My thoughts on Stranger Things Season 2

 

Stranger Things Season 2

Stranger Things Season 2

I love this show. I just finished Season 2, and here are my brief yet rambling thoughts on it. Very minor spoilers ahead.

Season Two did the impossible — it was a perfect continuation of the mood and flavor of Season 1. It picks up a year after Season One ended, but certain cliffhangery elements from that first season are just now reaching critical mass. And then things get crazy.

Stranger Things is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket. It’s just a wonderful show all around — great characters, great atmosphere, terrific pacing and filmmaking. And it really does feel more like a film in some wasy than a television show. They’ve taken elements from some of the great 80s properties and creators — King, Speilberg, Carpenter, Lynch — blended them all together and added something new, and the result is awesome.

Stranger Things raises the bar for serialized television entertainment. The mind reels to think of the possibility of getting an eight-episode-season of the Star Wars TV show at this level of quality. (!!)

MINOR SPOILERS, addressing The Lost Sister: Eleven is back, and she kicks ass. The showrunners opt not to give us the reuninon between Eleven and Mike that we want to see right away, however, instead sending Eleven off on her own quest after a few episodes. That particular episode seems to be divisive among fans, and I get it, but I also understand why the showrunners felt it necessary. Eleven needed to come to the fork in the road in her own life and make a choice. The main problem with the Lost Sister (that particular episode) is that none of the new characters are likeable. I would argue that that was the point, that if Eight and her gang had been people we wanted to see more of than Eleven would have been tempted to make another choice. However, I will say that I think the events of that episode could have been streamlined and intercut with events back in Hawkins. But one slightly jarring episode is a minor complaint for an otherwise amazing piece of entertainment.

That controversy aside, wow! What a terrific season. I love that we even get a touch of Lovecraft in Season 2. Perhaps the Mind Flayer isn’t a Lovecraftian horror, but it certainly seems to be very similar. If the Duffer brothers can establish its place in a larger pantheon, we’ll have full-on Lovecraft here (well, almost; there won’t be as much dread, because the world is not doomed and the universe is not quite as hostile . . . yet), and I couldn’t be happier.

Anyway, I’m tempted to rewatch the season already. I loved it, and I can’t wait for Season Three.

What are your thoughts?

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My thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell” — No Spoilers

ghost in the shell

Ghost in the shell movie

I saw “Ghost in the Shell” yesterday, and here are my brief NO SPOILERS thoughts on it.

The good: First, I have to say that “Ghost” is a perfectly fine science fiction thriller set in a dystopian near-future. It’s competently made, and I think all sci-fi fans should support competently made sci-fi that’s not part of an existing live-action franchise. (I’m well aware of its animated and drawn history.)

The visuals are rich, the tech is fun, and the script is reasonably tight and focused. I recommend seeing the film in 3D Imax, because its greatest strengths are its visuals.

The bad: All that said, it’s not a perfect movie. The storytelling isn’t as robust as I would have liked, and the script does’t allow the story to explore the more interesting areas of the universe. Where does tech end and humanity begin? It’s a compelling question even if it’s been mined before, and, I would think, the central one for this universe, but it’s not explored in any depth here.

The movie could have used a writer and director that would have lent the story and universe the depth it deserves, and it’s sad to see Ghost in the Shell shortchanged in that way.

The climax should have been longer and more interesting. I would say more here but I want to keep this spoiler-free.

The action was surprisingly lackluster. I was hoping for some big fun action scenes. Minority Report wasn’t great, for example, but it did deliver on the action and was a more fun movie because of it. I would say Ghost in the Shell is a better movie than Minority Report but would’ve been improved by some more compelling action sequences.

I was never invested in Major’s character as much as I wanted to be. Part of this is the writing, part of it’s the acting. Why does ScarJo play Major as a robot? Her brain is human, after all — it’s not as if she’s without emotion. Sure, she can be disconnected and adrift in the world, but a little emoting would be okay, surely.

In sum: All right, I’ll stop there. I’m sounding way too negative for a fun little sci-fi movie with great visuals and a well-developed environment. I would still recommend seeing it, but keep your expectations in check and you might just have a good time.

I hope this movie does well enough to warrant a sequel because I want to see this universe explored in more detail, with a more robust script and story. I just hope that a new writing and directing team take over for the next one, and that someone tells ScarJo it’s okay to emote every now and then.

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Stars Wars meets . . . Lovecraft?

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I’m a very happy geek right now. I just finished reading the new standalone Han Solo arc (the graphic novel), and I can’t stop grinning. Why? Because there are now Lovecraftian horrors in the Star Wars universe.

That’s right, and without giving away too much, there does at one point appear in the story a giant tentacled monstrosity from another dimension. I could not be more excited. Star Wars already had wizards, knights, spaceships, pirates, smugglers, monsters galore, all the tropes of epic fantasy as well as science fiction, but until now it lacked that one crucial ingredient: Lovecraftian horror.

Now Star Wars has it all, baby! The SW universe has just about every cool geek thing that you could imagine. Heck, it even has fish-people.

I can’t wait to see what use they make of other-dimensional horrors now. Was it just a one-time thing, or will they try to incorporate other psuedo-Lovecraftian terrors into the ‘verse?

To be sure, the Lovecraftian element is very minor, of course. The comic is mainly about expanding on the idea of intersteller racing as introduced in “Bloodlines” — but with great art and a cool OT vibe.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Han-Solo-ebook/dp/B01MU3DJ6L/

 

Have you read the comic? What do you think?

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My thoughts on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Fantastic-Beasts-And-Where-to-Find-Them

Fantastic-Beasts-And-Where-to-Find-Them

I just saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Here are a few brief NO SPOILERS impressions:

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It felt very much like a return to the world of Harry Potter, and that’s a good thing. I’m not as big into Potter as some people are, but I’m very fond of the movies and have watched each one multiple times.

Will I watch Fantastic Beasts again? I don’t know. Honestly, I didn’t love it as much as I was hoping to. I didn’t DISlike it, but I thought the plot was too scattered, with too many characters that didn’t serve the story and that weren’t fleshed out at all. The main character, Newt, was quite likable but even he wasn’t fleshed out in any depth. Hints were dropped to set up his development for the next movie . . . and that just didn’t work for me. I wanted to, ahem, root for Newt in this movie, not the next.

The most likable character in the movie is Newt’s baker sidekick. The actor playing him does a great job, even if he’s a bit too on the nose at times. I felt that character could have used just a few rough edges to keep him from being overly syrupy, but he still comes off a winner.

Strangely, although the screenplay was written by JK Rowling herself, the women in the story aren’t made terribly interesting or compelling. No Hermione Grangers here. There is one that is quite likable, but even she is a bit too syrupy for my liking.

In short, I thought the plot was thin and scattered and the characters weren’t developed enough. The world didn’t feel quite as deep and interesting as it did in the Harry Potter movies. And the ending was a blatant set-up for Part Two. Which I would be okay with if they’d made Part One a bit more robust and intriguing.

I would certainly recommend all Potter-heads to go see it, and anyone that wants a light, fun, magical time at the movies, but don’t expect it to be the new Harry Potter.

Maybe the sequel will improve on the first. I hate to say it, but I kind of hope they bring in a new scriptwriter. JK is an amazing novelist, and I can’t wait to read her next book, but as a scriptwriter . . . well. Maybe she just needs practice.

But those are just my thoughts. What did you think?

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On Phantasm Ravager and the Phantasm Series

Phantasm

Phantasm

Well, I’ve completed my marathon of the Phantasm series, concluding with the final, just released fifth movie Phantasm: Ravager. And I want more. I just love this series. When you think of trippy, fast-paced sci-fi horror series that tell a continuous story over several movies, there’s really not much there. Thank goodness for Phantasm.

Eerie, dream-like, action-packed, with more WTF moments than any ten other series put together. I love it, and the series holds up surprisingly well. I look forward to seeing the revamped version of the first movie where they digitally improve some of the special effects (in some shots in the first movie you can actually see the fishing line they used to run the silver spheres on–but that’s a minor issue).

The series never does answer the question of how Reggie miraculously survived the first movie while Jody didn’t. I guess that will go down as one of the series’s biggest mysteries. And we never really get to learn the secret behind Mike’s connection to the Tall Man, although Ravager does give us a hint (I won’t spoil it).

So how is Phantasm: Ravager? Does Phantasm stick the landing?

I’ve been waiting for years (almost twenty years!) for the story to reach a conclusion, and I have to say . . . hm. It’s not baaad, but, well, it is what it is. A movie made fifteen years too late on a shoestring budget and not directed by the original filmmaker (although he did produce and co-write it). The movie gets very head-trippy, which I appreciate, but unfortunately that aspect comes in part due to an Alzheimer’s subplot. My dad died from Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago, so this hit a little too close to home for me, and it felt a little out of tone with the rest of the series, although I admired how they used it to address Reggie’s suddenly advanced age.

Gotta love Reggie. The lovable side character who somehow became the main character just because he’s so awesome. What a character! A randy hippie ice cream man who can play the guitar and wield a four-barreled shotgun. Love it. They really should have made this movie years ago, though, when he and the other actors were a bit younger. It has been about forty years since the original, after all, and none of them are young anymore.

But I digress. If nothing else, Phantasm: Ravager does indeed feel “Phantasm-y”, and I’m intrigued by how they ended it. I read an interview where Don Coscarelli talks about a possible TV series continuing or redoing the story, and I’ve got to say, that would rock! I would LOVE a Phantasm TV series, but only if Don is involved somehow and it’s done at a high level. Think Supernatural meets Twin Peaks.

I don’t know how they could ever replace Angus Scrimm, the actor who played the series’s villain, the Tall Man, so well and who made him an iconic horror movie foe complete with his own catchphrase. Seriously, try imagining any other actor saying “Boooooy”. It really doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
So Ravager isn’t perfect, but it does tie things up in an interesting way while leaving room for some stories to come.
I really wish they hadn’t had rap music during the final credits, though. I mean, really? Rap? In Phantasm? Why? It was jarring and out of place.
Sigh. I will fix it in my fan edit.

Because yes, when Phantasm Ravager is available on DVD, I’ll add it to my fan edit combining the rest of the series into one long movie. I will have to do some judicious editing on Ravager, though, paring it down to its essentials and removing the Alzheimer’s subplot, which just seemed out of place and which hits me, personally, in the wrong way.

Okay, so that’s my Phantasm rant. Rant over. Long live Phantasm!

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My NO SPOILERS thoughts on Suicide Squad

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suicide-squad-poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, so I just came back from seeing Suicide Squad. Here are my brief NO SPOILERS impressions.
The movie is . . . interesting. Deeply problematic, but interesting. Like all of the DC films so far, it’s a mixed bag, with some really good stuff intermingled with some not-so-good stuff. Take a look at that poster, for example. What are they trying to sell us on? The Joker, right? Well, the Joker has less than five minutes of screentime, if that.
 
I think there was an earlier version of the movie where he gets much more time, and sadly that time is on the editing room floor. This is a shame, because Jared Leto’s take on the character is awesome. It’s not going to replace Heath Ledger’s Joker, but it stands on its own just fine. So they’ve sold us on a movie that doesn’t exist. I can’t WAIT for the director’s cut, if there is one. I want to see the Joker as a prominent character in this film, as he was (mostly likely) originally intended to be. The reshoots probably really hurt this movie, and especially his character.
 
The heart of this movie is the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Harley is the stand-out of the movie, hands down, and it should have focused on her and the Joker. It would have been the most twisted relationship ever given a big budget, but it would have been mesmerizing. Instead we get poorly developed side characters and clunky, nonsensical, even repetitive plot mechanics.
 
I know, it sounds like I’m being hard on the movie, and it really does have some huge, huge problems. On balance, though, I would recommend seeing it, unless you’ve developed a deep dislike of the DC movies (I’m wary but hopeful). Suicide Squad, when it’s working, has a lot of charm, and even some genuine pathos and heart.
 
Plus I LOVE villainous couples. From Drac and Mina to Chucky and his Bride, I love when lovers go bad, or when baddies fall in love. And even though this movie only gave us a hint of that, that hint was electric. So, if only for Harley and the Joker, I would say go see it. You may hate me afterward, though. I saw this movie with a group of people, and several of them truly despised the movie. So your mileage may vary.

POSTSCRIPT: In some ways, this movie is the opposite of the new Bourne movie. The Bourne movie was a bland but competently made “meh” of a film. Suicide Squad was a lovingly crafted, passionate mess.
 
If there’s a director’s cut, and it still doesn’t fix the movie, I might try to make a fan edit splicing together the two movies.

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My no-spoilers Ghostbusters 2016 review

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

Well, I just saw this today. Here are my brief NO SPOILERS thoughts:

I don’t mean to bash it, I know there are some people that really love the new Ghostbusters movie, and that’s great, but it didn’t connect to me at all. While I was watching it, I wished I had a watch so I could be checking the time left till I was free. I was very tempted to get up and walk out. I didn’t hate it, I was just bored. Neither the plot nor the characters grabbed me.

Also, I didn’t laugh. Once.

It felt very much like a Paul Feig movie, not a Ghostbusters movie. If you like Paul Feig movies, you’ll probably like this one. I’ve never connected with his material, and this movie was no exception. I was really rooting for it, though. I’m a child of the 80s and I’ve been waiting for a continuation of the Ghostbusters universe for a long time.

This movie didn’t “feel” like Ghostbusters, though. Tonally, it felt of a piece with “Spy” and “The Heat”. Other Paul Feig movies. It’s not that I hate the ad lib style of comedy filmmaking — I quite like Judd Apatow movies, for example, however predictable they are — but I have to admit to a certain fondness for scripted comedy. Where there are actual jokes, set ups and punchlines.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and that’s great. I’m something of a grumpy old man, I admit, and if you liked the movie, I’m happy for you.

Personally, I’m hoping for a sequel, just like I’m hoping for a sequel to Tarzan. I didn’t like either movie, but I like the root properties, and maybe they’ll get it right next time with a different writer and director.

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My thoughts on the Warcraft movie . . .

Warcraft movie

Warcraft movie


So I saw Warcraft yesterday. Here are brief my NO SPOILERS thoughts on the movie.

I’m still divided on the movie, and I’m not sure I can give it a general recommendation. But … it wasn’t terrible. There were some good things about it. It was interesting, and different, and the visuals were well-realized, although I’m still not convinced the orcs needed to be CGI. The whole thing was CGI, really, except for some partial practical sets and the human actors. But it was well done for what it was.

The main problem I had with the movie is that the characters weren’t given any time to develop, with the possible exception of the main orc character (I forget his name). He was actually pretty likable and was performed well. The other characters didn’t fare so well. The Vikings TV show star did what he could in his role, the ostensible main character of the piece, but his character was given so little definition that it was hard to root for him.

It’s been said before that he is the Aragorn figure of this movie, and I suppose he is, but Aragorn is given a great deal of screentime in LOTR . . . before we even learn his name. The Warcraft guy — I think the character’s name is Lothar — is simply one of many moving parts to the movie, and they all move too fast and too chaotically to get any emotional grip on them before the end credits roll.

The movie needed to be more focused, more streamlined, or else it needed to have been split into multiple movies so that we could have the time needed to come to love this world, the people inhabiting it, and the orcs that want to claim it.

The villain is pretty solid, and I would consider him a bright spot except that he’s constantly checked by underlings who say things like, “If you kill X, the horde will turn on you”. A truly villainous leader would be less concerned about his P. R.

Anyway. The movie is deeply problematic, and it’s not great, but is is a loud, fast good time at the movies, and if you see it in Imax 3D like I did it is a true assault on the senses, in both a good way and a bad.

So do I recommend it? No. But . . . I can’t discourage anyone from seeing it, either. Final synopsis: it’s fun when it doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out.

For further thoughts on the movie, check out Io9’s article HERE.

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My thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse

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Saw X-Men: Apocalypse last night and had a lot of fun with it. Here are my brief thoughts.

NO SPOILERS.

Don’t believe the negative buzz. It’s a solid movie. Not “great”, and certainly nowhere near Captain America: Civil War, but miles above BvS (which admittedly isn’t saying much). It’s a generally well-done and fun movie. It has the courage to eschew the normal action movie formula by resisting the urge to have a huge action scene every twenty minutes. Its first real action scene after the prologue is more of a comedic spectacle than a real action sequence, so it’s first REAL action scene doesn’t happen until well into the second half of the movie — and yet it’s never dull and always engaging. Good on Bryan Singer.

My only real complaint is that there are too many characters and I wish some of them had been more fully developed or that they’d simply dropped some and focused more on the ones they kept. Also, I missed the Humans Vs. Mutants theme that runs throughout most of the X-Men movies. But that’s a small nitpick.

I think the lack of character focus prevents the movie from achieving comic book movie greatness, but other than that, if you like these kinds of films, I think you’ll have a good time at the theater.

Oh, and Apocalypse was a pretty darned good villain. Poe Dameron, what happened to you? Amazing that the actor can portray both good guys and bad guys with the same flourish.

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