Aquaman

“Arthur Curry – The Aquaman – must find his place in both the land and the ocean in order to prevent a war that could engulf both.”

Aquaman

Year: 2018

Director: James Wan

Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan

Creators: Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger

Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman (wait, what?), Temuera Morrison, Patrick Wilson (?), Willem Dafoe (whoa, seriously?), Dolph Lungdren (The Dolph’s in this?!?), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and featuring the voices of Djimon Hounsou, John Rhys-Davies and Julie Andrews…this can’t be real!

When I was in my early teens, discovering comics in that most 90’s of decades, one of my older brother’s friends explained to me, with great gravity, the cardinal rule we were all to follow: You are either with Marvel, or with DC – you cannot be in both camps. As an impressionable lad I took this almost-strangers words to heart, and since I had already started with Superman, I figured my die was cast. In truth I never felt like I had reason to regret that – I have always been drawn to the iconography and mythology surrounding the DC superheroes, and never felt the need to relate strongly to them for their foibles and humanity – the hallmark of their Marvelous competition. When comic book properties started being snatched up and produced for the big screen, however, I noted with interest how eagerly Marvel characters were being thrown at audiences, while the old WB seemed a little slow in doing the same for their own four-colour creations. Sure, I’m on board with The Dark Knight just like everyone else, and I’m even something of an apologist for Superman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises. Like so many other fans, however, I couldn’t help but lamenting the sense that Marvel – from Iron Man onward – seemed to have cracked a winning formula that Warner Bros. just couldn’t match, and threatened to leave my beloved Justice Leaguers obsolete; and while I am not as down on the so-called “Snyder-verse” as some have been, I have long wondered when these film folk were going to wise up, embrace the fact that comics and superheroes have an innate level of ridiculousness to them, and just have some fun.

I never could have suspected that of all films to finally go big…it’s Aquaman that has hit the Joy-Joy for me.

A user review on IMDB starts out by saying: “My impression was that this would be yet another bloated studio tentpole with cheesy dialog, a generic story and artificial looking CGI.” To which I respond…well, yeah. That is all absolutely correct. It also simply does not matter, because I was having such a good time with the film that the many “flaws” on display (and they are certainly there) are overcome by the sheer, visceral sense of fun and adventure. To be fair to “Gogoschka-1”, they continue their review with much the same sentiment as me.

i can’t even bother to recount elements of the plot, or the background of the characters; part of the joy is in the often clumsy ways in which the film feeds the audience. I don’t feel I can talk at length about performances in this film either. This may be the first film I have ever seen in which every single person involved has chosen to bathe themselves in the river of Ham immediately prior to “Action!”. It is a perfectly suitable choice for the material, which we should acknowledge is utterly ridiculous at the source, but is somehow made even moreso by James Wan and his beautifully demented team.

We do have to zero in on the key element that bring this whole gloriously enjoyable mess together. It’s this guy:

I think Jason Momoa is an entirely unique kind of actor. He appears as someone who should have been a big deal in the 80’s, but should be somewhat out of style by now; he has an imposing presence, but is not really threatening; he plays serious men who face serious challenges, but seems to be having so much fun all the time! He embodies the qualities of this film: big, bombastic, engaging and uplifting.

I recall an interview with Peter Jackson in which he discusses films like Evil Dead, 28 Days Later and his own Braindead (or Dead Alive depending on where in the world you may have seen it) and says “Seeing films like this makes you want to get your friends and go make low-budget horror of your own because it looks like fun and it is fun.” Aquaman feels like that statement writ large. James Wan has embarked on a massive studio project with an enormous budget, the weight of producer and fan expectations overshadowing everything, working in with an uncertain franchise, not to mention that his central character is widely regarded as the least popular (or most lame, depending on how generous you’re feeling). None of this should have worked. But it does, and it feels like Wan’s own superpower may be in enabling everyone he gathers around him to have such a good time that it is literally transmitted through the screen into our brains.

Big budget movies, with low budget attitude. How sweet is that?

Honestly, this film makes me reassess my own attitude towards films and filmmakers. I don’t tend to like “reviewing” films, and I certainly don’t like scoring them, as I’m very invested in the idea that movies are so subjective an experience that we’re all better served if we just films make us feel. Filmmaking is a craft, however, or perhaps more accurately a combination of a wide array of crafts, and the practitioners of those crafts are capable, at different times, of maintaining a standard or falling short. Normally, when those failings are obvious, it is cause to lessen the status of the film in question. But somehow, this time, it just doesn’t matter. I don’t care about whether dialogue is cheesy; I don’t care that the CGI is, at times, distracting; I don’t care that the story takes unnecessary turns. In the end…Jason Momoa takes on an army of people riding sharks while he himself rides a tentacled sea monst the size of a skyscraper!

I am so pumped for the sequel.

How To Enjoy It

It’s Surf’n’Turf time! After a lazy afternoon on the beach, fire up the BBQ. Make sure the steaks are Eye Fillet, throw on a healthy number of prawns, if some gifted cooks are among you then make up some of your own calamari rings as well. Make sure there’s plenty of beer (I mean plenty), set up deck chairs and bean bags and project the movie in your backyard.

Waterworld Cinema!

In celebration of our return to regular posts and reviews here on Esotetic Fish, we will be embracing our Under The Sea theme as never before. Our reviews and essays will focus on seafaring cinema for the next four weeks. Dig out your goggles, snorkles and fins: it’s time to get wet!

Across a crowded room…

Years ago, when I first heard of a new web-based social media service called Twitter, a friend of mine tried to get me on board, and explained it thus: It’s a conversation.
So simple…yet so impenetrable, at least for me, who has historically a very slow uptake to new media. The only way I could come to understand it was to envision an immense function hall, with countless people attending a party thrown by the Internet. Everyone gathered is talking; all at once; all over the top of one another; most at the top of their lungs.

Imagine my surprise when my friend responded to my illustration by saying: “Well yeah, that’s pretty much it”

I have watched, carefully, since then, and come to understand that such an image could be applied to the entire online experience. Everyone’s talking, and every now and then we hear someone respond to something we say, or we engage with others on something. While, as something of an introvert, the prospect of such fills me with apprehension, I have to acknowledge the wonder of it all – people from all over the world, given equal voice, equal volume, equal time, equal platform. This very column may not quite be the place to discuss how such an endeavour can turn very, very human, but when we’re all of one accord The Conversation is a beautiful thing.

Interesting, given that movies have been aiming for such a dialogue from the beginning.
Oh sure, initially it may just have been giving everyone a common subject to talk about, but those who pioneered, experimented, defined and refined filmmaking have gone on to create not just a dialogue between audience members, but between the audience and the films themselves. Who hasn’t had the experience of entering into a new social group – be it at school, work, church or a friends party where said friend is too caught up to actually hang with you – and felt the awkward pang of being outside the conversation…UNTIL someone says “What did you all think of Game of
Thones?” Our shows and movies become ultimate icebreakers – some of them are so universal that they can put a whole group of strangers at ease with one another (thank you Marvel Studios), while others are so idiosyncratic – so esoteric – that they function like some sort of secret social code. When did you find your kindred spirit at that party? Was it when someone referred to “finding Mr. Darcey”? How about when someone revealed their Scud: The Disposable Assassin t-shirt? Or perhaps you were thinking about leaving when you heard someone say: “Shop smart…shop…S-Mart…YOU GOT IT!?!?”
At its best, cinema causes us to engage with film itself, and examine our beliefs, our assumptions, our notions of right and wrong, good and evil…all the metaphysical stuff. I hold no truck with the view that people’s actions or behaviours are overly influenced by what they see (this does happen to some extent, but it is far from “monkey see, monkey do” mentality), but when approached openly – as a dialogue with a new acquaintance – film, television, literature, comics, music, art…ALL OF IT, can get us asking questions of ourselves, and our efforts to answer may just make us into better people.

I think that’s the best we might be able to hope for.

So come on…join the conversation.

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A Call to Madness…or just a break to the Monotony of Man.

by J. Voltagaard

To my fellow grinders of the work week; to the homies I pass in the street; and to the wild, the mild and the meek – my name is J. Voltagaard, and I’m here to make to think a little deeper about the shallower things in life; to make the question of monotony of the mundane; and to (hopefully) make you smile while you read this on the can.

With introductions aside, I have a question, that I will also answer…because that is the kind of guy I am. What do the first and only Emperor of the United States (and defender of Mexico) and the director of the “Worst Movie Ever Made” have in common?
Both were eccentric (and probably interesting) weirdos who you either loved or hated.
Both showed how the power of personality could influence the world around them.
Both had a terrible experience that made them re-evaluate their situations and strive to strike out on their own and shape the world around them as they wanted it.

Joshua Edward Norton before he acquired the title of “Emperor of the United States and Defender of Mexico” was left destitute after a bad business deal and the ensuing lawsuit he pursued in order to recoup some of his losses. Right after this he issued his first proclamation declaring himself emperor of the United States.

Emperor-Norton-1870s-cI’d be on board with this guy 

Tommy Wiseau – before he directed “The Room” (2003) and after he arrived in America from “parts unknown, Europe” – worked a variety of mercantile jobs before he was in a near fatal crash that made him re-evaluate the circumstances of his life and pursue his dream of acting and directing in Hollywood.

"The Disaster Artist" Premiere - 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals
I think he was the Monty Python “Dancing Teeth” Guy

Both these tumultuous tribulations were necessary for these men to pursue their higher calling of being the most eccentric wierdos they could possibly be. But this then forces me to ask if the sudden destitution, and near fatal collision, knocked the madness into these men required to undertake their monumental tasks that allowed them to
transcend mortality, OR were these men mad to begin with, but too mild not to be monotonous, only to be awoken by the sudden slap that is the awareness of the fragility of the human condition also known as Existence, OR did the sudden break of monotony in their life awaken the latent strange that lurked like a hibernating beast in the deepest recesses of their mind?

If any of this first is true, that leads me to the heart-breaking conclusion that we as people don’t appreciate the fragility of our collective condition that we call existence and the complicated yet of so beautiful dance of the day to day, that we call life, until they’re jeopardised. Or even worse…

…we are too afraid too fail to be the weirdest and best we that we can be.

The Room is famously among the most widely enjoyed “Terrible” films of all time. For greater insight into the story behind that film, check out “The Disaster Artist”. If you are keen for a whole new Tommy Wiseau experience, take a look at his upcoming project: Spaceworld.

 

 

The Dirty Dozen [1967] Mini Review

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Watching The Dirty Dozen immediately highlights how complicated modern movies have become. If the film were to be remade today (heaven forbid), I can only imagine how many subplots would have been crammed into the story to make it ‘more accessible’ or to give individual actors beefed up parts. Instead, we engage with each of the characters as part of the group rather than individual anti-heroes. We can’t really root for any of these men, but we can root for The Dirty Dozen.

Though the film was criticised heavily for its violence upon release, it seems almost tame by today’s standards. Rather than over the top explosions and gore, the deaths in the film are sudden and undramatic, far more fitting for the film’s nihilistic message. There are no heroes here, these men are soldiers with one mission – to kill as many of the enemy as possible, soldiers and civilians alike. The Dirty Dozen remains a gripping experience to this day; it’s a classic for a reason. Highly recommended.

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Small Change – Batman

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Here’s a little something left over from the “…I’m Batman” series.

If you’ve been checking in, and aren’t as totally obsessed by pop-culture as I am, then you may be forgiven for thinking that a regular comic, a couple of TV shows, games, and epically profitable films are the only places you can enjoy the exploits of the Dark Knight.

…well, ok, that’s about right.

But there are a few hidden gems amongst the seemingly limitless supply of stories that kind of got lost over time. Here’s some alternative Bat-snacks between your major motion meals.

(Note: These have all been chosen because, unlike so much else in comic books, you can enjoy these completely as a stand alone treat. The only prior knowledge you need for any of them is that, obviously…he’s Batman!) Continue reading

Cash Cows – “…I’m Batman” Part 5

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It would seem that in the intervening period between this and the previous installment, the folks at Warner Bros. have illustrated better than I ever could the dependability of their Cash-Bat. On this the suits at WB and the MegaZord behemoth that is Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm/YourChildhood seem to be in total concert, as they definitively prioritise what I hereby establish as Superheroes First Principle:

More on that in a bit. Right now? Continue reading

Escape Plan – Mini Review

Escape_Plan_BannerEscape Plan is one of those movies that seemed like it was fun when you finished watching it, but is almost entirely forgotten by the following day. There’s nothing especially bad about the film, the premise is interesting and the execution is competent – but there is nothing that really stands out as being particularly good either.

The only reason that this is likely to be of any interest to people is that it puts Stallone and Schwarzenegger together on-screen, a relatively rare occurrence. Both actors put in a good performance here, without the painful callbacks featured in stuff like The Expendables – but neither of them is bringing their A-Game either. It’s hard to really pin down what Escape Plan could have done to better live up to the intriguing premise, but at the end of the day this is a pretty forgettable film. If it happens to come on the TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon I wouldn’t avoid it, but I certainly wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to watch it.

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Minecraft: The Story of Mojang – Mini Review

Minecraft_Story_of_Mojang_HeaderMinecraft: The Story of Mojang is a documentary that contains a lot of fascinating behind the scenes detail; provided you know quite a bit about Minecraft and gaming already. 2 Player Productions have created a film with some great tidbits for fans, but haven’t really done anything to help non-gamers understand what all the fuss is about. A non-fan will probably get the idea that Minecraft was a successful game, but they will constantly be asking questions like: ‘Why is that guy’s face always covered with an animation?’  ‘Who are all these people being interviewed?’ There’s some fantastic material here, but it will be lost on everyone outside of the Minecraft fan base.

There is merit to the idea of making a documentary for a limited audience, but even casual fans of the game will have a hard time diving in. One other annoyance was the number of artistic landscape shots that are littered throughout the film. They’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong – but they serve no actual purpose other than to distract from the main narrative. In a documentary where the narrative is so thin already, this is a major problem. Ultimately, even though there’s some good stuff here, I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone who wasn’t a hardcore Minecraft fan.

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