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428

Wonder Woman Critical Analysis Part 1 of 2

Culture, film, Opinion, Reviews

June 9, 2017

 

So… Wonder Woman happened. The first movie of the Geoff Johns era of DC filmmaking and you can tell, but let’s back up a bit because nothing happens in a vacuum and we need to talk about where this film came from.

A little more than a decade ago, Time Warner approached DC Comics and said they wanted to do a new superhero movie. I like to imagine – and this is important guys, this is my imagination and probably has nothing to do with reality, so do not sue us because this is a fictitious retelling – that the conversation went like this:

Cool, guys,” DC Comics said, then sane and not yet driven bad by nineties nostalgia. “Who do you have in mind?”

Green Lantern,” Time Warner grinned.

Cool, cool,” DC Comics said, excited by the possibilities. “Storied character, a lot of lore to draw on… are you thinking classic Hal Jordan, new Kyle Rayner, or drawing from our award-winning animated series and doing Jon Stewart? Do you have a leading man in mind?”

Jack Black.”

This is a real thing. A real thing that really almost happened, except DC Comics said…

No.”

Excuse me?” said Time Warner.

No.”

C’mon, Big Fat Guy with a power ring,” Time Warner said, wiping the cocaine from their upper lip. “It’s comedy gold.”

An argument ensued. Hair was pulled and punch was thrown and at the end, clothes were straightened and everyone tried to have a little bit of dignity. Time Warner was convinced that their camp-fest comedy would make a lot of money, but DC Comics wouldn’t sign over the character.

You don’t understand how to make movies,” Time Warner argued. “You make comics, and who reads those anymore?”

Fuck you,” DC Comics replied. “Bet you we can make a superhero movie better than anything you’ve ever seen.”

Really? You think so?” Time Warner asked, an evil glint in their eye. “Fine. Here’s forty million dollars. I know, that’s like your annual budget, but you make your little shit show and when that fails you’re going to sign the contract and we’re going to make our Green Lantern movie, okay?”

DC Comics agreed to terms.

The movie they made was a little thing called Batman Begins and it won awards and made all the money. It launched a trilogy and is generally considered the best superhero movie made up to that point (Christian Bale’s bat-voice aside) because it was a good movie that just happened to have a superhero in it.

Marvel learned all the right lessons from this, and a few years later we got Iron Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Time Warner learned all the wrong lessons from this success and decided that what people wanted was grim and gritty, and by this point management at DC Comics was riding high on the nineties and decided to launch the nu52, so there was no dissenting voice.

The first result of this was Man of Steel, which was okay. This was followed with Batman v Superman, which was not, and Suicide Squad, which was a very stupid movie, and both of those lost a lot of money. All of them had series flaws, and their inability to succeed on a Marvel-like level woke Time Warner from their cocaine-stupor, fearing a lack of cocaine in their immediate future.

Meanwhile, on the comics end of things, DC Comics managed to lose forty percent of their readership over five years of the nu52, and only started gaining it back because of titles like Harley Quinn, Gotham Academy, and a revamped Batgirl. All of those comics had an underlying theme of hope that had been missing from DC Comics as a whole for the entirety of the nu52, and DC Comics officially relaunched with Rebirth and has been pretty great ever since.

A big part of that is a man named Geoff Johns, who is basically the biggest fan of DC Comics and its characters to ever live. The man is also an acclaimed comic book writer, so Time Warner took note and said “You! You seem to know what you’re doing! Make our movies good so we can compete with Marvel (and get more cocaine)!”

Geoff came on board to handle the movies a couple months before Suicide Squad launched, so the first movie he’s had any real input on is this one: Wonder Woman. And this is where things get interesting.

Warner Brothers wanted this movie to fail.

They did little in the way of advertising for it, nothing along the lines of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman or even Suicide Squad. I know many people that were dying to see this movie that had no idea when it was coming out, or if it was out, and even the person I went to see the movie with had no idea it was out before I suggested it.

Really?” she said. “Wonder Woman is out?”

Yep,” said me. “Wanna go see it?”

Hell fuck yes.”

She didn’t really say that. It’s profanity being used to underline a point.

Wonder Woman is a female led action movie being directed by a woman, and the first woman they hired to direct it walked because of studio interference – a thing that also happened with Ben Affleck and Batman and has happened with a number of other DC Movie projects prior to Geoff coming on board. This movie is Geoff’s proof of concept, one that says that, yes, women read comics, women like superheroes, and women can tell good stories and be part of good stories and isn’t this goddamn great?

And it is.

Without studio advice and/or interference, with Geoff hiring someone to tell the story and trusting her to get it right, we ended up with the best of the DC Comics movies and one of the best superhero movies, but there’s some subtlety here that I’m thinking 49% of moviegoers might be missing, so let’s talk about that in part two.

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487

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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622

Review: Civil War, Dawn of Justice, and Apocalypse Trailers

Culture, Fail, Reviews, Videos

December 14, 2015

Ho-hum. Another day, another trailer.

That looks like something. There’s people in in that resemble the X-Men, certainly. When you talk to people that liked the recent x-movies, though, the thing they mention is the complexity of the relationship between Charles and Erik. Does it look like there’s much of that here?

No, there’s some blue thing who is doing… something? Something bad, maybe? There’s a lot of sparkle and jingle-jangle, like keys being dangled before a toddler, but after the initial wow dies down – the second the trailer ends – everything about the trailer is gone. It’s forgettable, interchangeable with any of a dozen other trailers.

Like, say, this one:

You know, I’m going to go out on a limb: Ben Affleck’s take on Batman looks interesting. I think he’s going to pull that character off, and I’d be interested in seeing his movie, preferably before Dawn of Justice, but DC Comics is playing catch-up to Marvel and instead of taking their time to craft a story using their incredible backlog of characters, they’re just going to jam everyone into one movie like throwing shit at a wall and hoping that something sticks.

The problem with this approach is that it relies on spectacle rather than substance, and spectacle is increasingly meaningless on it’s own – effect based movies have become increasingly boring because every movie has special effects, and so the only thing to set one movie apart from the others is the characters within those movies.

It’s funny that character driven movies, which fell out of favor because of spectacle, are now making a comeback due to the super-saturation of spectacle.

And that’s why we’re excited for this movie:

Yes, the Black Panther looks awesome for those of that know who he is, but every beat in that trailer is character based. Cap, Bucky, Falcon, Natasha, Iron Man. We care about everything in this trailer because of who these people are and what they mean to one another. They have a mythos behind them, history, so everything they say and do is given weight.

X-Men Apocalypse could have focused on the strained ties between Charles, Erik, and Raven as they deal with one another and a new threat, but instead we get what looks like a confused mangled mess. Dawn of Justice could have focused on the fallout from Man of Steel resulting in Batman and a panicked response from the world, but instead we get what looks like a rushed outline that will cram too much style with too little substance.

Civil War hits a perfect median by having every bit of spectacle be character based.

It’s a difference born of different philosophies of movie making. Fox and DC Comics are making superhero movies, whereas Marvel is making good movies that just happen to have superheroes in them. It’s a design choice that informs everything all three of those studios do, and it’s made all the more frustrating when it comes to DC Comics because of how good Arrow and Flash are.

Yes, I’m going to go see all of them in theaters, but by the time they come out on blu-ray I’m only going to remember Civil War, and Civil War is going to be the only one I’m likely to buy. I hope I’m wrong. I hope Dawn of Justice and X-Men Apocalypse buck the expectations set by the trailer and give us solid, interesting characters.

I’m just not going to hold my breath.

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665

The AristoChats – Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Culture, Reviews, Videos

August 24, 2015

Chronological conversations about the Disney Animated Classics, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Hosted by Dale Wentland from TheDcast, and Jenna and Aaron from Nerdcouver.

The AristoChats are and can be found at:

Aaron Golden @lastswann / Living Myth Magazine

Dale Wentland @DaleWentland / The D-Cast

Jenna Táralóm @novavandorwolf / Fighting Dreamers Productions

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1951

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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2392

Deadpool The Movie: A Tale of Ressurection

Opinion, Showcase, The Truth

April 1, 2015

If you spent even ten seconds on either Facebook or Twitter today, you were probably inundated by a series of reposts about Ryan Reynolds’ tease of the new Deadpool costume. Sexy as all hell, am I right? Of course I am. This has caused a lot of talk about the production and I figured it might be a great opportunity to go over how we got here. Deadpool has had one of the most treacherous transitions to film of any of the upcoming comic-themed productions to date.

(more…)

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2278

Bi-Monthly B-Movie: Orc Wars and Ninja Shadow of a Tear

film, Reviews, Showcase

March 25, 2015

Welcome to Bi-Monthly B-Movie, an article where we look at the very best of the very worst movies we can get our grubby paws on. We’re aiming for the sorts of things made by studios you’ve never heard of, and starring people you don’t want to. Why are we looking at these films? They’re fun to heckle. Just ask the Gentleman Hecklers, who are professionals. For those looking for a more amateur experience, or some light (very light) entertainment, these are the very best in quality.

Ranking comes in five categories, but they’re a little skewed because these movies are never good. Never, ever, good. Well, rarely. Still, acting, direction, sound design, script, and entertainment are things that these movies presumably have, so we figure they’ll be noted using a single symbol that can be broken into four pieces, like so: LMM Tree of Life One Quarter,  LMM Tree of Life HalfLMM Tree of Life Three Quarters, and LMM Tree of Life.

We’ll provide links to Amazon for these movies. We’ll also misquote some things we heard in these movies. Feel free to reply with your own quotes should you suffer through these films. We’ll pick a winner every couple weeks, and send you an e-prize.

Everyone on board? Cool.

(more…)

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2788

Pixels vs. Wreck-It Ralph, or Story Before Reference

Opinion, Showcase, The Truth

March 18, 2015

When it comes to Video Game movies, there are basically two categories: movies based on video game franchises (Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros.) and movies that are ABOUT video games (The Wizard, Wreck-It Ralph, Tron). The most recent iteration, in the latter category, is the upcoming Pixels, a comedy/adventure featuring the acting talents of Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Kevin James, and Peter Dinklage.

(more…)

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1331

CHAPPiE [Movie Review]

Reviews

March 9, 2015

Last week we finally saw the release of Neill Blomkamp’s third feature film, a spiritual successor to the 1986 classic Short Circuit. Chappie is all about the development of the world’s first true AI, a robot that can think for itself, express itself through art, and most importantly learn.

(more…)

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1582

Kingsman: The Secret Service [Review]

film, Reviews

February 13, 2015

In the last two weeks I’ve seen Kingsman: The Secret Service twice. I’ve also written roughly five drafts of reviews for it, too. Why so many, and why has only one ever made it on to the site? Well, because Kingsman is a GD overload.

(more…)

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