Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning: Part 1: A surfeit of colons

I saw this dog’s breakfast of a movie last night. Hated it.

  • It’s got a macguffin, a cruciform key that somehow will give the person who uses it control of an AI that can crack all of the intelligence agencies in the world. It does nothing in this movie. It’s just a small metal object that everyone has to chase, endlessly.
  • It has the most boring villain ever. A handsome man named Gabriel who, apparently at the behest of the AI, appears to stand handsomely in the middle of the action, doing pretty much nothing, except it turns out he’s a great knife-fighter in one scene.

  • There are car chases. They’re pointless exercises in chasing — they’re only motivated by the fact that someone has the macguffin, and someone else wants it. You want car chases? Go watch Baby Driver, which does them well and integrates them into the story.

  • There is a fight scene on top of a runaway train. Of course there is.

  • Ving Rhames is the stereotypical movie hacker. He doesn’t do anything but make portentous statements and announce that he’s going to hack a computer. He wiggles his fingers magically. Don’t worry, no one involved in writing this movie understands computers or hacking or AI.

  • Oh my god, the writing. It’s terrible. For instance, there’s a scene where a room full of intelligence bureaucrats who are reciting a summary of the problem. The thing is, it’s a series of sentences, and the individuals go around the room with each one saying one sentence in turn. People don’t talk that way. There are multiple scenes where the dialog is clumsy and unrealistic.

  • There is a stupid scene where Simon Pegg is sent on a side-quest to neutralize a tiny nuclear bomb. It turns out to be a puzzle game, with riddles. It’s like something you’d find in a video game. And then it turns out to be a fake bomb. The whole scene could have been cut without affecting the movie at all, except that they needed to give Pegg something to do.

  • The masks. I hate the fucking stupid masks, and the obligatory scene where a character pulls off a thick rubbery latex mask to reveal that he was some other character. Masks can’t do that, they’ll fool no one, but it’s a thing in these movies.

  • Tom Cruise, running. Running, running, running. He never arrives at a fight out of breath, though.

  • There are stunts done for the sake of being stunts. The stupid mask machine burnt out, so Tom Cruise can’t just disguise himself and walk onto a train, he instead chooses to jump off a mountain in a motorcycle and parachute into the moving train. Yeah, much more subtle and sneaky. No one will notice.

  • It is two hours and forty three minutes long, and it’s just part one.

  • In the next movie, they already have the macguffin part one, so macguffin part two will be a sunken submarine beneath the arctic ice cap, where the AI exists. I don’t care.

The best thing about Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning: Part 1 is that it cured me of any desire to see Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning: Part 2. Too late. It’s going to make a derailed train car falling off a cliff full of money.

The Christmas movie I deserved

The semester is winding down to its last week, which means that I’m suddenly embraced by a mountain of tedious administrative work. I posted an online exam on Saturday, which I’ll have to grade on Tuesday; the students all submitted their final lab report, which I have to get graded by Wednesday; I’m giving a practice lab final tomorrow, and the real thing later this week, which I have to finish grading by the weekend; I have another exam to give in my intro class on Thursday; I’ve got some term papers to stamp with an official final grade; I get to sit through another round of phone interviews for a chemistry position tomorrow night; and then I have two finals to give and grade next week. Did I forget anything? Probably.

Anyway, I wrapped up one pile of work yesterday, and decided I could justify a little celebration. I could see a movie. A Christmas movie! That’ll cheer me up.

The Christmas movie playing in town is Violent Night. It wasn’t exactly the light holiday fare I expected.

The plot is ripped off from other Christmas movies, in particular, Die Hard. A small horde of vicious criminals descend on the mansion of a rich woman who, they’ve learned, has $300 million in cash on hand. Their theft is meticulously planned, right down to infiltrating the squad of military veterans who are supposed to fly to the woman’s rescue if anything nefarious happens to her party. The one thing they didn’t plan for was that one resilient, cunning man would just happen to be in the house when they invaded.

That man is not Bruce Willis, but instead is…Santa Claus. The real deal. The actual mythic figure who happened to be in the house to deliver presents when the terrorists opened fire, scaring his reindeer and sleigh away, leaving him behind to get revenge.

There’s also a little girl in the house who escapes the thieves and starts building booby traps ala Home Alone. One difference: her booby traps straight up murder the bad guy who tries to climb a ladder to get to her, with bowling balls falling on his head and driving a nail into his skull so he falls onto a floor covered with spiky nasty things.

Another unexpected detail — no, not a mere detail, the whole bloody movie — is that Santa arms himself with a sledgehammer and proceeds to smash all the naughty people (he has a list, he checks it, and they’re all listed under “Naughty”) into grisly pulp. Santa can be killed, and is shot multiple times, but he is revived by the family he’s rescuing telling his corpse that they believe. And by burning half a million dollars to keep him warm, which I suppose is a metaphor for something.

It’s a twisted, hyper-violent movie, and maybe the Christmas movie America deserves, if you think we deserve a demented gory trifle like a gift chihuahua gone rabid and feral, there to show you why we can’t have anything nice. This movie is little more than a novelty mashup swathed in blood. It ain’t Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but it is in the same family, updated for the 21st century.

I don’t know whether I liked it or not. Don’t bother asking me.

It was better than, and less bloody than, grading lab reports, though, and also not as evil and degenerate as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, so I guess I’ll have to give it a tentative thumbs up.

I wouldn’t mind if Marvel movies became a small niche

A few years ago, I was lining up for the superhero blockbusters, too (metaphorically — we don’t have long lines or big crowds at our theater). But since then, I’ve grown tired of them, and this summer when some monster Marvel movie is playing, I say “meh” and skip it. I don’t miss them at all. Watching CGI gets old fast. So this news sounds good to me!

The share of adults who enjoy superhero movies ticked down slightly compared to a year ago, according to a Morning Consult survey released Thursday, a worrisome trend for Disney’s Marvel franchise as its movies experience a rare relative slump at the box office and among critics – and Disney expands its investment in the properties.

The poll found 36% of all respondents enjoy superhero movies, down from 41% last November.

Perhaps most worrisome is the share of self-identified Marvel fans who enjoy the movies also fell, dropping from 87% to 82%.

That’s still a hefty percentage of those polled, so I wouldn’t be worried about Disney’s financial health right now. I also wouldn’t want those things to completely disappear, since some people still enjoy them — I think I’d enjoy them more, too, if I weren’t drowning in a glut of them. I also have to point out that the MCU oppresses workers and is a tyrannical overlord. They’ve pumped out 29 movies since 2008? How? By abusing special effects houses.

To get work, the houses bid on a project; they are all trying to come in right under one another’s bids. With Marvel, the bids will typically come in quite a bit under, and Marvel is happy with that relationship, because it saves it money. But what ends up happening is that all Marvel projects tend to be understaffed. Where I would usually have a team of ten VFX artists on a non-Marvel movie, on one Marvel movie, I got two including myself. So every person is doing more work than they need to.

The other thing with Marvel is it’s famous for asking for lots of changes throughout the process. So you’re already overworked, but then Marvel’s asking for regular changes way in excess of what any other client does. And some of those changes are really major. Maybe a month or two before a movie comes out, Marvel will have us change the entire third act. It has really tight turnaround times. So yeah, it’s just not a great situation all around. One visual-effects house could not finish the number of shots and reshoots Marvel was asking for in time, so Marvel had to give my studio the work. Ever since, that house has effectively been blacklisted from getting Marvel work.

Part of the problem comes from the MCU itself — just the sheer number of movies it has. It sets dates, and it’s very inflexible on those dates; yet it’s quite willing to do reshoots and big changes very close to the dates without shifting them up or down. This is not a new dynamic.

Maybe if they slowed down a bit and paid more attention to quality and thought about good stories that don’t end with muscle-bound thugs getting into a fist fight? You know, that creativity and imagination thing? We’d all benefit.

You know, last night I went to the movies to see Where the Crawdads Sing, and I enjoyed it thoroughly in spite of the patent tear-jerking and some minor implausibilities. One good thing about comic book movies is that they’ve trained us to overlook the screaming impossibilities in a fantasy story to pay attention to the story, which is usually a bit threadbare in those kinds of movies. I’d like to see more movies that don’t OD on the lycra and the kayfabe and resolving problems with fists.

That said, I’m still planning to binge out on The Sandman later this afternoon, once I get some duties done. (Also, I’ll be working on my syllabus while I’m at it.)

Be the change you want to see

I have to pat myself on the back — I’ve managed to quit an addiction cold turkey. Yeah, I enjoy super-hero comic book movies. They’re the sugary breakfast cereal of Hollywood cinema, probably not very good for you, but they provide that sweet fast-paced visual gratification we all enjoy. (Hmm, maybe a more accurate analogy would be to compare them to porn.)

Now I wouldn’t mind an occasional popcorn movie at all, so I’m not saying they’re entirely bad. I’m only saying that a little more variety would be good, and I’m looking ahead to a long summer of predictable, flashy blockbusters that will fill the theaters, and in my little town with one dinky two-screen theater, that means long, long bookings that will squeeze out any alternatives. I’m casually boycotting them.

I did not see The Batman. Did it offer any novel insights into a tired genre? I doubt it.

This weekend, the theater was playing Morbius, a comic book movie about a vampire super-hero. No, I don’t think so.

Especially since that vein was satisfyingly tapped about 20 years ago, with the Blade trilogy. Did you know all three Blade movies are currently playing on Netflix? Who needs an angsty grimdark vampire movie when we’ve got this?

Oh, baby. Super cool Wesley Snipes, vampire raves with a synthy sound track, chop-sockey swordplay, and evil vampires turning into skeletons with glowing ash? Jared Leto does not tempt me at all. These are classic movies. Talk to me when you’ve got a new twist on a formula that was perfected decades ago (btw, the Michael Keaton Batman was the best, too.)

I fear I won’t be seeing many movies this summer. The new Spiderverse movie will probably be irresistible and will draw me in, but the rest look dismal. And don’t even mention the horrible Harry Potter…thing.

What happens when you don’t let Marvel and Disney dictate your movie choices?

I coulda cried. I went to the movies last night, and it wasn’t another goddamned comic-book super-hero franchise movie. All summer long, that’s all they’ve shown, and I am so tired of that crap. Please, please, no more movies where all tension and drama is supposed to be resolved at the end with a great big punchy slog of a fight with lots of CGI!

The Green Knight is not that movie. Instead, we get all the complexity and ambiguity of the medieval story, with dangly bits of the tale that hang there and make you scratch your head and wonder what that was supposed to mean, and at the end you have to think about what it was all about. It also doesn’t slavishly follow the old poem, and the director adds new surprises. That’s what I want more of in a movie — creativity and originality and complexity. I may have to go again later this week just to soak in the lovely imagery and pick up on the nuances.

The only negative, something that diminished but did not ruin the movie for me, was the audience. For some reason, the theater had a small mob of boys in their early teens who came in to watch, presumably thinking this was another goddamned comic-book super-hero franchise movie. They were visibly bored, constantly getting up to go to the lobby, whispering to each other, noisily chomping on their snacks. So spread the word: this is not an action movie. There isn’t a lot of sustained violence. The sexy scenes are muted and strange. Stay home, kids, you won’t like this movie. And theaters: I know you’re desperate for ticket sales, but you’re doing no one any favors by letting the kiddies into a movie they won’t understand.

P.S. There won’t be a sequel to The Green Knight. It won’t launch a franchise with a new addition to the story every summer. The studios may be unhappy with that, but it’s a huge plus as far as I’m concerned.

I just really like going to the movies, OK?

We have a lovely classy little movie theater in town, it was closed for a year and a half due to the pandemic, and now that it’s open again, I can’t resist. I have to spend one evening in a cozy air-conditioned theater with a mob of people watching whatever is showing that week, no matter how awful it is, which is how I ended up suffering through F9: The Fast Saga last night. I was not prepared — I might have seen bits and pieces of the Fast & Furious franchise on television before, but they were forgettable and left a minimal impression. Cars? Explosions? That was about it. But now I know better. This is quite possibly the worst movie I have ever seen, and I am a glutton for bad movies.

It was incredibly stupid. To my great shame, I didn’t understand half of what was going on, because the damn thing expected me to have absorbed all the lore of previous entries in the franchise.

For instance, Charlize Theron has a “role” in the story. She is, apparently, some evil mastermind everyone fears — we are not told why — and she’s introduced as a gorgeous woman caged in an isolated transparent box surrounded by mysterious glowing poles, like a laser warning or defense system, that had to be turned off before anyone could approach. This box was totally empty, except for the very well dressed Ms Hannibal Lecter, and I had to wonder through most of the movie…how did she go to the bathroom? She has a different outfit in every scene…how? These were the questions that dominated my thoughts about the movie, because she was so thoroughly irrelevant to the plot — so irrelevant that later, she’s shown to have been released from her box and is now running the whole bad guy operation. None of it makes any difference.

Otherwise, it’s just a whole lot of cars driving around fast with people shooting machine guns out of them. They have one wild twist in that they acquire these superpowerful electromagnets that the good guys install in their cars, and so with a twist of a dial they can yank guns out of people’s hands, or lift an entire street full of cars…which are somehow not drawn to the car with the supermagnet, but to bad guy’s cars, conveniently. Also, it doesn’t matter how much mass the supermagnet car is manipulating, it itself experiences no force. The violations of simple physics are numerous and offensive.

There’s also a rocket car they drive into a satellite.

One amusing moment: a character notes of John Cena and Vin Diesel that they figured out they were brothers because of the family resemblance. That jarred me right out of my musings about Charlize Theron’s privacy problem because what was that based on? Entirely on the diameters of their necks?

The stupidity of this movie can be summarized in one fact: this is apparently the tenth movie in the franchise, but they couldn’t count that high, so it was named F9.

Oh, well. The summer promises to be full of bad movies, so I guess it’s convenient that early on a floor has been set. It can only get better from here on out, right? If it doesn’t, maybe I’ll finally be cured of my movie-going habit.

Remember social events?

There is this meme floating around Facebook — sorry I can’t show it to you, because I don’t care — that puts up four movie franchises, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, & Marvel, and asks you to pick only three. I enjoyed seeing all of them once, but sheesh, enough, I don’t particularly want to rewatch any of them, I’m not particularly interested in seeing any of them continued, I don’t need any spin-offs or alternative universe series (Star Trek did that, hated it, Marvel is apparently planning to play games with the time line, I hate that too). Give me something fun and creative that does not expect me to get invested in the next movie that will come out. That’s all I ask. I have simple tastes. Show me a monster from outer space eating spaceships, I’ll contentedly buy a ticket and eat my popcorn. I don’t need to know there will be a monster from outer space eating spaceships II. It’s actually a bit of a turn-off because I know executives somewhere are drooling over piles of cash and planning more without concern for the quality, and by the time we get to monster from outer space eating spaceships VII it’s going to be dreck intended to shear the sheep still lining up to see it. Or, inevitably, it will be bought by Disney. So just stop. Please, for the love of gods, I don’t need to see another Spider-Man or Batman origin story, OK?

But I do love going to the movies. Always have. I’ll go see whatever is playing at our local movie theater, which I hope manages to weather the pandemic. It’s been closed for a year now! I’ve had my vaccination, which will kick in with full immunity in about 6 weeks, and once the theater reopens I’ll be there every week, and I won’t care much what is playing. This video ramped up my nostalgia.

The drone pilot is really, really good, but it’s also a great perspective on just going to the movies. Also, it was recorded in Plymouth, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis — I’ve been there, but not to that particular theater. Now I want to go to the movies, any movies.

The same pilot also made a similar video of Bryant-Lake Bowl — I have been there, multiple times. I even gave a talk in the little auditorium attached to it, and I’ve been there for one of Rebecca Watson’s quiz shows, which were held as part of Convergence. It’s a great place, a center of community, where people get together to relax, have fun, drink beer, and talk.

I want that back. I want it back sensibly and safely, though (note all the mask-wearers). I’m not an extrovert, but I still would like to hang out in communities of my fellow ape-creatures, quietly, just sitting back and savoring the vibes.

By the way, we’re slowly coming back. I see that Convergence is planning an in-person con in Minneapolis on 5 August, which should be OK — we’re all supposed to be vaccinated by then. I might still be a little nervous about attending, so I’ll play that one by ear. Skepticon is playing it safe and will be an entirely on-line con on 13 August, which is reasonable — they would have had to book the venue at about the time the pandemic was peaking (which does make me wonder where Convergence acquired all that confidence).

Nice worm

So, there’s a new movie version of Dune coming out, and the preview just dropped.

One catch: the book is unfilmable. I will be stunned if this turns out decently, but I’ll probably watch it anyway, if movies exist then.

Hey! What’s Paul doing with Spiderman’s girlfriend? Let’s see how effective his killing word is against a web-slinging wall crawler — I’m there for that, for sure.