Category Archives: 10 Things

10 Things I Thought While Watching “Spectre”

The new James Bond movie “No Time to Die” promises a number of changes that upend Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the British superspy. It’s out soon, so it’s an ideal time to go back to Craig’s last foray into Bond and figure out what that mess was. The two movies link together, after all, with several key characters returning. How was re-watching “Spectre”?

1. Sam Smith or Radiohead?

That Sam Smith theme song. Oof. I have no idea why producers went with that over Radiohead’s version. I like Smith, but their version is about as safe as you can play it. Given that the rest of “Spectre” has very little interest in playing it safe, it’s hard to tell why producers chose that over something far moodier and more foreboding.

Here’s the opening credits edited with the Radiohead theme instead of the Smith one:

2. This is a Different Character

One thing I liked about the new Bond in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” is that he did the calculations in his head. If he could get the bad guy but too many civilians were at risk, he’d back off and wait for another opportunity. You felt he had a duty, and that was often to be a wall between himself and the deaths of others. He’d risk one or two people and consider that the price of business, but never an entire crowd.

The tension lay in watching him back off and seeing how he found a way to create a new opportunity. That took good writing that sometimes established a set piece and then denied us that set piece, making us wait and wonder about how a confrontation would evolve.

It’s completely nonsensical then that in the film’s opening scene Bond chooses to have a fistfight that sends a helicopter wheeling about and nearly crashing into a crowd of hundreds. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching the same character. Or rather: it feels like the character is servicing the script rather than the other way around.

3. The Political Statement is Window Dressing

You remember the problem everyone had with the “Star Wars” prequels? That they focused on trade wars and the Galactic Senate and political machinations you could read a mile away, but you still had to wait and wade through them when they finally happened exactly as you predicted?

My problem isn’t that they felt Bond needed more of that – it’s fine to make political statements. The problem is that the political statement is made so clumsily that whole stretches of the film are devoted to a simple idea. Remember “The Dark Knight” for a second – Batman develops a tool that hacks into every cell phone in Gotham. He puts it into the hands of Lucius Fox, along with a way to destroy it when it’s served its purpose. We see a political commentary made, it’s employed into the plot, and then a solution for how to handle it is given. It doesn’t take over the movie.

“Quantum of Solace” had some problems, but one thing it did very well is it created an effective and moving plot around water rights in developing countries. It did this by asking us to inhabit that world and that experience for a time.

The political statement in “Spectre” is never inhabited. It’s part of a set, it’s a backdrop. Nothing is taught, nothing brave is said about spying on citizens beyond, “This is wrong.” Even then, it’s stated only in the broadest sense. There’s no nuance, there’s no real world impact to its existence or lack thereof. I agree with the film’s broad argument wholeheartedly, but we’re told spying on citizens is wrong by a spy who can defeat the plan to spy on citizens because he’s so gosh darn good at spying on citizens.

The good guys believe it’s wrong, and since they’re good guys and it’s a Bond movie, you know they’ll be OK…but the good guys never defeat what’s most important when making a political statement – they never defeat the argument or the ideal that they’re fighting, since the movie itself never bothers to fight it.

4. “Hudson Hawk” Editing

There’s a scene in “Hudson Hawk” where characters are saved from a fall because they literally fall into the next scene. Then they pick up the scene as if it’s perfectly natural for them to be there.

“Spectre” feels a lot like this, except it’s not supposed to be a spoof. The most basic elements of how Bond gets from place to place, and more importantly why he goes from place to place, are either mumbled, dropped out of conversation, or never explained in a context. Bond’s in an entirely new country, in a new climate. Why? Cause we’ve had an action scene in two other climates but we haven’t done one in the mountains yet.

“Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” had intricately winding plots, but they were made exquisitely simple by the scripting and filmmaking. The plot of “Spectre” is on rails the entire time: A to B to C. Yet you can hardly ever follow why something is happening.

Compare this especially to the last four “Mission Impossible” movies, which have delivered spider webbed spy plots and globetrotting set pieces, yet somehow managed to make these complications extremely sleek and accessible to the point of elegance. “Spectre” can barely get a scene change right.

5. Perfume Commercials

There’s a compact and far more entertaining hour and a half movie in here somewhere. I usually want my movies winding and long, but interrupting your spy action for sequences that feel like perfume commercials every 15 minutes makes zero sense.

There’s endless focus on the sets, the locations, and the atmosphere. It all forgets to keep the plot moving. You expect Daniel Craig to turn around at any moment and whisper, “Wingardium Leviosa by Calvin Klein” before spritzing himself with a bottle – and honestly, that would make more sense because it would at least fit the tone of what’s presented throughout the middle of “Spectre”.

6. James Bond is Bad at Sex

“Hi, I’m Bond. James Bond. I just killed your two assassins.”
“We literally only have five minutes before more come to kill me.”
“Let’s have sex.”

These aren’t direct quotes, but it’s pretty much how the Monica Bellucci scene plays out. Look, you see each other and want to jump each others’ bones, that’s fine. But there’s no chemistry here, there’s just a sort of borderline “Is this about to turn into a sexual assault?”

It doesn’t, she’s into it, another “Skyfall” moment barely dodged – although it’s worth noting that he killed her husband and she might be terrified of him. I’ll take it on faith that this is a consensual moment the movie communicates really badly.

There’s not an ounce of chemistry anywhere to be seen, but that holds true for any two people sharing a scene in “Spectre”. I’m not even going to address that mess. What I’ll address is scripting. Scripting, guys. Scripting. Get it together. You’re essentially telling us Bond gets off in, like, 90 seconds. That doesn’t seem that, uh…I mean, ignoring the 70s Roger Moore, misogynist claptrap a scene like this hearkens back to (which you shouldn’t, though), let’s be purely logical about what Bond’s communicating:

Bond’s supposed to be like the Superman of sex, and you’re telling us through your scripting, “Don’t worry, Bond literally takes less than five minutes.” Sounds, uh…I mean, it doesn’t seem like Monica Bellucci’s going to be having that much fun in this equation.

Sean Connery’s Bonds weren’t exactly forward-thinking about gender equality, but at least he’d ditch work for the day to take women on picnics. Daniel Craig’s just like, “All I need’s a minute, ninety seconds tops.” That’s not encouraging, James.

7. This is Severely Miscast

Rarely have so many strong actors been wasted. Christoph Waltz is doing a B-grade version of what we’ve seen him do better in other films. Bellucci’s there for five minutes and barely does a thing. Craig seems routinely disinterested (especially in his co-actors). Lea Seydoux is a far more enigmatic actress than just playing the straight-up Bond girl who falls in love. Dave Bautista isn’t a natural actor, but at least he showed he has charm for the screen in “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Here, they don’t even let him speak.

Yet the most inane casting choice in this whole mess was made in the last film – replacing Judi Dench with Ralph Fiennes as M. Fiennes is an actor whose specialty is hiding his characters, protecting them from the audience. He can create very real, very troubled characters that way, characters who draw you in because of the walls they’ve built to keep you out. In fact, he would’ve made a phenomenal villain for this. Yet as a bureaucrat with a gun, Fiennes is boring. We’re not tempted to draw in because the archetype he’s playing is intentionally uninviting.

So you end up with an actor protecting his character from an audience who’s not interested in penetrating the depths of that character. This creates a narrative wall in front of a character who’s already being performed with walls, meaning you could pretty much replace Fiennes with a wall and nothing about the film would change.

8. You Came for a Gunfight, but Have You Seen our Set Design?

That first climax. No, not the one that took Bond only ninety seconds. I mean the one in the desert that…also takes Bond only ninety seconds. Maybe if you spent less time showing off the production design for the perfume commercial you’re going to shoot right after this, you could have left the space for an actual gunfight, or fistfight, or anything more than Bond shooting a few people who – as the gunfight escalates – increasingly stand still doing nothing, and then magically destroying the entire base with one shot.

9. Time to Save the Wor- ooh, a Maze!

That last climax. The Sam Mendes Bond films are built around the villain planning for Bond to escape traps directly in front of their elaborately designed maze. This then requires Bond to completely ditch his plan to save the world and instead decide, “Ooh, a maze! This looks fun!”

10. Retcon Theater

The tie-in to what “Casino” and “Quantum” established with the Quantum group isn’t fleshed out. It just so happens Bond killed all of Blofeld’s Lieutenants in the previous movies by complete chance, even though the first one was basically about some schmuck who owed a warlord a lot of money and needed to win it back in a poker game. Seems that if Le Chiffre were secretly one of the most powerful people in the world, he wouldn’t need to do all that, he’d just be like, “Fuck it, I’m part of Spectre, I’ll just blow that guy up with a drone or send Dave Bautista after him.”

“Casino” and “Quantum” were about Bond working his way up the line of a powerful organization through villains who that organization considered expendable, not tripping over the key bad guys like he’s Chris Noth falling over evidence in “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”.

To retcon the villains of those movies into Blofeld’s top Lieutenants isn’t just dismissive of Bond’s work and the story evolution of the first two Craig films, it also just doesn’t make a lick of sense for anyone paying attention. Of course, that’s kind of a running theme for “Spectre”.

With “Skyfall” and “Spectre”, Sam Mendes has taken the much-needed re-invigoration and modernization of the Bond movies “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”, dismissed everything successful they did, and dialed their sensibilities back by decades. We’ve traded off complex characters, layered mysteries, and meaningful consequences (even for Bond’s sexual escapades) for set pieces that occur with the haphazard logic of a “Transformers” movie, and trivial titillation that doesn’t even seem to understand the most basic fundamentals of what human sexuality involves.

In the first two Craig movies, Bond was a globe-trotting superspy who had to prove his chops and was tempted by trauma and the sociopathy of revenge. He lost people close to him due to his single-mindedness and high opinion of himself, yet eventually found some brief access to peace and balance by turning someone else away from the path he’s taken. That’s compelling. That’s a reason to keep watching. For whatever other issues “Quantum of Solace” had, what it added to his character was complex and moving.

Mendes has taken that and made Bond into a sometimes-efficient, sometimes clumsy braggadocio who lucks into plot points and dei ex machina instead of uncovering them through any skill. He’ll risk hundreds of people for a fist fight, he takes 90 seconds to have sex, and villains can effectively distract him from saving the world by presenting him with a lame maze he has to solve for no reason.

Mendes took a revolution that made a character compelling who hadn’t been for a very long time, completely failed to understand it, and thought spending lots of money on cinematography and production design was a good replacement for a plot.

I’m thankful that the franchise has been handed off to a new director in Cary Fukunaga and the screenplay’s reportedly had a proper thrashing by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but my excitement for “No Time to Die” is tempered by the fact it has to build atop the structure Mendes so completely broke.

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10 Things I Thought While Watching “Speed Racer”

I was supposed to appear on some panels at a convention this last weekend. I wasn’t able to and had to bow out at the last minute. One of the panels was called “Box Office Bombs That are Better Than You Think”. Early discussion before the con cited one beloved box office bomb above all others: the Wachowski sisters’ “Speed Racer”.

Even if I had to miss the panel, it’s something I still want to write about.

1. We Weren’t Ready for “Speed Racer”

“Speed Racer” is exceptionally good. You may not remember it that way. It was the first film after the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” trilogy. People expected something dark and gothic, full of dour characters enacting sleek violence on each other. What they got was a sugar rush of color in a live-action cartoon that relied on sight gags and long set-ups to bad puns. In other words, an ideal movie. Just not one we were ready for. Imagine expecting something akin to “The Matrix” and then seeing this:

It also featured one of the best casts assembled that no one will ever think of that way: Emile Hirsch as ambitious racecar driver Speed, Christina Ricci as mechanic and spotter Trixie, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon as his parents, Matthew Fox as the controversial Racer X, and the deceptively rangy Roger Allam as villain Royalton.

The supporting cast was both eclectic and diverse, featuring Korean pop heartthrob Rain, original “Shaft” actor Richard Roundtree, and German TV actor Benno Furmann.

2. The Editing is Incredible

This isn’t a perfect film, but one thing I will argue is that the opening 17 minutes is one of the best edited sequences ever put to film. There’s a really magical alternate universe where pop filmmaking looks and feels like this. It didn’t die off with Tim Burton’s taste or get relegated to the Barry Sonnenfeld made-for-TV circuit.

The Wachowskis are two of the few directors who have really taken on this mantle, where CG doesn’t serve to make something look more real, but less so. One of the reasons I love “Speed Racer” is because it looks like it was lifted from someone’s imagination. It’s silly, it’s fun, it’s ridiculous. It has zero interest in telling you how important it is.

The Wachowskis consistently impress because they want to show you what’s sprouting out of their imaginations. We were happy to praise it when it connected to our angst, wore black trench coats, and whipped out guns for slow-motion shootouts. Yet we routinely reject it when it wears bright colors and tells us to be hopeful.

Editing and CG shouldn’t just be used to push the technical limits of the reality we can present – it should also push the imaginative limits, and that’s something that studios haven’t often prioritized in event filmmaking.

3. Rain & the Tragedy of “Ninja Assassin”

A bit more about Korean pop sensation Rain is in order. He plays a racer and an inheritor of a car company that rivals Royalton’s. Unfortunately, this is probably the movie that got him the lead role in James McTeigue’s “Ninja Assassin”. McTeigue is a frequent collaborator with the Wachowski sisters. He was the first assistant director on “The Matrix” trilogy, and a second unit director on “Speed Racer”. His own debut was the surprisingly good “V for Vendetta”.

Here’s what we’re talking about when it comes to “Ninja Assassin”.

The trailer makes it look like the film is constructed entirely of perpetually underlit scenes of bullet-time style throwing stars. It is. It’s actually a really accurate trailer. That trailer just saved you 99 minutes of your life.

The same patience for storytelling and skill for suspense in “V for Vendetta” was not replicated in “Ninja Assassin” (nor in any of McTeigue’s other films). Since it was Rain’s crossover attempt at Western stardom, the film shot down any real chance he’d have at additional lead roles in American films.

4. One Wachowskis Batman, Please

I’d watch a Wachowskis-directed Batman. Just saying. (I once would’ve suggested Matthew Fox for the lead, but am uncomfortable with a past allegation of violence he’s faced.)

The Wachowski sisters know how to build an atmospheric universe and direct a range of fast-paced fight choreography, and they have a wicked sense of casting that would fit the rogues gallery well. “The Matrix”, “Cloud Atlas”, and “Sense8” all prove they know how to make the kind of Batman that would continue to evolve the character and make him relevant, unlike the overstuffed meandering Zack Snyder did with it.

I have confidence in director Matt Reeves (and Robert Pattinson is an inspired choice as his upcoming Batman). I also can’t imagine producers would feel entirely safe trusting the Wachowskis with DC’s most reliable franchise. Still it’d be something I’d like to see.

5. Mini-John Goodman

Paulie Litt’s work in “Speed Racer” is really overlooked. He’d have been 12-ish when this was filmed. Litt plays Spritle Racer, Speed’s little brother, but damned if he’s not doing a spot-on impression of John Goodman at times. He’s doing the cheesy comedic sidekick role in a film overstocked with cheesy comedic sidekicks, and he might be doing the most effective work.

6. There is No Better Dialogue

“Inspector Detector suspected foul play.” Line of the century.

Dialogue of the century?

Trixie: Oh my god, was that a ninja?
Pops: More like a non-ja. Terrible what passes for a ninja these days.
Trixie: Cool beans.

Behold the greatest moment in modern cinema:

What’s best about this is that there’s an entire two minute fight scene that leads up to it. The fight scene is more Three Stooges than Matrix, and it doesn’t ramp up in choreography. It basically exists for a few sight gags, and to create a super-lame pun at the end. In other words, the perfect film does exist.

7. Trixie Keeps Bailing Everyone Out

The part doing the most to make this all work is Christina Ricci’s Trixie. It would have been remarkably easy to just have her there as eye candy, which is where you think her character’s going at first. Then it turns out she’s the most capable person in the film. She’s a helicopter pilot who spots for Speed in his races. She takes over as a race car driver in a death-defying cross-country rally when one driver is incapacitated. She breaks out kung fu skills and beats up henchmen in the middle of a larger brawl. And when the team needs to build a new car in less than a day-and-a-half, she’s front and center welding the thing together.

8. Christina Ricci is Overlooked as Hell

It helps a lot that Ricci has an incredible amount of experience in films that don’t take themselves overly seriously. Her career started with movies like “The Addams Family” and “Casper”, and she’s blazed a trail of leading roles in independent films that challenge the way audiences are used to watching movies. Emile Hirsch was so disgusted with the box office performance of “Speed Racer” that he fired his agent. He never understood the value of a film like this; he only saw it as a career opportunity. That’s ironic, given the theme of the film.

What’s even more ironic is that he starred next to a woman who’s built a successful career out of films that don’t fit particular molds, with box office surprises and failures. Ricci’s done so across a wide range of genres, at a time when it’s been nearly impossible for a woman to put together the resume of leading roles that she’s had.

It occurs to me she doesn’t get near her due when it comes to talking about the greatest actors of her generation. She should be in that conversation. Come to think of it, the same discipline for gaining and losing weight for roles that we routinely celebrate Christian Bale for is something that’s been used against her as a criticism. I can think of only a handful of actors alive today – of any generation – who can so deftly step back and forth between dramatic, indie, comedy, and B-movies with as sure a sense of what to bring to each.

9. A Balanced Gaze

Ricci does serve the male gaze now and again in the film, but they don’t overdo it. The film isn’t too interested in making anyone particularly sexy, but at least there’s equal opportunity here. Rain, Hirsch, and Fox all bare far more skin in this than Trixie does in the occasional mini-skirt. It’s important for films to show this kind of balance.

10. This Editing, Though

I keep thinking of that opening, that first 17-minute sequence that swoops through time and space to introduce us to the major protagonists and their emotional stakes. The Wachowskis do for editing in “Speed Racer” what they did for visual effects in “The Matrix”. The only difference is that it didn’t set the industry on fire. It’s a shame, because their approach is inventive, emotional, and energetic in ways that more traditional editing isn’t. It also challenges the way we’re used to watching movies. I wish I’d seen it inspire others to follow their example. I wouldn’t want all editing to look like this, but I think filmmaking would be a more exciting place if some of these lessons had grown roots and found their way into other projects.

If nothing else, it would take a marketplace where everyone’s trying to create their own connected universe and it would make it feel more aesthetically varied. We’ve got Marvel, DC, X-Men, Star Wars everything, Universal making a mess of its monster properties, LEGO, Hasbro, the Transformers shared universe idiocy, Sony still working on their Valiant Comics thing, and Tom Holland playing therapist between Sony and Disney to hold the Spider-Man universe(s) together by the seams.

Instead, we’re left with most of these franchises trying to do what the last did, with the bar for acceptance being “good enough”. I wouldn’t mind a few more films like “Speed Racer” challenging the sameness and middle ground so many of these franchises fall into. “Speed Racer” may have been a box office bomb, but at least it developed new cinematic language. There are a lot of franchises that haven’t done so much in half a dozen films, let alone one.

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10 Things I Thought While (Re)Watching “Tron: Legacy”

Tron Legacy Lightcycles

by Gabriel Valdez

1. I have a synesthetic reaction to Tron: Legacy. There are scenes that are filmed in an almost black-and-white fashion, except the tones are blue-and-orange. The whole design is built out of LED-influenced grids, neon angles, and laser lights. I have the same reaction to director Joseph Kosinski’s second film, Oblivion, although that is designed as differently as you could imagine. The thing with Kosinski is that he doesn’t just design his films well, he designs them unconventionally. Rather than the more-more-more philosophy of many modern fantasy and science-fiction films, Kosinski is unafraid to let his designers create boldly spare architectures and sets.

2. Rather than overly rely on green-screen, Kosinski has entire sets built. This allows his actors to more fully inhabit their scenes. Good actors know how to use the space around them, how to use the walls and the dirt. You need to act big in front of a green-screen, to shout so the back row of the theater believes you (like Gerard Butler in 300). When there’s a real set involved, you can still communicate quiet moments. Make no mistake, Tron: Legacy absolutely abuses green screens, but for the key moments – the quiet moments – it relies on sets.

Tron Legacy Olivia Wilde 2

3. You know who would’ve made a GREAT Anakin Skywalker? Olivia Wilde. Sure, that’d throw some mythology off, but…gender, whatever. Garret Hedlund makes a fine protagonist in Tron: Legacy and Jeff Bridges is having a lot of fun playing dual mentor and villain roles, but Wilde is the one who steals the show as the older Flynn’s protege. It would be easy to say a film like this lacks good performances, but the truth is it’s not built to have them – it favors big stylistic moments and experienced scenery chewers like Michael Sheen (who plays a nightclub owner drinking from the Tim Curry well). Hedlund doesn’t hold our attention as a protagonist. Wilde pretty immediately overtakes him.

This also brings up another note. Given Wilde’s history and popularity, I can’t help but wonder if she were a man, would she be a leading action star by now? She’s hardly unemployed, but when she’s finding her best roles in direct-to-DVD indies like Better Living Through Chemistry, and she’s awkwardly relegated to “leading girlfriend” in big budget films like Rush, something’s very wrong.

4. Relying on restrictions in CGI makes your visual effects last longer. Tron: Legacy doesn’t aim for graphical fidelity. Instead, it limits the scope of its style. Ridley Scott used to practice a form of this, choosing moments in Alien and Blade Runner to hint – rather than show – the viewer toward worlds full of astonishing sights. (Since then, Scott occasionally jumps the shark on CGI.) Kosinski doesn’t follow quite the same path – times have changed – but in adhering to design philosophies instead of a pursuit of overall visual fidelity, the visual effects in his films take on a similar quality of aging very slowly. The CGI in other 2010 films doesn’t hold up as well as this.

One reason for this is that the visual effects artists for Tron: Legacy are often only making something look real using a few colors, not thousands. This is far easier, and allows the artists to re-prioritize how they spend their time (and your budget).

Tron Legacy Bridges Hedlund knocking on the sky

5. There’s a scene between Hedlund and Bridges, soaring across the sky on a freighter, where they catch up on all the advancements the elder Flynn has missed while stuck inside his computer program. It involves a neon-highlighted walkway, fog, and just a hint of stars. Never forget that, in the middle of your effects-heavy movie, it is the simplest scenes – Luke sharing a last moment with a dying Yoda, for instance – that anchor the emotions that make the crazy setpieces worth a damn.

6. The score. It’s the best thing Daft Punk’s ever done. Kosinski doesn’t sign up classic-styled composers. Instead, he chooses an electronica band whose tone he believes he can fit to the film, and enlists them to compose the score. Daft Punk created film music that uses orchestral components in a hard-edged, electronica manner. It creates a full orchestra out of aggressive violins, walking feedback lines, gentle harps, violent brass highlights, and voobing synth tones. There are moments where they harken to the deeply emotive, early experimental electronic music of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, moments where they push the envelope of modern electronica, and moments when it sounds more like a Hans Zimmer-like triumphal film score. I’ll make no arguments that Tron: Legacy is a great film – it’s not – but this score is one of the best in the last decade. It was my score of the year for 2010, with apologies to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network) and Zimmer himself (Inception).

Deus Ex Human Revolution apartment

7. Should the powers that be ever get around to making a movie out of the Deus Ex video game franchise, there would be no better choice than Kosinski, especially now that the franchise’s most recent entry has gone so New Renaissance in its design philosophy. I’d push him for the long-gestating Mass Effect movie, too, since Oblivion showed off how well-versed in multiple eras of science-fiction Kosinski is.

8. Personally, I think Disney’s missing a huge chance to get Kosinski in the director’s seat of a Star Wars movie. I’ve written why I do like J.J. Abrams for the job, and Rian Johnson is an inspired choice to direct a more character-driven Star Wars. Gareth Edwards, however, has yet to prove he’s suitable for the job – Godzilla (read the review) had some moments, but it was a narrative and emotional disaster.

9. Hedlund is fully capable of battling out the action scenes himself, but I keep counts in films that have both a male and female action star. There are hints toward romance between them, and there’s the problem of her being his “reward” for his adventure…I don’t think that’s what the film’s initially trying to say, but it soon follows the beats of that trope and implies it in the ending.

Anyway, I keep counts of how often the man saves the woman and how often the woman saves the man. Wilde saves Hedlund several times. He saves her once. There’s even a later scene where she literally swoops to his defense, and she stands guard in multiple scenes between Hedlund and various villains. That’s usually the male role in science-fiction and fantasy films.

Furthermore, Hedlund isn’t exactly the special one who can save the world here, she is. Tron: Legacy isn’t a great film or a complete film when it comes to women – it doesn’t even pass the second or third rule of the Bechdel Test – but it does do some very nice things that aren’t often seen in big budget films.

Tron Legacy visuals

10. Tron: Legacy isn’t great but it is fantastic. When I decide to sit and watch a favorite scene, that favorite scene ends up lasting until the end credits. I never feel frustrated or like I wasted my time for having watched more than I intended because I’m always so incredibly engaged with it. Again, this goes back to the synesthesia. I don’t just admire the visuals and music, I feel them. I’m not someone you could describe as a synesthete. I don’t feel that effect often. That’s why I value Tron: Legacy so much – it can trigger a euphoric multisensory response that’s foreign to me, like a visual drug.

Not everyone’s going to feel that watching Tron: Legacy – some people will feel it for other films that I might not. I’ve read about the synesthetic reactions some people have to 300 and, while I enjoy its visuals, I’m hardly experiencing referred sensory responses from them. I recognize Tron: Legacy isn’t a great film, but it does (along with the much better Oblivion) represent something unique and special in my own personal viewing experience, something that I really can’t get from anything else.

10 Things I Thought While Watching “Wizard Barristers”

Wizard Barristers title sequence

by Gabriel Valdez

1. Think of Wizard Barristers like you would a more serious version of Key & Peele’s Law and Order: Wizard City sketch, or the best version of The Dresden Files we’ll ever get on TV. I started watching it as a lark – we wanted to do some anime coverage and it was recommended by a friend. I wasn’t expecting much, but…Wizard Barristers is a pretty successful combination of social issues, well-paced writing, and, well, fanservice to 12 year-old boys.

It’s 2018 in an alternate-universe Tokyo. There are normal people just like you and me, as well as magic users…wizards. You’d think the power these wizards wield would dominate the ordinary people, but instead they’ve been relegated as a sort of second-class, complete with their own highly prejudiced court system. Hmmm…that doesn’t sound like anywhere I know.

They’re called “wuds” and ordinary people treat them with fear and revulsion. More on that in a bit.

2. The show centers on Cecil Sudou, the youngest wizard barrister in history at 17. She joins a slightly dysfunctional law firm, but her aggressive optimism means she saddles herself with tough cases before she completely knows what she’s doing. The character’s actually very winning, drawn and voiced charmingly. I’m a sucker for effective optimists on TV, the people who say, “What’s next?” after a victory in lieu of celebrating it. Yes, that’s a West Wing reference and, accommodating for genre, Cecil would fit in pretty well with the Bartlet administration.

Even as she’s kicking the asses of magical muggers, Cecil shouts, “Please turn yourselves in. I’ll represent you in court!”

That’s a hero I can root for.

Wizard Barristers scooter

3. There is, however, a creepy amount of fanservice centering around a 17 year-old girl. I try not to judge, because I don’t have the cultural context to view things like this – I’m reasonably versed in Japanese film, but that’s not enough to be able to start making claims about what should or should not be acceptable in someone else’s culture.

This is complicated by the fact that I have a number of friends who utilize kawaii (cute or “lolita” fashion) in their own careers and, as our own Vanessa Tottle wrote earlier this year (at the bottom of this article), kawaii itself has been co-opted into a borderless counter-culture movement akin to the 70s/80s punk movement in Western culture.

I have a theory as to what’s happening in the fanservice and why it’s actually used in a socially conscious way, but that doesn’t mean that I’m completely at peace with it. At least they’re fairly equal opportunity about it, featuring buff men as well as buxom women. I like seeing a professional setting dominated by women – that’s a plus – I just imagine that in the U.S. this law firm would have about a dozen well-deserved sexual harassment claims against it in its first day.

Wizard Barristers Erari Quinn

4. Wizard Barristers does do an excellent job of addressing cultural stigmas. There’s a repeated criticism of the justice system and its automatic assumption of guilt for those who are in any way different. I know this is an issue with the Japanese court system, but believe me, theirs is far from the only culture guilty of this.

While the first big case concerns a “wud” and self-defense (killing a robber at the bank he used to work for), it’s not just his being a magic user that’s put on trial, it’s his being a social outlier. He was forced to resign from the bank because he wasn’t socially accepted, and now his guilt is more easily presumed for the same reason. One of the pleasures of Wizard Barristers is that it’s pretty easy to underestimate, which means it surprises you pretty regularly.

Wizard Barristers Erari Quinn 2

5. One thing you have to appreciate about limited run anime (animes that run for 12 episodes like this one), is that the plot MOVES. By the third episode, we’ve already got a cleverly orchestrated terrorist attack on the magic court itself. It holds accountable a justice system that declares a homicide accidental while demanding the death sentence, yet turns around and lets another wizard live for clearly premeditated murder.

It suggests a court system of who you know and the quality of your defense, not a system of effective justice, and this is the through-line Wizard Barristers keeps revisiting.

6. Like I said, I meant to write about this as a lark…but the stories are good, the world-building is solid, the mysteries are just complex enough to bear out a 23 minutes-an-episode pace, and – most importantly – the characters are utterly fantastic. I am elitist as they get about animation – I don’t watch a lot of it, so I don’t like to waste my time – but Wizard Barristers is worth the investment. This show is much better than expected.

Wizard Barristers restaurant fight

7. Let’s pick an episode out to illustrate what I mean. “Six Nine” is the best of the bunch. It all focuses on investigating one case, trying to clear another wizard barrister of murder. There’s a cutaway to the overall series arc about how Cecil is some ubermagician foretold in blah-blah-blah, but it’s pretty inconsequential to the episode.

The more intense focus on Cecil and her frustrating working relationship with the office geezer is the real standout. He works at a snail’s pace, she’s gung ho – only later does she start to realize how observant and clever he is, and how he solves the case while she’s busy demanding a new partner. It’s an episode that relies only on character to tell its story and Cecil’s character is strong enough to hold it up.

8. Of course, the ubermagician blah blah blah starts to derail the “one case an episode” approach, but I can’t compliment a series for its fast pace and then complain it’s moving too fast, can I? In truth, this is a show that I feel is stronger in this more serialized approach, but it’s not as if it loses any quality by developing more overall arc. It just shifts direction, and ultimately, I’d rather a show do something well and move on than settle into doing nothing else.

Wizard Barristers cosplay

9. The sixth episode, “Hero Show,” might have the cleverest social commentary. Cecil and another barrister cosplay TV superheroes at a convention, ostensibly for yet more fanservice. The twist is that they’re kidnapped along with four young children. When they save the day, they do it dressed as heroes, and the children marvel at their magic.

This is the same magic those children will grow to hate and fear, and whose practitioners they’ll ostracize as adults. Their parents shy from the ‘wuds.’ It’s a clever way to hammer the message in – hate isn’t natural, it’s taught at home.

10. Food, and where I think the fanservice might be doing something interesting. The plot always seems to be taking place over food. Someone on the writing staff has clearly worked in an office before, and knows that nothing moves in one without food.

That may sound like it drags down the series but, to the contrary, it helps give the world a better sense of place (characters aren’t just doing things that are plot-relevant in every scene) and it speeds things up – there’s a great deal of motion and interaction to eating, and this can give an energy to exposition that’s missing in many shows.

It’s also the biggest reason I pause in criticizing the fanservice too much. It’s ALWAYS attached to food. I have to wonder if they’re using the expectation of fanservice in this kind of show as a commentary that, if there’s one thing sexy women all do, it’s not starving themselves – they eat. If you have to include fanservice, that’s an encouraging message to include with it.

This focuses on the first half of the season. I’ve watched more and will probably write more on it, as the show changes pretty considerably after this. Overall, though, I’d recommend it, which I didn’t think I would when I set in. It delivers a lot of social commentary in sly, smart ways that – like Cecil herself – you wouldn’t necessarily expect given its outward appearance.

You can watch Wizard Barristers in its entirety for free on Hulu.

Wizard Barristers Cecil

10 Things I Thought While Watching “King Arthur”

King Arthur and his Merry Men

by Gabriel Valdez

1. Ah, King Arthur. It takes a special dedication to make a movie so inaccurate when it’s based on events no one can agree on because they never happened. This is what Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) made when his Strangers on a Train remake fell through. It’s too bad. Denzel would’ve killed that. Instead, Fuqua took over for King Arthur after Michael Bay left. How well does a film designed for Michael Bay marry with the sensibilities of the guy who directed Training Day? Pretty much how you’d expect.

2. Look, writer David Franzoni had to cash in on his Gladiator cred somehow after Gladiator 2 failed to get off the ground. King Arthur would be his last screenplay, however. Of Gladiator‘s two other writers, William Nicholson would hit a dry spell until 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

John Logan, who essentially reworked the Gladiator screenplay into the film we know and love, would be the only writer to build his career off the Oscar-winning film. After a bumpy run through The Time Machine and Star Trek: Nemesis, he hit his stride with The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd, Rango (I’d argue his best work), and Hugo. He’d then regress (all the way to the bank) on Skyfall and is now the go-to James Bond writer.

3. The cast here is ridiculous, especially in retrospect. Clive Owen is King Arthur, Ioan Gruffudd is Lancelot, Keira Knightley is Guinevere. Also featured are Mads Mikkelsen, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Dancy, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, and Stellan Skarsgard. Unfortunately, how they’re used is also ridiculous. Arthur and his knights are enslaved Roman soldiers. Knightley is a Boudica analogue who will slice your throat unless there’s a handsome protagonist nearby, at which point she gets awful short of breath and goes all Wuthering Heights on you. Merlin’s her Celtic chieftain, and everyone’s running from Ray Winstone and his army of Saxons.

4. Poor Ray Winstone. Always the villain leading an evil army. I like to think that he has a real life army devoted solely to him, and even when he’s not playing an evil general, they follow him onto set in homemade costumes anyway. They watch Noah and cheer for him, and hang photos of Winstone above their fireplace so they can pray for vengeance on fools and knaves every night. You know what I’d like to see? A buddy comedy starring Ray Winstone, Sean Bean, Mark Strong, and Ben Kingsley. You know, like Wild Hogs, only good. Jack McBrayer plays the villain.

5. That’s pretty annoying, Ioan Gruffudd, I’m fairly certain Keira Knightley could’ve axed that guy in the face all on her own. King Arthur likes to pretend it’s on the side of Guinivere being a badass, but really, she only gets to be a badass when she’s in flowing, idyllic robes or in her Celtic stripper uniform (all the men wear anachronistic, full plate armor). Her costuming subscribes to a virgin/whore dichotomy and she ends up marrying whoever lives out of the Arthur/Lancelot duo. At least Camelot is about an affair Guinevere can enjoy. Here, Guinevere’s just a prize for the victor.

King Arthur Keira Knightley forgot her armor at home

6. Knightley’s always been intriguing to me. King Arthur may include her worst performance, but that can be said for much of its cast. The very first Pirates of the Caribbean had come out a year earlier, and when she was engaged for the sequel in 2006, she insisted that the film include swordfighting scenes for her Elizabeth Swann. Hence, she got a barfight and was as crucial (and capable) a part of the climactic beach battle as Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.

7. Some of these shots are ridiculous. Clive Owen comes riding out on his mighty steed, from the gate of Hadrian’s Wall. Never mind that it’s a pretty thin wall when it comes to military fortifications, and since the Romans have abandoned the whole thing, the Saxons could just avoid what they know is a trap, trot a few miles down the road, and bind up a few ladders to cross over it.

8. One more thing on this dumb wall: when Owen comes riding out, you can’t see the fields and buildings that are supposed to be beyond the gate. No greenery, no matte backdrop. There’s no existence, no sign of all the Roman facilities we saw earlier. I get that the wall set is built in a completely different place than the Roman settlement set is, but not having what would’ve been ten feet worth of backdrop to connect the two is just lazy. Through the gate you can only see very artificial blackness and fog. It’s like Gandalf recollecting a Saruman warning: “Hadrian’s Wall…You fear to go into England. The Romans delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Bowness-on-Solway…blackness and fog.”

Clive Owen reacts to King Arthur

9. The fight choreography in this leaves much to be desired. The stunt coordination of larger battle scenes isn’t bad, but when it gets to the one-on-one fights, half of the Celt choreography is to spin 360 degrees for no reason whatsoever. The Saxons, meanwhile, never bother to take advantage of their enemies’ unprotected backsides. They wait for the Celts to get done spinning, at which point the Celt swings his axe willy-nilly, the Saxon kind of stands there looking at it, and everyone’s suddenly surprised it’s buried in his lung. “We are defeated, my lord. The Celts – we had no idea they might spin!”

10. If you’re looking for a better version of this, go with Neil Marshall’s far more badass Centurion, which stars Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko. It has nothing to do with King Arthur, but it’s a better movie about Roman soldiers in ancient Britain who are abandoned beyond the wall by an untrustworthy empire. It’s more focused, has spots of gorgeous cinematography that stick in my head, and includes a rather poignant twist – which is rare in an historical action movie:

Neil Marshall also made this educational documentary about life in Scotland starring Rhona Mitra.

EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that Stellan Skarsgard actually played the leader of the villainous Saxons, and Ray Winstone played one of Arthur’s knights. My mistake. I maintain everything else I say about Ray Winstone cult worship. Skarsgard probably just got the Ray Winstone Army as a loan by promising some sort of blood oath or firstborn or Daniel Craig’s autograph.

10 Things I Thought While Watching “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story”

Saved by the Photoshop

by Gabriel Valdez

I mean, aside from “Why am I doing this?” and “Who else could bring us this magic but Lifetime?”

Yeah, it’s bad, but I knew that coming in. Why is it bad, though? Bad movies can be awful in so many different ways. What special route does The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story take?

1. It’s occasionally narrated by Sam Kindseth’s Dustin Diamond, who played Screech. It’s all based on Diamond’s tell-all book Behind the Bell. I hope you’ll forgive me that I’ve never read it. Certainly, if you’ve read it, I probably won’t forgive you.

It’s a smart move on paper, since Diamond had the most tumultuous post-Saved by the Bell career, involving drugs and a porn appearance. Kindseth sells us Diamond, more or less, but during the film-within-a-film re-enactments of specific Saved by the Bell episodes, he falls very short of emulating Screech. This is actually where most of the actors fail. We’re willing to buy into the idea that they’re believably embodying the real-life actors they’re meant to portray. Yet they rarely feel up to the task of delivering on the specific character roles in Saved by the Bell. That disconnect is pretty crucial, and is the single biggest weakness in most behind-the-scenes bios about actors.

2. Dylan Everett does a pretty solid baby Mark-Paul Gosselaar, but Gosselaar filled out across the show more than any other cast member. Make-up and costume do a solid job of making the rest of the cast mature, but a bit of darker hair color is all Zack gets. He looks more and more like the baby of the cast, which doesn’t fit reality or the direction the plot takes regarding his developing into a leader. His lack of aging feels very off, especially when it’s so correctable through make-up and costume. You can’t make an actor taller, but you can have him stand on off-screen platforms, or stick lifts in his shoes.

3. Alyssa Lynch plays Tiffany Thiessen, who played Kelly on Saved by the Bell. She looks very little like Thiessen, and acts even less like her. If you’re making a Saved by the Bell biopic, your Zack and Kelly ought to be compelling in some way. Everett’s vaguely solid, but Lynch is a plain miss. It’s not her fault; she’d be fine in any number of other projects. You have to lay most of the blame on casting and the sheer lack of energetic directing.

4. The ones that work: Taylor Russell does a pretty good Lark Voorhies, who played Lisa. She gets the syncopation of Lisa’s voice and her weird stances down, while showing some range in the behind-the-scenes muckety-muck.

5. If this whole thing were about Mario Lopez (who played A.C. Slater), Julian Works wouldn’t pull it off. In short bursts of story, though, Works embellishes on the actor’s easy charm and self-confident air. He’s well implemented as flavor for the rest of the story.

Saved by the Total Lack of Lighting

6. Tiera Skovbye. That’s where this whole thing’s at. She doesn’t look all that much like Elizabeth Berkley, who played Jessie, but man does she seem like Elizabeth Berkley. That’s what we call the Oliver Stone effect – to seem so much like a real person that you can convince an audience you look exactly like them, even when you clearly don’t.

Skovbye nails a re-enactment of the famous “caffeine pills” scene in which Saved by the Bell addressed drug addiction. Looking back at that scene, I can see how it gave kids pause and why it became important. In the best decision this movie makes (and there aren’t many), they don’t show us Skovbye re-enacting Berkley’s scene during filming, but rather rehearsing it in front of her fellow cast. This allows her to play the scene slightly differently, and Skovbye nails it in a way that gives you real, momentary hope for the film as a whole. Most of these cast members are just emulating real-life actors. Skovbye’s the only one owning her role and making it into something new.

7. So if you’re going to rank this thing in terms of “feels like a real person,” you go with Skovbye’s Berkley, you wait a bit so that everyone understands what a giant gap there is between her and the other actors, and then you list Works’s Lopez, Russell’s Voorhies, Everett’s Gosselaar, Kindseth’s Diamond, and then finally Lynch’s Thiessen. It’s weird then that the movie focuses on Everett, Kindseth, and Lynch. Yeah, there’s a script to follow, but for something as wooden as this, you’ve got to create opportunities for the actors who really nail their characters: Skovbye, Works, and Russell. The filmmaking behind this is by-the-numbers as can be, however. That’s a critic’s polite way of saying it’s unbelievably lazy. I think Unauthorized realizes what it has in certain actors and doesn’t have in others. It just couldn’t care less.

8. Among other things, I learned that Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a quarter Indonesian. This is what I mean when I talk about not judging an actor’s ethnicity unless you’ve truly done your research. (I’ve fact-checked this and, yes, he is.) In my mind, Gosselaar was only ever Caucasian. Never assume when writing or commenting on an actor’s ethnicity. Always do your research.

9. On a long list of glaring mistakes: After Thiessen and Berkley quit the show – I’d say it’s a piece of backstory I was never aware of, but that’s true for the whole thing – they spot their replacement as they leave the set. This would be Leanna Creel, who played biker Tori.

I realize you don’t want to pay for another starring role, and Creel only appeared during the last season…but having two actresses point at someone off-screen and talk about her for a scene while never showing us who they’re looking at screams out, “We’re being super-lazy here, folks. In fact, we just don’t care about our audience by this point because you’ve already watched 90% of the ads.”

If it’s budgetary (it’s not), there are a number of crowd scenes. Certainly, you can cut one extra out, fit a curly wig and leather jacket on her, and have her dress like Creel. I’m sure most people watching this (especially after two hours of it) are fans who remember the show fondly. A single cutaway to an actress playing Creel, speaking silently to a PA, wouldn’t have cost much (or anything), and is the kind of fan service for which a project like this exists. Failing to include Creel isn’t a mistake on its own, but centering a scene in which two characters talk about her from across the room while never showing her? That’s representative of the amount of effort put into this whole, shoddy project.

Saved by the Bell cap

10. So how would I make a Saved by the Bell expose? I’m glad you asked. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. First off, I’d reveal something worth calling this mess an expose. We hear about the actors’ bad behavior after the fact, but we never get to see it. This causes quite a few scenes of high-drama scolding. Ooh, glad I stayed up to watch infant Zack (I’m beginning to think Everett is a real-life Benjamin Button) get yelled at!

Honestly, Saved by the Bell took more risks than its expose ever does. There either isn’t enough material in the show’s backstory to create a compelling two hours, or Lifetime didn’t want to upset fans by using it. Alternately, if you’d centered this on one character, like Diamond, and really pushed home his coming-of-age story, you could make something. Unauthorized makes empty gestures toward that, but it hardly cares enough to find a way to make it work.

Or you could have made this whole thing less of an expose and more about fan service, re-enacting more famous scenes and pushing the glossy side of the actors’ lives. If it’s not about schadenfreude, make it about nostalgia. It wouldn’t have made the movie better, but it could have made it more fun, and “watchable” would be a monumental improvement. This was never the script and hardly the cast to do that, but it is an alternate option should anyone ever seek to tell this non-story again.

But how would I do it? I’d David Lynch the bejesus out of it, that’s how. It wouldn’t be a Lifetime movie then, but who cares? The whole thing already has a film-within-a-film element going, and when faced with a cast that’s pretty incapable of performing, you’re guaranteed something worthwhile just by screwing with them. When are they acting? Are you Zack right now? Are you Mark-Paul Gosselaar? Are you Dylan Everett being fitted for the Tiffany Thiessen wardrobe? Why are there miniature Germans running around in dumpster trash? BECAUSE I’M DAVID LYNCH, THAT’S WHY!

Are the mobs of people outside the studio here for you, or are they – like you – just a figment of Mr. Belding’s imagination? As is all the world. Best of all, you stick a neon pink frame around it and use cheap, shimmery dream effects for the fade-out, and you pretty much have a Saved by the Bell episode right there.

Look, maybe it was late and The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was the most interminable piece of dreck I’ve seen this year (and I’ve watched The Strain), but I’m confident a little Twin Peaks storyline mixed with cotton candy editing could have livened this wreck up. Either that or give it to the guy who did Sharknado.

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story comes out on DVD/Blu-ray on November 3, brought to you by Lionsgate. So that’s what they’re doing with all that Saw money. Prepare your best drinking games, America, for this is the very reason they exist.

Don’t click on this, whatever you do:

10 Things I Thought While (Re)Watching “The Chronicles of Riddick”

How You Doin'

by Gabe Valdez

1. Let’s be completely honest here: The entire point of this film is Karl Urban’s make-up and hair.

2. I like hearing Judi Dench’s voice from a different room and not being able to tell whether she’s chewing out Pierce Brosnan in Bond or Vin Diesel in Chronicles. Someone needs to get a soundboard of her best castigations together stat.

3. Thandie Newton’s good in this. Really good. She alternates between dramatic delivery and chewing the scenery, but it’s rare we see a film giving a woman the leeway to ham it up so villainously.

Chronicles of Riddick 1

4. Alexa Davalos has had a very unlucky career. I remember first taking note of her as a briefly recurring character on Angel. She stole the two episodes in which she appeared. Chronicles failed to take off and her next big break wasn’t until the Clash of the Titans remake. She was the female lead, but the studio stepped in and forced director Louis Letterier to reshoot huge chunks of the film. She was all but cut out, and replaced as the love interest in an expanded role for Gemma Arterton’s character, which is weird since Arterton played the hero’s half-sister. Whatever, Hollywood logic. Davalos later had a lead in Mob City, which shot 6 episodes before cancellation.

Chronicles of Riddick lead

5. Chronicles is the definition of fulfilling the first rule of the Bechdel Test and failing the last two – there are multiple female characters, but they don’t speak to each other. The women each exert a certain amount of power over their male counterpart, which makes them read as strong, but in terms of story, they’re really only there as motivators to help the men get to new plot points – Dench as oracle to Colm Feore’s villain, Newton as the Lady Macbeth to Urban, and Davalos as the damsel in distress to Diesel’s heroic machismo. I have a very hard time saying whether they’re strong women – they shoot, kill, and exert political power – or if their roles are wasted – they disappear every time a man makes a new story decision. The truth lies in the middle, I think. You can give the movie credit for some decisions and hold it accountable for others.

6. This has pretty reasonable fight choreography, but it’s edited far too aggressively. I’ve always liked director David Twohy’s brashness when it comes to action. You’re expecting a gritty fight? Maybe the music cuts out and it’s just grunts and dirt and sweat for a few minutes? Not Twohy’s style: let’s drop the sound, pump up the orchestra, and cut it like some sort of ballet. It doesn’t always work – in fact, it doesn’t often work – but damn, if it doesn’t keep you glued to see what crazy scene experiment he’s going to try next.

7. The production design by Holger Goss here is stellar, but I think much of the real input may have come from art director Kevin Ishioka, whose resume in the same position includes Avatar, TRON: Legacy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Oblivion (perhaps the single most overlooked accomplishment in art direction of the past few years). In fact, there are a lot of technical elements that stand out as truly superior. Mark W. Mansbridge has worked with Ishioka often since then and Sandra Tanaka moved on to an art direct on Pacific Rim. Peter Lando was set decorator and he later moved onto the Dark Knight trilogy. The make-up department included a number of luminaries, including Ve Neill (who won Oscars for makeup in Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ed Wood, in addition to designing the creature makeup in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and appearing as a judge in SyFy’s wonderful makeup design competition Face/Off). No one will remember Chronicles this way because of other failings, but the technical side of this movie boasted a dream team of designers.

Oh Linus

8. I wish Linus Roache had appeared like this more often during his stint as an ADA on Law & Order.

9. Back to Karl Urban for a second. Hasn’t the man proven he should be given a franchise of his own? Doom, Riddick, Dredd, Star Trek, Almost Human? They’re not all good…well, the last four are to varying degrees, but he’s very good in all of them. Hell, throw the rest of the baby Star Trek cast out and just follow Urban. Dr. Leonard McCoy’s Adventures in Space. I’d watch that. I’d buy the lunchboxes or whatever. Just do it. I’m really not asking that much. Someone give Karl Urban a job. Feed Karl Urban.

Chronicles of Riddick 2

10. That’s a damn good sci-fi climax, both in terms of the logic of the end fight, and in terms of setting up for something truly different for a sequel. It’s a shame then that follow-up Riddick retcons every single plot point in Chronicles in its first few minutes. (Go read Russ Schwartz’s perfect review of Riddick.) They could have made The Cult of Riddick or The Conquests of Riddick or Empire of Riddick, or just ripped off Hercules and gone with Riddick in the Underverse, which would’ve been the most obvious since everyone in Chronicles brings up the Underverse every five minutes and by the time the credits roll, we still have no clue what it is. Instead, we got Riddick Sexually Harasses Katee Sackhoff for Two Hours.