I'm trying to put my finger on why Spectre didn't work for me. The salient point is that I spent much of the film being bored, so obviously there was a problem.

In Casino Royale we were shown a young James Bond who was unmade and remade by betrayal. In Quantum of Solace we were shown that the brilliance of Casino Royale may have been accidental. In Skyfall, we were given a deconstruction and un-making of Bond as a nice capstone for a trilogy of Daniel Craig installments in the series. It was the perfect book-end opposite Casino Royale. The two films deserved better stuff between them.

And now Spectre comes along and undercuts Skyfall. It is set shortly thereafter, and it tells us that these other Bond adventures were all connected to a single underlying conspiracy, a massive confederacy of hitherto undetected mega-miscreants whose nefarious plans and dastardly schemes are finally coming to fruition.

That's a hard sell, and they tried to close the deal by giving us something just shy of a clip show.

It didn't work for me.

Most Bond films are a series of Green-Eggs-And-Ham set-pieces. "Would you, could you, on a boat? Would you, could you, in the throat? Would you could you on a train? Would you hey we're now in Spain." And so on. The best Bond films mask this by tying everything together with a multi-layered mystery, with reveal after reveal drawing us into the new locations. The worst ones find us coming to our senses in the middle of an action scene and asking ourselves why we're in Austria.

On to the good stuff:

  • Q gets the best line of the film. It's such a good line that I can't believe I've never heard it before. I wish I'd thought of it.
  • Dave Bautista is scary. He's even bigger and scarier in well-tailored suits.
  • The two big explosions were cool.
  • The set pieces were quite pretty, especially the Día de Muertos costumed crowd scenes.
  • The music. (I bought the soundtrack, which I think I'll enjoy much more than I enjoyed the film itself.)
  • If you love James Bond films, hey, look! This is a James Bond film!

Spectre enters my 2015 list at #21. Not awesome, not disappointing, and unfortunately not particularly memorable.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com

Taking Calendars off the Calendar

To quote Professor Farnsworth: "Good news, everyone! Bad news!"
We will not be producing a Schlock Mercenary Monthly Calendar for 2016. The 2015 calendar sold well enough with other merchandise to not be an outright loss, but the books and slipcases were what carried last year for us.
This year we're looking at the Planet Mercenary production schedule, and we simply cannot justify taking time out to make a calendar when the project for which we've accepted money in advance is not yet complete.
We're also delaying our print run of Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication until after we've got Planet Mercenary queued up for print. This hurts a bit more, because not having a new book out in time for Christmas shoppers is the very definition of "leaving money on the table," but again, having accepted money in advance for a thing that is not yet finished, I cannot in good conscience spend time on other projects—not even profitable ones.
There's an update over on the Planet Mercenary Kickstarter page if you'd like more details on how that project is going. The salient point? It is keeping me busy enough that the only other business activity I can justify is the daily updates on the comic. The movie reviews? Okay, I can't really justify those, except to say that going out to see a show helps refill the well on the other stuff, and I might as well tell you how the show went.
This morning was spent on Mayhem cards for Planet Mercenary. This afternoon I have a week of comics to pencil and ink. This blog post is happening in the cracks, and the crack is swiftly closing...
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

The Last Witch Hunter

As direct-to-DVD movies go, The Last Witch Hunter is surprisingly oh wait I saw this in the theater.
I had fun, but here I am a day later trying to write a review, and the movie has already faded into the meld-haze of urban fantasy "hidden world" films in which a badass protagonist fights ultimate evil. Why did this even get made?
Maybe because Vin Diesel is a giant nerd, and wanted to make a sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre movie that he got to be in?
Look, I had fun during the film. It cleared my Threshold of Disappointment (unlike the OTHER Vin Diesel film I saw this year) and was interesting enough that I did not finish my popcorn or my soda.
But it was predictable, and sloppy, and took shortcuts, and could have been a truly memorable, outstanding addition to a crowded field full of similar things. Here's a bulleted list of sins which, had they not been committed, could have allowed this film over my Threshold of Awesome.
  • Shaky-cam during cool action
  • Shaky-cam as a "oh no we're getting slaughtered" device
  • Shaky-cam
  • Cliché dialog as a shortcut for selling us an emotional state.
  • Immortality as a boon/curse, which (gasp) can be taken away.
  • Betrayal we all saw coming.
  • Why didn't you just lead with that?
  • If you have little vials of "detect magic," you should be using them all the time, or you should be explaining that they are expensive/rare.
  • Man of few words who seldom shows emotion
  • Because he's tortured by memories
  • Which we are going to have to sit through
  • But it's okay because they're central to the plot.


It's a long list, I know. A great many genre movies commit these same sins, and are mediocre-to-bad as a result. It's a good thing I like Vin Diesel, and an even better thing that Rose Leslie (who I'd never seen in a film before) shone the way she did in a cast full of bigger names.
(Note: If there is a sequel that has ZERO Vin Diesel, and is all about Rose Leslie's character Chloe taking up the Witch Hunter mantle despite being herself a witch, I would pay opening night fancy-seat money. No, wait... just give her a franchise of her own, without the baggage of this film.)
That reminds me:
  • A non-immortal character who is interesting, and who we care about, whose very existence as "killable" is supposed to make us tense 
The Last Witch Hunter enters my list at #20 out of #30. Do I recommend it? When it hits Netflix it might make for a great excuse to have the TV on while you knit something. If you've got movie money to spend, though, there are many much better options.
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Presented Without Context



Pan and Goosebumps

If you're going to re-imagine a bit of written fiction through film, and if you plan to treat the source material as canonical inspiration for an amendment of that same canon, you're setting a high bar for yourself.
Goosebumps clears it.  Pan does not.
I'll grant that Pan had a higher bar to clear, what with Barrie's work being a century-plus-ten-percent old. Still, Goosebumps has been part of the popular consciousness for many moviegoers' entire lives, so for those folks, both have been around for as long as they can remember.
Pan was clumsy. It was a very by-the-numbers origin story painted over the top of the heroic monomyth, and as others have already said, its biggest mistake was giving us a Peter Pan who was kind, brave, and heroic. That's not really who Peter Pan IS. Not really.
I have neither time nor patience to enumerate the other mistakes. Pan was pretty, but it made an absolute mess of its mythos, and was head-scratchy and disturbing in the wrong ways ("why did they even MAKE this movie?") rather than the right ways ("oh, this says so much about the parallels between innocence and evil...")
Goosebumps, on the other hand, went way out on a limb and gave us a single meta-story in which all of the Goosebumps stories share canon.  To its infinite credit, I did not think of Jumanji even one time while in the theater. If you're going to borrow a high concept, this is a sure sign you're pulling it off correctly.
Goosebumps is more of a spooky-action-comedy than a "horror" movie, but the trailers make that pretty clear. Yes, there are creepy dolls and jump scares, but there's also a lot of running around and successfully DOING things, which makes everything less horrible. The performances were all solid, and Jack Black was very entertaining to watch.
Fun-wise, Pan enters my 2015 list at #26, below the Threshold of Disappointment. Goosebumps comes in at #17, which is respectable, but still not above the Threshold of Awesome.
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