Make no mistake, Wonder Woman hangs on one thing: the performance of Gal Gadot and the expressions of her dark, aquiline, Israeli eyes. If you are not entranced with her intense innocence, her fierce resilience, or her empathetic grace, than you will undoubtedly shrug at this otherwise overly conventional and old-fashioned style superhero/fantasy flick. However, you will also be a weird outlier with no heart or soul. So... Good luck with that, you contrarian Philistine.
Wonder Woman proves that if you can do one right thing really well, you can get away with mediocrity everywhere else and audiences will adore it. Heck, they may not even notice in the first place. And Wonder Woman does that thing every time Diana Prince, played by Gal Gadot, takes center frame and unleashes the power of her fierce feminine gaze.
Star Trek Beyond came out almost a year ago and I liked it quite well. It was no Undiscovered Country or Wrath of Khan, but it was fun and enjoyable and sometimes that's all you can hope for with Star Trek. I never wrote a review because, quite frankly, there wasn't all that much to say. Fast and Furious director Justin Lin did a fine job remaining faithful to both the aesthetic established by JJ Abrams when he rebooted it a few years ago, as well as the characters themselves. But a few cleverly framed visual sequences aside, he didn't exactly push the story in any new directions or expand the mythology much.
I finally got around to watching it again and this time I think I can put my finger on why this passable installment that had quite favorable reviews (in a summer movie schedule otherwise rife with disappointing duds) still somehow managed to be... only okay?
It let spectacle and plot overwhelm the themes and characters. And this can kill your story too and leave it merely okay when it otherwise had the potential to be resonant.
I swear when this all started, I was only doing research for my next Lorna Lockheed story.
I had this epiphany that I could use The Fast and the Furious as a structural template for Lorna's next adventure in much the same way Director Sam Mendes admitted to using Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight as a visual, thematic and structural template for his popular James Bond film Skyfall (Or to use a more relevant example, how The Fast and the Furious itself was modeled after Point Break). Movies and stories are doing this sort of thing all the time, borrowing the bones of some well established or literary benchmark and growing new muscle and skin over the top to breathe life and depth into their work. I wanted my story to be about family, to pit rival gangs against each other and the police, to feature visceral, high-octane racing scenes, and indulge in a little exuberant attitude along the way (as Lorna is wont to do). What better film to homage than The Fast and the Furious, which, for all its flaws and cheap thrills, nonetheless hangs on a straight forward and functional plot progression I could very much take advantage of. The film is pretty dated, I'll admit, but there is something compelling beneath all the gratuitous bikini B-roll and thug culture that surprised me this time.
It's nothing so flashy as complex characterization or culturally critical commentary or even ambitious artistic aspiration. It's just good old fashioned serialized soap-opera continuity porn.
Wait, what? What does that even mean?
Let's take a closer look.
It's finally here! The first trailer for Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I'm surprised it took so long, considering The Force Awakens trailer dropped more than a year prior to release. Rogue One was similarly quick to simultaneously take advantage of the new fans after TFA as well as offer hope to any critics. But in the case of Episode VIII, there's only about 7-8 months left before the film comes out and this is the first teaser of any kind we've been given besides its name. Disney must not want to burn out the hype too soon, considering this is the third film in three years and there are three more to go in the next three years too!
But is it any good? Do we learn any secrets? Does it rekindle the hype machine that fuels so many ticket sales? Let's take a look...
Everyone knows a writer needs a fancy device if he wants to produce anything noteworthy. That's why all the classics were written on vintage typewriters. And if I could find one in working order, you can bet my steampunk would read as authentic as finely tuned clockwork. But since such archaic mechanical word machines are incredibly expensive and totally tedious to actually get any editing done, I thought I'd upgrade to all the modern digital publishing potential of a 1970's New York City publishing house, packed into a pound and half plastic tablet two-in-one. That's right, future fans, my writing is about to get a whole lot better! I got a brand new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with typepad cover and I'm about to unleash a whole wide world of wordsmithing wonder and all of you wannabe fans out there waiting for me to finally kick it into high gear. Now that I'm not being held back by my six-year-old Dell Latitude E6410, I can finally finish that new volume of Lorna Lockheed stories y'all been hollarin' after. Well hollar no more. I'm getting #backtowork (that's a hashtag for returing to the grind of writing, because fancy new machine or not, this gig is hardwork. But not like actually physically taxing, like a real job. Because I I don't have one of those anymore).
I saw Rogue One again, this time on a bigger, better screen, and with a few nights to simmer on my first experiene, what did I learn? I may have been a little harsh on the film, the first go around. It really is actually a pretty complex and compelling narrative achievement. Let's give it a second glance...
I saw the new Rogue One (A Star Wars Story) tonight and it was good.
I wouldn't be the first reviewer to compare it to Empire Strikes Back, but regardless of your thoughts on that comparison, the fact that everyone is even debating it at all is basically a good thing.
And the movie is pretty darn good, mixing seamlessly some memorable nostalgic imagery from the originals with new and expanded development and backstory (you know, the kind of thing Empire Strikes Back is renowned for).
Any attempt to rank the Star Wars films is an inherently subjective one. However, if you use basic technical measurements such as plot, pacing, structure, dialogue, acting, production value, etc. you can actually make a pretty good case for an objective ranking, with Empire Strikes Back at the top of the spectrum and Phantom Menace at the bottom. But where the other films fall exactly between them is a little trickier: is Attack of the Clones better or worse than Revenge of the Sith? Is The Force Awakens better or worse than Return of the Jedi? The answers start to say more about you than the film (I for one, am a sucker for both Attack of the Clones and Force Awakens, despite any legitimate flaws. I can't help it!).
Is Rogue One the best Star Wars film yet?
Or: How to write more indulgently.
A lot of people talk about writing honestly. For the record, I'm for that. And I'll talk about it another time.
But I want to talk today about writing indulgently. Because as much as writing honestly can bring truly relatable and emotionally genuine content to your story, writing indulgently can bring, well, a little guilty pleasure. It can bring that addictive quality that keeps a reader coming back, or keeps a fan begging for the next installment. It can keep your story in the mind of your readers long after they've laid down for bed. It puts it in their dreams.
When you write indulgently, you give people that guilty pleasure they have to get more of.
Haven't you heard? Doctor Strange is supposed to be really good. It's got like a really high score on Rotten Tomatoes and it's got that up and coming Benedict Cumberbatch. Plus it totally looks like Inception! Win win win! Right?
So I saw it.
Meh. They should really start getting the people who make movie trailers to start making movies, because they all seem much better at structure, style and pacing. Even my wife thought it "Looks awesome!"
Instead? When we saw the actual film?
Now don't get me wrong. "Meh" does not equal "Ugh." "Meh" means it was an okay film, where they managed to avoid all the things they could've done wrong. The film is no embarrassment. And many people seem to honestly like it. But I was, as they say, whelmed.
Sure, it has great special effects. Sure, the acting is all sincere. The jokes land. The plot thickens. The ending appropriately solves all the issues it needs to solve while being both kinda clever and awesome looking, and only enough plot threads are left loose to seed future story lines in a deliberately organic sorta way. And yeah, it's more or less a fairly accurate interpretation of the comic book core concept.
Why meh? Keep reading...