This post contains spoilers, so for any of the lucky few who have not been bombarded with memes, reviews, and discussion over the last several weeks: be aware.
I don’t think there’s a more perfect metaphor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the scene where Rocket Raccoon gives Thor a robot eye in Infinity War. Over the course of Thor: Ragnarok’s runtime, Thor was stripped down, had his hair cut off, was forced to make compromises and sacrifices before ultimately overcoming a villain that shook the very nature of his home’s existence to the core. The loss of his eye at the end of the film and the eye patch that he received was symbolic of the sacrifices that he made throughout the story. Thor is a different person than he was at the beginning of the movie, both visually and emotionally. But in Infinity War, that symbol is waved away with what amounts to a throwaway joke in the moment. No, Thor isn’t fundamentally changed after that moment, but it’s almost a slap in the face to see a movie walk back the most drastic physical measure taken on one of its characters with a throwaway joke.
But it was such a fun scene, wasn’t it?
And this is where my (totally important) opinion on Infinity War lies: It is both what I love about the MCU, and all that frustrates me in a 150-minute movie. Marvel is so so so good at giving us loveable, smart, funny characters that are easy to follow. Iron Man gets into a fight with an alien wizard that he calls Squidward and it doesn’t feel a bit out of place. We would follow Iron Man literally anywhere at this point, and have a blast doing so. Same with Spidey, and the Guardians, and just about every character that appears in Infinity War. These movies are loads of fun to watch, the performances are always great, and most of the effects are pretty seamless.
And yet over the last few years, there’s been stuff that’s been gnawing at me about these movies. My issue is this: for a studio that puts a tremendous amount of care and effort into adapting these comic book characters, they don’t really try to developthem all that much. How, exactly, has Tony Stark changed since Iron Man 3? If anything, his character has regressed. Instead of addressing his decision to give up the Iron Man suit in Age of Ultron, the movie hopes that you didn’t notice that last part and tries to walk it all back. Tony hasn’t really experienced any sort of crisis that has helped him grow or fundamentally change in any way. The things that do happen to him, such as his rocky relationship with Pepper, mostly happen off screen and are discussed at convenient times through dialogue. Why can’t we have seen Tony and Pepper have a drag out fight at the beginning of Civil War? What happened in between that movie and Spider-Man: Homecomingthat caused them to reconcile? What we get are the “greatest hits” of these character beats without seeing the journey to get there.
Now, just to clarify a few things: I understand that the movies that Iron Man appears in now are all ensemble movies with many more characters. It’s very hard to create individual arcs for 14 different characters in the same movie. However, Tony Stark is the founder of this series. Where he goes, these movies go, so why are we pretending that all of these characters are of equal weight? Also, my criticisms aren’t so much about what these Marvel movies are, so much as what they have to potential to be. Maybe I should quit before I make myself crazy, but…eh, I’m gonna continue on anyway.
Marvel's Villain Problem
For years, we were subjected to all those think pieces that pretty much had the same title: MARVEL HAS A VILLAIN PROBLEM. Those were annoying as hell, weren’t they? I mean gosh, article after article about the singular problem with the MCU ad nauseam, it was exhausting. Now there are articles about many different MCU problems (like this one), so yay variety? Anyway, many Phase 1 and 2 villains were all criticized for being bland, boring, and ineffective. At that point, the only villain that actually worked very well was Loki. The common critique during that time was that the villains’ motivations were always weak. They wanted revenge, or to destroy the world or something. Over the last few years, Marvel has tried to address this issue and has come up with some pretty good villains like Ego, Vulture, and Killmonger. Here’s the thing: Marvel’s villain problem was never about motivation. It’s always been about character development.
What’s an antagonist? In terms of story structure, an antagonist is a character that stands directly in the way of what our protagonist wants. Luke Skywalker wants to become a Jedi Knight and lead the Rebellion to victory, and Darth Vader wants to stamp the rebellion out and ensure Luke does not achieve Jedi status. Max and Furiosa want to lead their group to safety, and Immortan Joe wants to stop them and get his “property” back. Clarice Starling wants to catch Buffalo Bill, and Jame Gumb wants to keep his killing spree alive to “transform”. These dynamics are what drive the conflict in each of those movies, and they also serve as a way to develop the protagonist’s true desires and their struggles. Villains can often be the protagonist’s opposite, which is why we see the clichéd line, “You and I are very much alike.” It’s true in a lot of cases, because oftentimes conflict is born out of two similar personalities colliding with each other. You can have an effective antagonist in any genre of movie, so long as you fully understand what the protagonist truly wants, and how to put up obstacles throughout the journey for that want.
This, I think, has been Marvel’s true villain problem. What do our protagonists want? Too many times the Phase 2 and on movies devolved into “villain does something that hero has to stop” instead of using the base desires of our protagonists to create a dynamic where things can be taken away from them. The lack of a true “want” causes a huge gap between a protagonist and what an antagonist can do. Maleketh is ineffective inThor: The Dark Worldbecause there’s no desire from Thor other than to stop him. It’s astonishing how little of a threat Ultron is to any of the characters throughout his time on screen, even though the motivation behind his creation is ripe for conflict. We’re always given “low point” moments, where the music swells and the characters look like they might be defeated, but it isn’t substantive. They can’t ratchet up the drama in these scenes because in the end, the desires of our main characters are usually nothing below surface level. There are notable exceptions, which I will bring up, but first!
This brings us to Thanos.
Does Thanos deserve to be on the notable exception list of Marvel villains? It’s complicated. He was teased so much since 2012 that it was very easy to get hyped for him as the “big bad”. Of course he would be a badass, they’ve been setting it up for years now. But, from what I saw in the movie, the reason he’s been fawned over is only because he’s allowed to run roughshod over all of our heroes in the movie. If you switched he and Maleketh out, I can almost guarantee you that Thanos’ motivations and effectiveness would be as lampooned as Maleketh’s were in the second Thor movie, and Maleketh would be hailed as a great Marvel villain. Killing half the population of a planet restores balance? Does Thanos not understand how social constructs work? It doesn’t matter if he’d killed off two thirds of the population, there would still be people vying for power who wanted to ensure that other, less fortunate people on the planet got nothing. But that logic stuff is beside the point; the issue is that he is a superficial antagonist who also happens to be very effective.
Now we’re getting into debate territory, because the hubbub surrounding Infinity War was that Thanos is not, in fact, the antagonist, but the protagonist of this movie. It’s true that Thanos’ decisions and movements are the driving force behind the movie, but if he is the protagonist, he’s a crappy one. Why? Because it all comes back to the true desires characterization. What does the hero want? Why does the hero want it? Thanos wants the Infinity Gems. Great, we got that. Why? Overpopulation ravaged his planet and so he wants to do the universe a favor? These motivations are impersonal at best and weak at worst, and it doesn’t give us any special insight into who Thanos is. He says that he loves Gamora, but why? What have we been shown that makes us believe that he deeply cares for her? Remember, if Thanos is the protagonist, we should see the emotional journey of the character in detail. Clarice Starling wants to catch Buffalo Bill, but her motivation, the reason she’s going to great lengths to stop him (and the reason the movie is called The Silence of the Lambs), is a deep feeling of guilt that she’s carried with her since childhood. What we want out of our main character is to empathize with them, no matter who or what they are. The Sopranosis a masterwork of having a protagonist who shouldn’t be likeable, and putting them in situations that make us empathize with him. It can be done, and it has been done, in the last movie Marvel released.
There’s a reason why there was a huge “Killmonger was right” campaign after Black Panther was released. It’s because the movie went great lengths to ensure that you fully understood where Killmonger was coming from, and how his past shaped his worldview. We literally see that he is still that little boy inside, whose father was killed by people from the same land that he had fantasized about. His motivations are clear, and his ideology is understandable given his upbringing. Plus, his very existence shatters our protagonist’s own worldview of Wakanda and the leadership of his ancestors. These qualities make a great and memorable antagonist, and I would absolutely say that Killmonger is the best villain from the MCU because of them.
The reason I compare Killmonger to Thanos is because Infinity War wants the same things for him. The movie wants you to empathize with him, wants you to understand where he’s coming from, wants you to feel the loss that he goes through over the course of the movie. But, like the relationship between Tony and Pepper, the movie really doesn’t want to do the heavy lifting necessary to fully realize any of these things. Sure, the music swells and the performances are pitch perfect when Thanos realizes that he needs to kill Gamora, but underneath all of the packaging, what we have is a scene that is emotionally hollow. Other than the flashback, which does not show anything other than the fact that Thanos likes balanced daggers, we aren’t shown anything that could lead us to believe that love is in this equation at all.
The reason that I’m frustrated with this version of Thanos is because his comic book counterpart’s motives are far more interesting. In the comics, Thanos was a deformed kid who got abused by his mother, which led to a psychological need to please. He became enamored with the physical embodiment of Death, and thought that in order to get her attention, to make her love him, he had to kill in her name. And what more effective way to do that than to kill off one half of the universe with a snap of your fingers? This motivation can be communicated so much better and with so much more emotion than what we get in the movie. It can contextualize things that are weak, and most importantly, if he is truly our protagonist, we need this to understand where he’s coming from emotionally.
Because otherwise we’re just projecting our own emotions on the screen. Otherwise we’re just bobbing our head to a greatest hits version of a movie instead of one that puts in the effort to make you believe in your character.
They'll Deal With That In The Next One
We’re living in an interesting era of movies. These guaranteed sequels and shared universes are something that we haven’t really seen in terms of big budget filmmaking before, and leeway should be given over a few things. However, there is one excuse for these movies that really gets to me, and that is, “They’ll deal with that in the next movie.” This is trotted out every single time somebody criticizes an aspect of one of these stories. “This is a shared universe with a whole bunch of sequels. They’re just setting up the next movie. This’ll be handled in the next movie.” And you know what? It’s always wrong.
Every single time.
Nothing is ever handled in the next movie. Age of Ultrondidn’t handle the fallout of Winter Soldieror Iron Man 3. Civil Wardidn’t address really any of the loose ends of Age of Ultron other than some lip service. Infinity Wardeals with the strife between Captain America and Iron Man (which was waved away at the end ofCivil Warbut whatever) with an offhand “You broke up? Like the Beatles?” from Bruce Banner. Because the secret is that these are all individual movies, and they will change things (or more often, keep things the same) for the sake of the story that they’re telling in this movie.
So when I criticize the way that Thanos’ motivations are handled, I don’t want to see “they’ll deal with that in the next movie,” because doing something in the next movie doesn’t retroactively make the one before it better. Thor: Ragnarokdoesn’t make me want to watch the Thor movies again; it just makes me want to watch Thor: Ragnarokagain. And how many times are we going to use this excuse? Lostwas always going to answer all the underlying questions in the next season, or the next episode. True Detectiveseason 1 was going to deliver on those supernatural elements that were hinted at in the next episode. The Last Jediwas going to answer all those mystery box questions from The Force Awakens. It seems every time we fall in the trap of expecting a story to “deal with” things that happen in a previous movie or episode, we are priming ourselves for disappointment, and also focusing on the wrong things.
They All Ded
So, question: Do you think any of the dissolve to dust deaths of our Marvel characters are permanent?
I’m gonna guess no, and that’s because literally no one I’ve talked to about these movies actually believes any of those deaths are permanent.
Why is this? Is it because we know so much about the behind the scenes process of making these movies that the magic is gone? I think it definitely has something to do with that. There are tons of websites that make their living off of announcing who has signed on to what, which actors have contracts with which studios, and which movies are going through reshoots. I knew that Robert Downey, Jr. had dropped out of Inherent Vicea year and a half before the movie came out. I know the full cast of a TV Pilot that I’m probably never going to see. It’s weird, but that’s the nature of film and TV discussion right now.
However, I can’t help but think that there’s another reason why nobody is convinced, and I think you can look at the people who were spared at the end of the movie. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, War Machine, and Rocket Raccoon are all still kicking. The other people who were turned to dust were either side characters mostly unconnected to these characters, or newcomers like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Spidey. What’s the pattern with the survivors? With the exception of Rocket, they have all been part of the MCU since basically the beginning. It undermines the gravity of what just happened. Everybody somewhat unimportant dies, but don’t worry, your favorites are still around! They’re all coming back for the next one, it’s all good! So what should be a really terrifying moment seems a bit cheap, because the turn to dust thing basically means that all of these characters are kidnapped. Killing them off had no real effect. While it was the right decision to have our heroes fail, the consequences of that failure are still nerfed so they can let the audience down easy.
The argument here is that these are comic book movies, though. In comics, characters come back to life and die with such consistency that it doesn’t matter. I’m not making the argument that these movies aren’t perfectly adapting the structure of comic books. What I am saying is that Black Pantherand Thor: Ragnarokhave shown that these movies have the capability of being so much more. They can be movies that are aboutthings, and can communicate nuanced ideas to mass audiences effectively. They can be great on their own while also building the overarching universe up, creating a more vivid place for the characters to inhabit. It’s just frustrating to me that Marvel doesn’t seem wholly interested in being that. Infinity Warfeels so much like one step forward and two steps back.
But it made a whole bunch of money, so who am I to judge?
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
It’s been a while, but we’re back everybody! Of course, spoilers to follow…
Movie franchises have done interesting things to popular cinema over the last decade. On one hand, putting a whole bunch of action-heavy properties into the hands of mostly talented people gets you great consistency in terms of the quality of movies. On the other, when the same core group of producers, writers, and visual effects studios work on the properties, it brings a bland sameness to it all. It’s this sameness that Deadpool wants to exploit and mock. But in its attempts to do so, Deadpool 2 falls into one of the oldest traps in the book: sequelitis.
In retrospect, the first Deadpool is a great lesson on how a restrictive budget often makes a better movie. The story is well known at this point: Fox didn’t think an R-rated superhero movie could work with mass audiences, and didn’t even want to greenlight the script until test footage leaked online and was met with such an outpouring of excitement that it forced Fox’s hand. However, Fox only gave the movie enough of a budget for two set pieces (CG heavy action sequences), which forced the creative team to get creative and flesh out the characters more. Now, this isn’t to say that Deadpool is a masterwork of characterization (when you thumb your nose at the themes of becoming a hero, what you get is a shallow story about one-sided vanity), but it does do a great job of endearing both the characters of Wade Wilson and Deadpool to the audience, as well as the various other relationships in the story. Its got a lot of clever sequences, great comedic performances by Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin, and is a bloody fun time.
The word that you can use to describe Deadpool 2 is “more”. There is more of everything: More money, which means more set pieces, more characters, more story elements, more 4th wall breaks…it’s all there. And there’s a lot more of it. Hence, sequelitis.
Larger franchise movies have largely been able to avoid a few of the sequelitis tendencies because there are just so many movies down the pipeline that trying to “one-up” each of them is likely to make the filmmakers’ heads explode. But Deadpool is a little bit different. It was made with a relatively low budget for a superhero movie that made a ridiculous amount of money at the box office, and had very few actual ties to Fox’s X-Men universe. Once that movie got popular, it was bound to be placed at the forefront of a struggling series of movies. And with no limit to what it can do, Deadpool 2 tries to do everything. The issue is that when you add more mouths to feed on a sequel, you end up having to take from important places.
So much of the movie is Deadpool jumping from action set piece to action set piece, with only a couple of minutes of buffer between each sequence. Of course, we all want to see Deadpool in action, but when you add more set pieces, you take away valuable time that you could be fleshing out newcomers like Cable and Domino, while also diminishing screen time for key character relationships (Negasonic Teenage Warhead is basically a cameo in this movie, and Colossus isn’t much more) from the first film. It’s the crisis of too many good things at once, and not being able to pick and choose what is absolutely necessary for the story, and what can go.
Also, them fourth wall breaks. They’re a key part of Deadpool’s character, for sure, but there were a lot of them in this movie, and quite a few of them reek of a need for validation from the audience instead of a clever joke. They compound on top of each other to the point where I was exhausted when the last few rolled around. They really should be used as strategic strikes, not as a catchall net every few minutes. But that’s just me.
For story elements, my opinion is marred by a major decision made at the very beginning of the movie. That decision, for those who’ve seen the movie, is to kill off Vanessa before the opening title sequence. My frustrations with that decision? For a movie and character that wants to lampoon the clichéd aspects of comic books and their movie adaptations, they sure did choose the most clichéd and predictable twist for significant others in comic book fiction. And not only that, but they play up the decision as if it’s shocking, and use the death as the emotional crux of this movie. Killing off the significant other as a means of character development for the hero is something that is so ingrained in comic book lore that it’s probably built into the paper comics are printed on, and Deadpool 2 just falls right into the trap.
Furthermore, the decisions that come after it undercut the emotional gravity of that moment. I like the movie’s instincts when it came to the story; Deadpool can heal all wounds, so the physical stakes are always low. So, make the emotional stakes high with trying to save this abused and wayward kid’s “soul”. Never mind that the plot of this is similar to 2012’s Looper (directed by Star Wars fans’ new Boogeyman, Rian Johnson), the issue is that Wade does not make a conscious decision to save this kid on his own, and is told to by Spirit Vanessa. It cheapens this decision into selfish reasons, rather than liking the kid and not wanting him to go bad. Of course, the thing that undercuts the decision to kill Vanessa off is the mid credits scene, where he goes back in time to save her. If that moment is canon for follow up movies…then what was the point? Why make that the entire emotional anchor of the movie when Deadpool can just undo it all at the end of the film? If you were emotionally impacted by her death, doesn’t it make you feel a little stupid for even falling for any of it? Most importantly, the strongest aspect of the previous film was the relationship between Wade Wilson and Vanessa. The actors have great chemistry, and what little we saw of it in this film was wonderful. Sidelining that for the entire movie is…just a strange decision in my book. If The Incredibles taught us anything, it’s that you can make an effective superhero movie that also touches on relationship drama. There just has to be a little more nuance involved.
I’ve skewed negative in this post, but the movie is still fun, even if it suffers from the “bigger and better” sequelitis. It’s just a good lesson that sometimes constraints can be some of the best creative fodder out there.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
So in case you didn’t know, Solo, the movie that everybody seems to want but nobody really knows why, is coming out soon. Last year, there was controversy surrounding this movie when its directors were fired towards the end of shooting the film in favor of bringing in Ron Howard. The reshoots were seemingly extensive, and now the movie is coming out soon. Of course, when there’s controversy surrounding a movie like this, there has to be some “anonymous source” that explains why everything makes sense for the movie in grand scheme of things and how all of the actions taken were justified. Last week, an explanation came out. According to this source, Phil Lord and Chris Miller have never directed a film before, didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and were “forcing” actors to do 30 takes of any given scene because they didn’t know what to look for. When Ron Howard came in, he was calm, cool, and professional. He knew exactly what he wanted. And now everything is positively perfect.
If it sounds like I’m making fun of this explanation, it’s because I am. This is a rumor that’s obviously a political play, trying to justify a close to unprecedented move in modern studio releases. It makes sense in the context of the leaks that came out a few days after Lord and Miller were fired, when it was said that they were in over their heads and that they didn’t understand Star Wars. More on that later, but I’m not here to just make fun of a rumor created by an anonymous source. No, I’m here to talk about yet another myth about directing. You can read my other article on directing here, where I discuss the issues I have with the “auteur” theory. I honestly don’t know why, but these directing myths really get on my nerves, so excuse me if I seem a little bit chippy here. Today, I want to talk about the myth of the director that “knows exactly what they want”.
When people think of a director, they think of a genius who builds everything in front of the camera by themselves, and that the film is authored by the director. They have every shot in their head before they get to set, they know all the blocking up front, and know exactly how the actors should read a certain line. That, in the minds of people who’ve never made a movie before, is the essence of what makes a director great. They know exactly what they want. So when you read a story that says that somebody helming a big budget movie was doing 30 takes of any given scene and never seemed like they knew what they wanted, well then you absolutely sympathize with the people who fired them, right? I mean, jeez, have they never directed before? Except that all of those ideas of what make a good director are complete nonsense.
A director that knows exactly what they want treats their actors like meat puppets and not collaborators. They tell the actors to perform the scene a certain way and never make room for any kind of creativity in the performance.
A director that knows exactly what they want chews out all of the crew when they mess up a specific shot. They’re unafraid of reaming out a boom operator because they accidentally couldn’t hold on for five minutes during a long take and dipped the mic into the shot.
A director that knows exactly what they want treats any kind of recommendation or creative input like an act of mutiny and will punish the person accordingly.
A director that knows exactly what they want is a black hole of creativity, and generally makes life miserable for the rest of the cast and crew. I’ve worked with these kinds of directors before, and 100% of the time they are not geniuses.
Case in point: I once worked on a movie in film school where we were shooting a short film in collaboration with a visual effects crew. Now, for those of you who haven’t worked with visual effects before, especially green screen, it’s important to have flat, even lighting on the screen in order for it to be properly keyed out in the postproduction process. In fact, when dealing with inexperienced students, you might want to keep the lighting pretty even so that they have a fairly good canvas to work on for their effects. Our director didn’t care about that. Our director had dreams of being David Fincher, and wanted the whole movie color tinted in that same style. We said that was fine, we can do color correction in postproduction to make it the way that they wanted it. Our director didn’t like that. They wanted it all done “in-camera” (one of the many things you deal with in film school is an obsession with doing things “in-camera” as if it’s much more artistic or something) so that they could see what it looked like on set. That didn’t make any freaking sense. We said so. They disagreed, because they knew exactly what they wanted. So, we strapped blue filters on all the lights so that the stuff on the director’s monitor looked blue because they knew exactly what they wanted. The director effectively screwed over the entire vis effects crew, whose grade also depended on this project, since they couldn’t properly key out the green screen because it was tinted 3 separate shades of blue. These are the consequences of a “I know exactly what I want” mentality.
“But Sam,” you may say, “Don’t you like Steven Soderbergh? He’s a guy that only gets a couple takes of something and moves on because he knows exactly what he wants!” It’s true that Soderbergh doesn’t waste time, but untrue that he knows exactly what he wants at all times. Creative ventures are about exploration, and if you read anything about how he shoots his movies, he’s constantly walking around with his camera, probing and scoping out new angles or perspectives that he hadn’t thought of before. He also serves as his own editor, so even though he’s getting minimal footage, he could still completely shift a story in post if that’s how he thinks it should go. I think Soderbergh himself would deny the claim that he knows exactly what he wants even more than I would.
One of the biggest lies in all of film is that directors know what they’re looking for at all times, and it’s a lie that isn’t really perpetuated by directors themselves. Stanley Kubrick, one of the most meticulous and maddening directors ever, once said, “I may not know what I want, but I know what I don’t want.” You can find many different interviews with some of the most legendary filmmakers alive and dead and see that they didn’t really know what they were looking for until they stumbled upon it. And in order to stumble upon something, exploration is necessary. Some directors explore more than others. Kubrick would do 30, 40, 50 takes of something not just because he had an exact way in his head, but because he wanted to explore every option available to him and not have to pick a certain direction for a scene until the editing room. Doing 30 takes of a scene is not a sign of weakness or indecision; it’s just a different method of exploring the creativity of everyone involved. It’s a frustrating myth that a director has to have all the answers, all the time, and be confident in every decision that they make, because a lot of the time it’s just a crap shoot with these things.
So that brings us back to Solo. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are explorers. They’re known for doing a lot of takes, having actors improvise, and figuring stuff out in the editing room. They were constantly fiddling with the story of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs during production before they figured out the exact direction of the movie. So these anonymous sources are saying that they were fired because…they did a lot of takes, had actors improvise, and were figuring stuff out as they went along? It might be true! But I think that there are other things going on here. Which comes back to the assertions that they didn’t “get”Star Wars or Han Solo as a character.
We’re going to need to have a conversation at some point in the near future about what, as an audience, we want out of a movie. Like I talked about in my Trek reviews, there’s a certain amount of audiences that are enamored with nothing but texture and essence. They want literally everything to have a consistent tone and feel, art direction and cinematography, with nothing too creative or challenging along the way. When we think of a franchise movie tied to intellectual property, we want all of the hits, all of those top five answers on the board, and anything else is rejected almost on principle. It seems that when people sit down to watch a movie, they want to know exactly what they’re going to get, scene for scene, before the movie starts. If that’s what people want from a movie, then that’s fine I guess, but there’s very little creativity in that. So when those other anonymous sources say that Lord and Miller didn’t “get” Star Wars or Han Solo, I’m not entirely certain what they mean. Isn’t the point of having these spinoff movies to do something completely different? To kind of go off in these directions that you haven’t totally explored yet?
Except that the answer is no to all of those questions. Look, I really like a lot of the Marvel movies, but they are a master class in this new kind of feint. I’m talking about this “we’re totally going in a new cool direction, believe us” bob of the head, but then it just jumps back into the same direction every time. Each movie packages itself in a slightly different texture, but ultimately goes down the path of least resistance, because it’s the most bankable path. That’s why Homecoming says, “Spider-Man needs to learn about responsibility,” in the middle of the movie but then in the climax says, “Actually, Spider-Man was right the whole time because he’s a super hero and people should just listen to him more.” And these Star Wars movies are trying to do the same thing. Rogue Oneis just more of the same texture with poor pacing, structure and an abomination of an ending, and The Force Awakensis literally just the movie saying, “We’re giving you everything you want, please don’t hit us,” for 2 hours. Things that are fundamentally different in tone and structure have no place in a cinematic universe that seeks to only give existing fans everything they ask for all the time.
Now, maybe Lord and Miller are terrible people who were tyrants on set and needed to be canned. After all the crap coming out of Hollywood for a while now, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that they could be. We will never know the full details of what went on, and if we do, it will always be painted by the biases of the people who are recounting the project. Perhaps Lawrence Kasdan saw the script that he wrote being butchered and put a stop to it. In that case, congratulations to the one writer in what is probably the history of Hollywood movies to get a director fired for ruining their vision. Perhaps Lucasfilm thought that the hours and hours of footage would give Lord and Miller an inordinate amount of power over the creation of the final cut, and put a stop to that. Who knows?
In the end, I can’t help but think of Robert Altman’s first film, M*A*S*H*, where he pretty much threw the script out on day one and told the actors to improvise and talk over each other in every scene. Shooting the film was so wildly different than anything else occurring during studio movies during the early 70’s that the stars, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould, tried to get Altman fired multiple times. When it was released, it turned out to be a major box office success, setting up one of the greatest decades for studio movies and going on to influence filmmaking practices that Lord and Miller utilize. But Altman wasn’t yanked from the process before it could all come together, and I can’t imagine the type of movie M*A*S*H*would’ve been had that happened.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
I really love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I love it for many different reasons, but upon thinking about it recently, I realized that it is a fascinating deconstruction of the formula of a Star Trek episode. In the original Star Trek, Kirk and the crew would face danger and perhaps a cunning antagonist, and have to use their wits to come up with a solution. For the most part, everything worked out for the Enterprise in the series, as the solutions that led to the conclusion worked out for all sides. Wrath of Khan departs from that formula, and has a self-awareness that sets it apart from the rest of the movie series. Now, I’m not talking about self-awareness in terms of making winking jokes to the audience about stuff that’s come before, I’m talking about how the story is both deeply aware of and responding to the structure of the original series. The movie opens with a failure – a scripted one, yes, but a failure nonetheless – and the themes are reinforced throughout. I mentioned in the last review about how Star Trek doesn’t follow through on the themes of its opening teaser, but Wrath of Khan does. Wrath of Khan is about failure and no win scenarios, neither of which Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise have truly experienced before. There’s even foreshadowing in the opening sequence, where Kirk playfully says to Spock, “Still dead?” Each scene pushes the movie’s themes forward, illustrating its point as the story unfolds. There’s even a bit of a revision to the series itself, as Khan appeared in an episode titled “Space Seed,” where in the conclusion, he agrees to be exiled on a planet of his own with his crew to create a new civilization. However, in the movie, it’s revealed that this planet was not as hospitable to the crew as Kirk had first thought in the episode, and Khan and company have suffered for over a decade on the planet. The movie is as much a commentary on the series as a whole as it is one of the highest points of the Star Trek series.
And Star Trek: Into Darkness is a weird, hollow copy.
In retrospect, the signs were pretty clear. J.J. Abrams is not a filmmaker who digs deep into stories and is only focused on creating a nice veneer that distracts for a few hours. All of the screenwriters involved do not have a good reputation when it comes to making good on story promises, and the last story that was put together wasn’t all that promising. But I honestly wasn’t expecting…what happened.
Now, it’s easy to see why Into Darkness came out to strong reviews and generally positive reactions from audiences. It is yet another well-made, breezy, action-filled movie that’s made to feel effortless and is overall entertaining. But, like all of Abram’s movies, the texture is not the problem. The texture is great. It’s the story that’s so fundamentally flawed and strange.
Into Darkness centers around a couple of attacks on earth, one of which kills Admiral Pike. Angered by this, Kirk nearly starts a war with the Klingons and comes face to face with a repurposed foe. You know how I mentioned that I wasn’t going to talk about Capital-T True Star Trek? I kinda broke the rules at the beginning, but I’m seriously not going to now, even if it seems like I’m getting into the weeds here. The villain of the movie is Khan, who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Mr. Cumberbatch is a fine actor, and handles a bland role fairly well, but his appearance in the movie shows that Into Darkness doesn’t follow the rules that were established in its prior film.
In a long monologue in the first film, Spock says that the moment the future Romulans entered their timeline, it created a different reality that wasn’t connected the experiences that they might’ve had in that future. That’s a clever little twist on the reboot formula, and I still like that idea today. However, Spock specifies that all of the events after the attack on the Kelvin are different, and those before are exactly the same. And here we have the problem.
Khan Noonien Singh’s backstory is that he is from Northern India and probably a Sikh. In the timeline set out by “Space Seed,” he was a genetically enhanced human that, during the Eugenics Wars on Earth, conquered a good portion of the planet before he and his crew were put in suspended animation and shot off into space. You could make the argument that, with the time shift, new Star Trek doesn’t need follow this timeline. Except that the Eugenics Wars happened on earth in the 1990’s, over 200 years before the timeline split occurred with the Kelvin’s attack. Even though Khan is awakened earlier in this version of the universe, he would still have to be of Northern Indian descent, would he not? Future Romulans don’t suddenly make you a pasty white British guy, right? Look, I get that Ricardo Montalbán was not Indian, and I’m not trying to say that the original series’ casting was totally perfect. It might not be that big of a deal in the scheme of things, but this is sorta a canary in the coalmine situation here. This little detail shows that either nobody really paid attention to their own rules, or they just didn’t care about any of it and thought it would be easier if they shrugged it all away.
These shrugs, all compounded on one another, all make this not only a messy story, but also a lazy one. In the opening, Kirk and his crew are running around on a primitive planet, trying to save a civilization from certain destruction from a volcano eruption. Spock is inside the volcano attempting to neutralize it, but something goes wrong and he won’t be able to be rescued when the “cold fusion” neutralizer goes off (it feels like somebody said, “this has the word cold in it so that’s totally how it works.” It isn’t). Spock says that any attempt to bring the Enterprise within range to transport him out will “violate the Prime Directive.” Let’s touch upon that, shall we? Things may have changed from the timeline shift, yes, but that’s not a catchall excuse for laziness. In Starfleet protocol, the Prime Directive is that no Starfleet officer or ship will interact with, or interfere with the natural evolution of a society or planet. If Kirk were to stumble upon a civilization of cavemen, showing them how to make fire would be a violation of that Prime Directive. If, say, a volcano was going to destroy a civilization that lives near it with an eruption, taking any steps to neutralize the natural evolution of that planet would violate the Prime Directive. Spock, you’re already violating the Prime Directive just by taking steps to neutralize the volcano. And if the timeline shift did actually cause the Prime Directive to change, saying that Starfleet can pull strings on civilizations all it wants to so long as it isn’t noticed, brings a drastically new meaning to what Starfleet is. But shrug, who cares?
What about the characters? Kirk gets a one movie late lesson on the responsibilities of being a captain, Uhura’s biggest contribution is really that she stops in the middle of a mission to rant at her boyfriend, which totally is in her character to do, Spock does Spock things, and the rest of the characters are all just kind of…there. Carol Marcus, the woman that is revealed to have had Kirk’s child in Wrath of Khan, appears in this movie, mostly so we can get an actress in her underwear. There’s a sequence towards the end of the movie where she has to watch her father die horribly and she screams in anguish, and then she’s promptly pushed to the side, I think appearing in one or two other shots for the rest of the movie. This is another example of Abrams crafting a good emotional moment, and then getting bored and moving onto the next thing. So much of this movie feels like a kid playing with a set of toys, then getting bored and moving onto another set of toys, and then getting bored again and going to another set of toys. Why is Carol Marcus here in the first place? Because her name is Carol Marcus, and based on the top 5 answers on the “What is Wrath of Khan?” board, she’s on it at number four or five. The number one answer being Khan, obviously, and the second being Spock nobly sacrificing himself for the good of the Enterprise.
On that note, I don’t really have any issue with them reversing the roles of Wrath of Khan at the end of this movie, but I will say that Spock and Kirk never seem to have a deep friendship within these two movies. It makes the moment feel hollow, because there’s no true emotional connection that we’ve seen grow between them. It would’ve been more impactful if Bones had been the one in the room with Kirk there, because the movies have shown much more of that connection than Kirk’s to Spock. The emotion of that scene is based entirely on your previous context of the “Kirk and Spock are Star Trek” idea, and not of the content we see in the movie.
Now let’s talk about something really strange to me. This movie has a dedication at the end of it to the people who were affected by the September 11th, 2001 attacks. This is not something to critique in general, but it was pretty jarring the first time I saw it. But then I watched it again with the dedication in mind. And then I saw that one of the main writers, Roberto Orci, is a vocal 9/11 Truther.
Lemme start off here by saying that I cannot put into words how deeply and vehemently I disagree with that ideology. Literally every piece of evidence that Truthers use on this subject is either fabricated completely or has to involve an insane level of mental gymnastics to be believable. It is an ideology that is so full of ignorance and misdirected hate that not even Emperor Palpatine would touch it with a 75-foot long pole. These conspiracy theories around major tragedies are all just methods of comfort. It’s easier to believe that there’s somebody in the dark, pulling the strings on these events, than it is to realize there’s nobody at the wheel. The world is freaking chaos, and the only order is through these increasingly difficult to believe conspiracy theories.
But those ideas are all there, in half-baked form like everything else, right in the DNA of Into Darkness’ story. The real “big bad” of the movie is actually Admiral Marcus, Head of Starfleet. Why is this? Well, because he really wants a war with the Klingons, and he’s been secretly developing weapons with Khan to attack them. He tries to use the two terror attacks that begin the movie as an excuse to start this war. He sabotages the Enterprise’s warp core so that, when they assassinate Khan with the missiles they’ve been given, their deaths will make a convenient excuse for the war. This is the Truther ideology. They think the government is war mongering. They think the government would start false flag operations or use blowback as an excuse to go to war. It’s a vile viewpoint, and it’s embodied in Admiral Marcus. All this would seem crazy if it weren’t for the fact that this movie is dedicated to that moment in history. Why would that appear otherwise in a “turn your brain off” movie?
This is why I will always have trepidation for a J.J. Abrams movie now. Did he know he was layering those themes and ideologies into the movie, however poor and haphazardly? Perhaps he didn’t, which kind of illustrates how little he thinks of the overall story of his movies and the themes that are being placed within them. It shows that he has no focus when it comes to the content of what he creates and he doesn’t think critically about his own work, even in the final edit. He’s just there to make it fun and put in texture, and he’s extremely good at it.
So here’s where I’m going to break my rule fully. Because if you wanted to handle a discussion of war and the intersection of politics and violence, Sci-Fi is usually pretty good at handling that kind of allegory. This is what Star Trek is actually supposed to be about. But you have to be informed, make informed decisions (Roberto Orci is not and does not) and you have to make your characters talk about these things. People say Star Trek is boring because it is mostly people in space ships talking about stuff just like this. In order to do what Star Trek does, there has to be total discussion and exploration: within the themes, within the way you tell the story, and within the types of characters you present. You can’t tell me this isn’t possible in blockbusters, because Black Panther is one of the most nuanced explorations and discussions of race and tradition that I’ve seen in the last 15 years of movies. Why? Because characters talk about it. For extended periods of time! There are a bunch of dialogue scenes about it! It’s the theme of the film. And it just made a billion dollars.
Star Trek, at its best, is an amalgamation of interesting concepts, themes, and characters that explores every part of the human experience. That’s why I love it. And the minds behind Into Darkness’ story, boil it down to a few checked boxes, and use it to hang a vile and half thought out thesis. I’m not upset about that, what I am is horrified that such a thing could come into existence. And if this sounds like the ranting of a whiny fanboy, perhaps it is.
Oh, also Star Trek: Beyond is pretty fun. I’d say it’s the best of the series story-wise. Check it out if you want.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
This may seem a little out of left field, but I decided to take this week to write about something that I didn’t realize I had a lot to say about, and that’s the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie reboots. I’ll be breaking down both movies he directed, and may fit in Beyond as well. Here’s part 1:
A few years ago, after the release of the first trailer of Star Trek: Beyond, I was watching a video discussion about the movie when a person in the video made a particularly monstrous argument that Star Trek as a property was dying. That the actual fans of the original Trek were dying off, that these new films were necessary to create a new fan base, and that old fans should quit whining because these movies are vital to Star Trek’s survival. Now, technically speaking (podcast plug), we’re all dying, so I guess the argument is true in that regard. But as somebody who found the original series by watching TV Land in the mid-2000’s, and in an era where literally every episode of the franchise is available to watch via streaming, it’s a particularly absurd argument to make in my mind. However, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, there will always be reboots of franchises with existing fan bases, so everything is getting redone.
Let’s talk about whining, shall we? Whenever a reboot gets released of a product that was made before, there are certain gripes that are waved away as “whining” because this is a new product that is striving for a different direction. I think that there’s a balance between the two sides here. I think too many times fans of the original thing come to a remake with an idea in their head of what the product should be like, and when that isn’t totally validated, there’s a lot of anger (The Star Wars sequel trilogy is shaping up to be a master class in this). However, criticism of a product, regardless of fandom affiliation, shouldn’t always be construed as whining. Though I will admit that you have to work a little harder making your points so that your work doesn’t come across as the whining of a fanboy, most levelheaded criticism should be accepted. Responding to a critique of something for not capturing what you like about a property with, “Well, you’re dying anyway, so eff off,” isn’t exactly the best defense of something.
So, as a fan of Star Trek, I want to make a few things clear before we get into this deep dive. The first is that I do not have deep, seething rage for these new movies. In fact, there’s a bunch of stuff I really love about them. But I think that there are certain elements of these movies that are exceedingly problematic, and indicative of the way that Hollywood blockbusters have handled reboots in the nine years since this movie has been released. The second is a fundamental rule that I will follow for these reviews: I will not approach these movies with what I consider to be “Capital-T True Star Trek”. There are a couple exceptions, of course, but I will explain them along the way.
We clear? Good. Let’s get started.
I think J.J. Abrams is one of the most frustrating filmmakers working today, for a number of reasons. First of all, I get frustrated that he’s been anointed the “New Spielberg” moniker when A: he doesn’t have the same deft storytelling ability Spielberg had when he was the same age and B: it’s a useless term to throw around because there’s never going to be anybody like Spielberg again. But what frustrates me the most is that he is, without a doubt, one of the most gifted and talented people working on these big budget projects. It’s just that he doesn’t have any storytelling discipline.
I’ll get into why a little bit later, but let’s talk about something that’s connected to his brand of filmmaking, and that’s essence. Last year, Film Crit Hulk came out with an article where he discussed a movie’s “essence” versus its actual storytelling. By his definition, “essence” is described as the personality of the film, the textural and aesthetic things that are the first parts of a film we’re exposed to upon viewing. He argues that most big films now are geared more towards their essence than the actual stories they tell (Marvel movies occasionally fall into this trap), which creates movies that look good, are well made, but are lacking when it comes to impactful storytelling moments. I tend to agree with this sentiment, but I want to take it in a little different direction in terms of these reboots. I think there’s both a very interesting but ultimately damaging mentality that goes into adapting these properties, and that is the “essence” mentality. I’ll describe it like this: have you ever seen Family Feud? On the show, you’re given a question that requires an answer in list form, such as “Name a thing that we eat, but doesn’t eat us.” Now, behind the scenes, a survey has been administered to a group of people who were given the same question. Your job as a contestant is to come up with the top 5 answers that the survey lists. Does that make sense? I hope so.
That’s the way J.J. Abram’s Star Trek approaches its source material.
What we have is a movie that is asked, “What is Star Trek?” and the movie answers it in list form. Star Trek is…Kirk, Spock, and Bones, Star Trek is…The Enterprise, Star Trek is…“Live Long and Prosper,” Star Trek is…”I’m giving you all she’s got, captain!” Star Trek is…Uhura. The final product of this is a bunch of elements that all make up what the movie thinks is Star Trek, and then it just connects the dots to each.
But let’s make something clear here: I really like the 2009 Star Trek; I liked it a lot when it came out. Why is this? Because of the “essence” described above. The cast is wonderful, and each of the actors inhabit an old character in a way that makes it their own. The ship and location designs are really fun and detailed, but still carry a little throwback to the original series. The movie is light and breezy, and quite funny when it wants to be. This is why I say that Abrams is such a frustrating filmmaker, because he is so good at crafting the texture of the movies but lacks any kind of discipline story-wise. Now, why do I say this?
I honestly think that the opening sequence of Star Trek is some of the best work that Abrams has done in his movies. It’s tight, tense, and we’re thrown right into the middle of action in a world that we barely understand or know about, with the final moments being pretty heart wrenching. In it, James Kirk’s father decides to sacrifice himself and his ship, The Kelvin, to save the lives of everyone on board from a Romulan threat, including his wife and newborn son. It’s an emotionally touching conclusion to basically the teaser of the movie. Now, story-wise, this should serve as a thesis statement of sorts for the film itself, one that describes the overall theme of the movie.
But it doesn’t really come back to it.
No, I’m not saying that Kirk isn’t driven by his father’s death throughout the film, or that it isn’t reinforced enough. What I am saying is that there’s a very interesting theme to be derived from the opening that Abrams’ movie sets up but never follows up on. It’s the theme of taking responsibility as the captain, and understanding the sacrifices and pressure that comes with it. What we get from the story from that point on is…not that theme. Kirk is brash and sometimes irresponsible, yes, but he doesn’t really have a character arc in the film. The movie does this weird thing where it tries to make us think that what he’s doing is wrong and irresponsible, but then turns around and says that he was right the entire time.
Take, for example, the Kobiashi Maru test. It’s a moment that endears Kirk to the audience, since he’s sticking it to the man (“The Man” being Spock in this situation). But then the movie turns around and attempts to tell us that, in actuality, Kirk wasn’t in the right and that he needs to learn how to be a good captain. He’s suspended and has to sneak onto the Enterprise during the red alert, and is constantly told that he was acting too brash and too irresponsibly. For most of the middle of the movie, the main source of conflict is not that Kirk makes a mistake, it’s that nobody will listen to him, when in fact he’s right the whole entire time. The only person to truly have a character arc in the movie is Spock, but even that one is muddled. This is because of, again, a lack of storytelling discipline.
So there are a bunch of Romulans from the future that decide, in an act of revenge against Future Spock, to destroy Vulcan. This destruction and the murder of Spock’s Mother causes him great emotional pain, and on top of that, he’s supposed to captain the Enterprise during a time of crisis. After Kirk is shot off the ship after the failure of his mutiny, Future Spock tells Kirk that Regular Spock is emotionally compromised. In the middle of this sequence in the film, we cut back to Bones, who drags Spock aside to give him a good talking to. In this scene, Spock does not look or act emotionally compromised. He is not jittery, he is actually sarcastic and kind of playful. How are we supposed to believe what Future Spock has just told us during the previous scene? Look, I know that people aren’t always showing grand emotion in real life and can have moments of levity in times of crisis, but Spock’s apparent arc in this movie is that he needs to contend with his emotions. Movies are like essays about your characters, if you are not constantly reinforcing what you’re trying to say thematically about your characters, why is it there? Why do you put a scene where Spock is sarcastic and playful sandwiched in between scenes where Future Spock says, “No really guys, I’m quite upset”? What does it really say about these characters if the story is constantly contradicting itself?
What I’m illustrating is not just a problem in this movie, but also the main problem in many of Abrams’ other films. All of the horror elements in Super 8 where the alien brutally murders people (including an attempted murder of one of our main characters) are brushed aside with a few shrugs in order to get a “touching” ET homage at the end. The Force Awakens jumps around and says, “Remember when…” so much that it forgets to say anything of substance about its characters. What even is the driving theme of Mission: Impossible 3, anyway? It would be annoying if Abrams’ wasn’t so goddang good at almost everything else. His movies are almost always cast beautifully, he has a strong sense of movement and pace, when he wants to he can craft emotional moments that are very impactful, but it just seems like he and his core group of writers have very little interest in the thread of the actual story itself. He’s so enthralled by the “how” of a movie that he forgets about the “why” part.
And again, texturally, Star Trek is a wonderful movie. But when it’s watched multiple times, everything starts to break down. After the initial flash has worn off, you start seeing a plot that is motivated more by coincidence than cause and effect. Kirk never really faces punishment for cheating on his test, because the Romulans just happened to attack at that point. He’s shot off the Enterprise and just so happens to fall on the same planet Future Spock is on so that he can get back to the ship. These are story decisions that are made out of convenience moreso than actual decisions that heighten the conflict of the movie. It shows impatience when it comes to characterization. Kirk has to learn stuff now. Spock has to figure it out now. If we show continued heightened interpersonal conflict, that’d get boring, and this isn’t another one of those boring Star Trek movies!
The problem is that all of this is a smoke screen. The “essence” brand of rebooting a franchise is a very shallow pool that you may be able to mine once, but it’s slim pickings if you try to do it again. It’s a bad magic trick that, once it’s done once, you can’t do it again.
But they really tried to do that, didn’t they?
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
In The Beginning...
Disclaimer: This is a work of pure opinion and features no knowledge or insight that isn’t readily available on the Internet. All statements are merely interpretations and speculation made by myself: a man of pure, impeccable taste.
It’s the hot and steamy summer in the great year of our lord, 2017 (like south Georgia, hate living here hot and steamy) and there was no better way to escape the heat and the steam than going to the movies and there was no better a movie to see than one Alien Covenant. Or so I thought.
Coming hot off the heels of the meh 2012 franchise prequel Prometheus, Alien Covenant seemed to be a return to form for the Alien franchise. All signs pointed to success and not the total train wreck that it would actually be.
I’ll admit, I may have been the one at fault here for having hope of this being a good film. I am a fan of the Alien films; I love the first one, love the second one, I’ve seen the third one and most of the fourth, but regardless I like the Xenomorph alien and the mystery behind it is cool. I’m not in the, “the Xenomorph is better if we don’t know where it came from” camp. I’m all for a cool explanation and backstory. That’s why the world (me) was excited for Prometheus, but it failed. But it kinda sorta seemed like they might have learned from their mistakes and that the next one, which was announced as a true Alien prequel, could be good! Oh boy, was I a sucker.
On To That One Thing Called, "The Plot”
So at the end of Prometheus, the A-Hole robot David (Played by the fantastic Michael Fassbender) and the wannabe Ripley: Shaw, are the last survivors of their film and are on an Engineer ship going to the Engineer’s planet to find out what the hell the point to any of that movie was.
We pick up its “sequel” Alien Covenant with a whole new crew, doing a whole new thing, with nothing to do with what happened in the last movie. Um okay? So now we are aboard the ship the Covenant (get it, it’s in the title). The Covenant is a colonizing ship of thousands of people traveling millions of light years away from Earth to start life on a new planet. Cool. The main working crew is made up of couples and another robot that looks just like David but with brown hair and is named Walter, oh and they fixed his evil settings so he’s a good robot now.
So the movie starts as they are forced awake by an emergency on the ship and blah blah the captain dies and blah blah lets go back to sleep and continue the mission. But first they pick up a radio frequency in the middle of space of a song from Earth, a song that shouldn’t be playing in space. Okay, cool, a mystery. They trace it and it’s coming from a nearby planet that no one’s ever discovered, with perfect living conditions for humans. They decide to go explore the planet (but don’t wear protective gear) and people start getting spores in their ears and white looking Xenomorph aliens start popping out and killing people (how scary!).
Now we find out that this is the Engineer’s planet and David made it here, but instead of asking the questions he had from Prometheus, he just killed everyone (but hey trust him anyway). Since then, he’s gone mad with power, creating weirder and weirder Alien shit until we see he created the first facehugger alien (How? Why? Who cares!). So the facehugger face hugs someone and tada out pops the Alien original Xenomorph we all know and love! So there it goes, off killing everyone.
There’s a bunch of stuff with David and Walter and stuff and there’s a twist where they have a robot fight and it appears that Walter won, but if you’ve seen any movie before you know that it’s just David pretending. Throw away Ripley and the comic relief make it off the planet alive and back up to the ship but surprise surprise the Alien made it up too so we get a rushed rehash of the very first Alien film where the Xenomorph is shot out into space and our heroes settle down for a nice winter’s nap but TWIST! Walter was actually David and he puts the characters in cryosleep and pulls a bunch of facehugger embryos out of his mouth and stores them with the sleeping humans. Oh boy what’s going to happen next?! Find out in the FIVE more sequels ole Sir Scott has planned!
Whew that was long.
So that’s the basics of the movie. If you’ve seen it, I hope that refreshed your memory and if you haven’t seen it, kudos to you for not giving this crap your money. Hopefully you understand the gist of the film, so you understand what I will be criticizing.
Also, let it be known that I will not be criticizing this film for the things that it’s easily criticized for, like the fact that no one cares to wear space helmets on a weird alien planet, trusting a weird robot murder man, slapstick scenes of sliding around in blood puddles and the totally mind blowing twist ending that anyone with a brain could have guessed! We’re not going to talk about that stuff because it’s too easy and there’s much, much more that is the cause of the film’s problems.
Oh God, Here We Go...
My biggest gripe with the film is that it’s just so damn lazy. When they set out to make Prometheus, Scott seemed to be energized and WANTED to make the film. He wanted to tell a new story in the Alien world and had a dramatic spark to tell a story of extraterrestrials helping create life on earth. Great. Cool. The first drafts of the story sounded like (I haven’t read them) it was a pretty good blend of a new story and a cool look at where the Xenomorph alien came from. Sure, it became muddled and bad along the way, but started out with a good direction.
With Covenant it feels like the most lazy, bare bones Alien schlock that they could throw on the screen. No spark or passion other than “Shit, you didn’t like our new take with Prometheus? Well here you go then, Xenomorph Alien, Alien, Alien, everywhere. Hey look at all these nothing characters we put in the film for the Alien to kill! Wow!” I guess there’s some creativity here since they brought back David from the first film but there’s no true satisfaction or follow up from what happened in Prometheus so they didn’t really need to bring him back. But he’s a good character so I guess it’s one good thing this movie did.
Quick aside: Did anyone else notice that there’s a trend in the Alien franchise of naming robots in Alphabetical order? In the first film the robot is Ash, in Aliens it’s Bishop, then in Alien Resurrection the robot is Cal and in Prometheus there’s David. ABCD. I think I remember even Ridley Scott mentions this and that’s the reason he’s named David but now in Covenant the robot is Walter. Why! Why not continue the trend? It doesn’t mean anything but it’s an interesting Easter egg and something fans would appreciate! It’s the little things this film forgets or doesn’t care about that points to just how lazy it really is.
So talking about characters: in Prometheus there was a story to each character (kind of). Even though all the characters were stupid they made sense in the film. You have the biologist and geologist and botanist and all these people with throw away lines about air and rocks and life on the planet, so it makes sense that they are there with a purpose other than to be killed. Covenant is just a list of people to kill. Oh that guy gets killed, oh that woman gets killed and then that guy and then that woman and on and on until we have knock off Ripley and the comic relief guy, because jokes. All the characters are just lazy throwaway Alien fodder.
David, who is as mentioned the only carry over from Prometheus (they killed the Ripley knock off from that film off screen but you see her dead body), is the only thing that makes this a “sequel”. He’s the best part of the film and the only interesting thing. His is a story of a robot created by man just because we could, leaving him feeling lost and angry and seeking out his own place in a world of creator and creation. David’s journey in Covenant is a path to create the perfect organism, which - if you didn’t know - was a mindless murder machine with a complicated birthing process, acid blood, that’s completely unruly and uncontrollable, but hey why not.
The only other main connection of Prometheus to this film is the black goo. In Prometheus the black goo is drank by a human, who then impregnates a woman, who then had the fetus (that’s an octopus or whatever) cut out of her, that then grew to a giant octopus or whatever, that then face hugged and impregnated an Engineer alien guy, and then out of him burst a weird kinda sorta Xenomorph looking thing? So okay I guess that makes sense (it doesn’t).
So after that baffling ending you’re coming into Covenant like, “Okay lets make sense of this crap,” but that doesn’t happen because now you have 12,534 different types of aliens that are running around just so there’s something to kill people. Also if you didn’t know, the white “Neomorph” alien is just an unused design from the better draft of Prometheus. See like I said, lazy.
We learn that when David comes to the Engineer’s planet and drops the goo on them it kills everyone but also kind of mutates some of them to look like Xenomorph things and Neomorph things pop out…but also then there’s spores in weird plants on the planet that when they get in your ear the Neomorph thing grows inside you and pops out just to kill people. But then, we see David has been doing experiments creating his own Alien creatures and see him make the original Xenomorph Alien!
Question! If David comes to the Engineer’s planet and kills all of them, then creates the Alien and the facehugger eggs and all of that. Then how come in the very first Alien movie they find an Engineer’s ship with an Engineer on it with a cargo hold full of face hugger eggs…? See how stupid this all is?
Why Is This All So Bad?
Ridley Scott wanted to return the franchise that he started in the 70’s, cool, and he wants to make a film about aliens helping create mankind cause he saw that on a rerun of Ancient Aliens and was like, “Awesome.” So we get Prometheus and everyone hated it. Then an up and coming, younger, Science Fiction filmmaker (Neil Blomkamp) releases online some concept art of an Alien franchise “sequel” that he was working on and the internet explodes, loving it and wanting him to make it. So Ridley Scott was obviously like “Nope. Ain’t no young kid gonna come in here and make a better movie than me! Here’s an Alien movie for you idiots!” and he makes Alien Covenant.
So in summation, Alien Covenant is Ridley Scott’s “Fuck you” to the world for not liking and accepting the dumb and pointless Prometheus and for wanting someone else to take a crack at the franchise that he started. As a fan of the Alien franchise and someone who wants to see another “good” installment in said franchise that has so much opportunity for something cool and unique, I don’t want these lazy, poor thought out, bloody, Alien-just-kills-everything movies that all amount to the same thing.
Prometheus promised something new, and while it wasn’t a good new, it was 100 times better than the rehash, lazy, bullshit that was Alien Covenant. And the worst part of all is how cheap and how much money Alien Covenant made! Scott will get to make his next 5 Alien films that will FINALLY tie them into the original Alien (spoilers: I doubt it will) and I honestly only have myself to blame because I paid to see the film. Now with that, I hoped I have shown you the light and truth of the worst movie I’ve ever seen: Alien Covenant.
Now that I’ve calmed down I want to thank you for reading my ranting and angry ode to a movie almost everyone has forgotten by now. I hope you at least found this funny or educational and learned something about the film world and why you shouldn’t like Alien Covenant, either!
Until next time, “I’ll do the fingering” (actual quote from Alien Covenant).
This article (rant) was written by Aaron Boyd, Filmmaker, Post Deduction Podcast host and a man of pure impeccable taste.
An Interesting Concept
We've seen it many times in Hollywood movies since the Cold War was fully active in the second half of the 20th century, but Red Sparrow brings a new, interesting twist to the historically based sleeper-agent side of international espionage. In most films spanning the last four to five decades, a sleeper agent has primarily been a side character, or at best, an action-centered protagonist/antagonist who has no problem "getting down" to business. But for seemingly the first time (although I doubt it's the absolute first time, but perhaps first time in a wide theatrical release), we see the more twisted side of sleeper agent coercion, training and recruitment.
Red Sparrow follows an often inconsistent Russian woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence, as she is transformed from revered dancer to a lost opportunity from injury, to a sleeper agent. Now before I use the term again and for those without context of what a sleeper agent is, it's effectively someone who uses the power of seduction to coerce opposing parties to forgive information voluntarily (or at least put them in a heightened state of extreme vulnerability socially, emotionally, and in some cases physically).
Back to the review. Lawrence, through no real apparent fault of her own, is placed purposefully in the wrong place at the wrong time by her uncle, a perverted and twisted mastermind of Russian secret intelligence espionage. She is asked to escort a well known government authority to his bedroom, wherein he begins to rape Lawrence. After a moment into the altercation, an assassin appears and kills the ill-meaning man. Lawrence at first believes herself to be saved, however she is soon informed that "no witness can be left behind". I.e., she must either allow herself to be killed, or become a body owned by the government. She opts for the latter for the sake of her mother.
We follow Lawrence down a dark, dark path of transformation that she never truly completes. Without spoiling too much, her first real target outside of Sparrow training is a man she almost immediately falls in love with, and this becomes the central conflict of the story (country vs. self, or at least country's wants vs. self's wants). While the movie remains incredible dark and dramatic, there are a few brief but satisfying action scenes.
The Problems with Red Sparrow
I've seen quite a bit of distaste for the movie after reading a few other reviews online (to preface this, I read no reviews prior to my viewing of the movie, and the bulk of this piece was written before I read any online. But as always, take anybody's opinion with a large grain of salt).
While I definitely have my issues with the movie, which (as mentioned above) include Lawrence's inability to maintain a consistent Russian accent (at times it is very strong, others natural, and in many just non-existent), the pacing of the film, and some of the initial plot setup, I don't feel it is as bad as many critics are saying it is.
And to be honest, I feel that most of it's issues (excluding the accent) could have been solved with a longer run-time. Yes, I said it. A movie that clocks in at just under two and a half hours is too short. Why? Because I feel that the pacing was off due to lost details (who are these people? Why are they here? How did we go from them to these other people?). Seeing as the film was based off a book (one I have admittedly not read), I can all but guarantee these missing details were included there. While I'm unfamiliar with the production process of this particular project, including original run times of a full edit, I can only imagine that the movie must have been significantly shortened for theatrical release reasons (budget, theater showings, etc.).
One may argue that "how could you know that without having read the screenplay? Hmm?!!!". While watching the movie, it is incredibly evident that certain scenes were glossed over too quickly (a lot of the American agents prep and briefing seemed super short and his character development with his superiors seemed established but hastened), or left out entirely (the Red Sparrow school sections of the film seemed shorter than they should have been considering this would have been the formulation period for Jennifer Lawrence's transition into a sleeper agent. It is just too obvious that scenes were removed for edit time).
Overall, Red Sparrow is worth taking a look at if only for the strength of it's concept that the Cold War never truly ended and the age of espionage only escalated so far out of the public eye that now it exists within the bedrooms of Iron Curtain era cities like Budapest, and unfortunately continued to take along victims with it.
Support us by visiting Tek5.org/store or by sharing our content online. We greatly appreciate your support!
Review by Steve Douglas, Chief Creative Officer and Producer for Tek5.org.
Since the advent of streaming movies, I think we’ve all been in this situation: you’re watching a movie that isn’t really capturing your attention, and for whatever reason you press pause. This brings up the timeline, showing you your progress into the movie. And your jaw drops.
How can I only be 47 minutes into this 2-hour movie? It’s been going on forever, you might think.
That’s what I felt when watching Mute. And guys, I just had to bail. I saw that 1 hour and 19 minutes remaining time code and I lost all will and motivation to continue watching it. This piece isn’t going to review the totality of this movie or whether you should watch it, because that wouldn’t be fair to it, but I am going to talk specifically about the reasons that this movie never clicked with me.
Mute is the new movie directed and at least partially written by Duncan Jones, who made the Internet-favorite Moon and the not so revered Warcraft. It takes place in a future version of Berlin, where Leo, a mute Amish man played by Alexander Skarsgård (I’ve just finished Big Little Lies, so forgive me for not having an ounce of sympathy for his character), sets out on a course to find his missing girlfriend. This is a passion project for Duncan Jones, who has wanted to make this movie since it was written in 2002. Netflix was the first company to open their wallets for it, and in their usual fashion never really gave any creative input or oversight. Passion projects are interesting things for filmmakers, and more often than not what I’ve found is that there are very particular reasons that these projects don’t see the light of day. There’s a clichéd saying in editing and writing: kill your darlings. A lot of times, these passion projects are darlings that filmmakers don’t have the heart to kill, and this movie seems to be one of them. The love and care put into costumes and city design is obvious (though it sometimes brushes too close to Blade Runner to feel completely original), and the character ideas and conflicts are interesting as well, but it seems like a story that doesn’t really work yet so desperately wants to.
For starters – and what got me saying “oh dear” to myself – is that our protagonist’s girlfriend is a literal Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The early 2000’s were rife with this type of character; the fun-loving, oftentimes crazy girl that gets the main character out of their shell. Usually they have different color hair, noting their “individuality,” and their favorite type of music is “soulful whiny guy with an acoustic guitar”. It was honestly crazy to me when Naadirah appears in Mute, with her deep blue hair and energetic, crazy personality. She is literally a carbon copy of all those tropes, and it’s fascinating to me that nobody in the creative process had the self-awareness to make changes as to not fall into that trap. Don’t get me wrong, this script was written in the early 2000’s when that trope was at the height of being mined, but could it have hurt to change up the character a little bit? At this point it just seems like an artifact from a different era. So much of her character in the opening is “OMG I’m so crazy I have so many secretsssssssssss,” and it’s just detrimental to the story as a whole.
After getting that out of the way, let’s talk about that story. The movie’s posters and Duncan Jones’ interviews have suggested that they wanted it to be in the same style of a ‘40’s noir-type story or Casablanca. This makes sense for the basic structure, but the beginning isn’t executed all that well. The movie’s trying to take us into too many places at once at the beginning. There’s a reason that most pulp mystery novels in the 1940’s had that first person perspective, and that’s because the protagonist is basically our eyes and ears in this place. Raymond Chandler’s LA is as strange and murky as the one that appears in Blade Runner, just in different ways, which is why we follow Marlowe and only him in those stories. In movies, Chinatown starts small with Jake Gittes taking a job, and only about 20 minutes into the movie do we start expanding the scope of the case that he’s uncovering. In Mute we get a flashback to Leo’s incident, then we get interactions with Naadirah, then Paul Rudd shows up and we’re on a different train of thought, then we follow only Naadirah for a scene, and it becomes messy. What we have is an info dump that isn’t efficient, nor does it endear our characters to us. Noir is all about exposition dumps, but the good ones are done in ways that make it feel unique and give our characters life. To use Casablanca as an example, we get a voiceover monologue to set the stage, then a sweeping entrance into Rick’s, where we’re treated to a bunch of vivid side characters talking about our protagonist, and then get a reveal. We’re setting the stage in a way that gives us a sense of place and familiarity in probably half the time that Mute takes. If Casablanca had handled itself similarly to Mute, we would have been treated to fragments of flashbacks with Rick and Ilsa, then some stuff with Louie, then Rick in his bar, and it would feel jumbled.
What makes film noir mysteries so interesting is that the focus is super tight and we only know as much as our protagonist knows. We can’t predict how they’ll act, or what logical leaps they take, but we have all the information at our disposal. Mute, because it goes in so many different directions at once, gives us too much information and doesn’t spend enough time solidifying who these people we’re supposed to be following are. We’re constantly shifting focus, instead of closing it to firmly live in one character’s head. The scenes with Paul Rudd probably pay off in some way, but they seem to bog down a story that’s supposedly about the namesake of the film tracking down a loved one. Without people to root for, it’s just flat and bland, regardless of interesting character ideas.
The disclaimer here is that I bailed, and shame on me because it might have redeemed itself in a big way towards the end. But, like we saw with Bright, just because something has an interesting world doesn’t mean you get a pass for a lack of energy or character. Your opening scenes can be slow, but they shouldn’t feel like work. And for Mute, they were work.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
Right around Christmas this past year, I went to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It was an overall fun experience, though the place was crowded, and it was interesting to see the differences in the parks as somebody who’s only ever been to Disney World in Orlando. While I was walking around, I couldn’t help but notice that seemingly every kid around me had something Marvel or Star Wars related. Girl or boy, almost all the kids were running around with light sabers or Iron Man masks, and the conversations that I heard were all about the universes of those two franchises. It reminded me of when I was their age, just discovering all these characters and talking endlessly to my friends about them. I didn’t really think much about it until I started writing this piece.
With the release of Steven Spielberg’s newest film coming straight at us, I figured I’d check out the book it was based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Now, this is primarily a movie blog page, but I have a lot of thoughts that I think I can work into the theme of our page, using the book as a jumping off point. And the fact is, this is an extremely recognizable book. If you’ve listened to a podcast that covers geek stuff in the last five years, you’ve probably heard of this book. If you’ve watched YouTube videos that break down comic book movies and pop culture in general, you’ve probably heard of this book. If you’ve been in a bookstore, you’ve probably seen this book. I had all of those experiences, and never once did I ever hear anything but glowing reviews for it. So, it was quite surprising when the tide seemed to turn against it after the release of the first movie trailer at last year’s ComiCon. Like many things on the Internet, sides were taken and backbiting commenced, so I decided to see what the mudslinging was all about.
Let’s get something out of the way right now: I didn’t like it. It’s repetitive, it lacks any kind of spacial awareness or continuity within the writing, conflicts are created and resolved within the span of a few pages, and the characters are dry and flat. I’m not writing this to talk about these things. Honestly, that type of critique can be cut and pasted onto a review of a wildly successful James Patterson or Dan Brown novel, those traits aren’t all that uncommon in popular fiction. What I am here to talk about is this: for years now it’s been said that this book is made for geeks in mind, and I as a dude who’s been into geeky stuff my whole life, should be the target audience for this. And I don’t get it. The ideology that springs from the pages of Ready Player One feels antiquated, and nonexistent in the time that we live in.
Ready Player One takes place in a post-apocalyptic (I think? The author’s portrayal of the outside world suffers from severe underdevelopment and continuity breaks) future where a kid named Wade Watts spends most of his time in a place called The Oasis, a virtual reality landscape that seemingly everyone escapes to. The creator of the Oasis dies, and leaves a scavenger hunt of sorts behind where the winner gets all of his fortune. Naturally, Wade wants in on it, but the twist is that the scavenger hunt is nothing but references to 80’s culture. And here we get to the issue.
Many people have called this book “weaponized nostalgia,” and it’s true that every set piece, line of dialogue, or allusion in this book is nothing more than a far too often over explained reference to something else that was created before. However, I would hesitate to say that Cline’s sole intention of the book was to create something scientifically engineered to make money. The real trouble is that I think he believes fully in a lot of the stuff that’s written in his book, and it serves as validation of the “geek” ideologies present within. At the heart of it, that’s what troubles me. We get screeds on atheism and masturbation that are wholly unnecessary, pad out the page length, and are simply just essays from the author’s own viewpoint on all these matters and feel out of place coming from the mind of a teenager. This is not to say that both of them are objectively wrong by any means, but they seem to both come from deep feelings of insecurity. It seems that they’re present not because of character ticks, but because Cline himself needs an outlet to justify his own behavior. In doing so, it justifies the behavior of those who are drawn to read the book, too.
That is the reason, I think, that Ready Player One has become so beloved within the communities that consider themselves “geeks”. It’s a completionist fantasy, where Wade Watts has a superpower of sorts where he can memorize all aspects of 80’s culture, from movies to TV shows and video games (the only real music present is from Rush). The phrase, “I memorized it,” or, “I knew it all by heart,” appear in passages so many times that it’s basically a forgone conclusion that no reference will pass over our protagonist’s head. It’s a hardcore geek philosophy that if you don’t have it memorized then you aren’t really a fan of it, and Ready Player One basically pushes the idea to it’s farthest possible conclusion.
It’s frustrating to me because that type of ideology is impossible to practice, and incredibly damaging to the psyche. It’s taken me a while to remove myself from it, and with a lot of experience I can tell you that believing that rote memorization makes you a real fan is painful. I remember desperately researching things, from comic books to movies, in constant fear that somebody was going to jump out from behind my couch and say, “I’ve got you! What’s the first line of the seventh episode of SpongeBob SquarePants? Can’t answer? Guess you’re not a real fan…” It was unhealthy, and I still get twinges of that feeling when somebody quotes something from a movie I’ve seen before and I don’t recognize it, but what’s important is to brush the feeling aside. Your value isn’t defined by how much you remember of something you enjoy.
But that doesn’t seem to be an idea that’s shared by Cline or the characters that he writes, as there are a many, many scenes where either our protagonist “wipes the floor” with somebody over their knowledge of 80’s trivia, or makes fun of somebody for not knowing random things. Most of the time, everyone witnessing a beating cheers at the end, because Wade is a “true geek” and he’s taking down the “posers”.
There are a couple major reasons why people are drawn to 80’s culture. The first is generational, as the people who grew up around that time or close to it feel nostalgia for it, and hold a lot of the buying power within the economy at the moment. The second reason is this: something very interesting happened in the 80’s, and it’s that “geeks” started to make media. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis, and Chris Columbus dominated the theatrical landscape that decade, all with genre fare that’s been particularly enduring. They’re all geeks! Every last one of those guys, and their movies embraced that quality instead of shying away from it like before. Instead of a dashing and handsome protagonist dominating stories, the gawky, geeky outsider started taking their place as the protagonist of choice. I’m sure growing up in that time and seeing these movies and TV shows being released that validated your interests was particularly groundbreaking for kids in that time.
There is a darker side to the story, though. Even with popular culture turning towards the geeks, there was still isolation, social awkwardness, and bullying to deal with. Looking at movies from that era, you see people who’re interested in different things and desperate for somebody to share it with, creating small groups of people who have to shelter themselves from blowback. It’s from this area that I think Cline gets his geek ideology, as well as a lot of self-proclaimed “geeks” today. They want to believe that, like back then, they are the minority. They are the ones who are being stepped on and bullied just because they like different things. What frustrates me most about the book is that this doesn’t really exist at all anymore. It didn’t exist when I was a kid, either.
Because the geeks won.
Look around at the media landscape now. For almost 20 years, geek culture is popular culture. They are interchangeable. Marvel is the most recognizable film brand in the industry, Game of Thrones, a high fantasy TV show, is the most anticipated thing on television. Hell, a DnD podcast series starring three grown men and their father is one of the most popular ones put out now. Everywhere you look, genre content previously thought of as fringe now springs from the ground with the strength of geysers. It’s thanks to the Internet a little, but it’s also thanks to those same people in the 80’s who paved a way for other geeks to come in and create their own stories. Most importantly, there are millions of people who share the same interests as those who considered themselves a geek.
I mentioned before about scenes in Ready Player One showing Wade exposing others as not real fans or “cheaters” (The main antagonist is hated because he doesn’t actually know 80’s trivia, he uses his underling’s help finding answers). This is something that I want to harp on because this is what, in the story’s mind, makes Wade special. He’s not particularly clever or smart; his greatest strength is how he can memorize everything 80’s. That’s his value to the audience and the story. That’s what makes him special. I bring this up because that’s a mentality that many people hold onto as well: the properties you consume and are a fan of are what make you who you are, what makes you special. I can’t stress enough how bland this is as a characterization. I’m not saying that identifying with characters or movies is wrong (I’m wearing a Lion King shirt as I’m writing this, and most of my T-shirts have some kind of reference on them), but drawing your only sense of self-worth and individuality from your interest in those things is very harmful. In order for something to be successful, it has to be liked by a lot more than a core group of individuals. So when there are literally millions of other people who share your same interests in properties and franchises, suddenly you aren’t so special anymore.
So the goalposts get shifted. In Cline’s created world, where literally every kind of media is available with the flick of the wrist, it’s not enough to just enjoy things; you have to know them in an encyclopedic way. You have to live and breathe them every day of your life, like living in an apartment that is an exact recreation of the set of Family Ties. The romantic interest in the book is subtly quizzed by Wade upon their first interaction, because in his mind there’s no way someone as “hot” as her avatar would claim to be is into the same stuff he is. These types of quizzes become more about figuring out who are “real fans” than it is about enjoying all of these things. Once you start moving the goalposts, there is no end. How will you really know if someone is a Star Trek fan? Is it when they’ve seen every episode? Is it when they know how to play the 3D chess depicted? Is it when they’ve come up with an actual cocktail of Romulan Ale? At what point is it enough? Who in reality is a “real fan”? Most importantly, what does it accomplish? Would Wade have outright rejected her if she wasn’t a real fan? I would hope that our protagonist wouldn’t do something so superficial.
Now, some would argue that most of the geek stuff in Ready Player One is satire, that Wade’s arc is to learn that unplugging is okay. But it doesn’t seem to me that Cline totally wrote it that way, and it certainly hasn’t been interpreted that way either. “Going outside is highly overrated,” is the second highest voted quote on Goodreads for this book, so it really seems like a lot of people took this as validation and gospel. Even if it isn’t meant to be serious and is satire, it suffers from the Fight Club syndrome where it revels in how cool it all is without properly communicating that the philosophy is flawed. There also seems to be a generational chasm here, as the many young adults and children flocking to these properties don’t know “the real struggle,” and are brushed aside much in the same way when people use “millenials” as a dirty word.
It will be interesting to see how Spielberg, who is truly one of the greatest living filmmakers and storytellers, takes these ideologies and uses them in the adaptation. At best, the book is a satire of tired old ideologies that don’t really apply in the realm of geek stuff anymore. At worst, it’s a validation of its worst tendencies and traits, gleefully pointing out who is and isn’t a real fan. Spielberg has never really been the type of person who loves submerging fully in the self-referential game (Could you lighten up with that stuff, Mr. Tarantino?), so I’m curious to see how these elements are handled story wise. But let’s make this clear: the geeks won. It’s seductive to think otherwise, as it is in various other parts of our life, but it isn’t true. Geeks won, and letting other people in to share these treasured things isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s just different.
When I was walking around Disneyland, I was struck by just how different all of the conversations and toys from these same properties were from when I was a kid, and how beautiful that was. This new generation will make their own stories within these worlds, and to me that’s wonderful. The same people shouldn’t have a monopoly on all of these “geek” stories, because growth and improvement is so important. And culture doesn’t belong to those who know it backwards and forwards, it belongs to all who care to have a seat at the table. Who cares if the groups are bigger? That makes our stories all the more interesting.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
I'm not one to make bold, large voiced statements like this. The idea that one movie will change all movies thereafter is a large claim. And I think if any movie will do it, it's this one. Now before some of you jump into the lack of sexual-orientation diversity, give me a second, I'll touch on that in a minute. What I mean by this statement is that Black Panther does something that has been done before, but never to this scale and never with this much national and critical magnitude. Black Panther is an incredible movie. Period.
We've had many movies over the course the last century that have had primarily black casts. One of my personal favorites, Friday, is hailed as a a cult classic among hip-hop culture fans (and stoners alike). With the exception of a few background extras, the entire cast is without white presence. Tyler Perry has yielded nearly countless productions with predominantly black casts (although the success and critical magnitude of many of those productions is debatable, however his impact on the film industry remains significant nonetheless). But unlike Ice Cube's cult hit, and unlike the production powerhouse of Tyler Perry's staff, Black Panther manages to break open the mold that has been almost exclusively white since the inception of super heroes in mass media.
Black Panther, the story of a man's rise to the throne of Wakanda, a fictional African nation that has remained dormant from the outside world since it's collective creation, touches upon age old themes while also offering solutions to modern world issues. And while in my review I will touch on some areas of technical bugs and issues, I will focus primarily on some of the backlash the movie has been receiving. While a slightly arbitrary number based on the few dozen reviews I've read after seeing the film for myself, a common criticism has been that Wakanda is an "isolationist, nationalist, militaristic country with no signs of opening up to other societies". Many of said reviews go on to compare Wakanda to an idealistic white supremacist state but with Wakandans rather than racist bigots.
My response to this is (and spoilers here): DID YOU SEE THE END OF THE DAMN MOVIE? One of the core themes of the movie is that Wakanda, since it's beginning, has isolated itself due to fear of letting the outside world in. To them, it's how they maintained their peace, sanity, and technological advancement.
This is not only an external struggle between our core characters, but an internal struggle of T'challa throughout the entire movie. In the end, he decides to approach the United Nations and begin to establish outside connections so that they may begin to share their knowledge with the outside world (and in turn bring a balance to society). The film even ends where it begins, on a basketball court in an underprivileged neighborhood of Oakland, California. Only now, T'challa, unlike his father, has decided to open up to the world and prosper together.
I can only say to these critics that call the movie and it's message closed and isolated, please stop spreading critically fake news. It doesn't help ourselves and the next generation in anyway to become a better, more progressive society.
Briefly I'd like to touch on the controversy surrounding the lack of sexual-orientation diversity in Black Panther. While I admittedly have not fully educated myself on this controversy, I will not deny that there are only two apparent relationships in the film and both occur between a single man and a single woman (Killmonger's lustful relationship with a fellow crime accomplice and T'challa's relationship with ex turned Queen at the end of the film).. No other relationships are apparent. And, admittedly, it would have been very nice to see LGBTQ relationships featured in such a progressive and diverse film.
However, to those that turn down the film or claim that it isn't diverse entirely or lacks real progress, please take a minute to realize what this movie is attempting to do and understand that all of the changes we want are coming. I have full faith, full hope that all people regardless of race, sexual orientation, financial background and creed will have proper representation. We are making progress, and it may not be happening all at once or all within the same project, but it is happening. We live in a time where a man who Tweets his thoughts runs our government and preys on the primal instincts of an old society. But we, along with those involved in Black Panther, those involved in the Parkland gun control movement, and those involved in any form of radical progress, are in fact making progress.
We are going to get there, we just have to keep pushing, step by step.
I mentioned previously I do in fact have a few technical issues with the film. Overall, it was incredible. But there are many, many visual effects that lack refinement and, as I say on the premiere episode of the Post Deduction podcast available here on Tek5.org, it has moments that remind of George Lucas prequel-era green screen scenes. A lack of environmental blending, color and perspective inconsistencies, and overall visual mismatching make a few of the scenes feel off. That being said, I'm am being nitpicky with these as the key scenes (Korea, the climatic battle scene in Wakanda) are well refined.
My other issue is with some of the character shifts and motivations that take place. For example, T'challa's adviser's swap sides a little too quickly after his initial failure to capture Claw. It's not as though T'challa didn't attempt to capture Claw, or even say it wasn't worth trying again. He simply had one failure within days of starting his job as King. I don't know if anybody has ever had a job where they didn't make at least a couple well-intentioned mistakes in their first few days.
Other than these criticisms, I loved Black Panther and encourage anyone and everyone to go see it. It pays homage in the best ways possible, it understands it's source material, it has adapted and changed with the culture, and stands as perhaps the best stand-alone Marvel Studios film to date.
For me, it's a 9.5/10.
This article was written by Steve Douglas, Chief Creative Creative Officer, Editor and Operations Specialist for Tek5.org.
Look, I get it. We all dislike where a lot of the film industry is going right now. Everything is being cannibalized, reheated, and served to you again like it’s just as good as the original thing it’s based on. A lot of people are desperately searching for somebody, anybody to take on the monolith of the film industry just like everyone is searching for somebody to defeat the Golden State Warriors this season. That’s okay. It’s okay to root for an underdog, but you have to understand who the underdogs are in this situation, and Netflix isn’t one of them. What I’m talking about was a lot of the chatter surrounding the dropping of The Cloverfield Paradox at the Super Bowl on Sunday. It was hailed as a brilliant and game-changing move for the streaming service, as they simply showed a commercial (the first that anyone had seen) that announced the drop and did it after the game. It’s unheard of for a movie to circumvent the hype and instead show the movie immediately after announcing it. Maybe it will change the game, but there’s more to this movie than that.
This movie was not a Netflix original, it actually started as a script completely unrelated to the Cloverfield universe (which is a good time for me to add that I’ve never seen any of the Cloverfield movies) and was repurposed by JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company at Paramount. The film was titled “God Particle” for a long time, and it was going to be released at some point this year. However, Paramount looked at test-screenings and tracking and decided to cut its losses on the $40 million movie, selling it to Netflix. While there are many defenders of The Cloverfield Paradox, reviews have pretty harshly critiqued a lot of it, and audience scores haven’t looked all that great, either. So what does this actually mean? It means that Paramount knew it had a stinker on its hands and thought that they would lose money (remember, marketing a movie usually doubles its total production budget but is always undisclosed) if they distributed it regularly. It was dumped in basically Disney Direct-to-DVD fashion and Paramount made up a perceived loss while Netflix could pound their chest for a while. That, to me, is not the move of an underdog.
Building on this, let’s talk about Netflix’s entire strategy here. Netflix does not want to produce niche content. They do not want to be known as a place where you can find content that suits many small groups’ differing tastes. They want to be a titan. They want to be a tastemaker and have literally everything they produce be an event, just like every other studio. Because they want this, they resort to the exact same tendencies that every other major studio is following right now. Cinematic universes are in? That’s the entire reason they make the Marvel shows. People like Game of Thrones? Let’s give them Bright (brushing aside the horrible TV clone Marco Polo). Do you like nostalgia content? How about one of the most blatant, laser-focused pieces of “those were the days” nostalgia in recent years with Stranger Things. The Cloverfield Paradox is the exact same situation. JJ Abrams is one of those surefire names that everybody wants on their project. Netflix is going to leap for that, even if it’s table scraps, because his name and Cloverfield’s is hot right now. Because that’s what drives subscribers. Each property that I’ve just named suffers in some way from poor craftsmanship, bad storytelling, or just laziness in general, but what does it really matter when they seem to be having unmitigated success?
But what do you mean when you say successful with Netflix? It certainly seems that they are, but they outright refuse to release any kind of viewing numbers for their properties, and the measure of success for a subscription-based streaming service like this is…hazy. Plenty of people have tried to speculate about viewing numbers for recent releases, but there are so many factors working into this. What counts as a view? Is somebody who turns a program on, watches it for ten minutes and says, “nope” an actual viewer? How long does the average viewer watch a specific title before shutting it off? How do views on a title equate to monetary success? How are they getting so much money to produce original content? And, most importantly here, what is the endgame? What I mean by this is at what point do they think they will slow down, if they think that at all? It’s such murky waters that thinking about it for long stretches of time kind of makes your head spin.
Anyway, let’s get off that particular line of questioning. I’m hoping that this all doesn’t come across as “Netflix is actually bad for the film industry,” because that’s not what I’m trying to say at all. Competition in every industry is extremely important, and just a little while ago Netflix was only a DVD rental service. They should get a lot of credit for building the company to what it is. However, championing them or Amazon Prime as the harbingers of death and destruction for movie theaters and regular studios isn’t that great of an idea. What you have to remember is that so much of the business end of film is about image. The reason that Netflix seems like an underdog, fighting the good fight against the establishment, is because they want you to see it like that. Underneath the surface, they are pulling all the same tricks just in different ways. Which, in my mind, is kind of a step backward for them. They pioneered television show streaming with House Of Cards. It may seem like a slam-dunk now, but it was a huge risk when they tried it. It was a forward-thinking step for them, which is why what they’re doing now is sorta weird. They’re basically saying that they want to be a bigger, but lesser version of HBO that takes tenuous releases by major studios and rebrands them instead of getting the streaming rights to the major ones. Is that game-changing? Probably not.
However, there could be a movie that comes out on the platform that’ll really blow our minds soon. Martin Scorsese has a new film coming out (with a huge price tag, sheesh) that might be interesting, and perhaps some money will fall into the hands of somebody (maybe you!) who can actually change the industry. If that happens, then good on the filmmakers who did it. But please, don’t worship the big red logo because it’s not the same as the other logos. Life’s far too short to root for companies to win out like it’s sports.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
On a recent podcast recording (coming soon!) one of my co-podders posited a nice question: “what’s your favorite bad movie?” It’s a fun question, and as I thought about it after the podcast, my mind started wandering to the question of what makes some bad movies so fun. With the recent release of The Disaster Artist, The Room has been made mainstream as the apotheosis of “good bad movies,” but not all bad movies that are incredibly fun operate in the same way. There are, however, some key qualifiers.
First of all, a bad movie’s watchability is a curve. In fact, I’m going to steal from economics here and say that it’s much like a supply and demand curve.
PLEASE DON’T STOP READING. THIS WON’T BE BORING.
I’M SERIOUS. WE WON’T DABBLE ON ECONOMICS TOO LONG.
Thanks for sticking with me here. So a supply and demand curve tracks the demand and supply of a product (duh). The intersection of the two curves is where the price should be. Too much supply and the demand goes down, thereby lowering the price, and too much demand with a smaller supply heightens the price. Simplistically speaking, you want to get right in the sweet spot where the supply and demand is just right. This is how a bad movie’s watchability works. You want it to be bad, but if it’s incoherently bad the enjoyment plunges (NEIL BREEN IS A NOTABLE EXCEPTION). If the movie’s not bad enough and bleeding into mediocrity, it’s also going to be a chore to watch. What you want is a bad movie that hits that sweet spot, where you watch something real bad and have fun doing it. But what, exactly, makes something bad fun to watch? I have a few ideas. I want to note that this list of three things should not be used as gospel, because I’m sure there are notable exceptions to it.
There was a lot of talk a few years ago about Kung Fury, an intentionally bad short film that was dripping with 80’s references and reverence. I didn’t much care for that movie because it was trying too hard to be “Bad good”. Every joke that it made or comment about something’s absurdity called attention to the fact that everything was intentional. It’s the equivalent of a comedy sketch without a straight man, where everything gets more and more absurd because there’s nothing else to really play off of.
What’s interesting, at least to me, about watchable bad movies is that the people making them were emotionally invested in making an important film that said important things. The most famous example of this is Plan 9 from Outer Space, Ed Wood’s masterpiece. Ed Wood had actual sociopolitical statements he wanted to make within the movie regarding the creation of the atomic bomb, and dammit, he tried his hardest to put them in there. It’s just that his logic was so crazy and flawed that none of it makes any sense. Actors go on tangents about a fictional bomb called Solarinite that makes about as much sense as a toddler explaining the sun to you, and they do so without a shred of sarcasm or winking to the audience. It’s all dead serious, and that’s what separates Plan 9 from intentionally bad movies: The earnestness of it all.
The Room has similar earnestness and lofty goals, and the makers of Troll 2 thought that their movie was an art film. The wonderful part of these movies is that you sit on your couch watching them and think to yourself, somebody thought this was a good idea. Somebody said, “yes” to this. The ideas are crazy but you know that somehow, somewhere, a person had a dream, and with incredible amounts of incompetence, they created their vision. Which leads us to…
2: Layered incompetence.
If The Room had just been Tommy Wiseau’s performance, that movie would not have been watchable. You would’ve said to yourself, “Well that’s a freakin’ weird performance, but this sucks,” and turned the whole thing off 10 minutes in. What keeps you watching is seeing just how far this incompetence goes and how absurd it gets. In Plan 9, not only does everybody give horrible performances (that woman’s waistline can’t be real), but the set design is abysmal, there’s a weird overreliance on stock footage, and there’s a number of terrible contrivances in the plot. That’s what makes it interesting, too. It’s like Shrek: it’s got layers. Every scene adds something else that’s so mind-bendingly lazy or incompetent that it just gets you further invested in the movie itself.
Plenty of bad movies are bad on only a couple of levels, but like previously stated, those with non-layered badness often cause the curve to slide more into mediocrity, which is not acceptable. What you want is something that will surprise you from scene to scene, and have the sincerity to go along with it.
So let’s say that we have a movie that’s ambitious but incredibly bad, has layered incompetence, and fails at almost every level. Does this automatically make it a fun bad movie to watch? No, because there’s another piece to this puzzle, and that’s a movie’s likeability, or charm. For example, Zaat (also shown on MST3K as The Blood Waters of Dr. Z) is bad on almost every level, but it doesn’t really grab me the way something like Miami Connection does. There’s a charming nature to Miami Connection, in its innate child-like positivity contradicted by brutal violence, which Zaat doesn’t have. It’s not as likeable to me, which in turn lowers the movie’s enjoyment point. This is, however, the most subjective of the points. What bad movie speaks to you more is of your own taste, and there’s no question that both of those movies are incredibly bad. It’s about finding the types of movies you’ll be drawn to, as I’m sure many people wouldn’t get as much enjoyment out of Plan 9 as I do.
So, in conclusion, remember the curve, don’t be afraid to bail on movies that just aren’t speaking to you, and happy hunting.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
Some of my favorite movies feel like magic tricks. They feel so effortless and simple that when there’s a flick of the wrist or a wave of a finger, it leaves me thinking, how the hell did they pull that off? This is not to say that all my favorite movies have twist endings or beautiful shot composition, far from it. It’s more the way that a tonal shift is handled, or a character turn revealed. It’s the way it keeps you engrossed even when the premise itself is so absurd. And, most importantly, it’s how it makes you forget just what you’re watching.
It’s interesting, then, how F for Fake begins with Orson Welles performing magic for the audience. In case you haven’t heard of it, F for Fake is something of a free-form film essay primarily edited and narrated by the great Orson Welles. This was 1973, well past his golden years in Hollywood and into the era where he took every gig he was offered for some cash. But even then, he still had one of the most fascinating minds in all of film, and we’re given a look into it for about 90 minutes. Its IMDb summary says it’s “A documentary about fraud and fakery,” which is true, but it tells many stories during its runtime: the tale of Elmyr, one of the most notorious art forgers in all of Europe, the intertwining life of Clifford Irving, a disciple who went on to fool the world about Howard Hughes, Welles’ life, and a woman named Oja Kodar. How these stories interact with each other is the work of meticulous and wonderful editing.
I don’t often say that there are must-see movies in the world. Plenty of people have lived long and productive lives without ever seeing Citizen Kane or The Godfather, and adding that “must-see” moniker only adds to the skepticism of someone engaging with the movie for the first time. But, if you make creative work, either for a living or otherwise, I feel like you should see F For Fake. Not because it’s some technical masterpiece, but because I think that what it has to say will speak to you.
Because, like the summary suggests, it’s an essay about fraud, in all of its facets. About lies, and contracts with audiences.
One of the first discussions that F for Fake has is about “critics” and “experts” in fields of art. What the film venerates about Elmyr is that he was able to lift art styles of many different and famous painters, and completely fool the “experts” whose jobs it was to discern art from fraud. Clifford Irving, in an interview, discusses how easy it is to fool experts at galleries by simply changing the inflection of a question. What F for Fake asserts is that critics and experts are as fraudulent as those who commit the forgery. Their knowledge is not superior to that of the artists, nor of the consumer, and that they too engage in a bit of self-aggrandizing to improve their status. But – and this is important here – this isn’t an admonishment. F for Fake doesn’t seek to admonish fraud and fakery in the creative realm, it seeks to celebrate it.
Because it’s all a lie.
“Because the fakes are as good as the real ones,” says Edith Irving.
What F for Fake explores is the lie of “the real ones.” What, exactly, makes something “real” art? What makes a real artist? How can something be “real” when its core functionality is to lie to you? The intent of a film is to make you believe that the characters and setting that you see before you lives and breathes the very same air that you do in that moment, even though it’s all just an elaborate game of make-believe. It’s all a sly bit of slight of hand.
Neil Gaiman, in a blog post titled “The Neil Story,” discusses what’s called the Imposter Syndrome. It’s a term that describes a person’s inability to see their accomplishments as just that, and instead worry that they will be exposed as a fraud. I’ll let a much, much better storyteller give you the full story, but the end thesis is this: no one is immune to the Imposter Syndrome. And that’s what I think F for Fake perfectly captures. What makes Elmyr such an interesting character within the piece is that he is seemingly free from the thoughts of “I’m a fraud.” He knows he is and he knows he’s very good at being one, and he embraced it long before the cameras started rolling. This is not to say that there aren’t consequences for the kind of behavior he shows, in fact they’re very grave. But it’s an interesting dichotomy, isn’t it? The “fake” artist doesn’t worry about being outed as a fraud, and yet the “real” ones depicted are terrified of it. Except…are they real artists?
Orson Welles is one of the pillars of modern cinematic history. His first film, Citizen Kane (made when he was 25), is cited as one of, if not the greatest film ever made. Anybody who even has a passing interest in filmmaking has absolutely heard his name and has an opinion on Citizen Kane (usually it’s, “I don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s so great”). He was an incredibly talented artist, whose career spanned many decades and mediums, and is one of the initial inspirations for the “Auteur Theory” during the French New Wave. He was a witty, humorous, big, bold, charismatic person bursting with ideas. But underneath all of that was a hole inside that could not be filled with food, or drink, or creativity. That hole was an incessant fear of not being enough, of actually being a fraud, and for every bold and egocentric statement he made about himself, he also had a particularly vicious and self-deprecating quip that brought himself down. And the issue was that the cavernous hole inside of him was the one that was fed over his career. Kane was proclaimed a dud and panned by critics and audiences alike during its release. His next movie, Magnificent Ambersons, was taken away from him and the edit chopped up to be unrecognizable. Touch of Evil, a late movie of his, had the same thing happen in postproduction (there have since been re-releases that restore his version). He did have successes along the way, but the failures fed his growing need to almost self-sabotage by ruining relationships and being a hard actor to work with. And in F for Fake, we see all of these things. We see the beauty and the sadness, the brilliance and the self-indulgence, and the admission that, yes, we’re all frauds.
Everyone who’s done creative work (or just work in general!) understands this feeling. It’s like being in open water with no floatation device within view. But oftentimes what we fail to recognize is that there are millions of people right out there with us, and we think that we’re all alone. We aren’t. If a man who is now proclaimed one of the greatest ever in his field believed himself to be a fraud, then there’s no way to really combat the feeling. So embrace it. The chances of any of us being known as the greatest ever in any of our fields is slim to none, so why worry about being called out as a fake? The burden of proof is on the accuser, and even then, what’s the harm in embracing being fraud?
So let’s raise a glass of wine – a nice one, not that nasty Paul Masson stuff – and toast all of you; the fakers and the frauds, the posers, the imposters, and yes, the critics. You’re all equal, and all of you equally worthy of the creativity that flows through each of you. It’s the closest thing to magic we have in this world, so be bold, be brave, and don’t be afraid to bend the rules just a little bit.
Oh, and see F for Fake. I highly recommend it.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
"Now I am become the Boss Baby"
-- J. Robert Oppenheimer
A few days ago, the Oscars released their full list of nominees for the most prestigious awards in Hollywood. This group of nominated movies holds a special place in the annals of film history, as they are now known to be some of the best of the best from the year 2017.
And Boss Baby made it.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen! One of the most bonkers, incoherent, tear-your-hair-out crazy movies of the year, with a premise that makes you scratch your head and say to yourself, “Why, though?” has been nominated for best animated feature. The movie that we here at Tek 5 have been rooting for to make all the awards shows purely out of sheer irony has, in fact, genuinely made the rounds. And you can’t make the argument that all that’s needed to get into the animated feature category is a splotch of brown mass that kind of looks like a movie, because Boss Baby beat out The Lego Batman Movie. The Lego Batman Movie is better than Boss Baby in almost every imaginable way, because it actually has a plot and character motivations that make a semblance of sense, but SCREW IT. BOSS BABY.
For the uninitiated (and those who haven’t watched the greatest EFD Podcast in the run’s history), Boss Baby is the story of Tim, a boy who is maybe Toby Maguire but also a kid, who’s doted on by Jimmy Kimmel and has The Beatles sung to him every night. Then one day, a suitcase-toting baby who could “kill for some sushi right now” (obviously this is Alec Baldwin) comes into his life and ruins absolutely everything.
You may think that this is a fine setup for a children’s film. That Alec is just allegory for how a new baby can seem like the one who’s calling the shots in a home life that was dominated by an only child. For about a half an hour of the movie, I had the sinking feeling that interpretation was correct. Boss Baby was just going to be one in a long line of bland kids movies with mildly acceptable allegory.
But my friends, my friends, the plot hadn’t begun yet!
You see, in the world of Boss Baby, there is a limited supply of love in the universe, and it’s being usurped by PuppyCo., the corporation of puppies. BabyCo. has sent Alec Baldwin (we’re given a lengthy introduction into how babies are really made in the film’s opening, beginning with a shot of the Boss Baby’s ass) to investigate this discrepancy, and to get people to love babies more again. What follows is people sucking on binkies to travel to different worlds, milk that keeps people a baby’s age, a horrifically convoluted revenge plot, children drinking alcohol, Elvis impersonators, and endless repetition of a single Beatles song.
Now, I remember all of these details, but I do not actually remember viewing these on a theater screen (that’s right, I saw this in the theater). So I’m going to share with you a few moments of the experience that I do remember:
Buying a ticket at concessions and having to say, “one for Boss Baby,” aloud.
The other members of our podcast getting harassed by the usher after he looked at their tickets.
Four grown men entering a full theater that was populated, surprisingly, by mostly other adults.
Boss Baby, nakedly dancing on screen, except his junk was blurred. One of our members walked out to take a break shortly after this scene. He missed about five minutes.
Looking next to me and seeing another of my podcast mates slumped in his chair, his hands covering his face, but with his fingers parted just enough to still see the screen. His eyes said, “I’m in the theater watching freaking Boss Baby.”
Stumbling out of the theater, light-headed and awestruck, like I’d just been face to face with the tablet from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s one of the most visceral and engaging theater experiences I’ve ever had, and the fact that I can remember all of those details almost a year later is incredible. In my mind, that’s what makes this film Oscar nomination worthy. Should it win? HELL NO. But I’d like to think that the members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences all sat down to watch the Boss Baby screeners and experienced the same things I did. They reacted with such confused awe and impulsive laughter that they thought, there’s no way we can’t recognize this film. Because Boss Baby brings laughter and confused joy, it brings people together in the same way subjects of the same scientific experiments are brought together. And I, for one, hope the Academy now understands what it truly means to be a boss…baby.
But they also nominated Ferdinand, so let’s be honest; they didn’t watch any of those animated movies to begin with.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
Awards season is in full swing in Hollywood, which has led to the assuredly balanced and healthy internet debate of who should win all the awards all of the time. Not to say that this debate isn’t interesting and without merit (it spawned the idea for this post, after all), but as always there are a few things to clear up in the wake of it all. The main thing I’d like to take a little time to discuss is the topic of direction. It’s been sort of shocking to see arguments that Greta Gerwig, director of one of the best reviewed films of 2017 Lady Bird (which, full disclosure, I have yet to see), is somehow less deserving of the “best director” award because the film was smaller in scale and therefore easier to direct than say Blade Runner: 2049. Regardless of the quality of the film, it’s a horrifically simple-minded argument that has very little knowledge of how filmmaking actually works. So, since I’ve got this column, I wanted to pose and hopefully shed light on this question:
What does a director do?
It’s a more difficult question to answer than you might first think. Your first reaction may be, “they direct!” but what do they direct? Now, off of this question, many people form in their minds an image of a single person with a camera, pointing towards the horizon and forming everything in front of them. They create the movie. Everything we see is of their mind. This is an ideology that was popularized in the 1940’s by French film critics André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc with something called the Auteur Theory. This theory, which was later reinforced in the 1950’s and 60’s by French filmmakers François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, states that a movie’s director is so in control of every creative aspect of the film that they, not the writer, are the “author” of the film. This is why, when we see a trailer for a movie now, it might say in the credits, “A Film by Clint Eastwood,” or, “A Steven Spielberg Film.” These guys at the top have so much control that it is a film “by” them.
I really disagree with this sentiment.
One of the major examples Truffaut used during his time as a film critic to support this theory was Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock, he said, had certain themes and images that he would come back to over his movies, they all had a personal visual stamp that showed that every film he directed truly was “A Film by Alfred Hitchcock.” He also had a larger than life personality, a TV show, and appeared in many of his own trailers, all reinforcing that Hitchcock was the sole author of the film. Now, Hitchcock/Truffaut is a wonderful book that details Hitchcock’s unbelievable breadth of knowledge, and if you ever get the chance to pick it up even as a casual reader, it’s absolutely worth the price. However, this reading of Hitchcock is fundamentally flawed. Let’s look at, specifically, the major department heads of two of Hitchcock’s movies that always make the top 100 lists: Rear Window and Vertigo.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cinematographer: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tamasini
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cinematographer: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tamasini
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Each of those people mentioned are now known as some of the greatest of all time at each of their departments. Robert Burks shot a whole bunch of Hitch’s movies, even during his black and white days. The same can be said about George Tamasini. And of course, Edith Head is incomparable in her field and did the same. He worked with the same department heads on most of his movies. Are these people known as great because of Hitchcock? Or is Hitchcock known as great because of them? The Auteur Theory would imply the former, that all of these people bent to Hitchcock’s will and did what he told them to do, thereby creating “his film”. But then how do you explain Edith Head’s other successes? She certainly had a “style” of design, did she not? Did Robert Burks not have a similar visual style in all of his films? Did his high contrast shot design go away in The Pleasure of His Company? The truth of the matter is that it’s somewhere in between.
Because, after all, film is first and foremost a collaboration. And don’t take my word for it, take Sidney Lumet’s, the director of Network and 12 Angry Men, from his book Making Movies:
“But how much in charge am I? Is the movie un Film de Sidney Lumet? I’m dependent on weather, budget, what the leading lady had for breakfast, who the leading man is in love with. I’m dependent on the talents and idiosyncrasies, the moods and the egos, the politics and the personalities, of more than a hundred different people. And that’s just in the making of the movie. At this point I won’t even begin to discuss the studio, financing, distribution, marketing, and so on.
So how independent am I? Like all bosses – and on set, I’m the boss – I’m the boss only up to a point. And to me, that’s what’s so exciting. I’m in charge of a community I need desperately and that needs me just as badly. That’s where the joy lies, in the shared experience.”
In the shared experience.
That’s what making a movie is. It’s a melting pot of ideas and shared experiences, a family of people who come together to make something that couldn’t exist without each and every one of them. And the director has to keep a handle on all of it.
Is it sounding hard yet? Because it is. Directing isn’t outstretching your finger and creating Adam, it’s knowing how to talk and work with everyone on set. Directors do have a vision, but they don’t wrestle it out of people. They hire and work with people who share that vision, and who have the ability to make it better.
If a director is truly the author of a work, how is it that a TV show like The Wire, with 27 directors of at least one episode, keep such consistency in visuals, performance, and pace episode to episode? Could it be that the writers and performers wield as much creative power as a director does?
No, I’m not trying to say that directors don’t have power. They need to have a creative voice to be successful, and if you listen to any number of commentaries you can see that the best of them have a firm grasp on a lot of different aspects of filmmaking. What I am saying is that what you see on the screen is not the sole voice of the director.
“But David Fincher’s movies are visually so distinct!” You say. Well, it may have something to do with the fact that he’s worked with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth for a good chunk of his movies. In fact, if you go down the line of directors who are known to have distinct styles, you find that they have frequent collaborators. Have you seen Blood Simple? It’s the first film directed by the Coen brothers. It’s clever, interesting, and inventive, like a lot of their other films. But it doesn’t have that distinct touch that some of their standouts do. Now, if they edited, wrote and directed it, like they do with the rest of their movies, what’s missing? The touch of their cinematographer, Roger Deakins, perhaps. That man has been involved with almost every freaking movie the Coen brothers have directed since the early nineties. In fact, they work with almost the exact same people every time. What would Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski be without John Goodman? When you collaborate with the same people, you end up getting the same aesthetic, and therefore creating a style that people only attribute to a director.
One of my favorite directors is Robert Altman. The reason for this is because, if you look at his filmography, you’ll see something so varied and strange that it’s hard to get a grasp on if he actually has a “style”. Popeye is completely different than Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller has different things to say than The Player, and this is because a lot of the time he worked with different people and in different genres. Rarely do people comment on his status as an “auteur” because he made movies –some great, some horrible – that rarely linked with each other in anything other than name only.
What about Scorsese, you say? Well, which Scorsese are you talking about? The guy who made Goodfellas, Casino, and the Wolf of Wall Street, or the guy who made Taxi Driver, Silence, and The Last Temptation of Christ? If you can find similarities in all of those movies, fantastic, but also remember that he’s been working with Academy Award winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker since Who’s That Knocking At My Door, which was a pretty long time ago.
But all of this is beside the point, and we’re getting off track! Yes, directors have collaborators who are just as important, but the question remains: what does a director do?
They manage everyone they work with. Look back at that Sydney Lumet quote: “…and on set, I’m the boss…” Directors have more in common with Michael Scott than they do with Michelangelo, because they are in effect Regional Managers. Being a director means getting people excited to work on your film, to constantly think of ways to keep everyone involved and interested, managing expectations and egos, and having a little fun while you’re at it. Directing is communicating your ideas to your department heads, and not closing yourself off to their ideas as well. It’s about letting actors explore their roles, but not letting them get lost. It’s keeping your cool when the sun’s going down and you need to get five shots, but you know you’re only going to get three. It’s a hectic, crazy, stressful position, which is why the really good ones are cherished. Like I said in my Valerian review, making a movie is hard, and when you’re in the process of making it, you won’t even know if it’s good or not.
Oh, and going back to the Greta Gerwig argument: transitioning to directing larger budget movies is easier than you might think. For one thing, you don’t have to get so many setups (camera shots) per day, and for the most part worrying about running out of money or dealing with technical difficulties on equipment usually isn’t as catastrophic as it is on a smaller scale. What happens is that you replace the oh my god we’re not going to get all 45 shots today and we won’t have any more money we’re screwed thoughts with oh my god nobody’s going to care about this movie and it’ll bomb and my career’ll be over thoughts. They’re the same thoughts, fears, and feelings of inadequacy. They’re both equally difficult, and therefore should be equally recognized when things go well.
So I guess the conclusion here is to take advice from the greats: let people in, share the experience, and always, always, collaborate.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
This post is Spoileron, Lord of Spoilers.
2017 was a banner year for Stephen King adaptations, from the recent It remake and Gerald’s Game to the perhaps ill-advised first descent into the Dark Tower universe, there was a glut of King stories making their way to the silver screen.
Then we have 1922.
It was a less talked about adaptation that made its way onto Netflix around the same time as Gerald’s Game, following a very popular trend in movies right now with the “horror with a limited amount of characters in mostly one location” structure. This has been an extremely profitable type of film in recent years, with one of 2017’s standouts, Get Out, following that exact same formula. Limiting locations and characters allows a film to put more money into other departments, such as art direction and costumes, and overall builds a much more polished product. However, going this route means that everything in the film has to be top notch, otherwise the wheels start coming off. This is exactly what happened with 1922.
Based off of a novella first published within King’s collection Full Dark, No Stars, 1922 tells the tale of Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), a farmer in southeastern Nebraska who’s at odds with his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), on whether or not to sell off his farmland. Arlette has become dissatisfied with farm life and wants to move to Omaha, whereas Wilfred, whose land has been in his family for generations, wants to stay put. Arlette owns one hundred acres of land adjacent to Wilfred’s, and the two end up in a power struggle. Desperate to keep his way of life intact, Wilfred recruits his 14 year-old son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to help him kill Arlette, and the two do so, with terrible consequences.
The film does a good job of dropping you into the time period, as the production design is solid, if a bit inaccurate. Car models that don’t appear until a few years after 1922 drive up to the James residence, and the entire family is fairly clean and well put together for one that doesn’t have indoor plumbing. Still, it’s effective enough to be drawn in. The cinematography makes great use of the Nebraska flatlands early on, and creates some evocative imagery with the horizon lines and James family cornfield. In fact, the film really shows its best for the first 25 minutes, until the slow descent of both the characters and the story.
What’s so interesting about the first 25 minutes is the power struggle between Arlette and Wilfred. They’re petulant, childish, and consumed by their own ideas of a good way of life, which is what makes their conflict so dimensional. The performances by Thomas Jane and Molly Parker are excellent in the moments of their strife and sparks fly when they share scenes. The whole situation feels Steinbeckian, with an exploration of greed, power and family in a pre-Dust Bowl era.
But when Wilfred kills Arlette with the help of his son, the film starts to flounder. There’s a sense of “well…what now?” that the film never really gets over. Wilfred wasn’t a particularly likeable character before, and he certainly doesn’t become one later on. It isn’t necessary to have a likeable lead, but it is important to put them into situations that make them interesting, and 1922 doesn’t really do that. Wilfred and Henry cover up the murder and then the next hour and ten minutes are spent dealing with consequences that aren’t engaging. So much of the enjoyment of the first 25 minutes stems from the morbid curiosity of seeing just how cruel this couple is going to get with each other. When that main conflict is resolved, there’s nobody for Wilfred to be cruel to anymore. There’s a slight uptick when Henry knocks up his girlfriend, which then introduces a new and interesting conflict, but that too is resolved quickly and Henry simply runs off. It’s all pretty predictable and the story continuously seems to take the path of least resistance when it comes to conflict. Put it this way: if The Shining had this movie’s structure, Jack Torrance would’ve become murderous a heck of a lot sooner. Instead of coming up with creative ways to keep the conflict brewing and escalating, 1922 ducks out of all of it at the soonest possible time, until only the weakest part of the movie is left: the imagery.
To 1922’s credit, there are no jump scares. I loathe jump scares. I feel they are a cheap and often clumsy attempt at stirring up anxiety instead of methodically using pacing, performance and imagery, but that’s for a different post. Again, to this movie’s credit, it tries to use those things to create a creepy vibe. The issue is that it doesn’t work all that well. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly, I think, due to the narration. The story is narrated by Wilfred as a confession note some years after 1922, and is largely annoying. Narration as a whole isn’t a bad thing in movies, but there has to be creative uses of it. Early on, the characters are introduced with narration as if they’re posing for a photograph, and that works exceptionally well. The issue is that too many times the narration steps on dramatic moments, keeping the audience at arms length. A seminal moment for the movie, where the corpse of Arlette returns to whisper Henry’s fate in Wilfred’s ear, is almost completely narrated. Wilfred’s voice is used as a buffer between us and the scene, which puts a damper on the horror by severing our first-person connection. We’re being told that Arlette told Wilfred something, but we don’t get to experience it ourselves. So much of the movie is like that, with Wilfred telling us these things instead of us largely seeing it firsthand.
Another reason the imagery doesn’t work is that…well…it’s just kind of weak. The use of rats and the ultimate reveal of Arlette’s corpse isn’t photographed or choreographed with any kind of tact or focused energy, it feels like the movie just says “Tadaaa! There it is!” and then moves on to something else. I haven’t read the novella, but being familiar with King’s work I can say that he’s very good at creating effective and tense reveals of something like this. When you remove his descriptions and his personality from the work, it can occasionally feel bland, which is what happens here. And besides! The story holds so much promise in those first few sequences with performance alone, there’s almost no need for creepy imagery at all. It all just feels tacked on, unfortunately, and bogs the movie down.
In summary, 1922 has effective performances, an interesting premise, and lots of potential, but it’s wasted in a story that spends too much time spinning its wheels instead of escalating conflict. Which is to say, it’s indicative of Stephen King’s worst tendencies, so it might not be too bad of an adaptation after all.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
This post contains mild spoilers.
--Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.
On a night in 1953, Frank Olsen took a plunge from the 13th floor of a Manhattan hotel room. Olsen was a scientist working for the United States government, and his death was deemed a suicide.
That’s the official report, anyway.
For the next 240 or so minutes, Errol Morris’ documentary series for Netflix forcibly takes us by the back of the head and plunges us into a dark, twisting rabbit hole where each turn seems to take us further and further from any kind of exit. What exactly happened that evening in 1953? What was Frank Olsen really doing for the U.S.? And who, exactly, is telling the truth?
Wormwood does something fairly ambitious for a documentary, in that half of it’s length is devoted to scripted reenactments (though how much in them actually happened is up to speculation), with professional actors such as Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker playing the fictional versions of Frank and Alice Olsen. These reenactments do serve a purpose to the overall theme and thesis of the film, though that purpose becomes muddled about halfway through due to a lack of pace.
The purely visual elements of the reenactments are impeccable. The images are stark, still, and often convey a sense of claustrophobia or paranoia. In other words, it does what it sets out to do. However, what’s lacking within them is pacing and interesting blocking. So much of the reenactments feel like assembly cut versions of scenes, where the characters stand or sit in a space for long periods of time before any sort of dialogue begins. To cite an example, there is a full, uncut 90-second master shot in which we watch someone shake up a martini. It serves no overall purpose to the story going forward, and isn’t really visually interesting in any way. These painfully slow paced sequences, stacked on top of each other, kill the overall pace of the doc and become something of a nuisance. I found myself dreading the inevitable return to the reenactments, even though the performances were solid and the imagery within them was downright eerie. Morris is a better documentarian than a director of fiction, and the fictional scenes within Wormwood show it.
Even with the bad pacing, the back and forth between the documentary bits and the fictional bits wouldn’t seem like as much of a chore if the documentary was less than spectacular. But this is an Errol Morris doc, and man oh man is it gripping.
If you’re going to make the type of documentary that Errol Morris does, you have to have good interviews. That’s something that Morris has perfected in the decades that he’s been active. He knows exactly the right question to ask that evokes a fascinating response, and follows up extremely well.
Our “main character” so to speak is Eric Olsen, Frank’s son, who was 9 when his father died. With some lovely juxtaposition editing, Morris and editor Steven Hathaway draw allusions to Hamlet, another son who felt the pull to avenge his father. Eric is naturally quite charismatic, and the doc allows him to tell stories for long periods of time about his experiences, really beginning in 1975, when he’s brought to the White House with the rest of the Olsen family.
You see, according to the Ford administration, Frank Olsen was one of the first test cases of the MKUltra program, and committed suicide because of a bad LSD trip.
This is the simplest explanation of Frank Olsen’s death given in the series.
Using interviews and archival footage, the documentary breezes along, which is occasionally to its detriment. Nary a real discussion on the MKUltra program is had, nor is it really illustrated what Frank Olsen did career-wise for the U.S. government, which makes some of the early sequences a bit confusing as we bounce from one subject to the next. It’s a minor gripe, but cutting out a few of the reenactments to make room for more information would’ve been a welcome change.
As the possible scenarios and explanations for Frank’s death get crazier and crazier, the documentary’s focus becomes more and more grounded on Eric. He’s an undeniably smart individual, quite possibly a genius, who has given up everything in his life to find out the truth of what happened to a man he probably barely remembers. His story is one of tragedy and obsession, and one cannot fathom the feeling of helplessness created when you seem to be a singular voice shouting into a sound-dampening void. With every shocking reveal and crazy story, the meaning of Hamlet’s line and the title of the story becomes clear. For wormwood is exceptionally bitter, and so too is our journey. All the research and arguing and analysis will never stop the fact that Frank Olsen died on a night in 1953 and never got to grow old with his wife or watch his children become adults. Each scenario provides the same outcome: an unnecessary death and the end of two lives; a father and a son’s. Maybe we’ll never know the “what” and the “why” of the story, and maybe we aren’t supposed to. The truth may never fully come out.
And to Eric Olsen, that outcome is the bitterest of all.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
Bright is not a good movie.
It’s ugly, boring, and feels like a spiritual successor to David Ayer’s last film, Suicide Squad, with maybe 50% of the previous film’s cringe-inducing edginess. Things happen in the movie, but it all feels so detached from itself that an hour in I was wondering when something was going to actually happen. This was during a major action scene.
Predictably, it’s been a massive success for Netflix, so much so that a sequel has already been greenlit. Today, I wanted to talk about it a little.
Since its late-December release, Bright has become the new poster-child for a subsection of internet movie discussion that loves to proclaim how wrong movie critics are. This type of discussion has been amplified with the popularity of Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregate, which allows everyone to see every “important” critic’s thoughts condensed into what basically amounts to a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” icon. There has been a lot of discussion within the film industry about whether or not this leads directly to bad ticket sales. It probably doesn’t, but I think that this kind of website kills movie discussion as a whole. No longer do you have to actually read a reviewer’s nuanced thoughts on a film, you simply see a visual icon that tells you that all critics said “GOOD” or “BAD” in unison with one voice. Context is removed, as well as carefully constructed points that back up a person’s opinion on a piece, which makes it very easy to dismiss a movie’s bad reviews as wrong.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the following statement online: “Man, why did [X] get such bad reviews? I can’t understand! This was a really fun movie!” Sure, this statement has probably always existed, but again, it’s been amplified because all many people look at is a movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s a statement that always comes from someone who never took the time to actually read any conflicting view of the film, and simply saw a meter that told them “BAD” which, since they enjoyed it, is a wrong opinion.
So that’s when the excuses start.
“This is a fun movie!” “You have to turn your brain off!” “Can’t critics understand that we want to watch dumb movies that are fun sometimes and not masterpieces (because the market was awash last year in layered, theme-driven masterpieces)?” And, the new one with Bright, “The lore/world building was great!”
Bright is an urban fantasy cop movie, which is an interesting idea. I could understand that someone might enjoy the world, if it was a well-detailed work. Except it isn’t. Bright’s lore is extremely confusing.
Somewhere down the line of pre-production, somebody had the Bright idea (HAHAHAHA I’M CLEVER) to use the orcs in this movie as allegory for marginalized black communities within South Central Los Angeles. That would be okay, I guess, except marginalized black communities still exist within this version of South Central Los Angeles. An entirely new race of beings is being used…as allegory for a problem that still exists within the context of this world. It makes very, very little sense, and is one of the major themes of the movie.
Then we have the fact that the world itself is exactly the same as our world except that there are fantasy characters. Their history, aside from one incident, sounds pretty much exactly the same as history without fantasy creatures, since one of the characters says, “People still blame Mexicans for the Alamo.” Sure, they hint that elves run the glamorous parts of the city and culture, but the societal structure and history of humans is exactly the same as our world, which doesn’t mesh with the idea of a world that has a whole bunch of fantasy creatures and humans interacting for thousands of years. It’s a half-baked attempt to create an urban fantasy world, where it doesn’t seem like anything was fully thought fully through on many different levels. The movie basically feels like the filmmakers said, “Hey, a cop movie in an urban fantasy setting is a good idea,” and did nothing else with it. Hell, Reign of Fire, a movie about dragons returning to the modern world, has clearer thought out world building, and that’s a terrible movie.
Now, it’s still okay to like the movie. Totally. People like Suicide Squad, for reasons that are…strange to me, but they are reasons. However, attempting to justify your opinion by saying that a review aggregate website is wrong is not a great idea. Is Bright really the hill you wanna die on? Do you want to be like one of the crazy people who were proclaiming that Batman v Superman was the next The Shining? We all watch movies for different reasons, and the internet mixed with videogames have spawned a group of people who like consuming media for a world instead of a story. Little details that build lore like some kind of puzzle box are far more important than character details to these people, and it’s a perfectly valid way to consume media. Although my own recommendation would be to look elsewhere for a modern fantasy world you can dig into, since this one is poorly thought out and leaves much to be desired.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.
This Star Wars Guy short is the height of Sam's acting career.
SamB: Let’s do this thing.
So Steve, you recently saw Breaking Bad all the way through. Allow me to turn your attention to an episode towards the end of season 3, titled Fly. It deals with Walt and Jesse, primarily stuck in their lab, dealing with what Walt thinks is a fly that’s bothering him in the lab and might be contaminating their product.
It’s the most divisive episode in the entire show’s run, and that includes the infamous plane crash episode. Some fans derisively call it a “bottle episode,” which is a TV term that describes an episode that takes place only in pre-built sets whose production costs very little in order to save money for larger episodes down the line. Detractors often cite the lack of meaningful plot-driven action in the episode, and that it completely shifts the audience’s view of Walt that somehow contradicts the one that was constructed in their heads prior. People who champion the episode (full disclosure: I’m one of them) say that it develops the main leads’ relationship better than any other earlier episode, introduces an incredibly important visual motif that continues throughout the rest of the series, and with that, actually predicts how the characters will behave in the darkest parts of the rest of the series.
It was the first Breaking Bad episode to be directed by Rian Johnson.
I mention this because, in the hype season of The Last Jedi, everyone talked about what a coup it was to get the director of Ozymandias, one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of Breaking Bad, to direct a Star Wars movie. But in order to have gotten to that episode, you needed to get through Fly…
You’ve made your thoughts on The Last Jedi clear here, so it’s time for me to put my cards on the table.
I really, really liked this movie.
I think it’s easily the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi.
And I disagree, fundamentally, with almost everything you wrote about it.
Let’s talk about Luke, because I think that’s one of the driving forces behind the divisiveness of this movie. This movie shows that he failed; he had a moment of weakness that made him give up completely on the Jedi Order and abandon everyone. He just wants to die alone and disappear with his shame.
Now, in your article you state that Luke’s momentary thought that he might be able to snuff out Ben Solo’s evil by killing him is incongruent with the way we leave him in Return of the Jedi. That it somehow makes Luke’s arc in Jedi irrelevant.
In my mind, it doesn’t. Luke has a tendency to make decisions based on this fundamental thing: he always wants to have control. In A New Hope, he returns to Ben Kenobi after the Empire kills Uncle Owen and he shows up late, powerless to stop it. In the throne room scene in Jedi, the Emperor toys with Luke by showing him that the Death Star is actually fully operational, thus endangering the rebels. He does this not to show that resistance is futile (Star Trek reference, boom), but because he wants to gets Luke’s blood boiling. He wants to show that Luke is not in control. His friends are in danger and he’s helpless to stop it. By doing this, the Emperor believes that Luke will lash out and attempt to do something that will put him back in control. And it works! Until Luke realizes that this is manipulation in the end, and refuses to kill Darth Vader because he still sees good in his father, and that dying for your ideals is better than momentary emotional gratification. “Exactly!” You say. “That shows that he learned and he would never do that again!”
But that was actually his second offense on the same flaw. He should’ve learned not to rush into something emotionally when he ran to Bespin in Empire and got his ass handed to him by Vader, making no difference at all in the overall outcome there. It was the exact same “I’m a Jedi Knight, people are in danger and I have the power to help them!” mentality that the Emperor exploited in the next movie. This is a systemic issue in Luke’s character. Multiple people exploited it. He was able to see through the Emperor’s manipulation, but that doesn’t mean he’s fully buried that character flaw, because if you haven’t learned a lesson after getting your hand chopped off, it’s never gonna stick.
Flash forward like twenty or so years.
He has a pupil, a really strong pupil, one whose force sensitivities are equal to his own. But he sees this child of the two most important people in his life turning irreversibly to the dark side. When he peeks into Ben’s mind, he sees that it’s worse than he could have ever imagined. That the dark side has consumed him, and there is nothing Luke can do about it. In a brief moment of shock and horror and extreme sadness, he reverts back to that “I’m Luke Skywalker! I have to control this somehow! People are in danger and I have to do something!” mentality before he comes to his senses. This is the exact same mentality that led him to Bespin and led him to fight with Vader in the throne room, but both those times have worked out in the end for him. This time was much more damaging.
Now, you can ultimately reject that explanation, that’s fine. But JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan made the decision to make Luke flee from his failure and go into hiding, and Rian Johnson inherited it. When you inherit that kind of decision, you have a decision of your own to make: you can keep the status quo, or you can try for a character arc.
He chose the latter. Which leads us to…
The structure. I hesitate to use the term “screenwriting” here, because I’ve not read The Last Jedi script and don’t know its contents. I’m just going to talk about the structure of the story shown on screen. What I can say is that there is nothing wrong, structurally, with this movie. You say you thought the humor was trash. I’ve also heard from other sources that it’s cheese ball and undercuts the story, and I’d say it’s a valid criticism. Humor is subjective, and all I can say is that I really enjoyed the humor, as it’s similar to of one of Rian Johnson’s previous films, The Brothers Bloom. If people hate it, that’s fine, but just remember that “laser brain” and “I’d rather kiss a Wookie” are lines from the original trilogy.
Now for the story itself, each of what amounts to the three vignettes in the movie all stitch into one overarching theme: failure, perceived failure, and hope in the face of it. Every major character fails horribly at some point in the movie. Luke failed with Ben Solo. Finn and Rose fail and are betrayed on their mission. Poe doesn’t want to retreat for fear of perceived failure and causes an ill-informed mutiny because of that fear. Rey fails to turn Kylo Ren back to the light and is easily handled by Snoke. Yoda’s return is a lovely little reinforcement of the theme, as he says something to the amount of, “failure is the best teacher.” Which it is! And each character has an opportunity to learn from their failure in the film and do so.
From what I’ve read on this movie, the most hated sequences of the film are the ones with Finn and Rose. Either people don’t like the relationship and think it’s flat, or they hate the perceived political commentary, or they don’t understand how it connects to the overall story, or all of the above. Again, no one has control over how you perceived the movie and if none of what it was trying to do landed, that’s perfectly fine. However, I think there are some things to discuss. Firstly, Rose. Rose is an embodiment of the true cost of Poe’s thoughtless actions at the beginning, as her sister is the one who sacrificed herself to destroy the big ship. She also, while seeming naïve at first, serves as a nice foil to Finn, because she’s somebody who understands the details of what the First Order has done to the galaxy. Remember, Finn was a Stormtrooper trainee and has been asleep since the last movie, so he has zero real world experience outside of the First Order/Resistance bubble. He’s headstrong, he wants to make a difference, but he doesn’t really understand the true value of life the way Rose does.
On to the casino stuff. People really, really hate the perceived social commentary in this sequence. Is it social commentary of the real world? Maybe, but if this movie is hanged for thinly veiled social commentary, then hang literally every iteration of Star Trek up by its toenails, because that property has committed sins much worse. I perceive it as more of a commentary on the universe itself. Think about this: a version of the Empire has been fighting a version of the Rebels for over thirty years now. You don’t think there would be a class of people who would find a way to benefit from that kind of strife? That, in turn, they would create the kind of exclusive club that was shown in The Last Jedi? That’s a really interesting aspect of the universe to explore even if it’s only a small set piece. Also, Rian Johnson is an old school director. His first film, Brick, is a Dashell Hammett film noir like The Maltese Falcon, with the same type of rapid-fire pulpy dialogue. What I’m trying to say is that he takes influence from old school films, and I saw a lot more emulation in terms of composition and character designs in that sequence from films like Casablanca and The Killing than a real attempt at major social commentary. Benicio del Toro’s character would’ve fit impeccably within either of those movies, by the way, and it was refreshing to see a Star Wars movie that doesn’t just take influence from itself.
All that’s well and good, but there’s still the argument that their story doesn’t really connect to the rest of the movie. It doesn’t, in the same way that a young Vito Corleone’s storyline doesn’t fit into the ultimate storyline of Godfather Part 2. Their story connects thematically. Failure, and hope in the face of failure.
You pointed out that Finn acts exactly the same way as Poe does in the end of the movie, and say this is bad screenwriting in terms of characterization, because what is Finn learning? However, let me point you towards another movie: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At the end, Indy’s pseudo love interest, Elsa, has the Holy Grail within her grasp. They know she can’t cross the seal of the room, but she does so anyway, because she sees an opportunity to use it for herself for glory. She causes a huge earthquake within the temple and opens up a chasm in the floor that she falls through. Indy leaps to save her, but she still attempts to get the Grail, as it’s sitting just out of reach. This causes her to fall to her death and Indy to fall with her. He’s saved by his father, but is still hanging precariously. Logic states that Indy, seeing how Elsa just died, would just cut his losses and get up with his dad. But it’s so close. The Grail is right there, he can touch it, he can reach it, glory is so close. It’s only until his father, the man whose life obsession was to find the Holy Grail, tells him to let it go that he gives up. It’s terrible logic, yes, but makes sense in the moment with those characters, and serves as a completion of their arc.
The Finn situation is similar. He’s failed, horrendously, at everything he’s attempted in the movie. He’s been betrayed, the rebel base is going to be destroyed, and the only thing that will stop it in his mind is his ship ramming right up this laser. Finn and Poe are cut from the same cloth; it’s why they get along so well. What they want most is to make a difference, and get glory for doing so. And it’s so close! Glory is right there; he’s coming up on it and he just once wants to not fail, damn the costs. But it’s a futile gesture. What does it prove? The First Order is getting through that door one way or another, and he would just be prolonging something inevitable. This is why Rose is necessary, because she values life in a way the Finn does not. I don’t think she dies in the movie, just to be clear, I think she’s badly injured. Is the line, “we need to save the things we love,” cheesy? YES. That is the point though. In that moment, she valued his life more than anything, and she certainly valued it more than glory.
We can discuss schematics, like Rey’s parentage or who Snoke was or why the Rebels exist again, but those questions fundamentally lie at the feet of JJ Abrams. He’s such an excellent constructor of scenes and emotional moments, but gets so caught up in that mystery box of his, and the need for nostalgia. The Force Awakens made the decision to bring back rebels, to have a new Death Star kill off all of the major Republic planets and cripple the Resistance, and, most importantly, have Luke flee with no reason as to why. Who is Snoke? Why does it matter? Kylo Ren is our primary antagonist. Who’re Rey’s parents? No one important, because the force doesn’t belong to an important bloodline. Why would Snoke not sense Kylo’s murderous intent? Because he’s full of himself and believes he always has the upper hand. It’s the same reason the Emperor didn’t fight back when Vader lumbered over and picked the Emperor up, walked a little bit, and threw him down the shaft.
Lightning round: The Leia force thing was dumb. It’s the worst part of the movie by far, and it 100% feels like fan fiction. Jacked Kylo is best Kylo. A subtheme was that the force belongs to everyone. Luke says it early on, Snoke is the inverse, as he’s obsessed with bloodline, and the theme is reinforced with the reveal of Rey’s parentage. She’s nobody, and she doesn’t need a special parent to be special herself. The kid at the end was icing.
I hope it’s not coming across that I feel anyone who didn’t like this movie is stupid. That’s far from the truth. I feel about this movie the same way I do Twin Peaks: The Return. I think people who dislike it absolutely have reason to, as there are stylistic decisions that may not jive with people, but I think a lot of times the main criticisms ignore or are oblivious to the answers they want that are embedded into the DNA of the story. They both are criticized for not doing things they clearly never intended to do, and have something to say that is unpopular in pop culture right now. Both take a widely beloved property and skew it in ways that often were uncomfortable with the fan base (Dougie Jones for life, by the way), and both get downright weird with it (that Rey mirror scene was straight Lynchian). For better or worse, Rian Johnson emulated what he did with Fly at a larger scale in The Last Jedi, and we’ll just have to wait to see if he brings us an Ozymandias in the future.
All I know is that, for me, it was a hell of a ride.
SteveD: As a fore-note to what I have written below, I have been traveling for work and have not had the time to write out as much as I would like to. That being said, the essence of my volleyed counter argument are as follows:
You state that Luke "always wants to have control". As you fundamentally disagree with everything I wrote previously, I believe this statement couldn't be further from the truth. As you mentioned in Jedi, the Emperor attempts to toy with Luke by demonstrating the full functionality of the new Death Star. The Emperor is toying with Luke not by showing him that he is not in control, but rather that Luke is powerless to help save his friends.
And I stand by my original statement ("that shows that he learned and he would never do that again!"). Let's ponder for a moment what happened on Bespin vs. what happened on the Emperor's Star Destroyer. On Bespin, Luke rushed in, driven entirely on emotion without any form of analytical thought. He lacked clear, thorough thinking. That is why he "got his assed handed to him by Vader". In Jedi, Luke approaches Vader without drawing his lightsaber. He asks Vader again to join him and leave the Dark Side behind. When Vader refuses, Luke simply turns himself over. You claim he wants control, yet he gives up his sense of control in this moment. To further this point, one might consider the recurring reference to Samurai that Lucas, Kasdan and the original writers often utilized. One key component of becoming a Samurai under a Feudal Lord of Japan was giving up control and allowing oneself to flow with the tides of overarching influence (this is highly summarized, but the point remains). So, Luke gives up control, demonstrating his maturity as a Jedi. And when his maturity and lack of control are put to the test and pushed to the nth degree by the Emperor, Luke nearly fails and strikes down Vader. Yet, he doesn't. He matured, allowed himself to not be in control over the life (lives) of others.
When Luke contemplates striking down Kylo, the writers and directors of The Last Jedi do an incredible amount of dis-service to the source material for which they are creating.
As far as the humor, that's most likely the most subjective element of any piece of creativity (not to say that every other element isn't, but this is arguably the most subjective). But, to defend my position, the clever bits of comedy that were endearing or referential to the universe are good (the obvious example are the Porgs). Where the problem exists is when Kylo isn't wearing a shirt so that Rey can make a bad joke. As for "laser brain" and "I'd rather kiss a wookie" (hell, I'll even through in the Nerf-Herder comments, and even Bantha Fodder (yeah, Episode 1)), those are referential to the environment and are jokes, jabs or comments that would only exist in the Star Wars universe. Jokes that don't fit the universe (shirtless Kylo, on-hold Poe, etc.) shouldn't be present. They're tacky, unoriginal and the easy picking of comedic fruit in this universe.
I don't disagree that Rose is the embodiment of Poe's failure. It's moreso that she's a downright boring character, and that while she does act as a foil for Finn, she doesn't do so in a way that makes her memorable. In fact (and the rest of this paragraph is total speculation), I'd be willing to bet that either the writers and directors realized that she was forgettable and that's why they killed her off rather than letting her survive the incident, or it was contracts.
Full subjectivity here, I found young Vito Corleone's storyline in Godfather Part 2 disjointed. I would have much preferred a separate film, or shorter snippets. I recognize and appreciate the thematic parallels that were in play, but they made the film too bulky and far too long. Just for readers (and I know I'll get hate from a lot of people for this), Godfather (any of them) don't even rank in my top 20 films, arguably my top 40.
After reconsidering, I do agree with your points on Finn's actions as he attempts to ram the First Order's mega pizza delivery service tool. But, this also makes me not like Finn as much as I want to. While before I just considered it either bad writing or a bad directing move, I now just think Finn is dumb. Not in a cute or fun way in which he learns from his mistakes or the mistakes of others, but moreso that he acts irrationally and in the moment rather than for the greater cause and help of his friends.
And Rose's kiss at the end? Cheesy is undercutting that an infinitely great amount. It wasn't earned, their relationship revealed little to no romantic intentions before 5 minutes prior. If they wanted me to cheer or feel anything in that moment, they should have indicated something a bit sooner.
To quickly respond to Rey's parentage, Snoke, and the lightning round comments: Rian Johnson lazily answered all of those questions by not actually answering any of them. He became too caught up in what he wanted to say and focus on (cough cough, the obvious socio-political commentary on the casino planet) and dismissed some of the great questions we were left with two years ago with "ehh, it doesn't matter and Snoke is weak so who cares, Rey's parents are nobody because Kylo is probably lying about that and whoever directs next can answer that". Oh, and the Emperor did fight back by striking Vader with lightning as he threw him down the shaft (which is what ultimately killed Vader because it destroyed his suit if you recall). Snoke didn't do sh**.
As Sam said in his initial response, I don't think anybody that likes, dislikes, loves or disregards this film is in anyway stupid, right or wrong. Art, in this case film and movies, are subjective and should be open for a dialogue, discussion, and disagreement. It challenges us to think, reconsider and reassess our opinions not only on the film or piece of art at hand, but also our overall moral compass. As you're reading these pieces (if Sam and I continue them), think of them more as a sportsmanlike rap battle (at least that's my approach, I can't speak for Sam).
But, as with any rap battle, I must end my final turn with one last dope line of diss delivery: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a better movie than The Last Jedi, and that's saying something.
TO BE CONTINUED?!?!?!?!?!?!
I mean, probably....
A half-bag of grab-ass?
An ass-bag of grab-half?
Whatever it is, we’re doing it. Ready? Let’s go.
There are a few advantages to being on West Coast time. Sporting events are broadcasted earlier, you get to laugh at all the heathens on the east coast for not taking it easy like us cool people and…that’s about it really. But the latter is truly the best of advantages, indeed.
A disadvantage, however, is when you’re sitting in your hotel room at 8 p.m. dealing with massive jetlag and there are no more sporting events on TV because they all finished early, and all of the prestige shows on HBO are on hiatus due to the holidays, so there is quite literally nothing on.
Almost nothing, anyway.
Stick It was on.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, my glorious overlord Tek5 has paid me quadrillions of dollars to write about Stick It. In case you haven’t heard of it, Stick It is about Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym), the edgiest 90’s teen living in the year 2006, who gets in trouble with the law after doing sweet BMX tricks right into somebody’s under-construction mansion. She’s given two options by the judge: go to jail, go directly to jail, or return to her old gymnastics academy. I’m not sure if being a former gymnast gives her an inherent advantage to doing sweet BMX stunts, but I’m just going to guess that’s a yes.
Anyway, Haley says that she’d rather go to juvee, but her father says otherwise. This leads to an excellent exchange between them:
“I remember when you were a good kid,” her father says.
“I remember when you were a good dad,” Haley spits back.
That right there is true edge.
So off she’s swept, to a state of the art gymnastics academy run by the formerly legendary gymnast Burt Vickerman (Jeff “Coach” “Craig T. Nelson” Bridges), who’s not going to take any of Haley’s edgy attitude…or is he?
Now, I may be summarizing all of this in a very sarcastic manner, but I’m here to tell you that Stick It is – surprisingly, I might add – a passible sports movie. Sure, I went to take a shower for about 20 minutes of the runtime, so there may or may not be some holes in my memory of the film, but just trust me on this one. It’s a structurally sound movie, with actual character progression and little reveals that make the interpersonal relationships fairly interesting, and important things happen every ten minutes or so. The writer/director (Jessica Bendinger) also wrote Bring It On, and the cinematographer (Daryn Okada) is best known for Mean Girls, so it’s firmly planted in that early to mid-2000’s aesthetic that still kind of looks like the 90’s but isn’t.
Is Missy Peregrym at least a foot too tall to be an actual gymnast? Yes, she looks like a swimmer out there, especially during the competition scenes. Are you wondering how much money Jeff “Coach” “Craig T. Nelson” got paid to be in this movie during its entire runtime (minus the time you’re in the shower)? Oh, of course. It’s not a great movie, but there’s something to be said for a structurally sound movie that does exactly what it sets out to do, since that in and of itself is very difficult to do. The final sequence has a nice subversion of the old “protagonist faces their nemesis” sports movie trope, and it’s unique to its own sport and raises an interesting question about the way in which a competition is held. That’s really sports movie must, and it pulls it off well.
And, I’ll leave this section with one of the best quotes from the whole movie: “Go ahead, scratch. You're all zeros anyways.”
So on the flight back to the east coast I popped on the majority of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, this year’s sci-fi bomb from Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). I have some thoughts.
Before I get into this, I want to make something clear: making movies is exceptionally difficult, and that difficulty is amplified on $100 million projects. People put years of their lives into these movies and work long hours, hoping that what they’re making is quality entertainment and will capture an audience. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine the herculean effort it takes to make a movie like Valerian, with all the moving parts it has. Greater still is the responsibility of introducing an entirely new universe to an audience who hasn’t really heard of the foreign comic book series and who are becoming less and less inclined to take risks on unfamiliar entities at the box office. The people that made this film have my utmost respect.
That being said, a lot of decisions made in this movie are confounding.
I say “a lot” because there are a few sequences in it that work really well and show a potential that is immediately contradicted by other scenes within the movie. Valerian is about two government operatives, Valerian and Loreline (Dane DeHaane and Cara Delvingne, respectively) who must investigate a strange presence on Alpha, the city of a thousand planets, and how it connects to Valerian’s dreams.
You might be wondering what I mean by “contradicted,” so I’ll give an early example. The opening montage of Alpha’s evolution is wonderful, as it shows different ships from different countries on Earth connecting, and the main members of each vessel shaking hands. As the technology changes over the centuries, so does the dress and interior of the ships, until the first alien beings make contact, shaking hands with the humans aboard the now large space station. It’s all played to David Bowie’s Major Tom (let’s assume I did a great vocal Bowie impression and move on), which works really well in this case. Well this is great, I thought to myself, all of this exposition handled visually without the need for a character explaining anything about the station in a voice-over. Then Rutger Hauer shows up on screen and explains what Alpha is and that it’s time for it to leave Earth’s orbit. Now, this isn’t bad per se, but it shows a stunning lack of awareness at how well the montage had set up the history of the station without resorting to the tried and true expository monologue. Rutger Hauer is a really cool dude, but he isn’t necessary in that situation. Just show Alpha leaving Earth and keep that visual story intact.
I think the huge issue with the movie is its main characters. Dane DeHaane and Cara Delvingne deliver 100% of their dialogue with a smirk and a sarcastic tone that I’m not sure is intentional. However, their performances are the least of the characters’ problems, the main one being that Valerian is a walking workplace harassment case. In his introductory scene with Loreline he does nothing but harass her, both physically and verbally. What’s stunning about this is that there’s no way to misconstrue what occurs in the scene as playful banter; Valerian harasses her, and Loreline continuously tells him that she’s not interested. She’s not being purposefully obstinate, she’s firmly telling him “no” and Valerian won’t stop. It’s a crazy way to introduce the protagonist of the movie, and it instantly makes him unlikeable.
The next sequence doesn’t do him any favors, either, as he asks for her hand in marriage. Yes, immediately after harassing Loreline, he proposes during a mission they are involved in. It’s a really bad series of events that end with Loreline doing one of those “oh, that Valerian” eyerolls that immediately contradicts her previous actions in her scenes. It’s a forced moment that tries to smooth over a huge problem with how poorly Valerian is introduced.
Our next sequence takes place in a clever little set piece on this enclosed portion of desert that’s used as a VR marketplace for tourists. It’s actually a very fun and creative chase scene through this expansive VR world that’s pretty interesting to look at. It again shows the flashes of potential that could make this a good movie.
However, a monster is released in the physical world and Valerian and Loreline have to escape. They are barely able to make it onto their space ship, and in the process the rest of their team get brutally murdered (PG-13 rating means there’s no blood, but trust me) by the monster. You would think this might be a traumatizing sequence for our two heroes. You’d be wrong, since the moment – the very next shot, actually – after they leap to safety onto their ship, Loreline declares, “Ugh, it ruined my dress.”
You just witnessed the slaughter of all of your teammates.
“Ugh, it ruined my dress.”
The movie has close-ups of characters – which they spent time developing personalities for – being torn to shreds by this creature.
“Ugh, it ruined my dress.”
“But Sam,” you righteously declare, “why are you criticizing something in this movie that Marvel does all the time? Quips like that are the main thing people criticize about those movies nowadays.”
So first of all, if all you’re criticizing about the Marvel movies are their quips, you’re not looking at those movies close enough. Second, and I want to make this absolutely clear, there’s nothing wrong with quips. There’s nothing wrong with characters making snarky remarks in the heat of the moment. However, the reason they work in the context of Avengers, even while the heroes are fighting a city destroying force, is that their movies do not take the time to develop character personalities only to murder them brutally. There are no close-ups of civilians dying left and right while the Avengers make quips. When you make the decision show that kind of stuff, it has to have gravity. It has to have impact. The only person who is shown in detail to die brutally in Avengers is Coulson, and his death has a major impact on the story. If you show deaths like the ones during the opening of Valerian on screen and the only reaction from your leads are, “Ugh, it ruined my dress,” that doesn’t make them funny or likeable. It makes them assholes.
Now you could make the argument that they’re supposed to be assholes in the movie. Their “arc” is that they learn to be more heroic. I don’t see that, because the incident is never brought up again. They’re never called out on it, there’s never a close-up that even hints that they might have further thought of the sacrifice of the other members of their team. Their Director’s only comment is that they’re late for the next mission as Valerian and Loreline escape the planet.
So to keep a tally here:
One more thing and then we’re done. I haven’t read the comic series, as previously stated, but I’ll bet that this is a pretty faithful adaptation of how the stories were structured in that series.
I don’t think it works as a movie narrative.
What you can do, in a serialized narrative, is use entire story arcs as a small support mechanism to hang the world building around. You can move the story forward just a little bit every issue and use new developments as a means of interacting with new characters and different parts of a big, sprawling world. A good example of this is the first “volume” of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series. The overarching story isn’t as important as introducing all of the characters that we will be accustomed to later on in the series.
The problem with lifting this type of structure and putting it into a movie is that movies are, in and of themselves, short stories. They have to have major occurrences in a shorter amount of time than a serialized comic, which means condensing the stories and cutting out stuff that is unnecessary to the narrative or doesn’t fit what the filmmakers are trying to say. Much of Valerian has occurrences in the plot that are necessary only in the sense of world building. The best example is when Loreline saves Valerian after a crash and is immediately captured by another race of beings in Alpha. Apparently, he can’t enter their realm for fear of a diplomatic dispute, so he goes searching for a shape shifter. After an appalling Rihanna striptease overseen by pimp Ethan Hawke (it’s as weird as it sounds), they enter the area with Rihanna disguised as the race of beings…only for Valerian to leap out and murder every single person in the throne room after Loreline’s life is put in danger. How about that for diplomatic issues, right? I didn’t catch all of the film, since my plane landed sooner than expected, so I’m sure Rihanna comes into play at some point at the end of the movie. However, the reason for getting her is necessary only to “build the world.” It would be effective in a comic serial, but movies have different needs.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.