No Spoilers, Please!

No_Spoilers_larkabledotcom

Image Source: Larkable.com

Wow. Just wow (but not in a good way).  So the first part of the two part storyline for the Season Finale of Doctor Who released over the weekend and it contained three MASSIVE revelations (i.e., spoilers to the story).  Do you know that I was “spoiled” on 2 of the 3 spoilers by people on YouTube?

Now, you know me, when I “review” something on this blog, I go out of my way to give “impressions” rather than actual “specifics” in order not to ruin the experience for others.  I HATE spoilers, unless I go looking for them.  What makes the spoilers for Doctor Who so  onerous is that I didn’t want to be spoiled.  I avoided looking at the “Coming Next Week” portion of the show (this is the first season I’ve actively avoided it), just so that I would have no clue as to what was coming next.

I’m trying to figure out the reasons (rhetorical) why someone would choose to be a part of the “spoiler” culture.  I understand that there are a group of people who get enjoyment for ruining things for others–but that’s not the sense that I get from the YouTuber who put the “spoiler” in the “thumbnail” for her video.  I had no choice to get spoiled because she put a spoiler not inside her video, but on the outside wrapping (as it were) to get people to click on it and watch her video (no, I do not subscribe to this person’s videos, but YouTube so “helpfully” put her video in my “recommended” feed, not recognizing that her thumbnail gave me way more of the story than I wanted).

I don’t think there was any malice in her video, but a kind of unthinking blindness to the fact that while you may know and want to discuss the story (before it is released), others just want to watch the story and then discuss afterwards.  I don’t want to paint her as just an unthinking fan (she did put the spoiler) in the thumbnail image for the video, so there was some forethought in the matter, but I think it was more of “isn’t this so cool,” rather than “I know more than you,” type of thought.

doctor who and bill_radiotimes

Image Source: Radio Times

Either way, however, knowing ahead of time really blunted my enjoyment of this week’s episode (made worse that it wasn’t me who went looking for it).  I knew who the villain was and was able to make the deduction of what was going on about twenty seconds too early and figured out two of the three big reveals too early.  Not sure how I’m going to dodge the season finale’s spoilers, but starting next Thursday I may have to go on media blackout.  It’s pretty bad that it has come to this just to avoid knowing what’s going to happen in a story.

People always talk about the advantages of social media, but they never mention the disadvantages.  I remember when social media (or The Web 2.0 as pundits called back in 2010) was supposed to revolutionize the web.  Well, if this is the revolution, then I want to revolt against the revolution.

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Mini-Review: Deepwater Horizon (No Spoilers)

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Deepwater Horizon Mini-Review

Over the weekend, I went out to see Deepwater Horizon and I enjoyed it.  It was a good movie that looked at the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon and how a system of bad decisions and poor maintenance contributed to combine into a disaster.  While it is based on a real event, it is fictionalized so that certain elements are emphasized while other elements are downplayed.  The key the enjoying this movie is to look at it as a movie, not as a biography.  As a movie, it works well, similar to others in the genre: UnstoppableSully, and Captain Phillips, etc.  As long as you realize that they are trying to make a strong movie, but are not trying to give a complete accounting of who did what, when they did it, where they did it, and why they did it, then it is a very enjoyable and tense movie.

A Tale of Two Halves

Practically speaking, the movie can be broken up into two halves: the first part and the second part.  In the first part, we see the major characters get introduced and we are given a glimpse into the family lives and banter of some of the crew.  Many of the concepts of the oil industry are also explained for the audience using clever storytelling (i.e., show, don’t tell).  By getting us to care about the characters, we are invested when things start to go wrong on the oil platform.

The second half of the movie is pretty much devoted to the disaster.  We watch as it unfolds and the chain of events get worse and worse.  We care for the characters because of the time invested in seeing their lives and interactions at home and once they are on the ship.  The action set-pieces were visually stunning and were the highlights of the movie.

Implications for my Writing

I appreciated the way the movie was structured as it allowed for sufficient character development in order for us to care about the characters.  The fact that the characters were likable and talking about an occupation that I know little about from experience helped the audience to identify with the characters.

Secondly, the filmmakers used strong foreshadowing techniques to illustrate that while the scenes with the actors interacting might seem dull or passive, that these were necessary to show the “monster” that was about to be unleashed.  Foreshadowing the tension to come is an effective way to “hook” readers to stick around while you are character building.

Lastly, the action was intense.  We follow the main character, but we do also cut away to show other characters who we’ve seen in the first part of the film.  It is important to illustrate characters under crisis and to see how they will respond.  Again, the first half sets that up wonderfully.  These are three lessons that I took away from this movie.

Jason Bourne (No Spoilers) Mini-Review and Writing Implications

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Source: JasonBournemovie.com

So, before I start, let me say that I’m a huge Jason Bourne fan.  That wasn’t always the case.  I’m a huge James Bond fan as well, starting with the Roger Moore Bond in the late ’70s and early 80’s.  I’ve seen every Bond movie (except 1) all the way through at least once (including the George Lazenby).  For the longest, I resisted watching the Bourne films, but there was a sale on the 3 movie Bluray boxed set that I couldn’t pass up.  I watched the first one and I’ve been hooked every since.  This one was the one I was most excited about all summer (hoping that it would top Bourne Ultimatum after the disappointing Bourne Legacy.)

Good, but not Excellent

This is a good, strong, solid movie, but it did not surpass Bourne Ultimatum in my opinion.    Rotten Tomatoes (as of current writing gives the score: 57% Critics & 68% Audience.  I would give it a B- (80-83) if I were grading it academically.   That would put it right on the edge of being above average.

It is an above average movie that is hampered by two significant story problems (and several other smaller problems) that I think hold it back from delivering on its promise.  The characters are well done and their lives seem to logically transition from the old Bourne trilogy to where they begin this movie.

Unlike Star Trek Beyond, I saw two glaring problems that were large enough to affect the entire movie (& that’s why I think the review scores are a little on the tepid side.)

Problem 1: Good Beginning, Weak Middle, Strong Ending

The movie starts with a strong beginning.  All the pieces “are in play” to use terminology from the movies.  And it doesn’t take long for the set-up to pay off and for the action and intrigue that are the lifeblood of the Bourne movies to start.  However, after the good beginning, the Middle of the story seems be a series of moves all designed to get all of the relevant players into one city (you know it from the trailers–but I won’t name it less it may be construed as a spoiler) for the Ending.  You can almost “see” all the pieces being moved around on the “board” to get this person to the city, that person to the city, these two people to the city, etc.  There’s also a “ripped from the headlines” subplot that wasn’t very well developed and might have made the story better had the filmmakers not included it.

Problem 2: Deja Vu’

For me, who has watched the boxed set of the Bourne Blurays multiple times, I felt like the filmmakers made Jason Bourne too similar to another movie in the trilogy.  I won’t name which one specifically as I feel that would definitely be too “spoilery.”  My contention is that many of the things that happen between that movie and this one are almost beat for beat identical (story-wise).

While there were similar elements shared by the original trilogy, each movie presented an original idea and expressed it originally.  This film presents an original idea, but presents it derivatively.  

Implications for my Writing

Without spoilers, the resolution of the story was great.  But even better was the denouement, or the wrap-up, of the movie.  That one scene seemed to turn the audience (the ones that I saw it with in my theater, at least) from neutral to somewhat positive about the movie.

What I learned from watching the audience’s reaction to the end of the movie is that a strong denouement can turn the audience to your side even if your overall structure isn’t the strongest (although it really should be).  The movie’s denouement comes directly from who Jason Bourne is as a character.  It might even be the movie’s THEME statement about what Jason stands for as character in that film world.

So, when I’m considering what my character’s inner conflict should be, I might always want to consider deciding at the same time what is my THEME and what might be a really unique and inventive way of showing that through the main character’s action in the denouement of the story.

 

 

Batman Vs Superman Review (No Spoilers!)

Batman v Superman

Okay, so (like Star Wars: The Force Awakens), I wanted to wait and take a moment before posting my (non-spoiler) review for Batman vs. Superman (BvS).  Unlike, Star Wars:FA, it wasn’t so much because of spoilers, but for other reasons which will become clear in a moment.

I LIKED IT

First, this blog post is not going to be one of my more popular ones–I already know that even as I’m typing these words because I’m going to go against “popular opinion.”  I actually LIKED the movie (quite a bit, actually).  I don’t use the “A” movie (Exceptional)/”B” movie (everything else) paradigm that you seem to hear (aka A-List talent vs B-List talent, or triple A movie vs a B movie).  When I rate things, I’m doing so using the scale that universities use for their semester grade reports:

  • A (Superior/Exceptional)–You’ve gone above and beyond in order to create something few could achieve.
  • B (Above Average)–This is a good product with some minor flaws that detract slightly from the overall experience, but is still better than many would achieve.
  • C (Average)–This is “good enough.”  You’ve done just enough to meet the requirements, but haven’t done enough, but have too many flaws to be better than others like it.
  • D (Below Average)–Not up to “standards.”  This has too many flaws, isn’t crafted well, or ignores requirements.  It is well below what most can achieve.
  • F (Failure)–Simply put, unable to succeed.  A product that is lacking in nearly every respect.

After seeing it, BvS for me is a B (Above Average).  It better than a “typical” action movie (I’ll get into why I think so in a moment).  It is competently made (i.e., it holds to the western philosophy of BME–Beginning, Middle, and End.  It has a Protagonist & Antagonist.  It has rising action, it has a climax, it has falling action, and it resolves.)  It follows Fryetag’s Triangle perfectly.  For that reason alone, it should not be rated lower than a C.

However, the critics would have you believe that the movie is a D/F and that it fails on many different levels.  And the justification just isn’t there for me.

OPERA IN MOVIE FORM

I liken the movie to an Opera.  It is a long movie (over 2 hours and 30 mins) and much of the first part is setting up the Batman/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent dynamic.  But this a movie that is larger than JUST a comic book movie.  It touches on contemporary real world elements such police brutality, the nature of God and man, what it is to be a hero, what it is to be a above the law, discourse vs unilateral action, what it means to be a democracy, and what it means to be good/bad in today’s “modern” society.

All of this is in a “comic book” movie.  Critics slam this as being too much, having too many plot threads, “a mess,” as I heard one reviewer put it.  No, its not a Marvel movie, but then DC isn’t Marvel.  They have always done things differently than Marvel.  Many critics seem to be slamming the movie NOT because it is a bad movie, but because it is not a MARVEL movie and doesn’t use’s Marvel’s “template” for movies.

BvS isn’t as good as my current favorite Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it WAS more satisfying to me than Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It wants to have a conversation that the critics don’t seem to want to have in their “comic book” movies.

DC MYTHOLOGY

If you like graphic novels, see the movie.  If you like comic books and are up on your DC mythology, see the movie.  This movie includes a LOT of knowing nods and scenes to those who like comics (DC comics and graphic novels and properties) and does NOT try to explain to those who don’t.  I caught several striking scenes from various DC media: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman: The Dark Knight by Frank Miller, various BvS Graphic Novels, The Flash (TV show, current version), and others.

The iconography is striking, but there too, the critics want to complain.  Zack Snyder (the director) is “style over substance,” I heard in more than one review.  But that is what Snyder is KNOWN for.  300 was NOT a “great” movie when you get right down to it, but it was a visually striking movie.  Why is that not good enough now?  Because it’s a KNOWN quality about him now.  Only if you’re NEW and FRESH do the critics seem to take any notice.

WHY THE DISCONNECT?

I’m linking to a YouTube video to help explain what’s going on with the review scores.  Basically, the Youtuber is correct: there is a contingent who want to use social media to FORCE Warner Brothers to cater to them (fans) or those who want to punish the movie in some way (critics).  I’ve seen this before in other mediums: MASS EFFECT 3 for video games comes quickly to mind.  Many fans hated the ending of ME3 and social media outcry FORCED Bioware to go back and “redo” the ending of the game.  This is what I feel is happing here.  However, this has been building since World War Z, Man of Steel, Jupiter Ascending, and most recently, Gods of Egypt.  The Youtuber ‘s (Grace Randolph) channel “Beyond the Trailer” is one that I’ve recently found) and she does a great job of quickly of explaining a lot of my problems with the critics for BvS, in particular.  It’s short–only 13 minutes long and very informative:

Beyond the Trailer (Special Report BvS)–Grace Randolph

There is nothing inherently wrong with the movie.  It should be getting B’s and C’s.  Not the D’s and F’s that it is currently getting.  This is a good movie, with some flaws that keep it from being exceptional, but not one that should be denigrated as a failure.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Impressions (No Spoilers)

Star Wars Force Awakens

So, I wanted to wait a little bit before posting because I wanted to make sure that I thought about what I wanted to say and phrase it carefully because I didn’t want to spoil in any of things in the story & also because I wanted to make sure of my own feelings toward this movie.

STAR WARS 101

I think that this movie is great!  If I was grading it, I would give it an A (95-98).  It wouldn’t get an A+ for reasons that I will discuss later (no spoilers), but this is an Excellent movie (going by the “grading scale” of many universities).

No offense to George Lucas (as creator of the world and characters), but this is the Star Wars adventure I was hoping the Prequel trilogy was going to be when it released.  This one had old characters and new merged into an exciting new adventure.

THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE

I love both the old characters and seeing them return, but I also like the new characters.  I like the characters and the actors portraying them.  I think that they have enough depth to carry them through a trilogy and the story definitely gave them room to grow in future episodes.

I won’t reveal any of the characters twists, but I will say that BB-8 has probably become one of my favorite droids.  Like R2, the audience can’t decipher what his “beeps” mean without another character translating, but as expressive as R2 is, BB-8 is more so.  They convey a surprising amount of emotion through the droid and it is well appreciated.

LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL

As many internet reaction videos will attest (and you should watch NONE of them until you’ve seen the movie for yourself), the humor is really good in this one.  I think one of the reasons that I like Star Wars so much is the use of sardonic humor.  Rather than slapstick, SW has this wry humor that pervades the action.  From the “cheesy” dice in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit in SW, to the way Vader “disciplines” Star Destroyer commanders & the “hyperdrive” subplot with both Han & Lando, to Han’s outlandish comments to Chewie during the tense scene when they are trying to pass themselves off as a shuttle crew when they are sneaking to the moon of Endor (“I knew it was going to work,” Han says.  He had just told Chewie moments ago to fly “casually”).

Again, without spoiling anything, I think that the wry humor is back and updated for the “new” generation.  I could definitely see some humor that would appeal to Millennials, but there were also some nods back to Gen X’ers like myself.

Whatever you do, keep a close eye on BB-8.  For a CG character, many of his humor beats are pure comedic gold.  He’s a scene stealer almost every time he is on the screen (can you tell I really like this droid?)

THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this is the best movie EVER.  When we were leaving the theater one young lady was remarking to her friends, “that was the worst movie ever–they way overhyped it.”  My mother was in instant disbelief.  Myself, I could only shake my head as it wasn’t the marketing folks who overhyped it–it was the young lady herself.  She went into the movie with the wrong mindset.

It is not an revolutionary movie like the original SW was, but an evolutionary one.  It takes the SW series back to the path it was on BEFORE the Prequels.  The Empire & Death Star were such an engaging conflict, of course we want to find out what happened AFTER those events.  SW:FA gives that opportunity.  It also gives us new characters with which to continue the adventure–just as Lando added history to the Millennium Falcon and Han’s backstory in Empire & Jedi, so to do these new characters give the audience a way to into the story.

The reason why I personally wouldn’t give this story an A+ is for 2 reasons: 1) while I like it and think that the movie is well worth the admission price, it isn’t my favorite SW movie.  I’d still have to rate the original series higher (nostalgia is coloring my perception, probably, but there it is).  I think this is the BEST movie I’ve seen in 2015, but I still like the original series of movies (as a whole) better and  2) they do have a lot of story elements from the original series as both a callback and as a structure.  If you have the original SW movies memorized like I do, then it will be EASY to pick out the story structure.  In one of the final plot elements, I had to willingly suspend my disbelief CONSCIOUSLY in order believe an element that happened.  Luckily, it was the only time and I felt that they were trying to appeal to nostalgia rather than just poor plotting, but I did have to do so.

THE FORCE WILL BE WITH YOU, ALWAYS

Still, even with those distinctions, I have no problems recommending this movie.  If you are a SW fan, you’ll love this movie.  If you’re not, or aren’t a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, you’ll be fine as long as you keep your expectations in check.

Remember, there can only ever be one REVOLUTION.  Everything else that follows is an EVOLUTION of the original.  Sometimes that evolution can be misguided and lower the value of the original (the Prequel trilogy in my opinion) or it can raise it to new heights (Empire and Jedi, again in my opinion), or it can reset the bar and establish a new course and new bar for the original (and that’s where I think SW:FA comes in and accomplishes wonderfully).

In short, if you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk to the theater.  For myself, I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the things that I missed during the 1st viewing.

May the Force (Awakens) be with you!