<![CDATA[Mark Andrew Edwards - Markblog]]>Sat, 22 Jul 2017 09:48:30 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Worlds]]>Sat, 22 Jul 2017 16:29:59 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-valerian-and-the-city-of-a-thousand-worlds
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is visually amazing and completely absurd.

I don't just mean that it's silly, it is and deliberately so, I think. I mean it's absurd in almost the sense Lewis Carroll's work is absurd.  Nothing is explained, things happen and you can either roll with it or try to understand it and drive yourself insane.

The comparisons to Luc Besson's previous work on the 5th Element are inevitable and deserved. The writing is marginally better than the 5th Element, the casting is mostly worse due to the horrible decision to give a job to Dale DeHaan, who combined Keanu Reeve's line delivery with the babyish body and face of 1990's Leonardo DiCaprio.  Seriously, Tom Holland portraying a 15 YEAR OLD BOY is more masculine.

Both movies present a fully realized, lived-in world. Both are visually stunning. Both seem to have been translated from French with some vital Gaullic logic not making the leap.  But let's do a quick overview of what we're dealing with here.

Valerian (Dale 'duhhh' DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are 'agents' of the Earth Federal government. They are also seemingly military, with Valerian given the rank of Major and Laureline addressed as Sergeant occasionally.  Maybe that makes sense in France, but not in the US.  
  But the movie actually starts with two prologues. The first is a wordless exposition about Earth uniting and making first contact. The second is a gorgeous scene of sexy androgynous aliens living on a beach, collecting pearls and feeding them to little kitty/lizards which....shit out dozens of duplicate of whatever it's fed.  This legitimately idyllic life is shattered when spaceships fall out of the sky. Not land, but fall. Impacting.  The natives go poking around inside one of the fallen ships. Finally a really, really big, moon-sized spaceship falls and destroys the planet, including the space princess we've been following in this prologue.
  Cut to Valerian and Laureline flirting on a virtual beach, which involves some light hand to hand combat (played flirtatiously, not aggressively) and a marriage proposal. Now we have no idea who these characters are and this is how we're introduced to them. Maybe a better actor and actress could have sold this premise. Maybe. But I doubt it. I realize that for some in Europe, Valerian is an established comicbook character, but billions of people don't know that.  
  They go to a legitimately fascinating virtual market in their A.I. -controlled spaceship, meet with some military folks in funny hats and go to....recover some stolen property. Which turns out to be one of the kitty/lizard things from the prologue.  Action ensues, they bring the titular 'City of a Thousand Planets', a constantly-growing space station that started in Earth orbit but now drifts through space as a sort of UN mixed with a great trading hub populated by a thousand alien races, including humans.
  Once there, Valerian and Laureline meet a shady military commander, some less-shady military officers and end up as bodyguards to the shady officer. There is a problem on the space station, at the center of it is some supposedly irradiated zone that they can't find out what is inside. But they're pretty sure it's hostile as probes and patrols have been killed investigating.
  The sexy natives from the prologues appear with strange force fields and goo guns and kidnap the commander.  Valerian and Laureline give chase and have lots of adventures for about an hour of screen time. (Seriously, trying to writing down what happens and in what order would pretty much be like writing the screenplay treatment)
  Finally they discover that the shady military commander is being held by the sexy, androgynous, mental prodigy, ethically elevated, compassionate natives of the prologue.  The commander orders an attack on the aliens and then one on the soldiers themselves.  Laureline emotionally blackmails Valerian into giving the aliens the little kitty/lizard thing so they can finish their homemade spaceship and....make a new planet with it as well.  They kill the bad guys, arrest the commander and make out with Laureline possibly accepting the marriage proposal Valerian has been making to her every five minutes of screen time.

What worked:
The visuals are wonderful.  If you are lucky enough to be either mentally impaired enough to turn your brain off, or are aware of who these characters are before the movie was released, you're going to have a great time.

The script has some deftness and moral ambiguity.  The native paradise isn't destroyed through malice, but as legitimate collateral damage from a space battle happening overhead.  There's no malice in their destruction and there's some possibility that the humans didn't even know they were there. (The natives seem to be able to block sensor probes through their...magic.  I can't call it technology but whatever. Magical tech)  Likewise the cover up afterwards isn't nice but it makes sense and it isn't a 'military conspiracy', the Earth government, rightly or wrongly, signed off on it.  The military itself isn't portrayed as cliched bad guys.  This isn't a bad movie....not exactly.

The natives from the prologue feel like 'Avatar done right'.  Their society is beautiful but baffling and they seem kind, forgiving, sensual in ways humans should attain to. They are alien but the kind of aliens that actually do feel like they're 'better' than we are.  James Cameron had some stupid colonial or corporate axe to grind that ruined Avatar.  This movie doesn't fall into a polemical trap.  The aliens don't make sense, but they are rather likeable and we feel sorry for them.

Cara Delevingne does a much, much better job in this movie than she did in Suicide Squad. Give her a bikini and a good director and she can do ok. She has bit of the manic pixie girl, kickass martial artist vibe but not too annoyingly. She feels like a real person, to a point.

What didn't work:

Very little is established or set up.  What we do get often doesn't make sense.  Like the pearls being apparently 50 megatons. So are they bombs? How does it work? How do the natives use them? Have the natives had contact with the outside galactic world or not? In one scene, an alien broker clearly recognizes the pearls and the kitty/lizard thing. But how can that be possible if the planet was destroyed and hadn't had previous contact with the galaxy? Which must be the case since no one recognizes the natives or knows who they are.

That's just one tiny example.  Another one is what Valerian and Laureline can do.  I mean what gadgets they have and how they can be used. Good or bad, the James Bond movies mostly set up what gadgets he was getting and we could watch him use them.  Valerian just seems to randomly...do things or have things.  His space suit can let him charge through walls. He has some breathalyzer thing that has a robot inside it with a laser cutter. His gun sometimes freezes people, sometimes seems like a pea shooter. He has some kind of neck communicator but we don't know what it does or who it lets him talk to.  

Everything just sort of happens. Like Rhianna being in this.  As a stripper/whore. Who's a shapeshifting alien. Who dies, the first and only death Valerian and Laureline seem to care about.

The relationship doesn't work because we don't know these characters, most of us. So Valerian constantly proposing to Laureline makes no sense.  I won't go too much into how it's a very bad and very unprofessional thing to want to marry or bang your partners and subordinates, (those of you who are prior service have probably seen first hand just how much of a bad idea that is) but this is beyond a bad idea. It's baffling.  I'm not even sure how attracted the two of them are to each other. The opening beach flirting was fine but it's not sustained. And Valerian constantly bringing up the marriage proposal, at random moments, makes him feel more like a stalker than anything else.

Then you have her emotional blackmail at the end of the movie.  At the decision point of the film, there are two 'right' answers to the dilemma before them. They can give the kitty/alien thing to the natives so they can power up their spaceship and go to some new world. Or they can give it to their superiors as ordered. They are military...ish. And clearly under authority.  But Valerian doesn't give the kitty/lizard to the aliens because it's the right thing to do, no, he does because Laureline says she could never marry him unless he does exactly what she tells him to do. Even though he thinks it's the 'wrong' thing to do.  In what fucking part of the world does that make sense?

And this comes right on the heels of Valerian punching out his superior officer AND THEN turning around to say 'he's a soldier and he has to follow orders'. Right after that. The cognitive dissonance made the small audience I saw this with say 'what' and 'huh' out loud. And probably contributed to the cute redhead in the parking lot ranting about how terrible the movie was.

But the biggest problem, apart from the constant confusion about HOW things are happening, is Dale DeHaan.  I can't express just how much he ruins this movie with his line delivery and his air of unearned confidence.  I don't know how much of this is just me not liking his performance or his face and voice and everything else about him...and how much of it is the writing and direction.
  Bruce Willis anchored the 5th Element with a relatable persona. He felt like a guy. A man. Dale DeHaan feels like a pre-teen underwear model....and there's an actual underwear model in the movie acting circles around him!


The cool factor is going to make or break the movie for most viewers. If you find everything in this movie 'cool', (and there is cool stuff here) you're going to like it.  If you need things like 'set up' and 'pay off' or 'explanations' or 'logic', then you might have an aneurism. 
<![CDATA[Review: Wonder Woman]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 21:27:28 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-wonder-woman

TL;DR - Wonder Woman is an entertaining super hero movie with action, beautiful women and characters that feel like real people despite an unrealistic script and story.

So I saw Wonder Woman twice over the weekend and it was the first DC movie I liked.  Wonder Woman goes a long way towards proving my belief that character trumps everything. If I like the characters and want them to succeed, I can avoid nit picking a movie to death. But, boy, are there nits to pick in this movie.

But over all, I like it. I was entertained.  It isn't really ABOUT anything in the way the Christopher Nolan Batman movies were.  But I enjoyed watching this movie far more than any of the Nolan films. Much of the credit goes to Gal Godot and Chris Pine and whoever cast them together.

The plot was thin but it worked to move us from place to place with a very clear motivation...right up until the final twist.  But there were 3 credited writers (include gold-into-lead transmuter Zach Snyder) and the script is frankly a mess. Sometimes the dialog is witty and fun and sometimes the dialog is Sam Witwicky-esque jumbles of stammering and inarticulate inability to convey simple words*. So let's talk about the plot.

  On the hidden island of the Amazons, a race of immortal women train endlessly for an eventual war they believe is coming from the god of war, Ares.  Diana is the only child on the island, supposedly crafted from clay and given life by Zeus.**  She grows up, beloved and fearless and sheltered by her mother who loves her very much but doesn't want her trained as a warrior.
  However, Diana never likes to do what she's told and decides to learn to fight with some help from her aunt, Antipoe.
  The Amazons are superheroes, all.  Faster, stronger, more agile and able to understand hundreds of languages, each.  They are the Ubermench of Nietzsche and the hot chicks of millennia of fantasies***. Diana however, is even more so.  Even from childhood, she's wearing some sort of magical bracers (which are never explained) but are shown to be items of great power. Likewise, the Amazons have a variety of magic items in their treasurehouse that do a variety of amazing things...mostly unexplained again, except for the magic lasso of Hestia.
  Into this world, hidden by the god Zeus before he died (All the gods except Ares are supposedly dead by the time of the movie, all killed by Ares), comes a man. Steve Trevor, an American spy working for the British, crash lands near the island, pursed by Turkish sailors.  Diana rescues him from his crashed biplane and she and the Amazons kill the pursuing Turks, but not without losses to the Amazons, including Diana's aunt/tutor, Antiope.
  Steve is interrogated and he tells them about WW 1 (it's never called The Great War, for some reason, except in newspaper clippings). Diana seizes on news of this war as proof of Ares being out and about and doing bad things. She declares she will go, find him, kill him and everyone will be nice and peaceful again. Yes, really.****  Steve agrees to lead her to Ares as a way to get off the island and get back to England. (There's a McGuffin about some poison gas and a notebook but it's really just a plot convenience and honestly not a great or believable one)
  Once in England, there's some culture shock but quickly enough, Diana is back on her track to find the front lines and there find and confront Ares*****.  
  Diana kills the German general and does in fact confront Ares. But Steve Trevor dies destroying poison gas which is on some timer or other.  His death gives Diana the power and rage to kill Ares....and a bunch of other Germans. And everyone takes off their gas masks and hugs, Germans and Allies alike. Yes really.
  Finally, in the framing denouement, we have a mission statement where we see Diana in modern day apparently fighting crime in Paris or something. 

What I liked:
  Character, character, character.  Character hooks you, character keeps you watching.  Gal Godot is stunning. Chris Pine is pretty, witty and strong.  Even the second, third and fourth banana characters work.  Why? Because they're likeable or entertaining, because they care about things: about causes, about each other.  Maybe they aren't all good people, but they are trying to do good and we give them credit for that.

  Paradise Island/Themascyra is lovely and perfect and timeless.  Most of the product design work and CGI is top notch. This is a A-class movie and it looks it.

  The camera work is almost mostly good. The action is framed so you can see the actors whole bodies. There is no shaky-cam. Even the camera angles chosen skirt the line between drama and give a hint of cheesecake now and then without being overly gratuitous (the only nudity in the movie, sadly, is Chris Pine's)

  Wonder Woman's costume. Classic, flattering, sexy as hell. No sign of pants anywhere. And why should she? Body shaming is clearly no part of Amazon culture.

  It was not a screeching, feminist mess.  God, it sure could have been. But Diana doesn't hate men, neither does the movie. It doesn't hate women, either. Diana is allowed to be beautiful and strong, determined and clear-minded.  If it's feminist, it's feminist by example with a superior example of womanhood at the center of it. Some of the bad guys are women, some of the good guys are men.  There's no sexual drama...though there is touch of sexual humor and tension, which is both welcome and appropriate. Ah DC, we thought you had forgotten humanity.

  And that's what I want to end on before the negativity: these feel like people. Real people. Or people you wished were real.  And that Paradise Island allowed visitors or more immigration.  Those Amazons need to stop electing Trump. #FreeThemascyra

What I didn't like:
WW 1 setting - World War 1 or The Great War as it was called at the time******  WW1 is a mess, a confusing mess with very few clear good guys or bad guys. The Germans get the 'bad guy' label but the French weren't lilly-white, the Brits used poison gas and bombed civilians too, the Russians were Russian messes, the Astro-Hungarians were greedy but evil? Nah.  The US was basically propagandized into the war with British help and probably got into the fight with the 'purest' motives.  But these were not, by and large, evil people on either side of No Man's Land.  Getting Wonder Woman involved in this war, of all wars, is a confusing choice.  WW 2 would be a much better choice given her outlook, her history and the nature of the two sides in that war.
  Relatedly, having Wonder Woman fight normal Germans feels a lot like a monster truck fighting tricycles.  She never gets hurt or threatened by them. So it's just slaughter. G-rated slaughter, but still.

The dialog - though in most places, the dialog snaps and sparkles, there were several times where the writing is just terrible. When Steve is trying to explain why wars happen and frelling CAN'T seem to.  And several other times with Steve Trevor is just a stammering mess who can't seem to speak clearly. This isn't Chris Pine, the other, better-written scenes shine with him.
  Likewise the 'message' of the movie is terribly articulated: "It isn't about deserving, it's about what you believe'??? WTF? What? What do you believe? How does that relate to deserving  What if you believe something bad (see WW 2)?  This whole movie hangs on this denouement and it feels like it's missing fucking words.  "It isn't about deserving, it's about Justice", that's one possibility. "it isn't about deserving, it's about Grace" is even clearer. But this movie, for all its talk of gods with a small 'g', stays well away from religion and morality, to it's detriment.  But that dovetails nicely into my next thing.

The gods - The cosmology of this movie is muddy.  Zeus created mankind, fine.  Ares decided he hated men and so he corrupted/whispered to them? So why is there a god of War before humanity is made?  How was he able to kill all the other gods, especially..oh...ATHENA? Or fucking Zeus for that matter, who is a Titan, not a god?  And then Zeus dies, somehow. It doesn't seem like Ares kills him, since Zeus defeats Ares in this movie. But then he either fathers a child with Hippolyta or gives the clay child life...which if he's dead, how does that work? And the Amazons revere the gods, but the gods are dead, so is it an ancestor worship kind of reverence?
  Those would normally be nit picks only, if it wasn't for the fact that it's tied up so much with Wonder Woman's origin. The movie contradicts itself.  Which bears it's own point:

The movie contradicts itself - Ares is the source of all evil in the world and if he's killed, men will be 'good' again. This is said as a rote and a fervent belief by Wonder Woman and we're supposed to roll our eyes at it. And sure enough, in a horribly written scene, Steve Trevor tries to explain that a Greek god is NOT the cause of all war and suffering...that we humans are the source******* But then when Ares IS killed by Wonder Woman, everyone is hugging each other at the end. But we know that WW 2 happens in the world. And worse, even.  So which is it, movie? Is she right or wrong?
Ares is misused, mis-cast and mistaken.  No disrespect for David Thewlis, I like him as an actor, but he doesn't work as Ares.  Ares' plan for an armistice makes zero sense. Why would a god of War be pushing for an armistice? It makes no sense...unless he knows how bad the Treaty of Versailles is going to be (how?) and knows WW 2 will be worse (how?) So his plan makes no sense, his plan to try to convince Diana to join him makes no sense. His decision to tell her that SHE is the godkiller, not the sword, is silly. 

The lighting during Diana x Steve's kiss. The camera and lighting work in every other scene is at least good. But this scene, an important scene for both characters, is so underlit that you can't even see the kiss. I saw this movie in two different theaters, so I don't think this is a bad print. Just a very bad decision on someone's part.

The Dress up scene - the movie comes to a screeching halt when they get to England. The dress up scene might be 'required' (the opening shot of Wonder Woman starts with her shoes, which tells you a bit about the target audience, maybe) but it isn't needed. Eta Candy (ugh, the puns) isn't needed either. Even the fight vs the thugs  in the alley could have been cut.

They use a real person, General Ludendorff as the 'main' bad guy.

And we're getting into nit picks now, so let me go through some rapidly:

The Adriatic sea is not one night's sail away from England.
Boats don't sail themselves.
There appears to be a Walther P38 used by General Ludendorff in one scene, which didn't exist yet +
Despite having just had sex, Steve and Diana show no signs of lingering affection or flirting.
Indian character in movie only as a way of tainting Steve with white guilt
The Turkish warship, with guns immeasurably more powerful than rifles, sinks and disappears off screen somehow.
Gas bombs will somehow turn the tide of war at the very moment the war is ending. Somehow.
The gas would also kill Germans.
This is seen as a good idea by a professional German officer 
There's a timer on the gas bombs but we're never shown them nor are we explained why there are timers
The plane with the gas bombs isn't simply blows up on the ground with fire.
The women who has poisoned and murdered thousands, some on camera, is let go.
Near misses by mortar rounds don't cause damage from explosion or fragmentation.
The movie is poorly edited in places, like when Diana calls England Hideous despite showing the beauty of London Bridge.
Most of Diana's magical items are not explained about what they are or what they do
Sometimes Diana can fly, sometimes she just jumps real far
Discovering she's super strong doesn't seem to cause a big reaction from Diana.
4 Engine bombers are viewed as some super weapon but they had been around since 1917
General Ludendorff is actually the general who suggested the German army sue for peace as early as September 1918.
Wonder Woman's equipment appears and disappears at random. She's almost never shown actually wearing all the stuff she's carrying.
Wonder Woman has a sword but not a sheath, making it very impractical to carry for any length of time.
There are no naked Amazons, not even in their art.


All right, some are more serious objections than others, I won't deny that. But I also won't deny that I really enjoyed watching this movie. Gal Godot is adorable and admirable in this movie and Steve Trevor is heroic and intimidated by Wonder Woman.

There is a cost to victory and people who are friends actually seem to be real friends.



*Was Shia LaBeouf supposed to be cast as Steve Trevor originally?

** This is a little confusing, theology aside, as I'm not sure if it was contradicted by Ares stating that Diana was the offspring of Zeus and Hippolyta. Which makes her divine offspring. Either way, she doesn't seem to need to breathe, at least during the gas attack.

*** And I'm ok with both of those things. My usual objection of super barbies is that normal women, even trained athletes can't compete in hand to hand combat with even average men. They just can't, I've seen it first hand over and over. But if you've got magic or super powers, sure, game on. I will buy into that reality because that's the world that's presented in the film/comic/book.

**** One of the very charming and endearing things about Wonder Woman in this movie is how pure and naive she is.  She sees the world as black and white...but mostly white with only a few black spots that she can snip out and then the world will be fine all over. But her goodness and optimism and innocence really works for her as a character. She's powerful but oddly gentle, the way Superman should have been.

***** The fact that this works is an example of plot contrivance triumphing over good storyteling. To the movie's detriment.

******Along with 'The war to make the world safe for Democracy', because the Allies were democratic regimes...mostly. Russia wasn't.  And the Central Powers were largely aristocracies.  Also there was 'The War to End All Wars', which IS used in the movie, but wasn't common at the time outside the US. Also Woodrow Wilson was a dick, there I said it.

******* Concepts that go back centuries or longer, to Augustine and further. But more recently articulated clearly by C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.

+ It MIGHT have been a P08 Luger but it wasn't well framed and I didn't see the twin knurled knobs back on the rear of the pistol which are a dead giveaway of a Luger.  So half a nit to pick.

<![CDATA[Review: Indian Country]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 17:42:37 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-indian-country
Kurt Schlichter’s Indian Country is Red Dawn, without the teenager point of view and without the need to have our Marxists imported via air-drop.  To paraphrase ‘Send in the Clowns’, don’t bother, they’re here.  Although a polemic in favor of the 2nd Amendment, the overall structure is a straightforward action story or perhaps a military fiction novel. 
This is a prequel to Schlichter’s first novel ‘People’s Republic’. The main character in both novels, Kelly Turnbull, is already barely leashed killer who deals with his enemies only one way: by shooting them. I said in my review of the first novel by Mr. Schlichter that it was basically a shooter video game in book form and that’s much the same here.  There are no clever insurgency plots and subplots*, no infiltration and espionage, no kidnapping and interrogation, no eroding humanity or moral compromise, no sabotage or work slowdowns or any of the shenanigans you’d see in a real insurgency before the shooting starts. Nope, this is just a shooting gallery.  Take that for what it is.
And…that might even be deliberate. It isn’t in the text but I can also see a plot by one of the shadowy characters in the novel, Clay Deeds.  In the novel, shadowy spook sends Kelly Turnbull to organize a non-violent insurgency.  Instead, Kelly starts threatening and then shooting people, precipitating an open guerilla war which the Red states are able to exploit with an armed invasion. It’s almost like Clay Deeds send in a loose cannon with a short fuse and expected an explosion and chaos…and moved to exploit it.  Which would be clever of him.  Sadly, my theory is just that, there’s nothing in the text to confirm it, even at the end when Deeds picks up Turnbull.
And I don’t  mean this is a bad book. There is some confusion about who is president (there is references to President Hillary Clinton and later President Elizabeth Warren, maybe I missed a transfer of power) but the prose is fine and otherwise error-free.  The good guys and bad guys are pretty clear (hint: the bad guys shoot unarmed civilians), the action is clear as well and the book is fast-paced.  If you like action movies, you’ll probably like this.
Plot: After being recruited by a shadowy government operative, Kelly Turnbull has been killing people and breaking things in the shadows. The United States are no more, the country has divided into Blue and Red largely along electoral lines from the past few years. The Blue States have formed The People’s Republic- a Progressive dystopia obsessed with speech codes, racial grievance and social justice backed by armed thugs given carte blanche to intimidate, steal and kill. The Red States are not featured much in this novel but they basically are comprised of the South and Midwest.  Currently the states are intact, either all in or all out of the respective nations, but there is tensions between the red regions of blue states and the militarized Red States are ready to attack but at the moment, negotiations are happening off-screen to try for a peaceful separation.
  The setting is southern Indiana, the ‘Indian Country’ of the novel, where the locals are mostly rural or small town folk who want to be left alone but aren’t being permitted to.  The new government is dictation production of items, what you can buy and sell and what you can say and think.  Things are taking a turn for the tragic and authoritarian.
  Insert Kelly Turnbull, a Special Forces operator/spook who likes to shoot people…even if he doesn’t have to. Or has specific orders not to. In this case, he is here to organize resistance but is told not to start a shooting war.  He does anyway. Despite some passive-aggressive ‘I’m not here to fight for you or tell you what to do’, Kelly Turnbull does just that. Provoking fights, shooting people and tipping things from tense to murderous.  Once the shooting starts, he organizes the guerillas against the People’s Republic thugs and the military units that have stayed with the Blue states….including one of his former commanders.
What worked:
The action was the strong point for me.  I like gunfights in my stories and this novel delivers them. I like bad guys to get punished (see my gunfight comment) and that happens here as well.  Kelly Turnbull’s former commander gets to play ‘noble warrior’ who gets betrayed for not being PC enough and he’s likeable. I like competent people doing things.  Kelly Turnbull does care about the Constitution as it was, as do I.  Local redneck Larry Langer is legitimately heroic.
What didn’t:
Kelly Turnbull is kind of a dick. He is a one-dimensional, doesn’t care about any one, neither people nor animals. 
The plot is too streamlined, I was expecting a game of cat and mouse or for the bad guys to be more than just targets.  But that’s not what kind of novel this is.
Most of my problems with the novel are missed opportunities rather than anything I didn’t like.  This could have been more well-rounded, more subtle, with personal stakes for the main character. I was expecting the story of how Kelly Turnbull became a quick-killing badass, I was expecting a story of counter-insurgency horror. But Kelly Turnbull is already murderous and jaded when we meet him. He doesn’t lose his innocence or become hardened by the horror of war, of family fighting family (in fact, there’s very little friend vs friend or family vs family in this book…a big miss in a Second Civil War novel).
What scared me:
What felt like a running joke, about social justice scolds correcting people about using ‘hate speech’ or ‘gender identity’, is feeling shockingly accurate.  As is the feeling that Progressives don’t want to convince people who disagree with them anymore, they want to kill them.  I put the novel down to see Kathy Griffin holding up a bloody severed head of a Donald Trump mannequin. I read quotes from the Evergreen State rioters who were threatening the life of a white teacher who refused to leave campus on their annual ‘Day of Absence’.  I see the mayor of Portland saying that there’s no first amendment protection for ‘hate speech’.
  And I started getting a queasy feeling in my stomach.  Maybe this isn’t just a mindless novel allowing the author to vicariously kill Progressives he doesn’t like. Maybe this is actually a prescient cautionary tale from the world we’re turning into.
 Tentatively recommended.
*(for an example of what I mean, please read the excellent novella ‘Wasp’ by Eric Frank Russel)
<![CDATA[Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 21:28:05 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2
TL;DR - It's fun, go see it. Let it make you laugh.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy was the most fun I'd had in a movie theater since 1999.  I just sat in gaping amazement and wonder. I loved the world. I wanted to live in it. I wanted to BE Peter Fucking Quill.  It is one of my top 5 movies of all time. Sure, it has flaws* but none of them detracted from the movie for me.

So the stakes were high for the sequel. As much as I tried to manage them, I was afraid the sequel would disappoint me.  And the good news is, it did not disappoint.  I just want to keep watching these characters have adventures for as long as Bautista, Pratt and Cooper want to make them.

The sequel is more of a comedy, detached almost entirely from the larger Marvel plotlines and it feels like it's targeting a younger audience.  It works very well as a stand alone movie, even if you haven't seen the first film, the relationships between the characters is clear from the very beginning. It isn't as much of an action movie as the first movie, there is action in it but it's not the focus. Literally, from the first scene, the movie makes that clear. The first action scene with the Guardians verses a huge tentacle monster is shown in the background and out of focus as we follow Baby Groot as he dances around to Mr. Blue Sky.  It's telling you right up front what kind of movie this is going to be.

  The main story point here is finding out who Peter Quill's father is, there's a pair of secondary plots dealing with Yondu (blue arrow whistling guy) from the first movie and a new faction of Great Golden Ones called the Sovereign.
  Basically, the Guardians are hired by the Sovereign to fight a space monster and keep it from devouring special valuable batteries.  The monster is defeated but Rocket steals a bunch of of the batteries and the Sovereign send an army of space drones to destroy the Guardians. They are saved by Peter Quill's father, who turns out to be a Celestial named 'Ego', who basically is a living planet that can incarnate into Kurt Russell. Because if you could, wouldn't you?
  Ego takes Peter, Drax and Gamorra to his planet and they meet a cute antenna-wearing alien named Mantis, who is cute and empathic. Ego seems to regard Mantis as a pet who can help him sleep with her powers.
  Meanwhile, the Sovereign hire Yondu's Ravagers to capture the Guardians to bring back for execution for theft and rudeness.  However Yondu isn't interested in catching Quill, when Yondu's crew discover this, he's deposed in a mutiny.  Rocket and Baby Groot escape with Yondu, killing all the Ravagers in return. They rejoin the rest of their friends on Ego's planet to discover all is not well.
  Because Ego, despite seeming to legitimately love Peter's mom and wanted to be a father to Quill - especially when he discovers that Peter has the Celestial genes - has a purpose. And that is to spread to cover all the planets in the galaxy, to make all life....him.  To do that, he needs the power of two Celestials, which means him and Peter. However, due to the distracting power of cute girls from Missouri (which is a real thing), Ego put the tumor in her head that kills her, so he wouldn't be tempted to forget his purpose and age and die on Earth.
  When Peter finds out about Ego's action, he attacks him. And, with the help of his friends, they manage to blow up Ego's brain at the center of the planet.

  First of all, the Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 aims to entertain. It's meant to be fun. It is a light hearted movie...with murder and cancer and child abduction...you know for a movie with poop jokes, it's got a serious dark side.  But most of that is only there if you think about it and the movie first and foremost wants you to laugh.  The jokes come fast and furious (see what I did there?), and basically every word out of Drax's mouth is hilarious. The colors are bright and vivid and beautiful.  And, strange as it may seem, the goal of a superhero movie to make you feel positive emotions....isn't universally embraced.  *cough*DC*couch* But there's no political allegory here, no religious axe to grind, it's not divisive or about anything except having fun and...well...loving your family.
  Family is a popular movie theme. Almost too much, so. If you had a drinking game where you took a shot of Patron every time someone said 'family' in the latest Fast and the Furious movie, you'd die. But I will say that the Guardians of the Galaxy does this theme well. We see Peter's mother die in front of him, with Peter refusing to take her hand when she asks him.  Then he gets abducted by Yondu and separated from everyone else he knows.  That and him never knowing his father means that he has, in the actual text of the movie, some pretty strong desires to have a family and to know his father.  So I'm glad they didn't shoot this theme in the first movie.  
  Likewise, the 'C' or 'D' plot in Guardians 2 is Gamora and Nebula, how they never treated each other like sisters.  But that both wanted that, apparently. It's probably the weakest part of the movie but it stays with the theme.
  It's said pretty explicitly that the Guardians are a family, not just for Peter but for each other.  Drax had a family but lost it to Ronan.  Gamora was raised in a survival-of-the-fittest environment overseen by the mad titan who slaughtered HER family. Rocket was created in a lab by scientists that didn't give a trash panda's crap for him.  Groot seems to be the only one of his kind. All these survivors banded together in the first movie and in the second movie, those bonds are even stronger. It's almost a 'ever after' movie, where we see what happens after the happy ending of a story.  And just like in real life, families aren't always easy or comfortable or peaceful. What they are, at least in this movie, is THERE.  Family shows up. Family cares.  And, in the end, that includes Yondu. Which surprised me, in a good way.
  Finally, under the layer of giggles and rainbows, there are some pretty dark things here. Baby Groot kills a guy and cuts off someone's toe. Sure, both were 'funny' but it does but a little spin on things.  You see a Ravager get spaced while his killers taunt him as he dies in vacuum.  Yondu and Rocket massacre dozens of the mutinous Ravagers. Ego has been killing what looks like hundreds of his children AND he gave cancer to the woman he loved. Yondu had been trading in children, bring them to Ego, for years. Space hookers. Howard the Duck exists.

What worked:
Let's start with Yondu.  Silly as he may look and silly as that arrow may be to some people, Yondu's character arc worked for me.  One of the antagonists in the first movie, he gets unexpected depths and is capable of surprising tenderness and self-sacrifice. He isn't a nice person and he says that he's 'never done anything right' but he has a right end.  And he's been protecting Peter for most of his life, even if that life isn't what it could have been back home, it's better than bring turned over to someone who might just kill him for not carrying the right genes.

The humor. I laughed a lot during this movie.  Humor is subjective, but there were many quotable jokes and situational hilarity.  Some were revealed in the trailers but I don't know anyone, even people who say they didn't like the movie, who didn't laugh while it was playing.

The universe. The Marvel cosmic universe is large, strange and dangerous. And it looks like a hell of a lot of fun. From robotic brothels to gold-tinted arrogant supremicists, the more we see, the weirder and cooler things get. Until someone can be both a planet and a floating space brain and Kurt Russell and it doesn't seem impossible.

The emotion.  Because despite the silliness and jokes and weirdness, what grounds me is the characters. They feel real. They have real emotions and those feelings matter to them. Some carry their pain stoically, like Drax. Some use it to push others away, like Rocket. And some are just angry little trees who are too adorable to kill.

The characters. The performances here vary from incredibly good to good enough.  But we get to learn more about these people and we learn it mostly by seeing them interact with each other. There's less exposition here than in the first movie and though things are spelled out explicitly at times (which is useful when you're trying to appear to a broad audience that doesn't always notice subtle things), mostly we learn by what we're shown. We see Peter trying to deepen his relationship with Gamora..or start one. And we see that even Gamora is a little more light-hearted than her angry demeanor suggests. Even the least developed character, Baby Groot, is an entertaining and ultimately useful member of the family.

What didn't:

Gamora. I won't go as far as some critics and say she doesn't have a vagina (seriously Max Landis?) but her reluctance to show interest in Peter is wearing thin.  In the first movie, she at least seems tempted and in here, she even dances a few steps with Peter, but on the whole she's the weak point.  She's almost a mother figure, the humorless one who is trying to get everyone to behave. And that gets old.  Zoe Saldana isn't a great performer, she can be wooden and her character acts about as sensual as a concrete block. You want to tell Peter to move on and hook up with the Golden One after all. She at least seems interested in some pelvic sorcery.

Nebula. I like the look of the character but the performance is almost always one-note.  Though, ironically, she comes closer to the dangerous sensuality of the comic book version of Gamora in some scene.  But her whole desire to kill and then befriend Gamora is just too abrupt. She didn't ruin the movie but she needs depth, more than just someone new she wants to kill.

Lazy storytelling.  Although the plot hasn't been the strong suit in either movie, at least the first Guardian's movie was clear.  There were very few hand-waving coincidences compared to this movie.  From convenient rising pillars in Ego's core, to being able to fly into a planet via blasting to Ego's brain apparently being unable to deal with a bomb despite having complete control over all molecules near him...there are plot...conveniences here.  Sadly, some could have been fixed with just a minute or two of screen time. Just give Gamora and Nebula flight disks. Or explain tell us that Peter is able to distract Ego from being able to use all his powers while they're fighting.

The turd joke. Yes, I laughed, both times.  But c'mon. You don't need to go there, James Gunn.


Primarily a sci-fi comedy about family, there are both darker events and more subtle storytelling at work here than you might give it credit for at first. It rewards re-watching.  If it falls short of the first movie, it doesn't shame it or itself.


*So does Gone with the Wind, The Treasure of Sierra Madre and just about every movie every made. Except maybe Casablanca...maybe.
<![CDATA[Review: Levon's Trade]]>Wed, 26 Apr 2017 22:20:56 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-levons-trade
The first I can recall hearing about Chuck Dixon was someone recently saying he'd been blacklisted by Marvel. That made me do some digging only to find that he'd written some of my favorite Punisher stories back in the 90's.

And that's what Levon Cade reminds me of: the Punisher. Minus Vietnam and the compulsion to fight crime, adding friends and family still alive. Both are Marines (the only Ex-Marines are John Murtha and his ilk), both are hard men, both are ruthless and efficient. But the character motivations are different so I'll leave the Punisher comparisons for my doctoral thesis or for a time I have too much time stuck in an airport.

What I liked best was that Levon's motivation was always clear to me. He was disinterested in the job offer (yes, you can make the Joseph Campbell comparison to 'Refusing the Call') because he wasn't in that line of work anymore. This is a guy who is not an adrenaline junkie. This isn't fun for him or a game or even a question of revenge. But he is strongly motivated by a desire to keep his daughter. And the threat posed by his in-laws was interesting and not cliche villainy.

The novel is fast paced, with short chapters ala James Patterson. It makes for a quick read. And for an addictive pattern of purchases, on my part.
We do not get much of Cade's internal thoughts and he's terse in speech. That laconism appeals to me. I like to be shown things, rather than have them told to me. Chuck Dixon gets that done here. Just like Levon Cade.

What worked: Good, believable action, clear motivations for all actors, a lack of luck or plot immunity to resolve the story and real consequences that start the whole book series careening off in unexpected directions.

What didn't: I can't think of a lot of negatives, this is more novella-length (like the old Don Pendleton Executioner novels)

This is not a Jack Reacher novel. This is actually good.

Also: note to self, buy marine model shotgun with sidesaddle

<![CDATA[Review: ​Logan: the hero that failed]]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 22:00:28 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-logan-the-hero-that-failed

Logan is a post-heroic movie. There are no superheroes. There are no heroes, no leaders, no protection in innocence, no innocence in childhood.
You will not be inspired by this movie. It will not make you happy. It will not make you feel good.
But it is probably the most realistic and most grounded movie of people with unusual power.

It could have been better. It could have been happier. It could have inspired, it could have taught lessons or been ABOUT something. It could have explained things, it could have been clear.
It isn’t. It wasn’t. And you have to decide if you’re ok with that.
TL;DR review – Logan has grown old, Professor X has grown senile. There are no more mutants. Logan is compelled to try to escort a feral child similar to himself to the Canadian border while pursued by evil corporate types. Gruesome violence ensues, touching everyone.
Introduction and Plot:
Well, we wanted a R-rated Wolverine movie. We got one. All the claw deaths you imagined as a fan are here.  Just don’t look for any heroes. This is an odd, depressing movie. A good movie, not a great movie though it could have been. It does not give happy endings, it does not resolve much but it does pound the nail of finality into a number of characters. There aren’t a lot of bad guys still alive at the end of this but in a way, they still win.  Very little is won, much is lost including whatever affection you might have for some of these comic book characters.  This is a brutal, bleak look at failure and ennui, at the hero rejecting the call again and again and again. This is the story of age and failure and decay. Whatever its flaws, and I intend to talk about them at length, this movie is ABOUT things. Just not nice things.  Like Wolverine used to say, “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.” That’s true here. Only without him being the ‘best’ anymore.
So here’s the plot.  Logan has grown old, this movie is set in 2028 or there abouts. There have not been any new mutants born for a very long time. He is working as a limo driver near El Paso and trying to save money to buy a boat. Why a boat? Because he’s hiding Professor Xavier south of the border and Xavier isn’t safe to be around people. The world’s most powerful telepath gets seizures and loses control of his powers, possibly killing the Xmen off (the movie is vague on this but it’s strongly suggested). Logan’s plan is to buy a big boat and sail off where Professor X can die peacefully of old age without endangering anyone else.
However, Logan is found by a runaway nurse, who is harboring X23, a child grown from Logan’s genetic material in some way, who was raised in a laboratory as a weapon. He tries repeatedly to tell the woman he is not interested in helping her, but the promise of money (enough to buy the boat he needs for Xavier) seems to convince him to help. However, when he goes to pick them up, the nurse is dead and X23 appears to be missing.  It turns out, she’s stowed away in his trunk and so when he drives back to Xavier, she comes with. When Xavier meets the girl, he becomes obsessed with trying to help her reach safety.
The big, bad corporation that grew her, wants her back. Or dead. That’s a big vague. And they have some slightly cybernetic gunmen trying to chase her down.  They show up and force Logan, Xavier and X23 on the run.
They travel north, meet and help and fatally endanger a group of farmers. Xavier is killed by a full-sized clone of Wolverine. Eventually Logan gets to the border crossing where a group of children have somehow managed to make the same trip from Mexico City to North Dakota.  Logan is badly injuried by previous fights and recovers slowly. When the time comes to help the kids cross the border, he refuses to help them. But then changes his mind for some reason when he sees the corporate bad guys going after them.
Finally Logan is killed fighting his clone while the children manage to escape to Canada. X23 says a little benediction. Lines taken from the much better movie, Shane are said over his grave and the Cross is turned sideways to become an X as the children go north.
What worked:
Logan/Hugh Jackman. Hugh Jackman has embodied Wolverine like a second skin. He’s treated the character with respect and never given less than is all. Even in the lesser Xmen movies, Jackman is there trying to make Wolverine feel like a real person. He’s the same excellent actor here. It’s sad he won’t be playing the character anymore but it’s a decent send off for him. It just would have been nice if he’d been given a better send off.

The way the mutants were ‘taken out’. In previous Xmen movies, the mutant apocalypse has always been a huge monster/mutant/robot menace. With concentration camps and Nazi parallels galore.  In this movie, the mutants were killed off by a combination of genetically modifying corn syrup and Xavier’s own brain.  Altering the food and water supply to make mutants less likely to appear or to make them less powerful is neat. It’s a clever solution to the problem of too many mutants that hasn’t been attempted. 
The relationship between Logan and Xavier. I didn’t care for Xavier in this movie but Logan did. The father/son relationship couldn’t be more on-the-nose, with an old man taking care of his much older, failing father. Due to the writing flaws, they aren’t given many scenes where they can shine or show care for each other, but the bitterness and sense of obligation are there. And they feel real. Again, not a good feeling, but a real one, where the son resents having to care for an elderly father and where the father feels disappointment in his son.  Xavier is constantly trying to get Logan to do the ‘right’ thing, even when Xavier’s judgement is more….idealistic than wise.  Logan is the practical on, who has the earn the money, buy the pills, make sure Xavier TAKES the pills and carry him, rescue him, protect him.  It doesn’t feel like affection but rather an obligation that goes deep to the bone.
The future. This is no techno future, nor some blasted post apocalypse (Mark Millar can burn in hell, he’s a cancer on superhero comics), no a mindless dystopia. This is the real world. Just a few years down the road. TVs are incrementally better, semi trucks drive themselves, farming is mostly done by the huge robots that would be the bad guys in other Xmen movies, and there’s a Wall and border controls between the US and Mexico. But there’s still cars, still casinos, still hospitals, still normal guns.  It’s the world we live in and it’s very grounded and real-feeling.

The attempt to link comic books to the Western as part of the American myth. There are stories we tell about ourselves as Americans. The story of the Revolution and Independence. The Civil War. The Old West. And the Superhero.  Stories matter.  The stories we tell about ourselves shapes who we are and what we think of ourselves.  Logan is a Western, where the gunslinger has claws instead of a gun.  It explicitly links to that via an in-movie showing of the movie Shane (which is also a problem, I’ll talk about later).  But more than that, the setting of the film is all Western landscapes and farmers, gunmen and crooked company men. If the biogentic corporation ALSO ran the railroads, it couldn’t be more explicit. Leave aside the fact that the main character actors are Australian, British and British/Spanish. This is a story set in and about America. It says the superhero is the cowboy.

Spirituality.  This is not Unforgiven, which is one of the best stories to talk about violence ever to come out.  But along with borrowing themes and scenes from Shane, it also brought along the morality of it.  That there is a cost to killing. Not that feral murder child seems to care, but there is some indication that some day, she may.  Logan, for his part, is clearly haunted by his own savagery and the killings he carries with him.  And the fact that there is moral weight to killing leads to the giver of morality. God. This isn’t a religious film and it isn’t even about redemption, oddly.  But I give the movie credit for trying to grapple with the biggest questions of all: how should we live and how should we treat each other?  The movie doesn’t do a great job of addressing that but I give it credit for even trying.

Finally, it took chances and did something new with superheroes.  This is not like any other comic book movie out there. This is drama and deserves to be treated as a drama. What makes a movie ‘good’? A good movie accomplishes the goals it set out for itself.  A good action movie has skillful stunts and excitement. A good drama is emotional and feels like heightened reality. A good comedy makes you laugh.  And you get bonus points for trying to stretch the genre you are working in.  Casablanca was talking about isolationism as well as about Rick and Ilsa. Unforgiven was about violence as well as the western plot. My criticisms that follow pay the movie the respect of holding it to the high standards that the movies demands.
What didn’t:
Professor X. Patrick Stewart is a very fine actor and was the man born to play Professor Xavier. It’s unfortunate that the writing of the film leaves him little to do but moan and thrash around and be useless. This is deliberate. Xavier is a burden to Logan. He is both Logan’s reason and his cost. And he is dangerous. He is no longer able to control his mental powers or seemingly even able to use them. He is worse than useless, he’s a danger to himself and others. Stewart has done a better job showing a powerful, competent older man losing his mind in Safe House (an underrated movie I recommend for more than just the gun porn in it). If the screenwriter had watched Safe House before writing Xavier, there might have been more power and dynamism in Stewart’s role.  Instead, we’re left with a man babbling ‘Logan’ and ‘Laura’ tiresomely. Also, Xavier’s impulses are both racist (speciest?) and foolish.  He only cares about X23 because she’s one of ‘his kind’, a Mutant. And his decision to force themselves on a farm family when he knows they’re being pursued by murderous thugs, where every hour counts, where their presence will risk their lives is shockingly selfish and shameful. He is everything wrong with Liberalism and I don’t level that argument from a political partisan perspective. He just plain makes bad decisions coming from foolish worldview. The movie bear it out, causing his death and the death of innocents.

X23/Laura.  I just didn’t like her. The actress did fine, especially with role that is effectively mute. Which is part of the problem. For most of the movie she is a little murder machine, selfish and violent even against people who aren’t threatening her. That characterization makes sense for what was written, but that’s the problem. She is not an innocent child that needs protecting. She isn’t Logan’s offspring. She takes what she wants, kills without remorse and punches people in the face when she can’t get what she wants. She doesn’t talk or ask, in fact she’s mute for 3/4ths of the movie.  We have nothing to sympathize with her except for the fact that she exists and that she’s young.  She doesn’t ask for help, she demands it and the movie demands we care about her. Well, I didn’t. I almost thought the evil corporation had a point: she’s too dangerous to be running around loose.  Just imagine how many people she’s going to kill and maim throughout her life, because she doesn’t change by the end of the movie. I don’t believe she has learned about the sanctity of life by the end of the movie, despite the grave scene. No regret, no remorse, no thanks.
Also, how dumb is it to put adamantium in the body of someone who’s not done growing?  How does that work? Is she supposed to stay that size forever? Dumb.

Logan’s career.  Why a limo driver?  That is such a random job for Logan to be doing.  And we spend a good part of the movie’s opening watching him drive people around. It’s like he’s working as a cashier at a gas station. Why not have him smuggling people across the Mexican border? Or working as a bouncer? Or driving a semi truck full of liquor? Something that ties into the plot or ties into his past or ties into his character.   It might be a minor thing but it’s a missed opportunity and it bothered me and took me out of the film.
The Shane reference and the attempt to riff on that.  I gave the movie credit for trying to tie the superhero to the western and become part of the American story. But there’s an old saying, ‘never put a better movie in your own movie’.  Because people will wish that they were watching that instead.  Same with Shane. Shane is an iconic film and one that stretches the genre and goes from being a ‘good’ western to being a great film.  However, the attempt to tie Shane and Logan together doesn’t work.  One example is the farm family Professor Xavier gets killed…I mean that Logan and Xavier try to help.  These farmers are clear parallels to the homesteaders in Shane. Their farm situation is similar, their family structure is similar, they’re in conflict with the ‘bad guys’ that own all the land around them.  The movie almost wants you to talk about Shane instead of talking about Logan. It’s bait and I’m tempted to take it, but a movie has to be its own thing. It can’t lean on other, unrelated movies.*  Not to mention the fact that Shane saved the farmers, Logan and Xavier (Xavier really) gets the farmers ALL killed. This is both a head fake, subverting our expectations that Logan is going to follow the Shane plotline, and it’s cheap.
A big deal is made of Shane’s final speech about how there’s no living with a killing, that it’s a brand. And that ‘there are no more guns in the valley’, line.  The first half, about the weight of killing someone actually works and if it stopped there, I’d be more or less ok with that at least. But there ARE guns still in the valley, Logan may be dead but X23 is still a murder machine and all the other mutant children have all killed now too.  Yes, they’re leaving but they aren’t gone for good.  But this is where I’m getting sucked in to talking about Shane instead of talking about Logan, and again, that’s why you don’t put a better movie in your own film.

The relationship between Logan and X23.  First of all, they don’t have one.  As Logan says in the movie, he meets this little murder machine a few days ago and suddenly he’s supposed to care about her. She’s not his child. She is the product of DNA stolen from Logan and carried to term inside some random Mexican woman. Not only did he not know she existed, he had nothing to do with the mother. And this all leads to bad storytelling.  Because you can have this background and still have a relationship between the characters. But they don’t. She doesn’t seem to view him as a father figure, as a man of authority over her. She cries out calling him ‘papa’ towards the end of the movie but that doesn’t work because she hasn’t acted that way previously. But she should have. And he should have taken up the duty to raise her and teach her. Or else he should have left her by the side of the road, which he pretty clearly wants to do. Dick move but Wolverine seems to be a dick in this movie, not a hero. Not even a decent man.  Logan doesn’t care about her, she doesn’t care about him. And the tragedy here, among the many tragedies of this movie, is it didn’t have to be written this way.
But it was.

The theme.   What is the theme of Logan? What is Logan ABOUT? 
Well, it’s not about choosing to be a father, even if the child isn’t of your making. Logan refuses to do that all the way up to the end.
It’s not about atonement and trying to make right the mistakes of the past. Because Neither Professor Xavier nor Logan atone for their killings, they die but Xavier doesn’t even die doing anything.
It’s not about revenge. Logan doesn’t try to get revenge on the people who stole his DNA to make multiple clones of him.
It’s not about family. It’s not about facing your past. It’s not about trying to find peace.
It’s not about doing the right thing, even. Logan is given chance after chance to do something and it isn’t until the end where he goes and kills a bunch of random faceless bad guys and his own clone (the older killing machine, not the younger one)
It’s not even about confronting yourself, which Logan explicitly DOES, facing off against the younger, more fierce version of himself. Even this thematic possibility is passed over.
What is Logan ABOUT? Well, as far as I can tell it’s about getting old and failing and how life sucks and there are no superheroes. It’s about the failure of heroes. And this theme is consistent, it is carried out in every scene, so yes Logan has a theme. But it’s not a happy one.  I know, not all movies need to be happy or fun even. I defy anyone decent to have fun watching Shoah or Shadows and Fog or The Chekist. There are serious movies out there about serious things.  But Logan really shouldn’t be one of them. It can’t carry the weight of real drama. Logan’s a comic book character. Which leads me to..
The Xmen comics in the movie. This goes dangerously close to 4th wall breaking. In this movie universe, Logan exists as he’s described in the Xmen comics AND the Xmen comics exist. AND Logan flat out says they were based on real events that got distorted. So the Xmen comics, with their aliens and the Sentinels and Asteroid M and Genosha and all of the frankly silly stuff in the Marvel universe supposedly exists in Logan?  Heck, there’s even a Wolverine action figure one of the mutant kids clutches and it’s the yellow and blue spandex uniform.  This raises way too many questions. This was a mistake. It’s ok to acknowledge the previous Xmen movies. I mean, some of them are really bad (X3) but I suppose you can include them even in this more ‘real’ post-mutant world.  But the comic books are a whole can of worms that should have been left home. And speaking of comic book characters that don’t work…
Pierce/The Reavers.  Boyd Holbrook plays Pierce as an off-brand Brad Pitt with a mechanical hand. In the comic all the Reavers are cyborgs and that’s true here. But the cybernetic implants are supposed to make them better at fighting and THAT doesn’t happen here. At no point is having a mechanical hand shown to be an advantage, at no time are gun arms shown to be useful or anything else ‘super’ about being part machine.  Now with a little tweaking, you could have your Reaver fan service (which is all this is) but ground them in reality. Lots of Iraq/AfPak vets are missing limbs and some of the prosthetics they are getting are pretty close to what we see in this movie. If the Reavers were all embittered vets or adrenaline junkies or, if you really want to be a good writer, desperate or conflicted veterans it would have added weight and complexity. But no, they’re just generic bad guys for X23 and Logan to murder.  And they aren’t even competent bad guys, which is a major failing in my book.  They can’t take out anyone they’re sent after and don’t even seem to be trying very hard. Take the fact that these runaway mutants are wanted ‘Dead or Alive’, but with those rules of engagement, they should have been popping off shots at every opportunity. Those running mutant children should have been dead in three minutes. Now normally I’d say that a movie probably doesn’t want to show murdered children…except that it does. It murders the teenaged (or younger) son of the farmer. It shows mutant children being ‘put to sleep’ earlier in the film. So the movie is willing to cross the line of child murder but then not let the bad guys actually, you know, kill the little murder machines. Or even wound them. No one so much as slaps X23 once during the movie, unlike in the version in my head.
Logan chasing the bad guys at the end.  In a movie that’s been semi-to-seriously realistic, the last scenes of the movie really don’t work.  Logan has had a limp the whole movie. He’s dying. He’s not healing well and he seems to have chronic pain and injuries that slow him way, way down.  In addition, he’s up on a mesa or high bluff (and as far as I can find, there are no such things near the Canadian border, maybe near Walhalla…MAYBE but…that aside) that he had to get brought up to on a pulley and pallet.  Suddenly he sees the bad guys chasing the kids and they are ALREADY way north of him. He’s using high powered forestry service binoculars to see them.  Yet somehow he manages to catch up with and begin fighting with the Reavers before they catch all the kids. 
No way.
Logan has been moving far, far too slow. And he hasn’t taken the super dose of green steroids, that happens on camera as he’s wheezing like an old man.  So how does he catch up to kids who’ve had several hours of head start and to cars and trucks who are already north of him, on their way to Canada?
There is no way. Now this sounds like nit picking but this movie has been holding itself to a high standard of realism only to shake that off when its time for the final action scene.

The failure of heroes. This ties back to the theme again but I really want to hammer home why this doesn’t work.  We watch superhero movies to see HEROES. And in this movie, the heroes all fail and die. They are mortal but not moral. They’re human. It’s almost as much of a deconstruction of superheroes as Alan Moore’s Watchmen. And it does it well, but not enjoyably. This wasn’t enjoyable. The theme isn’t enjoyable. Worse, it doesn’t even execute on the theme in a way that is satisfying. It doesn’t mean that it’s not effective, it tugs at heart strings, even the hardest of hearts might feel a sting by the end of this film. But it chose to tell a story that’s not just anti-hero, it’s anti-human.  And that doesn’t work for me.
Summary/how would I fix it:

So what we have here is a good movie, with good emotions, visceral action and unconventional protagonists performing a fairly nihilistic ballet. You can argue that the children getting away at the end spares it from total bleakness but the overall tone and mood of the movie is one of bleak depression and futility.  It’s a superhero movie where there are no superheroes. No regular ones, either.

How do we fix it? Well, it really isn’t that hard. A few scenes, three say, would give more depth and conflict and provide a decision arc for Logan. Changing the characterization of Laura/X23 to be a mix of child and animal (instead of just animal wearing clothes) would make her both more sympathetic and better motivate Logan to care for her.  Making X23 Logan’s biological child would dramatically change the stakes and tone of the movie, for the better.

Just imagine how much more powerful it would be for an Ex-girlfriend to show up with Laura in tow and in need.  A random nurse doesn’t mean anything and her death doesn’t mean much either. Hell, it didn’t even seem to mean much to the child-sized murder machine.

Show X23 learning from Logan.  The boy in Shane, for all his annoying characteristics, was learning from the gunslinger. Show us Laura learning from Logan.  Make her a child, not a monster in human clothes.

Make Professor Xavier lucid and strong in some scenes and demented and dangerous in others. The contrast of the man who was to the man who is could be powerful stuff and higher tragedy than the randomized death of a geriatric cripple.  Relatedly, have Xavier die for SOMETHING. Have him die trying. He founded the X-men. Let him go out doing battle. Hell, if he’d died in the casino from too much use of his power, that would have meant more than his eventual death in a farmhouse. Plus those farmer would be alive.

Logan needs to make a choice to help X23. He can deny her all her wants/needs to at first, but he needs to choose to help her. Not just drift along like a drunk in a bus stop.  Make him chose to be a hero, even if he’s dying.  Relatedly, make it clearer that he’s dying, earlier.

Hell, make a LOT of things clearer.  I’m a fan of ‘show don’t tell’ but this movie chooses not to show and not to tell some fairly big plot and background points.  It’s clear that a lot of people cared about this movie. It is not a corporate product or showing the signs of meddling like it was some sitcom spinoff series starring Matt LeBlanc.  People cared about this. Now all we needed were characters we could care about and who cared about each other.

*I’ll make an exception for direct sequels that are going to assume you know the characters in the follow up movies that were in the earlier installments.
<![CDATA[John Wick and John Wick, Chapter 2 review]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 23:20:57 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/john-wick-and-john-wick-chapter-2-review
A Tale of two Wicks.

TL;DR review – both are good to great action movies. Keanu can act but not deliver dialog. Storytelling is not all verbal.
The John Wick movies take place in a slightly-fantasy version of New York. Not full on Harry Potter fantasy but it’s a world where there are hitmen everywhere (and I mean, EVERYWHERE, especially in Chapter 2), they are semi-organized and the police pretty doesn’t exist except to deliver funny dialog. But most of the fantasy is in the world building. The fights and stunts are very grounded, very ‘tactical’ as opposed to a wire-fu martial arts film or even a Hong Kong action film of John Woo’s glory days.  But if you suspect disbelief just a little, these are very good action movies.
In essence, these movies are Westerns, just transplanted to New York and Rome.  John Wick is the retired gunslinger who is brought back from retirement, first by a need for revenge and then by threats and compulsions. He is the reluctant warrior with an enviable reputation that also causes him problems.  There is also a ‘code’ of honor among these assassins and the organization they are affiliated with.  This is part of the suspension of disbelief again but if you buy into it, it is just as satisfying as any samurai flick.
The two movies take place within days (or maybe hours) of each other, so I think we can talk about both plots at once.  I’m going off memory so this may not be as well-researched as it could be.
John Wick was a top shelf assassin for hire until he met, fell in love and married a woman from outside that world. He left, with great difficulty, the world of murder-for-hire behind. However, when John Wick 1 starts, his wife has just died. We start off seeing John grieving, going through his vast, empty house alone. Then a message from beyond the grave appears: his wife bought him a puppy and attached a note. Asking John to let himself keep loving, through the puppy, named Daisy.

One relic from his old life is a 1969 Mustang in pristine condition. A punk Russian mobster sees the car and tries to pressure John into selling it.  John refuses, the punk breaks into Wick’s house, steals the car and murders the puppy out of spite but leaves John Wick alive, not knowing who he is.  When Wick awakens, he buries the pup, goes looking for his car and returns to his old assassin life seeking revenge.  The rest of the plot of John Wick 1 is him finding and killing the Russian punk, who happens to be the son of a well-connected Russian mobster known to John in his old days*.

John Wick 1 introduces us to John, his reputation and offers a little glimpse into the alternate world they inhabit. Including old friends like Wilem Dafoe’s Marcus and old rivals like Adrianne Palicki’s Perkins. It also shows us the Continental, a luxury hotel run by Ian McShane’s Winston that offers a safe haven against violence and coordinates the distribution of contacts.  No killing is permitted in the Continental. This assassin world uses gold coins both as currency and as a way of showing that you ‘belong’ to that world. These coins are shown to be precious and we see that John Wick has quite a store of them saved up.

John Wick 2 starts off right after John Wick gains his revenge and his old associates come calling to call in a ‘marker’ to force him to kill again.  John tries to refuse but after his home is destroyed and all other attempts at reason and negotiation fail, John agrees to kill a former friend and ally.  After doing so, he is stabbed in the back and a large contract is put on his head. John manages to elude a vast number of assassins, with some assistance from sympathetic or otherwise criminals who allow him to kill the man who forced him out of retirement. However, John kills him inside the Continental Hotel, which results in John losing all immunity and access to the special resources the assassins enjoy. The second movie ends with what seems like a vast number of killers world-wide looking for him, seeking to collect the multi-million dollar bounty on his head.

What worked?
The movie has some of the best gun fighting in it since Way of the Gun or 13 Hours. The choreography is very well done and Keanu Reeves seems to have done most of his own stunts. He certainly has done his prep work and comes off as an older, lethal gunman. Sort of like a sadder-but-wiser Neo without all the magic powers. 
I also want to call out Keanu’s acting.   In 2000’s The Gift, I saw Keanu actually Act for the first time.  And he really impressed me here. He really can act. What he can’t do is dialog. Luckily for him, I doubt John Wick says 100 words total in each movie. It is a very terse performance and he emotes very well in it.

The writing worked well for me, too. The first script comes off as a bit rote but it builds this alternate world well, it has some great understated dialog and it has people who have what feel like real lives. Sure, many of the gunmen literally have red shirts (in the Red Circle scene of the first movie) but the speaking role characters all have relationships that don’t revolve around John Wick.  I like the way people reacted to John Wick, both in the humorous way of ‘are you working again, John?’ as well as more human ways of people being glad to see him, having missed him. You can see that John had a life here, had friends and even lovers. Stuff like that makes a fictional world feel real and its important the more ‘out there’ your fictional world is.

The movies worked emotionally as well. The death and aftermath of the puppy’s death still affect me, the way the blood trails shows how it dragged its broken body along to lie beside the unconscious John. Jeez…
Or seeing how his wife, Helen’s, death affected him and his longing for the life he had with her.  You see what he cares about and see people caring about him and that makes us, as an audience, care about John Wick too.

The second movie also did a great job of constantly raising the stakes on John. The numbers of people after him keeps going up, his obstances get higher and higher, the stakes if he fails and in the end, if he succeeds, keep rising. Things keep getting worse, even as he surmounts each obstacle. The script is a great example of how to write a ‘it gets worse’ story without turning the character into a sad sack punching bag.  The second movie also expands the world, taking us international and showing us the vast criminal network of this world. Derke Kolstad, the screenwriter, seems to have been a fan of the 100 Bullet’s graphic novel. As the ‘High Table’ of crime families feels a great deal like the ruling families of the Trust in the graphic novel. Even the assassins start to feel a bit like uncommitted  Minutemen of that graphic novel.

We also see things being taken from John, irrevocably.  His wife, his dog, his phone with the video from his wife, his house, his security with The Continental. John keeps losing everything he wanted to hang onto, leaving nothing but his lethal skills for him to cling too. A skilled screenwriter will find some way to give him something new to cling to after putting him through hell in John Wick 3.

Gun porn. I love it.

What didn’t work?

There’s some repetition of dialog in the second movie that felt odd after watching both films back to back.  Word for word descriptions of John Wick seem to have been copy/pasted from John Wick 1. That’s just lazy. 
For a fairly realistic movie with people who want John Wick dead, he survives being captured too many times. The ending fist fight between John and the Russian mob boss was odd and almost embarrassing, given the fitness and age differences between the two actors.

The framing scene that opens (and almost ends) the first movie: John bleeding, stumbling, watching the video of his wife, that felt awkward and staged. It worked ok the first time but doesn’t hold up on rewatch.

Wilem Dafoe’s assassin character was a little too easy to surprise and kill off. It felt like he was written out, not resolved.

The opening car scene from John Wick 2 was exciting but it didn’t matter to the plot of the movie and could/should have been cut.
Some of the CQB fights are too repetitive. It was all arm-lock into headshot, over and over. Or it felt that way. The first movie had more versatility in the fights.

There didn’t seem to be a strong enough motivation for John to violate the rules of the Continental hotel just to kill the guy who hired him. Yeah, he stabbed him in the back and put a price on his head but that shouldn’t be a new scenario.

Too many assassins. On the one hand, ratcheting up the stakes by sending almost everyone after John is good screenwriting. But it started to get silly. And you don’t want silly in a John Wick movie. When you have homeless hit men and random subway busker hitmen, you’re starting to approach the Warriors-level of silly street gangs.  Less is more. A handful of Replacement Killers (men of John’s caliber) is more memorable and cool than hitman bus drivers and hitman waitresses or whatever else the next level of goofiness is.  Show respect for the craft, man. Show respect for your world.


Two damn fine action movies. I think I prefer the second movie a bit more for the action and I like the first one a bit more for the acting/emotions.  If you don’t mind violence for violence’s sake in your movies, you’ll have a good time.

*The Mob boss seems to be a former employer of John Wick or in some way he was able to command Wick’s services before letting him retire. It isn’t clear if he was one of the High Table families but if not, they certainly have power and influence in New York.

<![CDATA[Review: Rogue One, a Star Wars story]]>Thu, 22 Dec 2016 18:08:48 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story
Why are the fan posters so much better than the offical one, above?  Kind of off topic, let's begin.
TL;DR review – It’s ok. It’s short on wonder, long on grimness and bloodless combat.  The Rebels are indeed revealed to be kind of scummy but the Empire is still bad, so it’s ok to sit on their corpses.  More of a war movie than a space opera.

Longer, boy you have time on your hands, review:

I’m going to try something different from my ‘what worked, what didn’t formula from previous reviews.

Orson Scott Card came up with the acronym MICE for writing science fiction.
Milieu – The world or setting
Idea – A cool sci-fi concept
Character- Interesting characters you like and want to follow
Event – Or a plot-based story that hooks you based on the events of the story.

A knock out story has all four elements but you really only need to do one well to have a ‘good’ or at least ‘ok’ story.  All are important, though and screwing one or more up usually results in bad or cheesy science fiction.  This is a great tool to evaluate whether a story is objectively good*.  So let’s talk about Rogue One in terms of MICE.
First of all, they nailed the Milieu. This movie feels like it’s part of the Star Wars universe. A gaggle of odd aliens and cultures all jumbled together with enough humans around to give you something to hang onto and identify with. You’ve got spaceships, blasters, the Empire, The Force…all the world stuff that Lucas helped create and that the good Star Wars movies feature.  It’s right up there with Force Awakens in giving us the ‘lived in’ world that the first** trilogy created and we loved.  I can’t praise the production design team enough, they made a Star Wars movie. Well done.  And for a lot of fans, this is all you need to enjoy yourself.  Tie Fighters, X-Wings, blasters, AT-ATs, Stormtroopers to kill by the hundred, they’re all here.  And there are some folks who are knocking the movie for not introducing enough ‘new stuff’ in this movie (There’s one new armed troop transport that I wasn’t personally aware of, the U-Wing, it gets a lot of screen time), this is set in a specific time period in the films, just before Star Wars (1977), so TIE fighters and X-wings are to be expected.  It’s like showing off Panzer IV-D tanks in a WW 2 film…it’s what was around and being used.
    They did screw up some of the continuity of the first Star Wars, however.  The Rebel Blockade Runner with Princess Leia in it didn’t seem like it was running FROM the Death Star. And C-3PO and R2D2 didn’t seem to know much about the Rebel alliance, far from being AT THE FRELLING REBEL BASE as the’re shown here in Rogue One.  Likewise, Leia was supposed to be a Senator but she just seems to be hanging around a space battle in this Rogue One. The plans R2D2 had had to be analyzed by the Rebellion in Star Wars, they then discovered a vulnerability to exploit. In Rogue One, Jyn TELLS them what the vulnerability is and then they go looking for the plans. Huh???  Oh and apparently you can just push Star Destroyers into each other, causing massive damage to both and the ‘pushing’ ship somehow isn’t destroyed or shot to pieces.  The scale of the Star Destroyers seems to have been lost.  There are other small injustices to the Star Wars continuity but unless you’re a nit-picker like I am, you may not notice.

The Idea here is a little thin but it’s there.  It’s the ‘how did the Rebels get the plans to the first Death Star?’ story. There isn’t really a clever idea here or concept. This isn’t a story about race relations in Star Wars or droid rights, or even how star drives have changed the galaxy.  If you want to be very technical, Star Wars isn’t really Science Fiction.  There’s very little science in here. This is Space Fantasy.  And that’s ok.  But the only other idea at work here is ‘war is messy and it can be vicious’ and ‘not all the Rebels were nice people’.  It’s a baby step towards showing more complexity in the Star Wars universe and I applaud that at least.

Character is where the movie mostly falls on its face.  The two main leads are neither likeable nor interesting.  There’s very little character development.  Jyn Erso makes Rey from The Force Awakens seem like a fireball of charisma.  Jyn is sullen drifts through the movie until she’s inexplicably called upon to deliver speeches.  Cassian Andor is a slimy, weasely little man who murders people who are on his side. He is also a black hole of charisma.  It really does show how important casting and writing is in making good characters. Heck, good casting can almost make up for bad writing. Orson Crennic is almost interesting or could have been with a little more care given to his character.  But it’s not all bad, the leads are terrible but there are two supporting characters that do have good writing and charisma: the blind Chirrit Imwe*** and the droid K-2SO. Honestly, the dialog isn’t bad here, though. There’s one groan-inducing line that’s inexplicably given to Darth Vader (Vader should not do one-liner’s folks, he’s not James Bond) and one Star Wars verbal cliché that gets cut off, but the rest of the movie felt like real people talking…except during the speechifying scenes. It’s not as bad as in Gods and Generals but it’s close. Mind you, I think if you’re going to have Darth Vader in your movie, USE him. Make him the building threat.
    One of the many problems with Jyn is she lacks motivation and transformation. We aren’t given a chance to know the character, we don’t see her interact with anyone before the plot kicks off. We don’t know what her deal is, what she’s like so we can’t really get interested in her as a person. And we certainly can’t believe her transformation from skittish criminal to impassioned Rebellion true believer 
    Worse, what we see of Cassian Andor makes us like him even less, as he murders an informant who’s just trying to give him information and get away, alive (seriously, this is some Gestapo-level shit he pulls). Then later he shoots a rebel attacking imperial troops for no reason I could see on one viewing. He’s also ordered to kill Jyn’s Death Star-building father and if he’d done that, I’d at least given him the respect of being consistent. But they screw that up to.  There’s no Peo Dameron here, no Han Solo, heck there’s no Kylo Ren here.  I don’t know if it’s bad casting, bad writing or maybe bad direction.  On the whole, I think Gareth Edwards did well here, so I don’t know what went wrong here. But it did go wrong in the character department.

Finally, the Event or Plot of Rogue One isn’t great. It might even bad.  I’m tempted to just do a huge list of questions that this movie doesn’t answer but that might get boring. I do want to start with one huge flaw.  There is an old saying that ‘Hope is not a plan’, when it comes to military operations. Yet, that’s EXACTLY what the Rebel plan to steal the Death Star data is.  They just are going to sneak in and hope they can find the plans.  This is such a huge screw up.  Instead of a cool series of scenes where the Rebels find the plans and scheme to get them, they Rebels just go in, blow stuff up and sorta droid-hack their way to victory.  There is no plan. None. The idea that trained Rebel soldiers would go along with this suicide mission makes zero sense.  Basically it seems like the writers ran out of page count and decided to spend run time on space battles and gun fights that are supremely stupid.  I…I can’t just let go of this, the ‘hope’ not-plan is SO bad. And it could have been so good.
    That is terrible but the rest of the plot isn’t a whole lot better.  It is fairly simple and linear, which fine.  The Rebels break out Jyn so she can talk to a torturing terrorist-style Saw Gerrera  whom she knew as a child, who has a pilot trying to defect, who has a message from someone building the Death Star.  The message is from Jyn’s father so she tries to go find him and then she goes to a third planet to try to steal the plans.  Not great, but it could be worse.  There is some subtle complexities here, like the fact that Jyn is being sent to talk to Saw Gerrera because he might just kill any other Rebel who might try and meet with him. There’s in implication that the Rebels have tried to assassinate him before, he certainly thinks Jyn was sent so they could kill him. Again, that the REBELS might kill him, not the Empire.
    And I might be alone here, but I’m starting to feel sorry for the Stormtroopers.  They just line up and get shot like paper targets on a range. They never use tactics and never get to win.  And they apparently have some sort of body armor that doesn’t actually protect them from anything, even punches and…sticks.  Lame. Once again, your protagonist is only as good as their opponent. If the Rebels were up against tough, aggressive, dangers bad guys, their victor would mean more and so would their losses.
  I think they tried to keep things fast-paced. The movie certainly didn’t feel like two hours +, but the downside of all the running and fighting is that we don’t really understand what’s going on and why and who. It’s basically trying to baffle us with bullshit instead of treating us like adults and giving us a clear plot we can understand and approve of.  A clear plot takes time, set up and even some exposition here and there.  If they’d tried to make a movie more like The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare, they might have had a really great war movie. Instead we get…Hope.
  Hope is not a plan. And it’s not a plot.

So how could we fix it?

Well it wouldn’t have been hard to make this a very good movie instead of an OK one.  I want to go over some ideas that I think would have made more sense. The more I write, the more it seems like I’d need to re-write the whole frelling movie, so let me try to focus on just a few key changes.

1. We meet Jyn and spend time with her. Give us 5 minutes of Jyn being angry, drifting, lacking anything to believe in.  She’s a criminal, so show us her doing criminal things and getting caught by them empire.
2. Give Cassian a reason for being a murderous douche.  If his informant is running to the Imperials blabbing his mouth off, he might deserve a blaster bolt to the back.  Just wanting to live and get away doesn’t deserve death.
3. Either show Cassian having reservations about the killing he’s being told to do, or being forced to do, or make him a fucking soldier. He’s almost one, a guy who follows orders because if you don’t follow orders in wars, people get killed.  You can even toss in a scene with Jyn not wanting to follow his orders and getting someone killed. There are consequences for acting without knowing all the facts.  Grunts don’t know the big picture, so they have to trust their officers know more than they do. That doesn’t make them Stormtroopers, it makes them moral people who believe in fighting for a cause.
4. Make the Empire ‘human’. They can still be the black and white bad guys.  But show a personal connection between Crennic and Jyn’s father. Maybe they’re friends. Maybe he’s been covering up for him because he’s a friend and not just because he’s super scientist man.  Make Crennic’s problems greater.  It shouldn’t be him going to Vader, it should be Tarkin. Tarkin is taking over the Death Star and he’s going to bring Vader along to make sure Crennic can’t do shit about it. Give Crennic a reason to go scurrying around trying to fix things. His life should be at stake, not just his career or his command. And see my note about the Stormtroopers, above.
5. Forget one of the locations.  We jump from one world where Jyn’s father is at, to the tropical world. Pick one, all the action should take place there. Don’t waste screen time. Combine the events, the finding the plans and the assassination/reunion with Jyn’s father.
6. Finally, have a PLAN to steal the Death Star info, not just Hope.
*(I remain convinced that there are objectively good stories and objectively bad ones.  That doesn’t mean one’s personal taste prevents you or forces you to like it.  But quality is quality and deserves respect. Crap is crap and deserves jeers.  Hey, I like Pepsi and it’s objectively crap, so not trying to be pulpit pounding here)

** There really is only one trilogy. The Prequels were terrible alternate history.

***Boy, these names…I’m sticking with character names here for consistency. Donnie Yen played the blind monk and he’s really, really, really good. Check out his other films.  And, bad as these names are, they avoid the worst of Lucas’ excesses like Dexter Jetster or Kit Fisto.

<![CDATA[​Mister Doctor is Strange…but who am I to judge?]]>Fri, 04 Nov 2016 17:38:02 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/mister-doctor-is-strangebut-who-am-i-to-judge

Doctor Strange feels like it’s kicking off a new phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  After several years of fairly realistic/high tech superhero movies, it’s time for a little strange.  Magic is strange,  but not too strange – if you’ve seen Inception or Harry Potter.  Benedict Cumberbatch is strange, but not too strange – if you’ve seen House, M. D.  Doctor Strange is a strange superhero, but only a little.  There’s nothing here to turn off Marvel fans and quite a bit to make them happy, as well as to subvert some of the tropes the MCU have been using.

Ok, enough intro, here’s the TL;DR review – A dizzying new superhero origin movie in the vein of Iron Man. Go see it. Marvel knows what it’s doing and it didn’t drop the ball here.
In-depth, way too many words review and critique.
First off, Doctor Strange did enough things right that most of my criticism is either nit picking or suggestions for improvement. It isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s good.  I doesn’t reach the heights of The Avengers, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier or The Guardians of the Galaxy but it’s just a few notches below them. There is some ‘fridge logic’ but nothing that took me out of the movie as I was watching it.  It’s entertaining and feels shorter than its actual running time.
Doctor (and he makes a big deal about that title) Stephen Strange is a narcissistic neurosurgeon of great skill but of little empathy. A car accident cripples his hands and, when Western medicine can’t fix him, he goes to Nepal* to chase a miracle.  Once there, he is eventually trained in the mystic arts by a woman known as The Ancient One, just in time to have to confront one of her previous students, Kaecilius. He is plotting to turn the earth over to the extra-dimensional deity named Dormammu, but not for the reasons you might assume.  I won’t go into too much additional detail as there are some nice twists and flairs that a film fan will enjoy seeing for themselves.

The visuals of the movie are rather good, sometimes dizzying and sometimes awe-inspiring.  It feels like a cross between Inception and an acid trip sometimes.  I don’t recommend 3D for most movies, but this one might be worth the extra cash and discomfort.  The camera is mostly locked down and if it’s often zoomed in to closely, it doesn’t really have ‘shaky cam’ issues. So though some scenes are disorienting, I don’t think it will cause too much discomfort for most viewers. It is worth seeing on the big screen, though.
What worked:
I’m going to keep saying this but, Marvel knows what they’re doing. I know it’s fashionable for movie critics to write clickbait articles about ‘when is the superhero bubble going to burst’, but as long as Marvel is making movies like this, that bubble can keep building. I can only liken it to the glory days of the studio system of the 40’s and 50’s.  A Marvel movie is like a David O. Selznick production. They are organized and they are telling good stories with impressive special effects and characters you care about. 
The casting is very good. BC (because spelling his name is a pain) looks perfect in the role and acts appropriate for the character.  Mads Mikkelsen is amazingly good as Kaecilius, giving pathos and menace to his character, punching well above most Marvel villains.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is similarly good as Mordo, frankly I almost consider him to the be the real hero of the movie. Rachel McAdams manages to be cute, competent and useful which is impressive considering how little screen time she gets. Tilda Swindon is appropriate as The Ancient One, managing to be compassionate, creepy and ambiguous at the same time. For me, though, Benedict Wong stole the movie. Wong is awesome and I loved seeing him every time he was on the screen.
The magic mostly worked as well. They kept it simple, no overly-complicated spells like D&D or Mage: The Ascension gets into.  In Doctor Strange, wizards are channeling energy from other dimensions to create shields, melee weapons and to open holes in this world or between our world and the many, many others.  In the ‘mirror’ dimension, they are able to manipulate the reflection of the physical world and the Inception images shown in the trailer are largely taken from scenes in that ‘mirror’ universe. In our world, they’re more limited.  By limiting the magic, it makes it easier for the audience to understand and makes Doctor Strange more of a martial arts movie. There are magical artifacts that can accomplish more impressive effects, but they seem to be unique and not something everyone can use.  Frankly, I would have preferred to have more creative magic usage but this works for this movie.

Set, makeup, all the technical and special effects work is top notch. A lot of that gets missed or overshadowed by the visual effects, but everything looked great.  Marvel hires pros and mostly lets them be excellent.
Special mention should go to the ending. Rather than have Doctor Strange get into a huge fight vs a monster or have to try to stop a blue laser blasting down from the sky, Doctor Strange outsmarts Dormammu with a little magic. It’s a nice subversion of superhero expectations.
This is an origin movie done very well. It introduces the character, gives him problems to overcome –inside himself as well as plot problems – lets him be heroic, lets him make mistakes and it allows him to win against very great odds but using things he’s learned along the way. The script isn’t perfect, but it works well enough.
What didn’t work:
Most of my problem are script logic and direction/photography choices.

First and most obviously, the action scenes are not well shot. The camera is too close to the actors and we can’t see what they’re doing. The action is hard to follow at times. I don’t know if the actors weren’t up to complicated fight choreography or if this was a result of the special effects required for most of the fights.  The director, Scott Derrickson, has mostly done horror and suspense movies, not action.  Deadpool, Captain American 2 and 3 and The Avengers 1 and 2 are still the gold standard (the action in Guardians of the Galaxy was fine, too) for superhero fight scenes. Which is odd as stuntman Jonathan Eusebio is credited as the fight coordinator in the Avengers and in Doctor Strange and the cinematographer Ben Davis has worked on Guardians of the Galaxy, so I have to put this on the direction.
The humor didn’t always work.  The best humor comes from character, like the trailer scene about the wi-fi password, the confusion over Doctor Strange's name with Kaecilius and Wong’s scenes in general.  Those work fine. But the slapstick humor with the cloak of levitation didn’t fit the tone of the movie. It felt like something out of a Harry Potter movie and it was one of the only things that jarred me in this movie.
Most of my other problems are script nit picks, which I’ll go into but they may not bother you as much as they did me.
  1. There isn’t really enough supernatural stuff here.  There’s Kaecilius, his zealots and Dormammu and…that’s it. We hear about all these threats to our world that the sorcerers are protecting us form, but we don’t see any of them except Dormammu.  Some lower-level bad guys that need magic to stop them would have been useful and could have been used to set up future antagonists.
  2. Script inconsistencies. Like the Ancient One telling Strange that the crippled man he was following had ‘convinced his body how to heal itself’. Which is fine and miraculous enough. But then later in the movie, it’s changed to say that he’s channeling some magic to control is paralyzed body remotely. Huh?  That’s dumb. I assume it was done for the sake of the second post-credit scene**
  3. Having action scenes off-screen.  We don’t see the Hong Kong destruction live. We do get a cool backwards rewind of some of the destruction, but show your bad guy being bad. No reason to hide it, unless you ran out of money.  Similarly, the destruction of the New York fortress (I think it was New York, the location was unclear) also happens when the main characters are away from it.  Missed opportunity.
  4. Timeline.  It was not clear when this movie takes place and how much time has elapsed in it.  If it had started out, pre-accident prior to most of the Marvel movies and Strange had literally had to spend years learning the mystic arts, it would have solved a lot of little nit pick problems.  As it is, I THINK he learned all this magic is a few months. Not as bad as The Force Awakens, but they made a point of about years of study to become a neurosurgeon, but it only takes him months to learn how to poke holes in reality?
  5. Miraculous recoveries happen quite a bit, actually.  Science really can’t explain everything and that could be played with. How Science is a technique for understanding the natural world. It can’t explain the supernatural, by definition.  They tease a little about that with a line of dialog here and there but you could have written a good scene instead of a forgettable one around that theme. I get that they want to create a fairly atheistic world here, which lines up with Ditko’s worldview and probably Stan Lee’s as well. But there’s some lifting from theology of eternal life and ‘becoming one’.  It would have been nice to have some actual spirituality in a movie that’s about spirituality working, supposedly.  But no, it’s not spiritual, just channeling extra-dimensional energy. Like writing source code!  Timid, especially considering the screenwriters and directors.
  6. The post credit sequences. They are very skippable. Very. I really, really suggest everyone skips them. There’s a tease for Thor: Ragnarock and an amusing self-refilling beer mug, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie. And the second one….one of the things I liked best about this movie is that it didn’t make Mordo a bad guy.  Mordo is actually a very good, very moral man and Stephen Strange’s biggest supporter.  Then they decide to flip his villain switch in the post credit sequence. It’s clumsy and crappy. His heel turn should have been its own movie.
Finally but most glaringly for me, this is a movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s set just after Civil War (one of the Easter eggs is him being asked to work on what seems to be Rhode’s spinal injury from Civil War and him refusing). And he lives in New York. You know, a New York that had the Hulk break Harlem. That had aliens invade. That had a Norse god, Thor, fight to defend New York and hang out with the Avengers.  But he finds the idea of chakras and acupuncture to be beyond the pale?  Really? A giant flying armored space whale flew through Wall Street a few years ago.  It simply doesn’t make sense for him to consider the supernatural to be so legendary.
So, that’s a lot of words and I have more but I think I’ll leave it there.  It’s a good movie, with a little tinkering, it actually could have been great but so it goes.

*Can’t send him to Tibet, like in the comics, because you might piss off the Chinese and alienate all those Chinese ticket sales.  Chinese yellow-washing is one of the least attractive trends of this decade but I will say that it’s fairly unobtrusive here, unlike the Magnificent Seven or the Red Dawn remake.
**The second stinger scene feels like it was tacked on and the dialog earlier about the paralyzed man’s ‘healing’ was also added to make the ending make sense. Which is a mistake, in my opinion.

<![CDATA[​The Magnificent Mighty Morphin Multicultural Seven]]>Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:59:43 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/the-magnificent-mighty-morphin-multicultural-sevenPicture

What a waste.  A cast like this, a story like this and we get…oatmeal. Bad oatmeal, hastily cooked and quickly forgotton.
Sigh.  All right, let’s talk about this.  I was really looking forward to this movie, so I had some expectations, mostly due to Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington. And in truth, those two are solid in this.  Denzel can act, man* and Chris Pratt has charisma.  There’s solid work or entertaining work at least from Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke, even Byung-hun Lee –a Korean playing Chinese?- is good**.  But the script is terrible and some of the directing choices are baffling.
A bad script kills a movie, even one based on a story told twice (or more) times already.  There was some good dialog, some of it was so fun and natural that I assume it was ad-libbed, but the rest is a mess. The editing wasn’t quite Suicide Squad levels of bad, but it wasn’t good.
All right, let’s talk about what was good and what wasn’t.  The good first.
As mentioned, some good or entertaining acting in this.  Washington or Pratt in a scene automatically makes it watchable. Vincent D’Onofrio seems to know he’s in a crappy remake and is having fun with his character.  Ethan Hawke is giving a solid try at playing a rattled PTSD Confederate vet and as I mentioned, Byung-hung Lee is also good.  The gunfights are mostly good, decently choreographed though the sign of a bad Western is present as I think people reloaded maybe twice in the whole movie.  But back on the good…the set and costume design is very period and well done, with one glaring, jiggly exception we’ll get to.  There’s even a slight hat tip to the kind of tensions that should be there with a diverse cast and there are both good-guy Indians AND bad-guy Indians, which was surprising in a movie that is clearly trying for Diversity with a capital D.  I’m afraid that’s it for good, on to the bad.
Where to begin?  Maybe a list.
  1. The cast is so multi-cultural that it boggles the mind. Seriously, it’s like the took out a checklist and started assembling the cast from that.  Now I hate identity politics with a passion and I would have loved to just ignored everyone’s color and culture and just enjoy their characters but this….this is too much. We have: a Black guy, a Mexican guy, an Asian guy (named Billy Rocks? WTF? Billy Rocks???), an Indian guy, Southern guy, a Religious guy, a hot girl and Chris Pratt.  Now the movie plays a little bit with the tensions that this group SHOULD create, but only a little. There’s some light taunting among the 7 and some mild flirting or interest in the hot girl but that’s it.  None of the villagers comment on a red Indian coming into the village, in war paint no less.  Look, I know this is basically a Western fantasy but this is too much.  The 19th century was a time when the races did not mix. The idea of egalitarian universal brotherhood of man was limited to a very few, typically a few very devout Christian sects. Yes, there were female outlaws and Black cowboys and more Mexicans than you can shake the Alamo at in the Old West.  But there were no Asian gunslingers, I checked.  The tensions between northerners and southerners was still alive…ah I’ll leave it there. You get my point. Too much.
  2. Haley Bennett’s tits.  I am an unapologetic fan of the female form and I am not terribly feminist but the way Haley Bennett was dressed in this felt more like a Michael Bay movie than an period piece.  In every single scene, until the end, her tits are up thrust and almost falling out of her top. I’m not talking mild cleavage, I’m talking “Sophia Loren is looking at you in distaste” levels of décolletage. And this is baffling because, all the other wives and mothers are dressed very period-appropriate, in high necked dresses with long sleeves.  She’s supposed to be a married woman, a recent widow no less (Spoilers) and she dresses like the whores that are everywhere.
  3. There are whores everywhere.  Seriously, in almost every scene we have women with bare legs and nearly-bare chest.  Prostitute was far, far, far from unknown in the Old West. But it wasn’t this blatant. They have girls in broad daylight in front of bordellos like this was New Orleans during Marti Gras.  And there’s no reason for it.  Girls aren’t going to like this. And guys are already going to come because people are going to be shooting guns.  So why?  This has to rest on the Director, Antoine Fuqua, and I’m baffled because the guy has done such good work before.
  4. Dumb and lifeless bad guys.  Peter Sarsgaard is barely there. He’s about as subtle as Darth Vader, but lacking his depth and subtlety. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.  Look, this exact scenario of a very rich guy coming in and taking over a valley or a mining area actually happened. For real.  And it was nothing like this.  They could have made a great bad guy but they went with a cartoon. And then there’s the final attack…Everyone is running around with pistols out, instead of the rifles and shotguns that they should be carrying. Nobody runs away or falls back to regroup or tries to use cover or do ANYTHING to save their own life. The Orcs in the Lord of the Rings were more subtle and had more character. None of the secondary villains stand out, except the Indian wearing parts of a Union uniform jacket.  Your good guys need decent bad guys to overcome. Otherwise they might as well be shooting the stuffed dummies we see briefly in the movie.
  5. Missed opportunities to deepen relationships.  The movie has no time to develop anything. We have one real bonding scene with the 7, we’re literally told ‘I think we’re bonding’.  Washington and Pratt are given none of the shared respect you got between Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen, the sense of two professionals against one hell of a big task. We don’t get time to see the 7 trying to relate to these villagers they’re here to defend, and die for.  There’s some threat of romance between Pratt and Bennett but it’s not developed or pursued.  When she announces she’ll take the place of one of the 7 who fled, she’s basically ignored. She’s ignored most of the movie in fact, leaving her to hop up and down and demand attention from a director, a writer and characters that don’t even bother to condescend to her.  I swear to God, I could fix these problems with 3 minutes of screen time and you’d actually care about these characters. 
  6. Oh God, the voice-overs.  From the opening scene to the very last NARRATION over the graves of the fallen 7, we are told – not shown – what is happening.  It’s like someone stuck in some ADR voices so drunk guys watching this who blacked out for a moment can pick up where they left off.  You get crap like: “What about our land”, “We gotta mine that gold” or “There’s more gold in the wagon” or “He looks serious”, all just tossed in, constantly from characters that serve no other purpose than to say that line in passing and scurry off. It is the sloppiest, crappiest screenwriting I’ve seen in a while.
I’ve got to stop.  This movie doesn’t even deserve a serious critique. It’s crap and waste of talent.  Not recommended.
*Just don’t ask him to do romance, that he can’t do.
**Seriously, he’s good. I’m going to go look up his other movies…he has 37 others done