Onward to Civil War

Ant-Man was another thoroughly enjoyable entry in the Marvel cinematic universe. Scott Lang is a likable, engaging lead and in general Marvel’s ability to weave “second string” characters into the larger narrative and make it all compelling is quite impressive. With Captain America: Civil War coming up we’re left with several interesting questions and possibilities open.

**Warning: the remainder of this entry will contain SPOILERS for the after credits scene from Ant-Man, previous Marvel movies (including Age of Ultron) and the Civil War comic.**

The Civil War comic book story centered around a philosophical divide among heroes regarding a government mandate to register the identities of all super-powered individuals. The central figures in the conflict are Iron Man on the pro side Captain America against. All signs have pointed to a variation of this basic set up carrying over into CA: Civil War, and Cap’s mention of “the accords” in the Ant-Man post credits scene continues to support this conclusion. The scene is also very interesting as it indicates a major lingering thread from CA: Winter Soldier, Cap and Falcon tracking down Bucky, has occurred off-screen. This is likely to become more common going forward as the number of characters and story lines grow and there isn’t enough room to delve into everything in detail. It worked well here and left the bulk of the “important parts” of the plot on the table for the future.

The idea of a character who’s always trying to do the right thing deciding that doesn’t always mean playing by the rules coming to a head with another who’s know for doing his own thing who has realized the need to strive for a greater good is fantastic. With all the potential here and an established comic story to build off of, two big questions jump out at me going into CA: Civil War:

1) How will the battle lines be drawn?

This is the obvious one. With so many characters confirmed for the movie that it’s being colloquially referred to as “Avengers 2.5,” the question of which side each will take looms. Falcon, Ant-Man and Bucky seem a lock for Cap, with no real indication of Iron Man’s allies yet. I’d guess Vision and War Machine, which would create a conflict since they’re on the Cap-lead Avengers team. I see Black Widow being caught in the middle. Spider-Man sides with Stark in the comic, but he’s only in for a cameo so we might just see him in general action rather than “lining up” during the conflict. Not sure on the rest.

A side question here is how much physical conflict there will be among the heroes. I’m sure there’ll be skirmishes, but I think a pitched, focused battle directly between Cap and Iron Man could be more dramatic than a full blown battle trying to fit everyone in.

2) How close to the comic will they stick?

**SPOILER REMINDER** Ok, what I really mean here is “are they going to kill Cap and have Bucky take over?” I can see it happening, and seeds have definitely been planted both within the movies and with production hints like contract lengths. It also would be a major shake up to lead us into the next phase of Marvel movies. The biggest drawback I can see is the resulting lack of Steve Rogers Cap in Infinity War, which looks based on a story that took place long before Civil War. Still, they have a pretty good track record with tweaking details in their adaptations and ending up with excellent, logical stories that retain the fell of the original while working in the universe they’re creating. We’ll see.

So the Marvel movie machine is sill chugging along with a lot of momentum. Very excited to see what’s next and how they answer the above questions when CA: Civil War arrives next spring.

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 2

Yesterday I shared thoughts on 3 of the movies I saw during Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015: Makeup Room, Strayer’s Chronicle, and 100 Yen Love. Here’s a look at the other 3.

The Voice of Water

This movie has haunted me for days and I still don’t know quite what I think of it. A charismatic charlatan acting as head priestess of a manufactured, business-like cult starts to crack from the pressure of continued success, and things get worse from there despite her attempts to be more genuine. The carefully constructed plot progression and pacing build tension and an increasingly desperate atmosphere masterfully, but I found some of the story choices unsettling beyond what I think was needed. There’s a lot to process in every layer of the movie: the characters’ actions and their results, the motivations behind those actions, and the thematic statements and criticisms the story is making about society. Strong performances from the central cast and key supporting characters keep it all anchored. I can’t say for certain I liked it, but The Voice of Water is a powerful film that’s well worth watching for all it has to say, whether you end up agreeing or not.

The Light Shines Only There

This was my second favorite film in a festival packed with fantastic movies (just a tiny bit behind Makeup Room). It’s a love story about two thoroughly broken people reeling from unfortunate and disturbing events out of their control. All of the characters are struggling with some sort of personal demons, with varying levels of success. It’s the pitch perfect performances of everyone in the cast that keeps it all relatable and engrossing. Themes and events get quite dark and are hard to watch in parts, but it all fit the story and nothing felt out of place or gratuitous (no matter how much I wanted to yell at the screen sometimes). A unique, phenomenal film overall.

Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn

The closing film of this year’s festival had been highly recommended to me, but I didn’t really know anything about it going into the screening. It centers on a farmer uprising in 1726 in the face of impossible taxes. It turns into the bloodiest such uprising in history. But the focus of the movie is more on the pressure and difficult choices of the individuals caught up in the uprising, particularly a coward who isn’t sure it’s worth the risk. Besides the interesting choice of scope and subject within the premise, Sanchu Uprising distinguishes itself with several stylistic choices unusual for its genre, including jazz touches to the soundtrack and an animated sequence.

It’s an interesting movie and while I had some doubts along the way I think it came together extremely well by the end. It wasn’t an unanimous opinion though, as several audience members had rather pointed (but valid) questions for the director during the q&a after the film about his choices. The director was thoughtful with his answers and open to criticism, which made the discussion fascinating. A perfect way to end the festival.

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So this completes my thoughts on the 6 films I saw during Japan Cuts. I will have one more blog entry on the festival, covering the other event I attended – the Experimental Shorts Showcase.

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 1

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015 ran from July 9th to July 19th. It featured a wide variety of engrossing movies and was a great event overall. I attended 7 of the 29 showings, including US premiers and spotlight screenings with directors, actresses, etc as special guests to introduce their movies and participate in q&as afterwards.

Here’s a look at a few of them.

Makeup Room

An amazingly funny low budget movie about the making of a low budget movie. Set entirely in a single room, the makeup room for a porn shoot, Kei Morikawa’s minimalist endeavor takes full advantage of his experience in the industry, actual adult video actresses, and a brilliant performance from non-AV actress Aki Morita as the makeup artist to create a unique comedy with touches of authenticity and drama. The sex is always just off-screen, but the consequences of each scene bounce hilariously back to the room we’re stuck in. It’s a close call, but this was my favorite of the festival.

Strayer’s Chronicle

One of the few films this year to venture into science fiction, Strayer’s Chronicle features two groups of young adults who were experimented on as children resulting in special powers with dangerous side-effects. The premise itself isn’t terribly original, but I found the execution refreshingly different. This was not the full blown action movie a lot of the audience seemed to expect, and opinions seemed very mixed as the theater emptied. However I enjoyed it for what it was and found the foreboding atmosphere, conflicted characters and moral questions raised made up for the plot not being as tight as it could have been. This was another win for me.

100 Yen Love

Sakura Ando received the festival’s Cut Above Award for Outstanding Performance in Film directly before this screening, and it’s easy to see why. Her startling yet logical transformation from unmotivated slob to driven boxer was amazing to watch and 100% believable. There were small pieces of the plot that bothered me, but overall the movie worked wonderfully and Ando’s powerful performance more than compensated for any small missteps. The q&a after the movie with Ando was both informative and fun, as she was clearly excited to be there and her energy was contagious.

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I’ll continue with the rest of the films I saw later this week.

Japan Crate: July 2015

The mystery box phenomenon is in full swing, and one of the most intriguing ones I’ve heard of is Japan Crate, packed with an assortment of candy and snacks from Japan. I decided to try their “Premium” crate, and my first delivery was the July 2015 edition.

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As advertised, the crate is certainly packed with unique and varied edibles from Japan. It also includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is and has instructions for the DIY kit (both EXTREMELY useful) as well as some additional context, pictures and promotion. Cute and helpful.

July’s crate came with 12 items. I haven’t done the DIY kit, so here’s a look at the other 11:

The Excellent

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The big difference between the Original and Premium crates is the inclusion of a drink and a bonus item. This month had a “Kid’s Beer” (apple soda) and Corn Potage Chips. The drink was perhaps the most normal item in the box, and tasted as expected for apple soda. The “chips” were akin to cheese puffs in texture and actually did taste like corn soup, which still kind of boggles my mind. The other Premium exclusives were a cola-flavored taffy called Kajiri Chew and some extremely Sour Lemon Gum. These were all among my favorites in the box, so the $5 upgrade from Original was well worth it.

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The other things that wowed me were Choco Bar Z Kinako and Potekoro Cubes. The description said the Choco Bar Z was back by popular demand, and I can see why. It’s a wafer bar infused with chocolate flavor and tasted divine. Best of the box. The Potekoro Cubes are a savory snack flavored with black pepper. Like the corn soup puffs, I was beyond skeptical when trying these. I was wrong – they were surprisingly fantastic.

The Decent

Maken Gummy is a firm gummy candy shaped like rock, paper, or scissors. Fairly generic. Lifeguard Paste is a semi-liquid sticky candy apparently based on a soda. Tasted like mountain dew to me and the texture took getting used to. Chameleon Candy are standard hard candies that change color. The one with the red interior is supposed to be good luck.

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The Meh

I think I’m discovering that Japanese jelly candies aren’t for me. The Chu Grape Jelly and Adzuki Mizu Yokan (red bean snack with a gel texture) weren’t bad in quality, but neither taste nor texture were to my liking in either.

Conclusion

I didn’t like everything here, but the quality of the things I did and the overall variety gave me my money’s worth. And even the things I didn’t care for were interesting to try. Going to call this month’s Japan Crate a success and am looking forward to the next one.