Captain Marvel – Popcorn Not Included

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It’s another one of them Marvel movies and this time they even put the company name in the title. That’s brand synergy.

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Captain Marvel

Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Edited by: Elliot Graham & Debbie Berman
Music by: Pinar Toprak
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Debug Mode: Games of 2018

I’m still doing this Debug Mode video game show thing! In fact, I’ve been working on content for the channel a lot lately. If my plans don’t get too derailed, 2019 should be the biggest year yet (which is to stay I plan on releasing more than 2 videos – hopefully many more than that).

For now, here’s a look back at the games of 2018: the good, the disappointing, and my top 5 favorites. Happy New Year!

Debug Mode: Cities Skylines review

Well it took much longer to get this out than I wanted. It would have been released sooner if not for a few personal and professional matters that delayed things. And also that fight with the printer. Yeah, that story was about me trying to print the script for this video.

I have a lot of ideas for future Debug Mode videos: games I want to talk about and topical videos too. I’m even contemplating covering some movies or TV shows. I’ve got a lot of partially written scripts. A lot of footage captured.

I was working on a completely different subject but then Cities: Skylines came along and I knew I had to cover it. As a longtime SimCity fan, I was super disappointed by the 2013 entry in that series and Cities: Skylines is this amazing game because it fixes nearly everything that the other game got wrong.

Continue reading “Debug Mode: Cities Skylines review”

Reflektor

Greek Facepalm

Actually, I quite like this album.

Reflektor is one of the best albums of Arcade Fire’s career. Then again, the same could be said for any of the band’s releases. Exactly how the new double-album stacks up against the rest of the band’s discography is up to the listener to determine. I’m still not sure, but I’m willing to say Reflektor is in the running as their best album. And that’s saying a whole lot.

I was a bit befuddled back in September when the title track was released as a single. Clocking in at 7:30 minutes, the neo-disco tune “Reflektor” is a nice illustration for my experience with the album as a whole.

My first impression was incredulous – even skeptical.

Disco. Really? I don’t hate or even dislike disco, but I really questioned the direction AF was taking with this new single and I worried that it was indicative of the whole album.

Also disconcerting was the news that Reflektor would be a double album. The Suburbs, much as I like it, is pretty long. It’s a bit too long at times and it deters me from listening as often as I might otherwise. How could they have made an even longer album?

Then about a week after the single dropped I gave it another chance. After all, this is Arcade Fire. They’d always been great before. Maybe I just needed to let it sink in.

Yep. I guess that was it.

After that I was hooked. I played the song again. And again. And again. Seven and a half minutes and I listened over and over.

And that was pretty much my experience with the album too. My first listen left me kind of cold and unimpressed. But Reflektor (the album) came alive to me on my second listen. And my third. And forth. Et cetera.

Yes, the album is long, but like the title track, it justifies its length… mostly. Reflektor is the most obviously disco-influenced song, but that vibe permeates a lot of the album most notably “Afterlife.” There are quite a few songs that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on AF’s other releases. “You Already Know” would have been quite at home on The Suburbs and “Here Comes the Night Time” doesn’t sound too far removed from the sounds of Funeral.

But there’s plenty of new ground broken here. For some long time fans that might be a turn off. “Flashbulb Eyes” and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” sound like nothing the band’s ever done before. It’s all really good stuff and amazingly produced. There are a lot more synths and electronic instruments at work here. Really, the overall sound is sort of an extrapolation of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” from their last record which is great since that was the best song.

The one unfortunate miss for me is the final track “Supersymmetry.” It’s not a bad track, but it’s fairly minimalistic and never comes alive for me like the others. Since it’s the last song on the record it hurts the overall experience more than it might have were it placed elsewhere. Arcade Fire has a history of great finishes. “My Body is a Cage,” “In the Backseat,” “Sprawl II,” and even “Vampire Forest Fire” are among their best songs. It’s a shame they couldn’t stick the landing on this album quite as well.

On the lyrical side of things there’s a lot going on. The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is a major influence especially in the album’s second half. The first disc, on the other hand, seems more dedicated to exploring the affect technology has on people in our “reflective age.”

I can’t pretend to “get” all the songs yet, but I love the fact that there’s more going on under the surface. Certainly one could accuse the band of pretension and I won’t argue against that. If I were not so enraptured by the music, my inner cynic might have dismissed all this Greek myth and modern age commentary as Arcade Fire trying to sound smarter than they really are.

But I like the music. At the end of the day, that’s what matters for me. The album is sonically and thematically cohesive. And the music good. Really good.

Reflektor left me asking myself why I ever doubted Arcade Fire. They’re pretty good at this music thing.

reflektor logo

Captain Phillips

Once a journalist, Paul Greengrass changed careers and entered the film industry. He became a director and proceeded to make a career of doing movies about about tragic events. His films Resurrected, The Fix, Bloody Sunday, United 93, and now Captain Phillips are all “based on a true story.” Most audience members probably only know Greengrass as the director of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum.

Greengrass brings his experience as a director of those action thrillers to bear on the story of Richard Phillips and the crew of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama who are beset by Somali pirates. It’s quite a marvel that I was brought to the edge of my seat watching the story unfold. After all, those of us who remember the news stories from a few years back have already had this “spoiled” for us.

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Greengrass’ signature handheld “shakycam” style seems befitting for a movie set largely on the high seas. The direction is really superb and the action engaging. It all feels very authentic.

But the best thing about the movie is Tom Hanks as the titular Captain. At first I was really bothered by the odd New England accent he was affecting. It’s true-to-life but I’ve heard Hanks’ real voice so many times in other roles that it sounded put on. By the time the pirates were spotted on the horizon I had adjusted to it. When the emotional close of the film rolled around, I was completely sold on Hanks in the role.

As a movie, I really like Captain Phillips. It’s effective, well-paced, and Tom Hanks turns in one great performance as the lead. It portrays the whole event as being pretty unfortunate for all involved. It’s not waving a lot of American flags nor portraying the U.S. as some kind of bully.

The story is a sad one. Out of desperation and greed a couple young Somalis got themselves into the crosshairs of U.S. Navy SEALs where they stood no chance of survival. Although frightened for his life, Captain Phillips is also aware that the Somalis are doomed once the Navy shows up and practically begs them to let him go so they won’t get themselves killed.

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I really appreciated how the event was handled. Except for one thing…

Hey, remember how I mentioned that Paul Greengrass did the second and third Bourne movies? The great thing about them is they were entirely fictional. Unfortunately, to properly consider and discuss this movie, we have to look at how it compares to reality.

Apparently not very favorably.

According to the movie, Captain Phillips was a paragon of virtue. He’s overly cautious about the threat of piracy. He’s shown as a brave and sacrificial leader. In a word: a hero. On the other hand, you get the impression that his crew has a little trouble lining up under their Captain. They’re actually portrayed as a bit lazy in one scene.

The real-life crew tells a different story. The real Captain Phillips was allegedly reckless, arrogant, and a liar when recounting the events of the hijacking. There’s some pretty harsh criticism leveled at the man. If it’s true, that’s really disappointing.

Tom Hanks stars in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips."

For me, that controversy does mar the film because it’s so concentrated on one man who may have been portrayed very, very inaccurately. Captain Phillips is a good movie for its filmmaking and acting, but when it comes to veracity I really have to question it. Then again, what do you expect from these “based on a true story” movies?

Gravity

This summer was a disappointing time for films. Thankfully award season has started. From now until the end of the year is our best chance for movies that hit that sweet spot of artistic integrity and entertainment value.

Most people seem to think Gravity is the epitome of that. Naturally, I disagree.

Let me start by saying I was reallyreallyreallyreally excited for this movie. I love space. I grew up reading books about NASA and the space program. I love space movies. I’m a real sucker for them. I’ll enjoy the space stuff even if there’s not a great movie surrounding it.

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I can say that Gravity is the best sci-fi of the year. It’s not inane and stupid like Oblivion and Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s not “just for fun” like Pacific Rim. And it isn’t preachy like Elysium.

So how is it, actually?

It’s very, very, very pretty. Look at that space! Space! Space!

The movie is an absolute marvel of visual effects and cinematography. The “camera” takes full advantage of the freedom provided by a zero-gravity environment. This leads to some lengthy free-flowing shots including the thirteen minute opening shot. Very impressive stuff.

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Also impressive is the sound design. I love it when there’s no sound in space, but so few movies respect this basic scientific fact. Gravity cleverly maintains scientific accuracy here. It’s only completely silent a few times. Elsewhere, the silence of space is covered by radio chatter, breathing noises, the muffled sounds of objects contacting the astronauts’ suits, and an effective score. Fair enough.

I willingly saw this movie in 3D.

That never happens.

I’ve been an avowed 3D hater for years now, but I read in all the reviews that it was worthwhile so I gave it a shot. I worried during the previews that I’d made a huge mistake. For example, the preview for The Hobbit gave me a headache. It was way over the top. And maybe it was because my eyes adjusted or maybe the effect was more subtle in Gravity but I was actually fine with it. I would be interested to see the movie again in good ol’ 2D just for comparison, but I don’t regret seeing the 3D version at all.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star as astronauts who become stranded in space. The acting is good as you would expect from these two though I wonder if it might have been less distracting to have had lesser-known actors filling the space suits.

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George Clooney is playing George Clooney. He’s charming and fun to watch. He’s also a hugely comforting presence in a very frightening situation. That both helps and harms the film. Bullock is the real star here. I’ve heard lots of people rave about her acting here and I find no fault in it, but it didn’t blow me away either. I never stopped seeing her as an actress in a movie.

I think the problem was the writing. In terms of dialogue – there’s not much of it, but there are things that really bothered me. Bullock’s Dr. Stone gets a bit of backstory that I didn’t connect with at all. It came off as a desperate attempt to get the audience to care about her. The film didn’t need that. I would feel sorry for my worst enemy if they were drifting alone in space. That is a completely terrifying thought.

The other distracting “problem” is the scientific accuracy. It’s really, really good in most places, but there are some egregious deviations from reality that, depending on how much you know about physics and space travel, may really pull you out of the movie.

Director Alfonzo Cuarón has freely admitted Gravity is not about being scientifically accurate. Some concessions needed to be made in order to tell the story. Okay, that’s fine. But there’s really not much of a story to tell. It’s a very basic survival story and that’s fine. But for me it isn’t a happy medium. I would have personally preferred either more science or more story.

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For whatever reason, the film never really pulled me in. It is gorgeous to look at but felt distant from it most of the time. There were only a couple times I felt frightened or concerned. It didn’t ask me to invest much and I didn’t get much out of it. It was a fun ride. But it was just a ride.

Nevertheless, Gravity is absolutely worth seeing and I’m glad it’s done as well as it has at the box office. But for me it simply isn’t the transcendent experience I was led to expect and that other people are apparently having. In terms of effects and cinematography it breaks new ground, but it falls short of inspiring my imagination like other science fiction of the past.