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My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale →

Not mine personally, you understand. This is the opinion of Michael Livingston, writing at Tor.com. And he makes a good point about using ahistorical means to communicate historical truths.

The scene now shifts to opening credits that unfold over scenes of the tournament and its crowd … all set to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

A lot of critics were thrown at this point: they complained that using a soundtrack of classic rock for a movie that is set in the 1370s is tremendously anachronistic.

They’re quite right. The music of Queen is about six centuries off the mark for the movie’s setting. At the same time, as the director himself rightly pointed out, a traditional symphonic score would also be pretty damn anachronistic, even if we don’t think of it that way. There were no symphonies in the fourteenth century, after all.

The anachronism is just getting started, though, and how it happens shows that there’s something important at work here: before we know what’s happening, Queen isn’t just the background soundtrack for the audience: it’s what the tournament crowd itself is singing. And they’re singing it while doing the wave, eating turkey legs, and waving banners in support of one knight or another. Not one bit of it is accurate to history, yet it’s oh so perfectly historical.

Because we don’t live in the fourteenth century, we don’t have the same context for a historically accurate jousting as a person would have had back then. A tournament back in the day was like the Super Bowl, but a wholly accurate representation of the event would not give us that same sense. Rather than pulling us into the moment, the full truth would push us out of it: rather than fostering the connection between the present and the past, it would have emphasized the separation. So Helgeland split the difference: he included tons of historical accuracies with non-historical familiarities.

It’s brilliant and delightful fun.

This entry was tagged. Movies

MoviePass and Data Mining

MoviePass and Data Mining →

The Verge wrote an article about a spat between MoviePass and AMC. (MoviePass is a $9.99 subscription service that lets you watch up to one movie a day, in theaters.) I'm less interested in the details of the spat than I am in the information that MoviePass aims to turn its profit by selling the data about which movies its subscribers are watching.

It’s been clear for some time that MoviePass isn’t simply trying to find ways to bring more people into existing movie theaters. The subscription-price reduction came after MoviePass sold a majority stake to the data firm Helios and Matheson Analytics, Inc., and the change has allowed the company to jump from around 20,000 subscribers to 1.5 million subscribers as of January 2018. MoviePass’ ability to track what movies its customers are watching, and where they’re buying tickets, is valuable data for marketers, advertisers, and distributors. And Lowe has said that selling that data is a major way that MoviePass is going to make money. Not having access to AMC — the largest theater chain in both the United States and the entire world — could make achieving that goal more difficult, since it would be clear MoviePass’ data would be incomplete. There are good reasons AMC was the first chain MoviePass signed a deal with, and that importance is likely why MoviePass is being so aggressive around AMC now.

MoviePass isn’t trying to help movie theaters; it’s trying to use them to capture data it can sell. It isn’t trying to help people see more movies out of some altruistic bent; it’s hoping to spike attendance in the short term so it can expand the pool of people whose data it’s collecting. And when it doesn’t get the answers it likes from a chain like AMC, it’s willing to cut those theaters out completely, regardless of the harm that does to its customers or reputation. While a $9.95 subscription deal may sound great, it’s really only a good deal if it works consistently, at the theaters where customers want to use it. And as MoviePass’ CEO said, those theaters are subject to change.

I want MoviePass to work. Who wouldn't like the idea of watching 30 movies a month for just $10? But it's felt vaguely scammish to me ever since I first heard about it. Knowing that they're selling my data is somewhat comforting: at least now I know what the scam is.

There's even a positive way to look at this. Many websites and businesses sell my data without me feeling like I'm getting fair compensation for it. If I do want to sell my data, super cheap movies sounds like something that's more in the right compensatory ballpark than the norm.

This entry was tagged. Movies

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fails to meet Groot expectations

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fails to meet Groot expectations →

I'm glad I'm not the only curmudgeon that failed to enjoy the new Guardians movie. The Globe and Mail also panned it.

After the original earned $770-million (U.S.) worldwide – all without boasting a name-brand star or much built-in affection for a talking tree named Groot – a sequel was inevitable. But it didn't have to be this sequel, which swaps out amusement for arrogance, delight for disdain.

At least a dozen times, for instance, this new movie laughs at its own jokes – literally. The characters of Drax (an alien warrior) and Rocket (the aforementioned talking raccoon) regularly deploy punchlines or watch ones whiz by, and then cackle for what seems like minutes on end. (Some choice jokes pivot around the size of one character's turds and another's urgent need to urinate.) There is even a running bit about the fine art of winking at your audience. And if that is not enough to hammer home Guardians' particular brand of misplaced confidence, then the filmmakers hope snippets of seventies' AM radio pop will inject a sly bit of nostalgic levity into the proceedings. See, we're just here for a good time, not a long time – why else would Looking Glass, Electric Light Orchestra and Cheap Trick be blasting on the soundtrack?

It is tittering, unrestrained filmmaking at its most self-indulgent – high, as it were, on its own supply.

This cinematic smugness touches everything, all while clinging to the law of diminishing returns. The plot, for starters, is a weak facsimile of the 2014 film, solely designed to connect set-pieces that rehash best-loved moments from the original. Wasn't, say, that first prison-escape scene so funny and unexpected? Well, maybe you'll also like a new escape sequence that triples the body count while erasing the number of laughs and adding Jay and the Americans' 1964 hit Come a Little Bit Closer to the soundtrack, for no reason in particular? Oh, remember when hundreds of Xandarian space ships converged to battle Ronan's warship back in the first movie? That was mighty cool, so why not revisit that here but with an even larger fleet of space ships? Did you enjoy the Vin Diesel-voiced Groot? Good, because now he's a cute widdle Baby Groot, voiced by what sounds like Diesel on helium, and present in nearly every other frame.

Look, I like Groot. But that's a fair bit of criticism. Dude was everywhere, almost as though someone were thinking of the potential for moving massive amounts of Baby Groot action figures and dolls over the next couple of months.

Review: 👎 to *Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2*

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

My rating: 👎
Watched on: 6 May 2017

I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy so much that I bought the Blu-Ray and enjoy rewatching it with my daughters. We all love the soundtrack and enjoy listening to it when we're out driving around. I've been looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 ever since I heard there was going to be a sequel.

Now the sequel is out, I've seen it, and I'm disappointed. I was primarily looking for two things: a fun soundtrack and a fun movie. I don't feel like I got either.

The soundtrack was pretty bland. None of the songs stuck in my head and, aside from the in-movie conversation about Brandy, I couldn't actually tell you what any of them were. Maybe it's because I'm mostly oblivious to songs from the 80's. Or maybe the song selection was bad. Either way, this isn't a soundtrack that I feel a need to listen to again.

The movie itself tried too hard. Gunn wanted to recreate the fun of the first movie, but I think he mostly failed. Between overly clever sequences, boring emotional journeys, and humor that wasn't funny, the movie fell flat.

The opening fight sequence with Baby Groot was clever, but I've seen the "fight happens in the background while the viewpoint character is unaware" gimmick before, in other movies. That set the tone for the rest of the movie as most things felt like something that I'd seen before in other places. For instance: the remotely piloted ships that The Sovereign used — piloted by gamer teens — came straight from Ender's Game. The Sovereign's genetic engineering and general demeanor came from Lois McMaster Bujold's Cetagandan Empire, which I wouldn't have minded had the script included any kind of a nod in that direction other than ripping off the idea.

For the rest, I found the overarching story to be banal. Of course the second movie has to be about how the gang that appeared to have gelled at the end of the first movie is really falling apart and becoming experts at in-fighting. After the fun of seeing everyone come together at the end of the first movie, I really wanted a movie where we got to enjoy the cast working together for a full story, not one where we have to wonder why the cast doesn't seem to like each other as much as we do.

And about those personal journeys that everyone went on during the story. Was it really necessary for everyone to go on an emotional journey? Sure, Starlord has father issues. Apparently, so do Rocket, Yondue, Mantis, Gamora, and Nebula. In addition, Gamora and Nebula have a whole sister frenemy thing going on. It's all both too much and too little. Too much because it's a bit overwhelming keeping up with who has their mope on for which reason. And too little because every character's emotional space gets cramped by the need to make room for every other character's emotional baggage.

Finally, humor. I really enjoyed the humor in the first movie. I didn't enjoy the humor in this movie. Between the turd jokes and the non-stop penis references, it seemed to be aimed at an audience of boys, somewhere between kindergarten and 8th grade. No thanks.

I was mostly bored by the on-screen hijinks, I wasn't laughing, and I didn't leave the theater humming the songs from the soundtrack. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 was a rollicking disappointment. Better luck next time guys.

Thoughts on *Dr. Strange*

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." — Arthur C. Clarke

Doctor Strange used this quote in reverse. The movie eases the viewer into magic by smuggling in magic as just advanced technology. The Ancient One and Dr. Strange talk about cellular regeneration as Strange gets his first introduction to magic. By the time that the story moves into astral projection and the weirder forms of mysticism, we've already been lulled into accepting magic through our acceptance of the miracles of advanced technology.

The movie's weakest point is that the magical school is both too large and too small. During a couple of scenes, Stephen Strange is shown practicing magic with 15–20 other students. But when the time comes to throw down with evil, the fighting force is limited to the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong, and Strange.

It's strange that Strange gets thrown into battle so quickly, even as he's constantly told that he's nowhere near ready. Certainly the plot would dictate that Strange be the hero of his own movie, but it seems like an odd choice to show other students but not actually use them.

The surprise character of the movie is Strange's cloak. It shows a surprising amount of personality for a normally inanimate object. As a non-living side kick, it rivals BB-8 in expressiveness. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the cloak in future movies.

This may be one of Benedict Cumberbatch's best movies. He's one of those quirky actors that usually ends up portraying a variant of himself on screen. In this movie, he became Stephen Strange to an impressive degree. I spent the entire movie watching Strange, without ever once thinking of Sherlock or Khan.

Initial Thoughts About *The Force Awakens*

This isn't an actual review of the movie. Rather, it's a summation of the thoughts that went through my mind as I watched the movie for the first time. There will be spoilers, so you probably don't want to read it until after you've seen the movie.

I'll start by saying that I quite liked it. It felt like a Star Wars movie should. I took my two oldest daughters (ages 8 and 7) with me to see the movie, yesterday. We spent the last week watching the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). This movie felt very similar in tone and atmosphere. After the debacle of the prequels, it was great to see real Star Wars back on the big screen.

The movie was well written, but not necessarily well plotted. I say this because it had too many elements of the original trilogy in it. It felt like good fan fiction in both the best of ways (gave you the same feeling that you had watching the original) and the worst of ways (gave you plot points that were similar to the original).

The beginning of the movie felt like A New Hope. A crucial secret is entrusted to a cute droid who immediately draw's the audience's sympathy. The droid, and it's unsuspecting keepers, are hunted by stormtroopers. Our initially naive hero lives on a desert world (Tatooine vs Jakku) and knows of the broader conflict but has never experienced it.

The end of the movie felt like Return of the Jedi. There was a mission to destroy a super weapon. A small team needed to infiltrate a facility to lower the shields protecting the super weapon. A larger group of pilots waited for the shield to drop and then proceeded with attack runs against the vulnerability. Even the command center sets were similar to the ones used at the end of A New Hope.

Everything about the movie was great, except for the fact that the plot was a rehash of things we've already seen. I was hoping for something new and got something familiar instead. It's not a fatal flaw and I'll still buy it and enjoy watching it. But it was disappointing.

There was at least one death of a main character. Someone's been to the George R. R. Martin / Joss Whedon school of main character death.

BB8 is a great addition to the cast of droids. He's super emotive and sympathetic. I'm already looking forward to seeing more of him in future movies.

I'm left with one overarching question: who is Rey? She's strong in the Force and the movies have conditioned us believe that the force is strong in the Skywalker line. But she was abandoned (kidnapped and sold?) on Jakku at a very young age and has no idea who her family is. No one gives any indication that she's related to Luke or Leia in any way. So who is she, how did she get left on Jakku, and who did she inherit her Force sensitivity from?

Disney made it very clear that the Expanded Universe (stories from the novels, graphic novels, games, etc) wasn't going to be canon. Still, I feel like this story drew from the Expanded Universe in very good ways. Here's a couple of examples.

  1. Han and Leia were married.
  2. They had a force sensitive son.
  3. In the EU, their children were Jaicen, Jaina, and Anakin. Ben, in the movie, is obviously named after a prior main character (Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi). The name is in the same vein as the EU and was well picked.
  4. The massive super weapon uses the entire power of a star to destroy worlds. In the EU, there's a ship call the Sun Crusher that also uses the power of an entire star to destroy worlds.
  5. Luke Skywalker opened a Jedi academy.
  6. Luke had at least one student turn to the Dark Side, forcing Luke into hiding both for survival and to reexamine his qualifications as a Jedi Master and teacher.
  7. In the EU, one of the Solo kids (Jaicen, I believe) turns to the Dark Side. In The Force Awakens, Han and Leia's son turns to the Dark Side.
  8. In the EU, one of the lost students was Kyp Durron, who stole the Sun Crusher and used it for evil. In The Force Awakens, the lost student is Ben (Kylo Ren), who's partially responsible for using the super weapon for evil.

When I saw Poe Dameron's squad of crack shooting X-Wing pilots, I wanted to hear someone say "Rogue Squadron" just once.

Harrison Ford was Han Solo. He hasn't lost a bit of the role. He was older, slightly less cocky, more experienced and had seen more pain. But he was every bit the Han Solo that we remember and love.

It was good to see C3PO again, but his role was pure cameo. Unfortunately, it wasn't critical to the plot in any way.

First Order? Republic? Resistance? I have no idea what the political order of this story is. The prequels went way overboard in political exposition. The new movie could have used a smidge more explanation. By the end of the movie, I was pretty sure that the galaxy had split into the New Republic and the First Order. The New Republic was officially leaving the First Order alone but was unofficially supporting The Resistance as they resisted the First Order's rule in their own backyard. This is pure supposition though, as the movie made no effort to explain what had happened after the Battle of Endor.

Luke was training other Jedi? Uh, what happened to them? Did Kylo Ren kill them all? The movie might have made an offhand reference to that. If not, where are they?

Chewbecca's suit was too new. It made him look younger, rather than looking older like everyone else.

Kylo Ren's turn to the dark side is exactly what Annakin's could have been, in a different, better, universe. There was emotional pain and angst, but it was so much better done. Ben looked like a hurting individual who had turned to the Dark Side as a source of strength. Prequel Anakin just looked like a whiny, creeper teenager.

Kylo Ren asked the spirit of his grandfather, Darth Vader, for help. Annakin turned back to the Light Side of the force at the end of Jedi. Was Kylo Ren asking a real spirit for help or just speaking as people speak at a grave side? Is the spirit of Darth Vader really out there? I assume he was just "praying" for strength, but Luke got guidance from Obi-Wan and Yoda often enough to make it just a little bit possible that Kylo Ren really had been hearing from Darth Vader.

Who was the old guy in the village, at the beginning? It seems like there was a back story there or he was a person of some importance. After being hustled off aboard Kylo Ren's shuttle, he completely disappeared from the movie.

The Star Destroyers, Tie Fighters, and shuttles looked bigger and badder in a believable way. Not that they were pumped up but that they were a truer representation of the platonic forms. In a way, they're what would have been in the original trilogy, had the filmmaking tech been better.

Everything looked lived in again. The ships, planets, and costumes in the prequels were way too bright and shiny. The best part about rewatching A New Hope was seeing just how scratched, dented, and worn everything in the universe was.

They found an actor for Kylo Ren that looks like he could actually be the son of Han and Leia. That's awesome. True, his hair came straight from the Hayden Christensen school of angsty Jedi teens, but he was trying to emulate his grandfather so it all works out.

I wonder what Mark Hamill's reaction was when he got his part?

  • "So, part of my script is missing."
  • "Hey, R2D2 has more of a role than me!"
  • "Does this appearance come with an actual paycheck or just the hint of one?"

That planetary super weapon can shoot how far? And you can see three other planets blow up from wherever that temple / bar was? I'm all about suspending disbelief during a Star Wars movie. I expect the physics to be wrong. But the physics of that weapon are so off the charts wrong as to shatter my suspension of disbelief.

Can we please have a movie that doesn't involve a massive, spherical weapon that needs to be destroyed? There could be plenty of plot and excitement in "just" fleet vs fleet action. The Expanded Universe had tons of great stories that didn't involve super weapons. They've already shown that they can use elements of the EU in the new movies. Let's take it a bit further and borrow some ideas of what other kinds of conflicts people can have.

A desert planet that's not Tatooine? I don't see the point. Just put it on Tatooine and be done with it. You know you wanted to. Jakku brings nothing to the story that Tatooine didn't already have. Except for saying "See? We don't put Tatooine in every movie". But that loses its impact when Jakku and Tatooine are basically identical.

Clearly, this was the right franchise for J. J. Abrams. Too bad he couldn't have done it five years ago, in time to save New Trek from him.

John Williams still has it. Good score.

This entry was tagged. Star Wars Movies

On Ant Man

Ant man, running with the ants

I rewatched the trailer for Marvel's Ant Man and I still don't understand the appeal of the character. At the most basic level, I find it hard to believe that shrinking to the size of an ant is all that useful of a super power. Sure, it becomes a lot easier to infiltrate the bad guy's lair. You can more easily act as a spy or sabotage really small things. But you don't magically gain in strength. Ants may be a lot stronger proportionally, but at the end of the day you're still a microscopic speck on someone's wall or kitchen counter.

I get Batman's appeal: a tech powered ninja detective. I see where The Flash can be useful: sprint in and out of sticky situations. Even without super strength, the ability to sucker punch your opponent 30 times in an instant is powerful. But minuscule size? I don't see it. It's not something that intuitively appeals to me as something that would make for a good story or a good movie.

I'm unlikely to see the movie unless it gets really good reviews.

This entry was tagged. Marvel Comics Movies