Black Lagoon

So Black Lagoon is about this Japanese salaryman who gets kidnapped while on a sea voyage in South-East Asia. The guys who kidnap him do so on a whim, thinking to extract more money apart from their original job – a data disk the guy was carrying.

His company leaves him for dead, and for some reason, instead of having fun with their now-worthless hostage, he joins them instead in some weird Stockholm Syndrome shenanigans because the Black Lagoon company, despite being a group of don’t-care-really individuals (and one hothead), have some silly values of “don’t kill anyone who isn’t exactly bringing them down”.

The central story arc is the salaryman’s descent into villainhood. Mild-mannered Rokeru Okajima turns into Mild-mannered Rock the Negotiator, and then ultimately Rock the Manipulative Mastermind.
Each separate job has Rock questioning his values, because of the nature of the criminal work, the targets of the criminal work, or the situations he gets placed in – all this despite the fact that he’s never needed to act as muscle and personally kill anyone.

Similarly, Rock has a positive effect on his otherwise brutish and brutal companions. They see him as the oft-underestimated heart of the group.

But the world is a vicious place. His morals are frequently at odds with the people he works with and the missions he tries to accomplish.

The strength of the narrative is in its character design and world-building. Each character, even the flat, secondary ones, shines in all their exaggerated glory. Each named individual has some backstory caricature that somehow makes sense in this world. Each arc’s narrative weaves into the grand scheme of Rock’s descent into madness.

The weakness in the story is also what makes the show endearing – despite nearly everyone being portrayed as many-times betrayed and screwed up by the world prior to the events of Black Lagoon, all the characters seem to have some honor-amongst-theives code in play. They never seem to show the same ruthlessness the world showed them, as one would expect from people living in a city that is essentially a Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy.

Faction fights never seems to escalate past the current contract, and hatchets get buried too quickly for my tastes. For example, Black Lagoon never pays the price of being a mercenary with conflicting loyalties to whoever is paying them immediately. They get hired by faction A in one episode, then get hired by opposing faction B later on in opposition to faction A’s interests. Faction A then hires them again in a succeeding episode, and neither Black Lagoon nor the hiring factions ever think to betray their contracts despite the previous episode’s experiences. Heck, some factions even go out of their way to help out Black Lagoon, which strikes me as unusually charitable for cold-blooded killers.

I wish I had higher comments on the gun play and fights, but there’s clearly a Dragonball-esque fight structure going on here. Nobody ever seems to need to reload unless it looks cool. It’s not tactical wits that keeps people safe, it’s plot armor. Guns essentially run on plot-based accuracy. If you’re a mook, it takes great planning and effort to land a shot on a named character. Fodder get gunned down by the score by single characters who walk in the open. Heroic and villainous characters rarely got shot, and when they do get shot, they survive impossible direct hits or wounds that would have been fatal to others.

But the show is violent, and everyone critical to the plot has a healing factor that would make Wolverine blush – provided no limbs get cut off.

All the points above, good and bad, allow the show gets a lot of mileage from its two-bit players who end up as recurring characters in several arcs, both for and against the Black Lagoon company. The mercenary dynamics and general immortality of named characters allow the writers to emphasize and exaggerate memorable character traits, making each persona fun and full of personality.  Even villains presented in each story arc, who tend to have a shorter shelf life appear with pizzazz and exit with much fanfare and aplomb.

But ultimately, what keeps you watching the show is Rock’s wavering stance and perspective, especially against the backdrop of nonchalant or cruel allies, most notably the violent muscle of Black Lagoon. Rock might stick out like a sore thumb in the city of Roanapur, but slowly, for better or for worse, he manages to merge his world view with the reality he lives in.

— @rando

Avengers Infinity War

Yes, this blog is alive! Also, obviously spoilers!

Avengers Infinity War is something. A phenomenon of some kind. Not because of the movie itself, but because of what came before it. This movie is the culmination of 10 years and 18 movies worth of continuity. It’s unprecedented. And that’s only the first incredible thing about this movie (more on that later).

Because of all that history, it has a lot to bear. It bears the weight of expectation. This movie has to be amazing. It has to be worth all of that setup, all of that backstory, all of that continuity. Every character has to matter, every character has to play their part.

I did not have high hopes in the months leading up to the movie. I felt like it needed to do so much and that it would fall flat in the face of that expectation.

But it did not.

The movie delivers. Everyone delivers. Everyone is relevant. Even Groot who I thought was mostly useless put in some effort towards the end. And I swear the banter writers were at the top of their game. Every scene felt well-written, and the plot moved forward at a great pace, never stopping too much to rest, always on to the next thing.

I loved the Thor/Rocket/Groot sidequest where they went to forge a new hammer. At first I thought that it was a stupid irrelevant side-quest because Ragnarok established he didn’t really need a hammer. But I loved everything about it, including Thor having to survive the heat of the star himself to the surprise Peter Dinklage.

Speaking of surprises, the Red Skull!!! Sadly, it was not Hugo Weaving. But still, that came out of nowhere!

I enjoyed Widow and Okoye and Wanda getting a short tag-team battle vs Proxima Midnight at Wakanda.

I enjoyed the whole sequence at Titan, tricky Strange portals and all, even though we knew they were going to fail.

I only have one minor annoyance: The power level of Thanos’ Black Order is horridly inconsistent. When Corvus and Proxima ambush Wanda and Vision in Scotland, they’re driven off by three people without powers. Yet Tony, Strange and Wong have trouble with the guys back in New York. Later on, it takes Cap and Vision to take out Corvus and Widow+Okoye+Scarlet Witch+a giant rolling mechanical death ball to take out Proxima.

Things we didn’t get yet that I’m hoping for in the next movie:

  • “Avengers Assemble!”
  • Cap and Tony finally reconciling
  • I’m sad that there’s no Coulson here, though we do get to see him in Captain Marvel. That being said, the Avengers finding out he’s still alive in Avengers 4 would be most satisfying. (Assuming he survives this season’s Agents of Shield of course)

Now, about the ending. I must confess, I never read the original Infinity Gauntlet/War/Crusade series back in the 90s (I probably will now, thanks to Marvel Unlimited). But I did know that in those storylines, Thanos managed to win. He managed to kill off half the universe. Going into this movie, I was like surely they’re not going to do that right? I mean, they said Infinity War was meant to stand on its own, that it Avengers 3 and 4 were no longer two parts of one big movie.

But that was a lie. Or at least a matter of semantics. I was checking my watch in the last 30 minutes of the movie, telling myself internally “they’re running out of time!” I was still hoping for a victory. I was hoping they wouldn’t do it. But they did. The absolute madmen, they did let Thanos win.

The theater was vibrant during the movie. Cheering when Captain America first walked out of the shadows. Cheering when Thor took the battlefield. Laughing at all the jokes. But everyone was dead silent as Thanos sat there in his obviously-Filipino-hut and the credits started to roll. I believe this was the desired effect.

This is the second incredible thing the movie has done. In this day and age, a cliffhanger. A well-protected, unspoiled cliffhanger. Amazing.

All the post-snap deaths were executed well, from Rocket calling out to Groot, to Peter (Parker)’s “I’m not feeling well Mr Stark”.

But the bad thing about all of these is that, it sets us up for something bigger. It has to. Most of the deaths either have to mean something, or they are going to be reverted. (I believe in the comics they were reverted). And they have to do it without cheapening the well-executed losses.

This movie defied my expectations. But at the same time, it created even bigger expectations and leaves us looking forward to Avengers 4. Will they be able to execute the sequel well? We waited 10 years for this climax, and it’s not yet done. We have one more year to wait.

Lost In Translation, Or How Ennui Made Bill Murray Look Attractive

There are few opening scenes for a movie more promising to the first-time viewer than a close-up shot of Scarlett Johansson’s bum clad in translucent, almost sheer pink panties as she lays in bed pondering existential questions. A not-so-subtle promise of sensuality tempered by the movie’s soft tones and colour palette.

Unfortunately, that’s the highlight of the entire movie for most audiences. I’ve recommended the movie to a lot of people and a significant percentage of them always end up finding it boring and too “talky”- and that’s sad. Perhaps it’s the bait-and-switch tactic of the opening scene- after the initial sensual tease, the movie quickly focuses on other, less titillating matters- the mundanity of life for one- whether you’re a recently-graduated writer who has yet to do anything substantial with her life, or an ageing movie star out to make a quick buck with a whiskey ad.

The movie is set in Japan, the characters American, and this is the obvious link to the title. Yet as we watch Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte navigate the strange oriental world they find themselves in, we also get the sense that they are disconnected even from their personal, home lives- he with his young daughters and a wife with whom you get the feeling that they’ve been married for too long; she with her husband who photographs celebrities and tells her “I love you” in the an offhanded way as he quickly dashes out of their hotel room.

These establishing scenes of the two are heavily painted with feelings of ennui, and- though subverting the expectations of a pink-pantied opening scene- are nonetheless deeply interesting. One of my favourite scenes is an hilarious one of Bob interacting with the hip, young, and very animated ad director (“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time”) through a terse middle-aged translator. There is comic relief in the situation, yet every frame drips with Bob’s resignation of the life in which he’s somehow found himself.

Charlotte, meanwhile, takes long walks around Tokyo and comes across temples and parks- and a traditional Japanese wedding procession. The camera closes in on the groom holding the bride’s delicate white hands as he helps her up some stone steps. The film doesn’t explicitly tell you what Charlotte thinks, but it does show you what Charlotte chooses to focus her eyes on.

We spend a significant amount of time with Bob and Charlotte separately before we finally see them meet in the hotel bar, as Bob nurses a drink and Charlotte looks for a distraction from her husband and his actress friend’s inconsequential chatter. It’s a brief encounter, two lost, slightly-bemused souls finding a spark of life in a shared conversation.

And it goes from there. Charlotte and Bob’s relationship grow by leaps and bounds over the scant days they share in Tokyo. “Let’s never return to Japan again,” Charlotte remarks after one particularly memorable night out. “It will never be as fun as this.” There is sexual tension, though Bob wisely refrains from pursuing this further. The most they share is an intimate moment as they’re drifting off to sleep in their own sides of the hotel bed when Bob caresses the side of Charlotte’s foot, and somehow this just feels right. Their relationship was never based on physicality… though that was what attracted Bob to her at first. Instead, it’s a deep connection between two people that pulls them together in the midst of their crises and gives them some solid footing as strangers in a strange land.

Yet here is the complication with being human. You can tell that Bob and Charlotte still love their other halves- the sudden appearance of what can be blithely called their soulmates does not change this fact. However they’re both frustrated by their current stations in life. I’d like to think that in each other they found some comfort- and some answers… or if not answers, then realisations about themselves.

In the end, they part. We all knew it would happen, though we all hoped that it might not be so. Yet at the same time, do we really want them to forsake their families in pursuit of whatever “this” is?

I’m reminded of a scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack’s character realises something about his relationships. “That other girl, or other women, whatever… I mean, I was thinking that they’re just fantasies. You know? And they always seem really great because there’s never any problems.” The film is a window into the beginning of what could be something sublime. No, actually, it already is sublime… yet would it stay sublime as time went on and the realities of what they had to give up catches up with them?

Honestly, I don’t know. I imagine Bob would be old (wise?) enough to realise that his problems won’t go away with a new woman, even a woman like Charlotte. Charlotte… well, Charlotte might go for it, and maybe it would be worth the risk to find out. But it takes two to make that decision, and in the end as they share one last private moment in the middle of a street full of strangers, I find my vision blurring. We don’t get to hear what Bob whispers in Charlotte’s ear, but do we really need to? We end up with a denouement far more poignant than anything explicitly said.

Avengers: Age of Ultron by hunter

Age of Ultron was great! Fun movie, very much more so for a Marvel fan. My brother and I watched in IMAX at SM North and they had an Avengers exhibit at The Block where we hung out while waiting for the movie. I swear from the start until the end I was LSS-ing on the Avengers Assemble opening theme. Spoilers after the break.

Why wasn't this line in the movie Mr Whedon?
Why wasn’t this line in the movie Mr Whedon?

Continue reading Avengers: Age of Ultron by hunter