Justice League

I guess it is possible to watch Justice League and be entirely unaware of it tumultuous production, but the tales of the production have appeared regularly on the internet over the last few years. This movie started as Justice League Part 1, but then the Part 2 got removed from the schedule. Before starting scheduled reshoots, director Zack Snyder stepped down due to a family tragedy, so Warner Bros brought on Joss Whedon to finish the movie. There were numerous other reported smaller issues. I can’t say that the movie completely overcame those troubles, but Justice League ended up being a lot more fun and entertaining that it had any right to be.

In the end, the production matters less than the product and Justice League must be judged on what it is; which is adequate in a fun but empty sort of way. JL is not helped by the fact that this has been a phenomenal year for superhero movies. The five others released this year, from Logan to Thor Ragnarok, are all widely regarded as excellent. Justice League is a middling piece of fun, which is a tough sell this year, when Fox actually got things right and Sony took a back-seat with Spider-Man. But Justice League is not a disaster and it is not a work with an off-putting, peculiar vision like Batman v Superman; it is the product of several cooks working their hardest to turn in something blandly enjoyable, an effort which is largely successful. Blandly enjoyable is exactly the route taken by Marvel’s Avengers, which is the most successful superhero movie to date. That movie is pure pop entertainment, but it isn’t really about anything other than getting to see your favorite heroes team up. Justice League has the tiniest bit more heft, but it tries for the same pleasures and largely delivers them.

It is definitely a sequel to Batman v Superman, starting in a world without hope after the death of Superman. Batman is tracking the first scouts of what appears to be an alien invasion. After confirming this, he sets out to gather the powerful individuals Luthor had been monitoring. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is taking the first steps of truly returning to the world after 100 years. Together they gather Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg to stop the invaders from gathering the Mother Boxes, vastly powerful artifacts that will terraform the Earth to be more like the alien’s home. The invaders had been fought off once, thousands of years ago, by the combined forces of the Amazons, Atlanteans and humans, with the help of some others; this time it all falls on the Justice League.

It mostly works as a somewhat awkward combination of the Avengers and Lord of the Rings. This movie is a sea of contrasts, and one needs to look no further than the special effects, which run from being truly excellent to shockingly amateurish. For the second category, many people will point to [slight spoilers] Superman’s digitally erased moustache; I would point to the very awkward horses ridden by the Amazonians. In other places you can see Snyder’s ponderous, weighty take on superhero clashing with Whedon’s flighty entertainment.

There has certainly been a course correction in terms of how the heroes are portrayed. Not in Wonder Woman’s case, Gal Gadot is still as perfect for the role as any actor has been to play a superhero since Christopher Reeve was Superman. But Batman, mostly I think due to the different tone of this movie, is a much lighter character than he was before. The new heroes a solid mix, with Cyborg being kind of dry and mopey, Flash being wide-eyed and scattered, and Aquaman being brash and macho. It is a nice, more emotive group that the previously stone-faced Superman and Batman. The new characters mostly work. The Flash steals a lot of the slower moments One can almost see the seems where chunks of the movie have been removed. Other than the central story, there is almost no throughlines for the characters. It gives the viewer a start point a small amount of development, but only one character feels like he has an end to his arc, that being Superman.

The villain, a C-list jobber named Steppenwolf, is the weakest part of the movie. There is nothing to him. He shows a little personality in the moments he gets to do so, but the movie tells you little of his story or his motivations, other than to conquer. He is powerful and dangerous, but he is a black hole. He feels more like a lieutenant than the big boss, which is what he is, though the movie only once mentions Darkseid. Darkseid, who will be seen next year in his Marvel knock-off form as Thanos in Infinity War, should be the villain of this movie. He is the big gun, and WB/DC held him back for a potential sequel. Personally, I wish they had went full Kirby with this, bringing in all the cosmic weirdness they can muster (much like Thor Ragnarok) but I never really expected that. Still, the villain needed to be something more than an ill-defined simplistic conqueror.

To its credit, Justice League delivers a lot of great moments, like Aquaman holding back the tide. It translates the wonder of the comic books to the big screen in moments that don’t quite add up to a whole.

Justice League is middling. It is not a complete mess like X-Men Apocalypse or Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it also not the home run that just about every other superhero movie this year has been. There are a lot of warts, but also a lot of stuff that is a lot of fun.

***1/2

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Murder on the Orient Express

I am pretty sure I am responding more to the form of Murder on the Orient Express than the content. Regardless of any quality of the movie itself, I think I might have liked any locked room or classical styled mystery. Those don’t actually pop up as movies that often and it is a format that I greatly enjoy. Unfortunately, even TV, once my prime provider of mysteries, doesn’t really engage in this sort of thing anymore. TV mysteries have gone the way of the procedural; they are rarely really about the mystery. Getting a mystery, one of the classics, done with such lush and beautiful production, was in itself a joy to me. Luckily, I thought the movie was pretty well done, too.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie’s most well-known mysteries, but even so it has come to my attention that some people are not familiar with how it plays out, so I will endeavor not to spoil anything. This version stars actor/director Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, the famous detective. He boards the famous train along with a dozen other passengers. One night, the train gets derailed and one of the passengers is discovered murdered in his bed, with the window opened. Certain that the killer must be one of the other passengers, Poirot sets out to figure out who is responsible.

The format of movie allows for movie to get relatively big names for relatively small roles. They get to come in for a few scenes, do their thing and go on their way. So you get stuff like Judi Dench as an aging Russian noble, Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor, Daisy Ridley as a young governess, and Johnny Depp as an American businessman/gangster. They are all mostly small roles, but each with their own eccentricities to make them interesting. Each member of the cast is delightful, most notably Depp for not being too over the top.

There are two principal joys in this film. The first and most obvious is the look. Poirot starts the movie in Jerusalem and travels across the near east, through marvelous vistas of snow covered mountains and golden sunsets. The train is amazingly designed and the costumes are top notch. It is simply a gorgeous movie. The other is just watching the detective put the pieces together. That means getting to see each of the small performances and also Branagh’s centerpiece as Poirot. Despite the big change of his mustache, going from a small, neat mustache to an ostentatious handlebar, he mostly sticks with the book character; fastidious, egocentric and a little silly. We see him find all the clues and hear all the testimony. Theoretically, a viewer could grasp what has happened before Poirot breaks it down. I don’t know how effective the movie is at this, I already knew how this story ended, but I loved watching the movie go through the motions.

I could see people really not liking this movie. It is not a grand adventure, it is a small, locked room mystery. It isn’t a thriller and certainly not an action movie, so I could see it being found dull. But there are so few movies that delivery the specific joys that this one does that I am very glad to have it.

****

Thor Ragnarok

If I am being honest, I am probably on the high side when it comes to Marvel’s first two Thor movies. On my pointless big list I’ve got the first one ranked as the fourth best Marvel movie and I’ve got the second one above Age of Ultron in the middle of the list. Still, Ragnarok is easily the best of the three. It is overtly a comedy and despite its constant undercutting any sense of gravity in the situations, it still gets the characters right. I’ve complained before, repeatedly, about Marvel movies feeling empty, and Thor Ragnarok might be the most purely cotton candy sweet and empty of any of them, but since it is in a much more comedy centric context, the jokes themselves become the substance of the movie. And this movie is really funny.

There are things that I don’t like about the movie, and I’ll get them out of the way first. [spoilers for the first 20 or so minutes] The movie kills off the Warriors Three with little fanfare or pretense. It does very little to show what is going on in Asgard, even when it is important to the plot. The last scene on the Bifrost is poorly laid out. These are all problems, but they pale in the neon drenched wonder that is the rest of the movie.

I’ve waited a few days to write my review to see if my initially very positive feelings held. The further we get away from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the less I seem to like it. And Ragnarok is in many ways the kind of movie I just don’t like. It takes characters and settings I like and treats them as a complete joke. That sort of thing usually annoys me, but in this case I thought it worked. Maybe it is because this movie is expressly a comedy; maybe it is because the movie still got the heart of the central characters (Thor, Loki, Odin & Hulk) right. Either way, the complete irreverence of this movie didn’t raise my hackles the way things like this sometimes can. Some have compared this movie to Flash Gordon, which is the trouble I am describing here; because while the colors of this movie are much like Flash Gordon, the tone is complete opposite. That movie was knowingly campy but not overtly a comedy. It was silly because the setting is silly, the movie was not making jokes about the setting. Thor Ragnarok can’t stop making jokes at its own expense. But still, it works, I think because it also delivers the thrills that made these comics (Specifically Walt Simonson’s Thor) so enjoyable.

This movie makes Thor the goofball that was hiding at the edges of the last two Thor movies and prominent in extra material. He is serious about the bigger problems, but he is also having a blast going on adventures. He is joined by a talking Hulk, which is fun, and a lost Asgardian Valkyrie. Loki, still the best Marvel villain, goes through some changes himself while not abandoning his central nature. The characters are making jokes, but they mostly stay true to themselves. The movie also delivers the action, starting with a solo Thor fantasy-ish fight and moving to battles with spaceships in the trash planet Sakaar before ending with the Hulk fighting a giant wolf in Asgard. It delivers the action.

Something needs to be said about Cate Blanchett as the villain; Blanchett is great, but she doesn’t really get enough time to be more than a force of nature. I don’t know that she needed to be more.

The movie mostly delivers in the promise of the trailers. It is big and fun and grand and colorful. Digging too deep into it risks spoiling the plot (who cares) and the jokes (much worse). I don’t know how I’ll feel about this movie in a year or so, but right now I want to put it near the top of the Marvel pile.

****1/2

What I Watched October 2017

Movies

Blade Runner 2049 – read review here. *****

An American Werewolf in London – I feel like I should like this more than I did. It feels like some great monster make up with a bit of a movie put in around it. It builds just fine, but then it just sort of ends without really resolving anything. ***1/2

Batman & Bill – An excellent documentary about how Bill Finger, the creator of the greater part of Batman and related characters, finally got credit for his creation. It is kind of heartbreaking how badly Bill Finger got screwed over by DC Comics and to a greater degree Bob Kane, the man usually named the creator of Batman, but whose actual contribution past an initial sketch is somewhat minimal. It is a great story and well worth watching. ****

The Addams Family – Still thoroughly excellent. Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd are both great. ****1/2

Addams Family Values – Even better than the first one. It does away with the whole plot about the fake Fester and just lets the family go wild. It is so much fun. *****

Colossal – This is a pretty clever take on the monster movie. When Anne Hathaway’s character walks through a certain park, she materializes across the globe as a giant monster. It is some kind of metaphor for the destructiveness of her drinking problem. Then a “nice guy” played by Jason Sudeikis uses and exploits this power. It is pretty great. ****1/2

Godzilla 2000 – This is the Godzilla movie Japan made in response, more or less, to the dismal American version. It is a lot of fun, though I don’t know if it’s goofy translation helps or hurts. It makes the whole thing very silly on its face, but Godzilla is pretty silly in general. Still, there is a lot to love about this movie. ****

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – A dramedy starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller and a dysfunctional family and how each of a man’s three children relate to him. It is mostly touching and well made. It is kind of upsetting to see what Sandler is capable of when he is trying and how little he must be trying in most of his own movies. Still, this movie is excellent. ****1/2

The Saint – This is actually a pilot for a potential tv show, and it watches like it. In that context, it isn’t really that bad. It spends a lot of time setting up characters and situations and leaves things rather open ended, which is desirable when goal it to set things up for six to twenty more episodes, but as a movie it is fairly unsatisfying. It feels like one episode of a mediocre tv show. **

The Babysitter – A horror comedy that hid Netflix just in time for Halloween. It is fine. It is kind of a reverse of how slashers normally work, since all the teenagers are the villains and they slowly get weeded out. It doesn’t quite land as well as it could though. Maybe that is just because I have no real interest in the underlying genre. ***

The Princess Bride – I got to see this in a theater for the 30th anniversary. It is still one of my absolutely favorite movies and it looks great on the big screen. *****

Battle of the Sexes – read review here. ***1/2

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women – read review here. ****1/2

Byzantium – I had this as a movie to watch in a preview I wrote years ago, but I never got around to until this year. I loved it. It is kind of an unconventional Vampire movie, more about the personal lives of its vampires than horror. I think it really works. Gemma Arterton is woman from Victorian times that has become a vampire. She was, and still is, a prostitute. With her is her daughter, also a vampire, who is still going to school. It deals a lot with the history of how the characters got where they are, though there are gaps, and with how they are dealing with life now. Half supernatural thriller, half period piece. I thought it all just worked. *****

Hugo – This feels like an experiment with 3D filmmaking that only mostly worked. It is still mostly enjoyable, but it might also be my least favorite Scorsese movie. There is a lot of wonder and magic, but it kind of stuck between being a pure kids movie and a more mature movie. It’s well made, but it didn’t really do anything for me. ****

The Departed – This, on the other hand, might be my favorite Scorsese. It is incredibly tense and just keeps moving. I assume everyone’s seen it and knows how great it is. *****

Lay the Favorite – I loved the work of Rebecca Hall in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, so I went ahead and watched this movie she starred in a few years ago with Bruce Willis. It’s fine, I guess. There really isn’t a lot to it. Willis is a professional gambler, she works as an aid for him, then with a much shadier bookie. It’s mildly amusing, but mostly pointless. **1/2

The World’s End – As usual, immediately after watching this it is my favorite of Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. I think in the long run, it is Hot Fuzz, but it is hard to say no to this movie after watching it. It is nearly perfect. *****

The Love Guru – I have long been morbidly curious about this movie. I am generally a fan of Mike Myers, but this thing is as ill-conceived as it appears. There isn’t a single part of it that works and it is confounding that at no point did anyone takes a step back and consider how misbegotten the whole thing is. 0 stars

Godzilla v Destroyah – I wanted to watch more Godzilla movies, and hulu has most of them up. This one starts with Godzilla already in meltdown and then a monster created by the bomb that killed the original Godzilla showing up. It is a solid ending to the 80’s and 90’s series of Godzilla movies. ****

TV

Mindhunter – Maybe the next Netflix hit, I don’t know. It is a very interesting take on a mix of true-ish crime and a police procedural. It has its characters delving into the minds of serial killers to learn how they tick. It is mostly very interesting, but something is keeping me from moving this show out of like and into love territory.

Outlander S3 – Season 3 of Outlander has made good progress on a difficult road. It started with its two protagonists divided by time, and now even now that they are back together it has to work to get them actually together after a 20 year separation. I really like the book this season is based on, but the book has a lot more room to deal with issues than the show does. It is also introducing an almost entirely new supporting cast after the purge at the end of last season, where just about everybody but the two protagonists died, and even those who didn’t aged from children to adults. I am still finding it highly enjoyable and I eagerly await seeing how the back half of this season turns out.

Good News – In many ways, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the continuation of 30 Rock, the best sitcom ever made. After watching the first season and a half of Great News, I think it has a near equal claim to that legacy. It starts out kind of rough, but by the back end of the first season’s 10 episodes it has found its footing and its voice. Then season 2 kept up the momentum, and has been largely excellent so far. I don’t know the odds of it getting past the 13 episodes ordered this season, but I am glad to watch whatever we get.

Bob’s Burgers S7 – I got hulu, and this was one of the first thing I got on watching. This show has slowly but surely worked its way up my list of all-time favorites. Season 7 continues the show’s strong run. There is something essentially charming about this collection of weirdos and the show keeps finding new ways to play them off of each other.

Stranger Things – I have a lot to say about this season, enough that I want to write a full blog post about the show, even though I know I won’t have time to do that. I’ll say that this season perfectly builds on what came before it while adding just enough new stuff. There are some missteps, but overall it is simply excellent. I don’t know that I’ve ever identified more with a character than Bob Newby. And Steve continued his evolution from 80’s movie jock douche to legitimate cool guy. The fact that he does it without ever really succeeding at what he is doing make it all the more remarkable.

CW Superhero Shows – The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are back (so is Arrow, but until I get my CW app issues settled I’m not watching it) and all of them have returned in good form. Supergirl is probably the weakest so far this season, but that is mostly because Legends and Flash have come out swinging, while Supergirl expects us to care that Mon-El is gone. I liked the chemistry between Chris Wood and Benoist, I was indifferent to the actual romance between the two characters. Making Supergirl mopey because he’s gone does nothing for me. Meanwhile, the Flash has regained its full season 1 form so far, with fun character dynamics and super-powered baddies of the week. And Legends continues to fully embrace the silliness. These shows are doing it for me this season.

What I Read in October 2017

Just one book in October, I don’t have much to say. I don’t have my normal reading time and with all the reading for class I have to do I don’t really have the inclination to do much reading in my free time.

The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde

I’ve read this before and I always assume a lot of this book happens earlier in the series. This one has Thursday Next spend the whole book in Book World. She is pregnant and forgetting her erased in time husband. She also has to deal with a hostile takeover of the entirety of Book World. I love this series, and I hope Fforde has something new coming soon. It has been too long since I’ve read a new book of his. The therapy session in Wuthering Heights remains one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever read, though it would mean little to someone who isn’t familiar with Wuthering Heights. There is also the perpetually late agent Godot, but luckily they don’t wait for him.

Now Playing October 2017

Beaten

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionares’ Conspiracyreview here.

Chrono Trigger – read some ramblings here.

Ongoing

Yakuza 0 – When The Last Guardian didn’t grab me, I turned to the game for which I bought my PS4. That is an exaggeration, but this game, along with the remake Yakuza Kiwami and the upcoming Yakuza 6, were big factors in me finally moving to this generation of consoles. I am roughly a third of the way through this game and it is just as good as the previous game in the series, which was one of my favorites. It has condensed things down to just two playable characters, but it has kept the variety by giving each character multiple fighting styles. I love this series, and I am loving this game.

Etrian Odyssey V – I am in the tank for this series, and there is a lot of new stuff that I like, but I am in that early game section, about floor 4 to 5, when I still don’t know what my team is and the game feels like kind of a slog. I has the same problem with the first game, so much that I sold it back to gamestop, a move I would quickly regret. I know better now, but I haven’t yet broken through with this one and figured out what my team is and how it works. The game is great, though.

Terranigma – I am still in the introductory area, but I think I am going to like this. I loved Illusion of Gaia when I played that, and this is like that game with more solid mechanics.

Upcoming

River City Rival Showdown – With my limited time, it seems unlikely that I will even get to this game, but I can’t not get a remake of River City Ransom. Maybe if I am still being as stymied by Etrian Odyssey V when this game hits as I am now.

Far Away Times

I recently moved out of my hometown to attend law school. It was a pretty big upheaval in my normally boring life, packing up and relocating three hundred miles away.  I don’t like change.  Eager to embrace something familiar, I started up a play through of a comforting old game on my 3DS to unwind. The choice of game was an obvious one: Chrono Trigger. It is not only one of my all-time favorite games, but it is the perfect sort of breezy fun I was looking for. Plus, I know the game inside and out, having made a point of beating it every year for over a decade.  Why, then, do I find myself wanting to burst into tears each time I flip open my 3DS and hear that sublime music?

all pics taken from vgmuseum.com

I first played Chrono Trigger back around 1997 or so. It wasn’t a new game at that point, though at that time I had little context for what was new or old.  I was still looking for Final Fantasy 2 when I saw my friend playing Final Fantasy 3. Before I bought the system, all of my knowledge of SNES games came from what I saw at that friend’s house. As I was still uncovering the mysteries of the original Final Fantasy, he showed me the path those games had taken in the next generation. We dabbled in Final Fantasy 3 and Earthbound and Breath of Fire in his tiny gaming room. Unfortunately, most of those games take too long to beat in a few sittings, but I still learned how much I wanted to experience them.

Once I finally bought an SNES, I still had to get the games.  I can remember my younger brother and me pooling our money on the family’s rare trips to the city, begging our parents to take us to the game store that just happened to be next to our usual shoe store.  They had the games on my list, those mentioned about, but at a dear price. For a used, unboxed copy of Chrono Trigger, my brother and I paid almost $70.  And we were glad to do it, based only on playing the opening.

My brother and I did a lot together.  He is barely a year younger than me and though I would never have called him such, he was probably my best friend growing up.  We were close in age and shared a lot of interests, with SNES rpgs definitely among them.  To make room for younger siblings in our always too small house, our bedroom was moved to basement.  The concrete floored, concrete walled, spider filled basement.  We each had a bed, we had a beaten down old couch and we had a TV.  Together we spent a lot of blistering summer days hiding in that basement getting as much 16-bit goodness as we could.  Together we plumbed the depths that Chrono Trigger had to offer.

We didn’t just take turns playing; we wanted to know everything about that game.  And there is a lot to explore there.  We would bike to the library to use their dial-up internet, limited to one hour a day, to find and print FAQs and Guides. Pages of those guides are still at my parents’ house, crumpled and well read.  That summer we spent a couple weeks in Indiana visiting relatives.  We brought the SNES and Chrono Trigger.  That is not to say that is the only game we devoted our time to.  We also had Mega Man X and Final Fantasy 3 and Super Mario World. But as good as all of those games are, they weren’t THE game.

Chrono Trigger is a perfect game. There aren’t many games I would make that claim about. Even games I love, like Super Mario Galaxy and Mega Man 3, have identifiable flaws.  Super Mario Galaxy has some awkward motion control stages and occasionally its weird physics force some weirdness with the camera, though that is less frequent than awe-inspiring joy.  Mega Man 3 has noticeable s l o w d o w n and the Doc Robot stages are better in theory than execution.  However, I can think of nothing about Chrono Trigger that could be improved.  I honestly believe that. The music is excellent, no SNES game looks better, it moves at a snappy pace and is perfectly balanced.  It does everything right.  I have loved it since I first played it.

All those memories of enjoying this game over the years simply bring sharply to mind how long ago those days actually are.

My brother and I are still close; though not geographically close now that I have moved.  Before the move we saw each other at least once a week.  And we were always there if wanted to do more.  The days where the two of us would bunker down on a ratty couch for three or four hours of time traveling adventures are long past.  They have been for some time and it is just dawning on me now that those times will never come again. And that is okay.  He’s married and has two kids.  Not too long ago he asked me to get some game from PSN for him to play with his older son on our old PSP.  Among the games he wanted was Chrono Trigger.  Quibbles about the quality of the PS1 port aside, I thought it was the best thing.  My brother and I may never sit side by side on a couch, playing a game together into the small hours of the night, but we might find time to do that with our children and then they will have those experiences too.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

With fortuitous timing, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women arrives perfectly timed to cash in on the current popularity of Wonder Woman. Not that the movie could accurately be described as a cash in, it is a delightful film. In some ways very traditional and in others very unconventional.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of psychology professor William Moulton Marston, who created the superhero Wonder Woman, with some help from his wife and girlfriend. That wife and girlfriend thing is what the movie is really about. It is based on the real life of this triad, Marston, Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne. Holloway and Marston are already married at the start, when Marston becomes infatuated with their new student assistant Byrne. A romance develops between the three of them that leads to a sort of triad.

One of the best things this movie does is to stage the movie as a traditional romance. Formally this is very much a classic romance, with the same sort of obstacles and journey, only that structure is applied to a love story that is anything but traditional. It works, not toning down the content of the story but also not presenting it as lurid or obscene, just a normally somewhat melodramatic romance. At the time, and really would be even now, their story was a sensational one. Their triad relationship is pretty outre, with or without the bondage. From the account in The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston actually plays up the luridness of the relationship in content, but because the movie doesn’t present it as such, it plays very differently. Ignoring any sort of moralistic concerns, the relationship at the heart of this movie was apparently a happy and long lasting one. It is presented as a true love story and the facts back that up. By not staging it as something extreme, it downplays the differentness of the relationship, including the absolute ickiness of the fact that it began while Olive was Marston’s student, allowing the other parts to shine through.

It is also just well constructed. Luke Evans is fun as William Marston, being almost childlike in his enthusiasm but also clearly educated. He is an idealist and a fantastic weirdo and Evans brings that across. Bella Heathcote brings vulnerability but not truly naivety to Olive Byrne. She knows what she is getting into and goes into it hopefully but not blindly. Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth gives the best performance as the voice of reason in this triad, the one who recognizes how this will be viewed by others and how hard it will hurt their reputation and their children. She isn’t cold, but she is pragmatic. Hall makes her conflicts clear, she is clearly not unfeeling; she wants this relationship too. But she has the hardest journey to get to the point of believing in it. Mostly because she is more experienced than Olive and more rational than her husband. Again, the movie is kind of old fashioned in its presentation, which works well as a contrast with the content.

The one part of the movie that gets kind of sidelined is the creation of Wonder Woman. As a comic fan, I immediately recognized that it was somewhat fictionalized. But little about the character or the content really come through. That is not what this movie is really about, it is a small part of a larger story, but it supposedly builds up to his hearing with the decency board and that thread is ultimately unfulfilling.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is one of the more entertaining biopics I’ve seen in recent years. It tells a story that legitimately hasn’t been seen before, or at least tells this story in a new way. It is highly worth seeing, though fans of this summer’s Wonder Woman might not get the story of that character’s creation that they might expect.

****1/2

Layton’s Mystery Journey

I’ve played all the Professor Layton games, and reviewed several of them on this blog.  In the abstract I think really highly of this series, but as I was putting together my thoughts on this one, I went back and read what I had written about the last three games in the series, including Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright, I realized that I had similar complaints about those games to the ones I have with this game.

I still don’t like the split between tapping the bottom screen and the cursor on the top screen, the game feels padded out, with puzzles spread far too thin, and I don’t think those puzzles are as good as the used to be.  The new complaint with Layton’s Mystery Journey is that now the story is purely episodic and of the game’s 12 episodes, only about three of them feel like they really matter. While I mostly enjoyed my time with the game, when I finished I was really ready to be done with it.  After a few days to cool off, I feel a little more fondness for the game, though I think that this is the first time my annoyances finally outweighed my enjoyment.

I’ve complained about my problems with the cursor before and I still have them.  It is makes me a little nauseous managing that split between top and bottom screens. I’ve complained about the length before.  I’ll have to go back and check the DS games, but this feels like a 12 hour game stretched out to take nearly 20.  With Layton v Wright, I complained about the puzzles, but I thought it was just because that game was a spin off. The puzzles here feel imprecise.  They aren’t perfectly crafted to make you think or mess with you assumptions, these just feel imprecise.  Sometimes the wording is so vague it nearly impossible to tell what the puzzle is.  There are still plenty of good puzzles, but there are way too many weak or simply bad ones.

The story is the other big problem.  The structure fails this game utterly.  If there was an initial mystery that lead to all the other cases it would have felt like a real story, but instead it just introduces a bunch of characters before moving to a toothless epic final showdown.  It does start with a pair of mysteries, one involving the disappearance of Professor Layton and the other having to do with Sherl, the talking dog that shows up at new protagonist Katrielle’s shop.  Those mysteries are not dealt with at all.  Professor Layton is gone, as are all the characters from the previous 6 games, and Katrielle has a talking dog. Instead of dealing with either of them, you spend most of the game solving non-mysteries for the police, with a few good ones mixed.

I don’t really have a problem with change in cast, it was time for a refresh, but other than changing out the cast, the only change this made to the series was a downgrade in puzzle quality. This is still largely the same game as the last few in the series, but the returns are really diminishing now. I hope the next game gets things back on track.

Battle of the Sexes

I don’t know that I expected to like Battle of the Sexes more than I did, but I certainly hoped I would. It is okay, but I thought maybe it could be really good.  Battle of the Sexes is about the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, but it is also about Billie Jean’s personal life, the founding of what would become the WTA and a little about Bobby Riggs. These are all worthwhile stories, but the movie spreads itself a little thin trying to tell all of them and ends up not really telling them all that well.

The Bobby Riggs part of the movie is pretty stunted.  Steve Carell does a great job, playing a fading gambling addict who is just trying to maintain some relevance in a world that is leaving him behind.  There is something irrepressibly comical about him, both when he is being disgustingly sexist and when he is playing games in the living room with his son.  While he is a player in this story, this movie is not his story and it probably shouldn’t be.  But the movie gives just enough of a look into him to leave you wanting more, in a bad way.  After that scene of him playing with his son, we don’t see that son again.  We do meet another, older son who gets a little bit of a story, but he never really amounts to anything as a character.

The movie opens with Billie Jean and Gladys Heldman arranging a boycott of a tennis tournament that pays the male winners 12 times what the female winners get.  They, along with a handful of other women player’s, start what in a few years would become the WTA.  That in itself is likely enough to sustain a movie, but it just sort of happens over the first twenty minutes or so of this movie.  It opens a lot of interesting avenues and leaves them completely unexplored.

The main thrust of the movie, before the central tennis match actually starts to happen, is Billie Jean’s unexpected romance with her hairdresser. It is very unexpected because she is happily married.  That gets the bulk of the movie’s time and is a story worth telling. But unless I am misreading, it is also the subplot that is least on theme. Her husband is possibly the only male figure in this movie that isn’t awful.  He is supportive of King and his interactions with Marilyn, her lover, are more about warning her off to prevent her from disrupting King’s focus, noting that for their mutual love tennis comes first. It other than giving King something else to worry about, it doesn’t really play into the match from which this movie gets its name.

Battle of the Sexes is definitely worth seeing. Emma Stone is excellent as King and Carell is good as Riggs.  The movie is just overwhelmingly pleasant.  It is fun to watch, even as the issues it deals with remain issues 40 years later.  But this movie feels a little like a missed opportunity, like it was close to being just a little bit better and truly memorable.

***1/2