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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Unlocked: Mini-Movie Review

So its been a while since I’ve written a blog, but I’ve still been progressing on many fronts. A couple of weeks of go I was in the mood for a spy action film. I’d seen this trailer, but I didn’t actually go to see Unlocked. When I saw that it was on streaming, I immediately put it on my list to see. I watched it a couple of weekends ago and thought that it was good. Not horrible and not great, but good.

The Action is What Makes This Movie

So, it is the action and action sequences that really make this movie. I really like the action sequences (reminiscent of the Bodyguard BBC TV show that I didn’t really care for except for the action sequences). There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and spycraft that makes up this movie. Even in the action sequences, one can still see the characters and the interplay between the characters and that is also very good.

The Script Really Lets the Movie Down

So, it is the script that really hampers the movie, particularly the plot. Good characters and good action, weighed down by seeming reversals that can be seen a mile away. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the events play out EXACTLY as one expects they will. This is one of those times where film critics (which I have a love/hate relationship with) are right: being derivative really hurt this film. The film makes (or wants to make) a statement about terrorism and peace and warmonger/warprofiteering, but wants to have everything fall into place in such a way as to “hide” the identity of the ultimate bad guy, but (slight spoiler here, so skip two paragraphs if you don’t want ANY spoilers):

. . . if you’ve seen The Fugitive, then you know exactly what’s going to happen. Same essential structure. And that’s just for starters. I can’t recall their names, but I can think of two more movies (oh, just remembered one: Broken Arrow) that do much the same as this one does.

Overall Rating: B

So this is probably overly generous (it should probably be a B-/C+), but I found the lead character played by Noomi Rapace and the male character played by Orlando Bloom to be a strong presence. I also liked many of the other actors (& their characters) in the movie and thought that the set-up to the movie was the strongest I’d seen in a while and with the action it seemed poised to be a good one, but ultimately, the derivative script let it down and I didn’t like the last 2/3rds of the movie nearly as much as I did the first 1/3rd.

Anyway, I hope that everyone’s week is an awesome one!

Sidney


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12 Monkeys (Mini-Review) — Some spoilers

Bruce Willis with a bald head and a red light shining from one eye.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_Monkeys

So, I watched 12 Monkeys over the weekend (the movie, not the TV show–although I will take a look at it one of these days now that I’ve seen the movie). I will do a mini-review, but there will be some spoilers that I simply can’t avoid–you can’t talk about the movie without talking about it in terms of its ultimate narrative structure (which, once presented, is a “spoiler”). I will leave the major spoiler points to the end, so if you don’t want to be spoiled be sure not to read to the end of the post. Unfortunately, I can’t guard against a search engines picking up the words in the spoiler section, so you have been warned.

Party Like Its 1995

So, Twelve Monkeys is a movie that I’ve wanted to watch for a while. I’ve heard about it spoken in reverence in the sci-fi community as some sort of harbinger of where sci-fi was heading. And in some ways that was true–this is an older movie after all. However, this is one that never came to streaming and when it originally released, I remember it being just as DVD was hitting and the prices were fairly high.

Not What I Was Expecting

This movie wasn’t quite was I expecting. I was expecting a sci-fi neo-noir futuristic thriller/mystery about the finding of a plague. While there are elements of this in the movie, it isn’t the primary focus. This one has a “concept” (more below) that it adheres to and a narrative structure that was fairly unique (for the time). I have to say that, honestly, I was a little disappointed by it as there have been many, many imitators that I’ve seen over the years, and that has blunted my enjoyment of the movie, as well.

Spoiler Warning–The End

Okay, so this is your final warning, STOP READING NOW if you want to stay unspoiled on the movie.

—————————————————————————————————————

Okay, here goes: this is the movie that popularized a certain type of time travel story, “the bootstrap paradox” story. Okay, what is a bootstrap paradox–literally, it is a time travel story that is both self-fulfilling and has no antecedent. When we enter the story, the plague has already happened, and then we see the way the plague happens when we go back in time with the protagonists. However, the idea of the plague was brought back to the past and that’s how the it gets started (this is simplified). So the plague is started by going back into the past (don’t go back to the past, no plague–no antecedent) and as it plays out, it happens just as the protagonist “remembers” it (self-fulfilling). Why am I spoiling this movie to talk about the end? Because it set the stage for the multitude of “time travel” stories and “boot strap” stories that permeated the landscape for (at least) 10 years after this movie released. Now I understand why there were so many movies that featured this time travel arc. This movie is influential in the genre, that only “ended” with Bruce Willis in another time travel film, Looper. However, in between 12 Monkeys and Looper, there were a ton of time travel/psuedo time travel films released (you can find me talking about them in a post from a few years ago: https://sidneyblaylockjr.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/where-you-end-is-not-where-you-begin-time-travel-in-movies/

12 Monkeys is where all these movies got their ideas/start, so it is a “referential” movie in the field of science fiction (time travel films) and has influenced films for over a decade.

Overall Grade: C

I might have rated this higher had I seen it earlier. However, so many later movies that I watched “stole” (paid homage/or more kindly, thought they could do the idea even better) that much of the movie’s uniqueness had already been worn through. It also doesn’t help that I’d already read many of the concepts in Sci-Fi novels even before the movie originally released. Generally speaking, its Short-stories–>Novels/Graphic Novels–>Film in terms of progression for Sci-Fi ideas. Want to be on the cutting edge, read sci-fi mags and anthologies, want to see the idea propagated to a mass audience, wait for the film. This is one that, at its time, might have made more of an impression (as it did to the countless filmmakers of successive time travel stories, but now, if you seen any of the recent time stories of the last 10 years, Source Code, Deja Vu, etc., then you have a pretty good idea of where the story is headed.

Robin Hood (2018) Mini Review (No Spoilers)

Robin Hood and Azeem stare out into the distance as arrows fall around them on cloudy black night with orange fire at their backs.
Image Source: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/blame-game-of-thrones-for-the-useless-new-robin-hood-movie-1.3705686

I hate to do negative reviews for movies. Yes, yes, I know there are lot of people, both in print and in video (YouTube and where ever else) who love to savage a movie (I assume because it shows how “elite” they are in film and their eruditeness), but I’m not one of them. I recognize that a film is the result of a lot of hard work by individuals coming together to collaborate on a creative endeavor. Robin Hood (2018), was one of those movies, however, that simply did not come together based on the quality of the writing and choices made by the director.

The Scripting “Steals” All the Fun

So, it looks like Robin Hood (2018) was trying to go for an anachronistic tale in the vein of A Knight’s Tale, starring the late Heath Ledger. Now, for as fondly as that film is received currently, there are still a lot of problems with it that I will discuss in the next section. For this section, the quality of writing of the script simply was not there (for me) and really worked against the story. Yes, the second major area that I’m studying while working on my PhD is film, but I will say this: I’m still learning about film (probably will be for the rest of my life, but that’s okay). I don’t know every film nor do I have ALL of the historical movements down (yet–though I’ve bought a book that should help–more on this in a future post). However, even I could see quite a few reference points for the script. Telling your audience that this “isn’t the Robin Hood you know” still doesn’t alleviate the need for you as a writer to craft a believable tale. Credibility went out the window when there’s a “machine gun” like ballista/crossbow that pins down Locksley’s “squad” at the beginning of the movie (well, honestly it was gone with the anachronistic “draft notice” that Locksley was sent within the first 5 minutes of the movie, but that’s just piling on). This beginning part has shades of any recent war movie that’s come out in the last few years. One review referenced The Hurt Locker, while I saw shades of Black Hawk Down as well. Once Robin is back and becomes “The Hood,” I saw (way too many) parallels with The Mask of Zorro (especially in terms of story construction) down to the concept of a “mine.” One of the “carriage chase scenes,” even seemed shot like the motorcycle chase scene from Skyfall. I looked up the writer, while there are two listed in for the screenplay, I chose the one who was also listed for the “story” as that one is the one who has usually come up with the story and “pitched” it to Hollywood (usually through an agent, but possibly himself or through some 3rd party). However, I could find very little for this writer online, so I”ll be very dubious should I see his name listed on a future film.

Anachronism “Robs” the Movie’s Realism

So, in addition to the poor screenwriting of Robin Hood (2018), the choice to lean into it through anachronism pretty much sealed its fate. Anachronism rarely works well except in a comedic sense, such as Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Since that movie is a comedy, we know we’re supposed to laugh when we see an anachronistic element. The problem with anachronism (especially in Robin Hood 2018) is it ignores realism and tries to be “relevant” and “edgy” by telling a contemporary story in a contemporary way with contemporary elements mixed in with historical elements. I would argue that the only reason it worked in A Knight’s Tale is that the technique hadn’t been used in so long outside of comedy and it had a fairly likable protagonist in Heath Ledger. Also, it’s source material wasn’t as obvious as it pulled a bit from The Canterbury Tales and it did not (pay “homage”) to scenes/plots from other movies. However, as I recall, the original reviews weren’t always great. Even now, the Rotten Tomatoes score for it is 58% (79% for audience) and that’s with time coming to “mellow out” some of the film’s detractors. Robin Hood (2018)’s Rotten Tomato score is (as of this writing) if 15% (41% for the audience). Simply put–if you’re going to be anachronistic–it would probably be better just to create a “contemporary” version of the story, however contrived. At least, this way you’d get to tell the “contemporary” story you wanted without all the “historical” bits getting in the way.

Overall Score: F (59 or below)

This is the first movie on the blog that I’ve ever given this score. The only other movie I would have scored this low (for strictly artistic reasons–and not for political reasons) would have been Happy Feet. “Political reasons” just means my own personal ethos in life–there are films that I don’t agree with in message, content, and whatnot, but I’m cognizant to realize that my ethos works for me and not for everyone else, so even though I didn’t enjoy the movie, I’m mature enough to see the “qualities” of those movies.) Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Robin Hood (2018). I was taken out of the story from the very beginning and even the set pieces seemed derivative. Again, I hate to throw this movie “under the bus” as it were, as many people worked on it and the actors do a fine job. However, the script was simply too derivative and the anachronisms too pervasive for me to enjoy and get invested in the movie’s world or story.

Sidney

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Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (Mini-Movie Review–No Spoilers)

Spider-Man (Miles Morales) Movie Poster with him swinging in his iconic black and red Spider costume across Brooklyn New York.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4633694/

Wow! Just wow! So I told a GTA collegue who works in the Writing Center on Friday that I was trying to expand my Film knowledge by watching films that were outside of my normal Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Superhero genres and that I was going to try to find a nice, innocuous Romantic Comedy (Rom-Com) to watch–I actually had one in mind–the one with Sandra Bullock & Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal–sorry, had to Google the name) which I’ve watched some, but not all before. However, I forgot that Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (Spiderverse) released this weekend on Netflix, so I watched that instead (sorry for the unintentional lie there!). This movie is SO good.

Maybe My New Favorite Spider-Man Movie?

So, it is liable to be a while before I get to see the latest Spider-Man movie (Spider-Man Far From Home), but so far, I have to say that I think Spiderverse is my new favorite Spider-Man movie. There was a level of spark, creativity, and pluckiness to the new movie that won me over quite a bit. I really liked the way that Miles Morales was portrayed in the movie as a character first and as a character of color secondly. The writers manage to capture the angst of not fitting in the school setting for me in a way that (mostly) eliminated the things that I dislike about the school setting (which are the cringe-worthy awkwardness that usually happens there–although there were two “cringy” scenes still). Like Spider-Man 2, Spiderverse is a reflection on how to be a hero in everyday life. Spider-Man stories are best when one gets a sense that no matter what life throws at our main hero, he’s going to find a way to rise just a little higher to meet the challenge, even if it looks like he’s broken and down for the count.

This Movie is a Love-Letter to Spider-Man Fans!

Seriously, if you have any interest at all in the Spider-Man mythos, lore, and Rogues Gallery of the character’s various incarnations over the years, then this movie is a definite treat! There are little nods and references to all things Spidey all over the place. I saw “toy” Spider-Man motorcycle in the movie (I had the “Spidey-copter” and I need to go back and see if that was referenced — it would blow my mind if it was) and that’s just the beginning. I won’t go into spoilers, but just know that other versions of Spidey’s iconic self and suits do make an appearance in the movie. They even reference some of the classic scenes from the previous Sony movies at the beginning to help set the scene (in a fun way that is almost a referential self-parody). This movie is, while not quite perfect, is still one of the best representations of the Spider-Man mythos that I’ve seen in (and I’ve seen a lot of them starting with Spider-Man from the Electric Company TV series from the 1970s all the way through present). If there has been a representation of Spidey in the past 40 years or so, then I’ve probably seen it (or heard about it) somewhere and this one is fantastic!

Overall Grade: A+

If I was giving it a score, it would easily earn a 97-98 as I feel that it hits pretty much that I want in a Spider-man movie while minimizing the usual crap-tacular school awkwardness that is inherent in the adolescence version of the character. There are a couple of “cringe-inducing” moments still (having to relate to the school — again, without spoiling it, Miles’ early interactions with Gwen, while funny, do still exhibit that cringyness that I don’t enjoy–but it was so brief and so well done that it really didn’t hamper the movie or my enjoyment of the overall movie significantly, which is the reason for such a high rating. If you have Netflix (or even if you don’t but like the character), I would HIGHLY recommend checking this one out. Spiderverse is something special!

Sidney

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Movie Round-up: Recent Movies that I’ve Seen (June 2019)

Apple TV at home
Image Source: http://www.premiumhollywood.com/2018/12/17/the-benefits-of-watching-movies-at-home/

I’ve seen two movies over the past two weeks. I don’t really have enough to say about them both to write a full mini-movie review, so I thought I’d just talk briefly about them in a single post. Unlike some other content that I’ve drafted (but may never see the light of day), this post isn’t really scholarly or high-brow. It’s just me talking about movies that I’ve seen recently.

Henry V

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Henry-V-Kenneth-Branagh/dp/079284615X

This is a movie that came on PBS during my 2nd year in college at U. T. Knoxville, but I wasn’t able to see through to the end because it would have went past 12:00 am and I had a ton of library books (UTK Library) due and I would have been hit with a massive fine. So I begrudgingly left the movie in the middle and didn’t get to see the resolution to go and turn in the books. Well, I finally got to see it through to the end a couple of weeks ago. I was looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime a couple of weeks ago and I saw that this movie was available for streaming, so I decided to watch (& finish) it this time. It is a stirring as I remember and it also does a a great job of adapting Shakespeare’s words and works to the screen. I like the narrator of the piece and his contemporary dress along with the way he sets the stage, but of course the showstopper is Kenneth Branagh, and his performance is amazing in this film. I’m glad that I was finally able to complete my viewing of the film as it was as good as I remembered it to be as I was watching it.

14 Blades

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/14-Blades-Import-allemand/dp/B003Y98CZO

After watching the “drama” that was Henry V, I wanted something a little lighter for the next movie, so I went to my old standby–a martial arts movie. While these can sometimes be serious, usually they tend to be, if not downright comedic, a little on the lighter side with a combination of outrageous action combined with a storyline that (for the most part) is played seriously and not for laughs. I consider martial arts movies as “ligther” fare for the most part, however.

I couldn’t decide on what to watch, so I just chose one (mostly) at random: 14 Blades. What I didn’t realize that it was an early work (I think) of Donnie Yen, one of my favorite martial artists outside of Jackie Chan. Donnie Yen is a more “serious” martial actor than Jackie Chan is (and that just means that Donnie tends to go for more “dramatic” roles than “comedic” roles). I like them both, just for different reasons. I’ve “seen” more movies that Jackie has done (nearly all of his old collection), but I “own” more of Donnie’s movies (all of the Ip Man movies and Kung Fu Killer).

I enjoyed the movie–it was a standard martial arts movie. There were places were it was very good and there places where the storytelling was too “on-the-nose,” but overall I liked it, and the fact that I got to see a performance by Donnie Yen was just a great bonus. It took its subject fairly seriously (maybe a little more serious than I was wanting), but still it was a fun ride and I really enjoyed watching it.

Sidney

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Bumblebee Mini-Review

Movie Poster with BumbleBee and two lead characters beside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, I saw the Transformers Prequel movie, Bumblebee, and thought I’d take a moment to write up my thoughts about it. I thought that it was a pretty fun movie, although I thought that it was a little small in its scope. I’ll try to keep this review spoiler free (although I might need to discuss certain elements to talk about in regards to other Transformers movies) so I can’t promise that this will be completely spoiler-free (I’ll try my best).

Not Sprawling, But Still Good

One of the things that I liked about the movie was that it was a more contained movie. While I liked the Transformers movies, the first one specifically, I found that the later movies were just a little too long and didn’t have the same narrative coherence as the earlier movies (especially the first one). In other words, the other movies had become bloated and a bit of a mess, while Bumblebee was much more of a conventional movie with a 3 Act structure. I think that this added in my enjoyment of the movie immensely as I felt that it allowed the characters to shine, especially in regards to their motivations–something that I think was lacking in other Transformers movies.

Not Quite Enough Action

So, if there’s one thing that I could fault the movie for, then it would be the fact that while there’s action in the movie, it doesn’t really have the level of action that I would like. While an action movie, some of the elements are very much cut down or minimized. The writers, while looking for characterization and humor, downplay the action of the piece and (for me) that really made it not as fun as it could have been.

For instance, the scene in which she is goaded into diving, but ultimate decides to not do it, while revealing character, is something that doesn’t really work for me–I think it could have been revealed in a different way.

Overall Grade: B-/C+

I liked the increased focus on characterization, but not at the expense of the action of the Transformers’ movies. While more intimate and character-focused, it also lost a lot of the grandeur of the original film. This is why I think I was always so resistant to focusing on character–too much on character and not enough on the plot can leave a movie (or story) that should feel “epic” as feeling underwhelming rather than truly epic.

Sidney

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Afrofuturism in Film

Afrofuturism movies: Unknown Movie, Black Panther, Get Out, and design for Afrofuturism.
Image Source: http://www.btglifestyle.com/blog/2018/03/12/afrofuturism-film/

I have a confession to make: I really like Afrofuturism in Films. That’s not much of an admission to you might say? Well, how’s this for one: I don’t really care for it in book form. I can tolerate it in its musical form, but the books have never really moved me in the way they seem to move others.

Why Not Books?

I think the reason is that the books tend to limit themselves far too much. Wait, let me qualify myself before I get myself into trouble. I may have mentioned that my uncle was a seminal presence in my literary life. He took me with him to the public library every month to check out books. Every month. While I had other interests besides fiction in terms of books that I checked out, fiction (specifically, science fiction and fantasy) were the primary genres that I engaged with as a reader (both in children’s books and in general fiction when I grew too old for children’s books). While my library didn’t buy “popular” materials at the time (or at least, not a lot of them), quite a few did end up in the collection as they received starred reviews in Library Journal or Booklist (which were the primary way books were ordered for the library back then). Now, I didn’t know this at the time and only found out that this was how books were decided on based on working there are seeing the process firsthand. However, surprisingly enough, two of the major writers that Afrofuturism has been formed around, Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, reviewed well and we had a fairly large (5+ books) collection of their work at any one time (usually closer to 6-7 books on the shelf at any one time). I would, from time to time, pick up a book from these two authors, but put it down again after reading the blubs on the back and the inside covers as they were always dealing with some social issue. I wanted galactic empires, world universe conquerors (like Thanos), spaceships, and heroism. While good in their own way, Afrofuturism stories were nothing like what I wanted to read.

Afrofuturism in Film

Not so for film. Even excluding Black Panther for the moment, the films of Will Smith in the 90s and early 2000s alone accounted for what I was missing from the books. Independence Day, I, Robot, I Am Legend, Men in Black, and heck, even Hancock, all are films that really show a diversity in subject and a grandness in scope that I felt was missing from the books by celebrated African American authors–and to be honest, in some ways, I still feel that they’re missing even today.

Based on my reading from Ytasha Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi Film and Culture I think I figured out the reason: the films use Afrofuturism tropes as a secondary consideration and not part of the main plot, while the books make it part of the main plot and interweave everything (plot, character, setting, all of it) as part of the narrative. For me, that falls more under the category of Social Sci-Fi (a legitimate sub-category of Sci-Fi) that is rarely used these days. Social sci-fi deals with the underlying structures of society and how future societies deal with their societal problems. While you might think this is rife for exploration for science fiction, these types of narratives tend to feature very little in the way of plot and external factors. Much like the absolute worse things about Game of Thrones they focus more on inter-character/societal dynamics and interactions than they do with actual plot or motivating (external factors). For me, as a reader, I find these the types of narrative the most annoying and the most aggravating to get through.

Now one might argue that this is the purest expression of Afrofuturism, but I would argue that it is the opposite. Black Panther featured an external conflict (Killmonger), but in an Afrofuturistic context–does Wakanda hide its wealth and abilities from the world or does it have a greater responsibility? That question is not at the forefront of the movie, but it is answered by the characterization of the hero (T’Challa/Black Panther) and his plot of overcoming his challenge/driving question (can a “good man” be King). The Afrofuturistic elements emerge through the telling of a great narrative–the narrative isn’t “hijacked” to serve the purpose of developing an Afrofuturistic society.

Now, I will probably read one or two of the representative works for , Butler and Delany so as to say that I’ve at least “read” them, but I already know from past experience, I won’t like them very much. For me, Afrofuturism only works if you can weave a compelling story around it–just creating an Afrocenric setting and culture in the future that runs into some sort of internal cultural conflict just isn’t enough to get me excited about the genre.

Sidney

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Aquaman Review (No Spoilers!)

Aquaman Poster  -- Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) with Trident and Princess Mera (Amber Heard) both standing in waist high water.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaman_(film)

Over the Easter holiday, I watched Warner Brother’s next big movie, Aquaman. I bought Justice League (both were on sale at iTunes), but I only had time to watch one and we decided on Aquaman as it was newer and better rated. I really liked it and felt that it was a fine addition to the comic book genre.

DC is “Darker” than Marvel

One of the things to remember is that DC, as a comics publisher, tends to publish “darker” storylines than Marvel in their heydey. Audiences reacted negatively to these darker storylines (see Batman vs Superman), but fans don’t realize that this is normal for the DC Universe. When DC tries to be jokey and fun (Justice League from what I’ve heard), they move out of their comfort zone. However, Aquaman is a nice balance between “light” and “dark.” There is enough humor and silliness to help the audience laugh and relieve tension and there is a fair bit of “darkness” in terms of the story and dramatic tension to drive the plot/characters forward.

DC Needs to Do More Solo Movies

Part of DC’s (DCEU’s) problem is that they see the success Marvel is having in the movie industry and they want the exact same success without having done the prep work. A lot of the MCEU’s success with their movies comes from successfully setting up two or three movies for their solo characters before moving on to their team-up movies. DC wants to jump straight into team-up movies without understanding that it is the solo movies that build up audience familiarity with the characters and makes them want to see them team-up and face off against a bigger (i.e., “world ending”) threat. They’ve done a good job with Wonder Woman (WW) and now Aquaman, but they really are going to have to understand that mega-billion dollar profits don’t come overnight and they’ve got to do the hard work of successfully putting out movie after movie with their solo characters before they even begin to match Marvel’s box office dominance.

Aquaman = Underwater Thor

So, too me, while the plot isn’t quite the same, much of the action and the plot reminds me of the Thor movies from Marvel, down to the no-good brother who would be king. Instead of the “arrogant King-in-Waiting” of Thor, you now have the “reluctant King-in-Waiting” in Aquaman. Unlike WW, the filmmakers for Aquaman play it safe and they don’t really say anything new in the genre. I’m currently rereading the Memory, Sorrow, Thorn by Tad Williams which is a Fantasy series from the mid-90s and early 2000s that has much the same set-up (at least in the initial book of the trilogy) and Aquaman says much the same thing (with many of the same beats) as this fantasy story told 20-25 years ago. WW, by contrast, had something new to say about the idea of femininity and how it was constructed (and reconstructed) in the WWI era. When your main characters comes from a society outside of the social conventions and mores of the time, you can then use that character to illustrate the inanities of said mores/conventions. Aquaman does none of this, but plays it safe and is a fun, but ultimately predictable, movie, hence the mixed reaction where some really loved it and some thought it was a step backwards from WW. Also, on a pure special effects level, some of the work is uneven. Quite a bit of it was good and transported you to another world, but some effects, especially some of the fighting effects which showed “sped up” motion, were distracting. Still, it was a fun movie that I enjoyed watching and, while not my favorite, still compared to some of the “lesser” Marvel movies.

Overall Grade: B

I should probably give it a B- if I’m honest, but I really like Jason Mamoa (I’ve liked him since his role as Ronon Dex on Stargate Atlantis (SGA). I know he’s on Game of Thrones, but as I dislike that show, I don’t really have any interest in his role there. I’m glad to see him “graduate” to movie roles as I really like what I saw on SGA. I also liked his costars, but I haven’t really seen the others in their other roles per se (Dafoe being the notable exception). Also, having been a fan of Superfriends and getting to see nods back to Aquaman’s powers from that show as well as his more recent graphic novel incarnation was a nice touch that boosted the score a little higher for me. Your mileage may vary from mind, but as I don’t have a dog in the Marvel vs DC “fighting fandoms,” I have to say that I enjoyed the movie for what it was–a fairly predictable superhero story with (mostly) above average special effects.

Sidney

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