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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Favorite Movies of 2016

For the first time in 2016, I kept a list of every movie that I watched.* It was mostly out of curiosity, after having one too many experiences saying “oh right, I totally forgot I saw that movie” (I do not have the best memory). The end result was that I reached January with a record of just about every movie I saw for the year and some vague notion that it would be worth writing about in some capacity. And the natural extension of that idea was to release some sort of year-end list.

*I would eventually expand it to other mediums as well, so maybe I’ll have another article or two up my sleeve.
However, it feels weird to call it a “best of” list, since there were so many movies from this past year that I didn’t get around to seeing. Meanwhile, a good chunk of the movies I saw this year were just me catching up on things from the past few years that I hadn’t seen. Not to mention that I don’t think that I’m enough of a film scholar to be able to definitely, objectively say one film is “better” than another. So, this list will more so be the films that I liked the most from 2016/the tail-end of 2015 (with a few other movies I saw for the first time this year thrown in), and with at least a couple thoughts on each one. If nothing else, some of these were the germs for full articles that I just couldn’t build off of; maybe finally writing them down will lead to more on them in the future?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Overwatch, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Dealing with a Large Cast (plus a review!)

I recently watched xXx: Return of Xander Cage, and found it extremely satisfying. It’s the best kind of dumb action movie, the kind that knows what it is and pushes itself to be the dumbest and action-iest it can be.

Trying to paint a picture of it is incredible. It’s a James Bond movie where James Bond assembles his own Mission Impossible team, and when they go out for drinks, they eschew the martinis for Red Bull and Everclear. It’s a Fast and the Furious movie that wants to be Super Smash Bros. when it grows up. It’s a movie where a dirtbike get used as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat, and that’s still only the second craziest thing done with a dirtbike (the number one being, of course, when the later dirtbike chase reaches the ocean and both participants convert their vehicles into jetskis to continue unimpeded, because what else were they going to do?). It’s the Avengers, if normal, sort-of-everyday abilities like “great at soccer” or “fantastic DJ and people person” or “real good at crashing cars” were considered superpowers.

As someone who had no prior allegiance to the franchise (indeed, I hadn’t even seen xXx 1 or 2, and I don’t feel particularly compelled to go back and change that at the moment), I am super excited by this movie’s existence and eagerly await any sequels that may come.

But the characters are one of the aspects that I specifically wanted to focus on. xXx 3 has a large hero team at it’s center, and they’re an interesting and diverse bunch, representing a variety of nations and abilities. I wasn’t kidding when I drew the Smash Bros comparison earlier; it very much reminded me of the type of lineup of interesting characters a multiplayer game would draw up. In fact, there was even a specific video game I had in mind.

I started playing Overwatch over the holiday season (a team first-person shooter with 23 (and counting…) playable characters to choose from, for those not in the know), and the rosters of each had some hilarious overlaps. Sure, they’re an action movie and an FPS, so you have the range of weapons used in each, from normal pistols to grenade launchers to sniper rifles. And then there are the goofier overlaps, like both teams including an incredibly-out-of-place DJ, or both teams having female hackers who use similar weapons.

And all of those overlaps made me realize: I really liked both sets of characters. xXx: Return of Xander Cage basically has its own two hour run time to establish the entire cast (since the first two movies are barely leaned on at all for support), including the 9(-plus?) person xXx team. Overwatch includes no story mode in-game, and excluding the outside comics and lore that are available but unnecessary, all characterization is done through in-game dialog. That’s not a lot of room to work with, so how did they get such wide and interesting casts? Obviously, none of them is super-detailed, but they’re all compelling enough to draw you in, and that’s the important thing when making these types of teams for a work of fiction.

So, I wanted to pull that apart; how does one economically make these large main casts work on such limited time constraints? In addition to xXx 3 and Overwatch, I also looked at Sentinels of the Multiverse, so a quick word on that. Sentinels is one of my favorite board games, a card game where players take control of various original heroes (36 in total) to fight different also-original villains. Like Overwatch, these new heroes (and even the villains, in this case) are given surprising depth for existing only in a handful of decks of cards.

So, how does this happen? How do these works manage to juggle so many different people and make them compelling? I’ve got a couple of ideas: