Thursday, December 13, 2018

Aquaman Movie Review

I'll just go out and say it: Aquaman is the beginning of the DCEU renaissance. Leave it to DC Comics' perennial butt of jokes to save the DCEU and transform into the rising star of its new era.

Fresh off the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is still trying to find his place in the surface world. But beneath the waves danger stirs in the form of Arthur's half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is rallying an Atlantean army to wage war on the surface world, and only the true king of Atlantis will be powerful enough to stop him.

Director James Wan (of Saw and Fast and Furious fame) trades souped-up Ford Mustangs for killer sharks and mer-men, and in Aquaman he proves he's just as comfortable under the sea as he is on the asphalt. His flair for spectacular visuals rival Zack Snyder's, but thankfully Wan knows how to not just make it coherent, but also drive the narrative. Under his direction Aquaman is straight-up neon eye candy, where quiet introspective moments are given the same love and care as thrilling undersea chases through a graphic artist's fever dream. I daresay Aquaman is one of the best-looking films of the year.

I've always said that DC Films always felt like they're constantly apologizing for making superhero movies. They dull down the bright colors, take away what makes comic books fun, all in an attempt to be taken seriously as Serious Cinema. Thankfully, Aquaman bucks that trend, opting not just for bright colors but also to give us some really neat live-action translations of comic book designs. They didn't need to give Ocean Master his mask with ridiculous side-fins, or Black Manta his bug-eyed helmet, or even Aquaman his sea-horse steed. But James Wan knew he's got something fun in his hands and rolls with it in the best way. Believe me when I say the third and final act of the film will leave you breathless and grinning ear to ear if you're a comic book fan. I know it did with me!

Inhabiting this sea of spectacle are some of the more colorful characters of the DC Universe. We've seen Amber Heard's Mera in Justice League, but in Aquaman she's given a bigger role and even bigger chances to shine. A badass in her own right, Mera is no Little Mermaid (don't let the red locks fool you), and oftentimes outshines Arthur with her mastery of the water. Patrick Wilson gives a multi-layered performance as Orm/Ocean Master, a character whose heinous acts of warmongering with the surface world belie a deep concern for the well-being of Atlantis due to mankind's penchant for destruction and pollution (Don't be surprised if you find yourself rooting for this guy. Humans are disgusting sometimes). And yeah, Nicole Kidman is in this and she's amazing even with what little screentime she got.

But then there's Jason Momoa. The man straight up absorbed the Aquaman character and made it his own, turning a walking punchline of a character into a complete badass. Momoa displays some surprising range in this film, whether it's going tsundere for Mera in Italy or giving stone-cold death stares at fools who think they can take Aquaman on, and you can't help but root for him in his journey from rough-edged renegade to Atlantean royalty.

If there's any fault I could find, is that the writing is just functional, often pedestrian. Clunky dialogue often takes the air out of scenes that should make us feel something, and the budding romance between Mera and Arthur look forced because of it. But then Wan hits us with a battle between walking lobsters and sharks with lasers on their heads, and all is forgiven.

I admit I was skeptical when they announced Aquaman as DC's next superhero movie, and I doubted that James Wan would have what it takes to make sense of the material in the wake of DC's internal struggles following the mess that was Justice League. But this movie will silence the haters, me included. Aquaman is flashy packed to the gills with thrills, so get ready to dive into the most fun you'll have in cinemas this year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Aquaman Movie Black Manta Basic Figure Review

Aquaman is coming out in a few weeks, and I'm excited. Not because we're gonna see Aquaman actually getting his own movie. Not even because of Amber Heard. It's because DC, for some insane reason, decided to bring Black goddamn Manta to life on the big screen.

It's crazy. DC has lost its mind. The same studio that won't even let Superman have fun is going to give screen time to a villain whose claim to fame is wearing a helmet with big red goofy eyes.

And I love it. So much so that when I saw the new Aquaman movie toys come out of my local toy store, I snagged a figure of Black goddamn Manta just to review today!

The figure is packaged in a clear blister pack that shows off the figure pretty well. You know this is a Basic figure because the more high-end Aquaman action figures are in boxes instead.

Aquaman movie Black Manta feels really solid in hand, with no floppiness to speak of. Molded in black matte plastic, the sculpting and detail is great for a Basic figure. I particularly like the high-tech-looking backpack with all the hoses that run around his torso because it's just a really cool visual. The most paint you'll find on him is the red in his eyes and in some details around his armor, but just out of the box, movie Black Manta cuts a dashing figure for a villain who wears such a ridiculous helmet.

He's got some sort of blade coming out of his left forearm which is the only bad thing I could say about the sculpt. It's just a dull piece of soft plastic that's already warped and limp out of the packaging, and doesn't look really good in any angle. I wish they could have made it a separate attachment instead, but I guess the price point doesn't justify it.

Articulation is basically just swivels and hinges here, with some joints like the neck not having much range (Black Manta here can't look up), but what's surprising is a Basic figure having an actual waist swivel and hinged wrists! Maybe I'm just used to the cheaper versions of high-end toys getting the bare minimum in the articulation department, but movie Black Manta being this poseable is a welcome surprise.

Aquaman movie Black Manta's action figure doesn't come with much. He gets what looks like two "boosters" that plug into his backpack (which, based on movie stills looks like it should be there anyway), and what the packaging calls his "Dark Power Sword". It's just a black short sword, but it looks nice and fits his hand well.

Mattel's Aquaman movie Black Manta Basic Figure is a great toy for its price, and looking at both this and the DC Multiverse 6-inch line's Black Manta in box, there's really not much difference at first glance. If you're on a budget but are still looking for toy representation of this glorious hunk of movie villain, the Basic figure is more than a suitable replacement.

Congratulations, DC. You found a way to make Black Manta actually look cool!

Monday, July 09, 2018

MY WEEK IN ANIME: Hataraku Saibou Episode 1

Leave it to the Japanese to turn red blood cells and platelets into something absolutely adorable.

The new slice of life-inside-the-human-body anime Hataraku Saibou (Cells at Work) just aired its first episode, and my calm exterior belies my complete weebing out as I type this.

The main character is a Red Blood Cell, except it's a cute girl in shorts because of course it is. Her job, as is the job of any actual red blood cell, is to bring oxygen to parts of the body that need it. In the anime, it's represented as a UPS delivery of sorts, and some of the episode's best moments are in the adorable ways the newbie Red Blood Cell (I don't think cells have actual first names) gets lost trying to find the address of the consignee of the package in her care.

The anime does a great job of breaking down the cells into their common characteristics. We're introduced to characters like the White Blood Cell, a cold-blooded Terminator who stops at nothing to kill any invading bacteria, and Killer T-Cells, buff and burly SWAT-types deployed for more dangerous work. We're also introduced to some areas of the body and its personified inhabitants (the spleen, in particular, is one I'm excited for ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) ), and I'm excited to know what adventures they'll have over there. It's part anime, part biology lesson, and as someone who loved biology class in high school, this anime is pushing all the right buttons for me.

I love how descriptions of the human body's functions aren't dumbed down at all. I didn't know anything about Pneumococcus bacteria, but Hataraku Saibou does its best to not only tell us what dangerous stuff they do, but also weave it into the whole personification thing of the anime in an interesting way.

I mean, this is an anime that made me squee for goddamn platelets. Platelets.

The episode is pretty much a monster-of-the-week, with Red and White Blood Cell in a race against time to stop a runaway Pneumococcus bacteria from wreaking havoc in the human body world. There are some exciting moments, and the animation is pretty much at par with what you'd expect from studio David Production. I can't really talk more about the episode without being spoilery, but I have a feeling they're keeping better stuff back for later episodes, so if you're expecting something mind-blowing for the first episode, I don't think that's how you anime.

Hataraku Saibou grabbed my interest when it was previewed a few months ago, and I'm glad to know it was worth the wait. I don't give a shit if the next 20+ episodes are just human body shenanigans. When the best girl and your possible future waifu is basically a red blood cell you know Japan has ya hooked. Consider this a keeper.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Transformers Studio Series Ironhide Toy Review

As much as we give Michael Bay's Transformers beef, I can't deny how much I loved the first movie's robot designs. And as a red-blooded male who loves himself some big guns, I had a soft spot for movie Ironhide. No longer the G1-era red van, movie Ironhide was now the badass black pickup truck with goddamn cannons for arms. What's not to love?

So as a toy collector, I wanted a figure of Ironhide for my collection. But through the years, Hasbro seemed to have a hard time putting out an Ironhide toy that didn't completely look like shit.

Until now, when I got my hands on the new Transformers Studio Series Ironhide toy which I will review today!

Standing at around 6 inches tall, Studio Series Ironhide is short for a Voyager-class figure (do they still do those scales?), another victim of the rising cost of plastic. It's unfortunate that his size makes him out of scale with most of his Autobot brethren currently available, and you'd have to really fudge it to find that sweet scale spot. But then again, Bayformers aren't really known for scale!

It looks damn good for its size, though. For all my peeves about his scale, Studio Series Ironhide is the most accurate-looking Ironhide toy to date. From the "correct" chest transformation, accurate face sculpt, to the fine details all over this toy, Studio Series Ironhide looks damn badass, and a home run screen-to-toy translation. Would it have killed Hasbro to find a way to minimize that unsightly bumper kibble, though?

And as much as I harp about accurate sculpting, the paint leaves a lot to be desired. A dab or two of silver paint in the places it needs it most (like the "ab" piece that should be silver/gray, as well as some parts of the legs) would have kept Ironhide from looking like one whole chunk of black plastic.

Studio Series Ironhide has a basic amount of articulation, though most of it are often hindered by the sculpt. The arms can only go forward and up so far before being stopped by his enormous chest. The hinged knees have okay range of motion, but the feet are just one big chunk of plastic with no articulation, making it hard for him to put in poses other than feet flat on the ground. Ironhide's ball-jointed head can only look left and right. No waist swivel, too. The price we pay for an accurate sculpt, I guess?

But the one reason why I forgive most of this toy's shortcomings is because Ironhide has finally been given what's due to him for so long: screen-accurate arm cannons! The cannons peg into holes in his elbows and don't hinder articulation at all. For the life of me I don't know why Hasbro put off giving Ironhide the cannons he's known for for this long, because Studio Series Ironhide proved they could do it and do it well. The sculpting is spot-on and I love the silver paint they used to accentuate all the little details. Finally, the Autobots' resident weapons specialist lives up to his title!

Converting Studio Series Ironhide from robot to truck feels satisfying and everything pegs into place really well. Ironhide converts into a GMC Topkick pickup truck, and fans will enjoy all the loving detail they put into it. We actually feel his Voyager-ness in truck mode, as it's large enough that it wouldn't look out of place beside most of the Deluxe-class movieformers in car mode.

You can clip Ironhide's cannons to the truck "bed" so as not to lose them. So much for "robots in disguise"!

A cardboard backdrop is included with the toy, which, in Studio Series Ironhide's case, is an image of war-torn Mission City where the final battle in the first Transformers film took place. There's no assembly required, and there's even a platform you could stand your toy on for a museum-type display. What a neat inclusion!

For this Ironhide fan, Studio Series Ironhide is a very welcome update that finally gives justice to a fan-favorite movie character. It may not be in-scale with most of his fellow Autobots, but as its own toy, Ironhide holds his own. I don't know if all of this is worth the $43USD I paid for it, but I'll take a win like this anytime.

It's out in malls in the Philippines now, and judging from how well they made this fig, I won't be surprised if he becomes hard to find!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an exhilarating blockbuster that captures a lot of what made Star Wars great, with the worst you could say about it is that it's ultimately unneeded.

Alden Ehrenreich's got Han Solo's impish grin down pat as he swaggers and cons his way through the film much like how Harrison Ford did it back in the day. And while nothing beats the original, Ehrenreich's Han has the benefit of having the whole film to himself, which means he's got all the time in the world to endear himself to us with a youthful and energetic performance that's a passable Ford impersonation without bordering on creepy.

As this is Han Solo before "less than 12 parsecs" was a thing, his world is populated by "new" additions to Star Wars lore, at least where canon is concerned. Paul Bettany is so satisfying to watch as creepy villain Dryden Voss, a gangster whose razor-thin veneer of good manners barely hides a bloodthirsty streak.  Emilia Clarke as Han's love interest Qi'ra is as hard-edged and hard-to-read as her name, while Woody Harrelson pretty much plays himself as Tobias Beckett, Han's then-unknown mentor, both of whom shape young Han into the flyboy scoundrel we know today.

But here's the thing about Solo: A Star Wars Story: it answers the when's and the how's of Han's backstory well, but the why's never hit. We know Han met Chewbacca before the events of A New Hope. We know Han won the Millennium Falcon fair and square from Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover in my second favorite performance in the film). Anyone who doesn't know shouldn't have Solo as their first Star Wars movie. But the movie feels like a checklist of Han Solo facts, with Disney throwing stuff in and hoping it sticks. There's no pressing need to know why Han has a problem with authority, or why he believes only in himself and a good blaster by his side, and even if we did, Solo's insights aren't that interesting or deep, and we're left knowing the same Han Solo we've always known.

But as its own thing? Solo: A Star Wars Story is pure popcorn entertainment. Any Star Wars fan will let out an audible gasp with every callback and Easter egg, and it's got enough breakneck thrills and action that will have you leaving the cinema smiling and possibly considering a second viewing. But is it enough to justify making it? I guess the box office will tell.
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