Justice League

November 22, 2017

I liked it!

This isn’t to say it doesn’t have a lot problems, because it does. But it also includes this line of dialog:

Barry Allen (speaking to Bruce about Diana):  “If she kills you the rest of us will cover for her.”

So there’s that. What saves the movie for me are lots of little wonderful character moments. I want to spend time with these people. The plot? Derivative and nonsensical. Pacing? Choppy, because they have to do so much exposition to set everything up.

This is the point where I actually feel sorry for the DC movies, and this one in particular. Because it’s being judged not just against the MCU, but also the CW/DC TV shows. I think we’d be having very different conversations about these if they had been the first superhero films out of the gate over the last ten years or so, if they were the only superhero movies out there. But they aren’t, and as I’ve said before the bar on this genre is very, very high at this point.

As a fan of the CW shows I surprisingly wasn’t bothered by the different handling of the world and characters, because it’s coming from a consistent philosophical underpinning:  this movie is about loners and misfits who’ve been in isolation learning to come together. The CW shows have all been about family, about heroes who already have support networks and how those networks change and grow. So that’s fine.

But alas, the last few DC films have always looked like they’re playing catch-up to the MCU. Except in exactly one area:  DC got out a woman-led movie first. They’ll always have that flag.

Of course, that means a lot of us think that all their movies from here out should just be Wonder Woman. Like, all of them. That would be okay.

 

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Friday roundup

November 17, 2017

At long last, my in-depth review of Blade Runner 2049 is live at Lightspeed. I could have said a lot more, there’s really a lot here to pick apart, and I wonder if it’s only worth the effort because the expectations were so very high. I wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking about this if the words “Blade Runner” weren’t attached to it. Then again, maybe I would, thinking back on how much time I spent talking about that wretched Total Recall remake.

A bit of trivia:  the title “Blade Runner” actually comes from an entirely different science fiction novel, The Bladerunner, by Alan E. Nourse, which I have actually read, and which I think would make a fantastic movie or TV series. Particularly relevant now, in how it deals with the health care system.

I’m way behind on pretty much all TV watching. My usual gang of superfriends have all been busy and traveling this fall, so we haven’t had a chance to sit down at our usual shindigs. I’m hoping to get through it soon, because ep. 4 of this season’s Flash was amazing.  Hilarious and serious and over the top and cohesive and Danny Trejo and the worst pun in TV episode title history. (“The Elongated Journey into Night.” I KNOW RIGHT?!) It’s great.

And I will go see Justice League at some point, for purely academic reasons of course. I just have to see for myself what they’ve done with it.

 

happy Monday!

November 13, 2017

Ah, another day of working to keep it all together!

So I’m doing a lot of knitting for the holidays right now, and I’m finding I’d rather watch movies than TV shows while I knit, because it turns out a lot of the shows I’m watching I actually want to watch, rather than have them run in the background. So I want to watch movies, but not necessarily complex serious movies, but I also want to see ones I haven’t seen before, but also not anything too stupid and mindless…

Which is how I ended up watching Oliver Stone’s Alexander, starring Colin Farrell.  This thing was panned when it came out — it was a massive production with a huge budget and a cast of thousands. It was clearly done in the spirit of the old Charlton Heston sword-and-sandal epics. In fact, this version (“The Ultimate Cut” on Netflix right now, and does everything really need a different cut than the theatrical one? Really?), had an intermission. You know the intermissions on old movies, when they spend a couple of minutes playing the score with pictures. I can’t remember ever seeing one of these on a movie made after 1980. Did the theatrical cut have this? I don’t know.

But it was weird. The whole thing was weird. Like, on one level it was exactly what I wanted, historical epic with lots of ripped men wearing chitons (mmm, biceps), lots of horses and chariots, some freaking amazing battle scenes and decadent production values. There’s a scene where Alexander is wearing a red cloak and standing before the epic vista of the Hindu Kush mountains, and it’s beautiful, and it’s also how I expect that moment really did look, 2300 years ago.

But then you start to notice that most of the Macedonians are blond and white, and the people they’re conquering are not, and Alexander keeps saying that they’re fighting for freedom, which they’re totally not, and then Anthony Hopkins (playing old Ptolemy) ends with this speech about how great fascism is. I mean, not really but sort of? It went something like, “He proved that one man could rule the world, and the world would be better for it,” and I’m like wait, hold on, part of the point of the movie, and of the story of Alexander the Great, is that he couldn’t rule it. He could conquer it, but he spread his army thin and it all fell apart the minute he died.

This was about five different movies squashed together. The story of the conquering army was actually pretty great. So was the one about how myth influenced reality and vice versa. All of the weird emotional blackmail stuff with his mother went on way too long and wasn’t interesting and didn’t really fit. And then there’s the “yay fascism!” thread which I think was actually accidental but there ya go. Maybe that sort of thing stands out more these days than it did a dozen years ago when the movie came out.

 

Murder on the Orient Express

November 11, 2017

Kenneth Branagh established his career making film adaptations of very traditional Shakespeare interpretations with very impressive production values. The idea of making Henry V and including a massive recreation of Agincourt, with all the blood, mud, grit, and horror, was revolutionary and amazing. I love that film.

So I’m not sure why I’m surprised that his Agatha Christie adaptation is very traditional, with impressive production values — the train is nearly its own character. But I confess I expected a bit more. An approach with some zing. The trailer had so much energy, with fast cuts and an impressive pounding modern rock song. I think I wanted that to carry through to the  movie. Something stylized and anachronistic and startling — given that this is very probably the most famous murder mystery in the world and we all know how it ends. But I think this movie mostly exists because Branagh really wanted to play Poirot. And that’s okay.

That might have been my most startling takeaway:  Branagh handles Christie the same way he handles Shakespeare, and that maybe Christie really does deserve to be on a level with Shakespeare, at least in terms of her impact on popular culture — she didn’t invent mystery, but she laid the foundations for its modern popularity.

I should add that I’m suspicious of my own reaction to this movie, because only a couple months ago I binged the last six seasons of David Suchet’s Poirot while massively revising my own murder mystery novel (The Wild Dead, due out July ’18!) and because of that sort of emotionally clung to the character. He was comforting. And the Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express is extraordinary. The show saved it for near the end of the whole run, and they use it to advance and develop a character arc:  this is the case that breaks Poirot, that irrevocably damages his sense that there is such a thing as concrete justice and that he will always be able to separate out the murderers from the innocent. He’s very angry here. At the end, he walks away from the train with his faith in tatters. It’s powerful, and it sets up stuff that happens right up to the last episode.

Granted, the show was able to do this because Suchet had been playing the role for decades and that’s a long time to develop a character. Branagh’s version is a safe version, a traditional version, and that’s okay, and I suspect I would have liked it more had I not just seen Suchet’s a couple months before.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

November 3, 2017

Well, that was completely gonzo in all the best ways.

I don’t have all that much more to say, because I can’t really without giving things away. It’s great how this totally feels like it’s set in the same universe as Guardians of the Galaxy, with a ton of callbacks to a bunch of other Marvel movies. (I’m remembering the question in Civil War, “Do even you know where Thor and Dr. Banner are?”  They’re on another planet, mofos.)  I’m kind of sort of wishing the Doctor Strange movie didn’t exist (it doesn’t stand up to rewatching) and that this was our first introduction to the character, because whew would that be a kick. But it’s all the same universe without being forced, and that’s why I love the MCU.

What really impressed me is how it’s brushed with this 70’s sci-fi patina, like it came from the cover of an ELO album or Heavy Metal outtakes, and Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) did the score, so the whole movie is this really self-conscious, self-referential synth-disco thing that is  weird and out there and shouldn’t work but does.

Mostly, it’s an absolute joy watching Thor and Loki work together. I love them.

Marvel still has the villain problem. The monochromatic alien baddy, the villain who is an evil version of the hero, with all the same powers but just bad. Hela is visually wonderful (unlike poor Malakeith) but she literally comes out of nowhere.  It doesn’t detract from any of the rest of the movie. But it does get me thinking about how to build a better villain in these things.

 

Wednesday post & Voltron

October 25, 2017

Reminder:  This weekend is MileHi Con!  I’ll be there with elf ears on. No joke.

I’m writing a review of Geostorm for Lightspeed. Also no joke.  It was like a really bad episode of G.I. Joe. Which still makes it better than Prometheus.

And I’m all caught up on Netflix’s Voltron. Now isn’t that a trip?  The thing I think I like best:  what they’ve done with Pidge. Specifically, that Pidge is a girl. We don’t know that until partway through the first season — she’s in hiding while she searches for her lost family members. But once she’s outed, she doesn’t change. Usually the way this trope works is we find out that unassuming guy is really a girl in hiding, and then she suddenly grows her hair out and puts a dress on and everyone is so amazed that she’s actually so pretty, surprise!  Not here. Pidge doesn’t change at all. She looks, sounds, acts, exactly the same. She’s still the nerdy tech genius. Definitely not a token girl character because that was always Allura. And now we have two girls, which I think is great.

 

This is a movie about William Moulton Marston, the psychologist who created Wonder Woman, and the two women he made an unconventional family with. Spoiler:  Marston, was married to Elizabeth, but later started a relationship with a student, Olive Byrne.  Eventually they all lived together and both women had children fathered by Marston. They were all raging feminists.

I have to confess, I would have liked the movie a lot more if I hadn’t already read the definitive biography of the family, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore. To be fair, the movie isn’t based on the book, which isn’t at all mentioned in the credits. So I can’t really complain. But the movie basically took these people who really did exist and really did invent Wonder Woman, and used them to tell an entirely different story, a more conventional romance narrative, that isn’t at all accurate to what really happened, based on what I read in the book. I got annoyed. But people who hadn’t read the book first liked it just fine.

In my own opinion, the book is way more interesting. Read it.