Thursday, May 26, 2016

Battle On, Challengers! ~ My Hero Academia Volume 4 review

*Be aware of spoilers!*

Volume 4 of My Hero Academia begins where we left off with our cliffhanger. The Sports Festival is in full swing and Midoriya, our hero, is the one with the most points. However, the second round is a Cavalry Battle, with each participants' headband being worth more depending on how they ranked in the last round. Since Midoriya came in first place, he is target #1.

The first half of this volume deals with this Cavalry Battle and how Midoriya and his carefully picked team must survive until the next round. Oh yeah, and since Midoriya still can't control his power ("quirk"), he has to play it extra careful.

The centerpiece of this volume, however, deals with what is going on behind the scenes. Aspiring hero Todoroki (the kid in the top left of the cover) who until this point just seemed like competition for Midoriya, reveals that his desire to win is about more than just winning. He wants to beat his father.

Todoroki's father is the #2 hero (behind All Might) Endeavor, who has control over flames. Endeavor, it turns out, is not such a nice guy as he is only the donor of half of Todoroki's power. You see, Quirks in My Hero Academia are hereditary. You might get your mother or your father's Quirk, or some combination thereof. Endeavor participated in a Quirk Marriage (a sort-of arranged marriage) in which he forced Todoroki's mother into marriage using his wealth and influence in order to give birth to a child with the best Quirk. It hints at the fact that Endeavor is definitely not much of a father figure.

Todoroki was born with Half-Hot Half-Cold power. The ability to control fire and heat with his left side, and the ability to control ice and frost with his right side. His mother didn't take to the relationship so well, and ended up scalding half of her son's face with boiling water.

Naturally, this leads him to having a complicated relationship with his father. However, there is one twist on this sort of relationship you probably wouldn't see in a western comic these days.

Instead of wallowing in despair, Todoroki makes a pact to himself to make it to the top of the hero world only using his mother's power. While his anger is understandable, and his pouting typical of that of a child (he cannot get by on half his power), the fact that he does not throw away the world of heroes to become a villain is admirable. Despite his hardships, Todoroki still aims to be the greatest hero of all time.

Bakugo, Midoriya's former bully, overhears all of this, though he doesn't act on it. He's still getting over his own realization that he is not the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that he still has a long way to go to get to the top.

As you can tell, this volume is all about what My Hero Academia is best at, and that's character development. This volume specifically focuses on Midoriya, Todoroki, and Bakugo, though at the end it hints for some for Uraraka in the next volume.

After the second round ends, we get to starting the third and final round which is a tournament. Thankfully, this is the one and only time this series uses such a standard set up for the story, and it is primarily driven by characters instead of flashy battles. By the time the volume ends, we'll be on our way to the end of the Sports Festival, and you get the impression that things are never going to be the same again for our heroes.

My Hero Academia is, in my opinion, the current best running manga series out there. Even though it's a love letter to western and eastern comics, it is, at its heart, a story about characters struggling to be the best they can. Not only is that the heart of both shonen manga and superhero comics, but the heart of good stories in general.

Though I don't want to spoil it for new readers, I can say wholeheartedly that what comes next is fairly great. If you're enjoying My Hero Academia now, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Going far

In case you missed it, author Brian Niemeier is having a Book Bomb by Larry Correia for Nethereal, the novel I reviewed here. If you still haven't checked it out, go give it a shot.

On the other hand, I'm neck deep in editing right now, so there won't be a full post this week. Today also happens to be my birthday which makes it doubly tough to get a full post out.

So, let's post a song.

Until next time!

So Let Me Go Far
Lyrics and Music by Dodgy

So in the morning I awoke
I turned my eyes towards the road
I swallowed hard and smelt the air
I cursed this world for not being fair
Oh, in the morning I awoke

And through the seasons I have journeyed
Without a clue to where I'm bound
I lost my bearings long ago
I watched our heroes come and go
And since then I've heard no sound

So let me go far (So let me go far)
So let me go far
And when I reach there let me know
'Cos I'll keep walking, please let me know
You got to let me know

My belly yearns for food and drink
And my heart it yearns as always
Those pills you gave me for the pain
Made my mind never feel the same
Oh no, oh no, I won't see my home again

The vultures swoop above my love
The wisdom palace steeple shine 
My battered longing for the truth
Keeps me clinging to my youth
And what was truly mine

So let me go far (So let me go far)
So let me go far
And when I reach there let me know
'Cos I'll keep walking, too
You've got to, got to let me know

So let me go far (So let me go far)
So let me go far (So let me go far)
So let me go far
So let me go far
And when I reach there I want to know

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Man Still Standing ~ A review of Captain America: Civil War

I recently saw Captain America: Civil War and thought a post on the movie would be apt considering everyone else is making one. But I'm going to go a little different and speak of the Captain America trilogy as a whole.

Before we begin, I thought I would mention a little background of the Captain America film series. I will be skipping the Avengers films and any others starring other superheroes for this post. This review is going to be focused on Civil War being the third, and probably final, installment of the Captain America film series.

Back in 2011, Marvel had only recently launched its new Marvel Cinematic Universe with the remarkable Iron Man, it's not-so-great sequel, and the fish out of story Thor. They were good, for the most part, with the original Iron Man being by far the best. The third new property was known as Captain America: The First Avenger, ostensibly a war movie directed by the man behind cult favorite, The Rocketeer, but really an old style superhero movie in the package of the Golden Age of comics. It's a film that isn't highly appreciated these days, or mentioned much, what with its very old school approach and morals is still unheard of in the realm of superhero movies. Yet it set the tone for much of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The First Avenger centered on Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid from Brooklyn, who is so puny he can't even join the war effort against the Nazis. But after an experiment for which he is chosen because of his heart and nothing else, he begins his career as a Super Soldier: a man capable of super strength and agility. He fights against the Nazi war machine before they are overtaken by the Hydra organization, run by the tyrannical Red Skull. He fought with a squad by his side, a classy dame named Peggy Carter, his best friend, Bucky, and a shield made of vibranium made by super-genius, Howard Stark.

The film opened well and formed a great foundation for Steve Rogers as a character leading into the even more popular Avengers. That said, it is a great start for the series, one that has aged excellently, and only gets better on multiple re-watches. If you haven't seen it in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised with how good it really is.

But as good as Captain America: The First Avenger was, it only got better from there.

At the end of the first movie, Steve Rogers sacrifices his life and crashes a plane in the arctic to prevent countless people from dying. In the process he is frozen under the ice and not discovered for decades. Years pass and it turns out, even if he didn't die, that he did lose his old life. Everyone he left behind had lived their lives without him and had passed on, leaving him as a man out of time in the modern world.

The second film in the series, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is about how Steve Rogers, as a man the world had forgotten, finds his way in a world much different (and not so different) from the world he had left behind. More than that, it is about how far the world has come since the "Greatest Generation" and where it's going next in the morally vapid modern age. It turns out that the forgotten values of Captain America might just be what the modern world needs after all despite how antiquated he is. While the first movie was a war film, the second is a full-on '70s spy thriller and totally changed the tone of the series.

Cap works for the people who unfroze him from the arctic, a secret government agency called S.H.I.E.L.D., to stop terrorists with his special strike team. The boss of the organization, Nick Fury, is a modern man who has his eyes on all the players and his fingers in all the pies and thinks the key to saving the world is to keep it under the right man's thumb. What ends up happening in Winter Soldier is how very relevant the past can be, in more ways than one, and how despite how advanced and far along we have gotten since the second World War, things are still fundamentally the same as they ever were no matter how much we might deny it.

This film tests Steve Rogers in a way that the physical challenges of the first didn't. It tests his traditional values and beliefs, leaving in a climax that's both jaw dropping and reaffirming Captain America as the hero the world desperately needs just as much as it did back in the war.

The most impressive aspect of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was how it took all of the ideas and themes from the first Cap movie and pushed them even further. The decision to change the war setting to a spy one and the contrast of the films between the idealistic past and pessimistic present not only strengthens both films, but leads Captain America on a path none of the other Marvel series have been able to replicate, even now.

But it doesn't stop with those two films.

Now we get to the newly released Captain America: Civil War. After the events of the second film, Cap is still around in the present, but he now leads a new strike team with those who have special abilities, just like he does. An inciting event occurs and a disaster on one of their missions leads to innocent people dying and the UN demanding that people like Cap have to be held responsible for their actions and kept in check.

Howard Stark's son, Tony Stark, is also a hero like Steve called Iron Man and has been working with him for years now. The two both have complicated pasts, which is what leads to their opposite solutions on how to deal with the situation as it comes up. What enfolds is a conflict that starts explosive and public, but eventually, and slowly, winds back down to personal stakes. That's strange for a superhero movie, but for a Captain America movie, it can really end no other way after the explosive finales of the first two films.

As a conclusion to Steve Rogers arc from the first two movies, it is quite potent. It flips an early scene from The First Avenger on its head to show not only has Cap come far, but he's the same scrawny kid he's always been, refusing to back down from what's right. It also pushes on the themes from Winter Soldier about how the darkness of fear and revenge will not win out over truth and goodness. At the end of the film, things are not the same and probably never will be again, but Captain America and Iron Man are still standing despite the doubt and evil that has befallen them. They will keep fighting for what is right.

Despite everything Steve Rogers has been through, he was and forever shall be a hero. Nothing will break him down from doing the right thing--even if the whole world is against him.

And that's where the trilogy finishes. Starting with a scrawny kid that can't even protect himself, he ends up a hero standing up for the whole world who will never be broken again. It is a fantastic end to a fantastic trilogy.

But there is one more thing I wanted to point out.

One aspect of the Captain America films that no other Marvel series (or any other comic book based hero movie has done) is how each film represents a different era of comics.

Captain America: The First Avenger is clearly the Golden Age of comics. Larger than life heroes and villains clash on an epic scale. The good guys are true, the bad guys are unrepentant, and everything is unambiguously clear. It also forms the bedrock of everything to come.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Silver Age, matching the '70s spy fiction feel it gives off. Good and evil are still there, buried a bit under the surface, and things might get muddy or more serious, but still heroes are heroes and will do what they must at the end of the day. Things can still get outlandish just like in the Golden Age, but everything is brought down to a more slightly grounded level allowing for character development not possible before.

Captain America: Civil War is Bronze Age, through and through. Heroes fighting heroes, villains scheming out of the spotlight, and things not always being what they seem at first. Civil War, however avoids the Bronze Age trap of moral relativism by never having the heroes or villains forget that they know who the real good or bad guys are even when it gets dark. Still, despite all the awful things that may occur, a hero is the one still standing for the right thing at the end.

That this series of films manage to touch so well on each of these areas speak very well for it a unique superhero series. Despite being part of the overarching universe of Marvel movies, they tell their own story and arc that stand well on their own.

And with Civil War being an excellent film in its own right, the Captain America series now stands as the best superhero trilogy ever made. Nothing else comes close.

If you have never seen the Captain America films, or Civil War, then you owe it to yourself to see them. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Here Comes Hollywood, Limping to the Starting Line

Has anyone out there taken a look at the movies coming out this Summer season? A long time ago (actually as early as 10 years ago) one could expect the Summer movie season to be stuffed with blockbuster titles that make your sweltering days feel a little lighter with a good dose of fun, good humor, and imaginative ideas.

Then there's the last few years. Outside of Inside Out, I don't think I saw a single movie last Summer.

But let's not use me as an example. Did you see any? Did anyone you know? And would either of you consider anything a film you would come back to over and over again like Iron Man or a Pixar original? Because that is what Summer blockbusters are supposed to make you want to do.

For a second, let's take a step back and take a look at the films I'm going to see without a doubt in this Summer:

  • Captain America: Civil War

A completion of what I hope to be the best superhero trilogy is about all I'm dyin' to see. Is your list longer than mine?

Now how about movies I'm interested in on a casual basis. This is a sort of Word Of Mouth/surprise hit category like the last Mad Max movie.

  • The Nice Guys (Shane Black is the reason)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (The last movie was excellent, but I loathe this villain)
  • The BFG (Spielberg and Roald Dahl are an intriguing combination)
  • Suicide Squad (Because of a friend. DC's non-Batman movies have been awful since the '70s)

And that's about it.

I probably won't even see three of those four and wait until Netflix. I didn't list Finding Dory because Pixar's sequels, outside of Toy Story, are never as good as the originals: and this is a sequel that is completely unneeded. But, again, what about you? Is your list any bigger than mine? If so, well, what is there that has you so excited?

The bigger problem here is how bad this year is overall for brand new movie ideas. Check out the amount of sequels, revamps, license movies, and remakes out this Summer Season:

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Elstree 1976 (If you count these sorts of things)
  • The Curse of Sleeping Beauty
  • Angry Birds
  • Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
  • WarCraft
  • Now You See Me 2
  • Finding Dory
  • Independence Day Resurgence
  • The Legend of Tarzan
  • The Purge: Election Year
  • The BFG
  • Ghostbusters
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Ice Age: Collision Course
  • Jason Bourne
  • Suicide Squad
  • Pete's Dragon
  • Ben-Hur

Twenty-two. That's 22 out of 37. More than half.

In defense of these sequels, the worst movie of the Summer probably won't even be one of these, but a movie listed below called Swiss Army Man. No, I'm not going to link to the trailer. If you want to see the awfulness yourself, feel free and waste your time. It's somehow even worse than the Ghostbusters trailer and just as barren.

Of course you might be thankful there are any originals at all. Well, you might be, that is, unless you looked up what most of them actually are about.

These are the original movies:

  • Money Monster - A drama starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts about greed. Don't fall asleep on me here.
  • Last Days in the Desert - A movie about a guy who has visions of Jesus Christ. There are two ways these types of movies tend to go and since we're no longer in the '40s or even the '60s, it probably won't go the good way.
  • High Rise - An allegory for class warfare: in a building! Wait, come back! They get more exciting, I swear!
  • The Nice Guys - Shane Black is the writer of the first two Lethal Weapon movies, Iron Man 3, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. His direction in the latter two was quite great, too. He is the main reason I am interested in this movie.
  • Me Before You - It's a modern romance coated in shallow emotions and nihilism. Chances are you already saw the poster and walked away. The modern world can't do romance at all. And that title is rather ironic considering the story, but this cynical generation loves their vacuous irony, so have at it. I won't be seeing this.
  • Central Intelligence - An action comedy starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart. The former would get me to see it, but the latter would drive me away. I'd have to hear strong Word Of Mouth to see this.
  • The Shallows - Remember that movie where James Franco yelled from the bottom of a crevice for six years or something? That's this only with a woman and at sea instead. The only difference is that this is listed as a horror movie. Yay, modern horror! The only genre more bankrupt than modern romance.
  • Free State of Jones - A movie about racism. You know, I don't oppose the subject being tackled, but Hollywood being completely incapable of nuance or subtlety on hot button topics these days always makes these movies ham-handed and embarrassing to watch. Plus, Matthew McConaughey. There's that.
  • Swiss Army Man - Here's the plot: "Hank (Paul Dano), a man marooned on an island and at the verge of suicide, sees a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) wash up on the beach and engages in a surreal friendship with it. Hank soon finds that his new friend, whom he names Manny, possesses the ability to talk and a myriad of supernatural powers." Yes, it's a modern indie film. How could you tell?
  • Equals - Stop me if you've heard this before: "In a futuristic utopian society, human emotions have been eradicated and everyone lives in peace but when a new disease surfaces, everything changes for illustrator Silas (Nicholas Hoult). He becomes an outcast once infected and is drawn to his writer co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart), who is also infected but hiding her condition. In order to survive, they have to escape together." Okay, okay, you can cease yelling stop at me now. Another films where emotions solve problems instead of start them.
  • Our Kind of Traitor - A movie based on a John le Carre novel (Woo!) of all things. Oh wait, did I mention it was a modern John le Carre novel (Aww!) because that's the important distinction. Might as well just move on to the next movie.
  • The Secret Life of Pets - This is an animated film by the team behind Despicable Me. The problem is that every movie they've done outside of that franchise has been lousy. A pessimistic wait and see.
  • Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates - A modern romantic comedy. So it'll be raunchy, the main guys will be manchildren, the girls will be ho-humming the whole time at their immaturity, and there will be a turn in the end where the boys "grow up" and become the men the women deserve. If I'm wrong, then I'll be happy to eat my hat. I don't want to be right.
  • The Founder - This year's Social Network. That means it's a film you'll only ever see once, so why not wait until Netflix?
  • Nine Lives - This was the plot of a one season family sitcom in Canada called Doghouse. I'm not making that up. How that bodes for this, I don't know. But the only talking animal films I think are worth watching are the first Homeward Bound and Babe, so who knows if this will compare? Given the two decades since those films came out, I'm guessing no.

When I was a teenager, I would spend much of the Summer out watching movies with my friends in between everything else life held. We had a blast. Even if we are older now, that doesn't change the desire to want to recapture the feeling of encountering a brand new story that produces awe and wonder and stirs the imagination like the best stories do. None of us do that anymore, not just because of life, but because Hollywood is all dried up now.

I find that most have grown tired of what Hollywood shovels out these days. Endless despair, empty sex based on shallow feelings, crude and mean-spirited humor, vitriol against views they disagree with, and films about nothing at all blare from every cinema screen these days even if no one is sitting in the seats to watch them. Is it any wonder they are falling further and further into irrelevance?

Well, that's becoming increasingly fine with me. Once independent studios can make films as technically impressive as films like Aliens or Terminator 2 and allow more creative conrol and original ideas out, they will have found a whole market of movie watchers who have been eagerly awaiting for that lost spark to come back again.

Give it a few years and soon enough Hollywood will be joining the publishing and music industry on the scrap heap of irrelevance.

And they will have earned every bit of it.