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A Four Movie Review: Iron Man, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, District 9, and Star Trek (Reprise)

At my local library, there is a limit of five movies. This past week, I checked out five movies. Of the five, the one I will not be reviewing is Howl’s Moving Castle. I love that movie and I’ve already written about it. Or at least the book by Diana Wynne Jones. 

Anyway, on to the four movies I will be reviewing.

Iron Man (2008 dir. Jon Favreau)

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally watch this movie. The short of it is that I love this movie. Seriously, this movie is great. 

The evolution of Tony Stark from playboy merchant of death to hero is powerful. Especially when contrasted to Obadiah Stane, who is likely what Tony would have become eventually, though maybe not so maniacal. 

Robert Downey, Jr. is, honestly, an inspired choice to play Tony Stark. Is there any questions as to why he headlines the Marvel Cinematic Universe? 

Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are equally well casted. Especially Paltrow’s awesome Pepper Potts. 

The one problem I have with this movie is with Stane’s villainy. He goes from being a very well developed corrupt corporate executive to a standard maniacal super villain. I like Stane when he acts like the cool mentor who is selling Stark weapons to both sides. But Stane as the Iron Monger is just your average supervillain. 

But that problem aside, I love this movie.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011 dir. Ching Siu-tung)

My opinion about this film is torn. On the one hand, I love the scenery porn. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure what the hell the movie is trying to tell us.

The visuals are gorgeous. Even if the CGI is poorly done at times. 

The film tells the story of Susu, a white snake demon, who falls in love with Xu Xian, a doctor and herb picker. Standing in their way is the sorcerer/ abbot Fahai, who views all demons as not belonging in the human world. 

Throughout the film, Fahai’s sentiment is supported as he and his disciples battle and trap various malignant demons (an ice harpy, a bat demon, and a pack of fox demons). But, those sentiments are challenged by Susu and Qingqing, the green snake, who are largely benevolent. And, perhaps most tellingly, by Neng Ren, a monk who is transformed into a bat demon.

Things begin to fall apart when Fahai learns that Susu and Xu Xian are married. He demands that she either leave him or face what ever punishment he decides to mete out. The conflict comes to a head when Xu Xian stabs his wife and subsequently steals a magical herb from the temple to save her.

Once saved, Susu attempts to return the favor. At this point, Fahai is clearly the movie’s antagonist. For much of the final fight, he is no match for Susu.

But then, a deus ex machina occurs and the whole point of the movie seems to be lost. In my opinion, this event ruins the movie. Of course, given the deus ex machina, not that surprising.

District 9 (2009 dir. Niel Blomkamp)

This movie is not as bad as I thought it would be. But I’m still not overly fond of it, either. 

The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it tries to be The Office married to a science fiction thriller. I don’t think this works. 

Another problem I have is that the politics of the movie are a little too much like a hammer. Allegory should always be more subtle.

Do I think the apartheid South African government would do what they did to the aliens? Yes. But I seriously doubt that the rest of the world would have let them get away with it, even if speciesism is as omnipresent as the film makes out. I just don’t buy it.

And that, I think, is where science fiction runs into one of its major weaknesses. Does the reader/ viewer actually buy the world created? 

Star Trek (2009 dir. J.J. Abrams)

Speaking of not buying the world created, I still don’t like this movie. I just don’t buy it at all. The plot is still stupid with a poor antagonist. 

I may be the only Star Trek fan who prefers Into Darkness.

Too bad Star Trek won’t be returning to television in the near future. That is where the franchise belongs. 

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Thinking about Media and Genre: What Interests Me?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for two days now. And I’ve been rather distracted by life. And time. But now I’ve got some to spare, so I’m taking it. Tonight, I want to write about media and genre. I want to explore why I want to write in certain media and focus on certain genres. But as I’ve written before, never say never that I won’t migrate to media or genres I have no interest in now.

Media

Poetry: I’ve written poetry for creative writing course assignments. And some of my favorite literature courses have been centered around poetry. But I have no real passion for writing poetry.

Prose Fiction: Let’s divide this up in two, shall we?

Short Fiction: I know I should be passionately in love with short fiction. But I’m just not. I like to read short stories and novellas when I get the chance. But I have no real passion for them. And even less in writing them. I just don’t know. . . I just don’t dig it.

Novels: Now this is what I’m passionate about! I love getting in depth and exploring characters and worlds. Many of my ideas scream to become novels. Novels take a lot of work, though. There is a demand for novelists to have an eye for detail. And an ability to keep the readers’ interest for hundreds or thousands (yikes) of pages. When I develop ideas and projects, they are always divided in two categories: novels and. . .

Comics: To be honest, I’ve had a fraught relationship with comics. Comics were among my first loves. But I’m a fickle and inconstant fan. In recent years, I’ve fallen back in love with comics. Hard. And I want to write them. Now, my main focus is on creator owned projects. I have several ideas for comics series I want to develop. Would I ever want (or love) to write for the Big Two? Hell yeah. I would love to write Catwoman, Red Robin, Young Avengers, Storm, etc. Never say never.

Video Games: Much like comics, my relationship with video games is fraught. I love video games. And I suck at them. Really badly. I’ve only ever beaten a few games. More often than not, I quit at some point in frustration. That doesn’t mean I don’t love watching other people playing. Nor does that mean I’m not interested in how video games are made. Would I ever want to write for video games? I don’t know. I don’t know enough about the industry. But, never say never.

Television: I currently have an obsession with serialized fiction (of which comics and television are the prime examples of). But do I really want to put up with a team of writers, producers, show runners, etc.? Probably not. But who knows?

Movies: Again, I’m not too interested in writing for film. My brother once tried to get me to write a few movies with him. But I’ve never really felt an impetus to want to write a screenplay. I mean, I’ve written a play before. Didn’t like it though. So, I think I’ll pass.

Genre

This post is starting to go on longer than I really want (and I don’t want to write a two part post), so I’ll speed through this. Any questions, please leave me comments.

Given the nature of this blog (and my interests), I’ve always wanted to write speculative fiction. I’ve tended to naturally focus more on the fantasy side of things compared to science fiction. And as I’ve gotten older, that tendency has started to grow.

Perhaps the issue is that the type of science fiction popular with the internet circles I frequent are not the types of science fiction I would like to write. I’m more of a space opera guy. I’m not overly interested in hard science fiction or near future dystopia. Do like a bit of punk, though. If the writers actually know what the hell punk is. . .

But that is not to say that I’m exclusively interested in speculative fiction. For a long time, I wanted to write literary realism. I gradually abandoned that to focus on speculative fiction. But there are inklings of an idea that may be calling me back. I don’t know though. I could still somehow make it speculative in some fashion. You never know with me. I mean, I read a history book and I automatically get ideas for fantasies.

In the end

Crap. This post is getting more than a little long. There’s not much else to say except to always remember never say never. And to never try to predict the future.

With that in mind, lets have a preview of what I want to do the rest of this week!

I want to write a post on space opera. I want to explore my obsessions. And I have The Avengers to review.

There is one thing I want to try, though. In the next few weeks, I will hit my 300th post. I would like to give the choice for post 300 to you, the readers. Comment your suggestions, please.

Later.

31 Days of Post Day 18: Hammer Horror Trio

Last night, TCM aired a marathon of Hammer horror films. Of the films aired, I managed to watch three before bed (and I recorded the rest). I enjoyed all of the films. I did prefer the first two to the third one. But they were all pretty enjoyable.

I’m new to Hammer’s horror films. The first one that I am sure I watched is The Devil Rides Out (not The Devil’s Bride!). I really enjoyed that film and I’ve enjoyed the subsequent horror movies from Hammer that TCM has aired.

The first film aired last night was The Horror of Dracula. I’ve seen this film twice (last year and this year). And each time I enjoyed it. Cushing is awesome as Van Helsing and Lee is sexily wicked as Dracula. I especially like how the characters are changed up to create a rather new plot (Harker as a vampire hunter, etc.) A very interesting take, I think.

I like the usage of technicolor in this film. The scene of Dracula’s death is just awesome.

Now, this film does have some flaws. The background story could be fleshed out more. And where the hell is the story set? Near Castle Dracula or in England? Is Castle Dracula in England?

The Curse of Frankenstein has a better realized backstory. And, of course, Cushing and Lee are excellent in this movie as well.

Comparing this movie to Universal’s Frankenstein, I have to prefer this version. I like the makeup job for Lee’s monster compared to Karloff’s. And I love the fact that the Baron does not escape justice in this film.

The only film from last night that I was not overly fond of was The Mummy. Comparing this version to the original and to the 1999 remake, I have to prefer the former and later films.

My issues with this film is multiple. I do not enjoy the usage of brown face in this movie, for one. Honestly, it looks rather fake.

I am also not digging the sets. Especially the Egyptian scenes which do look rather fake. The scenes set in England looks more believable, but not by much.

Another issue is the overall plot. I’m more a fan of the Mummy being like a dark sorcerer priest (like in the original and 1999) rather than just a mute monster.

And, I’m honestly not very fond of the usage of history. Could they not have tried to get ancient Egypt right? Or at least partially righter than they depicted it?

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, look for my National Coming Out Day makeup post. Later.

A Brief Review of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

I finally got around to rewatching The 7th Voyage of Sinbad yesterday afternoon. I had been meaning to watch it again after several years, but never got around to it (and TCM seems to really prefer The Golden Voyage of Sinbad [which I will give a review when it reairs on TCM in November, if I remember]). Now back to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, I really like this great example of stop motion and high adventure.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (directed by Nathan H. Juran) focuses on an uneasy alliance between Sinbad and the magician Sokurah. The two head to the Island of Colossa to find a roc shell to restore the Princess Parissa (Sinbad’s love interest) and retrieve a magic lamp.

This movie is fantastic and just a little bit different. Indeed, all of the Sinbad films have this unique quality the wizards, sorcerers, witches, or magicians that Sinbad faces are portrayed as realistic characters who are not wholly evil. This is especially true of Sokurah, an at times affable magician who can be as cutthroat as anyone when he needs to be. He is the main antagonist because it is his all consuming passion for the lamp and the power of the genie that drives him to essentially blackmail Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad to get back to the Island of Colossa. I sympathize with him a lot, and on viewing the film now, I really do not sympathize with Sinbad that much. Sokurah, who saved Sinbad and several of his crew from the Cyclops, is routinely disrespected and ill rewarded for his efforts. Does he have his own agenda? Yes, of course he does. Is he justified in his actions to achieve his goals? No, but then there would be no film.

For me, the hardest things to forgive Sokurah over is the initial shrinking of Parissa and the usage of the enslaved genie (Barani). Barani’s plight, and the plight of all bound genies, is sad, and he deserves his freedom. But to go from being a powerful genie to just a cabin boy (although whether he maintains his power is unknown) may be a let down. But it is also clearly wish-fulfillment. What kid wouldn’t want to sail with Sinbad, join Batman as Robin, or be Jonny Quest?

My biggest problem with the movie lies in Sokurah’s attack on Parissa that shrinks her down.
Given what happened the night before, the continued refusals of aid, and the banishment, I find it hard to believe that Sinbad would not suspect that Sokurah himself had struck Parissa down in revenge and to get what he wanted. Indeed, there is no mention of any sort of investigation. It is just dropped.

The acting is hit and miss. The best acting comes from Torin Thatcher (Sokurah), Kerwyn Matthews (Sinbad), and (surprisingly) Richard Eyer (Barani). The rest of the cast are hit and miss generally.

But of course, the strongest aspect of the film is in the beautiful sets and the stop motion effects. I always love how the sets and designs of this genre of film comes to look. Even with the technology they had, it looks great. And don’t get me started on the stop motion. Amazing.

In all, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a great film and a great example of what could be done with stop motion. They really don’t make films like this any more.

A Brief Review of Cowboy Bepop: The Movie

A few days ago, I watched Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (also known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door), and I decided to give it a brief review.

The movie takes places sometime between Edward’s joining the crew (after “Jammin’ with Edward) and Edward’s departure (in the epidsode “Hard Luck Woman”). The film is set on Mars a few days before Halloween. A former soldier named Vincent has obtained a nano bioweapon and plans to use it on the population during the Halloween festivities. As with many episodes of Cowboy Bebop, the crew of the Bebop are accidentally pulled into the case.

I enjoyed the movie immensely and would recommend it to everyone. I liked the voice actiong and feel that all of the major characters had enough screen time save Jet, who I feel is inexplainably left out as a major player.

Jet is solely present to scowl at the others and to cobble together a makeshift air corps to aid in foiling the Vincent’s schemes. Edward gets quite a bit of screen time (in the series itself, she is grossly underutilized) with many of the film’s humorous scenes given to her. Faye is also nicely spot lighted although she disappears for stretches. The true focus of the film is Spike. While the film has nothing to do with his past, he is given a possible love interest in Electra, some enjoyable expository scenes, and two excellent fight scenes with Vincent.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place on Morroccan St. when Spike is trying to dig up information. The character of Rashid is a trip. I love the cigarette lighter grenade and the roundabout conversation. Great stuff.

I also love the concluding fight on the Eifel Tower-like “bridge to heaven.” The entire sequence is very well done. Particularly the fight and the butterflies.

I have some problems with the film however. The possible romance between Spike and Electra comes off as a bit unbelievable for those familiar with the series. I dislike Jet’s lack of presence. And then there is a whopper of a problem.

What is Vincent after? Why is he doing this? This is never explained in the film (although I don’t think that it needs explaining). Something about it seemed forced, in my opinion.

On the whole, a very good movie that largely kept me on the edge of my seat.

Ridiculously Late Review: Avatar (Part Two)

Last weekened, my brother and I watched Avatar for the firt time. I won’t bore you with the basic plot as most of you should probably know it. Despite my expectations (I was expecting Titanic in space), I am surprised to say that I like this film. Or at least the last hour or so.

Avatar starts off slow and shaky, and it is not until midway to closer to the end that the film begins to pick up and actually finds its rthym. While I don’t think Cameron focused too long on any one aspect of the film, I just feel that the first half is too slow and rather dull.

My biggest issue with the film comes from the world building. I’m a whyporn kind of guy, so I like the explanations (even if it comes off as stupid). That said, I have several issues.

I feel that the depiction of Earth as overcrowded, dystopic, and corporatist is certainly cliché by now (particularly since a corporation run future seems to be everyone’s favorite bugaboo). I just find it hard to believe (even in a hundred fifty years) that a single corporation (even with multigovernment backing) could pull together the resources to exploit a planet light years away and hire a small mercenary army.

Speaking of this, the whole reason for being on Pandora is rather ludicrous. Unobtanium? Please, that is just dumb. A much better reason would be if the humans came to Pandora to colonise the place as a new home (with the attendant exploitation). Otherwise, it begs the question, what the hell does unobtanium do that makes it so valuable?

Another beef I have with the film is the Na’vi. In conversation with my brother, I came to the conclusion that for the story Cameron wanted to write work, it had to focus on aliens with a Native American flair. I accept that, I don’t think it could really work any other way. But Pandora is a large place (not as big as Earth but still large), and one would expect that (much like on Earth) there would be some cultural or civilizational diversity. What would a Na’vi equivalent of the Roman Empire look like? Or even a Na’vi Aztecs? Granted, this issue is endemic to much of science fiction as alien cultures are pared down to a “global constant.” It annoys me, but it is what it is.

I also agree with my brother (and several other critics) when they point out the problem inherent in Jake Sully, a human white male (even if he is handicapped), saving the Native Other. This is another typical problem with popular depictions of Native resistence to exploitation. Often a sympathetic (and often the protagonist) member of the exploiter class will find commonality with the opressed and “go native” to help them survive. This is exactly what Sully does in a big way (he becomes Na’vi). Is it rascist? Yes, it is, and it is endimic to this type of story telling.

Now for what works.

The visuals are amazing. So pretty and well rendered. Often, it is the real-life actors who look fake compared to the CGI. That is an accomplishment.

While I am not too pleased with the world building, I have to say that I enjoy the plot of the movie immensely. While I wish it had gone into more details, I really like it.

Avatar is a great film, not the greatest and certainly does not live up to its hype, but amaizing anyway. While from my comments above, I should dislike the movie, most of the problems I have do not take away from the enjoyment factor. Some of it is frustrating and unimaginative, but it is a good movie.

Do Graphic Novels make better movies?

I love comic book movies. Yes I said movies, mainly because I prefer not reading to reading most days of my life. That being said, I asked myself and anybody else who would listen, which makes a better adaptation, comic books or graphic novels? I got a lot of mixed responses, so I figured I would  ask that question here. In doing so, I will list my top ten comic book/graphic novel adaptations. Now with most things in life, I know not everyone will agree with my list or what I may have to say, I’m just stating my opinion on the subject. If you like, feel free to leave your own top ten or top five in the comments. Now that that’s out of the way, lets get on with it..
In my opinion, I feel graphic novels translate better to the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many comic book movies that have been extremely good, but there have also been a plethora of terrible ones. I feel like graphic novel adaptations are better because the plot of graphic novels  equate better to a Hollywood script. With comic book adaptations, what you end up with most of the time is a movie based on a comic book character, not a story arc or substantial plot from the actual comic books. Take for example, the first X-Men movie. The plot of the movie, albeit based on characters from the X-Men universe, was completely original. On the other hand, look at Sin City. The plot of the movie was literally from the graphic novels, almost word for word. Does this make Sin City the movie better than X-Men the movie? In my opinion, yes it does make it better, but to be honest, the Sin City series is my favorite graphic novel series. For me, the plot is the central feature of a good movie. Without a good plot, basically you’re left with just the action, I like to call that the Rambo effect (if you haven’t seen Rambo, the fourth one, rent it, you will completely understand.). Am I saying that only plot matters? Absolutely not, but for me, a great plot always outweighs great action, and great action doesn’t always make a great movie, it makes for a fun movie. Fun is good, but great is great.
Also, in most graphic novel adaptations, there aren’t sequels, mainly because they have already told the story intended. But with comic book movies, you end up with sequel after sequel. What happens then: writers may quit, the studio changes directors, actors are replaced, etc. This then leads to potentially lackluster sequels, which in turn leads to reboots. A prime example would be the X-Men series. The first one introduced us to the X-Men world, the second expanded on that world, and the third one overcrowded that world. Now with this series, writers were replaced and directors were changed. What this led to were plot holes, and various other problems. The movie studio then decided we needed more X-Men, so they delivered us X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and personally, I wish they would have aborted this one. I am not going to get into any more detail about the series on this particular post, but be sure I will revisit this topic in the near future.
And finally, before I get to my top ten list, I would just like to ask one more question. Do movie studios make bad films, or do directors? What I mean by this is, Marvel Studios hasn’t put out a terrible movie yet, but a lot of other Marvel Comics properties that have been adapted to the big screen have been lackluster at best. So, is it the studios’ fault or the directors’ of those particular movies? I tend to believe that it is more the studios’ fault than the directors’ themselves, simply because the studios’ have final say on the scripts and who gets to direct them. For example, Warner Bros. chose Joel Schumacher to direct the final two Batman movies of the nineties Batman series. Those movies, the fourth one in particular, were terrible. Fast Forward about seven years, and insert Christopher Nolan, who has yet to make a bad movie period, let alone a Batman movie.
Now, on to my personal top ten comic book/graphic novel movie list.
10. Blade
9. Batman Begins
8. Kick-Ass
7. X-Men
6. Spiderman
5.  V for Vendetta
4. 300
3. The Watchmen
2. Sin City
1. The Dark Knight
Well, that’s it, let me know in the comments what you think of the list, and how your’s would be different.