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Showing posts with label written-reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label written-reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)

Primary Disclaimer: Eddie works for the company making the premium theater concession products. 

Secondary Disclaimer: Eddie and I are both huge Paul Rudd fans. 

As the latest installment in the Ghostbusters franchise, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire mostly delivers. There are several callbacks to the original film, more appearances from the O.G. cast and way more screen time for the always wonderful Paul Rudd. 

This time, director Gil Kenan (Monster House) has the daunting task of maintaining one of the most iconic franchises of all time. He takes over for O.G. director, the late Ivan Reitman's son Jason, who helmed the previous film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Kenan's horror and comedy backgrounds lend itself to the series quite nicely. 

While pacing is problematic throughout, making an under two-hour feature feel closer to two-and-a-half, Kenan makes sure to stay as true to the original film as possible, unlike Afterlife, which went the traditional reboot route of making a beloved film incredibly dark. 

Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster | Copyright Sony 2024

This film follows the Spengler family as they leave Oklahoma behind and decide to resurrect the Ghostbusters proper in NYC, making the iconic Tribeca firehouse their own. Joining them is Rudd's Gary Grooberson, who this time has top billing after spending too few scenes in Afterlife, and is now official with Spengler matriarch Cassie (Carrie Coon). 

Together, they uncover many more supernatural beings, with kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Egon doppelganger Phoebe (McKenna Grace) having particularly memorable encounters with ghostly creatures. A robust supporting cast including Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt add a sense of freshness to the series, and this is on top of some very welcome lore building developed by Kenan and Reitman.

The supernatural elements expand past ghosts into things that are borrowed from other creative works, like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but still feel like welcome additions to this world. And some of them spark a well-earned, yet so-so arc for Phoebe.

Her character just feels really jerked around this movie. It gives Grace a lot to work with, and leads to some fine acting from Rudd opposite her, but it's a bit like how Ghostbusters 2 was a bit of a "back to square one" after the classic. That is what makes the runtime feel more padded than it actually ends up being. Speaking of the first two movies...

There, of course, is the return of Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson, who this time around get way more screen time. Hudson and Ackroyd especially have memorable arcs, with Hudson's Winston Zeddemore going from a trusty driver to a renowned philanthropist and Ackroyd's Ray Stantz as a podcast host of (what else?) a supernatural show! Potts, meanwhile, gets to step out of her comfort zone from zany secretary to kick-butt Ghostbuster Janine Melnitz. 

The butt-kicking and action is pretty strong as well, as improvements to the Ecto-1 take traversing the New York City streets to new heights. It's brief, but seeing the car whip around with a Proton Pack tearing up the town shows how much promise was in this movie, and how much promise is still left in the franchise. They just need to keep experimenting and testing things out...you know, like scientists.



Monday, March 18, 2024

Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Sixteen years after first gracing our screens, Po the Panda (Jack Black) is back in action again, this time with a smaller budget and less things to do.

Luckily, the thrills of the original Kung Fu Panda are alive and well. Action sequences in the fourth installment of this franchise totally deliver, and Black brings his best "rizz"-y self to one of his most famous characters, so audiences will still feel suckered into Po's world even if the story wears thin and the laughs are not as monstrous as in previous iterations.

This time around, we watch as Po receives a promotion of sorts from Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to be the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. This means that Po has to radically transform from the kick-butt Dragon Warrior to the decidedly more zen philosopher of his kingdom and find a successor in his place. 

Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster | Copyright 2024 DreamWorks Animation/Universal

While trying to find the right animal for the job, Po comes across a slick fox named Zhen (Awkwafina) as she tries to steal ancient weapons. Po rightfully puts her in the slammer, only to free her after leopard villain Tai Lung (Ian McShane, reminding longtime fans why he's one of the best animated movie villains) returns and has decimated an entire village. It is then revealed that Tai Lung's return was spurned by a new villain named the Chameleon (Viola Davis, bringing her best to the role). 

Now, onto what makes this movie fall short. If the plot sounds familiar, that might be because parts of it appear to be lifted from the third one. It feels like a regressive retread of Kung Fu Panda 3 overall. Po came out of the third movie ready for a more hands-off role as a teacher, and the fourth opens with him seemingly forgetting this and again asking Shifu why he should step aside as a fighter. This may be because of last-minute editorial decisions that were made by DreamWorks executives.

It was revealed recently in an interview that the film's co-director Stephanie Ma Stine had a more redemptive storyline for Tai Lung, where he and his adoptive father Shifu reunite. However, that plotline was axed by director Mike Mitchell, who ultimately received full credit for directing the film, in a move that probably adds insult to injury for Stine and female directors everywhere. 

Stine also reported being kicked around by film executives, which has been a worrying trend in the movie business as of late.

Then there's the budget, which at $85 million, is decidedly lower than the previous three films, each of which were around $130 million. This might reflect on some of the editorial decisions that were ultimately made in this fourth installment, most notably the near-absence of the Furious Five and their A-list voice cast. Luckily, it looks like no corners were cut when it comes to the stunning visuals that this series continues to dazzle us with four films in. Fight scenes remain as kinetic and inventive as other, with a notable overwater bar brawl being a highlight of the entire franchise.

While Kung Fu Panda 4 has already made more than its budget, with a gross thus far of $176.5 million globally, the box office returns appear to candy coat the film's many flaws. Even still, it's an enjoyable ride with a fan favorite at his kick-butt best. And a thrilling musical number closing out the movie (which we swear is not a total spoiler). 



Monday, March 11, 2024

Dune (2021) and Dune: Part Two (2024) [Spoiler Review]

For the first time last week, I got sucked into the world of Dune

It is for this reason I decided to review both Dune and the newly released Dune: Part Two this week.

In case you don't know, director Denis Villenueve, production company Legendary Pictures, and studio Warner Brothers chose to divide Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune into two parts. While this may have been a gamble, it sure paid off. 

Both films follow the journey of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the son of aristocratic leader Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of the cultish sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit, who possess strange, mystical powers through years of physical and mental training. 

Because of the rivalry between his and the Harkonnen family, a group of mostly bald, anti-social people, Paul is a bit of an outcast, which is why the idea of him being the heir to his kingdom known as Arrakis poses a threat.

In both films, Paul leads a fight against the Harkonnens over "spice," a commodity analogous to oil that increases vitality and awareness and has psychotropic properties. He finds key allies in the Fremen, a group of poor, Bedouin-like people. 

The rather skinny Paul undergoes Jedi Master-like training in the first film from the likes of soldiers Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), physician Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen) and military strategist Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), all associates of his father. 

Arrakis is eventually conquered by the Harkonnens in the first film, leading Paul to officially be taken in by the Fremen, along with his mother Jessica. Father Leto ultimately sacrifices himself in a duel with Baron Von Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgaard). 

Dune: Part Two Poster
Dune Part Two Poster | Copyright 2024 Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures

Cut to the second film, where Paul has taken up with a mysterious young female member of the Freman named Chani (Zendaya), who appeared to him in visions in the previous film. 

With the House of Atreides officially disbanded under the leadership of another monarch named Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), and he is disheartened over the news that Paul might still be alive at the beginning of the film. 

Jessica replaces the head of the Bene Gesserit after its Reverend Mother passes away by drinking the Water of Life, a poison designed for non-pregnant women. She transmutes the poison to her son, only to have him fall into a deep coma. After awakening with the help of Chani, he starts having visions of his stillborn sister Alia (Anya Taylor-Joy in a fabulous, uncredited cameo) and recognizes that he is part-Harkonnen after the revelation that his maternal grandfather is Baron Von Harkonnen. 

Speaking of the Harkonnens, we are introduced to one of its most interesting family members, the sociopathic Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler, in a performance that would make the late Heath Ledger proud). Butler commands the screen much like he did as Elvis Presley, although in a manner that is less welcoming and inviting. He is, by far, the standout in Villenueve's second act.

That is all I am willing to divulge about this most recent film. If you haven't read the classic novel, you're just going to have to spend nearly three hours watching the glorious battle sequences and imagery, all expertly shot by Villenueve and cinematographer Greig Fraser (The Batman). 

Villenueve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth have somewhat mastered the art of modern blockbuster filmmaking, subverting without winking. What rung out during the second film's trailers by Chani is, "this prophecy is how they enslave us!" 

The Chosen One Narrative that has driven fiction forever seeped and spread into our very real world thanks to how much smaller it has become. Now, it's become Main Character Syndrome, celebrity, and politics propping up actual figureheads. In Dune: Part Two, it's Paul's reluctance for power slowly subsiding as he as continuously looked toward for guidance at the critical time of young adulthood and during unprecedented times. This is delicately explored and it looks like, once again, that story is only just unfolding. 

All I will say is what I unfortunately left out of my initial thoughts on both films: that Villenueve is a master at sucking people into rather complex sci-fi. Even if you have to Google more finite plot details afterwards, he takes you on a ride you wish never ended, even with the rather long run time of each film. The good news is that a film based on the next book in the Dune series, Dune: Messiah, is on the way.



Sunday, February 25, 2024

Nyad (2023)

 Note: Co-written by Eddie Thomson, head writer

If you're interested in watching a high-octane swim for two hours, Nyad is just the film for you.

The Netflix hit is already Oscar-nominated, but that's not the only reason why you should tune in. It's a rare film that celebrates female friendship and the human body's resilience. 

The film follows famed swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) as she makes the treacherous journey from Havana, Cuba to the Florida Keys she set out to complete since her career began in 1979. The odds are set against her, as she is approaching her sixties, but she remains determined throughout and the audience remains grateful that she stays the course.

Theatrical Poster | Copyright 2023 Netflix

There by her side is her longtime friend and former partner Bonnie (Jodie Foster), who guides her throughout each of her four attempts to make this historic swim across the Atlantic Ocean. Also there is the navigator she hired to accompany her, John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans). Ifans, glad to say, brings his usual quirky charm, and grounding level-headedness, to the role as a ship captain reminiscent of the late Bill Paxton's Titanic treasure hunter Brock Lovett.

Nyad is directed by the documentary team Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin (Free Solo, Wildlife). This is our first film of theirs, but it's very clear what two things made their transition to narrative film so smooth: their incorporation of archival footage and perfect pacing. Footage of the actual Diana is used throughout the movie, which helps bring viewers into the breadth and depth of her career. Each attempt is also periodically time-stamped. When an attempt has to be abandoned, the near futility is doubly felt through both Bening's performance and knowing how close or far off she and her team are.

We also gain insight into her beginnings as a swimmer, although the filmmakers should have gone more in depth into some of her childhood experiences, especially one dealing with the trauma from a sexual harassment experience with her first coach Jack Nelson (Eric T. Miller). These are generally left as flashback scenes without much depth. 

Ultimately, what anchors this film is the friendship between Diana and Bonnie. It's rare to see platonic friendships on screen, with the same tension as romantic relationships. Viewers will be sucked in as the two tussle over Diana's stubbornness in completing the swim, especially after bad currents and a box jellyfish sting. 

When the film reaches its satisfying conclusion, you know this was a swim worth watching, even with all the complications in between. Watch for the strong chemistry between two of the finest actresses of their generation, and stay for the fast-paced swim journey. 



Monday, February 19, 2024

Madame Web (2024)

 Note: Co-written by staff writer Mallika Rao.

Kraven outstanding, Madame Web is the definitive death knell in Sony's Spider-Man universe, officially the mouthful known as Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters. To virtually everyone, my girlfriend Mallika included, this result was completely expected. I, however am frustrated by the potential and glimmers of hope that I effectively am trying to conjure out of thin out for this movie.

Madame Web is directed by S. J. Clarkson, and it's written, presumably as they were shooting and editing, by Matt Salaam & Burk Sharpless and Claire Parker & S. J. Clarkson. The story follows NYC paramedic Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson). After a near death on the job, she unlocks clairvoyant abilities that she quickly puts to work. 

Madame Web Poster
French Theatrical Poster for Madame Web | Copyright 2024 Sony and Marvel

Tasked with protecting three young women (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O'Connor, and Isabela Merced) from D-list villain Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), Webb will discover secrets of her past and her potential place in a larger multiverse...if this movie was well-made.

Way back in 2014, there were rumors of a potential Aunt May movie that was among a dozen or so straws Sony was grasping at after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 struggled at the box office. I was part of the few and the proud that championed this crazy idea. 

Spider-Man, like Batman, has the deepest bench of well-developed side characters in comics, and any number of these people could go off and do their own thing for an enjoyable two hours without any mention of arachnids or insects. Venom proves this and Peter Parker's parents are, at least in some stories, goddamn spies. Clarkson and company utilize the surface-level of what they're given to play with in the most surface way possible.

The surface stuff that works includes the use the 2000s settings and references, the unfulfilled promise of grounded, stunt-driven action, and the casting of the main four leads. 

From a clever Sony tie-in of a Beyonce album cover billboard (Queen Bey is a Sony Music Entertainment artist) to a memorable dance number with the three youngest actresses bopping to Britney Spears' "Toxic" to try and impress young men, and even a callback to another superhero flop with R&B group Mis-teeq's 2004 banger "Scandalous" (from the Halle Berry "Catwoman") playing briefly in the background. 

There's enough of a world here that audiences can stay anchored to something even as the plot and pacing start-and-stop sporadically. It's a two hours that doesn't feel like three or even two and a half, thank goodness, but does feel sleepy. The performances, or at least appearances of actors we know and love, keeps our eyes open luckily.

Johnson, Sweeney, O'Connor and Merced have great chemistry from the start. The film itself wastes their potential to work as a force for the greater good. It's a shame the writing had to be so mid, as kids today would say.

The always wonderful Adam Scott makes a memorable appearance as Ben Parker (yes, Spider-Man's Uncle Ben). To that point, Emma Roberts plays Mary, who is implied, with all the force of a sledgehammer, to be the matriarch of Peter Parker himself, and Peter's birth scene is one that hit close to home for me, as a month-prematurely born baby myself (sorry for the spoiler alert). I'm going to hold onto the headcanon that that applies to most multiversal Peter Parkers forever.

With a smaller budget compared to mainline Spidey films, the scaled-back action has an appreciated believability and spark of creativity to it. The hand-to-hand fights aren't caked in CGI until the very end of the movie, so they're luckily comprehensible. The highlight of the few confrontations in Madame Web is when one of the characters uses a defibrillator from inside an ambulance to shock Sims off them during the climatic chase. It's nice, tense, and at least a little inventive. 

Webb's clairvoyance does not get the same treatment. It's really just kind of there and seems to work like the movie Next, where the character just gets a few minutes of a heads up. Maybe if she lost her sight when she got her powers more could've been done with that, but they save her going blind and her comic-accurate look for the final minutes of the movie, ultimately leaving viewers feeling like they wasted their time and money. Still, a final positive, the costume design has a bit of that creative spark, too.

Madame Web's costumes are designed by Ngila Dickson (Lord of the Rings). Right off, there is something new, notable, and inspired about seeing spider suits without the classic one-way lenses. The trio of Sweeney, O'Connor, and Merced give us something close to live-action takes on the 2099 suit and two color-swapped Future Foundation outfits. Rahim wears a cross between the classic black suit and Far From Home's stealth suit, and it's always fun to see a covert Spider-Man costume slowly skulk across ceilings. It's way, way too brief, but at least it's there and saving the movie from a completely failing grade. 


(Not the four stars it tried to will into exist by having a scene at a place called the Four Star Diner in Jersey. Better luck next time with KravenEl Muerto, Spider-Man: Noir, and the now most likely doomed Silk project. Thank goodness for the animated movies and Venom.)


Monday, October 16, 2023

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (2023)

Primary Disclaimer: I work for the company making the premium theater concession products. Also, if you need a lid for your cup, this video, and this one, may help you find one. They’re by Paige Ruth.

Secondary Disclaimer: I took my girlfriend to the IMAX screening, and she loved the show!

A few years ago, I said "two of the greatest gifts of college were swing dance lessons and a re-introduction to music." Four of the songs on rotation were covers off of 1989, and they were my semi-introduction to Taylor Swift. I tell people that I learned to dance to those songs, so I did not feel out of place and happily held my own while singing along with this boisterous crowd.

The audience, mostly comprised of girls and women, would make us Marvel fanboys blush with their energy. Even with the expected dancing, I was not ready for the theater to shake the way it did, but what do you expect when your favorite pop star is showing off her moves, and the camera is doing so much more than just keep up with her?

The Eras Tour is directed by Sam Wrench (Netflix’s Rhythm & Flow and Lizzo’s 2022 Live in Concert, and cut by a team of near-precise editors. It's rare that a shot feels jarring, but it does happen. Still, under Swift's show-running, something lively, dynamic, and unexpected is created. One of the best examples of this is during the Reputation segment. Performances are better adapted on-stage than on-film in their initial music videos. It's not a bare-bones approach, it's streamlined, and it plays better in Eras because it looks, please excuse me, less silly.

During 1989's "Blank Space," a car was projected onto the raised platform of the stage and synced to the lightsaber golf club smashing of your background dancers! The video may have been perfectly timed, or it was set to play sections as-needed. Essentially, if you aren't taken in by the music, you are by the gear-turning of the entire production. So let's start with one, and then go to the other.
Taylor Swift: Eras Tour Poster
"Larger Than Life" doesn't even account for the big screen and big crowd | Copyright Taylor Swift Productions, AMC Theaters, and Cinemark Theaters 2023

This woman is incredibly thankful that her fans have allowed her to genre-jump and evolve as an artist, and when she made that known someone sitting behind us gave an equally thankful, and slightly comedic, "you're welcome." It's given her a deep bench to pull from but with very few deep cuts, and that's such a tremendous asset for an artist. That's obviously part of the show, but for someone who has only heard some work passively, it's a treat to realize some of the work you know isn't from the album you thought it was, this song is actually about this topic, or that lyric is actually a metaphor.

Straight up, Taylor Swift can belt it incredibly well. As loud as we all got at times, it was still incredibly impressive, and it surprisingly shined through even more during the less up-beat tracks that we sat for. I just wish those were paced out better.

Near the end, the length could be felt, and while Eras finishes strong, the lulls are both noticeable and potentially avoidable. I just wonder if the concert would've worked better for some if Folklore and Evermore were put in-between other sections. Maybe tonal whiplash would cause different problems, but it's certainly something to think about and the only real knock against the film. Having said that, one of those two featured a forest-themed piano.

Folklore Piano
Folklore Piano | Via Vox and Her YouTube Channel

So stuff like that probably isn't new to most fans, but the production design is the surprise star of the show, so much of those details will be kept under wraps. Basically, we're talking about mini film sets that would typically be reserved for Halftime brought to the stage by, at least in part, production designer Ethan Tobman. They're what make the scale of this whole thing feel so great, and that's why it really felt like the best way to see it was from the front-row or onscreen. Again, all the spectacle of a Marvel movie, and more, despite the third act.

If you dropped right down to the score, please read the disclaimers at the top of the page

And a bonus  for a million little things, like the room Taylor gave her background performers to add so much more than "contractual work" to fill out the stage. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that some of them are also actors. A couple people I wanted to highlight, in close, are Kameron N. Saunders and Jan Ravnik...because I'm not the only one who mistook Ravnik for Oscar Isaac. And Isaac, or someone resembling him, automatically improves a movie or show. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Creed III (2023) | Spoiler-Free

 A few months ago, notable filmmaker Patrick Willems made a video about "Why Baseball is the Best Movie Sport." Boxing and others were disqualified from discussion because he narrowed the criteria down to team sports that use some kind of ball. If it wasn't disqualified, a case could be made for boxing. 

The main reasons are the incredibly fast pace of fights, and no team means there's no ringer who can steal the show. As a bonus to the second point, editing and cinematography are much tighter because the focus is primarily on the two opponents. If this is the case, The Creed Trilogy may be one of the best sports trilogies out there. And to me, the third movie ranks comfortably between the first and second entries in the series.

Creed III

Another potential tagline, mixing chemistry on-screen and off, "A matchup made in heaven, fought in Hell." | Copyright MGM/Amazon 2023

From Rotten Tomatoes, "After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his [promotor] career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian [Anderson] (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove [himself]."

Adonis's, or Donnie's, family life also includes his hard-of-hearing wife Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), their deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), and Donnie's adoptive mother Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad). 

There are more characters and cast members to get to, but for now, Creed III is written by Keenan Coogler & Zach Baylin, it is Michael B. Jordan's directorial debut, it's shot by Creed II cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, and Creed director Ryan Coogler was involved in crafting this story. Ryan Coogler has also maintained some kind of producer role since Creed II. One reason why he had to stop directing this series may be because of the demands of his Black Panther movies, but also Creed III has been aggressively, and rightly so, hyped up as Jordan's vision. He is excellent on every side of the camera!

The most talked about part of this movie has been Jordan's anime influence. I watch some generally known favorites like Dragon Ball and Ghibli, so the slow motion in the initial fight looked more like a cranked-down version of a bare-knuckle brawl in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, and I mean cranked down in a good way because we're not held in suspense for too long. The action flows! Each fight in Creed III has a beautiful, proper, electric close, even if they go by a bit quicker than usual.

The final match between Donnie and Damian is unlike anything we've seen before in a boxing movie, and maybe in any live-action film. After the opening round, we enter a hyper-reality that's like Yu-Gi-Oh's Shadow Realm. The two fighters have blocked out their surroundings, but aspects of their lives appear around them. And we, the audience, are not entirely privy to what's said as they fight out their demons. It's told through screaming in-between strikes, and the only clue that there is a real conversation going on is implied because of prior in-ring trash talking, the checking in Donnie does with "Pretty" Ricky Conlon (Tony Bellew) after their fight to make sure it's all business and not personal, and little things like that. The boxers are dressed in black and white, respectively. Yes, that's really on the nose. But I'm going to go to bat for the choice and say that a lot of gray was filled in during those perceived talks. I'll talk more about costumes in a moment. 

Creed 3 Plane Training

Some people have said that the training montage this time around was underwhelming, even with an exercise like this... | Copyright MGM/Amazon 2023

Creed 1Creed 2

But I believe the ending of first one and whatever the hell this was from Creed II just left unmatchable imprints | Copyright MGM and WB, 2015 and 2018

Michael B. Jordan trusts his audience to pick things up at least on a re-watch, and it affords him, and editors Jessica Baclesse and Tyler Nelson, the ability to trim the movie down to a little under two hours, including credits. It works, but it left me wanting more about this chapter in everyone's lives, not just Donnie's. We may not get back to that in the sequel, spinoffs, or whatever is cooking off the massive success of this entry. I really hope a director's cut is planned for this one because it looks like Davis-Kent's time as Amara, and Wood Harris's time as "Little Duke," were cut short. 

I can only assume that "Little Duke" was going to fill in more of the boys' backstory growing up together.  We see him in the prologue, and that's pretty much it at that time. Amara idolizes her dad, watches all his fights, and is looking to be a boxer like him. For now though, she's a very young kid. When she gets into a fight in school, that should be the last resort. The movie loses a bit of the message of "Why we fight" that I had trouble identifying the first time I watched Creed II. It took a rewatch and the insight of other critics for me to find it. I think I struggled less on the first watch of III, so that's why I'm putting it above II. A director's cut won't put it above the first movie, but, whatever the future may hold, it can help form a more complete trilogy.

Anyway, we need to talk about Jonathan Majors for a moment. He pulls this amazing long game in his layered performance that takes him from friend who is actually playing everybody, to antagonist, and back to worthy rival. He comes on the scene feeling a bit off, and we're really not sure what his deal is. Some critics have said that they noticed we don't see what his life in prison was like, and that's great because that would've told us too much in an instant. So much of it comes from how he fights. When he relies on illegal blows to move up the ranks, and when he doesn't in his title fight against Adonis. I think it's part of that gray space I mentioned. People have said that his turnaround at the end of the movie was too fast, but I think there's reason enough between his two methods in the ring to buy into it. Again, a longer cut could back these things up more, but it's more than sufficient character-building. Majors plays into all by showing incredible range. It's as easy to see him as a chameleon, between this and his Marvel roles, as it is to see Damian himself as a bit of one too. That really comes through when he's sizing up the Creed family through Bianca. His next huge showcase in Magazine Dreams can't come soon enough.

We've also gotta talk about Tessa Thompson and her dynamic with Jordan. The short version is that this is an incredibly deep relationship that's been constructed over three movies, it's been consistent across three directors, and it's one of the healthiest fictional marriages I can think of outside of the go-to of Gomez and Morticia Addams. The difference, obviously, is that this is much more grounded. That's impressive. Thompson and Coogler made sure early on that Bianca has her own life outside of her man, and that has held on. They are each other's rocks, but she's also got a music producer career that's been a successful, but taxing, transition for her. Thompson usually brings a bit of an edge to most of her roles. That's not dulled, but it's replaced with wisdom, as she has to push others around her to open up more, and she does the same for them. She’s the Tony Porter of the film, although she recognizes the emotional labor of that label and leaves her husband to reflect on that. I love how the movie takes the time to talk about how she copes with her progressive hearing loss. Also, on the subject of women, we see them as trainers and commentators, without it being like "a thing," and that's such a fantastic detail. There are still ring girls in-between rounds though, and so that does stick out more than it normally would.

Bianca's struggles are heightened a little bit more by seeing this movie on a big screen with open-captions, which means everyone is seeing those captions in the theatre. And, in this case, sign language is done with its own font style, so everything is crystal clear to just about everyone. I hope blind people also had their needs met for this one. I can only assume that they were, and I hope that's just a standard now. I'd like my dad to be able to at least try to enjoy movies again.

Finally, I just want to talk a bit about the costume design by Lizz Wolf, especially because it may go unnoticed when the most notable looks heavily feature pecs and packs. Some of the anime influence is actually right here, as people have pointed out an Akira-style of the shorts worn in the first fight. Also, this is a bit silly, but I just love the corporate-casual-comfortable look of the suits the two main actors wear throughout the movie. Dress pants, a suit jacket, but a hoodie underneath the jacket. That sounds so fucking cozy, and I love it. Sweaters with a suit jacket over it, instead of a button-up, that's the best of all of this. It's just something that got me re-thinking my dresser a little, and I didn't know I could be stylish and happy at the same time like that, so it's appreciated. 

Look V by Ralph Lauren. We got an appearance from Apollo, too | Copyright MGM/Amazon 2023

Things like that help Creed III go the distance.


II is at the same rating because no matter how well they pulled it off, bringing in the Dragos will always feel like a gimmick to me. Creed gets an extra.5/5 because that "I'm not a mistake" line knocked me out the first time, made me fucking cry, and it at least puts me on the mat every other time I see it. 


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Titanic (1997) | Short Review

Thank you to my girlfriend for finally getting me to see this classic.

I'm probably not going to add much that hasn't been said over the past 25 years, so this is just going to be a few notes.

Rose Dawson should be brought up in the same conversations as Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. The only thing people give pause to that is genre.

This is DiCaprio's best performance that I've seen opposite an actress. That's partially due to a lot of movies keeping his character mostly apart from the woman, or not entirely devoted to her, but it's also probably because Winslet just brought out the best in him. The other movies I have to go off of are The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, and Shutter Island. Revolutionary Road, whatever it is, just shot up the watchlist. Also maybe something about his time as Jack explains why DiCaprio doesn't date people around his own age. The man needs to talk to a fucking therapist before he does something awful to somebody else.

The same can't exactly be said about Winslet. She's done great romantic work alongside Jack Black, Jim Carrey, and probably tons of people I'm forgetting.

There's one more actor to briefly highlight. I wish Kathy Bates did more stuff like this because she's usually taking on roles that are a lot more broad. This might be one her most straight-forward performances, and it's refreshing.

Jack and Rose | Copyright 1997 Paramount, Fox/Disney, and/or Lightstorm Entertainment

With the exception of the Avatar movies, James Cameron for the most part does not hit his audience over the head with the spectacle. It's all backed with just pure, solid filmmaking. Like when he talks about Terminator 2's CGI, he said it was only used when necessary and a lot of the T-1000 was done with practical effects. 

Still, I did not expect to be swept in from the first sepia-tone shots of the movie, but I was. And that lasted until the iceberg, and until everything started going straight to the depths of hell. 

This would've played out better if I didn't know the basics of the ending, and if I wasn't as anti-capitalist as the world has made many of us. It's just frustrating to watch that, and classism, go on for what feels like the bulk of the movie's runtime, murder most of the passengers, and one of our leads. The movie is smart to not overly hammer that point home, but it's just something we're all really attuned to now. So, I was just exhausted by the end of the movie.

It doesn't help that the shipwreck also stops the fun of watching the romance between Jack and Rose. Also, on that note, thank goodness that fun wasn't stopped early by Jack lying who he is and being found out later. Cameron's dialogue may be clunky at time, although that's mostly just in Avatar, but he always nails the big picture and plot.

Finally, I think I know why this movie hit with everyone at the time. Those scenes set in the present have a "current" style to them, with the Watchmen-style t-shirt. Something about things like that probably made the movie more accessible to people who wouldn't normally have seen it. It's that, fear of missing out and wanting to know what all the hype was about, and box-office was just a very different place back then.

After all this, I want to watch something relaxing. I'm going to watch the Futurama episode for the millionth time and try to catch all the new references I've been missing. 


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Quantumania Poster
There's been a lot of ups and downs with Marvel movies lately, and how we talk about them has even higher highs and lower lows. I didn't see much about the content of Quantumania before seeing it, but I did see the report. The breaking (entertainment) news of the week is that "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Ties [with Eternals] for MCU's Worst Rotten Tomatoes Score," and a lot about that is rubbing me the wrong way, so let's try to get into it a little bit. What is the movie, what fixes to it could have been made, and why is that headline unnecessarily loaded?

From IMDb, the Ant-Man outline is "Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), along with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), [and Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton),] explore the Quantum Realm, where they interact with strange creatures and embark on an adventure that goes beyond the limits of what they thought was possible." It is directed by series regular Peyton Reed, written by Jeff Loveless (Rick & Morty), and Rudd notably does not have a script credit for the first time in the series. That's one of the differences worth starting with. 

Taking place primarily in the Quantum Realm, there's a feeling that while this isn't a soft reboot, like Thor: Ragnarök, it is a major departure from the grounded (enough) heists and street-level activity from the first two movies. When I reviewed Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018, I said that "there's no disgustingly evil villain, there's (mostly) just people trying to get by or, in Ava's case, survive." This should be the "Fairly Relaxed Trilogy," and while we're not talking about total tonal whiplash, we are talking about an adjustment. 

My Ant-Man CosplayMy Ant-Man Cosplay
Suiting up for this one was a ton of fun. A huge thank you to the guy who listed this cosplay on FB Marketplace. I wasn't exactly sure how to pose in it

Quantumania tries to be a bit of a sci-fi epic that takes visual cues from Star Wars, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Denis Villeneuve's Dune. The Quantum Realm is a split empire of high and low-class that is ruled by a variant of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). Despite great casting of new characters, like William Jackson Harper as Quaz, a member of the resistance against Kang, few of them leave an impression. Bill Murray does as Lord Krylar, but that's because he's him, and he's also recently been embroiled in some controversies. Side characters who we most likely won't see again are around mainly to motivate Scott to act, as he's gotten a bit complacent since cashing-in on his status as an Avenger. The good news about that is maybe William Jackson Harper can still play Reed Richards in the main timeline. Gemma Chan was double-cast, so the door is open.

Now, when I first heard that Scott cashing-in was part of the plot, I was alarmed that they were going to assassinate his character. Luckily, it's not that bad. He just needs a slight reality check. The movie kind of addresses my Ant-Man and the Wasp complaint that Hank and Hope were beating up on him too much in the last movie, but they try to like double-fix it. There's less of that, but also, we're getting a more serious Scott, and it's a slight sticking point for me. 

Cassie, who now has her own suit and may go by the title Stature or Stinger, gets kidnapped by Kang, naturally alarming and enraging Scott. Down the line, I can see this saga of Marvel coming down to just Ant-Man and Kang, but I honestly need to see more range from Rudd first. He has to force anger in his performance, and it just comes off as trying. It's endearing because he seems to really be that sweet guy off-screen, but it hurts the movie. Maybe there's a non-comedic role I missed? If so, please tell me what it is. Performances from everyone, except the wonderfully intimidating and stoic Jonathan Majors, seem off, because it's a less comedic film, and there's more acting against green/blue screen instead of sets and people. Michael Douglas, and perhaps Michelle Pfeiffer, could have been the key to fixing that and some other issues with the movie.

Hank and Janet move things along in the Quantum Realm, but I think the story would've been more streamlined, and the actors would've for the most part been better used, if they were communicating with Scott, Hope, and Cassie from home over something like radio. Douglas and Pfeiffer feel a little out of their element having to juggle all that CGI in their heads, and they've earned the right to take it easy in blockbuster roles. Not only is the story more focused on a solid trio this way, but it allows more familiar faces to help, or at least pop-in, in the headquarters of the Pym house. It would've been nice to see the rest of the cast from the last two movies, and we know that Michael Peña would level out the tonal shift at least for a sequence. Maybe this was the result of the movie being made at least partially under Covid restrictions. At there is at least one cast surprise that got me excited for a moment, the villain from the first Ant-Man returns. But only for a moment.

Corey Stoll's portrayal of Darren Cross always struck me as a few notches above the typical corporate superhero villain. He's elevated by the peeks into a long, complicated history with the Pym family and what prolonged Pym Particle exposure has done to his mind. Stoll had a great enthusiasm, mixed with brewing anger. He's great in Quantumania, as the Yellowjacket-turned-M.O.D.O.K, but he's mostly just a servant of Kang. That helps develop Kang further, but it doesn't do much else. His design on M.O.D.O.K is also pretty off-putting, but people are blowing that out of proportion.

If you've seen the screenshots already, it does indeed just look like Stoll's face is stretched out to a large size. It looks surprisingly okay in motion. The effects in general look good, and I really hope the artists weren't fucking abused this time around, but they probably were. I think they added some extra vibrancy to the shrinking and growing to match the new setting, and the action throughout is pretty solid too. A giant, relatively speaking, Ant-Man slamming Kang against the wall is quite satisfying, and so is a new variation on the Hawkeye move from Civil War. But it also seemed like there were some missed opportunities here-and-there. 

It's a minor thing, but it seems to point toward Marvel just kind of churning these movies out quickly in recent years. There's a scene where Scott keeps multiplying, and while they throw in one Baskin-Robbins employee version, seeing Ant-Men in more costumes from the last couple movies, since the super-suit is changed around a bit every time, would've made the scene pop more. They also could've added outfit variants like Scott as a thief, in prison, and and in an oversized hoodie. 

Infinite Probability Scotts
The possibilities were endless and unexplored | Copyright 2023 Marvel/Disney

Still, these are minor things, and Marvel has looked into slowing down and injecting more care back into their movies. Wakanda Forever proves that, and so do statements from the studio lately. So, people who missed Kang in Loki are still looking at a promising start to his rule, and signs point toward that hope continuing, in due time. So, with that in mind, let's not be too hard on them. Let's be fair in our thoughts.


However, there's one more thing. My girlfriend and I had a fantastic time watching the movie with an opening weekend audience. We were really bouncing off of the movie, and Paul Rudd's charm, together, even if he was diluted to suit the story this time around. Going back to the first two movies will surely be even more enjoyable for us, since Michael Peña will be thrown into the mix. For all that, Quantumania earns a bump.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business (2014) | Graphic Novel

A plain-clothes Peter Parker is nearly captured by private military contractors. That's weird. He's able to escape capture with the help of his long-lost sister, Teresa Parker. That's weirder. And now they need to go globe-trotting to stop The Kingpin. If this story threw many more curveballs, there's a chance people might've checked out, but it doesn't. Instead, it just gets more enjoyable to read and, frankly, just stare at because of the artwork. Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business is part of an Original Graphic Novel line called Marvel OGN, so it's like a longer, self-contained, single-issue. It's written by Mark Waid and James Robinson, painted and covered by Gabriele Dell'Otto, and penciled by Werther Dell'Edera.

The best thing about stories that go off the rails is that it makes buying into ones like this pretty easy. We don't need to forgive "Sins Past," or anything like, but we should give them a bit of a break because of what they allowed future writers to get away with.  Plus long-lost siblings reveal themselves in comics, Law & Order: SVU episodes, and even our world all the time. Waid and Robinson do introduce the story gently though, with a standard, but very entertaining, crime-in-progress. 

Spider-Man Hijacking
The only, very minor, art complaint I can think of is that there's usually another panel and speech balloons on top of shots like this | Copyright 2014 Marvel

Peter stumbles onto a truck that's full of shop-lifted laundry detergent, intended to be resold to wholesalers, and then smaller retailers. We get great quips, like "Stop in the Name of Mr. Clean," great panels, and a good sense of where this Spider-Man is right now. No Parker industries, so this is the only way to keep Family Business somewhat grounded. 

Once the main story kicks off with Teresa's introduction, they're quickly "Jason Bourne-ing," as Peter calls it, to places like Monte Carlo, Switzerland, and Cairo. 

As a fan of the show Archer, Monte Carlo was easily my favorite destination. It took a few minutes to confirm, but someone somewhere will rest easy knowing that Peter and Sterling Archer both don't know the first thing about Baccarat. At least they both clean up nicely. 

Peter and Teresa
Personally, I recommend "college rulesBlackjack. If you can't count cards, just be the last person dealt and pray only one deck is in use | Copyright 2014 Marvel

They're there to get information to lead them to their parents' safe house. They're nearly stopped by a villain named Cyclone, and I really like the way his suit is analyzed. Spider-Man figures out that this version of the character isn't a mutant, so it'll be quick work to basically tear out his battery pack. Still, it would've been nice if Teresa could've helped. The best parts of this story, dealing with this relationship and their relationship with their parents, is where the writing does have some hiccups. 

We only get to experience so much of these these two learning about each other, and their mom and dad, because of the constraints of about a hundred pages. Shorthand dialogue about power and responsibility is well-used, but it still feels like a workaround because the plot has to keep powering through. Other times, it is a bit on the nose. The Monte Carlo contact tells the two that Richard Parker was a wisecracker, instead of it being shown in one of Waid and Robinson's flashback scenes. Yes, this stuff should be in there but in a less clunky way. Luckily, the buy-in of the sibling storyline doesn't really have this problem.

Since there's no time to do a DNA test or something, what Waid and Robinson come up with is that Teresa has a family photo and Peter's expertise as a photojournalist tell him that it's not doctored. Doubt is in the back of his mind and ours, but things are addressed well, and nothing about the story really feels cheap because of that doubt. A costume change for Spider-Man is handled similarly, and outside justification for that is the artists get to have more fun. It just works. And again, this part of the story is not the wildest thing to happen in comics, other pop culture, and everyday life. What is wild is that they meet The Kingpin in Cairo.

Leaving out some details, what Family Business comes down to is a male Parker is able to unlock a vault full of Nazi gold that's also guarded by a robot. Nick Spencer's Ant-Man runs into a robot just like this a year or two later, and I recently re-read that for a (Patreon exclusive) guest appearance on the Superhero Cinephiles podcast, so the suspension of disbelief is still going strong here. Plus, this was around the time of the Webb/Garfield movies that were all about Peter's parents, so that probably helped some readers at the time. Now, I'm not so sure. I also wonder if this book has much of a legacy outside of the art and Wilson Fisk's iconic look? 

Wilson Fisk
Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk | Copyright 2021 Marvel Studios

The closest comparison I can make to Dell'Otto and Dell'Edera's work is Alex Ross because of how it's painted. A quick comparison can be made with the Ross art in my Uncle Sam review, but a better one can be made by looking at his work in Marvels and Kingdom Come. Where Ross excels is scope and detailing, but, as far as I know, work like this in comics is still incredibly hard to come by outside of covers, and any instance of it should be celebrated. Personally, a character like Teresa should be, too. She's definitely not well-known.

I wish she was. Peter having that connection felt really heart-warming, as unexplored as it felt at times, but I couldn't find too much on the character after that, but if I'm missing something please correct me. As far as Family Business goes, Fisk and the robot are stopped, the day is saved, and there doesn't seem to be any major lasting impacts to the story. Some of that is probably by design because of the self-contained thing, but something about a bombshell like this just defusing, one that could've opened up the world of a character, doesn't feel right. This isn't even where Cindy Moon (Silk) was being kept, which is where I thought the story was going, but that just goes to show what casual reading gets you sometimes. Anyway, someone on Reddit said that the Webb/Garfield movies created the perfect universe to introduce and adapt her story, and they're right, but the MCU wouldn't be a bad fit either.

For those who've seen No Way Home or ready my review, they know that that Peter could use literally anybody in his life just popping up right now, and while writing around Doctor Strange's magic to make this happen logically would be quite difficult, it could be incredibly rewarding for Peter, his sister, and the fans who feel especially close to them.


Update: It looks like Chip Zdarsky featured her a few years later in his Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man run.