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I made a special effort to see The Dark Tower before I departed for Finland, because I was that excited about seeing Idris Elba be the gunslinger. Not that I’ve got that many gunslinger feelings, you should realize. I’ve never read the novels, because I’m just not that much of a Stephen King fan. But I am that much of an Idris Elba fan.

This seems to be a movie that a lot of people have some really strong feelings about, and I just don’t. Maybe because I didn’t read the books. I went in without any expectations. I don’t regret the price of my ticket or the snack food I bought since I hadn’t bothered to eat breakfast. I had an enjoyable ninety minutes and I felt appropriately entertained.

And to be honest, I don’t really have many strong opinions on this film either way, other than gosh I really love Idris Elba, and Matthew McConaughey is finally playing the evil scumbag character I always thought he had in him. Flagg (aka the Man in Black) probably could have been more evil and scummy, but there’s a limit to what you can do in a PG-13 movie. The mutual hateboner was pretty great to witness, and I bet they were both having one hell of a time.

With most films that I either really love or really hate, I can examine what about them made me feel that way. I can’t really do that here. The script for The Dark Tower ticks along and doesn’t drag. It could probably use some more developmental moments, give us a bit more time with Roland or Flagg, but I can’t really pick out anything in particular. The dialogue was serviceable as far as I can recall, and Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughy are both good enough actors that they can own just about anything anyway.

The plot is a simple portal fantasy: we have Jake, who has been catching glimpses into Roland’s world. Because of this, he’s almost taken away by some of Flagg’s henchmen, but he escapes and uses a portal to go to Roland’s world. Jake and Roland meet up, and Roland realizes he can use Jake’s information to find Flagg. Ultimately, Roland has to choose between his vengeance on Flagg and fulfilling his purpose as a gunslinger.

The only one thing I can pick out that really has a problem in The Dark Tower is the women. In that there aren’t really many to speak of, and most of them get done in rather horribly by Flagg. Like most action movies these days, it runs entirely on daddy issues, and makes no bones about it. Women are pretty much set dressing and angst-fuel and that’s it.

So if you have objections to portal fantasies about a special kid whose very special and becomes super important to the indefatigable badass character of the show, sure, it’ll probably grate on you. But if you want to see Idris Elba being awesome and having some delightful fish-out-of-water moments when he’s on Earth, you’ll probably have fun like I did. I’m not sorry I went out of my way to see this movie, but I doubt I’ll go out of my way to see it again unless I’ve got some laundry to fold.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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To me, Dunkirk feels really different from a lot of Christopher Nolan’s other movies. The plot and characters are basically incidental to how the film feels, the look and sound of it. The dialogue is almost nonexistent; I think if Nolan could have gotten the feeling he wanted without anyone ever speaking a word, he would have. The soundtrack’s pretty simple; there’s always a background ticking, as if a clock, that progressively speeds up as the movie continues on. The film’s made of three timelines that slowly collapse down to a single point. There are a lot of moments that have a lot of layers to them where the it feels like Nolan’s trusting the audience to pick things up.

Let me explain what I mean, here. The best examples of this are toward the end of the film, where the older men (Mark Rylence as Mr. Dawson and John Nolan as “Blind Man”) interact with the surviving younger soldiers. Mr. Dawson makes the understated point that first, they’ve got a job to do and they’re going to do it, and second, getting people out alive is sometimes the best you can hope for. The blind man at the end, giving blankets to the soldiers, has this interaction: (Might not be quite verbatim)

Blind man: You did good work.

Soldier: All we did is survive.

Blind man: That’s enough.

And then later one soldier comments to another that the old man wouldn’t look them in the eye, obviously projecting his own shame at the retreat onto him. What struck me about that in particular were that Nolan trusted the audience to have gotten that point without needing one of the characters to argue with him—and that both the old men were by grace of their age people who had lived through World War I. It’s another thing the film didn’t feel the need to state, but it’s powerful once you realize it.

There’s a lot of understated, chewy, emotional stuff in there that makes the movie feel more like a poem than a story. It’s different, and interesting, and very powerful at moments.

Which is what makes the last five minutes or so downright bizarre. Here, this bit is a spoiler, so highlight it if you want to read: [SPOILER] Tom Hardy’s pilot character runs out of fuel, and then while gliding, succeeds in shooting down a German fighter before it can kill the Admiral played by Kenneth Branagh, take a victory lap over the beach while soldiers cheer for him, manually put down his landing gear, land perfectly behind enemy lines, and then stand there like a badass while his plane (which he’s set on fire) burn and the German soldiers come to capture him. All intercut with one of the soldiers reading lines from Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech.[/SPOILER]

After the rest of the movie, that seemed… shockingly bombastic. Tonally discordant. There’s also a bit where you can really tell one of the planes is CGI and it looks remarkably terrible.

There are some other issues I take with the film. I think during the entire time, I saw one non-white soldier, a black man among the French troops. I point this out as an issue, because not all of the British and French troops at Dunkirk were white—here’s a great Twitter thread about it, and a good NYT article. In a movie where the visuals were everything, this is perhaps even more important, because the simple existence of non-white soldiers or crews on the small boats, however briefly seen, would have been striking. This becomes a problem because Chris Nolan (rightly or wrongly) has a reputation for his movies being as accurate as possible (think about the “they made new science to simulate the black hole in Interstellar” thing), with attention to detail. Some people are going to come out of Dunkirk thinking it’s a good representation of that piece of history. (And the history book written to accompany it apparently makes not effort to correct this.) It encourages the continued belief that people of color simply didn’t exist in massive events they took part in.

On a slightly sillier level, it also honestly confused me after a while, because pretty much all of the actors who played soldiers look exactly the same. They were all thin white guys with dark brown hair in the same haircuts. Most are not given names. I’m guessing this is a statement about the interchangeability of the soldiers… but there were times in the film where we did need to be able to tell them apart, at least a little. When they were shouting at each other and one was getting threatened and so on. When Cillian Murphy showed up, it really distracted me from what was going on because I couldn’t figure out if I’d missed the bit of the story that told me how he got where Mr. Dawson found him, or what was even happening.

All in all, I think it’s a movie that’s really worth seeing, because it’s grim and beautiful in how it visually addresses the ideas of cowardice and bravery and hopelessness and their relationship to survival. Just don’t go in expecting gripping characters or snappy dialogue or a challenging plot. That’s not the kind of film it is.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a film set in a colorful, utterly bananas space opera universe, which is unfortunately ill-served by both Luc Besson’s direction and writing, though these problems pale in comparison to its repulsive fuckboy of a protagonist, Valerian.

(For the short version of this post via Twitter rant, see this thread.)

I didn’t go into Valerian with much in the way of expectations. I haven’t read the source material, though my housemate who has was tentatively excited about the film. Since I knew it was going to be directed by Luc Besson, I went in hoping for something as fun and charming and weird as The Fifth Element, under the assumption that it would also come with a helping of racism and sexism. Well, it is weird and colorful, if neither fun nor charming—and I’m sad to report it delivered on the racism and sexism as well.

The story is pretty simple: Major Valerian and his partner Sergeant(?) Laureline are federal agents sent on a mission to retrieve stolen property, a cute little animal known as a Mul Converter. It’s the last of its species, since the supposedly uninhabited-by-sentient-life planet of Mul was destroyed almost thirty years ago. Of course, from the start of the movie, we know that Mul actually had a thriving civilization of tall, thin people made out of glitter, called Pearls, on it. Valerian and Laureline bring the Mul Converter back to Alpha (the city of a thousand planets) and find out that a strange radiation zone that kills everyone who enters it has begun expanding at the center of the city. Their investigation of this mystery leads them deep into a cover up that someone has an interest in protecting with deadly force.

The plot sounds interesting, right? Or at least reasonably so for a scifi effects spectacle. There’s some holes in it here and there, but I thought at least the structure avoided a lot of pitfalls that tend to come with far future or space opera scifi, where things get too arcane for the audience to be able to build an understanding of the universe while tracking a convoluted plot. Unfortunately, the actors stumble through the film, delivering their lines like they’ve all been shot up with horse tranquilizers, with the only relief the occasional spittle-flecked moment of self-righteous yelling before the monotony returns.

If that had been the only problem, it would have been almost forgivable, because the background is satisfactorily bananapants for a space opera world, and unlike Jupiter Ascending, it wasn’t actively boring. However, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has a major problem that Jupiter Ascending didn’t, in that the protagonist is vomitously unlikable and tries to pull the plot off course at every turn.

See, the movie starts with agents Valerian and Laureline having a… weird encounter where they’re both in bathing suits and sort of rolling around and wrestling, at which point Valerian embarks on his ceaseless campaign to get Laureline to marry him. Their relationship made absolutely no sense from the get-go, and veered immediately into intensely creepy territory: we’re basically talking a higher-ranked coworker persistently bugging his lower-ranked partner for a relationship. It was beyond gross. Worse, at basically every turn, something would happen in the plot, and before anyone could react or move forward, Valerian would immediately twist the situation into why won’t you marry me Laureline.

This was not a romance. This was the skeevy, passive-aggressive stalking of a fuckboy who believes he’s been friend-zoned. It made my skin crawl. And from what my houemate has now told me about the graphic novels, it really feels like what got put onto film wasn’t so much Valerian and Laureline as fanfiction written by someone who fantasized all through high school about fucking Laureline. I am not here to shame anyone for their wish fulfillment fanfic; I’ve written plenty myself. But I still know it’s not something that deserves a multimillion dollar film budget and a wide theatrical release.

Valerian’s aggressive skeeviness covers the expected sexism angle nicely, with the added bonus of Valerian’s trip through the red light district, where in the far future we’re still apparently still catering exclusively to straight male tastes. There’s a burlesque performance by a shapechanging alien named Bubble that pivots neatly from the sexism and into the racism. Bubble is played by Rihanna and for all her extremely short screen time, she’s the best developed character in the entire film. She gets an actual background, and motivations. After revealing her actual alien form, Valerian asks her to go back to “normal”—as in her super sexy Rihanna form. She also [SPOILER FOLLOWS, HIGHLIGHT IF YOU WANT TO KNOW] inexplicably dies after helping Valerian in a way that feels like a complete afterthought, though before her death she’s honored to get her skills as an artist validated by Valerian. Megabarf. Bubble helps Valerian rescue Laureline from a group of apparently “savage” aliens who [SPOILER] want to eat her brain, and the coding on the costuming and aesthetic for the aliens is pretty goddamn 1940s jungle witch doctor set. So that was nice.

Valerian also suffers from a problem many big budget scifi movies have, though not as badly as Jupiter Ascending did—it contains several action sequences that add absolutely nothing to the plot, and really feel like they got tucked in because they’ve gone the requisite number of pages and we need some more explosions. It’s particularly notable during the sequences that were almost entirely CGI; I find those extremely difficult to follow, action-wise, and mentally tune them out. The VFX department is showing off in a way that the human eye can’t follow and the brain can’t care about. For example, there’s an interminable battle sequence over the planet Mul that I couldn’t have given less of a shit about because it’s unclear why the battle is being fought, who is fighting it, or what the actual stakes are.

That said, if you could just surgically remove the title character entirely, this would be an almost enjoyable film. The opening sequence, which shows Alpha being built up from its humble beginnings as an Earth-orbiting space station, was lovely, and hopeful, and fun. Too bad the rest of the movie couldn’t live up to that promise.

You’ll notice that I keep bringing up Jupiter Ascending in this review. The movies are very comparable, I think. They’re both delightfully weird space opera universes that get crushed under the weight of their own film flaws. Jupiter Ascending had great characters and then got crushed under the weight of its shit pacing; its greatest sin was being boring. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had absolute shit for characters to serve its mediocre-but-I’m-not-expecting-great-things-really-at-this-point plot. Both of them have left me frustrated and angry because I can see the bones beneath of what could have been the space opera movie we deserve, the film that would launch us to a place beyond Star Wars. But if you held a gun to my head and told me I had to watch one of them again, I’d have to go with Jupiter Ascending because I could at least nap through the boring bits and enjoy Jupiter being charming.

 

And a small side rant:

One thing I can’t help noticing is that in both of these films, the screenwriting credit goes solely to the directors. It’s endlessly frustrating that in an industry where story is supposedly king, there’s a real desire to make people whose primary skillset and interest is in writing those stories disappear. Maybe there would have been no saving either film, but their most fatal flaws (Jupiter Ascending’s pacing, Valerian’s shitty protagonist and paper thin characters) are just the sort of things that writers, or at least good writers, focus on.

Hire some fucking screenwriters already. And listen to what they say.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Honestly, I wasn’t going to bother with this movie. I’m really, really tired of Spider-Man movies. This is the third reboot of the character, and the second reboot left me so incredibly underwhelmed that the only pit deeper in my soul was already occupied by Tobey Maguire’s goth hair in Spider-Man 3. Which is sad, because Spider-Man 2 has pretty much been my favorite superhero movie ever – thanks to Dr. Otto Octavian. The only thing that got me to the theater for this one was that it had RDJ in it, and I’m still not tired of Iron Man.

Which is why, going into the theater, I jokingly called this movie Iron Man 4.

Readers, I was wrong on so many levels. God help me, I finally like a Spider-Man movie again. And I think I might like this one more than Spider-Man 2. We’ll have to see if it has the staying power in my brain.

I think part of what helps is that Spider-Man: Homecoming is not an origin story. It dives straight in with Peter already knowing all about his powers and how to use them, and is more about him trying to find the balance in his life between superhero and teenager, figuring out how he relates to the wider world. So in that sense, it’s more of a coming of age story. He’s got the same trouble juggling responsibilities that we saw in Spider-Man 2, but this go around, Peter’s still in high school. And the crazy thing here is that the movie is populated by actors that really do seem believable as high schoolers. And since it’s basically a current year story, Peter’s in a science/engineering magnet school, which is a great twist on the social dynamic. He’s not bullied for being a nerd because they’re all nerds. Which means the focus gets to be more on Peter and the responsibilities of relationships versus the responsibilities of power, rather than beating the incredibly dead horse of the jock/nerd divide,

I think it’s probably also the most racially diverse MCU movie we’ve seen to date. There’s a great interview with Tony Revelori (Flash in Spider-Man Homecoming) about how Peter Parker’s school nemesis has been reworked here, and if you scroll down there’s a picture of Peter’s peer group. Which looks like an actual group of kids you might see in a big city high school. I also really adored Peter’s best friend Ned. Zendaya as MJ was delightful.

Between Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, the MCU is really hitting it out of the park this year. Hoping they’ll keep it going with Thor: Ragnorak, because the scripting on these last two movies has been a cut above the previous few offerings. (Civil War, I’m looking at you. I love you, but you’ve got some problems.)

So, definitely worth seeing. It’s a movie that’s really having some fun, and it far exceeds what the trailer tells you it’s going to be.

And now I want to talk about spoiler-y things! Because that’s the only way to fully explain why I loved this movie as much as I did.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Finally I got to see this movie. And it was everything advertised on the tin, bigger and sillier and more explodey than Furious 7. These have now become my favorite superhero movies. Sorry Marvel. But while none of Dom’s team runs around in colorful spandex, there’s absolutely no pretense at them being ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The sly wink at Dwayne Johnson’s power of super strength and toughness tells us what this really is. And they’re superhero movies that have no pretensions about being serious, but still manage to have a solid emotional core because goddamnit, the cast is still utterly solid.

(Spoilers, obvs.)

I could basically write a thousand words that’s nothing but high-pitched squeeing, but let me tell you my eight favorite things:

  1. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) coaching his daughter’s soccer team and leading the girls in a haka. If you are having a bad day, this will instantly cure your sadness.
  2. Deckard (Jason Statham) doing an extended action sequence in which he takes out a bunch of goons in an airplane while juggling the world’s most adorable baby. I did not even know that Jason Statham + Baby was a combination that worked, but now I need it in my life.
  3. Deckard and Hobbs having a whirlwind romance in which they realize they have basically the same back story and bond adorably over it.
  4. Tej gets to drive a tank, okay.
  5. Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) is still in, and I love how she deals with both Tej and Roman trying to get with her.
  6. The villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron) is a super manipulative white woman with blonde faux-dreds. (Seriously, she looks like she got imported directly from Boulder.) She comes in pretending to be an innocent lady just having car trouble to hook in Dom, and then gets creepier from there — while still playing the “this is your choice to make” card constantly to force Dom to be complicit in everything that happens. Considering her opponents are a racially diverse team with a token white guy (Jason Statham) (not counting Nobody or Little Nobody here) it feels like deliciously pointed commentary.
  7. Deckard and Hobbs in prison and metaphorically pissing on each other’s shoes is also delightful. The level at which this movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and pokes fun at itself, is high in this scene.
  8. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still taking absolutely zero shit, and while she does not kick anyone’s ass while wearing high heels this time, she feeds someone to a submarine propeller and it’s acceptably satisfying.

You’ll note that I don’t really mention Dom, because he’s… kind of there. He’s the motivating force for everything happening, and while I understand that his Wrinkled Brow of Stern Manpain was necessary, it didn’t engage me the same way watching Deckard and Hobbs yell at each other did. Sorry, Dom. The manly man hero is often the least interesting character out there.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 better than the first GotG movie, which I already liked a heck of a lot. It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s unabashedly space opera. It’s also got a lot of payoff for some emotional stuff that got set up in the first movie, particularly the relationship with Peter Quill and Yondu. And while in GotG 1, I never really felt like we got a firm grounding on why the team of misfits came together, this at least showed us why the stay together.

Spoilers within, so read cautiously.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Assassin’s Creed is utterly, delightfully bonkers as a movie. It’s really damning the movie with faint praise to say it’s probably the best video game film I’ve ever seen, but that’s one statement that it feels very fair to make.

In Assassin’s Creed, Michael Fassbender plays a being of pure manpain named Cal, who after being executed for murder finds that it was all a massive fake-out. He’s now prisoner in a facility run by the Templars, an organization so secretive that they put their logo on everything, including the outside of the giant building they own in Spain. The Templars also really hate the fact that humans have free will. Templar scientist Sofia (Marion Cotillard) uses Cal to search for the free-will McGuffin “the Apple of Eden” by using his “genetic memory” to make him relive the life of his ancestor Aguilar from 500 years ago and sticking him on the end of a giant mechanical arm that shakes him around like a ragdoll.

The concept of the film is quite stupid. I think, honestly, it’s meant to be stupid. You either nope out of the film because your disbelief can’t handle this level of suspension after the first ten minutes, or get over the stupidness threshold of the plot. At which point you are free to enjoy the absolutely batshit ride that involves Michael Fassbender being flung around at the end of a mechanical arem while loudly singing, or very memorably, stripping off his shirt for a protracted sequence for no reason other than he presumably knew I would be watching the movie. (Thank you Mr. Fassbender, by the way.)

And it’s a very pretty batshit ride, by the way. There’s an excellent contrast in the cool pallet of colors used in the “modern” sequences versus the warm in the memories. All of the assassin parkour nonsense is a pleasure to watch. This is a film that’s easy to enjoy on purely aesthetic levels, particularly when those aesthetic levels keep you from screaming every time the nonsensical genetic memory thing gets brought up.

I haven’t played the Assassin’s Creed games myself, though now I’m a bit tempted to try. The friends I saw the movie with reported that they were very pleased that the movie used the mythos but had its own story rather than trying to directly rehash one of the games. They were also happy to report that the modern-time sequences that insisted on punctuating the lengthy sequences of Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed free running through fake medieval Spain were at least less boring than the ones in the game. So good for that.

Looking back on the movie, I’m pretty sure that it passes the Bechdel-Wallace test handily, thanks to a couple of the villains having a chat about their plans for humanity. I was actually pretty surprised just how many women there were in the movie. The apparent head of the evil organization is an older woman; Sofia is in charge of the project that’s using Cal and the other descendants of assassins. Maria (Labed) is a joy to watch, and I’d like to know when we’re going to get her movie. Michelle H. Lin gets a pretty significant chunk of screen time in the modern-day bits of the movie. The cast also wasn’t entirely Wonderbread white, and I want to call on Michael K. Williams as Moussa as a particular favorite.

It’s not a good movie, but it’s definitely a fun movie, and in its own way felt less soulless than a lot of scifi action movies I’ve watched lately. It is beautifully and unabashedly what it is.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Another transatlantic flight, another round of movies watched because I can’t sleep and find it utterly impossible to work on my laptop in the extremely limited space available in economy.

The Girl With All the Gifts: This movie shows the British still reign supreme in zombie cinema. And this one with a twist, where the main character isn’t a survivor, but a second generation infected girl who may be the key to the development of a vaccine for the infection—if the involved survivors can be reconciled to treating her as an object rather than a person. Weird, gorgeous, creepy, and utterly heartbreaking. Do yourself a favor and see this movie. It’s already out in the UK, and should be released in the US in February. If there’s any justice in the world, this film will get nominated for a Hugo, but I fear the confusion over release dates (2016 in the UK, 2017 in the US) and the fact that it’s not a major franchise will probably scuttle its chances.

The Secret Life of Pets: I mostly liked this for how all of the cats acted, not going to lie–particularly Max’s friend with that immortal and fundamentally cat like, “As your friend you should know I don’t care about you or your problems.” The plot, such as it was, didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense and just had the characters careening around between random bits. Glad I didn’t bother seeing it in the theater, but I’d still take this one over Frozen any day of the week. Plus, thank you for a dog movie that doesn’t involve a protracted fart joke scene.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015): I wanted to like this, because I’m honestly a bit trash for romance stories of this sort. The problem was, I didn’t really get an impression of chemistry between any of the characters. (And I really, really didn’t get why everyone was so about Bathsheba, other than Frank wanting her money.) So it was a decent enough movie, but I just felt disappointed because I wanted more.

Edge of Winter: A thriller that could be subtitled “the dangers of toxic masculinity.” A divorced, emotionally volatile dad takes his kids out to teach them how to be men (eg: shooting a gun, making fun of each other for crying) and then escalates to outright kidnapping when he finds out that their mom and stepdad are planning to move. There’s some good acting, it’s got a deliberate and creepy buildup, and the realism of the situation really adds to it. But goddamn the score was aggravating. For example, we hear the dad tell his son, “listen to that, you can hear every little sound” in the woods as the soundtrack goes BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Stop trying to help.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I started watching this movie because it was late, I had two hours of tutoring to go, access to Netflix, and it looked like I wouldn’t have to think about it too hard. Basically, I was right. If something that’s basically an hour and a half long episode of Law & Order: SVU but with a slight (if predictable) twist sounds appealing, it’s not a bad way to go. If you’ve had enough of police procedurals that involve serial murder and/or rape, then skip it. Simple enough. (Also, there will be more mentions of rape and some discussion later in this review, so also feel free to skip.)

The plot is pretty basic. Detective Nick Hopewell (Aaron Ashmore) is a new transfer to Homicide and on everyone’s shit list because he helped Internal Affairs takes down some crooked cops in his last department. He meets crime scene cleaner Morgan Sher (Devin Kelly) when she shows up early to the scene of a murder. Morgan shows an uncanny understanding of the crime scene and finds a useful clue that Nick’s dickish partner wants to ignore. As more murders occur, Nick teams up with Morgan to try to find the killer, and they dive deeper into the increasingly creepy relationship between the victims, who were once accused of being involved in some kind of rape cult.

I’m not going to spoil the little twist, but I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself based on the above summary. It’s decently acted and shot; nothing really jumped out at me for good or ill. And I will say that it contained one very SVU-esque exchange that I was glad for:

Nick: I don’t think Adam really likes women.

Morgan: Well, I don’t think anyone who rapes women likes them.

Nick: Good point.

Nice reminder to the audience that rape isn’t about desire. Swept Under has that same problematic internal conflict that I see in SVU, where there’s an uncomfortable tug of war between media once again telling stories on the bodies of women—with bonus harmful stereotype perpetuation—while still having startling, marked moments of clearly stating that rape is not the fault of the victim and the importance of consent. (I recently read a piece that argued the worst part of SVU is that it lives in a universe where rape culture doesn’t exist and the police actually take rape seriously while pretending to be reality-based.) SVU has had its better and much worse moments at this (eg the false rape accusation episodes) and it’s weirdly one of my comfort watch shows even though I know it’s deeply problematic. Swept Under probably falls on the middling to better end of that SVU spectrum, for what it’s worth.

Though notably, this movie fails to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, which many SVU episodes do by grace of having more than one female cast member. Morgan was awash in a sea of white dudes. (The one tech-savvy African-American police officer was a welcome island of color in a limitless field of Miracle Whip for the twenty seconds he was on screen.)

Really, the problem that I had with Swept Under was that it goes from Nick wanting to work with Morgan because of her insight to him also wanting to date her. I really could have done without that subplot, and it was entirely unnecessary in my opinion—even to the end of the movie. If nothing else, it perpetuates the bullshit idea that men and women can’t manage to work together without it being some kind of sexual thing, and that relationships built on mutual trust and caring aren’t strong enough unless they’re romantic. It also really bothered me how Nick pivoted from respecting Morgan’s insight to being insistent about dating her—it started feeling like that was his real reason for wanting to work with her.

Ugh.

Other than that, Morgan and Nick were likeable enough characters, and I don’t regret crocheting a significant portion of a scarf while watching it. Plus it has a title that’s reaching me levels of badness, so I’ve got to love that. Solid Meh+.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Jason Bourne is in a foreign country doing things that guys do when they have manpain. He just wants to be left alone. Then a shadowy part of the US government, headed by [old white guy] decides to do something sketchy that sets up the overly convoluted B-plot and also decides that this time he is going to get Jason Bourne. [competent female character] who assisted Bourne in the previous movie, has something important to tell him. Just then a government hit squad shows up and chases Bourne and [competent female character] through [country that has been in the news recently enough that American audiences might recognize it]. Bourne is about to get away before the government spooks kill [competent female character] in front of him.

Now Jason Bourne is really peeved. Bourne embarks on a path of revenge and self-discovery in which he cleverly avoids the shadowy government agents while the familiar score by John Powell and David Buckley plays. [new competent female character], a government agent introduced slightly earlier in the movie as helping out [old white guy], gets put in charge of running the op to capture Bourne. Because gosh darnit, this time they are going to get Bourne to come in. For really reals.

Some stuff happens with the B-plot, which involves [current buzzwords such as “social media” and “privacy” or maybe “kale”]. No one really cares, because the B-plot is overly complex and poorly explained, and really just exists to get [old white guy] into a position where Bourne can foil his plot, confront him, and then shoot him.

Afterwards, Bourne finds out a little bit more about his past and gets in a fight with [agent from yet another secret government program that no one has heard of before now], who wants to murder Bourne because he has been ordered to do so and also maybe because murdering Jason Bourne sounds like a great way to spend an evening. There is an extended car chase, things blow up, and Jason Bourne limps away with his newly acquired [information about his past that is still not quite enough] while his opponent does not.

[new competent female character] attempts to contact him, and Bourne lets her know that he has been stalking her, only it’s cool instead of creepy because he’s an ex-spook rather than a sexual predator, and that he would really please like to be left alone this time. Or else. He means it.

A new remix of Moby’s Extreme Ways starts to play. Roll credits.

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Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’m still trying to figure out how to tell you about Arrival. What I can say other than it’s a movie that made me laugh with sheer delight as the plot came together, and then cry because at the end of a really awful week (election week) it made me feel hope for humanity. You really ought to see it.

But it’s hard for me to tell you in more detail what I liked about Arrival without seriously spoiling the plot, and it’s one where I want you to go into it unspoiled. I want you to have that same moment I did, when you realize where things are going, and it just makes you happy.

So what can I tell you?

The movie is absolutely gorgeous, for one. The shot where you first get a real look at the alien ship as it floats over the clouds in Montana is majestic and eerie. It’s not an effects/action extravaganza – a rare thing for scifi films these days, it feels like – but what they have is so well done. The moment where the characters go from Earth gravity to the strange, tilted gravity of the ship is eerie as well, an unexpected shift of perception.

Really, the inverted gravity of the alien ship rolls in with the plot, the shifting narrative to show the necessity of changing how we look at and understand the events of the film. The main character of the film, Louise (Amy Adams) is a linguist, so she’s very concerned with what is said versus what is understood, bridging perceptions. The explanations of what she does and why (such as why building a mutual vocabulary using written language is better than with spoken) are all fascinating – particularly to someone who isn’t very familiar with linguistics.

I also genuinely liked the character Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner in a rare role where wears glasses to let us all know he’s an intellectual. Donnelly starts out as very cocky and sure of himself, but once Louise convinces him that communication is key and the best approach isn’t mathematical, he throws himself behind her efforts one hundred percent. It’s a character dynamic that’s particularly rare considering the gender split, and very enjoyable for that reason.

One of the main questions of the film is how humanity will deal with the arrival of aliens, a generally peaceful first contact. Will we come together, or will it tear us apart around already existent fault lines? The only fault that I can really find with the film is that after building up an intense and complicated international situation, the third act solution is a little too simple, a little too pat. The time travel bit of the story has the same sort of problems that many time travel plots have, which is that in the moment, it’s delightful, and then later as you think about it, the problems of a deterministic universe become apparent.

Of course, it’s a film that asks a lot more questions, about relationships, about what sort of journey makes the consequences worth it – about if you had a chance to do everything differently, would you still live the same life, even knowing how it all ends? These are all big, crunchy, human questions, and it explores them beautifully.

Full disclosure, I haven’t read the Ted Chiang story that the move is adapted from, Story of Your Life. After what I’ve heard from my fellow podcast hosts on Skiffy and Fanty, it’s definitely on my list.

If you need a beautiful, hopeful film, one that reminds you scifi film can be something other than explodey or tinged with existential horror, see Arrival. It’s probably the most thoughtful film scifi I’ve seen since Her.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I made it my goal to watch and review one new movie per week, so I wouldn’t have a recurrence of the complete lack of any content I had in September and October. Of course, little did I know that my first weekend post-goal setting would be November 4 & 5, which offered up a smorgasbord of movies I could not even give less of a shit about (pack led by Jack Reacher) with a seasoning of movies I refuse to watch – let alone give any money to – on the principle of the thing. (I’m looking at yo, Dr. Strange and The Accountant.)

HBO Now came to my rescue. I have cable for internet but don’t actually have it for TV, but my household decided that each of us ponying up $5 a month was worth getting access to HBO. I wanted it for the Westworld TV show, since I watched the movie last month for my Patreon subscribers and thought it had some really interesting concepts. I’ve watched the first episode now and I’m really excited to see more. I’m going to try to find the time to write about the episodes as I go, I think.

But anyway, this week’s movie.

Vice is a super expensive resort populated by androids (in this world, called cydroids for reasons I never really figured out) who get their memories reset every 24 hours. The patrons of the resort are invited to do anything they want to the androids. And then things go haywire, when one android goes rogue.

Familiar, right? More Westworld TV show than movie, since it’s not about a theme park eating its patrons. And rather than an old west theme park, Vice is deliberately a setting that’s contemporary to the world in which it resides. The movie actually opens with two patrons doing a bank robbery – it’s pretty clearly supposed to be live action GTA, including all the violence against women. With that setting, there’s a little bit of commentary on society. The cop Roy (Thomas Jane) talks about how people practice to commit crimes in Vice and then do them in the real world, particularly violent crimes against women. And it’s explicitly stated that the resort can really do what it wants because it brings in about half the city’s tax revenue. Now there’s a societal implication that could have had some real meat on it.

But the focus instead is on the android Kelly (Ambyr Childers), who through a glitch is able to remember at least portions of her supposedly erased past, most of it involving being murdered by various guests. She escapes, and then there’s a lot of action scenes, because Vice wants its rogue android back, and Kelly, with a few others, wants to take the resort down.

When I explain the plot like that, it sounds like a decently fun movie, right? The problem is that there isn’t much to either of the main characters to care about. Roy is weirdly greasy and incredibly unappealing. I kept waiting on the reveal for his traumatic past (lost his wife, maybe?) that would tell use why he constantly looked like he’d just come off a month-long bender. It never happened. He’s a cipher, whose motivations, while explained, feel extremely thin.

Of course, he still gets better treatment in the script than Kelly. Despite the fact that her supposed gain of self awareness is the turning point of the plot, Kelly herself is functionally a football that various male characters pass around to move things forward. She gets about five seconds of apparent change from a passive to active character, development that is completely unearned by the lack of something even as simple as a goddamn montage, and entirely indicated by her  slicking her hair back and dressing in black leather. Set as it is against a backdrop of constant violence against women and a camera that is remarkably male gaze-y even for an action movie, it’s even more troubling.

If Vice had spent more time on plot and character and less time on its interminable, too-dark, and thoroughly generic gunfights, it might have been a decent film. Maybe. If it had also employed someone on the creative team actually, I don’t know, talking to a female human being for five minutes so that they would realize women are more than sexy robot lamps.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am that I’m only just now going to tell you how fucking amazing the new The Magnificent Seven movie is. Because it is fucking amazing. If it’s still showing in your area, you should go see it while you still can.

Though I will add one important caveat: go in with the clear knowledge that this movie is a Western, and keeps with some of the very classic motifs. (Which is a remarkable and beautiful, multilayered thing when you consider it’s based on Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, translated to a different era, a different genre.) The villain (Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue) is a scenery-chewing, cartoonish capitalist-as-black-hat. The heroes are super stoic and the character development isn’t exactly deep. It’s all about men (and a single woman) with guns, shooting their way to justice. There are some wonderful revisionist elements called forth by the casting, but it still plays to trope.

So basically, if you don’t like westerns, you’re not going to like this movie, even though it’s wonderful.

Weeks after watching the movie, when I’m having to check my notes to remember details I liked or didn’t, there are certain things that stick with me. One, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Antoine Fuqua draws out the rugged beauty of the Western landscape with breathtaking detail, including location shots in the Valles Caldera in New Mexico. It’s landscape porn at its finest. But even when the camera isn’t making love to he scrubby desert, so much detail in the shots of the people is perfect. The opening credits of the man in black (Denzel Washington and his glorious sideburns playing Chisolm) approaching through the wavering heat of the desert gave me chills.

But beyond all that stark beauty, it’s the casting that really hit me. Denzel Washington is amazing as the Chisolm, the marshal who has his own reasons for going into this fight. Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks stole every scene he was in. Faraday (Chris Pratt) and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) better have a serious amount of fanfiction about them on AO3 or I’m going to question fandom’s dedication to slash. And Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest stole every scene that Byung-hun Lee hadn’t gotten to first and brought a massive amount of depth to a character who said the least out of all seven.

Basically, they were all wonderful. And the act of casting so many men of color (four out of the seven) is one of the greatest revisionist acts of this version of The Magnificent Seven. It’s hopefully not a surprise to you at this point to hear that the classic Hollywood vision of the west is incredibly whitewashed, even just looking at the percentage of cowboys who were black or Hispanic. And that all four of the non-white characters are so integral to the story—the team up literally would not have happened without Chisolm at the helm, for example—shows Fuqua’s vision of creating a Western everyone can see themselves in.

(Well, everyone male, at least.)

Come for the landscapes, stay for the fucking amazing gunfights and Denzel Washington’s sideburns. You won’t be sorry.

And SPOILERS

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Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Star Trek Beyond makes a for a good apology for the aggravating mess that was Star Trek: Into Darkness. But it fails hard at its most basic job: being a Star Trek film.

This is a trend that’s been endemic since the first new Trek film and has only gotten worse with each movie. The original Trek movies always had their special effects moments, but it was always about the thematic story (even if it was a dumb story sometimes) with the action as a seasoning rather than the point. The new movies? Action set after action set piece with a thin connective tissue of something plot-like, normally driven by a villain who would have a more understandable motivation if they were a cardboard cut-out.

And this is the thing. I don’t dislike action movies. I like big, dumb, explodey movies as much as the next person, particularly when they have a thin veneer of science fiction over them to provide rule of cool physics. But those aren’t Star Trek movies. What always made Star Trek special was its philosophical heart and that the story tried–even if it failed sometimes–to be about something bigger than just blowing shit up.

It’s that heart that’s missing from Star Trek Beyond, just like in the other movies.

Probably the best metaphor for the film is Yorktown, the nonsensical, enormous space station that’s been built on the frontier of explored and is densely populated with aliens and humans (including Sulu’s husband and daughter) for reasons that are never explained. The station itself looks like a giant snow globe with a lattice work of open air linear cities built on tubes that star ships go through. There’s free flowing water and air. Every part of the lattice has its own individual gravity. It’s an beautiful design and makes absolutely no goddamn sense as anything that was made specifically to facilitate several interminable action set pieces. It actively aggravated me.

The plot, such as it is, begins and ends at Yorktown. The Enterprise arrives there after letting us know that Jim Kirk and Spock are having individual quarter life crises. An unknown ship comes out of the giant, unexplored nebula (which is apparently full of asteroids, we see later, okay then) and asks for help. Of course the Enterprise goes, and of course it ends up being a trap and of course the Enterprise gets destroyed yet again. The big bad is a complete waste of Idris Elba’s acting talents named Krall, who wants a random MacGuffin off the Enterprise so he can complete his MacGuffin machine and finally make a fucking cup of coffee murder everyone. Because reasons. The crew, stranded on the planet, meet up with an alien named Jayla, free the rest of their people, and take off in an old Federation ship that Scotty and Jayla manage to repair, all in order to prevent Krall from killing Yorktown.

The extremely thin plot careens from set piece to set piece, contorting to come up with reasons for Kirk to ride around on a motorcycle, or have a fist fight, or for people to fly around in ships in a way that’s visually pretty but very difficult to orient in space. I got tired of the action set pieces. The movie feels longer than it actually is because it’s like okay, here’s a little plot, and now we’re going to pause to randomly run away from something.

Krall is paper-thin even as action movie villains go. Why does he have followers? Where did he get the cool swarm ships? Why does he keep dragging Uhura around and yelling her? Why does he want to destroy Yorktown? What the fuck is “here is where the frontier pushes back” supposed to even mean in the context of his character? There’s what should be a really cool reveal on him at the end, but it doesn’t really explain anything, and it’s completely unearned. There’s nothing before that to hint that there’s more, to build up to it. It’s just suddenly there, and flops because it had no scaffolding of plot holding it up. There might be more commentary to be had here, on Starfleet as a non-military organization, about soldiers being left behind by the society that once depended upon them, but as in ST:ID, any point was hopelessly muddled and underdeveloped to the point of incoherence.

I’m probably making the movie sound worse than it is, but that’s because I’m frustrated. There were some things I truly liked about the movie, and I could see where it could have been so much more if they would have just backed off on the fucking action set pieces and focused on the story. And perhaps some of the overbearing action sequences can be pinned on director Justin Lin, but I think the places where the film really shines are also a sign of his influence.

Lin is best known as the director of several of the Fast & Furious films. Which, yes, Kirk on a motorcycle. But the other major strength of that franchise is its strong ensemble cast, and in each film, everyone gets a moment to be cool. This is the first Trek movie since the reboot in which I felt that everyone in the crew really did get a chance to shine brightly–heck, I think this film did a better job giving everyone a moment than any of the older Trek films did either. Uhura particularly got to stand out even more than in ST:ID, and got to have a couple of cool moments that called on her skills as the comms officer. And when it was character moments, that’s when this movie did feel like it was Star Trek in more than name. Sulu gets to take over command again and we see in him the echo of George Takei’s Sulu in command of the Excelsior. Chekhov gets some one-on-one time with Kirk. The dryly humorous friendship between Spock and Bones gets some much-needed and long-awaited screen time. The new character, Jayla, had some great moments as well, and there’s a plot setup for her potential return, which I’m excited about.

And I’ll admit, for all I bitch about the action set pieces, I fucking loved every moment of action that was accompanied by the Beastie Boys song Sabotage. It was a clever ship battle move backed up by campily bullshit Star Trek science, and as weird as it might sound to say, in that moment it felt gloriously like Trek–but yet unique to this younger, new crew.

I’m frustrated because I want to love these movies. I’m frustrated because I care about the cast, which is still absolutely stand out. I want these films to be successful, but more than that, I want them to be successful and still Star Trek. This one has come the closest of the three, and much credit is probably due to Simon Pegg, who was one of the writers for the script and who deeply loves Star Trek in the same way I do. Star Trek Beyond proved that the reboot could finally move past cannibalizing the plots of the original, and I’m grateful for that, make no mistake. But here’s hoping it can also move beyond the soulless action effects blockbuster formula and become the franchise the cast and the fans deserve.

Notes for this film have been posted on my Patreon.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Warning: depending upon your spoiler sensitivity level, you may want to skip the plot synopsis (red) until after you’ve seen the film.

Ghostbusters (2016) comes to us in a world saturated with sequels and remakes and reboots that no one wanted, needed, or asked for—and finally, we get a reboot we actually deserve.

I have a lot of love in my heart for 1984’s original Ghostbusters, which came out in theaters when I was way too young to see it. I remember my parents showing me the movie when I was a bit older, and recall that I thought the first ghost in the library was absolutely fucking terrifying, and that Egon was my favorite ghostbuster. I have a moderate little wad of affection for the at-times cringe-worthy sequel, Ghostbusters 2. I got up extra early on Saturday mornings for years so I could watch The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series. I owned action figures. My Ghostbusters love is not a matter for debate.

Two years ago, for the thirtieth anniversary of the movie, I got to watch Ghostbusters (1984) properly in a movie theater. It was still funny, and fun, and I still loved it to pieces. But it broke my heart a little when adult me noticed the incredibly creepy sexism of Venkman that child me skated around and just thought was at worst an endearing quirk.

And now today, I rode my bike over to a movie theater so I could eat some overpriced popcorn and watch a new Ghostbusters that made it all better.

On its surface, this new Ghostbusters has a lot in common plot-wise with the old Ghostbusters. A team of scientific-minded paranormal investigators starts catching ghosts in New York City and notices that the ghastly activity is ramping way the hell up. They’re called frauds by some and loved by others. They figure out their technology, realize what the hell is going on, and try unsuccessfully to stop the coming spiritual apocalypse. Then it’s showdown time.

But one twist that really marks the departure from the original is that the villain of Ghostbusters (2016) isn’t an apartment building or an ancient god, but an ordinary man named Rowan (Neil Casey) who might as well be a stand-in for every internet neckbeard who’s been desperately trying to slime the movie since its inception. His entire motivation is anger at the world for not recognizing his genius and throwing itself at his feet—and it’s made absolutely explicit when he says as much to Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and she points out yes, this is the same sort of thing all of the female ghostbusters deal with daily. The difference is they lack Rowan’s profound sense of entitlement.

Makes you wonder how much of Rowan’s role (and his amazing sideburns) got scripted after the internet backlash started up. There’s also some delicious pokes about people being jerks in youtube comments.

In a way, 2016’s Ghostbusters is a film in dialog with its original. It reaches for the things that made the original film so great—the humor, the inherent ridiculousness of the supernatural crossing into an otherwise ordinary world, and ghosts that are just scary enough to make the stakes feel real without crossing the line into horror. It borrows a few of everyone’s favorite beats from the original (the team’s first encounter with a ghost, something giant destroying the city, etc) but turns them sideways enough to make it feel like a joke between friends, a wink, not outright copying like we felt from The Force Awakens. The story of Ghostbusters 2016 is very much its own, and the characters have their own lives. There is no female Egon, Venkman, Ray, or Winston—we get Abby, Erin, Holtzmann and Patty and they are decidedly themselves. It’s a parallel universe in which the events of 1984 never happened, but we can still see beloved old landmarks like the firehouse.

And it’s a reaction to the less-than-stellar parts of the 1984 film, tweaking them, mocking them, and holding a mirror up to them. Instead of an all-male team, we get an all-female team. Instead of Janine as the receptionist and Dana Barrett as the victim of both ghosts and Venkman’s creeping, we get Chris Hemsworth as the puppyishly dumb beefcake receptionist Kevin. And while Erin (Kristen Wiig) does a bit of objectifying and creeping at Kevin of her own, she notably doesn’t get rewarded for it at the end with a relationship.

This is Kevin. He would like to know which of these pictures makes him look more like a scientist.

This is Kevin. He would like to know which of these pictures makes him look more like a doctor.

The one part of the Ghostbusters (1984) legacy that 2016 doesn’t face so head-on is the profound injustice done to the character of Winston Zeddemore, the only non-white ghostbuster in the original. Ernie Hudson has written with heartbreaking eloquence about his experience of Winston’s character being diminished, of disappearing as the “soul” of the original team. There was a chance to have made that completely right with Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones)—and the movie does make a start. From the moment she appears, Patty is knowledgeable, independent, and determined. She decides to join the team because she feels she has valuable skills and wants to be part of the action. And from that moment, she is an integral part of the Ghostbusters who doesn’t ever disappear from the screen. She is undeniably the soul of the team that Winston was supposed to be. But listening to her get diminished as the only non-scientist was still damned painful.

So you get all of the above meta meatiness, and then the movie is fucking hilarious. I laughed more at this film than I ever laughed at the original. The end credits sequence alone almost killed me. The four women who make up the team are all excellent comedians in their own right, and what they make together is hilarious magic. Even better, they form a solid team of close friends—and the film never resorts to the sort of in-team friction as plot driver that we’ve seen in every damn Avengers-adjacent film. The fact that this is happening in an all-female team, where the women support each other and protect each other, feels even more profound because that is still so unusual, particularly in comedy.

Chris Hemsworth deserves his own paragraph here as well, for his amazing turn as a lovable buffoon who is a walking non sequitur with extremely nice pecs. This is probably the best role I’ve ever seen him in, and you can tell he’s having a hell of a good time—and so is everyone else, including all of the major castmembers of 1984’s Ghostbusters. There’s a Stan Lee-esque cameo in the film for each one of them, every appearance more delightful than the rest. Bill Murray wears a fedora. This is not a drill.

Perhaps the thing I’m the least thrilled about in the whole film were the CGI ghosts (though the mannequin was damned creepy) for the same reason I’m generally not thrilled any time there’s a lot of obvious CGI in a live action film. It’s less egregious when it’s ghosts, because they’re not supposed to look entirely real anyway, but there were too many of them. It felt like action for the sake of having an action sequence and using some of the special effects budget.

But really? It was hella fun. I’m going to see it again. I’m going to buy it when it comes out for home video and watch it regularly. And I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that if 2016 gets a Ghostbusters 2, it’ll be a damn sight better than the original.

And yet, I still can’t say that I love it more than I loved the 1984 movie. I don’t think that’s a judgment on the quality of the 2016 version, but rather an artifact of the original film being so ingrained as part of my nerd psyche. I grew up watching that movie. My older brother was a freaking ghostbuster one Halloween. The original, warts and all, is indelibly in my blood. And with that history in my head, the 2016 film will always feel a little derivative, a little unoriginal even if it does everything better than the first film did and I can watch it without cringing every time Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver are on screen together.

What I do wonder is how it will feel to those for whom Ghostbusters (2016) is their first love, and they go back to watch the 1984 film. I wouldn’t be surprised if this new one, with its hilarious women and doofy male receptionist accidentally poking himself in the eyes, will be their favorite, and rightfully so.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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It says a lot that it’s been something like two weeks since I saw Warcraft and I’m only now writing about it. Mostly because… honestly? I don’t have a lot to say.

The thing you need to understand here is that I’ve played all the original Warcraft RTS games, and devoted more hours of my life than I’m willing to actually count to World of Warcraft. So there is a huge part of me that cannot look at this film in an uncritical way because other criticisms aside, it looked like Warcraft. It’s gorgeous. My god, the humans go flying around on gryphons, HOW COOL IS THAT. The orcs look great. AND OH MY GOD THAT WAS DUROTAN FROSTWOLF CLAN REPRESENT and KHADGAR JUST SHEEPED THAT GUY DID YOU SEE THAT OH MY FUCK and–and–and–

This was a big part of my teenage and twenty-something gamer years, splashed out on the screen and looking cool. I knew the story going in. I knew the characters. I just about shit myself over Gul’dan in the first two minutes.

But this is the thing. I can take a step back and try to address it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been a fan of the Warcraft franchise, and in that case, the movie is severely wanting. Seriously, if you don’t know who Khadgar is, if you haven’t run the Karazhan raid a million times and known in the marrow of your bones what a dickbag Medivh is, does any of it come out to more than just-so stories and alphabet name soup? From what my few friends who went in canon-blind to see it had to say afterward, the answer is no. The characters aren’t nearly as exciting and compelling when you have no idea where they’re going to be going or what their significance is to a world you’ve never been to. There’s way too many characters, way too much going on in the film, and way too much unspoken backstory that fans can and will fill in easily, but leaves everyone else scratching their heads. Even some of the hand-waving orc culture stuff was a bit much for me, and I knew what was coming.

And that makes me sad to say it, but I also don’t know if there’s really a solution. Warcraft was going to either be a movie that the fans like me would love, or it would be a movie that people unacquainted with the lore could really sink their teeth into. I honestly never thought it was going to be the latter, because translating this much sprawling lore into something you can consume and feel satisfied by in a feature? That’s one hell of a tall task, and at that point would it be recognizable as Warcraft any more? But goddamn, if you’re a fan, it was an amazing two hours. The real question on my mind now is if the film’s going to make enough money for there to be more. It hasn’t done so hot in the US ($45 million so far, oof), but it’s been doing much better internationally ($376 million). I’d love to see another film. I want Thrall: The Movie. I’m hoping I get it, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

But damn you Blizzard, now I want to re-up my WoW account.

By the way, I recently also saw Now You See Me 2. I decided to write up my review of that for my Patreon subscribers only, so if you’re curious, all it takes is a buck.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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In news that should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever spent five minutes in a room with me, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

Please note here, I am not going to make any claims that it is a good movie, by whatever measure of good you want to pretend is in some way objective. To me? It was fun, it was enjoyable, I want to see it again, but it certainly was not: innovative, groundbreaking, special, excellent, unexpected, exceptional, or artful. On the other hand, you have seen the original Independence Day, right? It wasn’t any of those things either, but it was hella fun and caused the consumption of mass quantities of popcorn. Considering the size of the shared popcorn bucket my friend and I consumed in ID:R, we’re right on track.

Independence Day: Resurgence takes place 20 years after the first invasion. Humanity has recovered, the world’s basically become multinational and peaceful thanks to humans having something bigger to worry about killing than each other, and alien technology has been incorporated fully into this alternate 2016. On the anniversary celebration of humanity’s epic win, people who were psychically exposed to the aliens (like Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore, prematurely aged by the experience) are Having A Bad Feeling About This. The aliens show back up in an even more ridiculously enormous ship that has even less of a passing relationship with physics as we know it, and decide to drill to Earth’s nougatty center because reasons. It’s up to the old and new generations to fight impossible odds and save the Earth again, though this time there might be some mysterious help that I won’t describe further because it’s a bit of a spoiler.

There were a few things here that were a bit stupid even for me, which had me rolling my eyes at the movie rather than grinning along with the fun dumbness of it–namely the 3000-mile-wide alien mothership (for reference, that gives is a bigger diameter than the Moon) that has its own personal gravity field when it’s convenient for the purposes of special effects and then doesn’t every other time. If nothing else, even if it’s got a larger diameter than the Moon, it’s not spherical, so I have a hard time believing that it actually out-masses the moon; beyond that, the Earth is still a hell of a lot bigger. And while I don’t come to movies like this for the science–GOODNESS NO–that was a bit too dumb even for my popcorn-addled brain. Particularly when the disaster special effects that it’s used to explain really are a bit to the boring side. At some point, the thing you’re attempting to blow up is just too big and impersonal and it looks like you’re throwing a box of tinkertoys up in the air. The whole “drilling to the Earth’s core” thing was also derisive snort-worthy, particularly when they had to find a melodramatic way to ratchet up the ticking clock even more. Then again, basically any alien invasion movie that works under the assumption that the aliens are after some kind of resource we have (most often water) that they can suck away and leave Earth a lifeless husk really shows laziness on the part of the writers; either they don’t know that any resource of that nature on Earth can be found more easily and more abundantly by harvesting asteroids and comets, or they just don’t care.

That said? I loved pretty much everything else. Many of the beats in this film mirrored ID4; fair enough since they are both alien invasion films and big budget action tentpoles, which means there will be certain required beats that have to be met. But those story beats are accompanied by a world that has indelibly changed in 20 years, and that keeps it from feeling like an exact retread. To me, the best part of ID:R really was the alternate 2016 imagined in the film. The alien technology incorporated into human military technology makes for some fun variation on standard alien invasion fare, because it does touch on something that so often gets ignored–of course we’d try to figure out what makes the technology tick and then incorporate the helpful bits to prepare for the next invasion. And it makes the fun point that after twenty years of prep time, humanity has really stepped up its game–while the aliens are pretty much coming at us with the same bag of tricks they had before. The film tries to address the aftermath of so much worldwide destruction in the first movie, including the large number of orphans left behind, and the effect that had on the kids who have grown up and are now taking on a fight they’ve believed might be coming for their whole lives. Even the fact that the older generation told those kids that if the fight came, they’d be ready, and they’d win again is brought in–as a moment where the older characters fight off despair and try to find a way to keep that promise. (Look at the Baby Boomers and Millenials cooperating in alternate 2016; all it took was a world-wide disaster induced by alien invasion.) I loved the world of ID:R. I loved the setup it makes as a springboard for another film that promises to be significantly different.

International cooperation is placed at the forefront. The casting is more diverse in a lot of ways than in ID4. I loved Rain Lao (Angelababy) and Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) flying jet-spaceship hybrids around. Both old characters and new had great moments, the only exception being I’m still not sure what purpose Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) really served in the narrative. Things get blown up. Aliens get punched in the face. Female fighter pilots get to be badass. American exceptionalism has been replaced by human exceptionalism, which is still cringe-worthy in context, but a vast improvement that cannot be understated. But my favorite part? The return of Dr. Okun, and I have very specific reasons for that, which I’ll explain past the spoiler wall.

At any rate, if you’re looking for dumb, explodey fun to accompany shoving popcorn into your food hole, I recommend it. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

Brief SPOILER discussion below

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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X-MEN:

The Best Apology for X3 We’ll Get Because Seppuku Isn’t Exactly Legal

The Perfect Mohawk Storm

We Need to Talk About Erik

A Decade Later and Charles and Erik Are Still Arguing About Who Broke That Fucking Pickle Dish

Marriage Counseling Would Be Cheaper Than an Apocalypse

You Sure Don’t Look Ten Years Older

Moira McTaggert and the Chamber of SNAFU

The Chronicles of Xavier’s Hair

Thank Fuck Wolverine Is Only a Cameo

You Can Find Erik’s Family in the Refrigerated Section Next to Our Selection of Fine Pastas

Nightcrawler (No, Not the Creepy Sociopathic Reporter, the Blue Guy in a Michael Jackson Jacket)

That Can’t Be Scott, He’s Not Nearly Enough of a Dick

Okay But Where Is Our PG-Rated Jubilee Movie?

Skynet Did It Better OR Never Send An Immortal Douchebag Mutant to Do a Computer’s Job

A Complete Waste of Oscar Isaac’s Talents

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Well, holy shit. I went in expecting a hot mess that I’d love anyway (hello, Age of Ultron) and instead got a movie that I feel like I need to make dying seagull noises about and then place it on a shelf next to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I’m not going to write a more standard-ish review. I fucking loved this movie, end of story. If you liked CA:TWS, you’ll probably love it too. Instead, I want to scream about some very particular things, so this is going to be nothing but SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The Boss isn’t getting very good reviews. As of right now, it’s at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. (For what it’s worth, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is only at 19% and I thought that was pulpy fantasy fun, so maybe I just have terrible taste.) But I decided to see it anyway, for exactly one reason: the cookie seller street fight scene.

I don’t know if it’s because I was a Girl Scout for years, and put in a lot of time selling cookies, but to me, that alone was worth the price of admission.

The Boss is about Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy), who has made a ton of money doing nebulous business things and screwing over everyone, including her former flame Renault (Peter Dinklage). He turns her in to the FTC for insider trading and gets her thrown in white collar country club jail for five months, during which time she loses all of her assets. She emerges, deposits herself on her former assistant Claire’s (Kristen Bell) doorstep, and comes up with a new scheme quickly: selling Claire’s amazing brownies with a knock-off, capitalistic version of Girl Scouts.

This is definitely not the most well put together comedy movie I’ve ever seen. It’s got its problems with internal consistency, has some weird pacing hiccups, and at times feels like a loose collection of sketches for McCarthy to ad-lib her Michelle Darnell character. The plot at times doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, and the Michelle Darnell character arc is incredibly predictable and pat, something that feels steered by script beats rather than organically developed.

It also, I’m sorry to say, has the Lazy Trans Joke. Bleh.

On the other hand? It had a lot of really funny moments. I never really bought Claire as a character or her muddled arc, but her love interest Mike (Tyler Labine) was delightful. The interplay between Michelle and Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) had some great moments. And Chrystal (Eva Peterson) the resident “giant” for Darnell’s Darlings was the MVP of every scene she was in. And Renault? Fucking hilarious, I thought. And Lazy Trans Joke aside, like many of McCarthy’s movies, it showcases women being hilarious with other women in an expansive rather than self-hating way.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that Spy is superior in every way to this movie, and I’m looking forward to watching it. (Still mad that I didn’t get a chance to see it in the theater.) Hopefully it’ll be On Demand with my cable company, I just haven’t had a chance to check yet. But I’ll probably write a little post about it when I do and let everyone know they were right. As for The Boss, I’m kind of on the fence whether to recommend it or not. If you really love Melissa McCarthy and did your time in the Girl Scouts, you might find it suitably amusing, but your mileage may vary.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Tetsugawa Katsuhiro

September 2017

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