Wednesday, April 27, 2016

3 (and a bit) Short Paragraphs: The Monuments Men

2014, George Clooney (Leatherheads) -- Netflix

A dilemma of being the guy who downloads movies (i.e. pirate) is that movies of mixed language are difficult to properly watch. Most movies with subtitles come all or nothing. Sure, there are fansubs, sites that build their own subtitles, but I have always found that connecting the right subtitle file with right copy of the movie to be arduous. They almost always have the timing off by a bit, if you even get one that is translated well. So, I wanted to properly rent this movie to see subtitles for only the non-English bits. Try and I might to rent the movie from one of the sources I have at my disposal, Sony and Microsoft, I could not. I could buy the file or the disk, but not rent the digital video. It's a shame when you want to consume something in a legal format, but they put walls up. I miss video stores.

And then it came to Netflix and I was left confused.

This is a WW2 movie, about a collection of old and 4F men with the sole purpose of identifying and saving priceless pieces of art and locations of great historical/architectural importance. As the war was winding down, the Germans were pulling back and taking with them as much of value as they could, often destroying it if they couldn't properly store it. Big pieces and architecture were blown up. Clooney gets the go ahead to build the taskforce, but support is at the minimum -- nobody really wants to help these guys save old paintings. But they persevere and succeed, all the way to Germany.

Confused? Well, of course English, German and French are spoken in the movie. But very little was subtitled in the movie. I have never understood the concept of only sub-titling key scenes. I get keeping the mystery to a plot, but if the language can be understood by someone isn't that already defeating the point of not subtitling it? Either way, I am not sure whether Netflix did a bad job of  subtitling or just followed Hollywood's only-key-scenes idea. So I could have probably lived with the subtitle files I thought were badly done.

That said, I like Clooney movies and I love the premise of the movie, but she fell kind of flat. You have an ensemble cast broken up and sent to key areas in Europe to accomplish key goals. But the tenuous threads connecting these characters is strained to a great degree turning the movie into a bunch of barely connected vignettes. And because of the need to give each of the recognizable faces (Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, etc.) enough screen time, they seemed to invent reasons for the characters to contribute. Again, strained. But I loved the performances and I like Clooney's likeable way of directing a movie. This one just needed some more polish.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

PS4: Just Cause 3

This was what I was playing when my PC's new video card was being RMA'd. It was my first game for the PS4, which is weird, because normally I play a game that is exclusive to the system. When you have All of The Systems, you have to figure out which system to buy a game for. Honestly, that game is InFamous: Second Son but it did not arrive with my PS4, so Just Cause 3 it was. Stupid backorder.

Who started the wars between the Reds and the Blues? Why are the Reds such bad guys? Why are the Blues always the underdogs, striving to take power from those dastardly reds? These are the real questions.

Like Farcry 4 before it, the core element of Just Cause 3 is being a revolutionary (the icon of the blues) taking back control of a fictional country. As you expand your control, base by base province by province, the story moves forward and the government forces (the reds) become more focused on you. Your response is more violence, blowing everything up. Tearing it all down. Maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter.

Ahh the conundrum. What makes you different from the Reds, what makes you, Rico Rodriguez, different from their megalomaniacal General DiRavello? But these are not the questions asked. Meh; this game doesn't really ask any questions. Its too busy blowing shit up.

This game is fun. This game is violent. It makes no attempt to measure the amount of senseless chaos you commit as a revolutionary. In fact, it's one of the game's mechanics --- you get rewarded in Chaos Points for blowing said shit up. This is one of those games where the "story" is just an afterthought.

Story? The thinnest of threads. You are Rico Rodriguez, a latin action movie star analog, an agent of some CIA organization designed to take down dictators. You are returning to your home country of Medici, an island nation off the coast of Italy, but could just as easily be somewhere in the Latin Americas. General DiRavello has set himself up as dictator and your childhood friend Mario Frigo has joined the revolution. You join up. You blow shit up. You become the icon of the revolution, a literal one man army. But really, the missions are just fun excuses to further the blowing up of said shit, and while some are creatively written, most are by the books "Rico! We need you to do this or the General will stop us!"

Yes, the mechanics are fun. Blowing stuff up and mowing down endless red hatted mooks is fun.  And you get a Batman/Spider-Man grappling contraption attached to your wrist, so you find yourself grappling & swinging from here to there, cows to cars, tanks to airplanes, ground to roof. You get a decent selection of cars, planes, boats and guns to play with or hijack, usually via your grapple. You can do some crazy shit.

But it gets tired very quickly. Usually I have to remind myself to catch up with the story line. About half way through this game, I was just pushing the minimum requirements to go from each story segment to the next. Rinse and repeat, take over more territory, viva la revolution.

This kind of game is meant for the 100%-ers, the people who want to find everything, collect all the Achievements, visit every point of the map. I have to be fully immersed in the game, as I was with Fallout 4, to be interested in doing that. This game is not about immersion; its gameplay is too outrageous for it. And the fun does diminish as you cover all the basic elements of gameplay.

And to top it all off, it has one of the worst endings I have ever played. Not a challening, constantly being repeated attempt at the final boss bad, but a quick kill to the credits. That's it ! You shoot him ! End credits ! No denouement, no monologuing, no afterthought about the fate of your island. DLC ? Next game in the line? Who knows but, honestly, by then I was just glad to finish the game even though much of DiRavello's forces controlled the northern islands.

Fun but done.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

3 Short Paragraphs: He Never Died

2015, Jason Krawczyk (The Briefcase) -- Netflix

Henry Rollins in an indie movie shot in Toronto is exactly how you should do an indie movie; it is smart, well shot, rough around the edges but with total commitment from all involved. He Never Died is a genre movie that doesn't treat itself as genre, more a dark comedic crime movie with genre breeding. Henry Rollins plays Jack, a man with a solitary routine, a diminished sense of humanity and a dark past. They always have a dark past. Diminished sense of humanity? Well, at first he feels like he might be on the spectrum, in the muted way he interacts with people, but then you realize, he could interact normally, he just doesn't want to. He really just wants to be left alone. You would probably get way that after a few thousand years too.

Too spoilery?  Did you read the title of the movie? Through a confluence of events, his sedentary life of diners and bingo is interrupted by criminals and a daughter. Jack must again wake up to the world, but he knows that can be dangerous for the world. You see, Jack's been around a long time. Well, since the beginning. He was in the Bible. Despite the cover, and the scars on his back, he's not an angel. He's Caine, but the reveal is not really the point. The point is that he is immortal, has a bad temper (which he has worked hard to contain, until things happen) and he requires blood/flesh to stay ... sated. Yes, he's the vampire analog; didn't hurt that he was in Wallachia way back when doing bad things.

The fun thing about this movie is how people, including Rollins himself, react to his immortality. People freak out, but still take it in stride. Rough, tiring lower middle-class lives in nameless American cities (well, a not very well hidden Toronto) can make you blasé. Jack was relying on that to give himself a few years to recover from the trauma in his previous life. No, not the immortal Biblical villain life, just the one a few years ago where he was a bouncer at a bar owned by a criminal. When life is measured in thousands of years, events are truncated. Each chunk is going to come to an end for him, either when someone notices or some events force it. And Jack is tired of it, thus the bingo. You can see that tired look in Rollins eyes. He sells it.

Great movie!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

3 Short Paragraphs: Mean Girls

2004, Mark Waters (Mr. Popper's Penguins) -- Netflix

Yup, we watched a decade old teen girl comedy. Because I hadn't seen it, because I was a John Waters fan in the day, because I was curious to look back on Lyndsay Lohan before she self-immolated.  And Rachel McAdams as the Bad Guy.... ok, bad girl. I imagine, that for some generations, not seeing this movie was like my generation not seeing Heathers. And it's a lot of fun! Co-written by Tina Fey, it is smart, witty and downright horrid at times. No, it's not Easy A or 10 Things I Hate About You level of smart fun but it joins that collection well. And no, I do not have a section of teen girl comedies on my shelf; I am just well versed. Ahem.

Lyndsay plays Cady, new arrival at school from Africa, where she was home schooled. Which means she gets stuck hanging out with the weird kids Damian and Janis. But they have a plan; insert Cady into the clique-y Plastics, become popular and then destroy the Plastics from within. But Cady becomes enamoured with the nice clothes, the popularity and power and has to be taught a lesson of her own.

This is Lyndsay post-adolescence but before the weird years. The weirder thing is that my collective conscience memory has her doing the Miley Cyrus child TV star thing, but no, she really got her start as a young teen in the remake of Freaky Friday. So, I am not sure how she was so quickly able to fall down while Cyrus continues the path of successful post-kid-star weirdness. Amanda Bynes followed Lyndsay's path, as I predicted, yet Bieber seems to be recovering. Next up, Ariana Grande who is being well monitored, despite the donut incident. What is with my obsessive desire to see teen stars fall but not all of them?  I don't know.

Monday, April 18, 2016

We Agree/ReWatch: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

2015, JJ Abrams (Super 8) -- cinema/bluray

the return of the double colon (which sounds painful)

Nope, didn't do the geek tradition. Did not get out and see a Star Wars movie multiple times in the cinema. Blame it on age and life. Blame it on the meh.

But I did buy the Bluray in the first week, allowing for a first post AND a rewatch post at the same time.

The first thing I have to say is that, and you may slap me for this, but I think Abrams may have been setting us up for a Star Wars universe on TV with this movie. It just felt like it was framed and styled for TV. Its hard to find precise details for this thought, but many many scenes felt they were pilot episode stylistic choices. But then big sequences like the Millennium Falcon chase scene were too big for TV, so I am not sure. Anywayz, its a blog post not a review, so thought out in the open.

Holey Moley, it was that long ago, and Kent reviewed his cinematic viewing in December.

First up, the bad. For whatever reason, be it the marketing, the hype or the current era of spoiling everything but I did not experience the butterflies I usually have associated with that first blast of brass when a Star Wars movie begins. Right there, I knew I would be underwhelmed purely based on my own psychology.

This was not prequel fatigue. Despite my well known dislike for the second and third, I stand by my fondness for the first prequel movie. I dislike the story choices that were made in the latter thirds of the trilogy, but love the spectacle. But all that was to the wayside as I approached this movie, knowing it had dispensed with Lucas's bungling and was going in its own direction. But it's an entrance, a new entry point into an existing franchise. Not a reworking, like his Star Trek, Abrams uses this movie to set his tone, for better or for worse.

I am also kind of annoyed by Abrams singing a familiar song. He hits all the right notes, but they are familiar notes. Do we need another desert planet? Do we need the Death Star's bully big brother? Do we need another trench run? Do we need another sage diminutive alien? Expanding upon that, I realized that I had very little to be awestruck by. Each movie has something unseen to show us, something unfamiliar. If Episode IV had the desert and the Death Star, Episode V had the snow battle and Episode VI had the forests. In The Phantom Menace the planet of Naboo is amazing to see, and even my dislike for the other two cannot discount the wonder of Coruscant and that amazing orbital battle. But here, we get sand planet, Death Star analog, Luke analog, Darth Vader analog, Yoda analog, trench run and destruction of Death Star. The familiarity overshadows the incredible wonder of that crashed star destroyer.

So, I like the movie, a lot, but I was not given chills.

What do I like? Because I have gone for a couple of paragraphs about what I didn't like? Well, despite being another loose clothed orphan on a desert planet, I love Rey. I love her self sufficient, anti-whiner attitude as she scavenges for saleable parts in the wreckage the previous generation's war left behind. Imagine being able to still find parts 30 years later? And she falls into the hero trope without a thought for herself.  I love Finn, because he is everything that is NOT Star Wars. He is a second guesser, not sure of himself, a hero by moral choice and he flies in the face of every character that came before. He is different. Poe Dameron, while being the best pilot in the galaxy and an ace agent for the Alliance, is a great character but I think is a bit of an egotist. His claim, "my work here is done," as they fly away from the exploding Death St.... er, Star Killer Base is a little dismissive of everyone else who was there? I think he is probably going to fall a few notches as the series continues. 

As previously said, I love the ruins of the star destroyer, I love the scene of the X-Wings speeding over the waters of the lake, I love the peek inside the new Empire and its shaky dynamics. I have always said it's easier to complain than explain what I love. But what I really love is that this movie is all about setting up a world for Rey and Finn. No, I don't definitively see love-interest, but I see them going from obvious small players to big players, and not just by chance, like Luke. They are going to actively choose their destinies, choose to expand their own roles.

That said, the Rogue One trailer gave me chills.

Monday, April 11, 2016

We Agree: Batman v Superman

2016, Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch) -- cinema

p.s. I shouldn't have to tell you but I spoil the fuck out of this movie.


I didn't intend on starting this post before finishing a couple of others, but the voices kept on growling from the back of my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching this movie. I see what Zack was trying to accomplish. I feel with him the emotions he wanted to uncover while dealing with these characters. I understand the epic nature of gods vs man that he wanted to show us. But then all the other bits of the movie immediately came back to haunt me, and they are just so annoying.

As Kent said, it's not a bad experience, but it's not a good movie.

You heard me complain before, but I was upset at the destruction and collateral damage in Man of Steel. But after I heard it was just a plot device to move towards this movie, I understood it and even slightly applauded it. Like the Nolan Batman movies had to slay major characters and affect major parts of Gotham, in order to set us up for the weary, angry, bitter Batman, Snyder is setting us up for the motivations of this movie. Heavy handed and obvious, but well setup. We need the superman to protect us from the greater threats, but at what cost? Like the Doctor Who theme, in that he is always there when the worst happens to Earth, but is he to blame? No, if he hadn't been there, it would have been much much worse. I get that if Superman had let his attention waver from Zod for even a bit, more would have died. Despite my love of the grimdark, I prefer my Superman to surprise us with his heroism.

But it sets up this movie wonderfully.

Superman continues his bid to be the protector of the planet, to be the hero the planet needs. But he is presented with so much distrust. There are protestors who don't trust the alien, there are even placard waving fundies who cannot trust the man who could be a god. I guess they believe the metaphor more than their faith? And there is Bruce Wayne, who lost his entire tower in Metropolis from an errant laser eyed glance. From Superman? Zod? Who knows, but it cut his tower in half. Bruce Wayne protected his employees like they were his second family, and as a man who was dealing with all the shit on his own (in his cape & cowl) being helpless was too much for an already very broken man. You see, by the time Superman shows up to fight Zod and his machinery, Bruce Wayne is already the broken man, still hung up on the death of his parents (Maggie and Neegan!) and taking it out on the criminal underground of Gotham. Superman becomes the new focus of this wrath, albeit through impotent rage.

The whole "setting up Superman" bit via an attack in the African desert is ludicrous. One event in a war torn country is silly. And the accusations wouldn't take much to defuse considering the actual murdery stuff was done by the government of that nation, not even related to Superman's intervention. The only thing I can consider is that Lex Luthor's skilled control of the media is capable of washing away facts and only presenting what he needs to further instill hostility against Superman. It just could have been better written.

So, broken Batman wants, needs to go up against Superman. But I don't actually get his motivations. Sure he blames the flying man's arrogance for causing so much wanton damage, but does he actually believe the alien needs to die for it? I am not convinced. I know he is having his prophetic dreams of alternate world Superman comic plots, but kill him? I suppose that is why this is a gatling gun toting Batman, killing mooks in the scores.  So, steal the kryptonite, make the gas bombs & spear, beef up so you can wear the anti-Superman armour and... well, everything else is manipulated by Lex Luthor so I am not sure what Batman's next move was supposed to be.

That. Lex Luthor in this movie is great, but he's just Joker Jr. He's giggly, he's a little mad but he's smart and very very rich. Still not sure why he wants Superman dead. Big Bad Guy playbook, I guess. But he's his own red herring.

And then the Justice League inserts. While I love every scene with Gal Gadot in it, it was entirely unnecessary to the movie. OK OK, DC has to pull a Marvel and have a team movie with some early on build up. But why not just play off what is already there? Use the Supergirl angle, use the references to aliens and other metahumans being there already. No real need for Lex to be investigating. Just have all the pawns already in play, just not connected.

And the Martha vs Martha bit. A great element if noticed by a non-comic viewer but twist of it is just stupid. Superman will fly in every time Lois gets frowned at. But he lets his mother get kidnapped?!?! Oh for the love of flying fuck. He could have listened for her, flown in a breeze and wrapped her quickly in his cloak faster than any Batman could have. Whatever.

Its funny how I can spend so much time ragging on a movie that I rather enjoyed while I was in the theatre. Remember, I am the guy who likes Sucker Punch so I can stomach Snyder's bad story telling if I can get along with the visuals and the style. But the bad bits in this movie are nagging, annoying and interrupt my fun. Despite so, I loved the look of this movie.

Batman is incredible, easily the best Batman of all the movie portrayals. Even the nods to the other movies is fun, almost like Batman from an alternate universe who has to chase bad guys under city overpasses in his wall smashing batcar. The line, "We've always been criminals...." made me shiver; this Batman accepts what he is. The fight scenes are straight out of the Arkham video games, full of bone crunching hits and high dexterity jumps.

The Doomsday battle just looks good. But the little script tweaks made me hurt my left eye rolling at it. The Gotham waterfront is entirely abandoned. Groan. The island Doomsday hits after falling from space is lifeless. Gee, what a cheesy way for the movie to not have the collateral damage of the first. I think it would have been better if Batman was forced to drag Doomsday back to the last known location of the spear despite the deaths he knows it will cause. Make him understand Superman's plight. Put them on equal footing. But Wonder Woman is incredible. Slash slash and her own Captain America shield.

The movie ends with the Death of Superman, even providing us the black cellophane baggie for the comic. It had to end that way. Though obviously, we could just toss him back into space to revive him, the funeral and monument are note perfect. I felt moved. But it's not like we don't know he'll be back.

Like I will be back for the next movie.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

PC: Fallout 4, Pt. 3

part 2 can be found here, ages ago just before my card went AWOL.

So, the card was fixed, the computer was cleaned up and a new SSD put into it. And it was a month later. I felt out of touch with my white haired supermodel and his dashing good looks. I was still tired of being the General of the Minutemen, doing one more job for a needy Preston Garvey. I had paused my playing after liberating about a dozen settlements and was spending more and more time stocking them up on armor and weapons than I was on finding my son. So, start a new character. Start a new focus.

Hieronymous was going to follow through the story but not join The Minutemen. There are four factions to choose allegiances with. The Brotherhood of Steel are the militaristic assholes all about technology and a for-your-own-good sense of violent superiority. The Institute is an underground bunker of descendants of old world scientists, who make robots with laser guns and have a creepy agenda involving replicants & replacing people. The Railroad is directly against The Institute acting as liberator of the intelligent synthetic humans, identifying them as sentient and smuggling them out into The Commonwealth. They're a bit fanatic but have their hearts in the right place. The Commonwealth doesn't care much for them And I already mentioned The Minutemen, who really only exist to populate and protect The Commonwealth. They're the Good Guys if a bit short sighted.

This time I chose the story of The Railroad. The Institute is a focus of the story, the obvious bad guys, responsible for the kidnapping of your son and are the big boogeyman of the game. So, working with the liberating force who is against them felt right.

The only way for the Railroad to accomplish their goals is for the Institute to fall. And they know I am motivated to get into the hidden base, so they help me. They gain my loyalty through a number of liberation and combat missions, basically working me into being one of their "heavies" -- well armed and armoured soldiers taking out their enemies and protecting their liberated synths.

Meanwhile I am doing my best to NOT get caught up in the support of the settlers and their little towns, but once I liberate one, I feel a bit protective of it. No, I am not back in the Minutemen, but these are my people and keeping them flush in armour and weapons is not a bad thing. Oh the time you can waste just upgrading weapons and armour. Take every last thing off a fallen enemy, quick travel back to the town that is in need, cover everybody in Combat Armor and automatic lasers and head out again. Again with the false sense of accomplishment and benevolence.

It doesn't take long for me to figure my way into the Institute via their super duper teleportation ability. And wow.  The Institute is everything a hidden underground superscience base should be. Its clean, its well stocked and all the humans are over achieving megalomaniacs who see the surface as paranoid hicks. They are not wrong, but wow, the sense of superiority. And there is that thing about them sending their robots to murder people and take important pieces of technology AND people.

And your son is there. But he's 65 and he's running the place. You see, back when that mercenary killed your wife and took your baby son, he was already working for the Institute and their previous leader. They needed clean DNA for their experiments and a cryo'd baby was perfect. You and your wife were collateral damage. When you come across the same mercenary, after you get out, it's a smoke & mirrors game. His life has been extended and your son was raised in the Institute the entire time. In fact, your son Shaun is the one who allowed you to be released all these years later, as he needs a trustworthy contact on the surface now that the mercenary who killed his mother had become unreliable. Your son's a bit of a dick. And you gather this very quickly, but since you are now working for the Railroad, you pretend to go along with Shaun's agenda to find out what their end goal is AND help out the Railroad.

This is where the story becomes a bit muddled. You know you are being manipulated on both sides. You know Shaun has a creepy agenda and you begin to suspect he knows you are playing both sides. But that's fine, he's OK with that. As long as you accomplish his murdery goals, killing non-Railroad bad guys for him and gathering up stuff he needs, it's fine. You are his gun and you cannot help but defer a bit to your own, albeit aged, son. And he is directing you towards becoming the new leader of the Institute so maybe you can mould their agenda to your own, a less homicidally superior one.

Its very weird. Heroism is being left to the wayside as you become a pawn in two major powers' games. The Railroad is looking less and less benevolent and more just about kicking the ass of the other power they don't like. The Institute could complete their goals without murdering The Commonwealth but they don't want to. Meanwhile I made friends with the Brotherhood, but didn't follow their missions for long as I was lead to a big climactic battle at a small settlement called Bunker Hill. All three factions take on each other there, and the average Commonwealth people are all collateral damage. Seriously, even the Railroad shoots anyone who doesn't stand with them. But I am playing the long game now, still doing what I can to play both sides until I determine who the real bad guy is. Or I am just forced to take a side because I have to be committed to something.

And that is where the game leads you. You know the Institute are going to be about more than protecting their own goals. You know the Railroad has a major chip on its shoulder and wants all their nemesis dead, despite the innocents involved. It leads you to an end goal, a Nuclear Option to end the Institute once and for all. Boom, you blow it all to hell. You murder everyone. You choose a side. You are... a terrorist.

The game ends (???) with a new radioactive hole in Boston. The Institute is dead, but many escaped. The Railroad released hundreds of synths before they blew up the place but the Commonwealth still doesn't trust synths. There will always be a Railroad leading them to safety and protecting them. And the Brotherhood? Well, you had to murder them all so they wouldn't get in your way. I was killing people my character had made friends with, had drinks with, patched up my armor with. As a player, I was feeling pretty low by the end of the game.

At the end of the game, you are nobody's hero. You are the MurderHobo, the guy who had no home but wandered everywhere killing anyone who got in his way, friends or foes. You took their stuff, you garnered experience points from them and you bank your gold (bottle caps). Its not as fun as the D&D players made it out to be. You told yourself you were there to be the hero, that each death was for a cause, a just cause. But in the end you only did what you were best at -- kill.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

We Agree: Deadpool

2015, Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch) -- cinema

Hey, I got out to a movie, in the cinema, with no kids and even fewer bro's playing with their phones.

Yay me.

So, early 90s. That was probably my post-X-Men phase, when Mukey (then known as Gushie) introduced me to a world of non-superhero comics. Rob Liefeld had actually perked my interest for a while, with his gritty trenchcoat wearing heroes but somehow, I don't remember ever being introduced to Deadpool. In fact, my first real exposure to the character has been recent, as a Redditor's Boyfriend. For years, Marmy's been sitting to the left of me on the sofa, sharing all the best bits of Deadpool from the Internet. Damn, he is one popular character with the Reddit kids. For the longest time, I wasn't even sure if the whole Breaking the Fourth Wall bit, the comedy or the ultra-violence were his real schtick(s) or something attached to him by his Internet fanbase.

With all that exposure, and her fondness for him, I knew we would see it in cinema. In fact, I hoped we would break our Cineplex VIP virginity with it, seeing how we were horrified at how people were dragging kids to it. VIP -- adults only, costs more so they enforce good behaviour (they better) and there is beer. You had me at beer. Alas, plans didn't come through.

Boo me.

So, yes, with Kent on the movie being so.... much.... FUN. Seriously, I have not walked out a movie having so thoroughly enjoyed myself in a long long time. And not only did I enjoy it, I found it well done. It was not the slapdash, blood and guts movie I was expecting. OK, it was but it wasn't only. The connection of his history to his current predicament are well played out and, well, sweet. He really does it for love.

Deadpool starts with flashbacks to Wade Wilson, not the guy from the Wolverine movie, but pretty similar. They have fun with the fact they are not quite from the same universe as the X-Men movies, but share some sort of connection with all the Marvel movies, even if it's as minor as making fun of them. Really, the movie doesn't care a bit about continuity, and drawing upon his behaviour in the comics, breaking the fourth wall is expected. So, Wade is a mercenary, a crude but nice killer for hire who falls in love with a hooker who is as crazy as he is. They fuck, they laugh, they peg, they fall in love. They do weird things with candy pop rings. And then Wade gets cancer.

Morena Baccarin is already my kryptonite, but she completely dives into this role and melts me. She is not a heroine type, not before getting involved with Wade, nor after he disappears having been dragged into a superhero making outfit that makes mutants out of injectable goo and torture. It takes quite a while, but when it kicks in Wade is left horribly disfigured and nigh indestructible. He cannot go back to Morena so he has one thing left --- revenge!!

That's what the whole thing on the overpass is about, him catching up with and trying to kill the guy who made him look like the inside of an asshole's asshole. Wade was already a bit nutz to begin with but as Deadpool, he is bonkers. A stable bonkers, but one who is aware he is in a movie and we are watching him. By the time he is on the bridge, he has been tracking his bad guys for a while and the X-Men are aware of him. But they could only afford two, so we get a redesigned (and entirely CGI) Peter Rasputin and a gender bent Cannonball, renamed as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, seriously the best superhero name of all time. They want to contain Deadpool as a potential X-Men recruit. He's not having it.

The plot, well the plot is very small. Don't get me wrong, it's not a small movie as I often use the term, as the number of flashbacks and references expand beyond the 'Wade gets revenge on Francis' focus of the movie but that is it. That is the whole story --- Wade meets girl, Wade gets cancer, Wade becomes Deadpool, Wade hunts down and kills people who made him Deadpool. But who cares, its constant laughter along the way. But not just stupid comedy, but inventive, outrageous and guffaw inducing comedy.  And pretty decent action bits considering their budget cuts. The entire battle at the helicarrier (yes, that is a crashed helicarrier from Winter Soldier) being gutted is reduced to a quick take-out-the-mooks scene and a superhero jump.  Oh, and a blade battle with Francis.

Finally, I cannot be more amazed at Ryan Reynolds in this movie. He is always fun, but he really is stupendous in this role. This is what being invested in a character brings to the table. He not only provides a great portrayal but had his part in making sure the plot had him as a proper character and not just the fourth-wall-breaking gimmick. He was provided range and depth.

Yay Ryan!

Bonus Paragraph!  *ahem* Director was actually Tim Miller, director of... well, nothing but known for being the visual effects guy on a few movies, video games and the opening titles on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I Saw This!!: Rhyming Titles

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. Here are two films whose titles rhyme.  They're also both genre films, and probably the last entries in each of their a particular franchises.

Star Trek: Nemesis - 2002, d. Stuard Baird - Netflix
Terminator Genisys - 2015, d. Alan Taylor - Netflix


If forced to choose I'm taking Star Wars over Star Trek every time.  It's more escapist, immersive and exciting, in my opinion.   But when nobody's forcing me to choose, I will choose me some Star Trek when Star Trek is available.  I like it just fine, but it's not quite the same experience.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was my Star Trek.  Kirk and Spock were always around in my youth; in the cinemas, on videocassette, and in repeats, but it had felt like I'd already missed out on most of it.  Plus, it wasn't Star Wars, and when I was a kid, I wanted everything to be Star WarsNext Generation started when I was 11, so it hit me right in the sweet spot, where I was old enough to get why it wasn't Star Wars and to eventually come to understand the social and political criticism it was allegorically bringing to the table.

I watched every episode of that show, and loved the first two movies (particularly First Contact which seemed like the first real Star Trek space opera/action movie) but for some reason, by the time Nemesis hit the theatres, I was just totally and completely done with the franchise.  I had put it away.  I wasn't following whatever was on TV at the time (I don't recall if Voyager or Enterprise were the flavour of the day), and Nemesis as a film looked...disappointing for a Star Trek motion picture.  It needed to be an event... I remember thinking, why isn't this film a collision of TNG, Deep Space 9 and Voyager?  I understand now that having the full cast of three different series in one film is a logistical and scripting nightmare, but at the time that was what a Star Trek movie event should be.

A decade and a half later, seeing a Next Generation film I've never seen before felt like a reunion.  It didn't matter so much that the film wasn't particularly very good.  I was just happy to see these characters again, even Wesley Crusher put in an appearance at Deanna and Riker's wedding at the start.  The whole plot stems around the fact that the Romulans had cloned Picard, discarded him to their Siberia-like prison camps, and now that clone has risen up, usurped the Romulan government and is waging war with the Federation.  The thrust is a "nature vs nurture" argument that's done somewhat thoughtfully, but it doesn't feel any grander than your average two-part TNG episode.  In fact it doesn't even stack up remotely against the best episodes of that show.

There's a sub-plot where they discover another android who predates Data, a Beta model if you will, and once again it's a story of nature vs nurture, in that they both share similar programming but with encouragement Data has advanced where the Beta hasn't had the opportunity.  The script nicely dovetails the B-plot into the A-plot, making Data's heroic sacrifice pretty badass...well, as badass as anyone can look in a Starfleet uniform anyway.

The main problem with big-screen Star Trek (up until the JJ Abrams films) is that the very set-up of the series is one of peace, so everything is designed around peace and exploration.  This means that it's ill equipped to handle action really, really well (the desert dune buggy sequence was painful if only because it just didn't fit the Star Trek mold).  The characters, after getting to know them for 7 or more years, are pretty well defined, and "badass action hero" was never in the offing for them.  It also doesn't help that so many of these performers don't have big screen presence (Patrick Stewart the most obvious exception).  Amidst an ensemble on TV there's some forgiveness but it doesn't extend to the big budget spectacle.

But as I said, it was good to see them again.  I wouldn't object to another Next Generation reunion, but it feels like it should be a Netflix thing, or a short run like the recent X-Files reunion, and not another motion picture.


I've probably said this before, but I'll repeat myself because it's relevant.  I don't have much love for the Terminator franchise.  My favourite installment was probably The Sarah Connor Chronicles that ran on Fox for two half seasons (Lena Headey + Garrett Dillahunt + Summer Glau, it was a nice cast), but even then it was the character drama that I enjoyed.  The whole premise of The Terminator has worn kind of thin.  Skynet sends killing machines back in time to kill their future opponent, while their opposition sends someone (or something) back to stop them, rinse, repeat.  It gets a little ridiculous after a while the chicken and the egg thing of who went back in time first... to the point that in this latest entry a character jumps back in time to 1984, only to, ten minutes later, jump forward in time to 2017.  I like time travel movies, but these aren't time travel stories, they're a unified one-note take on man vs machine.

Terminator Genisys (I can never spell that right on the first try) is the latest in a spate of JJ Abrams-style soft remakes/reboots (aka "requel") wherein it doesn't entirely eradicate the past stories but it fan-servicingly uses the established canon to build its new story.  It spends its dire opening minutes reiterating the premise of Terminator...Earth getting nuked when Skynet awakens, the robots take over, humanity resists with John Connor in the lead, etc.  Then we spend some time in the future where the battles still happen...a bloated, meaningless action sequence finds Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading one final assault against some place important where I guess John know's they're going to send a terminator back to kill his mother (why only one, they had time to send at least a few).  As the story goes, Reese follows it back.  John has told Kyle all about his mother for years, so Reese's already deified this woman and loves her (John securing his own future since Kyle is his father).  As Reese is getting sent back he witnesses an attack on John by the eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith, who was obviously promised a larger role in subsequent entries that will never happen).  Again, a lengthy sequence that tells us very little new information, instead retelling it with new actors and a few differences to hopefully make a new franchise out of.

Cue up the rehash of the first Terminator, only instead young naked Arnie is fought off by an older, beclothed Arnie and Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke).  The older Arnie is also a Terminator , nicknamed "Pops", who saved Sarah as a 9-year old and took her under his protection and tutelage.  After defeating 1984 Arnie, they venture off to save Reese (and an unsuspecting police officer) from a T-1000 (who also morphs into a police officer all the time).  The whole first act is entirely a play off of the first two movies, rehashing so many things, only a little different this time, flipping the Sarah and Reese roles where she's the one in the know and he's scrambling to keep up.

This first act is almost pure tedium.  Jai Courtney is practically a non-existent presence on screen, while Emilia Clarke feels like a shadow as Sarah Connor.  There's no life to either of these two characters.  Their conversations all stem around predestination, and it spells out that there's no agency for these characters to really act, they're just being swept along by the plot.  Beyond that there's zero chemistry between them, and the fact that Sarah knows she's supposed to birth the leader of the resistance against Skynet (and Pops keeps pressuring her to mate with Reese) is perhaps the most underplayed aspect.  What does she feel about it? We never really know.  I think we're supposed to, but either Clarke can't play it or the director can't sell it.

The second and third acts are marginally better once we wind up in 2017.  It's a much different world than 1984 (not that Sarah and Reese seem to notice all that much), and two naked people appearing on a freeway amidst a bright explosion gets them immediately arrested and detained for homeland security.  Pops is supposed to be waiting for them, so they're surprised when it's John Connor who turns up to save them.  Turns out though that John was transformed in to a T-3000 (nanites, I guess) and is there to...I dunno. Reese's had visions during his time travels of another life and he knows what they have to do stop him.  The whole "Genisys" plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, except being yet another "we've got to stop Skynet from coming on line" type event.

The best part of the story is JK Simmons, who was that cop that Sarah inadvertently save when saving Reese from the T1000.  30 years later, he's a crackpot FBI agent who's been investigating the time travelling robot conspiracy while also heavily drinking.  Simmons brings the joint alive every time he's on screen.  What would have been fantastic and far more engaging (and less trite) is if the whole story were told from his outsider perspective.  When the young cop appeared in the first act I even said to the wife, "I hope they take him with them, it would be nice to have an outsider's perspective on this".

Imagine that movie where it starts with Sarah rescuing Reese, and Simmons is saved along the way.  He tries to follow and keeps stumbling in and out of the chase/fight, only to lose them and never find them again.  He's seen the robots and is laughed at by his peers.  Cut to 30 years later and suddenly those same two people emerge again, naked on a freeway and he's got to track them down, witnessing from the outside their very public fight with killer robots (Cloverfield-style).  Meanwhile he's putting the clues together as to what is happening, what they're after, the skynet/Genesys conspiracy.  That would be amazing.  All the action would be indirect, off in the background or witnessed from afar.  It would be thrilling and funny and far more original even though it's presenting roughly the same story.  It's all about perspective.

As is, Simmons flits in and out a couple times, and he's amazing every time, but it's just not enough.  Schwartzenegger is actually pretty fantastic in this (I was for some reason expecting him to be the weak link having been away from acting for so long, which was totally not the case).  For all the lack of chemistry between Courney and Clarke, Schwartzenegger manages to be a stone faced robot and yet the utter heart of this movie.  Taylor does a good job of presenting his T-800 as having aged and matured somewhat as a result.  He's a father by all rights, not just "Pops" in name, and while Clarke contributes to the relationship, it's Arnie that delivers it as something meaningful.  Plus most of the humour comes from Arnie, and it's not rehashed, self-referential bullcrap cliches like in Terminator 3, but it's humour that comes from his character, being an old model robot/paternal figure.

The action in the film, since it's mostly one-on-one fighting (beyond that opening sequence) is pretty good, and quite fun.  They make good use of the settings and of the different Terminator types.  Taylor makes it a really, really good looking film (he would have been and awesome director for that JK Simmons-focussed movie), but the story and script itself is just lacking.

Like David's take, I still quite enjoyed the film, more than its reputation suggested I would.  It had better avenues it could have taken to not be so repetitive, but it's not a badly made movie.  I can understand why Terminator fans haven't taken kindly to it, since it changes almost everything (and everyone) they've know or like about the series.  I also understand why audiences didn't react to it, because it's so inside baseball, you have to really know the series to get a lot of what's happening and why it's fun, or interesting, or funny. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

I Saw This!! - Here There Be Monsters

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our all-too regular feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so.  These are some monster films Graig watched recently.

Monster Squad - 1987, Fred Dekker - Shomi
Monster House - 2006, Gil Kenan - Shomi
What We Do In The Shadows - 2015, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement - DVD


I don't know what was going on with my adolescence, but there was a whole lot of films in the 1980s that my peers consider seminal that I've never seen.  Well, perhaps Monster Squad isn't as classic as, say, Watership Down, but its still one of those pictures that should have fit in with the Gremlins, Goonies, Explorers, E.T. -type films about kids getting into trouble that I didn't wind up seeing.  I never saw any horror movies as a youth, so perhaps my parents thought a film called "Monster Squad" would be too scary or gory or something?

What makes Monster Squad worthwhile is twofold: firstly, it brings together all of the classic Universal horror monster icons (Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Wolfman, though they were variations on the Universal versions since Universal didn't make the picture) and makes a fairly competent pre-teen friendly mystery/spookfest/adventure.  The second is the script co-written by Dekker and Shane Black.  Black, if you don't know, was the writer of Lethal Weapon (1 & 2), Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.  Following the release of the latter film, despite having over 20 years in the industry, he suddenly found himself a critical darling.  Thanks the internet.

Black is now well known for his dialogue, snappy banter and monologues alike.  He's got a penchant for clever action/violence and a keen wit.  He's like a straightforward Tarantino, with noir seeming to be his preferred genre.  He put that to good use within Dekker's script.  Where the film has aged somewhat in the visual effects and the general aesthetic, the script is still punchy, the kids all delivering these meaty lines like pros.

It's a genre of film that doesn't really exist today, the pre-teen horror/adventure film.  Back in the 1980's the perception was that adults wouldn't go see animated movies en masse, so they would make these high-adventure kids movies to capture the audience.  Goosebumps is the only one in recent memory and even that starred late-teens at best.  These were films where grade school kids were getting into all sorts of trouble.  These days, the CGI animation stuidos have that all-ages market on lock, and these kinds of films, where they're meant to appeal directly to the younger crowd but also be enjoyable for the parents (and Monster Squad still does both) don't get made anymore.

Monster House is one of those CGI films, but it's also an homage to those pre-teen horror/adventure films.  The story kicks off when the young protagonist, DJ, crosses the street to retrieve a basketball from the lawn of the the crotchety old man across the street.  The old man (perfectly voiced by Steve Buscemi) seemingly lies in wait to rush out and frighten anyone off his property but this time has a heart attack (though we don't find out he's still alive until late in the film, so it's a rather distressing opening moment) and keels over.  Without the old man's presence, DJ begins to notice strange things going on with the house.  It seems to be...alive.

Monster House was the lead of the second generation of CGI animated movies, where it delivered something unexpected and on par with Pixar, such that it didn't coddle its audience or play to the lowest common denominator.  It was notable as one of the first 3-D movies released in cinema, and even more notable since its script was co-written by Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon.

What's most interesting about Monster House is it's wholly not a comedy.  It's a horror movie for kids.  It's genuinely intense and frightening, but the severity of the threat is just at a much smaller scale.  That said, it was too much for my six-year-old, which, fair enough.

What is a comedy, full-on, while also being horror is the [expletive] delightful New Zealand film, What We Do In The Shadows.  I was on board with this film before it even started, being a huge fan of co-writer/co-director/co-star Jemaine Clement in Flight Of The Conchords (a musical comedy duo/HBO show) and also having enjoyed his past effort with co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi, Eagle vs Shark.

Where that latter film was a quiet outcast comedy, like a Napoleon Dynamite done New Zealand-style, this film is moves much faster as an ensemble mocumentary, a spiritual successor to Spinal Tap or the films of Christopher Guest, where the comedy is much more rampant, but it's equally charming with its distinctive Kiwi flavour.

The subject of the mocumentary is the hidden subcommunity of vampires in Wellington, in particular a small group of single men of different ages and backgrounds living together under one roof.  It examines how they live amongst the normals, and how they live with each other, their troubles with keeping a low profile while satisfying their urges, their "familiars", their friends, their gatherings, and their conflicts.  Early on it seems like the mocumentary angle might only support a short film, the introduction of a newly turned vampire to the group (and his still human best friend whom they all like more) adds a wildly entertaining narrative thrust as they adjust to his presence.

There are shockingly tense moments in this film as moments of comedy suddenly turn to the camera crew becoming genuinely frightened for their life.  It's part of its brilliance, it's ability to not abandon the genre its characters normally inhabit, while still making one of the funniest films of the decade.

What I enjoyed most was the level of detail provided to the back story of the characters.  All the aged photos and trinkets they've collected over their long lifespans (there's probably a nice art book ready to be made in there somewhere), as well as the way their personal style still reflects the era they were turned in.  They've not just thrown together a comedy but they've built characters and a cohesive reality for them to exist in, no matter how absurd it may seem at times.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Rewatch/Newatch: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon + Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

"Rewatch/Newatch" is a new feature here at G&DS Disagree where we rewatch one (or more) films in a series and then watch the latest release in the series.  It's just that simple.

[note: I had intended to do a "Rewatch/Newatch" with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman but there was just too much to say about the latter and not nearly enough new to say about the former...I may just do a One Paragraph Rewatch writeup for Man of Steel a lil' later)

2000, d. Ang Lee - DVD
2016, d. Woo-ping Yeun - Netflix

Back in 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon changed the North American cineplex forever.  It's not that foreign language films, or more specifically Chinese films, or even more specifically martial arts/wuxia films hadn't made it to the Americas before, but there had never been a mainstream commercial success quite like this, nor one that commanded 10 Oscar nominations and 4 wins.  It was nominated in both best picture and best foreign language picture (only one of 8 pictures to ever do so) though best picture went to another genre picture, Gladiator, and best director went to Stephen Soderberg, which is hard to argue).

Thanks in part to the efforts of Quentin Tarantino in the half-decade before - using his cult status and fame to bring classic "Asian Action" films to a wider North American audience - and also the success of the Wachowski's Matrix, audiences were hungry to see a real Chinese martial arts epic that wasn't low budget, cheesy, badly dubbed, or poorly shot.  Ang Lee, already an accomplished and established director in North America, took a modest risk in adapting the fourth novel in Wang Dulu's Crane Iron Pentology.  It was a co-production of China, Taiwan and the US, and the script co-written by Thai and American writers, tailored more for an American audience than Chinese one.

Though it wasn't a straight-out-the-gate blockbuster, positive critical response, word of mouth, and it's Oscar nods ultimately made it a very successful movie domestically.  While the Matrix may have teed up the wire work (both films involved legendary fight choreographer Woo-ping Yeun) it was Crouching Tiger's graceful beauty, masterful fights and dazzling swordplay that western productions had been so desperately trying to replicate up until the rise of the superhero a decade later.

It's this utter dilution of the wire-fu craft that has made Crouching Tiger almost a forgotten relic in the past few years.  What was once rather legendary and notorious has now become a distant memory and reclusive classic.  It didn't help that Hollywood distributors were snatching up and promoting countless other Chinese films as "the next Crouching Tiger", and most were at best pale imitators (if not butchered for the American market by the distributors). With the bigger, louder action movies dominating the multiplex almost year round now, the desire to read subtitles and engage in foreign history has greatly diminished.  Plus, very few, if any large scale foreign films are looking to the North American market for success like Crouching Tiger did, and so they just don't play to domestic tastes.  Each subsequent knock-off imported in the early/mid 2000's not only failed to live up to the expectations of Lee's production, but also seemed to diminish the memory of it.

I know in rewatching the film for the first time in well over a decade, I had forgotten almost the entirety of the story, and beyond the recognizable faces of the cast and a few standout images, the entirety of the film.  But it didn't take long to suck me back in.  I've long been a sucker for Michelle Yeoh (here performing in Mandarin for the first time, looking wise and world weary, yet radiant and powerful) and have a strong fondness for Chow Yun-Fat (also not a native Mandarin speaker) as well, so the moment the two share a scene early on, I was drawn it.  It helps that despite any issues with the dialect, the two have immense presence on screen and explosive chemistry together.  The main thrust of their story is they were warriors together for a long time, and their love persisted through seemingly endless battles, but they were unable to consummate their love since Shu Lien (Yeoh) was to wed the brother of Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat).  Li Mu Bai's brother died in a fight long ago, but both felt (somewhat foolishly) it would dishonor his memory by acting upon their impulses.

Li Mu Bai is ready to move forward but wants to rid himself of the demands and phantoms of the past.  He asks Shu Lien to take his legendary sword, the Green Dragon, to a mutual friend, Sir Te, as a gift and he will soon join her and they can start a life together.  However fate intervenes at Sir Te's, when Shu Lien's visit coincides with that of a visiting Governor.  His daughter, Jen, take an interest in both Shu Lien and the Green Dragon, making an attempt at snatching the later in a late night escapade.  It's revealed that Jen (Ziyi Zhang) is the student of the woman who killed Li Mu Bai's brother, and has been posing as Jen's handmaiden for over a decade.  Li Mu Bai cannot move forward with Shu Lien while she still walks free.

Jen's story, meanwhile, is the major focus of the movie.  A lengthy flashback tells of Jen's kidnapping at the hands of desert pirates, but ultimately she came to love her gentile, roguish captor, Lo (an extremely charming Chen Chang).  She's now in an arranged engagement but in her heart is terrible defiance and an endless love for Lo.  Though Shu Lien tries to help her, Jen is of the petulant, rich teen sort, used to getting her own way and with the skills to throw one hell of a temper tantrum.  In the end, the story winds up a solemn, yet beautiful tragedy.

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon definitely holds up as a masterpiece.  The plot is almost simplistic, and yet its locations, it's time period, it's people, their seemingly deep-but-only-alluded to back story are so very exotic.  It's literally an epic love story (two, actually) with a lot of mysticism and lore backing it up.  It's beautiful to look at, and the score (including many solo pieces with Yo Yo Ma) is astounding.  The wire work is graceful, almost to a fault.  We're so used to the heavier, more brutal fighting of North American cinema (and even classic Asian action) that the intent here is an approximation of weightlessness.  It just looks off, but then it's supposed to be surreal, a skill only a few possess.  They actually call it flying.  They make such gentile running style motions in the's kind of absurd but there's at the very least an internal consistency to it.

That this is the fourth story in a series is so utterly apparent, and the desire upon rewatch was the same as it was in 2000: more.  I want to know more about Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai's legendary battles, their victories and losses.  I want to know more about the training school (boy's club though it is) on Mount Wudang.  Plus I like this world where women are empowering themselves in what is very obvious a patriarchy.  I was ready for the Netflix original presentation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny.

But I wasn't really. 

I wasn't ready for Sword of Destiny to be not good.  I wasn't expecting it to be in English foremost, and yet it was.  All of the actors are speak English on screen yet the entire production looked ADRed.  It's not like old Shaw Bros. dubbing, but it's still noticable that the voices aren't 100% in synch with the mouths.  That was blow number one.

Michelle Yeoh is back as Shu Lien, who ends her exile to attend the funeral of her friend, Sir Te.  But Sir Te's compound is rocked by two interlopers, Wei Feng (servant of the dreaded warlord Hades Dai) and Snow Vase, an enemy of the warlord.  Wei Feng is captured while Snow Vase implores Shu Lien to train her in the Iron Way.  Meanwhile, Hades Dai is on the warpath after a prophecy tells him that a great sword, the Green Dragon, will be his undoing.

Blow number two finds film completely undercutting the beautiful tragedy of Crouching Tiger.  I love me some Donnie Yen but having him show up as Meng Shizhao, Li Mu Bai's supposedly dead brother and Shu Lien's former betrothed is some rank B.S.  It's certainly not used for anything even closely approximating the dramatic or romantic tension of the first film, and it's just feels like a romantic entanglement by default.

The film finds Shizhao recruiting a band of heroes to help stop Hades Dai, and they're a fun lot, but not given nearly enough to do in the film before most become fodder for Hades Dai's army.  Their memorial service is perhaps the most touching moment of the film, in a film that's otherwise largely devoid of touching moments.

It's third failing is it's craftless and heartless.  Woo-peng Yeun takes on the role of director, but it has almost a TV movie quality to it.  There's the occasionally well-shot scene that hints at the original, but the pervasive use of passable CGI (something the original only used to remove the wires) makes it feel and definitely look less like a sequel than yet another derivative.  I don't doubt that Woo-ping wasn't actually trying to emulate Ang Lee's style, as this seems to be more your conventional actioneer, but the callbacks particularly in the score are what pains me the most.  I could accept it as a lesser than on its own terms, but those score beats just keep drawing thoughts of the original back.

The fight choreography (assuredly Woo-ping was involved but doubtlessly so was Donnie Yen) is quite good, and the fights are well orchestrated and fun to watch.  It's just unfortunate that the rest of the film is so dire and dull.  The characters don't resonate at all, their chemistry (beyond Shizhao's band of merry men and women) doesn't connect.  Yen and Yeoh on screen seem like old pals, rather than reunited lost lovers, which makes sense given they are old pals...but they it's like they're not even trying for romantic chemistry.

The story is repetitive, hitting a lot of the same ideas as Lee's film, particularly in the contracts between the young rogues in love and the old, seasoned warriors fighting their attraction...and yet it fails to not just live up to the past but even strive to differentiate itself.  For all the complaints about Star Wars: Episode 7 hitting the same beats as Episode 4, it at least found new footing in its new characters.  Here they fail to even build new characters. They're so bland, and the focus here is unfortunately what Crouching Tiger managed to actually avoid; by making the action the center of the film the story is treated like a cast off.

It's so disappointing.  I'm curious to know more of the stories from the Crane Iron Pentology, it's just obvious I'm not going to get any satisfaction from any further films.