Category: Movies

The fatal flaw in Crimes of Grindelwald

The fatal flaw in Crimes of Grindelwald

With Screen Actors Guild and Visual Effects Society voting for academy awards approaching, my family has been spending the last few days watching a lot of movie screeners we’ve been accruing. Hence my (not so) little review of Aquaman last night and my intent to do some more 2018 movie discussions this weekend.

Today we watched two movies with interesting points I wanted to talk about, but Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald wound up being a much more impassioned subject than I expected. So I think I’ll save Green Book for later.

Gotta split up my writing a little bit, get some mileage for my daily writings.

I’ll be focusing more on one specific point that I feel did this film and the themes it creates a huge disservice, so the post as a whole won’t be as much of a general ‘go see or don’t see’ review. Those elements will be there, but I’ll be a bit more open with spoilers and such.

So if that concerns you, you’ve been warned.

There’s no reason to hide the fact that I’ve always been a big Harry Potter fan. Grew up reading all the books with my Mom, and we’ve seen the movies together too.

I’m not exactly that super-fan who remembers each detail about the series, as that’s a kind of person I’ve met and felt pretty inadequate next to. But I am a huge fan all the same, and I’ve been excited to see Crimes of Grindelwald.

A lot of that excitement actually stems from the fact that I quite enjoyed the first Fantastic Beasts movie in its own right.

It had a very fun energy to examining wizards in America, rather than Britain, in the 1920’s. But that along wouldn’t have carried the movie quite as well without Eddie Redmayne taking the helm as Newt Scamander.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always something charming about the copacetic magic of Daniel Radcliffe and his friends evolving from innocent school kids to warriors in a world-changing duel against wizard Hitler.

But after eight movies following those kids, it was pretty refreshing to watch someone new, and Redmayne was definitely something new and refreshing.

I actually don’t think I fully understood what was so nice about his character until I watched this video by the Pop Culture Detective about the actor’s more nontraditional take on a usually hyper-masculine hero archetype and how it goes to enrich the movie’s themes.

I’d highly recommend watching that, because it puts some nice perspective into what made Newt’s hijinx-filled journey through New York so fun.

Crimes of Grindelwald takes things in a vastly different direction than the original Fantastic Beasts. From the first few moments Newt is present, it’s revealed that the fun adventure in Fantastic Beasts was all in service of a young Albus Dumbledore (played fairly well by Jude Law) trying to get the protagonist involved in a fight against Johnny Depp’s older wizard Hitler, Grindelwald.

The second movie takes on a far darker tone and digs way deeper into the lore of the universe (much like the later Harry Potter stories), and this tonal shift colors the first with an interesting bit of hindsight.

Depp’s character perfectly highlights the weird and uncomfortable air this change creates. He’s sometimes doing a goofy Jack Sparrow-esque routine of glancing into windows wide-eyed, but those moments happen concurrently with scenes where he and his people are slaughtering families.

I wasn’t sure I liked the dichotomy being played out until later scenes came up that showed how his almost goofier, more relatable side makes him an enticing figure in the wizarding world, the kind of leader people will follow no matter how monstrous his means to an end are.

It plays well into the rise of fascism undercurrent to the movie (which conveniently takes place before World War II and uses the impending war as a plot device), and in the end I loved the way every character’s story weaved in.

… Except for one of them, which became such a problem for me that I’d almost say it ruined a significant chunk of the movie.

Ezra Miller’s Credence was a huge part of the first movie, as it was revealed the boy who essentially housed a demonic creature was being conditioned by Grindelwald to help destroy the government. As the Pop Culture Detective lays out in his video, part of the tragedy that made Fantastic Beasts so compelling comes when Newt cannot save Credence before he’s torn apart by magic attacks.

It was a really powerful scene…

Until you get to this movie and find out he’s somehow still alive?

Unless I missed something, there’s no explanation as to how or why Credence survived. Just that fact that Newt won’t help the government try to kill him again.

As a result of this early reveal, most of the plot lines for main characters are extremely reiterative of the first movie. They’re searching for Credence before he can be used by Grindelwald for evil.

It made me feel like the first movie mattered far less, and Miller’s portrayal of a far more darkly-influenced Credence was a less compelling compelling subject to save than the scared child of Fantastic Beasts.

My problem wasn’t that his character has developed, it’s that his character should have been dead.

Without that, it felt like so much of the world and it’s characters took too many steps back from their developments.

That was enough of a problem for me that no matter how much I enjoyed the slowly-converging plot threads, the lovely European backdrops and the beasts that made the first movie so fantastic, the overall package felt much more empty.

… Oh, and for some reason all of the advertising focuses a lot on the Deathly Hallows imagery, but I don’t believe any of that showed up in the movie. Just saying.

That’s just my opinion on what really hurt an otherwise great movie, though. But if you have a different take on the issue, feel free to let me know!

I’m always up to opening a den of discussion.

Ocean Comrade doesn’t flounder

Ocean Comrade doesn’t flounder

… But it also isn’t what I would call a great movie.

It just happens to have the rest of the DCEU as a point of comparison, and in that pantheon of films it succeeds better than most.

Aquaman (or Ocean Comrade as my sister serendipitously called the titular hero) has a few things going in its favor.

Visually, there are plenty of scenes that are marvelous — though sometimes a little too reminiscent of 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

The city of Atlantis in its full lit-up glory is beautiful next to some of the drab environments in places like Gotham City, and scenes like Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Herd) diving into a monster-filled abyss lit up only by a red flare and the occasional lightning flash really left an impression.

I also do have to give credit to Momoa, as I enjoyed his character far more here than in Justice League. Especially considering he and most of the other actors were likely suspended on wires the whole time, he keeps a strong, fun energy throughout.

Even when they milk that female sex appeal for all its worth.

Plus he has good chemistry with Herd’s fish-out-of-water, especially in one moment when she first visits the surface world and he indulges in her ignorance by splitting a buffet of roses.

Aquaman also has some fantastic fight choreography. When the first trailers were coming out, I thought the trident combat underwater looked a little wonky. There are some wonky visual effects, but the fighting wasn’t.

In fact, there are two battles in particular — one on the submarine seen in most trailers and the climactic fight against Oceanmaster (King Orm (Willem Dafoe)) — that are stunningly well-done and frankly brutal in the best kind of way.

In that first scene I actually laughed and applauded watching Momoa just decimate fools.

The first act of the film is honestly its best part. Between that sometimes brutal, sometimes fun and drunken Aquaman action and the touching expositional scene with his star-crossed parents, I was invested more than any other DC movie going in.

But frankly, that’s about the extent of my compliments toward Aquaman. Because once things break into the second act, I’d argue it falls apart.

Might as well start with what I teased already: Some of the visuals are real wonky, particularly in underwater scenes. When I mentioned how hard it must have been to perform so much on wires, I do have plenty of respect for the actors involved.

But there are more than a few moments where it looks like characters are getting dragged around on wires instead of swimming.

Everyone’s hair looked good moving around underwater, to be fair. But I feel like if as much work had gone into swimming animations as had gone into the backdrops, it could have been really special.

If the movie had been a really solid experience all the way through, I might not have paid that issue too much mind. But while there’s a great 90-minute movie in Aquaman, what we got was a nearly 150-minute experience that drags so hard in the middle.

Part of the reason for that is because Aquaman tries to balance half a dozen storylines at once and doesn’t do so successfully.

Right in the middle of the movie, just after Momoa and Herd arrive in Atlantis following a disaster hitting the surface world so they can start hunting for the MacGuffin which will help Aquaman defeat his half-brother, Dafoe (how those two are meant to be related is beyond me).

In the next stretch of the film there’s an action-packed detour to be echoed later, a boatload of exposition on the history of the underwater kingdom and an Uncharted-esque expedition to a desert temple which leads to a longer MacGuffin hunt.

Oh, and while we’re at it, we threw in a fun montage for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta building his suit, as well as underwater political drama between four different nations.

If some of the concurrent plot threads were chopped down, it would have made the movie cleaner. That might have also saved a lot of the scenes from feeling too jarring with time skips (because there are a lot of those).

The last place I think Aquaman fails rather badly is with explaining it’s own mythology.

In terms of the DCEU movies, one bad example example is how much it’s emphasized that Momoa has never been to Atlantis. So much so that he has to ask Mera her name when she saves him.

But… He went to Atlantis and met Mera in Justice League, right? Unless I remember the scene wrong, they were there when Steppenwolf steals the Atlantean mother box.

So what’s the deal, cinematic universe lore?

For in-movie rules, Atlantean powers are a bit of a grab bag. Aquaman can exist underwater and on land, which makes sense considering his hybrid status. Yet so can Mera, which suggests that perhaps they all can.

Except there are a ton of soldiers who need to wear reverse diving suits (that keep water inside — it’s pretty cute actually).

So maybe just the royal-blooded Atlanteans can breath out of the water?

Except Dafoe’s character at one point says he can’t go to the surface.

… But then also he does go there for his climactic final fight with Aquaman?

I don’t know! It was just confusing, and lost me pretty easily. That’s not even mentioning the extra powers, like Aquaman being the only one who can communicate with fish or Mera seemingly being the only one with aquakinesis.

Even if you want to wave this off by using the movie’s supposed logic that water breathing and other powers came from the same disaster that sunk Atlantis, it still seemed very inconsistently distributed.

Also, on that note, not enough goes into why there are four different underwater nations and why they don’t get along for all the political drama to be compelling or even make sense.

Also also, there’s a part of the movie that seems to involve inter-dimensional travel using some strange portal that comes out of nowhere.

I know a lot of this probably sounds like nitpicking. But there’s a lot of time to nitpick when the movie had such a weak middle section.

All that being said, I’ll still undoubtedly say that Aquaman is better than half the other DC movies. It’s more fun and comic book-y than Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman could ever hope to be.

But it also comes nowhere near Wonder Woman in being a good movie. Despite how rough the third act was, I’d still say it was more comprehensive throughout than Aquaman.

I’m seemingly in the minority with my opinions toward this movie considering how much acclaim it’s gotten, and I’m sure some people will want to call me a Marvel fanboy for that.

I just don’t think Aquaman was immune from criticism simply because it stood higher than a lot of its immediate peers. And yeah, compared to most Marvel movies, it is pretty lame.

But for a DC movie, it was pretty good.

Plus it gave me something to write about today, so I suppose it can’t be all THAT bad.

Bumblebee a good movie

Bumblebee a good movie

To be completely honest, I’ve never been a huge Transformers fan.

I’ve always liked the franchise, but it wasn’t a line of toys I grew up with. As a result, the recent Michael Bay franchise of films has more or less been my closest connection.

… But even then, I only watched the first two or three. And I would be lying if I said I remembered anything even remotely well past bits of the first movie from over 11 years ago.

So I was hesitant to watch the newest Transformers movie, Bumblebee — in spite of the fact that I knew it was distinctly different from the Michael Bay series. Especially on the insistence of my friend Juan, who is a huge Transformophile.

I suppose I felt a little intimidated about the prospect of going to see this kind of movie with him. Though I’m glad I got over that, because boy did I have far more fun  than I expected to.

Bumblebee is leagues better than any of the Michael Bay Transformers films for a number of reasons: Its character development, dedication to a setting and mood, as well as its visual design.

Disregarding its titular character, Bumblebee is led by Hailee Steinfeld, who apparently had a phenomenal 2018 by showing her prowess in live action here and in animation through Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Steinfeld’s character Charlie is the down-on-her-luck angsty tomboy teenager who finds Bumblebee broken down in a mechanic’s junkyard and becomes his best friend/protector.

It’s a cliché relationship that was essentially the exact same dynamic between Bumblebee and Shia LaBeouf’s character in the 2007 Transformers. It includes all the beats you’d imagine off a story where the girl’s father died and she can’t move on, only to learn the lessons she needs to through saving the world.

However, the clichés don’t bog Bumblebee down at all. If anything, they make the movie better because of how much the filmmakers lean into them.

Steinfeld brings far more chemistry to bonding with Bumblebee than LaBeouf ever did. In one two-hour picture I loved their kind of goofy, mutually beneficial relationship and had no trouble believing she was in the same room as a giant robot.

As hilarious as it was when I realized wrestler John Cena was going to be a prominent antagonist, he wound up pouring so much into the performance that I couldn’t help but love him.

Granted, I honestly couldn’t tell you his character’s actual name because I just saw him as John Cena the whole time. But he was so fun that I didn’t mind.

Another reason Bumblebee succeeded in capturing my heart is because it played itself as an unapologetically cheesy 80s movie. Not only did that give it an identity, but it served as a somewhat clever underlying commentary.

Like the Transformers were literally going back to the time when they were created, both in visual aesthetic and spirit.

After an opening action scene on Cybertron (which, like every action scene, was better choreographed and more visually appealing than any previous Transformers movie), diving into the life of Charlie tells us everything we need to know about Bumblebee‘s world.

Charlie, that angsty teen facing tragedy archetype I mentioned, works at a pierside Hot Dog on a Stick where the full range of 80’s teen comedy cast members appear. The awkward next door neighbor/unrequited lover, the mean high school girls, the jock who takes his shirt off after some awkward hi-jinks.

If it weren’t for the killer robots, you could mistake this movie for something akin to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It crafts great characters and loving relationships in this kind of world very well.

You could probably pull out homages to a dozen different movies, with a scene reminiscent to Iron Giant‘s gentle being vs. weapon dynamic standing out to me.

There’s even a really clever joke in the middle of the movie that stipulates some Transformers may have been involved in the creation of the Internet.

If you like that kind of self-aware humor, you’ll enjoy Bumblebee.

On top of that, Bumblebee‘s more classic toy-like Autobot and Decepticon designs allowed for more flowing, understandable action scenes and empathetic moments than the mechanized madness of Michael Bay’s films.

It sounds like I don’t have too many complaints about Bumblebee — and to be honest, I don’t. Some of my major complaints are nitpicks, like the fact that Transformers spoke English humans could understand and knew our vehicle shapes before coming to Earth.

But those are symptoms of the original source material than they are this movie specifically, and don’t detract from the film.

The movie also plays fast and loose with its setting’s time and place until late into the movie (at least from the perspective of someone who hadn’t seen the Golden Gate Bridge in that promotional poster I used as my Featured Image).

On top of that, every plot beat is borderline eye-rollingly predictable because of how much it leans into common clichés. Though to be fair there are moments where the script takes a high ground and doesn’t lean on obviously foreshadowed deus ex machinas.

Frankly, Bumblebee’s biggest strength is just how fun it is. So much so that even if there are bigger concerns, I’ve completely overlooked them. As exhausted as I was with the overwhelming Michael Bay franchise by its second or third installment, I could watch many more movies using Travis Knight’s formula going forward.

Not only was it great for Transformophiles like Juan, who was giddy seeing at least six named characters he recognized within the first few seconds, it also worked wonders for people like me that simply enjoy well-crafted, goofy 80’s flicks.

There were only about five people in our theatre today so I don’t imagine the film will be out too much longer, but I’d recommend going to see it while you can. It’s definitely a ride worth taking.


Featured Image courtesy of IMDb

I am INTO the Spider-Verse

I am INTO the Spider-Verse

When I watched Sony Picture’s “Venom,” my major take-away was that the post-credits preview scene from “Into the Spider-Verse” was the best part.

Little did I know how right I was when I said my time could have been far better spent.

I just walked out of this Spider-Man adventure, having seen it with my friend Juan. Frankly I regret every single day that it took me to see this movie.

Firstly because it’s an absolute joy visually and from a narrative standpoint. It hits things out of the park in every category. That’s also from someone who isn’t very knowledgable about Spider-Man lore, so there are whole other categories I can’t appreciate as well as others!

But I also regret not seeing it sooner because holding off has left me in a very enigmatic place as far as what to say.

It took me 20 minutes of staring at a blank screen to figure out where to start because despite the unadulterated passion I had walking out of it, just what can I add to the conversation at this point in the film’s life cycle?

Yeah I know what you’re going to say, “Jason this is the Internet, it’s the place where opinions thrive.”

I get that. I probably wouldn’t have bothered writing anything if I didn’t feel like I should at least spread my opinion that “Into the Spider-Verse” is a film everyone should see, regardless of their feelings on comic book blockbusters.

The only problem is… I know for a fact I’m not the only person who has that opinion.

For weeks, all I’ve heard about this movie is that it’s phenomenal. The best comic book movie in years, if not ever.

I knew they couldn’t be lying, because the trailers did look great. Though I expected to walk out feeling like hype drove my expectations too high.

Yet… That’s not at all the case.

If anything I walked out of the theatre floored at how much this movie ruled IN SPITE of the over-hyped praise.

Not only does “Into the Spider-Verse” balance six different art styles at once with various Spider-people, it does so after proving itself with a masterful blend of comic book aesthetics so engrained in the narrative that not a single flashy effect feels superfluous.

Take notes Ang Lee, this is the movie you wanted to make with “Hulk” back in 2003.

But even with such a complex dance of art styles and truly fluid, engaging action , somehow the story doesn’t falter. Any joke or meme you could make about previous Spider-Man movies are addressed in the first few seconds, leaving audience members open for something completely novel.

From there, every single character is given a perfect amount of exposition.

There wasn’t a single person in this film that was not relatable or well-developed in some way. Other than some brief cameos who didn’t need anything to appear and be awesome.

It’s not a joke to say that “Into the Spider-Verse” crams in seven or eight origin stories and tells you just enough with each to feel invested better than some movies handle an entire 2-hour origin story.

Plus most of it is so comedic that barely any part of the film is dull. The sensory overload is welcomed.

The only moments that could be described as ‘duller’ in terms of that overloaded sensory splendor are poignant, emotional character-building scenes that all seem to appear exactly when they need to.

But with all that film fellating, the thing that truly astounded me about this Spider-Verse film was how little got spoiled for me.

If this were “Infinity War,” it would have been dangerous to go anywhere online because people like to slip spoilers into unexpected places. For this movie, I’ve seen nothing but praise and still got a ton of surprises.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this movie has one of the best “secret villain” reveals I’ve seen in ever. I won’t say anything more.

The problem, however, is just that. I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that wouldn’t spoil a thing, or that you wouldn’t get out of some big media site review.

Especially since you should just see the damn movie!

After three Sam Raimi movies, two Amazing Spider-Men, a number of Marvel Cinematic Universe appearances and enough cartoons to choke a small village, the biggest piece of praise I can give “Into the Spider-Verse” is that it is truly fresh and original and an absolute joy to behold.

If you’re writing your list of New Year’s resolutions, be sure to add ‘watch this movie’ onto it if you haven’t already. Or even if you have already seen it, go see it again!

Just give this movie all the money, people. What more can I say?


Featured Image courtesy of IMDb.com

A Christmas cinematic double feature: Mary Poppins and The Grinch

A Christmas cinematic double feature: Mary Poppins and The Grinch

Yesterday I mentioned something about saving my “grumpy about Christmas” post for today. But I’ve decided not to bah humbug it up.

It helps that I slept most of the day drugged up on advil and dayquil, so I’m a bit more chill.

Instead, I figured why not talk about movies?

After all, there’s nothing open over Christmas, so my family has had a lot of time to watch movies while I’ve laid about in a sickened stupor. Tonight I wanted to feature what I’d consider the double feature of “movies that are reboots of older things that nobody asked for and shouldn’t exist.”

Starting with the sort-of sequel to the 1964 Disney classic, “Mary Poppins,” and followed up with the Illumination take on Dr. Seuss’s classic, “The Grinch.”


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Image courtesy of IMDb

So right off the bat, I think it’s fair to let you all know that I don’t have a hugely nostalgic connection to the original Mary Poppins. I’ve watched it and had the songs engrained in my head, but I didn’t walk into this pseudo-sequel with any inflated expectations.

That being said, I still fully appreciate the original for what was so groundbreaking about it. “Mary Poppins Returns” seems to appreciate it too, but to a fault.

The reason I keep calling the movie a “sequel” conditionally is because this movie essentially isn’t.

Yes, it takes place a few dozen years later and follows the exploits of the children from the first movie, now with families of their own. But the actual content of the movie is essentially just the original with a new coat of paint.

I’m not kidding. All of the musical numbers, from one set in a fantastical 2D world to one featuring the lamp lighters (a proxy for the original chimney sweepers) happened in just about the same sequence.

It even features all the same overarching messages about family and the importance of childhood wonder.

So really, think about “Mary Poppins Returns” as a reboot more than it is a sequel and certain elements about it become much better. But there are also elements that become far worse.

In the prior category: The visuals. All of the magical sequences and music numbers are gorgeous and well-composed. Most of them take on a similar style to their original counterparts and feel classic with updates to not be 50 years outdated.

Special props go to the portion of the film where Mary takes the Banks children into a porcelain bowl. There are little touches like everyone’s feet clinking while they walk that makes the whole sequence outstanding.

On top of that, I’d say that Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda do pretty good jobs fitting the large shoes left behind by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with.

My problems: Nothing outside of the visuals are memorable. There isn’t a single song I remembered, which is a shame considering how timeless and integral pieces like “Spoonful of Sugar” were to the original’s longevity.

It also falters from being a “sequel” that basically isn’t. There’s no exposition when Mary Poppins arrives, as it seems assumed that the audience has seen the original. She shows up, the parents remark that they remember her but don’t believe she was actually magic and then simply let her come in and bath their children.

It’s honestly that quick, which makes it clear the movie wanted to get to the whimsey without any of the groundwork.

A more nitpick-y personal gripe is that the movie is very inconstant with its rules. For instance, the parents remark on their disbelief of her magic but do not broach into the issue of her looking exactly the same outside of a quick joke.

Also, when Mary remarks that adults always forget the youthful joy of her magic, that’s quickly contradicted by the appearance of Miranda’s character — apparently one of the child chimney sweeps from the original — who happens to remember her.

I don’t want to harp on it too long at risk of sounding like someone leveling deeply analytical complaints at a children’s movie, but because of the lack of memorable songs and rehashed plot I was so bored by the middle of the film that I couldn’t help but nitpick it.

If you’re looking for a very pretty movie to park your kids in front of (or you adore the original), you’ll get a lot out of Mary Poppins Returns as a visual spectacle.

Outside of that, however, there isn’t a ton there that isn’t done better in the original. I’d say it’s average at best, and I likely won’t remember much of it next month.


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Image courtesy of IMDb

Unlike Mary Poppins, I would count myself as an invested Grinch fan thanks to the wonderful 1966 Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” It’s a true family classic that’s near perfect.

In contemporary cinematography, the Grinch has had a rougher time.

So with Illumination taking the helm of a second reboot in what I guess can be called the Dr. Seuss’s Grinch franchise, I was cautiously optimistic. I do like other movies of theirs like “Sing,” but bemoaned the possibility of it being very out-of-touch.

Having seen the movie now, I can pretty easily say it’s somewhere in the middle.

Outside of an unnerving character design for the titular character (those human-like pearly whites never sat well with me), “The Grinch” is a gorgeous movie. The environments especially, with a mix of Seussian winter wonderlands and more modern, opulent town settings.

However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cringe almost immediately hearing the rap version of the 1966 Grinch song. The soundtrack was probably the worst part of the movie if you ask me.

Either there was unfitting rap, too many modern day Christmas tunes that made me question just how human the Whos were in this universe, or a few strangely Jesus-heavy songs that made me question whether the Whos had a religious part of their Christmas traditions.

Are there Jewish Whos, in that case?

Outside of musical choices, the rest of the movie was handled was better than I had expected. The hour-and-a-half runtime mostly went quick. Pharrell Williams as the Narrator was… Okay. As was Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch.

I actually quite liked the way they handled his interactions with Max. Most of the best scenes in the movie were between the two of them, as it gave a lot of background to why they’re such good friends. More than the 1966 version, in a good way. Ties into the whole family narrative.

I’ll give Illumination props for it.

They also give Cindy-Lou Who a much larger role in the story, which is an idea I appreciate considering she is the crux that changes Grinch’s mind.

However in execution she’s pretty much every ‘I want to catch Santa’ cliché you’ve ever seen, has a design that was uncomfortably close to Edith from “Despicable Me” and has a ‘quirky’ character trait of carrying around a hockey stick for whatever reason.

The way her storyline intersects with The Grinch is predictable, but for a kids movie she serves her purpose well enough.

All-and-all, I’d say “The Grinch” 2018 was fun and well animated. Pretty good for what it was, even if parts of the set dressing were strange and uncomfortable for my tastes.

Though maybe I’m just too old and yelling at the kids on my lawn for their rap musics while lauding the original through rose-colored glasses.

That being said, I think the 1966 version and even (I shutter to admit) the Jim Carrey version did get something right which was almost detrimentally wrong with Illumination’s version.

You know how earlier I mentioned appreciating how cute the stuff between The Grinch and Max were? I do think it’s a nice touch, but it’s emblematic of the fact that the main character is made a little TOO cute, sympathetic and ‘relatable.’ The movie leans hard into his tragic backstory as justification for him acting like a jerk when in all honesty he’s probably the funniest, cutest Grinch we’ve ever seen.

But maybe that’s just a personal problem for me. After all, who am I to argue with a fun-loving misunderstood cool guy of a Grinch who uses lots of sweet gadgets in an (admittedly pretty great) Christmas-stealing montage.

It’s definitely not the worst version of the story you could show off.

Jim Carrey took that prize years ago.


Featured image courtesy of Thomas’s Pics via Wikimedia Commons

Armageddon on the Grid

Armageddon on the Grid

Once more I rise from the dead.

Sorry about the second short break from blogging I took the last few days. The cold I tried to pretend I wasn’t developing during finals week hit me extra hard once the high stress of exam season began to dissipate, and for two days all I could do was sleep and cough my head off.

However, if there was any benefit to take away from sidling the edge of death, it was that I have seen the face of Armageddon and am prepared for our inevitable, collective demise.

An Armageddon that is: Armagetron.

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Welcome to a game that I had basically forgotten about until my Macintosh Desktop rescue. The original file had not been opened since 2009, when I discovered it during that sprite animation camp I talked about in my Smash Bros. wallpaper post.

But unlike a lot of the other relics of oughts Jasoncana, Armagetron Advanced is totally rad. After all, it’s a simulator experience based on the light cycle races from 1982’s TRON.

I had this whole plan set out after replaying the game to record footage so I could show off my sweet Armagetron skills, maybe even gif a few seconds of me dunking on computers.

Except turns out I don’t exactly have good screen capture software that doesn’t make the footage come out like this on the other end. Forewarning, this video is very choppy and kind of nauseating.

Was not going to be able to get the high-octane action that I originally wanted out of showing this game off.

Luckily Armagetron isn’t complicated to explain, even if there’s a nice amount of depth under the hood for things like customization. If you’ve seen the race sequence from the original TRON, you know exactly what you’re getting.

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You move around a digital grid leaving trails that immediately destroy (or derez) opponents. The aim of the game is to be the last man standing, with points earned for killing opponents and lost for ramming into other light trails or “committing suicide” against arena walls.

On top of customizing the color of your light cycle, Armagetron allows you to set up matches with as many AI (or people given a decent lan party) in as many parties as you want. Everything from the AI’s intellect to the size of the battlefield and the amount of time light trails last can be altered.

For the most part, each trip to the grid feels unique because of the timeless style Tron imbued on its light cycle sequences. It makes for cinematic experiences even in a fairly basic simulation.

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Yeah, the wall popping in after you seems like a graphical issue… But boy is it cool in practice.

It helps that on top a great general style, the game features really crunchy sound effects for the racers speed, doppler echoes as opponents move past and — of course — digital explosions.

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Lots and lots of explosions.

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Particularly your own.

Where I would argue Armagetron thrives the most is in its simplicity breeding implicit storytelling. A lot of computer players are named after applications like “word” or “excel,” so it feels as though you’re duking it out with your own computer’s software out for revenge after yet another 2,000 word essay.

Plus, I’m a fan of situations where I need to time my turns and thread the needle:

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Always exhilerating.

Or, like you can see in the featured image, those moments when you’re boxed in and have to survive as long as possible driving in a square on the off-chance the AI dies before you run out of room.

Extra graphical touches like sparks when you grind as close to a wall or light trail as possible without killing yourself really sell these scenes:

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The amount of times I died just trying to get that feeling of barely evading death are uncountable.

But of course that feeling of narrowly avoiding death is only superseded by the thrill of a well-won victory after pulling off death-defying tricks.

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This basic victory screen is far more satisfying than it has any right to be.

While there isn’t a whole lot to say about Armagetron Advanced past the basics, it still earns my high recommendation. If you want to feel like Jeff Bridges, this isn’t a bad place to start.

In fact, while throwing this little post together, I discovered that the game has gotten updates as recently as 2016.

I haven’t tried it the most recent update since I’m still stuck in the nostalgia trip of my beloved 2009 version, but from screenshots I know there are plenty of different game modes and graphical styles to choose from now.

This fan project stretches all the way back to the original Armagetron in 2004, so there’s a ton of love put into it. Even if it’s not getting much in the way of development recently, I’d still say you should all go support it.

Armagetron Advanced is something that shouldn’t just be derezzed into obscurity.

Balance is key

Balance is key

As promised earlier, my time to go radio silent for finals has come and (hopefully) gone. This weekend was just a bit too full of work for me to spend extra time coming up with blog post topics.

That said, it was a very productive weekend! I finished my nine page paper for Evolution and Creation:

Which considering how much I was dreading the assignment, the fact that I banged it out in a day or two was wonderful — and I got a lovely talking point out of it.

Then on Sunday I took my online Visual Communications exam. Was a bit harder than I expected it to be, but still squeaked out with an 84 percent…

… That was immediately balanced out by an exceedingly curved 110 percent on Exam 2. Not sure how it happened, but it means I’ve retained a high A in the class.

I also spent time putting my study guides together for two Psych exams. One of which, Learning and Memory, is officially over and done!

I got an 82 percent, though I can’t complain because even that score retains my A in the class.

Thus, all I have left for the semester is my cumulative, non-curved Sensation and Perception exam and a presentation on my aforementioned paper.

Then I am free.

I’m going to try to do a blog post every day during finals, probably culminating with a semester-in-review sort of thing. I’ve found that having some distractions to keep the stress of exam season balanced out has been especially helpful during this semester’s class cycle.

In fact, the rest of this post will be talking about the media I consumed this weekend to break up all of my studying and writing woes. Hence the Thanos reference: Studying and fun in perfect harmony.

I have TV, Movie and Video Game stuff to talk about, so it should be (mostly) fun! Plus this keeps me from the existential dread of my next exam for a wee bit longer.


Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I want to do a full-scale post all about Smash in the early days of Winter Break, so I’ll keep things brief right now.

Ultimate has been my ‘play a few hours a night’ de-stressor, and boy have I needed that. The process of unlocking every character one-by-one was a great experience of gradually forgetting and being reminded of how many fighters there are in the game.

Yet the biggest thing to discuss (especially with online servers still being kind of trashy) is the sheer amount of love and care that went into the game’s references. The Classic and Adventure modes are a joy to play through because each fighter and Spirit has their own thing to make them unique.

Again, I’ll go more in-depth later. Though I do feel obligated to point y’all to my friend Kristina’s review in the Daily Titan that got published today, because I happened to pick it up a few minutes ago and it’s a good.


Wreck-It Ralph 2

There’s too many nice things to say about this sequel. On top of being a gorgeous piece of animation (with special accolades to the mass-character physics of a plot-relevant spoiler toward the end of the movie), Ralph Breaks the Internet presents an interesting take on the digital world that has strong characters, ever-present metaphoric theming and super tight narrative structure.

The movie also exceeds due to a rare blend of reverential and reference-filled, self-defacing humor that I would have never expected Disney to approve. Especially for the Princesses — who I’m sure you think you know everything about thanks to the ads, but I assure you are a beyond wonderful mix of fan service and commentary.

It helps that my Dad worked for Disney, so we laughed a lot at the jokes they were putting down.

If you haven’t seen Ralph Breaks the Internet, do yourself a favor. It’s not as video game-heavy as the first, but what it offers instead is just as good if not better.


Bohemian Rhapsody

Talk about a movie with a great set-up and wasted potential.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic about Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, but as my Dad aptly pointed out it winds up being more of a timeline on the success of the band than it is the trials and tribulations of Mercury’s life.

Don’t get me wrong, Rami Malek is wonderful as the lead character, surprisingly so considering how used to him as a psychopathic introvert from Mr. Robot.

The rest of the cast is good too, and the cinematography is very pretty. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with a soundtrack composed of Queen songs.

But the narrative of the film falls really flat because it glosses over so much of the potential personal drama in favor of the band’s story. I swear, there are a number of scenes missing between Mercury and his father that would make a pay-off scene toward the end that much more impactful.

Bohemian Rhapsody is far from the worst thing I’ve seen this year. It’s kind of perfectly average, disappointingly so.

But the worst thing I’ve seen this year probably goes to:


Venom

Wow. What a hot mess.

You know it’s bad when the best part of the movie is a totally irrelevant post-credit scene previewing another movie that I would have had much more fun watching.

The only thing Venom has going for it is Tom Hardy as the titular character’s host, Eddie Brock — but even then he’s given nothing to work with. Half of this movie feels like it was left on the cutting room floor. It literally meanders until a relationship between the two that had APPARENTLY been developed without us knowing about it arrives.

Then we’ve immediately got the unearned climax to hit.

The whole experience is also generally unpleasant because of clear editing issues like awkward jump cuts. Maybe if the dialogue was better and the characters were likable I wouldn’t have noticed so readily, but because we got things like this:

It was hard to stay engaged.

Venom has been beaten to death so I won’t abuse the poor horse. Instead I’ll just say… Go watch Nando V. Movies’ fix for it instead.


Big Mouth

I can’t give you all a full review of this one. I only watched a chunk of the second season with my sister, so I’m working entirely off that.

That said, Netflix’s Big Mouth is an… Interesting experience. It’s a show all about young teenagers going through life changes, with puberty given physical form as “hormone monsters” that work off of them in a variety of cliché coming-of-age scenarios.

The premise of a physical embodiment of puberty is interesting enough to work through all the clichés in what might otherwise be a typical school-age comedy — alongside a heaping helping of gross-out and mature humor. There were about as many moments where I said, “damn that’s pretty accurate” as I cringed at something uncomfortable (like most of the musical numbers).

If you think you would enjoy a Family Guy-esque adult comedy, but a little smarter and more fresh, Big Mouth is worth checking out. I’ll probably go back and finish season 1 before season 3 comes out.


Featured Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

A post-Stan Lee world

A post-Stan Lee world

I don’t know that I had anything planned to talk about today amid a storm of homework I’ve been putting off. But once I saw this news come through, I knew there was really only one thing I could do: Pay tribute.

Within the last hour or so, rumors began to trickle around Twitter that the great Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee had died today at 95 years old.

Having seen a few celebrity death hoaxes in the past, I didn’t want to succumb to the emotions that came with that statement at first.

But once I saw the Associated Press confirm it, I has to accept the truth.

Since then I’ve honestly been walking around seemingly like a shell of my former self. Hell, I haven’t felt inspired to write a tribute in death for a celebrity since Carrie Fisher passed away, so you know this one must have hit hard.

How do you quantify the life of a man that has affected culture so much? How do you live in a world that, in its innate cold-nature’s cruelty to our mortality, will just keep moving forward in time without him?

Obviously this isn’t a “surprise” beyond the fact that it’s happening somewhat unexpectedly right now. The internet has been talking about Stan Lee’s inevitable passing for years, lamenting the possibility of the older man disappearing now that he has become a ubiquitous part of our movie-going culture if nothing else.

In fact, take a look at any of the stories that have already come out about Lee’s passing and you can tell they’ve been written and on the back burner for a long time, ready to update once the day came.

Personally I really like the piece Variety put out. It captures a lot of the good and the bad of Stan Lee’s life in a degree far better than I could as an arguably fledgling comic book fan.

To be honest, that’s kind of the craziest thing about my feelings toward Stan Lee’s death right now. I’m not even a huge comic book fan — so I can’t imagine how terrible other people must feel.

While a much younger Jason had a vague appreciation for certain comic book animated shows like Teen Titans or Batman the Animated Series (both DC properties I know, but that’s beside the point), it wasn’t until the Marvel Cinematic Universe boom began with 2008’s Iron Man that I started to steep myself in the world of comics.

Also, I guess you could count “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” from the mid-2000s as part of my early exposure to Stan Lee. But I feel like that old show is a topic for another day.

I’ve seen almost every movie put out by the studio since their cinematic universe project began (outside of, say, Iron Man and Thor 2). Having grown into my own as an aspiring writer alongside its release schedule, I’ve come to really appreciate the way they create such an extensively connected story, one that makes me more and more excited for each entry to see where it can go next.

Sure, I know the films are somewhat formulaic and arguably predictable for anyone who knows the comics… But like I said, I don’t really. Only since the movies have grown in popularity have I personally started to research different famous comic book arcs and find YouTube channels dedicated to comic book stuff so I can educate myself on the matter, like NerdSync or Nando v. Movies.

Both of whom have also become regular parts of my life through binging their podcasts on my long commutes to-and-from CSUF.

So the Marvel movies have really been my gateway into comics. And all of them have one unifying thread.

A creative giant who has a cameo in all of them.

From what I’ve read there are a few more Stan Lee cameos pre-recorded for Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 at least, but they’ll certainly be more bittersweet than ever before.

Though not any more bittersweet than never seeing him cameo again after, even if Avengers 4 seems like as poetic an end point as they come.

Rest in peace, Stan Lee. A man who will truly live in forever in his creations.

Excelsior.


Featured Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Repeat Offenders

I’m having a strange sense of déjà vu this semester.

A couple of my class have given me assignments this week that are pretty much identical to other assignments I’ve had in previous courses — one of which I’ve seen at least three times now, in fact.

That third-time returning assignment (the one that I find more interesting right now, considering at this rate I’ll need to develop a punch card) was handed down in my Visual Communications class this afternoon. Essentially I have to take a number of photos over the next two weeks, either on my phone or with a professional camera, that represent major concepts in visual composition.

So a photo that shows a prominent horizontal line, one that shows a good grasp of the rule of thirds, one that displays the difference between the foreground and background, etc.

As an isolated assignment it makes sense. What better way to get kids engaged and learn a variety of terms by making use of that little device in our pockets to actually engage with the work.

The problem comes when, as in my case, you see the same assignment repeatedly. In Comm 202, focused on broadcast journalism basics. In Multimedia Journalism. Now, again, in Visual Communications.

Is there just some unwritten rule that in the 21st century, every visual-focused class will get students to go out and take sample photos with their phones? Was there a college teaching conference that established this staple?

Is it only a California thing or does this happen all across the country?

I’m actually, genuinely curious to know.

My Mass Media Ethics class yesterday also assigned a small project I’ve seen before. For that, we need to spend about a week keeping a media log with all the news we consume so we can reflect on it.

I had to do the exact same thing for my Comm 233 class — the one that I started this blog for.

Back then I was pretty upset with the project. The professor was kind of an old fart and quite literally used the assignment as a way to rub it in our faces that we’re all too addicted to technology.

Like sure we definitely are, but that doesn’t mean you need to be condescending about it dude.

This time around the assignment is focused more on tracing back to the corporations that own each media outlet and deciding how that ownership might create bias.

A more interesting, reasonable through-line in my opinion.

Thinking about it, those two kinds of assignments seem very intrinsically linked to modern-day students. I suppose that’s the reason why they’re showing up repeatedly, for me at least. Whether or not you guess see these particular assignments, or just other projects that multiple teachers have assigned, I guess is up to you all to let me know.

No matter what, I’m just glad neither of these two projects are due next week. Because my two essays for my Psych classes still loom heavy on my mind…


As an aside, while this isn’t related to the overall post I’ve just written, it’s something that stood out to me so much today that I just had to share it.

Over the past few months I’ve been watching a YouTuber named Nando v. Movies rewrite the recent DCEU Justice League film beat-by-beat. It has been fascinating to watch, as one of the reasons I picked up on the guy in the first place was because of his script rewrites. They show a great grasp of the comic book source material and movie structure, so it’s always a joy.

The four-part Justice League series has been especially great, in my opinion. While I enjoyed the original movie, the novel version Nando creates is vastly superior and sets up a much more compelling path for the universe to take.

It’s just too bad he isn’t actually working at DC’s movie division.

The final part of the series just released today, and I would say it’s very worth taking an hour and a half to watch each part in a row. You can check them out here.

Dude deserves the shout out, go see his stuff.

Blast from the Comm Class Past

I had an interesting experience earlier that actually relates back to the history of this very blog, so I wanted to use my post today to talk about it.

About two years ago, I started my blog because it was an assignment in my Comm 233 class. It was some kind of example to prove we knew how to use mass media, or that we knew it existed, or it could have just been the guy trying to force us to start doing something he felt the world would require of us.

In hindsight I’m not really sure exactly why we were given this assignment. But I do know it’s hilarious to remember that being forced to write 20 blog posts that semester was such a pain in the ass now that I have nearly 400 posts and am attempting to write something novel every day.

One of the posts I threw together in those early days of blogging was kind of my prototypical movie review, even before I feel like I technically started doing them with my discussion on The Post around Oscar season this year.

At the time I reviewed a little film called Merchants of Doubt, which looked at some of the methods large corporations in the tobacco and oil industries (among others) would use to try and convince the public that cigarettes weren’t harmful, or that climate change isn’t happening/isn’t man-made.

If you do actually believe those things… Well, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree for now. Because I’m not looking to make this into a political post necessarily.

Funny enough I believe that’s also a line I used in that original post from two years ago, which you can read here if you want. Though I also made a bunch of comments in it about Trump on the campaign trail that very clearly suggested otherwise.

Amazing how much of a different world it was in that pre-President Trump era… But I digress.

The reason I bring up this two-year-old post is because I got the chance to rewatch the documentary during my Mass Media Ethics class this afternoon.

For the most part I don’t believe my opinion on the film has changed too much since the first time I saw it. Even disregarding the obvious liberal bias in the documentary, it has a lot of excellent work done interviewing various people from all sides of the issue as well as more neutral parties like reporters who have been researching the topic.

All in service of letting the audience know that sometimes corporations don’t have your best interest in mind, and may be willing to deceive you in very creative ways.

I mostly just wanted to write this quick post to reflect on how funny it is that the curriculums of both these classes two years apart both happened to include the same movie. Seemed like it would be a good excuse to reminisce and have some laughs in that end-of-an-80s-sitcom kind of way.

Especially considering most of that joy is likely going to disappear after I write this required essay about the film. My favorite.