Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bruce Lee, Wise Man of Kung Fu by Beth Kelly: Guest Blog

Happy Turkey Day! It's also Bruce Lee's birthday! So, in honor of this, I have a guest blogger today! Asian Film Fan, blogger, and ESL teacher Beth Kelly is going to tell us all about Bruce Lee's impact...outside of his fists! Beth Kelly deserves all credit. I didn't write this!


A Look Back at Bruce Lee, Wise Man of Kung Fu

The only thing faster than Bruce Lee’s fist was his influence. He was a slight man at 5-foot-7-inches and 135 pounds with a childlike bowl haircut. Yet he would marry Chinese nationalism with Hollywood effects with grand effect, looming large in films such as Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon. The latter of which will be airing on November 27th in honor of what would have been Lee’s 74th birthday on the El Rey Network as part of their Thanksgiving “Way of the Turkey” marathon that will also celebrate Lee’s legacy (the channel is available through some providers like DirecTV).

Lee Jun-Fan was born November 27, 1940 at the Jackson Street Hospital in Chinatown, San Francisco, not more than an hour’s walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. The supervising physician, Dr. Mary Glover, asked to christen the boy with an English name. Bruce, she suggested. Agreed, said Mrs. Grace Lee.

Three months later, the family returned to Hong Kong. Little did they know that 18 years later, fearing repercussion from a Triad gang member whose son Bruce had bloodied in a fistfight, they would mail him back to America in a third-class ship bunk.

Young Bruce had the nickname “Mo Si Tung,” meaning never sits still. He was a hot headed youth. His status as a child film star and member of the privileged Ho-Tung clan guaranteed him some social immunity. He was privately taught by Wing Chen grandmaster Yip Man. He became a Hong Kong cha-cha dance champion. In short, he was on the fast track.

That ended when Bruce arrived in America with $100, a pair of glasses, and the plan to become a dentist. After flitting between jobs, siblings and cities, he landed as a drama student at the University of Washington in Seattle. There, Lee opened his first martial arts school, the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. A few years later in 1963, Lee would publish, Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense, explaining the Taoist philosophy upon which he would later base his martial discipline, Jeet Kune Do, meaning Way of the Intercepting Fist.

In 1964, Bruce married Linda Emery, dropped out of college, moved to Oakland, California, and was invited to the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships. He demonstrated the two-finger push-up and the one-inch punch, landing a solid hit on volunteer Bob Baker, who later said, “I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable.”

First exposed to Hollywood via the Karate Championships, Lee snagged his first role as Kato, sidekick of The Green Hornet. After a few years as a support actor, Lee returned to Hong Kong and obtained his first leading role in The Big Boss. All of Asia fell in love with Cheng, the furious factory worker fighting against Hsiao Mi, boss of a narcotics smuggling operation. The release became the highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong.

That is, until Bruce Lee’s next film: Fists of Fury (also released as The Iron Hand and The Chinese Connection) which showcased Lee as a martial artist retaliating against Japanese racism in Shanghai. Ever since Asians first came to America as exploited laborers on the transcontinental railroad, male Asian-Americans were often pigeonholed as stolid, nerdish and watered-down. All that changed with Lee’s bared teeth and flying sidekicks.

For Way of the Dragon, Lee’s third major film, he was writer, director, actor and choreographer of all fight scenes. The story pitted Chinese restaurant owners in Rome against the local mafia, starring Lee as the underdog martial artist, Tang Lung. It was also the big break for Chuck Norris.

Lee’s fourth film, Game of Death, was never finished. He halted production to star in Warner Bros. Enter the Dragon as a shaolin martial artist working undercover on behalf of British Intelligence to expose a narcotics trafficking operation. The movie smashed records. It launched a Kung Fu craze in the 1970s, spawned the film career of Jackie Chan, and cemented Bruce Lee as an all-time great.

Bruce never witnessed the film’s release. On July 20, 1973, he took the painkiller Equagesic for a headache. After dinner, he napped and never woke up. He would have turned 75 in 2014.


Beth Kelly is a blogger and film fanatic based in Chicago, IL. Working previously as an English teacher in South Korea and Poland, she's now back in the Midwest and feeling better than ever. Follow her woefully neglected Twitter account at @bkelly_88.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United (2014)


                                           Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United (2014):

Captain America: “That’s your problem, Stark. You never strategize.” 

Iron Man: “It’s called thinking on your feet. Or in my case…boot jets!”

You were expecting Guardians of the Galaxy? No, not so soon. This is another CGI adventure in the vein of last year’s Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United. I have two major problems with this movie. 1. There’s some slight mind control, and 2. The “Waking Life” -like CGI makes the characters’ mouths move funny. That said, it’s at least a good intro for Taskmaster. But, I still feel a little deceived by the title. A little.

You see, the movie sort of tricked me into thinking it would be mostly Cap and Iron Man. But, Taskmaster and Red Skull also feature in it. And that’s fine. Dr. Kruler was also in last year’s Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United. As was Abomination. But, then, even in this movie…I mean, not to ruin it, but you’ve got some Hulk in here, too. There’s just way too 1-on-1 action for job that could’ve been handled easily by the two heroes. Taskmaster is there to fight Cap and Iron Man…while Hulk has an army to take care of!

There is some brief fighting between Cap and Iron Man, but it’s a spar. Plus, the capture and Hawkeying of Cap seems a little too familiar at this point. Give me something other than brainwashing. Although they pull it off nicely. The lesson lays itself on a little thick. Throwing in Hulk doesn’t exactly help the balance of the lesson either. If each hero is to learn something from another…then brainwashing one hero and completely throwing in another seems to defeat that purpose.

I know there’s a twist, but it didn’t need to be made. Iron Man still rubs off a little bit on Cap and vice versa. But, essentially this is no different from  Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, maybe even with worse CGI. And it’s all kind of wrapped safely within the plot devices of 2012’s The Avengers. Still, it was an ambitious-looking movie, introducing Taskmaster and showing off Cap’s combat skills. But, if you want that, watch The Winter Soldier.

In my opinion, the more I think about this movie, the more I don’t like it. But, at least it’s only 70 minutes. Maybe it’s just a little too ambitious. I liked the voice acting, but most of the movie is just a retread, with stiff mouth movements and unnecessary Hulking out. If they’re going to call it anything, it should be called Iron Man, Hulk, & Captain America: Heroes United. I want to say it could’ve been good…but it’s too much and too sloppy for a 70-minute 3D feature. I’d give it 2/5 stars. And one Hulk for some reason.  
 




Saturday, August 2, 2014

CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS (1993 ARCADE) ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW:





CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS (1993 ARCADE) ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW:


MESS O.: “HEY CREEP! GET AWAY FROM THAT DINO!”

VICE T.: “GET LOST OR LOSE TEETH! YOUR CARCASS WILL FATTEN UP THIS 
ROCK HOPPER BEFORE I SKIN IT!”

- Stage 1 Boss “Vice T.” Dialogue 

    Today, I played the most 90s thing I have ever seen. Why haven’t I ever seen this before!? Listen to this:  It’s a Final Fight ripoff based on a comic that became a Saturday morning cartoon. That is gnarly, dude! It’s about guys from an apocalyptic 2153 fighting dinosaur hunters the best way possible. By beating them up! And sometimes even their dinosaurs, because those are obviously bad dinos. The ones you are saving are good. Since 90s nostalgia is cool, and it’s the most recent thing I’ve played, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with this radical game.

Apparently, the game supports up to four players: Jack, (Your Cody Clone!) Hannah, (Obligatory female in orange suit.) Mustapha,( Tough Black Guy!) and Mess O., (Your Haggar Clone!) Now, it’s pretty much your standard beat-‘em-up sidescroller with scifi tough guys, fat guys, and people with whips (And dinos, of course!) to beat up as you find food and power-ups in conveniently-placed oil drums and containers. But, it’s main gimmick seems to be that this game has more guns than The Punisher arcade game. There are a lot. All over the place.

Unlike most beat-em-ups, you see, it uses an ammo system. Most beat-em-ups have you throw away your gun after a few uses, like a ranged weapon with 3 uses. (The Punisher, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, etc.) Not in this game! You can pick up ammo, and blast punks with your shotguns, or triceratopses with your uzis, ‘til you can’t reload. This is the first beat-em-up I’ve seen with such a reload system, and it is awesome.

By the way, on the flipside of awesome cheese, all 90s arcade beat-em-ups had frighteningly cheesy and potentially traumatic game over screens to get you to fork over another quarter. In this one, Vice T. shoots you in the face when the counter reaches 0, and says “ EAT LEAD -- BABY!” Terrifying cheesiness. But, in this emulation, simply pressing a button inserts a coin, thank goodness. So we can be spared the potential trauma of hearing: “EAT LEAD -- BABY!” in our nightmares!

I love the cheesiness. I love that the mission doesn’t make sense. Save good dinos, kill bad ones. Sure! And I love that everything is solved with a one-liner and a punch. I even love the bad dialogue. (Jack’s victory phrase is “You can’t touch this!”) Anyway, I did have a couple accessibility issues. Since this was an emulation, I couldn’t figure out how to do special attacks. I pressed all the buttons. But, since there was no instructions on how the emulation translates arcade buttons, I still haven’t figured it all out, but have done most the guesswork myself. Thankfully, beat-em-ups  are pretty straightforward and accessible. Just punch and move forward.

Before anyone asks…I haven’t read the comics, or seen the cartoon (Yet!) But, I thought the game was mind-blowingly RADICAL. If you want to revisit the 90s, or just have fun beating up bad guys with the power of one-liners and 90s catchphrases, this game is for you. Guns and dinosaurs! What more do you want? Check it out!




FINAL GRADE: A

ACCESSIBILITY GRADE: A-  (Straight-forward beat-em-up with minimal tricky controls. Punch and move forward if all else fails.)

FORGIVENESS FACTOR: A+ (Unlimited continues if you‘re playing an emulation!)

CONTROLS: A (Pretty straightforward for a beat-em-up. But, some guesswork. Figure out how to punch, and you‘re good to beat up punks and evil dinos! Rock on!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Star Trek Continues Episode 3 “Fairest of Them All” Review:

Star Trek Continues Episode 3 “Fairest of Them All” Review:




“Space…the final conquest.”

 -  Evil Kirk’s intro.

      I enjoyed Star Trek Continues third episode “Fairest of Them All”. First, I liked that it was set directly after “Mirror, Mirror” in Star Trek TOS. It even begins with Good Kirk’s iconic speech to Mirror Spock about the illogic of tyranny. I like that the episode is set in The Mirror Universe, and I love Vic Mignogna as Good Kirk/Evil Kirk! (He’s just a great Captain Kirk!) But, that’s where I think the episode loses focus. I think the focus should’ve been on Evil Kirk’s command, and perhaps Spock’s sacrifice in the name of logic/democracy.

Rather than this, Evil Kirk (Who is every bit the great commander Captain Kirk is, only evil.) is thwarted at every turn during Spock’s realization that empire can’t endure. Firstly, I call bologna on that! Even if Spock believed in democracy, there’s no way he could’ve assimilated all of Good Kirk’s philosophy in that one speech, beyond: “In every revolution there is one man with a vision.” Even for Star Trek, I feel that Spock’s stubborn insistence on Good Kirk’s logic disregards his friendship with long friendship with Kirk, and comes across as heavy-handed. Evil Kirk even  says as much, though through different, more passionate words: Spock’s willing to throw everything away on the words of a stranger, and in the end will probably be hunted down.

Now, the real fun comes from watching Vic Mignogna as Evil Kirk, in my view. Spock’s refusal to follow him, and his eventual mutiny sends him into MADNESS. Kirk loves his ship, and he’s not about to let anyone take it from him, or disobey his imperial orders. I love whenever he flips out on his crew. There’s a real human element to Evil Kirk, with as much passion for command as his counterpart.  Beyond this, he feels betrayed by his friend. Yes, maybe the empire is evil, but it is human! He still doesn’t want to lose his friend, but almost kills him in a rage.

Another thing I didn’t like about the episode (Although it looked great!) was how many people joined Spock’s cause just after hearing about it! The empire is still in power, and one crew isn’t likely to make a difference. One man, yes! As Good Kirk says. It might’ve been more effective had Spock made a sacrifice to get them to think about democracy. But, what is one ship to the empire? It likely won’t end well. I would’ve liked to see a couple scenes worked differently so that Spock makes a sacrifice in the name of democracy, rather than a black and white “Good always wins, Evil always loses.” characterization.

Okay, but even if you want to say “That’s how they would’ve done it in the ‘60s.” there’s still one more scene that really bothered me, and that I thought was against the spirit of Star Trek. In this Mirror Universe, counselor MeKennah is seen in bed with Sulu, covered by a sheet. In TOS, all romantic interludes were “signified” by cutaway. I don’t think they ever would’ve allowed partial nudity from women. Not only that but I felt it didn’t really tell me a lot about Mirror McKennah, and I was looking forward to seeing her character be evil. But, here she’s just being cute. McKennah is worth more than that, and I feel the whole scene was just a distraction from the spirit of Star Trek: The Original Series.

So, I guess it all comes down to no one in this Mirror Universe was evil. In fact, the only one who tried to be Evil, in a Mirror Universe built on Evil, was Mirror Kirk, who was betrayed and thwarted by his best friend at every possible turn. Remember, Trekkies, Mirror Kirk’s only experience with the Good Universe was being arrested by Spock. He has no idea what this crazy “Good Captain” could’ve said to Spock to make him mutiny. And he certainly didn’t experience kindness. All he knew was that the counterparts took away his power, and now they’ve gotten to his best friend.

Star Trek TOS had investigated the redeeming qualities of evil before, as well as mankind’s dual nature. Think “Space Seed”, think “The Enemy Within”! Even "Obsession"! While I loved the look of this episode, and I will always love Vic Mignogna for bringing back Kirk and crew, this episode deserved more than the black and white “Good guys win, bad guys lose” approach it received. But, there is a brilliantly captivating portrayal of Evil Captain Kirk’s descent into madness by Vic Mignogna! Overall, I give the episode 3/5 stars!

You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJf2ovQtI6w


Thursday, June 5, 2014

THE CAT RETURNS (2002) REVIEW:




THE CAT RETURNS (2002) REVIEW:

 “If you find yourself troubled by something mysterious or a problem that's had to solve, there's a place you can go where you always find help. You just need to look for it.”

- The Baron

What if I told you that Anne Hathaway was actually a catgirl before she became Catwoman? In The Cat Returns, Hathaway plays a schoolgirl named Haru, who is whisked away to The Cat Kingdom after she saves a cat who is actually The Cat Prince. Stan Girl gets lost in magical king while she’s in the Cat Kingdom, she finds out she’s becoming a cat, and is set to marry The Cat Prince!

There’s sort of a Standard Studio Ghibli plot. Girl gets lost in magical kingdom then reclaims her identity (Like Spirited Away, with cats!), and comes back to the real world. I have to say though, it’s beautiful, and the human-like cats make me laugh! I dunno, maybe I just like to laugh at really fat cats. Either way, it is magical, and a beauty to behold!

You see, like most Studio Ghibli films, the character designs and animation are where this film really shines. She is guided to the Cat Kingdom by a charming top-hatted cat from The Cat Bureau, The Baron (AKA: Baron Humpert von Gikkingen, played by Cary Elwes.) A statuette of a raven by the name of Toto also assists  her, as well as a fat cat Muta. All the cats start walking in the cat world. But, as soon as she enters the cat world, the fat, mustachioed Cat King seems determined to marry her to The Prince. Let the cat chase begin!

In addition to being a wild cat chase, Haru has to escape from The Cat King and stop transforming into a cat. So, it’s kind of like Kafka mixed with LOLcats, visually inspired by Alice in Wonderland! It’s great fun, has fantastic designs, and even swordfights! Talk about adventure! All to stop being chased by cats! And just when she thought she was having fun!

There’s a good lesson here. Sometimes imagination is good, but if it runs wild, it can become scary! What starts off as a playful romp through the Cat Kingdom twists into Haru almost becoming a cat! But, as The Baron says, you can always ask for help! A fun movie, with plenty of surprises and enough eye candy to satisfy even the grumpiest of cats! (Or people!) If you have time, and like fantasy and anime, definitely give this one a watch!

 Anyway, I’ll give it 4/5, but maybe I’m just really soft on Studio Ghibli! They have a way of infusing even the characters mundane life with such life and detail, that I was drawn in immediately! Of course, Haru’s mundane school life serves to highlight the strangeness of seeing walking-talking cats! And puts you in her shoes, confused amid a fantastical world full of cat-astrophe! Okay, I couldn’t resist! Great comedy, good story, great animation… it’s nearly purrfect! (Last cat joke, I promise!) Highly recommended!





Monday, June 2, 2014

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) Review:

                                


X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) Review:


                                                              (Colossus vs. a sentinel!)                                                

(The sentinels!)

Future Professor X: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn't mean they can't be saved.”  

   So, as a fan of Professor X, I have to talk about X-men: Days of Future Past. There are even two Professor Xs in this one. Specifically, I liked the dystopian Terminator feel, which loosely matched the dystopian Terminator feel of the comics. It was basically Terminator with the X-men in it, but I like both those things! Everyone uses their powers, so if that’s what you wanna see, you’re in luck. Wolverine really stabs people, guys!

In fact, one of the angles about superpowers that I liked about this movie was that even though there are two Prof Xs and one (The younger version.) walks, when he walks, he can’t use his telepathy. I thought that was cool. He needs his disability. Now, there’s a lot of people complaining that this time travel stuff and the time doubles erase the current continuity, blah blah blah…I don’t care. The wonderful thing about fiction is you can choose which parts happened. If you like the old trilogy, you can say it happened. Personally, I like this one!

This timeline starts in the 1960s and goes through the 1970s…but there are giant robots in it, and an assassination attempt on Bolivar Trask…the creator of them. Mystique is the would- be assassin. Also, I think Peter Dinkelage is a great Bolivar Trask. He’s not pure evil. He thinks he’s protecting humanity from the mutants. His fault is he doesn’t see them as humans, which they are. And there’s a nice little lesson in there about not judging people based on fear. Future Professor X is a lot more optimistic than the past one!

But, Future Professor X needs to contact past Professor X to move forward, with the help of Magneto. Personally, I think all he’d have to say is “Don’t worry! You get my sweet hover chair in the future!” But, it takes a lot longer than that and they have a big showdown with giant robots, and Wolverine and Professor X have to stop him. Good stuff!

Overall, a good action movie that establishes a neat new continuity. I’d give it 4/5 stars. It’s a little weird to cover the sentinels in just one movie, as in the 90s cartoon and comics they lasted many years. They definitely upped the action. And I like how every movie covers a different era. I predict next will be the 80s. It keeps getting bigger and better. Mutant battles, robots, and good disability messages. What’s not to love? Go see it.  

                                               (Mutants face extinction in an apocalyptic future.)

(Beast, Wolverine, Prof X: 1970s.)



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sword Art Online (2012) Review

SWORD ART ONLINE (2012) REVIEW:

“I’m a solo player, remember?”

- Kirito to Asuna



Sword Art Online is what happens when you let evil people design videogames. You see, on its launch date the players of the virtual MMO Sword Art Online are trapped inside the game with no way to log out, other than beating the game. (As the evil game creator informs them.) Soon after joining a guild however, our hero, Kirito, decides to beat the game solo. But, is that even possible?

But you see, Kirito has one major advantage. He was a beta tester in Sword Art Online, so he knows where to go to get good equipment, and what monsters to defeat. Well, I guess the game maker trapping 6000 players in a battle royale helps cut down on competition, too. But, he quickly rises through the ranks, defeating dungeon monsters, bosses, even participating in duels. He becomes the game’s notorious loner, The Black Swordsman. Half the fun is watching him battle every boss nearly to the death. If his HP drops to 0, he dies in real life as well as in the game.

For me, the fun is seeing the game elements mix with real world elements. For example, some people decide to play it safe and stay in the game. Others form guilds exclusively for getting back to real life and beating the game, and others are just trolls and player-killers. Things get even more interesting though, when he meets Asuna. She is a high-level guild member who keeps dragging him along on quests.

When Kirito meets her, she scolds him for falling asleep, and not beating the game. Well, they start to hang out, and start a relationship. Soon another question arises. Should they stay in the game, where they have happier and healthier lives, or risk it all to get back to the real world? Where are they even, in the real world? Indeed, it seems at first like they’d be happier in the game. What are they going to do? Meet IRL and marry?

Now, the only trouble I really have with SAO is that the fan service level is a little high. If you can stomach that unfairness, it’s a great show (25 episodes) with lots of twists and turns, sometimes out of nowhere. I like how it brings to life virtual reality issues…such as dying, which is usually no problem in a game…and flips them around by adding real world consequences. The line between the game and reality becomes very blurry. It helps build a world in which you’re invested, but also raises the question: Can/Should he give it all up? Now, Sword Art Online IS his life, and his virtual girlfriend is his girlfriend with whom he has a another life. There’s almost no real reason to go back IRL.

All in all, I like Sword Art Online. It raises good questions about escapism (For example, wouldn’t Kirito rather be the famous Black Swordsman, than some random teen?) the nature of god in the game maker, and the nature of society in how people interact with others, build societies, and guilds. The only thing that’s not very realistic is that there’s only one trolling guild, Laughing Coffin. Thank goodness! Oh! That, and the excessive fan service, which is unfair to women!

But, overall I give Sword Art Online 4/5 stars for developing an engrossing, beautifully-animated world that raises questions about the value of escapism, with great plot twists! Check it out, if you get the chance. Oh, and don’t let evil people with God complexes design videogames. That seems to be the overarching moral. Ha! But, seriously, it’s a great show to watch!