Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Four

A day late, but here is your weekly Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings!

1. Elsie

She’s alive!  Why, how, or for how long, we don’t know.  But she’s alive!

2. Maeve

Bring on Samurai World dammit!

3. Dolores

Dolores got the week off, but the murderous robot queen can’t fall past third right now in my opinion.

4. William

Why did William bother trying to keep James Delos alive?  We may never know.

5. Robert Ford

However, I’ll bet the end of Ford’s “game” involves Ford still being alive in a robot, then shooting William in the head.

6. Bernard

Bernard’s journey was far too confusing to comment on this week.

Also receiving votes: Teddy, William’s Daughter, Charlotte Hale, Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Arnold,  Young William, Clementine, Ser Pounce, Roxy Music, giving the devil an offering, and shots of nitroglycerine.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Three

I was impressed with the third episode of Season 2.  The introduction of the other parks gives the show a new lease on life so to speak.  That said, here is your weekly Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings!

1. Maeve

I’m not sure where Maeve thinks she is going, but she has some clear advantages.  First, the Delos Corporation mercenaries don’t seem to be looking for her.  Second, she has a group with diverse skill sets that is, importantly, only half robot.   On the downside, the whole group might be lost in Samurai World.

2. Dolores

Westworld’s other sentient robot overlord has the most firepower, but look at her closest associates and look at Maeve’s.  I mean, c’mon, Teddy?  Really?

3. Charlotte Hale

Pros: Charlotte has unexpected survival skills.  Cons: Charlotte had her goons charge a fortification head-on with windowless cars.

4. Robert Ford

Ford’s cat and mouse game with William got a break this week, thus the drop in the Power Rankings.

5. William, the Man in Black

And William is still losing said cat and mouse game.

6. Bernard

Bernard isn’t controlling events at this point.  Rather, he seems to be pulled along by other players, especially Charlotte.

7. Teddy

We already know Teddy’s decision to have mercy on the other robots will not end well for him.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Arnold,  Young William, Clementine, Ser Pounce, brainless military maneuvers, predictive text, and fans of Rudyard Kipling and Rule Britannia.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Two

After a bit of a Dolores focused episode, there isn’t a lot of movement this week on the Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings.  But, out of force of habit, I’ll publish one anyway.

1. Robert Ford

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was hilarious when the army leader, after giving a long winded lecture to William, switches gears and delivers a personal “*#%*% You” from Ford.

2. Maeve

Dolores IS just playing Ford’s game, she just doesn’t know it.  Even though Dolores let Maeve pass freely this time, more conflict between the two, self-aware robots feels inevitable.

3. Dolores

Did Arnold design Dolores to retain memories on purpose?  That’s what I’d like to know.

4. William, the Man in Black

If the big reveal of this season is “Delos/William use Westworld to scoop up personal data and sell it to advertisers,” I’m going to be vastly disappointed.

5. Karl Strand

6. Bernard

7. Charlotte Hale

The next three stay put on the rankings, since, you know, nothing happened to them this week.

 

8. Teddy

Teddy, on the other hand, is always in last place.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore,  Young William,  Ser Pounce, robot cocktail hour, zombie robots, and splendor.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode One

I’m not above copying an idea, and what works for Game of Thrones can work for Westworld. This is assuming that Season 2 doesn’t go off the rails after three episodes only to rebound in the last five minutes of the season (cough, Season One, cough).

That said, the Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings are nigh. Repent!

1. Robert Ford

Fire me will you? How about I kill everyone (including me) with my evil robot creations! Muhahahahahaha!

2. Dolores

While Dolores is a robot, her insatiable thirst for vengeance is an entirely human reaction to a lifetime of being tortured, raped, and murdered every day. She’s become Skynet from The Terminator (1984) and the Maschinenmensch from Metropolis (1927) all rolled into one.

3. Maeve

What Lee, the buffoon writer, doesn’t get is that Maeve doesn’t care if her child isn’t really “her child.” She’s found purpose, and that purpose is recusing the one good thing she found in her entire screwed up existence.

4. William, the Man in Black

Ford respected William more than any non-Arnold human. Ford’s crescendo is murderous, suicidal, and specifically designed to give William exactly what he wants.

5. Karl Strand

New character alert! Strand is the leader of the group that Delos has charged with cleaning up Ford’s mess. He has lots of guns and soldiers! What could possibly go wrong?

6. Bernard

Things aren’t going well for our robot/clone/whatever. There’s only one reason why he’s ahead of Charlotte.

7. Charlotte Hale

Bernard is still alive in the “flash forward” scenes, helping Strand. I don’t see Charlotte.

8. Teddy

Poor Teddy. Designed to be the Ned Stark of this world.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Elsie Hughes, Arnold, Armistice the Snake Woman, Young William, Clementine, dead tigers, the Sea, Chinese island making technology, Ser Pounce, and a feast for robot vultures.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Black Panther (2018): T’Challa’s Character Arc

Instead of writing a traditional review of Black Panther, I’m going to dive right into some analysis.  Before I get into spoilers, here’s a link to the trailer for the movie:

A good amount of pixels have been spent praising Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens in Black Panther.  Killmonger is one of the most interesting characters in any Marvel film, and Michael B. Jordan is one of the finest actors working today.  One of the things I like the most about Black Panther, however, is that the compelling antagonist doesn’t overshadow the protagonist like it does in numerous other superhero movies (e.g. The Dark Knight (2008); Spiderman: Homecoming (2017); Batman (1989); Superman II (1980)).  T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) journey is every bit as interesting as Killmonger’s.

On the surface, Wakanda is a utopia, but below the surface lies a troubling adherence to traditions that cause most of the problems in the movie.  To move forward, Wakanda needs a leader who will dispense with tradition when those traditions no longer make sense.  T’Challa becomes that leader by the end of the movie, but it takes some work to get there.

In Captain America: Civil War (2016), T’Challa dips his toes into breaking with tradition.  At the beginning of Civil War, he has already taken on the role of the Black Panther even though his father, T’Chaka (John Kani), is still alive.  He makes alliances with outsiders in Civil War, but notably, this is done to bring his father’s murderer to justice.  In other words, the alliances are meant to temporary at first.  The fact that T’Challa extends these relationships beyond their initial purpose shows that he has some flexibility as a character.

During the first part of Black Panther, we see T’Challa largely following in his father’s footsteps.  He performs in the same rituals as his father did, and fails to bring Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to justice just like his father did before him.  This makes sense.  T’Challa has been raised to continue on a thousand-year old tradition.  Breaking with that tradition does not come easily to him.

What T’Challa learns, however, is that being flexible with tradition bears fruit, while following established protocol for no other reason than “this is how it’s done” leads to problems.  He spares M’Baku (Winston Duke) in trial by combat, which leads to an alliance later.  In contrast, when he fails to question whether trial by combat is such a great idea to begin with, he temporarily loses his throne to Killmonger.

The turning point for T’Challa is during his second visit to the ancestral plane.  While he is angry at his father for abandoning his nephew (Killmonger) on the streets of Oakland, when he tells the previous kings that they were “all wrong,” he isn’t doing so out of anger.  T’Challa realizes in that moment that following the old way, with its isolationism, trial by combat, and rejection of outsiders has failed in its essential purpose.  While these conventions were established to keep Wakanda safe, they have instead made it vulnerable.

Had Wakanda not kept the tradition of trial by combat alive, Killmonger would have not ascended to the throne.  If T’Chaka had just taken his nephew in as a child in the first place instead of rejecting him as an outsider, there would have been no Killmonger.  If Wakanda hadn’t kept itself isolated, and helped the peoples of the African diaspora throughout history, there would have not have been anyone like Killmonger.  T’Challa realizes all of this before the end of the movie, seeks to learn from the mistakes of the past, and plans to build a better future.

This is for the best.  An isolated Wakanda will do no one any good once Thanos comes around in May.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Full Analysis Part 2

Since I wrote Part One of my analysis of The Last Jedi, I have done two things.  First, I saw the film a second time.  Second, I re-watched Rashomon (1950).  This has sharpened my view of the movie.  While I initially lauded it as a masterpiece, I’ve dialed that back some.  It is still a very, very good movie, probably the third best Star Wars movie.  But it is an imperfect film, so calling it an unequivocal masterpiece is misleading.

None of The Last Jedi’s flaws particularly bother me, but that does not mean they aren’t present.  Most feel nit-picky to me.  One example is how the film hand-waves away several of the science fiction elements.  Star Wars has never been science fiction – its proper genre is fantasy.  Still, it made some viewers wonder why, for example, a hyper-drive collision hadn’t been used more frequently if it could destroy several ships at once.

The one problem that’s hard to explain away has to do with the characterization of Luke Skywalker.  The film doesn’t do a great job of explaining why Luke wouldn’t have tried to deal with Kylo Ren before going into exile.  The closest to a reason that we get from him is when he tells Rey, “What do you expect me to do? Grab a laser sword and take on the entire First Order by myself?”  Luke has concluded that trying to deal with his nephew would lead to nothing but certain doom.  But why?

I didn’t need to know exactly what happened that made him so jaded – the failure of everything he had fought for was enough of a reason for me.  I also can excuse a lack of exposition in an already jam-packed film.  The counter-argument is that this isn’t Snoke we’re talking about – a character who we didn’t really need a backstory beyond “stock dark-side villain.”  Luke Skywalker is the central character in the Star Wars saga and a film should describe his motivations clearly enough that everyone understands them.  If The Last Jedi did not universally accomplish this clarity, that is a flaw.  But how serious of a flaw is it?

Compare, if you will, The Last Jedi to a nearly flawless film, Rashomon.  Rashomon may be known for its unforgettable images and non-linear storytelling, but at its base it is an extremely well constructed film.  Akira Kurosawa gives us just enough plot and characterization to accomplish his storytelling goals, nothing more.  This limits distraction and allows the audience to be fully immersed in four different versions of the same story.  For example, the audience doesn’t even suspend its disbelief to question why everyone in the story takes a medium speaking for a dead samurai seriously.

The Last Jedi is a well made film, but it is not economical in the same way that Rashomon is.  One could argue that The Last Jedi needed to walk a tightrope between viewer reactions ranging from “this is like the boring, blah, blah, blah from the prequels,” and “we demand more world-building.”  That equates the amount of backstory with economy, but less backstory doesn’t cause a movie to be economical in the same way that Rashomon is.  You need enough backstory to keep the audience from questioning the movie in the middle of the experience, and The Last Jedi does not do this for a good chunk of its audience.

Kathleen Kennedy and her team at Disney are terrified of the prequels, and with good reason.  The first two are bad movies, full stop.  The third is okay, but still disappointing, and not a good enough film in its own right to overcome the problems of the Episodes I and II.  I can understand erring towards annoying the “we demand more world-building” people by cutting exposition, but sometimes you need backstory to make sure that your story is universally understood enough to keep its audience immersed in it.  A more economical movie would understand this – and to some extent this is a problem in the Force Awakens too.  We shouldn’t need to read a tie-in book to know what the difference between the New Republic and the Resistance, for example.

That brings me to why the lack of backstory in The Last Jedi isn’t a fatal flaw in the same way that the flaws of Episode I and II destroy those movies.  The information that The Force Awakens leaves out is available in tie-in books.  If we didn’t know about that information then, we know it now.  The Last Jedi will get its share of tie-ins too, which will fill in some of the missing worldbuilding and potentially clarify Luke’s characterization to viewers who wanted more information.

If this is Disney’s scheme to sell more books, comics, and video games,  so be it – film has always been a commercial artform.  But this isn’t a problem in the Original Trilogy and that made plenty of tie-in loot.  If it is going to be Disney’s strategy going forward to play loose with economical storytelling in order to sell side-content, this will prevent its films from being great movies like Rashomon.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

 

2017: The Year in Review

Well another year is in the books.  I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years now, which judging by some of the blogs I’ve encountered here on WordPress is an awfully long time to keep up a movie blog.  Anyway enough patting myself on the back – time to do the usual Year in Review Post:

2017 Was a Good Year to Be

Star Wars

Yes, 2017 was a great year for the Star Wars franchise.  Rogue One made a ridiculous amount of money.  The Last Jedi has wowed critics and audiences (well except for a few cantankerous Twitter eggs), and, also, has made a ridiculous amount of money.  The TV series Rebels is quite good I’m told.  Sure a few directors were sacked, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Narrative Inertia

It’s always a good year to be an abstract concept, but the concept of narrative inertia had a top flight year.  It can gather around the water cooler with all the other abstract concepts and talk a big game.  What I mean by this is that two of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones and The Americans had sub par seasons, but I still watched and I’m still excited for the final season of those shows.  I’m even probably going to watch the last season of House of Cards despite the fact that Season Five was a dumpster fire of epic proportions.

Streaming Services

The “big three” (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) streaming services had a great 2017.  Netflix has been doing the original programming thing for a while now, but 2017 felt exceptional.  The Handmaid’s Tale won a well-deserved Emmy, and I’m currently sucked into the charming “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Good work internet people!

2017 Was a Bad Year to Be

A Scumbag

New rule. Every year should be this bad for scumbags.

Movies for People with 401(K)’s and Mortgages

Was it just me or was nearly every movie in 2017 a comic book movie, a “tent pole” franchise movie, or a cartoon?  Sure there were a few big hits like “Get Out” and “Dunkirk,” but those were few and far between.  Maybe once Oscar season starts I’ll be reassured that someone is still making movies for people over 30.

Tired of an Endless Barrage of Mindless Hot Takes

Sure there have always been opinion websites, but there seem like there are far too many of them now. Everyone has to have a unique take, and it just becomes noise.  Twitter, which was supposed to be bankrupt by now, is still the worst offender.  I kind of just wish the internet would shut up for five seconds and think before it talks.

Scenes from the Great Ale House in the Sky

After last year I considered not doing this one anymore.  Still I couldn’t help but imagine a sold out Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman, and Tom Petty concert.  It’s tomorrow.  Tonight Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Guillaume are giving a talk on what it was like being huge televisions stars in the days before so-called “peak TV.”  It’s called, “You’re Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Game of Thrones.”  Since that show has actual giants, the pun is clearly intended.

Jerry Lewis stopped by.  Sure, Dean Martin owns the place, but that particular beef is long squashed.  Long before people talked about squashing beefs.  Besides if he didn’t come by Don Rickles was going to zing him very hard.

Adam West is here, and yes he’s dressed as Batman.  Roger Moore is here too, although he is not dressed like James Bond, at least not officially.

 

Anyway, that’s our year in review!  Tune in next time for 2018!

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

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