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Michelle Yeoh goes where no Asian actor has gone before

24 Nov

yeoh-tomorrow-never-dies

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.

Why I hated Star Trek: Into Darkness

19 May

JJ Abrams takes my best memories of Star Trek and then shits all over them in his latest movie

The Enterprise in ruin: a fitting image to accompany this review.

I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness with much trepidation. JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek film, although pretty decent, was not one of my favorites in the series. In the lead up to Darkness, I was anxious about how the trailers and promotional materials bore little resemblance to the Star Trek I remember. I was bracing myself for a brainless, blockbuster summer action film … and STID did not disappoint.

And that’s exactly the problem. Star Trek was never brainless action material. As a long time follower of the series, I feel like JJ Abrams has taken my favorite Star Trek memories — in particular, scenes from the franchise’s best film, The Wrath of Khan — and taken a giant, steaming, $190 million shit on them.

I’m going to put aside the inconsistencies and the plot holes so big you could fly a Constitution-class starship through them to zero in on Into Darkness‘s core issue: this movie has no soul.

The Star Trek I know asked questions about our place in the universe. It took critical looks at how we treat one another as a species. It reminded us of the consequences of our actions. And it explored the possibilities of science and the vastness of the universe we live in. It was not about laser beams and explosions strung together with occasional witty one-liners. But most importantly, Star Trek — through all its incarnations over the years — was about the relationships between a special group of people who could always find courage and come together to overcome adversity.

That doesn’t mean to say that Star Trek shouldn’t have any action in it. Star Trek‘s most successful films The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact all saw their fair share of action (and blockbuster box office returns). But even the most fast-paced action movies need good storytelling and character development. Into Darkness has neither. Worse of all, Abrams disrespects the franchise because he ignores nearly 50 years of lore and tradition by not delving deeper into the characters’ relationships.

SPOILER ALERT

Most of all, you never get the chance to empathize with the central character: James T Kirk. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a complete dickhead. He is reckless, never follows orders or procedures and is fired from his job as Captain of the Enterprise in the first 20 minutes of the film. Does he show any remorse? Does he reflect on his decisions that put his entire crew at risk and cost him his job? No! Instead, he remains indignant and blames everything on Spock.

Throughout the film, you never get a sense of progress in the relationship between Kirk and Spock, a hallmark of the original series. (This is a shame since Zachary Quinto’s performance is one of the few good things about the film.) On the contrary, you are constantly reminded of how much they dislike each other. Suddenly, in what should have been the most dramatic moment in the film, Kirk sacrifices himself to save the ship (a reverse version of the events famously played out in Wrath of Khan) and suddenly Spock is disproportionately grief-stricken. (“What? They were friends?”)

The rest of the characters are simply wasted. Simon Pegg as Scotty is relegated to providing comic relief. Anton Yelchin as Chekov is constantly frantic and stressed out about … something. And Karl Urban as McCoy is reduced to spouting cliches, like a standup comic attempting a tired “Bones” impersonation. This is another huge waste as Kirk’s relationship with McCoy is one of the richest and most meaningful in the original series.

And what exactly was the point of this scene?

There is a new crew member, Carol Marcus, whose role is to look good with her clothes off and sound British (even when her father is clearly American). Benedict Cumberbatch plays a good Khan but, again, we never get the chance to really hate him. Is he a villain or is he just a captain trying to protect his crew? It doesn’t matter because there are too many phaser beams zipping past and spaceships exploding all over the place.

Most people who never followed the original TV series, their movies, or The Next Generation, etc all seem to enjoy it: big, loud special effects, fast-paced action, a good looking cast … what’s not to like?

Except, it’s not Star Trek. At least, not the one I know and love.

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), creator of Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), creator of Star Trek

The long wait for Episode VII begins …

1 Nov

Call me optimistic, but I am excited by the news that Disney has acquired Lucasfilm and, more important, that an “Episode VII” film is expected to be released in 2015. To me, any news that extends the story beyond the original trilogy has to be good news.

Saying “May the Force be with you” just might become cool again.

[NOTE: I did not create the above image. If anyone objects to my linking to it from this blog, let me know and I will take it down.]

Highlights from the Firefly 10th Anniversary Panel at SDCC

18 Jul

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OK, I wasn’t actually at Comic Con but I finally caught the full panel discussion on Youtube (see below) and I love the show so much that I just had to share this. While there are so many science fiction franchises that have let me down of late (Prometheus) it was awesome to hear from the cast and creators of a show that, 10 years after its cancellation, never disappoint.

Joss Whedon: “We always knew from the very beginning we were doing for the right reasons, in the right way, the right way … and had the best cast I ever worked with — and we also have Alan [Tudyk]. Vindication came a long time ago. It goes to a place of transcendence that I cannot describe without becoming a girly-man.”

Adam Baldwin: (Brings out the familiar red & orange knitted hat of his character, Jayne Cobb.) Jayne was a man of few words but had a lot of props, so I worked a lot with the prop guys.”

Nathan Fillion: “When Firefly died, I thought it was the worst thing that could possible happen. Now I realize the worst thing that could happen is that if it stayed dead.” [He gestures to the thousands of people in the crowd.] “That it died is okay.”

Whedon: [Asked how Firefly would have ended if he had known it was going to be canceled.] “I don’t think I would have killed anybody.” [Alan Tudyk, whose character Hoban Washburn died in the movie Serenity, raises his hands in victory.] “A film is a different animal and has different needs. We would have learned about the Blue Sun conspiracy, Inara and Shepherd Book.”

And finally, there’s this moment from Entertainment Weekly’s official blog:

Jensen asks Whedon what the Firefly fans have meant to him. What happens next is one of the most emotional moments I’ve seen at Comic-Con. Whedon struggles, or seems to, for the right words.

Somebody in the crowd yells out, “We love you!”

Whedon hears this, struggles some more.

And the crowd begins to applaud. And stand up. Soon the entire room is giving a roaring ovation. The cast stands too. It’s possibly the most perfect way to end the panel.

Whedon takes the microphone.

“Only an idiot would try to follow that with a sentence,” he says.

That’s precisely what I was thinking, but then Whedon follows with this:

“When you come out of a great movie, you feel like you’re in that world. When you’re telling a story, you’re trying to connect to people in a particular way. It’s about inviting them into a world. The way you’ve inhabited this world, this universe, you have become part of it. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air. I think there’s spaceships and horses — the story is alive.”

Yes, it was all a bit of an unapologetic lovefest but no one was complaining. See the whole thing for yourself:

There are no plans for a Firefly movie or TV series sequel but you can continue to follow the crew’s adventures in the Dark Horse comic book.

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New Dredd Trailer!

22 Jun

The first full trailer for Dredd, the film based on the cult favorite lawman Judge Dredd, is out today. Karl Urban looks pretty darn good as Dredd and he doesn’t appear once in the whole trailer without his helmet, which is a good sign. However the plot looks a little too simplistic. But it’s be too early to, er, judge.

 

Dredd opens 27 September in Singapore.

Prometheus: the Grumpy Fanboy review

10 Jun

Prometheus suffers from too many idiotic character decisions and plot holes so big, you could fly the Nostromo through them.

I had very high hopes for Prometheus. Ridley Scott’s much-heralded return to science fiction. A prequel to the phenomenal Alien series. A great cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce. It had every reason to be great. But due to poor character development and puzzling gaps in the story, the film never quite gets off the ground.

The premise is simple: scientists believe they have unearthed clues to the origins of humanity that lead them to a distant planet. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. There they encounter the remnants of an advanced alien civilization and a rapidly evolving predatory species who wants to kill everything in order to propagate. But barely 30 minutes into the film and the series of inane, almost comical, decisions by the characters begin.

The team of scientists enter the alien structure in the middle of what they establish is a hostile environment. Once inside, they notice the atmosphere is  breathable and so they remove their helmets, thus inhaling the air and allowing the fluids from the environment drip all over their faces. Later, part of the same group encounters a living alien species (which remarkably resembles a King Cobra) and their first impulse is to pet it. Needless to say, all of these decisions have disastrous results. In the scifi genre, inconsistencies like this are unforgivable. There were more honest and rational reactions from humans discovering alien life in Galaxy Quest.

The core problem is that you never get a chance to understand the motivations behind the main characters. If you don’t appreciate what motivates them, you can’t root for them (as with great heroes) nor hate them (as with great villains). The android David, played by Fassbender, consciously infects a fellow crew member with the alien DNA in order to impregnate another crew member because … uh, because what again? The only survivor of the “engineer” species (whose DNA is identical to our own and apparently bio-engineered our ancestors) is thawed from a thousand-year sleep. Without explanation, his first thought is to kill everything in sight with his bare hands.

Why did the engineers create humans? Why are they breeding the perfect predator as a bio-weapon? What were they doing on this backwater planet? Why did they leave clues behind on Earth? And what exactly was the point of Charlize Theron’s character? Prometheus raises all kinds of questions but doesn’t provide satisfactory answers. Amid the blood splatter and flailing tentacles I guess we were not supposed to notice.

Prometheus is now in cinemas. Grumpy Fanboy rating: 2.5/5

If you’re looking for a more satisfying movie experience, both the original Alien (directed by Scott) and Aliens (directed by James Cameron) are amazing in Blu-Ray. I watched them both again before seeing Prometheus, which is about the only good thing to come out of this film’s release.

ADDENDUM: My last comment was incorrect. The best thing to come out of Prometheus was the following clip, which was actually a “viral video” issued months before the film’s release. It features Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, appearing at a fictional TED Talk in the year 2023.

Space Battleship Yamato: the Grumpy Fanboy review

17 Mar

I caught the premiere of Space Battleship Yamato last night. Knowing that it was the first live action adaptation of the cult classic anime series, I was expecting it to be extremely cheesy. That turned out to be a gross understatement.

Thanks to the brilliant trailers and clips that appeared on Youtube such as the one above (I featured a bunch of them weeks ago here) I was hoping for a Japanese version of Battlestar Galactica. Instead it was more, as my buddy with whom I saw the film put it: “Starship Troopers-meets-Armageddon-meets-Korean Soap Opera”.

The acting is, expectedly, over the top. Though there are some genuinely touching scenes. The crew’s final farewells to their families are right out of the TV series and adequately moving. But too often, the film’s otherwise upbeat tempo is bogged down by unnecessarily long and tedious melodramatic scenes. All the hugging, tearful grimacing and whining inadvertently make the drama scenes comical. As if the destruction of earth and the violent deaths of comrades weren’t dramatic enough! But then again, anime isn’t exactly famous for subtle storytelling.

The action is mostly well-paced, though once on the ground the tedium and over-acting kicks in once again. The good news is the ship-to-ship battle sequences are fantastic! This is some of the best CGI modeling and effects I have ever seen! For anime and sci-fi fans, it’s worth seeing just for that. Once you get past the farcical drama scenes (driven home by a Steven Tyler theme song), this is still one of the must-see fanboy films of the year.

Grumpy Fanboy rating: 3.5/5

 

Fans rally to resurrect Firefly

25 Feb

Nathan Fillion, star of Castle (and, of course, Firefly) said in a recent interview that if he had the money, he would buy the rights to the Firefly TV series and produce it himself.  Seven days later, more than 70,000 fans have rallied behind Help Nathan Buy Firefly.

Firefly fans and online communities from all over the world are joining the movement, including some former Firefly writers.

If you love Firefly and want to see ol’ Serenity fly again, join the community on Facebook and / or Twitter. Or visit the helpnathanbuyfirefly.com website.

Is this a practical joke, just another giant love-in for Firefly fans or a serious fan movement than could bring Joss Whedon’s cult favorite back from the dead? (Let’s not forget a similar movement decades ago resurrected Star Trek, which went on to spawn four new TV series and 11 feature films.)

This may all be a dream … but it’s a nice dream. Aren’t dreams worth fighting for?

Tron: Legacy – the Grumpy Fanboy Review

22 Dec

With today’s special effects and fascination with technology, this was an ideal time to release the sequel to the 1982 cult classic. What went wrong?

Slick designs, modern special effects and the hundreds of millions of dollars thrown behind it by Disney provided every opportunity for Tron: Legacy to be a slam dunk for any fanboy. But as much as I wanted to enjoy it, I didn’t.

Tron: Legacy is about Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of the original film’s hero Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), searching for his father who has been missing for over 20 years. His quest inadvertently takes him into the same digital world that the elder Flynn discovered almost 30 years ago. There he encounters his father’s evil doppelganger, a program named Clu, who has since conquered this world and installed himself as its absolute ruler.

For starters, the “Clu” Jeff Bridges, whose face is replaced by a younger CGI version, is unable to convey any emotion convincingly. The very first scene, which is supposed to be a touching flashback between father and son, looks instead like a boy talking to a creepy Disneyland ride animatronic. A year after the Na’vi of Avatar and nine years after we first saw Gollum from Lord of the Rings, a lifeless CGI character is simply unforgivable for a film of this scale.

Sadly, the real life actors are no less unconvincing. Jeff Bridges, who recently won an Academy Award for Best Actor in Crazy Heart, often resembles the clueless “Dude” from The Big Lebowski more than the technological visionary Flynn is meant to be. Meanwhile, Hedlund’s performance is only slightly less wooden than the CGI Jeff Bridges.

Perhaps the biggest letdown is the world of Tron itself. The modern day versions of the light cycles, the disc duels, those creepy two-legged flying  gunships, the sail-ship / cable-car thingy all looked great. Of course, after almost 30 years of advances in computer graphics, they’re supposed to. And that’s pretty much where the expansion of the Tron universe ends. We are otherwise shown the same hi-tech city in the middle of a barren wasteland as we first saw in 1982. (The only significant new addition to the world is … a bar.) Only this time, everything is in 1280 x 768, when back in 1982 it was in 400 x 320.

In one scene, father and son are talking while a roast suckling pig sits in the center of the dining table between them. Are we supposed to believe that somewhere in this sunless land of glass, steel and LED lights …  there is a pig farm? Fantasy worlds are only believable when every element within it is consistent with the rules you set for that world. And that is Tron: Legacy’s fatal flaw. We are never fully convinced that this world really lives and breathes. The story simply plods along from one slickly designed set to another.

When we had our first glimpse of Tron, computers were the domain of only a select few and digital technology was mysterious and arcane. Today technology is both blessing and curse, bringing convenience and unprecedented access to information at the expense of personal time and privacy. In the same way that sci-fi cult classics like Battlestar Galactica have been updated in the context of today’s world, I was hoping for a Tron that played with these contemporary themes. Instead we get a dumbed-down, clichéd, adventure-by-the-numbers that could just as easily have been written, well, back in 1982.

Tron: Legacy

Final word: Slick designs and special effects don’t make up for soulless characters and predictable plot. Your kids might like it, though. Get the Daft Punk soundtrack; the music (plus their cameo appearance) is the best part of the film. Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

10 Future Scenarios Worse than a Sarah Palin Presidency

5 Nov

Does the prospect of Sarah Palin in the White House scare you? Comic books show us it could be much, much worse.

Following gains by the Republicans in the US House of Representatives during the recent mid-term elections, there is renewed speculation that Sarah Palin will emerge as the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2012. While there are many who are elated by this prospect, the possibility of a Palin presidency is causing concern both from within the Democratic Party and the GOP itself.

Relax, people! Let’s put this possible future into perspective. Those of us who have read comic books all our lives are no strangers to disastrous futures. Here’s a list of my favorite future scenarios … all of which are far worse than having a self-described “Mama Grizzly” as leader of the world’s most powerful nation:

10. The Kamandi future

Sometime in the future, most of the human race is wiped out in a calamity known only as the “Great Disaster”. Intelligent animals (who now walk upright like humans) become the dominant life forms, including gorilla, tiger, lion, rat and dog men. Humans regress into a more primitive state and are used mainly as slave labor by their animal masters.

This is the world of Kamandi, the last boy on Earth, first published in 1972 (DC Comics).

9. The Judge Dredd future


Following nuclear holocaust, mankind is forced to live in over-crowded “Mega-Cities” because what’s left of the US is an irradiated wasteland called the “Cursed Earth”. Crime is rampant and the cities are policed only by “Street Judges” (like the hero) who have the power to arrest, sentence and even execute those they deem criminals on the spot.

Judge Dredd first appeared in the British science fiction anthology 2000 AD in 1977.

8. Days of Future Past

A group of mutants assassinate a US Senator, prompting the government to activate the Sentinels, deadly giant robots, who then decide that the only way to eradicate the mutant threat is to take over the government. Thousands of mutants, super-powered humans and ordinary humans alike are slaughtered in the process. The survivors are herded into concentration camps.

We saw a glimpse of this future in “Days of Future Past”, X-Men #141-142, published in 1981 (Marvel Comics).

7. The Hellboy Apocalypse 

The elder gods known as the Ogdru Jahad invade the earth from their hellish dimension and sweep over the planet, killing everyone. Hellboy fulfills his role as the Anung Un Rama (the Beast of the Apocalypse), ushering in the End of the World.

Hellboy’s role in the Apocalypse was first foretold (though not actually played out) in the first miniseries Hellboy: Seed of Destruction in 1994 (Dark Horse Comics). We also got a glimpse of these scenes in the first Hellboy movie.

6. The Dark Knight Returns future

The Cold War never ends, criminal gangs run wild in the cities and the US government is a fascist state with Ronald Reagan as President. All super-hero activity has been declared illegal, except for a certain blue and red-clad Kryptonian who operates in secret on the orders of the government.

This future was seen through the eyes of an elderly Bruce Wayne, forced out of retirement in The Dark Knight Returns, published in 1986 (DC Comics).

5. The Kingdom Come future

Super-human activity reaches its apex. Battles between meta-humans spill out daily onto the streets of America’s cities, without heed to property damage or civilian casualties. The conflict erupts into full civil war, prompting the United Nations to order a nuclear bomb dropped on American soil.

These events were chronicled in the miniseries Kingdom Come, published in 1996 (DC Comics).

4. The Y: The Last Man future

A mysterious plague wipes out every living mammal possessing a Y chromosome — including embryos, fertilized eggs, and even sperm. The only survivors are a male New York resident and his pet monkey. The survivors (all women) must deal with what remains of the world, including humanity’s impending extinction.

This future was depicted in Y: The Last Man, published in 2002 (Vertigo / DC Comics).

3. The OMAC future


Sometime in the future, a catastrophe puts an end to civilization as we know it. Cities lie in ruin and zombie-like monsters roam the subways. The world is policed by the Global Peace Agency and its single super-human operative, code name: One Man Army Corps (OMAC).

OMAC: One Man Army Corps was first published in 1974 (DC Comics).

2. A Better World

Lex Luthor is elected President of the United States and then assassinated by none other than Superman. The Justice League then decides to take over the United States government, running the country as a police state. They then change their name to the Justice Lords.

This alternate future was shown in the two-part “A Better World” from the Justice League cartoon TV series in 2003.

1. The Old Man Logan future

In the not-too-distant future, the United States is taken over and divided between a number of super-villains, namely Doctor Doom, Magneto, the Red Skull and the Abomination. (The latter’s territory is then seized by the Hulk.) Most of the population, including the super-heroes, is dead and most of the US is now a barren wasteland.

We saw this future through the eyes of an elderly Logan (aka Wolverine) in the miniseries Wolverine: Old Man Logan, published in 2008 (Marvel Comics).