Category Archives: Geek Movie Review

Geek Movie MiniReview: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island was, for me, a delight. It knows it’s a giant monster movie with roots in grindhouse and pulp, and it isn’t embarrassed about that at all. But it also sees the benefit in things like characterization, story, pacing, and development.

I clapped with childhood glee, laughed, cried, and gasped. I am exactly the target audience for this.

In my binary digit-based review system, it gets a thumbs up.

Star Wars Spoilers… for Force Awakens

Back when I watched The Force Awakens I noted that I enjoyed it, and that I’d post more thoughts about it when I thought the statute of limitations on spoilers was up.

Now that there’s a NEWER Star Wars movie in theaters, I feel pretty free talking about The Force Awakens without feeling bad if I spoil anything.

That said… spoilers!

Overall I felt this movie had a near-impossible task. It had to get people excited about a whole new generation of Star Wars, from a whole new company. Yes, many fans were… I’ll go with “unimpressed” with the prequels… but they were nevertheless huge financial successes. And they were the definitive Star Wars films to millions of fans who saw them as their introduction to the series — and hated travesties to millions of other fans.

Many of the original actors are still around, and nostalgia creates a strong call to see Leia run a Republic, Solo try to go straight, and Luke train a new order of Jedi. But given those actor’s ages, a new set of adventures really had to introduce new characters.

And, let us not forget, the last new Star Wars film was Revenge of the Sith in 2005. It was a decade old by the time Force Awakens came out, which means the coveted 12-17-year-old crowd were 2 to 7 at the END of the prequel trilogy runs. And that’s just looking at the US market. The size of some overseas film markets grew enormously in this time. The Asia pacific went from $9 billion in 2011 to $14.1 billion just from 2011 to 2015. Many of the worldwide audience you want to draw into a new ongoing series of movies will never have seen the original on the big screen, and may not have seen it at all.

So this movie had to be better than the prequels without denigrating them, give us new characters, give us the original characters, reintroduce the entire Star wars universe to a new audience, and tell a great story. It did some of these things better than others.

For my own take, I loved the new characters. Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB8 were all interesting, great SW characters to me. I even like Kylo Ren, because he is such a winy emo Sith. He’s struggling in a different way than Anakin or Vader ever did, and if Darth maul or Palpatine ever had second thoughts they didn’t make it into the big screen. I am excited to see more of Rey and Finn and their adventures.

I mostly didn’t enjoy the return of existing characters… though the “We’re home!” line choked me up because I am a giant sap, and the love between an adventurers and an old starship is one of my sappiest sap buttons. But Han never felt quite right, Leia wasn’t given much to do, and while Chewie’s grief moved me, it was spoiled by the fact Leia didn’t go to him first when the Falcon returned after Han’s death.

The story itself was workmanlike, which isn’t a compliment when it comes to Star Wars. A lot of the things WITHIN the story I loved, dialog was snappy, combat sequences were awesome, and there was no long, boring podracing equivalent. But a reboot Super Death Star (now with 32% more Death! tm) didn’t interest me, and even lampshading it with Han noting there was always a way to do this didn’t keep it from feeling like a retread.

I FORGAVE the retread parts, because I saw what I felt were efforts to reintroduce this series to a new audience, and I accept that’s a reasonable thing for the first Star Wars movie in a decade to do. And, I loved the dialog, action, and relationships of the rest of the movie. I dislike sill giant cgi monsters getting out of the hold, but adore Rey and Finn having separate, interesting character development arcs. I don’t enjoy R2-D2 being mysteriously “asleep” apparently for years, but I love Luke as the wise but failed elder warrior and teacher.

Yes, a lot of it was watching a reboot of A new Hope. But that story still resonates with me, and I (at least at the moment) don’t think Episode VIII is going to be a reboot of Empire.

Not a perfect film, but one that gave me a lot of good stuff. When I compare that to any of the prequels, I can feel only gratitude and relief. And hope for what is to come. The foundation was laid differently than I would have laid it, but it looks to me to be a strong foundation

And I look forward to seeing what is to be built on it.

At this point, I figure I’ll discuss my thoughts on rogue One sometime in December 2017. 🙂

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Haunted House Review: The Harvest

Lj, Jessie, and I went to “The Harvest” at the Seattle Interactive Theater. It’s a haunted house performance, in our case with champagne service.

There was no photography, which was both awesome (everyone focused on being in the moment, rather than taking selfies) and kind of a shame (the set dressing was the best part of the experience). There were also multiple full front nudity scenes (of both genders) you could stumble upon or be invited into, which I suspect impacted the decision to not allow pictures.

The set up is you have been invited to a party by The Doctor, and you spend time in his lounge at first. Then you gain access to the rest of the facility, and can wander at your own pace through different set-ups. This was less about jump scares (though there was at least one), and more about finding the story in the runes, mad scawlings, set-pieces, actors (who I thought of as NPCs) and out-of-view sound effects.

The production values were similar to what I have experienced at high-end LARP events, with the theater space divided into corridors of biohazard plastic and rooms and nooks at odd angles. As is often the case with such things I wish it was longer (I was just getting into it when the climax hit), but better too short and having it drag on.

There was some seating, which was nice, but not much since you barely have time to view everything at any reasonable pace in the performance time allotted.

I don’t think I’ll get in the habit of doing this every year, but it does do a nice job of immersing you in a foreign space, physically and mentally, and that’s a nice change of pace from a movie or book.

I give it four out of five severed heads.

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Geek Movie Review: Magnificent Seven (2016)

Just got back from seeing The Magnificent Seven (2016). I enjoyed it a lot, and it’s my favorite western of recent years. That said, I don’t think it’ll be considered a timeless masterpiece.

But I don’t NEED a western to be a timeless masterpiece. That’s too high a bar for me to set for success, and on its own terms I thought this was a solid movie. This general plot is one of my favorite stories, and I am happy to see any competent new take on it, even if it doesn’t surpass the originals.

In my rankings of heptaheroic tales, I place this firmly behind Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven (1960), but above Battle Beyond the Stars, Samurai 7 (the cyberpunk anime), The Magnificent Seven (1998 tv show), any of the sequels to the 1960 movie, and The Seven Magnificent Gladiators.

Nearly any heptaheroic makes me want to play an RPG, and I suspect that’s because it’s a story of disparate heroes gathering against overwhelming odds to protect the innocent and downtrodden. By killing people. It maps very well to classic RPG tropes and can often be easily supported by a wide range of rpg systems.

It also makes me want to do more stuff with Guns of Tarnation, for the same reason.

In a binary digit-based rating system, I give it a thumbs up.

Suicide Squad — Not Deadly Boring

Lj and I saw Suicide Squad last night.
Mild spoilers and personal opinions below.
A note on my biases. I was entirely turned off by Man of Steel, and only saw Batman v Superman when it was free on the headrest of the airline seat in front of me… and it was so dull and stupid I nodded off a time or two.
OTOH, the trailers for Suicide Squad looked like fun to me, so I want and saw it.
I enjoyed it a lot. Lj enjoyed it, but not by as much.
It is far from a perfect film. It wants to be the villain version of Avengers, but has even more main characters AND has to introduce them all. It assumes we know who the major DC heroes are, and even some villains, but most of the main characters need enough explanation for us to understand them, and the filmmakers obviously also want us to care about them. That eats into time to actually develop them, and while the more-than-2-hour run time went by quickly, a lot of things felt rushed.
I DID enjoy the arc presented,a nd I thought the actors did great jobs. They were hampered by a script that was uneven in its characterization (more than once characters do something that seems entirely out of character, and while I can tell the movie *thinks* we should know why, any explanation is at best a guess), and motivations and power levels are also inconsistent. Characters prove they are extremely competent, then aren’t, then are again. Threats are stated “If X, then Y!” but logic doesn’t support that claim… and it becomes crucial to the plot.
There are efforts at twists, and about half of them don’t work.
However, there is a lot of good stuff too. I felt the use of modern music to help set the tone and make it feel different from a hero movie with sweeping orchestral scores was brilliant. A few characters came off very well. I can’t help but think if this was the second Suicide Squad movie, a lot of issues with background and characterization would have been solved. As it is, I’m looking forward to the sequel.
Things don’t always go the most obvious direction, which is good (even though the direction they do go is sometimes unsupported). OTOH the movie doesn’t feel like it has to stop and explain every development, and sometimes that works.
It also very much leans on being part of the DCinematic Universe… which I mostly feel works against it instead of for it, though that might be less true in rerun viewing after things like Justice League are out.
There are some problematic elements, the most noteworthy of which is Harley Quinn. She’s a polarizing character, and this portrayal of her tries to walk a tightrope. To me it’s clear there’s a message the movie *wanted* to tell about the abusive relationship she’s in… but that takes a back seat to enjoying sexualizing her and jumping to the action. That’s better than not addressing the issues at all, and it’s not universal in the movie (Amanda Waller, for example, is much more no-nonsense badass than the pin-up version of her we got in both Arrow and the New 52), but I think it’s a fair criticism that the message, if indeed the movie made it, got lost.
On a binary opposable-digit based rating system I give it a thumb’s up, while acknowledging it has issues, and some folks will hate it, and I think a lot of them will hate it for entirely fair and reasonable issues.

Geek Movie Reviews: San Andreas

Here’s my geek-tinted review of San Andreas. Mild spoilers.
First, this isn’t mostly about the quality of the movie. I like cgi disaster porn, and this was a good example of that genre. It gave me everything I wanted in that regard. If the idea of liking “cgi disaster porn” resonates with you, this movie should be fun. If you want more out of the movie than that, I make no promises.
I’m not saying it’s particularly believable, but at least the giant earthquake movie does focus around a major known faultline, and it doesn’t turn the silly up to 11 by having the east coast fall into the ocean or something.
It DOES have a takeaway I loved.
This is a movie that celebrates things I want to be celebrated by pop culture. The heroes are most often reward for being smart and educated, rather than strong or deadly. Indeed, the heroes never kill anyone. Rescuing people, most often through skill and logic, is the thing that allows the heroes to prove they are brave and heroic.
Scientists are rewarded not for magically fixing things with ray beams, but for running experiments to test theories, understanding the world around them, and using that knowledge to inform people.
No, the science may not be great (though it is better than “mutated neutrinos,” not that such a bar should be hard to clear), but the methods and ideas are recognizably sciencelike. Being at a university is heralded as something positive and awesome.
Also, none of the main female characters are powerless. Without their direct action, everyone else would have died at some point in the movie. Yes, The Rock is the main star, but after him it’s a team effort, and it’s very clear his daughter is the next most crucial protagonist. She gets off to a slow start. But after that her knowledge and decisions making keep people alive (a fact noted by other characters in the movie).
These are trends I approve of.
As a geek who loves largely mindless cgi disaster porn, I give this a d10.