Oblivion

OBLIVION GFX Montage from GMUNK on Vimeo.

I’ll keep this short, it’s less a review and more about what the movie is.

I had a chance to see the movie last week and was really impressed. The visuals are led by a director with a background in architecture and design and it shows. Like Tron, the movie is as much about it’s style and it’s world as anything else. I went into it with no real expectations and left pleasantly surprised but it’s depth and the little details that usually derail these sorts of movies. I really appreciated that they built the sets and the vehicles – the fact that they shot the cloudscapes and projected them just seems so caring to me. There was a video about Akira that talked about the sheer level of detail they put into it, that there’s a scene that’s only a few seconds long, but they matte painted an entire cityscape to parallax through the buildings behind them. That’s the sort of obsessive vision that I really appreciate. Even if the movie is terrible – and Oblivion isn’t – I appreciate the people who made it so much more.

The soundtrack is M83 and unlike Tron’s Daft Punk score, was actually pretty generic. Save for the credit song and a few of the ambient bits it was the traditional cinematic style found everywhere. It wasn’t bad, it’s just that I wish M83 had more reign to do something awesome.

So. Go see it. Notice that there’s dirt on the pedals of the flying machine from adventures previous. Notice that it feels lived in instead of being a greenscreen soundstage.

Dredd: Better than Batman?

Go in with no expectations, walk out without the ability to form coherent sentences. That was, at least, what I did. Driving home in the rainy night I tried to think about what I’d write here and it all came forth at once, this tidal wave of opinions. Instead I just turned up the music and watched the coloured lights reflect in the inky road, letting it all come forward.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Batman’s third installment Dark Knight Rises was exactly what it needed to be. It featured a cast of the world’s loveliest people and was directed by one of the best making films today. It was predictable and took very few risks, closing the series nicely. It worked, don’t get me wrong. It fit and was successful. Good. But not… but not brilliant.

…a word one might use to describe Dredd. It was crafted brilliantly. It’s not a clever movie, it too is predictable and if you saw the trailer, you know exactly what it will be. It’s an 80’s movie made in 2012. It has cheesy one liners and ridiculous amounts of violence. The part that I’d describe as brilliant is the balance between it’s tongue-in-cheek cheese and it’s maintained gravity. It’s stylized but not silly. Judge Dredd delivers the same kind of lines as Batman does, but the former’s come out with a self aware over-the-top badass snark whereas the latter’s gravel always made me giggle. Batman just takes itself too seriously and it comes across as laughable.

The violence is abundant. It’s rated R for a reason. It’s based on a gritty, dark comic and the movie adaptation matches; it’s the nature of the beast. With that said, there’s a surprising lack of actual sexual content given it’s testosterone fueled ride. Alluded to a few times, it just doesn’t take center stage in a movie about a soulless justice system. He’s not really a human, he doesn’t really have a face, he’s just the embodiment of justice itself. Justice can’t get the girl. He shoots bad guys.

The slo mo drug, obviously, is a plot device created specifically so they can show neat things in slow motion. What I appreciated is that they didn’t over use it. It’s there and it’s a plot device, it gets shown a few times in the beginning to establish how it works and then the rest is left to simply be understood. Actually, one might say the same about the violence: it’s introduced in the beginning with rather disturbing homicides that the Judges investigate but the final death is almost poetically calm. The 3D too, is usually abused by directors but here it’s just a subtle effect to create depth, never deciding how something is shot that wouldn’t be otherwise. It’s a movie of cinematic balances – the choices of when and where to pull punches show surprising grace for a movie of such genre.

Soundtrack: wow. I’ll be getting that whenever it’s available. So perfect. Subtle 80’s tones in there match the hokey-retro styled motorcycles in a fitting homage to the past. The slow motion parts have this lovely Brian Eno feel and the Judge’s no-nonsense walking around hallways have a fantastic driving pulse to them. Dirty and alive.

Honestly? I think it’ll be an underrated cult classic. It was good. If given the choice, I’d see that again instead of Batman. It’s self aware enough to avoid the trap of cheesiness and knows how to balance thematic elements with surprising deftness.

Love the Beast

It showed up on Canadian Netflix a little while back which means, I can only assume, it’s available everywhere. Definitely this post put much more eloquently than I ever could have. It’s a topic that’s coming up more and more lately in not only my interactions with cars but also my observations of people’s interactions with their objects and even the introspective reasoning of who I am and why I design.

One of my favorite bits:

Just briefly:

It’s interesting to me, now that I’m writing for LTKMN and working in fiction more, how much of my writing tends towards objects and spacial relationships. Coinciding with my love for architecture, even when given unlimited range to create things I create spaces, not people. I’d never really thought about it in such a direct way before, but I truly am bored with mere people. It’s a terrible thing to admit aloud but it’s true – I simply don’t find any interest in the people themselves outside of their relationships both with other humans and with other things. I look back to all of my favorite movies and books and stories and music and they’re all about a shift in paradigm that breaks and reforms those relationships. Those are interesting, those are the ones worth watching for me. Because the characters themselves are just tropes, just patterns based on the equally boring and predictable humans in real life. It’s how they collide and spin that’s fascinating.

And so, I write about spaces. I write about alternate histories and futures yet to come. It occurs to me that the few storylines I’ve written about people (or anthropomorphic robots) are all about the splitting and rebinding of relationships towards external things. Internal events, sure, that some might call character change, but that are inherently externally forced.

There’s that Debussy quote “Music is in the space between the notes” and it’s apparent: humans, like notes, simply smushed together is just a cacophony. Architecture, and that of a car’s space, is the physical separation required to generate story. My writing, then, is more a reflection on silence than anything, following the metaphor. Obsessed in the other direction.

Avengers Concept Art

One of my favorite parts of the movie would be when this behemoth takes off from the water, utterly ignoring all physical restrictions that have air turbines trying to push seawater would have. Nathan Schroeder has an impressive gallery of not only Marvel movies (yes, plural) but also pretty much everything. Ever. There’s a crazy amount of work there, which is really, really cool.

If you imagine that this is just an updated version of the Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow helicarrier it actually makes for a pretty cool universe crossover. It’d be sort of the original Captain America era, perhaps worked on by Stark’s older generations.

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Avengers Movie Review

Okay. So. I was sorely disappointed with Spider-Man 3, the first Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four: the one with that Silver Guy, Iron Man 2 and all of the movies featuring the X-Men. I was ‘meh’ about Spider-man 1 and 2, Daredevil, the second Hulk and Blade (technically Marvel). Frankly, Ghost Rider doesn’t even exist in my mind. So that leaves… the first Iron Man, I quite liked, and now the Avengers.

It’s shocking, I know.

Spoiler Warning!

And don’t read it as if I hate the super hero genre, because it’s exactly the opposite: I love superheroes so much that when they come out with such mediocre movies I become rather upset with the injustice.

What they did right: first off, pacing. It’s actually remarkably similar to how Iron Man was shot, which is awesome. There were a few shaky bits where someone or other was taking the reigns on the scenes and they started to feel like the other movies, most notably the two recent ones Capt. America and Thor, but for the most part it was spot on. Well done for that.

I liked the direction the Hulk is going in, actually. We saw it a little bit in the second of his movies and I’m glad they’re continuing to take it there. I liked his interactions with the other heroes, demonstrating both a loyalty and his wild-card side, and I liked his uh… “interaction” with Loki near the end. After all, he’s the mother-flippin Hulk. That’s his job. The punch at the end was perfect and was a nice point of levity, which actually, was a well done thing overall; the humour bits punctuated things exactly as they should.

Thor is still silly, and the invading army / Loki himself fell under that category again: it’s like those bad Saturday morning Power Ranger shows. The costumes are just so plastic and foam and outrageous and the immersion is broken because you can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous the man you’re supposed to be fearing is. Like, Darth Vader scared me a child – it’s silly now, of course, but that’s a villain. He’s evil by himself, whereas Loki feels like a guy pretending to be evil. A guy who had only seen those terrible Power Ranger shows and that’s how he thought villains should be. There’s no genuine fear there.

The giant flying turtle thing was cool, if only because it reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus, and especially so when they were fighting on the back of it, driving that metal piece into it’s back. Man I love that game… anyway.

Hawkeye was cool, which is a relief because he was actually pretty silly in the comics. I can’t decide if he should get his own backstory movie. He doesn’t actually have any super powers (although, neither does Batman…) and he works as a flat character that’s just explained as having a mercenary history and a spot in S.H.I.E.L.D’s troops. That’s sometimes all you need. I do think it’s silly, as a personal aside, that any hero would run into battle with like, 20 arrows. I mean, then what? He runs out in the movie but even then, it took a long time. You’d get through 20 pretty fast…

Tony Stark is his usual, which is awesome. The Potts romance is sealed and things seem pretty routine. His getting in and out of the suit has been perfected (and in the coolest way possible) and it seems like they’ve settled down a bit. He isn’t so reckless, which is cool to see; we get to watch him mature from the first movie. Grow with him. He’s still witty and has those perfect quips, but I think they strike a good balance in attitude.

Captain is starting to turn into a jerk, honestly. In his origins film he was played off as naive and virtuous and that was cool – that was Cap as we know him – and now he’s standing on the edge of arrogance and seems to have control issues when confronted with Tony who wasn’t really doing anything unreasonable. Cap seems like that straight-laced dweeb who tattles on everyone, which is a quick way to being the kid no one likes. Except, with muscles, so they have to keep him around.

That’s another thing I don’t get. Why don’t they make everyone Iron Man suits. I mean, Tony has what, seven of them now? We’ve seen in the second movie that other people can wear them. I want a movie with Hulk in a flying suit. And why don’t they make them out of the stuff Cap’s shield is made of? “Well, the vibranium used…” you start in your know-it-all voice, but no. If that’s really all the material they had in the world with such fantastic properties they wouldn’t give it to some untested soldier dude in a form so easily stolen or lost.

I was upset at first with Nick Fury being black, since in the comics he was actually more similar to J. Jonah Jameson (who was the best character in all the Spider-Man movies) but I have to hand it to Sammy Jackson’s performance. No one can pull off that kind of nonchalant badassery quite like he can. So, it’s growing on me. It works, and I can see the merit to their decision.

The graphics are good. This is such a moot point these days. We’re already past the point where things are reasonably real looking, so it’s not like any major breakthroughs have abounded. The helicarrier is basically just a MKII version of those found in Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow, which I am entirely fine with.

What else is there?

TL;DR I went in with low expectations given the recent past and was pleasantly surprised. I’d recommend it to friends, yeah.

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Best Movie Idea Ever

I was watching Thor last night while drawing and realized that it’s actually one of the worst movies ever made. So I drew what I assume to be much better: Aliens in the Tron universe.

There should be some reasons for my above statements, as an objective critic it’s unfair to throw out such slander without backing it up but overall it boils down to the root problem with all the recent Marvel movies:

It’s a recipe structure which I can’t really fault them for immediately, but we see it again and again. Iron Man and Thor are, for all intents and purposes, the same movie – the difference being that Tony Stark is likable and we actually start to enjoy his smarm after a while. Thor captured the female vote for his shirtless scenes, but is a flat character otherwise; he’s just relentless in his running around trying to do whatever he wants. Tony learns discipline and humility (at least, relatively speaking) when his actions start to hurt the people around him. They both had lame boss fights. It seems to be something that never translated over well from comics (and I say this to the Marvel movies as a whole) – there is no engagement. Like, you could stop the movie the moment just after the giant beast erupts from it’s hiding place and be entirely content already with the conclusion. You know what’s going to happen. I’m not saying the comics weren’t predictable, but they were clever enough to make it seem like the hero had a chance of danger. It’s not really the script itself, but the execution. I liked in the first Spider-Man the choice presented to save MJ (the love object) or the tramway (the pile of innocent civilians) and we see this stressful choice again in The Dark Knight. It stretches the hero too thin, the tension comes from the choice itself because it directly relates to the hero and what he’s learned throughout the movie but also how each choice is a small action towards a bigger outcome. Batman touches on this much better than Marvel has: reputation. Bruce Wayne’s and Batman’s reputation flux and flow throughout his actions and his emotions. Thor and friends are just people wearing ridiculous plastic cosplay armor and no one seems to care or notice. There’s no immersion into the universe.

Thor felt like, and this something that came to mind a few times throughout the movie, a fan film. Like some people found these costumes somewhere and decided to make their own. The townsfolk don’t want to interact with them because they look weird and they notice one of them is holding a camera. It’s like Super 8, except the whole movie is the kid’s version.

So anyway. That’s why I drew an Alien on a lightcycle.

Gunpowder, Plot and Treason

We walk out of the theater into the crisp night and laugh, “That movie was ridiculous” and proceed to point out plot flaws and the bizarre events that occurred. But there’s a distinction, I’ve realized, between realism and reasonableness.

We use the word realistic to mean both and it’s not quite accurate: suspension of disbelief is actually really easy and we don’t mind much at all that there’s aliens or zombies or people with super powers roaming about. That’s fine, it’s a movie made to be fictional and larger than life; we don’t dislike that. The parts that we really mean when we say ‘unrealistic’ is that the characters didn’t do the reasonable thing given their situation.

Transformers was decent (certainly better than it’s sequels) and while we’re entirely happy to suspend disbelief for giant alien robots than choose to take the forms of American earth cars we get really upset (if subconscious) in the part where the awesome giant robot gives the AllSpark cube to the relatively weak and flimsy human to run through the battlezone with. These sorts of plot decisions are made to sensationalize the movie but it actually resonates the opposite with us as viewers because it isn’t a reasonable action for characters in that situation.

So it’s not about how real the situation could be, it’s how reasonable the characters act within it.

We have a lot of classics in the action movie category like Terminator, Predator, Rambo and Robocop that are actually very reasonable movies because of the perhaps flat acting and very static characterizations. Are they ridiculous? Yeah, sure. But the characters (namely those played by Ahnold) behave in a predictable manner. He’s a robot sent back in time to protect understandably afraid and confused humans. This is a dynamic that feels right when played out. It isn’t realistic (time travel, robot singularity etc. etc.) but the interactions between the flat, unfeeling robot and the weak and dazed humans makes sense if we as the audience were put in the place of those actors. Compare this back to Transformers where if the robot gave us the AllSpark we’d look at him like he’s crazy: “Uh… why? You’ve got guns for arms and a 10 meter stride. You take it.”

The recent rash of Marvel movies are played out in the same way: Wolverine is actually a much better character than Magneto was in First Class – one knows what he wants and does it. It’s reasonable. It’s slightly unfair to compare static and dynamic characters like that, but the way Magneto acts when confronted with things doesn’t really make sense and we lose that connection to him since we silently deplore his actions. It’s like those horror movies where the girl is in the house and we know the killer is upstairs and instead of getting the heck away she decides to explore in the dark alone and weaponless and we sit there thinking “NO! What are you doing?! Don’t go up there. Go to the police! Get away!” This is done intentionally, of course, for that tension, but it shouldn’t be happening with the character’s we’re supposed to identify with.

Even insanity can be reasonable. We look at movies like Memento and characters like Dark Knight’s Joker or Inception’s Cobb (notice: all Nolan films) and we can actually develop a fairly deep bond with characters who although don’t represent us do the actions we would do if put in that situation. Now, are we insane? No. And it’s not really fair to put ourselves in Joker’s shoes since he is actually crazy, but his actions are reasonable given that characterization. In Memento he’s just trying to figure things out like any of us would. Inception is interesting because every character except for Cobb is static and serving him, so in a way each of them is a splinter of his personality (after all, it is his dream) and combines to create one unit who we can identify with. The actions of the insane might be unstable and unpredictable but still remain reasonable to us.

So, in the blue corner we have things like Mad Men or Memento – entirely earthly, normal, real environment with people acting reasonably within them. The yellow might be the Terminators and Predators or Shaun of the Dead type where there is some element of fiction to the world but the overall reactions to things makes sense to us. Green: any number of dramas and soaps or the serial killer movie (where the killer is just a normal – if deranged – human) where the characters do things that don’t make any sense given their environment and situation. I might even put Drive on the line between blue and green; it was realistic and worked but some of his actions made no sense to me. Red could be most things that are in theaters these days: The G.I Joes and Transformer 3s. The Fast and the Furious series started in the yellow and has moved down over time. These are the movies where even if we can suspend disbelief for the unrealistic aspects the people who inhabit the world don’t seem to follow any logic for their actions and so alienate us as an audience.

I’m entirely happy watching the yellow category – often those are the best – taking some fantastic fictional realm and providing a good adventure within them. It’s not that I’m a stickler for “Oh, well that would never work in real life” because those things are the cool part. Neo can fight an entire mob of Smith agents? Sure, he’s the one. His reasons for fighting them make enough sense that we don’t even mind the sheer ridiculousness of the fight scene itself. That’s the entertainment.

TL;DR  It’s not about realism, it’s about having a character that does what makes sense instead what would raise the stakes purely for the sake of arbitrary sensationalism.

Spider-Man

It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out. I won’t be seeing it in the theater, given my recent realizations but someday, eventually, it’ll be on Netflix.

I’ve always been a fan of the Spider-Man character (first introduced to me in comics, novels and games), and when the Tobey round of movies came out I left with mixed feelings – they did a lot of things right, which I really appreciated, but they also made a lot of sloppy mistakes which I felt ruined the entire experience. The second movie further widened that gap; there were things that really made it truly awesome (and, thus, I’d call it the best movie of the trilogy) yet there are still those things that could have been happily omitted entirely and it would be none the worse for overall result. The third, well, let’s not talk about that.

So. A reboot. It’s not like they have any original ideas or anything, we have to repeat what’s already done: another Spider-Man. It could be a good thing, though, a chance at redemption for the character; especially since Marvel is becoming increasingly gung-ho about merging the characters and movies together into the cohesive universe they inhabit in the comics. We wouldn’t want Tobey meddling about with the likes of Tony Stark, of course. So it’s probably for the best that a more mature, somewhat more badass Spider-Man can fill the role of wisecracking hero that we see in the novels and games. The guy that can hold his own with the other charismatic types we see in said universe.

The clip that makes me so excited about the new trailer is the one where he pins the bully up against the locker wall. This, to me, is an entirely needed concept. I’m not sure why (and they did this with Superman too) these kids who have fantastic powers and at least mediocre social ability feel the need to take these artificially over dweeby attitudes. And I don’t suggest the opposite effect, which is equally ridiculous, but I wonder what they’re gaining by promoting the pathetic nerd image when they could easily put things in their proper place. It’s a false humbleness, perhaps, or maybe that the generally nerdy types who read comic books could identify more easily with these stereotypes. I’m not sure. But I think, given realistic circumstances, if the average guy is bestowed with awesome powers he’s going to become a little cocky and then given Peter Parker’s responsibility clause maybe learn to calm down and be the strong silent type – that hero in other movies who sits calmly in the bar because he knows he can handle any trouble that comes his way, but does so with a self confidence and humble demeanour. That is the true hero – the one with ultimate power and yet ultimate humility. Not to say that the snarky one-liners we’ve come to know and love from the original Spidey (see also: Deadpool) aren’t awesome, but that heroes don’t have to play this spineless human role as a way to compensate for being witty while in costume.

With all that said, again, meh. It’ll be on Netflix in a couple years.

Hollywood’s Woes

That’s us, that man standing there, onlooking Hollywood.

The quote that best describes this comes from a recent article by Marco Arment:

The MPAA studios hate us. They hate us with region locks and unskippable screens and encryption and criminalization of fair use. They see us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us.

Yet when we watch their movies, we support them.

Those of us who use Netflix or Apple TV forget how truly annoying physical disk movies are to try and get to work on anything but sanctioned players – and even then filled with unskippable threats.

But I wonder what is to come of the entire thing. Bigger than Hollywood, bigger than the games industry, bigger than the MPAA and everyone, what will our entertainment be in the next ten years? 20? 100?

It’s sort of an unusual situation we find ourselves in. The Roman gladiator games lasted roughly 135 years and only really ended when the particularly vile leaders had died and the newer generations looked at the entire sport with confusion and unease, yet we see entertainment mediums such as radio come and go entirely because new technology (television) claimed it’s overtaking. But here we are in an age where movies on the whole are not very good and the industry blames piracy instead of truly looking at why people aren’t buying the films anymore. I mentioned previously somewhere that the movie going experience is jaded. People aren’t interested in paying $14 to sit in a room with a 100 other strangers who talk and text and spill sticky things on the floor. Since bigger home screens mean the theater screens aren’t really as interesting anymore, the cons are outweighing the pros. It’s a matter of poor experience.

Y Combinator, the famous startup investor has issued this statement denouncing the whole thing and I have to agree; what exactly are we going to do with all of this?

Time to design.

Design, at it’s more pure roots is simply problem solving. The hardest part, often, is finding the problem to solve. Are we really solving piracy? Are we solving entertainment? Are we solving the problem that many people have, which is a lack of choice in the matter?

It’s interesting to read message boards and see everyone’s take. The consensus here seems like people want a new distribution model like iTunes did for music or Steam did for games but I have to wonder if that even solves the overarching problem which is, in my mind, the lack of interesting things to watch. Sure, we have a few great shows targeting various demographics, but on the whole it’s a lot of filler. Worse yet, this:

Really? Reeeeally?

No wonder people aren’t watching things like they used to. It’s a reboot of an old franchise from the 70’s which, admittedly, did pretty well, that features scenes like this which are basically just commercials featuring the characters in the show. Then, there are actual commercials between the show segments. Where did the actual entertainment go?

I propose a threshold is being reached: There is a certain level of product placement that you can put alongside entertainment because the entertainment factor is still high enough to make it bearable, but at some point it isn’t anymore and people will stop watching the “show”.

So I ask again, what will our entertainment be in the next ten years. 20? 100?

Hopefully, not this.

Bunraku Opening Sequence

As I reviewed before, I quite liked Bunraku‘s style and was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had finally uploaded the awesome intro sequence.

But seriously, if you haven’t already, watch the movie.

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