no brains allowed

This is kind of a film review… but not really. I don’t go into the particulars of the narrative. So no spoilers, either!

 

Popcorn, check. X-tra large Coke, check. Contraband M&Ms, check. Logical, critically-thinking brain–whoa. Check that at the door.

A disappointing number of blockbuster films this year have done their best to convince us that they are, in fact, good films. Transformers 4Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even Guardians of the Galaxy. (And I really wanted to love that last one.) The most I can say for any of these movies is that they aim to be fun–but senseless. Plot holes are meant to be ignored. Narrative dead ends are unimportant. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

I can enjoy spectacle. Why, just last month I loved the Fourth of July fireworks. But I can’t forgive this new wave of cinema that insists we not pay attention to the nonsensical story. Should I have expected more from Transformers 4 or TMNT? Of course not. They’re the film equivalent of cotton candy. They’re gum: sweet and diverting to chew, but utterly indigestible. I did–and rightly so–expect more from Guardians of the Galaxy, though, which is currently coasting through good reviews and word-of-mouth on a tide of nerd-love, Star Wars-ian nostalgia, Rocket Raccoon worship, bitchin’ music, and a lot of Marvel kool-aid.

None of these scripts would’ve passed muster in film school–except maybe for the obvious market appeal. Setting aside the fact that these are all franchise cogs, I am hard-pressed to think of better examples of lazy storytelling. Since the aforementioned Michael Bay efforts never had a chance of approaching a coherent narrative, I’m going to focus squarely on Guardians.

Let me be clear. I’m a Marvel fan. I’m a DC fan. I’m a comics, sci-fi, fantastical storytelling fan in general. I loved Marvel’s Phase One. I enjoy Arrow, and I even nerdgasmed over the Dark Knight trilogy. The current adoration over Guardians, however, leaves me nearly apoplectic. As a writer and as a would-be filmmaker, I’m appalled by the shortcuts James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman took. Entire character biographies were dropped in spurts of dialogue like oversized nukes. Songs from the 70s provide the emotional atmosphere, obfuscating any genuine experience we have with the story. Ironically, it’s the surprisingly entertaining character of Groot that serves as a metaphor for the entire process. For a character reduced to only using the same three words as his entire vocabulary, he conveys an impossible amount of information and intent each time he says them. In his case, it works–as a humorous conceit. In the case of the film, I find the conceit too big to swallow.

I saw the movie on opening night with a buddy of mine. I took care to notice the other people in the theater with us. Geeks, mostly, a lot like us, but with a few families and small children. Undoubtedly, the mood of an audience affects the moviegoer and vice-versa. Could it have been my bad luck, then, that those around me weren’t terribly moved by anything they saw or heard? The only time I noticed any significant emotional reaction was when a new song started. After we left, the chatter was subdued and mostly about other topics not involving the movie we’d all just seen. I turned to my buddy and noticed a small frown on his face. “I didn’t really like it,” I said. His frown deepened. “Yeah… me either,” he replied. It was like being told Santa was a lie.

I was so looking forward to Guardians. I’m no hater. And there’s a lot I liked about the film. Chris Pratt was great. Bradley Cooper was entertaining. Dave Bautista was surprisingly good, too. (I had mixed feelings about Michael Rooker, who I normally love to death.) I geeked out over the Thanos moments, brief as they were, and even Lee Pace was great to watch, although Ronan the Accuser is one of the weakest, most one-dimensional villains I’ve ever seen in any film. But the story never captured me, not from the first scene.

Obviously, it’s all subjective. One man’s masterpiece is another man’s total waste of time. 🙂

All I know is, if Avengers 2 doesn’t blow me away, I may need to take an extended break from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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a little this, a little that

It’s been a week of some setbacks. Maybe the last couple weeks. The war against my synopsis has not gone well, and I felt that until I produced a finished version of it, I will not say much about how to write one. 🙂 Though a chat with a friend re-energized me somewhat. I’m a little more hopeful there.

But it’s been an unpleasant couple of weeks aside from that. The depression has hit hard, and I’ve been floundering without really trying to grab onto anything solid. Not smart, I know.

Stupid synopsis.

On the plus side, I have sent out a handful of new query letters. I feel good about that–when I actually remember I did that. Each query letter is a big deal, like an application to college but even more stressful.

In other news… I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m… I didn’t enjoy the movie. It had its funny moments. It had its pretty awesome moments. But I didn’t like the movie. I just haven’t been a fan of Marvel’s Phase 2 in general, with the exception of Captain America 2.

I also watched the first episode of Outlander. Now, I haven’t read the books, in fact, hadn’t heard of them until a few weeks ago. So I came into the show cold. God. The first 30-something minutes was so unbelievably boring. I didn’t get the hype at all. Afterward, I wiki’d the series. Wasn’t impressed. The first book itself seemed alright. I read some reviews of the show. Most seemed to love it. That’s fine, but I didn’t even though I realize and appreciate why it played out the way it did. Yeah, I’ll tune in for the next episode.

That’s it, really. Oh, and my teeth hurt from my most recent trip to the dentist. I wish I had something… encouraging to write about. I wish I had some wisdom to share, a lesson I learned, a piece of great and empowering news. I guess it can’t always be that way. My buddy and co-worker would tell me that “perception determines reality,” and I can agree with that to some extent. And I can also say that sometimes things happen outside your control, and it’s perfectly natural to feel crappy about some of it. I suppose the point, though, is what to do next. Get back up? Or quit?

Of course, I’m not quitting anything. How could I? I have a book to get published. 🙂

perfection revisited

WARNING: spoilers for X-Men:Days of Future Past and Iron Man 3 will be marked in red when I get to them. So… just scroll past the red if you want to avoid the spoilers. Also, this post is going to be super long.

 

I’ve been listening to a lot of film podcasts lately. (The Golden Briefcase, Filmspotting, The /Filmcast, Slate’s Spoiler Specials, How Did This Get Made?) I don’t go to movies much anymore, not since I left my job at the movie theater, but I’m always interested in knowing about good and bad movies, and why they’re good or bad. The podcasters often discuss movies they loved (or thought were good) while at the same time highlighting the issues they had with the movie. Some films have a vast range of problems. And lately it’s made me wonder. How do these people–how does anyone, really–love a movie if it has so many issues? How can those movies be good movies? Continuity, character development, plot points, logic problems… aren’t these all signs of a bad movie? Okay, so I guess I’m facing two different questions, really, between loving a movie and thinking it’s a good/great movie. So I’ll tackle them both.

And yes, I will talk about the new X-Men movie in some detail later on, because my experience with that movie yesterday inspired me to write this post.

Loving a good movie. Alright. I think I talked about this before. It’s okay to love a bad movie. I love plenty of them. Hell, I loved Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher. I even enjoyed Knight and Day. That’s right. I loved Transformers, too–but only the first one. (The second and third ones can suck it.) I enjoy bad television: The 100Once Upon a Time (sort of), 2 Broke Girls. (If it makes anyone feel better, I also love some very good television like Downton Abbey and Longmire. If you’re interested, check out my previous posts for more favorite shows and movies.) So I can understand why these podcasters can say they love films like the new X-MenGodzilla, and even The Amazing Spider-man 2. I’ve only seen X-Men. I was planning on checking out the latter two, but Rotten Tomatoes and word of mouth has discouraged me from spending my money. Alas, I’m not always willing to admit those bad ones are actually bad. But I will recognize that critics and the general public probably think so. And I understand that movies and television make for a very subjective experience. One man’s Hamlet is another man’s Phantom Menace and vice-versa.

I watched Iron Man 3 when it came out. Opening night, too, so I saw it with an energetic crowd. I. Hated. It. Why? Well… okay. Nerd rant with spoilers incoming–though I’m not really a comic book nerd.

 

… SPOILERS START …

 

The buddy-buddy thing going on between Tony Stark and James Rhodes didn’t work for me, and I think that’s a big part of the film, part of its draw. I didn’t enjoy their banter. I found it tiring, and it tried too hard to be buddy-buddy.

The Iron Man suit itself–everybody was putting it on. I mean Pepper wore it. The President wore it. Hell, the bad guy wore it. You know who didn’t wear it that much? Tony Stark. Way to go, keeping Iron Man out of the Iron Man suit. You’ve turned a superhero into an overgrown child with a remote control.

And then the battle at the end, where bad guys and Iron Man suits were dropping like flies. How many suits did Tony go through to finally put down Killian? Oh, and Pepper has the extremis? No, wait, Tony figured out how to remove it in about five minutes. Never mind. And he destroys the suits? Why? I don’t know. He’s obviously going to need to have at least one for The Avengers 2.

Oh yeah… and if he could remotely summon them to do their own thing in that last battle, why didn’t it occur to him to summon them during the Air Force One attack? Sure would’ve made it a lot safer and smarter to have more than one suit rescuing people.

And I’m not the foremost expert on Iron Man mythology, but I’m pretty confident that Mandarin is his greatest enemy. The Joker to his Batman. Then you go and turn Mandarin into a fraud? An actor with questionable gastrointestinal issues?

And why, exactly, did we need Rebecca Hall in this movie? And having a history with Iron Man? She contributed nothing but one more death.

Don’t get me started on the little boy.

I think the movie started out with such promise, too. The return of Yinsen was awesome nostalgia. And then it went downhill from there. I want to be clear. I love the Iron Man character. I was a huge fan of the first film. The second film was… eh. This one. Let me put it this way. At no point during Iron Man 3 did I get excited. About anything. Zero nerdgasms. At least with Iron Man 2 I got excited when he put on the suitcase suit at the race track. Anyway. Rant over.

 

… SPOILERS END …

 

This leads to the second question. Believing a movie is good/great even when it’s bludgeoned with plot holes. My distaste for Iron Man 3 is directly tied into the problems I had with the film. At what point do the plot/character problems make it a nonsensical hot mess? Again, I suppose it’s subjective. I loved Inception and truly believe it was a fantastic movie. But yeah, it had some problems. I think the problems with that movie, though, are part of its genius. The Matrix Revolutions, however, not a good movie–mostly because of its plot and character problems. I think it has been a really long time since I saw a movie at the theater that was good. I’ve seen a few DVDs that I thought were pretty good, I guess. The Wolf of Wall Street was good. Not great, but good. I liked Ender’s Game, though I’ll admit it wasn’t very good. At least it was entertaining. Frozen–a great movie. I have a few more DVDs I’m hoping to try out tonight and tomorrow, like Veronica Mars the movie and Homeland. I hope they’re good. Well, I guess Homeland will be good, whether I like it or not.

Obviously, the issue crosses over into books as well. Ender’s Game is a great book. I had a lot of trouble actually liking it, though. The first Guardians of Ga’Hoole book was cute and kinda fun. Not very good. The World of Warcraft novel Vol’jin was absolute crap, and I hated it despite being a huge WoW nerd. Jaina Proudmoore and Thrall were also pretty bad. The Percy Jackson series. Fun, but not that good, clearly a direct derivative of Harry Potter and not nearly as good. I’m currently working on The Black Company and I’m not getting into it. Though most critics and readers will agree that it’s a fantastic fantasy series. I guess, but I’m not feeling it.

My point is, our preferences are highly subjective. Even standards are somewhat fluid, depending on the genre or reviewer. Not every top critic was in love with Godzilla. Most critics hated The Amazing Spider-man 2, but that didn’t stop it from earning a ton of money. I didn’t see that one, either, so I can’t comment on it. So I’ll point back to Iron Man 3 as a truly excellent example of a really sloppy movie coasting on goodwill and past successes. I once stated that the movie could’ve been Tony Stark picking his nose for two hours and it still would’ve earned a billion dollars. Which is too bad, really. I think RDJ is a great actor and Shane Black is a pretty good screenwriter. (I loved Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.)

So this leads into my experience with X-Men. And now we head back into spoilers.

 

… SPOILERS START …

 

Again, it started off well enough. A battle against the Sentinels that ends in multiple X-Men deaths, some of them fan favorites. I was even okay with it rewinding the clock. Unfortunately, seeing this plot device at work in the beginning completely took away the jeopardy and pathos I felt in the final battle (in the future) at the end of the movie. With all but two X-Men dying, I just didn’t care because I knew time would be reset again. In fact, the more X-Men that died, the more sure I became of a positive outcome. So did it matter to me when Storm died? Or Magneto? Not really, no. Hell, I laughed when the Sentinels pulled Colossus apart. (Admit it, though, that was just silly-looking.)

And yes, I understand that a new X-Men movie obliges us to see brand new mutants with interesting new powers. Fine. But only one of them mattered to the plot. It’s really unfortunate that Quicksilver was the most entertaining character of the film and he was in and out of the movie within fifteen minutes. Also, Wolverine’s knowledge of him came out of nowhere. At no point during any of the previous X-Men movies was Quicksilver mentioned, not even in the movie I was watching. So yeah, that came out of nowhere.

Also, I am a huge, huge James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender fan. Atonement and 12 Years a Slave are among my favorite films ever, and in no small part to those actors’ performances. Those guys are phenomenal actors, and their portrayals of Xavier and Magneto is great to watch. But the characters went nowhere. Though we get the feeling that Magneto is about to turn a new leaf, we discover he’s still the same old megalomaniac pro-mutant Magneto. Though I suppose we could argue that young Xavier gets his groove back by the end of the film, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. Characters are meant grow.

Speaking of. I really hope Ellen Page got paid a lot of money. She spent 99% of her screen time on her knees, holding her hands over Hugh Jackman’s head. A really stupid use of an arguably pretty-talented actress. (Addendum: how the hell does Anna Paquin get higher billing over Ellen Page for a three second, non-speaking cameo? Someone explain that to me–without referring to the supposed deleted scenes of hers that’ll be added in the DVD.)

Beast–superfluous. He wasn’t even a foil for anyone.

Havoc? Toad? The other ones and the entire Vietnam sequence? Pointless.

Mystique became little more of a MacGuffin than anything else, with only one real moment to shine at the very end of the movie.

And Wolverine, the biggest badass of them all, does the least amount of fighting in the film. One quick fight when he first transports into his young body against some mafioso-like thugs and very briefly in the final fight at the end of the movie. He spent the rest of the movie playing the unlikeliest cheerleader in the world to young Xavier. (Side note, if Wolverine doesn’t age–as Kitty Pryde pointed out–why does his older self actually look older?)

Then there’s the final outcome of the movie. So… Magneto attempts to kill the President but is stopped by Mystique. If things had ended there, I could easily understand how the future turns out better. But then Mystique turns around and prepares to kill (ostensibly) Trask, though the officials clearly believed the President was also in danger. Why this still results in a better future for mutants is what I don’t get. Seems like Nixon would still think the mutants are a threat when a gun is waved at him by a sexy blue chick. But eh, whatever.

The action was pretty hit or miss, too. The future battles are all entertaining, but as I said, the second one lost its emotional power after watching Kitty Pryde’s power at work in the first one. Prison breaking Magneto from the Pentagon was great, but this was all Quicksilver. He was hilarious, and watching him slow-mo sabotage a wave of guards was priceless. The fight in Paris was not that interesting, mostly because it was mired by frequent cuts of Wolverine having a mental breakdown. (Why did we need William Stryker in this? The movie had nothing to do with Wolverine or his past/future at all, and it ultimately went nowhere.) The final fight started off okay with the Sentinels falling under Magneto’s control, but then the fight loses focus as we just sit back and watch him Independence Day a baseball stadium across Washington DC except at a snail’s pace. It was impressive for about five seconds, then it was just meh.

Lastly, I want to touch on the stinger. First of all, if you’re going to throw just one stinger in there, don’t save it for the end of the scrolling credits. My god, who wants to stick around for all that when almost every stinger is at the end of the splash credits? I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t already Wiki’d the movie before going. But all that aside, again, I would probably not have guessed we were seeing Apocalypse. It was vague. It came out of left field. It was set in the past and literally had nothing to do with the movie at all. Why did we have to go thousands of years back in time? I don’t know, except Bryan Singer really wanted to shoehorn in a reference to the sequel. Fine. Then at least make Apocalypse, I don’t know, look like Apocalypse! He looked like Powder, except prettier. I knew what I was watching, and I still didn’t recognize him. Way to go.

 

… SPOILERS END …

 

I was really looking forward to this movie. Its Rotten Tomatoes score of 91% with a 98% top critics score only cemented my opinion that the movie was going to be awesome. But it was not awesome, at least not to me, and I tried really hard to get into it. Too many problems, though, and I mentioned them all above in the spoilers if you want to read them. The Metacritic score of 74 is much more appropriate, in my opinion. I didn’t hate the movie. I think it was good. I think… I’m not really sure. The only thing I can say for sure is I thought it was okay, and that it wasn’t a terrible movie. So I began to wonder if I had lost my ability to appreciate a good film, despite its many issues. I don’t know.

All I know is it’s been a long time since I walked out of the theater a satisfied customer.