Meh: A Panel Discussion

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Ready Player One – A Movie Review

You’ll remember when I heard Steven Spielberg intended to direct this movie, I instantly ran out and read the source material.  You can check out my review of the book HERE.

Let me say this about Spielberg’s film adaptation — I haven’t had a visual feast like Ready Player One since The Matrix.

I loved watching it.

It was just so fun.  If you love pop culture, especially 80s pop culture, this is the movie for you.  If you love gaming, this is the movie for you.  if you love seamless special effects, this is the movie for you.  If you love intricate, nuanced plot that is woven so taut that it’s airtight … maybe this isn’t for you.

Remember fun Spielberg movies?  E.T.?  Raiders Of the Lost ArkJurassic Park?  Yeah, he directed those.  What about these little ditties?  PoltergeistBack To the FutureThe GooniesGremlinsThe Money PitMen In Black?  He produced those.  Once upon a time, Spielberg made magical movies that influenced entire generations.  In my opinion, Ready Player One is a return to vintage Spielberg.

Is it a little simpler than the book?  Yeah, it’s fairly easily digestible if not always strictly logical.  But, it’s well-acted by very likable actors and actresses.  Ben Mendelsohn is always a charismatic bad guy who is hard to root against.  Tye Sheridan is so much better than when he played Cyclops in the latest X-Men movie.  I don’t know Olivia Cooke, but she was completely engaging.  TJ Miller is always hilarious.  Simon Pegg is, well, Simon Pegg, so he’s everyone’s favorite (obviously).  Lena Waithe steals every scene she’s in.  And Mark Rylance struck me as a guy who could influence an entire generation of gamers … Sound like someone you know?

But, the real star of this movie are the special effects.  The CGI in Ready Player One somehow managed to look CGI on purpose, but it otherwise looked totally real.  I’m not sure how to articulate this … You know how in some movies the CGI stands out against the rest of the scene?  That doesn’t happen in Ready Player One.  I know what you’re thinking — “Scott, the movie takes place in virtual reality, so … duh!”  I know, you’re right, that makes total sense, except it doesn’t.  When you see the avatars in the Oasis, they look so completely real … as digital avatars.  Just see the movie and let me know what you think, okay?

Let’s be honest — this movie is also a hit because of all the references.  I cannot WAIT to buy this thing on blu-ray so that I can hit pause every ten seconds and gawk at everything.  In the Oasis, you can choose your avatar and base it off of anything you want.  So, there are a ton of visual delights.  Not as many as the book, but still, more than I actually expected.

I have one concern … and only one.  I consider myself a pop culture junkie, and it concerns me that in TV, movies, comic books, even music, we’re getting a lot of referential story lines.  For example, before Ready Player One we saw previews for Overboard and Ocean’s 8 — both of which are remakes or derivative.  Tomb Raider was playing at our theater … you get the idea.  As great as Ready Player One is, it would not exist without riding the glorious nostalgia of the vastly more original works with which it plays.  Ready Player One even copies exact scenes from other movies.  Terminator 2 anyone?  While that’s totally fun, I do have to wonder if we’re producing anything new and original anymore …

Even with that being said, Ready Player One is magnificent.  I had so much fun watching it.  In fact, I can’t wait to go check it out in IMAX.  If you enjoy gaming, vintage Spielberg, or 80s pop culture, this is the movie for you.

 

Ready Player One (2018)

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Black Panther – A Movie Review

This is NOT just another Marvel movie.

Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.

Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther.  I am a forty-one year old white male.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies.  Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few.  Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on.  It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.

So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.

For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift.  It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine.  And guess what?  Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more.  It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved.  It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February.  The numbers say it all.

I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail.  My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night.  I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th.  We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th.  As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different.  There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier.  I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place.  The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

Let’s talk about the actual movie.

First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself.  Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established.  This utopia drew me in completely.  Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals.  The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine.  The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.

I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe.  Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent.  The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous.  However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end.  It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships.  It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society.  They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations.  This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.

The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant.  His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character.  No one wasted a moment on screen.

As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies.  Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well.  They are very good at blending one movie into the next.  No one is denying that.  However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now.  Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor.  It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there.  Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times?  Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.

When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger.  I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews.  This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again.  Hulk fought a version of himself.  Spider-Man has fought a version of himself.  Superman has fought a version of himself.  Iron Man has fought a version of himself.  The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show.  You get the idea.  I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well.  When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.

Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film.  It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge.  I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them.  We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe.  We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine.  And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie.  They may not even know about those other African American characters.  In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day.  See what I’m saying?  Am I way off on this one?

Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive.  From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society.  Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.

I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels.  It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary.  Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself.  In fact, I encourage you to do so.  Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.

Image result for black panther movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Phantom Thread – A Movie Review

Surprised I’m reviewing this movie?  I’ll watch anything starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  It’s really that simple.

My wife and I have not been together to see a movie in quite some time, so we figured Phantom Thread would be a nice “date” movie for us to enjoy.  In the end, I’m not sure we “enjoyed” it, but we definitely “appreciated” it.

Let’s get this out of the way — Phantom Thread is not a “date” movie.  I wouldn’t even consider it a “mainstream” movie.  It’s very slow, very quiet, very long, and very understated … until it’s not.  More on that in a minute.

I’d also like to say upfront that, had we watched this at home, my wife probably would have fallen asleep and I would then probably have turned it off.  I’m glad we saw it in the theater because that guaranteed we’d give it our full attention.  We were fully engaged and fascinated the whole time, even if we did occasionally check the time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fussy dressmaker in the 1950s.  He is something of a mastermind and his house (brand) is always in demand.  However, he is obsessed with his work, and he will not tolerate anything or anyone that detracts him from his life’s meaning.  He soon falls for a waitress while on holiday.  He brings her back with him and then the meat of the story really begins.  He wants to continue life as it was before her–she’s supposed to just slide right into his established patterns.  But she wants to love him on her terms, not his.  Both are headstrong, sharp-tongued, and repressed … until they’re not.  I don’t want to say more because it will spoil a rather interesting development regarding their dynamic.

So, getting back to the thing I said about appreciating it but not necessarily enjoying it.  Watching Daniel Day-Lewis transform himself into this man proved amazing.  His character, Reynolds Woodcock, is contradiction personified.  He is so calm and collected until he loses his temper.  He is tough and cold until he’s an emotional mess.  He’s calculated and intelligent until he spouts angry gibberish.  He’s polite and sophisticated until he acts like a spoiled child.  He’s independent and self-reliant until he admits to being a mamma’s boy.  Day-Lewis delivered this character without apparent effort making him simultaneously believable, charming, and detestable.  As is often the case with Day-Lewis, I did not see the actor during the film, I saw only Reynolds Woodcock.

I believe this movie had a lot to say about relationships as well.  I think many of us can relate to the honeymoon phase of a relationship and then the unavoidable humdrum of routine and monotony.  His love interest, Alma, refused to fall into Reynolds’ regimen.  As I said earlier, she loved him, but she demanded to love him on her own terms, in her own way.  Again, I won’t spoil the actions she takes to make him completely hers, but it’s unexpected to say the least.  His ultimate reaction to her extreme behavior is something I would love to speak to you about privately.  I won’t write about it here, of course, out of respect to those who haven’t see it yet.  Needless to say, my wife and I had much to discuss during the drive home.

Though this movie takes place in the 1950s, I think it applies very much to the world today.  Woodcock works relentlessly.  He takes no time to enjoy those around him.  He does not derive pleasure from the simple things in life.  Nor does he allow life’s spontaneity to influence his existence.  He experiences the world completely on his own terms, even at the exclusion of his loved ones.  I think most of us will see ourselves reflected in Woodcock on some level.  Perhaps we will recognize our own irrational obsessions in him–whether it be that we our workaholics, addicted to social media, tied to our televisions …

In the end, I found Phantom Thread refreshing.  I don’t think a single special effect appeared in the entire movie.  The score rarely rose above the sound of a piano tapping.  This movie excelled purely due to story, production, dialogue, and performance.

While I wouldn’t recommend Phantom Thread as a date movie, I would definitely recommend it for those wanting a change from capes and laser swords.  I’m no film aficionado, but even I recognized the sheer mastery of craft unfolding before my eyes.  Phantom Thread is absolutely worthy of your appreciation.

Image result for phantom thread movie poster

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

Are You Excited For These Movies? Read the Books First!

Do you love to read the books that movies are based upon before those movies come out?  Check out this activity I had for my students today.  In order to get excited to read the source material, I had them watch the correlating trailers for upcoming films.  I’m happy to say they were very enthusiastic for several of the books (and movies)!  My primary goal as an educator is to help people want to read.  Take a look below and let me know which book you would most like to read, and also which movie looks the best to you.

Black Panther (Trailer)

Black Panther (Book)

*

Forever My Girl (Trailer)

Forever My Girl (Book)

*

12 Strong [Horse Soldiers] (Trailer)

Horse Soldiers (Book)

*

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Trailer)

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Book)

*

Annihilation (Trailer)

Annihilation (Book)

*

Avengers: Infinity War (Trailer)

Avengers: Infinity War (Book)

*

Every Day (Trailer)

Every Day (Book)

*

Ready Player One (Trailer)

Ready Player One (Book)

*

Red Sparrow (Trailer)

Red Sparrow (Book)

*

A Wrinkle In Time (Trailer)

A Wrinkle In Time (Book)

*

Love, Simon [Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda] (Trailer)

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Book)

 

(Last year’s movie trailers and books can be found HERE.)

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(Did you enjoy this post?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – A Movie Review

I know we’re super late to this party, but we literally just watched this for the first time last night.  I’ve been after my daughters for months to view it with me, but they were hesitant.  They were concerned the Beast would be too scary, the wolves too vicious.

Well, within minutes, they were completely won over, and I was, too.

If you’ve seen the cartoon classic, you know the high notes of this film.  The songs are pretty much the same, the circumstances are pretty much the same.  Even with that being said, though, this movie delighted us from start to finish.

First of all, it’s charming. It’s just a charming movie.  Everyone oozes charisma, even Luke Evans as Gaston.  No one bored me; no one made me want the movie to keep moving on to the next scene.

Secondly, it made your eyes fall in love with every set.  There is so much to look at, and it’s all so intricate and, well, beautiful.  The art director of this film deserves a huge pat on the back.  I suspect I could watch this movie a dozen times and find something new in each scene, each time.  I love that kind of attention to detail.

I think the “look” of Beast is what ultimately made this movie so wonderful, though.  Yes, at times his body appeared fake and disconnected when shot as a whole, but his face more than made up for it.  They made his face so expressive and–believe it or not–kind, that we couldn’t help but cheer for him.  His face absolutely looked real, down to the smallest hair.  I will say, however, that they nailed the ballroom scene.  He looked grounded during that moment, with Belle clearly holding on to him and moving with him.  I’d love to watch the “behind the scenes” of that moment to learn how they pulled it off so well.

Of course, they also proved victorious with all of Beast’s “family” as well.  Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Chip–all of them!  They all moved with weight and fluidity.  Couple that fact with excellent voice acting and you’ve got a sublime experience.

Honestly, when I finished watching this I felt like I’d just watched an instant classic.  The songs were wonderful (with even a few new additions), the acting was charismatic across the board, the special effects were top-notch, the pacing moved quickly, and, best of all, it retained all of the magic and splendor of the original.  My kids immediately wanted to watch it again, which is the true test of a good family movie.  You can bet I’ll be sitting with them on that second viewing.

Image result for beauty and the beast 2017

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

Justice League – A Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

I attended Justice League on Thursday night at 10:00 p.m.  As you may remember, I felt very excited and had very high hopes.

With great relief, I report to you that Justice League exceeded my expectations.

First of all, I will freely admit that I am incredibly bias.  I love these characters.  I’ve been reading them for thirty-seven years, and that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been a dream for a long, long time to see them together on the big screen.  Frankly, the movie would have to be a total failure to disappoint me.  I acknowledge that.

But it wasn’t a total failure.  It was a legitimate success.

Let us first address a pressing issue – this is a movie based on comic book characters.  The movie never had the potential to change my paradigm regarding the human condition.  I sought no enlightenment from this movie, I did not expect Oscar worthy performances, nor did I anticipate a terribly complex plot regarding characters undergoing significant change.  We had a little bit of those things, more than I expected, but those things aren’t really what this movie was supposed to address.

What I did expect, however, was to see my heroes working together to defeat a bad guy in an entertaining fashion.  Guess what?  I got it.

Let’s do this  …

The actors playing our heroes had great chemistry with each other.  I truly believed these heroes were, at their core, friends because I felt a warmth and camaraderie from the men and women playing the roles.  The Justice League is not a family, but the members are super friends.   It was fun to see these actors interact with one another.

I also appreciated that Justice League is essentially a direct sequel to Batman v Superman.  I don’t want to get too much into it, but it resolves some conflict from its predecessor, addresses some dangling plot threads, and fully embraces what came before it.

Justice League makes no apologies in that it is made for Justice League fans.  There is so much DC lore in this film, so many blatant nods to both the League’s history but also the shared universe’s past.  Amazons?  Check.  Atlantians?  Check.  References to the 4th World?  Yep.  Mother Boxes? You know it.  There’s much more, but I don’t want to spoil anything …

Best of all?  These are heroes.  I know things were a little murky in Batman v Superman, but that was all by design.  Batman had grown cynical.  After all, they depicted him as 20 years into his career.  You can imagine the pain and heartbreak he’d endured by that point, especially with a troubling hint concerning Robin.  And Superman?  I don’t feel he had quite established himself as a hero in Batman v Superman.  He struck me as on his way to becoming a beacon to the world, but not yet there.  Justice League addresses all of that, and lights the way for both of these men.

Furthermore, Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash, Wonder Woman – they are natural born heroes.  They do good deeds because it is their nature.  As dark as Batman v Superman was in terms of theme and tone, Justice League is the opposite.  Justice League is fun, hopeful, uplifting, and even, at times, funny.  Is it still visually dark?  Well, yeah.  That’s just Snyder’s style.

Can we talk about Batman?  I adore his depiction in Justice League.  This is an old man compared to everyone else.  He’s breaking down.  However, he’s also the group’s mentor.  He gives every hero in this movie a pep talk at some point, and this is totally consistent with his character.  Remember, it’s been established that he’s worked with a Robin in this cinematic universe.  He wants to teach, he wants to encourage.  There’s a great moment when the Flash is having doubts and Batman helps him find his way.  So great to see that Batman instead of the grizzled, pessimistic neurotic isolationist.  And, man, does he have some great character moments regarding Superman.

Wonder Woman is, of course, amazing.  She’s got some mesmerizing action scenes, some hilarious one-liners, and is obviously the glue of the group.  When Gal Gadot stands next to Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, she towers.  She is the icon.  What I appreciate most about this movie regarding her character is that she is a Justice League member.  She is no one’s mother, no one’s love interest, and no one’s caretaker.  She’s doing her thing just like every other teammate.  As well she should.  Her solo movie has received the most critical acclaim, after all.  They better never reduce her to someone’s “damsel in distress.”

After the movie, a friend and I were talking and he mentioned the guy playing Cyborg.  He said exactly what I was thinking – Ray Fisher was the best actor in the film.  The moment he appeared on screen, he had a weight to him, a gravitas.  His voice held almost a power.  It’s hard to explain, but Fisher’s got what I can only describe as presence.  That’s hard to achieve when only half of a face is showing.  I wasn’t excited about a Cyborg movie before, but I am definitely looking forward to one now.  Fisher won me over.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is the absolute bad-ass you’d expect.  Funny, charming, and tough, I think he’s going to convince a lot of people that Aquaman is no joke.  They also managed to pull off some really cool underwater scenes with him and Atlantis, by the way.  Honestly, I was a little worried they were going to make him like a surfer dude with all the “My man!” and “Yeah!” from the previews.  But those scenes were pretty infrequent.  He had some real moments to shine, and shine he did.  Like with Cyborg, I’m excited for a movie featuring Aquaman by himself (but I always have been).

Finally, we’ve got to talk about the Flash.  Ezra Miller brought much of the film’s lightheartedness, warmth, and fun.  Though a hero from the beginning, we got to watch him become a better hero throughout – a more confident hero.  Miller plays Flash with a bit of a twitch and a fun lack of common sense that makes you believe this guy is really just figuring it out as he goes due to his youth.  They avoid the melodrama of the CW show with this iteration of Flash, they just make him likable and a little awkward.  Seriously, Miller’s expressions are so much fun throughout the movie.  His eyes tell the audience everything they need to know in virtually every scene.

I’m going to avoid discussing Superman, because there’s no way to do so without spoiling things.  You obviously know he’s in it, so I’ll just say that I’m beginning to see Cavill portray a hero that could win the world’s heart.

I’m a total fan, as you can plainly see, but I did have a few things I took issue with.  The biggest was Steppenwolf.  While I don’t mind a warm-up from Apokolips before Darkseid arrives, I wish they could have made him appear a little less CGI.  He lacked a certain tangibility that really stood out to me.  I didn’t feel like he was actually filling any space, which took me out of the moment a few times.  But, he made a great villain for the League to team up against, which was really his only purpose from a storytelling standpoint.  I wouldn’t say he was as flat as Doomsday from Batman v Superman, but he wasn’t nearly as interesting as Heath Ledger’s Joker.  So, take that for what it’s worth.

Also, when the Flash ran, that also never quite looked right.  I should say, his legs never quite looked right to me.  Everything else looked perfect – the electricity, the blurring, the sheer speed, but his legs did not actually look to me like they were propelling him at nearly the speed of light.  Small complaint.

In the end, I highly recommend Justice League.  In my opinion, if you don’t like this movie, you just don’t like the Justice League.  I think if you’re a fan of the characters, though, this film will absolutely satisfy.  Personally, I found it a magical, breathtaking experience.  Like I said earlier, it exceeded my expectations.

Oh, and stay through the credits.  The mid-credits will have your inner-geek cheering out loud.  The after-credits will leave you with your jaw on the floor.

Image result for justice league

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)