Originally, I was going to include these as part of my 700th blog (spectacularsaurus…whatever I called it). But that ended up long enough as it was, and I was writing it really late. So I had to cut things a tad short, but I still wanted to write these bits, so here they are!
Welcome my friends, to the 700th blog spectacular(saurus Indominous Alpha 3)! That’s right, I’ve written a grand total of 700 blogs for this site! Oh, joy!
Ah yes, there are many ways to celebrate such a landmark blog, none of which are quite as good as a bombardment of gifs!
Alrighty, that’s enough gifs (for now). Let’s move on to (relatively) serious matters. Continue reading
When Deadpool was released in 2016, it was a breath of fresh air for many. Not only did it take the super hero genre to R-rated territory, but it also emphasized humor to a much higher degree than the countless other super hero films on the market these days. Deadpool was a surprise hit, and a sequel was inevitable. Here we are with Deadpool 2, which outdoes its predecessor in most respects, though may not win over those who weren’t already Deadpool faithful.
While Deadpool told a straightforward origin/revenge story, Deadpool 2 ups the ante with stronger character arcs. Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has suffered a tragedy in his life, and is trying to find a greater purpose. He might just find it when he stumbles across a troubled teenage mutant named Russel Collins (Julian Dennison) – who likes to call himself Fire Fist – who is in need of a bit of guidance, not to mention protection once a hitman from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up with the intent of killing Collins.
Its plot may not reinvent the super hero genre, but it feels fresher and deeper than its predecessor, due in large part to the dynamics between the characters. Russel and Cable may seem like typical sidekick and antagonist archetypes at first glance, but as the film goes on they reveal that there’s more to their characters. And this only brings out the best in Deadpool as a character as well.
Deadpool 2 also benefits from being a funnier film than the first entry. The pop-culture references, meta-humor, and zippy one-liners are in full force here. Everything from fellow X-Men movies to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to DC’s less-than-stellar Expanded Universe to Disney’s Frozen gets name-dropped and/or lampooned throughout. The film even opens with a pretty funny visual gag at the expense of the ending of 2017’s Logan. And of course Deadpool 2 is more than happy to make fun of itself most of all, with the crimson hero often deriding his own script and studio whenever an obvious trope or storyline convenience shows up.
While the 2016 original had its charm due to its sense of humor, its story was nothing to write home about. What elevates Deadpool 2 above its predecessor is how it finds a better balance at telling a good story, while also being able to break the fourth wall and make a punchline of itself every other minute. The story may not reach the same heights as some of the more recent Marvel films such as Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War, but its stronger emphasis on character arcs makes it a more memorable story to its predecessor, while not sacrificing the humor and wit that separates Deadpool from the armies of other super hero films of this day and age.
Unfortunately, Deadpool 2 still does suffer from a few of the problems that hindered the original. The action scenes can be either hit or miss, never quite deciding whether they want to be serious action sequences or parodies of them. Similarly, Deadpool 2 seems to have some inconsistent pacing, which admittedly has been a recurring issue with many of the films in the X-Men franchise. Certain characters, even important ones, seem largely forgotten for long stretches of time, and some of the plot revelations unfold somewhat unceremoniously. And although Deadpool 2 is an improvement over the first film, it may not be to quite the extent as to change the minds of anyone who somehow didn’t care for Deadpool’s antics the first time around.
What I’m getting at is, Deadpool 2 is very good, but just shy from greatness. There are moments of greatness here and there, particularly revolving around Reynolds’ and Brolin’s performances, as well as those aforementioned meta-gags. But in a time when super hero films (the Marvel ones, anyway) are reaching a newfound consistency in greatness, Deadpool 2 simply falls a bit short of some of its contemporaries. It may never be dull, but Deadpool 2 also simply doesn’t stack up to the recent MCU output.
If you enjoyed the first Deadpool, it only makes sense that you’d love Deadpool 2. It more or less takes the elements that single Deadpool out in the super hero genre (R-rated comedy, violence, etc.) and cranks them to the next level. If Deadpool can find a foundation that makes it feel more like some of the recent Marvel films and less like, well, the X-Men films, while still keeping its R-rated identity intact, it could be one of the best super hero franchises going (it may also benefit its studio to emphasize it over the X-Men films, which have become more than a little convoluted with their continuities and timelines, things which Deadpool can openly acknowledge and mock). As it stands, Deadpool will have to “settle” for being the funny man sitting on the shoulders of giants. Albeit he certainly would a lot of attention to that shoulder.
In this day and age, pop culture has become self-aware. With the generation that grew up in the 1980s – the decade in which pop culture became culture – now shaping entertainment, it’s really no surprise that movies, video games, and even books are often blatant homages to the 1980s works that inspired them. It should really come as no surprise then, that one of the most popular books of this decade is Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, which largely takes place in a virtual reality universe where pop culture can conveniently be referenced at any and every turn. It seems like a match made in heaven then, that Ready Player One’s cinematic adaptation would be directed by Steven Spielberg, the man who arguably had the single biggest impact on popular culture during its golden age. And while Ready Player One may be the kind of movie you can poke a million holes into, when all is said and done, it does manage to capture that “feel good” Spielberg vibe.
The story takes place in a not-too-distant, somewhat dystopian future. In a time where “people simply want to escape their problems instead of fixing them,” the world takes refuge in a virtual world known as “The Oasis,” where people can live a second life as whatever they like, whether it be their own creation or replicating a figure from popular culture.
The Oasis began life as a video game by game designer James Halliday (Mark Rylance), but over time, became something of its own parallel universe, where its players live quite literal second lives within the game, without the limitations of reality holding them back. As the real world around everyone went to pot (it’s never explicitly mentioned how the world got in the state it’s in during the events of the film), people thrived within the Oasis, finding success, fame, fortune or simply living out their dreams within the game world. The Oasis seemingly took over all media, with movies, video games and all other forms of entertainment being found within the game (where such works can be experienced as they would be in our world via movie theater or home console, or they can be lived through by those playing within the Oasis).
Because of the Oasis’ influence on the world, Halliday’s company became the most lucrative in the world, and Halliday himself became something of a deity in the eyes of many. After Halliday passed away, his in-game Oasis avatar, Anorak the All-Knowing, revealed a new quest within the Oasis. If players can discover three secret keys by accomplishing secret tasks, they can find an “Easter egg” that will give them control over the Oasis and his company. The first such challenge is a seemingly unbeatable death race. Five years have gone by since Halliday’s passing, and no one has found a means to beat the race and achieve the first key, let alone the clues to the other challenges.
There are, of course, evildoers at work in the form of the IOI company (the second largest in the world), run by the conniving Nolan Serrento (Ben Mendelsohn). IOI run questionable operations within the Oasis in order to force others into their debt, effectively making them slaves to the company. Of course, IOI seeks to find Anorak’s Easter egg so that they can gain full control of the Oasis, expanding their empire exponentially.
The hero of the story is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young adult from the slums of Ohio, and whose Oasis alter ego is the silver-haired Parzival. Watts wishes to find the Easter egg, as to improve his life beyond his wildest dreams. His quest for the egg is joined by Samantha Cook (Olivia Cooke), a rebel determined to stop IOI from gaining control of the Oasis. There’s also Watt’s in-game best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), who repairs weapons and vehicles in the Oasis; as well as Daito and Sho (Win Morisaki and Philip Zhao), who often help Aech get out of jams.
It’s not exactly one of Spielberg’s smarter movies, but it does fit in nicely with his nearly unparalleled catalog of adventure-based, popcorn blockbusters. Simply put, Ready Player One is a fun movie. Its premise, while maybe a bit silly on paper, makes for exciting set-pieces, dazzling visual effects (though some of the CG characters may take some time to get used to), and a myriad of pop culture references both visual and verbal.
Now, there are some obvious flaws with the film. Namely, Ready Player One is the kind of movie whose internal logic you can nitpick for hours. For example, in searching for hints of the Easter egg, Parzival regularly visits the Halliday Library, a literal museum of Halliday’s life and memory, where people can actually watch moments of Halliday’s life play out. Despite seeming like the obvious place to look for clues in Halliday’s egg hunt, Parzival is the only person who ever seems to go there (it’s explained that with no one finding the first key after five years, people looked elsewhere for clues after the library failed to provide results. But am I really to expect that no one else is willing to look into a visual recreation of Halliday’s brain for clues?). Similarly, many of the results to these clues turn out to be things that don’t seem particularly difficult to figure out, and it’s hard to imagine so many years would go by with no one finding them when pretty much everyone in the world is playing the Oasis. And as any self-respecting gamer knows, an Easter egg is a hidden object or moment in a game that doesn’t actually provide any practical use. So the fact that Halliday’s Easter egg gives its finder the very practical use of control of his company doesn’t so much make it an Easter egg so much as a secret. But I digress.
In all seriousness, I hate to point out logical stretches in a movie like this. I feel too often these days people let trivial inconsistencies prevent them from enjoying movies, and I certainly don’t want to jump in that boat. The ‘fun factor’ of Ready Player One certainly isn’t damaged by a few “but wait” elements, but it does boast enough of them that even I have to stop and point them out.
Less forgivable, however, is the lack of attention given to the supporting characters. Aech gets a decent amount of screen time, but poor Sho and Daito feel largely forgotten for long stretches of the movie, to the point where you may wonder why there needed to be five heroes in the first place.
As strange as this may sound, the story may have benefitted if the stakes were a bit lower. Having an evil corporation seeking to enslave people, and having a rebellion (yes, they use the word ‘rebellion’) standing against them seems too contrived in a story like this. One scene in the movie sees Sorrento discussing all the advertisements IOI hopes to add to the Oasis when they find the egg. I almost feel like simply playing off that aspect of the bad guys would have benefitted the story. Just have them trying to gain control of the Oasis to turn a beloved game into a commercial. The hero could remain a poor kid trying to get a better life, but does this story really need the dystopian element?
Perhaps I’m just getting sidetracked to what I would have liked the story to be. The truth is the story that is here is still a lot of fun. The movie even expands on the book by widening its inclusion of pop culture to not only be limited by 1980s movie and video game nostalgia, but sees other decades and media (such as anime) sprinkled throughout as well. Yeah, we get to hear some awesome 80s tunes, but we also get to see Tracer from Overwatch heading into war alongside the Battletoads, and an entire planet dedicated to Minecraft.
Okay, so Ready Player One may teeter on pandering with some of the references, but in a movie like this, that’s only aiming to be pure fun, is it really such a bad thing to simply want to see some of your favorite movie and game characters on the big screen? And in a bit of humility, Spielberg actively avoided from referencing his own works, even though he easily could have, given his influence on the 1980s (though somewhat touchingly, Spielberg pays plenty of homage to his protegé Robert Zemeckis, particularly Back to the Future). So maybe these references and cameos are a trap for people like me, but they’re fun and lack vanity, so I’m not really going to complain about falling for them hook, line and sinker.
Ready Player One is a flawed movie: the supporting cast is often forgotten, there are a bit too many sci-fi tropes at play with the bad guys, and the narrative has its rough edges. But the movie is a whole lot of fun, with some terrific action scenes and visual effects, and it only gets better as it plays out. By the end of it, I was happy I’d seen Ready Player One. I mean, you get to see The Iron Giant and a Gundam smackdown against Mecha-Godzilla! Doesn’t that just say it all?
Guillermo del Toro has left quite the impact on the world of cinema. His alternating between Spanish-language fantasy films and more mainstream American features have allowed him to cover a wide range of genres, sprinkling in his uniquely vivid imagination throughout them. Though not all of his films are equally as enthralling, Guillermo del Toro has become one of the few fantasy filmmakers to manage to win over more traditionalist critics. His most recent film, The Shape of Water, even managed to become the second-ever fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Despite this acclaim, along with its terrific acting and a handful of inspired elements, The Shape of Water often stumbles due to its inability to make its central relationship resonate, and for its over-reliance on its clichéd, psychopathic antagonist.
Set during the midst of the Cold War, The Shape of Water centers around woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaner at a secret government laboratory. Though her inability to talk makes her something of an outcast, she has at least two friends in her closeted neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling commercial artist, and fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who works as something of an interpreter for Elisa at the workplace.
One day, the government lab receives a mysterious creature from South America, captured by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). The lab intends to study the amphibious creature under Strickland’s eye, in hopes that it can help them gain an edge over the Russians.
Elisa, curious about the creature, sneaks into its containment center to get a better understanding of it. She soon learns that the creature is capable of displaying reason and emotion (it quickly picks up on Elisa’s sign language), and also finds out that Strickland has been torturing the creature. Feeling a connection to the creature as a fellow outcast, Elisa soon forms a secret bond with it, one which blossoms into romance.
On paper, it sounds like something of a contemporary fairy tale. But sadly, the film only feels like ‘magic’ in small bursts. The idea of a mute woman falling in love with a fantasy monster sounds interesting in concept, but the grave flaw with this central relationship is that the creature isn’t given enough human qualities to make their romance have any real emotional weight.
As it is, taking an amphibious monster – even a humanoid one – and turning it into a romantic interest is already a hard sell. But The Shape of Water fails at making its creature feel like a worthy significant other for Elisa, as it comes across as more animal-like than anything. Yes, the creature can understand sign language, but that’s about as far as its human traits go. Even Giles refers to the creature as a “wild animal” after it devours a cat, and explains that they “can’t expect it to be anything more.” Sure, it’s sad to see the creature get electrocuted by Strickland, but that almost seems like a cheap ploy to get audiences to empathize with a creature that, otherwise, doesn’t boast many empathetic traits.
Sure, The Shape of Water tries its hand at a few other tricks to build sympathy for its monster (the creature even possesses healing powers, which seems like a requirement for all misunderstood monsters by this point). But the romance between Elisa and the creature never really clicks because it doesn’t so much feel like a love between two people – with one of those people just happening to be a fantasy monster – but between a human woman and a wild animal, which makes things feel more awkward than beautiful.
This is only magnified by the film’s inconsistent pace. The earlier half of the film moves so quickly that the romance between Elisa and the creature feels like it just kind of happens out of nowhere, while the second half seemingly comes to a dead stop, with the characters’ personalities and stories coming to a stand-still. This whiplash-like pacing of moving too quickly before stopping in its tracks makes the development of Elisa’s relationship with the creature feel non-existent.
The film’s other great narrative flaw is its over-emphasis on Strickland. Michael Shannon’s acting in the role is brilliant, but he really only has so much to work with. Not every villain has to be a three-dimensional human being, and sometimes the irredeemable psychopath villain can work. But it’s an archetype that’s so overplayed that it’s hard to make it standout, and while Shannon’s acting might make the role a bit more memorable than it would otherwise be, Strickland still comes off as like he’s just ticking the boxes on a checklist of the requirements for a despicable villain. The film makes an attempt to turn him into something of a commentary on the traditional American “man of the future” archetype (he has two children, a nice house, and a seemingly perfect wife to thinly guise his twisted nature), but even that’s a commentary that feels overly familiar. So even thematically, Strickland comes across as clichéd.
Despite its narrative shortcomings, The Shape of Water still has its merits. Again, it needs to be repeated that the acting is top-notch, and though the creature may not be able to win us over emotionally, it is a visual marvel, as are the set and costume designs. Perhaps the film’s best attribute is its musical score, which may linger in the memory more strongly than the film itself.
There are bits and pieces of greatness sprinkled here and there in The Shape of Water, but its core themes of love and feeling like an outcast from society just don’t resonate, its pace feels off, and it falls prey to the old movie trope of dedicating too much time to showing us how cruel its one-dimensional villain is.
I won’t say it’s a flat-out bad movie, but The Shape of Water is far from great, and one of Guillermo del Toro’s clunkier efforts. If it weren’t for the obvious Oscar-baiting elements the film provides, it would be a complete mystery as to how The Shape of Water managed to snag Best Picture while so many other fantasy films got the cold shoulder.
The Shape of Water may boast some merits that rise to the surface. But on the whole, it sinks.
For whatever reason, I decided to watch the 90th annual Academy Awards the other night. Some good movies won stuff and other, more boring movies won others (it’s almost like the movies the Academy decides to nominate has something to do with their consistently decreasing viewership). Amidst it were the usual politics thrown into the mix (which is fine, whether or not I agree with someone, it’s their right to share their beliefs), but less tolerable was the air of self-righteousness that usually emanates from such events, which seems particularly misplaced given everything that’s been going on in the Hollywood scene over the past year.
Okay, I’ve come to expect all that from the Oscars. We are talking about an event where the wardrobes of those who walk on the red carpet take center stage more than acknowledging their own craft, after all. It isn’t exactly a practice in humility.
The reason I’m writing this isn’t about the general attitude that I’ve come to expect from the show, but rather, one particular theme that persistently echoed throughout the show. For (very understandable) reasons, one of the recurring talking points of the show was greater inclusion of women and minorities in movies, which is wonderful. I’m all for inclusion, equal rights, and all that jazz. That’s all well and good.
What got me though was one particular statement (I can’t remember exactly who said it or when, so if anyone can clarify please do). During one of the montages, someone was discussing the new wave of super hero films such as Wonder Woman and Black Panther showing a greater display of representation (the former of course starring a woman, and the latter starring an African-American) with one particular statement saying something along the lines of (pardon the paraphrasing) “It’s empowering to see these kinds of roles. White men get to have this feeling all the time with super hero movies.”
Hold the phone…what now?
Now, this is something I’ve talked about before, and it’s something that a lot of people would probably vilify me for. But I just don’t understand this idea people seem to have these days that, unless a character shares one’s sex or skin color, that an audience is unable to identify with them. Again, I’m all for inclusion, but for reasons being that we’re all human, and different kinds of people exist. I do not, however, think that someone should/could only be able to identify with a character who looks like them.
For one thing, I can tell you that I don’t go to super hero movies to feel empowered because x-super hero is a white dude like me. I tend to go to super hero movies for entertainment, and maybe to witness a strong story with memorable characters. And I think that’s why everyone goes to super hero movies.
Yeah, it’s awesome that we now have characters like Wonder Woman and Black Panther on the silver screen, and I happily welcome it. But I think this idea that people need a character who shares their race or sex in order to relate and empathize with them is incredibly superficial. It’s essentially telling people that things such as skin color and body parts are their every last defining trait, which, to me, seems insulting to them as individuals.
As children, we’re taught that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and that is indeed sound advise that rings true for us as adults. There’s far more to people than their race or sex, and to imply that it isn’t possible for someone to relate to someone else – even a fictional character – because they aren’t of the same race or sex is an incredibly shallow outlook on one’s self and on art.
It is very much possible for any audience to identify with any character, depending on what the character is all about and who they are. I’m not a woman, and I found Wonder Woman to be a very relatable character, and one who was incredibly easy to empathize with, due to who she was a character. She was kind-hearted and brave (certainly more so than myself), and had an endearing quality about her that made her incredibly easy to root for. Similar sentiments can be said for Black Panther, who was a man trying to do right for his country, but becomes conflicted when he discovers a dark secret about his father. These are all human elements that transcend their outwards appearances (just like real life!) and make them universally likable.
If I might venture out of the super hero genre for a second, I can say that I felt a personal empathy for Elsa’s story arc in the Disney film Frozen. Yeah, she’s an animated princess/queen, but she’s also a character who had inner struggles that could be easy to read as an allegory for depression and social anxiety. Those are certainly issues I can say I personally feel for, and have experienced. And that’s something that certainly rings louder than the fact that the character in question was an animated sorceress in a kids’ movie.
Again, I certainly hope I don’t sound anything like those jack-holes who seem to have a problem with seeing someone who looks different from themselves on the big screen. I’m all for diversity, but I also think it’s wrong for someone (even a fictional character) to be a token. And thinking that X-character needs to cover a certain demographic because said demographic would be unable to connect with them otherwise is kind of insulting when you think about it. It more or less sums someone up by their outward appearance, and isn’t that exactly what people are trying not to do?
Movies based on existing video games tend to suck. Sure, I might have some guilty pleasure in the occasional viewing of the Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter movie, but I would never tell you they’re good movies. At least those two examples had some excuse for their poor execution, however, seeing as they were among the first of their kind (in Mario’s case, the first), it’s understandable that studios would have trouble trying to translate the nature of a video game into the movie world.
Even now, however, when games have become more and more movie-like, filmmakers still can’t seem to get things right. And in fact, video game movies may be worse now than ever before (I said I take guilty pleasure in the cinematic versions of Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter, I can’t make that same claim for more recent entries). Granted, some (including myself) might argue that video games becoming more and more like movies makes actual movie adaptations of them entirely redundant, but at the very least it should allow them to be translated onto the silver screen with less appalling results than what we’ve been getting.
Well, it seems the video game movie curse has finally been lifted…if only partly.
I say only partly because, well, this strangely miraculous occurrence of a good video game movie comes in the form of a ten-minute short film. So while the short manages to successfully capture the essence of the game it’s based on, we still have to wait for a feature-length film based on a game to, well, not suck.
The short film in question is Papers, Please: The Short Film, based on the cult classic 2013 indie title, Papers, Please (one of my personal favorite indie titles, which I now feel I underrated in my original review).
Papers, Please was a game all about the immigration process, which may not sound like the most enticing video game concept, but managed to pull off its goals in spades. It managed to somehow be fun, while also being incredibly dramatic and forcing players to face serious ethical dilemmas in the role of a passport inspector in a war-torn nation.
The short film adaptation, released via YouTube in February of this year, manages to capture the game’s look and feel, as well as its unique sense of suspense and emotion (it probably doesn’t hurt that Lucas Pope, the creator/designer of Papers, Please, was one of the short’s writers).
Here is the short film for all of your viewing pleasure. Now let’s just hope that someone can make a video game feature film that so strongly embraces its source material while also providing a good movie in its own right.