Tuesday, February 28, 2017

X-Men: Apocalypse

2016, Bryan Singer (Apt Pupil) -- download

Matthew Vaughn came along and took the X-Men movies from Bryan Singer, with X-Men: First Class. He had a chance to rewrite history and style, but Vaughn left and Singer was back in the director's seat, for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which I don't remember liking as much as I wrote I did. Now, that the play on actors from the first series popping up in the second series, Singer returns for the third "new timeline" much darker, but almost entirely bloodless, movie, despite the massive casualties.

Note: We are ignoring the terrible X-Men: Last Stand because you should too.

The first time I watched a sub-par download of this movie, I burped and promptly forgot about it. It sat at the top of my To Write list for ages, and was destined for an I Saw This!! but I am trying for less of those these days, and cleaning out the cupboards, without a Cleaning Out the Cupboards post. So, I grabbed a new, shiny, lovely Blu-ray rip, dropped it on my MS Surface (I love my Pro 4) and over the last few days, watched it when my commute allowed.

Oh my! From my grumps against the dullness of 3D projected movies to an almost painfully exquisite over saturation of colours and brightness on this high-res tablet screen! Seriously, I was marveling at the play on colours everywhere in the movie! I cannot say if it was the cinematography of Newton Thomas Sigel, but it was like a sugar high of delight to see how well each scene was coloured. From the reds and oranges of the steel mill where Magneto confronts Apokalips (wait, wrong cinematic universe, but wouldn't THAT be neat) to the greys and greens of Stryker's mountain stronghold, to the browns and purples of all things En Sabah Nur (which, before catching the name in IMDB,  I was never sure of) I kept on getting distracted by exactly how pretty my copy was. I am hoping its the tablet, and I can resurrect more movies for such experience. And yes, as soon as there is a copy of Rogue One available for download, I will re-watch it.

So, as I said, Singer is back and these characters are his once again. But he is again introducing the core characters of Storm, Cyclops, Beast and Phoenix. OK, Beast is already with us but the establishment of a core team is the point of this movie. It starts with the accidental resurrection of En Sabah Nur beneath modern day Cairo. This ancient mutant was a god in his day, and to be honest, he was not quite far off. But when he awakens, he is rather aghast the world has moved on without his tutelage. It is his new goal to wipe the Earth clean and start again, with a whole new band of worshiping mutants. Charles Xavier and his school of muties are up against his plans.

The core of the movie is rather..... forgettable? Unfortunately that is the mark of the Singer films, in that they are fun to experience, they are not going to linger with you. En Sabur Nur imbues his allies with great power, creating wonderfully amped up Angel, Psylocke (as Kent said, Olivia Munn in some great cosplay) and mohawked Storm. And Jean, Scott, Raven and Kurt gather together to stop the bad guys, with Quicksilver tagging along -- for the best scenes in the entire movie, recreating his breakout Magneto scene but saving Xavier School students.

Other than manipulating a bunch of kids, creating some massive statues of himself and crew, and punching Charles in his Mind House, scary Big Bad ESN doesn't really do anything. He's arrogant, pompous and lets others do the real work, like having Magneto tear the planet apart in a bloodless yet obviously mass casualty disintegration event. I guess pseudo gods just are. Of course, the unity of the crew is able to defeat his allies and then they leave it to Jean with her suppressed Phoenix power to take out ESN.

I can now remember why I forgot the movie. And the worst offense is having Oscar Issac completely wasted under all that blue makeup and grandstanding. Seriously, he is an entirely one tone villain. Wolverine gets a silly, but with a wee bit of blood, cameo and (again, as Graig said) the 80s are completely forgotten in this pretty, X-Mas light movie.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

2016, Tim Burton (Mars Attacks!) -- download

Eva Green, as Miss Peregrine, is a Professor X for children that are better left in a box of old photographs from a grotty, mismanaged curio shop. If you know what is best for you. Asa Butterfield is Jake, the young teen destined to find her and the incredible students, he not knowing what is best for him, at all. It all starts with the murder of his grandfather and it takes him all the way across an ocean to an island off the coast of Wales. It all ends with Jake wrapped in a conspiracy of mutated children and the monsters that want to eat them, but without any of the whimsy you would expect from Burton.

As a Tim Burton movie, there are a few things that must be there: wide eyes, impeccable & anachronistic clothing choices, intricate & lovingly constructed scenes, and twee whimsy go wide-eyed with those eyes. At many of the points in this movie I forgot I was watching a Burton film, and wondered if Gore Verbinsky had wandered off a Pirates set and into this flick. That is to say, Burton successfully extracted himself from his own style, but not by sacrificing the fantastical.

And fantastical it is ! The 'peculiarities' that the children exhibit are not super powers, despite my pith. Each of the children in Miss Peregrine's school has a magical bit about them, some wondrous (a girl who is as light as air, and can create air in inexhaustible amounts) some monstrous (a girl with a monster mouth, full of teeth, on the back of her head) but they all get hidden away because normal people would fear them. And all these children are being hunted by Hollowghasts, monsters created in a failed immortality experiment (in Tunguska) that feed on the eyes of peculiars. Samuel L Jackson was made to play one such monster.

Our particular peculiar story has Miss Peregrine protecting her children inside a house in a time bubble, a loop of time in WWII that always ends just before a German bomb destroys the house. Jake learns his grandfather protected them as well, as they share their own peculiarity where they can see the Hollowghasts, in their hidden forms. In a familiar, formulaic manner of teen novels, Jake must learn whether he will pick up his grandfather's mantle (he does) and defeat Jackson and his Hollows. For a Burton movie, it is rather reined in, but it tells the story decently. I was not impressed, nor was I bored.

Friday, February 24, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Stake Land 2

2016, Dan Berk, Robert Olsen (Body) -- download

I prefer the alternate title, The Stakelander but sequels name as sequels do. I loved Stake Land. But I didn't love this sequel, yet dislike is not quite the right choice either. As a followup to a wonderful first movie, it was a disappointment but as a B-grade, indie, post-ap movie, its a cut above the dross. Nick Damici's writing is there, the torment and pathos, but the directing is very bland. Part of me envisions a late night drunk session where they came up with the idea of doing an Aliens to Jim Mickle's Alien. More vamp-monsters! Bigger fights! Less slow!

When last we left our intrepid hero Martin, he had escaped to New Eden, i.e. Canada. For some unknown reasons, vampires avoid the border and the weak explanation of 'the cold' doesn't hold much water, unless you include some seasonal mythos of Spring to Fall raids from The Stake Lands. ANYWAYZ, the story begins with one such raid as a strange one eyed vampire lady (or was that just Viserys Targaryen?) leads a bunch of the vamp-monsters (berserkers) against New Eden. Martin loses his family. Revenge must be had; so, south into the Stake Lands he goes. To find Mister, the skilled vampire hunter from the first movie.

The opening travel bit is apropos of a vampire world. If they live by killing humans and are not exactly discriminate, eventually humans will become scarce. Martin travels through rural wastelands devoid of people; it is lovingly haunting. Once he finds Mister, in a cannibal compound that is more Walking Dead than any original inspiration, the movie basically devolves into a siege story inside a 'lockup' or protected settlement. Lady vamp was looking to kill Mister, and had used Martin's tragedy to dig up the missing hunter. There is a single scene of why with a baby vamp, and no explanation. And there are feeble attempts to dredge up some emotion, but Berk & Olsen do a terrible job at pacing and editing, leaving me looking more at my phone than at the screen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Inferno

2016, Ron Howard (Apollo 13) -- download

Weird; I am not sure I can recognize a Ron Howard movie. All the great and/or well known directors have a distinct style that is easily picked out, but does he? Is it a comment on Howard or on me, if I cannot nail down one thing that makes his movie, his movie? He's definitely a popular director, attracting people to the box office and always getting named stars. But is he more the working man, maybe more interested in trying different things than establishing a style?

Inferno is the latest in the popular religious conspiracy puzzle thriller series from Dan Brown. Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, the professor of religious iconography and "symbology". Langdon is a pseudo Mary Sue for stuffy, tweed wearing professorial types everywhere, a 50ish pudgy man tossed into world affecting situations and saving the day. It's weird seeing Tom Hanks as the lead man in a thriller full of running, intrigue, violence and dangerous situations. But we 50ish pudgy guys need more inspirations!

This time round finds Langdon chasing after the plot of a tech billionaire, the kind that believes the world would do better if half the humans were gone. This insane mogul has setup a terribly deadly virus to be introduced at a certain time on a certain day. So, not an ancient puzzle left behind by arcane societies, like in the other movies, but a current one left by a mad man. The reason for the puzzle is a spoiler and completely defeats the genius of its play, but it still leaves us a fun romp of a movie in the incredible locales of Europe. Hanks is a skilled actor that we can easily be invested in, and while I don't see anything particular in Howard's directing, he definitely does a good job.

Two Booms: The Wave & Deepwater Horizon

I could say I watch a lot of disaster movies, but we are in a lull of them these days, so I watch em when I can get em. Or grab them from The Shelf. Why do I watch them, when they are traditionally badly done and formulaic? I suppose it is the same reason I love post-apocalyptic films -- that when the worst is happening, we can dispense with the treacheries of day to day life and just focus on what needs to be done; survival. And things are pretty bad IRL right now, so naturally...

The Wave, 2015, Roar Uthaug (Tomb Raider) -- Netflix

Bølgen as it is called in Norway, is one of those rare non-American disaster movies. Set in a region of the country that I was recently introduced to by the Slow TV "episode" Northern Passage. In case you haven't experienced it yet, Slow TV is a Norwegian phenomena of utterly glacial TV shows that are airing (in part) on Netflix in Canada. Northern Passage highlighted the best parts of a show that originally ran 24 hours a day for 6 days, as a cruise ship went from Bergen to Kirkenes.

One of the places the ship stopped was Geirangerfjord, with its famously monitored hunk of mountain that could fall at any moment, dumping so much rock into the fjord, it would cause a tsunami that would engulf the towns below it. This movie is about that event actually happening.

This is a classic formula disaster movie. Intrepid hero scientist Kristian Eikjord is about to retire from the monitoring station, and move his family from the small village to the big city. He's a little obsessive and a little paranoid about what could happen, thus a little nervous about abandoning his post. But he has to do better for his family.

I always like the slow build ups these properly done movies give us, as we learn the science or the warning system we know will come into play. Our main character has to be flawed but admirable, tightly connected to his family and the people of his community. Kristian is both those, admired by but constantly annoying his team and family. I also like the little bits of this movie, the regional bits that expose me to Norway and its people & traditions. The cheese on bread, the sitting in a large window watching the sky never get completely dark,

Eventually the rock does fall, the wave does happen and the town is engulfed. Kristian does his best to save the townsfolk, but really, he has to focus on his family. Being a condensed disaster, as in not a section of a country or a continent or even a city, it has to heighten the tragedy by having key characters die unexpectedly. I was rather upset the tourist bus didn't make it. In the end, he does succeed in saving some people and his family, and we get some fantastic post-wave disaster footage that reminded me of The Impossible.

P.S. Uthaug is doing the new Tomb Raider movie.

Deepwater Horizon, 2016, Peter Berg (Hancock) -- download

And from natural catastrophe we move onto completely and utterly manmade disaster. I wondered how this movie would deal with the real details of the oil derrick explosion & the BP oil disaster, when almost 5 million barrels worth of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Surprisingly, the moving is not compromising on the culpability of the oil companies but not surprisingly, the movie focuses on the actual explosion and the men & women affected.

Marky Mark is Mike Williams, the every man, the family man, the lead electrical tech on the oil rig. Our introduction to him makes him the nice guy, the popular guy and the guy willing to open his mouth to the big bosses about how much of the rig is falling apart around them. They say they appreciate his honesty, but you know they don't. Everyone wants the already late drilling job to pay off soon, so they can get what is left of their bonuses. Screw the every man and his desire to do his job right.

One of the key decisions they make is to send home the crew that tests the concrete that surrounds the drill site. They pour concrete under water? I guess they do. And of course, they should have been allowed to complete those tests. The rig blows, the oil ignites and people die.

The drama focuses on Mike and his heroism and calm in the face of danger. Around him are his coworkers and friends, drillers and techs and even oil & drilling executives. Once the blow happens, he wants to rescue as many as possible, especially Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) who is the one man who can quickly asses how bad things are. Things are bad.

This is by the books tension, dread and gut wrenching excitement. That's not a bad thing, and considering the subject matter, the movie does exactly what it intends on doing. Berg handles his cast well and the performances are good, a very clear example of the difference between Straight To and big studio productions. I especially liked the little touch at the end, where ever calm and in control Mike finally collapses on the floor with his wife and daughter, the tension pouring out of him like the oil filling the Gulf, ready to ignite at any moment.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I Saw This!! Life Animated

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad. Cats Living With Dogs bad.

Finding Dory, Andrew Stanton, Angus McLane (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) -- download

Seriously, they cross the ocean (Australia to California) to find her? That's impressive. But very little other of the movie stuck with me, most of it being that and Hank the octopus. But the basic premise is still there. Dory has flashbacks about her life with her family, her mom fish and dad fish, and in exploring those issues, ends up captured by well meaning humans as Nemo was before her. The chase leads to an aquarium in California. And Hank, the escape artist.

Jason Kottke pointed out something very interesting about this movie, that makes me like it much more than I did while watching. What, you say, you didn't like it? Settle down audience/inner voice, I liked it alright, but it didn't impress me like the first. But Jason points how almost every character is trying to overcome something adverse in their lives: Nemo with his little fin, Dory with her memory issues, Hank with his missing tentacle, etc. But with the support of friends and family, they can all overcome adversity. For a kids movie, that is a GREAT message all wrapped up in a funny, well animated package even if the story wasn't all that original or creative.

Secret Life of Pets, Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney (Despicable Me) -- download

For me, everything about this movie hinged on the bit from the ad where the poodle rocks out to black metal music, while a chihuahua bounces in the background. I didn't care if they made a good movie as long as I giggled at that full scene. In fact, the whole premise of this movie hinges on an opening sequence where we are introduced to each of the pets and what they do when the door is closed by their humans. Like in Toy Story they are more human then we would ever know.

Aaaand, unfortunately the movie is pretty pedestrian once you get past that premise. Good short idea, stretched thin enough for a movie. Its like that short by my favourite animators Aardman, called Creature Comforts, where they animated zoo animals speaking the parts of real humans being interviewed. The short is 5 minutes long, and perfect. I don't want to see anything beyond, despite them milking 2 TV series out of it.

But, as kids are really the demographic for this and as long as there is a steady stream of laughs, I supposed I got my money's worth. Should I forgive the movie for not having a grand plot and story? Part of me says "No" as I am that guy who defends a movie being exactly what it is, which is why John Wick is such a perfect movie. But part of me says we should strive for more, strive to be better, strive to be above just good enough.


And I better stop as this is becoming about me, and no longer the movie.

Kubo and the Two Strings, 2016, Travis Knight (animator for Boxtrolls, Paranorman) -- download

And here we go, a movie that DOES strive to be better, that strives to be both entertaining, incredibly well animated AND incredibly well storied. This was a wonderful wonderful fantasy movie for both kids and parents. Go rent it now; show those youngins something great.

This movie takes place in a fantasy Japan world. Kubo is a street performer, magical and skillful, who entertains the people of a small fishing village with his stories and animated origami figures. You got it, animation within animation. Instant gold star from me. The hero of Kubo's stories is Hanzo, the great samurai, who fights tons of legendary monsters. Hanzo also happens to be Kubo's missing father.

One night Kubo does not make it back to his home, and mother, in the cave, before sunset and the real story begins. His mother has been protecting him from her sisters all this time, and being out after dark has them finding Kubo and Sariatu, his mother. The battle is dire, and Kubo is left alone with ... monkey, his little carven toy come to life. And the quest to find Hanzo's magic armour & sword so he can defend himself against his aunts begins.

Animated. But really animated !  Despite my love for 3D computer animation, seeing this stop-motion animated movie done so lovingly and so full of imagination strains my admiration to the breaking point. And yet, they also give a story you can wrap yourself in, one of challenge and expectation and family love, and tragedy. The story and the voice acting don't skimp.

Sausage Party, Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs Aliens) -- download

Can I be offended that one of the guys who directed a ton of Thomas the Tank Engine movies? Seriously dude? THIS movie?

Anywayz, if I can say anything in praise of this movie, its that it does successfully stretch the paper thin premise of animated talking food eventually being eaten, and how they react, into a full length movie. Not a particularly good full length movie, but there you have it.

Beyond the 'OMG we are being eaten' premise, the plot item of choice in this movie was food doing the nasty, and all the associated puns they could come up with regarding such. The only one that really made me chuckle was Salma Hayek playing a lesbian taco. Beyond that, everything else was as vulgar and crass as you would expect out of the mind of Seth Rogen.

Is there a story? Well Frank the hotdog and his girlfriend, Brenda the bun, go on a Hero's Quest to find out what Honey Mustard was talking about, when he claimed the afterlife (being purchased) was not all it was cracked up to be. Along the way they are stalked by the only non-foodstuff product, a psychopathic douche who is pissed they bent his nozzle. Why they didn't run into any other non-food item, I don't know. And I doubt the creators cared. Eventually they defend themselves against Douche and the human patrons of the store, and celebrate with an extended orgy scene. Not sure where they are supposed to go from there, but the movie posits they come to our world.

Not a good movie but if you like Rogen's sense of crass humour, you will probably love it. Just don't be that guy who lets his kids watch it, because all animated flicks are for kids.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2016, Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) -- cinema

Graig said, "This is the Star Wars movie we have been waiting for since we were kids."

He was right, but boy does that come with some heavy weight expectations. In some way the movie met them, and in some other ways, it disappointed me. I will say one thing -- I think all the disappointment comes from knowing too much. Knowing how much of the cool stuff from the trailers never made it into the final showing, knowing that they went back and re-tooled and re-tooled and re-tooled, knowing that this was a re-tooled movie to begin with, having started with a story framework and built around visual storyboards, not a traditional story & script. Somehow all that led to diminished reactions in actually seeing it.

And yet.... fuck, wow.

Let's get the usual whine out of the way. Once again, a non-3D movie in a good quality theatre looked almost too dark to see. Sure, Star Wars has always had lots of shadowy scenes, but the dull textures of Lah'mu were annoying. After watching an untainted Arrival, I know you can have dull & shadowy and not diminish the screen whatsoever. So, fuck you 3D industry. I hope the death of 3D TV means cinematic 3D is going away soon.

Lah'mu! Despite its dullness, I loved that as an opening, as iconic a beginning as Tattooine ever was. And I applaud whomever decided that Mads Mikkelsen's Galen Erso was not going to be the bad guy, despite his great appeal as a bad guy. The mood of the movie is set in a classic fashion, with stormtroopers and resistance to tyranny.

Rogue One is an ensemble cast, as Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen, is tossed together with a bunch of rebels to recover her father's legacy and turn the tide to the rebellion's favour. But the Rebel Alliance we see here is not the shiny, glorious one Luke bumps into a movie later. These guys are uncoordinated, argumentative and guilty of some sins most would accuse only the Empire of committing. Our main Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, which would make a good Star Wars name by itself) is an intelligence officer and assassin when he needs to be. K-2SO is an retooled Imperial droid with more arrogance than C-3PO. General Draven is sending the trio to find her father, but he also gives the order to kill Mads, should it be needed and its implied that it is probably the only choice.

Along the way she picks up a broken Imperial pilot, a nervous twitch of a man who could no longer sit by (in his cockpit) while the Empire ravaged the galaxy. It is he who brings word of Galen's betrayal of the Empire which spurs the hunt. Also along the way she picks up two Jedi temple guards, a pair of world weary soldiers willing to pick up their weapons again for the right cause. And everyone is off to find Mads.

So, the intent of this movie was to be in the Star Wars universe but not be about the main characters, despite the man cameos. Its tone is meant to be different, and while not dark & gritty like many said it was going to be, it definitely felt.... different. And different better than Eps 1 - 3 different bad. To me, a gamer, it felt like an adventure module for a group of teens playing the Star Wars RPG.  The world dances around the plot, actually becoming much more intriguing than the actual story, as it fills out details of what all of us know by heart from Ep 4.

**Aaaaand the inevitable spoilers**

What was surprising the most bit, which I thought would be spoiled long before the movie came out, was that everyone dies.  Everyone. This is a tragic war story where the Tom Hanks character doesn't survive, nor does the lovely femme fatale nor the tortured but redemptive anti-hero. This is the bit where many Bothans died to bring them this information, except.... they weren't Bothans. But a lot, and I mean A LOT of rebels die so the plans of the Death Star can be transmitted to the Rebel Alliance fleet. And then get transferred to a simple disk, to be carried by a cute lil droid.

So, despite the disappointment that so much of the movie was tooled with, by the Producers and by the staff itself, I cannot say I was disappointed with the movie. I am only disappointed I have not seen it half dozen times since.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Riverdale (or how I scandalized my teenager)

[it's been so long since I last wrote an entry here, I have quite literally forgotten how it is done.  It's been a time thing, me not doing reviews anymore.  I just don't seem to have the time.  It's hard enough to find the time to watch and/or read and/or play and/or create anymore, nevermind discuss at length in written form. So many things competing for time and attention.  Not to mention how frivolous talking at such lengths about movies and TV and such seems in our current political and social climate.  I used to be really good at compartmentalizing, about letting the world play out without too much concern...but it looks like the bad stuff is winning.  We're all at fault, in some way or another.  We need to make a change, but change is hard. We want someone to do it for us without really requiring us to do any of the work involved.  We would much rather be distracted, by sport and entertainment...to separate ourselves into times, places, societies, worlds, universes not our own than really change and be wholly invested in our own reality.  What do we actually need to do to make things different, what do we need to give up.  I kind of feel I know the answer, but I'm waiting for someone to tell me I'm right.  I'm waiting for a movement to tell me I'm not crazy, or alone.  I'm waiting for a plan, some kind of guide that will take us to the next level of humanity.  Instead all I'm seeing is regression, going back to things that haven't worked before; fear and hatred, power and oppression.  Dark times....Anyway....]

2017, CW/Netflix (Thursdays @ 9)

I'm wondering if there's many people born in North America in the past 80 years that don't know who Archie is.  The ubiquitous red-headed all-American boy who hangs with his gluttonous (yet scrawny) best friend and can't decide between the raven-haired rich girl and the blonde, girl-next-door can still be prominently seen in supermarket and department store checkout lines, the last remnant of comic books as a consumable (and not collectable or niche-market) product.  Archie Comics (by which I mean the product line, not just those books focused solely on young Mr. Andrews as a main character) have a reputation for wholesomeness and a generally sunny disposition.  They're humour books foremost with a teen romance thread extremely lightly stitched throughout.  They're throwback books, where even as they get modernized with genuine attempts at diversity and inclusiveness, they're wholly unrealistic in their quaintness.  They're an ideal that has long since left the United States, which may be part of the reason for their continued success.  Archie Comics remain a fantasy world, a bubble of Americana, of hope for a brighter tomorrow.

In recent years, the editorial staff at Archie Comics have tried to shake things up, to broker some relevance into the world of Riverdale.  Recent efforts saw a Sliding Doors type ongoing story of parallel worlds in which Archie finally chooses, and in one reality marries Betty, while marrying Veronica in the other.  This all culminated in the highly touted "Death of Archie" storyline, which had the precise the company's editorial staff desired, people and the media were talking about Archie.  At the same time, the company introduced a "mature readers" book Afterlife With Archie, which capitalized upon the Walking Dead phenomenon by placing the Riverdale gang at the inception of a zombie outbreak.  Beyond that came new monthly series for the main Riverdale gang, telling ongoing, continuous stories of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, rather than the short 4-12 page sketches that populate the newsstand digests.  In many ways this is the Archie renaissance, an awakening that the format the character has been resigned too aren't actual limitations.  In the same way Batman can survive countless different interpretations, so too can Archie and the Riverdale gang be flexed into any kind of storytelling.

Which leads us to Riverdale, a new co-production between the CW and Netflix, coming from creator Robero Aguirre-Sacasa.  Aguirre-Sacasa is a long-time TV and comics writer and has been for a few years now the chief creative officer at Archie Comics.  If anyone was going to launch Archie and the gang into the realm of live action TV (of which there has only been one prior, unfortunate instance) it makes sense it's him.

But if you were expecting that surreal, Pleasantville-type "all-American" ideal that the newsstand digests presents, or even a modified facsimile of it, you're in for a shock.  The early word was that Riverdale was shooting for a Twin Peaks vibe (and calling to it with TP's Madchen Amick playing Betty's mother), which it attempts only in gentle measure.  It doesn't want weirdness, but it certainly wants drama.  It's taking a page from teen dramas of the past -- be it Beverly Hills 90210 (extending the connection by hiring Luke Perry as Archie's dad), Dawson's Creek, or The OC -- but it has the distinct advantage (or disadvantage) of playing with known quantities and of subverting expectations.

You may well have heard some of the rather scandalous things the show has done with the characters, most notably placing a murder-mystery in the thick of it (probably the most direct Twin Peaks connection) and giving Archie an illicit relationship with a seriously aged-down Miss Grundy.  To be fair, for any Archie reader, these things are quite shocking.  Beyond that there's Betty's chemically controlled mental disorder, Veronica Lodge's father's absence (he's in jail for mismanagement of investor funds if not outright theft or embezzling), Moose's closeted sexuality (whether gay or bisexual is unclear), and a great deal of 100% OK race-bending (Riverdale is taking the opportunity to be a lot more bold in its inclusiveness than the comics have allowed).

My 15-year-old is a huge fan of Archie.  He's an avid consumer of the digests, and he has totally bought into the fantasy of the traditional Riverdale as it's presented in its simplified, four-colour world.  I knew that showing him TV Riverdale would drag him kicking and screaming into the world of "adult" melodrama, the kind he doesn't actively subject himself to, or understand all that much.  In that regard, Riverdale is actually quite fascinating, as it doesn't just present dramatic stories, but it presents their emotional consequences.  Archie's affair with Miss Grundy isn't a "cool fantasy" but represented as unsettling and predatory.  There's no question Archie has been scandalized and manipulated.  Likewise, the third episode of the series dives head-first into the concept of slut-shaming and how the popular and beloved football heroes can seemingly get away with whatever they want without consequences.  In that same episode's B-story, Josie explains to Archie (now a wanna-be songwriter) that a white man, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot possibly understand the reality of a black woman, but they both also learn that a fruitful partnership can still be forged.  By bringing real-world(ish) scenarios (albeit extremely sensationalistic ones) into a world of funny book characters it sets a very specific tone. Jughead, who is writing an "In Cold Blood" style novel based on the murder of Jason Blossom, even calls out the fact that the sleepy, idyllic town has irreversibly changed. 

Poster art by Francesco Francavilla, one
of my favourite comic artists working today
It's not just the emotional entanglements of the kids here, however, the parents likewise have a very tense relationship with each other, some of them stretching back to their own teenage days.  And the sins of the parent often are transferred to their children.  Despite's Jughead's assurances otherwise, the dark undercurrent of Riverdale has always been there.  It's just a murder that's bringing it all out into the open.  Likewise, this is a coming-of-age story, where the teenage set of Riverdale High start to learn that their actions are no longer those of children, but have real consequences, for themselves and others.

It is by no means a perfect show, and certainly not a perfect adaptation of Archie Comics, but it is an engaging and intriguing show, the cast quickly proving themselves adept at all it demands of them.  My 15-year-old kept proclaiming (throughout our viewing of the first three episodes, and for days after) "It's so weird".  He was rather flummoxed by it all.  It throws for a loop everything he knows about Archie, which, as I've said, isn't a bad thing.  The character traits are there... but tweaked: Archie is a good kid (but gets in over his head easily), Betty is perceived as perfect (but wants to shake the image), Veronica is the new girl, rich, with expected Alpha traits (but is working against type...Cheryl Blossom plays the evil rich bitch role typically given to Veronica in the comics), while Jughead is a mooch (but not the comic relief). 

My exasperated preamble at the top of this page, my feelings of darkness, of doing things wrong...that is, in a sense, well represented by this interpretation of Archie.  The idyllic world we want, the world we know and love, is not the world we get.  These Archie Comics characters are showing perseverance through the darkness, just like we have to.

I can't say I love the fact that Archie has "gone dark" but it's doing so with the best of intentions.  And it comes out both thought provoking and entertaining.  There are definitely worse things than that.

Monday, February 13, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: The Accountant

2016, Gavin O'Connor (Jane Got a Gun) -- download

There, that is what I was talking about. Let's do a crime thriller and not try to drop it into the Bourne paradigm. O'Connor, who has been working steadily, if under the radar, since the 90s brings us a methodical action thriller about an Autistic accountant cum killer. The movie is written by Bill Dubuque, someone who will be worthy watching as this was his baby, all by himself, both story and screenplay. That the movie is about a man with an extreme sense of focus is nice, considering we got a movie from one person, not a committee.

I digress; I am never so focused. Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, an account working of ZZZ Accounting in a strip mall. He is also a higher functioning autistic of extreme intelligence. JK Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Amanda Waller, Arrow) are the Treasury agents looking into the actions of a mysterious man, an accountant for drug cartels and foreign terrorists, who comes in as forensic consultant and helps launder their money. To get some heat off him, Wolff's assistance suggests a legit job, doing some forensic work at a robotics company, after a minor accountant in the firm noticed some irregularities. Of course, that change in behaviour puts an immense amount of chaos in front of Christian.

This movie was thoughtful, and that is all too often left behind in movies these days. We get just the right amount of background to all the main characters; just the right amount. There isn't a lot of extraneous details given over to style or a romance sub-plot (though it's there) or exposition or even emotional outbursts. Like Christian himself is all about and only about the details, so is the movie. The movie likes to follow all the details and put them together, such as our understanding of Christian's relationship with his father and his brother. Or his desire to be more than his closed off self, but still be completely unable to. We get a real anti-hero in Christian, not the current American ideal of one who "does what he has to", but a challenged man who does horrific things but we cannot help but identify with, and admire.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

10 for 10: Cleaning Out the Cupboards

[GK] 10 for 10... that's 10 movies which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?  

[DP] Yes! Yes it is. But it is also over an hour all by itself, and I think it can only properly be done all in one sitting. [edit: of which I failed at immediately]

[DP] I need to reboot this post and delete what I wrote and start again.

[DP 2 months later] Anytime now....

aaaand GO.

Zootopia, 2016, Byron Howard, Rich Moore (Tangled, Wreck It Ralf) -- download

This was the latest Disney animated movie, at the time. Its a world of anthropomorphic animals all living together in a peaceful, predator-friends-with-prey city. And then something goes wrong, that draws out the more animal instincts of the city's predators. Judy the Bunny (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the farm girl who has come to the city with the idea of being a big city cop, but really, who is she kidding? She's a coot wil bunny wunny. And Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, water buffalo) is pretty much convinced of bunnies-cannot-be-cops idea. But then she gets caught up with a con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) and uncovers a rather disturbing plot.

Charming. That is the primary thing I can say about this movie. Really, everything is just likeable, not all that memorable but definitely likeable. The most memorable thing is a gag that is probably going to show up again and again in pop culture --- when Judy and Nick set off a howl to distract a bunch of wolves. Once one gets going, they all get going. Ow ow ow owwoooooooo. Heh!

The theme sitting behind it all is racism, that nature does not predetermine who you really are. Isn't connecting that to racism, kind of racist? But seriously, it was about pre-judging people by their ... nature? Predators are born predators but in this world, can be mean, nice or plain goofy. But does that carry over as a metaphor to people? Nobody is born a certain way, we attribute stereotypes to them based on real or imagined history.

Wait, kid's movie!  Charming! Fun! Funny!

Bonus points for Shakira as a pop star gazelle and Peter Mansbridge as Peter Moosebridge. (9:03)


London Has Fallen, 2016, Babak Najafi (Swedish movie Sebbe) -- download

Antoine Fuqua did the first movie, Olympus Has Fallen, a throw away actioner piece that I remember being rather upsetting due to all the collateral damage. Still feeling sensitive about that these days. But it was a memorable movie, one of those that comes as the better of its Evil Twin Movie White House Down, where a single man must save the President of the United States when his White House (not actually burned during the War of 1812) is attacked by foreign terrorists. Gerard Butler is that man, a Secret Service guy who has a history with the President.

Wait, we already did that movie so THIS movie is still about Gerard Butler, still about Aaron Eckart as POTUS and still about terrorists attacking him. This time he's at a funeral in the UK, when the terrorists attack London. Boom boom boom boom. Explosions all over the city cut it off while killing other key dignitaries, including the Canadian Prime Minister. Sure, Gerard saves him but not our guy. Anywayz, the President is taken (tee hee) and Gerard must get him back.

The motivations were shaky this time, and unlike the first, it's not as much a contained movie. All of central London becomes his locale, as Mike Banning (Butler) must fight his way to  the stronghold of the terrorist. Do we ever remember the actual motivations of the Bad Guys? Does anyone remember why Hans Gruber took over the Nakitomi Building? Anywayz, Banning shoots, explodes and fights his way to the centre and saves his President again.

If not for Butler's charm, I really had no reason to see this movie. OK ok, I still like city destruction. And this one was disaster movie like in its display as the collateral damage is much hidden. It didn't feel as personal as the first. (9:50)


Victor Frankenstein, 2015, Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) -- download

McGuigan was once considered to be the next Guy Richie, which is both disingenuous (he also did superhero movie Push) and insulting consider Richie's state these days. But here he is helming the movie that was supposed to be the next in line for the Universal Monster Movie franchise. We have the completely forgotten Wolfman, the maligned Dracula Untold and now we get a Frankenstein movie, but not at all about The Monster but about The Man. And its as much comedy, as it is drama. It is never horror nor action.  Weird.

[DC: Aaaaand we forget this one as well, as The Mummy comes out soon to Start the Universal Monsters Franchise]

I honestly want to join the camp that believed this movie should have been called Igor, because it is really about him. Daniel Radcliffe plays a circus hunchback being abused by his employers / owners when he is rescued by madman student Victor F. Victor has recognized something great about Igor and after he spirits the young man away, he points out that Igor is not a hunchback at all. In possibly the most revolting scene I have ever watched in a A List movie, Victor points out the massive cyst on Igor's back and drains it by hand. With the addition of one back brace, a cleanup and a nice suit, Igor becomes a man about town. And Victor's assistant.

Victor is hated by students and teachers alike, and his father Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). He has been experimenting where people shouldn't and Inspector Moriarty (Andrew Scott) is determined to reveal the ungodly nature of his experiments. When you see the monkey, you might agree with him. But Victor needs to make his monster, to prove his father and the world wrong. Alas, Igor begins to suspect that doing this might just be.... wrong.

What I didn't get about this movie is how it tried so hard to be grim and funny at the same time. And there was no way this could connect to any coming movies. It was just... odd. (9:55)


American Ultra, 2016, Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) -- Netflix

The premise of this movie is rather familiar fun -- a well trained assassin/spy/hitman/gun-fu expert is hidden in plain sight as a stoner kid (Jesse Eisenberg) working at an all night convenience store in the middle of rural nowhere America. He doesn't know what he is. He is an impressive stoner that really wants to take his similarly stoner GF (Kristen Stewart) on a trip but has massive panic attacks when he tries to enact the plan. She understands, but you can see the pain in her.

And then, out of the blue (its always out of the blue) he is triggered and takes down two trained agents. He is triggered but he doesn't awake to who he is. What he is, is a deactivated American agent hidden away until they need him, or they need to get rid of him. The latter bit is in play here, as a ladder climbing CIA flunky (Topher Grace) decides to clean up the failed hidden spy plan by killing Eisenberg. Topher's rival, who worked closely in the plan, fully triggers Mike (Eisenberg) to allow him to protect himself.

Weird; not sure why I watched this because I am rather not fond of the two leads. Topher is always a fun, manic bad guy but combining stoner personalities with two people I don't like surely would lead to a movie I would not like?  Lo, behold -- I liked it ! It is well played out, well scripted and artfully playful. There is wit and heart behind how the mains are handled and even Stewart is likeable. And, of course, who wouldn't want to watch Walton Goggins play another looney tunes bad guy? The Laugher is probably my favourite of his characters, even his bit role from the Bourne movies. (9:23)

[DP] So far, I am not hitting a full 10 mins before I get distracted by the clock and have to stop short.

MI-5, 2015, Bharat Nalluri (The Crow: Salvation) -- Netflix

Straight To, this is a generic spy movie done by... waitasec, the guy who did The Crow: Salvation way back when?  Wow, I guess this guy is still working after all this time. Good for him.

Anywayz, John Snow (Kit Harrington) comes to us as a disenfranchised MI-5 agent tasked by a disgraced MI-5 leader (generic British TV guy #132, Peter Firth) to help clear his name and catch the Bad Guy Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel). He gets some help from Tuppence Middleton and a familiar cast of other British regulars.

This movie wants to be Bond or Bourne but is really more tailored to look like those popular British MI-5 TV shows, which is not surprising consider one of the most popular is called Spooks and this movie is called Spooks: The Greater Good in Britain. Is it a spin-off? Who knows. But anywayz, there is global travel, a skilled but disenchanted agent, assassination attempts, old white guys with shadowy pasts and lots of gun play. What there isn't much of is originality.

Google google. Oh! So it is based on the TV show, so at least I caught that look n feel. But its funny, because I don't have much more to say about the movie because it was MONTHS ago that I saw it and I don't have much of a feel for it anymore. It's weird, because it keeps on merging in my head with another movie that will end up in another of the 10 for 10 segments, again about disenfranchised agents, one with Pierce Brosnan called The November Man. (9:20)

The Huntsman: Winter's War, 2016, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (visual effects guy) -- download

OK, I should have seen this in the theatre, because you are probably aware I am a fan of the first one. And yes, The Huntsman who is the character played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth also played a Ranger NPC in one of my D&D games. Anywayz, it just never happened and we ended up downloading it as soon as it appeared online.

This should have been a prequel proper, as the Evil Queen died in the first, and to be honest, from all the trailers I assumed it was. But no, its not. It is a sequel to the first, despite it depending a lot on a lot of prequel based details.

In this one, The Huntsman has clearly forgotten his love for Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who does not appear in the movie at all, so they decide to explore his connection to his dead wife, the wife whose death left him a slovenly drunk in the first movie. We knew he was a disaffected soldier, but what we didn't know is that he was a soldier in the army of the Evil Queen's (Charlize Theron) sister, the Winter Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) along with his wife Sara (Jessica Chastain).

There is a weird weird prequel backstory where Huntsman and Sara are children captured by the Queens and trained to be ninja samurai ranger soldiers in this Not Earth fairy tale world. At some point in their future they rebel and Sara is killed, while he is thought killed as well. Lo, Sara is also not dead and when we are tossed back to the sequel, she hates her husband because he left her. And now she is tasked with killing the rebels who killed Freya's sister and her army.

This one tries to repeat the beats of the first, again by including CGI enhanced dwarves and some magic and some Ranger style fighting. Jessica Chastain is not a good immediate choice for this character, but to be honest, she can make just about anything believable these days so I went along with her. She will also probably show up as an NPC in one of my games.

Not much else stuck but that they had to really push hard to get Theron back as an Evil Queen who, well who ends up fighting against her sister. I guess Theron is the Eviller Queen. Movie ends up happily ever after but still forgets Snow White is alive. (10:26)

Tracks, 2013, John Curran (We Don't Live Here Anymore) -- Netflix

Walk across the desert. Its something I would love to do, well if my feet would start to cooperate with me again. Walking used to be a great therapy for me; I could do it for hours. Then I (or retail) ruined it. I don't enjoy walking as much as I used to, whether my feet are working or not.

Tracks is the Australian Wild.  It is about a woman trying to truly discover herself by walking a good distance. Except that Robyn Davidson is not taking an established hiking trail; she is crossing a massive Australian wasteland to the ocean. Why? Don't quite remember why and if I say it has something to do with her mother or family, I fear I am more remembering the Cheryl Straid story. But it was family related, definitely about personal discovery.

The biggest difference is that this is the 70s. Maybe self discovery was at its height back then, but the idea of wandering off in a direction because you could was not entirely there. There is something to say for her white privilege taking a part in contributing to her success. She wanders off at the beginning to learn about camels from a man who raises camels. Camels are good if you are going into a desert, even if that desert is Australia's west. But without the privilege she was born into, could she have done what she did? Doubt it.

While she is walking, or riding, Kylo Ren chases her down. First he is doing a story for National Geographic, but soon he is in love with her. Mia Wasikowska is Robyn, always the reserved beauty without all the trapping of Hollywood. She is convincing as the woman who is just going to do this, despite what men think women can do. Even when she bumps into despair, she continues. At that point, what else can she do. But with the friendly help of some Aboriginal men who accept her journey, despite being a woman, she gets to the ocean. A bit more brown for her efforts.

So, what? What did she gain, what did she learn? We never really know. This is about the journey. We don't get the benefit of Cheryl Straid's remembrances and by the time we are deep in Robyn's story, we are there in the moment, which is really all we need to be in. (9:57)

Survivor, 2015, James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) -- download

What movie was this again? Oh yeah, another Straight To thriller from Britain. This one has Pierce Brosnan and Milla Jovovitch. Milla is a security officer working for the American Embassy or Consulate in London. She is set to go to a party, but gets delayed by something present related and BOOM the place is blown to bits. The party was for her coworker Bill, and Bill was actually tagged to set her up to be in the explosion, because she was so good at her job monitoring visas into the US. They end up trying to frame her for the explosion.

So, Milla is on the run and she still needs to investigate the explosion and why her own coworker tried to have her killed. That brings the bomb maker, Pierce known as The Watchmaker, into play. He is named because he is a well known hitman. Pierce seems to like the idea of playing skilled assassins. Which works for me, since I had him as my James Bond RPG main character.

Milla ends up chasing him back to the US, in a pseudo-Bourne style international chase. She has determined they were trying to get Brosnan into the US so he could set off a very large bomb in NYC's Times Square during the New Year's Eve festivities. She has to find him and kill him.

This was decently done, but I so easily tire of these movies that want to be better, but don't really know how. C'mon folks, make a new style thriller that doesn't try to be a Bourne mimic. Let's find another style and roll it out, don't recreate just create.

Milla does these rolls well, being able to absorb the action and the drama well. Of course, Brosnan does a serviceable job. Everyone else is .... supporting. I don't even remember any names or faces, but for Robert Forster, the 60s 70s actor that Quentin Tarantino resurrected. Oh, and Dylan McDermott. (10:34; most of it trying to recall details)

Open Grave, 2013, Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18) -- download

This was supposed to be a Days of Halloween choice but ended up being seen much later. Its weird, but I always mixed up this movie, in my head, with the Italian schlock horror Cemetery Man and even envisioned that Sharlto Copley was doing a remake / reboot of that old movie. But no, its not even remotely related not even in plot or style. The only thing they have in relation is a main character in a pit with dead bodies. And I cannot even say in confidence that Cemetery Man has such a scene.

So, yeah, Sharlto wakes up in a pit full of bodies. He doesn't know why he is there. He doesn't remember much. Not even who he is. But he yells and screams until someone shows up and tosses down a rope. He is pulled out, dragged back to a house full of a bunch of people who also don't remember who they are. They argue, they fight, they wander the house looking for clues as to who they are and why he was in a pit full of dead people.

I loved it. The tension, the questions, the worry and mystery. I have always loved locked room movies.

They continue by wandering the environs around the house, a sort of forested waste land empty of people or civilization. They find ruins, ruins locked up but a kid hiding within. More mysteries grow up, more bits are revealed but only a bit of memory comes up in flashes of the past. As time progresses and paranoia and violence continues, they run into even more violent strangers, a sort of fast zombie emerging from the memory loss plot.

This turned out to be a wonderful post-apocalyptic flick and zombie plague combined. Copley is great, his paranoia and fear palpable. I realized with this movie that I am a fan of the guy, and someday I have to go on and on about Powers the Sony TV show adaptation of one of my favourite comics. The guy has done a lot I have enjoyed after  the very South African heritage of District 9. (9:46)

Warcraft, 2016, Duncan Jones (Source Code) -- download

OK, ok. Everyone knows Warcraft for World of Warcraft which in video game years, is already an ancient idea. We played the MMO for years, and I rather enjoyed the world it was set in. But I also played the isometric strategy game waaaaay back in the PC days when it was about peons and poking sheep. Not that way you pervert, but poking them until they explode. Again, not that way pervert.

I am still weirded out when they take a franchise that was super popular almost 10 years ago and suddenly get around to making a movie of it. I am also weirded out more by the idea that Duncan Jones of Moon and Source Code helmed the movie. In today's era of Assigned Directors I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised, but hadn't he already setup he could do a good Hollywood thriller when left alone? Anywayz, I was also worried that this would be studio meddling out the wazoo. I wasn't disappointed in that aspect, as this is an incredibly unbalanced movie that seems more about setting up a franchise of its own than being concerned with making a decent standalone movie. Remember Producers, if you want an example of perfect standalone movies that launch a phenomena, you need to look no further than Iron Man.

Again, surprisingly, this one reaches back to the plots from the early games as they explain how the Orcs (wonderfully CGI orcs) arrive in the world of Azeroth (human world) from their own Draenor. The orcs have destroyed their own world with bad magic and are raiding into lush, new ones to survive as a species. Their initial incursion kills lots of humans and the King has to respond.

Meanwhile one orc Durotan has realized their own dark wizard is responsible for the downfall of Draenor and wishes to stop him before he does the same to Azeroth. For some reason, not all orcs are ravaging monsters like we game players know, and maybe its all because of the influence of the dark magic. Which, if Durotan succeeds here, then won't that make the coming games/stories/movies moot? No matter, well established drama and tortured main characters on both sides.

So, this movie establishes that the melding of CGI and human characters can be done. This was the science fiction future I was told about as a kid, and this is the first real full example of it. Too bad its such a sloppy, ill conceived, obviously meddled with production of a movie. (10:02)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Burnt

2015, John Wells (August: Osage County) -- download

Netflix is full of cooking shows, no not those weekly Rachael Rae "this is how you cook with evoo" type shows, but mini-documentary series that revel in cooking & eating. They even recently brought in the seminal show, A Cook's Tour with Anthony Bourdain. But one thing these shows remind me, that I think (great [?!?]) chefs are dicks. They are arrogant beasts and there is an accepted paradigm that great cooking only comes from utter tyranny in the kitchen. Bullshit.

Burnt, made by the guy who did the excellent The Company Men makes a movie about an asshole chef who seeks to redeem himself by ... well, by being an asshole again. But wait, no, this time he aims to be a Michelin 3-Star asshole chef. Bradley Cooper is Adam Jones, a disgraced chef who finishes shucking 1, 000, 000 oysters in New Orleans. That was his self-imposed penance for being an asshole in France. No women, no booze, no drugs just oysters. Then the movie abruptly leaves New Orleans and transplants to London where Adams bullies and emotionally blackmails a bunch of people into helping him fund and open a restaurant with which he convinces them he will gain his third star.

Despite this being a very well produced, directed and acted movie I could not get over this revelling in utter asshole behaviour. Look at the premise: he returns from utter catastrophe to manipulate people into furthering his very personal obsession with a rating star. Somehow we are supposed to buy into this worship of the great chef? Kind of, as there is a very minor plot stream where people are trying to convince Adam he would be better if he just became part of the family that is his kitchen staff, that he would get his third star if he only joined with them.

Like other cooking movies, we do get a bit of the food porn, the wonderful dishes, the prep with spoons ducked into plastic containers of ingredients but other than a brief moment at the beginning of the movie where Adam compares a Burger King burger to French food (salt, fat, cheap cut of meat), you never really get the idea Adam likes food. THAT is what I want from a food movie, so despite this being a well told story, I did not buy into Adam's redemption and he can keep his stars.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Sicario

2015, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) -- digital rental

Now, having seen all of Villeneuve's Hollywood endeavours, I can comfortably say I am a fan. Time to push back catalogs and see his French movies. But are there back catalogs anymore? This was my first official, legal digital rental. Having recently upgraded my Internet, I plugged in a credit card and "rented" this title in HD from my PS3. I had been waiting because I knew it to be an English language movie with Spanish spoken. Pirates tend to have all sub-titles or none. Finding a good English-only is a challenge, especially in today's world where the seas are losing their pirate ships. It was a proven success, but still begs the question --- how far back can I find movies? Are the days of flipping through the VHS/DVD boxes saying "saw it saw it saw it sucks saw it saw it" gone? Or is that what Netflix is for? We shall have to see.

This movie takes place in the same America-Mexico border crossing as the American version of The Bridge, Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. The plot & setting are a microscope on the current era of the Drug War, the one where Mexican drug lords kill their enemies in the hundreds, often dismembering corpses and hanging them for everyone to see. Emily Blunt is a doorkicker, a dedicated FBI agent working against the cartels in Arizona, but not really accomplishing much in the bigger picture. But her success drags her into the world of spook Josh Brolin. He has a goal and needs dedicated soldiers. He's not clear of what he needs her for, but it is going to be nefarious. Walking beside Brolin is Benicio Del Toro, an enforcer for the Columbia cartel(s). As the movie is called Sicario (assassin) you can easily guess what Benicio is and what Brolin's goal is.

We walk the plot of this movie beside Blunt, never seeing the full story of things but still tagging along to see where it goes. Oh, she has an idea that things are going to be nasty, from  the introduction to the world during a border crossing to retrieve a cartel member from Mexican authorities, but she is not exactly sure how far Brolin will go. Everything is nail bitingly tense. In most of these movies, the characterization happens in the rushed parts between the action sequences, but in a Villeneuve movie the action sequences are that which glue the characters together. In the end, we are left standing dazed as a single scenario in this vast epic that is the Drug War has passed us by, leaving us wondering what was the point of it all and what kind of creature do we need to be, to see all of it.