Kubo and the Two Strings (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: Amazon.com

Kubo and East Lake Academy

Before I get into my impressions of the movie proper, I wanted to note the context of my seeing this movie.  I first heard about it from trailers and during the Oscars where it was nominated for a couple of awards (just checked via google and it was nominated for Best Picture and Best Visual Effects for 2017).  I then saw that after its theatrical run, it had come to Netflix and I intended to see it.  At the end of the 2017 semester, I went back to East Lake Academy during the final week of school just to see how things were going with my former 6th grade teammates.  They raved about Kubo and the Two Strings and told me how much the kids loved it.  I had always intended to see it, but one thing led to another and I would put it off again and again.  Finally, this week, it is set to go off Netflix the 6th (?) of this month here in the United States, so I thought I’d better make it a priority.

Kubo = A Great Animated Movie

I really liked the movie.  It is one in which the main character doesn’t complain about his circumstances.  He doesn’t always want to do as he’s told, but from the characterization and editing of the movie, you can see that he very much loves his mother and wishes that he could help her more than he is able to because of his young age.  He also wants to know his father better and that touches off the beginning of the story’s central plot.  While the humor is isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as, say a Pixar movie, still it has quite a bit of humor and their are a ton of verbal gags and quips that could easily become referential or memes in the future.

Kubo = A Film with a Message

Now, most films have a message or theme that they are imparting to the audience, regardless of whether it is explicitly made clear or not.  In Kubo, the theme is explicitly spelled out at the end, so if that type of thing bothers you, be aware that is there.  However, there are other themes, like fidelity, family (both the good and bad of familial life), and disability/ability that one can glean without having it told to the audience.  I personally don’t mind when movies do that in most cases (really, the only animated movie that I’ve actively disliked is Happy Feet which presented its theme in a very confusing way and in an utterly unrealistic ending).  Kubo isn’t like that–however, as its theme always derives from its story and the actions of its characters.  So, Kubo always makes sense in its formulation of story, plot, and characters.  And its fun, too, without being mean-spirited, which is ultimately what I think Happy Feet is–albeit unintentionally.

Overall Grade: B+

I think Kubo and the Two Strings is a strong entry in the animated movie field.  There are other movies that I like more than this one, but as both a story and a life-lesson, I think that it really has strong narrative and visual elements that help to make it a must-watch movie at some point.  As a Fantasy movie, it also works well, in that it allows the hero to access “magical powers” that are unique to the Eastern Tradition.  While the movie doesn’t fully explain his powers, it does explain the hero’s origin, which then suggests how Kubo can do magic (to explain further would probably be “spoilery” so I’ll leave it at that).  I really liked it and I only wish that I would have seen it earlier (when the teachers at East Lake were raving about it as I feel it would have been more impactful at that time because I wouldn’t have seen as many Disney animated movies and Pixar movies with which to compare it to.

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Annihilation Movie Review (No Spoilers)

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Annihilation Movie Poster.  Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilation_(film)

Annihilation is a movie that I’ve wanted to see every since it was released–however, I could tell that, while Sci-Fi, it was not one that falls within my preferred genre of Action Sci-Fi, or Space Opera.  It is generally described as an “idea” Science Fiction movie, meaning that the ideas and concepts are what takes precedence.  In my experience, I find that while there is some character development and some light action, generally speaking, they tend to be on the slower side in terms of narrative flow.  Not complaining, just an observation–unless it is farce, I generally like all types of Sci-Fi.

Alex Garland

So, this movie was directed by Alex Garland, and he has a visually striking style.  The problem is, based on the movie’s narrative, I’m not sure yet whether I find his style to my liking.  I’ve tried several times to watch his other Sci-Fi movie, Ex Machina, but I only have managed to get through about half an hour so far (probably just going to have to watch it in half-hour “spurts”).  However, while I appreciate his style, it was hard going to try to get through the movie.  I knew that if I stopped at any point, I probably would not come back to it and it would be another recent Sci-Fi movie that I abandoned mid-stream (Inception and Looper), so I just plugged on through.  I don’t think Alex Garland’s narrative style works for me . . . his visual style is arresting and very distinctive, but I’m not sure that story-telling-wise, that I like the way the narrative connections come together.

Science Fiction of “Ideas”

Yes, Sci-Fi is a genre of ideas and is driven by great ideas.  The problem is that one should also really focus on characters and characterization and setting.  The problem that occurs is that while their are characters in peril and/or crisis, we are often held at a distance from these characters (especially in Annihilation) and it is hard to form a bond with the characters.  While I’m not the best with names in real life, I’m usually pretty good with character’s names, yet I’m struggling to remember the names of the major characters and I just saw the movie 3 or 4 days ago.  I remember them, what their actors looked like, what occupation/role they fulfilled, but I don’t remember them as characters and I think this is where the movie ultimately failed for me.  Even the ending has a twist (that I won’t spoil) that changes the way the characters might be perceived at the end, but because I didn’t really care about the characters, the ending didn’t work for me because I just didn’t care.  The story, as presented, focused too much on the visual effects and the mystery of the “Shimmer” and not enough on the characterization and why I should care.  Even the mystery of the Shimmer, while sufficiently explained during the course of the film, didn’t lead to a moment of Epiphany for the main character, but was rather presented as simply a random, if extraordinary event, that was ultimately rendered moot by the main character’s actions during the story.  As much as critics dislike The Cloverfield Paradox, I feel that ultimately, while Annihilation is a movie with better special effects and better overall logical storytelling plot points, I find that I enjoyed The Cloverfield Paradox more because I could understand and get behind the characters and their motives.  In Annihilation, there was simply too much distance between the viewers and the characters.y

Overrall Grade: C

For a .99 rental, it was at least worth seeing, but I’m glad that I did not pay full theatrical price to see it.  Too much focus on the visuals and the ideas behind the visuals and not enough on characterization really dampened my enjoyment of the movie.  It also shows some graphic content with the deaths of a couple characters (I guess the director wanted to show the the brutality of the world–but it came off, to me, as unnecessary and exploitative–violence for violence sake and it pulled me out of the narrative when those two scenes occurred.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

 

 

Wednesday = Grading and a Movie

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Okay, so I know that this is primarily a genre (SF/Fantasy) related blog as well as blog about the writing life and while I do have some posts that I need to write in that arena, school has been monstrously busy and I’ve just not been able to get a handle on it as I have in previous months in order produce consistent posts.  As I write these words, there are no less than 200 discussion posts awaiting grades, in addition to a fairly in-depth presentation due Monday, along with a teaching observation on Wednesday!  Ugghh!  I’m usually able to clear papers/assignments much faster, but I’m having significant problems these days, so I thought I’d quickly talk about a movie that I just finished watching for class: All About Eve.

Wednesdays = Grading and a Movie

So, it looks like the only day that I really can do the majority of my grading is going to be on Wednesdays.  I’m going to have to really make sure that I print out all my students’ assignments and go to town on grading on Wednesdays.  It is truly the only viable day that I have to do a ton of in-depth grading.  I can do a little on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as it is too difficult to concentrate fully on grading.  So Wednesdays, which used to be a movie day where I watched the movie that we were supposed to watch outside of class are now going to become my in-class movie watching days and I’ll watch the outside of class movies on the weekend (probably Sunday night before I go to bed).

Clearing the Backlog

So, I would really liked to have completely cleared one of my classes today–but I’m probably going to have to work hard to clear them both tomorrow and completely dedicate myself to my own presentation for Friday and Sunday.  I know of no other way of getting everything I need done because they turn in their 1st major project on Sunday night and then the smaller Daily/Weekly work starts again next week, so I really need to get caught up and stay current or else I’m going to have a torrent of stuff to grade by mid-terms.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  Going to sign off now–wish me luck that I can get up early tomorrow and really knock out my grading so that I can work on my presentation for Monday.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

Avengers Infinity War — Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: https://www.technobuffalo.com/2018/09/03/avengers-4-where-are-the-avengers/ (Possible Spoilers-tells where everyone ends up AFTER the movie, click at your own risk!)

Not Your Typical Marvel Movie

So, I’m just going to assume that most people who are interested in Marvel movies or comic book movies has already seen this movie, but just in case people haven’t, this is a Marvel movie like no other.  It has been setting up since the very first Avengers film.  It is essentially the entire Marvel universe (with exceptions) in multiple storylines fighting against the “big bad” of the movie, Thanos, to keep him from getting the Infinity Stones (various items that have been teased in Marvel movies like the Tesseract).  However, this movie doesn’t follow the typical Marvel formula because it has multiple heroes in multiple places trying to keep Thanos (or his agents) from getting the stones. While some times wildly inventive, these multiple storylines are also wildly disjointed and make the movie feel more disjointed than it probably should be.

People Keep Dying

For me, I’m just going to come right and say it (don’t worry–no spoilers), people just keep on dying in this movie.  Here’s the thing, deaths in movies are sometimes justified (such as the death that occurs in Star Wars.  Each death of each of the characters (both major and minor–I’m thinking of the Death Star scene and the “Trench Run” scene especially) either propel the movie forward or increase the tension and make us feel that the main character’s lives and mission are in serious peril.  In this movie, characters keep dying, but it doesn’t feel earned.  It feels like the filmmakers wanted to be shocking and provocative.  See, look who can kill, now just wait and watch who we kill next.  While guaranteed to keep you glued to your seats to see who’s dying next, it doesn’t really make for compelling drama, nor does it really engender repeat viewings (I’ve owned the movie for a week now and I’ve not rewatched it once–by this time with the other Avengers and the later Captain America movies (which are essentially Avengers 1.5/Avengers 2.5 movies), I would have rewatched them multiple times by now.

Avengers: Infinity War (part 2)

Next year, we will have the resolution to this story with part 2 of this movie.  I’m pretty sure the “solution” to the movie was sown by “seeds” planted in this movie (pay particular attention to the scene where Stark and Doctor Strange discuss possible outcomes after Strange looks into the future), but it is possible that this is a misdirect by the filmmakers.  Either way, I’m not sure how much “fun” I’m going to have with the second part based on the “bad taste” the first part left in my mouth.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of Empire Strikes Back, where the second entry is by necessity darker than the first, but rather one where I feel the filmmakers tried to use shock value to enhance the tension rather than going with heroic and meaningful deaths.  In closing, I also have to say I wasn’t a fan of Thanos’s motivation. Genocide, for any reason (and that includes population control) is still Genocide.  While he was “a bad dude,” there was a surprising amount of sympathy given to the character for this movie that 1) wasn’t earned, 2) other movies featuring him in scenes didn’t show/highlight and 3) wasn’t actually relevant to the character. Sure, you don’t want a scene chewing villain, but in my mind, Thanos lacks the cold, calculated terror of a Darth Vader, who while there is good inside of him, does some personally horrific things to get his motives accomplished.  Thanos is from the newer, Kylo Ren school of villainy, where he has to whine, emote, and act like a petulant child before he can enact his twisted schemes because, by golly, we (the audience) gotta’ feel sorry for the poor slob as he’s only trying to do the “right” thing by his way of thinking.  Oh, boo hoo.  Sorry, I (personally) don’t care for this particular type of villain and it throws me out of the movie every time I encounter one like that (Syndrome from the Incredibles has a similar effect on me).

Overall Score: B-/C+

Okay, so I’m being charitable with the B- as there are some very inventive and terrific fight scenes (as usual for the Russo Brothers).  However, some characters do some pretty dumb things (especially for Marvel movies) and I really didn’t care for the way Thanos was sometimes handled/depicted.  It is a spectacle, no doubt, and is pretty much required viewing to stay relevant with popular culture, but as a movie, it isn’t nearly as strong as several other Marvel movies.  I’m not sure where I’m going to place it on the list, but I can give you a preview here: it will not unseat my top 3 Marvel movies currently.  Not slagging on the movie per se, but it just didn’t connect with me. Too much emphasis on cheap, unearned deaths, not enough on true characterization and story pretty much sums up my reaction to it in one sentence.  This is the first Russo Brothers Marvel movie that has been a swing and miss with me.

Mini-Review: Supernova

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Movie poster: Supernova. Image Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/Supernova

Not Good, Not Terrible

So, I watched this movie a couple of weekends ago, and I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. Yes, I know that is damning with faint praise, but I found my time the in universe of Supernova to be more mindless than mind-numbing. The problem with the movie is simple: too formulaic without real thought behind what makes the characters tick and what is happening in the universe. I recognize this because (I think) this is what do when I write and submit my first drafts. Pretty much everything we need to know is told to via dialogue (exposition) and there is a lot of telling rather than showing. The universe outside the ship barely exists and it only does so when the plot calls for it.

A Walk on the Not So Wild Side

So, what went wrong with this movie. This movie is all about concepts rather than story. For instance, in a twist on Alien and Aliens where people “hypersleep” in the underwear, in order to be titillating, Supernova, says no, in this world everyone sleeps in the nude. Now, they don’t show anything in the movie (at least not what I saw on streaming), but there’s no explanation or rhyme or reason as to why this is necessary (if there was a scene explaining this, it either never made it into the rewrites or was left on the cutting room floor). Way, way too much of the movie is like this: interesting concepts thrown out there and then poorly explained/explored, if explored at all.  It is as if there were three different sci-fi movies happening, but the creators said, “hey, Aliens was marketable, let’s take this jumble and run it through the Aliens template and see if our movie can be successful, too.” Sadly, it just didn’t work.

A Black Eye for Afrofuturism

So, one of the main characters in this story is an African American female. She is intelligent and determined. However, the story continually undermines her agency as it depends upon the main character to “save” her. There are situations in which she “saves” herself, but again, because we have formula, rather than form, there has to be a male hero (who happens to be white in the story, but any male of any race–including African American–would have been just as bad) to save her. As the male is cut from the formulaic “silent, brooding type,” the woman’s role is by far the most interesting and really could have been something special if she had to both save the ship and outwit the antagonist at the same time. This is something that I’m striving for in my own work, and I hope that I will not allow Tana (or any other female character) to be “saved” by males (and vice versa when I write male characters). Supernova needed to pick the most interesting character (the woman) and let her be the hero of the story rather than trying to delegate hero duties between the two main characters.

Overall Grade: D+

This could have been so much better had the creators just trusted their most interesting character and threw her into a situation where she had to battle herself, battle the floundering ship and possessed crew, and the antagonist at the same time. As it stands, it is just a formulaic sci-fi action movie that simply doesn’t explain its world or characters in enough detail to be truly enjoyable.

Sidney

Mini-Review: Man of Tai Chi (Netflix movie)

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Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen star in Man of Tai Chi. Image Source: Rotten Tomatoes https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/man_of_tai_chi/

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 21 (+1)
    Goal = 3 Pages a week. 20/20 Pages (for artist). 21/32 pages (for completion of 1st issue)
    Actual = 1/5 Pages done so far this week.
    Wrote the Page that I’d rough drafted the day before. Moving along slowly. Don’t think I can finish the entire first issue by Saturday, but we’ll see.
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)
    (Researched an article on Whaling, think that I have the two characters–a brother and a sister who are on the opposite sides of the issue.  Still, no Writing so far). Need to find a place to work in revisions–I can draft new material just fine, but I don’t seem to have any time to work on “drafting” revisions.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 5 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 6 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Wrote out a fairly extensive list of possible research topics to explore from chapter 5. Really intriguing book.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Exit the 13 Assassins

So, even though I’d taken a Tai Chi class on this previous Saturday and even though I had this movie in my Netflix queue, I wasn’t actually going to watch this movie this past weekend. No, rather I’d intended to watch 13 Assassins, another martial arts movie on Netflix dealing with 13 Assassins who are tasked with killing a poor ruler in Japan’s feudal period.  The movie was slated to go off Netflix at the beginning of the month (today as I write this post) and I’d had it in my queue for ages. However, when I sat down to watch it, it was far more violent of a movie than I really wanted at that time. There was a “hari kari” scene at the beginning of the movie and in the next 15 minutes there were two other fairly violent scenes. In short, it just wasn’t what I was looking for after a Tai Chi class and a fairly grueling drive home.

Enter the Man of Tai Chi

After debating with myself for about 5 minutes and scrolling through some more of Netflix’s martial arts movies, I decided to give Man of Tai Chi a try (I had just taken a Tai Chi class after all).  It actually wasn’t all that bad. Not great, but not a train wreck either. Directed by Keanu Reeves, the movie tells the story of a young man, who is outstanding in the ways of Tai Chi as a martial art, but not so great in understanding Tai Chi’s philosophy. The protagonist (who is not Keanu Reeves, by the way, although Keanu does star as in the movie as the primary villain/antagonist role) of the movie is ‘Tiger’ Chen Lin Hu played by an actor named Tiger Hu Chen who I’ve not seen before but who is expressive in that earnest and determined “Peter Parker” sort of way that many actors are able to bring out in their performances.  The movie follows “Tiger’s” descent into the abandonment of Tai Chi ideals by using Tai Chi to fight in tournaments and later, for money.

A Real World Martial Arts Movie

Set in today’s world (the movie was released in 2013 according to IMDB, although I don’t remember if there are dates in the story–I don’t think so, but I could be wrong). This movie takes place in China/Hong Kong and throws a light bit of police procedural in along with the martial arts with a young female detective who is trying to crack the case of this underground fighting circuit even though her boss is telling her not waste her time. As mentioned, Keanu Reeves’ character tempts and corrupts “Tiger’s” character until he is at the breaking point. I will mention that the final fight scene is vaguely reminiscent of the initial Morpheus and Neo “training” scene where Morpheus shows Neo the Matrix for the 1st time. To be clear, it ISN’T their first fight scene I’m referencing, but the first time they “jack” into the “training” simulation. The fights, while stylishly correographed, lack a bit of polish that would have elevated them from good into the great arena (especially the final, climatic battle). There is a master who sees “Tiger’s” character going over to the “dark side” and tries to use Tai Chi philosophy to stop it and their was a Tai Chi move used in the movie that my friend and I had practiced earlier that day, but mostly the movie was a typical martial arts movie.

Still, I enjoyed it all the more for its earnest main character and the fact that it at least genuflected (or bowed in this case) in the direction of Tai Chi as a healing art, not as a destructive one.

Overall Grade: B-

Yes, I’m being a bit generous here–it is a typical martial arts movie and nothing special. However, I like the way the actor transitioned from earnest to “hard” and I’d had the Tai Chi class earlier in the day, so I feel a bit generous and lenient towards this than I might have otherwise.

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

What’s On My Bookshelf? Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • Project Independence Word Count: @4000 words (+203 words)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

Goal = 167 words (5000 words by July 1).
Actual = Rebounded after a day with no words and was able to hit Scrivener’s goal of 167 words, but fell a bit short of my own 250 word (personal) goal.   203 words written last night. 

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novel, Stormlight Archive Book 3) (somewhere in 850s in terms of page count–more than ¾th of the way through.  Will post a non-spoiler mini-review when I finish.
  • For School:
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
    Lingua FractalA Rhetoric book that details the convergence of Rhetoric and Technology and how they interact in today’s world.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

Reading two or three chapters in Oathbringer every day.  I really shouldn’t be, but it is so good, that I generally read it while eating dinner (and then I go back out to the library to do reading for school).   Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Game Mode On (What I’m Playing); Updated Weekly (Mondays)

  • Moving Game Mode On to its own (Mostly) Weekly Post

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

One of the rare non-genre works that I own (and like), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (MCTFSotW) is one of those movies that has the rare combination of detail and action combined with history that make it a compelling movie to watch for me.  I’m a history major, but what I find with most history movies is that they tend not to dramatize the action in a manner that I find compelling, preferring to let the exoticness of the setting and time-period to stand in for action and having the characters respond in a manner that “talks” the film’s central problem to death.  Not so with MCTFSotW.  While there is a fair shade of period specific dialogue, it doesn’t seek to resolve the film’s central question via dialogue, but rather through action, which is probably why I like it.

A Captain for All Seasons

This one is realistic not just for the action and ship to ship battles and games of cat and mouse, but also because of the characters.  The friendship between the captain and the doctor is realistically depicted.  Both are clearly friends, but the captain’s duty and his friends personal interests pull them in different directions and they find themselves at odds when duty and interests conflict.  There is even a compelling subplot involving a junior officer no one likes and his conflict with the hands on the ship.  This is the way that I wish most period pieces were handled.  Sadly, this one is the exception to the rule.  The movie version of Last of the Mohicans is probably the closest analogy to this movie.  If you like that movie, then you’ll probably like this one as well, although, to be clear, that one also had a strong romantic subplot between the women and men in the story that many latched on to and made it a must see for them, but this one is purely action and platonic friendship between the captain and the doctor.

Book to Film to  . . . ?

I haven’t really followed the financial success of this film, but gauging that there hasn’t been any follow-up movies, I would have to assume that it did not do as well as the filmmakers’ hoped.  As a librarian, I know this is based off of a series books by Patrick O’Brien (I shelved them enough times, even though I never got a chance to read them) and I figured that this would be start of a series of movies based on how good I thought it was, but alas, it wasn’t to be, I guess.  To be honest, with all of the interest of turning movies/book series into TV series, I fairly surprised that this hasn’t been found someone wanting to take on this property.  I remember that it has a fair number of books in the series.  While not nearly as enormous as Game of Thrones books, I sure that a strong “show runner” could get a BBC length season (10-12 episodes out of each book).  The special effects budget could be impractical, however, as the sea scenes would probably all have to be done with CGI which could get expensive quickly.  Still, it seems like a fairly good fit for today’s current crop of shows on streaming.

Well, that’s all I have for today–have a good day!  🙂

Sidney




Amazon Associate Disclaimer:
I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.