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Alien: Covenant

Culture, film, Reviews

May 19, 2017

The Alien series shifts genre in a strange parallel to the xenomorph upon which it was based and as commentary on the era in which it was made. The first movie was about horror and suspense as took us from the seventies to the eighties, where the suspense we felt moving from one decade to the next gave way to the horrors of corruption and disease that we’re still feeling to this day. The second movie was all about action and consequence and how the greed of a few might kill the rest of us, about how our society will blindly follow the people that are profiting off our work into war and not heed the warnings of those with the most experience. Sounds like Iran-Contra, the AIDS epidemic, the Iraqi War… all those messes that we barely survived.

Alien3 was a thing that happened; we had settled in nihilism by that point, and David Fincher captured the entropy that had taken root in the human soul, the disappointment of his movie caused by forces far beyond his control but still being forged into something better than it had any business being. The fourth movie was a music video written by Joss Whedon, a high action disaster that started strong and ended weak… and that was okay. We weren’t expecting anything more than a close to the series and that was it.

It should be noted that Neill Blomkamp’s Alien movie is apparently dead, but it was supposed to be the Alien3 movie we had been promised thirty years ago. Instead of that, we got Prometheus, a wildly ambitious high-concept sci-fi adventure movie that would have been stronger without a connection to this franchise. Honestly, most of the problems people have with that movie is that it ties into the others, acting as a direct prequel to the very first movie. This movie acts as a direct sequel to that movie, which makes it the second chronological movie in the six-movie-long series, with a third part to begin shooting in fourteen months, which will make this a seven-movie long franchise if you don’t count the two AvP movies.

Confused yet? Don’t be. One of our staffers didn’t see Prometheus and went with me when I saw this, and he seemed to have a good time. I had a good time, and you will, too. Just try to relax your brain a little because this is, like Prometheus, not what you’re expecting from an Alien movie.

“We’re all still going to die. Morituri nolumus mori.”

Whatever that may be. C’mon, guys, given how loose the continuity is and how much these movies change from one installment to the next, you just kinda sit back and accept the movie for what it is. Have some popcorn.

Covenant very much aims to equal the ambition of Prometheus while also taking into account fan backlash – there’s a lot of concessions made that directly address problems that fans had with Prometheus, and some of those are for the better. To illustrate those points, though, we need to talk spoilers. You have been warned. The whole movie is summarized below, so highlight at your own discretion or skip past it to where we talk about the movie without spoiling it:

We cold open in a white room where Peter Weyland is waking up David, an android played by Michael Fassbender and one of the big reasons so many things went wrong in the story of Prometheus – that movie is basically about David being creepy and touching things and here we get to know the beginnings of his dissatisfaction with humanity, as his creator is kind of a tool. Thankfully, they both got ripped apart in Prometheus, so we cut to

A crew of colonists in deep stasis, heading towards a planet that has been researched for them. They are being cared for by a robot named Walter who doesn’t do creepy things but is still played by Michael Fassbender. They’re doing a recharge of the electrical systems when there’s a solar flare that causes that system to be damaged and wakes up some of the crew while also burning one of them to death in his pod as his girlfriend looks on.

The person that died was supposed to be the captain, which puts Oram in charge. He’s not good with people and thinks people don’t like him because he’s religious, which he brings up a few times and doesn’t play into his character arc at all but does play into the themes of the movie, so we’ll let that one go. The crew is full of couples (including a gay couple, which is a nice touch), and dead captain’s surviving partner is Katherine Waterston’s Daniels. She leads a funeral that Oram isn’t onboard with, but he lets it go without comment because he’s not an asshole.

As they’re fixing things they pick up a distant distress signal from… somewhere. They use long-range scanners and find a planet that is much closer than the one they’re supposed to go to that is suitable for human habitation – they could get to this one in a week, and the one they’re supposed to go to is decades away and requires more sleeping in cryo-pods like the one the captain burned to death in, so off they go explore the new world. Daniels objects, but not loudly given that her lover was just turned into BBQ.

Oram and Daniels lead an away team down to the planet and find it full of plants and, strangely, wheat, but no animals. They test for toxins in the atmosphere and find none, so they head out and discover the crashed ship that Shaw and David stole in Prometheus, along with Shaw’s dog tags. There’s no sign of Shaw or David, though. Everything is okay until two people are infected by microscopic spores and hatch white not-xenomorphs that blow up the ship they came down on and nearly kill them all until they are rescued by David.

David leads them to a necropolis that is clearly an alien city (actually one built by and for the Engineers) and David tells them a story about how the Engineers and Shaw both died and it was sad and he is sad. David and Walter have some conversations that are the core and most interesting part of the film that infers questions about the act of creation and what is owed between creator and creation. It’s some interesting stuff that hints at the horrors to come.

David watches as a human gets killed by one of the white not-xenomorphs and tries to communicate with it, but then Oram blows it up and tells David that he is the devil. So David offers to show him something and Oram, instead of shooting him, follows him down into a pit where there are xenomorph eggs and David reveals that he created them. Oram gets face-huggered and out bursts a mini-xenomorph. Oram is dead, a xenomorph is on the loose, and Danny McBride is in charge of the mothership and brings it down for a rescue.

We get Daniels fighting the Xenomorph on a flying ship while David and Walter have a conversation and one of them dies and the winner goes on the ship. Daniels beats the xenomorph but there is another and that one ends up on the ship and kills the whole crew except for Daniels and Danny, who jettison it from an airlock in a tense battle because that is how the first, second, and fourth movies ended and it worked for them.

Daniels and Danny go into their pods and go to sleep, the android on board is revealed to be David, and that’s where the movie ends.

So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the movie.

First off, this movie is gorgeous. Ridley Scott has some flaws as a director but set design and cinematography have never been among them, and this movie lives up to the high expectations he sets for himself. The ship looks good and practical, the necropolis is fascinating, the ruined Engineer ship is as haunting as you might remember if you saw Prometheus. The score is gorgeous and perfectly sets the mood and compliments the visuals and the direction is spot on.

The writing is also stronger here than it was in Prometheus. Aside from a couple of character moments that are never followed up on – like the replacement captain being a man of faith and that being why he wasn’t fit to be the actual captain – we get the sense that these are people that know and trust one another and that they are professionals. Their deaths are the result of circumstance and panic rather than idiocy, and they feel like experts who have hit a situation they’re not prepared for. It makes the movie more enjoyable when we want the characters to live, and we do here; even Danny McBride brings surprising nuance to his performance, and it makes the movie stronger.

Fassbender is transcendent, playing two understated characters with very different experiences and goals. There are subtleties to each of them that set them apart from one another, small tics in body language that speak about the intelligences that they are. His David is heartbreaking and terrifying, his Walter aloof but sympathetic. The dichotomy of these two characters are what makes this film as good as it is, and their conversations are what allows us to see two very different ways of accepting the role of created and the drive to create.

Likewise, Katherine Waterson is also incredible. Fassbender’s characterization wouldn’t work without her, and if he is the backbone of the movie than she is the movie’s heart. This is entire tale is very much hers to tell, and her sense of loss is palpable throughout, her acceptance of Walter as a surrogate for her lost love heartbreaking in its conclusion. She is smart, agile, and courageous in the way we demand that protagonists in this franchise be. She is a worthy successor to Shaw, but perhaps not to Ripley and it’s painful to type that – this movie, like Prometheus before it, would be a much stronger film without being attached to the Alien franchise.

She is great.

The central question of the film is a good one and justifies the religious subtext and populates the undertones of the movie: where Prometheus was about stealing answers, Covenant is about building relationships with what is created. This trilogy is about David but is told through the eyes of heroines who do not live through their meeting with him; they are the main characters of the chapters they are in with David as the clear antagonist of their story, while he remains the protagonist of the trilogy as a whole. It’s an interesting means of framing a tale about an immortal creation plaguing his creators, all while creating something as monstrous as he perceives his creators to be.

Make no mistake: David’s reliance on human poetry and art to express himself is as defining as his sociopathic outlook on the human race as a whole, and it makes him both pitiable and more monstrous. He is alien in his mindset and outlook simply because he was alienated, and it remains to be seen what final revelation awaits him.

Which is not to say that the movie is perfect: it isn’t.

Like Prometheus before it, Covenant is a highly ambitious but flawed masterpiece.

The promise of the last film was that Shaw was going to find and confront the Engineers that we might learn more about them. David has killed them all sometime between the end of Prometheus and the beginning of this movie, so we learn nothing more about them. The humans that discover this have no time to seek answers to any questions they might have because they are trying to survive the white not-xenomorphs, the actual xenomorphs, and David (two out of three ain’t bad~!). It’s frustrating but understandable – the Engineers were a framing device in the first movie but are of no importance here – but that lack of resolution is irritating.

And, again, David’s creation of the xenomorphs adds nothing to the franchise as a whole and detracts from the mystery of the creatures somewhat. The xenomorphs aren’t scary anymore – we know all about them, what they do and what they’re about, and it’s hard to be afraid of them when we know so much about them. Because of this, the xenomorphs are denigrated from terrifying presence to a simple obstacle to be overcome.

Worse, we know them but the characters don’t, and that drives a wedge between us and the people we should be rooting for. If the characters were informed – if they had a chance to even glance at David’s notes – they might have been able to put up an informed fight and that would make the monsters scary again by showing their intelligence and versatility. The monster that shows an ability to learn is much more terrifying than the one that doesn’t, but they are not the antagonist here: David is. David does learn, David does show his intelligence, and David is terrifying.

Terrifying.

The xenomorphs are nothing more than a tool being used by the true villain in a movie that they are named for.

Aliens: Covenant is not a scary film. It has a couple of jump scares and it flirts with horror, but much less so than even Prometheus did. It will not give you nightmares and I don’t think it was designed to. This is a movie that is about the journey and the questions more than the destination or the answers, a complex exploration of a god’s responsibility disguised as a science fiction film.

It’s likely to be as divisive among Aliens fans as Prometheus was. It adheres to some tropes from the franchise it’s nominally a part of to its detriment, clearly a response to the backlash the first suffered, but that reining in of that ambition gains the film nothing and hobbles the scope of the potential trilogy as a whole. If this had been a new property I get that sense that people – including fans of the franchise – would love it, but as an Aliens movie, it confuses itself as it stumbles along.

All that said? It’s a fun movie and a good way to spend a couple of hours, and the conversations it inspires will be worth the price of admission. Fassbender and Waterson turn in incredible performances and the artbook is going to be a must-have for people that go in for that sort of thing (I am very much one of those people). Definitely worth seeing.

All photo credits are Mark Rogers.

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222

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Friendship is Magic

film, Reviews

May 9, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy has been a franchise that is steeped in love, nostalgia and a message that is so very important for us to remember. Family isn’t who you are related to, it is who you love and who loves you back, and that love comes in many different forms. Tim Gunn loves his Guardians. He carefully crafted a story of friendship, love and sacrifice with humour and passion.

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

From this point onward… SPOILERS! Again.. Spoilers.

I have to applaud the digital effects department for making Kurt Russel look like he did in the 70’s and the establishing scene of Ego (Kurt Russell) and Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) driving down the road listening to Brandy – You’re A Fine Girl  by Looking Glass showed the love and delight that Ego and Meredith had in each other and how Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) started out in this world as an expression of those feelings. 

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Kurt Russel as Ego

But then we cut to 34 years later and Peter and his family of choice Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a now Kid Groot (Vin Diesel) are getting ready to do the job they were hired by The Sovereign, a race of genetically engineered perfect beings who do not want to endanger their own perfect kind, to do, defending  super spiffy space batteries from a monster who wants to eat them. Rocket is setting up a makeshift PA system for them to listen to music while they work. We get from this setup Kid Groot busting a move to Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra while his teammates take on the monster. It is a thoroughly entertaining scene and has some moments of absolute charm. My favourite was while Gamora was flung back by the monster and landed next to Kid Groot he waved Hi to her and she waved back. He also had a great moment when Drax was collapsed next to him for a moment where he stopped dancing as a call back to the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Priestess Ayesha

Elizabeth Debicki was regal and arrogant in her performance as the Sovereign’s High Priestess Ayesha. Who pursuit of our heroes after Rocket stole the batteries that The Guardian’s were protecting made up most of the circumstances for our heroes to meet the main antagonist Ego, who is Peter’s father but also a living planet that has set out to destroy all of the universes only to remake it in his image. The scenes between Ego and Peter are filled with romanticised father-son bonding tropes and a sense of dread. Since all good things must come to an end, the main tipping point where Ego reveals that even though he was deeply in love with Meredith that he had to give her cancer so he wouldn’t feel the urge to see her again and Peter’s immediate rage and desire for revenge was the stuff of Shakespearean lore. 

The rest of the story unfolds with the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker) tracking our heroes throughout the galaxy to find the batteries and in the end revealing his true intentions on never delivering Peter to his father. We also witness the heartache that Yondu suffered growing up as a Cree war slave and in his relating to Rocket as being a “thing no one loves” the character becomes an endearing father figure. 

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Ego as a Planet

Other stories in this epic masterpiece include the sibling rivalry between Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora coming to a climax and the sisters making piece with the cruelty they were raised in and the healing friendship/romance budding between Ego’s pet humanoid Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who he has trained to help him sleep and Drax who is starting to wonder what it would be like to go on to the next step of grief, acceptance. All of which is culminated in the redemption of Yondu and acceptance back into the good graces of his fellow Ravagers who disowned him for breaking the code of not dealing in human life. In the end the whole Ravager fleet along with the main captains of the ships who comprised the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 31st Century. (Stakar Ogord – Sylvester Stallone, Charlie 27 – Ving Rhames, Aleta Ogord – Michelle Yeoh, Martinex – Michael Rosenbaum, Krugarr and Mainframe – Miley Cyrus)

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Drax and Mantis with Nebula in the background

Other great things about this movie:

You will want to stay to the very end, because they delivered with a great end credit scene filled with easter eggs galore

Howard The Duck makes another appearance

Stan Lee’s cameo is top notch, he is explaining how cameos work to The Watchers

Sullen Teenage Groot makes an appearance

More of Cosmo The Space Dog

David Hasselhoff does the end credits music and appears in a key moment of the movie

Also, Adam Warlock sighting kiddos!

 

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4544

Amy Jo Johnson Wants to Watch a Movie With You

Culture, film, Showcase, Videos

March 15, 2017

You remember Amy Jo Johnson, yes? With all the attention being paid to the new Power Rangers movie, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at what one of the originals is doing – and, in short, she is continuing her quest to be awesome.

Amy’s gone on to act in other projects (Felecity and Flashpoint), flirted with music (The Trans-American Treatment and Imperfect),  and done a number of short films (Bent, Lines, and others). She was kind enough to take a moment from her incredibly busy schedule to speak with us before, and you can read that interview by clicking here. She’s not the sort to rest on her laurels, though, and has just completed writing, directing, and producing her first-ever feature film, The Space Between Us.

Here’s the trailer:

That looks both cute and poignant, which is interesting given the potential seriousness of the subject material.

According to press materials, “The Space Between is a heartfelt comedy about Mitch, a 35-year-old new father, whose world is turned upside down when he finds out his adored baby isn’t his. Leaving his wife, he sets out on a mission to find the man who ruined his life. As his wife Jackie is desperate to win him back, she enlists the help of her best friend and family as they embark on a journey to find Mitch.” It’s was the 2014 IndieWire Project of the Year, part of the 2015 Tribeca All Access Program, the 2015 Telefilm Micro Budget program, and developed in the producers’ lab at the Canadian Film Center. It premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival before moving on to the Whistler Film Festival, the Savannah Film Festival, and is about to be shown at Gina Davis’ Bettonville Film Festival.

It stars Michael Ironside (Top Gun), Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black), Jayne Eastwood (Chicago), Julia Sarah Stone (Wet Bum), and Amy herself.

All of that is kind of great, but it is not the coolest part of this whole endeavour: rather, Amy Jo Johnson has started The Space Between Super Host Theatrical Tour, wherein eight lucky winners of a contest will be chosen to host a special one-night screening of the film with Amy Jo Johnson herself in their hometown. The contest opens March 15th and goes through to April 1st, 2017, with the eight winners being announced at the end of April and the film going on tour in the summer of this year.

The Space Between team will handle all of the logistics of booking the theater and the eight winners will get to take home 5% of the Producer’s Box Office earnings for their screening, and get to spend the evening with Amy Jo Johnson as the host of the event.

Giveaways are also part of the contest, with Amy awarding prizes that include t-shirts, Skype dates, and a one-time grand prize private dinner with Amy Jo Johnson and her producer, Jessica Adams. You can, should, and must click here to learn more and fill out an application, or click here if you want to learn more.  In short, applicants will submit a pitch video describing why they want to host the film and Amy in their hometown and how they plan to bring their friends, family, and community out for the screening that night.

The Space Between team can be found on Twitter and FaceBook simply be clicking the place you’d like to communicate with them. Amy Jo Johnson is also on Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, and has her very own website, and you can find any of those spots by clicking on them. All of them are pretty great.

Good luck, peoples. The clock it is ticking.

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766

The D-Cast Episode 54 – The Force Awakens

Culture, film, Opinion, Reviews, Why Aren't You Watching This?

December 21, 2015

Andy and Dale return to the D-Cast to talk a little movie that really came out of nowhere to dominate everything forever. You may have heard of it… Star Wars, the Force Awakens? You can and should check out the movie in theaters now, and then check out the spoiler-laden latest episode of their podcast right here, right now. The video version is sure to follow.

podcastcover1

The D-Cast can be found by clicking their name, and you can chat with them on twitter, too.

And you can check them out on itunes. Awesome.

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807

Terminator Genisys Review

film, Reviews

July 3, 2015

There’s something to be said for expectations. You can go into a good movie with too high of expectations and find yourself not enjoying a movie that was otherwise perfectly enjoyable. You can also go in with real low expectations and find that you enjoyed something WAY more than other viewers because you weren’t expecting much.

I know as a journalist/writer/critic we’re not supposed to have any kind of baggage follow us into the theater, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t have bets placed on how a movie is going to do based on its trailer. As a writer, it’s hard to admit that I fall into the old pit fall of “judging a book by its cover” or in this example, a movie by its trailer.

For what it’s worth, I always try and use those two pieces to my advantage though. So in a situation where I’m going into a mindless action film, like Terminator: Genisys’ trailer had set me up for, the bar is pretty damn low.

I mention all this because Genisys, in spite of having a super low bar to get over, fails miserably on virtually every front. I wasn’t expecting an Oscar contender, or even the spiritual successor to T2 that we’ve all been waiting for… just a campy action flick where Arnie punches Arnie.

To its credit, the movie does provide that, along with a healthy amount of comedy. I’m just not sure that the laughs that the film gets were at all intentional.

Some definitely are. Arnold seems to be enjoying his time in the movie and there’s a few hammed moments that were obviously intended as funny. But I highly doubt it was the ridiculous pseudo-science and the gaping plot holes that the writing staff was attempting as some kind of meta-humor.

Coming into the review, I knew what the crux of my “argument against Terminator” would be wasted potential; this movie has a lot of great ideas, some of which have been ruined already by the film’s trailers (which was potential wasted, exhibit A).

What I couldn’t have known, going in, was that wasted potential was going to be a constant theme throughout the film. Considering the trailer has already spoiled the twist, I feel no qualms about announcing it was a massive mistake to let us all know that John Conner is working for the machines in Genisys. That COULD have been a really cool plot twist, something that brings it back to the things I loved about the original franchise; a Terminator suddenly fights for good, the realization you can’t stop Judgement Day, etc. etc.

Several times throughout the movie the writing staff plays with the concepts of time travel and multiple universes, teeing up plot devices that could have been amazing… but instead go nowhere. Set-up, abandonment. Set-up, abandonment. Over and over and over until you get to the end of the film and it ties it all up with an unnecessary bow about time travel that was never needed, not to mention a post-credits scene that feels so forced you can almost feel the gun pressed to the director’s left temple.

There are many, many other examples of the movie setting up potentially interesting plot points for the film, then heading in the other direction, like a child who has lost interest in a toy that’s now an hour too old for their ADD sensibilities. Sarah, in this iteration of the Terminator time-line, has been raised since she was 9 years old to be the machine-destroying beast she evolves to later in the franchise. This could have been a great setup for a storyline where Sarah doesn’t have to deal with the weakness the first film established and then cured her of… instead, it works backwards as the bloated storyline of Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner “needing” to fall in love is pushed to the forefront, effectively making the character de-evolve into the old-Hollywood vision of the female lead: damsel in distress.

For my money, the worst offenses were the rewrites to the Terminator lore that are made seemingly without explanation. Without giving away “pivotal plot information” there are a number of scenes throughout the film that operate in complete contradiction to the rules of time travel and the Terminators set forth by the franchise previous installations. It even goes so far to contradict the multi-verse theory established its own movie as well!

Again, I don’t worry that anyone is going to head into Genisys looking for Terminator 2 again. The trailer, for better or worse, sets the expectations low. It’s unfortunate that the film in its entirety is an extension of that metaphor, ruined promise and potential, but at least it is accurate.

There are plenty of opportunities out there to watch mindless action movies, or action thrillers, or action comedies that will be worth your price of admission. Terminator doesn’t feel like it knows what it wants to be though, and therefore strikes out (multiple times) on a journey to find itself… and never quite gets there.

The only positive that I can offer it is that if you are a fan of 3D spectacle Genisys does well to showcase the technology of film today. Even the 3D modeled Arnie from 1984 isn’t terrible (though it more than dips its toe in the uncanny valley).

If you are dead set on seeing Genisys in the theaters this weekend, a word of caution or at least context: Head in expecting to either not care at all for things like continuity, science, or even just story structure. The best that you’re going to get out of this one is 2 hours of 3D explosions leaping from the screen in your general direction in a moment that made me think back to “The Box” of Batman Forever infamy.

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987

Go See Mad Max: Fury Road

film

May 17, 2015

First of all, I should come clear. I’m not a Mad Max aficionado. I haven’t actually seen the originals (*gasp! horror!*). Well, I’ve seen bits and pieces of them over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever sat and watched them through from start to finish. Or if I did, it was so long ago that I have no recollection of it. So basically, I went in to this movie knowing the basic pop culture aspects of Mad Max, but with no attachment to the character, and no list of things that “must” be in a Mad Max movie.

So,where do I begin? How about…

OMGTHATWASSOAWESOME, GOSEE ITNOW and MOSTEPICMOVIEEVAR!!!!1!!!!1! over and over again.

I don’t think that would be a particularly helpful approach, but I do have to start thinking about how many different words I can come up with for “fabulous”.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the straight up gold standard for action movies. Most “action” movies usually involve a whole lotta plot and exposition, interspersed with bits of action sequences here and there. Mad Max however, is pretty much one giant action sequence – two hours of high speed, explosive car chases. I bet the dialogue itself could probably fit on a dozen pages – aside from one scene, I think the most Tom Hardy had to remember was “my name is Max”.  And yet, for a movie that is in-your-face-action and almost nothing else, it doesn’t get tiring. The two hours actually passes fairly quickly. It is all handled so beautifully, and the way George Miller cuts things together, you can actually *watch* the action scenes. I find that with so many movies these days, the cuts are so fast that you never truly get the scope of that is going on. Although, admittedly, after two hours of watching vehicles speed through the desert and crash into one another, I had to catch my lead foot a few times on the drive home.

The one thing that is making the news these days (mainly because of the response from the MRA douchebags) is that Mad Max is a feminist movie. And if it hadn’t been brought to my attention, I would not have walked out of that movie thinking “man, that was a brilliant piece of feminist filmmaking”. Maybe I like to live in my world where a woman is able to kick ass and take names without it being a big deal. Maybe I just refuse to think that our society has sunk so low that a movie where women are allowed to be something other than eye candy is something to be remarked upon.  But now that I think about it, almost any of the characters in the movie could have been gender swapped, and it the story would have played out in the same way. And I think that is awesome.

I sincerely hope that this movie does well enough at the box office to justify a sequel, but on something like a $150 million budget, it has a ways to go. So this is my way of saying GET OUT THERE AND SEE IT NOW! And be prepared to have your mind blown for two hours straight.

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1088

Movie Review – Avengers 2 Age of Ultron

film, Reviews, Why Aren't You Watching This?

May 1, 2015

The original Avengers was an amazing movie.

It took characters established in three other successful franchises and one other franchise that wasn’t so great and expounded upon their stories while moving everyone forward. There’d never been anything like it, despite the rather simplistic “there’s a bad guy, go fight him” plot. The previous movies leading up to it gave the Avengers weight, a sense of gravitas. It was a climax that had been earned through meticulous and careful storytelling.

The sequel takes everything that made the original good and expands upon it.

Our main six heroes – Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye – are all given their moments to shine and show a casual familiarity with one another. They feel like old friends and comrades, and seeing them work together in the opening few moments is a thrill beaten only by watching those relationships expand throughout the film. They are torn apart from within, their fears laid bear, the monsters they could be thrown in their faces until it nearly destroys all of them. In the end, they discover they have only one another to rely upon.

And they accept this. They have to. There’s a surprising degree of gray morality in this movie. The villain comes about from the best of intentions, and the side villains become who they are to defend their country and avenge their parents. There’s a lot going on in this movie, with details that appear to be thrown in as simple amusements instead have massive character-defining payoffs in the third act.

That’s nine major characters, each with a complete story arc that offers each a satisfying conclusion based on who we know them to be.

If that were all that was being offered, this movie would be well and good and that would be enough. It isn’t all we’re given, though – we get a full world that is dealing with the presence of the Avengers, a world that is still reeling from the crimes of Hyrda and Obadiah Staine, a world still haunted by Loki’s scepter.

We get a world that isn’t sure what’s going on or who to trust, a world without SHIELD, but even that fabled group manages to redeem itself by the end of the story.

The first Avengers moved the story of the Marvel cinematic universe forward, and this does the same thing – it just manages to be a much more complex and satisfying story while doing it, and hints at the legacy to come. You were probably planning on seeing it anyway, but, really – go see this movie.

In short...

The Good – the acting, direction, performances, sound design, and pacing. The way everyone moves and evolves in a movie that is, principally, about evolution. The way this ends, victory tinged with sadness, and hope for the future.

The Bad – No scene after the end credits. No Black Widow movie. Waiting a year for Civil War. What the hell, Marvel?

The Verdict – see this movie and take note. This is what superhero movies can be, the bar set to something that Dawn of Justice is not going to be able to match without a lot of work.

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1492

Movie Review – See No Evil 2

film, Reviews

April 27, 2015

One day you will die.

There’s a saying that runs that only two things are unavoidable – death and taxes. Taxes are something that we’ve made up as a society, and they’ll fade with us. Death, on the other hand? Wherever there’s life, there’s death. No matter what we do, no matter what we accomplish, one day all of us will simply stop.

No living thing can escape from this. No living thing can get away from this. One day, it all ends and we face whatever comes next – if anything. It’s one of the biggest fears that we all share as living people. Entire philosophies, religions, and cultures have been forced to address this simple thing, this weird process by which we will all some day stop.

It scares most of us, this ending. We use it to threaten one another, both in jest and in earnest. We use the threat of death to teach our young, and have from our earliest days. Stories of the boogeyman, of things that go bump in the night, of the nameless specter that we dress up in a thousand different ways to mask the true terror that waits for us all, that sudden stop.

Pictured: Avoiding the rush.

Pictured: Avoiding the rush.

Slasher movies were based around this concept. Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees were literal manifestations of death – forces that could not be stopped or reasoned with, violence that could not be withstood but did follow certain rules. They attacked the young for being young, punishing youth for rejecting the morality of an older generation, which is why the few survivors left in their wake were always “pure.”

But the promise of purity as safety? That’s a lie. Any old fashioned definition of purity is not going to protect you from death; that promise is the last dying infliction of an older generation who can see death and wants their children to do what they think is best.

We all die, but that doesn’t mean that all of us have lived.

Over the past month we’ve looked at two feature films directed by the Soska Sisters, Dead Hooker in a Trunk and American Mary. We’ve done this because they’re some pretty amazing films with some pretty intense themes, an unblinking glare that meets the gaze of terror without flinching. The Soska Sisters have eschewed tradition, have carved a world for themselves and defined their own sort of purity, and the world is a better place for it.

And that brings us to the third of the Soska Sisters’ feature films, See No Evil 2. Produced by WWE Films, the first See No Evil was a rather tepid affair that was notable only for the casting of Kane, who turned in a good performance in a paint-by-numbers gore-fest. It was fun, certainly, but it was still sound and fury that meant, well, nothing.

Not so much with See No Evil 2.

This movie picks up where the last one ended, with the body of the monstrous Jacob Goodnight being carried to a morgue for autopsy. One of the morticians on staff is celebrating her birthday but is asked to stay and help deal with the flux of bodies being carted in following what should be Jacob’s final massacre.

Jacob, of course, is not really dead. He is an avatar of death, a force that cannot be stopped or reasoned with. He is violence that cannot be withstood, but unlike other similar monsters, he follows no rules. He is unrelenting, respecting nothing as he stalks his prey and murders everyone. He is unblinking, unmerciful, and honest – no one is going to escape him, and any thought to the contrary is a lie.

Favorite Mortal Kombat Character: Scorpion.

Favorite Mortal Kombat Character: Scorpion.

Every performance is marked by that same stark honesty. Death is coming, and when the people involved in this story realize it they rage and fight and scream. They do everything they can to survive, and you never question their will to survive or their intelligence in what they attempt. No one here gives into idiocy for the sake of expediency. There’s not a moment where you think that one character wouldn’t do a thing because that goes against their character.

And that’s a gift we can thank the cast, directors, and writers for equally. The writers clearly cared about this story, and approached it from a position of integrity. These characters feel like people, flawed but certain, young but sure of themselves. The actors give each of these characters life, committing to blind faith and hope in one another, even in the face of the inevitable.

It makes their deaths all the more tragic.

The Soskas, of course, add their usual flair to a very tight script. They paint scenes with vibrant shadows and a creeping sense of dread that pays off when the blood starts splattering and no one escapes. There’s never any pretension of anyone getting out, or anyone being protected by some veneer or mortality; death comes for everyone, no matter who they are, no matter what they may or may not have done.

It’s right there in the title. No one can see evil when there’s no one left to see it. Jacob Goodnight leaves nothing in his wake save for the horror of aftermath, for the people that come in after he’s left. No one he comes in contact with can possibly survive him.

And that’s the power of the slasher movie. That’s why we watch them year after year, decade after decade. That’s why we love them; when they’re done right there’s a sense of honesty to them, an absolute truth that whispers underneath the gore and monstrousness. Yes, the victims rage and fight, but in the end everyone finds the same release, the same escape, the same moment that makes us all equal: that sudden stop that marks the end.

In short...

The Good: The tight script, great performances, killer direction, and brilliant lighting. The complete lack of pretension when it comes to who gets out and who doesn’t. The brutality of it all, if you’re in to that sort of thing. This movie is more nightmarish than beautiful, but it is unrelentingly nightmarish and thoroughly enjoys being so.

The Bad: We mentioned in our American Mary review that the Soskas have no time for bullshit morality. The same holds true here; there’s some people that aren’t going to like that, but screw those people.

The Verdict: One of the best slasher movies of the past decade. If you like the genre, you owe it to yourself to see this.

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2024

Movie Review: American Mary

film, Reviews

April 13, 2015

There’s a guy I know that gets very upset when he looks at the modern world.

It’s hard to blame him. There’s people that think that Gamergate is seriously about ethics, as opposed to being about some jilted idiot getting revenge on a girl who dumped him, and a bunch of idiots jumping on his band wagon. Except…

“It’s totally about ethics,” he says. “It’s about ethics in gaming journalism.”

(more…)

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1823

Movie Review – Dead Hooker in a Trunk

film, Reviews

April 1, 2015

Dead Hooker in a Trunk.

That’s a hell of an evocative title, especially considering the actual state of the hooker in question, but the events that whirl up around her make this trip worth it. Let us be straight, right from the start: this is very much a b-movie, a passion product shot on no budget but made workable from an inversion of tropes, a completely insane narrative, strong performances, and a short sojourn into madness that viewers may not recover from.

(more…)

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