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What if Lewis Tan played Danny Rand in Iron Fist instead of Finn Jones?

Mar 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221386:43470:0[/embed] We'd Get Far Better Fight Scenes Above is the Iron Fist fight scene that everyone's abuzz about. Lewis Tan is an actual martial artist. He's built like an athlete. He moves well. He looks comfortable throwing punches, kicking, and rolling around on the ground with a sense of purpose. By comparison, not once does Jones move like a martial artist. There's no rhythm or ease or fluidity. Jones moves like a guy fighting, not a fighter--big difference. The directors used a number of techniques to make up for Jones' shortcomings as a martial artist: odd camera angles, shaky cam, obscuring close ups and long shots, excessive cutting, fighting in shadows or bad lighting, fighting in a hoodie. Whenever I couldn't see Jones' face, I just assumed a stunt performer was doing the fighting for him. Watch the fight above again and notice how little you see Jones' face when complicated moves or reactions are required. (Also, who'd want to fight in a hoodie? That would cut off your peripheral vision.) Whenever Jones has to do the fights himself, he looks clumsy. He lacks the instinctual poise and physicality of a trained fighter. He doesn't even have the body awareness, confident footwork, or balance of a dancer. Had Lewis Tan been cast as Danny Rand, you wouldn't need to make up for a lack of martial arts skill. Tan would be able to perform fights and stunts at a high level. He'd collaborate with the fight choreographer and action director since he'd know what he's capable of doing as a martial artist. They might even go beyond drunken boxing and use animal styles, traditional weapons like jians and three-section staffs, or a good old-fashioned horse bench fight. (If there are two things I love, it's three-section staffs and a good old-fashioned horse bench fight.) [embed]221386:43471:0[/embed] Someone like Tan could radically transform the fight scenes in Iron Fist. Fights in the show currently feel like perfunctory spectacle. Instead, with a martial artist in the lead, we'd explore Danny Rand's character through action. He'd have an actual fighting style that's individual and idiosyncratic, something that Jones never develops in 13 episodes. Bruce Lee moves a certain way, Jet Li moves a certain way, Jackie Chan moves a certain way, Donnie Yen moves a certain way. Danny Rand, the world's greatest martial artist, should also have a character-defining physicality. It may also be a way to define K'un-L'un's martial culture and imply what its larger fighting philosophy might be. Tan doing the fights himself would change the way the fight scenes are shot. Camera angles and movements could be used with greater care rather than to obscure faces. Fight scenes could be edited with rhythm, and cuts would be defined by body movement and action. It's nice to have a hero who doesn't have to fight in a hoodie or in the dark so much. The fights may also be able to tell certain kinds of stories, with Danny not just overpowering his opponents but outsmarting them. Overall, I think the action in Iron Fist could potentially be on par with Daredevil. It would have its own flavor as well since the fighting in the show wouldn't be like any of the other Marvel shows. More than anything, Tan could make Iron Fist feel more like an actual martial arts series. Confronting Asian Stereotypes While I'm okay with Danny Rand as a white guy in theory, I'm also aware that he is an artifact of a time and an iteration of a well-worn trope. I'm also okay with Danny Rand as an Asian guy because that's far more interesting than what we got in the show. It's the 21st century, so maybe old versions of characters can be reinvented for their times and for a new medium while retaining the original spirit. By casting an Asian-American as Danny Rand, the show could explore issues of race, identity, Asian stereotypes, and orientalism. Even just optically or subtextually, these topics matter when it comes to the traditions and cultures involved. Finn Jones' constant meditating, doing origami, and spouting off fortune cookie mysticism is some unintentionally awful and unavoidable pseudo-yellowface dreck. It's not even quaintly bizarre appropriation like the Billy Jack movies; it's just uncomfortable. There are so many assumptions about Asian masculinity that can be explored through Danny Rand. Since we'd be dealing with an Asian-American character, that could lead to some exploration of different cultural expectations imposed on Danny by others. There's also the idea of an Asian in-between. Asians assimilate easily into American culture yet are simultaneously regarded as a racial/cultural Other. Or maybe the new version of Danny is half-Asian, which sets up another interesting racial dynamic. Ultimately an Asian-American Danny Rand would wind up playing with the idea of a return to a mother culture and how that affects personal notions of identity. In an interview with Vulture, Tan made a common yet astute observation about how Asian-Americans are viewed and view themselves: I think it would be really interesting to have that feeling of an outsider. There’s no more of an outsider than an Asian-American: We feel like outsiders in Asia and we feel like outsiders at home. That’s been really difficult--especially for me. It’s been hard for me, because in the casting world, it’s very specific. So when they see me and I’m six-two, I’m a 180 pounds, I’m a muscular half-Asian dude. They’re like, “Well, I don’t know what to do with this guy.” They’re like, “He’s not Asian, he’s not white... no.” That’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. So I understand those frustrations of being an outsider. (As an aside, I think Jordan Peele's Get Out offered a brief but memorable exploration of this Asian in-between state during the backyard party scene.) In addition to the above, the relationship between Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Danny Rand would feel much different. Maybe it's just me, but there's something about Jones as Danny that makes me think of guys who fetishize Asian culture (and especially Asian women) to an unhealthy degree. Maybe it's also the quality of Jones' performance--it's awfully patrician and leering instead of being flirty. The issues may be obviated with an Asian lead, or maybe these issues can become part of a more explicit exploration of racial fetishism. Representation in the Media On the note of Colleen Wing, I can't help but think of how cool it would be for a high-profile series to feature two Asians of mixed descent as leads. Admittedly, part of this stems from being an uncle now. I wonder how my niece might see some aspect of her identity reflected in pop culture. I suppose one day there may be a show about a half-white Jewish Filipina that will mirror my niece's own upbringing. When that happens, we'll probably have flying cars and be living in a post-scarcity utopia. Let's hope we get there. In all seriousness, I wonder who my niece's role models might be. I also wonder what people may think of my niece based on appearance alone. And that's why representation matters. More people and more voices and more experiences means more stories that we may not have heard and should hear. These narratives are machines for developing empathy and mutual understanding. In the case of Iron Fist, this machine also happens to hit bad guys in the face. (Woody Guthrie used to write that on his guitar until he thought of a punchier phrase.) There's something to be said about a show starring Asians just affirming the Asian martial arts stereotypes of the past. But that might be a lazy hot-take version of a bigger and more important conversation about old cultural ideas. Casting two Asian leads might be a chance to help deconstruct those antiquated notions about Asians whether they're the product of the 19th century, pulp fiction, or John Hughes movies. One show can't do it alone, so in an ideal scenario it will be one of many steps in the ongoing conversation of actual culture and how it's depicted in pop culture, and how both are these constructs in flux. The yellow menace can be inverted and undone, and ditto the sage-like magical Asian or the nerdy Asian math-god. I mean, come on, it kind of worked in The Last Dragon, all right? The Show Still Would Have Sucked Because of the Writing To paraphrase the bard of the squared circle Stone Cold Steve Austin, it's hard to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. With the current writers and producers, Iron Fist was going to suck no matter what. Even with a solid martial artist in the lead, it's hard to make a compelling character out of Danny Rand as written. He'd still be selfish and entitled. He'd still suck at everything. He'd still be prone to temper tantrums and amateur-hour decisions that wind up hurting people around him. I called him Anakin Skywalker with erectile dysfunction in the review because that's precisely how he comes across--a bratty crybaby whose rage gets in the way of his potential. Who wants to watch a frightened, confused jaboni as a hero? What's more, Iron Fist would still be rife with poor pacing and inert scenes. We'd still have to sit through conversations in corporate boardrooms, waiting for the delightful reprieve of someone philosophically punching bad guys in the face. To be honest, the Iron Fist fiasco makes me feel bad for Finn Jones. Even though he was on Game of Thrones, this was supposed to be his potential big break. It's been roundly panned, and he's taken the brunt of the criticism since he's the lead and has been inartfully defending an indefensible show during his press tour. This role has undermined whatever talents Jones may have. Now, he seems like the latest Blandy McBlanderson: an anodyne, interchangeable white male lead. Showrunner Scott Buck deserves a lot of the blame for the show's critical drubbing, and the same goes for the writers of Iron Fist. There's a fundamentally poor grasp of storytelling that goes beyond issues of representation and the problematic tropes of the past. Iron Fist is a martial arts show that doesn't give a crap about the martial arts. It's a crummy commercial for The Defenders, and it feels like it. Buck--who is credited with ruining the show Dexter in its closing seasons--is also the showrunner of Inhumans. If Iron Fist is any indication of how Scott Buck handles superheroes, I can't wait to watch Medusa and Karnak go over the finer points of purchasing supplemental insurance. Black Bolt will destroy a city with a whine. This is just a bigger indictment of the cynicism behind Iron Fist, a 13-hour set-up show for the next Netflix/Marvel product that fanboys and fangirls will watch anyway even if it's garbage. The writers and producers relied on old tropes and old approaches thinking they're sufficient, assuming people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad. The billionaire playboy who travels to the far east is played out and needs to be put to rest. We need new kinds of stories, and there are plenty of voices out there waiting for a chance to be heard. There are also many unfamiliar faces we should be seeing. Had Lewis Tan been cast as the lead in the current version of Iron Fist, he'd be anchored to Danny Rand the bratty milksop, the least heroic and least interesting character in his own show. What a waste of potential, but man, what a resume builder.
Lewis Tan: Iron Fist? photo
Missed opportunity by Marvel/Netflix?
The first season of Iron Fist was the worst kind of disaster--a boring disaster. At least half of the season was devoted to a corporate takeover plot. Iron Fist features more scenes in corner offices and conference rooms than...

The first teaser trailer for Pixar's Coco is all about music, magic, and dead people

Mar 15 // Hubert Vigilla
As our own Nick Valdez put it, "Oh cool. Pixar made Book of Life 2." Here's an official synopsis: Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel's family history. Directed by Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”), co-directed by Adrian Molina (story artist “Monsters University”) and produced by Darla K. Anderson (“Toy Story 3”). Coco comes to theaters on November 22nd. [via Disney/Pixar on YouTube]
Pixar's Coco trailer photo
Seriously, that's a cool looking guitar
Pixar's Coco was one of our most anticipated movies of 2017. Disney and Pixar released the first teaser trailer for the film today, and it looks like a magical blend of music, mariachis, Dia de Muertos, and ghosts. This is the best kind of blend. Honest. Plus, check out that guitar. It is freakin' cool looking. Watch the teaser trailer for Coco below.

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Rogue One ending changes

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Rogue One 30-minute Q&A photo
Rogue One 30-minute Q&A

Watch a 30-minute Q&A with the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story cast and director


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Dec 04
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Star Wars: Rogue One

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Star Wars: Rogue One clip

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Star Wars: Rogue One vids

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// Hubert Vigilla
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Moana

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Thank you indeed
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Star Wars: Rogue One photo
Star Wars: Rogue One

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// Hubert Vigilla
I know, I know--we already said there was a final trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Now we have two final trailers. You can blame Disney and Lucasfilm for wanting to hype the movie one last time now that the public can buy their advanced movie tickets. Go buy tix already, duders. Check out the second final trailer for Rogue One below.

Review: Moana

Nov 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221047:43203:0[/embed] MoanaDirectors: John Musker and Ron ClementsRelease Date: November 23, 2016Rating: PG Moana follows the titular Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), a teenager who's always dreamed of traveling the seas beyond her island village, but is next in line for village chieftain and must stay home. When darkness begins rotting away her home, brought on when the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart of the ancient goddess Te Fiti, Moana must journey across the sea, find Maui and ask him for help, and return the Heart of Te Fiti from where it came. From its core, Moana is much different from Disney's other princess films. Choosing instead to follow Moana on a hero's journey, rather than a quest for love, the film allows for individual character development thanks to its simplicity. While this simplicity may mirror Disney's previous films a bit too much, it is honestly what makes Moana work as well as it does.  Directors Musker and Clements have experience creating lasting Disney legacies with the two of them directing hits like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Great Mouse Detective. Basically, these two are responsible for a good deal of your favorite Disney moments and it's the same with Moana. The film may share too many structural similarities with previous films because of their choices, but it's also sure to make up for that simplicity with a complex emotional through line and culture. It's what previous Disney Princess films had lacked, and it's what Frozen experimented with. With a simplified tale, the film allows the characters to add layers of depth. Instead of growing as a character in relation to another person, i.e when Ariel changes herself for Prince Eric, for example, Moana's tale is all about self-improvement. It's not complicated with extraneous plot like a third act twist villain or jokes from a cartoon sidekick, Moana instead sticks to its heart with its two central characters and builds everything around them.  Being a character first type of fairy tale, Moana trusts in its two stars to make it work. Thankfully, Dwayne Johnson and the awesomely talented newcomer, Auli’i Cravalho more than hold their own. Johnson as Maui is energetic and as charming as he ever is, but, coupled with Maui's slightly mischievous character design, now has a slight edge missing from some of Johnson's work. His song, "You're Welcome" is also fantastic. His single is definitely a standout with a blend of humor and musicality. But I don't think I'll ever be able to fully express how impressed I am by the young Auli’i Cravalho. You would never be able to tell, but as her first major starring role, Cravalho is an absolute delight. Once again marrying character design and performance, Cravalho makes Moana a believable kid. Moana is astonishingly the first Disney Princess to act like an actual young girl. She's awkward sometimes, but has an endearing moxie that characterized classic princesses like Mulan, Ariel, and Tiana. But unlike the other Princesses, Moana is allowed to have non-romantic flaws.  You're probably a bit worried since I keep comparing Moana to previous films, but it's entirely intentional. Musker and Clements intended to recapture the spirit of the 2D films. Every part of its production fully embraces nostalgia, while making sure to change enough to keep the film from repeating the past too much. Thanks to the phenomenal soundtrack from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina, every scene has just a bit more punch. The opening, for example, is kind of incredible. As the film introduces its setting and unique culture (as the Oceanic island culture is far more three dimensional than cultures seen in films past), its punctuated by an incredible chant-like song mirroring The Lion King's now prolific opening. While I'm not sure if its lead single's, "How Far I'll Go," contemporary style will outlast the Broadway appeal of its predecessor, it's still heart-opening. Jemaine Clement's surprise song performance is pretty great too, as it plays to his creepy wheelhouse. Also, the most beautiful song and performance overall is the ancestor song. I don't want to spoil it, but just trust that it's fantastic. But none of this character work or music would succeed without Moana's unbelievable visuals. Moana has Disney's most exemplary animation to date with its luscious landscape and gorgeous ocean animations. The setting itself is a main character, and somehow feels fantasical yet attainable. It's an island paradise capturing the mythical nature of its fairy tale, but also looks grounded enough to exist in our world. There's no skirting the Pacific Islander culture here, unlike the other Princess' films dilution of ethnicity. The character body design is diverse, with Moana herself looking less plastic and moving more fluidly than humans seen in Tangled or Frozen. Thanks to its full embrace of what makes it different, the story's complex emotion and culture seem simplistic. See? Full circle. It's simplicity by design. Blending its depth so well and sneaking in character development through song, I didn't realize how much I had experienced until I started writing this review. The only real problem I had with Moana overall was how some of its contemporary jokes and song arrangements (There's a Twitter reference and other meta jokes) betray the timeless quality of its setting, but honestly it's not that big of a deal. Moana is definitely one of the better theatrical experiences of 2016, and in a year full of strife, it's what we need right now.  Its nostalgic quality may turn some off of Moana, but the film is still incredibly fresh despite these parallels to the past. It's a Disney Princess film taking the successes of the past, fixes their problems, and injects a breath of life into Disney they haven't had for quite some time. Moana is for the child in you, your children, and even their children. And who knows? Moana may just go down as a "classic" years down the line. 
Moana Review photo
Hawaiian roller coaster ride
Disney Animation has had one critical success after another since they're in the middle of a new creative renaissance. Fully embracing CG animation, Disney has produced hits like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia, and most im...

Cars 3 photo
Cars 3

This Cars 3 teaser trailer is short and awesome


It looks...good?
Nov 21
// Nick Valdez
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The Inhumans on IMAX/ABC photo
The first TV show to debut via IMAX
The fate of Marvel's The Inhumans seemed uncertain this year. It was taken off the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three schedule last spring after being pushed back from 2018 and 2019. Now Marvel is taking an unprecedented s...

Review: Doctor Strange

Nov 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221002:43178:0[/embed] Doctor StrangeDirector: Scott DerricksonRating: PG-13Release Date: October 25, 2016 (UK); November 4, 2016 (US) There's a philosophical template to many martial arts stories: an arrogant, inherently talented person becomes an unruly disciple to wise master, trains in a martial art, confronts their weaknesses (typically the ego), and unlocks their better self through discipline and mastery. Many times the student will surpass their master through an act of invention--combining or creating fighting styles, for instance, constructing a new weapon, or some higher-level use of the imagination. Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch doing his Benedict Cumberbatch shtick) starts the movie as a hotshot neurosurgeon who's fame-obsessed and failure-averse. A near-fatal car accident causes severe nerve damage to his hands. He's got the shakes now. That's the end his lucrative career. Strange hears rumors of a monastery in Nepal that may be able to heal him. He travels to the east where he gets thrown into a world of sorcery, one at war with a former student named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). Like most Marvel villains, Kaecilius is sort of a non-entity--just a bad guy doing bad guy things. Tilda Swinton plays The Ancient One, the master of the monastery who teaches Strange the ways of sorcery and opens his eyes to the world and its possibility. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) offers an assist as a trainer, emphasizing strength and force. The only top-billed Asian actor is Benedict Wong who plays the stoic keeper of the arcane library. There's been a lot written in the last few months about the whitewashing of The Ancient One. I also foresee a lot of thinkpieces about cultural appropriation given how much of the movie feels like a kung fu film. I wasn't bothered by any of this, but everyone's mileage varies. There's enough that works in the film for me, and I think Swinton's air of otherworldliness and oddness fits with her character. When Doctor Strange is at its best, it's a fast-paced martial arts adventure that fills the screen with Escheresque imagery. Some moments have the vertiginous feel of Christopher Nolan's Inception or the finale of Interstellar, and others remind me a little of Alex Proyas' Dark City. There's an exhilirating chase through New York City streets in flux, where buildings and roads become a maddened, tilting, shifting clockwork world. When not spinning mandalas and fractals on screen, Doctor Strange recreates the blacklight psychedelia of Steve Ditko's comic book art. Director Scott Derrickson gives Doctor Strange its own visual grammar to differentiate it from the rest of the MCU. The film even finds a cool way of marrying the martial arts, the somatic components of spells, and the way magic manifests itself on screen. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange is a martial arts movie with badly shot fight scenes. The magic battles and traditional action is competent, allowing viewers to follow the actors on screen as the mirror-like gears of reality spin around them. Yet aside from one satisfying and inventive battle of astral projected forms (!), the fights are shot close up and with shaky cam, obscuring the choreography. It's a waste of Scott Adkins, who plays one of Kaecilius' goons. For all the philosophical lessons taken from Shaw Brothers movies, Doctor Strange ignores the practical lessons of quintessential Shaw Brothers directors Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Derrickson could have easily pulled his camera back, kept it steady, and allowed the performer's in-camera movements and rhythms to define his shots and the editing. Characters in martial arts movies communicate who they are through their fighting style, and so action filmmakers should allow their characters to describe themselves in combat. And of course there's a not-too-good romance subplot between Strange and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). It's there, it's not particularly engaging, and it's short enough. McAdams isn't given much to do, and there's not much reason to feel anything between Chrinstine and Strange. What is it about perfunctory love in movies? Does six minutes of a sketched romance really matter much? Platonic on-screen relationships are more satisfying than a forced romance, and they tend to be more dynamic. Stop trying to make romance subplots happen--it's not going to happen. Strange, The Ancient One, and Kacelius are so obsessed with time, its limits, and how it can be used. It drives their search for power. And on that note I felt like Doctor Strange could have benefited from an additional 10 minutes. (Maybe they could have shaved off some of that love stuff.) So much of this world is built up and breezed through that there's little time to breathe it in and appreciate what's there. Perhaps they wanted to keep the movie just under two hours, and yet that 10 minutes of breathing room could have opened things up a bit more. There's a major action sequence before the film's finale that occurs off-camera, which was a wasted opportunity for a classic martial arts set piece. Then again, given how they filmed the rest of the fight scenes, maybe it's for the best. There's a surprisingly good breather in the film between The Ancient One and Strange. The Ancient One ruminates as Strange listens, and the world around them achieves a gorgeous stillness. It's an unexpectedly thoughtful moment in the movie, thematically tied to characters and the overarching story and yet its own thing. Punching robots is fine, I guess, but I wouldn't mind more movies like Doctor Strange in the MCU. Good tea.
Review: Doctor Strange photo
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