Review: Snowpiercer

I uh, I was interested at the beginning. The premise seemed pretty darn interesting.

And then... oh boy. Then it descended into "In Time" but on a train. I dunno why they felt that would be a good idea... but yeah, it was some really heavy-handed nonsense. And I was constantly chuckling to myself at the mental image of large, burly, hooded men with axes, calmly shuffling through fruit orchards, elementary school classrooms, aquariums, and spas. I can't be the only one who thought that, right?

I mean, the idea of the Snowpiercer itself makes no sense. You have this train that can run forever, but... the tracks never wear out? Really? They're exposed to icy, frigid conditions... but they never bend or crack or deform in any way? Even after 17 years of constant wear and tear? Nor the wheels on the train? They're constantly in motion, for 17 years, but they never need replacing or anything? Are they made out of adamantium? See, if they'd made it a maglev train instead, where the train never actually touches the track and you avoid the wear and tear of constant friction from metal on metal contact... that'd made a little more sense.

And of course, the horrendous arctic conditions of the Earth never seem to present any problems for the tracks. They're never covered by snow or anything. If there's a buildup of ice that, let's say, creates a wall of ice on the track... the train simply speeds up and goes right through it, with nary a pause. In real life, with such a long train, I kinda see things going a bit differently, like say... immediately derailing the train with the loss of all lives aboard. Large buildups of ice can create things called icebergs, and if the Titanic has taught us anything, it's that when man's metal constructions collide with things made out of ice, ice will tend to win. So I never bought that the Snowpiercer would just ram right through the ice walls without derailing or crumpling up. That felt silly.

Of course, we also get ridiculous scenes where individuals are able to shoot through the train's glass windows with guns, even though this glass is meant to protect the train from extreme conditions that have wiped out all life on earth. You'd think such extinction-proof glass would be somewhat bulletproof? Well, apparently not. I dunno, I guess they don't make em like they used to. Also, the guns, which include an M4 and a Skorpion SMG, are apparently accurate enough to have only a few inches of deviation at several hundred yards, while being fired from a moving train. Through inches-thick glass. I was cringing hard throughout that whole idiotic scene.

But wait... maybe those nitpicks about realism don't matter. Maybe the whole movie is simply meant to be a big allegory. Well, that's true I suppose. The whole movie is definitely meant to be one big heavy-handed appeal to class warfare. "In Time" was the last one I saw that really addressed this issue, and Snowpiercer faithfully follows that awful movie's footsteps in being really blunt and obvious about everything. If I wanted someone to shove an anti-capitalist screed in my face, I could just go get one from the smelly hippy screaming on that nearby street corner. I know the movie’s adapted from a French comic book, and the French generally tend to be kooky left-leaning socialist jerks, but I still expected a bit more sophistication on the story front. Instead, it’s just… well, let’s hit the audience over the head with this sledgehammer. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Now, here’s a fundamental issue I had with the characters in this movie. The small group led by Evans trudges along through the train towards their goal, just as the Goonies or Frodo and his companions might in their movies. But you never grow close to most of the group or get to know them. The fast, agile knife guy… remains the fast, agile knife guy. You don’t get to learn about him or know him at all. Octavia Spencer is completely wasted and never gets much of a chance to show off her acting talent before she’s killed. The Korean girl is mostly in a drug-induced stupor. There’s never a sense of that tight-kit connectedness that many other films have with small groups on a quest or adventure. There’s just not that much there for us to latch onto, outside of Evans. And when we do settle down and finally get to learn about him, it comes in the form of a bizarre, extended monologue where he talks about how babies taste best. Oh jeez. I was certainly shocked by that revelation and how the baby that was saved turned out to be his right hand guy from the beginning of the story. Yet this right hand guy had been dead for such a long time by that point in the movie that it didn’t even feel as important or emotional as it probably should have. You had to slightly rewind the movie in your mind and go “Ohhhh right, that guy from the axe fight. I sorta remember him now.” The gap between those two points in the movie really worked to dull the effectiveness of that reveal about his past.

Okay, here’s some questions I had:

Why would Chris Evans be incredibly grossed out by the idea of eating protein bars made out of insects? We’re stuck on a train protecting us from instantly freezing to death on the planet… I think I’d be happy to have any sort of protein to eat, ya know? It’s like… hey, be thankful you’re getting to eat at all. Plus, we later find out that he’s resorted to eating human flesh in the past. Given that sort of grisly history, I don’t see why he’d be so repulsed by insects. Plenty of people in the world today eat insects without complaint, and they’re not stuck on a train as the last remnants of humanity. This reaction seems completely out of place and inappropriate.

So if they always had plenty of bullets… why didn’t they bust them out right from the start? Why keep them from the guards at the back? Why send out a bunch of your men with axes when you always had bullets in reserve? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Or was that part of the plan? I mean, I thought the whole idea of the engineered revolt was to thin out the numbers of the back of the train? Or did it require Wilford to thin out his own men as well? Well, no… because Wilford went on to say that his men took higher losses than expected, therefore John Hurt had to die. Well… this seems rather foolish to lay all the blame on John Hurt, when you were the one hoarding bullets and not using them. Fuckin hell… the complicated layers of bullshit in this movie are giving me a headache.

What was up with the fish? They cut it and then they smear it on their axes and… uhhh? Was that just for the intimidation factor? I would’ve figured the sight of a bunch of shiny axes would’ve done that all by itself. Now, to be fair to the movie, I did think the axe fight on that train car was shot pretty well. There’s a nice sense of kinetic energy to the fights and it’s mostly shot in profile view which evokes a bit of Oldboy.

Now, did Wilford always have the idea that the back of the train would revolt and his thugs would lack guns and use axes and so… right before he finished his train, he went and bought up a ton of night vision goggles? Did he go and do that? So then he’d be prepared for a certain specific situation where he could turn off the lights to a train car and the train would just happen to be passing through a lengthy tunnel and all his thugs armed with axes would have a tactical advantage? Is that what happened? Cause I don’t think a normal person just decides to bring a hundred pairs of night vision goggles on a train for some random eventuality.

I hate the late twist in a movie where the big bad mastermind becomes conciliatory and tries to sway our hero to his side, even though most of the movie has established that our hero is fighting to end this villain’s reign. It always feels fake and forced. You had the Emperor trying to turn Luke in Return of the Jedi. And now here we have Ed Harris’s Wilford trying to convince Evans to come over to his side and be his successor. Why did he think that this ploy would work? We’ve seen Evans throughout the movie fighting to get to the front of the train to take Wilford down for what he’s done. Why would Wilford believe that a nice little sitdown chat would turn him to his side? These sorts of scenes never work for me and just feel ridiculous. Especially in this case, where Wilford has erected this immense solid door to his front compartment. The man is obviously extremely paranoid about other people getting into his space. Yet he just lets Evans right in because he can sense that he’s the right one for the job? Huh? Where is all this coming from? Did Wilford read some script where all this was ordained?

I do have to hand it to the director, he really didn’t mind using Ed Harris again in the role of “God” in this world, drawing inevitable comparisons to The Truman Show. That was probably intentional, I’d guess. Well… that’s quite unfortunate, since The Truman Show is a great movie, and this definitely is not.

So wait… John Hurt was secretly in cahoots with Wilford all along? And they even shared phone conversations late at night? Wha… what? How does that even make any sense? So every night, John Hurt was just secretly picking up this hidden phone with his rickety wooden stick arms and they’d just have nice hearty conversations late into the night? And nobody else in the back of that train ever heard this? Or if they did hear it, they just shrugged and went back to sleep? It was never uncovered that he was doing this, even though the back of the train is severely overcrowded and cramped? He’s just able to stealthily chat on the phone with Wilford without anybody being the wiser? Really?

Now at the end, our intrepid heroes decide to just blow the train apart and derail it and everybody pretty much dies, with the exception of the Korean girl and the little black boy. But they’re probably going to freeze to death. Except they see a polar bear, so maybe they won’t. Except they’re alone and everybody else is dead, and there’s no source of power or shelter or anything. So they’re pretty much dead. And everybody that was in the back of the train, who Evans wanted to save, they’re all dead too. Wow. What a bad ending. Given the options, I think it probably would’ve been preferable if they hadn’t gotten to the front of the train and killed nearly everyone. Life in the back of the train sucked, sure, but at least they got to live. Evans and his Korean friend just killed everybody. That’s um… not much of an achievement.

This movie is a tremendous mess. An ambitious mess. A refreshing mess, you could even say. But at the end of the day… it’s still a mess.

3/10

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I'm really screwed up right now. This has been a long time coming.

I admit it, I'm fucked up. I had this great girl and then it kinda all went down the drains and it's been about a year... happened a whole year ago and I'm still not over it and I've thought about suicide. It's funny, you live in San Francisco and you don't start thinking about the Golden Gate Bridge until it's time for suicidal thoughts. I thought about it. It seemed like the logical choice. But then you learn about how a lot of people don't actually die instantly when they hit the water. You fall off a bridge and it's supposed to end when you get all the way down to the bottom part with the water. But no, a lot of people just end up breaking a lot of bones but they're still alive. They're just alive and in a lot of pain and they end up drowning to death because their body's all broken inside but they can't swim or do anything to stay afloat. That sounds like... not a wonderful way to go. That sounds like a pretty horrible way to go, I think. So jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge might not be such a good choice.

That's what I was thinking for a few months. But now, I dunno. I guess I'm not that suicidal. Now I'm just in this perpetual hell where you sorta kinda still think about her, but then you remember how she left you for that other guy, and you just reflexively end up whispering "you fucking bitch" under your breath. And then you look around and hope nobody in your workplace heard you, cause then they'd obviously think you're kind of a psycho. But it keeps happening. I'll think about her, and then I think about how she completely stabbed me in the back, and ripped my fucking heart out, and how I never even got a chance to tell her to her face that she's absolutely the worst person I've ever met, and I fucking hate everything about her... and yeah, I'll end up muttering "fucking bitch" under my breath, looking crazy.

But the real awful truth is that I can't even fully commit to that idea of her. I can't even fully hate her, because a part of me deep inside still loves her. It's like it's two different people. You fall in love with this sweet, amazing, perfect girl who seems so full of life and energy and who only seems to want your attention. You can't stop thinking about her and what your lives together will mean and how everything from that day forward will get better and better. It's like a dream come true, as cliche as that sounds. I believed in that dream. It kinda also helped that this was the first girlfriend I'd ever had. There was that unfortunate event that happened to me a while ago that kinda got in the way. So... just finally meeting this fantastic girl who seemed to be way into me... it felt like maybe this was somehow life treating me right for once. Like karma was finally going my way. I had to suffer through a whole lot of shit... but it was all leading up to this great awesome event. When I finally got a girlfriend and would be like... a normal person. I wouldn't have that monkey on my back anymore. Who cares if it had to happen over WoW. That's just life these days.

But nope. I guess it wasn't a good thing at all. I guess it was just setting me up for the most painful thing I'd ever experience.

"He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever." -The Great Gatsby

Ya know what I actually did the other day? I finally erased the WoW password she gave me. Just one of those things she told me. Gave me her WoW password. I wrote it on a sticky note on my desktop. And I've kept it for the past year, even though it'd been a year without seeing or talking to her. Why did I have it? No fucking idea. Just stupidity I guess. What, am I gonna go hacking her account? Just try and see what sorta messages she's been sending with her new love? Fucking hell, that makes me want to puke. I literally wish to vomit every single time I think about the two of them. Fuck me. It shouldn't still be this bad, but it is. So yeah... I went and erased it. Cause she's gone, and I don't believe I'm ever going to speak to her again in this life. So why keep it. Best to just bury the past. I still haven't gotten rid of her picture on my computer though. I can't force myself to do that quite yet.

But it still hurts every day. Is that normal? I don't know. I don't know what this is all supposed to be like. It's the first time I've had a girl stolen from me. First time for a lot of things. I guess this is gonna sound pretty fucking lame to other people, who've probably had four or five of these happen to them already. But I can't just let go that easily. Maybe I'm different from normal people that way. I can't just shut my emotions off like that. It's been a year but... a part of me still loves her. Loves that girl that I first met and talked to and connected. Of course, I also hate that girl who went and threw away everything I thought we meant to each other. I hate how she made me feel completely inadequate and worthless and not good enough for anything or anyone. It's like she's two different people. I've somehow mentally separated her into two different entities in my mind. One to love and one to hate. And I'm just in a limbo now. Is that normal? Or am I just crazy? Is this what crazy people think about?

And you know what the worst part of all this is? The absolute worst part is that now... I don't think I believe in love anymore. I think I used to. I might've been a romantic. But now... I just don't think there is such a thing as love. It's just all bullshit. And I'm a bitter, lonely fuck. I don't want to go and meet anyone or anything. Why would I want to venture out and try to make a connection with another girl? She might just stab me in the heart... the way she did a year ago. Just completely change her mind and forget everything she said, every single time she texted she loved me and loved being with me and fuck fuck fuck I hate this part of writing. Writing about it just makes me remember more of it. Reliving the fucking past that ended up being so much fucking meaningless bullshit. She never meant anything she said, I guess. So I don't know how I could possibly try again. With another girl. How do I know she isn't just gonna leave me for someone else. Someone with more money, or with a nice southern accent, or some other bullshit. It's just all meaningless to me now. Love is... I don't think it exists. I think it's a fantasy we delude ourselves with. That's the only conclusion I can come up with. And I just feel ill when I think about trying again. It seems like a fool's errand. If it could feel that good and amazing and right and still end up falling apart in such a painful and horrible fucking way... then I don't believe in any sort of certainty. A girl can just do the same thing again to me. And I can't take that again. I just don't want to be hurt like that. I don't want to think about suicide again. I don't want to be humiliated in my own fucking guild again. I don't want to have to go and quit WoW because it's so fucking painful I can't even fucking bear to play it anymore. Just run away from the whole sorry situation and avoid everything associated with that game.

It's just hard right now. It's hard to feel like living. You want to just sit in bed and do nothing. Wait for a meteor to fall from the skies and take you. Just end it.

Thanks a lot, you bitch. I fucking hate my life. I hate living. I try and surround myself with things. Knick knacks. Got a model of the USS Enterprise D and USS Excelsior over my bookshelf. Thought that might cheer me up. But I don't think I even glance at them anymore. They don't fill up the void in my heart. I dunno. I can't think about anything happy anymore. My face seems to always scrunch down into a scowl. I might have dead eyes, like a doll's eyes, according to Quint from Jaws.

I've been holding it in for a year. Didn't want to type it out. Didn't want to say anything. Felt pathetic inside. Still feel pathetic typing this out right now. There's nothing like a girl you love who... dumps you for another guy in your guild to make you feel completely inadequate and worthless and not good enough. Not good enough for anything. Not good enough to exist. Not good enough to spit on. It's a truly awful, awful feeling.

But I guess I can't hold it in anymore. I needed some sort of release valve. So I'm sharing. Not sharing all of it. The whole story's actually much more complicated and drawn out. It's fucking horrible, how long this story goes. But I felt like... if I could share that stupid Catfish thing that happened to me, I guess I can share this too. There's something of a precedent. And this actually feels way worse then that Catfish thing did. That was one good thing about the Catfish thing... it was basically unrequited love. The awful, horrible thing about this and why it feels so much worse is that she said she felt the same way. She said she loved me too. And then it all went to shit. That makes it so much worse, to know that you had something incredible and amazing, and she felt it too, and then to lose it.

No, I don't think about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge anymore. Not for a while. But now I'm stuck in this sort of limbo. I don't feel joy. I don't feel like doing anything. I don't want to make contact with any attractive women. I just retreat back into this shell, trying not to fall apart. It's a bad way to live. I know this. But I can't really change it.

Sorry this has been such a downer.

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Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Oh boy. E3 week really kept me busy, cause I actually saw this movie on opening day and probably should’ve had a review up much sooner. What a lazy fuck I am.

Note: I haven’t read the original Japanese novel, manga, anime, etc. So this is just my reaction to the movie as its own movie.

Just when would we get the next great sci-fi action movie? That’s a question that’s been floating around for a while, ever since we got Predator, Aliens, and the first two Terminator films. A worthy successor to those classics of yore wouldn’t come until 1999’s The Matrix. Yet the subsequent sequels utterly failed to live up to that original’s legacy. The next great work in the genre wouldn’t appear until Neill Blomkamp’s out-of-nowhere tour de force District 9 in 2009. And once again, the question arose… how long would it be until we got another sci-fi action flick that would earn a place among the pantheon? Well thankfully, I think that question’s once again been satisfactorily answered with Doug Liman’s superbly satisfying Edge of Tomorrow.

The Japanese author of the original novel stated that he got his inspiration for the story from playing video games, and that’s been well translated to the movie. The scenes and indeed the entire narrative are structured like a video game, with death after death, retries again and again. There’s a true sense that Tom Cruise is reverting back to the same checkpoint save again and again, without any convenient F5 quicksaves in sight. Edge does not purport to be a true video game movie, but in its depiction of repetition of action and experience, it succeeds far better than any existing video game movie at conveying the raw essence of the video game experience. It’s quite an amusing thought and made me wonder… why is it that we keep getting bad video game movies but movies *about* video games tend to be great (The Last Starfighter, King of Kong, Wreck-It-Ralph, EoT)?

Simply put, the movie is imbued with a great balance of comedy, tension, and emotion. That careful balance of humor and action is often difficult to get just right, as evidenced most obviously in Michael Bay’s filmography. They need to harmonize with each other to form an appropriate tone that’s inviting and encourages the audience to climb aboard and go with the narrative. Marvel’s been incredibly successful on this front and Edge is another example of nailing the tone exactly right. That interplay of comedic timing and kinetic action is probably most effectively conveyed in these hilarious montages of Tom Cruise getting knocked on his ass over and over again by training spider drones. The humor truly works and feels natural and also completely serves the overarching story being told. Doug Liman’s past work has been a bit varied as far as tone goes, with the Bourne Identity being a very deadly earnest sort of spy thriller, while Mr. and Mrs. Smith was a completely flippant and over the top comedy romp. Edge neatly fits into a middle ground between these two extremes, with equal doses of seriousness and silliness. It never feels forced, but evoked a strong sense of what Zhang Yimou once said about his movie To Live: “There are tears and laughter, one following the other in a gentle rhythm like the breath of a bellows.”

Now, for everyone who watched the trailer, one thought generally came to mind: “Hey, this looks like Starship Troopers crossed with Groundhog Day.” And ya know what? After watching it, I would say… yes, that’s pretty much what this movie is. Totally. It is very accurate to summarize it in one sentence as being Starship Troopers (the novel) combined with Groundhog Day. But that’s perfectly fine, since that’s still not a movie we’ve ever seen before. Why not combine a gritty, war torn, power armored dystopia with Harold Ramis’s feel-good time travel classic?

The triumph of the movie is how effortlessly it weaves the two concepts together. You don’t feel that it’s just been cobbled together in a hazy, disorganized evening by Hollywood scriptwriters high on caffeine and coke. The universe actually feels cohesive and lived in. And while you’ll feel greatly reminded of Groundhog Day, you’ll also notice that it utilizes all the good ideas of Groundhog Day. First of all… they know exactly how to edit the time loops. The scenes are paced in a way that you’re able to gradually sink into the premise and overall universe, and then speeding things along and eventually cutting out unnecessary filler scenes once the audience is fully immersed and no longer need the hand holding. The movie takes off the training wheels and suddenly you realize that Cruise’s character has jumped from dying a few times to dying a few hundred times. The core concept requires a solid grasp of editing and compressing scenes for maximum effectiveness in order to not lose the audience’s attention with the repetition, and Edge succeeds as well as Groundhog Day did all those year ago.

Secondly, they film all the takes from different angles and perspectives, in order to again bring a little something new each and every time Cruise repeats his day. One scene may play out only slightly differently, but it’s filmed from the opposite end of the room. Or a closeup might change to provide a long shot. These little techniques, again derived from Groundhog Day, all work to reduce the time loop repetition and keep the viewer engaged in the story.

Now, Edge is a time travel story. As such… there has to be some sort of sci-fi explanation. Groundhog Day didn’t, but it’s more the exception than the rule. The time travel rationale in this movie is… well, crazy. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you dwell on it. They do sketch out a reason for the time loops, but it’s incredibly far-fetched. But at the end of the day... so what? It doesn’t much affect the rest of the movie, and they don’t actually dwell on it. It’s a flimsy device that enables the movie to go where it needs to, and that’s all they demand of it. You’re not focused on the reason why, because Liman is too busy showing off all the crazy spectacle and action and human drama that’s the actual heart of this film.

Now that I think about it, Source Code is another one of those sci-fi movies that resembles Groundhog Day. And its rationale for the repeating time travel trips was just as crazy and far-fetched. A military computer simulation that actually turns out to be a real honest device to access alternate timelines in the space time continuum? Sheer bonkers, right? Yet that didn’t stop me from enjoying the narrative and rooting for Gyllenhaal in his quest to save that commuter train. See, in my view… if a movie works emotionally, then it really doesn’t matter if the actual internal logistics don’t fully make sense. It just has to work on that gut level. “Frequency” is a good example, because while the time travel depicted in that movie was sloppy and incoherent and ultimately nonsensical when you try and analyze it, it did work for me at the end of the day because it had emotional resonance and catharsis and delivered all the feels.

Now look guys, I’m no Tom Cruise fan. Personally, I think the guy is off his rocker. I didn’t care for him when he robbed the world of a young vibrant Katie Holmes, and I certainly don’t care for his nutty embrace of Scientology. But… you can’t fault the guy as an action star. Tom Cruise’s performance here is not completely out of his wheelhouse, but he does provide a neat little twist at the beginning, where his character is made out to be a flat out weaselly coward. It can feel a little reminiscent of Sharlto Copeley’s Wikus, but Cruise does pull it off in a convincing manner. You can find a lot of fault with the guy in his personal life, but I didn’t think about any of that while watching Edge. When he turns it on, the guy does remind you why he’s one of the last remaining Hollywood action stars.

Emily Blunt. You wouldn’t think of her in this sort of action heroine role, just off the top of your head. Or at least, I didn’t. She doesn’t come immediately to mind when you’re asking for someone to play the next Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. Yet that’s pretty much exactly what she did. Blunt’s Rita Vrataski is right up there with those indomitable women of action, thanks to her acting chops and uh, amazing yoga prowess? Boy, I could stare at that long, loving pushup shot of her, all toned and sweaty, all day. Tom Cruise’s last sci-fi flick Oblivion was majorly let down by a miscast love interest, in my opinion. Edge thankfully avoids that unfortunate mistake and gives us someone who fully deserves the nickname “Full Metal Bitch.” There aren’t too many kickass female action roles in general, so it’s especially nice to see that Blunt does full justice to hers.

Of the rest of the cast, Bill Paxton sticks out as an amazingly delightful platoon sergeant who probably represents what Hudson might’ve eventually become if he’d survived that unfortunate xenomorph incident on LV-426. The guy looks like he’s having a ton of fun and you can’t help but smile along with him, the Kentucky hardass with a shit-eating grin. The supporting cast of roughnecks, J-Squad, doesn’t make much of an impression and almost feels like set dressing. At least until the end, where they finally do reappear and we get to see them in action at last. I was waiting for that and it felt good that Cruise was finally able to relinquish a bit of screentime to the lowly grunts, courageously fighting with their admittedly non-superhuman abilities.

If there’s anyone that feels wasted in Edge, it’d have to be Brendan Gleeson, who plays the gruff and stubborn General of the allied invasion force. The problem here is that they apparently told him to way underplay his role, to the point where he lacks any real energy and feels completely flat and insubstantial. The reason we love watching Brendan Gleeson act is because he always exudes this lively, cantankerous attitude… a sort of larger than life screen presence. So to see that completely drained in favor of restraint on his part just seems to miss the point of casting him in the first place. He doesn’t do a bad job at all, and the part isn’t particularly noteworthy in how it’s written, but I still felt like they made a wrong choice with going in that direction.

Now, the one big criticism that I imagine most can level at Edge of Tomorrow is simply that it’s very derivative. That’s a striking similarity it shares with Cruise’s last sci-fi film, Oblivion. One of Oblivion’s key criticisms from reviewers was how it felt derivative of other films. And the same can be said of sections of Edge. There’s the movie’s opening, which shows Liman ripping off the opening to Saving Private Ryan about as blatantly as possible. There’s even a shot of a guy wandering around while on fire. Liman’s basically smacking you over the head with Omaha Beach sand at that point. Of course, the time travel loops are all reminiscent of Groundhog Day and Source Code, by necessity. Cruise’s role as an initially cowardly and contemptible desk jockey has strong parallels to District 9’s Wikus. The military exo-suits can’t help but remind you of the Mech suits in James Cameron’s Aliens and Avatar. And even a brief car chase through a parking garage evoked a sense of Liman’s past work in Bourne and Mr and Mrs Smith.

So yeah, that stuff is all there. But frankly, the movie is so damn fun and energetic and inviting that none of that really bothered or annoyed me. It definitely could have, if the movie had simply limped along and given you time to pause and notice. But the pace and humor work splendidly to carry you along on this great, well-oiled machine of a story. Sometimes, a movie is more than just the sum of its parts, and it can succeed on sheer quality of execution. I think “Predator” is a great 80s example of this. When Siskel and Ebert reviewed it, Roger Ebert acknowledged that it was basically Commando crossed with Aliens, but so what? At the end of the day, Commando crossed with Aliens made for a fantastic action flick. Edge of Tomorrow follows in the footsteps of that McTiernan classic.

Now, let’s talk about the “Jacket” exo-suits. When they were first unveiled in studio pics last year, they looked pretty damn clunky and awkward to me. And while the film does initially portray them that way, with soldiers doggedly trudging forward in a dense, mechanical cadence… you do get to see them used later on in some awe-inspiring, surprisingly balletic maneuvers when Cruise finally gets the hang of it after 100+ deaths. The evolution of his expertise and gradual leveling up, so to speak, is well communicated to the audience. And again, the video game parallels are easy to grasp, since a newb to a brand new game will often feel as if his control of the player character is clunky or awkward. How better to visually show that then to stick the main protagonist of your film into an actual clunky, awkward, heavy exo-suit? But later on, once you’ve mastered the controls of the game and grown confident in your own death-dealing abilities, the player avatar starts to feel like a second skin and your button presses and aiming maneuvers feel synchronized and natural. That’s exactly what Cruise and Blunt show off once we get far enough into the film and you do get wonderful eyefuls of the exo-suits at their full potential.

I was surprised they didn’t have some sort of neuro-link for the pilots to interface with, in order to control the two over-the-shoulder cannons. Something along the lines of the neuro-links you see in shows like Exo-Squad, for example. It seems a little hard to believe that a soldier would be able to aim both the arm weapons and the shoulder cannons from one joystick/pad on the right hand. Though honestly, I do think the most unbelievably aspect of the entire movie has to be the fact that in this war torn future, we still decide to fight our battles against monstrously large, armored alien beasts with… 5.56mm ammo. This seems incredibly silly to me, considering that 5.56mm has been complained about in the past as lacking sufficient stopping power to kill humans in battlefield conditions. And yet they still use this for fighting off giant, insanely quick monsters from space? C’mon. Considering the exceptional strength granted by these new exo-suits, I would’ve thought they’d want to mount .50 cal machine guns or something. With 5.56mm, well… I think I can kinda see why the human race has been losing this war.

Liman consistently delivers great action scenes throughout the movie. And not just the pure action setpieces themselves, either. The whole setup… building up to the action scenes is also legitimately thrilling and perfectly executed. A slow, long, loving camera shot of an enormous metallic sword, before being picked up by a practiced, confident, armored hand. Shots of giant metallic boots stomping in unison against the tarmac. A close-up of grim, paint-chipped skullheads on ominous heavy helmets. These are all action movie basics that are often forgotten by fresh-faced directors today, yet add so much when correctly shot. The anticipation of the action is often just as magical and mesmerizing as the action itself, and Liman has been around the block long enough to know how to carefully facilitate this process as effectively as possible.

The alien designs were new and imaginative for me, and actually brought something new to the table. Memorable alien designs are hard to come by these days, and the most enduring ones are still the Xenomorph and the Predator, both from the 80s. These aliens were legitimately surprising and threatening in appearance. About the only thing I could think of to compare them to might be the aliens in Crysis. Though even so… these aliens actually warped around the battlefield in a dizzying manner. Initially, you’re simply witnessing the human forces suited up in their big bulky robot suits and wondering how the aliens can possibly withstand this militarized metal juggernaut. But once you catch sight of them in their spectacular entrance during the Omaha Beach scene, you quickly realize why humanity is on the losing end of this five year long war. The sheer speed and ferocity of these monstrous alien drones is dazzling and overwhelming to the eye, and utterly outmatch the ordinary soldiers in their slow, clunky robot suits. The way they seemed to warp around the battlefield was also a nice touch that evoked video game memories, at least for me. Back when I used to play multiplayer Rainbow Six on a 56k modem, players would often seem to warp around the level, which made for an annoying target to kill in a firefight. I’m not sure if that was intended to be a video game reference or just a nice sinister attribute for the movie’s antagonists, but either way it makes for a cool visual effect.

The stakes are upped once we get to the final action sequence, because he can’t reset. It felt so much more intense and dangerous since we know these people are in real danger and only have one life left. I was reminded of Inception, once you finally learn that dying in the dream will send you down to Limbo, instead of simply waking you up. Suddenly, the safeguards were all thrown away and we were out in uncharted territory, without any backup. It was the “Shit just got real” moment of the movie. And here, the loss of the alien blood worked just as well. You’re right on the Edge… of your seat. Did I just do that? Boy, that’s a bad line. I’m a bad person. I’ll stop.

So yeah, they go and crash the troop transport right into the Louvre and get knocked down a bunch of concrete shafts. But hey… they’re actually okay. They’ve made it this far. Cruise brushes himself off, grabs his shotgun, and grimly declares “We’ve been through worse.” That right there is one of the great cheer-worthy moments of the movie, for me. It so simply and aptly summarizes the trials and tribulations that they’ve been through to reach this point, and acknowledges the way they’ve both honed their minds and bodies through a lifetime of retries, for this one final chance to defeat the alien invasion. In video game terms, you might say they’ve both leveled up high enough in order to face that ultimate boss. In another lesser movie, that line might not hold any real resonance, but after what we’ve been through with these two characters in the last hour and a half… it feels earned.

Okay, so let’s talk about the kiss at the end. I’ll be honest, I mentally screamed “No!” when they actually went for the kiss at the end there. I was angrily wondering why they went for that, when the entire movie as a whole had done such a good job of letting them form a connection through the loops without establishing a traditional Hollywood romance. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense to deliver a love story while in this war torn hell, where they’re fighting for their lives and trying to save the human race from extinction. Oh, and also dying over and over again. In the midst of all this chaos, there’s not much room for love. So that kiss at the end felt like a retreat from what most of the movie had established. I couldn’t help but think back to Pacific Rim and how Del Toro deliberately kept Raleigh and Mako from kissing at the end because it wouldn’t have been right, and wished Liman had had the good sense and restraint to make the same decision here.

But then I thought about it some more, and my mind changed. Given the situation they were in, where Rita had laid out the grim reality that they’re both probably going to die in the next five minutes… that kiss took on a completely different tone as a last human goodbye between soldiers who realize that death is imminent. So it wasn’t so much of a romantic kiss as much as a final exchange of weary camaraderie. A pure expression of humanity between comrades in arms, who are sacrificing themselves in service of humanity. When I mentally reframed the scene in this context, the kiss really didn’t bother me anymore, and it did feel justified and unobtrusive. Maybe not everybody will see it that way, but I think it’s at least a valid interpretation to ponder.

The happy ending. I’ve read a lot of people aren’t happy about the happy ending. And yeah, I can kinda understand why. It does feel like a little bit of a cheat. But I’ll be honest, it didn’t really bother me. The movie does visually explain it, with the Omega’s lifeblood completely enveloping Cruise’s dying body. I mean… if you were able to buy into the whole absurd notion of alien blood allowing a person to travel back one day in time in the first place, I don’t see how this new scenario is any more ridiculous or hard to buy into. Alien blood doing time stuff… it made sense to me heh. And when you really think about it… the happy ending seems rather de rigeur in this time travel subgenre. Groundhog Day, Source Code, Déjà Vu… they all have happy endings. Perhaps it would’ve been a refreshing change to see Edge break this tradition, but I felt fully satisfied with the ending we got. It made sense with what we were shown, and didn’t feel like a cheat in my eyes.

The movie knows exactly what it wants to be, but it doesn’t set out to be some low grade, mindless summer blockbuster. You can feel while watching that it legitimately wants to be an ambitious, satisfying sci-fi action flick with an emotional core that resonates with the audience, and it executes near flawlessly on that. As a finished product, it is a fine, fine example of something which ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts. And after having watched Godzilla recently, just let me indulge for a sec and say how happy I am to finally get a movie with some actual heart and humanity. To invest in and root for characters that aren’t just flimsy cardboard cutouts staring blankly. The contrast between the two films is astonishing and really makes one appreciate the carefully thought out direction and heartfelt dedication of Doug Liman.

I can’t think of a better movie this year.

8.8/10

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Louie Episode 4x11 "In the Woods"

It's been apparent for a long while, but just so everyone's clear about it, I think "In the Woods" clearly plants "Louie" in the realm of tv drama, not comedy.

So many moments of this super long episode spoke to me. That's the great thing about Louie, he creates stories that feel realistic and speak to personal experiences and emotions and mistakes that we've all had, or come close to having. There's a tender universal relatability in this episode that reminded me of similar coming of age stories like Stand By Me.

I loved the teacher, Mr. Hoffman. So often, you run into burnt out, bitter teachers in public school. Old teachers who've simply been ground down over the years and no longer give a rat's ass about the kids. It happens way too often in America's public education system, unfortunately. But every now and then, you get one of those good ones. They might not be hip and cool and with it, but you can tell that they still like what they do, and they do form a connection to their students. They still believe in what they're doing and there's a sense of fun as well as respect in the classroom. I've certainly had a few in my life, and Mr. Hoffman happens to be one of Louie's. He's a fleshed out, believable teacher, as opposed to a patently absurd one like Robin Williams. Which makes it all the more disappointing and painful when we see how Louie betrays his trust.

But seriously, 10 scales? WTF Louie? You steal one, and nobody probably notices. But 10? Jesus Christ, young Louie was dumb.

Then there's the teacher's daughter, a shy girl who nonetheless seems to like Louie. And Louie seems like he might like her. The moment when he's walking up to her but gets dragged away by his friend before he can manage to talk to her is one of the many tiny tragedies of the episode that probably haunts Louie as an adult. What better moment to symbolize what might have been? The road not taken. Again, this is stuff that we've all gone through in life, in one form or another. Regret for the actions in our past... that's part of living life as an adult, I feel.

So many aspects of the episode rang true for me. You watch the interactions between Louie, his little dwarf friend, and the bully kid, and it feels like what actually happens to real kids. Hollywood movies and tv shows often portray school as a battle of factions, between the jocks and bullies on one side, and the nerds and loners on the other. With a strict line dividing the two. But in real life, the lines do get blurred, and bullies and the bullied can mingle and interact in a much more fluid and dynamic relationship. Someone who might've been a nemesis yesterday might just change and become a casual friend the next. School is a time of learning and growth, and part of that's learning what friendship is actually about.

Comedians are often described as astute observers of human nature, and while the show Louie itself can't really be classified as a comedy anymore, it does do a great job of showing us Louie's observations on human nature.

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Review: Lone Survivor

I didn't care for it, really. I went in hoping for a new, modern age Black Hawk Down, but this shit wasn't anywhere close to BHD's greatness. Mark Wahlberg can't grow a full beard to save his life, and it's just jarring to watch him taking orders from Taylor Kitsch, a guy 20 years his junior.

I mean, some of the forest battle scenes are legitimately pretty good, but then some of them just look incredibly fake and CGI. Probably because they were.

Look at this screengrab. It looks completely green screened. And the sun is apparently shining like it's a Lifetime movie.

Peter Berg unfortunately overplays the important scenes and makes them completely overdramatic and glossy, when what was needed was a strong dose of realism. Look at an auteur like Paul Greengrass, who always treats the story as a real life event and can weave together a satisfying and grounded narrative that rings true with authenticity. Berg doesn't have that self restraint and this leads to more and more empty spectacle that tears through one's suspension of disbelief.

The tumbling-down-the-mountain scenes are a perfect example. Now obviously, this really happened, so I'm not questioning that at all. But the way it's filmed and presented in the movie is so over the top and exaggerated that it turns what must've been a grueling ordeal into something akin to comedy. Time after time, we watch these men hurling themselves off the mountain and apparently hitting every single boulder on the way down, with gruesome sound effects of bones breaking. After a certain point, the overkill sets in and the audience starts getting the feeling that they're watching a Looney Tunes cartoon, because how could you possibly live after so many falls and hits? Any trace of realism is gone and you're no longer able to feel for the men, because it's all been so overblown.

When the Chinook gets taken down by the RPG, it was a nice special effects shot. But you don't really feel that much for the men onboard, because you haven't gotten to know them. Eric Bana is pretty much playing the same character from BHD, but we get even less screentime and dialogue to know him. And then there's the rookie, who's just... the rookie. So those two die but it leaves very little impact because the movie hasn't really fleshed them out and made them characters to care about.

Did I get sad and teary at the end when they showed the montage of the real life Navy SEALs? Oh sure, absolutely. Those warriors are amazing and I couldn't thank them enough for their service. I just wish they'd had a better movie to honor them.

3.5/10

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Comic: Old Man Logan

Well, just finished Old Man Logan. Umm. It's dark. It's got that twisted Mark Millar sensibility to that. I don't understand why he felt like adding in that incest angle to it, other then hey... it's something fucked up and gross and shocking. I guess we've come to expect as much from Millar, and he's just rising to the expectation.

But as a future dystopian tale, it really doesn't rank up there with TDKR or Kingdom Come. Millar doesn't try and weave anything profound or thematically rich into the story. There aren't even any internal narration boxes, from what I noticed. It's much more of a simple yarn, with some shock value. The emotional payoff, where you finally discover why Logan gave up his claws, is actually effective and completely surprising. It does satisfactorily explain why someone that violent would turn around and become a pacifist for 50 years.

I did enjoy it and would be interested in seeing a sequel series, if only to see what other twisted developments Millar would come up with for this Marvel Universe.

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Review: Godzilla (2014)

Oh boy. Just watched Godzilla last night, and I have to admit… the movie left me pretty underwhelmed. There was a great opportunity to finally make an American Godzilla film that would really show off the appeal of the Toho movies, but I can’t say they got it here. The movie we got from Gareth Edwards seems much more interested in playing up the human drama, which is laughable, and cockteasing the audience to the point of frustration and annoyance.

So the movie starts and Bryan Cranston’s wife inevitably dies. Besides being a complete waste of Juliet Binoche, the whole thing felt incredibly heavy and overwrought. This is the first fifteen minutes of the movie, guys… I don’t think it’s really a good time to break out the water works just yet? I mean, the torture and angst on Cranston’s face is tough to take, and you’re just wondering why they’re leading off with something this draining and tragic right from the beginning. There’s something to be said for giving a movie some gravitas, but this went a little overboard. The audience isn’t really sunk into the movie world just yet and you’re already trying to yank vigorously on our heartstrings? It felt a bit too artificial and needy to my sensibilities. And the whole sequence itself looked rather silly, as Juliet Binoche is being chased down hallways by this cloud of radiation that seems to have a mind of its own. For me, it harkened back to Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, where you had Jake Gyllenhaal being pursued through a museum by this sinister mist of… freezing temperatures. Of course, I also started wondering exactly why a heavy duty containment door at a nuclear power plant would have a structurally weak transparent window to look through? That doesn’t really seem like a terribly good idea for providing maximum protection.

Now, Bryan Cranston is reliably great and gives a good energetic performance for… ya know, the first 30 minutes of the movie. He’s stomping around angry and confused and delivering delirious diatribes like someone’s taken off with all his meth money, and it feels legitimately serious. We’re supposed to care about what’s going on, and we really have no choice but to, because the camera’s all up in Cranston’s grill showing him gnashing his teeth angrily and spitting vitriol every which way but loose. So that’s fine and all, but his storyline doesn’t actually go anywhere. I mean, it bridges the gap between the 15 years and leads to the movie’s revelations about what actually happened, but his death is abrupt and seemingly senseless and leaves us with incredibly limp characters for the remainder of the film’s running time. We were all invested in him and his tortured guilt and now that’s all thrown away by the script. It feels incredibly lame and unfulfilling and seems to be a foreshadowing that this movie intends to tease the audience with hints of greatness that never fully resolve satisfactorily.

Aaron Taylor Johnson now becomes the main protagonist and uhhhh… I found his on screen presence somewhat lacking. He seems to spend most of the film staring blandly at the camera. I’m not saying that he goes and gives a terrible performance… he doesn’t out and out embarrass himself like Hayden Christensen did in the prequels, for example. But it’s a middle of the road, dialed down, workmanlike effort. There’s none of the energy and spontaneity and righteous anger of Cranston’s performance. Instead we’re treated to bland, lifeless scenes of him pointing his rifle at something in the distance, or comforting a small child, or… well, that’s pretty much it. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are likewise wasted. I have absolutely no idea why they even got Hawkins, an Oscar-nominated actress, for this role. She’s basically just playing the intern role. Hell, Kat Dennings gave us a better intern performance in those two Thor movies. At least she gave us some good laughs with her comedy relief. Hawkins just delivers exposition with a dour expression on her face.

Elizabeth Olsen does a fine job, though what she’s given isn’t much. As soon as she’s shuffled off into the shelter, we lose her until the end where she reunites with her family. I admit, I cringed mightily everytime someone spoke her name, but that’s just because her character has the same name as my ex. I fucking hate that bitch. But hey, that’s my own personal baggage. That’s not Olsen’s or the movie’s fault.

The movie suffers from generic ass generic scenes. These bugged me to no end. If you’re not going to show Godzilla, then you damn well better show us something interesting instead. Jaws accomplished that in spades. But this movie seemed determined to trot out tired ass generic scenes. We get the scene of Johnson tucking his little boy into bed, tenderly promising he’ll be there tomorrow. We get the scene of Johnson and his wife cuddling and being lovey dovey. We get the scene of the random dog barking at the oncoming tsunami, because dogs have a sixth sense about these sorts of things. We get the scene of this random little girl at the luau, looking cute and adorable. Then she’s whisked away by her dad and escapes, never to be seen again. Same with the cute little boy that Johnson suddenly befriends on the train. Then there’s a scene of all the kids on the school bus staring wide eyed out the window as it’s crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Wait, didn’t this exact same scene happen in Superman 1? Just a torrent of utterly generic scenes that we’ve all gotten sick of and roll our eyes at. Or at least I do.

The movie goes and tries to inject some cheap sentiment about nuclear weapons and the tragedy of the atomic age, but never gives us a meaningful theme or throughline with it. Serisawa simply hands the Admiral his father’s broken watch from Hiroshima. Well, okay. That’s ummm… that’s really not enough, Mr. Scriptwriter. You need to actually do some work and tie it into the storyline somehow, instead of jamming it in between scenes randomly. Later on he gives a line about how “the arrogance of man is in believing he can control nature.” That’s not bad, that’s a pretty good line I suppose. But how does that tie back to Serisawa’s broken watch? One scene is about the destructiveness of atomic power unleashed by man, while the other is about man’s hubris in his relationship with mother nature. Do they connect together in any meaningful message or idea? I don’t believe so. It feels like some vague hand gesturing without a well thought-out purpose.

The military is going to be a big part of any Godzilla movie and this was no different. Yet they acted incredibly strangely in how they treated Godzilla. For example… they seem to be okay with sailing alongside Godzilla for a large chunk of the film. Where did this come from? Why aren’t they attacking Godzilla? Had they reached a peace accord with Big G? Some sort of treaty in place here? You see aircraft carriers and destroyers sailing literally 50 feet away from the giant monster. This is ridiculous to me. And mind you, this is right after his visit to Hawaii where he created a tsunami. So I’m not sure what they were thinking here. And at a minimum, it seems incredibly perilous to sail so close to something that could easily change direction and suddenly capsize you.

So I don’t know why they weren’t trying to kill Godzilla with torpedoes and other weapons. They’re just sailing alongside it like they’re escorting it. That seems silly to me, but maybe they’re just gonna listen to Dr. Serisawa and leave it alone as some sort of way to balance nature or something. I think he said something about Godzilla acting as a way to restore equilibrium. Let’s go with that. So if they’re just gonna be cool with Godzilla… then why do they suddenly fire on it as soon as it enters San Francisco Bay? What changed? And why would you park a dozen navy destroyers right in the path of a giant monster? Wouldn’t you know that it would collide with your fleet if you park them all about 40 feet from each other? This seems like the dumbest naval formation ever. And when you open fire… why would you do it from point blank range, so that your missiles all go haywire and strike the Golden Gate Bridge instead? I’m fine with the military attacking Godzilla, that’s after all what they’re supposed to do in Godzilla movies… I’m just not sure why they’re doing it in this idiotic, ill conceived manner.

The MUTOs are the primary antagonists in the story, since Godzilla is mainly treated as a hero of sorts. I thought they were okay. I mean, their whole schtick about consuming radiation and radioactive reactors and bombs… that’s fine with me, that’s how these Godzilla movies have always been. I can suspend my disbelief and go with it. But appearance-wise, I didn’t think they looked all that interesting. Their basic silhouette is quite smooth and angular and featureless, which makes the creatures look like a low polygon video game model at first glance. It’s not a big deal, but it did make me long for the traditional Toho adversaries like Rodan, Mothra, or King Ghidorah, which had colorful and varied features and skin characteristics. You can sense a thriving imagination at work with those fantastical creatures, while the MUTOs simply had a smooth, bland exterior with no real distinguishing traits aside from their burning red eyes.

The military’s plan makes no sense. I mean, I keep trying to think about it, and see if I remember any details… but no, it makes no sense. You’re going to arm the nuke right near San Francisco with a 2 hour timer, and then hope that you’ll be able to take it far away from the area while two MUTOs and Godzilla are all converging on it, trusting that none of them will get their hands on it before it blows? Why would that plan ever work? They already know they can’t stop the MUTOs with anything conventional. So wouldn’t it seem obvious that the MUTOs would simply snatch it up and keep it in the populated area? Maybe I missed something in the exposition. But this plan seemed real dumb right from the get go.

Why transport the nuclear missiles by train? Surely it’d have been faster and safer to transport them by plane or helicopter. In fact, that’s exactly what they do with the one lone missile when they find it in the rubble of the train wreck! They fly in and haul it off with a helicopter. So why use the easy to locate and incredibly vulnerable railway system? Especially when all you can protect it with is one or two squads of soldiers with rifles? What good will that do against a giant MUTO? And why did the MUTO gobble up one nuke, but not the other? It finds the train and there are two nukes, but it just decides to leave after one? Why not eat both? Well, I suspect the answer is that the script required the other one to survive so it could be used in the final setpiece of the movie, that’s why.

What is the point of pointing your assault rifle at a giant monster? This question was haunting me all throughout the movie. Aaron Taylor Johnson and his Hispanic soldier buddy on the railway bridge. Those soldiers on the roofs of the hotels in Hawaii. The special forces squad sent to locate the Akula submarine in the dense forest. They’re all decked out with gear and pointing their guns with purpose. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish with that M4A1 with the ACOG sight, Mr. Military Man? The monsters are all enormous and don’t really feel anything from missiles, rockets, and tank shells. Yet over and over again, we get to see these idiotic soldiers firing their rifles. Firing them from the boat with the nuke. That doesn’t work. Then the camera pans over and there’s a bunch more of em firing at the MUTO from the pier. That doesn’t work. The MUTO just bends down and eats the whole pier. Then Aaron Taylor Johnson gets on the boat and he pulls his pistol at the MUTO. Really? This is why it’s a mistake to focus on the little people… the little people don’t do jack shit. It’s just one scene after another of nonsense that feels tired and empty. There’s no entertainment value in watching soldiers with M16s firing at Godzilla or MUTOs.

Gareth Edwards must be the world’s biggest cocktease. That thought kept circling around my head throughout most of this movie. Now, the first time it happened, I decided to cut him some slack. When the camera reveals Godzilla for the first time in Hawaii and then cuts to an SD television feed of it battling the MUTO, I guess I let it slide, since he probably needed to save money on CGI. I figured that’s why we didn’t see more of the fight from a normal perspective. But then he keeps doing it, over and over and over again. We’d get to see Godzilla battling, and just as we’re getting into it… he cuts away to some utterly dull human drama. Give us a little taste, then cut away. Finally show us his atomic breath, then cut away. That shit gets frustrating after a while… Jesus H Christ. That’s just being an utterly huge cocktease to the audience, and I could feel the theater growing increasingly restless as the movie wore on.

Take the example of Godzilla showing up to battle the MUTO in San Francisco. Elizabeth Olsen sees the flying MUTO perched up on one side of her. Then Godzilla arrives in a swirl of smoke and dust on the other side of her. They charge forth into a climactic clash for all the ages just as she descends into the shelter and… then we cut away. No more, Gareth Edwards says. Well that right there is something that no true Godzilla movie would do. There is a fundamental lack of understanding about what a Godzilla movie should deliver and appreciating his splendor and awesome power. Edwards seems to revel in shoving him into the background instead. Plenty of shots where Godzilla and the MUTOS are simply background set dressing, while the camera follows Johnson’s squad in the foreground. In fact, the whole movie might as well be retitled “Godzilla in the Background.”

Now, I did think the smoke and debris swirling around the monster battles looked cool. That was always something which you never got with Toho’s old man in the rubber suit movies, simply because you can’t really create the realistic smoke and dust conditions when you’re using miniature cardboard buildings. But having witnessed 9/11, we know now that buildings crumbling and collapsing will indeed create tremendous plumes of smoke and dust. So it felt appropriately realistic and lifelike to see such conditions in a Godzilla movie. I thought there was some real artistry in how they employed these large CGI clouds with the creatures’ movements in melee combat. It’s an impressive sight, and gives us something we’ve truly never seen before in a Godzilla film.

Godzilla’s atomic breath is another element that I did enjoy in the movie. I was legitimately curious to see how they’d pull it off with the CGI that we have today in 2014, and it turned out looking just fine. Instead of a pure blue pillar of energy, Edwards seems to have elected for something that more resembles a wind, or a gust of blue. Which is definitely appropriate for an “atomic breath.” The spines also do light up, though not as much as in the older movies. Here, it’s a more subtle effect that doesn’t call as much attention to itself. The signature moment where Godzilla draws himself up and summons up the breath from deep within looked very realistic and animalistic at the same time. Kudos to the animators.

So the final act of the movie basically plays out like a Call of Duty mission. I’m serious, that’s exactly what I felt like they were showing us. You have the whole squad of soldiers HALOing into the city and navigating through the smashed rubble to their objective, which was the nuke. And always in the background is this tremendous scripted sequence of Godzilla fighting the MUTOs. And this focus on the Call of Duty mission really hurts my enjoyment of the film. Godzilla taking a backseat feels wrong. I don’t really care about these soldiers, they aren’t actual characters that we’re invested in like we are in a movie like Black Hawk Down. They’re all faceless nameless soldiers with the exception of Johnson. But the camera keeps cutting to them and keeping them in the foreground, while Godzilla’s battle, the thing we really want to see, keeps getting the background treatment. It’s incredibly disappointing and feels like someone’s missed the point of this movie.

It feels clear now that Edwards took a lot of influence from Cloverfield. Yet Cloverfield was a found footage movie, and the camera being strapped to one of the survivors necessitated the frequent cut aways from the monster. After all, they’re all trying to run away from the horrible creature. Godzilla is not a found footage movie, and the camera can be anywhere at any time. Yet Edwards insists on cutting away just when we’re getting into the monster action. What feels right and appropriate in one movie does not in another. And the camera cutting away time after time left me feeling exasperated, because I was simply stuck watching faceless soldiers in a plotline that we’d already seen in plenty of other movies. The ticking-bomb-about-to-explode-in-a-city is something that’s been retread over and over again: Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, etc. I certainly don’t ever need to see it again in a movie in this lifetime.

Now after the final battle… the nuke goes off and everyone’s safe. We’re left with retrieving people from the rubble of collapsed skyscrapers. And the news comes on and they proclaim… “Godzilla, Savior of the City?” Wait, what? We just had a battle that destroyed more of San Francisco than Zod accomplished in Metropolis, and yet Godzilla’s the savior of the city? How does that work? I mean, yes, if you were privy to the entire military situation and figured out that he stopped the MUTOs and that allowed the nuke to get away safely and the nuke detonated far away from the city… yes, I suppose that you might be able to see it that way. But I don’t really think the news reporters in San Francisco would be in on that information? As far as they’re concerned, Godzilla was just equally as responsible for the devastation in the city as those MUTOs. And considering how many people died in the fallout, I hardly think they’d be wondering about him being a savior. The whole thing just feels like a lame attempt to copy the ending of The Avengers. And while I thought that tv montage in The Avengers was pretty cheesy and hokey, at least it felt appropriate and earned there. Here, it feels ridiculous. And yes, I know that Godzilla has been portrayed as a protector of the earth in earlier Toho movies. However, I would respond by saying that A) I never cared much for those movies, and B) it really does steer away from the aspect of Godzilla that I prefer, which is as a force of nature. A force of nature is not a savior of any sort, he merely does what he wishes and leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. So to see him referred to as a savior left a bad taste in my mouth, which isn’t what you want for a closing scene.

At the end of the day, I would have to say that Pacific Rim is the better movie of the two. Now, I’m not saying that Pacific Rim is an amazing movie, and it certainly had problems that weigh it down: Too much screen time devoted to the wacky scientists and Ron Perlman, and poor acting from the two main leads. Those problems do hold the movie back… and yet when I walked out of the movie theater, I was rather pleased with the overall experience and wanted to return to that movie universe. And that is not really something I can say for Gareth Edward’s Godzilla. The stunning waste on display is a real shame and I don’t have high hopes for a sequel with him back at the helm.

5/10

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Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel is a good Superman movie after what we got from Singer, but it's pretty damn weak when you compare it to Donner's Superman 78. The action is legitimately great, but you expect as much from the guy who did 300. That's no big surprise.

The heart isn't really there. When Pa Kent dies in Donner's movie, your heart breaks for Clark and his mom. This loving man was the bedrock of Kal-El's life and instilled him with goodness and compassion and everything admirable about Superman. Even in the final minutes of his life, he was instilling in Clark the principle of doing good for others because he can. Another form of the "with great power comes great responsibility" speech. And we get to the funeral scene and Clark laments that even his great powers, far beyond those of mortal men, can't save his loved ones sometimes. It's a powerful lesson and you form this immediate emotional bond. Superman is completely relateable in the movie, because we've all gone through loss like this. Superman the Movie is the only superhero movie I can think of where I've actually cried, and it's usually right around this part of the runtime.

With these three relatively short scenes, Donner expertly explains the why of Superman. Kents find baby Kal-El, Clark comes home and Pa Kent dies, Funeral scene. No fat to trim here. Everything works together to form a coherent picture of Clark's mindset and how he came to be that which is best in men.

In contrast to Donner's straight and linear approach, MoS adopts the jumbled flashback sequences of Nolan's Batman Begins. But while Nolan is a master of the disjointed nonlinear narrative, Snyder clearly is not comfortable with this storytelling technique, and it shows. The flashbacks in MoS have an odd, disconnected feel to them, and they don't marry together in any comfortable manner I can perceive. Batman Begins's scattered flashbacks were mysterious in a way that intrigued you and made you want to uncover more and more, gradually piecing together the full picture of Bruce Wayne's past and how he became the Dark Knight. They layered on top of one another and felt like they were building up to a coherent message. Manohla Dargis wrote this in her review, and I agree with it: "[...]Mr. Nolan invites us to watch Bruce Wayne quietly piecing together his Batman identity, to become a secret sharer to a legend, just as we did once upon a time when we read our first comic."

With MoS, the flashbacks were delivered to us in a way that lacked the effectiveness of BB and just kinda left me feeling cold. It felt like we were just moving from one scene to the next in a confused and detached manner. They really didn't explain Superman in the same satisfying way that BB's jumbled narrative did, or the way Donner's straightforward narrative did. This new Pa Kent advises Clark that maybe he shouldn't save those kids on the bus, because his secret takes precedence over everything. Later, it even takes precedence over Pa Kent's life. This is an odd message that doesn't make a lot of sense to the audience, trying to root for Superman. Where is the Pa Kent that guided Superman to doing what he does? The shining beacon for goodness? It's hard to see it here, since we're given the exact opposite of what the traditional Pa Kent said. I found myself watching the screen with a confused and perplexed expression on my face. There was no emotional bond or resonance, since they hadn't given me anything to latch onto.

Now... there's nothing wrong with adding a bit of realism or verisimilitude to a character. That's after all what Donner did so well in the first Superman movie all those years ago. He actually plastered the word "verisimilitude" on set because he wanted it to be the leading ethos for the production. So I'm fine with the idea of adding realism in that regard. But I do believe that it requires a very capable and subtle touch. Because at the end of the day, Superman to me is a shining inspiration for the entire DC universe. Someone once wrote that at his best, he is the best. So he can have internal conflict, and struggle. That's something that Superman, even with his incredible powers, cannot avoid. The best stories with Superman are inevitably about his internal struggles and conflicts, not external. Kingdom Come is a good example.

But... does that mean we should saddle Superman with faults and weaknesses? That's the tricky part. If Superman has too much in the way of faults and weaknesses... he no longer becomes that source of inspiration. It's hard to be inspired by an ideal that's weak and faulty. Superman is supposed to be super, and that's not just with his powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He's supposed to be super inside, as well. When you're rooting for Superman, you know that he's got your back, and that he'll never give up, and that he represents the best in each of us. Or at least that's what I think of when I think of Superman.

So it's very easy to go awry. And then we end up with a Superman who's ruined. A Superman who's no longer that super in terms of conduct and morality. And that's not a Superman for me.

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Batman vs Predator

Finally got my very own copy of Batman vs Predator. I'd read it many years ago but never got around to buying it back then. Nowadays, the TPB's been out of print for forever so the used price is usually pretty high. I managed to find it on Amazon for about 20 bucks and felt that was alright for a rare book. I mean, it'll probably only go higher in the future, right? Seemed like an alright investment, though my reason for buying it was simply because it's a great comic.

Of the 3 Batman vs Predator stories DC's put out over the years, I can say with some certainty that the first one is still the best, by a considerable margin. The second book suffers from an incredibly bad artist at the helm, and some plot twists that are straight out of Predator 2... resulting in a story that's often clumsy and feels derivative. The third book is quite an improvement, possessing good quality artwork, but since it's the third outing with Batman and these fiendish foes, there's a sense of familiarity and Batman feels a lot more confident in taking them on, which makes the Predators feel completely nerfed. It doesn't help that we have to deal with the pesky sidekick Tim Drake, who butts in and wants to know what's going on every five minutes.

The first book is everything that you could hope for in a titanic crossover matchup between Batman and the Predator. They're both hunters of men, so naturally the Predator judges Batman to be the worthiest prize for his trophy collection. But on the side, he doesn't mind spending some free time cutting and gutting some of Gotham's most dangerous mob bosses and henchmen.

Since this is their first encounter, Batman isn't really sure what's going on at first and we get to see his detective skills at work. But even though he gradually pieces it together, it's not nearly enough, as this Predator is fully as capable as he's ever been depicted and nearly kills Bats in their first direct confrontation. That's what's so satisfying and refreshing about this story, the fact that unlike the majority of his street level foes, Batman is at a severe disadvantage and gets knocked out by a foe vastly more skilled and vicious then any he's faced in his past.

But of course, you know Batman will rebound and prep time his way to even the playing field for round two. And he does it just as you'd imagine Batman would, with equal parts technology, martial skill, and strategic thinking. It's very reminiscent of Arnold's prep time in the first Predator movie. And that's the thing... with the Predator in this urban jungle, you'd think it'd be very similar to Predator 2. But while that's true on a superficial level, the actual essence of the story is much closer to Predator 1, with two larger than life characters eventually finding themselves in a duel to the death.

Besides the excellent story, BvP also boasts fantastic artwork from a young hungry Andy Kubert. In the prime of his youth and brimming with talent, Kubert delivers a very high quality Jim Lee-style depiction of Batman, while simultaneously drawing a striking and powerful image of the Predator. He perfectly captures the sheer strength and musculature of the Predator from the movies, in highly dynamic poses which effectively convey the savage nature of this alien from beyond the stars. Since the book came out after Predator 2, we also get the full arsenal of the Predator, such as his target seeking smart disc and net-gun.

Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Predator or Batman... it's the best of the series and one of the greatest crossover efforts in all of comics.

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Review: Thor the Dark World

Just watched Thor The Dark World. Yeah, kinda late to the party. Heard a lot of conflicting statements about this movie. Lots of people liked it, while a lot of people seemed to hate it. I didn't know what to expect, but I did enjoy the first Thor for what it was, which was a fun, popcorn, summer action flick. These Marvel movies all tend to pretty much have the same light and breezy tone/mood.

Okay, first thing I really noticed in this movie... the delineation between sci-fi and fantasy. This is of course open to debate but I always felt like the first Thor was fantasy with a thin layer of sci-fi, while this movie seems to go in the opposite direction and looks much more like sci-fi with a thin layer of fantasy. They lean quite a bit more into the sci-fi realm this time: you've got laser rifles and deflector shields and predator-esque cloaking devices and anti-aircraft batteries and heat seeking missiles and singularity grenades that all feel right out of a sci-fi first person shooter. The holding cells underneath Asgard almost feel like the brig of the Enterprise D, equipped with thinly-veiled yellow force fields.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, in and of itself. I can't say I'm a fan of the Thor comics so I'm no purist, someone beholden to the traditional comic book interpretations. But the problem with the new sci-fi emphasis is that as the movie continues, it makes some things look ridiculous and illogical. Asgardian soldiers clad in D&D armor and weapons made sense when this was all a fantasy setting of sorts, but it's a lot harder to swallow when you see them all getting gunned down by Elves wielding sci-fi looking laser rifles spewing hot red death, while throwing their black hole generating grenades. The Asgardian armor doesn't seem to do anything to protect them (Stormtrooper syndrome), so you're left wondering why they're equipped so poorly. Hell, you're left wondering how these Asgardians ever defeated the Elves in the first place, all those countless centuries ago. Surely the Elves with these powerful ranged weapons could've gunned down all the sword-wielding armor-wearing Asgardian soldiers.

The world of Asgard is more fully fleshed out this time around, with lush gardens and parks in addition to the pure metallic alloy spires of the last movie. Maybe it's just because I knew the director worked on Game of Thrones, but the way Asgard is shot and decorated this time around does make it look more Game of Thrones-y. There's more of a warmth and natural rustic beauty here then the modern art museum-like construction that Branagh presented us with. You see carved wood and ceramic pillars and it all conveys an earthy interior that feels more welcoming and human.

I like that they're still maintaining the subplot between Thor, Sif, and Jane. Jamie Alexander was one of the great surprises of the first Thor and the tension in this pseudo-love triangle makes for a compelling thread to follow through the greater tapestry. I kinda figured that Sif was the writers' fallback if Natalie Portman, the accomplished dramatic actress she is, decided not to come back for Thor 2. But since she has, they still acknowledge that there is this uncomfortable situation and that it's not going away anytime soon for our hero Thor.

Tom Hiddleston is his usual impeccable self, as expected. What I appreciate is how they've written Loki just as human as they did in the first Thor, instead of portraying him as the monster of a massacre in NYC. When you see him mourn in his own way after learning of the death of his adopted mother, you're nodding because it feels real and rings true. Even a villain like Loki is bound by certain obligations and ties and that's when you glimpse that he isn't completely irredeemable. The closest comparison I can make is the relationship between Prof. X and Magneto. Should we still hold a hope that he and Thor can mend their relationship? Thinking rationally with our heads, probably not. But Hiddleston's performance, with generous support from Hemsworth, gradually nudges us in that direction, despite ourselves.

The Dark World is an appropriate subtitle, because it is certainly a darker movie this time. Which isn't to say that they dropped the humor and one-liners from the first, because they haven't. They went and did something I didn't expect... Thor's mother dies. I thought Rene Russo was kinda wasted in the first movie, with Anthony Hopkins given the lion's share of the work. But this time around, she does get to show off her talents before dying and I appreciated it because Russo is a legitimately great actress and perfectly conveys a gentle maternal presence combined with a warrior queen side that we never suspected but probably should have.

Now, while I do think the story is effective when taken as a journey to avenge the death of a mother... I can't say I comprehended the main plotline involving the evil red blob thingy hiding in the center of a giant stone block. I haven't read the Thor comics, but I suspect that this red evil globule was created specifically for the movie. Why they thought it'd make for a compelling story, I have no idea. It's in Jane, and it's gonna kill her, but the main evil Elf wants it, so he takes it into him, thereby saving Jane. But it's probably not gonna kill the Elf dude, it'll make him stronger somehow... it's all just a confusing mash of empty nonsense. I didn't comprehend just how Jane was able to manipulate the gravity wells surrounding the metal spike things on her handy dandy tablet computer. And frankly, the movie is designed in such a way that you're simply too distracted by the crazy shenanigans surrounding Thor's fight into and out of the different realms to be able to think about much of anything. It's quirky and entertaining in how fast the scenarios change and morph around, but I would've preferred if I'd known exactly what was happening.

Chris Eccleston's Meleketh(?) isn't the worst villain ever, but he's further down the list then you might expect. He's not as aggressively atrocious as Eric Bana's Nero, for example. But... I didn't really find myself captivated by his presence. There was nothing to latch onto, which I suppose you can blame on the scriptwriters who gave him absolutely nothing memorable to say. I just knew that he wanted that red goo a whole lot. How that was supposed to help his race of Elves... god only knows. Why did he decide to crash his giant ship into the center of a university, Speed 2: Cruise Control-style...? I couldn't tell you. But going beyond the dearth of meaty dialogue from the writers... Eccleston himself just doesn't exude any personality or villainy in particular. He just seems hamstrung by being stuck in elf makeup and clumsy armor. Oftentimes, an actor will imbue a role with something beyond the page, making it come alive from sheer performance and force of will. Eccleston does nothing of the sort in this movie, and I found myself more entertained by the CGI of the red shards shooting from his body (which wasn't much) then I did by his delivery.

Thinking about the movie as a whole, I have to judge it as being passable entertainment on a lazy afternoon. But compared to the first Thor, it sits a notch lower. The humor and one-liners from Skarsgaard's Selvig and Darcy continue to work, though that one scene of Thor riding a Subway felt incredibly British and took me out of the moment. But when you think about it, Thor 1 had actual character development and growth for Hemsworth's Thor. He's an arrogant prince who learns to humble himself and do right by others, instead of yielding to his own passions. Not the most innovative character arc ever conceived, but it worked well and got us to root for the guy.

Here... I can't really detect anything like that. The movie merely had me asking myself questions like "Why isn't this cloud of red goo doing anything to Thor when he walks through it?" "Why are these spikes strong enough to teleport Meleketh's limbs away when Mjolnir couldn't do anything?" "Is this red goo meant to do anything when it reaches the other realms?" "How many buildings will Mjolnir crash through to return to Thor's grasp?" and "Why is this guy playing Darcy's intern so bland and dull? Is he returning in Thor 3?" Really inane stuff, right, but what else could I think about... there didn't seem to be any real growth to Thor. I mean at the end, he does decide not to be King. But what that had to do with the previous battles with Meleketh, I couldn't say.

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