Video Rental Reviews: The Europa Report

This is part of a continuing feature where I rent old or out of the way movies from Family Video or watch them on Netflix and then review them for you.  This will be a curated list.  Few of these films will be movies I didn’t enjoy, but I look forwad to your feedback on these reviews.

A movie that I enjoyed (perhaps quite a bit more than its 2-star netflix rating gives it) on Netflix is the Europa Report.  It’s another one of these scifi films that’s cheap enough to make on an indie budget because it all takes place inside a capsule.  Now, I’ll say this.  Don’t watch The Europa Report unless you’re in the mood for something a little bleak.

The movie opens showing that we are seeing mission footage from a disastrous mission, the first mission of its kind, in which humanity was sent to investigate one of Jupiter’s moons for evidence of life.  The tone of this movie is very understated.  You don’t fall into the issue that some movies have that put a bunch of actors in a box, where their whole lives are melodramatic and they’re always shouting at each other and on the brink of a fist fight.  These are professionals who are on a mission.  You get an understated sadness after a valuable crew member dies and an air of depression comes from the crew.  They argue about the mission from time to time, but reasonably and like scientists.

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But there are some really interesting acting choices throughout the film.  There is a point in which a character (pictured above) is in grave danger and the performance is perfectly given to be ambiguous.  In an earlier scene you get terror and sadness, but at a later reveal it turns out to be something else.

I was surprised how much I liked this movie.  If you have the attention span to watch a movie that’s a little slow developing, it will pay off.  The characters are believable, and the journey is worth the watch.  There are a few plot issues, moments where you would think a team of astronauts wouldn’t do the thing that furthers the plot.

But if you’re in the mood for something sad and depressing, or you just like scifi, this movie is definitely worth a watch.

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Roman Reigns Vs. John Cena: The Death of Superman

I’ve only recently gotten back into wrestling.  It’s a super fun serial melodrama that includes death defying stunts.  It’s often a morality tale with good struggling against evil with good finally winning in the end.

This all brings us to John Cena and Roman Reigns.  John Cena, in the wrestling world, is basically superman.  And everyone hates him.  A lot of people kind of hate him (less so now), for the same reason that they hate superman.  As explained by Max Landis:

People hate John Cena because he’s a squeaky clean good guy that always wins. There’s never any tension.  This is where Roman Reigns comes in.  Roman Reigns, in some ways, has been booked in much the same way.  That is, Roman Reigns has been booked as an unbeatable guy where his matches have almost no tension because he always wins.  However, the difference with Roman Reigns is that Roman Reigns’ character isn’t that much of a good guy.  The character is morphing into this pure destructive force that isn’t good or evil but is just a monster that destroys WWE wrestlers.

This is why my ultimate fantasy booking is Roman Reigns Vs. John Cena at (maybe the next? Maybe in another year?) Wrestlemania.  Roman Reigns and John Cena should do the Death of Superman.  John Cena comes back and does the Open U.S. title challenge on Smackdown and beats everyone.  This keeps John Cena occupied and away from the drama with Roman Reigns.

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We keep Roman Reigns a quasi-heel (after the wellness policy violation we can now make him a full heal).  Roman Reigns continues to be an unstoppable force in WWE.  This can take as long as you like.  Roman Reign will go up against every babyface in the company.  He already beat A.J. Styles (and literally everyone else he’s gone in a feud with).  Over the next year (or even 2) we let Roman Reigns destroy everything.  We let (and you an skip a few sentences if these names mean nothing to you) Roman Reigns get into a feud with Seth Rollins and beat him.  We let Roman Reigns get into a feud with Dean Ambrose.  We give Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins together a chance to get into a triple threat match for the title.  Roman Reigns always comes out on top.

Roman Reigns can get into a feud with Kevin Owens, with Cesaro, and with Sammy Zayn.  We let Sammy Zayn go last and let them have an epic fight where Zayn comes so near to defeating Reigns that Reigns’ win is the most devastating of all.

This parallels the run up to the Death of Superman in the comics.  In the comics, Superman got too powerful, so the comics created doomsday.  Doomsday is just an instrument of destruction.  He tears through the justice league.  He goes up against them, and all that’s left in the end is Superman.  It’s up to Superman to stop Doomsday.  Superman goes up against Doomsday in an epic fight and they simultaneously land killing blows on each other.

So I think that the WWE should do Superman vs. Doomsday with John Cena and Roman Reigns.  Leading up to a Wrestlemania we call attention to the unbeatable Roman Reigns.  Reigns is put in the Royal Rumble at slot 1 and wins the whole thing.  Shane McMahon, or some other babyface, calls attention to the way Roman Reigns has been and how bad it is and makes the match between John Cena and Roman Reigns.  Maybe Shane fights Reigns and loses which leads to the making of the match.

John Cena and Roman Reigns fight a number of times leading up to Wrestlemania, with John Cena losing each match.  We’ve built the tension for the lead up to Wrestlemania, where John Cena will fight Roman Reigns.  The WWE’s Superman will fight WWE’s Doomsday at Wrestlemania for the WWE world heavyweight title.  The end of the match is a simultaneous superman punch and some other move by Cena and Wrestlemania ends with Cena and Reigns lying on the ground, perhaps being brought out of the stadium on stretchers.

Now, there are a couple problems with this pitch.  There is the problem of setting the right stakes and there is the problem of getting an ending where John Cena wins but he also “dies.”  Maybe there is a stipulation on the match.  Maybe there is a stipulation where Roman Reigns forfeits the title if he doesn’t win the match cleanly and the character John Cena can’t come back to Raw if he loses (or maybe John Cena makes it an I quit match, or maybe we go crazy and make John Cena “die” in the match, I’m not sure here).

Maybe I can be really self-indulgent and let John Cena “die” on Wrestlemania and do Reign of the John Cenas: John Cena Returns after this run.  But that’s another blog post.

But let me explain why this is a great idea.  This will allow John Cena and Roman Reigns to have some real drama in their lives.  This will also, if played right, come in at just the right time in Roman Reigns story to allow his defeat to be received really well.  This will also allow the WWE to weaken Reigns after this fight.  This will finally give John Cena a really deep storyline with something real to overcome.  This will also allow the WWE to say that the overpowered booking of Roman Reigns was on purpose and leading up to this amazing moment.

But anyway, I should get back to the ending of this match.  John Cena will fight Roman Reigns and it will be a great match.  The match will end with some kind of simultaneous move which will result in two (storyline) unconscious wrestlers.  Maybe carry them both out on stretchers.  The stipulations prior to the match will mean that Reigns has given up the belt, but John Cena doesn’t get the belt.  Preferably, somehow “John Cena” will not be able to move forward in the WWE for at least a long while, but also this will remove Reigns from the title picture for a good long while.  It’s a great way to end the Reigns storyline and perhaps a great way to give John Cena a break to go out and make movies and be away from the company.

Maybe in the future I’ll make a suggestion for something more self-indulgent and ridiculous.  After John Cena V. Roman Reigns: the Death of Superman, we can book John Cena in his heal turn: Reign of the John Cenas.

Tune back in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new stuff!

Peace be with you.
-JS

Are we Afraid of Reproducing?

It’s interesting how horror movies reflect the mores and fears of a society.  In the last several years, I’ve noticed a trend in horror movies that may point to some disturbing trends in our society.  The 80’s saw the slasher films in which students engaged in illicit sexual activity were brutally murdered, which showed a societal fear of the consequences of promiscuity and non-monogamous sex (especially understandable in the era in which AIDs arose).

But we also have a different fear that has actually been present since the 60’s.  This is the fear of children.  Have you ever been freaked out by scary babies or children in movies?  Have you noticed the creepy scenes where a zombie baby is the scariest part? This, I think reflects a fear that our society has of having children.  And its understandable to some extent, for us to be afraid in this way.  Before modern medicine, having a baby was one of the most dangerous things a woman could do.  Countless lives were saved just by the invention of forceps.

Maybe baby horror is tapping into this basic fear.  But I’m not sure this is the case with modern baby horror.  First of all, it seems that pregnancy would be the object of fear and this would manifest in our horror in some way.  But the scary thing is babies.  The scary part is actually successfully delivering the baby in scenes like this:

The baby itself is scary.  But the unrealistic nature of a zombie baby threat (or of any baby being any kind of real threat) makes me think this is something like when we decided to have evil slashers represent the dangers of promiscuity in the age of AIDS.

But there’s other things that baby horror could be.  Baby horror might just represent that babies are something which represents innocence to us, and that the thought of a possessed or zombified baby is that much more horrifying to us.  But it might also be the more scary to us because we have a latent fear of reproducing.  This would fit nicely with the change that happened as a result of the sexual revolution.  After the sexual revolution we stopped conceiving of children as a goal of sexual activity but as a dire consequence.  Perhaps our baby horror reflects this cultural shift.  I’m not sure, but this at least seems to be are reasonable interpretation of the existence of baby horror.

It’s even weirder that there is a lot of horror coming out lately that has to do with being happily married.  Anyway, what do you think is the reason we find baby horror so scary?
Let me know in the comments.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Video Rental Reviews: 400 Days

Welcome back to the feature where I review movies and tv series that are at my local in my local video rental place.  Previously, I have reviewed 10 Cloverfield Lane and the SyFy Series 12 Monkeys.  Today I will be reviewing the indie scifi thriller called 400 Days.

First, I’m going to say this.  After your first watch of this movie you may be a little pissed off to start.  It’s sudden and difficult to understand.  But after thinking about it for a little while, I think this is intentional.  I will get to this after a brief synopsis.

400 Days is set mostly in a mocked-up spacecraft.  We are led to believe that the four astronauts we have just met are being put into the ground as a test of the effects of long-term space travel on the human mind.  There is some drama as the main psychological officer has just dumped Brandon Routh, our main spaceman.

There is some interesting character work in this movie, with Dane Cook, Brandon Routh, and Tom Cavanagh making for some interesting character work.  There is a twist at the end of the first act where something seems to have gone wrong with the experiment.  This generates much of the drama for the rest of the story.  We see various things happen that stretch these individuals to the breaking point through the course of this experiment.  But there is a third act twist that I won’t ruin for you.

I think this is trying to be one of those trippy psychological thrillers which plays with your perception and then leaves you with a question.  Were the events of the movie real or were they all in the character’s minds.  It doesn’t pull it off perfectly, but oddly the last twist of the movie, although it may piss you off, will leave you wanting to watch the movie again very carefully.  Ultimately the last series of twists makes some sense, but there is still some missing in the film.

If you are a fan of the psychological thrillers this movie is worth watching.  I found it quite enjoyable despite the rage-inducing ending.  The rage will wear off and curiosity will set in.  Ultimately the story has some holes, and you’ll be left scratching your head even after the second viewing, but I still think genre (and love story) fans will get enough enjoyment out of this to drop the dollar or two it takes to watch 400 days.

Video Rental Reviews: 12 Monkeys (the syfy series), Season 1

This is a new series of articles where I review movies and tv shows that are in my local Family Video rental store.  In my first post I talked about 10 Cloverfield Lane and the re-emergence of John Goodman on the acting scene.  This week we will be discussing the first season of the recent SyFy series named after the popular Terry Gilliam movie 12 Monkeys.

So I decided to rent the first season of 12 Monkeys the other day.  I am a huge fan of the movie, but didn’t know what to expect with someone other than the brilliant Terry Gilliam running the show.  It also took me until the final episode of season one to be able to figure out the relationship between the movie and the series I was watching.

I’ve concluded that 12 Monkeys is a reboot of the Terry Gilliam movie.  Maybe if I’d remember the character name James Cole from the movie I would have figured this out sooner, but now I know.  12 Monkeys the tv show is simply telling a very similar story to that of Terry Gilliam’s show.

12 Monkeys will touch on a number of beats that seem familiar to those familiar with the movie, and that is a good thing.  The story still centers around the mystery of how the world-ending disease gets spread to the world, and there remains throughout the story a sneaking suspicion that everything the time-travelers are doing is just contributing to the deterministic story of how the disease arose and killed everyone in the first place.  As with any good serial mystery, we are strung along with little clues along the first series.  The series does different things with some of the other characters, but the acting and the characters are really solid.

One highlight of the show is Emily Hampshire playing the series’ version of the Brad Pitt character in the original movie.   She plays the crazy daughter of the billionaire who is suspected of developing the disease, who is our heroes’ on-again off again frenemy throughout the series.  She is compelling and eminently watchable and moves some way toward capturing the intangible magic that Pitt had in the original series, which is an quite a feat.

Despite some small criticisms, such as a couple characters whose arcs are a little sudden and unrealistic, I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the original movie (and to anyone who isn’t, but likes mysteries or race-against-time thrillers).  This is really a compelling series.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Why do I Love WWE Wrestling?

I’ve recently returned to watching WWE wrestling after 15 years away.  I really enjoy it.  But why do I love it?  It’s something of a mystery to me.  Why do people like Wrestling Entertainment?  Perhaps you could understand why a person would like WWE before finding out that “it’s fake.”  But interest in WWE doesn’t always go away when a person finds out that the individuals on the show are stunt-fighting.  How can you like a show that is just pretending to be real?  Well, it better be similar to the reasons people give for liking other pretend things.  That is, it should turn out that the reason I like WWE is like the reason I like magic shows or the reason I like certain works of fiction or television shows.

Luckily, the reasons that people show like WWE are similar to the reasons they should like these other things.  But first we should talk about how to categorize WWE wrestling.  WWE wrestling is a weird thing.  It’s like a cross between a soap opera, the muppet show, and live theater, but it’s in the action genre.  Suppose you were watching a TV show like 24.  But now suppose that they made this show live, and retained all the action and stunts.  This would be a rad show.  Now, the stories in WWE are not quite like the stories in shows like 24, but they are dramatic arcs nonetheless.  In fact, they are often versions of the heroes journey (or redemption stories, or a host of other kinds of stories).  In fact, there is a great youtube video by a respected hollywood writer illustrating what wrestling is (spoiler alert: wrestling isn’t wrestling):

Wrestling is a lot of things, but it’s not wrestling.  It’s a drama.  It’s performance art.  It’s the muppet show (a show about the drama behind putting on a show).  It can be a place for really great story-telling.  It’s also an art that has been devoted to developing the best and most convincing stage-combat that you have ever seen.  In a way like magic, it’s devoted to creating a certain contrary-to-reality perception which makes it easier for the viewer to engage in the suspension of disbelief.

Professional wrestling, though it might suck from time to time, gives the real opportunity for amazing story-telling over the course of years and years.  You should check out professional wrestling again.  It’s worth watching.

 

Check back WMF for more content.

Peace be with you.
-JS

P.S. If you’d like to watch a great podcast which discusses wrestling from a storyline perspective, check out sidewalk slam:

Why are Vampires so Sexy?

Vampires are so sexy.  You’ve got the incarnations of Lestat in the movie versions of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Queen of the Damned, Selene in Underworld, and Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned (may she rest in peace).  But who can forget the super sexy Edward Cullen in the Twilight saga?  No one is who.

Some argue that it’s the influence of books and movies like Twilight that vampires have become explicit sex symbols in some sort of nefarious plot to exploit young people’s sexuality.  But this isn’t true (well maybe twilight is build to exploit young people’s sexuality, but it’s not the source of the sexiness of vampires).  Vampires have always been sexy.  But why?

Because vampires are symbols of sex and sexual desire.  Since Bram Stoker the  story of a vampire has been a seduction story.  The vampire is a supernatural monster built out of the vice of lust.  Classically vampires are portrayed as undead creatures who are seductive, have generally (Twilight excluding) have lost much of the ordinary human ability to feel, and are consumed by the desire to feed.  (The act of the vampire bite so obviously parallels sex and deflowering that I’ll only mention it and not describe it in its detail)

The classical vampire story is like Jekyll and Hyde but for sex instead of for booze.  A vampire is consumed by a hunger for blood and is obsessed with exchanging a particular kind of bodily fluid with someone of the opposite sex (usually this is also a male vampire with a classically virginal woman, adding a creepy power dynamic to the relationship).  The story centers around the innocent human being seduced by the vampire.  After giving in to the overtly sexual seduction, the innocent human being receives an unpleasant surprise.  The vampire is allowed to penetrate the innocent human being with his teeth.  This human giving in to such the seduction and allowing the “bite” results in one of two results.  Either the human is dead or the human is turned into yet another monster consumed by lust, living forever with the one all consuming desire to feed.  The death is the lucky fate, as otherwise one has turned into the very monster that was the source of fear for the entire movie or book.  Vampires appeal to us because of our fear of losing our rationality and being consumed by our base desires.

Vampires are usually a kind of morality tale about the dangers of seduction and sexual activity.  Vampires are the embodiment of all consuming lust and sexual desire.  That is why vampires are so sexy.

Now, there’s also an interesting question of whether series like Twilight interestingly undermine our expectations for the vampire genre or simply exploit it’s built-in sexiness to appeal to young people, but that’s a question for a different time.

Leave a comment!  Tell me what you think about the vampire genre. Why are vampires so sexy?  Let’s talk about it.

Stay tuned every MWF for new content!

Peace be with you.
-JS

Rey’s Journey Doesn’t Echo Episode 4

Star Wars Episode VII is often accused of paralleling Episode IV too closely.  But it seems to me that Rey’s journey in Episode VII actually more closely parallels the journey of a character in another (less well respected) episode of the Star Wars saga.  Further, the parallel will make sense of the fact that everything seems to go so easily for Rey in the movie.

Rey’s journey parallels Anakin’s journey in Episode I  more closely than it parallels Luke’s journey in Episode IV.  Okay, so Rey’s journey starts out on a desert planet, where Rey is less than content with her life situation.  Rey even has her own twin sun moment (check out this podcast from loading ready run for a discussion of this moment and other interesting aspects of the movie) in the moment where she stares at the incredibly old woman cleaning parts and realizes she has to get out of there.

But she doesn’t lose her family.  She has a murky, confusing relationship with  her family which is keeping her on the desert planet.  This situation doesn’t change, and she must consciously give up her last connection to her family in order to leave on her adventure.  But the thing really keeping her from leaving the planet isn’t just a family situation.  She’s a slave.  This is exactly the situation with Anakin Skywalker.  It is, at the very least, much closer to Anakin Skywalker’s  situation in Episode I than to Luke Skywalker’s in Episode IV.

Let’s look at a few other parts of the Reys’ journey.  Luke is partially trained by Obi Wan Kenobi, but Anakin and Rey get no force training and are thrust into crucial situations in the struggle against the big weapon of destruction held by the enemy with no force training at all.

Nevertheless Anakin/Rey just succeed and succeed with little struggle (presumably due to their being incredibly strong in the force).  In many ways their journeys for the episode end when they find a trainer, whereas Luke’s journey for the episode is all struggle and ends when his trainer dies.

Now, all this is to ignore the fact that the journeys of all three protagonists closely parallel each other in many ways.  But I think that a close look makes it clear that Rey’s story in Episode VII is a self-conscious parallel of Anakin’s journey in Episode I.  What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new content.

Peace be with you.
-JS

 

2 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Batman v Superman

Spoilers!

Perhaps I’m late to the Batman V. Superman lovefest that occurred in the reviews for the movie.  Wait, there wasn’t a love fest?!  Wait, the movie only got a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes?!  Wait, the movie made $900,000,000 and no one seems to like it?  Everyone hates it?  What’s wrong with it?  Well, there are two sequences that are fairly universally panned which everyone seems to get wrong, and these are the scenes I most often see appealed to by BvS haters.  In this post I will show that everyone gets these two sequences wrong.

The Martha Scene

“Save…Martha…”  Batman finds out that he and Superman’s mom’s have the same name, and Batman and Superman  instantly become friends.  That’s how this scene works.  So stupid, right?! Wrong! This scene comes after Batman has come to think that Superman is an alien that cares very little for human life.  For Batman, Superman seems to be an amoral creature who caused the equivalent of 12 9/11’s, blew up congress, perhaps indiscriminately killed a bunch of people in Africa, and could do much worse at any moment.  Superman is an alien with no connection or care for humanity.  Batman says as much in the fight over and over.

But Superman starts telling Batman he should save Martha.  This leads Batman to get even angrier.  Batman has seen 20 years of Jokers and Two-faces playing cruel tricks on him and emotionally manipulating him by appeal to his loved ones and their life or death.  This is when Lois Lane comes in and informs Batman that Martha is Superman’s mother.  This piece of information, along with it’s being shouted by Lois Lane, gives Batman all the information he needs to put together that he was wrong.  Lois Lane, the sole survivor of the attack Superman supposedly perpetrated in Africa, is deeply in love with Superman.  He thus puts together that his conception of the Africa case was wrong, and that Superman has at least one person that he cares for or loves.  Second, he finds out that Superman was willing to lay down his life so long as Batman saved Superman’s human mother.  Superman has a human mother who he loves just as much as any other human loves his/her mother!  Batman has put together that he has deeply misinterpreted the situation with Superman (and probably that Lex Luthor is to some extent behind it) all from the facts he becomes privy to in the end of the fight scene.  He then realizes that he’s been blind with rage and ignoring the clues all along that Superman is not such a bad guy.  This is when he drops his spear.  Their having the same mother only caused Batman to pause to figure out Superman’s evil plan, but then Lois Lane’s barging in saves the day and gets Batman to wise up.

For a beautiful youtube video that actually takes the “mother’s have the same name” thing to be a very touching and beautiful moment but which also holds the popular misinterpretation while getting the emotional force of the scene down beautifully, follow this link.

That Floating Dirt Doesn’t Mean Superman’s Alive!

This really annoyed me.  Everyone was all up in arms that they took away Superman’s death with the floating dirt.  But, and I’ll keep this one brief, when have you ever seen dirt float over a coffin when the person inside in fact turns out to be alive.  Dirt floating says nothing about the individual inside the coffin.  It says everything about an individual outside the coffin exerting some force pulling on the coffin.  All the floating dirt in the end of the movie indicated was that someone is stealing Superman’s body.  And yes, everyone knows that Superman is going to come back, but this scene did not in any way indicate that Superman is currently alive in the casket which we are zooming in on.  Superman is still dead at the end of the Batman V Superman movie.

The movie has its flaws, but it is beautiful and I was moved by the Martha scene.  Now, you can hate BvS, but don’t  hate it for the wrong reasons.  If you’d like to talk about it, leave a comment.

Come back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for  new post!

Peace be with you.
-JS