Monthly Archives: November 2014

That Teaser

I saw The Phantom Menace for my eighth birthday. It wasn’t the first Star Wars film I saw, nor was it the first I saw in theaters (I have the vague recollection of seeing A New Hope when it was rereleased in Singapore). But it was a new Star Wars movie and I loved it unaware of its flaws.

A teaser for the new new Star Wars dropped yesterday and I am so freaking excited.

First off, it’s a new Star Wars, which, has had me pumped for quite some time. But seeing actual footage from The Force Awakens pushes me over the edge like no amount of leaked concept art ever will.

The teaser trailer is less than a minute and a half long and composed of only eleven shots which, combined with the large amounts of blank space isn’t that much. But it’s a terribly important eleven shots.

We don’t see Luke, Han, or Leia in the teaser, characters we’re anxious to see again. We don’t even see some of the somewhat more well-known actors, like Adam Driver or Gwendolyn Christie. Rather we see Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and newcomer Daisy Ridley. Are these three the three new main characters? Rumors point to yes, with Daisy Ridley playing the movie’s protagonist. If it’s true, then, awesome, we’re getting a black main character in a Star Wars movie and a woman protagonist. Yay representation!

Then there’s the desert in the first shot. An actual, real, not-CGI desert in which we see John Boyega in actual, real, not-CGI Stormtrooper armor. That many of the eleven shots take place in practical locations is no coincidence: Abrams and crew are reminding us that they’re going back to how the Holy Trilogy was made; they’re using real locations and real props. This is a movie that’ll have great effects, not just great CGI. Like that new droid, which I want to say is a practical effect, but, honestly, I can’t be sure.

Much of the teaser brings the cool. The really cool, the moments of awe that Star Wars is known for. We’ve got X-Wings, done new and looking awesome, but X-Wings nonetheless, skimming over water. There are X-Wings skimming over water. It’s a beautiful, beautiful shot (spaceships in atmosphere make me very happy), but it’s also showing off what they can do now with modern technology. Something this beautiful wouldn’t have been doable before and The Force Awakens is bringing it in. That they’re X-Wings and that Oscar Issac is shot just like Luke or Wedge once again elicits memories of the older movies. It feels like Star Wars.

We also get a shot of who’s presumably the villain of the piece staggering through the snow and igniting a lightsaber that I like more than I probably should. I really like the medieval-esque image it conjures up and, with it, we know there’s gonna be a bad guy in this and that bad guy’s going to have a lightsaber. The teaser ends with the Star Wars fanfare and the Millennium Falcon flying over a desert and dodging TIE Fighters. There’s literally nothing I can add to that sentence to make it sound cooler. It’s Star Wars, man, and it’s back.

The teaser says little in the way of story (beyond the narration that the Force has awakened, light side and dark and all that), but rather tells us a lot about the new movie. We’re getting a diverse group of new characters, we’re getting practical effects, and we’re getting a movie that feels more like Star Wars than the prequels.

It’s easy to be cynical as an adult. The world isn’t what it cracked up to be, justice doesn’t always happen, good isn’t always as clear as you’d want it to be. But then a new Star Wars trailer rolls around and I feel like I’ve eight years ago and I can’t wait to return to a galaxy far far away.

Twelve months, nineteen days, and counting.

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The Pay Off

I liked Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it first aired. Its potential was a big reason, as was, well, bits with characters. There was little else like it on tv and hey, I’m always on board for something science fiction, especially if it’s in the Marvel-verse.

Granted, the show meandered for quite a while, but I enjoyed it all the same for what it was. Monster-of-the-week and decent characters, so hey, I was in. Then the show got good. Really good.We’re a solid eight episodes into Season 2 and these episodes show how strong the show has gotten. It’s been a long time coming but following the show has finally paid off.

So what’s SHIELD been doing right? Or, more to the point, what’s the show doing that makes it successful? The biggest difference between where the show is now and where it was a year ago is the clear presence of a proper overarching villain: Hydra. Antagonists are driving forces in serial fiction, often creating tension and giving individual episodes weight. Chuck had an evil spy agency per year, season 1 of Buffy had The Master. Now, in the latest season, the heroes in SHIELD have to try to stay one step ahead of their antagonists, lending a sense of urgency to what they do.

Developed characters are vital too. In lieu of an active antagonist, early seasons of Lost forced the disparate survivors together, creating tension where personalities clashed. We even got to know them better through extensive flashbacks, fleshing out who they were and giving context to what they did. SHIELD’s characters had hints of depth early on, but not much was done with them. On occasion they were pushed a little further, like exploring Fitz and Simmons in “F.Z.Z.T.”, but for much of the first season they pretty much were who they were. Not so in Season 2. Introducing a handful of new agents adds the variety of characters and SHIELD now mixes them up in interesting ways. For example, pairing former lovers Bobbi and Lance is comedic but can also yield strong dramatic beats, especially when accompanied by the no-nonsense May to play intermediator. Giving Fitz a bromance with fellow engineer Mac lets us have some good character moments for everyone involved. We get to learn more about each one by changing the dynamics and relationships, giving us more compelling reasons to connect to and invest in the characters.

The villains too have been amped up. The end of the most recent episode (“The Things We Bury”) saw Ward, Whitehall, and Skye’s father entering into a sort of unholy alliance. It’s remarkable that these three characters, two of whom have only been around from the start of this season, are at the point where we as the audience are aware of their own motivations and goals: Whitehall wants to further Hydra’s goals, the doctor wants to reunite with his daughter, and Ward is a wildcard who could do anything. We know that they’re willing to backstab each other and cut deals with the heroes for their own ends, so seeing them together creates not just interpersonal tension, but an interesting foe for our protagonists to face off against. At this point, the villains are as interesting as the heroes, and their interactions are diabolically layered with veiled subtext.

SHIELD too is really getting its hands dirty with the general Marvel universe at large. It’s not just paying lip service to Extremis like it did early in the first season and it’s not just reacting to Hydra’s reveal like it did after The Winter SoldierRather it’s blazing its own trail, bringing in elements of the from the comics we haven’t seen on screen. With the show looking to introduce the hidden city of Attilan anytime now, Agents of SHIELD is probably going to feature the Inhumans a solid couple years before the movie about them is slated to be released. The show’s coming into its own, not just with characters but with its array of plot and elements of the Marvel mythos.

It may not have started out as strong as it could have, let alone one of the best shows on air, but watching it has really begun to pay off. And I’m really enjoying it ‘cuz we always need more good tv.

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Representation, Big Hero 6, and Me

I saw Big Hero 6 last Saturday, a couple days after Interstellar. They’re very different movies, different beasts. I’m not sure yet which one I like more, but there’s one thing that makes Big Hero 6very special.

But first let’s talk about me.

I’m one of those weird people who can claim two races. No, not the mix of mayonnaise and sour cream that is the 1/4 Irish, 1/4 German, 1/8 Polish, 1/3 English, 1/24 Swedish mixes, I’m Asian andAmerican: my dad’s from Singapore, my mom’s from the US. My heritage is Chinese and Norwegian and I put “Other: Sino-Nordic” on those surveys I fill out for money. I get called white in Singapore and Asian in the States. Go figure.

So growing up I was a bit of an ethnic oddity. I, as is probably evident from this blog, consumed a lot of media. I read mountains of books, watched as many movies as my parents took me to (which was no small amount, thanks Mom and Dad!), and played as many video games as I could on the weekends when I was allowed. But no characters were like me. Sure, Power Rangers had the token Asian and white people are ubiquitous, but half-and-halfs were unheard of. The closest character in my media was Balto (Mom would later compare me to Spock, but that was after I’d graduated high school).

Fast-forward to now and Big Hero 6 is topping the box office. And the main character, Hiro Tamada, is mixed like me. Now, I’m basing this off the fact that he’s clearly East Asian and his aunt is white, because not only is Hiro biracial, but he’s biracial like me: his mother is white, his father not. As someone who’s spent most of the life as a racial rarity, it’s wonderfully refreshing, hell, it’s exciting to see someone like me the star of a Disney movie.

But it’s not just Hiro. The titular 6 are surprisingly diverse. Besides Baymax the fluffy robot, there’s only one white guy: Fred the definitely-not-a-stoner-but-certainly-not-a-scientist comic relief guy. The other three? GoGo is an Asian woman, Honey Lemon is also a woman who seems cut out to be the cheerleader type except she’s an incredible chemist, and Wasabi is a black man. They are all scientists and engineers, students of a field notoriously underrepresented by minorities. Here’s a movie saying “Hey, you can be a scientist even if you’re not a white dude!”

Now, I think it’s easy to get hung up on representation. The Avengers isn’t a lesser movie because the majority of the characters are white men and Big Hero 6 has a solid story with plenty of heart to complement its diverse cast. Praising a movie simply because it’s diverse, or feminist, or ‘Christian’ is patronizing and doesn’t help. I don’t just want more movies with minorities, I want more good stories about everyone. That’s part of the reasons I’m so excited for Black Panther and Captain Marvel (that and, y’know, the fact that Captain Marvel is getting a movie); Marvel has a reputation for telling strong character driven stories.

So I’m glad Big Hero 6 is doing so well and receiving such warm reviews. Because that means people will notice and, hopefully, means we’ll get more films like that. But more than all that, even more than the implications for the industry and the hope for growingly diverse casts, I’m excited that a character like Hiro Tamada is the main character of a movie. Because somewhere there’s an eight year old kid like me who got to see someone like him as a superhero.

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Where No One Has Gone Before

Let’s talk about space, because of Interstellar. Now, it’s hard to discuss the film because so much of what makes it Interstellar is because its based so fundamentally on the curves and turns of the plot. So for the sake of avoiding spoilers and ruining everything, we’re not talking about Interstellar’s story.

Instead let’s talk about the set up; about the initial question asked by the film, the question of space travel. Many of the early parts of Interstellar can be read as a vindication of space programs. There’s a strong lament for the abandonment of space exploration.

Interstellar espouses the idea that we’re supposed to go beyond earth, what with the whole “humanity was never meant to die here” tagline and all. It’s a theme of science fiction that’s been preciously scarce as of late. Gone is 2001: A Space Odyssey and movies about going to Mars. Instead we’ve got films like District 9 and Godzilla which while great, are very terrestrial science fiction. Or Guardians of the Galaxy, which while fantastic, is a straight up space opera (and all the better for it). Think about Avatar, a fairly recent movie that had elements of exploration: The message was that humanity should stop screwing up ecosystems. Europa Report, Prometheus, and even Gravity were more horror inclined than about a desire for exploration.

The closest we’ve had in recent years is Into Darkness. Granted, it’s very space operatic (as was the old Star Trek TV show), but it (again, like the old TV show) has hints of the want of exploration. Of wanting to go where no one has gone before. If anything, Into Darkness, like Interstellar after it, is a defense of why space exploration is still relevant.

Into Darkness pits two ideas against each other. There’s the one argument that militarization is the route forward, that humanity’s presence in space is fundamentally a militaristic one. On the other hand there’s the argument that exploration is a reason and goal in and of itself. It’s not the tidiest of presentations of the themes, but the revived franchise has to prove that over half a century later the idea of exploring the final frontier is relevant and engaging. It shouldn’t have to.

I, like I’m sure many others, wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid. Right up until I found out it would take over a dozen years of training which, to an eight-year-old, is a very long time. But fifteen years later there’s still that want to go to space, thanks to a steady diet of Star Wars, Firefly, and just about anything else involving spaceships. Even now a video of astronauts playing with water in zero-g is one of the coolest things. Because it’s space, it’s terrifying, it’s cool, and I want to go there.

Watching Interstellar conjures up images of today’s space program and how it’s almost become an afterthought. We’ve got a rover on Mars, probes exploring the far reaches of the solar system and beyond; but the classic image of a moon colony lies all but dormant. Where’s the luster gone? Where’s the want to go before.

Though there’s a massive amount of words to be said about Interstellar, one thing I liked was its commentary on it. Space travel is important and is arguably the next big step forward.

If only because I want a spaceship.

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THEY’RE MAKING A CAPTAIN MARVEL MOVIE

Marvel announced their upcoming slate of movies this week and I am very excited for one very important reason: Captain. Marvel.

Now, of course I’m pumped for the other announcements. Captain America 3 is officially Civil War, which bodes very interesting the MCU at large. Black Panther’s also showing up in Civil War and getting his own solo film a year later. We’re getting a second Guardians and another Thor, which is cool (especially the art for Guardians 2). The Inhumans are getting a movie so they’re definitely part of other MCU (five bucks say they show up in Agents of SHIELD). And the Avengers film(s) following Age of Ultron Is, based on being named Infinity War, hopefully going to be based on the fantastic Infinity event from last year. So of course there’s all that.

But Captain Marvel. Those of you who’ve been reading this should know that I’ve been clamoring for a Black Widow film, which part of me still is. I’m assuaged partially because there are plans to weave Black Widow into other films. But mostly because not only will Carol Danvers probably be showing up in some of the other films, there’s going to be a freaking Captain Marvel movie.

I’m gonna come right out and say it: Captain Marvel is my favorite comic in print right now (up there with Avengers and New Avengers. Black Widow probably comes after).There are a bunch of reasons, like the epic adventure nature of the comics and the sheer fun they’re filled with, but it’s mostly because Carol Danvers is such a great character, especially as Captain Marvel.

There’s the obvious fact that she wears pants, which is a welcome respite. More so than that, she’s interesting. She does all the usual superhero stuff, time traveling, fighting bad guys, saving New York and so on. Best of all, the comic is never condescending. We have a woman fighting crime who’s not presented as a special case or just a sex-object. She’s fleshed out and great in her own right. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick has done a fantastic job creating a character who’s not just layered but likable and, most importantly, fun.

With that, Captain Marvel (like Black Panther) will bring something new to the Marvel ‘verse. Black Panther’s the first not-white guy headlining a Marvel film and also, as the king of Wakanda, has the potential to add additional political intrigue to the universe. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, will be the first female headliner and, based on comments by Kevin Feige and the most recent batch of comics, bridge the cosmic and earthbound sides of things. Besides getting her powers from the Kree (who showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy), Captain Marvel’s also been running with the Star Lord and crew as well as getting up to her own space adventures. It’s this variety that’ll help keep the superhero genre from getting stale.

But there’s also the sheer nerdy joy. In four years not only am I finally getting a movie starring a female superhero, but she’s Captain frickin’ Marvel, one of my favorites. That’s exciting and that’s something that’s making me really eager for 2018 to come already.

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