Tag Archives: fantasy

The Dark Tower (2017)

With this movie knocked out so quickly, we’re back on schedule, hooray! I mean, we are if we also watch this week’s movie this week, but at least it’s mathematically possible to. Anyway, last week’s movie theme was Stephen King adaptations, which, there are certainly many I haven’t seen, no matter what you might think. However, the most glaring hole is the troubled[1] Dark Tower adaptation from a few years ago, so, we acquired that and checked it out last night.

The problem, I think, is one of expectations. Because this is clearly and obviously not an adaptation of the book or series of The Dark Tower that Stephen King wrote. It has several identical character names, some of them attached to similar characters, even. But the driving arc of the movie is not merely different from but antithetical to the driving arc of the books. So you’ve got a fantasy movie with a built-in audience who you’ve immediately alienated, and what’s left is a movie that would appear to be impenetrable to a generic audience, even though that was not especially the case.

What I could see was a humorously slapdash attempt to make this movie the linchpin of the SKCU[2], even as the series is the linchpin of his library. And I mean, it was less a successful linchpin making and more a constant game of “spot the reference”, but it was also a fun game of that. I caught a lot of them, while being pretty certain I must have missed others. And this is not enough to make a good movie, by a long shot, but I kind of think that if they’d made a more concerted effort, it could have been pretty amazing.

Anyway, long story short: There’s a boy, Jake, and he is having apocalyptic dreams about a man in black who wants to destroy a tower, and every time he attempts this in Jake’s dreams, geologically mysterious earthquakes strike all around the world. But then Jake has a dream about Roland, who is a gunslinger, and who can possibly stop the man in black from succeeding. And then Jake gets swept up in events, and there’s a movie.

I said early on that all of the characters were subtly or dramatically wrong, and I stand by that. But if I didn’t know anything about the characters or their motivations in advance, these would have been acceptable. Idris Elba played his role well and somewhere near the two-thirds mark, they finally convinced me this really was Roland Deschaines, just from an alternate universe with a wildly divergent backstory. I guess what I mean is I liked the movie for what it was, but am sad that they squandered what it could have been.

[1] ie, it was a commercial and critical flop
[2] It is important here for me to note that there is not, in fact, a Stephen King Cinematic Universe.

Miracolo a Milano

The theme for week three of the letterboxd dot com challenge was Italian Neorealism. For the uninitiated (which includes me, for example), that is a specific period in post-war Italian cinema that focuses on reality and daily life stories with no heroes. So from the list available, we picked Miracle in Milan, which is pretty much the opposite of those things? I may have done a bad job.

It is also worth noting that, wait, why is it so far past your week two review? The answer is, haha, we’ve been sick and got behind. Hoping to catch up over a few days? We’ll see!

So anyway, this movie is weird[1]. Like really weird. There’s this kid, Totò, who after experiencing a bizarre childhood punctuated by a cabbage patch adoption and multiplication tables, comes out of the orphanage as a relentlessly cheerful and giving adult who immediately finds himself in a homeless encampment[2], and proceeds to organize it into a pretty cozy and happy shantytown. (I haven’t yet gotten to where the movie is especially weird, to be clear, but saying more would go deep into spoiler towne, whose inhabitants are far less cheerful a bunch than these were.)

I guess the neorealism part is in the characters themselves rather than the plot, which shortly after I ended my synopsis above (about 15 minutes into a 90 minute movie) goes so far off the rails my metaphor is impossible to complete, but the words “wishing dove” and “timely to modern eyes class warfare” are involved, as are the words “ghostly top hat stampede”. But the characters, I was saying, the characters have a lot of daily life reality. There’s the rich family that has fallen on hard times but still has a nanny (also now homeless, natch), who spends most of their time in the shantytown trying to bilk lire from the populace. There’s the really grumpy outsider guy who keeps getting in fights with everyone else. There’s the black man and white women who arrived at the same time and are clearly mutually interested, but who keep staying away from each other because I guess Italy also had miscegenation laws?[3]

And there are more. What I guess I am impressed by, as an avowed watcher of movies that would not want to be called films, is how many of the characters in a cast of hundreds were, okay, not fully realized, but at least memorable. I’m not sure if that’s just difficult to accomplish in more plot-centric movies, or if we’ve lost something along the way, but I bet it’s some of both.

All the same, I’m glad my entry into this subgenre of film history was as plot-dense as it was, because I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed something that was all aimless and bleak like the description of Italian neorealism reads to me. I know I said “entry”, and while I use the term advisedly, one of the other movies we contemplated, The Bicycle Thieves, is by the same writer and director, and I can’t help being a little curious. (I mean, it will not be capital-w weird, I already know that much. But still.)

[1] Also, I never saw Life is Beautiful, but I can tell you with high confidence that `the guy who made it has this movie as one of his major influences. Seriously, look it up later and prove me right.
[2] If you see the wry humor in that, trust me, so did the filmmakers.
[3] That plotline ends in a way that would be spectacularly cringey if I were to describe it, but in its own context was both progressive and earnedly hilarious.

Lords and Ladies

I haven’t read any Pratchett in a minute, which, okay, what else is new regarding literally anything else I also read? But nevermind that. I’m trying. Plus, there are so many comics I also read, which you don’t / can’t even know.

Lords and Ladies is another Discworld witches book, quite nearly back to back, and also following right upon the heels of Witches Abroad[1] insofar as this chronicles what happens when they return home. Which[2] is: a Shakespeare pastiche, where Magrat finds that she is to be made queen while the other two witches deal with the kinds of creatures that appear on midsummer night. You know, fairies. And as any Dresden fan knows, they ain’t to be trusted.

The book was moment to moment at the quality I expect from a Pratchett book, even at a 30 years remove as I seem to be. And the pastiche itself was dandy. But the book started off with this underlying implied theme about how people should talk to each other instead of keep each other in the dark, which after the Wheel of Time is a theme that is near and dear to my heart.

…but then at the end, they said, nah, this worked out fine without any of that pesky telling the truth and keeping our friends in the loop stuff, and that has left such a bad taste in my mouth that I’m retroactively meh on the book.

[1] I read WA six years ago, even though it’s two books back. Sheesh.
[2] I held out as long as I could

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a completely full drive-in parking lot. Whether this is a factor of Covid, or the new Doctor Strange movie only having been out for a week, or both, or some other X-factor… Regardless, I’ve seen a lot of movies at drive-ins relative to my age[1], and some have been crowded, but never packed like this. Man that is a lot of people flashing a lot of headlights, individually, at various moments. But I guess not much more distracting that people getting up to pee or food deliveries or whatever.

I have no segue here, I just like to talk about the drive-in.

See, there’s this teen in need of help, and she occasionally runs into Doctor Strange, who while not the Sorcerer Supreme these days is nonetheless still in charge of the New York chapter house or whatever wizards call their sanctums, and he decides to help her, since that’s what you do in these movies. Then he finds himself traveling the multiverse and fighting demons and the Illuminati and a big bad and pretty much, well, everyone. Turns out the multiverse just isn’t a fan of this guy.

Was it good? It took until the final act for me to say to myself, my, this certainly is a Sam Raimi movie, isn’t it? Unlike I’m sure a lot of people, I did not say this with a heavy heart. Basically, this is a family drama and a second family drama mashed up together, and then turned into a fantasy horror movie, and I completely understand why that is not for everyone, but I kind of dig it, you know?

In retrospect, this may have been the most drive-in friendly movie Kevin Feige has ever signed off on.

What I did not like is how heavily dependent the movie is on watching all of the TV shows Marvel has been pushing out lately. Like, I’ve seen and remember Wandavision, but I feel like you shouldn’t have to? Which is a weird take for a guy reading 100% of Marvel[2], I know, but… you shouldn’t. Needing to watch dozens of movies to keep up is enough to ask. Wanda’s character arc barely makes sense with the TV show for backstory, though, so I’mma call foul there.

[1] Or at least I think I have? Maybe I’m fooling myself.
[2] Close enough, anyway

Fables: Snow White

It’s funny, when you think about it a bit. Snow White has been a main character (arguably the main character; definitely top five all along) in the Fables series for the eleven years of its run that I have reviewed, and yet this is the first time Willingham has named a book after her. It was enough to make me wonder if he was running out of ideas, and… whether that’s a fair assessment or not, I am nearing the end of the series and its associated spinoffs both, brief research tells me.[1]

Anyway, the first bit of the book wraps up the stories of Bufkin and his barleycorn girlfriend Lily (from the Castle Dark arc), and the battle to free of Oz from one of the Emperor’s regional governors. It was… fine? Towards the end, I liked it quite a bit, but I definitely think it would have fit better at the end of a previous arc instead of the beginning of this one.[2]

Later, the story of a bro who shows up claiming to be Snow’s first common law husband, before even Prince Charming, which… my knowledge of the story of Snow White doesn’t precisely fit with her ever having met a man prior to the dwarves, much less pledged to marry one. Which makes the whole rest of what happened feel like this was an excuse to move some pieces around the board in very specific ways.

Don’t get me wrong, the sequence of events told a good story, and I still want to know what happens next, even as I’m left with difficulties envisioning that there has been much of anything left to happen next for quite some time. But the precipitating event here, I just can’t buy it, so everything else is at least slightly tainted.

Oh, well.

[1] I wouldn’t have opted to, but I also don’t own all of them, so I’d need to know what to buy regardless.
[2] Unrelated brief (semi-accidental) research here tells me most of these were at the ends of prior comics, but only collected together in graphic novel format here, all together. Which explains why they felt as odd as they did. I stick by my “end of a book instead of beginning of a book” assessment.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

I would be remiss if I did not first point out that in addition to being otherwise fun and sans commercials, the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show is especially useful for movies that require recaps[1], because they can tell you everything you need to know and with mostly a bare minimum of spoilers involved. Although, because reasons, the No Way Home pre-show had more spoilers by implication than most. Since previews for these are to some extent unavoidable, it had no spoilers that I didn’t already know about, but if you avoid better than me, this is harder to recommend. (Also, you may not have a local Alamo. For this, I can only offer my sincerest condolences.)

All of that to say, there’s a third Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. The last one, you might remember, ended on the second biggest bombshell in MCU history: Spider-Man is both accused (with documentary evidence!) of murder, and has been publicly identified as Peter Parker. Where do you really go from there? Well, if you’re a prospective high school senior trying to get into MIT, and you also know a wizard, you try to magic your way out of it. I mean hell, probably if you know a wizard, you do that whether the other things are true or not, right?

None of that is important, nor per se is the plot, although I enjoyed the plot a great deal and it retroactively made other movies I’ve seen before (but will not link to at this time) better than they were. What is important is that this is the best version of Spider-Man, the one who sees his great responsibility not as simply using his great powers to fight and stop bad guys, but as using his powers to help people. And sure, that involves fighting and stopping bad guys, frequently, especially when you live in a comic book world, but it’s not the most important way to do it. It’s barely an important way at all, to be honest.

I know everyone talks about whether Pete will be the next Iron Man, but… nah. As far as his heart and soul, he’s the next kid from Brooklyn Queens who is just here to step up because someone has to, sometimes. No offense to Sam Wilson.

[1] such as, say, anything put out by Marvel Studios these days

Eternals

Retroactive continuity is a tool honed to perfection in two art forms[1]: soap operas and superhero comic books. These forms share a lot else in common. They are a) both extremely long-form storytelling where b) the people writing today do not have a plan past the next ten or twelve episodes at the most, c) they both have cliques of characters that mostly hang out together but occasionally cross over with other cliques, and even more rarely all come together for some kind of huge event, and they both d) have dedicated, opinionated fanbases who have stuck around for decades but e) are written so that someone can drop in at practically any moment and be able to catch up.

A “retcon” is when a writer comes up with a story idea that does not match the established continuity of the previous stories, continuity that may be established over years or even decades, but then decides that the story idea is good enough to run with anyway, and comes up with a way to mesh their idea into the long-term continuity retroactively, so that this new continuity was always true, it’s just that the audience and often the characters weren’t aware of it.

Which brings me to Eternals, the (if I counted right) 26th movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (It is important to now note that this review will contain, and in fact for the eagle-eyed reader perhaps already does contain, mild spoilers. It’s not too late to stop. But it nearly is.) A movie which, early in the first act, reveals that for over 7000 years a group of cosmically-powered people called Eternals, at the behest of a group we’ve heard of before called Celestials (aka space gods like you might have seen out in space, at Knowhere or (possibly but probably not) Ego for example), were sent from the planet Olympia[2] to Earth to defend a barely established mankind from creepy mostly-made-of-tendrils monsters called Deviants, and that those Eternals have been here ever since. Yep, even then.

While that is not the only apparent retcon in the movie[3], it is the least spoilery one, and therefore I am at the end of my review, leaving only two details to add. First, the capsule plot of the movie is that, oops, the Deviants are back, so now the Eternals have to come out of the shadows they’ve been hiding in for at least the past fifteen years and who knows how much longer, to do their jobs once more. Second, to the extent that I am familiar with these characters, which is about half of them: yep, this was written by someone who understood the fundamental natures of the characters, and in particular the portrayal of Ikaris gives me hope that Mr. Fantastic will be done right someday.

[1] and almost certainly badly misused anywhere else. Not guaranteed to be, but it’s the safe way to bet.
[2] I think this is a little funny, but it’s hard to explain why.
[3] I have some opinions here.

Colossal (2016)

Colossal is a movie that is very easy to spoil, so I’m going to be careful for a little while here, and it’s going to be tricky because most of the things I want to talk about fall squarely into that territory. So first, a brief plot summation.

Anne Hathaway gets drunk a lot, so her boyfriend kicks her out of New York City, and she has to move back to her parents’ home (they’re dead already and the house was just left empty I guess?) and figure out how to be a person again, or else get a job at a bar and continue her life-destroying alcoholism. Meanwhile, a giant monster is stomping around Seoul, destroying infrastructure and killing people. These facts are completely unrelated, OR ARE THEY?

I nearly and mostly liked it, despite my complaints below the cut, for which this is your warning that spoilers are forthcoming. I think the more I think about it, the more the scales will tip from the “nearly” side to the “mostly” side.

Spoilers ahoy!

Continue reading

Final Fantasy II

Sixteen years ago, somehow, I played Final Fantasy for the first time, with my only previous JRPG experiences having been an abiding love for Dragon Warrior, deep amusement at Secret of Mana, and unremitting loathing for Final Fantasy VII. You’ll note, if you clicked through, that I had evinced an intention to continue playing the remainder of the Final Fantasy oeuvre. Believe it or not, that was actually true, and I really have been playing Final Fantasy II on and off for all of those many years since[1].

The main difference between the first and second game is that where the first game used “save the world!” as an excuse to string together a lot of random encounters in the world and in various dungeons wherein you could level up and get better equipment and better spells, allowing you to fight harder random encounters and dungeons… In the second game, all of those actions are strung together by an actual plot, with actual characters. I mean, plot and characters as imagined through the lens of the 1980s, but it’s actually there.

I’ll go a step farther, and say that the plot, although largely on rails, feels as if it is reacting to the actions of the characters. Which is impressive! There are three main characters, teenaged friends who get caught up in events, and a floating fourth character, who you are supposed to become attached to but who I largely viewed as a tool who occasionally stole my equipment by leaving the party without warning in any number of various ways.

That said, the game still punishes you for playing a game that old by having bizarrely restrictive spell and items capacities and random bugs that make the nominally most powerful spell in the game be functionally useless. Nevertheless, it was a good game. I mean, if you’re okay with mindlessly wandering the world having random encounters between various dungeons that advance the plot, but that’s just what a JRPG is, you know? (But Dragon Warrior was still better. For one thing, no goddamned chocobos.)

In case you’re wondering if I will play Final Fantasy III: I’ve started it already. (This proves nothing, of course.)

[1] Although I restarted at one point post-2014, switching platforms from DS back to Playstation[2]. (Well, PS2, since manufacturers once upon a time understood backward compatibility.)
[2] Because it’s harder to play a game together on a tiny-ass DS screen[s].

Fairest in All the Land

The last Fables story was also a Fairest story, I guess? Also, the last actual Fables story was kind of a big deal, with repercussions still echoing around the margins. (These are the margins, since this wasn’t a main sequence story, you see.) Downside being, I read that a year and a half ago and only barely remember what happened. Which beats not remembering at all, don’t get me wrong!

Anyway, echoing repercussions aside, Fairest in All the Land is a murder mystery in which a certain mirror that may be evoked by that phrase and Cinderella (who has previously been the star of her own Fables spin-off spy series) square off against… and here we run into a wall called What Exactly Do You Think a Murder Mystery Is, Anyway? But the victims are a who’s who of, er, the fairest… in all… you know what, I’m going to pretend like I didn’t just get that reference.

Plot and plot arcs aside, this book was weird. It’s not that every story segment was drawn and colored by different artists. It’s that the story segments on average lasted three pages each, which… it’s just too many hard corners, is the thing. Whiplash, I’m saying. But the plot was fine, as was the plot arc progression. (And whoever was the artist for the bits that included the Page sisters is good at drawing the Page sisters. Sexy librarians equals best trope.)