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-Review: The Last Witch-Hunter

Vin Diesel walking at night in dark clothes and long black trench coat on a wet city street full of puddles with a car behind him that has its headlights on full beam.  He is walking in front of the car, towards the camera.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1618442/

Sorry this blog post is a little late, but I didn’t really have time yesterday to work on it. It will be a little shorter than normal today as I have a couple of deadlines that are today (6/30) and one tomorrow that I need to be sure and meet. However, I did see a movie over the weekend–The Last Witch-Hunter–that I’ve been wanting to see for a while. It is currently streaming on Tubi–a free streaming site supported by ads that play during the movie (more on that later).

Vin Diesel “Vehicle”

This movie is primarily geared around Vin Diesel as the star of the movie. It focuses and spends quite a bit of time with Vin’s character. In many ways this is a good thing, as Vin is always likable in this role. However, the focus on his character means that we see little-to no character development or motivation for the other characters. The “twist” is poorly set up, coming through expositional dialogue rather than being organically revealed via the plot and the villains have almost no motivation, especially the Witch Queen who serves as the movie’s “Big Bad.”

While there are other named actors in this movie, such as Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, they aren’t really used to great effect in the roles they play and their screen-time is greatly diminished do to the almost relentless focus on Kaulder, Vin Diesel’s character. For me, the highlight of the movie was actually the performance of the female lead, Rose Leslie, who played Chloe. I enjoyed the “pluckiness” of the character and thought that it turned something that was fairly familiar into something that was enjoyable.

Highlander By Way of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

When I say familiar, I mean it. Essentially, this movie is a compilation of many of the scenes/ideas from both Highlander and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are even flashback scenes evoking the lost “love” of Kaulder’s life during his “sword and sorcery” days just like in Highlander. The modern day elements play out more along the lines of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but there still shades of Highlander even there.

While I’m sure the movie nodes to other modern day “undying heroes” movies and tropes, these are the two in which I kept seeing the most references for as I watched the movie. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you happen to like those two movies. If you’re unsure at all, then watch how the history of the hero unfolds and keep track of how the character is introduced and interacts with the love interest, and in both instances, you’ll see similarities within what I’m going to refer to as the “Undying Hero” genre.

Commercial Breaks Really Hurt

This is the second movie that I’ve watched on Tubi, and I have to say that while they have movies that none of the other streaming services have (especially ones that I’m interested in watching for the most part), their model while free, really hurts them in terms of me watching them on a long-term basis. While I don’t agree that every network needs a streaming service–CBS AllAcess, why do you even exist, except for corporate greed as your star show, Star Trek Picard is available on Netflix everywhere else in the world–I would be willing to pay a small fee for Tubi (no more than $2 a month), or have them added on to Netflix, again for a nominal fee. I stopped watching movies on commercial TV a while back because commercial breaks began to become onerous and the networks would edit content. While not quite as egregious as normal network TV (and certainly no editing of content), the ad break would happen in places that broke the tension. I don’t recall an ad break happening in the last half hour of the movie, but I think there were a total of 7 or 8 breaks over the run-time of the movie.

Overall Rating (B- 80-82)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So, “Your Mileage May Vary” definitely applies here. Your enjoyment of the movie will probably hinge on two very important factors: 1) do you like Vin Diesel and his acting style and 2) do you like the “Undying Hero” genre, or in other words, do you like Highlander and/or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? If the answer is yes to both of those (like me), then this is going to be a fairly enjoyable watch, if your answer is yes to one of the two questions, then you’ll probably find it bog-standard average–nothing special, but totally watchable, but if your answer is no to both of these things, then you’ll probably want to watch something else as there’s no escaping either of these two factors.

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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Movie Monday Mini Review: Appleseed Alpha

Briareos and Deunan walking down a deserted city block with a dilapidated brick building in the background.
Image Source: https://whysoblu.com/appleseed-alpha-blu-ray-review/

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way on a keyboard to find the “Alpha” symbol, but that is the true name of this CG anime movie, but for now, “alpha” will do. Appleseed was created by Shirow Masamune (written this way in the movie credits although I know him as Masamune Shirow from the english language adaptation of his work from Dark Horse comics back in the 80s). Appleseed follows Deunan and her cybernetic boyfriend Briareos in a post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged Earth. (Minor spoiler to skip for those vested in the universe and want to go into the movie totally “blind”): Appleseed Alpha serves as a “prequel” to the story of the manga, as a couple of major characters from manga are there, but the characters and places that are integral to the manga are simply hinted at and not shown in this movie. This story could be a theoretical “just before” story which happens just before the story in the manga kicks off (although, by its ending, there could theoretically b other stories told after this one before the manga story’s timeline begins).

Appleseed Fan

I’m a fan of Appleseed, if you can’t tell. I was lucky, as a child, to find 5 or 6 issues of the Dark Horse run of the series. Mechs and Mecha (human pilots in humanoid robots and power armor) appeals to my type of action sci-fi, and one thing that Appleseed does well is Mechs/Mecha. While Briareos was cool, if odd looking, and Deunan was capable, if sometimes a little to moody, it was the mechs (or rather mecha) that drew me in. Mechs (in my definition) are large vehicles that a pilot sits in and “pilot.” Mecha, on the other hand, are (mostly) human sized power armor. Shirow Masamune is a “master” at depicting mecha and mecha designs, and while the combat scenes are sometimes chaotic, seeing an “Iron Man“-like suit in action was something new and different at the time for me. While I never got the complete set, I did splurge a few years back and got the complete story when they re-released the original manga version with its original Japanese right-to-left format.

Prefer the Manga Still

It’s been long enough that I don’t remember the other movie versions of Appleseed that I’ve seen. However, I do remember that I’m pretty sure that I liked them better than this one. While I liked the movie overall, there were some odd design choices that really hampered my overall enjoyment of the movie. For one, while Briareos looks like himself in all his cyborg, four eyes, two ear “stalks” glory, something about Deunan looks off. I can’t tell if it is the short hair (or the hairstyle itself), the facial structure, or the way she’s animated, but every time she was on-screen, I couldn’t help thinking, “that’s not Deunan.” The same is true with her characterization. In the manga, Deunan is stubborn, almost to the point of obstinance. Here, there’s a place where she just gives up out of nowhere and Briareos has to talk her out of this despondency. Another thing that was off for me was the character of “Two Horns“. While I respect the actor (who is black) and don’t want to denigrate his work as he is very proud of the role: https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/tomball/news/article/Tomball-man-lands-major-role-in-upcoming-CGI-9678246.php), it does bother me that the “criminal” character (even if he ultimately has a “heart of gold”) is played by someone of color. This is why I think Afrofuturism is so important as I would love to see this actor play a noir detective, or fleet admiral, or futuristic cab driver, or a myriad of other roles rather than the criminal/sports star that seems to pass for roles for people of color in sci-fi movies.

Overall Score: 78-79 (C+)

This is one that I was predisposed to like because I like the source material. While understand the desire not to tell the same story over again from the manga, as they done that several times already with the previous animated film, this film felt far less “epic” in scope because of the choice. This movie didn’t have the complexity of the other movies and comes across as being, to turn a phrase, Appleseed “lite.” Add to that the odd looking CG models for some of the characters, Deunan, especially, and the choice to keep putting actors of color in stereotypical roles (admittedly, not unique to this movie, unfortunately), and it just created too many problems to overcome for me to fully enjoy the narrative. I hate to admit it, but I was checking the time remaining on this film far more than I usually do for films that I watch (and this is from someone who is a fan of the source material). That just about says it all.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Extraction (Netflix)

A picture of a bearded Chris Hemsworth in military gear looking to the right off-screen against a yellowish background of an Indian cityscape with the words" Netflix Extraction Official Trailer"
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6P3nI6VnlY

This past weekend I watched a movie produced by Netflix. While not my first Netflix movie, I generally pass them up in favor of seeing “studio” produced movies as I’m trying to catch up on movies that I’ve missed theatrically. As an individual, I’ve seen a lot of movies; however, as a film student, I feel that I don’t have the same repertoire as some of my colleagues (one of my friends at school who is also a film student and working on his dissertation watches a movie a day on his phone! I sometimes struggle to keep up with the movie a week paradigm that I’ve set for myself.) This movie was written by Joe Russo (Avengers Infinity War/Endgame) and stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor & Avengers movies). So, did I like it–yes, I did, for the most part.

“The Protector”

This story is very much in the style of films made famous by Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies. However, there is a difference, story-wise. While those are about “revenge” in some way, this film owes much more to films like Liam Neesom’s Taken movies (which I’ve not seen) and the BMW short film The Escape (which I have seen) in that there is more an element of protection than revenge. While different in tone, the plot actually functions a lot like other movies in the action genre–I’m specifically thinking of 16 Blocks, Special Forces, and Mile 22 (all of which I’ve seen–see, I do have a pretty good film knowledge base to draw on 😉 for my analysis). Chris Hemsworth’s character is tasked with “extracting” a target from a rival faction. I won’t go into the specific plot elements–but suffice to say, if you’ve seen any of those movies, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of the story progression. While not always the most original of ideas or execution, it was still an enjoyable and had enough novel elements to set it above many others in its genre.

“Gun-Fu”

Your enjoyment of the movie will depend largely on your tolerance for “gun-fu,” which is the combination of gun-play, martial arts, and ultra close-in gun-play in which the shooting all happens at extremely close ranges–sometimes right up in a character’s face (literally). This type of fighting and choreagraphy was made famous by John Wick. If you hate that style of action/combat, then chances are good you’re going to hate this movie.

There are also other set pieces in here besides the Gun-Fu that are really well done. There is a car chase scene that is really complex and visually interesting (check out the camera placement during the chase). This scene is NOT shot like traditional Hollywood action set-pieces and (for me) that really made it come alive. Is it the BEST chase scene I’ve ever seen? No, some of the Bourne/Bond movies hold that distinction, but check out the way this movie is shot vs those and you’ll immediately see a difference. Also, the ending sequence has to be mentioned–tense and climatic, I really think it rivals some of the best moments of other “protector” like films referenced above.

What I Didn’t Like

Okay, this isn’t a perfect movie. The story, some are going to argue, is fairly predictable. While you can’t see all of the “turns” coming, you can probably spot most of them.

Going beyond the story though, the sound mixing on this one was rough. The dialogue, in some parts was mixed too low to hear without me having to turn up my system, but then when the action got going, I would have to turn down the system as the gunshots rang out to loud and I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I personally couldn’t find a perfect setting–the dialogue always seemed too low and the action always seemed too loud.

Lastly, there’s a lot of violence happening in this story. I know its “Gun-Fu,” but the amount of people being shot in the head, especially, is high. People lose digits, are stabbed in multiple places/ways, and in one case, I kid (ostensibly a drug runner) is thrown off a roof. If violence makes you squeamish at all, this movie may not be for you. Most of it is justified by the story, but you can tell there was a little one upmanship happening here with other films in the genre.

Overall Grade: B

While definitely not a novel story or characterization, there were enough new elements (stunts and set-pieces) and enough articulation of the overall theme, that I didn’t find it tedious or a retread of something I’d already seen. Also, while the violence was a bit over-the-top for me and took me out of the story sometimes, I thought that the actual “action” of the story delivered for me what I was looking for in an action movie. It was fun, but had a heart, and wasn’t a pessimistic, dark, gritty drama that so many films in the genre try to be.

Sidney


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ReWatch: Wall-E and Crazies

Animated character Wall-E (yellow and brown) raising his hand with a pristine EVE beside him.
Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-Movie-Figure-Figures-Supertoys/dp/B012K3O8EI

Over the weekend, rather than watching a new film, I chose to re-watch two films that I’d already seen before, Wall-E and Crazies. Wall-E is an animated film from Pixar that is fairly well regarded (95% critics/ 90% audiences). Crazies (2010) is much less so, garnering a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71% from critics, but only a 52% from audiences. I happen to like them both, but watched them both for very different reasons.

Science Fiction Literature Class and Wall-E

While I’ve multiple English Literature classes, I’ve never had the opportunity to teach one. I’ve always taught introductory Rhetoric classes. This year, my school came up with a “mentorship” program to help those, like me, get more experience in teaching literature who normally teach just rhetoric course. My mentor happened to be teaching a Science Fiction Literature course this semester. One of the movies that she had on the syllabus was Wall-E as an example of ecological Science Fiction.

I really enjoy both the story and the message of Wall-E and I was reminded of it when I rewatched it a couple of days ago. One of the things that struck me was the way gender was handled with EVE. While very progressive in some respects, there are some more stereotypical ways in her characterization. I’m noticing this, by the way, because there is a Conference that will be issuing a “Call for Papers” about women’s issues, and I guess I’m noticing these things more.

Crazies (2010)

An infected man (zombie-like) in a blue shirt reaching through jail bars.
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7w9uWFIMBs

Crazies (2010) is an “infection” movie that, while not technically a “zombie” movie, acts like one functionally. I was in the mood to see it again since it has come back on to streaming. While not nearly as intense as World War Z, it has a similar set up, with a local sheriff tasked with figuring out and surviving an outbreak that is happening in his town.

Again, while not perfect–sometimes the “zombies” kill immediately and indiscriminately, while other times they hold off–to increase the tension (demanded by the plot usually), it still is a good movie that isn’t “just” the same old story retread as every other “zombie” movie.

Like Wall-E, however, it has some interesting things to say about its female characters. Like EVE, the main female character has elements that are progressive and stereotypical at the same time. Motherhood and life-nurturing character traits seem to be consistent in both of them, yet both are portrayed as career women and women who will take no guff from their male counterparts. Again, just something that I noticed that might become a paper in the future.

Still, that is such an interesting idea that has sparked that I may do that a little more often in the future–rewatch older films together and see what ideas spark from them and where I can put them into conversation with each other–who knows, I might even find a video game or two that also helps to round out the idea and see what emerges from there.

Have a great day!

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Star Wars IX: Rise of Skywalker

Rise of Skywalker Movie Poster--Rey holding a blue lightsaber against a cool blue backgroud while Kylo Ren holding a red lightsaber against a burgundy background
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527338/

Last weekend, I watched Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (RoS) for the first time. I know that it has a fairly poor rating, 52% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing, but I felt that it was, overall a much better story than its predecessor–The Last Jedi. I can’t (and won’t) go into too much territory in terms of spoilers (although I can’t be sure that what I discuss won’t give hints/clues to those the movie’s structure/plot, so you’ve been warned). I think–and will always think–that hiring Rian Johnson was a mistake because he’s not, at heart, a sci-fi writer. As you can see with Knives Out, he’s best when he’s being “clever.” Clever can mean a couple of different things here: 1) witty as Knives Out seems to be a satirical movie (based on the trailers) full of repartee between the characters and 2) provocateur, throwing things our/subverting expectations just because he can, something Last Jedi was filled with. Rise of Skywalker rights the ship, but is ultimately a decent movie, but is an unsatisfying end to a trilogy (and epic 9 film saga) because it has to spend so much time trying to undo the missteps of the previous two movies.

What I Liked

Action: The action of the first movie was back–thank goodness. Instead of action happening off screen in Last Jedi–Luke never getting to confront Kylo (or even Rey about what happened to her parents) was such a downer for me. Luke is (and was) the central character of the Skywalker saga that it was criminal for him to be dispatched in such a ignominious fashion in the previous movie. The action has returned in this one and while not nearly as thrilling as the original trilogy, there are some set pieces that were inventive and well-done. Action scenes, lightsaber battles, and space scenes seemed to be back to the level we expect from Star Wars films

(Some) of the Characterizations: These characters felt more like what we introduced to in The Force Awakens. While some things seemed notably off–the fact that Finn & Rey (first movie) were co-opted by Rey & Kylo storyline (the 2nd movie & fan-base with their “Reylo” fan-fic element)–comes to mind, the characters seemed to stay and be truer to their natures than in the previous movie.

Explanations: While seen as a “walk-back” by many reviewers, what Rise of Skywalker actually gives us is some answers (now I don’t always like those answers or the way they were delivered), but at least it wasn’t just thrown out there to flatly contradict what we were shown in The Force Awakens (“Rey, your parents were nothing special”).

What I Didn’t Like

The Need for “walkbacks”: You’ll notice I’m spending a lot of time talking about Rise of Skywalker in terms of what it did in comparison to Last Jedi. That’s intentional and it shouldn’t be necessary. In the Return of the Jedi, Lucas had already established the characters, deepened the plot, and made Luke’s conflict (destroy or redeem Vader) clear. In Rise, we are so busy explaining elements from the previous movie that made no sense, that the actual “trilogy” went out the window.

No Trilogy: related to the last point–this actually wasn’t a trilogy arc. It was movie 1, movie 1 again (Rian Johnson’s interpretation), movie 3. The “Reylo” storyline proves it. In the original trilogy, Han & Leia “spark” in movie one, their feelings are exposed in movie two, and they deepen in movie 3. In the Disney trilogy, Rey and Finn “spark” in movie one, “why do keep holding my hand?”, but in movie two (Rian Johnson interpretation), Rey and Kylo “spark” and Rose and Finn are supposed to “spark,” and in movie three Finn hints to Rey his feelings, but never says them outright and is in a “platonic” relationship that includes his best friend Poe Dameron (3 way hug) and Rey and Kylo expose their feelings for each other (“Ben”) in that “star-crossed” lovers way. Nothing in the trilogy pays off in the way that it should because movie two didn’t “deepen” anything in the way that a good second chapter of a trilogy should have and the “payoff” you would normally get from the third movie either isn’t there or is far below what it should have been.

Little Details: So many of the little details were off. Some of it was due to the untimely deaths of original trilogy cast members (or advancing ages). Obviously, Carrie Fisher’s heartbreaking and untimely death meant that the filmmakers had to incorporate scenes that were already shot into the narrative to give Leia’s character an appropriate sendoff, but even Chewbacca didn’t look like, sound like, or “run” like Chewbacca as it was different actor portraying him. C-3PO’s voice is higher than normal (again do to age of actor), and Artoo Detoo is hardly used. Some of it was due to the “walk backs” necessary. And some of it was due to the way Disney wants its SW movies to appeal to a new audience while trying to “pander” to the old audience as well. Disney is like look–here are the old droids you remember, but aren’t the new droids–BB-8 and the new droid they introduced just for Rise whose name I can’t even remember (it’s that forgettable as a droid) so cool because, hey, they’re new, and everyone likes new stuff, right, right? There are so many small issues that one only notices if the person is truly invested in the Star Wars world. For me, there are so many of them that it begins to seriously detract from the quality of the story and begins to make it seem more and more like a pale imitation of the original.

Overall Grade: B- (80)

I really think this is a stellar improvement of the last movie, but there are so many flaws in it because it can’t do what the 3rd movie in a trilogy should do, but must spend so much time trying to address the poor choices of the 2nd installment that it really weighs the film down for me.

While not a 52% (which would be a low, low F on a grading scale by the way), and yes I know that RT isn’t a grading scale, but a percentage of people who like/dislike the movie, but my point stands–this movie isn’t as bad as some would have you think as they would like to “punish” this movie and Disney with a low RT score–I still think that it is hamstrung by the fact that it has to essentially be a truncated 2nd act and then a partial resolution that has so many compromises that, while a fun and satisfying movie on its own, it can’t be a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy, let alone a 9 movie saga which is what is was purported to be.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




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