Category Archives: movie

Avengers: Infinity War– wild-eyed and totally wacky speculations on what happens next– SPOILERS!!

Okay, just in case the title of this post didn’t get through to you–

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

If there is anyone who has still not seen Avengers: Infinity War and wants to remain unspoiled, STOP READING NOW!!!

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Okay, for here on out it’s your own fault if you get spoiled.  Totally.

So, massive numbers of people have seen the film, and a significant subset of those are freaked out by the ending– about how the good guys lost, how Thanos won, how could they kill off so many characters, on and on.  Come on, guys, what did you think was going to happen?

Despite certain claims to the contrary, I totally disbelieve the idea that Avengers 4 is going to be a “completely different” film.  The Russos are very good story-tellers and they laid a cunning trap for us.  Infinity War is, in truth, Part One of a two-part epic.  As such, it ended exactly as it should have— with the heroes at their uttermost lowest point, defeated, on their backs, not knowing what to do next.  The story required it.  Anything else would have been tantamount to cheating, or, worse, cowardice as story-tellers.  I don’t think you can accuse the Russos of cowardice.  The stunned, weeping fans stumbling out of movie theaters around the world are evidence to the contrary.

Okay, so how do the good guys claw their way out of this hole?  The original comic is no sure guide to where the Russos intend to go.  But there are clues in the movie.  What follows is pure speculation based on my viewing of the film.  I could be way, way off-base, but I think there are points of light in the darkness.

First, Dr. Strange saw 14-million-plus possible futures, out of which there was only one– one— in which the good guys win.  From the moment he ran through those futures, he had to be working overtime to set that one possibility up.  This is the context in which everything that came after has to be understood.

While on the way to Thanos’ homeworld of Titan, Dr. Strange explicitly tells Tony that Strange would let Tony and Peter Parker both die before he gave up the Time Stone.  At the critical point of the battle with Thanos, however, when Tony has been stabbed and appears to be dying, Strange suddenly reverses course and hands the Time Stone over, ostensibly in exchange for Tony’s life.

Most people commenting on this assume that means that Tony Stark is critical to ultimate victory for the good guys, and I would not argue with that.  After Thanos’ departure with the Time Stone, Tony asks Strange “why”.  Strange effectively answers the question in two parts.  He first tells Tony that they are “in the end-game now”.  Then, just before he dissolves, he tells Stark that “this is the only way this could have played out.”  In other words, the one path to victory is in place.  It remains to be seen if the surviving heroes can walk it.

Well and good.  But I think there’s more to that scene than meets the eye.  Watching Strange as he surrenders the Time Stone, the way the scene is cut, and the looks Strange gives Thanos, suggest to me that Strange has jiggered the Time Stone with a hidden spell.  There may be some sort of temporal time-bomb ticking away in it.  Its exact nature, I can’t guess, but I suspect Thanos will not like it.

Another moment in the fight on Titan was also suggestive of something bigger.  At one point Tony manages to scratch Thanos, who laughs it off by saying something to the effect, “All that effort for one drop of blood?”

Hmm.  The very fact that the film calls out what would otherwise be a insignificant injury suggests to me that Tony Stark, armed with one drop of Thanos’ blood, may be a formidable foe, indeed.  A drop of blood means that Tony now has Thanos’ DNA– and Bruce Banner, world-renown biochemist (along with all his other degrees) yet lives. Tailored bio-weapon, anyone?

Finally, there’s Captain Marvel.  The sight of her emblem was the one thing that seemed to lift people’s spirits in the showings I attended.  Some have compared her to Superman, and, by the rood, we could use a little of that OP sledgehammeriness right now.  Or a lot.  Lots and lots.  Seeing Captain Marvel open a really big can of whup-ass on Thanos will probably make my year.

How this all plays out in Avengers 4 is anybody’s guess.  We won’t have a clue until we see a trailer– hell, at the moment I would settle for the movie’s fracking title— except that there will surely be intense battles, further losses, and probably a bittersweet ending.  It would another kind of cheat if the good guys won, and dialed everything back to exactly as it was before Thanos attacked the Asgardian refugee ship.  The lesson of Infinity War seems to be that, when confronting ultimate evil, losses are inevitable.  It may be that some of the surviving heroes will pay the ultimate price, even as they– possibly– rescue some of those who were lost.  We’ll just have to see.

It’s going to be a long year…..

 

 

 

 

 

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Another reaction to Avengers: Infinity War– but with SPOILERS!! YEE-HAW!!

Because I am the obsessive fan-boy that I am, I just had to go see Avengers: Infinity War again this evening.  That’s twice in twenty-four hours, children, and it may end up being three times in forty-eight hours, assuming that tomorrow I can do my morning exercise, pay my rent and do my laundry in a timely manner– you know, all the real-life check-off items that exist merely to allow nut-jobs like me to spend inordinate amounts of money and time re-watching Marvel movies.  What was once merely entertainment is now a way of life.  I am nerd, hear me roar.

(On the other hand, I wonder if seeing the same movie over and over again in a short amount of time is like doing too many wormhole jumps at once?  Hmm.  I’ll let you know, assuming my eyeballs don’t fall out)

Suffice to say, I enjoyed the movie even more the second time around, in part because I was prepared for the repartee going past at Warp Six.  I caught more nuances (especially one that is the core of this post– more about that in a minute), and the audience tonight was especially receptive and engaged.  Also, I didn’t have a distraction this time around that detracted a bit from my first viewing, i.e., tonight’s show was not 3-D.  I didn’t mention it in my post last night, but the 3-D yesterday, for some reason, seemed kinda muddy and dark.  Maybe it was my aging eyes, maybe it was the glasses.  All I know is that I liked the regular format better.

Now, about that nuance I mentioned–

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Proceed no further if you don’t want to know some details about the film.  There, I have said it.  Don’t blame me if you keep reading and have your illusions shattered.

 

 

Okay, late in the film, Thanos has kicked everyone’s butt who came against him on his own ruined homeworld of Titan– Iron Man, Spider-man, Nebula, Drax, Mantis, Peter Quill/Starlord.  He has stabbed Tony right through his advanced armor and it looks like curtains for our playboy/philanthropist/genius (probably didn’t get the order right, but you get the point).  Dr. Strange, injured and collapsed nearby, tells Thanos he will surrender the Eye of Agamotto (aka, the Stone of Time) if Thanos will spare Tony.

Two critical points here– this well after the point in the film where Strange tells Tony that he, Strange, would let Tony and Peter Parker (Spider-man) both die before he would give up the Time Stone.  It is also after Strange, using the Time Stone, has examined 14 million-plus possible futures and found only one in which the Avengers were able to defeat Thanos.  That’s the setup.

(By the way, Tony and Strange do not like each other.  It’s almost worth the price of admission just to hear Strange call Tony a “douche-bag”.  Oh, yeah….)

Then Strange, strangely, reverses course and hands over the Time Stone to Thanos, ostensibly to save Iron Man’s life.  When Tony asks him why he did it, Strange says something to the effect that “this is the only way it could play out”, right before he dissolves (yes, Thanos wins the battle to reset the universe.  That’s part of why the cliffhanger ending is such a pisser).

Uh-huh.  I had funny feeling last night about Strange surrendering the Time Stone so meekly, and tonight I paid particularly close attention to Strange’s expression as Thanos takes the Time Stone.  By doing so I think I caught a piece of subtle business, about on the same level as the look Obi-Wan gives Han Solo when Han makes his ‘parsecs’ crack in Star Wars.  Strange is particularly intent as Thanos takes the Time Stone and puts it into his gauntlet– as if he wanted to make sure Thanos took it and added it to the gauntlet’s array of stones.

Bingo.  I am certain that Doctor Strange, that tricksy smarty-pants, has put some sort of mystical whammy on the Time Stone.  One that Thanos is not going to like.  At all.  One that is going to tick away like a time-bomb and play a big part in the Avengers’ ultimate victory.

The thought makes me grin maniacally and rub my hands in glee.  It makes the cliffhanger easier to deal with.  It is the sort of smart plotting that has made these movies, in general, a joy to watch (okay, not all equally.  Can you people just get over hating The Dark World, please?).

Last night I begged the movie’s producers to speed up the release of the next Avengers film.  I know, realistically, that’s not going to happen, if only because the next film is undoubtedly tied to the release of the Captain Marvel movie (oh, and there’s a sweet tidbit teasing that flick in Infinity War, too).  But I am a-quiver with anticipation.  The next year’s going to pass sooo slowly….

Meanwhile, the only solution is to go see Infinity War again.  I’ll just try not to cackle when Strange hands over the Time Stone.  You’re riding high now, Thanos, but just you wait, bitch– you are going down.

Later.

 

 

 

An immediate reaction to “Avengers: Infinity War”– assuming I can form complete sentences….

This is not a review of Avengers: Infinity Warwhich I just saw on an early showing.  It is more of a quick and emotionally-laden reaction, with just a few observations on a few points in the movie.  Above all, in opposition to my usual habit, I am going to avoid any spoilers, as it would almost certainly make me the subject of mob violence.

Okay, here  we go–

Holy shit.

Holy wild-jungle-spawned bouncing off the wall pull the eject cord and tumble end-over-end through an exploding volcano shit.  With sprinkles on top.

Character deaths.  In the first five minutes.  Before the freaking opening credits.  OMG….

Lots of repartee, much of which goes by really fast, which demands a second viewing, assuming I can find a spare ticket for this movie over the weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.  Frankly, not quite all of it worked– a couple of scenes between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor (that’s no spoiler, their meeting was in the trailers) were a little weak, in my opinion.  But those were minor blips in this tsunami of a movie.

Speaking of trailers, be aware that there was a lot of stuff in the trailers that was not in the movie, and some of the stuff that was didn’t play out quite the same way.  It’s all part of Marvel’s master-plan to keep the fans guessing.

Note:  there is no mid-credits scene, but there is a comparatively long one at the end, and you want to wait for it.  Definitely.  For sure.  I’m not joking.

Huge cliffhanger at the end.  Freaking huge.  If the cliffhanger at the end of The Empire Strikes Back was Mount St. Helens, then this one is fracking Mount Tambora, the reason 1816 was known as the “year without a summer”.  You are warned.

Precisely because of that cliffhanger, they cannot get the next Avengers movie into theaters soon enough.  All we know at the moment is that it is due to be released sometime next year.  We don’t even know the title.  Marvel and Disney, you cruel bastards, make the next movie a Christmas release.  You can do it….

I don’t think there was a weak performance by anyone in this picture, although some of the mid-rank characters go by pretty quick.  Somehow the filmmakers pretty much pulled off the feat of giving all the main characters enough to do so that none of them are slighted, which was something I was seriously worried about.  It’s doubly impressive that the action takes place in several locations at once, and even more impressive that they still found time give Thanos some depth and feeling– not like another super-villain I could name from a certain recent movie.  Yech.  Really, there is no comparison.

Be prepared for a movie that moves really fast, and bounces between a lot of different locales.  Personally I didn’t find the pace too hard to keep up with, but you definitely don’t want to go out for popcorn during the middle of the picture.  Very bad idea.

See this movie, but hold on tight and brace yourself for that cliffhanger.  Anybody who expects this movie to end tied up with a neat little ribbon is delusional.  But it is a tremendous setup for the next film.

Christmas, you guys!!

 

Rogue One– A review

Let’s get this out of the way first–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

So, I held off seeing Rogue One for two whole weeks for several reasons– I hate opening night crowds, I’ve spent the last two weeks helping support a family member who’s been in the hospital, and because, being the spoiler-whore I am, I knew it ended on what might possibly be a real downer, and I knew that I didn’t need any extra downers in my life at the moment.

At least regarding the last item I needn’t have worried.  Rogue One does end with all the good guys, including leads Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), dying in a terminal shootout/holocaust with the Empire on the planet Scarif, but it’s the sort of massacre that appeals to me, where the heroes have won although they give their lives in the attempt.  In this instance, they have secured the plans to the Death Star of Episode IV- A New Hope and transmitted them to the rebels, which means that the end of Rogue One is meant to segue directly into the opening of Episode IV, with perhaps the lapse of only a few minutes story time.

The film, in my quite biased opinion, does most everything pretty well.  It has a darker, grittier tone than most of the other Star Wars films; the Empire has the galaxy by the throat and is about to permanently tighten its grip.  The rebel Alliance is on the run, fractured and riven by divisions and conflicting counsels.  You’re not entirely sure who the good guys are; Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is the paranoid leader of a splinter group too radical for the other rebels, and some Alliance members are willing do things in the name of the Rebellion that are morally dodgy, at best; Cassian, for example, summarily kills an informant in the first moments of the film to keep him out of Imperial hands.

The story bounces from world to world, shifting between Rebel and Imperial viewpoints, as the rebels get wind of the Death Star and desperately try to find clues as to its weaknesses.  Rook, defecting, delivers a message from Jyn’s father, Galen Erso, an engineer the Empire has forced to work on the Death Star, who has built a vulnerability into its structure.  In the end, Jyn and Cassian lead a desperate group of volunteers to the planet Scarif, where the plans for the Death Star are kept.  There ensues one hellacious ground and space battle, as the Rebel fleet joins in and Jyn, Cassian and the droid K2SO try to get the plans.  In the end, the plans are secured and transmitted to the rebels just before the Death Star nukes the Empire’s own base in a vain attempt to keep the information safe.

All the flim’s performances are good, but it’s some of the supporting characters who are the best.  Jyn and Cassian are not quite as engaging or sympathetic as we might want; on the other hand, you find yourself rooting pretty hard for the blind Force monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donny Yen) and his buddy Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang); the defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is someone we watch become a hero in his own right as he overcomes his fear.  The reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is fun, light-years away from the obsequious C3PO, and has his own hero moment toward the end of the film.

All-in-all, the film captures the desperate struggle of the rebels against the overwhelming power of the Empire.  ‘Rag-tag’ is pretty apt for these guys, who only agree on a united course of action when it is forced on them.  The battles are solid action pieces, and the power of the Death Star, even when only employed on low power against individual targets on planet surfaces, is jaw-dropping.

There are problems.  The connection the end of the film makes with the beginning of A New Hope is less than perfect in terms of continuity.  In Episode IV  when Leia confronts Vader for the first time she pretends that her ship is on a diplomatic mission; Rogue One’s ending makes that pretense unsustainable (or even nonsensical), as her ship is shown detaching from the crippled rebel flagship and fleeing, as Vader watches.  Episode IV’s screen-crawl states the rebels have won their first victory against the Empire; if the battle over Scarif is a rebel victory it sure looks Pyrrhic;  all of the ground forces were lost, and what looked to be a good portion of the space fleet– not a good way to start a civil war.

And then there are the CGI images for the Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia.  Personally I think I was able to suspend my disbelief enough that they didn’t throw me, but they were odd, particularly Leia’s; for the brief moment we see her face, she kinda looks like an anime Kewpie Doll.  It’s strange how the images turned out, especially as a lot of effort was expended to get them right, particularly Tarkin’s (Peter Cushing).

On the whole, though, the film works, and works well.  This may be the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.  Certainly it leaves the prequels and The Force Awakens in the dust.  This is the first of a projected set of “anthology” films about different characters and situations in the extended cinematic Star Wars universe that are not part of the main trilogies.  As this expansion proceeds, we are liable to get both good and bad films .  Rogue One, thankfully, starts the anthology off right.

 

 

Three upcoming movies that have my attention

Now that we’re past the hysteria and hoopla around Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I thought I would share some thoughts on three upcoming movies that have grabbed my attention.  In no particular order–

Suicide Squad

Okay, I am at least interested–

Harley Quinn and Deadshot and the Joker (in what may be an even more freakish interpretation, by Jared Leto, than Heath Ledger’s) all in one film– and with Batman (Ben Affleck), too.  It looks like a full house of crazies.

Of course, it is entirely possible that for me Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury are affecting my emotional reaction to this trailer.  You could put Bohemian Rhapsody on a video of a dripping faucet and I’d watch it.

Interestingly, the Comic-con trailer for this same movie has a completely different feel, taking a much more serious and dramatic– maybe even tragic– tone.  The producers might want to figure out their marketing approach to this product.  Remember what happened to John Carter.  Just saying.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

If this film maintains the serious tone of Man of Steel, it will hit the ground– or the screen– with an excellent head-start, as far as I’m concerned.  That approach was one of the best things about Man of Steel, lifting me up and over some irritating flaws in the story logic.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Justice League, but the trio of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman is intrinsically interesting.  I will be interested in seeing how the film handles the initial conflict between Superman and Batman (rather a traditional element in their respective origin stories) and how their friendship then grows to form the League’s foundation.  And, I have to admit, Wonder Woman’s reveal in this trailer is pretty fun.

Captain America: Civil War

Of these three movies, this is the one I am the most jazzed about.  I have become a serious fan of Captain America as portrayed by Chris Evans in Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers movies.  The whole series of interconnected films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a creative stroke of genius, in my biased opinion, the brainchild of fans in positions of power, such as Kevin Feige (and now DC is playing serious catch-up with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad).  It is a great storytelling gimmick and should pay dividends for Marvel and Disney for years to come, even if the quality of the individual films varies (Age of Ultron, for example).

I was never a great fan of Captain America in the comics (for years I was obsessed with the X-Men), but Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap as a decent regular guy who acquires extraordinary powers and then must cope with being displaced in time is one of the best and most consistent character arcs in the whole MCU.  As long as Evans plays the role I will be watching with interest.

On the flip-side, there are upcoming movies that are not particularly on my must-see list–

X-Men: Apocalypse– Despite my deep and long-lasting affection for the X-Men, I’ve found the last several movies disappointing, despite the presence of great actors like Jennifer Lawrence.  After Days of Future Past apparently rebooted the series I have some hope, but I’m going to approach Apocalypse with caution.

Deadpool– hmm…no.  Not a fan, despite the presence of certain X-Men.  Sorry. (Oh, and the trailer’s kinda gory, fyi).

Warcraft– really uncertain about this one, and rather severely disappointed by the look of the trailer.  The live action and the CGI characters do not look as if they were matched up very well. I’ve been waiting for a World of Warcraft movie, and now that it’s here it looks…kinda lame, actually.  Dang.

Gods of Egypt– please.  Overwrought CGI and some sort of battle of the gods that looks like a cheap video-game. No, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows– oh, hell no.

 

 

 

 

A review of ” The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2″

Just yesterday I reviewed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I thought it appropriate to review the other movie I saw last week, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Seeing these two very different movies within days of each other was an interesting experience, to say the least.

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Unless you’ve been on a long interstellar journey, you have probably heard of The Hunger Games books and the movies based on them, starring Jennifer Lawrence. It is the story of Katniss Everdeen, forced to fight in the gladiatorial Hunger Games in a far-future, post-apocalyptic tyranny that encompasses what is now North America (‘Panem’). In the course of the four movies (based on three books) Katniss inadvertently becomes first a symbol, and then a leader, in a rebellion against the despotic Capitol.

The first movie, The Hunger Games, was excellent; the second movie, Catching Fire, was even better. The third movie, Mockingjay Part One, was good but something of a prologue, with the final payoff coming with Mockingjay Part Two. Essentially the two Mockingjay movies are the story of the rebellion against the Capitol and Katniss’ not-always-happy role in it. The rebels manage to overthrow the Capitol, but at great cost and suffering, and the end of the fighting is realistically ambiguous.

The movie resonated strongly with me, and frankly, I liked it a good deal more than I liked The Force Awakens. Partly this is because Mockingjay 2 seems especially pertinent to the real world we live in today– despite the futuristic setting, there are scenes that could have been pulled from Syria or Iraq or Libya today. Right now millions of people around the world are engaged in actual struggles, either non-violent or armed, against actual tyrannies. And, to be blunt, it resonates even more with what could be our own future in this country, if certain hateful and megalomaniacal individuals and groups gain actual political power. We live in scary times, and a movie that warns us against tyranny is particularly timely.

Another part of why this movie worked for me is Jennifer Lawrence. This young woman is interesting even when she’s in a film that I don’t particular enjoy (e.g. American Hustle), and I don’t think I’ve seen her turn in a bad performance yet. She brings some serious vulnerability and conviction to the role of Katniss, and if the previous three movies had not already welded us to her emotionally, Mockingjay Part Two would do it. Her pain at her losses in the war, including her sister Prim (you saw the spoiler warning, right?) is raw and brings home the cost of war, even war in a good cause. Someone has called Lawrence the next Meryl Streep, and I find it hard to dispute the suggestion.

The core of the movie’s action is Katniss’ attempt, against orders, to penetrate the Capitol in order to assassinate President Snow, the head of the despotism. This is part revenge and part an effort to kill the snake (and end the fighting) by cutting off its head. The fight to break through the traps the tyrant has put in her path is horrible, and the cost is high. Katniss finally tries to infiltrate Snow’s palace even as the Capitol’s resistance begins to crumble, which means that she sees up close the suffering of the Capitol’s residents at the hands of the rebels. It’s a powerful moment, as the Capitol’s children get caught in the cross-fire. Mockingjay Part Two is essentially an anti-war film, and the climactic scene of the fighting drives its point home hard.

The ending is not then presented to us with a neat and tidy bow– instead, the film touches on a question that plagues all revolutions– how do you ensure that you do not merely replace one tyranny with another? Katniss, given the task of executing President Snow, instead assassinates District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore), who, as it turns out, committed a gratuitous act of murder in the last battle in the Capitol and in the aftermath is positioning herself as the new Snow. In the book Katniss is put on trial for this– in the movie she is exiled back to the ruined District 12, her home. This is one of only one or two places where the movie left me with questions, but they are pretty minor and don’t affect my appreciation of the movie as a whole.

The very end of the movie, an epilogue years later, is bittersweet, hopeful and powerful. Its power is enhanced by the soundtrack by James Newton Howard, to which I will doubtless be listening for many years to come. It is just about the perfect conclusion to a movie about a struggle for freedom, love, and healing.

Highly recommended.

Okay, I admit it– I’ve got the shivers….

I’m going to wait for a review…really, I mean it…I’m not going to join the horde of people lining up to see this without advance warning…I just wish my fingernails weren’t shredding so badly hanging on to my resolution….

On the other hand, my daughter says, “Forget it, I’m going.” She points out she has never seen a Star Wars movie premiere in a theater– she was a one-year-old when The Phantom Menace came out, so she’s never had that experience. I can totally understand that. I just hope this film doesn’t disappoint her.

Whoever is putting these trailers together should get a medal. They are highly effective at highlighting images and themes from the movie designed to push buttons and excite interest. At least, they’re working for me. They remind me of the original movies, despite the new faces, and that’s what’s breaking down my resistance.

I just don’t want to be disappointed again. On the other hand, I can’t imagine anything better than watching my daughter watching a new Star Wars movie for the first time. That just might sweep away the last of my reluctance. We shall see.

Movie Review- “12 Years a Slave”

It often happens that I only see important films long after their first release. Usually this is because of some economic constraint– being generally broke, I have to pick my movies carefully.

In the case of 12 Years A Slave, however, my delay was because I knew the story would hit me hard–

And I was right. This would be a hard movie to watch if you were Russian or Chinese or Bengali. It is harder to watch as an American; it is harder yet to watch as a white American; it is harder yet again to watch as a Southern white American; and it is even harder to watch the movie as a Southern white American who came out of a natal culture in which racism was an acceptable way of viewing the world. I grew up among people who, to put it bluntly, thought George Wallace in the 1960’s was simply doing God’s work.

It’s safe to say I bring a lot of baggage to this film.

***Mild spoilers below***

The film is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York State, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. As the title indicates, it took him twelve years to regain his freedom, and during that time he gained an intimate understanding of the institution of slavery, as it played out in the lives of ordinary people, both white and black. In 1853 Northup was able to get a message out to his family and acquaintances in New York. He was liberated, and then wrote his memoir with the help of a white Northern editor.

The film is not 100% accurate to Northup’s memoir– a conversation or two are invented, and a few pieces of the story have been changed. On the whole, though, it is faithful to the spirit of the memoir, which is a hair-raising depiction of the dehumanizing horror of slavery, from the inside. There really hasn’t been a film like this before, on this subject. Roots and such-like treatments pale to near-invisibility by comparison.

The film itself is superbly put together, and well-deserved its three Oscars. The cast out-does itself– Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, Michael Fassbender as the erratic and cruel Edwin Epps, Benedict Cumberbatch as Northup’s first, comparatively humane master, and Lupita Nyong’o, now famous as Patsey. Cameo appearances abound, including Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard. I don’t think there’s a false performance in the whole ensemble. The script, by John Ridley, captures the cadence and tone of the speech of the period, no mean feat.

For me, however, the power of the film is how it takes us into a world we can hardly imagine nowadays– the life of a slave in the antebellum South. Depictions of slavery in film have all-too-often been sugar-coated pieces of Confederate propaganda, and even when they were not, they have rarely penetrated to the depths of what American chattel slavery really meant.

12 Years A Slave, by contrast, does not blink. From the moment Northup wakes up in chains, after having been drugged and kidnapped, we are shoved into a universe in which normal human relationships are twisted out of all recognition by the supposition that some men are property and some are owners. In this world slaves are sometimes not even cattle– they are objects which may be destroyed at will. It’s a descent into some abattoir of human spirit and worth.

It feels, in fact, Orwellian, in that it seems to posit the same soul-crushing hopelessness, the same sense of being obliterated beneath an all-powerful authoritarianism. The movie goes to great lengths to prove this feeling is legitimate. The slave regime of the South before the Civil War was, quite simply, a system of tyranny, carefully designed (in a bitter irony, by people who thundered their love for liberty) to maintain control of the slave population, and to deny it any role other than that of un-recompensed laborer. It was illegal in most or all Southern states to teach a slave to read; slaves needed passes to move about beyond certain areas; and, for the most part, slaves had no appeal against cruel treatment. Aside from the law, there was the willingness of the white majority to engage in vicious vigilante reprisals against even rumored insurrection or disobedience. The movie shows all of this– whippings, rape, the inability of Northup to protect his friend Patsey from Epps’ violence, the slave patrol on the road casually executing runaways, the secrecy which the slaves were forced to adopt to protect themselves from Big Brother in the plantation house. Punishment and terror are routinely meted out to slaves as means of keeping them in line.

It also painfully outlines the extent to which slavery ensnared white as well as black. Even the relatively decent Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) cannot keep Northup safe, and must yield to the necessity of debt when dealing with his slaves. For other whites, the absolute nature of the power they have over slaves corrupts them, from Giamatti’s heartless slave-dealing to Epps’ rape of Patsey. Because of their corruption, the whites often live in delusion, blaming the slaves for their own failures, or even the vagaries of nature. Mary Epps blames Patsey for her husband’s ‘attentions’ to her, and visits cruelty on Patsey in retaliation. Epps feels at liberty to impose terror on a whim, and another white overseer retaliates against Northup when Northup shows himself to be smarter than the overseer.

There is, thankfully, little or no trace in the film of the Confederate lie that slaves were content with their lot. This is tyranny, plain and simple, of the same species as the Nazis or the Soviets, only with a different focus. And none of the slaves in that focus are signing up for extra helpings of servitude.

This was a hard film to watch, but I am immensely glad I did. It’s a powerful indictment of America’s original sin, which still reverberates in the racism that justified slavery and which still taints us as a nation. This is, sadly, about as American a film as you can find anywhere. And we need to own that history and that truth, so we can do better.

I highly recommend it.

I will now take a moment to gibber incoherently….

I have got to see this!!

Ian McKellen! Laura Linney! Sherlock Holmes! BEES!

Okay, I have to calm down….

And how is it that the trailer for a little art film (by Bill Condon, who directed Gods and Monsters, another film you should absolutely stop and see this instant) should suddenly engender more acute excitement in me than even the trailers for The Force Awakens?? Obviously it pushes buttons I have been fifty years adding to my psyche, built out of Sherlock Holmes and The-Seven-Percent Solution and watching Basil Rathbone in films that were brilliant, despite the fact that they ignored the original milieu of the stories– and, possibly, because I am dying for a film that is focused on character, and full of wit and intelligence. As much as I enjoy films like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy (and I do, enormously), there are times I need something more concentrated and discerning– the sort of thing to be found, for example, in the 1995 version of Persuasion, another favorite of mine. It is yet to be determined whether Mr. Holmes will actually deliver– again, judging a film by its trailer is problematic– but the premise– an aged Sherlock Holmes, post-World War II (and, yes, the math adds up, if you think about it) is intriguing.

Not to mention, the phrase “Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes” gives me a shiver of anticipation such as I have not felt in a long, long time. I think McKellen should be made a citizen of every civilized country on the planet, and whatever alien worlds we may contact, as well. The guy is just that damn good.

Okay– got that off my chest. Now I’ll lay down for a while with a wet cloth over my face.

Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait….

“Edge of Tomorrow”- a review of pros and cons…or an old man’s picky rant….

When the Tom Cruise action vehicle Edge of Tomorrow opened last year, I was in no rush to see it. I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan, and word-of-mouth seemed to indicate the film wasn’t particularly well-executed. It subsequently did not perform very well at the box-office, and the film more-or-less dropped off my radar.

Fast-forward to this week. While browsing the DVD shelves of the public library I came across a copy of the movie. I thought what the heck, it worked for John Carter, and checked it out.

And I am glad I did, because that meant I didn’t have to pay for the movie.

Actually, that’s not wholly fair. The movie has some very good parts– quite a number, in fact. The problem seems to be that they are more than counter-balanced by things I consider net negatives. So much so, in fact, that I am dispensing with my normal review format and presenting my thoughts as pros and cons, which will allow me to praise the good bits and descant upon the bad.

But before we begin–

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Pro: The premise is interesting– an alien race has invaded the Earth, overrunning most of Europe. The remaining nations of humanity band together to crush the aliens, inspired by an apparent initial victory. A major assault from England to France is planned. Unfortunately, the aliens have other plans.

Con: Tom Cruise’s character, Cage, an American officer who is basically just a PR front man. He is also an abject coward who literally tries to run away from battle. Perhaps this con is a little unfair, because it’s clear that we are meant to despise Cage, and so appreciate his redemption. Perhaps I would have bought it more readily if someone other than Cruise had played the role.

The assault goes badly, badly wrong. During the battle, Cage manages to kill a rare sort of alien. Bathed in the creature’s blood, he dies and finds himself returned to the previous day, fully aware of what has happened. He then loops through the same day, dying over and over again, as he slowly realizes he has to find a way to break the time-loop and beat the aliens.

Pro: Emily Blunt as Rita, a hardened soldier whose performance in the first human victory is held up as a major inspiration. She hides a secret, though– for a time she was also trapped in a time loop, like Cage. In the process she discovered that this is an ability the aliens possess, which they use to their advantage. Unless she and Cage can use that ability, now passed on to Cage, to figure out the hiding place of the Omega– the ruling hive mind of the invaders– and destroy it, the aliens will win. Blunt is one of the movie’s very brightest spots. She could have carried the film all by herself (hello, Hollywood, get a clue…).

Con: Tom Cruise. I mentioned this already, right?

Pro: You get to see Tom Cruise die over and over again.

Con: Unfortunately, you have to watch Emily Blunt die over and over again as well, which is a whole other basket of squirmy aliens.

Pro: Bill Paxton, as a loquacious master sergeant. Master Sergeant Farell is cheerfully poetic, in a blood-thirsty way. Paxton was obviously having a lot of fun with this role.

Con: Brits doing American accents. Why is it some, often very fine, British actors just can’t do ‘Murican? It puzzles the crap out of me, especially when they’re trying to do a Southern accent. Nails on a blackboard would be sweet by comparison.

Pro: I liked the powered exo-skeletons the soldiers are equipped with. They look very much like what I think a first-generation powered battle mechanism would look like.

Con: I hated the powered exo-skeletons the soldiers are equipped with, precisely because they resemble first-generation devices. It’s a story logic thingie– yeah, you can mounted an array of weapons on them, but they are slow and clunky (moving in them the soldiers look like they’ve just come down with a sudden misery in the bowels), and I would think that they would be more of a hindrance than an asset in an assault situation.

Con: Why in the name of heated Cheez Whiz are the Earthlings assaulting across what I presume are the beaches of France in the first place, as if it were 1944 all over again? Exactly where the enemy would have their strongest defenses (closest to the English advance bases)? Haven’t these people heard of “vertical envelopment” and “hitting them where they ain’t”?

I will now pause for a moment to dilate upon one of my pet peeves– the fact that too many people in Hollywood have no frigging clue how the military works. Everything from strategy down to nitpicking details like saluting and haircuts gets screwed up. For the love of Almighty God, even Vanessa Redgrave, who’s like the Mount Rushmore of British actors, absolutely flubbed her salute of Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus. As for Edge of Tomorrow, was the director (Doug Liman) too scared of Tom Cruise to make him get a military haircut? Whatever the reason, Cruise’s shaggy thatch bugged me through the whole movie.

Okay, mini-rant over. Having said that–

Pro: the action in the assault, which we see over and over again as Cruise’s character relives it, is just as frantic and confused and horrible as a massive assault going wrong would be.

Con: the fact that we see nothing– I mean, nothing— from the aliens’ point-of-view. There is no communication between the besieged Earthlings and the invaders. We have no understanding of what the aliens are about or why they are doing what they are doing. Even Independence Day did a better job of that, with the telepathic interplay between the President and the alien prisoner (and, strange as it is, I enjoyed Independence Day more than I did Edge of Tomorrow, despite the former film’s horrifying and obvious cinematic flaws. Funny how that works…). The aliens in Edge of Tomorrow are just there as a monolithic threat. They are not characters in the story. For me, this is a net negative.

Pro: the production values of the movie are excellent, and, as far as it goes, Liman’s handling of the Groundhog Day/time loop plot device is pretty deft. Cage and Rita struggle with it and are forced to change directions a couple of times as they figure out the aliens and what has to be done.

Con: having said that, I kept expecting the revelation of an additional plot layer to the movie, perhaps a treasonous collaboration between Earthlings and aliens, perhaps something going on with the Earth forces commander, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). One or two plot points didn’t quite click, such as Brigham’s insistence on sending Cage, a useless PR man, into combat. It was almost as if Brigham had some darker purpose, some motive for getting rid of Cage, but no additional plot twist ever made sense of that action. I kept waiting for another shoe to drop, and it never did. Director’s cut…?

Con: the biggest one of all, the frustrating, story-negating ending. At the climax, when Rita has distracted the aliens at the cost of her own life, so that Cage can dive into the deep pool in the lower stories of the Louvre and blow up the Omega, if looks as if humanity has been saved by the sacrifice of both our heroes. But apparently, as Cage is drifting in the water, the last moments of his life flickering away, he is enveloped by the Omega’s blood/ichor/Super Sauce, and thereby time-looped back to a point in time before Brigham orders him into combat, but with the benefit that the aliens have still been wiped out by the death of Omega. Victory bells are ringing, humanity is saved, the suicidal assault doesn’t happen, and Rita can leave the military behind, go into acting and play Queen Victoria and the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, and all is right with the world.

Which really, really grates on me. The problem with this ending is that it is, effectively, a story in which nothing changes, or, to put it another way, in which there is no necessary sacrifice that brings about the resolution. At the very least I expected Cage or Rita to die heroically and stay dead, despite the time-loop, as the price to be paid for saving humanity. As it is, there is no net death or sacrifice, and the victory seems empty as a result. The only real change is that Cage is no longer a cowardly bean-bag, but for me that’s not enough to sustain an entire movie. To me the movie’s happy ending feels false and unearned. Almost by itself it kills the movie for me.

So, in sum, Edge of Tomorrow is a movie that does a lot of things right, but which left me dissatisfied. Now, it appears many critics disagree with me, so it is entirely possible that I am just too damn picky. Certainly, if a director’s cut ever comes out I would be willing to revisit the movie and take a fresh look at it.

Especially if they CGI in a proper haircut for Cruise….

Later.