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  • Maggie

    Maggie_(film)_POSTER

    Maggie is a terrific and sad film about a father who finds himself helpless as his teenage daughter slowly dies.  It’s a thoughtful and heart-rendering film and it’s one of the best of the year so far.  Unfortunately, you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at some of the reviews.

    Of course, there’s nothing new about a good film getting bad reviews.  I’m actually surprised that anyone even bothers with reviewers anymore, considering just how often they get things wrong.  There are any number of reasons why good films get dismissed.  Some movies are genuinely ahead of their time.  Some critics prefer to judge based on genre than by what they actually see on screen.  Occasionally, a critic feels obligated to like or dislike a movie based on the politics or culture of the moment.  The fact of the matter is that most film critics like to feel important and the easiest way to feel important is to hop onto a bandwagon with all of the other critics.

    So, what’s the excuse as far as Maggie is concerned?  Why does Maggie, one of the best films of the year so far, only have a rating of 51% on rotten tomatoes?  In Maggie‘s case, it’s a combination of genre (Maggie is a zombie film and there’s a lot of critics who still feel guilty over liking The Walking Dead) and star.  Maggie has been promoted as being an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, even though his role is essentially a supporting one.  The majority of critics have been willing to admit that Schwarzenegger gives a good performance but they always have to qualify the praise.  As a result, you have critics at both Hitflix and the A.V. Club writing that Schwarzenegger’s performance works because his character is designed to take advantage of Schwarzenegger’s limitations as an actor, as if all good performances aren’t, to some degree, the result of good casting.  In order to make up for praising Schwarzenegger (who is not only an action star but a Republican as well, which is a combination that many reviewers — especially those who work exclusively online — will never be able to see beyond), many critics undoubtedly feel obligated to be overly critical ofMaggie.

    (What does that 51% mean anyway?  That Maggie is 51% good?)

    Maggie_1

    As for the film itself, it tells a simple story, one to which a lot of people will undoubtedly relate.  As the film opens, we learn that the zombie apocalypse has already begun.  The world has been hit by a virus.  The infection spreads slowly, forcing the victims and their loved ones to watch as the infected are gradually transformed into mindless and cannibalistic zombies.  However, the U.S. government has reacted with swift and ruthless efficiency.  Martial law has been imposed.  The infected are allowed to say with family up until the disease enters its final stages.  At that point, they’re taken into quarantine and are euthanized.  Though we never actually see a quarantine center, we hear enough about it to know that there is nothing humane about it.  (Indeed, one reason why Maggie is so effective is because we know that the real-life government would probably be even less humane than the film’s government.)  Society has contained the plague but it’s done so at the cost of its own humanity.

    College student Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected.  She was bitten by  a zombie and, as a result, she now has a grotesque black wound on her arm.  As the virus moves through her body, her eyes grow opaque.  Her veins blacken.  When she breaks a now dead finger, she reacts by chopping it off with a kitchen knife.  As there is no cure, all Maggie can do now is wait until she is sent to quarantine.

    Her father, a farmer named Wade (Schwarzenegger), brings Maggie back to his farm with him so that he can take care of her during her final days.  Wade knows what quarantine is like and he has no intention of forcing his daughter to go through that.  With government doctors and police officers constantly and, in some cases, forcefully demanding the he give her up, Wade protects Maggie as best he can.  He sleeps with a rifle at his side, knowing that eventually he’s going to have to use it on his own daughter.

    arnie-crying-e1427327024932

    Maggie is a low-key and thoughtful film, a meditation on life, love, family, and death.  Though the film does feature Schwarzenegger fighting zombies, most of the action happens off-screen.  Instead, we just see the haunting aftermath.  Schwarzenegger doesn’t deliver any one liners in this film and the film deliberately plays down his action hero past.  He’s still got the huge body and the muscles but, in Maggie, they’re not intimidating.  Instead, they’re evidence that Wade has spent his life working the land and they actually emphasize just how helpless Wade is in the face of Maggie’s disease.  Director Henry Hobson makes good use of Schwarzenegger’s heavily-lined and weather-beaten face.  His sad and suspicious eyes communicate everything that we need to know.  When he cries, you don’t consider that you’ve never seen him cry before.  Instead, the moment captures you because the tears and the emotions behind them are real.

    Breslin

    But really, the film ultimately belongs to Abigail Breslin.  It’s appropriate that the film is named after her character because the film really is her story.  Maggie is about how she deals with knowing that she’s going to die and how she searches for meaning in her final days.  It’s a good and heartfelt performance, one that reminded me of Brigitte LaHaie’s poignant work in Jean Rollin’s Night of the Hunted.

    So, ignore the critics.

    Ignore that stupid 51% on Rotten Tomatoes.

    See Maggie.

    Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-MaggieEveryone should be lucky enough to know Lisa Marie Bowman.  Follow her on twitter at @LisaMarieBowman.


  • What I Liked and Didn’t Like about “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

    Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Official-Movie-Poster-2015 (image credit - thefashionisto.com)

    Avengers: Age of Ultron had a very good opening weekend.  Despite falling short of 2012’s The Avengers‘ opening weekend box office, AoU still took in over $191 million in the United States over the course of a long weekend.  It’s the second-biggest U.S. opening in history.  Coming in second to yourself is not bad at all.  On top of which, critics and fans are giving it mostly positive reviews.  I thought I was going to give it a mostly positive review, too.  I laughed at all the jokes (even the really dumb ones), I enjoyed the action, and I even appreciated when it tried to do new things, with both the genre and the franchise.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the things I didn’t like outnumbered the things I did.  (Prepare to read spoilers, obviously.)

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  • Re-Watch: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-HD-Wallpaper (image credit - schmoesknow.com)Captain America: The Winter Soldier is probably my favorite movie in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Yes, even more so than The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.  It holds up better under repeated viewings than the other movies, it has a more interesting plot and characters than…most of the Marvel movies, and most importantly, it’s the most independent of all the films in the series.  It has nothing to do with the Infinity War or trying to build up to a “team movie”.  It’s allowed to simply exist on its own terms.

     

    Now, that’s not to say that doing so doesn’t present any problems or that it’s completely unconnected from the MCU.  The big Hydra reveal in TWS would have been almost useless if it didn’t have the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to provide build up and to carry the storyline past the end of the movie.  In fact, AoS suffered through much of its first season because it had to wait until TWS revealed Hydra’s presence to the world.  But, that’s the nature of the shared universe beast, and I don’t take off (too many) points for that.

     

    I did spend much of the movie wondering why, once Captain America realized he couldn’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, he didn’t go straight to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner for help.  Neither of them trusted S.H.I.E.L.D. either, and were in perfect positions to help him complete his various tasks throughout the film.  But, again, that’s moviemaking for you.  I often wonder, these days, if Marvel bit off more than it could chew by having so many interconnected movies and television shows that sometimes have to act like they’re the only ones in the “universe”.

     

    All that aside, though, like I said, TWS is a great movie.  Action, intrigue, murder, betrayal, redemption, and above all the neverending struggle between freedom and safety are major themes in this film, and they’re done very well.

     

    Captain America has always been Stephen Monteith’s favorite Avenger.  You can read his original fiction at Lulu.com.


  • Re-Watch: Thor: The Dark World

    thor%20the%20dark%20world%20poster (image credit - businessinsider.com)Thor: The Dark World has always been my least favorite Marvel movie, even if Iron Man 3 was the biggest disappointment.  I can’t say that Dark World disappointed me, because after Thor’s first movie, I wasn’t expecting much.

     

    As I said in the re-watch article for Thor, the most disappointing move in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date has been rejecting all magical elements.  They have a chance to correct that mistake with the forthcoming Doctor Strange movie, but they had another chance with Dark World, a chance they again rejected.  The scenes on Asgard were a weird fusion of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, a move that might have been better executed with a bit more magic.

     

    As for the plot itself, I don’t mind that it’s mostly a rehash of the first movie.  Sequel Syndrome isn’t my biggest problem with the film.  What I mind is they introduced yet another villain, the Dark Elf Malekith, and wasted him more than any other Marvel villain to date.  He’s given hardly any screen time, no character development at all, and is disposed of in the most embarrassing manner yet.  At least Laufey, the King of the Frost Giants from the first movie, was killed by a truly interesting villain who managed to return in at least two movies.  And the promotional material for Dark World made it clear who would draw the most focus yet again.  There was no real story to speak of in this film, no conflicts, no drama (unless you count Thor and Jane Foster’s relationship drama), and no point to it except to progress the Infinity Stone storyline.  Once again, Marvel’s overarching storyline advances at the expense of “lesser” characters and plots.

     

    Stephen Monteith is looking forward to seeing another Marvel film that doesn’t simply serve as a stepping stone to Infinity War.  You can read his original fiction at Lulu.com.


  • Preview Roundup – April 18, 2015

    Previews

     

    For our first Preview Roundup in ages, we have a wealth of nerdy films to review, though it’s more quality than quantity.  The previews are presented in order of their movies’ release dates.

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  • Re-Watch: Iron Man Three

    iron-man-3-poster1I was so looking forward to Iron Man 3 when it came out in 2013.  At the same time, I’m certain that no movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave as much…pause before its debut as this one did.  I couldn’t explain it.  The trailers and promotional material all just gave me a very uneasy feeling.  It was confirmed by the movie itself.

     

    I don’t want to harp too much on what I didn’t like about it, since I already penned a full review after seeing it in theaters.  Still, I can’t stress enough how disappointed I was in the villain, Aldrich Killian.  I’m not even talking about the whole “Mandarin twist”.  Killian himself just wasn’t that great a villain.  So Tony Stark stood him up at a New Year’s Eve party, made him spend a night on a roof.  That by itself is probably the worst supervillain origin story in any movie I’ve ever seen.  Even Syndrome, the villain from The Incredibles to whom Killian has been likened, was a child when his “hero” disappointed him.  Killian was a fully grown adult, more than capable of sucking it up and moving on without turning to a life of crime because his idol was a jerk to him.

     

    As for Sir Ben Kingsley, again, I don’t want to retread this ground too much, but he could have been a fantastic villain to bring back again and again and again.  If it weren’t for Marvel’s mistrust of magic, the (real) Mandarin could have used his Ten Rings to give himself enough juice to threaten the entire Avengers team.  And, let’s be honest, that’s probably why Marvel didn’t want to use him.  They’re so invested in the Infinity Stones storyline that they don’t want any of the “lesser” villains to pose a long-term threat to the team.  They want the movies to all lead in to Thanos.  That’s a fine strategy in theory, but it lets potentially awesome villains like the Mandarin fall by the wayside.

     

    Getting back to the movie in question, though, I respect the audacity it took to radically alter the Mandarin’s identity, as well as the inclusion of Tony’s PTSD in the wake of the events in The Avengers and the decision to let him live outside his Iron Man suit for a while.  I don’t even (really) mind him blowing up all his suits at the end and “retire”.  But all these different plot threads and characters and twists and so forth…they just weren’t told that well.  A lot of people think the second film was the worst in the Iron Man franchise; I think this one was.

     

    You can read Stephen Monteith’s original review of Iron Man 3 here, as well as his original fiction at Lulu.com.


  • You May Have Missed This: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

    Back in 1997, much of the world was introduced to the name Nicholas Flamel through the J. K. Rowling novel Harry Potter and the Philospher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone. Hermione discovered that he was a famous wizard who studied alchemy and through the philospher’s stone, achieved immortality.

     

    A decade later, that name came cropping up again. If you know your history, it’s not a new name. When Michael Scott published The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Alchemyst in 2007, some people believed he ripped off ideas from J. K. Rowling. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Nicholas Flamel, and his wife Perenelle, are in fact actual human beings.

     

    The covers of the complete series

    The covers of the complete series

     

    Scott’s book series takes this man of legend, as well as dozens of other myths as historical figures, and molds them into an ingenius, cohesive story. At the center of each characters plot lies immortality. The basic premise is that all these mythical creatures and figures have lived for centuries among us, mere mortal humans.

    Immortality is given to the various characters via different means. For some, they are gods and their genetics are essentially a given right. In addition to it, their children–the Second Generation have the immortal genes. For Nicholas and Perenelle, without the Codex, both of them will die within a month, as their immortality and prolonged youth and longevity depends on a recipe for a special elixir found only within its pages. This elixir changes monthly and cannot be memorised. 

    Dr. John Dee and Niccolo Machiavelli, other historical figures in the series, were born human but given immortality by the gods. A large portion of this series is based around Dee stealing the Codex and the Flamel’s facing mortality as they try to get it back.

    Needless to say, immortality is an interesting element to add in any story, and can be a power obtained through multiple means.

    If you haven’t yet read this series, definitely check it out. It’s well worth your time and a pretty quick read.

     

    A blurry photo of "Flamel" author, Michael Scott, and myself.

    A blurry photo of “Flamel” author, Michael Scott, and myself.

    Mallory Douge is not only the Young Adult Lit expert for Fourth-day, but is involved in the Young Adult Cancer Community. Follow her advocacy effortson Twitter here: @YAKidneyCancer


  • Re-Watch: The Avengers

    newavengersposter (image credit - ifanboy.com)I have always loved 2012’s The Avengers, from the first, second, and third times I saw it in theaters to last night’s re-watch.  Its almost unprecedented blending of characters from different movies into one is the boldest step yet in the superhero/comic book movie genre.  It has great actors, clever writing, and mind-blowing special effects, combined with some of the best action sequences in modern cinema.

     

    But, it does have some flaws that have become more obvious with each repeated viewing.  Joss Whedon is a phenomenal director, first of all; but for those who have watched his previous efforts (namely Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly), it’s a little obvious he revisits his own bag of tricks more than a few times.  Now, for his first mega-blockbuster outing, it might be more fair to call this a “greatest hits” compilation, but we’ll see in next month’s Avengers: Age of Ultron if he has anything new for us.

     

    A few plotholes have stuck out since the very first viewing; for me, at least, and likely for others.  Why wasn’t anyone suspicious that Loki didn’t escape while Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were fighting in the woods?  Was Thor actually trying to murder Tony Stark and Steve Rogers when he swung his hammer at them, and if so, why would they ever trust each other afterwards?  Why did all the Chitauri suddenly collapse like unplugged robots if they’re at least partially organic?  And shouldn’t being “always angry” mean that Bruce Banner is always the Hulk?

     

    I’m willing to overlook all that, and more, because I respect what amounts to a near-impossible movie being made, using characters of which most people were barely conscious before and now are household names.  If I’m hard on the Avengers franchise, it certainly isn’t because I don’t enjoy it.  I’m very much looking forward to what Marvel has for us in the future.

     

    You can read our original review of The Avengers here.  And you can read Stephen Monteith’s original fiction at Lulu.com.


  • The Disease of Immortality

    immortal

     

    Immortality seems like such a straightforward concept, doesn’t it?  You can never die. Or, you can die, but you’ll come back to life.  Or, you can be killed, but you won’t die of “natural causes”.  Or, you’re invulnerable to age, pain, disease, injury, etc.  Or, you still suffer all those things, but they don’t kill you.  Or, you’re a god.  Or a spirit.  Or undead.  Or…

     

    …you get the idea.  It’s not that complicated, but it’s not that simple, either.  For the sake of this article, and this month’s Genre Spotlight, we’re talking about human beings (and other naturally mortal forms of life) who suddenly have the ability to live forever, including those who live until they are killed in some way.  So, for example, the Time Lords from Doctor Who don’t count because they naturally have long lives and will, eventually, die; but Captain Jack Harkness, who had immortality thrust upon him, does count.  Why do we choose this group as the focus?  Because certain tropes, certain story elements are inherent to it.

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  • Re-Watch: Captain America: The First Avenger

    Captain-America-The-First-Avenger-Marvel-Movie-PosterI never understood why more people didn’t like Captain America: The First Avenger.  Of all the Phase One movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it had one of the poorest receptions, both financially and critically.  It was my favorite, however, more so than Iron Man, Thor, and certainly better than The Incredible Hulk.  But, then, I think Man of Steel is the best Superman movie yet, so I’m used to being in the minority opinion.

     

    Still, even upon re-watching it, I don’t see much to not like about Cap’s first film.  Chris Evans does a fine job reinventing himself after his time as the Human Torch in Fox’s Fantastic Four movies.  The movie does the best job it can navigating a complex origin story.  Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell, is easily the strongest and most well-developed female character in the MCU (yes, even more so than Black Widow).  And, it has Hugo Weaving playing Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull.  Of all the Marvel villains who showed up for one movie and were killed off at the end, he’s the one I would have kept around for more (and possibly Ivan Vanko).

     

    There are some legitimate criticisms of the movie, I suppose.  There are some scattered plotholes, the action sequences could have been longer (and better-executed), and any audience outside of the United States is going to shake their heads at a film about a hero wearing the American flag as a uniform.  But, that last one is hardly fair.  I mean, it’s not like he’s Superman and all he needs to do is stopping saying things like “truth, justice, and the American way” and suddenly he’s a global entity.  Captain America’s whole origin story, at least, is meant to be wrapped up in the effort to make him an American symbol.  The movie does try to make him more multicultural, with the involvement of British agents like Peggy Carter, and coalition soldiers being part of his “Howling Commandoes”.  And even Cap himself is given a chance to show how fed up he is with all the jingoism and being used as a stage prop when there are real world issues to handle; perhaps trying to preemptively combat the perception that this movie is an excuse to give America the spotlight, like it did in movies such as Independence Day and even Rocky IV.  But, perhaps the character just needed a couple of more movies to grow beyond that perception.

     

    Stephen Monteith sometimes wonders what the Avengers franchise would have become if Captain America had been made first instead of Iron Man.  You can read his original fiction at Lulu.com.



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