Review — The Boys

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed anything (one nonfiction book, a convention?, and a podcast are all that I’ve done in the last year), and it’s been especially long since I’ve done any piece of media. Wait. I still haven’t done a review of Yesterday? Putting that on my to-do list so I don’t keep forgetting. Anyway, I recently watched Season One of The Boys, which was different in a lot of ways. Two things to note here: I won’t throw in any spoiler-related commentary until the end, which will be obvious. The second thing is that it really deserves its R (X?) rating, as there is lots of swearing, gore, and sex. This review itself won’t be too graphic, though, so if you’re just interested in my thoughts, you’re good to go.

Now, I don’t really watch TV shows. As a rule, they are very time consuming and require your full attention, so as a rule of me enjoying efficiency and multitasking, I tend to spend my free time elsewhere. I was interested in The Boys though, because its premise was very similar to one of my favorite book series The Reckoners, written by Brandon Sanderson. (You can read my review on the first book here). To sum up both plots, the premise is that superheroes are evil and exploiting the world to suit their wants and needs (mostly wants), and the main characters are a group of normal people teaming up to take them down. In The Boys, this takes the form of “the superheroes are all apart of a super big corporation that only cares about making money, so superheroes are the posterchildren for printing fat stacks.

So, ups and downs of the first season? Well, I’ll start with the bad news, which is that exactly one character in the entire show has any likability (if you really need a hint, it’s Starlight), and everyone else is either evil and self-righteous, or consumed with revenge. (Okay, I do also like Mother’s Milk and Queen Maeve, but I’m not exactly rooting for either of them to succeed). Since I didn’t like any of the characters, basically anything anyone did disappointed me. “Oh, no, what have you done…? Oh no, not you, too… Really? Was that necessary?” And so on. Nothing that happened was satisfying, it was just… interesting enough to keep me going. Side note: I think the casting on this show is amazing, it’s the characters themselves that make me wince.

The show would be a lot better if Hughie, the main character, is likable. But he just isn’t. When his girlfriend is killed at the beginning of the first episode (the inciting incident, it’s in the trailers), he gets wrapped up in everything in order to get revenge. When he’s faced with some difficult decisions, he makes interesting choices for sure, but he is never painted in a light that makes him relatable. Maybe that’s subjective, but I had a hard time agreeing with any of the decisions he ultimately made. (I’ll also say that he often operates in a moral grey. When he did the ‘right thing’, sometimes I shook my head in confusion, but when he did the ‘wrong thing’, it felt out of character. His personality can be confusing sometimes.)

That said, the story was interesting, and expressed compelling social arguments, which I love. And all of those things were introduced in a very believable way. This doesn’t happen in the show, but if I’m running for president and I get the opportunity to set my opponent’s house on fire with the guarantee I will never be found out, why wouldn’t I do that? A lot of the stuff the character actions in the show fits that mentality. It also has some really good humor, like when Butcher is talking about the Spice Girls, and when the conversation ends the scene cuts to “elsewhere” and The Spice Girls is playing.

If you had asked me if I was enjoying the series after any episode, I would shrugged. It definitely wasn’t a ‘no’, as I continued watching it, but I often felt too uncomfortable with what was happening to really say I liked it. The season finale though, is really good. I love how all the pieces were put in place for the second season, because it gave me hope that I can finally start cheering some of the characters on.

Alright. Spoiler Free section is over. Now for the episode commentary.

I have three big issues with the first season. The first is the most glaring issue of the fact that Compound V is so secret and so hard to get, but later we find out basically anyone with money knows about it. I simply cannot believe that it could be so well hidden if simple folk like Starlight’s mom know the full “truth” of what is going on. That’s a simple fix, too. Tell people you can make their child a superhero as long as they grant custody for a few weeks and sign a waiver saying the kid might die in the process. The parents are provided no details on how they are superfied. Done.

Second issue is also based in my suspension of disbelief. There is no way in a million years that Vought would have The Deep “out” himself after what Starlight said at the convention. I believe it is conceivable that the public wouldn’t settle down, but basically throwing away one of the Seven to save some PR is ridiculous. What they probably would have done was hire some random guy to confess publicly, hand him ten million dollars, then shove him off to Antarctica in case anyone wants to crucify him for something he didn’t actually do. There would definitely be people lining up to take the fall if there was enough incentive. It seems especially weird that they ship him off since they don’t make any moves to replace Translucent or The Deep after they’re both gone. Why did Lamplighter need to be replaced if the other two weren’t important enough for it? I get that he publicly retired (which I just know will be revealed not to be the case), but it still seems weird that The Seven is now The Five and Vought is doing basically nothing to acknowledge that.

My last problem is that I hate how Butcher shot Starlight at the end of Episode 7. It does nothing except frustrate the viewer. It didn’t even advance the plot! Butcher might have assumed she was luring Hughie into a trap, but the fact that Hughie runs after she is shot makes it really hard for me to believe that she could ever see any good in him, especially with how that conversation ended. “Hey, you made my job even more of a nightmare than it already was, lied to me about being a nice person, ruined my whole perception of reality, then had your friend shoot me so you could run off without redeeming yourself? Uh, no, I don’t think I’m going to be seeing you again, sorry.” But also, if they wanted to go that route, it stands to reason that she should become an enemy of the Boys at least for a while. Instead, Hughie redeems himself in thirty-minutes as far as the audience is concerned.

As far as the final episode goes, though, I thought it was fantastic. Homelander really pulled a curveball on me in the situation with Butcher, and the reveal that Butcher’s wife is still alive (and has a son) wasn’t really surprising, but it was compelling, and made me very interested to see how that interaction plays out. I’m also really glad that Starlight finally joined the “good” side, and now that all the main characters are playing for the same team, I feel like I can finally root for them. Mostly Starlight though because everyone else sucks.

P.S. I don’t want to know more about Black Noir. I loved scenes like where he stole the piano from that guy with just a look.

Review — The Count of Monte Cristo

You know, the Review portion of this blog is pretty much meant to get me to watch, read, or play something new every week. Ideally it would be me talking about “the new thing I did this week”, but I’m really bad at that. The most recent movie I watched was a month ago for a film class, but it was a very political movie and I don’t like getting into politics.

So, instead, let’s talk about the best movie ever made: Count of Monte Cristo. (The 2002 film. There may or may not be other feature length films of the same title.)

I’ll start with the qualification that, as a rule, I don’t like re-experiencing things. Very often, it feels like a waste of time. I don’t want to reread the same story, watch the same movie, or play the same game when there’s an unquantifiable amount of things to experience. My life is one of productivity and efficiency, which is contrary to that whole idea.

Count of Monte Cristo is a rare exception in my world because I feel like I’m watching a different movie every time. I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times by now, and with every new viewing I catch things I hadn’t noticed that re-contextualize character motivations. This movie is a masterpiece in a lot of ways, though as always, I do still have a few gripes. Spoilers ahead, though, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a classic.

Before I get into my nitpicks, let me provide some context (if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t care about spoilers). It would be an injustice for me to attempt to explain the plot in just a paragraph or two, but I’ll try anyway. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, is a simple and poor young man is given a lucky break and promoted to Captain of the merchant ship he works on. Powerful people around him are consumed with varying levels of jealousy, contempt, and fear, and Edmond, though apparently innocent, gets thrown into a high security prison, and his family is told that he died. Years go by, he breaks out, finds riches and then the last third of the movie is basically an elaborate scheme as he exacts revenge on everyone who wronged him.

As I already touched on, this movie does an amazing job at establishing depth. Everyone who betrayed him had different reasons for doing so, and all were compelling and believable. Jealousy seems simple until you see that it comes from a rich man coveting the happiness his poor friend has. Even lesser characters have very clear and understandable wants, which is no small feat. Nobody in this movie is a plot device, not even Napoleon Bonaparte, who was basically written in to be a plot device, as he is only in the first few scenes of the movie. I will say though, this comes at a cost. With how much subtle context and layering everything has, you won’t catch everything if you only see it the one time. Points off for that, but as long as you’re not confused as to the main plot, it’s more or less fine.

But what astounds me the most about this movie is that it isn’t really structured like most stories. The entire last third of the movie is the main character just getting what he wants. There’s a climax, yes, but it isn’t really filled with conflict. When he is given everything, you are no longer watching to see if Edmond will get his revenge, you’re merely watching to see what the revenge turns out to be. It doesn’t contain nearly as much suspense, and nothing to the degree of the chase scene as he resists arrest and is betrayed by a friend, or when he hatches his plan to escape from the Chateau D’if.

I would compare it to a torture film, actually, where all the people are getting their just desserts. Only, in this movie, the torturer is our main character and is doing it in the name of justice, and it feels great. In all my years of schooling and whatnot, I myself still cannot wrap my head around the exact reason this movie works. Maybe I just need to watch more soap operas. (Not that Count of Monte Cristo is overly dramatic, it’s just… opulent.)

So, nitpicks. As I said, the amount of layers it has does sort of detract from it for me. I honestly did not love it the first time I saw it. A good film, to be sure, but it probably wasn’t my all-time favorite movie until I had seen it three or four times. I mean, Edmond has plotted his revenge meticulously for years. But when he’s going through with his plans, you won’t catch the nuances of how and why the first time, because at no point does he tell the audience “first, I’m going to kidnap his daughter and frame his uncle for murder etc etc”. No, you just know he has plans and then watch as they unfold.

Also, I didn’t realize I had this problem until writing this, but Luigi Vampa, the Captain of the pirate ship Edmond becomes a crew member of after he finds himself a free man, isn’t in the movie enough. JB Blanc does an amazing job with his character, and it’s a shame he’s only a minor part. It isn’t often I see a gentleman thief character done to my satisfaction.

Overall, the best movie. Solid period piece, even if it isn’t 100% faithful to history, awesome character development, good subtly, and a really interesting plot progression. Also Henry Cavill is in it.

(P.S. to prove how many layers of character depth this story has, here’s a character sheet, though I think it’s from the book, not the movie. So simplify it by like 15%.)

 

Review — La La Land (Opening Scene)

In the opening scene of La La Land (2016), hundreds of cars are parked on the freeway in a huge traffic jam. The camera pans across several open windows of varying types and genres of music playing, until one by one, people start getting out of their cars to start dancing and singing the same number.

This is the classic opening to a musical because it’s doing a number of things simultaneously, using the song to establish things like setting, premise, and characters. Musicals are interesting in that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the numbers are diegetic. Often I’m of the opinion that musical numbers aren’t diegetic, because it’s impossible to have so many strangers understand the same choreography, not to mention the absurdity of the situation. Obviously an entire band wouldn’t just be sitting in the back of a loading truck playing as the truck is rolling down the freeway, so these characters and situations can be seen as metaphorically expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a number like this, all the characters are expressing the same internal feeling, not just backing up and reinforcing the main character’s feelings. In fact, “Another Day of Sun” is meant to convey the struggle of staying happy in hard times, which is a core theme of the movie. The two lead roles in La La Land are also absent until after the song ends, even though they are also in this traffic jam. This helps to show that these two are no different from everyone else: nameless nobody’s just waiting for a break.

The camera panning across the freeway to feature skateboarders and dancers is iconic to the genre because musicals are all about spectacles. Watching crazy and awesome things happen in what would otherwise be totally normal situations, so the camera needs to capture every interesting thing. What’s more, most people in this dance number are wearing bright colors to help set the tone of the movie.

At the end of the number, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both shown in this traffic jam. The audience might assume that they participated in the dance number, and are thus a part of the huge crowd of people that want to make something of themselves. If not, though, they can be seen as outcasts trying to live their lives without putting on a show. Their role in this scene helps snap the world back to reality (which adds credence to the dance number being a metaphor rather than an actual thing that happened in the movie), and it also establishes drama that the first interaction the two of them have is a negative one.

Overall, it’s a great opening scene. It establishes the world the characters are in very well and immediately gives the audience a good idea of what the main characters are striving towards, and I think the fact that the two stars are not in the opening number does a better job at setting this up than the alternative, because if they were also the “stars” of the dance number, then it would imply that they are destined to be something, which is the opposite of what the takeaway of this scene should be.