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.



The Revenant: DiCaprio’s Oscar Batman Gambit

It is well-documented how much Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t have an Oscar.

Personally, I think that this is all just a big running joke for the people of the Academy, who nominate him and then giggle because they don’t plan to give it to him. Ever. But it’s started to affect his psyche, to the point where maybe he’s not making the best judgement calls on what movies to do. He saw that Iñárritu was doing a movie and was like “let me in on that shit” and then was subjected to straight-up goddamn torture.

I think true auteurism is a fantasy. This is because of the nature of filmmaking. Unlike animation and even video game development, filmmaking suffers the distinct disadvantage of “you always need someone to help.” The more ambition you have, the more help you’re going to need. With a game or an animation, you can technically do it all, you’re just going to be grinding through it over a long period of time. Not so with film. At the very least, you’re going to need one other person to be the other character, unless you’re making some really artsy, trippy, pretentious shit.

Iñárritu, meanwhile, has, like Tarantino, achieved enough success that he seems to be deluded into thinking that he’s the only important person on set and, furthermore, that every idea he comes up with is brilliant. And because of this early success, studios bank on him and crews don’t question him. It’s the most dangerous sort of yes-manning there is. It’s what allowed Phantom Menace to happen.

The most succinct term I can come up with to describe this film is “indulgent.” So much of the stuff in this movie seems like it’s there just so it can be there. The bear mauling scene is noticeably excessive and the majority of it does literally nothing for the plot. The film as a whole is like the Quaaludes scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, except extended into a whole movie. And with bears.

This movie is pretty, sure, but prettiness alone does not a good film make. Personally, I think this gamble by DiCaprio was a failed one, because he got the most boring character in the film. Sure, he did insane shit, and that in itself kind of proves that yes, this man is indeed so desperate for an Oscar that he will pull a literal Luke Skywalker and sleep inside a goddamn animal carcass.

But Leo’s character is Batman. No character flaws or personal weakness. Just sheer determination to get a thing, and get it he does, but does he go through any sort of growth? Not really. There’s not much to it, so there’s only so much acting Leo can do. People were shocked when Tom Hardy got a nomination for this movie but I wasn’t after watching it, because he straight-up pulled a Heath Ledger Dark Knight Joker villain character and it was really good. Wow, everything seems to be coming back to Batman here.

Maybe it’s because I played Undertale before watching this movie, but I found the plot very ugly. It’s not so much the violence, but that the violence is treated as a solution to the character’s problems. But OK, let’s set that aside and treat all that as a mere plot device. Let’s pretend that the “revenge doesn’t solve anything” point ISN’T brought up (SPOILER: it totally is). There’s still no real arc for this character here. He starts out seeking revenge and in the end he gets it and never reaches the abyss or revelation. He spends the whole story being grimly determined and never has a moment of introspection. It’s uninteresting, boring, Point A to Point B.

Much like The Hateful Eight, this film is one that uses its brilliant cinematography as a crutch for its less-than-stellar writing. In fact, I just thought of a better metaphor. The cinematography and Tom Hardy’s performance are the motorized scooter in the grocery store, except the guy isn’t disabled, he’s just fat. And not because of hormones either, this guy is the guy that frat bros and jocks use as the strawman for fat people, the guy who’s fat because he doesn’t exercise and eats nothing but greasy, unhealthy foods. And that fat guy is this film. It’s made more for the creator’s self-gratification than for anyone else. I would not be surprised to find out that Iñárritu, when particularly stressed by silly, insignificant things like production schedules and sane ADs telling him he can’t leave actors in the freezing river until the light is just right, goes home and has a nice 186-minute wank over this movie.

Don’t get me wrong, The Revenant isn’t particularly bad. It’s just not particularly good either. Have a good reason to watch this, because it really is a slog. It takes twice the time it needs to to tell a story, and that is ultimately its biggest failing.

But then again, the Oscars have never really been about what films are really the best films, so maybe they’ll take pity on DiCaprio this year and reward his dedication. At this point, it’s like they’re a frat hazing him and watching him do dumb shit because they know he’ll do it because he really wants to be in their big boys’ club.

Good luck, Leo.

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.

Jurassic World: More Chris Pratt, Please

It is the era of the Revival Film, forcibly dragging concluded stories out of their graves. First, way back when, there was Indiana Jones 4, which we will never speak of again. Then Disney violently punted the life into the idea with Tron 2 and Toy Story 3. And now we have Star Wars 7 coming soon, bringing the Star Wars franchise to a tie with the goddamn Halo series for number of entries.

Most recently, Jurassic World came out on the day I’m writing this, and I just got back from seeing it. Let’s talk.

Overall, I’d say the film had a weak start but manages to finish strong. From the very beginning, it seems almost like the film got financed before there was a real driving idea behind it, like a producer dropped the idea on the table in a pitch meeting and everyone else was like “Let’s do it. How? I don’t care.” Jurassic World has one of the weakest openings I’ve ever seen in a movie. It almost seems like it’s trying to set up the first Jurassic Park again with all the character archetypes (and at that point, they really are nothing more than archetypes) it introduces; The stalwart strong male lead, the token woman, the eccentric billionaire, and, who could forget, the bratty MacGuffin kids with barely any sort of characterization.

I have a lot of problems with the opening. First of all, we start with the kids but give us no reason to like them. The younger is bratty and acts like he’s 4 years old, despite looking at least 10, and apparently has an eidetic memory, but that isn’t even fully established until later on. The older is an obnoxious prick of a teen who has a girlfriend but ogles anything with tits anyway and veers wildly between apathetic and rebellious. Character traits are thrown at us wildly in the hopes that one or two will stick, and then are dropped, for the most part, because they’re no longer relevant to the story.

The film doesn’t really hit its stride until Chris Pratt comes in and establishes his character conflict with the military man who is so cartoonishly evil that I half expected him to kidnap Bryce Dallas Howard and tie her to some train tracks while wearing a monocle. From there it steadily improves as that character conflict is built upon, but every time the action switched back to the kids I rolled my eyes.

Jurassic World manages to finish surprisingly strong, with some epic action sequences and tying all the loose ends together, and the last 20 minutes or so kept me engaged, which is hard to do because that means you’ve managed to pull my attention away from the nitpicks. While I can recommend, I do think that the film would have been improved immensely by focusing on the Chris Pratt plot thread and cutting away some of the extra fat.

Additionally, my recommendation comes hesitatingly. While Jurassic World looks strong at first glance, it’s got lots of holes and weaknesses, and saying that it’s unconditionally good will only enforce the idea that leaving holes is OK. Its very existence stinks of nostalgia pandering, and the stench only grows stronger during the movie’s opening, as it sets up the same characters from the first film. Sure, as a specific example, Jurassic World does manage to break away from its predecessors in the end, but I’m concerned that its success will convince suits that revival films are a good idea, and they’re not, not really. At their core, revival films are still the necromancy of concluded stories. They should be handled with care, like sequel series. Or skeletons.

Additional Notes:
You’d be forgiven for thinking this movie is sexist. A strong career woman who doesn’t want kids eventually learns the nurturing mother instinct and gets a man? But I don’t think it’s coming from a place of hate, I think it’s coming from a place of dumb. Never attribute to malice what can just as easily be attributed to stupidity. I think the screenwriters just weren’t thinking. It makes more sense with this movie.

There’s a scene early on where Chris Pratt is talking to Vincent D’Onofrio on top of the raptor cage and all the closeups are lit with white, late-morning/early-afternoon lighting, but all the wide shots are lit like it’s sunset.

When you’re a film studies major every movie turns into a comedy from things like this.

In Other News:
On the same day I recovered from my stomach virus, Megan contracted a computer virus. I have been scanning her relentlessly. I’m afraid to try doing anything on her before I know she’s completely cured. I feel like the TSA.

Apparently Spy is showing in the local theater as well as Jurassic World. I was quite surprised. I thought it was too critically acclaimed to get shown in a place like this.

Once Megan’s cured and my iPod’s fixed, I think I’ll start searching seriously for a comedy club or something in Cleve to perform.

It’s been a couple days since I last played Awesomenauts. I miss it.

World-Building vs Character-Driven

Lately I’ve been trying to train my own writing toward more character-driven, story-focused type stuff. I think it was a real problem with my early writing, namely Leviathan Academy, where I would build the world first and then fit the characters into it, and that creates a lot of problems.

This way of structuring stories stems from the young-adult literature I read as a kid. If you think about things like Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and Artemis Fowl, they all have this world-focused commonality where the rules that the world works by are set up early on. Hogwarts has four houses. There are 8 families of fairies. There’s a cabin for each Greek god’s demigod babies. And then inevitably you run into problems later on in the line when you have to introduce something new. Percy Jackson struggled trying to fill up the other cabins, since the story itself was so tightly focused on the core characters. Eoin Colfer had to struggle to come up with all 8 families and then gnomes ended up being pointless, only good as generic citizens with no special traits whatsoever. I guess I’ll give Harry Potter a pass on the world-induced plotholes thing, since its plotholes were mostly created by the series dragging on, but the problem where Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw only exist tangentially to Gryffindor and Slytherin still stands.

I think this world-focused method of storytelling started around the same time as heavy franchising of IPs, a trend that began in the middle of New Hollywood when things were going well and then corporates came in and ruined the party. Most notably we can see that Star Wars did it this way, so George Lucas would be free to add so much dead weight to the universe, and sell more toys. And I can’t deny that it’s effective at doing that. Percy Jackson added a whole ‘nother series onto the end of its already kind-of-dragging on overarching plot, Artemis Fowl got so far stuck up his own ass that he had to rebirth himself to be free of it, and don’t get me started on Pottermore.

Well as you can see I’m clearly not a fan of this bullshit. The trend only exists to force stories to last longer than they should, to generate more revenue. What happened to artistic integrity? The basic tenant of storytelling: a beginning, middle, and end? Now what are stories like? Beginning, status quo, status quo, more status quo, movie deal, toys, resolu-OH WAIT NO WE CAN’T KILL THAT GUY OFF, THEN WE WON’T BE ABLE TO SELL ACTION FIGURES OF HIM!! It’s lazy and exploitative and gross.

That’s not to say world-building is a bad thing. There’s definitely an appeal to world-centric stories, a sort of adventurous sense that there’s all this stuff out there for us to explore. It’s something that a lot of realistic stories lack, since we’ve mapped out the whole world. It’s the same reason that science fiction started booming when it did, because we’re bored with our mundane reality. There’s nothing new, nothing mysterious or unexplained.

It also holds obvious appeal to producers and publishers (read: the guys with all the money), because of all the franchising and expansion opportunities. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like when world-focused stories can create a JRPG-sort of feel, a sense of adventure and exploration, where anything could be out there and all you need to do is look. But it’s hard to do, and I’m not sure if I can say anyone’s really done it right. Maybe a video game is the only good medium to do a story like this in, because you are free to walk around in the world yourself.

That’s why I’m starting from scratch. Concise, tight, character-driven stories that have no loose ends. The basic foundations of good storytelling in every form. Maybe I can think about leaving the loose ends more unraveled once I have the movie deals.

In Other News:
Got a stomach flu or something of the kind yesterday. It was pretty gross. Put the writing on hold for a bit. Also, my iPod’s audio jack is busted, and I’m looking for a place to get it replaced. Unfortunately, it’s a Classic, so nobody knows how.

Met up with some old friends this past weekend, got caught up and all. Fun stuff. There was cake and lemonade, and it was delicious.

Right now I’m focusing on All’s Fair (formerly known as Two Princes) and my standup. Finding a colorist for the former and a venue for the latter. Time to hit up the Cleve.

There is a disgusting mess coming out of both ends.