Speculative Fiction Saturday: Kung Fu Panda 3

kung-fu-panda-3I have to admit the Kung Fu Panda took me be surprise when I first saw it. It was a typical story of a complete underdog who must overcome obstacles, kind of like Rocky and The Karate Kid. The only difference is that it is done with a computer-generated panda in an interesting and fantastical anthropomorphic world.

The issue with the first film is that it was self-aware. It seemed to know that it was following in the footsteps of these films, and knew that it wasn’t really offering anything too new to the table. The issue is that Jack Black had become an A-list star, and it was interesting to see him in a role that appeared to be written with him in mind.

The second film in the series was even better than the first. Not only that, it featured a very dramatic turn as Po’s origins were revealed. Not only that, Gary Oldman was a terrific and multi-faceted villain as Shen.

This is always the blessing of making a better sequel, as it becomes a curse to have a third. Kung Fu Panda was sadly not able to overcome this curse, and it produced a third film that wasn’t really very good. It is at worst mediocre, but in comparison to the second film, it is downright horrific.

The plot to this film had some potential. It starts off in the spirit world, which is this odd place where land floats, and the inhabitants are capable of superhuman feats. It is here where we are introduced to Kai, a yak (of buffalo, I’m not sure), who is trying to defeat Master Oogway, the wise turtle mentor who died in the first movie. Kai needs to take Oogway’s chi (or life energy, but that is an over-simplification) to get into the material world, and he does.

So it is interesting that Po is being set up with a supernatural foe for the first time. There has always been kind of a mystical element to these films, but Kai certainly is Po’s most powerful enemy.

There is also an issue of Po becoming a teacher. This is some odd order from Shifu, who steps out of the picture so Po can take command. Po then goes into fail-mode, as his teaching somehow cause the Furious Five to botch everything.

At that point, I realized what was wrong with the movie. The jokes within are simply not funny. The other films were at least clever with its dialogue and action, but this film felt…lazy. I honestly believe that there is a good idea for a film here with Kai and Po becoming a teacher, but it feels like the writers thought they had it on the first draft.

To the film’s credit, the third film attempted to tie-in the second by showing Po’s father somehow sensing his son is alive. There is an actually explanation for it, but Po’s father is sadly slowing down the film. There is a very good scene where Po and his father Li discuss the mother, and it is pretty heartfelt.

Sadly, Kung Fu Panda 3 suffers from hard-core sequel fatigue, and it would be smart to either discontinue the franchise or make a fourth one that really rocks, but that could be a tall order.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Mockingjay, Part 2

mockingjay-part-2I probably should have reviewed this film a while ago, like right after it first came out. Most of you who are familiar with my Speculative Fiction Saturday stories know that I don’t often report on films as they come out, but occasionally, I do.

I usually feel a need to do some sort of plot synopsis or something, but honestly, just read my reviews of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, Part 1. I will have to admit that I found the first part of Mockingjay to be quite boring, as it was full of a lot of war politics rather than action.

In fact, the second film starts out pretty much the exact same way, and it was actually starting to bore me, again. However, I believe that I can recommend this film. The issue is that I read the book on this, several years ago. However, I didn’t really remember it very well, only that it was pretty dark. I really don’t think I can talk about this without discussing the ending, so there is more after the jump.

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Speculative Fiction Saturday: Millennium Actress

millennium-actress.341I would appear that I am celebrating the anime extravaganzas of Satoshi Kon, and this time it is Millennium Actress. I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way and say that it is very similar to Perfect Blue, in that I’m not really certain what is reality when I watch this movie.

This is kind of why I like watching Kon’s films, because they are deliberately disjointed to the point where I have to look up the Wikipedia entry just to get a semblance of the plot. Often, it is difficult with films like these because I don’t know if this is just me not paying attention to the film or the filmmaker’s writing.

Here is the basic semblance of the plot: a reporter named Genya tracks down an actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara. She is an actress from when film was just becoming a great industry. Before she became an actress, she met a revolutionary who is also a painter. She helped this man to escape the authorities, and he gave her a key. Chiyoko becomes an actress in hopes that this mysterious man will see her again and track her down. I guess she loves him, or something.

So, the meeting with Genya and Chiyoko, that serves as a framing device for what would normally be a flashback storyline. What is strange is that Genya and his wisecracking reporter friend are mysteriously transported into Chiyoko’s flashback. They don’t seem to be surprised by this whatsoever.

From there, we see Chiyoko’s movie career and the films that she stars in. The strange thing is how these realities overlap each other and it is very difficult to tell what is reality, or at least the movie’s representation of it. The same technique is used in Perfect Blue, but instead of dealing with the topic of losing one’s mind, Millennium Actress is about dealing with memory.

If you have ever stopped and thought about your life, you might discover that there are a lot of inconsistencies to it. You might also discover that there is a purpose to it. In the case of Chiyoko, her purpose was chasing this mysterious man, and she never was able to properly settle down. This is one of many themes in the film, another being how life is often about the chase to get a reward, and not necessarily the reward itself.

Something tells me that more can be gained by watching this film again, and perhaps I will do that again.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Perfect Blue

Perfect BlueOkay, I often don’t review anime, and I can’t say that Perfect Blue is speculative fiction. However, this is one film that is just so very interesting that I have to write about it.

Perfect Blue was directed by Satoshi Kon, who passed away in 2010, and left behind many great animated films. I haven’t seen them all, but I remember seeing Paprika many years ago and still not getting it.

I believe that these are the films I need to see right now. The ones that are very confusing, and have no sense of closure. I think we as audiences have adapted to a certain method of storytelling, and if any movie can get away with going against it, that is good. Unless every film ends up like this.

Perfect Blue is about a Japanese pop star named Mima, and she has decided to transition into being an actress. Like most pop stars that try this, she overcompensates and shows up in some “dark” films.

This is where the film gets really confusing. Mima then begins to appear on a show which is about a murderer with a dual personality, which actually describes her to a T. If this is what is happening, in all honesty, I can’t really tell what is real and what isn’t in this film. The storyline of the film is structured in such a way that it is really difficult to tell, honestly.

This film bears a strong resemblance to another film known as Black Swan, which I haven’t reviewed, but it is about a ballerina who is losing her grip on reality. This film came out before that in 1997, and I guessed this because it shows a world just being introduced to the the Internet. So yeah, it is a little dated, but there is something about this film that just works.

Stephen King’s ‘It’ and ‘The Dark Tower’ Release Dates and News

pennywise-ew-00054120_612x380It looks like 2017 is going to be the year of Stephen King adaptations. Considering that the horror author has had many done in his name with some good and some bad, it looks like some of his best and well-known works are going to made into films. The first that is coming is The Dark Tower with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, and it is a planned trilogy that will be quite epic in scale. The second is It, which is also an epic, but more on a classic horror story level. This is what is known about The Dark Tower and It release date and news.

There is news about The Dark Tower, as CinemaBlend reports that the planned trilogy is filming. This actually answers questions about The Dark Tower adaptation that many have had. If you are not familiar with it, it is a series of eight books that King wanted to be his magnum opus. It is strange to see the story being compacted into three movies, and one can’t help but wonder what is the plan.

After all, are they filming all three films at once, like The Lord of the Rings, or filming one film, hope that it is a hit, and then wait to film the other two? This really is a problem when you have to deal with connected universes and whatnot.

Fans will have some kind of first look at Entertainment Weekly’s PopFest from October 29th and 30th, and hopefully that will be some kind of big huge shot in the arm as far as publicity for this movie is concerned.

Then there is another Stephen King film coming out, and it is It. That is, this is the title of the film, and it is essentially a remake. It is an adaptation of a very long book from King (over 1,000 pages), and it was made into a TV mini-series back in 1990. Back in that mini-series, the main villain was a child killing clown played by Tim Curry.

What you are seeing here is a photo of the new Pennywise the Clown, who is played by Bill Skarsgard. If you are not familiar with the story, Pennywise is this demonic entity who hibernates for decades, but awakes to kill children. The story is about a group of kids from the fifties who stopped the killer clown, only to have to reunite in the eighties to stop him once again.

What isn’t known is whether or not the new version of It will take place in the fifties or eighties as some period piece, or perhaps the script will go into an entirely different direction. The clown costume is perhaps a modernized update of the scary clown costume.

The first of these Stephen King adaptations to be released is The Dark Tower, showing up on February 17, 2017. As far as It is concerned, it is coming out on September 8, 2017.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: The Little Prince

the-little-prince_1sheet_20-041I don’t know how many people have heard of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s most famous work of The Little Prince before, but this film, which was made overseas and adopted by Netflix, is going to put it on the map. It certainly will get people to read translations of the famous French work, but the might be surprised that it is nothing like this adaptation.

The most obvious thing that I can say about this adaptation is that it is nothing like the source material. The description that you will find on Netflix discusses the framing device that this adaptation used to present this classic tale, and I would have to say that it works.

The story the film goes with is about a young girl who has one of those moms that wants to give her daughter the best of education so they will become so very successful. The little girl isn’t really interested, and she becomes distracted by this aviator who lives next door. This aviator has this house that looks like the one from Up, but even more quirky.

By the way, this gal lives in a neighborhood where every house is exactly the same, and it looks very gray and sterile. It feels like this film is trying a bit to hard to show something, but it least it doesn’t preach it by telling us.

This girl visits the aviator, and some bad stuff happens. No, this isn’t that kind of story, but honestly, if you knew that your daughter had a friendship with an old man, you might suspect something bad was going on.

Anyway, the aviator’s friendship involves him telling the little girl stories about how he crashed in the desert, and met this young boy, who came from another planet. In this world, planets are rocks that you can walk around, and you can fly around using birds. I think Jimmy Neutron had ore realistic physics, honestly.

Now, the stories that the aviator tells the girl are right from the book, which is about an aviator who crashes in the desert and meets a little boy from another world. So this movie is essentially a sequel to The Little Prince, the book, so this could actually be called The Little Prince 2.

The movie attempts to continue the story established in the book. I will have to say that the story then gets very fantastic, and that is saying something for something that takes place in the universe of The Little Prince.

I will have to say that I didn’t like this film because I am a purist who doesn’t think you should change a story, particularly one that is well-established like The Little Prince. My first encounter with this story took place when I was in French class in high school, and I read it twice, in French. I am not really certain what the book was actually about, theme-wise. I suppose that the story is about how we lost our inner child, and other various things that have since become psycho-babble.

This movie does have a good theme as well, about clinging to that which is important, even though it is not material things. This film does give you a good case of “the feels”, which is a lot like some of Pixar’s best work like Inside Out. So, if you are willing to ignore The Little Prince book, and except what this film is, it works.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Robot Overlords

Robot OverlordsOkay, I’m not certain why I have never heard of a film known as Robot Overlords, but what do you think a film like that would be about? If you said that a bunch of robots take over, you would be right!

If you are wondering why you have never heard of this film, I am guessing it is because it probably didn’t have a big release. That’s actually too bad, because this film isn’t really that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it is Terminator 2, but it has just enough to take seriously, yet is just enough fun.

The film opens with a creepy kid who is apparently a robot. He says that robots have been sent from who knows where to study the people of Earth. There is apparently only one rule, which is humans stay inside while the overlords study them. This is an interesting concept, but there are some things that raise a lot of questions. If these Robot Overlords wanted to study humans, shouldn’t they be just watching while humans are doing their thing? I mean, if a group of scientists were to study some lions in the jungle, they wouldn’t tell them to stay in certain parts of the jungle.

Also, if people are inside all the time, how do they get food? Do their Robot Overlords deliver them pizza every night? Anyway, he film shows that humans have these tracking devices affixed to them, and the beginning shows a father just going nuts. He ventures outside his house, and a Robot Overlord vaporizes him. The film then focuses on a group of kids who one day shock themselves, which shuts off their trackers.

The kids take advantage of the broken transmitters and have fun in the city. From there, they decide that they want to form some kind of resistance against the Robot Overlords. Okay, I’m really getting tired of title-dropping here. Spoilers after the jump.

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Speculative Fiction Saturday: Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

When I first heard of this series, it was described as a mix of Stephen King with Steven Spielberg. It definitely has a touch of Steven’s magic realism back in the eighties, with a touch of King’s horror, and it works.

It is a series that really should have been made a while ago, back when Amazing Stories came out. I don’t think that I have talked about that show, but imagine a cool Spielberg film with some horror elements, stretched out into a series. You would get where J.J. Abrams failed.

So, let’s take a look at the checklist for Spielberg: Kids. A Mysterious New Character. A Secret Government Agency. All of them checked off, and this isn’t E.T. that we are talking about. So, let’s look at the King checklist. Something frightening. A missing child. A character with an insanely painful backstory. This isn’t IT I am talking about.

That’s right, this is Eat It. This is what J.J. Abrams should be told as this series one ups Super 8, as Stranger Things is Super 9!

This story is about some kind of terror that is set free in a small town, sometime in 1983. Since I remember that time, I think it is pretty cool that they got most of it right. I think that the only time that it failed is when they played “Hazy Shade of Winter” by Bangles, during the credits. That didn’t come out until 1985, I’ll give it a pass.

So, the premise of the show is there is a missing child, and this is because there is a monster in town. There is also this mysterious kid with super-powers named Eleven, and she is hiding in one of the main character’s closet. So, what is happening?

A lot of mysterious stuff, that’s what. This is one of those times where I don’t want to spoil it, because it just has to be seen for yourself. Also, I’m kind of tired.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Ghostbusters 3, not the reboot, but the game

Today’s film that I am reviewing is one that you can watch in the YouTube video. It is a Ghostbusters film, but it isn’t the reboot. Just to let you know, I did review the 2016 reboot, and you can read that review here. By the way, I liked it, and don’t think it was worth the hate it received before it was released. It is not as good as a film as the 1984 Ghostbusters (like you didn’t figure that out).

Okay, so this is a time to talk about Ghostbusters in general. I think one of the reasons why we keep watching movies is that we want to see something new, but at the same see something that is familiar to them. I remember the summer that Ghostbusters was released, as it probably sold itself with its logo alone. Then we watched the film, and we thought that not only was it filled with great special effects and action, it was extremely funny.

Most people consider the original Ghostbusters to be one of the funniest films of all time, but I believe that none of us know why. Most of the dialogue feels like Bill Murray ad-libbed it, and the science-fiction setup was very new at the time as it mixed humor with horror, which was rare at the time.

Ghostbusters II, which came out five years later, was a success, but the issue is that the plot of it was pretty much identical to the first one. It was an interesting premise with the Ghostbusters out of work after saving the city and essentially killing their business, but that was about it.

There was always pressure to bring about a Ghostbusters 3, but it never really worked out. I can see why, but I have heard rumors of scripts, with one of them where Bill Murray’s character would actually play a ghost.

One would think that even before the reboot, there would have been a whole slough of Ghostbusters movies with the original cast. Perhaps the whole thing about Ghostbusters is maybe there is nothing more you can do with it. Both films were about ghosts appearing in New York City, then the discovery that all the ghosts are from one source. Then the Ghostbusters mount up for their big case and bring an end to the big bad.

It is pretty much the plot of Ghostbusters the reboot, and ever since the Ghostbusters came out, there has been very little deviation from this formula. The only exception to this was the Ghostbusters animated series, also known as The Real Ghostbusters, which I recommend watching if you are willing to forgive some of its dated material.

What is really interesting is that the Ghostbusters actually had a reunion around 2009. Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, the original writers and two of the original busters, came up with a video game based on the quartet. What you see in the YouTube video is essentially the cutscenes and some of the action of this game.

Yes, this is a game, so you will see a lot of action in the three or so hours of this film. Since this is a game, you will see more action of people walking around than you would see in most movies. I remember playing this game on the Wii about five years ago, and I remember having fun.

The thing about the game is that you play a new recruit of the Ghostbusters, and instead of doing this game from a first-person point of view all the time, you see your character in the cutscenes. This main character has a habit of not speaking and looks pretty…ordinary, I guess.

The good part of this game is that it there is a very convoluted plotline, which is often the weakness of Ghostbusters. That, and the villains are pretty one-dimensional. In this case, the villain is Ivo Shandor, who was the architect of the “Spook Central” from the first film. It was a good idea to bring him in as a villain, and there are a lot of great action set-pieces to visit.

The problem with it is the beginning is more of the same. It starts with the group seeing Slimer at the Sedgewick Hotel as well as meeting Mr. Stay Puft. Then they go to the New York Public Library to meet that one ghosty librarian.

Anyway, if you thinking that you like Ghostbusters, and you want to see the final reunion of these actors before the passing of Ramis, check it out. However, I watched it all the way through and didn’t really laugh a lot.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: The Sin City Series

Sin CityThis is one of those times where I am cheating and writing about something that isn’t really speculative fiction per se, but I have some good reasons. 1) Sin City is based in a graphic novel, which are prime speculative fiction inspiration. 2) Most Speculative Fiction words should be as creative as this film. 3) Sin City is hopefully not a realistic depiction of any real world, anywhere.

The issue with Sin City is that it takes place in a a film noir world where everyone is some kind of criminal or has a serious dark side. Sadly, it is not a world where women are treated well, as much of the ladies in the film are prostitutes. The thing is that most of us believe that the world of Sin City exists in some form in the deep inner city, in neighborhoods that none of us would visit, even in the daytime.

Yes, this is the crime-ridden underworld that only comes out at night, but I would honestly hope that this doesn’t exist. The film and its graphic novel source material seem to be self-aware of the prejudices that this invokes, but it runs with them to a good end (for the most part). It seems natural to depict this world in black and white, because Sin City is a tribute to film noir, and I won’t go into detail as to what that is.

The film is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller is given a director’s credit as well. Miller is a comic book artist and writer who is best known for his work with Daredevil and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and I have been told that his comic panels were essentially used as the storyboards for this first film. There is also a credit for a “guest director” by Quentin Tarantino. I have no idea what that means, but the film certainly follows Tarantino’s weird method of chronology as exhibited in his magnum opus, Pulp Fiction.

The original Sin City film opens with Bruce Willis playing Hartigan, a detective who is on a kidnapping case. He gets shot while saving a little girl, and it takes a while for the story goes back to them. Actually, I just remembered that it actually starts out with Josh Hartnett (who was a rising star at the time) killing some girl, just so we get what kind of world we are in: black and white and red all over. Yes, the film is in black and white, but there are occasional shots of color.

The film also has three main stories, the first deals with Marv, played awesomely by Mickey Rourke. Marv has some kind of odd condition where his mind is very prone to anger, and his body is like a brick shipyard. When a prostitute that he sleeps with ends up dead, and he is framed for the murder, Marv goes full out for blood.

Yes, the story is a straight-up revenge story, and it gets very violent as Marv deals with a cannibal, a corrupt priest, and the politician who can sit on his ivory tower over it all.

Then the story turns to Dwight, who is played by Clive Owen, who has kind of become a discount Nicholas Cage. Dwight is involved in an altercation with someone who is a cop, and that cop ends up dead. In Sin City, the law is all corrupt, so if you kill a cop, they won’t just arrest you, they will kill you.

That is a strange brand of injustice, and here is another weird thing: the prostitutes in Sin City “Old-town” are the law there. The cops don’t go there because of that. I don’t know what kind of arrangement was made to facilitate that, and maybe I don’t want to know.

The Dwight storyline is pretty good, and then it goes back to Hartigan again. This time, the girl he has saved is all grown up, and she is being hunted down again by someone in yellow skin. It’s probably the best in the series, and it is a good one to end the film on.

The issue is that Sin City has a lot of violence and nudity, but this is one of those films that seems to know that the audience knows it isn’t real and plays on their romanticizing of the underworld. Think of it like you would feel about films about real terrorism versus a film like Die Hard. In other words, we all know that this gritty world of crime is just all smoke and mirrors, not to be taken too seriously. Sin City is one of those films that I believe that actually has a good message, that in spite of all these characters having questionable morality, they still have values that they are willing to die for, or kill for.

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterThis would be a good time to talk about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As much as I liked the original Sin City and was glad to revisit it, this was not a good trip. One of the things about Sin City that made it good was that all the stories were only somewhat connected, but I got the feeling that each one took place on the same night. The exception would be Hartigan, who has a time-jump of about 8 years.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For starts with Marv in an action scene, and I think that the reason why this scene is here it to undo certain plot elements of the original Sin City film. There is an issue of Marv and how reliable of a narrator is, and I don’t want to spoil it. This brings up the issue of whether or not a sequel for Sin City is needed.

I have heard from some critics that the sequel to Sin City only contains one adaptation of one of the comic book stories, and that is…bad. This isn’t saying that something like this couldn’t work, but it just isn’t a good sign.

One of the stories stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the son of Roark, who is a villainous politician in the Sin City universe. Gordon-Levitt’s character is a gambler who is way too lucky. Seriously, he puts one coin in a slot machine and wins, like every time. I understand that characters in Sin City often bend the rules of reality such as doing superhuman feats, but this is too much.

Then Gordon-Levitt goes up against his father on the card table, and there is this one shot. This shot has a miniature Gordon-Levitt on the card table as a giant Roark throw cards at him and slices him up. This shot is stylized, but it feels opposite of the style of Sin City. It comes off as just being silly, and never should have got past the first draft.

Then there is a story with Dwight, but they changed the actor to Josh Brolin. The story seems to take place before the events of the original Sin City movie, and they also had to change the actor who plays the villainous Manute, as the actor who originally played him, Michael Clarke-Duncan, passed away recently.

In this storyline, there is a woman in it who constantly appears nude. This feels…unneeded. Even with the style of Sin City, it just feels like too much.

The last story is with Jessica Alba, who takes her revenge after what happened to Hartigan. It also feels like too much.

This probably is a good description for the film in general: Too much. I found that the shots in the film looked really CG with swooping pans of the city, but they seem unnecessary.

The biggest disappointment of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is that I have no idea which story was adapted from the comic book source material, which shows how much of a departure and not an addition to the original that it is. It feels like this is a sequel made too late, and yet felt rushed.

I will have to say that you should watch the first Sin City and skip its sequel. Granted, the first film isn’t for everyone, but it is a terrfic homage to the noir fiction in general.