Movies

New Gods: Nehza Reborn

What a captivatingly strange movie! I had no idea what it was about going into it and after finishing watching it on Netflix, I must say I was pleasantly entertained. An epic story about God and Demons and reincarnation. From what I’ve gathered in looking it up, it is based upon the character of Nehza from the Ming Dynasty novel Investiture of the Gods. It is a 3D Chinese animated fantasy action adventure film directed by Zhao Zi and written by Mu Chuan. There is the option to watch it in English, but I always opt for the original language instead with English subtitles. The animation itself was fantastic, and well done. The computer graphics were amazing, and so were the many effects such as water, fire, and hair. All of it was incredibly well animated.

The story itself was pretty easy to understand despite going into it without knowing a thing. Basically, from my understanding, is that the story takes place 3000 years after the Ming Dynasty at which point humanity has devolved into a cyberpunk/steampunk world. Motorcycle races are held to captivate the hearts of those that are trying to survive in this trying world. One such racer, who becomes a champion at the start, Li Yunxiang is the protagonist of the story. When he encounters the greedy Ao Bing, who wants Li’s motorcycle for himself, that’s when everything explosively starts. Li is the reincarnation of the God Nezha, who is a God of fire. Ao Bing, is an ice God, and a dragon prince. His father is the main antagonist, the Dragon King of the East, who covets power above all else. There’s also a lot more but I’d rather you watch it than me telling you everything!

The action is on an epic level, with an awesome soundtrack to boot. Rock riffs and guitar during scenes of action, to melodic instrumentals during moments of philosophical teaching. A fusion of classic Asian instruments and music with modern takes, the soundtrack was a joy to hear and helped pump up the viewer when our protagonist is kicking ass. There is heart, sadness, and joy to be found, along with comical elements too – the character of The Masked Man provides this in ample shades. The voice acting was great, and the progression of the story elements was good. There was no moments of unfounded edits or cuts in the plot. What I did hate, and I’ve noticed is a staple of Chinese movies, is that animals are not respected at all, and are often killed to motivate a character to action. It is a cheap tactic to get the viewer invested and emotionally hurt. So I will spoil that for you, and warn you, that the animals do die.

Overall, it was a highly enjoyable spectacle and I do recommend watching this. I will be looking forward to the next installment with great interest.

Movies

Justice League: The Snyder Cut

Where does one begin with this 4 hour epic? Do we discuss the runtime? Ah, I know. The comparison to the theatrical release. The version that was, without a doubt, butchered by Joss Whedon. Reportedly he had reshoots for 75% of the film. The result was a complete tonal difference from Snyder’s vision, like a Batman the quips jokes in the face of danger. Then we had his misogyny at play when Flash clumsily fell on top of Wonder Woman and his face landed between her breasts. Just not a good time. So much character development was cut in favor of constantly moving the narrative forwards. Cyborg and Flash’s entire origins and personal growth were cut, and Flash was reduced to a side gimmick to deal with a Russian family while a major battle is happening.

Snyder’s vision is immediately restored in the opening credits with a dark scene unfolding showcasing Superman’s death from the previous movie, and the shockwave from his death cry cascading across the planet. It sets up purpose as to why these dimension hopping soldiers of destruction invade Earth. The stage is shown for how truly powerful Superman is. The fear he brings to his enemies. From there, the plot establishes each of the superheroes. Arthur Curry is a kind man who helps those in need and he’s idolized by those he helps. And true to his character, not yet grown, he is not beholden to the surface or the oceans. He is his own man. Wonder Woman is a force for good who is not scared of killing her enemies or those that wish to do harm. Nor is she afraid of brutalizing them in defense of the innocent while still inspiring young girls to be anything they aspire to.

The Flash is a young man, Barry Allen, who takes random jobs here and there to fund his tuition for being a criminal justice student. He does so in order to find a way to save his father from prison, for a crime he did not commit. Barry is lighthearted and full of empathy and wonder. His powers are showcased in a short scene in which he saves a young girl from a car accident. This scene helps establish who he is, and provides a feeling of an origin. Cyborg has his entire arc reinstated. A young man lost in the world, feeling like a monster and resenting his father’s choices. His mother dead in an accident and him left clinging to life. His father breaking every ethical and moral scientific law to save his son however he can. Both Flash and Cyborg are similar in that they yearn for their fathers. This feeling is easily identifiable with, and helps humanize these otherwise otherworldly characters.

The movie does a phenomenal job at bringing all these different characters together for a singular purpose of defending the planet. Each character has a soul to them, they feel fleshed out and not merely caricatures of the comic book characters they represent. They have depth, and growth in an arc. Even Batman! “Faith, Alfred. Faith.” A man who previously would take even the smallest chance that someone could be his enemy and acted on it, rather than having faith that they could be a force for good. Talk about a turnaround. Together, they save the planet from the villain Steppenwolf and we, the audience, have a blast watching this wild ride.

Steppenwolf has actual purpose this time around. He is no longer a creepy dude that calls those boxes “Mother.” He merely wants to get back into the good graces of his Master, Darkseid – A god of destruction and death from another dimension. To that end, he strives to find the three Mother Boxes and to reunite them to create a calamity known as the unity – a cataclysmic event to scorch the planet and purge it of all life. Therefore making way for Darkseid to come and claim his grand prize. Even Steppenwolf’s appearance is a huge step up, wearing armor that seemingly reacts to his thoughts. The theatrical cut feels like an afterthought of bad CGI.

The movie itself is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio which gives the appearance of old cartoons. It invokes a similar feeling to watching animated shows on a Saturday morning. The score is heavy rock interspersed with each of the character’s themes. It gives weight to each battle, no matter how small and gets the blood pumping in anticipation. There are several scenes across the entire movie that serve no purpose in moving the narrative forwards but instill a sense of lore and weight for these characters. It helps establish and maintain the mythic feeling of several such as the Amazons or the Atlanteans.

Even Superman is changed, maybe not for the better but definitely more nuanced in that he’s a man (alien) reborn and thus no longer what he once was. This is even symbolized through the black costume he wears. He toys with his enemies and brings them extra agony than they would get normally. He’s got a bit of darkness in his heart and Lois Lane is the only thing that brings him back to the light.

There are plenty more references and nuances to be found within the movie that brings joy to fans, and continues to help establish this universe of superheroes. Overall, it’s a great and markedly improved version compared to the theatrical. It’s got heart, soul, and purpose. But is it what fans truly want of their childhood heroes? I’d say it’s not, but it is a great vision to have seen come to fruition. Zack Snyder definitely put his own twist on these characters and for this movie, it works. For the comic book characters that were represented, I’d say it’s a departure. That being said, did I enjoy the movie? Yes, I did. Despite its length, it held well. It had merits. It even set up the possibility for more. Would I want to see this reality explored further? No, I would not. Would I recommend this movie for fans of DC superheroes? Yes, I’d say definitely watch it and forget there ever was a theatrical cut.

Movies

Sentinelle

A revenge flick starring Olga Kurylenko without substance, panache, or critical thinking in the slightest. Our main character is seemingly invincible despite being tossed around and bruised up on a regular basis, she recovers in a matter of minutes while her opponents lay sprawled out on the ground. Cameras don’t exist in this world for the protagonist, only the villains are seemingly recorded. If they did exist, she’d be arrested by the halfway point and this movie would cease to exist.

It’s supposed to be a look at a soldier with PTSD and narcotic dependency issues but that falls flat. Only serving to establish her character’s appearance while bearing little influence on the plot itself. The movie The Beast did this much better but lacked in the action scenes. This movie’s action scenes are solid despite their flaws. It is a slow burn with a few scattered action sequences throughout with a mild rampage at the end. I laughed when she used her assault rifle for two kills and then tossed it aside in favor of her pistol.

Her character makes repeated infractions while doing her job that would have clearly had her incarcerated or put on suspension yet faced no consequences for her actions. The villains were your typical Russian bad guys, old and of diplomatic status. Her job as a soldier patrolling the streets of France was pointless to the plot as well, it delivered no message. It only served to give the character access to weapons she’d otherwise be inaccessible to.

I’m honestly at a loss as to why Netflix keeps throwing away their money on such productions. At this point, I’m halfway convinced it’s to launder money. Surely that’s more profitable than releasing this schlock. Another thing I don’t understand is why Variety’s skip it or stream it would recommend to stream it unless they were endorsed by Netflix. I fast forwarded through several scenes that simply dragged on and served to create a false sense of tension like when she’s walking through areas with her gun out. 40 second skips revealed what I knew would happen – absolutely nothing.

Overall, I definitely do not recommend this movie unless you simply wanna watch a roughly 40 second lesbian sex scene between Olga Kurylenko’s character and another. If that’s your interest then go to 24:53 into the movie until 25:32. Otherwise, skip it.

Movies

The Yin Yang Master: Dream of Eternity

Mild Spoilers Throughout

To preface my review: I understand the philosophical waxing and poetry of the notion of love portrayed in the movie but be that as it may, it is a convoluted mess. The story in its infancy is about an evil immortal serpent that is born out of the desires of humans, namely that of greed. Every few decades it returns to attempt to feed on the world, and 4 masters of various magical arts must come together to defeat the serpent’s physical body. The main character is the one of the title, the Yin Yang master, Qing Ming (Mark Chao). His fellow acquaintance and eventual friend is Bo Ya (Allen Deng). At first, these two are at odds with each other due to their differing viewpoints on demons but they gain a sense of camaraderie during this adventure. Their companionship is one of the philosophical points on love; that is, love for your fellow man and friends – a bromance if you will.

The second point of love, is that of eternal love. In that aspect, it is the love the empress holds. However her body is the vessel for the evil snake spirit and since desires feed that entity, she must be without love. Yet in the end, it is that love which frees the snake because she could not let it go. The way I saw it, was that her love was a toxic kind that only ruins herself and those around her.

This movie was directed and written by Jingming Guo, and while there was some good direction, it is painful to see that there is blatant copying of another movie. Dr. Strange from Marvel was clearly taken for inspiration from, and given the director’s previous problems with plagiarism, it kind of feels like that happened here. The use of hands to create eerily similar portals, down to the orange color and effects is a little bit too on the nose. That aside, the CGI was very well done despite adding little to the story and often had it feel like I was watching a live action anime rather than an original story based on a novel. The acting of the two main characters was good, and everyone else felt bland or fell flat. One character, central to the love plot, He Shouyue, felt like nothing but a pretty face and body. At 132 mins long, I was bored. Some moments did captivate me due to the sheer spectacle and fantastical nature of it all. What really excelled though was the score. Absolutely loved it! Oriental music with traditional instruments and hints of electric guitar. Got the blood pumping during certain action scenes.

Overall, it’s worth a watch but you’d be terribly bored upon a re-watch with friends. You’ll find yourself going “huh?” a lot but in the latter half and ending, it clears it all up. Though I can’t say I recommend watching it despite just saying it’s worth a watch. Up to you.

Final note: one scene straight had an angel with a fiery sword battling a snake. Oh hey, creation myth much, Uriel anyone? Cherub angel with a flame sword, nice inspiration.

TV Shows

Vagabond (2019 TV Series)

Vagabond is a South Korean spy, crime, thriller, romance and action tv series starring Lee Seung-gi, Bae Suzy, with Shin Sung-rok and many others. The initial premise is when an airplane bound for Morocco goes down in mysterious circumstances, stuntman Cha Dal-gun (played by Lee Seung-gi) fights to unravel the truth surrounding the plane crash. He is forced to partner with a covert agent from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Go Hae-ri (played by Bae Suzy), and together they struggle against forces beyond their reckoning – corruption to the highest level.

Mild Spoilers to follow

What I really enjoyed was that the show goes full circle in its execution. It starts off with a scene in the desert, and then jumps to the story at hand. As you watch the entirety of it, you keep wondering the significance of that desert scene. And near the end of the final episode, that scene plays again and you realize the entire story was a showcase as to how the main character ended up there. The other strong points were the twists that occurred, and how it managed to build up its villains. The person who you think is the main bad guy is actually merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things, then when it moves up to the next level at play, even those individuals are merely pawns of something larger.

Every episode was nail-bitingly good, and kept you at the edge of your seat because you so strongly root for Cha Dal-gun and you want him to succeed. So each time he gets set back, you feel a little bit of angst because there’s a very real possibility he might not get what he desires. The bad guys are very good at what they do, at corrupting people or setting them up to be used as unwitting or witting pawns. It was like watching a game of chess with an amateur against a grandmaster but the grandmaster loses because the amateur acts in way you don’t expect him to because it’s dumb. And it’s that dumb move which gets him the victory yet the grandmaster knew it and saw it coming, but didn’t react because they didn’t expect their opponent to have the gall to do it. The grandmaster is not without fault either, they made a small and but critical error that allowed their opponent to seize victory – they underestimated them.

The chemistry between the leads is entertaining and you root for them to have a future together. You smile at their antics and your heart grows fondly at them getting closer. Everyone did a great job, and I didn’t feel that any actor or actress was a weak link. They were all believable and at times ruthless in their character’s manners or appearance. You truly disliked the villains and that is the best kind of acting. You don’t see the person underneath, only the character they are portraying.

The faults I had with it were that the gun fights were underwhelming and lacking. Often times, they were quite unbelievable because with the sheer amount of firepower offered, the good guys should all be dead. Too much missing a shot, or cars that can withstand hundreds of bullets and still be fully drivable without any problems. A lot of scenes of guns fired indoors and nobody batting an eye at the sound. What was good to see was a proper sniper sequence with them sighting the shot/adjusting it before firing and actually not aiming directly at the target but slightly off to the side. The hand to hand combat was excellent and never did I feel that the characters were superhuman when they fought. They took appropriate damage and acted as one should following an injury. The driving was very well done and never had a case of “how did that lower powered car somehow catch up?”

Overall, I thoroughly loved the show. I enjoyed the story and its depiction of real events regarding corruption and power, on how the world operates. I loved the chemistry between the leads and I’d recommend watching the show even despite the open ending. Perhaps Netflix will be kind enough to allow a second season despite it not yet being confirmed as renewed.