Tag Archives: movies

The Impossible Dream Comic Stories

You know, it’s a damn shame I already wrote, like, a dozen blogs about The Office, because I could sure say some more things about how lethally toxic Angela and Andy were as a couple. And how I don’t even know who I was supposed to root for in that story.

But no. We closed that book.

So previously I covered big crossover stories that I feel could be done even if they probably won’t. But hey, they already did Invasion!, and I wouldn’t have guessed that, so who knows. Today, though… instead of depressing myself by pitching ideas they could use but won’t, I’ll depress myself a little less by looking at the big, classic stories that neither Marvel nor DC could possibly do justice to.

I don’t know why I do these things either. But it’s no sadder than wondering how Marvel Studios could integrate the Fantastic Four if they got the rights back. I mean it’s pretty clear that Fox is going to keep making terrible Fantastic Four movies every seven years until Emperor Trump shuts down Hollywood for being too liberal and all the studios move to China. I don’t know why, maybe they’re just trying to dilute Marvel’s brand, but it’s clearly going to happen.

So. Allons-y.

1. Secret Wars

Now, there’s a few Marvel event books under this particular banner. The mid-80s miniseries (and subsequent sequels) in which the all-powerful Beyonder gathered the heroes and villains of Earth for a battle-royale on his artificial Battleworld; the infrequently shipping mid-2000s miniseries in which Nick Fury discovers that the nation of Latveria (once and future domain of Doctor Doom, but at the time a democratic ally state) has been funding America’s tech-based supervillains, and thus leads a covert team of to attack, which has consequences down the road; and the most recent Secret Wars, in which a years-long storyline about the Marvel multiverse collapsing ends with the main and Ultimate Marvel universes fatally colliding, and Doctors Doom and Strange saving what they can in a new Battleworld.

I could cover all three of them, but only one really fits here. I don’t think anyone is really clamouring for an adaptation of the original Secret Wars. It’s pretty thin, narratively speaking, which makes sense because it was written to sell a toy line. And it got its name from focus groups finding that kids reacted well to the words “secret” and “wars.” Also, the MCU simply doesn’t have enough interesting, Avengers-level villains to pull it off. That’s why the only way to get all of their film characters (but never their TV characters) together in one movie is to have them fight either Thanos or each other.

The 2004 Secret War has its issues as far as adaptation goes. A) the MCU has no equivalent to Latveria except maybe, maybe Sokovia (who could hardly afford to spend money on American supervillains), and B) there has never been a Marvel movie villain where we had to stop and ask where they get the money to fund and fuel their high-tech weapons. The Marvel movie villains are mostly arms dealers and interplanetary despots, not bank robbers with gimmick suits. But… if they were really inclined… the basic premise would make for a hell of a Captain America sequel. So they actually could do this one if they wanted.

The latest one, however…

Why would they want to?

Because like the great Crisis On Infinite Earths, grand-daddy of the Event Crossover, which we’ll get back to, this event existed to clear the deck. It ended the Ultimate universe experiment, save for Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, who was brought into the main MCU. It paved away some things they wanted to be done with (the re-aged Steve Rogers, the evil Tony Stark, the still-existing Fantastic Four), and let Marvel start fresh with new ideas. Some new ideas. A couple of new ideas. They didn’t go post-Flashpoint New 52 crazy or anything.

Marvel Studios is coming up on the end of Phase Three, the culmination of over ten years of interconnected films and largely ignored TV projects. It’s also the end of the contracts for their main stars. All in all, a great time to clean house and start fresh. Doing a Secret Wars-type story would let them reboot and recast without going full Amazing Spider-Man.

So why can’t they?

Because for all of the craziness happening, the army of Thors and the wasteland of Hulks and the extra-wastey wasteland of zombies and Ultrons, all of that, Secret Wars was ultimately a story about Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards. Doom is triumphant, he has reforged reality in his own broken image and rules it as a god, and it all falls apart when Reed arrives. The fate of the Marvel multiverse comes down to a grudge match between these two classic, eternal rivals.

And the Marvel Cinematic Universe just does not have an equivalent.

The closest thing they have to a Reed Richards is Tony Stark, but his first and greatest nemesis in the films is himself. Tony can’t exactly wrestle his own arrogance for the fate of everything. They simply don’t have anything or anyone on par with Doom to serve as the other half of the equation. The 2004 Secret War has some elements and characters the films lack, but with a little wrangling Sokovia could replace Latveria, Falcon or Ant-Man could replace Wolverine, and they could just suck it up, stop shunning the TV branch, and put Luke Cage and Daisy “Quake” Johnson in a movie. But they have nothing in their arsenal to replace Doom. Not even Loki.

2. Crisis On Infinite Earths

I’d save this for last but I already went and brought it up, so… here goes. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the grand mac-daddy of all universe-shifting crossovers. DC editorial decided that their complex multiverse of overlapping characters was a little messy and confusing, and thus commissioned a massive event miniseries to tidy things up. Every single character in DC’s stable made at least a brief appearance, even some they’d just acquired. Worlds ended, heroes and villains died, including Supergirl and the Flash, and in the end there was one Earth in which the survivors all co-existed. The DC universe changed forever.

Okay, sure, within twenty years and change there was a multiverse again and nearly every character they’d killed had come back (I can name two who stayed dead, but you don’t know them). Creators who grew up reading comics tend to bring back the stuff they loved as a kid. But, you know… it’s still basically different.

Why would they want to?

Because this is the dream crossover. Forget Supergirl visiting Star City or even the Avengers meeting the Defenders, this is the impossible dream. The stuff fan trailers are made of.

These guys.

I’m talking Grant Gustin racing Ezra Miller. Fellow Supermen Brandon Routh and Tyler Hoechin throwing Henry Cavill a brood-intervention. Stephen Amell and Justin Hartley in an Arrow-off. The Dark Knight meets the Caped Crusader. Get weird with it, and all to stop a threat so big it takes upwards of five Supermen and three Flashes to bring it down.

So why can’t they?

Dude, think about it. Are you really going to be able to talk Christian Bale back into the batsuit? No. No you are not. Michael Keaton won’t be much easier, Christopher Reeve is dead, and 1990’s Flash, Superman Returns’ Superman, both Lois and Clark of Lois and Clark, and the 1970s Wonder Woman are all playing other characters in the DCW-verse.

Plus the only Joker you’re going to be able to get is Jared Leto and nobody wants that.

And which Earth would die to sell the stakes? Smallvile? Lois and Clark? You’re gonna get fans and ex-stars complaining on Twitter whichever you pick.

It’s the impossible dream for a reason. Even a Crisis on Two Earths (comic-wise, the first time the Justice League met the Justice Society), where the TV and film universes collided, would be a bit of an ask.

3. Secret Invasion

In case you were wondering if Marvel naming things based on focus groups liking the word “secret” was a thing of the past… well, we can’t be sure. Maybe writer/architect Brian Michael Bendis just wanted the homage.

Secret Invasion was the culmination of a story Bendis had been cooking since he took over the Avengers books. After a massive prison break which led to the newly formed New Avengers discovering an illegal, black-books vibranium mining operation in the Savage Land run by SHIELD, it becomes clear that some sinister force has infiltrated the global peacekeeping force. And, as time goes by, they learn whatever it is has infiltrated Hydra and the Hand as well. After Civil War splits the team in half, Luke Cage’s rogue Avengers find out who this shadow force is: shapeshifting alien would-be conquerors the Skrulls have mastered a new form of infiltration, one that no hero, despite magic or supersenses or being Reed Richards, could detect even when it was right in front of them.

So the question then began… who was a secret Skrull? Who could be trusted? Did the Skrulls orchestrate Scarlet Witch nearly wiping out the mutants or the Civil War that turned hero against hero? And when a ship full of heroes dressed like it was still the 80s crashed in the Savage Land, were any of them friends finally returned?

The answers were “Five people of note and some nameless SHIELD agents,” “Pretty much everyone,” “No,” and “No, that was just a waste of five incredibly repetitive issues.”

Why would they want to?

It combines both of Marvel Studios’ favourite tropes: heroes fighting heroes, and a climax involving fighting a giant horde of faceless alien minions. Plus, as we’ve learned from Winter Soldier, Civil War, and basing their film franchise around the Infinity Gauntlet, they love harvesting their event books for film plots. Not enough to fully give in to the endless cries for a Planet Hulk movie (looks like one scene from Thor: Ragnarok is all those people will get), but still.

Also, the story leading up to the event book was great. The years-long build-up, from the jail-break through to the secret within SHIELD and all the way to the big Skrull reveal and the two teams wondering who on the other side was a secret Skrull, it was one of the best slow-burn builds in recent memory.

So why can’t they?

Weirdly the fact that the build-up is the only good part of Secret Invasion isn’t the problem. Sure, it was savagely under-written, what with spending five issues on the go-nowhere Savage Land plot while the Skrull Queen gave a series of repetitive, half-issue monologues about change. Sure, the climax is hot garbage, since it boils down to all of the heroes lining up on one side of Central Park, shouting “Hey Skrulls, come fight,” and every Skrull in the global invasion saying “Yeah, sure, be right there.” Sure, the title doesn’t even make sense, since the Invasion stops being in any way Secret by the end of issue one. But the Civil War comic was also badly paced with a half-assed conclusion, and that movie turned out fine.

No, the issue is that there’s no real way to do the build-up. Are they going to slip some hint that not all is well into every phase four movie? That’s just going to lead to awkward, tacked on scenes that draw complaints, like Thor and his Vision Spa in Age of Ultron. And the reveal will make less sense without an established race of hostile shapeshifters like the comics have. Which brings us to another problem… Marvel Studios doesn’t have the rights to the Skrulls. They’re tied up with the Fantastic Four, so Fox owns the film rights. And as we know, Fox doesn’t give these things up easily.

Might make for a good Supergirl season if you swapped the Skrulls for the Durlans, though. Wouldn’t be the first time a Superman-related show stole a story from Marvel.

Inter-company cross-overs

Gonna break the format here, because “Why can’t they” is perfectly obvious. Marvel and DC the publishers don’t really get along these days, a state of affairs exacerbated by ex-Marvel head Joe Quesada pulling some dickish moves back in 2010. Which is sad, because back in the day, DC/Marvel crossovers were a frequent event, from their beginnings in Superman Vs. Spider-Man to the Teen Titans teaming up with the X-Men to the well intentioned but ineptly executed DC Vs. Marvel (or Marvel Vs. DC, depending on the issue number), which at least created the interesting experiment Amalgam Comics. And then after a hiatus, they managed to join forces one last time for the greatest inter-company crossover ever.

BOOM.

JLA/Avengers (or, again based on issue number, Avengers/JLA) is filled with classic moments. The Justice League saw Dr. Doom ruling Latveria, the ruins of mutant nation Genosha, Hulk tearing through the military, and the Punisher shooting up gangs (until Batman broke his own “don’t interfere” rule to whoop on him), and decided that this world’s heroes just don’t try. The Avengers saw Wonder Woman addressing the UN, Superman being deified, and the Flash Museum (“They have a museum dedicated to a speedster!” shouted an enraged and envious Quicksilver. “A museum!”) and decided the heroes of this world overstepped, ruling as gods for the public’s adoration.

It also had the best “fight-then-team-up” sequence of any comic ever… Batman and Captain America trade a few jabs, testing each other out, then Batman essentially says “You might be able to beat me, but it’ll take a while. Want to figure out what’s actually happening instead?” And off they go.

And then history gets twisted, creating an alternate past where the DC and Marvel universes had known about each other for years, to the point of getting together each Thanksgiving like the JLA and JSA used to do. And Hawkeye and Green Arrow exchange the one piece of dialogue that’s missing from most DC multiverse stories (especially this season of The Flash)… “For the last time, we’re Earth One, you’re Earth Two!”

But it’s not to be. If Marvel and DC the publishers aren’t getting along, one can probably count on Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers to be just as reluctant to get into bed with each other. Even if people would pay all the money on Earth to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man go three rounds against Batman.

Sadly, this will also prevent comics’ one-time weirdest inter-company crossover…

This is real. This is a real comic.

Archie Meets the Punisher. That happened. That is a thing that two companies agreed to make and paid people to write and draw. Multiple people, actually, because the Archie scenes are all drawn in the Archie house style, while a different artist drew all the Punisher scenes in a more appropriately gritty fashion. It’s fascinating in how audacious it is just for existing, in how committed they are to a team-up that makes no sense and should not be, but still somehow turns out worth reading.

So in that spirit… how much do I want to see Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle set loose amongst the teen-drama-fuelled noir mysteries of the CW’s Riverdale?

So. Goddamn. Much.

It would be so weird and so stupid and so, so mesmerising. But Marvel won’t let their Netflix characters cross over with their own film branch, so that there is a pipe dream. A ridiculous, near-indefensible pipe dream.

Maybe in Riverdale’s fourth season they’ll get desperate enough to do Archie Vs. Predator.

Wasn’t kidding about that one either.

Next time… I return to a long-neglected blog series, discussing things that do exist instead of things that don’t.

Hard Truths for Geek Media

We are living in the golden age of geek media. Netflix has five shows and counting devoted to The Defenders, comic book shows are nearly half of the CW network’s lineup, and superhero movies and Star Warses account for something like 98% of US box office revenue at the movies.

But it ain’t all good.

No, this is not going to be the “Dan breaks and denounces Suicide Squad” moment some of my friends have been waiting for. There are just some real issues, some growing problems with certain geek-friendly properties worth discussing. As much as we love them, there are some hard truths to face.

Let’s start with my own field of interest.

Maybe there shouldn’t be a Flash movie

There was a time when Warner Bros. and DC Comics were the kings of the superhero movie genre. But mostly because it was when nobody else was really trying.

Behold: Marvel’s best and most successful movie until 1998.

They spent one decade on four Superman movies (two good), one on four Batman movies that start okay, get worse, and end bad enough to almost kill the genre (well, that and Steel), and then started floundering, banking everything on Nolan’s Batman while Green Lantern and what some consider to be the best Superman movie made thus far failed to jumpstart any franchises. Plus Jonah Hex was a trash heap and Catwoman does not belong in this conversation. It’s a rejected Crow reboot that they slapped the word “cat” onto and it should not exist.

Meanwhile, they watched Marvel Studios go from plucky upstart to the most consistently successful film studio in the history of the medium by building a cinematic universe out of their B-list, all leading to The Avengers, which blew the long-awaited Dark Knight Rises out of the water.

Going from kicking Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk’s asses with Dark Knight to being the also-rans in a genre they used to dominate must have stung. Moreso because if they hadn’t been hung up on keeping all of their toys in separate boxes, they could have been doing this over two decades ago.

I kind of picture it like that scene in Brooklyn, where Ailis’ Irish friends are changing under blankets, then see that she just wore her swimsuit under her clothes, and say “Well how long do you think the Americans have known about that? Probably 100 years.” So simple and obvious once you see it done. Surely someone at Warner Bros. saw the road to Avengers and asked “Well why the hell haven’t we done that?” “We felt it worked better not to link up the movies–” “Die in a fire, Ted.”

So they ended up trying to rush their own cinematic universe, attempting a short road from Man of Steel to Justice League. It’s been a rocky journey so far, according to reviews and certain opinions and also all those Razzies Batman V Superman got, but hope exists that they’ll turn it around in coming years. Set visits are generating hope for Wonder Woman, and Justice League… let’s talk about Justice League after Wonder Woman comes out. Or not. We’ll have to see. Their hope is that a successful Justice League movie will drive audiences to solo movies for the rest of the lineup, the same way Avengers managed to convince people to keep watching mediocre at best Thor movies.

But there’s one film that’s having more trouble than anything on their slate.

This guy.

The Flash has already lost two directors and apparently the script has gone back for a page-one remake. It is the very model of a troubled production.  And while I don’t know exactly what’s going on over there… I have a guess.

To the left.

The Flash is already on TV. And doing pretty well. Well enough that it’s the centrepiece (albeit not the originator) of a four-show empire. So this is all speculation, but it seems to me that the Flash movie would end up having to walk a very fine line… too much like the TV show, it’s redundant. Not enough like the TV show, it’s alienating the fanbase they’ve been building for three seasons and counting. And if this is what’s happening, it would mean more studio interference than anything else they’re doing, and yes, that’s going to cost them directors.

So maybe the solution is don’t make the movie.

Any Flash movie is going to have to compete with the TV series’ nigh-perfect first season. The movie would have two hours to tell a story, the show gets 23 (including commercials). The movie could be my first chance to see the Rogues united (the core group have all turned up on the show, but rarely more than two at a time), but Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold is basically perfect, and I’m at a loss as to how they could do better in the movie. I’m not saying it’s another Heath-Ledger-Joker situation but he is a tough act to follow.

I’m not saying cut the character. Have him in the Justice League, just all over the Justice League. Just maybe Flash doesn’t need a solo movie. Hell, DC has a pretty full slate as it is (while fighting for Warner resources with the Fantastic Beasts franchise), and keeps announcing new projects. The Batman still doesn’t have a release date (and just got a director), and now there’s talk of Gotham City Sirens, solo movies for Nightwing and Deadshot, a Suicide Squad sequel, and talk remains of an actual, proper sequel to Man of Steel.

Pretty ambitious. Sure, the grosses were high last year, but they might wanna get public perception on their side a bit more before they get excited. Maybe see how much Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 outgrosses Justice League by. (Look, I’m enough of a DC fan that no amount of BvS or Suicide Squad smack talk will keep me from opening night of Justice League, but even I’m more excited for Guardians.)

But if they have all these movies they want to make, maybe it’s time to drop the one they clearly don’t know how to make. I mean, Marvel doesn’t make solo movies for everyone. Ask Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

In fact, let’s talk Marvel.

Maybe Marvel’s “Everything’s Connected” isn’t working

Ever since Nick Fury popped up after the credits of Iron Man saying “Avengers Initiative,” the key element in Marvel’s success is the idea that all of their film and television properties share one universe, and that they’re all connected. You watch Thor because stuff they do there will pay off in the next big team-up movie.

I mean, you don’t watch Thor movies for fun. That’s just crazy.

But the more they expand into other media, the more cracks are starting to show in the facade.

There’s the little stuff in the movies. The “Why do no Avengers care that terrorists just blew up Tony Stark’s house and then kidnapped the president” or “So after learning that SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra, the only person Captain America calls for backup is the guy he met while jogging” stuff. But this is nothing new. It’s basic nitpicking comics fans have been dealing with for decades. And two out of three of the big team-up movies have done a fine job smoothing those wrinkles over.

And one had a plot hole for every robot.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The obvious example is Agents of SHIELD. Marvel’s first foray into TV, it was pitched as the connective tissue between movies, but it isn’t. Despite every shoehorned reference Agents of SHIELD makes to the movies, it just isn’t. Whether it’s the feud between Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and his ex-boss, Marvel Entertainment head Ike Perlmutter, or some other nonsense reason, it’s abundantly clear that the film division does not care about Agents of SHIELD even a little. From destroying their very premise in Winter Soldier to their refusal to say the word “Inhuman” to the fact that none of the Avengers have noticed Coulson isn’t dead, the film branch has straight-up ignored everything and anything about Agents of SHIELD.

And now there’s an Inhumans series on the horizon. The Inhumans have been a key part of Agents of SHIELD for three years now, but as of this writing, the Inhumans show has given no indication they’ll connect or cross-over with SHIELD. They have made it clear that this show will not be an Agents of SHIELD spinoff. So their only announcement in regards to what should be their sister show was to distance themselves from it. If another Marvel show on the same network won’t even acknowledge Agents of SHIELD, then is it not time to ask just how exactly “Everything is connected?”

We’re still on that topic but here’s a header to break things up

There’s also Marvel Netflix. Marvel’s Netflix shows are trying to do the Avengers process in the TV format: five seasons of four shows, all leading up to The Defenders this fall. And they’ve been good, for the most part… Daredevil’s second season and Luke Cage’s debut season fell apart in their second halves, but overall they’ve been good. And we’re certainly told that they’re all in the same universe as Captain America, Asgard, and the talking, gun-toting raccoon we all love.

That’s what we’re told.

One of my pet peeves about Marvel Netflix is that while the DCW-verse delights in comic-booky concepts like time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging super-strong hyper-intelligent telepathic gorillas, the Marvel Netflix shows seem to resent being based on comics. Sure, all of their protagonists have super powers, but they mostly stick to grounded, realistic threats (save for one mind-controlling psychopath whose arc was still rooted in very real abuse issues, and one ninja cult story that doesn’t actually make any sense). They have Easter egg references to old Power Man and Jessica Jones comics, but treat them like baby pictures your mother pulled out to show your date.

More than that, they seem to be actively ashamed of being part of the MCU. They will begrudgingly acknowledge the climax of Avengers, but in the vaguest possible terms. Seriously, “The Incident?” The city/country that treats the phrase 9/11 with sacred reverence (except when they don’t) would really call an honest-to-god alien invasion repelled in part by the literal Norse god of thunder something as basic and generic as “The Incident?” What are they, British? And that’s the only reference they’re willing to make. Nothing from any other movie, save for being the only people who seem to remember Hammer Industries from Iron Man 2.

Right. There’s gonna be too much. Time for a “The Defenders Ain’t Care About the Avengers” speed round.

  • We’re two years in and I’ve yet to see Stark/Avengers Tower in the New York skyline.
  • The New York DA starts a crusade against vigilantes, and her main targets are the Punisher (sure) and licensed private detective and one-time-vigilante Jessica Jones. No mention of Inhumans, the Sokovia accords, or freaking Spider-Man. Any of which would be totally germane to the conversation.
  • Aliens invade New York, Asgard exists, Captain America came back from the dead… but New Yorkers still consider mind control too impossible to swallow? For real?
  • For all Luke Cage has to say about the history of Harlem, that time Hulk and Abomination wrecked the place sure doesn’t come up.
  • They talk about the Avengers like they’ll get sued for using the names. “The flag-waver.” “The green guy.” “The blonde dude with the hammer.” You know his name is Thor.
  • None of these people will be in Infinity War. We’d have heard by now.

On top of all of that, they have all the “how does this fit together, where was so-and-so during all of this” issues of the movies, only worse, because they’re all operating within a quick walk from each other. “The Defenders Ain’t Care About Each Other” speed round!

  • If Luke Cage reduced to washing dishes and sweeping floors under the table because he’s on the run from the cops, how is it he owned a bar when we first met him? A bar named after him!
  • I get Luke not wanting to call Jessica for help, things ended poorly between them, but when Luke Cage is being publicly smeared by his enemies, she doesn’t even take an interest?
  • When Luke Cage is in a hostage situation and being framed by the man behind it, she doesn’t call her friend the defense-lawyer vigilante, despite him needing both of those things.
  • Actually, why should she even need to call Daredevil? There was a very public hostage crisis involving a superhuman criminal (as far as the outside world knew), a five minute drive from Daredevil’s house, and he doesn’t swing by? Daredevil doesn’t care about black people.

Okay, sure, they can’t cross-over all the time. It would dilute how special The Defenders is. Probably is. Hopefully will be. And it’s not like Flash and the Green Arrow are constantly popping back and forth, Barry only zips over to help Oliver two, maybe three times a season, but a) the DCW-verse still connects far more often than Marvel Netflix, and b), and this is the important part, Flash and Arrow take place in cities 600 miles apart. All five Marvel Netflix shows take place in New York. No, on the island of Manhattan. New York’s geographically smallest borough. Do not tell me that Daredevil only patrols Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen is two square kilometers, you could walk around it in an hour.

These days the “shared universe” has more holes per yard than chainmail. You can say everything’s connected all you like. But unless it actually connects at some point, it’s all just empty marketing rhetoric. Maybe having one universe for film and one for TV just works better.

Maybe these live-action Disney films are kinda pointless

The problem with doing anything successful is that Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson fast enough to make your head spin. Deadpool and Logan were big hits and critically adored? Suddenly everyone’s looking to make R-rated superhero movies like that was the secret ingredient. Sure thing, DC, people had issues with BvS and Suicide Squad because they weren’t dark and violent enough. That was the problem.

Disney can be particularly bad for this. The wrong lesson thing, I mean. Maleficent was a hit, so they started kicking around other Disney villain origin movies. Don’t get excited. I’m about to explain why that’s bad. Maleficent worked because the idea that the witch from Sleeping Beauty was driven to cursing princesses by a dark and tragic backstory has merit and meat to it. The follow-up with the most traction? Cruella De Vil. The puppy-murdering villainess so lacking in complexity or subtlety they named her “Cruel Devil.” Is anyone really curious what turned Cruella on to puppy coats? Anyone? Was that a question needing answering?

And if that weren’t a bad enough idea to blow all of your Marvel/Star Wars profits on (it is), there is the other trend of making live-action remakes of the classic cartoon. Last year was Jungle Book, this year is Beauty and the Beast, and there’s more coming. But they’re getting dumber as we go along.

Jungle Book at least did something different. Sure they had all the same characters and hit all the story beats but in a different way. I think. Pretty sure. King Louie certainly seems different. But Beauty and the Beast? Every bit of promotion is based around how similar it is to the animated version. Same sets, same costumes, exact same songs. Is this just a shot-for-shot remake with live actors and terrifying CG clock-people? Is that… is that necessary? I mean Hollywood is choked with remakes and reboots as it is, making carbon copies of easily accessible films from the 90s is just making it worse.

Also… “live-action Lion King?” How. How is that live-action. You’re not training lions and having them act it out. No amount of training can make a meercat, a warthog, and a lion hang out and sing Hakuna Matata. It’s not live action, it’s a CG version with some new voices. They’re still using James Earl Jones as Mustafa. Which, sure, there’s no replacing him, but are we entirely sure they’re not just reusing the same audio?

In short. Words have meanings, and this new Lion King will be about as much “live-action” as Monsters Inc.; and if you’re going to remake a movie, do something with it. Make it new. Don’t just re-skin it.

Honestly, thought we learned this with Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

Oscar Nominees 2017: Slightly Less White Edition

The Oscars are almost upon us. Once again, my friend Daisy and I have striven to watch all of the best picture nominees so that you don’t have to. And once again, it’s taken way longer than we’d like to manage it. So without further ado, let’s rank some nominees. And say whether I’d have bothered watching them without a nomination. Or if it even would have been made if it weren’t fishing for awards (by way of a for instance, The King’s Speech, Theory of Everything, and Imitation Game seem to have no purpose outside of Oscar season). And what actors from superhero or equivalent projects are in them.

I guess there was a little ado left after all.

9. Denzel Washington Won’t Shut Up

I’m-a spoil this movie because it’s bad and you shouldn’t watch it.

You don’t need to be told that this movie is based on a play. Denzel Washington’s direction is only a step or two removed from just filming a stage performance. Anyway, apparently Denzel enjoyed doing this play on Broadway so much that he got all the cast back together and made it a movie.

Which baffles me. Because this movie is bad. And I assume the play was bad as well.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in the 1950s, who is consumed with bitterness over the fact that his professional baseball career came and went before the league was desegregated. As a result, he’s shitty to everyone in his orbit. He’s a bad husband, to the point where he fathers a child with another woman and doesn’t even bother to apologize for it when he comes clean. He’s an awful, awful father, with one son who grew up while Troy wasin prison, and a second he actually raised, but since that second son lived in a house (paid for with the money Troy’s brother got for being brain-damaged by the war) and didn’t starve to death, Troy keeps waiting for his Father-of-the-Year trophy. Putting aside refusing to show even the slightest affection for his own child, he acts like a job in a grocery store is the best his son could ask for, blocks a college recruiter from signing him because sports are involved (after all, why would he want to play football and get a full college scholarship when he has already has a menial job that can sustain a minimal quality of life?), nearly chokes his son to death with a baseball bat for standing up to him, then kicks him out of the house. And you know what, let’s not put “refusing to show even the slightest affection” aside, let’s bring that right back, because that pushes the equation from “disillusioned by life thanks to racist America” and fully into “is just a complete asshole” territory. Whites-only water fountains did not force him to hate his own child. And yet any time he’s confronted over this, he pulls out the fact that he’s provided food and shelter, you know, the absolute minimum amount of parenting you can do and not end up in court, like that’s some huge unimpeachable favour. As Chris Rock put it… You’re supposed to do that! What do you want, a cookie?

He’s awful. He’s painful to watch, and not in a good, cathartic way, just in the “why are you letting this man have two hours of my life” way. And 90% of the movie is him delivering long-winded monologues that take a lot of words to say practically nothing. Seriously, Troy Maxson has more dialogue than the protagonists of three other best-picture nominees combined*, and yet not one word of it is relatable, interesting, or able to generate sympathy, or indeed anything but contempt, for this utter waste of a person.

And if that weren’t bad enough, when he finally manages to die, there is an epilogue that feels about 45 minutes long (probably closer to 10, but feels longer) in which everyone stands around pretending that Troy wasn’t as demonstrably, irredeemably terrible as we just saw him being. His widow claims Troy somehow did a good job raising his son, as though his son’s every accomplishment were because of Troy rather than in spite of him, and says she’s going to raise Troy’s illegitimate daughter the same way. And if that isn’t all Child Protective Services needs to hear to step in, what could be?

Viola Davis does her best, but Troy is so remorselessly long-winded that Denzel Washington sucks the air out of every scene not focused on his brain-injured brother. If you want to see Viola Davis in something, you’d be better off watching Suicide Squad yes I said it Suicide Squad is better than Fences COME AT ME.

It’s bad. It’s just bad. It is very nearly Tree of Life bad and I hate that it exists.

*Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight, for those keeping score.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Good lord no. The trailer was terrible and the movie is worse.
Glad you did? No, no, a thousand times no.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Probably. I mean, it looks like an “actor showcase,” a movie designed to get actors awards, but it was a passion project for Denzel and that’s all it took.
Featuring: Amanda Waller.

8. Turns Out Death is Sad, Who Knew

Years ago, Lee Chandler suffered a horrific, unspeakable tragedy that has come to define his entire life. He’s a hollowed out shell who’d rather pick a drunken fight with a stranger than get picked up by a pretty woman. But when his chronically ill brother passes away, he has to return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea (where he’s become a person of infamy) to take care of his teenaged nephew.

The point, the central thesis of this movie, is that no matter the tragedy, no matter your pain, it cannot stop life’s inconveniences. This is encapsulated in a moment where a woman, on the worst day of her life, is being loaded into an ambulance… but the gurney won’t fold up, and the paramedics spend long enough futzing with it it becomes a moment of comedy… which is surrounded by unspeakable tragedy.

That’s not the worst central theme. And there are certainly some very strong performances* in it. But… now that you’ve got all of that, I don’t know, maybe tell a story. There is very little narrative, just a lot of shots of Casey Affleck looking sad or emotionally blank, and then eventually it just trails off and rolls credits.

Critics seem to adore it. Great reviews everywhere. I just… I don’t get it. I was just kinda bored.

*Casey Affleck’s performance is somewhat overshadowed by revelations that he is allegedly pretty shitty to women. If that costs him the Oscar, well, maybe don’t be shitty to women, Hollywood stars. I just wish that didn’t mean it would go to Denzel Washington, because Fences doesn’t deserve awards, it deserves to be spat on.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? No. No human being could hear the description and think “That sounds like a fun night out.”
Glad you did? Meh.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
 Kind of unlikely but I can’t rule it out.
Featuring: Green Lantern’s dad.

7. Jesus and Explosions

In our first (of four) “based on a true story” movies, Desmond Doss wants to go to war to serve his country, but his Christianity and deep personal convictions against violence forbid him from even holding a gun. Naturally, the army doesn’t care for this, and makes boot camp as unpleasant as they can to drive him out. But when he is ultimately allowed to serve as an unarmed combat medic, he ends up at the battle of Hacksaw Ridge in the South Pacific, where he stays behind after a US retreat, spending days getting wounded soldiers off the ridge to safety in an improvised harness. Which, as far as the movie is concerned, inspires the US troops into a more successful attack. Finding out that the Japanese troops had tunnels didn’t hurt either.

This one was better than I expected based on the trailer, which kind of sums up the whole story. The second act, where the army hates Desmond’s commitment to pacifism, dragged exactly as much as I thought it would. It is the primary weakness of the movie. But the first act, where we get to know Desmond, is far more charming than I expected, and the third act is pretty spectacular. Braveheart with explosions and flamethrowers.

Which brings me to the other flaw*. Through Desmond, the movie tries to portray the nobility of pacifism, how it’s possible to serve without violence, celebrating his refusal to throw a punch or take a life. But through every other US soldier, wow but the movie is celebrating violence. You’re not going to find a movie this in love with gore outside of, or frankly even including, the Saw franchise. So it’s kind of a mixed message. Is Desmond noble because of his pacifism, or is he noble because his pacifism inspires the other soldiers to be better at war-murder? Pick a lane, Hacksaw Ridge.

*Yes, Mel Gibson said terrible things about Jewish people that time, and no, I don’t have any concrete reason to think he’s stopped thinking them, but he keeps it out of the movie, at least. Well, if you’re Japanese, you might not have the best time, but it’s about US troops in the Pacific theatre, there’s not a great way to depict the Nazi-allied Japanese troops favourably.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Probably not. That second act looked excruciatingly tiresome.
Glad you did? A little. Slightly indifferent.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Probably. Hollywood loves them some World War II movies.
Featuring: Spider-man, Elrond, the Avatar guy… VInce Vaughn has zero comic book movies? Or Star Warses? Bonds? Just a lesser Jurassic Park movie? Huh. Weird.

6. Google Earth To The Rescue

“Based on a true story” number two, and also the second the show the real people involved under the credits (Hacksaw did it too). As a small child, Saroo… okay, let’s just get this out of the way, he only thinks his name is Saroo because that’s how young he was, his properly pronounced name means “Lion,” that’s why it’s called that. As I was saying. Young Saroo idolizes his older brother Guddu so much that he insists on following him to his night job lifting bales, despite being a) too small to be doing heavy lifting, and b) too young to be up that late. Predictably, this goes very, very wrong, and he wakes up alone on a moving train, and ends up stranded in Calcutta, on the far side of India from home.

(I don’t mind spoiling the general plot here, because it is all very, very obvious. There are not two ways this movie can go.)

Unable to even correctly name his village, he ends up (after some ordeals) in a Calcutta orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple in Tasmania. Years later, having grown into Dev Patel, an encounter with an Indian dessert he’d coveted as a child reminds him of his life pre-Calcutta, and of the brother and mother he left behind. A classmate suggests that this new program called “Google Earth” might help him take his decades-old memories and reverse engineer the location of his village. Haunted by the thought of Guddu and his mother desperately searching for him (he also had a sister, but doesn’t seem to care much), he becomes consumed with trying to find home.

That’s the premise. And like I said, there aren’t a lot of ways it can go. If Saroo just went a little crazy and then eventually saw a therapist and moved on, there’s no movie. So here’s the first issue… every stage of the story lasts just a little too long. When you know exactly where the story is going, the movie needs to work extra hard to keep you from getting impatient for the next beat. Allied managed this quite well, considering there’s an hour of movie before the part that’s in all the trailers. Lion occasionally struggles. Second, while the director is mostly effective at evoking emotional response, it can be a little nakedly emotionally manipulative. People want to emotionally respond to a movie, and the director is supposed to make you do that, but nobody likes to see the strings.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? There’s every chance. I do like Dev Patel.
Glad you did? I think so. It’s kind of touching.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
There is every chance. It’s not too showy about being uplifting, doesn’t scream “actor showcase.”
Featuring: Aquaman’s Mom, Faramir, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the manager of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (not a blockbuster but check it out, it’s so charming)

5. It’s Hard to be Gay in the Ghetto

The story of Chiron, a young gay child in a terrible neighbourhood, being raised by a drug addict single mother. That his life is not easy goes without saying.

We see three stages of Chiron’s life: as a young child, who ends up under the wing of a caring drug dealer and his girlfriend; as a bullied teen, whose drug dealer surrogate father is apparently dead, I think they mentioned that and I just missed it; and as an adult, after being poor, black, and ostracized have left him with precious few options in life, reuniting with the only man he’s ever loved.

(This is based on a play that was based on the life of the playwright, so he gets better, not that you’d know from this movie.)

At first I had trouble with this movie, as I can have difficulty connecting to protagonists who are largely defined by silence, as young Chiron is. But after the non-stop blather coming out of Fences’ Troy Maxson I have a new appreciation for it.

It’s very well done, with some very strong supporting performances from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. It does, however, have even less of an ending than Manchester by the Sea. It just kind of… stops. I mean, some stories don’t really have a nice “tie it with a ribbon” ending but seriously, this practically goes to credits mid-scene.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? It got enough buzz that I might have had to check it out.
Glad you did? Pretty much.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Maybe yes, maybe no, but it should. A far more valuable story to tell than “Stephen Hawking loved a Christian.”
Featuring: Cottonmouth, Moneypenny

4. Love in the Time of Space Squids

Louise Banks is a mother whose child succumbs to a rare form of cancer. She is also a genius linguist who gets tapped by the US military when 12 alien spaceships arrive on Earth and we need to figure out how to talk to them. Louise and physicist Ian Donnelly lead the US attempt to talk to our new visitors, while the Chinese get ornery and society straight-up panics.

But why are the aliens here? What do they want? What’s the thing I’m not telling you? Well, I’m not telling.

It’s quite well done. The music, which resembles the odd horn-like speech of the space squid aliens, is highly effective. The visuals work. I would watch Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in anything short of a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat movie (fun fact, I hate that show more than almost anything). The actual science behind “How do we communicate with a race whose mere manner of speech and writing is absolutely alien to us” is pretty fascinating. And they pull off a twist I didn’t see coming, and that ain’t easy, because like most modern audiences I’ve seen enough twists that I can sense them coming from the narrative hints. But they pulled this one off.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Lord knows I meant to.
Glad you did? Yep yep.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Given that sci-fi movies and the Oscars go together like Mel Gibson and a “friends of Israel” dinner, I’d have to say yes.
Featuring: Lois Lane, Hawkeye, Saw Gerrera

3. In Which Banks Suck Worse Than Bank Robbers

And sometimes the Oscars choose to nominate a really well done crime movie.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Cross) hatch a plan to save their family ranch, swimming in debt after their late mother’s long illness. They begin robbing branches of the bank that holds their mortgage, laundering the money at an out-of-state Indian casino so they can pay off the mortgage with it. Paying off the bank with its own stolen money.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges is a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement who catches the case, and tries to stop the robberies before they get bloody.

I can’t promise they don’t get bloody. Tanner is not overburdened with self-control.

This one is just good. Really good. The cast is excellent, the direction is solid, there’s suspense and humour… and a subtle view into the economic blight that has hit rural America as globalization and mechanization reduce the need for a blue-collar workforce*. It’s just really quite good.

*The movie does not spend time pontificating as to why times are tough in rural America, that was me, it just casually points out that this is so. After all, if it weren’t for for-profit health care and predatory lending, maybe nobody needed to rob any banks**.

**The movie doesn’t spell that out either but it’s not exactly a tough conclusion to reach if you’re paying attention.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I’m surprised it took me this long, I heard nothing but good things back in the fall.
Glad you did? Hoo-rah.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Damn skippy.
Featuring: Captain Kirk, Angel from the worst X-Men movie, Obidiah Stane

2. Obligatory “Ain’t Hollywood Great” Movie

If there is one thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves, it’s movies about World War II. If there are two, it’s movies about how great the movies are.

(Actually for the full list of things the Academy loves, watch The King’s Speech)

La La Land was greeted with wave after wave of accolades when it was released. And for good reason. It’s fun, moving in places, the songs are fun, and I really enjoyed what they did with colour schemes. Seriously, for something defined by music, it’s hella impressive visually. The leads might not be musical prodigies but they’re plenty charming.

Post-accolades, there was wave after wave of backlash, mostly having to do with how white the characters are. And you know what, I’m leaving that topic alone. It just gets me in trouble. I mean, I could say “The black character isn’t trying to sell out jazz, he is arguing against being a strict traditionalist in a musical style that is, by its very nature, experimental.” I could say “Sebatstian is not ‘mansplaining’ jazz to Mia because she doesn’t know anything about jazz and you can’t just throw the word ‘mansplaining’ around willy-nilly and not have it lose meaning and power.”

But we’ll move past that. This is my personal ranking list, so I’m-a just say it’s fun, charming, sweetly melancholy, and I enjoyed it a lot. So it stays at number two, and everyone shouting that it winning Best Picture is some sort of Hollywood apocalypse can consider chilling out.

Gladiator won Best Picture and the world didn’t end. Relax.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Most definitely.
Glad you did? Yeppers.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
I don’t know, would the film industry need to jack itself off without getting trophies for it?
Featuring: Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson

1. Black Women Do Math and Be Awesome

Now Hidden Figures is the whole package.

Set in a time when “Computer” meant a person who does a shit-ton of calculations by hand, Hidden Figures is based on the little-known true story of the black women who proved instrumental in getting America into space. Hidden Figures centres on three women: mathematical genius Katherine Johnson, who goes from checking white men’s numbers (right before it becomes obsolete) to inventing the math needed to get John Glenn back from orbit; Mary Jackson, who fights to become a full NASA engineer, despite needing to go to court to win the right to attend night school in segregation-era Virginia; and Dorothy Vaughan, who sees that all the women she supervises (in all but title and pay scale) will soon be put out of work by the new IBM machine, so teaches herself how to work it better than anyone else, then passes it on to her staff. These three women each play a key role in NASA’s mission, while struggling against the realities of life in racist Virginia.

This is an important story about a part of history that’s been largely ignored: the vital contribution of women of colour, marginalised then, marginalised now. And if that weren’t enough, it’s also got an amazing cast and is legitimately fun to watch. Sure, there are a couple of white saviour characters, the most notable being the saint-like John Glenn, who as far as these things go ranks just below Brad Pitt’s Canadian Abolitionist Jesus from 12 Years a Slave, but, well… desegregating NASA needed someone at the top to be on board. And if that means seeing Kevin Coster take a crowbar to the “coloured bathroom” sign, I’m down with that.

And just in case anyone wanted to breathe a sigh of “Things are better now,” the movie opens with the women afraid for their lives after being approached by a white police officer (and how’s that going, America?) and has the best piece of shade thrown at the “I’m not racist, but…” crowd. When a white superior tries to make nice with Dorothy by saying “I actually don’t have anything against y’all,” Dorothy sighs, and replies “I know. I know you probably believe that.” Perfect.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I think so. The buzz was so strong I was considering it before the nominations were announced.
Glad you did? Sure am.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
I’d really like to think so. I don’t, but I’d like to.
Featuring: Pa Kent, Mary Jane, Cottonmouth again

So that’s the lot. Sure there’s more to say, from “What the hell accent does Andrew Garfield think he’s doing in Hacksaw Ridge, it is just aggressive” to “Where is Amy Adams’ Oscar already” to “Seriously, what is it about Fences anyone liked,” but this is all we have time for.

See y’all at the show. And next time.

Three graphic novels that SHOULDN’T be movies

So last time I talked about some comics/graphic novels that I really, really want to see as movies. Like, if they film Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Doctor Dinosaur? I will be at that theatre every day. Cinematic obsession unseen since my “Who hasn’t seen Inception yet” days. This time, we’re gonna look at comic stories that I don’t– well it’s all there in the title.

But this is not a hate blog. I’m not going to just rant about hating World War Hulk. Nobody wants that. Probably. Doesn’t sound like fun. No, I’m going to try the trickier path. See, I love comics, I love movies, and the overlap of that there Venn diagram is a big part of my DVD/Blu-ray collection (larger than James Bond, about par with “shows canceled too soon by Fox”). But it doesn’t always work. And I’m not talking about the ones that are just done really, really badly, your Steels and your Batman and Robins and anything, anything featuring the Fantastic Four. Batman and Robin may be irredeemably bad, but it doesn’t mean that movies starring Batman can’t work. We know that they can. No, I’m talking about when the source material just doesn’t work as a two-hour motion picture.

Examples: I haven’t actually seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, because in 2003 I didn’t hate myself enough, but if I had to guess what went wrong, said guess would begin when “lack of understanding of the source material” locked eyes with “comic book movies need to be action packed thrill rides” across a crowded room, and, well, that’s how car chases through the non-existent streets of Venice are born (it is alleys and canals, people, no one is driving cars anywhere). There is a way to adapt League of Extraordinary Gentlemen well, but it’s been done and it’s called Penny Dreadful. Watchmen did a decent job of adapting the story beats and visuals of the graphic novel to the screen, but not any of the deconstruction of the genre and the actual medium that made Watchmen a classic. V For Vendetta did its best, but there is just no way to fit the entire complicated game of dominoes that is V’s revenge plan into two hours, so they lobotomized it more than I was happy with.

He didn’t just want to kill the Leader, he wanted to reduce the entire system the Leader created to rubble, and– no, no, not why I’m here.

So here’s some stories that I love, but which should not be live action movies.

1. Hack/Slash

hack5

Cassie Hack was a shy, unpopular, dorky girl until her mother, the lunch lady, started killing her bullies, committed suicide after Cassie turned her in, and then came back from the dead and started killing kids again, forcing Cassie to re-kill her. From there, Cassie went on the road, hunting and killing as many “slashers” (undead horror movie murder machines) as she could. While hunting a rumoured slasher known as the Chicago Meat Man, she met Vlad, a disfigured, massively strong, but kind and caring man who became her closest friend and ally. The comic, created, written, and occasionally drawn by Tim Seeley gained enough street cred as a concept that they scored several crossovers with actual horror movie villains Chucky (Child’s Play), Victor Crowley (Hatchet), and Herbert West (Reanimator), the last of which hit some publishing difficulties but found a neat way to tie West into the slasher mythology. Cassie also became an official Suicide Girl, in a cross-promotion featuring a one-shot where Cassie joined the Suicide Girls to hunt a killer living on the ‘net, and an SG “pictorial” of Cassie drawn by Tim Seeley.

Why not a movie?

See, before my last blog went over 2000 words talking about three things, I was thinking about including it as a comic that should be a movie, but… feels like it might turn out a little basic, you know? Unless you start with the Lunch Lady (and please, god, don’t make an entire Hack/Slash movie about Cassie’s teen years, we want the ass-kicking goth girl), it’s one act of setting up the concept, one act of setting up the latest slasher, and a climax. It’s not… big enough for what comic book movies need to be these days, and I’d hate to see it get steamrolled by the Marvel Machine.

So what could it be?

Years back Hack/Slash was moving towards a movie, something they were confident enough about to plaster “In development for a major motion picture” on the cover of the comic issues for a spell, but it never materialized. The new rumour is one I like better… a possible TV show.

Hack/Slash is a series one-off arcs featuring various monsters, in which a larger plot begins to loom involving the origins of the slashers and the coming monster apocalypse led by the slasher messiah, Samhain. So, cases of the week with a larger, serialized narrative running underneath. Not only is that my jam, apparently, but it’s the model for nearly every cable drama out there, and some network shows as well.

Some great ones.

Some great ones.

Now, a network might not be the answer, nor the basic cable world, because Hack/Slash embraced the violence, gore, and sex of the horror genre as much as the comic book industry would allow. Like most of American society, comic books are fine with violence, love sex, but are terrified of nudity. I’m certainly not saying Hack/Slash needs to be a gore ‘n’ boob fest like Game of Thrones… Winona Earp did okay saying “We’re adapting the character, but she gets to wear a full shirt and pants.” Cassie Hack can still be Cassie Hack if they give her more to wear than a miniskirt and a mesh top. But they should not be on any network that is going to blanch at the tropes that the horror genre is built on.

In short, it doesn’t need to be Game of Thrones, but it should be somewhere between Supernatural and Penny Dreadful. So we’re looking at Showtime or HBO’s slutty kid brother, Starz.

Now if only I had that sort of control over network decisions. Because I’d love to see this show, but I’ve been hurt before when pilots didn’t get picked up.

2. Barry Ween: Boy Genius

barry_ween2

Barry Ween, age ten, is the smartest human being to have ever lived. He began experimenting and inventing as soon as his body developed the motor skills necessary to wield a soldering iron. Currently, he and his best friend Jeremy get in adventures involving aliens, secret government agencies, sasquatches, transdimensional telepathic apes… but mostly the consequences of Barry’s experiments.

I. Love. Barry Ween. It’s hilarious, it’s got a surprising amount of heart, and Barry’s foul-mouthed boy genius (though it’s earned… when you’ve accidentally knocked the Earth off its axis, a “Fuck. Hope you brought a jacket,” is the right response) is a character like no other.

But please never make a live action movie out of it.

Why not a movie?

Because the second you cast an actual ten-year-old as Barry you’re either making something kid friendly like Spy Kids or shooting for shock value like Bad Santa. And I don’t dislike either of those movies… I actually quite liked Bad Santa back in the day… but neither of them is Barry Ween. Barry swears and, when necessary, kills more than a kids’ flick would allow, but not enough to be called shock comedy. Plus, I don’t want to watch Barry hit puberty in the sequel. Creator/writer/artist Judd Winnick kept Barry and Jeremy at age ten for all three miniseries and it worked just fine.

So what could it be?

You know what I don’t get about this live-action Lion King movie they’re working on? Other than why it exists given that the original is readily available and the stage version tours constantly? Why they’re calling it “live action.” What percentage of that movie isn’t going to be CG? Is it… none? None percent? No, I suspect that they’re calling it “live action” because there’s a perception that live action is better and more bankable than animation, despite the fact that Pixar and Dreamworks exist.

An animated Barry Ween? Now that would be fun. And it wouldn’t cost millions of dollars to turn Jeremy into a dinosaur with an afro (yes, that happened). There isn’t a big market for R-rated animation, something Sausage Party didn’t do a lot to help… but without the budget that live-action blockbusters require… how much does Pixar spend, let’s see… Finding Dory cost $200 million? Jesus Christ.

Okay, so, probably not going to spend that much to make Sausage Party money. But you know where more R-rated animation is thriving? At the risk of repeating myself, television. Archer, BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, F is For Family… sure, some of these are still more PG-13 (Archer will show butts and say “shit” but that’s where they draw the line; BoJack Horseman wisely avoids any sort of nudity and limits itself to one “fuck” per season, always from a friend he’s betrayed), save for F is For Family and Rick and Morty’s uncensored DVD, but it’s a better fit. Especially given that Barry’s adventures tend to be single-issue stories, and the one big multi-part would work better as a season premiere/finale kind of deal, rather than one single film.

Also I’m now a little bit enamored with the idea of a Barry Ween/Rick and Morty crossover. Rick and Barry are both irritable geniuses who invent and experiment more to keep busy than for any grand purpose, they each have a clueless kid sidekick who sometimes drags them down a nobler path which sometimes causes bigger problems, and alcoholic, misanthropic, possible galactic super-villain Rick Sanchez might be everything Barry’s afraid of turning into… or worse, might be his best-case scenario.

3. Transmetropolitan

transmetropolitan_2

This might seem like cheating. I’ve already talked about a TV show based on Warren Ellis’ excellent graphic novel Transmetropolitan. But I’m going a different way this time because I already suggested two TV shows. I mean, I was going to say Barry Ween should be an animated movie, but talked myself out of it…

Quick summary for those who don’t recall/weren’t with us… in the slightly distant future, Transmetropolitan is about journalist Spider Jerusalem, who is dragged out of seclusion in the mountains due to obligations to his book publisher, and ends up devoting one of his books to the impending presidential election between incumbent the Beast, whose election drove Spider into the mountains in the first place, and the Smiler, who seems a more benevolent leader but whose smile hides a dark side.

Why not a movie?

There’s no way to condense the weaving, trippy, future sci-fi/political into two hours. There is not. Not even six hours if you did a trilogy, and you shouldn’t plan it as a trilogy because your first movie needs to be self-contained, god damn it. Don’t spend a chunk of your movie setting up a sequel you might not get. Looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence. Twenty years since the last movie and you don’t tell a complete story? Fuck you and everyone who greenlit you.

Sorry, got distracted there.

So no, there is too much story for a movie. Which is why I was pitching it as a series back when. But…

So what could it be?

Transmetropolitan would be an expensive film or TV project for anyone, given that it takes place in a future that is both scarily familiar and entirely alien. Alien enough that there’s an issue devoted to how people who are woken up from cryogenic suspension can’t adapt and end up homeless. So as fond as I once was of the idea of Transmet for television, it would require so much green screening that it would make Attack of the Clones look like Mission: Impossible.

Because it’s… Mission: Impossible uses mostly practical effects, and… look it made sense to me.

A major part of Transmet is Spider Jerusalem’s prose. Storylines are narrated by excerpts from Spider’s articles. They put out at least one special issue that was a compilation of Spider’s articles. So there is one growing medium where it would fit right in… podcasts.

Yeah, okay, you got me, podcasts do kind of seem like what celebrities do when nothing else is working out for them, but narrative podcasts can be a lot of fun. Look at the growing network of Nightvale Presents… not just Welcome to Nightvale, with its biweekly tales of bizarre horror besetting a small desert town, but also Alice Isn’t Dead (performed by Fringe’s Jasika Nicole), and Within the Wires. Get the right voice as Spider, maybe bring in the odd guest star like Welcome to Nightvale does, and you’ve got a great

Tell the Transmet story through Spider’s articles. Or a mixture of articles and journal entries. Get the right voice as Spider maybe something in a Dean Winters or Will Arnett, maybe bring in the odd guest star like Welcome to Nightvale does, and you’ve got a great listen. Sure, it won’t last indefinitely, but nothing does.

Wow. Way to end on a down note. Let’s not do that next time…

Dan at the Movies: Suicide Squad

And I’m back. I meant to blog more over the summer… journal my Fringe tour, for instance… but as I’ve mentioned in the past, it can be hard to keep on a blog when other writing projects are sucking up your creative energies. Or when the unfamiliar heat and humidity of Ontario in the middle of summer and other personal issues are making it hard to have creative energy. But the first draft of my second pantomime is done, and I’ve traded humidity for record-setting rainfall, so I am back.

So let’s talk about Suicide Squad.

suicide-squad-movie-characters-calendar

The basics

There are a lot of really histrionic headlines out there. Shouting things like “Worst movie of the summer” or “Worse than Fantastic Four.”

So first of all, no. None of that. People claiming this are either lying for traffic or just wrong. I’m not saying they’re wrong because they’re stupid, since I don’t know any of them personally, but we can’t rule it out.

That’s not to say it’s perfect, or the best superhero movie of the year, or anything approaching that. It’s not without jokes and one-liners, but the laughs that exist fall short of Deadpool or the airport fight from Civil War, which remains the best and most fun sequence from any blockbuster film I’ve seen this year, comic book or otherwise. It’s good for what it is, which is a simple, flashy in places men-on-a-mission movie with a comic book coating. And for that, it works pretty well. Honestly I don’t get what the naysayers are complaining about in most cases.

In most cases. In one case I do.

The Joker

Jared Leto’s Joker has dominated the conversation around this movie, so let’s get him out of the way.

It doesn’t work.

To elaborate. Leto’s Joker voice is pretty good, but he’s not using it to do anything really Joker-ish. He’s like a mobster mixed with a B- Hannibal serial killer. We could argue about the tattoos, which frankly don’t bother me… well, with one major exception…

With one major exception

I mean come on.

…but the real issue is that he mostly just snarls and giggles and mopes about having lost Harley. Joker caring about a person, even Harley, is un-Jokerish enough but there’s a deeper problem here.

Where’s the joke?

I’m not saying that Joker should be funny. That’s not the point. The point is that Joker’s best crimes/stories revolve around a joke that only he sees, a joke of humanity’s futility. He does horrible things and he thinks they’re funny, and that’s not the Joker we’ve been shown here. This is just a moody pyscho who kills people for eyeballing his woman. Which is the worst scene of the movie, by the by, but fortunately it’s early, and then everyone can move on.

Maybe Ben Affleck could do something more or better with this version of the Joker in a Batman solo movie. I don’t know. In this case, he is not used super well. But he doesn’t super need to be, since he’s not the main villain. Which brings us to…

Villains

(One minor spoiler coming up, if you don’t know or want to know who the villain is)

There was a time when having a great villain was key to a comic book movie. As important as the hero, if not more so. Doctor Octopus and Spider-man 2, Joker and Dark Knight, and while it had highs and lows, Magneto sold the X-Men franchise. But the importance of the villain has not been the case as of late.

Okay, scream “DC bias” all you like, but I’m pointing a finger at Marvel. Though not necessarily in a bad way. While the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies put more effort into their villains than Batman himself (to mixed results), Marvel has managed great success while shifting the focus to the heroes. In short, Marvel villains tend towards bland and formulaic, and they make scads of money anyway, because if the Guardians of the Galaxy are fun enough to watch audiences will apparently forgive Ronan the Accuser being two-dimensional.

Hey, it’s not just me saying this. People have been talking about Marvel’s villain problem for years now. But this is really just a long lead-up to saying that, like a Marvel movie, Suicide Squad is not putting a ton of effort into their primary villains.

In short… and here’s the spoiler… Amanda Waller has successfully controlled a millennia-old witch called the Enchantress, who was awoken when an archaeologist named June Mune (Cara Delevingne, more effective as the evil witch than the archaeologist) wanders into the wrong cave and gets possessed. See, Enchantress and her un-awoken brother Incubus used to rule the world and be worshiped as gods back before they got stuck in statues. Now Enchantress finds herself in the modern world, enslaved by Amanda Waller. She doesn’t care for any of it. But while she can’t fully break Waller’s control, she can wake up her brother so that he can shield her from Waller’s retribution, allowing them to re-conquer the world. So that’s what she sets out to do.

Short version, Enchantress escapes Waller, teams up with Incubus, and begins a ritual to rule the world. And there we leave her until the climax. Sure, we check in once or twice, but that’s basically all she does.

Not exactly Heath Ledger’s Joker, I know. I mean, I could easily name ten worse comic book movie villains…

Or whip up a rough collage

…but she doesn’t exactly blow the doors off the place.

I think this might have more to do with writer/director David Ayers’ style. Look at Fury, his movie closest to Suicide Squad. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on the villains because we as an audience don’t need a lot of reasons to understand that the Nazis, and the SS in particular, were worth fighting. So he spent his time on the men in the tank. So, too, does Suicide Squad spend more time with the Squad than with Enchantress and Incubus. They’re doing something bad, it needs to be stopped, that’s as much detail as they feel we require.

Because getting this particular group of people to work together against a common foe… a common foe that isn’t their “employers…” isn’t an easy task.

The (Non-Joker) Cast

Let’s run through them, shall we?

Deadshot/Will Smith: I’m not saying that Will Smith doesn’t dip into his “Big Willy Style” bag a little in this role. There’s still a noticeable amount of Fresh Prince in Deadshot. But that’s okay, because it’s well used. He’s got edge and heart, making him highly effective as one of the film’s two central characters. Which brings us to…

Harley Quinn/Margot Robbie: One of the two biggest highlights of the film’s cast. After a rocky start weighed down by extra crazy and some weird shooting choices Ayers makes during Joker scenes, Margot Robbie is incredible as Harley Quinn. Everything you’d want from the character. Well… except one thing. They could’ve given her pants. Wouldn’t have hurt anything to give her pants. I’m just saying.

Amanda Waller/Viola Davis: Also awesome. She’s tough, she’s ruthless, she can stare down five deadly killers and come out on top. Is she one of the villains of the movie? That’s debatable. She walks the line very well. Why doesn’t she have a cameo in Justice League, exactly?

Captain Boomerang/Jai Courtney: Here’s a sentence that is almost never uttered: Jai Courtney crushes it. Captain Boomerang is selfish, manipulative, and consistently fun to watch. This movie nails the character in a way his appearance on Arrow just didn’t, and Courtney, normally known as one of those bland white action leads that you forget about when the movie’s over, kills it.

Rick Flagg/Joel Kinnaman: Another actor I didn’t expect much from, having (and I had to look this up) not exactly set the world on fire as reboot Robocop. As the Squad leader, he does well crossing from tough and resentful to be working with psychopaths to vulnerability when he needs to ask those psychopaths for help stopping a disaster… which will likely involve killing the only woman he’s ever loved.

El Diablo/Jay Hernandez: The heart of the Squad. Probably has the deepest backstory of anyone. Some people call him a stereotype, and the way he’s talked to can be a little on the racist side, though I would counter “Supervillains, abusive/corrupt prison guards, and black ops soldiers aren’t known for their racial sensitivity,” but maybe this isn’t a good argument for a white dude to pick. But according to some, it could have been worse

Killer Croc/Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: For the second time in a comic book movie, Adewale gets buried under so much makeup that there’s only so much he can do. He had the occasional decent line but was mostly there to be big and menacing.

Katana/Karen Fukuhara: Somehow given less to do than Killer Croc. She’s pretty much just there to look badass in a samurai fashion and kill things with a sword. I appreciate you trying to add another woman and some more POC to the Squad, but you don’t get points for someone two-dimensional and fairly stereotypical. Better on Arrow.

Slipknot/Adam Beach: I mean what the hell. I get that you needed to kill someone to prove that the neck bombs weren’t a bluff but did it have to be someone you just introduced? And one of the POC characters? Seriously, right as the Squad (most of whom got their own splashy intro flashbacks) gets ready to leave, a car pulls up and they’re all “Oh right, and here’s Slipknot.” Then he’s dead in under five minutes Come on, man.

Wrap-up

Here are some points that seem too short for entire entries.

  • I was really impressed with the visuals, especially in 3D. Some of the Enchantress effects seemed super cool to me.
  • Cool to have cameos from Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller. Now that I’m seeing the movie Flash suit in action, it’s growing on me.
  • I don’t see how people are complaining about the plot not making sense. Okay, sure, we don’t know right away why the Squad are dispatched to Midway City, since they aren’t being sent after the villains until the climax, but they don’t know either, so why should we? And once you get past that, it makes perfect sense. If you pay attention, anyway.
  • It’s weird how many moments from the trailers aren’t in the movie. There’s disagreement between Ayer and press rumours about how extensive the reshoots were, so I won’t comment on if that’s responsible, but it’s a little weird. Harley pouring everyone drinks? Why leave that out? Although, I guess it would have less impact since we saw the whole sequence in the second trailer…

Ultimately I enjoyed it. I got swept up in more than one moment. It’s not a masterpiece and doesn’t redefine the genre, but it’s enjoyable if you can get on its level.

Except for some of the Joker stuff. Damn but I wish that weren’t true.

Ranking the Best Pictures

Hello readers. I return, and apologize for my absence… although, one could argue that there is an amusing symmetry in going from writing about the adventures of Dominic Toretto’s Fast and Furious family to discussing the eight films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen to claim were the year’s best.

A claim that grows more dubious the more we look at their storied history of blown calls, and the entire genre of movies that’s sprung up whose sole purpose seems to be pandering to the Oscars, but… eh, what can you do.

Let’s look at this year’s nominees, in my personal order of preference. And because I’m me and that one scene of Birdman really stuck with me, I’ll also be tracking how many superhero/Star Wars actors are trying to do something of substance in between tentpole flicks.

(For even quicker descriptions, check out this list of honest Oscar posters)

8. National Lampoon’s Vengeance Vacation

AKA "This was SUPER uncomfortable, can I have my Oscar now?"

AKA “This was SUPER uncomfortable, can I have my Oscar now?”

In a nutshell: When a fellow trapper kills his son and leaves him for dead, Hugh Glass (Leonardo diCaprio) must overcome his horrific bear-related injuries, a harsh environment, and a band of natives on their own vengeance quest, in order to find and punish his betrayer.
Featuring: Bane, General Hux

A lot has been made of how this movie was shot. How Alejandro Iñárritu insisted on using only natural light to shoot (meaning some shoot days lasted an hour and a half), how Leonardo diCaprio actually did eat raw bison liver and swim in freezing rivers, and so on and so on. Here’s the thing about that, though… none of that is the narrative. It’s the meta-narrative. It’s fuel for the DVD special features, not relevant to a discussion of the film’s quality. Using exclusively natural light resulted in a lighting effect I would describe as “adequate, not exceptional.” Tell me “Leo actually did all of those things,” and I’m going to point you to his five stuntmen. He actually ate raw liver? He was lying two feet from a fire and had, in fact, eaten that day, so from a narrative perspective, nobody needed to eat raw anything, especially if doing so was just going to make them throw up.

Also, saying “When Glass throws up after eating the liver, that was Leo’s authentic reaction…” well, that isn’t acting. It’s reacting. If diCaprio deserves an Oscar for that, then Johnny Knoxville deserved an Oscar for Jackass.

That aside.

Ultimately? It’s a little dull. What few action sequences there are were well-shot, I’ll give it that, but they end up few and far between. The whole thing could be thirty minutes shorter and you wouldn’t miss anything. Watching Glass struggle across frozen tundra for two hours just… gets old.

But at least that’s the worst I can say about it. A little dull. Not “It shouldn’t even be considered a movie” like Tree of Life, not “desperately and annoyingly cloying” like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, not “actively evil” like American Sniper. When a character in The Revenant calls the natives (Cree, I think?) “savages,” it’s someone we’re rooting against, not the supposed hero of the movie (looking your way once again, American Sniper), and said natives’ rampage might be horribly misguided, but it’s for good reason. They’re trying to recover one of their women who was kidnapped by white men… sadly their strategy of “murder every white man we encounter and hope they’re the right ones” is just god-awful.

Still though… eight nominees, and the weakest one is just dull. Normally I’d be angrily questioning why certain films had been nominated for a while yet, but not this year. #OscarsSoWhite aside (and not having seen Tangerine, Beasts of No Nation, or Straight Out of Compton, I can’t really speak to  that)… not a bad crop.

7. SUCKER! You learned stuff!

The_Big_Short_teaser_poster

Don’t get too excited, only two of these people are in a scene together.

In a nutshell: Several finance industry outsiders see the impending collapse of the US housing market, and risk everything by betting against the American economy. And if you’re not careful, you just might learn something.
Featuring: Batman, and a cameo by Harley Quinn

Here’s what I respect about The Big Short. They are really trying very hard to hoodwink mainstream American audiences into learning how the 2008 economic collapse was caused through corruption and fraud on the part of the banks. They lure you in by telling you it’s a movie from the director of Anchorman and Ant-Man and a cast including Steve Carell in a wig that’s about a group of misfits finding a way to screw over the big banks.

That’s not what happens, by the way. If you recall, when the collapse did finally happen, the big banks (or at least their top executives) managed to be some of the only people not screwed over.

What this movie actually is, is the story of how a select few largely unconnected people managed to see that the housing market was a bubble, and that it was on the verge of bursting. Along the way, they walk us, the audience, through the steps involved in the housing market collapse. Whether it’s by having Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team investigate the actual houses involved in the mortgage-backed securities (many of which were given perfect ratings, but were clearly filled with mortgages on the verge of foreclosure), or by having frequent narrator Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) literally say “This is all really technical and kind of boring, so to explain, here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.” And then yes, Margot Robbie explains sub-prime mortgages to you while sipping champagne in a bubble bath.

The result is a harrowing if still entertaining look at how corporate greed caused a global economic meltdown. The frequent fourth wall breaks, both celebrity cameos to explain the more technical issues and characters addressing the audience to explain how they’ve stuck to or deviated from actual events, help to keep the story engaging. And that’s good, because it’s a super important story that not enough people understand.

Honestly, it would be much higher on the list, except for one little thing. Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, the hedge fund manager who first identified the housing bubble, and was the first to bet against the housing market. He leans fairly heavily into playing Burry as somewhere on the autism spectrum (though not, like, Sheldon Cooper-level, just a certain amount of inability to interact with people or conform to societal norms), which makes him almost seem to be in a completely different movie than anyone else. And that would all be fine, but once his fund starts to lose money because he’s put everything into his bet against the banks, Burry’s plotline loses all momentum. There is nothing happening with him that isn’t also happening in a more engaging fashion with the rest of the cast, and every time they cut back to him (which is somewhat frequent), it’s dead air. Revenant aside, which was heavy on dead air, no other film on the list has that problem, so Big Short gets knocked down a few pegs.

6. No, not The Room, thank you

Please note the lack of Tommy Wiseau

Please note the lack of Tommy Wiseau

In a nutshell: Joy and her son Jack live in captivity, Joy having been kidnapped two years before Jack’s birth. When they finally manage to escape, both must adjust to life outside of the small shed known as Room, the only place Jack has ever known.
Featuring: The Shoveler

The opening of Room is a fairly successful blend of sweet and horrifying. Sweet from the bond between Joy and Jack, horrifying from the fact that they are imprisoned in a shed by Joy’s kidnapper/rapist/abuser, who… goddamn. Does that monster ever work as a perfect depiction of male entitlement’s worst case scenario. “I deserve love and sex, so I will keep a woman prisoner so that I can demand both of those things from her at my convenience.” Ugh. UGH.

Moving along.

After the highly tense sequence leading to Joy and Jack’s escape, we shift gears, watching Jack try to adjust to an alien world: so many people who are neither his mom nor the “imaginary” people he’d see on TV (yes, they had a TV, which their captor probably demanded all sorts of thanks for, I HATE HIM–sorry), buildings filled with rooms. With Jack as our POV character, every shot of an empty room becomes highly significant. It soon becomes clear, though, that it’s Joy who’s having the most trouble adjusting to life outside, as once she escapes Room, and the day-to-day life of simply trying to stay alive and provide any sort of happy life for her child, seven years of trauma refuse to be repressed.

It’s anchored by impressive performances from Brie Larson and nine-year old Smurfs 2 veteran Jacob Tremblay. It’s definitely worth watching once. Can’t say I’d go back for another round. Well, maybe, if I could… you know, skip to the part where the cops find Jack and figure out where he came from. I liked that part. Even if it involved less of their captor being hunted by Batman than I’d like. No, Daredevil. No, the goddamn Punisher.

5. Spielberg. Hanks. You know you want it, Oscars.

It's even a period piece.

It’s even a period piece.

In a nutshell: At the height of the Cold War, an insurance lawyer finds himself negotiating a prisoner exchange between the US, the USSR, and an East Germany eager for a seat at the table.
Featuring: This one’s clean. Two people from The Wire, though, that’s neat.

In 1957, New York attorney James Donovan is handed the least enviable case possible: publicly defending accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel in a country at the peak of anti-communist paranoia. And from there it only gets more complicated… after alienating his family and firm by going above and beyond defending Abel, when an American pilot flying a spy plane is captured by the Soviets, Donovan gets pulled into a prisoner exchange between two superpowers on the brink of war.

And it gets worse for him. An American student studying economics in Berlin waits one day too long to get his German girlfriend out of East Berlin, and gets grabbed on the wrong side of the newly-constructed Berlin Wall. The East Germans see this as a chance to gain formal recognition from the West, and try to hijack the prisoner exchange.

It’s Spielberg’s fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks. Is it their best work? Probably not, but I am awfully fond of Catch Me If You Can. Hanks goes with quiet strength over flashy dramatics, which is the right call, because it’s only that quiet strength that keeps Donovan in the game. And the fact is that at this point, Spielberg’s B-game is, in fact, still Oscar-worthy.

It’s that rare historical movie that not only has awards appeal but doesn’t feel too Oscar-baity. I can picture this movie existing for a reason besides attracting Oscars. Not something easy to say about, say, The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, or The Reader.

4. NO! SLEEP! TIL–

Brooklyn

The struggle of being a white immigrant in America

In a nutshell: A shy girl from Ireland tries to build a better life in New York, only to have her home town try to lure her back.
Featuring:
General Hux (again, dude’s everywhere all of a sudden), Felicity Smoak

If you don’t come out of this movie a little bit in love with its lead character you’re some kind of robot.

Saoirse (pronounced “Sur-sha”) Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced AY-lish) Lacey in the biggest collision possible of aggressively Irish names lacking any sort of intuitive pronunciation. A timid, traditional girl working part-time in the shop of a horrible, horrible woman, Eilis is sponsored by the church to immigrate to New York in the 1950s. With an entire ocean separating her from her friends and family, she has to forge a new life.

What I appreciate is that they steer towards some of the stereotypes, but then veer away at the last second. Her new boss seems to be a “mean boss,” but turns out to be supportive when it counts. Yes, Ailis stays in one of those boarding houses for ladies that, yes, forbids men and encourages good Christian behaviour, but the landlady isn’t the cruel tyrant of, say, Agent Carter, but the nicest, most accepting, most helpful, still rigidly Christian landlady I’ve seen on TV or film in a while. And the Italian lad hanging around her church’s dances is a perfect gentleman, charming and romantic yet respectful. Probably helps that Italians are often just as Catholic as the Irish.

Now… the second half? I’m not sure I reacted to that the way I was supposed to. When a tragedy causes Eilis to return home for the first time in months, her home town is quick to offer up all the things her new life in Brooklyn had been offering, but in the comfortable familiarity of small-town Ireland. Her sister’s old bookeeping job (which is exactly what she’d been studying in Brooklyn), a charming and handsome fella to spend time with… actually, they’re weirdly quick to offer all these things up. Suspiciously quick. Almost aggressively quick. Quick enough that I didn’t think “Hey, you know, maybe there is no place like home,” but instead reacted to her hometown like we’d entered a horror movie. Every time some new thing made her rethink returning to Brooklyn, I thought “RUN, IT’S A TRAP!”

That said, I had a better time watching the less oppressively dark metaphorical prison of small-town Ireland than the literal and horrifying prison of Room. But that’s neither here nor there.

It’s a delightful, charming, and moving. Okay, sure, elephant in room, a movie about an immigrant of colour trying to adjust to life in the US would be very different, would be considered an “issue” movie from the word go, and would probably get shut out of the Oscars, but… this is still delightful. Also, I saw Domnhall “General Hux” Gleeson in three movies in a matter of weeks and if his nose were less distinctive, I’d have had no idea it was the same guy (let alone the same guy as the excellent sci-fi flick Ex Machina), so, nicely done, that man.

3. Saving Private Ryan… IN SPACE

Another fine mess Matt Damon got himself into

Another fine mess Matt Damon got himself into

In a nutshell: In the not-too-distant future, astronaut/botanist Mark Watley is accidentally stranded on Mars, and must find a way to stay alive long enough for NASA to send help.
Featuring: 
The Winter Soldier, Invisible Woman, Boromir, Ant-Man’s kinda offensively stereotypical Latino sidekick, Dr. Strange’s probable nemesis

It’s not The Martian’s fault that it will spend the next year or two serving as the poster child for Category Fraud (when a movie or TV show claims to be a comedy because the “best drama” category seems too hard to win). It isn’t, strictly speaking, a comedy, so the fact that it won “Best Comedy” at the Golden Globes feels hinky. That said… it doesn’t lack humour. For a movie about someone left stranded on a far-away planet, it’s got wit when it wants to, but it also impressively tense when it’s time to put Mark in increased danger.

Matt Damon is excellent. He could easily have carried this entire movie, Castaway-style, but he doesn’t even need to, thanks to equally great work from an all-star supporting cast. No other movie this year has made me think “Awesome, it’s that person” so many times. It’s delightfully pro-science (if, I hear, less so than the book, but that would happen), never dull, sometimes thrilling, and overall incredibly satisfying. It’s hard to think of more to say that wouldn’t just boil down to me reciting my favourite parts. You should probably just watch it if you haven’t already.

2. The Fast and The Furiosa

What a lovely day indeed.

What a lovely day indeed.

In a nutshell: In a post-apocalyptic future, Imperator Furiosa tries to escape warlord Immortan Joe, bringing along five women he kept as breeding slaves. A road warrior named Max and a Warboy named Nux get dragged along for one awesome, feature length car chase.
Featuring:
Bane, Beast

There’s a lot of talk about how out-of-touch the Oscars are. This is mostly aimed at that time they snubbed the Dark Knight in favour of the vastly inferior The Reader, then expanded the best picture category to avoid shunning popular films, but then kept doing it. So sure, it was a surprise when Mad Max: Fury Road started breaking the trend and attracting award buzz. So why this movie?

Because it’s freaking amazing, that’s why.

It’s masterfully shot and edited. It gets strong performances out of not just Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, but X-Man Nicholas Hoult and supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitely of all damned people. The action is incredible. The story is above and beyond what a Hollywood blockbuster would go for, despite being so simple that it takes less time to describe than The Revenant. It’s a revival of a thirty-year-old franchise that isn’t weighed down by nostalgia, wink-nudge references, or franchise building.

Every element comes together to create an action movie far, far better than it has any right to be on paper, and that seems to have gotten Awards Season’s attention.

Also it pissed off MRAs, which I find delightful.

1. Extra extra, vows of celibacy screw with your head

Spotlight

In a nutshell: A period piece set in the long-forgotten time when print journalism made a difference (2001), the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe looks into child abuse accusations inside the Catholic church, and discovers a systemic cover-up bigger than they ever expected.
Featuring:
A different Batman, Bruce Banner, Sabretooth, Dr. Erskine, Dr. Manhattan, Old Howard Stark, Dr. Strange’s probable love interest.

Remember journalism, you guys? When men and women employed by newspapers would really dig into a story, doing months of research if necessary, to ensure that the news you were reading was not only important but true? Man those were the days.

Spotlight is the story about how one team of journalists uncovered the story that the heavily Catholic city of Boston did not want told: that priests had been molesting children. For years. Decades. The more they look into it, the more victims they find, and the more extensive the cover-up is revealed to be.

The cast is phenomenal. Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and more, all doing some incredible work. The horror at the extent of the abuse and cover-up, the determination to put it right, and the gnawing realization that people inside the paper may have helped keep it all quiet once before.

It’s a gripping story, one that manages that trick of injecting suspense into a foregone conclusion. This is a movie I was determined to seek out the moment I saw the trailer, Oscars or no Oscars, and I’m glad I did. Highly recommended.

Fasts and Furiouses Six:

Last time: a previously mediocre car-based action franchise discovered they’d accidentally created the Ocean’s 11 of car-based heist crews, so they put everyone in the same movie and sent them to work in BRAZIIIL!

Sorry, it is just so hard to stop doing that...

Sorry, it is just so hard to stop doing that…

Han continued to cheat the death that we already saw two movies ago, and as the credits start, we learned that Michelle Rodriguez wants to buy a bigger house is about to return to the franchise. Let’s roll! (Damn it, these stupid movies just get in your head…)

Name a second American action franchise THIS successful with only one white guy on the poster.

Name a second American action franchise THIS successful with only one white guy on the poster.

This time around, the action moves to my favourite place in the world: London, England. Now, the streets in London are narrow, twisty, and congested, and it rains a lot, so surely this means the franchise will have to forgo the usual “illegal street race surrounded by scantily-clad women” scene, right?

No. Nothing ever means that.

Last we saw these furiously fast folks, Brian O’Connor and Dom Toretto were about to have a Rocky III-style private (and unfilmed) rematch race across their new, tropical, non-extraditing home. One might think that’s exactly where we pick up, but no: Dom and Brian are actually racing home to see Dom’s sister/Brian’s wife, Mia, as she gets well and truly sidelined from being an active player in the movie, just when she’d finally started getting interesting shit to do last time out. Sorry, I mean “as she goes into labour.” Autocorrect, am I right?

“As soon as you go through those doors, everything changes,” says Dom. “Our old life is done.” Also, he’s still with now-former Rio PD officer Elena, as long as I’m mentioning things that aren’t going to last past the first act.

The opening credits serve as a swift “previously on” montage, highlighting the major players and plot points from the previous movies… save for Tokyo Drift, which due to the Han issue still hasn’t happened yet. They also serve as a reminder of how much Paul Walker has aged since F&F1, but that’s old lady mortality for you.

Anyhoo, with all of that done, we rejoin Special Agent Hobbs, who pulls up (in a truly ridiculous pick-up truck/humvee… when you want an armoured car but might need to move a couch) to a crime scene in Moscow, where he meets his new partner Riley Hicks (MMA fighter/former American Gladiator Gina Carano), introducing her to us in the least graceful burst of exposition I’ve seen in ages. Hobbs is investigating a high-speed car-based crime, one we’re led to believe must have been Dom and company. But when Riley gets him five minutes with the only suspect the Russians caught, it’s not Dom at all, but a low-rent British Vin Diesel impersonator who Hobbs asks about his boss, Shaw. He asks him pretty hard, as Sin City’s Marv would say.

Okay, we’ll get back to Shaw and his evil-doing in a minute, but can we just talk about how ridiculous what’s happening is? Hobbs, an American agent, being allowed access to a Russian crime scene, allowed to interrogate a prisoner in Moscow, who he proceeds to toss around like a rag doll and nobody stops him?

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The way he hurls the 230 pound suspect into the ceiling hard enough to break it is the least improbable part of this entire sequence.

“You don’t just pick up Owen Shaw like he’s groceries,” announces Hobbs, having learned his quarry is in London. “You wanna catch wolves, you need wolves!” And once again, Dwayne Johnson’s delivery is so over-the-top-macho perfect that it makes me forgive the fact that the last thing any serious law-enforcement officer would do is recruit a team of international fugitives to hunt a different, similar team of international fugitives, but that, ladies and gents, is our plot.

Dom wakes up to another perfect morning of tropical sunshine, fresh air, and Elena’s tasteful sideboob to find Hobbs waiting for him on the porch. Despite Dom’s desire to stay retired, Hobbs informs him that he’ll soon be begging Hobbs to help catch Shaw and his crew, by giving him a file proving that Dom’s true love Letty is alive and working with Shaw. Right in front of Elena. Come on, Hobbs, there’s a way to be a person about this.

Time to call in the team! Roman has a private plane that’s flying him and five (we have to assume) prostitutes to his penthouse (and giant yacht) in Macau, which I guess means he either invested his $10 million from the last movie really well, or is having one last party before going flat broke.

Tej has left his dream garage (maybe because it was lamer than his pre-established garage in Miami) and is hacking ATMs somewhere in the Carribean. Because Tej, the mechanic-turned-safecracker, is a hacker now, I guess?

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Han and Gisele are interrupted from talk of settling down by the arrival of a squad of Chinese police… who seem to only be there to hand Han a phone so that he, Tej, and Roman can all receive the same phone call from Dom. And so they all drop what they’re doing (not hard, only Roman was doing anything difficult to interrupt) to meet up with Dom in jolly old England.

(The previously nameless Mexican henchmen are not present: they bet their entire Rio payoff on one spin of roulette in Monte Carlo at the end of Fast Five, and according to Brian were never seen again. Never were the brains of the crew.)

Brian’s the only one who needs convincing (the only one, which is weird for reasons I’ll explain in a sec), as he’s convinced Hobbs is lying, but if Dom’s going to be chasing Letty’s ghost, Brian’s in too. Brian’s wife and mother of his newborn son, Mia, swiftly agrees. Seriously. Right away. No question at all. Just bam, “Absolutely my husband should help you chase down an international thief and his dangerous crew. I’ll feel safer if my entire family is at risk.”

I mean, I guess she has a point, sort of? Dom and Brian protecting each other does add a level of safety that either running off on their own wouldn’t have. And I guess Letty is family to Mia as well. But it still feels odd that there wasn’t even a moment where Mia thought maybe this wasn’t the best idea. Or Elena! She gets on board with her new boyfriend trying to reunite with his great lost love super fast. I get that she understands what he’s feeling, but wow, she gave up her entire life for Dom, and has no qualms over what she will or could do when he inevitably dumps her for a not-dead Letty.

Moving on.

Hobbs explains to the crew that he wants them to capture Shaw, who has stolen a weapon that could cripple a country. Brian is the first to remember that only two people in this room have actually met or care about Letty, so he demands full pardons for everyone, something that worked so well in number four that Dom ended up sentenced to twenty years without parole.

The legality of this arrangement is suspect.

The legality of this arrangement is suspect.

Also Roman spent most of that scene begging change for the vending machine and ends it asking if they’re getting paid. I’m gonna go ahead and assume I was right about him blowing the last of his Rio heist money on that plane.

Shaw’s crew manages to outmanoeuvre team Toretto in their first encounter thanks to some car-hacking hockey pucks and bulletproof go-carts packing ramps capable of flipping cars twenty feet in the air.

Which is deemed... improbable

Which is deemed… improbable

And we learn that Letty may be alive, but she has… AMNESIA!

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Seriously, is anyone else really over amnesia as a plot point? I’ve hated it since the mid-90s and it has not improved.

The two crews begin sniffing around each other, as Roman identifies Shaw’s gang as their “evil twins” (only with triple the white folk). After a run in with their counterparts featuring a pretty badass fight between Letty and Riley, Han and Roman getting their asses kicked by Evil Han, and Gisele scoring the first kill with one impressively calm and precise bullet to Evil Roman, Gisele finds a solid lead: to find Shaw, they need to see returning villain Braga, the Mexican drug-runner Brian and Dom brought down two movies back. The one who supposedly had Letty killed.

(I mean, he did, but flashbacks reveal that the henchman in charge of doing it was just the worst assassin ever. That was not a hard gig but he fucked it up royally.)

As part of their newfound respect for interfilm continuity, Brian calls in an improbable favour from one of his former FBI colleagues from F&F4 to get him into Braga’s LA prison under an assumed name (to make it easier for wanted fugitive Brian O’Connor to get back out of the US after), so that he and Braga can have an awkward reunion. Meanwhile, Dom tracks down Letty at… you guessed it… an illegal street race filled with scantily clad women, the one thing all cities in the Fast/Furious universe have.

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It makes sense that Dom would try to win Letty back into the fold through a race. First, it’s neutral ground, and second, he’s been making women question their allegiances through smouldering looks and tragic memories of Letty since his return to the franchise. Why wouldn’t it work on actual (if amnesiac) Letty? Although it is a little odd that once they pass the starting line, there are no spectators. I guess British racers use the honour system. Seems British enough.

Skimming forward… Dom’s team catches Shaw after a car vs. tank chase/fight, Dom saves Letty’s life through a mid-air catch so physically improbable it made Daniel storm out of the room, and all seems well… but Shaw has captured Mia, so they have to let him out of custody.  Also, Letty’s switched sides, but Riley was working for Shaw the whole time, so it evens out. This leads to Team Toretto and Team Shaw having a fight on and alongside a cargo plane driving down the world’s longest runway. Everyone (but Mia) gets a moment to be badass, Shaw is thwarted… but Gisele doesn’t make it, giving her life to protect Han. Don’t worry, Gisele… you’re going to a better place.

Wonder Woman

Themyscira, or Paradise Island, to be precise.

Not only do the surviving crew get their full pardons (in the US, anyway, probably still wanted in Brazil over the death of half the Rio police department), Dom gets his old house back. The crew gathers for a Toretto family barbecue, Han announces he intention to follow through with Gisele’s earlier suggestion they move to Tokyo (“It’s just something I gotta do,” he says, acknowledging that they’ve stalled catching up to Tokyo Drift as long as possible), Elena pops by for a final farewell before leaving to work for Hobbs (and to pay deference to Letty as Dom’s One True Love Interest), and all is mostly well.

But wait! Before the credits roll, we flash back/forward to Han’s fatal crash in Tokyo Drift. Turns out it was no accident… Han was hunted down and killed… by Jason Statham.

Jason fucking Statham. Now our car-based action franchise is finally complete.

Reactions

It’s both better and worse than Fast Five, in different ways. Fast Five was an import car heist movie, whereas number six is trying to be an import car spy movie. And unless you actually are a James Bond flick, I find heist movies more entertaining than spy movies. There’s more satisfaction to the climax: it’s the culmination of all the pieces they put together, whereas here we just have a series of escalating car chases/action beats. Good ones, to be sure, but still.

Shaw is an effective villain, if kind of annoyingly smug. Actually most of the villains have been really smug. It does make it satisfying when they get knocked down a peg, though.

We probably have some of the franchise’s best fight work. They have Gina Carano and Dwayne Johnson in the cast, and know how to use them. Okay, Dom’s flying headbutt was ridiculous. No getting around that. But otherwise, the action beats are pretty impressive, if physics-defying.

However, it’s clear that following Fast Five, the ensemble got too big. Yes, it was already big, but they found stuff for everyone to do last time. This time out, with Hobbs already part of the crew, there wasn’t enough time for everyone, and it’s Elena and Mia who suffer. They’re sidelined almost immediately, with Mia only coming back to serve as a hostage in the climax. Elena I can live with, but after finally making Mia an active part of the team in Fast Five, it seems particularly sad to cut her role down so severely.

It’s not like the film wants to be a boys-only club… Gisele’s more kickass than ever, Riley and Letty get their moments to shine, but Mia (who even got to be part of the heist crew while pregnant) gets left out. It’s a shame that it’s the women who–

SHIT the no-name Mexicans. I keep forgetting about them. They’re just gone this time, which is a shame since they finally get both of their names spoken for the first time in three movies. Okay, fine, it’s not just the women who got cut back. Look, it’s a bit of a dick move to marginalize Mia, given she’s one of the original four. That’s all I’m saying.

And in terms of the overall series? It’s hard, when watching this, to recognize it as the same series as the first three movies. Yes, women in tiny skirts/shorts cavort around illegal street races, but the physics-nope action set pieces seem like an entirely different world than the simple drag races of F&F1.

Actually, if they WERE on a different world, that would explain a lot.

Actually, if they WERE on a different world, that would explain a lot.

It’s hard to follow a success. Fast Five was a breath of fresh air, a whole new twist on what these characters could be doing. Fast and Furious Six just kept running with that, and tried to crank the volume a little. It still works better than it has any right to… it’s just the novelty’s worn down a little.

I’ll say this, though. They made something happen that I would have thought impossible earlier in the week, when this all began as I watched Brian fail at undercover work… they made me eager to watch the next movie. God help me, when Jason Statham tells Dom “You don’t know me… but you’re about to,” I actively and unironically wanted to watch Furious Seven. I haven’t yet… but it’s coming.

And if the rumours are true, and Methusa-brah is taking Brian’s place in the crew in the eighth movie, which after “Fast Five” and “Furious Seven,” I assume will be called “And The Eight?” They will make me miss Paul Walker. That I never saw coming.

Fasts and Furiouses is over for now… next time, there is only The Smurfening.

Fasts and Furiouses Five: Rock On!

And we’re back! When we last left those who are fast, but in a furious persuasion, they had, in their fourth instalment, finally managed to make a proper second movie.

Now, we rejoin Dom and crew/family as they hide from the law somewhere more exotic than ghetto Los Angeles…

brazil

BRAAAAZIIIIIL!

As the poet said…

Let there be light…
Sound…
Drums…
Guitar…
Let there be Rock!

Hail, hail, the gang's all here.

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.

We pick up exactly where we left off… Dom’s being sent to prison for 25 years, despite his help with the super illegal extradition of Mexican drug lord Braga. I guess eight years of literal highway robbery aren’t swept under the rug because of one mission against a worse bad guy. Probably takes, like, three missions against worse bad guys. Anyhoo, former cop, sometimes drag racer, about-to-be-former FBI agent, and two-time winner of World’s Worst Undercover Operative Brian O’Connor throws away his law-enforcement career (again) to stage a bold prison break mid-transfer, because of course it’s mid-transfer, these people don’t get out of bed for a heist if customized racing cars aren’t involved.

But while the high-speed prison break was only implied in the end credits of Fast & Furious, here it’s presented in its entirety… they stop the prison bus by making it veer around Mia’s car, then crash into Brian’s, so that it flips so many times you just have to assume everyone inside is dead. Just super dead. This is what happens when Dom’s out of the action… the quality of their car-heists just goes way downhill. However, a news report featuring the man I am incapable of seeing as anything but Pawnee Indiana’s Perd Hapley informs us that there were no casualties (somehow) and that nobody escaped but Dom. Because I guess the old A-Team writers snuck onto the set.

Still, nice that Dom’s sister/Brian’s somehow still girlfriend Mia gets to play too. Mia is often reduced to “Brian’s love interest,” or “Method of making his career-ending attachment to Dom less gay.”

From there, we cut to Brian and Mia on the lam way, way south of the border (since Mexico would also like to round up the whole crew), in Brazil.

I promise this will eventually make sense.

I promise this will eventually make sense.

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They take shelter with an old friend, for given values of the word “friend:” Vince, the biggest asshole form Dom’s crew in the first movie. He still has a soft spot for Mia, still doesn’t seem to like Brian, but I guess Brian saving his life that time he nearly got killed by a trucker with a shotgun has soothed his “Look at Mia and I’ll murder you out of jealousy” demeanour. Or maybe having shacked up with a Brazilian woman sometime after escaping the hospital did that.

Anyway, he soon asks Brian and Mia to help him steal some high-end cars (because of course) from a train. Brian reluctantly agrees, because he is already a wanted fugitive, and hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. Also there’s not a lot of legitimate work for twice-disgraced ex-cops.

Dom arrives just in time for Brian to notice that the cars they’re stealing were seized by the DEA, and that Vince’s… associates have their eyes on one car in particular. Dom and Mia swiftly decide to betray said associates and steal that one car, the job goes wrong in a hurry, and the DEA cotton on to what’s happening.

The DEA make some questionable choices.

The DEA make some questionable choices.

After some train-and-car based fighting, and an improbably survivable fall off a cliff into a distant river, Dom and Brian are briefly captured by Brazilian crime kingpin Reyes. They escape super fast, but it all has Dom wanting to know what’s in the car that’s so valuable.

Since one of Reyes’ men (who IMDB tells me is named “Zizi”) killed three DEA agents, and then let Dom and Brian take the fall, they end up being hunted by the US government’s best man… Special Agent Hobbs, played by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who struts into this franchise like he owns the joint and damn near does own it from his first lines.

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Vince the Asshole returns, and quickly proves himself untrustworthy (because of course), as he knows exactly what Reyes’ men want: a memory card hidden in the car’s computer. Vince is banished, but doesn’t leave without giving a tirade about how everything that’s happened is because Dom never listened to Vince, proving that he still hasn’t 100% learned that being an asshole 100% of the time makes people not consider you a trusted friend.

Hobbs and his team are joined by Rio PD officer Elena, who he figures is the one cop in Rio that can’t be bought. After exchanging some delightfully ridiculous cop lingo, they’re on Dom’s trail. Sadly, so is Reyes.  While Dom and crew figure out that the chip contains all the information on how Reyez moves his money around, Hobbs and Reyes’ thugs descend on their hideout, resulting in a chase over the favela rooftops (because of course) that can be somewhat hard to track if you’ve already had several adult beverages to get you through the last two movies. In short, Reyes’ men (led by that pesky Zizi) attack; Dom, Brian, and Mia make a run for it; Hobbs intervenes, managing to kill several bad guys but not catch Dom; and in the process, Dom saves Elena’s life, making this the second consecutive movie in which a woman reconsiders which side she’s on thanks to Vin Diesel’s smouldering gaze.

Dom wants to split up for safety, but Mia’s sick of the family splitting up, especially when she finally reveals she’s pregnant (something we’d known since six minutes into the movie). So instead of splitting up… they do something much cooler.

The Fast Five Nine

After a talk about fatherhood, Dom and Brian decide they can’t run anymore, so they’re going to use Reyes’ memory card to steal all of his money and use it to buy new lives somewhere with no extradition. But for that, they’ll need a team… and so they assemble a Fast and Furious supergroup of supporting cast members from the last four movies. Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris) from 2 Fast; Han, who still hasn’t managed to make it to Japan for his death in Tokyo Drift; Gisele (the previous woman to reconsider her side thanks to smouldering looks from Dom) and the two Mexicans who I swear didn’t have names from Fast & Furious. It’s the Oceans’ 11 of people who like custom racing cars. Or the Fast and Furious Avengers. One of those.

Don't worry, they got to it eventually. They always do.

Don’t worry, they got to it eventually. They always do.

The gang hits one of Reyes’ money houses in order to make him move all of his money to a central location. Sadly, it’s a police station, proving that Hobbs had a point about there not being a lot of cops in Rio who can’t be bought. Hey man, it’s their stereotype, don’t be blaming me. Pulling some straight-up Oceans’ 11 moves, they get the lay of the land, a copy of Reyes’ safe (which of course Tej the mechanic knows how to crack), and thanks to Gisele knowing how to work her good looks, Reyes’ hand-print.

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Also Dom and Brian score some fast, nimble cars by hitting street races filled with hot girls hanging around the cars because of course they do. Streak unbroken.

Just one problem… while they’ve been prepping to hit Reyes, the perpetually sweaty Hobbs has been hunting them, and now the whole team has been flagged, leading to a tense standoff in which Dom reminds Hobbs that he isn’t in the US anymore. Where is he?

Naturally.

Naturally.

It’s impossible to think of this movie and not think of this moment. I have a hard time seeing Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue and not think of it yelling “BRAZIL!”

Okay, let’s skim forward. Dom continues to work his rugged “I sure did love my dead girlfriend Letty” charms on Elena, Vince returns long enough to save Mia from Zizi and have one last Toretto family dinner, Tej announces that he’s using his share to open a garage back home, despite the fact that he already owns a garage in Miami, that’s why he’s in these movies…

Opinions are elicited.

Opinions are elicited.

Hobbs successfully tracks down Dom, Mia, Brian, and Vince, leading to the best fist fight in the series to date…

True story.

True story.

…but when Reyes’ men kill Hobbs’ entire team (minus Elena) while trying to get at Dom and Brian, Hobbs decides to join the heist after Dom saves his life. Because. Of. Course. This was a sweat-soaked bromance waiting to happen.

Seriously, it’s like they sprayed The “Dwayne Johnson” Rock down with a hose before every scene he’s in. The man is damp.

Zizi manages to be the only Reyes thug not to get shot for the third time, Vince dies more tragically than you’d expect, given that I spent the entire first movie hoping someone would kill him, but with all other obstacles cleared, it’s time for the big heist: stealing the safe itself from the police station, and using their race cars to drag it through the streets of Rio. The nicer streets, though. It’s nice to see a high-class neighbourhood get torn up in the car chase instead of a favela.

It’s like in the Final Destination movies, when the victim survives the elaborate Rube Goldberg death but then something heavy crushes them three second later. They drop their more elaborate heist and just smash into the building with Hobbs’ bulletproof SUV, then run off dragging the safe behind them.

After a certain amount of car chase shenanigans, Dom cuts Brian loose, then takes out their remaining pursuers by firing his nitrous (BECAUSE OF COURSE) and whipping the safe around like a morning star.

Fans of physics had qualms about this sequence.

Fans of physics had qualms about this sequence.

Brian returns just in time to break his streak of bringing the main villains alive by killing Zizi (finally) to save Dom. Hobbs then arrives in order to straight-up murder Reyes, before giving Dom and company a 24-hour head start, provided they leave the safe behind. He swiftly realizes that, during a “ten second window” in the chase, they managed to switch the money safe for their training safe, leaving them with $100 million and him with an empty safe surrounded by crushed cops cars.

Everyone gets away clean (except Vince, but fuck that guy): Tej opens his garage (which is worse than the one he had in Miami), Gisele and Han hit the road together, and when Gisele asks Han if he wants to go to Tokyo, he says “We’ll get there… eventually,” (translation: the producers are in no hurry to catch up to his death from two movies back) Elena leaves Brazil to be with Dom, and Dom and Brian have a Rocky III-style unfilmed rematch as we go to credits.

But wait! There’s more! One last returning player! Partway through the credits, Eva Mendes returns as customs agent Monica Fuentes (the inside woman from 2 Fast), with news for Hobbs… Letty isn’t as dead as everyone thinks.

Dun dun DUUUUNNNN. (Don’t get comfy, Elena)

General reactions

This is where the switch flicks. We’re still in “high-speed thefts” territory, to be sure, but the franchise has crossed a line that will leave “Point Break knock-off” in its rear-view… mirror… god damn it, now they have me doing it…

One would be forgiven for thinking that there is no way they’ve spent the last four movies world-building. That they made one “undercover cop loses his way” crime movie, then spent seven years flailing around trying to make a decent sequel. And you’re right, you’re entirely right. But while flailing, they accidentally created a somewhat likable ensemble that manages to be the most ethnically diverse cast of any American action franchise in living memory. Han remains cool, Gisele has become impressively badass, the Mexicans make a passable comic duo, and 2 Fast’s Roman comes into his own. With Vin Diesel also in the movie, Roman didn’t need to be “replacement Dom” anymore, and was free to become the comic relief and the second most quotable character. Tej… is whatever the franchise needs Tej to be from movie to movie. Mia got to participate in a few action beats before revealing she was pregnant, at which point she just ran comms and tactics from HQ, because no way Dom and Brian let her back into the field at that point. She did some super dangerous things when they didn’t know.

Paul Walker had either settled into the role, or they started writing it to suit his abilities, because he feels far less awkward here than the first two. He hasn’t said “bro” since 2 Fast, which is for the best.

And I cannot overstate what a valuable addition Dwayne “The Johnson” Rock is to this franchise. He steps off the plane, knowing he’s in a dumb, aggressively macho action flick, and by god he swings into it. Hobbs is instantly the missing ingredient we never knew we always wanted in these movies. His badass cop lingo scenes are a damned delight.

Now, I do like a good heist movie, and half the fun is seeing the heist carried out, so in theory I should be disappointed that they switched the plan to a smash-and-grab. But it’s hard to be. The mashy-smashy final act is just too hard to dislike, even with its merciless assault on the laws of physics.

They also do frequently pause the action to hit on themes of family, honour, and all that… and one largely pointless drag race between Brain, Dom, Han, and Roman, but it drags the film down less than you’d expect. Soon enough Hobbs will swagger his sweaty self back into frame, and we’re in ridiculous fun territory again.

Up until Fast 5, these movies were a bit of a slog. Especially in the dark, Vin-less times. Maybe you had to be into street racing. I hear that helps. But with this entry, I finally began to see the appeal.

Next time, they realize they have a good thing, and keep running with it. Which is less common than you’d like.

Fasts and Furiouses 4: Mulligan!

Previously in the tales of people who are sometimes fast and sometimes furious about how they’re not being fast right now… Foghorn Leghorn impersonator/World’s Oldest High School Student flees to Japan to avoid prosecution for moving violations, and learns that his overwhelming narcissism, near-absolute lack of impulse control, and habit of solving all of his problems through illegal racing are, in fact, what life’s all about, and not massive personality flaws. Also the most interesting character is killed.

But you know what? Forget about all of that. Because the franchise sure did its best to do exactly that.

Fastfurious

“New Model. Original Parts,” proclaimed the poster/teaser trailer, because eight years after the original sped through… theatres… come on, me, you’re better than that…

Eight years after a film crew attempted to remake Point Break but got, just, you know, super tired part way through and just filmed people driving in straight lines, all four of the original leads decided they didn’t have enough going on to keep turning down F&F sequels, and we kicked things back off with the numberless, stripped down “Fast and Furious.” Or as I came to see it, “The movie 2 Fast was supposed to be.”

We open with another highway truck heist, but in the spirit of franchise escalation, a slightly more active one. Instead of just driving next to/in front of the truck, then shooting out the windshield so as to hijack it, Dom and Letty (accompanied by Han from Tokyo Drift, who isn’t dead yet, and two Latino henchmen who only speak Spanish and whose names I never caught) pull up behind a truck carrying trailers of gasoline, which we’re assured is super valuable in Mexico, so that Letty can hook them to the crew’s cars, then separate them from the target truck by using liquid nitrogen to freeze and shatter the links.

Which my colleague kind of objected to.

Which my colleague kind of objected to.

This is where we began using the phrase “physics-nopes,” which were any moment in which Dom’s vehicular murder of the laws of physics caused a swift and angry “NOPE” from Daniel. Or a shout of “No… NO… NO! NO! NO!” which was elicited by Dom gunning the engine just so in order to drive under the last truck trailer as it bounced its way down the road.

In the wake of the mostly successful heist, the crew hits the beach, where they talk of the growing heat surrounding Dom. The cops north and, presumably, south of the Mexican border were trying pretty hard to track Dom down, which might seem weird for someone whose crimes were stealing low-end electronics nearly a decade ago, but I guess he never actually stopped stealing stuff, so sure. Han decides it’s time to move on. He says “I hear there’s crazy stuff happening in Tokyo,” to suggest that he’s off to meet his previously-seen drift-fate in Tokyo Drift. The two Latinos… do something. I don’t know. I wasn’t aware these were guys I needed to pay attention to. And Dom? He decides that with all these cops after him, he’s too dangerous to be around, so he sneaks off in the middle of the night, leaving Letty behind in order to keep her safe.

She is almost immediately killed off-screen.

So… good call there, Dom. Way to keep her safe by keeping your distance.

Also, I guess “New model, original parts, but don’t take too long buying popcorn if you want to see all four” wouldn’t have been as catchy a tagline.

But before that happens, we catch up with Brian. I guess the arrest in Miami six years back went really well, because Brian’s no longer doing street races to make rent and/or payments for his ridiculously pimped-out UK import racing car: he’s now been “reinstated” to the FBI. Well, they say “reinstated,” even though he was LAPD before he turned out to be hilariously bad at catching criminals. I’m pretty sure you don’t get “reinstated” to a whole other agency, but whatever.

Anyhoo, now we have a plot. Dom heads back to LA to find out how Letty died, which he does by eyeballing the scene of her accident Sherlock-style. Despite not having previously been a human forensic computer, Dom’s encyclopedic knowledge of fast cars (apparently) allows him to magically deduce that she was run off the road by a green car using a specific and (I’ll have to take his word for this) largely inferior type of nitrous oxide.

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Which should be super easy to find in all of Los Angeles.

Word also reaches Brian that Letty’s been killed, causing him to reconnect with Dom’s sister Mia, and begin his own search for her killer, which involves infiltrating a criminal organization by winning a street race. Because of course it does. This is Fast and Furious, there is always a street race attended by scantily clad women at some point in the movie. Weirdly nobody at the FBI says “Whoa now, I’m not sure this is a safe environment for Brian, who has at best a 50/50 track record on these things.”

Dom and Brian end up working together to infiltrate to cartel of Mexican drug runner Artruo Braga, whom Letty had been working with, and the FBI has no photos of. They report to one of his henchmen, Campos, and his assistant Gisele (future Wonder Woman Gal Gadot). Dom’s smouldering intensity and car-based flirtation (everything Dom does is car-based) wins Gisele over to his side, and she warns him that their first job is supposed to end in both him and Brian being killed.

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That first job? Driving a shipment from Mexico to California, avoiding federal helicopters by driving through a mountain tunnel. But they have to do it fast: getting to the other end of the tunnel before the helicopter can get there to see them emerge. Or, you know, waiting in the tunnel for it to leave, but that’s poppycock.

F&F2

Okay, let’s… let’s speed through this, because the plot is only sort of there anyway. Dom confronts Letty’s killer (who confesses right away despite Dom’s evidence being hilariously flimsy… I guess that’s what happens when you’re accused by people who can’t arrest you and you’re planning to kill), he and Brian escape back to LA, it turns out Letty was working undercover for Brian in an attempt to get Dom a pardon, Campos the henchman turns out to have been Braga the whole time in a twist I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for, and when he escapes back to Mexico, Brian and Dom team up to illegally extradite him back to the US, drag race style.

And then none of this gets Dom out of being convicted to 25 years in jail for all that stuff he did, so Brian, Mia, and those Latino henchmen I’d already forgotten about break him out of the prison truck as the credits roll. Brian is not good at being a cop. He goes native so easily. But Mia likes him again, and I’d consider committing several crimes for Jordana Brewster, so okay.

General reactions

It’s hard for me to not see this as the franchise calling a mulligan on 2 Fast 2 Furious. I mean, that movie still happened, because Brian managed a brief return to law enforcement (which would not have seemed likely post-F&F1), and two of his supporting cast are about to make a comeback, but aside from Brian’s FBI status this feels exactly like what the second movie would have been if they’d been able to get more than Paul Walker and Agent Bilkins to come back. Brian’s awkward reunion with Mia, who he loves but whose life he did kind of ruin; Dom and Brian needing to team up to take down an Even Worse Bad Guy (though less comically evil than 2 Fast’s torture-happy drug runner); having the finale be based around, for all intents and purposes, a race through Mexico. Capturing Braga was easy, because the real climax had to be outrunning his henchman back to Mexico.

Also worth noting, Braga went to the “cocky villain” place when they were extraordinary-rendition-ing him back to the US, right until he realized his henchmen were shooting at the car he was in. That shut him up pretty fast.

It’s a little commendable that, thus far, Brian’s been kind of okay at not killing people. Sure, Johnny Tran got killed in F&F1, but it wasn’t Brian’s idea to have a driving gun battle through LA. Wannabe Yakuza probably didn’t survive his car crash in Tokyo Drift, no, but that’s on him more than Methusa-brah. And yes, in the end, Dom does kill the guy who killed Letty, sure. But they went out of their way to not kill Vince, the biggest asshole from Dom’s crew, Brian only shot 2 Fast’s Carter Verone in the shoulder and didn’t kill any henchmen, and Braga gets to American prison alive and intact. So, 50/50? About that? That’s a better track record at not murdering bad guys than all of the Avengers combined.

It’s weird that Gisele is set up as Dom’s romantic interest, despite the fact that Letty just died like five minutes ago, but to their credit, that never actually goes anywhere. Gisele is willing to betray her boss for Dom, but that’s about it.

Overall? It’s… okay. Much like the first movie, it’s not actively bad, it’s just a little forgettable. I’d been paying attention (and live-tweeting) the whole time, but one point I noticed there was only half an hour left in the movie and I still wasn’t sure what it was about.

At this point in the franchise it would be easy to say “Well, it’s really just a bunch of barely-connected movies centred around street racers. They haven’t been world-building. This isn’t going anywhere.” And at the time? Maybe you’d have been right. Brian went from cop, to fugitive working undercover for US Customs, to not in the movie, to FBI agent. Han was, in theory, only in Fast and Furious to cement his connection to Dom and justify Vin Diesel’s cameo in Tokyo Drift, before heading off to, presumably, that part of the timeline. The entire supporting cast of 2 Fast vanished.

And then they flipped all of that on its ear in the next instalment, in which they bring the ruckus… and the Rock. Which we’ll look at soon.

Fasts and Furiouses 3: Drifting Franchise

Previously: some people were fast, others were furious, and it doesn’t really matter because this movie isn’t about any of them.

Three years after 2 Fast 2 Furious proved 2 silly for any of the stars to come back*, but 2 lucrative for Universal to stop making sequels, they took a chance and hoped that the name “The Fast and the Furious” would be all they’d need to keep the magic (for a very liberal definition of the word “magic”) going.

Did it? Well… that is a very qualified yes at best.

An associate and I watched this, along with the next three movies, while live tweeting our reactions. I’ll sprinkle that in as I go.

*Okay one, but only really briefly.

Tokyo Drift

As F&F:TD opens, we meet a new protagonist (if that’s the word I want), a supposedly 16-17-year-old high school student who looks to be about 38. I know Hollywood doesn’t like to cast actual teenagers as teenagers, but come on, there comes a point when it just gets silly. As this was the first (and so far only) F&F movie where I couldn’t be bothered to learn the characters’ names, we simply referred to this withered husk of a high schooler as “Methusa-brah.”

After an opening credits sequence that indicates Methusa-brah’s school is full of assholes facing very little in the way of consequences for their actions…

Also, concerns that the F&F set in Japan might be a little racist kicked in early.

Also, concerns that the F&F set in Japan might be a little racist kicked in early.

…the douchiest douche bro jock to ever douche it up bro-style (played by the oldest son from Home Improvement. Wouldn’t have guessed that) is picking a fight with Methusa-brah for daring to speak to his girlfriend. I want to complain about the level of alpha-male possessiveness that is soaked into the franchise so far, but the sad thing is I need to wait because there’s more. This being a movie based on furious people being fast, before long they’re challenging each other to a street race. Which said girlfriend is swift to encourage.

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The drag race through a residential construction site that is weirdly deserted for 4:00 on a weekday goes badly, with both cars having disastrous crashes and the law ending up involved. Doucheking and his girlfriend will skate, because of their rich parents (naturally), but Methusa-brah is risking being tried as an adult.

TD3

And so, his mother comes up with a solution, one that the local cops who were weirdly gleeful to lock Methusa-brah up a minute ago seem weirdly okay with: she’ll send him to live with his father. In Japan. Pretty sure the cops are supposed to be against fleeing the country to avoid trial, but okay, let’s get away from the baseball captain/future serial killer and towards the actual plot.

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Arriving in Tokyo, Methusa-brah is quickly sent off to a local school by his military father (who forgets to pick him up at the airport, with the excuse “I thought you were coming yesterday,” and upon answering the door has to quickly clean up his, well, prostitute) despite the fact that he seems to speak zero words of Japanese. Honestly, I don’t know how this was supposed to work, but it’s clear that Methusa-brah’s dad (or slightly older brother) does not care nearly enough to get him a private tutor.

At his new school, Methusa-brah meets a few people of interest, and no, I still don’t care what their actual character names are: the only non-Japanese (but to the franchise’s credit, non-white) girl in the school, Trophy Girlfriend; second-hand electronics pawner and soon-to-be-sidekick Bow Wow; and the one-dimensional combo of Wannabe Yakuza, the wannabe-gangster nephew of an actual Yakuza boss, and his bleach-blonde henchman. Bow Wow leads Methusa-brah to the one constant across this entire franchise: an illegal street race filled with custom racing cars and scantily-clad women.

Seriously. Every time.

In a completely unexpected and unprecedented turn of events, Methusa-brah chats up Trophy Girlfriend, angering Wannabe. Because God forbid even one movie in this series not have one or more in this case of the villains decide they hate the… (hero? No. Protagonist? Still too positive…) main character for reasons other than “eyeballed my woman.” And every time they act amazed that being psychotically jealous and aggressively possessive isn’t a big turn-on.

TD10

Can we start teaching girls to hate that sort of macho possessive bullshit so that we can finally breed these assholes out of my species? Sorry, where was I…

Anyway, getting all in the face of Wannabe (and in his face he gets, despite not having money, cars, friends, or basic knowledge of the culture he’s been thrust into) gets Methusa-brah into a race with the frosty-haired henchman, because that is how Methusa-brah solves all of his problems. Sadly, here in Japan, people don’t just race… they drift race. Customized cars designed to “drift” around the tightest of corners.

Seriously, that’s all they do. These people can’t go for a romantic drive in the mountains without drifting along the highway. I know I give F&F1 a hard time for having most of its car sequences involve driving in a straight line, but once this movie hits Japan, nobody gets into a car if there aren’t corners they can drift around. This movie is obsessed with drifting to a point I’ve only seen in one other place: Mario Kart. Once Nintendo developed the mechanics for belt turns (and ultimately the blue sparks of Double Dash), they became such an intrinsic part of the game that it was basically impossible to win without them. As it is here.

Anyhoo, a local named Han (who makes a more convincing American than Methusa-brah, who is doing a southern drawl so thick it could stop a bullet) backs Methusa-brah in his race, but given his inability to drift, he not only loses the race to the top of the parking garage, but basically destroys the car Han lent him. As such, he now owes Han a car, and must join his criminal crew, where he learns to race properly.

In essence, exactly what happened with Dom and Brian two movies ago, only Methusa-brah’s not a cop.

Methusa-brah’s dad objects to him racing again, threatening to kick him out and send him back to American jail. In one scene. That’s it. This never becomes an issue. Methusa-brah immediately starts spending his nights learning to race and collecting money/driving for Han, and his father never objects again. He starts winning races, and the heart of Trophy Girlfriend (because that’s how trophy girlfriends work).

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Thanks to Han he’s living the high life. Until Wannabe finds out Han has been skimming from his legit-Yakuza uncle, at which point all Hell breaks lose.

Han is killed in a drift-based car chase, Wannabe reclaims Trophy Girlfriend basically at gunpoint, and Methusa-brah knows he’s living on borrowed time, so he does the only thing he can… he goes to Legit-Yakuza uncle to make amends, return the money Han skimmed, and suggest a peaceful solution for him and Wannabe: they settle their differences in a race.

Because that is how Methusa-brah solves all of his problems. Literally all of them.

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They meet in the mountains, for a high-stakes drift race down the hill that a whole crowd of people are watching on their flip phones… despite that fact that no one is or could be filming the race. They drift, they run each other, but eventually Wannabe’s hate pushes him too far, and he flips off the road to his probable death.

Which everyone’s basically fine with. Even his Yakuza uncle shrugs and walks off as if to say “Yeah, he basically had that coming, it’s all cool.”

Methusa-brah becomes the new king of Tokyo street racing, his father presumably being too buried in beer and hookers to notice, or having just stopped caring at some point. But as the movie wraps up he gets a challenge: someone claiming to have known Han, saying he was “family.” Vin Diesel, returning as Dominic Torreto, in exchange for the film rights to the Riddick character. They race off, and we, mercifully, go to the credits.

General reactions

TD9

Where do I even start with this turd biscuit of a movie.

Methusa-brah made me miss Paul Walker. Brian O’Connor wasn’t the strongest protagonist the first two times through, and while Walker’s passing was a tragedy, he wasn’t exactly Olivier, but next to the 40-year-old teenager poncing around Tokyo Drift, he’s the love child of Indiana Jones and Laurence of Arabia.

There’s never really a moment when Methusa-brah becomes someone worth rooting for. He just trundles around the movie, flirting with the worst people’s girlfriends and challenging them to races when they take offense. I don’t know what he wanted other than to race people and generally not try very hard at life. Dom had his speech about feeling free, Brian had the conflict between his responsibilities as a cop and his growing connection to the Torretos, Roman was torn between his hate of cops and his desire for a clean record, and none of those were really super well done, but at least they were something. Methusa-brah has nothing. No greater motivation, no arc, no reason to care about anything that happens to him. He is the worst.

And as far as the story goes… is there one? Really? Methusa-brah and Wannabe hate each other because they both like Trophy Girlfriend, who barely exists beyond being, as I said, a trophy girlfriend. So a protagonist we don’t like, an antagonist who feels like the least interesting henchman of a proper villain who never emerges, and a love interest who isn’t lovable or interesting.

Plus, and I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating, it is so obsessed with drifting that when Methusa-brah and Trophy Girlfriend go driving for their first date (much as Brian and Mia did), they don’t just go driving, they go drifting. In the hills. With like six other cars.

What in the name of Zeus, Buddha, and the King in Yellow did having all the other cars there add? And could they just spend five minutes in a car without belt turning? No. No they can’t. Because if they can’t bother with characters, story, or emotion, they may as well stay on their ridiculous theme. If you can’t do something well, do something bad super thoroughly.

It made money. Less than the first two, but enough that, despite all logic, they decided the franchise was worth keeping alive. Still, the studio did have one moment of clarity and decided that the only way they could make another Fast and Furious is if the original cast could be lured back. Which, as it turns out, they really, really could.

We’ll talk about how that went next time.