Scary Stories to Oof in the Dark

At some point last year, I remember reading somewhere that the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie was actually good. While I didn’t make going to see it a priority, I looked forward to when I could watch it for free from the public library.

Then I had the “oh, wait… from ‘producer’ Guillermo Del Toro…” moment when I finally had it in my hands. For awhile, seeing Del Toro’s name on things was a mark of quality, but I’ve been pretty eh on a lot of his stuff where he’s only had ‘producer’ cred. In fact, I’m struggling to recall the last time I really liked any Del Toro movie, and I think that the one with the teeth fairies might have been the last one [Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 2010, writer credits].

But anyway…

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was basically a Scary Stories-branded version of the Goosebumps movie with no Jack Black. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that…

A bunch of kids go to a haunted house and find a spookybook of spookytales that come true. The attempts to work the few short scary stories from the book into the narrative of the film were about as seamless as a quilt. For instance, The Big Toe is worked in by having one kid staying home while his parents are out–there’s a pot of stew in the fridge with a toe in it. Why? Were his parents cannibals? Was his mother a mortician? A serial killer? No, the toe in the stew simply exists in the fridge because there was story with a toe in stew and the film needed an excuse for the “where’s my toe?” ghost.

The only genuinely scary part, I think, was the Pale Lady from “The Dream”, even though, other than the iconic look of the character, nothing was used from the original story.

I think that more than any other property, Scary Stories could’ve revived the classic horror showcase format… or they could’ve done a more original horror story that simply borrowed heavily from Gammell’s incidental art and aesthetic. But the whole “here’s a book of spooky stories, people die, and by the way, the big local company was the real villain” just smacked of an unoriginality that many fans of the books might find disappointing.

‘Fireworks is Just Like Porky’s’

“Is “Fireworks” (…) an homage to those bawdy ‘80s sex comedies like “Porky’s” and “Private Resort?”

I dunno, is Christie Lemire retarded?*

I’ll be honest. I did not think Fireworks was that great; it was nowhere near as good as Your Name, though it still had a lot of charm and a lovely aesthetic to it. What I didn’t pick up on was anything that justifies Lemire’s need to equate Fireworks to one of the raunchiest R-rated sex comedies ever filmed.

Fireworks is about first love, from a boy’s perspective—from a boy who’s hovering in the awkward realm between childhood and adolescence. He wants to be a man and have the opportunity to prove himself, but, being a child and inexperienced and unwise to the ways of the world, he really doesn’t know what to do and has a hard time figuring it out.

Norimichi’s love for and fixation on Nazuna is innocent and non-sexual. For all of the shots of Nazuna that Lemire complains about, Nazuna’s portrayed not as a woman to be lusted after but something pure and elfin, beautiful and innocent, something that Norimichi wants to cherish and protect, even though he doesn’t really know how. She is the idealization of first love. Yes, there’s billowing skirts, subtle glimmer on the lips, hair wafting aetherially in the breeze—but no, there are not upskirts, downshirts, boob-shots, etc. She’s mysterious, and though imperfect, Norimichi idealizes her because she’s his first love.

Now, the boob jokes from the friends and about the teacher that Lemire complains about: Norimichi’s friends exist to show a contrast between Norimichi’s youth and innocent affections and male adolescent posturing. The awkward adult relationship between the teacher and her boyfriend, who cracks a joke about her breasts is there in juxtaposition to the purity of Norimichi’s first love.

Yes, all of the agency in the story is with Norimichi, because it’s a story of a boy trying to become a man and protect someone he loves.

Lemire is mad about this, too, but anyone who compares the story of a boy’s first love and how that boy would try to do anything he could to make life better for that girl to a movie where a bunch of high schoolers get into a violent prank feud with a redneck  brothel owner is probably a broken human being.

*:This is a rhetorical question; since her resume includes 8 years working with the Armenian Genocide-denying Young Turks network, the answer is obviously yes.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and Why I Defend It

So far, the DCEU has been pretty terrible.

  • Man of Steel was an overly serious and pompous trainwreck that fundamentally misunderstood the character of Superman and managed to make the two plus hours of non-stop action dreary and tiresome.
  • Batman vs. Superman had a few decent moments of pathos that were tied more to our memories of Chris Nolan’s Batman than anything the movie actually gave us, but those were largely mired in a poorly paced mess of a plot that relied on a number of assumptions and the feeling that we’d “missed something”. Plus making Gotham Metropolis’ Jersey City was a strange choice.
  • Suicide Squad was another trainwreck that felt like it should’ve been the second movie in its own franchise and was edited so haphazardly that I think they were going for a Tarantino feel but without an ounce of finesse; fans cheered it against critics because a) they’re fans, b) everyone hates critics, even when they’re right on occasion, and c) Harley Quinn fangirls & boys.
  • Wonder Woman was heralded as brilliant because it was the first entry into the franchise that was a competently done film.
  • After watching creepo Ezra Miller try to pressure an uncomfortable and embarrassed looking Gal Gadot into saying his Smash-the-Patriarchy BS during a promo interview, I figure I’ll wait until my gym picks up Justice League to watch it.
  • The fact that they’ve hired Ava DuVernay to direct New Gods suggests that WB & DC are entirely unserious about the prospect of making good movies in the immediate future.

LuthorNow for my dangerous claim: the one bright spot of the DCEU was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. It was the one genuinely interesting thing that the films did in terms of storytelling, direction, and acting. His Luthor was not without problems, of course—the biggest being that his character was named Lex Luthor.

 

The main complaint I hear about him is “He’s not Lex Luthor; he’s not my Lex Luthor,” and no, he’s really not. Which is why it’s a damn shame they call him Luthor, because now you CANNOT do anything else with the character. Lex Luthor is usually portrayed as either a criminal mastermind, a mad scientist, or evil corporate billionaire with tons of resources at his disposal. In most cases, he’s set himself up as untouchable, and in fan favorite portrayals (StAS, L&C:NAoS) he’s often a cool, calculating and collected character—quite the opposite of Eisenberg’s portrayal. You need that aloof, powerful and untouchable nature to remain an ongoing villain to Superman. Yet the Luthor portrayed in BvS is a fantastic Batman villain and far more interesting than your typical portrayal of Luthor.

At its core, Batman vs. Superman is a story about three men who are living in the shadows cast by their absent fathers*. Their fathers have shaped who they are, what they do, what they believe, and they are constantly trying to live up to ideals that they think will make the ghosts in their memories proud. Eisenberg’s Luthor is shattered by this pressure. He’s the broken mirror that’s held up to Batman and Superman; could they turn into this broken and groveling man who is desperate to make Daddy proud? Many times in his adventures, Bruce Wayne comes close to this; he approaches the edge and often has be pulled back by his friends and loved ones. He sees himself, to a degree, in a character like Eisenberg’s Luthor, and it terrifies him. He wears the mask of the happy playboy billionaire, but every day inside he’s asking himself “Am I making my father proud?” And it makes Bats and the folks watching him wonder “How is he going to avoid ending up like that? Can he? How similar they are!” Like I said, A GREAT BATMAN VILLAIN!

Now, I understand why a lot of people don’t like him, I really do! And I agree, he’s NOT Lex Luthor, and his character should NOT have been called Lex Luthor. Calling him Lex prejudiced fans against character and ensured that this intriguing villain, great in his own right, cannot be used or explored further in future. It’s a shame, because really he was the one worthwhile thing the DCEU gave us.

*:One aspect that sets Supes & Bats apart from Luthor in the film is their love for their mother—something which Luthor is not shown to have—which brings them together against him at the movie’s climax, but that’s like an essay unto itself, right there!

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Yondu vs. Obi-Wan (Major Spoilers)

So, saw Guardians 2 last night, and I gotta say. As a franchise, people who like pulp SF should maybe start looking to Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Star Wars. Star Wars has averaged out to be trash, coasting more on the theoretical potential of the property as it has been explored by other creative types rather than the films themselves. But more importantly, Guardians of the Galaxy has a much stronger moral core than Star Wars.

Let’s take a look at Obi Wan vs Yondu for a second. Yondu is superior by far as the older father figure mentor character.

This isn’t something I’m going to put a lot of energy into explaining or even defending, but I just want to toss it out there. Let’s even completely forget my theory that Obi-Wan is the main villain of Star Wars for a sec.

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has been secretly watching out for Luke, and eventually he takes him under his wing. He tries to explain the situation in a way that will not hurt the young Skywalker, because while he believes in him, he does not believe in him enough to trust him with the truth. And ultimately, that’s his bad. Only when it comes down to it, he doesn’t really accept responsibility for what he has done and tries to justify rather than coming fully clean and apologizing, even when it wouldn’t have cost him anything to do so. And when knowledge that Leia is Luke’s sister would jeopardize the fate of the Rebel strike on Endor, Obi-Wan’s ghost rather casually confirms it.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu pretty much raises Star Lord after his mom dies. He’s a tough father figure, and does a lot wrong by the kid growing up, but he genuinely does care about him. Yondu is also protecting Star Lord from his father with a lie, but when the chips are down, Yondu comes clean and is honest about his reasons “I knew your daddy was bad and killed those kids, and I couldn’t stand to see that happen to you.” After all is laid bare, Yondu makes the ultimate sacrifice so that his “son” will live.

Both franchise are owned by Disney, and both are cogs in multi-billion-dollar merchandising apparatuses, so I’m not going to factor that in when comparing the two. Even with all of its flaws and cringe-points, I’m gonna have to give this one to Guardians.

The Force Awakens to Put Me to Sleep

In all of the ongoing discussions as to whether or not Rey from the Force Awakens was a Mary Sue, I seem to have missed anyone warning me just how boring Episode 7 was.*

Keep in mind, I’m someone who loved Rogue One and has gone to bat for it a few times – it restored in me a love of Star Wars I haven’t really felt since playing TIE Fighter. That said, if I HAD seen The Force Awakens, I probably would’ve skipped out on Rogue One.

Absolutely nothing in The Force Awakens seemed to have any real weight, and everyone was just sleepwalking through their roles. Han and Chewie looked as if they couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with. With Carrie Fisher’s passing, seeing Leia show up as tired and old and barely relevant to the story is even more of a gut punch and should’ve undercut anyone’s excitement that ‘hurr hurr, she’s a general now, because women are important in sci-fi for a change!’

Despite how much he’d been hyped everywhere I’d seen in fandom, Poe felt about as relevant as Biggs did before all of his scenes were cut.

Finn’s affections for Rey can only be excused as thirst, cuz she treats him like crap through the whole movie. He’d’ve been much better as an “I seen some shit” vet who’d finally had enough. He needed a better “God is not here today, Priest” moment.

Rey was more annoying than I’d expected because I’d never heard Daisy Ridley speak before. Her character comes off as a whiny scold. I disliked her from the moment she bullied that random desert nomad guy into giving her BB-8 for no reason. We’re told over and over that she’s special, but we’re never told why. We’re told Chewie likes her, and since Chewie is Han’s morality pet and supposedly a good judge of character, we ought to like her, too.

Starkiller was just there to have another Death Star in the background. It barely felt relevant. I don’t even remember if the not-Rebels were concerned about figuring out how to destroy it; it kinda felt like “it’s all good, we’ve got this, done this twice already”, so there was no tension.

No, the big secret everyone was after was Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, because the Star Wars universe is obviously just as full as people obsessing over the canon as real life.

And what’s up with Snoke? Emperor just happened to have an ugly darkside giant tucked away somewhere to pick up the reins? No! I’d’ve much rather seen a Hellenistic Empire split between ex-governors and former moffs playing and being played by the Rebel Alliance against one another. Yet Hux and Kylo Ren are the best the Imperial remnants have to offer.

I’ve seen complaints that the characters in Rogue One were flat because they didn’t get much onscreen development. I think it worked there, though, because Rogue One relied on Tropes – you knew enough about the characters because you understood their functioning role in the story: Pilot, Heavy Weaponry Guy, Kung-Fu Dude, so on and so forth. It’s black and white cowboy hats and Henry Fonda’s blue eyes. The Force Awakens had nothing. It had neither character exposition/development nor fictional tropes to rely upon in the absence of development. As terrible as they were, the prequels were a hundred times better at character development and storytelling than The Force Awakens, and that’s saying something!

On a final note, Captain Phasma was a hell of a wasted character. How great would it be to see a Star Wars movie where the dashing rebel pilot ends up stuck with ice queen stormtrooper captain lady?

“Take the helmet off.”
“No…”
“I said take it off!”
::pretty dame under the stormtrooper helmet::
“I can see why the Empire would want to hide a pretty face like that.”
“Sh-shut up!”::angry blushes:: “I’ll have you executed when we get back to the Star Destroyer!”
“IF we get back to the Star Destroyer…”
::giant space monsters show up that they have to fight together before they fall in love::

Anyway…

@corduroyalist summed it up quite well: I found force awakens a disjointed pointless movie with the trauma of watching Han Solo be a loser & then die.

 

Rogue One Review (With Spoilers)

Star Wars Rogue One did something I did not think was possible: it made me feel excited about Star Wars again. Like, “I want to go out and grab a Star Destroyer model to build after I finish my next Gundam” excited.

I actually enjoyed Rogue One more than the last four Star Wars movies I’ve watched, at let me tell you, I’ve skipped a couple.images

Okay, yeah, it was not really pulpy, and as dumb as it sounded when those sites said “this is the first Star Wars movie about war”, they kind of had a point. This was not the Star Wars of the original trilogy, or the plastic and cartoony prequels and their spin-offs – this was expanded universe Star Wars: the Star Wars of TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces. In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

There are no super powered characters here – folks rolled their stats 3d6 in order, and the casting choices reflect this. One of the striking things about Rogue One is how rough everyone looks; I mean, it really says something when Forest Whitaker is not the ugliest dude in your movie. Unlike TFA with all of the pretty but bland people, Rogue One’s cast is, while not traditionally beautiful, striking. Jeffro mentioned Jyn Erso having a fish-face, and once someone points that out, you can’t not notice it. I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound mean to Felicity Jones, but the huge eyes, trout-pout and buck-teeth that together give her a touch of the Innsmouth look, give Jyn Erso a really distinctive appearance that’s in stark contrast to Daisy Ridley’s more generic Hollywood features. Jyn’s not a sexy, ass-kicking conventionally attractive Mary Sue who can do anything better than everyone else; she’s a weird, awkward girl who tries really hard and doesn’t give up, and you end up liking her for it.

It was kind of awesome having a Spaniard playing the male lead; every time he spoke, I kept thinking “My name is Inigo Montoya; I am looking for the plans to the Death Star!” The chemistry between Cassian and Jyn was subtle, never ham-fisted, but there were plenty of little moments, little glances that made me smile. I’ll admit, I was moved as Inigo and fish-girl held hands and embraced, watching the mushroom cloud of destruction roll towards them.

The rest of the characters filled the party nicely, again harkening back to the movie’s strong tabletop feel: Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist, Guy-Who-Likes-to-Play-the-Robot, and Guy-Who-Wants-to-Play-Eastern-Martial-Artist-in-Every-Game-Regardless-of-Genre. Seriously, the Force Monk is something I’d only ever really seen back in the 90s at the FLGS with people playing d6 Star Wars. His character worked, though, and frankly is far more like what one expected of the Jedi and wanted to see than what the prequels gave us.

Rogue One handled Vader much better than I could’ve expected. We got to see Darth Vader’s castle from Leigh Brackett’s Empire script, which was neat. We also get enough bits to reinforce the impression from New Hope that Vader thinks the Death Star is a dumb idea and Tarkin is an idiot who’s going to screw everything up. When Vader actually fights, he looks cool – he’s not jumping around flying all over the place like the prequels, and he’s not using the Force to throw hunks of trash at people like Empire. Vader was well done.

There were a few really bad spots, but most are easily forgiven with an eye roll (the criminals from the cantina running into Jyn and Cassian in the alley, R2 and C3PO’s cameo). Tarkin was not one of them. They really needed to find a better way to include Tarkin than having a body double with a creepy Peter Cushing Gollum face CGed onto him. While CG has reached a point where it can create photorealistic faces, it has not reached a point where movements and expressions are not noticeably and horribly out of place. CGI-face Leia was weird, but thankfully only one scene. Speaking of Leia, having her at the battle and having her Corvette be an escape ship smacks of continuity snarl (the next cut of New Hope will have Vader saying “You expect me to believe you’re on a diplomatic mission?! I was on your ship at the Battle of Scarif not 20 minutes ago!”) Also, would’ve been nice to have some bit about the rebels evacuating Dantooine and moving their base to Yavin 4, but that’s not as bad as the somewhat rushed denouement that leads straight into New Hope.

I can’t remember which blogger I follow who said it first, but I would much rather watch more movies about the characters from Rogue One than any of those from the originals, prequels or new trilogy. Which is a shame, because like so many RPG stories, this one ended in a TPK. In a way, I’m sad, because while this movie made me excited for Star Wars again, I don’t know what else there is to look forward to. I really don’t care about Episode VIII, and I find the promises that subsequent stand-alone films will focus on Han Solo and Boba Fett less than intriguing.* Now, if they announced a Marek Steele movie, I’d be all about that. For now, though, I’ll just have to wait and wonder. And check out how cheaply I can find a decent Star Destroyer model…

*:One interesting tidbit was the hint that there was another jedi out there and that jedi was a woman (and therefore could not have been Obi Wan Actually the Main Villain of Star Wars Kenobi). This could be interesting or terrible. Given how most of the movies have treated Jedi, I’m leaning terrible, but Rogue One was good enough that I may cross my fingers.

Brief Addendum:

Why I liked it better than Empire:

  • Seriously, the Battle of Hoth was the only good part of Empire, and Rogue One had its Battle of Hoth as the climactic ending instead of the first act.
  • Empire’s pacing is a damn mess and its timeline makes next to no sense
  • Despite all the love for the romance between Han and Leia, it drips with a lot of bad cheese and still has a lot of cringe; Jyn and Cassian were nowhere near as cringy
  • Star Wars becoming terrible can be pinpointed to the moment when Darth Vader started to use the force to throw giant hunks of trash Luke. From that moment forward, the Force stopped being mystical and became about moving garbage by pressing down-to-forward + punch. Blind Force monk felt way more true to the mystical rather than mechanical concept of the Force

Why I liked it better than Jedi:

  • C’mon, bro, we all know Jedi was trash!
  • Just Kidding
  • (Not Kidding)

More Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts

I figured out last night why Anthony and I had such a disagreement on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, particularly in regards to who the protagonist should be: I went into Fantastic Beasts blind, not having read any reviews or articles, exposed myself to any spoilers, or even really seen any previews!

I spent a good chunk of the movie unsure as to whether or not Newt was a villain.

Here’s why:

The film starts with a montage of newspaper clips all “Villainous Villain Engages in Villainy!” The movie then takes us to a weird looking shifty guy who acts shifty. I spent the first 10 minutes of the film thinking “Is this the bad guy?”

The first thing Newt does is arrive in America with a suitcase, looking every which way like he’s worried he’s going to get caught, and lie to a customs inspector about what he has with him – he’s obviously smuggling something. He fidgets his way to a bank, sits down, makes highly conspicuous small-talk on the bench, and when he gets up, he’s left a silver egg behind. Newt spends the first 10 minutes of the movie looking like a freaking terrorist worried someone is going to notice he’s strapped with C4, and then, holy crap, he just left a monster egg in the middle of a crowded bank and this is a movie about the trouble caused by magic monsters getting loose (I know that much)!

On the other hand, the first things we find out about Jacob are that he’s trying to start a small business, family is important to him, and he is a World War One vet, which makes him a pretty damn big hero in my book.

While Jacob is obviously a solid dude, I literally spent the first quarter of the movie unsure what kind of person Newt was. If you look at the story on its own, in a vacuum divorced from back of book text, trailer clips showing middle-to-late scenes in the movie, and review buzz, Newt’s motives remain uncertain until the big reveal of his pocket-dimension menagerie. That comes roughly 45 minutes into the movie.

I spent the first 10 minutes thinking Newt was maybe a bad guy and the next 35 minutes wondering just what his angle was. I think in that context, I can be forgiven if I couldn’t peg him right away as the story’s protagonist when Kowalski was introduced right away as clearly a good and honest man.

So when the guy I knew from the start of the movie was a good guy disappears from most of the last act (Kowalski is gone for a seriously long time after he makes like’s gonna go with Queenie and do something big) and the guy who spent the first 45 minutes of the movie acting like he could plausibly be the villain, or is at least a Cyrano Jones, is the one who has the big showdown with the real bad guy, yeah, I was bummed.