Thursday, May 29, 2014

Agents of SHIELD, Game of Thrones, Ant-Man and Geek Misogyny

Got a lot to catch up on (hey, maybe if people actually read and commented on this blog I'd update it more often) but first let me comment on the horrific events of this past weekend in Santa Barbara. There are many genuine problems we could blame Elliot Rodger's rampage on, among them the easy access to guns, lack of treatment of anti-social disorders and the idolization of criminals by the media at the expense of victims. But make no mistake that deep-rooted, ugly hatred of women was at the core of his killing spree. Society has to take some of the blame for creating monsters like him (many of whom are equally hateful and entitled, even if they don't go as far as killing) and geek culture is a big part of that. I'll never understand why a culture that prides itself on supposedly being smarter and more tolerant than other groups (like say, sports jocks) can be equally guilty of objectifying and demeaning women. You see it in the sexual assaults that happen to female cosplayers at conventions as well as the disgust from a lot of geeks when a female character in one of their beloved franchises attempts to be anything other than a sex object.

Look, I've been there. I was once an angry, sexually frustrated teen/twenty-something who couldn't understand why the opposite sex wouldn't give me the time of day. I never lashed out at a girl because she just wanted to be friends, but I had those thoughts that I deserved a companion just for being a "nice guy" because the geeks in movies always won the girl from the jerk they were competing with. Well, I grew up. Women are not prizes. If a woman doesn't want to be with you, it's usually either because you lack confidence or you're just not her type. There's not something wrong with her and harassing her or pretending to be just a friend until you can show her "the error of her ways" is bullshit. Men (geeks and non-geeks alike) need to stop acting like they're the hero of their own movies and just treat women as people, not as potential conquests.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Agents of SHIELD, like many Joss Whedon shows, drastically improved at the end of its first season. The whole HYDRA plot from The Winter Soldier really gave the show the kick in the arse it needed. Bill Paxton made for a scenery-chewing villain and I'm actually pretty excited about Season 2 now. One of the few other shows I regularly keep up with, Game of Thrones, has been typically impressive so far this season. The trial of Tyrion was a highlight (although they need to quit with putting in rape scenes THAT AREN'T EVEN IN THE FUCKING BOOK to titillate viewers).

Finally, on the subject of movies, I was upset like most geeks to learn that Edgar Wright won't be directing Ant-Man. His visual style and wit on a superhero movie would have been a thing of beauty. It's understandable, though, that his vision may no longer mesh with Marvel, which was a very different company in the pre-Disney, pre-Avengers days of 2006 when Wright first started writing the screenplay. Hopefully whoever they get to replace him doesn't just phone it in as director. I want Paul Rudd to be an awesome superhero, dammit!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The King is Back!

The new Godzilla is thankfully a lot better than the 1998 Hollywood version (hard to believe that was sixteen years ago) but not without some significant problems of its own. First of all, the good (watch out for spoilers):

Director Gareth Edwards knows his Spielberg (one of the characters is even called Ford Brody). The slow buildup of the first half is full of nods to Jaws, Close Encounters and Jurassic Park. The monsters are kept mostly off-screen while the conspiracy angle of the plot is focused on, so when the big G finally make his entrance an hour in (causing a tidal wave in the process) it has a far bigger impact than when the stupid giant iguana showed up early on in the ’98 version.

Bryan Cranston outacts everyone else in the cast. It’s just a shame his character exits the movie so early.

The CGI is really good. The film wisely takes the less is more approach, and the rendering of the creatures puts other monster movies to shame, even last year’s Pacific Rim. Godzilla’s design is faithful to the original Toho version and the MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) he faces are creepy, if a little too close to the Cloverfield monster.

Godzilla is treated as an unlikely hero (albeit one that cares about as much about collateral damage as Superman in Man of Steel) which I’ve always enjoyed more than using him as a one dimensional rampaging monster. The ’98 version was especially annoying, since it couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted the audience to feel sorry for Zilla or cheer when he died.

The callback to Edwards’ previous film with the mating monsters was nice.

The film is well paced, kept to a tight two hours, unlike most bloated Hollywood adventure movies.

Atomic Breath! Probably the most awesome monster kill in a movie ever.

Now the bad:

Like 99% of modern Hollywood blockbusters, the script is feeble. The human characters have no development and are just shuffled from scene to scene depending on where they need to be to view whatever carnage is going on. The slow burn approach is an admirable one, but we have to actually care about the characters for it to be completely successful.

The dour, mostly humourless tone. While I appreciate taking a less campy approach than previous Godzilla movies, some comic relief would have been nice. As it is, the audience has to find humour in unintentional places, such as the captions helpfully informing us we are in Hawaii after seeing Honolulu Airport and people wearing leis, just in case we thought it was Honolulu, Arkansas. The only really successful humour is the way the film screws with the audience by cutting away from Godzilla’s first battle after his big roar to show snippets of the rest of it on TV. I appreciated the mocking of the genre conventions, but many people won’t.

The actors are all pretty much wasted. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, so good in Kick Ass, plays one of the blandest protagonists in recent memory. Elizabeth Olsen is given pretty much nothing to do as the wife he is trying to get back too. Even the aforementioned Cranston is underwritten (like every other Hollywood crazy person he wallpapers his entire room with newspaper clippings), though he does more with his role than most of the other actors.

Overall this is a good film that could have been great if as much care had been put into the human side of the story as the monsters. Hopefully the sequel will iron out the kinks and give us a movie worthy of the King of the Monsters.