Category Archives: Film

Blizzard releases trailers for the Warcraft movie and the new WoW expansion

I wasn’t sure about the Warcraft movie when I first heard about it, but now I have to admit that I am beyond stoked about it. I would love to see more female characters, although we get to see both Garona and Draka in this trailer, but I’m just so thrilled with the way this looks I barely even care. If they don’t make this into a series of at least like eight movies, I’ll be very disappointed. Now I just have to make it til June without exploding from excitement.

Speaking of female characters, Sylvanas has been pretty much sidelined entirely throughout the Warlords of Draenor expansion, and in Cataclysm her storyline was partly about how sad she was about not being able to have babies, so I was both surprised and overjoyed to see her kicking ass in the Legion cinematic that was released today. Even more amazing? She’s fighting right next to Varian Wrynn.

This might be my favorite opening cinematic yet. We don’t get to see anything of the new continent, but that could be because the cinematic has green fire on pretty much everything.

I swear, every time I think I’m going to quit this game, it draws me right back in.

Crimson Peak lets the madwoman out of the attic, with glorious results

Crimson Peak has replaced Mad Max: Fury Road as my favorite film of 2015, and that’s saying something because I have a passionate love for Fury Road. I honestly didn’t expect Crimson Peak to be my kind of movie, as I felt like the trailers showed it as more of a horror flick than it turned out to be. While I like the occasional zombie or slasher movie, I don’t like to watch anything that’s actually frightening, so I almost didn’t see Crimson Peak at all on account of its [in hindsight, totally unnecessarily] very creepy-looking ghosts.

I’m so glad I saw it anyway, because if there’s one thing that Crimson Peak isn’t, it’s frightening. Instead, Crimson Peak is a stunningly imagined and gorgeously detailed Gothic romance that is at once a highly traditional take on the genre as well as an incredible subversion and interrogation of the standard Gothic tropes and conventions.

Early in the movie, our writer-heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) says of her own story that it’s not a ghost story–it’s just a story with ghosts in it. The ghost is a metaphor, you see. It’s a little much, really, and it almost feels as if the movie is self-conscious rather than self-aware about what it is. And what Crimson Peak is is a terrifically beautiful, better-than-middling clever twist on a classic Gothic romance. The “twist,” of course, is that the romantic hero isn’t, in any sense of the word. Instead, both of the male leads–impoverished nobleman Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and handsome doctor Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam)–take a decided backseat to the women in this tale.

There are no passive, fragile flowers here. Guillermo del Toro gives us a world that is far fuller of women than what would normally be expected in this sort of story, and just the presence of these other women makes it easier for the characters of Edith and Lucille (the incomparable Jessica Chastain) to exist as the imperfect and compelling women that they need to be to carry the weight of this story.

As a protagonist, Edith seems at first a little too conventional. She’s got a dead mother, a bookish pastime, a dull suitor, and an overprotective father. It’s all pretty genre-standard stuff, but it’s the details that save the first third of the film from being ordinary. The first time we meet the adult Edith, she’s confronted by some social acquaintances on her way to a meeting with an editor who she hopes will publish her novel. I knew I was going to love her when she responded to an insult about dying a spinster like Jane Austen with a quip that she’d prefer to die a widow like Mary Shelley.

It has little to do with the rest of the story and could easily have been cut, but I loved Edith’s meeting with the publisher and the scene where she begins typing her novel at her father’s office with the encouragement of the woman receptionist. It’s material that really has no purpose other than to show us who Edith is and make her a more well-rounded character, which is a refreshing change in a genre that’s known for paper-thin heroines.

That said, I almost wonder why they bothered with Edith’s background as an aspiring novelist. Once she marries Thomas and moves to England, her writing is largely forgotten as she becomes consumed with uncovering the secrets of Allerdale Hall. On the one hand this makes sense, what with the ghosts and all, and it makes Edith an extremely genre-savvy heroine. On the other hand, it makes much of the first third of the movie entirely superfluous as Edith doesn’t have any special knowledge or skills related to her literary knowledge and occupation. I’m torn between really liking and enjoying that first act and being frustrated that it feels like such an unnecessary and disconnected prologue to the real story.

All in all, though, I have to say I ultimately find myself on team first act. It meanders, and it doesn’t contribute much to the later parts of the film, but it does establish a sort of normalcy to compare and contrast with Edith’s experiences at Allerdale Hall, where she proves herself to be clever, resourceful, and brave. Edith is more than capable of rescuing herself, and I actually really liked that I never felt that she was in so much danger she might not be able to handle it.

Our other female lead, Lucille Sharpe, is something else. In many ways, Lucille is the character in Crimson Peak who is most interesting and who most defies stereotypes. In another story, Lucille might have been a classic madwoman in the attic, which is barely a character at all, but here she’s allowed out of the attic (both literally and metaphorically) and is given an almost alarming amount of agency along with big heaping piles of characterization. Lucille is not a woman who can be hidden, shuffled off, or forgotten, and I would argue that Edith and Lucille are mutually antagonistic foils who both have heroic qualities.

The story of Crimson Peak revolves around Edith, Lucille, and their conflict, with the concerns of the male characters definitely secondary. Even more broadly, when we take into account the ghosts that are all too common in Edith’s world, Crimson Peak becomes a story about the many ways in which women help and harm each other.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Crimson Peak, however, is the visual aspects of its storytelling. This is not just your run-of-the-mill costume or scenery porn. It certainly is gorgeous, but for a reason.

Allerdale Hall is fantastically surreal, with its Escher-esque staircases, vaguely questionable geometry, plague of moths, horrifying noises, and the red clay that seems to color most every surface of it. I would have loved to see Edith get to explore even more of this house, which I’m sure holds enough secrets for a sequel.

All of the costumes were perfectly sumptuous (and I want to wear all of Lucille’s clothes), but for me it’s Edith’s look that stands out as a true achievement. There is a lot of typical Gothic imagery in Edith’s costuming, but with many cleverly subtle differences that highlight the ways that Edith is not an ordinary romantic heroine.

Edith’s colors are angelic gold and white, which set her apart from Lucille’s positively vampiric black, red, and blue, but this isn’t the whole story of Edith’s wardrobe by a long shot. When Edith is at her best and most confident, she appears in dark gold, with enormous puffy shoulders that make her seem larger and more substantial. This is what she wears when she meets her publisher, in her first flirtatious meeting with Thomas Sharpe, and in two scenes in which she initiates physical intimacy with Thomas. When Edith is more vulnerable or frightened, we see her in voluminous white nightgowns, but we also see her in these fluffy confections when she’s at her bravest and most inquisitive as she unravels the Sharpes’ secrets and confronts the ghosts of Allerdale Hall.

This is also her look for the final showdown between her and Lucille—an epic knife fight in which both women are wearing their nightgowns, with their hair unbound, and fight it out in the red-stained snow—which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen in any movie. It’s seriously at least as cool as anything in Fury Road, albeit in an entirely different direction.

I guess what I’m saying, really, is that everyone should go see this movie. At least once. Having seen it twice now, I can say that it is even better the second time around. If you love to pick apart and analyze every aspect of a film, Crimson Peak is a must-see. If you hate all that critical thinking stuff, it might not be the movie for you.

Personally, I’m already looking forward to writing retrospective looks at this movie every few years for the rest of my life.

The Good Dinosaur’s new trailer is lovely, but it still gives me a bad feeling

The Good Dinosaur is a movie that I kind of want to love. I love dinosaurs, I love Pixar, and it’s so, so pretty to look at. The newest trailer for it finally gives us some real story details and an idea of the plot, but it all feels a bit, well, done before.

It’s hard to judge a movie entirely from trailers, but between the simplistic-seeming storytelling and the clearly-for-the-preschool-crowd character design, I’m just not getting excited about this one. It seems a little like the movie we would get if The Flintstones had a baby with The Land Before Time and then that baby had a baby with a sad indie rock ballad, but packaged for four-year-olds to watch. Sadly, it strikes me as a film that because of its cuteness and its Pixar origin will do well financially, but just the promotion for this movie puts me in mind of more moderately successful, uncontroversially mediocre films like 2013’s Epic.

I have a feeling I’ll be waiting to watch this one on Netflix or from Redbox or if I’m ever, for some kind of Twilight Zone reason, babysitting a toddler.

Lionsgate will be adapting Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’

Patrick Rothfuss’s epic story of one boy’s struggle to pay his student loans will soon be made into, apparently, both a television series and a movie (or four, probably, since that’s how movies are made these days). Also video games. And the deal also includes rights to Rothfuss’s other work in the same universe.

Hollywood Reporter broke the news a couple of days ago, and the author has a lengthy post on his blog with much more actual information.

I’m actually moderately excited about this. I sort of love to hate the books, which are technically good and highly readable even though the treatment of women both by the main character, Kvothe, and by the author in the narrative is highly questionable. Can’t wait to write thousands of words about any movies or shows that get made.

Movie Review: The Martian

The Martian was never going to be one of my favorite films, just like the book was never going to be one of my favorite novels (although I did really enjoy it when I read it earlier this year). However, like the book, the movie was smart and funny and deeply enjoyable. Also, perhaps counterintuitively, it’s a pretty great advertisement for space travel.

The thing about The Martian–and this was also true of the book–is that there aren’t really many surprises. From the moment Mark Hadley (Matt Damon, who somehow manages to be both well-cast and almost entirely forgettable in the role) gets left on Mars, we know he’s going to survive and get rescued. The story, in both book and film, is about how he does it and about how his fellow astronauts and people back on Earth work together to bring him home.

Of course, a lot of the more technical stuff from the book was necessarily omitted from the movie. It’s probably for the best, though. Even on the page it often read like Hackaday, and a two-and-a-half hour how-to video would have pretty limited appeal. While this diminished some of the sense of danger on Mars–a big part of the tension in the novel was the series of disasters, both minor and major, that Mark had to figure out how to overcome–the sleeker storytelling left plenty of space for the far more interesting things that were happening on Earth and on the Ares spacecraft.

Speaking of the Ares crew, they were without exception wonderful. Jessica Chastain is excellent as Commander Melissa Lewis and manages to portray a complete and compelling emotional arc with relatively little screen time. Aksel Hennie’s Vogel and Michael Peña’s Martinez got some of the funniest lines in the movie. Kate Mara’s Johanssen and Sebastian Stan’s Beck were  a little underutilized, but their love story from the book was included in a sweet and subtle way that I really appreciated.

On Earth, most of the action is shot from the point of Vincent Kapoor, a character who was of Indian descent (and named Venkat, actually) in the book, but was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie. As much as I love Chiwetel Ejiofor and his performance, this is a strange casting choice, especially when there are so few roles for Asian actors in American cinema, and more especially when there doesn’t seem to have been much effort at diversity elsewhere in the casting process, either. Even Mindy Park (who I read as probably Korean in the book) was a blonde white woman, and all of the non-specified Ares crew were white. It’s not the worst movie in terms of representation, but I think there were definitely some missed opportunities–especially since by the near future when The Martian is supposed to take place US racial demographics will have changed pretty considerably. Frankly, a future as white as the one we’re shown in this movie is just damned unrealistic.

It was a good flick, though. Going into the film, probably my biggest concern was that the (extremely thematically important) collaboration with China would be left out, but it was included, albeit in an abbreviated form. The most significant changes from the book were actually on Mars, where the majority of Mark’s final journey was cut, but I found that I didn’t mind this very much. The material that was left out was mostly what was a little tiresome in the final quarter or so of the book, when the drama of Mark’s constant crises started to feel a bit overdone. That said, if they could have worked it in, I think the giant storm that forced Mark to make a major change of course in the book would have been cool to see as well as being a nice piece of symmetry to balance out the storm that got Mark left on Mars in the first place.

I don’t think The Martian is a movie that I’ll want to see over and over again, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it ages as we learn more about Mars in the next few years. It’s a beautiful film, though, full of gorgeously crafted shots of alien landscape as well as almost-but-not-quite familiar technology. It’s an optimistic story about a good possible future, and it’s the sort of movie that should make everyone who watches it want to be an astronaut. Be sure to take your kids.

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

I’m a little surprised to say that I kind of loved this movie, which I finally rented from Amazon so I could watch it with my daughter. We’d skipped it at the theater because we just weren’t all that excited about it at the time. I mean, it really is just a very straightforward telling of the Disney version of the Cinderella story, mice and all. It looked beautiful, but I didn’t expect much substance–or at least not enough substance to warrant spending $50 to see it at the theater.

I don’t know, though. I say that I kind of loved this movie, but it’s also not a movie that I want to watch over and over again. Sadly, it feels derivative of both of my two favorite Cinderella movies: 1998’s Ever After and 1997’s Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Some of the imagery and emotional beats in Cinderella seem lifted straight from Ever After, including the meetcute in the forest, the bickering stepsisters, the regal vamping of the stepmother, the scheming courtier, and even Ella’s final defiance and then forgiveness of her stepmother. The technicolor costumes with their bright primary colors and iridescent fabrics feel like a direct allusion to the 1997 musical, although this film definitely did not copy its predecessor’s colorblind casting practices.

Lily James seemed a little bland in the title role when I saw her in trailers, but she grows on you throughout the movie. Probably half of her job is just to pose prettily, as the film is rather light on dialogue, but James manages to craft a Cinderella who, though her mantra of “courage and kindness” and her stubbornly smiling stoicism in the face of her stepmother’s abuse get a little tiresome, also possesses enough real charm and humor that I can almost see why the prince wants to marry her before knowing her name.

Richard Madden is well-cast as the prince, who is even given a name here, or rather a nickname, “Kit.” I adore Nonso Anozie, so I was happy to see his handsome face as the captain of the guard, even though I think he’s wasted in these sort of secondary roles. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera were fine as the stepsisters, if a little too cartoonish for my taste. Helena Bonham-Carter, of course, is an actual cartoon in real life, and thus a perfect choice for a fairy godmother; she gives a magical performance in this movie.

Finally, Cate Blanchett steals every scene she’s in. I only wish they would have done a better job of deciding if they wanted her to be an irredeemable caricature of wicked stepmother-ness or if they wanted her to be a human character that the audience is supposed to sympathize with a little. Her aesthetic and her strut say wicked, but her eyes often contradict that. It’s confusing.

Some stray thoughts:

  • I could have done with a few fewer slightly anthropomorphized animals, although I’m grateful that none of them actually talked.
  • I could have done with a bit less (or perhaps a bit more) blatant costume porn.
  • I have a very hard time believing that is Lily James’ real waist in that dress.
  • That lime green color that was on lots of things was great, but the blue dress was actually a little to bright to be really pretty.
  • The butterflies on the top of it were nice though.
  • I was bummed that they revealed the ballgown in trailers for the film, but I think now that it’s because the real showstopper is her wedding dress at the end, which is stunning.

Cinderella is good, but not great. I remember reading a ton of pieces when it was first in theaters that were variously declaring it to be either the pinnacle or the end of feminism, and it turns out that it’s neither, in my opinion. This Cinderella isn’t a trailblazer or an independent woman of any kind; she’s just a nice girl with a pretty dress who endures an abusive situation with grace and gets to live happily ever after because she’s a good person. And that’s enough, I think.

I don’t want to watch this movie a hundred times like I have Ever After or Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (which I can’t believe are both pushing twenty years old, by the way), but it’s a solid entry into the canon of Cinderella movies.

I will def see The Martian if Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells me to

Full disclosure: I will definitely be seeing The Martian anyway because it comes out right before my birthday and I loved the book. But this new trailer thingy with Neil DeGrasse Tyson in it is really excellent:

I also read a couple of interesting pieces about the movie over the weekend:

Why I’d rather see a Dragonlance trilogy than a Forgotten Realms movie

So, probably everyone has by now heard that Warner Brothers has a Dungeons & Dragons movie in the works now that they’re out of litigation over the rights to it. Reportedly, there’s even a script already written based on the Forgotten Realms setting. I just can’t get myself too excited about it, though, because I, frankly, think filming Forgotten Realms is a bad choice.

  1. Forgotten Realms is problematic as shit.
    So, obviously fantasy in general is problematic as all get out, but the big issue with Forgotten Realms is the drow elves. People are already speculating about the possible appearance of Drizzt Do’Urden in the movie, which makes sense since he’s probably the most popular and recognizable character in the Forgotten Realms, what with having over two dozen books just about him, plus a couple of tangentially related projects dealing with the drow within the setting. I just don’t see how there is any possible way for the drow to be done in a film at all without it being incredibly racist.
    Their whole thing is that they are black and evil, and I can’t imagine that any halfway intelligent filmmaker would want to even step into the minefield of trying to figure out casting, costuming, and makeup for them. Oh, and did I mention that part of the way that we know the drow are evil in the books is that they have a radically and brutally matriarchal society? The only solution, I think, is to just avoid the dark elves altogether.
  2. Forgotten Realms doesn’t have any really iconic characters.
    Aside from Drizzt and company, that is. And I think it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll be getting that story. In some ways, this could be a benefit, as it means that the setting is ripe for new ideas and the film will have a lot of freedom to tell a wholly original story. However…
  3. Forgotten Realms is really pretty generic.
    Of the D&D settings that exist, Forgotten Realms is the closest to the basic game setting. All of the races and classes are pretty strictly (and simplistically) designed, and magic swords are far more common than seems prudent for good storytelling.
    There’s a reason why these books are mostly popular with the under-14 crowd. There’s just not a lot of complexity or ambiguity within the Forgotten Realms world, and trying to inject some darkness and grit to it would warp it beyond recognition. The thing that makes Forgotten Realms so attractive to adolescents is that it’s bright and shiny and simple. Without any overarching story line or epic saga associated with it, it’s a great setting for playing D&D in because it always leaves room for the player characters to be the heroes of the story. Plus, everyone gets to have a +1 sword by like level 5!
    However, it struggles to have any specific personality of its own, and this increases the likelihood that a Forgotten Realms movie–especially absent any recognizable character from the series–will just end up being a boring, derivative, Tolkien-inspired fantasy trope-filled mess.

dragons of autumn flameThe good news is that there’s a better option.

Full disclosure: part of the reason I would rather see a Dragonlance adaptation than Forgotten Realms is just that I read Dragonlance first and have liked it best for almost twenty-five years. That said, there are some real reasons that I think Dragonlance is far superior and would make for an objectively better movie than anything the guy who wrote The Conjuring 2 is going to come up with in the Forgotten Realms setting.

  1. Dragonlance already has a great story.
    Well, maybe not great exactly, but it’s a story, and it’s pretty epic, and I am confident that it could be whittled down to a really excellent trilogy of films. Hell, someone really ambitious could easily do three 10-episode seasons of television that could include all the more rambly parts of Dragons of Winter Night, and it would give Game of Thrones a run for its money. But I’d settle for a movie trilogy.
    Even more than a story, the Dragonlance series has a very strong sense of place. While there’s a good deal of magic in the setting, magic is (compared to Forgotten Realms, at least) relatively rare and difficult enough to use that it’s not a solution to every problem. The heroes in Dragonlance have to solve problems using their wits and ingenuity, mostly, and they face enough challenges and hardships to make for a compelling tale.
  2. Dragonlance is a perfect candidate for the dark and gritty treatment.
    While it’s at heart a pretty kid-friendly series, Dragonlance has a lot of grimdark potential without being actually grimdark. The heroes in Dragonlance have real flaws and face real moral dilemmas, but they are still, for the most part actually heroes. Even Raistlin is sort of the exception that proves this rule, a character who is truly villainous but not so self-serving that he wants to watch the world burn. In terms of plot points, Dragonlance has some dark parts–the first encounter with the black dragon Khisanth in Xak’Tsaroth, Matafleur’s sacrifice, the nightmare in Silvanost, Kitiara’s attack on High Clerist’s Tower, Godshome–that would be amazing to see on screen.
  3. Dragonlance is full of dragons.
    Fantasy movies that do dragons well are few and far between, and they often end up being ironically well-loved rather than really appreciated for their merits. However, Game of Thrones is currently showing us just how far we’ve come with the ability to make CGI dragons in recent years, and I’d love to see some of Dragonlance’s dragons brought to life that way.
  4. Dragonlance has some great female characters.
    Well, again, maybe not great, but they definitely have a lot of potential. Kitiara is a pretty fascinating villain, and she could be written to be less creepily obsessed with sad sack Tanis. Goldmoon and Tika could both be adapted fairly easily. And Laurana is perhaps the most consistently heroic character in the books. She definitely has one of the most significant character arcs in the series as she grows from a spoiled, sheltered elven princess into a tough warrior, revered military leader, and canny politician.
  5. Dragonlance offers a lot of opportunities for diverse casting.
    Goldmoon and Riverwind are canonically people of color. Most of the elves in the series are described as tan to brown, and casting Laurana as a woman of color would be awesome. Kitiara is described in a way that could (and should, in my opinion) be interpreted as her being mixed race, and Tanis is explicitly so. If it was up to me, I’d cast Tika, Sturm, Caramon and Raistlin white, but probably none of the other main characters. And there are a lot of main characters.

Dragonlance isn’t a perfect series, not by a long-shot, and I do think it’s getting a little long in the tooth, but it would be so much better and more interesting than a Forgotten Realms movie. I’ll still be following the news on this project to see how it shapes up, but I expect that it’s going to disappoint a lot of Forgotten Realms fans by not including Drizzt, and it’s going to disappoint fantasy fans in general by being a generic, derivative turd. I guess we’ll find out if the project ever moves on to actually be produced.

Advantageous is a perfect rainy day feminist sci-fi film

I tend to be skeptical of serious-looking science fiction films that I don’t hear about before they show up on Netflix, but I was interested in Advantageous when I learned that it was written and directed by Asian American women (Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim, who also stars). I got really interested in it when I saw that it was being trumpeted as great feminist science fiction, although I still half expected it would be another entry in the enormous catalog of overly serious sci-fi movies that just don’t quite work for various reasons. It turns out that Advantageous is actually quite excellent, and is part of the rather smaller catalog of science fiction movies that are sensible, interesting, well-written and nicely filmed.

The film centers on the struggle of Gwen Koh, a single mother, to provide stability and opportunities for her daughter, Jules, in a world where that is increasingly difficult. Gwen is seemingly at a high point in her career when she’s informed that she’s just too old to be the spokesperson for a company whose newest product is a radical anti-aging “treatment” where people literally just get a new, younger body to replace their old one. Advantageous deals with Gwen’s struggle to find other ways to support herself and her daughter, her eventual choice to switch bodies in order to keep her job, and how that decision affects her life.

Advantageous is a movie about compromise–both the ways in which Gwen chooses to compromise and the ways in which she is forced to compromise herself. It’s a movie about the backlash to feminism and women’s liberation and the pressures that women face  because of that backlash. It’s a movie about transformation and growth and rebirth. It’s a movie that examines the ways in which women contribute to their own oppression and how we come to terms with that for ourselves and our daughters. It’s about capitalism and inequality and how unlikely it is that we’re actually building anything like a better future.

It’s a melancholy movie, but it’s also hopeful, though not naively so. I felt at the end that the hope was not so much that whatever comes in the future will be good but that whatever comes in the future we will be able to endure and heal and find enough love and joy to (mostly) keep us going. Also, there are flying cars.