Movie Review: The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro has had a string of questionable movies, but I believe I’ve watched them all since Pan’s Labyrinth (which is a fantastic movie, btw, definitely check that out). My wife was really, really interested in seeing this movie, and so, without looking into it at all, we went to our first theater movie of 2018 to see “The Shape of Water.”

I really, really recommend just going to see it without seeing any spoilers. It’s not that the story is especially surprising. It’s mostly predictable once it sets up the characters and the plot moves on at a perfect pace. Humor is here. Love is here. Danger and violence is here. Nudity and sex is here–including some really bold ways to being a movie, I might add. And bold is probably a word I should use liberally in this review.

This is, quite simply, the best movie Del Toro has done since Pan’s Labyrinth. Is it better? I wouldn’t say that. I would say that he’s more accomplished now, and I think he is simply back in form as a dynamic, interesting storyteller of the fantastic. As a somewhat creative person myself, I was so happy to see this movie. The pacing allows you to think about what is going on, and the character and powers and everything else are revealed very intuitively and convincingly. You feel the frailty of the character. You feel the desperate situation that this creature, and really the entire cast of characters, is in.

The atmosphere is interesting and both a throwback and something new. The actors are perfectly cast, and really just a joy to watch–including a pretty convincing and yet sympathetic antagonist. The story ending will leave you satisfied.

My wife and I loved the movie. I would say this is as good a movie experience as I could have expected. Jenny and I both really enjoyed it. I’ll say 5/5 stars. It is a genuine triumph for Del Toro. I hope he gets to make more like this.

Movie Review: The Last Jedi

the-last-jedi-theatrical-blogThis is probably the most conflicted I’ve ever been leaving a theater. Usually, my reviews are either overwhelmingly positive (4+ stars out of 5) or just irredeemable (1-2). It’s rare for me to really give anything a medium grade. However, for Star Wars The Last Jedi, I find myself feeling that way on the first viewing. Let’s talk about the positives first.

I loved the character development for most of the main characters. Kylo Ren totally redeems himself as a villain here. He’s complex. He has external factors that have really driven him over the edge, including Luke, which is amazing and fantastic. Rey is interesting and emotional (I mean, maybe a bit too teary-eyed at every opportunity), but a fun arc. The total letdown of her heritage is forgivable. It’s not even a big deal. Finn? Man, I thought he was going to die here, and it was such a beautiful scene that the ending of it left me feeling totally robbed. I’ll go more into that later. Still, all of these had great character arcs. Rose had a good arc, and her sister’s death was beautifully done.

After this point, SPOILERS ARE HERE.

Some of the fight scenes were well done. I’ll go into one that I have major issues with, but the Snoke ship fight will be well remembered. Though, I did feel it was contrived and missed a huge opportunity to show the power of the characters. Specifically, Kylo is much more powerful than he’s made out to be in this scene. He uses force choking and pushes on almost anyone outside of fights like this, just as you might expect with Vader. Force Lightning. Rogue One introduced a Vader who used some of these while hand-to-hand fighting. Man, Kylo could have showed himself to be a total badass here. There are so many things at his disposal, and he uses none of them, opting instead to grapple with people. But it’s done for tension and, for the most part, this is well done.

Might I remind you that Jedis and Sith are so attuned to the force that they can react to light-speed blasters and deflect them with lightsabers, but they have issues avoiding simple grapples. Let’s put that aside for a minute, and just instead admit there are opportunities missed here to show just how powerful Kylo and Rey both are instead of constantly at the mercy of whatever reactionary events are around them and wanting to hit everything with lightsabers. I think we’ll see an even more dynamic fight scene, hopefully with actual force magic, in the third movie of this trilogy.

OK, we’re already bleeding into my issues with the movie. Let me try to just summarize some more good things.

I loved the Leia scene. Some people have made a negative thing about this, but Leia was always known as force-sensitive, and I think it’s an interesting arc to present that the force itself may have protected her from space because it had especial affinity toward her. That was pretty cool. I thought the porgs were fun, even if some of the puppetry was low quality. I remember a scene where a porg flies in the Chewbacca encounter where I found myself kind of thinking “ew, that didn’t even seem remotely real”.

I liked the tension and teases about a potential shift in both Kylo and Rey. It would have been really fun to see a full shift with the characters, with either Rey going full dark or Kylo going full light. This could have been a crazy interesting love plot too, but that’s unlikely to happen now.

Now, let’s get into major and minor issues that reduce this movie to a 3/5 and caused me to feel constantly uncomfortable, especially in the last 40 minutes or so of the movie.

My major problem with this movie is Luke

The major issue for me here is Luke’s arc and how it doesn’t mesh with any of his actions from the first trilogy. Luke is a man who literally went into a room, knowing it was almost certain death, with the two most powerful Sith in existence (Vader and Sidious) to fight them. In this movie, he remotely projects himself, keeping himself out of harm’s way. Some reviews have tried to tout this as some huge deal that obviously showed his power. Meanwhile, in the same movie, Rey and Kylo are remotely viewing and touching each other with the force across the same distances but safely. Wait, that’s apparently wrong. Snoke claims to have been the one who made that connection possible. Holy crap, Snoke must have been amazingly powerful right? No one even knew that was possible. We’ll get to Snoke in a moment. Let’s talk about Luke first.

Luke knows Leia needs him, and he knows he created Kylo. Rey has told him that there is still good in Kylo, and he can be saved. Do you remember how hard Luke tried to get his father to redeem himself? And he succeeded. His father, who had literally killed hundreds of children in Jedi temples, redeemed himself. Kylo killed a handful of people at the Jedi temple, and he’s irredeemable to Luke. And again, Luke knows he created Kylo, but he hides from him and his responsibilities. This remote projection thing? There is no indication that Luke knows he is sacrificing himself. In fact, at the very end, as he’s crawling back on top of the pedestal, he seems to finally realize what he has done. “Oh… right… I guess I’m fading away. Can’t help the resistance any further. Good luck, sis and galaxy!”

star-wars-759

I mean, it’s not like fans hadn’t been dreaming of Luke fighting off Kylo and his cadre of dark knights and sacrificing himself heroicly to save Rey or something…

This is a huge missed opportunity to create a cohesive narrative and fitting conclusion to Luke. OK, so maybe he’s lost, but Yoda helps him really find himself and stop his childish antics. The director/writer chooses to put Luke in a situation where he sort of redeems himself but out of physical harm. This felt incredibly out-of-character to me. I’m sure we’ll get Luke as a force ghost in the third movie in this trilogy, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll teach Rey some of the amazing things he has learned since. All of that was wasted here though and the movie feels hollow.

That being said, I’m hoping to watch this movie 3-4 more times at the theater because I really, really want to like it. If I can just completely forget everything I thought I knew about Luke, I think I can enjoy this movie the second or third time around. There are some other problems though, and these might nag me too much for me to really want to raise this above a 3/5 rating.

My secondary problems revolve around illogical decision making, rationalization, and strategy

I’m not going to go into the casino scene. Believe it or not, it wasn’t that much of a problem for me. Yeah, it was drawn out, and yeah, it was ultimately pointless, but so are most actions in a resistance. For that alone, I saw points to keeping it in, just to show how sometimes you try something and it fails in its objectives but brings characters like Finn and Rose closer together.

There were some things that bothered me about the casino scene that you might not have even noticed. The first was how it was declared that everyone at the casino was an arms dealer to either the First Order or both factions. If you found this logical, you probably haven’t thought this all the way through. Or maybe you’re just better than me at letting little things go.

The richest people in existence will always be landowners and commodity traders. Even during war. If you control basic necessities, especially during war, you are going to always be rich. The richest person in history was not a weapons manufacturer. It was John D. Rockefeller, who supplied oil products for people at ridiculous markups, which just so happened to also be a lucrative industry during war. People still pay rent, and the galaxy has a lot of people living everywhere, even in the Outer Rim. People need food. People need oxygen, water, energy, etc. People especially need fuel and power. Weapons manufacturers often have really high overheads, but yeah, they can make a lot of money during wartime because the demand is so high. However,  the movie kind of put an ultra-liberal ideology into play here that made me roll my eyes a bit, and I’m an independent, liberal-leaning guy myself. It just seemed contrived to negatively designate everyone at a casino with arms sellers since they were so rich. How the heck does that make sense?

Version 2Which leads me to another thing that bothered me: men are really dumb in this movie and natural male tendencies are punished throughout the film. Women are overpowered and hyper-rational and guys are really stupid. Luke is childish and cowardly. Poe is headstrong and testosterone driven in all the worst ways. Kylo is a bit childish and irrational, and easily led astray and distracted (e.g. with Luke). Even Finn, who is probably the most relate-able male in the film, is ultimately saved from doing something that a woman deems to be stupid (because she cared for him). Nevermind that what Finn was doing was courageous and noble and might have saved all of the resistance hierarchy, including maybe even Luke, by destroying the device capable of busting through the armored bunker. Apparently, Rose knew it would all work out and Finn was being silly for risking himself–despite the fact that Holdo had literally just done something similar in what was obviously hailed as a hero moment.

Women literally know everything in this film. Men contribute no knowledge or useful leadership. Rey is Kylo’s equal with no real force training (some street-based training on her home planet, but if you think a person with street skills is equal to someone with formal weapons training, try convincing an expert in martial arts of this). Leia is cautious and thinks of all the things, unlike Poe who leaps before he looks and almost ruins everything, all the time.

Holdo has everything under control and knows way more than Poe. But it apparently took her her entire lifetime in command to figure out that a single flagship pushed to light speed at just the right moment would take out an entire fleet of star destroyers and Snoke’s mega flagship. OK. Why didn’t you just do that as soon as their fleet showed up, sacrificing yourself, and saving tens of thousands of people, including Akbar and everyone else? Heck, why not just put it on autopilot? Even our pathetic human civilization (in comparison to the advanced tech of Star Wars) has autopilots. If you were ready to sacrifice yourself for your people and you knew this would work, then why not do this right away to save your people? Why was there this super smart plot to run away for hours and lose every ship in the resistance fleet if you could just nuke the bastards and save a medical frigate and other ships? Why did dumb old General Hux not light speed just a bit ahead of the resistance, wait for them, and blow them out of the sky at any point in this slow chase scene?

Why? Because boys in this movie are dumb. We’re apparently overconfident idiots, all the time. I felt a bit insulted by this movie, especially after the first couple of times the theme kept coming up. Women and men think in complementary ways. We should all be working together. What exactly is going on here?

Other than Finn, I don’t think I like or empathize with any male character. I empathized and liked almost every female character. To me, this is poor writing. I’m not even going to chalk this up to an overtly liberal agenda, as I’ve seen others doing. I just didn’t think the male characters were portrayed well, except for Kylo Ren, who finally started to become a good villain.

To be honest, by itself, none of this was a problem for me. At least there were good, developed women characters. Combined with other minor problems, it all just started eating away at my enjoyment of the movie. It’s highly possible that I became overcritical of certain things because major satisfaction points were not earned at key points in the movie. I felt like so many major opportunities were missed that little details began to accumulate.

Minor problem: backstory and minor arcs

Both Rey’s and Snoke’s backstories are laughably bad. You might argue that you didn’t know much about Palpatine, and the treatments of Snoke and Palpatine were similar, but were they? Palpatine and Amidala were both from Naboo. Vader was from Tatooine.  Darth Maul was apparently from Dathomir. We learned this in the prequels. Palpatine has a pretty well developed arc, especially in that you know what he’s been up to. Meanwhile, Snoke seems more powerful than Darth Sidious (Palpatine) ever was, even creating tunnels between a Light and Dark avatars (Rey and Kylo) through space. He must have been alive while Vader and Palpatine were in existence. He must have been powerful and brooding and waiting. Doesn’t that sound interesting? We could have learned this with a short montage. Something. Anything. Nothing. Huge missed opportunity here.

Rey came from nothing. OK. That’s cool. Not a problem, but what about the first contact of Rey with the Dark Side? Let me note something that bothered me right away here. The Dark Side is alluring throughout the entire Star Wars series. If you need something, especially something emotional, man is it ever there for you. Remember when Anakin was having bad dreams about Padme dying? The Dark Side had an answer. Be like Plageis. Find a way to prevent your loved ones from dying. Vader tried luring Luke with a family connection and the promise to rule together as father and son. Did you notice what Rey wanted? What she asked the Dark Side on the island?

Who are my parents?

So what if they were nobodies? She wouldn’t have cared. It’s obvious that she wouldn’t have cared. The Dark Side could have traded for major brownie points here by trying to lure her over with any answer. Show a common junk trader and his smiling wife. Show a lie. That would have been even more appropriate. What did the Dark Side show her? Herself? Are you kidding me? The Dark Side is lame. It’s not even trying to win her over. What the hell? Like Luke, this felt really out of character for a side that has been characterized as powerful and alluring throughout the series. Here, it’s just lame. I wouldn’t want to join you either.

At least the director sort of made up for it after Snoke died by having Kylo appeal to Rey to join him. And there was an emotional connection that might have worked. For that reason alone, I was with the movie and forgave this problem with both the Dark Side’s original lack of overtures and Snoke’s lack of interest (which mirrored Palpatine’s initial disinterest in Luke). This did not really diminish the movie for me. I just thought it was a wasted opportunity to show the lure of the Dark Side and to, I don’t know, provide some consistent character portrayal in at least how the Dark Side interacts with people. The Dark Side plays with emotions. That’s literally what it does throughout the series. Oh well, first impression. Maybe The Dark Side was just really nervous. Poor Dark Side.

BTW, what happened to the Knights of Ren from the Force Awakens? If they really are students of Luke Skywalker turned to the Dark Side by the story of Luke’s betrayal of Kylo, then I’m hoping we see them in the next movie. I hope they don’t just drop out of existence.

Wrap Up

The movie had some fun fight scenes. The CGI and visuals were great. The emotional ties to most of the characters were great. The storyline was, for the most part, good. Kylo’s story here is significantly improved and he’s a villain you can really root for and against (perfect for villains). I’m looking forward to the third movie, despite the problems mentioned here.

On the con side, Luke’s character arc doesn’t really make sense, and he is very uncharacteristically cowardly here. Deus Ex Machina devices are introduced without foreshadowing. Leia’s scene has foreshadowing from other movies that she might be capable of extraordinary force usage, so that’s fine and I’m definitely giving her force scene here a pass. If anything, she should have used force gifts again. Oh well, no chance of that now (RIP Leia). Holdo’s novel usage of light-speed to destroy a fleet is so weird that foreshadowing would have been appreciated (such as a small scale example of this happening in the opening battle, for instance). I would expect both sides to start weaponizing this kind of tactic at scale, but I have a feeling this will never be used again, which makes this even sillier. Luke’s projection thing? Man, would have been great to see him do this at a shorter distance in front of Rey or something and show what he’s capable of so we’d all be prepared for it. I’m not a fan of Deus Ex Machina devices at all, especially in the 9th or so movie in a series without any warning.

Plot devices used here are sometimes ludicrous, especially the light speed martyrdom and when it is finally used–instead of at a time that would have saved most of the Resistance. The male characters in this movie are stupid (in that they are literally dumb and make all of the wrong decisions) on both sides of the battlefield. The only smart people seem to be women or men who know their role (e.g., Chewie just doing his job). Meanwhile, the “smart” decisions made by the resistance hierarchy seem more reliant on luck than some kind of super smart vision or strategy. Ultimately, many small problems made me like the movie less than I should have.

Still, 3 out of 5 is not a horrible score. It’s just that, for a Star Wars film, it’s not a good score either. After The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I was expecting a truly remarkable film. The trailer had me going nuts. The thought of Luke fighting again and even dying heroically was so much fun to think about, and I feel major opportunities were missed here that could have driven fans absolutely wild and made us all super excited about the next movie.

I do plan on going to the theater at least a couple more times to see this. I feel like I’m missing something or maybe my expectations were just too high about Luke and Kylo’s battles. I expected Luke to die. That’s not even close to my problem. The way he lived and died in the last thirty minutes, especially, just seemed really out-of-character for me.

Like me on my second viewing, I would recommend completely forgetting who Luke is and what has driven him in the past. Pretend like this is the first time you’ve ever seen him and maybe you’ll be ok. That’s what I’m going to try. I’ll add a comment to this post after my second view.

Movie Review: Justice League

justice_leagueAfter the really impressive showing with the standalone Wonder Woman movie by Patty Jenkins, my wife and I were really looking forward to Justice League. How excited were we? We decided to organize a family movie day with relatives visiting us for Thanksgiving, and we took the time out of our PTO to watch this movie with my brother-in-law. My other relatives went to see Murder on the Orient Express (which is good, btw, and very faithful to Agatha Christie–worth seeing, but Jenny and I had already gone the week prior). Before going, we discussed the Rotten Tomatoes score for Justice Leagure (currently 39%), and I read some reviews. This allowed me to temper my expectations a lot.

It didn’t help.

Justice League is simply irredeemable on any level, as a movie. Before we even get started, this is a solid 2/5. If there is a 3 hour Director’s Cut, I might watch that to see if Zach Snyder had even tried to do enough backstory before the editors cut out too much. How bad was it? When the movie finished, my wife and I looked at each other and just laughed. She left after watching the first end credit scene (which was really early in the credits). She asked me to watch and tell her if anything interesting happened. The thing was, I was already leaving my chair after we had exchanged a look.

So why a 2? Flash’s humorous one liners for me, maybe. For my wife, we talked about Jason Momoa’s naked torso. You know what? If that’s what you need, here are some images. You don’t have to see the movie.

#MomoaForTheLadies

Henry Cavill also gets shirtless screen time. The Cyborg gets shirtless but his body is metal, so you’re not getting a treat for that, sorry. Some of the Amazons have stomachs showing instead of breastplates, but the media frenzy over this is hardly worth mentioning. It’s not even close to what kills this movie. So what’s the problem here?

Zach Snyder is the problem. Now, before I go on, I know that Zach Snyder is still dealing with a family tragedy, even months later, and he will always be dealing with this tragedy. As a fan of movies, and as someone who has literally watched every DC movie to date, that shouldn’t impact my ability to like this film.

I’ve also watched all Zach Snyder films. I loved 300. I really, really liked Watchmen, which many people do not. I did like Man of Steel also. But as far as pacing and exposition go, he just seems overwhelmed in many of his recent movies especially. Justice League is an absolute train wreck of storytelling.

If you watch this movie, please try to tell me what Steppenwolf’s actual powers are. It’s only in hindsight, and after reading people who love the comics describe Darkseid, that I had any idea that Darkseid’s potential arrival was the real menace. Do you remember the Batman fantasy of Darkseid in Batman vs. Superman? No? Me neither. There’s no reintroduction of the threat.

The only flashbacks you’re going to get is to a previous fight with Steppenwolf where he actually had these three devices that when put together cause a mystery scenario, and that apparently did nothing. It literally just called in a Green Lantern who apparently got killed with no backstory, united the Atlanteans, humans, and Amazons and they beat back Steppenwolf. So, you find out Steppenwolf is defeatable by lightning-wielding Atlanteans, but he apparently didn’t get afraid then. Why is that important? I don’t want to give that away, if you’re actually going to watch this.

As with many Zach Snyder films, he gets too engrossed in the original material, and his editors can’t chop, cut and frame the movie in a way that makes cohesive sense. The villain is not at all menacing enough to warrant this team. This is not in any way an equivalent matchup to Loki and the Avengers or anything else really. Steppenwolf attacks a random deactivated nuclear power plant in Russia, instead of a major metropolis to make this seem like a real threat. Sure, he was going to destroy the world… or was he? It was only after the movie that I realized the Darkseid threat. There was NO introduction of this threat. There is no cutscene of Darkseid. There is no real ominous warning about Darkseid. Apparently, Zach Snyder and his editors believed that we all know the comic source and we understand the real threat is bigger than Steppenwolf.

No. No, we do not. My poor brother-in-law kept turning to me and asking me questions. Who is that? Where does he come from? What is going on here? That’s Cyborg. His dad appears to have made him, but we don’t even get a minor genesis story. He’s apparently mad at not knowing what’s going on with him. I’m mad about not knowing what’s going on too, and I’m an author who prides myself on being able to predict and understand things quickly. It wasn’t that I was completely lost during the story. I got a lot of what was going on, but I was also super disappointed in the lack of storytelling, drama, suspense, or anything else.

Everything seemed forced. Did Superman struggle with his rebirth? No. He came out, no holes, ready to fight with good guys, despite the fact that he obviously remembered some of them. And the Batman thing? Remembering him and what happened and not remembering that they teamed up? The whole Louis Lane thing? For it to work, it would have needed more time, and it’s not like it needed a lot. Maybe some very dramatic pauses where she is looking at something and is interrupted from dreaming about Superman. Just constantly. Then this would have been more emotional. It seemed forced though. The whole movie seemed forced. One bad transition after another. No backstory.

You kind of needed origin stories for both Aquaman and Cyborg. Even a short 5 minute backstory for each would have done this. My brother-in-law shouldn’t be confused about who the heck this guy is. Neither should I. I don’t read the comics. Why should I HAVE to read the comics to understand what is going on? Guide me through it. “What’s Aquaman’s deal?” I’m not even sure he was introduced as such. I just knew Jason Momoa was going to play Aquaman because who hasn’t watched trailers and read into this before seeing it. And even with all of my research and understanding of the basics here, I wasn’t just lost, I was really, really disappointed.

And remember, I had tempered my expectations. If this would have just been spectacle and fun, then I would have been fine. That was literally my expectation, but it wasn’t even that. The grave digging scene was a bit chuckle-worthy with Flash. Him tripping over his feet was funny. He was basically the affable side kick in comics–the humorous guy. But like my brother-in-law said later,

“Wasn’t he in X-Men?”

“No, that was Quicksilver, but Marvel and DC have many similar characters. I mean, even Deadpool has a counterpart in DC.”

“Oh, really? Who’s Superman’s counterpart?”

“Um… maybe Hulk or Thor? The problem with Superman is he’s just all powerful. He gets more and more powerful as his adversaries grow powerful.”

And this is a REAL problem in this movie. Holy Geez. In Man of Steel, Superman has some vulnerability. He’s taken to his limits and he is even taken to a moral/ethical limit. Like it or hate it, it was a powerful scene at the end. In this movie? Superman is not at all kept in check in any way. Even Flash can’t keep up with him in terms of speed, his real gift. Superman can’t even be distracted. That’s why there really hasn’t been a pure Marvel counterpart to Superman. You created something ridiculous, and although Superman has faced real challenges in comics, it doesn’t translate in this movie. This was a laughably hollow climax.

I’ve seen reviews from “critics” or “average reviewers” who claim that everyone stood and clapped at the end of their showing. That absolutely did not happen with ours. No one clapped. Most people left without staying to watch the final end credit bonus screen where you learn that a man with no name is showing up. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this works. The X-Men ending where the four horsemen and the Apocalypse preview? That was actually really interesting. I wasn’t as interested in Lex Luthor’s vision of the future. I didn’t even know why or what he was doing.

Apparently, staying true to the comics means you have to just view Lex Luthor as chaotic evil and just against Superman no matter what. In the original Superman movies, you at least understood what Lex was doing. He had a plan, and it was self-serving. Even in later movies, you still felt something for Lex. Now? I feel nothing for Lex. He’s not menacing. I don’t understand him, and I really, really don’t care.

The next Justice League might be the first DC movie I don’t see, and that’s saying something. I sat through Batman vs. Superman. It was ok, but I didn’t like it and won’t watch it again. Suicide Squad I would watch again for Harley Quinn, who is an amazing character, and some of the other characters were kind of fun. After so many Zach Snyder films that I’ve been disappointed in, though? I don’t find myself very interested. Maybe if Rotten Tomatoes has a great rating for a movie he does, I’ll take a chance. Even Uwe Boll had Rampage, and I haven’t been able to make it through any of his other movies (never tried to see one in theaters, only at home when I was bored).

Again, Justice League is a solid 2/5, and it is really rare that I can’t find enough good in a movie to give it at least 3/5 score. Pros: Jason Momoa shirtless for the ladies. Flash is a fun character and should get his own standalone without Zach Snyder. Cons: Zach Snyder. Poor exposition. Bad storytelling. No backstory. Most people will be lost. Bad guy not very menacing. Team not really as interesting together as they could have been. So much lost promise. I mean Superman’s resurrection? Why is that not amazing? Movie not what it could have been.

Movie Roundup (Bladerunner and Thor)

My wife and I try to catch a movie at the theater every weekend, when we can. Sometimes, movies disappoint, but Rotten Tomatoes has definitely helped us find the movies that are going to entertain us. I haven’t done a movie review in a while, but I need to catch up.

For now, let’s talk about Bladerunner 2049 and Thor. We’ll start with Bladerunner and why you should see it.

blade_runner_promotionalThe original Bladerunner flopped at the box office and only gained recognition after its box office run, when people began to watch it at video rental stores in the 80s. It gained a cult following and has been consistently named one of the best science fiction films of all time.

What may surprise you is that Bladerunner 2049 beats the original in every conceivable way. Bladerunner 2049 is simply one of the best science fiction films I think we’ve ever seen. It is that rare sequel that is better than the first.

The plot of the 2nd movie was actually surprising to me, while the plot of the original was not. The casting was really well done, and each actor made their characters, even the androids, very relatable. The central theme builds on the premise of the value of android lives but in a new and unexpected way. There are intellectual elements of the movie Her in here, but twisted in a way that relates the issue to how Androids might fall in love with technology. It’s actually quite amazing. This movie is a solid 5 stars. It will make you think. It will make you feel, and if you love science fiction, you are almost certainly going to love the look, feel, and smarts of this film. I know Jenny and I certainly did!


thor_ragnarokThe second movie absolutely worth talking about that is currently in theaters is Thor: Ragnarok. One of my wife’s and my favorite comedies is “What We Do in the Shadows.” It was an absolutely hilarious mockumentary about vampires dealing with the modern age. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. Why is “What We Do in the Shadows” relevant? Because the director for Thor is the same one who directed and starred in both films. The guy is hilarious.

And that’s what makes “Thor: Ragnarok” really special. It’s not as deep as Bladerunner. Very few films are. However, it takes the concepts in Thor, especially all of the craziest sci-fi concepts in the Thor universe, and it makes them fun and relatable in a way that the previous two Thor films simply did not do. The first two Thors, I still enjoyed, but they were often very dark and very pure blockbuster format. “Thor: Ragnarok” sticks to the blockbuster format but then makes fun of itself and invites the audience along for the laughs.

Thor gets captured. Busts out. Beats the bad guy. Thor gets captured. Fights with a friend, is betrayed, busts out, and beats the bad guy. Loses part of himself but also gains new power in the process. Formulaic right?

The keys to this film are in the details and its execution. The supporting cast bolster this film even more than Thor does, but Chris Hemsworth also gets to show off his comedic timing–which is spot on throughout. Taika Waititi makes a fun supporting character with a voiceover that is just so wildly different from what the character would usually speak like, and he’s also got the bumbling supercharacter shtick that he had in “What We Do in the Shadows.” Powerful but hopelessly socially awkward and a bit thick. It makes for some very funny stuff.

And Cate Blanchett? Amazing job. Powerful and oddly sensual. She conveys this dangerous, beautiful, and strong bad character that is easy to understand and empathize with (she’s been wronged by Odin).

I’m sure I would have seen this movie, with or without Taika Waititi directing it, but man, am I so glad that Marvel took a chance on him. That risk definitely paid off. I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Definitely another 5 star movie in my opinion, but for very different reasons. Bladerunner is topnotch sci-fi. Thor is fun and very humorous. If you’re in the mood for a comedy, especially, Thor: Ragnarok will not disappoint!


wrath_and_ruinNow, back to books briefly. My fourth novel is in the hands of beta readers. It’s going to be released as part of the Wrath and Ruin limited edition box set, and right now, the set is only 99 cents as a pre-order.

This set has 25 authors and 24 novels in it. Some of these guys and gals are USA Today Bestselling Science Fiction and Fantasy authors. Authors like Isaac Hooke, Nicole Zoltack, Lydia Sherrer, Cortney Pearson, Ali Winters, and Pamita Rao. You can click on the image to the left to find some preorder links to all the major vendors. In case the link isn’t working, here is another page that has links to all vendors as well.

For 99 cents, as it’s priced right now, this is an absolute steal. When I heard about this set, I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and it was a great forcing function for me to finish The People’s Necromancer. I can’t wait for you guys to read this book. If you weren’t able to make the Facebook Launch, you missed a great time. You also missed some fun giveaways (I gave away all of my books for free, for a limited time).

I’m now working on The Dark Paladin, the sequel to The People’s Necromancer. I’m hoping to release it in 2018.

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

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Let me give you the short version first. I have no idea what is wrong with audiences or critics who have been complaining about this film. It is very timely. It is gorgeous, and it is a good movie.

Actually, I can very directly tell you why this movie has been torpedoed by critics. It has essentially been plagued by issues with typecasting, whitewashing, etc. that have been blown way the heck out of proportion, e.g., in reviews like this. I’m not going to go into that. It’s a waste of time. Instead, let’s focus on the film itself.

My first point is that the film is timely. It’s about your personality and your privacy in the digital age. Republicans are pushing a bill that allows for your personal data, history and possibly even content to be sold by ISPs. Similar to how Major has no real rights to her mind, her thoughts, and even her own body. We’re incorporating devices into our lives that are going to be even more personal than smartphones. Implants, though they seem so farfetched, are not that far off in our future. There is already so much pressure on teenagers and young people to conform to a certain type of beauty and a certain type of online, social intelligence, that it is not farfetched to believe that a social pressure might be exerted to enhance beauty with implants. In South Korea, the rate of plastic surgery is astronomical to conform to beauty standards within the society.

As more of our job market is taken over by robots, there is going to be an incredible amount of pressure on the next two generations to push themselves scholastically to be able to get a job. Is it so farfetched to believe that people might resort to implants to store more information, help them process data faster, and learn faster? Do jobs faster? Be stronger? Be smarter? Be better? And who owns that data? According to our current congress, it’s going to be the companies. So, this movie is extremely timely. You should watch the movie if for no other reason than to keep that idea fresh in your mind.

Second, the movie has a solid flow and is comfortable to watch. The characters are reasonably well-defined on a sci-fi concept that is markedly different from our world today. World building in a 2 hour movie can be a hard thing, but the director did a good job of not just world building but also character development and story plotting (editors I’m sure had a lot to do with that).

Third, the movie is downright beautiful. The robots, such as the geishas, are really well done. It presents the ugliness in humans as well as our softer features and beauty, in a way. It presents the scenery of a Shanghai or Hong Kong or Tokyo built to the extreme that all anime and cyber punk books have pushed since the 80s. My wife didn’t like the 3D projections on buildings, but it’s not that far off from what you would expect to see after visiting a major Asian metropolis right now.

The movie is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. There is absolutely zero reason to avoid it in theaters. My wife and I both enjoyed it, and she absolutely hates anime. I doubt she could have sat through the original movie. This movie SHOULD have opened up American audiences to these important themes about digital privacy and self in an age of implants and cybernetics (which is fast upon us), but because of whitewashing conversations run amok, we’ll have to wait longer to have that conversation on a large scale. I would still recommend seeing it.

Warcraft Movie Review


My Background with Blizzard (feel free to skip to TLDR)

For this review, I should probably divulge a bit of my gaming background (which can help you understand if this review is at all biased). In my youth, I played a lot of real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based games. Some of my favorites growing up were Panzer General, Final Fantasy Tactics, Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV (and basically anything by KOEI at the time, including the American Revolution-focused one) and even some old computer games like Seven Kingdoms (which I have yet to meet someone else who has played this fun game).

I actually didn’t play my first Blizzard game until well into my teens, but the company has stuck with me. I played Warcraft I, but I had some pretty extensive experience at the time with other RTS games and, quite frankly, I wasn’t that blown away by it. It was fine. It was fun, but I only played it through once before I went to other games. I didn’t play another Blizzard game until I had left high school and my first year of college. One of my friends introduced me to Diablo (which was amazing), and I retroactively played through Warcraft II, which was pretty good, and Warcraft III, which was amazing, and I started creating custom maps and various nerd levels of immersion. Starcraft followed, but for several years, I stopped playing any Blizzard games.

It was several years later that a friend told me about World of Warcraft, and I played that for a few years before leaving the world of Azeroth for ~4 years or so. I was burned pretty seriously by the real-money auction house (RMAH) nonsense in Diablo II back when it was very poorly led, and at the time, I vowed to not play another Blizzard North game. I have kept that vow with Diablo II, even though friends have told me that after the lead developer left, everything got much better. I came back a few years ago and have been raiding and raid leading in WoW pretty much ever since. However, I’m not a lore junky. I really play the games for the real-time strategy aspects of raid leading, rather than caring much for the story.

TLDR: I have played most of the Blizzard games and have a love-hate relationship with them. It’s more love than hate, and the hate is mostly a result of poor management of some of the franchises and a hatred for myself at allowing games to distract me so well from getting meaningful things done. I didn’t remember the plot to Warcraft, the original, as I really wasn’t that enthralled with it at the time, so I wasn’t invested in the characters or setting, really, before I went to the movie.


The Warcraft Movie

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For anyone following Blizzard, you probably know that the Warcraft movie was something promised many years ago (2006) and it has essentially taken 10 years to get to the screen due to various production setbacks. After a while, it became a kind of joke–like Starcraft Ghost–that was oft repeated by the gaming masses. However, the movie is being released this weekend, and I got a chance to see a test screening yesterday.

Before I went, I took a look at the Rotten Tomatoes score, which has a current review of 20%–pretty atrocious. I read some of the critics reviews, and I read some of the viewer comments, and I prepared myself for the worst. I almost didn’t see this movie, but I decided to give it a chance.

I was not disappointed. The movie is great for any lover of fantasy and speculative fiction, and I’ll go into why by responding to some of the reviews.

What the critics are saying

I will start with one of the critics that I frequently roll my eyes to the most, Scott Mendelson. If you read through his review, you’ll see that he is heavily biased against video game franchises. He notes his bias towards these kinds of genres, citing Assassin’s Creed in the same breath as Gods of Egypt (which was not a video game property, as far as I’m aware).

To understand the critics’ spectrum, let’s take a look to someone who was using “Lord of the Rings” as a baseline instead of other video game properties. He flatly states in his review that ‘this is not “Lord of the Rings.” It’s barely “Dungeons & Dragons.”‘

This is essentially the main points of concern you will see repeated in critical reviews. It’s another video game movie. It’s trying to be Lord of the Rings but fails. Etc.

Why the critics are dumb

I only have a blog post to really address this, so let me just keep this short. Critics tend to favor movies that 1) glorify preserving nature (e.g., Avatar or basically any movie going against big corporations), 2) have a ridiculous, unforeseen plot that keeps them guessing or that challenges genre norms (this is hard for critics to find because they have experienced so many movies), 3) exposes something deeply human that moves the reviewer (generally needs to show deep emotional connections between people and other people or something insightful about the dangers of people and technology) or 4) have major respect for a director and assume a deep dive of the movie will provide deeper meaning.

Warcraft is not going to fit into any of these categories. 1) It shows a race of beings who destroy an entire world before the movie starts, and only a portion of them seem worried about the effects of this mysterious fel on the environment. It does not punish the Orc people for this wanton abuse of nature, and this offends more liberal sensibilities. If a movie does not rectify such behavior, it’s generally panned by critics. It’s just the truth about liberal critics. 2) It is mostly predictable. It even has a particular, kind-of-awkward love story that you have recently seen in a Hobbit movie–though with different races and I should note that the Hobbit story between an elf and a dwarf came roughly 2 decades after the same scene was basically done in the Warcraft game back in 1994. 3) The movie focuses on the response of humanity to an invading threat. There are people dying all around, and the mechanisms that had once brought safety to the world of Azeroth, are failing them (even the alliances between men, dwarves and elves.) There really isn’t much time to stop and develop close connections, and there were some editing decisions that limit the impact of the attempts at establishing a love story between the two worlds. This is very forgivable as the scope of the movie is sweeping and grand. 4) Duncan Jones has two previous movies under his belt–both with great Rotten Tomatoes scores–but most of the reviewers see this movie as a small blip against him. I think this bias started beforehand because Warcraft is a departure from the types of films Duncan worked on before this film, and critics tend to look unfavorably on that.

It seems like if a director does big budget but is true to what the critic liked about the earlier films, it’s forgivable, but if they make a big budget story that doesn’t try to satisfy the first 3 major critical appreciation categories, then the critical response tends to be very negative. The film still has merit, however, regardless of how the critics viewed the movie as failing in the first 3 categories.

Why you are going to like this movie

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The characters and setting are a lot of fun. Medivh? You get how powerful the guy is without any real backstory. He will do things that are extraordinary. You’ll dislike him for certain things, but he is constantly redeeming himself in ways large and small.

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The interactions between Anduin Lothar and anyone else. Anduin is essentially like Strider from Lord of the Rings but stronger as a character in basically every way. He’s not yet in power, but he has all the makings of it. He’s not self-doubting (which is one of the more annoying things about Strider in LotR). He makes good decisions you can understand. Honestly, I have always played Horde in these types of games because I think being a bad guy is more fun, but this performance makes me rethink that position.

Garona is a bit of a hit and a miss. I understand how hard this must have been to play, and it’s humorous how the portrayal was done. You will laugh at how blunt, practical, and honest orcs like the Frostwolves can be. It ends up being their bane, but the complexity of the Orcs is a radical departure from Lord of the Rings fare. Orcs in traditional fantasy were not caring, loving, or capable of reason. They were monsters and had a lust for killing humanity that was at points ludicrous and inexplicable. Here, in this story, you are going to understand why, and you are going to root for them and the humans at the same time. Durotan’s portrayal is pretty awesome, and his fight against Guldan is everything it should have been.

Guldan is as powerful as Medivh (if not moreso because of the lengths he will go for power) and his portrayal is both convincing and repulsive (as it needs to be). As someone who did not remember this plot at all (it’s been 2 decades since I played this game), this all played out well for me. I enjoyed the plot, the characters, the amazing powers, etc.

The CGI is some of the best that has been produced for a fantasy film. You are going to love how computer graphics bring these orcs to life. You will believe those are the real actor muscles. You will forget about the teeth being unnatural, and the griffon being a mythical creature who is not really moving so fluidly. The CGI is not overdone. It is immersive. It is used for good effect. The magic system will make sense without you needing it explained to you. It is used, the effects are obvious, and the toll it takes on characters like Medivh and who suffers when Guldan uses his magic are practical, obvious, and reliable.

In other words, the plot makes sense. The magic makes sense. The scale is epic. The love interest is perhaps a bit rushed (I believe editing might have had something to do with this), but the action and story are unique and interesting.

Bottom Line

I believe that if you are reading this blog, you are going to like this movie. It was very well made, both from a technical CGI perspective and from a plotting and character development perspective. It doesn’t have the opportunity to say something super important about humanity (at least, not the kind of lesson critics believe movies should have), but it does say something about humanity’s willingness to sacrifice and compromise for the greater good. It also presents Orcs in a way that is relatable and presents a good conflict in the viewer’s mind that justifies the Orcs being seen as both enemies and allies.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Movie Review

So, there are three ways to experience the Millennium Trilogy (aka “that girl with the dragon tattoo thing”, as I’ve heard it referred to). The absolute best way to experience the story would be through the three books. I think we can all agree on that. Second would be the Swedish version that is available on Netflix. The third is the new feature film released this week in the U.S.

First, let’s talk about the 2nd option (the Swedish version). Even with subtitles, Noomi Rapace nails the best portrayal of her that I could want. Lisbeth is strong, confident, and utterly damaged. She doesn’t need a man. She’s better off without any of them–even Mikael. She’s brilliant, cunning, and as my wife says “kicks ass.”

Anyone who has seen what happens to a script that gets run through the Hollywood meat grinder knows exactly what happens to a European film adapted for American audiences. Look no further than the 2010 version of “Death at a Funeral”. I still shudder at even thinking about trying to finish that film (I couldn’t even get half-way through it the first time). Let’s face it. Sometimes, Hollywood butchers a good script.

That’s not so with the 2011 version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” They didn’t butcher it. There are improvements, and there are places where the movie didn’t live up to the Swedish version. Let’s go over a few things without giving too much away.

First, the opening credits of the latest edition are a lot more engaging. There’s a sort of black oil thing going on, and I can never get enough of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant song. It’s just good fun. If there’s one thing that Hollywood still does better than anyone else, it’s flashy CGI. A++ on this effort.

Now, the most important part of the movie: Lisbeth. Not as good. Oversexed in this one and not in a way that really moved the film along better. The key scenes (like the rape) are pretty well done (as far as effect is concerned)–though I’m still partial to the Swedish version in how disturbing it was. There’s one thing I didn’t really like about Lisbeth’s character here though: she’s too… well… nice. She asks Mikael to lay down. She’s warm when I feel she shouldn’t be. She openly loves Mikael and is upset by him still sleeping around. I’m curious to how David Fincher will rectify this major change in her character. After all, her coldness is supposed to be a family trait–one she shares with her brother and father. You’re not supposed to melt the ice cube, imo. That was part of her charm and intrigue. We’ve also lost a way for her old guardian to explain to Mikael more about her father and what he’s done and is doing. I sure hope it isn’t Mikael’s daughter that manages to somehow decipher this (you’ll get this reference when you see the new version–if you’ve seen the old one).

She’s still intriguing though. And her T-shirts made my wife and I giggle. She’s still stand-offish to other people and the essence of the character is still intact. Mikael has a much larger role. Lisbeth doesn’t really solve as much as she did before, and I’m not sure if that’s altogether a good thing. After all, the next two movies are supposed to be all about her and her family. Will the audience be able to follow the big transition from “All Mikael” to “All Lisbeth” in the sequels? Probably.

This may seem like a bad review of the movie. In actuality, it’s not. I just really liked the Swedish version. My wife and I plan to go to the theater again to watch the Hollywood adaptation. We both saw and loved the Swedish version, but the new movie was very good. It was just different.

So, go out and see the new “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movie. But see the Swedish version too. It’s probably best to watch the Swedish version second.

More movie reviews and a silly video

First, the silly video. Here’s a cat on a turtle.

Now, back to some movie reviews for Netflix titles. I love Netflix, and my wife loves to sleep. This could cause a lot of problems, but thankfully, Netflix has a large gallery of foreign films with English subtitles, which allow me to play the movie low and not miss dialogue. Not all foreign movies can be watched this way though and still have a decent enjoyment level. So, in this series of reviews, I also add a Sleeping Roommate Score (SRS) to indicate the likelihood of being able to watch the movie with a sleeping roommate or spouse in the next room and manage to not get yelled at and perpetual evil looks the next day.


First, the good. Max Manus.

From its interesting and casual storytelling of the work of saboteurs to its emotional and epic cinematography, this is a movie that keeps you interested and guessing. It’s a hero’s tale and though much of the story can be predicted, it was so well crafted that even predicting the plot felt rewarding. The dialogue mixes between languages so you’ll have some subtitles. Mixed with the action sequences and explosions, this means you cannot really watch this with a sleeping roommate nearby. But my wife stayed up to watch this one with me. It’s worth a watch.

Title: Max Manus
Rating: 5 stars. Excellent movie.
SRS: 2 star. You should not try watching this with a roommate sleeping near you.


Now, the unusually surprising. They’re not five stars, but they’re 3-4 stars and worth watching as a cinematic experience. And just me admitting to this is something that brings up very mixed emotions. Uwe Boll… has managed… to direct… two decent films. Yes, the director of Blood Rayne and Blood Rayne: Third Reich (both very terrible, btw).

Now, a warning. Apparently, the only thing Uwe Boll appears to do decently right now is extremely graphic violence. So, keep in mind that I have an ability to try to look past gory scenes, especially if there is a purpose in it.

Title: Rampage
Rating: 4 stars. Not a perfect movie, but for Uwe Boll, wow. It’s important to remember that this is a heist film and an interesting perspective on society. If you can get past the slow build and the insane psychopathic rage, you may actually say “you know… that’s actually ingenious.” And then you’ll realize you just said that about a Uwe Boll screenplay and directorship. Worth a watch.
SRS: 1 star. Under no circumstances will you get away with watching this on Netflix, hear the dialogue, and not anger sleeping persons.
WARNING: Language and Extreme Violence

Title: Attack on Darfur
Rating: 4 stars. Again, not a perfect movie, but it is a powerful portrayal of the conflict. From what I’ve read, real Darfur survivors were cast in the movie and much of their parts were unscripted–Uwe Boll listened to them and let them re-enact things that had happened to them and their families and friends. The plot of the Americans? Very fantasized. But, it is a movie and the American presence may help ground the story for most viewers.
SRS: 3 stars. Mixture of English and subtitles for the Sudanese and Arabic dialects. The good news is that the loud parts will become very obvious to you. There’s a huge battle scene, and almost everything after that point can be watched and not heard (or heard softly).

BOTH of these movies were started before I realized they were him. I’ve picked up a few others after I find his occasional success. The successes are a rarity though.


Title: The Warring States
Rating: 2 stars. Mostly bad. I love Asian movies. I’ve seen pretty much every movie set in the Three Kingdoms period that has ever been made. This movie tries to romanticize the historical setting of a possible author of the Art of War back in the Warring States period, but it is no Three Kingdoms. The CGI battles look very cheap. Some of the fight scenes are good, but I didn’t use the word “great” and I certainly didn’t say “All”. The death scene was just ridiculous. You’ll know the one I’m talking about when you see it. It’s not the fact that the person died. It’s that they’re even able to interact as they did. And it happens at the end, which is 9x worse than this happening in the middle or somewhere less memorable and lasting.
SRS: 5 stars. You can totally watch this with the subtitles on and volume down.

Movie Review: TrollHunter

So, I have this addiction. Sometimes instead of writing or researching, I’ll browse around Netflix and pick out random movies. This fascination with mostly low budget film has resulted in me rolling around on the couch for thirty minutes laughing at the absurdity of Megashark versus Giant Octopus (Syfy is by and large a terrible, terrible network and 30 minutes was the extent of my willingness to play along) and the remake of Moby Dick (also SyFy), but it has also resulted in me finding gems like 13 Assassins and the surprisingly good TrollHunter.

TrollHunter Trailer:

TrollHunter impressed me in a few distinct ways. First, it went with a Blair Witch angle and actually nailed the type of first person, campy camera crew feel. Second, Norway is just a gorgeous country, and I’m pretty sure you could film an old man running through the country in his skivvies and you’d at least have a 3 out of 10 star film review from me. And third, the pacing, story, and willingness to kill a main character was appreciated. Once the director did that, I was expecting the worse for our film crew, but it built a living folk hero instead.

I was very pleasantly surprised all around with the film. Definitely an indie-budget movie I would recommended. Even the special effects are 9x better than what I expected.

Review: 4.0 out of 5.0. Recommended.

Happy reading and viewing everyone!

Edit: Just found out that Rotten Tomatoes gave TrollHunter an 82%, so I’m definitely in agreement with critics on this one!

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