Saturday, February 18, 2017

I Saw This!! Life Animated

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad. Cats Living With Dogs bad.

Finding Dory, Andrew Stanton, Angus McLane (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) -- download

Seriously, they cross the ocean (Australia to California) to find her? That's impressive. But very little other of the movie stuck with me, most of it being that and Hank the octopus. But the basic premise is still there. Dory has flashbacks about her life with her family, her mom fish and dad fish, and in exploring those issues, ends up captured by well meaning humans as Nemo was before her. The chase leads to an aquarium in California. And Hank, the escape artist.

Jason Kottke pointed out something very interesting about this movie, that makes me like it much more than I did while watching. What, you say, you didn't like it? Settle down audience/inner voice, I liked it alright, but it didn't impress me like the first. But Jason points how almost every character is trying to overcome something adverse in their lives: Nemo with his little fin, Dory with her memory issues, Hank with his missing tentacle, etc. But with the support of friends and family, they can all overcome adversity. For a kids movie, that is a GREAT message all wrapped up in a funny, well animated package even if the story wasn't all that original or creative.

Secret Life of Pets, Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney (Despicable Me) -- download

For me, everything about this movie hinged on the bit from the ad where the poodle rocks out to black metal music, while a chihuahua bounces in the background. I didn't care if they made a good movie as long as I giggled at that full scene. In fact, the whole premise of this movie hinges on an opening sequence where we are introduced to each of the pets and what they do when the door is closed by their humans. Like in Toy Story they are more human then we would ever know.

Aaaand, unfortunately the movie is pretty pedestrian once you get past that premise. Good short idea, stretched thin enough for a movie. Its like that short by my favourite animators Aardman, called Creature Comforts, where they animated zoo animals speaking the parts of real humans being interviewed. The short is 5 minutes long, and perfect. I don't want to see anything beyond, despite them milking 2 TV series out of it.

But, as kids are really the demographic for this and as long as there is a steady stream of laughs, I supposed I got my money's worth. Should I forgive the movie for not having a grand plot and story? Part of me says "No" as I am that guy who defends a movie being exactly what it is, which is why John Wick is such a perfect movie. But part of me says we should strive for more, strive to be better, strive to be above just good enough.

*ahem*

And I better stop as this is becoming about me, and no longer the movie.

Kubo and the Two Strings, 2016, Travis Knight (animator for Boxtrolls, Paranorman) -- download


And here we go, a movie that DOES strive to be better, that strives to be both entertaining, incredibly well animated AND incredibly well storied. This was a wonderful wonderful fantasy movie for both kids and parents. Go rent it now; show those youngins something great.

This movie takes place in a fantasy Japan world. Kubo is a street performer, magical and skillful, who entertains the people of a small fishing village with his stories and animated origami figures. You got it, animation within animation. Instant gold star from me. The hero of Kubo's stories is Hanzo, the great samurai, who fights tons of legendary monsters. Hanzo also happens to be Kubo's missing father.

One night Kubo does not make it back to his home, and mother, in the cave, before sunset and the real story begins. His mother has been protecting him from her sisters all this time, and being out after dark has them finding Kubo and Sariatu, his mother. The battle is dire, and Kubo is left alone with ... monkey, his little carven toy come to life. And the quest to find Hanzo's magic armour & sword so he can defend himself against his aunts begins.

Animated. But really animated !  Despite my love for 3D computer animation, seeing this stop-motion animated movie done so lovingly and so full of imagination strains my admiration to the breaking point. And yet, they also give a story you can wrap yourself in, one of challenge and expectation and family love, and tragedy. The story and the voice acting don't skimp.

Sausage Party, Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs Aliens) -- download

Can I be offended that one of the guys who directed a ton of Thomas the Tank Engine movies? Seriously dude? THIS movie?

Anywayz, if I can say anything in praise of this movie, its that it does successfully stretch the paper thin premise of animated talking food eventually being eaten, and how they react, into a full length movie. Not a particularly good full length movie, but there you have it.

Beyond the 'OMG we are being eaten' premise, the plot item of choice in this movie was food doing the nasty, and all the associated puns they could come up with regarding such. The only one that really made me chuckle was Salma Hayek playing a lesbian taco. Beyond that, everything else was as vulgar and crass as you would expect out of the mind of Seth Rogen.

Is there a story? Well Frank the hotdog and his girlfriend, Brenda the bun, go on a Hero's Quest to find out what Honey Mustard was talking about, when he claimed the afterlife (being purchased) was not all it was cracked up to be. Along the way they are stalked by the only non-foodstuff product, a psychopathic douche who is pissed they bent his nozzle. Why they didn't run into any other non-food item, I don't know. And I doubt the creators cared. Eventually they defend themselves against Douche and the human patrons of the store, and celebrate with an extended orgy scene. Not sure where they are supposed to go from there, but the movie posits they come to our world.

Not a good movie but if you like Rogen's sense of crass humour, you will probably love it. Just don't be that guy who lets his kids watch it, because all animated flicks are for kids.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2016, Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) -- cinema

Graig said, "This is the Star Wars movie we have been waiting for since we were kids."

He was right, but boy does that come with some heavy weight expectations. In some way the movie met them, and in some other ways, it disappointed me. I will say one thing -- I think all the disappointment comes from knowing too much. Knowing how much of the cool stuff from the trailers never made it into the final showing, knowing that they went back and re-tooled and re-tooled and re-tooled, knowing that this was a re-tooled movie to begin with, having started with a story framework and built around visual storyboards, not a traditional story & script. Somehow all that led to diminished reactions in actually seeing it.

And yet.... fuck, wow.

Let's get the usual whine out of the way. Once again, a non-3D movie in a good quality theatre looked almost too dark to see. Sure, Star Wars has always had lots of shadowy scenes, but the dull textures of Lah'mu were annoying. After watching an untainted Arrival, I know you can have dull & shadowy and not diminish the screen whatsoever. So, fuck you 3D industry. I hope the death of 3D TV means cinematic 3D is going away soon.

Lah'mu! Despite its dullness, I loved that as an opening, as iconic a beginning as Tattooine ever was. And I applaud whomever decided that Mads Mikkelsen's Galen Erso was not going to be the bad guy, despite his great appeal as a bad guy. The mood of the movie is set in a classic fashion, with stormtroopers and resistance to tyranny.

Rogue One is an ensemble cast, as Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen, is tossed together with a bunch of rebels to recover her father's legacy and turn the tide to the rebellion's favour. But the Rebel Alliance we see here is not the shiny, glorious one Luke bumps into a movie later. These guys are uncoordinated, argumentative and guilty of some sins most would accuse only the Empire of committing. Our main Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, which would make a good Star Wars name by itself) is an intelligence officer and assassin when he needs to be. K-2SO is an retooled Imperial droid with more arrogance than C-3PO. General Draven is sending the trio to find her father, but he also gives the order to kill Mads, should it be needed and its implied that it is probably the only choice.

Along the way she picks up a broken Imperial pilot, a nervous twitch of a man who could no longer sit by (in his cockpit) while the Empire ravaged the galaxy. It is he who brings word of Galen's betrayal of the Empire which spurs the hunt. Also along the way she picks up two Jedi temple guards, a pair of world weary soldiers willing to pick up their weapons again for the right cause. And everyone is off to find Mads.

So, the intent of this movie was to be in the Star Wars universe but not be about the main characters, despite the man cameos. Its tone is meant to be different, and while not dark & gritty like many said it was going to be, it definitely felt.... different. And different better than Eps 1 - 3 different bad. To me, a gamer, it felt like an adventure module for a group of teens playing the Star Wars RPG.  The world dances around the plot, actually becoming much more intriguing than the actual story, as it fills out details of what all of us know by heart from Ep 4.

**Aaaaand the inevitable spoilers**

What was surprising the most bit, which I thought would be spoiled long before the movie came out, was that everyone dies.  Everyone. This is a tragic war story where the Tom Hanks character doesn't survive, nor does the lovely femme fatale nor the tortured but redemptive anti-hero. This is the bit where many Bothans died to bring them this information, except.... they weren't Bothans. But a lot, and I mean A LOT of rebels die so the plans of the Death Star can be transmitted to the Rebel Alliance fleet. And then get transferred to a simple disk, to be carried by a cute lil droid.

So, despite the disappointment that so much of the movie was tooled with, by the Producers and by the staff itself, I cannot say I was disappointed with the movie. I am only disappointed I have not seen it half dozen times since.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Riverdale (or how I scandalized my teenager)

[it's been so long since I last wrote an entry here, I have quite literally forgotten how it is done.  It's been a time thing, me not doing reviews anymore.  I just don't seem to have the time.  It's hard enough to find the time to watch and/or read and/or play and/or create anymore, nevermind discuss at length in written form. So many things competing for time and attention.  Not to mention how frivolous talking at such lengths about movies and TV and such seems in our current political and social climate.  I used to be really good at compartmentalizing, about letting the world play out without too much concern...but it looks like the bad stuff is winning.  We're all at fault, in some way or another.  We need to make a change, but change is hard. We want someone to do it for us without really requiring us to do any of the work involved.  We would much rather be distracted, by sport and entertainment...to separate ourselves into times, places, societies, worlds, universes not our own than really change and be wholly invested in our own reality.  What do we actually need to do to make things different, what do we need to give up.  I kind of feel I know the answer, but I'm waiting for someone to tell me I'm right.  I'm waiting for a movement to tell me I'm not crazy, or alone.  I'm waiting for a plan, some kind of guide that will take us to the next level of humanity.  Instead all I'm seeing is regression, going back to things that haven't worked before; fear and hatred, power and oppression.  Dark times....Anyway....]

2017, CW/Netflix (Thursdays @ 9)

I'm wondering if there's many people born in North America in the past 80 years that don't know who Archie is.  The ubiquitous red-headed all-American boy who hangs with his gluttonous (yet scrawny) best friend and can't decide between the raven-haired rich girl and the blonde, girl-next-door can still be prominently seen in supermarket and department store checkout lines, the last remnant of comic books as a consumable (and not collectable or niche-market) product.  Archie Comics (by which I mean the product line, not just those books focused solely on young Mr. Andrews as a main character) have a reputation for wholesomeness and a generally sunny disposition.  They're humour books foremost with a teen romance thread extremely lightly stitched throughout.  They're throwback books, where even as they get modernized with genuine attempts at diversity and inclusiveness, they're wholly unrealistic in their quaintness.  They're an ideal that has long since left the United States, which may be part of the reason for their continued success.  Archie Comics remain a fantasy world, a bubble of Americana, of hope for a brighter tomorrow.

In recent years, the editorial staff at Archie Comics have tried to shake things up, to broker some relevance into the world of Riverdale.  Recent efforts saw a Sliding Doors type ongoing story of parallel worlds in which Archie finally chooses, and in one reality marries Betty, while marrying Veronica in the other.  This all culminated in the highly touted "Death of Archie" storyline, which had the precise the company's editorial staff desired, people and the media were talking about Archie.  At the same time, the company introduced a "mature readers" book Afterlife With Archie, which capitalized upon the Walking Dead phenomenon by placing the Riverdale gang at the inception of a zombie outbreak.  Beyond that came new monthly series for the main Riverdale gang, telling ongoing, continuous stories of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, rather than the short 4-12 page sketches that populate the newsstand digests.  In many ways this is the Archie renaissance, an awakening that the format the character has been resigned too aren't actual limitations.  In the same way Batman can survive countless different interpretations, so too can Archie and the Riverdale gang be flexed into any kind of storytelling.

Which leads us to Riverdale, a new co-production between the CW and Netflix, coming from creator Robero Aguirre-Sacasa.  Aguirre-Sacasa is a long-time TV and comics writer and has been for a few years now the chief creative officer at Archie Comics.  If anyone was going to launch Archie and the gang into the realm of live action TV (of which there has only been one prior, unfortunate instance) it makes sense it's him.

But if you were expecting that surreal, Pleasantville-type "all-American" ideal that the newsstand digests presents, or even a modified facsimile of it, you're in for a shock.  The early word was that Riverdale was shooting for a Twin Peaks vibe (and calling to it with TP's Madchen Amick playing Betty's mother), which it attempts only in gentle measure.  It doesn't want weirdness, but it certainly wants drama.  It's taking a page from teen dramas of the past -- be it Beverly Hills 90210 (extending the connection by hiring Luke Perry as Archie's dad), Dawson's Creek, or The OC -- but it has the distinct advantage (or disadvantage) of playing with known quantities and of subverting expectations.

You may well have heard some of the rather scandalous things the show has done with the characters, most notably placing a murder-mystery in the thick of it (probably the most direct Twin Peaks connection) and giving Archie an illicit relationship with a seriously aged-down Miss Grundy.  To be fair, for any Archie reader, these things are quite shocking.  Beyond that there's Betty's chemically controlled mental disorder, Veronica Lodge's father's absence (he's in jail for mismanagement of investor funds if not outright theft or embezzling), Moose's closeted sexuality (whether gay or bisexual is unclear), and a great deal of 100% OK race-bending (Riverdale is taking the opportunity to be a lot more bold in its inclusiveness than the comics have allowed).

My 15-year-old is a huge fan of Archie.  He's an avid consumer of the digests, and he has totally bought into the fantasy of the traditional Riverdale as it's presented in its simplified, four-colour world.  I knew that showing him TV Riverdale would drag him kicking and screaming into the world of "adult" melodrama, the kind he doesn't actively subject himself to, or understand all that much.  In that regard, Riverdale is actually quite fascinating, as it doesn't just present dramatic stories, but it presents their emotional consequences.  Archie's affair with Miss Grundy isn't a "cool fantasy" but represented as unsettling and predatory.  There's no question Archie has been scandalized and manipulated.  Likewise, the third episode of the series dives head-first into the concept of slut-shaming and how the popular and beloved football heroes can seemingly get away with whatever they want without consequences.  In that same episode's B-story, Josie explains to Archie (now a wanna-be songwriter) that a white man, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot possibly understand the reality of a black woman, but they both also learn that a fruitful partnership can still be forged.  By bringing real-world(ish) scenarios (albeit extremely sensationalistic ones) into a world of funny book characters it sets a very specific tone. Jughead, who is writing an "In Cold Blood" style novel based on the murder of Jason Blossom, even calls out the fact that the sleepy, idyllic town has irreversibly changed. 

Poster art by Francesco Francavilla, one
of my favourite comic artists working today
It's not just the emotional entanglements of the kids here, however, the parents likewise have a very tense relationship with each other, some of them stretching back to their own teenage days.  And the sins of the parent often are transferred to their children.  Despite's Jughead's assurances otherwise, the dark undercurrent of Riverdale has always been there.  It's just a murder that's bringing it all out into the open.  Likewise, this is a coming-of-age story, where the teenage set of Riverdale High start to learn that their actions are no longer those of children, but have real consequences, for themselves and others.

It is by no means a perfect show, and certainly not a perfect adaptation of Archie Comics, but it is an engaging and intriguing show, the cast quickly proving themselves adept at all it demands of them.  My 15-year-old kept proclaiming (throughout our viewing of the first three episodes, and for days after) "It's so weird".  He was rather flummoxed by it all.  It throws for a loop everything he knows about Archie, which, as I've said, isn't a bad thing.  The character traits are there... but tweaked: Archie is a good kid (but gets in over his head easily), Betty is perceived as perfect (but wants to shake the image), Veronica is the new girl, rich, with expected Alpha traits (but is working against type...Cheryl Blossom plays the evil rich bitch role typically given to Veronica in the comics), while Jughead is a mooch (but not the comic relief). 

My exasperated preamble at the top of this page, my feelings of darkness, of doing things wrong...that is, in a sense, well represented by this interpretation of Archie.  The idyllic world we want, the world we know and love, is not the world we get.  These Archie Comics characters are showing perseverance through the darkness, just like we have to.

I can't say I love the fact that Archie has "gone dark" but it's doing so with the best of intentions.  And it comes out both thought provoking and entertaining.  There are definitely worse things than that.

Monday, February 13, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: The Accountant

2016, Gavin O'Connor (Jane Got a Gun) -- download

There, that is what I was talking about. Let's do a crime thriller and not try to drop it into the Bourne paradigm. O'Connor, who has been working steadily, if under the radar, since the 90s brings us a methodical action thriller about an Autistic accountant cum killer. The movie is written by Bill Dubuque, someone who will be worthy watching as this was his baby, all by himself, both story and screenplay. That the movie is about a man with an extreme sense of focus is nice, considering we got a movie from one person, not a committee.

I digress; I am never so focused. Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, an account working of ZZZ Accounting in a strip mall. He is also a higher functioning autistic of extreme intelligence. JK Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Amanda Waller, Arrow) are the Treasury agents looking into the actions of a mysterious man, an accountant for drug cartels and foreign terrorists, who comes in as forensic consultant and helps launder their money. To get some heat off him, Wolff's assistance suggests a legit job, doing some forensic work at a robotics company, after a minor accountant in the firm noticed some irregularities. Of course, that change in behaviour puts an immense amount of chaos in front of Christian.

This movie was thoughtful, and that is all too often left behind in movies these days. We get just the right amount of background to all the main characters; just the right amount. There isn't a lot of extraneous details given over to style or a romance sub-plot (though it's there) or exposition or even emotional outbursts. Like Christian himself is all about and only about the details, so is the movie. The movie likes to follow all the details and put them together, such as our understanding of Christian's relationship with his father and his brother. Or his desire to be more than his closed off self, but still be completely unable to. We get a real anti-hero in Christian, not the current American ideal of one who "does what he has to", but a challenged man who does horrific things but we cannot help but identify with, and admire.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

10 for 10: Cleaning Out the Cupboards

[GK] 10 for 10... that's 10 movies which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?  

[DP] Yes! Yes it is. But it is also over an hour all by itself, and I think it can only properly be done all in one sitting. [edit: of which I failed at immediately]

[DP] I need to reboot this post and delete what I wrote and start again.

[DP 2 months later] Anytime now....

aaaand GO.

Zootopia, 2016, Byron Howard, Rich Moore (Tangled, Wreck It Ralf) -- download

This was the latest Disney animated movie, at the time. Its a world of anthropomorphic animals all living together in a peaceful, predator-friends-with-prey city. And then something goes wrong, that draws out the more animal instincts of the city's predators. Judy the Bunny (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the farm girl who has come to the city with the idea of being a big city cop, but really, who is she kidding? She's a coot wil bunny wunny. And Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, water buffalo) is pretty much convinced of bunnies-cannot-be-cops idea. But then she gets caught up with a con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) and uncovers a rather disturbing plot.

Charming. That is the primary thing I can say about this movie. Really, everything is just likeable, not all that memorable but definitely likeable. The most memorable thing is a gag that is probably going to show up again and again in pop culture --- when Judy and Nick set off a howl to distract a bunch of wolves. Once one gets going, they all get going. Ow ow ow owwoooooooo. Heh!

The theme sitting behind it all is racism, that nature does not predetermine who you really are. Isn't connecting that to racism, kind of racist? But seriously, it was about pre-judging people by their ... nature? Predators are born predators but in this world, can be mean, nice or plain goofy. But does that carry over as a metaphor to people? Nobody is born a certain way, we attribute stereotypes to them based on real or imagined history.

Wait, kid's movie!  Charming! Fun! Funny!

Bonus points for Shakira as a pop star gazelle and Peter Mansbridge as Peter Moosebridge. (9:03)

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London Has Fallen, 2016, Babak Najafi (Swedish movie Sebbe) -- download

Antoine Fuqua did the first movie, Olympus Has Fallen, a throw away actioner piece that I remember being rather upsetting due to all the collateral damage. Still feeling sensitive about that these days. But it was a memorable movie, one of those that comes as the better of its Evil Twin Movie White House Down, where a single man must save the President of the United States when his White House (not actually burned during the War of 1812) is attacked by foreign terrorists. Gerard Butler is that man, a Secret Service guy who has a history with the President.

Wait, we already did that movie so THIS movie is still about Gerard Butler, still about Aaron Eckart as POTUS and still about terrorists attacking him. This time he's at a funeral in the UK, when the terrorists attack London. Boom boom boom boom. Explosions all over the city cut it off while killing other key dignitaries, including the Canadian Prime Minister. Sure, Gerard saves him but not our guy. Anywayz, the President is taken (tee hee) and Gerard must get him back.

The motivations were shaky this time, and unlike the first, it's not as much a contained movie. All of central London becomes his locale, as Mike Banning (Butler) must fight his way to  the stronghold of the terrorist. Do we ever remember the actual motivations of the Bad Guys? Does anyone remember why Hans Gruber took over the Nakitomi Building? Anywayz, Banning shoots, explodes and fights his way to the centre and saves his President again.

If not for Butler's charm, I really had no reason to see this movie. OK ok, I still like city destruction. And this one was disaster movie like in its display as the collateral damage is much hidden. It didn't feel as personal as the first. (9:50)

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Victor Frankenstein, 2015, Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) -- download

McGuigan was once considered to be the next Guy Richie, which is both disingenuous (he also did superhero movie Push) and insulting consider Richie's state these days. But here he is helming the movie that was supposed to be the next in line for the Universal Monster Movie franchise. We have the completely forgotten Wolfman, the maligned Dracula Untold and now we get a Frankenstein movie, but not at all about The Monster but about The Man. And its as much comedy, as it is drama. It is never horror nor action.  Weird.

[DC: Aaaaand we forget this one as well, as The Mummy comes out soon to Start the Universal Monsters Franchise]

I honestly want to join the camp that believed this movie should have been called Igor, because it is really about him. Daniel Radcliffe plays a circus hunchback being abused by his employers / owners when he is rescued by madman student Victor F. Victor has recognized something great about Igor and after he spirits the young man away, he points out that Igor is not a hunchback at all. In possibly the most revolting scene I have ever watched in a A List movie, Victor points out the massive cyst on Igor's back and drains it by hand. With the addition of one back brace, a cleanup and a nice suit, Igor becomes a man about town. And Victor's assistant.

Victor is hated by students and teachers alike, and his father Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). He has been experimenting where people shouldn't and Inspector Moriarty (Andrew Scott) is determined to reveal the ungodly nature of his experiments. When you see the monkey, you might agree with him. But Victor needs to make his monster, to prove his father and the world wrong. Alas, Igor begins to suspect that doing this might just be.... wrong.

What I didn't get about this movie is how it tried so hard to be grim and funny at the same time. And there was no way this could connect to any coming movies. It was just... odd. (9:55)

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American Ultra, 2016, Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) -- Netflix

The premise of this movie is rather familiar fun -- a well trained assassin/spy/hitman/gun-fu expert is hidden in plain sight as a stoner kid (Jesse Eisenberg) working at an all night convenience store in the middle of rural nowhere America. He doesn't know what he is. He is an impressive stoner that really wants to take his similarly stoner GF (Kristen Stewart) on a trip but has massive panic attacks when he tries to enact the plan. She understands, but you can see the pain in her.

And then, out of the blue (its always out of the blue) he is triggered and takes down two trained agents. He is triggered but he doesn't awake to who he is. What he is, is a deactivated American agent hidden away until they need him, or they need to get rid of him. The latter bit is in play here, as a ladder climbing CIA flunky (Topher Grace) decides to clean up the failed hidden spy plan by killing Eisenberg. Topher's rival, who worked closely in the plan, fully triggers Mike (Eisenberg) to allow him to protect himself.

Weird; not sure why I watched this because I am rather not fond of the two leads. Topher is always a fun, manic bad guy but combining stoner personalities with two people I don't like surely would lead to a movie I would not like?  Lo, behold -- I liked it ! It is well played out, well scripted and artfully playful. There is wit and heart behind how the mains are handled and even Stewart is likeable. And, of course, who wouldn't want to watch Walton Goggins play another looney tunes bad guy? The Laugher is probably my favourite of his characters, even his bit role from the Bourne movies. (9:23)

[DP] So far, I am not hitting a full 10 mins before I get distracted by the clock and have to stop short.

MI-5, 2015, Bharat Nalluri (The Crow: Salvation) -- Netflix

Straight To, this is a generic spy movie done by... waitasec, the guy who did The Crow: Salvation way back when?  Wow, I guess this guy is still working after all this time. Good for him.

Anywayz, John Snow (Kit Harrington) comes to us as a disenfranchised MI-5 agent tasked by a disgraced MI-5 leader (generic British TV guy #132, Peter Firth) to help clear his name and catch the Bad Guy Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel). He gets some help from Tuppence Middleton and a familiar cast of other British regulars.

This movie wants to be Bond or Bourne but is really more tailored to look like those popular British MI-5 TV shows, which is not surprising consider one of the most popular is called Spooks and this movie is called Spooks: The Greater Good in Britain. Is it a spin-off? Who knows. But anywayz, there is global travel, a skilled but disenchanted agent, assassination attempts, old white guys with shadowy pasts and lots of gun play. What there isn't much of is originality.

Google google. Oh! So it is based on the TV show, so at least I caught that look n feel. But its funny, because I don't have much more to say about the movie because it was MONTHS ago that I saw it and I don't have much of a feel for it anymore. It's weird, because it keeps on merging in my head with another movie that will end up in another of the 10 for 10 segments, again about disenfranchised agents, one with Pierce Brosnan called The November Man. (9:20)

The Huntsman: Winter's War, 2016, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (visual effects guy) -- download

OK, I should have seen this in the theatre, because you are probably aware I am a fan of the first one. And yes, The Huntsman who is the character played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth also played a Ranger NPC in one of my D&D games. Anywayz, it just never happened and we ended up downloading it as soon as it appeared online.

This should have been a prequel proper, as the Evil Queen died in the first, and to be honest, from all the trailers I assumed it was. But no, its not. It is a sequel to the first, despite it depending a lot on a lot of prequel based details.

In this one, The Huntsman has clearly forgotten his love for Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who does not appear in the movie at all, so they decide to explore his connection to his dead wife, the wife whose death left him a slovenly drunk in the first movie. We knew he was a disaffected soldier, but what we didn't know is that he was a soldier in the army of the Evil Queen's (Charlize Theron) sister, the Winter Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) along with his wife Sara (Jessica Chastain).

There is a weird weird prequel backstory where Huntsman and Sara are children captured by the Queens and trained to be ninja samurai ranger soldiers in this Not Earth fairy tale world. At some point in their future they rebel and Sara is killed, while he is thought killed as well. Lo, Sara is also not dead and when we are tossed back to the sequel, she hates her husband because he left her. And now she is tasked with killing the rebels who killed Freya's sister and her army.

This one tries to repeat the beats of the first, again by including CGI enhanced dwarves and some magic and some Ranger style fighting. Jessica Chastain is not a good immediate choice for this character, but to be honest, she can make just about anything believable these days so I went along with her. She will also probably show up as an NPC in one of my games.

Not much else stuck but that they had to really push hard to get Theron back as an Evil Queen who, well who ends up fighting against her sister. I guess Theron is the Eviller Queen. Movie ends up happily ever after but still forgets Snow White is alive. (10:26)

Tracks, 2013, John Curran (We Don't Live Here Anymore) -- Netflix

Walk across the desert. Its something I would love to do, well if my feet would start to cooperate with me again. Walking used to be a great therapy for me; I could do it for hours. Then I (or retail) ruined it. I don't enjoy walking as much as I used to, whether my feet are working or not.

Tracks is the Australian Wild.  It is about a woman trying to truly discover herself by walking a good distance. Except that Robyn Davidson is not taking an established hiking trail; she is crossing a massive Australian wasteland to the ocean. Why? Don't quite remember why and if I say it has something to do with her mother or family, I fear I am more remembering the Cheryl Straid story. But it was family related, definitely about personal discovery.

The biggest difference is that this is the 70s. Maybe self discovery was at its height back then, but the idea of wandering off in a direction because you could was not entirely there. There is something to say for her white privilege taking a part in contributing to her success. She wanders off at the beginning to learn about camels from a man who raises camels. Camels are good if you are going into a desert, even if that desert is Australia's west. But without the privilege she was born into, could she have done what she did? Doubt it.

While she is walking, or riding, Kylo Ren chases her down. First he is doing a story for National Geographic, but soon he is in love with her. Mia Wasikowska is Robyn, always the reserved beauty without all the trapping of Hollywood. She is convincing as the woman who is just going to do this, despite what men think women can do. Even when she bumps into despair, she continues. At that point, what else can she do. But with the friendly help of some Aboriginal men who accept her journey, despite being a woman, she gets to the ocean. A bit more brown for her efforts.

So, what? What did she gain, what did she learn? We never really know. This is about the journey. We don't get the benefit of Cheryl Straid's remembrances and by the time we are deep in Robyn's story, we are there in the moment, which is really all we need to be in. (9:57)

Survivor, 2015, James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) -- download

What movie was this again? Oh yeah, another Straight To thriller from Britain. This one has Pierce Brosnan and Milla Jovovitch. Milla is a security officer working for the American Embassy or Consulate in London. She is set to go to a party, but gets delayed by something present related and BOOM the place is blown to bits. The party was for her coworker Bill, and Bill was actually tagged to set her up to be in the explosion, because she was so good at her job monitoring visas into the US. They end up trying to frame her for the explosion.

So, Milla is on the run and she still needs to investigate the explosion and why her own coworker tried to have her killed. That brings the bomb maker, Pierce known as The Watchmaker, into play. He is named because he is a well known hitman. Pierce seems to like the idea of playing skilled assassins. Which works for me, since I had him as my James Bond RPG main character.

Milla ends up chasing him back to the US, in a pseudo-Bourne style international chase. She has determined they were trying to get Brosnan into the US so he could set off a very large bomb in NYC's Times Square during the New Year's Eve festivities. She has to find him and kill him.

This was decently done, but I so easily tire of these movies that want to be better, but don't really know how. C'mon folks, make a new style thriller that doesn't try to be a Bourne mimic. Let's find another style and roll it out, don't recreate just create.

Milla does these rolls well, being able to absorb the action and the drama well. Of course, Brosnan does a serviceable job. Everyone else is .... supporting. I don't even remember any names or faces, but for Robert Forster, the 60s 70s actor that Quentin Tarantino resurrected. Oh, and Dylan McDermott. (10:34; most of it trying to recall details)

Open Grave, 2013, Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18) -- download

This was supposed to be a Days of Halloween choice but ended up being seen much later. Its weird, but I always mixed up this movie, in my head, with the Italian schlock horror Cemetery Man and even envisioned that Sharlto Copley was doing a remake / reboot of that old movie. But no, its not even remotely related not even in plot or style. The only thing they have in relation is a main character in a pit with dead bodies. And I cannot even say in confidence that Cemetery Man has such a scene.

So, yeah, Sharlto wakes up in a pit full of bodies. He doesn't know why he is there. He doesn't remember much. Not even who he is. But he yells and screams until someone shows up and tosses down a rope. He is pulled out, dragged back to a house full of a bunch of people who also don't remember who they are. They argue, they fight, they wander the house looking for clues as to who they are and why he was in a pit full of dead people.

I loved it. The tension, the questions, the worry and mystery. I have always loved locked room movies.

They continue by wandering the environs around the house, a sort of forested waste land empty of people or civilization. They find ruins, ruins locked up but a kid hiding within. More mysteries grow up, more bits are revealed but only a bit of memory comes up in flashes of the past. As time progresses and paranoia and violence continues, they run into even more violent strangers, a sort of fast zombie emerging from the memory loss plot.

This turned out to be a wonderful post-apocalyptic flick and zombie plague combined. Copley is great, his paranoia and fear palpable. I realized with this movie that I am a fan of the guy, and someday I have to go on and on about Powers the Sony TV show adaptation of one of my favourite comics. The guy has done a lot I have enjoyed after  the very South African heritage of District 9. (9:46)

Warcraft, 2016, Duncan Jones (Source Code) -- download

OK, ok. Everyone knows Warcraft for World of Warcraft which in video game years, is already an ancient idea. We played the MMO for years, and I rather enjoyed the world it was set in. But I also played the isometric strategy game waaaaay back in the PC days when it was about peons and poking sheep. Not that way you pervert, but poking them until they explode. Again, not that way pervert.

I am still weirded out when they take a franchise that was super popular almost 10 years ago and suddenly get around to making a movie of it. I am also weirded out more by the idea that Duncan Jones of Moon and Source Code helmed the movie. In today's era of Assigned Directors I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised, but hadn't he already setup he could do a good Hollywood thriller when left alone? Anywayz, I was also worried that this would be studio meddling out the wazoo. I wasn't disappointed in that aspect, as this is an incredibly unbalanced movie that seems more about setting up a franchise of its own than being concerned with making a decent standalone movie. Remember Producers, if you want an example of perfect standalone movies that launch a phenomena, you need to look no further than Iron Man.

Again, surprisingly, this one reaches back to the plots from the early games as they explain how the Orcs (wonderfully CGI orcs) arrive in the world of Azeroth (human world) from their own Draenor. The orcs have destroyed their own world with bad magic and are raiding into lush, new ones to survive as a species. Their initial incursion kills lots of humans and the King has to respond.

Meanwhile one orc Durotan has realized their own dark wizard is responsible for the downfall of Draenor and wishes to stop him before he does the same to Azeroth. For some reason, not all orcs are ravaging monsters like we game players know, and maybe its all because of the influence of the dark magic. Which, if Durotan succeeds here, then won't that make the coming games/stories/movies moot? No matter, well established drama and tortured main characters on both sides.

So, this movie establishes that the melding of CGI and human characters can be done. This was the science fiction future I was told about as a kid, and this is the first real full example of it. Too bad its such a sloppy, ill conceived, obviously meddled with production of a movie. (10:02)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Burnt

2015, John Wells (August: Osage County) -- download

Netflix is full of cooking shows, no not those weekly Rachael Rae "this is how you cook with evoo" type shows, but mini-documentary series that revel in cooking & eating. They even recently brought in the seminal show, A Cook's Tour with Anthony Bourdain. But one thing these shows remind me, that I think (great [?!?]) chefs are dicks. They are arrogant beasts and there is an accepted paradigm that great cooking only comes from utter tyranny in the kitchen. Bullshit.

Burnt, made by the guy who did the excellent The Company Men makes a movie about an asshole chef who seeks to redeem himself by ... well, by being an asshole again. But wait, no, this time he aims to be a Michelin 3-Star asshole chef. Bradley Cooper is Adam Jones, a disgraced chef who finishes shucking 1, 000, 000 oysters in New Orleans. That was his self-imposed penance for being an asshole in France. No women, no booze, no drugs just oysters. Then the movie abruptly leaves New Orleans and transplants to London where Adams bullies and emotionally blackmails a bunch of people into helping him fund and open a restaurant with which he convinces them he will gain his third star.

Despite this being a very well produced, directed and acted movie I could not get over this revelling in utter asshole behaviour. Look at the premise: he returns from utter catastrophe to manipulate people into furthering his very personal obsession with a rating star. Somehow we are supposed to buy into this worship of the great chef? Kind of, as there is a very minor plot stream where people are trying to convince Adam he would be better if he just became part of the family that is his kitchen staff, that he would get his third star if he only joined with them.

Like other cooking movies, we do get a bit of the food porn, the wonderful dishes, the prep with spoons ducked into plastic containers of ingredients but other than a brief moment at the beginning of the movie where Adam compares a Burger King burger to French food (salt, fat, cheap cut of meat), you never really get the idea Adam likes food. THAT is what I want from a food movie, so despite this being a well told story, I did not buy into Adam's redemption and he can keep his stars.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Sicario

2015, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) -- digital rental

Now, having seen all of Villeneuve's Hollywood endeavours, I can comfortably say I am a fan. Time to push back catalogs and see his French movies. But are there back catalogs anymore? This was my first official, legal digital rental. Having recently upgraded my Internet, I plugged in a credit card and "rented" this title in HD from my PS3. I had been waiting because I knew it to be an English language movie with Spanish spoken. Pirates tend to have all sub-titles or none. Finding a good English-only is a challenge, especially in today's world where the seas are losing their pirate ships. It was a proven success, but still begs the question --- how far back can I find movies? Are the days of flipping through the VHS/DVD boxes saying "saw it saw it saw it sucks saw it saw it" gone? Or is that what Netflix is for? We shall have to see.

This movie takes place in the same America-Mexico border crossing as the American version of The Bridge, Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. The plot & setting are a microscope on the current era of the Drug War, the one where Mexican drug lords kill their enemies in the hundreds, often dismembering corpses and hanging them for everyone to see. Emily Blunt is a doorkicker, a dedicated FBI agent working against the cartels in Arizona, but not really accomplishing much in the bigger picture. But her success drags her into the world of spook Josh Brolin. He has a goal and needs dedicated soldiers. He's not clear of what he needs her for, but it is going to be nefarious. Walking beside Brolin is Benicio Del Toro, an enforcer for the Columbia cartel(s). As the movie is called Sicario (assassin) you can easily guess what Benicio is and what Brolin's goal is.

We walk the plot of this movie beside Blunt, never seeing the full story of things but still tagging along to see where it goes. Oh, she has an idea that things are going to be nasty, from  the introduction to the world during a border crossing to retrieve a cartel member from Mexican authorities, but she is not exactly sure how far Brolin will go. Everything is nail bitingly tense. In most of these movies, the characterization happens in the rushed parts between the action sequences, but in a Villeneuve movie the action sequences are that which glue the characters together. In the end, we are left standing dazed as a single scenario in this vast epic that is the Drug War has passed us by, leaving us wondering what was the point of it all and what kind of creature do we need to be, to see all of it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Spectral

2016, Nic Mathieu -- Netflix

Moldova is a real country? I thought it was one of those countries made up for movies, when they need a basically westernized country (cities, old technology) but with exotic, Soviet-era look & feel. But no, she's real and I guess that rather than be off-colour by setting this war-based movie in currently forgotten about Ukraine, they chose a close neighbour. Anywayz, the movie starts with American forces fighting in the ruins of a Moldovan city, a new war torn region America is involved in. The soldiers encounter something mysterious and deadly, and we cut back to James Badge Dale, a talented engineer and researcher, currently doing imaging work for DARPA. The encounter in Moldova had an enigmatic, invisible aspect to it. His expertise could be of help.

This movie is all about the Boys With the Toys, the practical effects team going all out in their weapons and tech add-ons. My other personal speculative joy, along with the glass cell phones I have mentioned before, is HUDs for military use. I have spent a lot of time playing FPSs. While much of this movie is your familiar marine team six trying to survive against a ghostly enemy, I got swept along with the tech and the weapon design. And the ghosts, the monsters or Bad Guys, are really decently depicted, something new in the field so often explored by Aliens and Pitch Black and all its lesser copies.

But it wasn't just that, where Kill Command failed on the lazy acting and directing, there is something here. Sometimes I think it's just a genuine joy in the material that shows through, I cannot discount skill. This may be Mathieu's first movie, and it is rough around the edges, his skill does show through. James Badge Dale, who is usually stuck playing soldiers or bad guys, gets to be The Scientist with Skill. This movie is not going to get him any nods, but it does expand his repertoire solidly. I genuinely liked this movie a lot.

P.S. Terrible poster; c'mon guys, I know it was straight to Netlflix, but you could have dished out something more than a thumbnail.


Monday, January 23, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Morgan

2016, Luke Scott -- download

Speaking of low rent, how about low rent Ex Machina ? To be honest, when I first saw the trailers for Morgan I was expecting more. Yes, I saw the mashup between Species (grown, from DNA) and Ex Machina (artificial girl, behind glass) but I thought it would be more than a Frankenstein analog. I didn't realize how pedestrian the final production would be.

Morgan was grown from a successful combination of artificial and biological material. She is sort of a fast grown hybrid that all the team is told to call "it". She is not a she, though all the determining factors for female are there, being that she is played by the beautiful Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch), and no this is not a movie that goes into the discussion of what gender means. The movie focuses on the arrival of Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a low rent Rick Deckard here to see all the fuss this artificial human has created. The fuss is that she attacked her guardian in a violent "tantrum". The rest of the team feels a lot of mixed emotions towards Morgan, understanding she is stronger, faster and better than all of them, but also fearing her. Kate is there to make sure the funding company's much more than six million dollars is turning out to be a viable product. Everyone resents her.

Now, that setup would make for an interesting movie, lots of talking, lots of eerie questionable actions, lots of people doing shit they know they shouldn't do, because Morgan is not a normal human being but one they have grown to care for. But nope, the movie jumps almost immediately head-long into a murder-fest as Morgan reacts negatively to her upsetting psychological evaluation. She rips the psychologist's throat out. And then she begins to kill the rest. Auditor Weathers pulls out her gun and goes after Morgan. Now she is even more low rent than Michael Madsen was in Species, and that is saying a lot. As the movie winds down to a close, either killing Morgan or having her run into the wild, we are given a twist, one that basically was telegraphed from the beginning, by a very telling scene, but I will let you decide if you want to waste some time on this one.

Side note. In all the trailers, I swore she was a bald kid. But no, her blonde hair may be thin, but it is pulled back in a pony tail, though often hidden in a hoodie. I wonder if I am predisposed now to beautiful, artificial women being bald?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Passengers

2016, Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) - cinema

**SPOILERS**

From the get go, you could tell the producers took a miss-turn revealing the core premise of this scifi drama and turned the wheel towards a more manageable romantic thriller. Do you remember the early trailers, where they reveal that Chris Pratt's Jim Preston wakes up Jennifer Lawrence's Aurora Lane because he is lonely? Once the Internet Outrage Machine took hold of that, it had to be hidden. And all subsequent trailers went the way of two people up against great odds while alone on a spaceship, a hundred years from its destination.

So, that. In a distant future, faster than light travel is still not possible. The big starship Avalon on its way to Homestead II, and will take about 120 years. The passengers sleep while the robots and massive computer keep everything clean and working. But the ship suffers a bumpy ride, malfunctions and wakes up Jim. Only Jim.

Jim is an economy class passenger. Breakfast is cereal, lunch & dinner are Mexican and AYCE sushi. His berth is tiny. But all it takes is a crowbar to find a bigger bed.  Those first few months on the ship are like the first few episodes of The Last Man on Earth minus the Margarita Pool. Jim does as he pleases, eventually succumbing to the no-shave, no-cleaning despondent lifestyle. Eventually Jim gets lonely and then fixates on Aurora, a writer from NYC, who is a first class passenger. After some months of painful deliberation, he wakes her up.

And there is the rub of it. In a more thoughtful movie, he might wake up a handful of people which would generate all the different opinions for and against what Jim has done. While the movie doesn't entirely shirk away from the moral implications of what he has done, but it doesn't fully embrace them either. This is a December-January release movie, which means it has to be accessible and likeable. So, we get enough to know Jim feels bad about what he has done, but not bad enough to not have done it.

And the movie is a romance. No, really. And it does a good job of realizing it, of allowing it to happen slowly, probably another year? They are alone, they entertain each other, the entertain together, they get drunk together (Michael Sheehan plays the programmatically affable robot bartender) and eventually they fall in love. C'mon, its a buffed up Chris Pratt and a gorgeous white blonde Jennifer Lawrence. Who wouldn't want them to get together.

And of course she finds out. And of course she freaks out.

Again, a better movie would have focused on the ramifications, both of what he had done, and the nature of what comes next. There is one scene where he wakes to find her on top of him, pounding away with fists. He lets it happen. Amusingly enough, I think Jennifer got an actual punch in there, as earlier in the movie, they do a bad job of hiding a black eye on Pratt.  But once the movie does a requisite amount of hatred and tears, it shifts the goal to saving the ship. As a Hollywood blockbuster, it does a good job of giving them a reason to be together, even after everything they go through, after everything he has done, and how she has reacted. But a better movie would have focused more on the, "This is our life now, so now what...."

Monday, January 16, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Kill Command

2016, Steven Gomez (visual effects guy) -- download

Kill Command also called Identify in the UK, begins with a high tech corporation employee learning of something nefarious going on in the matrix. A "programming anomaly" has happened at a military training facility and she is assigned to deal with it. We get the feeling that Mills is not quite human, or maybe not even human at all, as she interacts with the high tech computer systems via overlaid retinal imagery. Cyborg or killer android, we are given to immediately distrust her. So when she is assigned to the low rent Aliens marine corps to investigate the facility, we buy into their worry.

This movie comes from a special effects guy, a guy whose credits include terrible fake mermaid documentaries and a docu-sideshow about bugs infesting people. I was hoping he might be the producer of one of those CGI heavy shorts you see on YouTube or Vimeo, usually involving a post-apocalyptic soldier going up against a alien robot. The trailer and the image of the Big Bad Robot in the movie caught my attention, but soon in, this was very obviously all retread stuff. The marines are by the book, no not the military book, but the military science fiction book. Only Vanessa Kirby as Mills, the cyborg, we soon confirm is dancing  a little outside of her boundaries.

Mills leads the soldiers onto the island, one used to train human soldiers to go up against machine soldiers. We get the impression the soldier life is waning, as more and more machines do their killing for them. These are not Chappie style humanoid soldiers, but rather lame looking Johnny Five on treads mobile gun platforms.  Well, except for the Big Bad, who I admit, I rather liked. Its too bad they only got so much budget because a couple of designs is all we got. The programming anomaly Mills is there for turns out to be the "best way to learn how to kill humans is to kill humans" idea of Machines Go Evil we see so often. But she also gets the idea her company is behind this, so she does her best to keep these guys alive. Well, some of them.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Over 3 Paragraphs: Arq

2016, Tony Elliot (writer Orphan Black) -- Netflix

It's like Groundhog Day meets ___________.

Fuck, I hate that comparison. ANY movie with a time loop involved gets compared to Groundhog Day, like there were never any other stories of such produced before Bill Murray got caught in his moral dilemma. But yeah yeah, I know, appeal to the masses. But what I liked so much about Arq was that it was NOT a mass appeal movie!  This is an obvious low budget scifi movie, but not in the way you think. The production values and attention to detail are quite high, they were able to keep the budget low because of the inherent plot -- a "single" location and small cast that just keeps on being used over and over and over and over. The end result was incredible!

But I may be biased, as I love time travel stories.

Renton (Robbie Amell; The Flash) wakes up in bed with Hannah (Rachael Taylor; Jessica Jones); before he fully awakens, three men smash their way into the room and take the two hostage. Renton dies trying to escape. And then he awakens again, with vague recollection of that intro loop. What continues, loop after loop is an intrigue of corporate dominance, terrorism, technology gone wrong and personal history. Each loop reveals a bit more, as Renton learns what he can accomplish. And then, when he brings Hannah into it, things go awry.

This movie takes place in a world 20 minutes into the future. A massive corp called Torus owns everything, a terrorist / revolutionary group called The Bloc fights against them. The ARQ is Renton's machine, one made for endless power supply. Both sides want it. That is why Renton and Hannah keep on waking up in a bedroom as some invades his house, well why is the fatal flaw in the design of the ARQ. It's not that Renton wants the Evil Corp to have the power, but he's a scientist in love with his machine. The Bloc invaders are not exactly without their own agenda, not merely seeking the ARQ for the Good Guys. Renton has to play each loop to reveal a bit more, to determine what he can accomplish, before they decide to turn off the machine and end the loop, or not.

Monday, January 9, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Comet

2014, Sam Esmail (Mr Robot) -- Netflix

It doesn't happen very often these days, but while watching Mr. Robot I couldn't help but wonder what else Esmail had done.  Well, only this. I always wonder how someone can come onto the scene with such acclaim but only really have one property under his name. Then again, it might just be that blog writers, who cannot hope to always be dialed-in, are afraid of missing out on being aware of someone, so when hit with a mystery, will just pretend they know who he is.

So, yes, from acclaimed writer & director, Sam Esmail, comes his first writing & directing deal -- a quirky, otherworldly, incredibly talky film about two lovers who are connected no matter which universe we peek into. There isn't a story here, there is just a relationship, shown in a totality of 6 years. We see it out of order, in flashbacks, in flash-forwards, in views into What Could Have Been and views into What Never Was.

I love this movie, because I love a movie that demands our attention. No, not the catch phrase (because we know most of my writing is about catch phrases) but the actual desire to pull our attention away from our phones even when we are sitting on the sofa. The dialogue, the actual topics these two very intelligent (if somewhat shallow) people discuss requires focus. And the conversations, as extensions of their personality, change depending on which reality we peek into. What is the point of all this otherworldly voyeurism? At the heart of the story (see) it's how Dell (Justin Long) sees him always have been meant to be love with Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and seems to have vague memories of things that never happened.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Arrival

2016, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) -- cinema

My unwritten novel starts with cello music the same way this movie does, beautiful haunting and appropriate to the lonely locale. In a way, the music set the tone for the movie much more than any visual did. This looks like a Villeneuve movie, from his architecture shots to his not entirely sharp way of building wide shots. Sharp, as in exquisite camera shots. When someone like Michael Bay shoots a movie, most on the screen is CGI that comes out incredibly focused, so everything around it has to be shot as such. For Villeneuve, it's more about the story, so the mood has to be set. I am more appreciative of this camera work these days, as I find it very hard to view a very sharply shot movie, because.... well, focus, both visually and emotionally. Villeneuve made it so very easy for me to do both. He helped me hunch in my seat, ignore the people checking their phones and just be absorbed.

Aliens have arrived in big disks, like they always do. And like they always do, these disks float over our cities, but sometimes just over big empty fields in Montana. Unlike other alien movies, this is not just happening in the US, and there is not just a team of smart people in the US. There are smart teams everywhere and for them all to be smarter, they work together. Like many alien visits, the heptapods leave heavy lifting of First Contact to us. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are tasked with trying to understand & communicate with the Montana disk. Amy is language, Renner is physics. Forest Whitaker is the army colonel in charge of all this, because we know the military will always be in charge of it.

Everyone highlights how this is a smart science fiction movie, about smart people doing smart things. True, not denying it, but it's not what the movie is about.  In The Martian, much of what the movie was about was showing the smart science. The linguistic science of Arrival is presented only briefly under the microscope, and then becomes the backdrop to what our main character is experiencing. This movie is not about one person being the only useful one in the room, though it definitely starts that way, but about choosing the right path (in this case, science & understanding) vs the wrong path (fear and mistrust).

Arrival is a very beautiful movie, at its heart.

Amy Adams plays a character that just wants to connect with these visitors and she cannot conceive they are here to do harm, because if they wished to, they would have already. But the beauty doesn't really come from her drive, not entirely.

**SPOILER**

The core beauty of this movie comes with the reveal of exactly how different the aliens are from us. As Adams' character explores the language structure of these creatures, she begins to experience things, dreams and memories that seem, at first, like they are influencing her to remember and feel things she is repressing, memories of a daughter lost to cancer, on an uncaring husband who is not there. These memories distract her, overwhelm her, but don't deter her. The more she works the more the experiences these jarring happenings. Until a final confrontation with the alien she calls Costello (as in, Abbot and...) explains to her that the aliens feel time as a whole, not as a past, present and future but always as a whole now.

For them, a life is made up entirely of all of its parts. In much the way we faintly recall our past, they must faintly recall their future. So, the message to humans is for them to live life fully, to see all of it as beautiful, to accept the good and the bad as part of the joy of living.

OK, the aliens don't explain that, they are not platitude serving gurus leaving us with text over scenes of sunsets to post of Facebook, they just offer us what is theirs to offer. But the core (for me) is that, if you knew you would see hints of your consequences, that you could be tortured by your choices yet to be made, in much the way many of us are tormented by our past, wouldn't you start making better choices? You would see life as a whole, as  a long but finite period of time that is better filled with good memories (even those yet to happen) than painful ones.

Think of it this way. You are re-reading a book you really really enjoyed. It was filled with great parts, both painful and joyful. You cherish every bit of the book. And, as you re-read, you know what is going to happen but it doesn't diminish the act of re-reading, not experiencing the sad parts you know are going to happen, not experiencing the joyful parts.

Now, add in the mind bending time travel aspect that you can subtly influence what will happen by knowing what has happened, you can understand how this knowing this understanding of a new way of thinking is the true gift from the alien visitors. And this, this is what was so beautiful to me, that we can still offer a hopeful vision of a First Contact. We need a lot of hope right now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: The Magnificent Seven

2016, Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw) -- download

Speaking of Ethan Hawke in westerns, we have a remake of a classic western with Hawke as a gunfighter with a dark, damaged past. I could get used to him doing such roles. The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 movie of the same name, which in turn was a cowboy remake of The Seven Samurai.  The core premise is that a group of leaderless men (gunfighters/ronin) is hired / inspired to take on a land baron even though the odds will be sorely against them.

The seven are as follows. Denzel Washington is Chisolm, a bounty hunter with airs of being a better man but who truly is seen as The Man in Black. Chris Pratt, the gambler looking for some personal redemption, or money, or both. Ethan Hawke is Goodnight Robicheaux, the ex-Army man (The South) with trauma about how many men he killed. Byung-hun Lee is Billy Rocks, friend and sidekick to Goodnight. Vincent D'Onofrio is a bear of a mountain man. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is Vasquez, who Chisolm has promised not to hunt, if he joins. And finally, Martin Sensmeier is Red Harvest, a Comanche who joins because... well, I don't really know why he joined.  Haley Bennett (and no it's not Bryce Dallas Howard, in case the trailer caught you, like it did me) is the heroine, the woman who goes to Chisolm and convinces him of the righteousness of this job.

Really, it's hard to screw up a western, but it's also as hard to do a good western, kind of like chicken wings. The templates are all there, so following them is expected, but surpassing them is a challenge. I am a Fuqua fan but of late he doesn't seem to be able to merge his style with the story telling. In The Equalizer he had some incredibly wonderful stylish scenes, but the story lacked. This movie is all story, and the style is just familiar --- not bad, just capable western. I was hoping for ... more. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I was hoping it would rise to the glory of the originals.

Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Short Paragraphs: In a Valley of Violence

2016, Ti West (The Innkeepers) -- download

Speaking of Old Westerns, Ti West, best known for his throwback horror movies The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil, brings us an old style western with very little pretension, a stripped back revenge story in the vein of John Wick. Ethan Hawke, who really is so successfully leaving behind that 90s pretty boy image he had, is a cowboy, a gunfighter who is heading south to Mexico, to leave behind some unknown dark past. First he bumps into a nasty preacher played by Burn Gorman, which establishes what kind of man Paul (Hawke) is, and then he bumps into the town of Denton, a nasty small place run by nasty small men.

Small towns in the old west were essentially self ruled, essentially lawless. This one is rule by John Travolta, who actually is a rather reasonable dictator, but unfortunately he has an unreasonable son. They try to kill Paul and do kill Paul's dog. Never kill the gunman's dog unless you are very very sure the gunman is dead. The rest of the movie is a stylish, but an incredibly lean style, revenge flick as Paul takes out each of of the men who killed his dog. Travolta and him live by a similar code, and while Paul only wants those men dead, Travolta cannot let Paul do so -- his son may be a dick, but he is his son after all.

I really like this movie, probably even more so than West's horrors which I thought were well done, if not entirely compelling. I like Old West stripped down to its simplest ideas. And while West does this here, the dialogue and characters are also very uncharacteristic. Paul is very enamoured with his dog, whom he connects to the wife & daughter he lost --- he talks to her like she can respond. Everything we know about Paul comes from that dialogue. Killing her, Abbie the dog, means he has lost any reason to be a better man. Well, maybe the local saloon girl (Taissa Farmiga, quickly becoming one of my favourite actresses) can convince him if not for the fact she is young enough to be a daughter. But he respects her needs, and he respects her. But no, he has to do what he has to do, all regrets put aside.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I Saw This!! What I Have Been Watching (PT D.4)

Pt. ABCD.1D.2, D.3 can be found there.

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad.  Y'know, red horny demon possession, bad.

Just to round out the pile, I am going to shoe horn in a show I am currently watching. So, this edition, we get a completed season (and series), a dropped show (but likely to be binge watched) and a nearly done season.

Meh; four (series) seasons completed.

Preacher, 2016, AMC -- download

When Preacher premiered, we were excited. The trailers showed an obviously different show than the comic, but I am always for a bit of retooling to allow a comic to come to life. Look what they did with Iron Man and it was a great movie -- the core is there, but in no way is it "faithful". And of course, the casting of Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy was brilliant, almost like the role was made for him.

But then we watched the first episode and were entirely underwhelmed. Then we watched the second episode and the underwhelming continued. It was not terrible, but ... but ... I don't know, it just didn't compel me to watch. And in today's age, there are always a half dozen other genre shows on TV for me to download/watch. So, it got dropped.

A month later I downloaded digital copies of the comic series, having release the original comics to the wild years ago. Back in The Day, that comic overwhelmed me. It was post-X-Men for me, and was so entirely different from everything else. It was also entirely different from The Sandman which has already taken me off the road of comics being only about superheroes. But Preacher was irreverent, angry, over the top fun for an angry, irreverent kid. Yeah, I consider 1995 as me-being-a-kid days. That definition is changing a lot these days, since my beard went grey.  I loved this comic. Until even it became old hat.

But even the re-read was underwhelming. Being so profane is a bit stylistically immature these days, but I get why Seth Rogen is still so attached to the story. He is hanging onto that exact sort of immature & profane. I still like the core story, and I still love pathetic Cassidy, but I don't hold as much reverence for it as I once did.

So, that confirmed that it was not (entirely) a Fanboy connection that had me not enjoying the show. Oh sure, I was kind of annoyed that Jesse was a bit of a self-questioning ass in the show, where he was always a Stand Up Guy in the comic. Also, the comic was a bit of a Road Movie while the show focused on establishing Jesse, his town and his "motivations". Gah; TV translations and all that. But still, it wasn't all bad and definitely wasn't a deal breaker. So, what? What stopped me? Was it just a few slow episodes? Why not watch the whole thing and see...

So we did.

And guess what, still entirely underwhelmed. They spend an entire season introducing asshole characters that Jesse cannot, and probably should not even try, to redeem. But guess what, he's just as much an asshole. And so is Tulip. And so is Cassidy, but who cares, because Cassidy is a 200 year old vampire so he's allowed to be an asshole. I get it; asshole is in --- Breaking Bad lost me because everyone was becoming one --- but it doesn't mean I have to subject myself to it. The genre bits were fun, especially the whole piling up of angel bodies, but it wasn't compelling enough to keep me watching. But we did, just to see where this whole thing was going, and to confirm our thoughts n what those occasionally whistling pipes sticking out of the ground were.

But we confirmed, a big fat "Meh!" and a big, fat confirmation that Seth Rogen is always best when being reined in by others. But I will get to that when I do Sausage Party.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

I Saw This!! What I Have Been Watching (PT D.3)

Pt. ABCD.1, D.2 can be found there.

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad.  Y'know, red horny demon possession, bad.

Just to round out the pile, I am going to shoe horn in a show I am currently watching. So, this edition, we get a completed season (and series), a dropped show (but likely to be binge watched) and a nearly done season.

Meh; four (series) seasons completed.

Westworld, 2016, HBO -- download

Speaking of technology rampant, the best thing on TV this year was Westworld, a remake of the 70s movie. If Person of Interest can question how can an autonomous AI come about, and how we should react to it, then this show can question whether it really matters or not. Westworld does its best, at its core, to question whether we can really even ask the question without questioning our own existence. What is intelligence? What is sentience? What is free will? Heavy stuff.

So, the brief is a theme park has been designed, in what must be a distant future, and set in America's Old West. It is populated by autonomous AI robots, so incredibly smart that we cannot differentiate the people (guests) from the robots (hosts). That is the point of the park; you just never know. OK, not really, the point is that we can so easily fool ourselves, we will get lost in the fantasy. In today's era of Japanese Otaku wanting to marry imaginary characters (or their pillows), it's not a thin stretch to believes people would become throughly immersed in this park's residents.

Gah, you cannot start talking about this show without skipping past the plot(s) and right into the meat of the matter. This is because the characters and plots are really just a vehicle for the questions and vague attempts at answers. Anthony Hopkins is the park's aging designer, one obsessed with keeping his toy to himself as well as pushing the boundaries of the narrative. Ed Harris is The Man in Black, a guest of the park who is always playing The Bad Guy. You know, Black Hats vs White Hats? Evan Rachel Wood is Dolores, a host who is often the subject of his Bad Guy routine. Jeffrey Right is Bernard, a tech who is constantly noticing that the hosts are thinking a bit more than they are designed to. Jimmi Simpson is Billy, an investor on his first trip to the park, a man who questions the moral implications of people letting themselves go entirely when they come to the park. Thandie Newton, easily the most compelling character in the whole season, is Maeve a host who has nightmares she is not supposed to be programmed to have. And the cast goes on, from hosts to staff to guests.

It's no surprise this show is all about questions -- it's Jonathan Nolan again, who was behind Person of Interest. I guess he has a theme he wants to explore and doesn't let a series ending interrupt that. Maybe he should have been given the reigns of Ghost in the Shell.

There is a mystery built into the show, a series of events and questions around those events, that are almost built to tease the Internet based viewer. Discussion, speculation, theory and predictions became the reaction to each and every episode. Some were telegraphed, some were tenuous and some were incredibly way out there. Boy, could you easily get wrapped up in that, but the show was smart enough to not capitalize on it, like The Walking Dead has -- there was no after-show, there was no discussion round table. Any such would have led to answering too many questions, which should be left up to the viewer just like the greatest moral questions of the show were.

Go see it.


ReWatch: Love Actually

2003, Richard Curtis (Notting Hill) -- Netflix

It was back on Netflix !  It wasn't last year.

This is becoming that movie that I will continue to do a rewatch post for as long as this blog clings to  the unreality that is blogging. I might not be a blogger anymore, and really who is, but this blog will cling to life for as long as I can continue to drag out mediocre non-reviews.

Kent, is this the podcast you were talking about, where two guys constantly rewatch the same movie? I imagine the idea is not unique, and I could continue to do it with many movies from The Shelf, especially the ones I associate with Xmas, like Avatar or 2012. Why do I associate them with Xmas? Because they were movies I received for Xmas and always have a hankering to rewatch them at this time of year.

So, the Rick & Mordo show. Nobody laughed at my poorly thought out in-Joke.  Let me ruin it even more by explaining it to you. In painful detail. Andrew Lincoln plays Mark, the loyal friend who hides his love for his best friend's new wife very well. Chiwetel Ejiofor is said best friend. On The Walking Dead Lincoln plays Rick Grimes. In the recent movie Doctor Strange Ejiofor plays Mordo, a sorcerer ally of said Doctor. There  is a very very popular irreverent cartoon called Rick & Morty, which people cannot stop recommending me to watch, but I only got to episode 2. This bad joke was really just meant to make Kent groan. But he's rarely on social media, so I doubt he saw it.

Anywayz.

Again, this movie makes me smile. And if you knew me, you would know how much of a challenge that is these days. I still cling to the most uplifting stories of love, the David & Natalie one and the Daniel & Sam story. For those that are wondering, Daniel (Liam Neeson) and Karen (Emma Thompson) are just friends, good friends, not brother & sister. David (Hugh Grant) and Karen are brother and sister. But I suspect Karen and Daniel dated once, a long time ago, which is why they are so close as to share a box of cereal together. And why she constantly breaks his grieving anguish with sarcastic levity --- only a true friend could do that.

For the first time in rewatching, I am on board with considering Alan Rickman a bastard for cheating on Karen. The director confirmed it, and the unmade bed in the background does as well. But the movie is not only about positive views on Love, but also on negative. The relationship between Sarah (Laura Linney) and her brother is not healthy, despite how loyal it is. And neat to recognise Sarah's obsession Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) as the scarred Bad Guy Host in Westworld. But yeah, Rickman loses Emma Thompson for one night with the young, hot secretary. I wonder what she felt she was getting from that, taking down the Boss That Everyone Loved. Her behaviour is not out of love.

Best lines.

"I hate Uncle Jamie !!"

"Eight is a lot of legs, David."

"Do. The SAS are absolutely charming. Ruthless trained killers are just a phone call away."

Is London really that warm five weeks before Xmas? Do you see what Keira Knightly is wearing, a crop top, short sleeve, no jacket outfit? And out on the water. I get the Big City idea of light jackets when you are running from car or subway to building and not spending much time outside, but that seems a bit excessive.

The movie ends with One Month Later, catching up on a few. Bill Nighy's aging rockstar (only 54, but damn leathery) is obviously doing well for himself. And Natalie, ever in red, while not accompanying her man on his business trip is definitely there to barge past security and jump into the arms of the Prime Minister. That is love, truly happy actual love.

I love her character, for she is never beset upon, she is never fazed but for a moment, by dickhead POTUS. She has been "redistributed" (I still don't think that meant fired) but understands and when David appears on her doorstep, she knows exactly why and goes with it. He may be Prime Minister, but he is a man who will love her, and whom she will love, probably forever.

One final word on confidence, the couple most often forgotten about in this movie are John (Martin Freeman) and Just Judy (Joanna Page), the porn body doubles. For such a shy couple, they are immensely centered on who they are. They can have conversations, as strangers, while sitting naked on each other!! Imagine being that absent of body shame? Oh I know there is physical attraction there between the two, but when they connect it is with utter confidence. And that last line from them, one year later ("Finally going to shag") means they have been taking it slow and gentle. How sweet.