Da Couch Tomato

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"You're probably coming back as a Netflix series."

•Being the last film in a trilogy, I was expecting a cry-fest. You know, like what Toy Story did when it (supposedly) ended. There were a few scenes that could've unleashed tears, but they didn't come.

•The courtship scene of the two Furies, where they danced and flew in beautiful formation, kind of reminded me of the robot courtship ritual of Wall-E and Eve. Although of course Wall-E was set in space, but it was pretty much the same. It even had the same effect, making you go, "Aww, how cute! They're just like humans, but less horny!"

•I was hoping for more Kit Harington also, but he was relegated to one of the grownups like the one-legged Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and Hiccup's mom Valka (Cate Blanchett).

•For some reason, I enjoyed the villain here. So his name is Grimmel, and he's voiced by F. Murray Abraham, and you couldn't tell it was him because he used some kind of accent. He doesn't invite that much hate, compared to the previous film's villain Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou, who loved screaming his lines. Grimmel seemed smarter, more relatable, maybe because he actually used strategy, compared to Drago's brute force.

•The movie felt less animated, for some reason. I mean, except for the character designs, the details in this film tend to lean towards photorealism. The cinematography was great, as usual, since they used cinematographer Roger Deakins as visual consultant for all three films in this series (Deakins won an Oscar for 2017's Blade Runner 2049). He captured the bleak, dreary look of the Viking world quite beautifully, and I think the colourful huts compensated for the lack of color, even if it did remind me of third world slums.

•Okay, let's talk about TJ Miller. I know the guy's difficult to work with, which was the reason he was kicked out of HBO's Silicon Valley. But is an actor's work ethic enough to grant him something close to persona non grata status in Hollywood? I mean, I can understand if he gets a marked decrease in acting gigs, but it has to be something really serious if he loses a voice acting gig for a character he's already voiced in the previous two movies, right? Okay, I just Googled it, and apparently, TJ Miller has some sexual assault allegations on his plate. Tuffnut – I mean, tough luck.

•Just some minor nitpicking, but is it possible to have a sinkhole in the ocean? Isn't "sea level" supposed to be the lowest level for land that isn't submerged in the water? Because the "hidden world" referred to in the title, the ancestral domain of all dragons, can be found below sea level, but on dry land. I'm sorry, but that's just not realistic for me. Dragons I can suspend my disbelief for, but not that.

•I think it's a fitting ending for Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless to part ways. A lesser franchise would've kept Hiccup and Toothless together until the end, like they were meant to be together. But Toothless is a dragon, and I appreciate how the filmmakers stayed true to the essence of dragons. These are majestic creatures, and they cannot be tamed, so it's a good thing Hiccup and Toothless parted ways as equals, not as master and pet ending their relationship.

•And on that note, I think the filmmakers did a good job of ending the series. Some film franchises give you a trilogy, then suddenly come out of left field with a fourth film (I'm looking at you, Toy Story). A trilogy in itself can sometimes feel like an obvious money-making venture, like how they forcefully stretched out The Hobbit into three films. But a good trilogy, when done right, can be a beautiful thing. How to Train Your Dragon as a trilogy was well done, and I really hope the producers leave the franchise alone. Any additions to this film universe should be done in the form of spin-offs, not forced continuations.

"Of course I have facial hair. I'm a Viking."

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. USA. 2019.

Original rating: 8.0/10
Stoic scenes: +0.1
Final rating: 8.1/10
"Let's see them boob–URK!"

•I love Japanese manga. True, I haven’t read that much; just a handful, maybe. But that’s only because of the scarcity of mangas when I was growing up. Apparently, manga has a wealth of material that can be translated into cinematic narratives, and Hollywood hasn’t even begun to tap into that potential yet.

•These Mexicans are really good filmmakers. Let me run down a few names here: Del Toro. Cuarón. Iñárritu. Okay, wait… Apparently, director Robert Rodriguez is Mexican-American. Still, there’s Mexican blood in there. Why are these Mexicans such good visual storytellers?

•Okay, so James Cameron produced this film. Great. I mean, Cameron might be a bit lacking in the narrative aspect of his films to elevate them into cinematic masterpieces. But the guy knows his craft. The guy knows filmmaking. From the technical to the technological, the guy knows everything about film. Which is why I can’t wait for the Avatar sequels.

•All right, so this is actually one of the very, very few films this year (and these past few years) that was actually shot on native 3D (meaning actual stereo 3D, using two cameras). One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that real 3D seems a bit mild, unlike converted 3D, which tends to pop out exaggeratedly. The reason for this is that with converted 3D, the stereographers have more control over the elements, so they can choose which element they want to bring to the fore and which they want to subdue. With native 3D, the lens separation happens during filming, leaving the stereographer with very little room to manipulate the stereo effect.

•Andy Serkis used to be the king of motion capture acting. Well, maybe not the king, but he was Hollywood’s go-to guy after showing us what motion capture can do with his performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies. Even during 2013’s Tintin, Serkis still outperformed everybody. Now, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Did you know it’s called “performance capture” now? They don’t just capture an actor’s body movements, now they can capture even an actor’s facial expressions. Although I think there are two possible reasons why Alita’s facial expressions look so realistic: 1) Rosa Salazar, aside from being a good actress, is also a very talented performance capture artist; or 2) the technology has advanced so much to the point that even regular actors can be as good as Andy Serkis was ten years ago.

•My god, Weta is awesome. They were already awesome since The Lord of the Rings, but now they’re even more awesome. I can’t think of a word better than awesome, but if there was such a word, Weta would be that. The special effects in this film are just so flawless. I’m pretty sure Weta would be the ones handling the Avatar sequels, and I’m just really excited to see how good the technology would be by that time.

•Okay, so I guess it is possible to fall in love with a robot. I used to be very vocal about my opposition to any form of human-robot romantic relations, even if it was with the formless artificial intelligence in 2013’s Her. But Alita: Battle Angel seems to have shown me that I shouldn’t speak with finality, because it is possible. Take Alita, for example. Sure, she’s got huge eyes, but you’d get past that after a bit. Alita had me with her smile. Why did the filmmakers have to make her so photorealistic? Damn you, Weta.

Yoga with Adrienne Alita

Alita Battle Angel. USA. 2019.

Original rating: 8/10
Christoph Waltz: +0.1
Jennifer Connelly: +0.1
Mahershala Ali: +0.1
Character designs: +0.1
Final rating: 8.4/10
"Could you guys compress a little to the center? Thanks."

I know I’ve said this a lot of times already, but let me just set the record straight: I’ve never left Team Shyamalan.

I’ve always been a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. I’ve never left his side. Sure, he had misses, but he also had hits. Although The Village will still be my favourite Shyamalan flick, I’ve never fed the hate and vitriol directed at him when he came out with the live action adaptation of The Last Airbender. Yeah, it wasn’t great, but let’s face it, it wasn’t horrible either. It was just… not that good. Compared to his body of work, that is.

But wait, this isn’t an article to defend Mr. Shyamalan. This is supposed to be a review of his latest film Glass. So here are three reasons why Glass is something worth watching.

It’s the conclusion to Shyamalan’s trilogy you never knew existed.
Let’s be honest here: How many of you knew when you watched Unbreakable back in 2000 that it would have a sequel? Nobody did. And when Split hit the theaters in 2016, how many of you figured out it happens in the same universe as Unbreakable before seeing Bruce Willis show up in the end? Again, nobody did – except Shyamalan, of course. The director really intended James McAvoy’s character to appear in Unbreakable, but had to cut him out. So Split can be considered a kind of spin-off in that sense. And thank God Shyamalan decided to give us Glass. We all love superhero flicks, and anything that doesn’t resemble a Marvel or a DC flick is a welcome treat indeed.

It’s a superhero flick that doesn’t seem like a superhero flick.
Honestly, this isn’t the best example of “a superhero flick that doesn’t seem like a superhero flick” – that distinction still belongs to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. But in Nolan’s context, that means being grounded in reality, which works for the Batman universe because the characters there mostly don’t have super powers. In this universe, the characters do have superpowers: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was unbreakable, meaning he had super strength; Elijah Price a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) had supervillain intelligence; and The Beast (James McAvoy) had, well, beast-like powers (I wouldn’t consider his multiple personalities as a superpower, because that’s more of a disorder). Yet despite the superpowers present, the director still tried to present this as grounded as possible, because the entire premise of the films is that superheroes walk among us, and the comic book characters are based on real-life people.

It’s got three great actors.
Okay, Bruce Willis isn’t really a great actor. He’s good, but I wouldn’t call him great. I wouldn’t say he’s mediocre. He’s good. Let’s leave it at that. Samuel L. Jackson I would say was great. He even had those little facial twitches going on, which kind of made his condition more authentic in a way. But the show-stealer here was James McAvoy. From the weight gain and body building he went through, to the meticulous character changes that had even Samuel L. Jackson stunned, to the veins popping out his neck, McAvoy deserved an acting award nomination at least for his performance here.

So, is this the end of this superhero series? It pretty much looks like it. Is M. Night Shyamalan going to venture into long form storytelling on the streaming platform? Maybe. But one thing’s sure: I am eagerly awaiting the day his next film hits theatres. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

"I'm still waiting for that Mace Windu origin story, Mr. Lucas Disney."

Glass. USA. 2019.

Original rating: 7.9/10
Sarah Paulson's annoying acting: -0.1
Using the same kid in Unbreakable: +0.1
Final rating: 7.9/10
He's like a cute metal death pet.

I am a child of the 80s. I was born in December 1979, so all my earliest memories were formed during the colourful decade of the 1980s. And like a true 80s boys, the Transformers, those robots in disguise that are more than meets the eye, hold a very special place in my heart.

When the first movie – oh, wait, the first Transformers movie was animated, and it came out in 1986. Let me rephrase that. When the first live-action movie came out in 2007, I was one of those geeky fanboys who almost wet themselves with excitement. Incidentally, the 2007 film is also the very first film reviewed in Da Couch Tomato, so, yeah. I love them Transformers.

However, not everyone found satisfaction in witnessing Michael Bay murder their childhood (an exaggeration, of course, but netizens and hyperbole are such a common pair), which is why the producers decided to give us this sequel reboot spinoff new Transformers flick. Here now are four reasons why Bumblebee is a proper throwback to the true spirit of this beloved franchise.

Classic character design
I’m going to make this short and sweet. How do we know that the filmmakers got the classic character designs right? Because they did. They actually did. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film’s opening minutes, set during the Battle of Cybertron, identifying the robots as they appeared onscreen and shouting their names out loud. “Soundwave! Shockwave! Arcee!”, pretty much like how I shouted out the names of the characters that made an appearance in Ready Player One.

Peter Cullen
Younger viewers may know Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, and nothing else. With older viewers, some may know that he also voiced the lethargic donkey Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, but almost every child who grew up with the Transformers knows that Peter Cullen isn’t just the voice of Optimus Prime – Peter Cullen IS Optimus Prime. His voice is so iconic that all live-action versions of the Transformers franchise featured Cullen as the Autobot leader. The filmmakers may have gotten away with turning Bumblebee into a Camaro, but they would never have gotten away with someone else voicing Prime. It’s Cullen or nothing.

The true test of Transformers geekery lies in the ability to answer this question from the top of your head: Name at least three (3) Triple Changers. (Easy: Astrotrain, Blitzwing, and Springer.) This film features Triple Changers, alright, but Shatter and Dropkick are not part of the 1980s Transformers line. I’m not sure why they chose to debut their Triple Changers with new characters when they could have just chosen any of the six Triple Changers from the old Transformers line. If they were going for all-out nostalgia, they shouldn’t have held back on this one. It’s fine, though. I’m not complaining. Thank you, Travis Knight!

In filmmaking, there are two ways you can set the time period. First is through production design, which takes care of the visual aspect, and this includes costume and wardrobe. Second is through the soundtrack, which takes care of the auditory aspect. Let’s have a quick rundown of a few of the artists on the soundtrack: The Smiths. Bon Jovi. A-ha. Tears for Fears. Duran Duran. I mean, come on. Nothing screams 80s more than Duran Duran. And of course, as a wink to the audience: Stan Bush’s “The Touch”, which was the theme song to the original 1986 Transformers film. See what they did there?

"Who's gonna drive me home tonight?"

Bumblebee. USA. 2018.

Original rating: 7.7/10
John Cena: +0.1
Hailee Steinfeld: +0.2
Final rating: 8.0/10
"I sense an Oscar win, guys."

Let me begin this review with my sentiments, which a lot of other people share: "This is the best animation style I have ever seen." Well, of course stop motion animation is still a glorious thing to behold, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gives us a much-needed break from all the computer-generated animation flicks that are basically just Pixar clones. And Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), together with last year's T'Challa from Black Panther, gives us a much-needed break from all the Caucasian superheroes of the silver screen.

Into the Spider-Verse does beautifully what Ang Lee's Hulk tried to do back in 2003, and that is to blend the visual comic medium with the audio-visual medium of cinema (Lee received a lot of hate with Hulk, but I was one of the very few who genuinely thought it was groundbreaking). The result is a visual style that is totally new, a breath of fresh air in this age where every computer animated film looks the same. There are several nods to the source medium of print, such as using speech bubbles and sound effects text, using CMYK offsetting instead of blurs, and of course the iconic use of halftones. Nothing says print more than those halftone dots.

The plot's pacing was okay, although there were times when the almost two-hour running time felt longer than that. And the story is a good take on the alternate universe template. If this were a live-action flick, the filmmakers would probably put the same actor in different makeup and costumes to illustrate different alternate dimension versions of the character. But why should Spider-Man in another dimension always look exactly like Peter Parker (Jake Johnson)? Why can't there be a black Spider-Man, a female Spider-Man (Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), an anime Spider-Man (Peni Parker, voiced by Kimiko Glenn), an animated pig Spider-Man (Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney), or a black-and-white Spider-Man who sounds like Nicholas Cage? In the same vein, why shouldn't an alternate dimension version of me look like Brad Pitt?

Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman could also have chosen to go the cheesy route and have Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy kiss in the end. It's a good thing they didn't, and they replaced it with Miles hugging his dad in the end instead. This film is about friendship and family, and isn't about Spider-Man's romantic love interest, because Miles Morales just hit puberty, after all.

This review comes a bit late, as the film was released in December, but it does come off a recent Golden Globe win for Best Animated Film. And that is a good sign that Into the Spider-Verse just might take home the animated film Oscar. This is important because I've met children nowadays who would ignore a beautifully animated Hayao Miyazaki flick for a crappy Paw Patrol episode simply because Miyazaki is 2D. Sad, I know, but kids need to be reintroduced to great animation that isn't overtly computer-generated. I guess we need to wean them off gradually, so maybe give them a film that's CGI, but doesn't feel totally CGI, and that pays homage to the 2D medium – and coincidentally, that's what this film is.

Honestly, I think this would still rock even as a 2D-animated film. 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. USA. 2018.

Orinal rating: 8.0/10
Mahershala Ali looking like his character: +0.25
Brian Tyree Henry voicing Miles's dad: +0.25
Liev Schreiber's unrecognisable voice: +0.25
Stan Lee's cameo: +0.25
Final rating: 9.0/10
YouTube here and here

Da Couch Tomato Podcast, Episode 4, discussing Erik Matti's Buy Bust and Richard Somes's We Will Not Die Tonight, how the Bacolod filmmakers are pushing the envelope for action movies, and how female action heroines might be the next trend.

Hosts: Sting Lacson and Giosi Mendoza


Da Couch Tomato Podcast, Episode 3, discussing HBO's Westworld Season 2, how it is not the next Game of Thrones, and how it is the new Matrix.

Hosts: Sting Lacson and Giosi Mendoza, with guest Rachel P.


Da Couch Tomato Podcast, Episode 2, discussing Deadpool 2, a bit about how DC movies differ from Marvel, and how to approach viewing a film like Deadpool 2.

Hosts: Sting Lacson and Giosi Mendoza

What's On Netflix

This is the first DCT podcast, so bear with us. We hope to produce more, because it's really fun to make, but quite time-consuming to edit.

You know this isn't porn because he still has his shirt on.

Ah, Ready Player One. I loved the book a lot, so when I found out it was going to be a movie, I almost pissed my pants in excitement. I was even a little miffed that 2017's The Last Jedi pushed back RPO's release date to March 2018. But it doesn't matter. It's playing now in theatres, which is a good thing. And that's just one of the many good things about this film, such as...

1. It's Steven Spielberg at the helm.
I've mentioned it before. Spielberg is one of the best visual storytellers alive today. He has such a very deep understanding of cinema: from composition, to cinematography, to narrative pacing, to adaptation. He is a great director because he is effective. His camera movements are not for show; they have a purpose, which is to reveal information or to advance the story forward. He's been doing this a long time, so he's become quite good at it.

2. Ernest Cline co-wrote the screenplay.
This is one of the very few instances where an adapted screenplay is also penned by the same author of the source material. Cline's book was a perfect nerdgasm of 80s pop culture references, plus the world-building he did was so fantastic that apparently, the virtual reality (VR) company Oculus gave all its employees a copy of the Ready Player One book. However, some scenes in the book are either not cinematic enough or just downright unfilmable that another writer was needed to crack the adaptation problem. And that's where co-writer Zak Penn comes in. With Penn in the equation, the final screenplay is, well...

3. It's not like the book.
Around a quarter of the way into the film, I just gave up on any expectations that the movie would be faithful to the book. Well, the spirit and essence of the book was preserved, thanks to the close collaboration between Penn, Cline, and Spielberg. There's still the quest, the three challenges, and the David vs. Goliath theme (Parzival against the big corporation IOI). But the details have changed drastically, and the narrative took a different direction. The challenges have been altered: the first challenge, the race, was not in the book, while the second challenge was changed to The Shining instead of War Games. But it doesn't matter, actually, as this is a great story on the page and on the screen.

4. The actors aren't that well-known.
Spielberg made a good call with this film's casting, opting to go for mostly newcomers. With the exception of Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, and Oscar winner and new Spielberg favourite Mark Rylance, the rest of the cast are relative unknowns. I think it's probably because the filmmakers want us to concentrate on the wonderful story, and having too many Hollywood A-listers might take the attention away from the narrative. That or the special effects took up a bulk of the budget.

5. References galore.
The book was a veritable nerdgasm of 1980s pop culture references. There's references to 1980s movies, music, and most of all, video games. In the book, though, it was explicitly stated that James Halliday was a huge fan of everything 80s, so all references came from that decade only. The movie didn't make that distinction, though, and opened up its references to other decades. There's Speed Racer from the 60s, Star Trek from the 70s, Jurassic Park's T-Rex from the 90s, Firefly's Serenity from the 00s, and Minecraft from the 10s. I guess including references from the more recent decades would please the younger fans instead of alienating them.

I've seen Jerry Seinfeld drive a DeLorean. Not that impressive.

Ready Player One. USA. 2018.

Rating: 8.7/10
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