Transformers: Age of Extinction

I just spent an hour with my daughter discussing why we didn't really like Transformers: Age of Extinction, but I'll spare you the full deconstruction. Short version: This one fails to clear the Threshold of Disappointment because by the 100-minute mark I was ready to go home, and Optimus Prime was not yet riding a Dinobot. Nor would he be for another twenty minutes. That is a pretty classic definition of "disappointment," even though I enjoyed large swaths of the film.

The film had too many antagonists, too many protagonists, and it gave me action movie fatigue even though I specifically went to the movie in order to see giant robots fight. 

Sadly, I think the film suffers from the strings attached to its Chinese sponsorships. I do not know what those strings were, but I felt like I could see them being pulled. I loved the setting, and Bingbing Li, who played opposite Stanley Tucci, did an outstanding job. Unfortunately, in order to get this stuff into the film, they had to make the film bigger. It feels like two movies, and since it weighs in at 165 minutes, it's just three minutes shy of being twice as long as 1986's The Transformers: The Movie. 

We might have been better served by two movies. We would definitely have been better served by a single movie that dropped one of the antagonists, tightened itself around two principal locations, and then tightened its themes around a single message. Tucci, Wahlberg, Li, and Kelsey Grammar could have pulled that off, no problem. They just needed somebody to script the right movie.

I was ready to go home when Transformers: Age of Extinction still had a full hour on the reel, and that's never a good sign. That said, I did have fun. So: if you're immune to action movie fatigue, if you love watching metal things go crunch, and if you don't mind a 165-minute run-time, I say go for it. 

A Change in Process

In my last post here I mentioned that I'm doing my penciling and inking in the home office these days, instead of taking all the scripts to Dragon's Keep and drawing there. 

Well, this change in my office has changed my process a bit. Several times in the past week I've begun penciling only to decide that the script was broken in some way. In the old arrangement I'd have to drive home to re-print the script, and since that's just a silly waste of gas, I'd often set the script aside and put pencils down on the next one, delaying the work on the broken strip for a day or so. Sometimes, though, I'd just figure out how to make the existing script work, because sometimes I just wanted the work to get DONE. 

It's a small compromise, and as I look at what I've been turning out lately, it's a compromise that I think I made a LOT. These days I'm not bothering to figure out how to make the existing script work, nor am I delaying anything. I'm fixing it. My computer and my printer are right next to my drawing table now. Being able to slide across to the workstation and lay out a new set of panels and words is pretty handy, and I think it's going to make Schlock Mercenary a bit better going forward. 

Or maybe I'm the only one who will notice.

There's a drawback, though. The computer with all its myriad distractions is just 24 inches from my drawing elbow. Case in point: I wrote this blog post instead of starting the inking process...  

News from the New Trench

First, Happy Father's Day!

And now, news:

Things are kind of weird today here at Chez Tayler. Sandra and the kids are at a family reunion, but because of convention travel, flu, and "these comics don't draw themselves" I'm here at home taking care of three houseplants, the dishwasher, and the cat. 

For two weeks. Yeah, schedules. Weird!

Things are also kind of weird lately, not just today. For the last eight years I've done almost all of my penciling and inking at Dragon's Keep in Provo. This year, however, my eyesight has degraded just enough that I needed to completely rebuild my workstation, and that decision coincided with a remodel at DK. For the first time in forever I asked myself whether this problem wouldn't be easier to solve in my home office, and lo, it was. 

So, yeah, I'm home alone, doing all my work from home, and I don't have very many reasons to leave the house. As an introvert who has spent decades honing a few precious extrovert skills, this seems decadent and dangerous. Those hard-won skills are at risk. I may lose the ability to speak altogether. This is a sort of paradise, where the only sounds are the ones I control, except for the ones coming from the cat, and she likes to be outside half the time.

My usual foraging ground is devoid of half-finished plates of food left behind by my children, so I've been subsisting on things I cooked for myself rather than half-servings of whatever they were eating. Or rather, I would be subsisting on things I cooked for myself if my backyard neighbors hadn't been following my Twitter feed. They arrived with saag paneer at the ready, saving me from what would probably have been the last of the frozen pizzas.

I have about two weeks before Westercon. In that space of time I need to make about five weeks of comics.

I hope I don't forget to feed the cat.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

I positively gushed over How to Train Your Dragon back in 2010. The sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2, had a pretty high bar to clear, but unfortunately the same sort of mindset that slapped a "2" on the title seems to have shaped some of the storytelling.

Hey, I'm still sick (I fell ill on the road a week ago -- that's a story for a different blog entry) so maybe that colored the experience for me. I still love the characters and the setting, and the story isn't a bad one, but my movie-viewing experience was punctuated by moments of "that doesn't make sense" and "something needs to happen soon" and "wow, this feels long." Those moments are not usually good signs. And I kept asking myself whether a better title for the film wouldn't reveal itself during the story, because the existing title makes it sound like a "2" movie, and certainly DreamWorks can do better than that. 

If you've seen it, please weigh in down in the comments. Can you think of a better title? Even something corny, like "How to Train Your Dragon for War" or "How to Raise a Dragon Army" might have served this film better than just the number. Ultimately the title of the film makes a promise, and the appended "2" promises only "more of what we thought you wanted," which usually ends up not being what we wanted at all.

(Did I have unrealistically high expectations? Maaaaybe.)

I did have fun, and the film cleared my Threshold of Awesome to land in slot #5, but I can't help but wonder whether the rank I'm assigning it is more a measure of my emotional investment in the characters before the movie started than my joy as the credits rolled. The thing is, I can't really put my finger on what went wrong, and that leaves me wondering whether I really WAS just running a low-grade fever and need to give the movie another chance. The action was great, the dialog was snappy, and the animation was brilliant. The story, though... I don't know why it didn't work for me, and that may mean it's time for more acetaminophen. 

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is not, as it happens, Groundhog Day with guns and aliens. Oh, the central conceit is similar; both films feature information-based time travel, in which our protagonist re-lives recent events, remembering each prior pass, while nobody else is aware that time seems to be looping. And of course, given that ability, both Tom Cruise's reluctant soldier and Bill Murray's unlikable weatherman adopt similar strategies, at least at first, but Groundhog Day is a comedy about being banished to Hell and finding redemption while looking for an escape, and Edge of Tomorrow is straight-up military science fiction about saving the world.

(Is Groundhog Day a deeper, more meaningful film? I think it is, yes.)

I loved Edge of Tomorrow. It dragged in parts, leading with a particularly annoying bit of dragging at the very beginning, when a news montage telling the story of the alien invasion took twice as long as it needed to, but the film's opening act embedded us in the invasion perfectly, letting us experience the horrors of war without, you know, experiencing the horrors of war. Not nearly at the Saving Private Ryan level, mind you, and I'm fine with that.

Unlike Groundhog Day, the time-travel loop in Edge of Tomorrow had a couple of very chilling rules associated with it, and those added tension and darkness in just the right way, for me at least. They did make the Act II Disaster a little predictable, but I've gotten pretty good at not letting my understanding of this sort of story-structure get in the way of enjoying the movie.

Emily Blunt was perfect, and if you're NOT a Tom Cruise fan, you may find him to be ESPECIALLY perfect, at least for the first 20 minutes. I really liked despising his character.

Were there plot-holes? Well, yes. Of course there were. But I really enjoyed the film in the theater (I saw the 2D version) and will likely enjoy picking it apart with friends in the weeks to come.  Edge of Tomorrow comes in at #6 for me for the year so far

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