Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Above Average Intelligence

The original definition of the term, "intelligence" could either mean a measure of the faculty of understanding or the gathering or distribution of information, especially secret information. In the new TV series created and developed by Michael Seitzman with Tripp Vinson, it came to mean both.

Starring Josh Holloway as Gabriel Vaughn, an ex-Delta Force operative implanted with a chip that allows him to access the global information grid. Marg Helgenberger as Lillian Strand, Director of the US Cyber Command, Meghan Ory as US Cyber Command Special Agent Riley Neal, an ex-Secret Service agent assigned to protect Gabriel from external threats, and John Billingsley as Shenendoah Cassidy, the neuroscientist responsible for creating the microchip that was implanted in Gabriel's brain.

Some spoilers follow: The first episode jumps in immediately into action to quickly engage the viewer when the opening scene shows Gabriel walking into a clearing as his surroundings suddenly changes into a snapshot of the interior of the 2008 Taj Mahal Palace Hotel terrorist attack. That piqued my curiosity. He's "cyber-rendering" the scene of a crime in his search for a woman (who was one of the terrorists involved) who was also later revealed to be his missing wife. Things get complicated real quick when Cassidy was kidnapped by a rogue Chinese intelligence group/militia and forced to recreate his experiment by implanting a possibly new and improved though untested microchip into a female agent who will obviously play the role of his arch nemesis in the series. My only beef with the main character is that despite the fact that he's an ex-Delta Force, having spent five tours in Afghanistan (or was it Iraq?) which means he's a man's man which he proved when he was able to walk out of the enemy's base on his own after allowing himself to be captured (this was implied that this wasn't the first time he did this) PLUS he's powerful enough to take anything download every fact that exists anywhere online, even behind firewalls and, seemingly on hard drives as well thanks to the microchip in his head. With that kind of power and attitude why would he then suddenly turn into a emotional underdog the moment he got a female partner? And what's with him getting beat up if he can as easily download an app for Mandarin language he could just as also adapt his fighting style to match his enemy like Neo did from The Matrix, right?

While I'm not one of those who religiously follow TV series in general especially those under the espionage genre like Nikita, Alias, Person of Interest, Numb3rs, Burn Notice, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Almost Human, or Homeland, etc. I found myself looking forward to watching the next episodes to find out what happens next. What I also found interesting is the plot revolving more or less around the idea of "Digital Permanence" (know more about it here - Digital permanence: What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet) and the impact and possible threat this imposes on heroes and villains as well as the idea of unlimited possibilities with evolving organic technology (a plot device which, I heard, is also being explored in Almost Human).

Intelligence will premier in the Philippines on February 11 and will be shown hereafter every Tuesday at 9:55 pm on the new channel, RTL CBS Entertainment HD, available a-la-carte and as part of Sky Cable's Silver, Gold, Dual Def499, Dual Def999, and TitaniumHD40 packages. Global Destiny subscribers will be able to access the channel on April, 2014.

You can read more about RTL CBS Entertainment and the programs that will be shown in that channel, here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Everything Looks Awesome!

It's really a treat to see a movie that delivers on its promise of a super fun ride based on the premise of a trailer or two. Rarer still is the movie that not only entertains the adults in the theater but also manages to balance it by making the story and the characters accessible to the kids. The Lego Movie is one of those movies that delivered on that promise. Visually, the movie stands out with the clever mix of mostly stop motion animation peppered with CGI. There's also the attention to detail that was absent in previous direct-to-video LEGO movies and cartoon series, "in which parts of the sceneries and most of the effects were made to look realistic." These parts include "water, fire, laser bolts, explosions and smoke. The laser beams were actually transparent LEGO rods (commonly known as "Lightsaber blades"), while smaller puffs of smoke are LEGO ice cream pieces." This deliberate decision on the part of the design was explained near the end of the movie.

Story-wise, as mentioned earlier, the movie spoke both to adults and children alike. The writers of the movie: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller managed to come out with a story that mostly steered clear of scenes that insinuate mature themes though there were instances of juvenile humor here and there and a bit or two of dark humor (nothing above the usual fare in cable cartoons). There were a lot of laugh out loud scenes that are good enough for a second or third round of viewing.

Picture copied from this site
The story revolves around, Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), a very ordinary minifigure construction worker who had his life turned upside-down one day when he met Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) poking around the construction area after work hour was through. He was taken to be the prophesied messiah, the one that would finally restore order to the world (or worlds) 8 1/2 years before by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). What follows is a mission of infiltrating the HQ of the villain, President Business (Will Ferrell) and destroy the weapon of mass destruction, the Kragle, by joining it with the Piece of Resistance that was supposed to be facilitated by a group of still-at-large "MasterBuilders" led by Emmett. But things go to a head because Emmett cannot seem to rise up to his role as the ultimate Master Builder.

But if you were to dig deeper past the humor things get dark real fast.

Don't read past this mark if you're not into that sort of thing.

* * *

It's the story of a communist society under a dictatorial leader aided by a hatchet man and surrounded by robot yes men who maintains the status quo by imprisoning intellectuals and forcing them to come up with gadgets and weapons while keeping the masses / hoi polloi under control via an instruction manual for their daily lives, controls what they can watch (a one-liner "sitcom" guaranteed to kill brain cells) or listen to (one catchy song that everyone sings for hours on end, even the robot minions). You can read the lyrics below to see what I mean:

Sung by Tegan and Sara feat. The Lonely Island, video created by Lego Girl.

* * *

The movie ends with a moral lesson, of course, but not the kind with the traditional mushiness of living a better life by being yourself but rather to savor the joys of childhood by playing with your toys as the manufacturers originally intended. Props goes to the ensemble cast that filled in the rest of the time with good humor include Batman (Will Arnett)Benny (Charlie Day)Bad Cop / Good Cop (Liam Neeson)Unikitty (Alison Brie)Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), with surprise guest appearances by Han Solo (Keith Ferguson)C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)Superman (Channing Tatum)Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Lando (Billy Dee Williams) among others

All in all, I predict this movie would be a certified hit bringing out all sorts of nostalgia for those who grew up playing with Lego bricks pretty much the same way Toy Story did for toys and Wreck It Ralph did for video games. No wonder the overwhelming feeling I got after coming out of the theatre was to rush out to the stores and get myself a starter set.

The Lego Movie will be shown Feb. 6 and is released and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (Philippines).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

representing simple line sketches in a three-dimensional form, korean designer jinil park has created the ‘drawing furniture series’. the project is the result of hand-drawn strokes on paper that were then used to inform the shape of the objects. 

* jinil park materializes drawing furniture series using wire

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Secret Fresh is having a New Year's sale by offering the Eraserheads set for only P4,999.00

That's more than 50% off the original price. For more info call 570-9815

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Style Over Substance

Watching the latest Keanu Reeves movie, 47 Ronin, was sort of a bit of surprise for me. I deliberately stayed out of watching the trailer or reading anything about the movie so I could honestly say that I came in the theater expecting absolutely nothing.

The story was inspired by the popular tale of the forty seven masterless samurai from the early 18th century after their master, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), was forced to commit seppuku (ceremonial suicide after being disgraced for trying to kill his guest and rival, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), in a temporary fit of madness brought on by the latter's witch/concubine). The Lord Kira takes over the land after Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) forces Asano's daughter, Mika (Kô Shibasaki) to marry him after a mourning period of one year. After the one year was over, Kira let Asano's second-in-command, Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), out of his prison cell being sure that his spirit has been properly broken (he was thrown into prison immediately after taking over). Unknown to Kira, Ôishi had spent all that time planning his revenge for his deception. After successfully finding and freeing Kai (Keanu Reeves) from his slavery he organized the remaining soldiers of Asano and set off on a mission of revenge and to rescue Mika fom a fate worse than death.

The interior of Moronao's palace just after the ronin burst in. Their rush is met by a group of Moronao's retainers (left) while Yuranosuke directs operations seated on a military camp-stool with a small drum (right).

Keanu fit the role of his half-breed character, (the child of a peasant woman and a Dutch sailor) though I wish his character's background was explored more. One of the odd surprises in the movie is that although Keanu gets first billing in all the promotional materials, it was Hiroyuki Sanada who got the stronger role. Another is the presence of fantasy creatures in the movie. Having grown up reading devouring Japanese and Chinese mythology books I hadn't the slightest idea they would be exploring part of those myths in this movie. One of them, the Tengu was mentioned early on in the movie. I didn't believe it at first thinking this could be a reference to a group of feared bandits hiding in the forest. It turned out to be the real thing. So in effect what happened to Keanu's character as a kid when he said he was trained be the Tengu was similiar to this:

Ushiwaka-maru training with the tengu. 1859. By Kunitsuna Utagawa.
It turned out that he was abandoned in the forest as a baby because his being half-breed, as was implied in the story, brought a great deal of shame to his mother and the community. Instead of dying and joining the restless ghosts wandering through the forest, the leader of the Tengu took pity on him and adopted him as one of their own. The thing is, their view of death as something to be glorified and humans only fit to be killed, turned him against them. Though he was thoroughly trained in the art of war and black magic it was something he hid from his friends and lover, preferring to keep a low profile at least till the very end when it was needed the most.

Another mention of a familiar mythological creature is the witch who was introduced as a white fox. I assume the character was based on a fantastic creature called kitsune in Japan. But while the movie portrays the woman as originally human endowed with powerful magic to transform herself into any creature or person she wants, the kitsune is originally a nine-tailed fox who, upon reaching the age of a hundred, gains magical powers and more than enough cunning to fool those they encounter. So when she was defeated in the end I was half-expecting her to transform back into her true form.

All in all, the movie was a treat. It had elements of fantasy against the backdrop of a popular national legend, the most famous example of the samurai code of honor, bushidō, some romance and a bit of laugh-out-loud moments. Film director Carl Rinsch revealed that he sat down with Keanu Reeves about two years ago to discuss this project wondering how they were going to take on a popular Japanese tale and do it justice. Rinsch said they decided to make the story their own, making "it a Hollywood blockbuster and see it through that lens."

47 Ronin is released and distributed by United International Pictures through Solar UIP Philippines.