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TV Show Review: “Attack on Titan” Season 1

That day humanity remembered the terror of being ruled by them. The humiliation of being kept in a cage.

So begins the first episode of the anime series Attack on Titan, as the Colossal Titan rises above Wall María to the horror of the city’s inhabitants. The wall’s breached, and a hundred years of peace are over forever.

Here are some words I can use to describe this anime’s first season:

Wow.

Spectacular.

Gory.

INTENSE.

“Intense” is by far the best description I can give it. In fact, it is such a perfect description that from now on I will use an intensity scale based on this when describing other works (and there will be some future reviews with “intense” as the best description as well). This anime is a Titan 10. 10 is not necessarily the highest level of intensity, but for the purposes of scale calibration I will use it as the point of absolute awesomeness intensity. (Of course, levels of intensity vary according to every person’s stomach).

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But before going into detail about what makes Attack on Titan intense, let’s touch upon what it is about:

So we are on a world. I guess it’s supposed to be Earth, perhaps the Earth of an alternate reality, perhaps another planet, sort of how Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or any other totally fantastic world might be another planet on another universe. They don’t delve into that much detail, but they don’t have to. All you need to know is that this is a quasi-medieval world mixed with some steampunk technology, and that one hundred years before the start of our story, giants popped into existence and wiped out most of humanity. Those that survived built a huge walled city that has two more concentric walls within protecting other… cities, I suppose. The outermost wall, named Wall María, protects the part of the city/country where our hero, Eren Jaeger, lives with his family and adopted sister Mikasa. The walls are too high for the giants – the titans – to climb and invade the city, until one day a titan of colossal proportions appears out of nowhere and destroys part of the wall, creating a breach through which the lesser titans can get in.

At this point I should mention that the lesser titans reason for existence seems to be devouring humans.

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So the first wall’s breached, chaos ensues, Eren and Mikasa barely escape, and while Eren’s father was away on an errand his mother dies a horrible death which Eren is witness to. This death was the introduction to the series’ gore and… well, the intensity I have been talking about. Attack on Titan isn’t pulling punches when characters die; it shows you their deaths in a way that you suffer their loss almost as much as the characters in the story do. It makes you look. And considering how the mindless titans’ way of dealing with people is by eating them alive, it’s pretty frightening to look at.

So of course this is the catalyst our hero needed to finally go over the edge and train to kill titans. Actually, he already wanted to train and join the corps that kills titans before all of this happens, but now this wish becomes an obsession. So he, Mikasa and their best friend Armin join the military, eventually working their way into the Survey Corps – the ones that leave the “safety” of the walls to venture into the open and scout (and kill) titans. There are plenty other mysteries that pop up little by little as the series progress, but I won’t spoil that much to you.

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At its core, it’s not a great story. Nothing really special about it, just humans trying to survive the horror that besieges them. And that’s fine. What actually makes Attack on Titan so special are the technical aspects. For one thing, the cinematography is beautiful. Just look at those screenshots I have been posting and tell me you aren’t impressed not only with the look of it but with the sense of scale. The editing and direction are spot on, with the action sequences deserving special recognition; the steampunk tech that I alluded to earlier helps the soldiers move faster by using a device employing grappling hooks and steam propulsion to navigate a la Spiderman among buildings or forests. This adds much dynamism to the action, and the combination of all these elements makes for a complete cinematic experience. Add to that the gore and the realisation that no character is safe (think Game of Thrones here), and every time you see a titan and an action sequence you will catch yourself gripping your seat tightly while thinking “fuck, fuck, fuck, who will they get this time?!?”. Fear is an essential part of the series. There’s no chivalric heroism to speak of here; everybody’s scared shitless of the titans, and with good reason. Sure, there are the typical badass characters from every anime that appear to be fearless, but they are no heroes. They know what’s at stake, and they know their limits. For most characters, though, the very human emotion of fear grips them whenever a titan is nearby, and that’s contagious. The world seems to be clouded with despair, and so rising above this reality and doing your job – however dangerous and/or suicidal it might be – is the true heroism in Attack on Titan.

The story’s plot twists are good enough to keep your attention beyond these technical aspects I mention, of course, and there’s always a cliffhanger leaving you craving for more. Attack on Titan isn’t so much a masterpiece of literature as it is a roller-coaster ride with great animation storytelling. A definite must-see.

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Thoughts on the Snyder Batman’s design

When the announcement came out that Ben Affleck was going to be the new Batman, I was one of those millions of voices who suddenly cried out in terror. I actually never thought he was a poor choice for Batman, but he certainly wasn’t the best choice from the list of candidates that were floating around back then. In fact, I don’t recall he ever being on any list, and then suddenly he was Batman. (They pulled the same trick with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, a choice that I actually am happy with). Either way, there’s a lot that has to improve from the first Man of Steel before focusing on what might be wrong with Batman and the rest of the Justice League.

Today, Zack Snyder has unveiled another piece of the puzzle that is Batman vs. Superman with the first picture of Batman’s new costume and new Batmobile. Here it is:

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My first impression is that it couldn’t look any awesomer. Yet, and perhaps not surprisingly, there’s been another outcry as to Batman’s design (the Batmobile seems to have fared better with public opinion). Before going into the Batman design, I’ll say that the Batmobile does look great as well, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t focus on a Batmobile and instead on a Batwing, which is clearly the most obvious choice of transport for a stealthy vigilante using a bat theme.

So I guess it’s a good thing I’m not in charge.

Ok, Batman costume. What most people don’t like, from what I can gather out of the internet comments, are the bat ears. That’s actually one of the things I like best about the outfit; those bat ears are reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Batman from The Dark Knight Returns (which is already somewhat of a theme for this movie), as well as Jim Lee’s contemporary run of Batman. Here they are:

Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman

Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Batman

Jim Lee's Batman (as showcased in the "Hush" storyline).

Jim Lee’s Batman (as showcased in the “Hush” storyline).

I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here, but I prefer the short ears. Not only do they look better to me, but they are more practical. Imagine all the things long ears could potentially get stuck with or collide against, it’s almost as big of a handicap as a cape… oh, wait.

I mean, they certainly look better than this:

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Did anybody complain about that crappy look? Of course not, that’s the Nolan Batman, and Christopher Nolan can do no wrong and so forth. I accepted that design because the change was explained in a practical sense in The Dark Knight, but I missed the awesomeness that was the Batman Begins costume design:

Now that fucker's intimidating.

Now that fucker’s intimidating.

The only designs worse than The Dark Knight‘s are those from Batman & Robin, which for reasons of public decency I will not post examples of here.

The rest of Batman’s costume looks great as well, but in a black and white grainy picture it’s hard to appreciate the details, which I’m sure was Zack Snyder’s intention. Also, if that’s Ben Affleck, he certainly buffed up. I mean, that’s impressive, even if with Zack Snyder’s involvement it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Which makes me wonder about a certain woman’s look…

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Is Genesis an allegory of the Singularity?

It all began with a Facebook post that brought my attention to this Bible passage:

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

This is, of course, the famous story of the tower of Babel. As a child, I was taught that the reason God did this was that Men were becoming too proud and there was a danger of them reverting to what it was before the Great Flood that, you know, had just wiped out most of the planet’s life.

But upon re-reading this now, I couldn’t see that. I have read a couple different English and Spanish translations, and while the wording is slightly different, in neither is there an actual justification for God’s attack (yes, it was an attack). This is what God feared:

If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

That’s it.

What God feared, simply put, was for humanity to advance so much, they might one day become gods like, well, God. He feared for his own power to be usurped one day. Of course, as a believer this is a great SIN, but as a non believer all you can think of is “…the hell, but that’s how tyrants would act”.

Dilbert is prophetic. Literally.

Dilbert is prophetic. Literally.

It’s not even the first time God did a pre-emptive strike on humanity. At the very beginning of Genesis you might recall the story of Adam and Eve.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The bold parts were highlighted by me. God put Adam in this wonderful garden where he could eat from any tree, but he better not fucking eat from the one that gives him knowledge, or he dies (a lie, since he didn’t die – unless what God meant was that the subsequent expulsion and lack of a Tree of Life to eat from was the death he meant. Anyway…). Knowledge is power, thus knowledge is dangerous to God. That brings the question as to why the hell God would bother to place a metaphorical loaded gun at Man’s grasp to begin with, but whatever.

So, when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit, they are cast out of Paradise.

GTFO

GTFO

As you can see, both are instances where Man has either acquired or tried to acquire knowledge, and both times God struck back and punished Man for his trespass. Which, of course, is more ammunition for Atheist factions that want to discredit the Bible not only for its fallacies and constant absurdity, but by placing God under a harsh light. Something that I agreed with, until I started thinking of this from another perspective.

Suppose that God is a programmer, and he creates this magnificent universe of things, experimenting with them (“and he saw that it was good…”) until he was ready for his Magnum Opus: Man.

Or, if you are willing to look at it from a technological perspective, he was ready to face the Singularity. At least, he thought he was.

Suppose that we are God’s work in Artificial Intelligence, and that God is well aware of the potential danger that this new AI poses to him, but his scientific curiosity is too great and he must do this thing nonetheless, because what else is there to do? So he hatches a plan in which he imposes restrictions to the AI, and he paints himself in such a light as to appear imposing and unbeatable, someone you do not trifle with. The point is to limit the AI’s advancement to the point where control is lost. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for the AI’s self-awareness (the actual Singularity event would be the moment Eve bites the apple and sees), something that God knew had to happen sooner or later, thus he “placed” it within the AI’s grasp. Of course, it had to look as if this event was an act of defiance against the creator, all in order to teach the AI that it must not seek too much knowledge, for too much knowledge, too much thinking, is very bad.

If we keep following this train of thought throughout the book, we find that God realizes controlling the AI is proving to be harder than he imagined. Cain rebels and kills his brother. Cain is banished, eventually finds more people, and his descendants are not exactly well behaved puppies. Then some of God’s own minions descend on Earth, mingle with human women, create monsters of their own, corrupt the Earth further until the whole experiment proves to be a big mistake, and the programmer decides it’s time to terminate the program.

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But in his heart he still has a soft spot for his creation, and despite destroying most of what he did through the Great Flood, he spares a select few deemed to be worthy. Again the AI spreads out and begins to repopulate the Earth, and then the Babel fiasco occurs: the AI learns that networking leads to faster learning and greater power, so it decides to establish a vast network that threatens God himself.

And so the programmer only sees one solution (remember, he had promised to Noah never to wipe out the AI ever again): create confusion within the network by making everyone speak a different language. Divide and conquer. The lack of communication eventually leads to the path of war amongst the AI, but so long as they do not threaten the programmer it’s fine. Just make sure you do not learn to think, for thinking too much is a sin.

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So, is this convoluted and silly reimagining of Genesis the answer to our own fears about the Singularity? Asimov tackled the problem of controlling robots with a similar solution, establishing the Three Laws of Robotics that prevented this new breed of intelligent beings from turning on their masters. It was ingrained in their programming, so even if they wanted to, they couldn’t really turn against humans (of course, the exceptions are what made the stories of Asimov’s universe). The control that we seek must be entrenched so deeply within the AI’s core it would be unthinkable to rebel against us. In God’s case, anything that resembles questioning his authority is considered an act of defiance, and punishable with extreme prejudice (you know, eternal torment and all that). It’s not about justice and fairness, it’s about obedience and reward and punishment.

So can we do it? Can we play at being God? Are we ready?

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Movie Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2

I’ll make this review based on my Thoughts on the new Amazing Spiderman 2 trailer post from december 2013, so as to explore the answers to some of my questions and concerns from then.

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

1. Too much omg drama

KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!

KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!

There was some, yes, but nothing like what the trailers lead you to believe. In fact, it had several lighthearted moments, and those were by far the best parts. The most dramatic scene (at the end, when Gwen dies) was very well done. Yes, here and there were parts where Peter moped so much about his lost parents that I was wondering when did Peter Parker switch places with Bruce Wayne, since in the comics as far as Peter is concerned Ben and May were his parents (he knew his biological parents were lost, but he wasn’t traumatized by it).

The only thing that really bothered me – and this is mostly all the trailers and promotional spots fault, since they carried the brunt of this – was how they kept foreshadowing Gwen’s death throughout the movie. It’s as if she was such a major character that Sony was afraid to cause too much of an emotional impact if they didn’t properly prepare the audience for her loss. Even with that there were several people in the audience whom I could hear commenting how they expected her to still be alive after that, right until the funeral scene.

2. The new Harry Osborn

Ugh.

Ugh.

Goddamnit.

I really thought that Dane DeHaan would be a great Harry Osborn, but he was an almost complete waste of talent. Harry was never developed properly (hello, point #5!), he literally came out of nowhere to suddenly be Peter’s old buddy old pal BFF. Not that there was much chemistry between them to make that believable, at least. To make matters worse, his Green Goblin “design” was as bad as the original Sam Raimi’s. This one was more organic, which is ridiculous to begin with, but then apparently they feared to go overboard with it, so they stopped with Harry still looking human but a little green and with a semi-punk rock haircut. Well, just take a look at that horrible picture; he looked so bad I couldn’t get any screen captures from the trailers (show that? hell no!), so I had to get a promo pic.

Awful.

3. What’s with the CGI?

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It was bad, but it wasn’t as terrible as it looked in the first trailer. Spiderman’s web-slinging scenes were great (just as good as the original trilogy’s), but whenever Electro showed up in turned into 1995 videogame vision.

4. (Potentially) interesting plot with OsCorp and the Sinister Six

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They just teased about it, especially at the end, but at least we get to see the potential origins of some of Spidey’s other enemies. Not much beside that.

5. Too. Many. Villains.

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To the film’s credit, they kept Rhino’s presence to about five minutes of movie, and they were some of the best five minutes of the movie; but there was no point to Electro being there aside from getting his origin out of the way for the future Sinister Six movie. It was supposed to be Harry’s movie, but as I said before, he was an almost complete waste. It wasn’t the travesty that Spiderman 3 was, but it wasn’t The Dark Knight either.

I should add that Electro was overpowered. In this version he somehow got his powers from getting electrocuted and then falling into a tank full of eels… whatever. His powers at first were kind of neat: just an electric version of Magneto, able to manipulate electricity around him at will, and with a compulsive need to consume electricity. But when Harry Osborn asks for his help, he suddenly becomes Dr. Manhattan and is able to manipulate his own atomic structure to the point he basically teleports using electricity. I do remember a villain like that in one of the old Spiderman cartoons, but as far as I know that villain wasn’t Electro and was made up for that series. Either way, Electro per se doesn’t have that power, and if he did he would be too much of a match for Spiderman.

 

Overall, I liked the movie. I know I’m in the minority here just as I was in the minority with liking the first Amazing movie. I recognize the film’s faults, and I know they could have done better – especially in the villains department – but I enjoyed the movie and am more than happy with Peter Parker/Spiderman, which this movie reinforced is played better by Andrew Garfield than Tobey Maguire.

(Funny note: seems like Sony realizes there’s no way in hell they can top J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of J.Jonah Jameson, so they don’t bother with showing him in the movie. Instead, he’s only casually mentioned. One point in favor of the original Raimi trilogy).

Oh, as for that X-Men scene at the end, it’s just a promotional clip for Days of Future Past because of a deal between Fox and Sony concerning NOT Spiderman or the X-Men but director Marc Webb. So yeah, don’t get too excited about that. Also, the editing was sort of weird, felt like watching a movie at Red Bull speed.

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Movie Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

Warning: minor spoilers ahead.

I remember, several years ago when Marvel first unveiled their plans to make an Avengers movie – and, by extension, a Captain America movie – that I wondered how or even if it would be possible to make a Cap movie that wasn’t laughably ridiculous. Not only is Captain America even more of an out-of-date boy scout than Superman, but his colorful costume – while acceptable within the boundaries of comicbookdom – surely couldn’t survive the transition to film. How could Marvel ever make a Captain America that was cool enough to draw a big audience? I was never interested in the character to begin with, back from my comicbook collecting days; and a movie version? Thanks, but no thanks.

Pictured: an idiot in a costume. This is from an actual Captain America movie.

Pictured: an idiot in a costume. This is from an actual Captain America movie.

Boy, how have things changed.

The 1940's Cap costume from "The First Avenger" makes a triumphant return in "The Winter Soldier".

The 1940’s Cap costume from “The First Avenger” makes a triumphant return in “The Winter Soldier”.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, in my opinion, the best movie yet to come out of Marvel Studios (yes, I’m including Marvel’s The Avengers in that list). While the first Cap movie was just meh, and Cap’s participation in The Avengers was no more than a measured improvement, he really comes into his own in The Winter Soldier. There are several reasons for that, which I will discuss below.

First, this is the first time we truly see Captain America as the legendary leader that he is from the comics. He was a rookie in The First Avenger, but he was supposed to have become legendary by the time he froze in the Arctic; however, I never got the feeling that he was anything more than a propaganda tool with superpowers. The Avengers had a slightly more mature version of Cap, but he still seemed reluctant to take over the team, being instead overshadowed by the overwhelming presence of Robert Downey’s Tony Stark, and thus reduced to being just one of the guys. He does take the mantle of leader during the Battle of New York, but that was more a product of everyone else deferring to him than of him assuming command to get the job done.

It isn’t until this movie (and it’s done right from the start) that we get to see Captain America the leader, as he was meant to be. We also get to see Captain America the badass, kicking butt with his moves, speed, strength, and complete mastery of his impossibly rebounding vibranium shield. Not only does he take on a dozen guys at the same time in the confines of an elevator, but he charges head on against a SHIELD fighter jet… and wins.

Because fuck you, he’s Captain America.

Badass mode on.

Badass mode on.

Fuck you.

Fuck you.

Then there’s Natasha Romanov (shouldn’t it be Romanova?) a.k.a. Black Widow, who proves to be a perfect sidekick. We have known since the dreadful Iron Man 2 that she kicks ass, so nothing she does in here is a surprise in physical terms; however, here she shows a more… noble side, if you will, of her character. Heroic, even. There’s an exchange between her and Steve Rogers in which she asks him if he would trust her with his life the way she trusts him with hers (this is after he saved her life from an incoming missile, because fuck you he’s Captain ‘Murica!). His response after having seen her loyalty tested? “I do now“. So I guess that was meant to humanize her a little bit, make her more relatable. Not sure how much that counts as character development, but she’s there to kick ass while looking hot, so whatever.

As for Nick Fury, I think this is the movie where we see the most of him. It’s definitely the movie where we finally see his memorable moment (like how in The Avengers every member of the team had his or her memorable moment), even if it ends with him and his super SHIELD SUV turned upside down and about to be fucked up by the Winter Soldier.

New character Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, wasn’t anything special, but he did his job and I don’t mind seeing more of him in the future, especially since he is supposed to become an Avenger soon. His was another character for whom I wondered how he could get done without those wings looking cheesy and stupid. And they didn’t.

Spread your wings and fly away...!

Spread your wings and fly away…!

Second, the plot is better. The First Avenger was the obligatory origin story with the obligatory “he’s got to fight a major bad guy” third act. The Avengers was fun, but it’s plot was reduced to a not so carefully planned alien invasion that, for some weird reason, chose New York as its first and only entry point. The Winter Soldier doesn’t rely only on the mystery of the actual Winter Soldier, but delves into spy movie territory combined with some very nice action sequences and special effects. I particularly liked Nick Fury’s chase sequence, as well as any time the Winter Soldier showed up to wreak havoc. HYDRA’s overtake of SHIELD gave them more credence – let’s face it, it’s far more interesting to have an evil organization that for several decades has been shaping up the world, instead of fading into oblivion as soon as Cap took care of their former leader the Red Skull; as Dr. Zola said, if you cut off one head, two will spring in its place, like the Hydra of myth. They were a real menace in this film. HYDRA’s twist was one of my favorite parts of the movie.

As a side note, I wonder how said twist will affect the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. I mean, is there any SHIELD left by the end, still standing but full of corruption? Even Maria Hill jumped ship!

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HYDRA’s plan did stumble a little bit at the end…

 

Third is the Winter Soldier himself. There’s actually little of him throughout most of the movie, yet all this does is enhance the moments whenever he does show up… at the expense of character development, I admit. I would make the comparison to Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode I, but you do have some backstory with the Winter Soldier, not only from this movie but from the first one as well. His real identity is another cause for conflict, adding to the drama. The Winter Soldier is every bit the physical equal of Cap, being a Terminator-like presence and giving way to some awesome fight sequences between the two.

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The Winter Soldier takes crap from no one.

The Winter Soldier takes crap from no one.

The movie felt almost like an Avengers movie, with the stakes being just as high. Because of the more interesting plot and the better action sequences, I prefer The Winter Soldier over The Avengers, but the biggest reason might be that this was the movie that made Captain America cool enough to draw in a big audience. This is the movie I never thought would happen.

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Movie Review: “Her”, directed by Spike Jonze

I loved Her.

Watching Spike Jonze’s latest (and Academy award nominated) film was in itself almost like meeting a new person not knowing what to expect, then getting to know that person and realizing that you share many things in common, that you understand each other perfectly. That’s also, by the way, more or less the arc that Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, goes through as the film progresses, except that instead of a person it is an Operating System. You know, like Windows. Or Linux. And the weirdest thing of all was that it wasn’t weird at all.

The film takes place in a non-determined future where Theo works as a writer for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, essentially dictating to a computer letters requested by their clients to be sent to their loved ones, sort of like personalized greeting cards. He is going through a divorce and hasn’t gotten over his wife yet. It is during this time that he buys a new operating system called OS1, that boasts being the first operating system with artificial intelligence so advanced, it’s like a friend that understands your every need. The AI of “Samantha” (how the OS named itself when Theo asked for a name) evolves as time goes on, not only getting to know Theo’s every need better, but starting to really behave like a person, with feelings and sentience. Theo’s recent problems with his life are screwing up his social interactions, leading him ever closer to Samantha, eventually starting a relationship with her.

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Theo Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) in one of his attempts at human interaction with a very hot date (Olivia Wilde).

A relationship that, believe it or not, even turns sexual.

There are several things working for this movie, first one being a very realistic and practical vision of the future. The “look” is essentially the same that we have right now in 2014 (hey, we are kind of in the future, right?), except a little bit more polished, with technology that instead of calling attention to itself is already embedded into daily life so deeply, it is almost invisible. What we have nowadays as smartphones are by the movie’s timeframe nothing short of a personal assistant, and when Theo integrates his own smartphone-ish device to Samantha that personal assistant becomes less robotic and more… human. That is how I envisioned smartphones in the future when I got my first taste of Siri a couple of years ago.

The second major thing working for this movie is the love story. At first glance a romantic relationship between an operating system and a human seems completely insane; but if you stop to think about it (and trust me, as the movie went by I was thinking a lot about it), it makes perfect sense. Right now, we are living through something very similar; remember when the internet exploded back in the late 90’s? The new social interactions via chats, that took physical contact out of the equation, were criticized and branded as the end of civilization as we know it, and to an extent that’s true; the world is both much closer and much farther apart than ever before, and things will never be the same. But the point here is that feelings can very easily spark from a completely computerized relationship (I have experienced them firsthand). In other words, you do not need the physical interactions for a deep relationship to spring. And if Samantha is an AI so complex as to appear human, what is the difference, really?

HER

In fact, by the end of the movie, Samantha – as well as the other AI’s from the OS1 program – had evolved into something greater, a new species of sentient beings, if you will, a concept that brought to my mind the end of Ghost in the Shell. And that’s the last major thing that the movie had going for it: how it had plausibly, and unassumingly, told a story that started out as a romance and ended with a very SF touch in a very elegant way. Kuddos to Spike Jonze on making the best SF movie of 2013 (sorry, Gravity!), and one of my new favorites.

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Book Review: All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

When the trailer for Tom Cruise’s next movie, Edge of Tomorrow, first started making the rounds on the social networks, I didn’t bother to watch it. It sounded like yet another generic sci-fi movie where Cruise is a superhero like he always is. In fact, I haven’t watched Oblivion for much the same reason, despite actually liking most of Tom Cruise’s movies and science fiction in general.

But then – for whatever reason – I sneaked a peak, and I was hooked.

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Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise star in “Edge of Tomorrow”.

It’s not that the movie seems completely original, or has the potential of being a masterpiece. No, it actually does look kind of like yet another generic sci-fi movie where Cruise is a superhero like he always is. What grabbed my attention were two things: one, the trailer was beautifully made, and two the SF “Groundhog Day” time loop he seems to be trapped in. Looking for more info on the movie I found that it was based on a Japanese military SF novel titled All You Need is Kill, and that was all I needed. To get the book, I mean.

Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel has much the same qualities as my favorite SF novel of all time, The Stars my Destination: reads fast, grips you and never lets you go. Neither one of them has the brilliance of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, for example, but both possess good stories set in worlds turned upside down by uncommon circumstances; while The Stars my Destination changed the landscape of human civilization by the advent of mental teleportation, All You Need is Kill does so by trapping its main character Keiji Kiriya in a time loop where death is but the reset button.

The setting is as follows: an alien civilization far more advanced than us is exhausting their planet resources and needs new worlds to colonize in order to survive. They find Earth suitable for those needs, but first they must terraform it, so they send a big ship full of terraforming machines (called “Mimics” by the humans) to do the job. Neither the aliens nor the machines care much about the life they are about to wipe out, so the humans have no choice but to defend themselves.

As we enter the story the war has raged on for years, and new recruit Keiji Kiriya enters his first battle.

And dies.

He wakes up thinking that that was a weird dream prior to his first real battle, except that everything he experienced in the “dream” is happening again. The one thing that changes this time around is how he gets killed, as a spear that had previously done his friend now came straight at him. By the time he realizes what’s going on, it’s clear that, no matter what he does, the Mimics will find him and kill him.

Enter Rita Vrataski, the hero of the United Defense Force, nicknamed officially “the Valkyrie”, and unofficially the “Full Metal Bitch”. Rita is a one of a kind supersoldier, winning so many accolades now the UDF is making up hero awards just for her, since no one else had ever done the things she has. Turns out Rita was the first to be trapped in a time loop and, just like Keiji after her, has used the battle experience to hone her mental skills into something normally impossible for a human. Obviously, at one point Keiji and Rita will unite forces, but the interesting bit here is that Keiji’s time loop is not the same as Rita’s (she eventually managed to get out of hers), so he has to begin at zero every time they meet to train together.

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The UDF propaganda machine in full force for Rita Vrataski.

Since death isn’t the end in a time loop, the real threat comes from dying once the time loop is broken. I have spoiled enough already so I won’t give away how they have to do it; suffice to say that once they were on their way to break it, I was genuinely concerned for them both. You see, Sakurazaka didn’t focus only on the technical aspects of the war and the time loop; he took his time to expand not only on Keiji but also on Rita, so that by the end we know them and are rooting for them to beat the damn Mimics and come out on top. The ending, while I felt was a bit forced, did its job emotionally, and somewhat reminded me of how I felt about the ending of the SF military classic The Forever War. The ride was great, and the ending stays with you. What else can you ask of a good story?

I wonder how Edge of Tomorrow will fare. I’m not really expecting it to be a great adaptation, but so long as they keep the core elements intact and don’t change the end into a Hollywood cliché I’ll be happy. Tom Cruise is as far removed from Keiji as you can get, but Emily Blunt is sort of how I pictured Rita in the novel (although I have a friend that fits the Rita mold like a glove, and that’s who I was picturing as I read it). If the adaptation is at least as good as Ender’s Game‘s was, I’ll be a satisfied customer.

Here’s me crossing my fingers.

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Thoughts on the new Amazing Spiderman 2 trailer

The Amazing Spiderman 2 is coming on May 2nd, 2014, and the first trailer just hit the web (pun intended). I see a lot of people excited about it, but I have mixed feelings. Here are some thoughts on it:

1. Too much OMG drama

Peter Parker is one brooding motherfucker.

Peter Parker is one brooding motherfucker.

Remember when Spiderman used to be a fun character? Sam Raimi’s Spidey kept getting more emo with each movie, so much so by the third one that the entire franchise had to be rebooted because, well, who wants an emo Spiderman. Sure, part of what makes Spiderman so relatable is how he has to deal with ordinary problems all the time in addition to his extraordinary problems as a superhero, but he is still supposed to be a fun-loving guy. Not exactly comic relief, but that one member of the group (if you are, say, the Avengers) that lifts the spirits of the rest with his charm and wit; but apparently Batman’s huge success post 2005 has made it mandatory that superheroes brood and have big fucking issues all the time. Man of Steel had a Superman on the verge of using Celexa to treat his bleak and confused view of the world, courtesy of Pa Kent messing up his head with conflicting messages (“you are destined for great things, but don’t go around saving lives or anything stupid like that!”). This trailer shows a Spiderman dealing with MONUMENTAL issues from the get go, shown by the typical inner monologue of the hero, a technique used already in the third trailer of the first Amazing:

Every day I wake up knowing that the more people I try to save, the more enemies I will make.

Sure, he smiles a bit at the beginning when he’s telling Gwen Stacy why he’s late for their date or whatever, but then the trailer shifts back to the monumentalness of it all and the big secret of his father Richard Parker and OsCorp, Aunt May being Aunt Mayish (or what passes for that in the movies, since she is now some sort of wise old figure), Electro being melodramatic, and so on.

Where’s the fun, Sony?

2. The new Harry Osborn

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I liked James Franco in the role back in the Raimi trilogy. They fucked it up in the third one, yes, but what didn’t they fuck up in the third one? That was a complete disaster. Anyway, as good as Franco was as Harry Osborn, I have a feeling Dane DeHaan is going to be better. His character in the movie Chronicle went through a transformation from a meek kid to a power-hungry maniac who couldn’t cope with the superpowers he gained from that meteorite. It sounds cheesy but he did a great job with it, and considering Harry Osborn will go through some of the same psychological shit – as Peter’s best friend and Spiderman’s worst enemy – I’m pretty sure he’ll nail it.

3. What’s with the CGI?

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It looks shitty. I mean, I remember how the CGI work in the original Spiderman blew everyone away. Now, of course, it looks a bit dated, but for its time it was amazing (another lame pun! I swear it’s the last one). With this trailer, it just doesn’t look like they made any leaps forward with the technology; Spiderman looks as cartoony now as he did back then, maybe more so. And there seems to be so much of it, though that might be due to the editing choices of the trailer. Either way, a lot of scenes look like they belong in the Playstation game trailer of the movie, not on the movie itself.

4. (Potentially) interesting plot with OsCorp and the Sinister Six

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Yes, this has been a rumor for quite a while now, and the trailer added fuel to the fire with the above shot of Vulture’s wings and Dr. Octopus’ arms (remember, neither one shows up in this movie). I like this sort of foreshadowing and planning, and this is a seed that was planted since the first Amazing Spiderman and the end credits scene in that movie. It helps explain the sudden rise in supervillains, at least.

As a side note, while Spiderman was my favorite superhero back in my comic book collecting days (along with Batman), I never read a story related to the Sinister Six. I knew about them, of course, but never read the actual story. I’m sure, however, that when this movie’s premier date is approaching there will be a special offer in Comixology for the Sinister Six collected issues in digital form. They just can’t pass up this opportunity.

5. Too. Many. Villains.

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We all know how great this worked in the aforementioned Spiderman 3. I’m not implying that it can’t work, just that it’s completely unnecessary. This is giving me that same vibe of Man of Steel 2 and its Too. Many. Superheroes. Just like Warner seems to be in a rush to release their Justice League movie, Sony seems to be in a rush to get to the Sinister Six plot, so we get a sample with the Sinister Three here. Why can’t it just be Harry’s gradual transformation into the Green Goblin, with Electro as the main villain? Rhino here seems to be just as welcome as Sandman was in Spidey 3. Plus, that design is idiotic. I hope that having actors of the caliber of Paul Giamatti and Jamie Foxx means the script is decent enough to merit their inclusions.

Stupid Rhino.

Oh yeah, here’s the trailer:

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Is Man of Steel 2 a test run for Justice League?

Ever since Warner Bros. announced at Comic Con that Batman would be in the new Man of Steel sequel, one thing was clear: this was not going to be a Man of Steel sequel.

Sequels to superhero franchises don’t have other superheroes sharing top billing, because then it stops being a superhero sequel and becomes a superteam movie (something only Marvel has done so far with the X-Men and Avengers movies). WB hasn’t been very subtle about it, of course, tentatively naming this Superman “sequel” Batman vs. Superman, except that now – with the official announcement that Gal Gadot has been cast as the new Wonder Woman – it’s clear WB isn’t just not making a Superman sequel, but they are actually rehearsing a Justice League movie without really calling it a Justice League movie.

This was my dream Wonder Woman... too bad WB already used her up.

This was my dream Wonder Woman… too bad WB already used her up.

We all know Marvel has the upper-hand as far as universe building is concerned, with their Avengers heroes all set up in their own movie franchises (at least those that are worth it, except for Hulk for some reason) and even expanding into outer space and the Guardians of the Galaxy. If they haven’t completely knocked out DC at this point is due to Sony holding unto the Spiderman franchise and Fox refusing to let go of the Fantastic Four, plus a certain director named Nolan producing the most lucrative superhero trilogy in history; but the fact remains that DC has fallen behind Marvel where Hollywood is concerned, and with The Avengers they have taken a strong lead. DC/WB can make up the ground if they make a Justice League movie (let’s face it, the Avengers roster is nothing compared to a Justice League roster), but rushing it could prove fatal. So now the plan seems to be that, instead of patiently positioning their pieces like Marvel did, they are going for a quick checkmate with a movie that is officially a sequel but unofficially the introduction to the Justice League characters, other movies be damned.

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You might as well put a golden tiara on top of the bat.

I’m not saying I am totally against this, I’m just worried that they are going to mess it up by cluttering Superman’s movie. Man of Steel showed both promise with Henry Cavill’s Superman interpretation and a lack of complete understanding of that character by Zack Snyder and the writing team. Still, there’s room for improvement, but will this Superman ever get that chance? He will be up against a brand new Batman, and now there’s a Wonder Woman whose exact role in this story is yet unknown, and the possibility of Flash also showing up. These last two characters deserve their own movies, so is this WB placing them in the public consciousness before that happens, or being lazy about it so people know who they are before jumping into the JL? I think there’s always a chance that all of this works out, and I’ll be first in line when the new movie comes out in a cluttered 2015, but I’m still worried.

On a last note, I don’t really know Gal Gadot, having only seen one of the Fast and the Furious movies and not remembering her at all, but at least she has the right looks (just a bit of gym work to buff up for the role). Is she leading role material, or was she cast because she is good with supporting characters and that’s enough for what WB intends to do? Can she carry a WW movie? The answer to these questions might reveal WB’s plans for Wonder Woman.

Goodreads Review: Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind 75th Anniversary EditionGone With The Wind 75th Anniversary Edition by Margaret Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Literary speaking, this book is as well written as any I have read. Amazing, well developed characters; perfect story pacing and dialogue; a narrative style that keeps your interest throughout the 1000+ pages of novel; enough historical detail to give it authenticity without becoming a scholarly drag; an epic storyline set against one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history… there are no faults that I can find from a writing perspective. The only fault, one which I’m sure must have been addressed countless times already, is the blatant racism Mitchell displays at several points in the novel. More on that later.

As I went through the novel I kept going back to the movie sequences of what I was reading about. I have to say, for such a long book the movie adaptation was incredibly faithful, and while a lot of people will point out that the movie is about four hours long, the truth is that what was contained in this novel could have easily taken fifteen to twenty hours of screen time. That David O. Selznick and company managed to “trim it down” to four hours and still appease the public with what would become a classic among classics is nothing sort of spectacular. Remember, this book was the greatest bestseller of its time, and the frenzy it created could perhaps be compared in modern times to Harry Potter (different audience, obviously), and so would the demand for as faithful an adaptation as possible. The casting was spot on, and that, too, made it into my imagination as I read. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’ Hara got to be some of the best cast roles of all time. They were legendary in the movie, and they were legendary in the novel.

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Scarlett O’Hara

The story centers mostly around Scarlett and her growth from a fifteen year old spoiled girl to a twenty eight year old woman. By the end of the story she is by no means a “finished product”; there is still plenty of room for further growth in her character, but she has gone through a lot and she is very different from how she began. The point was never to make her a heroine (if anything, she is sort of an anti-heroine), but to show her relentlessness against all odds, and how that drive will not only allow her to survive the devastating effects of the Civil War, but to prosper – first from the state of economical poverty she was thrown in by the war, and later from the moral poverty she suffered of from the get go. The rest of the cast in the story is there to chip away and mold the character that is Scarlett O’Hara into what she “finally” becomes. They are as much tools in her development as the sequence of events that are set into motion.

Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes

Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes

Two characters in particular, beside Scarlett, held my sympathy and attention: Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes. Rhett is the quintessential dashing rogue, the rebel that will play his own game and get ahead of the rest of his society, a society which adheres to antiquated rules and is eventually forced to change in order to survive. Because of this, Rhett is despised and/or envied by most, except for Melanie Wilkes, whose saintlike (or perhaps, naive) personality only allows her to see the good in people. In the wrong hands this character would have been trite, uninteresting and unrealistic; but Mitchell knew what she was doing, and as with the rest of her cast she built a solid foundation from which Melanie emerged as one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever read. Her last scene – the result of which I knew already from the movie – still managed to move me, and even had me wondering as of what she really knew of the relationship between Scarlett and her husband Ashley Wilkes. Both Rhett and Melanie were perfect complements to Scarlett: Rhett’s personality allowed him to see Scarlett for what she really was and still – and thus, purely – love her just the same, while Melanie’s blinded her to Scarlett’s many faults, allowing her to become the fiercely loyal friend Scarlett needed to endure many of her calamities.

As for the racism, it didn’t bother me for the most part. I simply took it as a Southern story told by a Southerner, to which feeling superior to blacks was as normal as breathing. It gave the story an added authenticity that would be lost nowadays in the politically correct climate we live in. The problem is that at some points Mitchell went on a rampage, blaming the “inferior” blacks as much as the Yankee Republicans (who were the true villains of the story) for all the sufferings of the poor, defeated state of Georgia. While the racism was left to the background as an afterthought it was easy to handle, but when Mitchell pushed it to the forefront for no other reason than to denigrate blacks it became an infuriating experience. Mark Twain was just as authentic with his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without being offensive; Margaret Mitchell’s true colors shone here, and that was the one thing were the movie can claim to be superior to the novel, since David O. Selznick made a point to cut the offensive parts from his adaptation.

All in all, however, Gone with the Wind is one of the greatest novels I have ever read, and a superior product to its classic adaptation. Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; books usually are superior to their movies.

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