<![CDATA[Mark Andrew Edwards - Markblog]]>Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:53:17 -0800Weebly<![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.

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<![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.
 
Plot:
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.

Recommended.
 
 
 
*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.

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<![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

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<![CDATA[Review: Suicide Squad with special guest Assault on Arkham]]>Mon, 08 Aug 2016 20:49:07 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-suicide-squad-with-special-guest-assault-on-arkham
VS
 
This will be a review of both the theatrical Suicide Squad movie and the animated version.
 
TL;DR review:
Suicide Squad is ok.
Assault on Arkham is good.
 
Now, those of you who are in the mood for way too many words written about comic book adaptations, read on. First we’ll start with the newly released Suicide Squad theatrical film.
 
Suicide Squad is a chopping, incoherent mess that manages to be entertaining and even interesting in parts.  It’s not terrible and I would suggest it to anyone over a certain age. It’s a PD 13 movie but there are some 13 year olds who probably shouldn’t see it without an informed adult with them. And that means one that’s seen the movie and thought about it.
 
It has good stuff in it. It’s diverse without being ‘about’ diversity. It’s got action. It’s sexy.  The special effects in places is pretty impressive. The Enchantress comes off as spooky (and a little goofy, wiggling around at the end) compared to Marvel’s Scarlet Witch. There’s good character development and this is the best Joker movie I’ve ever seen.  Sure, it has the worst daughter in history (Seriously, Deadshot’s daughter is black Sansa Stark) and Captain Boomerang basically does nothing at all but even they don’t ruin the movie.  It has a vision, a little murky and disjointed but it’s way better than anything Zach Snyder has done since Watchmen.
 
Gossip time. Stories about edits and re-edits and re-re-edits and possibly more ‘re’s in there as well seem to be true.  The gossip is that after Batman V Superman made money but got little respect, the risk-adverse suits at DC/Warner Brothers got panicky.  Since Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy showed humor and action could work big time, they took David Ayer’s dark, (allegedly) slow, turgid first cut and started monkeying with it.  One of the monkeys was the editing house Trailer Park, who apparently were brought in to edit the entire movie. James Gilroy is the credited editor but there’s been a LOT of work done on the movie after he apparently left the project.  What we’re getting is apparently the Trailer Park edit, which did the best in test screenings.
 
Ok, enough gossip, at this point, why the movie is a mess is more a curiosity. The real question is, will it affect your enjoyment of the movie?  Well, yeah, it probably will.  It’s not as bad as the bizzare jump edits of Batman V Superman, but the sequences and flashbacks cause confusion. Once the movie settles down into a scene, the individual scenes themselves kinda work.  The plot is a mess and stupid besides. I’ll look at how that could have/should have been fixed near the end of the review. But we should talk a little about the plot as it is.
 
Plot:  Superman is ‘dead’ and the US government is worried about the next big invading alien or whatever. They have no good guys they can rely on (though there’s no sign of them trying to work with any established heroes), so one of the world’s top supervillains, Amanda Waller, convinces a bunch of military folks to allow her to recruit a bunch of criminals she supposedly can control through blackmail and threats to murder them.  One of the first she ‘recruits’ is a possessed “Archaeologist”* who is the host for a 7,000 year old witch/demigod called The Enchantress.  Her control over her is by controlling the witches heart, which she keeps in a briefcase and seems to be her only weakness.  She then recruits a bunch of other criminals.  When the Enchantress bolts to free her similarly-trapped brother, The Incubus, and tries to take over the world (yes, really), the criminals are unleashed to take down…the other villain Amanda Waller recruited.  Huh.  Which they do.  The Joker is also in the movie. But not in the plot.
 
Can you spot the dumb there?  Did you see what I left out?  The plot is bad but it could be workable but the plot is only part of the problem. What I left out was a listing of all the other characters.  So let’s list them now.

  1. The Enchantress/ Archeologist June Moone
  2. The Incubus – The Enchantress’s brother and possibly lover
  3. Deadshot
  4. Harley Quinn
  5. Killer Croc
  6. Captain Boomerang
  7. Slipknot – briefly
  8. Diablo – also known as El Diablo
  9. The Joker
  10. Katana
  11. Master Sergeant Rick Flag
  12. And the real villain of the piece, Amanda Waller
And these are just the characters who are part of the main plot. It doesn’t include cameos by Batman and The Flash or the main Prison Guard (who…did something, maybe, it’s unclear), the other special forces team members, at least one of which sacrifices his life to kill a bad guy.  That’s not even all the speaking part roles.  Do you see the problem?  12 characters.  That’s basically an invitation to failure.
 
But let’s compare that to the cast list for Assault on Arkham. That wasn’t convoluted and it didn’t have too many characters.  Again, just focusing on speaking part roles who impact the plot.
  1. Harley Quinn
  2. Deadshot
  3. King Shark
  4. Captain Boomerang
  5. Black Spider
  6. Killer Frost
  7. The Joker
  8. Batman
  9. The Penguin – one scene
  10. KGBeast – briefly
  11. The Riddler
  12. And the monster in human form, Amanda Waller
That’s just as long a list. But Assault on Arkham doesn’t feel bloated.  Suicide Squad IS. Why?  Partly of the problem is plot, part of it is backstory and also how the characters are introduced and used.
 
You see, due to the way Suicide Squad was written and edited, most of the characters are introduced multiple times.  Each is given several minutes of backstory, usually in a flashback scene, but also in an expository lecture usually delivered by Amanda Waller to some military officer.  Furthermore, then character introductions are scattered throughout the first half of the movie. It’s not all ‘boom and done’ in one big infodump.  Infodumps are not elegant, but they can get the job done and when you’re dealing with a large cast, you gotta be efficient.  Not just in how you introduce the characters but in how you use them. And that’s where Suicide Squad screwed up.
 
Because, you can’t (or shouldn’t) do a superhero movie where you spend half the movie just introducing the characters. That’s what Ang Lee’s Hulk movie did and it was terrible.  At some point, you need to trust your audience. You don’t need to tell them ‘Deadshot is the best assassin in the world’, then have someone else tell them the exact same thing, then have the character demonstrate their ‘power’ (which is really just extreme accuracy.  It’s not even really a super power) in a set up scene.  Pick one, either tell us what their power is, or (better) just show them in action.  Action related to the plot, ideally.
 
In Assault on Arkham, each villain got a 30 second intro. We see them committing some crime or being discovered (King Shark’s scene is particularly horrific) and them being arrested. Boom, done. Now that style may not be what David Ayer was going for, that’s fine. And you can spend more than 30 seconds, -Assault on Arkham might be a bit too fast paced in areas, due to budget reasons- but you introduce the characters, you set up the situation, then you show the audience the characters interacting and solving problems together.
 
But back to Suicide Squad.  There is a good movie here, I think. But it wasn’t fully realized.  Margot Robbie NAILED Harely Quinn, just got the character perfect, exactly like the cartoon brought to life.  Will Smith did a pretty good job with Deadshot, he didn’t really capture the character but he was charming and charm goes a long way.  Viola Davis did a good job playing a despicable human being, Amanda Waller. Jared Leto, to my surprise, was so good as Joker, I wanted to see more of him. I’d watch a full movie of Joker and Harley, seriously, make that happen, DC.  Even the plot could work, if only as a cautionary tale AGAINST the concept of having a Suicide Squad.  El Diablo was genuinely sympathetic and a good guy.
 
Now I could, with time and effort, recite the full plot of the movie and go point by point over what was wrong and why.  But honestly, I have a job. :)  But what I want to do is explore how this movie could have been good, instead of just ok.
 
First, everyone needs to have something to do.  Slipknot is just there to die, but the audience shouldn’t know that.  In the animated movie, each villain got equal time in their introduction. Do that here as well, introduce everyone all at once and let it be a little surprise who’s going to die. Put Slipknot on the movie poster. Better yet, he should have a plot-critical role. Maybe his climbing ‘power’ is going to be used to get into the building to rescue the VIP. So when he gets killed by Waller when he tries to escape, it makes the mission harder. There should be a cost to everything.  Same with the Joker. He needs to DO something related to the plot.  He can’t work with the Squad, he’s too crazy and impossible to control, but if the government needs something from him, and they have his girlfriend…suddenly they have leverage over the Joker, for the first time.** Of course, involving Joker to get his help causes problems, he sabotages the Squad for giggles and helps Harley escape. 
 
Katana needs to be removed. Or, if she is needed for future movies, have her in jail for murder. Sure, justifiable vigilante murder, but that’s still a crime. Boom, she’s a bad guy now, too. One who despises being trapped with criminals, same as with Black Spider in the animated movie. Maybe he sword can actually hurt The Enchantress and it only will work for her. Fine, she’s in after all.
 
Rick Flagg needs to have something different to do. He doesn’t work as a controlling authority figure. He just doesn’t.  So we get rid of him as being ‘in charge’ of the Squad and at the same time, we get rid of all the soldiers that accompanied them.  The movie is about the Suicide Squad, it should stay focused on them. But he can still be in the movie? How? As an undercover double agent.  You can keep all his backstory, I think his romance with June Moone/The Enchantress didn’t work in the movie, but maybe it could be made to be so.  That means you have a good guy surrounded by bad guys who has to fit in with them. That’s good tension. And inevitably, they will discover who he is and that can cause some serious drama too.  But not too soon, because the team needs to bond and gel.  Amanda Waller works as a heavy on her own. Have the implant allow her to hear what everyone says, have her mount cameras on everyone so she can see, Aliens-style, what they see.  She should be the remote control villain anyway.
 
That was another problem with the movie, though it wasn’t apparent to most people, I guess. They just noticed it was odd how everyone got along and a few people might have wondered why someone who is shown backstabbing (yes, literally) a fellow thief in the back, is going along and not being a backstabbing prick. The fact is, they villains don’t actually help each other much.  They need to . They should start out being guarded, even at each other’s throats.  Inter-group tension is good. Overcoming it and bonding as a team is gold.  The fighting against faceless eyeball monsters can serve a purpose, though I’d change the character design.  But the fighting can put each team member in danger and if they take turns helping each other and getting better and better at fighting them as a team, that’s a way for us to like and bond with them as well.  Let Deadshot be the team leader, just like in cartoon. I think Will Smith could have handled that.  Then, just as the group is seemingly solid, in comes the Joker to throw a wrench into it.  Harley is rescued. Captain Boomarang actually leaves when he’s given the chance. Like gone for a while, maybe he joins the Joker or he’s just chasing Harley’s ass.  But Harley and Boomerang need to go. Suddenly, it seems less likely that they’ll succeed.  The villains have to dig deep and decide if they’re willing to be heroes, at least in some way, to go face the big bad guy.  And, here’s your true climax of the movie, Harley and Boomerang GO BACK to help.
 
This is actually a way for Suicide Squad to be better than the animated movie. In Assault on Arkham, the villains do in fact stay true to their natures, they turn on each other and go their own way first chance they get.  That doesn’t happen in Suicide Squad but it isn’t handled well.
 
You see, someone compelled to be a hero isn’t one. Can’t be one. Heroism involves sacrifice.  Harley has to leave her ‘Puddin’ to help her new friends.  Boomerang has to redeem his selfish jerkass self.  And there has to be a cost, there has to be a sacrifice.  To its credit, Suicide Squad does have some of that. El Diablo, the most likable of the villians and the one with the biggest character arc, does sacrifice himself as does a SEAL to kill (?) Incubus.
 
So how do we fix it?
 
Well, assuming we have to keep the plot and characters we’ve been provided with, here’s my suggestions.  Amanda Waller is trying to get permission for her Suicide Squad, now that Superman is dead.  The military is reluctant but they also like contingency plans, so they say go ahead and set it up.  We get introduction scenes for each of the villains. Each of them gets two minutes to show them being bad guys and getting caught.  Some may get caught by Batman or the Flash, some by cops, some by military types.  El Diablo may even get snatched AFTER he turns himself in to the cops. We see a quick montage of everyone getting injections or collars for the explosives/bug.  Amanda Waller introduces herself via camera and tells them they’ve all been drafted into the Suicide Squad.  Fifteen minutes in, and all introductions have been done and we had some quick action to keep audience attention.
 
Next, someone higher ranking comes to Amanda. They want a demo of her project, proof of concept.  Take out the Joker, they suggest.  Now Waller has a problem, to prove herself and her team. She selects The Enchantress, thinking it will be a drop kick.  Joker is stealing some cool artifacts, one of which is the Incubus statue.  They fight and she wins pretty easily but he has the statue. She recognizes it. She does some mind thing to him, via magic, to see what he wants and sees Harley and recognizes her from the intro. She offers to tell him where Harley is in return for the statue.  He agrees. She takes the statue and bolts. We need Joker to be part of the plot and this is one way to do it. (I can think of a few ways to involve him in the plot but this is just one of the first that popped into my head)
 
Now Amanda Waller has a big, big problem. Her demonstration just went sideways.  She tries to kill The Enchantress but that doesn’t work. She needs to take the Enchantress down…and she can’t let anyone else know she screwed up. Cue the Suicide Squad.  This is also where we introduce the Rick Flag character, not as a criminal though. He’s still The Enchantress/June Moone’s lover and she thinks he’s the only way to get close to The Enchantress. The Suicide Squad has to keep him alive and get him to the Enchantress.  I like the VIP rescue twist from the movie but not enough to justify the setups and screen time we’d need to spend on it.  This keeps the plot streamlined and it gives us a ‘normal’ guy’s view of all these crazy killers.  Now everyone is face to face, it’s time for some group conflict and drama. You put bad guys together and they all have to establish the pecking order.
 
The Squad is flown into the city The Enchantress and Incubus are taking over. She’s turning everyone into zombies or something supernatural, creating her own army, etc.  She’s way up on top of some skyscraper and they will need Slipknot’s help getting up there without having to fight an army of faceless goons. The helicopter goes down, as in the movie. Slipknot and Boomerang try to run. Slipknot gets killed by Waller. Suddenly, the job just got harder. Now they have to fight through a possessed city while keeping Flag safe.  The fights don’t go smoothly, in fact the Squad will get a chance to show off their abilities but they are also getting swarmed.  Several times, team members will get in trouble and need to be saved by other Squad members. This doesn’t make them friends immediately but it’s a start. 
 
Here we have a good sequence of scenes as they try to get to skyscraper. The Squad starts working as a team and they start getting pretty good at this. Time for the Joker to reappear. He shows up in the city with his crew of animal head killers and they start making a bee line for Harley.  Joker, being the mad genius he sometimes is, has a jammer for the bombs and cameras.  And, unlike the Squad, he doesn’t care about the city being taken over. He might even find it amusing.  Here is where you put in the bar scene. The squad takes a break to get their drink on. Boomerang maybe hits on Harley instead of Katana.  In fact, Katana and Deadshot make a better pairing and they can compare how they view each other, as samurai vs assassin.
 
Time for the Joker to find Harley. He deactivates everyone’s collars, for shits and giggles or maybe as a way of trying to get their assistance going after Waller. More threats or problems for her isn’t a bad thing, even if they don’t pan out. May even set up sequels.  Harley leaves with him, happily. And Boomerang bolts at the first chance he gets, being true to his selfish nature.  Suddenly the Squad is down two members and another one, El Diabo, is maybe still moping over using his powers. Maybe he used them once to save someone, maybe Deadshot, but then stopped himself, horrified. El Diablo’s a good character and his story arc should be preserved.  Now though, it’s decision time. Everyone has to debate if they should bring Flag to the skyscraper or not.  Flag should be willing, even without having any powers.  Katana is also going to go, the good samurai. Croc sticks with them, these people might be the first to ever treat him decently.  Finally, they all do decide to be the heroes.  Reduced in size, they fight their way up the skyscraper floors.  Waller, meanwhile, is shitting herself. She’s trapped.  She can try to get help, try to get away, try to blackmail someone but it’s too late for her to get out of this. Her only chance of a career is in the hands of the Suicide Squad she created.
 
Now we switch back to Harley. She has everything she wanted but…she realizes that she can’t just fly off with her boyfriend. She has to choose to go back. Boomerang too.  The Joker doesn’t get it but maybe he comes too. For laughs. What could be funnier than The Joker helping save the world?
 
The final fight comes.  Here, again, we have El Diablo sacrifice himself to kill Incubus. During the fight, Flag is pleading with the Enchantress, maybe even getting her to waver and maybe…maybe he’s about to succeed when Incubus dies. That shocks the Enchantress enough to stop talking and fiddling around with her spell and start fighting the heroes herself.  This really, really doesn’t go well for the Squad with El Diablo out of the picture.  But Harley, Joker and Boomerang all show up to save the day.  Joker has the knowledge of the little magic statues, Harley and Boomerang deliver it. The Enchantress is trapped again inside a little statue. That preseves her again for future films, but maybe that comes at a cost as well. Maybe Rick has to sacrifice himself or June does, or both. 
 
Tragedy and triumph, the FBI shows up to capture some or most of the squad.  Waller is saved, which gives her a chance to voluntarily do something nice for each of the captives, rather than making it a stupid wish list as in the current movie.  That’s not probably perfect, with some more time and editing, I could refine the story some but there’s your basic Suicide Squad movie, remastered.  No flashbacks or very very few. A simple, liberal plot that has lots of complications, drama, conflict and shots at redemption.  Everyone has something to do, a reason for being there and you have a shot at surprising people a little.
 
Big budget vs small budget.  Or Batman: Assault on Arkham vs Suicide Squad
 
Despite the title, Batman has very little to do*** in Assault on Arkham. It really is a Suicide Squad movie done right.  In it, the Squad is introduced and assembled in minutes. Waller demonstrates her power and ruthlessness and the characters are sent on a ticking time clock plot to break into Arkham.  There are doublecrosses, murders, backstabbing and teamwork, sex and affection, vengeance and madness. Seriously, it’s cheap, go check it out. 

And when I mean cheap, I mean that if this movie cost 2 million dollars, I’d be amazed.  The animation quality is good, not great, but good enough. It’s the writing and acting (yes, voice acting counts) that carries it.  A well-written movie will carry any number of flaws.  A good script is the best bang for your buck that any studio can get.  But maybe that’s part of why Assault on Arkham is so good and why Suicide Squad is just…ok.  Stakes.  Suicide Squad cost $175 million to produce, likely another 100 million to market it.  That’s a lot of pressure.  It’s like shooting a 1” group at 5 yards at the range. No problem.  But now change that to having to shoot out the eye of someone holding your wife hostage.  Stakes go up. Stress goes up. Now add people shouting advice, insults, second guessing you. Suddenly that easy shot is almost down to luck as much as skill.
 
Suicide Squad is under immense pressure to succeed. Some of that pressure is, indeed, self-inflicted.  DC wants to be making Marvel studios money but without wanting to spend the years and money Marvel has invested in it’s cinematic universe.  And Batman V Superman made money but that’s all. And it didn’t make Avengers money and never will.  Back to gossip, David Ayer apparently turned in a dark, slow moving movie.  With some good performances and with a lot of side tangents. So the studio, Warner Brothers, ordered re-shoots and started re-editing the movie.  Basically they were trying to remake the Guardians of the Galaxy combined with Deadpool. What they SHOULD have been doing was looking at their own animation department.  I’m pretty sure Ayer did. There are some beats in both movies that are almost identical.  Killer croc is almost identical to how King Shark was depicted. Harley is sexually aggressive in both movies. They’re different, I’m not saying Ayer ripped off Assault on Arkham. Maybe he should have, but he didn’t.
 
So the executives meddled. They may not have been wrong to, I’m not even saying that.  Another dark, depressing movie – especially after the trailers made the movie look like a fun, jokey action movie- might have killed off the entire franchise. That’s a lot of canceled movies.  But they didn’t go back to the script. They went to the editing table and there’s a lot you can do there, but you can’t do everything.  And what we ended up with is a Suicide Squad movie that was basically ruined. Not toxic, not painful but it’s not as good as it could have been.
 
Still, go see it.  It’s fun in places, sexy in a way none of the Marvel movies have been, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie and Will Smith are solid.  But also go buy Batman: Assault on Arkham.  There’s a good Suicide Squad movie out there. It just came out in 2014.
 
 
*Seriously, what archeologist finds an ancient statue and just twists its head off?  Indiana Jones showed more respect for the artifacts he ‘raided’.
 
** This was one of the best surprises of the movie. The Joker actually seemed to care about something other than having a boner for Batman. He cared about Harley, Harley cared about him. Sick and twisted, sure, but characters who care and inherently more interesting than characters that don’t.
 
*** Though he is involved and does have vital things to do in the plot, he isn’t the main character.
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<![CDATA[Review: Dancer's Lament]]>Fri, 24 Jun 2016 21:34:05 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-dancers-lamentPictureToo on the nose? Eh, still beats the book's cover art.



​​One of the most interesting backstories of the Malazan books was the Ascension of Dancer and Emperor Kellanved and the creation of the Malazan Empire.  By the time of Gardens of the Moon, the Empire has expanded onto multiple continents, the Emperor and his assassin companion, Dancer has been murdered and a new Empress, Lasseen, is on the throne. For all the flaws of the Malazan Books of the Fallen, and they are legion, the worldbuilding hooked me.


Now Ian Cameron Esslemont has begun to tell those stories and I couldn't be happier.  Well...I could, actually.

See, unlike "Steven Erikson" (ie. Steven Lundin), Esslemont's strengths are in narrowly-focused stories and characters who feel more real than the emo demigods of Erikson's books.  The book wasn't perfect and I will try to address what I perceive as the flaws but on the whole, I'm glad this book was written and I'm looking forward to the books to come.

Plot:
The book is from Dancer's point of view. It introduces us to him and to the Emperor-to-be. Neither of them are what they will become but some of the core personality traits are there.  In fact, both characters are so different from how they appear in the Malazan books, at least in Dancer's case, that they seem like different people entirely.  

Of the two, the Emperor -currently masquerading as 'Wu' and more than a little crazy already- is the most similar to the scheming Kellanved.  Both are young, ages aren't given but they seem to be in their late teens.  This is a bit confused as neither really feels like a teenager, Wu spends most of the book magically disguised as an old man (he says he already 'fully inhabits his illusions').  Dancer does have all the arrogance and impulsiveness of youth, so he's closer to what might be expected of an un-worldly boy setting out to make his mark on the world.  But apparently his assassination training gelded him or he suffers from low testosterone or something. He doesn't have the hormonal cocktail pumping through his veins that I recall so clearly from my late teen years.  Minor nit pick, perhaps.

The pair of them meet early in the novel, both sneaking into what seems to be an Azath house and we get our first of many, many cameos of characters who will play major roles in the future, Gothos.  I did find it interesting that they were permitted to leave, partially signaling their legendary escape from the supposedly impregnable Azath house in Malazan.

You have to tolerate or enjoy these cameos because they happen throughout the book. Sometimes they feel graceful and natural and sometimes they're about as subtle as a Jerry Lewis telethon.  I won't go into a full list of who appears and under what circumstances or I'll be writing this review for the next week. Rest assured, there is fan service aplenty here.

But back to the main plot, Dancer and Kellanved (if not using those names, yet), come to a major walled trade city intending to make their mark on the world. Dancer intends to be a famous assassin, having been trained from early childhood in the art of murder.  Kellanved's goals are more mysterious, though they eventually seem to involve an attempt to seize control of the city.  However, the city already has a powerful ruler and we get to see her from another POV character, the City Mage (whatever that is supposed to mean, apart from literal) Silk.  The city comes under siege as the forces of Ito Kane try to seize the location to take advantage of its central location in the continent.  We also have some side issues with dragons in female form, a super shapeshifter of sorts named Ryllandaras and various other powers and potentates poking around briefly.

Most of the story is from Dancer's point of view as he tries to become a big deal.  His halting, almost one-sided relationship with Ullara - a bird collecting girl with hidden talents - provides much of the emotional progress for the character. Good thing too, otherwise we'd just have to listen to him complain in most of his scenes.  That gets old in a hurry.

Characters:

The number of point of view characters is limited, compared to an Erikson book, which keeps the page count of this novel low.  The page count is already slight for a fantasy novel but I feel that at least one of the POV characters should have been cut.  Iko, a 'sword dancer', does not advance the plot and never takes any action that impacts...anything.  She feels like a cameo for a character who'll get their own novel.  Unlike Silk, whose POV chapters give us very valuable information about the plot and the setting, Iko spends most of her time sequestered in the palace, squabbling with her fellow female sword dancers.  You could cut every scene she's in and you would miss noting, she never interacts in any meaningful way with any main character or the plot itself.

Silk is given a lot of time on page, which I enjoyed. It allowed us to see more sides of the city, it's powerful, inhuman female ruler, and the plots and politics that would be missed by a more narrowly-focused POV centered on Dancer.


Wu/Kellanved does not get a POV, which might be a good idea as it keeps him mysterious but I feel a little cheated. I wanted to get inside the one-day Emperor's head. I wanted to see what motivated him, what secrets he held.  I don't get that, everything is from the outside. And he starts off acting crazy and mysterious.  I think that's a mistake.  He should have started from somewhere instead appearing already crazed, powerful and frankly, a jerk.

We also have the aforementioned cameos by the Crimson Guard, on both sides of the seige and  by Dassem -who will be a major force in the empire one day.  Again, if you know these characters already, they might be fun to see before their allegiances got locked in.  But if you go in cold, some of the weight of them is easy to miss.

Overall:

The magic was good, the plot serviceable and it was an entertaining read.  I wish it had been given another layer of polish/trimming and had made different characterization choices but I didn't dislike the book.  I probably will re-read it but on the whole, I have to rank it below his previous Malazan efforts.  That said, I am eagerly awaiting his next novel. Maybe that will show me what I want...

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<![CDATA[Review: Captain America - Civil War]]>Wed, 11 May 2016 17:05:52 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-captain-america-civil-warPicture

​I'm on record of really, really, really hating the Marvel Civil War comics. I think Mark Millar is a shit and like most UK writers, doesn't really get (or like) U.S. Superheros.  So I have been dreading Captain America: Civil War more than any movie in my memory. Literally dreading it.  And much to my surprise, there wasn't a lot to hate in this movie.


The movie mostly jettison's the comics to stick with it's own continuity, which is wise.  I will be talking about the movie in way too much depth, so spoilers will abound.

Plot summary first:

Building on the events of the past Avengers (and other Marvel) movies, the collateral damage from the shenanigans of various villains has reached the point where the United Nations has decided to demand regulation of the Avengers.  Tony Stark is given a particularly-pointed guilt trip early in the film. The happy-go-lucky capitalist from Iron Man 1 and 2 is gone and what we have is a careworn, stricken man with an obsession for trying to protect people.  The US  - UN negotiated treaty, the Sokovia Accords, would put the Avengers under UN control.  Half the team immediately agrees to be placed under higher authority while others are more reluctant.  Steve Rogers alone seems to immediately reject substituting their judgement for a panel of bureaucrats. 

At the same time, Bucky Barnes -Steve Roger's childhood friend turned programmed assassin - is being sought with shoot to kill orders for a bombing of UN members that takes the life of the Black Panther's father.  Black Panther then swears revenge against Bucky. Steve risks much to try to apprehend his friend without him being killed. He succeeds but he, Falcon and Barnes are arrested.  A Sokovian intelligence agent, Helmut Zemo, orchestrates Bucky's escape and asserts control over him as well.  In the confusion of Bucky's attempted escape, he, Rogers and Falcon escape.  The remaining Avengers are tasked with finding and apprehending the three of them.

Rogers finds proof that Bucky was framed for at least one bombing and discovers that Bucky was just one of 6 'Winter Soldiers', the others being kept on ice in Siberia.  While attempting to fly to Russian, the Avengers come and fight with Rogers and those Avengers who have decided to help him.  Rogers and Bucky escape with the rest of Roger's allies being apprehended and thrown into a maximum security prison. However, in the fighting, the Vision hits War Machine in an instance of friendly fire, crippling him.

However, Zemo left evidence as to his destination and Falcon tells Stark where Bucky and Rogers are heading.  Stark, followed by Black Panther, arrives at the Siberian holding facility.  There Zemo shows them the dead Winter Soldiers and video footage of Bucky murdering Stark's father and mother.  Zemo's family was killed in the fighting in Sokovia and he wants the Avengers to tear each other apart.  He seems to succed. Stark snaps and tries to kill Bucky while Rogers tries to protect him.  Meanwhile, Black Panther finds Zemo, sees what Zemo's obsession with revenge has done to him and takes him captive instead of killing him.  Rogers defeats Stark but Bucky is crippled in the fighting. He leaves his shield behind and takes Barnes into hiding.  As a last gesture, he sends Stark a note and a phone to call him if he's truly needed, and breaks out his friends and allies from the maximum security prison.

And that's leaving a lot of details out :)

As you can see, there's a lot going on here.  No less than 12 super heroes are involved in the big battle at the airport, plus side characters who impact the plot like Sharon Carter and ol' Thunderbolt Ross.  And, a quick aside, I understand the need to recycle characters but having a former general as Secretary of State just felt odd. I realize Alexander Haig and Colin Powell have served in that role. Just felt odd. 

Honestly, too much plot for one movie but I'm not sure folks would like another Civil War movie.

So what worked?

Well a lot of it did but what I liked best were the characters themselves. Their interactions, their emotions and the performances by the actors. Everyone felt real and felt like 'themselves'. In particular, I feel like this is the first movie to get Spiderman right.  These actors and characters have been established for years now and they've fought side by side, shared secrets, tragedies, pain and triumph.  They really seemed to care about each other.

The special effects, including a de-aged Robert Downey Jr, are so good nowadays that I almost forget to notice them. Which is an accomplishment worth shouting about....if you can remember to.

Black Panther worked, good performance. I think Wakanda is silly wish-fulfillment but I'll watch the Black Panther movie if it's as good as this.

And...I feel like I shouldn't be struggling to come up with a fourth thing in a movie I liked.  But really, 'characters I care about, caring about things' sums it up.  Chris Evan's performance as Captain America is one of the truly iconic movie performances of this century.  Seriously. The guy makes what could have been a cliche, work.  Similarly, Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man is going to be the defining performance for that character.

I will give a shout out to the writers and directors. The Russo brothers did a fine job with a complex list of characters.  Markus and McFeely turned in a screenplay where it feels like I took a pass on it myself.  They got some moments just perfect.

For example, there's a fairly minor (from a plot perspective) moment after Peggy Carter's funeral where Black Widow is talking to Cap.  She's not trying to persuade him to sign, though they talk about it a little.  Instead she says she's just there so he won't be alone. And then they sorta awkwardly hug. For a woman who is often depicted as a supreme Femme Fatale in the comics, it is a very human moment between two friends. And stuff like that is what grounds a movie where guys shrink to the size of ants or shoot yellow beams of energy out of their head.

Or the motivation behind Cap asking Barton to rescue Scarlet Witch. Not to pad the movie (I hope) but to show that he cares for his teammate who's being kept under house arrest back at the Avenger's base. He doesn't have her rescued because he needs her, he does it because it's right.

Or the Vision trying to cook for Scarlet Witch.

Or the Hydra agent choosing death, dying with a 'Hail Hydra' rather than provide information to Zemo.

Or the camaraderie between Cap and Falcon, Iron Man and Rhodes.  The writing and performances got so much right.

So what didn't work?

Well, the plot and the antagonist are two big stumbling blocks.
The "shaky cam" at the beginning is another dig.

The biggest problem is that, despite the fine acting (yes, even by Scarlett Johansson), it does not make sense that the Tony Stark we saw in Iron Man 1 and 2 would agree to government oversight. He's already been on record rejecting that. Sure, there's some nods to guilt trips and character evolution but it just doesn't quite fit and it's one of the main problems with the whole frelling concept of the story.  Why tell it?  Why couldn't the whole conflict of the movie have been solely over what to do about the Winter Soldier?  I get that it makes sense for the governments of the world to want to control the Avengers, that's what governments want to do: control things.  But it's startling how many Avengers are ok with this.

The plot is thin and not well developed.  Zemo is trying to tear the Avengers apart from the inside, which is the same plan Loki had, interestingly enough. Only Zemo has better instincts on what stakes are required to pull people apart.  Transparently he knows, somehow, that Bucky murdered Stark's parents. (side note: the name 'Stark' seems to be cursed. Do not name your kid 'Stark', if your last name is 'Stark', change it.) This isn't explained, to keep the reveal powerful. But the tradeoff of that, is a lack of clarity and focus.

Also the decision to regulate the Avengers feels forced and random. I fully expect this to be yet another conspiracy, especially after Hydra's penetration of SHIELD.  It felt odd no one bringing that up as a reason to be cautious of governmental supervision.

Zemo isn't a bad antagonist, he's written almost sympathetically, as a good villain should be. But because this has aspects of the thriller or mystery, we don't see him doing much.  And your villian needs to be doing, Loki was a do-er, even Ultron was.  Zemo could have been far more cunning and charismatic but the character from the comic is ultimately wasted here.

Too much going on for one movie.  If we just had a movie focused on Bucky and the hunt for him, we might have a short, solid Captain America movie. If we had a movie focused on the Civil War aspect and the desire of humans to control the Avengers, you might still have a pretty good-length movie.  Combining the two, even woven together as it was, just gives us too much material to put into one movie.  For example, showing Cap breaking his friends out of prison could have been a great set up and action scene. Instead we get it summarized, all the action is off-camera. Not a big deal but it's an example of what was sacrificed to make this one movie.

On the other hand, two-parter movies are a pet peeve of mine. And I'm not sure audiences would want to see two movies of heroes fighting other heroes instead villians, as they should be.  Marvel and Feige seem to have a vision and a story they're telling and at this point, I trust them to tell it.

And that's my summary: if you like the Marvel movies, go see this one.  It isn't as deep as it could be...I think.  And it makes some mistakes but it's more good than bad.

Recommended.

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<![CDATA[Review: The Force Awakens]]>Thu, 31 Dec 2015 22:39:43 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-the-force-awakensPicture
Go see it

I take movies too seriously sometimes.  Well, most of the time, my friends would say.  I can't help it, I care about stories, I want transport, I want magic.  Star Wars gave that to me, the first and probably best movie I fell in love with.  The prequels took that away from me.

So for a TL;DR review: Go see this movie. It washes away the stank of the prequels. Nary and gungan or midiclorian to be seen here.  There were enough good moments that the flaws were overshadowed.

Is it perfect? Oh no and I'll get into the nitpicks in a bit but it's a good 'popcorn' movie.

So what was good?
Well, apart from redeeming the series from George Lucas's creepy and clumsy grasp, there's a lot to like.

1. It feels like Star Wars. It feels like a lived in, worn world. Unlike the sterile green-screen excesses of the prequels, this world has dirt on it.  A lot of shooting was done on-location and it shows.  Expect more costumes than computers. But when computers are used, for example to create vistas of crashed and decaying Star Destroyers, it is used to good effect.

2. The characters are likable.  This is subjective, of course, and I liked some characters more than others (which I'll get into later) but a big reason why I cut this movie slack for its plot holes has to do with liking Rey, Poe, Han Solo especially.  As for Finn, well, he does close his mouth eventually and he's good in the comic moments.  Even BB8 was likable, with more personality than R2 even.

3. The wonder is there.  This is the hardest thing to pull off and I'll give JJ Abrams credit for achieving it. The crashed Star Destroyers, the looping dogfights (In atmosphere), freezing someone AND their blaster bolt in mid-air (!) just tickled me.

4. Han Solo.  Harrison just slipped back into this character and ran away with the movie.  Han is the emotional core of this movie, not Rey (which is why her...gifts aren't unbearable).  His decisions, his actions drive the middle and late plot and he is the at the climax of the movie.  Without him, The Force Awakens would be an inferior Star Wars remake.

5. Chewbacca.  Most of the aliens and droids are not translated in this movie and Chewie's reactions almost steal the show.  He actually gets to act and do things in this movie, earning his place in the story for the first time.

6. Reasonably competent and effective bad guys.  I like Kylo Ren quite a bit and consider him one of the main characters in way Darth Vader never was in the Star Wars trilogy.  Likewise, in the first half of the movie, the tie fighter pilots, storm troopers, officers all execute their orders quite well.  Later on, they become blaster magnets, which I'm not fond of, but they do a good enough job feeling formidable that they don't feel like disposable cardboard cut-outs. In fact, they take Finn's defection quite personally.  

7. The movie doesn't shut down plotlines or characters. One of the dumbest things in the long, long line of dumb things Lucas did in the Phantom Menace was to kill off Darth Maul.  Kylo Ren, Snoke, even the blond Nazi general guy all survive to oppose the heroes in the next movie. That's smart.  Starkiller base might be destroyed but there's no indication that's the whole of the First Order's strength, in fact we know it's not as we see at least one huge Star Destroyer unaffected by the planetary weapon's destruction.

What didn't work?

Oy.  Could be a long list but I'll try to keep it focused.

1. Rey's super powers. The speed and ease with which she masters the Force makes training feel unneeded.  She is powerful enough to resist Kylo Ren's mind probe. That's fine. She even gains insight into him, during the contest. Still fine.  Then she gains the ability to do jedi mind tricks to fool stormtroopers DESPITE HAVING NEVER SEEN THAT POWER BEFORE.  Not fine.  She's far too good at shooting which, trust me, is not easy to do.  She's even more mysteriously competent with a lightsaber after some sort of zen moment comes over her.  That really, really didn't work for me.  
  You see, power has to be earned. Potential can be inborn, I can buy that. That's why her piloting and mechanical skills didn't bother me. I bought that as her Force potential.  But the rest of it is unearned. This is bad writing, very bad writing. The only reason it doesnt' sink the movie is that, again, I found her likable enough and she isn't the main protagonist. We don't follow her for the whole movie the way we follow Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.

2. Finn. Just...Finn.  This screenplay went through several hands and you can see the seams where it was welded together.  Despite being raised from childhood as a stormtrooper, Finn fails in his first field exercise.  That's fine.  But then he decides to rebel and escape. Sure, still fine.  Then he's slaughtering fellow stormtroopers, folks he's grown up with, the only family he's known, without remorse.  Not fine.  It would have taken three seconds of screen time to give this some depth and signifigance and they didn't take the time.  Bad writing.  He's also supposedly a stormtrooper, an infantryman, and yet he runs panicked from a 105 pound girl with a stick, gets his butt kicked by her (try it at home, kids and see if that works), and basically is borderline cowardly. Not fine.  Next he knows how or where to deactivate the planetary shield on Starkiller base.  That...doesn't make sense. How does he know.  Does an infantryman in the 101st Airborne know where the powerplant is at the Pentagon??? (spoilers, no, he doesn't unless he was stationed somewhere near them).  Again, this could have been fixed with a few seconds of dialog, which we don't get. Not fine. Then, here's the seam showing, he tells Han Solo he's in Sanitation.
  Sanitation??? He's a stormtrooper. He's not a janitor.  This makes no sense.  It feels like it's from another draft of the script. Which, I suspect, it is.

3. Unanswered questions.  Some of these could be left undefined so future, non-JJ Abrams filmmakers won't be locked into his canon, but there's a long list of things that are confusing or don't make sense. Like: Who is the First Order? What's their relationship to the Republic? What is the Resistance? Who is Rey? Why was she abandoned on Jakku? How is Rey able to out-fly experienced TIE fighter pilots? Why is there a map leading to Luke? Who made it? Did Starkiller base really drain a star each time it's fired? If so, have they never fired it before? If not, why did it get dark-ish after powering up? What are the Knights of Ren? Is Kylo good with a lightsaber or not?  ...you get the point. There are nits.

For all these, and other flaws, I still found myself delighted by the movie.  It was more dramatic than Guardians of the Galaxy, I didn't feel 'good' after seeing The Force Awakens like I did with GOTG.  But it was good ENOUGH.  

So far, so good. A lot will depend on what comes next, if Marvel can continue to revive the old Studio system, if there's a Kevin Feige substitute keeping a hand on the Star Wars tiller, if they can do a new plot rather than just repeating Star Wars/Empire/Jedi.
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<![CDATA[Review: Spectre]]>Tue, 10 Nov 2015 00:52:05 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/review-spectreI woke up early after watching Spectre last night and wrote for a solid hour about what I felt went wrong with this movie.  I won't inflict that on you but I found it cathartic.

The long and the short of it is: Don't watch this movie. Go see Casino Royale again if you want to see a good Daniel Craig Bond movie. Or watch Goldeneye or Goldfinger (but not Goldmember) or even Captain America: Winter Soldier.  They're all better written and better performed.  But just in case you want to read a brief bullet point list, look below and brace for spoilers. Picture
Full of lies!

Things that worked well in Spectre:
  • Some great visuals. The Day of the Dead pre-credit sequence is spooky and some of the locations are shot with love. The writing may not be there but the Cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, sure as heck showed up to play.
  • There are good action sequences. Not all of them, but some of the fights and chases are well done.  The car chase through oddly empty Rome looked good. The fight in the train was entertaining too.
  • David Bautista works.  The guy got one line of dialog and it made me laugh. He works as a heavy and he has good comic timing.
  • Christoph Waltz is doing the thing he does in every movie. The guy really loves the sound of his own voice. Or we do. Either way, if you like him, you'll like his dialog.
  • Ralph Finnes.  Ralph  also had a good movie, he comes dangerously close to being the Bond we'd rather see and if the script had gone a different way, he might have stolen the show


Things that didn't work in Spectre (Limiting myself to 10):
  • The script.  FOUR screenwriters. Never a good sign.  This was poorly plotted and cartoonish, especially in the closing act.
  • The women and Bond. Lea Sydoux had zero chemistry with Daniel Craig and her love scene and the love scene with Monica Bellucci were neither sexy nor romantic.  And casting Monica Bellucci and not using her? Dumb and careless.
  • The women in general.  The women don't work as objects of desire (Sam Mendez or the writers chose not to make it too sexy) and they don't work as competent partners.  Moneypenny, Swann, Lucia, none add anything to the plot and none are as well written or as well acted as Vesper Lynd.
  • Daniel Craig. The guy didn't want to be here and it shows. He worked as a new kind of Bond, a former SAS throatslitter who was moving up to the big leagues.  But he never the gains charm, charisma, wit or intellect Bond has had in the past.
  • Bond doesn't do spy stuff.  He doesn't investigate anything, discover anything, chase leads. He has his support staff Google stuff and goes from person to person BEGGING them to tell him stuff. Not forcing them, not uncovering information, basically he begs. No disguises, no cleverness, no thinking on his feet.
  • Spectre reveal is wasted.  The reveal of Spectre being behind everything should have been the pendultimate reveal. Instead, Bond almost literally wanders in off the street and overhears criminal stuff.  And that happens way too early in the plot. It's not earned, it's not built up, it makes no impression.
  • Bond turns into a cartoon.  You know when Legolas in The Hobbit basically became a video game character? That pretty much happens here. In a huge departure from past movies that showed us a hurt, decayed Bond who used his body too hard, here he has some kind of auto-aim cheat code running that climaxes in him shooting down a helicopter with a .380 PPK from hundreds of yards away.  Stupid and insulting and removes any tension or thrill watching a skilled man operate.
  • Nothing is explained.  There is no set up, no explanations for anything, no backstory or flashbacks.  The ring featured in the advertising? Bond just grabs it at random in the middle of a fight. Who is Bond trying to kill and why? Vaguely explained an hour after the movie's start. Who is Bond supposed to meet at the dead man's funeral? No idea. He just shows up, begs or shoots someone...usually begs and off he goes to the next location. The worst part is, this could have been fixed with literally mere seconds of screen time showing us or telling us what is at stake or what Bond is expected to do.
  • Bond isn't about anything anymore.  Craig's Bond and Fiennes' M are adrift. They don't know why they're spying. They are unable to articulate why they spy or kill. They've lost their moral clarity, something that was present up to and through the Brosnan era. It's not about sex anymore. It's not about action, even.  The movie serves no purpose except to fool people into buying tickets.  Even the image above is a lie. Bond barely wears the 'tactical turtleneck' and he certainly doesn't go commando against Spectre.  At this point, the cartoon Archer is more like Bond that Bond is.
  • The ending.  The absolute worst part of the movie is saved for last as the assassin decides not the kill the most dangerous man alive. In fact, he decides to quit and drives off into the sunset with his...love of his life?  This is wrong on so many levels. It's foolish. It lacks payoff. It's unrealistic.  Comparing this movie to On Her Majesty's Secret Service is like comparing a McDouble to a Prime New York steak.

I said I'd stop at 10, so I will. But...oh my friends...I could go on. And on. And on about the flaws in this film.

Not recommended.
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<![CDATA[Mad Max: Fury Road vs Road Warrior]]>Thu, 28 May 2015 23:33:32 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/mad-max-fury-road-vs-road-warriorTL;DR version, both Mad Max: Fury Road and The Road Warrior are worth watching for action fans.

I'll be honest, I was worried about Fury Road.  I saw the trailers and thought it looked silly. And it is a silly movie in some ways and a deeply feminist movie but it's not a bad movie.  Likewise, Road Warrior is such an archetypal movie, inspiring so much post-apocalypse themes and imagery that it's hard to overstate its importance.  Both movies have their strengths and weaknesses and I want to yammer on about them.
Good action movies are hard to find.  Too, too many of them fall into one cliche trap or another. The biggest and worst is not treating the characters like real people.  Another is over-reliance on CGI  Both Mad Max movies avoid these flaws for the most part.  Actions have consequences, characters are human, hurt-able, the stakes are always very high.  Though the first Mad Max is a pretty stripped down revenge movie in the classic 70's mode and Beyond Thunderdome is rather meandering and plotless, Road Warrior and Fury Road are both well worth your time and money.

Both movies take advantage of the desert setting to show isolation, desperation of the brutal post-apocalyptic world but also director George Miller shows the stark beauty of these landscapes. Fury Road in particular is a beautiful film to look at.  Both movies feature Max, a haunted and driven man who is an outsider and experiences very little change as a result of the movie. Not none, just...slight.  Both movies feature amazing stunts, wildly modified cars, dizzy car chases and violence.

There are also dramatic differences, which I'd like to dig more into.  Personally, I prefer the opening of the Road Warrior to that of Fury Road. I think the production values (the cars, props and I'll group the stunts in here too) of Fury Road is superior.  I think Mel Gibson is a better actor than Tom Hardy but Hardy does a very, very good Mel Gibson impression.  Fury Road has a better plot as well...until it doesn't.  So let's look more in depth at both movies.

The Road Warrior opens the narrated exposition. Basically, there was a limited nuclear war that destroyed the world's oil supplies. With the end of oil, civilization tore itself apart.  I don't mind narration in movies, personally, but the Road Warrior overdoes it a little. But it also makes some sense since the events of the Road Warrior are related partly as the experiences of one of the characters in the movie. Which heightens the story and Max into legend.  Fury Road has some opening narration, but provided by Max himself.  This is odd since the movie is NOT Max's story. In many ways, he's a bystander to the action rather than driving it.

The Road Warrior opens with a car chase, which shows us how well Max can drive. He outdrives and outwits three groups of barbarians, with one surviving to becoming a recurring villain in the movie. We see Max being competent, we seem him scavenging and surviving.  Fury Road opens with a car chase as well but one where Max is quickly blown off the road and captured.  Then tattooed. Then he tries to escape and fails at that. And ends up being used as a blood bank for weird albino warboys.

I don't like Fury Road's opening, I think it weakens Max's character. I like competent characters and we do see Max being competent later, mostly, so it's not a movie-long problem and it does serve the plot to put Max near the warboys. But it's also silly.  The whole blood transfusion plotline, it's silly, i just doesn't work with the stark reality of the rest of the world, struggling to scrape by.

Next, the Road Warrior has a side encounter with a gonzo helicopter pilot which leads directly to the main plot: a source of gasoline. We've already seen just how precious fuel is in this world, as well being told during the narration.  We see Max witness the besieged refinery, see the barbarians surrounding it. Like Max, we witness the attempts of the civilians to flee....or...something. (Their motivations are never very clear) but we see Max take action to rescue some of the survivors. He has a mercenary reason for doing so, he wants gas, but he does act morally, which is no small thing when you're main character's going to be killing people.

Fury Road has Max imprisoned, serving as a blood bag for a young warboy named Nux*.  The focus shifts to Imperator Furiosa, who's is supposed to be making a regular fuel run** but has secretly planned an escape into the desert, stealing away the barbarian leader's sex slaves.  Fury Road makes a point to showing that mutation and birth defects are a problem in the world now. The women Furiosa is helping escape are flawless, almost literally (several are supermodels).  The barbarians pursue to try to capture Furiosa, kill her and recapture the pregnant sex slaves.

For the first quarter of Fury Road, Max does nothing but be a victim. For the first quarter of Road Warrior, we see Max as a competent survivor.  Furiosa in Fury Road is a very active character who drives the plot, it's entertaining, I wasn't bored watching her struggle to flee. And after Max frees himself, he does assert himself and then come to work with Furiosa to aid her, just as he aids the refinery folks in Road Warrior.  In the Road Warrior, we clearly know what Max wants: he wants to get his gas and go. He does not want to help people out of the kindness of his heart but he's not completely zombied out. The music box piece he finds and the bond he shares with his dog and the feral boy at the refinery shows that he does have a humanity, a beaten and bruised humanity but it's there. 

In Fury Road, we see an almost autistic Max, a truly mad man who hallucinates and is tormented by his past failures (including a nod at Thunderdome which indicates a very unhappy ending for those kids he tried to save). We don't know what he wants, the voiceover narration says 'to survive' but that isn't a strong motivation. He's not motivated by sex or even tempted by the nearly naked models or the tough and competent and unbelievably beautiful Furiosa. He isn't promised anything. He has no reason to help them, yet he does. Maybe it's as simple as fleeing the barbarians who captured him. If so, it's a weak motivation. The plot of Road Warrior is stronger.

In the Road Warrior, Max is begged for help, to drive the fuel truck to a mythical south coastal paradise. He refuses, caring only for himself.  But when his car is destroyed, his dog killed, when he has nothing left for HIMSELF, he finds he wants and needs to help these people. Not for the promise of reward, not for revenge even but because he's had to find something more than survival to live for.  Now, Max is himself lied to and betrayed by the refinery folks, the fuel truck was just a diversion for them to go north, not south and Max is NOT told this.  And that may play into his almost pathological distrust of people in Fury Road.

Fury Road is almost just a chase scene followed by a chase scene followed by a chase scene. There is no goal except to get to X location before the barbarians catch/kill them. There is a nice piece where Furiosa returns 'home' to the Many Mothers and to what she remembers as a green, living land...only to find a handful old, withered crones and no greenery or water.  Her loss, her despair, her need for meaning is real and strong.  But Max has less and little to do with that apart from to convince Furiosa to...return back to the barbarian Citadel.

Facepalm.

There is a lot, a lot wrong with that plot decision in Fury Road.  Like how is she supposed to take over? She doesn't kill all the warboys, they are at most, hours behind her. They do kill the barbarian leader and display his body but he's been the charismatic leader holding their society together. He's also, possibly, the source of such science and learning that's kept water pumps working, hydroponics growing and knowledge of medicine and genetics.  (I'll agree that is inferred rather than said, though)  The ending of Fury Road just doesn't work or make sense.  It's a chase without enough thought to what the destination may be. But that might be emblematic of the Mad Max universe: Enjoy the chase, that's all there is anymore.

Recommended.


Bonus section about feminist film theory:
Mad Max: Fury road is a deeply feminist movie, as I said. A woman drives the action, women are the destination (the Many Mothers), women are the victim and the prize (the wives), women open the water floodgates at the end and apparently decide to bring Furiosa into the Citadel.  But it's a Sigourney Weaver feminism, circa 1979, not the toxic or ludicrous feminism of Andrea Dworkin or Amanda Marcotte.  

There are no female warboys, which makes sense in a survival setting. Women of breeding age are too precious to risk in battle. We aren't given much backstory on Furiosa, she seems to be a child soldier abducted by the barbarians long, long ago.  Women don't exhibit laughable hand to hand combat skill, Furiosa and Max do mix it up in melee but it isn't handled in a Kirsten Stewart fantasy fashion. It's gritty and real and it works.

Men aren't idiots or tools or the butt of jokes. In this, Fury Road is far better than just about any romantic comedy made since 1980. It is not an anti-male movie. It is as close to the feminist ideal of men and women working together as equals as any movie I've seen since Alien.  And it works.  


*I didn't buy Nux's loyalty change though I loved the interactions between the warboys.

**I like how there is a functioning, feudal society working here between the town that supplies t
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<![CDATA[Movie Review: Avengers 2]]>Wed, 20 May 2015 21:41:41 GMThttp://markandrewedwards.com/markblog/movie-review-avengers-2Because despite the subtitle, it never really became the Age of Ultron. Though it could have.
The TL;DR review is: it's a good, solid movie. Entertaining. Treats superheros like real people.

That's the real trick and it's one that Marvel has pulled off more than it hasn't. It has stumbled, badly, depicting gods (Thor and Thor 2), possibly because religion makes people in New York and Hollywood break out in hives.  But Marvel has done well depicting the more human characters.

Each of the characters feels like they have lives, have history, with each other and with the world.  They aren't archetypes, with the possible exception of The Hulk, they're people with power.  Sometimes pretty flawed people and that's where the good drama comes from.

The bad drama comes from the bad guy since we haven't really had a well-done Marvel villain yet. 

The villain this time comes from Tony Stark*, it comes from his arrogance and his fear. That's a great combination. His fear causes him to want to create a superweapon, which is ironic since he spends a good chunk of time denying that he's a weapons manufacturer.  And then he does it again, late in the movie.  His arrogance causes him to act without discussion with anyone besides easily-manipulated Bruce Banner.**

I was really impressed with Chris Evan's Captain America. Showing someone who's good, decent, moral and a born leader is really, really hard.  Most shows can't even get leadership right, confusing it with bullying, shouting and wearing a suit.

The Hulk is once again shown as being a serious threat to his friends, to civilians, to buildings.  Kind of retreading familiar ground there, though his fight with Iron Man is probably the movie's highlight.

Hawkeye and Black Widow get some hasty retcon to get rid of that sexual tension from the first movie.  Now they're just friends. It's a bit clumsy but it's not worth getting worked up over.  It is nice seeing them like and respect each other, Black Widow is also in on the big secret about Hawkeye's wife and family.  Those scenes at the farmhouse are very humanizing.

But Black Widow has decided she has 'green fever'***  and has set her cap on Bruce Banner. She's the only one who can talk the Hulk down when the fight is done. She has some good moments when she opens up and stops flirting. Good vulnerability there. Which is met with rejection for reasons that are either wise or stupid.  Depending on if we keep the continuity from the Hulk movies, if so, yeah....no sex for Banner.  And none for the Hulk unless Captain Marvel shows up as Carol Danvers in full-on nigh invulnerability mode.

It's interesting how Captain America and Hawkeye end up being the moral and emotional center of the Avengers.  They aren't the most powerful, though Cap does keep Ultron distracted far longer than I would have though.  We don't see much vulnerability from Cap but Hawkeye gets shot, beat down and befuddled.  And still they chose to charge towards danger, to protect the innocent.  In that context, Hulk and Thor aren't really heroes. Heroism requires sacrifice and risk.  Hulk just breaks things. Thor is immortal and is just...doing stuff. Chasing scepters, hanging out, fighting.  Black Widow treats this as a job, though she also clearly views it as some thread of redemption (touched on better in Avengers 1).  Iron Man seems to be Avenging out of narcissism and peer pressure.  And fear, can't forget fear.  Iron Man sees the invasion of earth over and over again, just as in Iron Man 3 and it haunts him.

Anyway, we're into too many words territory and then some but let me touch on two more characters and bash the plot a bit, then I'll let you go. 

Two new 'people with power' are introduced here as well as one...different: Scarlet Witch and Quicksilvers are twin siblings from Eastern Europe, that much continuity has been preserved. But the comic backstory with Magneto and the X-men belongs to Sony. Odd how Quicksilver can be in both but, eh, I think I prefer this character more. Though the Xmen had more fun with Quicksilver's powers, I think.

Both Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are survivors of war, blaming the death of their parents on Tony Stark, who's company made the shells that collapsed their house. Now this is a bit like blaming Samuel Colt for everyone ever killed by a revolver, it's childish logic. Guilt belongs to those who use weapons, not with those who create, make or, yes, even sell them.  Guns and shells don't DO anything on their own.****  But it motivates them to volunteer for human enhancement experiments that don't kill them, unlike the other volunteers.  As the movie says, Quicksilver moves fast and he's immune to the friction moving fast should cause.  He sometimes seems to experience time flow differently but this is apparently not on all the time. Somehow moving fast also allows him to destroy metal robots with a punch without shattering his own bones.  Shrug. Stupid but not too annoying.

Scarlett Witch is given more explainable powers, at least to me. She's a telekinetic who moves things with her mind. She can also read minds, memories and cause people to see things. Or not see things, like her and her brother. She may also be able to control emotions, we don't see exactly what she does to the Hulk but it sure horks him off.  All understandable psionic abilities unlike 'hex bolts' and 'probability manipulation' and 'magic', which even Marvel can't figure out in the comics.


Finally we have The Vision, though he doesn't explicitly name himself. He's created by a combination of Ultron and Tony Stark with a dash of Thor's godly power.  An artificial life form, but like Ex Machina, one that does not lock people in a bedroom and abandon them after toying with her emotions.  Ahem.

Let me touch on the plot lightly, because it might be the weakest part of the movie.

So, as I understand it, the movie opens with the Avengers beating heads of a bunch of high tech solider, probably Hydra agents or Hydra dupes.  All fallout from Cap. America 2's plot.  The Avengers show up, looking for the scepter Loki used in Avengers 1, which contains an Infinity Stone*****, relevant for the UR-arc of the Marvel movies so far.  

The twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, join in the defense. Hawkeye gets shot. Scarlet Witch puts the whammy on Tony Stark and she lets him take the scepter since she wants him to destroy himself with it.  Not sure why she didn't just kill him, she was inches from his head and she's a telekinetic but...eh.

The Avengers go home, victorious. Stark is already fraying from the vision Scarlet Witch shows him. He analyzes the scepter and thinks he can use it to bring an AI to life to control his drone suits.  Ultron wakes up, kills Tony's Jarvis program and interrupts a pretty nice party. He steals the scepter and escapes into the internet. And then into a robotic-making factory inexplicably left intact back in the old Hydra base.  Not sure why all those weapons and robots weren't secured but...eh.

Ultron meets the twins ****** and agrees to be evil together and kill the Avengers. The Avengers go looking for Ultron and find an arms dealer in Africa. This is one of the plot's thinnest places. In theory, they go looking for known associates of a bad guy the Avengers just captured and whom Ultron killed in his cell. But Ultron wants to confront the Avengers with the twins, to mess them up and let her get into their head. So he must have wanted the Avengers to show up there. But he also wants the Vibranium to make his new, 'pefect' body (later The Vision). So it doesn't make sense to lure the Avengers there instead of elsewhere after he's secured the vibranium. But...run time would be too long so, eh.

They all fight, the Avengers get mind hoodoo'd, all but Iron Man and Hawkeye, surprisingly. Hluk goes berserk, Iron Man fights/stops him and together they destroy a big chunk of what I assume is South Africa. Awesome fight.  The Avengers fly home but they have to hide out, because Ultron knows all their old hideouts that were in the computer and because people are about to call for the arrest of Bruce Banner.. So they fly to a safe house Hawkeye knows about. He should, it's his house. His and his pregnant wife's and their two kids.  Character development ensues. Thor bows out, because he has very little character to develop and he has a brief side quest to link us to the Infinity Stones.  Nick Fury shows up and gives them a pep talk.

Tony Stark goes to Sweden, because the internet is no longer under American control. Instead, the Swedes have it. Shudder world, shudder.  He's looking for some secret ally that is try to prevent Ultron from getting nuclear does.  But Ultron is never shown trying to get the codes. So that comes out of nowhere. But..eh. It separates the team so the fight to come is tougher.

And of course there is a fight. This time in Seoul, which looks awesome by the way. Ultron is going to a scientist he met at the party (yes, really) to get her to make him a new flesh/vibranium body. He starts downloading into it but Cap, Black Widow and Hawkeye show up...all three normal humans with nary a chance of defeating Ultron. Thor or Iron Man would paste him, as-is, though Hulk is hiding or rather Banner is after South Africa.  Once Ultron starts downloading himself into a body with the help of the Mind stone, Scarlet Witch can read his mind and is horrified by what she sees.

Which is another thin spot in the plot. See Ultron was programmed as a peacekeeper, a global protector.  He decides that to protect the world, the Avengers are in the way.  Odd decision to come upon and it's not really explained except that the Avengers apparently don't want the world to change.  But...eh.  But what's not 'eh' is that Ultron now decides he wants to create an extinction-level event, which we all know from the movie Deep Impact, right?  So he wants to destroy the world, let humans 'evolve' out of the ruin...or not. Or maybe he wants robots to take over the world but since he's the only robot it would be a world full of him and...frankly, it's a mess.  He just....wants to destroy the world. So the heroes need to stop him.

Well they half do. They capture the vibranium body and take it back home but Black Widow gets captured but Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch turn on Ultron. So kind of a net win, power-wise.  

Back at the base, Tony Stark is trying to do Ultron part 2, this time with Jarvis driving.  Once again, without anyone else being consulted.  A fight breaks out, foreshadowing the stupid, stupid, stupid Civil War plotline in Captain America 3.  Thor shows up, breaks up the fight, wakes up the body, creating The Vision.  Because they need more firepower to defeat Ultron, according to him.  Though being a god of war and lightning and them being robots, this shouldn't be that hard for him.  But...eh.

So the big final fight happens, and it's a good, long climatic fight with lots of action and hard decisions and, yes, death.  Not only civilians buy the farm but Quicksilver dies protecting Hawkeye and a little boy.  Pretty good stuff, though Hawkeye seemed to be set up to die, with he happy home life and pregnant wife and impending retirement to come.  The death is not taken lightly and, assuming they don't fuck up the character's sacrifice like they did Agent Coulson's, it has weight.

Ultron's attempt to levitate a city and drop it on the earth is foiled, all of his robots are killed and he's flushed out of the internet.  Heroes go home, the end.

The movie goes from action set piece to action set piece with 'down' moments of character interaction to manage the rollercoaster of emotions.  It's not perfect and not as good as the Avengers 1 but it's solid and should entertain.  It's got a fine mix of humor, pathos and power.  Perfect for anyone who read comic books and dreamed.

Recommended.



*Not Hank Pym, who created Ultron in the comic. Which is odd since there's an Ant Man movie coming out, though Pym isn't Ant Man in the movie, either. Headache. 

** There's a scene where he accuses Banner of just being a puppy who rolls over and shows his belly whenever he's confronted.  But it's that weak-willed character trait that he relies on to get his help in making Ultron and the Vision. I don't know if the writing is supposed to be that deep but it's there if you look for it.

*** Which sadly means internet porn predicted this plot line well before the script leaked.

****Unlike Ultron, which does get up, move around and kill things. I'm not sure how much blame Tony Stark gets there, some, but not all. Ultron is a living being who chose his actions...though that starts off based on Stark's programming.  Again, not sure if this is intended depth or discovered.

*****The Mind stone for those playing at home.

******Not a porn title...yet  I'm hoping for Katie Morgan again but who knows these days.]]>