Saturday, December 9, 2017

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse First Trailer

It's that time again! And by that time, I mean a new trailer for a Spider-Man movie has come out, so I know you're all looking to me to tell you what to think about it. Well, here it is:

First of all, it looks great, just visually. It's got a sort of stop-motion feel to the CG, like the Lego Movie, which worked really well there and might just as well for this considering it's more comic-oriented art style. I like the colors and the motion blur on stuff like the subway train. So no complaints there.

Storywise, it's pretty obviously got Miles Morales as Spider-Man this time, and his story might be a direct adaptation of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, seeing as how he walks up to a grave that's probably Peter Parker's.

He can't have been Spider-Man for too long, because his suit looks like he just made it, what with the kinda slipshod spray paint spiders on it.

He's chasing someone who appears to be the Prowler in one shot, so it being a mostly unchanged Ultimate Miles Morales makes sense.

But now the baseless speculation. At the end, he's talking to someone in the subway, and says, "Wait, how many of us are there?" I'm gonna make a guess here and say that's Peter Parker from an alternate universe, like Spider-Men. Given that the title is the same as the universe-crossing Spider-Man story, it's possible they're combining Spider-Men and Spider-Verse into one movie, where first Miles meets the regular alternate Peter Parker, but eventually it leads into some universe hopping adventure.

When it shows the title, you see flashes of different spider symbols, like one where it's a heart with legs coming out of it, or the traditional logo, before getting to Miles' spray paint spider.

If it turns out the film's going that route, I would honestly be surprised. In a comic this would make sense, because comics always have that alternate universe shit, but in a film it's a lot less prevalent, and probably a little risky. That might be because Sony Pictures is making this one, instead of Marvel like Homecoming. At any rate, I'd love to see more standalone films like this, like say, perhaps a Spider-Man 2099 film? I can dream.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Tiger & Bunny

Pop culture right now is rife with superheroes. You can't take a trip to the theaters without seeing at least 3 posters for upcoming films and a couple playing every timeslot. It seems like they've finally risen from the underground and entered our collective consciousness, and oddly enough this seems to be the same case somewhere apart from America, namely Japan. Though in film they haven't matched our numbers in the current superhero boom, they've made up for it with a rise in American-style superhero anime, like One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and one that I think deserves special attention:

Spotlight: Tiger and Bunny

I know what you're thinking, "Tiger and Bunny? Is this Aesop's Fables?" Well look, Japanese naming conventions are just one of those things. Traditionally, Japanese superheroes are more along the lines of Super Sentai type groups, like the Power Rangers, and Magical Girls, being teenage girls given more or less superpowers to fight demons and whatnot, like Sailor Moon. Though that genre is receiving its own kind of special attention, I'm too masculine to be interested in anything like that. American superheroes are the kind we're most familiar with, where they fight crime, wear spandex, have superpowers, and deal with interpersonal drama.

In one season and two films, Tiger and Bunny makes the most of the American-style superhero concept by being set in what's a close analogue to the US. All the text is in English, which they proofed with the localization team, and the city, Stern Bild, was loosely modeled after New York City, the most American city on earth. Oddly enough, all the heroes are corporate sponsored, (by real companies) which may or may not be a jab at the way America does business. I dunno, I'm not an economist. All the heroes star in what amounts to a reality show called HeroTV. They compete for points, gained by capturing criminals and saving civilians, which determine the winner for each season, named King of Heroes. They work for publicity, star in commercials, and one's a pop star. People who have superpowers are called NEXT, and they're pretty much mutants from Marvel, complete with revulsion from the general public when somebody's discovered to have powers. It's actually a rather cynical take for a superhero world, as compared with your usual idealistic teams of independent heroes.

Our main character is Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, alias Wild Tiger, an old guy who's been a hero for a while, though he's well past his prime and public opinion has turned against him. His sponsor goes under and a bigger corporation agrees to sponsor him, provided he teams up with a new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr. They have clashing hero styles, Tiger preferring to listen to his gut and disregarding property damage to save people, while Barnaby (given the nickname "Bunny" by Tiger) is concerned with gaining points and maintaining a good image. This Odd Couple-ish setup is where we begin, as different story threads develop and resolve. The rest of the heroes include Blue Rose, apathetic teenage girl and burgeoning pop star, Origami Cyclone, a hero who considers his job done if his sponsors end up in the shot, and Sky High, the charming and oblivious King of Heroes.

Before, I mentioned that the world this takes place in is cynical, which doesn't mean the show itself is. My favorite part of the show is how it presents idealism in a world that doesn't seem to allow it. Most of the heroes are concerned more with points or their image than they are about helping people. In the first half of the season, Kotetsu and Barnaby can hardly stand each other, much less act as an effective team. Kotetsu's a single parent; his daughter Kaede lives with her grandmother, and hates her dad for always breaking his promises. Barnaby's parents were killed when he was young and he became a hero to get revenge.

Despite all this, there's a core of hope that pervades the show. Wild Tiger's a holdover from a bygone age, like an ineffectual Superman stuck in a morally ambiguous Silver Age comic. The thing is, they start to understand what he means. Tiger became a hero to save people and despite how incompetent he can be, the other heroes change as a result of his ideals. Not only do Kotetsu and Barnaby form a better team, the other heroes learn to trust one another. Sure, it's schmaltzy, but I love that shit.

It's similar to why I love Spider-Man, or at least in concept. They're both pretty bad at their jobs, they mess up a lot, the people they're close to can't count on them for much, but they never stop trying. When the show begins, you'd be forgiven for seeing Tiger as a bumbling old idiot, but as things go on you understand his worldview, you see the sacrifices he's made to continue being a hero.

The first half of the show is mostly about Kotetsu and Barnaby learning to work together, along with little spotlight episodes about other heroes. The second half has a more Kotetsu-focused story, dealing more centrally on the problems of being an older hero. It even briefly looks at the problems of idols, where inevitably you find out their very human flaws.

There's two films put out from the series, the first being a recap of the first half of the show with a slightly different ending. It's not really worth watching as long as you've seen the show, though the animation is nice and you find out some things they left out of the show. The second movie, however, entitled Tiger and Bunny: The Rising, is phenomenal. It's a direct sequel to the show, taking place not long after the end, where we see what's happened with our main characters, introducing a few more, and seeing how they deal with a new conflict. I love it. It expands on themes discussed through the show proper, like what justice means, how to be a hero, and how to abide by your identity when everything's against you. I can't think of anything more I would want to cap off this series.

With gushing accomplished, I think it's important to know it's not perfect. If the buddy cop story seems cliche to you, it'll get old before its resolved. The one black hero is also the only gay one, and in the beginning seems pretty stereotypical, without a spotlight segment until the second movie. There's a lot left out if you don't speak Japanese, since there's a lot of supplementary material in audio dramas, specials and the like that will probably never be localized.

What I'm trying to say is, if you like superheroes, Tiger and Bunny is for you. It's not super long, so you won't have to invest the rest of your life in it, like some anime. It's on Hulu currently, and probably Crunchyroll, but who has that? Anyway, if you get a chance, I highly recommend you check it out!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Justice League (2017)

Finally! The culmination of all those films DC's been putting out, now they finally meet in the event everyone's been waiting for! For the first time each one of their solo films, these titans will-- wait, how many set-up movies were before this? Two? And they were Man of Steel and Batman v Superman? Oh. Guys I don't think they copied Avengers correctly.

So yeah, Justice League is WB/DC's counterpoint to The Avengers, a movie that came out 5 years ago. Where Marvel seemed to meticulously plan out what characters got movies and how they would come to be in Avengers, DC said, "Aw fuck it, just shove 'em all in the last one!" Now technically Avengers is better film, it has a consistent tone and mostly everything makes sense. But honestly, I think I kind of enjoy Justice League more.

Before I get ahead of myself, let's just talk about the plot real quick. It's about Steppenwolf, an alien CGI Man, who has to get some MacGuffins to conquer Earth or something. Batman catches wind of it and has to assemble a bunch of superheroes you're sort of familiar with to stop him. If we go bare-bones, the plot is nothing special. In fact, it's about as boilerplate as it gets. If someone had told me there'd be a more boring villain than Ronan the Accuser, I would've called the police. But here it is, Steppenwolf wins the prize. I'm not even sure there was a person under there, I think they just stuck him in there and had a guy phone in some cliche evil talk.

But that's not why I enjoyed it. I think I probably enjoyed it for the wrong reasons. It has a sort of Spider-Man 3 feel to it, where if you want to take it completely seriously, the jarring shifts in tone will quickly alienate you, but if you just get a little drunk first and stop caring if it's good or not, you can have some fun. And when I say jarring tonal shifts, I mean it. See, nearing the end of production for the film director Zach Snyder left, due to family reasons, so he brought in Joss Whedon to helm reshoots and edit the film. And if there's any two directors whose work wouldn't mesh well together in one movie, it's Snyder and Whedon.

Let me give you an example. In one scene, we have a flashback to a climactic showdown with Steppenwolf far in Earth's past. Giant armies of Amazons, Atlanteans, and humans attack. It's shot like 300, it's got slowdown and shadow-heavy lighting. In another, The Flash and Cyborg dig up Clark Kent's grave and crack jokes about it.

So basically what I'm saying is, if the development of this film was simple and easy, it probably would've just turned out another boring broodfest like Batman v Superman, but with all the internal turmoil, it ended up something just a little off from the now standard superhero fare. I don't think they wanted to make it this way, but I think that almost makes it better. I think I like how weird this turned out more than I like most movies Marvel's been cranking out. Aquaman alone is odd enough to justify watching this thing.

If you're looking for a generally competent superhero flick, this probably won't appease you. But if you can take a step back and realize this whole DC Universe thing is probably going to crash and burn no matter what they do, you can probably enjoy seeing it start to go up in flames.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites Pizza

There are days where the world seems distant. Where events seem disconnected and discrete. You seem like a passenger in your own life, observing, but never in charge of the course of events. Like a dream when you're in the back seat of a car, careening aimlessly down a crowded highway, and find it impossible to take control. Days where you've watched this one too many times.

In short, there are times where reality seems to fray at the edges. I was in one of these liminal spaces of the mind when I found myself purchasing a pizza from my old acquaintance, Pizza Hut. My friends, it's time again, where I don't know how I arrived, yet here I am.

Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites Pizza

This pizza is confounding. I honestly don't know what I was looking at. Can any of our observations be objective? Can what goes through a creator's mind prolong itself into a finished project? This pizza is a Rorschach test. Tell me, when you look at this pizza, what do you see?

What is the purpose of this? Was there someone, at any time, who wished there was some way they could share pizza with their friends? What twisted mind combined the two concepts of breadsticks and a stuffed crust pizza?

There is no correct way to eat this. In adverts one is presented with happy young adults, pulling bites jubilantly from the crust, strings of decadent cheese following them, faces alight with adulation. Nowhere does one see someone attempting to eat the barren, crustless slab of pizza left after the bites are depleted. It's a fool's errand. One's hands become so instantly covered in grease that keeping a hold on the neutered slice is all but impossible. The slice itself is so thin that its very existence seems nebulous.

But, you say, the pizza isn't the point. It's the bites, goddammit, get to the bites! Have it your way. The bites, though vibrantly presented in ads, fell tremendously short of expectations. On screen, they seem almost alive, spewing cheese from every orifice, stretching strands off every bite, gooey bits dripping from slavering mouths. In my experience, the bites have long since bitten the dust.

Neither a breadstick nor a true crust, the cheesy bite feels the pain of isolation, trapped between worlds. It has no true home. It doesn't belong on a pizza, and even less so in your stomach. The bites were spongy, rigid, already undergoing caseus rigor mortis. The marinara provides a brief distraction, but upon a flawed foundation.

On reheat the slices fare no better. One has long since discarded the marinara, and any stability the slices may have once had is lost. Your only hope is to grope hopelessly at the flaccid slice and, before your grip slackens, desperately shove the pizza in your mouth, like an animal. It makes you question your humanity. It makes you question who you are.

The Cheesy Bites Pizza is a food for a directionless people. A dinner for those who don't know what they want. A questionable solution to a problem that does not exist. Some flawed person gazed into the void of their mind, and beheld this. What is there left to say? Sometimes a picture can convey more than words ever could. The most apt image inexplicably adorns the pizza box itself, a greasy Spider-Man peering out into the world, silently judging each and every one of us.

We have been found wanting.