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Enemy Mine is one of my all-time favorite films. In my opinion, it’s Wolfgang Petersen’s best film period. I think I first saw it when I was in high school but I probably saw bits and pieces long before that. It was a film that would come on TV every so often and I’d catch it and watch it from wherever it was to the end. I think I’ve seen the whole movie start to finish maybe twice before this latest time, which inspired me to write this piece about it.

When you think about a kid watching this closer to when it came out (1985, a year before I was born), it’s easy to see why it would have an impact. It’s a survival story set on a well-realized alien world. It feels a little like an extended Star Trek episode, like that one where they keep saying “Shaka, When the Walls Fell”. I’m sure this was even an inspiration for that episode, which is a classic. It also has a little Star Wars as well, with some whiz bang action and gadgets and lived-in approach to design. There are interesting creatures, danger, discovery, and interesting life lessons along the way.

As an adult, Enemy Mine feels rich with meaning way beyond its aesthetics. I think I’ve seen this film with a different lens every time I’ve sat down with it and it’s always had something to offer. That, to me, is the hallmark of a great film, especially one that trades in ideas.

So I think I’m going to talk about that. The different ways you can read this film and its relevance to problems and ideas we’re still struggling with. This might feel a little different than one of my usual reviews, but more in step with the kind of writing I’ve been doing lately. Stick around if that sounds good. Read the rest of this entry »

In Part 1 I talked about what I thought was the best way for the MCU to introduce the X-Men and their universe.

In Part 2 I talked about about casting Wolverine.

Also, brief housekeeping note: when I was talking about Marvel’s willingness to double up on actors occasionally I also forgot about the best recent example, Mahershala Ali coming back as Blade after dying in Luke Cage!

Now we move on to more casting. This time we’ll get into Xavier and Magneto. Read the rest of this entry »

Last time, which was yesterday, I decribed the reasons I think Deadpool is the perfect vehicle to get the X-Verse into the MCU. This has two obvious scenarios: use the same technique that Deadpool and Deadpool 2 did (fold them in with no fanfare, just act as if they were always there) or using the Deadpool Spice, namely irreverence for the very idea of constructing barriers between universes, continuities, etc. The visual equivalent is that very meme of Deadpool riding Iron Man through the sky. Only it’s more likely to be Spider-Man or Cable (good way to keep Brolin in the MCU).

My conclusion was that I’d prefer them to just act like X-Men were always around, maybe slightly hidden… but I think they are more likely to hand-wave it in spectacular fashion using Deadpool. That’s of course leaving aside the most likely of all scenarios: that they will do an origin film or origin story in another MCU film that makes more an event out of the X-Men coming into the picture. One popular theory is that Wanda Maximoff will basically create mutants. There are some cool and plausible reasons to think this and if WandaVision shapes up like it sounds like it will, it’s probably the most likely way to go.

But is it the best? Nah, I don’t think so. The only real reason being that it’s a harder tightrope to walk. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or won’t try to do it, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean they won’t pull it off. You don’t really get far betting against the MCU. Read the rest of this entry »

Speculation is fun. It’s why prediction articles or essays are so popular. I saw one today by Movie Bob and it was about the X-Men and how Marvel/Disney might handle introducing and developing them in the MCU. Consuming ancillary media is something I try not to overdo but one of my guilty pleasures is speculation, the more baseless and outside the box the better. Bob Chipman does this kind of thing on the regular and has just enough world-weary acceptance of it as a part of his job that his actual nerdy enthusiasm is tempered only a little. Mostly it’s just harmless fun and that’s how it should be taken.

So let’s have some of our own, eh? What follows will be some discussion about direction, casting, etc that I have actual opinions or ideas about. I think I’ll do a few of these focusing on different things. If people like it and let me know, I may consider doing other series like this down the road.

Bob’s video is a big inspiration since it is a decent enough guidepost on where things currently stand, but this is not any kind of argument I’m trying to have. Nor is it a direct commentary on that video, it just feels wrong not to mention it since this article is basically my takes on some of the same stuff. This also isn’t really new for me, I’ve done this sort of thing before with my Mass Effect series. This won’t be anywhere near as thorough but I should really write an updated version of that for the 2020s some day. Got a lot to say about the casting especially. I’ll get to it if I get to it. Read the rest of this entry »

I didn’t even realize back when I wrote my Ad Astra review that this blog is almost ten years old. This summer, it will be. That’s a bit to process because it doesn’t feel like it’s been ten years. I don’t feel all that different and yet I’m a vastly different person than I was in 2010. Oh well, time marches on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Get used to homeboy’s face. You’re gonna be seeing it a lot.

The one that pulls me in after so much inactivity is Ad Astra, the no-bullshit best film I’ve seen in 2019. Why I think it’s so good has a lot to do with personal connections I made to its unexpectedly intimate, human-scaled story and themes. That’s the kind of thing that gets glossed over in big reviews, where describing the plot and “feel” of the movie, usually in terms of other movies, is more common. You’ve heard that Ad Astra has within it the DNA of a variety of science fiction films, particularly space-heavy ones. That’s totally true, but I think writer-director James Gray intended this to not be a shallow list of familiar things. Instead, I think it’s supposed to be a dialogue. Space movies are usually about certain things and they almost always further certain myths or narratives about human life and purpose. Ad Astra is in dialogue with all of that and even subverts much of it. That’s worth the analysis, so I hope you’re here for it.

For others, who are more interested in what type of movie this is, long before I get deep into the spoilers that will help me parse it, I have this to say: Ad Astra is basically a prequel to The Expanse in terms of its world-building and larger thematic concerns. If you like that show, you will probably like this although its a rather big caveat that this film’s story and therefore its cast of characters is much narrower and more focused than something like The Expanse, which is sociological science fiction. Ad Astra is probably best understood as psychological in distinction. It owes a lot to films like Apocalypse Now for its deeper structural influences, or even Event Horizon for some (superficial) plot similarities. It’s very much like a better Interstellar, addressing one of that film’s many themes with a lot more clarity and focus. It never feels at odds with itself the way that one did.

Without spoiling it, I hope, I feel like it’s important for viewers to know that they’re supposed to wonder how far into the supernatural Ad Astra plans to go, because that too is a bit of dialogue that James Gray is having with our expectations for this type of film. But it’s not cheeky about it. Gray is totally in good faith here. Just try and keep that in mind. This is a film best met where it is.

AD SPOILERSA

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Just a man and a fish.

Serenity is a movie I liked more for what it tried to do than for the grace with which it accomplished it. I mean, it’s really not a graceful movie at all and that’s a big part of the reason why it got dumped in January and torn up by just about everyone who’s seen it.

But does it really deserve all the dismissive chuckling? Kind of. It’s so committed to its premise and parameters that it isn’t really in on the extent to which it’s hard to take seriously. There is a lot of bonkers in this movie. A boat load. But at the heart of it, there’s something else too.

I like the noir genre a lot and at its best, Serenity is a pretty good (sunny and sweat-soaked) rendition. It’s got a femme fatale, an ego-tripping criminal villain, and a hard-boiled seeker of truth at the center. Writer-Director Steven Knight is no stranger to crime stories with a healthy dose of noir. He’s better known for Peaky Blinders than for writing or directing movies (though he also has the very good Locke and Eastern Promises on his resume). So if that’s all this movie was going to be, I do think reactions would be different. Still, it’s not like what happens later erases this part of the film. It still works, for most of the running time, as a contemporary noir. But then it all gets really, really weird about halfway through. Liking this movie at all pretty much depends on whether you’re willing to take its weirdness for what it is, let alone meeting it on its own terms.

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Sometimes you have a couple of ideas and you want to mash them up and it seems like it’ll be cool. Then it turns out that it was a terrible idea. Just ask George Lucas about the Star Wars prequels, which tried to be space fantasy and an essay on the decay of democracy and rise of fascism (prescient but terrible). It maybe could have worked, I can almost see the movie(s) where it would have. Robin Hood is exactly like that. It wants to be a pseudo-medieval action movie and an essay on vaguely contemporary British politics (including wars abroad, wealth inequality, and anti-immigration sentiment). And again, I can almost see the movie that would have managed to make these ideas work together.

But this isn’t it.

There’s something like two-dozen movies about Robin Hood going back to fucking 1908. I’ve seen my fair share and this one is the worst of them all. Which is a feat considering it hasn’t even been 10 years since the last one and that one was pretty bad too.

Why is this one so bad? Well, for one thing it’s a rip-off of The Dark Knight. To a pretty stunning extent. But people have talked about that. More essential is that it’s functionally a superhero movie, but can’t decide whether it’s grim and gritty (like Nolan’s Batman films) or a more swash-buckling throwback. It kind of tries to be both, sometimes within the same scene, and the result is jarring at best. It’s also very, very stupid. And not in the fun way, where charm is either the result or the thing that gets it over. Robin Hood has no charm, just a bunch of poorly motivated set-pieces where the fairly competent action is too often ruined by over-the-top special effects and sequences over-edited and over-designed to the point where all cohesion is basically lost. The story is fundamentally confused about its own themes and sources of inspiration. Plus, the production design is just a mess. Read the rest of this entry »

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I mean, it’s still kind of miraculous that this movie even happened.

Let’s get something out of the way first: Glass is bad. This isn’t going to be one of those apologia type reviews where I try to justify a poorly-executed, messy movie on behalf of its noble ideas, creative ambition, or whatever. Glass has some really solid moments and I’d even say the first half feels like it’s leading to a satisfying conclusion to what must be one of the most unlikely trilogies in cinematic history. Logistically, this movie is a complete anomaly since two studios had to share IP for it to even happen. Individual moments and scenes work well, and there’s a lot of fascinating junk hidden in the mess of it. Thing is, I don’t think it’s the stuff we are supposed to be interested in. So as usual, Shyamalan has made a fascinatingly bad movie. That’s not the worst thing that can happen. However, he also continues his long streak of not playing to his strengths and refusing to leave well enough alone. And I don’t mean that to say that this movie should never have been made. I mean letting a movie be a story strong enough to stand on its own and deliver themes and subtext by its own lights. Watching Glass is almost like dealing with a backseat driver, Shyamalan is always there over your shoulder or behind the screen to grab at that steering wheel. It’s like the guy can’t help himself.

Some context. I love Unbreakable and I did so from day one. That movie was under-seen when it was released but quickly found appreciation among its (possibly unintentional) target audience, if not mainstream moviegoers. It was a different time. Something as meta, deconstructive, and referential as Unbreakable probably seemed strange in an era before the tropes and textures of comic book superhero movies became commonplace. And like all good deconstruction, Unbreakable was able to make a case for the stuff in comic book superhero movies that is valuable in a more realistic context. Back then, 19 whole fucking years ago, comic books were still pretty fringe. 2000 was the same year that the so-so X-Men arrived as a new attempt to make comic book superhero movies palatable. While that one hasn’t aged well, it did launch an ensuing 19 years worth of X-Men and related movies that have a continuity, series of switch-backs, and retcons that are definitely worthy of their comic book origins on a structural level — if not exactly ever as high quality (with the notable exceptions of Logan and Deadpool) as anyone hoped for.

As for M. Night Shyamalan, it’s pretty much impossible for me to talk about this movie without spending about as much time talking about the dude who made it. It’s too personal a work to do otherwise. I consider myself a fan of his earlier work. That excludes his first two movies, Wide Awake and Praying with Anger as I’ve never seen them. When he broke out into Hollywood and mainstream success with Sixth Sense, I was too young to really see that movie or its maker in the grander context of cinema, but I knew it was special. Everybody did. Nowadays I tend to think it’s a bit overrated but that Unbreakable has definitely stood the test of time. I was a defender of Signs and The Village but really got off the train when Lady in the Water collided with it. Things were never really the same after that. I think a lot of us could relate to David Dunn, bewildered and disoriented like we’d alone survived the derailment that just kept going. For just about ten years now. A lot of people were hoping that Glass would be some kind of return to form. I even know a few people who totally believe it is. I disagree. I think it’s plagued by the same issues that were on display as early as Lady in the Water but in a slightly more cohesive and slightly less narcissistic package. But even that movie can stand alone as a story, I think. Shyamalan has always been overly engaged with his own celebrity, high on his own supply you might say. And starting with Lady in the Water there’s been a reflexive self-consciousness in his work that seems to keep manifesting as a plaintive cry to be taken seriously, to be some kind of game-changer, and for the meanie critics to just leave him alone. At least he had the good sense to make a character he doesn’t play the messiah this time around. Still found a way to stick himself in the movie, though, in a scene that everybody seems to agree is an indulgent waste of time.

This intro is running long but I’ll offer some more summary of my thoughts since that’s what I usually do. I think that Glass is a movie that says what it is all the way through, contriving and hand-holding and info-dumping its way to some semblance of meaning. There’s a long standing idea that art isn’t supposed to tell you how to think and feel about it, that real engagement relies on a less transmissive delivery mechanism. You’ll see people defending Glass from a literal position, with not much subtlety of thought, with direct quotes from it as a text, explaining away its narrative shortcomings by taking it all completely at face value. While this kind of literalism is actually pretty common in nerdy circles, it actively prevents or discourages a more sophisticated critical evaluation of a story. As poorly executed as this story is, it’s still fascinating enough to merit a better class of discourse then the same vapid repetition of its ideas that plague the movie’s dialogue.

At the risk of throwing too much shade on people who earnestly enjoyed Glass, I can’t help but fail to imagine the person who walks away from it satisfied. I’ve heard a few pretty good defenses of the movie by now, but I suspect that for most there’s a sunken cost issue here. Some maybe want to like Glass more than they actually do. Or maybe it’s just the current fixation on callback culture. If Glass is taken as roguish, it becomes a symbolic artifact for people who like just about anything that goes against “the grain”, even if “the grain” is wholly a product of their imagination. If you liked the movie and this doesn’t sound like you, fair enough. Take the above with a grain of salt. Still, I think it’s likely that many will revisit the movie and find themselves bored as they try to plumb its nonexistent depths, just as I think that I’ll revisit it and feel the same but only because the shock value of its twists can only work once and I will already know that the other shoe is about to drop.

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A strange mascot for a strange movie.

Lowlife is a couple years old now, but I missed it when it came out and was getting its share of buzz from some corners of the movie critic sphere. It’s a movie that I think is fairly off-putting at first but eventually becomes something not only interesting, but maybe overdue. See, after Grindhouse, it felt like there’d be a slew of films trying to capture some of that aesthetic and tone. I mean, there were some. Even some good ones, like the feature version of Hobo with a Shotgun. But they were rare and anyone hoping for a kind of revamping or update on the aesthetic has probably been mostly disappointed. Lowlife fulfills some of that exact potential.

One of the ways it does that is by playing against the shallow thrills and over the top cartoonishness that you’d expect from “this type” of movie. Even this movie itself, which invites you to think a lot less of it than it deserves. It pretend to be over the top when it’s really pretty grounded. It pretends its characters are cartoons when really they are well-drawn human beings. It’s pretty convincing about it, too. Like, I would forgive people who couldn’t quite follow the depth it eventually gains because it might seem kind of incongruous with the first third or so. That said, it’s exactly that depth which makes Lowlife a kick-ass movie. Read the rest of this entry »

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