A Mind on Fire https://www.amindonfire.com Books, Movies, TV and Whatever Mon, 21 May 2018 03:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 https://www.amindonfire.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/favicon-150x150.png A Mind on Fire https://www.amindonfire.com 32 32 Road Trip In The Movies https://www.amindonfire.com/road-trip/ Mon, 21 May 2018 03:00:30 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=9011 It's road trip season again and another round of road trips in the movies are looked at and reviewed. One is an older movie, one is about an old man, and one is set in a future none of us want to see.

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It’s a safe bet to make, absent of any freak snow storm, Summer is settling quite nicely in the United States. Technically, Summer starts June 21 but with tempatures across the United States hitting averages in the high 80s it would seem Spring took the year off.  With the warm weather our thoughts once again turn to the age old ritual of hitting the open road and taking a road trip to anywhere. As much as we would love to take each and everyone of you on our next wandering it’s just not possible. Instead, let’s take a look at a few of our favorite road trip movies.

HARRY AND TONTO

Some of us plan our road trips out to the tiniest detail leaving no margin for error. Some of us go on the spur of the moment and yet others, like Harry, are forced to go on the road because they have no other options.

Harry carries Tonto across a busy street in Harry and Tonto

“The strangest thing about being old is all your friends die.”- Harry

Director Paul Mazursky (Scenes From a Mall) opens Harry and Tonto concentrating on the claustrophobia of the big city. People walking up and down the streets are shown bouncing off each other in a hurry to get wherever they are going. More importantly, the inhabitants he focuses the lens on are senior citizens. It’s an old city inhabited by old people and in the center is Harry (Art Carney, The Honeymooners) .

It would have been easy to paint Harry as a scared retiree living in the big city. However, Mazursky’s movie paints Harry as anything but a scared retiree. He’s seen the city change and he’s been mugged  more than once by the same mugger. Harry may be practical and maybe a little stubborn, but not scared. Harry’s stubbornness and his cat Tonto is what sends him on his country trip.

It wasn’t Harry’s original plan to hit the open road to California. The original plan was to go by plane. However, that was derailed when airport security wanted to put Tonto through the airport’s x-ray machine. The next plan was to take a bus. Alas, Tonto ran off during a bathroom break.

Tonto chills on the dashboard going down the road in Harry and Tonto

From the beginning to end, Tonto is with Harry. Without uttering a line of dialogue Tonto is one of the most important characters in Harry and Tonto

From there Harry and Tonto go on the road trip Harry wanted to take all his life, but was unable to because life, as they say, got in the way. Along the way, Harry and Tonto meet some unusual characters. There’s Ginger, the teenage hitchhiker, who runs off with Harry’s grandson Burt Jr. He gets a healing ceremony from Sam Two Feathers (Chief Dan George, The Outlaw Josey Wales) who he meets in the Las Vegas drunk tank after being caught urinating in public. He even gets a little “company” from Stephanie the Vegas hooker.

Released roughly five years after Easy Rider, Harry and Tonto is the antithesis of the nihilism found in Easy Rider. You won’t find any of the anti-establishment themes in Harry and Tonto found in Easy Rider nor will you find characters living on the edge or the anger that courses through the Easy Rider.

Harry and Tonto driving towards Vegas with Stephanie in Harry and Tonto

The first time in a long time. Why not with a Vegas girl?

Harry and Tonto came out during the early days of the United State’s withdrawal from Vietnam, but deep in the controversy coming out of President Nixon’s White House. Early in the movie Harry asks the corner newspaper salesman “Who’s president this week?” The vendor answers, “Who cares?” With dark days behind the United States and gloomy days ahead, Harry and Tonto greet this new America with open eyes and heart. Harry doesn’t judge anyone he encounters on his trip to California. In fact, he learns just as much from them as do they from him. By the time he reaches California he’s ready for a fresh start to the next chapter in his life.

Art Carney won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Harry. The achievement is quite impressive when looking at the other films and actors nominated in the same year. Carney received the award over Al Pacino (The Godfather II), Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express), Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), and Jack Nicholson (Chinatown).

THE PUFFY CHAIR

Josh learns the hard way you can be ripped off on Ebay

The Puffy Chair

Jay and Mark Duplass have been called the kings of mumblecore cinema. What is mumblecore? Basically, it’s a silly name for low budget film making. You wouldn’t be wrong in confusing a movie in the mumblecore genre with one of the many “lost footage” movies. Shaky camera shots for no other reason than to have a shaky camera, ridiculously extreme close ups, and bad camera angles are hallmarks of both genres. All these bad movie making options are on display in The Puffy Chair.

The Puffy Chair, written and directed by the Duplass brothers, follows Josh (Mark Duplass), girlfriend Emily (Katie Aselton, real life wife of Mark Duplass), and Josh’s brother Rhett as they travel from Atlanta to New York to pick up a purple puffy chair bought on Ebay.

Unlike traditional road movies where the main character or characters meet other people along their travels the trio make a pretty straight line from Georgia to New York. The Puffy Chair is more about what Josh, Emily, and Rhett learn about themselves and each other while on the road trip than the road trip itself. The one notable stop results in Rhett being married for a few hours before the marriage ends. The fallout of Rhett’s marriage highlights problems in Josh and Emily’s own long relationship.

Josh raises a boom box over his head to win back his girlfriend in The Puffy Chair

When in doubt most Gen Xers rely on the Say Anything to move to make up with their girlfriends.

One of the better aspects of the mumblecore genre are the performances. More often than not the performances are more natural compared to movies in other genres. When Emily has a random breakdown, for unknown reasons, you actually believe Katie Aselton is having a breakdown. Sure, you don’t know why but it feels authentic and Duplass’s Josh comes off as a guy who doesn’t really know if he wants to marry Emily. As bad as the direction, or lack of, is in The Puffy Chair the acting is that much better.

(One very cool note: The Duplass’s real parents play Josh’s onscreen parents and have producing credits on the film.)

THE STRAIGHT STORY

Most road trippers take their journey by car, motor cycle or even motorhome. Alvin Straight on the other hand took his road trip from Laurens, IA to Mt. Zion, WI on a John Deere riding lawnmower.

Alvin and Rose look up at the stars in The Straight Story

Sissy Spacek doesn’t get tenth of the recognition she should as one of the best actress working today. Although she has limited screen time The Straight Story is one of her best roles.

Seventy three old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) starts his road trip after learning his estranged brother Lyle (played by Harry Dean Stanton) has had a stroke. Unable to drive himself and unwilling to have anyone else drive him, but needing to reconnect with his brother Alvin goes by the only mode of transportation he has- a green John Deere riding lawnmower.

Like Harry, Alvin meets a lot of people along his 300 mile trip to Mt. Zion. Although you won’t find a Log Lady or a Frank Booth, the supporting cast is just as important to the movie as Alvin. It’s through the stories told to the supporting cast we learn more about Straight, his past, and his family. By the end of the movie the viewer has as much invested in his trip as Alvin. We’re relieved to find Lyle is still alive and the breach between the two brothers may be healed.

Alvin and his new friend share their experiences in WWII in The Straight Story

As Alvin and his new friend share their experiences in WWII screams, gun fire, and the sounds of war are being played like a soundtrack.

David Lynch directing a movie distributed by the Walt Disney Company seems like something right out of a Lynch film, or at the very least a Cronenbergh film. But that’s exactly what happened with The Straight Story and it’s only against Lynch’s tapestry of other movies that the Disney distributed The Straight Story seems odd. In reality, The Straight Story is Lynch’s most touching movies to date.

Although Richard Farnsworth didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, that honor would go to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty, Farnsworth did become the oldest person to be nominated for Best Actor.

Alvin and Lyle reunited at the end of The Straight Story

“You don’t think about getting old when you’re young. You shouldn’t.”

THE ROAD

Sometime in the future the unimaginable happens. Nuclear War has devastated the United States and left a blasted landscape and broken people in its wake. This is John Hillcoat’s The Road. It’s not a paradise. It’s not a place you want to visit and it’s not a place you would want to take a road trip. However, that’s exactly what the Man (Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises) and the Boy (Kody Smit-McPhee, Let Me In) have to do if they want to survive.

The Man, who is slowly dying, believes their future lies at the sea. In order to reach it they have to follow the road. The road is dangerous, but any other option is more dangerous for the father and son. Even along the road the duo meet fellow travelers-rapists, criminals, highway men, and cannibals. These aren’t the kind of people you want to meet in the best of times let alone in a time when day to day survival is fight and a struggle.

The Man and the Boy walk down The Road

“All I know is the boy was my charge. And if he was not the word of God then God never spoke.”

Most of the color has been stripped from the movie. Different shades of black and grays and whites dominant the movie. The lack of color in the movie serves to highlight the misery of the world the Man and Boy travel through. It’s apparent from the start this isn’t The Walking Dead’s post-apocalyptic America where there’s always a glimmer of hope. In fact, there’s very little hope to be found in The Road.

There’s very little hope in The Road, but there is some hope. The bond between father and son runs deep. It’s clear the Man loves his son more than anything else in the world and he will do anything to protect. The boy for his part loves his father to the point where he doesn’t he want to leave him after he has passed on. The Mother he meets at the end of the movie offers one last glimmer of hope. She offers the boy a family and a place to belong. In the world of The Road family may be the most important thing left to humanity.

The Motherly Woman greets the Boy at the end of The Road

“I’m so glad to see you.”

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The End of The Walking Dead As We Know It https://www.amindonfire.com/end-walking-dead-season-eight/ Wed, 18 Apr 2018 03:12:07 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8997 The Walking Dead is showing signs of rot and decay. Can Rick's new world save the series? Will Rick ever stop crying?

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Another season of The Walking Dead has come and gone. What did we learn? First, we learned the second half of season eight wasn’t much better than the first half and didn’t save the season. More importantly, we learned The Walking Dead is limping along to an eventual cancellation.

We learned The Walking Dead can be as saccharine as any family drama seen on the Freeform network. The second half of season eight started with Carl’s death. It was a cheap off screen zombie bite Carl received while killing zombies (something we have seen him do at least 440 times over the course of the series) to honor a vagabond’s mother he met in the woods. Of course, we never see said zombie bite poor Carl. Carl had time somewhere between being bitten by a zombie and becoming a walker to write a bunch of letters. Letters we would hear being read as voice overs, being read in silent with accompanying tears, or being read to other characters. The damn letters had more screen time than Daryl and Jesus combined.

Some guy in the Walking Dead

Who could forget…this guy?

We learned Negan is still the invincible man showrunners set him to be way back in season seven. Yes, nothing can kill Negan. He survived a three floor fall into a basement. He survived ravenous zombies engulfed in flames. He survived the Trash Can Lady with the made up language. He survived traitors within his midst. He even survived having his throat slit!

Let’s take a look at the ridiculousness of Negan’s season ending throat slice. Rick and Negan tumble around for a bit on the ground before Negan gets the upper hand with his phallic symbol Lucille (Named after his dead wife. How very sweet). Except he can’t bash Rick’s head because Rick says, “Carl.” The one word brought nice big tears to Negan’s eyes. If it was that easy to defeat Negan why didn’t Rick try it before? Somehow Rick, blinded by tears he has perpetually shed since season four, slices Negan’s throat at just the right depth as not to actual kill him. It’s an amazing piece of knifemanship. Not only has Rick become a supreme military mind of the post apocalyptic world ( *sarcasm inteded*) he can handle a blade like someone who has been training their whole life.

Daryl wonders why he didn't get more screen time in The Walking Dead

Does Daryl die early in season eight? It’s the only explanation for the lack of screen time.

Rick’s decision to spare Negan’s life wasn’t totally out of left field. Carl’s letters, beaten like a dead horse through the second half of the season, were all about peace, love, harmony, and getting along with each other. With that in mind  and still crying Rick spares Negan’s life. The doctor (What’s his name? Who really cares?),who only a couple of episodes before said he had some “basic medical training,” manages to stitch up Negan’s throat before he dies. I can’t find a decent dentist, but zombie plagued American has more qualified doctors than you can shake a stick at. The training in zombie apocalyptic America must be really great.

Negan was a terror for Rick and the gang for two seasons. Two seasons is about all the series can allot to the bad guy of the moment (See: The Wash, Rinse, Repeat cycle of The Walking Dead). Except, Negan isn’t out of the picture. In Rick’s new world order he will serve as a cautionary warning for anyone who wants to make trouble. Sure, that’s what Rick tells Negan. Let’s face it. You have better odds of winning the lottery than Negan has staying locked in a jail cell.

A nameless doctor helps a blind priest in The Walking Dead

Another disposable character. It’s okay there are A LOT of doctors in The Walking Dead

The last episode of season eight was sweet enough to give viewers an instant case of diabetes. Saviors who only minutes before were ready to kill everyone in Rick’s gang and who had killed before were taken in and forgiven. Tara even gives a nice smile at the end of the season finale to one of the many cardboard characters roaming The Walking Dead landscape (Is there romance ahead in season nine?). Rosita even gives Eugene a playful punch for vomiting on her in a past episode. We could argue she forgives Eugene because he equipped the Saviors with sabotaged bullets. How easily she forgets the bullets he made that were not sabotaged and did kill people. If she could forgive Eugene for being responsible for killing people than we can forgive script writers for Eugene’s not surprising change of heart (Not really but I’m trying to fit into Rick’s new world too). But it’s okay. This is Rick’s hippie free love new world. In this new world Daryl even banishes Dwight instead of killing him for the pain and suffering he caused everyone over the past two seasons. However, not everyone signed up for the Age of Aquarius.

Maggie (Lauren “I still don’t have a contract for season nine” Cohan), however, did not get Rick’s memo. Here’s how season nine will play out. Somewhere at sometime Maggie, Jesus, and Daryl will try to kill Negan. It’s possible Tara and Rosita could also be recruited because both have a bone to pick with Negan. They’ll either fail or succeed. In either case, the group will be fractured into Team Rick and Team Maggie. Everything else that happens in season nine will be set dressing. Team Maggie, following the wash, rinse, repeat cycle, will be around for two seasons.

There was  a time when the season finale of The Walking Dead meant months waiting for a new season to start. Now it means something different. Now we hope the new season will be a little better than the previous season. There’s no more excitement in The Walking Dead to care about a new season. The series has become predictable, stale, and boring. Why bother waiting for another season if all we have to look forward to is more running and gunning?

Negan gives the bird to Rick in The Walking Dead

Sometimes it feels like The Walking Dead is giving the middle finger to all of us.

 

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Lost In Space Crashes On Take Off https://www.amindonfire.com/lost-in-space-crashes-on-take-off/ Mon, 16 Apr 2018 22:15:12 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8970 Netflix's remake of Lost is Space is so boring it will have wanting to see the 1998 movie.

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(Spoilers) Netflix promised a lot of new movies and tv series would be coming in 2018. So far some have been winners (Altered Carbon), some have been good (A Futile and Stupid Gesture), some have been stinkers (The Outsider), and some have been less than promised. Unfortunately, Netflix’s remake of Lost in Space falls firmly in the last category.

Muareen Robinson is smug and smart in Lost in Space

Is she smart? Just ask her. She’ll tell you she is. And she looks down on mechanics.

The original Lost in Space (1965) was based on the novel The Swiss Family Robinson. Like the characters from the book the original Robinsons went out into space looking for a better future. The remake finds the new Robinsons leaving an earth doomed for some reason (Meteor crash? No blue skies!) to colonize Alpha Centauri (Which, for the record, is a galaxy and not a planet).

John Robinson plays back seat to everyone else in Lost in Space

Of course he’s a Navy Seal

When the first episode opens the Robinsons are already in trouble. It’s a pattern that will repeat itself time and time again as season one drags to its ending- The Robinsons get in trouble, the Robinsons get out of trouble, the Robinsons get out of trouble. It’s all manufactured drama to move an otherwise flat and stale series moving along. First it’s the Robinsons’s Jupiter 2 being buried in frozen ice, then it’s John and Maureen being trapped under a transmitter dome (At least they didn’t try to out run the crashing metal tower Prometheus style) followed later by John and Maureen’s chariot (the name they use for a landing craft) being buried in tar.

It's not Mrs. Judy Robinson didn't not not go to medical school to be called Mrs.

It’s okay. She’s a doctor. An 18 year old doctor! The future Doogie Howzer, M.D.

The biggest and worst manufactured crime is the planet the Robinsons and the rest of the survivors of the Resolute, the spacecraft used to take the colonist into space, crash on. It’s a planet near a black hole. A black hole. Could a planet orbit a black hole long enough for life to evolve beyond single cell organisms? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be anything like the Robinsons’s magical planet. The truth is black holes consume anything unlucky enough to cross its path. Even if a planet could survive around a black hole long the black hole in Lost in Space decides to suck in the Robinson’s planet at the right time to create more drama.

Penny Robinson gasps at yet another danger in Lost in Space

Every family has that one child who isn’t as smart as the others. Are you that child?

There are a lot of differences between the remake and the original series. The biggest difference is the size of the cast. In the original series the only main cast was the Robinsons and their pilot Don West along with special guest stars playing one and done characters. A larger cast of characters created for the series means only thing: A lot of extras are going to be killed off.

Don West and the chicken win best actors in Lost in Space

Mark Ruffalo’s younger brother deserves better than being stuck with the Robinsons.

When we see any of the Robinsons in danger there’s a zero percent chance of any harm coming to any of them- Judy Robinson being frozen under ice isn’t a big deal, she’ll be free by the end of the episode. Penny and her friends trapped in a cave full of pterodactyl looking bats attracted to noise, just speak in captions to sneak through the cave. It’s as dumb as it sounds, but none the less showrunners felt the only way to convey what was happening in the scene was through using captions. John and Don’s spaceship blowing up should mean the end of two characters, right? You didn’t really think John and Don died in the exploding Jupiter? Did you?

Will Robinson won't find any trouble in Lost in Space

Danger, Will Robinson? No. There’s no danger. Ever.

Most series on television manufacture drama. The series where the drama is allowed to naturally develop are few and far between. These series tend to have longer episodes and are better scripted. You could almost forgive Lost in Space its trespasses, but the drama and action aren’t creative or original. You don’t watch a lot of television, if any, if you couldn’t predict something was going to be attracted to the survivors tower of light or that Don didn’t die when his Jupiter craft falls off a cliff.

Dr. Smith lounges back in Lost in Space

Sometimes it feels like Parker Posey doesn’t even believe her performance in Lost in Space

If the manufactured drama wasn’t bad enough the series throws Dr. Smith at us. We know from the original Lost in Space Dr. Smith is a liar, a cheat, a saboteur, and a coward. It would have been practically impossible to fool most of the audience into believing the new Dr. Smith was anything different. Instead showrunners created June Harris (Parker Posey). Harris steals the identity from the real Dr. Smith during an attack on the Resolute. All she had to do was take the man’s jacket. Who thought it was a good idea to put a colonist’s credentials in a sleeve jacket? Someone who has never lost a jacket. Harris’s subterfuge lasts an episode longer than needed.

The new Robot from Lost in Space

The new Robby…or just Robot…is possibly the best thing about Lost in Space.

The audience doesn’t need to be convinced Harris is actually Smith. We know Harris’s plan the minute the character is introduced. However, the audience does have to believe the character is pulling something over on the other characters. It takes a great script and good acting to pull this feat off. Lost in Space has neither. Posey, who usually does a much better job, comes off in every scene like someone who is hiding something and is never convincing that she’s an actual doctor. If this were reality someone would have called her out for lying long before Don discovers the real Dr. Smith’s ID. Posey isn’t convincing as someone who is pulling a con.

The Robinsons get out of yet another jam in Lost in Space

The Robinsons, boldy going where no family has gone before.

Netflix hasn’t delivered an adventure series. It hasn’t even delivered a series about a family sticking together through thick and thin. What Netflix has delivered is a ho hum family drama with a large special fx budget. It’s a shame with a cast as solid as the one in Lost in Space something better didn’t find its way onto the screen.

(On the bright side: Oreos, Crown Royal, and the war in Afghanistan are still a thing in the future)

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When You Watch Fear the Walking Dead You’re Watching The Walking Dead https://www.amindonfire.com/fear-walkin-dead-clone/ Tue, 10 Apr 2018 02:55:07 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8950 Remember, when you're watching Fear the Walking Dead you're watching a clone of The Walking Dead.

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(Spoilers ahead) We don’t expect too much from spin off series, do we? Cities may change but NCIS is always going to be the same. Put any words in any combination behind Law and Order‘s colon and it will be the same show. Following the same not so secret formula is how these series continue to stay on the air. Change the formula and the series itself changes. If the series changes people may not watch and that is a risk the networks can’t take. The exact same thing is happening in Fear the Walking Dead.

We were told Fear the Walking Dead would be about how the zombie virus spread. We were told we would see how civilization collapsed. Neither of these things happened. However, we were told we would never know what or how the zombie virus was created. It’s the only thing showrunners and creator Robert Kirkman said would, or would not happen as the case may be, happen in the series.

Instead of a series chronicling the break down of society and the collapse of civilization we got a clone of The Walking Dead. You don’t think Fear the Walking Dead is a clone of The Walking Dead? Read on for more proof:

  • The characters of  The Walking Dead roam from place to place.
  • The characters in Fear the Walking Dead roam from place to place.
Hershel's farm in the Walking Dead

Old Hershel had a farm E-I-E-I-O

  • TWD had the farm
  • FtWD had the ranch..and the farm.
Fear the Walking Dead's Ranch

This ain’t the Buny Ranch

  • The Walking Dead finds a place to call home only to lose it in the most absurd ways possible.
  • FtWD finds a home only to lose it in the most absurd way possible.
Rick still hasn't bathed in 9 seasons of The Walking Dead

Grizzled super post-apocalyptic general Rick Grimes

  • TWD has Rick, a grizzled sheriff who may have had some combat training and may have had some previous training in military strategies becomes super general.
  • FtWD has Madison, a grizzled guidance counselor who had no combat training or knowledge of military tactics becomes super general over night.
Madison in Fear the Walking Dead

Grizzled school guidance counselor super post-apocalyptic general.

  • TWD had Carl who went of the rails, but came back to be one of the “good guys.”
  • FtWD had Chris who went of the rails, but never came back.
  • TWD had Carl who died off screen in the weakest of storytelling devices possible (Why didn’t we see Carl get bitten by a zombie? Because…reasons.)
  • FtWD had Chris who was killed off screen in the weakest plot devices imaginable (A car wreck because he didn’t know how to drive? Uh huh.)
Negan plays pool in the Walking Dead

Even when he’s strapped down and vulnerable Negan won’t die.

  • TWD has the unkillable Negan.
  • FtWD has Proctor John who is quickly shaping up to be another Negan or even a Governor. Take your pick.
Proctor John from Fear the Walking Dead

He’s the Diet Coke of Negan. Just one calorie not Negan enough.

 

 

  • TWD has the Saviors.
  • FtWD has…a motorcycle gang shaping up to be the Saviors. Hey, they even dress like Negan.

 

  • TWD constantly reminds the viewers that they don’t want to become like the bad guys because they’re fighting for something better.
  • FtWD constantly reminds the viewers that they don’t want to become like the bad guys because they’re fighting for something better.

 

  • TWD has lots of flash back scenes.
  • FtWD has lost of flash back scenes.

 

  • TWD the viewer is insulted with touchy feely moments any time a character dies.
  • WD the viewer is insulted with touchy feely moments any time a character dies.

 

And finally…

Morgan in the Walking Dead

  • TWD has Morgan.
  • FtWD also has….Morgan?
Morgan drives away from the Walking Dead

Morgan finds himself with a different crew but the story is the same.

There’s plenty of more examples of Fear the Walking Dead stealing from The Walking Dead. Who could forget the religious zealots from season one who thought the zombies could be cured? Hershel thought the same thing in season two of The Walking Dead.

What can we really expect from a series about a group of people living in post-zombie America? What could be done differently if one series wasn’t going to be about how it all ended? Not much. The Walking Dead has seen a decline in viewership, but not enough to worry about cancellation. Fear the Walking Dead may be getting along with The Walking Dead fans, but for how much longer?

Fear the Walking Dead season four starts Sunday, April 15. It’s the same day The Walking Dead season finale ends.

 

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Ready Player One https://www.amindonfire.com/ready-player-one-family-fun/ Wed, 04 Apr 2018 02:52:07 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8924 Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is programmed for kids, but adults are more than welcome to come along for the ride.

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Ready Player One is a movie based on a book with more 80’s pop culture references you can shake a stick at brought to the big screen by the director who was responsible for a lot the 80’s pop culture referenced in the book is sort of meta when you think about it. Whether Ernest Cline knew it or not he was writing a novel prime for Steven Spielberg to direct.

Many of Spielberg’s movies, as a producer or director, from E.T., The Goonies, Back to the Future (Even though Michael J. Fox didn’t look like he was in high school Marty McFly was indeed in high school) and even Empire of the Sun have kids at the center of the story.  The kids in these movies are thrust into extraordinary circumstances often pitting them against adults whose intentions are less than noble.

Battle scene from Ready Player One

Odds are pretty good someone on your online game lives in your city? Four other people all living within driving distance and falling in love with one of them? Not so good, but who’s counting?

In Ready Player One, Wade Wyatt (named by his dad because it sounded like a comic book super hero’s alter ego) and his friends follow in the footsteps of characters like Elliot (E.T.) , Tim and Lex (Jurassic Park) and Sophie (The BFG) as they fight against forces that would at first appearance be greater than they are. However, like in the other Spielberg movies, the kids come together to defeat the bad guys, win the day, and live happily ever after.

Ready Player One is a good kids movie. In fact, it’s probably the best kids movie to come out in quite a long time. Some people may take offense at the description, but it’s indeed a movie for kids and young adults. There’s nothing challenging in the movie. James Halliday, the creator of the Oasis, planted Easter eggs throughout his Second Life MMORPG on steroids game before he died. Twenty years after his death and not one person had been able to crack Halliday’s first riddle. No one that is until Wade deciphers the most obscure of clues in an old Halliday video so obvious you have to ask, ” No one else figured that out in 20 years?”

The Stacks from Ready Player One

Not so much dystopian as this city just really sucks to live in.

The rest of the movie follows this same simple formula. Clues are easily found and riddles are easily solved. It’s a press play and repeat throughout the whole movie. The one bright shiny spot is the gang going through the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Of course, room 237 plays a prominent role in cracking the “leap” clue. The whole scene is played for laughs, but it’s still amazing to see the CGI characters interact  a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with the live action sets, characters (The Grady Twins), and sounds of The Shining.

Wade receives ownership to the Oasis in Ready Player One

It’s a family friendly happy ending.

If further proof is needed to show Ready Player One is kids movie take a look at the set. The “real world” action is set in a Columbus, OH that we are to believe is in a dystopian future. Sometime before the movie starts the USA suffered all sorts of calamities, economic failures, and just plain bad stuff. We can’t be for sure how bad things became because people can still afford all sorts of gadgets to go into the virtual world of Oasis. Yes, they live in trailer homes stacked on top of each other, but there’s no A Clockwork Orange or Fahrenheit 451 madness going on anywhere in the city. It’s dystopia light in the only way the mildest YA novels like the Hunger Games could imagine.

Yes, Ready Player One falls easily into the kids genre of movies. Unlike a lot of kids movies Ready Player One never talks down to its core audience. The movie isn’t dumbed down for a young audience nor does it insult. In fact, some kids may have ah ha moments when the clues are solved or cheer as Wade, aka Parzival, rallies the troops to fight Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One). There’s still plenty of fun to have even if kids don’t understand or catch a lot of the 80’s references. Adults of a certain age will also enjoy the movie. The only draw back is you may spend more time trying to catch all the 80’s Easter eggs scattered through out the more than 2 hour run time than to the movie.

Steven Spielberg speaks to an audience about movie making

How did this man affect your childhood?

 

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The Real Hero of Black Panther https://www.amindonfire.com/real-hero-black-panther/ Wed, 21 Mar 2018 03:10:19 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8879 Eric Killmonger is dead. Long live Eric Killmonger and Black Panther. Read more in our Black Panther review.

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(LOOK OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD) A lot of people are calling Black Panther “ground breaking.” I’m still not sure what people mean by “ground breaking” in reference to Black Panther. Is it the almost completely black cast that makes Black Panther ground breaking or is it the African-American director? Either way, Spike Lee did it decades ago with School Daze and Do the Right Thing. Is the movie ground breaking because we haven’t see a Marvel movie comprised of  black actors? Considering the lack of diversity in comics and comic book movies this could easily make it “ground breaking.” No matter the reason Black Panther still suffers from the same problems as every other comic book movie. The biggest problem with Black Panther is it celebrates the wrong character.

Some respect should be given to the movie for mentioning, even briefly, the 1992 LA Riots. Comic book movies aren’t known for their social relevance. The closet thing a Marvel movie has come to it is in the first Iron Man movie. Tony Stark, for all of five minutes, felt a pang of remorse when he learned weapons his company developed were being used to kill innocent people (Shocker! Weapons actually kill innocent people). However, he didn’t feel enough remorse to stop making weapons. Stark went onto make a lot of Iron Man suits, destroy New York City, and some European city. So much for any social relevance or commentary.

T'Challa and Eric Killmonger fight for the throne of Wakanda in Black Panther

T’Challa is 0-2 in one on one combat without his Black Panther super soldier serum.

If Black Panther is about anything other than being another two-hour commercial in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe it’s about keeping Wakanda a secret from the rest of the world. The more than two hour run time is dedicated to this theme. All the events, from the murder of Prince N’Jobu to CGI car chases and battle scenes, occur to protect Wakanda from the outside world. Too much of the movie’s run time serves to drive this point home to the audience. It’s also the root of the problem in Black Panther.

A city protected from the rest of the world by an invisible barrier isn’t an original idea. Like the camouflage, cloaking trope used in Wonder Woman there’s nothing preventing anyone from stumbling into the Golden City (also called Birnin Zana in the comic books), the capital of Wakanda. However, the movie and script doctors would have us believe Klaue, a villain who sounds like he’s from the east end of London, is the only person to have ever come across the real Wakanda.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, even with the advent of  satellites, the real Wakanda remained a secret from the outside world for centuries. The outside world, minus one thug, may have been unaware of Wakanda, but there’s more than one scene of Wakandans waving at T’Challa’s ship as it flies over head back and forth to his luxurious high tech palace. We never see these people pass the through the barrier nor do we expect these animal herders to be allowed to enter the city. The people that have managed to live inside the barrier haven’t fared much better than some other people in the poorest parts of Africa. Shuri, T’challa’s love interest in the movie, and T’Challa are shown walking through the lower class section of the city with an armed escort. Shuri wants to help the poor, but T’Challa seems almost against the idea of helping his own people. This isn’t the sort of attitude one would expect from a king who says he’s for all Wakandans. What we learn is when King T’Chaka and T’Challa says they are protecting Wakanda what they really mean is they’re protecting the royal family.

Introduced early in the movie is Eric Killmonger (You really have to love these over-the-top comic book names). During his visit to a museum he gives off all the signals that he’s a bad guy. If you didn’t know he was going to play a big role later in the movie his knowledge of Wakandan vibranium and artificats should have tipped you off  he was someone important. Indeed, Killmonger turns out to be the most important character in Black Panther.

Eric Killmonger strikes a pose in Black Panther

Stay golden, Ponyboy.

His vast knowledge of Wakandan artificats isn’t the only thing about Eric that will make him a threat later. It turns out he was a nineteen year old wunderkind who was the youngest person to ever graduate from MIT. Like all MIT graduates Killmonger turned his advanced degree in whatever into a military career. He was so damn hot the military brass saw fit to send him straight from boot camp to the SEALS. The SEALS weren’t enough to contain Killmonger’s baddassery. He went from the SEALS to Delta Force and onto unnamed secret squads responsible for disrupting governments and assassinating world leaders. To say Eric Killmonger achieved a lot in his young life is quite the understatement. Steve Rogers needed a super soldier serum to be an elite soldier and he’s still not half the man Killmonger turned out to be with only a degree MIT.

Killmonger may be the most unbelievable character in a universe full of unbelievable characters, but what is believable is his drive to take over the throne of Wakanda. Established at the beginning of the movie, and repeated in almost every other scene in the movie, Wakanda had been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries and the kings of Wakanda chose nationalism over helping Africa or the rest of the world. Over the centuries Wakanda didn’t help to stop the slave trade, turned a blind eye to the ivory trade and the trade in blood diamonds, ignored apartheid in South Africa, and turned their backs on the genocides in Rwanda, Central Sudan, and other countries in Africa. Killmonger’s ultimate goal was to bring Wakanda out of isolation and help black peoples not only in Africa but all over the world.

T'Challa looks up at the royals of Wakanda during his coronation in Black Panther

Hakuna Mata. It means “don’t worry.”

Shortly after the movie begins, there’s a big production (You can almost feel the Lion King vibe coming from the screen) made during T’Challa’s coronation any royal who wants to challenge the new king in combat can do so and if victorious would take T’Challa’s place as king. The outcome of the first challenge was never in doubt nor was the second challenge between T’Challa and Killmoner, who was revealed to be a prince of Wakanda. Killmonger wins and by centuries of Wakandan law becomes the new king. Once he’s installed as the new king of Wakanda he puts his plan of helping by any means necessary black people across the world.

The royal family isn’t too happy with Killmonger’s asscention. Although he hasn’t harmed or threatened to harm any member of the royal family they accuse him of being evil and head literally to the mountains. At this point in the movie Killmonger hasn’t harmed anyone except for Ulysses Klaue, a wanted fugitive wanted in Wakanda, the medicine man Zuri, who stepped in the middle of armed combat, and T’challa. What they’re actually afraid of is Killmonger’s plan to bring Wakanda out of the dark and give help to people long denied aid by the most advanced nation on the planet.

In response to Killmonger’s ascension to the throne the remaining members of the royal family and others loyal to T’Challa stage a coupe to remove Killmonger. Killmonger may have been set up as the bad guy in Black Panther, but he was far from being a “bad guy.” He was killed for believing Wakanda had the responsibility to help the oppressed in Africa and everywhere else in the world.

There’s a comparison between Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X with T’Challa and Killimonger that could be made. However, King didn’t sit idly by while Alabama remained segregated. He walked on DC with thousands of others to protest the treatment of African-Americans. King stood up to the power. T’Challa and a generation of Wakandan kings did nothing and would have remained isolated had Killmonger not stepped up. Killmonger is the hero who by the end of the movie forces T’Challa to bring Wakanda out of the dark and into the 21st Century.

T'Challa strikes a pose in Black Panther

T’Challa, the false king of Wakanda.

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Netflix Attempts Gangster Tough With The Outsider https://www.amindonfire.com/netflix-yakuza-outsider-bust/ Mon, 12 Mar 2018 03:33:39 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8861 With The Outsider Netflix has released a boring, cliched filled gangster movie.

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(Spoilers ahead) A few weeks ago Netflix released the trailer to The Outsider. Social media went ballistic at Hollywood and the entertainment industry for what they perceived as another attempt at whitewashing. Now that The Outsider has been released we know it’s not a case of whitewashing, but another example of social media users making snap judgments based on a trailer.

Unlike the recent Ghost in the Shell staring a very Caucasian Scarlett Johansson taking over the lead from a Japanese cartoon character, Caucasian actor Jared Leto plays American soldier Nick Lowell stationed in post-WW II Japan. It’s not whitewashing when a Caucasian is cast to play a Caucasian. The problem with The Outsider isn’t whitewashing, the problem with The Outsider is it’s boring movie.

Jared Leto looks pensive in The Outsider

The amount of time Jared Leto spend in a white t-shirt is equal to the amount of time he looks pensive.

At sometime and for some reason Lowell finds himself in a Japanese prison. While there he helps a Yakuza gangster by the name of  Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi happens to be a high ranking member of the Yakuza in Osaka. When Lowell gets out of prison he has a job waiting for him. If this seems like a quick explanation it’s because from the time Lowell meets Kiyoshi to the time he’s a member of the yakuza happens very quickly.

It’s not every day a white man becomes a member of the yakuza, but the movie would have us believe it only took Lowell beating a manager of a steel company with a type writer and killing two members of a rival gang to become a member. There’s no drama and no  build up to what should be an explosive event. Lowell becoming a member of the yakuza just happens. It’s that simple.

The title would have us believe Lowell would be an “outsider.” There’s very little challenge to a gaijin becoming privy to the inner workings of one of the most notorious criminal organizations in the world. It’s a shame the movie didn’t take more time to focus on Lowell’s attempt to gain acceptance in a world and culture which would normally not be open to an outsider. Instead we get to see him cut off the tips of two of his fingers. Lowell is no more an outsider to Japanese culture and to the yakuza than the viewer.

Jared Leto strokes Miyu's tattoos in The Outsider

It wouldn’t be a movie about the yakuza if we weren’t bombarded with tattoos in EVERY SCENE.

While easing his way into the yakuza Lowell finds time to fall in love with Kiyoshi’s sister Miyu. Their budding romance happens over a quick scene of Lowell getting his back tattooed. Kiyoshi forbids Lowell from seeing his sister until she gets pregnant and then everything is fine. Again, it’s easy and there’s no challenge. Why would there be? The Outsider isn’t trying to be anything but another gangster movie.

As a gangster movie, The Outsider checks off all the boxes on the gangster cliche list. Akihiro, the boss of Lowell’s gang, turns down a deal with the rival yakuza gang. Members of Akihiro’s family are murdered. The rivalry between the two Osaka yakuza gangs turns into a war. Akihiro is betrayed by someone close to him and murdered. In the end, the remaining members turn to Lowell as the new head of their yakuza crime family. Why wouldn’t hardened yukuza gangsters turn to the gaijin for redemption? Everything else happened so easily why would becoming a crime boss be any more difficult?

If you’re looking for a gangster movie stay with the classics like The Godfather, which The Outsider is so desperately trying to emulate. If you’re looking for something more along the lines of The Outsider we recommend movies like Black Rain, Rising Sun. Yes, these movies are from the 80s and may seem dated, but it will meet your craving for East meets West with a yakuza flair. Plus, the acting is a lot better than what you’ll find in The Outsider.

Jared Leto walks through the yakuza to become a member in The Outsider

Anyone can join the yakuza if you’re willing to give up a finger or two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Paradox Of The Cloverfield Paradox https://www.amindonfire.com/the-paradox-of-the-cloverfield-paradox/ Sat, 10 Feb 2018 04:34:58 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8821 Critics are slamming The Cloverfield Paradox, but what do those clowns really know?

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(DANGER, WILL ROBINSON. SPOILERS AHEAD) What is a paradox? A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself, but seems to be true. The statement, “This is statement is false” is a classic example of a paradox. If the statement is true then it’s not false. However, if the statement is false than the statement is true. A famous paradox in science is the paradox of the twin brothers. One travels through space at a high rate of speed while the other stays on earth. The paradox is would one be older than the other? The answer lies within a bunch of science, physics, and other things we don’t have time nor the education to go into (but it has a lot to do with Einstein and Special Relativity). There are a lot of paradoxes to be found in science.

The Large Hadron Collider

Will this high end piece of tech end the world in a bang or a whimper?

The paradox in The Cloverfield Paradox is that it belongs in the Cloverfield universe at the same time it doesn’t belong in the Cloverfield universe. What do we mean by this most perplexing of perplexing questions? It’s simple really.

Daniel Bruhl yells at an airlock in The Cloverfield Paradox

If there’s an airlock on the ship it’s going to be used to blow something out into space. This cheap ploy is used twice in The Cloverfield Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox is a standard science-fiction movie complete with standard science-fiction tropes. An international crew of brainiacs are recruited by an unnamed international NASA like body to save planet earth. In a movie like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine the international crew’s job was to reignite the dying sun. In Julius Onah’s Cloverfield Paradox the international crew’s mission is to spin up a particle accelerator called The Shepard. The Shepard is earth’s only hope to solve earth’s energy crisis.

It should be no surprise that nothing goes right once the accelerator is up and running. There wouldn’t be too much of a movie if nothing went wrong, but more importantly stick-in-the-mud Mark Stambler, played by Donal Logue (Gotham), explains exactly what’s going to happen once the Shepard is turned on. Stambler basically rips off the same list of potential hazardous conspiracy theorists said would happen when the Large Hadron Collider was fired up– Black holes being created, tears in the fabric of the universe, or another Big Bang ending life in the entire universe. What happens is the space station and crew are flung into an alternate universe.

Donal Logue's cameo in The Cloverfield Paradox

In one easy cameo Donal breaks down everything that will happen in the movie.

The only reason we’re all talking about The Cloverfield Paradox is the one word in front of Paradox, “Cloverfield.” If JJ Abrams hadn’t moved in and slapped a Cloverfield on the  property it would have been just another trouble in space movie. Whatever this earlier incarnation would have been called it would still have been a good movie. It may not have been a blockbuster hit and with the relatively unknown cast it would be surprising if it wasn’t a direct to streaming/dvd release.

However, there is enough crazy going on in the movie it would have been just as much fun without the Cloverfield tag. A crew member, Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), loses an arm that starts to crawl around the hallways of the station. Volkov, (played by Aksel Hennie, check him out in the awesome Headhunters) vomits up worms only after the things have traveled and dug through his innards. Jensen, one of the crew members of the current earth’s space station, is found fused inside a wall. Even if it all sounds familiar, like Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo, Selma) sacrificing himself for the crew or Hamilton (Guga Mbatha-Raw, Belle) learning her dead children are still alive on the alternate earth, The Cloverfield Paradox is still fun and entertaining to watch.

The crew in The Cloverfield Paradox stare at.....something

It’s a rule anytime something weird happens in a sci-fi movie the crew must look directly at the camera.

With the Cloverfield tag on the movie Abrams has opened new possibilities and the chance to do something different with a franchise. Most franchises crank one movie out after another following the same formula. Some franchises, like the Insidious franchise, try to carry the same story from sequel to sequel and then into a prequel. Ultimately, as in the case of the Saw, the franchise fizzles out. Rarely does a franchise prove to be as smart and successful as a Planet of the Apes or a James Bond.

Space slug from Empire Strikes Back cast in The Cloverfield Paradox

This may not be the last monster in movie, but dang if it doesn’t look like it.

As Phil Hornshaw and Phil Owen of the Wrap explain, Abrams has created a movie franchise unlike any other movie franchise we’ve seen. The malfunctioning Shepard in The Cloverfield Paradox created the alternate realities where each of the three Cloverfield movies occur. This would explain why Cloverfield doesn’t mention anything about an energy crisis or space stations or space stations falling from orbit. It would also explain why in The Cloverfield Paradox we see Howard’s (John Goodman) fallout shelter from 10 Cloverfield Lane, but no Howard. Furthermore, a rip in reality that also affects time would explain the upcoming Cloverfield movie being set during World War II. The possibilities would seem endless as to what Abrams could do with the Cloverfield franchise.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the most Star Wars of names outside or inside of the Star Wars frnachise.

Some people have complained Abrams is simply buying completed movies and then adding Cloverfield connections. This may be true, but in the case of both 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox those added connections are brilliantly executed. Hamilton’s husband, Michael, guides us through an alternate London being destroyed by unseen monsters. All we hear are the screams and roars of the monsters. Unlike the shaky camera nightmare of Cloverfield the unseen monsters actually work for the betterment of the movie.  He’s also the one that leads us to the very familiar fallout shelter.

Michael looks at the rubble that was once his hospital in The Cloverfield Paradox

The coolest, moodiest shot in the entire movie.

Other critics have shot down The Cloverfield Paradox. The reasons range from the movie being silly to shoddy. These critics completley miss the point of the movie. We’re not watching because it was ever going to be nominated for an award or for the amazing acting. We watch a movie like The Cloverfield Paradox because it’s a fun movie and because a lot of people out there like to make connections to the previous Cloverfield movies when the connection is weak at best. We watch movies like The Cloverfield Paradox because sometimes, even when the movie borrows from every other trouble in space movie, we want to turn our brains off. The “critics” miss the point that it’s a movie in the Cloverfield franchise, a franchise that started the shaky, found footage movies being cranked out on a daily basis and anything is better than the countless cases of nausea Cloverfield has caused.

Cast and crew of The Cloverfield Paradox

Science fiction rule #202: There must be a slow shot revealing a picture of the crew so everyone is reminded who died during the movie.

 

 

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Criterion Collection Releases The Breakfast Club https://www.amindonfire.com/criterion-collection-breakfast-club/ Mon, 22 Jan 2018 03:17:34 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8790 The 80's teenage drama classic gets a 4K face lift thanks to The Criterion Collection

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You know the story. It’s the story about a Brain, an Athlete, a Princess, a Basket Case, and a Criminal. It’s the story of how one Saturday during school detention five kids from completely different backgrounds bonded over It’s the story of The Breakfast Club.

Michael Anthony Hall as Brian in The Breakfast Club

The Brain

Released more than 33 years ago, John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club has become not only an 80s classic, but the template other teen dramas try to be like but more often than not fail. These other movies fail because they forget the simplicity of The Breakfast Club‘s narrative. The wannabes try to be more complicated than they have to be and most don’t remember what it was like to be a teenager and forget the problems that come with being a teenager. Ultimately, these movies fail because the characters aren’t believable and neither are their stories.

Emilio Estevez as Andrew in The Breakfast Club

The Athlete

The brilliance of Hughes’s script is the timelessness of the characters. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Gen Xer, Generation Y (aka Millennials), or Gen Zer, there will always be princesses, brains, criminals, and athletes in every school across the country. These may be generic terms, but they’re appropriate for the movie’s theme that we are more than just labels someone else has placed on us.

Judd Nelson as John Bender in The Breakfast Club

The Criminal

Not only does The Breakfast Club perfectly capture what being a teenager is like it’s also one of the few movies Hollywood can’t remake. Yes, Universal could hire a screenwriter to slap together a script and hire the current hot teen stars fresh from a CW series to fill out the cast, but what could they do to improve on the original? There’s very little Universal could do to set a remake apart from the original. At most, they could introduce cellphones, Facebook, or other social media platforms. Hopefully, Hollywood leaves The Breakfast Club alone.

Molly Ringwald as Claire in The Breakfast Club

The Princess

Fortunately, fans of the movie have another reason to rejoice. The Criterion Collection recently released a 4K restoration of the iconic movie. Fans of the movie who wore out their VHS copies or suffered through the poor dvd and blu-ray transfers will love the 4K transfer. The picture is crisp as one would expect from a Criterion release. The sound also benefits from the transfer. In addition to a beautifully restored movie Criterion has also included more than 50-minutes of deleted footage and more than enough commentaries to make the biggest Breakfast Club fan happy.

Ally Sheedy as the Basket Case in The Breakfast CLub

The Basket Case

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Netflix Time Travels To A Boring Future In Travelers https://www.amindonfire.com/travelers/ Mon, 15 Jan 2018 04:57:17 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8755 You don't need a time machine to know Netflix's Travelers isn't going to end well.

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Travelers was never going to be one of those Netflix series blowing up the internet. It’s not about women in prison or cute kids fighting evil and it doesn’t have the backing of interconnected big-screen, comic-book movies. Travelers is a science fiction series. Science fiction series haven’t traditionally taken off with general audiences. One would be hard pressed to count the number of successful science fiction series on two hands. Even the series fans of the genre would think of (Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe) had to fight and scrape to stay on the air. X-Files, now going on its 12th season, had a long road to travel before it came back to FOX. Even Dr. Who had a long hiatus before it returned. 

It's not Travelers, but he went back in time to set things right.

Why has Quantum Leap not been remade for the the 21st? This needs to happen NOW!

Travelers isn’t just a science fiction series; Travelers is a science fiction series about time travelers. If your list of successful science fiction series was short before it’s been cut at least in half with the time traveler aspect included. Time travel and science fiction are often a combination for early cancellation and non-renewal.

Season one of Travelers will be right up your alley if you’re into science-fiction with a time traveling element. The setup is pretty ingenious. When travelers are sent back into time they take over the bodies and lives of people who are moments from death. It’s a clever way to avoid the pitfalls and traps other series have found themselves in. The writers don’t have to rely on story tropes like “time loops” and not interfering with the “timeline” to move the story along.

Trevor and Philip enjoy their first fast food in the 21st on Netfilx's Travelers

Fast food never tasted so good…when you’re from a post apocalyptic earth.

The first season has a strong 12 Monkeys feel about it. At some point in our future a cataclysmic event occurs sending the surviving population under ground. Travelers, unlike 12 Monkeys, doesn’t show us what the future looks like. We can only infer what it is like from what the characters tell us or show us like when they eat foods no longer available in the future. The travelers are sent back to the 21st Century, or simply the “21st” as travelers call our century, by the Director. 

The Director, we learn, is actually a super computer. It decides who to send back and why. Once in the 21st, the Director sends missions to the teams that have been sent back. Sometimes it even plays judge, jury and executioner. It’s the Director Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack of Will and Grace fame) and his team have pledged allegiance. A super computer used to dictate time travel isn’t a new concept (See 12 Monkeys again, Primer), but in Travelers The Director is more of a character we never meet.

Time traveler puts a thingamajig in a whatchamacallit in Netflix's Travelers.

When you are time traveler it’s super easy to break into top secret military facilities.

Near the end of the first season, Travelers introduces a faction among the travelers who are fighting the Director and anyone who supports it. MacLaren and his team find themselves at odds with many people they knew in the future. In season one, the faction is responsible for a divergent timeline being created in the future. It’s one of the few time travel tropes to be found in the series.

Overall, the first season of Travelers is a smart, entertaining science fiction series. The characters are believable enough. As much as the series focuses on the saving earth aspect it dedicates enough time to develop the travelers’ new lives with the friends and families of their “hosts,” the bodies they inhabit. 

MacLaren's Wife finds out he's from the future in Netflix's Travelers

If the first season is solid science-fiction storytelling the second season is the complete opposite. We can forgive the nanobots the travelers use to save everybody when the story line call for it. We can even forgive the fact that after being betrayed by Faction members posing as friends MacLaren and company keep accepting new faces as allies. What we can’t forgive is the introduction of super character Vincent Ingram.

There’s no argument that Enrico Colantoni (Galaxy Quest) is one of the best character actors working today. In Travelers he plays Vincent Ingram. We learn late in the second season Ingram is the first traveler sent to the 21st. He was part of an experiment to see if time travel was possible. Ingram was meant to die in the 9/11 attacks. Instead, he walked out of the Towers and continued life in the 21st avoiding any digital record the Director could use to find him.

Vincent Ingram has a morning cup of Joe on Netflix's Travelers.

“Now that’s good coffee.”

The Ingram character presents some interesting problems for the Director. However, characters like Ingram, Colantoni’s Carl Elias on Person of Interest, and even The Walking Dead‘s Negan are walking talking deus ex machinas. Ingram is the”unknown” enemy for much the second season, but even after MacLaren learns Igram’s identity he’s unbeatable. He knows what the team is thinking, he knows what the team is going to do even before they know what they’re going to do. It’s a storytelling trope we’ve seen a lot in television over the past couple of years. It gets old, stale, and is played out.

To make matters worse, season two ends with the travelers being exposed to the world. First we’re suppose to believe Ingram is soooo smart and can do anything that he’s basically Superman. Then we’re meant to believe the world would actually believe time travel is real. Why? Because some people uploaded confession videos to Youtube? There are more than 200,000 videos on Youtube claiming Bigfoot is real. So why aren’t news outlets reporting Bigfoot running around a forest somewhere? Because no one believes Youtube videos.

Ingram meets MacLaren for the first time on Netflix's Travelers.

Ingram meets MacLaren on a forced premise.

It’s always a shame when a series starts off strong and ends on a forced premise shoved down the audiences’ throat. Usually it takes more than two seasons before a series falls apart. It took Travelers one and half seasons. Maybe season three, if there is a season three, it can redeem itself by returning to the science-fiction, characters, and solid story telling.

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Is The Walking Dead a Dead Series Walking? https://www.amindonfire.com/walking-dead-dead-series-walking/ Tue, 02 Jan 2018 02:39:10 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8728 The Walking Dead is starting to stink and rot like the zombies populating the series.

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Robert Kirkman has said in more than one interview The Walking Dead comic book, and by extension the AMC series, is a what if the zombie movies we liked so much never ended? Seven years ago it was a good question. After seven and half seasons we know what happens when the zombie movie never ends-it drags on and on, gets stale, repetitive, and boring.

The season eight mid-season finale finds Rick and the gang on the run. Again. On the run from another super bad guy and another sanctuary being razed to the ground. We’ve seen the same thing happen more than once in The Walking Dead and we’ll probably see it again before the series ends. One would think safe shelters would be rare in a post apocalyptic zombie America, but we find ourselves in the SAME spot every two seasons.

A street in Alexandria from the Walking Dead

Are you having a difficult time finding a home in a nice area with good schools? Wait for the zombie apocalypse because there will be an abundance of good homes.

Who was responsible for the farm…I mean the prison…shoot, I mean the town being leveled? Season seven introduced Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Supernatural), as the new bad guy. If the internet was on fire when AMC announced Morgan would be the baseball bat wielding bad guy it couldn’t shut up over speculations of which characters he killed in the season six finale. Full disclosure: Negan really didn’t kill anyone in season six. It was actually season seven, but showrunners did one of their tried, true, and played out rewinds to a few moments before cons so they could keep the kills for season seven.

Season Seven promo poster for the Walking Dead

If Negan was ever “cool” he wore his welcome out episodes ago.

From the moment the series introduced Negan he was set up as a superman, a Walking Dead god. There’s nothing he can’t do, can’t escape, and nothing Rick can think of that Negan hasn’t thought of already. It’s like he’s always one step ahead of Rick (insert evil cackle here). A Negan character gets old after more than a season. We don’t have to watch week to week to know Negan is still in the series and still in charge. A Negan character lacks imagination because we know he’s always going to win or find his way out of any situation. The character creates no tension because any outcome is a forgone conclusion.

Negan slams his phallic symbol in the Walking Dead

Negan looks like a caricature from a 50’s motorcycle gang movie like The Wild One. If it weren’t so sad it would be funny.

We could argue if Negan were the first superman badass character in The Walking Dead that it was a fresh, original character for the series. Except, he’s not the first superman badass character The Walking Dead has inflicted upon us. It was only a couple of seasons ago the Governor was hacking off Hershel’s head.

The Governor rallies his troops in the Walking Dead

The Governor, Negan…samsies!

Negan and the Governor are basically the same character. They both have practically the same back story. Both lost their wives to the infection and turned into psychopaths. Negan, like the Governor, leads a brain washed band of survivors who have been convinced Rick and company are the real bad guys. Sure, a lot of loved ones would be lost during a zombie apocalypse. However, the surviving loved ones aren’t going to all turn into mini dictators. The first time may have been original, but the second time is just lazy.

The only real distinction between the two pyschopaths is Negan’s love of cussing. Yeah, coming out of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s mouth some it sounds pretty funny. After the third or fourth episode though it starts getting old. How many more cute little quips like “I hope you got your shittin’ pants on because you’re about to shit your pants” are we going to have to hear? After a groundbreaking first couple of seasons cussing is the only thing Kirkman and company have to prove the series is still “cutting edge.”

Negan and Rick face off in The Walking Dead

Hey, kids, we’re on basic cable so we can say things like “ass”, “shit”, and “dick.”

Let’s say for the sake of argument Negan and the rest of his stock characters are defeated by the end of season eight, what next? The only thing the series can do is introduce yet another bad guy who will be around for another two seasons. It will be another bad guy who threatens everything Rick and his Merry Men have worked so hard to build.

Fear the Walking dead cast

Oooops…sorry. This is another zombie series coasting on fumes.

A series like The Walking Dead can’t survive if it were about a group of farmers in a post apocalyptic America. As bad as the series is becoming a series about a bunch of hippie farmers would be even worse. When Negan is gone there will be the brief interlude of the gang trying to find a new home, but eventually another baddie will come along to overturn the apple cart. It’s the only option, short of ending the series (Hahahahaha! That’s not going to happen any time soon), The Walking Dead has to continue to seasons nine, ten, and beyond.

The Walking Dead has survived more on the characters it has killed off than actual story or plot. Viewers tuned in just as much to see who died as to know what was going to happen in an episode. Now we’re at the point most of the main characters that can be killed off have been killed off.

Ethan Embry as short lived character on the Walking Dead

Remember when Ethan Embry was on The Walking Dead? Neither do we, but his character is dead so it doesn’t matter.

The show doesn’t have enough balls to kill off a main character. Without Rick there is no Walking Dead series. Daryl, a character who was created for the series, is so popular ratings would plummet to cancellation numbers if he were to be written out of the series.

If Daryl dies on the Walking Dead we riot

Daryl dies we riot. Like Daryl is ever going to die.

Real candidates for the chopping block would be characters like Morgan, Aaron, or Tara. Characters close enough to the core group their death may mean something, but would not fundamentally change the nature of the series. More importantly for the series killing off a minor character would preserve the illusion that the series is willing to take chances.

Remember when the series took a lot of flack for its lack of diversity? Yeah, they’re not going to kill off Michonne.

We’ve entered what I like to call the Ensign Red Shirt Zone. For those of you who don’t remember the old Star Trek series any ensign wearing a red shirt was killed in the first few minutes of the episode. Where they came from and who they were was never really an issue. It’s where we are now in The Walking Dead. There’s a lot of random people showing up out of nowhere so the series can kill them off.

Maggie drives back to the Hilltop in the Walking Dead

Who cares who is sitting behind Maggie? No one does, not even the writers.

This is the part where fanboys chime in about Carl’s bite. Let me ask you this, “When did Carl get bit in the season eight mid-season finale?”  No one saw it happen, but we’re expected to believe a zombie bit him on the stomach. Let me ask you this, “When have we ever seen a character get a simple bite?” Compared to the other bites we’ve seen over the last seven and half seasons the bite mark shown is barely a flesh wound.

A bite on Carl's stomach in The Walking Dead

Zombie bite or love nibble? You decide.

Is it really a zombie bite? Remember when the showrunners lead audiences to believe Glenn was dead? It was the biggest “fuck you” moment when we found out Glenn was hiding under a trash bin the entire time. I could be wrong, but I think the showunners are having another fuck you moment at the fan’s expense. When season eight starts back we’ll learn a human or an animal bit him.

Glenn surrounded by zombies in the Walking Dead

He’s not screaming. It’s the showrunners giving a giant middle finger to the fans.

The Walking Dead had a lot of potential in the early seasons. Big questions about humanity, a lack of humanity, and where society goes after everything ends could have been asked. Any pretense of meaningful storytelling was cast aside for explosions and cussing.

The Walking Dead showrunners have decided to repeat and regurgitate the same story and the same characters season after season. Then they get on The Talking Dead, the reach around show for The Walking Dead, and tell the audience what a great job they’re doing and how we should all count ourselves lucky we live in a time when The Walking Dead is on the air.

Zombies in Walking Dead look just like zombies in Game of Thrones

Ooops…sorry. This is another show about zombies. And it’s doing a much better job than the Walking Dead.

How many voice overs, how many flashbacks, and how many Super Negan’s are we going to have to endure? How many character are going to say “I don’t want to kill anymore” or “ Why are we fighting if we are going to end up like (insert bad guy of the season).” When are people going to wake up and realize Rick is a shitty leader? How many more plans are going to go bad because one of the characters think they have a better idea? 

After seven and half seasons, I say no more.

Ezekiel and Shiva pose for the Walking Dead

You know you got problems when the most touching scene in the series is the death of a CGI tiger.

 

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Bright: Netflix’s First Blockbuster Movie Is Not The Worst Movie Of 2017 https://www.amindonfire.com/bright/ Mon, 25 Dec 2017 05:47:49 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8707 Bright may not light up your Christmas, but it's a nice two hour break from the stress of the holidays.

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There was a time David Ayer was a serious director, but somewhere along the way, he gave up any pretense of doing a serious film. And that’s a shame. Harsh Times and Street Kings put Ayer’s name on the map. End of Watch made him a go-to director for grit and realism. Ayer followed End of Watch with the much-maligned Sabotage (which is not as bad as the critics would have you believe) and the gritty World War II movie Fury (Starring a mohawked Brad Pitt). Unfortunately, none of the grit made it into the sub-par Suicide Squad. Following on the heels of Suicide Squad, Netflix has brought Ayer’s latest offering, Bright, to the small screen.

Do you remember the movie Alien Nation? Maybe you remember the short lived television series. The really condensed backstory of both the movie and the series is this- aliens, called Newcomers, crashed their spaceship in America and become assimilated into society at varying degrees. One of the aliens, Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin, The Princess Bride) is the first alien to be in the Los Angeles Police Department. Sam faces ridicule, taunts, and racism. His partner, Matthew Sykes (James Caan, The Godfather), doesn’t want to be partnered with a Newcomer.

Why are we asking you if you have seen Alien Nation and giving you an edited version of the story? Because it’s the exact same theme as Bright. Bright, like Alien Nation, uses mythical creatures as stand-ins for minorities and the issues they face in the United States. Bright removes the aliens and adds orcs and elves. Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is partnered with the LAPD’s first orc police officer, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, It Comes at Night). Ward doesn’t want to be partnered with an orc and the other officers in the police department don’t want an orc on the force.

Ayer attempts to bring some grit and realism to Bright. It may be difficult to see through the magic, the orcs,  and the elves. It’s there, you just have to look for it. It begins when Ward and Jakoby save an elf, Tikka, and a magic wand meant to be used to summon the Dark Lord. Ward, Jakoby, and Tikka race through the city, End of Watch style, trying to get to federal agents of the Magic Department. The entire time they’re hunted by gang members, police, and one pissed off elf named Leilah (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus) who needs the wand to summon the Dark Lord.

Will Smith as an LAPD officer in Netflix's Bright

Fantasy stories love cliches. Bright’s cliche is Smith is the 1 in a million human who can use a wand to save the day.

Like a lot of fantasy books (The Hobbit, anything by Terry Brooks or Robert Jordan), Bright is packed with silly and almost unpronounceable names you forget as soon as you hear them. There’s a convoluted prophecy of the Dark Lord coming back to earth and the wands it takes to bring him back. No fantasy story would be complete without magic spells and made up languages that require subtitles. Bright has it all in spades. It’s enough to turn anyone off who’s not into the sword and sorcery genre.

Is Bright the worst movie of 2017? Some would have you believe it is the worst movie of 2017. These people forgot Daddy’s Home 2, The Dark Tower, Monster Trucks, Sleepless, and remakes of both Flatliners and Going in Style came out in 2017. There are more movies that came out in 2017 far more deserving of the title Worst Movie of 2017 than Bright.

Edgar Ramirez as wand hunting Kandomere in Netflix's Bright

Underutilized Edgar Ramirez is more cardboard than substance in Bright and he’s dressed like an Elf dandy.

Bright isn’t the best movie of 2017 either. Like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Bad Boys, and a million other police movies, Bright is basically a buddy cop movie. Because it’s a buddy cop movie in the tradition of buddy cop movies it’s a foregone conclusion Ward and Jakoby will become friends and save the city by the end of the movie. Bright doesn’t break the mold when it comes to the buddy cop genre. In fact, it follows every cliche to be found in the genre. 

In today’s day and age of comic book movies with underdeveloped characters and stories that are more special effects than substance, it’s not fair to heap unwarranted criticism on one movie that follows the same formula. Those movies rake in billions and no one bats an eye. Fanboys and critics heap praises on movies like Captain America: Winter Solider with one plot hole after, but find offense in Bright. Bright follows the same formula as those movies- underdeveloped characters, explosions and property destruction, more special effects than exposition, and crazy fight scenes.

Noomi Rapace in Netflix's Bright

Bright, like comic book movies, is a fun turn your brain off two-hour movie. At the very least, it’s ten times better than Suicide Squad.

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Better Watch Out for a Red Christmas Horror https://www.amindonfire.com/better-watch-out-red-christmas/ Thu, 21 Dec 2017 08:23:19 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8684 A quick review of two new Christmas horror movies- Red Christmas and Better Watch Out

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We really like the Christmas horror movies at the Mind on Fire offices. Why? Maybe because it’s a break from the bright flashing lights, the carols, and the movies about families solving all their problems in one night. Maybe it’s because there’s really no season off limits to scares and frights. This year we introduce two newer movies into the Christmas horror catalog. One is decent, the other one crashed and burned on take off. (Spoilers ahead)

Better Watch Out begins by introducing us to Luke (Levi Miller, Pan) and his babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge, The Visit). The first thing you’ll notice is that Ashley isn’t really any older than her charge. In fact, the two could be the same age. Is it enough to stop watching? Maybe not, but you can’t stop asking yourself “Why does Luke need a babysitter who’s the same age as he is?”

Luke tried to make the moves on Ashley in Better Watch Out

Better Watch Out starts out with potential. It could have been a movie about an awkward kid trying to make the moves on the girl he has had a crush on for years. The movie did attempt this, but then it went into home invasion territory. Home invasion movies are fine too, but it’s revealed rather quickly the home invasion is a ruse Luke set up with the help of his friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould, The Visit). From there the movie does

Luke’s plan the entire time was to kill Ashley and her boyfriends and therein lies the one big problem with the movie. The movie hinges on Luke’s parents, Robert (Patrick Warburton, The Tick) and Deandra Lerner (Virginia Madsen, Sideways), staying away from the house long enough for Luke to carry out his plan. How long is any party, Christmas or otherwise, that would allow a murder to be committed and a crime scene cleaned of evidence? Perhaps there would have been enough time to kill Ashley’s boyfriends and clean up all the evidence if everything had gone according to Luke’s original plan. However, nothing goes according to Luke’s plan.

Garrett gets caught up in Better Watch Out

At least he didn’t rap in this one. Could anyone handle another rap by the kid from The Visit? I think not.

Ashley fights back more than once and freeing herself from her duct tape bonds. When she’s not trying to break free we’re treated to Ashley telling Luke and Garrett the same thing over and over- Let me go, it’s not too late. When she does break free the chase is boring. Nothing beats a good killer-victim chase in horror movie, but it takes away from the precious time Luke needs to complete his plan. Ashley’s boyfriend, Ricky, also fights back which adds more time Luke has to make up somewhere. Don’t forget the totally unplanned murder of Garrett.

Let’s just say for a moment a teenage boy, even one as psychotic as Luke, could plan, stage, and execute a murder in one night there are still problems with the plan. There’s all the evidence Luke left in the house for investigators to find. For starters, Luke climbing into his window from the roof would have left footprints, foot prints the same size of Luke’s feet. Even if he managed to cover his footprints well enough to fool police the carpet leading into his bedroom is going to be wet.

Virginia Madsen in Better Watch Out

Better Watch Out is what happens when spoiled, entitled brats are left home alone.

So Luke’s whole plan is hogwash. He would have been caught even if Ashley hadn’t survived by duct taping her wound (really?). But what about the acting? Levi Miller can’t pull off the crazy the movie wanted you to feel. He does pull off the entitled brat thing pretty well. Entitled brat not getting his way is pretty much what this movie is about. He can’t the girl so he goes psycho. Millennials.

As horror movies go Better Watch Out fails to deliver any real jumps or scares. It’s really a horror movie set at Christmas. Better Watch Out is a reminder why faceless killers, monsters, Santa demons, and disfigured murders make the best killers in horror movies. Speaking of disfigured…

Cletus from Red Christmas

Sure it’s an obvious rubber mask the actor can’t even talk out of, but it’s soooooo cute!

We wanted to like Red Christmas because of Dee Wallace. Wallace has some serious horror movie creds under her belt so we were excited to see her in a new horror movie. We wanted to like Red Christmas because the main baddy is named Cletus. Cletus! However, we can’t like Red Christmas because there is very little to like in Red Christmas.

Red Christmas starts with a flashback at an abortion clinic in Australia. A bomb goes off in the abortion clinic before the opening credits are finished. It’s revealed later in the movie after the blood and mayhem have commenced, Dianne (Dee Wallace) was having an abortion as the bomb exploded. Flash forward to the present and Diane is with her family ready to open Christmas day.

Dee Wallace in Red Christmas

Wasn’t she the mother in E.T.? Couldn’t she act at one point in time?

Red Christmas is a low budget horror movie. There’s nothing wrong with a low budget or independent horror movies. Some of our favorite horror movies have been from independent filmmakers. However, low budget and independent means you have to work a little harder making your movie. It doesn’t feel like anyone worked very hard on this movie.

The acting is cardboard at best. Wallace’s whole performance feels forced. The rest of the cast doesn’t help either. Is anyone even scared a maniac is picking off their family one by one? If they are it doesn’t come across on the screen. The effects are particularly bad and not in a goof Evil Dead kind of way. In one particular scene, pregnant Ginny’s stomach moves at an angle that gives it away as being a prop. Sure, we know the actress was probably not pregnant during filming, but at least attach the stomach more secure so we can at least keep our suspension of disbelief intact.

Red Christmas house under invasion

Red Christmas is set in Australia. We think. A quarter of the cast is American and nothing else even remotely looks like Australia.

Red Christmas‘s one saving grace is Cletus kills. Like a lot of horror movies, the kills are over the top and bloody. There’ a death by blender scene that’s quite unique (Was that a Ninja blender or a Vitamix). Except it makes the movie more confusing. The movie is supposed to be serious, it was never set up as corny, but the fake gore and blood tell us the movie is supposed to be goofball fun. Which one is it?

This Christmas season didn’t bring the horrors and thrills like last year. Both movies missed the mark by a long shot. If you can only watch one go with Better Watch Out. At least in Better Watch Out you can see a reenactment of the paint can scene from Home Alone.

Sheriff being killed by a bear trap

Because we couldn’t find a good still of the blender scene here’s the local sheriff being cut in half by a bear trap. The blood sprayed out like the Christmas spirit.

 

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Christmas with the Family https://www.amindonfire.com/christmas-with-the-family/ Mon, 18 Dec 2017 03:13:45 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8654 Nothing goes together like Christmas and family. We come together to eat, drink, and be merry. Gifts are exchanged. Wrapping paper is discarded without a thought except for what’s inside bright, shiny boxes. Feasts are devoured and everyone gets along. Right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes families and Christmas often mix together like oil and water. […]

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Nothing goes together like Christmas and family. We come together to eat, drink, and be merry. Gifts are exchanged. Wrapping paper is discarded without a thought except for what’s inside bright, shiny boxes. Feasts are devoured and everyone gets along. Right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes families and Christmas often mix together like oil and water. We bitch and squabble. The smallest thing can set off a not so joyous noise.

Most of the family Christmas movies, by “family” we don’t mean family friendly, follow the same patterns and themes. In family Christmas movies people are either dying or dead. Usually there’s a conflict between family members that is either resolved before the death of a character or after the death. It’s familiar territory the four Christmas films in this review all share.

In Nothing Like the Holidays, Edy Rodriguez (Alfred Molina, Spider-man 2) has been diagnosed with cancer. In The Family Stone, Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton, The Godfather) has also been diagnosed with cancer. Both parents decide not tell their perspective families of their condition so they may have one last happy holiday. The difference between the two is Edy’s decision to conceal his condition drives his family apart.

Eating Christmas Dinner in Nothing Like the Holidays

Silence may be golden, but in Edy’s case it’s devastating. Edy’s wife, played by the late Elizabeth Pena (Rush Hour), announces to her children at dinner she’s divorcing their father. After her announcement old, buried sibling rivalries and grudges boil to the surface and overflow. It’s bad enough Edy’s son, Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez, Lady in the Water), decides to reenlist with the Army so he can return to Afghanistan. Yes, divorce at Christmas makes a happy time for the whole family. No, it doesn’t and why Edy kept up the charade is a mystery the script doesn’t answer.

Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena in Nothing Like the Holidays

Christmas conquers all, including lies,deception, and cancer

Sybil’s family wasn’t necessarily falling apart before or after she revealed to her family of her cancer diagnosis. In fact, the Stone family seems to have their holiday shit together. It’s actually Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker in a rare non-annoying performance) who causes the anarchy at the Stone’s family Christmas. To be fair, it’s not all Meredith’s fault. Although the Stone family seems to be free loving, tolerant hippie liberals they do everything to stop their brother and son, Everett (Dermot Mulroney, s) from marrying Meredith. 

The Family Stone plays games at Christmas

Of all the characters in The Family Stone, Susannah is a cardboard cut out used for prop purposes.

Edy is dying in the Nothing Like the Holidays, Sybil dies before the end of The Family Stone and Almost Christmas opens ten months after the death of Walter’s (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon) wife. A time like this should be a time for reflection and celebrating the life of loved one. However, it turns into one family squabble after another starting with sisters played by Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane) and Kimberly Elise (For Colored Girls).

Most families know why there is tension between members. The viewer doesn’t learn until late in the movie why the sisters don’t get along with each other. It’s the job of a movie to let the viewer in on why the sisters are at each other’s throats. This is only one of the problems in a movie that had started out about a family coming together after the death of their mother.

The Family Stone eats Christmas dinner

Another Christmas movie, another Christmas movie dinner.

The other problem with Almost the Holidays are the characters in the family. Other than the sisters, the family of characters seem too perfect. One of Walter’s sons, Christian (Romany Malco, Weeds) is running a successful bid for Congress. Another son is set to make it big in the NFL. Even Aunt May (Mo’Nigue, Precious) is a super star who has backed the likes of Chaka Khan and Tina Turner. These perfect characters require the script writer to create conflict that comes as forced and not genuine.

Christian, in an attempt to secure big backers, promises to tear down a row of city buildings. One of these buildings is the soup kitchen Walter and Grace volunteered at for years. However, it’s not until Christian decides to go along with the redevelopment that we learn of the Walrer/Grace connection. The audience should have been in on how important the soup kitchen was to Walter from the very beginning of the movie.

Promo poster for Almost Christmas

Fun Fact 1: the movie budget didn’t include a budget for Photoshop.

Love the Coopers is another movie about family dysfunction exposed at the holidays. This time the family in question is, of course, the Coopers. Their story doesn’t start over the death of someone, but over the end of Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte’s (Diane Keaton) marriage. The death, or near death, doesn’t come until near the end of the movie. 

The Coopers, for the most part, are like many families you may know. There’s no super star upcoming football player or congressman. No one in the Coopers has any kind of career in Hollywood like Roxanna in Nothing Like the Holidays and no one is exchanging love interests like in The Family Stone. No, the Coopers are just like any average family you would find on any neighborhood street in America.

The Coopers eat Christmas dinner

Sometimes I think Christmas movies are nothing but an excuse to show people eating dinner.

Average families have their problems too. Like the sisters in Almost Christmas, Charlotte and Emma (Marisa Tomei, Spider-Man: Homecoming) haven’t gotten along in years. There’s also a lot of love problems within the Cooper clan. Sam wants to keep his love, their grandson Charlie doesn’t know how to approach his love interest, and their daughter Eleanor doesn’t think she deserves love. However, all these problems are solved over the almost death of the grandfather and father Bucky (Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine).

The Coopers may be an average family, but their problems are solved just like Walter’s family’s problems, the Stones’s issues, and the Rodriguezes’s problems are solved. What sets Love the Coopers apart from these other movies is the story is narrated by the family dog, Rags (voiced by an almost unrecognizable Steve Martin). It’s a cute little device that let’s us know not only is Christmas a magical time, but our pets know more than they let on. 

The cast of Love the Coopers

Fun Fact 2: Another attempt at Photoshop gone bad. Why not take a picture of the cast when they’re all on set.

All of these types of movies at times feel hollow and fake. We’re lead to believe one day, even a special day like Christmas, can heal a life time of mistakes. But maybe we want our family Christmas movies to be a little cheesy and safe. Christmas, after all, is a magical time. So, why can’t it heal a lifetime of divide?

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A Merry Friggin Christmas https://www.amindonfire.com/merry-friggin-christmas/ Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:07:49 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8643 One of Robin Williams's last roles was A Merry Friggin Christmas. If it's not on your holiday rotation of movies it should be.

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A Merry Friggin Christmas doesn’t even sound like it’s pretending to be holly or jolly. Indeed, it’s not. Boyd Mitchler (Joel Mchale, Community) and Virgil Mitchler (Robin Williams) are a son and father who haven’t spoken to each other in years. Why? Because Virgil is an alcoholic Scrooge who ruined Christmas for a young Boyd. Of course, they’re thrown back into each other’s lives at Christmas.

The set up is somewhat original. Boyd’s family returns home for the baptism of his brother’s baby. As horrible as Boyd’s Christmases were he is bound and determined to give his own son one last Christmas before he stops believing in Santa Claus. However, the poor guy’s presents are left at the Mitchler house in Chicago. Boyd, being father of the year, and Virgil jump in Virgil’s truck and head to Chicago for Project: Gift Retrieval. 

Robin Williams and Joel McHale drive to Chicago

Is A Merry Friggin Christmas a Christmas classic? Well, not quite. Friggin is a little darker than most of your holiday fare. Scattered throughout the laughs are references to Virgil’s alcoholic past. Donna, played by an underutilized Candice Bergen, tells Luann (Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls) that when things got bad she would leave Virgil, but would come back to him later. She never says what “bad” was, however, we can infer from the expression on her face  that it was probably violent.

Even the funny scenes are tinged with a hint of darkness. Nelson Mitchler (Clark Duke, Hot Tub Time Machine) finds himself in the middle of Virgil and Boyd’s road trip because he locked himself in a port-a-potty during a PTSD meltdown. His baby isn’t his baby at all. It’s actually an ex-girlfriend’s baby who abandoned it with Nelson. Boyd’s sister is married to a registered sex offender.

Heading home with gifts for Boyd's kid

Christmas movies always have the one pivotal scene, after the scene where the family apologizes for years of being crappy to each other, that bonds the family together. Boyd, Virgil, and Nelson bond over how they’re going to dispose of a homeless Santa Claus they hit with Virgil’s truck. They decide on dismemberment. Yes, the Yuletide tradition of dismembering a body and hiding the body parts in different locations.

Normally at the end of a Christmas movie the whole family comes together and the audience is to assume life will be great for everyone. The end of Friggin leaves it up in the air.There are no apologies, no hugs between father and son, and no tears. Virgil is still drinking, but Boyd and Virgil seem to have buried the hatchet or at least they’ll be able to move on from a childhood ruined by alcoholism.

Dinner time at A Merry Friggin Christmas

A Merry Friggin Christmas may not find its way into the Christmas Movie Hall of Fame. At times, the comedy is typical and forced. Other times, the comedy is dark. However, the scenes with Joel McHale and Robin Williams bouncing jabs at each other make up for the lulls in the movie. It’s also worth watching Friggin to see Robin Williams in one of his last roles. Even at his worst, and A Merry Friggin Christmas is not his worst role, Williams is funnier than most other comedians on the big screen. Watch A Merry Friggin Christmas at least once and decide if it should be on your annual holiday rotation of movies.

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Stephen King and the Horrors of Marriage https://www.amindonfire.com/stephen-king-horror-marriage/ Sun, 29 Oct 2017 23:48:46 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8589 Marriage isn't for everyone. Gerald's Game and 1922 show viewers some marriages can be deadly.

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Frank Sinatra sang love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. Some folks have said marriage is an institution to which Mae West added, “I’m not ready for an institution yet.” Even though more marriages will end in divorce than will succeed people still take the “plunge.” Stephen King’s recent renaissance continues with two adaptions about horrible marriages going from bad to worse.

GERALD’S GAME

Marriage depicted in Gerald's Game is about control

Gerald’s Game isn’t a rape fantasy. It’s not even a horror movie.

Gerald’s Game was built up as movie about a kinky-sex game gone bad. The book the movie was based may have had sick, twisted games between the covers, but the movie lacks a lot between the opening and closing credits.  A game implies a series of events, but Netflix’s Gerald’s Game is far more tame than even the promotional posters would have us believe. What we get in Gerald’s Game is not a game, but another mediocre King adaptation.

Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino, Watchmen) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek) go to their summer cabin with the hope of saving their failing marriage. Like a lot of couples in the same situation, the Burlingames think they can solve their marital problems by solving things in the bedroom.

Jessie Burlingame is handvuffed to the bed in Gerald;s Game

If you take out the first half of their last name you’re left with “game.” Cute.

The “game” implied in Gerald’s Game consists of Gerald handcuffing Jessie to their bed. Nothing even remotely sexual happens.We do get a conversation about their failing marriage and how most of the responsibility falls on Gerald’s shoulders. After too much time is spent on Gerald’s shortcomings he dies from a heart attack. Twenty minutes later Jessie has a complete break from reality.

The prospect of being found dead, handcuffed to a bed, may cause fear and anxiety in a lot of people. We’re supposed to believe this break in reality results in Jessie talking to a tougher, stronger version of herself and to a version of her husband her mind has created. We’re also supposed to believe Jessie’s break from reality brings back long dormant memories of being molested by her father. Director Mike Flanagan (Hush) wants us to believe these things, but we’re never convinced because the script and performances aren’t believable.

Having your feet licked by a giant with glowing eyes isn’t nearly as scary as one would think.

Carla Gugino has excelled in other movies and television series like Sin City, Roadies, and Watchmen. However, in Gerald’s Game she never convinces us that she’s in any real danger. We see the tears and we see her cut open her own hand to free her herself from the handcuffs, but none of it seems genuine. Gugino doesn’t even show fear when a death like figure appears in her bedroom. It’s a cheat when we learn the death like figure was real and was arrested later for other crimes.

She’s not showing fear because she has transformed herself into a strong willed woman. Quite the contrary. She still has to be reminded by her phantom husband that death is near. Gugino’s not showing fear because her performance, like the material, is flat. We never know why Jessie thinks confronting the man in court will heal her mental and physical wounds.

The dog eats parts of Gerald in Gerald's Game

How does the dog get in the house and other things in Gerald’s Game that don’t make sense.

Gerald’s Game represents everything that could go wrong when adapting a Stephen King novel into a movie. First, the movie is loosely based on the source material. Second, the writers didn’t know what to keep, what to add, and what to flesh out. Gerald’s Game  isn’t scary and it’s not suspenseful, It barely makes the point that some people’s future choices are determined by the events in their childhood. At best, Gerald’s Game is a 2-hour time filler.

Jessie faces the Moonlight Man in Gerald's Game

Why does confronting a giant you didn’t know existed cure Jessie of her mental scars? The movies doesn’t bother to explain.

1922

Shortly after the release of Gerald’s Game Netflix released another King adaptation. 1922, based on the novella in Full Dark, No Stars, is also about a marriage gone bad. Unlike Gerald’s Game the consequences in 1922 can’t be solved by facing a giant in a courtroom. 

Thomas Jane stand in a corn field with blood on his hands for 1922

It’s not just metaphorical blood on his hands.

As the title implies, 1922 is set in a day and age when women didn’t have as many freedoms as they have today. It was only two years before women were given the right to vote. Men controlled many aspects of a woman’s life. Women had even less rights once they were married. Although by the 20s women legally had property rights it wasn’t always as simple as doing what you wanted. This “gray area” is where Arlette James (Molly Parker, House of Cards) finds herself in at the beginning of 1922.

When Arlette goes to her husband Wilfred James (Thomas Jane, The Punisher) to tell him she wants to sell the farm her father left her after his death she isn’t looking for permission. However, if he agrees it would make selling the farm a lot easier. To compound matters, Arlette also wants a divorce.

Molly Parker as Arlette James in 1922

More modern woman than Wilfred could take.

Wilfred isn’t presented as a wife beater or someone who is cruel to his wife. If anything, Arlette’s problem with her husband is the fact that he’s happier in the country and on the farm and Arlette wants to live in the city. Wilfred is also stubborn, very stubborn. Arlette isn’t a shrinking violet. She openly argues with Wilfred about selling the farm and who their son, Henry, will live with after they divorce. She even flaunts her affairs in front of his face. The combination has volatile results.

Wilfred does the only thing he thinks he can do-he decides to murder his wife. Even worse, he convinces Henry to help him commit the act. Wilfred may not have been a wife beater, but he manipulated his son into thinking murder was the only thing they could do to keep the farm and stay together. Wilfred also successfully convinces the authorities and neighbors that Arlette left him and Henry. However, Wilfred learns later that everything comes with a price.

Rats follow Wilfred as he walks up stairs in 1922

The rats never leave Wilfred alone.

If there’s a message at the heart of 1922 it’s that karma is a bitch. Everything that happens to Wilfred is a direct result of murdering his wife. Thomas Jane, no stranger to staring in King projects, plays Wilfred not as a maniac, but a man slowly losing his grip on his sanity. He realizes just a bit too late it would have been easier to agree with Arlette than send him and his son down paths with bad endings.

The supporting cast in 1922 is just as important as Thomas Janes’ main role. Molly Parker created a character that maybe a little to intimidating for an early 20th century man. Her presences is felt through the entire movie. It’s  also nice to see Neal McDonough play against type. McDonough plays fellow farmer Harlan Cotterie who’s life is forever changed by Wilfred’s actions.

Thomas Jane sits in church during 1922

Does Wilfred ever really ask for forgiveness for a crime he got away with?

1922 may not be a horror movie in the way that most of think of horror movies. 1922 is more of psychological study than a horror movie. Wilfred’s actions may be horrific, but it’s the slow burn to the end of the movie that will disturb most viewers. We can see how one bad action leads to another which leads to another. Unlike Gerald’s Game, 1922 will stick with you and have you thinking about what the movie is trying to do and say.

If you can only watch one of these movies make it 1922. Both are streaming on Netflix so you can decided for yourself which is the stand out King adaptation. Let us know what you think.

End title card for Netflix's original 1922, based on a novella by Stephen King

Stephen King’s 1922

 

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It Comes At Night https://www.amindonfire.com/it-comes-at-night/ Sat, 21 Oct 2017 01:41:07 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8552 One of the best movies of 2017 you didn't see.

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We live in a BuzzFeed, slide show world. We live in a culture with a short attention span, a society that wants everything explained and spoon fed to us. We’re happier with a two-hour spandex filled commercial pimping the next CGI, explosion filled movie than a movie with substance.

Director Trey Edward Shults isn’t a parent with a spoon making plane noises so the audience will eat It Comes at NightIt Comes at Night reveals very little through the course of the movie. It wants to keep its secrets. At the same time, Shults challenges us to pull those secrets from the movie.

We know some time has passed since a virus devastated the country. Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his family have secluded themselves from the rest of the world, but not safe from the virus. In the opening scenes Bud (David Pendleton) is dying from the virus. Before the opening credits have finished, Paul is placing a pillow over Bud’s head and shooting him, a mercy killing.

Joel Edgerton protects himself from an unknown virus

Pneumonic plague was airborne, spread when the infected coughed or sneezed.

What killed Bud? The camera pans across a room in the house Travis, his wife Sarah, and their son Travis call home. It doesn’t settle on the painting, but Travis stares at it for a moment. It’s no accident the painting is in the movie. The painting is The Triumph of Death. It’s a brutal painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569). Skeletons are depicted attacking and killing people from every walk of life. The landscape is a wasteland. Bruegel lived during a period of history that saw a thousands, if not more, people die from the plague. The meaning behind Bruegel’s painting is simple-death comes for us all.

Has the Black Plague returned? Bud shows the classic symptoms of the diesase. First, we’re told he had flu-like symptoms. Buboes, puss filled swellings, are shown on his arms, legs, and chest. Some are broken with puss coming out. Travis has nightmares of Bud vomiting blood. Although vomiting blood isn’t a symptom of the plague he would have coughed some up if it got into his lungs. In his nightmare Travis’s brain may have translated that coughing into projectile vomiting.

A nightmare grandpa bleeds from his mouth showing symptoms of the plague.

Nightmares can be real as anything else in our lives.

But what is “it?” What comes at night? Is “it” Travis and his family’s self-imposed isolation or is “it” fear,paranoia and panic? Humans have never really truly felt safe at night. We invented fire to escape the darkness. We invented electricity when fire didn’t do the trick. We light up our homes, our neighborhoods, and our cities. However, deep down inside we are still afraid of the dark and the things that go bump in the night.

The night in It Comes at Night holds terrors for Travis’s family. They religiously lock an outside door every night to keep the terrors out. Opening the door at night lets the terror inside. After Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house he inadvertently lets those terrors not only into the house but into the family’s psyche. Bringing Will’s family into an already established household doesn’t help matters. The bumps in the night are built up in both the family’s minds.

Shults has created a tense, dark movie where the smallest details becomes bigger later in the movie. Travis thinks he catches Will in a lie when they’re talking about their families. Was Will lying about his brother-in-law? Did he even have a brother? Travis’s dog, who had run away earlier in the movie, returns to the house. He’s sick and dying from the plague. However, it’s the question of how the dog got into the house that weighs on Travis’s mind. Who left the door unlocked and  who let the dog inside? No one is sure, but everyone has their suspicions.

Travis has nightmares about his dead grandfather visiting him in his bedroom. As the movie gets closer to the end the nightmares get worse. Travis even starts having nightmares about Kim, Will’s wife. The nightmares are trying to tell us something. Is Travis’s fear of the plague manifested in the nightmares or are the nightmares clues to let us know Travis has the plague. Shults lets the viewer decide, but one thing for certain is that the nightmares influence the events at the end of the movie.

Kim spits blood in Travis's mouth

The ending may leave some people feeling cheated and wondering what happens next. The ending is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’s No Country For Old Men, it just ends. No explanations, nothing is wrapped up in nice tidy bow. We’re forced to put the pieces together and form our own conclusions.

Shult’s movie is more psychological in nature than most horror movies that have come out in the past few years. Shults  has managed to create an atmosphere of terror without stooping to traditional horror movie tropes. Slasher movies and movies about serial killers can be scarier, however, nothing is scarier than the things we build up in our own minds. Despite the grades at Cinemascore and Rotten Tomatoes, It Comes at Night is hand down one the best movies of 2017.

The red door in It Comes at Night

The only color in rhe house is the red door.

 

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The Inhumans Are Acting Inhumanely Against Audiences https://www.amindonfire.com/the-inhumans-are-acting-inhumanely-against-audiences/ Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:52:48 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8540 The Inhumans may be from the moon, but the series is not out of this world.

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Is The Inhumans as bad as the reviews of the IMAX premiere made it out to be?

Let’s count the many crimes The Inhumans is guilty of committing against audiencekind.

  • NASA  has sent six manned missions to the moon, 12 Americans have walked on its surface, and countless probes and satellites have scoured the surface. Yet, no one has ever noticed an invisible wall cutting off a large portion of the surface.
Gorgon talks to surfer dude in The Inhumans

Conveniently met surfer dudes are also soldiers. Convenient.

  • Too many hoof jokes after a scientists see a hoof crushing their moon rover.
  • Maximus only needed one speech to turn the population of Attilan against the royal family. Was the royal family treating the population so horribly it took one bad speech to stage a coupe?
  • Unpronounceable names and just plain bad names. Attilan? I didn’t know this series was set in Narnia.
Black Bolt talks to Maximus

Black Bolt can only speak through nipple manipulation.

  • In his coupe, Maximus didn’t take out the teleporting dog first. The dog he says he’s known all his life. Let me state this again: Teleporting dog.
  • Queen Medusa’s head is partially shaved in one scene. In the next scene she’s Sinead O’Connor clean.

Every one forgets about the teleporting dog, Lock Jaw.

  • The Inhumans come from a technological advanced society, a society that has been monitoring Earth for decades. Yet, Black Bolt is visibly surprised about seeing his first smart phone.
  • Medusa knows how to use a gun, knows about cars, and tracking systems, but she doesn’t know what an ATM is or how to use one. Yes, we get several seconds of her yelling at a machine.
  • How many clothing stores, high end or not, have armed guards dressed like federal agents?
Triton running through the jungle

A kingdom was overthrown in the first five minutes, but we still don’t know what happened to these two.

  • I’ve never been to Oahu, but I’ve been to other big cities and there’s not a downtown empty during the day.
  • Police manage to block off several city streets in the matter of moments. Bravo for the police, but in what world does shoplifting call for closing down streets in a busy tourist city? It makes you wonder what’s the penalty for littering?
  • Police brutality
  • Marijuana  farmers call their crop cute names used by college frat boys.
Karnak tied up

Once he was an Inhuman now he’s grows pot on Green Acres.

  • Special FX are anything but special. It’s obvious actors are talking to nothing and Lockjaw was added in later.
  • Wasting the talents of Anson Mount and Ken Leung. It also seems Iwan Rheon and Isabelle Cornish forgot how to act.
  • Too many storylines going on at the same time.

This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how insulting The Inhumans is to the audience. Do you remember the series The Neighbors? Everything was a joke about how the aliens didn’t know what Earth things were or how to use them. It’s the same shtick used in the Coneheads movie. It’s old, it’s tired, and it’s not good television.

Some critics have compared The Inhumans to Game of Thrones simply because Iwan Rheon was on Thrones. The Inhumans is in no way comparable to Game of Thrones. It’s not Game of Thrones set in space. Game of Thrones built its betrayals and subterfuge up gradually over episodes and seasons. Everything is in question from one episode to the next.

Once and usurper always a usurper

The Inhumans on the other hand is as subtle as rock through a window. Everything is easily done. The Genetic Counsel is manipulated into the same room together by the old “I invited you? I thought you invited me” ploy. A needless ploy because only a few scenes before Maximus ordered them all together. We never know exactly how Maximus turned so many of the Inhumans against the royal family. One scene Maximus is only a “human”, the next scene he’s sending Inhumans to kill Black Bolt. Every one accepts him as the new king. There is no skill and no depth to the series. Marvel has had some stinkers, but The Inhumans takes the cake. It is simply one of the worst series on television. It can only be a television miracle The Inhumans is still on the air.

There are a couple bright spots to series. First, Lockjaw is pretty cool. Second, the Hawaiian scenery is awesome.

Lock Jaw, Crystal, and Karnak make a run for it

Because we can never have enough Lock Jaw

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The Gifted is No Gift to the X-Men Universe https://www.amindonfire.com/gifted-xmen-universe/ Mon, 16 Oct 2017 03:10:03 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8521 The Gifted, Marvel and Fox's, attempt at creating a television X-Men universe is new this season, but the ideas in the series are nothing new.

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Fox’s new X-Men universe connected series The Gifted premiered two weeks ago. Going into the third episode it’s everything one could expect from a Bryan Singer produced and directed television series set somewhere in the X-Men universe. Dear Readers, that is no compliment. (Insert Spoiler Warning here)

The Gifted is Bryan Singer and Fox’s attempt at connecting an X-Men television world within the larger cinematic X-Men universe. It’s the same thing Marvel has successfully done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its Netflix series and, to a lesser degree, The CW has done with the Arrowverse. The only difference is the latter two have succeeded where Singer’s first attempt is failing right out of the gates.

Lauren Strucker in The Gifted

Discount Claire Bennet is discount

When in the X-Men universe is The Gifted set? Is it set before Wolverine changed the past? Is it set in the future Wolverine created after Days of Future Past? Why are the X-Men and the Brotherhood missing? Is it connected to the July 15th event mentioned briefly in episode two? The bigger question is, “Why should we care?” Frankly, The Gifted hasn’t given us any reason to care.

The Gifted has managed to cram in almost every tv drama and comic book cliche possible in two episodes. First, there’s the father, Reed Strucker (played by True Blood’s Stephen Moyer). Reed works for the government as a prosecutor who sends mutants to jail. Of course, he learns his children are mutants. It’s then he decides to fight the good fight because ”My family means everything to me.” Not cliched or over done? Heroes was doing it long before The Gifted.

Stephen Moyer as Reed Strucker in The Gifted

Concerned father is concerned. Just look at the expression on his face.

How did Reed get put into a situation where he has to declare his family means everything to him? Reed’s son, Andy, is a mutant. In fact, both his children are mutants. Again, Heroes‘s Jack Coleman also had a child with super powers. The similarities between The Gifted and Heroes can’t be ignored. What also can’t be ignored is when Andy manifests his power. Andy’s powers manifests themselves when he’s being tormented by bullies in a bathroom. Sounds just like Scott Summers in X-Men: Apocalypse. Like Scott Summers, Andy manages to destroy a lot of school property. What’s Bryan Singer’s deal with characters being bullied in bathrooms anyway? 

Andy Strucker blows up the bathroom

Another Bryan Singer character learns his powers in the bathroom

Of course, the Strucker family goes on the run after police knock on their front door. What else is a family hunted by the government to do but run? It’s also a perfect excuse to throw another cliche at us. Reed and Andy, who has been crying on and off since the series started, have to comfort their mother and sister in the most manly of manner possible. Why? Because we know women are fragile creatures who need comforting in times of crisis (That’s sarcasm, Dear Readers). Or, in some underdeveloped reasoning, Singer was attempting to show how in the matter of hours mother and daughter have toughened up enough to fight the battles that are sure to follow.

Going on the run also serves the purpose of bringing the Strucker family and the Mutant Underground (No, the writers could not think of a better name) together and to put Sentinel Services on both their tracks. First, Reed has to get sensitive documents only his briefly introduced co-worker can get for him. Of course, the co-worker retrieves the only documents that lead to the Mutant Underground’s whereabouts. Her reasoning behind what can only be called Marvel Comics treason is,“I owe you my career.” Bad dialog abounds in The Gifted

Coby Bell as Jace Turner in The Gifted

Stereotypical secret agent is stereotypical.

Reed and family manage to contact the Mutant Underground. Of course, Sentinel Services corners them in a dead end building. Why? Because in covert meetings you always meet in a location with no way out. That’s how these things work, Dear Reader. Don’t worry, everyone makes it out. Well, except, for Reed, because someone has to be left behind to further the story line.

In order to learn where the Mutant Underground is hiding (Because Reed has the only documents that pinpoints their location and they can’t possibly interrogate the mutant arrested in the opening minutes of episode one) Sentinel Services, a cute way to introduce a new division of the Secret Service and at the same time reminding people Sentinels hunt mutants, brings in Agent Jace Turner. In one interrogation, Turner (Burn Notice’s Coby Bell) throws in every I-can-do-anything-because-of-the-Patriot-Act cliche imaginable. He even throws in the my-child-was-killed-in-a-mutant-attack-so-now-I-hate-mutants cliched used in Singer’s X-Men 2 (Check out William Stryker in X-Men 2). In the history of television there have been a million police interrogations on a thousand police shows and each one was better than the exchange between Turner and Reed.

Fill in Oscar Issac looks amazingly like Oscar Issac

The Gifted also introduced and re-introduced new mutants. There’s Eclipse, who does things with light and heat, and Polaris, who has the same powers as Magento. There’s the Native American mutant tracker who can hear things really well called Thunderbird. Yes, Marvel gave a Native American a name most people associate with alcohol. It’s only slightly less offensive than giving the only Native American the mutant powers of tracking people. Overall, it lacks imagination. The first episode re-introduces Blink, played by Bingbing Fan in X-Men: Days of Future Past. There’s also a lot of background mutants who serve only as proof that the Mutant Underground has helped mutants at some time in the past.

Blair Redford as Thunderbird in The Gifted

Why Thunderbird? Because Mad Dog 20/20 doesn’t roll off the tongue

So how do the Struckers ultimately meet the Mutant Underground? In the opening scene of episode one, Polaris is captured by law enforcement when the Mutant Underground is saving Blink. Reed, as mutant prosecutor, is sent to question Polaris in a glass prison cell. We’re not  sure why she’s in a glass jail cell. Perhaps it’s because bouncing a cop off a dumpster does not immediately let the viewer know what mutant power Polaris possess. It’s still not obvious until she manipulates the metal in Reed’s knee. Viewers need and want to know right away what kind of superpowers a character has, but The Gifted took a long time to establish Polaris’s abilities. Comic book readers may know Polaris has the same powers as Megneto, but the viewers who will make or break the series want to know these things a lot sooner.

At some point in time, Polaris is moved from the glass jail cell to a prison. The prison cliche is also in fullforce in The Gifted. The prison is filled with the roughest, baddest, toughest women one could imagine. Yet the sight of Polaris washing out her hair dye revealing she has green hair is enough to scare them. Is there anyone today shocked or scared to see green hair? Maybe some people are still shocked and scared at the sight of a green-haired woman, but they’re not in  a prison with a bald, albino woman, with weird eyes, and veins running throughout her body.

The cast of The Gifted

The Strucker family inaction

The first two episodes aren’t finished with the cliches and overused tropes. There’s the Mandatory Stan Lee Cameo, because no Marvel movie/television series is complete without a Stan Lee cameo. It was cute the first couple of times. Audiences would look for Lee’s cameos. Where would it be, what would he be doing in his cameo? Now? It’s just played out. The Gifted is also packed with location cards. Singer is constantly reminding the viewer where the characters are at all time because actually letting the location speak for itself (It’s hotel room. We don’t need to know it’s on the outskirts of any city) is just too much work for the series.

Stan Lee in The Gifted

Mandatory Stan Lee cameo warning!

The Gifted is also constantly reminding us that mutants are people too and deserve the same rights as other people. Equality was the over all theme running though Singer’s first two X-Men movies after the fights and CGI are stripped away. Bobby Drake’s mother in X-Men 2 even asks Bobby if he can “just stop being a mutant.” It’s the 21st Century. Racism, homophobia, and intolerance are all alive and well. We need to be reminded of this fact, but The Gifted rams it down our throats whenever possible. There are better ways, even more subtler ways, to get your message across to the masses. For starters, don’t name your Native American character after cheap liquor.

Protective mother cliche is protective

It may be unfair to judge The Gifted on two episodes. The season is just starting so there’s plenty of room for improvement. The series will need to improve in a lot of areas to make the series watchable and to distinguish itself from Heroes. If the series doesn’t improve it won’t live to see a second season. The Gifted doesn’t have the luxury of Disney saving it from cancellation like it did with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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The Directors: M. Night Shyamalan, The Lighter Side of Horror https://www.amindonfire.com/m-night-shyamalan-the-lighter-side-of-horror/ Wed, 11 Oct 2017 01:49:26 +0000 http://www.amindonfire.com/?p=8444 M. Night Shyamalan has always been on the light side of the horror genre. With Split he has crossed over into new territory, but keeping his feet well within Hitchcock's realm of influence.

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There’s a fine line between horror and suspense. More often than not the line is crossed and becomes blurry. Alfred Hitchcock masterfully blurred the line in Psycho and The Birds. Wide Awake, Shyamalan’s first studio movie, went largely ignored by the public. Shyamalan didn’t remain in obscurity for long. Upon the release of his second movie critics hailed Shyamalan as the second coming of Hitchcock. For awhile Shyamalan managed to blur the line too. As they say, “What goes up must come down.”

You should be warned from this point forward there are SPOILERS.

Cole Sear admits to seeing dead people in The Sixth Sense

“I see dead people”

The Sixth Sense was Shyamalan’s first box office hit. Bugeted at around forty million dollars the movie would end up grossing more than six hundred million dollars. The studio smartly marketed the movie. People were asked not to give away the ending. The studio knew ticket sales would dwindle once the secret was out. In a pre-social media world the marketing worked. People were shocked and surprised at the ending even after the movie had been out for weeks.

The Sixth Sense was a well crafted, well acted movie. Shyamalan built a story of a troubled boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who bonds with a troubled child psychologist,  Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) over Cole’s unique ability to see dead people. The two share the journey of Cole coming to grips with his ability and Malcolm accepting his fate.

Bruce Willis as Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense

Is it a horror movie? Yes. Cole is tormented, or so it seems to him, by dead people. Malcolm is well…you know. Is it a drama? There’s definitely dramatic elements in the movie. The divide between Malcolm and his wife, Anna, is explored in some very touching moments. Toni Collette was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Cole’s mother who struggles to understand her son. Is it a suspense movie? There are plenty of suspenseful moments in the movie to qualify.

Shyamalan brilliantly blended horror, drama, and suspense elements in such a way we were distracted from what was staring us right in the face. Unfortunately, once the twist ending is revealed there’s little reason to watch the movie a second time. Some people will go back to try and pick up the clues they missed the first time. The clues are there, you just have to look.

Cole and Malcolm in The Sixth Sense

A boy and his ghost

Shyamalan followed up The Sixth Sense with Unbreakable. Unbreakable was released well before the explosion of comic book movies. It’s a comic book movie only in the fact that David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, has exceptional strength, he has never been sick or hurt in his life, and can see someone’s future simply by touching them. There’s no flashy costumes. No over the top specially FX. No connected movie universe.

Unbreakable not only explores David’s powers, but the dysfunction within the Dunn family. That dysfunction is further exaborated when Dunn meets Elijah Price. Price, aka Mr. Glass, convinces Dunn he’s more than just a security guard. Dunn’s son is on board the moment he hears Price’s story. What kid wouldn’t be excited their father is a bonafide super hero?

Bruce Willis as David Dunn in Unbreakable

Unbreakable isn’t a horror movie. However, it’s darker in tone than most of the comic book movies that would follow. It’s also a slow movie and at times seems to drag. When it doesn’t seem like it can drag on any more the movie abruptly ends. The movie leaves us with an ending that feels more like an ending from an episode of Law and Order than a Shyamalan ending.

Samuel L Jackson as Mr.Glass in Unbreakable

Shyamalan’s films are often studies of broken families. Signs is no exception. Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, a reverend who lost his faith after the death of wife. Hess lives on a farm with his brother, son, and daughter. Strange things start happening at the start of the movie and they continue until the end.

Signs has more horror and suspense elements than Unbreakable. It’s also an alien invasion movie. More importantly, Signs was the movie that most divided fans and sent Shyamalan’s  stock plummeting. People were tiring of Shaymalan’s twist endings. It reflected in both fans’s and critics’s reviews of the movie.

Mel Gibson, as Reverend Graham, confronts his family in Signs

Shyamalan’s next three films were the last three he would both write and direct for quite some time. The Village, a Wicker Man style horror movie with a creepy atmosphere that runs throughout the movie, was the only one to make its money back. People didn’t buy into Shyamaln’s fairy tale, Lady in the Water, and The Happening, a pro-environment movie about as subtle as a fart in church, fell flat from the start. The Village, Lady in The Water, and The Happening were all considered failures at the box office.

Shyamalan’s next two movies were clearly not in his wheelhouse. Both Avatar: The Last Airbender and After Earth were big budget flops. It wouldn’t fair to place all the blame of After Earth‘s failure at Shyamalan’s feet. The story was conceived by Will Smith and produced by Smith and his wife, Jada Pinket-Smith, as a vehicle for their son. Jaden Smith wasn’t enough to carry the film by himself and Will Smith seemed bored by the movie from the start.

Mark Wahlberg is wondering what's happening in The Happening

Wahlberg’s one expression perfectly sums up The Happening.

Somewhere along the line Shyamalan decided to return to his low budget horror roots. The Visit is a pseudo found footage movie. Becca and Tyler are sent to visit their grandparents. A visit to the grandparents house isn’t odd. Most of us have done it. What’s odd is that there mother never wants to talk to her parents. We’re told at the start of the movie she just started talking to her parents after not having contact with them for years. Sure, this happens. Families fall apart, families reunite. However, she was never interested in talking to her parents to see if her children were behaving? What mother does this? A mother in a horror movie where the hook is that maybe these aren’t her parents. That’s who.

The entire movie is told through Becca and Tyler’s recorded videos. Like other found footage movies everything has to be recorded. The scares are few and far between. It’s too late to introduce the scares after we learn the grandparents are actually escaped mental patients. The false jump scares and shaky cams made the ending less scary then it should have been. In addition to Tyler’s numerous raps, we also get to see a lot of dirty diapers. One is even smeared in Tyler’s face.

Grandma in The Visit eats with her mouth full

Because everyone wants to see someone chew with their mouth full.

It’s unfortunate Shyamalan felt the need to join the found footage wagon. There’s no atmosphere of fear Shyamalan masterfully created in The Village. Even the solid character building of Unbreakable is absent. Audiences didn’t seem to mind. The movie more than made back its five million dollar budget. The Blumhouse produced The Visit was the shot in the arm Shyamalan’s career needed. The success of The Visit was more than enough reason to greenlight Shyamalan’s latest horror movie Split.

The terror in Split starts the moment Dennis, played by James McAvoy, abducts Casey, Marcia, and Claire. Split wouldn’t be a good if it was simply an abduction movie. There are plenty of movies out there revolving around an abduction. What makes Split different is Dennis. Dennis is actually one of 23 different personalities manifested by Kevin Wendell Crumb.

Anya Taylor-Joy in Split

Split is hands down one of McAvoy’s best roles. Roles is the operative word. McAvoy plays Crumb and roughly eight other personalities we meet during the course of the movie. McAvoy makes each performance distinctly different from each other. Patricia is the nice, if somewhat weird, English woman. Hedwig is a nine year old boy who loves Kanye West. Barry is a want-to-be fashion designer with OCD. The odds of McAvoy being nominated, let along winning, for an Oscar are exactly zero.

The other element that sets Split apart from other horror movies are the three girls Dennis abducts. These aren’t the typical female characters in a typical horror movie. They don’t crumble, they don’t cry, and they don’t give up. They all fight in some fashion until the very end. We learn through flashbacks Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch) is just as damaged as Kevin.

James McAvoy as Hedwig, one of 24 different personalities in Split

Split is the smart kind of horror movie we don’t see a lot of today. Shyamalan doesn’t tease us with false jump scares. A false jump scare is when someone, say the gardener, sneaks up behind the babysitter. Creepy, sinister music is playing which signals to us the babysitter is about to meet a bad end. She turns around and….oh, it’s the gardener. These false happen more than once in some movies so by the time the real scare happens we’re not scared. There are no jump scares in Split. It’s a subtle kind of scary and it’s deceptive.

From the beginning to almost the end, Split is a solid horror movie. Shyamalan has smartly set up the premise of the movie through the character of Dr. Karen Fletcher. Fletcher is a specialist in the area of multiple personalities who is also treating Barry and all the other personalities Keven manifests. It’s through her we learn that each personality has its own traits, abilities, and even genetics. We’re not shocked nor do we feel cheated when the Beast arrives to take the girls as “sacred food.”

Abducted but not giving up in Split

Split had the almost perfect ending. Casey is freed from her prison. We’re lead to believe she will confront her abusive uncle. We’re also lead to believe the Beast is hiding inside Kevin ready to come out again at some point. It would have been the perfect lead in to a sequel.

The ending we got was forced and felt fake. In a diner, patrons are eating lunch and watching the news unfold about Casey’s survival and the death of her friends. Out of the blue, and to no one in particular, a lady at the counter blurts out that someone almost seventeen years before was arrested and given a nickname. Who remembers a random event from more then seventeen years ago? Were the events in Unbreakable so remarkable people remembered them seventeen years later?

James McAvoy has become the Beast in Split

It’s setup only to have Bruce Willis appear to tell her the name of the other person was “Mr. Glass.” It was cheap ploy to let viewers know a sequel is coming somewhere down the line. A simple camera pan down the restaurant’s counter stopping on Bruce Willis would have done the trick. Anyone who had seen Unbreakable would know Willis was reprising his role as David Dunn. There’s the interent for anyone else who hadn’t seen Unbreakable to search for Bruce Willis and Dunn, the name on the name tag he’s wearing.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where some directors can’t leave well enough alone. Instead of simply doing a sequel Shyamalan is doing a Split/Unbreakable sequel. Yes, Shyamalan is creating an interconnected universe along the lines of Marvel, Star Wars, and the forth coming Castle Rock series from Amazon set in the Stephen King universe. We’ll wait to hold off and further judgment.

In the meantime, let us know your favorite M. Night Shyamalan movie.

The post The Directors: M. Night Shyamalan, The Lighter Side of Horror appeared first on A Mind on Fire.

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