Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Major Spoilers!

Welcome to the latest greatest Marvel movie, where all your favorite superheroes come together against the super-villain, Thanos, a very reasonable crazy person who wants to destroy half the universe! They fight super hard for two hours and thirty minutes, and then Thanos destroys half the universe. It's great fun.

I Loki hate this movie. lol.

There's a filmmaking 101 rule. If, say, a bomb is introduced to the plot, and there isn't eventually an on-screen explosion, your movie is bad. You must detonate that bomb. That's why Iron Man flew the nuke into space and exploded the Chitari spaceship. That's why Ronan's plans of destruction via the Power stone are shown by The Collector as he explains the danger -- because you must show it. It doesn't have to happen for real, but it has to happen. This rule, which is religiously followed in action films, is the reason I wasn't surprised by the end of Infinity War. The end rolled around sans a preview of the destruction, so I braced for impact.

But that's not why I didn't like the movie. The reason why I didn't enjoy myself watching this film as much as I should have, is that I felt the need to brace for impact in the first place. I like plenty of these characters. In fact, I dislike none of them. But the MCU doesn't typically make it worthwhile to be invested in the plights or well-being of its characters, and this film is the worst offender of the lot. Thor, Gamora and Strange are pushed to develop more than most of the sea of characters this film possesses, but whether they receive a little attention, or a lot, this movie can't agree with previous films on what their established character is, or the directions they should take.

You'd think so little screen-time would keep away glaring inconsistencies, but no. Poor Quill was obliterated. 

It's an antihero movie from Thanos' perspective more than anything else. He wants to save the entire universe by destroying half the universe, (If you kill half the people, the rest will have more room and resources. Think about it!) and while his reasoning makes sense for a crazy person, he doesn't act crazy. He's just a big purple dude with a dream, and besides his partial-genocide plan, he keeps his evil deeds to a minimum. Are we supposed to sympathize? Because he achieves his goal at great personal loss does that make him deep? No. He's one-note, and it never makes sense why his goal is so important to him.

Conversely, every single hero's goal is clear: save the world, save the universe, save the people they care for. Viewers will latch on to that automatically; it's a fundamental part of a hero's being. Yet we are forced to watch them fail and give way to Thanos' character over and over. And with no ultimate triumph to make it worthwhile, it all becomes meaningless. This story has no reward. It kicks you in the head on intervals, tosses in a few neat fights, then pulls the rug out and waits for the praise to come rolling in. And fans, concussed, stagger away mumbling about how they "need to process this." You don't need to process it: it felt like one big sucker punch because that's what it was.

Half the "good" moments were just blatant rehashes of previous good moments. Thor's plotline was probably best because he has success before the final failure.

The film started out feeling very similar to flipping channels -- if every channel was playing a generic Marvel film. But the plot does tie it all together in a cohesive way, and as it puttered along I found myself more and more interested in the outlandish space locations and enjoying the odd awesome moment that lands among the unfunny, downright boring attempts at comedy and the even less interesting character development through dialogue. And every time a character died I would wait patiently for the next hint of joy.

Is it too much to ask that superhero movies be fun? It's not that they don't know how to have fun. I recall one particularly spectacular moment between Bucky and Rocket, and Spider-Man elevates everything by double just by having his face on screen. It seemed that the point of the movie wasn't to be entertaining (or heaven forbid -- interesting!) but to be a culmination of the past ten years. To bring it all together under one roof, and in one fell swoop... point to the next movie: because if the audience isn't talking about the next film in the series as they walk out of the theater, you're doing it wrong.

It's called The Avengers for a reason! They gotta have something to... to.... *Part Two opens* ...AVENGE!!!!

I'm sick and tired of it. I just want to enjoy a movie; to live in the moment of a fantasy world for a few hours, without the threat of anything being held back or saved for later. Marvel is on top of the world right now. They can do whatever they want, and fans will be in the theater, excited, and willing to give it a chance. And what do they do with this power? They give us crumbs. They leave a trail of them, promising more and more, and we follow, like the dutiful fans we are, clinging to the crumbs -- a great character, a favorite actor, a fleeting moment of joy -- and wonder why we don't feel satisfied.

There's not a lot objectively wrong with this movie. It's put together impressively well for being the monstrous task that it was. It mostly makes sense, mostly stays focused, and definitely does what it sets out to do. It often looks good, Thanos and his henchmen's CGI being a notable exception. It has a handful of memorable moments and many more that seem included dispassionately, out of obligation. Some humor is okay, some cringy. Some characters get quality attention, some... aren't even in the movie at all. Hello, Hawkeye? There are scores of nitpicks I could make, but it doesn't matter; the hard truth is, there's nothing this movie could've done that would've made me love it.

I'm not an overly emotional person by nature, but Marvel has taught me to be downright stone-hearted concerning their films.

Fact is, I don't watch superhero movies to see the heroes fail at the end. On the list of things I don't want to see in a superhero film, ultimate failure is top of the box office all year long. (Failure before the end, however, is equally necessary. It's backwards here.) And I know: I know they're going to fix everything, because Spidey has another movie coming, and Marvel will never kill off a cash cow before it's dry. Therefore, it's possible that in combination with Part 2, I will enjoy the story more. Yep, they have me on the hook for another year. Doesn't change the fact, though. The only enjoyment I got out of the end was being so detached that I was actually amused by the manipulative stupidity on display before me.

There's simply nothing here for me. I am a Marvel fan, but they sure do make it difficult. Forcing investment in a story that is out to manipulate me isn't an option, and I've been shortchanged too many times for it to come naturally. If you don't identify with that statement, you'll probably love this film. Since it banks on killing off characters it's important that you be invested. And good on you if you were invested and did like it -- I'm not here to be Gamora and suck the joy out of everything (I'll even admit her death scene and dynamic with Thanos was alright) I'm just here to complain that I found no joy to begin with.

Except maybe Spider-Man. Spider-Man is still great. Maybe I'm turning into a Sony-Marvel fan...

For a movie with no respect, no energy, and minimal creative effort, where the good guys put aside their differences, joining against a common enemy, only to fail miserably and wallow in a stale puddle of passionless tears, all in a blatant effort to build hype for the next film, Infinity War is about as good as you could possibly expect.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Marrowbone

Spoilers are marked and saved for the end.

It's 1969, and an English family -- a mother and four children -- come to a quaint American town and change their name to Marrowbone. They appear to be hiding from someone. When the mother dies of illness, her oldest, Jack (George MacKay), is not yet old enough to inherit the house, so he, Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and Sam (Matthew Stagg) must hide their mother's death from the world until his 21st birthday -- even from Jack's girlfriend Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy). But more sinister trouble is stalking them than questioning townsfolk.

For someone who doesn't like horror I do sure subject myself to it a lot. I need to understand it!

Not to turn this post completely into musings on my personal preferences of horror sub-groups, but it is curious to me, as someone who claims distaste for the genre in general, and yet many of my favorite films are horror movies. I don't know how to define the difference between categories of horror I do like and ones I don't. It's not about the specific elements that makes up the film, as I would say this one was well made, yet overall, I was left with a bad taste.

A Quiet Place made me feel more on edge, yet I loved it more. IT was equally as distressing and disturbing, yet I loved it more. Psycho has a mentally sick twist to it that, if not absolutely lovable in the same sense, is pivotal to making the film the masterpiece it is. Even this year's The Ritual had creepy supernatural horror that was scary but totally enjoyable. I suppose in order for a horror story to work for me, it needs to be good and have some meaning to latch on to -- otherwise it's not worth it. Marrowbone is competently made on the surface, but failed to give its meaning any real meaning.

It does have some very sweet moments in it, and those I enjoyed most. 

This is one of those movies where you know there will be a twist to it, because things aren't adding up as they should be. Obviously, the idea was conceived as the twist and then filled in from there. Once the twist reveals, everything makes sense that seemed odd or like mistakes at first. And while the twist worked on me, and I presume evoked the right emotions, it seemed to make everything else the movie set up moot. Not that it set up deep themes or super involving characters arcs, but I got pretty invested in the basics: family, survival, good vs. evil.

The twist worked logistically but not thematically, when the reverse would have been preferable. In great twist movies, isn't it the twist that amplifies and then resolves the theme? Here it just muddied everything, and beyond giving the audience a nice disturbing shock, was pointless. The way it ended seemed to imply a theme was intended to survive the twist -- love and family was still present, but in a weird way; as if in appeasement to those of us who might be disappointed. The same path without such reserve might've had better impact. If it ended on a bold note, instead going bold and then backing down.

Maybe I should have tried to guess the twist. I always just let myself go for the ride. 

Besides one plot hole it all makes sense logistically, as I said, with some thoughtful details thrown in. And it has plenty of commendable aspects on the technical side. A nice look, for starters, with great locations and filming that was unobtrusive and lovely, with the proper edge for scares and suspense. The acting was convincing all-around. If nothing else, this movie gave me the opportunity to hear Charlie Heaton's British accent. George MacKay carried the movie excellently, and Anya Taylor-Joy was good, though this is the first film I've seen her in, and I imagine she's better elsewhere.

It's just not my kind of movie. But -- though I'm not well-versed in the type, I'd venture to say it's not as well-made as it first appears to be. It was made to make sense. At the end, I understood absolutely everything -- except how I was meant to feel. I've figured out what theme was meagerly intended, and as with the rest of the film, I understand it; but it evokes no feeling other than disappointment and distaste.

------------------------------

Cover your ears, kids -- it's Spoiler Time!

(Spoilers -- from here to the end!) 
Okay, I have to add this spoiler section because of how striking this realization is to me. Giant spoiler right here, last chance: In this movie, all of Jack's siblings are dead, and it's more or less his fault, though he was trying to protect them. He has multiple personality disorder (classic), and thinks they are still alive, and even after treatment at the end of the film he still sees them. It's supposed to be happy (the movie's tagline is, "no one will ever separate us") but, um, they're dead.

This, in contrast with the last horror film I watched, A Quiet Place, is pretty astounding, because the family theme is the same, but polar opposites. (Additional Spoilers for A Quiet Place now. You've been warned.) Both film's climaxes happen at death; one, in the realization of it from failure of the protagonist's part, and the other as self-sacrifice for the success of the protagonist's goal. In the latter, it completes the theme of the film; in the former, it ruins it.

Now, ruining it is fine, because it's a horror story. Bad endings are fine, especially in a twist. If the twist is necessary, then the way to end the movie is in that hard, heartbreaking realization, not some scrounged-together happy ending. It doesn't matter that they're "alive in his mind." He failed them. It feels completely disingenuous to be told to be happy while I'm still reeling from the tragedy. Jack was a sympathetic character, and I wouldn't blame him necessarily for the deaths, but I definitely don't want to see him happy and the end of such a terrible story -- commit to the darkness, or get out.

All that to say, don't watch Marrowbone, watch A Quiet Place!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Titan

Earth is just about used up. (I'm really tired of typing this premise over and over, someone think of a new standard scifi premise pronto!) Humanity is ready to give up on the planet and move to the stars -- more accurately, one of Saturn's moons, Titan.

Titan has an atmosphere higher in nitrogen and lower in oxygen than humans can survive, deadly hydrocarbon lakes, and is far, far too cold. Enter: science! Instead of trying to terraform this moon, it's decided that the human species is what should be changed. Tom Wilkinson leads a project attempting to give evolution a generous nudge in Titan's direction, and Rick (Sam Worthington) is one of the volunteer guinea pigs.

We're going to live in space, kids! And you know what that means: we have to turn ourselves into aliens first!

Here is the most consistent problem with Netflix Original films: they aren't advertised accurately. Watching the trailer for this film, I was under the impression it would be a scifi horror film -- with a slow build-up, and on the heavily dramatic side, but still. What this movie is, is a scifi drama, plain and simple. Rick wants to make a better future for his son (Noah Jupe of A Quiet Place) and jumps into the risky, life-altering program, his wife Abi (Taylor Schilling) in full support; and their faith and expectations are challenged.

Our expectations are challenged too. Once the plot got going I adjusted my perception filter to fit "scifi drama" but even then, the trailer messed up my viewing experience. They showed some of what he looked like after he transforms or evolves or whatever, so I knew how drastic it would be. Apparently, none of the characters did. It plays out in the film as if the physical transformation was the big twist, but I thought it was the premise. Even as the film itself sets up the premise, the implication of the experiment involves physical change. The word "superhuman" and phrases such as "you, but better" and "fly on Titan" were used.

So I'm not exactly gonna be amazed to see someone sprout wings.

And when subjects can stay underwater for over thirty minutes, it's no surprise that they're developing gills. But a surprise or not, this kind of stuff is pretty cool in a straightforward scifi way. It takes some suspension of disbelief and ignoring of some nonsense, but this scifi testing and training is the best element the film has going. It reminded me a little of the Dauntless training in Divergent, with new strange things happening every day, and people dropping dead in regular intervals.

But even with belief suspended, there was a lot of inconsistency within the scifi side of things, that comes down to plot convenience. At first, I wondered how the subjects would survive on Earth if they evolve to Titan standards, but it's more like their survival abilities are expanded rather than altered. (Titan's not too cold anymore but that doesn't mean Earth is too hot.) That makes sense, but then the superfluous changes divert from that idea. Eventually Rick can't speak anymore, and he communicates through touch and at some inaudible frequency.

Also, his middle fingers fuse together. Seems more like de-evolution to me...

But why can't he do both? He shouldn't have lost his vocal cords, and he definitely still has a mouth. It seems like from that, the idea was to create a wholly new species that can only really live properly on Titan; the movie just had to allow him to survive Earth's climate and atmosphere because the story couldn't exist if he couldn't. The whole story is bent into its shape that way, and it actually gets worse as the film ends, not ever answering some logistical questions I had at the start.

More amusingly, the premise centers on an enormously overpopulated Earth, with catastrophic climate problems. Yet, all we ever see is sleek, expansive, and expensive futuristic housing and research facilities situated comfortably in the middle of a thriving nowhere. Rick and Abi go on a run and stand looking out over a lush valley and green wooded mountains, comment on how nice it is, and then bemoan the fact that they can't save it -- while I was under the impression that Earth was already so far gone that places like that didn't exist anymore.

Whatever, I'm sure they were just trying to make a point about global warming or whatever it is these days.

What they should've been doing was focusing on making a good story. I can forgive lapses in logic if only the story and the characters are worth the investment. These characters weren't fundamentally bad, but the movie didn't really seem to know what to do with them. First, we focus on Rick as he gets his treatments; later focus shifts to Abi as she deals with his changes. Then it tries to flip-flop, but the result is an emotional disconnect because they always seem to make the wrong choice about whose viewpoint should be shown.

Overall the story could've been much more effective from Abi's view only, but it was more entertaining from Rick's. Neither the science fiction nor the character drama is fully thought-through, and if they had been, the logical process would have worked the story out of existence. With a couple of neat ideas, and filmmaking of good technical quality, The Titan reached the absolute height of its potential -- but that's not saying much at all.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Quiet Place

Spoiler-free!

Mysterious creatures who hunt by sound have invaded and prowl the earth, and a family lives silently to survive among them. John Krasinski takes a giant step into the artistry of writing and directing, and though his movie is often quiet, it delivers a deafening bang.

Not his first directing or writing effort, but there's something special and significant about this one. Like he's crossed a boundary.

But he doesn't do it alone; the original screenplay was written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, who I'm sure deserve plenty of credit even if Krasinski did additions/changes/rewrites/whatever it is he did, because the story -- from its basic premise right up to the finely tuned more superfluous moments -- is masterful. Krasinski stars with his real-life wife Emily Blunt, and they both tear up the screen with strong, emotional, and nuanced performances. The kids who play their children also do a great job, especially Millicent Simmonds, the oldest, whose talents and character importance is right up there with the adults.

She's deaf in real-life, and her character is deaf in the story, which is why the family is all fluent in sign language, only 80 days into an apocalypse that requires silence. The practical, sensible way they live with this unprecedented restriction is thoughtful and full of rich detail. I love when movies make me think and ponder what I would do in an impossible situation, and that's the first thing this film does remarkably well. A low-key, semi-scifi culture that is endlessly interesting even without the monsters.

I love how the anger had to be quiet, too.

The next thing this film does right is, it has a family drama at the heart of its horror/thriller plot. It's relatively simple -- simple enough to be carried properly with limited dialogue -- but effective in wonderful, heartbreaking, and stake-raising ways in turn. In a first viewing, this element, and the more internal, softer, warmer moments that make it up are overshadowed by an extremely enhanced sense of dread that something terrible could happen at any time. The juxtaposition of the family moments and the looming terror was far too effective to be unintentional, but I'm looking forward to fully appreciating the moments of peace and internal conflict next time.

It's fitting then, that the terror and suspense are the most prominent element since they are what makes a theater experience exciting. This is the side that Krasinski gets more than right; it's not just suspense building up to some good scares; this film is a study in tension. It's an artful exploration of fear and terror of the basest kind, and never lets up through its whole runtime. The monsters are scary, but when they show up, it's a relative relief from the tension, because what is frightening in this film is not the thing that comes to eat you, but the thing that draws them there -- noise. Watching this film, you fear sound.

This movie features the most effective jump-scare I've ever witnessed. Usually I hate jump-scares, but they are so appropriate here!

And when you fear sound, the potential for sound creates tension. And the potential for sound is so wonderfully, maniacally constant, that I got a backache from being tense for an hour and a half straight. I love how boiled down the horror element is. As terrifying as those creatures would be in real-life, there's too much distance between them and reality; so the movie digs down to the core, to a practically untapped reserve of the origins of fear, and exploits it beautifully. John Krasinski does a masterful job in putting the focus where it should be, for the exact right amount of time, to get the most enhanced effect possible.

Every moment had to have been meticulously assembled. The plot structure runs smoothly without telegraphing its direction, and with even pacing -- nothing is under-explored, and no scenes become stagnate. Sound and lack of sound is used with special care to excellent results. I especially liked the times we would hear from the daughter's perspective. Camera placement and other visual aspects isn't as purely dedicated to enhancing the tension as the audio is, but gets occasional terrifying moments to shine; otherwise the film is consistently beautiful, but not in a distracting, overly artsy way.

It's very bold and simple, visually. I really liked it.

Though there is some dialogue here and there, plus the captioned sign language, the bulk of the story is told through visual methods. Essentially a silent film -- though sound is important, words are not -- it utilizes the fundamentals of visual storytelling. Characters don't just sit down and have a conversation, they express themselves physically. And there is no stilted, lazy exposition. Instead, we have to glean explanations and translate expression ourselves. It's presented in a sure way that's not difficult to understand, but the mere fact that it isn't handed to us unearned is commendable.

Because of the silent-film type style, the plot is pretty straightforward and the drama fairly basic. This is the closest thing to a flaw the movie has. No mind-blowing twist or turns, no complicated character motivations to study -- they're just a normal family trying to survive in a permanent dire situation. And occasionally this stretches into plot events. Sometimes things happen because they need to for the story to move, and it comes across like very bad luck. While this shakes the realism slightly for me, faulting it for that seems like nit-picking in the pettiest sense.

To quote Sabrina: "More isn't always better, Linus. Sometimes it's just more." This movie refrains from overreaching.

This film allows a few traditional tropes on the side, while focusing on what it wants to do exceptionally with fervent vigor. The result is a streamlined film that follows a narrow path with absolute dedication, and takes its elements of focus to envelope-pushing extremes. It has constant, immaculate, smartly crafted tension. It has a reason for you to care, displayed through powerful performances, especially from Emily Blunt. It's thrilling and emotional, but not pushy or contriving. And it's artistic in the most natural, unpretentious and honest way possible.

Completely unrelenting, and wholly welcoming, A Quiet Place is a terrifying but open place, inviting you to enter and lend yourself to its power; it may be frightening, but it returns you safe again when it's through, with a heart fuller than when you arrived.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Major Spoilers. I'm going Spoiler crazy with this one, since I was so late seeing it.

The last surviving YA dystopian film series makes its final stand.

Of the Big Three, this one was my favorite. Especially film-wise, as The Hunger Games destroyed itself my splitting its third installment, and then Divergent followed suit but only got halfway through before dying under the strain. Still The Maze Runner was fashionably late to the party to begin with and with a filming delay on this one, it seems like an after-thought; a second-place finisher only by default, stumbling across the finish line after the spectators have already moved on to the next event.

But I'm still here. I stuck around, partly because I enjoyed the books, partly because I still enjoy the first two films, and partly because the next event is the Superhero Crossover Relay, and of that, I am not a fan. And I'm impressed; I'm impressed that they stuck it out and got it done; I'm glad they didn't run themselves into the ground and that I got to see the end play out on film. Genuinely -- well done. I'm proud of you shanks. The only damper is, this last film is the worst of the series.

Oops.

Honestly, I don't think it had the potential to be otherwise. Besides the death of fan-favorite, he-deserved-so-much-better, our beloved Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), The Death Cure is also the weakest book installment, without much to the plot that sticks in the memory, and after the serious tweaks made to The Scorch Trials, big changes were inevitable. Basically, all that remains is Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) at the lead, Newt dying, and the ending (more or less) -- oh and Gally (Will Poulter) being alive. Everything else was pulled to pieces and put back together again in a way that just barely manages to get to (more or less) the same result.

Since I keep having to say "more or less" (and when I say it I mean less) in reference to the ending, I'll start there. See, whoever wrote this movie probably looked at the book titled "The Death Cure" and noticed, like many of us, that it contained a lot of Death, but not so much Cure. In fact, no Cure at all. So this movie adds some Cure. As a result, Thomas's blood can cure the Flare. As a result, he could have saved Newt but for some poor timing. And as a result, his escape to the Safe Haven isn't so justified, and in fact the film leaves open the idea that he may return and Save The World after all.

I'm not opposed to changes on principle, but if the story was going to be bad anyway, I'd rather it be bad and more like the book.

So even though the location of the end is the same, the implication is the exact opposite the book meant it to be. The book's Death Cure was the immune. By living and escaping they saved the human race from death. And though they thought it was escape it was always WICKED (or WCKD, whatever.) that was behind it. The book said that sacrificing the lives of a few to save many is wrong, and makes the point clear. The movie gives Thomas a savior complex and cliched Chosen One characteristics in replacement of the stolen theme. Book three may have been the weakest, but its lack of Cure was certainly intentional.

Though it's a bit of a slippery slope situation that started with some seemingly innocent changes to The Scorch Trials, the filmmakers appear to have lost sight of both what the story was all about, and, more bewilderingly, what it is that fans loved about the film adaptations and the books alike. Strangely out-of-touch, they seemed to think it was a great idea to have smart-mouth Minho (Ki Hong Lee) say almost nothing the whole movie. They showed very little running; and there were no mazes or maze-like set pieces to navigate. And Thomas never ran, slid, jumped or otherwise barely squeezed through a closing door. If not that, then what in the world are we here for?

These three made the movie worthwhile alone. I wish it had focused solely on them.

Every action sequence was brutally mundane, with characters trading punches or gunfire, or being chased until our heroes are suddenly in a Hopeless Situation, where, after a beat of Suspense, they are rescued out of nowhere by Someone You Forgot About. Pauses in the action are taken for death scenes, and I'll admit: even with that catastrophe of a buildup, Newt's death and the aftermath was still good, and the highlight of the whole film. They even got a letter in there, and it all wound up being surprisingly effective. Good ol' Newt.

Teresa's (Kaya Scodelario) death was the lowlight. Again I say, the filmmakers were out-of-touch; they didn't realize that no one cares about Teresa, and we certainly didn't want half the plot to revolve around her, or her death scene to take as long as Newt's without any of the emotional weight or plot relevance. Teresa was a throwaway death so Thomas would be with Brenda (Rosa Salazar); nothing more. Here they try to convince us that she actually matters or something, and it only makes for way too many boring talking scenes while she hangs out with the bad guys. Then she only dies because Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) "can't get the Berg any closer" to the completely open roof they're standing on. I may or may not have laughed.

"And then I said, 'I can't get the Berg any closer!' and they believed me! Now you get Thomas all to yourself, Brenda!"

They even took out the part where they return to the Maze but then replace it with a nightmare about the Maze. They make sure Newt says his two most famous lines, ("Great we're all bloody inspired" and "Please Tommy please") though they're mildly shoehorned and don't carry the same weight that made them memorable in the first place. They do a couple more callbacks to previous films and the only one that feels genuinely valuable to the movie -- rather than lazy fan-service -- is carving the names in the stone at the end. It's like they knew they'd made the story into something totally different and were trying to appease anyone who'd care with trinkets.

I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt, as Wes Ball did an excellent job crafting the first film into a taught and non-stop action-thriller, and the second was an incredibly decent zombie flick -- but I suppose at some point he just lost that solid grip on it. This one is a cliched action movie, using the same tired cop-outs and tropes over and over. It's starts slow and gets nowhere fast, but after Newt dies it finds its feet. Thomas turning himself in, and the ensuing drama and fight with Janson (Aiden Gillen) is tense and has real stakes behind it all. And after the hiccup of Teresa's hilariously contrived death, we get an anti-climax with some good emotional weight -- even with the theme being muddied.

Not a complete failure, and with a sub-genre full of complete failures, that's worthy of being called a success.

Having these characters who I've grown fond of be the center of the cliched plot and generic action did increase my enjoyment in a shallow yet solid way, and I can see giving it a second go in the future. It is, after all, the final part in my favorite young adult dystopian action adventure film series -- even if it is the worst installment. On the verge of being exciting, on the verge of being memorable, and on the verge of being meaningful, The Death Cure feels exhausted and worn down, but manages to finish running its race and brings its series to a rounded, if faltering, conclusion.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ready Player One

Spoiler-free!

Based on the book by Ernest Cline that's an absolute smorgasbord of 80's pop culture, Ready Player One takes place in a near future where the rundown world is all but abandoned by its populace. In its place -- the OASIS, a virtual reality where people can go anywhere and do or be anything, all from the comfort of their cramped, neglected homes.

Laws of reality need not apply.

One such person is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), whose life outside the OASIS is, well, nonexistent. But in the OASIS, he's Parzival, a gunter (egg hunter) who looks for Easter eggs left by the game's creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Upon his death Halliday instigated a hunt for three keys that would lead to the ultimate Easter egg. The finder would receive Halliday's inheritance and full control over the OASIS itself. The hunt has been going on for years without even the first key being found when Wade finally figures out the first challenge, and the discovery launches him into adventure, fame, and real-world danger all at once as the race for the OASIS begins.

It's been a long time since Steven Spielberg has done science fiction, and the result it something that is a little -- and pleasantly so, I might add -- out of time. The featured tech and special effects are fully modern but the plot and characters move in a more traditional "blockbuster" sphere. The three keys make the act structure strongly defined, with no room for anything unprecedented, and characters are well cast but then left to catch what little bits of development and arcs they can on the run, as the action-driven plot breaks for nothing. Though deeper development without sacrifice elsewhere would've been more ideal, the characters are accurate to their book counterparts -- stunningly accurate to my memory -- and that is due to pitch-perfect casting.

I knew it was perfect when I first saw the cast list but they still managed to wow me.

Every actor I know here has given a better performance elsewhere, yet I don't think the cast could be more perfect. Tye Sheridan was more comfortable and natural in Mud, and Olivia Cooke had even more genuine charm in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl -- they both still fit their characters to a T. Ben Mendelsohn is basically playing Krennic from Rogue One, but boy is it fun to watch him be that type of baddie. I am sure that Mark Rylance has never given a bad performance in his life, but even he has his exceptionally charming turn as the eccentric geek Halliday beat elsewhere -- though this may be a personal favorite for me due to the charm and humor he gives alone.

Simon Pegg's American accent threw me through a loop and his small part felt almost like a cameo, but he still managed to sneak some dramatic oomph in there. The adults are undoubtedly the acting highlights of the film. Aech, Daito and Sho are good casting as well, but used only for support, comic relief, and to make the point of how anyone can be anything in the OASIS. Sheridan doesn't lead the film so much as he's swept along at the front of the wave that is the plot, but the fact remains: he embodies Wade ideally. The roles here are on the shallow side by nature. More depth may have improved them, but whether it would've served the movie as a whole is another matter.

As much as I love character, I do think putting them on a lower priority was the right move here.

After all I would hate for a scifi adventure flick to have to give up any time adventuring, world-building and wowing for the sake of unnecessary character development -- however great the development may be. There were a few times I would have tended more toward character briefly, but I understand the idea. This is a crazy and complex scifi world here, and explaining and exploring it satisfactorily takes priority. Spielberg erred on the safe side, over-explaining at times, but the flaw isn't in the intention. He took the right track of making the character/plot balance the same ratio as the book, and was impressively successful in it.

I liked the book, but it's flawed. Most of the movie's flaws stem from that, as a fundamental part of the story. I've seen plenty of worthy but flawed books be adapted into film and commonly, "improvement" is the name of the game. Sometimes said "improvement' makes the story so convoluted that it becomes completely different, and often falls apart. (The Divergent series springs rapidly to mind.) I'm surprised to say, that I'm impressed to say: Spielberg refused to play that game. Instead he took the story as it was and put in on film. "But what about all the changes?" you may wonder. Simple: those changes were for the purpose of making the story as enjoyable as possible on screen, not to improve a story cynically seen as lacking.

I loved this scene, mixing live action with animated avatars.

Forgetting the book, this film is a sight unlike any other. The motion-capture does excellent job capturing personality as well as performances, so characters are consistent even as animated avatars. Everything has that Spielberg sheen, and the detail of the OASIS is thrilling and visually stimulating without being too overwhelming. And pop culture. Pop culture everywhere. I loved it, but that's the sort of thing that's about personal preference, not so much a if-it's-done-right-everyone-will-love-it type thing. I do think it transcends the references it makes -- much like Stranger Things did -- but admittedly I love 80's pop culture already. I especially enjoyed the music, since that was something the book was incapable of doing.

This is a movie about Easter eggs, so it's no surprise that its main feature be Easter eggs. Still it doesn't settle for fun references only, putting commendable effort into garnering maximum enjoyment out of its entire runtime. Even if you don't get the references it should be a thoroughly entertaining flick -- through a fast-paced plot, fun characters, a straightforward and sincere theme, a general lighthearted tone, and that patent Spielbergian element that adds just a dash of cheesy magic.

I promise -- this movie does have a point to it, and a heart.

This is certainly not a movie without flaws, but the more I watch films by Spielberg, the more I realize that his filmmaking greatness isn't in making unflawed films, but in making films that will stand the test of time by their joy and the unique experiences they give us, long after a film's given technical expiration date. And the more I watch movies in 2018, the more I realize that it's this kind of simple, honest joy that I want to see on the screen -- that reaffirms my love for the singular magic of escaping into the movies.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - April

Happy Spring, happy April, happy April Fool's Day, and most importantly, happy Easter and Resurrection Sunday!

In March I saw my one must-see, that also happened to be my most-anticipated film of 2018 -- Ready Player One! It didn't hit the highest heights that my imagination hoped it had the potential for, but it was every bit as fun as the book, boasting the same greatness and the same flaws alike. And the cast is perfection. I'll write a review soon, but for now I'm listening to a playlist of the music and relishing the experience.

Still have interest in Thoroughbreds and Isle of Dogs. I need to get better at actually going out and seeing these non-blockbuster releases in theaters. Lean on Pete also hasn't hit a theater near me yet, but looks like it's expanding this month. I'm on Easter break this week, so maybe I should do a serious movie splurge.

What did you see in March? And what looks good in April?


A Quiet Place
Apr 6th; PG-13
My second-most anticipated movie of the year after Ready Player One. After I see this I'll have to come up with some new most-anticipated for the rest of the year's eight months. John Krasinski directs, and stars with his real-life wife Emily Blunt, and I'm sold on that alone. Plot-wise I don't want to know much, but horror/thriller vibes are blatantly obvious, which I'm definitely cool with. Something about this movie reminds me of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and I'm not even worried that influence will make my expectations too high because the movie has been getting rave reviews so far.




You Were Never Really Here
Apr 6th; R
Joaquin Phoenix looks intense. This movie looks intense. It's probably good but it's also probably not exactly my kind of movie.




The Endless
Apr 6th; NR
The color grading make it look like it's on the cheaper side of low-budget indie movies, but the scifi/Lovecraft thing it has going is undeniably appealing. The scifi side of it doesn't look cheap either. I'll be very interested to watch if I ever see it floating around on a streaming site somewhere.




Rampage
Apr 13th; PG-13
Ugh, this looks so dumb. Not that it appears to be trying to be anything else, but it's just not appealing to me. I'd rather watch Skull Island again, or Jumanji. If this movie winds up being dumb but genuinely good and fun like those movies, I will be very surprised. But still, I'll probably watch it at some point, if only to roll my eyes at it.




Borg vs McEnroe
Apr 13th; R
Not that it sounds boring to watch Shia LaBeouf get beat in an epic game of tennis by a Swedish fellow, but to be perfectly honest, the main appeal of this movie for me is that the Swedish side of things is done in Swedish -- so it's half a foreign language film. I don't think I've ever seen Stellan Skarsgård act in his native language. (This trailer isn't green-band approved -- language warning.)




Marrowbone
Apr 13th; NR
It's a creepy horror movie set in what looks like the 50's, and it has Charlie Heaton in it, so I guess I have to watch it. The nice thing is, it's releasing on Amazon -- so probably not the greatest quality film, but that okay by me. Maybe it won't be too scary.




Avengers: Infinity War
Apr 27th; PG-13
Oh yeah, I forgot about this one! lol.
Here's the thing about this movie: I don't care.
I'm going to go see it, but I'm not particularly excited about watching all my favorite superheroes come together and not get enough screentime in a 2-hour, 40-min movie, just so that some drama can be milked and one or two people can get killed off in what I assume will be the most forced, senseless, and irritating ways possible. So sue me. When the ads boast about how Marvel has been building to this for 10 years it irks me, because of how dismissive it is of previous Marvel films -- films that were sometimes this close to being great apart from their shared universe but perhaps weren't simply because they only needed to serve to sell the next film. Even this film is just going to point to next year's Avengers 4. That kind of mindset makes me want to quit with Marvel altogether, but I guess I'm in too deep now. Spider-Man and Bucky are my excuse.




The House of Tomorrow
Apr 27th; NR
Aw, this looks cute. Like a retry of The Space Between Us for Asa Butterfield, but not ridiculous and painfully awkward. I guess he likes playing naive outsiders getting introduced to the world. This one also has Nick Offerman, Ellen Burstyn and the Second Edition Wolff -- Alex Wolff. Are he and Nat twins, because I seriously cannot tell them apart? *research* No. They act so similarly too though -- it's like Nat went back in time and switched the mole on his chin to his lip so he could make more teenage movies. Anyways, this movie. Looks neat. Will check out.