Avengers Infinity War: high drama or cheap shell game? (Movie Review)

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Here we are for the third Avengers film and the 19th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series. (“Who knows what adventures The [Avengers] will have between now and when the series becomes unprofitable.”) The MCU has been an above-average experience for me with a high point of Winter Soldier and the least enjoyable experience being Age of Ultron. Now, we get to finally see all of the different corners of the MCU come together, which turns out to be a lot of fun. But at the same time, does this story give us high drama or are the cornerstones of the plot indications of the whole thing being just a cheap shell game? Spoilers follow!

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Ready Player One is the clickbait version of a movie

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“Oh my God, it’s THE IRON GIANT! I’m so excited, that’s worth the price of admission alone!” -what every executive at Warner Bros expects you to say when you see the marketing for Ready Player One

I knew going into Ready Player One that there would be a never-ending parade of nostalgia geared toward people around my age. What I didn’t realize was that it was the sole focus of the movie. While that does sound like something that COULD work, my conclusion is that it doesn’t.

And to be clear, I’m reviewing the movie only. I’ve never read the book, nor do I think that should be required for seeing the movie.

I thoroughly reject the argument that you won’t get this movie if you are not a gamer. I wouldn’t call myself hardcore, but I’ve been playing video games for nearly my entire life. The fact that the movie’s plot is covered in a video game wrapper doesn’t matter. Nearly all action adventure movies conform to The Hero’s Journey just as this movie does – there’s not really anything new happening here in terms of structure. Most adventure stories have a down-on-their-luck hero (Marty McFly, Billy Peltzer, Luke Skywalker, etc) with a love interest, then he overcomes threshold guardians to ultimately beat the bad guy and win the day. That’s just how these movies work.

The real problem with Ready Player One is the lack of world building backstory (I don’t understand how a corn syrup drought created a dystopia and so on) and a cast of characters that just don’t compel. I wasn’t actively rooting for the protagonists to fail, but I wasn’t excited when they won, either. At a late point in the movie, I just wanted it to be over because the end was so telegraphed and obvious that I was starting to get bored.

In concept, I would think I’d like Ready Player One. The movie is all about 70’s, 80’s and 90’s pop culture (which is very much my bag), but it wasn’t charming.  Instead, it’s beyond forced. Maybe that’s the problem – references work when they’re subtle, not when they’re the sole focus and reason something exists. That’s when something stops becoming a reference and just becomes the plot. Yeah, I saw the campaign poster from Back to the Future in the background, big deal. That didn’t make the movie better. Yes, I see the Iron Giant too, except this film seems to be missing the entire point of its to titular character and if you were going to ignore the moral, then why leave out the giant gun that lives inside his chest? When the good guy army was rushing toward the bad guy, I think I saw a Battletoad in there, but honestly, everything image is so saturated with characters and things that I feel like the movie is really just an advertisement for the Blu-ray. By this I mean the movie is intentionally visually dense to the point where the only way to really see all of its bloat is to watch it at home while continuously pausing it and examining each frame. I guarantee you that when this movie hits the aftermarket, you’ll see every single website in existence write an article entitled All The Stuff You Missed in Ready Player One. It’s coming, I promise you – if they’re not here already.

The thing is, I didn’t hate the movie. I wasn’t particularly bored or frustrated with any one scene, it’s just that the movie as a whole is bland. I didn’t really feel anything while watching this movie. At all. I appreciated all the work the zillions of digital animators did on this movie and I think that if Steven Spielberg didn’t direct it would be a horrible mess, but that’s about the only positives I can rattle off.

When when it comes down to it, Ready Player One is an underdeveloped movie that tries to make up for its own shortcomings with nostalgia and flashy visuals, but it’s just not enough. The only reason to see this in the theater is because every image is so cluttered that if you care about seeing every single thing, the bigger it is the better.

Breaking News: Cats Insist They Both Fit In Perch

We have more than one cat tree, but they’re brothers. They stick together.

Or they’re cold.

Or both.

I don’t know much about cats, but they’re cute, and that’s good enough for me!

Lowe’s uses cutting edge software in cash registers

I kid Lowe’s, I kid!

But seriously, Windows stopped supporting XP in 2009. The last service pack came out the year before. More importantly, this particular Lowe’s didn’t exist back then.

So… Yeah. Starting to figure out the problem with the self checkout system. Of course, I’m sure checkout programs are fairly simple and businesses shouldn’t (and won’t) spend money fixing things that don’t need fixing.  On the other hand, when your self checkout is closed because your decade old software is spinning the entire time I was in the checkout area… might be a problem.

My dog is snuggly

Siberian husky dog

Those are my legs he’s snuggled against. Can you blame him? I’m the alpha, but he’s the handsome one.

I poured cereal in my coffee

I poured cereal in my coffee

This is a new one for me – I was apparently so tired this morning that I poured cereal in my coffee.

That is all.

The Book of Henry is an educational disaster for screenwriters

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According to Liz Lemon, Tootsie (the movie where Dustin Hoffman dressed in drag to get a job) is the example they use in all the screenplay books on what to do when writing a movie. The Book of Henry is, by contrast,a clinic in what NOT to do.  It’s just- the thing is… I can’t even! Well, I’ll try to explain.

spoiler alert

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Fifteen Million Merits review (Black Mirror S 1 E 2)

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After skipping the first episode of Black Mirror (somebody spoiled it for me and… yeah, no thank you),  I jumped into the cutting edge of 2011 entertainment and watched the second offering, “Fifteen Million Merits.” I loved it.  Here’s why:

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The curious case of Tomb Raider (2018)

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Like the original, the best thing Tomb Raider has going for it is its star. Alicia Vikander is excellent and I was especially taken with how well her protagonist arc was written. And yet, this 2018 reboot is less than the sum of its parts.

I don’t know the Tomb Raider games, but I do have a basic understanding of story structure. For the uninitiated to Laura Croft like me, this movie lays out in a similar way to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Maybe this is a plot also found in the games, but again, I don’t know anything about that.) Our hero is going to save their father and (of course) everyone on Earth from the bad guys, who are on a quest to obtain an ancient power that would enable them to rule the world. The first problem is that the reality we are immediately thrown into in this new Tomb Raider movie is the very familiar and realistic setting of our own world. Even Laura herself doesn’t believe in a supernatural threat; this makes the journey she’s going on less impactful because of the way it’s set up. She’s going to save a father that she has mixed feelings about from a threat she doesn’t entirely believe in. This is not great storytelling.

On the other hand, Laura’s personal Arc is a well-crafted Journey. We first meet her in the ring, sparring in a gym and losing. Then we see her trying to make ends meet with a dead end job, next hoping to win money in bicycle race that she seems to have the intelligence to win but ultimately loses, and so on. We keep learning about her character: her strength, her intelligence and her grit, but she’s not an unstoppable killing machine. She loses fights and people take advantage of her, then she fights back. This makes Laura relatable and we can identify with her struggle.

So it seems like the people who made this movie knew what they were doing… to a point.  They knew how to write a protagonist, they knew how to create and photograph action, but the story… It’s not full of holes, but it’s the opposite of compelling.  I found myself getting board, to the point of almost falling asleep during the third act, when I should be on the edge of my seat.  A woman to my right was watching videos on her phone, doing her best to respect the other theater goers by awkwardly positioning it inside her sideways held purse on her lap – but not willing to leave the theater for whatever reason.  (The seats are plush, recline and since I was fighting the sandman, I couldn’t say sh$t to her.)

Is it worth seeing Tomb Raider?  I guess I’m saying no.  Vikander is great, there are several fun action sequences, but what’s here just isn’t enough.  Maybe fans of the series will enjoy this, but I don’t think there’s enough here for general audiences and maybe not even action/adventure fans.

A Wrinkle in Time is an adequate mess (movie review)

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I can’t remember the last movie I saw that was as frustrating as A Wrinkle in Time. The trailer didn’t have me jumping out of my seat with excitement, but I was intrigued by the premise, so here I am, reviewing a movie I liked more than I didn’t and sort of recommend. Here come the spoilers! Read the rest of this entry

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, NJ

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, nj

Now that I’ve graduated to my mid/late thirties, I’m more aware than ever that today’s kids are growing up differently than I did. This isn’t going to turn into a, “when I was your age” diatribe because I also understand that I grew up differently than my parents, who came of age during the era of “duck and cover.”

“Can you imagine?” I used to say. “It’s NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON, the world is coming to an end, everybody get under your desk! That’ll do it.” You see, I was used to fire drills – there is a simple logic that applies to a fire in any building. “The building is on fire, so let’s get out of the building.” There’s dozens of reasons a fire could start in a structure and there’s really only one that’s malicious, so a fire drill didn’t exactly strike fear into my heart. But my parents and now kids today face a threat I can scarcely imagine.

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, nj

That’s the thing that really struck me about the speeches at the #MarchForOurLives event I attended in Hackensack, New Jersey. When these kids got up to speak -these seniors, juniors and even a freshman in high school came up to the microphone – they all talked a lot about the drills. These kids have grown up in the era of the active shooter drill, the lockdown drill. This is a totally foreign experience to me. When I was a kid all the way through grade school, we’d have random fire drills. The school bell wood ring in a tick-tick-tick emergency fashion and we’d all get up walk out of the classroom, down the hall, out on to the sidewalk and stand around for a while until some administrator waved us back in. That’s it. These children brought me up to speed: an announcement comes over the PA that the school is in lockdown mode and each classroom begins the procedure. They close the door and lock it. They draw all the window shades. They hide the kids in a corner or in a closet. And then they wait. They wait and they wait and they wait. They wait for an all clear because these kids say that they never know if it’s a drill or if it’s the real thing. I guess I didn’t either when it came to fire drills, but school fires are a rare things. You knew it probably wasn’t a fire. Anybody who even casually pays attention to the news knows that anytime a school goes into lockdown, the unspeakable could be happening.

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, nj

This isn’t something that these children think about just when a tragedy occurs – this is something they deal with every day.  They have to get up each morning and face their fears – that they could become another story on the news.  One of these young speakers talked about how they didn’t worry about the results of a test because they figured there was a chance they wouldn’t be alive to receive them.  Another joked that all they wanted to worry about at school was test scores, project grades and what the cafeteria was serving for lunch.  And that’s how it should be.

Unfortunately, we all know the truth – that’s now how it is.  But it could be.  You’ve probably heard people saying that this isn’t a gun issue, it’s a mental health issue, but every country has people that are unwell and they don’t have the same gun violence problem we have here in the United States, so that tells me that the problem is guns and we have to fight back.  The best ways to do this are to donate to gun safety groups like Everytown and vote for candidates who support gun control and campaign finance reform because until we get the guns off the streets and the money out of politics, nothing is going to change.

But we can make it happen.  I hope you’ll join this movement and take action today.

Pacific Rim Uprising is the best Transformers movie I’ve ever seen (movie review)

pacific rim uprising

Did you see Pacific Rim? I did. It was… you know, fine – I sound a lot more excited in the review then I am now. But that movie has Idris Elba. He makes everything okay. So I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down and sprinting to my local theater to see Pacific Rim Uprising, yet here we are and I can at least say that this movie will give you exactly what it promises: big robots fighting big monsters.

And unlike any of the Transformers movies, I can actually tell what’s happening and it’s not a confusing mess.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, if you have any interest in giant monsters, you’ll probably like the second installment in the Pacific Rim series which I assume will go on until we’re all dead or the series becomes unprofitable. That’s not such a bad thing because these movies don’t really try to get heavy; they concentrate on doing what they do best: CGI grudge matches. This second installment does an even better job of keeping the talking parts to a minimum and making sure that they’re not excruciatingly painful. Good performances and somewhat interesting characters help – and I appreciate an attempt to do something interesting with a character – it sure goes a long way in getting this movie to the finish line.

If you’re the kind of person who wonders why inter-dimensional aliens can only transport themselves to our world through a rift they open at the bottom of the ocean and whether or not building giant robots to fight giant monsters would be the best uses of resources in a world ending event and why they can only be piloted by two people who are mentally linked, you should probably not watch these movies. They’re mostly for enjoying the spectacle, but unlike the sadistic Transformers movies, they don’t have contempt for the audience. They’re just fun, filled with wacky fights and decent character work by quality performers. It’s not the sort of movie you can debate or even talk about much, it just is, and what it is is good. I don’t think anyone will write about the Pacific Rim film series at any point when they look back on this period in cinematic history, but if you’re looking for a fun element of spectacle, you should check it out.

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