Editorial 31: I Built a Thing

Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the most red-pilled Canadian in existence. I will not get into the man’s politics for fear of losing friends, but he has a lot to say in regards to subjects of the social/cultural persuasion. During his time in the Internet spotlight, the meme “Clean Your Room” was born. Peterson explains the act is a form of meditation, fixing what is out of order. It means get yourself together, stop lying, and come to terms with reality.

I like to think I have a decent head on my shoulders, but he makes a point. Everyone requires some sort of re-orientation. Chaos can only get you so far before you need order to redress the balance. When I discovered this meme, it just so happened I needed to clean my whole apartment because I am getting a roommate. I also took advice from a friend to cut down on clutter, of which I had a lot. And while I was throwing things out or moving them into boxes, I discovered a surplus of cardboard sitting in my closet.

I was inspired by ComicBookGirl19 when she made a full RoboCop costume entirely out of carboard. I figured I could do that myself and hoarded the material from boxes. After doing nothing with this hoard for years, I finally found the desire to build. As I was replaying Fallout 4 for the first time in a while, I wanted to build an Automatic Laser Rifle (ALR).

In terms of scale I went off of an old BB gun I had lying around. It is the size of an M4 and close to a standard scale rifle. Each piece was made from single parts of cardboard. I cut them out according to grain and made lines to help them bend without compromising integrity.

I ended up with five pieces: the receiver, rotor, barrel, handguard, and buttstock. The top pieces were connected by a skewer running through the middle before they were glued together. I wanted the rotor to spin, but the way the ALR was assembled made it impossible. Once they were glued, I attached the handguard and buttstock before spraying the whole thing in black Plasti Dip for added sturdiness.

The finished weapon came out bigger than I planned. Instead of a rifle used by a foot soldier, it was the size of a Mosin Nagant, a very long bolt action. Given the complex shapes and balance, the length made it totally impractical. Unless you were a giant no ordinary human could use it.

That being said, I saw this failure as a stepping-stone to success. I learned how to build it, the dimensions of each component, and developed its second incarnation. As of now I am adjusting measurements and selecting the material I will be using. Whatever may come of this next endeavor I will make mention in another post.

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Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

Spy movies are not my thing. Between cool moments with gadgets and action, they are just boring. Most consist of the spy going undercover, maintaining their cover, and hooking up with a beautiful woman. Then comes the final confrontation with the bad guy and a happy ending. I know not all films are created equal, but that is how spy movies tend to play out. Mission Impossible 5, Man from UNCLE, and Archer are the exception. Does Atomic Blonde belong among them or in the garbage with 007?

Working for British Intelligence Lorraine, played by Charlize Theron, is dispatched to East Berlin to track down a list of agents currently working undercover. At the same time, elements from both sides of the Iron Curtain are after the same thing.

Blonde is all style. The visuals, action, and soundtrack are in service to looking cool. It is shot and edited at a fast-pace not unlike a Guy Ritchie film with neon supers and an omnipresent blue tint. Before the ending, there are three long shots disguised as one in an extended action scene. It starts from the top of a building and works its way down into a short car chase. It was the best and only worthwhile part of Blonde.

The issue of style versus substance is universal. You can strike a balance between the two or focus on either one. More often than not, taking the style approach leaves a lot to be desired. Want more character, more meat on the bones of your movie? That is substance. If you leave it out, you will have a very superficial experience.

Despite the action and soundtrack, Blonde is pretty mediocre. It takes forever to get to the good stuff with all the setup and tropes in between. There is undercover stuff, losing tails, and subterfuge that you have seen before. You can probably figure out what happens without actually seeing the film. With the lack of substance, there is nothing to hook you in and help suffer through the monotony.

The meandering from point to point would have been tolerable if we actually cared about those involved. Theron has the screen presence to sell the character, but she has no personality beyond “I like being deceptive.” Know why Punisher is never the focus of a MAX book? Because he is a void of pure rage and instinct whose sole desire is to kill criminals. A movie all about him is like if No Country for Old Men was about Anton Chigurh. Theron is so one-note, I had to look up her character’s name afterward. The surrounding cast does their best, but even James McAvoy’s charisma could not salvage the situation. Nor could John Goodman or Sofia Boutella.

And that is Atomic Blonde. It is not the worst thing ever, but there is not much to say. The cool action scenes and soundtrack were not a good motivation to stick around. You need to give audiences an incentive to care. I cannot recommend it for any reason beyond those two aspects. Check out the soundtrack online and wait two months for the action sequences to appear on YouTube.

Movie Review: Dunkirk

This week I was faced with a choice: Valerian or Dunkirk. One is Luc Besson’s first sci-fi movie since 5th Element and the other is Christopher Nolan’s stab at the war genre. One is based on a French comic and the other follows the Battle of Dunkirk. Both have potential, but I am restricted to one film per week. It did not take long to settle on Dunkirk given Nolan’s impeccable record. Besson I trust less with his past work and that Valerian looks like an awkward Avatar clone. Did I make the right decision or has Nolan finally made a bad movie?

After retreating to the town of Dunkirk, France, 400,000 British soldiers wait for evacuation back to England. However, the Germans will not let them go so easily.

Dunkirk is the best film of the year. It is masterful in every way and you need to see it as soon as possible. The dialog, visuals, action, and audio culminate in a cinematic achievement that only comes once in a decade.

It transcends the war genre into a suspenseful tale of survival in the face of an omniscient enemy. Every minute spent waiting brings the soldiers closer to annihilation while the home front races to save them. Fully realized on screen, this premise is made doubly unnerving thanks to Hans Zimmer’s unending score. In place of his usual style, the music is atmospheric and industrial, creating a sense of dread that works well with the visuals.

And that is all I am going to tell you.

Dunkirk is one of those movies you just have to see. It is the pinnacle of visual storytelling, the closest thing to a modern day masterpiece in this world of remakes and reboots. Prospective filmmakers and screenwriters: buy a ticket and take notes because there is no better example of how to create. Drop whatever you are doing and go see it. Whether you are a history buff, a total idiot or hate war movies, you will not be disappointed.

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Technically, I did not have to see this. Homecoming is a remake of a remake of the movies that kicked off this whole thing. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy set the standard for things to come. The pseudo-serious tone, colorful aesthetic, and sense of heart all came from those three films. Then Jon Favreau came along and perfected the formula to what me know today as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, because of a lot of studio nonsense that keeps characters like the Fantastic Four appearing alongside the Avengers, Spider-Man remained in the hands of a Sony. After a handful of anal-blowouts at the box office, the company finally allowed Peter Parker to appear in an MCU movie. Did Homecoming surpass the last two abominable remakes or is it only slightly better?

After the events of Civil War Peter, played by Tom Holland, is eager to join the Avengers. When Tony Stark seemingly ignores his advances, Peter takes matters into his own hands.

Right off the bat, Homecoming is great. Ignoring the Raimi trilogy and the rest of the MCU, the film stands on its own. You can watch it as a separate entity and miss none of the canonical details. The only bit you need to know concerns the villain’s motivations and even then it is not a big deal. Before I get into it, you should just buy a ticket and see for yourself.

I am not a fan of the character. Granted, I am fascinated by a psychotic mass murderer like Punisher, but I was never drawn to the “superhero with problems” angle Stan Lee was going for at the start. I read comics to escape real life, not to remind myself it exists. Peter Parker always came off like a whiner that should get over his issues. This time, he had my attention.

Thanks to the heart and soul Marvel puts into their work, you actually care about what is going on with Peter. A lot of time is devoted to fleshing out the people around him and his life. To be honest, I wanted to see more of what they were up to. When Peter skips out on his friends, the weight of his struggle to be a hero and a normal kid really hits you. It gets worse when he stumbles and fails because he is ultimately failing them.

For the first time ever, I actually cared about Spider-Man.

Michael Keaton was one of the better MCU villains as Vulture. On the one hand, he was a real person with relatable motivations. Like Ultron, he had a ton of personality that made him likeable and fun despite being a bad guy. It also helps that Vulture’s costume is awesome. Without hyperbole, it is better than anything I have seen in past movies. Imagine a retro version of Raging Raven from MGS4 mixed with Falcon.

None of this would have been possible if those involved did not have something to work with. Six people wrote Homecoming and it felt like the work of one. The pacing was a little stilled, but the dialog, jokes, and timing were very well done. As per your typical MCU film, it was funny in that pseudo-serious way, coupled with some John Hughes style humor. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is even referenced early on.

One complaint I have is the movie is too dark. Not in terms of tone, but lighting. During the action scenes that take place at night, I could not see a thing. I had to squint to see what was happening and it was still difficult. The last fight was so dark I missed all that Vulture goodness. There was also a scene where the Michelle character was reading Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maughm. Imagine an autobiography written to force the reader into suicide from boredom. Seeing the book on screen was depressing.

If you are like me and lost faith in Spider-Man after the last two films, Homecoming is what you need. It revitalizes the potential of the character now that it is in Marvel’s capable hands. Everything you expect from the MCU and then some is right here. If you are feeling a bit of superhero fatigue after Guardians 2 and Wonder Woman, I think this will do you some good.

My condolences to Stan Lee and his family.

Movie Review: Baby Driver

New Edgar Wright movie. How can anyone say no? Was Baby Driver another stellar entry in his filmography or has the limey genius reached his pique?

While playing getaway driver for a crew of professional thieves Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, dreams of living a normal life with a waitress named Debora, played by Lily James. Shortly after his last job his boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, pulls Baby back in.

As I said in my Ant-Man review, I like all of Wright’s films. They are tightly written with fantastic comedic timing, great characters, and they just happen to feature pretty decent action. The style of his movies, however, is somewhat understated. The camera work, use of music, and editing make them standout out from their respective genres. The snap-zooms and insert shots on mundane actions give Wright’s a signature edge that is all his own.

Driver is the culmination of these stylistic choices. Everything you have seen in his previous work is brought to the fore and multiplied. Close-ups, long shots, and elaborate timing make the movie what it is. It has a lot in common with a musical where the action is in synch with the beat. More often than not gunshots sound at the same time as a string of notes. Certain edits and shots are also determined by the tune in question.

For all its style, Driver does not have much in the way of substance. That is not to say it is entirely superficial. Generic is the operative word where the characters, their desires, and motivations are a vehicle for all the good stuff. Baby’s tinnitus is there to justify the use of music. Debora’s goal of a road trip into the unknown was meant to give Baby a reason to want to escape his life of crime. Basic though it may be, the sparse substance provides short breaks between what matters most.

As for the performances, everyone gave it their all despite of the lackluster material. Elgort and James worked very well together, especially come the last third of the film. Jamie Foxx was at his most intimidating as the insane Bats while Jon Hamm was the cool-headed Buddy with a subtle mean streak. Most of the cast was fantastic, but Spacey grabbed the movie by its balls. If he had more scenes, he would have stolen the whole show.

Been a while since I have written a short review. Those I save for the good ones and Baby Driver is pretty great. If you can set aside the lack of real substance, you better not miss this one. The style alone is reason enough to buy a ticket

Movie Review: Megan Leavey

I wanted to be an MP in the Army and work in a K-9 unit. Then I realized I was not the right fit for the military and decided to play to my strengths as a writer. However, my affinity for the military did not fade and working dogs are awesome. When a film about the Armed Forces comes out I try to see it and Megan Leavey was right up my alley. Did it stand out in this month of trash or should I have saved my money for Baby Driver?

To escape the monotony of her life Megan, played by Kate Mara, joins the Marine Corps. After a disciplinary incident leaves her doing grunt work, she grows attached to a working dog named Rex.

Two years ago I saw a movie called Max. It was about a working dog living with the family of his handler that died on deployment. It was very corny on purpose. The kid character was supposed to be a twerp, the villains were supposed to be cartoonish, and the overall tone was supposed to be light-hearted. For what it was, Max was successful, a call back to dog movies that was also about being a soldier. However, the corn factor downplayed the whole thing. It was very tone deaf when the titular Max would have a fit while fireworks go off, followed by a scene of kids doing BMX stunts.

Leavey is the complete antithesis. For one thing, it is based on a true story. Instead of overt subtext about going through trauma, film is about Rex and Megan sharing a bond through war. Not unlike human soldiers, the two are inseparable and the latter half of the movie is about Megan dealing with the anxiety of being apart.

That is where Leavey does well. Mara is one of those actors that are only as good as the material they are given. While dealing with the separation she is very emotional and focused on trying to bring Rex home. There is a lot going on, whereas the first half is pretty dull. We see Megan go through boot camp and deploy with very little to keep your attention. It is just stuff that happens because that was how it played out in real life.

From what I could tell, Leavey was trying to be a Clint Eastwood film. It was very matter-of-fact, honest, and obvious. However, Eastwood knows how to bring a script to life and get good performances out of his actors. American Sniper may have been cheaper than dirt, but the themes and Bradley Cooper’s performance made it exceptional. Leavey starts with a whole lot of nothing before actually getting to something. It was more concerned with being faithful to the story than being a movie. Sully was very plain, but it was still trying to be a movie.

A couple more things irked me that other people will not care about. During the pass and review segment of Megan’s graduation from boot camp, none of the extras in formation marched in-step. Also, Mara does not look like a Marine or any service member. This is subjective, but women in the military do not look like models because they actually work. She a good actor, but I think a Katee Sackhoff or Portia Doubleday would have been a better physical fit for the part.

All in all, Megan Leavey is very average. It is not that great given the first half is a slog, but it is well meaning. It is about the bonds of war between man and his best friend. You cannot ask for more. In terms of a recommendation, if you saw Max and were left wanting, give it a look. For everyone else, unless you are a fan of the military and war movies, you would not miss anything sitting this one out.

Movie Review: It Comes at Night

June does not look good for movies. While Wonder Woman and It Comes at Night were the exception, the rest of the month is a no go for me. Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 look like poison, Transformers 5 requires no explanation, and some true stories and comedies I do not want to see. Until Baby Driver comes out on the 29th, I will be ignoring everything else because Edgar Wright is a genius. I might see Megan Leavey because military and dogs. Was It Comes a good start to a dower month or should you see Wonder Woman again?

After an epidemic destroys civilization, a family out in the woods takes extra precautions to ensure their safety. Their simple lives turn upside down when they invite another family to stay with them.

Whatever you think It Comes is, you are wrong. The homeless-apocalypse has many tropes you can easily predict like its base genre, post-apocalypse. You know there is going to be dark subject matter and terrible things will happen to the characters. If you have seen The Road, read Walking Dead, or played The Last of Us, you have an idea of what will happen in It Comes and that is what the film is trying to do.

Paranoia plays a big part in the horror and setting. The virus in question is airborne and if you know anything about diseases, airborne is the worst. You can get it just by breathing or being near someone who is infected. Even then you cannot be sure if they are sick or if you are sick until you start showing symptoms. The characters know this and are well aware of the possibility of infection.

The conflicts deal with their survival and fear of getting sick. The characters stick to a schedule and rules that must be followed lest they risk death. Then they have to consider what other people will do to them in the event they are attacked. Many scenes are all about the characters questioning each other, arguing about breaking the rules, and trying to get a one up because they have no idea what the other group is trying to do. The individual conflicts would have been boring had the performance been less than stellar.

At the same time, as an audience member, you have your own expectations because you have seen movies. You have an inkling of what might happen and are constantly changing it up as the film progresses. In that way, It Comes puts you in the characters’ shoes. A hundred different things are going through their heads because they are so afraid and you are always thinking about what is going on. The movie is meta in this way because you are doing the same thing.

With small films it matters not the what, but the how. How movies are made is what sets them apart. While It Comes is not unlike your average post-apocalypse, it is made in a way that makes its special. The use of light and darkness is just incredible. In scenes of heavy blacks there is only one light source emanating from the characters. It conveys a sense of isolation that they experience living in such cramped quarters in the middle of nowhere. It also adds to the horror of not knowing what may be happening in the thick void around them.

It Comes at Night is borderline amazing. It is not the next best thing, but still impressive. As another annual good horror film following Witch from 2016, it does its job. It reaffirms my faith that not all contemporary horror movies are total trash and a select few creative people know what they are doing. I highly recommend giving it a look if you are a fan of the genre and post-apocalypse.