Saturday, January 29

Low Voltage

Today, I left the house at the uncharacteristically early time of 1:30 PM in order to go to the launch of Mango JAM, the all-girl mangazine release of Mango Comics. Editrix Extraordiaire Nikki was there, but I had missed Dean, who had gone off to watch a movie.
With screaming girls all around me, I decided to slip away immediately and use my time productively. And so, I watched Elektra the movie.

By some coincidence, I was wearing my new Elektra T-shirt, so whoop-de-do there I was looking all the world like an Elektra comic book geek off to see the already-doomed-to-never-please-me film translation.

To it's credit, the film isn't horrible. Well, I've seen (or will see) worse, such as Catwoman. But even with me totally in love with the gorgeous Jennifer Garner, I have to say that I was right in all my expectations. And these expectations were that I would be disappointed.

Yes, I wanted Elektra to have her red cloth bikini outfit with the red wraps and the bandanna. I knew going into the film that this just wasn't to be- Hollywood had once again limited and rationalized comic book fantasy into their conventions. I know quite a few writers out there are saying that the film 'finally got Elektra's costume right' but I disagree. Her costume's just a red version of her horrid outfit in Daredevil, complete with totally ridiculous high-heeled boots.
Elektra isn't about hi-tech weapons- this is the premier human warrior of the Marvel Universe; a martial artist of the highest caliber. All she needs is an antique katana or sai, and that's it. She eats special forces teams and ninja armies for breakfast. Her body is her main armament, and this just doesn't come through in the movie. Heck, they have to SPELL IT OUT to the audience that Elektra is one bad mother with the boring opening sequence (with a wasted Jason Isaacs as one of the assassin's targets).

Long story short- This really isn't Elektra. It's just a more angsty Sydney Bristow in Alias sans good writing and intriguing plots.

Anway, onto the film. Elektra picks up immediately after Elektra's death in Daredevil, though little to no reference to the Ben Affleck starrer is actually mentioned. The dead Elektra Natchios is found by Stick, a blind ninja master played by Terence Stamp (who actually is pretty good here, though he reminded me of his mentor character from Young Guns). Stick uses oriental mystical power to bring Elektra back from the dead, and then takes the girl under his wing to become a ninja warrior.
Shades of Jedi training, Elektra proves to be Stick's strongest warrior, but her inner rage and anger eventually drives her from her master's school. She eventually becomes a much-feared contract killer, receiving messages and orders from a dispatcher/agent named McCabe.
One day, Elektra is sent on a job to kill an unknown target. She stays for a while in a house on an island, and while waiting for her orders meets Abby (Kirsten Prout), a feisty 13-year old girl and her father, Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic). In short order, she warms up to the father and daughter, only to later find out that THEY are her targets. Despite being a supposedly cold, emotionless killer, Elektra can't bring herself to kill the two, and later, when assassins from the sinister Hand organization come to clean up her leftovers, she finds herself fighting to save the Millers lives.

The story is pretty much that simple. Elektra fighting to save her former targets, and in doing so redeems herself and settles the ghosts of her past. It's not a horrid story, but it also doesn't help matters any that the action scenes and execution of the movie is pretty lame.
You have The Hand, which in the comics are supposed to be THE deadliest and most fearsome ninja on the planet... but in the movie are pretty much the wussiest ninja on the planet. Sure, they have cool weapons and explode into green flame when they die, but they NEVER seem to be a viable threat. And there's a shortage of ninja in this ninja film. Elektra like, fights real ninja only once or twice, then later takes out an entire ninja squad by LEAVING THE GAS RUNNING. Lame. Why couldn't these ninja be at least as mean as John Lone's cohorts in the old Christopher Lambert ninja film, The Hunted? Why, even the enemies in Amerian Ninja were better! Instead of having Elektra fight really cool and deadly ninja, we are given a bunch of goth and rave rejects with CG enhanced effects to cover up a lack of any good fight choreography.

As for the much-hyped Hand Elite, they are- Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), the heir-apparent to the Hand Council and a matchless swordsman with magical speed; Tattoo, who can create deadly animals from, well, his tattoos; Stone, a big black dude who is hard as stone but weak against WOOD; Typhoid, a woman who spreads diseases with her breath (eew), and last, there's one other guy who appears in the poster but whom I just can't remember.

Kirigi is the coolest-looking, with his katakana-marked robes and swords; the others just look like his groupies. Heh.

Anyway, for all their colorful appearances, without exception ALL the fights and resolutions with Kirigi's group are disappointingly abrupt and unsatisfyingly weak. For a movie that should be all about action and cool-as-hell martial arts/ninja fighting, I found myself gaping at the fights, saying 'WHAT?! That was IT???' The fight choreography, the direction of the action, it's all just lacking. MORTAL KOMBAT (the movie) had better action than this. Elektra herself doesn't impress me at all, though Miss Garner does do a good job of twirling a mean sai- it's just that the fights themselves aren't exciting or exceptional.

As a whole though, Elektra is inconsistent- it's slow for the most part, with sporadic attempts to gain a pulse, but dying everytime with every attempt. There are just so many ways, so many details that this could have been so much better, so much cooler, so much sexier and so much more... ELEKTRA.

There could have been more acrobatics. More of Elektra actually kicking butt. More fights with ninja to show off her real skill and believability that this woman is damn good. More establishment of The Hand being a mystical and terrifyingly powerful force of evil. More depth and thinking into the details of characters such as McCabe the dispatcher, or the members of Kirigi's squad. Or even just more into making the script and the plot more believable and the action truer to it's roots as a kick-ass comic. So much was just not done well enough to make a difference, and elevate Elektra from being just a run of the mill comic translation along the lines of The Phantom or Barbwire. Too bad.

If you go into this without knowing the character of Elektra, maybe you can pass it off as a slightly watchable Jennifer Garner/Alias movie with a ninja spin. But then, it's still pretty boring at parts, with not enough spice to make it special. Though she smiles a bit too widely and really doesn't convince me of her being Elektra, Miss Garner IS the best thing in this film. Which is really not a good thing to say about a movie.

Want to watch cool martial arts adventure? Watch Kung Fu Hustle instead. Or again.

Friday, January 28

Married with Kills

Killer combination: Alpha male Pitt vs Uber Babe Jolie.

What would happen if Achilles took on Lara Croft?

Well, we may actually find out when the double-billed actioner Mr. and Mrs. Smith arrives in theaters. Starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this flick from the director of the Bourne movies casts the two premier Hollywood sex symbols as man and wife- and also as the world's two deadliest professional assassins. The schtick is, they don't know that their spouse is a world-class contract killer... at least, not until they're ordered to eliminate each other.
Okay, this is probably my first guilty-pleasure film of the year. DAMN gorgeous Angelina Jolie playing a slinky femme fatale? I'm sold. This role looks to be a lot hotter than she ever was as videogame vixen Lara Croft, and she's a lot hotter here and showing a lot more skin (and both eyes) than in the Tomb Raider films or her outing in the flight of fancy flop, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

The action seems on the fantastic side of James Bond, with heavy firepower, hi-tech tricks and some down-and-dirty martial arts figuring into the couple's battle of the sexes. I'm not sure if the film's going to be played dead straight, tongue-in-cheek or if it's going to go with a generally humorous tone. The level of comedy and action of True Lies would be just right for this movie- anyway, it DOES also have a Tango sequence like the old Schwarzenegger spy flick.

I'm actually hoping they play it straight, almost a black comedy ala War of the Roses. It'll be interesting to see if either or both Pitt or Jolie actually bite the dust, but most probably we'll have a safe happy ending. We'll just have to wait till mid-year when Mr. and Mrs. Smith start their little spat. The movie arrives in US theaters in June 2005.
A Minute Meal

A day or two ago, I found myself at the drop-off point without having dinner yet. Not wanting to get any microwaved fare from the nearby 7-11, I instead decided to have my meal at the nearby Minute Burger. Now, in the restaurant sub-group of burgers that is the street-level burger (chief of which is the ubiquitous Burger Machine), Minute Burger is firmly in the middle. It's been there for years and years- I actually remember going to Minute Burger when I was a kid throughout late elementary to high school. A few years ago they actually advertised on TV, but these days they just are there. I'm not privy to the actual financial viability of Minute Burger, but they're still around so whatever.
Anyway, the last time I ate at Minute Burger was years ago, probably. I remember that Minute Burger is the only burger place that actually has their people go into buses along EDSA, bringing burgers along to sell to the passengers. Of course, I never bought a burger this way... I want my streetburger hot and off the pan.

Well then, I found myself on the Minute Burger stool and looking up at the menu. I ordered a combo which consisted of a cheeseburger and a small drink. Knowing how relatively light these burgers are compared to regular fare in your local Jollibee, I ordered an additional bacon cheeseburger.
In a couple of minutes, I had my sandwiches. They tasted just as they had before, years ago, which is not bad at all. The bacon burger was pleasantly filling, and the fried bacon on top was good, solid meat, not fatty or soft at all. All of this for under a hundred pesos! Yummy!

Okay, it was not at all a fancy repast, and the fact that I was pretty hungry at the time helped. But I can honestly say it was a nice change of pace and a nice flashback of my younger days as a burger eater. Maybe I should skip meals at Megamall more often. Heh.

I guess the news about Questor's closing down got people in the local comic mailing lists talking. With such a major player being wiped off the board, there have been comments- some say that there surely will be something to replace the title, citing a potentially great opportunity. Some say that perhaps this is a sign that the local publishing market really is weak.

I am inclined to believe that a local comic or zine, done right, will sell and do well. Granted, Questor had decent production values- they were printed on good paper, had colored covers and interiors, and had a staff of decent artists. However, being someone who's been buying the mag for years, I can say that in my own opinion, the mag wasn't great.

For an anime and manga zine, Questor was sorely lacking in style and substance. It didn't have a great look to the pages- no dynamic layouts, no slick art direction, no cool exclusive content. All of it was done pretty much run of the mill. The articles and features were nothing you could not find anywhere on the web, or in any of the better anime magazines. The writing was bland and there were few if any things an otaku would go out of their way to get. In general, the thin Questor mag doesn't at all scream 'worth your manga bucks'.
Take Newtype- ungodly expensive, but DAMN, there is no better mag for anime out there. The features are up to date to the latest anime, the artworks and images are gorgeous and great to see, and there are insightful columns and articles that play to an otaku's heart. The pinups of sexy anime babes don't hurt either. Yes, Questor had pinups- but they were crap in comparison.

And then, there was Nopperabo, the Questor zine's resident comic/manga section. Let me say that I TOTALLY cannot comprehend WHY they kept with it. WHY the HELL would you have a bleak, depressing, often boring anthology of Japanese Occupation-era horror or drama tales as your main manga feature? It BOGGLES the mind that this dismal stuff awaits manga readers everytime they would buy a Questor issue instead of the wealthy vein of high fantasy, sci-fi, action or comedy that manga is known for. Boggles the mind.
Additional Note: I've been told that most of the staff of Questor themselves cannot fathom WHY they kept using Nopperaboo as opposed to any other manga story/series/anthology. Go figure.

Long story short- Questor wasn't a good mag- it had too much baggage from old-school old foagies who did not want to push the envelope and was limited in content by the biases of the owner (who featured only the anime titles he owned or was promoting, no matter how outdated).

So, really, I'm not surprised that it failed. The point is, it's failure shouldn't necessarily mean that local publishing cannot succeed. If you have great product, you will sell. That's what happened with Culture Crash, and what will continue to happen as long as they keep their standards high and their stories improving. I do not think that was a fluke. The CCCom guys did it right, and not it's up to anyone else who wants to follow their footsteps to bring the goods to the table, so to speak.

Don't show up with a knife in a gunfight. Do your homework, make sure your stuff measures up, and get it out there to the people who will want it. THEN we'll see what sells or not, what's great or not.

Now that I thought about it, perhaps the Death of Questor may actually be a blessing in disguise. Now that it's out of the picture, perhaps something a LOT better can FINALLY take it's place. The only question is, when, how and by who. We'll see.

Thursday, January 27

Family Gaming

Here's a game you cannot refuse.

The classic Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the novels by Mario Puzo are coming to the PS2. The game looks to put players in control of members of the infamous Corleone family, as they battle rival mafia dons and families in the shadowy world of organized crime. It's still not known if you can actually play as Sonny or Michael Corleone, or as Don Vito himself (in his younger, De Niro incarnation). Maybe you can even play as Luca Brazi ("I hope your son is a masculine son...") and go play a 'swim with the fishes' minigame.
It's actually kinda intriguing. Perhaps you can actually re-enact the ultraviolent Toll Booth Assassination and see if you can actually get Sonny to survive. Cool, eh?

So far, screens revealed seem to point to a third-person action shooter, similar to the earlier-released PC and console game, Mafia. Still, this game should be cool if only for the possibility of carrying out multiple, brutal assassinations set to the trademark Godfather theme.

No date's set yet for the release, though the game looks to see play in Japan and the US. I wonder how Marlon Brando's Vito sounds talking in Japanese? Should be something to see. Heh.
The Quest(or) has Ended

Last night, I learned from a pretty reliable source that the local manga/anime magazine Questor is dead.

Apparently, the staff has already been laid off, and the current issue on shelves is the last one. This pretty much puts paid to the possibility of Questor Extreme Mangamania coming out, and which explains why the editor NEVER got back to me.

Yet again, Kunoichi Boy has been banished to the shadows, to wait in secret to fight another day. Oh well.

It was a slow lingering death for the mag, which sadly was on decline ever since their 'relaunch' after being acquired by ABS-CBN Publishing.
With Questor's death, there may be a vacuum of local manga and anime publications- the popular Culture Crash seems to be on an indefinite hiatus as well, with no word on future issues. Will Questor be replaced by another title? Will another publisher take this opportunity to make a mark in the local comic field?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, January 26

Prose and Cons

I may have to don my prose writer's hat soon, with a little project that I've been invited to. I guess I gotta start sifting through the attic to see if there are any seeds of good fantasy or fiction stories I can water, nurture and grow within the next several weeks. I'm actually quite intrigued and excited... it should be a great diversion from the grafictional stuff I've been so far doing. The last time I really wrote a long prose story was years ago... the start of an as yet unfinished fantasy saga. Since then, the longest materials that I have written are advertorial copy for work and the stuff for the gang's internal writing workshop last year. Let's see what I can whip up. Should be fun. Heh.

Last night, I was channel surfing and I stopped on ETC where it was showing singer K.D. Lang performing on one of the shows (not sure if it was Conan or The Tonight Show). I know she really seems to make it a point to not look pretty or even feminine, but darn... she looked several pounds heavier, quite a bit older, and was wearing an oversized man's suit and pants, and she was barefoot on the set. She looked... well... um... ah...


Anyway, I really like her singing. Moving on.

Tuesday, January 25

Lots of Eck

Last night they showed Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever on HBO. When I first saw this movie a year or so ago, I thought it’d be some cool action flick with high-octane thrills and over-the-top stunts. I mean, it had a super assassin babe in it! How could it go wrong? I though that this would be a remake of that old Assassin flick (with Banderas and Sly Stallone), except with a war of the sexes touch, punctuated with tons of firepower and martial arts.
Well, it’s good that I never really got to seeing this flick in the theater, since it turned out to be NOTHING at all like what I thought.

Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever is a deception. The titular characters never really get into serious fighting- they only spar for one time, and afterwards you just know they’re going to hook up. It’s all by the numbers with a plot that has more bulletholes in it than all the slick action and timed explosions can cover up.
The movie starts with renegade agent Sever (Lucy Liu) kidnapping a little boy, who turns out to be the son of a powerful intelligence agency bigwig named Gant (Gregg Henry). The FBI more or less blackmails a retired manhunter named Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) to take Sever down, with the promise that they will reveal to Ecks the wheareabout of his wife, whom he was told WAS DEAD FOR ALL THIS TIME. Wild, eh? Well, I guess Ecks’ wife has to be damn hot to still have his attention after ten years, but then again, it’s Talisa Sotto so why not.

Anyway, despite looking scruffy and unshaven and half-drunk, Ecks is supposedly the only one who can take on the leather-clad, unstoppable martial arts Terminatrix Sever, so off he goes after the customary initial griping.
Complicating matters is the fact that Gant has sent his own forces- an army of balaclava-wearing, fatigue-clad commandos led by Agent Ross (Ray “Darth Maul” Park)- to hunt Sever down.
Of course, all is not as it seems, and it turns out that Gant is the real baddie in this film (well, actually it’s shown early on so it’s no surprise), wanting to get his son back not so much because he loves the kid as he is looking for his nanotechnological superweapon hidden IN the kid. So when Ecks and Sever finally hook up (rather too easily), they put paid to Gant and his Time Crisis commandos in a hail of explosions and bullets.

This mess just has tons of gaping holes; like how either Ecks and Sever can just tear up the city battling Gant’s goons, and leaving body counts in the dozens without the real military and police EVER appearing? Or how heavily-armed commandos just blindly run after our heroes just to get routinely mowed down or blown up without so much as a protest or even a half-hearted attempt to graze the heroes at all throughout the movie. Or how boring and tension-less the action is, or how wooden the acting is all around. GAH.

The only good part here is watching Lucy Liu do her bad girl thing- more style over substance, but it’s really neat to see leather-clad super bitches kick ass. Too bad it all too brief, and all done so by-the-numbers, without much pulse or tension.

Good thing that the Battle of the Sexes espionage-action flick may be seeing light soon, in the form of the upcoming Mr. and Mrs., starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as two top assassins/agents unknowingly being sent to target each other. And Ray Park will be doing more and decidedly better martial arts moves in his upcoming Iron Fist (due in 2006).

It’s an even better thing that I didn’t waste money on this crapper at the moviehouse, or even on a dvd. THEN we would have really seen someone go ballistic. Heh.
RPG Nostalgia

The fourth installment of one of my favorite RPGs for the PS2 has hit stores. Reviews have been less than stellar though for this latest game in the Suikoden series, citing a story that lacks any real punch or pulse, a large (108 characters, no less) cast that mostly does nothing, and a tendency for aimless wandering on the high seas.

Honestly, I miss the good ol' days of Suikoden. The first game was one of the grade-A titles for the original PS, putting you in the shoes of the son of a famous general who must ultimately fight against the unjust empire you serve at the beginning. The first game had a cool story and memorable characters whom you genuinely care about once you get into the game (GREMIO!!!!)

However, my personal favorite has to be Suikoden II, which upped the ante with gorgeous art, a convoluted story full of conspiracy and backstabbing, large-scale campaigns and battles which you really felt you were a part of, and simply the best minigame in the franchise (cooking ala Iron Chef). From being a wet-behind-the-ears grunt who fights razorbunnies to becoming the commander of one of the armies vying for control of the empire, your saga was epic. And the supporting cast was so alive- when you feel a twinge of guilt after killing enemy lieutenants, you know this game's characters are written excellently. It was with pleasure that I ended the game, leaving behind the cares of politics and hitting the road with redeemed childhood friend Jowy and adoptive sister Nanami in tow, off to parts and adventures unknown. Yeah, Suikoden II for me was the pinnacle for the series.

Suikoden III was nice. Nice, but not stellar. I liked the three linking storylines, the cutesy graphics and the quick combat. However, for all it's neatness, it's the one Suikoden I haven't finished. Oh well- maybe I'll find out what happens in the end with the manga adaptation (which sadly seems to be tapering off in quality as it goes along).

And now, Suikoden IV. It has no Viktor, no Flick, no Toran Republic or even the Grasslands in sight. What we have here is a whole new world (though some old faces like Vicki are appearing, more as utilities than anything else). Yeah, it's still got tons of minigames and will probably be lots better than most no-name franchises out there... but really, I'm not too excited. Well, I'll probably play it eventually, but I don't see myself investing too much time into it. Perhaps it would be better for me to dig up the ol' Suikoden II copy for good, solid Suikoden fun. Yeah, that's the ticket. Heh.

Monday, January 24

Questionable E-mail

I've just received a flurry of e-mails from Paypal, supposedly, asking for me to verify my information and shit. Well, for one thing, I'm not a Paypal member (since I live in the Philippiines that is a blacklisted country to the high-and-mighty credit landlords), so why the Hell did they send me a message? That, plus a link that you're supposed to click to 'verify' my info leads me to suspect this is a virus or some Trojan thing to hack my system or security. As always, if it's questionable, just DELETE these things. Banks, credit companies and other business-related stuff should not be done via e-mail or simply by clicking a link. If you get these Paypal mails, beware. A delete button a day keeps hackers and viruses away.

Sunday, January 23

Incredible Bore

They're showing The Hulk on HBO.

This has simply got to be THE most boring superhero movie ever. Director Ang Lee really did something wrong with this one. You'd think that the original source material was a psychological novel or some scientific textbook instead of a comic book. It's so slow and ponderous, with TONS of extra baggage piled onto the story that just bogs everything down to a crawl. Well, I never did care about the comic either so it's no skin off my teeth. Yawn.
Mini-Stop Menagerie

The Mini-Stop is a peculiar place. There's something about the clean, brightly-lit interiors that just make you want to BUY something to munch on whenever you see that familiar orange, white and blue coloration of the sign. You really should make it a point to NOT be in the vicinity of a MS if you're hungry and you're intending to eat somewhere else, since you probably will find yourself spending on tsitsirya and groceries uncontrollably. At least, that's what ALWAYS happens to me. Sheesh.
Anyway, last night, after the night's coffee with birthday celebrant Vin, me and Cams dropped by a Mini-Stop to stock our respective larders with fast chow. I picked up a the latest in microwaveable eats- a spaghetti bun sandwich and the pizza pandesal (bacon cheeseburger flavor).

The spaghetti bun is what it sounds like- a hotdog bun stuffed with party spaghetti- the kind with the soft noodles and sweet sauce. The only meat in it are four (count 'em) smalll slices of hotdog on top of the thing. Heated up, it makes for an unusual but oddly cool snack. It's actually not so odd- we usually eat spaghetti with bread anyway, so here we're just pretty much cutting out the plate and substituting it with a bread container. Not bad, really.

The pizza pandesal bun isn't really something I found liking... the flavor's good, but the heated-up snack feels soft and flaccid (hmm), and just not right. I like my pizza crispy. Still, it was an experience.

I wonder what new fast snack the ol' Mini Stop will cough up soon? Just another thing to not necessarily look forward to but just deal with as we go deeper into 2005.