Jan 282018
three reels

In the very near future, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a telemarketing job. Once a coworker (Danny Glover) shows him how to use his White voice, he becomes a “power caller.” His radical artist girl friend (Tessa Thompson) isn’t happy about the change in him, nor is his old friends and new union leader (Steven Yeun), and he has is own doubts as he is now selling slave labor. When he and his boss (Omari Hardwick) are invited to a party by multimillionaire Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), things get really strange.

Sorry to Bother You is a close cousin to Brazil. It’s heavy social satire, delivered surrealistically, that is never more than a few seconds away from a joke. But the largest joke is on you as it is calling out the viewer on what a useless sellout you are in a world going to Hell. It rips into capitalism, corporate culture, race relations, and even “reality” TV, and it would be painful if it wasn’t so funny. And like Brazil, there’s no heroes here, and no real-world answers, although it does try to be upbeat (when it really shouldn’t).

Cassius is non-too bright, non-too pleasant (he blames his uncle for his own failings), and far from loyal. He just has a talent for selling. His best friend is less bright. The labor agitator doesn’t do any good, starting strikes where no one cares. And his girlfriend’s art happenings are almost enough to make me root for the slavers. But they are as good as this world has. His boss is amoral and Steve Lift is drifting into psychopathy. But they are all just the children of their world, which is pretty much our world. Anxiety about surviving is so high that people are selling themselves into slavery, which is advertised as just the greatest thing ever. The highest rated show is just people getting punched in the face, which is a direct comment on you, the viewer. To go with Brazil, there’s go deal of Robocop and Idiocracy on display.

With so much to say, such a fleshed out world, quality performances, and so many jokes, Sorry to Bother You should have been approaching masterpiece status, but it doesn’t all click. Rapper Boots Riley doesn’t have the experience to pull off this complex of a film. Too often the jokes lack the punch they need, or moments will go on too long, or cut too quickly. Character’s need a bit more development here, and a bit less there. It’s an amateur digging into a major professional job. He does a respectable job, but any workman-like director with 6 or 8 films under his belt would have done better, and this is a film that cried out for a real artist. I suspect simply another editing pass with the footage they had, by a different editor under different supervision, would have produced a significantly better film. But this is a good film.

Jan 262018

errolflynnbestNo man has personified a film genre like Errol Flynn. He is the icon of Swashbuckling. He was rarely acclaimed for his acting, which is unfortunate. He may have been limited both in his abilities and in his opportunities, but given the right part, no one was better. Who else could wear tights and project pure masculinity? He could stand on a tree branch, laughing, wearing a funny little hat with a feather, his hair curled, and look completely natural, comfortable, and manly. That’s some kind of weird skill.

Flynn costarred with Olivia de Havilland in eight films. While pairings of other major stars tended to be structured to consistently give the couple a happy ending (in similar type films), that wasn’t the case with these two. Only half of the time did they end up together, and in three, Flynn died.

Flynn is an exception to the rule that while women are not allowed to age gracefully in Hollywood, men are. As soon as a few lines creased his face and he added a few pounds, his career was over.

While remembered as an action star, Flynn also was very effective in comedies—that shouldn’t have been surprising as he could be funny in those action parts. His eight films are made up of four Swashbucklers, three comedies, and one WWI film.

An honorable mention to Don’t Bet on Blondes (1935), where the yet-to-be-a-star Flynn has a long cameo. The star was Warren Williams as a bookie turned insurance agent and Flynn was a suitor for a girl whose father had bought anti-marriage insurance. Clearly, this was a comedy.

#8 – Adventures of Don Juan (1948) — The last and least of Flynn’s epic Warner Bros. Swashbucklers, it is a fun farewell to an aging sub-genre and an aging star. (Full Critique)

#7 – The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) — This is the least of the major British-in-colonial-India adventure films, mainly due to the weak romance (poor Olivia de Havilland gets stuck with the worst role of her career). It is also bizarrely historically inaccurate (they didn’t even get the guns right, much less the reason for the charge) and the production was so vile it caused animal welfare laws to be passed. But Errol Flynn is charming, the combat exciting, and it all looks spectacular. [Also on the Olivia de Havilland list]

#6 – Four’s a Crowd (1938) — Flynn is a charming cad who runs positive PR for the worst people. It’s a romantic comedy and one of his pairing with Olivia de Havilland. [Also on the Olivia de Havilland list]

#5 – Footsteps in the Dark (1941) — Flynn plays a respectable man who secretly writes lurid murder mysteries and stumbles upon a real murder.

#4 – The Dawn Patrol (1938) — One of the finest war pictures, with Flynn, Basil, Rathbone, and David Niven as WWI pilots in horrible situations, having heroism forced upon them. [Also on the Basil Rathbone list]

#3 – Captain Blood (1935) — The first of the three great Flynn Swashbucklers. Flynn is a physician forced into piracy. His costar is Olivia de Havilland. (Full Critique)  [Also on the Olivia de Havilland list and the Basil Rathbone list]

#2 – The Sea Hawk (1940) — The last of his three great Swashbucklers, it shares much of the cast and crew with Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Besides being a fine adventure film, is was a solid piece of propaganda for an England that needed it. (Full Critique) [Also on the Olivia de Havilland list]

#1 – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) — The greatest classic Swashbuckler and one of the Best films ever made. It is beautifully shot, with a wonderful score and a strong supporting cast, including de Havilland. It is here that Flynn became an icon. (Full Critique) [Also on the Olivia de Havilland list and the Basil Rathbone list]


Back to all Best Films By The Great Actors Lists

Jan 262018
three reels

In a Victorian-era Gotham City, Batman (voice: Bruce Greenwood) searches at night for Jack the Ripper, who is murdering prostitutes, dancers, and to a lesser extent, women in general. Aiding him is his loyal butler, Alfred (voice: Anthony Stewart Head), and to a lesser degree James Gordon (voice: Scott Patterson) and Bruce Wayne’s men’s club buddy Harvey Dent (voice: Yuri Lowenthal). Separately, Selina Kyle (voice: Jennifer Carpenter) is attempting to defend the lower-class women of the city.

This is the best Batman story to see film in 20 years. The major characters are well developed, emotional, and engaging, and the lesser ones make sense within the plot. The world is well built—call it steampunk-lite—so I knew how everything worked. They made me want to know the answers and care about what happened to Bruce and Selina. It was also a great use of Robins—as a gang of thieving orphans.

Adding to that is some of the better voice-acting we’ve had in a DC-Animated film and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is looking like one of the great superhero films. But it isn’t. It’s good, but not great. That’s how film works: story and acting aren’t everything. So what is pulling it down? Call it the directing. The animation looks like it came from a well-done kid’s TV show, which is fine if you have a kid’s TV show. But for a feature, and an R-Rated feature at that, it is underwhelming. It’s not just that the backgrounds are about half as detailed as they should be, or that the characters are simply drawn, but that there is no style. It’s generically drab. If it looked like Mask of the Phantasm or even Batman Year One, I’d be exclaiming that finally we have a great Batman movie again. But it looks dull, and looks matter in film. And because it doesn’t look interesting, none of the action scenes are interesting. They are competent, but I cannot recall the last time I gathered all my friends together and yelled, “Hey, let’s have a wild night on the town doing something competent!” So during those action scenes, I was left thinking, which is never a good thing for a action picture. I started thinking about how Batman really didn’t do a lot of detecting, which he should have been doing. I shouldn’t have noticed, the way I don’t notice that Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t makes sense while watching it. I should be caught up in the action.

Then there is Batman himself. Apparently they didn’t want to upset fanboys, so Batman looks way too much like Batman. This was a chance to do some interesting design work on his costume, but they just gave us a slightly alternate Batman. He could show up in this outfit in any of the other animated films and no one would find it out of place.

I’m sounding negative not because this film is bad, but because Batman: Gotham by Gaslight could have been so much more. It should have been on the top rungs of Batman films, and it isn’t. So, good, but disappointing.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Jan 222018
2.5 reels
A fitting poster as it doesn't have Godzilla on it.

A fitting poster as it doesn’t have Godzilla on it.

Giant monsters rose up all over the Earth, with the final one being Godzilla, and destroyed the planet. Two alien races showed up at the last minute to help—one of them religious fanatics—but they failed. A single spaceship escaped, with a mixed crew, looking for a new world. Twenty years later, overly emotional and always annoying Haruo throws a tantrum and is arrested. While in the brig, he comes up with a way humans could have beaten Godzilla. As the crew can’t find a new planet, they decide to return to Earth, where 10,000 years will have passed. On returning, they find Earth to have changed wildly and worse, Godzilla is still alive. A team, including Haruo who is still throwing tantrums, lands on Earth in an attempt to kill Godzilla.

Note: English Version

I’d welcome a Godzilla movie that was thematically meaningful, with an interesting plot and intriguing characters. We got one of those in 1954, but since then, pretty much the only reason to watch a Godzilla movie is because giant monsters are cool. So if that’s the point, and you’re making an animated movie where scenes of giant monsters don’t cost any more than scenes of people walking around or spaceships flying, wouldn’t you have Godzilla show up before 55 minutes into an 88 minute movie? And then keep him around? He’s on screen for around 5 minutes.

So, like the live-action movies before it, most of the film is filler with unpleasant or uninteresting humans (and near-humans) talking and talking and talking. And wow, do they fit the description. Haruo is unpleasant on an epic scale. I don’t mean unpleasant like so many captivating cinematic characters of the past, but unpleasant to watch and listen to. Unless you love toddlers kicking their feet and screaming, he is the definition of non-entertaining. The rest of the always-talking characters are either impossible to tell apart or just boring. Do you like a lot of empty religious murmuring? Well, you’ll get it.

The animation is nothing special—with differing styles not always fitting together—but by anime standards, it is passable. It is neither a reason to watch Godzilla: Monster Planet or to avoid it.

I cannot figure what the people behind this video (should I call it a film?) were thinking? Why would you make THIS Godzilla movie. Go for character or plot, or go for monster fun. But they didn’t. The only way I can make sense of it is if these are the cut scenes from an unfinished video game.

The “film” doesn’t have an ending, but just pauses in the middle of events. Godzilla: Monster Planet is planed as the first part of a trilogy, so, there will be two more videos you don’t need to watch.

You can find my reviews of other Godzilla films here.

Jan 182018
  January 18, 2018

2017filmranking2I remember years when getting a dozen fantasy and science fiction films was impressive. 2017 gave us 59. Yeah, if you look carefully you might find another or three, but I think I’ve done my share so this is my final ranking for the year. And its been a good year not only for having so many genre films, but having so many good ones. Yes, there are more bad than good, but there are always more bad than good films.

I’ve already created a list of the 10 Best Films of 2017 and the 10 Worst Films of 2017. In the case of the second, it doesn’t match this list because here I’m including all the F&SF films I’ve seen, where that list focuses on the garbage that deserves the focus, that is, big budget or widely released films.

Unless stated otherwise, the titles link to my review.


The Bad

#59 – Bright
#58 – Transfomers: The Last Knight
#57 – The Discovery
#56 – Singularity (not reviewed)
#55 – Personal Shopper (not reviewed)
#54 – The Circle
#53 – Flatliners
valarian #52 – The Dark Tower
#51 – The Belko Experiment
#50 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
#49 – The Space Between Us
#48 – The Lego Ninjago Movie
#47 – Blade of the Immortal
#46 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (not reviewed)
#45 – Life
#44 – The Guardians
#43 – Beauty and the Beast
#42 – Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
#41 – Beyond Skyline
#40 – The Mummy
#39 – Justice League


The Mediocre

#38 – Tokyo Ghoul
#37 – Power Rangers
#36 – The Bad Batch  *
#35 – Death Note
#34 – Despicable Me 3 (not reviewed)
#33 – It 
#32 – Batman Vs. Two-Face
#31 – The Great Wall  *
#30 – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
ghostinshellranking#29 – Justice League Dark
#28 – Geostorm
#27 – Ghost in the Shell
#26 – Batman and Harley Quinn
#25 – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (not reviewed)
#24 – Lego Batman (not reviewed)
#23 – Get Out 
#22 – Annabelle: Creation
#21 – Alien: Covenant
#20 – Coco (not reviewed)
#19 – A Cure For Wellness
#18 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
#17 – A Ghost Story
#16 – Blade Runner 2049
#15 – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
#14 – War For the Planet of the Apes
#13 – Logan


The Good

#12 – Your Name  *
#11 – Kong: Skull Island
#10 – Happy Death Day
thorragnarokranking#9 – The Lure  *
#8 – Spider-Man: Homecoming
#7 – Wonder Woman
#6 – Colossal
#5 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
#4 – The Shape of Water
#3 – The Girl With All the Gifts *
#2 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
#1 – Thor: Ragnarok


*US wide-release in 2017



Jan 102018
two reels

Arthur (Jason Momoa) is the son of the escaped queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) and a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison). She returns to Atlantis to keep her son safe, and he mopes about it, except when he’s in secret training montages with Willem Dafoe, who I suppose I should give a character name, but he’s just playing low-energy Willem Dafoe. Then there’s some stuff about pirates and a guy who will become the super-villain Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) but it doesn’t matter and could/should have been cut from the film. Enter Mera (Amber Heard), super water-sorceress who could easily have solved all the problems if she’d bothered to do so, but instead goes to enlist Arthur to fight his non-descript brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) who’s planning on attacking the surface world. Then apparently someone got confused and slipped in some Tomb Raider script pages as Arthur and Mera travel around the world to find ancient treasure until they find the proper script pages and it all ends in a big fight involving men on sharks with lasers.

There are men on sharks with lasers (punctuation intentionally missing). That should be a riot. How much fun are men on sharks with lasers? And dinosaurs? And seahorse mounts? This is dumb stuff, but fun. How can you fail to make a fun picture with men on sharks with lasers? For a start, they should have actually spent some time showing us the MEN ON SHARKS WITH LASERS instead of repeatedly whipping past them or keeping them in the indistinct background.

They needed to decide what kind of film they wanted to make. Is it a light hearted comedy adventure film? Occasionally, and those bits work best. But then it wants to be a deeply serious epic film. Then it wants to be a romantic comedy. Then an angry revenge picture. The tone flips are startling, though less so then they’d have been if they’d ever nailed any tone. The worst tone dissonance comes from the music, which is mindboggling. How did any composer write this and why the hell did any producer OK the film for distribution without demanding a re-score? The music shifts from the overly serious choral (nothing short of Masada could handle it), to epic adventure symphonic, to electronica, to goofy, to light piano, to retro rock, to hip hop. Maybe they didn’t actually have music written and faked the composer’s name and just left in the temp tracks they’d stolen from random films for editing. It’s distracting. One scene shifts musical genres four times.

If you can somehow get past that, it still doesn’t work. Villains matter in a superhero flick, and King Orm is bad even when compared against other DCEU villains. Yes, he’s worse than The Enchantress. Yes he’s worse than twitchy Lex Luthor. How can I say that? Specifically because I can say I hated Jesse Eisenberg’s performance; that means there was a performance. There’s something to hate. With Orm (and Wilson) there’s nothing. There is a great empty void where a villain should be. Being terrible is better than being nonexistent. Wilson doesn’t even embarrass himself because you won’t remember him.

Surprisingly, the best element in the film is Momoa. Acting is not his strong suit, but he’s a big, amiable bear of a man, and when he can just be himself, he’s fun (remember I mentioned how this film should be fun). If they’d have let Amber Heard relax, then the two of them might have managed to save this thing. There’s some cute interplay between them that should have been the whole film and shows what could have been. Nicole Kidman isn’t good, but she’s not bad, making her the third best thing about Aquaman. Faint praise.

With all those problems, a weak plot (I didn’t like it as a comic or when they made into the animated Throne of Atlantis), and no continuity (there’s no way to fit Arthur’s undersea actions from Justice League into this film’s world and make the characters make sense), it’s only saving grace would be bright, fun, amazing world building. No luck there either. There’s just no artistry behind the art design and no skill with the lighting. The film is muddy. Nothing looks epic or even pretty. Atlantis has a drab murk over it. It’s worse when they pop up in the dessert and Rome, which don’t look impressive, but do look competent. It’s the only time when the lighting and contrast are close to what they should be, making it clear someone wasn’t paying attention the rest of the time. Aquaman should have at least been pretty, but it isn’t. Compare it to another film with multiple failings: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. There, the foreground might not have anything worth seeing, but the cityscapes were amazing. Here, there’s nothing but murk.

I didn’t hate Aquaman, and for the DCEU, that’s some kind of victory, so I’ll be generous and give it Two Reels, but a low Two Reels.

The other DCEU films are Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017)

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Jan 082018
  January 8, 2018

thor3cuteWhat a year it has been in film. My best list is for fantasy and science fiction films, in all their many forms, so everything from dedicated scientists in the near future to dragons and elves to evil clowns (though no evil clowns will made this list). And it has been an amazing year for genre film. It is the best year ever for superhero films. No, my favorite superhero film of all time is not from 2017. But there are four such films in my top 10. No year has come close to that. There’s also an adult fairytale, a giant monster flick, a musical, a zombie film, a space opera, and even a slasher. (If you are more interested in the worst of the year, my roundup is here.)

So here we go, the 10 genre films you need to see if you haven’t, and need to own. Starting with:


#10 Happy Death Day

Well, that was a surprise. A Slasher that is fun, clever, and well made. Huh. Happy Death Day is Groundhog Day as a Slasher. And while that sounds like a reasonable idea, it plays out better than expected, ending up as much a dark comedy as a horror film. (Full Review)


#9 The Lure

{US release 2017} A Polish, surrealistic, comedy, tragedy, fairytale, horror, art house, musical—sometimes all at once, more often swapping from one genre to the next—The Lure is as odd a film as you are likely to find. I never knew if I was about to see disco dancing, nudity, or an artery being ripped open, or perhaps several combined with some bittersweet romance. (Full Review)


#8 Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man enters the MCU and he’s treated right. Finally, he seems like a teen, and the funny one he’s meant to be. And to counter his youth we have Michael Keaton’s Vulture, a villain that has adult problems  that I understood and real world anger I could feel. He just wants to take care of his family, which is a more moving motivation than Peter’s naive view of good and evil. (Full Review)


#7 Wonder Woman

Sometimes a film is about plot or theme or some tricky mystery. This one is about a character and an actress. There’s plenty to like, but it didn’t matter. It all came down to Wonder Woman, and I loved her. I don’t know if Gal Gadot is a good actress, but she is a charismatic one, and she was born for this part. (Full Review)


#6 Colossal

{Wide release 2017} This is indie art house meets geek. A daikaiju film about character.  The dialog is sharp, the plot is smart, and it is shot beautifully. Colossal is by far the most original film on my top ten list. Daikaiju films often attempt to be about big themes, but few succeed. This is how it is done. (Full Review)


#5 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

As The Force Awakens was a remake of Star Wars (A New Hope), The Last Jedi is a remake of The Empire Strikes Back, but, it is a cleverly made, artistically constructed, updated and upgraded remakea remake done right. We get all the old notes, but some are sung differently and we get a few new melodies. Which means this film is surprisingly good. There’s been grumbling from some fanboys, but ignore that as their upset has nothing to do with the quality of the film. (Full Review)


#4 The Shape of Water

This is how you revisit old material—by touching the past while reaching for something new. This is a fairytale, one that involves politics and antifascism, diversity and oppression, and loneliness and need. It is also about beauty, sexuality, hope, and love. It is Guillermo del Toro at the top of his game, and a wondrous film you shouldn’t miss. (Full Review)


#3 The Girl With All the Gifts

{US release 2017} Just when I’ve once again declared zombie films to be dead, we get The Girl With All the Gifts, an emotional, exciting, and original take on that too often used sub-genre. We simply don’t see this skill and talent in zombie films, or most films generally. Everything works on every level. (Full Review)


#2 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

If you liked the first Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like the first film, you are an inhuman monster who should meet your end at the hands of the coolest of all heroes, Mary Poppins. Vol 2 is is everything the first was taken up a notch. It’s funnier, more exciting, and more emotional. (Full Review)


#1 Thor: Ragnarok

This is the first time that I’d call an MCU movie a comedy first, and an action picture second. The humor alone is enough to make this a great time, but the jokes serve the characters as well. Doesn’t that leave it wanting in action and drama and power? Nope, because after “comedy” the word I’d use to describe this film is “METAL.” And I don’t mean hair METAL or even Metallica METAL. I’m talking Dethklok METAL. This is the most METAL movie ever made. (Full Review)

Jan 082018
  January 8, 2018

MaureenOSullivanMaureen O’Sullivan was the great ingénue. She appeared to be sensual and exciting while simultaneously being innocent and cute. It was a balancing act few have managed to pull off. Unfortunately it put her in mainly supporting roles where she was the goal—of the eight films below, only two have her as the lead. The exception was the part that brought her fame: Jane in the Tarzan franchise. For the first films, Tarzan is not the star, but Jane, and it is a Jane who is at ease scantily clad and sexy, that is until the production code caught up with the 3rd movie.

O’Sullivan’s film persona rarely varied and I’ve wondered how much of it was scripting and how much was just her. Did scriptwriter after scriptwriter just decide that her calling most males “darling” fit her character or was that part of her everyday vocabulary?

#8 – The Emperor’s Candlesticks (1937) — A lightweight and nearly forgotten period, spy, comedy and romance (as opposed to romantic comedy) starring William Powell and Luise Rainer. O’Sullivan is in a secondary role but is delightful.

#7 – Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) — The first of the Weissmuller Tarzan films that follows Jane’s father’s search for an elephant graveyard until they run into Tarzan. Weissmuller is an impressive Tarzan, but this is O’Sullivan’s show.

#6 – The Devil-Doll (1936) — A decent horror film at a time when horror films were out of vogue. It is not one of O’Sullivan’s better parts, but the whole is watchable and the best horror film of ’36 (Full Review)

#5 – A Day at the Races (1937) — The Marx Brothers are the stars, but they liked to shoehorn in a romantic pairing and O’Sullivan was the best young female they ever stuck in.

#4 – Pride and Prejudice (1940) — A romantic comedy take on the Jane Austen classic. O’Sullivan lands the supporting role of the nearly perfect sister, making it easy to believe that yes, everyone would love her. (Full Review)

#3 – Tarzan and His Mate (1934) — The best of the Tarzan films and the best lead part O’Sullivan ever had. She’s so natural, so joyful, playing in the jungle. The plot doesn’t matter. All that does is O’Sullivan and how she interacts with Weissmuller.

#2 – The Big Clock (1948) — One of the great Film Noirs as Ray Milland is placed in charge of an investigation to find a man who turns out to be himself. Remade in ’87 as No Way Out with Kevin Costner. O’Sullivan plays Milland’s poorly treated wife. (Full critique) [Also on the Ray Milland list]

#1 – The Thin Man (1934) — Myrna Loy is a rich socialite; William Powell is a retired detective (now living the high life on her money) who gets sucked into a murder case. Funny and charming, this introduction of Nick and Nora Charles is as good a time as you can have at the cinema. O’Sullivan plays the daughter of the missing thin man. [Also on the William Powell list & the Myrna Loy list]


Jan 082018
one reel

Olivia (Lucy Hale), Markie (Violett Beane), and their college friends go for a final wild spring break in Mexico. There, another partier (Landon Liboiron) tricks them into a game of truth or dare. The game is “possessed” and they are then forced to continue playing or die, where the “truths” are terribly upsetting and the “dares” tend to be fatal.

Truth or Dare isn’t as bad as its reputation would suggest (I’ve seen in repeated called one of the three worst films of the year). It is well made and well acted. The characters are engaging when they need to be, and reasonably defined when they exist only to be cannon fodder. It’s problem is that it is so thoroughly generic. Until the ending, this is like 500 other horror films. A bit more skill was involved in its making then such movies often are granted, but that just makes it a skillful rehash. Early twenty-year-olds bicker and flirt and scream and run and get picked off one by one. There’s nothing they can do about it till the end. Blood is kept to PG-13 levels and nothing gets too scary. We’ve seen this before; well, I’ve seen it before. If this came out in 1985 I’d probably give it a positive rating. If it come out in 1965 I’d be raving about it (maybe a soft rave). But in 2018, it’s a patchwork of previous movies. There is not a single moment you won’t predict, even down the order of the deaths.

And then there is the ending, which has come in for the harshest criticism for being plagiarized. But everything about the film is plagiarized. The ending stands out because it was only plagiarized from one film instead of hundreds. I rather like the ending, and I think this might have been a decent horror flick if it worked harder to earn that ending (by cutting way back on the bickering and focusing on Olivia and Markie’s close and unbreakable friendship and love. But they didn’t. Still, the end did make me smile as at least it didn’t stick with the expected finale from those other hundred films.

So this isn’t a bad film on its own. It simply has no reason to exist.

 Demons, Horror, Reviews Tagged with:
Jan 082018
one reel

Four generic girls at an unfocused slumber party (Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso) perform an Internet ritual to summon the monstrous Slender Man. They all feel “something,” but mostly deny that. When later one of them vanishes, the others assume it is the work of the evil force, or they deny it, depending on whatever scene was randomly edited it next, and attempt to get their friend back.

Other weak horror films of 2018 (The Nun, Truth or Dare) were marked by being professionally made, and failing due to poor scripts. Slender Man is an exception. Oh, it has a terrible screenplay, but it is incompetently made. The lighting is terrible, making it difficult to see what’s going on and often impossible to make out the characters’ faces. The contrast is off as well, and it has a grainy, video look. I wonder if they even hired someone to do color correction. And there is no indication that anyone involved knew where to set a camera. I’ve seen numerous short film school projects created with more skill. The acting isn’t great, but it hardly matters when random shadows cover the actress’s faces.

The Slender Man character was invented as part of the “Creepypasta” online movement, where people wrote short horror stories claiming they were real. The Slender Man stories went viral. He was described as an extremely tall and slim, featureless humanoid who appeared around children. In 2014 two unstable 12-year-olds attempted to murder a classmate to summon Slender Man. The notoriety made him a hot property and so we got a movie. The victim’s parents were not amused, calling it crass commercialization of their tragedy. I could forgive the filmmakers’ crass commercialization of tragedy if they did it with any style.

The basics are all stolen from better films. There’s a good bit of Candyman (way too much as I couldn’t stop thinking of how inferior this was to it), with a healthy dose of The Ring and A Nightmare on Elm Street sprinkled over it. There’s simply nothing else here. The characters only rise above generic when they slip into being annoying, but they aren’t even annoying in an interesting way. The titular monster is hardly in the film (we get a lot more waving curtains, so if you are frightened of wind blowing through an open window, then there’s something here for you), and is never explained, nor defined. There’s no scares, no emotional beats, and no clever plot moments—there’s hardly a plot at all. It isn’t even memorable enough to rate as truly awful. But then the last point is also its one virtue: it’s easy to forget.

 Demons, Horror, Reviews Tagged with:
Jan 052018
  January 5, 2018

What’s truly sad is that this is now an important discussion in America. How the Hell did that happen? But fanboys are at the heart of not only the wars in lit fiction, gaming, and genre film fandom, they are at the heart of our political split. National politics has been determined by fanboys.

But OK, I’ll pull this in to film, because film is my area. And I’ll be swiping from one of my own earlier posted comments.

What’s so bad about being a fanboy? Well, it depends on how your use the term–it isn’t tightly defined. I use it one way; you may use it another. If you use it another, be clever enough to realize I’m not using it your way. I find the way I use it better because it is useful. “Fan” no longer means fanatic in popular parlance, but rather “person who enjoys X” Using Fanboy to mean “fan” or “male fan” doesn’t give us anything new. However, using it to describe a certain kind of “person who enjoys X,” one who leans into being a fanatic and has certain traits does give us a term for something that needs a term. And it is how I and many others use the term fanboy. So, lets look the two big problems–those traits–with those I label fanboys, and do it in relation to film. And those problems are nostalgia and identity.

Firstly, a fanboy’s love of a film franchise (or anything) is not directly related to the films. It is directly related to his own imaginings, his memories of how it made him feel when young, etc. It may be the film that drowned out his parents fighting or distracted him when coming home after being bullied at school. Or maybe it was what he was watching when he got his first kiss. Whatever the case, fanboys no longer can properly view the source. This makes them useless for critical discussions of film (and considering I run a film festival, etc, I’m very big on critical discussions of film). What fanboys can talk about is how they personally feel, which would be fine if they didn’t keep getting into critical discussions of film and demanding that their personal feelings are of universal importance. If a fanboy says, “I didn’t like The Last Jedi because it doesn’t give me the emotional support that RotJ did thirty years ago,” that’s perfectly reasonable (though why they need to say this to the world instead of a few close friends is another matter). If they say, “The Last Jedi is terrible because it isn’t Star Wars and destroys the childhoods of millions,” this is fetid nonsense. It is the difference between speaking about your preferences and what is good. Fanboys speak entirely subjectively, but then project that onto the objective world. (This is why there are grown adults who find they can spit out the sentence “The Transformers are great!”). Nostalgia is always going to cripple one’s ability to evaluate items or franchises–thus I am never a fan of nostalgia. But the fanboy takes it further, believing they are not crippled, and that their rose-colored glasses (or the opposite) reveal great truth.

And secondly, and this is more important to the general population, a fanboy identifies with the franchise. His own self worth is tied up with the franchise. Thus, an insult to the franchise is a personal insult to him. Someone disliking the franchise is no longer a case of different opinions, but an attack to be responded to with anger. And this is generally terrible for society (we’ve had enough problems with that sort of silliness with sports and now it is the very foundation of our political discourse). I saw this a lot in my discussions of BvS. Fanboys got very angry at me, swearing and making threats. As Superman and Batman and DC characters in general are a part of their identity, those characters must be shown respect. If they are laughed at, then this is equivalent to laughing at the fanboy. Since he has tied himself to something–in this case comic book characters–, respect for them equals respect for the fanboy, and more importantly, a lack of respect for them equals a lack of respect for the fanboy.

The fanboy’s view of reality can be twisted by this need. The fanboy needs to feel that he is good (as everyone does), and as he identifies with Superman or Star Wars or old-style SF lit or gaming, etc, then those things must be good–objectively good. So if others say they don’t like them, they must be lying. They must have an ulterior motive. And so, they end up believing wild conspiracy theories to explain other people’s opinions (Ah, critics don’t like Bat v Supes! It must be because they are all biased for Marvel due to Disney’s powerful control of them! Someone doesn’t like these stories? They must be pushing a secret Marxist agenda! Critics don’t like Bright? They must be under the thumb of film corporations trying to take down Netflix). Most people, even fanboys, agree that getting angry over different tastes is foolish, but getting angry over lies and deceit and conspiracies, that seems reasonable.

I’m seeing this with The Last Jedi, but in this case the fanboys dislike it because it is not matching the identity they cling to. Now some non-fanboys don’t like The Last Jedi. Tastes vary and that’s all good. If someone didn’t like it because it doesn’t appeal to them, then they didn’t like it. And that’s their reaction. They just shrug and find something they like. But for fanboys, changes from what they imagined, changes from their identity, are an attack. They don’t shrug. For them, it questions their identity, and that makes them angry. And we are seeing this anger now. No one who just doesn’t like something gets angry. (I didn’t like Alien 3 but it didn’t make me angry and cause me to threaten the director). So we get cursing and diatribes that grow to death threats. Because they didn’t like a movie…

And that’s why fanboys are a problem. The heart of the problem is nostalgia and identity, the foundation of conservatives and alt-right folks, and unfortunately, a far too prevalent factor in the lives of liberals too. Many of the societal problems of the moment (racism, sexism, anti-trans, etc) are directly connected to nostalgia and identity. Those two are what gave us our current president. But that’s politics, not movies, and implies it is just a right wing problem. It’s not. A majority of the people I interact with on FB (that means you) are wrapped up with one or both of those. And a significant number are fanboys. A significant number can, with a straight face, say, “Well, it was a good movie, but it was a terrible Star Wars movie and I hate it” without realizing what you just said.

No movie can destroy your childhood, or even your view of your childhood, unless there is something very problematic with your own ego–perhaps a franchise being used as a crutch. And everyone is aware that we use crutches to get better, not as life long friends.

Fanboys make discussion of art impossible. They are angered by opinions (much less facts) that differ from their view of the world. And they are easily deluded on what the world is like.

So yeah, Fanboys suck. Try not to be one.

Jan 042018
one reel

Schoolgirl Meg (Storm Reid) has the type of close relationship with her physicist father (Chris Pine) that can only be filmed in weird angles with unnecessary close-ups and lots of gibberish dialog. He claims to be able to teleport around the universe and vanishes after adopting the off-putting Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). For the next four years Meg is angry and filled with self doubt in an indie drama kind of way. Enter three massively underwritten goddesses, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling). They’ve been chatting with Charles Wallace in some vague and unlikely way and are ready to take him, Meg, and a random kid named Calvin (Levi Miller) universe jumping to find Meg’s dad. This leads to a meandering trip where the goddesses are of little help and the kids are aimless.

An ugly After School Special with all the charm ripped away, A Wrinkle in Time is dull, simplistic, and a failure that earned its box office bomb status. It is meant as a children’s movie, but it is insulting to children and the characters speak not like kids but as corporate execs vaguely think children might speak, keeping in mind these execs have never met one.

Some films fail in little ways. Some in large ways. A Wrinkle in Time fails in every way. No one involved seemed up to the challenge, which really means director Ava DuVernay wasn’t up for the challenge. She was a successful low-budget character drama and documentary director, but a 100 million dollar tent-pole special effects fantasy is a different matter. Artistry isn’t enough. You need skill and experience and the ability to lead a city. She has yet to develop these.

The most visible sign of incompetence is the inconsistency. Sometimes the film is shot well; sometimes it is blurred and under-lit. Sometimes it is expansive, sometimes it is claustrophobic (and I don’t mean when it is trying to be). The acting wobbles from controlled and real to high school theater production. And then there’s the special effects. They are never top drawer for 2018, but sometimes they are passable, and sometimes they are amateurish. Half the film seems to have been created on a very small sound stage surrounded by green screens. Sure, there are great flowing vistas, but our characters never interact with them. We are supposed to be wowed by the visuals, but there’s no magic here.

Pacing and structure makes it all worse. Things plod along, and then leap forward. Ideas are repeated until driven into the ground (gosh, is she angry because her father left and she doesn’t accept herself? Please explain that ten more times in a row). Sometimes they hang on a world for a time, others they just pop in, look around at the green screens, and pop out.

This is a strangely sterile film. It should wrap the viewer with wonder and emotion, but that never happens. It should take the viewer along on an adventure, but there’s no excitement. The prevailing wisdom is that the surrealistic children’s novel was unfilmable. I can’t say if that’s the case, but this shouldn’t have been filmed.

 Fantasy, Reviews Tagged with: