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.



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.


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.

(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.


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.

Violent Scenes Suck (Except When They Don’t)

So whenever I wrote a review on The Revenant, an old high school friend of mine went and complained about how I didn’t like it on Facebook. While I would like to clarify that literally everything written on this site is subjective and what you enjoy as a movie is purely up to you, I highly suspect that this particular friend mainly liked it for the brutal violence and, furthermore, that he thinks I didn’t like it because of the brutal violence.

When it comes to The Revenant, I actually think the violence works. The contrast between the beautiful landscapes and the disturbingly graphic imagery of the violent scenes is something I quite like. But it is kind of true that I don’t particularly like graphically violent scenes. Maybe it’s because I’m such a testosterone-deficient beta-male type and I don’t really like violence in real life, a trait that did not serve me well in a surprisingly and depressingly large number of situations in my life.

But the main reason I don’t like it is because from a storytelling standpoint, it’s kind of lazy. You shock and startle with crazy images of blood splattering everywhere and wow you get rave reviews from dumb critics who praise you for being “so edgy,” but it’s all just a cover-up for a shitty story. And this applies to The Revenant in a way, so I guess technically from that standpoint Parker was right, I do kind of dislike it for the violent scenes, but this article is about violence and action scenes in movies so let’s get back to those.

I’m a minimalist storyteller. I subscribe to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry school of “Perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” This is partially because it makes my life easier. Silent movies mean that you don’t have to convince somebody to come help you run sound, black-and-white means less futzing about with color correction.

As such, I can appreciate a graphically violent scene when it adds to the narrative in some way. This is so absurdly rare that I tend to associate graphic violence with bad movie right out of the theater, but I don’t write reviews right out of the theater.

This is my favorite scene in Pulp Fiction.

A lot of people think I’m disturbed for loving the scene so much, but it’s actually a great scene. It does the following:

1). It perpetuates story and theme from where we were before in the plot. Marcellus still has his passion for philosophy and is thinking about quitting. They’re taking Marvin to where they’re supposed to be, but Marcellus is planning on quitting.
2). It’s hilarious. The very idea that an enforcer would ask for the hostage’s input in a completely random conversation is pretty funny by itself, and Marvin’s totally not into this discussion either. Then John Travolta turns around, and you get just enough time in the closeup to notice that he’s still got his finger in the trigger guard. The resulting, eh, event, is sudden and outrageous enough as to make you laugh in spite of yourself.
3). It’s a plot twist. Of a sort. Seriously! Now the two of them have a completely unexpected problem on their hands that they have to deal with, and it introduces further complications to the plot; they have to clean out the car and then ditch it, and they have to do it before Jimmie’s wife gets home.

So here we have a graphically violent scene that adds to the overall narrative in a meaningful way. Even mildly plot-relevant violent scenes can still move the plot forward. And this is where we come back to The Revenant.

Violence in The Revenant just kind of… happens. And then, it keeps happening. And keeps happening. And keeps happening until you’re like “OK, I get it, what next?” Crucially, it doesn’t make itself interesting, snappy, or fun enough to hold my attention; in fact, it actively makes me want to look at things that aren’t as gross.

Contrast this to an excess of violence in a different film, Deadpool. Deadpool is ludicrously violent, but it has fun with it and kills off goons in insane, silly, fun ways. By contrast, The Revenant is so stuffy and realistic that everyone not only dies in brutal, realistic ways, but they’re also very gross and angsty while they do it. A lot of people from my high school don’t understand this, but violence is not very sexy in real life. Movies hire people called “fight choreographers” to block out action scenes in a way that’s more like a dance than like a fight.

Real fighting is a lot of bumping and grunting. Not very sexy. Usually. And real brutal violence usually smells pretty awful. Just because a movie is “edgy” enough to throw extensive violent scenes in your face doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. An action scene is just like any other scene, and should be judged by the narrative impact that it makes.

And if you skipped down to the comments just to call me a pussy, I want you to know that I helped deliver piglets via C-section last summer. Real blood flying in my face, real pig guts, and there was one stillborn one. If you never experience something that cute being straight dead out the womb, consider yourself lucky.

Your Kids Can’t Watch Deadpool (And That’s A Good Thing)

So Deadpool is a big deal right now. A brilliant but also probably thoughtless tweet from the social media team behind the movie brought this whole ordeal to my attention. Yes, folks, it’s time to talk about the complex interactions between media and sociopolitical phenomena!!

As a 20-year-old, I would be hard-pressed to give a shit about whether they decide to put out a censored version or not. I sure as hell know that I’m going to see the one with the fuck-word and dick jokes, because yes, an “appropriate” version of this particular film and narrative would totally defeat the point. But I’m worried that other people who hold this view, particularly my peers, may be saying so for the wrong reasons.

SCIENCE: South Park is one of the most popular comedies among political conservatives. Sounds pretty weird, right? But the truth is that South Park is incredibly politically conservative. It just does it in a cool, edgy way. It’s all about being shocking.

“We’re the only ones brave enough to be racist and uphold systemic oppression,” they cry. It’s the same narrative that old men on Fox News have been proudly trumpeting from the rooftops for decades, from within their comfortable apartments where they have plenty of food and a decent standard of living, as they rile up the poor racists into thinking that poor black people are their real enemy.

And it is into this quagmire that Deadpool chooses to leap headfirst. Technically, I’m not here to talk about politics. So, OK, let’s talk about stories, as I am wont to do. Deadpool‘s narrative is ultimately reliant on shock humor and irreverence. That’s the kind of character he is, and that’s fine.

But Deadpool is also an anti-hero. An anti-hero is the guy you’re not supposed to want to be. An anti-hero is the guy who takes it upon himself to kill the enemies, the one who chooses not to forgive, the one who does the right things for the wrong reasons. When confronted with a choice between the easy way and the morally correct way, the anti-hero picks the easy way. A hero exposes Lex Luthor’s crimes and leaves it to the judge to sort him out. An anti-hero just snaps Lex Luthor’s neck.

Speaking of which, I think Man of Steel is a pretty key film in analyzing this phenomenon of anti-heroes because Superman is supposed to be a “hero” character but Zach Snyder really just wants to direct an “anti-hero” movie. I get the feeling that Henry Cavill probably felt like the unfavorite child on the set of Dawn of Justice.

So our society is currently obsessed with anti-heroes. Bad boys who play by their own rules and don’t answer to nobody. That’s why we like Batman more than Superman, despite both of them being equally bland characters. It’s why Iron Man is our favorite Avenger even though Cap is the frontman. And heck, look at that. Iron Man’s standalone movies are done, so now they’re making Cap’s third movie an anti-hero movie.

I think it’s interesting how this reverence for the morally ambiguous rose. It’s probably rooted in real-world problems, because it always is, but I feel like it all started with The Dark Knight. And, at the time, Batman in that context was a pretty kickass hero. He fought the billionaire gangsters that were fucking Gotham over, and in real life we have real billionaires fucking us over, and it felt good to see them getting punished, even if it didn’t solve any problems in real life. That’s what escapist fantasy is all about.

But I worry about the direction that the anti-hero takes. Batman was an anti-hero in The Dark Knight because he had to be because the police system was corrupt. And that’s fine. But it led to this interesting phenomenon where the character we’re rooting for is the one that doesn’t care about the context of his problems. I talked about this in a Batman article once, and John Green did a video on it that was much better than my article. In The Dark Knight Rises the problems arise not from mob bosses or supercriminals but systemic oppression of the lower class. This is a theme that is made EXTREMELY CLEAR by the POOR LITTLE ORPHAN BOY THAT JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT TALKS TO.

So we went from a hero that was irreverent because his circumstances demanded it to a hero who was irreverent because… He’s kind of a dick. And it’s the irreverence that we’ve attached ourselves to, because it makes us seem like the strong guy. Morals are for the weak, like Congress, who can’t get anything done! The only way to get ahead is to be not be hindered by political correctness, and be free to mock the struggles of gays and transgenders, and to call NerdyChineseBoys chinks!

Except no, that’s not how real life works. Those things that you think are strengths are just cancerous growths that you’ve mistaken for extra body parts. You think they’re great now, but it’s only a matter of time before the medical bills come in and you start feeling bad about making fun of cancer. I get to be irreverent because white people drove my people like slaves and then when the railroads were done they told us we had to leave and stop taking all the jobs. And it’s not like you can’t be irreverent!

Just make sure you’re being irreverent to the right people. There’s this unwritten rule of comedy that says “always punch up.” We seem to be in a climate where punching down is admired; Heck, it won a goddamn Oscar.

Don’t let your kids see Deadpool. Deadpool is funny, but you’re not supposed to want to be him. He’s not supposed to inspire anything. Wanting to be Deadpool is how we shoot black kids and then not feel bad about it. Superman is the one who’s supposed to inspire things.



Star Wars The Force Awakens: A Christmas Miracle

Before I start the review part of this review, I want to put a disclaimer here that you should probably watch the movie before reading it anyway. I’m pretty sure most of you don’t read reviews to actually get a movie recommendation. Particularly with this movie, you’re probably here to see if I validate your own opinion or not, and if I don’t you’re going to spit obscenities at me until I go away.

Instead, I’m going to tell you guys a little story. This story has nothing to do with Star Wars.

This is a story about a boy named Frederick J. Newhope. From early years, Frederick was a talented boy. For his high school science fair, he constructed a little orange solar-powered go-kart in his basement, all by himself. At the science fair, admissions folks from Harvard noticed his project, and got to talking with him. Within the year, Frederick was admitted to Harvard with a full-ride scholarship.

This success followed Frederick through college. After graduating with honors, he built a successful company that eventually grew into a corporate empire. Frederick’s company eventually caught the eye of DisTech, a huge tech conglomerate, and they bought him up.


Now it was around this time that Frederick J. Newhope went and got married. Pretty soon, he had a son, Johnny C. Forceawakens. Johnny was an even more talented kid than Frederick was; a veritable prodigy. But what Johnny wanted more than anything else was to impress his dad. His dad, who was always working, and never had time to play catch with him or take him fishing like all the other kids’ dads.

So for young Johnny C. Forceawakens’s science fair, he decides he’s going to do something incredible. He builds a damn rocket in his basement. His plan is to shoot this thing up into the atmosphere and then drop a little toy soldier with a camera on it back down, and it’s gonna be awesome.

One night Frederick J. Newhope comes downstairs to grab a beer out of the downstairs fridge (because white people always have two fridges, for some reason) and he sees his son working on this science project. And as young Johnny asks “what do you think, Dad?” Frederick suddenly flashes back to his high school science fair. He remembers the little orange solar car fondly and, with absolutely no consideration for his poor boy, says “Could use more orange.”

Now this comment strikes young Johnny C. Forceawakens as pretty strange. He painted the rocket red and the replica shuttle white, and he thinks that the strong visual contrast between the two makes the whole thing pop really well and orange would really ruin the aesthetic draw. But more than anything else in the world, Johnny C. Forceawakens wants his father to be happy. So he spends that night painting the space shuttle orange. And the next day, at the science fair, the Harvard admissions folks watch the demonstration and are pretty impressed, but they go home and say to each other “What’s with the wacky paint job on the space shuttle?”

Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This story actually has everything to do with Star Wars.

This film is everything that A New Hope wanted to be. It does everything A New Hope did, and, at the risk of being shat on by nerds everywhere, it does it all better. But if I wanted to watch A New Hope I would have watched A New Hope.

Whatever you take away from this review, don’t let it be that The Force Awakens is bad, because it’s not. In fact, it’s really good. It’s the best movie I’ve watched since The Gift. But more than that, it’s a brilliant movie painted over with a coat of nostalgia paint. And it looks pretty good and all, but you can’t really appreciate the fine details because nostalgia is a day-glo color.

This movie is worth watching for its original ideas, but as you go in to watch it a second time, I want you to put aside all the nostalgia and look at it for what it is. It’s great! Really! That’s why this review is subtitled “A Christmas Miracle.” For the first time ever, there’s a movie that NCB likes!

But this movie is not good because it tells the exact same fucking story as A New Hope and laughs at its own original trilogy references and jokes. It’s good for its original ideas, which are executed brilliantly. Heck, I watch this and I get the distinct feeling that all the nostalgia paint was thrown on there by DisTech, and what J.J. really wanted to make was the red-and-white space shuttle. I’m really excited for the next one, in fact, because after the science fair, when Johnny C. Forceawakens had to settle for Yale, he flipped off his old man, egged his house, and jumped on a plane to England to go to art school instead. Star Wars gets a recommendation.

P.S.: This movie isn’t racist towards white people. It’s sexist towards men. Duh.

P.P.S.: I get that most you will understand this but I want to preemptively clarify that that P.S. was sarcastic.