Friday, 28 March 2014

Raven Absorbs Media #2 --

Well, that attempt at blogging more sure did not work well. But hey, it is still "one per month" at this rate. I would say "maybe it will get better" but I am going on vacation to the UK next week so... probably not. Although maybe I'll post something about that. WHO KNOWS.

So I saw 3 bad films recently, and probably enjoyed the net equivalent of 2 films. Or maybe 1 and a half.

Non Stop (2014)

[6/10]

So this is a Liam Neeson film about Liam Neeson playing a Liam Neeson character. He's an emotionally unstable air marshal who is getting mysterious texts and has to stop somebody from killing people on the plane. As ludicrous as the poster is, that's basically a thing that actually happens. Liam Neeson waving around a gun on a pressurized aircraft. And he's responsible for all their lives.
          Anyways, I won't "spoil" the "twists", but there are better films that are better written and probably more worth seeing. Still, if you're in the mood for a Liam Neeson action film you get exactly that.
          There's a full cast of "quirky" secondary characters on the plane, none of which are interesting, well-explored, or particularly relatable. I don't think I can name any character in this film.
          Not to be confused with the 2013 Non-Stop which is also about danger on a plane, but is completely devoid of Liam Neeson.


Need For Speed (2014)

[3/10]

A friend wanted to see this film and I said it looked suitably stupid and that I'd go for him. We decided at the theatre not to pay "real money" for it, and so I used a points card to get free passes and drinks and a popcorn and honestly, the review comes down to "don't pay real money for this film."
          Saying it's "predictable" is like saying this film movie has cars. If you're remotely familiar with dramatic tropes then you can predict exactly how someone's character arc will develop the moment they appear and open their mouths. The youngest mechanic who is "like a brother" to protagonist Aaron Paul is obviously going to die, and you know how he's going to die the moment he enters a three-way race with protagonist and protagonist's nemesis. British love interest appears, and the moment you see her at the car show you realize she has to not only "get" cars, but also end up driving with protagonist in some contrived scenario.
          The exception to this is of course Michael Keaton, who is some sort of quasi-omniscient half-narrator-half-god in this strange universe. He determines who gets into this dramatic race and seems to have an unnatural ability to be involved in some petty grudge match across the country and sieve out facts that nobody could possibly know as quickly as he does. He almost seems like a character who's aware that this is a film, or at least that whatever is happening between protagonist and nemesis is somehow the central element of his universe, even though he is rich and influential. He is worth at least 2 of the 3 stars I gave this review, and had the movie been about him, I probably would have given it even more.
          There's lots of driving stunts and racing things and Michael Keaton. If you're interested in at least two of those three things, you'll be passably entertained. Don't go for a story, characters, or any sort of emotional stimulation.

Divergent (2014)

[5/10] 

This film fails to be bad or good, although if you're not interest in teen dystopian fiction it'll probably drift towards the former. It's the post-vague-war future, and civilization is in ruins, so our protagonist's city has decided that the only way to prevent conflict it to split everyone up into fixed factions based on their dominant principle: Selfless, Kind, Brave, Honest, or Smart. Naturally our heroine is too cool to fit into any of them properly, but lies and tries to fake fitting in anyways. It turns out that even though a test determines which you're best at, you can just pick some other faction when you're 16 anyways, except that when you're 16 and you choose a faction you're stuck with it for life.
         The whole thing is a clumsy allegory of high school cliques, although it can be stretched further into adult life in terms of the human tendency towards soft tribalism. The "choose forever at 16" thing is obviously regarding post-secondary education and/or employment, and maybe as someone who is not in that situation I can't properly "relate" to this idea, given that most people I know are not taking the specific path they chose in their last year of high school. Or maybe this film just isn't very resonant. None of the characters are interesting, and there's a missed opportunity among her friends who've switched from other factions: Instead of showing us what made these people abandon their families and friends and ways of lives, they're reduced to trope characters embodying the faction they left. We never get any real indication why they left; they seem perfectly fitted for their home faction.
         Also why is there both Kind and Selfless--isn't there a bit of overlap there?
         The movie is fairly acted, and at the very least provides interesting discussion regarding how poorly thought out an idea these factions are and whether or not people start using faction names as derogatory terms for literally any behaviour which doesn't fit your specific culture. Didn't read the novel, probably won't.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Raven Absorbs Media #1 -- Indigo Springs, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the Little Mermaid 2

So I keep not writing. Which is bad. So in the effort to write, and also to convince myself that I'm "doing something" with my time, I'm going to try to write short reviews of media I'm consuming. I know you all came to this website for some tips on how to "play" Mapcrunch, but this will be here regardless. So, without further ado...

Indigo Springs (2009) 

[9/10]

Indigo Springs by A. M. Dellamonica is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel in that emerging subgenre of "post-apocalyptic" with a unique mythology and surprisingly engaging characters. I picked the book because of the striking cover art, but it turned out to be quite the find. It involves a group of three 20-somethings named Astrid, Sahara, and Jack, sharing a house in sleepy small-town America, when suddenly they discover that magic is a real thing and they seem to be the only ones who can create new magical charms. 
          Naturally our three protagonists aren't the most emotionally stable people and despite initial attempts to keep it small and discreet, the love triangle/friendship hits some speedbumps, magic is unleashed, and large-scale (ie: "apocolyptic") disruptions occur in North American society. Sahara has turned into a sort of magical ecoterrorist who continues to evade the authorities, and the novel begins with Astrid in a secure military base being interviewed by the narrator. By jumping between the past and present the reader gets to learn about magic both through the semi-experienced narrator, Will, and the then-inexperienced Astrid. Alternating between two different times seems to be a fairly common tool when beginning a post-apocalyptic series, but it does allow the story to begin with a bit more excitement and flows perfectly fine here. 
          The magic system is interesting and cohesive, and the whole mythology is surprisingly well explained while still leaving the reader curious for more details. Given that it is Young Adult Urban Fantasy, a large portion of the narrative does focus on the relationships between the main characters and their relatives, but Indigo Springs keeps the balance between setting, plot, and character development absolutely perfect.
          Overall an excellent book, although you have to have at least some interest in both the topics of "young people with complicated relationships" and "magic users and the people that hate them". The sequel exists, and I'll have to look into getting that sooner or later.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

[7/10] 

I'd gotten into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with nothing more than "It has Johnny Depp and it's about someone on drugs in Vegas," and I feel like I was not at all prepared for this movie. I will go ahead and admit that I haven't read the book, and I'm not certain at this point if I really care to. This movie is without any argument "interesting", "unique", and "potentially meaningless."
          In brief summary, a journalist and his lawyer travel to Las Vegas to cover a race, but both take such a staggering amount and variety of drugs that the whole weekend trip becomes an almost unconnected sequence of events and decisions that range between the hilarity of watching a drunk friend make an ass of himself and the horror of watching a drunk friend threaten somebody's life with a large knife.    
          The oddest thing to me is that even though it's set 40 years ago I had absolutely no sense that this was anything but the present. Somehow I had no problem unconsciously brushing aside the absence of cellphones, the absurdly clunky cassette player, or the frequent references to Vietnam and the anti-war movement. The uniquely American depravity of the protagonists seems timeless, and the idea that the events of the film could be (and potentially are) recreated in 2014 doesn't garner any second thought. 
          I had originally thought that the film was just a meaningless string of intoxicated hijinx, but the apparent absence of substance gives the film a timeless ability to critique North American culture. I'm left wanting to call it meaningful exactly because of its apparent lack of meaning, some strange nihilistic mirror with which to evaluate ourselves. 
          I doubt I'll ever rewatch this, although I would tell everyone to see it at least once.


The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)

[3/10] 

I want to open by saying that I also watched the Little Mermaid (the original), and I loved it. It's simple but cute, and even though it's a child's film with some pretty questionable lessons about love, it's still plenty entertaining. This sequel can best be summed up by one line near the beginning when the villainess suddenly appears, and Sebastian cries out, "Oh no! It's Ursula's crazy sister!"
          Contrived and unnecessary. We don't learn anything new, we get the same message of "The seaweed is always greener/In somebody else's lake", but this time instead of being a mermaid who wants to live on land, we have Ariel's daughter who is a human who wants to see the sea! And Sebastian is "responsible" for her and just as incapable of actually stopping her from doing what she wants anyways. 
          I'm reminded that Sebastian was apparently an incredibly renowned conductor Seaside, and his musical brilliance is being squelched by the merpeople in favour of babysitting. Sure, he gets opportunities to corral loose critters into singing love songs and such, but he used to create symphonies for fucking Triton, King of the Seas. By appointing him to a guardianship Ariel and Triton surely know he is incapable of actually enforcing, the loss to submarine culture is literally immeasurable .
          As Sebastian so beautifully highlighted, the villainess Morgana is a pale shadow of her sister, and the character keeps referencing this herself. Her whole motivation is being better than her sister Ursula (who was incredible as an antogonist and often generated more sympathy than any of the heroes), and her minions lack any character beyond "irritating and useless" or "barely useful and devoid of personality", depending upon whether we're talking about her shark Undertow or the rays Cloak and Dagger (which has nothing on the beautifully named eels of the previous film, Flotsam and Jetsam).
          Watch the original. Pretend this doesn't exist.