Blockbuster burnout

I have a folder for blog ideas in Obsidian (my latest attempt to unify my note-taking with a platform-agnostic solution) and this is what I wrote for reference:

  • Jurassic World movies
  • Marvel movies
  • Star Wars
  • 16 Avatar sequels

Am I suffering blockbuster fatigue? Let’s find out!

One small pandemic changes everything

Another topic I pondered was how the pandemic cured me of going to the theatre to see movies. In early March 2020 a friend and I went to see Onward, which was a perfectly cromulent second-tier Pixar movie. A week or so later, all theatres shut down and by the end of March Onward was already streaming on Disney+. It would be a long time before theatres opened again.

Before that happened, I got a mirrorless camera (January 2021) and Nic and I substituted birding for going to movies. I find the birding a lot more enjoyable:

  • More exercise
  • We get outside
  • You don’t have to be quiet for multiple hours, which is a weird way to socialize when you think about it
  • Birds are neat! And real!
  • I enjoy going out and shooting photos in a general sense
  • Most stuff ends up on a streaming service or can be rented on-demand just a few months later (or even sooner)

Now that theatres are open again, I have no desire to go back, because birding is better and I’m fine waiting for big releases to come to streaming later (or skipping them entirely). Why is that? Let’s go through my bullet list in order.

Dinosaurs went extinct, dinosaur movies refuse to die

  • Jurassic World movies

I saw the original Jurassic World in 2015. To me, it felt like a basic retread of the original, albeit with the twist of adding “What if they actually opened the park, THEN everything went wrong?” but with unappealing or uninteresting characters. It also felt a bit mean-spirited and cynical. I had no interest in seeing the sequel Dark Kingdom, and even the usually faithful pull of nostalgia couldn’t convince me to see Dominion, either.

All three movies still made a ton of money. I just didn’t care about them anymore. They felt like product, not actual stories that needed to be told. Maybe I was becoming cynical!


  • Marvel movies

The fact that we have an abbreviation–MCU1Marvel Cinematic Universe to the one caveperson reading this and didn’t know.–to describe Marvel movies says a lot about how they are intended to be consumed: fully and completely. I did my part, watching all the movies as soon as they came out, starting with Iron Man in 1899 and going up to Avengers: Endgame in 2019 (I also saw Spider-Man: Far From Home in theatres, but this felt more like a dénouement to everything that came before). Then the pandemic hit, though the MCU movies still released in theatres, starting with Black Widow in July 2021.

With Disney+ arriving just before the pandemic, the MCU became even more of an obligation if you wanted to keep up on all the continuity. Now you had the movies (Phases 3, 4, 5, 297, etc.), plus Disney+ series that sometimes led directly to movie plots, with TV series WandaVision leading to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness being a prime example. I kept watching the movies (on streaming) and shows (also on streaming) but started to let things slide. I skipped The Eternals entirely. I have not watched Wakanda Forever, and I don’t give a flying fig about the new Ant-Man movie (which is apparently a not-uncommon sentiment).

At an undefined point, the fun of watching started to feel more like an obligation. I don’t want everything to be connected. I just want separate, entertaining stories. I don’t need Easter eggs, I want a self-contained plot that works without having to reference everything that came before it. I get that some people absolutely adore the continuity, but for me, it now feels more like a burden that gets in the way of simply enjoying the movies and shows. Also, it doesn’t help that a lot of the Marvel stuff has become fairly empty CGI spectacle, the formula well-honed and predictable.

I had to look up what the next film is (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) and it’s another that I will get around to watching eventually. Maybe.

I have a bad feeling about this

  • Star Wars

You could argue that Disney has cranked out too much Star Wars stuff–and there is merit in that argument–but the biggest issue is that after acquiring the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas, they started with a new trilogy of movies with no vision or purpose for being, other than to be more product and sell more merchandise. The first movie (a monster hit, showing the pent-up demand for more Star Wars) was a retread of A New Hope, but had some engaging new characters and held out some promise. The next two movies undid that promise, the first (The Last Jedi) by trying to deconstruct Star Wars a little too much, and the last (The Rise of Skywalker) by being a relentlessly stupid and inept piece of film-making. After that movie, I had no confidence in what Disney might do with Star Wars, so I’ve only dipped my toes in other efforts:

  • Rogue One. A standalone (!) story that serves as an immediate prequel to A New Hope. Pretty good.
  • Solo. Completely unnecessary and a mediocre movie. The first real sign that the Star Wars franchise had no firm creative control at the top.
  • The Mandalorian. Pretty good, actually! Set in the post-Return of the Jedi era, it riffs on the familiar, but has lapses into shameless fan service.
  • The Book of Boba Fett. Also known as Mandalorian Season 2.5. Just OK, really, and annoying that they tied the ongoing Mandalorian storyline into it (there’s that continuity thing again).
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi. Not bad, but a downer, despite the fact that I love Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi.

I’ve yet to watch Andor (which I hear is quite good, but also, understandably, also a downer). Overall, it feels like the TV part of Star Wars has fared better than the vision-free, fan service-heavy movies. Not all hope is lost, here, though I have to admit, I would still be reluctant to see a new Star Wars film in a theatre. I can’t imagine anything at this point that would spark more interest in me than, “hmm, interesting.”

James Cameron’s head in a jar to direct Avatar 17

  • 16 Avatar sequels

I saw an interesting line about how the Avatar sequel, The Way of Water, could gross $2 billion (as of this post it’s just under $2.3 billion worldwide) and still be culturally irrelevant, and I think that’s accurate. People will watch it and its inevitable sequels. They’ll make billions of dollars, but they’ll have no real impact otherwise. They’re just big movies with dazzling effects and technology, telling familiar stories in entertaining and, dare I say–crowd-pleasing–ways. And that’s all fine! But it’s not enough to get me into a theatre because I’m way past “dazzling special effects” being a draw. Good writing may not be something sexy you can market, but it’s a lot more appealing to me now that I’m not a hormone-boosted 15-year-old. But even good writing probably wouldn’t get my butt into a theatre seat.

It might get me to check out a film on streaming, though.

In the meantime, most of my current movie-watching has been a very specific kind of nostalgia, re-watching science fiction movies of varying quality from the 70s through the 90s. I started watching Independence Day again, which in many objective ways, is a bad movie. Heck, the disaster porn doesn’t even start until 45 minutes in (1996 was a simpler time). And yet, I watch because it’s dumb, but easy to digest, with no commitments. It’s anti-MCU.

And for now, at least, that’s enough.

Movie review: TRON

Technically, this is a re-re-review, because I saw this when it was originally released in 1982, then again in 2009 in anticipation of the sequel, TRON: Legacy, and again just now, in the year 2023.

It holds up! I’ve seen comments about how the plot is nonsensical or difficult to follow, but it’s really not. If you listen to what the characters say, they provide all the details you need. Basically, the programs need to blow up the Master Control Program (MCP) to clear the name of real-world Flynn’s, and to free all the programs being held under the MCP’s giant virtual thumb, so they can work for their users again. It’s basically a quest to defeat the Evil Wizard, but in a mainframe.

The dialog and exposition can be a bit clunky at time, and the religious references seem a little weird, like an idea not really fleshed out, and you really do need to just give yourself over to the whole system of metaphors they use to depict the inner world of the computer and programs. But if you get past these things, everything else holds up surprisingly well, more than 40 years later.

The good guys are earnest, particularly Bruce Boxleitner’s Tron character. The MCP is a complete bastard right from the start, gleefully blackmailing Dillinger in the real world and literally torturing his counterpart Sark to keep him in line in the virtual one. His dismissive “End of line” when he’s done speaking is awesome.

Jeff Bridges, who was in his early 30s, looks incredibly young and plays Flynn with the breezy goofiness that says this is Jeff Bridges.

The electronic score (with some orchestral parts done at the insistence of Disney) is perfectly pitched at capturing the otherworldly feeling of Tron. Its main theme is one I have been able to recall easily since first hearing it in 1982. The video game-inspired sound effects are also deployed to terrific effect, with buzzes, burbles and blips underscoring how different this world is, yet being perfectly suited to it.

And of course, the visuals. In 1982 CGI was new, expensive and labour-intensive. Stuff that can be rendered on a home computer today in minutes took hours for a single frame back then. And still, two things really stand out for me: The design of the CG world, and especially the vehicles, and how the simplicity of everything is actually a strength rather than a liability. Today, everything could be rendered in far greater detail, but in a way that would take away from the virtual verisimilitude. The simple clean lines and curves of the light cycles, or the minimalist design of the tanks makes them fit into this stark world of lines and shapes, pulsing with light. A denser, more sophisticated look would probably have been distracting. The people behind TRON had limited resources, but used them to great effect.

I give TRON 4 out of 5 glowing discs.

The Black Hole: Not quite a review

The Cygnus, full of surprises and murder bots.

I saw The Black Hole originally in 1979, when I was 15 years old. I thought it was great. I bought the novel!

I never read the novel.

I wonder if I still have it stuffed in a box somewhere?

Last year, I watched the movie again on Disney+. I think it was the first time I had seen it all the way through since 1979. It’s goofy and weird, very un-Disney in many ways. I suspect it got the green light due to the success of Star Wars, but at its core, it’s actually more of a horror/fantasy film dressed up in science fiction clothes.

Yesterday, I saw a YouTube video about it and thought, “I’ll just watch the opening sequence” and ended up watching the entire movie again and going to bed late. And it’s not even a good movie, really.

This isn’t a review, as such, but I wanted to collect some thoughts on the movie while it was fresh in my mind. This may be a bit scattershot!

  • The film starts with a black screen while music plays over it for about two minutes. I have no idea why. Are they trying to set the mood? Are they showing just how black a black hole really is?
  • They obviously had no actual visual reference for a black hole in 1979, but I like to think they could have come up with something better than what appears to be blue water swirling down a kitchen sink drain.
  • I like that they did some scenes in zero gravity, even if it looks a little goofy. There’s at least a pretense to realism here.
  • The cast is chock-full of big stars, very unusual for any Disney pic back then.
  • Maximilian Schell is great. I love his giant mop of hair and intense gaze. I also like that the killer robot also has the same name.
  • Speaking of the robots, it’s super obvious that none of them are made of metal, though they are obviously supposed to be. Vincent and BOB come off the worst here, each of them looking like painted wooden toys. With lasers.
  • And speaking of lasers they have this satisfying sound that is like a thunky pew-pew.
  • The scene with Vincent and BOB playing what amounts to a video game with the menacing former head robot is just weird. I’m not sure why it’s even in the movie. Maybe they felt they built all these cool robots, they were going to use them, dammit!
  • The Cygnus is an amazing ship design. It’s been described as a cathedral in space. If they ever did a remake, the ships need to be miniature models, not CGI. Get Chris Nolan to direct, he’s totally into that stuff.
  • The special effects are all over the place in terms of quality. The matte paintings (of which the film had roughly a billion) are for the most part excellent. The meteor tumbling down the interior of the ship could pass for an FX shot made today. But other stuff, notably most of the green screen work, is terrible, like they either ran out of money for those shots, or handed them over to an intern who never got hired on full-time.
  • The score (by Bond composer John Barry) is as weird as so many other things in this film. During action scenes, the score picks up, but it doesn’t really reflect the action, it’s just bombastic music.
  • I love how Schell scolds the robot like a misbehaving child after it slices and dices Anthony Perkins’ character. “Maximilian, you shouldn’t have done that!” Maybe this is where J.J. Abrams got the idea to name his company Bad Robot.
  • I love the initial mystery of discovering a ship that’s been missing for 20 years, hanging out next to a black hole without getting sucked into it. Alien (released the same year!) has the same kind of vibe in its early scenes, but with a lot more swearing.
  • The ending is still totally bonkers no matter how many times I see it. Schell and Maximilian appear to embrace while floating in space, then, uh, merge? So now Schell is inside Maximilian, his eyes looking about frantically from inside the robot’s visor as it stands on a rocky spire in…hell? Then there’s a long glass hallway (?), an angel (?) and suddenly the surviving members of the Palomino crew are A-OK and heading peacefully toward a shiny planet somewhere on the other side of the black hole. If they do a remake, I’d love to see how they’d handle the ending, though I suspect it would end up being a lot more conventional.

Is The Black Hole a good movie? No. It feels like it wants to be a bunch of different things–a fantasy epic, a horror film, a disaster movie, and the science fiction part is kind of bolted on. It’s an odd, uneven mix.

But the design is fantastic, the effects, though mixed, generally hold up, and the initial mystery is captivating. After that, the film gets a bit thin, and it’s only Schell’s scenery-chewing, the ever-present threat of what will Maximilian do, and Roddy McDowell making pithy remarks that really keeps you interested. And I’ll give a few points to the general destruction of the Cygnus as it drifts to its doom.

Why did I sit through the entire movie again, though? I really can’t say. I will ponder this.

Movie review: Deep Impact

Yes, here I am reviewing a movie a mere 24 years after release!

NOTE: Spoilers ahoy if that matters to you.

Deep Impact is the “emotional” (I’m using Netflix’s word here) giant space object threatening Earth movie that came out in 1998. The other one and the #1 movie of that same year was Armageddon, which I’ve only seen the last 20 minutes of for some reason (it did not inspire me to watch the previous 120 or whatever minutes). Armageddon takes a more hands-on approach to its giant space object destruction, while Deep Impact actually reserves the disaster porn for the very end (spoilers!)

My summary would be: This was fine, but the investment in the characters just wasn’t there for me. I mean, none of them seemed like horrible people or anything, I just felt no real connection to them because the movie jumps from scene to scene quickly and features a fairly large cast of characters. It also has these weird tonal shifts where it goes from a hammy TV movie vibe to something more grounded and sober.

The score was distracting and nearly ever-present. This was probably the best example I’ve seen (heard) in a long time of a movie telling you how you should feel. THIS IS SAD. THIS IS EXCITING. THIS IS SCARY. THIS IS SAD. If there had been a score mute switch, I would have used it. EDIT: I looked at the credits and the score was by James Horner, who I usually like! Or so I thought. Anyway, I stand by my assertion that the score was heavy-handed all to heck and back.

The cast was strangely unremarkable. No one stood out, everyone just blended in. I mean, you can’t top Morgan Freeman as the President (ten years before Obama would win), but he didn’t really do much other than make speeches on TV and look presidential (remember how high a bar that was just a few years ago?)

The opening sequence, with (spoilers) Charles Martin Smith’s character getting early warning of the doomsday comet, was completely unnecessary, since it has no bearing on the rest of the plot. It was cute watching him type “Connect to server” to try to email his findings, but the server was down, ono. So then he copied the info onto a floppy disk (all of this is lovingly shown as it’s so very hi-tech and all), tosses it into a manila envelope, then dashes off in his Jeep down the long, scary mountain road to deliver the news.

Why he never used a phone is not explained.

Anyway, he and a driver of a big rig both coincidentally become distracted at the exact same moment, there is a collision and the Jeep goes tumbling down the mountain, exploding like it was carrying several tons of TNT, and the information is lost.

Again, this has no effect AT ALL on the rest of the movie. The movie picks up a year later, they still have had enough time to build a spaceship (spoiler) to plant nukes on the comet and divert it (spoiler). I have no idea why the scene with Smith was included. It’s like someone wrote an early draft and this scene accidentally got left in the shooting script.

The movie does pick up as the comet nears and every plan to get it out of the way fails. It looks bad, and there are noble sacrifices to save babies and kids. The spaceship crew, led by crusty old Robert Duvall, sacrifices themselves in order to nuke the larger chunk of the comet. It’s not explained why this works perfectly and failed totally when they did it earlier and just split the comet into two pieces, a little one and a big one. But with only a little chunk, the death toll is reduced to mere millions instead of becoming an Extinction Level Event (ELE), life goes on, and President Freeman gets to make a speech at what appears to be a terrible matte painting of the Washington Capitol under (re)construction and the babies will go on to grow up and post reminisces on TikTok or something.

Also, Freeman’s second to last speech is a bummer because he says the US and Russian missiles failed to stop the comet (this was when Russia was almost viewed as a good guy–again, how times change!) but now they know where the pieces will hit, and the little one is going into the Atlantic, so goodbye US east coast! The effects here are perfectly serviceable and relatively restrained compared to, say, 2012, but the scene in which Elijah Wood, his new wife and his new wife’s mother’s baby are literally running up a hill to escape the massive tidal wave reminded me of people trying to outrun the deadly cold in The Day After Tomorrow. This is not a good comparison.

Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10 asteroids nuking the dinosaurs into oblivion, Deep Impact rates 6 asteroids.

Mini movie re-reviews: Star Trek: Into Darkness, Close Encounter of the Third Kind

I’ve actually watched a few movies recently, perhaps finally feeling the pangs of not seeing a movie in a theater since March 2020 (it was Onward, which was on Disney+ by the end of the month as all movie theaters shut down for pandemic fun times). Now, I don’t actually miss seeing movies in theaters (hell is other people), but movies themselves? Yeah. And I’d been wanting to indulge in some science fiction. It didn’t even have to be good. Which leads me to my first mini re-review:

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013): I mostly remembered this one as being inferior to the 2009 remake origin story, and it still is. There is plenty of silliness to be had, from re-purposing bits from the original Khan storyline to no good effect (the Spock/Kirk death reversal, which lands with an utter thud), Khan now a supremely white Benedict Cumberbatch (though he is wonderfully slimy and weird in the role) and once again using improbable devices to propel the plot forward, like having all the Starfleet bigwigs conveniently meet in a room lined with huge windows and completely vulnerable to attack (guess what happens next?!)

Still, J.J. Abrams is adept at keeping the action rolling, and there is plenty here. This is basically an action movie in sci-fi clothing. There is also some nice interplay between the cast members (I could watch Karl Urban as McCoy all day long) and everyone just seems to be having a good time in their roles. The effects are big and loud and very Abrams.

In the end it’s not a bad movie per se, even though there are any number of weak points, but this is a case where Abrams’ approach of “more is more” somehow manages to hold together till the end.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Director’s Cut (1977): Spielberg wanted to fix some issues with the original film and asked the studio for money. They agreed with one condition–that he show inside the mothership. He reluctantly agreed, giving us the “special edition” of the movie. That’s also included on the Blu-ray I have, but I skipped it in favor of the Director’s cut, which is essentially Spielberg’s fixes, but with the mothership interior rightfully cut.

Some effects, particularly the matte work and the painfully obvious set that comprises the mountain road where the police chase a group of UFOs, do not hold up very well, but this movie is now 44 years old, so I’m willing to cut it some slack. Other effects still hold up decently and the mothership’s arrival at Devil’s Tower is still spectacular.

There’s a lot of very Spielberg stuff here–the camera dollying in to a character (or out), overlapping dialogue, quirky people who feel real, not out of Casting 101. There’s also something almost painfully authentic about the domestic scenes involving Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and his family. In one early scene, one of the boys climbs into the daughter’s playpen in the living room and starts bashing apart a doll on the rail. Why? Because that’s the kind of mindless, attention-seeking destruction kids engage in. It’s great.

You can quibble with some actions of the aliens–Spielberg is clearly more interested in setting a mood than being logical, but the moods he creates work so well–from the subtle horror of screws on a floor vent unscrewing themselves and toys coming to life, to the child-like wonder of watching the mothership interact musically with the scientists gathered at the Devil’s Tower landing site.

This is also a very 70s movie. The pace is deliberate at times. There is no build-up to a final big action scene. The story ends gently, and there are no real villains. It presents the idea of aliens wanting a kind of cultural exchange. It’s hopeful and just nice.

Also, despite coming only two years after Jaws, the fashions hold up much better than you might expect. Maybe the 70s have just become hip (or groovy) again.

Movie review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

This was a bad movie and a bad Star Wars movie.

I was excited when it was announced that Lucas had sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney. Disney has been making extremely competent pop movies for awhile now, so I was confident they would do a good job here–and better than Lucas had with the prequel trilogy.

(To give Lucas credit, for all the problems the prequels had, there is a defining vision that underlies all three movies, and each builds on the other. This leaves aside the quality of execution and a lot of curious design choices, but the vision was there.)

So in 2015 we get The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams is the director and I actually felt at the time that he was a good choice–Star Wars is big, kid-friendly fluff and with a good script and cast, it’s the kind of thing Abrams can do well. The Force Awakens borrows copiously from the original Star Wars and sometimes it works and sometimes it’s a little eye-rolling (please please please no more Death Stars or Death Star substitutes), but the new characters are engaging and fun to watch and it feels like Star Wars. Everything you want is there.

The Last Jedi is more like a modern Star Wars–less fluffy, more gritty, with more consequences. It deliberately plays against some of the established tropes, even as it copies beats from The Empire Strikes Back. By the end I was wondering how the rebellion would come back in the third movie after being reduced to what seemed like a room full of people by the end. Ho ho, if I had only known.

And then we have The Rise of Skywalker, or Star Wars as Written By a 15 Year Old Star Wars Nerd.

There are things I liked. The effects were nice. The cast, although let down by a generally awful script, remain fun to watch. Ian McDiarmid still chews scenery with unbridled glee. Some of the light saber fights were entertaining (I especially liked the one on the wreck of the Death Star, with Rey clearly fatigued).

But everything else ranged from okay to just bad. Oh, so bad.

The scenes with Leia felt awkward, because all of her dialog was generic (for obvious reasons). I would have preferred they recast her role for the final movie or just not featured her character at all (have her join with the force in an early scene or something).

Rey turns out to be the granddaughter of Palpatine instead of a scrappy scavenger who just happens to turn out awesome. Bleah.

And the lineage of Rey underlines my central complaint with the film (apart from its relentless pacing, which was more exhausting than thrilling): The Rise of Skywalker is stuffed full of plot devices that are made just for this film, that have not been built on or even mentioned in previous movies. The stakes feel non-existent because everything is just thrown at the viewer out of nowhere.

  • The Emperor somehow survives or gets cloned, despite last seen falling down some giant shaft in a Death Star that exploded seemingly minutes later. But this is actually not the dumbest thing in the movie. Palpatine’s resurrection would have worked a lot better–along with the whole “I’m stuffed full of Sith, haha!” thing–if it had been set up from the first movie and played out over all three.
  • Hyperspace skipping or whatever it was called. Why? So dumb. The last jump should have had them slam into the wall of a canyon and die, ending the movie early and saving everyone a lot of time.
  • If General Redhead had held up a sign, Wile E. Coyote-style, that said “I’m the spy!” it would not have been any more dumb than him blurting it out the way he did. It would have been better, really. Also, why did he believe Kylo Ren had to be stopped? Why did he say he didn’t care who won? Why was his character sacrificed for this dubious plot? And who was the grumpy old man who shot him? Like so many things in this movie, grumpy old man is just there with no explanation.
  • Abrams, never a master of subtlety, decides to give every Star Destroyer the ability to literally destroy stars. Or planets. Why? As Poe says, “Sure, why not?” Because it’s so cool (if you are a 15 year old Star Wars nerd).
  • Speaking of, I literally rolled my eyes when the surprise fleet of ten million ships magically shows up at the final battle. Very good timing there. Good thing it was telegraphed heavily multiple times beforehand, so it wouldn’t seem at all like an actual surprise. I’ll pretend the boy sweeping at the end of The Last Jedi was on one of those ten million ships.
  • Finn keeps saying he wants to say something, then he never says it. WHY?! It’s the last movie, have him say it! There is not going to be a Finn spinoff series, sorry.
  • Rey kissing Kylo at the end was sort of grossbuckets.
  • Rey proclaiming herself Rey Skywalker at the end also made me roll my eyes.
  • Space horses.
  • The new droid should have had a price tag on it, since its only purpose was to enhance merchandising.
  • Did I mention the pacing? The movie never slowed down and ended up feeling shapeless, just careening from one action scene to another, with tiny bits of character moments squeezed in-between.
  • Rose is reduced to almost a cameo for no apparent (or good) reason.

On the plus side, they couldn’t think of a way to bring back Jabba the Hutt or have someone frozen in carbonite. If only J.J. Abrams had been frozen in carbonite.

Anyway, this was a disappointing end to what could have been a great trilogy. I’ll conclude by damning it with faint praise: for all its excesses, missed opportunities and general level of dumb-even by Star Wars standards–it was still better than Solo.


The Matrix 20 years later -or- lol CRTs

I watched The Matrix again recently, having not seen it in its entirety since it originally came out in 1999. Some of the effects are a bit dated-looking now, but the bullet time and all that still looks spiffy.

The funniest part was Morpheus explaining that it was around 2199 in the movie, though Neo believes (as others in the matrix do) that it is 1999. You may be puzzled to discover that in 2199 we have touchscreen displays, but they all run on giant CRT monitors.

While I still enjoyed the movie, it almost felt a little too lean, because Neo’s journey from “I am totally not The One” to “I am totally The One and can fly like motherf’n Superman” seems a bit abrupt. Also Trinity falls in love with him for no apparent reason, as per The Oracle’s prophecy.

I am not really sure what to expect from the just-announced fourth Matrix movie, starring Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss, especially since the latter’s character died in the third one. But I’m expecting the CRTs to at least be updated to flat panels.

(Don’t) Go Solo

I watched Solo tonight on Netflix so you don’t have to.

Haha, no. It wasn’t that bad. But it really wasn’t very good, either. Here are my thoughts in list form:

  • I’m glad I didn’t pay full price to see this in a theater
  • Aiden Ehrenreich was okay, but really didn’t have much to work with, and didn’t feel at all like the same character Harrison Ford played
  • Not enough Lando
  • Lando’s emotional attachment to L3 (a droid) was kind of weird
  • Never have a character talk about how predictable everyone is in a movie that is predictable
  • Competent special effects but few that had any real “wow” factor
  • The fan service bits weren’t as overbearing as in the prequels, but they were still bad
  • We get it, any band in a Star Wars movie needs to be really weird and alien
  • The movie started out slow, almost dull
  • Han is supposed to be a great pilot, but we are literally never shown this until he is suddenly forced to fly the Falcon
  • The tone was way too dark for a character who is a lovable rogue
  • We don’t need a backstory on the name Solo
  • Bring back the opening title crawl
  • If they still go ahead and make a Boba Fett movie, I will be very cross
  • It ends hinting at a sequel. Ha, fat chance.

Deadpool, false alarms and free movies

I saw Deadpool last night. I knew just enough about the character and movie to properly calibrate my expectations (vulgar, gory over-the-top violence, irreverent) and was pleased to find the movie was, in its own vulgar, gory and irreverent way, quite charming and at times pretty funny. Ryan Reynolds obviously has affection for the character/material and had a great time making the film–and it shows. As a bonus, you get to see him nude. As a special bonus, you even get to see his naughty bits. As penance for this, you see them after he has been transformed into a hideously ugly mutant.

About a quarter of the way through the movie a pair of small white lights began flashing, one on either side of the movie screen. It seemed like an alarm of some kind. Presumably they don’t have real alarms (the kind that pierce ear drums) to prevent that whole “yelling fire’ in a theater effect. I ignored it for a bit and then Nic finally said we should check it out so we went to the lobby and immediately got word that it was a fire alarm, but a false one. We returned to our seats and the lights kept flashing, which was more annoying now that we knew there was no inferno imminent.

A few minutes later a pair of employees came in and one gamely tried talking over the movie’s audio (Deadpool is not a film that employs subtlety in its audio–or any other part) and we got the gist: an apology for the alarm and an offer for a full refund or free pass.

After they left the film suddenly froze. It’s a digital projector so I’m wondering if the hard drive crashed. Would we get to see the world’s largest BSOD? No, it turned out they were setting the movie back to just before the disruption. I actually caught a piece of dialogue I had missed the first time.

When the movie ended we filed past someone who did indeed give us a pair of free passes (good until December 31, 2017, so good for the release of Episode VIII). We’ll likely use them for Zootopia, one of those anthropomorphic Disney moves that looks way better in the previews than it has any right to.

Overall, the disruption was relatively minor, didn’t detract from the experience (Deadpool is pretty much the perfect movie to experience a false fire alarm in) and we got a free movie out of it. I rate the evening 6 out of 7 Ryan Reynold’s fourth wall-breaking comments.

Movie review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Hey, there’s a new Star Wars movie out. You may have heard about it, possibly.

Released twelve days ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already made over $600 million domestically. Even taking into account ticket price inflation, that’s an impressive figure. Ten years after Lucas wrapped up his prequel trilogy with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, there’s apparently quite an appetite for more Star Wars movies.

I’m not going to ramble on since the Internet is already stuffed to the gills with reviews of the movie, but I will offer a few of my own thoughts.

I saw the original Star Wars when I was 12 years old. It was magical and awesome. I’d never seen a movie like it before. When Return of the Jedi came out in 1983 I paid to see it four times, something I’d never done before and have never done again since. I loved Star Wars and its flaws and imperfections didn’t bother me in the slightest, even as I acknowledged them.

When Lucas decided to make Episodes I-III I was excited. I’d have preferred Episodes VII-IX since we already knew Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, but still, new Star Wars!

As it turned out, whatever Lucas captured for the original three movies largely eluded him for the prequels, which were flat, poorly-directed, bloated with overly busy effects, featured embarrassing fan service and had one of the worst movie romances ever.

The biggest criticism I might level at The Force Awakens is that it largely uses the template of the first movie, swapping in new characters for the same general roles. But this is a minor nit, because it is done well and serves as a way to relaunch the movie series, not just for people who didn’t grow up with the original trilogy, but especially for those who did.

I suspected J.J. Abrams would be a better fit for Star Wars than Star Trek and he is. Reining in his excesses, he ably directs a cast that is diverse, smart and appealing. The script is rather sharp for a Star Wars film. The whole thing moves relentlessly, but finds the right places to breathe before picking up the action again. The fan service is tolerable–in stark contrast to what Abrams did in Star Trek–and Harrison Ford, who plays a surprisingly large part in the film, perfectly recaptures the character of Han Solo. And BB-8 is adorable.

Really, the major achievement here–apart from the stellar work done by the young cast that will carry the series forward–is that this feels like a Star Wars film in a way the prequels never really did. It’s ironic that it took people other than Lucas to rediscover and recapture what made the original trilogy work so well.

Now I just have to wait impatiently for Episode VIII.

Movie review: The Martian

I don’t review movies much anymore but I’m offering a quick one for The Martian:

Go see it.

Based on the self-published book of the same name, this is a smart, funny and even touching movie that is grounded in believable science, telling the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and the effort to rescue him. The cast is diverse and enjoyable, the script respects the intelligence of the audience and the visuals are as lush as you’d expect in a Ridley Scott film.

I can now forgive Scott for Prometheus.

Movie review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Nic and I wanted to go watch some mindless spectacle so we settled on Oz the Great and Powerful. This is a great example of a movie filled with CGI for its own sake. So much of the movie looked fake–deliberately so in the case of the backgrounds, which were callouts to the look of the original Wizard of Oz–and was distracting because of it. Just because you can CGI a bunch of butterflies doesn’t mean you should.

James Franco was okay as Oz but lacks the presence the role needs. When he smiles he looks like a goofy kid, not an oily con man. Michelle Williams did what she could with the role of Glinda but had weird eye makeup or something that made it look like she was always on the verge of weeping. Plus I’d just seen her again in Brokeback Mountain and was half-expecting Ennis to show up and ask her how she could afford that g-damn fancy dress she was wearing.

The battle between Evanora and Glinda at the end of the movie was wholly unnecessary and brought to mind the Gandalf/Saruman fight–not a flattering comparison. And Evanora obviously went to the Emperor Palpatine School of Discipline.

The flying monkeys were baboons and didn’t look as scary as Zach Braff (human or monkey form). Disappointing.

Overall I found it mediocre but not entirely objectionable, like eating a bag of chips that aren’t your favorite flavor. You’d miss nothing by waiting to catch it on video.

It made $80 million this weekend.