Ant Man and the Wasp Review

“I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most – they pay the price.”

 

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I’ve really enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on Scott Lang and company, both in the first Ant-Man movie and Civil War. Ant-Man and the Wasp explores the fallout from both those films, and I was extremely excited for it in general as well as to see Hope take a more starring role this time around.

In a way that kind of reminds me of what was done with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the plot scope is narrower this time around, with a single core, character driven plot driving everything. The approach is a great one for a second movie in any series, as it advances the types of issues the protagonists face and expand the general universe they inhabit while simultaneously allowing more personal, emotional developments to take center stage. Scott’s choices in Civil War have had a huge effect on his life and the people he cares about, and the film faces those consequences and the subsequent difficult choices Scott has to make head on. Also as expected (and hoped for), Hope is Scott’s equal this time around and I really liked the portrayal of both heroes, including their different approaches and complicated relationship.

That strong central plot is anchored and supplemented with great acting and a sense of humor to the film that makes it all resonate and provides several truly hilarious moments (although I’ll admit certain aspects of the comedy are getting to the point where they need to be reigned in a bit and applied with a more of a deft touch).

Ant Man and The Wasp is a movie that makes some really interesting choices, tells a complete story while setting things up for the future, and stays true to the spirit of the first film while advancing its heroes to the next level. Another strong hit for the MCU.

 

 

Spirit’s Bloom Review

“The mysterious origins of how webcomic dahlia-darling Erma’s parents came together.

After innumerable requests from fans, asking how an apparently average human man could meet (let alone fall in love with!) a mysterious dark spirit, Brandon Santiago presents the much-anticipated backstory. Learn how they met! How they came to care for each other! And the beginning of Erma herself!”

 

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I adore the Erma webcomic and with the intriguing family reunion story currently unfolding decided to pull the trigger on getting this print only prequel showing how Erma’s parents met.

I’m a huge fan of “slice-of-life” style stories and tend to be perfectly fine with deliberately placed stories that know when to get out of their own way an let the narrative unfold naturally. But honestly this is almost too minimalist, feeling like something was a bit lacking. It’s always a tough thing to balance as the author knows all the details, so the line of providing too much information versus too little can be tricky to navigate. I personally felt Santiago was too sparing and secretive with information in this case.

There were more questions than answers regarding Emiko’s family situation, as well as huge new cliffhangers and ominous foreshadowing. For something that was seemed poised to fill in some context for long running questions it falls short, instead raising many more dangling mysteries than it addresses. Because of this it paradoxically feels both inessential and essential at the same time, containing a major plot point I don’t recall seeing yet in the main comic amid a story that otherwise seems to want to save important reveals for the regular comic.

All that said, there are still decent story threads here that span from cute and heartwarming to dark and ominous. It’s an enjoyable read with a handful of fantastic moments and a nice addition to Erma’s mythos overall. But at the same time I personally hoped for more from it and can’t help but wonder the heights it could’ve achieved with a tweaked approach.

Infinity War Review

“Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same.”

 

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I’ve essentially been waiting for a movie version of my favorite comic story for over 25 years. So even with the excellent knack the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown for balancing large casts and adapting stories as well as the roll they’ve been on with excellent films like Black Panther and Thor: RagnarokI was a bit apprehensive going into Infinity War. I’m pleased to report that I needn’t have worried.

This felt right, building on the previously established mythology of the prior movies while keeping the essence of the themes of the comics (and in some cases improving on them) and paying tribute in numerous “Easter egg” type moments that fit in this new story and didn’t feel forced. That balancing act is difficult, and kudos to all involved in pulling it off.

While some characters could have used more screen time and a couple of characterizations felt a little off compared to the characters in their own movies, overall the movie did an extremely good job of balancing the huge cast (including a well deserved spotlight on some supporting cast members) and walking the line of comedy and drama that was so important to making this story work in the MCU. The cast banters out of stress and habit, amusing the audience in the classic Marvel movie way without losing sight of the gravity of unfolding events. Thanos, one of my favorite comic villains ever, shines as a powerful foe with a distinct point of view and agenda that requires sacrifices he’s willing to make. Sacrifices that are, of course, not acceptable to our heroes leading to the promised conflict that has the proper weight and epic feel.

The work Marvel’s put into building its universe over the last decade, letting viewers get to know their heroes and follow along with what’s brought them all to this point while slowly sewing the seeds foreshadowing this tale of the war over the Infinity Gems, pays off in spades. This story couldn’t be a simple adaptation, as the preceding events, general plot setup and themes, and even the key characters involved were very different than the comics. All the careful preparation and groundwork laid out in the previous movies allowed this tale to grow organically as a proper part of this narrative universe.  Yet I think that while that true depth of Infinity War might be lost by those new to the MCU it also does a good job of establishing the stakes, cast, and plot to the point where the story could be followed by new viewers. Again, not an easy task and I’m happy to see things come together so well.

 

The way things unfold are unique enough to the particulars of the MCU that even though this is based on elements of now classic stories it’s worthwhile to avoid spoilers. So I’ll wrap up here by saying that while not perfect this was still pretty much as excellent as I could have hoped for, and I’m dying to see the sequel next year to experience the fallout and see where everything goes from here.

 

Black Panther Review

“You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”

 

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Since the fantastic first look at Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa in Civil War, I’d been eagerly anticipating this solo film and a full look at his world. It certainly didn’t disappoint, going beyond my already high expectations in a wonderfully realized film with both captivating moments of superhero action and deep, resonant themes that provide a lot to think about. This is a film that shows deep respect for culture and tradition while carefully considering the forces and necessity of change, largely through Michael B. Jordan’s fantastic showing as a villain who has validity in his point of view but flaws in his chosen course of action. Eric Killmonger’s rhetoric isn’t easily dismissed, and the moral questions he inspires in T’Challa both anchor and plague our hero’s story.

Mention should also be made of Black Panther’s excellent portrayal of women as an important part of their society in a seamless way that speaks to true respect. The new king is surrounded by several confident, powerful women who are rightfully treated as the experts they are, have significant roles in the narrative, and are amazingly brought to life by pitch perfect performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, and Angela Bassett (among others).

I’m not going to attempt a full laundry list of all the other ways in which Black Panther excels, but it’s simply excellent and continues the evolution of Marvel Cinematic Universe in important ways. It reminded me a bit of the also incredible Thor: Ragnarok, in elements like the way secondary characters are getting deeper and more nuanced development as well as (further) refining the impeccable balance of drama and humor the MCU’s known for. This is one of the very best movie’s I’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s wonderful to see a film strive for such depth and meaning while entertaining and succeed so thoroughly.

Beautiful Dreams 2: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work. Here I’d like to share and talk about more of it (as well as ramble a bit about the stories and inspirations behind certain pieces).

 

 

Juri continues to be heavily featured in Perna Studios excellent card sets. I’ve been lucky enough to get several diverse, beautiful sketch cards of hers from sets like Witchcraft, Elementals, etc, in addition to having the opportunity to commission some incredible Artist Proofs (APs) as well.

Juri’s also done promo and base card art for Perna’s sets, and special cards including metal and spot foil chase cards and variants.

 

 

Some particularly interesting pieces of my collection include unique original works, such as Juri’s original pencils underlying her Mistress of the Night piece (the final version of which I featured in Beautiful Dreams) and colored and original art versions of her page from Sarah “Sakky” Ruth Ford’s Magical Girl Coloring Book.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been more fantastic additions to my collection, with the great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements.

As always I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work, and like with her Perna sketch cards and APs above that aspect also really shines in her PSCs. Seeing her visions of some of my favorite characters come to life has been a real treat. I’m a diehard gamer, with particular preference to RPGs and fighting games over the years. With Juri’s pitch perfect confrontation between Kasumi and Ayane from Dead or Alive and jaw dropping melding of Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers joining the original sketches I got from her featuring Millia Rage, Jam Kuradoberi, and Dizzy from Guilty Gear, I now have incredible renditions of all of my favorite characters to play from each of my favorite fighting game series.

 

 

Valkyrie Profile is my single favorite RPG of all time, and Juri’s intricately detailed, soft yet strong interpretation of Lenneth Valkyire is exquisite. Favorite series honors go to Persona, and I adore Juri’s vibrant, striking depiction of a key supporting character from one of the series’ best entries.

 

One of the more unique requests I’ve made is a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. Mitsuru’s already showing great potential and instincts even with only a little over a year in wrestling, and I adore the incredible way Juri’s captured and combined her strength, determination, grace, and beauty in this remarkable rendition.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last two pieces I’d like to talk about are anime/manga related. I’m using the word “favorite” a lot, but in explaining the inspirations for choosing these subjects across various mediums it has been appropriate and illustrative in every case. Gorgeous animation, thought provoking stories, and an incredible atmosphere come together to make Kino’s Journey my all time favorite anime. Juri perfectly related Kino’s cool, somewhat detached demeanor resting for a moment atop Hermes against a wonderful background horizon that evokes the show’s sense of traveling through a vast, intriguing world.

 

Rosario Vampire is an amusing, fan-service and action heavy harem style manga based around a high school for monsters where students regularly get into fierce battles with one another. It has solid story progression once it gets going, but is admittedly largely formulaic and trope ridden. However halfway through the second “season” of the manga there’s a side story,  introducing a relatively minor supporting character (who didn’t even make the anime adaptation), which embraces and upends cliches in equal measure to present a nuanced, emotional story that is easily at the top of the (long) list of things I’ve read. San Otonashi is a phenomenal character and (here’s that word again 😉 ) an absolute favorite of mine despite her relative obscurity. Even with being initially unfamiliar with San, Juri was able to create a gorgeous, spot on card of her, conveying both delicacy and strength and again really elevating the final work with her incredible coloring.

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her incredible creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

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Edit 2/9/18: I recent received three more wonderful Personal Sketch Cards by Juri, and wanted to add them to this celebration of her art.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is an incredible, unique adventure. At its heart are Kuro’s ever curious companions Ninjuku and Sanju, enjoying their journey but also gradually losing their blissful ignorance of the larger world around them. Juri’s wonderfully captured their playfulness and variation of personality.

 

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Brian Q Miller’s Batgirl series was an wonderful comic with the headstrong yet lovable Stephanie Brown in the titular role. One of my favorite issues of the run was a lighthearted story about her friendship with Supergirl. I absolutely love Juri’s rendition of the two of them together.

 

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Finally, Food Wars is a surprisingly fantastic manga/anime with a sports competition manga feel applied to idea of a highly competitive cooking school. Beneath the (admittedly enjoyable) humor,fan service, and general ridiculousness are compelling story arcs featuring an interesting, fun cast. A personal favorite of mine is prodigy Alice Nakiri, who’s simultaneously sheltered/immature and world traveled/formidable in a highly amusing way. Her confidence and attitude are perfectly reflected in Juri’s depiction.

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

“I know you want to save the world. But… you’re not ready yet.”

 

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I enjoyed bits and pieces of Sam Raimi’s original three Spider-man movies, but overall they weren’t as good as they should have been. I never had enough interest to bother watching the “Amazing Spider-Man” films. But I read a fair number of comics featuring him when I was younger and have always been interested in seeing a proper representation of the character on-screen.

Given the success and quality of Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic universe, news that they reached a deal to reacquire Spidey for use in their own films brought a lot of excitement. The new version of the character was introduced in Civil War, and Tom Holland impressed immediately as the perfect person to channel the balance of earnestness and awkwardness Peter needed.

Still, the high school setting that needs to be incorporated in a solo Spider-Man movie is tricky, and there were points of concern going into this new vision of the wallcrawler. As contradictory as it sounds, I thought things were executed both really well and with somewhat lackluster execution.

Make no mistake, the movie is great overall. When things start to come together the level of tension and emotional pitch are perfect, the action scenes are striking and fun, and the acting throughout is excellent. The catch is getting to the point where the movie becomes fantastic and all of the groundwork pays off is so boring. It shouldn’t be, as there’s nothing wrong with the plotting, acting, nor approach in the first half of the movie as the specifics of Peter’s life and all the important characters around him are introduced. Yet somehow despite being necessary and competently done the film lacks something to fully engage the viewer and shake the feeling of waiting for “the good stuff” to happen. Again, it’s not bad, but the early sections feel slow and pedestrian despite touches of humor and a solid underlying story.

And then a switch flips, and all the buildup, potential, and patience pay off in a big way. The climax of the movie is fantastic, anchored by incredible performances by Michael Keaton as a smart, dangerous antagonist just a few degrees of center and by Holland as a wannabe hero coming of age. Homecoming became everything I wanted from a Spider-Man movie by the end, it just took it a while to get there. Hang in for the full ride, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the MCU’s best scenes and performances. I just hope next time they’ll skip right to that feeling from the get go.

Thor: Ragnarok Review

“Kneel before your queen.

 

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I enjoyed the first Thor movie and its epic feel that really hasn’t been replicated in other Marvel movies, despite some pacing issues. The second one was fine, shining in the interactions between Thor and Loki amid a serviceable but somewhat lackluster plot and paint by numbers villain.

Third time is the charm here, and this was a flat out blast. Ragnarok feels like a music video come to life in places in the best way possible. Thor and Loki again provide the movie’s emotional core, and with a logical plot that still manages a couple of nice twists and a larger than life antagonist the layered story shines. Of course on top of all of that are healthy layers of action and humor.

Said humor largely works and several awesome moments had me unexpectedly laughing out loud. However in other parts it admittedly tries way too hard, and the characterization of a certain green supporting cast member felt really odd, with depth and consistency often sacrificed for running gags. The movie also drags just a touch in the middle and the use and/or absence of certain characters from the previous movies was … interesting. On the other hand, there are also great new cast additions.

Overall though I thought this was fantastic, with a strong story featuring compelling characters and numerous fun moments.