Discussion: Bad Endings

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This is something I find fascinating, and I’d love to hear some opinions. Do bad endings destroy a story for you? My mother is the sort of audience member who hates a bad ending. It can completely wreck her enjoyment of a thing if she perceives of the ending being poor. With that in mind, let’s talk about what constitutes a bad ending.

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Rise of the Antihero: Deadpool and Suicide Squad

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There’s simply no denying that two of the highest grossing movies in 2016 were superhero films wherein the characters weren’t heroes. Hollywood has done this sort of thing in the past, disparate studios releasing movies with the same basic thrust at the same time, accidentally creating a kind of phenomenon. For me, the idea of antiheroes becoming the norm is an interesting idea for our current atmosphere. Let’s discuss.

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

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First, it needs to be addressed that I’m a weird Trekkie. The first reboot film in 2009 is what brought me to the Star Trek fandom. I watched some of the original series and thought it was all right. Sacrilege, I’m sure some of you are crying. Then I found The Next Generation. There it suddenly was. My brand of Trek. Everyone has the incarnation that is their baby, and I don’t judge anyone for whichever show or set of films that is. Even in discovering that Next Gen was definitely my favorite, the reboot films are still beloved by me. You’re always going to show favor to whatever brought you to the dance, even among naysayers.

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Top 5: 80s Fantasy Films

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I submit that it doesn’t get any better than 80s fantasy movies. I’m thrilled that we have adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. They’re beautiful and breathtaking. But that 80s fantasy is something I always go back to. I grew up on it and love each one unconditionally. Now I have the unenviable task of ranking my favorites. Here we go!

5. Legend. This film is gorgeous, like a fairy tale come to life. Ridley Scott managed to capture the essence of magic unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I know the arguments about practical effects versus CG have gotten downright obnoxious by this point, but Legend illustrates perfectly the reason practical effects fans are so passionate. Tim Curry as Darkness is inspired. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is the story is fairy-tale-simple, and the movie is more visually compelling than anything else. I still highly recommend it.

4. The Neverending Story. A childhood classic. If you’re a book lover, a bit of a loner, enjoy immersion in your stories, you’ll relate heavily with Bastian. He’s the every-kid who would rather be locked away with a book than face his problems. Then the story turns around, stares him right in the eye, and makes him deal with himself. It’s beautifully done, as well, with a vast, unique landscape to traverse. It fires the imagination. After seeing this, who didn’t want their own luck dragon? The reason it’s number four is because it’s more of a children’s movie. It does have crossover appeal, but I do think this has the best impact if you watch it when you’re young.

3. The Dark Crystal. This is another of those movies that proves you don’t need CG if you have ingenuity. The cast of characters consists entirely of puppets, and because it’s Jim Henson, they are fantastic puppets. One of the most interesting things about this movie that sets it apart for me is the lack of humans. I love the idea of a fantasy world where we’re simply not included. Jen the Gelfling, our main hero, does work as an audience surrogate, but he’s not human. I think audiences deserve to have their imaginations stretched as far as this movie takes us.

2. Labyrinth. Here’s Jim Henson again, with another deeply unique fantasy tale. Like The Neverending Story, if you’re the outsider who loves LARPing in the park, Sarah is the girl for you. She’s growing from a girl into a young woman, and the process is painful, frustrating, downright maddening. Like a child, she throws a tantrum that summons the Goblin King Jareth, and to face him, she must overcome her immaturity. It’s the perfect movie for women anywhere and everywhere in their walk in life, and not just because David Bowie as Jareth is gorgeously inspired.

1. The Princess Bride. I think Peter Falk as the storytelling grandfather put it best when he listed every conceivable thing that could be in a good story in regards to The Princess Bride. It’s adventurous, exciting, tense, hilarious, sad, romantic, and beautiful. There is simply no competing with a story that has everything. It’s perfect. If you’re like me and grew up with it, you probably have it memorized and quote it daily. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you doing? Go watch it! And have fun storming the castle!

Thank you for reading. I hope that if there are any of these you haven’t seen, you’ve just been convinced. And as always, happy geeking!

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How I Rate Books and Movies

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This topic might seem a tad on the dry side, but I think it’s important. I’ve been doing a lot more reviews lately, and I could stand to clarify what my various ratings mean to me and how I think as a reviewer. I’ll be adding the link to this article to my about page for future reference, as well.

Firstly, my rating system is more lenient with movies than with books. I realize that’s a little odd. Shouldn’t they be exactly the same? The more I think about it, the more I realize the answer is no. Books are more of an investment when it comes to time and full concentration. Therefore, in my mind, a disappointing book becomes more of a beast to contend with than a disappointing film. With a film, you’re out a couple of hours. With a book, you’re out at least four hours. Maybe even more if you got stuck with a middling whopper. In that case, it seems important to differentiate. Though I do use a five star system for both.

Ratings for Books

Five Stars – Any flaws I felt this had were minor or easily overlooked. I don’t believe any book can ever be perfect, but this rating isn’t about that. It’s for books that made me fangirl. Books that make me want to vomit hyperbole. Books I can barely even talk about because they’re just so good.

Four Stars – Still very good, but with flaws I couldn’t ignore. If I know when I review the book I’ll be harping on things the author did wrong, places they veered off the path, but I’m still thoroughly enjoying myself, I know it’s a four star read. These always still come highly recommended.

Three Stars – Middle of the road. Meh. Left me feeling basically nothing either way. This typically isn’t a positive stance. In fact, sometimes three star books that leave me feeling empty are worse than books that get a big, negative reaction. Though I could probably still see the side of people loving this, too.

Two Stars – Very flawed. Lots of problems. Probably would result in a touch of ranting. Most of the books I really don’t like get this rating. Because ultimately it takes some level of competence to get published at all, and it’s there in the book even with all the surrounding issues.

One Star – I don’t hand out one star ratings lightly. A book has to be truly without merit for me to say that. It has happened, but not often. If I give a book this rating, run. Run far and fast from it.

Ratings for Movies

Five Stars – Enjoyed myself completely while watching. Didn’t glance at the clock. Wasn’t waiting for the movie to be over. I was completely engrossed and lost in the story. Probably I didn’t want the story to end at all. It’s also likely that a film that receives this high praise had excellent acting, beautiful cinematography, and lots of good points.

Four Stars – My book and film ratings are similar here. A good movie with some flaws, but nothing too terrible. You should still watch it, and I still enjoyed it. I may nitpick slightly is all.

Three Stars – Good movie, but turn off your brain. Don’t look for deep meaning or grandiose symbolism. Look maybe for things to be a little sloppy and silly. Probably has plot holes or a plot that was too complicated for the simple production. Some special effects failures. But still fun, I want to emphasize. It’s a lot easier to watch a dooberish movie than to read a dooberish book.

Two Stars – Good for one viewing maybe. No rewatch value. Far too many nagging problems in the mix. Not worth owning and likely only worth checking out if you’re very intrigued.

One Star – Terrible. Don’t watch it. Again, I don’t throw one stars around like candy, so to imagine a movie that is that awful… We’re talking The Room levels of stink here.

One last note: sometimes when I write a full review of a film or book (and especially when I’m reviewing TV shows), I don’t leave a rating at the end. The reason is that my thoughts have been so thorough and nuanced, trying to sum that up in a number can feel trite. Ratings work for shorter reviews, such as in monthly wrap-ups or my triple features, but longer reviews express my feelings better than a simple rating ever could.

I hope this clears things up for you if you were at all confused about my rating systems. And as always, happy geeking!

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Review: High-Rise

highrise

Based off of a J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise is about an apartment building that was designed to be a self-contained community. There’s a built-in grocery store, garbage chutes on every floor, a pool, a gym, anything you could want. The only reason to go out would be to go to work. But there are bugs in the system. The lower floors are for those with lesser incomes, and the elite take the higher floors. When the lower floors start having technical issues, they blame the rich. The system breaks down. Chaos ensues.

Here’s a very important question the movie doesn’t answer: why doesn’t anyone leave? This scenario serves as a mini-apocalypse, with the high-rise going Mad Max in short order. Yet not a single person flees. One character, the wife of the building’s architect, considers it. Packs a bag. Then the architect hits her, and she never tries again, even though that moment of physical abuse doesn’t really seem to affect her.

Which leads nicely into me saying this movie is weird. Very, very weird. Motivations are simply not going to make total sense. The direction was clearly more style and image than it was natural character development and story progression. A rather essential chunk of the story, wherein the denizens of the building go from merely wild to completely unhinged, is shown in montage. A quick glossing over of everyone descending into pure anarchy.

The only character whose story feels whole is Dr. Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston. His journey makes sense, but his encroaching madness has little to do with the fluctuating tribes of psychopaths around him. It’s because of a petty thing he did that had devastating consequences. That made sense. It was vivid and done well. Here’s the problem. Laing isn’t the only character we’re following. There’s a whole cavalcade of characters, and I can’t answer the myriad questions I have about most of them.

Especially Jeremy Irons as Royal, the architect. (Also, his name is Royal? Subtle. Anyway.) Royal has a tendency to be equally good and equally shit as a person. He bestows kindnesses. He dishes out abuse. He rescues his wife. He cheats on her. He makes a place for all the stray dogs that have amassed in the building. He refers to a woman he slept with by her apartment number rather than her given name. What is he? Who is he? The picture we’re given is complicated but not actually deep. More confusing than anything.

Luke Evans as Richard Wilder has some depth to him, but again not as much as Laing. Evans manages to make it work in spite of that, but it’s only because he’s clearly acting the hell out of the part. The women have some good moments, but there were at least two I couldn’t tell apart, because they were merely faces in the crowd that happened to keep popping up. And notice I called them “the women.” That speaks to how little character there was. There was Charlotte, whose major characteristic was that she was a free spirit who had a lot of sex. And there was depressed, pregnant Helen. Not a lot to work with there, and not a lot to discuss either.

I’ve not read the novel by Ballard, but I get the feeling this is about the gist of what they had to work with. I have read a collection of his short work, and this seems par for the course. Women with little to no character. The men who generally don’t seem to like them very much. An opinion of mankind that makes Lord of the Flies look like Winnie the Pooh.

And that’s where I’m not sure what the message was. People are crap? That seems too simple. Especially when the tone of the film edged so often and strongly toward dark comedy. So is it about the absurdity of this scenario? Because the director did make it seem very absurd. Or the absurdity of violence? I don’t know. It was a spectacle that comes off as pretentious for that very reason. Because greatness would require the movie having a moral or a message that’s tangible and not lost in the muck. It feels like something I would’ve written in high school. The hilarity of human folly. But it’s not clever or deep. It’s sophomoric.

It also wasn’t all bad. There were some very powerful scenes. Some hilarious scenes. Luke Evans put in an especially fantastic performance. It was beautifully shot and works as a piece of art to admire. It’s a movie that could probably benefit from multiple viewings, but could you stand to watch it over and over? Not because it’s violent or subversive. I don’t mean that. Because it’s sloppy and imperfect. How many times can you sit through a swirl of colors and sound with the hope that it will eventually make perfect sense?

A very mixed bag, but I do actually suggest checking it out for yourself. Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!

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Review: Crimson Peak

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I live in a town with no movie theater. We used to have one. Then everything went super duper digital, and the people running the tiny theater couldn’t afford the new equipment, and that was that. I said that to say I’m never up on new movies anymore. The closest movie theaters to me are thirty minutes in either direction. It’s become a hassle. I’m one of those people now. Forever waiting for DVDs and Blu-Rays. So if you’re looking at this review and going, “wow, real current there, Quill,” my response is, “hey! …shut up.”

Crimson Peak is the most recent outing of Guillermo del Toro. It’s a gothic tale about a haunted house, grisly murders, and an unfolding mystery. We follow Edith (Mia Wasikowska) as she heads to her destiny with said haunted house and unravels the clues. Right out of the gate she’s a fantastic lead. She’s an every-woman with some extra flourishes that flesh her out and give her some good depth. I found myself rooting for her the whole time, and it’s part of what kept me glued to my screen.

Rounding things out, we have Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), a mysterious duo with a boatload of secrets. Also, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) who has “Jonathan-Harker-esque hero” written all over him. And because I simply have to mention it, Jim Beaver plays Edith’s protective father. I’m always glad to see him pop up. While it’s easy to pigeonhole these characters into easy categories, as I have for the benefit of the reader, they’re not cliches. There’s some really interesting gender role reversal going on with Thomas and Lucille. Alan is a very savvy guy that I wish there’d been more of. These roles are what they need to be but also more. It’s what makes the movie feel so rich.

Well, that and the setting. My God. This thing is a feast for the eyes. Del Toro always brings the fantastic monsters, and the ghosts here are some of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. Rest assured a couple of those ghosts were Doug Jones, meaning they have all that creepy movement and wonderful awfulness you look for in a monster. The house itself is like a dark wonderland, falling apart at the seams with a huge hole in the roof, which allows it to snow inside the house. Sinking deep into red clay that makes it appear as if blood is seeping up from the floor and running down the walls. It’s gorgeous. Even if this doesn’t sound like your thing, this is one to enjoy simply as art.

Does this movie have downsides? Barely, but the one I’d call out is a very personal thing. I’m a very observant viewer. I’ve also read widely and watched a lot of movies. Little gets past me. So I was never really shocked by revelations that came later in the film. That’s not to say other viewers won’t be. This is something that I tend to go through, so it wasn’t one of those films I could crow about on the grounds that it caught me off guard with its mysteries.

I can say that it pulled a very strong, positive reaction out of me. It’s Poe-esque, with its sinking mansion, howling ghosts who serve as warnings, and pale, brooding characters. Edith is the perfect audience surrogate if you’re a sensitive type who likes to write and enjoys intrigue. I thought her journey was very powerful. I fangirled. What else can I call it? It left me fangirling, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. So of course I want to scream from the hilltops now that everyone should watch this.

I’ve had a very up-and-down relationship with Guillermo del Toro and his films. I loved Mimic and Hellboy. Blade II and Hellboy II were disappointments. Pan’s Labyrinth was beautiful but left me feeling hollow with its nihilistic message. So it feels nice to be back on his bandwagon and waiting for his next project. Also, I need to watch Pacific Rim. Damn my lack of a movie theater.

Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!

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