Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Thoughts on “Alien Contamination”

April 22, 2021

So despite having the name “Alien Contamination”, this movie from the “The Deadly Beyond” compilation is really more of a horror movie than a sci-fi movie.  It’s also one of the movies that made me realize just how common a theme deadly viral infections are in sci-fi/horror movies (which I note more now for obvious reasons).  Here, it isn’t a virus that’s doing the killing, but instead pods brought back from Mars during a Mars mission that are deliberately being seeded around the world and that kill or convert those who encounter them (mostly kill).

What is interesting about this take on the contamination plot is that normally the contamination starts and is a threat because people act stupidly or carelessly towards them and that’s what causes it to spread.  Here, they tend to act fairly intelligently towards them and take lots of precautions, and so the real threat is that one of the astronauts from the mission is deliberately trying to spread them and so he needs to be stopped.  Opposing him is a agent assigned to stop the infection, an expert she brought in to help, and the other astronaut on that mission.  They try to set this up as a kind of love triangle, but while they give her the most resolution with the expert, they also end up killing him off in a long, long dragged out scene and leave her seemingly with the astronaut who was not really developed all that well as a love interest.  Again, they approach the issue mostly intelligently, but it devolves into an action movie with a long, drawn out threat and death scene right at the end.

The version in this compilation also has really, really bad cinematography.  I’m not sure if that was how it was filmed or if that was just the version that was available, but it’s really noticeable here.

As for the characters, the female lead is unnecessarily aggressive and hostile until the end, the astronaut is more reasonably hostile since he was sick of people not trusting or believing him, and the expert is actually kinda amusing and so the most sympathetic of them all.  Still, this is not a set of characters to build a sympathetic cast out of, although they do all resolve their issues as the movie goes on, which is nice.

With the poor production values and the weak plot and characterization, this is not a movie that I’d really care to watch again, even though it wasn’t terrible.

Thoughts on “Mutant”

April 15, 2021

So the pack that I have called “The Deadly Beyond” contains a fairly even split of sci-fi/fantasy and horror.  I’ve covered “Slipstream” and “Warriors of the Wasteland” on the sci-fi side, and here I’m going to cover the first horror movie from that collection, “Mutant”.  This is essentially a zombie flick with a more science fiction premise, where it seems to be some kind of alien infection rather than a simple virus or some sort of magic, which means that it pretty much follows the tropes of those movies.  However, it also kinda flubs some of the themes of those sorts of movies.

The movie opens with two brothers driving down a country road, heading somewhere to get the one brother over being dumped by his girlfriend.  They encounter a bunch of locals, get into a car combat type of thing with them, which ends up with their car in the ditch and them having to walk to the next town, where the locals, including the sheriff, are not all that much more welcoming, but they get put up with a strange woman and we eventually find that some sort of alien influence is turning people into zombies.  The one brother disappears (he was turned into one) and the other brother takes up with a local teacher as they try to figure out what’s going on and escape the town.

So one of the themes or tropes that they whiff on is that the brother who survives to the end and is the main character is not the brother whose girlfriend had dumped him, but instead the other brother.  The first issue with this is that that brother is, in fact, kinda a jerk.  While the locals were unnecessarily hostile, he didn’t really help his case by being hostile back at them.  So we’re going to have a hard time liking him enough to feel sympathetic for his plight.  Meanwhile, the other brother was presented as being more reasonable and so was easier to like.  Also, it makes more sense to put him into a romantic plot to make his being dumped relevant to the story, which isn’t the case for the existing brother.  Finally, the brother who becomes the lead was presented as being protective of his brother and spends a lot of the movie trying to find and save him, but can’t do so.  That not only makes that arc a downer arc, but also means that they can’t use the superior plot of the other brother having to step up on his own and protect himself and others, which would have been more interesting.

The other theme they miss out on is the female lead.  She’s aggressively useless throughout the entire work except for a brief scene where she shows empathy for one of her students (who I think ends up dead).  Yes, it’s rather a trope for the female lead to need protection, but she doesn’t do anything else in the entire movie.  It’s really difficult to see why he seems to like her so much and why they get together.  Which means that she’s not very sympathetic, and we really do need the female lead in a horror movie to be sympathetic … especially if she’s not the active character.  We really don’t want her to turn into the load when we’re supposed to want the hero to rescue her.

So, unsympathetic leads and a rather standard zombie plot that stuffs in overly aggressively hostile locals.  This isn’t a movie that I’d want to watch again.

Thoughts on “Captain Marvel”

April 12, 2021

So this is the second half of my “Captain Marvel” watches starting from last week.  Since this is from Marvel, they actually did call it “Captain Marvel”.  Now, I had only come across this from its discussions in the media, including in two posts on my own blog:  one about a cut scene and one about an interpretation of one of the last scenes in the movie.  As the title of the first post listed above suggests, I wasn’t all that interested in watching the movie or buying, despite in general buying most of the MCU movies fairly soon after they came out.  I had been disappointed by “Black Panther” and pretty much all the positive reviews of “Captain Marvel” said pretty much the same sorts of things:  the diversity was great and wonderful but there wasn’t very much said about the movie itself.  But it was cheap and so in perhaps a moment of weakness I ended up buying it … which has the rather frightening implication that maybe, just maybe, if “Rise of Skywalker” ends up being equally cheap I might end up buying it as well.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk about the cut scene with the biker, but do think I need to address the end scene where Yon-Rogg challenges her to fight without her powers and she rather pointedly refuses.  But let me talk about the rest of the movie first.

The main plot is, of course, the origin story of Carol Danvers, also known as Captain Marvel.  She was someone who grew up on Earth but is training with and part of a commando group of Kree warriors, who are fighting with the Skrull.  As the movie goes on, we find out that Danvers has incredible powers given to her by the Kree scientists Mar-Vell, and that she lost her memory fleeing from an attack on Mar-Vell by the Kree, as Mar-Vell had come to believe that what the Kree were doing to the Skrulls was wrong.  The Skrulls are presented at the end as a beaten species that just wants to find somewhere to hide from the Kree.  Danvers has been chafing a bit under the very rigid and orderly approach of the Kree, and learns to let her powers — and her emotions — free to gain her abilities, breaks free of the device that they use to control her, defeats the Kree and Yon-Rogg and defends the Skrulls from the Kree, with the help of Nick Fury and her old friend from Earth.

One of the major issues I had with the movie is that Carol Danvers herself is not a very interesting character or at least isn’t presented as one.  In fact, she’s actually pretty annoying for most of it.  A big part of this is that I think the writers bought into the idea that the lead in these movies has to snark, but the snark really doesn’t work in this movie.  First, the snark isn’t all that interesting or funny in and of itself.  Second, Brie Larson doesn’t really have the charisma to pull off the snark, not being light enough to make it come across as humour aimed at defusing situations like Spider-Man nor the arrogant sort of snarking like Iron Man.  Third, it actually comes across as being out of place, since the Kree don’t generally joke that way — so she didn’t learn it from them — and she does it in situations where one would think that she’d be taking things more seriously … or, in fact, often in cases where it seems to be done just to annoy the people she’s using it against.  Which then leads to the problem with it:  it ends up coming across as annoying, not funny.  So it stands out, sure, but stands out for the wrong reasons.

You could try to argue that I only say that because it’s a woman snarking whereas I’ve have no problem with men snarking (as my examples are of men including the pretty much deliberately annoying Tony Stark), but this would ignore that I actually like the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, whose female character certainly snarked.  But more importantly, I really like the snark between Black Widow and Cap in “Winter Soldier”.  It works because Cap works as a straight man, the jokes are funny, and they aren’t inappropriately timed.  They also follow a theme and so become a bit of a running gag.  Scarlett Johansson can pull it off as well without being annoying or seeming overly arrogant, and Cap’s reactions allow him to be the straight man but not be annoyed by it either.  He can play along, which gives us the impression that it’s okay for Widow to be doing that there.  In contrast, the people she snarks at always react humourlessly to it and don’t play along, and since we don’t have any reason to dislike them at that point Carol comes off more as someone pointlessly annoying people than as someone simply making some snarky jokes.

Now, they could have made this work as a character point, by making it so that Carol felt the need to snark because of her nature but that it didn’t fit in with the Kree mindset, leaving us — and her — puzzled about why she did it, but then when she’s reunited with her friend have them fall into an effortless banter, which would show that she was doing that because it was what she was used to and that the awkwardness and inappropriateness was her grasping for what she had before and not finding it among the people she was with at the time.  However, this would have required her to be shown striving to control her snark and trying to fit in so that at the end she would be shown to be back where she actually belongs.  But the movie didn’t really show that.

And, in general, that’s a huge flaw in the movie.  Danvers doesn’t really seem to want to try to fit in with the group or do things the way they say.  From the start, she always seems to want to be doing things her own way.  But the problem is that the things that she’s being taught aren’t actually bad things, nor does her rejecting them seem like a triumphant rejection.  She starts out being trained to fight without using her powers, but always fails and ends up using them anyway.  But in pretty much any other movie and in comics in general, even those with powers are encouraged to learn to fight without them just in case.  Wolverine explicitly teaches Storm in the comics to use a gun because it’s the last thing her opponents will expect, which comes in quite handy when she is temporarily depowered by Forge’s anti-mutant weapon.  And while throughout the movie they show her taking risks or facing risks and doing things anyway, the idea that she needs to control her impulsive behaviour is pretty reasonable.  In one case, she wasn’t allowed to go-kart with the boys but does it anyway, and while doing so spins off the track in a way that ruins the kart and could have injured her greatly.  We’re supposed to think of her doing that as being inspirational, but the fact is that she almost got herself or the others on the track with her badly injured.  It’s a pretty reasonable argument to say that she wasn’t really ready to do that and at least should have waited.

So while the Kree might well have been trying to control her, their actual message that she needed to learn control was actually pretty valid.

This, then, undercuts the purportedly feminist message of the movie, which wasn’t very well developed in the first place.  There are hints that a lot of the challenges she faced in her younger days were because of sexism, but as noted above in a lot of those cases she was, herself, not really ready for those things anyway.  Moreover, at the end of the movie where it portrays her as always getting up from when she was knocked down, that’s portrayed as a human trait, not a female one (which I think is the best one to use in a movie like this anyway).  At the end, they have her fighting the final battle to the tune “I’m Just a Girl” by Aqua, but there’s no reason to think that the Kree — or anyone else — thought of her as a woman first and so denigrated her for that, or even that they denigrated her for who she was at all (other than by being human and acting like humans).  Moreover, in that very battle there was a female Kree warrior, who was probably the second-best of the team and was the second-last one to be defeated.  So the link to feminism in the actual plot and characterization was weak.

And yet it does seem like they wanted to make that link.  Aside from all the songs being from women or female bands, they also made Mar-Vell a woman and used her as the person that Carol most admired.  This is a recast from the comics, where Mar-Vell was a man.  So it’s clear that they did this to ensure that Carol’s mentor was a woman instead of a man, but they didn’t actually do anything with it.  That never matters in the movie.  So if you were a fan of the original comics, it’s a blatant attempt to replace the male character with a female character for no purpose, which is going to be grating.  So the feminism, it seems to me, is surface only:  some songs, some hints, some comments, a change of mentor but overall something that has no real meaning in the movie itself.  So to anyone paying attention, it looks really unimportant and yet so obvious that it stands out as something they deliberately did but that they also didn’t actually manage to do anything with.  So it looks a bit token.

This also carries over to Fury and Coulson, who are in the movie but are horribly underused.  Coulson is only in a couple of scenes which is kinda a nice callback to what he did in the earliest movies but is a bit disappointing for his first return to the actual movies for a while.  Fury does stay in the movie but as the established MCU badass he’s horribly underused.  He doesn’t really do anything of significance in the movie itself, either through force or arms or through inspiring speeches.  He ends up, for the most part, as comic relief, as he gets saved by a horrible alien creature masquerading as a cat but when he deliberately tries to use the creature to defend himself it’s when the enemies are actually disguised Skrulls.  Even worse, the movie makes it so that he loses his eye to an irritated swipe from the cat creature, which is both not at all funny and actually retroactively ruins “Winter Soldier”, because there Fury justifies his distrustful nature to Cap by saying that the last time he trusted someone he lost an eye.  Well, that’s not what happened here unless you take a really, really broad view of the situation and the meaning of “trust”.  Now, this isn’t a complete rewrite because we would be willing to believe that Fury would be willing to lie about that to get Cap’s trust, but it does weaken the scene and the character, because we lose the justification for his actions and so it weakens the debate between him and Cap that was carried on throughout the entire movie.

The change to the Skrulls was also a bit of an issue.  In the comics, both the Kree and the Skrulls were villains with a long-standing grudge and war against each other.  Here, the movie pretty much presents the Kree as the villains and the Skrulls as an oppressed group, but anyone who followed the comics knows that they are not that innocent.  And the movie starts out with us thinking that they are villains and converts them later through the idea that they are just trying to settle down and avoid being wiped out … while setting them up as having their shapeshifting abilities and being entirely willing to use them to infiltrate other societies and use that against them.  I had a really hard time thinking of them as being that innocent, especially since they don’t say how the war actually started.  I think it would have worked better to give that history, showing that both the Kree and Skrull were expansionist with the Skrulls mainly relying on infiltration and the Kree on military force, but the Skrulls had managed to build enough of an empire that military force had been working for them … until they hit the Kree, who simply overpowered them, so they retreated to infiltration which made the Kree paranoid and so insisting on wiping them out so that they couldn’t infiltrate and perhaps strike back against them (especially since their Supreme Intelligence is one massive weak point).  This would have allowed the Skrulls to remain more gray while both giving Mar-Vell a reason to oppose the later moves without having to be complicit in the earlier moves that might have been equally wrong.  Here, opposing the Skrulls was the right thing to do, but it would be reasonable for her to oppose the final purge of all Skrulls out of paranoia.

Both Black Panther and Captain Marvel have problems with their most personal villain.  In Black Panther, the movie seemed to want us to feel sympathetic to a villain that wasn’t at all sympathetic, while in Captain Marvel the movie seems to want us to consider Yon-Rogg a complete villain when the movie doesn’t really establish him as that.  Other than being completely willing to execute his mission of eliminating the Skrull, he doesn’t seem that evil at all, and even in his actions doesn’t seem necessarily all that much more brutal than the Skrull were at the beginning.  In his relations to Carol, he doesn’t seem to be dismissive of her, and seems to respect her and might even like her.  Some of the comments in the movie set him up to be a romantic interest, not an oppressor.  More importantly, he seems to actually believe the principles of his own culture and isn’t just trying to impose them on her for his own benefit.  His actions throughout the movie show this.  So the best conflict as per the movie is cultural, not personal, or at least is the tragic personal conflict of two people who like and respect each other ending up on opposite sides because of their own personal ethical codes.

Which returns me, then, to the final scene.  Here, Yon-Rogg offers her personal, hand-to-hand combat in a callback to the beginning of the movie, where she consistently in training is supposed to fight without her powers but always ends up getting angry and using them anyway (mostly because she always loses without her powers).  Carol looks like she might accept it, and then blasts him with her powers saying “I don’t need to prove anything to you!”.  What makes interpreting this scene difficult is that the line suggests that the offer is about her being able to prove her ability without her powers, but the overall plot is more about her having to reject and break the Kree control of her abilities (as they had given her an implant that let them control her powers that she had to break).  So I do think that the final scene is about her not letting herself be controlled by the Kree, either directly or indirectly through their code of honour.

However, the problem with the entire sequence is that it’s supposed to be a huge personal moment for her character … but in its structure it really isn’t.  In a more normal sequence, what we’d have in that scene is that she accepts his offer and beats him without her powers, and thus has the character moment where she actually can win without her powers.  Subverting that isn’t a bad move, but in order to do that they needed to give her something else to fill that character moment, but that gets blocked by the fact that Yon-Rogg, in general, really does seem to believe what he espouses.  In a comment on my post on the scene, Featherfoot commented that he had shown that he was willing to fight in unfair fights throughout the movie, but those were all cases where that was acceptable according to their military code.  Here, it really looks like he’s offering Carol the chance to prove not to him but to herself that she can do it, and she declines it for no real reason (of course, he is indeed aware that it’s also the only chance he had to win, but then again he had to expect that if he did win she’d use her powers to stop him anyway).  And then at the end when she offers him her hand to help him up but then uses it to drag him back to his ship that looks far more like bullying than a reasonable reaction, because it was completely reasonable to think that he would have agreed to return to Kree and give the message she wanted him to give anyway, and that would have been a more reasonable ending than what they actually did between them, since again the two characters didn’t seem to have real reason to hate each other, and he didn’t seem to hate her (at least, not before that point).  So it works if we think of him as a terrible and evil character, but he didn’t come across that way to me, and so it falls flat.  They either needed to make him less ambiguous or make her more subdued in her reaction.

As it is, that last scene with the hand really makes me thing of her as a bully, which her appearances in Endgame haven’t done anything to allay.

So, what did I think of this movie overall?  It’s not a terrible movie, and not one that I spent my time disliking it like I did for Black Panther.  But it’s not a great movie either.  Carol’s snarking is annoying, there isn’t a great character arc, I have issues with the Skrulls seeming to be a blameless oppressed species, the villain does not seem to be as villainous as the movie thinks he is, and a lot of the things that Carol rebels against learning are things that she probably actually needs to learn.  As a movie itself, then, I’m not really interested in the character or the plot and so don’t want to watch it again as a standalone movie.  But it’s also the case that nothing in its MCU phase depends on it either, and some of the things it does — like Fury’s eye, or naming the Avengers after her callsign — make things less interesting or more problematic in the MCU movies that came before it.  So I have no interest in watching it as part of a regular MCU watch either.  So I’ll park it at least in the box to maybe rewatch later and maybe move it to the one to maybe sell if I ever get around to that.

Thoughts on “Trick ‘r Treat”

April 8, 2021

“Trick ‘r Treat” is a horror movie that I’ve had sitting in my closet for years, from even before the blog existed.  I was browsing in HMV and picked up a couple of things to buy, and this movie was at the front for a very discounted price that the clerk was more than happy to draw my attention to.  It sounded interesting and I recognized Anna Paquin, so I figured I’d give it a try.  And then never actually got around to watching it.  Since for the past few months I’ve been on a push to work through the various movies I’ve bought and haven’t watched — especially for the horror movies while I could start to see the end of the stacks — I decided to finally sit down at watch it.

This movie is another horror anthology, with a set of stories all set around Hallowe’en in a small American town.  While the box itself tries to set it up around Anna Paquin’s character as she moves through the town and is seemingly stalked by a killer, in reality the stories aren’t particularly connected at all.  For the most part, the connections are all coincidental, which is actually not a bad thing, as it lets each story stand on its own.  The most direct connection is that the aforementioned serial killer who stalks Anna Paquin’s character ends up getting his comeuppance because it turns out that she and her friends are all werewolves hunting for victims, and he becomes one.  We also see a group of kids trying to find a bus where the driver killed a bunch of kids on Hallowe’en long ago, and there is a connection to an old man who happened to be the bus driver and gets his own comeuppance.  At the beginning and the end we see a young couple where the woman is not in the mood for Hallowe’en and gets killed for it, which brings the night and movie to a close.

The movie is actually fairly good.  Since each segment is loosely related but separate, we simply follow through each group as they go along in the town and hit their own story.  This allows the movie the freedom to insert a bunch of different sorts of horror without having to explain why each is happening or link them to each other (having to link them together was a big flaw in “Portals”).  We just have a strange town where strange things happen.  That’s it.

If I have any criticism, it’s that the movie is very set on giving characters their comeuppance except for when it comes to Anna Paquin’s werewolves.  Sure, her victim was actually the serial killer and completely deserved it, but they pick up some guys who were filming a news story in the town and so surely only wanted to party with some hot chicks.  So the serial killer gets his comeuppance, and the bus driver gets his, but the werewolves instead are cheerfully heading out of town with the implication that Anna Paquin’s character made her first kill — the analogy is to losing her virginity until the, ahem, climax — despite the fact that they quite likely killed innocent people for their own personal pleasure (since Anna Paquin’s character had been implied to be holding off on making her first kill, they don’t seem to need to kill to survive).  The contrast in treatment is noticeable and annoying.

Still, the movie is actually pretty good.  It moves fairly well and does an anthology of unrelated stories in a way that doesn’t require it to have a fully explained link between them while at the same time reminding us that, yes, they are in fact linked.  I am putting this movie in my closet of movies that I plan to rewatch at some point.

Thoughts on “Shazam!”

April 6, 2021

While browsing in my local Walmart, I managed to get both of the recent “Captain Marvel” movies:  the one from Marvel and this one from DC.  The movie is not named “Captain Marvel” and they don’t mention the name at all in the movie as far as I can recall, but we know that it isn’t “Shazam!” because if that was the case then any time that he introduced himself he’d change back.  So what we have is the anonymous superhero whose name is probably Captain Marvel but that might get confused with the Marvel one and cause things like legal issues that they wanted to avoid at least until they saw if there was any profit to be made from the character.

I was hesitant to watch or look for this movie.  First, my only actual exposure to the character was one episode of Justice League Unlimited, a couple of scenes in some of the DC crossovers I had, and a story in a think a general “Legion of Superheroes” digest I had.  So he wasn’t one of my favourite characters.  Second, in general I’m not a huge DC fan, pretty much limited to Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans and Batman as the ones that I recalled and collected (except for their animated series, which I’m a big fan of).  Third, while I had watched a lot of the movies, the Snyderverse versions were not ones that I had much interest in because I had heard that they were overly dark, and I had even passed for the most part on Christian Bale’s Batman movies.  Fourth, ironically what I heard about this movie was that it was pretty light and funny, and while that would appeal to me more than the darker movies it wasn’t really what I was looking for either.

But it’s amazing how much more appealing a movie can be when it’s cheap.

And after watching it, it isn’t all that light a movie.  Yes, there is quite a bit of humour in it, as you’d expect from a movie where a young kid ends up getting superpowers and has to learn how to use them, and of course uses them in a manner consistent with how a kid would look at being a superhero.  But there are a lot of more serious issues underlying the movie, starting from the fact that Billy Batson had essentially — and literally — lost his mother and was trying to find her, and moving through the serious parental issues of the villain, the issues with the foster family that Billy is placed with, the bullying issues and the like that his closest friend in that family is dealing with, the fact that the oldest girl has the opportunity to go to school but doesn’t want to lead her family, coupled with Billy having to learn what it really means to be a hero.  What is nice about the movie is that, in general, the funny and the serious work well together and don’t get in each others’ way overmuch.  We don’t generally get huge mood swings or mood whiplash moving from the funny to the serious and back again, which allows us to stay in the movie and just follow it along through its running time.

However, my overall impression while watching the movie was that it was too long.  Yet, it was just over two hours, which isn’t that long for a superhero movie.  But on reflection I think the main issue is not that the movie is too long, but that it seems to insert a lot of its plot and character moments in at odd times, times that we notice.  As noted above, there are actually a lot of plot and character points in this movie.  For the most part, they are all properly developed and properly paid off (Mary’s issues with leaving her family are the exception as it isn’t really resolved and isn’t even mentioned in the end family scene which is where we would have expected it to be).  But because there are so many of them, they often have to make huge shifts from what was happening to resolve them.  For example, at one point Billy and the family member who is supporting him as a superhero and teaching him, at least, what it means to be a superhero are fighting with each other over him admonishing Billy to not use the Captain Marvel powers for Billy’s own self-interest but then asking Billy to use it to help him become popular, and right after they have their big fight that we know they will have to resolve fairly soon the movie stops to have the hacker in the family find Billy’s mother so that he can run off and talk to her, discovering that she actually pretty much willingly abandoned him when he wandered off at the amusement park, considering it a relief because she wasn’t really ready for a child.  The scene works — and was to be expected, as I was wondering why she couldn’t find him if someone took him to the police and lost and found — and is developed properly, but it really feels like the movie was not quite stopped but redirected to resolve this point when the natural flow of the movie would have been to start moving towards resolving their conflict.  So it really feels like the movie felt that it needed to deal with this now before the climax rather than something that flowed organically from the rest of the plot, which I think made it seem like the movie was moving slower than it should have been.

Another example of this is the climax.  When the power gets shared and they create the Marvel Family, the movie should have simply flowed into and through the final battle.  But there were issues with the bullies to deal with, as well as Billy having to deal with the villain and a few other things, which made the climax seem drawn out.  Yes, everything was set up properly and concluded in a reasonably satisfying way, but because the time had to be made to deal with all of those issues at that time the flow seems off, and the movie seems to stop at times to fit that in.

It’s also a bit of an interesting move to not make Billy Batson the real chosen one of Shazam! here.  Shazam first tries to recruit the main villain, but finds that he can’t resist the temptations of the vices that he’s trying to contain.  He keeps trying to find someone who can do that, but keeps failing.  Finally, the main villain finds a way into his lair and takes the vices out, and so without any kind of proper way to test and with failing power he finally just picks Billy and gives it to him.  Which makes Billy a bit of an odd choice, because at that point Billy isn’t all that pure, and is instead a bit of a delinquent and prankster.  This shifts from what was at least my understanding of the original work, where Billy was chosen for his qualities which would explain why a child ended up with that much power.  So that’s odd, but it doesn’t really matter all that much to the movie, other than to Billy having a bit of a crisis of confidence when the main villain attacks and he finally realizes that this is serious, and so has to finally develop into the hero that he was at least supposed to be.  But he doesn’t start as any kind of hero.

The villain is also far more serious than the Dr. Sivana I vaguely remember, being pretty competent and completely and totally evil.  He has a serious reason for his villainy and is consumed by revenge for various reasons, and is pursuing the power of Shazam for those precise reasons.  I think a villain who could have added more humour might have been a good thing here, but it works out reasonably well and definitely means that the movie can’t be a simple jokefest.

Other than my nebulous feelings about the length of the movie, “Shazam!” isn’t a bad movie.  I think it is a bit overstuffed which is its biggest failing, but it doesn’t fall apart into confusion like some other overstuffed movies.  The humour and serious parts mix pretty well.  I think I might watch this movie again at some point.

Thoughts on “Anne”

April 1, 2021

I think I was fooled with this movie by thinking that it had something to do with the “Conjuring” series, mainly associated with the later “Annabelle” movies that focused more specifically on the specific dolls that were associated with the first movie.  Then again, after watching “The Conjuring” I haven’t watched anything else in that series, so that really shouldn’t have driven me to actually watch this movie.

The basic premise of this movie is that a mentally disturbed woman lives alone in a house with a bunch of dolls, watching a kind of self-affirmation show that she really likes.  Some strange things start happening, and things keep getting stranger.  We see a strange man show up around the house who turns out to be her son, and then the main character — Anne, natch — gets injured and needs a nurse, the house gets sold, and we eventually discover that Anne had died quite some time ago and that the son is the one with the mental illness, and that he’s been fantasizing that the women who has now moved into the house is Anne’s nurse and so has been harassing the new owner.

This movie doesn’t really work as horror.  Yes, there are some creepy scenes, but for the most part all we see is Anne going out her daily business while some creepy things happen.  So any possible horror is smothered under the intense boredom of the movie.  There are long stretches where nothing at all happens.  If the character of Anne was compelling or did compelling things, that might be interesting, but she doesn’t and so it isn’t.  It’s not creepy enough to really build suspense and too dull to keep our interest.

Now, the movie didn’t have to really do full-on horror.  It could have done something like “The Dark Stranger” and been more an examination of the mental illness itself examined through a horror lens.  Except that it doesn’t do that either, possibly because that wouldn’t have been boring.  We don’t really find out anything about her mental illness, nor do we really see anything that relates to it, nor does the plot or characterization make it a key component.  Plus, it pulls the rug out from under any such an examination with the twist that the son was in fact the one whose mental illness was being shown as far as we can tell.  And since he’s not a focus character, we don’t get any sense of his mental illness.  It could be the case that both of them had a mental illness, but the movie doesn’t really do anything to establish that.

And all of this makes the twist utterly pointless, useless and nonsensical.  The movie in no way shows that the son had any mental illness at all (other than, perhaps, that the other son was going to sell the house, but that is presented as them going to move her to a home).  Since the movie is shown from Anne’s perspective, even the nurse is shown as, well, being a nurse and there is no indication that anything is wrong (other than perhaps that the nurse might not be treating Anne that well, although that is presented as trying to push Anne to do more for herself).  So the entire movie is spent examining what really seems like and really would have to be Anne’s delusions, and then at the end it tries to convince us that the delusions are the son’s … even when he wasn’t present.  So the twist makes no sense because the movie does nothing to set it up, and so it seems to come out of nowhere and, again, because it wasn’t set up at all in the movie it doesn’t even seem clever or cool.  It’s a twist for the sake of a twist, in a movie where that sort of twist didn’t actually make sense.

“Anne” is incredibly boring, not at all scary, and ends with a nonsensical and uninteresting twist.  This is going in my box of movies to possibly sell at a later date.

Subverting Expectations in “The Last Jedi” and “Star By Star”

March 31, 2021

I’ve been re-reading all of my Legends Star Wars books, and have been working through “New Jedi Order” for a while now, and when writing the last post comparing it to the sequel trilogy I had intended to write about other things about my reactions to the “New Jedi Order”.  First up is yet another comparison to the sequel trilogy, this time specifically to “The Last Jedi” and its attempt to subvert expectations.  This has been a common comment made about the movie, including in an analysis by Shamus Young that I addressed in a discussion of “Knives Out”, which was claimed to be the same sort of subversion.  Here, what I want to do is note that the novel “Star By Star” in “New Jedi Order” was more of a subversion of Star Wars tropes and expectations than “The Last Jedi” was, and it wasn’t even trying to be one as much as “The Last Jedi” supposedly was.

As noted in my own review of “The Last Jedi”, the big issue there was that the movie was too ambiguous to really pull off a real subversion.  While he was indeed probably trying to subvert the typical hero moves with Poe getting chided for his “loose cannon” ways and the heroic mission of Finn and Rose being actually hugely detrimental to the Rebels, as well as Finn being stopped from committing a heroic sacrifice with the movie making that seem like it would have been a waste and so was undesirable.  However, how it was structured certainly made us question whether those who were questioning these tropes and expectations were, in fact, just plain wrong.  While they were chased through hyperspace anyway, having two of those super ships would probably have indeed simply ended up with them destroyed, and the tradeoff between what they lost killing the ship and what they gained by killing it was a tradeoff that most people would at least consider being debatable, and Leia getting that upset with Poe after serving in the Alliance with the irreverent Han Solo seems pretty unreasonable.  Holdo might seem like a commander who more believes in order, but her presentation is of the sort of commander that is too much of a stickler for procedure that has to be worked around, and her plan isn’t all that great a one.  And let’s not even start talking about all the character and plot problems that are introduced by Rose’s actions.  So while Johnson may have been trying to subvert expectations, the ambiguity in “The Last Jedi” pretty much kills our sense of that, which is really bad because most people I think reasonably believe that he really, really did want us to take that from the movie.

Now, “New Jedi Order” had set out to do things a bit differently from the start.  The enemy was not only not an evil Force User or Force Tradition, but instead was an enemy that was cut off from the Force completely.  They weren’t the Empire or anything that came from it.  They also used radically different technologies — biological — and had a strong distaste for most of the things that the Star Wars galaxy most loved, droids in particular.  Additionally, in the very first book “Vector Sigma Prime”, they decided that they wanted to shake things up and kill off a major character who had been a part of the franchise and of Legends to give the sense that anything can happen and anyone can die.  They chose Chewbacca.  And while I didn’t do a lot of research into it from my reading around they deliberately intended to do that again, this time killing off one of the Solo children, and they changed which one it was along the way.  So they were starting from a premise, again, that was trying to surprise the audience and leave them open to the idea that anything could happen (a risky move considering that a number of people were not all that happy with the trope in general and with it’s use in “Vector Prime”).

So the basic idea was this:  the enemy has created a new and terrible beast that can hunt down and kill the Jedi.  They discover, however, that it is being cloned somewhere deep inside enemy territory, and so if they can kill the queen then it will stop the enemy, presumably, from cloning more of them and so the beasts will die off.  Anakin Solo proposes a risky mission that will take them deep inside enemy territory but will have to exclude the more powerful and well-known Jedi like Luke Skywalker and Corran Horn.  So, essentially, it will involve all of the younger Jedi, the children of the main characters and all of the new up-and-coming ones, and thus will essentially be the first official mission of the “New Jedi Order”.  While Han is initially opposed to it, he is eventually persuaded to support it and ends up being the deciding vote to have the mission go ahead.  This is crucial because Chewbacca’s death introduced a couple of character themes related to Han and Anakin.  The first is that Han has had his feeling that he and his family cannot die and so has become overly protective of his family, and here he is voting to send all of his children into danger.  The second is that he at least initially blamed Anakin for Chewbacca’s death and this has created a rift between them.  On top of that, Anakin also through some unique adventures on Yavin gained the ability through his lightsaber to sense the enemy, which no one else can do, giving him a unique insight and perspective on them.  He also has a burgeoning romance with Tahiri who the enemy attempted to shape into becoming one of them and so also has a unique insight into the enemy.  So there are a lot of plotlines here around the character of Anakin, and as Kyp Durron notes once it looks like Anakin will be the future of the Jedi, and so the figurehead for the “New Jedi Order”.  He seems, then, to be an incredibly important character to the series and the future of the Legends works.

So what we’d expect, given the previous Star Wars and Legends works, is that they’d would go out and deal with the threat heroically.  There’d be obstacles, but they’d overcome them.  Perhaps some of the lesser known young Jedi would die.  After their success, Han and Anakin would settle their differences and the attempt would move reveal things that they could use to turn the battle against the enemy and start to build towards the ending.

That’s not what happens.

The mission is brutal.  They are behind the eight-ball from the start and end up realizing just how difficult such a mission would be and ultimately how stupid an idea it probably was.  For the most part, they are just desperately trying to stay alive.  Many of them are killed, and they are not relying on their Force abilities but instead on regular weaponry.  They run into some Dark Side users who help them for a time, but are never converted and instead run out on them with the ship they hoped to escape in.  They actually don’t manage to kill the queen, and it’s only a direct intervention by another character with her own agenda that results in the mission being a success, so while it wasn’t entirely for nothing, it wasn’t a resounding success.  At the end, most of them are dead, all of them are badly injured, Jacen Solo is captured and, most critically, Anakin Solo is dead.

This really does break from expectations.  Anakin Solo was the leader and looked to be stepping out as the leader of the “New Jedi Order”.  He also had an unresolved character arc with Han Solo.  Tahiri also almost kisses him but says that she’ll save it until he comes back, which is a hint that he will come back in Star Wars on par with “I know”.  He also was the only one who had any insight into the enemy, both from his lightsaber and from his experiences with the enemy that led to that.  As it turns out, he was also the focal point for a new religion among the enemy that was the best chance to overthrow the leader and the order and so lead to peace between them.  There were a lot of character and plot points that would suggest that Anakin would live.  Instead, he died, throwing all of that away and all of that into disorder.

I’m not going to claim that “Star By Star” is a true subversion, let alone that it was properly intended as one.  But unlike “The Last Jedi” the expectations are clear and the book does clearly subvert them, generating surprise, at least.  I think that “The Last Jedi” wants to try to subvert the philosophy more than the work itself, but it falters by falling into ambiguity.  It wants to be more a critique of the expectations than a subversion of them, whereas “Star By Star” has a purpose that’s more a desire to surprise the audience and get them wondering what might happen than to critique what the other things have done.  And in doing that, I think it does work better at going against the expectations of the audience and making it clear that things were not going to and didn’t work the way they expected it to.

Thoughts on “Warriors of the Wasteland”

March 30, 2021

So, in that pack of 11 movies that I talked about last time, some of them are more science fiction and some of them are more horror.  I’m working my way through the pack, and so am going to write about the science fiction movies as science fiction and write about the horror movies in my normal horror movie slot.  The second science fiction movie is “Warriors of the Wasteland” which is similar to “Slipstream” but shows how even when you take the basic idea of invent a world and situation that we can explore you can, indeed, still screw it up badly.

The main premise is that there was an I think nuclear war, and this has left society in a more Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic society where they all drive around in various vehicles and kill each other.  The main character is a specific warrior who always wants to travel pretty much alone, and the main villains are a quasi-religious group led by someone who blame humanity for the holocaust and wants to solve the problem by killing all the remaining humans with his band of men, who presumably don’t realize that he’d eventually want to kill them off as well.  The hero has a history with them, and gets involved with them when rescuing a woman from them.  There’s also another warrior who likes to fight wandering around, and a young kid who fixes things and wants to kill things as well.  They all come together with another group who are trying to survive and who are attacked by the main villains.

The big problem with this movie is that there aren’t all that many new and interesting environments to explore, but nothing else really makes sense or is developed properly, nor are the emotional connections made clear.  He picks up the woman, has sex with her, and at least tries to rescue her at the end, but there’s no real reason for him to do so.  He and the warrior have a history and he keeps rejecting help, but there’s no reason for him to do so and rejecting help when going to face a group where he will be outnumbered and where they want to kill him is just plain stupid.  We never really find out what the warrior’s deal is, nor really what the deal is with the kid.  And they introduce a signal that could indicate more survivors and perhaps something that isn’t the simple moving settlements that they’ve seen, but they never actually reveal what that was.  So all the movie can rely on is our interest in the main characters and their conflict, but it’s an underdeveloped conflict and the actors aren’t as good as the ones in “Slipstream”, so they don’t capture our interest with their performances.  Ultimately, there just isn’t anything here to keep our interest, and so it falters as a movie.

As you might guess, I don’t have any interest in watching this one again.  While it could have used its premise to have the wanderer take on the girl and meet people along with way and then built to a clash with the villains as it did at the end, there’s nothing in the middle to keep our interest and this makes the end clash a bit hollow emotionally.  This could have been better, but unfortunately it doesn’t really end up giving us anything to be interested in.

Thoughts on “The Nanny”

March 25, 2021

She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens when her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes …

Oops, wrong “The Nanny” …

No, this isn’t the sitcom starring Fran Drescher, but is instead a relatively recent horror movie that’s kinda about a sinister nanny.  Except it isn’t, since it’s really about fairies.  And some weird sinister monster.  And an anti-fairy father.  You know what?  I don’t think the movie actually knows what it’s supposed to be about, which is a weakness in the story.

The movie starts with the aforementioned father — played by Nicholas Brendon — having a lovely moment with his daughter, who is scared of something, and is then abducted.  We then move on to a new family where the boy is having problems and his slightly older sister is trying to get him out of trouble.  The mother then decides that she needs help — as she’s a single mother — and so wants to hire a nanny to look after him and the daughter, which the daughter is strongly opposed to, so she tries to sabotage the effort which, once it’s discovered, really ticks off her mother.  At that point, a nanny suddenly appears on their doorstep and is hired on the spot, but comes across to the daughter as being sinister.  Then the father from the beginning shows up and seems to agree with that, but he ends up kidnapping the daughter in order to hurt or kill her because he thinks she’s a fairy and fairies kidnapped her daughter.  Well, it turns out that both the children are fairies, but when the father’s child comes back it turns out that there’s a monster who took her and wants to take the other children, who ends up killing him, but the nanny and the daughter use their fairy powers to defeat it, and then the daughter stays in this world with her family instead of moving on — at least not yet — to the other world where fairies live.

Now, what a typical movie of this sort would do is focus on the mother, so that when the new and strange nanny shows up we’d have the daughter complaining about her strangeness but the mother torn between believing her daughter or thinking that she was making it all up.  When the father showed up and seemed to corroborate the daughter’s story, the mother then could have doubts.  The best thing about this sort of set-up is how easily it supports either the nanny being evil or the subversion of having her really be trying to do good that the movie actually went with.  Since the mother wouldn’t be seeing any of this and the daughter didn’t want a nanny at all, her trusting the nanny but also becoming suspicious as the movie went on makes perfect sense and can be used to build suspense, especially if we do see a little bit more than the mother does.

However, the daughter is the focus character, and she is seeing a lot of what happens directly.  This means that they have to make the nanny’s actions far more sinister than they would have in the typical set-up.  Thus, she can’t be just potentially a little odd and a little strict, but instead has to come across as, well, completely sinister.  So the movie gets caught between us wanting us to feel that the focus character is reasonable in her suspicions and not just being paranoid and needing to ensure that at the end we are willing to believe that the nanny is not, in fact, actually evil and really is acting in the best interests of the children.  This is only made worse by the fact that we have the father as a character who opposes them and we need to overcome the fact that since he’s reacting to the loss of his child he’s going to be sympathetic, if mistaken.  So while she needs to be strongly unsympathetic to build up the twist, the nanny also by the end needs to be completely redeemed to fill the role she needs to fill in the movie.

The movie also doesn’t handle the father character very well.  As noted above, we’re going to feel some sympathy for him because he’s reacting to the loss of his daughter.  While we won’t support him attempting to kill all the children that he thinks are fairies, we can see why he opposes them.  Again, in a typical movie what they’d do is either have him redeem himself at the end and save the children from the monster once he learns that the fairies aren’t responsible for his daughter’s abduction — possibly dying in the attempt — or else have him get the information and look like he might be able to be redeemed but to instead have his long-standing hatred cause him to deny that truth and so attack them, dying because he could not let go of his hatred.  But the movie doesn’t really do either.  He never realizes that the fairies are not responsible and so never attempts to protect the fairies, but he’s killed incredibly quickly by the monster offering him his daughter and so never really dies out of hatred.  He just kinda … dies in the movie.  Since again a father pining for his lost daughter which leads him to blame the fairies incorrectly — and possibly have killed some of them — is actually going to be a sympathetic antagonist, we really needed the closure that one of the typical options would have provided.  Without that, the character seems extraneous, as the character doesn’t get a proper arc but also doesn’t seem to play a large enough role in the plot to justify its presence.  The movie would have been simpler and better if the character had been left out entirely.

As noted, the movie doesn’t really seem to know what sort of story it wants to be, and so shoves a whole bunch of tropes into the movie loosely aligned around a nanny but never really joins them up properly or develops them properly to make a fully-functional movie out of them.  I don’t think I’ll watch this one again, and will likely stick it in my box of movies to maybe sell.

Thoughts on “Slipstream”

March 23, 2021

So, as mentioned last time, I’ve ended up with a lot more science fiction to watch and so am expanding that category a bit.  This movie is one of the first ones that made me decide that that was useful (outside of a 10 pack of science fiction that will be coming up in the near future).  This one is part of a pack of 11 movies called “The Deadly Beyond”, which looked like a pack of 11 horror movies.  So when I started to watch “Slipstream”, I obviously noticed that it was far more science fiction than horror, and so decided that I didn’t want to talk about it as part of my normal horror posts.  So it gets slotted into my general discussions of science fiction, along with a couple of others that will be more science fiction or fantasy oriented.

The basic premise of the movie is that we have a post-apocalyptic world that was caused by some sort of shift in the weather patterns, especially the wind patterns.  So due to things like sandstorms and the like we have isolated settlements, but in general people travel from place-to-place in various types of small aircraft hoping to catch the new “slipstream” to make their way around, although this is supposed to be very dangerous.  At any rate, Bill Paxton plays a mercenary-type survivor who gets an opportunity to try to take an android — played by Ben Kingsley — in for murder and get a big reward, while pursued by Mark Hamill who plays some sort of law enforcement agent who mixes his desire for justice in with old-time religion.

This movie, to my mind, shows what you can get if you take a bunch of decent-to-good actors and give them roles that play to their strengths.  Paxton plays the precise sort of jerk character that you somehow still feel some sympathy for perfectly as he normally does.  Kingsley works very well as the emotionless android that nevertheless is probably more human than anyone around him.  Mark Hamill chews the scenery quite well as the over-the-top officer who may not be quite sane.  For the most part, we can put the plot aside and get some decent enjoyment out of these actors acting in their element.

Which is good, because the plot is pretty much non-existent.  But I noted while watching that it doesn’t really need to be, because its plot is the standard, basic plot that science fiction can get away with:  a plot that allows them to explore the society they are in and visit different areas and cultures to see new and different ideas of what a society should be like.  It’s the equivalent of the “slasher” plot for horror movies:  a simple, basic plot that will probably keep people who like the genre interested if it’s done even remotely well, but that you can do more with as well.  “Star Trek” had that basic plot of going out every week and exploring strange new worlds and telling a variety of stories based on them.  I also think that that might be reason why “Logan’s Run” is now a bit of a cult classic (which I saw once but remember more from Chuck Sonnenberg’s review of it), as it has a similar plot of running that allows for an exploration of odd worlds.  “Slipstream” pretty much has that as well, which makes it entertaining to watch the performance of the actors while being a little bit forgiving of the rather thin and ridiculous plot.

In fact, the biggest issue with the movie is that it sets up more things than it pays off, as Hamill’s religious leanings and sense of justice is ignored at the end and he meets an unsatisfying end, the android loses a love but that is also not explored properly, and Paxton’s character ends up with the woman he was flirting with for the entire movie but we are given no real reason why she would go with him.  The plot and characterization, then, are too thin compared to what it could have been and compared to how well the actors hill out their own roles.

Still, it’s actually fairly entertaining, although in no way a classic.  This is a movie that I might watch again at some point but as usual am not actually planning on watching again in the future.