Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Defenders

Spoilers!

Well this turned out a lot worse than expected. And my expectations were halfway based on the quality of Iron Fist, which was spectacularly bad. Read my review of it here in order to get the full impact of my opinion when I compare them and say The Defenders is actually the worse of the two, trading in accidental laughs for apparent intentional boredom. This is what we've been building towards for two years? Color me stupefied at the absolute lack of anything worthwhile.

"Gonna go save this city.... I guess..."

My problem was that 50% of my expectations came from Iron Fist, but the other 50% came from Daredevil Season 1. If the 50% had been based on Daredevil's second season I would have only been marginally disappointed, but for some reason the one exceptional thing Netflix's Marvel has done out of five sneaked in there and got my hopes up. I also thought Iron Fist was rushed and cheapened to get this heavy hitter out faster and better, but now I'm scratching my head; if the brilliant plots and great production quality was being saved up, where did it all go? It isn't here, that's for sure.

This series is 8 episodes long, and it takes until episode three for all four Defenders to finally accumulate into the same room. Slow like molasses. But not smooth like molasses, because every scene change feels like switching channels between a cheapened versions of the solo shows for whichever character is on screen. They're even color-coordinated! Daredevil is shown in red, then Jessica Jones is blue, Luke Cage gets yellow, and Iron Fist is green. So cute right? Except every scene is colored that way. Think back on Daredevil season one: what was the prominent color? It was actually green, and the green actually set Daredevil's tone better than red. And it wasn't nearly as oppressive, with many highlight colors going on too. Even Iron Fist had a varying color palate; I don't know about Jessica Jones or Luke Cage but I can only suppose they weren't limited either.

Defenders assemble! ... in a minute. Hang on, let's talk about this first (and wait didn't I leave wet clothes in the wash?) Almost ready... oh darn the show's over!

It was obviously done here on purpose, especially since once they team up, specific colors are thrown out the window and everything just looks muddy. I cannot understand why though, because while it occasionally made memorable shots, the main effect it had was to emphasize how separate the characters were, which made their slow pace toward collaboration all the more maddening. And even once they "team up" they are constantly in-fighting, and never click like a team; lone-wolfing in close proximity. At the end of each episode I was thinking to myself, "Well, it seems like it might be about to get started..." And then the season ended and would you look at that -- nothing happened!

They didn't even defeat The Hand. Instead four brand spanking new additional leaders of The Hand were added and promptly killed off. Hand oldie Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) is still puttering around. The only permanent damage this show did was killing off Stick (Scott Glenn) (cue collective sigh of relief, though honestly he was one of the better characters) and removing Luke's cop friend's arm. Though I expect with Danny's "connections" she'll have a nice mechanical one soon. I was shocked they killed Sigourney Weaver's character in episode 6. She was being geared up to be the main villain; we had to watch her go to doctor visits, and take medication, and put on weird dresses, and stare at herself in the mirror -- and then there was no pay off? She pushes Electra (Elodie Yung) in the right direction and then dies? All the time wasted, and Madam Gao could have done the same thing.

HOW-w can you seeeeeeee into my-e-eyes, like open doOORS?

I'm now wondering what would've happened if this show had been combined with Iron Fist, subtracting the multiple Hand leaders shtick and maybe even cutting out the team-up aspect. The root problem with The Defenders and Iron Fist was intolerably little content stretched thin over too many episodes, so double the content could only be an improvement. Of course that would still leave the Danny Rand (Finn Jones) character problem, because oh my goodness gracious sakes alive that kid is hard to like. Yet as irritating as he is, he was a central part of nearly all the most entertaining parts of the show. And honestly no one is particularly likeable. Even if their characters had been done successfully before, the lack of meaningful content in the show effectively keeps characters from having meaningful existences.

Daredevil's (Charlie Cox) abilities aren't as solid as they should be and have been. His drama with Foggy and Karen is boring, and his drama with Electra is forced and painful. Jessica Jones' (Krysten Ritter) investigating scenes are like actually watching people do real internet research, which is to say, boring; even by this show's standards. She pops off one-liners that occasionally warrant a chuckle but sometimes I could swear you can hear crickets. It doesn't help that no characters laugh, or even smile as far as I can remember. They're deadpan and deadbeat, and in some cases, literally dead. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) I found mildly interesting, but since I hadn't seen his show, I was expecting him to stand out more than he did. Maybe this show pulls him down like it does Daredevil. The fight between Luke and Danny was arguably the best scene altogether -- and certainly the most genuinely humorous.

Like, Danny is the most irritating character... but... at least he makes you feel something.

The Defenders is completely devoid of joy and feeling, moves like a glacier, and gets nothing done. It takes even fewer risks than Iron Fist did, if that's possible. They couldn't even manage the risk of leaving us in suspense of Matt's well-being. Conversations have no spark, and chemistry between characters is non-existent. Yet most of the show is characters talking; explaining what's happened and discussing what will happen. Fight scenes lack the originality we've come to expect and take no risks either. Violent things happen, but nothing feels violent. It feels... insignificant; boring; dead. There's nothing to surprise, nothing to impress, and at the end there's a Return of the King-style multiple endings going on, each one more dead and depressing than the last.

When did being a superhero and saving the city you love become such a downer? And when did watching downright boring superhero fodder become so inanely acceptable? I think it's time someone defends the superhero genre from this kind of inept lifelessness. Alas, none of these guys are up to the task.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Passengers

Some spoilers.

Thirty years into a hundred and twenty-year voyage into deep space, a cryogenic pod malfunction wakes up to the biggest bummer of his entire life: he's gonna have to spend the rest of his life alone. Starving for company, he wakes up to join him.

Romance blossoms! Oh but wait -- that was actually a super mean thing to do...

For such a straightforward movie, my thoughts on it are annoyingly complicated. I wish I could just say, "It's pretty, its characters are pretty, there's science fiction, there's romance, it's not great, but it's decent." That would be true enough, but not the full truth. The full truth is that this movie bugged me creatively and caused me to think about what I would have wanted to be different, which opened up a whole lot of possibilities -- potential alternate timelines if you will -- against which to judge the version we got stuck with.

It is pretty though. Oh boy. I can't even say that and leave it alone, because I think the movie's dedication to being beautiful actually hindered its storytelling. It's pristine, and when things go wrong, it's still pristine, just in red and black, instead of blue and white, and with a bit of glossy sweat. If it had committed, and stuck its hands in the mud, it might have pulled out something valuable.

See???

I wanted to see Pratt's character be darker -- like as dark as you can go while still clinging to a sliver of sympathy. As dark as only scifi can support so eloquently. But he's Chris Pratt, so no; he has to be a good guy who makes an extremely dark mistake. What if he didn't see waking Jen up as a mistake until near the end? That would have been dark, and honestly more believable, but Pratt is so much more enjoyable as a good guy. Also, he does some fine acting in this movie. Very fine. Like, Jen does her exploding-anger-mental-breakdown-serious-acting and I was still more impressed with Pratt and his subtlety.

I just couldn't buy that good-guy-Chris-Pratt would ever fall so low as to actually wake someone else up. He's hyper aware of how terrible a thing it is, and even immediately seems to regret his actions. The movie's inability to commit to its premise was irritating. I'd like to see a version play out where he doesn't hide that he woke her up, so the anger can be immediate, and then he can spend the rest of the movie returning to sanity and understanding his error, while Jen slowly falls in love.

Check out how creepy he looks here.

Or, as my family and I were discussing during the movie, there could be a horror twist where he goes completely crazy, and has woken up several people before Jen. They all get angry with him so he kills them. Jen finds out, and has to fight for her life. That, in all honesty, seems like the least contrived direction this movie could have taken -- the honest progression of a character who is so desperately alone that they ruin another person's life to help themselves. I would hate to see Chris Pratt do horror-villain, but at the same time, his innate niceness and charm would make the twist all the more disturbing.

As it is, the plotting is as straightforward as they come, and incredibly, hopelessly predictable, in spite of the forced direction it takes. If only they had hidden something from us. I saw a video suggesting that the film begin with Lawrence waking up, and filling in Pratt's character slowly. That would have been tremendously better. Or even if we aren't told that he woke her up -- if were allowed to believe maybe it was an incredible coincidence; be suspicious of him; any kind of intrigue or mystery at all!

This movie focused way too much on looking good. (Note in the background. He's the android bartender. The reveal of him being an android was spoiled by the trailer. My fault for watching it, I suppose.)

There is mystery involving why the original malfunction happened, and that's the most intriguing aspect of the movie. Until the mystery is solved of course, (by deus ex machina ) and then it becomes the film's most trite aspect. But since this movie is a character piece, it needs more character intrigue than plot intrigue. It desperately needed character intrigue, and was sadly, sadly lacking. You would think there would be a lot, considering the fantastic situation these characters are put in, but the bulk of the meager character interest is due to performances that are better than their material.

It's unfortunate. A great number of things could have been done to change this movie into something, if not great, at least better. As it is, it isn't terrible. It has two fine leads, and a memorable premise -- the things that attracted me in the first place. It's visually unique, and should get credit for being an original story in this age of remakes. It has plenty of small flaws, but nothing huge or glaring.

Probably works best if you're looking for a romance rather than a scifi.

If you can turn off your mind, suspend your disbelief, and be ready for a disproportionate amount of romance, you might get something out of Passengers. And if that something is being entertained for two hours by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence roaming through a pretty scifi world... well, it could be better, sure, but it certainly could be worse.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - August

Well 2017 is officially a very impressive movie year! Last month I said it would be if anything managed to top the brilliant Baby Driver, and, (while I hesitate to compare them so directly since they're such completely different pieces of filmmaking) I think Dunkirk has done just that. I saw it regular, and then again in 70mm, and since I wrote my review before seeing the 70mm version, I'd like to talk a bit about the 70mm experience. Just skip down if this is completely uninteresting to you:


Firstly, yes, digital 70mm is a thing. Being a novice about being picky about movie screens it confused me for a while that my theater claimed to be showing a movie in film format digitally, but yes, everything looked and sounded as it should. I don't know if this is a super common question to have, but I would have liked a nice straightforward answer like this when I was wondering, so I'm putting it out there.

Next, what to expect with 70mm: If you're a film connoisseur or already know you love Dunkirk I'd absolutely recommend seeing it in 70mm. If you're a casual moviegoer, you might find it odd, because while the 70mm is being presented to us as the movie enhanced, it's enhanced in style rather than in quality. It is sharper, yes, and there more contrast to the picture, but those are minute details, and some of the more major differences in a lot of ways actually detract from the movie's quality. (Such as we've come to think of movie quality of course.) The 70mm's whites are much brighter and appear to vibrate on the screen -- the sort of thing you'd call a flaw if you saw it in a Transformer movie. The blacks are also much darker (at one point in the movie the lights go out, and it's as if the film itself goes out) and colors seemed more true. Some scenes had different tints from others. And you can see tiny imperfections in the film.

The biggest change though, and one I didn't expect, was the sound. There was much more bass overall (so as Spitfires fly overhead in the film, you feel their noise move through you as you would in real life) and the dialogue had some difficult to describe qualities to it -- to me it sounded vaguely like dialogue from on old 30's or 40's movie, which is appropriate, but it had a lowness to it, like higher frequencies in the voices were cut out. It also sounded grainy (if things can sound grainy) and almost muted, yet I found it easier to understand the lines. That seems counter-intuitive, but my dad said the same thing, and he's the one in the family who usually doesn't understand dialogue, so I swear, it's not just me being weird. Honestly the sound was my favorite difference, and absolutely enhanced the movie, which had already blown me away, to an even higher level.

Some of those things could easily be called flaws in a normal movie situation, except, here, that is how Christopher Nolan meant the film to be. What was made obsolete by improving technology has now become an artistic style choice, and Nolan used it to great advantage. Regular movie projection now shows us the film as less than it's meant to be -- and I find that very neat. (Then of course there's IMAX to consider but I won't go there.) It goes along with how the characters were done; Nolan stripped away the common and the unnecessary from the film, making his vision all the more focused. In short, after seeing Dunkirk in 70mm, I feel that my experience experiencing this experience of a film is only now truly complete. And the ticket price was not a cent more expensive!


(Click here to read my review of the film itself!)

I also saw Spider-Man: Homecoming in July, but after Dunkirk, poor Spidey is a bit overshadowed right now! I liked the movie, and loved Tom Holland as the kid hero, and even saw it twice! (Review here!) I still want to see Valerian someday, but probably won't waste ticket money on it, and since War for the Planet of the Apes got such a good response from fans, I'll watch that eventually too; to either solidify my low opinion, or change my mind (unlikely, but possible I suppose.)

August has no must-sees (unless new information develops) but a good spread of pretty interesting movies! A nice number of indies! I like indies. Anyway, on to my list. How was your movie-July? And how is you movie-August shaping up? Let me know in the comments!


The Dark Tower
Aug 4th; PG-13
Based on the novel series by Steven King, and the trailer looks cool, but I don't really have a dog in this race. I never got around to reading the book, though I usually do whenever an interesting movie based on a book is coming up. Maybe I could still squeeze it in, but I'm not sure I want to. I heard rumors that there were changes made, and the book fans aren't terribly happy? Of course based solely on the trailer, it being based on a King story is a definite plus. Idris Elba is always effortlessly cool and hardcore, and Matthew McConaughey playing the baddie is nice for once. I'm not holding out much hope that it'll be much more than a fun mid-summer action flick with some neat sci-fi elements, but if it does that, and does it well, that'll be all it needs to be anyway -- for me that is. For the fans I hope it's a satisfying adaptation. If there are good reviews it's likely that I'll go see this one.




Wind River
Aug 4th; R
I still haven't seen Sicario or Hell or High Water, but every time this Taylor Sheridan writes a movie it looks very interesting. This one is a murder mystery starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. I've always liked the niche dynamic they have in the Avengers movies, so I'd like to see this one someday on that point alone. I think the trailer gives too much away though, so maybe think twice before watching it.




Some Freaks
Aug 4th(limited); NR
Thomas Mann is great. I'll watch him in any kind of romance/dramedy. He seems to like the quirky ones, and this one's about as quirky as they come! It's an indie so who knows when it'll pop up somewhere, but I'll be on the lookout.




The Only Living Boy in New York
Aug 11th(limited); R
Whether I want to see this depends largely on how it ends, and what the take-away is, but in order to know that, you have to see it. So I'll keep an eye open. It's got a great cast. Listening to Jeff Bridges explain existential things is one of the finer things in life.




Pilgrimage
Aug 11th(limited); NR
Me watching this trailer: "Ooo, Peter Parker and Punisher medieval team up, that's sounds cool." "Woah, it's a quest movie -- very Lord of the Rings." "Oh my gosh, Ritchard Armitage! It is Middle Earth!" And then finally: "Yikes." This actually looks quite a bit more interesting than a mere Spidey/Punisher team-up. Will be on the lookout.




The Hitman's Bodyguard
Aug 18th; R
So, like, the comedy version of Safe House? Sounds neat. Honestly I expected I wouldn't even have to bother with this one since it's so blatantly R-rated, but apparently there will be only language and violence so not as bad as I was expecting. R-rated comedies can work for me, but it has to be genuinely a good movie for me to brave the waters. This is a case of "wait-and-see." The trailer I saw in theaters a while back made it look pretty dumb, but this one has more promise. Samuel L. Jackson is for sure, but Ryan Reynolds is hit or miss. Hopefully it's a hit, but I won't be missing anything if it isn't.




Logan Lucky
Aug 18th; PG-13
Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig getting as far away from Bond as he possibly can poor guy, Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Katherine Watterson, Hilary Swank -- it's definitely got the cast of a good movie! It's got oddball comedy, a memorable quirky plot, weirdo characters, and a heist. Sounds like a pretty great movie actually. It's also got an early perfect score on RT. It hasn't reached must-see status for me yet, but I will be paying close attention as it comes around the bend.




The Defenders
Aug 18th on Netflix
Daredevil season 1 was fantastic. Season 2 was barely passable only because of Punisher. I never watched Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, and probably never will. And Iron Fist was laughably bad and a sad letdown. Yet, here I am, garnering up excitement for the team-up. My optimistic mind is considering that Iron Fist was only terrible because it was rushed, and since Defenders is Netflix-Marvel's big event effort will be put into it. My rational mind watches this trailer, and sees nothing worth getting hopes up for. I won't be surprised if the 18th rolls around and I find myself sitting down to watch this -- the surprise will come if it's actually as great as it should be.