I had forgotten how good a proper comedy can be. Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy, did everything right. I laughed hard, and left the theater on that happy high that comes from laughter with, rather than laughter at.
This isn't a sit-com kind of movie where we laugh at the absurdity that grows out of an absurd situation. It's a comedy with character, and the absurd situation is actually kind of terrifying. In order to maintain tension we aren't allowed to laugh at it very much. That's fine. There's plenty of funny elsewhere.
After having seen Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, and now Melissa McCarthy in action roles, I'm afraid Scarjo's Black Widow finishes in a distant third place. Theron's Furiosa was amazing, and set a new bar, but I'm putting McCarthy's Susan Cooper over that bar and in first, because she was the only one of the three to ace the delivery of the stand-up-and-cheer moment.
I could write a 5,000-word treatise going into more detail about how this works for me, but I have comics to make and an RPG to write. I'll just say that Spy clears my Threshold of Awesome, and leaps to the top of my list. I had so much fun...

One of the reasons this movie worked so well for me is that it treats its genre, the super-spy thriller, in much the same way my own Schlock Mercenary treats science fiction.
This quote from writer director Paul Feig is telling:
I'm a big fan of spy movies, and I wanted to create a broad action comedy in that genre. The comedy comes from the characters. It's not a spoof or satire. The danger and action are genuine. We wanted it to have the tone of a spy film, but still be as funny as we could make it. I also wanted to create a relatable story in which we could all wonder, 'If I was recruited as a spy and sent on a mission, how might I react?' —Paul Feigcited on IMDB
That's not the only reason it works, but that's a big one, and for me that was the biggest surprise. I went in expecting a spoof, and what I got instead is the very thing I most love creating.
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Jurassic World

Let me lead by saying that Jurassic World cleared my Threshold of Awesome, and enters my rankings at #2, just behind Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sandra, Keliana, and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and had no regrets about springing for the IMAX 3D showing. The film made good use of the technology.

With that out of the way, the film has some weird flaws. Most of the interpersonal stuff falls flat, and while we do get lots of on-screen dinosaur goodness, Sandra and I both came away feeling like the filmmakers didn't want to bother with "sense of wonder."

There was story purpose for this, I suppose, since we are told (but not actually shown) that the crowds want bigger, faster, meaner attractions.

Which the park provides, of course. Chaos and catastrophe ensue. Rawr chase chase chomp rawr shoot shoot scream rawr repeat. To good effect, of course, but if the action had been supported by a really well-crafted human story it would have been more powerful. If the film had been allowed to cast off a couple of the less-engaging human stories, the action could have been dialed up a bit, and Jurassic World would have shone as a really good monster movie.

Don't get me wrong: I wasn't actually disappointed—I have a threshold for that on my list, and this film escaped that handily—but I did have to tip my head to the side and raise my eyebrows at the film a couple of times to quietly say "really, movie? That's as hard as you're going to try to sell that to me?"

(Note: in IMAX 3D the movie can totally see you do that, and it will feel guilty for having let you down. Try it!)

I can't say much more without spoiling things. Sandra made a great observation which I won't share for exactly that reason. Spot on, though.

Fans of the original John Williams soundtrack will be delighted by Michael Giacchino's work on the soundtrack for Jurassic World.

William's themes are present (and properly credited) but this is definitely NOT a re-hashing of leitmotifs we've already heard. It's fresh, and powerful. I've enjoyed Giacchino's work on other soundtracks, and knew by the end of the film that this one goes on that list. I'm listening to it as I write this, and I'm totally not thinking that something is going to chomp me from behind. Totally.

15 Years

I've been posting Schlock Mercenary to the web for a full fifteen years. 

Thank you for being there for however many of them you've been there for. I'm going to celebrate the event by going out to see Chris Pratt run with a pack of velociraptors, and then I guess I'll ink a week of comics and write some RPG text. 

All three of those things are actually my job these days. Again, thank you.

San Andreas

I really enjoyed San Andreas. I went in expecting to see a ridiculously over-the-top depiction of an earthquake, and I was not disappointed.

There was also a surprisingly good human story in there—surprising because while I could see the formula, and while everybody played straight to type, I didn't care. I was engaged, and had a good time. They did screw up the last line of the film, missing a great opportunity that probably wasn't obvious to them until after all the set dressing had been added, but still, they missed it. Oh well. 

San Andreas enters at #8 on my "how much fun did I have at the theater" scale for the year, and the unexpectedly enjoyable character story (visible recipe pages notwithstanding) squeaks it in above my Threshold of Awesome.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)


The cautionary tale, in which we are warned that something bad might happen, is one of science fiction's most venerated traditions. Another one, of similarly honorable and established pedigree, is the sense of optimistic wonder.

Tomorrowland is both of these, and more because it pits them against one another from the very first act. It's also many other things, including, and I'm not sure how I feel about this, an opportunity for Disney to turn "It's a Small World" into a ride more like Pirates of the Caribbean with the aesthetics of Space Mountain and retro-futurism.

It's troubling, and delightful, and though it clumsily wields plot devices, and is downright silly in some places, I found myself sitting back at the end and realizing that the tropes and absurdity were there on purpose, and the clumsiness was more akin to that drunken master martial art.

Tomorrowland is definitely a film that my tribe of futurists and science fiction aficionados should see, and I expect us to argue passionately about it under the right (wrong?) circumstances. This film was made with us in mind, and while it's not exclusively for us, there are things in there that the pop-culture, Johnny-come-lately science fiction fan will miss entirely, and I really like a film that will go out on that kind of a limb.

It clears my Threshold of Awesome and comes in at #4 on the fun-in-the-theater scale. More than that, however, it spoke very powerfully to Sandra and to me, and it's one we'll be picking up on disc when it's out.

For the record, I want one of those pins. Not because I want to go to Tomorrowland (though I do) but because I want to be seen as somebody who wants to go there (which I most certainly am.) It's silly, perhaps, but it's one of a very few brands I'm actually willing to wear.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

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