Tag: movies

Story Time – Going Solo

han-solo
Okay. So story time. I was at the movies with my wife and while I was using the bathroom someone dressed as Han Solo used the urinal between me and another movie-goer.
 
No big deal, right? I mean, I figure Han freaking Solo would understand the rules a little better when it came to where he should and shouldn’t pee in the men’s bathroom, but okay. His presence alone wasn’t all that strange given the premiere of “Rogue One” in just a few minutes.
 
But here’s where things take a dark (or hilarious) turn, depending on who your significant other happens to be.

I walk out the bathroom followed by the guy who wasn’t Han Solo a few seconds later. And as he comes out, he’s grinning and tells a girl (who by their held hands I can assume is at least his girlfriend), “Wow. I just peed next to Han Solo.”
“Uh…okay?” she says – a statement that suggests this is an everyday occurrence. (Which it may or may not be in the women’s bathroom.)

“No,” the guy explains. “A guy dressed as Han Solo just rolled up and used the urinal right next to me.”

“Who the hell is Han Solo?” the girl asks.

Somewhere, a man hurriedly starts playing the record player he’d been ignoring for the past four decades just to pull the needle off and make the sound.

“What?”

By now the girl looks like she’s starting to get annoyed. “Who the hell is Han Solo!?”

Her boyfriend sputters through a few failed attempts to even respond to that and finally gives up. Instead, he turns to me. “Are you hearing this?” he demands, his tone suggesting hope that I’m about to reveal he’s on some sort of hidden camera game show.

But he’s not, and I don’t.

“I don’t want to hear this,” I say, not sure how else to respond.

The couple walks away, their voices somehow getting louder the further away they get. Apparently they have a great deal to discuss. I don’t blame them. And while it’s possible he’s just explaining forty years of “Star Wars” history to her, I find it far more likely that his statements are more along the lines of, “How do you not who that is?”, “What’s wrong with you?” and “Shouldn’t lizard people like you have at least a baseline of human knowledge to try and fit in better?”

Just before they disappear around the corner, my wife reappears and I’m hopeful that she’ll inform me that I’m on some sort of hidden camera game show. Which she does. But only because she’s got a quirky sense of humor and that’s how she always greets me.

I turn to the couple – now very noticeably not holding hands – and say, “Wow. I think that couple just broke up.”

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Review – “Kubo and the Two Strings”

kubo1

About two months ago, my social media started going crazy for this movie. And while I’m usually hesitant to buy into any hype I’m not creating myself (or the hype created by one of the celebrities I want to hear hype from), I decided to give this a chance.

And then…I totally missed it in theaters.

But then I saw it anyway, thus destroying that narrative thread before it even got started. (Sorry. I wrote a literal book during NaNoWriMo in November. So I’m running pretty low on words at the moment.)

The Basics. “Kubo” is a stop-motion movie in the vein of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or…um…other movies of that genre. It isn’t really something people make much anymore.

This was a nice change of pace, because I like stop-motion animation but I’m tired of Tim Burton’s generic brand of creepiness and oh, look, it’s Johnny Depp for some reason. Now, where’s Hilary Bonham Carter? She’s got to be around here someplace. Although…this movie does get sort of creepy. I mean, actually, I wouldn’t let my kid watch this movie because it would probably give him nightmares. But…well, there’s really pretty stuff, too, so it balances out?

kubo2
Okay. So maybe you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Tim Burton movie.

Tim Burton aside (where he belongs), this movie tells the story of a young boy, Kubo, who lives in a more or less Japanese fantasy setting. He and his mother fled the evil Moon King years before, after he stole one of Kubo’s eyes. And the idea is that they must live in seclusion to keep the Moon King from getting the second eye. So…yeah. I’m reading this again and it seems super dark.

Oh, did I mention Kubo’s eye was stolen while he was a baby?

Look. There’s a sassy talking monkey. Trust me. It’s not all gloom and doom.

The Good. The movie, to make a long story short, is gorgeous. I don’t usually tell people that they should see a movie or watch a show just because it looks pretty. And I guess this is no exception. But it was a near thing.

I give particular credit to the action and fight scenes, which look really, really good. More than that, though, is that the magical powers on display weren’t your standard fare. If there’s another movie where the hero primarily attacks his enemies using origami minions controlled by an enchanted shamisen, it’s slipping my mind at the moment.

The story is solid through the first three-quarters or so, with that “Avengers”-esque mix of action and humor that’s become pretty common nowadays. And while that sort of quip-y action humor is rapidly heading towards cliche territory, I personally enjoy it. Plus, given the sometimes dark subject matter, it was probably necessary to keep the movie from heading deep into “downer” territory rather just hang out near the top and bum you out a little.

The characters are unique and likeable, for the most part. (With the exception of the Matthew McConaughey samurai, who lost some points for being voiced by Matthew McConaughey.) And while I wouldn’t say any really stand out, they were all at or above average. (With the exception of the sassy Charlize Theron monkey, who gained some points for being a sassy monkey.)

As long as you don’t go into this expecting a kid’s movie, you’ll get what you paid for (or pirated illegally or whatever – I’m not here to judge).

The Bad. My only real beef with the movie comes down to the story. Or beefs, I suppose? I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

The first issue was that the narrative suffered from “set-piece syndrome.” The story didn’t so much move from place to place as it was just jerked between each major setting for an action sequence. And while it’s hard to argue with the results, you did get the strange feeling sometimes that the writer basically said, “Okay. First the idyllic village. Then we’ll go to the desolate snowfields that emphasize the feelings of loss. Then the scary cave for a scary skeleton fight. And then…hmmm…did we do a water thing yet?”

It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t notice this until after I finished watching the movie. It didn’t take me out of the experience at all. But it was a thing and this is a review and here we are.

The other issue was that the story hits kind of a dead note in the lead-up to the final battle. And while I can’t get into it without major spoilers, the whole thing just kind of bummed me out. The movie has a very clear trajectory and then, well, imagine if you were watching “The Lord of the Rings” and Frodo dies of a cold while climbing Mount Doom. It’s the sort of senseless thing that just has you spending the rest of the movie saying, “That can’t be it. There’s a twist coming.”

And then…there isn’t.

Overall, they’re not huge problems. And on their own, I’d honestly be inclined to ignore them entirely. It’s more an issue that if you put an incredibly questionable moment right before the final battle, it’s liable to distract you from, you know, the final battle.

In Conclusion. Having not seen many movies released lately worth seeing, let alone recommending to others, I was happy to find this movie. I was not happy to have missed it in theaters, because it looks like just the sort of movie one should be enjoying as light projected onto a very big screen, but I’m glad it didn’t slip by entirely.

Which, given its pretty weak advertising, is probably going to be the case for almost everyone else.

Was it perfect? No. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish, minus a slight hitch right near the end. So as long as you aren’t one of those “the ending determines how good a movie is” folk, it’s a net win.

Also, George Takei is in it, mostly to just say, “Oh, my!” Is that enough to see the movie on its own? Well, in my book, yes. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Though, in this specific case, your mileage would also be wrong.

The Disney Cycle

Disney Princesses.jpg
Quick! Someone re-imagine them as something stupid.

Recently, I asked my wife to make me roasted pecans. She doesn’t make them very often, you see, so I thought it might be a nice change of pace. As they were cooking, though, I realized that they didn’t smell quite like I wanted them to. And that’s when things started to go wrong.

I mean, sure, they smelled like they were supposed to – warm and cinnamon-y. But that wasn’t really how I envisioned them. I was thinking more of a light vanilla scent maybe. Seriously. How hard is it for her to make a slightly less accurate version of the thing I wanted, based entirely on my incorrect preconceptions of what it was supposed to be?

Then she changed them. A little. Just to get rid of the things that most irritated me. Frankly, I think that made the final product a lot worse, but I stand by my meddling.

Anyway, long story short, she made them and I just didn’t eat them. Yuck. I mean, I realize that I was the one who asked for them in the first place and all. But surely enough other people will enjoy them to ensure she makes more in the future even after my non-stop complaining.

It’s just so unfair! The one time she makes this thing for me and wasn’t exactly what I wanted, even though she followed the recipe perfectly! So, yeah. Long story short, I’m already asking her to make them again, but better this time. I’m sure she has lots of other things to cook that people have requested. Still, I think the best use of her time is to make something for me that I’ve already shown her I’m not likely to touch.

The previous four paragraphs brought to you by “Satire” (TM) – catch the fever!

But yeah, that’s pretty much every single Disney movie these days. My wife’s roasted pecans are, for the record, amazing. And if I were eating some by the time this article was finished, that would actually be pretty great…just saying.

So here’s about how it goes.

1) One culture or minority group or another is outraged they don’t have their own Disney Princess. Yes, this is an actual thing that actually happens. Apparently the bar for outrage is currently set so low that we’re getting angry at Christmas-themed cups and not-Christmas-enough-themed cups. So why not Disney movies?

Now, I’m all for inclusivity, but this often leads to a few problems. The first is that, well, there are just a lot of ethnic groups. Have you ever heard about ethnic Iraqi Kurds complaining that they didn’t have a movie about them? Of course not, because those people have real problems to deal with.

The second, as much as I hate to say it, is that some cultures have really lame stories. For reasons that will be abundantly clear in a bit, Disney doesn’t want to take too many liberties with these stories. So when they’re researching Ukraine’s ethnic Tatar population (sorry to single you guys out – I’m sure you’re very cool) and find out their best folktale is about an invisible spirit who wears red dresses and pulls women’s hair to warn them of abusive husbands, you’ll understand why Disney gets a bit nervous.

(Yes, that’s a real Tatar folk legend. And it’s a totally real thing. Look it “Bichura.” I’m not kidding.)

2) Outrage eventually reaches the point that Disney is forced to placate one of these groups or else face the mobilized rage of white college students with nothing better to protest. I don’t know how they make the final choice on what group’s folk legends they use. I like to think they just throw darts at a globe.

Which would explain why they made not one but two movies about Atlantis.

3a) Disney researches the culture more than most people living in it and yet, somehow, always gets it wrong. Now, when I say “wrong,” I don’t mean “inaccurate.” If anything, the problem is that they’re usually too correct.

There was a lot of outrage over the cast of “Frozen” being white, despite the actual culture they were referencing being mostly white. Why? Because a bunch of college students with a Sami great-grandmother (allegedly) got upset that the characters in the film were white when real ethnic Sami were…also white.

This is where the issue with preconceptions comes in. The issue isn’t that Disney is mangling the truth. It’s that people have certain assumptions about things without the benefit of any evidence that “feel” correct. It would be like Disney making a movie about a culture that was made up entirely of overweight people with bad breath. Inevitably, cultures appreciate the truth about as far as your dinner date does – it’s only a good thing as long as you’ve got nice things to say about them.

3b) Disney’s accurate historical portrayal of minorities is viewed as racist because reasons. As much as people don’t like to admit it, minorities traditionally had it pretty bad until very recently. (Not to mention the ones still getting the shaft.) So people shouldn’t be surprised when the plucky young Gypsy is hated by the local townsfolk. Or the black girl is literally a slave.

Look. I want to be perfectly clear. I’m not condoning these things in any way, shape or form. (Read by people who want to be angry at me as: “I like being racist and white people are super awesome.”) But these things also happened. Hey. Nobody wants the black girl to overcome adversity and become President of the United States in the early 1800s more than me. As long as we all realize that it’s a total fantasy.

4) Disney makes token changes to their movie’s plot that make the movie historically less accurate and less true to the folklore. A vocal minority (as in, a group of protesters – not the ethnic kind) is often harder to ignore than a happy and quiet majority. So despite most people having no issues with what they see in the previews, changes are made.

The best example I can think of here is Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog.” Originally, she was a servant who cooked for a wealthy family. Racist? Absolutely. Racist in the early 20th century? Still absolutely.

But, sadly, not an uncommon living situation for a black girl with no living relatives who would have probably just been trying to get by.

Since people couldn’t stomach this, they protested until she was given a job as a chef. Is it impossible to conceive that this could’ve happened? Absolutely not. The issue isn’t so much that either occupation was unrealistic as it was that people just didn’t like one and had to change it to the other. But consider this. If she’d started out as a chef and been demoted to cook, the Internet would’ve collectively emptied its bowels in rage.

The question, in the end, is whether it’s better to white-wash the unpleasantness out of history than it is to be a bit of a bummer. And the truth is, I don’t know.

5) The same people pushing for the movie in the first place, now outraged at the movie portraying them accurately, boycott the film. Not all of them do, mind you. But enough that it seems sort of trivial in the end.

I remember one of my friends, a black mother of three girls, complaining after the release of “The Princess and the Frog.” “So, I want my girls to think the best they can do in life is cook? No, thank you.” She then proceeded to say that she’d wait for the next Disney movie and hope it had a better black role model for her daughters. Which given the time it took them to do that movie and then have you crap on it because it wasn’t exactly what you wanted, should be any day now, right?

6) And…repeat. What’s that? We’re already bitching about “Moana” because the giant demigod doesn’t have the physique you wanted? Oh, good. I was afraid we were starting to get upset about totally reasonable things.

Do people automatically have to like Disney Princess with skin like theirs? Of course not. But discounting a movie because it wasn’t exactly what you wanted or because they were “too mean” to someone of your culture or any other nitpicking reason is just silly. Especially when some of these people are on social media the next day wondering as to why their particular group is so underrepresented in media.

Judging by the number of hedging statements I had to use in this article just to avoid looking like a racist (and still probably coming off that way to some people anyway) should be all you need to see to understand why some companies just don’t bother with the controversy.

And, if it helps, I personally most identify with Mulan, who was a tough-as-nails girl who saved her family by kicking ass. I know, right? Her skin is different than mine. How is that possible?

It’s almost as if we could find heroes and role models without them looking exactly like us.

Re-Views – “Deep Impact”

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It’s strange to think, but out of all the movies I’ve seen in my life, I’ve probably watched about nine out of ten just once and never again.

There are lots of reasons this can happen. Most often, it’s because the movie was so thoroughly forgettable that there’s no reason to waste the additional 98 minutes and 1.4 calories required to press the “play” button again. Or, as in the case of, say, “Avatar,” that it was so unrelentingly terrible that I had to stop watching for mental health reasons.

Terrible movies aside, it’s even stranger when it comes to movies I only saw growing up. They leave a certain impression on you that only comes with the (relative) innocence of youth. Like a movie seeming fairly clean but actually being laden with sexual innuendo. Or wondering why Bambi was so sad after his mom went on that vacation. Or wondering why all the people in “Commando” were full of spaghetti sauce.

More recently, though, I’ve been bored enough to actually watch some of these movies a second time. And wow. It’s certainly dissuading me of a few misconceptions…

But let’s get to the Re-View of a movie I saw almost twenty years ago – “Deep Impact.”

Views on this movie were split into two major groups. Half of people remember this movie as “the movie so similar Armageddon that it might have been Armageddon.” And the other half remember it as just “the movie that wasn’t Armageddon.”

Both groups aren’t totally on the mark because this movie is, in fact, a horrible machine that feeds on the tears of parents.

Of course, I had no understanding of this as a child. I fell pretty neatly into the category of people who looked at this as the almost completely forgettable “movie that was sort of like Armageddon but wasn’t and oh, look, Morgan Freeman.”

I remember it not being terrible. In fact, it was actually fairly good, as disaster movies went. And who knows? Maybe things would have played out differently if Armageddon hadn’t come out at pretty much the same time.

Or, you know, not at all, saving us from that damn Aerosmith song about the guy who didn’t like sleeping or something.

Watching it recently, as the parent of a small child, the movie really hits you differently. It was like the difference between my playthroughs of “The Last of Us” pre-baby and post-baby. Before I was a parent, the opening act of the main character’s daughter getting gunned down while he clutches her and begs her not to die, that was rough. When I played it after my son was born, I think I had to go hold him in the middle of the night while he just sort of wondered what the hell was happening.

“If there’s ever a zombie outbreak,” I whispered into his ear, “you have to let me walk in front everywhere, okay?” At which point, he bit me in the shoulder, so that whole thing was messed up on a lot of levels.

To some degree, though, it’s worse in Deep Impact because that movie has a lot of families in a lot of crappy situations. So if any individual plot thread doesn’t tug at your heartstrings just right, they’ve got about thirty or forty to choose from. How about the estranged father who desperately wants to reconnect with his daughter before the world ends? No? How about the family who gets left off the list of people in the shelter and only their daughter gets in? Or the parents who hand off their infant moments before the impact so a guy on a fast bike might get them to safety?

None of those? How about the astronaut who went to space before his son was born and has to sacrifice his life to save the Earth? And his wife and son are late for a last message but get their juuuuuuust in time. But he never sees his son because he was blinded in an accident. Then there’s cooing and “I love yous” exchanged in the final moments before the video feed finally cuts out.

And then, for the last ten minutes, it just lingers on an old dog’s face as it slowly dies in the arms of the boy it grew up with while Johnny Cash plays guitar in the background.

In any event, I thought coming back to this movie after twenty years was particularly strange. Because missing out on sexual innuendo as a kid just means you’re missing out on a movie’s humor. Missing out on the soul-crushing despair in this movie completely changes the subtext. As an adult, you see the disaster as more of just a framing device for a lot of very raw, emotional stories. They could’ve replaced a comet impact with pretty much anything large enough to destroy the Earth but small enough to be stopped by a scrappy team of scientists, and the movie would have been identical.

The only question is, for what diabolical purpose were they harvesting those tears?

Preview – “Logan”

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Now, I’m not exactly a rabid X-Men fan. I petered out sometime after “X-Men: First Class,” largely because the timelines started to get confusing. And I never saw any of the Wolverine solo films in their entirety, since I usually just caught the second halves when they aired on television. But I am a fan of not driving franchises into the ground.

The fact that they’re actually doing a movie to end Wolverine’s story line has me intrigued, since I was expecting they’d keep trying to lure Hugh Jackman back with higher paychecks and promises of vegemite.

I saw the Red Band trailer, and I have to say I was fairly impressed. It offers a raw, gritty take on the character that I think has been oddly absent from a series about a raw, gritty character. They’ve constantly teased the idea that despite all he’s been through, for a mutant who’s essentially immortal, there’s bound to be a happy ending eventually. Only, what if there’s not?

In any event, I’ll let the trailer speak for itself.

While looking for the trailer, I was surprised to see there’s actually a second trailer out. I mean, I’m not sure about the wisdom of releasing two trailers back to back. But I thought this one was impressive, too. Check it out.

Wait. Hm. Something’s not right here. Specifically, it’s the same exact movie and trailer as “The Last of Us.”

Hold up. Let me get a summary for the movie.

“A worn and grizzled Logan lives in a future he didn’t ask for, one of the last of his kind. Despite surviving the trials and tribulations that brought the world to this bleak place, he eventually comes to realize that he’s lost everyone he ever cared about and now, all that’s left for him is survival. When an unexpected mission falls in his lap to protect a young girl who may be the key to saving the world, he realizes that it may be his last chance at personal redemption. Also, Sir Patrick Stewart is there.”

And the summary for “The Last of Us.”

“A worn and grizzled Joel lives in a future he didn’t ask for, one of the last of his kind. Despite surviving the trials and tribulations that brought the world to this bleak place, he eventually comes to realize that he’s lost everyone he ever cared about and now, all that’s left for him is survival. When an unexpected mission falls in his lap to protect a young girl who may be the key to saving the world, he realizes that it may be his last chance at personal redemption. Sadly, Sir Patrick Stewart isn’t there.”

Oh. Right. Sir Patrick Steward. Well, carry on then.

All right. So they aren’t identical. I wouldn’t go quite that far. But there’s more than a superficial relation between the two.

If you play both trailers at the same time, you’ll notice that a lot of similar beats come at around the same time. Logan waxing poetic about the changing world. Joel and Bill explaining that things are different now. Professor Xavier trying to convince Logan to protect the girl. Tess explaining that escorting the girl is no different than any other cargo. The big crescendo with both Joel and Logan going into a berserker rage. Even the strange choice to accompany both trailers with depressing Spanish guitar music.

Both Joel and Logan have become old men with beards who are on the “Norwegian fur trapper” end of the grizzled spectrum. Both have lost the last person they truly cared about. Both have a no-nonsense fighting style that puts effectiveness over fairness. And both seem to be heroes only in the sense that they often end up in places where someone needs help, and they’re the only option.

“All right. Fine,” you say. “If you don’t like it, then don’t see it.”

Only, I kind of love it. Ninety percent of the stories I read about the hero’s journey stop somewhere around the part where they defeat evil and happiness ensues forever. At worst, we’re sometimes left on the cliffhanger that while things didn’t go quite as planned, there’s always hope for the future.

But heroes die. It’s part of the journey they tacitly agreed to when they first set out to save the world, either by choice or necessity.All that’s left is the choice to die as an old man in bed, or to die as something like the hero they once were.

Preferably after severely messing up a few dozen bad guy with adamantium claws.

Preview – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

guardians-of-the-galaxy

So the trailer for this movie just dropped and I am fully ready to jump on the hype train, aircraft, spaceship or any other hype-based mode of transportation.

I won’t pretend to have a lot of insider information on this movie, because I don’t. And to some degree, I’d rather not. The recent leak culture going on disguised as fan excitement isn’t doing good things for the industry. The big reveal of a character six months before a movie releases tickles some people in just the right way, but to me random photos without any real context are the worst sort of spoiler.

But I digress.

Instead, I will just include the trailer, allowing anyone who hasn’t seen it to do so in a single click rather than two or three.

I will also share – perhaps unnecessarily – that I am super-excited about this movie. As I said, I don’t know much about this movie except that I saw the first one. But to me, that’s really enough.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of the few movies that’s had me hyped at every single stage of development. I knew from the first previews that even though I’d never heard of it, I had to see it on opening day. And then my son was born, thus derailing this story quite spectacularly.

(Writer’s Note: In case this wasn’t clear, I don’t consider this a bad trade-off because, hey, free baby.)

But my enthusiasm held for the months it took me to actually go see it, which is pretty rare for me. And when I finally saw it, I wasn’t in any way disappointed. It was, in fact, one of only two movie examples I would classify as “rollicking” – the other being the highly underrated “This is the End.”

And what’s more, it’s something I bought immediately on DVD and have watched over and over since then. That’s not even something “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” can claim. (I did buy the DVD but I’ve only watched it twice since then.) Then again, the movies I tend to watch most often are probably “The Mummy,” “Little Nicky,” “Constantine” and “Hellboy,” so unless you happen to be my wife – who shares my odd tastes – your mileage will almost certainly vary.

I will end with random trivia, because why not?

Vin Diesel was given a version of the script that has English translations of what Groot is saying. The idea is that since his only line is “I am Groot,” he has to stress the words differently or add emphasis depending on the meaning he wants to get across. I found that interesting, but given that it’s a fact about Vin Diesel, I shouldn’t be surprised because everything about that man is inherently interesting.

Kurt Russell is Chris Pratt’s father. (But only in the movie, so far as I know.) No spoilers here. I just thought we’d left the era of “movies with Kurt Russel in them.” And I’m not sad to find out I was wrong.

Reading up on things, it lists a ton of people from the first movie as now being part of the Guardians. I’m not sure exactly what to make of that. So I’ll hedge my bets and say it’s one-half interesting and one-half probably a misunderstanding.