Ben Affleck’s Future as Batman

By now I am sure many of you have read one article after another declaring that Ben Affleck will likely retire his role as Batman, and that Jake Gyllenhaal is in talks to replace him. Clickbait is nothing new when it comes to news, but the DCEU in particular is overwhelmed by articles that twist words and then create sensationalist headlines.

Another recent example was the recent announcement that DC’s future films will fall into two categories following Justice League, the interconnected films and unrelated ones such as the Joker origin film. This news either gets misunderstood completely or is just twisted into a headline that generates more attention, such as this one.

Ben Affleck has apparently said that committing to the Batman solo film is “something I’m contemplating”. Of course, there is uncertainty here, but from what I was hearing it sounded like Affleck confirmed he was done after Justice League. With how easy it is to share information online nowadays, some purveyors of this information forget to fact check or even read the articles they retweet before they share them. The YouTuber Akasan was one of many people to share the “end of DCEU” article, apparently without reading it.

Another problem is that there are plenty of people who want the DCEU to fail, and confirmation bias makes it far too easy to either focus on such articles or extrapolate far too much from simple headlines. No one made articles saying “Is this the end of the MCU?” when Thor: Ragnarok underwent a script rewrite and a director change. Marvel has had much better critical success with its films and a more impressive track record so people aren’t so quick to pray for its end.

Many fans hated Affleck’s casting when it was announced, and many of those haters likely changed their mind when they saw him on screen in BatmanvSuperman (BvS). However, it seems that there are people who either still hate Affleck in the role or simply don’t like him enough to like the DCEU as a whole. Or perhaps people realize that the polarizing nature of the DCEU makes it a much better subject for clickbait articles than the MCU and other entertainment properties. After all, a headline saying “Another Marvel film is coming” or “Infinity War Trailer Released” may not get as many eyeballs as “Affleck out as Batman! Jake Gyllenhaal in?”.

The Black Hole of Social Media

I reached out to a former professor for advice on developing a career in writing and one of her main pieces of advice was to avoid social media as much as possible, it “eats time like acid”. This was something I started to accept months ago. I would open up YouTube with the intention of watching one video and end up spending 10+ minutes travelling down the black hole of related videos. I would open up Instagram with the intention of posting to my accounts and leaving, and end up spending another 10+ minutes scrolling through one account or page after another.

I began using Instagram within the past year in an attempt to build my following but I am not sure if it has been as helpful as I hoped. Twitter already taught me that people can like or even retweet your content without really engaging with it e.g. clicking a link and reading a blog post. I worry that the same thing is happening with Instagram. I have a small following but I know those followers and likes are not worth anything when it comes to them reading the content I create on this blog.

Part of the issue is that there are so many accounts and so many people wanting to gain their following. I try to engage with the small group of people who regularly like my content and checking in on 15+ accounts daily can still eat up a lot of time. As I complain about my need to return a favour I can understand why it can be difficult to go to someone’s site and become a regular visitor, even if you want to.

I have considered deleting my Instagram accounts but I am wondering if I need them simply because it looks good to have them. One day when I (hopefully) get an agent, will she see my lack of an Instagram account as a disadvantage for my marketability. At that point will a few hundred followers be better than none? Maybe it will be worth it then but right now all I truly see is a drain of data. I blame myself for the lost time since it is my attention span that causes the issue.

I have now made a resolution to spend my time on the bus either writing or reading. No more listening to music and I will allow myself ten minutes to post to my two accounts. The current book I’m working on, “Alive: Part II” began with a short poem I wrote and I hope to generate some more roots while I spend time travelling to a place I hope to escape soon.

Justice League Review

Along with Netflix’s Punisher, November 17 also marked the release of Justice League. Anyone who watches my YouTube videos or has read my other articles knows that I hate the DC vs Marvel mentality that prevents people from trying to enjoy both properties. Due to my own openness to enjoy both, this weekend was an early Christmas.

After some disappointing results from BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad (don’t even get me started) I approached Justice League with cautious optimism. One of my biggest worries after seeing the trailers was that the studios would force more humour or “fun” into the film. Joss Whedon assisted with post-production but Ben Affleck has said that the tone was set prior to Whedon’s arrival. I have no problem with “fun” itself, but I hate the increasingly popular mentality that every comic book film has to be fun in order to be good. This mentality also leads to people targeting the tone as an issue if a film is poor. BvS had its share of issues, such as Eisenberg’s Luthor and the third act. The tone was the least of my worries but people flocked to that argument like moths to a flame. I was worried the filmmakers would now see adding more humour as the only key to success, as opposed to some better performances, character development etc.

I can say that most of the humour in the film works. There are some lines, particularly one from Batman, that felt out of place but the film didn’t end up being Thor: Ragnarok like I feared. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) provides most of the comic relief and will probably emerge as a new fan favourite. His Flash is young and inexperienced, serving mostly as crowd control and ancillary support in the fights. While I liked the character himself, I still have to wonder why Barry was given Wally West’s personality. Any fans of the Justice League animated show will remember Wally West’s flash as the comic relief. Meanwhile, Barry Allen is a more serious character. Miller is weaker in the more dramatic scenes, which is a surprise given his performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Maybe my friend was onto something when he said Zack Snyder’s weakness is directing actors.

However, the majority of performances either gave us something new to like or built off what we’ve seen before. Ben Affleck’s Batman is more optimistic about his ability to impact the world with the league but still has traces of the world weary Batman that many fans are probably familiar with. He has “contingency plans” and he still knows how to push people’s buttons, as demonstrated in a scene where he confronts Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot shines as the heart of the team, the warrior who also serves as a mother to the team’s new or reluctant members. Ray Fisher actually emerged as one of my favourite performances, but the writing and runtime doesn’t allow his character to flourish, especially in the second half. Jason Momoa is decent as Aquaman. Don’t get me wrong, he is an imposing figure on screen who has probably diminished the general public’s idea of Aquaman as a loser, but this film does lead me wondering how well he will carry a solo film.

Anyone who has seen all of the trailers or even saw BvS knows it was likely Superman would return. His return is actually tied into the plot from BvS, and is something that Batman is actively pursuing in the film. It doesn’t end up being a deus ex machina like I feared and Superman’s return actually leads to one of the film’s most memorable moments. Henry Cavill could be a wooden Superman at times but I actually enjoyed his performance here.

It is clear some scenes were cut from the film, either because we are missing parts from the trailer, or the fact that the film could have used some more time to flesh out the new Leaguers. To its credit, Justice League gives us a sense of character backstories without spending too much screen time to go in depth e.g. we learn Barry got struck by lightning and we know Cyborg was in an accident, but we don’t see it. This may be due to post-production cuts or it may have been the original cut. However, it begs the question of why ten or fifteen minutes couldn’t have been used to give Cyborg, The Flash or Aquaman some more devoted screen time. Stepping into the light is a theme of the film, not referring to tone, but referring to heroes who often work alone coming together to fight an enemy. At the beginning of the film Cyborg is still coming to terms with his new identity and takes some cues from Batman, keeping to himself while he tries to better understand his body and abilities. He makes it clear he can’t fully control his body yet and this leads to some interesting conflict, but this subplot is discarded in the film’s second half.

I hate to bring up a Marvel comparison but herein lies the advantage of doing solo films prior to the team-up. My previous paragraph could end up being null if each character got a solo film first. However, I will say that doing a team up film first can also generate more interest for a solo one. With their budgets, superhero films aren’t always guaranteed box office success. Maybe a Cyborg film done prior to Justice League would not have done as well as the studio hoped? Now, I hope the film comes to fruition due to Fisher’s performance.

Speaking of Marvel comparisons, Justice League does give us a pretty forgettable villain. I was excited to hear about Steppenwolf as the villain since it meant we could soon be getting Darkseid. The design we saw in the deleted scene of BvS is discarded here for a look that is more generic and looks poorly rendered for the majority of the film’s scenes.

Steppenwolf’s plot revolves around the Mother Boxes, three devices that can combine to turn any planet into the hellish environment of his homeworld (awesome getting a reference to Apokolips). The majority of Steppenwolf’s screen time is spent in search of the Mother Boxes, which leads to a memorable fight with the Amazons and some great fights with the League.

Wonder Woman shines as the battlefield MVP for most of the film. The Flash and Aquaman get their moments as well, while Cyborg serves his own purpose. It is an old joke that Batman would be useless against physically powerful villains but decades of comics show him fighting far more powerful foes with the use of gadgets and tactics. We get some of that here but there is also plenty of time when Batman is removed from his plane or bat mobile and ends up being the weakest link. Even when he is fighting one thug at the beginning of the film he is able to execute some stunning acrobatics (complete with slo-mo) but then still takes a lot of time to take down one person when compared to his speed in the warehouse fight in the first film. Now, this film makes it clear he is getting older and is more beaten up than ever, but his prowess ends up being inconsistent throughout the film.

While CGI provides us some great shots, such as Flash’s Sistine Chapel moment, it also gives us many other scenes where CGI simply seems unnecessary or poorly rendered. The fights fights are hampered by poor CGI in places, especially for the parademons. Like Steppenwolf himself, the parademons looked better in BvS (the Knightmare scene). Additionally, the fights are somewhat diminished by the fact that we aren’t as emotionally invested since the villain isn’t that interesting. He is physically powerful and imposing but so are his opponents, we need more than that to interest us. Ciaran Hinds’s voice acting sadly seems wasted. Steppenwolf has some good lines but overall he felt like another placeholder villain with a pretty generic motive that was provided simply so the league could have something to fight.

A film should not be judged simply for what it sets up, but I have to give the theatrical cut some credit for its ability to weave in other characters and worlds in its concise running time. We get a brief glimpse of Atlantis and glimpses of important characters from other worlds, such as the Greek Gods and Green Lanterns. There are two post-credits scenes and the second one leads well into the future DCEU movies, while also providing a glimpse of a character many fans have been waiting for.

Overall, Wonder Woman is still my favourite DCEU film, but there are some things that I liked about the Justice League movie. The final fight is more entertaining, which is probably unfair since the fight combines our favourite characters. Justice League is hampered by some of the same issues from its predecessors but still surpasses BvS Suicide Squad and after some thought I might have to say it beats Man of Steel. I might revisit this ranking in a week though.

For now:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Justice League
  3. Man of Steel
  4. Batman V Superman
  5. Suicide Squad

Deadpool 2 Teaser Thoughts

You likely remember Deadpool’s  “No Good Deed” spot but we now have our first official teaser.

Like the first teaser, this one doesn’t show us too much and I don’t mind that at all. The majority of the time is actually occupied by a Bob Ross parody. I didn’t know the name of the painter but I immediately recognized the reference from Deadpool’s tone of voice and the wig. Like the first film, I am glad that Deadpool 2 embraces cross generational pop culture references, ranging from Aliens 3 to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. I also want to thank Ryan Reynolds for introducing me to the term “holy f***knuckles”.

The actual film footage gives us brief glimpses of Domino, Vanessa and most importantly, Dopinder. Deadpool’s conversations with Dopinder are some of my favourite moments so I am eager to see more.

Negasonic is back and looks better than ever. The colours in the costume from the first movie hinted at a classic X-Men costume but now it looks like we’ll get the real thing.

I know a lot of people though that the classic X-Men costumes couldn’t work on screen. I was one of them at but X-Men First Class changed my mind and this costume just affirms my belief that there isn’t anything wrong with some more colour. It’s a great nod to the classics, that also doesn’t come across as cheesy on screen. Since this film has a bigger budget I am also wondering if there will be more X-Men cameos or if there will be any reference to recent X-Men films like Apocalypse or Logan.

We also get a superhero landing in the film clips. There is plenty more material ripe for parody in the superhero genre so I’m hoping Deadpool makes use of all its ammunition. Since David Leitch (co-director of John Wick) is in the chair, I am sure the action will deliver so that is actually the least of my worries. The pessimist in me worries that since this film is no longer just a passion project with a (relatively) small budget, it might not have the same magic as the first. However, I am hoping it delivers.

The Only Cure for Racism

I know some people will be tempted to say “stop talking about it” but that is the only cry of racists who want to continue to pick their neighbourhoods, schools, spouses based on race while also saying race doesn’t matter. The same people who justify racism with racist assumptions e.g. “Maybe black people would be more successful if they weren’t so lazy”.

There are a lot of facts, case studies and events out there to demonstrate that racism is still alive and well but denial is far more powerful. If you present any of the above people have an uncanny ability to rationalize or minimize events and rebrand the world as a post-racial utopia. People who speak out against racism are labelled with terms like “social justice warrior” (sjw), which becomes a brand that makes other people want to avoid you at all costs. Even people who may be somewhat enlightened don’t want to be called a sjw, or politically correct, or a feminazi.

As I continue writing my fourth book, I am starting to generate ideas for the sixth. It may not be a novel, it may just be a short story. Whatever it ends up being, it is my own utopian creation. I thought of a world where the technology exists to actually transplant your mind into someone else’s body. It wouldn’t be a physical process, where the brain is transplanted, it would be more of a transference of your personality and thoughts into someone else’s body. This technology is quite common in sci-fi but I don’t think it has ever been used to examine how people of different races can experience daily life differently. Or at the very least, I can’t recall any works that have focused on this aspect of the switch.

If people will ignore reports, journal articles, newspaper articles, books, documentaries etc., then maybe personal experience is the only thing they will understand. If this project were to have any success it would have to last for a long period of time, at least three months. People who are reluctant to accept that prejudice and systemic racism against minorities is still rampant, are often quick to bring up examples of prejudice or perceived prejudice they have experienced. I don’t want these people to experience some name calling or some ignorant comments, and think they get the full picture.

Just like books or articles, it can be easy to derail an author’s argument by resorting to non sequiturs,  ad hominem or the ever popular straw man argument. For that reason, let’s make sure that there are no other excuses or reason for the different treatment. Let’s make sure that our new “black” subjects keep their faces clean shaven, their hair cut low and that they maintain a strict dress code when leaving their homes. Now, I realize this may not be fair. Afrocentric hairstyles such as braids should not be viewed as more threatening, but it is a sad fact that they are. Bears and casual clothing, when coupled with black skin, are also more unwelcome even in casual settings. Let’s not forget this great example of comedian Kamau Bell being told to leave a restaurant while he was speaking to his wife and her friends, who are all white. While Bell is speaking to his wife at an outside table of the restaurant an employee bangs on the window and mouths for him to leave. When confronted about this later she argues that she thought he was selling something, and that it wasn’t a “race thing”. Bell was with his wife and her friends just long enough to get introduced, before an employee is telling him to leave.

To be fair, the employee says a patron told her Bell was harassing customers, and that she was just responding to that. The question then, is why didn’t she at least step outside to see what was happening instead of knocking on a window and mouthing a command, which she says was “stop selling”. If the employee actually stepped outside and asked the group of women if Bell was bothering them, the situation would have been diffused quickly. Why was the employee so quick to tell Bell to leave? As expected, it doesn’t take long to find online discussion that defends the incident due to Bell’s clothing.

“Don’t forget that he was dressed quite poorly at the time too. Sweatpants, a well-worn hoodie, and a knit beanie.”

Ultimately, hairstyles and clothing present an easy target for derailing the observations about different treatment due to race.

Aside from the dress code and the strict rules concerning appearance, my experiment would also require a period of one week where the subjects remain home and where they are monitored (with their consent) to judge their behaviour. Why? To ensure the new “black” people getting sent out into the world are not acting like stereotypes. If someone feels the need to start talking or walking differently because their skin is different I wouldn’t want them to represent black people publicly. This one week probation period would also allow us to remove another aspect of possible derailment, stereotypical behaviour.

As a last condition, I would also want to ensure that the subjects are not informed of any of the different treatment they may receive. Otherwise the study could be accused of priming subjects to be more aware of or sensitive to certain words or actions. Of course, some subjects may have read about the alleged treatment they might get. Or they may have an exaggerated conception that they’ll be shot on sight by cops, and then interpret any better behaviour as proof that racism is dead. Either way, all realizations about different treatment must come purely from the subjects. If people truly believe race doesn’t matter and that no one (except the white ones) are judged for their skin colour, then their should be no hesitation to become a black person for three months.

I want the experiment to start with wealthy white people, who then become wealthy black people. They need to walk into an upscale store or building repeatedly, until they can no longer deny that they get more scrutiny because of their skin colour. They need to get pulled over more often by cops when driving their luxury car and realize that the random stops are not truly random. I want the rich white people to hang out with their rich white friends. I don’t want to warn them, but I want to see if they notice any different treatment.

When this test is done with the middle class they will have different experiences that are just as eye opening. They will apply for a job they are not qualified for, and then realize that affirmative action doesn’t get them a spot. Perhaps they can have men/women reject them sexually or romantically due to their skin colour. They can see someone cross the street when they approach or hold their purse tighter. Or a little more harmless, perhaps they can see the look of surprise they get when they say they like rock or metal (if they like those genres). People aren’t really shocked by white people liking rap music, but black people who like anything other than rap still get treated like unicorns in some circles. Of course this last example isn’t an example of harmful racism, but it is one that demonstrates how ignorance can still lead to minorities being treated differently. Even this simple fact is something that is often denied.

As I continued to flesh out the idea for my experiment, it sometimes struck me as being an extreme way to prove a point. However, when all other options are failing, what else can be done? If this is what needs to be done for a wake up call, then so be it.

Triggered a.k.a You Disagree With Me

Anyone who engages in any form of communication online is surely familiar with the term “triggered”. At the most basic level it is used to criticize people who care or get “worked up” about a certain issue. It is normally used by conservatives or the right-wing to shut down any discussion of a topic they don’t care about. If you are one of those people who doesn’t believe in the left/right classification, read the below excerpt from another one of my articles:

People love to say that they don’t like pigeonholing themselves as right or left wing, or that they don’t identify with the spectrum at all. They are a unique snowflake who isn’t like the rest of the sheep they look down on. This argument parallels the infamous “race is a social construct” argument. The fact that something is socially constructed does not mean its impact can be ignored or simply dismissed. Our use of hours and minutes to plan our day is a social construct that has developed over centuries, and the political spectrum is the same. Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Are you against social security or not? Are you a gun-control advocate or not? The answers to these questions will place you somewhere on the spectrum. The totality of your views about different political issues will see you land somewhere; left, right, center-right, center-left etc.

picture-2

 

Think that’s deterministic, rigid, stupid? Ok, then let me throw off another social construct. I no longer recognize myself as a black man. So a girl who only dates white guys will still be interested right? Cops who are more suspicious of black people will no longer feel the need to pull me over or frisk me, right?

Anyway…

Triggered isn’t just a word used to denote passion or concern for an issue. It has a negative connotation. It is applied to the “politically correct snowflakes” who get “offended by everything”.

I have touched on the double standards in what people choose to care about in previous articles, such as my articles on whitewashing v blackwashing and my article on how easy it is for minority inclusion in a film to be viewed as “forced” or “heavy-handed“.

If someone criticizes someone else for being “triggered”, it implies that the accuser doesn’t have any issues that he gets worked up about. The same person who calls someone a social justice warrior (SJW) or pc snowflake because they care about whitewashing is the same person who gets worked up when they see an example of “blackwashing”. The same person who shuts down a conversation about police brutality against black people will be the same person who gets “triggered” when they see a gay couple in a tv show or a black student union on a university campus.

Yes, some people are too sensitive and get worked up or “triggered” over something that is not real discrimination or a real issue. However, right-wing buzzwords like pc and sjw start to lose their meaning when people use the terms to describe everything ranging from protest against Trump’s Muslim ban to calling little people “vertically challenged”. Maybe some people only using the terms pc to describe the latter example but there are plenty of people who think anything that does not endorse their outright bigotry is politically correct. The problem is not the world around you. The world around you isn’t getting “too liberal”. It is catching up to modernity. Yes, you can no longer say all Muslims are terrorists or that Mexico doesn’t send its best without a lot of people disagreeing with you.

Minorities are now allowed to have groups for themselves, because they are MINORITIES. China doesn’t have Chinese student associations and the US doesn’t have white student unions. I doubt people who hate black student unions would get as worked up if they saw Polish student unions.

Yes, we now live in a world where there are more gay and interracial couples out there. Or maybe there aren’t more. Maybe we just have more who are willing to come out since it is no longer illegal in the US and they are less likely to face physical violence for it. Of course, they can still face rejection from friends and family. Or they can face disgust from people forced to see them represented on screen. I have literally seen someone on IMDB’s forums (RIP), complain about a three second kiss between two gay characters on The Walking Dead. I really wish I could still access the post, because the IMDB poster literally said homosexuality was being “forced down his throat”. Realize that the heavy-handed homosexuality this poster was complaining about was a three second kiss between two male characters. If that is heavy-handed homosexuality, are all the kisses and implied sex in The Walking Dead heavy-handed heterosexuality? Didn’t think so. For people who are bigoted, any inclusion of minorities on screen is too much. It becomes part of an “agenda”, is “forced” or “pc.” A two second gay kiss can be interpreted as an entire episode where the writers were trying to force them to sleep with a man at gunpoint.

We are now in a world that is more divided politically than ever. Not because the left discusses racism or discrimination too much. We listen to the right’s arguments, we pick them apart with facts. They hear our arguments, they don’t listen. They jump to straw man arguments, denial, racist assumptions etc. This is something I’ve experienced personally with comments on my articles, YouTube videos, tweets etc. Or something I have seen from the reactions people have to any liberal thoughts they come across online.

It is a toxic environment where both sides can start to drive each other to further extremes. Maybe the conservative who starts off a little disgruntled with minorities, because he thinks Black C students get all the good schools and jobs now, isn’t able to find the same support he used to find among his friends or co-workers. Then he turns to more conservative sites that fuel his ideas about the world. Like Dylan Roof, the Charleston church shooter, maybe he finds skewed statistics and narratives about Black Lives Matter orchestrating police killings. Then maybe he decides that if the majority of the world (from his point of view) doesn’t see the problem he sees, he’ll try to deal with it himself.

Stuck

Below is a little cathartic piece I needed to get off my chest.

******
It hit me today that I am not as young as I think I am,

That I don’t have as much time to figure out life as I think,

I am closer to 30 than I am to 26,

I am stuck in a role I can’t escape,

I’m isolated from my friends,

I don’t have my own place or car,

Women are enigmas I have yet to figure out,

And I wouldn’t be surprised if I hit 30 before I have a girlfriend,

This isn’t where I thought I would be at this stage in my life,

I always mocked the deadbeats,

The people who didn’t have their lives figured out,

Maybe it’s poetic justice that I’m now one of them,

I’m 26,

25 was the worst year of my life,

So hopefully things can only go up from there.

 

Stranger Things Season 2 Review

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Following up on my YouTube review, it’s time to share a more in depth review of Stranger Things‘s second season.

Season 2 picks up almost a year after the first. The lab and the upside down are still active. The gang (almost called them the Losers Club) are moving on in the absence of Eleven, although Mike is still struggling with the concept. Will is still haunted by visions of the Upside Down and it soon becomes clear that his visions aren’t all in his head. Meanwhile, Eleven has returned but is confined to one of Hopper’s cabins, for her own safety.

As with season one, the performances are one of the show’s most consistent and powerful redeeming qualities. Winona Ryder and our new Hellboy, David Harbour, return stronger than ever but the kids (or teenagers) continue to shine here. Millie Bobby Brown deservedly gets a lot of attention for her role as Eleven in season 1. Although her lines were limited she was still able to convey great emotion.

In season 2, Hopper has been teaching Eleven more english so the character gets to be more verbally expressive. We still have the facial expressions and other cues from season 1 combined with a character arc that sees Eleven acting on her desire to be free. She has gone from a system with no freedom (the lab), to more freedom with friends, and now she must try to adjust to Hopper as a parental figure who is trying to protect her from men who still want to find her. The relationship between Hopper and Eleven is actually one of my favourite parts of this season and their fight in episode four is one of my favourite moments. It is a conflict where you can empathize with both characters. Eleven understands why she must be kept hidden but after almost a year she is wondering when she will finally be free, and vague declarations of “soon” start to wear thin. Meanwhile, Hopper realizes the danger she places them in by leaving the cabin. His attempts to discipline her are met with pushback that makes you realize how dangerous Eleven could be without a conscience.

 

Despite my love for Eleven, Noah Schapp steals the show here as Will. Although the first season revolved around Will’s disappearance, Will had few lines and relatively little screen time. Here, Will is truly part of the group. For lack of a better term, Will is possessed and his conflict with the monster inside him is a lynchpin of the plot but also allows him to shine. I don’t think people are exaggerating when they say he deserves an Emmy nomination.

Let’s move on to some of the show’s weaker points.

Episode seven, which focuses on Eight and her gang, gets a lot of hate and I can understand why. The episode comes after a cliffhanger in the previous episode, serving as a full 40 minute cutaway that takes us away from Hawkins and the approaching demo-dogs. Due to its timing, the episode can almost come across as filler. Filler is exactly what made me stop watching The Walking Dead. 

I don’t consider episode seven filler, but I must say that it would likely have been better received if Eight was mentioned or referenced a few more times before episodes six and seven. We see Eight in episode one and then she is pretty much MIA until episode seven. I liked the episode itself since it offered a great view of what Eleven could have become. Eight never found the same type of friends and family Eleven did. Eight found other outcasts who stay on the fringes of society, sticking to a limited circle either out of choice or necessity. Eight is guided purely by vengeance, while Eleven’s search was about finding family and getting closure.

Aside from the lesson of the episode I found the episode itself entertaining. I will say that Eight’s gang wasn’t as interesting as Eleven’s. Of course I could be biased since we don’t get as much time with them, but even for an episode the characterization seemed paper thin e.g. the big one, the crazy one etc.

I remember watching season 1’s sensory deprivation scene and thinking that Barb’s death was somewhat glossed over, “gone”. It was great to see the impact her death continues to have on Nancy and Barb’s parents. Barb’s death also provides the plot lynchpin for the group to attack the lab publicly, without having to mention the upside down or anything else that might make them look insane.

For the people who hated that Nancy and Steve stayed together at the end of season one, your prayers were answered this season. I was actually happy that Nancy and Steve were still together at the start of this season. It would have been far too cliched for Nancy to switch that quickly from the jock to the quiet, nerdy guy the jock picked on. Steve was a tool at times in season 1 but he proved himself to be a good person by the end of it. Season 2 gives Steve more heartbreak but also lets his character develop more. Like Will, he is one of the biggest benefactors of this season.

An even weaker point of this season?

Now, the Duffer Bros. said they wanted to introduce a new human villain who wasn’t connected to the lab. Okay, but I think this kind of conflict works best if it also drives the plot forward. For example, perhaps Eleven could have come across someone who begins to threaten her anonymity. Max and Billy’s actors are competent enough, but their impact on the plot is miniscule. The love triangle that started early on in the season between Max, Dustin and Lucas fizzled out pretty early. Billy’s conflict with Steve culminates in the fight at the house, and the ultimate outcome of that fight is that Steve is forced to escort the kids into the tunnels. Steve could have been forced into this some other way. Originally I thought that Max and Billy may be Soviet spies, since Cold War conflict was hinted at throughout the season. If season 3 offers no further revelations about their characters then it seems like their characters were truly random editions.

Their screen time also detracts from more screen time for other characters. Lucas was defined by his relationship with Max this season and it would have been nice to see more of the group together helping Will.

The climax wasn’t boring but I would actually argue that it wasn’t the season’s most exciting point. No main characters died throughout the show’s run so it was clear that Sean Astin’s Bob would likely be a red shirt. Sorry superhero.

Thankfully, Barb’s death was enough to get the lab shut down.

Although Joyce Byers has her boys back, looks like she still needs some luck with men.

Watching Hopper mow down demo-dogs was pretty awesome and Eleven’s brief moment of “flying” made me wonder if she’ll go full Neo in season 3.

We’ll see I guess.

While Max and Billy are proof that more is not always better, season 2 delivers for the most part. It builds on threads from the previous season, develops characters more, answers more questions, raises more questions, and offers more thrills.

1922

It’s a good year for the King. The Dark Tower wasn’t an auspicious start but IT and Gerald’s Game have provided better follow ups. 1922, released on October 20th, also provides a strong follow up that also has a stronger ending than Gerald’s Game.

Based on Stephen King’s 2010 novella, published in “Full Dark, No Stars, 1922 follows Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) and his plot to kill his wife so that she will be unable to sell neighbouring farmland she has inherited. Arlette James (Molly Parker) wishes to sell her 100 inherited acres and move the family to Omaha. Since James wishes to stay in Hemingford Home he manipulates his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid) into helping him Arlette. The death happens pretty early on in the film, and the rest of the film focuses on James’s eventual retribution. We watch him lose the other people who are close to him, one way or another, and slowy descend into insanity.

Wilfred is played with a pretty thick accent, which took some getting used to. However, I was immersed in Jane’s performance quickly, watching him disappear into the role. Jane is also supported well by Parker and Schmid, which these characters have the vast majority of the screentime for the film’s first half hour. Most of the film takes place on the James’s farm, adding to the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia that Arlette feels living in Hemingford Home.

The conflict between James and Arlette is introduced quickly, and another element that comes somewhat quickly is James’s manipulation of Henry. Editing makes the manipulation appear faster, but we get to see James building to it slowly. By this point in the story it is already clear that Henry has a stronger bond with his father than his mother. Wilfred first tells Henry that his mom has to leave their home and return to hers in order for them to stay together. Arlette becomes the figure trying to tear the family apart and we slowly see Henry drifting further away from her, until James is able to convince him there is no other way.

The murder scene itself is simple, but also gruesome. The director holds back on music during the scene, letting us focus on the sound of Molly’s screams instead. One of my biggest gripes with horror movies is that they sometimes rely on music or lack thereof too much, with the music becoming a giveaway for a jump scare or some other scene that is meant to scare us. There are times when the music in the background comes across as outright distracting but the murder scene and most of them are handled well. 1922 is more of a thriller than a horror movie, but it does have some creepy imagery that lingers in my mind. Like Gerald’s Game or It Comes at Night, if you don’t expect a monster movie, you will likely enjoy it.

One Arlette is removed from the story, its focus shifts to Henry and Wilfred, who are now united by the sin they’ve taken part in. This section of the film is actually my favourite, since Schmid is deftly able to play a character whose inner conflict starts to drive him further away from his family. The film is a tale about retribution and Wilfred receives his in spades. Unlike Gerald’s Game, 1922 also has a strong ending that complements everything that came before it.

Gerald’s Game

I watched Gerald’s Game about two weeks and uploaded a small review to my Instagram account, @moviegrapevine. However, I feel like this film deserves a proper review.

Gerald’s Game is based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name, following Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, a couple who retreat to a cabin in the hopes of reinvigorating their sex life. Although Jessie is initially open to bondage, she becomes uncomfortable when Gerald begins enacting a rape fantasy. After an argument Gerald suffers a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed.

I was intrigued when I heard about the film at work and Stephen King’s name made seeing this film a priority (Sorry Hemlock Grove). Stephen King adaptations can definitely go wrong but I was interested to see what King’s writing could bring to the concept.

Firstly, the director sets the stage well. Jessie’s thoughts are personified by a stronger, more assertive version of herself and the more cynical side represented by Gerald. The majority of the film takes place in the bedroom, with Jessie either alone or talking to the other versions of herself. From what I have read about the book, this film differs in the number of voices in Jessie’s head and the figures that she sees.

I have to give Gerald’s Game credit for being the first film in a while to force me to look away from the screen. One particularly gruesome is likely to stick with you, but Gerald’s Game has more to offer.

Gugino and Greenwood’s performances anchor the film, and truly help to breathe live into the script. As a side note, I hope I am as ripped as Bruce Greenwood when I’m 61.

Jessie’s voices also bring another element of intrigue and conflict, breaking down all the misogyny and unhappiness that Jessie tried to ignore in her marriage. These voices bring up repressed memories going all the way back to Jessie’s childhood, unearthing a traumatic event that led her to being handcuffed to a bed by a husband with rape fantasies. Although one character is the focus of the film, we learn a lot more about Gerald and Jessie as the film progresses.

I have heard some people complain that the film was boring but I honestly think this may be a case of different expectations, similar to It Comes At Night. If you expected a monster film instead of a survival one, It Comes at Night could definitely be considered boring. Gerald’s Game is not an action-packed horror film, it is a tense thriller about survival. If you expect anything different, then this film will be boring.

One of my biggest, and only criticisms comes from one element of the plot introduced later in the film. As Jessie becomes dehydrated her mind starts playing tricks on her, and we are introduced to a more supernatural element of the story. I didn’t have a problem with this element itself, since Gerald previously warned Jessie that she might see nightmarish visions before she died. It is the end of this arc that left me unsatisfied. The last ten minutes of the film as a whole are the weakest part, a small stain on an otherwise perfect canvas.

Regardless, Gerald’s Game is a Netflix gem and this review will likely be followed by a review of another King adaptation, 1922.