Monday, October 24

Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing

Giant airship battles, feisty flying cuties... Yep, Last Exile's back.

A long time ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away... I was a younger Otaku who guzzled anime like soda. During that time, Gonzo was the studio often in the spotlight, and Last Exile was one of their classics. This series, full of cloudy worlds and warring airship fleets surely captured the minds of countless anime fans, mixing steampunk with mystical powers, light-hearted adventure (initially) with more dark, serious drama. Truth be told, I need to re-watch the series again to remember all the details, but it's still the first title I quote when I want to bring to mind awesome anime. So now, the sequel, Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing, is here, airing on Animax here in Manila every weekend, same time as Japan.

Set in another part of Prester, far from the warring states of Anatoray and Disith in the first LE, this time we take on the conflict between the Kingdom of Turan and the Ades Federation. I guess parallelisms to Phantom Menace are inescapable with Turan being smaller and seemingly less aggressive with their cute princesses and graceful, T-shaped airships, while we can see the more foreboding and militaristic Ades fleet as the 'bad guys'- well, since they broke a supposed peace accord and started attacking with no provocation, that's pretty unmistakable. Into this conflict barge in the titular Fam Fam Fan, a young Sky Pirate with amazing Vanship skills.
Though they'd probably be better off just staying out of the action and just hijacking the occasional lone airship, for some reason they come to the aid of Turan (perhaps they don't like seeing bullies), at first saving the embattled princesses escape then later personally flying one royal highness back to Turan. Obviously though, as the war continues with no end in sight, Fam, her people and the princess she's taken under her wing are in for the ride of their lives.

At just by the second episode there have been a couple of big battles, tons of Vanship daring-do, the return of old favorite Dio Eraclea from the first series, the revelation that there's another Exile, or giant super-powered starship, in existence and a whole city pulverized (which shows that this new series isn't all cute and fluffy). What the bad guys are planning, what other familiar faces like Tatiana Wisla will play in this conflict and what one spunky little Sky Pirate can do in all this will be revealed I guess, as Silver Wing flies off in earnest.

For now, I guess, I gotta dust off those anime VCDs and have an original Last Exile marathon very soon.

Friday, October 7

Thanks for all the fun toys, Steve.

Tuesday, July 26

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two


Man, how long has it been? The first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out in 2001. TEN YEARS. That's a long time to spend with a cast and crew, and as far as I know, it's unheard of anywhere else in cinema that a worldwide franchise was able to keep it together for that long. Heck, I remember back then, people were bewildered at how the producers basically threw all their eggs into one basket- basically actor Daniel Radcliffe and his mates, to be their nest egg for seven movies (eight, eventually). But well, time has proven the investment as good as gold, as with Deathly Hallows Part 2, it's done. I have to say that even with some flaws, I consider the Harry Potter films as one of my favorite movie series of all time, alongside the LOTR, the Indiana Jones TRILOGY and Star Wars. And in many ways the Potter films have achieved more and better than these other, more high profile adventure epics.

Well, what can I say about the finale, this much-anticipated capper to this long-running saga of sorcerers in school? Really, I can't say much but gush. I loved Part 1, and Part 2 is basically still part of that sensibility, that visual style and mindset. Part 1 was the setup, the suspenseful calm before the storm, the silence before the bomb blows. Part 2 is the big shebang. And does it deliver?

I've read many reviews saying that it didn't. That it went out with a pang instead of a bang. That the Battle of Hogwarts could have been more exciting, that more could have, and should have been shown.

In some ways I am inclined to agree. Really, who wouldn't want more spells thrown, more scenes of wizard duels, more scenes of our Hogwarts comrades kicking arse? While I haven't read the actual book, I have more or less an idea of how the Battle went on the page, and yes, there were things that would have been awesome to see. But ultimately, the most important parts were, I think, shown to satisfaction onscreen- the grievous losses suffered by the good guys, and the two important baddies to bite the dust.

Still, I do indeed wish there was more shown.

For starters, I really wish that they showed more of Fred. Among the various deaths in the Hogwart ranks, the other half of the Weasley twins was the most saddening (who cares about Lavender Brown of Colin Creevey... heh). They didn't even show his face (someone joked that you could see the other twin's face anyway, so why bother...).

Another thing was, during the night, the enemy army seemed HUGE. You had the Death Eaters with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) on one side, while there was a mob of their allies attacking the bridge- yes, we do see their leader and a good amount falling to their much-deserved deaths, but I'm sure not all of them went. So, when the morning arrived, why were there so few enemies left that the Hogwarts forces could take them on and win, without any backup (in the book, the day was saved by a proverbial cavalry of other good wizards from Hogsmeade, Hogwarts' students' families, the Centaurs and the House Elves).
One big moment, the death of bad girl Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) should have been more cheer-worthy, but it appeared rushed; perhaps it should have had better setup (like Bellatrix giving the younger witches a hard time before Mrs. Weasley finally came to kick Le Strange's butt).

That all said, the film is still riotously rewarding.

It was great to see Hermione and Ron (Emily Watson and Rupert Grint) doing their part to win the day on their own, and their relationship finally showing legs.

It was great to see Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) finally cut loose and just be awesome.

Albus may have shuffled off (but Peter Gambon's still around, thankfully), but the presence of his lookalike brother Aberforth (an unrecognizable Ciaran Hinds) made it seem like the former headmaster was still at the school and looking after the young 'uns.

And yes, it was freakin' great to have Harry himself finally taking on Voldemort and battling tooth and nail for the final win. In the end, the victory was hard fought and paid for dearly, but won nevertheless, and you know that Harry and company earned it.

The saga of the The Boy, now Man, Who Lived is over. But it's certainly a cinematic saga that I will cherish and continue to enjoy as a contemporary classic from here on in. Darn, J.K. Rowling spun magic when she thought up this world, and it took the wizardry of film to bring it to us. From here on in, we create our own tales and spells, to visit the world of Hogwarts when we wish to. That is, unless Miss Rowlings has something else in store for the next decade...

Wednesday, July 6

Gadget Boy Strikes Again!

I've been on a gadget rampage recently, which only kinda-sorta ended today. For the past couple of years (I think), I've been using a trusty and still-awesome iPhone 3GS. As I probably wrote a long time ago (probably on my other blog), I balked at getting an iPhone 4 for various reasons- that weird issue about the antennae and reception troubles (an issue which kinda just tapered off eventually but never got sorted out to my satisfaction), the trouble and inconvenience getting the device (Globe has it so overpriced, and confusing to get) and worst of all, the stagnation of the memory. The iPhone 4's max memory capacity is 32 Gigs, which is the same as my 3GS. But since the iP4 has that 'retina' screen and HD video recording, it should eat up more memory. Why no upgrade? If the iPhone 4 had a 64GB model, I'd probably have been more receptive.

As it was, I finally, eventually and ultimately settled on getting instead an iPod Touch 4G (or 4th Generation). It was, literally, the iPhone 4 without the phone issues, slimmer and lighter but still having pretty much the best of the controversial Apple phone- the hi-res screen (which looks freakin' gorgeous), the two cameras which you the use of Facetime, a faster processor (making my 3GS look chuggy in comparison) and best of all 64 gigs of memory. I'm two days in with my new Touch and it's awesome- I'm thoroughly enjoying the gyroscope, which makes gaming on the device pretty amazing.

Getting the Touch 4G meant though, that I had to divest myself of my 3GS. Well, since the beginning, I knew that the 3GS would be going to Mom, to replace her iPhone (the original 8GB model, which also came from me) which by now has a failing battery (which we haven't been able to replace) that dies in less than a day (even faster if you try to use any of the features, like music or such). Finally now, with the 3GS, Mom can listen to her Josh Groban and Rod Stewart tunes to her heart's content without fear of the battery conking out after a few songs.

That of course left me with an awesome media player/social networking/gaming device (aside from my iPad) but no phone. So I had to get one. Basically, I was going back to my old combo of IPT and simple phone- I thus went off to the nearest mall looking for a particular model phone- I wanted a Sony Ericsson W890i, which was small, trusty, durable and slick (plus it was a nice Walkman phone).
Unfortunately, after scouring the phone stalls, I failed to locate one. Perhaps it was due to my bad luck, but the place was teeming with a particular brand of phone- which I, inexplicably, found myself looking at and ultimately, purchasing.

And THUS, I walked away with my cheap phone to go with my hi-tech iPod Touch 4G... none other than a Cherry Mobile Z5. This may have some who know me raising their eyebrows. Really, CM is a relatively new, local distributor of obviously China-made phones whose models boast quite a lot of nice features but are of dubious quality. However, in my hands, the Z5 seemed... decent. It's a very slim, qwerty phone with a camera, FM radio and a ton of features... and who could beat the price- less than 3K! Well, after a night of tinkering with it and inputting my contacts one by one by hand (damn the iPhone's inability to return contacts to the SIM card), I was off. So far, so good. Hopefully this time I don't 'get what I paid for' with the Z5.
That said, the cheap phone is just a utility- my main thing is that now I'm happy as a clam with my Touch 4G, and Mom's happy with her new/old iPhone 3GS. All is well that ends well.

But then again, there's still that possibility of me getting an iPad 2. Maybe. We'll see...

Monday, June 27

Bangkok Trippin' 2011

The Golden Buddha in Wat Traimit.

Last week, I was able to visit Bangkok, Thailand a second time. The first was several years ago, for work (albeit for a much longer time). This time it was mainly for pleasure, though the short time (less than 3 days) meant it wasn't as much kicking back as it was cramming whatever we could do while we were there. That pretty much meant walking around, soaking in culture and the sights (including the above-mentioned Golden Buddha, the reclining Buddha of Wat Po and more), foodtripping and, well, shopping. And more shopping, for most. Me, it was enough to just snap a pic or two (dozen) of this teeming city, enjoy a couple of really nice meals with crispy veggies, have my first taste of Ostrich Meat, grab a bunch of souvenir T-shirts and have a memorable (for the pain) walking trip from one big mall to another.

I have to say, after this second trip I have decided- I like Bangkok. I like it a lot. I love the food, I like the relaxing atmosphere and the beautiful sights. If and when I can or have the opportunity or the wherewithal to visit it a third time (or more), I'll surely take it.
Anyways, I took a boatload of photos, which you can, if you have the time, check out over here.

Friday, March 11

Avatar Korra!

The New Face of the Avatar animated series!

It's been a while since I posted about Avatar: The Legend of Korra, the much-anticipated follow-up to my all-time favorite animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Back then, all we had was a pic of a Water Bender-ish female standing atop a high place overlooking an intriguing cityscape. Now, we finally see her face. Well, granted it's not really that hard to imagine what she'd look like- she certainly looks like Katara from the first series, albeit more buff and angry. Lots of new information has been revealed about the Korra series, and I'm so glad to find these awesome tidbits.

• The series, entitled The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra, is due for release on Nickelodeon in Mid-2012. WAAAH! So far away...

• Though initially only 12 episodes were planned, Nickelodeon has since ordered 14 more. WOOHOO! More! MORE! According to the creators of the show, the World of Avatar is full of ideas and may be tapped 'for years to come'.

• As of right now, the series' first 12 episode scripts have all been recorded, and is in the process of being animated.

• The tone of the show will be older than the first series, and heroine Korra herself is 16 or 17. There will be a return of the romantic elements or 'shipping' from the first show.

• The World has advanced quite a bit in the 70-year gap from the end of the first Avatar to Korra. There will apparently be cars and motorcycles!

• Fans of the old series can count on familiar faces to appear in some way, even if in the 70 years most of the characters from the first Avatar have already passed on. There are definite links between the two shows.

• Korra can be described as the 'Anti-Aang'. She's more aggressive, headstrong and danger-seeking, and often starts fights on her own. She still has her own charm and is very much still a teen trying to find her own way.

• The show's main villain (at least in the first 12 episodes) is described as a 'kind of anti-bending revolutionary' and is 'very scary' and 'a challenge to Korra'.

• Issues such as the fate of Zuko's mom (left unanswered at the end of the first series) will be answered but not necessarily in the show. It has been announced that there will be Avatar: The Last Airbender comics released in the near future, which may be where fans can find the further adventures of the original Avatar crew. I can't wait!!!

MAN, this is awesome. This pretty much makes up for that traversty which was the Live-action Avatar movie. BAH, EFF THAT! I don't need any stupid Shaymalan crap when the REAL DEAL is coming. Something to look forward to and hope that the world goes on after 2012, I guess. WOOHOO!!!

Tuesday, February 15

The MADman's Must-Watch Ninja Flicks

Be vewy, vewy quiet... there's ninja about!

Ninja are awesome (yes, and the correct plural of ninja is ninja, not ninjas) and I’ve been a fan of these shadowy spies and assassins since I was old enough to wrap a towel around my head. Heck, one out of two comics I make star ninja babes in them.
So you’d understand when I recently saw the quite atrocious Ninja Assassin movie, I was suitably outraged. What a mess that was. It just goes to show that a gazillion dollars, fancy CG and a hot action trilogy in your resume can’t guarantee a good ninja flick- all you need are some game stunt guys, lots of loose pajamas, a cool story and a couple extra game stunt guys. Seriously, most of the old, cheesy ninja B-movies (most of which are probably only available on dusty old VHS) are better than the Ninja Assassin crap. So I wanna do my part in steering those not learned in the ways of the Shinobi from such junky ninja fare by recommending a few of my favorite films featuring the mystical shadow warriors. At the very least, these are the flicks I’d bring inside my Emergency Life Preservation Vault’s limited archive space once the meteors start dropping onto the planet. Check ‘em out.

Ninja III: The Domination. I never saw Ninja 1 or II, but who cares- III is the best of the lot, I guess. Why? ‘Cause it has the uber-hot Lucinda Dickey (she did all her stunts, apparently) as an aerobics instructor and telephone linewoman being possessed by a dead ninja out for revenge on the cops who killed him. Oh, and it has Sho Kosugi with an EYE PATCH. This has it all- funny yelps, smashing tombstones, a Jacuzzi assassination, mind-controlled monks and funny special effects like a grade school Poltergeist. But really, this was a fun, sexy, action-packed flick that was never boring, and the ninja-on-ninja action was awesome.

The Octagon. This Chuck Norris flick has him battling a secret cult of ninja. The fight scenes look laughably staged nowadays (actually this is true for most of the old ninja movies), but this was pretty cool regardless. The penultimate fight between Chuck and a masked ‘sub-boss’ ninja warrior is still awesome today, in any case. Oh, and the main bad guy is named Sakura! WAHAHA! Okay, it’s actually Seikura… details, details.

Ninja Scroll. The one animated film in this lineup is also probably the most explicitly violent, complete with nudity, sex, a rape scene, multiple dismemberments and blood gushing in torrents. Get past that though and you’ll know why this flick is the single most awesome piece of Japanese anime out there, still unmatched to this day. Oh, and yeah, there are actual ninja in it in between all the freaky mutants and demon creeps.

The Hunted. An understated but awesome action-suspense flick and one of actor Christopher ‘Raiden’ Lambert’s best, in my opinion. Lambert is the titular prey, a foreign businessman being stalked across Japan by a ninja cult led by Kinjo (played by John Lone with a deadly calm and confidence). Every action scene is brilliant, with the best being an awesome battle on the Shinkansen bullet train and the final battle on an ancient samurai clan’s island stronghold.
To me, this is probably THE definitive modern ninja action flick, which makes it a bit ironic that two important cast members (Lone and Joan Chen) are Chinese. Suspense, action, humor in spades- this film is still excellent today.

Arhat vs Ninja (Shaolin vs Ninja). Okay, this is a glossed-over, faded memory of my youth- I'm really not sure about the actual title. Basically it's a pretty old and obscure period kung-fu flick. As the story goes, a royal heir was hidden among the young monks of the Shaolin Temple. The villains send out their assassins- at first Chinese fighters- to find and kill the kid. Despite taking out quite a few monks at first, the Shaolin youths eventually turn the tables and slaughter the baddies. The villains then turn to a different source for muscle- from the Japanese ninja. The Shaolin are totally unprepared for the ninja style of combat, which is all about striking from secrecy and shadows- 'Unfair' as they describe it (I guess this is more of the anti-Japanese sentiment prevalent in Kung-fu flicks). Eventually there's a stalemate, and several Shaolin kids sacrifice themselves with bombs on their bodies to try and take out the bad guys, and end up blowing themselves up with the ninja (who at least are honorable enough to die for their employers). The film ends with a treaty guaranteeing the safety of the Shaolin Temple. Pretty strange and odd fantasy/action flick, and if you can find this, good for you!

And that's it. I guess part of the reason as well for my writing this article is that I'm psyching myself up for writing some scripts starring ninja. What's it for? Well, that's gonna have to wait a bit. For now though, chase down these titles before the VHS tapes they're on warp away forever. GO! IKUZO!

Monday, February 14

Bringing Back the MADness

Lately I've been trimming the fat a bit from my online fingerprint. This has resulted in the passing away of my two sites for my comics Angel Ace and K.I.A.. However, I simply couldn't bring myself to do away with this particular site- Stark Raving MAD, my personal online journal, was my first-ever blog and I think it's a significant chunk of who I am, or was, for 8 years (and counting). I think it's worth capturing life and times from my eyes in this little pocket of the web.

So, I'm resolving to post here on SRM a lot more often, be it about my hopefully to-be-rejuvenated comic book pastime, anything about pop culture (the odd movie rant or review) and anything I encounter deem blogging about. Whether I have just one reader or none at all, I'll continue speaking my mind here- I'm a MADman, after all.

Wednesday, February 9

Disney's Tangled Review

Disney's 50th animated film takes the Rapunzel fable to unheard-of lengths.

I haven't had the pleasure of watching many good movies lately, so it was quite refreshing to finally have a movie tug at all the right strings with Disney's Tangled. This film has had a lot of baggage heaped upon it from development up to it's release, about everything from the film's name change from simply being named 'Rapunzel' from the source fairy tale, to the marketing of the movie to boys by building up sidekick character Flynn Rider, to the fact that this is Disney's 50th animated feature and supposedly, it's last 'Princess' animated feature. Well, pooh-pooh to all that. If you ask me, it's no biggie that this isn't entitled Rapunzel (though I wouldn't mind that, given how awesome this latest Disney Princess is), since it's an adaptation and quite far from the original source material anyways. And that rumor of this being the last Disney animated flick? Apparently not true. Well, after the positive response to Tangled after it's showing in theaters, I don't think it is anymore, if ever.

Anyway, looooong story short, all that baggage shouldn't get in the way of you getting your butt into a theater, recommended with a really nice date, to see Tangled, arguably one of the most refreshing and beautiful animated films I've ever seen, and perhaps my new all-time favorite Disney flick. There's a wonderful, modern energy to this- thankfully perhaps due to the Pixar influence from John Lasseter. Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (BRAVO!) have crafted a tale full of earnest energy, action-adventure, drama, humor and heartfelt emotion from beginning to end. Everything comes together, from the design of the picture-perfect animated fairy tale world to the utterly believable, gorgeously animated characters and the wonderful script, performances and music.

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is a lovely young woman with 70 feet of golden, magical hair who has lived most of her 18 years inside a hidden tower. Though without bars or locks, she is kept there for fear of the outside world, impressed upon her by her single parent, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). Unknown to Rapunzel, she is a princess from the nearby kingdom, kidnapped when she was a baby and hidden away since her hair now holds a magical healing power which allows Gothel to retain her youth indefinitely. However, all these years, Rapunzel's curiosity of a mysterious night phenomenon- beautiful lights that fill the sky far off in the distance once every year on her birthday- is about to make the timid heroine step out of her comfort zone.

When a dashing rogue named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) bungles upon the tower while trying to escape after stealing a tiara from the royal palace (ironically it's Rapunzel's own tiara). Rapunzel knocks the intruder out but then later realizes that the thief is her one and only chance to see the lights that have fascinated her all these years. And so begins an adventure that will take a lost princess on a road trip and adventure of a lifetime.

What works so well in this film at the very least are the characters- Rapunzel herself is utterly adorable; a modern young woman, creative, determined, courageous and kind, yet limited and shackled by her own moral code of loyalty and misplaced love in the only parent she's ever known. It's this hold that Gothel has over Rapunzel which is more potent than any spell or magic in past fairy tales that makes the tale more mature and modern than most. Mandy Moore gives a wonderful vocal performance in both speaking and singing parts, and the animation for this adorable, barefoot blonde heroine makes her a truly convincing and lovable character to root for. It is no stretch for me to say that thanks to how more involved and expressive Rapunzel is portrayed and shown, she is easily the best Disney heroine for me so far. Literally... Best. Disney Princess. EVER!

Zachary Levi's smooth-talking Flynn is a great match to Rapunzel, though sometimes his jokes are so fast if you blink you'll miss them. Wonderfully though, his transformation from rascal to hero is effectively portrayed. Backing up Rapunzel and Flynn with humor and action are two characters who ironically do not speak at all- Pascal the obligatory (but welcome) chameleon pet sidekick and the pretty awesome Maximus, a royal guard horse who could probably star in his own detective action series. Stealing the show though whenever she appears is villainess Gothel, thanks to an amazing performance by the sultry tones of Donna Murphy. She may not be the most scary or powerful Disney villainess, but she's definitely one of the most sinister and easily the most realistic, and lethal (perhaps she's a Level 32 assassin).

There are moments in this film that made me laugh out loud, and some brought my eyes to the verge of tears, thanks to the convincing emotion coming from these CG characters (again, another mark of Pixar). But they're not from big drama scenes either- it's the quiet scenes like the wordless exchange between the grief-stricken King and Queenl, and that moment when rogue and princess finally connect and start to become a couple. Oh, and aside from that there's an AWESOME action scene with a freakin' amazing waterfall.

On the film's music and songs- there have been reviews saying that the songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater are not as memorable as those in previous Disney musicals. In my opinion, the songs are perfect matches to the story being told, and well that they should- Tangled is more of a straight adventure with some musical moments, not an animated musical play (like the earlier Disney classics were). That all said, songs like Mother Gothel's Mother Knows Best, the Thuggy theme I've Got a Dream and the climactic love song I've Seen the Light are wonderful pieces that go with the amazing visuals perfectly.

But probably the one great thing about Tangled as a whole is, that despite being a thoroughly updated, modern take on the source fable, it's NOT a cop-out, jaded pandering of pop culture references or throwaway slapstick- this is still a Disney classic through and through and a very fitting 50th Anniversary offering.

If you haven't watched this gem of an animated masterpiece yet in the theater (better in 3D), do yourself a favor and wait for this on DVD or Blu-ray. Don't get any crappy cam vid or bootleg off some street corner. This is a quality film that should be seen the way it's meant to be. Get a mate, or a date, watch and enjoy.

Disney's Tangled is now showing in theaters all over Metro Manila (in both 2D and 3D).