Mini-Movie Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

A movie poster with an orange background and Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the two largest figures.  Two women are in the middle of the frame and the new Terminator is at the bottom with the name of the move and the crew listed in white lettering.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminator:_Dark_Fate

So, this is another time that I wish that I could use typical spoiler tags (<spoiler></spoiler>) on the blog as it would make writing this mini-review much easier. A cursory search on google shows that it is possible on WordPress, but you need to be a paid user to access the feature (at the time of writing). I scanned through all of the “embeds” and wasn’t able to find it, but did run across what I wanted to do on a forum. However, this being the case, I will try to discuss the movie in a non-spoiler way.

Know this, however. There is a major spoiler within the first five minutes of the movie. Your reaction to the movie is largely going to depend on whether or not you buy this particular scene. Fans of the classic two movies Terminator and Terminator 2 probably won’t like this scene, while those of the newer generations may care less/may forgive what happens in the scene, and may find this one a good or decent movie. A lot of it depends on your frame of reference, point of view towards, and attachment to the original two movies that are well regarded.

The Good

Okay, as I mention periodically, I don’t watch the reviews for a movie until after I’ve seen it as I don’t want to be influenced by any perceived biases on the part of the reviewers. That wasn’t always the case as I remember watching Siskel & Ebert movie reviews as a child for their opinion on the latest genre fair–except for Star Wars and a couple of other major exceptions, they always tended to be mixed or negative from what I remember.

However, afterwards I watched the reviews to see how closely my opinions matched with reviewers. In this, both the reviewers and myself are closely aligned. The actors/performers were awesome (“on point,” I believe is the current, soon-to-be dated reference), and did an amazing job. The new actors and the return of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger really worked well and they all gave solid and believable performances. I thought the establishing scenes with the protagonist and her brother and father were witty, charming, and fun, not necessarily because of the script, but because of the actors and the way they portrayed their characters.

The Bad

As usual, the script/story. This seems to be a repeated meme and one that you’d think Hollywood would work harder at getting right. You can’t get through the door unless you’re part of the Writer’s Guild (or Director’s Guild, or Producer’s Guild), but the story has 5 credited writers (for the story & 3 for the screenplay), and yet the scripts continue to (often) be the weakest parts of the movie. This is probably a blog topic for another time, so I’ll save it, but Hollywood is too entrenched (in my opinion) in trying to find a magic “formula” that guarantees success. It’s a business wrapped around art–sometimes you’re going to hit it big (The Lord of the Rings 2001-2003) and sometimes you’re going to strikeout (Dungeons & Dragons2000). The best you can do is put up the best you can in terms of talent and story and swing for the fences–which Hollywood would argue isn’t a sustainable business model–but which gives you movies like Terminator: Dark Fate.

So what’s actually wrong with the script? It is basically a “callback” to ideas presented in the first two Terminator movies. While not a one-to-one recreation, there are scenes right out of the two movies that newer viewers might think are original, but have actually been done before (and better) by the older movies. Small vehicle (insert protagonists inside it) vs “Big Bad” vehicle, check. Helicopter scene, check. I had to physically clamp my jaw down to keep from sighing or reacting when I saw yet another scene that had a reference point from one of the other movies.

The Ugly

This is a no spoiler mini-review, but we have to talk about the first scene in the first five minutes. This is an Alien 3 level scene. If you want to know absolutely nothing–then maybe skip to the next section now . . . . . .

Okay, still reading? This scene destroys the themes of the first two movies and makes those movies seem irrelevant, in exactly the same way that Alien 3 did for Aliens (and to a lesser extent, the way the Disney Star Wars movies have done for the the original trilogy). There’s this “thing” in Hollywood that says if you don’t want to deal with things in a previous movie, its okay to write your beginning (or whole movie) in such a way that completely drops that whole set of themes so that you can do what you want to do. And that’s not what we, as an audience, want. Ideally, we want you, the creators, to advance the plot, in novel and unique ways that we never thought of (Empire Strikes Back–>Star Wars, Aliens–>Alien, Terminator 2–>Terminator, Bourne Supremacy–>Bourne Identity, etc.). Less ideally, we’ll accept (or at least I will), same character/plot (or different characters with same basic plot) inside a different setting (Home Alone 2, Karate Kid 2, Jaws 2, Predator 2, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, etc.). Not okay (in my book) are the movies that destroy characters, themes, and mythology just because you don’t want to be bothered with them (Alien 3, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and now Terminator: Dark Fate).

Overall Grade: C (although this really should lower)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Above Average (B) for the actors’ performances, but well below average for the script/screenplay (D) = a C. However, the fact that it really plays hard and fast with the continuity of the overall Terminator series really does annoy me and while it is a movie I could actually get through (unlike Terminator Genisys), it is one that, while full of action like other Terminator movies, makes me wonder if I should rate it much lower than I have as I don’t feel that it was a very good movie in the overall Terminator “franchise” (for the business people) or “canon” (for the audience members).

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Greyhound (AppleTV+)

Tom Hanks as a Navy Captain with a captain's hat against a blue background with clouds, sea, world war 2 ships and a plane in the background with the words : Tom Hanks Greyhound in white.  A black and white logo is in the bottom right with the Apple symbol and TV beside it.
Image Source: https://9to5mac.com/2020/07/09/new-tom-hanks-movie-apple-tv/

Over the past weekend, I was looking for a movie to watch. I decided that I should probably just try to watch a movie each week from the different streaming services that I subscribe to in order to maximize their value–as you’ll see, there are services that I subscribe to that I rarely watch or use, even though they have excellent content. Most of the time, it is because I pretty much focus on the “Big 2″ (which, for me, are Netflix and Amazon Prime Video). Hulu and Tubi are distant (way distant) third and fourth places.

However, one service that I alsways forget that I have (thanks to a promotion for when I got my iPhone, is AppleTV+. They have a couple of shows that I’m interested in, but haven’t yet seen (For All Mankind and See). I thought I’d watch them during the pandemic after school was over, but then there were the high profile cases of police brutality and resulting protests in the US that captivated me and so, I still haven’t seen them yet. However, after visiting each service and not really finding anything that jumped out to me, I actually remembered AppleTV+, and when I went on, I remembered that they had a movie from Sony that I’d seen the previews on and thought might be pretty good so, I decided to give it a watch.

Greyhound Movie Trailer

Greyhound

The screenplay was written by Tom Hanks, who also stars as the captain of the destroyer tasked with protecting a convoy of merchant marine ships during WWII from the predations of German U-Boats in the Atlantic Sea. There are two other destroyers to help in the task, but the story focuses around his ship and his crew.

After a brief set-up, the story gets started in earnest, and we see his motivation for wanting to do everything he can to survive and come back home safely. The movie is short, a little over 90 minutes, but it is an intense 90 minutes. You feel for the safety of the crew, the ship, and the convoy. This movie did, in 90 minutes, what Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight wasn’t able to do, for me, in 2 hours and 32 minutes.

This shows that the power of traditional storytelling–exposition, complications leading to rising, action, a climax, a resolution, a denouement (falling action) along with a character epiphany. This movie has all of these traits, and while short, is still one of the most intense movies that I’ve seen this year. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It is a war movie, so keep that in mind going in–if military stories bore you, then chances are good that you won’t like this unless you get swept up in the tension of what happens in the story.

Other Elements

This movie isn’t only a war story, however. It also makes a statement about faith and religion. Unlike many “faith-based” movies that have come out over the past few years, it doesn’t put faith over the story, nor does it set out to tell the audience how to think. It just allows its main character to show his expressions of faith in both the context of the story and his outlook on the events of the story and then leaves it up to the audience to judge. Some might argue that the inclusion of those elements are actually pushing it on the audience–and that’s their right to argue that point, but for me, I saw it as simply showing how one man’s faith was put into practice (and tested) over the course of the story in which he tries to keep himself, his crew, and the ships he’s charged to protect alive.

Another element that I noticed was role of African Americans. I think the African American actors did an excellent job portraying the characters in the movie, but they were the typical “subservient” cooks roles. Now, again that’s going to be because of the time-period, and the screenplay takes pains to show how integral one of the cooks was to the ship in a poignant and affecting scene, so I can’t fault the movie–even though I do fault the time-period. Still, the movie handled the race issue as sensitively as I felt it could–it was just disappointing not to see more of those actors in relation to the overall story as they were pretty good actors in their own sense of pathos and duty.

Overall Rating: A (95-98)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Is this a perfect movie. No, not by a long-shot. There are things that I wish were a little better. The ending felt a bit rushed, there was the limited on-screen time for the African American actors/characters, and there were a couple of smaller issues that could have been ironed out, but overall, I had a tense, but enjoyable time watching the movie.

I’ve not felt this excited about seeing naval battle sense Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. I really liked it and felt that both Sony and Apple scored a win with this one.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Gemini Man

Will Smith with a "face capture" rig performing "Junior."
Image Source: https://www.fxguide.com/fxfeatured/face-it-will-gemini-man/

Over the Fourth of July Holiday weekend here in America, my family (my mother and my step-father) and I watched Gemini Man. I was leery at first as it didn’t get very good reviews, from professional reviewers (26% Critical; 83% Audience). Now, going in, I’d seen the trailers, but I didn’t really know anything about the script (apparently, a 1997 script that had been bought, shelved because the technology wasn’t good enough at the time, and then attached to many different stars), nor did I now anything about the preferred way it was shown (4K, 120 frames per second, and 3D).

The Script

Okay, so I should be clear–my mother and step-father liked the movie; me–not so much. Most of my issues stem from the script. While I liked the action scenes, I felt there were too few of them based on the movie’s concept/trailer, but really I had two major problems: the dialogue and the pacing. The dialogue actually factors into the pacing–there’s too much dialogue. In most movies, dialogue reveals character. Here, however, the dialogue is mostly exposition. For instance, there was a great scene where Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character and Will Smith’s character are discussing a “wire” that Smith’s character just found. Very witty and very real–and then, (minor spoiler). it is revealed that she really is spying on him, which just undercut all emotion, characterization, and wasted 3-5 minutes of screen-time setting up something just to throw it away on the very next scene. Maybe have some doubt for a while until it matters, and then reveal it when she has to make a choice–save Smith’s character and reveal her identity or keep her identity secret? How about that, script? No? Okay–your call. 26% Rotten Tomatoes score–just saying.

Also, I think that it really feels its age as it seems to make more of “cloning” without actually getting into the science behind it. It’s almost a “cloning = bad” situation going on without actually taking into account some of the real-life “horrors” that have happened as recently as the Chinese doctor (Dr. He Jiankui) who “gene-edited” babies. There’s none of that “real world” world-building going on.

Young Will Smith (aka “Junior”)

So, most of my problems with the movie come from the script. Some of it comes from the CGI in the movie. I liked the performances and the look of “Junior” in the night scenes, but in the day scenes, it was clear that it was CGI and dipped (for me) into “Uncanny Valley.”

I thought that the beginning scenes almost worked at times, but the ending scenes, while I liked the dialogue, didn’t quite work for me.

Another thing, I also thought that it took too long to get “Junior” into the action. The first 30 minutes are mostly set-up and, as I mentioned above, it wastes scenes and time when it could get right into the action–there’s not enough action for it to waste so much time, nor is there enough complexity for the amount of time it takes–to me, it all feels like wasted time.

Overall Rating: (C 75)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I don’t have the option to give half stars because really, this would be a (2.5 stars otherwise). I think this is movie is one that needed to be held and it needed reshoots–a “revision” of sorts). It needed less dialogue and more action–probably one or two more action scenes and less dialogue, or at least, dialogue that was more relevant to the idea/horror of cloning. It also, in my opinion, needed another pass at the daytime scenes for “Junior.” I really had high hopes for this one, but it was the actual script that (mostly) let me down.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: The King’s Speech

A scene from the movie where the King, his wife, and Logue stand and yell out in a large brown room.
Image Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Kings-Speech

A couple of weeks ago, I watched The King’s Speech before it left Netflix. Again, like The Dark Knight, this movie is considered an “essential” watch for those who are interested in film. As I’d not yet seen it, but heard that it was good enough that several schools have shown it, I thought that I should make sure to watch it before it left.

A Period Piece Par Excellence

While some may not like period pieces and dramas, as a History Minor, I don’t mind them. Like any work, I don’t think that the genre is inherently boring (as I heard it explained), but rather it is up to the skill of the individual creators as to how the work holds my interest. I have to say that the King’s Speech was masterful. I enjoyed all of the actors in it, especially the principals. I could easily understand the pain of the main character. As an introvert, public speaking is probably one of my least favorite activities (yes, I’m aware of the irony–a scholar who/teacher who doesn’t like public speaking). However, the protagonist’s condition goes far worse than mine and I could empathize. The acting was amazing, the sets and locations were effective, evoking Britain on the cusp of World War 2, and the story was very engaging.

This is How You Do a Modern “Classic”

Unlike The Dark Knight, I was engaged with the is story the entire way through–although the very first scene was very painful (but that’s the point–to show the character in crisis while we watch him solve his problem all through the movie). However, even though much of the solution to the problem comes from the character of Dr. Logue, the king has to take an active role in solving his own problem. There are places in the movie where part of the problem comes from the king’s refusal to engage with Logue’s methods–again, this is what I like in a movie rather than the “antagonist” being presented as the heroic figure — as in The Dark Knight or Pitch Black.

I can see why this is shown in schools–although I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable showing it at the Middle School level, but definitely at the High School level as it not just shows the time period, but also the concept of grit.

Overall Rating (A 95-100)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is the type of movie that I like–a strong protagonist, with problems that they have to actively overcome. The time period was unique (as was the problem), and the acting and movie was stellar. At the time of its release, I wondered if it was really worth all the hype. I can say, without a doubt, it was, and is! I loved it!

Have a great day!

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger in white green and red face paint as the Joker, sitting on the ground, against a white brick wall, looking up menacingly at the camera.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468569/

Full Disclosure: I saw this movie earlier this year and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it and posting this on the blog.

So, let me just say right now and upfront: 1) I am NOT the target audience for this movie, 2) if you think this is going to be another glowing review of this movie, you might want to stop reading now, and 3) I have an inherent bias against this type of movie–which I will explain in the blog post. In other words, if this is your favorite movie, I will NOT be complimentary towards it–so I’m just warning you upfront.

Also, before I begin, I should note that I can separate and appreciate the actors’ performances in this movie, especially Heath Ledger. Having seen and enjoyed his work in other movies (notably The Knight’s Tale), I find it sad that he is not still with us. All the actors do a phenomenal job–no, I have stylistic and philosophical problems with the movie.

Why Am I Torturing Myself?

This is a GREAT question. Life is too short to watch movies that I don’t enjoy (or know that I’m not going to enjoy). Well, unfortunately, The Dark Knight is one of those seminal films that someone who is a “film scholar” has to see. It is very much a modern “reference” film to see how film-making “changed” with its release. My dissertation director has already asked me if I’ve had a chance to see Joker yet, so I know that that film is also in my future at some point. However, The Dark Knight was on Netflix, but was pulled towards the end of March, so I decided I would go ahead and just watch it and get it out of the way. I knew I wouldn’t like it–but I thought that I could hold my nose long enough to get through it. Well, I did, but it has been a real struggle.

Stylistic Problems

While my problems are mostly philosophical, I do still have some real issues with the style of the movie. The hero does nothing to solve the problem. Batman, and by extension, Bruce Wayne is a very passive hero who does very little to solve the problem.

Also, the costuming of the Batman character looks really weak. Very few of the actors portraying the character really look good in the suit–I think because it is a “movie” suit rather than a vigilante costume designed to inspire terror. Remember, Batman was conceived in 1939, when Gothic movies were popular and where the image of a bat would be considered horrifying to the psyche. However, in 2008, when the movie was released the world is entirely different and the suit in now iconic rather than imposing. I guess my point is that I don’t see this Batman as able to inspire the type of fear that he does in the criminals of Gotham.

Finally, it is a long movie. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, it tested my patience–breaking it actually. So much so, that I actually had to break the movie up into 2 sittings. I don’t see how critics can complain about The Return of the King’s runtime 3 hours and 28 minutes and not have an issue with The Dark Knight’s grueling length. Yes, the latter is almost an hour longer, but I was so engrossed in the world that I didn’t notice it, while I was so weary of the Dark Knight’s world that I could hardly believe it when I turned it off, only to discover I was only halfway finished with it and would need another whole session just to finish it.

Ugh!

Philosophical Problems

This is where I can really cut loose on the movie. We might as well had titled this movie The Joker as well because the Joker gets all of the good lines and all of the screen time. Heck, the Joker basically becomes the hero of the movie in a very post 9/11 fashion. Heath Ledger’s Joker becomes an embodiment of the two things I hate most about “Real Life” (RL): the “bully” as hero and the hero as one who can’t act because they have rules. Let’s take on the bully as hero idea first. So, the Joker is essentially “The Superman of Bullies.” From the very first instance we see the Joker in the movie, he kills the leader of the first mob (an African American, btw, continuing the trend of black characters dying off first in movies)

The Joker’s appeal comes from his “power“–he doesn’t have to follow any rules. He can just do whatever he wants. For some unknown reason, that seems to be a “fantasy” of this generation. Rules only apply to others and not to me. A digression: I see it all the time with drivers making U-Turns all the time. When I was a child, a U-Turn was a major no-no (almost taboo) and it was very rare when I saw it–now I see it sometimes 2-3 times a day (even though it is dangerous to other drivers on the road–hence, the reason it is illegal). This is exactly what the Joker embodies–that only “fools” follow the “rules.” He wants chaos, he wants disorder, he wants to just destroy for the sake of destroying. This is also what 9/11 is about–terrorist want to cause fear just to disrupt lives, so as to change behavior. In some ways, this movie is fighting the war against terrorism all over again, just with the Joker standing in for the terrorists and the need to get revenge.

Overall Rating (D 65-69)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

You have to understand, while this was competently crafted and acted, and received near universal praise, I have to say that I was not impressed. Yes, the dialogue was slick and Heath Ledger’s Joker was mesmerizing as a performance, that is ALL I saw it as–a performance. This type of movie embodies all the aesthetics that I dislike within a movie, but unless I need to watch it again for a class or scholarly work, this is one movie I will not be revisiting.

I know it is, for many, their favorite movie of all time, but for me, I did not enjoy it. When I mentioned that I’d not seen it, I got looks of amazement from the circle that I was with at the time. Next time this movie comes up in conversation, it is likely me who will be giving that same look of amazement for those extolling its virtues and praise.

Sidney


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Movie Mini-Review: Jurassic World: The Fallen World

Picture of a T-Rex standing over the male protagonist with a volcano erupting in the background.
Image Source: https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2423581/jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-has-screened-here-are-the-early-reactions

Over Memorial Day weekend, I watched this movie as I missed it during the original theatrical release. My mother and stepfather loved–they loved it better than the first Jurassic World movie. While I also liked it, I found that I didn’t like it as much as the original movie.

A Tale of Two Movies

I think one of the reasons why I didn’t like it as much as my parents is that the movie actually seems to be two different stories broken into two discrete parts. The first part of the movie is a more traditional Jurassic Park type movie, where the protagonists go to an exotic island, interact with dinosaurs, and do their best to survive. Jurassic Park, in my opinion, is at its best when it is operating at this level. I think that I really enjoyed this first part of the movie.

However, there is a second part of the movie where they move the dinosaurs back to the mainland. It makes up a significant chunk of the 3rd act of the film, and while I understand the reason (plot-wise) for why they did it this way, I really think that it lost some intangible magic of the movie when it did so. They did interact with dinosaurs better in this movie than in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, but still, the modern setting, while having several good set pieces in this section, just loses something when it isn’t an isolated story.

The Problem with Dr. Henry Wu & Owen Grady

So, this includes a slight spoiler that you might want to skip if you want to go into movie completely “fresh.”

Skip in 3, 2, 1 . . .

SKIP

Okay, if you’re still here, then you don’t care about spoilers or have seen the movie. So here goes: the characterization of Dr. Henry Wu is a problem here. Now, I really like the actor B. D. Wong, and I’m glad he’s in the movie, but the way in which his character is articulated in this movie is a problem. His character has morphed into a villain and I just can’t see his character making that change. As articulated in the original movie, Henry Wu is a very smart, very interested researcher that has, over time, morphed into a Dennis Nedry type character (greedy and amoral) that I just can’t believe and it always brings me out of the movie when it is called for by the script.

In addition, Owen Grady as a protagonist to me is just a blank slate. Unlike Grant, Ellie, or Ian Malcolm from the first movie (Jurassic Park), I don’t get a sense of personality from this character. He doesn’t really stand out for me and is just another generic “hero,” which (I can’t believe I’m calling out) just isn’t very interesting in this case. There are so many wonderful characters in the first movie, and the characters in the sequels and rebooted franchise always seem to take a backseat to the dinosaurs. The first movie had its focus squarely on the humans, but here the characters seem “flat” in a way–their arc isn’t nearly as pronounced as Jurassic Park.

Overall Grade: B (85)

This isn’t a bad movie–it just doesn’t (in my opinion) achieve the same heights as its originator movie of Jurassic Park. While the 2nd half of the movie isn’t nearly as strong as the first, it is still a good, action-packed movie, that still has characterization issues that keep me at a distance. It is a fun movie that just doesn’t hit in all areas for me. The action is strong, the setting is hit or miss, but the characterization seems a bit weak (bland/generic) for my tastes.

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson all look out in amazement with a forest as their background.
Image Source: https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/12/18/16780992/jumanji-review-welcome-jungle-rock-jack-black-kevin-hart-karen-gillan

I’ve been wanting to see this movie (the new one with Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock), Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. I finally got it for Christmas. Outside of one small issue, I think that it was a very fun and enjoyable movie. It has the right amount of humor and action. While it is ostensibly about being inside a “video game,” there’s very little CGI even though they do make fun of several overused tropes in the video game/gamer community. They even manage to touch on the idea of “lives” in a meaningful way that is both thoughtful and inspiring.

Fun Movie (and Funny too!)

So, at its heart, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun movie that leans into its idea of being a game/video game. The characterization makes sense (with one exception) and the chemistry between the actors really helps to sell the script. The story is isn’t revolutionary, but it doesn’t need to be–it is the characters and their interactions that is at the heart of the movie. Once they get into the game world, then it’s the opposition between their inherent real-world characteristics and their in-game characteristics that provide the humor and the double-layered characterization. It works well–although as noted, there is one problematic element kept me from enjoying it as fully as I might have wanted.

To be clear, however, I liked the movie, especially the action, comedy, script, and actors.

The Messages (Themes) Were at Odds With What was Presented on the Screen.

So, there are several messages playing though out the film. The main one is that you should be true to yourself as you only get one life and you should try to make the most of that life–exemplified by the two main characters being encouraged to act on their burgeoning “romance” in the real world. This is backed up by the fact that both the “female” characters (you’ll want to see the movie if you haven’t already to see why female is in quotation marks) bond and push the idea of “girl power” forward. I have no problem with this subplot & theme and it works well in the story.

No, the problem I have is with the guys. While I’m fine with the squabbling of the two initially based on the reversal of their formal relationship, I’m much less enamored with the idea/intimation that the African American character is “poor in school” and only loves “sports” and “needs someone else” to do “his schoolwork for him” in order to pass. That is a stereotype that is definitely at odds with the feel good “one life to live so make the best of it” theme that the movie wants to push. It is also detrimental as it (continues) to promote the idea that African American males are one-dimensional, non-scholastic creatures who are only interested “in gaming” the system (esp. the educational system).

While personal experience is not nearly as strong as experiential data, I can say with confidence that this is a stereotype that simply needs to die. Not even using me as an example, I can think of the star basketball player in my high school whose grades were as high as mine (probably higher in the freshman and sophomore years as it took me a while to adjust to not being one of the smartest people in the school anymore when I got to the high school level). I have to say that this one choice, while setting up an oppositional dynamic, did NOT ring true (nor was in keeping with the story’s tone–yes, I know you needed a “detention” scene, but there are many other ways to get there (telling the teacher the assignment is stupid or simply stating that you are going to do it at all are two surefire ways of getting to that detention scene.

In a movie as good as this one was, this type of lazy storytelling and characterization irked me, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough to sink it for me.

Overall Grade: B

While it should probably be lower because of the lazy stereotyping, I liked the characterization and rise of Karen Gillan’s character, the humor, the action, and the overall story construction enough to forgive (or at least minimize) the characerization of the African American male as a “poor student” who needs “help” (i.e., “cheating”) in order to pass. Had not the Karen Gillan section been in it, I probably would have scored it lower. Still, looking past that one faux pas, I found it to be an enjoyable movie.

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Picture of a Cyborg girl with human head and metallic body and arms holding a metallic sword staring out at the viewer.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0437086/

So, I started this awhile back, but I’m just now getting a chance to write this post in full. Still, I wanted to get my thoughts down about this movie as it was one that I really wanted to watch and finally got it for Christmas. I thought it was a good movie–there are some concerns about it that I think kinda’ bring it down a bit, but I think that it was a fun movie. Oh, I should note that I know of the source material, Battle Angel Alita, but I’ve never read the associated manga that this movie is based on, so this is just going to focus on the movie.

Great Action

One of the things that I like about this movie is the great action scenes that are in the movie. This isn’t an “explosion”-heavy movie (so my mother probably wouldn’t care for it), but there is quite a bit of martial arts inspired action. Quite a bit of it is inventive in terms of manipulating Alita’s cyborg body in unique and fun ways while in combat, but as martial arts fan, I like the emphasis on combat and action. I also like the juxtaposition of Alita (in her “normal” girl cyborg body) able to take on the many “rogues” gallery of cyborgs in the movie (you see a couple of them in he trailer).

Exposition Through Dialogue

So, there are a couple of problems. I guess because I’m so busy trying to be conscious of characterization, I noticed this problem where I normally wouldn’t have–but in this case, the movie does do a lot of this. Now, this is fairly standard, especially since Alita is a newcomer to the world, so we learn about the world through her eyes and through characters explaining things to her, but in doing so, there is quite a bit of exposition about how the world works given in the dialogue and it feels a bit clunky.

Ambivalence

I am a bit ambivalent about this movie. Much of this ambivalence comes from fact that it is basically a “Disney Princess movie with Battle Armor.” Surprisingly, it has quite a few Disney-like motifs, especially for the idea “romance.” Actually, romance is too narrow. Alita does do everything for the “boy” she’s interested in and she falls in love with the 1st boy she meets (again, Disney tropes for Disney Princesses). However, she also needs her father, especially at the beginning of the story. There is even an “evil stepmother” role. There’s probably more, but I stopped there once I saw the parallels between this movie and the Disney “formula.”

Grade: B

So I liked this quite a bit, despite its flaws. I can forgive a lot of things as long as the movie isn’t pretentious and has enough action (explosions or martial arts) and really tries to nail the story, even if there are elements that don’t quite hit as much as I might like them to. Good movie–if there ever is a sequel, I’d love for Alita be able to stand on her own as a character and not have to depend on males in the same Disney tropes that have been a part of movies since Snow White.

Sidney


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Okay, so I was Wrong–The Expanse is a Really, Really Good Show!

Picture of the cast of the Expanse with a stylized logo of the show's title.
Image Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2019/12/12/amazon-relaunches-tvs-best-sci-fi-show-the-expanse-for-season-4-friday/

So, sometime last year, I finished the first season of The Expanse, and to put it mildly, I was NOT impressed. I thought it was okay, but fell too far into the “Game of Thrones” arena where “bad things happen to good people.” It didn’t help that the show was marketed as “Game of Thrones” in space. I tried two separate times to get past the first episode of Season 2, but I couldn’t–I just thought that I didn’t like the show and that it was, while not bad, not something that I was ever going to like.

However, fair is fair. If I called it out on the blog and I change my mind later, then I’m going to let you know.

So I’m saying it now: I Was Wrong! The Expanse is a GOOD show!

Season 2 and Season 3

Part of the problem is that the show doesn’t really hit its stride until about Episode 2 or 3 of the 2nd season. Like Season 1, the first couple of episodes are more about “set-up” than they are about pure plot. Characterization is always present, but in Season 1, I wasn’t really invested in the characters. However, with Season 2 and especially Season 3, the characters are really tested by the plot and they interact to turn the show into something really special (& really good)!

Without spoilers, let’s just say that everything rises to a crescendo, ramps down after the resolution and then rises a second time to an even more insane and awesome resolution. I think the key is that 1) the characters are ALWAYS acting/reacting based on plot. This is the rare show where plot reveals characters and the characters’ actions drive the plot.

Season 4

So, I binged this show a couple weeks ago when my car was in the shop being repaired. I watched all of Season 2, 3, and 4 back-to-back. While I didn’t think Season 4 had the same insane level of wildness as 2 & 3, I did feel that it was still great and much better than Season 1. I hope that they do a Season 5 as I really want to see where they take the story (yes, I know they are based on books, and I may dip into them a little later, but right now the show has its “hooks” into me).

The characters are really well rounded (now that I’ve seen their arc over more episodes than what was presented in Season 1).

Overall Grade: A

Again, as this is a public forum, I feel compelled to let people know when I get it wrong (& this is one of those times). This is a strong show with compelling characters and an absolutely crazy storyline that really shines in Season 2 & 3. While it doesn’t beat The Mandolorian as my favorite sci-fi show, it has leap-frogged quite few series to become one for which I can’t wait to see the next season.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Se7en (Seven)

Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as detectives stare out at the viewer.
Image Source: https://theamericanmag.com/se7ven/

So, I watched this movie before my preliminary exam, so this mini-movie review might a bit vague as I try to remember what I was feeling about the movie. Did I like it? This is a complicated question (for a complicated movie). This will be a shorter entry, but I’ll try to put my feelings about the movie into words (& hopefully those words make sense).

Seven Deadly Sins

So, as I’m sure I’m going to be told, the concept of a serial killer enacting the the Seven Deadly Sins was probably unique at the time, but I found it a bit trite. Now, again, I must remind readers that I am interested in Sci-Fi and Fantasy and had little interest and patience for movies outside of those two genres. However, with TV series like Law and Order, NCIS, and a myriad of television shows on stations like Crime TV have probably blunted the shock value that the movie might have had on me.

Good Characters, But They Don’t Always Do Smart Things

Without getting into spoilers, the resolution of the movie is set up because the characters, while smart and determined, don’t always do the smartest things. I guessed the ending (partially) about 20 minutes before it happened. While I wasn’t able to guess one of the character’s reactions, I did guess the lead-up to his final choice in the movie. The characters, however, are more realistic in that they have real desires and goals outside of the main plot. This, I’m finding, is crucial to helping characters seem real. They need to have goals and interests that have nothing to do with the main plot–and these characters do have them. What I didn’t like, especially with Brad Pitt’s performance, was the “twitchiness” of his character. Much like his character in 12 Monkeys, Pitt jerks and twitches quite frequently (but not as much as the 12 Monkeys character), and I (personally) found it distracting.

Nihilistic Storytelling

It also has a nihilism that I find quite annoying. Sometimes the world seems to mirror the emotions/actions going on in the story. Rain seems to come down at times to help aid the depressing air of the story. While not Grimdark, but it still isn’t a “pleasant” movie to watch. There is a grit and grunge to the world that accentuates the gruesome atrocities of the serial killer.

Overall Rating: B-

While I recognize the significance of the film in terms of cinematic quality, I found it a bit tedious (and as I said above, a bit trite). Looking at it with 2019 eyes, it seemed to be trying to make a statement that has been made over and over: life sucks and people can be cruel and perpetuate that cruelty. No matter how critically acclaimed those films are in culture or cinematic history, it doesn’t make me like the film any more. I can appreciate it, but I think that, for me, films that are full of nihilism simply turn me off, no matter how well they are made or present their ideas.

Sidney


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