Category Archives: Media Review

On why your childhood is not ruined

rancortoy

Kenner collectible Rancor Toy from 1983, two years after I was born.

Let me start off by saying how thrilled I am to have all the new fans in the Star Wars fandom. Welcome to an obsession with a fictional space that has thrilled many of us since before we were old enough to be aware of the toys we were playing with from yard sales (yes, I had a Rancor and Luke Skywalker before I had even seen the movies, which made them all that much more magical for me.) There’s nothing quite as thrilling as being able to share an affinity for something you’ve loved for a long time with a new group of friends you never expected to be interested in it. There’s also a risk to it, however, because those new friends might not find the same value in the thing as you did.

The Scorpion King poster.jpg

By Source, Fair use, Link

When I was in college, a buddy of mine went to see “The Scorpion King” starring with Dwayne Johnson still being billed as The Rock. This was the perfect intersection of his interests, as a life long fan of wrestling (he explained it as a soap opera for men) and as a sequel for one of our group favorite movies in The Mummy movies, he was sold. So much so that he went to see it before any of the rest of us in our friend group. He hated it. So much so, that he convinced the rest of us not to see it.

A year or so later, we all decided to watch the worst movies we’d ever seen and do a Mystery Science Theater 3K treatment on them. After commenting our way through another terrible sequel (Jurassic Park 2) and loving it we put this bad boy in and started watching. Within the first 15 minutes we hadn’t made a single comment, but were laughing so hard we could barely breathe. The buddy who’d hated the movie so much stood up and declared loudly, “Screw you guys, if I’d have known I was *supposed* to laugh at this movie so much I’d have loved it!” We had a blast watching it, and it’s a favorite of all of ours now. The gambit with this movie was taking the camp of the original Mummy series to an obvious terminal point, and no one could have done it better than The Rock. My buddy had his faith in his fandoms restored, thankfully, by the presence of new perspective from his friends.

This is the advantage of revising our old fandoms. It’s also the danger. We take these memories out of their pristine boxes, and much like the little crystal balls in Pixar’s Inside Out, we run the risk of breaking them if they are not handled with care. Sometimes the memory is so much better than the actual experience was, and whole pieces of our identity are built around them. To lose them, is certainly to lose vast sums of who we are, especially where they were forced to be niche and kept apart from civilized interaction.


I’ve gone through this cycle more than a few times, I think all of us have. Dungeons & Dragons is a wave I caught as a 10 year old, though it was already nearly 20 years old by the time I picked it up, it still wasn’t mainstream, by any stretch of the imagination, and there were still people calling it Satanistic (like the Harry Potter series even now.) It’s much more mainstream now, and I love reveling in it with people, especially when it hits a big moment like the beautiful treatment the game got on several occasions of Community. I can promise you, the writers have played Dungeons & Dragons, as this is the most accurate series of representations I’ve seen to date of the groups I’ve gamed with.

While I hate to bring up a sore spot, Game of Thrones is another that I was into before it hit the main stream. I’m not at all upset about the directions the TV series has deviated from the books, far from it. I love retellings of stories, and I would be the last to tell you that the book is better than the movie, because they are so completely different in their telling of the same story. What does irk me about GoT, and GRRM is the fact that the last couple of books are not going to be out before the series is finished. I hope they do finally come out, and that we aren’t just left with a series finished inaccurately in TV form to fill in the major questions left at the end of the book series.

game-of-thrones-poster_85627-1920x1200

The Iron Throne. Courtesy of South By Southwest Festival

And this is where we discover the hazard of a fandom becoming popular, or getting a refresh, or finding a new audience. When the new model overtakes the old one in popularity, interest, or commitment, then us original fans have to take a step back and reevaluate those memories. They sometimes shatter under the new scrutiny, and we hurt, because years of defending our stance on a thing, or being devoted to it, becomes hard to justify when we really look at it, especially to what we see as casual interest from the masses.

I don’t want to justify anyone’s behavior in being denigrating to cast members, or even writers and directors, for their participation in producing new, fairly popular versions of films. Even creators like GRRM and Lucas deserve a pass here, in some regard. The popularity they gather to themselves and their creation makes them nigh unquestionable, and if there is anything you take away from the behind the scenes looks at the original Star Wars trilogy, it’s that Lucas needed those level voices to balance his world building with good character development and storytelling.

This brings us back to Star Wars. Welcome new fans, I’m glad you’re here. I hope you enjoy the lightsaber fights, the sweeping space battles, and the amazing story from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. To all you old fans who feel like your childhood is being ruined… enjoy the memories you have, they wouldn’t have been worth any less if the new movies had never been made, so don’t make them worthless because the new movies have been made. If you want to make new memories with the new movies, make them. If not, ignore them and like what you like. The one thing that can’t be taken from you is the experience that made your fandom so awesome to you in the first place. That’s the key. Also, remember, that someone is having the doors opened to this amazing world, and they’ll be able to find the memories, and quality for themselves, and that’s okay, because that’s how you found it as well.

Advertisements

Hope is a Furious Road

My name is Max. My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me… Or everyone else.

This is part of Max Rockatanksy’s opening narration to George Miller’s spartan tale of survival and hope in a world on fire. There are currently two focal points for reviews on this film:

  1. This is an amazing action movie, shot almost entirely in sequence on the backs of cars, full of amazing, tactile explosions and over the top insanity.
  2. This is a feminist story at its finest, with the heroine not only being a capable leader, but a disabled woman to boot.

See this movie for either of those reasons, because they are well fulfilled in the movie itself. I’d like to propose another reason to see it, however. This movie is a master course in story telling. It’s rare to get a movie that is so fully aware of itself that it does away with the need to have a character to ‘bring the audience up to speed.’ It’s exceptionally rare to find it in an action flick that borders on science fiction, both notorious for using the coming-of-age tale to expound on their universe. Miller’s Fury Road is uncompromising in its story telling, however, and does not pander to an audience unwilling to literally ride along on the ridiculously over worked car-steeds.

The cars themselves are as good a place to start as any. Gaudy, over worked, gas guzzling monstrosities, the cars are full extensions of the characters being portrayed. This is a simple issue to miss, in the frenzy of the movie, possibly mistaken for a well played trope, and to be sure, they are the very core of the world of Mad Max. This movie does something amazing with them, however, and to miss that is to miss the larger point of the story. The cars themselves are like the viking ships so prized by the Danish raiders of the 8th and 9th centuries. The clear correlation here is made with various mentions of Valhalla and the prayers of the War Boys to their cultish god of war and conquest, the V8, as well as their desire to be ‘witnessed’ and ‘die historic on the Fury Road.’ This cult is embodied by their leader Immortan Joe, who rules like a feudal lord, dispensing water, rather than riches, to his people, and hoarding ‘clean’ women as ‘breeders’ for hopefully healthy sons. Don’t mistake the over-the-top cars with simple eye candy, they tell the story of the War Boys, Citadel, and the apocalypse very clearly, their life is secured and advanced by those cars, and their status in the ranks of Citadel is illustrated in how unreasonable their modifications can be. The cars are idols, to be worshiped and revered, decorated and viewed with awe.

This bare bones story telling (none of this is ever mentioned directly) is a hallmark of great writing that colors so much of this movie. This is a lean film, spartan in the way it doles out details. I was worried at the initial narrated voice-over, setting up Max’s past, but that small moment of letting us in as an audience was the entire introduction we get. From that point on, we’re along for the ride. And that ride is truly magnificent.

The other great rarity of such a clear action movie, is the development of character. For a hero to gain some sort of self-awareness in one of these movies is very rare, for a secondary character to even be more than a flat reflective surface for the hero, is even more rare. Fury Road deftly handles three characters through an entire plot arc of self-awareness and growth, and then juggles the stories of at least two more very complex characters (one being Immortan Joe himself, despite his villainy) with very little screen time wasted on introspection or dense conversation. I’m going to focus on an aspect of Max’s growth for the sake of this part of the review.

You know… Hope is a mistake. If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane.

~Max Rockatansky

The nihilism present in the Mad Max films is always a sore point with many viewers. Miller has, in Max, a character that illustrates that people live on long after they stop hoping. Max is no hero, he is a survivor. At the time we catch up to him in the movie, he has survived too much, and his guilt is gnawing at him continually. Every action he takes for the first half of the film is an animalistic, reflexive move to survive. It’s clear he has no desire to ‘be witnessed’ in a heroic death, but what’s unclear is why he doesn’t simply succumb. For some reason, he struggles to live, despite having nothing to live for. In many ways, his nihilism is a fear of dying, because there are things waiting for him on the other side of death’s door that are far worse than the scrabbling existence on this side. Gradually, and subtly, Max is given something to live for, and by the end of the film, we see that maybe something is being fixed. Not only is he a more than a hopeless survivor, but he is become a champion of a cause greater than any of the individual characters in the tale.

Opposed to Max’s story, or perhaps in a sort of counter point harmony to it, we have the story of Imperator Furiosa, the female hero that is being much raved about in the media. The truth of the matter is, she fits no trope of a female hero that we see regularly in film. She is all too human, and this is the threat of this character. She is approachable, and as a viewer, we can follow her arc from beginning to end in a very believable progression. She wastes no time on screen being impossibly hard (as many female leads tend to be) or in distress (as a romantic interest), rather, Furiosa is a story unto herself, and a damned fine one as well.In all, Fury Road is one of the best movies that will come out this year. If you go see it for either of the reasons it is getting a lot of press, you’ll likely leave wondering why it was so much more fantastic than you thought. I hope this post goes a little way to clearing some of that up. There’s obviously much more of the movie to review. In an ironic sort of turn, I’ll leave you with a quote from Ernest Hemingway on what makes a great story to explain it better than I could:

The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.~Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon

Movie Poster

Does Jesus Sell?

I had to wait a few days before posting anything about this movie, and I’m not sure the silt has settled yet, but I want to get to it before it’s stale.

The title of this article probably gives a little bit of my sentiment about it away. I was hoping to see a much more relatable Jesus as I had heard so much about ‘The Bible’ and its humanizing of biblical accounts. I was hoping to see a Jesus that wasn’t broody and/or a hippie. I was hoping that maybe the humanity of a man who was inspiring enough to have 12 men drop everything they had ever known to follow him on a hobo’s adventure through Israel and eventually die brutal deaths for his sake, would shine through. Alas, it did not at all. In fact, this movie actually devolved into a MST3K episode for my wife and me, and I’m torn on whether or not that is worth going to confession over.The Jesus character portrayed in this movie is not only not a counter to the previous iterations of hippie-Jesus, but the guy acts like a stoner on top of all the hippie-isms. His disciples, rather than being confounded by advanced spiritual principals that they just haven’t grasped yet, are rightly concerned with his sanity. It seems they might just be around for the miracles alone, and they fall completely flat for it. To boot, the entire framework of the movie is based around ‘passive rebellion,’ which was admittedly what the political climate was at the time, but the way it is presented it washes all the spiritual depth out of the actual teachings of Jesus. The man portrayed is not a man worthy of following, much less one worthy of dying for, and that’s the real rub here. If this was supposed to show the reality of the situation, it certainly did not convince me as to why the disciples would have followed him in the first place. But then, I am a doubting Thomas.The disciples are portrayed moderately well, with Thomas and Judas being the most reasonable among them. These two characters continually challenge Jesus that what he’s doing might not be reasonable (but if he ever explains how it was, we don’t get to see it as the audience.) Peter gets the most screen time, and is admittedly the most balanced between reason and spirituality (which is likely the closest to the real man) out of the lot of them, but the rest seem like groupies. There’s a woman among the twelve, it seems, though we’re never really clear on just who the disciples are because of time constraints in the film process, but she has very little actual content to her character other than saucer eyes.

Beyond this, the film is so horribly affected by the backlash that Mel Gibson’s The Passion received for being anti-semetic, that Ciaphas is the only reasonable character in the entire movie. Pilate has been turned in to a blood thirsty brute (a mashing of later prelates of Palestine who actually were despots with the character of Pilate who seems to have been more of a passive leader) and we see great wisdom in Ciaphas’s desire to sacrifice the ‘minor prophet from Galilee’ in favor of not having Jewish people slaughtered on Passover. I do like the redemptive quality to Judas’s actions here, in that he truly seems to be acting on what he considers the best course for all involved.After the first couple of times when Thomas is told, “that’s not X, it’s Jesus” the MST3K started between my wife and me. Thomas was questioning, and the movie was not doing a good job of answering him. When the Via Dolorosa hit, all pretense of historicity was thrown out, along with any credibility for this flick. Jesus carried a full cross while the thieves (appropriately) carried only the beam. Jesus was clothed in a white garment (that seems to have appeared mystically after his scourging) and not the purple cloak that was the most likely candidate for the dicing soldiers. The gore is reduced from that of some previous movies, but then the kicker: nails through the palms of the hands. The Romans drove them through the wrists. Period. Anything else is imagery.Not only do I recommend that you skip this movie, either as a religious person or not, but I recommend that it be forgotten. Sadly, it completely banks on the fact that Jesus sells.