Saturday, November 11, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Year 9, Day 315 - 11/11/17 - Movie #2,773 - viewed on 10/16/17

BEFORE: If I've done this right, then Harrison Ford carries over from "Paranoia", and I'm setting myself up for "Justice League" with this one, which opens on November 17, although I may not see it until the Monday after it opens, which is November 20.  All good things come to those who wait - and this plan was put in place months ago to allow me to see four more films in the theater this year.  (Those would be "Thor: Ragnarok", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", "Justice League" and this new "Blade Runner", it's a funny coincidence that Robin Wright would appear in two of them.)

And I hope this justifies seeing "Blade Runner 2049" about a week after it opens, and then sitting on the review for almost a month.  In the sci-fi community, this sequel is poised to be HUGE.  I mean, we're getting a new "Star Wars" film just about every year now, which is great, but there hasn't been a new "Blade Runner" film for 35 YEARS.  That's a lifetime for some people, and about 5 lifetimes if you're a replicant.

THE PLOT: A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years.

AFTER: I've probably seen the original film over half a dozen times, and part of what's allowed it to gain such a cult following is the fighting in the two camps over whether Deckard is (or isn't) a replicant himself.  I've been strongly in the "HUMAN" camp for many years, but I find that after all this time, I've got to issue a rare Movie Year "Mea Culpa" tonight.   I've always stated that there was NO WAY Deckard could be a replicant, because he shows signs of weakness when he fights the replicants, gets injured, feels pain, plus we see him eat food - I think I've accidentally been confusing "replicant" with "android" all this time.  Which is really embarrassing for a sci-fi nerd to admit.

In my defense, the Philip K. Dick story that the original "Blade Runner" was based on is titled "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" so perhaps that's where I got the notion that Deckard was killing robots - but they're not, are they?  Replicants are flesh-based beings who just weren't born from humans, they were manufactured or grown in a lab or something, and programmed with memories that would help control their behavior.  And some of them, the early ones at least, were given limited life-spans.

And so the original 1982 film became something of a treatise on genetic engineering, which was in its infancy then, though I think there were "test-tube" babies, the start of things like in vitro fertilization, so naturally a film about the future would take the technology of the time and do its best to extrapolate from there, all the way forward to the far-off year of 2019 to try to imagine what things would be like.  But really, people just wanted to know if we would have flying cars by then, and if we'd all be having sex with robots.  Well, it's 2017 now, we're getting really close to 2019, and there are no flying cars in sight, but at least we're talking about driverless cars.  And no sex with robots yet, though who knows, they're up to some pretty kinky stuff in Japan, it could be happening somewhere. But instead we've got porn all over the internet and maybe some VR dirty stuff is reachable soon.

If you make the mistake that I did, and confuse "replicant" with "android", then really, who gives a crap about what happens to a bunch of robots?  They're never going to be alive, they can only mimic human speech and human thought, they've got no intelligence whatsoever beyond their programming.  Ah, but synthetic humans, that's a whole other ball game.  Do they have souls? (Does anyone?)  Are they inferior because they were never "born" or are they superior because they're stronger, smarter and more durable?  They may have been created to be slaves to help mankind colonize other planets, but could they become more than that someday?  Could they replace the original humans, and is that why someone wanted them "retired" in the first place?  Now things are getting a lot more interesting, and now I have to go back and watch the original 1982 film with my new understanding of replicants, and the fact that they are NOT robots.

Now, with all that said, "Blade Runner 2049" has very big shoes to fill, and expectations were VERY high.  Much like "The Force Awakens", someone faced the uphill battle of moving the story forward in a way that would entertain everyone, both old and new fans, drawing on elements of the previous film but still charting new territory in a way.  A knowledge of the first film would be very helpful, but shouldn't be required in order to enjoy the new story - that's a very tough row to hoe.  And on top of that, how could a film possibly satisfy BOTH the fans who are convinced that Deckard is a replicant and also those of us who are desperately hoping that he isn't?

Surprisingly, this film managed to pull this off - I think - and still entertain.  But there are other problems, most notably that this film is quite long, at two hours and 45 minutes, but it felt like there was only about an hour's worth of story.  It definitely could have been compacted quite a bit, but like the original, we're talking about a film with a very notable MOOD, and part of that mood is the slow build-up of tension over the course of a police investigation.  Sure, it COULD have been cut down to about 90 minutes, but SHOULD it have been?  That's a debatable point.  But considering that nearly 30 years have passed in this future world, the story of humanity has sort of inched forward during that time.  This is explained somewhat by referring to a "blackout" that took place shortly after 2019, one presumed, and we're talking about no power anywhere for maybe a couple of years, so after that it seems that humanity nearly had to start over, at least on earth.

It's funny, we hear a lot in the "Blade Runner" universe about these colonies on other planets, but we never get to SEE them.  We're stuck on planet Earth with the people who were too sick or too poor to make it to Mars or Venus, and the replicants who didn't like being slaves so they came back to Earth to try to blend in.  I almost wish this sequel could have taken us off-world so we'd get a better idea about how the other parts of humanity were doing.  What's life really like on another planet where the replicants are slaves doing all the tough work while the people sit around and watch future-porn or go for Sunday drives in their flying cars?

I don't really want to discuss the plot of "Blade Runner 2049" any further, because the revelations are rather good, and it starts to delve into all sorts of fascinating questions about what it means to be a replicant, and therefore by extension what it means to be human.  At least this time there's a little less ambiguity about who is human and who's a replicant, which is the way it should be, but right there, this knowledge colors our perceptions from the get-go.  So now maybe I understand why there's so much ambiguity about Deckard, and why people keep tearing their hair out while trying to figure him out.

What also is going to stick with me is the portrayal of a replicant (again, an artificial human) going home every night and interacting with a holographic personal assistant.  Really, this is just taking the technology we have now - devices like Echo and Alexa - and extrapolating another 30 years in the future to imagine what they would be like.  You might imagine that this character has feelings for this hologram, which calls to mind the film "Her" more than anything.  Does he love this unreal hologram because he's not completely "real" himself?  Or is he just programmed to have certain feelings and desires, which the hologram is programmed to appeal to?  And in matters of the heart, aren't we all just programmed replicants responding to our own internal programming?  Does love come about more from nature or from nurture in the end?

See, even though there wasn't a hell of a lot of content in "Blade Runner 2049" - at times there seemed to be only enough story to get us to the next stunning visual - I do appreciate many of the questions that it raised about humanity, both real and artificial.  We're rapidly heading toward a virtual world - once we finish killing our environment it will probably be all we have left - and it's extremely relevant to think about what's going to be taken for "real" 30 or so years from now.  Will there be anything real left?  At that point, will we even care?

NITPICK POINT: Like many fans, I would have preferred to have seen a bit more of Harrison Ford, since he's not seen in the first half of this film.  But you have to accept the fact that he was very busy spending the money he got for not appearing in the first half of "The Force Awakens".

Also starring Ryan Gosling (last seen in "La La Land"), Robin Wright (last seen in "Wonder Woman"), Jared Leto (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Dave Bautista (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Sylvia Hoeks, Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davis (last seen in "The Martian"), Barkhad Abdi (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Lennie James (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), Edward James Olmos (last seen in "2 Guns"), David Dastmalchian (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Tomas Lemarquis (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Carla Juri, Sean Young (last seen in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective"), Hiam Abbass (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Wood Harris (last seen in "Creed").

RATING: 6 out of 10 Vegas showgirls


Year 9, Day 314 - 11/10/17 - Movie #2,772

BEFORE: Liam Hemsworth carries over from "Independence Day: Resurgence", and though this represents the end of my mostly-Hemsworth week, Liam will be back in a couple of weeks when I finally get around to a very big franchise that I've been putting off.  So I guess it's sort of like Hemsworth month?  I could put those films right after this one, but then the chain wouldn't link to everything I want to get to before the end of the year.  You'll see what I mean tomorrow, and then the week after next.

But I got this one to go with "Blackhat", another tech-based thriller, both with Hemsworths starring in them.

THE PLOT: An entry-level employee at a powerful corporation must spy on his boss's old mentor to secure him a multi-billion dollar advantage.

AFTER: White people's problems, am I right?  If they're not fighting off the attacking aliens, they're being blackmailed by one smartphone company into spying on another.  Maybe I just need another break from movies, and they're starting to all run together.

This is pretty basic corporate espionage stuff here, I guess it's interesting to see the two leads from "Air Force One" face off against each other again as rival heads of the two companies, and former business partners.  But which one is the hero here, and which one is the villain?  Or do those terms even apply in today's tech-based corporate structure?  Do we even have CEO's with morals any more, or did they go away, along with qualified Presidents?

I guess the hero here is supposed to be Liam Hemsworth's character, Adam Cassidy, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, so he's not really a saint either.  They probably added the bit about his father being sick so that he's not really responsible for any corporate malfeasance, he has to do whatever it takes to pay his dad's medical bills after the health insurance went away, and oh, yeah, he's also being blackmailed and his friends are being threatened for good measure, just so there will be no chance of the audience hating this guy.  Sure, he can tell himself he's also doing this to get his friends' jobs back, but he's the one that got them fired in the first place, by mouthing off during their pitch meeting.

Look, I don't know anything about the tech world, but is it likely that a guy could try to get ahead with the company's CEO by declaring that management is out of touch with the younger consumer, and that he, and only he, knows the way the kids want to use social media?  Doesn't this company run focus groups and surveys or pay a research department to figure this stuff out?  If his pitch was based on "only I know that kids want to use Twitter on their big-screen TV" or whatever, it was probably doomed to fail anyway.

But I can believe that the CEO remembers him from the pitch, and sussed out his personality as a guy who will do anything to get ahead.  And then a little background check on his financials and his family situation, and there you go, the guy's easily roped in for a little corporate dirty work.  But a major, major contrivance with the female lead, with a couple of million young, single women in New York City what happens here by chance just doesn't seem mathematically possible.

And a major NITPICK POINT when the guy who figures out how to turn someone else's phone into surveillance equipment doesn't seem to have any fear of being bugged himself - even though people come flat out and tell him that this is probably what's going on.  He should have acted like Gene Hackman in "The Conversation", tearing up the floorboards in his underwear while looking for the hidden microphones.

Also starring Gary Oldman (last seen in "Criminal"), Amber Heard (last seen in "The Danish Girl"), Harrison Ford (last seen in "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster"), Richard Dreyfuss (last seen in "Poseidon"), Lucas Till (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Embeth Davidtz (last seen in "Bridget Jones's Diary"), Julian McMahon, Josh Holloway (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"), Angela Sarafyan, Will Peltz (last seen in "In Time"), Kevin Kilner, Haley Finnegan, Christine Marzano (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Charlie Hofheimer, Mark Moses.

RATING: 5 out of 10 security guards

Friday, November 10, 2017

Independence Day: Resurgence

Year 9, Day 313 - 11/9/17 - Movie #2,771

BEFORE: Jeff Goldblum carries over from "Thor: Ragnarok", and he's having a pretty good year - this will be his 5th appearance in my Year 9 countdown, but there are a LOT of 6-appearance actors this time, a few 7's, and then there's the Top 3, with 8, 10 and 14 appearances.  I'll count it all down after the close of regular play in mid-December. 

This was down among the "unlinkables" for a while, because I missed the appearance of Maika Monroe in both this film and "The 5th Wave".  I've got both alien invasion films on the same disc, it would have been great to put them side-by-side, but I followed a different linking path instead.  And look, as a result I get to transition from one Hemsworth brother to the other! See, it all works out.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The 5th Wave" (Movie #2,687)

THE PLOT: Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extraterrestrial threat.  But will mankind's new space defenses be enough?

AFTER: What also carries over from "Thor: Ragnarok" is this feeling of sort of throwing all these different characters and plot elements into a blender, hitting "purée" and hoping for the best.  Sometimes that really works, and sometimes it doesn't, or maybe it's all a matter of personal preference, I don't know.  Today's film, however, got labelled as a box-office bomb because it got crushed by "Finding Dory", or people felt that it didn't somehow capture the magic of the first "Independence Day" film - and once it gets that stink of failure on it, it's hard for me (or anyone) to step back and view it objectively. 

Does this film completely suck?  I don't know, that seems a little harsh.  There are way too many plot contrivances and coincidences, but for that matter, it was a huge coincidence that Thor would encounter Hulk on another planet, so again, who am I to judge?  Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don't, or it's a matter of personal preference.  Maybe I've just seen too many films this year, and I'm desperately in need of some time off to get my head together again.  And usually I would be closing up shop right about now, maybe coming back for a couple of Christmas movies, but thanks to working two Comic-Cons and then taking a week's vacation, the end of the year is near, but it's just not here yet.  (Though I'll be closed for business next week (Nov. 12-19) I'll be back open on Monday, Nov. 20 for "Justice League".  Then 8 more films in November, and 18 in December - the new "Star Wars" release schedule now dictates that I can't knock off in early November, like I used to.  Still, I believe it's all going to work out.

Remember, there are only about a dozen different types of movies, like horror or sci-fi or "comedies where a black actor dresses like a woman" - and each of them has a certain number of conventions that need to be followed, like the movements in a symphony.  If someone steps outside the genres and presents the audience with a complex family drama with an incestuous relationship, or a superhero film where the villain wins in the end, well, they've probably got a tough slog ahead.  And in the case of a franchise film a studio has to set something in a universe that needs to be as familiar as what has gone before, while also breaking new ground to keep things fresh. 

And then we all vote with our ticket purchases.  Reviews be damned, because that's the only language that Hollywood understands - if a film makes a huge profit, then it deserves one or more sequels, or at least a dozen films that hit the same notes, more or less.  "Independence Day" made a profit, so a sequel was inevitable, the only question then became when, and how many of the film's actors would be able to return.  "Resurgence" lost money overall, so there may not be a third film in the series, even though they left themselves wide open for one, story-wise.  "Thor: Ragnarok" was my 8th trip to the movie theater in 2017, and each time I'm sending a message to Hollywood - which is "more like this, please"- even if the movie is not great, the message has already been sent.  This is why I did not go to see the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film this year, I'll probably watch it when it airs, but I am in favor of Disney stopping production on the franchise at some point.  I hope they got that message when I failed to buy a ticket.

So all that brings me back to "Independence Day: Resurgence", which I did not feel the need to see in the theater, and I think I made the right call.  I go to see this modern-day lounge act, Richard Cheese, whenever he's in town, and he'll tell the audience, "If you haven't seen us before, you're about to hear a traditional 4-piece lounge combo play sort of "swankified" versions of current hits, for about two hours, and you're in for quite a treat.  If you HAVE seen us before, same fuckin' shit."  So we have to quantify this sequel as "same fuckin' shit."  Yep, the people who vote with their movie ticket purchases are quite fickle, so even after they vote with their purchase to see more films like this, often when presented with more of the same, they'll collectively say, "Yeah, this is what we said we wanted, only not this way." 

We've got returning characters from the first film, sure, only some of them show up only to die quickly, or pull the grand sacrificing moves, which take a bit longer.  We've got famous landmarks being blown up or crushed by giant spaceships - remember how shocking it was when they blew up the White House in the first film?  Well, they (almost) do it again (crap, they probably just finished re-building it, too...) and then they move on to completely NEW landmarks to blow up real good. We've got jet fighters attacking the big spaceship, only Will Smith's not here, and his stepson is flying a jet in his place.  We've got Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner's nerdy and wacky scientists back, because apparently they're the only two alien experts in the whole country, and the lovable schlumpy father of the scientist, getting into trouble again like only an old Jewish guy can - but he means well.

The key conceit here is that we always knew the aliens would be coming back, but we didn't know when - and we didn't know they'd have enough sense of irony to attack on the anniversary of the first attack.  So we had twenty years to prepare, and knowing Americans the way I do, that probably meant 19 years of slacking off, followed by 11 months in committee trying to decide the best path forward, and then maybe 1 month of actual work, if you're lucky.  How does that all add up?  Huh, the aliens caught us by surprise AGAIN, because we probably all had TV shows to watch, and new potato chip flavors to vote for.  This is why the rest of the world hates us. 

So, it's another mad scramble to decode alien technology, track down some nuke-ular weapons and come up with a desperate, last-minute plan that's so crazy, Goddammit, it just might work.  And what a shocker, the he-man brahs who fly the jet fighters and the military people from around the world have to put aside their egos and work together to make it all happen.  This is what we do when we have to save the world, so we can live in peace and harmony again and go back to being racist, sexist entitled a-holes.  Nothing changes, not even in the future.  Umm, which is really an alternate "now", I guess.  When does this take place, 20 years after the first one?  OK, that's now, only this is not our Earth, because a woman is President.  Some screenwriter was clearly banking on a Hillary Clinton presidency...

The worst offense in this film, beyond all of the contrivances and coincidences, is how obvious most of the dialogue is.  People just don't talk this way in real life, as if they're always giving the audience expositional facts.  Like when one of the characters is revealed to be in a coma at the start of the film, and his caregiver enters the room saying, "Can you believe it's been 2,747 days since you lapsed into your coma?"  Umm, thanks for that information, but besides people not talking this way, that's a number of exactly zero significance, so why would he even bring that up?  And this is pretty much how the dialogue works in the whole picture.  "Come on guys, let's get into our jet fighters, and turn the engines on, and fly toward the big spaceship and try to blow it up!"  People wouldn't say that, they'd just say something more generic and go and DO that.  It's show, don't tell, dummies.

Plenty of NITPICK POINTS tonight, too - the most obvious being: how did that jet fighter shoot THROUGH the alien's shield in order to hit the mechanism that would disable the shield?  Even if you allow for the possibility that the alien needed to drop its own shield to fire its weapon, it still doesn't work.  Because then you have to allow that an alien can build a highly-advanced shield, but not one that it can fire a weapon through, it can only create one with this flaw, that it has to be inactive when it wants to take a shot.  And that's just dumb, and if there's one thing these aliens are not, it's dumb.

There are also many, many problems with the size of the alien ship(s).  I get that the filmmakers wanted to up the ante this time around, but having a ship or ships that are roughly the size of Europe couldn't possibly work.  A little research on the web tells me that though they may have their own gravity, the gravity of the Earth is greater, and these ships would be torn apart if they tried to enter Earth's atmosphere.  Also, something of that size and weight could not be in those shapes.  If they're big enough to have gravity, then that gravity would force them into a roughly spherical shape.  And  even if they could land on Earth, this would affect the Earth's rotation and throw things completely out of balance.  So the science just isn't there to support these images.

Don't even get me started on the science about drilling through the earth's crust to get to its (presumably) soft, caramel center...or is it coconut?

Also starring Liam Hemsworth (last seen in "The Expendables 2"), Bill Pullman (last seen in "American Ultra"), Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe (last seen in "Labor Day"), Sela Ward (last seen in "Gone Girl"), William Fichtner (last seen in "Elysium"), Judd Hirsch (last seen in "Tower Heist"), Brent Spiner (last seen in "Stardust Memories"), Vivica A. Fox (last seen in "Ella Enchanted"), Angelababy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nicolas Wright (last seen in "White House Down"), Robert Loggia (last seen in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Patrick St. Esprit (last seen in "We Were Soldiers"), Deobia Oparei (last seen in "Moulin Rouge!", Travis Tope, Ng Chin Han (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), Gbenga Akinnagbe, John Storey (last seen in "Down with Love"), James A. Woods, Joey King (also last seen in "White House Down"), Robert Neary.

RATING: 4 out of 10 EMPs

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Year 9, Day 312 - 11/8/17 - Movir #2,770

BEFORE: Chris Hemsworth carries over for the last time this week, and this is one of those big event movies that I saved a space for, and I made sure my linking would get me here, which is tougher than you might think.  It's akin to trying to hit a moving target with a bow and arrow, I can't just aim for it, I have to aim for where it's going to be.  I knew when "Thor: Ragnarok" was going to be released (November 3) but I figured I probably wouldn't be able to see it until the following Monday.  Just to be on the safe side, I left a slot open for it on the following Wednesday, and it turns out that my schedule changed and I had dinner with my BFF Andy on Monday while he was in town, so I moved the "Thor" screening to Wednesday anyway.  I've got many free days in November anyway, so if I had slotted it for Monday it only would have delayed blogging for 2 days at most, but somehow these things just work themselves out in the end.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Thor: The Dark World" (Movie #1,799)

THE PLOT: The mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally.  Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

AFTER: Thor's back, with a new attitude, new powers, new weapons, and a new haircut!

The best comic-book movies combine a whole lot of storylines from the printed page, cherry-picking the best elements and blending them together to create something that's both old and new, fresh and yet familiar (if you're a regular reader).  That's what happened in "The Dark Knight Rises", they took the Bane story ("Knightfall") and mixed it with the earthquake-hits-Gotham story ("No Man's Land") and dropped in bits of "The Dark Knight Returns" to create this epic Batman story that was old, new, and also classic and timeless in its own new way.

So this is a bit like "The Dark Knight Rises" but for Thor instead of Batman - it is the third film in the series, and I don't know if they'll make any more "Thor" films after this one - Chris Hemsworth did say in a recent interview that he was getting a little tired of the character, but this third film did have a fresh approach, and it made him like playing Thor again.

My first response is that saying this is a fresh approach is an understatement, and this film far exceeds the previous "Thor" films in quality - mainly because this new director remembered that these movies are supposed to be FUN, and this really puts the "comic" back in "comic-book movie".  I guess some people might complain that this is supposed to be an action movie, not a comedy, but why can't it be both?

What happened between "Thor: The Dark World" and this film to explain the improvement, besides the hiring of a new director?  My bet is the success of "Guardians of the Galaxy", another Marvel film, but one that definitely did not take itself too seriously.  This new director clearly learned a lot about allowing the various characters to bounce off of each other, to have petty little personality conflicts and to allow them to always be trying to outsmart each other, because all of that leads to fun.  And also that's it's often just as enjoyable to watch the comic-book characters fail as it is to watch them succeed.  For the super-humans like Thor, this goes a long way to making them feel more human.

And obviously the Hulk is here too, I don't think I'm giving away any secrets, because he was in every single trailer and commercial, plus he's on the poster.  If I've got any problem with this film, it's that we all knew the identity of the intergalactic gladiator champion before we're supposed to - I wish they could have kept this as a surprise, but Hulk vs. Thor puts nerd asses in the seats, I get that.  If you noticed, both of these superheroes were absent from the "Captain America: Civil War" film, so this film potentially explains where they both were during the superhero Civil War.  It makes sense to take both of these characters off the game-board for that plot, because they're the two strongest heroes in the Marvel Universe - whichever team had one of them on it would win the Civil War easily, or if they were on opposing sides, they'd have to be the last ones standing and fight each other.  Without either of them involved, at least the outcome was in question.

Perhaps my sole NITPICK POINT is that we never really learn how the Hulk gets to the other planet in this film, because the last time we saw him, he was in an Avengers quinjet heading to a remote location on Earth.  There's sort of a weak explanation that "everything that gets lost" ends up on this planet, but that's not really an answer.   However, it fits with the Hulk's character that he wouldn't really understand or care about the science of how he got there, but it's still a glaring omission.

But this leads me to discuss the storylines that were combined to make this Thor/Hulk pastiche plot. Most notably, the Ragnarok storyline which has been done several times in the Thor comics, I think the most recent occurrence was in 2004 when the whole realm was destroyed, and the inhabitants of Asgard were moved to a new city which floated over Earth, above Oklahoma (the writer was clearly a fan of the band Three Dog Night...).  The comics go back to this well every few years, though, so they've come to regard Ragnarok like any other comic-book death, which is a constant cycle of death and rebirth.

But there's a fair amount of "Planet Hulk" here, too - this was a storyline where Hulk was exiled from Earth (for the second time) and heroes like Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Doctor Strange built a satellite that captured the Hulk and sent him light-years away to another planet, Sakaar, which turned out to be a gladiator-based culture, and as you might imagine, Hulk did very well there.  He had allies (Korg, Miek) and even falls in love and has a son.  The good times didn't last, though, and eventually Hulk returned to Earth with his "Warbound" allies to get revenge on the heroes who sent him there, and this was called "World War Hulk".

(The first time that the Hulk was exiled, I remember it was in Hulk #300, the first issue of his comic that I collected.  Doctor Strange banished him to the Crossroads, a place with a bunch of inter dimensional doorways so he could find a realm that he'd be happy in, the theory being that even a Hulk has to fit in somewhere.  The depiction of Sakaar in this film seems to be a reference to this, with all of its wormholes.  Also Doctor Strange appears in this film to aid with the dimension-hopping.)

But then I also have to mention another comic, the Contest of Champions.  (Technically, the Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions, another one of the first comics I ever read...) This was Marvel's first limited series, where heroes from around the world were kidnapped by two Elders of the Universe, divided into two teams and made to play a contest, seeking four parts of an orb, in order to settle a bet between Grandmaster and Death, for the life of Grandmaster's brother, the Collector.  This series featured one of the biggest mistakes in Marvel's history, because in this 4-part contest, the Grandmaster's team won twice and lost twice, which should have resulted in a tie - but somehow it was declared a victory for the Grandmaster.  Only it wasn't, because Death then claimed that the Collector could only be brought back to life if the Grandmaster took his place in Death's realm.  Someone had to write another story in an Avengers Annual to explain that the whole thing was a ruse on the part of the Grandmaster to steal Death's powers, and trick Death into exiling the Elders from her realm, which in essence made them immortal.  But I digress.

Then there's the origin of Hela, which is given a new twist here by explaining her relationship to Odin, which is different from the one in the comic books, where I think she's Loki's daughter or something.  This origin works much better, so to improve on Lee & Kirby's Asgard back-story is really an accomplishment!  But it goes back to the thing about cycles, how Asgard is always being destroyed and recreated over the millennia.  Anyway, the important thing is that Hela is back, and she's pissed - the realm of Hel is not enough for her, she wants Asgard and the other realms as well.

It's really amazing that these various storylines got stitched together the way they did to create a coherent whole - another (minor) sticking point was that I figured out the way to "save" Asgard about an hour before Thor did.  They really telegraphed it in the beginning of the film, just to make sure we wouldn't miss it.

Anyway, with 30 slots left in 2017, I've got just two more planned trips to the theater before the end of the year.  I have been going to the movies a lot these past couple of months, though - it's been a busy time with "Logan",  "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Wonder Woman", "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and this all coming out in the same calendar year.  (Throw in "Cars 3", "Despicable Me 3" and "Blade Runner 2049", that's been my big-screen agenda so far)  All of this time in the theater led me to create this joke, for my future stand-up routine:

I've been going out to the movies a lot lately, so much that my wife started to get suspicious, like she thought I might not be telling her the truth about where I was going, that I might be having an affair.  So when I got home last night she started asking me details about the movie that I saw.  I told her that the new "Thor" movie was really great, the way it worked the "Planet Hulk" storyline in with the destruction of Asgard was really cool, plus there were a lot of in-jokes and references that only a true comic-book fan would get, like the Grandmaster's game from the Contest of Champions limited series.  She ended up saying, "Why couldn't you just have an affair, like normal men?"

Also starring Tom Hiddleston (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Cate Blanchett (last seen in "Carol"), Benedict Cumberbatch (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Bobby"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Spotlight"), Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Nashville"), Idris Elba (last heard in "Finding Dory"), Karl Urban (last seen in "For the Love of Spock"), Tessa Thompson (last seen in "Creed"), Ray Stevenson (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World"), Zachary Levi (ditto), Tadanobu Asano (ditto), Rachel House (last heard in "Moana"), with the voices of Clancy Brown (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Taika Waititi, and cameos from Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill (last seen in "Escape Plan"), Matt Damon (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Stan Lee (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "Chef")

RATING: 9 out of 10 winged horses

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rush (2013)

Year 9, Day 311 - 11/7/17 - Movie #2,769

BEFORE: Day 3 of my mostly-Hemsworth week, as Chris Hemsworth carries over again from "The Huntsman: Winter's War" - I think you can probably guess where I'm heading with this, based on what film opened up last Friday.  I'll get there tomorrow.

I've still got 31 films to watch before the end of the year, but in one way this is sort of the last film, in that it was the last film added to my chain, to stretch things out so that I'd have exactly the right number of films to get me to the end.  I got this one to fill up the DVD with "In the Heart of the Sea" (both films with Chris Hemsworth, directed by Ron Howard) but it also slotted nicely here between two other Chris Hemsworth films and helped me JUST make my goal of 300 films for the year.

THE PLOT: The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One racing rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

AFTER: I'm keenly aware that Germans are one of the last few ethnic groups that you can safely make fun of these days - I'm of mostly German descent, more than 50% anyway, so I get a pass, but I think most people can joke about being German without getting into trouble.  Germans like to drink beer, Germans are overweight, Germans are overly rational, emotionless and super well-organized.  Who's going to argue with all of that, especially when those last few stereotypes also seem a little bit like compliments?  (I think you can still make fun of Brits and Aussies without encountering much resistance, basically the white ethnic groups, if you want to poke fun, go for it.)

So to me the Niki Lauda character here is much more interesting than James Hunt, who's supposed to be the focus of the movie.  But he drinks too much, sleeps around too much, and is generally reckless with his money and his safety - in other words, a typical bad-boy race-car driver in the devil-may-care 1970's.  Back before safe sex was even a thing, back before drunk driving was even illegal, you see what I'm getting at?  It was the 1970's and famous people were basically allowed to do whatever the heck they wanted.

So along comes Niki Lauda, the German (technically, Austrian, but come on, same thing...) who basically buys his way on to a racing team, and then uses the science of aerodynamics to make his car a few seconds faster than the others, and then he got even more attention by rubbing people the wrong way, and not drinking too much and sleeping around.  What kind of a freak was he?  Ah, the German kind of freak.  I understand this guy.  When he does fall in love he presents his case quite logically to the woman as to why he would make a better boyfriend than the other racers, and when he does propose, it's less along the lines of "I love you with all my heart" and more like, "Hey, we're working well together, so why not?"  Ah, another German romantic.  Who else would refer to his own wedding as a "family obligation"?

And when you take the emotion out of the equation, you're basically left with the rational (for him, anyway) need to win just to prove he's better than anybody else.  That's what drove Hitler, too, the belief that Germany was the best country in the world, and countries like France and Poland should be honored to be invaded and become part of the German empire.  Why wouldn't they want that?  Hitler also had very logical (if incredibly misguided) reasons why the Aryan race was the best, and all the others were inferior, and that's where all the trouble started.  But I digress.

Niki Lauda's also an interesting character because he's everything that James Hunt isn't, and thus grew this intense rivalry between two very different people who pushed each other toward winning races.  And when Lauda became badly burned in the German Grand Prix, it's implied that the accident happened because most of the drivers voted to race in the rain, while Lauda campaigned to cancel the race.  Of course, canceling the race would have benefited him in the points system, because he was leading in points on the annual circuit, and it would have been one less chance for Hunt and the other racers to catch up with him.

There's a lot I don't undertstand about car racing, mainly because I'm just not a car guy, but I also never understand how they keep track of which car is in the lead while some of them are taking pit stops.  (Don't the cars who pit get passed by other cars going around the track, so how could anyone possibly maintain their lead with all that stopping and starting?)  But I do understand that each driver gets a certain amount of points based on where they finish in each race, and so there's a winner for each race, and a grand champion overall once all the races are completed.  (I also don't understand the difference between Formula 3 and Formula 1, so any explanation that the film could have offered would have been appreciated)

Laura comes back after recovering from his burns, and he not only blames Hunt for his accident, but also credits him with giving him the motivation to recover.  So there's that classic German rationalization again - Germans can endure just about anything as long as they can figure out the proper angle to justify it.

Also starring Daniel Brühl (last seen in "Burnt"), Olivia Wilde (last seen in "Her"), Alexandra Maria Lara, Pierfrancesco Favino (last seen in "World War Z"), David Calder (last seen in "The World Is Not Enough"),  Natalie Dormer (last seen in "The Counsellor"), Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay (last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Alistair Petrie (last seen in "Rogue One"), Julian Rhind-Tutt (last seen in "Lucy"), Colin Stinton (last seen in "The Machinist"), Jamie de Courcey, Augusto Dallara, Josephine de la Baume, Patrick Balade, Tom Wlaschiha, Cristian Solimeno, James Norton, with archive footage of the real James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

RATING: 6 out of 10 skid marks

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Huntsman: Winter's War

Year 9, Day 310 - 11/6/17 - Movie #2,768

BEFORE: The Hollywood sexual harassment scandals are blowing up now, with more charges being filed every day against some of the industry's biggest producers/a-holes, and finally I'm seeing charges being brought against someone who I knew in college, who was a complete jerk then to me and others, so it seems his personality hasn't changed at all.  I sort of hate to admit to this, but I'm really going to enjoy watching him get blackballed, and lose all of his money and career opportunities.  Maybe I'm not a perfect person, because I do carry around spite for people who have wronged me - but then again, 30 years is a long time to wait for some payback, so why not let myself enjoy it? 

Chris Hemsworth carries over from "Snow White and the Huntsman", as do at least three other actors. 

THE PLOT: Eric and fellow warrior Sara, raised as members of Ice Queen Freya's army, try to conceal their forbidden love as they fight to survive the wicked intentions of both Freya and her sister Ravenna.

AFTER: Before the recent big Hollywood sex scandals, before Weinstein and before Cosby even, there was the Kristen Stewart scandal - she'd been dating Robert Pattinson (this was back when she was straight) and then started dating Rupert Sanders, who directed her in "Snow White and the Huntsman".  Once the news came out, Sanders found himself fired from both the franchise and his marriage to Liberty Ross, who also appeared in last night's film as Snow White's mother in the flashback scenes.  Kristen Stewart wasn't asked back for this prequel/sequel either, so someone faced the arduous task of writing a new Snow White franchise film without Snow White in it.  And the directing reins were given to a first-time director, so all of that goes to explain how we end up with the jumbled mess that is "The Huntsman: Winter's War".

So they created a new evil queen, Freya, who has powers related to ice and cold, and has to constantly keep her emotions in check, so any resemblance to Elsa from "Frozen" is purely coincidental (right...).  And she's connected to the origin of the Huntsman, now called Eric to distinguish him from the other huntsmen and huntswomen.  So in the prequel part we get to see where Eric came from, how he was raised and how he fell in love with Sara, the wife he was talking about in the first film.  But wait, he said she was dead, how can she be back in this film? 

Ah, but it's a fantasy film, and she was only MOSTLY dead.  Same goes for Queen Ravenna, who's also brought back thanks to the magic of the Magic Mirror.  The goal here is to recapture the mirror, which Snow White got rid of because it was making her have bad, nasty thoughts (did it tell her to sleep with the film's director?) so she brought it to the forest where the soldiers carrying it were killed, and it got seized by goblins, who love big shiny things. There's an implication here that perhaps the mirror caused everyone around it to fight each other, even if they were allies, but this concept never really got explored to any reasonable satisfying depth.

So Snow White's husband sends Eric the Huntsman back into the dark forest to locate the mirror, along with one of the dwarves from the first film and his half-brother, and they're joined by two more female dwarves, and also Eric's not-dead wife Sara, so we're back doing the Tolkien mixed-race quest through the forest again, right?  NITPICK POINT: Anyone who's ever played Dungeons and Dragons knows that most female dwarves have beards, and are almost undistinguishable from male dwarves.  But I guess that wouldn't go over too well in a Hollywood film.

The other scandal involved with this franchise is that they had regular-sized actors playing the dwarves in both films, so that theoretically takes jobs away from smaller actors - sizeism?  But it's a
little more clear to me this time that the visual effects used a combination of live-action tricks (like having the tall actors stand in holes, with the camera shooting them only from the waist up) and using little people as doubles for the long-shots.  So little people WERE employed, they probably just weren't paid as much.  But go ahead, find me some tiny actors who are as famous as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and such.  Really, you'd end up hiring Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Martin Klebba and a bunch of scrubs, so I see why they did what they did.  Progress is made in small steps, no pun intended.

But Freya ends up with the mirror, and uses it to bring Ravenna back (or some entity that looks just like her, we're never really sure...) and then it's all hands on deck with the huntsmen and the dwarves to take down both evil queens.  Defeat the evil power and restore peace and justice to the land, yada yada yada.

Also starring Charlize Theron (also carrying over from "Snow White and the Huntsman"), Jessica Chastain (last seen in "The Martian"), Emily Blunt (last seen in "Sicario"), Nick Frost (also carrying over from "Snow White and the Huntsman"), Sam Claflin (ditto), Rob Brydon (last seen in "Cinderella"), Alexandra Roach (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Sheridan Smith (last seen in "Hysteria"), Sam Hazeldine (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Sope Dirisu, Sophie Cookson (last seen in "Kingsman: The Secret Service"), Colin Morgan (last seen in "Legend"), Madeleine Worrall (last seen in "Paddington"), a quick cameo from Kristen Stewart, and the voices of Fred Tatasciore, Liam Neeson (last seen in "Ted 2").

RATING: 4 out of 10 chess pieces

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Snow White and the Huntsman

Year 9, Day 309 - 11/5/17 - Movie #2,767

BEFORE: Since I already covered Thumbelina, 3 Cinderella movies and 2 Peter Pan films, I might as well knock off these two Snow White films before I run out of slots. Jamie Blackley carries over from "Irrational Man", where he had a large role as Roy, the boyfriend character, and he has a much smaller role in this film, but it still counts.  This film kicks off my mostly-Hemsworth week, with 6 out of 7 movies having one of the Hemsworth brothers in it.  First four with Chris, then 2 with Liam.

THE PLOT: In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

AFTER: I suppose it shouldn't be shocking, when you consider how much money the two "Lord of the Rings" trilogies brought in, that there would be a lasting after-effect.  This revamp of the Snow White story seems quite Tolkien-ized, from the trek through the "dark forest" (Mirkwood) to the banding together of feisty little people (dwarves/hobbits, same diff, right?) to defeat the evil power and its black army.  The Huntsman isn't given a name here, but it might as well be Schmaragon or Schmoromir.

Though it's an interesting twist to a Tolkien-like tale to have an evil queen, obviously that's retained from the original Snow White story, but I can't think of one evil woman in Tolkien stories, they were always benevolent elf-queens or noble female warriors.  But women deserve equal time in both the hero and villain roles, no?  So we've got both here tonight, with Snow White and Ravenna.  Ravenna's clearly got an axe to grind (figuratively) against all men, it seems, referring to some string of bad relationships that presumably drove her into sorcery, while the Huntsman axe to grind is much more literal.

Actually, now that I read the plot summary it seems that Ravenna's mother cast a spell on her, allowing her to retain her youth and beauty by draining the life-energy from other women, leaving them old and desiccated.  Once she seduces the king and takes over as queen, the land also seems to suffer, becoming dark and diseased.  She leaves only Snow White alive from the old regime, just in case she needs her royal blood for something - and then, sure enough, she learns from her Magic Mirror that she can stay young forever, just by eating Snow White's heart, instead of the ones she usually eats from live birds.  (Ewww....)

But Snow White escapes into that Dark Forest, and in a twist on the original tale, where the Huntsman was assigned to bring her into the forest to kill her, here the Queen demands that he navigate the Dark Forest to bring her back.  Together they encounter a village full of women who have disfigured themselves so that the queen won't try to drain their beauty, so it seems there's always a loophole on a lot of these fairy-tale rules.  The Mirror's prophecies are equally enigmatic, since it tells the Queen that Snow White is destined to be both her salvation and her ruin.  So, it's not much better than a Magic 8-Ball in that sense.  Answer hazy, try again later.

They then meet 8 dwarves on their journey - that's right, 8 - and they don't have the traditional Disney names like Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey and such.  Here they're named Beith, Muir, Gort, Nion, Duir, Coll, Quert and Gus, because that makes SO much difference.  There's an appearance by a magical stag that goes absolutely nowhere, and then there's a twist on that whole poisoned apple thing.  There's something of a love triangle that develops between Snow White, her old boyfriend William and the Huntsman, and it's sort of left open as to which one she belongs with, because there are probably people in the audience rooting for each of them.

I'd like to know what technique was used to make full-sized actors appear to be the size of dwarves - it wasn't the same stuff that they did in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, which was allegedly just shooting angles and perspective tricks.  Some other special effects trickery was involved here, but I'll be darned if I can figure it out.  Maybe they had all of those actors kneeling down, with phony shoes on their knees, and the bottom parts of their legs got green-screened out?  Just a guess.

Also starring Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Into the Wild"), Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "The Heart of the Sea"), Charlize Theron (last heard in "Kubo and the Two Strings"), Sam Claflin (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"), Sam Spruell (last seen in "Legend"), Ian McShane (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Bob Hoskins (last seen in "Sweet Liberty"), Ray Winstone (last seen in "Noah"), Nick Frost (last heard in "The Boxtrolls"), Eddie Marsan (last seen in "Concussion"), Toby Jones (last seen in "Ever After: A Cinderella Story"), Johnny Harris (last seen in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"), Brian Gleeson, Vincent Regan, Liberty Ross, Noah Huntley (last seen in "Dracula Untold"), Lily Cole (last seen in "The Zero Theorem"), Rachael Stirling (last seen in "Centurion"), Hattie Gotobed (last seen in "World War Z"), Raffey Cassidy (last seen in "Tomorrowland"), Xavier Atkins (last seen in "Philomena"), Mark Wingett (last seen in "Mr. Turner")

RATING: 5 out of 10 shards of black glass