A New Media Channel. By Fans, For Fans.

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

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.


4/5


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. 


Share:

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.

Titanic
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. 

4/5
Share:

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.

3/5

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.

3.5/5
Share:

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.

3.75/5

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

Share:

Friday, April 1, 2022

Morbius (2022) | Short Review

In Morbius, via IMDb, "Biochemist Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease, but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead." And then his friend, played by Matt Smith, infects himself and Morbius has to kill him. That's about it, but the director, Daniel Espinosa, (Life) and writers, Matt Sazama & Burn Shapless, do what they can to fill up the 104 minute runtime.

The writing is some of the worst out there for a comic book movie, as the script doesn't just lack style and substance, but it lacks anything close to its own identity. On top of that, there's borrowing and stealing ideas from other projects, or filling pages with clichés, but it really feels like less than that, although the clichés are there. One of the lines in the trailer is about how Michael feels better than he's ever felt in his life after the experiment, but it has its drawbacks, too. 

If it's not something like that, Michael is just pushed along by the plot and barely able to make a decision. I'm not a writing expert, but I think plot-driven stories need to rely more on well-developed characters to keep us engaged, unless the plot mechanics are really interesting and out there. However, if I'm wrong or missing something about how that works, please let me know.

The action is okay, and the creature effects look really solid. The climatic fight scene gets a little tough to follow because of how fast the characters can move and teleport, but other than that...it's fine. Motion-capture was used to shift the leads in and out of their vampire forms, and the designs of their faces are nearly the only highlight of the movie.

Morbius
The movie would be better if Michael was doing the "Lethal Protector" thing like Venom | Copyright 2022 Sony and Marvel

The other highlight would be Matt Smith. He is really good, and he channels Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask in his performance. It is the ounce of character in the entire movie, and I love my “woo” boys! It's worth nothing that Adria Arjona plays Doctor Martine Bancroft, one of Michael's friends and co-workers. She shaped her role after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that is awesome. Arjona is doing the best she can with what she's given, but Martine is pushed along in that same way as Michael. If this somehow leads to her playing AOC one day, or more people like her with more to do, that's excellent. Until then, Morbius gets graded on what it is, not what it promises. 

Speaking of which, post-credits and MCU-wise, it's difficult to even tell what it's promising. Those scenes did not balance out the cost of admission on this one, but they rarely do on Sony's solo Spider-Man movies. Remember that time there was an X-Men trailer instead because of a trade with Fox?

With Morbius, the studio was on cookie-cutter auto-pilot, and that’s somehow way worse than them mandating senseless shit. They rushed the skeleton of a script out and dared to call it a movie. We jump on Sony for throwing out ideas like an Aunt May or Silver Sable movie, but that really could be something. I mean the headline alone is out there, and a movie about one of comic's most beloved moms opens a couple of doors. Ignoring that the idea was for an espionage story, I'm seeing a drama that shares the same perspective of Kurt Busiek's & Alex Ross's Marvels. It's superheroes from the perspective of the people again, which, outside of Disney+ shows and DC, hasn't really been deeply explored since the early days of the MCU. If Sony and Marvel are going to maintain a contentious relationship, they should at least try to one-up each other. Right now, it's up to upcoming Kraven the Hunter to rise to the challenge.

2/5

Share:

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Batman (2022) | Spoiler-Free

The Batman is directed by Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes). It is written by Reeves and Peter Craig (The Town), as they stitch together dozens of Bat-sources and incarnations. Non-Bat-sources, as everyone has noted the influences of movies like Seven and Zodiac, play a large part, too. However, this isn't a patchwork, but a deep, warm, red tapestry of a movie. It stars, among others, Robert Pattinson (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Zoë Kravitz (Catwoman/Selina Kyle), Paul Dano (Riddler), Jeffrey Wright (James Gordon), John Tuturro (Carmine Falcone), Andy Serkis (Alfred Pennyworth), Colin Farrell (Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot), and Jayme Lawson (Bella Reál, Gotham's mayoral candidate). The plot is that after two years of developing The Batman, the changing tide in crime isn't what Bruce expected. There's still deep-rooted corruption, but now there's an escalation and assassinations of high-ranking people in Gotham carried out by the mysterious Riddler. It's up to Batman and Gordon to try to get a step ahead of him and his puzzles.

So, let's start at the top with those sources. For the most part, everything with Batman has probably been done in some way, shape, or form. It's all about what hasn't been done in a live-action film yet, and which combinations of elements either haven't been tried before or work best. The notable source that's not a spoiler is the action, and some set design, being inspired by the Arkham games. Snyder and Affleck were too when it came to action, but they're still fairly different takes. Reeves and Pattinson are less gadget-reliant, as this version of the character is still experimenting with what utilities work best. He's also using armor that doesn't sacrifice speed and flexibility, but that's actually much more for Reeves and his crew than it is for the character. 

According to Cinema Blend, "Pattinson was working with eighth degree red and black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu intstructor Rigan Machado ahead of The Batman." Fights are primarily hand-to-hand and rely little on editing. Any tiny cuts or breaks in the action are thanks to the darkness Batman operates in. That's until the firing of a gun or a bullet sparking off his single, removable batarang chest plate reveal a little more. Really, the movie's cinematographer, Greg Fraser (Dune), and the people responsible for lighting and color grading deserve special recognition for shrouding everything away from the light while still keeping it visually comprehensible and beautiful. In all honesty, I have no clue how they made that work, especially after I criticized No Way Home for their night-time scenes. Anyone who can further explain it, please chime in. The best I can come up with, and it's an oversimplification, is that less cgi was involved. 

 

The Batman Returns Poster
I used their own artwork to update the 1992 Batman Returns poster | Copyright 2022 Warner Media

Onto the actors! To come right out with it, I need to see another movie with Pattinson before I can give him a fair ranking against most other Batmen. I think I wanted to see the looser, party-boy Bruce Wayne, even though it's a good thing we didn't get it, just for a fuller picture of his performance. Still, his Year One style narration that opens and closes the movie is fantastic. Ben McKenzie had that in the animated Year One movie, but it was overly stiff. This is closer to Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach in Snyder's Watchmen, in tone, but it doesn't go overboard in over-the-top despair. It's the fine line that The Batman, luckily, comfortably walks. 

Zoë Kravitz, on the other hand, makes a great Selina and Catwoman, and it only took this movie for her to solidify that. Selina is more drawn from her sources than ever before, so Kravitz is given a lot to work with. Selina's frustration with the city radiates in ways that Bruce's can't, as she quickly sizes him up, behind the mask, as some kind of trust-fund kid. Blunt political, and racial, talking points of Joker (2019) are quickly handled much better through her, Riddler's plans, and Lawson's role as an AOC-like figure. And I very, very much appreciate that, and I'd add more if spoilers weren't at risk. Anyway, those sources include an interesting connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone, and I've never seen a stronger performance from John Tuturro. I've seen funnier and more out there, but I've never seen a show of real strength and power from the man. He and Kravitz are both inspired casting choices. 

Someone named Morris said "Jeffrey Wright is the best Jim Gordon and it's not even close." Again, I can't go that far without another movie, but we both agree on one thing, "they both go on the streets and both figure shit out." Especially for a first movie in a new set, is a slightly more hands-on Gordon than Nolan's and Gary Oldman's. It's a big benefit of that two-year head start. They're casual with each other, unless it appears one may have crossed the line. A close comparison is probably the Gordon and Batman of the 90s cartoon or The Dark Knight Returns. 

While it's still odd that Penguin isn't played by Richard Kind, since that's how Farrell looks under prosthetics, the only real problem with Oswald is we didn't get enough of him. Still, him only as a mid-tier thug is refreshing, especially for fans of the Arkham games, and it's probably the only time we'll see him with much of a funny bone that doesn't rely on breaking them. His interrogation by Batman and Gordon is a comedic highlight, as he mocks their inability to remember some basic Spanish in one of Riddler's clues. In returns, he's left of waddle in handcuffs until he gets picked up. It seems, the next time we see him, it'll be in an HBO Max show tracking his rise to power. Expect a lot of cruelty from him in it, and be ready to savor it. 

Finally, Paul Dano was absolutely pitch-perfect as Riddler. The character may be excruciating to hear to some, as he whines and pleads for attention and validation, but that is how small men like him should appear. When in control, Dano is menacing. One of his great strengths as an actor is an unassuming nature. That's been shown at least a few times over with Swiss Army Man, Prisoners, and There Will Be Blood. Pairing that with this character, he's able to twist reason and the symbol of Batman to suit his own needs, and gravitate people toward whatever side of reason that is. The movie comes together because of this. 

To start to close things out, I'll say that Reeves, Craig, and Pattinson have expertly created another "Brooding Bruce." To balance that out, they crafted a story and city where "it'll get worse before it gets better." A Gotham that never quite hits rock-bottom, although it gets close, is a great opening. A Bruce and Selina who share a kiss and haven't either is, too. Batman has hope. You can see it, and so much more in Pattinson's eyes behind the mask. And so does The Batman, and something like that has been missing from his stories for a while. Maybe because hope's usually more of a Superman thing?


Man of Steel

4/5


Share:

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) | Spoiler Review

Seriously, spoilers. Also, thank you to my friends Louis and Matt for previewing this review. Please check out Matt's podcast, Saturday Morning Confidential, which takes a deep dive into nostalgic properties. 

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, villains from other universes get sucked into the MCU, after Peter Parker (Tom Holland) enlists the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to re-conceal his identity as Spider-Man and the spell goes wrong. The movie also stars, among others who'll be discussed, Zendaya (MJ), Jacob Batalon (Ned Leeds, "Guy in the Chair"), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Marisa Tomei (Aunt May), Jamie Foxx (Electro), and Alfred Molina (Doc Ock). Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, and Jon Watts, return from Far From Home to, respectively, write and direct. 

Jon Watts also directed Homecoming, and he's proven himself to juggle the demands of bigger and bigger blockbusters...to a point. He, and Sony and Marvel execs, didn't deliver a perfect movie, but this could've gone wrong a hundred different ways. It just went wrong a few ways. So, while the majority of fans are praising this movie from the top of the Chrysler or Empire State Building, known hangout spots of Spider-Men, let's address the issues now. They're the action and some of the villains. 

With the exception of Into The Spider-Verse action in Spider-Man movies still has not been topped by the train scene way back in Spider-Man 2. Up until now, I used to think the sole reason why is that Sam Raimi and his crew thought of every possible maneuver Maguire's Spider-Man, or any Spider-Man, and Doc Ock could throw at each other at any given moment and left nothing on the table. That's all you need if your fight scene is staying on the page, but No Way Home made me realize that how every possible maneuver was staged and shot truly is what it's all about. It's not about visual effects, although that's a huge factor, it's filmmaking 101. Rather, it's advanced visual filmmaking, something that people have said that Marvel Studios brushes aside to instead focus on things like the characters, story, and humor of the universe. There's evidence to support these claims. If you don't want to watch that video because it's a bit illusion shattering, I can simplify things a little. 

Action movies need to stop setting their action scenes at nighttime, and producers and directors need to add more color to their movies, like these people did for them. This isn't always a problem, like in Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok, but it's a weakness in the visuals that leads to seeing different kinds of weaknesses in the visuals. Some parts of Thor Ragnarok, at least to me,  look they were quickly shot from just one angle on a soundstage. The environments of those particular scenes were stylized, but it's still a problem. Suddenly, it's done during a living room scene, and something just feels off. It becomes a repeated problem until it's not seen as a problem anymore. It may be seen as lacking, but accepted. Other people can go more in-depth when it comes to these production issues and the practical reasons why they happen, so let's go back to No Way Home as the main example. 

Title Poster
Title Poster, for when your thumbnail can't contain spoilers, even when the review does | Copyright 2021 Sony and Marvel Studios

The action in this movie has the most weight when it's stripped down and raw. Yes, that's appropriate, but those fun scenes should have something like that weight too. Holland's web swinging finally does, when it's shown in the daylight, but his webbing people up, less so. Luckily, he starts throwing punches, hard punches, a lot of them, and for a heartbreaking reason. 

The Green Goblin, aka Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), kills this universe's Aunt May during a battle with Spider-Man, and Spider-Man nearly responds in kind. It feels brutal, as an onslaught of pain is brought upon Goblin. They begin out of fear of what Norman may do, and then they come from vengeance. Those punches are coupled with a great performance from Holland. He's never been better in this role, as Peter is put through the trials of what people are basically calling his official origin movie. His quieter moments are played more understated than ever, as this version of the character has faced, arguably, more loss and has become more beaten down by life than his two counterparts. But one of the character's greatest strength, across universes, is helping others find their strength and resolve. So, let's talk about more bad guys. 

So, the returning roster of big baddies also includes Thomas Hayden Church as Flint Marko/Sandman and Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors/The Lizard. At least, I think it was them. Sandman is all sand until the very end of the movie, and similar can be said about The Lizard. I wasn't completely certain it was Ifans voice. Maybe they weren't interested in returning fully, maybe there were scheduling issues, or maybe it was because of Covid.  Whatever the case, all understandable, it's noticeably felt. Flint Marko's deal basically is that he just steals to live, he's not homicidal or anything like that, and he wants to go back to see his kid. He's sensible. This movie's deal is that Peter is trying to save and cure the villains because everyone deserves a second chance. Of course, not all of them are going to be okay with that, but Sandman should be. They set it up in a way where he doesn't really trust the people trying to help him, but again, he should be more sensible than how he's presented. And Lizard, stuck in his transformed state, just doesn't think straight. It's...fine. Maybe it's better than spreading everyone out and too thin, which these movies always risk doing. Plus Church and Ifans got full enough characters the first time around. Jamie Foxx's Electro, on the other hand, didn't. 

As a refresher, he was just stereotypical nerd, and a Spider-Man fanboy, then he feels slighted by the wall-crawler after a misunderstanding. He's not given a full story arc or anything like that, but Electro's desire to been seen and have power is carried over well from his previous movie. With an arc reactor, he has that chance. Quick sidebar, we all thought we weren't going to hear that sound again, didn't we? Anyway, it helps immensely that Foxx doesn't have to act under as much makeup this time. He must've been promised the chance to really have fun with the role, and he took them up on it. Andrew Garfield definitely did that, and so did J.K Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. We should touch on J.J for a second, before discussing my favorite actor. Not my favorite actor in this movie, my favorite actor period. 

I really wish they didn't go the Alex Jones, conspiracy theorist route with the character. This isn't Raimi's Jonah, but it still feels like character assassination. He can serve the same purpose in this story by just having Spider-Man be his one blindspot when it comes to behaving like a real journalist. Simmons has no issue with the new approach, though, and he gleefully hocks Bugle-branded supplements on the air. 

So, I checked what people were saying after the movie, and people did note how it addresses where Garfield's movies fall short. What I picked up on in the theatre was Maguire giving him some much needed encouragement when they're sharing stories. Acting as Uncle Ben like as we wished:

Garfield: "I'm lame compared to- I fought a Russian guy in like a rhinoceros machine."
Maguire: "Can we rewind it back to the I'm lame part? You are not."
Garfield (Kinda Jittery): "Thanks. No, yeah, I appreciate it. I'm not saying 'I'm lame'
And Maguire says that he should may need to work on how sees and talks about himself, and he adds, "You are amazing. Just take it in for a minute, you are amazing," and you need to say that about yourself.
Garfield: "I kinda needed to hear that."

People today still say that this version of the character looks too cool and handsome, and some still harp on the skateboard. That stuff doesn't mean much if your self-confidence is low and you see something else in the mirror. Fucking trust me on that. It's a reading to far into things, but it's fitting that his mask in the second movie is attached to the front of his costume in a way that he can very quickly hide his face. Most blow past the fact that Gwen asks him out, and that's one of the scenes that always stuck with me because it's one of the reasons he became "my Spider-Man." The exchange reminded me of this post I made a few years ago.

Reddit Screenshot

This reunion for the fans isn't solely built on the references and memes that we've been making and awaiting. It's built on something real and necessary. We get an idea of what an Amazing Spider-Man 3 could've been after fighting Rhino. It's a Peter who struggles to keep going after Gwen's death and puts anger back into his vigilantism, the same way it began for him. It's something we may not have wanted to see. We get a good look at how Maguire would appear in a followup to the Holy Trilogy, too. I'm happy to report he's doing okay. Other have noticed he has serious Peter B. Parker energy from Spider-Verse, as he should. Also, this reunion for the fans is built up to, with the movie having a pretty strong opening that for the most part doesn't rely on the team-ups. 

Peter, MJ, and Ned are finally a proper trio, after the first two movies kinda had to slowly bring MJ into the fold. The best and easiest comparison to make is the Harry Potter trio. It's not in the character-types but in the actors' chemistry. Adding an annoyed Doctor Strange to the mix has its moments too. His title still being butchered to "Wizard" is a throwaway joke that never gets old. 

The movie's close is equally strong. With May's death and Doctor Strange's original spell needing to go through, this version of Peter is back to a square one we've never quite seen before. Everyone knows Spider-Man, but no one knows Mr. Parker. Iron Man Jr. is no more, and we find ourselves in a one-room apartment (sorry, Mr. Ditkovich cameo) with a, seemingly, beautiful fabric suit. We don't get the best look at it, like the film's action, and hopefully some official pictures are shown after a couple weeks.

Marvel Studios and Feige are still involved in these movies, but if shit goes south between Sony and Marvel, they set it up right. They set it up so that while we may sacrifice some characters we know and love, we may get well-lit battles back. It's a fair trade-off brought after one of the highest highs a Spider-Fan can experience. That's what this movie was too, a fair trade-off. MCU style, for all of its pros and cons, with the interpretations Sony helped build, with all their pros and cons. 

3.75/5

Just under four is as objective as I'm willing to go. Praise the powers that be for doing right by many of these characters, these actors, and the fans, but don't just hand-wave issues either. Having said that, a big thank you to every person on this project who put together a real-world "Amazing Fantasy." You made us all truly happy.
Share:

Friday, December 3, 2021

House of Gucci (2021) | Short Review

This movie features beautiful music like The Barber of Seville, passed down to me through Bugs Bunny and The Looney Tunes. I am fucking trash, but so is House of Gucci.

House of Gucci covers the era of the fashion giant that starts with Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) meeting his future wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), and it ends around 1995. The movie also stars Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, and an over-the-top, future Razzie-nominee Jared Leto. It is directed by Ridley Scott, as it may have been additionally attached, in error, to the screenplay for The Last Duel. That sounds mean, and several things I've said are, but I do actually think that Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna turned Sara Gay Forden's book into something really fun. Scott just was not the guy to direct it. He didn't exaggerate it with style like Martin Scorsese did with Wolf of Wall Street, and he didn't turn it into a farce. He tried to play melodrama ridiculously straight...with Pacino and Leto. At least, as someone going into the theatre blind, it was unexpected. That, solid pacing, and great chemistry from Gaga and Driver helped keep me engaged. 

If this movie just stretched out the opening, where Driver and Gaga are falling in love and giving off strong Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in Amazing Spider-Man vibes, I would've just loved it. They basically are playing Peter and Gwen. He's a little bit awkward, and she is able to pursue him and push him out of his comfort zone just a little bit. My favorite part of the movie's opening act is when she asks him to dance. He gives it a go, but he doesn't know what he's doing on the floor. I just wanted that to mostly be the movie. There's a lot of other little areas that could've been explored instead, too.

Adam Driver and Lady Gaga 
Peter and Gwen
Same energy? The top is from MGM (2021), and the bottom is from Sony Pictures (2012)

When the couple discovers the knockoff industry on the sidewalks of New York, she becomes angry that it could damage the brand, but he and others in the family don't see it as a big deal. I really like that the movie doesn't take a hard stance either way, and it's those moments in the story that stuck out more than Maurizio and Patrizia taking control of the family business. 

Another would be the rise of Tom Ford, but hopefully he'll get his own movie or miniseries one day. He actually could write and direct it himself, and Reeve Carney could reprise his role from this movie. 

House of Gucci opens a lot of doors to future projects, like Driver and Gaga becoming a regular duo, and those two other story areas. That's at least something. Until then, watch the two leads in better projects, and, from what I've heard, the director's work in The Last Duel. 

2/5


Share: