Friday, May 29, 2015

SNARL: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella and for best short story and for short form Best Dramatic Presentation .  Now I tackle all the nominated long form Best Dramatic Presentation nominees. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

I watched all of these movies before I saw them on the Hugo nominations list. They are all good movies, and worth a bit of hard earned down-time to watch. I get to review them without reflexively asking “Would anybody want to watch/read this?”, and get down to the more important business of defining my own personal opinion. All good reviews are subjective because they arise in part from the reviewer’s enjoyment of the subject, and resonate with the reviewer’s reasons for picking up the subject of the review to begin with.

These reviews will be short. All five nominated works will be reviewed here in this single post. I present them in the order in which they were listed on the Hugo nominations list.

This is a review of the entire Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category
(1285 nominating ballots, 189 entries, range 204-769)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)

This is my least favorite of the movies, and it was a pretty good comic-book movie. The problems I had with it are most likely derived from an accurate presentation of material from the comic books. This movie loses two stars; one for straining my suspension of disbelief too far in attempting to create a too-gigantic hydra conspiracy, and again with the multiple modifications to simple physics needed to visualize the dramatic destruction scenes. The loss of two stars for these elements is probably not fair since these issues most likely arose from talented artists succeeding in creating what they set out to create.

This movie is the work of talented artists. The acting is reserved enough to appear pulled from the pages of a comic book without being wooden or incompetent. The action is well choreographed. I was in awe at how well the CGI overlaid incredible SF action and destruction over wonderful views of Washington DC. The story of two friends uniting after decades apart is touching, and skillfully creates the 4D humanity I have always enjoyed from the 2D offspring of Stan Lee’s creativity.

Go see it. Buy some popcorn, and turn off your cellphone for a little while. I give it 8 stars (out of 10)

Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)

Every time I see Tom Cruise absolutely nailing a science fiction role I can’t help but imagine he has an unfair advantage because, as an outspoken scientologist, he actually believes stuff like this is real. THAT is method acting at its finest. If you cannot stand to sit and watch Tom Cruise for an extended period of time then do not go see this movie.

This movie loses three stars, and for similar reasons. One star gets flushed for the manipulation of physics the artists used to compress the action; I think they wanted to put so much action on the screen at once that they often put heavily incompatible elements too close together. The other star gets flushed by the alien menace. Although there were no glitches (that I saw) in the CGI the characteristics of their movement and abilities made them appear like they were CGI movie effects. The third star is lost for raising too many distracting questions about how there is such a massively high tech futuristic Earth war being fought almost entirely on a tactical level. Din’t the aliens think to destroy the factories where those nifty mech-like battle armor suits were being made? Didn’t they see the D-Day-Like invasion coming and nuke the bases from space before the troops turned towards the English Channel? Perhaps these questions could have been answered, but the constant stream of trivially unanswered questions cost this movie another star.

But this movie shines in so many ways. I LOVE the way they handled time travel. Time travel is so impossible that many writers will pretend that they have a solution only to create a burden for the story when that explanation provides more weight than effect. The writers for Edge of Tomorrow did not even try. They had an alien bleed on another character, and suddenly they were time-looping. They did not insult me with a half-explanation. Anyone watching the movie knows that explanation makes no sense, and this allows the writers to go on to use the time-looping in their story without being encumbered with a threadbare pseudo-science explanation.

The battle armor is great, the battle scenes are fun, the filming is stunning (although a bit heavy on the dark and moody) and I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie. I give it a well deserved 7 stars (out of 10), and seriously debated giving it 8.

Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)

I am GROOT.

9 stars (out of 10)

Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

This was a great science fiction movie. The characters must grapple with concepts as large as space while in space grappling with being human. I’ve longed to see an intelligent film where a black hole in space cause issues with warping space that the characters have to deal with. The most common complaint I have heard about this movie is that it was confusing and hard to follow…. Well, it is space, turn on your warp drive and catch up!

Yes, there was a big chunk of suspension of disbelief dropped in the laps of the viewer. The whole “we can make anything happen in a black hole that the story progression needs” is goofy. However, on a grander scale, the characters actually looked into a zone where space and time were warping to get a clue about how space and time could be warped.

The writers just ignored many questions. Why was the Earth “dying”? How come going through the wormhole one way was just a little psychedelic, but going through the other way was a watching-time-and-faces-melt-together trip? I think they ignored these –and other- questions well. The story wanted to go on unrestricted by partial answers, and it did.

In the end I am tempted to take a star just because of the length of time Matthew McConaughey was onscreen, but Michael Cain can give any film at least a half a star just by showing up (and he has been in some movies where that half a star is all they got). In the end this film gets 9.5 stars (out of 10)

The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

I was tricked into watching the Lego movie after it came out on DVD. I was pleasantly surprised by how really good a movie it was. I expected very little. For several weeks afterwards I would tell people in meetings that “everything is Awesome when you’re part of a team!”. Instead of thinking that it would really require an unhealthy obsession with Lego to give this movie one star I only think that would be needed to give it more than the 8 stars I gave it.

This movie loses two stars because of Lego. One star is lost because it is basically the latest (and best) installment of Lego commercial-based movies. If I wanted to see a Lego advertisement I would …. I actually don’t know because I have no desire to watch Lego advertisements. The other star is lost because it suggests that an expensive complex tabletop display of Lego is somehow connected to imagination in ways that other, less expensive, activities are not. I may have carried these prejudices into the movie, but this is my review.

Despite Lego this movie works on many levels. The idea of gluing bricks is the evil power that drives the conflict in the story. This conflict brilliantly translates into all levels of the story, from the conflict between the man and his son in the “real”world” to the interaction of characters in the fantasy Legoverse. The idea of conformity being examined in a world of mass-manufactured plastic bricks is engaging, as is the “Everything is Awesome!” song used as a soundtrack to that theme.

The animation is superb, the dialog is good enough, but it is threading the conflict through all the many levels that really makes this move worthy of all 8 stars (out of 10)








1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am Groot.