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Showing posts with label comics-and-capes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comics-and-capes. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Superman vs The Elite (2012)

Note: Thank you to Russell Hartman for previewing this review for accuracy.
 

The classic version of Superman is hard to come by, especially on-screen. Now, my stance on the DCEU is that Snyder was going on a journey to the blend of Clark and Kal-El that we’re familiar with and love, and his cut of the Justice League should prove that. If I’m wrong about that though, or you feel the damage has already been done with the snapping of Zod’s neck, then I recommend Superman vs The Elite.


Superman vs The Elite pits Superman (Justice League's George Newbern) against a team of vigilantes intent on acting as judge, jury, and executioner. What makes this a challenge isn’t just that they’re at times more than evenly matched for The Man of Steel, but their methods quickly become not just accepted but popular with the public. Even as understandable as that may be for some, seeing it through Clark’s eyes is scary and depressing. The Elite’s championing of chaos and anarchy comes at the expense not just of due process, but humanity. This movie is directed by Michael Chang, adapted by Joe Kelly, and based on his Action Comics #775 issue "What So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way.”

 

So, what sticks out about this movie immediately, especially during the first viewing is the art style. It’s pretty cartoony-looking, especially for a DC animated movie. It’s similar to the original comic but pushed a little more. Once you get used to it, it’s great. It makes Superman look older than he probably is, like in his 40s or 50s, and that’s very fitting for a story where he feels a bit out of place with the rest of the world. Zack Snyder makes him feel out of place by making him more of an alien, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Chang does it by making him feel more human. The style, by the way, allows for fluid animation, and great fight scenes (describe some fights), on top of some already interesting visuals. 

 

Superman's full strength and range of powers are taken advantage of in ways that are a bit unexpected, like a sonic scream, but it's one of the Elite members, who steals that show. Menagerie (Melissa Disney) is a mixed bag of a character. Her hitting on Superman comes across as overly off-putting, since this version of Clark is so wholesome and has a great relationship with Lois (Pauley Perrette), but her powers help make up for that. She has these Medusa-like snakes, or eels or leeches, that she can shoot out of her body, but she also uses them as hearing aids and binoculars. She felt like a more powerful and creative version of Poison Ivy. While that's probably not true if they faced off, the movie makes a good case in the moment. 


Superman and Lois
Superman, Lois Lane, and the Strong, Stan Smith-ish, Jawline of Justice | Warner Brothers, 2012


Besides Menagerie's forwardness, the only other problem with the movie is just how fast the Elite are applauded for their actions. People who watch these direct-to-video movies regularly are probably used to the fast-pace needed to cram everything into about ninety minutes, but the movie actually has a good buildup scene that just plays a moment too late. To give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, the swept-up nature of how people treat The Elite is necessary to bring out the film's themes. So, how do those play out?

 

While this came out well after September 11th, and issue #775 came out six months before, the response to terrorism is central to the story. What tips Superman over the edge is when The Elite kill the leaders of two warring nations during, albeit highly likely to break down, peace talks.

 

Their leader, Manchester Black's (Robin Atkins Downes) philosophy is "The only logical thing to do is slot the whole McGill and start over." In some ways, it's the Adrian Veidt/Utilitarian approach from Watchmen, but this movie makes that less of an abstract concept. The Elite aren't monsters, but they still did this in an up-close and personal manner, as opposed to Veidt's method of flipping a switch half a world away. Adding violence, pain, and suffering, at least as much as possible in a movie aimed at teens and pre-teens, the consequences become more real. The need for more than just the No-Kill rule, but a standard of humanity even when faced against the worst of it, becomes more real. That's what this Superman embodies. That's why some still look at a punishing Batman, even with that rule firmly in place, with a raised eyebrow.

 

So, that's why this is one of the best Superman movies out there. The way to make someone as overpowered and genuinely good at heart as Superman interesting is to find a way to challenge that, and Superman vs The Elite may provide a clear answer for the hero's situation, but that doesn't make it an easy one. I honestly believe that's what Zack Snyder was going for in that aforementioned pivotal scene of Man of Steel, but something got lost in translation, and that version of the character hasn't fully recovered, despite Henry Cavill showing incredible range as the character in the cape and in "Kansas Plaid." 

 

Back to Elite, it's an incredibly human story. That’s most clear in the moments between Clark and Lois, and him and his dad (Paul Elding). He’s able to be his most (Kryptonite-free) vulnerable, doubting, and scared version of himself. It's in some ways like back to when he was a kid and still figuring everything out. I hope DC's animated branch continues to give us more films like this, especially from Clark...although not necessarily this Clark. If you haven't read or heard of Superman: Secret Identity, I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

 

I plan to return to this movie at some point soon because the original plan was to compare it to Captain America: Winter Soldier. While the extreme of Elite is anarchy, the extreme of Winter Soldier is national security, but with both characters championing similar ideals, so there's definitely more to say on the topic.

 

Anyway, I'd love to hear what others think of this movie and other pieces of Superman, or superhero, media. So, if you have something to say, leave a comment, or better yet, write or film your own review/essay and put it up on your own platform.


4.5/5


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Friday, May 29, 2020

Polar (2019)

We're in the age of the John Wick clones now, with movies like it, PolarExtraction, and Atomic Blonde seemingly popping up left and right on Netflix. I haven't seen John Wick yet, but I've seen those other three, and I'm a Tarantino fan. I'll explain where he fits into this in a minute.

From IMDb, "A retiring assassin, Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen) suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of a hit, contracted by none other than his own employer, Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas), seeking to cash in on the pensions of aging employees." It is directed by Jonas Åkerlund, written by Jason Rothwell, and based on a graphic novel by Victor Santos

So, let's start with the Tarantino thing. When Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Django Unchained, Calvin Candie,  is introduced, he's mugging for the camera. It's clearly directed and intended by Tarantino, and he probably gave DiCaprio some idea how a fast zoom in and sweeping sound effect would be used in the finished film. It feels like what Åkerlund was doing on set, which is good work, and what he was doing in the editing room, which is also good work, are from pretty different movies. The editing, from the cuts, to the coloring, to the title cards, can be very stylized at times. This can be really fun, engaging, and is a great tool for character development because it can show what's in their head without telling us through clunky dialogue. I think for it to work well, the characters have to match that stylized tone, or at least a character does, and they don't in this. They're not toneless, though.

Polar has a very morbid sense of humor. Gunshots and kills, especially early on, are played like a punchline. The movie opens with one of Mr. Blut's employees (Johnny Knoxville) being assassinated after taking a little blue pill and enjoying the day with someone who's actually part of Blut's crew. The scene feels a little too gross to enjoy. Still, Knoxville needing one of those pills feels like a reference to his painful career, and that's pretty funny. The cruelty doesn't end there, as he's just the first on a long list of kills, but what makes many of the other ones worse is they're usually collateral damage. It's a little better when Mikkelsen is the one pulling the trigger though.

The movie has a lot of character and a lot going on in the little things. One of those things being Mikkelsen's performance and the people he interacts with. Besides the action, which is usually less about speed and more precision-based, he's asked a lot. Most notably would be torture similar to what his character put Daniel Craig's Bond through years ago. However, this movie's R-rating means Mikkelsen had to give a little more to the performance and be covered in fake blood and makeup to help pull it off. He takes some warming up to, but he's the best part of the movie.

As for those people he interacts with, it might just be stuff that clicked for me. After a doctor's appointment, the doctor goes to the microwave near the exam table, pulls out a dessert, and they casually talk about his physical results. It's definitely because of quarantine and the rise of phone/webcam appointments right now, but it just stuck out as this nice moment. On the subject, the fact that this whole plot revolves around some basic accounting, which is explicitly brought up (killing his retiring employees lowers Blut's company's liabilities), also got my ears earring. 

Mr. Blut himself was actually another bright spot. Matt Lucas is much more entertaining to watch when he's eccentric than when he's just creepy. It's a shame that his character is an idiot and highlights the worst of the script. 

That torture scene mentioned earlier takes place over four days. Vizla's suffering is drawn out because "this is personal." Vizla, while he's very competent, gets lucky throughout the movie because a gun isn't drawn on him the second he's seen. Aside from the "personal" reason, there usually isn't a good explanation. The mix-and-match style of the movie's writing and tone don't really have an explanation either. 

Polar is inconsistent in a really bad way. I can handle tone shifts like when Hancock went from comedy to drama, but that's because every element of the movie shifted. Polar, instead, clashes with itself in some of the same moments. Still, I enjoyed Mikkelsen and the bright spots the movie offered. So, if you're already subscribed to Netflix and running out of other shows and movies, give it a try.

3/5
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Friday, May 22, 2020

Hitman: Silent Assassin | Fan Trailer For the 2007 Movie


Update: To see similar treatment of the remake, Hitman: Agent 47, please go here.

First, I want to thank the editing/fan trailer communities on Reddit and Discord, and my friends for early feedback.

A couple of years I reviewed the original Hitman movie and the remake, and I cut together my first fan-made trailer. This one should've gone up shortly after those reviews. In fact, those typing parts had been done for a while, but the rest of the video wasn't coming together well. Besides technical difficulties (my own ineptitude), I was going back to school, or work, or both, and it was easy to justify the procrastination.

Recently turning this blog into something a little more helped a lot though because I hope to encourage others to try doing this too. So, where's the best place to start with that...

It's really going to vary for everybody, depending on what they like to watch and play. As far as narrative for one of these videos, I still don't know how to come up with that from scratch. The Spider-Man one used the same style of a different trailer, and this one used the game's Silent Assassin ranking system for missions. There are a lot of books and tutorials on editing, but I got lucky and learned the basics in school, so I'm not sure where to actually start with those other resources. 

On the technical side, Blender is a good editor. So far, it and an editor called Olive are the only free resources I know that mkv files. Blender lacks audio control though, so another program like Audacity is necessary too.

Anyway, I hope people give editing a shot. It's like another form of fan fiction that can spark more and more creative ideas. 

Also, what is your favorite fan trailer and/or editing resource? Please mention it in the comments.

This video, and others are collected, on-site, here.
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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Harley Quinn: Season 1 (2019-2020)

So I don't write show/season reviews because that can be a lot to watch and keep track of. Harley Quinn was doable though because even with the relatively high amount of episodes, the show never really spreads itself too thin, and it's much more consistent than I think most people would expect. This is the easiest kind of show to screw up because the easiest way to do it is for Harley (Kayley Cuoco, in arguably her best role since 8 Simple Rules) and company to never, never change, and just wreak havoc on Gotham with no clear plan week-to-week. Instead, Harley and her team are a real ensemble, characters are depicted with fresh approaches, and the show's humor is varied in a way that reminds me of the best moments of South Park. It's not perfect, but it's another deep breath of fresh air from DC that Marvel and other publishers should keep an eye on.

So first, that ensemble and those characters. The main plot of the season is that Harley has broken up with Joker (Alan Tudyk), so part of making a name for herself involves putting together a crew and pulling off some big scores of her own design. That crew is Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), King Shark (Ron Funches), Dr. Psycho (an unrecognizable Tony Hale), the classically-trained, Shakspearean-style Clayface (Alan Tudyk), and occasionally Ivy's plant Frank (J.B Smoove) and Ivy's landlord Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander). With the title character, Cuoco said "I didn’t want to force an accent or try to be someone I’m not. I’m ‘Kaley as Harley,’ and accepting that early on enabled me to be free and very authentic." That seems to be true of all the actors and characters. It leads to things that possibly have never been attempted before with these icons in any medium.

For instance, Batman (Diedrich Bader) and Gordon's (Christopher Meloni) relationship feels similar to how Batman and Joker's has been on the screen since The Dark Knight. It's explored and parodied at the same time. So, we get Gordon flipping the Bat Signal on-and-off because he needs to talk about his marriage with his closest confidant. To anyone familiar with Meloni's other work, the extra-level of meta-ness is a bonus. If they got their own spin-off, or even their own comic, it would be a lot of fun.


Harley Quinn Season One PromoHarley's Crew (Minus Frank) | Copyright 2019-2020 Warner Media

Even though this isn't their movies, this style fits neatly with the DC's and WB's post-Batman vs Superman and Justice League strategy of not trying to copy Marvel and just letting their creators do their own thing, and that's really the last thing I expected from Harley Quinn. This could've been an animated Deadpool clone that was all off-the-wall humor but no substance. Instead, there's an actual story throughout the season and a long arc that takes like four episodes. And Harley and Ivy's relationship especially shines. They banter well together and look out for each other. Ivy calling Harley out on her crap when it comes to Joker is especially welcome. It's one thing for the new movies to bring up the toxicity, but having a voice of reason spell the consequences of that relationship is a much needed and appreciated extra mile. It's a friendship that makes people with some familiarity with them want to seek out the comics and fan-cast a Pamela Isley that would have great chemistry with Margot Robbie. Also, a small but impactful change for Ivy is she's less of an eco-terrorist. She has a line she doesn't want to cross, and it's incredibly humanizing. That demonstrates real effort on the part of the writers and directors. Speaking of them,' the scripts and dialogue should definitely be addressed a little.

Like I said, the jokes had a certain South Park quality to them, and that's not just due to the MA rating of the series. It's in the little things, too. South Park will have these jokes that could fit in on The Simpsons. One was Emmanuelle Lewis appearing as a "Dictionary Official" when the boys get a word redefined. When he shows up, Stan just says "Oh, it all makes sense now." They're probably just there because it's the funniest line Stone and Parker could come up with, but I think it's also another way to show that there's more beneath the surface, especially early on with a new series. In Harley's case, one such joke is about the young age of a tree monster, as shown by the rings. It's a good laugh, in the middle of a lot of chaos toward the end of the season.

Finally, one problem with the show is that some episode endings seemed a little rushed so that they could save pieces of an arc for the rest of the season, but that's better than dropping storylines entirely. Another is that the animation and action could be better. With a higher budget, it could definitely take inspiration from Birds of Prey's (reviewed here) fight scenes and look as fluid as Spectacular Spider-Man.

So, as mentioned, DC appears to be expanding in ways that Marvel and other publishers aren't yet. On top of other MCU shows that Marvel has planned, there's also a What If series that could be their approach to being something like Harley Quinn. After the perfect stopping point with their movies, I hope it is because this is the best time for them to start something new. The same goes for Image, Valiant, which just had a rocky start with Bloodshot, and other competitors. DC tried to learn from Marvel, copy them, and failed. Now, everyone can learn from DC, experiment, and succeed. 

The series can be viewed with a subscription to DC Universe. The second season is coming out now, so you might want to try waiting until that ends to get the 7-day trial, and then binge the show along with anything else you have time for. The first season is also being sold digitally wherever you regularly buy shows.

4/5


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Monday, February 10, 2020

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

According to
The Mary Sue "Birds of Prey did not meet expectations at the box office, pulling in just under $34 million, according to Rotten Tomatoes...Some are framing the issue as a failure in marketing [as] early trailers failed to really highlight the plot of the movie." The problem is if the ads focused on the plot, a lot of people would've left the theatre frustrated. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is just about Harley (Margot Robbie) rediscovering herself without The Joker (Stand-ins and Archive Footage) and her place in Gotham. That place is on the hit list of basically everybody she's ever come in contact with, including Roman "Black Mask" Sionis (Ewan McGregor), after she happens upon a diamond he really wants. While Harley is reaching her realizations, the audience learns that it's her world, and the rest of her crew is just living in it.

It's a basic plot that's used to fuel a lot of fun, but the issue is that it's told in a roundabout way. To introduce and give backstory to everyone, including the Birds of Prey members, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), long flashbacks and fill-ins are used. It's not too messy, but it's distracting, and people may lose the "Hows" and "Whys" of what's going on around them. Also, it's a way to remind people that this a Suicide Squad sequel/reboot in the DCEU, and how much that frustrates people will vary.

A lot of that fun mentioned before comes from actors but also from the action. Birds of Prey risks being too similar to Deadpool, but the differences shine through. The violence in Birds of Prey is cruel, with bones breaking every which way, but it's not gratuitous without a good reason to be. If things are graphic, it's typically because Sionis is doing it or ordering a lackey to do it. It shows some form of sensitivity and control from the movie's writer (Christina Hodson) and director (Cathy Yan). This is extended even further when talking about Sionis's main lackey, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).

McGregor's Black Mask is probably the best gangster villain in a Batman movie. They've had a ton of them in the past, but they were usually side characters to the major villain. A scene that sticks out is one where he's trying to impress some people in his office with collections of art. The casual sexism and racism dripping out his mouth contrasts well with his more manic moments of violence. Harley throws in some psychoanalysis for good measure, but we're really given everything we need without it. Still, it's an extra shot to his over-inflated self-importance. 

Zsasz has a pretty solid history outside of the comics, thanks to the Arkham video games and Batman Begins. He's typically a complete psychopath who believes he's freeing people by murdering them with a knife. This time around, he's more collected and his behavior is less dependent on a mental disorder. Hodson and Yan may be trying to highlight that, according to some recent studies, "less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness." So, make Zsasz more like your garden-variety criminal, and he actually becomes a much better character. If we're going to get more cinematic stories out of Gotham, and we are thanks to Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves, it's absolutely a route worth taking. 

From great performances from the cast to a depth given to Harley Quinn that hasn't been seen since her beginnings on Batman The Animated Series, Birds of Prey is a fun trip with a lot to offer, but as an origin story for everyone outside of Harley, it's a longer than expected journey. 

3.5/5


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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Joker (2019) | Spoiler-Free Video Review

So, the written review about Joker was born out of this initial video I shot and then took a little time to cut together. It's my first official video for the Why We Watch channel! While it's a little rough, I am pretty happy with it, and they can only get better from here.

Please check it out, and let me know what you think about the video and the movie itself. Also, I hope you take my closing comments to heart and try to create something like this yourself on your own platform.


This video, and others are collected, on-site, here.



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Monday, October 7, 2019

Joker (2019) | Spoiler-Free

Note: A special thanks to the people in my Entrepreneurship in Arts & Music class for prompting this site redesign and actual brand building. Hopefully, more to come.

Update: Yep! Over a year later, a lot more.

2019’s Joker has a firm grip on the character, and slowly releases him from our fascination, which has been constant since at least 2008. At least, that’s my hope.

I had a lot of mixed emotions seeing this movie. First, I was paranoid of something like Auora Colorado happening here, but that started to go away after the first half-hour. After that it was a lot of conflicting feelings of how you’re supposed to feel about Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, and then I arrived at a conclusion I could live with. I hate the Joker. Saying that out loud felt really weird for a guy with a Dark Knight poster in his room, who used to recite those scar stories. One of the reasons may be that we're going from a version of the character that cares about nothing, to one that at the end cares only about himself. Regardless of how that selfishness comes about, it's what makes the character's actions more disgusting. I'm glad WB and DC gave director Todd Philips permission to finally make that happen.

Joaquin Phoenix is a lock for at least an Oscar Nomination. He didn’t only transform himself, he made it effortless as well. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same man who left his own stamp on Johnny Cash's music. The small problem with that is just as Heath Ledger overshadowed Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent eleven years ago, Phoenix may have done the same for Frances Conroy, who plays his mother Penny Fleck. The same can be said for some of his other co-stars, but that's more because of lack of screentime. The main character is fully developed, and everyone else is largely sidelined.

This moment happens like a sudden shock back to reality toward the end of the movie, and it allowed me to breathe a heavy sigh of relieve.

Now, as for the actual filmmaking, Todd Phillips has completely crossed over and aged gracefully since finishing The Hangover Trilogy. (Keep in mind I still have to see War Dogs.) He wants to make a mature film, and for the most part he succeeds. Arthur’s transformation is handled with extreme care, and the movie itself just looks fantastic. Phillips and Director of Photography, Lawrence Sher, create a style and Gotham all their own in New York. The city is still disgusting, but filtered through Arthur, its potential to be its best or worst is in focus.

The only problem with Gotham is how Phillips sees some of its citizens. He believes some people who say “Eat the Rich” mean it, and it’s troubling that he’s bringing it up during this very heated time politically. Basically his wires are crossed when it comes to the hot-button issues plaguing the far-left and the actions of the far-right.

What I hope doesn’t is this potential newfound revulsion of a character that we don’t really need to give the spotlight right now. Give this movie the attention it deserves, then turn to something a little brighter. Hopefully WB and DC actually decide to bury the character for a few years, and when they want that "Joker money," they can just use Harley Quinn. 

4/5



I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Don't just comment about this one, please write your own reviews or even put up your own analysis on YouTube. I may not want Joker to be something we revisit every year, but it does need to be explored as fully as possible.

Finally, I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the whole Incel thing. If you’d like know about that, I recommend checking out a video on YouTube by Contrapoints on what incels are, and another by La'Ron Readus about how that may or may not be related to this movie.
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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men In Black: International (2019)

The last time Chris Hemsworth was in a Sony reboot (Ghostbusters), the studio was too hands-on and micromanaged the project to death. This time, it seems the producers were too hands-off and contributed very little but their names and capital. It's a shame too because what little Men In Black: International has could be the start of a fun reboot. Instead, the movie is completely aimless and only somewhat saved by the cast and location-hopping.

Men In Black: International claims to be an F. Gary Gray film about Agent H (Hemsworth) and new recruit Agent M (Tessa Thompson) hunting a mole in the organization, but it's really a movie led by screenwriters Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, and they wrote something as barebones as it gets.

MIB: International's main plot of finding a mole and saving the world doesn't really kick off until about thirty minutes into the movie. Between M's quick recruitment and then, it's a mess of establishing which extraterrestrials are a threat and why. What's going on is shrouded in mystery, so that it can be paid off later with globetrotting, jokes, and character building.

Some of it works well. Hemsworth and Thompson, naturally, work exceptionally well together. It's a nice twist to have the straight-laced new recruit and a veteran party boy working together. Hemsworth's antics do enough to distance himself from Thor. His overconfidence is much more misplaced, as he survives by luck and a general sense of just squeaking by. The best example of this is probably how he's able to make himself right at home in a nightclub. Thor could drink and dance the night away too but not quite as smoothly as Agent H. Thompson has had much better, more rewarding roles in Dear White People, Sorry to Bother You, and the Creed, but it's great to see her with another role under her belt. M will make a fine agent, if she's allowed to be revisited in the future. Liam Neeson's High T may not be a match for Rip Torn's Zed, but he's not trying to be, and that is one of the most redeeming factors of the movie.

The best thing about MIB: International being underwritten is the nostalgic moments aren't overused, unlike in the reboot of Ghostbusters. The references occasionally pop up throughout, but they're really brought in to showcase how the tech of the organization, and the filmmakers' CGI, have improved over the last seven years. It also lends itself to new jokes. Unfortunately, most of these jokes don't land, another casualty of Marcum and Holloway's work. At least these guys and F Gary Gray know how to pick their locations.

Losing the safety net of easy New York City jokes that were in the other movies ends up being another win for the movie. Paris, Marrakesh, and a couple other choice locations are breaths of excitement in a movie that may have people trying to treat their theatre seat as a nice mattress or couch.

Agents in Marrakesh
If nothing else, Marrakesh is an interesting location to explore | Copyright 2019 Sony

For anyone who does manage to be on the edge of their seat watching this, that's awesome. There are great characters and great action, it's all just way too few and far between in a nearly two-hour movie.

2.5/5

Update: So the day after writing this, two articles came out about how the production was troubled. So, I may be at least a little wrong about putting so much of the blame on Marcum and Holloway. If my criticism really is misplaced, I offer them my apologies. Hopefully, more info is released because it does make things more compelling.
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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019) | Short Review

Well, I've seen this movie three times in theatres, which might be a record, so I should probably say something about it. The scariest part about the high expectations for Endgame isn't the first viewing I got in Thursday evening because of fear of spoilers, it was the second and third. How re-watchable is a spectacle that's biggest draw is the surprises? Strip away the callbacks to what came before, and what's left? Thank Christ, tons. Both good and bad.

Avengers: Endgame follows the remaining Avengers as they retaliate against Thanos in the hopes of bringing back the people they lost in Infinity War. Besides wanting to avoid spoilers, this movie has too much ground to cover, so I'm going to talk about a couple that stuck out.

First, there's Thanos (Josh Brolin). With his goals accomplished and his ego a little bit boosted, he becomes a little less relatable in Endgame, and that's a damn shame. He does not become a one-note villain or horribly written, but a new level of cruelty is revealed as he works to maintain the universe he's "saved." As justified as his actions become, his ranking as this century's Darth Vader takes a small hit. Still, Josh Brolin (and the vfx artists at Weta Digital and Digital Domain) gives a perfect performance as the Mad Titan. Between the three, every expression is genuine when it was shot with motion capture, and real when shown on screen. He may not be the best supervillain we've ever had (if you count the shows and outside the MCU), but he's the best larger than life one.

Second, there's the camera work and editing. There's a long take with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) chasing and taking down some thugs (yes, this movie still has some garden-variety crime and is all the better for it). The camera's focus and slow movement is representative of the whole movie. Everything is captured in a way that allows it to sink in, which is necessary when so much is being juggled at once. Marvel movies get some heat because, apart from Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, they look a little bland and flat on the screen. That is a serious problem, but at least the Russos don't try to trick people into thinking they're flashy by using nauseating editing, unlike early DCEU movies. Luckily, the DCEU's gotten better at both.

Finally, it's just a blast, if you know and love these characters. Endgame is honestly a tough sell if you're new to everything (but that hasn't stopped parents from taking their kids into the theatre). Infinity War (or YouTube recaps) can bring people up to speed, but then enjoyment is solely on the actors' shoulders. All that can be promised is that they're giving it their all, and hopefully it resonates.

For some, myself included, this movie will never fail to make them cry | Copyright 2019 Disney

4.5/5


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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

"Peter, these are the years when a man changes into the man he's gonna become the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into." The Spider-Man film franchise began in 2002 and has hit the age of identity crisis. It's gone in three separate directions this year, with Avengers: Infinity War, Venom, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but that's how this empire should run. It's leagues better than when one Spider-Man movie tries to do it all, like when Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2, each attempted that.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is directed by Bob Persichetti, Rise of the Guardian's Peter Ramsey (he's finally back), and Rodney Rothman, and written by Rotham and Phil Lord, and they set out to tell the tale "one last time," seven more times...sorta. When The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) opens a wormhole that teleports other Spideys into Mile Morales' (Shameik Moore) dimension, he has to use his new powers to help send them home before the wormhole becomes unstable.

Telling Miles' story could backfire simply for being yet another Spider-Man origin onscreen, for being another superhero origin, so the filmmakers are smart to speed through the familiar cliff notes of getting his powers and giving him some villains to fight within the first ten minutes. A lasting moment from this intro is Miles exchanging "good mornings" and secret handshakes with a crowd of old classmates, on his way to a new prep school. Rotham and Lord knock Miles down a peg with the new school (and the inescapable woes of adolescence), but he's built up well as the more outgoing and adventurous Anti-Puny-Parker.

This is his story through and through, and the other Spider-People partnering up with Miles luckily reinforces that, mostly to the film's benefit. Into the Spider-Verse features a classic, but worn down, schlubbier, and (at last) adult version of Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy, the Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider Noir (Nicolas Cage), from the pulpy 1930s, Peni Parker and her spider-co-piloted robot (Kimiko Glenn), and, finally, Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mulaney), who remarkably doesn't just predate The Simpsons Movie, but the show too. Except for Spider-Woman and Jake Johnson's version of Peter, most of visiting Spiders aren't explored too deeply. They're given more than one-liners, but it's really just a promise of what'll come in the sequels. The one-liners are fantastic though. Cage especially steals his scenes with a put-on New York accent, reference to egg-creams, and a passing mention of the "moral ambiguity of your violent actions." Billy Wilder would be proud.

Finally, the animation in Into the Spider-Verse is a long time in coming for the studio, for the genre, for film. There hasn't been a literal, visual adaptation of a comic in a while (except for Captain Underpants), but now the bar's been raised for other movies that want to try it. While it's not relying on a heavy outline style, probably because that would fill the screen too much, the modern visual storytelling in comics is on full display. 2D animation is utilized throughout the movie, and ranges from re-creating comic panels, to Peni's anime style, to the ludicrous antics of Spider-Ham. Text boxes, onomatopoeias, and speech bubbles also highlight how upside-down Miles's world is about to become, but he'll get used to being upside when getting the drop on villains, so it's all good.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a return to where the franchise began writing-wise, with the (typically forgotten) heart of the second generation of Spidey films. As (pile of garbage) Nostalgia Critic, Doug Walker, has mentioned, the Raimi Trilogy featured the same plot structure used in Into the Spider-Verse. The movie doesn't spread itself too thin with unnecessary characters, plot points, or an inflated runtime and budget. But that just means the movie is functional. They also salvaged the message of the Webb films and made it more important than ever. "Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask." Try it on.

4/5

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Note: This review was a special request by Marianne Brody. 

Peyton Reed's Ant-Man and the Wasp is the continuation of both Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War. With a lot of catching up to do, and very little that could just be swept under the rug, Ant-Man and the Wasp writes itself into corners. As quickly as the title characters grow and shrink, the movie impressively writes itself out of those corners, and apart from the original.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been under house arrest since helping Captain America and Falcon in Germany, and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) have cut ties with Scott and have been laying low because the FBI sees them and their tech as national security threats. All three have to come out in the open when they discover a way into the Quantum Realm to save the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). Once they're exposed, everyone comes after them. FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), Ava Starr/ Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and Hank's old partner Bill Foster/Ghost (Laurence Fishburne), and a black market tech dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), form a busy, but dynamic, rogues gallery.

Behind the Scenes: Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, and Evangeline Lily | Copyright 2019 Marvel/Disney

Ant-Man and The Wasp acknowledges what's come before in the MCU, giving the universe real weight and consequences. However, it also starts the movie out on the wrong foot. There's a mean-spiritedness to the trio's early scenes together, and it's made worse when considering that Scott at least was fighting against Tony and Sokovia Accords, something they'd support on principle. Hank and Hope take every possible jab they can at Scott, joking about his (lack of a) relationship with "Cap," his lack of knowledge about the Quantum Realm, even a bit about his house arrest, until they can't anymore When it starts feeling old, the original Ant-Man humor and chemistry opens back up like a window. 

There's one joke in Cassie's, Scott's daughter, (Abby Ryder Fortson) school to bring the band back together. It's because of something that could've happened to any of them (even Hank who gets his hands tiny this time), is temporary, and just works as a great gag in general. The movie really gets moving after this, and is even able to pull it off one more time during one of the last action scenes. 

This is not an action-heavy movie, but the fights are pretty fun and, once five noticeable seconds of car manufacturer product placement is out of the way, the chases are even better. A lot of time is spent with the heroes instead. Yellowjacket, from last time, may have been the bald boardroom member to break the camel's back for corporate MCU villains, even though he may have been one of the underrated ones. This time, every bad guy except Sonny Burch is empathetic and just trying to do their best with given circumstances. Goggins' character actually feels pretty unnecessary compared to the others, but he gives a good performance.

Both movies have had a greedy jerk escape and/or survive at the end. If the MCU wants to take a stab at the Sinister Six, just with Ant-Man and his rogues, they're setting it up well. Here and now though, there's no disgustingly evil villain, there's (mostly) just people trying to get by or, in Ava's case, survive. It's reflected in the trio as well, and in Scott's other cronies, who have now gone legit. Yes, Michael Peña is back as Luis, cranked up to eleven, and he's cranking everyone else up with him. 

The best parts of the fights are when characters are caught off guard. The best and the worst parts of Ant-Man and the Wasp are when the audience is caught off guard. Hang in there for those best parts. 

3.5/5


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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Marvel's Runaways: Reunion (Pilot)

Does Marvel's Cinematic Universe really need another show that will the expand the world, but actually only mention the Avengers in passing, if at all? Probably not, but after binging the Netflix shows, the variety from this one on Hulu is incredibly refreshing. Mix the MCU, The Breakfast Club, and some identity politics (because that sounds better than saying "woke"), and what pops out is surprisingly a well-crafted episode of what's most likely a well-crafted show.

Runaways is about "six diverse teenagers who can barely stand each other, but who must unite against a common foe - their parents." That summary is a little misleading, these are former friends who drifted apart for years after the death of one of their other friends, and this is their last chance to stay in each others' lives before college and the real drifting starts. It's not typically how these stories go, timeline wise, and it's the first part of Runaways to stick out. Next was the characters themselves.

It's a pretty busy episode, but luckily an exposition-light one. Runaways is primarily character-driven, or at the very least "Reunion" is. They've all become loners in their own way, but also there are glimpses of that reaching out shown. Going out to parties, trying out for sports, offering/requesting tutoring. Indirect ways of saying, "talk to me." "Reunion's" director made sure to emphasize how social media and tech can make this so much more difficult, when used improperly. The selfie, it's ripe for mocking, but a personal attack is still a personal attack.

What hit hard was one of the characters, Gert (Ariela Barer), a social activist, passing out flyers for the club she's starting. It's probably the toughest way, especially in high school, to get back out there, but also the most rewarding.

So one character's a social activist, there's also a reclusive gamer named Alex (Rhenzy Feliz), the sister of the deceased friend whose name is Nico (Lyrica Okano), a church-going girl seeking rebellion called Karolina (Virginia Gardner), a jock going by Chase (Gregg Sulkin), and last but not least, the coming of age Molly (Allegra Acosta).

It sounds stocky because these things always start out that way. It's helped by a cast that has great chemistry with each other, and with the actors playing their parents, and by a warmer feel than these kind of scenarios usually create. Typically these shows or movies start out with a real uphill battle for friendship, and every second is devoted to making that work. Instead "Reunion" was able to spend time on individuals and then bring them together properly. You can bet that it'll go a long way when they start kicking butt together.

Runaways starts slow on the superhero aspects of the show, as it is an origin story. From what's been shown so far, the show has a pretty good visual effects budget and knows how to use it. Feats of super-strength are easy to film, but because of how it's shot,  it's still fun to see someone, in this case Molly, stop a moving van and feel that excitement run through her veins. Even if it didn't, Runaways looks to be putting intrigue before spectacle. In the closing minutes a mystery begins, and when it's a mystery involving parents wearing red robes and standing in a circle, it's a mystery worth checking out.

4/5

I'm not one to do season/series long reviews, but wanted to get this one out there because I highly recommend people try it, or at least something like it. If you love it, or if you're looking for something a tiny bit different, I recommend CW's Black Lightning too. It's also set in high school, but if the principal had powers, and it's a mix of The Incredibles, DC, and Luke Cage.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

The Dark Knight Returns
introduced the theory that Batman riding a horse is the mark of a good movie. Director Sam Liu's Gotham by Gaslight is compelling evidence and a great movie in its own right anyway.

Gotham by Gaslight is an alternative universe story where a 19th century Batman (Bruce Greenwood) must catch Jack the Ripper. At 78 minutes, that sounds like a streamlined story, but Liu and screenwriter Jim Kreig fit a lot into their runtime. This new setting includes a reestablished origin for Gotham.

Don't worry, Bruce Wayne's parents aren't featured in the movie, but the Monarch Theatre plays a central role, as Jack attacks women who perform there. First up, is a de-powered Poison Ivy (Kari Wuhrer) who starts things off on the wrong foot. The movie opens with her performance, and the animation feels noticeably rigid. While not wanting Poison Ivy to dance to provocatively is a good thing, there are ways to give her a creative, well-animated performance that's clean. She just kind of moves left and right a little. Luckily, once Batman tries to intervene the animation picks up considerably. The fight scenes are choreographed and sound similar to the ones in The Dark Knight Returns. Batman and Jack are fast, but their blows feel heavy and satisfying.

After their first meeting, a lot of time is spent on Bruce Wayne and the locals of Victorian Gotham, and Gotham by Gaslight becomes its own film. The setting and characters are well-developed and set up in a way that suggests Liu and Kreig will return them. Characters featured include Harvey Dent (Yuri Lowenthal), Catwoman (Jennifer Carpenter), and, interestingly, multiple pre-Robin Robins who already know each other. There's no telling how this could evolve, and Gotham by Gaslight encourages second-guessing of ideas.

Similar to the opening of the movie, animation, unfortunately, isn't the only thing that's occasionally rushed. Harvey, also unfortunately, isn't that well written as the links between Jack the Ripper and Two Face are clear to anyone old enough to watch the movie. It's handled in a very upfront matter, and how annoying the audience finds it will vary. At the very least, all the lines are delivered well by the cast, especially Batman's.

Bruce Greenwood as Batman
Also, is there any correlation between a distinctive cowl and a well-portrayed Batman, or a good Batman movie? | Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Bruce Greenwood returns to the booth, after voicing Batman in Under the Red Hood and Young Justice. He's fantastic, and like Kevin Conroy and Roger Craig Smith (Batman: Arkham Origins), he understands what makes Bruce Wayne compelling with and without the cowl. Working with Jennifer's Carpenter's Catwoman and an extended amount of time as Gotham's socialite adds new dimensions to a role he already had down to a science.

Occasionally rushed writing and animation hold back a would-be perfect addition to the DC Animated Universe, but these moments are in a world as well-realized as the one in The Dark Knight Returns. That one, technically, got a sequel, so maybe this one should too?

3.5/5

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Amazing Spider-Man | Homecoming Style (Fan Made Trailer)

I reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man the day it came out, and I really liked it. The review is full of grammatical errors, but I wouldn't change a thing about the original post. I've thought a lot about expanding that review and writing about the sequel and Homecoming, but the bias is...strong.


The objectivity is there, and I can talk about it all day, but I couldn't write the scathing review Amazing Spider-Man 2 earned or the 4/5 Homecoming gets simply because the filmmakers were burdened by not repeating what audiences have seen before and ties to the MCU. We kicked and screamed for this, but it had drawbacks. It's acknowledged, but then everything else about this latest iteration is given an extra boost.

So, what should be done when there's more to say, but movie magic must be maintained?

Fan trailers are a way to go, and Homecoming paved the way for me to (re)learn editing, after one course on it in college.

The editing process was rough, especially audio, but it's a learning curve and future projects should come out better

The same goes for this post and Spider-Man reviews as well. There's just always something to revisit with this franchise, whether it's requested or not.

This video, and others are collected, on-site, here.
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Uncle Sam (1997) | Graphic Novel

Uncle Sam
 is by Steve Darnall, Alex Ross, and Todd Klein

During times when confidence in the U.S government is steadily declining, the people tend to zero-in on the potential causes and jump to a conclusion. At the end of the day, they’re right when they say that modern corporations and politicians are to blame. At the same time, that’s a vague generalization that leads to very little change. Uncle Sam seeks to find the root of the problem, and it may have accomplished its goal thanks to one brief scene.

Uncle Sam #1 & #2 (collected in a 2009 reprint) tells the story of a homeless man named Sam who is “clad in star-spangled rags” (Uncle Sam), and speaking in “presidential sound-bites” (Greil Marcus) as a way to make sense of where he is and the state of the nation. His dementia-caused wandering takes him through a (mostly) chronological journey of America’s rough patches, while his real one has a back-drop of the end of an average political campaign.

Darnall takes readers behind the curtain of the political process, while still keeping an appropriate, spectators distance from it. He doesn’t take readers into a political headquarters because this deception shouldn’t be considered privileged information. It still may be shocking to some. It is for Sam. As he wades through history, the dichotomy of the nation takes shape. Darnall draws a realistic, but optimistic picture, the nation has made progress, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Uncle Sam confronting a warped version of himself
Copyright 2009 DC Comics/Vertigo

Ross, who co-plotted Uncle Sam, paints the picture beautifully. Having said that, I only have Kingdom Come to compare Uncle Sam to, and Kingdom Come just looks better. Maybe it’s by the necessity of the story, or maybe it’s personally easier to find little DC superhero details than little American history details. Objectively though, there’s a certain lack of physical depth to the environments and backgrounds in Uncle Sam, but that shouldn’t deter anyone because every panel still looks like a gorgeous cover, and they’re almost worthy of becoming a full-size poster. Sam is nearly life-like, and if he wasn’t the book would fall apart.

America is a tough country to root for, and it always has been. That’s Uncle Sam’s key revelation. America didn’t go downhill a century, or even decades after being established, but as it was being established. Specifically, cleaning up Shay’s rebellion (remember Shay’s Rebellion?)

Memories of Shay's Rebellion
Copyright 2009 DC Comics/Vertigo

Darnall and Ross create a clear line between where we are, where we’ve been, and where America will always return to. While “America” has a certain “comfort zone,” they’re proud of the progress the country has made, and are simply asking for vigilance.

Sam’s journey reminds us that the citizen makes all the difference.

4.75/5



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