A Culture of Antagonism

It was a day like any other, and it was an innocently looking article like any other. But on this one day, this one particular article and this one paragraph in particular that just missed my good side entirely:

Jim Carrey brought us our first live-action taste of Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events, but Netflix’s upcoming TV series adaptation is (thankfully) going in a different direction.

It’s an article from The Verge. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, and I like this publication perfectly fine. I hold no grudges against the author either — this could’ve been published in any fine recent publication. All’s good on that front. I’m also not a particular Jim Carrey fan these days, that doesn’t change a thing. It’s just, this one day, that last sentence got to me.

but Netflix’s upcoming TV series adaptation is (thankfully) going in a different direction

On this day — it’d been snowing, by the way, it was rather pretty outside — this one sentence reminded me of everything I loathe about modern online discourse. I read this sentence — and I invite you to correct me, gosh I hope so much that I’m wrong about this — as an off-hand dismissive critique of the older film Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring Jim Carrey, Emily Browning and Liam Aiken. The sentence seems to suggest that this older film is so atrociously bad that the new Netflix series (which I welcome) thankfully goes in a different direction. THANKFULLY! THANKFULLY!!

It’s fun how bright the day can look when snow covers the ground. Yet inside of me, my heart held only darkness.

The 2004 movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. I dare you to watch the following deleted scene, and not at least have a tiny appreciation for the music and the visuals. Gorge on those trees.

 

This scene ends on a simple note: There’s always something. And this film has just that: something. I heartily recommend it to you. Watch it tonight, I’m sure you can stream it.

While I mourn the lack of a sequel, I’m not objecting to a Netflix remake, I welcome it. It’s a wonderful story, I’d love more. What I mourn is that we can’t respect creative work for what it is. Today we apparently have to hate something that wasn’t a runaway box office success and the beginning of an endless franchise.

In fact Lemony Snicket did reasonably at the box office and got a solid 72% at RottenTomatoes. It featured amazing performances by two of my favorite actresses, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Coolidge, not to mention the protagonist kids themselves. The soundtrack is amazing, and the end titles… oh the end titles. Take it in:

There are no levels on which I don’t adore this film. It’s okay if you don’t. 

Lately it just feels like everyone hates everything. Because it’s easier to dismiss something, than to like it. Because if you like something, you put yourself out there. You reveal to the world what makes you happy, what makes you cry, what makes you reflect, cope with, or just enjoy life. Someone might make fun of you for loving something, so it’s easier to hate it. It’s breeds a culture of antagonism, and while it might protect you from occasional ridicule by people not worth your time, it also insulates you from possibly discovering something amazing.

If only we could see past arbitrary notions of what’s cool to like, and judge movies and music and books on their own merits. Because there’s always something.

Apparently I Like Bad Movies

I watched Jupiter Ascending yesterday, and from the moment I saw flying roller blades, I was in love. The film is saturated with color, culture, style and fashion and detail. It has layers and layers and layers, it’s creativity all the way down! Did you notice the design of the wooden bill the robot servitor bribed the bureaucrat with? It had the slickest little design and it was on screen for barely two seconds. The amount of work that went into this film was astounding, and apparently Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t care, and that makes me sad.

It’s not that I’d prefer everyone like the things I like. I’m routinely made fun of for thinking Time Cop is a good movie, and for ranking Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow close to Raiders of the Lost Ark on the list of my all time favorites. It’s fine, we don’t all have to agree, I’m comfortable with my taste in movies.

What gets me is that that we’ll probably never see another movie like Jupiter Ascending. We’ll certainly never get a sequel. Neither did Serenity, or John Carter, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Or Ninja Assassin. Yet they made Transformers 2, Transformers 3, Transformers 4, and they’re making Transformers 5. That seems so wrong to me.

I understand how it works. The movies I mentioned either did bad at the box office, or critically, or both. Transformers 2 on the other hand pulled in $836m on a $200m budget. Little did it matter that it is almost universally deemed bad. I did see the full thing and to this day regret not staring at drywall for 2h30 instead. I don’t often criticize things — okay actually I do that a lot — but Transformers 2 deserves it. You could cut it down to a 30 minute short, and not only would the film be better, but there might actually be enough story to warrant its runtime.

Jupiter Ascending really didn’t deserve the critique it got. Even if the film wasn’t for you, it had so many other things going for it: the elaborate space backdrops, the castle-like spaceships, the dresses, the sets, hell even the spacesuits that looked like they were ornately carved from wood. Did I mention the flying roller-blades? Jupiter Ascending oozed creativity and worked on so many levels. I still can’t think of a single level Transformers 2 worked on, and I played 100+ levels worth of Desert Golfing.

Successful movies get sequels, and the Transformers franchise is like a pinata filled with money and shame. It’s only natural that studio execs want to keep wailing on it with 2-by-4s. It’s just so unfair.

Prometheus (2012) Mini-Review

Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi after a decades long hiatus with Prometheus, the story of a space expedition to a planet that was mysteriously mapped in 35,000 years old cave-paintings on Earth. In the vein of the classic Alien movie, what the expedition finds on this planet is not quite what they pictured.

If you follow this blogs Twitter stream, you’ll know I’ve been quite excited for Prometheus. Not only due to Ridley’s name being attached — after all, he made Blade Runner — but also because Damon Lindelof co-wrote the movie (who co-wrote Lost). Add to this the fact that Prometheus, while not an Alien prequel, is in fact set in the Alien universe. Making such a movie is a monumental task, and the expectations are huge. So as a mindgame, when I sat down in the cinema I put myself in the screenwriters place and asked myself what kind of movie would I have made, were I given this task. Prometheus hits nearly all the beats I found were necessary for being an Alien-universe movie (and a good one at that). The visuals are completely gorgeous, and there are oodles of Alien references for fans like myself. The movie is long but it doesn’t feel too long. The plot twists are not totally expected. The music is good, and I most definitely felt I had received my moneys worth. Go watch it, you have my blessing. It’s a worthy Alien successor.

That said, Prometheus is not perfect. Many characters feel under-utilized, and some subplots are either weirdly unsubstantial or just not brought to fruition. I would very much like to see an extended cut once Prometheus hits physical media, to see if something was left on the cutting room floor. I’m pretty sure, though, that most of the unanswered questions were ones that Ridley hopes to address in one or two sequels. Which I’d be fine with.

Optional Continuity

So, I’m pretty psyched about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. It’s a space opera following the crew of the starship Prometheus. And unless Scott has lost it, it’ll be a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi adventure.

I have a thing with sequels: I like continuity. Re-casting an actor takes me out of it. Sometimes a “movie reboot” is the solution to whatever ailed the old series; other times it’s a death-knell to a flawed diamond. Turns out there’s a third option: the pseudo-reboot.

JJ. Abrams Star Trek (2009) was created in such a way that if you were new to Star Trek, you could disregard 40 years of baggage. On the other hand, if you were a trekkie1, the movie gave you a straw to grasp at which would acknowledge those 40 years of continuity. Star Trek did the impossible — provide an entry for new movie-goers yet satisfy (the majority) of the trekkies, all the while actually being a good movie! I don’t even need to explain to you what exactly Star Trek did to respect the old continuity, that’s the point. If you didn’t pick up on it, it’s because you don’t need to worry about it.

Now watch this:

That’s continuity. If you want it to be. Did you get it? You might prefer not to read on.

Still here?

Turns out Prometheus is a pseudo-reboot of Alien. Peter Weyland is the co-founder of the Weyland-Yutani corporation, the evil conglomerate and eternal nemesis of Ripley. Which means, if you’re an Alien fan, you can consider Prometheus a successor to Alien. If you like, also Aliens. Perhaps even Alien 3, but I would expect most of you to disregard Alien Resurrection (whose only good part was the whiskey cubes). On the flipside, if you don’t care about Alien, you’re unlikely to watch the above viral video. You’re probably unlikely to even care. But there’s a chance you might go watch Prometheus anyway because every effort has been made to convince you it’s its own thing. The continuity is optional, and I like that.


  1. Or trekker, I don’t care about the difference.  

Nitpicky Star Wars Nerds

The Star Wars Blurays are out. I’m not getting them. And not because Darth yells “Nooooooo” or because Greedo shoots first (or whatever). Simply, I’ve seen them enough times now. I’m done. No, not done in that smug, grown-up “Star Wars is for kids” kind of way, trust me I’m as juvenile as ever. I still love lightsabers, I giggle like a schoolgirl whenever someone says “titmouse”, and I listen to the Mega Man 2 soundtrack on repeat. I’m right down with you nerds. I’m just at a point where I’m thinking it’s perhaps time to throw my love on something else.

The amount of energy spent by the Star Wars fan community discussing the Bluray edits is astounding. One fan (or several, I wasn’t paying attention) is taking it upon himself to restore the “non special edition” of Star Wars in HD:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDMDfUB4Mco

Note how R2s hologram is actually white in the original version, vs. slightly bluish in the “enhanced” version. I totally cancelled my Bluray preorder when I saw this. George Lucas, you ruined my childhood!

That would be me if not for the fact that I discovered other sci-fi television. Turns out, if you have 400 hours to spare, instead of restoring the original version of Star Wars to HD, you could watch every episode of Star Trek ever made! Think about that for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars was good. Especially Empire. That whole Cloud City thing was way better than what they did in Star Trek. Here’s Cloud City:

Cloud_City

And this is Stratos from “The Cloud Minders”:

Kirk_and_Spock_view_Stratos_from_surface

Still, once you’ve seen Cloud City, you’ve seen Cloud City (that is to say, once you’ve seen Cloud City in all three four versions, you’ve seen Cloud City — but don’t worry if you haven’t, they’re pretty much the same save for a tibanna gas refinery). And say what you will about Star Trek, but that Kirk got down with the ladies, even green ones. And not one of them were his sister!

You could also get into Buck Rogers (just pretend season 2 never happened). Listen to them crunchy grooves:

But wait, there’s more. Here’s Erin Grey as Col. Wilma Deering:

erin_gray

… and let’s not forget Pamela Hensley as the evil Princess Ardala. Always trying to score with Buck. Silly girl, didn’t she know Buck preferred good girls? And damsels in distress? And Amazon Women? Occasionally bad girls. But not Ardala! Except of course when he was brainwashed, but that’s another story:

ardala

That may not be a metal bikini, but it sure deserves being restored in HD more than the original Star Wars does.

Next time you get an irresistable urge to spend 400 hours on restoring Star Wars to the way it was meant to be, consider if maybe that time was better spent watching Star Trek or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (season 1). You could also watch Space 1999. Or UFO. Or even the original Battlestar Galactica — heck, any Glen A. Larson show. You could even watch Patrick Duffy as The Man From Atlantis! Patrick Duffy! (It’s all in this pamphlet).

You must do what you feel is right, of course. But sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us. It all starts with a choice. A choice to spend your credits not on more Star Wars. Instead, roll up your blinds and let in the light! Then roll them down again and put on Buck Rogers. Season 1.

Captain America (2011) Mini-Review

captainamericaretroposter

Steve Rogers is a scrawny kid from Brooklyn with his heart set on helping his country turn the tide of the war in Germany, but his physical condition keeps getting him rejected. For his good nature, however, Dr. Erskine is willing to give him a chance to come the super-soldier Captain America, so that he can defeat the evil Hydra led by the Red Skull.

As far as superheroes go, the Cap is one of the sillier ones. While the fashion in which Steve Rogers receives his costume is almost believable, Rogers sneaking into a Hydra camp — all flag-clad — is not. Impressively, the intrinsic silliness of being dressed in red white and blue is trumped by something even sillier: a soldier wearing a bowler hat into battle.

I found the music to be quite anonymous. There was an action montage in the middle of the movie that was out of place and annoying. Some of the climactic scenes were a confusingly put together. There was a post-credit scene, a concept which is starting to feel like a waste of everyones time.

Still, there’s a lot to like about Captain America. Hugo Weaving is an inspired choice — he does wonders with the material he’s given. Joe Johnston delivers on his promise to do a Rocketeer inspired period piece and you’ll see are mini u-boats, tricked out motorcycles and delta-wing planes. The good guys wield colorful weapons and the bad guys are all dressed in black. It’s almost Star-Warsian in its simplistic themes. If you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll very much enjoy this film.

Super 8 (2011) Mini-Review

super8-finalposterfullmontage-full

Six kids are making a zombie movie, as they inadvertently capture a train accident on camera. As they wait for the reel to be processed, they learn that the train accident might not have been a simple accident. The processed film doesn’t make things any less mysterious.

Super 8 is JJ Abrams love letter to Steven Spielberg. From the Drew Suzan-esque poster to the music, from the period to the plot, everything about this movie is an homage to the wonderful adventurous Spielberg era of movie making. And Super 8 works well in it’s places. There are moments when Spielbergs magic is captured.

But Super 8 also lacks some of the natural flow of Spielbergs masterpieces. There are a couple of confusing moments, a couple of messy shots, and at least one — significant — plot point that is somewhat unsettled. The music, while good (Michael Giacchino is my new favourite composer) doesn’t reach the monumental heights that John Williams did — though arguably that task was insurmountable. Finally, like all other movies, it’s too long. 90 minutes is the correct length of a movie. Ask anyone.

Still, Super 8 is a good movie. All the actors are extremely well cast and they act well. Abrams loves a good mystery and he delivers. I can definitely recommend this film.