Hidden Figures – The, eh, “hidden figures” of the 2016 Oscars

Hidden Figures is the best movie of 2016 that won’t win any Oscars because it has black women in the leading roles.

And that sucks because it deserves something. Even if Hidden Figures isn’t the Best Picture of 2016, it’s the movie that 2016 needed the most.

Does that make sense? Sounds like some Dark Knight shit but I can assure you that it’s not. Going into four years where Hidden Figures may become a reality again (except with less 60’s aesthetic) necessitates a film that is as blunt and no-nonsense with its message as Hidden Figures.

And now is where I bash the bad parts of this movie, which I am loathe to do in case alt-righters come here and take random parts of my review out of context. DISCLAIMER: I love this movie. To anyone reading this review, if you see some Milo Yogurtopolis tweet about how NCB hates this movie using one of the pretentious quotes below, let me know and I will come down on that bitch.

Hidden Figures‘s biggest detriment is its writing problems. I understand the argument of the white savior character’s presence in this movie, but at the same time I feel that it is somewhat realistic. Yes, it is white men who ultimately give the black women their permission to do things, but it was the black womens’ guff and strength that convinced the white men that they were worth something. Furthermore, there are enough scenes of white dudes being assholes to counterbalance this.

More notable is that none of the three main characters, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary, get enough time for themselves. The film struggles to properly give each woman the attention she deserves. The romantic arc is also kind of unnecessary and its presence reeks of patriarchy. There is one particularly awkward cut that threw me off, where the three ladies are preparing for Katherine’s wedding and it immediately cuts to the NASA mission control room and someone goes running to fetch her. This cut gave me the impression that this white man was going to burst into a black church during a wedding and I was on the edge of my seat for the movie moment I never new I wanted but suddenly needed.

This is a good segue into the best part of the film, though: The scenes where Henson, Spencer, and Monáe get to just play off of each other. These three have some of the best screen chemistry I’ve ever seen and they absolutely make this movie.

Also this movie’s aesthetic is fucking on point.

Final Recommendation: Yes. It’s 2017 and diversity in filmmaking is what America needs more than ever. I don’t care if La La Land is the best movie of the year, it’s just white people doing shallow white people things and you can see that literally anywhere. Watch Hidden Figures.

~NCB

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Rogue One – Tied Down by Franchising

Because my job is awesome, I got to see Rogue One today with my work squad. I honestly wasn’t planning on watching this unless the WHS group wanted to go as a group, but I did watch it and it was… pretty good! But this is an NCB review so I can’t let this movie get away unscathed.

First of all, I liked a lot of the stuff this movie did. It distances itself (relatively, at least) from the “main plot” of the Star Wars franchise, which can only be a good thing. It does a lot of unusual stuff for a big tentpole movie, like emphasis to dying people and moral ambiguity when it comes to its terrorist metaphors. It packs diversity and an ensemble cast, which is a pretty ambitious thing to attempt, even if your eventual goal is to turn them all into action figures (except the girl, who is the ensemble lead, ironically…)

But the film is restricted by its existence in the Star Wars universe. The writing often feels scattered and inconsistent, jumping rapidly from Serious Business to Avengers-level snarking. The ensemble cast is fun but mishandled; nobody, not even Felicity Jones, is given quite enough time to flesh out their character properly. There is just too much going on.

A big part of this problem is, like I said, the fact that Rogue One is shackled to the parent franchise. By necessity, the movie has to drop the word “hope” once every 10 minutes to foreshadow a movie that’s been out for nearly 40 years. Much like Halo: Reach, which is probably way more similar than you’d like to think, the conclusion of this movie is forgone, which robs the film of a lot of weight. A prequel has to be interesting in the events that happen, and while Rogue One is indeed that, it needlessly wastes time in many places by pretending that there is a “maybe” in any situation where we know there isn’t.


I can’t say that Rogue One is bad, and I can’t even say that you shouldn’t see it, because it’s quite good. But, much like with Pixar or Quentin Tarantino, please please PLEASE don’t give it more credit than it deserves. It’s got a lot of flaws and most of them come from the fact that it’s a Star Wars movie. But this story wouldn’t be sold if it wasn’t a Star Wars movie. So go out sometime and take a chance on an obscure movie that seems interesting to you.

~NCB

Manchester By The Sea – Casey Affleck is my Spirit Animal

I guess now that I’m writing reviews again I have to watch an indie movie too, huh? This one came highly recommended by my buddy Brandon over at Third Rail, so I went to see it and it made me cry.

This movie has a complicated relationship with emotions, and that’s really cool, because so does everybody in the world. On a surface level, this film is classical pretentious indie. That’s fine, because let’s be honest, that’s what this movie is. It’s a moody, atmospheric experience with nonlinear moments that are framed without any pomp or circumstance to deliberately confuse people who aren’t paying 100% attention. Yes, there are dead family members and dead children and the film goes out of its way to be depressing.

But behind all the pretension, there is a very heartfelt emotional core behind this movie. It’s the story of a man who doesn’t quite know how to cope with grief, and this struggle is compounded by the fact that now the world has all these demands of him in the wake of the tragedy that’s hit him.

This movie will make you cry and you won’t even know why, and it’s really good. Go watch it.
~NCB

(This review is kind of crappy because I still cry a little when I think about it)

Doctor Strange – Formality at its Finest

God damn has it been a long time since I’ve written anything on here. I’ve been very busy with my new job at HiRez and classes and papers and whatnot. Fortunately, the semester is winding down, and I went out and saw this trippy-ass movie and figured “what the hell, I’ll write about it.”

So, Doctor Strange.

No, not that one.

There we go, the one that I’ve been putting in the production studio to scare the fuck out of Toliy.

I want to start out by saying that Doctor Strange is a lot of fun. Crazy effects, good production design, this film is an overall good popcorn flick, whitewashing notwithstanding. It’s a good movie to take a group of random friends to, especially if you guys are on drugs.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is to it. The film neglects every possible formal element for the sake of having fun, and does it in a way that makes you OK with it. That’s because telling this story is not the point of this film. The only point of this film is to set up the titular doctor for the next Avengers movie, and that’s annoying to me. For my comic books class we watched Captain America 1, and even that movie went out of its way to make sure Cap got his character development time. Doctor Strange runs through all the important narrative information to get to the fun stuff as soon as it can, because that’s all it’s got, because its one goal is to set up the next Avengers. And Civil War proved that you don’t even need to give characters their own movie to do that, so why fucking bother?


Except, that important narrative information is how we get invested in the character.

In fact, this entire film is self-defeating on that front because WE KNOW he’s going to win because WE KNOW there’s a million other Marvel films in the pipeline. I remember sitting in the theater when the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 came on and everyone freaked out when they saw baby Groot and I was like “YOU KNEW HE WAS COMING BACK IN THE PREVIOUS MOVIE!!

I really don’t want to recommend Doctor Strange to you. I guess I can, but there’s no real reason for you to see it. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and financially supporting this movie does nothing to benefit film as a whole. Save your money for Black Panther instead, so you can support nonwhite casting.

~NCB

P.S.: I promise I have been working on other things. There’s been a lot to worry about. I’m starting to think about publishing comics via KickStarter instead of publishing them on the web, that way I can put a bigger proof-of-concept up there and you don’t have to be sitting on the edges of your seats waiting for updates from me.

The Killing Joke and Character Agency

Let’s talk about motivation and character agency. I started watching Game of Thrones semi-recently, and one of the show’s strengths is how there are no clearly-drawn lines between right and wrong. There are outright villains, sure, but for the most part, all the important characters act according to their wants, needs, and personal views of the world. This is super-important to a convincing story. It is necessary that characters act like people because, fundamentally, characters ARE people. They just happen to be not real.

This brings me over to DC, which has traditionally had a problem with its protagonists in that they’re all SUPER BORING. As explained here by my buddy Brandon Wagner, DC mythologizes its protagonists, which is a highly idealistic perspective. While this type of view of a character tends to work for a single, introductory story, it gets boring really fast when the characters don’t face any real challenges or obstacles. It’s almost like Axe Cop, where a bunch of random stuff just kind of happens and there’s no real escalation or major conflict that can’t be solved with “I WILL CHOP YOUR HEAD OFF.”


I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Mary Sue character, a fanfiction archetype that exists more for the gratification of the author than anyone else, and the final evolution of the mythologized character. She succeeds brilliantly at everything she tries, extraordinarily beautiful, inspires everyone, has special pets maybe. And because the audience is never given any reason to like or sympathize with her, she is INCREDIBLY BORING. This is what I hated so much about Daenerys up until Season 5. The Mary Sue seems like a spoiled child, in a world where their parent is god and controls all the events of the plot.

Perhaps this is the reason we like Batman so much, because he has the potential to be interesting regardless of this portrayal, when we totally deconstruct him. While Superman stories can’t suddenly take a dark turn without the tone being totally screwed up, Batman is already 3edgy5me, so a dark and gritty deconstruction of him such as The Killing Joke still feels like a Batman story.


So that being said, let’s talk about how the new The Killing Joke robs Barbara Gordon of character agency.

Yes yes I’m sure you’ve heard enough about the controversy of Batgirl throwing around the Bat-pussy, but I’ve yet to see anything about the ENORMOUS PLOTHOLE that if Barbara Gordon retires as Batgirl BEFORE she gets paralyzed, she has no reason to become Oracle in the post-credits scene. If anything, this incident should have convinced her further that masked vigilantism is a shitty career choice. Originally, Oracle was Babs standing up and being a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER and saying “nah son I’m still about this life, even if I can’t swing around on rooftops anymore.” But if she’s retired, regardless of the reason, she’s already put that life behind her.

This whole writing choice feels very Mary-Sue, wish-fulfillment to me. Like the writer really wanted to see Batgirl bang someone, ANYONE, even if it’s her father figure EW GROSS. Or maybe the writer wanted to write a strong female character and this was legitimately the best thing he could come up with. Or maybe both, I don’t know! I’m not sure who this was supposed to make happy, which says to me that it made the writer happy and that was good enough, much like the Mary Sue character.

But weird, creepy writer fantasies of having Batman sex it up with girls that are like 10-20 years younger than him aside, the fact that nobody on the production team was like “whoa dude, are you sure that’s a good idea?” says to me that DC is still woefully behind the times. It’s 20-fucking-16, and their main image of female strength is still the dominatrix.

Hey DC, let me introduce you to Michelle Obama. #YassQueen
~NCB

The Secret Life of Pets: $75 Million Tom & Jerry

Let’s talk about Illumination Entertainment.

This animation studio EXPLODED when they came out with Despicable Me, a charming, if mildly unoriginal, story about a supervillain who adopts kids. I honestly thought that Despicable Me was mildly warm for a film. As an animated film, I believe that it came out around the time that other computer animated films were starting to catch up to Pixar in terms of visual quality.

I think that’s great. While I hesitate to say this in case I ever get famous and conservative pundits come to this website in an effort to find random sentences to take out of context and make me sound like a hypocrite, competition is what breeds creativity. It’s one of the very few things in a market economy that benefits the consumer. When applied to the entertainment industry, what I’m saying basically boils down to “make the best cartoon because that is what your children will want to see.”

I think that Illumination’s early success probably fucked it over. Very quickly they descended into a spiral of sequelitis that led to Despicable Me 2, which lives up to its adjective, and *shudder* Minions. Despite this, I thought The Lorax, which was a one-off, was pretty decent, and I was interested to see what The Secret Life of Pets would bring to the table, and I was pretty bummed out when I ended up disappointed.

This movie seemed to struggle to find an identity. There were a lot of elements that I thought were really strong, but I got the feeling that the creators didn’t know it. Tonally, the strongest thing about this movie is its wacky, childish antics reminiscent of old Tom and Jerry cartoons. The strongest indicator of this is the persistent underlying upbeat jazz soundtrack. But this stands in stark contrast to the film’s half-hearted attempts to be serious, and boy howdy did they pay out the nose for licensed music as well. The soundtrack is fine! You don’t need Taylor Swift to sing about New York!

The film opens with a gorgeous flyby over an animated New York City, and after watching this film I realized that we have officially reached the point in computer animation where visual quality is not necessarily indicative of a quality film. Pixar got a pass in the early days for this very reason, but the killer animation was merely a way to draw you into a story with interesting characters and a heartfelt story.

By contrast, The Secret Life of Pets seems to live in the same world as Minions where it has no ambitions beyond pleasing the horrid children whose parents sent them to the movie theater for two hours of respite. It has a lot of clever moments, but they just kind of exist, and I’m not sure who they’re there for. There’s no attempt to explore these further or build on them. Instead, the film chooses to draw emphasis to the dumb things. Ha-ha, the fluffy bunny is a tough guy! He’s voiced by Kevin Hart! ISN’T THAT SO IRONIC LAUGH ALREADY DAMN YOU IT’S BEEN 4 SECONDS


I don’t think I can recommend The Secret Life of Pets. Illumination seems to be running around with no real direction, throwing money around and making a fool of itself and getting lucky because the obnoxious children cackle at it and throw mom’s money at its feet. I don’t hate them, I just want better for them.
~NCB

Swiss Army Man: Classic Narrative meets Fart Jokes

I PROMISED YOU GUYS TWO REVIEWS THIS WEEKEND! HERE IS THE FIRST!!

Swiss Army Man is the most recent darlingest of Cannes’ indie darlings, a weird movie with Daniel Radcliffe in it about a… dead… corpse-dude. Whose body has weird superpowers. The promotional material makes that much very clear but not much else and that’s why, much like Overwatch, I was sucked into the hype-train following for this movie. I ended up going with Ann the night I got back from Ohio, but then I got super trashed that night and totally forgot to write a review for it.

I guess I’ll cut straight to the chase, since if you’re reading this you’re probably waiting for me to ream this movie. The fact of the matter is, there’s not much to the film besides the weirdness and absurdist comedy.

That in and of itself is admirable, I think. It’s crazy to think that a movie about a dead man with jet-powered farts can draw you into its narrative, but that is what Swiss Army Man manages to do. As the title of this review may indicate, because at least as of writing this sentence I couldn’t think of something cleverer, Swiss Army Man takes the fundamental essence of narrative and boils it down, and then takes that and puts it in an 8-year-old’s book of Mad Libs.

The characters and their stories aren’t particularly interesting or clever, and the plotline is merely the Hero’s Journey with no special modifiers whatsover. The most shocking thing that this film does is get you to like it. It’s a movie that I would normally be ripping limb from limb… But I liked it! I got invested in the characters and giggled uncontrollably in spite of myself.

Swiss Army Man gets a recommendation for anyone interested in narrative design. No film will demonstrate to you better that you don’t need flashy special effects or a convoluted Game of Thrones plot spanning fifty characters across thousands of square miles of land to get an audience emotionally invested. All you need is a little bit of twisted creativity. And I guess Daniel Radcliffe helps too.
~NCB