Monday, November 20, 2017

GoFundMe Page

I resisted doing this as long as I could but any help is appreciated, even if it comes in the form of sharing this page with others:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rating the 2017 Releases: (Updated)

The following is a list of films released in 2017 that I have actually seen. Some were seen theatrically, others using the magic of borrowed library DVDs:

Hidden Figures- This is one of those wonderfully acted and written Oscar-bound  based on a true story movies that the cynic in me wants to cast aspersions on. But that would do a disservice to a wonderful film filled with incredible performances. This was easily one of the better movies of this year and it came out during the first few weeks.

I am Not Your Negro- I learned more about James Baldwin than I ever knew before and I came away considering him a national treasure and an incredible human being. There isn’t a dull, plodding moment in this documentary.

John Wick: Chapter Two- Action movie sequels are an iffy proposition. Sometimes you get a quality production such as “Lethal Weapon 2” but usually you get a mediocre followup such as “Taken 2” which makes you reconsider the flawed original film in negative ways. Fortunately, that’s not the case with this one. The mythology surrounding the title character it rich, fascinating and compelling and this sequel throws the audience right back into it with delightful abandon.

The Lego Batman Movie- The trailers made this movie look unfunny and rather stupid. To my surprise, it was neither. Simply put, this was the funniest movie I’ve seen in a while. Featuring fully realized characters, an actual plot and a plethora of successful gags, this one actually outshines “The Lego Movie” with its brilliance.

The Great Wall- Reports of supposed whitewashing with this movie were greatly overblown. Matt Damon’s character was not the hero nor did he save the day in any way, shape or form. Instead, this was a very enjoyable period fantasy with solid acting, good direction and great action.

Logan- A contender for best movie I’ve seen all year, this was the Wolverine film fans of the comics and movies were waiting for. The changes that were made to the “Old Man Logan” story actually improved on the concept. Instead of a bunch of jarring inclusions of Marvel characters, the focus is kept narrowed to Logan and Professor Xavier. The acting is top notch as is the story. I have only been able to see it once so far because the emotions were too much.

Kong: Skull Island- I unapologetically LOVED this movie. I went in with modest expectations and wound up seeing it two more times. Talk about pitch perfect kaiju movie making. I’ve always been critical of Western attempts to make watchable movies about giant monsters; what the Japanese make look effortless generally failed in American hands. But King Kong is ours and even the Japanese didn’t do him justice with their attempts in the 1960s and 1970s. This was the film that should have started the shared universe rather than that pathetically morose “Godzilla” movie from 2014. Kong got everything right from tone to plot to characterization and action. It even made me re-watch Gareth Edwards’ version of Godzilla to catch the connections.

Beauty and the Beast- Anyone who knows me knows I consider Disney to be pure evil. If you don’t, you’re either blissfully unaware or not paying enough attention. So their live-action remakes of their own animated movies which are, in turn, adaptations of the work of others, seem rather self-serving, cynical and manipulative to me. And even though the Cinderella live-action turned out to relatively good, such was not the case with “Beauty and the Beast.” Based on one of the more annoying films of the so-called “Disney Renaissance Era,” this version seems hell-bent on replicating what made the first abomination marketable rather than following the Cinderella example of doing something different. Same stupid songs sung by worse singers and the ugliest CGI versions of the non-human characters conceivable made this so unpleasant and obnoxious I couldn’t even finish watching it.

Ghost in the Shell- Once more the reports of whitewashing were greatly exaggerated. The main protaganist isn't Asian. She was, but the artificial body she currently inhabits was not. The original anime and its even better sequel are two of my favorite films, so my expectations weren't exactly high for this Western live-action version. I was pleasantly surprised that what resulted was an enjoyable, thoughtful film with good performances and an intelligent script. It's nowhere near as good as the anime but it's still good.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2- I'm on record as not being too fond of the jokey, uneven tone of the first film in this series, so when I realized I was enjoying myself watching the second go-round, nobody was more surprised than I. In fact, I loved this movie. Everything I found fault with in the first movie was present in the sequel, but it was balanced well and integrated into the plot. Instead of another uneven mess with some appealing moments, this was a wonderful ride with more fully realized characters and a better story.

The Mummy- People were poised to hate this one before it was even released. Tom Cruise has become a popular target of late in spite of a consistent high quality output over the past decade or more. Then there are those who actually think the Stephen Sommers films were somehow definitive versions of the mummy story. So even though the movie was entertaining and a mostly decent start to a shared universe franchise that is now dead in the water, it barely survived at he box office.

Spider-Man: Homecoming- This one falls under the "Liked it, Wanted to Love it, didn't" category. It was a good effort by Marvel Studios, but considering how long it took them to reacquire the rights to their own character from Sony's recent butcherings, I was hoping for something more. The approach basically boils down to John Hughes movie meets the back-end of the Marvel Universe while a man-child learns a valuable life lesson. Lots of good acting and funny moments don't overshadow the lack of compelling action and adventure. Even the boat scene pales by comparison to the train sequence in "Spider-Man 2."

War for the Planet of the Apes- I left the theater with tears in my eyes. This was an incredibly somber, fatalistic film that could have only ended one way. Kudos to Matt Reeves for making the journey getting there so compelling and tragic. 

The Dark Tower- I read all eight of Stephen King's Dark tower novels and I still don't know what the hell this was. I know the idea was to make a sequel to the novels (if you've read them, you know how that could work) but what we got was a skeletal, superficial outline of a greater tale. Idris Alba is one of the most overrated actors working in film and his wooden performance is stiff to the point of hilarity. The 90-minute running time didn't help matters much. What a waste.

It- What more can I say about this terrible piece of garbage? I hated it too much to offer much in the way of coherent criticism except to say this: Worst movie I saw all year.

Blade Runner 2049- Remember what I wrote about "It?" Well, the opposite applies to this film. A sublime masterpiece.

Get Out- Wait, maybe "It" wasn't the worst movie I saw this year. It was definitely the worst one I saw theatrically, but Jordan Peele's mind-numbingly awful attempt at social criticism through blatantly ripping off "The Stepford Wives" gives it a run for its money. As uneven as the tone of "It" was, at least it had more than one. "Get Out" has one long, boring, unchanging tone that tries to mix things up during a ludicrous, asinine climax. For a brilliant comedian like Peele to create such sub-standard, pretentious rubbish, there is hope for all writers.

American Made- Say what you will about Scientology's Favorite Son, Tom Cruse's output has been of remarkably high quality for a very long time now. It's difficult to remember the last time he made a bad movie and this latest Doug Liman film about an actual CIA pilot who also worked for Colombian drug cartels is at once funny, engaging and brilliant.

Wonder Woman- A lot of people consider this the best superhero film of the year and Warner Bros.' best DC film yet. It's hard to disagree and I'm certainly not going to try. "Logan" has a more emotional connection for me because I've invested in that franchise for seventeen years but "Wonder Woman" is an incredibly well-made film that should have finally shut the DC detractors the hell up.

Thor: Ranganork- I'm not going to say this is probably the best Marvel film since "Winter Soldier" but I just did so I'm sticking with it. The self-deprecation works here because the hero us supposedly untouchable and perfect. The action is great, the acting is, too and all the elements of a solid superhero film are present.

Murder on the Orient Express- I'm always amazed when I meet someone who doesn't know the answer to the mystery of this classic story, but they exist and there are enough of them to warrant a remake. This time it's under the gifted guidance of Kenneth Branagh, whose eye for detail and insistence on strong performances pays off handsomely with this riveting period piece. All of t he actors are wonderful as is the direction and the cinematography. This time around, the filmmakers wisely focus on Agatha Cristie's genius detective's views on how life should  work and the moral dilemma he faces when it doesn't fit his narrative. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

An Opinion Piece About Opinions (How meta!)

I have been told, a lot recently, that my expectations and standards for entertainment are “too high.” Sometimes this comes in the form of a criticism, sometimes it comes as a genuinely baffled reaction to my views on a given film or book, and often it comes as a misguided attempt to get me to relax and just accept what I’m given and not demand anything more. After all, it’s “just a movie.” As long as there’s something entertaining in it, who cares if it doesn’t meet my fiction-writing standards?
I cares, that’s who.

It isn’t just about quality for me. That doesn’t mean quality isn’t a factor in my opinions, but it’s also a highly subjective term that doesn’t carry much weight in the world of analysis. In fact, it’s a crutch for online shit-stirrers whose only goal is negativity for its own sake. Contrary to what some may believe, I don’t want to have negative opinions of movies and books I’ve been looking forward to seeing and reading. I actually want to like them. Unfortunately, my criteria for enjoyment is more involved than simply gaining gratification from spectacle. I have been trained to recognize story structure and characterization and plot progression. I even know the actual meaning of “plot hole.”

That’s not bragging, it’s a fact. Casual observers have no idea what goes into the act of creation and execution. They only know the finished product and, since they aren’t in a similar capacity, the represent the mainstream audience in a way I find difficult although not always impossible. Of course, this hasn't stopped hordes of know-it-all fanatics from acting as if they know how it all works, but that's a topic for a different post.

Frankly, the absolutely stupidest point anyone can make about a movie or book is that it made a lot of money and therefore that means it was good and people liked it. The implication here is that if you don't, you are the one who has a problem and should lower your lofty standards. The resounding idiocy of this reasoning lies in the fact that the person making the point is using a flawed capitalism=quality model. Remember when I mentioned the fact that quality is a subjective concept? So is the idea that the accumulation of vast sums of money automatically indicate quality. Many products or services of low quality have earned billions of dollars. One needs look no further than any fast food restaurant chain to see a real-life example. But there's another component to this silliness, and that is the human tendency to use the peer group as a weapon against differing opinions.

I've seen this line of reasoning used when someone has tried to prove a point about an entire race of people. They find one self-loathing member of that race and then use their words as justification for bigotry. It happens when people use former members of religious groups, too. Somewhere much farther down the scale, a similar rationale is employed when using the dual arguments of  "It made a whole lot of money so it must be good" and "Since it made all that money, people liked it and it was popular." Wrong. Large grosses of money are not automatic indicators of popularity. In fact, there are so many factors involved in how audiences and readers are pre-programmed to consume a finished product whether they liked it or not, it's almost obscene. I've sat in movie theaters where people acted out this programming like good little clapping seals and marveled at the power of suggestion through advertising and fabricated buzz. 

I won't bore anyone with a list of movies that made gobs of money that nobody liked. You'll either have to trust me or do your own research.

I'll let you in on a little secret: The reason I upset people with my opinions isn't because they necessarily disagree with them. There are actually three reasons they react with such knee-jerkiness:

1. I make them think about what they watched or read in ways they either never have or never wanted to.
2. I make them feel less intelligent because they don't watch or read things with a critical enough eye. (This is an entirely subjective point I'm making more from their perspectives than my own)
3. People that stray from the Group-think make them uncomfortable and threaten their perception of reality and security.

So, I rarely harbor any ill will towards people when they challenge my opinions. There's no point to it. Nor do I apologize for having a well-developed criteria for my entertainment. To expect anything less would be beneath my expectations for myself. And that's what it really boils down to, I guess.

I expect no less than the same level of  effort I demand of myself. No matter what I'm writing, I push myself to make it as good as I can. I don't always succeed but I at least make the effort. When I can sense someone else isn't doing that or, even worse, doesn't even believe it's necessary, it disgusts me and results in a hostile reactions as I feel my time has been wasted and my intelligence insulted. Without getting into specifics (I swore I wouldn't do that in this post...challenge met) my visceral reaction to a movie I recently watched was because of these reasons. I wasn't expressing some version of fanboy angst about not adhering to the source material or my favorite scene from the bookbeing absent. My objection was to inconsistent tone, flat characterizations, poor directing, laughable dramatic moments and an overall laziness in the production. I've had similar reactions to the fiction I've read.

I may not have notoriety as an author, but I still expect more of myself than many of these individuals do. So you better fucking well believe I expect the same of people with so many  resources at their disposal. 

Like the man said, "Did I bug ya? Sorry. Didn't mean to bug ya."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

International Voices Finally Speaking in Science Fiction.

I'm not normally one to join in on the "essential reading" bandwagon and especially when it's work I haven't even read (This anthology doesn't come out for another five days) but in a field traditionally dominated by basically two types of authors, namely men and women of Western European descent, it's about damn time someone else got into the science fiction writing field.

Despite what those idiotic "Sad Puppies" choose to believe, there is a larger, more vital world beyond White Male Christendom-themed tales of human superiority in the realm of speculative fiction .

So, I can't wait for this one and despite the fact that I work for two libraries and could easily read it for free, I think I'll buy it instead.

If it's anywhere near as good as the Chinese science fiction anthology "Invisible Planets" I read earlier this year, I'll be most pleased. Talk about a refreshing, unique approach and execution. Every story was lyrical and compelling.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Apt Quote For Today

"When the masses begin to rage, and reason is under a cloud, it is a good thing, if the health of one's soul is not quite assured, to go under a doorway and look out to see what the weather is like."
                                                                                             -Frederich Nietzsche


Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Rate the MCU: Phase Three

And now we come to the end as of now. Since Phase 3 is still in progress, I'm obviously stopping at the most recent film but I will add to it as the later ones are released. This time around, you'll likely notice a diminished enthusiasm and a creeping annoyance in my tone.

Captain America: Civil War- The Law of Diminishing Returns is, as the hipsters say, a "thing" and nowhere is it more obvious than this third Captain America outing. Hats off to Marvel for making a dozen films before this became the case but damn! They really saved it all up for this disappointment. My criticisms are numerous, yet the real irony is that I can still find enough enjoyment in this movie to watch it from time to time. Still, it's an over-crowded mess filled with sub-plots galore, absurd contrivances and easily the most anti-climatic showdown in the franchise's history. The much touted battle royale between titans is reduced to little more than a stalling action for the main plot and a parking lot brawl with little actual consequence. Iron Man 2 is often maligned for being an obvious franchise bridge yet for whatever reason this one gets a pass? Fanboys, I disdainfully shake my head at you!

Doctor. Strange- A brief restoration of sanity and quality to the MCU, this long-awaited origin film featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme almost feels like a DC movie, and that's not an insult coming from me. This is a wonderfully absurd piece of thoughtful filmmaking that provides a nice rest for all the obnoxious franchise building going on in the other films. Ironically, this nice break would continue with

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2- Something happened on the way to the GOTG sequel. I sat in the theater and loved every minute of it! How, after my unimpressed reaction to the first movie, this one was such a great experience is either a testament to my incredible open-mindedness (Doubtful!) or the fact that James Gunn et. al. improved upon every single criticism I had of the first film and delivered an incredible sequel. I am now a fan of this franchise.

Spider-Man: Homecoming- And here endeth the honeymoon! Marvel spent years trying to finagle the rights away from Sony (who was absolutely destroying Spider-Man with those awful Andrew Garfield movies) and they finally got him, recast him, made him a kid again and threw him awkwardly but enjoyably into the mix in Civil War. Expectations were high for a movie that finally got the character just right and delivered the MCU goods in new and exciting ways. And on paper, it was all there to happen. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and Michael Keaton's Vulture was the most refreshing villain since Loki. But then a hit and miss script seemingly more concerned with the trials and tribulations of teenage existence was chosen and what could have been the best MCU movie since the Avengers turned out to be enjoyable but shockingly mediocre.

Well, that's it for now. I'll add to the list once Thor: Ragnarok comes out.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I Rate the MCU: Phase Two

All of you waiting with bated breath after my Phase One list was posted can now relax those nether regions as I launch right into reviewing the Marvel Cinematic Universe's second phase of awesomeness!
(You will see that this is where I start to diverge from the Fanboy Legion)

Iron Man 3- It's weird to put the words "Controversial" and "guy wearing a super-powered suit of armor" in the same sentence, but that's the best way to describe this one. From its darker tone to its portrayal of Tony Stark's PTSD after almost dying in "Avengers," fans had a lot of shit to say about what is actually one of the stronger post-Phase One films. Writer/Director Shane Black reinvents the format here by portraying an even more troubled Tony Stark than the one we saw in the second sequel as he deals with real-world problems. Frankly, if by the third film we aren't seeing more of the alter-ego than the masked hero, it's probably not a good sign, hence the invalidation of the "Tony Stark has a bigger part than Iron Man" criticisms. Even Black's clever sleight of hand with a fake Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is entertaining and suits the film.

Thor: The Dark World- Another one that gets unfairly dissed, the Thor sequel is one of the stronger entries in the series. Yes, the plot is a tad typical but that's only because there have already been several movies at this point and world-ending threats have become the norm. But these movies are about our connection with the characters and desire to see them persevere.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier- Simply put, this is probably the best movie in the MCU's list of releases so far. Combining the feel of a late Seventies suspense thriller with incredible fight scenes and character moments, the Russo Bros. strike a perfect balance between Marvel's tendency to be too jokey and an edgier, more real-world feel. This is why I wrote previously that the first film is overshadowed. This one is literally as good as the MCU least so far.

Guardians of the Galaxy. Vol. One- And here it is. The movie that practically caused fanboys and girls alike to have screaming orgasms in the aisles because it was so hip, so cool, so freaking funny! To paraphrase Montgomery Burns, in case you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic. I had numerous issues with this movie, from its obnoxious characters to its low stakes plot and tendency to shit all over decent drama with bad jokes. When I saw this one theatrically, there was a woman in the theater who literally laughed the entire time the movie ran. That was when I realized this film was an example of pre-programming. That alone doesn't necessitate a bad movie, however, and while GOTG certainly doesn't match the classic definition of a bad movie, I found it to be a series of misfires and a blatant attempt to combine Marvel with a Disney sensibility.

Avengers: Age of Ultron- Another film in the series fans love to hate, there is an admittedly compromised feel to the film, but that's not Joss Whedon's fault. Disney/Marvel is to blame. Despite that, this installment is quite a feat. Despite the changes to Ultron's origins and some quirky character reveals (Hawkeye has a wife and kids? Black Widow has it for Bruce Banner?) or perhaps because of them, this film, along with Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3, genuinely feel like sincere efforts to move the franchise into a more adult direction. In many ways, it's a stronger film than its predecessor, especially because the actors know their characters so well at this point, but there's an unfortunate "Been there" feel to the proceedings.

Ant Man- The stories of behind-the-camera turmoil regarding this comparatively small film didn't diminish its success at the box office or as a film. It's a welcome break from all the world-threatening mayhem films, keeping its plot relatively small and the drama more personal. Unlike the more bloated GOTG, the humor works beautifully here and I actually cared about the characters and what was happening.

Next up...Phase Three Finds Amazing New Ways to Disappoint Me...