Movie: Captain America, Civil War

"Captain America: Civil War"

Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps-one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

When I watched The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was a little underwhelmed. Although I did enjoy watching the film, I had notes throughout on what I would’ve have done (storytelling-wise) that could have made the film better. But, now that I’ve had a few months to have some perspective on how I felt about the film, I understand that I was coming from a place of high expectations. The first Avengers film struck me speechless, and I was expecting the same for Age of Ultron. That was unfair. So when I first saw the trailer for Captain America: Civil War, I told myself to manage my expectations.

The Captain America films has been my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The First Avenger was an amazing film that perfectly told the story of the classic Captain America and made it palatable to modern viewers. The Winter Soldier topped that by twisting expectations, and delivering the most non-superhero film that starred a superhero. In both films, the cast of characters had been manageable. There were only a handful, and each one of them played an integral part in telling the story. And then here comes Civil War with the problem that truly plagued the second Avengers film: an overly large cast with rich stories that remain untapped. Each one bursting to tell their own journey.

Civil War served them all well, without forgetting the fact that this is a Captain America film. That this closes his trilogy.

And what a closer it is. (Seriously. The film’s last shot? Not counting the after credits? It gave me goosebumps.)

I don’t know how many times my jaw dropped watching this film. The fears and questions I had while watching the trailer were all explained away, and most of the stuff that internet people have been concerned about made a lot of sense for me. As the credits rolled, all I could think of was this: I didn’t have to manage my expectations at all. Because while Civil War is no Winter Soldier, the film is still a solid Captain America film. And that is what’s important, right?

Civil War has more superheroes than either one of the Avengers films, but each one plays out their part and stays in their lane. A few breakout as scene-stealers, but none of them steals the movie from Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan. Not even Robert Downey Jr., who tones down his Tony Stark to give his most somber portrayal of the character since he was first handed the iron helmet. And it works.

Everything works.

There have been a lot of reports that it’s Spider-Man who people will remember from watching this film, but I disagree. Spider-Man is set-up wonderfully, yes. Tom Holland does give a nuanced take that balances the drama of Tobey Maguire’s version with the levity of Andrew Garfield’s take on the hero. But this is not his film to steal. He serves a purpose, and one of his scenes actually underlines the movie’s theme without being blatant about it. His scenes still pushes the Captain America story forward, while providing a break from the film’s serious tone. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely still leaves Spider-Man’s story to whoever will be writing the webslinger’s own film.

As they do for the Blank Panther who makes quite the splashy entrance, and yet doesn’t overpower the strengths of the other characters.

The writers and directors Anthony and Joe Russo must be commended on using characters that haven’t been established yet to further the plot, without making the plot about them. They serve their purpose, but their own stories are purposely left out for their own films, without making moviegoers feel like they were shortchanged with these characters.

And I love how they use the absence of certain characters to push the story even further, to make the characters more three-dimensional.

But the best part of the film is how the number of superheroes isn’t overwhelming. Which… If these are the people working on the next two Avengers films? I think we can all rest easy, because we’re in good hands.

Captain America opens today in the Philippines. And I would like to thank my friend Chris Cantada for inviting me to the premiere of the film last Monday, April 25.

And, obviously, I didn’t get into the nitty gritty details of the film. I keep having to check myself that I’m not dropping spoilers by accident. But, if you’ve already seen the film and want to discuss it with me, hit me up in the comments. (This also serves as a warning to other readers to not read the comments section, if you don’t want to be spoiled.)

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Book: The Game of Lives

"The Game of Lives"

Michael used to live to game. Now the games he was playing have become all too real. Only weeks ago, Sinking ino the Sleep was fun. The VirtNet combined the most cutting-edge technology and the most sophisticated gaming for a full mind-body experience. And it was Michael’s passion. But now every time Michael Sink,s he risks his life.

The games are over. The VirtNet has become a world of deadly consequences, and Kaine grows stronger by the day. The Mortality Doctrine–Kaine’s master plan–has nearly been realized, and little by little the line separating the virtual from the real is blurring. If Kaine succeeds, it will mean worldwide cyber domination. And it looks like Michael and his friends are the only ones who can put the monster back in the box–if Michael can figure out who his friends really are.

I am done with the Mortality Doctrine trilogy. Literally, because this is the last book. I hope. And figuratively, because… Well, this was one tough book to finish. And no, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to let go of the story yet. It was mostly because I found it hard not to root for the villains.

Halfway through the book, I was sick and tired of the main character, Michael.

But more than an unlikable main character, what I didn’t like about The Game of Lives is that it doesn’t provide a fulfilling conclusion to the journey we started with The Eye of Minds. It still feels like random events are happening to stop the main characters from achieving their goal without rhyme or reason.

And then there were the characters.

I love morally gray characters. They make stories interesting, because you never know if they would do something good, or bad. They’re even better when you can see why they would choose to do a good or a bad thing. But when they’re doing something obviously sinister, and then they say they’re doing something good without back-up evidence that they might actually be telling the truth? You get a villain like Klaine.

Come to think of it, my problem with the Mortality Doctrine from the get go has always been Klaine. I understand the need for a complicated villain, but I feel like we were short-changed with a villain who can’t decide if he’s good, bad, or just plain selfish.

I hated Klaine not because he was the bad guy, but because he was badly written. He is supposed to be scary, but he doesn’t really pose any threat. Not even during the last battle between good and evil. Not even during the last part where our main protagonist is duking it out with him.

Stories like this always needs a good villain. That’s half the battle. When your villain doesn’t live up to the title of head evil honcho? However you end the series will be disappointing.

And that’s what The Game of Lives is: a disappointing ending to a series that wasn’t all that stellar to begin with.

Book: Career of Evil

"Career of Evil"

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible–and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out…

Career of Evil is the latest novel in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellaccott. This fiendishly clever mystery, with unexpected twists around every corner, is also the gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

The last time I had forsaken sleep for a book was when I was reading Harry Potter. The Goblet of Fire came out on a Saturday, but I was only able to pick it up on Sunday–and I read it until the wee hours of Monday morning; thanking my lucky stars that the classes were suspended while I was about to get ready for school without sleep.

It’s been more than a decade since I found a book that I would forsake sleep for, and it had to be another one of J K Rowling’s.

Career of Evil is definitely a page-turner, with each new plot development pushing you to keep reading–to keep picking at the clues to find out who the murderer is. So engaging is the mystery that I kind of resented the parts that dealt more with Robin’s and Cormoran’s relationship.

Frankly, I don’t want Cormoran and Robin getting together. I don’t want any of the unnecessary drama that’s bound to bring. The Cormoran Strike series is my one escape where I don’t really have to deal with a romantic subplot between the leads. Not that it hasn’t been alluded to in the first two books, but I liked how Rowling– Excuse me, Galbraith– didn’t really dive into that unwanted detour.

Of course, I didn’t want Robin to end up with a wanker like Matthew Cunliffe either, but that’s drama I can do with. Because it presents a nice dilemma for a character to have her domestic life and career clash. Although… I do want to punch Matthew in the face every single time he appears on page.

But let’s not devote any more time to a love story that’s never going to happen (I hope). Let’s focus instead on the better plotting (and pacing) of the third Cormoran Strike novel:

Unlike with the cases of Lulu Landry and Owen Quine, the third mystery from the series is a bit more personal for our heroes. Which I really like. Mostly because we get to learn more about the mysterious Cormoran who hasn’t revealed much about his person in the first two books. We’ve always known more about Robin. Career of Evil changes that a bit–especially with the roster of suspects we are presented with, who all have connection to who Cormoran was and sort-of shaped who he became.

The best bit about Career of Evil though? Because the suspects are all people Cormoran have already dealt with before, we quickly get insights and assessments about each character–allowing us to play detective better alongside our heroes.

This is the most fun I’ve had reading a detective novel; actively guessing which of the suspects is the real culprit, using the clues and circumstances that Galbraith presents to allow the readers to solve the mystery with or without Cormoran’s or Robin’s help. And you will be able to guess who the culprit is before the book reveals his identity. Because Galbraith doesn’t hold back on the clues and the evidence. He puts them all down on paper.

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a detective, or being an investigative reporter–but want none of the risks that go along with said professions? This is the book for you. It’s exhilarating, enthralling, and most importantly, entertaining.

And I can’t wait to see what Galbraith has in store for us in his next Cormoran Strike novel.

Book: Kingsman, the Secret Service

"Kingsman"

Around the globe, pop-culture celebrities are being abducted, and no one knows why. Jack London–superspy–is on the case.

But Jack has problems of his own: a deadbeat sister and her out-of-control son. Young Eggsy has fallen in with the wrong crowd, and his life is circling the drain. Only Jack stands between his nephew and a jail cell. But seeing something of himself in Eggsy, Jack offers him one last chance for a future–in spy school. Out of his element, surrounded by the best and the brightest, are Eggsy’s street smarts enough for him to make it as a secret agent? Does he have what it takes to help his uncle find the celebrities and save the world?

Confession: I only picked this up because I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film version–which while pretty different, still retains the main plot of the graphic novel. That said, I still don’t think I can pick a version I liked better.

The graphic novel, oddly enough, feels more realistic than the film. You can see how Eggsy would have a tougher time at spy school–while in and out of the academy. And he feels a little more grounded. And I really liked how Eggsy actually has a lot of classmates in spy school who ends up doing something, who aren’t just personality-less drones to fill up space like in the film. I also appreciated that most of the action aren’t very clean without feeling like it’s only there for the purpose of shock value.

What I didn’t really like though was how there was a lack of strong women in the graphic novel. That’s one of the things I liked about the film–how there was a strong female counterpoint to Eggsy–who wasn’t a love interest.

The film, which is again strange, is more visual than the graphic novel though. There’s a certain romanticism to espionage too, that isn’t as felt in the graphic novel.

Where the film trumps the graphic novel though is in how Uncle Jack dies. He might’ve gone out with a bang in the graphic novel, but the film had him explode. Not literally.

So, yeah, I really don’t know which version I liked best–but I liked both well enough that I have nothing bad to say about Kingsman.

In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing more adventures from Eggsy once the sequel comes out in theaters.

Book: Tin Men

"Tin Men"

After political upheaval, economic collapse, and environmental disaster, the world has become a hotspot, boiling over into chaos of near apocalyptic proportions. In this perpetual state of emergency all that separates order from anarchy is the military might of the United States determined to keep peace among nations waging a free-for-all battle for survival and supremacy.

But a conflict unlike any before demands an equally unprecedented fighting force on its front lines. Enter the Remote Infantry Corps: robot soldiers deployed in war zone around the world, controlled by human operators thousands of miles from the action. PFC Danny Kelso is one of these “Tin Men,” stationed with his fellow platoon members at a subterranean base in Germany, steering their cybernetic avatars through combat in the civil-war-ravaged streets of Syria. Immune to injury and death, this brave new breed of American warrior has a battlefield edge that’s all but unstoppable–until a flesh-and-blood enemy targets the Tin Men’s high-tech advantage in a dangerously game-changing counter-strike.

When anarchists unleash a massive electromagnetic pulse, short-circuiting the world’s technology, Kelso and his comrades-in-arms find themselves trapped–their minds tethered within their robot bodies and, for the first time, their lives at risk.

Now, with rocket-wielding “Bot Killers” gunning for them, and desperate members of the unit threatening to go rogue, it’s the worst possible time for the Tin Men to face their most crucial mission. But an economic summit is under terrorist attack, the U.S. president is running for his life, and the men and women of the 1st Remote Infantry Division must take the fight to the next level–if they want to be the last combatants standing, not the first of their kind to fall forever.

One bad book doesn’t spoil an author for me. Especially in the case of Christoper Golden, whose books I’ve been hunting down ever since I was introduced to him by the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer novels. So although I wasn’t completely sold on Snowblind, I still immediately picked up Tin Men when Fully Booked informed me that they finally received a copy.

And boy, am I glad I don’t give up on authors easily.

Tin Men is one of Christopher Golden’s best works to date, in my humble opinion, because it presents a post-apocalyptic scenario that might actually happen in the very near future. And the best part? Although there are no zombies, or ghouls, or other monsters? Golden still manages to horrify his readers. In the best way possible.

One of the things I keep a look out for when reading thrillers is the character deaths. I tend to like books better when the author doesn’t discriminate which character to kill. And Golden definitely doesn’t discriminate when he kills his characters, preferring to pick them off when their deaths serve to move the story forward–and not just to shock his readers. This makes the deaths, when they do come, stick. And you feel for the characters.

And you fear for the characters.

Because when it comes to horror, you shouldn’t be able to pick out who is safe from death. You should always be worried about the characters you’re following… The ones you’re enjoying.

I find that, with authors becoming more accessible through social media, many of them are becoming afraid of the backlash from killing off characters who readers might enjoy. This waters down their writing, because you can see in the writing how certain events were maneuvered to make sure certain characters make it out alive. Which is why I have more respect for authors who, while they are approachable online, don’t let their readers dictate where a story goes. Or whether a character survives or not.

There’s a reason why there’s a distinction between readers and writers. And while there’s nothing to stop you from being both, you’re also not supposed to meddle with the writing of something you read. Because readers get emotionally invested. And we let emotions dictate what we want the characters to do, or what we want to happen to them.

And I feel like I lost this train of thought.

Anyway. Going back to Tin Men. I love Christopher Golden’s foray into non-supernatural horror, and I would recommend it to anyone who can find a copy. Really. Read it, guys.

Do you need more convincing? Then why don’t you check out these other blogs that wrote about the book?
Kirkus Reviews
John D. Harvey
So I Pondered

Book: The Revenge of Seven

They will not rest until we are dead. They will not stop until your planet is theirs.

We are all that stands in their way. We know secrets they thought hidden. We have power they never expected.

The time has come for them to fall.

I would say the I Am Number Four series of books is my guilty pleasure, but you don’t really admit to a guilty pleasure, do you? Unless you’re anonymous, but in this case, I’m not. So I will proclaim that– Yes, I enjoy reading the I Am Number Four series, and I really, really had a wild ride reading its latest installment, The Revenge of Seven.

You know what the best part of this books are? It’s that they are fast reads. You don’t need a whole lot of time to absorb what you’re reading, things just happen: action upon action, reaction upon reaction– I’ve said it before, the I Am Number Four series is the book equivalent of a movie blockbuster–and, hey, it’s released during the American Summer season too.

Now, I’m not throwing shade at the book. The Revenge of Seven is unapologetic in being fluff. Sure, we get introspection about forgiveness and redemption, but let’s be real; these books are all about the forward momentum. The quiet moments are few and far in between, and before you know it, you’ve already devoured the whole book.

And then comes the one thing I really don’t like about this series: the wait. Because I don’t need the time to contemplate on the things happening, I go through the whole thing in a flash, and I’m already wanting to read what happens next. I already want to get my hands on the next book.

I want this series to end so bad. Just because I really, really want to know what happens in the end.

But wait, I must.

In the meantime, let’s check out what other people are saying about the book:
My Book Musings
Lunch Break Adventures

Book: Assassin’s Code

"Assassin's Code"

When Joe Ledger and Echo Team rescue a group of American college kids held hostage in Iran, the Iranian government asks them to help find six nuclear bombs planted in the Mideast oil fields. These stolen WMDs will lead Joe and Echo Team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass murder, betrayal, and a brotherhood of genetically engineered killers with a thirst for blood. Accompanied by the beautiful assassin called Violin, Joe follows a series of clues to find the Book of Shadows, which contains a horrifying truth that threatens to shatter his entire worldview. They say the truth will set you free… Not this time. The secrets of the assassin’s code could set the world ablaze.

I picked up Assassin’s Code because it was the fourth book off the Joe Ledger series of books. Which is a good thing. Because I don’t think I would’ve picked this book up based on the above synopsis.

Then again, out of the four Joe Ledger books I’ve read, I think this one is the weakest off the bunch. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not up to par with his other books. Especially not with the Rot & Ruin series. After four adventures, I think I’m starting to feel some fatigue for the shenanigans that Joe Ledger and his Echo Team keeps getting into.

Or maybe it’s just this book.

Unlike in other Joe Ledger books, author Jonathan Maberry’s pacing for this story seems off. Maybe because there are way too many things going on, too many characters need to process things, too many plot threads are let loose in the wind. The result? Chaos.

Ultimately, when you read the book, that seems to be the intent. But for a reader looking for a break from real life? Chaos needs to be reigned in. Doled out in small doses. Chaos needs a little order, to be easier to take it in. And that’s what I found lacking in Assassin’s Code. Order.

I think it became harder to read when the book reached its second part. When the interludes began? I didn’t need the backgrounder. And, spoiler alert, the interludes are spelt out in the end. So there really wasn’t a point in writing the interludes.

And don’t get me started on the fake chapter enders. Where characters would discover something important–but it wouldn’t be revealed to the reader. It was frustrating. More than pushing me to move on to the next chapter, I kept having to put down the book to remind myself that it would be worth it in the end.

But was it?

I don’t know. On the one hand, I didn’t find the book bad. As I already mentioned before. It’s not bad. It’s just not as good. And when you’ve already shown readers how good you can be… Well, let’s just say I would be a little more wary when I pick up the next book off the Joe Ledger series.