Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends Movie Review

If you're going to watch just one live-action adaptation of an anime in your life, you'd do well to watch Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends.

After the events of Kyoto Inferno, Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) is serendipitously found by Hiko Seijuro (Masaharu Fukuyama), the man who taught him his sword-fighting style. Kenshin will need to train harder than he's ever had before, because he will have to face disgraced ninja Aoshi Shinomori (Yusuke Iseya), the government, and his own fears before he faces off against Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) in the battle that will determine not just the future of Japan, but whose legend will live on once and for all!

Mad props must be given to director Keishi Otomo, who is given the thankless job of balancing between staying faithful to the anime and giving us an action-packed samurai epic. But the original anime wasn't just a clash of was a clash of ideologies, with both Kenshin and his enemies trying to prove their worldview with every stroke of the sword. So a lot of the nuances get lost in the attempt to condense 30+ episodes of characterization into a 2-and-a-half hour film.

You notice it in Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends when characters suddenly appear in a scene without logic, or fan-favorite characters (like the Juppongatana, who were introduced with much fanfare during the previous movie) get shoved aside or hurriedly moved along to make way for Kenshin's inevitable fight with Shishio. I may be bold in saying even Aoshi didn't need to be there, for all the good he'll do for the film's story aside from being required to be there in the final fight!

But all of this is just the rambling of an OG Rurouni Kenshin anime fan. Folks who've never seen a single episode of the anime in their life will be a lot more forgiving with the things Otomo omits, mainly because they'll enjoy what he did leave in...action, and lots of it. And this is where The Legend Ends raises the bar and goes all out.

Every sword contact, every close call will leave you literally breathless thanks to Otomo's flair for digging the camera deep into the action. Sanosuke, Saito, and Kenshin's climactic battle against Shishio in particular is a visually stunning sequence, beautiful in its chaos of clashing fighting styles, and I'm not kidding when I say I was on the edge of my seat the entire time!

But really, when all's said and done, The Legend Ends is all about Takeru Satoh and Tatsuya Fujiwara, who both gave career-defining performances. Satoh nailed being both a vulnerable soul and a stone-cold killer as Kenshin, while Fujiwara was scary good as Shishio, who finally gets to let loose in this film to give us the live-action Shishio we deserved. Racked with pain and hacking blood, Fujiwara's Shishio still manages to look like he can wipe the floor with everybody else!

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends may not fully satisfy the discerning otaku, but it's amazing to watch them attempt it. It may have its faults, but no one can deny that The Legend Ends is highly enjoyable samurai action flick and a fitting and glorious finale to what could be the most successful adaptation of an anime to live-action we've seen. Highly recommended!

Opening across the Philippines on Sept. 24, 2014, “Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Enterbay Jean-Claude Van Damme Figure Does Splits, Kicks Your Ass

Col. Guile fans, rejoice! Hong Kong-based company Enterbay has unleashed promo pics of its latest creation: a 1/6th scale Real Masterpiece figure of legendary ass-kicker Jean-Claude Van Damme!

Van Damme himself worked closely with Enterbay to make sure this is as close to the real deal as it can get, and it shows...the figure captures the rugged action hero likeness of the Expendables 2 star! Not only that, but Enterbay actually developed a new base action body just to match JCVD's legendary flexibility, allowing him to do spinning heel kicks and splits to your heart's delight.

And yes, JCVD's figure can do a full split, just like nature intended! If I had the money, I'd get this just for kicks. Get it?

Anywho, fans of The Muscles from Brussels can get Real Masterpiece Jean-Claude Van Damme once it goes on sale at Enterbay's Hong Kong store starting September 12. Check out more pics over at Enterbay's site.

Friday, August 22, 2014

My Week in Comics: Multiversity #1

This isn't a review. This is a revelation. A revelation that Grant Morrison and Ivan Reis' Multiversity #1 is not just a comic's a commentary on comic books dressed up as a superhero story. A story we might have had a hand in telling.

Joining us in the journey is Nix Uotan, the last surviving Monitor from Final Crisis, here dubbed as Superjudge, savior of the multiverse. A distress call has been sounded from a parallel Earth, but he bites off more than he can chew when he faces the Gentry, a mysterious force that's slowly eroding the Multiverse with their cynicism and love for destruction. With the multiverse in danger, it's up to a group of ragtag heroes torn from multiple Earths to save it!

Multiversity #1 is a vintage Morrison book, meaning you don't 'read' it so much as 'experience' it, as pretentious as it sounds. It's quite literally a comic book about comic books, with the heroes knowing they're characters in a monthly comic, battling a threat that vaguely represents the cynicism of the modern comic book industry. There's even a clever element of audience participation in the way that Morrison talks directly to the reader through dialogue boxes, at one point asking us whose voice we use when reading those.  It's crazy!

Despite that heavy commentary, Multiversity #1 is a pretty fun comic. Morrison writes superheroes as larger than life, unchained from the growing trend of pulling down our high-flying superheroes into the mud. something the book slyly comments on. Black Superman from Earth-23, Aquawoman from Earth-11, even Captain Carrot, they've all got one job to do, which is to save the multiverse, and it's refreshing to watch them try to do just that. Ivan Reis steps up with no-frills comic book art that serve the story being told quite well. And while it's all pretty tame right now, I'm excited to see how Reis translates Morrison's crazier ideas on paper in the succeeding issues.

I do concede however that Multiversity #1 is jarring in some parts, as Morrison piles on concept after concept after obscure character in a way that could leave the unprepared in the dust. If you're don't know your Earth-7s from your Earth-23s, you'll probably feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of unfamiliar characters coming at you from all directions. Thankfully, Morrison operates on a pretty fast clip, presenting these obscure heroes and villains in bite-sized chunks and moving on just as quickly, letting you sink your teeth into the meatier parts with nary a skipped beat.

It's safe to say I haven't ready anything quite like Multiversity #1.Despite the meta-commentary and deep themes, it doesn't pretend to be anything more than a fun yet fascinating superhero comic book. This gets a 4.5 out of 5. Pick this comic up on sight. We might not get this kind of comic book again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

LINKIN PARK Invades Your Desk with (Expensive) 3D-Printed Figures!

Ever wanted to just shrink down Linkin Park and display them on your desk? Thanks to a German company called Staramba, that eerily-specific dream will soon become reality!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno Movie Review

Watching Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is like doing a marathon of the anime's Kyoto Arc in one sitting. Your brain would be turned to mush with all the things you have to take in all at once, but it's just so much fun to watch.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno sees Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) finally living a life of peace with his friends Kaoru, Yahiko and Sanosuke. But a demon from his past has reared its ugly head threatening the stability of Japan, and Kenshin must once again walk the path of the Battousai if he's to save Japan and everyone he cares about!

If the first Rurouni Kenshin film was Batman Begins, Kyoto Inferno is Kenshin Himura's The Dark Knight. Flashier, funnier and more ferocious than its predecessor, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno delivers an entertaining samurai epic with colorful characters in an even colorful world. Keishi Otomo's deft direction leaves you breathless as he transports you from the bustling Kyoto streets to war-torn villages of Meiji-era Japan to bring you the story of Kenshin's mission to bring down the dreaded Shishio at all costs. And lest you forget that it's based on one of the most-loved anime and manga franchises in Japan, Otomo faithfully recreates scenes from the anime and throws in some beloved characters to give you the ultimate Rurouni Kenshin fangasm ever.

With an ensemble cast as good as this, it's hard to find the one performance that stands out. The beautiful Emi Takei as Kaoru is more badass this time around. Munetaka Aoki is hilarious and awesome as Sanosuke. And even with little screen-time, Yosuke Eguchi nails the role of Saito Hajime so hard. But the heart of Kyoto Inferno is Takeru Satoh, who delivers a fine performance as assassin-turned-hero Kenshin Himura. As the emotional heart of the film, Satoh pulls off both the slapstick and the seriousness of anime Kenshin so well that you'd almost think you ARE watching the anime. And despite having the most physically-demanding role in the film, Satoh makes it look so easy jumping around and slashing dozens of goons left and right with god-like speed. I was in a theater full of people like me who grew up watching the anime (known as Samurai X here in the Philippines) and when Satoh crouched deep with his sword hand ready to unsheathe his sword Hiten Mitsurugi-style, the crowd went absolutely nuts. That's how good he was.

One of the movie's few disappointments is Tatsuya Fujiwara's Shishio Makoto, who feels less like the main villain and more like a half-baked idea. Despite giving a menacingly good performance, Shishio frustratingly does little in the film but sit around and threaten people. I guess they have to save the best for the third and final movie.

And that's probably the one thing I can fault Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno: It feels like the first half of a full movie (which it technically is). Even if it follows the anime's arc pretty faithfully, the movie crams most of it into its more than 2 hour frame with no satisfying payoff. Characters like Aoshi Shinomori feel unnecessary to the plot at hand, some scenes either feel out of place or go on for too long that the movie has no choice but to leave you with a very frustrating cliffhanger. But I say frustrating because you can't believe you have to wait for a month and a half to see what happens next!

Bottom line, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno delivers the goods. If you love a good old samurai film, you'll find lots to enjoy in this movie. But if you're a Rurouni Kenshin anime or manga fan from way back, you'll LOVE this movie. Take your anime-loving friends and prepare to squee. You'll be glad you did!

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno premieres August 20 while Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends opens September 24.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely mind-boggling. A movie about a bunch of C-list comic book characters messing around in space is the last thing you'd expect to succeed. And yet here I am, unable to wipe the smile from my face after watching what could possibly be the best superhero, nay, comic book movie of the year.

And I say "comic book" because Guardians of the Galaxy cannot be just lumped into the genre that Marvel Studios helped build. It's a love letter to cosmic Marvel, chock full of comic book easter eggs that would make any cosmic Marvel fanboy (especially fans of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's work) blush. It's also a cool space epic, and director James Gunn knows how to sell it well, with balls-to-the-wall action amidst sweeping shots of alien planets, futuristic cityscapes and even the gigantic severed head of a freakin' Celestial. It's been a while since we've seen a movie with this much imagination crammed into it that it blows you away.

But more than that, Guardians of the Galaxy stands firmly on the strength of its main cast, and it's a fun ride watching them go from saving their own asses to saving the galaxy. Chris Pratt owns his leading man status as lovable scoundrel Peter Quill/Star-Lord, and despite Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel only providing voices (and mo-cap, in the case of Vin) to their characters, Rocket (Raccoon!) and Groot steal the spotlight in every scene they're in. I'm a bit sad that Zoe Saldana didn't have much to do here other than be Star Lord's love interest and sword-wielding badass, but what we little we did get of her is great. The surprise hit for me was my main man Batista (Dave Bautista to you) as Drax, who surprised everyone by going full-on, old-school eloquent Drax the Destroyer mode and playing off everyone so well that I cracked up at everything that came out of his mouth. Jim Starlin must be beaming right now.

An even bigger surprise was Lee Pace, who obviously enjoyed playing Ronan the Accuser so much and made the movie all the better for it. His Ronan is one of the most menacing villains we've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. He's how Thor: The Dark World's big baddie Malekith should have been, the kind of over-the-top villain that promises to destroy the world and actually come close to it. Sure, Ronan's motivations are murky at best, but Pace's swagger in the face of even Thanos himself is just so fun to watch.

I especially liked how freaking heart-warming Guardians of the Galaxy is. Despite all the a-holes that make up most of its characters, the movie doesn't tread the path of modern-era cynicism that even Captain America: The Winter Soldier went through.  When Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot finally come together in the defense of the galaxy, they don't go through it like they didn't have a choice. They've bonded with each other through the course of the movie. They didn't just become a team...they became friends. When Drax nails Nebula with a rocket launcher for threatening Gamora, the big guy plainly states "No one talks to my friends like that". And for a guy like me who's a sucker for those little things, it's very satisfying.

Put it all together and you get one hell of a comic book movie that is sure to surprise everyone in a good way. What Marvel's The Avengers started, Guardians of the Galaxy took it and ran with it in ways other comic book movies wish they did. Hell, if you haven't picked up a comic book in your life and just want a fun and funny action movie set in space, you're gonna have a great time. Highly recommended!

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Week in Comics: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1

Titan Comics recently acquired the Doctor Who license from IDW Publishing, and they lost no time taking advantage it with not just one but two comic book releases starring two fan-favorite Doctors: namely, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors! Since Eleven is my Doctor, I chose to pick up his title, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1, where Eleven teams up with a down-on-her-luck library assistant to hunt down a giant alien dog running around London that feeds off of negative emotions!

Writers Al Ewing and Rob Williams spin a pretty straightforward adventure yarn that tread on some familiar Doctah-meets-companion territory, but it makes up for it with some touching drama. Eleven takes a break from catching the alien dog because he noticed that Alice Obiefune (the aforementioned library assistant) is having a really bad day, and what follows is a heartwarming moment that fits the Eleventh Doctor's character really well. Eleven is the type that would want to cheer everyone up (see The Christmas Carol), and it's nostalgic to see him do so here. When the alien dog's hunger for bad vibes brings it to the House of Commons (hah!), it will take the Doctor's wits and Alice's courage to save the day, and exactly how they do will tug at a heartstring or two, I guarantee it!

The art is great. Comic books based on real people have their work cut out for them, and I do admit I wasn't feeling Simon Fraser's art style at first, especially his rendition of Matt Smith as Eleven (and I don't blame him. Matt's look is pretty unique). But Fraser's strength lies in giving both action and drama the amount of energy they need to pop off the page, and he does captures Matt Smith's slapstick and physical humor to a tee. When a comic book makes you miss Matt's turn as the Doctor, you know it's good! There are also two back-up comics after the main story, a funny and cute story made by using Titan's vinyl Mini-Figures (brilliant use of merchandising!) and a cute and funny Pond Life-style one-pager starring the Ponds (with River Song!) written and drawn by Marc Ellerby that gives you a bit more bang for your buck. More of those types of extras, please.

With a fun premise and the promise of an interesting story arc, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 is a fantastic comic that captures the spirit of the show and its star quite well, and is the better book of Titan Comics' Doctor Who releases. Fans craving for more of Eleven's adventures would do well to pick this up. This gets a 4 out of 5.
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