Tuesday, November 13, 2018

STAN THE MAN Has Gone: STAN LEE of MARVEL, 95

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One of the joys of the universe of Marvel Comics being interpreted in live-action, from films to TV series, is that as much as possible they tried to include little cameo appearances by a remarkably vibrant guy of a very advanced age who was a riot whenever he said something in his scenes. He was born Stanley Martin Lieber, but the world of comic books and superheroes know him as Stan Lee, co-creator of many Marvel characters and one of the greatest visionaries in the industry for so many decades. Despite his advanced age he was always game to be a part of the Marvel audiovisual experience; but everything ends.
And so with a heavy heart it is reported through many media sources including Entertainment Weekly that Stan Lee of Marvel Comics has passed away at the age of 95. Representatives share that “Stan the Man” died in the early hours of Monday, November 12, at the Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was rushed following a health emergency at his home. This was also corroborated by Kirk Schenk who serves as personal attorney for Stan’s daughter and only surviving family, Joan Celia Lee.
The Marvel creative legend’s health has been declining in past years. Just this March, he mentioned in a video that he had come down with pneumonia, which effectively cancelled several of his planned public appearances in 2018. The departure of his wife of some 70 years, Joan Babcock Lee, only last year at the same age of 95 is also believed to have taken a toll on Stan. Also not helping were the recent business and personal problems that have arisen, from allegations of harassment by him and elderly abuse against him, to legal battles with his inner business circle and a media company that he co-founded back in 2001.

Born of Jewish Romanian immigrants in 1922, Stan Lee conceived his famous pen name when he started working on the staff of Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. In the 1960s he and collaborators such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko developed a new, grounded and humanly flawed characterization for comic-book superheroes that led to the creation of Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and more. As he himself was a Marvel employee, Stan’s many marvelous creations remained owned by the company itself, and later by Disney which acquired Marvel in 2009.
Stan the Man’s death has been eulogized and tributes done in his memory, not only by the comic book industry but the general entertainment complex due of course to the MCU film franchise. Stars from Marvel Studios saluted him on social media, as did comic creators like Brian Michael Bendis, who posted a comic-form memoriam in the New York Times.
Image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter

“BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”: ‘Mark My Words, No One Can Ignore QUEEN’

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One significant question in the creation of a biographical motion picture, or biopic, is how much actual history can be put in without turning it into a straight documentary, and how many fictional elements can be mixed into the narrative for dramatic license before it becomes too much. When the subject of the biopic happens to be one of the greatest rock bands in history, one with a years-spanning decade and a front-man with a very interesting private life, that question becomes especially important. I would not say “Bohemian Rhapsody” by 20th Century Fox answered that question, but it does somehow present what I think is a reasonable blend of historical facts and dramatic storytelling.
As the title implies, the film is a biopic on legendary British band Queen, as centered on its lead vocalist Freddie Mercury, portrayed to magnificent effect by American (of Coptic Egyptian extraction) actor Rami Malek, whose film and television career has seen him play an Egyptian Mummy (“Night at the Museum” films) to, more recently, a cyber-security hacker for three seasons of USA Network’s “Mr. Robot”. To get to play Freddie Mercury would easily be the pinnacle of all his roles thus far, and he nails it with near-accurate aplomb.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” means to show the history of Queen, from its beginnings as the pub-playing Smile until talented vocalist and songwriter Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara, a Parsi airport luggage handler who puts up with being mistaken by Britons as a “Paki”, volunteers to replace their quitting lead singer. With Freddie’s voice and command of the stage complementing the instrumentation skills of Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and the guitar hero Bryan May (Gwilym Lee), the rebranded Queen make enough of a splash that the guys follow Freddie’s lead to start making albums and eventually going on tour too.
That is all well and good, but any fan of Queen that has researched their history would know that this is a simplified Cliff’s Notes version of what actually happened. No, Freddie did not acquire his legless mike stand on his first outing with the band. The events are all broad strokes, with general music biopic tropes seemingly used to tie the general waypoints together. The same applies to the coverage of Freddie’s personal life: his estrangement from family, his falling in love with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and eventual examination of his actual sexuality.
But then some counter inquiries pop up. Does it really matter that events in Freddie Mercury and Queen’s lives are not delved into greater detail? Do glossing over the lives of Brian May and the others to keep the spotlight on Freddie ruin the perception of this being a Queen biopic? Does establishing Freddie’s homosexual relationships following the deterioration of his engagement to Mary, but not going graphic beyond guys kissing, a cop-out to the nitty-gritty of the dalliances that led to tragic consequences that were not depicted either? The production team went with “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a dramatic movie rather than a pseudo-documentary. I happen to accept that.
Story interpretation aside, there is one element of the film that only tone-deaf critics being harsh for its own sake would dare mark down: the music. While Malek was given his due with him vocalizing at some points, the heavy lifting was given over to actual Queen song inserts to the performance scenes, from studio recordings to the concerts, all done in meticulous attention to detail. From the wardrobe to the sets (a few instances of anachronism notwithstanding), it all looks appropriate to the period.
But the piece de resistance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” has got to be its final sequence, being Queen’s set during the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley. The scene was a near-exact copy of the actual set, with only two songs omitted; but anyone who has seen footage of Queen at Live Aid would be able to match Freddie’s body motions to Malek’s. He is just that good, and the scene is enhanced with cinematic techniques from drone shots of the Wembley Stadium set, which was indeed filled with real spectators. I would be hard-pressed to find anybody who was not affected by this one sequence.
When I watched the film in the cinema for my review, I saw a wide age range in the audience, from possible Queen-contemporary adults to high school students to children. Some of them even sang along when the songs were on. If that is no indication of Queen’s mark on music I would not know what is. This to me makes worth it all the behind-the-scenes production drama, and their ability to salvage a gem from disaster, particularly Dexter Fletcher who finished what the initial director Bryan Singer started. This Queen biopic may leave much to be desired in terms of historical focus, but its celebration of the band’s music and Freddie’s place in it cannot ever be simply ignored.
Image courtesy of Business Insider

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES Kill 31, Destroy TOWN, Burn Some CELEBRITY HOMES

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In California the most likely natural disasters to visit would be an earthquake or wildfires. This time of the year in particular is often the prime period when they break out. When they do, devastation of homes and communities, not to mention injury and loss of life, would surely follow.
CNN reports that the two major California wildfires that broke out last week on Thursday, November 8, have between them claimed no less than 31 lives in their infernal rampage. The Camp wildfire in the northern part of the state has been the worst of these, and has already been labeled as perhaps the most devastating blaze to ever ravage California. It claims 29 of the confirmed dead, and is responsible for the near complete destruction of Paradise town with over 90 of its standing structures burned down, and 238 people still missing and unaccounted for according to local authorities.
Over in the south, the Woolsey wildfire killed the remaining 2 fatalities reported so far, while spreading about 85,500 acres. In conjunction with the smaller, and now mostly contained, Hill wildfire, Woolsey has destroyed 179 buildings and threaten to burn 57, 000 more. It is 15% contained; Camp is 25%.

Among the many homes that were razed by the wildfires are residences of major Hollywood stars such as Gerald Butler, Camille Crammer Meyer and Shannon Doherty, along with those of singer-songwriters Neil Young and Robin Thicke. Among those who have joined the evacuation but for now have their residences remaining intact are Alyssa Milano, Orlando Bloom, Lady Gaga, Rainn Wilson, Caitlyn Jenner and Donna Karan.

For Young, this makes it his second home lost to a California wildfire; and his official website blog post has him speaking about climate change enabling devastating blazes like these. Butler, for his part, was quite impressed with the grit and determination shown by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel in battling the wildfire that consumed his home, and asked for charitable support for the organization on Twitter.
High winds around Los Angeles County have not made things any easier for firefighters in preventing more flare-ups to increase the wildfires’ footprint in addition to the extended dry period that local officials forecast will continue on into the week. Again the prime suspect is climate change, as remarked on by California Governor Jerry Brown. “This is not the new normal, this is the new abnormal,” he said. “The chickens are coming home to roost, this is real here.” Los Angeles County has seen 170,000 residents being evacuated ahead of the wildfire advance, adding to the total 300,000 already fled.
We here at Morgan Magazine express our admiration and support to the brave fire fighters of the LAFD as they battle to contain the Camp and Woolsey wildfires before they damage anything further. We also send our prayers that those who have evacuated might still have homes to return to. Lastly, our deepest sympathies go to those who have already lost their homes, as well as the very casualties of these deadly blazes.
Image courtesy of ABC News

Friday, November 9, 2018

JAPANESE Network Cancels BTS TV Guesting Due to “INSULTING” SHIRT

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It could be said that two of the most significant pillars in Asian pop culture that has penetrated to a global scale, are Japan and South Korea. From Japanese manga and anime, to Korean smartphones and electronics, to their music industries, this tandem has got the world hooked. But underneath this cordial cooperation in entertainment still remain scars of the past, when Korea was a Japanese colony that fought back during World War II. Any reminder of this past hostility – comfort women for instance – could set Japan and South Korea at odds. K-Pop group BTS learned this the hard way.
According to ABS-CBN News, a planned television appearance and performance of BTS this Friday on TV Asahi in Japan, was cancelled before shooting in the wake of a social controversy that turned some Japanese fans, normally under the thrall of the internationally famous K-Pop boy band, sour on them. A circulating photograph from last year of BTS member Jimin showed him wearing a shirt with the depiction of an atomic bomb explosion, alongside historical slogans used by the Korean independence movement against Japan during World War II. What was worse, the picture was dated August 15, 2017, the traditional Korean celebration day of the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.
Following upset comments on Japanese social media calling Jimin’s past fashion choice an insult, TV Asahi consequently released a statement to the effect that “BTS’s appearance scheduled for the 9th has been cancelled.” The network was frank in citing the surge of backlash considering the perceived anti-Japanese shirt image, as it evoked the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the Pacific conflict and World War II in its entirety. TV Asahi added that they discussed the intentions of the shirt with BTS’s record label.
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Geographically located between Japan and China, the Korean peninsula has been historically and culturally shaped by its two neighbors, through both peaceful interactions and military occupation. Japan controlled Korea twice, in the 16thCentury and the early 20th, the latter of which saw them annex and rule the peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945. Korea was liberated by American forces in the south and Soviets in the north, leading to division which would eventually lead to another war and an ongoing flashpoint of international tensions even today. Some bitterness persists between Koreans and Japanese due to this history.
Following the cancellation of their appearance on Japanese TV, BTS also released their own statement about the matter, on their official website. It reads, “We apologize for disappointing fans who were looking forward to this. BTS will continue their efforts to connect with fans on stage and also through music.”
Images: Japan Times and BBC

“BREAKING BAD” MOVIE Confirmed by LONG-RUNNING SHOW’s Former LEAD STAR

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In 2008 a new series debuted on AMC that was classified as both a “new western” and crime drama, called “Breaking Bad”, starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. Set in its shooting location of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the series chronicles the life of chemistry professor and lung cancer sufferer Walter White, who tried to raise money for his treatment by cooking meth to sell to addicts. From a strict necessity it becomes White’s life, eventually corrupting him from desperate crook to a vicious drug kingpin.
“Breaking Bad” ended in 2013, hailed as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, with a prequel spinoff titled “Better Call Saul” currently airing on its home network. But there has been a recent buzz that a film version of the series was being considered for development. Fans can wonder no longer as Bryan Cranston himself confirmed it.
CNN has it that Cranston mentioned a “Breaking Bad” movie on a phone interview during “The Dan Patrick Show” which aired Wednesday, November 7. He mentioned that, while a script may have been initiated, in his own words, “I have not gotten the script, I have not read the script. So there’s the question of whether or not we’ll even see Walter White in this movie. Think about that one.”
What is known however is that the potential movie will be a sequel to the original series, and this time the focus character would be Walter White’s former assistant Jesse, to be reprised by Paul Aaron. The general gist of the “Breaking Bad” film plot would be that of a kidnapped man escaping from his abductors and his ensuing “quest for freedom”. The New Mexico Film Office also remarks that they have approved production of the movie once again in Albaquerque, with actual production to already start sometime this month.
Despite the possible lack in the film of the central Walter White character, who (spoiler alert) died in the season finale way back in 2013, Bryan Cranston has expressed his interest to once again take up the role of White, also known by his underworld nickname of “Heisenberg”. A factor in his excitement at any chance of reprising the role is due to the involvement of the series creator Vince Gilligan in the film’s development. “I’m excited about it because it’s ‘Breaking Bad’ and it was the greatest professional period of my life,” Cranston remarked.
Image courtesy of The Ringer

Thursday, November 8, 2018

SAMSUNG Shows FOLDING PHONE-TABLET with “INFINITY FLEX”; NOT YET Mass-Produced

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It was a smartphone concept floated by Korean electronics giant Samsung for as far back as a concept video from 2014, four years ago. Late last month they finally set a date for when they would finally introduce to the world a mobile tablet computer that could “fold” into a smartphone; or maybe it was a smartphone that unfolded into a larger tablet. In any case, it seemed the device in question was finally ready for unveiling, if not for mass-production to the larger global market. Said developers’ conference by Samsung happened this week in San Francisco and…well, the demonstration was better than no product.
The Verge reports that a folding mobile device was indeed showcased by Samsung Senior Vice President of Mobile Marketing Justin Denison, but apparently it was still too soon and incomplete to shine a spotlight on the darn thing. Denison on stage at the developer’s event had asked for the lights to dim down then produced a smartphone-sized and shaped gadget with a lit icon-filled display. Like opening a book, he unfolded the device which then lit up a tablet-sized display. Finally, without switching of that display, Denison folded the device again into a smartphone, with the smaller “cover” display activated.
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While Samsung is not able to give the new device’s name right now, Denison was allowed to identify the technology that enabled the folding and unfolding of an electronic touchscreen as shown. This was the “Infinity Flex” display. The beauty of the system, which boasts one smartphone-sized cover display and a folding tablet display, is that they are fundamentally three screens (with two linked into the bigger foldable display). Thus a whopping three different apps can be activated simultaneously at any given time, with each display handling one of them.
Development of Infinity Flex by Samsung has received some technical assistance from Google; after all, it is on a smartphone that runs the Android mobile OS, created under the auspices of the internet giant. This help comes in the form of consultation and assistance in using what features exist in Android now that could be used to support the massive processing power needed to run Infinity Flex and its multi-app capability. Justin Denison did dampen enthusiasm a little when he said that mass production will not happen yet until a few months later, meaning no, this device will not come out this year at all.
Granted, Samsung has not been the only electronics company looking into folding-device tech. Fellow Korean brand LG is working on an OLED flat-screen TV that can fold up into a compact box, while Chinese companies Lenovo and Xiaomi are also at the prototype stage with their own folding mobile gadgets.
Images: MobileSyrup, Globe and Mail

ANIME Adaptation of FILIPINO Graphic Novel “TRESE” Coming to NETFLIX

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Netflix, the massive international streaming media platform, has dedicated significant effort into truly making their platform a global one. From offering options in foreign subtitles for streamed content, to developing foreign dubs of certain popular programs, the logical progression was that soon, Netflix will be carrying content produced by other nations, either existing movies and series or actual Netflix original content from them. The Philippines is no exception, with some of its studio and indie films having recently been uploaded to the Netflix streaming library. Next there will be an adaptation of a Filipino graphic novel, getting an anime adaptation.
CNN Philippines has it that Netflix has plans to release an anime adaptation of “Trese”, a popular urban fantasy graphic novel comic created by the writer-artist team of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldissimo. While described as “anime”, it will not be produced under a Japanese animation studio, but rather of a joint Indonesian-Singaporean collaboration, and using the familiar anime style. Heading the production will be show-runners Shanty Harmayn and Tanya Yuson from BASE Entertainment, with studios and offices in Jakarta and Singapore. This was announced by Netflix Thursday, November 8, at their “See What’s Next Asia” event, also in Singapore.
“Trese” is an interesting take on the mythology of magical and horror creatures from Philippine folklore such as the Aswang and Engkanto. The “komik” series is set in Manila, which has a hidden secret community of mythological beings in the metropolitan area’s criminal underworld, featuring Aswang kidnap-for-ransom gangs and Kapre criminal bosses. Its main character is the supernatural private detective Alexandra Trese, who gets called in by the normal police force to investigate crimes and occurrences in Manila that have a decidedly mythological element involved. The original graphic novels by Tan and Baldissimo ran 2005-2012 and filled 17 subdivided issues.
Netflix is heavily pushing its streaming platform as a new place to watch original quality anime and anime-inspired series and films over the past few years. It has carried an anime “Godzilla” film trilogy ahead of the 2019 cinema-release “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” from Legendary Pictures. Other productions in that vein debuting in the same period as “Trese” are anime series takes on existing Netflix live-action series “Altered Carbon” (based on the book by Richard K. Morgan) and of the Warner-Legendary giant-robot-versus-kaijuu film franchise “Pacific Rim”. No further details or release dates were revealed.
Other Philippine movies already uploaded for streaming on Netflix include “Heneral Luna”, “Buybust”, “Kitakita” and “Beauty and the Bestie”. Other films are expected to follow.
Image courtesy of Esquire Philippines

DEMOCRATS Regain HOUSE But Lose More SENATE Seats to GOP in Ongoing 2018 US MIDTERMS

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Ever since Republican Party candidate Donald Trump was elected President of the United States back in 2016, that country and the rest of the world has been not quite the same. And over the next two years the situation has been the same and seemingly getting worse simultaneously. Trump has enjoyed some successes in backpedaling on certain policies in place since the previous Democratic administration of Barack Obama, and the Democrats have fought tooth and nail to somewhat rein in his more extreme proposals. The 2018 Midterm Elections was touted as the time when Democratic blue would regain some power over Republican red; but results show it was not thorough.
USA Today reports that, following voting day itself on Monday, November 6, the 2018 US Midterm Elections are showing that while there is indeed a pushback on the sometimes heavy-handedness of President Donald Trump’s Republican administration, in the form of significant Democrat gains in the House of Representatives, it was far from the resurgent “blue wave” hyped and prayed for by the party. Indeed, the new Democratic House seats were offset by the GOP upping their Senate seats, while the State Gubernatorial races remain a toss-up on which party dominates.
When Trump and the Republicans came to power two years ago after eight years of Barack Obama, the Democrats were left in a minority position on both Houses of Congress, and estimated that they need to take back at least 23 seats in the House of Representatives to flip the majority back to blue. While the House count has yet to conclude, as of midnight in November 7, they have attained that magic number, thanks to support from suburban areas and the women’s vote, both of which have been some of the most discomfited sectors in the Trump presidency. One notable gain was Florida, where former Clinton HHS Secretary Donna Shalala prevented Maria Elvira Salazar from continuing the GOP run of predecessor Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
In the Senate however, a number of Democratic candidates and incumbents were beaten in a strong upset poll performance by their Republican counterparts. Red Senatorial gains include Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. Vermont on the other hand remained under Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for a third term, weathering a Republican challenge. Meanwhile, the gubernatorial elections saw a Republican win in Florida, countered by Democrat victories in Kansas and Colorado.
As it stands now, the 2018 US Midterms sees the Democrats at 2018 House seats to 193 Republicans, with the Red secured at 51 Senate seats to 43 Blue. In terms of winning State Governors, there are now 25 Republicans to 21 Democrats, but the unfinished races can still make or break for the majority.
Image courtesy of VOA News