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By Jason Hamburger

There is no question that the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a crowd pleaser. Avengers: Infinity War was packed to the gills with heart-pounding action, intimate romance, and enough one-liners to make the Hulk giggle. But underneath all the CGI fueled fight scenes and long anticipated character team-ups lies a compelling story with a strong thematic core that will have you leaving the theater with more to think about than you expected from a comic book movie.

One of the biggest questions that Avengers: Infinity War asks its viewers is simply this, “What is the difference between a hero and a villain?” Now of course we have all seen enough movies to know intuitively the answer to this question. The heroes are the ones who you like. They are good-looking, funny, and driven by an unflinching altruism that allows them to always make the right choice when it really matters. Villains on the other hand have egos as big as the bad-ass looking armor they wear. They have henchmen, are always accompanied by sinister music, and want to shape the world to conform to their own twisted vision of paradise. This is what we know, and this is what we expect.  Infinity Wars is such an interesting story because it plays with our expectations of what it means to be a hero or a villain in surprisingly complex ways. It does this by exploring what each of its main characters are willing to sacrifice to achieve their goals. What does it mean to be a hero in the context of Infinity War? The answer is much more complicated than you might expect.

Let’s start where the movie starts, with the opening scene. The Asgardian transport ship is under attack by a ruthless foe. The camera pans over a scene of death and destruction as, above it all, Ebony Maw strides over the corpses of the fallen, making a speech about how lucky the Asgardians are to be sacrificing their lives to the noblest of causes. What follows is a gut-wrenching scene where Thanos kills everyone’s favorite Norse heroes (except for one). Loki trades Thor’s life for the Tesseract, Heimdall trades his life to save the Hulk’s, and within the first few minutes the movie effortlessly sets up its main thematic conflict. What this scene tells the audience is that the heroes of this movie are going to value the lives of individuals while the villains are going to dispassionately kill anyone who stands between them and their goals.  Simple enough right? This is a story we have all seen before. But the brilliance of Infinity War is that it refuses to tell the easy story. Instead what it does is give us heroes who consistently fall on the wrong side of the line, morally speaking, and pay a heavy price for their actions.

 

It’s important to note here how the actions of Thanos help shape the main thematic conflict of this movie. Instead of a cliched, over-the-top megalomaniac, Thanos is presented to us as a very human character forced to make painful decisions throughout his quest to save the world. Thanos’s story plays beautifully with the themes of personal sacrifice as he is forced to kill the person he cares about most in the universe, his adopted daughter Gamora, to acquire the Soul Stone. While we the audience certainly feel for Thanos’s loss, his decision to value the success of his mission over Gamora’s life cements him as the villain of this story. By having Thanos be the antagonist, we are primed to believe that those with a similar disregard for human life belong on the side of evil.

It is no exaggeration to say that Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) is the most unambiguous hero in the MCU. Time after time he is willing to stand up for what he believes in, regardless of the situation. He is a capable leader who never for a second forgets that to be a hero means to protect the innocent at any cost. He is the moral compass of every movie he is in and it should come as no surprise that he is the voice of heroism in the Vision and Scarlet Witch story line. Towards the beginning of the movie it is established that Scarlet Witch and Vision have fallen deeply in love. Unfortunately for them, they are attacked soon after by two of Thanos’s children, narrowly escaping thanks to a well-timed dramatic entrance by Captain America and his crew. Once out of harm’s way, Vision brings up the idea to destroy the Mind Stone even though it would cost him his life. Captain America, the voice of morality, staunchly denies Vision’s plan to sacrifice himself to stop Thanos. Cap is so rigid in his ethical code that he brings Vision and the Mind Stone to Wakanda to try and have the two separated. When it is made clear that the process will take time, he convinces the heroes to make a stand against Thanos’s forces rather than sacrifice Vision to suicide. So why is this so important? Because the logical decision would be to sacrifice Vision’s life to save the countless others who will surely die in the upcoming conflict. But that is not what heroes do. Captain America is clearly taking a stand here against the cold, calculating, logic-driven solution that Vision offers. Captain America is not Thanos. He will not, under any circumstances, sacrifice someone he cares about to achieve victory.

One example of a hero who is not as morally upstanding as we might expect is Doctor Strange. While on the way to Thanos’s home world Titan, Strange outright tells Tony Stark that he will not hesitate to sacrifice Tony and his adorably naïve sidekick Peter Parker to protect the Time Stone. Not exactly a heroic move by Dr. Strange. But, fortunately for Strange’s character, he has a change of heart after seeing into the future and discovering that there is only one possible way to save the universe. What did he see exactly? We won’t know until the sequel no doubt but whatever it was it convinced him to value the life of Tony Stark over protecting the Time Stone. It’s interesting to note that before this motley crew is sent off into space, Tony Stark tries to prevent Peter Parker from getting involved in the upcoming crisis. He knows that Peter is too young to understand what he is truly sacrificing by getting on Thanos’s ship and tries as hard as he can to prevent it. Stark demonstrating here that he too is worthy of being called a hero.

Many, many of the story threads in this movie revolve around characters struggling with the decision to sacrifice something to achieve their goals. Gamora asks Peter Quill to sacrifice her before Thanos can retrieve the information she knows about the Soul Stone. Gamora can’t bring herself to sacrifice Nebula to let the secret of the Soul Stone die with her. Thor is forced to sacrifice himself to forge Stormbreaker. At each of these turns our heroes are given a choice, to either sacrifice a human being or achieve an end. And in most cases our heroes chose as we would expect them to. Either saving the one they love from harm or giving their own life for the betterment of all. But not all our heroes fall on the side of good during these decisions. The instance of sacrifice that is most central to the plot comes at the hands of Scarlet Witch. It is fascinating that in the end Scarlet Witch kills Vision (or at least tries to) to keep the Mind Stone out of Thanos’s giant purple hands. Sacrificing her true love to prevent Thanos’s plan lands Scarlet Witch uncomfortably close Thanos’s side of the hero-villain spectrum. And of course, it’s too late and Thanos turns back time and retrieve the stone anyway. What does this mean for the story of Infinity War and its central theme?  In its final movements, the plot of Infinity Wars delivers on our expectations of what it means to be a hero. By failing to stop Thanos, Scarlet Witch demonstrated painfully that the salvation of our heroes will not come by bowing to the pressure of the situation and undervaluing human life.

So where does that leave us? How will our heroes find a way to defeat Thanos and undo the damage he has done? I believe the answer lies with Dr. Strange. Because unlike Scarlet Witch, Strange chose the life of his companion over his desire to stop a tyrant. I can’t say with certainty what I think the next Avengers movie will look like, but the fact that Tony Stark was not included in Thanos’ great halving of the universe is strong evidence that by saving his life, Dr. Strange did the right thing and that Tony will be integral in the ultimate resolution of this epic story.

(All images owned by Marvel)

(Image by MediaPro)

Aid Workers Get Their Day

Review by Patrick Doyle

 

A few dozen wind-beaten civilians clutching plastic buckets stand around a well, hours into their wait. The only other reservoirs in the area have been laid with land mines. Someone has thrown a corpse into this one. Mambrú (Benicio del Toro), an aid worker, handles the fraying rope harnessed to the dead man as his translator pulls up the body with their mud-spattered truck. The rope snaps. The body falls. And there is no more rope to be found.

So begins A Perfect Day, a 2015 darkly comedic drama set in 1995, during what Mambrú’s UN superiors call the waning days of the Yugoslav Wars. Mambrú’s organization is considering pulling him and his colleagues out.  A ceasefire has been called, after all. Never mind the trucks of political prisoners taken by a supposedly demobilized Yugoslavian militia, the swathes of crumbling, bombed-out buildings, and the landmines traps set into country roads.

The film alternates between scenes of deep tension and pitch-black humor, with an absurdist streak running through the center. The aid workers are well-intentioned but hapless, impeded by simmering local resentments, U.N. bureaucracy, and the whims of fate. They travel from lead to lead in search of an elusive coil of rope, cracking bitter jokes, but rarely making any headway.

(Image by MediaPro)

A Perfect Day doesn’t show the wider effects of the war. There are no pitched gunfights, no glimpse into the geopolitics of the conflict. Instead, subtly and thoughtfully, it examines how the conflict has affected the people on the ground. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give the film is that it feels authentic. One particular detail, the way combatants drag animal carcasses into the center of the road, laying mines on one side but not the other as a trap, worked particularly well to establish the feel. The film looks at a war that I had never thought about, much less experienced first-hand, and makes it vivid.

Del Toro’s supporting cast includes Tim Robbins’s jokester B, Mélanie Thierry’s wet behind the ears Sophie, and Eldar Residovic’s Nikola, a Slavic boy who wants little more than to collect the soccer ball Mambrú promised him. Robbins is the standout, delivering a youthfully mischievous performance that occasionally shows the character’s exhaustion beneath.

The setting is gorgeous and desolate. Alex Catalán, the film’s cinematographer, makes the world look lived-in and crumbling. A beautiful scene about halfway way through the film sees Mambrú and Sophie delving into a bombed-out house, searching through its former inhabitant’s dusty belongings as light filters in through a collapsed roof.

(Image by MediaPro)

That isn’t to say that there aren’t problems. The female characters are badly served. Sophie has a small arc but serves mostly as the butt of the men’s jokes. The romance between Mambrú and Katya (Olga Kurylenko) is both underdeveloped and less engaging than its surroundings. Katya never feels like a real person, instead existing in the same space as so many of films’ other crazy ex-girlfriend characters.

Despite that, the things that A Perfect Day accomplishes, it does well. A Perfect Day is currently streaming on Netflix. If you like black comedies or war movies with unconventional protagonists, I would highly recommend checking it out.

My rating:  8/10

Author: Gus Baker

Trust the Critics

In the 1960s and 70s the Western genre was the most popular in cinema. Westerns were basically the period equivalent of modern superhero films. They featured larger than life heroes that perform near superhuman feats to defeat the bad guys. They were headlined by the largest starts of the decade, and were guaranteed box office gold. Nowadays, we seem to get about one good western per year, as they can be financially risky for studios. However, if done right Westerns can still make a splash in the modern market. Last year we got the neo-western Hell or High Water, an excellent installment in the western genre. This year, director Scott Cooper and lead actor Christian Bale bring us Hostiles, a period western that fits firmly in the revisionist sub-genre of western.

As a fan of the Western genre, I was excited when the first trailers for Hostiles were released. I like Christian Bale and was looking forward to seeing him act in a new genre. After seeing the film, I can confidently say the trailers don’t do the film justice and that Bale impresses a western hero. Critics tend to agree with me, with 72% of critics and 72% of audience members giving Hostiles a positive review according to reviewer aggregate Rotten Tomatoes. Personally, I think that Hostiles is underrated, even with its mostly positive reputation.

A True Revisionist Western

Hostiles does an excellent job depicting the daily strife faced by settlers, soldiers, and native peoples living in the American west. It pulls no punches in depicting the brutalities committed by native peoples on planes settlers, nor in depicting the similar cruelties inflicted upon native peoples by the American army. The violence depicted is extremely gruesome, reflecting the harsh reality of the time. Hostiles is certainly a film unfit for the faint of heart.

The story is engaging from start to finish, with nary a dull moment in 133 minutes of run time. I can only describe it as the type of emotional roller coaster you want of ride again and again. The film’s nihilistic overtones are fitting for a contemporary western and work exceptionally well with the plot without sticking in your face. Perhaps more than anything else, Hostiles makes us contemplate which actions are justified by war and which are simply unforgivable.

The incredible story is brought to life by a stellar cast lead by Christian Bale, who stars as the highly complex Captain Joseph Block. Block is an aging veteran of multiple wars with nearly thirty years of service to the Union Army and a fondness for reading the writings of Julius Caesar. Wes Studi plays the wise and venerated Chief Yellow Hawk, in perhaps the best performance of his career and Rosamund Pike delivers a truly emotional performance as the tragic Rosalie Quade; who’s faith and fortitude are tested when her family is murdered by a party Cheyenne horse thieves. Along with lead roles, the entire supporting cast is excellent as well. Just as inspiring as the cast are the breathtaking shots of the western countryside. As we follow Captain Block on his journey from New Mexico to Montana, we are treated to views of sprawling plains, roaring rivers, mountain ranges and deep valleys. The cinematography would no doubt have earned an Oscar nomination had Hostiles been released in time for award season.

Overall Rating 9.5/10 – With its stellar performances, incredible scenery, and superb story Hostiles sets the bar high early in 2018. I can only hope that this is a sign of a good year of movies after a 2017 that felt underwhelming.

Author: Gus Baker

Ignore the Critics

After Thanksgiving dinner my family settled in after dinner for a tradition that many modern families share: Family Movie Night. It was my Dad’s turn to pick the film and he selected the critically lauded action/thriller Brawl in Cell Block 99. Brawl is an independent film, first screened at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, after which it received a limited theatrical release this past October. For this reason, it hasn’t been on the radar of most casual cinephiles. Critics have taken notice, awarding it an impressive 92% according to Rotten Tomatoes which indicates nearly universal acclaim. I am here to tell you that Brawl in Cell Block 99 is, unequivocally, a steaming pile of garbage. It’s the type of terrible, low-budget action flick that you’d expect to headline has-been-stars such as Steve Austin or Steven Seagal (see Maximum Conviction). I will make no effort to avoid spoilers when reviewing this abomination, as they are important to understanding just how awful this movie is.

A Promising Beginning

Despite its low budget, Brawl manages to score some Hollywood level talent which only barely manages to save it from being completely unwatchable. Vince Vaughn headlines as Bradley Thomas, a former boxer who now works in construction. After being laid off from his job, he turns to a life of crime as a drug courier for a major cartel run by a mysterious man known only as “The Boss,” in order to support his pregnant wife. After a botched drug pickup, he finds himself facing seven years in a medium-security prison. Life in prison seems easy enough, with Bradly receiving a private cell and ample access to classes, work programs, and rec time. However, things look as though they will take a turn for the worse when a prison guard who runs an underground boxing ring solicits Bradley to fight for him. When Bradly refuses, the guard threatens to make his life in prison difficult if he doesn’t fight. This seemingly important story line is almost immediately dropped and serves no other purpose than to establish that Bradley is a former boxer and thus “justifies” his superhuman fighting skills that appear throughout the film.

An Utterly Nonsensical Plot

Up to this point the film is actually rather palatable, I was even starting to get into it a bit. The film takes a complete nosedive when Bradley is approached by two affiliates of The Boss. They inform Bradley that The Boss is angry with him for losing his last shipment and has kidnapped his pregnant wife. The men inform him that if he does not murder a man named Christopher Bridge, who currently resides in maximum security prison, The Boss will have an abortionist perform a horrific operation upon his unborn child leaving it to be born alive but horrible disfigured. If that thought makes you squirm, strap in because the film only gets gorier from here. To get to maximum security, Bradley beats numerous prison guards within inches of their lives, cracking skulls and breaking arms as easily as you or I would crack an egg. This immediately gets him thrown into maximum security prison, with no paperwork or litigation.

The maximum security prison couldn’t be a starker contrast from the prior. Bradly’s cell is filthy, containing little more than a clogged toilet piled high with waste and a tiny bed with no sheets.  In max there is 30 minutes of rec time a day, otherwise prisoners spend every minute in their cells. From an inmate in a neighboring cell Bradley learns that the mysterious Christopher Bridge is being held in the dreaded Cell Block 99: a super-secret, super-max prison wing located beneath the regular prison. Naturally, Bradley uses his first 30 minutes of rec time to crack more skulls and brutalize more guards, earning him a one-way ticket to Cell Block 99. The cells here are even smaller and filthier than the ones upstairs; complete with puke-stained beds and floors covered in broken glass. In a cruel twist of fate, it is revealed by Warden Tuggs (pictured above), played by Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, that there is no Christopher Bridge. The whole thing was just a ruse in order to get Bradley into Cell Block 99, where The Boss currently resides after having his entire operation spoiled by Bradley’s single botched pickup.

The Boss informs Bradley that he will remain in Cell Block 99 for the rest of his life, where he will be violently beaten and tortured by The Boss and his men, or else his wife and unborn daughter will be mutilated. This doesn’t sit well with Bradly, who responds by beating the Boss and his men to death, but not before forcing The Boss to call off his abortionist. Immediately following this altercation, Bradly is shot to death by Warden Tuggs, who remarks that it’s a shame he won’t live to see the birth of his daughter.

Final Verdict

As I touched on earlier, clearly there is no such thing as paperwork in this version of reality, as the time from the first day of Bradley’s incarceration to the point where he is shot spans an entirety of three days. Despite this, the movie drags on and on, taking 132 minutes to reach the film’s high point, which occurs when the credits finally role.

Overall Rating 3/10 – The film had good cinematography and passable acting, everything else was unwatchable. I would not and DO NOT recommend.

Coco is the first Pixar movie that’s the story of an ordinary boy. There’s more to it than that, of course. It’s also a multigenerational family drama, Pixar’s first musical, and a Divine Comedy-esque journey through the Mexican land of the dead. (The street dog that accompanies Miguel is named Dante.) But, compared to some of Pixar’s previous outings, which have featured a clownfish searching for his lost son, the personified emotions of an eleven-year old girl, and a rat who wants to be a chef, Coco is much more traditional Disney.

Make no mistake, though; Coco tells an ambitious and satisfying story that falls only slightly short of Pixar’s best work.

Coco follow Miguel Rivera, a young musician who is part of “the only family in Mexico who hates music.” Miguel spends his days practicing his guitar out of earshot of his family and watching hidden VHS tapes of his hero, the legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz. The memory of Miguel’s great great grandfather, who abandoned his family to become a musician, runs deep in the Rivera family. When Miguel’s grandmother discovers his guitar, she destroys it.

It’s this destruction that sets off the events of the movie, as Miguel steals a guitar from Ernesto de la Cruz’s tomb to compete in a Day of the Dead talent show. For this, he is trapped in the land of the dead. There, he meets up with his deceased ancestors, all skeletons making their yearly passage into the land of the living over the marigold petal bridge that separate the worlds.

To return, Miguel must get a blessing from a dead family member before dawn. All of them, however, impose the condition that Miguel never play music again. So, Miguel roves out into the land of the dead to get a blessing from his musician great great grandfather. On the way, he enlists the help of the deceased Héctor, a kind-hearted rogue desperate also to return to the land of the living, and comes face to face with his hero, Ernesto.

Miguel’s story is a straight-forward coming-of-age tale that follows all the beats of the hero’s journey. It’s well executed, but there’s nothing novel about the mechanics of the plot. Instead, it’s the visual imagery sets this film apart from more traditional children’s movies.

The land of the dead is stunning. Rendered in an otherworldly purple-red pallet, the vertical urban environment is both mazelike and bustling with life. It’s an engaging mixture of the modern and historical, with cobbled streets, suspended tram ways, and a giant stadium filled with thousands of skeleton concert-goers. It’s like nothing else that I’ve seen in a movie.

Coco has several twists and turns, as well as a complex mythos, but Pixar never gets mired in exposition the way a lesser studio might. Once the film reaches the land of the dead twenty minutes into its runtime, it doesn’t let up till the end.

Coco is buoyant. It’s neither heavy and plodding nor weightless in the way many children movies are.

The conclusion waves aside some of the pre-established rules of the land of the dead to give us a happy ending. It’s hard to fault Pixar movie for that, but it does feel partially unearned, if only in terms of internal consistency.

In fact, the largest criticism I can make is not about Coco, but of the short that precedes it in theaters. It’s telling that upon returning home for the theater, the first article I found on Coco counseled movie-goers “When to Show Up to Coco to Avoid Seeing the Frozen Short That Everyone Hates.”

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is exactly as bad as it’s been hyped to be. It’s the length of a full television show. And, even ignoring the visual, cultural, and thematic mismatch with Coco, it fails to tell an engaging story. I don’t want to harp on this too much, but the article estimated that you should arrive 37 minutes after your showtime to avoid it. Do that.

Don’t let it make you skip Coco, though. I haven’t even touched on Coco’s great soundtrack and what is by all accounts (for obvious reasons, I can’t speak authoritatively on this) an authentic and respectful take on Mexican culture. Coco is the best Pixar film in years. It’s well worth your time and money.

Rating: 8.5/10

Review by Patrick Doyle

Author: Gus Baker

A Failed Gamble

For those of you who tuned in to our Valerian Podcast, you know that I believed from the start that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was destined to bomb. Unfamiliar source material in major markets, an exorbitant budget, and a tepid response from critics spelled doom and gloom for Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline before they even embarked on their epic journey to save the titular City of a Thousand Planets.

By the Numbers
Based on the popular French comic book series Valerian and Laureline, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Hollywood’s latest attempt at turning comic book media into a movie franchise. Given the relative obscurity of the source material in major movie markets (US and China), French motion picture company EuropaCorp took a major gamble when it greenbelt Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets with a 180 million dollar net production budget. Thus, to make a splash in major markets, Valerian would require both a successful international marketing campaign and positive reception from major critics.

Unfortunately for EuropaCorp, neither came to fruition. The film was met with a lukewarm reception from American critics, who gave it a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. Furthermore, the film only managed to gross $185 million combined outside the United States and Canada. That combined with the domestic gross of $40 million falls far short of the $400 million needed to break even after accounting for marketing and distribution costs.

Will Major Valerian Return to the Silver Screen?
My guess would be no, or at least not anytime soon. The film has not made nearly enough money to justify a sequel and despite being hugely popular in France (where it grossed nearly $37 million), there is no demand from fans in major markets for a Valerian franchise. If the film manages to spawn a new media in major markets, it’s possible the franchise may gain traction over time, but as it stands now it looks like the Valerian universe may be dead in the water. A major concern is that the film’s lack of success will discourage studios to adapt lesser known material into major movies. My hope is that studios will experiment with franchise-launching film with lower budgets, which would put less pressure on them to make multiple hundreds of millions.

Author: Gus Baker

Ignore the Critics

This past weekend I subscribed to movie pass (which by the way is completely worth the money) and decided to use my first ticket on the much maligned Geostorm because hey, I wasn’t paying. Critics have been ruthless towards Geostorm, which currently holds a paltry 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. Due to the film’s hefty production and marketing budgets, Geostorm will need a miracle to even break even. But is Geostorm really as bad as the numbers indicate? I’m here to tell you that no, it’s not as bad as the critics say and that if you are a fan of the sci-fi genre, you should give Geostorm a chance.

Advertised as a disaster film along the lines of 2012 or The Day after Tomorrow, a more accurate genre for Geostorm would be a political/space thriller with a disaster sub-theme. While this may sound a bit ridiculous, it’s actually what makes the movie pretty great. Geostorm has the feeling of a Sci-Fi channel original movie with a blockbuster sized budgets. This leads to all the pseudo-science, exaggerated characters, and ridiculous yet predictable plot lines of low-budget sci-fi with slightly better acting and significantly better special effects. While critics have chastised the film for its political message, which basically amounts to drawing parallels between climate change and World War II, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. So, while the politics do drive the plot, the message isn’t intrusive and doesn’t distract from the excellent special effects.

Butler Delivers A Solid Performance

Gerard Butler stars as Jake Lawson, the quintessential yet paradoxical low-budget sci-fi hero who is equal parts genius engineer and beer drinking every-man. Lawson is the lead designer of Dutch Boy, the international space station designed to combat climate control by stopping natural disasters before they happen. In a cruel twist of fate, he is relieved as commander of Dutch Boy when he breaks protocol to save a community from a sudden disaster. Naturally this leads catastrophe, as during Lawson’s absence Dutch Boy is hacked by an unknown enemy who turns it into a global weapon. This leaves the government with no choice but to beg Lawson to come out of retirement, in which he has fallen into a rut wrought with drinking, divorce, and numerous other clichés.

In all Butler does well in the role of Lawson despite the sub-par and often cheesy dialogue. Jim Sturgess, who plays Jake’s brother Max, also gives a solid performance. The dynamic between the brothers is one of the better character relationships in the film, and feels more meaningful than any of Jake’s other relationships. Ed Harris does a fine job as Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom, in the type of role that is typical for him these days. Dekkom is a character we’ve seen in sci-fi movies since the genre’s inception which leaves Harris’s performance feeling stale and overplayed. As far as women go, the movie generally falls short. Alexandra Maria Lara’s Ute Fassbender serves little purpose other than to be the painfully forced love interest of Lawson, and serves little purpose other than to show up in the clutch to open a door for Jake (yes really) in what is perhaps the worst callback to an earlier scene I’ve ever seen in cinema (watch it and you’ll understand). Lawson’s daughter Hannah seems spunky and smart, having inherited her father’s skill as an engineer, but her character is under developed. The one exception is Secret Service Agent Sarah Wilson, played by Abbie Cornish. Wilson is a no-nonsense agent with a good head on her shoulders. She is strong, decisive, never over-sexualized and has one of the better car chase scenes I’ve seen this side of Baby Driver.

Final Verdict

Overall, I found Geostorm to be thoroughly entertaining and I fully recommend it to anybody who grew up loving low budget sci-fi flicks. The film is at its best during the numerous vignettes of natural disasters across the world, such as a heat wave in Moscow, hail in Honk Kong, or a tidal wave in Dubai (my personal favorite). The outer space scenes are equally epic and look stellar on the big screen. Unfortunately, the film’s ending left me less than satisfied, which cost it in my final rating. Without giving away the details, the film passes on a prime opportunity to subvert one of the genre’s ubiquitous troupes of the invincible hero, instead opting for the ending everyone expects. Despite its undeniable flaws Geostorm is far better than critics are giving it credit for. So as long as you don’t go in expecting too much, you’re likely to find Geostorm surprisingly enjoyable.

Overall Rating 6.5/10

Author: Patrick Doyle

“He created the cinematic fountain of youth, man. He did the impossible. He brought the magic back. He put the ‘Star’ in Star Wars, man. It’s a trip down memory-land, like I went into that theater and came out a 9-year-old butterball kid.”

Kevin Smith

In watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” it is easy to assume that Lucas sold the franchise to the Xerox Corporation – because the new film is nothing more than a weak photocopy of the 1977 classic and its 1980 follow-up.

Phil Hall, Examiner.com

The Force Awakens:

Recapturing Star Wars or Duplicating It?

Every major blockbuster has had backlash. It seems a matter of course that, no matter how initially well received a major movie may be, within a few days dozens of think-pieces swarm the internet detailing why that movie is an affront to their childhood, good movie-making, and basic human decency. Soon after, a response to the response emerges, detailing how the authors of those critical pieces are trolls looking to criticize something great for their own nefarious purposes.

The internet runs on hyperbole, something that often hides the truth in exchange for the greater readership that incendiary headlines can bring.

This article is going to lay out the history of the critical response to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with the hope that understanding the evolution of that response will offer a more complete picture of the film by itself. With The Last Jedi releasing in just four months, this is going to be relevant again very soon.

No matter how good or bad it is, get ready for some opinionated nerds. Source: starwars.com

The Force Awakens has been subject to this hyperbole more than any film in recent memory, perhaps since the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace. With the first teaser released thirteen months before the film’s December 2015 release, I think it’s fair to say that Disney’s strategy was to cultivate a fever pitch of excitement long before the film was released.

Publications from the lowest blogger to the largest news conglomerate praised the teaser. (With the one exception of the racist and sexist “critics” who I’ll give no more than a brief mention of here.) Hollywood Reporter called it “Perfectly Potent Nostalgia,” capturing the same “visceral, childlike thrill of the visual spectacle” as the originals. The Verge, less eloquently but just as enthusiastically, said: “it looks really, really good.”

Disney had wrapped the film’s production in a cloaking device of secrecy, giving each subsequent trailer more and more weight. 112 million people watched the next trailer in the twenty-four hours after it was released (a record at the time). The cautious optimism ballooned into full-blown excitement.

I one-hundred percent didn’t tear up even a little bit when Han and Chewie stepped on-screen. Source: starwarsscreencaps.com

No matter how good or bad The Force Awakens was, it was going to a financial hit, but improbably, it appeared that The Force Awakens might also be the critical hit that the prequel trilogy was not.

December 14th came. The Force Awakens had its world premiere in Los Angeles, and over the course of the night, the first reactions began to trickle in. A review embargo would keep details from leaking out until December 16th, but reaction ranged from Chris Hardwick levels of positivity (I’m fairly certain he’s contractually obligated to be excited about anything tangentially related to geek culture):

To merely extremely positive:

When actual reviews began flowing out on December 16th, they were almost universally positive. On the day of the film’s release, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes had it ranked as Certified Fresh at 95%.

Most of the film’s positive reviews cited the way it felt like the original trilogy. Often they discussed how their viewing of The Force Awakens played on their own personal experience with the original series.

The Force Awakens, it seemed universally agreed upon, felt like Star Wars in a way that the prequel trilogy hadn’t.

Nothing screams Star Wars quite like CGI pears. Source: starwarsscreencaps.com

Yet, as more time passed, the gap between the most positive and negative reactions to The Force Awakens widened. While most reviews remained glowing, the negative responses have been vicious.

Some of the criticism can no doubt be attributed to attention seekers. Some, like Cole Smithey, the self-proclaimed “Smartest Critique in the World,” have no doubt exaggerated their responses for greater readership. I’ll admit, The Rotten Tomatoes blurb for his video review: “This latest installment of fandom’s favorite mongrel pet is a poorly paced MacGuffin-chase plot, ginned up with groan-inducing spoonful doses of pro-war imagery and its attendant rudimentary vocabulary” got me to hate-watch part of it.

Still, dismissing all criticism as a product of hyperbole strikes me as short-sighted.

The criticism that The Force Awakens is derivative of the episodes of the Star Wars saga that came before it is the common thread across most negative reviews.

The Force Awakes shares many of the same beats as A New Hope. Our hero is a desert dweller whose story begins when they come across an escaped droid with data imperative to defeating an evil empire. They meet an old mentor, travel to a cantina filled with strange creatures, and destroy a planet-killing super weapon. Their mentor is killed by a masked villain from his past.

I’m looking forward to Starkiller Base II in Episode IX. Source: starwarsscreencaps.com

Yet, criticism that the reduces The Force Awakens down to “a weak photocopy” is, I feel comfortable saying, reductionist.

The Force Awakens is not A New Hope. A movie is more than the sum of the beats of its plots. Rey is not Luke. Her journey as a character and a human is not the same. Kylo Ren is not Vader. Han Solo is not Obi Wan.

The Force Awakens is a film that is incredibly aware of the films that preceded it, sometimes to its detriment and sometimes not.

How you react to that is entirely a personal response.

The point is this: looking critically at a film is hard. It’s even more difficult when combined with thirteen months of Disney-engineered hype, the film’s deep involvement with its predecessors, and every one of our own individual experiences with the Star Wars saga.

For better or worse, The Force Awakens never had a chance to simply be a movie. It was always the newest Star Wars film.

Author: Gus Baker
8/16/2017

By the Numbers
Now that Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster/franchise launcher Spider-Man: Homecoming has nearly completed its theatrical run we can begin to examine the film’s financial success. Critically the film has done quite well; Rotten Tomatoes reports a critic score of 92%, the second highest score for a Spider-Man film behind Sam Raimi’s Spider Man 2 (2004), which boasts an impressive 94%. Audiences have also rated the film favorably; Rotten Tomatoes reports an audience score of 90%, while IMDB users have rated the film at an average of 7.9/10.

As we all know, critical success does not always translate to financial success. Five and a half weeks after Homecoming’s release, everyone’s favorite web-slinger has hauled in 307.2 million domestically and 395.6 million internationally for a worldwide take of $702.8 million (Box Office Mojo). This comes against a production budget of 175 million (Box Office Mojo) and a marketing budget of 140 million (Heroic Hollywood) for a total production cost of 315 million. On the surface a net profit just shy of $250 million* seems like a financial success. However, when one compares these numbers to other contemporary superhero films, specifically Sony’s recent Amazing Spider-Man films, the numbers are rather disappointing.

Franchise Fatigue?
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was released with a production budget of ~215 million and worldwide gross of 757.9 million (Box Office Mojo). The similarity between the profit margins of Homecoming and The Amazing Spider-Man suggest that Marvel didn’t improve much on Sony’s franchise pilot. When comparing Homecoming’s numbers to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a financial disappointment that ended the Sony franchise, the outlook for the success of the series looks rather bleak. The Amazing Spider Man-2 ended its run with a worldwide gross of 709 million (Box Office Mojo), higher than that of Homecoming, but was sunk by its exorbitant 473 million dollar budget ($293 million dollar production budget, 180 million dollar marketing). So while profits margins for Spider-Man: Homecoming are certainly higher than those of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it drew fewer viewers and generated less overall ticket revenue despite being released five-years later. These numbers suggest that franchise fatigue may have set in among the superhero fan base.
The relative successes of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and DC’s Wonder Woman, both released within months of Homecoming, also point to Spidey fatigue. Perhaps Marvel should have given its viewers a few more years to get the bad taste left by The Amazing Spider-Man out of our mouths before rushing the character back into the spotlight.

Footnotes and Updates
*accounts for an estimated 20% cost for distribution (All numbers are in units of millions of dollars) 702.8 x .2 = 562.24, 562.24-315 = 247.24

Update: Spider-Man: Homecoming ended its run with a worldwide gross of 747.2 million (Box Office Mojo), surpassing that of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.