Captain Marvel (2019): A Compelling World and Greater Point

     “Captain Marvel” is a film that is draped in controversy. The more I’ve read about it the more I don’t understand it. Brie Larsen talked about diversity in media (https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/movies/brie-larson-calls-more-diversity-film-criticism-following-usc-study-n88314), which is a pretty basic moral good. Having more perspectives at the table is a positive. There has been a reaction to this that has been pretty toxic, all one has to do is look up Brie Larsen and youtube to see just how bad it became. That is all I’m going to say on this as I came for the story and further exploration of Marvel Cosmic, which this film delivered on. Without going into details, I’m all the more pumped for “Avengers: Endgame.”

     The film was directed by Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck who also wrote the screenplay along with Geneva Roberston-Dworet.

The story follows Vers (Brie Larsen) a Kree Warrior who can’t remember her past but is pulled towards it when she is captured by the Kree’s shape-shifting enemies known as the Skrull. Their infiltration of her mind points her to memories of Earth and when she escapes to while Skrull forces arrive as well, seeking what she knows. From here she must work with Fury to discover her past and the truth of who she is.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Marvel Cosmic Universe – This is a movie that has a lot of lore on both the Kree and Skrull. This is Marvel Cosmic in the same way “Thor” films sometimes too and “Guardians of the Galaxy” always has. This film fits comfortably in those and is definitely better than the first 2 “Thor Films,” though for me the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films keep getting better with each rewatch, so it definitely isn’t that level. In this film you learn about the Supreme Intelligence who rules the Kree (in this film appearing as what person matters most to the individual interacting with it). This was my main reason for coming since as a sci. fi. nerd I love a well developed Cosmic Universe, which the MCU have done a good job of doing.

Fury – Samuel L. Jackson is Agent Fury in this and ends up being Vers’s partner as they seek her past. He starts out antagonistic as he’s had no experience with aliens and it is the events that happen in this film that shape his more cynical world view of the Fury we meet later. In this we see him before he became cynical and I appreciated how warm he was. This was a man who had fought as special forces in countless wars but had found a way to live. I hope we see him get more development in later films as this film still leaves so much open in regards to what he was doing before the first “Iron Man” and what he was doing before this film.

Goose – Goose is Mar-Vell’s Flerken, an alien cat capable of consuming anything. Goose is awesome and when our heroes are facing down enemy forces at the end, Goose eats them, saving both Fury and the refugees they are helping. Fury ends up keeping the Flerken too even though it takes out his eye over the course of the movie. I would not mind seeing this cat again, especially if it is taking out enemy soldiers once more.

The Kree-Skrull War – The main conflict is the Kree-Skrull War. This is war where we don’t know who started it (it implies it was probably the Kree) and now has become a one-sided war. The Skrull have largely gone into hiding with only their strong forces taking on the best of the Kree, which leads to their capture of Vers and where we learn however long the war has been going on, what the Kree are doing has become unjust. They have been doing extermination lead by Ronin by this point in the conflict and it is Mar-Vell who is trying to rescue them and help them find a new world before she is taken out by Kree special forces lead by Yon-Rogg. It is only Carol Danvers (Vers true name) who stops the Kree from getting the super-engine she’s crafted from the Tesseract energy and from here Danvers becomes the hammer of the Kree against the Skrull. By the end of the film Carol Danvers, having come into her full power once more returns to face Kree leadership to end the war and help the Skrull’s find a new home safe from the Kree. Where this war is in the modern timeline is up in the air but there is so much history in this film that I found it all fascinating. Kree distrust of the Skrull’s is so great that on their homeworld they have announcements of days since the last Skrull attack and everyone asks questions of each other to make sure they are Skrull infiltrators. The main leaders in the conflict are Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who leads the refugee Skrull and leads Skrull Intelligence and the Great Intelligence of the Kree whose commanders are Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Vers / Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel – Brie Larsen does a great job as Captain Marvel. She doesn’t know who she is so what she can do is limited at first, but once she arrives on Earth and starts putting her past together she really comes into her own. This is a character dealing with being brainwashed and gaslit by the Kree and her freeing herself from that, and in turn freeing the Skrull refugees who the Kree hunt is a powerful story. Throughout the story her commander Yon-Rogg is telling her not to feel and to repress herself, while his people repress her abilities. It is toxic and we see how her abusive father was the same way. Throughout the movie is her dealing with this, as she discovers the truth of what was done to her and from that what she chooses to fight and to stand-up for herself and others.

Talos – This is my favorite Ben Mendelsohn character. Talos leads Skrull Intelligence based off what we see in the beginning as he was the one responsible for planning the trap that captures Vers. We see that his aims are noble though. He is tired of the war and just wants to protect the Skrull refugees and his family. Seeing this reveal as he goes from enemy to friend is powerful and I’m glad he survives the film. This is a character I’d like to see again as he is morally complicated which gives so much potential for what he may choose to do in the future. I also think he is only one of the Skrull leaders and I want to see his relationship to the others.

The Themes – The main themes of the film are those of gaslighting, feminism and the plight of the refugee. Gaslighting is explored in what the Kree are doing to Vers (having her suppress her power, emotion, etc.) and it is only after she stops, fights it and accepts her own power that she flies and is able to defeat the enemy forces. Feminism is a theme in that women fighting for equality is a huge part of the film. Both Carol Danvers and her friend are pilots and the only ones in their unit besides the Scientist on the base. This is also shown in the gender swap of Mar-Vell who is played by Annette Bening. This fit the theme as much of Kree leadership is male as well and Mar-Vell’s push against it mirrors Carol Danvers’s later fight against the Kree. The final theme is the plight of the refugee as in the end Mar-Vell was trying to invent a super engine in order to help the Skrull refugees she was protecting on her secret base. The refugees aren’t the soldiers and we see the vulnerable people who are affected by wars.

Okay:

The Kree Team – Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is the most compelling member of the team, sadly we don’t get to know the others all that much. Their dynamic with Vers is good in the beginning. I couldn’t really describe who they are to you beyond Korath’s distrust of Vers. I wish we’d gotten more time with them, ideally not in conflict so we can see their dynamic and how they work as a team.

Cameos – Coulsen makes a cameo, Ronan makes a cameo and Korath is on the Kree Team. This was another time where I wish we’d gotten more time with them. These are all intriguing characters but they aren’t given the time to be developed like they deserved.

The Cons:

Amnesia Story – Rather than amnesia I wish Carol being lied to had been primary story. We see how her memory was played with where a Skrull is put in the place of Yon-Rogg killing Mar-Vell but that is all that really pays off at the end. If there had been a running theme of the lying and her still knowing bits of her history we would have had the chance to know her more as a character. She could have been pushing against the Kree and their ways more, knowing she was being lied to. I wanted to see her make more choices as Carol and as Vers. Amnesia stories are hard to tell and this was one time where it did hurt the story. I wanted to know Carol but I felt the only time I truly did was when she came into her own at the end. She was the character with a mission, which was fine but I wanted more. Still a great character but an origin story mixed with an amnesia story is a hard thing for any writer to pull off.

What are Captain Marvel’s Limits aka the Superman Problem – Captain Marvel is destroying Kree Cruisers at the end. She is so incredibly powerful that no one around her has the chance to even injure her. This was empowering but it also leads me to the Superman problem. Why do we need the Avengers if Captain Marvel is powerful enough to solve the problem on her own? This is something the Justice League constantly runs into by having a character as powerful as Superman on the team. Kevin Feige said they’ll be dealing with this in “Endgame,” so I’m curious about what the solution will be.

I really liked this film and I hope that we see a sequel or at least see more of the Kree an Skrull, as so many stories have been born out of their relationship to our heroes. I also want to see more Captain Marvel. I wanted more time with her having all her memories as the amnesia story was definitely the weakest part of the film. This was a film that is a solid origin story that further expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Cosmic. If you have liked the other MCU films, chances are you will really like this too. I’m really curious to see where they take Carol Danvers from here.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Life is Sweet (1990): The Reasons to Live and to Dream

Life is Sweet

       “Life is Sweet” is a fascinating drama and exploration of a poor family in Northern London. It gives us great character dynamics, comments on social issues in a subtle way and shows that the members of a family aren’t one dimensional. It’s a powerful movie and definitely a favorite. I’ll get more into the details in the assessment.

    “Life is Sweet” was directed by Mike Leigh, who also wrote the screenplay and produced by Simon Channing Williams.

      The story takes place over summer as situations arise and change for the characters. From Andy the husband (Jim Broadbent) buying a beat down trailer to sell food from on weekends, to the wife Wendy (Alison Steadman) helping her creepy friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall) who is opening up a bad French restaurant. Around this time their daughter Nicola (Jane Horrocks) is a shut in while her other daughter Natalie (Claire Skinner) is a plumber and is the only one of them happy. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The lives of the characters feel lived in and real. From Andy going to work at the large restaurant where he’s the head chef, to Aubrey’s house and restaurant and right outside the home of the family. It doesn’t feel artificial or fake in any way which lends power to the situations.

Andy – Jim Broadbent is a great actor and this may be the best role I’ve seen him in so far. He was the Psychiatrist in “Filth” and Professor Slughorn in “Harry Potter,” but in this he is a completely likable character. He’s an idealist who is easily used by a “friend” who continues to sell him things that are poor quality such as the food truck. He hates his job though and more than anything wants to cook doing something he loves. What changes things in the end for his character though is when he slips on a spoon at work. This finishes his character arc as the family takes care of him and he finally looks inward at himself.

Wendy – Alison Steadman plays a character who would be my favorite if not for Natalie and her laugh. Wendy laughs a lot and it gets a bit grating. You can see why she does it too as she finds herself in a lot of awkward social situations and it her way of getting through them. From Aubrey hitting on her at his restaurant to when they visit his home and he’s being awkward all over the place. She is a character who knows how powerless she feels so she does what she can to change it by fighting. When Aubrey hits on her when drunk, she leaves…when her daughter tries to blame her for how miserable she is, she stands up to her too and says that she truly wants her family to be happy, which is why she accepted Andy buying the Food Truck and Natalie being a plumber. In both cases she didn’t like it at first, but their happiness was more important. Her love as a mother really comes through and you get that she takes the brunt of the hardship in most social situations.

Nicola – Nicola is the character facing most of the drama in the film. From her relationship issues with her unnamed boyfriend, to her dropping out of college and trying to find a purpose in life and joy. She is the activist only in name as she calls herself a feminist but only wears the shirts (Down with the Poll Tax) and when her mother calls her out on her lack of action in relation to her beliefs she is left rethinking it at the end. The same occurs with her boyfriend who wants to be in relationship with her truly where there relationship when we first meet them is all physical. She’s isolated, alone and in denial for most of the film but comes around when Natalie reaches out to her and they decide they’ll face finding the answers together and that everyone is weird so that shouldn’t be an issue in finding happiness.

Natalie – Natalie has the clearest head out of all of them and is most comfortable in herself. She is androgynous in appearance and enjoys hanging with the guys and working as a plumber. This is in contrast to everyone else who at least superficially is putting up appearances. From her father Andy who is doing it so he won’t feel alone, to their mother who puts up with crap from a horrible friend out of responsibility she feels. She is wholly comfortable in herself and the most stable member of the family. I really liked her character and how she spoke what was always on her mind clearly. This was a contrast to Nicola who tried to obfuscate whatever was on her mind throughout the film. Claire Skinner did an amazing job.

Critique of Capitalism – The director is a socialist and was at one point an anarchist and it comes out in the film. From Andy just being a cog in the machine and his wanting to be an individual owning his own place as only a pipe dream…to Nicola trying to consume to feel better but it only making her sick and Aubrey with his restaurant where inside it looks good but how he had none of the financial backing or contacts. He’s a man completely alone so who would show up even if the food is good? It was subtle and I enjoyed how the director did it, since any philosophy deserves to be critiqued.

Feminism – There were some feminist views I saw in the film as well that came out in a very good way. From showing why Aubrey is a bad guy due to his assuming that married Wendy and his waitresses past and present should sleep with him because he’s “Such a great guy,” to the conversation between Nicola and her boyfriend which quickly turns to him insulting her rather than him clearly calling up issues. This was done really well as neither of them were sympathetic characters though still very human.

The Writing – The writing is top notch. The dialogue is quick character have chemistry and every scene has action that develops characters and character conflict further. Mike Leigh really did a fantastic job on the screenplay.

Okay: Aubrey – Timothy Spall plays a creeper and he does a good job at it. The problem was he isn’t written as complex as he should be. Why does he live alone? What made him believe he’s a good cook? This isn’t even going into the creep factor, these are just basic character questions. He still did a good job but these issues still stand.

The Soundtrack – Not very memorable at all. Didn’t remember it after watching the film.

The Cons: Nicola’s Boyfriend – We know he’s upper middle class and acts privileged but that’s about it. I would have liked to know him and his character motivations better as well. He has less to go off than Aubrey as well.

    This was a film that was true to it’s description as a tragi-comedy or dark comedy but it also was a very good drama and had quick witty writing. It makes bigger points but does them in such a way that an audience can take what it wants to out of the film, though the critiques and views are there. This was a film that I would definitely recommend and a favorite and I was glad a friend recommended it to me.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10.  Only brought down because some of the side characters weren’t as explored as they could have been and the music was nothing special.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) – The Beginnings of Getting Transformers Right

Transformers: Age of Extinction

“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” was almost a good Transformers movie. It’s a shame that humans once again had to ruin the drama between the Transformers…though this time they weren’t completely bad and did have some good moments. Which is more than can be said for the the other two movies I’ve seen that predate this (The first “Transformers” and “Dark Side of the Moon”).

I have not watched all the “Transformers” films and it was something that I never grew up with as a kid. So for me what really brings me to these films is my love of robots and mythology. If a movie like this can pull that off than there has to be some good. I have never been a fan of Michael Bay though, he tends to capture a lot of what is wrong with Hollywood in his work…this time though he managed to limit that somewhat…so going to give him credit for that.

Now for the premise. The premise is that Autobots and Decepticons are being hunted down by a rogue government outfit called Cemetery Wind whose leader Harold Attinger is selling them to a company he hopes to get rich off of. He is being helped in his quest by Lockdown, a Transformer Mercenary who is serving the creators of the Transformers who nuke the Dinosaurs with “Seeds” at the beginning of the film. The main character Cade Yeager is brought into the drama when he discovers injured Optimus Prime in hiding and the story unfolds from there.

Now for the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – The music is good actions music and captures the robotic theme of the Transformers quite well. Only times it is out of place is when rock or pop songs with singers chime in.

Cade Yeager – He has some machismo issues, but those at least get addressed in the film as well as the conflict he feels over being a single dad raising a teenage daughter. He isn’t a douche like Sam from the past movies was and Mark Wahlberg’s playing him completely and overly sincere while also being a bit of a nerd makes him endearing in his own way.

Joshua Joyce – The creator of the New Decepticons (having used their corpses to create new bodies that he hoped to control) of this film and the idealistic tech. guy and CEO of KSI. He goes from antagonist, to anti-hero, to hero as he sees what he has wrought and sees the Transformers as sentient beings. Stanley Tucci does great (he is Caesar of the “Hunger Games” series).

Sue Yueming – Joshua’s assistant and leader of KSI operations in China. She protects Joyce through most of the film and is an impressive character. She has lots of agency and kicks a lot of ass. Definitely want to see Li Bingbing in more films after this.

Going International – It is nice getting past American Jingoism and seeing good people from all over the world in a Michael Bay film. I know part of it is probably to appeal to the new Chinese Market, but I’d say that is a good thing. We’ll finally get to see more talent from around the world in American films and get to see cinema used for good to break down stereotypes.

Lockdown – I would love it if this guy got his own movie about all the targets he has taken down. He like Boba Fett if Fett where the primary antagonist of a Star Wars film. He has honor though is Xenophobic in serving one of the first aliens and creator races of the galaxy. He knows so much that we never hear about but get hints at. I hope the creators find a way to resurrect him. He is better than all the human characters and most of the autobots.

Optimus Prime – The big hero really needs a movie about him alone, which we might get next time given that at the ending he is taking the “seed” back to the Creators of the Transformers in order to try and stop them. We see him at the weakest at the beginning of the film and him slowly become full strength again. We even see him talk about leaving Earth for real with his Autobots, which makes sense given how many have been killed by Cemetery Wind.

The Autobots – It is nice having memorable Autobots for once who aren’t racist or completely one dimensional. We have the working class heavy Hound (voiced by John Goodman) the calm warrior Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) the rebel Crosshairs (John DiMaggio) and Brains…and Bumblebee who I wish would either get his voice or die…such an annoying childish character. The Autobots almost go on a revenge spree against the humans…showing they aren’t perfect. This is a nice change of pace and adds character to them as a whole.

Dinobots – Transformers that change into giant Dinosaurs. Really amazing and an awesome threat on the side of Optimus. Wish they’d gotten more screen time and I hope they show up again.

Galvatron – Created by KSI and the reincarnated Megatron…Galvatron is great in his awakening his army that he used KSI the tech. company to create. He survives the film and will probably be the big bad at the end of this trilogy or series.

Lockdown Final Fight – Takes all the characters to beat him…super worth it. No character is useless in this fight. Hong Kong is pretty much destroyed in this fight too because of how deadly Lockdown’s ship is.

Okay: Attinger – He isn’t bad, but he’s not fully fleshed out either. Kelsey Grammar does alright with what he is given though. He manages to nearly kill Yeager…Wahlberg’s character, before Optimus Prime takes him out.

Tessa Yeager – She isn’t a fully 3 dimensional character but she at least gets some agency in this film…from choosing to be with an older guy and helping fight the Decepticons and Lockdown. Which is more than can be said for all female protagonists in the last 3 films.

Cons: Sexualization of Tessa – Tessa is the daughter of Cade Yeager and much of the film is emphasizing her being underage and wearing short shorts that are revealing. Her boyfriend is also 20 to her 17 and defends the relationship with Texas’s Romeo and Juliet law that makes it legal. It is really really creepy and I don’t know who thought this was a good idea.

Message – What message? There really isn’t a coherent theme to the film. Creators can mess up and that is okay…seems to be the only one, since Wahlberg says finding Optimus and fixing him was a mistake but was worth it…as well as having his daughter in High School. The problem with this is it isn’t coherent. It wants to be anti-government, pro-immigration and tons of other things but it seems like Michael Bay is just testing these ideas and doesn’t know how to coherently weave them in. He’s trying at least, which is more than can be said for the mindlessness of his past films I’ve watched.

Unlikable Humans – Most of the human characters suck…and making them pros is in comparison to past Michael Bay films. They are usually one note characters who are mean for no reason and have to get into constant contests of machismo. It is so childish and just brings down the film. I wish the Autobots and Decepticons could be in a film without humans. Cade and Tessa’s boyfriend are the best examples of this. The worst of humankind can usually be found in Michael Bay films.

The Writing – It is a “Transformers” film…this is to be expected. It is an improvement over the other ones I have seen, but still a con.

Cinematography – Way too many slow motion shots and lens flairs…thankfully you can actually see the robots fighting this time, but the the slow motion shots and the lens flair shots were really distracting.

Length – The film is super long, though I can see why. I think it would have been better to introduce Galvatron at the end though and set him up for later. Lockdown is threat enough without Galvatron added in.

I have not seen a lot of Michael Bay, but this is the best Michael Bay film I have seen so far. The creepyness goes away after the first 20 minutes thankfully and focuses on the characters and action and attempts to tell a coherent story (and luckily we have Cemetery Wind and Lockdown to get us through that horridness). I wouldn’t call it great and calling it straight up good would be dishonest. It is a fun film though and above average as an action flick. It brings the mythology with the Creators and we get to see Autobots finally be interesting (though Bumblebee is still alive and annoying with his radio voice). The reboot was needed and hopefully the next film will completely avoid the creepy sexualization and have agency for all characters.

Final Score for this film is 6.5 / 10.

 

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 56 – Harley and Ivy – Power to Women

Harley and Ivy

 

“Harley and Ivy,” is one of the more poignant episodes in “Batman: The Animated Series,” though it’s execution isn’t the best. The premise is Joker is being his usual abusive self to Harley Quinn. He kicks her out and she begins to go on a stealing spree to impress him that changes into a stealing spree for herself when Poison Ivy takes her under her wing and the two team up to be quite a crime duo. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

Pros: The Joker – The Joker’s abusive sociopathicness is captured really well in this episode. You see how he never recognizes how much Harley helps and how Harley is his punching bag and that he sees Harley Quinn as property. If you already didn’t have reason to hate the Joker, this one is it. In this episode he represents every abusive partner or spouse. You see how much he depends on her to keep his life running since his fort goes to hell in regards to how the Hyenas’ view him and how disorganized it is once she is gone.

Batman – Batman is just kind of there, but it is great to see him fall to Harley and Ivy when teamed up but beat the Joker. He is also the one to find out where Ivy’s hideout is through detective work verses the Joker tracking the call.

Renee – Is meant to be the counter to Harley and Ivy since she is the woman who takes them both down after they’ve taken down Batman. She does it in a Batmanesque way too by booby trapping the street to stop their car.

Harley Quinn – Is the co-dependent partner and “Spouse” of the Joker. After every abuse she comes back and keeps thinking they can work it out. It is powerful how she is a character that was inspired by a real person and that real people like her exist who can’t get out of those types of situations. When she’s going through empowerment via the tutorship if Poison Ivy she is on top of her game…stealing, overturning Old Boys Clubs and even managing to nearly destroy Batman. It is a shame that she never comes out from under the Joker’s shadow until much later in life in the cannon.

Poison Ivy – Is the mentor to Harley. She misses that women can be bad too but nails the abusiveness prevalent among men as represented by the Joker. She is always presenting the alternative view and doing all she can to help Harley move on. Sadly she doesn’t succeed, but it isn’t from lack of trying.

The Friendship and Romance – It is played up in the comic of the same name but Harley and Poison Ivy are implied to be Bisexual. This is the first time we really see this too. Though in this episode Harley does play as more of a friendship because of her obsession with the Joker. There are romantic moments and tension though, which is great! It is a shame it isn’t more common in comics. These two are a great paring due to how well they compliment each other like Batman and Robin.

The Message – The message has a great intent. Don’t put up with abuse and embrace freedom of the self. The main issue I’d say is it being through the eyes of villains which may hurt the argument…The theme of the empowerment of women is pulled off pretty well in this episode though.

Okay: Show Don’t Tell – Poison Ivy’s quips end up taking away from the message of the episode. We see them being powerful and doing acts to upset the patriarchy. It doesn’t really need to be announced every time, it would have been more powerful without that actually. This is the one reason I can’t give it full points. Showing not telling is the best way to tell any story.

I definitly recommend this episode. The message is great even if the execution of it could be better and Harley and Ivy are great characters who I wish could have teamed up more.

Final score the episode is 9.5 / 10. It is a favorite.

 

 

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 42 – Tyger, Tyger – The Island of Dr. Dorian

Tyger_Tyger-Title_Card

“Tyger, Tyger,” is an episode that once again puts Catwoman at risk and needed to be saved by Batman. The basic premise is Dr. Dorian is splicing animal DNA together and spices her’s together with a cat, making her a literal Catwoman, from her it is Batman’s rescue and her fighting against the new nature thrust upon her.

Here is my assessment of the episode:

Pros: Batman – Batman is great once again in this episode, but his saving Selina Kyle AGAIN after doing so last time we saw her is more than a little annoying and brings down the episode. Anyone could have been a victim of the splicing…even Batman.

Selina Kyle/Catwoman – Seeing her wrestle with being turned into a literal Catwoman is good, but not great. Again the whole “Damsel in Distress,” thing drives down the story and the point about Catwoman wanting to be a cat never felt believable. She does well with what is given her in this episode though.

Cons: The Premise – Why was Catwoman chosen? It makes no sense. I get that they want to make her Batman’s love interest, but putting her in danger all the time isn’t going to change her feelings and it just brings down the writing. For a character shown to be Batman’s equal they sure like to make her a victim.

Dr. Dorian – Is a Dr. Moreau knockoff from the “Island of Dr. Moreau,” but where Moreau had motivation we have none of that with Dorian. He is useless just like his creatures who are the conflicted can man Tygrus and the Ape Man.

This episode is below average. Not only is it annoying that they make Catwoman the “Damsel in Distress,” they fail to execute an interesting idea of the exploration of nature vs. nurture…I don’t recommend this episode at all.

My final score for it is 2 / 10.

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 27 – Mad as a Hatter – The Dangerous Stalker (The Mad Hatter)

Mad Hatter

“The Mad Hatter,” is a great episode in regards to introducing a creepy new villain and the importance of what love really is (which isn’t stalking). The premise is a scientist (Jarvis) creates a mind control device and begins to use it on his enemies and on Gotham to impress his assistant Alice he wants to own. From there the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The Mad Hatter – Is a really creepy villain. He mind controls those who disagree with him and sabotages the engagement between Alice and her fiance, and in the end even goes so far as to mind control her. All the while claiming love…it is sad that there are people like this in the world and he represents the worst of them so well. A worthy adversary and terrible human being.

The Message – The story reveals the importance of consent and respect for others (especially when romance is involved). These are all things the Mad Hatter misses because he believes he’s entitled to Alice and is in love with the idea of her (She is his Alice to his Mad Hatter (the name he takes for himself). In the end rather than friendship having the potential to become love naturally he sabotages himself and relationships leading into his end in Arkham.

Batman – Is great once again at discovering what is going on and protecting the people who are mind controlled by the Mad Hatter as they are used to fight him. His resourcefulness is great in this episode.

The music – Is fantastic and whimsical. They took the “Alice in Wonderland” theme and ran with it to create the great score for this episode.

Okay: Alice – She is basically a blank slate. She has a fiance and is a supportive friend but besides that she doesn’t get much characterization sadly.

Cons: The Fiance – We know nothing about him and he is important to this episode. I wish we could have had him better contrasted with The Mad Hatter.

This is a good episode and even has a theme I hope kids back in the day got. You don’t stalk people and you aren’t entitled to people. Relationships arise out of consent, if not you aren’t really loving a person…just an idea, like the Mad Hatter.

I give this episode a 9 / 10.

 

 

Maleficent (2014): A Tale of War, Revenge and Recovery from Trauma

Maleficent_Movie_Wallpaper

“Maleficent,” is the retold story (done “Wicked” Style) for the character of Maleficent from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” The story is a revenge tale as Maleficent is betrayed and is out for vengeance on the individual who betrayed her and the Kingdom that has been seeking to conquer her lands of the Moors. She curses Stefan’s daughter (the man who betrayed her) and from there the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: Angelina Jolie – She is fantastic! She experiences so many different emotions and does so much action in this role and owns it all. She is what elevated this movie beyond the character and story.

The Premise – Is that there are two realms…the faery realm of the Moors and the human Kingdom. They are at war since the humans are trying to take the faeries resources and treasure. Maleficent is the guardian faery and has great eagle wings and horns upon her head. The Premise is great and explains the magic that Maleficent has in “Sleeping Beauty.”

Maleficent – Is great, there are some things in regards to her character I wish they would have done…but I’ll get into those in the cons. For pros though, her relationship to Stefan and her experience of the rape (she gets her wings cut off, it is just that…her power is taken from her by a man she loved)…is powerful. She is a great believable antagonist and you can see her and her people as justified against the humans.

Stefan – Is a great baddy. You see how greed and power overtook whatever feelings he had and how class corrupted him. He is willing to betray and rape the woman he claimed to love to become king. There are few Disney villains as despicable as this guy…and Sharlto Copley does it well. He’s is great at playing complicated bad men.

The Crow – Is fantastic. He gets turned into a man at one point and is Maleficent’s outward morality to some degree. He was the first to care for her after her wings were cut off and he is there to the end.

The Special Effects – Are fantastic. Sometimes it feels a bit too green screen but it is done in such a way that it is supposed to look that way. It exaggerates the colors like a fairy tale.

The Payoff – She heals from her trauma and becomes the mother figure Aurora never had. I actually liked this…I just wish getting here had come at a higher cost for the humans.

Okay/Good: The ending – It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than “Edge of Tomorrow’s” ending, though it wasn’t as good as “Winter Soldier” or “Days of Future Past,” in regards to the end either.

Okay: The Three Good Faeries – They are harmless and comedic relief as usual…none really stand out except for the Pink Fairy played by Imelda Staunton (Doloris Umbridge).

The Faeries – They may look diverse, but they are either stupid good (the three good faeries and others) or Maleficent. I wish they had attacked humans and been more chaotic, faeries usually represent nature and here they represented the ideal of perfect nature rather than how nature actually is (storms, animals, etc.). They weren’t bad, but they were not deep in any way…outside of Maleficent.

Aurora – She’s alright, but the actress who plays her isn’t all that memorable. She could have been replaced by anyone else and it would have had the same emotional effect. She is a plot device with some amount of agency. She seeks out Maleficent and the Moors and she does action…the thing is this is Maleficent’s story though and she functions more at helping Maleficent release her hate and write the wrongs of the curse cast against her. She is there to remind Maleficent of who she was before her wings were taken.

Cons: The Cost – In “Wicked” the book (and implied in the musical), there are consequences to Elphaba’s rebellion. She takes action against the wizard and loses her love…she later loses her kingdom when Dorothy is set on her too. There is none of that in this, it is willing to explore the emotional cost of rape but not the political fallout of having someone as powerful as Maleficent taking action against those who harmed her. She curses Aurora…and that is it. Everything else she does is in self defense. I didn’t find this believable given what happened to her was worse than what happened to Elphaba and Elphaba killed to free the sentient animals and lost her love in the process. Maleficent gets everything back in the end and never goes all bad…her as a villain against the realm was never believable beyond the curse (in which she adds the “True Love’s Kiss” out). This I think hurt to the tone…if you are going to go dark and the revenge along the lines of “Kill Bill,” go “Kill Bill,” “Pirates of the Caribbean series” got violent for much less. Maleficent had so much reason to become the monster, but she never did. It was for this reason I miss the one of old. She did evil for no reason, but at least she actually did evil. Maleficent helps her enemy more than anything else (raising his daughter, uniting his kingdom as he has them attack her after the curse). I wanted her to give payback, but it never comes…She is always the defender except for that single moment of the curse.

There was so much here for a great movie. They actually were willing to use a metaphor for rape and introduce it to kids…the conversations out of that need to happen to help stop it in the future. Storywise it misses so much though. Maleficent should have been more destructive against Stefan, he deserved that. Frollo and Scar faced major consequences beyond their own self destructive paranoia…Stefan deserved the same and worse. I would still recommend this movie and it was really good, worth it largely for the premise Jolie and Sharlto. It is hard to do retellings like this, there is a reason “Wicked” is the only memorable story of that type, and this is no “Wicked,” but is great for what it manages to achieve.

My score is 8.2 / 10.

 

 

Sleeping Beauty (1959): A Fairy Tale Elevated by the Villain

Sleeping-Beauty-classic-disney-24456736-1024-768

My reason for choosing to review “Sleeping Beauty,” is for preparation in regards to reviewing “Maleficent,” later and I wanted to see Disney’s take once more on the Fairy Tale since “Maleficent” was also created by them (and I haven’t watched it for years). The film was originally created in 1959 and is most famous for the fact that each scene is painted and that it was Disney’s first Fairy Tale adapted to animation until “The Little Mermaid,” years later.

The premise of “Sleeping Beauty,” is King Stefan hosts a party for the birth of his daughter….the whole kingdom shows up except for Maleficent (the evil fairy who wasn’t invited) and out of spite arrives and curses the child that on her sixteenth birthday she will get pricked by the spindle of spinning wheel and die (a bit of an overcomplicated curse). The Blue Fairy Merryweather who comes up with an equally overly complicated counter-curse that she won’t die…she’ll just be asleep until she’s kissed by her true love. From there the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

Pros: The animation – Is beautiful. Each scene is hand painted and it shows…I kind of miss movies being done like this…later ones where beautiful too, but this type of art form is nearly lost. I would love to find more stories done this way.

Merryweather the Blue Fairy – She has sas and is the only smart one of the three faeries. Flora and Fauna are not very smart at all. They don’t know simple thing like tsp means teaspoon or how to use their magic in an undercover competent fashion. She was the only of the three I cared about…the other two felt like unaware comedic relief verses Merryweather who could sass against Maleficent even (and was the only active one – voice and beauty (Flora and Fauna’s gift are passive traits except voice), Merryweather’s gift actually makes the story possible…even if it isn’t a very good plan (true love, really?) She also isn’t good looking but is a major minor character who actively fights against Maleficent.

The Rescue – Seeing the Three Good Faeries be active is awesome when they infiltrate Maleficent’s Forbidden Mountain.

The Battle – The fight with Maleficent between the 3 Good Faeries and Phillip is fantastic. That dragon scene! The fact that Maleficent is so awesome is that her power is active and powerful, the last battle shows this too from her green bolts of fire and turning into a dragon.

Maleficent’s Crow – The crow is awesome! It is the only one of her minions to actually find Aurora and besides being her eyes and ears and alarm system actively takes part in the final battle and causes Merryweather to use dark magic (turning it to stone). Seriously, this minion rocks.

Maleficent – She’s evil and she knows it. Every scene she is in is gold. She doesn’t sing and everything she does actually has a higher purpose. By killing Aurora she leaves the Kingdom in ruin making her the top dog. By releasing Phillip as an old man unable to have heirs he pretty much ends the relationship in regards to the Kingdom’s line. Also, she can change into a dragon, cast powerful spells and has a fortress called “The Forbidden Mountain.” She is brilliant, powerful and haunting. I can see why Disney uses her as one of the biggest bads for most of their games and stories where all their villains meet. Can’t wait to see what the new movie does with her, considering she is the best thing about this film.

Okay: The music – When there isn’t any singing it is quite beautiful. The soundtrack is epic but the singing brings it down, most of the songs are so incredibly simple and shallow that I’m not all surprised this film failed at the box office.

Prince Phillip – He isn’t fleshed all that much even though he is active. He falls in love with the princess who he thinks is a peasant girl and is ready to risk his kingdom for her. He is active but only in the most superficial version of love ways. Besides Aurora’s voice and looks he has no reason to care about her…and likewise. His voice and looks…oh the cons of early Disney Fairy Tales…

The story – There is the recipe here for a great story. Aurora fighting against destiny as Phillip is and them united in rebellion against fate and maybe even choosing something different. There is the seed of a good story here, so I won’t make it a con, but the story is in no way good. Not enough active characters…the heroes are either stupid or passive if they aren’t evil (with the exception of Merryweather).

Cons: Aurora – She is completely passive and has no control over her destiny. She isn’t trusted with her destiny (would she have pricked her finger if she knew?), she is there to fall in love with Phillip…weak. She isn’t allowed to fight the villain who harmed her when she was a child and she never goes against the 3 Good Faeries, she just accepts their idiocy. Phillip wasn’t the smartest of heroes but he at least acted.

Flora an Fauna – The Pink and Green fairy are only good in that they are funny and not aware of it. They set up so many of the problems and propose some pretty horrible solutions (so Aurora doesn’t have the curse happen…turn her into a flower). Not to mention the fight that Flora starts with Merryweather that causes Maleficent to find Aurora in the first place. Seriously…who trusted these people? Merryweather should have left them and worked more closely with the kingdom to actually fight Maleficent like the fairies end up doing when Phillip finally fights Maleficent.

The Romance – “Do I know you?” -Aurora

“Of course, we’ve met before?” -Phillip

“Where?” -Aurora

“Once upon a dream.” -Phillip

Haha, No. Seriously Phillip, you come off as a creeper. Don’t, just don’t do that crap. The Romance is fairy tale romance in the worst way possible. Love at first sight is a difficult trope to pull off and it is not pulled off in this film. They are teenagers and it comes off as more of hormones than anything else. So glad Disney gets romance right later in films further into the future.

This film has a lot of problems and would be an average Disney film (with Disney’s common misogyny and passivity problems they had early on in regards to their heroes who were women), thankfully they had a good baddie in this or else I’d be giving it a 4 or 5. Maleficent makes this film. Everyone anything does is a direct reaction to the things she sets in motion. She is larger than life and far more interesting than any of the heroes (even Merryweather). She has an agenda that she never says but can seen…she shows you, she doesn’t tell you it. She is destruction, the Mistress of all Evil…she is awesome and besides the animation and Merryweather and her crow…the only reason to see this film.

I’m giving this film a 6.5 / 10. An addition of 1.5 entirely because of Maleficent, without her this film is forgettable.

 

Malificent Sleeping Beauty

Edge of Tomorrow (2014): A Great Approach to a Space Marines and Alien Invasion Story

Edge of Tomorrow

“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman has along with “Pacific Rim,” helped re-establish my faith in original Sci. Fi. stories in regards to Hollywood. I’ll get into the why in the assessment, but first the premise which in and of itself is promising.

It is loosely based off the Japanese light novel “All you Need is Kill,” where Rita’s name comes from as well as the origin and name of the mimics and the UDF (United Defense Force). After watching the movie I look forward to reading it in full.

Edge of Tomorrow is about Cage (Tom Cruise) a corrupt army officer who is conscripted into the final battle against the mimics (the aliens who have conquered nearly all of Europe), resisting every step of the way he is on the battlefield and it is there he kills an Alpha (mimic general) and get’s it’s blood in his system which allows him the powers of the mimics to repeat each day. From here it is him being trained by and working with Rita (Emily Blunt) to stop the mimics conquest of Earth.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The premise – Is awesome! He’s basically living in a videogame, but the A.I. (other characters) can end his infinite lives if they give him a health pack (Blood transfusion) rather than killing him…it makes thing at stake, not to mention the trauma of having to die again and again “Groundhog Day,” style. The premise is fascinating since it’s ties to videogames are more subtle than other movies (“The Gamer,” etc.).

The technology – The United Defense Force (UDF) has a unique take on Space Marine outfits. They are mixture of modern day but also have new and old things (robotic arms that can fire attached to the back, and in the case of Rita’s character – a sword). You can tell they took tribute from Warhammer 40K and Starcraft (two of my favorite sci. fi. worlds).

The Characters – It would have been easy to make all the characters stereotypes…but the movie resists that. Tom Cruise’s Cage being a media relations slimy coward (reminiscent of Wikus from “District 9,”) is great. Cruise usually always plays likable characters so it is nice seeing him play someone who will die a bunch of times before he finally learns to be a decent human being.

Rita – Emily Blunt’s character Rita is awesome. Nicknamed “The Full Metal Bitch,” she is tough and complex…a commander worth following and someone who has been hardened by war but can see the bigger picture because of her getting the ability that Cage had at one point earlier before the film takes place.

The Squad – Cage’s squad of criminals is pretty awesome. They each have interesting quirks that set them apart from others in this genre. From the guy who doesn’t wear pants and lets it all hang out, to Ford who took his friend’s place after his friend was killed, to Nance who is a bit crazy.

The military/United Defense Force – Isn’t perfect in this, it isn’t some jingoistic tribute to them like most Michael Bay and Oliver Stone movie…it is a bunch of human being in a tough situation trying to deal with it as best they can. You see this in their fear of Rita and Cage when they find out about their abilities and to their following “The Plan” of the invasion of Normandy even after Cage and Rita have proven they see that it will fail. The good (heroism against the invasion) and bad (unquestioning loyalty above all else, distrust of new ideas or things) is shown really well in this film.

The tribute – The invasion of Normandy as a tribute to D-Day is handled well too. The human cost is shown by Cage living the failed invasion (in this universe) each day. You get to know the characters and what drives them. Their, “So what’s?” in regards to what they do.

Okay: The script – Didn’t have fantastic writing, but was okay. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t elevate anything since it tried going for a pretty weak trope that I’ll go into in the cons.

The cinematography – The cinematography isn’t anything special. It is better than Doug Liman’s other stuff (the Bourne Series) but that isn’t saying much. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t great.

The Mimics – A lesser version of the Tyranids and Zerg. There were some interesting ideas with them but like the Muto in “Godzilla,” they weren’t fully realized. Found the Kaiju in “Pacific Rim,” more compelling. These guys weren’t bad…but the Tyranids and Zerg (where I think the inspiration came from) have a lot more complexity as a species. The Mimic’s Omega (Think Zerg OVermind – controlling brain), is just kind of their and we don’t get their motivations. Cage says their motivations don’t matter at one point, but I disagree – motivations make a peoples or individual compelling.

The Ending – It leaves you thinking if it’s all just in his head and if the Omega came back…since it never explains how he’s repeated the day with them victorious. This kind of takes away from the sacrifices and they go with the implied romance at the end again…when that was one of the weaker parts of the film.

Cons: The Romance – Rita (The Full Metal Bitch) falls in love with Cage (Tom Cruise). What the hell? We see no reasons for this, since she is a pretty asexual character, devoted fully to her cause. She saves his him multiple times, but also kills him multiple times. The friendship eventually makes sense…it is her learning to trust again, not the romance.

The sexualization Rita – A lot of times her character is shot in such ways that sexualize her for Cage. From her doing Yoga (and you hearing a really strong breathing in) to her kissing him at the end. Again, she’s the Full Metal Bitch…Cage is never comparable to that…in the end he is an average corrupt Joe who becomes more…but not someone who seems to interest her in any way at all. It was tacked on and brought the film down. If they wrote her differently it would be more believable, but not for the character we see and come to know.

I recommend this film highly. It is no “Pacific Rim,” (see how Rita was handled) or “District 9” (Tom Cruise is no Sharlto Copley) but it is a really good film. Not the best this summer (that still goes to “Captain America: Winter Soldier” – Which I saw months before starting this blog) but it is an enjoyable experience and manages to change some tropes and handle other sci. fi. tropes in such a way to create a really compelling story. One of my favorite films for sure and the best Tom Cruise Sci. Fi. film since “Minority Report.”

I give this film an 8.4 / 10.

Batman: the Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 5 – Pretty Poison – Poison Ivy and the Problem of Femme Fatales

Pretty Poison

“Pretty Poison” is the story that introduces the antagonist Poison Ivy, and also Harvey Dent’s friendship to Bruce Wayne. Poison Ivy is first introduced in a flashback when the last of a species of plant is being destroyed for new development by the Mayor and Harvey Dent (paid for by the Wayne Foundation). We see a mysterious woman watching before we flash to the future where Harvey Dent is poisoned and Batman must solve who did it.

Here is the assessment:

Pros: Poison Ivy – Poison Ivy is the first Femme Fatale we meet who is a Batman antagonist, this trope is later overused but the first time we see it it is done well. She is a full character and person and is one of the biggest threat (as seen by her later appearance in “Almost Got ‘Im,” with “Two- Face, Penguin and the Joker (Killer Croc is there for comedic relief). She almost kills Harvey Dent and Batman and isn’t defeated until what she values most (plants) are put at risk. Her ending in Arkham with the promise to survive and grow back is wonderful too…there is a reason in the animatedverse she is one of the biggest bads.

Harvey Dent – We get to see the character and who he was before he was Two-Face. He is an interesting guy, laid back, kind and a bit naive and wanting companionship more than anything else (his planning to marry Pam (Poison Ivy)). The reasons behind this are expanded on later which I will describe when we get to the “Two-Face” two parter. He is great in this episode and his friendship to Bruce Wayne feels real.

Batman – Being Batman…his investigation leads to him finding Poison Ivy and his resourcefulness and beating Poison Ivy. Good Batman episode, even though he isn’t the main focus.

The Cons: The Wider Problem of Femme Fatales – This problem is partially related to the episode…but is related to the Batmanverse and the Comics as a whole. Femme Fatales are usually villains who depend mostly on their sexuality to achieve their agenda, poison kisses (see episode), sexually presented (Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Talia al Ghul, Black Widow, Power Girl, etc.). We don’t get her motivations on why she cares so much about plants because the point is what she does…not the why in behind she is a protector. All the characters I listed are defined by their sexuality in how they use it against the heroes that it becomes a detrement to their story…Harley will always stay with the Joker, Poison Ivy will always be tied to using toxins for love in this series, Catwoman in seducing Batman…Talia gets a bit more fleshed out thankfully as does Black Widow in the marvelverse but the problem of defining them almost purely by how the main male heroes may be attracted to them (there are more ways to use a person which most of the other baddies seem to understand more fully) than sex. This is an issue I hope the comics have gotten better on, since using it sometimes isn’t bad but when you have entire plots and arcs where that is the deal…what does it say about women? (can’t be trusted, only sexual for men, etc.) It doesn’t leave a good impression or do anything for them. It also becomes poor storytelling like any trope that writers become overdependent on expressing. More on this later though, I could write many posts on this subject but will wait until more movies and episodes have been reviewed. This trope will get an article on here though.

The episode was good at establishing the threat of Poison Ivy, Harvey Dent as a person and character we should care about, Bruce Wayne’s life outside of Batman and negatively this trope within the animatedverse. Regardless I recommend this episode, Poison Ivy is a great baddie.

I give this episode an 8 / 10.