Movie Review: Interceptor (2022)

interceptor-208051131-largeImpressively not-dumb….for the most part.

Even though it features a strong female immigrant protagonist who has suffered from a sexual assault from a commanding officer and has had her career derailed as a result, who is aided by a very beta immigrant brown male and opposed by white males, one a resentful uber-loser with a Southern accent who calls himself a patriot as he murders his fellow soldier, of course, and one an all-Midwestern boy with enormous resentment for the failings of capitalist America and also his rich daddy…..it’s kind of still good? (Oh, and even though the lead’s hair does somehow go from being in a bun to being in a ponytail with no explanation, there is a good reason for her to be in a singlet the entire time: acid. Yep. Acid. ‘Cuz acid burns things, duh.)

This film was written and directed by an Austrialian (and stars a bunch of Aussies). As a matter of fact, the writer/director is Matthew Reilly, who I know from Ice Station and his apparent penchant for writing modern-day pulp action thrillers. All I have to say is in that case he should keep his whore mouth shut about America; and additionally, that the movie was about twenty minutes longer than it should have been. Also, boy oh boy are those some of those slowest Navy SEALS ever.

That being said, the good really does outweigh the bad, because need I mention there’s also a random ninja? Honest to God, there’s a random Chinese ninja guy who shows up, does a couple of kung-fu poses, and then gets blasted out of the hatch with a shotgun. (Turns out the emergency command center shotgun only has one bullet and hasn’t been fired in a couple of years, which provides a neat reason for the heroine to get blown backwards across the room when she fires it, and it’s now dangerous to fire again. But then, everyone in this movie doesn’t have very good trigger discipline; they tent to burn through their ammo immediately on full auto.) There’s a happy ending. Good girl Captain Collins gets a tip of the hat from the Russian sub captain, a promotion directly from the President, her dad survives, even the turtle survives. That’s not a spoiler by any stretch of the imagination.

Oh, and also there’s the fact that the heroine’s struggles end up getting shown on the Emergency Broadcast System (which she can’t turn off), and we also get some random San Francisco hippie guy who looks unnervingly like Discount Chris Hemsworth commenting on the action (“Oh c’mon, give her some guns, man!”) (On further research, turns out it was Chris Hemsworth: he’s her husband. Womp womp.)

Plot? Oh. It’s Die Hard with an army girl, on a missile base. There you go.

Elsa Pataky is all cheekbones and sleek ponytail, and looks to have some actual muscle on her frame. She’s by no means a great actress, but she’s game, gung-ho, and does her best. The fight scenes are…okay. Yeah yeah yeah, 100-lb woman vs 250-lb men unrealistic, we know already. What the movie does right is to show that Collins is winning because she’s a smarter, more determined fighter than those she’s up against. I’m definitely not buying the crossing the monkey bars with one arm scene, though.

There are some rather nice flourishes, too: head villain drawing a sad face in the blood of a man he’s just killed on the door the heroine refuses to open, “If’ you’re going to kill me, just kill me. No mansplaining,” “She took that photo for charity, by the way.” “My daddy woulda made me open that door. Noo question!” “Please stop taping the window….[lame grin] for me?”

Rated: This is the last day of my vacation and I refuse to do anything productive in it.

Repost Review: Gun Fury (1953)

Gun Fury is  a 1953 Western with Rock Hudson, Phil Carey, Donna Reed, and Leo Gordon in it. If you don’t know who any of those people are, then shame on you for even reading a scifi blog. Scifi is at its heart descended from the frontier genre and pulp westerns are the granddaddy of all adventure/mil/exploration/colonization/fightin’ injuns aliens scifi stories. SO THERE.

2s39-th
Seriously? That’s a terrible tagline.

Pros: Directed by Raoul Walsh, so, good pacing, good filming (I just really love the look of Technicolor. It’s awesome.), a competent plot, and excellent performances. Phil Carey as (spoiler!) the bad guy carries (ahaha) the show: handsome, assured, dignified, and calmly malevolent. Leo Gordon (Riot in Cell Block 11, Black Patch, Night of the Grizzly), gets a fairly heroic role and does extremely well in it, which must have been a change. Rock Hudson merely has to look square-jawed and handsome, but this probably came easily to him. Ditto for Donna Reed, but she had kind of a lackluster role anyway (see below).

The one thing that I think sets good movies apart from bad is economy: economy of dialogue, of characterization, of philosophy. This movie has it. It takes one throwaway line to set up an entire character (the Indian Guy) who doesn’t show up for another twenty minutes. But when he gets there, we know who he is, why he’s there, and what he’ll do without having it explained. It takes one action (politely offering water to the captive lady and politely leaving her in peace when turned down) to set up that that outlaw is a decent guy who will do right by her–and when he helps her make a break for it, we are not surprised, and when he (spoiler!) gets trampled to death for his pains, we are saddened.

Economy of philosophy is observed, as well. First of all, there has to be a moral philosophy; second, it has to be coherent; third, it should be based in intelligent and reasoned actions by consistent characters. The moral commentary underpinning the story is set up quickly, competently, and early, when Ben and Slader discuss their business plans; it is expanded on through the actions of various characters–of Ben trying and failing to recruit help; of Slader’s lawlessness versus Jess’ soldierly honor–and, finally, it is summed up with a single line and that’s it, we get back to the shooting and galloping. Come to think of it, showing, not telling, is another thing good movies do.

On the downthumb: a Damsel in Distress being the central motivator means that the Damsel stays firmly in Distress the whole time. I prefer heroines with a little more grit and hopefully more motivation. Another problem: the climax hinges on a really, really improbable prisoner exchange that just doesn’t make sense given the circumstances.

So, plot: we open on a stagecoach with the usual complement: a young woman (Donna Reed as Jennifer) travelling to join her fiance; a nervous businessman; a confident ex-Southern Genn’leman in a suit, with a gun, (Phil Carey as Slader); and a guy who is automatically suspicious because he’s hiding under his hat trying to sleep. Our suspicions are promptly confirmed, because when he removes his hat, he is Leo Gordon as Jess, in cahoots with Slader’s Southern Gentleman, but, strangely enough, a decent fellow. We are soon also introduced to the Fiance, Ben (Rock Hudson), whose war-wearied philosophy of minding his own business and no-one else’s, clashes with Slader’s The South Shall Rise (But Mostly I’m In It For Me) ethos. Jess, meanwhile, tries to warn Jennifer and Fiance Ben from continuing on the stage….to no avail.

So there is a robbery, a wrecked stage, and Fiance Ben is left for dead, while Fiancee Jennifer is taken by the outlaws. Only Jess has an appropriately pragmatic–and gentlemanly–attitude about this, for all the good it does him: he gets tied to a post and left behind for the vultures. Meanwhile, Ben wakes up and wanders over to make himself useful. Jess is still alive, and a bargain is struck….

But Ben’s appeal for help–to bystanding sheepherders and to the nearby Sheriff — are met with blank denials by men who have no personal stakes in the game and no business but their own to mind. (Spot the irony. If you look hard enough, it’s there, and not at all outlined and underscored heavily by the movie). Nevertheless, the odds even out a little, as Ben and Jess are joined by a vengeful Indian, and then by Slader’s even more vengeful Mexican ex-girlfriend. Mind you, she’s way more of a hinderance than a help to the heroes, but she does try.

So the plot progresses to the point where Slader is down to three men and willing to deal rather than fight: he’ll take Jess in return for Jennifer, and while Ben is riding back to discuss this with Jess, I’m over here hoping Leo Gordon’s going to survive to the end of the movie….and then Slader grins and checks his pistol and we know he ain’t.

This rank treachery, after a good-faith exchange on Jess and Ben’s part, is what finally drives Ben to deliver the moral straight out: a good man who minds his own business and doesn’t start trouble is still at the mercy of a bad man who causes trouble–and will not stop. Ignoring an evil or avoiding it does not make it go away….it must be stopped, by whatever means is necessary.

Rated: Four incompetent damsels out of five. This movie does not rise to greatness, but it’s still pretty good.

Thoughts:
– There are a lot of very tall people in this movie! Leo Gordon was 6’2, Rock Hudson was 6’5, and Phil Carey was 6’4. Sure, normally the camera would smooth this all out and fake them being “heroically statured,” but they all tower over Donna Reed (5’3) so much that I was actually motivated to look up their statistics.
– Neville Brand! Lee van Cleef! They don’t do very much, but they’re there in the background going “Sure, Boss,” and in Lee’s case, grinning a lot and menacing the damsels.
– Giving orders clearly is a large part of making sure they’re obeyed. “Waitaminute, I wanna make sure I get you. You want me to shoot the horse, shoot her, or what?”
– Horses score: A! It’s made very clear that one horse can’t carry two big men very far, very fast, or for very long; and the heroes make at least one stop purely to rest the horses.
– “You’ll like this one, Mom. Even the Indian guy gets to avenge his sister. It’s very progressive.”

ReReview: Face of a Fugitive (1959)

face-of-a-fugitive-movie-posterSo this is a 1959 Western starring Fred MacMurray and Not-Rhonda Fleming (She has red hair.) Also it has a young but extremely toothy James Coburn as “that young punk who sneers a lot.”

This one was really great, mostly because the plot is very simple. A happens, and therefore B. However, C. And therefore, D. And so on, very logically leading on to (depending on the genre): the farmboy becoming king, the Death Star blowing up, or finding the sword of Martin the Warrior.

In this case: MacMurray is a genial bank robber en route to trial and jail, but actually just about to escape. However, overenthusiastic help from his kid brother ends with two people dead–the brother, and the escorting deputy. Therefore, with murder on the rap sheet, MacMurray has no choice other than to run. However, getting out of town is delayed: all strangers are being detained at the pass until the wanted posters with the fugitive’s picture arrive. And therefore, MacMurray….well, watch the movie. Most of the subsequent “and therefores” are a direct result of MacMurray’s character just being that much of a swell, decent guy. He’s the kind of hero that small children and horses trust on sight. He’s the kind of man who can tuck a little girl into bed, or go toe-to-toe with the toughest guy in town; can talk some sense into a proud young feller’s head, or save the day in a gunfight.

In fact, MacMurray’s hero is so competent, the final fight has to put him at a significant handicap to maintain any sort of tension. This was something that felt like a total gimick at first, but on thought was really quite brilliant. Without the injury, the audience–trusting the guy they’ve seen outthink, outmaneuver, and outfight all parties so far–is going to simply impatiently wait for him to clear up this stupid little fight, and then get back to something that does provide a problem. With it, MacMurray is pinned and the gunfight becomes the center of attention. Kudos to the writer.

The one downside of the movie is that its ending (post-gunfight) is almost cruelly abrupt. Give itfacefugcutting another minute and give the man a line or two to explain himself, at least! Well, nobody’s perfect.

There’s also a really amusing (well, to me, at least) scene where MacMurray’s character is doing the decent thing and cutting James Coburn out of the barbed wire he’s tangled in. At least, until Coburn’s crazy boss and the rest of the riders come storming up, at which point MacMurray books it.

10 wirecutters out of 10.

Movie Review: Tenet (2020) – this genre doesn’t exist

44e7e33d7f2cbdde288a10c719ec6afdPeople who like words, or who are writers, or who have spent too much time in pursuit of an English degree, are generally aware of the existence of palindromes, words or phrases which are the same spelled backwards or forwards. “Tenet,” or “pull-up,” or 02/02/2020, or “do geese see God.” Slightly nerdier people will be aware of the Sator Square, a historical palindrome phrase which can be read in multiple directions and has either a mystical or a vaguely Christian meaning. The word “tenet” also means “principle,” or “doctrine,” or a belief maintained to be true and followed. (Wow, so are layers of meaning here in a simple title? Woww! That’s incredible! Is your mind blown yet?…no?…uh…why not?) Well, maybe if someone in this movie started discussing theistic and/or electrical geese….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScience fiction readers are aware of the fact that there are not, and never have been, a “science fiction” movie genre. This is because science fiction, at its core, is a genre of wonder, imagination, intelligence, and creativity, attributes which writers of screenplays, producers of movies, directors, or actors, do not have.

But Aliens! But, Terminator! But Star Wars! But, but, but Blade Runner! These movies, alas, prove my thesis: that there isn’t an actual sci-fi genre to film, just other genres dressed up in fancier clothing and with different names thrown in. Aliens? It’s a Western. The Cavalry has been trapped at the scene of the massacre. The Injuns are wearing green rubber masks. Terminator? It’s a straight-up slasher thriller with a few special effects thrown in. (If Cameron had wanted to be an auteur, he would have left out the reveal of the Terminator as an actual cyborg and just let later generations argue over whether or not Kyle Reese was insane….at the least that would have spared us the sequels.) Blade Runner? Guys, it’s a color film noir with anxiety about how Asia was taking over the world. Star Wars is jidai geki in space.

tenet-posters-2-600x889-1So what does this have to do with Tenet? It’s a terrible scifi movie, that’s what. But it’s a pretty good contemporary action-thriller. Christopher Nolan’s reach exceeds his grasp, which is too bad, because his grasp also exceeds his imagination in this case. Not a single element of the time-travel makes sense. Not one. Not even in-universe. Not even when you try to think about how it could work, the way it does, instead of how it should work, the way it would when you apply those same exact rules and limitations to it. The whole point of mentioning the Grandfather Paradox is figuring out how to work around it, morons: kill him after your father has been conceived; or take a DNA test to find that Grandma was cheating; or become your own grandfather and live out the stable time loop. The whole point of a timeywimey device means that your first wave is a super sneaky recon squad, ri–oh. Oh, okay then.

I haven’t and won’t attempt to summarize the plot of this movie, because a) puzzlement, b) extreme rage will result. This is genuinely a movie that rewards turning your brain off and watching the show. Is that what Christopher Nolan thought he was making? Probably not, but who knows. He might even think he was making a scifi movie.

But! The action is great, the explosions are more than adequately firey, the locations are exotic, lush, and filmed in Technicolor; and there are several setpieces which genuinely appear to have been filmed live.  The cast is uniformly very easy on the eyes, and, crucially, the characters are rounded, sympathetic, charismatic, and understandable. The characters are what make this movie, because let me tell you, no one is in it for the plot, including Christopher Nolan.

tenet-movie-promotional-photo-posters-26There’s Kat, the extremely tall but still fragile loving mother–and abused wife–of an evil man. There’s Neil, who knows a hell of a lot more than he says, and who saves the world. There’s…uh, let’s see, there’s that Indian lady. There’s even the bad guy, who, while still being an evil and unsympathetic person, shows enough recognizable human emotion that he’s, yes, an actual character with actual thoughts and actual motivations–not just a convenient hate sink for the audience. (Also: after beating a traitor to death with a gold bar, he checks his fitbit. “Ninety-eight. Not bad for such exertion.”)

Then you have the protagonist, who….

….Well, he’s poorly served by the movie, in a methane-sniffing moment deciding to name him “Protagonist;” there’s really no buildup to support the grand end reveal (that he is the mastermind behind the secret organization protecting the world); there’s zero chemistry between him and The Really Tall Damsel In Distress; and….

washington_pattinson_tenetBut, small idiocies aside….he’s a cool, capable, active hero. You don’t see many of those these days. He should be celebrated for being a cool hero guy who does good, heroic things. And y’know, he saves the world and the girl to boot. That counts as doing a pretty darned good job, these days.

Rated: I’m waiting for Fimbulwinter, myself….

The Batman (2022) Movie Review

batman_ver3So much as it pains me to have paid money to do so, I went and watched The Batman. The first and most important things about this movie is that it walks a very fine line and doesn’t fall off it; and that it might actually have been written by an adult human being with a normal amount of intelligence.

That line? The ability to balance inherently ridiculous concepts (and resultant dialogue) with serious execution and sensibilities.

Does this movie “hate Batman?” Not so that I noticed; and for some of the things it did that are objectionable, you might as well criticize the comics themselves for (JUST KILL THE MASS MURDERING COMPLETELY IRREDEEMABLE PSYCHOPATHS ALREADY. JUST DO IT. Now bring back the electric chair treatment for their henchmen. There you go, that’s ALL OF YOUR RECURRING PROBLEMS SOLVED. Gahhhhhh.) Does this movie hate traditional heroism, masculinity, virtue, and the rule of law? Not really–it may even have been written by someone who actually knows what these things are. Is this movie painfully political and woke? No, and without extending too much of the benefit of the doubt, it might actually have a subtle criticism of the concept. More on this later.

Good stuff: The acting, the casting, the cinematography, and the action are all good, you’ve heard it before and in great detail; not arguing there. The semi-climactic fight in the Iceberg Lounge especially was really good, because it showcases “tactician Batman” along with “hand-to-hand combat tank Batman.” I also noticed some of the usual “We hate 100-pound women beating up stuntmen like it’s possible” suspects cheering Selina in this movie, because….of course they would, the choreography is neat and she’s wearing skin-tight latex.

There’s also the playing up of the terror factor to the Batman identity, which I liked immensely and which was stolen wholesale from The Shadow, but never mind.

So the line that everyone is going to point to is Selina accusing “White privileged people” of lacking sympathy for anyone who doesn’t share their particular circumstances. What this movie doesn’t explicitly do is point out that Selina entirely lacks sympathy for anyone who doesn’t share her own particular circumstances. What’s more, several people–the (useless) black lady mayor and the unhinged murdering pathetic psychopath–accuse Bruce Wayne of….well….hm. Privilege, and doing nothing with it. The fact that they’re completely and utterly wrong and the fact that they’re allowing their assumptions, jealousy, and lack of insight to dictate how they react to Bruce, doesn’t get explicitly called out to them…but it is demonstrated in the movie itself. The mayor lady comes across as entitled and stupid; the unhinged pathetic psychopath is an unhinged pathetic psychopath. Bruce Wayne is a man who puts his own life on the line to help others, personally, face-to-face, and it has an actual impact* on people.

(Also, try misappropriating Bat-funds. See where that gets you, HAH.)

(*’cause, y’know….punching…)

I will also give the movie this: while it does have lame dialogue, they did not jar me so far out of enjoyment that I was never able to get back in.

Oh! Also, Bats and Gordon had great buddy-cop chemistry. Also, Catwoman had great chemistry. Just, y’know, in general.

Middle stuff: Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne does pale in the shadow of his Batman, but that’s okay. The evolution of Batman from the darkness to the hero who leads people out of the darkness hasn’t quite begun, and it hasn’t included Bruce yet.

Snerk stuff: Batman walking heavily and loudly AND SLOWLY out of the shadows to impressive music gets rather old, rather fast….as, unfortunately, does the directors’ addiction to showing Batman standing still in the middle of a room doing nothing. (Even the Batmobile gets the same slow, to-music entrance, heh.)

Bad stuff: The last hour of the movie was clunky as hell. There’s no getting around that. Other than the fact that it’s not integrated into the overall plot well, there’s also the shift in tone from the villains being powerful and dangerous, but untouchable, to villains being pathetic…and untouchable. And there’s also the shift in genre from “I desperately want people to call this noir,” to “we’re doing it, we’re blowing it up, WOOO” and these things just don’t gel well together.

For a movie that celebrates Batman’s detective ability….half of Batman’s detective work in this movie consists of walking up to people and asking them if they did X….whereupon they will happily admit to X, reveal all the details about X, and offer to sign the affidavit about X. The other half can be summed up with the phrase “bat deductions.” So….

Rating: I will probably watch this movie again and enjoy it, but I sure as hell will not pay money to do so.

My notes:

bat-deductions

Hope his rabies vax is UTD.

They art-decorated the everliving HELL out of Wayne Manor.

Gordon you plugged the LITERAL THUMB drive into YOUR WORK COMPUTER?

OK motorcycles, I dig it.

CLOSE YOUR FRIDGE

Selina dun fell for tall dark and handsome. Already. Pwah.

Damn. Dat girl got some SLINK.

WOW these people want to spill the beans.

“Alfred, I don’t need your cufflinks.” = best line in the movie.

$10K? 10 measly K? REALLY?

“You think Penguin is the rat?” = close second.

DUKES OF HAZZARD RANDOM RAMP

BAT DEDUCTIONS

Shirtless RP is rather disturbing.

WELL WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OF A HUGE CHARITABLE FUND WITH NO OVERSIGHT?!?!!!!!

DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN

YOU HAD BETTER BE UP TO DATE ON YOUR RABIES SHOT MAN

500 followers???

Really? Really? Things were THAT bad at the orphanage? Is this the Victorian era? You couldn’t import some Catholic nuns or something to run it?

I feel a crowbar would have done just as well there.

All those guys are 150% too slim.

Movie ReReview: The Golden Hawk

mv5bzjrhztfhmjetnjfkms00yzq1ltg0zjgtognjywq2mgi0nzqzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtk4mdgwna4040._v1_The Golden Hawk (1952) – Ok, this is more like it. Oh yeah, a lot more like it. Now THIS is what a pirate movie should be.

(It occurs to me that the only reason Pirates of the Caribbean was as good as it was, was where and when it copied off of older, better, more colorful movies.)

Yeah, there’s a lot of kissy-facing that would be much more convincing if it starred Errol Flynn instead of Sterling Hayden, but there’s also plenty of swashing buckles, proffering pistols, capeswishing, rapier swishing, rum, yo-ho-ho-ing, and stuff blowing up. Actually, on second thought: Hayden is well-cast. The role calls for someone handsome and charming, just not quiiiiiite as handsome or as charming as thinks he is. Hayden delivers.

So! Hayden is Kit Gerardo, French privateer and captain of the Sea Flower. Yeah, it’s a sissy name for a ship. Just roll with it. There’s Rhonda Fleming as the beautiful and red-headed lady captain, Captain Rouge. Her ship is the Witch, which is slightly more badass but also rather underused. Ah well, budgets must have been tight, that’s understandable. There’s another lovely and also headstrong damsel, Helena Carter as Senorita Bianca–the destined bride of Kit’s hated enemy, Captain Del Toro (John Sutton), who is also Governor of Cartagena.

Why hated? Because Del Toro killed Kit’s mother. Dun DUN DUNNNN!

So things happen, rapiers are flourished, headscarves and frilly shirts are worn, cannons are fired, ships are boarded, escapes are made, ransoms are demanded, nubile native dances are danced, you-saved-my-life-debts are repaid, and with one thing and another, Kit ends up in command of the French fleet attacking Cartagena. The attack is preceded by a series of quick stops off at Jamaica to destroy the English supply lines there and prevent the English from aiding the Spaniards. (Huh?…oh well, never mind, we’s on a roll.)

But in the midst of this pillaging, Kit discovers that the plantation he has just torched belongs to none other than Rouge (Jane) herself! She swears revenge! DUN DUN DUNNNN!

Anyhow, Kit’s master plan for taking Cartagena involves e) getting to the powder magazine and f) blowing it up. What about part a-d)? Well, those are: a) getting to Madame Bianca Del Toro, b) seducing her, c) getting the plans of the fortress via, d) promising marriage. Bianca, not being a complete idiot, immediately turns him over to her outraged and jealous husband. Who…sticks him in the dungeon to await a fair trial, instead of, as she demands, hanging him immediately.

Why? Well, because Kit is actually Del Toro’s son! (DUN DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN). Oh, this movie is just awesome.

Will Rouge get revenge? Will Del Toro be forced to kill our hero? Will Kit fulfil his mission and be handsomely rewarded by the French government? The answers are to be found within about ten minutes, so there’s really no point in pondering them all too deeply. Just know that it all gets wrapped up and tied with a flourish and a tip of the hat to the ladies, too.

Do I have to discuss how this movie has strong female characters? It has some really interesting strong–and extremely feminine–female characters. They fall in love–they fight back–they defend their honor and maintain their dignity with words if they can and pistols if they must, suss out motivations and psych out the opposition. No, they don’t engage in any sword fighting themselves (if it had been Maureen O’Hara, on the other hand….)–but they hardly need to. These women are dangerous enough without having to raise their hand in anger. And that’s about all that needs to be said. Oh, they also look really, really pretty in Technicolor.

My favorite part: womanizing Kit has a bit where, if a lady is dubious, he offers her a pistol and promises to let her shoot him if he makes a single improper advance. We see him do this to two wenches early on in the film–and then he tries it on Jane. Several minutes later (as Kit’s men are scraping him off the deck): “I knew he’d pull that pistol trick once too often!” Snerk.

Rated: DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNN DUNNNNNNNNN

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – DVD Commentary by professional critics

Reposted from Movies With My Mother (and cousin), because it made me laugh.

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“What do we wanna watch?”
“SUBTITLES!”
“You want subs?”
“Yes!”
“Uh…ok. Let’s watch Japanese Macbeth.”
“YESSS!”
“What are we watching?”
“Japanese Macbeth. Black and white Japanese Macbeth.”

[We watched: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword]

“Let it be known that I am not the one who selected this movie. She did.”
“I did!”
“She wanted to watch it.”
“I wanted to watch it!”
“…You really do want to watch it?”
“Yes!”
“Really?”
“PUSH THE BUTTON RIDERS!”

“…what?”
” It says, ‘For centuries’…”
“Wow that font is terrible.”

“It’s an elephant.”
“See, I told you. It’s like Lord of the Rings.
“Is that an elephant? What is an elephant doing there? Is it in India?”
“It’s a new version.”
“…Is it a musical?”

“That poor horse.”

“What is going on!? None of you are answering me!”
“They’re having a battle and Arthur’s father is going to get killed.”
“Who are they? Why are his eyes red? What are the elephants doing? What is he going to–Oh my gosh!”

“What’s–”
“He’s about to murder his family.”
“Him?”
“He’s going to murder the family and become evil king, except Arthur is going to escape and come back later.”
“Oh, IS HE REALLY.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I just spoil it for you?”
“….”
“And he becomes KING.”
“DUDE!”

“Why did he kill her!?”
“I dunno?”
“What was the point of him killing her?”
“I dunno!”
“There was no point, how come he killed her!?”
“I dunno! There’s no subtitles!”

“Can we get subtitles?”
“No.”
“You can get subtitles in English, you know.”
“We don’t have subtitles.”
“Shush! What are they doing now?”
“Killing each other.”

“An arrow killed her. That’s the arrow sound.”
“Who SENT the arrow?”
“The evil–” “–Jude Law. Jude Law sent the arrow.”
“Why?”
“Because he’s CRAZY!”

“Remember, you’re the one who wanted to see this.”
“I DID.”
“Past tense?”
“NO! WATCH THE MOVIE RIDERS!”

“Moses moment…Who are they?”
“He’s been adopted by prostitutes who drew him out of the Nile.”
What.”

“Why’d he take his shirt off?”
“You don’t do that when you’re upset?”

“What’s this?”
“Sinkhole.”
“That don’t look like no sinkhole.”
“It’s the sword.”
“Oh!”

“This is England?”
“It’s always England.”
“Why were there elephants in England?”

“It’s a bowl of spaghetti!”
“What?!”
“It’s a siren. I think he’s consulting the siren….OH MY GOODNESS!”
“What is the price?”
“Killing someone he loves.”

“What is going on?”
“They’re hiding a Resistance guy.”
“Why is there a Resistance?”
“Because the bad guy is king, there has to be a Resistance so the good guy can lead it!”
“He’s leading it?”
“No.”
“What?”
“Not yet. He has to be king before he can lead it, and before he can become king he has to lead it.”
“…”
“He’ll pull the sword from the stone, too, watch.”

“The guy hiding, was that the guy they took out?”
“No, the guy–which guy? That guy?”
“The guy who was bleeding, not the guy they took out.”
“The guy who was bleeding is the other guy. What guy are we talking about?”
“Pause it.”
“Ok.”

“I can’t tell when they’re going to have bad stuff! I have to cover my eyes!”

“Ze Vikings!”

“Why do you care if the people love you?”
“Because, if you leave your castle, they’ll shoot you.”

“Weren’t the Vikings later anyway?”
“No, they were always up there. Because they’re Nordic.”
“No, this is like 400 AD, right? Didn’t the Vikings only get started like later? Like, they were really all over the place at 900, 1000 AD, I think.”
“They were there in the movie with Kiera Knightly.”
“…”
“They were forest creatures!”
“WATCH THE MOVIE.”

“That looks like one of the creatures from–”
Lord of the Rings!”
“It’s just a DOG!”

“Whoops, no need to kill him, he dead.”

“Oh look, it can’t. Oh….it can.”

[to the music] “Kaw kaw kaw kaw kaw!”

“Waitaminute, they haven’t killed him yet?”
“They put him in prison.”
“With food and water?”
“Just water.”
“And shackles!”

“He’s monologuing! Why is he monologuing! Kill him!”

[The Mother of Skaith]: “Gwenivere is a witch?”
“Yes.”
“Gwenivere is a witch?”
“Yes.”
“Gwenivere is a witch?”
“…”
“Gwenivere is not a witch.”

“He’s going bald.”
“He is.”
“Wasn’t he young just a little while ago?”
“He is old!”

“They’re going to throw him down a well?”
“They’re going to throw him off the tower. It’ll be great.”

“Is that in the book? All the animals going crazy?”

“What? Why!”
“It’s the only way out!”
“But!”
“Ohmygosh! They jumped off the cliff!”
“Do you need a hug?”

“Of course she’s Romanian or Slavic.”
“They don’t grow goodlooking actresses in England.”
“…It’s their teeth.”

“They reached the Robin Hood lair now.”
“And now they’re boiling eggs.”

“…it’s called Percocet, dude.”

“RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE!”
“AHAHAHAHA!”
“You guys shush up.”

“I’m waiting for the Princess Bride quicksand.”

“It’s Lord of the Rings.”
“No it isn’t. Lord of the Rings was GOOD.”
“Did you see all the Hobbits?”
“The Hobbits were bad. Lord of the Rings was good.”

“Witch! Witch! Just say Witch!”
“What is ‘mage’?”
“It’s the trendy stylish way to say magician. Witch just sounds better. And more accurate! It’s Celtic!”

“Why is he fighting the Grim Reaper?”

“Wow his dad got tore uuup!”

“OH MY GOODNESS IS HIS DAD THE STONE?…he just pulled the sword out his father’s back. Think it severed the spine?”

“Look! Elephants!”

“WHAT. They would NEVER say that. You–you–you know what you have here! This is not realistic!”
“The giant elephants didn’t tip you off?”
“Even if it’s a remake, you still have to be, be faithful to the source. Even in 4th Century England!”

“He’s gonna kill the daughter.”
“Of course he is.”

“The soundtrack is really mediocre.”
“Mediocre, and unfitting.”
“Yeah.”

“So he wanted to be a mage, but he’s not naturally, so he had to buy the right.”

“Oo! He’s a good villain when he’s not monologuing.”

“CHOP CHOP? HE SAID, ‘CHOP CHOP’?!”
“That’s Chinese.”
“GAH!”

“This is a British movie, with a European cast, with a black guy and a Slavic actress….and a Chinese guy…and they all have American names.”

“They need to shoot the messenger.”

“Very considerate of the tower to collapse on itself, like that.”
“Yeah. It’s very Lord of the Rings….”
“Now all they need to have is the Eagles show up.”
“They have an eagle! She has it!”
“But it’s not giant.”
“It’s big…”

“Please remember, you were the one who wanted to watch this.”
“I did. Past tense.”

QuikReview: Boss Level (2021)

boss_level_ver3So due to hazardous road conditions in my area I’m stuck at home; and after receiving a ringing endorsement from film-authority for the rom-com Book of Love, I decided to watch Boss Level.

Overall….it’s fun movie. There are some directly meta bits (“Is that a katana?” “Psht, no, that would be Japanese.” “Let’s not bring racism into this.”) which don’t quite stick out like sore thumbs because the entire tone is so self-referential to begin with. There’s also a slam against “liberals,” which made me smile even though it’s the villain who makes it, so.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this movie that hasn’t been said already or made abundantly clear from the trailer. It’s a movie.

It has a beginning, an middle, a twist that raises stakes, and then an end. It has handsome and charismatic Frank Grillo, who handles the rather disappointingly basic action scenes with aplomb. It has Mel Gibson, uttering a performance that wouldn’t have gone amiss in a much better movie. It has about Michelle Yeoh, probably only present because someone in the production acquired compromising photos of her and negotiated her presence on set for an hour or two. I like to imagine she beheaded said producer with a prop sword when filming was done and left the set unchallenged. It has a cute kid who is not even annoying. It has an assassiness with her own tagline (“I am Guan Yin. And Guan Yin has done this!”) which probably really confused my coworkers when I added it to my email signature yesterday.

It’s a fun movie and I rather liked it.

Problem is: this could have been a serious, fun movie. It could have been a contender. It wouldn’t have been very hard, either. All it would have taken was a few more adjustments: a little bit less meandering during the first/discovery half of the movie, a little bit more earnestness during the action scenes, and a lot more focus on Grillo discovering the plot rather than getting humorously killed and reset dozens of times.

(There was also enormous potential for the damsel/girlfriend to be the ultimate villain/ess…given that she unhesitatingly and unapologetically used Roy and sent him to a horrible death literally hundreds of times, without his consent. Her character remains something of a blank because of this. Now, it could have been very simply solved by a very short line of dialogue along the lines of: “It’s been a long time since we were together. Would you still come and rescue me if I needed it?” “Of course!” Or, even with just the assurance at the end that “Hey. When I come back, will you go out with me again?” “Yes. Always.”

People complain about damsels having to be rescued. What they ought to complain about is damsels who don’t deserve to be rescued. As it is, lacking these notes, the damsel-mastermind came across [to me] as fairly unsympathetic, and this whole plot thread in my mind is simply fan speculation, adding depth and complexity to a script that doesn’t have and isn’t interested in such things. Oh well.)

Rated: an act of love and self-defense ought to be praised.

Also rated: I AM GUAN YIN AND GUAN YIN HAS DONE THIS!

QuikReview: The Light of The Western Stars (1940)

Primarily a romance. Also note the prominent, witnessing presence of the dumb sidekick, because those always make romances better.

 

So I also watched The Light of the Western Stars from 1940, a Zane Grey adaptation that stars absolutely no one you’ve heard of except possibly Victor Jory, who was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and yes okay fine, also The Shadow serial from 1937 and no I haven’t watched that yet, I’m saving it. This movie couldn’t have done his career any favors, though, because it’s pretty terrible. (It also has a pre-stardom Alan Ladd in a bit part, but you won’t notice him unless you’re looking pretty darned close.)

Now, I’ve also started the book. The book is basically a romance, and it’s correspondingly scanty on plot, but what there is so far (I’m at about the 1/3 mark) goeth thusly: Madeline Hammond, an independently and inheritedly-wealthy celebrated socialite, goes west to visit her wastrel brother, who has been disinherited for his weird and unfashionable ideas such as “earning money,” “doing hard work,” and “associating with commoners like cowboys, how droll.” 

Madeline promptly smacks into one such cowboy, the basically good-natured but also completely drunk and notably hell-raising Gene Stewart, who has made a bet to marry the first girl who comes into town. Madeline and the local padre both get strong-armed as far as the “Si,” before Stewart gets to the business of asking her name–and stops dead in his tracks at the reply. Alfred Hammond, you see, is highly regarded by his men, and report of Alfred’s beautiful, accomplished, and athletic sister “Majesty” Hammond has particularly reached to Gene Stewart. The duo agree to say nothing of what happened, ever, and it seems to be resolved when Stewart promptly gets into a fight with the corrupt local sheriff and heads over the border to join the Mexican rebels. 

Madeline, who in the book at least is a heroine that excels in brains as well as in beauty and virtue, not only finds that Western life agrees with her, but decides to invest her money into expanding, modernizing, and improving her brother’s failing ranch operation. Things go splendidly for a while, especially with such improvements as less wanton cruelty to animals. Gene Stewart eventually reappears, having won fame in the fighting but also having started to drink himself seriously to death. Madeline persuades him to straighten himself out and work as her foreman. The sexual tension thus remains high but the plot remains low, mostly provided by the suspicious Mexican rancher Don Carlos and his revealed aims to smuggle arms to whatever side  is currently buying…and so on and so forth, plus or minus random outlaw raids on the ranch because by golly if you have a heroine she needs to get rescued. Simple facts of life.

The book is pretty purple, but remains easy reading for two simple facts: one, I skim-read any paragraphs of dialogue that could be summarized to the first or last sentence; and two, the characters are compelling. Madeline (in the book) is as close to the ideal heroine as a writer could sit down and plan out point by point: incredibly beautiful and a great rider (trusted with Gene Simmons’ own beloved horse), intelligent enough to own and run her own business, tactful enough to manage “twenty-seven incomprehensible cowboys,” twenty-six of which are in love with her and the last of which proceeds to elope with her maid; and, also, needing to be rescued but suitably calm during the process and grateful to her rescuer afterwards. The slice-of-life sections of the book–Madeline adjusting to the Western life and dealing with the cowboys, sometimes with the sly guidance of old-timer Stillwell–are actually the highlights thus far. 

Now, the movie: the movie is quite short (just over an hour, it seems), and even this effort was beyond the capabilities of the writers. With the exception of a few bits taken directly from the book and thus built on a much better framework than the scriptwriters were capable of producing, the movie lurches from scene to scene in a manner that can’t really be dignified with the term “plot,” because there’s no coherence or continuity between each aside from the names of the characters or the actors playing them. More distractingly yet, the script lurches from line to line within each scene, and some of the lines are rather good, and the rest of them aren’t.

Back to Victor Jory. He plays Gene Stewart, who in the books is a rather distant and mysterious figure as befits the male love interest. Since the movie shifts protagonists from Madeline to Gene, he’s on screen most of the time, and he’s electric. He’s really great. He’s the reason any of the scenes work by themselves. Now, credit where credit is due: Madeline is played by someone named Jo Ann Sayers, and when she has even the slightest semblance of material to work with, she goes for it, too, and she’s watchable. Everyone else is just…there.

Oh, and there’s a fistfight that to my eye was actually pretty exciting and realistic, as it as it’s mostly two really angry guys grappling and trying to get the distance to swing a punch. Alas, it is also just about the only action scene in the movie, with the exception of a horse chase filmed at a very, very long distance. (Was that Trigger? It might have been Trigger. It was definitely a palomino.)

Anyhow. I definitely am going to finish the book, even if I have to skim-read it.

Rated: Well, it was an hour of my life that I would have also spent unproductively if I had done otherwise, so….

 

Dune (2021) – Movie Review

dune-poster-06oct20Overall: incompetent.

The movie is able to evoke emotions, but not set up plot points. The movie attempts spectacle, but can’t handle larger than life characters or epic situations. It can’t handle even moderately-lifelike characters, either, but that’s equally the fault of the actors–but then why didn’t you cast better actors? The movie attempts to adapt the book faithfully, in parts, but every single scene that is lifted directly from the book was honestly, legitimately done better in the gonzo 1984 version. No, I mean for real, without exaggeration and/or nostalgia filters: the 1984 version did every single specific scene better, from the gom jabbar to Duke Leto’s death to Jessica and Paul reacting to the death! It’s…it’s so poorly done, wow.

That being said, I can count on one hand the scenes which this movie does well: an original scene where Duke Leto accepts the Emperor’s decree; Paul saying good-bye to Caladan; Paul and Jessica escaping from the Harkonnen thugs in the ornithopter; and Paul’s knife-fight with Jamis. Those are good. I will also give it props for the ornitopters, which are extremely neat; and there is also no random pug dog (for the good guys) or cat-milking (for the bad guys.) If you don’t know what either of those things are, count your blessings and stay away from the 1984 version. Just read the book.

chani-dune-2020Well, this movie sets its own distinctive stamp on the procedings immediately: it’s narrated by Chani, instead of by Irulan. Very original. Chani plus the background action gives a brief (although with all the slow-mo it seems longer) overview of the situation on Arrakis. All I’m thinking is that this is 3 minutes in including credits and I am not impressed.

We cut immediately to Paul waking up and this immediately reinforces how the slow-mo of the past three minutes could have been replaced with “Tell me of the waters of your homeworld, Usul,” setting the groundwork for Paul and Chani’s relationship, subtly worldbuilding Arrakis, and a) being less annoying, b) being more accurate to the book. Incidentally, if Liet-Kynes is Chani’s (now) mother, and she’s very black, why is Chani merely pale brown? Dude, I just continue and continue to not be impressed by this girl as Chani. Put her as Irulan if you must cast for brown skin somewhere in your movie. You need someone who is actually lean and tough-looking (like the actress cast as her mother!) as a Fremen girl. They also try wayyyyy too hard to make her a STRONK FEMALE CHARACTER. Hint: she was cool, clever, well-rounded, interesting, badass, and compelling in the books, without forced antagonism towards Paul.

But movies are different than books! Why should movies TRY to be accurate to the books? Because filmmakers are morons, making entertainment for morons, directed, written, staffed, acted, and produced by morons. Prose writers might not be much better, but lacking the crutches that visual media offer, are forced to put a little bit of thought into their works. Movies should hew closely to the books whenever possible in order to borrow the thoughtfulness, internal logic, and worldbuilding that the original authors provided.

dune-delay-rebecca-ferguson-2714968Goddamnit, at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into this movie I AM DETERMINED TO APPROACH IT WITH A NONHOSTILE ATTITUDE. I woke up this morning with a hankering to watch it, I am going to watch it. This looks like Jessica. Jessica is my favorite character in all of science fiction. Let’s see what happens. (Ok, promising, promising, they have the painting of the Old Duke hanging up in the dining room.)

Movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak. For instance: rescuing the spice miner crew –in the book, the rescue ship simply doesn’t show up, having been sabotaged or bought off already. Here, it fails on “one point of contact,” oh noes!….and then buggers off. Not even a direct sabotage or hostile attack, something which would give the Judge of the Change legitimate pause for thought and give Leto’s already-heroic rescue of the crew additional polish. It just…buggers off, and the fact that it’s SINGLE point of failure precipated the whole scene makes Leto attempting to call Liet-Kynes on this makes him come across as blustery and weak.

I have said before and will say again: modern movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak and their actions ineffectual, not to mention letting anybody have badass deaths. Yueh, having been a complete nonentity for the length of the movie, doesn’t even get the courtesy of his defiant last lines to the Baron, showing that he understands completely what he did buy for his Wanna. Duncan Idaho has to effectively come back from the dead in order to make his legendary last stand be effective, because Paul and Jessica JUST STAND THERE while he’s fighting TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE, MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT OF HIS FIGHTING TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE. Liet-Kynes almost manages to have a cool death, though it’s too rushed to have impact.

The director is largely to blame for most of the flatness of this movie. Yes, he’s good at slow-mo and there’s excellent set dressing and here and there he actually manages to inject sneak some color into the costumes (Jessica’s orange dress is so lonely and alone out there, it promptly goes away again and it looked bloody impractical anyway, but IT WAS THERE, wow!) What he’s not good at is, apparently, casting good actors; or drawing competent performances out of mediocre (looking at you, Timothee with two E’s) ones, or poor (looking at you, Zendaya) ones.

I’m not sold on this Jessica, or on her methods, but….Yeah, overall I’m not sold. She has an uncomfortable amount of chemistry with her on-screen son and it a) comes at the expense of her scenes with her actual husband, b) continues throughout the movie, c) IS CREEPY. She’s also far, far too emotional, for a noblewoman, a Duke’s consort, or a Bene Gesserit adept. However, I will say that (albeit with the copious help of ADR special effects on The Voice) she handles the escape scene excellently. This is how you adapt a scene from a novel: make it dynamic.

oscar-isaac-wollte-in-dune-ursprunglich-keinen-bart-haben-980x400-1 I am COMPLETELY unsold on Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto. A subplot of Paul wanting to accompany Duncan on the advance scouting mission has been added, which segues from characterizing Paul for the audience (and this makes him different from in the book, yes, and yes I know why, and yes I’ve already put my thoughts out about that) to providing more exposition for and characterization of Leto. And if you thought that a focus on Leto would showcase his arrogance, determination, family pride, or charisma, guess again.

Josh Brolin, whom I originally thought was Discount Kurt Russell, is….GURNEY HALLECK? The ugly, scarred minstrel guy with the big grin and bigger knives? Really? I always imagined him as blond. Jason Momoa, of course, playing SpaceArmor-Momoa, well, is playing SpaceArmor-Momoa. WITH A MAN BUN. The dude who plays Thufir Hawat drawls like some dude from Brooklyn and is utterly underwhelming. HEY THAT’S JIU CHENG THE GOD OF WAR AS DOCTOR YUEH! I guess it works to have Yueh be comparatively a younger, good-looking guy. Oh gods…was the spider-thing….? Thankfully, this movie glosses right along over that plot point.

Javier Bardem, someone has already noted, is riffing off Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin chieftain, and as such is miles ahead of everyone else in this movie.

Overall, the set dressing is great. It’s clean-looking, with just the kind of retrofuturism that works perfectly for this genre. But then you get little disruptive touches like…shiny beetle faceplates that just…don’t…work. Like: the ceremony of accepting the Emperor’s decree, spaceship landing, robed party walking down the ramp blah blah, all excellent scifi-y stuff. It’s immediately ruined by the shot of the robed people having giant curved opaque faceplates. It’s just off enough to throw you out of immersion.

The soundtrack is trash. I mean, like wow it’s trash. It’s legit just a collection of drones, tones and the occasional thump/bwaaaaa; it adds nothing to the scenes that it overlays. I am not exaggerating, these are scenes that are teetering on the edge of decent and could be elevated by better music.

So, it looks like many of the pure-spectacle scenes, and the majority of original-content scenes, are done well for a given value of “well done.” No one really knows how to do pure spectacle these days. Where this movie suffers is where it tries to take things from the book….because these are very poorly handled. Like, WOW the scene with Shadout Mapes and the crysknife was shot, acted, framed, choreographed, adapted terribly. Why not just make an epic scifi movie and say “inspired” by Dune? And then, also steal from a bunch of other scifi classics, like Foundation, The Star Kings, etc, mash them together and lay claim to the result? Instant success, I promise.

Misc:
– OK, I legit cracked up: Gurney Halleck starts quoting poetry when they first land on Arrakis, but the preceding shot makes it look like he’s cheating and looking up the words beforehand. AND THEN SOME GUY, NOT GURNEY, WALKS PAST WITH BAGPIPES.
– Oh boy, ok. We get another original scene, of Salusa Secondus and the Saudaukar rituals, which apparently involve Tuvan Throat Singing and human sacrifice.
– So anyway, about one hour and 15 minutes in, the Harkonnen/Saudaukar attack, and just to emphasize how much the Atreides were caught with their pants down, there’s the obligatory “men running across an open space with fire in the background and getting blown up occasionally” shot. WITH BAGPIPES.
– Ye gods.
This is SO DUMB. No wonder people make fun of space movies with swords and magic powers.
Ye gods.
– (Jason Momoa JasonMomoas around with his man-bun a bit.)
– OH MY GOD GO GO POWER RANGER PAUL WHAT THE HELL. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY???? SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?
– Ew. SERIOUSLY, EW. MOVIE GO BACK TO INCOMPETENTLY ADAPTING SCENES DIRECTLY FROM THE BOOK.
– Just read the book. Really, even though it’s long it’s worth it. It’s engrossing, exciting, and it has all these really cool ideas and characters that are so much more interesting in the book and your own head than in this movie.

Rated: Just read the book.