Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Edit: The trailer is now out, and I will be doing  a video and blog post with my thoughts on it later today.

Star Wars Celebration Orlando is now underway, featuring panels with the stars and filmmakers of the Star Wars franchise. Director Rian Johnson is present, and it is expected that the trailer for The Last Jedi will premiere online tomorrow. With that said I thought I would share some of my hopes for the next film.

1) No death star.

We have had three death stars over seven films, and even the original trilogy didn’t have two death stars back to back.  I didn’t mind seeing the original death star again in Rogue One, since it was a prequel. With that said, death stars should simply be retired for the saga as a whole.

2) More development for Finn as a capable warrior.

John Boyega has hinted (via Instagram) that Finn will have a more physical role in The Last Jedi. He has also hinted that the character would be boring if he started off as a  skilled warrior, instead of realistically developing to that point. Since Rey is often accused of being a Mary Sue to her skills as a pilot, mechanic, and her skill with the force and the lightsaber, maybe Boyega has a point. I have previously discussed the Mary Sue argument, although I believe detractors may have a point I simply have to question if a male character with the same skills would be criticized as much. After all, Luke had the same skill set in A New Hope.

Finn was marketed as the franchise’s next Jedi, and his fate in the film came across as a cruel bait and switch. First, one of the few black main characters in the franchise is reduced to comic relief for the most part. Second, he’s unconscious at the end of the film while Rey goes to train with Luke. Boyega is a great actor, if his performances in Attack The Block and Imperial Dreams are any indication and I hope he gets more room to shine.

3) More new locations and people.

Rogue One and the announcement of various spin-offs that deviated from the “Episode” series initially seemed like a cash grab. However, Rogue One ended up being a breath of fresh air. Star Wars is the story of a galaxy,  and it was great to be separated from one family and one set of characters for a few hours. We got memorable new characters and places that still relate to the “Episode” series while also showcasing how vast the universe really is.

If the trailer is released tomorrow, I’ll be fanboying like everyone else, with these hopes in the back of my mind.

Thor: Ragnarok Thoughts

I have previously discussed my refusal to see Thor: Ragnarok due to Marvel’s insistence on bringing a comedy writer onboard to rework the film only because they worried the film was too dark.

Of course, I wouldn’t want a film to be dark if the tone doesn’t fit the characters or story. This argument can be a can of worms since many characters have stories that are uncharacteristically dark or light (e.g. The Flash with Flashpoint Paradox). The Barry Allen version of The Flash isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but Flashpoint Paradox still took the darkness to a whole other level.

But I digress.

The previous Thor films had plenty of comic relief, or attempts at it. These included one painful line after another from the likes of Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman. One of the few good things to come out of the Thor series has been Loki. Ragnarok refers to Asgardian doomsday, so a dark tone seemed appropriate. Even if the film wasn’t going to adapt the mythical Ragnarok events, a title referencing doomsday still implies some level of darkness. Darkness would fit the story, and it could therefore fit the character. If a film is overhauled only to lighten the tone, regardless of whether the tone fits the character or story, that is a travesty. People complain about film’s being “dark” for no reason, but very few people have a problem with more “fun”.

What bothers me the most about the decision to change the film is that this demonstrates how the need for “fun” overrides other artistic considerations. The previous Thor films have other issues, such as a love story lacking chemistry,  and some weak villains (looking at you dark elves). All those issues were overlooked previously, but bring on some darkness, and it’s all hands on deck to make another film.

I still refuse to see the film in theatres but I must say that this first trailer has some great moments. More Loki is always a good thing, and I love the new look, which is partially inspired by his look in the Young Avengers.

Hela looks like she might give us another good villain. Her helmet has drawn a lot of comparisons to Aku, but since the helmet originates from the older comics, seems like Aku was inspired by Hela.

As Jeremy Jahns said sometimes I would prefer an epic moment, to a funny one. Likewise, sometimes I would prefer an epic movie to a “fun” one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hulk doesn’t look as convincing (CGI wise) as he did in The Avengers film but the film still has more post-production to go. I actually didn’t mind the “he’s a friend from work” line since it actually seems in character for Thor. However, it still sucks that just about every epic moment is likely to be undercut by a one-liner that the fun-addled masses will eat up.

I’ve been told my writing is quite depressing, so perhaps I hate the Marvel “fun mania” since it clashes with my own creative proclivities. As Jeremy Jahns said sometimes I would prefer an epic moment, to a funny one. Likewise, sometimes I would prefer an epic movie to a “fun” one.

Bates Motel: The Scene We’ve Been Waiting For

Warning: Spoilers will ensue for Bates Motel up until this point, which is episode 6 of season 5.

I remember watching Psycho (1960) years ago, mainly to see the film that birthed the most iconic shower scene in cinema history.

The music, the scream, the knife-wielding silhouette…it’s perfect. Maybe it comes across as cheesy now but I think the context has to be considered here. At this time, Psycho was breaking new ground in the horror genre, inspiring numerous other aspiring writers and directors, while also making people scared to take a shower.

Bates Motel could have turned out to be a terrible attempt to try to rehash, or cash in on a classic, but it has been able to truly become its own beast. It has carved out its own mythos, while also respecting and paying tribute to its source material: the 1960 film and the book that preceded it.

These past two seasons of Bates Motel have improved greatly by removing strenuous subplots and focusing on the Bates family. More specifically, the show became a lot more interesting as it focused on Norman’s descent into madness.

This season brought up a significant character from the old movie, Marion Crane, the victim of the famous shower scene. I was worried that Rihanna would ruin this season with her presence, but she was surprisingly competent in the role. I’m not going to say she was great, but she wasn’t atrocious and didn’t ruin the show. Maybe I was setting the bar low for her.

I was sure the show would have their own version of the shower scene, but I wasn’t sure how they would approach it. Would they try to do a carbon copy of the scene? Probably not a good idea since the original is so iconic. Instead, we get a genius twist on the scene, with the show’s biggest douchebag getting carved up instead.

The choice of music was perfect, with the lyrics and the tone matching the footage of Norman embracing his other half. The music was also vastly different from the original, creating a scene that is a homage to Pyscho but can still stand by itself. I like the fact that his alternate persona is portrayed as being self-aware of its own existence, acknowledging that it is a coping mechanism, but arguing it is still a necessary piece of Norman’s mind.The show was even brazen enough to tease us with the possibility of Marion’s death earlier in the episode.Marion lives another day, but Riri will likely not return to the show (which is okay with me).

Freddie Highmore has been a true powerhouse over these past few seasons, and Vera Farigma continues to kill it as Norma (or pretend Norma). This dynamic duo has the rest of this season to bring Bates Motel home and I am looking forward to seeing how this series ends.

 

IT Trailer Thoughts

IT is one of my favourite Stephen King books and I remember watching the original television miniseries (1990) with Tim Curry. Although Curry was undoubtedly creepy I didn’t find the film that scary overall, not only due to some dated effects but also due to the general failure of creating a terrifying atmosphere.

This trailer legitimately gave me chills, teasing glimpses of Pennywise and the kids he terrifies in the story.

Child actors always worry me, especially when they are carrying a movie. From what we see here, it looks like the acting might not be disastrous. Finn Wolfhard, from Stranger Things, did a pretty good job in that show so I am hoping he and his peers bring the same level of talent to this film.

On a side note, Georgie hitting his head on the road block might come across as an unintentionally funny moment for some, but I was just focusing on the fact that we see “Derry” painted across it.

Firstly, I love the fact that this trailer didn’t rely on jump scares. There is one when we get our first glimpse of Pennywise, but this more expected scare is followed up with a truly chilling moment.The projector scene actually got my heart racing and so did the final “you’ll float too” scene.

However, I do wish the trailer would have ended after we see Pennywise’s eyes emerge from beneath the water. I feel like the last shot of him bursting forth should have been saved for the movie, or perhaps another trailer.

It has also been confirmed that the film is Rated R so it looks like the director and writers aren’t scared to fully embrace the mayhem from King’s pages. Since the entire bible of IT is being adapted into one film, it does bring up issues of how much of the story will need to be cut in order to accommodate the film’s length.

Edit: It appears this film will only focus on the Losers Club. The part of the story focused on the adults will come in the second film.

Director Andres Muschietti is coming off a relatively strong film in Mama, in my opinion. Mama also created good scares, mostly relying on atmosphere and chilling moments, instead of jump scares. However, the third act was by far the weakest. Mama was partially done with prosthetics, but some details, such as her face were clearly computer generated for some scenes.  Mama was exposed for the camera, revealing poorly rendered special effects and the third act didn’t provide the same level of scares the first two did.

It’s third act is often criticized as generic, or somewhat of a letdown in comparison to the first two as well. I am hoping that the writers find a way to end the film strong, because it looks like we might have a truly terrifying film coming our way.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Thoughts

I initially avoided watching this trailer because I was worried it would give too much away. Overall, my wariness appears to be justified.

Tom Holland was a highlight of Captain America: Civil War, even though the character was clearly rushed into the film after Marvel obtained the rights (or technically leased them from Sony). Although I have previously ranted about the MCU obsession with light-heartedness and fun, I wasn’t as worried about that obsession ruining a Spider-Man film. Peter Parker’s wisecracking is a key part of the character and Holland mastered that element, as well as capturing a more serious moment when he referenced Uncle Ben’s death with Tony Stark.

Although plenty of people saw The Amazing Spider-Man series as being too dark, the tone wasn’t an issue for me. With that said, the second films as bogged down with two many villains and some pretty hammy performances from the likes of Paul Giamatti and Dane Dehaan.

Since Spider-Man is one of my favourite comic book characters, probably just behind Batman, Wolverine and The Punisher, I was excited for Homecoming.

Now…this trailer. The YouTube comments make it clear a lot of people disagree, but I think I have Tony Stark fatigue.  However, there is a silver lining. It looks like Stark steps back from supporting Peter after the incident on the ship, leaving the film to hopefully focus on our favourite wall crawler.

I am just worried the film might reach this point halfway through, which is too late in my opinion. The character of Peter Parker got anchored to Stark due to his rushed introduction in Civil War, and now the writers are doing their best to keep that thread alive and also find a coherent reason to cut it. Meanwhile, marketers are also pimping Tony Stark out to the audience.

The high school setting for Spider-Man worked surprisingly well in The Spectacular Spider-Man, since the show avoided becoming 90210 featuring Spider-Man. I am hoping this film has a good balance as well. Zendaya’s one line in this trailer already leaves me worried about her acting skills. She says “my friends are up there” with the same enthusiasm she would say “I broke a nail”.

On a positive note, the trailer doesn’t spoil too much of Michael Keaton as The Vulture. So far, he seems the best kept secret and also seems like he may be a highlight of the film. The new costume is awesome and I have renewed faith in Keaton after watching Birdman and Spotlight.

Additionally, a lot of the humour in this trailer was actually good. My favourite parts were the interactions between Peter and his friend. My least favourite ones, you guessed it, anything with Tony Stark.

What are your thoughts on the new Spider-Man Homecoming trailer?

Justice League Trailer Thoughts

Geoff Johns was kind enough to share the new Justice League trailer with twitter this morning.

So let’s get this out of the way. I am not a Marvel v DC person. Obviously I realize there is competition between the two brand and their related movie studios. However,  I do not condone the childish mindset that I can only like the movies from one group. My favourite comic book films include DC and Marvel properties, ranging from The Dark Knight, X:Men DOFP to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

With that said, I am cautiously optimistic about Justice League. I love the characters, especially Batman, but BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad have left a bad taste in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, both films had great pieces and great moments. Overall. they felt short. Both had weak villians and weak third acts, along with some other issues.

As I watched this trailer I forgot about that for a moment. There is still no sign of Superman but I’m sure we’ll see him in the film. I am glad this film didn’t reveal too much about the plot or reveal the villain yet. We know it will be Darkseid’s uncle, Steppenwolf, and we get some glimpses of parademons (presumably) in this trailer.

From what I understand, Cyborg’s armour is derived from alien technology in the newer comics. It looks like his armour comes from a motherbox, a teleportation device Darkseid’s forces use. This motherbox appears to be the gateway that allows the parademons to reach earth. If this is the case, Cyborg could have a central role in the film and I am hoping the script and the actor can deliver.

To start, there is a lot of CGI in this trailer. Obviously that has to be the case for the visuals this story needs. The Flash looks amazing so far and his scenes are some of my favourites from the trailer. However, this trailer reminds me of 300 with the amount of computer generated backgrounds and surroundings. The scene with Batman fighting a parademon sticks out in my mind as one of the worst offenders. Maybe I wouldn’t notice as much if some of the effects looked better. Hopefully the effects are cleaned up by the time the film begins. Cyborg looks better than he did in the comic-con footage so I am hoping there is still time to improve the visuals.

With that being said, the visuals weren’t my greatest concern going into the film. Steppenwolf will hopefully provide a better villain than Doomsday, Luthor or Enchantress. This should help to strengthen the third act but won’t necessarily be enough. If the third act is just a fight filled with poor special effects, that can also cause the audience to lose interest, like I did with the last fight in BvS.

I am also hoping the desire to add more “fun” doesn’t ruin the script entirely. Obviously some characters are more light-hearted than others. However, Barry Allen has pretty much been turned into Wally West in terms of their personalities. Meanwhile it looks like they are trying to turn Bruce Wayne into Tony Stark. Obviously Bruce Wayne has the carefree, obnoxious playboy persona but the real Bruce Wayne has a drier sense of humour than the one we’ve seen so far.

Okay, time to be more positive.

Aquaman is one of my favourite superheroes, and is severely underrated by the general audience and even some comic book readers. Jason Momoa, as well as the writers, look like they’ll remedy that. I am sure that Aquaman or Flash will end up being the breakout stars of this film and possibly even the franchise. My only worry is Momoa’s acting skill, which isn’t that great from what I have seen so far. That doesn’t detract from my man crush, but it does bring up a possible issue with the film. We’ll see how he does.

In general, the action looks pretty awesome. Looking past the issue of the CGI, it looks like we’ll see some creative and memorable action sequences. It was great to see our first glimpse of J.K Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, and hear a reference to Robin since Batman is “playing well with others” again.

I can’t deny my excitement at seeing my favourite superheroes on screen together and I hope Zack Snyder delivers a film that lives up to the hype.

 

Ex-Machina and Race

I remember watching Ex Machina back in 2015 and falling in love with the film within the first half hour. The film follows a programmer, Caleb Smith, who is invited to test an AI being developed by his  CEO, Nathan Bateman.

By the time it was done, Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of all time. Aside from the great performances, especially by Oscar Isaac, the film asked a lot of interesting questions. There was one question, and one specific line, that still sticks with me. It comes to the forefront of my mind every time the topic of interracial dating ever comes up, with the most recent occurrence being Get Out.

“Accumulated external stimuli” (AES).

Whether it is in person, online or in entertainment, there are a plethora of reasons offered for dating exclusively in one’s race.

“It’s not natural”

Neither are cars and retirement homes. In the good old days humans used horses to travel and the old and sick would perish to make way for the fittest. Some scholars even argue monogamy is unnatural. How many of these things do proponents of this argument which to cut out of society? Of course, these people probably don’t realize how faulty their reasoning is. After all, I am sure many of the people who use the argument have no attraction to other races, and therefore assume that it is natural for them to feel that way.

This also brings up the question of why they view it as unnatural. I grew up with interracial couples in my family, among my cousins, aunts etc. By the time I was ten I viewed interracial coupling as natural. However, I realize my experience is not an objective truth. People who grow up with racially or ethnically homogenous families will be more likely to see an interracial coupling as unnatural if they have rarely experienced it themselves. Especially if their family also actively discourages or criticizes such relationships.

“It’s not racist. It’s just a natural preference.”

AES is the only reason for racial preferences that I agree with. Firstly, it doesn’t view attraction to a specific skin colour or ethnicity as being an ingrained development, where we are born programmed only to date white people, or Chinese people etc.  People who grow up genuinely believing their preferences were pre-programmed (so to speak) often disregard the impact of years of subtle coaching from family and/or friends to stick to their own or “preserve the culture”.  If your parents are guiding you to seek out your own kind once you have your first crush at age seven, it is easy for you to reach thirty and think that the choice was a natural one.

Of course, people don’t always have a preference for their own. Some people will reject their own kind and only seek out others. I know plenty of black people who don’t want to date other black people, or at least not dark-skinned black people. I know people who are neither white or black, but still have a preference for white mates, or lighter-skinned mates that can produce lighter-skinned children. It is a mark of beauty and progress. They see their family moving on up in the world as the generations become lighter. Is this sort of self-hate natural? Or is it a result of what they were taught to value by their own family? Or maybe a result of the dominant images of beauty available in the media they consume? As Nathan says, these stimuli form a sphere of influence that “you probably didn’t even register, as they registered with you.”

Logan Thoughts (Spoilers)

Click here for a spoiler-free review of the film.

After seeing Logan and having some more time to think about it, I wanted to share more thoughts on it without having to worry about spoiling any plot details.

First I have to address one of my biggest gripes. This is my first time seeing Boyd Holbrook in anything and I have to say I am more motivated to check out Narcos after seeing his performance. Do I have a man-crush? Maybe. From the first line of his first scene, I was enthralled. His performance initially hid the fact that the character, and the villains as a whole, were poorly developed. We know Transigen experiments on children and wants to weaponize mutant genes. It is obvious that an army of mutant children would be a terrifying weapon for their enemies, but the head figure (Zander Rice) also explains they created a virus that resulted in the lack of mutant births for the past 25 years. This is one of the most interesting machinations and is glossed over with a few lines of dialogue. It would have been interesting to see more of Rice’s role in this, and Pierce’s role in the curation of X-23 as the chief of security.

This brings up the issue of screen time. The film is 137 minutes, but didn’t feel that long to me, despite a late show time. I think an extra 15 minutes could have done wonders for fleshing out Transigen, Rice and Pierce. We wouldn’t need one solid chunk of exposition that drags the film down. I thought it would have been interesting to see X-23’s flashbacks, the same way we saw Logan’s in the original X-Men trilogy. These could have served the same purpose as the videos from X-23’s adoptive mother, and could have been more interesting.

Next, I just have to reiterate that Stephen Merchant is the man. Caliban had relatively little screen time compared to the main trio of Wolverine, Professor X and X-23, but he still held his own. Fear the light.

The death of the family during the farm scene came as a surprise. I had a feeling that something bad would happen once Professor X decided to stay the night. It came across as a careless move on his part but makes more sense analyzing the move from his character’s perspective. Westchester is where the X-Mansion is located and it is implied that he killed most of the X-Men in the “Westchester incident”. This also adds more reason why Charles says he “doesn’t deserve” a happy day like the one they had. He believes he deserves to be punished but he also wants to enjoy the company of other people before his death. He had years of isolation and is now somewhat carefree in his desire to enjoy life. Although it comes across as selfish, it is somewhat understandable.

However, the death of the family does make Charles’s decision tougher to cope with. Of course, he pays for the mistake as well when X-24 shows up. At first I thought Charles was having a flashback and was thinking they were adapting the X-Mansion incident from Old Man Logan, where Wolverine is tricked by Mysterio into killing the X-Men.

Instead, Charles dies, possibly thinking Wolverine killed him. Then the son, wife and dead get slaughtered. I was thinking that they would be saved at the last second, like most Hollywood films. Although their deaths were brutal, it was also good to see that the film truly wasn’t pulling any punches.

Some members of my audience audibly gasped when X-24 descends the stairs to meet Logan for the first time. For many people, it was a genuine “oh s***” moment. We know X-23 is a clone, now we see one that is Logan at his physical prime. These shots make use of digital faces but the effects are much more seamless than the version of **spoilers for Rogue One– Princess Leia in Rogue One of Clu in Tron: Legacy.

Although X-24 was an amazing physical threat, I feel as if his inclusion hampered the development and threat that could have come from Pierce. Like Zander, Pierce is mainly an overseer, managing the work of people underneath him. There is nothing wrong with villains like that, but maybe it comes across as more jarring, since he and The Reavers were marketed as the main, direct threat. Obviously X-24 would have been too big a reveal for the trailers and commercials, but it still brings up the issue of what audiences expected from Pierce.

Seeing Logan go near-berserk in the forest was an absolute treat. The roar after he takes the serum, followed by his sprint through the forest was cinematic gold.

 

Some people didn’t understand why an R-Rating was a big deal for this final film. Hopefully Logan shows why. Wolverine’s main weapon are metal claws he sinks into people, an R-rating works perfectly, for a solo film especially.  We don’t see stuntmen fall to the ground as Jackman swings his arms. For once, we get to see unadulterated carnage that truly immerses us in the experience. The casino scene, where Logan pushes his slaws, in semi slow-motion, through one man’s head after another is something we couldn’t have in a PG-13 film. The camera would have had to cut away with each stab.

The forest scene is something I’ve been wanting to see for a while and was delivered beautifully. Yet again. I have to comment on X-23. Many films are guilty of showing a woman with Angelina Jolie proportions knocking out 250 pound guys with one punch (looking at you Colombiana). X-23’s claws avoid that issue. We don’t see her overpower men for the most part. The flip she performs on the gas station attendant is the only example I can think of. Otherwise, she uses her size to her advantage, relying on stealth and agility to kill her enemies.

One thing that bothered me was that her transition from a borderline-feral mute to a more well-adjusted human seemed a little too fast. She nearly kills the gas station attendant because he tried to take her goods from her. At first I tried to rationalize that by saying that she interpreted his hands on her as a deadly threat, but her relationship with the Eden children contradicts that. Although the children were collectively treated as products by Transigen it is implied they had a pretty strong relationship with one another before they escaped. Since X-23, or Laura, is able to socialize with them normally when she arrives her reaction to the gas station attendant seems out of character. Then again, we didn’t get to see her interact with the group much. Most of the film from that point on focused on her interacting with Logan and their fight with Transigen. It would have been interesting to see how they all reacted to being together again.

P.S- Some people might laugh at the fat kid running, but that kid was hauling ass.