Six delirious, middle-of-the-night thoughts on Jurassic World

It’s 3:08am. I have a terrible habit of swearing I’ll do better about getting to bed at a decent hour, then watching an exciting movie late at night, then not being able to sleep until I word-vomit my ideas about the movie all over a blog post.

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And, well, that happened tonight with Jurassic World. So without further ado, here are some thoughts. Bullet pointed, because I think my sanity is wavering, I’m so tired:

1. The Mockingjay preview caught my attention enough to stop me from eating my popcorn while I watched it. And as a passionate lover of hot buttery popcorn, that’s a big deal, ya know?

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2. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance, but it was refreshing for the youthful relationship focus of the movie to be on the brother bond between Gray and Zach instead of yet another angsty adolescent love affair. Just a nice little break.

3. My fiancé pointed out that, although he loved the movie, the plot points were extremely predictable. I was too busy being terrified and entertained during the film to notice or care, but when he talked about it afterward I did understand what he was saying. Still don’t care though. The thrills were a bit formulaic, but they were very well crafted in my opinion, and they certainly worked. (Can you tell I loved this movie?)

4. Speaking of the writing of the movie, there were a few moments the dialogue sagged a bit. Excellent acting mostly saved it, and the wonderful production quality of rest of the movie satisfied me, but there was just something missing about some of the scripting. It lacked the awe-inspiring “life will find a way” quality that Jurassic Park had.

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5. And speaking of acting—just have to mention Chris Pratt. True versatility is so hard to accomplish, and so valuable. I would never have suspected Pratt would be the hero of a new Jurassic movie—let alone such a tough, cool, slightly-snarky hero—based on his hilariously clueless work in Parks and Recreation. I respect that. His dedication and his ability to adapt to such different roles are just so great.

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6. Finally, the film did kinda sorta good-ish on Claire’s look changing from super-polished in the beginning, to holy-crap-I-just-escaped-dinosaurs-and-am-therefore-super-dirty-now in the end. (Far better, in fact, then several other film franchises I can think of. Star Wars and Transformers come to mind quickest.) However. WHAT is the deal with women in action movies wearing heels the whole time? I don’t care what terrain it is. I guarantee it’s going to be more comfortable (and survivable) running over it barefoot after hours and hours, than running over it in heels. I don’t care if it’s live coals. Listen, I’m a woman. I HAVE run in heels. Dear action movie directors: stahp. Women don’t escape (1) dinosaurs, (2) aliens, (3) serial killers, (4) psychopaths, or (5) ANYTHING ELSE running in heels. Here’s what we do: we follow our natural survival instincts, just like every human being would, and we take off the heels. It’s 2015. I’d love to see a woman in one of these fun action movies realize her heels are no longer appropriate and t a k e  t h e m  o f f. Go barefoot if you have to, for heaven’s sake.

I apologize for all the internet shouting. It’s late and I’m slightly exasperated with this issue. You do understand. (If you’re interested, you can read more on this subject in a similar middle-of-the-night post I did on the latest Transformers movie here: Why Lip Color Matters and What It Has to Do with Fighting Aliens.) Also I do realize that there are gritty action movies that do feature more realistically clad women. But they’re relatively few and far between and that’s kind of annoying.

All right, that’s it, I’m done. It’s almost four in the morning and I should not be blogging right now.

Anyway, the bottom line of this post is…when can I get back to the theater to see Jurassic World again?

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A Note on Transformers: Why Lip Color Matters and What It Has to Do with Fighting Aliens

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4:12 a.m. Once again I’m up writing in the ungodly hours of the morning, and I swore I’d stop staying up so late once I finally finished college. Oh well. The problem is, I just got home from a late showing of the new Transformers. Dang what a long movie.

And while I could talk about the action overload that left you feeling like you’d just been thrown through a washing machine, or the attitudes of the individual Transformers and how they didn’t help the story, or the outstanding performances of Stanley Tucci or Mark Wahlberg, I’ll leave those kinds of topics to more dedicated Transformers fans.

With your permission, I’d like to talk for just a moment about something else.

It starts with Tessa’s lips.

Tessa’s lips caught my attention first because they’re a magenta that sets off her perfectly smooth, tan skin and classy dark eye makeup just right. In the beginning I can kinda buy it, because Tessa’s a pretty girl and, well, maybe she’s really good at doing makeup so that her day-to-day look just sort of magically looks as great as if she had a team of artists before, during, and after a film shoot to help her look her best. Ok, I guess.

But then Tessa’s lips start cracking me up, because no matter what horrifying debacle she runs into throughout the movie, the camera makes sure to get at least one close up to let you know yep, don’t worry, her lips are still perfectly magenta. It’s hilarious.

CIA agents holding her down in the grass with a gun to her head while she cries for her life? Still nice smooth magenta. Being chased by freaky murderous alien robot wolf things? Still magenta. Screaming in terror while stuck in a car being dragged up with Optimus Prime by the bad guys? Yeah, that scream is coming out of perfectly pouty magenta lips.

That’s not how it works. I have a very nice magenta lip color too, and I happen to know it stops looking good a matter of hours after I apply it, let alone days after sleeping in makeshift shelters with no showers and no makeup to refresh. Fighting with aliens, no less.

Same thing goes for Tessa’s exquisite dirty blond hair, which sort of kind of gets a little messy but really just ends up looking bohemian. And I think we all know thanks to Pinterest that that’s not a symptom of a days-long chase by aliens and the CIA—that’s a desirable quality girls slave for. Convenient. And somehow through all this, Tessa’s hair, in all its wild bohemian-esque glory, stays completely un-greasy. What, does Tessa keep a can of dry shampoo in the back pocket of those tiny shorts for emergencies? Or does her hair magically wash itself? Wish my hair did that.

This post is getting redundant, so I won’t go into her perfect clothes (on the run for days in those clunky heels?), her perfect little gold jewelry that stays on no problem through bombs and aliens and guns, her perfect periwinkle nail polish (days of Transformers action and it doesn’t even get chipped? SERIOUSLY?), or her perfect anything else.

The way Tessa looks at the end of the movie, with her perfectly messy hair and her nearly perfect mascara and eye shadow (oh yeah, for one frame it was almost a little smeared kinda, which makes it totally realistic) and her perfect magenta lips and her perfectly tan skin smudged with just a touch of perfectly attractively gritty dirt and her perfect nail polish, is not how a woman looks after a couple of normal days, let alone after a couple days of what Tessa went through.

I know, because I am one (a woman, that is), and I’m writing this in the middle of the night and by now I kind of resemble one of the zombies from World War Z, which I just watched the other day (yay for new movies popping up on Netflix, am I right?).

It would be one thing if Tessa’s perfection were just a slightly cheesy aspect of an action movie that really isn’t concerned with realism. Which, I get it, in some ways is the case.

But in another sense, it’s a symptom of a very serious disease our society has been stricken with basically forever. There are enough posts out there about the impossible standard of physical perfection set up by TV, movies, magazines, and the Internet, so I’m not going to go into the problem in detail. But Victoria’s Secret Angels, Vogue magazine covers—we hunger after achieving this impossible beauty that physically does not exist even though by now we all know it’s fake.

It’s 2014. Aren’t we past this yet? Haven’t enough passionate articles been written, enough Dove Evolution videos posted, enough picture collages compiled showing step-by-step the transformation from normal-looking girl to wildly different-looking glamorous model under layers and layers of Photoshop and makeup?

Haven’t we seen past the smoke and lights to the man behind the curtain yet?

We’re trying to keep our lips magenta in the face of aliens, and that’s just not possible. And it’s hard for me to just shrug off the issue and say it’s no big deal when according to Google 20 million women are currently sustaining eating disorders in pursuit of impossible beauty.

And also I just realized it’s 5:09 in the morning. Good night, world.

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On the absence of Iron Man: a Captain America blog

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Besides a comment about Steve Rogers wearing too much makeup, I haven’t encountered all too much criticism to note of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As I write this, the film stands at an impressive 8.2 on IMDb, an even more impressive 89% critics’ approval on rotten tomatoes, and a staggering 94% audience approval on rotten tomatoes.

And deservedly so. The movie is both thrilling and thought-provoking, an excellent marriage of action and story. Though I still think The Avengers reigns over Marvel movies because of its supreme blend of the best of all the Avengers, I might vote Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be my favorite individual Avenger’s movie so far.

Now, I can overlook fighter jets having non-bulletproof windshields (yeah, Nick Fury gets a jacked-up supercar but the official S.H.I.E.L.D. fighter jets have normal glass windshields for the Winter Soldier to shoot right through?), and engine turbines being conveniently damaged by the Cap’s shield in a way that might possibly work if I squint my eyes and tilt my head and look at it just right and imagine really hard, but there is one issue I can’t quite get over.

To quote my boyfriend as we walked out of the theater after seeing it the first time, “I loved it, but all I could think the whole time was—where was Iron Man?”

As it turns out, that’s a very, very good question.

Tony Stark is one of the thousands targeted for termination by Hydra, we find out near the end of the movie. I actually missed it, but I was made aware that if you look closely, you can catch his name right on Stark Tower as Hydra is revealing who they’re about to destroy. It’s like Marvel is nodding at our question, recognizing that there’s a Tony-Stark sized hole in this movie, but they still don’t answer.

Nick Fury is dead. (Well, “dead.” Spoiler alert.) Massive destruction is being unleashed at the S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Captain America is even shot three times. There’s no way Iron Man isn’t aware of this. But he isn’t even going to try to show up and take care of business?

With Tony’s technology and attitude, that doesn’t make sense.

Now let me clarify. This is a Captain America movie, about Captain America, with a fantastic plot all set up for Captain America to save the day. And I’m cool with that. It’s a Captain America film and Iron Man can’t come in and take over; I get that.

But explain that to us. Get Tony tied up in the Middle East. Send him to space on a secret mission. Something, anything. Just one line would cover it, a passing remark by Fury or something. I just want to know why Iron Man wasn’t there, because there’s no way in this carefully-crafted Marvel universe that he was just sitting obliviously with Pepper in Stark Tower, waiting for Hydra to kill him. Even with the events of Iron Man 3. Come on, this is Tony Stark we’re talking about.

It’s not that I necessarily want Iron Man in this movie (although was I the only one hoping he’d be the signature Marvel cameo to show up for a second or two?). It’s that I can’t reconcile the fact that he’s not.

And, for the record, I do agree about the makeup.

That said—when can I buy the DVD?

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The Other Side of the Fairytale

Addressed to His Majesty the King.

Dear Father:

By now the scandal will have reached you, or anyway some version of it told by servants who should hold their tongues.

I will tell you the truth of what happened. Last night at the ball you threw me that I didn’t want, I found a girl. She called me Charming, but that didn’t catch my attention. She didn’t know I was the prince. That did.

We danced because that’s what’s done at a ball, and I think she liked it, but that didn’t matter. After we danced, we went out into the garden and talked for a long time. I told her what I could of my life without letting her know who I was. She told me it sounded boring. I agreed.

Then I told her things I swore I would never tell anyone. I don’t know why I told her. I told her about Mother’s death long ago. I told her more about it than I have told you. I am going to tell you now, even though as I said before I swore I wouldn’t. I think I am half mad.

Seventeen years ago, I accepted a gold coin in exchange for putting white powder into my mother’s wine. After the deed was done, you hanged the cupbearer even though he was innocent because I never told you I was to blame.

You remember who the assassin was, the duke I will not name. He befriended me and took me under his wing, and I came to trust him until he asked me to play a secret game. If I could get the powder into Mother’s glass after the cupbearer had tasted it, a gold coin would be my prize. I played the game and won. I did not know it was poison, but I should have.

I sold my mother’s life for a coin.

I am not a failure because I cannot succeed. I am a failure because I have had a millstone chained about my neck since I was seven years old.

After I told the girl these things, she answered in such a way to give me a hope I have never before known. My life is not to have been extinguished before it could spark. I am not doomed because a murderer took advantage of my youth and stupidity when I was seven years old.

Then last night the clock struck midnight, and the girl ran away. And I ran after her, and that was the stupid scandal. But I never found her.

I have come back now to write this letter and then set out again in earnest to find her. She lost a shoe on her way and I retrieved it. I am going use that and search until I find her. I will not return unless I find her and bring her back. If I do return, my life will be much different.

Now I will bring this letter to a close. I suppose it’s too long a letter, but then that’s no surprise, since as you’ve always said I’m too much a writer and too little a prince.

Regards, and farewell.

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***

Last night, my little sister and I started Operation: Watch Every Disney Princess Movie in Order. It was quite fun, although we only got through Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. (The operation is ongoing.) But one thing that really bothered/fascinated me, and has bothered and fascinated me for quite some time, is how very little we know about the princes in those movies and in the original fairytales they come from.

Take Cinderella. Her prince is just there to dance with her, kiss her, and marry her. He has hardly any lines and no character development. And this is no accident of technique. He’s purposely formulated as a stock character to simply reward Cinderella, the heroine who suffers the real burden of the plot. He’s deliberately kept bland and unspecific.

In the Grimm brothers’ version of the tale, the prince is slightly slyer than in the Disney version (in fact, the reason Cinderella loses her shoe is that he sets a trap for her, smearing pitch on a stairway so that when she runs, her shoe gets stuck)—but even still, all he does is dance with Cinderella and insist on marrying her and nobody else.

So I started wondering. With so much of the prince’s character left blank, there’s quite a bit of room for speculation. Why does the king want his son to be married so badly? What has the prince been doing with his life? Is he lonely? What’s going on in his mind? Is he really as bland and boring as he seems, or is that a defense mechanism? Has he been hurt? Has he killed somebody?

What if we heard the fairytale from the prince’s perspective? What if Prince Charming has a darker side?

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The Other Side of Prince Charming, a drawing in graphite

Dwarvelogue

For anyone who got chills the first time hearing the Misty Mountains song, for anyone who loves the dwarves of The Hobbit, for anyone who’s tired of saying “that one dwarf with the beard,” or for anyone who’s bored and happened on this post by mistake, I present this Dwarvelogue, a guide to the dwarves of Thorin & Company. It’s not an earthshaking character analysis; it’s just what I find interesting about each dwarf that helps distinguish him from the rest. I’m not writing this for literary or philosophical purposes—I’m writing this because after reading the book three times and seeing the movie four, for crying out loud, I still get some of the dwarves mixed up.

I’ve used pictures from the films, but I’ll touch briefly on both the characters’ original presentations in the book and variations on and interpretations of them in the films (the first film installment, anyway, since it’s the only one out yet). By way of disclaimer, as far as Middle-earth goes, I love both the books and the movies. In other words, I dabble in both the purist circle who revel in elven languages and spend hours studying the history of Middle-earth and may or may not throw temper tantrums every time Peter Jackson varies from the text, and the cult-following circle who own extended-edition DVDs and stay up all night watching interviews with the actors and stand in lines for midnight premiers dressed up as Gandalf.

Anyway do put on the tea and get comfortable, because it seems dwarves are better talked about, or read about, or thought about, over a cup of hot Earl Grey.

Without further ado, a Dwarvelogue.

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Fili

Kili

Kili

Youngest and funniest first. Fili and Kili are a solid fifty years younger than any of the other dwarves, and that fact combined with their sharp eyesight usually gets them assigned errands and small jobs that no one else wants to do. They also happen to be Thorin’s nephews. For the record, as far as the films go, Fili’s the one with the ash-blonde hair, while Kili’s the brunette. Highly confusing sometimes. (Also, I said I wouldn’t go into character analysis, but Fili and Kili often parallel Merry and Pippin of The Lord of the Rings in comedic-relief duo action, which leads to an interesting study on comedic pairs in heavy epic fantasies—but that’s another blog post.)

Oin

Oin

With Oin, we come to the first of the dwarves with little material distinguishing him from the others in the company. In his defense, though, like each of the others he came when Thorin called and is now prepared to fight with him to the end. He also contributes to their lucky number fourteen, which Gandalf helps them fulfill by adding Bilbo to their numbers in the beginning of the story. [Edit: as fellow WordPresser Marc kindly brought to my attention (see comments below), film-version-Oin is partially deaf. He’s the one who uses a cool dwarvish hearing aid—a little metal ear pipe deal—that sadly gets trampled on by goblins. I’d love to find out whose very clever idea that was, because in the book Oin hears fine.]

Gloin

Gloin

Gloin starts off in the book (not so much in the movies) with a rather nasty attitude toward Bilbo. He’s got some harsh things to say, including the famous line “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar,” which is given to Thorin in the film. Most importantly, though, Gloin is father to none other than the legendary Gimli, who will sixty years later venture forth with one Frodo Baggins as a part of, you know, some fellowship that watches out for a magical ring or something.

Dwalin

Dwalin

Dwalin’s another who tends to be just one of the mix in the book, but actor Graham McTavish interprets him in the films in light of a brilliant backstory: that Dwalin and Thorin grew up together, sparred together, talked together in their young dwarvish days. Therefore, he’s intensely loyal to the Thorin, his childhood friend and the one he believes ought to reign as King under the Mountain.

Balin

Balin

Balin’s the oldest besides Thorin, if you can believe it, and he’s a scrapper. Canonically he’s the company’s permanent look-out man, which I believe is because he tends to think quickly on his feet in high-pressure situations. He’s curious and persistent in his questions, and more than once he figures things out more quickly than the rest. He’s the one, for instance, to figure out the scheme Bilbo is trying to explain to them for escaping from the giant spiders who are about to kill them, or to snatch a retreating boat in time for the dwarves to flee across the perilous enchanted river in Mirkwood. He’s also got a special soft spot for Bilbo and is the only one to offer him help in first exploring the secret passage into Smaug’s lair or to encourage the hobbit after the frightening interview with the dragon. We’ll have to see how the films do with his development in the future, since none of these instances have had a movie-appearance yet.

Bifur

Bifur

Bifur’s textually mostly just one of the company. In the movies, though, whenever he talks he spouts off in a comedic accent so heavy you can’t understand a word he’s saying. James Nesbitt, who plays Bofur, says that Bifur never speaks understandably “because he’s got an axe in his head.” Bifur’s actor William Kircher describes him as “slightly deranged,” largely due to the piece of Orc-axe that is indeed stuck in his head, and explains that he’s only able to speak in ancient Dwarvish. An interesting take on the character, since Tolkien’s original Bifur speaks perfectly intelligibly and without any language difference. He’s also cousin to Bofur and Bombur.

Bofur

Bofur

Bofur is Bifur’s cousin and Bombur’s brother. Since he’s not textually overly fond of Bilbo, it’s interesting that he’s one of the dwarves in the movie to have a specific connection with the hobbit. James Nesbitt, who plays him in the movie, describes him well as “a bit of a clown” and “one of the first to get close to Bilbo.” He also wears a really, really cool hat. I want his hat.

Bombur

Bombur

In the movies, Bombur is something like a quieter, ginger Santa Claus plus weapons. And he’d rather be eating than fighting. Or talking. Or doing anything else, for that matter. In the book he’s a good deal crankier, especially because he’s always shuffled to last on everything and makes a point to complain about it.

Dori

Dori

Dori’s actually the strongest dwarf of the company. Interesting, since in the first movie, at least, he’s a posh chap who offers Gandalf tea in Bilbo’s hobbit-hole. But in the book, he’s a “decent fellow” who actually saves Bilbo’s life in the heart of the Misty Mountains by hoisting the hobbit up to his shoulders and carrying him away from pursuing goblins. That’s not as gutsy as what he does shortly afterwards, though: when the company flees up into the trees away from the goblins and Wargs, Bilbo gets left on the ground, running around the bases of the trees in fright, not tall enough to get into any of them. Dori is man enough to climb all the way down from his safe perch to the ground and let Bilbo climb up onto his shoulders, standing there long enough for Bilbo to jump up into the tree even when the Wargs are approaching. He barely escapes the demon-wolves’ fangs as they snap at his feet when he finally gets to leap back up after Bilbo.

Nori

Nori

Nori is on Bilbo’s team when it comes to believing in large and frequent meals, and that’s about the only specific Tolkien gives. But Nori’s actor Jed Brophy goes on to interpret him, as he says, as “a little bit of a kleptomaniac.” All through the filming process, Brophy’s Nori was slyly pocketing anything unclaimed and within his reach. I haven’t been able to catch him doing so in the movie yet, which may be because I keep forgetting to look for it, or also could be because his moments have been cut and will be revealed in the extended edition. Which incidentally will be released in November. And will be about eight thousand hours long. (And inexpressibly wonderful, all eight thousand hours of it.) Actually it will only be thirteen minutes longer than the theatrical release, but anyways, on a more serious level, Brophy and fellow Dori and Ori actors play the characters as half-brothers, with the same mother but all different fathers. That’s a creative solution to the reason for their extremely similar names, since their relationship isn’t delineated in the book.

Ori

Ori

Ori, mostly just one of the company in the book, is altogether an odd little fellow in the movies. In the first film installment, his character seems best summed up by one of his earliest lines: “Excuse me—I don’t mean to interrupt—but what should I do with my plate?” He stands up at Bilbo’s table to (comedically) declare his warlike lust for vengeance on the dragon Smaug, but then he balks at eating salad in Rivendell.

Thorin

Thorin

And Thorin Oakenshield. Official leader of the company and rightful King under the Mountain. Canonically he’s one of the last four dwarves to arrive at Bilbo’s home, all of them falling in onto the hobbit’s floor—quite a different character introduction from his fashionably late, ominously serious, long-brunette-locks-blowing-in-the-night-wind arrival in the first movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love movie-Thorin. Pretty difficult not to like a Thorin played by Richard Armitage with his throaty northern-English accent and luscious silver-streaked dark hair. But he’s definitely a variation from book-Thorin. Book-Thorin is older and less ruggedly handsome; more pompous, less darkly mysterious; more haughty and long-winded, less brusque and reserved. In fact, in the book Thorin remains a more or less flat character, and though brave and dedicated not especially noble or inspiring, until the Battle of the Five Armies near the end of the story. And then some serious character development does happen, but that’s spoiler material if you don’t know how it all ends. Suffice to say Armitage’s heroic Thorin is definitely not unfounded. I’m in favor of his interpretation, in fact.

In Tolkien’s words, “There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.” And since Tolkien is basically an all-time master of understatement, by that less-than-favorable estimation we may infer what quickly proves true as the story unfolds: that dwarves can indeed be heroes and do have the capacity to be lionhearted at their core, though it may take the desolation of Smaug to demonstrate it. Both to us and also to them.

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Four cups of Earl Grey were consumed in the writing of this post.

Ben and Christian: a response to the Batman controversy

It’s 3:15 in the unholy-early hours of Saturday morning, and I’m up writing this because of a very sane, normal, not excessive, not overboard decision I made when I found out this past Thursday evening that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel. I’m speaking, of course, of the decision anybody with any level of interest in Batman would have made: the decision to immediately go back and experience again the hallowed Christopher Nolan three-part masterpiece that is The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Okay, well, maybe it was a tad excessive. But in any case, I have finally just finished the movies. (In fact, I’m writing this to the chilling Hans Zimmer score underneath The Dark Knight Rises credits…deshi basara…)

So. All this madness erupting over Ben Affleck. Television, social media, the whole deal. It’s a fandom war. There are passionate rants against him and equally passionate defenses for him, not to mention a torrent of jokes—good-natured and otherwise—and, of course, ridiculous Twitter trends.

I happen to be among those less pleased about the news, but it’s not because I have anything against Affleck. For me, the issue is just that Christian Bale is our Dark Knight, and I’m not ready to move on.

All right. Call me Captain Obvious, but Ben Affleck isn’t actually the problem at the root of all this controversy, and I don’t think he deserves all the #betterbatmanthanaffleck jabs on Twitter. Nah, it’s not him that’s the problem. It’s the change itself that’s the problem.

Now, it could be that those of us who don’t want the change simply don’t want it because we don’t want it. Any change to something we love can be jarring, unpleasant, unwelcome. But I actually think it goes deeper than that. I think there’s a reason it’s so hard for us to say goodbye to Christian Bale. After all, Batman’s had many incarnations (although I shudder to think of some of them), and this exact situation happened on the Marvel side of things when Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as the Hulk in The Avengers. Why such a ruckus now?

The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is Christopher Nolan, and the brutally beautiful job he did lacing Gotham City’s fear a little too close to home for comfort. Gotham is a setting simultaneously darker and more realistic than those of most superhero flicks, and therefore it’s a good deal more unnerving. I mean, other supers save the world from, you know, aliens and scary guys from across the world with bombs and stuff. But in Gotham, we’re not threatened by aliens. We’re threatened by ourselves. That is, we’re threatened by the darkness inside ourselves, given just the tip over the edge it needs to overwhelm us. Like the Joker says, madness is like gravity—all it takes is a little push. And in Nolan’s world of Gotham, we experience that little push.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely relate more to and empathize more with Gotham’s fear and darkness in the Dark Knight movies than I do with anything about, say, Metropolis in Man of Steel. (And I’m not dissing Man of Steel. If you’d like to see what I liked about that film, you can find it here.) If you’ll pardon the over-thinking, the fact is that in Gotham is a mirror that magnifies the darkness in us, in our society, and shows us what it could become. (A scary, master-villain-tweaked version of what it could become, sure, but still.) And in Batman is a picture of the hope of overcoming it.

The way Nolan sets it up, we’re actually walking with Bruce/Batman through our own world, just tilted slightly, and thus our identification with him as a hero has potential to be much more personal than our identification with most other superheroes. And Christian Bale is that Batman.

So basically, it’s not that Ben Affleck is less than outstanding for the position. It’s just that in the hearts and minds of the fandom, the position is already filled.

Is Affleck good-looking? Yes. A phenomenal actor? Talented enough? Fully capable? Yes, yes, yes.

That’s not the issue.

It’s just that Christian Bale is our Bruce Wayne. It’s difficult to adjust because there’s so much of ourselves wrapped up in what we’ve seen Bale accomplish as the Dark Knight.

I’m not sad because Ben Affleck is Ben Affleck, as opposed to any other actor who could have played the part. I’m sad because he’s not Christian Bale. And anybody besides Christian Bale is somebody besides the hero we don’t deserve but need. It’s just a change; that’s all. But it’s a change to something—somebody—who hits dang close to home. And that’s why it’s hard to swallow.

That said, best wishes to Mr. Affleck, because let’s face it, he’s going to do a crazy-awesome job.

And now I’m going to get some sleep like an almost normal person, for crying out loud.

Goodnight, world.

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collegiate monsters in perspective

I tried to think up a punny “monstrous” title for this post, but smarter minds than mine have been thinking up slogans and, ah, “scarily” catchy titles for this type of thing for years. Ever since Monsters, Inc. came out way back in the cave man ages in 2001, in fact. And now every spooky stone and hair-raising hook has already been turned over and turned cliché. So forget that.

Anyway, the point is Monsters University, which I just had the pleasure of seeing earlier today. Though it isn’t Pixar’s all-time masterpiece by any means, it’s definitely an impressive piece of Disney’s classic movie magic.

For a little perspective, I’d like to also take a quick look at a couple other recent films. Namely, Man of Steel and World War Z. Am I trying to compare the latest Disney-Pixar family feature with a superhero movie and a zombie-apocalypse flick? No. Talk about comparing apples and oranges. But audience reaction levels are significant to a certain extent, no matter what the genre difference. And these three films spell something interesting when set beside one another.

For sake of parallelism, I’ll use three sources for each movie: Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and the tweeted opinions of my friend JC. Whom I totally did not ask for permission to quote in this post. So sorry, JC—your tweets fell too perfectly into my topic to resist. (@jsncrwfrd on Twitter; give him a follow.)

Man of Steel came out first, hitting the big screen just over a week ago on June 14. Rotten Tomatoes, ever the harsh viewpoint, scored it an official 56% on the tomatometer but acknowledged an 82% audience approval. IMDb was more favorable, rating the film at an impressive 8.0/10. JC was on the favorable side too, tweeting, “Man of Steel was really good! Solid acting, great soundtrack, great story. Loved how they told it. I give it an A. #NothingAfterCredits.”

The next week, World War Z opened. The tomatometer was gentler on this Brad Pitt blockbuster, scoring it at 67%, with audience satisfaction reaching 86%. This time, IMDb was less pleased, although it still rated the film a respectable 7.4/10. JC was less pleased as well. “#WorldWarZ: to me, it wasn’t a Zombie movie,” he tweeted. “More of an outbreak/disaster movie. Pitt was good. Story eh… Zombies were lame. Grade: C/C-”

That same date, Monsters University premiered. Rotten Tomatoes rated it a generous 77% with 89% audience satisfaction, and IMDb seconded the complimentary opinion with a hefty 7.8/10. JC’s tweet read, “Monsters University was awesome! Great film! I laughed so much. Well written and the short b4 was good too. No ‘Paperman’ though. Grade: A!”

Now this is where it gets interesting. To some extent, the above sources conflict over which of the two PG-13 action films is the more appealing. But the opinions are unanimously favorable, and even in general most favorable, about Monsters University.

Which is rated G.

That blows my mind.

It’s got to be one seriously good movie that can hold its own and get the attention of so many moviegoers without any mass destruction, without any sassy red-headed journalists, without any zombies, without any Brad Pitt. Without even an MPAA rating as mildly intense as PG. A movie that has to rely strictly on the chance of tapping into the inner child of each person who sits in the theater, on the fun of unlocking the joy of youthful imagination, no matter what the age of the audience member.

I guess what I’m trying to do is offer a salute to Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson, and Dan Scanlon, who wrote the screenplay for this highly-anticipated prequel to Monsters, Inc., and again to Dan Scanlon for directing it. Because this is a job well done.

I mean, I love adventure films, action films, superhero films, disaster films. And I’m definitely looking forward to the ones still to come out this year. But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to have a Tangled, a Wreck-It Ralph, or a Monsters University. A chance to laugh and eat popcorn and candy and toss away the deadlines and the drama and remember what it was like to be a kid. (Or for some of us in cases like this one, what it was like to be the brand new kid on a university campus.)

After all, as somebody really smart (and also completely fictional) once said, “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

Also, shout out to JC for doing those 140-characters-or-less movie reviews. Please keep them coming!

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Postscript: After reading the above post and reacting very graciously to being quoted without prior notice, JC alerted me to the further interesting fact that, according to Entertainment Weekly, with a 4,004-theater $82 million in earnings, MU swept first place at the box office this weekend, followed by—you guessed it—World War Z ($66 million) and then Man of Steel ($41.2 million). Of course, we can’t judge Man of Steel too harshly since this is its second weekend in theaters, while the other two are just now showing up to the party with a bang. But hey, this weekend Monsters University came in $16 million ahead of the closest contestant. Big surprise, right?

Man of Steel in review, part two: the cons

And now, a few things that don’t quite work so well in Man of Steel. I do have to say that the issues below mostly aren’t bad things about the film—they’re good things about the film that just aren’t allowed to reach their full potential, or aren’t accomplished the best possible way.

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Purposefully romantic moments. I said in part one of this post that I like how Clark falls in love with Lois because she’s smart and believes in him. And I do. But the best moments between the two of them are character development/discovery moments, not the Okay Now It Is Time For a Romantic Encounter moments. Those feel sort of announced, forced.

My little brother called it when he said that really the most romantic moment in the movie is the moment when Clark cauterizes Lois’s wound on board the ice-buried Kryptonian ship. Talk about Lois meeting Clark! That’s a solid character-collision moment, and it works.

Another fantastic moment (although it doesn’t make sense in the scope of the story, but we’ll deal with that later) between the two leads is the private interview Lois gets to have with Clark when he “surrenders” himself to the military. They sit across a table. He’s in handcuffs. She asks him questions. It’s beautiful.

But then there are these other scenes between the two of them that just don’t rest easy with me. And they haven’t worked for anybody I’ve talked to, either.

Take the moment Clark and Lois finally kiss, after he saves her from plummeting to her death from the Kryptonian ship. The problem is that most of Metropolis is lying in ruins around them and thousands of people have been brutally murdered, and traumatized survivors who still badly need help are standing right there watching. Like basically they should have kissed during the classic kiss op they passed up earlier, when Clark was about to surrender himself to Zod’s summons.

I mean, I understand. You escape certain death by finding yourself suddenly in the arms of a tall dark handsome otherworldy man instead of splattered dead on concrete—you’re gonna want to kiss him. I’ve been there; I get that. Nope. That is definitely not true. I have definitely not been in that situation. But still, How to Behave During a Superhero Rescue from Certain Death 101: please, both of you, remember the suffering of the mortals around you, even standing very close to you and watching, and also do show some respect for the dead. But IF YOU MUST KISS, by NO MEANS allow yourselves to have an awkward quasi-comedic exchange about how it’s all downhill after the first kiss but that’s probably only true if you’re kissing a human. People. There will be times for that. Now is not one of them.

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Fantastic story concepts, faulty story flow/execution. This is the biggest problem I have here. The thing is, the amazing story moments—and there truly are amazing story moments—are not tied together with enough story throughout to hold them together, and therefore they feel disjointed. The formula tends to be GREAT STORY MOMENT –> break for fifteen minutes of action –> ANOTHER GREAT STORY MOMENT –> another break for fifteen minutes of explosions and crumbling buildings –> and so on. Great story moments don’t make a great story.

And then some of the story elements are brilliant in concept but then don’t feel executed to the fullest of their potential. Take Jonathan Kent’s death. He dies because he stops his son Clark from superheroically saving his life, because he believes the world is not ready to know who his son really is. That. Is. Fantastic. But why is Jonathan caught by the cyclone that kills him? He gets caught saving a dog. Even my pet-fanatic friend who watched the film with me my second time was less than thrilled about that. “I’m not for animal cruelty or anything,” she said, “but if it’s the dog or the father…ummm…” And when this happens, Jonathan has just saved a little girl—why couldn’t that have been his demise? Why the dog?

Then, there’s the way Lois’s character is used. It’s genius in theory, but I’m not sure I’m convinced about all of it in practice.

For instance, Lois gets a private interview with Superman during which he reveals his identity, which he refuses to reveal to anyone else. Perfect. But why? Why did Clark demand to see her, and only agree to surrender on condition that he could talk to her? I mean, Lois’s boss has dropped hints about her being accused of treason. Maybe Clark wants to make sure she’s safe from the government, but that’s a big stretch for us to make. I’m all for thinking, but if during your film you force your audience to think too hard, you interrupt their suspension of disbelief and remove them from your story.

Also why, then, do Zod’s forces insist on taking Lois on board with Clark in the first place? She mentions that she didn’t want to tell them about Clark, but that they read her mind without her will. Why. First of all, why do they need to extract information from her about Superman when they have Superman? And when he reassures Lois that they did the exact same mindreading thing to him anyway? And how did Zod even know about Lois? She certainly seems to magically pop up in the right places an astounding number of times. Ah, man, it’s such a beautiful thing, but it’s not justified in the scope of the story.

Then, Lois involved in the salvation of earth: fantastic. Especially since Superman is still the hero—Lois is simply his link to understanding from Jor-El. But hold up now. If Jor-El goes to the trouble of explaining both to Lois and to us his plan of teaching her how to send General Zod and his minions back to the Phantom Zone, so that she can then teach Superman, you’d better believe we moviegoers deserve to see what exactly is going on. What Jor-El teaches her to save the day. That’s just common storytelling courtesy. Lois is our human link into this alien amazingness. But instead, the critical information is left ambiguous. We know Jor-El teaches Lois the key to defeating the bad guys, and then Lois shows up on Clark’s doorstep saying, “I know how to stop them!” And after that, we hear Clark outline the plan in general, indicating Lois has taught him whatever she needed to teach him. But we never find out exactly what all that was.

That’s not fair.

One person with us on opening night surmised the answers to that whole deal must have been cut from the film for time purposes. If that’s the case, some of the fighting should have been cut instead of this vital story element, because…

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So. Much. Fighting. …there’s just so much fighting! One friend said this film should have been called Superman and the Death of Metropolis because of all the destruction. After seeing it a second time, I told another friend that I had started zoning out during the extended fight scenes to start planning what I’d write in this review. Her response: “ME TOO!”

But seriously. A lethal host from Krypton invading earth—of course there’s going to be mass destruction. I get that. And yet, Zod and Kal, what are we accomplishing by smashing each other personally through buildings over and over? As my friend said, “When is he going to die?”

It’s not the scope of the destruction I have a problem with. It’s the sheer time. After a certain point, all smashed buildings start to look more or less the same.

Conclusion. Don’t worry, Zod doesn’t win. The earth is saved from becoming Krypton 2.0. We’re safe, at least until the next superhero blockbuster threatens the existence of the human race.

Anyway, what’s the verdict—was this a movie of steel about the Man of Steel?

Yes. Just maybe not stainless.

Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t resist.

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Man of Steel in review, part one: the pros

With a creepy Kryptonian you are not alone ringing in my ears, I sat down to write a nice little blog review of the world’s latest salvation-by-superhero, Man of Steel. But then my nice little review turned into a monstrously long one and demanded to be broken into two pieces, one about the film’s pros and the other about the film’s cons. So here’s part one: what worked about Man of Steel.

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Disclaimer: following are some mild spoilers, especially depending on your knowledge of the DC universe (although these posts will look at the movie as a story-whole on its own and not within the scope of all its DC implications). But I won’t give away that Superman does indeed succeed in saving the world. Whoops. Just gave it away. But you already knew that.

Now, what worked. Because enough worked in this film to get it an initial IMDb 8.0/10 and a grade A with almost everyone I’ve talked to about it. And the following list is by no means comprehensive.

Russell Crowe/Jor-El. <–First off, this guy. There’s a basic undeniable principle here that when Russell Crowe is in a film, he automatically increases the coolness of said film. In this case, with his classic deep-voiced, sad-eyed dignity and grace he helps bring a level of added legitimacy to our grasp on the dying Kryptonian culture. He helps cement the seriousness of it all in our minds.

As the person sitting next to me whispered repeatedly, both during and after the film, “Best part of the movie: Russell Crowe in tights.” Though I don’t agree with that statement per se, the fact remains that in all seriousness, Jor-El is one of the coolest elements of the movie, both when he’s alive and otherwise.

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Amy Adams/Lois Lane. “She’s too old and I don’t mean to be a jerk but she’s not hot enough,” one of my friends said to me about Amy Adams before Man of Steel came out. I heard a lot of that kind of sentiment before the film premiered, both in person and online. There’s some legitimacy to the argument—you cast a redhead eight years older than your hero as Lois, you’re going to have some controversy. For the most part, we’ve all come to picture this fated reporter as a brunette. And on the sultry side, at that. It’s understandable that Adams feels a jarring choice.

But interestingly, those arguments about how she was too old and not hot enough seemed to decrease dramatically after the film came out. Sure, some people still were displeased, and opinions varied drastically. But with all of us opinionated fans waiting to devour her performance no matter how it turned out, that was inevitable. What fascinated me was that of the group with which I first saw the film, the young men were most pleased with her (one of them, a twenty-something, actually said afterwards, “What, she’s thirty-eight? She looked twenty-four!”), and the person least pleased with her performance was my best friend’s mother. I just think that has to say something about the attractive-enough argument.

I do have some issues with her character role through the movie, specifically the way her character is written, but I’ll talk about that in the next part of this post. The point here is that Adams makes a lovely Lois, though she doesn’t play the part as we were expecting it to be played. But she wasn’t aiming at playing the Lois we were expecting; she wanted to be a brand new take on the classic character. And with that goal in mind, at least to a respectable extent she succeeded.

Plus, she is a beautiful woman, but Clark falls in love with her because she’s smart and believes in him. To me that seems pretty full of win.

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Henry Cavill/Kal-El/Clark Kent. Christian Bale. Chris Hemsworth. Robert Downey, Jr. Chris Evans. Etc., etc. Now here’s Henry Cavill jumping into the superhero party—and he quickly makes it clear he belongs.

Yes, he looks the part. One of my friends said after the credits—and I quote—“Oh my gosh, he’s so gorgeous—what was the movie even about? I can’t get my mind off how gorgeous he is. EVERY FEMALE ON EARTH SHOULD WATCH THIS MOVIE.” And of course that’s a conservative response compared to some of the ones floating about the internet.

But it goes beyond that. Let’s be real here. It takes some serious testosterone to rock a red cape in the year 2013 and not look like a joke. And that’s what I think is so cool: Cavill doesn’t just look like Clark Kent. He succeeds in pulling off Superman. Which is a pretty tall order, considering some of the Supermans (Supermen?) we’ve seen in the past. I think Cavill’s biggest triumph is asserting Superman’s legitimacy as a serious superhero in our competitive superhero-saturated society.

Side note: I cannot give enough applause to whoever’s idea it was to lose the red underwear outside the suit. Yes. Yes and amen. Although I can’t be the only person who thought of the old Pixar film The Incredibles when I saw Zod get a hold of the edge of Superman’s cape and swing him around in circles. Looks like Edna Mode knew what she was talking about after all.

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Michael Shannon/General Zod. I love General Zod. Actually I hate General Zod. Actually I think he’s one of the best-written characters in the movie, and that’s why I love-hate him, which is a good thing. It’s refreshing to experience a villain who is not primarily:

(a) trying to prove himself to a father who favors another son over him, especially if said other son happens to be a good guy,
(b) on a power trip to turn all the peoples of earth into his slaves to fuel his prospective evil empire, or
(c) hoping to blast the earth out of existence because humans are stupid.

There is a level of option (c) about him, but that’s not his main drive. No, his primary motive is:

(d) ensuring the survival of his people at any cost.

The twisting of a noble impulse into evil is one of the most beautiful makings of a villain. All Zod wants is to save his people. That’s a good thing. But he ends up blowing his goal out of proportion and turning to the coldblooded murder of countless innocents in order to achieve it. And that’s a bad thing.

But it makes a crazy-good villain. Because when Superman crushes the chances of Krypton’s survival, Zod reacts out of an almost moral vengeance, not just personal revenge. He delivers a bloodchilling line, too, nearly frothing at the mouth, about how Superman stole his soul by destroying the only reason Zod is alive: the protection of the future of Krypton.

And that dim shadow of sympathy for the villain is delicious.

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The soundtrack. Let’s just all give a standing ovation to Hans Zimmer for his soundtrack behind this movie. Scratch that. Let’s not randomly stand up because we’ll look like idiots. The point stands, though; the soundtrack is exquisite.

Not that that’s a surprise, considering this is the mastermind behind the soundtracks for films like The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight, Inception, and a hundred others. Like, literally, he’s done over a hundred film scores. The guy’s a genius.

Conclusion. “You can save her; you can save all of them,” Jor-El tells his son in an especially climactic moment. I’m not sure if he isn’t counting on the multitudes who die at the hands of Zod before Superman prevails, or if he just means Superman can save the future of humanity and therefore ultimately save us all as a race. Either way, Clark/Kal/Superman does save the world, and he manages to do so through 143 minutes of superhero-movie exhilaration.

That’s no small feat.

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