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Sad but true

23 Oct

Sad but true

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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.

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

Virtual Action Figures

6 Apr

Some people collect action figures. I collect virtual action figures. 

Freedom Force - Iron Man

All right, I also collect action figures. But nevertheless …

Behold! My Virtual Action Figure collection.

Using the game Freedom Force (Irrational Games, 2002), I have built (or I like to think curated) a collection of character meshes and skins. I’ve always considered it a collection of digital action figures, which I have preserved by meticulously copying files from PC to PC as I’ve upgraded my hardware over the years. Recently I re-installed Freedom Force from Steam and have been spending time with my collection again.

In the run up to Iron Man 3, I am dedicating this entry to ol’ shellhead himself. In my collection I have eight Iron Man suits.

My collection represents heroes from what I consider to be the best age of comic books (i.e. when I was feverishly collecting comic books as a kid in the late 1970s to the late 1980s). Today, one of my favorite pastimes is to run the game in “Watch Mode” and recreate some epic moments from my childhood. In the run up to Iron Man 3, I am dedicating this entry to ol’ shellhead himself.

For example, here’s Iron Man facing off against the Raiders, three mercenaries in the employ of the Cord Conglomerate (a rival of Stark Industries). Here’s that first encounter with the raiders straight out of Iron Man #145 (April, 1981).

What about this classic battle between shellhead and the Titanium Man? (You have to remember that this was during the height of the Cold War. So billionaire/industrialist/super-hero Tony Stark had to have an arch-nemesis who was from the Soviet Union and wore similar hi-tech armor, right?)

For those of you who have only come to know and love Tony since the first movie (Iron Man, 2008), here’s a recreation of Tony in his Mark I armor escaping from the desert camp of the terrorists of the Ten Rings. (I am using the Mark I from the comics, not the movies, by the way.)

Again, for the movie fans … most of you probably don’t know that the alien race called the Chitauri, Loki’s invasion force, was originally just another name for the Skrulls in the Marvel Ultimates universe. Here’s my comic book-style recreation of the movie’s final battle scene, with the shape-shifting Skrulls standing in for the Chitauri. I decided to throw in a special guest star, too!

And finally … the one disappointment from the Avengers movie (The Avengers, 2012) was that we never got to see Iron Man go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. So here’s what might have happened.

(I think the computer gets the outcome right.)

You might have noticed that I have tons of characters in my collection: from Marvel, DC Comics and even some others. Who would you like to see in action? I just might have them in my collection.  Let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

NOTE:

I must emphasize that I am not an animator nor a digital artist. I didn’t create any of these skins or meshes. I owe everything to what the awesome Freedom Force modding community has generously shared on the web for free for over 10 years. Special shout out to folks like the Beyonder, Courtnall6, Tommyboy, Renegade, Grenadier and the gentlemen of Heroforce, who keep Freedom Force modding alive even today. Thank you all!

End of Days

1 Dec

City of Heroes, the world’s first superhero-based MMO, shuts down for good today.

J

29 April 2007: the Justice Jabs assemble in Talos Island.

If you’ve never played a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, it may be hard to imagine what thousands of die-hard City of Heroes fans are going through. After eight years, a beloved world of custom characters, city-sized maps and online communities will be switching off its servers for good today.

MMO role playing games differ from any other form of entertainment because, unlike even story-driven single player video games, you spend thousands of hours inside the game’s virtual world. Try to imagine a favorite long-running television series, except rather than follow the story of the hero, you are the hero. You design your character from the ground up, choose how the character looks and how his abilities develop over time, explore more and more of the world through missions and play alongside other players just like yourself.

080427 Wolf Boy night patrol - crop

27 April 2008: Wolf Boy on patrol in Steel Canyon.

COH was a breakthrough on so many levels. At launch it was hailed as “a super powered gust of fresh air into an increasingly stale sword-and-sorcery MMO world” (Computer Gaming World). While most MMOs immersed you in fantasy settings, the COH world offered the familiar backdrop of a large, meticulously detailed and bustling city complete with traffic, skyscrapers, garbage-strewn alleyways and innocent citizens to rescue. And you had super-powers.

By design, the game captivated you instantly. A new character could jump into costume and battle villains within minutes, unlike other MMOs that required you to spend hours doing mundane tasks to scrounge up enough gold to buy yourself a sword. Its character design engine offered an unprecedented amount of customization, making it virtually impossible for you to encounter another character with a costume and character features identical to yours. COH was also the first to introduce the “sidekick” system, where you could pair with players several levels apart from your own. (You either moved up close to their level or they moved up to yours, making the formation of temporary teams so much easier.)

But, most of all, COH was a game that was lovingly nurtured by its developer team, constantly refreshing the content through 24 Issues (major game updates) over the past eight years that introduced new missions, characters, enemy and ally factions and maps. It was a game that constantly reinvented itself, giving players like myself reasons to keep coming back for more.

24 May 2004: SPEED (center) patrolling the streets of King’s Row while on one of his first team missions.

I have been playing City of Heroes since its launch in April 2004. Not only did I spend hours in the game’s character design engine, the frustrated comic book writer in me insisted that I conceptualize and write a back story for each new character I created. I would even take the time to chronicle (screen grab) memorable missions, some of which are displayed on this blog. (You can see more screen grabs here.) Eight years is a long time to build fond memories.

You never forget the first time your character hits Level 14 and earns a “travel” power. (You could choose from Flight, Super Jump, Super Speed or Teleportation.) I spent hours flying through the skies about Atlas Park, first swooping to the top of the Atlas statue globe, then looking down at the city from above the tallest building and finally flying alongside the Atlas Park blimp — close enough to hear its engines! Six months after launch, COH would introduce capes, which your character could earn by completing a special mission at level 20. Flying was never the same again. A few years later, the game would add the option to equip your character with fully animated wings.

26 June 2005: Queen Maleficent in flight.

In 2005, the Winter Lord attacked, freezing lakes and spawning random ice monsters all over Paragon City. But the best part was forming teams to take down the Winter Lord himself, which meant tons of XP!

Most of all, I will remember Sundays with the Justice Jabs. We formed an all-Controller super group (guild) with real life friends Nic, Angie, Stefan & Simon (players based in Singapore and Sydney). At the same time every Sunday we would chat over Skype and play through task forces (extended mission story arcs) and take down roaming monsters over several hours at a time.

Towards the end, my time in COH would taper off. Eight years is a long time for a game and there would be other shinier, more attractive gaming options. Sometimes, I would stay away from the game for up to 10 months at a time. But COH was the game I would always go back to. It was familiar surroundings, like returning to your home town. Like visiting an old friend.

In a few hours, it will all be over. No more Paragon City. No more Rogue Isles. No more Imperial City.

This post is dedicated to the developers of City of Heroes and its loyal player community. Thanks for the memories.

2012-12-01 01:11:25

30 November 2012: waiting for the End of the World. G0LDSTAR joins other players as they hold vigil at the steps of the Paragon City Hall.

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.]

The 1st ‘Iron Man 3’ full trailer hits the web

23 Oct

After the leaked photos from the set, the officially-released photos, the teaser trailer and the teaser trailers for the trailer … the first full 2-minute trailer for Iron Man 3 is finally out.

As the image shows, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) isn’t exactly in a happy place. The trailer reveals that an all-powerful enemy (The Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley) destroys everything Tony has — his mansion in Malibu, his armory of Iron Man suits, etc — and even threatens the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Longtime Marvel fans should notice a number of not-so-subtle reveals: the Mandarin and his Makluan Ten Rings of Power, the Iron Patriot armor (whose pilot is unknown at present) and a hint of the self-assembling armor from Warren Ellis’s award-winning Extremis story arc.

The trailer is big, loud and ends on a cliffhanger with Tony at his lowest, dragging his deactivated and useless armor through the snow. It’s textbook Hollywood movie magic that leaves you wanting more. Iron Man 3 is the first instalment of Marvel Entertainment’s latest series of movies leading up to Avengers 2 in 2015.

Iron Man 3 opens in Singapore on 25 April 2013.