Sunday, September 29, 2013

1 sentence review: Man of Tai Chi

Though it may boarder on the ridiculous at times, this movie is not just a well made and fun tale of a martial arts student who is losing his way to his demons, but a really good action movie with enough plot to keep the viewer entertained (and yes, Keanu is f**king awesome like in most of his roles).
The fighting is more organic than in Matrix 2 & 3.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Legend of Korra: Civil Wars Part 2 Review

“The only way to deal with crazy women is to lie big and leave fast”. That was the quote that made me realize that not only is this a better, far more coherent episode than last week’s, but possibly the best episode of the season thus far. By the way, I didn't realize just how funny Varrick was going to be until this week, but man, I’m glad he’s in the show and along for the ride.
Just the kind of funny I was missing.
This episode moved everything forward. Jinora was found and made peace with her siblings. Tenzin made peace with his siblings and was able to see past the happy haze surrounding his father. Kya and Bumi realized that they can’t take out frustration over Aang on Tenzin. Finally, Aang’s descendants were able to find peace will all stories nicely wrapped up.

So onto the crux of the matter, the Civil War. You see, the South wants to live the way they’ve always practiced, while the North believes that their behavior is detrimental to society and needs to be reformed. Thus, Abraham Lincoln is moving to … sorry, wrong Civil War. This one is more in the line of Cain Vs. Able, or if you’d rather, Mufasa Vs. Scar.
What's up with brothers always fighting.
It basically boils down to Unalaq being jealous of his older, stronger, more handsome brother Tonraq. And like all jealous brothers who can’t move past their own insecurities, it seems Unalaq decided to dedicate his life to undermining any sense of peace and stability Tonraq could muster. His job was made easier by Tonraq’s unwillingness to discuss what happened with anyone (possibly he told his wife?) or dig deeper to find out the truth of his banishment. Thankfully for him, Korra suffers from a little case of the headstrongs and hot bloodedness that most teens seem to come down with. Good thing too.

Korra really felt like Robert De Niro in the Godfather Part II; bold, strong, and unafraid to get her hands dirty. It was great watching her interrogate the magistrate with Naga. It was genuinely fearful. I knew that she wouldn’t kill the man, but the line between good and bad could have easily been crossed. There is an episode of the Justice League cartoon when Superman kills President Lex Luthor after Luthor kills the Flash. Superman has been pushed to his brink, and he decides to fall on the darker side of temptation. The obvious difference is that Superman has had years of being the good guy and became jaded, but if Korra embraces the temptation of abusing power (something I’m sure at least one previous Avatar must have done), this seemingly badass act could be indicative of something darker. But I doubt that she will ever go down that path.
Moments before turning Lex into a pile of ash. And he's supposed to be the boy scout!
This was a very fun, and very good episode. It was, once again, animated beautifully. The sound was pitch perfect. The dialogue was natural, funny, and poignant. This was exactly the right kind of follow up that the first part needed. Where part 1 fell flat, part 2 really brought it home. A great episode, and it looks like we are heading back to Republic City. I can’t wait!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Legend Of Korra: Civil Wars Part I Review

The first thing I thought once the episode was over is that I can’t fully judge it without its second part. As things stand, we've only gotten one side of a conversation, and now have to wait a whole week till the next. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but if I am to judge this episode on its own merits, I can’t judge it fairly. It was ok, moves the water tribe story line further along, but does little else.

Korra still struggles with her role as not only an Avatar, but a peace keeper, a member of the water tribes, and the fact that she’s from the currently occupied south. There is some interesting interplay between herself, her father, and her uncle, but no major revelations are made. She comes to terms with her father’s past just in time for Unalaq to stand between them. I’m still not fully convinced that he is a baddie for the season, but he has no doubt overreached far beyond any good intentions he may have had.

I could be wrong, he does suffer from a severe case of shifty eye syndrome!
Of course, the Southerners resistance to the occupation is justified. One minute they were living day to day as free men and women and the next they are told to go indoors and stay out of the military’s way. From their point of view, some spiritual zealot they see once a year has come to their town and forcibly taken control. And what are his justifications? From his point of view they were a hedonistic society that was leaving their spiritual past behind. It’s a nice message to send to the people you are trying to get cooperation out of.

So what of Unalaq’s plan? His desire to reopen both water tribe spirit portals to calm the angered spirits seems to be the right thing to do, but what of this travel portal it will open? Not sure how this fits into his plan, but I’m sure there is some ulterior motive behind it all. And how long have these portals been sealed, and why were they sealed in the first place? If Korra stopped to think for a minute, she should remember that just six months ago she was able to converse with Aang and gain her powers back. Maybe she could get some invaluable advice from him! But as seen before, she’s more of a doer than a thinker, but it does eventually come to her.
Seriously, this only happened six months ago. Remember?
So with Korra’s father in trouble, Unalaq gaining more ground, and a little side story of Bolin’s girl troubles, the only other story worth talking of is the infighting between Aang’s kids. It seems Aang was about as good a father as most other fathers. I’m sure he did his best, but it’s never good enough. With Kya and Bumi believing Aang played favorites with Tenzin (and it seems they might have a point), tension seeps its way from the Water Tribe to the Air Temple. Sure it’s sibling rivalry at its base, but there is a bite to it all. It seems that Tenzin’s siblings have always had a resentment to his preferential treatment from Aang, and could possibly explain why they picked on him. It seems to ultimately be a minor story, but it’s interesting to know that the little kid who saved the world and idolized by so many was fallible.

So that was it. Animation once again was very good, as was the sound. But without the second part, I'm not sure what to make of this episode. I’ll reserve judgment until next week when I have the full story.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Legend of Korra: The Southern Lights Review

So after a probing part one, where was the season two premiere of Korra to take us? Of course, with tension already high, the journey to the South Pole was not going to be smooth. Sure Bolin, Maco, and Korra’s very weird cousins provided some laughs, but it’s obvious from the get go that the emotion bubbling to the surface was threatening to boil over. Korra’s father has little to no respect/care for the spirits. He’s a practical man, someone who works only with what he sees, and later we learn the cost of this line of thought. It would also help to explain not only Korra’s strong will, but her struggle with connecting with the spirits.
It is too late to call shotgun?
As Unalaq leads the group, spirits attack stealing all the camping gear and leaving most of the equipment useless. Forced to take shelter in a cave, it’s at this point where the animosity between Unalaq and his brother, Korra’s dad Tonraq, is revealed. Years ago the young General Tonraq, chasing a group of bandits out of the Northern Water Tribe, angered the spirits. In the end, it was Unalaq who saved the tribe, and Tonraq was banished. With Tonraq exiled to the Southern Water Tribe, Unalaq ascended to the throne. With all this revealed, a very upset Korra decides it’s time her father makes like Tenzin and leaves.
Angered spirits attach the Northern Water Tribe.
With all this information hitting her, Korra has every right to be upset. Her role in the world is to be the bridge between the spirit world and mankind. The fact that her father angered spirits in his youth should have been brought to her attention. If there is anything we've learnt about spirits from Aang it’s that they don’t forget their interactions with humans (see Koh the face Steeler and Wan Shi Tong). Both those spirits had poor interactions with humans and both didn't care too much for Aang’s role as the Avatar. They still held him accountable for mankind’s actions, and the fact that Korra’s dad angered them by destroying a holy site would cause some animosity between the spirits and the young Avatar.
As Oscar Wilde once said: 'Children begin by loving their parents, after some time they judge them, rarely if ever, do they forgive them.' Sorry Tonraq.
Meanwhile, a deflated Tenzin is taking his family, including his siblings Bumi and Kya, on a tour of the air temples. However, it seems that Jinora gets a chance to have her moment in the sun. Jinora has always seemed better in tune with not only air-bending but also the spiritual side of the air nomad life compared to her siblings. While in the temple room full of Avatar statues, mesmerized by Aang’s statue, she seems to have a connection with the spirit world. It’s a very brief moment, but it speaks to a larger arc for the character. We know from the original series that General Iroh, after the death of his son, somehow managed to connect with the spirit world. Could Jinora, at such a young age, be connecting with it too?
Books? Where you're going, you won't need books.
Back to Korra, we arrive at the source of spiritual turmoil at the South Pole, and Korra, alone, enters a frozen forest to calm the spirits. With some difficulties, including a spirit snake monster restraining her, Korra releases the forest and restores balance, for now, to the Southern Water Tribe. I say for now because we see at the end an ‘invasion’ force of the Northern army entering the Southern Tribe, and this aggressive act by Unalaq cannot bode well for both Water Tribes. But before I end, I want to touch on what I believe to be the most important part of the episode. While Korra is freeing the frozen forest, Jiniro is awoken, and seemingly drawn to the statue room where she ends up at a very old statue that begins to light up. It seems to be the statue of the first Avatar Wan.
Falcon Punch!
When I first heard of Wan, I assumed that it would be Korra who connects and learns from him. But after this episode, I get the impression that not only is Wan going to teach Jinora a thing of two about the spirits, but she is the one who will be teaching Korra all she learns from the first Avatar. I could be wrong, but Korra herself has stated how the Avatar used to travel and learn from different masters. Maybe Tenzin isn't the right teacher for her. He’s a good steadying hand, but Jinora seems to be at a whole different level that even Tenzin might not comprehend, and with Korra’s time with Unalaq seemingly coming to an end, it’s possible that Jinora will teach the Avatar all she needs to know.
Spirits continue their onslaught on Korra.
This was another great episode. The animation was beautifully fluid, the music and sound effects spot on, and it opened the door perfectly for the second season. There are plenty of questions asked, and hopefully we’ll get some answers, but for now I eagerly await the next episode. And with the next two episodes called ‘Civil Wars’, I guess we are going to see just how far Unalaq and Korra’s journey goes. And how long till Avatar Wan enters the picture and just how far is Jinora’s development going to go? A great season opener. I only wish this were a Netflix show so I don’t have to wait for more!

Review of part 1 here. My first ever (and poorly written) Korra review here. Some reflections on Korra season 1 here. And finally, some fun guess work about season 1 that turned out to be wrong here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Legend of Korra: Rebel Spirit Review

Korra’s finally back! After a quick recap, we get right into it. It’s been six months since Amon, and Korra’s still rebellious while Tenzin is struggling to keep up with the all-powerful teenager. Mako’s become a member of the law, while little bro Bolin has yet to make much progress in life. Finally Asami is working hard to undo the damage her father brought upon the family company and stay afloat. There has been a little splintering of team Avatar, and once again I can’t help but notice that Asami seems all alone.
Team Avatar, in all their season 1 glory.
However, after a quick relocation to the Southern Water Tribe, things swiftly change. ‘Dark’ Spirits attack without hesitation, and until Korra’s uncle’s (Unalaq) intervention, there isn't much anyone can do. Unalaq, the leader of the Northern Water Tribe, seems to be an incredibly powerful bender. With ease he calmed the angered spirit and seemed to draw out an inner peace from within and channel it into the spirit. His respect for the spiritual world is apparent, wanting even to impart his knowledge upon the young Avatar, however, I’m more concerned about his motives for the Southern Tribe as he seems hell-bent on reform (even with military force!).
A spirit overwhelming the Avatar.
With this show of power, Korra decides it’s time to part ways with Tenzin and train under Unalaq, so, bye bye Tenzin. I can understand Korra’s tension with continued training with Tenzin. She’s never exactly seen eye to eye with her air-bending master, questioning him almost every chance she’s gotten. Further, he would be a constant reminder of Republic City, a place where she was truly beaten and humiliated for the first time by Tarrlok and Amon. It’s very possible that all these factors were in play when she decided to part ways with Tenzin, but I might be reading too much into it.
Unalaq calming spirits.
So with her father against it, Unalaq takes her under his tutelage, and their journey beings to the South Pole to repair spiritual damage. Once again, I can’t help but feel that Unalaq truly believes in balance with the spirits, while Korra’s father is more than happy to leave them alone, but there is more to Unalaq than meets the eye. He’s clearly calculating (like Amon), and has ulterior motives that involve the Southern Water Tribe, Korra, and possibly the spiritual world.
Journey to Santa's back yard.
So as the first part of the premiere comes to a close, there’s a lot to digest. Why are the spirits suddenly attacking people and places? What is Korra’s and Unalaq’s role in repairing the damage, and just what is Unalaq up to? Later in the second part, even more questions arise, such as what’s up with the Northern invasion force, and is Jinora about to embark on a spiritual journey with the first Avatar, and if so, is this what old General Iroh went through in the original series? Time will tell, and I’ll write my review of part two of the premiere later tomorrow, but I’m very glad the show is back, and I can’t wait for more.
There's more to Jinora than just book smarts and powerful air-bending.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Star Trek – The Next Generation

After finishing the Original Series on Netflix, I charged into The Next Generation with a lot of excitement. Sure Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were no longer going to be in the show (well, no Kirk for some reason), but I was ready for more Star Trek. So I sat back, relaxed, and got the show rolling, ready for a new crew, new adventures, and a new Enterprise. Netflix, Warp 6, …Engage!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my captain has hair, but that doesn’t mean Picard is any less great. Far more the patient, calculating man, Jean-Luc Picard was a very good captain. He trusted his crew, kept his cool, and was unafraid to admit when he was wrong, and even, when he was helpless. Where Kirk may jump to action before finding out other options, Picard thought his way through problems, relying on others to aid when needed. Plus he loved history. Let me rephrase that. He respected history and what he could learn from it immensely, thus showing growth and maturity of character who’s lived life well, but not necessarily always come out on top. Picard was a great leader, and the perfect second act to follow Kirk.
Not as many ladies as Kirk, but at least he didn't use his psychic powers to get them.
A captain is only as good as his second in command. Kirk had Spock, which allowed him to be a little more cavalier. Picard had Riker. I wasn’t sure what to make of Riker at first. He was very much like Kirk, had some McCoy mixed in, and a splash of Spock. This helped set him apart from most other characters in Star Trek. Riker was very protective of his captain and the crew, and made sure that he went out of his way to protect them. This allowed Picard to be measured, as more often than not Riker was buying him time. As the show went on, it began to feel like it revolved around Riker’s personal growth more than anyone else, but honestly that would be selling the other characters a little short.
So who to focus on next? Should I write about the logically impressive Data? What about the primordial Worf? The short lived but personal favorite Tasha Yar? Either of the Crushers? Love struck La Forge? Or Deanna Troi? How about the characters who showed up every now and then like nerves of steel Ro Laren, the ever insightful Guinan, or the always great Reginald Barclay? And that’s when it hit me. The Next Generation had a crew of depth. They weren’t all on the bridge. They were behind the scenes, running their day to day ops. They were integral, not necessarily on screen, but they added so much character to the crew. This show was more than just the away team commanded by its captain, it's also the people who made sure the away team made it home to a safe and secure ship. They were all important, and I could not limit the crew to just a single third entry.
And what of O'Brien, Gowron and the ever great Q?
Finally, let me talk of the most important part of the show, the Enterprise D. This ship was cool. From holodecks to Ten Forward to detachable saucer sections, the Enterprise D was a true upgrade to the original show’s Enterprise. It was huge, had families living in it, a crew of many species, races, and ethnicities living within, and the ship complimented them all nicely. The Enterprise may hold a very special place in my heart, but the Enterprise D showed a very cool, and very natural evolution of a beloved ship.
Star Trek the Next Generation was great. Its cast gave the show a level of respect to the mythos, while maintaining a level of light heartedness that was needed for a prime time sci-fi show. It was fun, emotional, and questioned not just human to human relations, but how we, as a species, fair in a universe where there are many different species all trying to exist within the same plane. It was the logical next step from the Original Series, and I think Jim Kirk would be very proud of the Enterprise D’s captain and her crew. So what’s next? I guess it time to travel Deep, into Space. 9! … Get it? It’s Deep Space 9 time.
Well captain, I await your adventures in space.