El Sijo's Blog

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Iron Man: Rise of Technovore

imrotv

A few years ago, Marvel produced several Anime-style movies probably in hopes of helping sell their characters in Japan. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore was done in 2013 by Sony’s Madhouse studio, and could be described as “Iron Man vs Akira” -the latter being a reference to the movie that helped introduce Anime to the Western world. (Note: I saw the film in Japanese with subtitles, I don’t know if other versions are available.)

In IM:RoT, a new character named Ezekiel, who can manipulate “technovores” -a kind of artificial microbes- attempts to hijack a satellite created by Tony Stark for anti-terrorist purposes, and use it for his own, mysterious agenda.

I found several parallels to Akira (though that might just be me, or coincidences). Akira is about some teenagers from a dystopic future who are experimented on by the military and turned into monsters with great powers who then tear the city apart. Ezekiel is also (apparently) the result of experiments who gained powers and had an apocalyptic agenda. Unlike Akira though, he’s not motivated by anger but by cold, detached logic. In fact it’s Iron Man who has the Akira role as he seeks revenge for the apparent death of a friend. Ironically Stark calls Ezekiel “a brat” but Pepper Potts points out to Tony he has been acting like a child himself.

Another Akira parallel is that, while set in the present, it had some dark moments. Ezekiel’s first attack killed 300 people; War Machine (apparently) dies; SHIELD spends most of the movie trying to arrest Iron Man (admittedly he went off to deal with the problem on his own); we see terrorist activity involving The Punisher; Ezekiel compares the human race to ants; Ezekiel monsters out; and the world almost ends. There are also moments of curious contrast to those, like Ezekiel’s all-white sanctuary and Pepper resting in Tony’s Mansion.

Overall, I find the movie very uneven. Many characters are just “off” especially Tony who goes as far as working with The Punisher -a known killer- to reach his goals, or Nick Fury who should have known better than to send his agents after Iron Man; there are several plot holes, like the fact that Tony *just happens to have* what is needed to defeat the Technovores without even knowing it; and questions are left unanswered (like, who or what was Sasha?)

On the positive side, the movie looks good; there’s a great attention to detail, especially in the scenes involving Ezekiel. And the action scenes, all of them, do not disappoint.

If you are a fan of Iron Man (and Anime) you will probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect it to make much sense.


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Why I hate Flashpoint

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I might seem to be in a bad mood lately. In my last blog entry, I picked on a little girls’ cartoon (Little Charmers) and now I’m outright saying I hate a comic book story. But at least in this case, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Flashpoint is a major story plot affecting the DC comics superhero, The Flash. It is better known as ‘‘The Reverse-Flash killed Barry Allen’s mother” plot; you may have seen it as part of the (current) version of that character’s TV show. In it, The Flash learns it was his foe who went back in time and killed his mother. So naturally, he too goes back in time and stops him. And, somehow, this ends up screwing up history. Not just his personal history- ALL heroes’ origins! Instead of Bruce Wayne’s parents dying, HE dies, and his father becomes Batman- and his mother, THE JOKER! Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s peoples fight a war that ends up sinking Europe, etc. In the end, Allen realizes he must stop himself from saving his mother so everything can go back to normal. And it does- kinda; there were differences, which is how DC explained its “New 52” reboot. (Though recently they are claiming there was another cause.) Flashpoint got adapted into an animated movie, and was a mayor plot point for the first season of The Flash, and (spoilers) the finale of the second season has brought it back AGAIN.

Let’s look at the things that are wrong with it:

-The story tries to set itself up as a ‘noble sacrifice’: Allen must allow his mother to die to save the world. Except a) she only died because a time-traveling villain killed her, it isn’t as if Allen had prevented her preordained death and b) The story doesn’t make sense!! At most, saving his mother might have prevented him from becoming the Flash (tough I don’t see how) but it definitely wouldn’t have affected the lives of everybody else on Earth unless they are saying that ANY change in history would be this chaotic (ala The Butterfly Effect) and that has never been the case before in DC (in fact it pretty much makes time travel useless.)

-The story is basically writer Geoff Johns stroking his own ego. You see, Johns is also one of the three people Warner Brothers put in charge of DC comics years ago. His obsession with The Flash is well known. In Flashpoint, he introduced an (unnecessary) tragic element into Allen’s past, and attempts to pass it off as something epic that eventually had universal consequences. And he got accolades -the most obvious of which are the multiple adaptations of the idea- for it! The fact he is effectively The Boss and What He Says Goes seems to escape many people.

-The story partially seems inspired by a previous Flash storyarc from the 1980s in which Reverse-Flash also murdered someone close to Allen- in this case it was his wife, Iris. It was one of the first major “dark”, post-Silver Age stories (for DC) as it led to Allen killing the culprit and then standing trial over it. Ultimately it turned out she wasn’t dead after all (time travel was involved) so it had a happy ending, unlike Johns’ imitation.

Flashpoint is ultimately, a poorly-written, over-hyped storyline that Just. Won’t. Go. Away. While not my most hated comics story (not even my most hated DC story) I certainly cannot recommend it to fans of good superhero stories.


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Graboids in Basic Action Super Heroes!

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The Graboids from the Tremors! movies are considered classic among modern monsters. Here I present them in BASH terms.

Background: The origin of the creatures nicknamed “Graboids” is still unknown. A fossil found dates them back to at least the Devonian period, but it is not known how they survived until the present or why they reappeared now.

The ‘Graboids’ are born from eggs and have three stages of life. The first is a giant sandworm; the second is a bipedal form called ‘Screamers’ and the third is a flying form nicknamed ‘Ass-Blasters’ because they use a type of jet propulsion from their tails. They also have ‘queens’ that watch over their nests.

The Graboids first appeared in modern times in an American Western town called Perfection during the 19th century. However their existence didn’t become public knowledge until they attacked the town again a few years ago. It was then they were named by locals.

The government declared a specific one, called El Blanco (Spanish for ‘The White One’) to be under protection for being sterile, but allowed the hunting of others. Since then the creatures have also surfaced in Mexico and South Africa.

A graboid -to say nothing of several- would be a good challenge for a Street Level Hero campaign. They might also fit in a Sci-Fi or even a Fantasy campaign.

Only the first stage is described here. I might do the rest later.

Graboid

Brawn 3 Agility 1 Mind 1 (10 pts)

Hits 100

Powers

Armor 1 (hide) 1 pt

Burrowing 2 – 2 pts

Extra Limbs (tentacles) 1 pt

Size 3 <Reduced X: only 30′ long, -1 pt> 2 pts

Super Sense (senses vibrations) 1 pt.

Advantages

Non-Sentient

Disadvantages

Obtrusive (powerful stench)

Physically Challenged (blind)

Susceptibility (to loud noises)

Unskilled

Skills

Outdoor/Survival

Stats: 10 + Powers: 7 = 17 points


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Beowulf the Movie: not quite what it seems

Beowulf-2007

There have been more than one adaptation of the ancient Beowulf poem; this review is about the 2007 movie. You know, the “animated” one. I hesitate to call it that, because it was done in a hyper-realistic style -even using motion capture for the characters- though it cannot avoid the ‘Uncanny Valley’ effect, that is, the faces never quite look real. Also, many people assume ‘animated’ means ‘for kids’- and this is MOST definitely not for kids! I can’t help but wonder why they went this route instead of doing it in live action (with Special Effects for the monsters of course.)

However, the really controversial part is that they changed the story. This is actually a reinterpretation of the poem, basically saying that certain facts were intentionally changed to hide the truth. SPOILERS AHEAD.

It turns out that Beowulf never killed Grendel’s mother. She seduced him, offering him riches and power in exchange for giving her a son. He lied about this and eventually succeeded King Hrothgar as King of the Danes (another change) but his son grows up to be the Dragon that eventually kills him (as in the poem.)

You see, this movie was used to explore the relationships between men and women, as they were in ancient times (and arguably still are sometimes these days.) Men are shown here as being driven by Pride and Lust; women must abide by this whether they like it or not, though Grendel’s Mother embodies Femininity used against men by way of seduction. The fact that those who sleep with her end up sterile is another ironic strike against men.

Also, the movie tries to humanize all its characters- even Grendel, who only attacked humans because his ears could not tolerate loud noises. And his mother was just trying to keep her species -whatever it might be- alive, since she was the last one left, humans killed the rest. So there’s tragedy going around for all characters. Though personally I could not bring myself to feel too sorry for the monsters. Especially not the Dragon, who honestly had no reason to rampage just because the “pact” between his parents was broken (by accident, too!)

While I appreciate what they were trying to do here- and it was done very well, the movie is certainly entertaining- in the end I cannot help but feel that the changes were all forced just to inject modern day values and Hollywood Drama into it. And many things simply did not make sense. Why was the horn lying where anyone could find it? Did the Mother or the Dragon leave it there on purpose to be found? After all she talked about how humans had to be left alone because they were too dangerous?

So, my personal conclusion is: nice try, but not quite good enough. Maybe some other Beowulf movie is (or will be) more faithful to the original story. Though admittedly, it would not be very long, it’s a pretty simple monster-slaying one. Maybe that was another reason they felt the need to pad it with extra stuff.

Recommended for: fans of computer animation, mythology, and adult themes; NOT recommended for children or those who dislike gore or story deconstructions.


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Dark Relic

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Made-for-TV movies, especially those on the SyFy Channel, tend to have a reputation for low quality. This isn’t always true of course; some can have redeeming qualities. This was *almost* the case with Dark Relic, a 2010 Horror/Historical Film set during the First Crusade. The premise is quite interesting: A knight named Sir Gregory and his men find a piece of the True Cross and decide to take the relic to The Pope. Along the way, they rescue two Muslims and a slave from bandits, and they join their quest (the former two because they feel they owe Gregory a debt). However, supernatural evil forces begin attacking them on their journey.

There is a lot of potential here; I particularly liked the use of Muslim characters, showing them to be honorable in their own way; people forget that The Crusaders weren’t exactly Saints themselves. There are also two major female characters, another plus.

Unfortunately, the movie has both plot holes and stupid choices. (Warning, Spoilers ahead.) To begin with, it turns out that, while the relic IS part of the Cross, it is also cursed- why? Apparently just because The Romans put a plaque on it mocking Christ. That’s it. It wasn’t a Satanist, it wasn’t God (at least, that we know of.) The curse is so strong that it attracts evil beings, makes it impossible to remove the plaque, destroy the relic, or even get rid of it! And most holy places fail to protect them, either. Gee, you’d think that God and/or Christ would help them in some way?? You know you have a problem when the characters themselves ask these things. I eventually realized the problem: this is a Horror Film first, and a Historical Drama second. In other words they never intended to give the story a chance- just to tick off all the classic horror movie boxes: slow revelation of the monster(s?) Check. Characters do stupid things? Check. Characters get killed off until only the main ones survive? Check. Oh and (big spoiler here) the Muslim hero dies without returning the favor to Sir Gregory. Did they HAVE to do that?

And they totally ripped off the Balrog from The Hobbit. Really? Couldn’t they afford to be more creative there?

It’s a pity, because as I said, there were some good ideas here. If they had let the story go where it should logically have gone, it would have been more enjoyable, in my opinion.

Still, I enjoyed other factors of the film. Despite the obvious small budget -the special effects were fake-looking and bland at best- the acting was good and you really get caught in the story, especially the interaction between the characters; and the atmosphere of dread gets more intense as the film goes on.

If you’re into horror, historical drama, and aren’t as nitpicky as I am regarding plot details or special effects, you might enjoy this film.


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Heavenly Sword: The Movie

Heavenly_Sword_by_Sisley05

Based on the Playstation 3 video game from 2007, this computer-animated movie came out in 2014. The story is virtually the same as the game’s.

The setting is your typical Medieval Fantasy, though with both Asian and Western elements (more Asian then Western though.) According to an ancient prophecy, long ago an evil warlord battled a warrior from the heavens; after the battle only the latter’s mighty sword was left. A warrior clan claimed it, and then awaited the year that the prophecy said the Chosen One who could wield it would be born. However, when that year came, the Clan Leader was shocked to learn that his wife gave him not a son, but a daughter. Shunned as a failure just for being female, Nariko secretly trained anyway and became a great warrior.

Eventually, their home was stormed by the forces of Bohan, a king obsessed with getting the Sword. Noriko escapes with it, and is shocked to learn that her father had slept around in an attempt to get the son he needed. With the help of Kyo, a sister she never knew she had, Noriko sets out to find the Chosen One before Bohan’s forces do.

I will not narrate any further because there are a couple of twists in the story I don’t want to spoil. Some are easy to guess, others less so. I will instead comment on the movie overall. Note, I hadn’t even heard of the game when I saw the film.

I liked the combination of Eastern and Western elements. The story is surprisingly dark- make no mistake, this is no family movie. There’s lots of violence (though the animation makes it a bit unrealistic) and there are references to (implied) rape. For the most part though it is an Action Fantasy with plenty of cheesecake as you’d expect from a video game. That’s not necessarily bad, except for one aspect- most of the villains come out of nowhere, with powers that can be confusing. Again, this is a “video game thing”- it doesn’t ruin the movie but I wish they’d given them better context.

On the other hand, the movie does address one interesting topic: family love, in particular paternal love. Noriko was shunned by her father, yet Bohan, for all his evil, apparently cared for his son (the freakish brute called Roach.) And of course, there’s the sisterly bond between Noriko and Kyo, and Noriko’s loyalty to her clan, despite how they had treated her.

Overall, Heavenly Sword makes for a good movie to watch if you’re into Fantasy and Action (and fanservice) though it’s a little bit dark.


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El Charro de las Calaveras (The Rider of the Skulls)

 

el-charro-de-las-calaveras-aka-the-rider-of-skulls-mexican-poster-dagoberto-rodriquez-1965I’ve been meaning to watch this 1965 Mexican movie for a long time now and I finally got the chance to do so. It combines several genres that were popular in the region at the time it was made: charros (Mexican cowboys), monsters (inspired by those from American movies) and masked heroes (like their own professional wrestlers.)

El Charro himself rips off Batman’s origin- he’s an orphan whose parents were killed by criminals, so now he wears a black suit with skulls on it and a mask to fight evil “because Justice has no face”. O… kay. At least Batman still has a secret identity. Not that it really matters; Charro just goes around with that thing on and nobody reacts to it at all. But that is the *least* weird thing about this movie, trust me.

The story itself is actually three separate adventures, in which Charro battles, in order, a werewolf, a vampire and a headless horseman. Why this format? I have no idea. You get the impression this was a pilot for a series of movies or a TV show. If so I don’t think it succeeded.

This is definitely a B-Movie, of the kind that’s not intentionally silly (except for a few moments with some of Charro’s friends) but because of a general lack of talent involved- and REALLY terrible SFX. It’s a pity, because there are actually a few thrilling moments that would have worked if the rest hadn’t been so bad. Still, B-Movies have their fans, who love them on their own terms. If you’re curious about what Mexican movies were like in the 60’s, check this one out. Note: black & white film.

Recommended for: fans of B-Movies, horror, westerns, and superheroes.