Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tomb Raider (2018)

I love adventure stories.  As a fan of the genre I think we don't get nearly enough good jungle treasure hunt stories these days - the last one that comes readily to my mind is 'Kong: Skull Island' - and not to split hairs but that one didn't really have any treasure hunts in it.  As a fan of the genre the rebooted 'Tomb Raider' movie was my most anticipated movie for this year.  It got to a point where my friends were asking me: "So, are you exited for Avengers: Infinity War?" and I was like - "No, I've used up all the excitement I can spare on Tomb Raider."

So a lot of people who are only familiar with Tomb Raider from the Angelina Jolie movies had a built in prejudice against this movie for not being the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider.  I wasn't a gamer kid, and I've only really been introduced to the gaming subculture fairly recently when my big brother went and married into a family of gamers - so Angelina Jolie was my introduction to Tomb Raider as well.  I like those movies, but comparing this reboot to those is an apples and oranges type comparison.  It'd be like comparing 'Batman Forever' and 'Batman Begins'.

Like Batman Forever, those early Tomb Raider movies still have a fanbase who look on those movies with rose tinted goggles.  I'm a part of that fanbase, but I watch Angelina Jolie for the same reason I'd watch a big name action star like say, Arnold Schwarzenegger - for a cheesy check-your-brain-at-the-door action movie.  And quite frankly I've loved Alicia Vikander in everything I've seen her in, and she can act circles around Jolie.
This particular Tomb Raider movie is kind of an adaption of the recent games 'Tomb Raider (2013)' and 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' smooshed together.  If you're curious as to how it holds up as an adaption, this video is worth a watch.  I've heard a fair bit of criticism from people saying that the movie just kind of copy-pasted elements from the games whilst making a whole bunch of changes to the story.  So, people think it's too loyal and too disloyal an adaption at the same time.  Personally I thought the action set-pieces they adapted from the games - such as the shipwreck and rickety derelict WW2 airplane - were visually stunning and the changes to the story really made things fresh and kept the movie from being predictable.

There have been a lot of different takes of Lara Croft over the years - between Games, Movies, and those late 90's early 2000's comics I was really into in my teen years.  I've built up sort of a head-canon of what sort of character Lara Croft is from these different sources, and I thought it would be fun to see how the Lara of the movie matched my head-canon.  Spoilers for the new movie by the way.

In my opinion one of the defining characteristics of Lara Croft is loss and/or betrayal.  One of reasons she's such a loner is that she doesn't let people get too close because everyone she cares about either dies or ends up betraying her.  This movie deals with Lara dealing with - or rather choosing NOT to deal with - the loss of her Father who disappeared looking for the tomb of Himiko seven years prior to the beginning of the story.

The other big defining characteristic of the Lara Croft I built up in my head is that she's something of an eccentric thrill-seaker.  She's an obsessive treasure hunter - she's not in it for academic discovery, she's not in it for the money (She's already crazy rich) She's in it for the adrenaline rush.  Remember the part in the 2001 movie where she's bungee jumping from the vaulted ceiling of Croft Manner?  Yeah, she's bored and rich.  

My head canon for Lara Croft is also that she has zero love life.  Why?  A). Because of her trust issues  - like I've mentioned earlier she's been betrayed and hurt before.  Rival Treasure Hunter/Ex-Boyfriend Chase Caver from those 90's comics comes to mind.  B). Because she doesn't have time.  Being the obsessive treasure hunter that she is she's married to her hobby.  I was really happy this movie didn't try to give Lara a love interest.  The 'guy of the week' approach is one of the things I don't like as much about the Angelina Jolie movies.

The new movie subverts this a little bit: She's not rich yet.  She WILL be - the Croft fortune is waiting for her - but she refuses to accept it, just as she refuses to accept that her Father is dead.  As for being a thrill seeking treasure hunter - well she's not a treasure hunter yet.  And while she never bungee jumps from the ceiling, bits of that thrill seeking Lara shine through.  She has multiple athletic pursuits - including archery, boxing, and bike racing.  Backlashes to kid-Lara practicing archery were a particularly nice touch as it foreshadowed her use of the bow later on.

According to my research, in every version of the Tomb Raider canon since the 1999 comic 'Saga of the Medusa Mask' Lara Croft has been an orphan.  Makes sense that that started in the comics - ask any Batman fan, all the best comic book characters are rich orphans.  This was written into the 2001 movie 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' and was adopted into canon in the games as well starting with 2006's 'Tomb Raider: Legend'.  So as a Tomb Raider fan when you hear this new movie is about Lara Croft searching for her missing father you know from the get-go Lord Richard Croft is dead.  So when Lara finds him living like a modern day Ben Gunn on the island it was quite a plot twist.  On the other hand, it makes Lord Croft's inevitable demise a little predicable.  Because we've got to maintain that status quo of orphan Lara.  Also, this ties back into that Lara dealing with loss story-line.

I really like that the entire end game of a movie called Tomb Raider is that people want to raid a tomb.  Thinking back on the previous movies, I don't think Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft raided a single tomb.  A couple lost temples maybe, but she's not 'Lara Croft: Temple Raider' now is she?

Like Indiana Jones, the Tomb Raider movies often deal with the supernatural.  And this is the other way this movie subverts our expectations.  Himiko - the mummy in the tomb that everybody is so keen on raiding - is just a dead lady.  There's nothing supernatural about her in this version.  Bwuuu?  What's going on here?  This is a change from the source material.  In the 2013 game, Himiko was an undead queen with the mystical ability to control the weather.  This is why the waters in the devil's triangle are so treacherous, and is the whole reason Lara got shipwrecked in the first place.  I get why fans are upset about this change.  It's a cool idea (Although one has to ask, what about all the shipwrecks and plane crashes in the Bermuda triangle, hmm? What's causing those, hmm?) so I can see why people wouldn't like the change.  I thought it worked well, and like I said a non-supernatural explanation subverted my expectations.  

And remember what I said about Lara being defined by loss and betrayal?  There's a last minute stinger suggesting that somebody close to her is the leader of the shadowy organization Trinity - y'know the guys looking for Himiko's tomb - and Lara will presumably become that obsessive treasure hunter we know and love in an attempt to take down Trinity.

I've heard people complain that this was just a paint-by-the-numbers adventure movie and I really didn't think that was the case.  This was a fun jungle romp that subverted my expectations while more or less staying true to the character I picture when I think of Lara Croft.  And it temporarily satisfied my desire for more adventure movies.  Seriously Hollywood, more adventure movies?


Monday, January 22, 2018

Geekboy's Movie Poster Collection: Part 2

New year equals new posters right?  Yeah, 'Buy more posters on Ebay' was more or less the extent of my New Years resolutions.  Nothing beats setting personal goals and striving to make oneself a better person, amiright?  Anyway, when I bought my first wave of posters, the plan was to eventually expand my collection and rotate the ones I had on display every couple of months.  Sort of like pictures on a calendar.

First up we have William Castle's 1959 film 'House on Haunted Hill'.  This movie is a throwback to the Old Dark House genre - 'Cat and the Canary' and 'And then there were None' type stuff.  Love the way it looks like a pulp mystery novel cover.

And while we're on the subject of mysteries, here's the 1946 republic serial 'The Crimson Ghost'.  It's been a few years since I've seen this one, so I don't remember many of the details, but it's one of those 'One of these four-to-six people on a board of executives is secretly a masked villain running the criminal underworld - - - and we only have twelve-to-fifteen chapters to figure out which one!' type serials.  A bit like 'Manhunt of Mystery Island'.  And speaking of 'Manhunt' 'Crimson Ghost' also has serial queen Linda Stirling as the Leading Lady.

 No movie poster collection is complete without a few Universal Monsters.  Here's 1943's 'Frankenstein meets The Wolf Man!'  This is the first in a series of crossover Monster films.  Nerds and Hipsters site this as the first example of the Cinematic Universe.

And speaking of the Universal Monsters, here's the one that INTRODUCED me to the franchise.  1954's 'Creature from the Black Lagoon.' I think this one will look nice hanging up next to my 'The Green Slime' poster.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi is the spark that lit the fire that fueled a whole lot of internet nerd rage.  That nerd rage is why I was a little reluctant to write down my thoughts on the movie and put them someplace the entire internet can see them (Not that the entire internet reads this, but you know what I mean).

The Last Jedi is a controversial movie.  Audiences either love it or hate it, seemingly without much in the way of middle ground.  The great thing about controversy in film is it allows you to form your own opinions.  If a movie is crazy popular, you are expected to see it and like it by default.  Love it or hate it movies generate more discussion because they bring out passionate reactions.  Viewers will talk more about them because they either want to understand the opposite point of view or covert the other party to their way of seeing things.

Most people who hate The Last Jedi seem to focus primarily on the way Luke Skywalker 'Acts out of Character'.  This is fueled in part by actor Mark Hamill expressing his concern over the way Luke was written.  Fans are rallying to defend Luke's honor, and I kind of get that.  But personally I thought his character evolution made a lot of sense?  So, I don't see what the problem is?

I'll get into my thoughts on Luke's character arc a little more later on, but first here's a list of things I did and didn't like.  Spoilers to follow.

Liked - - - Paige Tico and her relationship with her sister, Rose.  The movie opens with a big space battle and a heroic sacrifice from a character we'd never met before.  Paige is somebody we've known for only 5 minutes, but her death left a bigger impact for me than all of the deaths in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' combined.  I enjoyed Rogue One, by the way.  Not hating on Rogue One.  Just stating the facts as I see them.  This death gives us clear cut motivation for newcomer Rose Tico, and was brilliant use of shorthand to make us like and care about her.  Unless of course, you aren't some one who liked and cared about her.  Seriously, why do so many people hate Rose Tico?

Liked - - - Poe Dameron's story arc.  After I saw 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' I was like - 'Yeah! That was so cool! I loved all the new characters, like Rey, and Finn, was there a third one? I'm not remembering anyone else...'  Poe left zero impact on me in the previous installment.  He's really given a chance to shine this time around.  We have here a subplot about recklessness vs. responsibility, consequences for our actions, and how bucking authority so we can go do our own thing isn't always the best plan of action.  I felt like this was a deconstruction of Luke and Han's carefree daring-do in the original trilogy - you know, the way they just sneak around the Deathstar and always come up with a plan of action on the spot, sending the message that 'Yeah, you can totally live your life flying by the seat of your pants. It'll all turn out okay in the end!'  But it real life you can't always fly by the seat of your pants.  And sometimes our actions have consequences.

Liked - - - C3PO.  He didn't have a huge role, but he had more than a cameo appearance this time around.  This is the first Star Wars movie in a long time where C3PO shows up on screen and I wasn't going 'Why is he even here?'  In Rogue One - and again, I like Rogue One, C3PO have the worlds most pointless, most in your face cameo that was basically 'Hey, remember these guys? Well, they're still here!' and that really really irked me.  Either give the droids something to do, or cut them out entirely.

Liked - - - Rey and Kylo Ren's force head games.  Rey and Kylo Ren spend large portions of this movie communicating long distance through the force.  These were actually my favorite parts of the story.  It felt like a psychological thriller, and how cool is a Star Wars psychological thriller?  Rhetorical question, because it's all kinds of cool.

Didn't like - - - That casino planet.  This didn't bother me as much as some people, but visually the casino on Canto Bite really looked like something out of the prequel trilogy.  It felt out of place with the aesthetics of the rest of the film.  Now you could say that this is Disney/Lucasfilm trying to put a band-aid on the prequels - throwing in the occasional visual callback to the trilogy as if to say, 'Yeah, that kind of visual COULD work in Star Wars. See? It's not such a glaring anachronism!'  As the giant tentacle slug monsters Han Solo was smuggling in 'The Force Awakens' also look like something from the prequel trilogy this seems like a plausible theory.

Didn't like - - - So...BB8 has superpowers now...?  There's a scene on Canto Bite where Finn and Rose are escaping from a prison cell, and they round a corner, and BB8 is there with a bunch of guards who have been knocked out and tied up.  A wide eyed Finn asks, 'Did you do that?'  Funny moment right?  Right.  The problem comes later where they take it a little too far - a little over the top.  If you've seen the movie you know the part I'm talking about.  It's the part where Finn and Rose are captured by the First Order when somebody driving an AT-ST walker comes to their rescue...and it is revealed that that BB8.  BB8 stole an AT-ST.  That's really over the top and really really dumb.

As you can probably see, things I liked vastly the things I didn't so far.  And the things I don't like are pretty minor.  They might take me out of the story for a few moments, but they don't ruin my overall enjoyment of the movie.  So, without further adieu, here's my read on the Luke Skywalker story arc.

 Luke has seen a lot since 'Return of the Jedi'.  In the original trilogy he was an Idealist, and now he is rather Cynical.  Can a series of traumatic events completely change one's world view?  Can idealism be crushed?  Realistically speaking, I think it can.  'Return of the Jedi' ends with Darth Vader returning to the Light Side and the Rebel Alliance overcoming the forces of the Empire.  But history has a nasty tendency to  repeat itself.  Between trilogies Luke attempts to restore the Jedi Order.  His apprentice Ben Solo turns to the Dark Side and tears down everything Luke had built.  The First Order rises, and from Luke's point of view everything he's fought for has been in vain.  This, quite realistically in my opinion, leads to apathy and depression.
Luke does what Obi Wan and Yoda did before him - decide that the problems of the galaxy are too big for him to face on his own.  He goes into a self imposed exile.  When Rey finds him he's had a lot of time alone to think about just how fragile the Jedi Order is.  How fragile it has always been.  Interestingly the writers of this trilogy seem to have swapped Luke and Han Solo's views on the Force.  In 'The Force Awakens' Han Solo has a little bit of Luke's Idealism: 'I thought it was a bunch of Mumbo Jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil - the Dark Side and the Light? Crazy thing is...It's true. The force, the Jedi...all of it. It's all true.'  Han Solo has a new found faith in the Force, whereas Luke sees the Jedi order as something that does more harm than good that is always doomed to failure.

People make a big deal out of the flashback scenes where it's revealed why Ben Solo turned to the Dark Side - Luke foresaw that he would turn and tried to kill him first.  Fans everywhere where upset that Luke would try to murder his apprentice.  Except that's not what happens.  If you were actually paying attention to the story you'll notice that Luke never tried to kill Ben.  They explicitly spell out that in a moment of weakness the thought crossed Luke's mind, but he wouldn't have gone through with it.  LUKE DIDN'T TRY TO KILL BEN SOLO PEOPLE.  But Kylo Ren thought he did.  And that's why he turned.  It's like a Greek Tragedy where knowing the outcome of the future and trying to change that outcome causes the outcome.

And the other thing people complain about is the ending.  They think Luke didn't get the wow moment he deserved. To which I have to ask - did we watch the same movie?  Luke coming back when the rebellion needs him most to face off with Kylo Ren and the armed forces of the First Order - ALONE - so they could make their getaway.  And to me at least it really doesn't matter that Luke was just a force projection.  Let me spell out why.

Reason 1: This new Force Projection was really well set up.  In those scenes with Rey and Kylo Ren we see them touch hands through the force.  At one point Kylo Ren is sopping wet because it's raining were Rey is.  And when she fires a blaster at him, he's knocked across the room.  So whats going on in the environment where the Force User is projecting to has some effect on them.  Meaning that all of those shots that were fired at Luke and that part where Kylo Ren stuck his Lightsabre through his chest?  Yeah, Luke potentially felt every blow.  Also the fact that Luke is a projection is foreshadowed really well.  He doesn't leave footprints in the salt (Kylo Ren does) and he's using a Lightsabre that we saw get broken just a few scenes earlier.

Reason 2: The final battle really reminds me of the Spaghetti western film 'A Fistful of Dollars'.  In this movie Clint Eastwood returns to town specifically to rescue a hostage.  He overcomes the villains by using his wits.  Earlier in the movie the main villain, Ramón, whilst showing off his skills with a gun boasts about always shooting a man through the heart when he kills.  So Clint Eastwood's character stuffs a bulletproof metal plate up his poncho and taunts Ramón to aim for the heart.  Our hero appears to be bulletproof and the unnerves the villains, throwing them off balance, long enough for Eastwood's character to overcome the odds of their superior numbers.  

Luke basically does the same thing, outwitting the First Order, appearing unstoppable, and stalling them long enough for the Rebel forces to escape.  What I see as a 'Fistful of Dollars' homage makes me especially happy because Star Wars has always been heavily influenced by westerns and Samurai films - 'Fistful of Dollars' is a western remake of an Akira Kurosawa Samurai film 'Yojimbo'.

Reason 3: How would fans expect and actual battle between Luke, Jedi Master, and Kylo Ren, Darksider who was Snoke's apprentice until about ten minutes ago?  You expect Luke to defeat Kylo Ren, right?  I know I would.  But Luke couldn't have defeated Kylo Ren.  Because they need a villain for the third movie in the trilogy.  And I don't think Kylo Ren is strong enough to defeated Luke.  So the only possible outcome of that hypothetical fight is a stalemate.  Kind of like that fight between Yoda and Palpatine in 'Revenge of the Sith'.  Fights that end in stalemates tend to be disappointing storytelling decisions.  Having Luke not be physically there for the fight was a brilliant way to sidestep this problem in my opinion.

'So, why did Luke just die?' is something a lot of fans are asking.  Some think he died from exertion from the force projection.  A lot of fans resent this, saying that that's like dying because of a supernatural Skype call.  I'd disagree with that statement because of the way they showed us how force projection works.  If Luke felt the effect of every one of those hits - like Kylo Ren felt the effects of Rey's blaster - I think that would totally be enough to kill somebody.

Others think he died because he was a peace.  He did what he had to do.  He saw Leia one last time, he made up for just walking away from the rebellion by returning when they needed him most, and he made (albeit one sided) piece with Kylo Ren.  He had said at the beginning of the movie that he came to the Jedi temple to die.  He just had some things he had to do first.  When those were done he gave himself up to the force, just like Yoda did in 'Return of the Jedi' because there was nothing more he could teach Luke.  It's an ending that's open for interpretation.  Personally I thought Luke fading away while looking off at the sunset as that theme from the original trilogy played (you know the one) was a beautiful moment.

I liked 'The Last Jedi.'  Personally I liked it better than 'The Force Awakens'.  If you're wondering about my current ranking of Star Wars movies it looks something like this:

1: Return of the Jedi
2: A New Hope
3: The Last Jedi
4: The Force Awakens
5: Empire Strikes Back
6: Rogue One
7: Attack of the Clones
8: Revenge of the Sith
9: The Phantom Menance


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Best Vs. Favorite: Geekboy Ranks the Star Wars Movies

So 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' just recently came out, and audience reaction has been pretty divided.  There are those who are saying that it's the best Star Wars movie since 'Empire Strikes Back,' and those who are creating online petitions for Disney/Lucasfilm to call a mulligan and REMAKE IT, BUT DO IT RIGHT THIS TIME.  If you ask me, it's pretty ridiculous for an audience to think they have any right to demand that storytellers tell a story the way that they think it should go.  I've yet to see it, so I can't way in on the 'best ever or the worst ever' thing.  I've just been trying my best to avoid spoilers, which is hard because I apparently spend 25 hours a day on the internet, and that's the place spoilers call home.

What I can do is ask a simple question: Who ever said that 'Empire' was the best one in the first place?  And yeah, before you say "Like, Everybody? Duh?" it's a rhetorical question.  What I mean to say it that 'Best' is a OBJECTIVE term.  It's a universal truth, rather than a preference.  'Favorite' is always a better way to describe a movie, because 'Favorite' is a SUBJECTIVE term.  Odds are good that that somebody out there really really hates your favorite movie.  Therefore your favorite movie cannot be the 'best movie ever' because best is a universal truth.

Think of it like you would your favorite ice cream flavor.  Is Mint Chip the best ice cream?  As far a universal truths go, that one is pretty debatable.  Is it one of my favorites?  Yup.  And I try to apply the same logic to movies.

And before you try to tell me that 'Empire' is the best from a critical standpoint, or from as storytelling standpoint, let's take a quick look at one of the first scenes in the movie.  It's the first scene where two of the characters we'll be spending way to much time with (AKA Han and Leia) interact.  And I find this scene really painful to watch EVERY SINGLE TIME.  So Han comes back from a scout trip and informs his superior officer that he's leaving the resistance to go pay off his debt to Jabba the Hutt.  Hey, good use of foreshadowing right?  Right.

 The problem is that Leia clearly shown within earshot and is presumably eavesdropping.  So anyway, Han goes over to say goodbye to Leia, and she gives him the royal brush-off.  So he leaves in a huff, and the next thing you know she's chasing after him, acting shocked that he's leaving even though she clearly overheard that he was leaving, heard him give his reasons for leaving, and he basically said 'Bye Leia, I'm leaving now. Here's lookin' at you, kid.'  The way this scene is written and edited together, in my opinion, makes Leia look really really dumb.  And we know Leia's not dumb.  So, tell me again how 'Empire' is the best from a storytelling standpoint?

A lot of Star Wars fans like 'Empire' best, and that's their prerogative.  There is this mindset though, that if you don't think 'Empire' is the best, you're somehow a not a real fan.  Except, going back to my ice cream analogy, there's no such thing as a best movie.  So, is 'Empire' really your favorite, or do you just like it because somebody else said it's the best one?  Because if it's only your favorite because a lot of people say it's the best, well, quite frankly that makes you a sheep.

Here's a list of the Star Wars series in the order of my favorites.

#1: Return of the Jedi: I love a good ending to a story.  'Jedi' isn't a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination but that doesn't stop it from being my favorite.  In any good trilogy the final installment SHOULD be the most satisfying, because we've traveled with the heroes on their journey and have watched them grow into the characters that they're supposed to be.  Lately a lot of third installments have felt like disappointing cash grabs, like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, but in the Original Star Wars trilogy and in Indiana Jones, this rule holds true for me.  My favorite part of 'Return of the Jedi' is the way our attention is divided between the Luke's fight with Darth Vader and the Emperor, Lando Calrissian's space battle, and Han and Leia's struggle on the Moon of Endor.  We cut back and forth between these three battles, and I'm equally invested in all of them.  It's pretty intense.  And the themes of redemption and the culmination of Darth Vader's relationship with Luke is so satisfying.  'Return of the Jedi' gets top spot from me.

#2: A New Hope: Hey, it's iconic.  The movie that stated it all.  It's hard to think Star Wars without thinking of Jawas, Obi Wan mentoring a young and naive Luke, twin sunsets, Leia's cinnamon roll hairstyle...the list goes on.  A well earned #2 spot, and if I wasn't more interested in the ending of story arcs then the beginnings, it would be an easy #1.

#3: The Force Awakens: Yeah, this is hard.  As something of an original trilogy purist, I was rather disturbed when I realized I liked this movie more than 'Empire.'  I have major problems with 'Awakens,' such as 'Starkiller Base' aka, 'we're too lazy to come up with an original plot device!' but I have more fun WATCHING this movie than I do 'Empire'.  And as this is a favorites list, not a best list, how mush fun I have watching a movie is pretty important.

#4: The Empire Strikes Back: Um, I enjoy all the parts that have Luke in them?  Here's the deal: Some of the SCENES in 'Empire' are my favorite SCENES in a Star Wars movie.  The fight with the Wampa, the battle with the AT-ATs, the stuff with Yoda...and then there are all the parts that have Han and Leia in them.  At least all the parts before Cloud City.  I really cringe at most of the romantic stuff in this picture.  And we spend so much time with Han and Leia, that Luke's scenes kind of make him feel like he's a minor character in his own story.

#5: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: This is the best Star Wars movie we didn't need.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this movie.  But when it was announced it felt like Disney was just making more Star Wars to make more Star Wars.  Your getting a new Star Wars movie shoved down your throat every year for the next six years whether you want one or not.  Oh, and we just canceled Tron 3.  That movie you actually wanted to see.  Because we're too busy making more Star Wars.  What I like about Rogue One is that they made it definitively a stand alone movie.  I respect Disney/Lucasfilm for not trying to create a dozen spin-off franchises with Rogue One.  That said, part of what I likes so much about 'Force Awakens' is the way it opened up new story telling possibilities.  It makes you excited for what comes next.  Rogue One is a good movie in it's own right, but it doesn't leave you wanting more.  It's biggest strength is sort of it's biggest weakness.

#6: Attack of the Clones: ...Is not a good movie.  It's a bad movie with a good movie trying to get out.  It's my favorite of the prequel movies because of it's potential.  Every now and then I remember how much I really hate the Anakin and Padme love story, and C3PO's awful string of one-liners in the climax - "This is such a drag!" and think of the parts I like - such as the assassination plots, the web of intrigue Obi Wan is slowly unraveling, that part where Padme is trapped in a crucible that's about to fill with molten metal, the dumb fun flying car chase, the dumb fun booby trapped conveyor belt, and the dumb fun arena fight.  If you're looking for a dumb fun action movie, this might just be the Star Wars for you.  If I turn off my brain and put on Nostalgia Goggles, there are parts of 'Attack of the Clones' I really enjoy.

#7: Revenge of the Sith: ...Is a better movie than Attack of the Clones.  A better Star Wars movie too.  Too many of the parts I enjoy about 'Clones' don't really belong in a Star Wars movie - they're more like a Cyberpunk B-movie version of Minority Report.  'Revenge of the Sith' is the only movie in the prequel trilogy that feels like Star Wars.  But refer back to my 'How much fun do I have watching it?' point from 'The Force Awakens' - I find 'Attack of the Clones' much more fun to watch, even though I think 'Revenge of the Sith' is a better movie.

#8: The Phantom Menace: ...Introduced Jar Jar Binks, Midi-Chlorians, and a child actor who does his best with the material he is given.  Qui-Gon-Jinn is a good character, but his introduction as Obi Wan's mentor seemingly contradicts the original canon - Yoda is the one who trained Obi Wan.  So much of this movie is either pointless, (like pod-racing) annoying, (like Jar Jar, Anakin, the Jedi Council, and Boss Nass) or contradictory to the cannon (like Midi-Chlorians and Qui-Gon).  Phantom Menace doesn't bring enough new stuff to the table to make re-watching it ever again worth my time.  It's the only Star Wars movie I can say that about.

So, That's my list.  At least until I see 'The Last Jedi.'  And I'd have to really love it or really REALLY hate it for it to replace my top or bottom slot.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

 You know that feeling when you first find out that a story you really like is going to be turned into a movie?  And there's a part of you that's really excited, but another part of you remembers having seen movie adaptions of other stories that you loved, but the movie turns out to be horrible?  And so you don't know if you want to put yourself through the torment of seeing another awful adaption?

This is more or less how my siblings and I felt way back in 2004 when the 'Series Of Unfortunate Events' movie was released.  We had been going through the books together as a family.  Having started reading them when the series was in full swing (I think I started on them when Book 8: 'The Hostile Hospital' was the current release, so 2001ish) we had caught up to the current books and were eagerly awaiting the annual releases as they began ending in cliffhangers.

We had every right to be concerned.  They were squishing three books into one movie.  How were they going to handle Sunny Baudelaire, an infant who spoke only in gibberish, whose siblings could understand?  And that casting choice of Jim Carrey as Count Olaf - loved him in 'The Mask' but he's been in some real stinkers since then.

In short, we didn't see the movie right away because there was no way we thought it would work.  And by all rights it shouldn't have.  But it did.

It's not a perfect movie.  Squishing the first three books together - or rather, chopping 'The Bad Beginning' in half and inserting 'The Reptile Room' and 'The Wide Window' between the two halves, could be viewed as a mistake.  The movie is barely over an hour and a half, and it moves along at breakneck speed.  Re-watching it, I checked the time stamp and they only spend about 17 minutes on 'The Reptile Room', which is a murder mystery, and they kind of skip over the solution of the murder.  I haven't seen the new Netflix adaption of the books but as they spend two episodes per book the stories probably have more time to breathe.

As an adaption though, it is true to the spirit of the books.  The story is framed with narration from Lemony Snicket, chronicler of the many misfortunes that have befallen the Baudelaires and writer of the books.  He's every bit the character in the movie that he is in the books - a mysterious shadowy figure who's face is never clearly seen - who interrupts the story every now and then to apologies for just how woeful the tale is and to show off his vocabulary.  Fun fact: If I hadn't read the books when I was a kid there's a chance I wouldn't know the meaning of words like schism or penultimate.  When I saw the promotional material for the Netflix show and saw the character of Snicket front and center instead of lurking in the shadows I was horrified.  How could this show that was supposed to be more faithful to the books get wrong what the movie got so right?

The kids are handled well in the movie too.  Sunny's gibberish is translated with subtitles, and this solution works well.  I feel like they didn't give Klaus much to do - perhaps because of that aforementioned murder mystery element in 'The Reptile Room' that they downplayed: Klaus really shines in the climax of that book.  He does get to decode a secret message later on, (which is from the third book) so that's something.  Violet (played by Emily Browning who would go on to star in 'Suckerpunch') is like a steampunk teenage girl version of Macgyver - so I'd say they nailed her character.  It's fun to see Emily Browning in an early role and see her future promise.  She's got a very expressive face here, and so much of her character is portrayed through expressive reactions.  In the books these three are practically super-geniuses, and by relying on each other's strengths they can take on anything the world throws at them.  Some of the bits of the stories that they cut are the parts where the kids are showing off their individual talents - like a scene in 'The Wide Window' where they use a peppermint allergy to escape from a nasty situation.  There are some added scenes where they really capture this though - like the sequence where the Baudelaires are locked in a car on the railroad tracks and the train is a-coming.  They manage to escape only by using their combined talents, and this is one of my favorite sequences in the movie.

And how is Jim Carrey as Count Olaf?  He's sinister.  He's hilarious.  You love to hate him.  In short, he's just about perfect.  There may be a moment or two where he takes things a little too far - a little too Jim Carrey and not enough Count Olaf - with the silly faces and funny noises, but for the most part he's great.  And as Count Olaf is a master of disguise (well, sort of.  He'll never fool the kids, but the adults fall for it every time.)  Jim Carrey is really playing three different characters, and he makes each of them his own.  It could be argued that Count Olaf gets too much time in the spotlight, and the story is supposed to be about the Baudelaire orphans, not the villain.  But hey.  I love to see a great villain.

Things are changed around for the ending a little bit.  One thing that happens from time to time in the books is the siblings get separated and either Klaus or Violet has to pick up the slack as they are down one of the skill-sets they need to get out of a sticky situation.  The movie has that too, with Klaus tapping into Violet's talents and inventing a grappling hook to rescue Sunny.

Some of the main themes of the books are how bad things happen to good people.  That's just how the world works.  How we wish things could be are not the same as how things are.  The movie captures 'How we wish things could be' vs. 'How things really are' well in two scenes near the end.  One where Lemony Snicket says that he wishes he could end the story with 'And then they caught Count Olaf, and he was forced to endure all the hardships that he inflicted on the Orphans.'  We get a hilarious montage of Count Olaf getting run over by a train and attacked by carnivorous leeches.  And then we learn that in actuality he escaped justice and would be back once again to torment the Baudelaires.  The other is where the Orphans visit their childhood home (which had burned down in the beginning of the story) and see it as they wish to see it - in it's former glory - as the camera pans over it and the beauty fades to ashes before their eyes.  It's a beautiful and sad scene.

I'd be shirking my duties as an amateur film discussing person if I failed to mention that this movie is really gorgeous.  Seriously, it's just really nice to look at.  It's got a quirky Gothic/German Expressionistic/Steampunk type feel to it.  A bit like a Tim Burton movie, but it's not just copying Burton, it's doing it's own thing.  It doesn't quite capture the feel of Brett Helquist's illustrations from the books, but it knows what aesthetic it's going for and stays true to that aesthetic.  It's a good movie to pop in of you're in need of some creative inspiration.

The themes of family sticking together and relying on each other to get through hard times are really strong in this movie.  As a fan of the books, I don't mind that they changed things around a little bit.  They captured the spirit of the books but they weren't afraid to be their own thing.  I think I'd miss all of the scenes they added if they weren't there.  And honestly, if this were an adaption that were 100% faithful to the source material, what would the point be of making an adaption?  If a movie is identical to the book, you may as well just read the book.  This captures the feel of the books and brings something new to the table as well.

Good movie.  Check it out.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Geekboy's Movie Poster Collection: Part 1

So I just spent the last two weeks doing a massive remodel of my bedroom.  Throwing Spackle around, repainting, building new shelves, tearing out old carpet, and rearranging my furniture.  I decided I wanted some new wall art to go with the new paint job.  I'd found a dealer on Ebay who specializes in the reproduction of vintage posters at reasonable prices, and I'd been drooling over them for a while.  I finally took the plunge and purchased some of my favorites.

First up we have the 1941 Republic serial 'Jungle Girl'.  If you know me you know that this is my all time favorite serial, so picking up this one was an obvious move.

As this dealer also had the 1942 follow up, 'Perils of Nyoka,' I bought it as well so I'd have a complete set.

Third we have 1949's 'King of the Rocketmen'.  This is the first of four Republic serials to feature the Rocketman suit - the others being 'Radar men from the Moon' (1952) 'Zombies of the Stratosphere' (1952) and 'Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe' (1953).  Each of the Rocketman serials uses a significant amount of stock footage from the previous installments, so watching them back to back can get pretty redundant.

Fun fact: The Rocketman serials are the primary source of inspiration for Dave Steven's comicbook hero 'The Rocketeer'.

George Lucas also named one of the Clone Troopers from Star Wars 'Commander Cody' as a tribute to the character from 'Radar Men' and 'Sky Marshal'.

And finally we have the 1968 science fiction film 'The Green Slime'.  This is kind of the odd one out in a collection for Cliffhanger Serial posters, but it's an awesome poster and I wanted it, okay?

It may be an awesome poster, but the movie that goes with it is slightly less awesome.  It does have a rocking theme song though - give a listen here:


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954)

Happy Monster Month.

'Creature of the Black Lagoon.'  This is very special movie for me.  One, because I was at Wakulla Springs Florida (where portions of 'Black Lagoon' was filmed) when I was seven or eight years old.  Two, this is the first monster movie I saw (excluding the '33 King Kong) when I was about 16 or 17, and that kicked off my classic monster movie obsession.

As it was my first monster movie, I didn't know at the time just how impressive the Gill-Man costume was.  The two actors portraying the creature (Ben Chapman on land, Ricou Browning underwater) were covered head to toe in rubber, yet moved naturally.  The Creature moves gracefully underwater, and when he's on land gasping for breath you can see his gills moving as well.  Compare with the Ro-Man costume from 1953's 'Robot Monster' released just one year prior to 'Black Lagoon.'

Yeah, no contest, right?

'Creature from the Black Lagoon' is less a monster movie, and more an adventure movie that happens to have a monster in it.  It begins with geologist Carl Maia's discovery of a fossilized webbed hand belonging to an undiscovered creature in a rock deposit deep in the Amazon jungle.  He returns to civilization to assemble a team of scientists in the hope of discovering the rest of the creature's skeleton.

The newly assembled expedition includes Ichthyologist David Reed (played by Richard Carlson) his girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams) and their boss Mark Williams (Richard Denning).  Fans of classic Mystery shows may recognize Richard Denning as the male half of detective duo 'Mr. and Mrs. North.'

The team of scientists theorize that the fossilized could belong to a lungfish style fish/man hybrid.  So they hire a boat and set off down the Amazon river.  David is in it for the science.  Kay is mostly just along for the ride.  Mark is very obviously coming for the money and fame that comes with discovery.

They return to Carl's base camp and discover that it's been attacked.  The two men guarding the camp have been ripped to shreds.  Amusingly, the scientist tell Kay to 'go stand over there' while they investigate.  So she's standing by the bank of the river and this webbed hand starts creeping towards her ankle.  The music is building all sinister-like, and then SHE MOVES!  The sinister music fizzles and the hand slinks back into the water in a dejected 'Aw, rats!' type way.  That's right, the Gill-Man can be foiled by taking two steps forward.  Hilarious.

So the team spends several days digging in the rock deposit where Carl first found the hand without finding anything.  Theorizing that part of the rock deposit could have broken off and washed down river.  So they follow the tributary to where it ends - the titular 'Black Lagoon'.  The scientist go searching for rock samples, and Kay decides to go swimming.  Yep, this is probably the most famous sequence in the movie.  Scratch that.  This IS the most famous sequence in the movie.  If you ask anyone on the street if they've seen 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' they'd say: "Isn't that the one where the pretty girl goes swimming with the monster?  They really should've posted some 'no swimming' signs!"

So the Gill-Man, fascinated by Kay, follows her from a distance and gets caught in the ship's fishing net.  After putting up a struggle that very nearly sinks their ship, the creature breaks free, and the scientists know they're after a big find.  Mark decides he wants to kill the creature and bring it back as a trophy, while David argues that they should leave it alive to study.  They devise a plan to drug the water and force the Gill-Man to surface.  Unfortunately the Creature is only groggy when he surfaces, and he attacks and kills one of the members of the expedition, and tries to carry off Kay before he is captured.

The cage the team built to contain the Gill-Man proves insufficient, and the creature breaks free that night.  He attacks and injures one of the crew members, but is scared off by the light from a lantern.  After an argument between David, Mark, and the Captain, the team decides to cut their losses and head for home.  But they soon discover that the Creature build a dam around the entrance of the lagoon.  They're trapped.  Mark sees this as an opportunity for one last chance to try and kill the creature, and tensions between Mark and David come to a head.  And can they stop the Gill-Man from carrying Kay off the his underwater cave?

I was big into Crypt-zoology as a kid.  I read just about everything I could get my hands on about Sasquatch lore, the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti...
This movie really captures that feeling of heading off into the uncharted wilderness to find something that may or may not exist.  'Creature from the Black Lagoon' really taps into that romanticized idea I had as a kid of adventure and the thrill of discovery.  So, yeah, it's not so much a monster movie as it is an adventure movie with a monster in it.  But it's a GOOD adventure movie with a monster in it.