Tag Archives: Movies

An Open Letter to Zack Snyder

Dear Mr. Snyder,

First I want to say, thank you. I have appreciated and loved you films, especially your work in the DC universe. You were not afraid to take a risk, to explore the depths of these characters, deconstruct them and ask why they are, the way they are. You didn’t just accept the answer, “They are this way, because”. You started at the beginning, built them piece by piece, so we could see their journey and understand why they became what they did. I appreciate that dedication. The journey is what life is all about, even for fictional characters, it’s what helps us relate to them, get in their heads and root for them when they are down or possibly make the wrong choice. You understood that these characters are icons, but dared to show us how they became them.

Second, I want to apologize. No one deserves to be treated as you have. In the end, these are still fictional characters and even though they mean a great idea to so many, they are still just stories. If fans don’t like your interpretation, there will always be another one in a few years, such is the life of comic book characters. You gave your heart and soul to your films and people hated you for it. In much the same way Superman gave his heart and soul in Batman v Superman and people still hated him. Yet, like him, you showed yourself to be a good man, who put the needs of his family above things like work. You know what matters and you help show this world by your actions. Comic book movies and characters are fun and they can be used to teach us things, but they are not as important as family. Thank you for shining a light on the perspective our world is so sorely missing.

Lastly, a huge thank you for the Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman and Justice League arc. I know you didn’t get to finish Justice League, but you have nothing to apologize for. You showed this world much more in your actions by not finishing it. You pointed the way to what is truly important, the hope that we could put what really matters back in it’s place, flesh and blood people, in our lives, who need us. You embodied the characters in your films and for that, I thank you.

Sincerely,

A Fan

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A Maligned Movie

tsc-153-th-square-1440In the past 20 years there have been a few movies that have been completely lambasted by fans to the point of almost absurdity. One of them was The Phantom Menace (let’s be honest the entire Prequel Trilogy has been treated this way, Revenge of the Sith to a lesser extent than the first two). No film has received more ridicule and hate than The Phantom Menace….. but is that true? I think there is one that has eclipsed the first Prequel and it’s none other than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With this reputation in mind, John Mills and I put this film to the test in the latest episode in The 602 Club. We talk though the whole movie, trying to hit as many points as possible and you might just be surprised where we end. Give it a listen and tell us what you think!

 

The Wonder Woman/Man of Steel/Batman v Superman Connection

wwsmWonder Woman has hit the ground running since it came out and has only continued to pick up steam. The reviews have put it in the top 1% of superhero movies and it just had the fourth largest 3rd weekend for a superhero movie behind The Avengers, The Dark Knight and Spider-man.

I’ve seen Wonder Woman four times now and I am surprised that more has not been written about how it’s so similar to Man of Steel. The themes in both movies, for both characters are very similar, what is different is the two characters themselves and their circumstances growing up.

Norman Lao said it best on my Facebook so I will quote him here.

“I think the biggest difference between Clark and Diana are the ways they were raised. Clark was an alien raised by humans who worried what “mankind” would do if they ever discovered his secret. The Kents, knowing full well that mankind is in fact laced with a rich history of paranoia and violence towards not only each other, but that which they fear – especially proof of alien existence – i.e. Kal El, makes them, and especially Jonathan, very wary of how they raise and educate Clark until he needs to reveal himself. Diana on the other hand was raised as a warrior amongst other warriors – training and honing herself to defend the world against and the inevitable return of evil without any exposure the gray and ambiguous nature of good and evil and the spaces in between. I think this is where she actually has the advantage over Clark because she has been raised with extreme and concrete definitions of “good” and “evil. She knows and believes what is right and wrong. These are the fundamental differences in the storytelling and what I believe succeed very well in their respective films.”

Even though Diana and Clark are raised in different circumstances, the lessons they learn are not that different. What is most interesting about them is the ways in which watching the sacrifice of a loved one affects their actions forever. Clark watches his father die in a tornado. Now so much has been said about this scene but the best thing I have read on it comes from The Fanboy Perspective.

dghfgfd1hgdftIn the context of Man of Steel, Jonathan’s death is all about sacrifice, not only Jonathan’s sacrifice but it was also setting up Clark’s sacrifice later on in Man of Steel. Clark learning limitations to his powers mattered little in Man of Steel because he wasn’t so incredibly overpowered to begin with, but to learn about sacrifice and selflessness was paramount for the narrative and development for this version of Superman. Clark sacrificed himself, at least according to Jonathan, for the Earth and in the end Superman sacrificed Krypton and the future of his own kin, for us, for Earth.

The fact that Clark could had done A, B or C in the tornado scene is what made this scene so powerful, that it was a conscious decision by Jonathan and that his death was not a fluke of destiny ie a heart attack. Jonathan’s willing sacrifice basically made the man of steel who he is and who he will become, Earth’s greatest champion. Because let’s face it, when Clark finally becomes Superman, he sacrifices himself for us 100%, and I think Jonathan gave him the courage to do that. Jonathan taught Clark his most defining lesson through his own death and I think that’s rather poetic.

Clark sacrificing himself and his life on Earth for the safety of Earth when Zod first showed up demanding Kal El present himself to them, ‘or else’ is powerful, the only way Clark could protect Martha was by volunteering to leave her behind forever. Superman destroying the world engine on what was very likely a suicide mission. Superman destroying the scout ship and the genesis chamber, which was Krypton’s only chance at living again, and Superman ultimately killing Zod, the last of his brethren. It was all about sacrifice. That’s what Jonathan’s death taught Clark, sacrifice and selflessness, and I think that is the absolute epitome of Superman, and what he represents.

Jonathan’s death scene was the underlying pulse of the entire movie and remains Kal El’s moral compass, long after he’s gone. Sacrifice is what Man of Steel was all about in the end. Superman sacrificing himself, his people and Krypton for us, the shamelessly ungrateful humans. Now I think that’s some powerful storytelling right there. Very few comic book movies even attempt to imbue the sort of heart and internal fortitude that Man of Steel did with Superman.

I also take issue with the popular usage of the word ‘Tornadocide’, that word implies that Jonathan had a suicidal intent when he went back for the family dog, he clearly did not want to die. Jonathan had every intention of coming back to his wife and son but the circumstances quickly changed and Jonathan was forced to make a monumental decision in what was literally, a second. Jonathan had explained to Clark before that there were bigger things at stake than their own lives and in that moment, Jonathan had to decide if he had the courage of his convictions, and he did.

wonder-woman-trailer-image-46Now, this scene for Clark is pivotal for his growth as a character and why he will act the way he does later on and Diana has her moment. Ares almost has Diana. He’s almost convinced her that mankind does not deserve her or is worthy of her protection. Like Zod (who’s name is a lot like God), offered Clark the opportunity to remake the world for the Kryptonian people, Ares offers Diana the same choice, to join him and recreate paradise. What happens in that moment, as Diana, tank raised over her head, ready to bring it down on the worst of humanity, she remembers Steve’s sacrifice.

Remembering Steve make the choice to put the lives of his enemies above himself as well as his friends changes Diana forever. She chooses to believe in the truth about humanity, there is a great darkness within them, yet there is also the ability to transcend that darkness though self-sacrificial love. The word agape in Greek means, “selfless love of one person for another” and that is the love with which Diana fights in the name of. She, like Steve, puts herself on the line, even for those that don’t deserve it.

This not only mirrors Man of Steel, but also Clark’s decision in Batman v Superman. Clark willingly chooses humanity and Earth. He says this is his world and he willingly sacrifices himself for it, even though, as we we have seen, half the world is either afraid of him or worse hates him. Sacrifice is the DC Comics mantra in it’s films and each film has been building on this theme. Loving sacrifice is the hallmark of the truest heroes. At the end of Wonder Woman, Diana emails Bruce, thanking him for bringing back Steve to her, but it’s bigger than that. Remember, Diana has taken a step back from suiting up as a hero. She’s been working from the shadows to inspire humanity. What Bruce has reminded Diana of is the lesson Steve taught her so many years ago and that Clark reenforced not that long ago, loving sacrifice is the best way to inspire love and change in others. So at the end of Wonder Woman, we see her go off, to join Bruce as a team, to help stand between evil and the world. The age of heroes has come again.

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Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories episodes about Wonder Woman. For more on Man of Steel, check out The 602 Club #15 and for more on Batman v Superman check out The 602 Club #74 and S20.

Wonder Woman – Review

C-38A4SXkAAVYkz.jpg-largeThis review does contain Spoilers. Listen to The 602 Club episode as well!

For over 75 years, Wonder Woman has thrilled fans in spectacular fashion, through comics, television shows and cartoons. Yet there was one place were she had still not broken though, the big screen. In 2016 she joined the rest of the DC Comics trinity, Batman and Superman in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman, teasing her history in the world and setting up her first solo film.

Story

Diana of Themyscira grows up under the watchful protection of her mother Hippolyta who’s one goal is to keep her daughter safe. To do so, she forbids her daughter from learning how to fight, as well as keeping from her, her true lineage. Diana was not sculpted out of clay and bought to life by Zeus, she is actually a living weapon that Hippolyta and Zeus came together to create as a last defense against Ares, if he should ever return.

Diana and General Antiope (Hippolyta’s sister) have different ideas, they secretly begin Diana’s training and when Hippolyta finds out, Antiope is finally able to convince her sister that it’s the right thing to do. It turns out to be a wise decision as WWI and Steve Trevor accidentally stumble upon Themyscira, leading Diana to embrace who she is to stop Ares once and for all.

Responsibility

Hippolyta does not want her daughter to leave Themyscira. For one thing, if she does, she can never return and secondly, she’s worried about her safety. She asks her daughter not to go, to which Diana replies, “Who will I be if I stay?”.  It may be the seminole question of our day; “Who are we if we shirk our responsibility in the face of evil?”. Diana must make the decision on what kind of person she wants to be. Steve Trevor helps her see the two options in a conversation they have. He tells her that his dad always said their are two options for anyone, do nothing or do something. He says he’s already tried doing nothing and that’s clearly not the answer.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” What evils are perpetrated while men and women sit on the sidelines? The most innocent and helpless among us suffer and die while we stick our heads in the social media sand, pretending our outrage helps, when in reality it’s meaningless. Diana and Steve stand against that, they will fight and die for what they know is right, even if no one else around them will.

wonder-woman-embargo-lift-image-full-236508A Time to Fight, A Time to Love

Diana and Steve are able to bring a notebook he stole from one of the villains, Doctor Isabel Maru (Doctor Poison), back to the British, who he is working with. Even though the book clearly lays out the plans for an unstoppable gas, that could kill millions, the men in charge insist that the armistice with Germany is of paramount importance and that the men on the front are expendable in the name of peace. Diana is livid at the thought of men who are willing to sit in rooms, hundreds of miles away from the front, and treat the lives of their men so cavalierly. She and Steve can see the clear and present danger that this breakthrough in poison gas technology could mean for the world if is not destroyed. There is a time to fight and a time for peace and knowing which is which takes wisdom. It also takes courage to stand up and lead the fight, even when it’s not the popular course, but the right one regardless.

As the movie comes to the final confrontation between Ares and Diana, Ares tries to make her see the unworthiness of man. Hippolyta told Diana before she left Themyscira that mankind did not deserve her. As Diana ventures into man’s world she finds it an ugly place that is rife with more greys than she expected. Ares continues to press this idea that man does not deserve her protection, yet it’s something that Steve says and does that helps encourage Diana to do the right thing. Steve is well aware that man does not deserve Diana, but he tells her that maybe it not about what they deserve, but what she believes. Mankind is clearly not good, but they can be. Steve willingly gives up his life to save millions. Though all her experiences, Diana can see that mankind has the potential for good and that it’s though her love of Steve that she is able to see that spark in all men. She chooses to love men and defend them, even though they are unworthy and complete undeserving. Diana and Steve live out the greatest love there is, being willing to give up their lives for others. Diana is a hero that fights for love and to bring peace, to help show mankind a better way. Even in the face of the overwhelming evil man is capable of, she bestows grace and love in place of judgement. She’s the better angel of our nature, encouraging us to stand up for what is right, even if it’s not easy or popular.

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The Movie

Gal Gadot is a star. She sells every moment of this film. She has a wonderful, childlike innocence that is needed to bring this character, raised in paradise to life. Diana’s transformation from innocence to a fuller understanding of the real world is powerful and moving. The chemistry she has with Chris Pine is fantastic. They are the heart and soul of this movie and luckily they do not disappoint.

The fight scenes in the movie are incredible. Many superhero movies these days seem to have similar types of set pieces, but Wonder Woman does a marvelous job of making her fighting style feel fresh, leaving you silently fist-pumping in your seat. Even the more CGI-heavy battle at the end has enough emotion built into it, to make you care about what’s happening.

One final note, Patty Jenkins direction is excellent. This woman needs to be given a sequel, as well as more movies to direct. She understands clearly how to make a superhero movie feel serious and fun all at the same time and that’s not always easy to do.

Wonder Women is the first major female superhero to be given her own movie (yes I discount Catwoman and Elektra as they are more side characters) and it’s a triumph. The film is serious in tone, but with laughs aplenty. It’s the movie we all hoped for and deserve. Wonder Woman is rated 4 and half out of 5 stars.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

guardians_of_the_galaxy_vol_two_new_poster3Don’t miss The 602 Club episode!

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Marvel is a machine. It’s been pumping out hits (with the occasional miss) since Iron Man in 2008. This summer is no exception as the ever popular Guardians of the Galaxy are back in Vol. 2. The first movie was cotton candy, summer fun, so the question is, can this second film find more depth than the first? Luckily, it does.

Family 

Guardians of the Galaxy was about a group of misfits finding family together and Volume 2 is a continuation of that theme. The concept of the the Guardians as family is challenged in this movie as both Peter and Gamora have to deal with prior or blood relatives. Peter finally comes face to face with his father and as Luke found out in The Empire Strikes Back, knowing who your father is, is not always the best thing. Peter’s story mirrors much of Luke’s as he must choose between ruling the galaxy with his father or saving it as a Guardian. He also finds that he may always have had what he was looking for right in front of him.

Peter’s dad is a Celestial, basically a god, who has lived for millions of years and in that time learned to create worlds. Being alone for so long, he found a way to create a physical form and travel the stars, looking for companionship and love. This is how he met Peter’s mother. Ego, the name of Peter’s dad, decides to turn his back on love and embrace a “higher” calling, to expand the universe, remaking worlds in his image.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-kurt-russell-chris-prattEgo has spent millennia trying to create progeny that can assist him in his quest to remake the galaxy and Peter is the first child to share his abilities. He’s no longer alone, but it’s not truly family that he is after, it’s just power. He’s come to see himself as above all other life, since he’s immortal, at least as long as his essence is kept alive at the core of the planet he’s constructed. He has divorced himself from the family of beings in the galaxy, placing himself on a higher plane because of his immortality, which enables him to rationalize exterminating whomever and whatever, since comparatively they are inferior. It’s a reminder that the moment people being to see themselves as better than others, it usually leads to marginalization or at it’s worst, extermination.

Gamora and Nebula finally get something to do in this film! They get the opportunity to deal with what has driven them apart and left them at each others throats for so long. They come to terms with the ways in which Thanos drove a wedge between them, used them and realize that they are actually on the same side. Forgiveness is given and it’s a beautiful scene in the movie. It was great to see them really give these actors a storyline to dig into.

The Movie

This movie is not as slickly put together as the first, it does not seem to flow quite as well as the original, but it has more depth and that makes up for it. It’s nice to have the characters go deeper into themselves. It’s still a little cliche, but it feels stronger and more resonant as a film. Because of these things it’s rated 4 out of 5 Baby Groot dances.

PS

Don’t forget to review and rate The 602 Club on Apple Podcasts for your chance to win some incredible, exclusive Guardians of the Galaxy swag (pictured here)! guardians

The Cave

 

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I was talking to one of my favorite people the other day, Kesseljunkie (He’s my podcast partner on Aggressive Negotiations: A Star Wars Podcast as well as a myriad episodes of The 602 Club). As we so frequently do, we were discussing movies, specifically the DC films and the latest Justice League trailer and it brought something to mind.

There is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is being trained by Yoda and he asks about a place that seems cold. Yoda says it is a domain of evil and that Luke must go in. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” to which Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”.

This got me thinking about how movies and movie theaters are a lot like that cave on Dagobah. Whenever we step into a theater to see a movie or que one up on Netflix we are not going in blind, we bring with us a plethora of preconceptions, experiences and prejudices into that cave that act as weapons for or against the movie which impact the film. Now, unlike Luke, there are certain “weapons” that are impossible for us to completely get rid of when we enter the cave. We cannot discard our prior experiences, but we can curtail out preconceptions and our prejudices, if we are self aware enough to know what they are. The reason this is important is because what we get out of a movie and whether or not we enjoy it greatly depend upon our own point of view. To put it another way, it greatly depends on what we bring with us into the theater.

The reason this struck a cord for me was the way in which this seems to directly apply to the geek culture that I am apart of. Every franchise has it’s diehard followers that will defend anything that comes out of that franchise no matter what it is. Then there are others that will seemingly hate everything a certain franchise does, just because it’s from that franchise. It’s par for the course in the 21st century where everything is one extreme or another and there seems to be no middle ground for anything. Hyperbole is the language of the day, films, tv shows, politicians and everything else all seem to be either the worst or the best thing ever.

Again referencing the conversation in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke asks “But how am I to know the good side from the bad?” and Yoda replies, “You will know. When you are calm, at peace.” We live not only in a world drowning in hyperbole but it’s accentuated by an eternal hype machine. So I want suggest a different path, like the Bendu in the recent Star Wars Rebels season and chose the way of the middle. We must unlearn what we have learned as we walk into the cave. Approach every movie on it’s own merits. As Yoda says, we should clear out minds of our expectations, preconceptions and presuppositions and allow the film to wash over us, absorbing what it’s trying to say and do first. If we get out of a movie, only what we bring to it, then it seems important for us to not enter with a bad attitude in the first place. The neutrality of the middle allows us to, I think, truly judge a film better.

For me personally, this has worked out thusly. I do my utmost to approach every movie on it’s own. I do my best not to prejudge too much on trailers, since many times trailers can be so misleading. I find it best to go in always hoping the movie will be good and allowing the finished product to speak for itself. It’s hard work disarming the weapons I can bring to bare, like previous films in a series, thoughts on a direct or actor, my own prejudices. I’ve found it to be a much more rewarding experience with movies, tv shows and even books to look at it without those weapons. It’s made it easier for me to see and understand the themes, character motivations and what each work is trying to say, which in turn allows me appreciate it more.

Now, does this mean I like everything? Of course not. But it does even help there, because when I don’t like something, this process allows me to be constructively critical about why and what I feel made something not work. With the self awareness that comes from trying to disarm all the weapons I might bring with me into the cave enables me to be, I think, more fair to the film, show our book and not resort to hyperbole, but break it down in a more constructive and valuable way. In the end, almost every movie, book or tv show is not going to be the best or worst thing ever and finding out the muddle in the middle is most of the fun.

George Lucas: A Life – Review

tumblr_o61hphwviy1us2txqo1_1280George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones.

George Lucas is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating people in Hollywood, although he’d probably resent that statement as his whole life has been about not being part of they Hollywood system. In this new, non-authorized biography, Brian Jay Jones traces Lucas’ quintessentially American story from humble beginnings to titan of the film industry.

The book is split in to 3 parts, Hope, Empire and Return, each on taking on a different part of George’s life and doing their best to synthesize a very full existence in a mere 550 pages (really only 470 as the last 80 pages are notations).

Hope is actually the the best section of the book, chronicling Lucas’ family and his early life as a greaser who found school boring and working for someone else even more so. This is the most formative section of the book, much of who Lucas became would be a direct result of things that happened during this period. The issues with his father (which would play in in his two biggest franchises), his desire to be completely free to do things his way and a car accident that would illuminate the truth of life’s fragility cementing his character. The reason for most everything else Lucas would do in his life could be traced back to his beginnings in Modesto, California.

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Empire tells of Lucas’ fortunes after American Graffiti as he struggle to bring his idea of The Star Wars to screen. Next to his youth, this is the the most integral to who Lucas would become. His experiences with THX-1138 and American Graffiti would set him on course to chart a future away from the influence of the studio and Hollywood system. Everything he did was a move to allow him to make movies without compromising his artistic creativity as well as building a place where others in the industry would be able to do the same. This same drive would also cost him dearly, as he neglected his wife in favor of making his movies and the neglect would cost him his marriage.

Return recounts the journey from the Original Trilogy to the Prequels and the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. It’s the weakest section of the book, feeling too condensed and too reliant on the most superficial understanding of the Prequels as well as the work that truly went into them. It sadly glosses over the importance of The Clone Wars series as well, making it feel more like a footnote than the project that helped Lucas fall in love with Star Wars all over again. Also left out is the fight with Marin County which lead Lucas to giving up his dream of making the Star Wars sequel trilogy himself and the resignation of selling the company to Disney.

The one true strength in this section is the way it highlights the correlation between Lucas, his divorce and the story of the Prequel Trilogy, especially, Anakin and his choices. After reading this book one can see how much of himself he actually poured into the story. Anakin and Lucas both have the same fall on their way to Empire-building.

lucasWith the strength of the first two sections the book is recommendable, yet it’s not without it’s faults. Frustratingly the last section does devolve into most every criticism of Lucas in the Special Edition to Disney sale that everyone has surely read online. Honestly this can be attributed to the non-authorized nature of the book and the lack of interviews, which would have helped the last section of the book specifically. Peter Jackson is quoted in the book saying about Lucas, “I can’t help feeling that George Lucas has never been fully appreciated by the industry for his remarkable innovations…He’s the Thomas Edison of the modern film industry.” In some ways the book leaves one feeling this way as well. Lucas’ accomplishments in film, his tireless struggle for innovation and consistently putting his hard-earned money where his mouth is, should be given more due. Hopefully this is just the beginning of books to come out about Lucas and here’s to hoping the next is even more in depth, but Jones’ book is a good place to start and is rated 4 out of 5 Death Stars.