Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2

It is closing in on 2 am as I write this, I just came home from the cinema, and I am in a mood to talk about Alien: Covenant. Consider this a review of sorts. Spoiler-free, because that’s what the internet likes and I’m predictable.

Ever since Prometheus came out five years ago, I have gone back and forth on what I should think of the film. It really didn’t work as an Alien prequel, the characters were way too dumb and unlikable, and many questions about the Alien mythology which we didn’t need were either answered or raised. And yet there was one half of the movie which worked, the story of David and the story of creation and creator. It was an incredibly strong story, but sadly remained a story beat between all the horror cliches and padding. Alien Covenant is part two of that exact same story.  Continue reading “Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2”

Christopher Nolan: The Karl Marx of Superheroes

People who blame Christopher Nolan for dark and gritty superhero films are bad and should feel bad.

Obligatory statement about how my new novel is coming along very well and I’m hopeful to have the reworked version of the serialized novella up in a month or so aside, let’s talk about superheroes for a change.

Watching and reading reviews about an up-and-coming superhero film, you cannot help but think that you are experiencing deja vu in regards to every one of these that isn’t Marvel Studios related or R-rated. The connecting thread? An overwhelming criticism of the film being too dark and too gritty, aka the name for the Fast and Furious reboot I’ll produce one day. Ever since The Dark Knight came around in 2008 all superhero films by DC, as well as numerous tv shows, and some other properties not DC related, have followed a similar style in which they have a similar color scheme to The Dark Knight, a similar cinematography, subject matter, brooding acting style, and a general sense of violence that is considering unsuitable to the way superhero films are supposed to be. I consider myself a detractor of Marvel Studios properties and their habit of veering too far the other direction of playing down darkness.

But I asked myself earlier when I was watching RedLetterMedia’s review of the new Power Rangers movie, if their, and other peoples, use of “Christopher Nolan-y” as a negative description of these types of superhero films that take themselves too seriously. And at that point it hit me: Christopher Nolan is the Karl Marx of superhero films. Both men have created seminal and important works, much greater than the limited field in which they have been intended for. Nolan made what is still my favorite superhero film of all time. It wasn’t despite being dark and gritty and brooding, but good because it’s story could only be told in such a way. His way of film making does, however, not have universal applicability when it comes to other characters. And while Marx observed society and had his own ideas on how capital and society operated which are still worthwhile to check out theories even if you disagree with them, both men suffer from being compared with their imitators and those who have used to apply their work in their own way without their intellect… okay, this is where the comparison is breaking down because comparing Lenin or Stalin with Zack Snyder is too edgy and dumb even for me, but I’m trying to create clickbait here people, so give me a break… Continue reading “Christopher Nolan: The Karl Marx of Superheroes”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

NON SPOILER REVIEW

Ah, Rogue One. I’m all prepared. Read Rogue One Catalyst, the prequel book, rewatched A New Hope, stayed away from spoilers. Here we go:

Well, that was… something. I just saw the 6th best Star Wars film.

Rogue One, like its protagonist, is a movie seriously in need of a purpose. It’s a film that wants to be the first anthology film and tell a new story in the Star Wars universe, yet beats you over the head with cameos and characters from A New Hope we didn’t need to see, while completely ignoring its new characters and failing to give them any sort of meaningful depth. It’s almost amazing.

People complained at the “war movie stuff” was the problem, but I thought the war movie stuff wasn’t a problem at all, the real issue is that the movie wasted my time until about 80 minutes in when the actual plot started. It does some stuff to fill plot holes for A New Hope, but then it meanders around in so much unnecessary fluff. The only bits that got a rise out of me where the cameos, callbacks, and the last five minutes of the film, again: ironic for an anthology. But the part where I was bored until the third act is my main problem. It did establish mood in a way, but didn’t earn it. I was hoping for moments of oppression, a reason for these people to make sacrifices for freedom, but it was the same old, same old. Maybe it also didn’t help that I read the book, because they wasted both Krennic and Galen Erso, it’s almost incredible. They spend so much time on the set-up that the pay off comes too abrupt.

Maybe my assessment of it being the 6th best was a bit harsh. With all the problems I had with Force Awakens, and Revenge of the Sith, I was always engaged and the plot was moving forward. I don’t except much from a SW movie outside of being entertained. This wasn’t interesting to me.
And before someone said that it’s because I know too much: I saw it with Mr Casual fan number 1 aka my dad: he turned to me when the credits rolled and said, translated from German: “What was that supposed to be? I already knew all of this.”
There is pathos in the movie, but its all the third act. The trailer was good because it cut out the first 80 minutes or so.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s main problem is that it isn’t a Star Wars story, it’s THE Star Wars story, it’s A New Hope’s prequel, with all that would make this exciting excised to the end. As the servant of two masters it eventually succumbed under its own weight.

 

I Don’t Hate Superhero Movies, Only Hype and Fanboy Culture

Hype and fanboys can ruin everything.

People who know me personally or have seen just a couple of articles I have written over the years know that I have severely soured on the superhero movies that are currently reigning supreme on the American movie market.

My own personal gripes about big budgets ruining creativity in many instances aside, the biggest crux of the issue is not the films themselves. Films are good on a movie to movie basis. One bad movie doesn’t invalidate an entire genre, filmmaker, actor, or writer. No, hype and fanboyisms have ruined my enjoyment more than anything.

As a student of History and Anglistics  and with friends and acquaintances all over the planet, or simply as a cheapskate grad student in my 20s I rely on the internet for information, communication, and entertainment. Thus it is nearly impossible to not be immediately informed about a new trailer, article talking about a random rumors, Youtube videos, or Facebook status updates about upcoming projects. I was never one to go completely blind into a film. Informing oneself before one goes to see a movie is a good way to minimize getting burned on something, and of course you can never account for taste and personal style.

There comes a point, however, when hype and fanboyism can ruin something far greater than just the next movie for you.

The start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2008 was both a blessing and a curse, as it brought closer-to-the-comics adaptions of the source material into the mainstream as the publisher itself was involved with the films now instead of farming it out to different studios. The merits about that can be talked about and I am planning to write an article about the 90s superhero films at some point, but the crux of the matter is that one of the biggest problems brought forth with this and the DC Extended (Cut) Universe was that it brought the fanboy mentality of the comics, Marvel vs DC, DC vs Marvel, Marvel vs everyone else, DC vs everyone else, and so on, to the mainstream as well. There was a sharp cut in the reception of pre-MCU movies and post-MCU movies from other companies or the output of other studios. The fronts have consolidated, entrenched keyboard warriors are firing at the other position, and all that you’ll get out of it is trench foot. Maybe a bit overdramatic, but I hope you see my point here. Discussing a movie on its own merits or looking at a broader trend is all fine and good and I enjoy it myself, but being accused as a hater or a fanboy for hating or liking something you do not is not fun.

Hype culture is no different. A movie is announced two, three years before it releases, often a sequel is announced a month before the first one hits theaters. After that there is scant a week when we are not bombarded with article after article on rumors, set photos, casting announcements, interviews, and, of course, fanboys talking about something is going to suck years in advance.

In many ways, the negative pre-judging of films such as Fantastic Four (2015) and Batman v Superman (2016) coinciding with the negative reception on release is the worst that could have ever happened to me personally in the realm of hype culture as fanboys are now validated in spewing their irrelevant drizzle years in advance. Yes, the movie turned out to be bad. No, that does not mean you now have carte blanche to rake about the next one for two years and tell me in every single conversation we have that its gonna suck. That is for us to decide once we have seen it. In law one of our greatest achievements was the presumption of innocence.

Not to mention the fact that you’re shooting yourself in your own foot by lapping up everything someone puts out, you are giving them a blank check to pump out any old garbage and screw yourself over in the long run. If you want the superhero movie genre to have a long and prosperous history in Hollywood and world cinema you want quality, not quantity and misleading advertisements.

I urge you not to partake in this. Don’t feel like you have to see a movie simply to be able to participate in water cooler talk. You are under no obligation to see a movie to support something that is “greater than you”. If something looks bad, avoid it if you’re not a professional critic. And, for your own sake, don’t fill your life with this much hatred for something as inconsequential as a two hour movie with the gross domestic product of San Marino. Wait and see, be a good consumer and reward quality. Don’t be an unpaid arm of the marketing machine. You will not gain anything from overhyping yourself and you have everything to gain when you are positively surprised from keeping yourself surprised.

If you want to pass the time productively in between the next obscenely expensive superhero slugfests go and read the actual comics. It’s a medium worthy of exploration and going by the numbers its clear that not everyone watching the movies reads the comics. Broaden your horizon by reading a more varied number of books. My Goodreads list on the side bar can attest to me trying some new things in recent years and it was well worth it. Do anything but remain in a state of perpetual excitement forever. You are not doing yourself a favor and you are only depriving yourself of quality experiences in the meantime.

Star Trek Into Darkness (Re)Review: Abrams Strikes Again

The Nostalgia Critic thought Into Darkness was a good movie ruined by a terrible ending. Oh boy, set phasers to obsessive fanboy reply…

Next week a new Nostalgia Critic editorial will appear to the general public. I know this because I’m one of the clever and handsome people… who happen to have a free year long subscription to Vessel, the early access service. Sucks for you, eh?

All joking aside, the video is about movies being ruined by the ending, and while I surprisingly agree with most that was being said, my one pet peeve, Star Trek, is not among the films that were bad just because of the ending.
(For those interested and with an account: https://www.vessel.com/videos/XapZBKqZE)

A bad ending to a good film is merely getting cut with a kitchen knife or stepping on a lego brick. Sitting through Into Darkness, however, was a serious of paper cuts followed up by stepping on a lego brick. Memetic humor aside, this means that you are already so num from the previous stupidity that you don’t really care about one more insult, one more dumb element.

I never said a definitive piece on Into Darkness. We once did an hour long angry rant podcast that came close to it, but in hindsight that seems more and more like I was getting swept up in the hate on the movie. It doesn’t deserve it that bad. The acting was good, the effects were good, the score was amazing, in many ways everything worked about the movie except for the writing and the the direction.

Like I stipulated in my Star Wars article from a couple of weeks back, JJ Abrams hides the flaws in his movies by speeding you by it, Into Darkness is very similar and you can tell, because not much happens. Benedict Cumberkhan attacks, Enterprise goes to revenge, capture, twist, fight, fight, fight, don’t give into revenge even though that is what Khan did and it got his crew to safety and he lived. That would have been fine had there been more to flesh out these few elements, but they served merely as set-ups for the action scenes. It’s a big problem in most action films now, and even the superior Star Trek Beyond, one of the best Trek movies ever surprisingly enough, was not exempt from it: scenes that should not include an action beat have one to keep the audience invested, distracted even, from a mundane scene. Into Darkness makes the cardinal mistake though, of interrupting interesting drama scenes with action beats or twisting them in such a way that action becomes inevitable.

By now everyone should hopefully have noticed that Into Darkness was a thinly veiled rip-off of Deep Space Nine’s “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” two-parter, with Peter Weller playing the role of Admiral Leyton. And yet that story worked and Into Darkness didn’t, because it wasn’t a character piece, it was an action piece that happened to have some characters in there with badly written motivations that were supposed to trick you into thinking there was depth. Admiral Robocop’s plan was dumb: if you want to engineer a crisis to get your military budget raised so you can prepare for a war with the Klingons you don’t go and tell Kirk to fire torpedoes at the Klingon homeworld. Admiral Leyton is one of the best villains in all of Trek because he did everything bloodless and made sure to not harm anyone and the moment that happened he surrendered himself voluntarily. Admiral Buckaroo Banzai is just another kill crazy Admiral.

That’s not even mentioning small stuff that starts to gnaw at you throughout the film: a cold fusion device that was used to freeze a vulcano even though its a method of generating energy, Kirk shooting his horse-thingy even though that’s where he had parked it, hiding a starship under water even though that would inevitably lead to discovery and breaking of the prime directive, all the admirals meeting without security, for some reason injecting a Tribble with human blood… not even mentioning the fact that the character arcs from the last movie are re-used, which is probably one of the greatest missteps: there is no reason to watch this film because it only repeats the last one and is inconsequential to the next one, which starts where 09 ended. This is one of those mid 90s Disney sequels like Lion King 1.5.

For a movie so meticulously set up last time to make everything new and exciting the film just went nowhere and stayed with all the Trek cliches and reused plot lines, which is arguably its biggest problem.

So yes, an ending can ruin an otherwise decent movie, but in the case of Into Darkness there wasn’t much left to ruin because of the number of things already wrong with it.

Remember in your rebuttals: Twitter hashtags #stillnotoverit #trekfanboy #ohmygodcanyoupleasestoptalkingaboutit

Legends of Tomorrow Nazis Okay, Captain America Nazis Not Okay?

Nazis and stupid monsters showed up in both but why does Legends of Tomorrow succeed where Captain America failed?

Yesterday the second episode of Legend of Tomorrow’s second season aired and I found myself strangely okay with their alternate WW2 setting. The episode “Justice Society of America” features just that: the Legends teaming up with the Justice Society to stop an evil Nazi nobleman and capture a magic amulet that may or may not be part of the Spear of Destiny. Easy peasy.

It seemed strange to me that I would be okay with this version of portraying WW2 instead of the Captain America: The First Avengers version, but the more I got to think of it, the more it seemed just so simple. Captain America’s version of WW2 and the Nazis bothered me mainly because they had taken so many steps to removing the Nazis from the film and replacing them with Hydra that it just seemed insulting to me, like a painstakingly big marketing push to get foreigners to watch America indulge in another Greatest Generation wankfest. To me the biggest problem were things like “Red Skull was kicked out of the Nazis for being too evil” or “fully integrated US Army with three token black people in the background” or “Nazi salutes are so out of fashioned, here’s the handglider salute”. Another element was tone where most of the film was so cartoonish that I couldn’t take their attempts at drama seriously. Historical inaccuracy I can, under certain circumstances, abide by, but it also felt highly inauthentic to me.

With this episode and Legends of Tomorrow’s previous episodes historical inaccuracy shows up as it has before, but the added element of time travel and changing the past, coupled with high amounts of historical authenticity, do help. Its small elements like casual racism and sexism on display, like Hourman not taking Sara seriously because she’s a woman, go a long way to help ground the series in the time period, regardless of the inaccuracies, which have a blank check through time travel shenanigans anyway and help suspend your disbelief. The fact that Reverse-Flash is still trying to change history for some reason goes a long way to somewhat sustain this historian.

The tone of Legends of Tomorrow also helps: despite its occasional goofiness in certain episodes, the show does now when to play it serious for stretches and outside of a couple of jokes the episode never winks at the camera, even when the Nazi supermonster roams around. There is talk of consequences, dying in battle, doing ones duty, to the point that I find Commander Steel more compelling in two short scenes than Captain America in his entire first movie. The fact that they are fighting the actual Wehrmacht in covert ops does certainly help to ground this in the actual time period and a secret special ops team is more believable than a propaganda mascot fighting a secret war against Wolfenstein enemies.

Historical accuracy is an important element in fiction dealing with real events since I believe media reception and reappraisal are important parts of one coming to terms with parts of ones own and other peoples history because of the wide range of films and television. Would I have preferred a version of this where everything is period accurate and Wehrmacht soldiers didn’t do the Nazi salute until late 1944? Of course I would, but if I can at least get some authenticity in my World War 2 story I will take that over trying to disney- and cartoonify the era.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Re)review- Cracks Hiding Under Fanservice

It’s now been almost a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters. I saw it twice in its original run, once with my dad and once more with friends. At first, I loved it, and even the second time around I still enjoyed it. Over the course of the more than ten months now since the film released, I have not watched the film again. That is until today when I sprang for a DVD on sale. Now, two and a half hours later, my thoughts on the film are not easy to sum up.

And when I say that, it’s mostly just code for me not wanting to come out and say that pretty much all my problems stand and fall with J.J. Abrams, because they really don’t. Then again, my thoughts on the movie did change after I watch Star Trek Beyond, the best of the reboot movies and not accidentally the one where Abrams and his lackeys had the least influence on. Abrams has become a controversial figure in geekdom. The is the man who “ruined Star Trek”. He didn’t, Rick Berman got to that a decade or two before. Yet there is a theme that strings through both “Star”-franchises. Star Trek 09 and Into Darkness were slick, fast paced action rollercoasters,  incredibly exciting on the first or even second watching that you forget to notice the cracks in the support beams because of how fast you race past them. Force Awakens feels similar to that. On this third watch, knowing everything and having my nostalgia under control, these cracks were very apparent. Force Awakens’ pacing is horrible. The most interesting things of world building and mystery get rushed through or interrupted by the next set piece, gravitas disturbed by out of place humor. Character development is more implied than anything if existent at all. Most of the hoo-man emotions you feel come from callbacks, specifically the work of John Williams, who is the MVP of this movie franchise, lauded so much and yet its never enough.

Like I said, the first hour of the film is horribly paced, one set piece following the next on a long, drawn out chase that leaves you exhausted at the end, and where all the supposedly character building scenes get lost in. The most pointless of which being the interlude when the Japanese and Scottish mafias have a stand-off with Han Solo and tentacle hentai monsters. For the most part in that first hour or so the action beats did not grow organically from the story, they interrupted it. Things did, however, get better once they got to the Not Eislys Cantina. From then on the movie recovered, the pacing slowed down, the action scenes finally followed logically from the story and served the characters. The fanservice scenes still annoyed me, but then I don’t like fun, so hey.

Ironically, the moment the movie’s pacing improved, the story lost me in its beat for beat repetition of A New Hope. Up until then I could take it as a cute homage, since every good story should open with a droid in need. Casablanca starring BB-8 and Ingrid Bergman anyone? It made the universe feel smaller and even more like a rollercoaster, Star Wars: The Ride. Maybe it was because of Abrams’ previous track record, but it did feel incredibly lazy, like working off someone else’s work for a class project and trying to hide it with unnecessary flair and tricks. It annoyed me, yet I’m unsure on whether or not to hold it against the film just yet. I had a positive reaction to Star Trek 09 when it came out, I understood that this was the film to proof that the concept still was viable, same as this was proof that Star Wars wasn’t stuck following in the Prequels’ steps. With Trek it depended on what they did with Into Darkness, which was such a massive bellyflop, that it retroactively invalidated what good 09 did. It took Star Trek Beyond to redeem and build on 09’s foundation, and similarly it will depend on Episode 8 for us to judge on whether or not The Force Awakens’ back to basics approach will pay off. It’s an introduction movie, but that does not mean its an excuse to just get on stage and play some greatest hits with some replacements for the elderly band members. Speaking of which:

The new characters were, for the most part, a good addition. Like the old cast they were mostly two-dimensional vessels to move the plot forward or have action beats, with a protagonist taken straight out of George Lucas’s coffee stained copy of “The Hero’s Journey” or similar works, reliant on good actors to give them life. This happened for our trio of heroes, not so much for our villains. Hux and Phasma were boring cliche’s, good actors wasted on nothing to do, Kylo Ren was fun at first… until you realize that he’s basically Dark Helmet from Spaceballs crossed with a moody teenager. This might end up working in later movies, but so far he’s just an empty shell with an actor that tries to give him the illusion of depth. Poe Dameron was a great character with a fun bromance with Finn, but in scenes where he didn’t have Oscar Isaac to help him, Finn was led down by being the comic relief, coward, and serious dude all rolled into one. The character was just given way too much to do in a short period of time without breather moments in between to not give you mood whiplash. Which brings us to…

Force Awakens’ main character Rey… it seems like the 2010s are a time in which no female main or side character in a genre movie hasn’t been part of some controversy. From gatekeepers to marketing, audiences to Hollywood insiders, something always comes up. Which is a shame because Daisy Ridley deserves all the praise she got, she was the best thing in this movie for me… yet Rey wasn’t. Rey is a cypher, a mystery box in human form, more riddle than (wo)man…. I am so sorry for that pun. Point is that there isn’t much to the character outside of her abandonment baggage. She’s a brilliant engineer, pilot, talented in the force without any training, third wave feminist icon that eats thunder for breakfast, but one without much humanity to her because everything comes effortlessly to her. She’s just gifted, good in the force. It’s like Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, but hypercharged and without his flaws. She is a good person. That’s all there is to the character on the page. And then there’s Daisy Ridley, who is single-handedly responsible for all the positive reaction to the character. More than any of the other good characters she was given nothing to work with and yet her natural charm and charisma and that goofy big grin of hers endeared her to everyone. The flat characterization and being embraced by the old characters for seemingly little to no reason though, should make it understandable why people call her a Mary Sue. I think the character avoided that, if only barely by the wonderful work of the right actress.

Overall, I’m still torn about this movie and like I said before, it will still take years for the movie to be evaluated and re-evaluated for what it is, rather than what it meant to us when it came out. Its title might have been The Force Awakens, but “A New Hope” might be more appropriate to Star Wars fans, old and new, hardcore and casual, everywhere. Maybe this is J.J. Abrams’ true curse: hire him to your franchise after all hope is lost and marvel at him doing an… okay job. J.J. Abrams is a “5 out of 10” made flesh. But that’s all that’s needed sometimes. Sometimes “not horribly crashing and burning in a fiery explosion” is enough for it to feel like a masterpiece. The Force Awakens is not a masterpiece. What is is though, is a good movie, a very good movie, but one where nostalgia and performance elevate less than stellar material. It’s a solid foundation so far, it’s up to the rest of the trilogy though to tell us whether or not that foundation is made out of solid stone or poo.