Random Movie thoughts

So I watched Sing on netflix the other day, it was exactly what you think it is from the trailers.  The only surprise was that one of the main characters is Seth MacFarlane playing a mouse (maybe that was in a trailer but none of the ones I saw).  Otherwise I just wanted to see what the final playlist of the movie was.  Again, no surprises, a middle of the road selection of pop songs.  On the whole?  I am officially done with celebrity voice acting.  Unless they’re a comedian – they just can’t do it.  It’s especially bad when you watch animated shows and hear great, talented voice actors really bring to life characters.  Then you watch one of these movies and can’t remember anything about it you just watched.  The only one I can remember from Sing is Seth MacFarlane’s mouse oh and HE does a lot of voice work!  He really stands out in the cast and just highlights the problem of celebrities that can’t act behind the camera. (And there’s nothing wrong with that, Billy West may not be able to act in front of a camera but damn can that man do voices.)

This was especially clear to me when I watched an episode of Comrade Detective and boy is their voice work sleep-inducing.

Valerian was a movie I wanted to lie but oh man does the dialog make it hard.  We’re talking Star Wars prequels level.  It also allows modern-day politics to seep into the film and ruin story points.  It also runs into the problem I’ve seen a lot of movies have where they want to do a plot about a cover-up, but then when you think about the movie from another angle, the cover up doesn’t work.  It also runs afoul of the sci-fi fantasy problem of why can a person do X but not Y; how does the protagonist figure out X but not Y; etc.

Dunkirk was an interesting movie.  I’ll admit, if it was put out by any other director, I would probably not care for it, but Nolan has built up so much good will from me that I actually want to try and figure out what his goal is with the movie.  I also think that in making it very unlike other war movies, he wants it to be better remembered.

I’ve been on an 80s catch-up binge lately, watching stuff like They Live. It’s sometimes almost a bit of culture shock how “slow” these old films are.  Of course back then films actually breathed and worried about getting from point A to B.  I want to object to anybody who might protest that older films are boring.  I know I feel the same temptation to pull out my phone during downtime moments but honestly, just try and make yourself focus on the entire film for the entire time.  And you realize that the film as a whole ends up sticking with you.  It’s started to remind me of something Verbose Stoic once said:

The movies are overstuffed with shallow story and plotlines, so much so that the only way to really get the plotlines is because they are so tropey that we immediately recognize the scenes and what they indicate even if things aren’t set up properly in advance.

. . .

Again, we recognize the events because we know that this is what happens, but they aren’t developed enough in movie for us to really get the emotional connection to work.

Now he’s talking about the Despicable Me films in particular but I think it’s becoming a regular feature of more and more movies.  Part of it may just be the ADD times we live in, where we assume the audience is going: “Oh this is where they fall in love, yeah we get it, move along.”  But part of it may also be lazy writers.  Heck I admit, when trying to write out my own stuff it’s easy to start falling into the trap of rushing stuff along.

Plus I think there’s a real difference – a frustration with storytellers – when we see a moment in our minds, but when trying to crystallize that moment, and make it real into the world so others can see the moment in their minds, it ends up being less than we first thought.  Bringing an imagined moment, or character, or setting, into reality causes it to lose something, and it is frustrating.  So I wonder if some storytellers think they can preserve that thought if they hint at it enough, keep it from harsh reality.  It’s the difference between “she was the most beautiful woman in the world” and “She had long, flowing red hair with curls at the end. Ruby red lips that begged to be kissed… etc”  I don’t know for certain, but it’s something I’m noticing more and more.

And Spider-man:Homecoming was ok.  I’m starting to place bets that Marvel movies are going to crater after Infinity War.

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Nate watches Risen

Yes I’m reviewing a religious movie.  Want the quick version? Quite good, especially compared to a lot of recent religious fare. Not the ending I would have picked, but an ending the movie earned.  My 2nd fave faith film after Book of Eli.  Suitable for families with older children, avoid if your kids still aren’t allowed to watch the nightly news.

Below be spoilers.

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The Obligatory Star Wars 7 Review

Well I have a blog on the internet, and as Al Gore pointed out to me, part of the terms & conditions for that is talking about Star Wars…

Spoiler Free Review

(seriously? you haven’t seen it yet?)

I’d rank it at least as good as Return of the Jedi and it’s definitely the best things JJ Abrams has ever directed.  Practical effects make the world feel real and people actually act this time instead of the wooden cutouts we had in the prequels.  Action is generally filmed well enough to keep track of what’s happening.  The plot… kind of as well.  All in all, an entertaining ride that an entire family could enjoy.

It’s a star wars film, what more do you want?

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Nate watches Amazing Spider-Man 2

I took a long time getting to this since I heard so much bad about it.  Still, I love Spider-man action sequences and finally thought: “Well, may as well see it for myself.”

So that was a great Superman movie.

(no seriously, listen to some of the soundtrack and see if it doesn’t sound just like what you’d expect in a supes movie – heck at one point Spidey even carries a car like Superman)

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Nate watches “Days of Future Past”

Well I got to watch the latest Xmen movie* this past Friday…

Without hyperbole, I say honestly this is THE best xmen movie we’ve had so far.  If we were to rank the best comic book movies of all time: Superman, the Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, the Avengers – this film is a serious contender for joining those ranks.

I say all this with no knowledge about the original source material too; though the movie was so good I ran to the bookstore immediately after and picked up a trade collection of the story (and might do a deeper compare/contrast once I’ve read it).  Maybe it fails as an adaption, maybe it completely betrays the source, but as someone with only the most casual knowledge of the xmen (gleamed mostly from the 90s cartoon and the movies), this remains a good film.

Spoilers are not really a concern.  If you have even the most basic awareness of story construction you can see where things are going.  That doesn’t detract from the experience as each beat within the story is perfectly executed to make the journey absorbing.  That said, part of what makes this movie stand out is the climax.  No spoilers, but of late, most comic films have grand, action-packed, city destroying set pieces at the end.  Not that there’s anything wrong with this in and of itself (yes, I loved the Avengers & Pacific Rim), but such can get tiring when you have it at the end of every-single-movie.  Part of what makes this one refreshing is that there’s very little destruction and action at the end, but instead the movie hinges on a moral choice.

The actors are all outstanding in this, with many of them bringing great operatic moments to the screen.  It brings to mind that comics may not be that separated from the Greek tragedies and comedies of old.  I know some might be concerned that Wolverine is going to take over this movie like he sort of did the first 3, but don’t worry about that.  In this he serves only as our viewpoint character so that we can see the worlds of past and future through familiar eyes.  The main focus of the movie remains Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique, and the actors playing them prove more than capable of carrying the narrative.

Continuity wise, the only requirement is that you have seen Xmen: First Class.  While there are treats and shout outs to the other movies (except for Wolverine: Origins, that’s pretty much forgotten) you don’t need to have seen them to enjoy this or follow the story.  Heck you don’t even need to have seen 1st Class, but the impact of a lot of the emotional points is greater on you if you’ve seen the build up from the previous movie.

Oh, and we get to see Jennifer Lawrence a lot in the Mystique makeup.  Hard to hate a movie that gives you that. 😉

EDIT: First, make sure you SIT THROUGH THE CREDITS!  Sequel bait for the next film follows.

Second, if you’re looking for an in depth, more spoiler-heavy review, I recommend Doug Ernst’s take.  He’s pretty spot on here.

 

*Yes, I know the director has some troubling accusations against him right now.  But I have two values which I stand by: 1. Art, like children, should be judged apart from those who birthed them.  2. People are innocent until proven guilty.  If the director is guilty, then let him be punished to the fullest extent of the law, even if that means he’ll never make another movie again.

Nate watches ‘Man of Steel’

So, after all the talk about Superman, how did this story stack up?

Well… the best way I can explain it is that it’s a pretty good “Elseworlds” story.  A lot of the basics of Superman are there but there is a lot of “fiddling around” with it too.

Which I don’t mind.  Like his costume, you can make adjustments to the outer trappings, as long as it’s still recognizably Superman in the costume.  So is it?  …

Well some people still don’t want spoilers so I’ll put a thorough discussion past the grade.  Although there shouldn’t be any “surprises” in this movie if you’re at all familiar with Supes or story structure.

How attached you are to certain details of Superman will raise or lower your own score.  This really does feel like a Superman movie made for people who don’t know or like Superman, so keep that mind even if you normally dislike him.

ALSO NOTE (IMPORTANT): There are NO scenes post or during the credits.  Once those names role, feel free to head out.

Links to other reviews and my thoughts on them:

(coming soon)

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the General

Actually my biggest problem with this movie has nothing to do with the mythos but those things relating purely from a structural standpoint.

The first third/half of the movie is told in a very non-linear fashion.  Nothing wrong with that, like all story tools it’s not innately good or bad, just right or wrong for each individual case.  While not “bad” in this movie, one quickly gets the sense that a lot of these flashbacks are having trouble fitting in; they’re not organically growing from the story.  Which becomes ironic because they cease right as the proper structure for them is finally put in place.  At one point, Lois Lane joins a military arctic expedition.  While there she meets Clark/Superman (who was just working a job, seeing if a possibly alien discovery was related to him) then she begins investigating his past, trying to track him down.  Had the movie started there, then showed us flashbacks as Lois “hunted” Superman (and learned about his story) it would have been flawlessly executed.  Cliché?  A little, but then the reason things become cliché are because they work.  Note to writers: Don’t avoid a cliché ONLY because it’s a cliché.  If it fits and is the best option, embrace it!  This is especially apparent because the movie truly starts out on Krypton showing the story of Jor-El & Zod (ok, that’s like the original).  But then we sort of see it again when Supes is informed about his past.  Why they didn’t table the Krypton scene and then insert it as flashback under the guise of Russ-El teaching Clark about where he came from I have no idea.

The other large storytelling problem is that a lot of the movie hinges upon Superman’s birth.  See, in this universe Krypton has a bit of eugenics with each baby being a “designer one” created for an express purpose a la Brave New World.  Kal-El is the first “natural-born” Kryptonian in awhile meaning he has no pre-programmed purpose.  Later in the film, Zod, who claims that “defense of Krypton (and its people)” is his purpose, loses his “job/meaning” he pretty much goes into a manic rage.  I liked these ideas, but I didn’t find them well executed as it’s not reinforced much in the film and is a lot of “telling” us, not “showing” us.  But then how would you “show” something like that?  It’s not like you can do a scene of a Kryptonian “struggling” against his genes like the old trope of a robot struggling against its programming.  Part of it wasn’t helped with Russ-El’s admonishments to Superman, “You will give the people of earth something to aspire to.”  Uh… ‘dad’ whatever happened to a child being able to choose his own destiny?

The movie also has 3 Kryptonian ships involved in it which can get confusing for some people (even I lost track a few times).  There’s Kal-El’s ship, an old Kryptonian scout ship, and Zod’s ship.  Diferentating them can lead to weirdness at times. (Like where did Supes get his suit?  Did Russ-El have the ship assemble it while he lecturing?  Was it really onboard that ancient colony ship all this time?)

Special effects wise, the movie is beautiful to look at.  I do like how one gets a sense of impact and things really being flung around.  When a train is thrown at Superman, it has a feeling of weight and power.  However, because the movie wants to keep things somewhat realistic, when the Kryptonians fight, it starts going “shaky cam” though I don’t believe it’s an action choice as much as just the “camera” trying to keep up with how fast things are moving.  This is where I wish they had utilized the effects of Jet Li’s movie the One (note: NOT a romcom) whereby the rest of the world slows down and the fighters move normal speed, or actually used ramping.  Yes, I know Zack Synder WAY over used it in 300 (he may also have overused it in Sucker Punch but I haven’t seen that movie yet) but here it was actually needed to give us “mere mortals” in the audience a chance to catch up (as well as allow the story to establish the action) before resuming things at superspeed.

Finally, let me just say, the church scene just PISSED me off.  Look, I admit that I would like to see more religion in movies/tv, but not if it’s going to be done this poorly.  Seriously the priest there tells Clark to “go with his gut”?  He doesn’t have ANYTHING else to offer?  Not a single quote or reference to how the last visitor who came to earth from above was killed by us in a brutal way?  Well… that probably wouldn’t have been a good pep talk but that’s why I’m not a preacher.  There are thousands who turn the “downer” of the cross into a “good message” (one might even call it a ‘gospel’ if you will) and the script writers couldn’t even find ONE to consult with on what the priest should say in this scene?  “Listen to your gut”?  Really?  Not even the slightest, “Doesn’t matter what people deserve, it matters what’s right”?  Argh!  (Oh, and making Superman “33” in the film?  Rarely have I wanted to slap someone so much.)

the Super

Oh canon….  Let’s start with characters.  Only those within Superman’s immediate circle are given much screen time in this so some of the other characters (like Perry White) I’m going to gloss over since we saw very little about them.

CK/SM – Henry Cavill does pretty good, even if he is missing the curl on his forehead.  We don’t see much of him as traditional “Clark Kent” secret identity so no ruling yet on how convincingly he can separate the identities.  Some may call him a bit broody but I disagree.  Yeah, he’s a big serious if you think Supes should ALWAYS be happy but allowing the character some emotional range does not automatically make him “dark”.  Except as a kid, he’s almost competing with Batman on brooding during the flashbacks.  He works convincingly enough as an action star as my usual rule (“You’re not an action star if you don’t get your face injured on screen, even if it’s just effects.”) does not quite apply when dealing with Superman.  It’s somewhat meta as this movie is a lot about Superman “finding himself” so there is a sense that Henry is trying to find his take on the role as well.  Not a bad start, I’d like to see where he takes it if there is a future in this franchise.

Lois – Well it’s no secret that I love Amy Adams (redheads are my kryptonite) but even setting that aside, I thought she did pretty good as Lois.  I’ve seen some complaining that she “gave up” some stories in this movie but to be fair, I think Lois Lane’s pursuit of stories has become flanderized over the years.  While she did pull a few foolish stunts in this movie in pursuit of said stories, she was at least a human being lots of other times and didn’t allow such a simple-minded goal blind her to things like… people’s feelings.  I also liked that they gave her SOME things to help out with in the movie, even if the biggest was not adequately capitalized on.  When Zod “takes” Superman, he demands Lois Lane come along as well.  Why?  Well we can guess it might be to act as a “leash” for the big blue but since they don’t do any more with it, that all falls flat and ventures into plot hole territory.

Zod – I wasn’t liking Michael Shannon’s performance during the first part of the movie as he didn’t seem to be able to pull off the operatic threat that Terence Stamp could (btw, if we were to do a contest, no question, MS would kneel before TS).  But later in the movie where he begins to become more of a quiet, slow boiling threat, it works much much better.  I ended up liking his take a lot.

Jor-El – For a guy that’s dead most of it, we get a surprising amount of Russell Crowe in this film.  I didn’t mind it and thought he did a pretty good job though I wish they had allowed him to talk more about the whole “we’ve given you freedom, son” than “we’ve given earth, hope” during his scenes with Supes.

Jonathan & Martha Kent – Say what you will about it, but I still say Smallville had the best Pa of any Supes medium so far (though several have put in very respectable performances).  Kevin Costner is no John Schneider and while the former does put in a lot of effort… I just didn’t connect with him.  And I’m usually a sucker for father/son stuff (cry every time during Finding Nemo & Taken).  I liked that his death was a bit sacrificing for Clark’s sake but it was a little over cliché this time (yes, I realize how that sounds considering what I said earlier).  And I know about that trope “women in refrigerators” but what about “fathers in fridges”?  If one of his earth parents are going to die, why is it always Jonathan?  Why not keep both alive or let both die?  Now if he had been killed standing up to Zod, THAT would have been awesome and fitting for the character.  Ma Kent was ok, not really much of a role there for Diane Lane to work with.  Really with their arcs it feels less like Superman was turned into Batman with this film as much as he was turned into the Amazing Spider-man. (yes, not the ORIGINAL trilogy, the recent reboot)

So… now to the big issue…  I think agony booth put it best:

So the fact that Superman smashes stuff isn’t the issue. The issue is that they got so focused on Superman smashing stuff that they neglected the larger implications of Superman smashing stuff. The film has two major battlefields in which Superman engages Zod’s men: Smallville and Metropolis. Both of which are filled with people, and both of which are so thoroughly decimated that it’s impossible to buy that, at minimum, dozens and likely thousands of people weren’t killed in the ensuing carnage. But the film consistently ignores this very real tragedy in favor of focusing on just making Superman punching stuff look really cool. Sure, there’s a handful of moments where he stops to catch someone falling, but they’re few and far between, and thus feel very token. It’s like they knew they had to show Superman saving people, but they were reluctant to do so. Superman makes no real effort to move the fight away from the city, and it’s a while before anyone tries evacuating the area, and even then there’s always plenty of people waiting around to flee from falling debris.

That is the single BIGGEST issue with this film, and what handicaps it from being one of the truly greatest movies of at least this year (if not in recent years).  Superman, the very KEY to him, is about saving people.  Say what you will about his 2nd movie, or even the arc where he died, but my favorite parts of both were when he was having to put off the fight to try and help people caught in the middle of it.  Even if it allowed the villains to get in a sucker punch.  It annoyed me even more when we see some Daily Planet staff trapped by some rubble, a deadly gravity wave getting closer, making the attack & tragedy more personal, human and real; only to then NOT have Superman help them out.  Yes I can understand being distracted with Amy Adams in your arms, clinging to you but… dammit that’s what makes him Superman!  Every time, EVER. TIME. in media we are shown a civilian or someone else in trouble, we also get to see Superman save them.

That really hurt this film.  Which is ironic because the climax, where Superman snaps Zod’s neck, while it was written great from a story perspective, the impact of the moment is lost because we haven’t seen Superman working that hard to save people.  It wasn’t properly reinforced.  And that is the biggest failing of this movie.