Mini-Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

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Okay, so this weekend I watched Tomb Raider, the 2018 version, and I actually found that I liked it much more than I thought I would based on the low Rotten Tomatoes score.  While it isn’t a perfect movie, there is more to like (for me at least) than I thought.

Lara Croft

Okay, so I kind of like Alicia Vikander’s performance of Lara Croft, almost more so than I do the one presented in the “rebooted” timeline.  I still think the “posh” Lara from the games such as: Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider: Legend are the best versions of the character (the ones that Angelina Jolie based her performance of the character on in her set of movies).  However, I think this particular Lara Croft is closer to the original conception that the one portrayed in the “rebooted” games (that I’ve played so far).  Lara seems both competent and sympathetic at just the right moments.

The Script

Okay, so if Vikander’s performance is so good, why the low score on Rotten Tomatoes?  For me,  the script, or more to the point, the story.  In this story, we’ve seen variations on it many, many times.  Daughter loses father, daughter goes on quest to find father, father seems to have delusions of mysticism tempering his judgement, daughter ultimately finds her destiny after her quest to find her father.  I can think of this particular story “form” for half-a-dozen Hollywood movies.  Essentially, the 2nd “reboot” of Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-man (with Andrew Garfield) tells the same story–Peter loses his family, Peter discovers his powers, but also discovers that something nefarious happened to his parents.  At the end, Peter ultimately finds his destiny.  Again, this particular plot strand has happened multiple times in Hollywood movies.

Overall Verdict: 81 (B-)

By my grading scale 0-100, this would earn an 81.  A performance that I like, with (fairly) obvious CGI special effects, but those effects are at least clever and inventive, saddled with a plot sequence that we’ve seen multiple times, means that this is just barely above average in terms of quality, but not the best, nor most emotionally engaging fiction around.  However, for me, it was certainly better than the 51% it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes.  With a more inventive story (that doesn’t crib so much from Hollywood and that isn’t a simplified rehash of the “rebooted” game–which it also is to an extent–this one could have been great, rather than simply passable.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)
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Kubo and the Two Strings (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: Amazon.com

Kubo and East Lake Academy

Before I get into my impressions of the movie proper, I wanted to note the context of my seeing this movie.  I first heard about it from trailers and during the Oscars where it was nominated for a couple of awards (just checked via google and it was nominated for Best Picture and Best Visual Effects for 2017).  I then saw that after its theatrical run, it had come to Netflix and I intended to see it.  At the end of the 2017 semester, I went back to East Lake Academy during the final week of school just to see how things were going with my former 6th grade teammates.  They raved about Kubo and the Two Strings and told me how much the kids loved it.  I had always intended to see it, but one thing led to another and I would put it off again and again.  Finally, this week, it is set to go off Netflix the 6th (?) of this month here in the United States, so I thought I’d better make it a priority.

Kubo = A Great Animated Movie

I really liked the movie.  It is one in which the main character doesn’t complain about his circumstances.  He doesn’t always want to do as he’s told, but from the characterization and editing of the movie, you can see that he very much loves his mother and wishes that he could help her more than he is able to because of his young age.  He also wants to know his father better and that touches off the beginning of the story’s central plot.  While the humor is isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as, say a Pixar movie, still it has quite a bit of humor and their are a ton of verbal gags and quips that could easily become referential or memes in the future.

Kubo = A Film with a Message

Now, most films have a message or theme that they are imparting to the audience, regardless of whether it is explicitly made clear or not.  In Kubo, the theme is explicitly spelled out at the end, so if that type of thing bothers you, be aware that is there.  However, there are other themes, like fidelity, family (both the good and bad of familial life), and disability/ability that one can glean without having it told to the audience.  I personally don’t mind when movies do that in most cases (really, the only animated movie that I’ve actively disliked is Happy Feet which presented its theme in a very confusing way and in an utterly unrealistic ending).  Kubo isn’t like that–however, as its theme always derives from its story and the actions of its characters.  So, Kubo always makes sense in its formulation of story, plot, and characters.  And its fun, too, without being mean-spirited, which is ultimately what I think Happy Feet is–albeit unintentionally.

Overall Grade: B+

I think Kubo and the Two Strings is a strong entry in the animated movie field.  There are other movies that I like more than this one, but as both a story and a life-lesson, I think that it really has strong narrative and visual elements that help to make it a must-watch movie at some point.  As a Fantasy movie, it also works well, in that it allows the hero to access “magical powers” that are unique to the Eastern Tradition.  While the movie doesn’t fully explain his powers, it does explain the hero’s origin, which then suggests how Kubo can do magic (to explain further would probably be “spoilery” so I’ll leave it at that).  I really liked it and I only wish that I would have seen it earlier (when the teachers at East Lake were raving about it as I feel it would have been more impactful at that time because I wouldn’t have seen as many Disney animated movies and Pixar movies with which to compare it to.

Avengers Infinity War — Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: https://www.technobuffalo.com/2018/09/03/avengers-4-where-are-the-avengers/ (Possible Spoilers-tells where everyone ends up AFTER the movie, click at your own risk!)

Not Your Typical Marvel Movie

So, I’m just going to assume that most people who are interested in Marvel movies or comic book movies has already seen this movie, but just in case people haven’t, this is a Marvel movie like no other.  It has been setting up since the very first Avengers film.  It is essentially the entire Marvel universe (with exceptions) in multiple storylines fighting against the “big bad” of the movie, Thanos, to keep him from getting the Infinity Stones (various items that have been teased in Marvel movies like the Tesseract).  However, this movie doesn’t follow the typical Marvel formula because it has multiple heroes in multiple places trying to keep Thanos (or his agents) from getting the stones. While some times wildly inventive, these multiple storylines are also wildly disjointed and make the movie feel more disjointed than it probably should be.

People Keep Dying

For me, I’m just going to come right and say it (don’t worry–no spoilers), people just keep on dying in this movie.  Here’s the thing, deaths in movies are sometimes justified (such as the death that occurs in Star Wars.  Each death of each of the characters (both major and minor–I’m thinking of the Death Star scene and the “Trench Run” scene especially) either propel the movie forward or increase the tension and make us feel that the main character’s lives and mission are in serious peril.  In this movie, characters keep dying, but it doesn’t feel earned.  It feels like the filmmakers wanted to be shocking and provocative.  See, look who can kill, now just wait and watch who we kill next.  While guaranteed to keep you glued to your seats to see who’s dying next, it doesn’t really make for compelling drama, nor does it really engender repeat viewings (I’ve owned the movie for a week now and I’ve not rewatched it once–by this time with the other Avengers and the later Captain America movies (which are essentially Avengers 1.5/Avengers 2.5 movies), I would have rewatched them multiple times by now.

Avengers: Infinity War (part 2)

Next year, we will have the resolution to this story with part 2 of this movie.  I’m pretty sure the “solution” to the movie was sown by “seeds” planted in this movie (pay particular attention to the scene where Stark and Doctor Strange discuss possible outcomes after Strange looks into the future), but it is possible that this is a misdirect by the filmmakers.  Either way, I’m not sure how much “fun” I’m going to have with the second part based on the “bad taste” the first part left in my mouth.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of Empire Strikes Back, where the second entry is by necessity darker than the first, but rather one where I feel the filmmakers tried to use shock value to enhance the tension rather than going with heroic and meaningful deaths.  In closing, I also have to say I wasn’t a fan of Thanos’s motivation. Genocide, for any reason (and that includes population control) is still Genocide.  While he was “a bad dude,” there was a surprising amount of sympathy given to the character for this movie that 1) wasn’t earned, 2) other movies featuring him in scenes didn’t show/highlight and 3) wasn’t actually relevant to the character. Sure, you don’t want a scene chewing villain, but in my mind, Thanos lacks the cold, calculated terror of a Darth Vader, who while there is good inside of him, does some personally horrific things to get his motives accomplished.  Thanos is from the newer, Kylo Ren school of villainy, where he has to whine, emote, and act like a petulant child before he can enact his twisted schemes because, by golly, we (the audience) gotta’ feel sorry for the poor slob as he’s only trying to do the “right” thing by his way of thinking.  Oh, boo hoo.  Sorry, I (personally) don’t care for this particular type of villain and it throws me out of the movie every time I encounter one like that (Syndrome from the Incredibles has a similar effect on me).

Overall Score: B-/C+

Okay, so I’m being charitable with the B- as there are some very inventive and terrific fight scenes (as usual for the Russo Brothers).  However, some characters do some pretty dumb things (especially for Marvel movies) and I really didn’t care for the way Thanos was sometimes handled/depicted.  It is a spectacle, no doubt, and is pretty much required viewing to stay relevant with popular culture, but as a movie, it isn’t nearly as strong as several other Marvel movies.  I’m not sure where I’m going to place it on the list, but I can give you a preview here: it will not unseat my top 3 Marvel movies currently.  Not slagging on the movie per se, but it just didn’t connect with me. Too much emphasis on cheap, unearned deaths, not enough on true characterization and story pretty much sums up my reaction to it in one sentence.  This is the first Russo Brothers Marvel movie that has been a swing and miss with me.

Mini-Review: Supernova

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Movie poster: Supernova. Image Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/Supernova

Not Good, Not Terrible

So, I watched this movie a couple of weekends ago, and I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. Yes, I know that is damning with faint praise, but I found my time the in universe of Supernova to be more mindless than mind-numbing. The problem with the movie is simple: too formulaic without real thought behind what makes the characters tick and what is happening in the universe. I recognize this because (I think) this is what do when I write and submit my first drafts. Pretty much everything we need to know is told to via dialogue (exposition) and there is a lot of telling rather than showing. The universe outside the ship barely exists and it only does so when the plot calls for it.

A Walk on the Not So Wild Side

So, what went wrong with this movie. This movie is all about concepts rather than story. For instance, in a twist on Alien and Aliens where people “hypersleep” in the underwear, in order to be titillating, Supernova, says no, in this world everyone sleeps in the nude. Now, they don’t show anything in the movie (at least not what I saw on streaming), but there’s no explanation or rhyme or reason as to why this is necessary (if there was a scene explaining this, it either never made it into the rewrites or was left on the cutting room floor). Way, way too much of the movie is like this: interesting concepts thrown out there and then poorly explained/explored, if explored at all.  It is as if there were three different sci-fi movies happening, but the creators said, “hey, Aliens was marketable, let’s take this jumble and run it through the Aliens template and see if our movie can be successful, too.” Sadly, it just didn’t work.

A Black Eye for Afrofuturism

So, one of the main characters in this story is an African American female. She is intelligent and determined. However, the story continually undermines her agency as it depends upon the main character to “save” her. There are situations in which she “saves” herself, but again, because we have formula, rather than form, there has to be a male hero (who happens to be white in the story, but any male of any race–including African American–would have been just as bad) to save her. As the male is cut from the formulaic “silent, brooding type,” the woman’s role is by far the most interesting and really could have been something special if she had to both save the ship and outwit the antagonist at the same time. This is something that I’m striving for in my own work, and I hope that I will not allow Tana (or any other female character) to be “saved” by males (and vice versa when I write male characters). Supernova needed to pick the most interesting character (the woman) and let her be the hero of the story rather than trying to delegate hero duties between the two main characters.

Overall Grade: D+

This could have been so much better had the creators just trusted their most interesting character and threw her into a situation where she had to battle herself, battle the floundering ship and possessed crew, and the antagonist at the same time. As it stands, it is just a formulaic sci-fi action movie that simply doesn’t explain its world or characters in enough detail to be truly enjoyable.

Sidney

Finished Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Mini-Review)

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Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Independence Word Count: 6,000 words (+1,200 words)–1st Draft Finished (7/6/18)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

Goal = 5000 words  by July 7. 
Actual = 6,000 Words finished on July 6.  I wrote 1,200 words Friday night while I waited to go home.  I didn’t have a great couple of days, so I just wrote.  I only had 178 words for the 5,000 word goal, but when I got there, I wasn’t finished, so I just kept writing until the story was done.  I’ve given it to my alpha readers and then will do another draft whenever I get the feedback back from them.  I’ll probably work on a revision/revisions for the month of July before delving back into a new project in August.  Watch this space for future developments.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
    Traveller RPG: I started this a while ago as a book that I was reading just before bedtime, but I didn’t really make much headway.  I restarted it and I’ve just finished the introductory character generation section and I’m now moving on to the skills section and will be soon moving into the “lore” section.  This is a revamp (rules 2.0) of an old school British RPG from the 1980s.  Updated for modern times, this fairly short book still gives a great set of rules, game system, and lore that I hope will serve as inspiration for new sci-fi works in my own writing life.
  • For School:
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Finished Oathbringer Last Week

So, I finished Oathbringer last week.  I wasn’t intending to finishing it, but I can’t say that my week was the greatest due to the amount of schoolwork that I had this week and the fact that I didn’t do as well on my presentations that I would have liked.  So, as normal, I retreated into my books, specifically Oathbringer and finished off approximately 250-300 pages this week.  The book clocks in at over 1,200 pages (!) and I had been reading 2-3 chapters per day, until the last couple of weeks.  For those who don’t know, Oathbringer is book 3 in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series.

Dalinar’s Story

Each book in the series, so far, has a focus on one or two major characters while other characters are present, but are in the background.  In each of the two previous, we find out about the background of our “focus” character throughout the course of the novel.  Book 1, The Way of Kings was Kaladin Stormblessed’s story, while Book 2, Words of Radiance  was Shallan’s story.  Even though Jasnah Kholin is on the cover, it is actually her father, Dalinar, who is the “focus” of this novel.  We get to see his history and his motivations as to how he became “Blackthorne,” a figure to be feared and why he moved away from that persona.  Sanderson masterfully weaves the reasons into the story and by the end of the book, we see Dalinar journey on an arc that leaves Dalinar (and the readers) with an understanding of why Dalinar deliberately learned to restrain his battle lust.

Moving the Story Forward

What I like most about this Fantasy series is that it actually moves the story forward.   If there’s one thing Sanderson is good at, it is actually progressing the story.  For instance, the “Big Bad,” Odium, has been teased for two books, but this book, not only do we get to see him, we also get to interact with him and see what makes him the “big bad” in this story.  In other words, he gets Darth Vader it up.  Other contemporary fantasy writers (I won’t name names) tend to stay mired in the potential of the threat, rather than actually getting to the threat itself.  I really liked this book.  While it isn’t my favorite novel in the series–that honor still goes to Book 1, The Way of Kings–I still thought that it was a great novel that really engages the reader while moving the story forward.

Overall Grade: B+

A very good addition to the series.  Maybe not the best one so far, but it definitely slacked my thirst for new content in that universe.  Now that I’ve finished it, however, I’m consigned to wait another 2 to 2 ½ years for Brandon Sanderson to release another.

Sigh.

Sidney




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Finished Rereading Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13) by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

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Tower of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13) Book Cover.  Image Source: GoodReads

Word Count

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 2428 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

I didn’t manage any new words on any of my major projects–I didn’t even manage a blog post.  I realize this is where I’m sabotaging my writing, so I’m redoubling my efforts to write at least 250-500 words each day on at least one of these projects.  

Currently Reading

  • For Fun: Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novella)
  • For School: Rhetoric in the European Tradition by Thomas Conley (A Book on the History of Rhetoric)
  • For Research/Personal Development: Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

I wanted to read Oathbringer over the summer break before classes started again, but BS said that it might be helpful to read a Novella entitled, Edgedancer, before starting on Oathbringer.  I finally found a copy at MTSU’s library and I’m reading it now.  X gives a history of Rhetoric.  Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Finally Finished

So, this past week, I finally finished rereading Towers of Midnight, the 13th book in The Wheel of Time Fantasy series.  This series was started by Robert Jordan in the early 1990s, but he sadly passed away.  Brandon Sanderson was asked to complete the series based on the notes left behind by RJ after his death.  I can’t remember if I’ve done a formal review of the books based on fact that I’ve already read them, but I won’t do a full one here, just a shorter one that tells why I like the book.

Secondary Characters

If the previous book’s focus is mostly on Rand (the main protagonist of the series), then this book focuses more on the two side characters who also act as protagonists, Perrin and Matt.  RJ & BS do the time-honored tradition of splitting up the characters and having them go their separate ways.  This book checks in on the pair and offer resolution to their separate storylines so that they might be unencumbered by dangling plot-lines for the final epic battle that RJ & BS are setting up for in Book 14 (the final volume).  In this case, the book works, although even though we spend quite a bit of time in both characters’ heads, it still feel like this one is more about Perrin than Matt.  I think that it may be because the author may identify more with Perrin than Matt, but whatever the case, this is what makes it feel slightly unbalanced to me.

Not Sure at First

When Brandon Sanderson first took over the reins of the series, I was hesitant to read the final books because I wasn’t sure how they would turn out.  I actually delayed reading them until all three were out because 1) I hadn’t read anything by BS yet, so I didn’t know what his writing style was like and 2) because of the mixed reviews on Amazon.  Some praised his characterization and said it matched the “spirit” of RJ’s original books, while some were disappointed in the way the books were characterized.  For me, The Wheel of Time was always more about the characters than the world (at least, in the later WoT books).  Jordan had a dense style, and while that was sometimes helpful to “world-building”,  it was also sometimes off-putting and (dare I say it, a little dry and boring).  It was his characters and traits that really stood out, from one character’s tagging on her braid when she was angry to one character also being an absolute flirt while claiming he knew nothing of the opposite sex, Jordan’s ability to create characters was amazing.  After I read Sanderson’s A Way of Kings, Book 1 of his Stormlight Archives series, I had enough confidence that he would treat Jordan’s characters right and so I dived in and I’m glad I did.

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

What’s On My Bookshelf: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (Signed Copy)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 113
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1084 
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12 (+1)

Summer Reading

So, I bought Brandon Sanderson’s novel Oathbringer (Stormlight Archives Book 3) for my birthday to read as a reward for finishing the Spring Semester.  This semester was so challenging that I was actually tempted (and actually tried) to read Oathbringer before the semester was over.  However, there is a prequel novella called Edgedancer that BS suggested reading before diving in Book 3 proper.  Luckily, MTSU’s Library had a copy and I’ve started reading it in preparation for book 3 in the series.  Today, I wanted to have a quick look at another book on my bookshelf, The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archives Book 1), which I was fortunate enough to have signed by Brandon Sanderson when he came to LibertyCon here is Chattanooga several years back.

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson’s work is one of the few of the “New Generation” of fantasy writers that I like.  Even though George R. R. Martin has been around since the 80’s, his Game of Thrones series kicked off a resurgence of the GrimDark genre.  To be clear, GrimDark has always been around–Stephen R. Donaldson, a few of Piers Anthony’s early Sci-Fi works–not his YA or Fantasy, per se, and Dave Duncan–are just a few writers that immediately spring to mind whose works that I’ve read (and disliked) because of the GrimDark elements  Most writers of Sanderson’s generation are (of course) seeing the popularity (and dollar signs) of GoT and are  trying to emulate his success with their own versions.  Sanderson, however, tells a very different tale–one that, while having its own grim elements, eschews GrimDark for a more hopeful and elegant premise.  The hero is flawed, but not in a “antihero” sort of way, but more in that he keeps trying to protect, but it all seems to come to naught and he is so very tired of not succeeding.  In an era of “Me Too” GoT clones, this was very refreshing.  The world was very well built and I like the way Sanderson plots (he thinks up big, “set-piece” moments and then writes to those moments).  The ending has a bit of twist and ultimately it was the hero and the ending that sold me on the story.

Life Before Death

So, the above heading is the “creed” of one of the forgotten orders of (this world’s) “knights” in the book and is what Brandon Sanderson inscribed on my copy of the book when he came for LibertyCon..  He was very nice and must say that I enjoyed meeting him.  I was, surprisingly, tongue-tied but mentioned that that I was a librarian when I asked him to sign my A.R.C. (Advanced Reader’s Copy) version of the book that I had been given by another librarian a year (or two) earlier.  He was very respectful and said that he enjoyed meeting librarians and the the A.R.C. was fairly rare in that there weren’t many printed and signed my copy.  It is still a treasured addition to my collection even all these years later.  I can only hope that, if ever I reach my goal of being a published speculative fiction novelist, that I am as gracious and nice as Brandon Sanderson was during that event.

Anyway, that’s all for today.  If you’re in to Fantasy in any way, I would highly recommend checking out this series, starting with The Way of Kings.  It is an awesome start to an awesome series by an awesome author!

Here’s hoping you have a good week! 🙂

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.