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

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.

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 they actually had 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

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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


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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.
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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


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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

This review is mostly spoiler free, for people who are avoiding trailers.

Let's get the hard part out of the way immediately. In this movie, one of main characters, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) makes a new friend at her new school. Here's how that goes:

"I call myself Podcast, because of my podcast." That effectively is Logan Kim's character's name.

I was going to reference that old email hack/leak and say that Amy Pascal and the higher-ups at Sony Pictures haven't learned anything in at least nine years, but it turns out the skateboarding in The Amazing Spider-Man was actually Andrew Garfield's idea. (Give the man an Oscar this year, please.) Plus, the results are the same. Something inserted into the movie to stay trendy actually has some genuine meaning or payoff to it, and the actors and other filmmakers make those things work. Ghostbusters: Afterlife just has a lot of that. There's a conflict just in what the movie is that can be seen and felt. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II. The 2016 reboot is now its own separate thing, and the same can probably be said for the 2009 video game that kinda-sorta was Ghostbusters III until now. So, with all that being said the basic plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, from IMDb, is "When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town [called Summerville, Oklahoma,] they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind." It stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Celeste O'Connor. Since it's a direct sequel, some legacy cast members may pop in. It's directed by Jason Reitman, written by him and Gil Kenan, and Ivan Reitman returns as a producer.

It's probably best to star with Finn Wolfhard because of the Stranger Things/It/80s vibes of his casting. The way this movie grapples with nostalgia is that it knows if it goes all-in people will, for the most part, pissed. So, it's incredibly selective what it brings back in a way where I couldn't tell when the movie took place. Except for a couple lines of dialogue and the timeline having to fit so that somebody could be a grandpa, this could take place in the 80s or 90s. Instead, Summerville is more like one of those tiny towns that time forgot. Like one John Oliver may cover in one of those invisible injustice kind of episodes. So, one of the featured locations is a car-hop diner, and how out of place it looks will vary from viewer to viewer. Wolfhard plays Grace's brother. He's not given as much to do as he probably should, but one of the first big legacy scenes comes from him, and it's pretty wonderful. Drifting in a field in the Ecto-1, with only a learner's permit, is something that dreams are made of. It's even more heartwarming when there's an Ecto-1 in your area that's occasionally in the movie theatre parking lot.

The other great thing from him is that his scenes with Celeste O'Connor give Summerville a lived-in quality that helps explain that clashing feeling in the town's look. You could easily become stuck there. Whether that's really for better or worse is not really addressed, so that leaves the question more open than most movies that bring up the idea. It's actually pretty fitting, since Reitman's movie Young Adult, reviewed here, really dives into that.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Mckenna Grace as Phoebe (Right), action hero, and Logan Kim as Podcast (Left), capable sidekick | Copyright 2021 Sony Pictures

Mckenna Grace and Carrie Coon's first experiences in Summerville are on the more mysterious side of things, and they both work really well off of each other and Paul Rudd. 

A lot of the emotional moments of Afterlife come from Grace and Coon learning more about the upbringing they never really had and coping with it. Reitman could, in a lot of successful ways, push this heavily, but instead it's done just enough so that the momentum of the plot, for the most part, doesn't suffer. The movie's editing is a bit choppy in this way, as one discovery is interrupted with a check-in with Wolfhard back at the diner, and it seems like something that could've been left out. It's meant to build up his relationship with Celeste O'Connor, but I think better scenes later on end up doing that anyway.

Finally, there's the humor, effects, and action. Jokes largely do land, and I laughed out loud a few times in the theatre. Most of the time, this was because of Rudd or some visual gag with a ghost, but everyone delivers in some respect. 

A personal favorite, is when one of the kids says they can't even get any bars on their phone, Coon says there better be at least one. This one, luckily, is the only one ruined by Grace pointing out that it's a joke. Just to be clear, both give great performances, and Mckenna Grace is especially phenomenal. If you haven't seen her in Gifted, go check it out. She and Logan Kim are given what could've been two of the easiest roles to forget, if this was bad Ghostbusters movie, but she's given a lot of time to develop Phoebe, and Podcast has a real charm to him.

Jokes are actually a big part of Grace's character, as she's told to use them to break the ice in Summerville, but it could've been handled better. She does some pretty standard stuff out of a joke book, and I wonder if something really funny, but also really weird or awkward, and science-based could've been done instead. What we get is somewhere between wasted opportunities and eye-rolling moments. Early on, I was afraid there'd be more of them and that they wouldn't go anywhere...not that they leave a huge impact in the end. 

In a huge surprise, to someone who follows this stuff, Sony Imageworks didn't do any of the special effects for Afterlife. Companies listed are Double Negative, Instinctual VFX, Moving Picture Company, and Proof. They all did a gorgeous job, especially considering that they had to, among other tasks, update our beloved Mr. Stay-Puft. 

The major action set piece is a chase to capture a Slimer-like ghost. Tailing him in Ecto-1, while using an RC-Car/Trap, it's a good to modernize things. It's not too much, and it fits the established world. 

Having said that, I would like to say that the 2016 reboot had a lot of fun with their gadgets, the Ghostbuster's logo actually being a ghost for a minute was a delightful surprise. That second one is what told me it was more than a cash-grab, at least to some people involved. There was a lot more stuff like that, this time around.

Along with the lived-in world, little character moments, and surprises all its own, there's one I'd like to point out. After the heroes claim their victory, all the ghost are captured, and everything settles down, Podcast meets the sole subscriber of his show. This guy, an occultist himself, on-screen and off, is a big fan of Podcast's podcast, Mystical Tales of the Unknown Universe (MT-double-U).

To find out who this occultist is, if you're staying away from trailers and spoilers, go see for yourself. You'll have a good time, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife may even hit you in the heart a little.

3/5

Also, my area has a Ghostbusters-centered non-profit. Hudson Valley Ghostbusters raises money for a variety of charities that they partner with, while appearing in costume at local events. They have their own Ecto-1 that I've occasionally seen in the area. I think we also have a local Mystery Machine, but I have no clue what that's about.
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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Royal Jelly (2021)

The synopsis for the horror movie Royal Jelly, from Facebook is, "When a shy high school bee enthusiast is taken under the wing of a mysterious mentor, she discovers she's being groomed as a hive's next queen." The thing is, the horror movie and grooming aspects aren't 100% accurate to what Royal Jelly is, at least to me. Still, stuff like that, and little interesting details here and there, make picking it apart fun. Royal Jelly stars, among others,  Elizabeth McCoy (Astar, the bee enthusiast), Sherry Lattanzi (Tresa, the mysterious mentor), and Fiona McQuinn and Jonas Chartock (Astar's parents). It is written, directed, and edited by Sean Riley, the music is by Joe Hodgin, and the cinematography is by Jonathan Hammond. 

So, Royal Jelly's horror elements really come out in the last half-hour or so. It slowly transitions from comedy-drama, to thriller, to bodily horror. This is an approach that makes a lot of sense to build tension up throughout the movie, but it doesn't completely work here. The problem is that the build-up is more like full changes from one mode to the next. It's not jarring, but it is something I felt. This is because a lot of time is spent establishing Astar, but that is done really well. 

Riley leans heavily on costume design and makeup to provide a crash-course on Astar. Band t-shirts, glasses, and dark lipstick work as a quick shorthand, against her less awkward classmates...the awkwardness is something to circle back to, though. This costuming isn't excessive, so it doesn't call attention to itself. It's visual storytelling that luckily is carried throughout the movie, and it's one of several little details and showcases of care and effort. 

Another piece of the movie that's worth noting, mostly early on, is how Hammond shoots it. The opening credits are over the start to finish of a jar of honey, and way McCoy holds it up to the light to get these sparkling glints stands out because it's one of those things that's usually overdone or done like a post-production lens flare. This jar just looks really beautiful, as crazy as that might sound. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't look like this when it becomes a full horror film. At that point everything is dimly lit, and it's hard to make everything out without outside interference, such as changing your screen's brightness and the lights in your room. It's a shame because the blood and creature stuff that's late in the game looks great. At least one moment, with some Nightmare on Elm Street 3 vibes, is done before the full genre shift. Speaking of which, we have to talk about Carrie a little.

Riley and crew's appreciation for Carrie is explicit, as one of Astar's bullies mentions it by name, and the start of Astar's story is similar in a few respects. What makes this a little tougher, at least on paper is that aspects of it are a bit more relatable. Instead of a religious zealot for a mother, Fiona McQuinn's character is just a crappy stepmother with some selfish tendencies. That comes across really well when she helps herself to an extra serving of dinner, before passing the scraps to her stepdaughter. McQuinn's daughter, played by Raylen Ladner (Drew), is downright cruel in some spots and definitely a fan of Stephen King's work. Royal Jelly is able to do a lot with a little, and that's what I held onto when the acting fell short or a writing convenience was taken. It also made that extra effort mentioned, whether it be the use of a song, a drone shot, or a choir in Hodgin's score, much more noticeable. So, onto the acting and writing shortfalls. 

The acting mostly is just really stiff. Everyone is doing their best, but that really doesn't come across. It's the clearest sign that this is a smaller, indie movie. McCoy is worth bringing up because she is giving a very consistent performance, and she, like many of the actors, is able to fallback on giving a non-verbal performance pretty well. Lattanzi is another story. Her character powers that shift into horror, and her performance is pretty over the top. What could've worked a lot better is if the grooming was stretched out over a significant portion of the movie. What happens is more like trying a few things, and then powering through with someone who's not completely on-board. Stretching it would actually solve a lot of little issues that pop up here and there. There's one I'd like to go into because it's surprising for a movie with a strong start.

Astar and Tresa get revenge on some bullies by egging their house. When they're getting away, the overhead light inside their car is on a lot longer than it should've been, relatively speaking, so they're spotted, and that's why Astar decides to lay low with Tresa for a while, and that's what really kicks things off. It makes sense, but it still feels like a shortcut taken to force the situation. A little script tightening goes a long way, especially in a movie like that. The other thing that helps though, especially in the cases of small movies, is developing movie posters like this that really stand out. 

Two great posters for the movie.

The movie is an interesting watch on its own, but the promise of these just felt like a great note to go out on. The Pan's Labyrinth and original Grimm influence is really felt through these designs, and through the body horror at the tail-end of Royal Jelly itself. That stuff, and the use of blood and makeup in general, is handled well.

A screener of this movie was provided to me by Sean Riley. I was not compensated for this review. 

Royal Jelly is available September 14th on various digital streaming platforms. 

Also, stick around for the post-credits scene. There's a PSA about bees, but it's nicely done in a non-preachy, tongue-in-cheek-ish way that, appropriately feels like it was added as an afterthought to help support bees. 


3/5
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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) | Short Review

I’m sorry, but this one kinda made me angry. So, here’s some quick thoughts. 

The good:
Dom (Cedric Joe) and all the video game design stuff directly related to him was interesting. Hopefully it encourages some people to get into design.
Some extras and animators got to dress up as or work on characters they love, so hopefully they had a fun time.
Some jokes work, and the ball playing has some freshness to it when the awful script allows it. The NBA Street series, last checked, has been dormant for a while. Maybe this’ll change that.

The bad:
The overall writing is just exposition, clichés, and WB trumpeting.
The crossovers are pointless and wasted to the point where it makes me wish DC and other WB subsidiaries were independent entities. 

His performance is ok, but it’s upsetting how the charisma is sucked out of Don Cheadle. It’s replaced with Al-G Rhythm's senseless motivation | Copyright 2021 WB

What I said about Don Cheadle in the caption above can kind of be said of Lebron James, too, but I've also been told it's done in a way that pokes fun at his career and attitude on the court. People who don't watch the NBA may be so far out of the loop, that they feel Lebron, as an actor and character in the movie, isn't approaching things correctly.

A comic with Batman (DC) and the Ninja Turtles (IDW) proves that not everything has to be under one roof for a crossover to work to at least some degree. With iron-clad ownership, a segment like Bugs and Batman fails in every respect because, in this case,  it's part of such an overstuffed project and they don't develop any real screen time together.

Something similar happens with Lola (Zendaya) that is interesting. She's just kind of there. That's better than how she was treated in the original movie...but then why cast such a phenomenal actor for a nearly do-nothing role?

When it comes to the writing, just about everyone involved should feel a little crappy about their work.

2/5

If you already have HBO Max, watch this after you've exhausted the extensive library HBO Max Space Jam: A New Legacy is pushing on you. 

Note: That section about James was added after listening to a review of the movie on Black Men Can't Jump [In Hollywood]. For another take on the New Legacy, and black-led cinema, check them out. 
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Friday, July 2, 2021

America: The Motion Picture (2021) | Short Review

From Netflix, "a chainsaw-wielding George Washington teams with beer-loving bro Sam Adams to take down the Brits in a [raunchy,] tongue-in cheek riff on the American Revolution." It has a strong cast, as noted below, it's written by Dave Callaham, directed by Matt Thompson, and two of the producers are Phil Lord and Chris Miller. One of the actors in it is Bobby Moynihan. Unfortunately, I misspelled his name when modifying the poster. Sorry, Bobby. 

 
Impressive credentials | Copyright 2021 Netflix, but modified by me using Inpaint and Gimp

This could've been really good, if it was a series of shorts, or if the humor and world stuck to some ground rules. The running gags could've been a great start to that, since they were some of the funniest parts of the movie. This is overselling it, but the use of Bible verses is best explained as inspired. 

If the jokes and story were as scattershot as the movie's world, this would be an unsalvageable, non-sensical mess. Instead, the whole movie can be sized up in the first couple minutes. Simply put, it's very dumb fun that should be watched after a really crappy day. To say more could potentially spoil some jokes.

The animation is by Combo Estúdio. It's worth bringing up, since this is a Floyd County production, and I was wondering if it was the same studio that animates Archer. It's not, that's Fox Television Animation and Radical Axis, but these guys have also done Super Drags for Netflix. Standing still, the art style looks a little blocky and reminds me of Venture Brothers or the new Batman: The Long Halloween. It moves pretty smoothly though, and this is the kind of movie where an unappealing art style might've been on the table during production. Even if the characters ended up not looking quite right, America still gives us Imperial Walkers that look like double-decker buses, and you can't beat that. 

2.5/5

Plus.5/5if this attracts a wide conservative audience. They may see something in America: The Motion Picture that speaks to them, and, if it happens, I'd love to know what that is. Also this most likely has no sequel plans, but it's set up for an equally enjoyable second round.

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Cruella (2021)

Cruella by Jansumalla
From Disney+, "Emma Stone stars in Disney's Cruella, which explores the rebellious early days of one of cinema's most notorious - and notoriously fashionable - villains, Cruella de Vil...The movie follows a young grifter named Estella and reveals the series of events that cause her to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella." The movie co-stars Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It is directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya). Based on the book by Dodie Smith and Disney classic by Bill Peet, the winding road of events that change Estella was plotted out by Aline Brosch McKenna, and Kelly Marcel & Steve Zissis, and it was transformed into a script by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. After watching the movie, that must've been a journey in its own right.

Matt Neglia, of the Next Best Picture Podcast, said it pretty well when talking about Cruella. When Disney just takes a few characters and lets them do their own thing, these remakes and new origin stories are able to breathe and come out better. That's what happens, after a lot of references are painfully front-loaded into the film. Estella/Cruella (Emma Stone, and Billie Gadsdon and Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a kid and pre-teen, respectively) is born with her signature hair color, teased for it, and she, naturally, retaliates. The many, many marks on her grade school permanent record that are caused by that and other acts of rebellion, create a dalmatian pattern. Luckily, she quickly changes schools. It's absolutely an eye-rolling intro, and I have a bit more to say about why later, but Seifert-Cleveland is doing great work with what she's given, while Gadsdon has, unfortunately, just has one of those front-loading scenes. Cruella's brilliance is quickly shown through Seifert-Cleveland's brilliance, as the early indications of artistic talent and brawling street smarts are mixed with a lot of heart and some deeply buried sorrow. The whole cast really is fantastic. 

Cruella by jansumalla
Cruella, by Jansumalla

A lot of people are saying that if the Golden Globes were airing next awards season, there's a good chance we'd see Emma Stone accepting an award for her performance. I couldn't agree more, as she commands the screen with a blend of wit, energy, and versatility that was quite unexpected. It's not unexpected because of Stone herself. She's always been great, and actions like taking a business card with her teeth shows that she's up for anything, but because of that winding road the movie takes. Her stealing from her boss's private stash before going on a "fashion bender," and later celebrating a victory over a rival designer, The Baroness (Emma Thompson), with a few notes of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" were a few of my favorite moments because they're a couple of the smaller ones in the movie. Stone, the cast, and the crew are able to be a little more loose, although this is always Gillespie's vision.

Emma Thompson's performance benefits the most from that winding road I keep mentioning. The comparisons between The Baroness and Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada aren't cut-and-dry. As the movie goes on, and plots change, Thompson is asked to tap into her own range and become more of a monster than expected. If she started out as a complete cartoon, a large chunk of the movie would fall apart. Instead, she begins as just the right amount of cut-throat. When she accidentally nicks Estella when altering one of Estella's designs, she asks fabrics if that red is a possibility. Maybe it's the paper cuts and hangnails I was suffering from that week because of filing, but it instantly sold me on the character.

A few other people of note are Cruella's henchmen Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), and The Baroness' right-hand man, John (Mark Strong).  Paul Walter Hauser stole the show in I,Tonya as  Shawn Eckhardt, the "mastermind" who baselessly claimed to be working in counter-terrorism and kept re-parking his car to appear less suspicious to people. Give that character a lot more brains and compassion, but keep a tiny pinch of the self-interest, and you've got one of the best comrades around. Fry also plays a great friend, and I look forward to checking out his other work. The romantic angle between him and Stone is handled really well, as it can be explored down the line in a number of ways that all work. Plus, he doesn't have that pinch of self-interest, and that creates a great dynamic between him and Hauser. Actually a completely different movie where one is the henchmen for the other would be a lot of fun. Mark Strong is an odd case. He's given very little to do outside of delivering some exposition. Because his role is so small, it seems like he was miscast, and he stuck out in the crowd. I really just wish he was given more to do. There are plenty of opportunities, as the story evolves. 

Cruella is a long movie, at about 135 minutes, and to sustain that runtime, it changes plots a couple times. It's a heist movie twice, and it's The Devil Wears Prada once. Now, each change is clear and makes complete sense, but a lot of unexplored character gets sidelined because of it. Some have even said that it's a huge problem because it means that Cruella's mental health isn't properly addressed. I wouldn't go that far. To me, she's just temporarily overtaken by a combo of grief, guilt, and obsession. The reasons why are clear in the opening. I don't think there's anything wrong with what's being said about her, it's just that not a lot is being said in general. For all the great character work, and just work, Cruella is more, but not all, style over substance. That's a real shame. On this subject though, a character named Artie (John McCrea) is under some scrutiny for being an attempt by Disney to pat themselves on the back for being inclusive. McCrea's role is basically to be Cruella's stereotypical gay best friend. McCrea is great in the role, but considering that Disney should've caught up by now and moved past a cookie-cutter portrayal already, it's two steps forward and one step back. Artie runs a second-hand boutique and helps Cruella with her designs. Speaking of designs...

Costumes were designed by Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road and Room with a View), cinematography was by Nicolas Karakatsanis, and hair & makeup was designed by Nadia Stacey. With Gillespie, they all work together to build one hell of a picture, over and over again. Cruella is intensely beautiful, and, naturally, it's at its best when a signature outfit is on display. Most of these '70s-inspired ensembles are worn by Stone, while some that go back to the '60s, according to Beavan, adorn Thompson and were chosen to show her slightly aging instincts. It's those small details that keep the movie freshly in-mind nearly a week after a first viewing.  Hopefully, Beavan's is rewarded with more than only award recognition, since, according to VarietyDisney is officially licensing a Cruella collection with her designs without additionally compensating her. Even smaller details are the ways the camera moves, like when it follows one of the dogs, Wink, as he's exiting a bus. It's such a tight shot, that it seems like it couldn't have been easy to film. The effort was appreciated, as long as the dog had a good time, of course. Plus, there are grander versions of this kind of movement throughout the film. Tatiana S. Reigel assembles these pieces pretty well as the movie's editor, overlooking a couple of hiccups. 

That opening sequence, again, is one of them. The moment young Estella, Horace, and Jasper meet is just very choppy as it just quickly cuts to whatever lines will finally get us onto the real show. This sequence is capped off with a transition to the present that was done much better in Sam Levinson's Euphoria. The shot has purpose, but that's not enough to sell an, excuse the excessive harshness and on-the-nose term for a second, a knockoff. 

The other hiccup in editing is the use of newspaper text and headlines filling the frames in a couple of sequences. It looks good, but there isn't a whole lot of new or necessary info being delivered. It has no real purpose, the shots already look great without them, and time and money possibly could've been put into other parts of the film. That's the unfortunate thing about the movie as whole, it doesn't say much because of the pieces it's cut into.

Each plot and each heist, or heist-like plan, could be an entire incredible movie, and I'd like to see each of them because of the depth that the writers and Gillespie are only able to hint at with a line or short scene. The The Devil Wears Prada part of the movie could stand on its own thanks to Stone, Thompson, and the fresh setting of '70s London. Maybe Disney could remedy that? Fox made The Devil Wears Prada, and Disney bought them, so maybe they could at least arrange a round-table with Stone, Thompson, and Streep, in-character and out, and with some other costume designers and creatives from both movies? At least it's a nice thing to think about and maybe create some fan-fiction around. Cruella will definitely open up some minds that way. It worked on me.... 

Made after watching Birds of Prey and DC's Harley Quinn (Season 1 and Season 2)

Re-skinned after watching Cruella. The morning star was also made along with the original two. Does anyone else want Emma Stone to play an alt-universe Harley?

3.5/5

Plus.25/5 for the artistic inspiration it gave me and has given others. Please scroll up and take another look at those depictions of the character by Jansumalla. She's selling prints of it, by the way. While the audience of kids in my theatre got remarkably quiet after the previews started playing, it wouldn't be a surprise to find out years from now that a fashion designer, or hair or makeup artist, maybe one of them, was sparked by Cruella, and that's all that really matters.

Dog Cane
Last one. This was kinda quickly put together after the review was written. The materials are from BlenderKit, and the head is part of a full model by pomilecrown

One last thing, the soundtrack. I have it. I tried to put it on my phone when I left the theatre but didn't have wi-fi. I tried to stop somewhere with wi-fi on my way home but instead had to drive back in silence. It's great. It may overwhelm some people, but the songs were just right for me. The worst song choice, the last one, isn't on there, so there's no risk of reliving that moment. Instead, for example, you're treated to Ike & Tina Turner's "Whole Lotta Love." The power of it, to someone who grew up on classic rock, cannot be overstated. Stone's celebratory rendition of "I Want To Be Your Dog" comes after a different John McCrea's full performance, and it's literally a showstopper. Nicholas Britell's score doesn't get equal treatment, but the times it's allowed to shine, like when Estella's making her first dress for the Baroness, give the movie a little more grounding. 

Update: This movie continues to inspire. 

My Cruella Cosplay
Halloween 2021
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Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

The best thing I heard about Mitchells vs The Machines when previews and posters started coming out is that it looked like it wasn't going to go all-in on technology being evil. I'm happy to report that that's true. Instead, Mitchells vs The Machines goes all-in on the visuals, and that's surprisingly not always a great thing, no matter how masterfully it's done. 

From the official Netflix summary, "A robot apocalypse put the brakes on their cross-country road trip. Now it's up to the Mitchells - the world's weirdest family - to save the human race." The trip was to give the family one last bonding experience before Katie (Abbi Jacobson, from Broad City) goes off to film school, as she's anxious to get away from her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), who just doesn't fully understand her passions or how society at large has become so screen-centered. The three other big parts of the family are matriarch Linda (Maya Rudolph), younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda), and pug Monchi (Doug The Pug, linked for convenience).

The movie is written and directed by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe (both writers on Gravity Falls and Disenchantment), produced by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Kurt Albrecht, and it was set to be a Sony Animation/Columbia Pictures release before Covid-19 made them sell the distribution rights to Netflix. So, Sony Animation, Lord, and Miller, that's why this movie is as off-the-wall and colorful as it is. However, this is quite different in its look and feel.

It's incredibly fast-paced, and it very rarely sits and breathes. For a movie with a smartphone focus, it makes a lot of sense to occasionally cut to a semi-random YouTube video as quickly as we go to them just because something popped into our heads. It's not a kid to adult thing, it's a generational and tech shift that we're all adjusting to. And we always will, as each shift and advancement is leaps and bounds greater than the one before, and it always comes with new communication skills to adapt to. I'm in my (late) 20s and don't fully understand how my younger cousins use some of the apps that they enjoy, but the point is being open to those new things and learning from my family. That's what this movie is about. So with the big lesson out of the way, let's talk about why it works so wonderfully, the characters and the humor.

Stylized Columbia Pictures Logo
It's always a good early sign when this lady gets funky | Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

Katie is the best kind of film student and (future) auteur. She loves learning about the process and technical aspects, she uses her shorts to speak from the heart, and has no fear. And Rick is kinda the best kind of concerned parent, when it comes to this. He doesn't fully understand her videos, the industry or those technical aspects, but he does understand it's competitive as hell and a tough way to make a living, especially in a major city. As someone who crashed and burned a year into studying animation, switched to business, and just does film stuff for fun, Rick is right to be concerned. The difference between my situation and Katie's isn't that Katie can draw and will be a few steps ahead of her classmates, but it's that my parents were aware that failing in early adulthood is okay and there's plenty of room to pivot. He thinks a setback could be catastrophic, and her experiencing that scares him because he's a pretty awesome dad. That's not something I thought I'd say about a character voiced by Danny McBride. Before getting to him, it's worth noting this movie has an even-handed say on film school. Very simply, take it or leave it, depending on the person and what they want to specialize in. Film school is if you want to be on-set and learn how to collaborate, and self-teaching is for people like me who don't get involved in production.

Katie's Filmmaking
Katie's fun, scrappy style \ Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

From early previews, it looked like Rick would go full-Ron Swanson and be voiced by Nick Offerman. And they can do that without those characters being overly similar, but it'd still probably be distracting. Instead McBride is pretty unrecognizable. It's not just that Rick is sweet, but it's a complete change, as his accent largely drops, he's more timid in intimidating situations, and any trace of something like bravado is reserved for mountain-man and dad joke moments. Those moments are great. I hope he, or some piece of the cast, at least gets an Annie nomination for creating this incredibly lived-in family dynamic. Hopefully it's revealed that a lot of the recordings were done at the same time. 

The humor kind of reminds me of watching Storks, and that reminded me of 2010s Cartoon Network. What I said then is "No one gets society like Warner Brothers Animation," as they handle everything from technology, to representation, to millennial culture, and more. Sony Animation can be added to that list; they put a huge emphasis on making jokes character-driven. One of my favorite little ones is the justification of the slow-motion walk after an explosion. Being like Katie, and having a camera, is all the justification you need...and how many opportunities are there to do that with other people. It's much more badass with a group. The explosion, surprisingly is one of the visually restrained moments of the movie, unlike when Sony and Warner Brothers had two stunning ones in Storks. Efforts were put into a million little moments instead of a few big ones, and the payoff is much larger...possibly too large. 

Painstaking efforts were put into making Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse look and move like a comic book. So this has to be made clear, those same painstaking efforts were put into making Mitchells look like a cross between a phone screen, that's opened to Instagram or Snapchat, and a lightly done anime. Filters and social media stickers are used a lot in this movie. It's not like it's just for fourth-wall breaking moments, but it's stitched right into the movie. Since so much of that is 2D, it really pops, sometimes more than the computer-animated components. That's what Spider-Verse had going for it but a bit more scaled back.

This is on top of the break-neck speed Sony Animation has become known for, so the results can be quite taxing to the eyes, especially during the action-packed climax. At nearly two hours, cutting ten or twenty minutes would've helped with late-stage burnout, but in a movie like this there's no telling what could've been incidentally lost.  

Re-watching the movie for this review, and pausing let the details really sink in, like a lot of the movies that inspire Katie being part of the K Collection. I'd like to think that it's personally made for her, or it's this universe's version of the Criterion Collection, similar to how they also have a store named Good Get. Sony itself seems to lack a knockoff when it comes to their headphones and cameras, of course. 

Sony Product Placement 1Sony Product Placement 2
Creativity and a great story in exchange for some bill-paying product placement can be a pretty fair trade | Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

This is an odd way to recommend the movie, but I think one of the best ways to test it out is to watch the first ten minutes or so, and if the visuals are straining, consider turning your screen off and just listening to it with the movie's audio-description settings for the blind. If the viewing experience is too nontraditional, try reading the script because the story is very well-written. While better together, every element of the movie stands on its own. 

One last thing, seriously, say please and thank you to your Alexas/Siris/Cortanas. It sounds ridiculous, but it reinforces our P&Qs, and it's a good way to teach manners and basic behaviors to children. The fact that that never happens in this movie, even after meeting good machines, is a major knock against the movie and a weird oversight. It's a disconnect in the movie formerly titled Connected.

4/5

Note: I highly recommend listening to Mike Rianda's interview with the Next Best Picture's Matt Neglia. What struck me is when Rianda talked about how the visual style directly relates to Katie's filmmaking style. Without spoiling the interview, stuff like that adds a lot both to the movie itself, its development, and what we can expect from Rianda and, possibly, Rowe next. NBP's review of the movie can be found here. I really look up to these guys, and they put Promising Young Woman on my radar like a year before it even came out, so this is the least I can do as a fan who wanted to return that favor. CinemaWins did a fantastic video on the movie, too.

Finally, if you are like Katie, please look into film school and the free filmmaking resources available to you. Even if you want to teach yourself, a school's curriculum can provide a helpful learning path. Katie taught herself Photoshop, and you can learn free programs like Gimp (free Photoshop), Openshot (video editing) and Blender (animation and video editing). Finding the right beginner tutorial or starting point is tough because everyone learns differently, but once you find it, you'll pick these tools up in no time. 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Coming 2 America (2021) | Short Review

That was a lot of fun! It's amazing seeing Eddie Murphy, along with the rest of the cast, firing on all cylinders. Dolemite is My Name quickly shot up the watchlist because of him. The plot in this movie is a little too standard, but everyone happily does everything they can to elevate it.

For people around my age and younger, you "can" go into Coming 2 America without seeing the first one, but are you really going to dismiss a classic? Honestly, that's probably why I liked it so much. I remember just enough that I recalled a few jokes but wasn't anywhere close to disappointed with this satisfying sequel. 

Coming 2 America Promo Poster
Coming 2 America Promo Poster | Property of Amazon and Paramount/ViacomCBS

Also, the soundtrack is now on my phone and will be part of my long drive to Syracuse tomorrow to get my 2nd vaccine shot. The main thing I'll be listening to is the Norse Mythology audiobook by Neil Gaiman.

3/5


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Monday, March 8, 2021

Lava (2021)

In Lava, "Deborah, a lonely tattoo artist, endeavors to save herself and her town from an alien invasion. The aliens come in the form of large cats, cackling witches, and never-ending snakes; what's more, these dangerous invaders have harnessed the media as a means to hypnotize humanity into submission. Deborah must learn to resist their control and convince others to do the same" (Rock Salt Releasing). The movie is directed by Ayar Blasco, it is co-written by Ayar Blasco and Nicolas Britos, and it stars, among others, Janeane Garofalo and Cedric Williams. It is based on a comic by Salvador Sanz.

So, I had to dig a little into Lava to review it, which is something I try not to do. It's just one of those ones where it's hard to pull much out of it apart from the art style. So, let's start there. It's a very flat and simple style. The animation can be a little stiff, but movement is far from lifeless. Little touches, like the secondary motion of hair moving/reacting, give the feeling that as much care as possible was put into the animation and world, it just had to be allocated as best as possible. I really appreciated how this shined through in the background environments, and a few other places. A full-body blush of embarrassment isn't something you see in cartoons these days, so it's sweet to see something like that brought into contemporary adult animation. Along with some funny logos and titles, like Gain of Clones, that reminded me of the comic Sex Criminals, there were also WinRAR and VLC logos on a character's computer. The people who made this movie know and live the culture they are talking about, Generation X-ish geeks/nerds who are in their 20s-30s. Overall, they're very-well portrayed, but that really just comes out when the when the movie occasionally picks up steam. We'll get to that in a minute. 

Lava makes me less scared to get a tattoo, and that's an accomplishment. The sound design is a big part of that, and just shows that a lot of thought went into crafting a lot of what's on-screen, although the "why" of everything is something we'll get to.

Lava

Lucy Daughter of the Devil
The art style that Lava (Above) reminds me of is Lucy, Daughter of the Devil's (Below) | Above is Property of Warner Media. Below is Property of Rock Salt Releasing.

The look also is similar to a lot of classic flash videos. Where Lava falls short of even them though is in the lip syncing, but that's probably because it was re-dubbed in English. It just looks a little too exaggerated when lines don't match up, but that also positively lends itself to the ridiculous feel of the film.

At under 75 minutes, this should feel like a quick watch, but it wasn't. Lava, unfortunately, flows about as slowly as the real thing typically does. There seems to be two big problems with Lava. First, character interactions and relationships rarely have a lot of weight to them. Second, the film's editing is incredibly dry and static. The best scene in the movie is one where all cards are on the table and we know where Deborah (Garofalo), her roommate Nadia, and Samuel, who's into Deborah, are in relation to each other, as far as who is/isn't interested in whom. I think it stood out because it was more drawn out than most of the quick chats in the movie. It leads to something great later in the movie, where Deborah and Nadia's relationship grows. The movie has a solid LGTB+ moment, but how people react to them explicitly highlighting the moment may annoy some people. Lava's editing in between sequences is to cut to black and just stop for a second. Once or twice music bridged the gap, but it just felt so lacking that it had to be brought up. That's, apparently, a very tricky cut to pull off right. Luckily, there are some things about the movie that are nailed incredibly.

With that solid grasp of, as mentioned, "Generation X-ish geeks/nerds who are in their 20s-30s" comes a solid grasp of the crap they put up with. The takes some solid jabs at the business side of the entertainment industry, and it's through more than a tattoo of Mickey Deborah does for a client. Employee burnout is shown and how various types of studios and production studios can wreck someone's creativity is shown too. Knowing when to walk away from that kind of environment is a rough analogy, or metaphor(?),  that can be pulled out of Lava, but it's rough because it's also walking away from a probable apocalypse. It doesn't work when trying to apply the message to something like current politics, but the relatively small-scale of Lava doesn't make that a lasting issue. All-in-all, it's incredibly rough, but with it's choice moments. For every silent cut to black, there's an interesting tattoo scene or blink-or-you'll-miss-it reference. 

3.25/5


It's certainly not for everyone, but people who love this style, or at least grew up around it, will find something to enjoy. That's actually a similar conclusion I arrived to with a movie called Unicorn Store, but its feel was more 2000s to mid 2010s quirky/indie. Just wanted to throw that comparion out there because the return to 
simplicity, in any and all aspects right now, is a welcome one. It's a knock against the Lava to say try to view it in chunks, but it may warm a few extra people up to it. And try the comic, too. I haven't yet, but this really feels like it plays a lot better as a book. 

A screener of this movie was provided to me by TriCoast and Rock Salt Releasing. Original reports of Rock Salt picking up the movie come from Variety. I was not compensated for this review. 

Lava Promo Poster
Promotional Poster | Property of Rock Salt Releasing 
Rock Salt Releasing will release Lava onto various digital streaming platforms for pre-sale on 2/22 and on 3/15/2021 (Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, Google Play, DirecTV, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, FANDANGO) in both English & Spanish.

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