FYMP Podcast #21 – Journey to the East: A Conversation with Walter McDaniel

In this episode of the podcast we had the pleasure of speaking with artist, entrepreneur and fellow East Coaster Walter McDaniel! We talked about topics including his background as an artist, his current work, storytelling, fictional influences, his advice for people with atypical aspirations. After the conversation with Walter, Matt and Khemit discuss Walter’s work, Journey to the West, and the art of translating mythology.

More information about Red Dragon Media can be found at www.red-dragon.cn

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FYMP Podcast #18 – Annihilation – Understanding the Impossible

In this episode we discuss the Alex Garland movie Annihilation. Tons of themes to unpack so we dive right in, and there’s a healthy dose of our usual tangents on myriad other works of fiction that tie into those themes. We also discuss the psychology of Hollywood, the human ability to create, and the effects of streaming services on the movie industry.

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FYMP Podcast #17 – Unbreakable & Split: the War Within

In this episode we break down the themes behind the 2 films in M. Night Shyamalan’s newly shared universe: Unbreakable & Split. The Unbreaka-verse? The Split-verse? Shyama-Land? Whatever you want to call it, there are some seriously interesting themes in these movies. We take a deep look a what they are and their implications in our lives.

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FYMP Podcast #16 – Movies as Guidance: What Stories Can Tell Us

In this episode of the podcast we shift gears a bit to talk about how movies and stories can be used as more than just entertainment. We discuss a few movies we love because we think they have something to say about how we lead our lives. There’s much more to stories than we usually notice and we talk about how they can also be used as tools for gaining clarity about ourselves. Let us know what you think!

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FYMP Podcast #14 – Avengers: Infinity War and the Marvel Mythos

Avengers: Infinity War, the sequel to end all sequels, is finally here! Thank Thanos! We take you on a tour of the film (spoiler free for the first 30 minutes) and the comics that spawned it. In this episode you’ll hear our thoughts on the movie and the MCU mythos, and learn about the origins of the scenes and characters you liked the most.

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FYMP Podcast #13 – The Dark Tower, IT, & the Cinematic World of Stephen King

In this episode Matt and Khemit discuss the recent Stephen King adaptation of The Dark Tower starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They then discuss the many King book-to-film adaptation that have been made over the years, many of which you probably didn’t know came from that author! As always, there are recommendations for books and movies throughout.

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FYMP Podcast #10 – The Great Star Wars Debate

star wars debate

Matt loves Star Wars. Khemit does not. This week we try to figure out who’s right by discussing the merits and shortfalls of the Star Wars Universe. We discuss everything from the original trilogy to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi to books and comics set in the Extended Universe. Also featuring a not-to-be-missed Grudge Match after which the galaxy will never be the same.

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FYMP Podcast #9 – The Rise of the Anti-hero

anti hero

What accounts for the rising popularity of the anti-hero in fiction? In this week’s podcast we explore that question and others related to the idea of heroes in stories and in the real world. We discuss Alan Moore and the origins of the trend in comics, as well as  recent hero stories like Man of Steel. Plus, our very first Grudge Match between 2 VERY anti-heroes! Continue reading “FYMP Podcast #9 – The Rise of the Anti-hero”

FYMP Podcast #4 – The “Why” of Blade Runner 2049

In our 4th podcast we deep dive into the world of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, and the mind of Ridley Scott. Our discussion touches on common themes in science fiction as well as common pitfalls in the genre. We limit ourselves mainly to films on this one, so if you’re a movie person, this is for you. Beware: here there be spoilers.
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Your Summer in Movies – 2017 Edition

Justice League – Batfleck and Murderman return in the latest sequel to the poorly thought out, soulless Man of Steel, and its ham handed, plotless, character pigeonholing sequel Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Watch as your beloved childhood characters are given the Snyderverse treatment and transformed into golem-like, amoral husks before your very eyes. Justice League: Where Dreams Go to Die.

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Cry, Baby

The number one sign that I may be a bit emotionally withheld is that I cry at movies. Not just at legitimate movies that merit crying at, like The Lion King or Beasts of the Southern Wild. No, I cry at those movies AND terrible movies which have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, including their poorly staged cathartic moments towards the end which are meant to elicit an emotional reaction despite having been poorly executed. But damned if it doesn’t work. I don’t mean it works in that it redeems the movie or that it is well executed. I mean it works in that it makes a moronic lump well up in my throat even as I curse the stupidity of the entire affair.

Here’s a recent embarrassing example: I almost cried at the end of The Internship, a terrible Google propaganda comedy film, where a plucky underdog team stages an unlikely win over a “meanie team” through the power of teamwork and dumb luck. It was an offensive movie and an offensive ending to any thinking person including myself… but damned if I didn’t have to take a few deep breaths to hold the tears back during their idiotic undeserved victory scene, hating myself the whole time.

In addition to obvious tearjerkers like Steel Magnolias and the like, I’ve cried at action space porn movies like Armageddon, crappy mindless action movies like White House Down, and hideous comedy movies like Grown Ups 2 (why was I even watching that!?!?). Seriously, I have a real problem. You cue the sappy, heroic, or triumphant music and I’m pretty much done.

sandler

(Not even Adam Sandler watched Grown Ups 2)

The thing is, I very rarely cry outside of watching movies. I mean, as an adult I’ve had a few moments when dealing with close family or friends, but even those are few and far between. With movies though, it’s all the damn time. I do tend to be fairly stoic in my daily life (this is probably a combination of my personal upbringing and the stories that we as a culture tell about masculinity which have a nonconsensual influence on my actions), but not so much as to merit this kind of psychological and physiological backlash. What I mean is that I don’t feel that I’m overly emotionally stifled… but all the evidence is pointing in another direction.

But the more I think about it, among the films and scenes that elicit this annoying reaction, a common thread appears. It’s sincerity. Even the characters in terrible movies feign (poorly) sincerity, and I guess the intention means as much as the action to my primitive brain. And now that I think about it, even my own sincerity causes me to lose it! Thinking back over the last few times I’ve cried (aside from movie watching), it was because I was being unusually open and honest. How weirdly self-centered is that!?

So yeah, sincerity seriously cranks up the old waterworks. Maybe that’s because I feel it’s encountered so infrequently in daily life. Very rarely do people feel comfortable enough to say the things that really matter – to really communicate instead of just talking. Even among friends, it is rare to have the conversations that really mean something: The “I love you” conversations; the “I’m terrified” conversations; the “you complete me” conversations.

So maybe seeing those things in movies is what gets me; maybe they’re things I want for my own life, or even things I just desperately want to believe in. You know like love, and happy endings and such.

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I think what it really comes down to is simple. Tyler Durden’s alter ego put it best in Fight Club: “Strangers with that kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” And let’s just leave it at that.

bitch tits

Sci-Fi for the Win

Science fiction has never been easy to pull off in movies.  In some ways it is harder than fantasy.  While often wondrous to the point of the absurd, its roots are usually firmly grounded in the physics and reality we know and love(?).  I make a distinction between the venerable histories which include The Day the Earth Stood Still (NOT the Keannu Reeves version), 2001, and Contact rather than the more operatic/scifi-fantasies like Flash Gordon, Ice Pirates and even Star Wars – still fun, but often blurring the line between fantasy and true science fiction.

ice pirates

A fantasy movie like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter can beguile with magic and creatures that require no further explanation other than they exist.  The audience/readers make that pact from the beginning. “We are suspending all disbelief!  Just be somewhat logically consistent and throw in a few dragons and we will be there to enjoy it with you!”  … and I’ve spent many a happy hour doing just that.

Over the years, I’ve consumed much of the fantasy that has been written for print and screen.  There are a few fundamental differences between sci-fi and fantasy.  By default, fantasy and scifi-fantasy is more about pure dreaming without constraints AND is meant to be consumed rather than questioned.  Even my current favorite, Game of Thrones, doesn’t really ask us/the reader any meaningful questions about how what happens in Westeros has any implications/consequences to us mortals here on Earth.

funny-Game-of-Thrones-Iron-Man

Good science fiction is always more relevant because it says “if you take where we (humanity) are now and then…. “  the edge of the universe and beyond is the limit.   The readers immediately have a stake, whether they want to or not, in the outcome of the story because… that story is THEIR future!

Science fiction is also held to an (admittedly arguable) higher standard of disbelief because things have to look and feel like they will be a reality in a few (or few hundred/thousand) years.  An increasingly tech and (hopefully) science savvy audience contributes to this evolution.   Various actuators need to move correctly and give off a convincing (if somewhat dramatized) hiss or crank.  Aliens and celestial phenomena need to at least be plausible if not probable.  It’s science with a wink and a nudge.

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What I’ve personally enjoyed most about science fiction are the questions that are able to be asked and explored.  For instance;

  • The fundamental nature and evolution of humanity in Theodore Sturgeon’s, More than Human (anything written by him is worth it btw).
  • The ENDPOINT of the universe itself in Stephen Baxter’s The Ring.
  • What would society look like if no one could deceive each other in James Halperin’s The Truth Machine?
  • What are the fundamental purposes and relationships between men/machines/the universe in the Hyperion Cantos?
  • What would you do in a society with technology that, near as to make no difference, was boundless in The Culture books by Ian M. Banks.
  • Dune
  • Blade of Tyshalle
  •  I could go on and on.

In movies, some examples of this type of exploration are Bladerunner, Dune and even the Matrix.

In recent television, Star Trek:TNG (barring some questionable “we ran out of ideas” holo-deck episodes) and Battlestar Galactica (excising the ridiculous angel ending of course) and maybe even Firefly (I said it) are the apex of modern speculative science fiction on screen.  All tackled modern day culture and political issues head-on and with aplomb (not with a plum, which is messier)– often leaving the viewer simultaneously more knowledgeable, but still questioning.

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The best sci-fi asks questions about being human in the present day and throws it into a technologically enabled future social grinder to see if anything interesting comes out.

I enjoy fantasy fiction.

I learn about myself and humanity from science fiction.

Which, in the longest preamble possible, brings me to Neil Blomkamp.  This man is the current avatar of gritty, realistic SF design.  I have been a fan of his work for quite a few years now.  In his Tetra Vaal movie short about a company marketing a security robot for conflict zones, I had a flash back to the sensation of awe and wonder experienced when witnessing the first brontosaurus in Jurassic Park.  When a bullet shattered a wall that the CG robot was taking cover behind, and the machine flinched backwards and responded in an almost frighteningly realistic and human way, I think I had a geekasm.  He followed this up with another brilliantly seductive short about an android on the run in Yellow.  Finally, talks of him helming a live-action movie version of Halo culminated in some impressive, combat shorts but support for it ultimately fell apart.

However, a pattern was emerging.  This guy knows how to merge the real/unreal.  Almost as an exact counter-point/foil to the CG laden MESS that were the Star Wars prequels, here was a leader who intentionally took lo-fi, often hand carried, camera footage and married it with CG that could be mistaken for absolutely real.   The only question was whether he had the writing/director chops for a full length movie.

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Thankfully, we received District 9.  The film is not without its flaws, but overall it is simply a genius film and a pleasure to watch.  It took a carbon copy of apartheid and replaced black people for “prawns” (aliens).  What could have been an inspirational but forgettable movie rehashing the well trodden issues between the oppressor and oppressee, becomes those things AND an exercise in human nature and character development. Blomkamp’s main character is a white middle-aged idiot who is just smart enough to marry his boss’ daughter but too dumb to do more than what he is told, or to question his life or his bigoted beliefs.  His only saving grace is that he is not smart enough to be devious and is endearingly genuine and human, despite his beliefs.  By the end of the movie, and because we got to witness real horror, racism and oppression through the eyes of the opressor, District 9 will remain as one of my favorite sci-fi movies.

This is not up until now mentioning Blomkamp’s REAL talent which is to have designed and filmed a world that feels and looks real – for around $30M.  $30M! In an age when studios toss around $150M like it’s the new cost of entry for special effects movies, this number is simply mind-boggling.  This guy could make 6 great movies for every crappy “blockbuster”, I told myself.

So it is with a heavy heart that I come to watch and review Elysium.   I won’t spend much time on it.  To be honest there isn’t much to it.

DO go see it for the impeccable future world design and production execution.

DON’T go see it for almost anything else.

It is hard not to see a similar theme with Elysium that Blomkamp had in District 9.  What are the issues faced when there are a privelaged minority exploiting the powerless masses? But, where District 9 took a risky, creative move and explored these issues with a privileged character growing and exploring, Elysium isn’t nearly that courageous.  Matt Damon’s character, I have no idea what his name is, is a recovering con-artist/future-car thief.  This serves no other purpose than to dislike and hate him as far as I can tell.  He is one of the masses on Earth, being continuously exploited by the affluent overlords in the floating wagon-wheel called Elysium, in space.  His lower plebian status inherently means we are supposed to like him – but we never do.  His humanity, skill in technology and planning is never on display but is talked about occasionally through pointless side-characters to make us believe he is a real person  – don’t believe them.

Bad decision after ridiculously bad decision somehow results in a shallow “happy ending” which makes absolutely no sense.  Matt Damon, no doubt cast because of his ability to play the “every man” appears to have phoned it in.  I can’t remember one thing that was interesting or worthwhile about his character.  So much was made in the media of how Damon got ripped for this role, but I can’t see a single plot reason why this was even necessary. The supporting cast is little better with Jodi Foster getting a special mention putting in a ridiculous accent and pretentious walk worthy of the shiniest Razzie this year.

Unknown

 Why?

But it’s pretty – real pretty.  The design of everything from future Bugatti space-cars, robot security, to human implants implies some of the best/worst that our technology driven society will offer.

asgari_fem utilitarian_chassis_mod

But alas, what could have been an ACTUALLY interesting tale about inequality, privilege and opportunity, turns into a boring “hero’s journey” where the “hero” is a bumbling moron, but not written as one, and his journey is linear with: no surprises, transparent villains in his way, and an ending that rings as soulless and uplifting as an Anthony Weiner apology tour.  Its worst crime though is that it never asks any new or interesting questions of the viewer.  It doesn’t demand him/her to examine their own ideas – in this way it is more fantasy than science fiction. It just asks you to sit back and consume – like Transformers.

In the end, it’s less the Elysian Fields and more like the Plains of Armageddon (and not in a good way).

Neil, I forgive you, but you’re better than this.  Go back to making science fiction.

 

 

Your Summer in Movies

Here are a few short intros to just a few of the films you can expect from Hollywood this summer. I know, the summer is half over already, but shut up. Don’t act like you’ve seen ALL the summer movies already. And there are plenty more coming out before it’s over. So you’re welcome.

Thor: The Dark World – Finally, the not-that-long awaited sequel to the beloved action movie whose plot you can’t remember. Wait, wasn’t it the one where…  No, that was The Avengers. Thor and his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, are back for another action-packed unmemorable extravaganza. Get ready to play “what was that movie about again” again!

thor-odin-movie-marvel(something about this, maybe?)

This is the End – Get ready to get your yearly comedy fix for this quarter of the decade. Though plenty of comedy’s are produced, Hollywood is only allowed 1 (maximum) actually funny movie per year; this is it folks. Insider tip: best ending of any summer movie this season.

The Lone Ranger – Get ready for the return of the greatest action hero your parents ever told you about that one time. Along with trusty steed, Silver, and sidekick, newly racist Johnny Depp, the Ranger will do his best to remind you why he faded into obscurity. As you watch remember that someone thought this was a good idea.

Pacific Rim – Giant Robots, extra-dimensional monsters, Ron Perlman in gold wingtips, Pacific Rim’s got everything! Try to follow the action as earth’s poorly thought out last line of defense battles its greatest, poorly coordinated threat at night and in the rain. Switch your mind off and enjoy the ride.

Man of Steel – Watch Superman the way you never wanted to see him: dark and moody with an incoherent origin story. Watch as Superman develops his moral code entirely independent of any positive influences in his life, and then disregards it completely for the rest of the film. If you like near-genocidal super heroes and mind numbing action, this is the movie for you.

After Earth – Watch as Will Smith, marooned on a far-future Earth, learns the harsh lesson that there’s only one thing that can negate his star power: Jayden Smith.

Will smith disappointment

World War Z – Zombies, Brad Pitt, that actress from The Killing; what’s not to like?

Now You See Me – Now you Don’t.

Kick Ass 2 – Watch the sequel to the inexplicably popular crapfest that was the first Kick Ass. Get your bad-taste violence, bad acting, and ridiculous story kicks for the summer all in one place courtesy of Mark Millar, the Michael Bay of comic books.

White House Down – A black/white buddy cop movie with a twist! The black one’s the president! Channing Tatum plays a Secret Service washout with a…. What? No one cares? Ok then…

2 Guns – A black/white buddy cop movie without a twist! Denzel and Marky Mark give us another derivative movie to round out the last 3 decades.

R.I.P.D. – Men in Black 4!

The Wolverine – Get ready for the sequel to the worst super hero movie of all time, and yes, that includes Spider-Man 3 and Green Lantern. Hugh Jackman suits up for another insultingly stupid, unforgivably poorly written and developed bag of garbage. Seriously, how do you mess up Wolverine?? Watch and see… again.

wolverine 2(if you think something cool is about to happen, you are wrong.)

An Open Letter to the Special Effects Driven Film

Dear [insert CGI driven movie title here],

I just watched Pacific Rim, and overall I enjoyed it. For all its flaws and illogic it was generally fun to watch and engaging enough to keep me interested the whole way through. However, despite my general enjoyment, Pacific Rim still fell into some of the same traps that so many of your contemporaries find themselves in. Because I like you, and because I want what’s best for you (and, yes, for me as well) I decided to write this letter.

I know that you are busy saving the world, exploring space, fighting evil, etc., so I’ll be as brief as possible to let you get back to that important work.

My first point has to do with light. We know that the alien invasions, monster attacks, epic battles, etc. wait for no man. However, for your audiences sake, please try to delay them by about 9 hours next time, giving the sun a chance to come up. We as humans do not share your ability to operate at peak efficiency night or day. As an unfortunate accident of evolution, our eyes are only made to function with 100% effectiveness in the light of day. For this reason, when your inevitable climax or mid-way battle takes place in the middle of the night or in a torrential downpour (or both, as we often see), we are often at a loss to appreciate the full magnificence of your victory over your opponents.

I understand, of course, that there are budgetary constraints with regards to the creation of special effects, and that nighttime and/or thunderstorm offers a protective fog that makes fooling the human eye easier without spending much more money on rendering. I also understand that your budget has to fill an hour and 45 minutes of a 2 hour movie with action in order to keep our goldfish attention spans engaged. But still, I propose a solution: instead of having 20 nighttime/rainstorm battles during your 2 hour run time, how about only having 15 battles overall?

Wait, just hear me out!

By having only 15 battles, the production funding which would have been spent on the other 5 is now available to augment your rendering of the remaining battles. In this way, we the audience can be spared the trouble of guessing what is happening during the majority of your action sequences. Yes, we understand that our hero or an enemy is now flying through the air. We assume he’s been struck or thrown. But we would love to actually KNOW.

My second point has to do with the stupid human brain. And I know this is not your problem; you have far greater concerns than what my simple ape brain can handle visually… defending the galaxy for instance. But I would still ask that you indulge me for a moment.

The simple fact is: my brain simply can’t handle all the visual debris that you throw at it.

When you start with a close up of a fist, then quickly switch to the face of a swiftly moving enemy darting past the camera, then zooming away (much faster than a human could ever move) before swiveling the point of view around, over, and under the two characters before the fist connects causing an explosion, my brain interprets one thing maybe: fist?

(get any of that?)

I need a few things from you, if you decide can help me out with this. 1) I’m gonna need you to slow it down. Not everything has to be in slow motion, but it absolutely cannot be in super-fast motion. Movies are a visual medium as I know you are well aware, and if I’m not able to actually see what is going on, it defeats the entire purpose. The IMPRESSION that something cool and epic may have just occurred is not enough. I need to know.

And 2) we get it, you are very good at realistically rendering debris. Thanks you. But now, we would like some more emphasis put on the characters themselves than on the destruction they create collaterally. Some of that is excellent, certainly. But when explosions, falling buildings, and shrapnel are actively obscuring our battling dynamos, whoever they may be, well then we have derailed.

I’d really like for us to be able to work together on this one. I think there is a lot of growth potential, and profit in it for both of us. I get a better viewing experience, and you get the satisfaction of a job well done.  I know you’re capable of doing this, because you’ve done it in the past with great success. Let’s learn from our triumphs, [special effects driven film], and save the world together.

 

Check out World War Z

So you can’t have a summer without a disaster movie.  The warmer months drive Hollywood a little mad and are littered with cinema fodder that rain down like the asteroids and comets caused by aliens/gods/global warming and whatever other swords of Damocles hang over humanity’s head.  All of them are horrible. Yes, including Armageddon though you can enjoy it anyway (leave your comments down below fanboys!).  It is just too hard to make a disaster movie that doesn’t become so ridiculous or unwieldy that it won’t collapse under its own weight.  Too many characters or CG destruction is often counterproductive to the actual storytelling and it’s anathema to an audience’s enjoyment.

World War Z is less a zombie movie and more a disaster movie.  Its infection storyline owes more to H1N1 and movies like Outbreak than to George Romero.  To be honest, I’m getting a little sick of zombie movies.  It’ll be one of those phases in Hollywood (along with superhero movies <gasp!>) that will be remembered with mostly a bemused fondness and a shaking of the head.  “How did they get to be so popular and mainstream?”  The recent “Warm Bodies” proves that we are trying to squeeze every last demographic out of this phase before it ends…. hopefully soon.  However, that movie, along with most others is forgettable and a waste of time.  If you are going to immerse yourself in zombie mythology, there are a few things you should check out before you go slumming with the dregs of the undead silver screen unprotected.

These are in no particular order:

  1. 28 Days Later (not weeks)
  2. Zombieland
  3. Shaun of the Dead
  4. The Walking Dead (the comic not the tv show. See fellow FYMPer review here)
  5. Fido

Each of these takes a different perspective of the zombie phenomenon, from ground level apocalypse story to a tongue-in-cheek critique on modern society.  What is missing from this list a great high-level zombie apocalypse story – enter World War Z.

Wait. Didn’t I just say WWZ isn’t a zombie movie? Nope. No, I didn’t.  Read again.  It IS MORE a disaster movie, but there are literally BILLIONS of zombies in it – so it’s a zombie flick.  Despite all the rumors of rewrites, internal fights, and giant cost overruns that would be great justification for a disaster-documentary, WWZ pulls together a tightly woven, produced and edited movie that fills out that last piece of the zombie movie pantheon.  It is tightly written and quickly paced.  At just under 2 hours, Brad Pitt visits 4 continents and an aircraft carrier (actually it looks more like an amphibious assault ship but most people don’t know the difference) and possibly saves the human race.  The producers make efficient use of on-screen time, developing characters/scenes/locations with just enough to make you believe what is happening and thrust you to the next plot point.  In other films, this is done poorly and keeps you from playing along with the story, but they do an excellent job here.  Instead of managing 4/5 different characters, they have us journey with Brad Pitt (still ridiculously charming and good looking) ,the uncommon man, from infection-resolution.  This mostly works and is probably the only way to do a movie of this scope without it becoming a 3 hour endurance contest.  I’ll look forward to the extra content/extended scenes in the DVD at home. In theatres, movies over 2 hours long try my patience.

As with most movies, it isn’t perfect of course.  While there are actually a number of great scenes and even pleasant surprises/shocks, the movie plotline isn’t overly creative.  It doesn’t hoe new ground with the disaster movie formula.  Where it makes up for this is in the strength of each scene in each locale which serve their purpose and then the movie drops them and moves on.   It doesn’t dwell, linger, or brood too much, which I appreciated.  It follows a fairly sound logic with how different people and authorities act with a couple of silly exceptions.  Forgivable cinema-luck (we just crash landed right where we needed to be!) and other events work in the guise of how limiting a 2-hour movie is for a storyteller.  The final criticism here is how underutilized Mireille Enos is, who plays Pitt’s wife.  If her work in “the Killing” proves anything, it’s that women characters can have extraordinary depth and intelligence.  While there may be more of her story on the editing room floor and Enos does instill her with a visceral reality a lesser actress couldn’t, her character is mostly relegated to the powerless spouse, waiting for word from her world-saving husband.  Too bad.

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The production is excellent. What could have been a gore-fest, and some will lament its absence, becomes mostly a tasteful cutaway affair, with events meant to be more disturbing than the violence. It is also probably one of the best edited movies I’ve ever seen.  There is little excess baggage in any scene and the movie is better for it – if only to spare you too much time to ponder some of the less believable moments in the film.   There are quite a few memorable characters (a mostly mute but bad ass Israeli female soldier for one). Brad Pitt does an admirable job carrying the entire movie on his magazine wrapped forearms.

So will this be a FYMP classic? It is too soon to tell.  It isn’t overwhelmingly original or thought provoking, but it does enough things really well to make it one of my favorite disaster movies.  There are better, smaller, more intimate plague/zombie stories that can be told, but in the realm of end-of-the-world productions, WWZ is mostly in an undead league of its own.  Let me know what you think.

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Now I saw it. Hope you don’t.

So my wife and I saw Now You See Me last week… and I’m still thinking about it.  Oh no, not because it was thought provoking, almost the polar opposite.  I think I was noodling what exactly it was that bothered me about it, and I think I have it.

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This movie is the perfect vehicle to show why FYMPlanet is necessary.  There are so many people like Pete Hammond, from Movieline, who think that this movie was “highly entertaining, extremely clever & and thrilling to watch”, but he’s wrong, wrong, wrong.  Thankfully, Rottentomatoes, which does a reasonably good job calling out the stink bombs, gives this movie a 46%, which it deserves.

I don’t blame Pete Hammond, who will be a stand-in for everyone who doesn’t really know what “highly entertaining” and “extremely clever” actually are.  What this movie actually IS is a Hollywood ATTEMPT at being those things without actually crossing the threshold.  With such an entertaining/talented cast (Dave Franco and Mark Ruffalo excluded), there was an opportunity to make something special.

Jesse Eisenberg does a great job playing a supposedly smart, pompous, slightly annoying,  <insert any past role here> magician. The more we learn about the actor the more this is clearly less due to his acting ability and more just freebasing what is already there.  Woody Harrelson is the most interesting of the bunch, playing a talented, but seedy mentalist.  However, his power over people is showcased in a way that makes it unlikely he would ever be “down on his luck” or unsuccessful – he can literally make people say or do anything he wants.  With this super power, there are probably much more interesting ways he could be spending his time than faux dodging the FBI in pursuit of membership in some second rate Magic Mason cult. Isla Fisher is always fun to watch but her character bio is about as shallow as the Houdini tank she jumps in in one of the opening scenes.

Oh right, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also in this film, proving that old male actors can still get a substantial paycheck for doing basically nothing.  Also there is a French girl, who neither represents Europe or Interpol well.  I should have auditioned my 3 year old daughter for how much intelligence and real world experience the character brings to the table.  The first 10 minutes of the movie hints at greater things through its brief, almost intriguing, character introductions/background sketches.  But like a street artist, the sketch is all there is and it culminates in a silly but admittedly creative bank heist.  If the movie ended there, I actually would have been intrigued and wanted more… but then there actually WAS more.

What follows is so silly and unbelievably orchestrated that all the suspense and enigma of the puppeteer behind the scenes is lost.  There is never a sense of danger or reality to the proceedings.  The plot is just a vehicle for the writers to try to show how clever they are.  The protagonists lose all of their humanity and just become avatars to this end.  The twist at the end, which I THINK was trying to recall much better movies like “the prestige” had none of the weight or consequence of that movie.  It was so yawn worthy and unbelievable that my brain wanted to self-destruct – it’s possible it did and this one is a loaner.

You may ask, what did I expect?  And, true, I didn’t expect a lot.  I still enjoyed the experience because I was spending time with my lovely wife, but that makes the movie irrelevant.  What this movie tells me is that there is still a significant number of people in Hollywood and elsewhere who don’t know what “highly entertaining” and “clever” really are.  If you must constantly state how funny or witty you are, you probably aren’t.  This should be a rule in film and life.  In the season finale of Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister scolds his nephew in much the same way.  A real king shouldn’t have to remind everyone else of the fact.

Don’t waste your time watching this movie unless it is just a means to another end.  Watch the Prestige ( not the Illusionist) instead.  It’s got its flaws, but there are some real questions about magic, humanity, and commitment that make it worth the trip.

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Good luck out there!

Star Trek: Into Darkness Or The Remake Dilemma and why this may be good for Star Wars

 

!:Warning:! Spoilers ahead – no major plot points, but a character is revealed (if you haven’t already figured it out by the trailers alone).

Let’s start with the good stuff.  Star Trek: Into Darkness is a looker.  It’s one of the best produced/realized sci-fi worlds that I’ve seen in recent memory.  There are some scenes where the fake “hand cam” and auto-focus effect (first used to great effect in Firefly) is distracting, but the CG and the sets all look incredible and have you believe that this universe exists outside of a lime green studio.  JJ Abrams knows how to make an action packed movie look fantastic.  The cast, especially Chris Pine, does a fine job recreating their characters and there is plenty of personality (aside from Zoe and Zach) to go around.  It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s a nice diversion.

This movie is also better than the last in many ways. Benedict Cumberbatch\Peter Weller are much better villains though their parts are underwritten and underdeveloped.  I was never a fan of Eric Bana’s Nero, and the overall story arc of that movie, aside from the pleasing origins of Kirk and crew, is pretty Bana-l.  The intriguing setup to the characters and story give way to the truly unbelievable threat that future Nero poses to the Federation.  Also ye ‘ol alternate timeline mechanic allows Abrams to stretch the fiction in ways that don’t seem to violate the established canon.   This is neither good nor bad, but still feels like a cop-out, done to make this series of movies distinct from the originals while stealing liberally from their best parts.  It succeeds and fails for that same reason.

Like its predecessor, Into Darkness struggles to find its own identity.  This is the inherent problem of the Remake, which my wife calls, “the do-over”.  This same plot line was done much better and with more gravitas and emotional punch in a Next Generation episode called “The Wounded“.  I would have almost preferred the movie cutting to that hour long episode rather than relegating Peter Weller’s character into a one-dimensional warmonger.

In my opinion, Remakes are appropriate for comic movies – and little else.  Maybe it’s because comic characters have, since their inception, undergone innumerable makeovers in their fiction to reflect the changes in culture and their readers.  This is expected and even part of the charm of comics.  You don’t like THIS version of Batman? Wait a year or two and they’ll “reboot” the series with a different author and it could be awesome.  They’ve taken this chameleon ability with them to the cinema and I think movie-goers have enjoyed the process – just ask Spider/Super/Bat/man.

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Look to almost any other remake, with few exceptions, and they are horrid.  They are worse than sequels (which are also usually worse with each iteration – Die Harderest anyone?).  Why?  Because they don’t even have the actors and charm from the originals to work from.  Take the recent Total Recall movie for example.  Love it or hate it, but Total Recall, the original, had personality to spare and in Arnold one of the most epic and charismatic action superstars of his generation.  In this modern remake, all the most important plot points are already given away, because well….it’s a remake.  But the creators felt enough responsibility to perform some window dressing to make it seem new and exciting.  i.e. Earth vs. Mars.  Also, Colin Farrell, who I like, is not a big enough character, literally and figuratively, to carry the movie on the weight of his now sober shoulders.  What results is not just a bad movie in its own right, but a movie that is even worse because of its comparison to the original.  Just make a new movie!  There’s enough money and talent here to actually create a great ORIGINAL story without rehashing old ideas or trying to “recreate the magic” or some BS.

Why do some remakes work?  Well, I would say the remakes that do well are the ones that either poke fun at the source material (21 jump street) or its been long enough that an update would look entirely different than the original (The Thomas Crown Affair).  However, it still takes stellar writing and compelling personalities playing the leads to pull these off.  More so when the characters are iconic and part of the modern cultural mythology.  Otherwise, it’s near guaranteed that the remake will be horrible.

Why do studios produce these en masse?  Most likely because no matter what I say, these movies make money.  They are deemed less risky, because there is a built-in audience here that will probably go to see it for nostalgia if nothing else.  In my case, it’s more like nausea – but I’ll still see it (and hate myself).  It also spreads the demographics.  The older crowd will attend to see what’s changed and the younger crowd will hopefully be intrigued enough to jump in for the first time.

Back to Star Trek.  William Shatner, love him or hate him, IS Captain Kirk.  His unique brand of charm and overacting has been parodied so many times it’s hard to imagine the character any other way.  Leonard Nimoy IS Spock.  Nowhere is this more apparent than when Zachary Quinto looks to the viewscreen at his aged self for sage advice.  Zachary does a fine job of playing a Vulcan, but by definition it’s a character that’s stiff and unengaging.  Only Leonard, who’s lived the role for a lifetime could make that character interesting.  The list goes on and on.  Simon Pegg is funny, even with the distractingly/annoyingly thick Scottish accent.  Zoe Saldana is a horrible Uhura. The original broke down racial barriers and never came across as anything other than competent and professional.  Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has erased all social progress and is basically an emotional basket case of female movie tropes.  Karl Urban as Bones?

Ok.. he actually does an amazingly good job considering the birdlike muse of the TV doctor, but here’s the thing.  They’re all aping the original actors.  But this movie isn’t a parody!  It’s a remake.  And this is the shame of it.  If these were all original characters with their own backstories, it actually would be much more interesting.  There would be no comparisons and these writers and actors could develop in their own ways.  Benedict Cumberbatch does a competent job as Khan, but it pales in comparison to Ricardo Montalban’s intense human intelligence and ferocity.  Cumberbatch is too inhuman here and robotic to be truly scary.  Having to compare with Montalban is as disappointing as it is unfair.

In the end, I am glad they made the movie.  It was fun to be back in the Star Trek universe again, even if it feels a little less cerebral and overly action packed for its own good.  It was just done well enough that I could see what could have been.  With these actors and writers given free reign enough to create new stories… the results could have been compelling rather than competent.  Will people remember Pine’s Kirk or Shatner’s? The answer is obvious and a missed opportunity.

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What could be great news is that after watching this movie, I think JJ Abrams has the chops to pull off an impressive Star Wars movie.  One of (the many) things that was missing from the Prequels was a soul and the feeling that that universe existed.  There are enough great scenes, small and large, in Into Darkness that make me think Star Wars could be a place I want to visit again, rather than just be the movies I cut myself to.  There IS still the danger of trying to be “true” to George’s vision.  I heard recently that JJ Abrams spent some time with the iconic director to make sure he had his blessing and he knew where it was leading.  Hopefully this was just lip service to a great legend.  George actually lost his vision almost 30 years ago when he became rich and famous enough to surround himself with sycophants rather than people who would tell him “NO” and actually protect his legacy.  But that is another post!

I’ll leave you with one final thought about remakes.  In a few years, would it be great or silly to have Star Trek the Next Generation rebooted?  Have a bald man with a British accent playing Picard and a perfectly competent actor play Data.  LaForge can wear Google Glass and Warf can be played by Jaden Smith.  It will be all action-y or whatever the kids want to watch then, and will have all sorts of fun ties to the TV series and movies….. BLEH.  No thank you.

Go write some new stories damn you.  That is all.

 

 

Watch: Attack the Block

Imagine a film that will both highlight socioeconomic issues in low income UK housing projects, and also tell the story of adolescent hooligans thwarting an alien invasion.

This sounds like the first line of an overambitious final project proposal by a first year film student who will end up actually making a four minute animated short about a lonely hedgehog before graduating to work at The Home Depot. Actually, though, it’s a pretty good one line introduction to Attack the Block, one of my favorite movies of the past few years.

When I watched Attack the Block the first time, I was expecting a low budget, run-of-the-mill action comedy; run-of-the-mill meaning the action would be sub-par and the comedy would fall flat. Aside from the genre, I had no idea what the premise of the movie was which probably contributed to my enjoyment of it.

Needless to say, the effusive nature of this review should lead you to guess that I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s why:

  • The comedic moments were actually funny! The action was actually exciting! In today’s action comedy world where explosions usually play the role previously occupied by actual action choreography, and the use of “comedy” in the genre title could easily refer to the laughability of the plot, it’s amazing to see a movie with clever, witty dialogue, AND action sequences thought out a bit further than cool posing and slow motion (though both techniques make awesome appearances in the film).
  • Across the board, the characters were fully realized and treated as actual nuanced human beings; something you rarely see in movies featuring “disenfranchised youths” as either antagonists or protagonists.
  • While the movie obviously did not have  a budget as large as travesties like Transformers, the special effects were budget appropriate, good looking, and innovative.
  • The climax can make or break a movie, and the final scenes in Attack the Block are as cathartic as in any movie I’ve seen in recent years, with all the inspiration, excitement, and badassery that an audience wants to see in a finale.
  • The soundtrack fit the movie. No higher praise can be given.

As directorial debuts go, it’s been some time since I’ve seen a stronger one than this first film by Joe Cornish. Let’s just hope he doesn’t pull an M. Night Shyamalan.