Monday, December 24, 2018

12 Step Movie Review: Aquaman

A little bit spoilerey, I guess?

1. It starts even with the opening credits: The Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment logo sequences happen underwater. It sounds hokey, but it totally worked for me.

2. The origin story is given as much time as it needs and no more, and is woven into the A-plot and character motivations well.

3. Aquaman's fish communication powers are presented effectively, and no time is wasted explaining them.

4. Similarly, all the Atlantean stuff that could strain credulity - people talking underwater and so on - is hand-waved and/or lampshaded so we can get on with enjoying the fantastic underwater scenes.

5. The underwater scenes bear further mention - James Wan and his crew pulled it off. From the architecture, to the hair, to the voices, to the slight wavery nature of the scenes - everything maintains the illusion. The art direction and design of Atlantis is spectacular - even the giant seahorse mounts look cool.

6. The movie also does a great job of showing how Aquaman can function just fine on land, thank you.

7. Notwithstanding the change to significant detail of her origin, Mera is portrayed faithfully and respectfully, functioning as a partner, not a sidekick or damsel in distress. Amber Heard does a great job.

8. Patrick Wilson does a creditable heel turn as Orm, the Ocean Master, and I am seeing a Thor-Loki vibe rising up in the future.

9. The movie's version of Black Manta works, although Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doesn;t get to do much but be angry.

10. Jason Momoa does what he was called upon to do in this movie - a lot of badass, a little humor, and just a touch of heroic drama. The story successfully justifies Arthur Curry's dudebro personality as reasonable and credible, given the point in the character arc when we meet him, and this movie allows him to grow a little bit. Momoa doesn't have the sustained presence of Gal Gadot and this movie doesn't have the gravitas of Wonder Woman, but it certainly sits on the same shelf.

11. The plot is serviceable, setting up the stakes and the conflicts and the quests appropriately. More importantly, Aquaman makes a decision early in the movie that he comes to question and regret later in the story, and this was key for me, as it shows the DC is remembering what superhero movies are supposed to be about. It bodes well for the future, and I am looking forward to the upcoming DC movies more than I have been.

12. One quibble: although Willem DeFoe does his usual fine work, Vulko is supposed to be slightly stocky or even chubby, not a whipcord-lean sensei. If he weren't working for Team Marvel, Jon Favreau would have been a better choice.

My man Vulko - and my next cosplay.

So, all in all,  a heckuva fun night at the movies. I don't think I have flat-out enjoyed a superhero movie this much since the first Ant-Man.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

5 x 5 Move Review: Avengers | Infinity War

1. So, right off the bat I am going to say that I didn’t like this as much as I had expected to. I had heard from lots of friends and acquaintances, including folks who are not necessarily comics fans, that this was a great movie, totally engaging, didn’t feel like three hours long, etc. I guess it was good, but I didn’t feel it was great. Maybe that was just Inflated Expectation SyndromeTM kicking in.

2. About halfway through the film, I identified a familiar feeling in a new context: as the movie jumped from group to group in various places (physical and plot-related), I felt like I was reading a Big Event story that is told across different comics series. The tonal shifts and odd juxtapositions of characters in the film felt like seeing the same character illustrated by different artists and having characters that really don’t mesh too well together on the same team. The MCU may be tighter than old Eclipse was, but it still felt a little off.

3. So, explain to me again why, went the fate of the whole universe is at stake (and I’m not even going go into my stakes-too-high rant), that it is morally wiser to try to save the life of one person you know, even if it means putting the whole universe at risk. Not to mention that there didn’t seem to be a problem with putting a whole lot of other lives at risk to protect that one life. I had a real hard time accepting this from Cap, who is, after all, a soldier, and knows the necessity of sacrifice. (<cough> Crash into the Arctic much? <cough>) On a related note, the Battle of Wakanda seemed to be set up specifically to allow the more ground-level fighters to have something to do in this more cosmic conflict. (Cf. Batman and parademons).

4. One thing that I really appreciated was the treatment of Spider-man: it is good to have him in the mainstream MCU and this movie treats him with the respect he deserves. He may be a high-school kid, but he is one of the smartest and most powerful heroes in the continuity, and can hold his own with the big shots. Except maybe with Scarlet Witch – she seemed really OP in this movie, but in a good way.

5. Regarding the ending: I don’t know how Marvel is going to get themselves out of this without cheapening the entire narrative.

PS: Of course, Wonder Wife was most excited to see T'Challa and Shuri.

Monday, July 16, 2018

25 words or less: Jinkies!

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero; Doubleday, 2017

An older Scooby gang – respectively fugitive, alcoholic, crazy, and dead - revisit their last case as teenagers, encounter the Necronomicon, confront Lovecraftian horrors. Read it.

Friday, June 29, 2018

5 x 5 Movie review: Mythica

1. So, if I summarized a story something like a cleric and a magic-user meet in adventurer's tavern in a vaguely medieval setting; joined by a fighter and a thief, they go on a quest to rescue a kidnapped priestess and retrieve a sacred object from a band of orcs and an ogre, you'd probably guess that I was talking about a archetypal Dungeons and Dragons adventure. Well, that's actually a summary of the movie Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, but you'd still be correct, because the movie is really just one session in a five-movie-long D&D campaign.

Fighter, magic-user, thief, cleric... duh

2. As Wonder Wife commented while we were watching, you could almost call the dice rolls as the action in this film progressed, it was such a parallel to gameplay. A little backstory, get the party together, the thief has a stealth encounter, the fighter draws the aggro in combat and the cleric heals him - I mean, seriously, the big guy kept putting himself in harm's way to save the party and going down, and I kept thinking, yeah, he's got the HP. The climactic battle has the party caught in a cave between giant spiders and the ogre - pretty good DMing there.

3. Which is not to say the movie doesn't stand on its own merits. I don't want to sell it short: for an  indie fantasy film, it's pretty engaging. That the leader of the group is a young woman is a nice change, and the movie hints at a darkness within her (related to the nature of magic in the world) that I am sure will be explored later on. The characters have a little bit of wiggle room within their stereotypes as well; this is the set-up film for the franchise, so I will expect some growth and change there as well. There is a bad guy that I am sure will return, and an enigmatic elder wizard (a cameo by Kevin Sorbo, the film's "star power") who is sure to have a bigger role in the future. And if the  CGI is a little cheesy, well, that just adds to the charm - and you try doing high fantasy on tight budget!

4. Perhaps that tight budget actually added to the appeal of the movie for me: without huge CGI effects, there's no world-threatening, mind-boggling, set piece with a cast of thousands. There's just four adventurers fighting one monster. But they are four adventurers that are kinda fun to watch, and who you're staring to care a little about, and that beats the heck out of any planet-smashing for me.

5. I did a little research on the creators and they have the expected cred - not just in RPGs, but with other fantasy and mythology as well. Anne Black, the writer/director, includes in her credits The Crown and the Dragon, Dawn of the Dragonslayer, Orcs!, and Age of the Dragons - that last a retelling of Moby Dick with steampunk dragon hunters and which I most def want to see now. I think I may have discovered a new well from which to draw.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

25 words or less: A Wrinkle in Time

Totally disappointing. Great actors wasted in a superficial, charmless, confusing, and tension-less story about people I didn’t care about. Two hours wrinkled away pointlessly.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

5 x 5 movie review: Justice League

1. So, right off the bat (heh) I am going to say that I liked this a lot more than I had expected to. Based on a lot of stuff I had heard, and my general disappointment with the way DC has been handling its movie properties,  I didn't rush out to see this in theaters, but watching it at home on our new fancy-schmancy HD TV, I had a ball. Of course, I would have liked to have seen the Original Seven, but one thing I realize is that the comic book version of a thing and the movie version of a thing are not the same thing, and that's okay. It's not hard, really; just think of it as an Elseworlds. And on that level, this was a fine superhero movie.

2. Even if I am okay with Cyborg in the Justice League (which honestly still feels a little weird given his connections in my mind with the Teen Titans), I was not down with his angular, multi-faceted chrome appearance: it just seemed way too fussy. I had a similar response to Flash's segmented and wired outfit; I got the in-story explanation but it still had an overall clunky effect. On the other hand, I thought "The Aqua-man" look was a great interpretation.

3. I often go on about how this type of movie often gets too big for my tastes, how the stakes and the action are unnecessarily high; I didn't have that problem with this movie for two reasons. The first is that the Justice League, both in the comics and in this movie, was formed specifically to deal with world-threatening events; it is pretty much their brief. The second reason may seem like a technicality, but I think it is important: the League's mission was not to fight off an entire invasion, but to eliminate a device that would have made the success of that invasion a guarantee. The target, the goal, the macguffin if you will, was graspable and manageable.

4. The movie was also appealing to me for how much it captured the feel of the animated series - for example, the use of parademons to give Batman something to fight  while the heavier hitters fight the big bad.

5. Am I the only one who didn't notice Henry Cavill's CGI-ed out mustache?

Closing with this image just because I liked it so much.

Friday, December 22, 2017

12 Step Movie Response: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

So, Wonder Wife lobbied hard enough that we went to see the new Star Wars movie last night; as I have mentioned before, I am not a hardcore fan. But here goes.

1. It seems pretty clear that the last film tried to hit some sort of emotional reset button. I have to agree with some reviewers that The Last Jedi seems to be aiming to clear away much of the clutter of the past and move the franchise forward. As I don't have as much of an investment in the canon as a lot of fans do, that part doesn't matter much to me. Just judging the movie on its own, as an adventure flick, I just found it so-so.

2. Will Shetterly wrote a comprehensive (warning: and totally spoilery!) analysis of some of the writing problems with the film; I saw many of the same issues and can add a few of my own regarding portrayals of strategy, military discipline,  and so on. The biggest flaw for me is that while much of the film takes place in three different locales simultaneously, and the passage of time is critical, the events seem out of synch even more egregiously than usual.

3. Visually, the movie is pretty stunning; besides the usual blowy-uppy stuff and recreation of WW2 style combat logistics, there are great landscapes and wonderful critters to look at, as well as a diversity of alien and artificial life forms.

4. And speaking of diversity, it is great to see more visible diversity in the human cast as well, not just in race and gender but also in age and body type. Heroic figures don't all need to be popped out of the same action figure mold.

5. And speaking of critters, there seemed to be a real mindfulness regarding animals embedded in the film: some not-totally-subtle messages about animal cruelty and such. Wonder Wife was of course thrilled by this sensibility.

6. As for the major characters: I still love Rey, but she seemed a little more petulant than she needed to be and doesn't get a big enough set piece to really shine.

7. Finn is still developing as a character and hasn't quite found firm footing in this film. I like the idea of his being like a Spirit-esque hero: getting the crap knocked out of him a lot and being dragged out of wreckage by women, but fighting on nonetheless.

8. Kylo Ren moved the dial a little bit from emo to menacing in this episode... but still not enough.

9. Nice final appearances of Luke and Leia, considering the series had already all but left their characters behind. (When is Chewbacca gonna get some real love?)

10. I know Poe is supposed to be a headstrong hotshot, and he obviously has both skills and physical courage, but he was really quite the jerk otherwise, if you ask ask me. I really want to like Rose, and in many ways I do, but the next movie is going to have cash that check.

11. The movie included a couple of star turns in minor roles: I expect this from Marvel superhero movies, but not Star Wars. I think these parts could have been exploited a lot more.

12. We got a nice dig at the 1% in the middle of the flick.

That's it. Not really a review, since you're going to see it or not anyway. Wonder Wife loved it.