Mar 282017
 
one reel
TheDiscovery

Thomas Harber (Robert Redford) has discovered definitive proof of an afterlife. This has lead to massive numbers of suicides. Upon hearing his father has discovered something new, Harber’s truly annoying son, Will (Jason Segel), travels to a beautiful home that is supposed to be considered ugly for no reason. It is the cult-like base where Thomas carries out his research, now focused on what being dead is like. On the way he meets Isla (Rooney Mara) who manages the herculean task of being even more annoying than Will.

The Discovery has a great concept. Not about the afterlife as many films have touched on a secular afterlife. It is the social effect of everyone committing suicide that is the foundation for a great movie. This isn’t that movie. Once that idea is expressed, it all goes to Hell, which is kinda fitting.

Instead of examining that social situation, or the philosophical implications of suicide, or even the research angle, The Discovery spends its time with what is supposed to be Will and Isla’s love story. That could possibly work, in a different movie, but as both Will and Isla have no positive attributes, their dialog lacks wit or humanity, and Segel and Mara have negative chemistry together, it is the worst kind of slog. Since this is a movie about death, I just wanted these two to die, and do it quickly. Their abysmal discussions about people they’ve known that have died and how life is complicated take place during a side mystery as Will tries to prove in the cheapest and easiest to film way that his father is wrong. His detective work is almost as drab as the relationship.

Jason Segel is not a great talent. The star of How I Met Your Mother isn’t much of any kind of talent, which allows him to fit into this film perfectly. Redford does not fit. He’s slumming it and it shows in every scene. He’s not trying hard and he’s still on a different plane than the rest of the cast. But the low level of talent isn’t reserved for the actors. Directing, lighting, and cinematography are scraping the muck as well. The blue-green haze screams last year’s cell phone camera. The night scenes do indeed look like night as I couldn’t see a thing.

This isn’t a film that dares to ask big questions. It is conventional and conservative. It is so dead set on saying nothing that the only question it had me asking was when it would end.

 Reviews, Science Fiction Tagged with:
Mar 262017
 

An old sub-genre is getting a kick in China now—tomb raiding adventures stories. The newest incarnations are not examples of China just now discovering Indiana Jones, as some have suggested, but are part of a movement set off by an ebook: Ghost Blows Out the Light (2006). The series set records in China and physical books followed. There are eight novels so far. As different people own the rights to different parts of the series, there’s been a TV series and two movies, all with nothing to do with each other and all contradictory. They’ve also all done well at the Chinese box office. It’s amusing to see such excitement about tomb raiding entertainment in China as the mainland government has very dim views of both tomb raiding and of the supernatural. Censors have gotten involved, resulting in the films having self-loathing adventurers and Scooby Doo moments. Magic is fine when stuck in a legendary context, but not in the modern world; that’s why there are so many cinematic retellings of Journey to the West.

 

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (2015) three reels

At an archaeological dig, Hu Bayi (Mark Chao) volunteers, along with other soldiers, to accompany Professor Yan and his daughter Ping (Yao Chen) down a dangerous tunnel. These leads to fire bats, avalanches, and a mysterious temple, and also the deaths of most of the party. Several years later Bayi and his childhood friend Wang Kaixuan (Li Feng) are given a chance to return to the area to uncover its secrets and stop additional deaths.

The only one of the three films without professional grave robbers, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is as much a horror story as an adventure tale. There’s an equal helping of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” to go with the Lost Ark raiding. Bayi is a soldier at a legitimate, government-sanctioned dig and gets in over his head. While he ends up having a few special powers, he has no Laura Croft abilities. He’s a typical Lovecraftian lead, stumbling into things best left unknown. It’s easy to empathize with him, as well as with Ping—later renamed Shirley.

The opening act is dark and exciting and everything you’d want in an horrific underground tomb story. But things slacken off after that. The problem with Bayi not being skilled is he stops being a protagonist. Thing happen to him, but he rarely chooses or discovers anything. The answers to the big questions of the film are handed to him. Someone slips him an old academic paper of the professor’s that explains precisely what happened in the past. A librarian shows him the “magic.” The plot would have been far more engaging if Bayi had acted in some way to uncover the secrets.

Things pick up again at the end when it morphs into a creature feature, which only suffers from too many loose threads. The studio is clearly counting on making a sequel, but it’s a sequel worth seeing.

Perhaps the most interesting—and definitely the most fun—part of the film is its commentary on late ‘70s and early ‘80s communist fanaticism. With the cultural revolution still visible in the rear view mirror, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe offers up a mob of singing, chanting, hard core party members who cheer on the actual workers while doing nothing productive themselves, and yet still exhaust themselves with their never ending propaganda. Similarly, the stage song on the wonders of Chinese oil production is clearly meant as a poke at a country that took itself far too seriously. As for those pesky censors, they are satisfied with a little science fiction lip service.

 

Mojin: The Lost Legend (2015) two reels

Hu Bayi (Chen Kun), Shirley Yang (Shu Qi), and Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) are ex-tomb raiders living on the streets of New York. Their last failed mission drudged up painful memories for Bayi who now mopes in the “sick” West. Years earlier, Bayi and Kaixuan had been part of a youth corps during Mao’s Cultural Revolution where both had fallen for Ding Sitian (Angelababy). When their group stumbled upon an ancient site, everyone, including Sitian, was killed except for Bayi and Kaixuan. Upset with the current state of affairs, Kaixuan, who was opposed to giving up the business, takes a job with a mysterious cult that will allow him to search for a flower he’d promised Sitain he’d find for her. Bayi and Yang, seeing trouble, follow to rescue him.

Mojin may be based on the same books and characters as Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, but you’d never know it if you weren’t told. These are action heroes and their comic relief in a full out action fantasy, where kung-fu, leaping three times further than any real human could, and shooting grappling hooks like Batman are the norm. No one blinks when zombies appear or green flame burns through rock.

Mojin starts with a lot of promise. There’s about as much depth as one could hope for in Bayi’s and Kaixuan’s troubled past and Shirley Yang looks to be a strong and beguiling character, with Shu Qi owning the screen. The cult leader is a fine villain and her Japanese schoolgirl assassin is straight out of Kill Bill. But things fall apart quickly. The sidekick’s humor is never funny, and the sidekick’s sidekick is an embarrassment (when your sidekick has his own sidekick, you can guess there’s going to be a problem). He never stops talking and I so wanted him to. He is either moaning and complaining or attempting juvenile jokes. It quickly reaches a point where the film plays better with the sound off. Yang, who looked like she would be the protagonist, turns out to be a worthless damsel, with Bayi repeatedly saving her, whether she wanted to be saved or not, as she screamed at him.

Once they all start traipsing about the temple, the focus is on mediocre CGI over story. characters shift in location randomly and survive in close up what definitely would have killed them in the far shot. Looking cool trumps making sense. After a while I just gave up and figured “stuff happens.” Some of it looks good. but it is much less than it should have been.

Like Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, Mojin dips into politics, but in an odder and more uncomfortable way. My understanding is that the cultural revolution is seen as a dark time in China. That’s what I got from my Chinese stepfather. But Majin looks back at it with warm nostalgia. The youths went too far, destroying statues and chanting all the time, but this is presented as the foolishness of the young, not a problem with the larger political situation. Mao’s teachings are seen as great philosophy and several people, including Bayi, take solace from his words. “Why can’t we get back to the good old revolutionary days of Mao” isn’t the kind of message I’d expect Chinese censors to be comfortable with. Those same censors were no doubt happier with the grave robbers being mostly miserable, suffering for their profession, and ending up with no financial gain. Of the two sources of supernatural magic, one is Scoopy Doo’d away, which also allows for a hit at religion and cults, while the other is explained, though it makes no sense. But then the government concern isn’t that it make sense.

 

Time Raiders (2016) two reels

An older Wu Xie (Lu Han—a Chinese/Korean boy band idol) is approached by a writer to tell the story of what happened when he was a teen. Wu Xie had belonged to a traditional family of grave robbers. His family had tried to keep him out of the business, but his flair for tinkering and exploring turned up the key to the Snake Empress’s tomb. The family set outs, accompanied by the sullen and secretive martial arts master Zhang Qiling (Jing Boran). Zhang Qiling is ageless, having lived so long that he’s forgotten his past, though he does recall his fight fifty years earlier with Hendrix (Vanni Corbellini), a Western arch-villain seeking immortality in the tomb.

Time Raiders (that’s “time,” not “tomb”) is based on a different, popular set of novels, ones that have also spawned a TV series. It also takes the adventure fantasy route, with characters routinely doing the impossible. As with many Asian action films, we have an angsty, manly-man hero who seldom speaks and often gazes off into the universe, when not kicking ass with his over-sized sword and Spider-Man-like danger sense. He is befriended by the young, cheerful, effeminate protagonist. Chinese eyes might see it differently, but for Westerners (and even more the Japanese), the homo-erotic subtext is overwhelming. That’s the only character development we get, so best to cling to it. The rest of the time is spent with over-the-top action fighting CGI opponents against CGI backgrounds. I like a bit of CGI, but I’d like some story to go with it. Here, CGI is king. Well, make that “baron” as the effects work isn’t bad, but isn’t good enough to support the feature on its own. At least someone should have told them that real room are not lit evenly everywhere like in a video game.

A few scenes are impressive (a Rube Goldberg machine to light the ancient tomb is fabulous) but none of it means anything or has any emotional power. For a cheap Saturday afternoon at home, Time Raiders plays out alright, but really would work best for children who don’t mind subtitles (or speak Chinese).

More interesting than the film is trying to making sense of it. Extensive time is spent on flashbacks and visions that the film never clearly explains and that, in a competent narrative, should have been left out. The masked man Wu met as a child is apparently supposed to have been Zhang, who has probably forgotten the incident. But so what? Why is that important? There is the vaguest implication that Zhang may actually be Wu, who has somehow time-traveled to the past and thereby given some meaning to the title. But that doesn’t help us with the censors. That Wu, as an older man, is miserable and his family is gone gives us our necessary lesson that grave robbing is bad. But Time Raiders doesn’t come up with a non-supernatural explanation for the Snake Empress or immortality. It does bring up her using electromagnetic force fields and keeps flashing into space to show stars zipping about and crashing into each other, but that doesn’t help. Rather, I suspect the filmmakers sold the story to the government in a simpler way: none of it happened. It is all a tale that Wu is telling the writer, one that he clings to instead of the truth, that his family all died while raiding a non-magical tomb and that it is his fault because he found the key. It is rare that some variation on “it was all a dream” is preferable to other options, but in this case, it is the only way to make the film mean anything.

Mar 192017
 
one reel

Mae (Emma Watson) gets a chance to escape her dead-end job due to her friend, Annie (Karen Gillan), getting her an interview with The Circle, an Appple/Facebook/Google-type company. The Circle is extremely helpful in all aspects of life, but equally intrusive. The employees act like members of a cult, led by the charismatic Bailey (Tom Hanks). Over the course of the film, Mae switches back and forth between embracing absolute surveillance and thinking that it may be dangerous.

As edgy and deep as your aunt’s Facebook posts, The Circle makes the bold statement that a complete lack of privacy is probably a bad idea. Not exactly the deepest of philosophies.

Perhaps this could have been interesting if the characters, mainly Mae, acted consistently. If the film was an examination of a woman falling into a cult and becoming a true fanatic, then it would be something. If it was a thriller following a woman trying to take down a dangerous corporation, or stuck within a shadowy organization, then again, it could be interesting. But any of those requires Mae to be a character, and she isn’t one. She just slips from one personality to the next, depending on what is needed for what passes for the plot at any moment. Her decisions seem random, but no worse than those of anyone else. Would the CEO of a powerful information technology corporation really think it was a good idea to use their anti-privacy tech to locate someone that is angry and hates them in a live broadcast? If so I’m betting a PR rep would jump in. This company rarely makes moves that a real company would make. No one else does either. Mae has millions of online followers who constantly comment in real time, and there is not a single troll. That wouldn’t be a problem in a different kind of film, one that wasn’t pushing a message about online communication, but here it is odd.

But neither reality nor the company matter. The film rises and falls on Mae, which means it falls. I was never “with” her. I never believed her or was interested in her. Apparently I wasn’t alone as reshoots were made in an attempt to make her human, but test screenings determined it had the opposite effect.

The old-foggy tone gets old really fast, and I’m the old-foggy they are aiming at. I’m onboard with shaking my cane at those damn kids on my lawn, or to be more precise, those damn kids looking at their phones but this pounds that in, as if I was getting knocked on the head with my own cane. The none-too-subtle metaphor has cites and tech and groups of people being bad while being alone anywhere in “nature” is good. Why do these millennials want to party and keep in touch when they could be standing around in a field somewhere gazing off at nothing?

With no mystery to solve, no character to follow, and no grand ideas to dwell on, The Circle is dull, and that’s the greatest crime a movie can commit.

 Cyberpunk, Reviews Tagged with:
Mar 192017
 
one reel
ironfist

Naïve and kindly, but also bratty, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York after having been declared dead years ago in a plane crash. He’d been rescued by monks and trained to be a warrior, eventually picking up the magical power of the “Iron Fist.” He is now the defender of the monetary from The Hand, but he left because he felt unsatisfied. His father’s multi-billion dollar company is now run by Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), a childhood friend, and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey), a childhood bully who hasn’t improved. Unknown to most, their father, Harold Meachum (David Wenham), who died and was resurrected by The Hand, is pulling the corporate strings behind the scenes. While Danny slow—oh, so slowly—proves who he is, he gets involved with martial arts instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) who has her own secrets; this allows for Danny to spout off all kinds of Asian phrases to the Asian girl, making Danny look like douche bag of the year—although apparently we aren’t supposed to think that.

Remember the Phantom Menace? Remember how you asked for a new Star Wars movie that would emphasize trade negotiations? You don’t remember that? Yeah, that’s because it never happened. How about when you asked for a comic book martial arts film that would really focus on corporate legal arguments? Didn’t ask for that either? No one did.

So, we bring the MCU not down to street level, but to the most boring penthouse you can imagine. There’s legal wrangling as we watch Danny Rand ineffectually argue that he is the supposedly dead son of a billionaire. Like the other Netflix shows, Iron Fist forgets that it isn’t interesting for us to be ahead of the characters. We know the lead character is Danny, so waiting for everyone else to get up to speed just uses up time. That time could have been spent working out who these characters are and what makes them tick. But Iron Fists prefers the simple approach. How do we know that corporate asshole is an asshole? Show him cheating at Monopoly as a kid and yelling that “rules are for pussies.” This is not a nuanced show.

While Iron Fist is supposedly of a more adult nature then average programming, watching it felt like watching a kid’s show. Danny is an emotionally unstable ten year old. Sure, spending years in a monastery could leave him naïve, but he’s a spoiled child. And everyone interacts like children. Ward functions purely as a bully kid. Claire Temple, now in every show, gives us first grade morality (killing is bad!). Gee, thanks. Characters get very upset if they aren’t getting enough attention. The whole show would make sense if these were a group of children just reaching puberty. A substantial part of the back end of the series is about Danny throwing a tantrum. We’re supposed to take it as a combination of PTSD and moral evaluation, but it’s just a tantrum.

Iron Fist has the slowest start of any of the series. The first eight episodes crawl, with little of interest happening. Things pick up in episode 9 (far too late), but it then stumbles again before coming to a remarkably unsatisfying conclusion (Danny is only alive because henchmen seem to not shoot their guns sometimes in the middle of a fight…)

The villains could have elevated things, but they do not live up to their potential. The undying Harold Meachum ends up doing the same sort of corporate bad guy things we’ve seen in dozens of non-superhero films. And the mystery villain that pops up late could have been interesting if it wasn’t clear immediately that he was a villain. I don’t know why “smarmy” was the choice they made. He could have been multifaceted. But nope.

So this time, we have all the expected problems, but they are worse. Iron Fist is slow. The editing is primitive. The plot could fill 6 episodes, not 13. There are speeches and the same subjects keep getting brought up. It is the worst of the shows, so it needed theme to save it like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. But it doesn’t get it. Instead, theme drags it down. First, its themes are confused. The whole “killing is bad” and “I must get past my anger” puts us squarely back in children’s programming. It dips a finger into currant American culture with the problems of massive corporations and then flops about like a fish. The series takes the stance that big corporations can be mean (edgy there…), but then groups anyone who wants to change the system into The Hand, labeling them as either evil or fools. What does that leave? The big message: Corporations are OK as long as good people run them, even if the good people are stupid (and yeah, Danny is stupid). Gosh, I wonder why no one ever thought of having good people run corporations.

Which brings me to the missing theme. The character of Iron Fist was created to profit from the popularity of Hong Kong martial arts films. But in the early ‘70s, Marvel was far happier to sell another White character then bring in an Asian one as they should have. So they race-swapped an Asian, giving us a White savior. He’s a White kid, but dumped into the mysterious Orient and their inscrutable ways, he becomes better then all the people who live there. Naturally he’s better. He’s White. He tosses around pop culture Asian saying and is the great White martial arts master. This is an old trope, that should have been dumped years ago.

So Marvel had a choice. They could propagate a racist trope from the ‘70s, that’s also a cliché that makes the character less interesting, or they could fix their forty year old mistake. They chose the former. They went with the cliché giving us something duller than it should be, and racist.

Being a racist cliché did not sink Iron Fist. It was already sunk from its plot and editing and childish characters. But, if they’d made the right decision, and made Danny an Asian or an Asian-American (probably the best choice), then we’d have something new for cinematic superheroes. Then we’d have a theme with something to say. And maybe that would have been enough to save the show (as happened to some extent with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones). Doctor Strange suffers from the same racist cliché (though to a much lesser extent), but it had enough else going for it that it didn’t need to be saved. It’s fun, if a touch uncomfortable. Iron Fist has very little going for it. So theme was its one chance, and a racial positive theme dealing with Asian-Americans would have been a game changer.

Instead, Iron Fist has to stand on some other qualities, and it has none that are strong enough to hold it up.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Mar 192017
 

Marvel's Daredevil

Daredevil Season 1 3,5 reels

Daredevil Season 2 two reels

Jessica Jones 2.5 reels

Luke Cage two reels

Iron Fist one reel

 

Marvel’s MCU films are the most successful film series of all time. Each has been clever and exciting, with a touch of theme and a whole lot of character, while also allowing Mickey Mouse to dance around his new pools of money.

The related MCU “TV” series are a different matter and have had some success, but not the same level. Of the six, four stream on Netflix and are close kin. Agents of Shield and Agent Carter are different, and so should be looked at separately. But the other four, those can be evaluated together as they have many of the same traits.

Creating series for streaming, and for a lot less money than the films, allowed Marvel to do something different. This is usually described as “making entertainment for adults.” That doesn’t mean adult with regard to sex or violence, although they have a touch of both. And it certainly doesn’t mean with regard to plot. It is theme where things are different. Each show could examine socially troubling issues. This is most visible with Jessica Jones which delves into domestic and sexual abuse, and Luke Cage which looks at Black culture and racism. In all cases, theme and character take precedence over plot. It is the themes that make these shows worth the time.

All of the shows involve “street-level heroes,” superheroes with fewer powers than The Avengers and mostly lacking the preternatural skill sets. They do not face cosmic threats, but fight street crime and mob bosses. Their stories are focused on smaller areas and smaller events, and on the day-to-day trials of normal life. And happiness seems out of reach. There are no great celebrations. If they fail, things are bad. If they succeed, then things are a bit better, but still not great. These are not happy stories. With considerably smaller budgets than for a single MCU feature, there’s no big action scenes or wild CGI.

Beyond theme, the shows focus on tense situations and character. Unfortunately, the second part of that doesn’t work so well. The shows have plenty of time to look at the characters, but that doesn’t mean they use it well. Instead of delving into these characters, more often, the extra time is spent on speeches or revisiting the same thing over and over. It may be true that in reality people dwell on the same thing repeatedly, but that doesn’t make it good storytelling. In every case, the shows are too long. Running thirteen episodes, none of them should have been over ten, with six to eight being preferable. The plots do not require this much time to unfold. Often, to stretch out stories, characters make incredibly stupid decisions that not only slow things down, but make it harder to like them or believe them as characters. It doesn’t help that most scenes are too loosely edited. They drag. All five season (Daredevil has two seasons) would be improved greatly by tighter editing throughout, and the paring away of irrelevancies and excessive speeches. Cut them down to eight eps, and these would be gold. At thirteen, it is a matter of sorting the good from the bad. The good won out at the beginning, but as time has passed, the weaknesses are winning.

 

Daredevil: Season 1 3,5 reels

daredevils1

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind lawyer by day and an enhanced vigilante by night. In his law practice, formed with his college friend “Froggy” (Elden Henson) and aided by recent client Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), he defends the poor. As “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” he attempts to take down the mobs, searching for the kingpin of crime, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Fisk, a violent and driven man, plans to remake the city into something beautiful. His life is altered when he unexpectedly finds himself in love with art-dealer Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer).

Daredevil: Season One is the highpoint of the MCU on Netflix. It is written better, with wittier dialog, and shot better than the rest. It is serious, but not too serious. The fights are brutal but they are secondary. Much more time is spent on getting to know Matt Murdock and his pals than anything else.

It has the same flaws as the others, but to a lesser extent. I’d like to edit it down, and remove the most ridiculous decisions (You mean the guy that kills people who cross him might try to kill you if you cross him? Shocking). And there’s too many speeches and lots of repetition on the nature of a hero and vigilantism.

Matt Murdock is a middle of the road character, neither interesting nor annoying. And Froggy, the sidekick, is just that, a sidekick who fills up time. Then there is Karen Page, who’s like something out of the 1950s. She never thinks; she simply emotes. In this (and the second season) she just jumps in, crying about truth and how sad things are with no regard to how anything works and we are supposed to ride along. Bringing up THE TRUTH in a court case is not important if it is clearly inadmissible or irrelevant. She’s a bad trope from an earlier time.

What the season has is a great villain in Wilson Fisk, and most reviews fawn on him. People mistakenly think it is Fisk alone, the performance by Vincent D’Onofrio and his being a villain who is fighting for what he thinks is good. But it is the relationship between him and Vanessa that makes the show work. When Fisk kills the Russian boss, it isn’t for some empty scheme or due to daddy issues (see Luke Cage). It is because the Russian damaged his relationship—because Fisk was embarrassed in front of Venessa. That made it emotional. That gave it resonance. I believe everything Fisk does connected to her. And I believe her. They are the heart of the show. At times I wanted him to win. I understood him. I almost liked him, but I really liked them together. D’Onofrio may have been excellent, but Zurer is more. Hers is the finest performance in any of the series.

To add to a great villainous couple, we have a great henchmen in loyal James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore). I could have watched thirteen episodes of the adventures of Fisk, Vanessa, and Wesley.

 

Daredevil: Season 2 two reels

daredevils2

Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), The Punisher, is a new vigilante in town, who has no problem killing. Daredevil decides he must take him down while Karen feels there is more to his story that needs to be revealed. Simultaneously, Matt Murdock’s old love, Elektra Notchios (Elodie Yung) has returned to town, her appearance corresponding to an increase in crime by a mysterious organization of ninjas known as The Hand.

Season 2 differed from the other 4 seasons of MCU Netflix series by theoretically having enough story to fill thirteen episodes, but only because it ran two completely disconnected, simultaneous plots. They not only didn’t fit together, they didn’t match in tone or theme. It made for a jangling viewing experience. The Punisher stuff is down to earth, violent, and supposedly emotional. The Hand subplot is pure fantasy, filled with vague mystical ramblings and superhero hijacks.

While the two stories could have filled thirteen episodes with plot, they didn’t. Neither story was fleshed out or even finished. The Punisher plot is very simple. The big bad was barely developed and his scheme seemed to be nothing more than heroine smuggling (at one point the big bad says it is more, but nothing more is given). It is a revenge story for a family we don’t know taken on bad guys who are never explained.

The second is even more undeveloped. It is vaguely about The Hand and their quest for their ultimate weapon. It’s filled with a fair amount of esoteric mumbo-jumbo: fate, immortality, ancient magic, and rising from the dead. But none of that goes anywhere. The great war, which we are told is very important, is kept ambiguous. The ultimate weapon is not explained at all. The bad guys are mostly unidentified. There are no stakes and no emotion.

So while there was enough story, they didn’t tell those stories. Instead, we again are given speeches, very slow cuts, and prolonged shots of nothing in particular. And of course, we get the same, uninteresting and done-to-death debate on superhero morality: Is killing ever allowed, and if one kills, then has he “crossed the line” from which he can never “return”? It’s tedious. A good theme could have obfuscated the glaring plot holes, but we didn’t get one.

Season 2 made it clear that Matt Murdock is not the draw. Daredevil just isn’t a great character. He is neither engaging nor likable. It isn’t a matter of him being too straight-laced or too obnoxious. Captain America is good and very likable. And Tony Stark is an ass, but also likeable. Matt Murdock sits in the uninteresting spot between them. Neither his endless moralizing, nor his slips from that morality, make him relatable, or cool. I never empathized with him. And without Fisk and Vanessa, there’s no magic.

 

 

Jessica Jones 2.5 reels

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) had retired from the superhero business to become a drunken private detective, though her main focus is personal: stop Kilgrave (David Tennant), a mind-controlling super villain who had kidnapped her and held her for months. Her plans are altered when Kilgrave forces his latest victim, Hope (Erin Moriarty) to kill her parents. Jones feels the need to prove Hope’s innocence which means capturing Kilgrave alive. She is aided by radio personality Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and by Will Simpson (Wil Traval), a police officer with rage issues.

Where in the other series, theme is the most important factor, in Jessica Jones it buries everything else. This is a thirteen hour examination of abuse. Mainly it is sexual and domestic abuse. With only the slightest of exceptions, everyone is either an abuser or abused, and most are both. Jones is a rape survivor, both literally and metaphorically. Her rapist, Kilgrave, was a child-abuse victim. So was Jessica’s best friend, Trish, who also is assaulted during the series. The guy who attacks her, Will Simpson, is a metaphoric rape victim and was abused by his doctors as well as suffering from PTSD. Jessica’s lawyer (Carrie-Anne Moss) is the abuser of two domestic partners. And that’s not nearly the end. This is a parade of suffering people.

But the show isn’t about the abuse. It is about the effects of abuse. It is about recovery, or the lack there of. It is about how people deal with abuse. It’s about their fear. How they hide. How they become alcoholics and drug addicts. How it stays with them forever even if they can move on. And it is very emotional stuff. I don’t think it has been done better.

Unfortunately, the plot is less interesting. It’s not that it is bad, perhaps being the best of the Netflix MCU stories; it is just slight. The basic plot could have been covered in two episodes. Kilgrave just wants to have a good time and desires for Jessica to be at his side. Jessica want to stop Kilgrave and free a girl whose been accused of one of his crimes. That’s it. Adding in the soldier with rage issues and Luke Cage should have required another hour. There’s not nearly enough story for thirteen episodes. Even slowing things down for mood and in-depth character examinations, Jessica Jones should have been six episodes, eight if they were pushing it. But never thirteen.

Like in Daredevil, the series is extended by having Jessica and company make stupid decisions, and they do. Very stupid. It is more excusable here than in the other series because all of the people are broken and making horrible decisions in general. But it isn’t excusable enough. It gets annoying. We, as viewers, are so far ahead of the characters.

So Jessica Jones is far too slow for multiple reasons. The dialog is OK, but nothing special. The plot is simplistic and it is hard to like these folks (sympathize with—yes, but not like). But the ever-present theme distracts from the many problems. And that theme is important, so I can let the show slide here and there. But that makes this a series to respect, not enjoy.

 

Luke Cage two reels

lukecage

Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is on the run, keeping his head down in Harlem, but when a friend is killed, he feels he must get involved. Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) rules the criminal underground from his music club and he… Wait. Wait. Scratch that. After getting to know Cottonmouth really well, it turns out he doesn’t count. OK, lets try that again. Corrupt politician Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) has plans to rebuild Harlem her way and doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way. She… Damn. Wait. That’s wrong again. We just spent a lot of time with her but she’s a sidekick. Let’s try this one more time. Over-the-top, comic book villain, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) eventually shows up with some plan to sell weapons that I sure don’t care about. He also wants to hurt Luke Cage and just run around and be crazy. Yup, he’s the guy they settled with. For their gritty realistic show…Diamondback. The guy with less subtlety than Ronan. OK. Anyway, Luke has to stop him.

I’d like to say that representation isn’t the only important thing about Luke Cage, but it is. The superhero genre is very White. Asians hardly exist and (discounting Steel, as one should) the only Blacks are a couple of sidekicks. So finally we get representation for Black characters and Black culture and it is welcome. Just as story is secondary to showing what abuse is like in Jessica Jones, so story is secondary to Black representation in Luke Cage.

Cage himself is less engaging than he was as a secondary character in Jessica Jones, but that is the fate of the MCU Netflix lead. As a lead he’s now the guy who makes speeches. Lots of time is spent with him but little of it brings up anything new. He repeats himself. We see him doing what he has done before, just a lot more of it. In Jessica Jones, Cage was defined by his loss, by the death of his wife. Here he’s defined by a never-ending debate on the responsibilities of a hero. To slow down the series—and like its predecessors, it moves slowly—Cage spends a good deal of the show changing his mind on if he will fight or run.

I applaud the nods to old blaxploitation cinema. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those watching miss that—you have to be a fan of the old films. But someone involved in making the show sure knew those films. The music is reminiscent of the past, as are many of the background characters, and shots. We even see Cage in his old blaxploitation costume from the comics, although that lasts only a moment.

Once we get past the diversity and Black culture, we are stuck with the plot and it is, like that of the others, not that interesting. There’s enough for four episodes, maybe more, but nowhere near thirteen. The story is far too predictable. We know who’s going to die before they do, and what that death will motivate. We know who will be a traitor—the same person in every other series and movie. We know how everyone will react.

The only surprise is the swapping of villains, and it isn’t a welcome one. The three villains are connected by a henchman, which is just the start of a string of coincidences. Cottonmouth is a red herring villain. At least he is fully realized, even if it doesn’t matter and he comes to nothing. Dillard is a corrupt politician and her scenes during the protracted time when Cage is missing belong in the TV show Scandal and as far away from a superhero show as possible. The third is Diamondback, a crazy guy who acts crazy just to be crazy. Worse—far, far worse—he is coincidentally connected to Cage in a way that reminds me of the worst excesses of Bond’s Spectre. I guess everyone in Georgia ends up in Harlem at some point. The show runs on coincidences. The main henchman just happens to have been in prison with Cage, and happens to have beat him, and happens to have been involved in a secret fight ring with him.

By the end, stupid is ruling everything. One gang decides to hit the big bad, but instead of just shooting, as might happen in the supposedly real world the show pretends to be showing, they monologue. No one is making decisions that approach reality, or sense, or are in any way interesting.

This is a series with a point that matters containing a story that does not matter. Who cares if Luke wins or loses? If Dillard wins it probably is better for Harlem then if she loses. If Cottonmouth had won, well, things would have been about the same, though with less street violence. And Diamondback’s plans pretty much just involve Luke Cage. I suppose the point is displayed there: For Blacks in the city—in America—all the fights and crime change nothing. The police are not your friends. The system is not your friend. White America is not your friend. That’s an important theme, but one that’s hard to make into an interesting story, and Luke Cage doesn’t manage it.

It’s not all bad and I might sound harsh, but mainly because so many are overlooking the show’s many, many problems. Mike Colter is handsome and charismatic. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who is in all four shows, is at her best here. Shades (Theo Rossi), the henchman, is fun and pulled me in whenever he popped up. He’s evil, but somehow he is also likable, which is true of all the best villains. There’s a few nice Black power moments. Method Man’s radio interview is memorable and gets to the heart of the show: a bulletproof Black man.

As for the climax, it is best to forget it.

Luke Cage, like Jessica Jones before it, gets many accolades for doing what other shows haven’t, and should have. But due to that, no one seems to be talking about if it is actually good at what it is doing. Well, when you are starving, then bread and water is a feast. When pop culture is where it should be with regard to race, Luke Cage will be seen as tasteless and chewy, but for the moment, it’s a feast.

 

Iron Fist one reel

ironfist

Naïve and kindly, but also bratty, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York after having been declared dead years ago in a plane crash. He’d been rescued by monks and trained to be a warrior, eventually picking up the magical power of the “Iron Fist.” He is now the defender of the monastery from The Hand, but he left because he felt unsatisfied. His father’s multi-billion dollar company is now run by Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), a childhood friend, and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey), a childhood bully who hasn’t improved. Unknown to most, their father, Harold Meachum (David Wenham), who died and was resurrected by The Hand, is pulling the corporate strings behind the scenes. While Danny slowly—oh, so slowly—proves who he is, he gets involved with martial arts instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) who has her own secrets; this allows for Danny to spout off all kinds of Asian phrases to the Asian girl, making Danny look like douche bag of the year—although apparently we aren’t supposed to think that.

Remember the Phantom Menace? Remember how you asked for a new Star Wars movie that would emphasize trade negotiations? You don’t remember that? Yeah, that’s because it never happened. How about when you asked for a comic book martial arts film that would really focus on corporate legal arguments? Didn’t ask for that either? No one did.

So, we bring the MCU not down to street level, but to the most boring penthouse you can imagine. There’s legal wrangling as we watch Danny Rand ineffectually argue that he is the supposedly dead son of a billionaire. Like the other Netflix shows, Iron Fist forgets that it isn’t interesting for us to be ahead of the characters. We know the lead character is Danny, so waiting for everyone else to get up to speed just uses up time. That time could have been spent working out who these characters are and what makes them tick. But Iron Fist prefers the simple approach. How do we know that corporate asshole is an asshole? Show him cheating at Monopoly as a kid and yelling that “rules are for pussies.” This is not a nuanced show.

While Iron Fist is supposedly of a more adult nature then average programming, watching it felt like watching a kid’s show. Danny is an emotionally unstable ten-year-old. Sure, spending years in a monastery could leave him naïve, but he’s a spoiled child. And everyone interacts like children. Ward functions purely as a bully kid. Claire Temple, now in every show, gives us first grade morality (killing is bad!). Gee, thanks. Characters get very upset if they aren’t getting enough attention. The whole show would make sense if these were a group of children just reaching puberty. A substantial part of the back end of the series is about Danny throwing a tantrum. We’re supposed to take it as a combination of PTSD and moral evaluation, but it’s just a tantrum.

Iron Fist has the slowest start of any of the series. The first eight episodes crawl, with little of interest happening. Things pick up in episode 9 (far too late), but it then stumbles again before coming to a remarkably unsatisfying conclusion (Danny is only alive because henchmen seem to not shoot their guns sometimes in the middle of a fight…)

The villains could have elevated things, but they do not live up to their potential. The undying Harold Meachum ends up doing the same sort of corporate bad guy things we’ve seen in dozens of non-superhero films. And the mystery villain that pops up late could have been interesting if it wasn’t clear immediately that he was a villain. I don’t know why “smarmy” was the choice they made. He could have been multifaceted. But nope.

So this time, we have all the expected problems, but they are worse. Iron Fist is slow. The editing is primitive. The plot could fill 6 episodes, not 13. There are speeches and the same subjects keep getting brought up. It is the worst of the shows, so it needed theme to save it like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. But it doesn’t get it. Instead, theme drags it down. First, its themes are confused. The whole “killing is bad” and “I must get past my anger” puts us squarely back in children’s programming. It dips a finger into currant American culture with the problems of massive corporations and then flops about like a fish. The series takes the stance that big corporations can be mean (edgy there…), but then groups anyone who wants to change the system into The Hand, labeling them as either evil or fools. What does that leave? The big message: Corporations are OK as long as good people run them, even if the good people are stupid (and yeah, Danny is stupid). Gosh, I wonder why no one ever thought of having good people run corporations.

Which brings me to the missing theme. The character of Iron Fist was created to profit from the popularity of Hong Kong martial arts films. But in the early ‘70s, Marvel was far happier to sell another White character then bring in an Asian one as they should have. So they race-swapped an Asian, giving us a White savior. He’s a White kid, but dumped into the mysterious Orient and their inscrutable ways, he becomes better then all the people who live there. Naturally he’s better. He’s White. He tosses around pop culture Asian saying and is the great White martial arts master. This is an old trope, that should have been dumped years ago.

So Marvel had a choice. They could propagate a racist trope from the ‘70s, that’s also a cliché that makes the character less interesting, or they could fix their forty year old mistake. They chose the former. They went with the cliché giving us something duller than it should be, and racist.

Being a racist cliché did not sink Iron Fist. It was already sunk from its plot and editing and childish characters. But, if they’d made the right decision, and made Danny an Asian or an Asian-American (probably the best choice), then we’d have something new for cinematic superheroes. Then we’d have a theme with something to say. And maybe that would have been enough to save the show (as happened to some extent with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones). Doctor Strange suffers from the same racist cliché (though to a much lesser extent), but it had enough else going for it that it didn’t need to be saved. It’s fun, if a touch uncomfortable. Iron Fist has very little going for it. So theme was its one chance, and a racial positive theme dealing with Asian-Americans would have been a game changer.

Instead, Iron Fist has to stand on some other qualities, and it has none that are strong enough to hold it up.

Mar 162017
 
two reels
deathnote2017

High school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) finds the Death Note, a book that allows the holder to kill anyone whose name he writes into it, within a set of rules. The book is watched over by the demonic death god Ryuk (voice: Willem Dafoe). After a couple successful uses, he shows the book to Mia (Margaret Qualley), the hot girl at school, who is infatuated by the power. Light chooses not just to kill bad guys, but to make it clear to the world that someone has the power to kill anyone—thus frightening the world into peace. Light’s father is a hard-nosed policeman that ends up hunting for the killer, working with the mysterious L (Lakeith Stanfield).

I’m not a fan of the Japanese film version. It, like the manga that preceded it, has a great idea and begins well. Then it falls apart in never-ending mental gymnastics between Light, who gets progressively less interesting, and L, an annoying character. It goes on way too long focusing on the wrong thing.

This new version makes some substantial changes in Light’s family as well as giving him a girlfriend whose in on it all. The best change was in toning L down. He is autistic in the original, although I wouldn’t say he was played that way. Here he’s just odd. As the story is greatly compressed (the Japanese version was two films, both over two hours), L’s too-brilliant deductions now are random silliness. He just suddenly knows things. The original went on too long; this one’s too abrupt. This version is not a duel between the two smartest people on the planet, but between one teen who just knows stuff and an average if troubled teen. If done properly, that could be an interesting battle, but I kept wanting for either one of them to be cleverer. But what I really wanted was to like one of them. Mia is the only person I wanted to follow, and she’s painted as a little evil.

Things pick up at the end as Light finally uses the power of the Note in interesting ways. I’d have liked to see the entire move run like that. But we still have the problem of neither of the main characters being people I want to spend time with. The Mia movie would have been great. Still, the performances are reasonable, it has a few nice Rube Goldberg moments, and the basic premise is still good. It should have been better, but as this is a Netflix movie, if you already subscribe, it’s worth streaming.

 Fantasy, Reviews Tagged with:
Mar 082017
  March 8, 2017

The best is fun (See Part 1). The worst is more fun. Here are the nominees for Worst in Science Fiction or Fantasy cinema in 2016:

 

Worst Science Fiction or Fantasy Film:

 

Worst Animated Science Fiction or Fantasy Film:

  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV
  • Moana

 

Worst Performance by an Actor:

  • Eddie Redmayne as Empty Character (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
  • Henry Cavill as Grumpy Jesus Metaphor (Bats v Supes)
  • Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum (Independence Day: Resurgence)
  • Liam Hemsworth as Generic Hero (Independence Day: Resurgence)
  • Michael Shannon as Constipated Man (Midnight Special)

 

Worst Performance by an Actress:

  • Kate McKinnon as Person Doing Improv (Ghostbusters)
  • Katherine Waterston as Empty Air (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
  • Marion Cotillard as Woman With Random Expressions (Assassin’s Creed)
  • Melissa McCarthy as Melissa McCathy (Ghostbusters)
  • [BLANK] Because there weren’t enough women in Genre films

 

Worst Supporting Performance by an Actor:

  • Gerard Butler as King of Sparta (Gods of Egypt)
  • Jai Courtney as Racist Stereotype (Suicide Squad)
  • Jesse Eisenberg as Jesse Eisenberg on Cocaine (Bats v Supes)
  • Johnny Depp as Whatever the Hell He Was (Alice Through the Looking Glass)
  • Tyler Perry as Guy In Wrong Film (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows)

 

Worst Supporting Performance by an Actress:

  • Amy Adams as Bland Damsel (Bats v Supes)
  • Charlize Theron as Whispering Person (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)
  • Kirsten Dunst as Cardboard (Midnight Special)
  • Sela Ward as Overly Dramatic President (Independence Day: Resurgence)
  • [BLANK] Because there weren’t enough women in Genre films

 

Worst Direction:

  • Dave Green (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows)
  • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  • Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special)
  • Paul Feig (Ghostbusters)
  • Zack Snyder (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

 

Worst Screenplay:

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • The BFG
  • Midnight Special
  • Suicide Squad
  • X-Men: Apocalypse

 

Most Racist/Sexist:

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for Girl Fall Down
  • Doctor Strange for White-washing
  • Ghostbusters for Twisting the Narrative for Marketing
  • Gods of Egypt for “Egyptians? Ah, You Mean White People!”
  • The Huntsman: Winter War for “How Can We Get a Male Lead in Snow White?”
  • Suicide Squad for Racist Stereotype
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows for Anti-Asian Racism and White/Turtle Power

 

Worst Screen Moment:

  • Bottle of Piss (Bats v Supes)
  • Emails (Bats v Supes)
  • “I’m Jimmy Olsen” (Bats v Supes – Extended Edition)
  • MARTHA! (Bats v Supes)
  • Recorded Fart (Ghostbusters)
  • Professor X Goes Bald (X-Men: Apocalypse)
  • Third Deadshot Introduction (Suicide Squad)

 

And that’s it. This year’s nominees. Did I get it right? Well, of course I did, but feel free to voice your opinion, particularly your agreement. And who/what will win? Who indeed. This much I can guarantee: no film will sweep.

 

* This is a completely unfair nomination as I haven’t seen the film. But I’ve seen both it’s predecessors and my life isn’t long enough to watch a third. Based on those, I’m betting it would be a contender in every category.

Mar 082017
  March 8, 2017

I’ve already commented on the failure of the Saturn Awards and the Academy Awards always fail. The Razzies were pretty good this year, but still missed a few things, so it’s time to do it right. I’ll call it the Mattys. For a start, the nominees in each category will be the correct ones (can’t figure why others keep missing that—if you don’t know which ones are the correct ones, you just ask me; it’s simple). Next, I do both a “Best” and “Worst” in the major categories. As already mentioned, the multiple categories of The Saturn Awards doom them, so I’m just having two general genre film categories. Because of that, the Best/Worst film categories have a larger nominee list. As for Best Editing/Costume Design/Make-Up Design/SFX, these are categories best awarded by experts in those fields. No one should ever give an editing award (in film or literature) except other editors. And I dropped music because nothing is interesting this year. So first for the best, the nominees are:

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Film:

 

Best Animated Science Fiction or Fantasy:

 

Best Performance by an Actor:

  • Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America: Civil War)
  • Chris Pratt as Jim Preston (Passengers)
  • Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Captain America: Civil War)
  • Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson (Deadpool)

 

Best Performance by an Actress

  • Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan (Morgan)
  • Kate Mara as Lee (Morgan)
  • Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (Suicide Squad)
  • Samantha Robinson as Elaine (The Love Witch)
  • Sennia Nanua as Melanie (The Girl With All the Gifts)

 

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor:

  • Dan Fogler as Funny Sidekick (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
  • Jared Leto as The Joker (Suicide Squad)
  • Karl Urban as Bones (Star Trek Beyond)
  • Paddy Considine as Sgt. Parks (The Girl With All the Gifts)
  • Paul Giamatti as Nasty Psychologist (Morgan)
  • Sebastian Stan as Bucky (Captain America: Civil War)

 

Best Supporting Performance by an Actress:

  • Alison Sudol as Best Thing in the Movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
  • Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda (Captain America: Civil War)
  • Gemma Arterton as The Teacher (The Girl With All the Gifts)
  • Glenn Close as Heartless Doctor (The Girl With All the Gifts)
  • Morena Baccarin as Perfection (Deadpool)

 

The Ewan McGregor/Obi-Wan Kenobi Award for Not Embarrassing Yourself in a Bad Situation:

 

Best Direction:

  • Anna Biller (The Love Witch)
  • Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War)
  • Colm McCarthy (The Girl With All The Gifts)
  • Morten Tyldum (Passengers)
  • Tim Miller (Deadpool)

 

Best Film Screenplay:

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Deadpool
  • The Girl With All The Gifts
  • The Lobster
  • The Love Witch

 

Best Screen Moment:

  • The Airport Fight (Captain America: Civil War)
  • The Bargain (Doctor Strange)
  • Deaths (Rogue One)
  • One Less Hand (Deadpool)
  • Tracking Device (Star Trek Beyond)
  • The Tree (The Girl With All The Gifts)
  • Wade Meets Vanessa (Deadpool)
  • Why You Have Children (The Lobster)

The Worst of the year will be in the next post, so take a moment to digest these.

* Yeah, yeah, I know it wasn’t released to theaters. I’ll break my rules when I want.

Mar 072017
 
3,5 reels

High school student Taki, from Tokyo, and Mitsuha, from the country, find themselves body swapping at random times when they sleep. After a time of uncertainty and embarrassment, a greater mystery arises.

High school romances are a bit young for my tastes, so I hope director Makoto Shinkai aims for something a bit more adult in the future as he is clearly the next bit thing in anime. Your Name surpassed Spirited Away’s box office record in Japan, and while it isn’t up to Miyazaki’s best works, the potential is there. Outside of Miyazaki’s features, I can’t think of a better looking anime. Nor one with superior voice acting.

It starts as a teenage comedy, with accent on the comedy. There’s the predictable jokes about breasts and each student causing the other problems as they do the wrong things for their location and gender. But a third of the way that stops and the material matures. While not exactly heavy, the comedy fades to be replaced by supernaturally-based romance. I was surprised at how emotional I found it as it delved into unfulfilled needs and longings. Shinto provides the supernatural ingredient but the desire for something more and different, as well as romance is the real magic. The film also takes on an action component as Taki and Mitsuha fight to stop a tragedy.

There’s a few logic problems that needled me through most of the film. This kind of plot would only work in a setting with little communication and less access to information. Shouldn’t Taki and Mitsuha have tried to call each other the first time they swapped? Or texted? Or looked up everything about each other? But instead they leave notes and stay in ignorance about each other’s surroundings.

The prolonged ending drags as we know what the characters don’t. But the flaws are not enough to drag down what is otherwise a beautiful film.

This is a hard film to review as I don’t want to give away too much, as practically every other review does. If you are lucky enough to have avoided comments, I suggest you see it now as the slightest bit of research will give away far too much.

Mar 062017
  March 6, 2017

As I run awards for the DC Film Festival and the Eugie Foster Memorial Award, as well as being tangled up with the Hugo mess in the past, I tend to take awards seriously. The Saturn nominees came out recently, and they’re hardly a guide toward the best in genre film. That is, being nominated this year is not much of an honor.  As I think a genre Film (and TV) award is a good idea, this saddens me (well, not all that sad…but it is unfortunate).

My first thought was that everyone involved in voting had rotten taste (no “Kubo and the Two Strings” Really?), and that could be true, but that isn’t the big problem. Structurally it simply isn’t going to honor the best–not in nominations anyway. And that has to do with the categories. For a start, there’s too many.

Let’s look at the “Best Comic-to-Motion Picture Release” category. That is going to open up some strange comparisons–“A History of Violence” doesn’t really fit with “Superman.” So, a Superhero category would work better. But that wouldn’t make much difference this year–nothing to pull out, and adding “Max Steel” to those that qualify is unlikely to change anything. The problem is too narrow a category with too many nominees. Sticking with American films, there are only seven wide-released “Comics to Motion Picture” films: Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeCaptain America: Civil WarDeadpoolDoctor StrangeSuicide Squad, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and X-Men: Apocalypse. All the nomination process did was eliminate one film: TMNT: Out of the Shadows. I’d have dumped “Bats v Supes” if ranking them all, but it is silly to argue it as neither should be there. Equally it is hard to justify Suicide Squad and X-Men on the list. A nominee list should not include almost everything out there. So either have a lot fewer nominees (three would do), or merge the category in with others. Any award is only as good as what it honors. If it honors trash, then the award is trash, and my forming a category that has to end up taking everything, it is going to end up honoring films that should not be honored.

Then there is Fantasy. There’s a reasonable number of fantasy film, so it is a workable category in theory. But the Saturn Awards has a separate Animation category that siphons off films. It has a separate science fiction category that gets Star Wars films (even though Lucas called the series fantasy). Comic book movies, like “Doctor Strange” are out of the running as well as Horror films, that also have a category. Basically, they yanked away every good film, leaving a category of weak, also-rans, including two on my worst of the year list: “Ghost Busters” and “The BFG.”

Generally I think sticking with the three main sub-genres of fantastical film (SF, Fantasy, and Horror) is a good idea, but OK, they wanted to expand a bit into action, but they are confused on their categories. The Saturn Awards has an Action/Adventure category and a Thriller category, and those two are going to butt heads (and butt into Horror as well). So not only do we again run into some of my worst of the year picks as nominees for best of the year, but we get some strange choices. “The Accountant” was a good action film, but here it is nominated as a Thriller. OK, but now I really need to know what those terms mean. More amusing is “Hidden Figures” as an Action film. You remember that scene where the mathematicians get in that shoot out.  Yeah, me neither. I understand wanting to recognize it, but they don’t have a category. Perhaps dumping both those categories and putting in a “Science-related” category would work out better. That would also allow for documentaries.

Like most Awards that have a popular vote (or semi-popular in this case), they don’t have the breadth of viewing to pull off the awards in general, but certainly not with so many categories. Where is “The Love Witch“? It has gotten great responses, but it pretty much just made the festival circuit, so probable these folks missed it. Where is “The Girl With All The Gifts“? Every review I’ve read of it (including my own) declares it as one of the best films of the year and one of the greatest zombie films ever. But it had a limited release, so the Saturn voters never saw it. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is unquestionably the finest animated film of the year, but it didn’t get the advertising budget that “Zootopia” did, so again, the Saturn voters missed it. These folks don’t know cinema well enough to be voting.

I tried my best to fix their voting, to put in what I’d nominate in there categories, but it just doesn’t work. My first attempt gave me:

Comics-to-Film

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Deadpool
  • Doctor Strange

SF

  • The Girl With All The Gifts
  • Morgan
  • Passengers
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Trek Beyond

Fantasy

  • The Love Witch

Animated

  • Gantz: 0
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Zootopia

And then I gave up, as I’m sticking in films that shouldn’t be nominated (Hello “Passengers“), even if they are the next best the field had to offer this year, and I can’t come up with the numbers with these categories. Fantasy comes up…sparse.

So The Saturn Awards were doomed before they even began voting. Too bad. Guess I’ll just have to do it myself.