Review — The Mandalorian

It’s been a while since I’ve actually reviewed something, and since I watched the whole first (and for now only) season of The Mandalorian in one sitting while staying home sick from work, I thought now would be a great time to talk about it, since it’s still fresh.

Since it is relatively new, though, this review will be completely spoiler-free. I was intending to add a spoiler-section at the bottom as I normally do, but my typical commentary went on long enough, and I didn’t feel I had much to add that required spoiling. So if you’d like to chat, feel free to comment and I’ll add spoiler tags if necessary.

My understanding is that everybody loves this show. It’s got everything from Space John Wick to Baby Yoda, what’s not to love? Well, I’ll tell you something contentious (to incentivize your reading): I thought the show was okay at best.

The biggest problem I had can be tied in a nice little bow, too. Every character the show told me to root for felt… edgy. The Mandolorian is the resident Batman/John Wick/whatever of Star Wars. So cool he never even takes off his helmet. He gets a pass because this is long-established Mandalorian lore, but I believe it is still worth mentioning. You have Cara Dune. Ex soldier and so awesome she can mop the floor with several guys at once ’cause she has a huge gun. You can tell she’s competent because our resident Batman likes her and wants to team up. You have Kuiil, who is so wise and obviously always right that you’ll be facepalming every single time the other characters don’t listen to what he has to say. And of course, you have Baby Yoda, who is so adorable that even when he’s being stupid you can’t help but ugly cry every time he’s on screen. And so on. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea.

Tied to the concept of edgy characters, this show had a serious problem with presenting and solving problems to the character. Often, these problems would arise without warning, or worse, would be solved out of nowhere, or both!

It felt like everyone was cool stereotypes that had X amount of their #cool scenes, and only failed when the plot felt it was necessary for them to be less competent. Successes and sudden salvations felt unearned because the show taught me that success and failure alike cannot be predicted.

For example, in the very beginning, when Mando (which is a stupid abbreviation, given “Lando” is already a character) is fighting the blurrgs, he is suddenly attacked. He does not hear footsteps and has no inclination that danger is near. Interesting that a master bounty hunter failed to notice a huge primal beast. Then, in the same fight, he is saved, again without warning, by Kuiil. This is more forgivable, as Mando is a little preoccupied with possible death to notice a tiny man coming to his rescue (even if he is on another blurrg). The stakes feel weird in this scene because danger was both presented to and taken away from our hero without his input in the situation at all. He was just… there. If the actor had been replaced with a punching bag, the entire scene could have played out exactly the same way (given that blurrgs are a punching bag’s natural predator, of course). This scenario happened multiple times throughout the show, but this is the best example of it because it shows both problem and answer being solved suddenly, and in the same scene to boot.

How do you solve this? Easy. You present the characters, and the audience, with a problem that seems like there is no way out. Then, when the character makes a clever use of the resources they have available to win the day, that success feels earned. If the character notices a crumbling wall earlier that day and later uses that crumbling wall to get away from the bad guy, it turns into foreshadowing and makes our hero look more competent. When salvation comes out of nowhere, the opposite happens.

The show, as a whole, also does a poor job making me care. The Mandalorian protects the asset in a way that is—as the show tells us—uncharacteristic of somebody like him. This is fine, I have no problem with that concept, but it fails to tell me why I should believe he would do such a thing. Spoilers I won’t mention aside, character choices like this are important enough to at least hint at their root. Also, the Mandalorian has a very strange gauge for who he can and can’t trust. He implicitly trusts some strangers with the most valuable baby in the galaxy while he goes off to kill people, then doesn’t trust a droid who was practically designed to protect him. Now I know what you’re going to say. “But the plot! But the plot!” And I get it. The reason he doesn’t trust droids makes sense. My point is more that he trusts random people for no reason. Also, he doesn’t trust that protector droid, but in a previous episode he leaves the baby alone on his ship with a droid he knows even less.

Overall, though. It’s a great series and has some awesome moments. The scene where he gets trapped behind a door (and the way he gets out) is incredibly well done, and did a great job at making the Mandalorian feel awesome in ways other scenes failed. The Mandalorian Armorer very much feels like a “rest zone” in a video game where you come back to upgrade your gear, and while the armorer herself is pretty one-dimensional like the other characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy every minute of screen time she had. Maybe she was my edgy OC whereas the other characters simply didn’t vibe with me.

P.S. I thought the way they ended the season was weird, as they revealed a thing that seemed too important to throw into an “after credits” style scene, but after talking to my brother about it, he made a good point. You need something to tease the next season with, and revealing it earlier in the episode/season would have left nothing to be excited for for later.

Review — The Boys

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed anything (one nonfiction book, a convention?, and a podcast are all that I’ve done in the last year), and it’s been especially long since I’ve done any piece of media. Wait. I still haven’t done a review of Yesterday? Putting that on my to-do list so I don’t keep forgetting. Anyway, I recently watched Season One of The Boys, which was different in a lot of ways. Two things to note here: I won’t throw in any spoiler-related commentary until the end, which will be obvious. The second thing is that it really deserves its R (X?) rating, as there is lots of swearing, gore, and sex. This review itself won’t be too graphic, though, so if you’re just interested in my thoughts, you’re good to go.

Now, I don’t really watch TV shows. As a rule, they are very time consuming and require your full attention, so as a rule of me enjoying efficiency and multitasking, I tend to spend my free time elsewhere. I was interested in The Boys though, because its premise was very similar to one of my favorite book series The Reckoners, written by Brandon Sanderson. (You can read my review on the first book here). To sum up both plots, the premise is that superheroes are evil and exploiting the world to suit their wants and needs (mostly wants), and the main characters are a group of normal people teaming up to take them down. In The Boys, this takes the form of “the superheroes are all apart of a super big corporation that only cares about making money, so superheroes are the posterchildren for printing fat stacks.

So, ups and downs of the first season? Well, I’ll start with the bad news, which is that exactly one character in the entire show has any likability (if you really need a hint, it’s Starlight), and everyone else is either evil and self-righteous, or consumed with revenge. (Okay, I do also like Mother’s Milk and Queen Maeve, but I’m not exactly rooting for either of them to succeed). Since I didn’t like any of the characters, basically anything anyone did disappointed me. “Oh, no, what have you done…? Oh no, not you, too… Really? Was that necessary?” And so on. Nothing that happened was satisfying, it was just… interesting enough to keep me going. Side note: I think the casting on this show is amazing, it’s the characters themselves that make me wince.

The show would be a lot better if Hughie, the main character, is likable. But he just isn’t. When his girlfriend is killed at the beginning of the first episode (the inciting incident, it’s in the trailers), he gets wrapped up in everything in order to get revenge. When he’s faced with some difficult decisions, he makes interesting choices for sure, but he is never painted in a light that makes him relatable. Maybe that’s subjective, but I had a hard time agreeing with any of the decisions he ultimately made. (I’ll also say that he often operates in a moral grey. When he did the ‘right thing’, sometimes I shook my head in confusion, but when he did the ‘wrong thing’, it felt out of character. His personality can be confusing sometimes.)

That said, the story was interesting, and expressed compelling social arguments, which I love. And all of those things were introduced in a very believable way. This doesn’t happen in the show, but if I’m running for president and I get the opportunity to set my opponent’s house on fire with the guarantee I will never be found out, why wouldn’t I do that? A lot of the stuff the character actions in the show fits that mentality. It also has some really good humor, like when Butcher is talking about the Spice Girls, and when the conversation ends the scene cuts to “elsewhere” and The Spice Girls is playing.

If you had asked me if I was enjoying the series after any episode, I would shrugged. It definitely wasn’t a ‘no’, as I continued watching it, but I often felt too uncomfortable with what was happening to really say I liked it. The season finale though, is really good. I love how all the pieces were put in place for the second season, because it gave me hope that I can finally start cheering some of the characters on.

Alright. Spoiler Free section is over. Now for the episode commentary.

I have three big issues with the first season. The first is the most glaring issue of the fact that Compound V is so secret and so hard to get, but later we find out basically anyone with money knows about it. I simply cannot believe that it could be so well hidden if simple folk like Starlight’s mom know the full “truth” of what is going on. That’s a simple fix, too. Tell people you can make their child a superhero as long as they grant custody for a few weeks and sign a waiver saying the kid might die in the process. The parents are provided no details on how they are superfied. Done.

Second issue is also based in my suspension of disbelief. There is no way in a million years that Vought would have The Deep “out” himself after what Starlight said at the convention. I believe it is conceivable that the public wouldn’t settle down, but basically throwing away one of the Seven to save some PR is ridiculous. What they probably would have done was hire some random guy to confess publicly, hand him ten million dollars, then shove him off to Antarctica in case anyone wants to crucify him for something he didn’t actually do. There would definitely be people lining up to take the fall if there was enough incentive. It seems especially weird that they ship him off since they don’t make any moves to replace Translucent or The Deep after they’re both gone. Why did Lamplighter need to be replaced if the other two weren’t important enough for it? I get that he publicly retired (which I just know will be revealed not to be the case), but it still seems weird that The Seven is now The Five and Vought is doing basically nothing to acknowledge that.

My last problem is that I hate how Butcher shot Starlight at the end of Episode 7. It does nothing except frustrate the viewer. It didn’t even advance the plot! Butcher might have assumed she was luring Hughie into a trap, but the fact that Hughie runs after she is shot makes it really hard for me to believe that she could ever see any good in him, especially with how that conversation ended. “Hey, you made my job even more of a nightmare than it already was, lied to me about being a nice person, ruined my whole perception of reality, then had your friend shoot me so you could run off without redeeming yourself? Uh, no, I don’t think I’m going to be seeing you again, sorry.” But also, if they wanted to go that route, it stands to reason that she should become an enemy of the Boys at least for a while. Instead, Hughie redeems himself in thirty-minutes as far as the audience is concerned.

As far as the final episode goes, though, I thought it was fantastic. Homelander really pulled a curveball on me in the situation with Butcher, and the reveal that Butcher’s wife is still alive (and has a son) wasn’t really surprising, but it was compelling, and made me very interested to see how that interaction plays out. I’m also really glad that Starlight finally joined the “good” side, and now that all the main characters are playing for the same team, I feel like I can finally root for them. Mostly Starlight though because everyone else sucks.

P.S. I don’t want to know more about Black Noir. I loved scenes like where he stole the piano from that guy with just a look.

Review — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Okay, as always with a review of a recent thing, I’ll write the spoiler free version first, then the spoiler-not free version after that. There will be a clear dileneation, don’t worry. Before I get to even the actual review though, I have a confession. I never saw the 2015 Jurassic World. These movies being what they are, though, I didn’t expect to really need that much context, and I was right. It’s not like jumping into Two Towers having never seen/read Fellowship of the Ring.

Alright: actual review. Overall conclusion is that its plot is sort of a mess, and I think a lot of things could have been handled better. For what it is, though, it does its job. It has all the suspense and action you would come to expect from the series, and I think it makes a fine addition to the series. I think it goes without saying that Jurassic Park is still by far the best one, but it often isn’t fair to compare movie sequels to their predecessors. For a lot of reasons, they simply can’t live up to the expectation.

My major gripe with the movie is actually the trailer that I saw. Now, I hate watching movie trailers, and this is the biggest reason. The movie that I expected to see from that trailer is not the movie that this was, and I’ll go into more detail on that later (with spoilers). It’s worth noting that I did not watch the “Final” Trailer until writing this now, and it does a much better job showcasing the basic plot without misdirection. That said, for that to be my biggest issue is probably a compliment.

Another thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the final 20 minutes. I feel like it could have been much bigger and better, but I would be willing to concede that that’s probably controversial, and I can see the merits to the version they went with. More on that later, too.

Overall, I think it was okay. The actors did a fine job, there were (as you’d expect), some awesome camera shots, and the action was approachable. I think the character motivations were often very shaky, though, and I felt a lot of the plot twists were uninspired. Solid movie, you get what you paid for, but I feel it could have been great. (Also, super bonus points for not making basically no romantic subplot whatsoever. I don’t know what happened between them in the previous movie, but I’m glad romance doesn’t get in the way of the plot here.)

And now: Spoilers!


Alright, my four issues with the movie.

  1. The trailer I saw was all about escaping the island and whatnot. I was led to believe the film would take place on the island, and the climax would be the volcano blowing up. Instead, everyone was off the island in half an hour and the rest of the movie was about the politics of trafficking dinosaurs. I mean… what? Sure, the plot made sense, but you’re going to put the actual exploding volcano practically in the exposition? Yeah, okay.
  2. We’re (literally) told that the Indoraptor is the smartest and most deadly creature to ever walk the Earth. And then when it (of course) escapes, it’s just a big, fast thing with claws and teeth. How is that any different? You tell us it’s smart, show us it’s smart. The smartest thing it does is figure out how to open a door that was made of glass to begin with. I guess you could argue that it breaking the elevator was smart, but that looked like an accident to me, when it should have totally been intentional. You also tell us it can smell things a mile away, but can’t pinpoint people hiding behind a thing ten feet away? It’s supposed to be scary because it’s smarter and stronger than other dinosaurs, and then… it really isn’t. (I also don’t get why they needed Blue alive. They already made the dinosaur before the trafficking thing happened, what was Blue even for other than to help the good guys?)
  3. Okay, I know this is stupid, but the tech guy. Franklin? His character was dumb. Why would a “germaphobe” let’s call him go to an island infested with creatures that want to eat him? The only character motivation we’re given as to why he’s there is a throwaway line about how his dad made him come. I mean, no. His character was funny and all, but nothing about his existence made sense for the plot.
  4. The ending is stupid. Why does Jeff Goldblum have a speech about dinosaurs being out in the wild when there’s like a dozen escaped dinosaurs? The amount of threat they pose to the public is laughable, and realistically, the worst damage they could do is in the form of disrupting the ecosystem through bacteria. They would all be tracked down and (probably) killed within a week. That’s not a setup for a sequel and I’m mad that the movie tried to tell me it was.

P.S. I think it’s interesting that literally nobody but the audience knows that the grandpa was murdered. Everybody knows he’s dead, sure, but the only guy that knew, the murderer, also died. Inconsequential, I know. Plus, he would 100% have died in the chain of events that took place in that house anyway, but I think it’s a thought worth considering.

Review — The Count of Monte Cristo

You know, the Review portion of this blog is pretty much meant to get me to watch, read, or play something new every week. Ideally it would be me talking about “the new thing I did this week”, but I’m really bad at that. The most recent movie I watched was a month ago for a film class, but it was a very political movie and I don’t like getting into politics.

So, instead, let’s talk about the best movie ever made: Count of Monte Cristo. (The 2002 film. There may or may not be other feature length films of the same title.)

I’ll start with the qualification that, as a rule, I don’t like re-experiencing things. Very often, it feels like a waste of time. I don’t want to reread the same story, watch the same movie, or play the same game when there’s an unquantifiable amount of things to experience. My life is one of productivity and efficiency, which is contrary to that whole idea.

Count of Monte Cristo is a rare exception in my world because I feel like I’m watching a different movie every time. I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times by now, and with every new viewing I catch things I hadn’t noticed that re-contextualize character motivations. This movie is a masterpiece in a lot of ways, though as always, I do still have a few gripes. Spoilers ahead, though, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a classic.

Before I get into my nitpicks, let me provide some context (if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t care about spoilers). It would be an injustice for me to attempt to explain the plot in just a paragraph or two, but I’ll try anyway. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, is a simple and poor young man is given a lucky break and promoted to Captain of the merchant ship he works on. Powerful people around him are consumed with varying levels of jealousy, contempt, and fear, and Edmond, though apparently innocent, gets thrown into a high security prison, and his family is told that he died. Years go by, he breaks out, finds riches and then the last third of the movie is basically an elaborate scheme as he exacts revenge on everyone who wronged him.

As I already touched on, this movie does an amazing job at establishing depth. Everyone who betrayed him had different reasons for doing so, and all were compelling and believable. Jealousy seems simple until you see that it comes from a rich man coveting the happiness his poor friend has. Even lesser characters have very clear and understandable wants, which is no small feat. Nobody in this movie is a plot device, not even Napoleon Bonaparte, who was basically written in to be a plot device, as he is only in the first few scenes of the movie. I will say though, this comes at a cost. With how much subtle context and layering everything has, you won’t catch everything if you only see it the one time. Points off for that, but as long as you’re not confused as to the main plot, it’s more or less fine.

But what astounds me the most about this movie is that it isn’t really structured like most stories. The entire last third of the movie is the main character just getting what he wants. There’s a climax, yes, but it isn’t really filled with conflict. When he is given everything, you are no longer watching to see if Edmond will get his revenge, you’re merely watching to see what the revenge turns out to be. It doesn’t contain nearly as much suspense, and nothing to the degree of the chase scene as he resists arrest and is betrayed by a friend, or when he hatches his plan to escape from the Chateau D’if.

I would compare it to a torture film, actually, where all the people are getting their just desserts. Only, in this movie, the torturer is our main character and is doing it in the name of justice, and it feels great. In all my years of schooling and whatnot, I myself still cannot wrap my head around the exact reason this movie works. Maybe I just need to watch more soap operas. (Not that Count of Monte Cristo is overly dramatic, it’s just… opulent.)

So, nitpicks. As I said, the amount of layers it has does sort of detract from it for me. I honestly did not love it the first time I saw it. A good film, to be sure, but it probably wasn’t my all-time favorite movie until I had seen it three or four times. I mean, Edmond has plotted his revenge meticulously for years. But when he’s going through with his plans, you won’t catch the nuances of how and why the first time, because at no point does he tell the audience “first, I’m going to kidnap his daughter and frame his uncle for murder etc etc”. No, you just know he has plans and then watch as they unfold.

Also, I didn’t realize I had this problem until writing this, but Luigi Vampa, the Captain of the pirate ship Edmond becomes a crew member of after he finds himself a free man, isn’t in the movie enough. JB Blanc does an amazing job with his character, and it’s a shame he’s only a minor part. It isn’t often I see a gentleman thief character done to my satisfaction.

Overall, the best movie. Solid period piece, even if it isn’t 100% faithful to history, awesome character development, good subtly, and a really interesting plot progression. Also Henry Cavill is in it.

(P.S. to prove how many layers of character depth this story has, here’s a character sheet, though I think it’s from the book, not the movie. So simplify it by like 15%.)

 

Review — The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

(Sorry for the late post! Busy week!)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) is an interesting movie. It explores the lives of three men struggling to get by in America circa the 1920s. It’s a gritty film about greed and its power of corruption.

As far as genre goes, it’s very hard to place. I wouldn’t immediately classify it as a western, for example. It is set “on the frontier”, has gunfights, and features thematic elements of “civilization versus nature”. But there is no lawful sheriff-type hero, and the movie is much more about inner and intrapersonal conflict rather than about external political or territorial disputes. In fact, I would argue that this movie has no hero, as the only two “good people” are not proactive at all, merely reactive.

But at the same time, I would say this movie identifies most as a western. There is no mystery, little suspense, no easily identifiable antagonist, and an admittedly predictable plot.

To be honest, I didn’t like the film at all. It had a cool adventure element of the main characters going out into the wilderness on their quest for gold, but it proved early on that their quest was not a significant plot thread. It had a few scenes of action; a short train scene of robbers assaulting a train and later when the characters fight off the same bandits, but this was also clearly not a focus of the movie. The plot didn’t revolve around them attacking the bandits or a raid on the local town, for example. The movie had little mystery, as it was obvious that as soon as mistrust was foreshadowed, the camaraderie of the group would deteriorate by the end. At the same time, though, this specific element isn’t specific enough to tie it to a specific genre.

So it’s difficult to pin down. It clearly has strong “western” leanings, but it pulls away from that in the fact that there really is no hero. The first character established in the movie solidified in my head as “the protagonist” (even though it was more of a Three Musketeers situation), so when he was the one that was consumed by greed, I was frustrated as a viewer because I felt betrayed. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be rooting for, because he was given so much attention it felt strange to root for anyone else.

The whole movie felt unsatisfying in that it seemed to be half-finished. Every subplot it introduced was either resolved too quickly or given so little attention it seemed out of place. What’s worse, the main plot of searching for gold, figuring out the logistics of transporting it, and the devolution of trust, was uninteresting to me, so I was actively searching for something new to grab my attention, but everything the movie brought up seemed arbitrary or half-explored.

Watching movies that are obviously classics and being extremely disappointed with what it turns out to be is always strange. I suppose it’s safe to assume that in cases like this, cliche things that happen are because that movie established the cliche, so at the time it was made it was revolutionary. I’ve found that in such cases, these things don’t tend to age well.

Review — Black Panther

This review is going to be super casual because I’m super tired and I saw this movie like two weeks ago. In all honesty, I usually review things within a few days, so all the concrete stuff and details I would have had to talk about has already left my brain. Plus, I’m not a big fan of reviewing current stuff because I can’t do it justice without spoiling it, but I also hate spoiling things if it is current. So read on without worry. No spoilers here.

So, obviously, you have to see this movie because it’s pretty much as awesome as everyone says it is. It’s your typical fun Marvel movie with all the humor and cool action stuff you’d expect, but Black Panther has had some of the best emotional scenes I’ve experienced in any movie in recent memory. With as well made as those scenes were, it’s hard to pinpoint it down to one reason, but if I had to pick one thing, there is just some stellar acting.

Now, I’d never consider myself a big Marvel person. I have (relatively) no interest in the comics, and apart from playing some games (such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance), I really have no knowledge of the characters. I know some people who are comic buffs, so I know some background, but really this isn’t my thing though. As a child, though, if you had asked me to pick a favorite Avenger, though, I’d have said Black Panther. In all honesty, none of the other characters really stuck out as interesting to me (except Iron Man a little bit). Because come on, how is a stealthy ninja-cat guy not at the top of everyone’s list always? Dr. Strange is cool, too, but I knew nothing about him before the movie and he’s not an Avenger, so he doesn’t count.

Anyways, here’s the number one thing that made this movie really work for me: the worldbuilding. The culture of Wakanda was quite interesting, and the steps it took to be so different from the everyday world shows some real creativity. I found it inspiring for both classic epic fantasy worldbuilding and interestingly informative in both sci-fi, as well.

The biggest, and admittedly nit-picky problem I had with this movie was that it just had so much going on. There’s tons of characters, several plot threads, and a few time skips. I got it by the end, but the extra legwork I had to do to follow which character was which and how they were related to this other character was a bit tough sometimes. Again, it’s not that bad, but I’d imagine older audiences might have the same problem. And this is one of my biggest concerns for Infinity War—I suspect it will just have so much going on that actors and plot pieces on an individual scale will start to get lost. Black Panther started to tread into that territory, so we’ll see.

There’s a lot that’s amazing about this movie, and it’s actually very impressive that they managed to introduce so many characters with so much depth so quickly. I did have some other critiques, but they’re really negligible, unpopular, and (slightly) spoiler-y. Not to mention, I’m super tired. So I’ll just leave it here. I would say that this is probably the best movie in the MCU yet, with maybe Wonder Woman at #2. (That’s a joke.) I honestly don’t expect to like either Infinity War movie more than this one, but who knows?