Pixar has lost its individuality. Don’t get me wrong, the beloved studio still makes ambitious films. Inside Out was one of the most conceptually ambitious films I have ever seen. What I mean is it is becoming more and more common for Pixar films to look and feel like films produced by other studios. Brave is How to Train You Dragon, The Good Dinosaur feels like a recycled Ice Age plot line and Cars 2 feels about as bold and exciting as that Fox film about the racing snail. Pixar is no longer the king of the CGI world. Even films being produced under Disney’s regular ‘ol Animation Department are rivaling Pixar. Anyone see Big Hero 6? I cried for days.
Pitching Tents 15: Thanksgiving
Who do you think discovered the trace your hand to draw a turkey thing? Was it a teacher, an artist, a craftsman, a parent? How do you think that person felt when they realized they had changed the game forever? When they realized they had just created a lasting legacy, one that every generation of American children would engage in for time immemorial? I can only guess they felt about as good as we all did coming up with great pitches for the untapped turkey day movie market. Don’t believe me? Check it out.
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The Current Gen Conundrum
Two years ago, I wrote a post about the looming new generation of consoles and whether you should spend money on them on Black Friday. The main thing I wanted to tell people was that, if you had the willpower, you would be better off waiting as long as possible to buy new video game machines. I never said I had that willpower, so here are my thoughts on current gaming consoles as someone who’s had them all for about as long as anyone could have.
Number Five Alive
When it came out, Halo 3 seemed like the biggest deal in the world. It was everywhere – there was a Mountain Dew Flavor, Paul made a song about it… It was huge. I remember hearing about it, and later one of the Call of Duty games, in the context of video games usurping film as the biggest media releases of a year. That was then. The last eight years have made the world a lot more corporate. Now, I could barely hear anything about Halo 5‘s release between ads for Star Wars jewelry.
Seriously, it’s been about a month since Halo 5: Guardians came out and it feels like nobody is talking about it anymore. The holidays are coming, isn’t this supposed to be a system seller? Microsoft called Guardians the biggest Halo launch yet, for what it’s worth, but it simply doesn’t feel like it matters anymore. It’s not an event like these games used to be, and for non-hardcore fans of the series, that’s probably a fair level of excitement.
Guardians has moved me very little, a dismaying reality since I’ve dug pretty much all the main Halo games. This is Halo‘s big debut on modern consoles, it should be a massive showcase for the Xbox One, and to be fair, it doesn’t falter at most of what it tries. Maybe it’s just sequel fatigue, but Guardians just doesn’t stand out for me compared to games like Titanfall, Destiny, or that brief bit of Overwatch I got to play this weekend.
Take the fact that the game looks good, for an example. Not great, not the best looking game this generation or even this year, but good. And it runs at a solid 60 frames per second, which is great. But characters all look big and bulky, your guns take up a ton of the screen, and a few of the environments are pretty bland. So it’s solid, but not amazing, you know?
That problem extends to the single player story too, which I’m inclined to give a pass to since none of the Halo stories have been good. But I won’t because this one is short, bares no resemblance to any of the trailers we had been shown, and ends on a disappointing cliffhanger. You spend your time switching between a desperate Master Chief and his squad searching for Cortana, and a new, misled Spartan team led by the guy who plays Luke Cage for the Netflix branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was super confusing, with much left unexplained and again, a big dumb cliffhanger way too soon. But people don’t play these games alone anyway (which is why it’s disappointing there’s no split screen story mode).
At this point, almost everything you’d expect to be in Halo multiplayer is there. They recently patched in big team battle, and the other essential modes are all available in the Arena. I never really cared for most of them. The big new addition is a second multiplayer mode, called Warzone, separate from the Arena, which is like an even bigger team battle. It’s an evolving mode that challenges you with different objectives, like taking out powerful NPCs, while you battle the other team for territory. It’s pretty cool and definitely the most fun I had in Guardians, even though it’s centered around the game’s most troubling aspect.
This is a game free of map pack DLC, which I think is great. Map pack DLC is terrible in multiplayer games, all it does is fracture the community. Unfortunately, in its place is a card pack system. You get points for completing matches and performing well, and you can use these points (or real money) to buy packs of cards. These cards give you weapons and vehicles for Warzone, as well as boosts and cosmetic unlocks. Those cards are the only way to get better weapons and vehicles in Warzone, aside from taking them from an enemy player. It fucked with my head that, for example, when my team needed a tank, I was inclined to not spawn one just because I only had one tank card and I didn’t want to waste it. Of course, for really good players and rich players, this won’t be a problem, making the whole system all the more distressing.
Mostly my problem was that because of the cards, my incentive to keep playing the game was just gone. Sure, there was cool armor I wanted to get, but without a direct path to it, why bother? I have no interest in grinding booster packs, I did that once with Mass Effect 3 and don’t really want to do it again. At least a game like Hearthstone gives you an alternate path to acquiring a card you want if you’re really unlucky, here you’ve just gotta wait and cross your fingers.
On the other hand, free maps are great. Making sure everyone who plays Halo 5 has access to everything that really matters is great. But as someone who plays online alone, and consistently places in about the middle-to-lower third of my team’s leaderboards, there’s just not enough incentive here to really get into the game. At least not right now, when so many great games are begging for my time. Halo used to be the biggest thing in the world. Now it will have to settle for having been the biggest thing that week.
The End Of Games
Every film should be able to stand on its own. Whoever first said this probably had not anticipated this recent trend of taking bestselling book franchises, turning them into blockbuster movie franchises, and then turning the final film in to two-part stories in the hopes of squeezing as much money out of one franchise as possible. Because not only to you have to have seen all the other movies in the franchise to have a clear idea of this world and its characters, you also have to have seen the first part of this final saga to know what the hell is going on in this particular story. So then why would I take it upon myself to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 despite not having seen Mockingjay Part 1 nor any of the other movies in The Hunger Games franchise? Well, let’s just say my friends dragged me to it because they thought it’d be a funny experience to put me through (which it kind of was, especially since I got to see the gloriously stupid trailer for Gods Of Egypt). But also, I think I was geniunely curious to see if a film like this — which relies so heavily on the audience’s knowledge of previous films — would hold up on its own at all.
As you may have noticed from some of my previous movie reviews, I hate having to summarize the plots of movies. Even more so, I don’t think I could actually summarize the plot of Mockingjay Part 2, because I only vaguely knew what was going on at the heart of this movie. Like yeah, I knew that the basis of the first Hunger Games movie was that there were kids killing each other in a kind of futuristic bloodsport, while I’m assuming in the second and third installments Jennifer Lawrence and other future people are trying to overthrow the evil government led by evil president Donald Sutherland. Because in this movie we get a lot of J-Law and her crew of futurefighters running through the wartorn streets of The Capital (which I believe is the capital of the country this movie takes place in), and fighting off machine-gun robots with the intent of killing evil president Donald Sutherland. So there you go, there’s your plot summary.
The descriptor I keep hearing in regards to this final Hunger Games movie is “dark”. Granted, I feel like the word I hear in regards to the final chapter of pretty much every final film in a recent movie franchise tends to be “dark”. I don’t know if this stems from the creators of these franchises getting restless over continually making easily digestable popcorn entertainment and eventually vying for something a bit more sinister after the first few movies, or if we just live in undeniably dark times that demand this kind of entertainment. Regardless, the Hunger Games franchise strikes me as one that was already inherently a bit morbid, since as you may know, it revolves around the idea of kids killing each other for sport while set against this grim dystopian future. Which strikes me as a bit strange that a story like this would be such a zeitgeist-capturing piece of mainstream entertainment, though I imagine this grimness might account for the fact that it seems like people have gotten a bit burned out on these movies since the opening box office grosses for Mockingjay Part 2 were good, but not earth-shattering.
And even though there were a lot of confusing things about this being my first exposure to The Hunger Games franchise, whatever enjoyment I was able to get out of it stemmed from its similarities to another film with a heart of darkness — Apocalypse Now. I don’t know if I’m the first person to make this comparison, but taken on it’s own, HG:MJ-Pt.2, much like Apocalypse Now struck me as another journey into the heart of one man’s insanity-driven quest for power, and who must be stopped at all cost. And I think if taken just on those terms, HG:MJ-Pt.2 does hold up on it’s own. And sure, there are lots of political discussions that take place between Jennifer Lawrence and Julianne Moore, as well as her sidekick (the departed and sorely-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman), which I wasn’t able to get much out of from not having seen the previous films. But just as a movie about a bunch of rogues running through a ravaged city on a quest for justice, it’s entertaining enough. There’s a particularly thrilling scene where J-Law and her cohorts are forced to fight this horde of underground sewer-mutants, which had a bit of an Alien vibe, and was surprising for me, because I had absolutely no idea if The Hunger Games world was a world in which monster-type creatures existed. Turns out it is, sort of.
Still, regardless of the fact that I was able to enjoy some of the more action-heavy, spectacle-based elements of this movie, there was a lot of pay-off that I had to sit through that I obviously couldn’t get a ton of satisfaction out of. In particular, the love triangle between Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Thor’s brother didn’t seem terrible compelling, to the point where it feels hard to call it a love triangle when it all seemed to play out in such a casual manner. But maybe because the movie does a fairly good job of calling back to earlier moments in the franchise, and maybe because I’ve been vaguely aware of this franchise just from its place in the popular consciousness, I wasn’t quite as bored or lost as I thought I’d be.
So does that mean that I am now in favor of this habit of breaking up book adaptations into as many sagas as possible? No, absolutely not. It’s dumb and manipulative towards fans, and just an illogical and unsatisfying approach to storytelling. Still, I will say that while watching this multi-million dollar, multi-part franchise come to an end, I had an alright time. And isn’t that the best I could’ve hoped for?
Bridge Of Guys
Steven Spielberg no longer makes movies for the zeitgeist, and I imagine he’s perfectly fine with that. This was demonstrated quite clearly this weekend, as myself and my colleague Sean Lemme went and saw a sparsely-attended showing of Steven Spielberg’s latest, Bridge Of Spies at this small family-owned theater in West Seattle where Spectre was playing in the theater next door. And because apparently the walls in this theater are not sound-proofed particularly well, we could often hear the overblown audio pyrotechnics of Spectre bleeding over and sometimes distracting from the quiet backroom dealings of this old-fashioned spy thriller. It’s an idea that’s kind of carried into Bridge Of Spies theatrical run so far, as its gotten completely drowned out by Spectre this week at the box office, as well as in the former weeks by the idea that people just aren’t going to the movies as much lately.
You could say that Bridge Of Spies feels like it’s of a piece with recent Spielberg efforts like 2012’s Lincoln and 2011’s War Horse, which felt almost defiantly old-fashioned (that said, I really liked Lincoln). But the fact of the matter is, Steven Spielberg has always had a fairly old-fashioned approach, both in his style (which owes a lot to the American masters of Hollywood’s golden era) and in their past-obsessed subject matter. He’s been making corny shit like Always and The Color Purple (I assume, since I haven’t actually seen them) since the late ’80s, when he was finally able to convince producers that he can direct more than just blockbusters. So I can’t help but think that it’s possible that Spielberg sees these quieter period-pieces as the truest expression of him as an artist, rather than the awe-inspiring spectacles that are synonymous with his name. Which might explain why Raiders Of The Lost Ark has always been my favorite Spielberg film, as it combines these two sensibilities so effortlessly.
But back to Bridge Of Spies, which stars Tom Hanks — an actor who’s been in about as many Spielberg movies as you’d imagine (three) — who plays James B. Donovan, an American lawyer assigned to defend a Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) at the height of the Cold War. Despite the overwhelming public hatred toward Abel (due to the whole being a commie thing), Donovan wants to give Abel a fair trial, and though he more less does, Abel is still convicted. However, Donovan pleads for Abel not to be executed in the hopes that he could be used as a bargaining pawn in the event that an American is captured in Soviet territory. Sure enough, this type international tug-of-war is quickly set in motion, as an American pilot carrying valuable information is shot down and captured by the Soviets, while Donovan attempts to spearhead a deal to bring the two men back to their respective homes.
On a recent Fall preview episode of the podcast Filmspotting, Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips talked about his wariness towards Bridge Of Spies (which hadn’t come out yet), because he feared it might feel a bit stale due to it featuring so many collaborators that Spielberg has worked with numerous times in the past (like Hanks and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski). And thought I wouldn’t say Bridge Of Spies ever succumbs to this theoretical staleness, I do feel like there is a slight workmanlike quality to this film. It hits all the beats you would want an espionage/spy thriller to hit, but while still being fairly interesting in the way it zeros in on a conflict like the separation of East and West Berlin, which is a mid-20th century crisis that I don’t feel has been explored a ton on screen.
But I think what really keeps this movie from ever feeling too clinical (like a lot of serious spy thrillers will), is that it’s not only propelled by a super-intricate and confusing plot, but more by the human elements at play here. Mark Rylance — a renowned stage actor in Britain, who’s been tapped to play the titular character in Spielberg’s The BFG — is quite good here as the tight-lipped Abel. Him and Hanks’s Donovan have a nice relationship that seems indicative of the kind of quiet, dignified men of this particular era who were just trying to do their best for their country. And because of this, the film skirts any sort of Spielberg-ian corniness, by the mere fact that these are two guys who are only capable of opening up so much. Which maybe isn’t the sexiest relationship you could choose to put at the heart of a spy thriller, but its human elements are nonetheless easier to understand and sympathize with than whatever the hell the plot of Spectre was supposed to be.
Why Bond is OK, and why Bond will always be alright
I’ve been reading the lot of different scalding takes on James Bond since I was able to see a private Ellensburg screening of “Spectre” with 12 of my closest Ellensburg friends (some of which were able to point out quite verbally that the Star Wars trailer was indeed for the new Star Wars movie).
A lot of these takes include phrases like “How this shit killed Bond” or “Why 007 is dead” or “The Legacy of James, why you should click my shitty thought-piece about how these Bond movies are kind of like other movies that are out this generation. Ya know? I made connections to different pieces of pop culture in a similar era. I’m a good writer, see?!”
The thing is, it doesn’t fucking matter. Yes, this is the first time a James Bond plot has intertwined throughout multiple movies. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Like the man in the Rolling Stone so eloquently put it, Bond adapts to the times. Whether it was Moonraker in space, Brosnan driving through a fucking city with a tank or Craig bringing his grittier persona to character, the point is, Bond is fluid. It has to be. Bond would not have survived this long if it wasn’t.
Now I am a canon junkie. I’m a franchise guy, I like big universes and I like references back to things. It’s gratifying to me. That’s why I can apologize for this movie. The main plot of “Spectre” to me served a similar role to “The Dark Knight Rises.” An unnecessary, but fun and satisfying conclusion to a series of films. Do people that say this movie “KILLS BOND” wish they hadn’t made “Spectre”? I don’t get it.
But besides the sort of contrived link to the past decade of films, which admittedly I’m a sucker for, I understand if people didn’t like it. But on it’s own, I thought it still offered a lot. Besides all the sweet helicopter action, as someone who has seen all the movies, and as a huge Bond fan, seeing Blofeld on screen for the first time since 1983 (and canonically for the first time since 1981), was FUCKING AWESOME. I feel like people don’t understand how iconic of a character he is. Just like Bond, he’s been portrayed by half a dozen actors, he has probably one of the most recognizable parody portrayals and I thought Christoph Waltz did a great job.
I did think the whole adoptive brother thing was kind of dumb and felt pretty forced, but I loved the torture scene. The cat was perfect, the watch explosion and the escape was sweet, and when Blofeld comes back with the scar, I lost my damn mind. Blofeld rules, and the fact that they brought him back for this movie, to me, makes up for a lot of the weaker, forced shadow organization stuff. Again, Blofeld rules. He’s got that cat, remember? Dr. Evil? Does no one remember?
I also really feel like Daniel Craig has quietly gone full circle from being everyone’s least favorite, to favorite Bond, back to being THE MAN THAT KILLED BOND. Please relax. In my humble opinion, he has been one of my favorite Bonds. Maybe it’s just because he’s the Bond whom I’ve grown my fandom through, but I definitely cared about him more than I did any other portray-er, and maybe that’s a result of the films being connected. Craig is great, and I hope he never comes back. (Unless he comes back for one in like 2043 that’s unofficial).
These were Bond films for the multiverse era, and that is OK. There is nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with people not liking it. Soon there will be a new Bond for a new era, and I’m excited and afraid, like I should be. I’m sure every generation’s Bond critics have declared the death of the franchise. Hell, who thought he could come back from the diamond man’s ice palace?
All in all, Spectre was a good, not great Bond movie. Probably ranks third for me in the Craig era behind “Skyfall” and “Casino Royale.” People just need to understand, not every movie will be the best movie ever, and just because you think something is kind of done, doesn’t mean it’s dead.
James Bond Will Return. He has to, cuz like, they make a lot of money, and stuff.