Game of Thrones Recap S8:EP5 “The Bells” or “Let’s nuke the series from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure”

Ugh, Game of Thrones, for fuck’s sake…

WARNING: This is a spoiler-laden rant about Game of Thrones. If you have NOT watched the latest episode, DO NOT KEEP READING!!!

LAST CHANCE!

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!! YARRR!!!

Now, granted, there are some pretty great visuals in this episode of Game of Thrones, which you may or may not appreciate depending on how much you’re yelling at the screen over the horrid writing that came along with those visuals.

The episode opens with Daenerys locked away in Dragonstone. She’s not eating and not sleeping and refuses to see anyone. Naturally, Tyrion decides that he can cheer her up by revealing that someone has betrayed her. Daenerys, though, feels like everyone has betrayed her, including Jon. Tyrion reveals that it’s Varys. Dany already suspected as much, and quickly puts together the pieces that Varys is now on “Team Jon”. She knows the reason this is all happening is because Jon decided (for reasons) to reveal his true parentage to his sisters. Sansa told Tyrion, who then told Varys, who is now trying to tell anyone he can, which is exactly what Dany warned Jon would happen.

Jon opts to drop by to see how things are going. He’s arrived in time to watch Varys get barbecued, and he has another “chat” with Dany. By chat, I mean make out a bit before Jon pushes Dany away.

Mind you. I’m like 99% sure that NOBODY in the show has said anything about Dany being Jon’s aunt, and certainly these two HAVE NOT! Yes, I know, many fans may understand this, but I’d argue that casual viewers would not, especially since this is THE CORE OF THE FUCKING CONFLICT between them. It’s frustrating because one conversation between these two characters could lay out this conflict (Jon’s weirded out about being in love with Dany and being related to her, which is probably a big no-no in the North, where Dany is okay with it because she was raised as a Targaryen and Targaryens were fine with incest. The crux is that Dany wants Jon to embrace the incest part of his family heritage, but not his claim on the Iron Throne — should they win). Since nobody appears to love her in this kingdom, Dany decides she’s going to rule with fear.

Tyrion once again tries to convince Dany to not kill everyone in King’s Landing, and says if the bell towers are ringing, it means that the city has surrendered and they can stop the siege (of course, this is the first time we’ve heard anything about bells meaning any such thing, but whatever). Dany reluctantly agrees.

Jamie has been captured by Dany’s ground forces trying to return to King’s Landing, so Tyrion goes with Jon to perform a little treason of his own. He frees Jamie, then tells Jamie to get to Cersei, convince her to ring the bells and surrender the city, then escape through the same secret cove Tyrion did previously and be free to live out their days together. There’s a great, touching goodbye between the two brothers.

Then comes the morning of the attack. Although they capture Jamie, the Hound and Arya cruise on through Dany’s army with no problem. Jamie also slips into the city.

Euron is out in the bay with dozens of ships armed with the spiffy scorpions. The Golden Company marches outside the gates, ready to go toe-to-toe with Jon’s ground forces of Unsullied, Dothraki and Northmen.

And here’s where things go horribly wrong. Among the scenes of Lannister and Greyjoy men prepping for the coming battle, we’re shown shots of the scorpions – specifically that the magic easy-loading, rapid-firing that can easily be armed and fired by one man are gone. Each machine takes a crew of men to painstakingly load and arm the scorpions, which matches what we saw with Bronn in Season 7, but NOT what we saw in the previous episode. (You know, where they could hit a moving dragon at long range with precision and fire at will) So, something is clearly amiss.

Dany decides to attack by diving at the ships with the sun at her back, making her hard to spot until it’s too late. For this battle, the scorpions also returned to having plot-convenient stormtrooper-like accuracy, so, combined with their now slow-reload times, Dany and Drogon make short work of the Iron Fleet and fly off unscathed. She quickly moves on to the walls of King’s Landing, where she easily decimates the scorpions on the walls.

Dany’s signal to the ground troops to attack? It’s when Drogon explodes through the gate behind the Golden Company, raining fire and debris on the sellswords. (See? Cool visual!) She and Drogon roast most of the Golden Company, leaving her ground troops with an easy march into the city.

And, at that point, the battle is basically over. There’s some fighting in the streets, but it’s not long before the Lannister troops realize they’re outmatched. There are cries in the streets to “ring the bells” – because apparently everyone in the city knows about this bell ringing thing. Dany lands Drogon on a parapet while they wait for the bells.

Jamie hasn’t been able to reach Cersei, though, and as he opts to try get to her through the cove, he runs into Euron, who has a) survived and b) arrived at the exact same spot at the exact same time as Jamie has because of course he does.

Jamie and Euron duel for Cersei? And, Jamie wins, but not without getting very fatal blows from Euron, yet he can still stumbles on into the castle.

Someone eventually rings the bells. Jon sighs, thinking the job is done. Everyone stands down.

Except…

Dany, who has won the day, glares angrily at the Red Keep. After a minute or so, she decides “fuck it” and takes off with Drogon. Then, she proceeds to lay waste to the entire city of King’s Landing and everyone in it. After watching Dany fly off, Grey Worm decides to “fuck it” as well and he and the ground troops begin killing everyone on the ground.

This is the moment that is already causing huge debates online. I’m on the side that even with the hints that Daenerys could be brutal, I think they’ve taken too many shortcuts in this season. Her “descent” into becoming the “Mad Queen” isn’t shown to us, especially after spending so much time trying to turn her into someone more heroic.

Because the show’s creators are entirely focused on hitting all of the plot beats they’ve planned for the last episodes, they’ve completely ignored the characters in the story. So, much like Dany, characters are making bonkers decisions that run completely against their typical behavior, and it ruins the overall effect. Daenerys’ fall is just the most egregious example (so far).

Jon, of course, mostly stands around doing nothing, as he gawks in shock as Dany and his own troops decide it’s a killing free-for-all. He eventually kills one of his own men trying to rape an innocent woman. Eventually, he realizes that Dany may have forgotten she has men in the city and is just as likely to kill all of them, so he orders everyone to fall back.

Instead of seeing a final conflict between the two queens, Jamie and Cersei wind up trapped underneath the Red Keep. They’re trying to escape, but find that the exits are sealed, and wind up dying together as the Red Keep falls on top of them.

Oh sure, there’s a Cleganebowl, which was fine, but there’s no final confrontation between the two Queens, which was really disappointing. Qyburn dies as well, and I imagine a lot of people cheered at that (I did).

And Arya… there’s a good, what, 15 minutes of watching Arya try to escape the city? After entering the keep, the Hound convinces Arya to turn back; don’t let her quest for revenge consume her as it has for him. Go and find a way to live (and maybe murder fewer people?)

So, Arya leaves, but now, she’s on the ground scrambling with everyone else trying to escape Dany’s wrath as she continues to rain fire and destruction down on King’s Landing. After so many close calls it almost becomes laughable, Arya conveniently finds a “pale horse” in the aftermath and rides out of the city.

And. That’s it. Daenerys wins! The Game of Thrones is over! Right?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?

No. Not really.

The most frustrating thing is that so many of the character missteps could have been fixed. The creators are so focused on just getting through their plot beats that not once did they take a step or two back and think: “Whoa, hold on. Why is character X doing Y?” A couple of scenes here, a few lines of dialog there; it might not fix everything, but it would have helped connect some of the dots.

One day, maybe, we’ll get a chance to finally read how George R. R. Martin would have ended the series, and it’ll (hopefully) be a more satisfactory conclusion. That’s assuming GRRM gets around to finishing the series.

But, so far, this season has been a pretty mixed bag. There have been some great moments, but overall, the story is simply flying through the plot beats to get to the finale.

There’s no right way to fix it either. Should HBO have stuck to their guns and kept the show running? Let Benioff and Weiss leave the show and hand it off to someone else? Pushed them into doing two full seasons? There’s no guarantee a new team would have finished the show any better, and more likely, things could have gone a lot worse. If the shows creators are burned out, forcing them to produce more episodes would have also likely created a few more “stinker” episodes just to meet the commitment.

It’s just a shame to see a really great show finish up this way.

Game of Thrones thoughts – S8-04 – Last of the Starks

This is a continuing series on the final season of Game of Thrones.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS!!!

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED! If you keep reading past this point, you either don’t care about GoT or about being spoilers because I will be talking about things that happen in the episode.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS…

Okay, so, let’s quickly recap the Long Night (episode 3) death total. Apparently, I was completely wrong about some of the characters surviving the fight. In fact, all of the major characters, and most of the minor ones, survived the night.

I did go into this week’s episode expecting things to be kind of slow after last week’s epic episode, but it was kind of “meh” instead.

The first, say, third of the episode was pretty good. The survivors of Winterfell are given a chance to mourn the dead and celebrate living.

The Gendy lordship scene was a bit odd. Danaerys starts off by acknowledging first who his father is, then goes on about how his father tried to murder her and her brother when they were young, and finally decides oh, you’re a hero of this battle, so I should make you a lord. So, she does. She recognizes him as a Baratheon, and names him lord of Storm’s End.

This prompts some cheers amongst the crowd and begins the celebration.

To me, the Gendry/Arya scene felt forced. Sure there’s an attraction there, but I always got the vibe that Gendry (until last week) thought of Arya as more of a sister than a potential lover. Sure, Gendry was drunk and excited that he’s a lord now and could marry a lady like Arya. Alas, no, Arya shoots him down, and I think a sober Gendry would have known better.

Yep, I’m totally fine with Jamie/Brienne hooking up. I’m not so thrilled with the final scene between those two. If, after Jamie tells Brienne that he will always pick Cersei, she knocks him on his ass, then storms away with tears in her eyes, I would have been fine with that. I’m not as thrilled with her just standing there crying though; it felt completely out of character.

Then there’s Jon/Dany. It’s an interesting conflict between the two. Jon is hung up on the idea that she’s his aunt, but Dany cares more about his claim to the Iron Throne. Jon feels obligated to tell his sisters, but Dany understands that if he does, it won’t stay secret for long. She also understands that it won’t matter what he wants, once people learn who he is, especially after seeing the people cheer for him earlier that night. She begs him to keep it a secret, but Jon refuses.

And – then – the show goes sideways –

Jon tells Sansa/Arya who he is, via Bran (who apparently is only still around to relay this info). He swears them both to secrecy, but the first chance she gets, Sansa tells Tyrion, who then tells Varys.

Instead of resting their men and trying to rebuild their forces, Dany pushes to go for King’s Landing. Everyone reluctantly agrees.

Jon decides to lead the forces on land, and so says goodbye to his friends. He does not, however, say goodbye to Ghost!!! For fucks sake, man, could you not have spared a minute for your dire wolf??? The shot of a sullen Ghost watching his master leave is just as sad as watching Brienne crying after Jamie leaving.

Strangely, this seems to be the last scene for Tormund and Sam/Gilly, so why not simply have let them die during the battle, other than to give them “happy” endings, which generally don’t happen in Game of Thrones.

Arya and the Hound decide to ride off to King’s Landing. They both say they have some killing to do. Presumably, the Hound wants his shot at the Mountain, and Arya will want Cersei.

My prediction there? Jamie will probably be the one to kill Cersei, adding Queenslayer to his list of titles.

Oh, and somehow, Bronn just strolls into Winterfell and finds Jamie and Tyrion drinking together. Bronn happily threatens to kill both Tyrion and Jamie if they don’t come up with a better counter-offer to what Cersei is offering to kill the two of them. Tyrion offers him Highgarden, and Bronn goes on his merry way.

Then…

There’s a “fast travel” moment – and Dany, her dragons, and what’s left of her fleet are arriving back at Dragonstone. Dany is flying casually on Drogon with Rhaegal next to her. Suddenly, Rhaegal is slammed with a giant crossbow bolt. As he struggles to stay in the air, another pierces his neck, and he tumbles into the sea. Dany turns to find some of Euron Greyjoy’s fleet coming around a bend of a cove –

In the time since their meeting and supposed cease-fire, Cersei and her team have a) redesigned the scorpions, b) mass produced them (as we learn later), including mounting them on Euron’s ships complete with custom squid-like appendages to keep with Euron’s motif, c) the new scorpions are also magically auto-loading (unlike the version Bronn had to use in season 7) d) Cersei/Euron figured out that Dany was heading back to Dragonstone, e) so Euron sat around waiting for days for them to reappear, and f) somehow managed to get the drop on a rider on a dragon who should have seen the ships long before they saw her.

Oh, it gets better. Dany opts to charge the ships. There’s a moment of tension as she charges at them and Euron lines up his shot, but Dany finally relents and turns back. At this point, after Euron and his men hit Rhaegal with deadly accuracy at long range, now plot-conveniently suddenly have Stormtrooper accuracy while Dany, at a much closer range, turns and flees the scene.

Also, never mind the fact that Dany could have veered left, then once out of range, quickly double-backed around the same island “concealing” Euron’s ships and blasted them to shreds before they could come about. I suspect she’ll think of that in next week’s episode.

Bummed he can’t kill the last dragon, Euron turns his scorpions on Dany’s fleet, and once again, he and his men are deadly accurate and quickly destroy the last of her fleet. Somehow, Euron manages to capture Missande while ignoring all of the other survivors from the destroyed ships.

After, there’s a new discussion at Dragonstone where everyone does what they can to prevent Dany from tearing off to King’s Landing and burning it to the ground. They’re aware that Cersei is bringing all of the locals into the city, creating a human shield. They convince Dany to give Cersei a chance to surrender before destroying the city, so the people will “know” that it’s Cersei’s fault that they’re being burnt to a crisp.

Later that evening, there’s a long discussion between Tyrion and Varys about whether Danaerys is really the right person to sit on the Iron Throne, especially now that they have another option (i.e. Jon). Tyrion sticks to Team Dany, but Varys seems to be leaning towards Team Jon.

Jamie, after deciding to stay with Brienne in Winterfell, learns from Sansa about Euron’s ambush at Dragonstone, and everyone figures Dany’s going to burn King’s Landing to cinders. That night, Jamie decides to go back to Cersei. This brings an annoying scene where Brienne begs him to stay, and says that Jamie is a good man. Jamie tells Brienne a brief list of things he’s done and would have done for Cersei, and leaves Brienne in tears.

Of course, for one final, tense scene, we have Dany, Drogon, Tyrion, Grey Worm and I guess the Queen’s personal guard of Unsullied rally outside the gates of King’s Landing. Oh, and look, now every parapet of the castle has one of those new auto-loading scorpions upon it. Cersei is feeling pretty smug at this point, and has Missande in cuffs with her (and others) above the gate.

The hands of the respective queens walk out to the middle. Tyrion offers Dany’s terms of surrender, and Qyburn counters with Cersei’s offer for Dany to surrender or they’ll kill Missande right now. Tyrion tries to convince Cersei, and she has the Mountain lop off Missande’s head. Dany simply storms off.

And, for whatever reason, Cersei just lets them walk away. She’s got Dany, Tyrion and her other leaders right there, in range of her archers, and Drogon is riiiiight over there, maybe in range of the scorpions. Why she doesn’t take her shot and finish “the whole lot” right then is beyond me.

So… yeah. The episode was a mixed bag. The first half was pretty good, and the second half was a mess. Cersei has been reduced to a one-dimensional Bond villain. The writers seem to be pushing Dany to becoming the “Mad Queen.” Jon will likely try to do something honorable and get himself killed.

We only have a couple of more episodes left, regardless. I would guess that next week will be the final battle for King’s Landing, and the last episode will wrap up all of the loose ends after the battle?

Maybe it’ll end up with: Hail Queen Arya, First of Her Name, Slayer of the Night King, and Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms?

Captain Marvel: Good, but Not Great

For the last ten years, Marvel Studios has done an amazing job creating a cinematic universe using “second-tier” heroes from their comic books. They’ve also done a pretty uncanny job of casting the right people as the heroes. Today, who could imagine someone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America (and so on).

Although Captain Marvel is a good, decently paced, and entertaining latest entry in the MCU catalogue, it’s just misses the mark of being one of the great films. It’s like the Tony Romo of the MCU films: Good movie, great numbers ($900 million at the box office so far), but is just missing that extra something special to push it over the top.

The first part of the movie is a bit boring. Starforce member Vers (Danvers/Capt Marvel) suffers from amnesia and is haunted by nightmares. She has been a part of Starforce for the last six years and has no memories before that. She has issues maintaining control of her emotions, and is urged by her mentor and commander as well as the Kree leader she must learn to control them.

On a mission to recover a spy, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, an alien race of shapeshifters who the Kree have been at war with, and is subjected to a memory probe. Strangely, although Vers has amnesia, there’s nothing that prevents the Skrulls from scrolling through her memories with a high-tech TiVo. The Skrulls are looking for a specific Kree agent, and as luck would have it, Vers memories lead them to her. Vers escapes, but destroys the Skrulls ship, so both she and the Skrulls crash land on Earth in 1995.

Once on Earth, Vers runs into a young Nick Fury and SHIELD, and hilarity ensues as they try to track down the Kree agent on Earth before the Skrulls do.

The amnesia angle is a bit of a problem, because it seems like the writers have given little for Brie Larson to run with outside of being a stoic warrior. Once she has a chance to interact with her co-stars, she’s much better, and in some cases, her co-stars really outshine her. Larson does fine with what she’s given, though. She may be the right choice for Carol Danvers/Capt Marvel, but we’ll have to wait to see her in Avengers: Endgame to see if Larson has more to work with.

At just over two hours, the movie feels pretty well paced. As with any Marvel movie, you probably don’t want to overthink the plot too much (like a nit picky thing for me is: where is her Kree uniform? Danvers wears normal clothes during a large part of her time on Earth, but there’s no sign of her Kree outfit or some type of Kree fanny-pack that she’s wearing. Sure it’s something they could have explained in a few seconds, but they didn’t) . The 90’s references are fun, and ensures the film has a pretty great soundtrack. The movie does a decent job of introducing the Kree/Skrull conflict and throws in a few MCU connections.

The creators try to give Capt. Marvel a big “hero” moment late in the film. A lot of the elements are there, like flashbacks of Danvers struggling in moments in her past. But, there’s no real context around the flashbacks, and the stakes aren’t really established, so when she overcomes the challenge, it lacks the emotional connection they were shooting for. You can see what they were trying to do, and I think, with a few changes, they could have gotten pretty close.

Spider-Man: Homecoming borrows a scene like this directly from the comics, and they do a much better job of making the “hero” moment work.

The weakest part of the movie comes near the end. Once Capt. Marvel “unlocks” her powers, she masters complete control of her nearly apparently near-unlimited power within about 10 minutes of screen time. Up until that point, we’ve only ever seen Marvel shoot fusion blasts from her hands. The audience has no idea that she can do the other things or was even trained to do anything else with her powers.

I have no problem with Captain Marvel being ultra-powerful, but for me it’s a case of lazy writing. At least show the audience some glimpse of her doing something else with her powers beforehand.

Hopefully, by Endgame, Carol Danvers/Capt. Marvel will have her memories back and can bring more of a human element to her powers, so she doesn’t end up feeling like the Superman of the MCU. I really don’t want to see Capt. Marvel become this emotionless god-like character like DC has done with Superman in the DCCU/Snyder-verse.

The most touching moment of the film? For me, it was the opening credits. Normally, Marvel movies open with an animated logo sequence. As the 3D logo falls into place, we see animations of comic panels inside the logo related to the hero in the movie. For their 10th anniversary logo, the logo changed to splice in video clips of the heroes from the entire MCU. This year, in honor of Stan Lee (who passed away last November), the logo shows clips of all of Lee’s cameos from the MCU movies (I’m assuming only MCU, but I guess they could have clips from the older movies). At the end of the animation, the logo fades to black before displaying a single, simple message: “Thank you, Stan”.

I’ll be honest. I sorta had high hopes for this film. With this being the first major Marvel movie starring a female super hero, and Marvel knocking it out of the park in their most of their most recent films, I really hoped they would do something special with Captain Marvel.

Instead, it feels more like a standard MCU-paint-by-numbers origin story, and while the movie is good, it just misses that something extra to make it memorable.

It’ll be interesting to see if Captain Marvel becomes a part of one of the other teams (Avengers, Guardians), or if they’ll keep her solo and have a Captain Marvel sequel. Based on the box office numbers, a sequel seems like a pretty sure bet. But with the Disney/Marvel acquisition of 20th Century Fox (and the rights to Marvel’s top-tier heroes), it’s too early to guess if Marvel will re-think “phase four” of their plans for the MCU.

Suicide Squad: A Hot Mess

Although visually interesting and sprinkled with a few great performances and some humor, the mess of Suicide Squad’s story overshadows everything else. It still manages to entertain, though, making it better than Batman v. Superman, but BvS set the bar pretty low.

While it will likely make lots of money for DC, Suicide Squad also does nothing to prove that DC can produce a good comic-book movie outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Secret government person Amanda Waller wants to build a team to combat a potential future meta-human threat (i.e. What if the next “superman” wasn’t on our side). Instead of looking for potential “good guys” (because that relates to a different upcoming DC movie), Waller decides to use villains, including other meta-humans. Ultimately, she argues, the villains are expendable – if something goes south, they’ll throw the team under the bus.

Harley Quinn and Deadshot get the longest introductions since they both involve scenes with the Batman (Batfleck) and the Joker. The other members of the squad get shorter intros: Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Colonel Rick Flag, a bad-ass best-of-the-best soldier is recruited to lead them. Oh, and Katana and Slipknot show up about an hour into the movie with no explanation. 

So after about 30-40 minutes setting up the Squad, someone realizes there should be a villain in the film, and that’s where things go completely off the rails. 

The villain, via a series of badly edited scenes, quickly sets up in Midway City? (because it can’t be Gotham or Metropolis?) and establishes that it’s going to do something very bad to the city (and the world?) and that the military is powerless to stop them. 

So, the Squad is activated. Each member of the team has a small explosive implanted in their necks that can be remotely detonated by Flag/Waller to ensure that they follow orders. Instead of pursuing the villain, Waller sends the team in to retrieve a high-value target in the city and escort them to safety.

So, yeah, although the squad was formed to combat evil meta-humans, and there’s a clear meta-human threat, the squad is sent on an entirely different mission. 

Of course, the squad ultimately winds up confronting the villain, but by that happens, you’ve given up on watching a cohesive story and are just rolling with what happens on screen. There’s a subplot with Joker in order give Jared Leto’s Joker some additional screen time, but outside of the flashbacks to establish Harley Quinn’s story, the entire Joker arc feels unnecessary and tacked on. 

The weirdest thing about the squad? There’s virtually no conflict amongst the team. They all go along with the orders they’re given, and despite that none of these characters were meant to be team players and are thrown together into this situation, they all work together with almost no conflict between each other. 

And, there’s something odd about the music choices. It’s not that the songs are bad, but they never feel like they’re played at the right moments. It feels like the choice to use classic rock songs was a deliberate attempt to try give the movie a “Guardians of the Galaxy vibe” without understanding how or why the music worked in that film.

As far as the cast goes, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn steals every scene she’s in. Viola Davis is excellent as the cool and fierce Amanda Waller. 

Will Smith is fine as Deadshot, with one exception. He’s given the Deadshot mask as part of his costume, but it seems like he’s got a clause in his contract that the audience must see his face on film 95% of the time. He puts the mask on twice in the film, and neither case makes any sense. Arrow’s version of Deadshot didn’t have the mask at all, so Smith would have been fine without it.

Jared Leto’s Joker is… fine, I guess. Trying to do something different from Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight, Leto’s version is more of a crazed, tattooed gangster. He does bring some nice touches to the character, though.

Katana matches her comic-book version. Boomerang is kind of the comic relief of the film. Croc doesn’t have much screen time, but the look doesn’t feel quite right. Croc should have been much bigger, either via a suit or digital effects. Diablo looks great when he transforms.

And the Enchantress – She’s probably the worst part of the film. The initial set up is interesting by setting up the dual personas, and the transformation from June Moone to the Enchantress is pretty good. I don’t think it’s just Cara Delevingne’s performance; the entire arc around this character was so badly written that every scene with her in it disrupts the flow of the movie.

There are already stories out that state the studio got involved late in the project after the dismal reviews from BvS and even paid for some reshoots to add some levity to this film. I read one article that went as far as to say there were actually two different versions of the movie being put together at one point – David Ayer’s version, and the studio’s. 

It feels like the release was a mishmash of both versions, and it shows. Still, it could have been a LOT worse (for that, see last year’s Fantastic Four). 

There are a few great performances (Smith, Davis, and Robbie) in the film and, despite grinding to a halt story-wise halfway through, the movie does succeed in limping to the end and is, if nothing else, at least entertaining to watch. 

Unfortunately, DC still hasn’t managed to find the right combination of elements to produce a comic-book movie that matches the success or coherence of any of the Marvel films. It’s unfortunate, too, because I could have easily seen Suicide Squad capturing a lot of the elements from both Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool and create a distinct movie franchise. 

The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Godzilla – What you'd expect

Much like last year’s Pacific Rim, if you walk into Godzilla looking for an Oscar-worthy performance (well, unless it’s from Godzilla himself), please move along. There’s nothing for you to see here.

But…

If you’re looking for a decent popcorn movie that’s all about giant freakin’ monsters stomping around our world while we helplessly watch with a bit of an “arrogance of man” message, then Godzilla is your movie. It’s not a great flick, but it’s a good movie that follows more in the tradition of the original movies and makes up for that 1998 disaster of a flick by the same name.

For me, the most depressing thing about this movie was the opening scene. It’s a flashback to 1999 (which, I think, is the second summer movie that has a 90s flashback – Spider-Man 2 being the other). I saw the “1999” title and sat there thinking, “1999? That wasn’t that long ago” …before quietly doing the math in my head. 

The flashback introduces an incident in Japan where a mysterious series of earthquakes takes out a nuclear reactor as well as sets up our main characters. The main character, Ford, is a boy at this point, and his parents work at the reactor.

Flash-forward to present-day, and Ford is an adult and a demolitions expert in the Navy who has just returned home to his wife and son in San Francisco.

He has to race to Japan to bail out his father, who, after losing their mother in the accident, has become a conspiracy theorist chasing a theory that the accident at the plant was not a natural occurrence. He believed something caused those quakes and the government has been covering it up ever since. 

Cut to Japan, Ford bails his father out. Dad (played by Bryan Cranston) is determined to retrieve data disks from their old home, which has been quarantined because of the radiation from the reactor, because it will give him the definitive proof about his theory.

For no apparent reason, Ford goes with his dad, and that kicks off the wild ride of the plot involving the humans. 

Every aspect of the human story is pretty forgettable. Ford goes to help his dad, then spends the rest of the movie trying to get home to his family. Along the way, he continually manages to be dragged into the conflict with the monsters. Ford could have handed the story off to another couple of characters and we could have followed them from point B to C. They could hand the story off to other characters to go from points C to D, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

The plot isn’t anything you haven’t heard of before: Stupid humans unwittingly awaken something they have no hope of controlling or understanding. Big monster starts leaving a trail of destruction. Although presumed dead (because the humans awoke something else back in the 50s and then immediately tried to kill it), Godzilla suddenly shows up and is now somehow aware of and in pursuit of the “bad” monster.

The big difference is that instead of tearing up Tokyo or New York, the big battle ends up heading for San Francisco. So, at least ,in one sense, we at least get to see massive destruction of a different city. 

There are a few scenes that dwell on the arrogance of man and argue that despite our bumbling of mankind to destroy our world, nature will find a way to restore the balance. 

Ironically, in a summer full of super-hero movies, Godzilla really plays out a lot like another super-hero movie…

Because Godzilla’s the hero Gotham… er, San Francisco deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a dark grayish green knight.”

I kid, but let’s face it – We’re here to watch giant freakin’ monsters duke it out – and they do. Sort of. 

That’s probably the most disappointing part of the movie. Just as we start to see the big fight scenes between Godzilla and the bad guys, the director decides that’s a good time to cut over to see what Ford or the other characters are doing. 

 The creature itself is also back to the one we know from our childhood and not the oddball super-big yet somehow also super-stealthy creature from the 1998 version.   This Godzilla isn’t all that concerned about all of the military hardware following or attacking him. 

Overall, though, it’s still a decent homage to the original movies from the 60s. Like Pacific Rim, it’s a fun flick to see in IMAX. Like disaster movies? Like giant monster movies? Godzilla is your movie. 

 

The "Amazing" Spider-Man 2 Review

 Okay, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had some great scenes in it. Every fight scene with the web head doing his thing, swinging through the city, fighting the bad guys while making wisecracks and just plain having fun was amazing. The first confrontation with Electro had a great bit that really gave us a feel for what Spidey’s spider-sense does. 

There’s a couple of nice scenes with Spider-Man and a little nerdy kid. 

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry on-screen and are annoyingly cute to watch even though the are-we-or-aren’t-we-dating story drags on for far too long. 

It’s a good summer popcorn movie that could probably have been shorter if that was the original intent of the producers. It seemed like the producers of the movie were too focused on the long game – meaning – they’re dying to transform Spider-Man into a mega multi-movie universe along the lines of what Marvel Studios has done with the Avengers. (Spider-Man’s movie rights are owned by Sony – and they let you know it throughout the film) 

At the end of the day, though, you have a few great scenes wrapped up in a mess of a 2hr, 22min film that milks the love story as long as it can yet rushes to introduce villains, transform them via the most ridiculous means, and turn them against Spider-Man with very little back story. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that the bad guys will likely be back in the sequels. 

While it may be a great idea to create a multi-movie franchise like Marvel Studios, if the first movie(s) aren’t very good, why on earth would audiences bother going to the sequels? After this film, I have little desire to see a “Sinister-Six” movie. (The next “Spider-Man” movie is going to focus on the villains – and will come out before an Amazing Spider-Man 3)

The movie has the elements there, and if they were shaken up and re-assembled in a different order, you might have wound up with a better overall story.

Case in point – There was a scene between Harry and Peter in the trailers where Harry showed Peter that OSCORP had Peter under surveillance, and it was cut from the movie. There was another cut scene from the trailers between Harry and Norman Osborn where they’re discussing Peter where Harry says “What about Peter?” to which Norman replies “Not everyone gets to have a happy ending.”

The movie focuses so much on OSCORP that it seems a shame that those two bits were cut from the film because it could have helped build up this larger epic conflict between OSCORP and the Parker(s). 

(BEGIN SPOILER) – Skip this section if you don’t want to know anything about the movie.

So, imagine how this would work —

Harry comes back to visit his dying father. His father reveals his legacy and fills him in on the research that he was doing with Richard Parker and that Peter may be the “key” to Harry’s survival.

After Norman dies, Harry is going though his father’s “Special Projects” files and stumbles across the research into the radioactive spiders. He also sees that Peter has been under surveillance and finds a video diary entry from Norman discussing his belief (but can’t prove) that Peter may be Spider-Man. 

Now, Harry has motivation to start hanging out with Peter again in order to rebuild their friendship. Show several quick scenes of them together (not the same sequence – make it clear that it’s different dates). 

Later, they have the conversation in OSCORP that we see in the trailer where Harry is showing Peter the surveillance footage while Harry quietly watches Peter and wonders if his father was right about the idea that Peter is Spider-Man. 

This would occur before Harry asks Peter to help him locate Spider-Man because he may be the key to saving Harry’s life.

(END SPOILER)

Anyway… 

Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has some great moments in it, they’re not enough to overcome the weakness of the overall story. It’s a decent popcorn summer movie, but it could have been better or at the very least mercifully shorter.

——————————–

This is a great FAQ (WARNING: SPOILERS!) that jokes about a lot of the good and bad elements of the film. It’s written by Rob Bricken who wrote another ingenious FAQ last year about Star Trek: Into Darkness.

http://io9.com/the-amazing-spider-man-2-the-amazing-spoiler-faq-1572405038

Paper Towns – An Angsty Teen Story Reminiscent of John Hughes

Somehow, I’ve learned well after the fact, I’ve managed to pick up a couple of audiobooks that are considered “teenage” books. I haven’t written a review yet about the other one (Among Others), but this one, Paper Towns, was pretty good.

If you’re a child of the 80s, you’ll fondly (or maybe not so much) remember the teen movies by John Hughes: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful. All of these movies revolved around high school and dealt with the various stereotypes and cliques in school and breaking outside those circles.

John Green’s Paper Towns reminds me of those movies. It’s a quick and entertaining read that captures the same teenage angst that those movies did even though the subject matter of a runaway teen may be a bit darker than those movies ever were. 

The story opens by introducing us to two childhood friends: Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman. They live across the street from another in Orlando and spent a lot of time together. At nine, they go to the park and stumble across the corpse of a man who has committed suicide. We see how the discovery affects both characters: Quentin is freaked out; Margo is fascinated by it. She becomes something of a young detective and learns more about the person, which she then shares with “Q” later.

The story jumps ahead to their senior year of high school, just weeks away from prom and graduation. Quentin and Margo have had little to do with one another over the years. Quentin ends up with more of the nerdy band geek crowd, while Margo has become popular. She’s more than just popular by the “in” crowd. Everyone has heard of or encountered her, and Margo Roth Spiegelman has become almost a legendary persona. 

One night Margo suddenly shows up at his window. She needs a partner-in-crime to assist her as she goes on a one-night spree of nasty pranks to get back at her so-called friends and her now ex-boyfriend, who Margo had just learned was cheating on her with one of her best friends. 

Quentin hesitates, but he goes along anyway. The all-night adventure re-ignites their friendship as well as Quentin’s crush on Margo. 

Exhausted, Quentin goes to school the next day and suffers through it, hoping that Margo will be there and hopeful that everything between them has changed. Margo doesn’t show up for school. 

He eventually learns that Margo has run away. It’s not the first time that she’s done it, though. Margo always leaves clues to her family about where she has gone, and she always returns a few days later.

This time, however, Margo doesn’t come back. After a few days, her parents file a report, and Quentin has to face questions from both Margo’s parents and the police. 

As the police look through her room, they pull down Margo’s window shade. Quentin discovers that Margo has put a Woodie Guthrie poster on the back of her shade, facing his window. Quentin believes this is a clue she has intentionally left for him to find. 

This kicks off Quentin’s quest to find Margo. He follows a number of clues with his best friends, Ben and Radar, to the point where it becomes an obsession. Quentin even wonders at one point if Margo has committed suicide and intended Quentin to find her body, just like they found the body of the man when they were kids. 

In his quest, Quentin realizes how little he really knows Margo. In fact, he learns that almost no one really knows her. Margo has created a persona, a “paper girl” that everyone sees, but she’s kept her true self concealed. While everyone else is focused on prom, finals and graduation, Quentin struggles to understand the “real” Margo, hoping that by understanding her, he’ll find her. The quest also forces Quentin to push himself well outside of his comfort zones: lying to his parents, skipping classes, etc. 

Just before graduation, Quentin finally comes across a clue that he’s certain that will lead them to Margo, and that she’s alive. He skips graduation and makes a last second cross-country road trip with his best friends and one of Margo’s friends – who has joined the group in their search. 

The story focuses on Quentin and Margo. While we learn about Quentin’s friends, Ben and Radar, and Lacey, one of Margo’s popular friends, they’re really not much more than stereotypical characters (Radar – the computer geek; Ben, the funny sidekick, and Lacey – the hot and otherwise unobtainable popular girl).

We never really learn enough about Margo to understand why she turned out the way she did, which to me weakened her character. As much as Margo complains about being a “paper-girl” living in a “paper-town” and the desire to escape where she can be “real.” the character has made every effort to keep everyone in her life at arm’s length. She seems to want someone to know the “real” her, but she prevents anyone from getting close.

Green does a good job of keeping the story pretty light-hearted, even when it seems like that Margo may be dead, or at least, gone for good. For most of the other characters and even the other kids at school, life quickly moves on. 

The only major complaint I had about the story besides understanding a bit more about Margo would have been to cut a chunk out of the middle. There’s a part to the story where the main character spends a little too much time not seeing the next clue even though the author has pointed it out to the reader.

I would have also liked to read/heard an epilogue, where the author tells us (via Quentin) where everyone ended up 10 years later. It’s not a deal breaker though.

It’s still a very entertaining story as these high school seniors deal with their last weeks in school and how much things will change in just a few months. It’s about enjoying time with friends, but also understanding that those friends will be moving in different directions and that you have to let them go.

Paper Towns is probably the closest book I’ve read that captures that same spirit of teenage angst that John Hughes did so brilliantly in his movies. 

 

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

The challenge with saying anything about Star Trek Into Darkness is to say anything about it without giving away any spoilers. 

Overall, I think if you look at the movie with the re-boot of the series in 2009, Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. The movies capture the spirit of the characters in the original series and re-creates the dynamics (and creates some new ones) between the main characters.

It was cool to see Uhura get something to do in the movie, but it would be nice to see a woman with more of a commanding role in one of these films. I think it would be fun to have Kirk have to deal with a female captain that’s almost a mirror reflection of himself. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addition to the movie cast as well. I thought he was excellent in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series, and he’s a great presence in this movie. 

The story, though, is still part of the re-boot, and this one focuses on building the friendship between Kirk and Spock. It also calls to question whether Kirk is really ready for the responsibility of “the chair” – being captain of Starfleet’s flagship vessel. 

Although fascinating, seeing the “origin” part of that story between Kirk and Spock is a bit hard to imagine. If you’ve been any fan of the Star Trek series at all, these characters and their relationships have long been established in our heads. 

Yes, the movie has a few glitches (technical and story-wise) and one scene you may either really enjoy or find super cringeworthy (I fell into the latter group). For the most part, they aren’t a major distraction to the overall story.

Die-hard Trek fans may pick apart aspects of the story and the technology with regards to how things don’t fit in with the original canon. I can easily understand how that can be disturbing to fans. I used to watch Smallville and had to spend a lot of time just shaking my head as the show’s producers played drastically fast and loose with Superman’s canon. 

If there’s one nagging thing that still bugs me in these new Trek films is all the freakin’ lens flare. To heck with 3D or IMAX or whatever, let me pay for a version of the movie with 70% less flare. 

But, here’s the interesting perspective that I read about – and it may or may not help you going into the movie.

Remember – this is a continuation of the 2009 re-boot of the Star Trek movie universe. That movie involved a time-travel plot, and because of the actions in the first movie, the timeline for this version of Star Trek has and will continue to change as repercussions from elements of history changing in the previous movie.

Basically – This ain’t your father’s Star Trek. It’s hard, but try to set aside the history  from the original TV series and original movies before you see Into Darkness.

I didn’t do that, and it kind of affected my perspective on the movie.

I’ll have to go see it again with that in mind now to see if I enjoy the movie more with that in mind.

Bottom line. Give Into Darkness a chance. It’s a very entertaining movie.

Review: The Raven Boys

Even though the target audience is young adult, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys is an entertaining supernatural story that captures all of the teen angst you’d expect, but is still engaging for readers of all ages.

The story centers around Blue Sargent, a 16-year girl from a small town in Virginia. She’s part of a family of local psychics, but unlike her family, she’s not a psychic. Instead, she’s more of a psychic “energizer bunny” that boosts the abilities of the others.

Instead of feeling shunned by her “freakish” family, Blue embraces her difference and really doesn’t care about what other people think of her. Blue stays away from boys because they were trouble, and she especially avoids the boys from Aglionby Academy, “because they were bastards.” Aglionby is a nearby prep school for the privileged, and the boys who go there are called “raven boys” after the school’s mascot. We see her distaste for these rich boys early on in the story. While working as a waitress (one of her part-time jobs) at the local pizza joint, one of the boys offers to pay for her time just to so she’ll talk to one of his buddies.

During an annual ritual at a cemetery where Blue and one of her family watch the spirits of the future dead, Blue sees a spirit for the first time. She’s able to converse with the spirit, and learns his name is Gansey. While still trying to understand why she saw the spirit, things get crazier as she learns days later that Gansey has made an appointment for a session with her psychic family. Blue discovers than Gansey is the same boy who approached her at the restaurant, and his buddies are part of the that group.

She discovers that there’s more to Gansey and his prep-school buddies. They’re on a quest to find a mythological sleeping king and believe that ley lines (lines of concentrated mystic energy) are the key to finding him. Supposedly, whoever awakens the king will be granted a great favor. Despite warnings to stay away from the boys, Blue joins in on the quest and she’s quickly accepted as part of the group.

The boys themselves are a bit of a mismatched group with very different backgrounds, but all are drawn into Gansey’s quest to find the king. The reader is drawn in as well as we learn more about the family backgrounds of Blue and the boys, more about the quest, and Gansey’s obsession with finding the king. Although each is helping Gansey with his quest, they are all on their own quest to understand who they are and their place in the world.

The supernatural aspect of the story revolves around spirits, psychic visions, rituals, and ley lines and is designed to be very vague and intangible. There are no vampires or werewolves in this story which is also a nice change of pace.

There’s also not a lot of romance, either. Blue does find herself attracted to a couple of the boys in the group, it doesn’t become a central part of the story – which, after reading the whiny characters from the Twilight books, is a welcome change.

Despite having some nice effects involving one of the magical locations they eventually find, the deliberate fuzziness of what is happening, magically speaking, gets in the way of the story – especially at the climax. You’ll read through the climax and the aftermath and still be left wondering what exactly happened.

The other unfortunate aspect involves the antagonist. The reader learns and suspects who the antagonist is early on in the story, but he really doesn’t do anything to elevate the stakes for Gansey, Blue and others until very late. In fact, one of the pivotal scenes in the book the antagonist’s arrival is purely coincidental. I wish the antagonist had been more active in elevating the stakes – or at least put pressure on the others that someone is taking an active interest in their quest. That way, once the main characters learn of his identity, the stakes would be even higher.

Outside of that, I found the story to be very enjoyable. After reading the Twilight series years ago, it’s a nice relief to find a young-adult series with a strong-minded female lead character as well as Gansey and his cohorts. Despite the vagueness of the supernatural aspects of the story, I’m looking forward to picking up the next story in the series to see what happens next.