking for the camaraderie, the spirit that makes very different people come together around a common cause each week. I’m looking for that sense of hope that mankind’s future is brighter, much brighter, than its past. These are all core elements of Star Trek so far absent from Discovery.

Disney somehow manages to win new audiences with each new Star Wars project while still satisfying its most loyal fans. But after the disappointing recent movies and this long-awaited new series, I may be forced to accept that longtime Star Trek Fans may never get what we want.

Why Gen-Xers mourn their idols more than any other generation

29 Dec



We lost so many important people in 2016. Why was that particularly hard on my generation?

I feel like I’ve spent much of the last  year in mourning — not for family or friends but for people I’ve never even met. For many people that sounds like someone being overly dramatic but, for anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, they will tell you that it’s not. Every expression of grief is heartfelt and genuine.

Yesterday I woke up to the news that Carrie Fisher (beloved author and actress best known for playing Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars film franchise)  passed away at the age of 60. The news came barely 24 hours after the untimely death of another icon, pop singer George Michael, and after what feels like an endless list of obituaries of personalities from my youth: Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Garry Shandling and Gene Wilder. (In addition to other great influences like Harper Lee and John Glenn.)

Why do we feel for the loss of celebrities like we would a “real” person? I like to believe it’s because my generation (aka Gen-X: born from 1965 to 1984) is the first truly “multi-media” generation: the first to be exposed to cable & satellite television, home video recorders and the first early adopters of the internet. We didn’t just read about these people through static images and journalistic intermediaries. We brought them into our living rooms, our bedrooms, our desktop and laptop computers. Ours was the first generation that consumed their media whenever we wanted, as often as we wanted. We spent literally thousands of hours listening to their voices, reading their faces and even mimicking their best lines and moves.

As writer Stereo Williams describes it: “We were the first generation of kids to grow up with VCRs and Blockbuster video and cable TV as mainstays of our culture. We were able to watch our favorite movies at home whenever we wanted, we could tape our favorite TV shows, and were constantly bombarded with syndicated gems. (Requiem for an ’80s Kid: We’ve Lost Our Prince and Now Our Princess)

1101830718_400I may not have had cable television growing up in Manila in the 1970s and 80s but we could tap into the US Armed Forces’ Far East Network (FEN) UHF television signal, giving us a steady supply of American news, sit-coms and late-night television. I rented pirate VHS tapes recorded live off MTV in the US. When I close my eyes while listening to 1984’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” I can tell you exactly who is singing and when. That’s also how I learned Prince and David Bowie were the coolest cats on the planet. Throughout high school, I had Bowie’s TIME magazine cover pinned to my closet. My copy of the 12-inch single of “Purple Rain” (in purple) is the most prized possession in my record collection.

But back to Carrie Fisher. My brothers and I had a copy of both Star Wars and Empire on VHS. I must have seen each film at least 200 times. (And that was just in the 80s.) Tell me any line from any of the movies in the original trilogy and I can tell you the line that comes immediately after. I played with my Star Wars action figures, mixing them with LEGO and Playmobil to create my own private “expanded universe” throughout my childhood (and even, I have to admit, long after it was considered cool to still play with toys).

Fisher is, of course, part of the original Star Wars triumvirate that includes Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. In 2016, all three reassembled onstage at Comic Con to promote Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

It was the first time I had seen all three onscreen for the first time in decades, each one having visibly aged since the original movie in 1977.  But as I watched with delight the Youtube clip on my living room TV, I noticed tears involuntarily streaming down my face.  I couldn’t fully explain why. I still can’t. I was just so happy to see all three of them together again.

So if you have a sibling, partner or work colleague railing at the tragic deaths of 2016, have a little sympathy. It isn’t just another random celebrity or pop star we lost but a piece of our childhood.

A version of this article was published in Esquire

Michelle Yeoh goes where no Asian actor has gone before

24 Nov


Michelle Yeoh will play a prominent role as a starship captain in the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery

I’ve known about this for weeks from a personal friend of Michelle Yeoh but swore to keep it a secret. Now that the news is finally public, we can finally talk about the significance of Malaysia-born actress Michelle Yeoh’s debut as a starship captain in the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery.

First. Asian. Woman. In a major television and film franchise show like Star Trek! This breaks all kinds of barriers and it’s a major victory for Asian actors.

The world of scifi and fantasy has been under fire lately because of charges of “white-washing” of major roles that should have gone to Asian actors: Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson as the Major in Ghost In the Shell being among the most prominent.

Another recent controversy arose from the casting of Finn Jones as the lead for Marvel’s Iron Fist Netflix series. I defended this decision on two counts: first, the original comic book Iron Fist was always a white male, Danny Rand, and second, I didn’t believe that casting an Asian actor to play Iron Fist would have helped the diversity cause in any way. An Asian actor playing a kung fu / martial artist superhero doesn’t open up new opportunities for Asian talent. Asians playing lawyers, cops, next door neighbors, schoolteachers, love interests…that’s true diversity.

But now…an Asian starship captain? And a woman? That is a major step forward. For Asian actors Yeoh’s casting is, in many ways…the Final Frontier.

Grumpy Fanboy’s Captain America: Civil War review

29 Apr


Somewhere out there, I hope Zack Snyder is weeping in anguish, having finally realized what a good superhero movie is. #CaptainAmerica #CivilWar #TeamCap

Captain Marvel to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

15 Nov

We already know that a Captain Marvel movie is in the works from Marvel. But could we be getting a sneak peak at her in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

You know the super fast flip-through of comic book art at the start of every Marvel feature (right before they show the Marvel logo)? Usually this part features art from the character being featured in the film or trailer. In the latest “Extended trailer” for Age of Ultron, I found this frame that clearly shows Ms Marvel (what Carol Danvers used to call herself before taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel). Could this be a hint? Even if the role for Captain Marvel has not yet been cast, is there a plan to reveal her in the next Avengers movie after all?

141115 Ms Marvel

Grumpy Fanboy’s tribute to Casey Kasem (1932-2014)

16 Jun

American icon Casey Kasem passed away yesterday from complications after suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, Parkinson’s disease and sepsis. Beloved father and radio & television personality, Kasem was in many ways the voice of my childhood. From the American Top 40 radio show to voicing cartoon characters like Shaggy from Scooby Doo and Robin the Boy Wonder, his voice was a constant companion when I was growing up. He will be sorely missed.

Somewhat fitting, Kasem died on Father’s Day. I won’t dwell on the legal battle over his care in the months leading up to his death. (His son, Mike, is a former colleague and someone I consider a friend.) Instead, this being a blog dedicated to comic book pop culture, I am going to celebrate his memory through his body of work and the many cartoon characters Casey Kasem brought to life. There are too many to count so if you can think of any others, please let me know.

Thanks for the memories, Casey Kasem. From the generation that grew up listening to your wonderful voice, may we always remember to keep reaching for the stars.

Casey Kasem as Robin the Boy Wonder from the Batman and Robin cartoons (1968) through to the Super Friends series.

Zoinks! Casey Kasem as Shaggy from the Scooby Doo series.

Casey Kasem as Mark from Battle of the Planets, the American-voiced version of Gatchaman.

Casey Kasem as Cliffjumper from the Transformers cartoon.

Fly vs Frog from Sesame Street.


Captain America: the Winter Soldier Trailer #2

2 Feb

Check out the latest 2:30 min trailer for Captain America: the Winter Soldier!

Remembering City of Heroes

1 Dec
End of Days: heroes hold vigil at the Paragon City Hall

End of Days: heroes hold vigil at the Paragon City Hall

A few nights ago I dreamed I was flying above Paragon City, its bright blue sky above and the familiar city sounds below me.

It’s been a year since the greatest super-hero massively mutiplayer online game shut its servers down for good. That second home to thousands for more than eight years, gone forever.

This video chronicles the last few minutes before the end, as witness by my Tanker character Queen Maleficent.

Read my full tribute to City of Heroes here.


Sad but true

23 Oct

Sad but true

Man of Steel: the Grumpy Fanboy review

15 Jun

Man of Steel is thrilling, audacious and sometimes even touching. But it’s too damn loud for its own good. 

Henry Cavill as Superman

Man of Steel is the re-telling of the origin of Superman by director Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen). It reboots the Superman franchise with a new hero played by the impeccably-cast Henry Cavill (The Tudors) and a grittier tone, possibly one that sets up a series leading to a Justice League movie. Man of Steel is filled with the impressive cinematography and special effects one would expect from a superhero-genre film.

That’s not to say Man of Steel isn’t without its tender moments. The flashback scenes between Clark and his foster parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (played by Kevin Costner and the eternally-beautiful Diane Lane) are genuinely touching. Cavill also convincingly portrays the tragically lonely but gentle alien trying to find his place in the world. But ultimately, this film suffers from being too imbalanced, toggling awkwardly between otherwise well performed character-development scenes and the obligatory action sequences of a ginormous summer blockbuster.

Despite its intense buildup, action and moving origin story (the scenes with the Kents were by far my favorite moments), I found myself looking at my watch midway through the film. Characters talked about their motivations rather than acting them out. Supporting cast members ate up large amounts of screen time without moving the story forward. And after seeing it for the third time, even watching an invulnerable Kryptonian being punched through entire office blocks gets old really fast.

Superman’s ability to fly, the feat that captivated audiences’ imaginations when the character debuted on the big screen in Richard Donner’s 1978 film, is relegated to motion blur and sonic booms. It’s hard to feel a sense of awe and majesty when Superman simply bends his knees and disappears from view in a split second.

This is a very loud movie. Its action sequences are bombastic to the point of distraction and feel unnecessarily extended. It’s as if either the studio or Snyder himself was under constant pressure to outdo last year’s superhero summer blockbuster Marvel’s the Avengers. (That film’s climactic action scene was also an alien invasion in the heart of a major city. Coincidence?) Man of Steel‘s response is simply bigger explosions, more buildings destroyed and people being killed on a disaster movie scale.

In the end, Man of Steel may be a credible addition to Superman lore but it is sadly unrewarding. The arrival of the world’s greatest superhero is no triumph when it happens amidst the deaths of tens of thousands. As the credits roll, you find yourself wanting more. Not more super-powered battle scenes but more character.

I really wanted to see more Clark. And much more heart.