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

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Addams Family (2019)

When I reviewed Storks I said, "No one gets society like Warner Brothers Animation." To add to that, almost no one gets joke-a-second animation like MGM. Sony's Pictures Animation would be one of the other studios that gets this, since it animated Storks for WB, and they do the Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies from start to finish. While the stretchiness and exaggerated expressions of those characters aren't in this, the spirit of the jokes, and movie as a whole, is a mix of 90s Addams Family and cartoons like Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood.

The movie's plot is as standard as it gets, but it was used to deliver some great humor, so let's get into it. Summarized by IMDB, "The eccentrically macabre family moves to a bland suburb where Wednesday Addams' (Chloë Grace Moretz) friendship with the [normal] daughter (Elsie Fisher) of a hostile and conformist [HGTV-like personality (Allison Janney)] exacerbates conflict between [Wednesday and her mother Morticia (Charlize Theron)." Also, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) is preparing Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) for his rite of passage ceremony, The Mazurka, which will be attended by their extended family. So, of course, it's parents letting kids be themselves and kids compromising. It's basic stuff. This plot, luckily, is elevated by a screenplay from Matt Lieberman, and Sausage Party directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, who plays Lurch as well. 

Speaking of Sausage Party, their animation team at Nitrogen Studios was notably exploited. Nitrogen was acquired by Cinesite, and Cinesite's the credited animation studio on this project, so hopefully, the acquisition led to a change in corporate culture and better working conditions. What is clear is that the animation in The Addams Family is a lot more polished, even if there's a step backward in some design choices. The final shots in Sausage Party didn't look final but more like lighting and rendering were still being tested. It's not bad by any means, but there's certain student film feel to it that is just off the mark from the Pixar aesthetic they wanted. 

The Addams Family is brighter and prettier for the most part, but also that "bland suburb" lives up to its name and The Mazurka doesn't look as much fun as The Mamushka of the 90s. So, the townspeople look like stock characters from an Illumination movie. No actual offense intended toward Illumination's visuals, they're okay. It's just that creepiness and kookiness that Cinesite developed for the main characters, by very faithfully capturing how they've looked in comic strips, should've extended to the background characters a little bit. It would've made up for the suburbia plot being something of a rehash of the first Hotel Transylvania. A lot of effort did go into these visuals, but that $24m budget possibly stopped them from going all the way with it. Another possible example of this limitation is with the Mazurka itself. It has a spotlight lighting style like the big circus number in Madagascar 3, but it's not nearly as big as that, partly for story reasons, and it feels like a mismatch. Seeing more of the spectators throughout the whole thing may have helped. Mazurka to Mamushka, by the way, is going to be the only real point of direct comparison because it is the one place where this update should have been superior. 

Speaking of direct comparisons, all characters are brought to life well by the cast, but there's a surprising few who are worth mentioning: Pugsley, Grandmama (Bette Midler), Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), and Fester (Nick Kroll). Short and sweet, Pugsley and Grandmama are given a lot of personality that I haven't seen before in past interpretations, and it really gave the movie a reason to...well...exist. Janney has played a character like Needler before, as the kangaroo in Horton Hears a Who, but she's a lot less insufferable this time around. So, that's an improvement. I expected the worst from Kroll's Fester because Kroll has, with exceptions, a disgusting and crass filmography, but he was pretty restrained in this and the character had some great jokes. Gomez, Morticia, and Wednesday are as perfectly cast and played as expected, of course.

Finally, to wrap things up, I'm just going to pick out a couple of jokes that I liked. The opposite day dialogue and stuff that's been part of Addams Family can be confusing and hit-or-miss, and it is in this movie too, but the delight of newlywed Gomez and Morticia saying "we hit something" after crashing into Lurch with their car set a solid tone for the remaining eighty-ish minutes of movie left. Most of the humor won't be dated, except for the It joke in the trailer, and those that are still may bring a chuckle, like a devil character lighting his head on fire before proclaiming that the Mazurka is "gonna be lit." The Mazurka wasn't as lit as I wanted it to be, but the entire movie was more fun than I thought it would be. 

3.5/5 

By default, that makes the 90s version and the sequel at least 4/5

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Filth (2013)

I want to say that a while ago I saw a big article, or message board post, about if it's okay to write a protagonist who doesn't change. The most immediate thought that works was that as long as the surrounding characters do change, go for it. There's a version of Filth that's an improvement if it followed this, in a way similar to how Bojack Horseman characters evolve, or don't, over the series. An ensemble makes a movie like Filth, and the cast is there, but the screen-time isn't.

Filth, from the movie's official site, is about "Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a scheming, manipulative, misanthropic man who spends his time indulging in drugs, alcohol, sexually abusive relationships, and 'the games' – [manipulating] his coworkers and friends. While working on the murder case of a Japanese student, he starts coming unhinged, slowly losing his grip on reality and suffering from a series of increasingly severe hallucinations as he desperately tries to hold his life together." It is written and directed by Jon S. Baird, based on the Irvine Welsh novel. 

In my Babysitter review, I said that I'm pretty easy and a movie hitting hard personally starts it out at like 5/5, and a cover of Creep, in this case by Clint Mansell, definitely qualifies as hard-hitting. That and Jim Broadbent's performance as Robertson's psychiatrist, Verme Rossi, are what's been rattling around in my head since the first viewing of Filth years ago. Also, that cover dates the first viewing as after 2014, while attending New Paltz, learning to dance, and discovering many versions of Creep. So, with all those memories and warm feelings, it's a shame to have to knock the movie down a few notches. 

The best place to start with this one is the easy complaints. Watching this with captioning is advised because the Scottish accents can be hard to understand, and the dialogue didn't sound that crisp-and-clear in general. You still know what's going on but could miss some little details. During a trip Bruce takes to Germany, Baird and cinematographer Matthew Jensen switch to a handheld camera, and it doesn't make a big difference to the sequence, so it's slightly distracting. The use of 99 Luftballons and Sandstorm is great though. 

The larger issue is best explained during a scene where Robertson is finally called out on his crap by fellow officer Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots). McAvoy's stellar performance is even better when his character can't simply steamroll over another. Something clicked, for me, when she gets him to break down for a moment. It's hard to nail down why, but it might be because of how sick "'the games'" he plays are against mostly innocent co-workers. From an acting standpoint, where going from a whole movie of McAvoy showing his range as the Anti-Xavier to revealing further layers of this character in just a couple moments. Anyway, if the movie was more about screwing over the people who murdered that exchange student, maybe that would improve things? I'm honestly not sure and will be looking into other takes on this movie because that uncertainty is throwing me off more than expected. Another possible reason might be that she seems like the best-developed side-character in Filth, so that's worth investigating and digging through other write-ups and reviews of the movie. 

The murder itself, on the bright side, does show Baird's great strength when it comes to style and expressing a love of Stanley Kubrick. This scene happens in a tunnel and looks similar to A Clockwork Orange's opening. Robertson's boss, Detective Inspector Bob Toal (John Sessions) has a 2001 poster in his office, and further influences and references are dying to be discovered. One possible example may be the score by Clint Mansell because at least one part of it sounded like The Sex Pistols. Deeper than that though Kubrick and Baird are looking at fairly dark and degrading characters who don't adapt to change well. At least Robertson occasionally better recognizes that need to change than Clockwork's Alex did, although those are very different circumstances. Robertson's visit to his psychiatrist explains a lot of the great visuals Baird treats the audience to, like characters having animal heads for a split second. Most commonly, a pig head for Robertson himself. Oppression, to put it lightly, by police is a touchy subject in the U.S. Similar stories of abuse of power from officers, but from a slightly different angle may help some people having trouble wrapping their heads around how horrible aspects of the system are. The movie isn't really about that though, so it'll mostly just go as far as Robertson's personal depravity...and how you take in that depravity is probably going to be the main factor in grading Filth

3/5 but I know I would've given it a higher rating if it was that first view and the shock was fresh.

Whether they make it onto the site or not, Unbreakable, Split, and Glass are the natural followups. Split can just be watched on its own, but we've still got nothing but time for the foreseeable future. Speaking of which, my mom and I liked the M. Night Shyamalan-produced show Servant. It was our first time seeing Rupert Grint in anything post-Potter, and just like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, he's doing great work.
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Monday, August 17, 2020

Under The Silver Lake (2019) | Short Review

Under The Silver Lake is almost explicitly a modern-day version of The Big Lebowski. The major difference is that Lebowski sacrificed the plot for humor, and Under The Silver Lake sacrificed the plot for tone and oddness. So, is there enough there to sustain the film? Barely.

Under The Silver Lake is an A24 movie starring Andrew Garfield and written & directed by David Robert Mitchell (It Follows). From the film's site, it's a "neo-noir [movie] about one man's (Andrew Garfield's) search for the truth behind [mysterious activities in Los Angeles, after his neighbor vanishes]."

Garfield is what pulled me into the movie, since I'm a huge fan of his portrayal of Spider-Man & Peter Parker, and the early nervousness and twitchiness he brought to that works well here. This time, it's just mixed with the deadbeat aspects of The Dude in Lebowski. That also means the main difference between the two is one is incredibly zen, and the other is more engaged with the story around him.

So, while Garfield's character (Sam) moves the plot along well, the movie is still about 20 minutes too long and has a lot of loose ends. A moving plot that doesn't matter...still doesn't matter, so it's going to leave a lot of people frustrated. Those who get something out of Under The Silver Lake will probably point to the score, which has some tunes straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Garfield's performance (the entire cast is solid and along for whatever Mitchell throws at them), and the philosophical angst that comes from chasing ghosts.

My favorite scene is when Sam meets a songwriter (Jeremy Bobb) who may have made all the hit songs in the world, and may have put secret messages in them. Certainly not a new idea, but the revelatory angle taken with it, when mixed with a character as lost Sam becomes a standout moment of the film. If nothing else, look at that scene, gaze at the other beautiful shots of L.A, including the Griffith Observatory, and listen to the score. If you want more context for the great moments in Under The Silver Lake, you may not get it, but the full movie is available to watch as well. 

3/5

For a much more engaging take on the movie, and everything Garfield brings to it outside of his rock solid performance, please watch the channel Full Fat's video on Under The Silver Lake.

Also, what are your favorite Noir and Neo-Noir movies?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Superman vs The Elite (2012)

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

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


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

 

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

 

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


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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


4.5/5

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Polar (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/5
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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Bad Education (2020)

Variety
called Bad Education "Hugh Jackman's best work of his career," and they're right. It's shocking how just visually slicked-back hair, a suit, and a clean shave can get people to forget about Logan... and Logan. On top of that, this movie was also competing against, at least to me, similar outlandish scandal movies like Adam McKay's The Big Short. Again, it succeeded, but it did it by staying connected to the consequences of what these people did and the viewer's own curiosity about the mechanics of the scandal.

Bad Education is directed by Corley Finley, written by Mike Makowsky, and it's an adaptation of the New York Magazine article by Robert Kokler about school administrators who stole millions from their district. If the theft alone wasn't newsworthy, this being a top district in the country certainly pushed the story to national attention at the time, back in the early 2000s. The administrators are superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney)

It's rare to see school administrators cast in a positive light onscreen, just look at most 80s movies, but this one starts out with Tassone preparing to greet an adoring, thankful community. Michael Abels's score opens with music that's literally angelic. I'm surprised his name didn't pop into my head, after what he did with Jordan Peele's Us (reviewed here). Anyway, Tassone's work life and personal life slowly are revealed to be increasingly more complex than initially believed, and Jackman realizes every moment. A lot of the performance is non-verbal and comes across thanks to his face and his height. On top of that, he's able to go from courteous, and a student or teacher's best friend, to something else entirely, but not in the way you'd expect from Jackman. Maybe I'm off-base because I'm not an actor, but it's like this, calm to wronged and violent (Logan) is easy. Calm to angry, underhanded, but controlled (Tassone) is very hard. And it happens in seconds, successfully.

With Allison Janney, I'd compare her performance in this to the one she gave in I, Tonya. Both great, but I liked this one more. She's playing a much worse person this time around, but she doesn't come off that way. It's probably because Gluckin is a less wound-up person, and that gave Janney more room to breathe. A lot of the funny moments come from her, like when she's teasing Tassone about his diet, with a sandwich. Her chemistry with Jackman is excellent, and it's felt even when they're not in the same scene together, but that's to be expected when they have their own kinder, schoolhouse version of The Devil Wears Prada relationship. It's what makes the movie feel re-watchable, and the writing and directing are complementing that.

So, people going into this movie expecting a tone similar to The Big Short or Vice may have to put something else on right after to get their fix, but they shouldn't walk away disappointed. The scandal itself and the people involved are every bit as engaging as McKay's non-linear storytelling. This, for those who haven't heard of the Roslyn School District before, is the first great mystery movie of 2020. The investigation scenes, led by high school journalist Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) are a lot of fun...although, it helps that a lot of the investigating involves forensic accounting, and I'm also a bookkeeper. If that doesn't do it, the dialogue can. One speech about a chained up race car, chained like school officials are to the demands of students and teachers, has a way of pulling the whole experience together and showcasing Bad Education's greatest strengths.

So, whether you come for the characters or want to follow the money, you're sure to enjoy Bad Education.

4/5
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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Harley Quinn: Season 1 (2019-2020)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5
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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018) | Short, Spoiler-Free Review

I had no intention of watching this soul-sucking, studio-steered reboot, but when I found out Lakeith Stanfield was in it, I thought it deserved a shot. The man's in Sorry to Bother You (reviewed here), Uncut Gems, and Donald Glover's Atlanta just to name a few, so he picks his projects well. The Girl in the Spider's Web is no exception, even if it doesn't come close to David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Fede Álvarez's action-thriller is an adaptation, with a screenplay by Jay Bassu, Álvarez, and Steven Knight, of David Lagercrantz's first post-Stieg Larsson book. So, it's completely within reason for it to serve as both a sequel and reboot to what Fincher kicked off. From Vudu's plot description of the movie, "[Lisbeth] Salander (Claire Foy) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials, as they race to rescue a dangerous [computer] program..." One person in the race is Edward Needham (Stanfield), on behalf of the NSA. This gives Álvarez and his crew a lot of room to take creative liberties with the world and craft something with their own stamp on it. It also gives the studios room to zero-in on what they think will attract an audience this time, action. Luckily both things work well together.

Claire Foy being a badass
Claire Foy does everything in her power to make Lisbeth her own, and she succeeds | Copyright 2018 Sony and MGM

The best examples of this are with Salander's character changes. Her edges are softened thanks to her relationship with Blomkvist, and she's infamous, since Blomkvist wrote about her. Foy still plays the part with viciousness and her guard up, like someone playing Salander should, but the character growth cracks through in moments that I didn't think the movie would take the time to show. As unlikely as it is for people to face each other in separate glass elevators, in different buildings, and get cell reception, it works. It works because at least an attempt at substance was made, and that's all I really wanted from this one. If this gets people to check out other work by these filmmakers, better work, that's definitely worth it.

3/5
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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

"Sonic, he can really move. Sonic, he's got an attitude." That's how it went in the theme song for one of his 90's cartoons. Now, for this movie, just replace that attitude with pop-culture references that might become old in a few years. It's at least better than Sonic being a smartass.

Sonic the Hedgehog is directed by Jeff Fowler and written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, and the story basically is about Sonic (Ben Schwartz) going from a loner to finally being able to reach out and meet people. That main person is Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), and together, they have to stop the military and Dr. "Eggman" Robotnik (Jim Carrey) from capturing Sonic.

So, it's a pretty standard family movie, and I think that means, apart from some nice character moments between Schwartz and Marsden, it's only as good as its jokes. Luckily, they're usually pretty good. For every joke about Uber that's just thrown out there to fill the silence, there's one about Robotnik drones being used to deliver packages for Amazon. It seemed like a lot of the references were to companies more than anything else. It's a little concerning, but since it's mostly spoken instead of logos clogging the screen, it could be worse too. Plus, there are some more timeless gags thrown in for good measure.

Sonic's speed, on top of his overall and overhauled design, is visualized well on-screen. Slow-motion is used sparingly. Instead, his speed is best demonstrated when he's playing baseball with himself like Bugs Bunny. It's a fun homage, and it's what I would've liked to have seen more of, not the references.

Sonic is voiced by Ben Schwartz
The original design of Sonic really wasn't that bad, but this fix made a lot of people happy | Copyright 2020 Paramount

Jim Carrey's Robotnik is an interesting creation. It feels like the filmmakers started with regular Robotnik, added Tony Stark's worst qualities, and then they just unleashed Carrey to interpret the first two pieces. It's a pleasure and an annoyance to see him firing on all cylinders again. It would've been better if his co-stars could stand toe-to-toe with him more on-screen, but he regularly steamrolls over them. The worst example of this, when he's not just making random noises, is a breastfeeding joke that should've pushed the movie gently into PG-13. It's a real shame for James Marsden because it always seems like he's the most overlooked part of whatever movie he's in. He's really funny in this, and so is the actress playing his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), and hopefully that doesn't go unnoticed. Something similar happens with Carrey's sidekick, Stone (Lee Majdoub), but he's given even less to work with.

If you're a long-time fan of Sonic or a little kid, you're going to like this movie. The 90-ish minutes appropriately rush by. For everyone else, the mileage may vary.

3/5

Note: As of this review, Birds of Prey, which I also wrote about, is underperforming while Sonic is safely heading toward a profit. If you don't have kids and can only see one right now, please check out Birds of Prey. We need more of both these kinds of movies: faithful game adaptations where the studio actually listened to the fans, and risky comic book movies by women but for everyone. One is guaranteed to spark followups right now, but the other isn't. 
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Monday, February 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/5
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Saturday, January 4, 2020

Spies in Disguise (2019)

Note, mainly to myself, I still need to do posts for Jojo Rabbit and, now, Cats.

It's a beautiful thing when you can walk into a movie expecting to hate it but then walk out thinking it was alright. That was my experience with Spies In Disguise. It looked like they wasted the potential to do a CGI, action-packed, kid-friendly version of the show Archer, but a lot of that is there. Even better, the movie has a great message for kids who don't like being considered "weird," and there's a surprising message about how actual spies, government agencies and police need to be more accountable when working. Still, jokes can be pretty hit-or-miss, and that does hold Spies In Disguise back from being a real contender when it comes to ranking the flick next to Toy Story 4 and other animated hits from this overall stunning year for films.

The movie, directed by Troy Quane & Nick Bruno, is about superstar agent, one-man-army, Lance Sterling (Will Smith) having to team up with the agency's scientist and gadget creator, Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) so that he can clear his name after being set up for treason. Lance needs a way to be able to operate covertly, he turns to Walter for something that can help, and Walter makes him a pigeon.

Luckily animal-related "hijinks" are pretty much kept in check, and that's one of the best things about the movie. Instead, the best parts, are either Holland and Smith playing off of each other, or it's the fun and creative action that itself is character-driven. 

Smith and Holland character promo
Smith (left) and Holland (right) are a dream-team for the studio, banking on their celebrity status, and they're a dream-team for the audience | Copyright 2019 Fox/Disney

What I mean by character-driven action is the idea that only these guys could think of these things and pull it off. A perfect example is the character of Bullseye in the Daredevil comics, movie, and especially show. He turns even the most unlikely object anything into a projectile, and the creators play with that. In Spies In Disguise, it's all about Walter's non-lethal gadgets and approach to taking down the bad guys. In that aspect, it's like if Batman wasn't brooding because Walter, instead of spray painting everything the color of darkness, makes everything bright, colorful, and practically candy-coated. It's the perfect approach to take for animation. 

Animation-wise, Blue Sky Studio's best comparison is Sony Animation. They both love to do things in a heavily stylized manner that's closer to classic Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons than to Pixar's and DreamWorks's typically more realistic look. That's why the movie looks so good, it plays everything fast and loose, and it never really rests. That's critical when a movie's writing may not be as tight as it should be.

So, the jokes vary. Some, like one-liners by communications expert Ears (DJ Khaled) definitely won't be for everyone, but that's also why they're one-liners. It's a bump in the road just about every character hits periodically, but it's worth hearing because of what the movie really has to say.

Lance Sterling being a one-man army gets directly tied to collateral damage he does while working, and, again, it feels heavy for a kids movie. Superhero movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Man of Steel definitely opened the door to talk about this subject in media, but it still was separated by the idea of superhumans vs regular people, and are superhumans above the law. This turns it into is anyone above the law, are government agencies above the law? Admittedly, it can only go so far without becoming too heavy, or preachy, but it's more than some things like...it's tough to actually find an example...Gangster Squad, which has a line about officers leaving their badges at home. 

Spies in Disguise earns a 3.5/5, and even with Disney buying Blue Sky Studios (Fox), they should still have a bright future ahead moving into the next decade.

Update: A shutdown of Blue Sky was announced in 2021. Details on it can be found here. F*** Disney for doing this. A short, recent documentary on Blue Sky can be watched on YouTube here.
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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Knives Out (2019) | Spoiler-Free

Note: Thank you to my friend who paid for my ticket. Also, since this is spoiler-free, a lot of details are going to have to be kept vague, and that makes writing it a bit difficult.

It's been two years since The Last Jedi, so it's finally time for director Rian Johnson's followup! As someone who hated seeing the rift that movie created, I was really curious about a lot of aspects of his next movie and how they'd be received. Making things more interesting, personally, was this being Chris Evans's first post-Marvel movie and a taste of Daniel Craig's post-Bond career. Rest assured that all of them will continue to light up the screen for years to come. Still, Knives Out didn't quite deliver on all promises a modern, comedic, mystery movie should offer.

Knives Out is about the death of patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) on his birthday. Everybody is a suspect, and that includes a busy family tree and staff of the elaborately, beautifully decorated home. The house is even described in the movie as a Clue board by one of the detectives, and all the characters are well-defined, even if it's done in a clunky way.

Those are the main problems with the movie. With the house, it's well-designed and well-used, but it's not creatively captured onscreen. Something about Knives Out feels bare bones, and I didn't expect that from the guy who just received a reputation for going kinda crazy and going f**k it. That's the thing, I guess, he doesn't go crazy in visual ways, like trippy camera angles or weird editing. It's all in his script and plotting, but it feels like it's both underwritten and overwritten at the same time. 

Knives Out just has a very rough start with clunky dialogue and exposition. It really should've been assisted or substituted with some visual storytelling showing the audience the Thrombey family tree, or some of the potential suspects' motives, or something. Instead, the movie places the full burden of its success on the actors, their characters, and the circumstances of Harlan Thrombey's death. Luckily, everything does start to click when the investigation starts gaining traction, and the investigation is led by a jubilant, fun detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). 

First, his southern accent comes out of nowhere. You're almost not sure what you're hearing in his opening lines, even though the words themselves are clear. The drawl earns him the glorious title in the movie of "CSI: KFC." A quick sidenote, KFC is getting into romance novels, comic books, and video games, so if they hear about this and run with it, it could be frighteningly beautiful. 

Anyway, piecing together the puzzle is where Johnson's strengths lie. He makes sure that every possibility is still plausible, and that means he can come up with scenarios that are just shy of impossible. And while he's doing that, he's encouraging the audience to do the same thing. I was coming up with my own theories, and I can definitely see fanfiction writers creating their own versions of events. Even better, video editors can do the same. If has their own alternative cut of the movie or script, or something inspired by it, I hope they share it with the world. Knives Out best strength is that, like Clue (the game and the movie), it encourages imagination, creativity, and critical thinking. On top of that, the movie has a decent-sized heart, too, shown through the characters Harlan Thrombey left the biggest impact on.

Two more minor complaints about the movie are that it does place itself in the current era with some light political references, so they might pull people out for a minute. The commentary is necessary but could've been more general too. The other complaint is that the movie has a chase scene that should've been better setup from the start. It's a small setup-payoff thing that someone like Johnson should've thought through a little more, considering how tight the rest of the movie seems.

Something about Knives Out just fell short for me visually. Something much more quirky seemed to be promised, but maybe that's just my own expectations. Instead, what we're given is a great mystery and the means to create great mysteries of our own, and that has to be commended.

3.5/5


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Monday, October 7, 2019

Joker (2019) | Spoiler-Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give Joker 4/5 stars, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on it, too. Don't just comment about this one, please write your own reviews or even put up your own analysis on YouTube. I may not want Joker to be something we revisit every year, but it does need to be explored as fully as possible.

Finally, I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the whole Incel thing. If you’d like know about that, I recommend checking out a video on YouTube by Contrapoints on what incels are, and another by La'Ron Readus about how that may or may not be related to this movie.
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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Booksmart (2019)

Update:
I made my own tv spot for this movie, based on the Teenage Dirtbag idea mentioned at the bottom of the review. The spot is here, and 'making of' details about it are here. Enjoy!

After a somewhat disappointing run, overshadowed by blockbusters, Booksmart was re-released in major theaters. Jumping at the opportunity to see it a second time did not disappoint in the slightest, but figuring out what to say about it hasn't gotten any easier. It's a fantastic high school comedy, and directorial debut, from Olivia Wilde. It's most comparable to Superbad, but with two elements that set it apart: well-developed side characters and it looks like an arthouse film. So, how exactly does that raise the bar?

Booksmart is about two overachieving students, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who decide to cut loose for the first time and go to one of their friends' grad party. The one problem, they don't have the host's number or address. So, a night "we'll never remember with friends we'll never forget" is exactly what they get.

One scene in Superbad that people may be unexpectedly reminded of is when some jerk named Jesse tells Seth and Evan they're not invited to his grad party, spits on Seth, calls Evan a f****t, and...that's it. He comes back at the end for a comeuppance, but he's so forgettable it's not worth it, and Seth and Evan being outsiders is clear enough through other scenes. There's a lot of stock characters like that in Superbad, not nearly as bad, but just there for one-off, padding moments.

Booksmart, on the other hand, fully utilized its cast and every character feels authentic. Put-downs aren't without just cause, and they're not all that mean-spirited. Booksmart just uses them to get things started. It's a slow intro, that could've been cut down a little, to the real insanity. Once it's set up, the comedy really comes out, and it's from seeing characters, not just the actors giving them life, having a great time. Overall, what I think I may (also) be getting at is it's the more optimistic movie. This chapter was fantastic, you're open to turn back to it whenever you want, but the next one will be even better.

Now, about that arthouse style...it's beautiful. Olivia Wilde and her crew pull out all the stops to make the environment feel immersive. A lot of (I think) natural lighting in, cozy locations. This is heightened by some key closeups. This also includes an extensive playlist that includes music from Alanis Morissette and Perfume Genius, and a score from Dan The Automator. It's not as memorable as the soundtracks for Guardians of the Galaxy or Baby Driver, but it's not trying to be that. Instead, the album carries Amy and Molly through their rollercoaster night. Every up and down punctuated with just the right note. That goes for how sound it edited as well.

Booksmart Animation
The animated sequence was by ShadowMachine. A glimpse was in the trailers, and it definitely raised interest in the movie | Copyright 2019 Annapurna

Booksmart is the latest in a long line of recent bold debut titles, like Get Out and Sorry to Bother You, and that alone should be creating a lot more buzz. It's a tough movie to sell because it's "another high school comedy," but it's a step above other high school movies, and the jokes are laugh-out-loud hilarious and shouldn't be given away. What's left is just trust in Wilde and Annapurna Pictures. The studio's been behind some heavy hitters, and this is one of them. 
4/5

One more thing, before or after seeing it, I recommend listening to this cover of Teenage Dirtbag. They match up together pretty well.
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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men In Black: International (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5/5

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

Avengers: Endgame (2019) | Short Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5
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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Us (2019)

Jordan Peele is creating a new Twilight Zone this year. Pieces of Us feel like they're the perfect pilot for a society-driven anthology series from him. In Us, a family is greeted by their doppelgängers and must survive their mysterious appearance and invasion of their summer beach house. 

There are two things about Us that stand out above everything else. First, is the cast and their characters, and second is every little thought and implication this movie teases. The interpretations, reinterpretations, and misinterpretations will stand the test of time, well after this movie (hopefully) rewards Peele with another Oscar win.

Us is the best ensemble horror film in recent memory. Everyone plays well with each other because it's a family-horror movie that feels authentic. Protection, not survival, is what's emphasized in Us, and the impact of that echoes through the movie. Protection means sticking together, and later exchanging fun stories about the insanity with the people being protected. It's like if The Incredibles was a horror movie, and Violet said "I have the highest kill count in the family." In this case, the daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), said that. Her, and her brother Jason (Evan Alex), are some of the best kids in horror, during a season that's been pretty good to kids in horror, with movies like A Quiet Place. They're not helpless, they're just scared.

It might help that their parents are played by actors with superhero experience. Adelaide and Gabe are portrayed by Black Panther's Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke. They work exceptionally well with each other, but also apart from each other, when it's themself vs doppelgänger, which opens up that anthology feel parts of Us has. Duke handles dad jokes like a pro, and it allows the movie to breathe and set a good pace. Nyong’o, meanwhile, handles more of the emotional impact the invasion brings with it. She is the ultimate mother bear, and she's pulling one of the toughest dual-jobs, as the movie's head doppelgänger.

The Doppelgängers feel like repression of dreams plus a loss of free will. Hints are dropped that people with doppelgängers have had pursuits abandoned for one reason or another, and no one was able to help them through that. Even worse, some just started feeling free will wasn't available, and no roadmap for later in life. When asked who they are, Red (Nyong’o's dual-role) says "we're Americans." We're Americans, and the dream is a lie, but you seem to have it pretty well, don't you? Why don't we give it a shot? And a compelling case is made in support of that throughout the movie. Peele may just be trying to get all the ideas in his head out, but when it doesn't break the story, the more ideas out there, the better the movie is. Give people as much to work with as possible, especially in a genre can just coast on gore and jump scares. He does that and more.

Instead of gore, we get some really fun action. Weapons go flying across the screen, as characters fight each other. It's incredibly well-executed thanks to how grounded it all looks and how long shots are held. And when it's not that grounded, or cuts a lot, it's creative instead and pushes fight choreography to have new meaning.

Us also offers Kubrick and Hitchcock moments for the film buffs, some cultish, choir music from Michael Abels, for the film score buffs, and a lightly active camera, thanks to Mike Gioulakis, to breeze the audience through this new twist on what only starts out as a classic home invasion story.

4/5
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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Update:
Do not buy this movie, or other H.P merchandise, new and financially support J.K Rowling because of her anti-trans beliefs. As for Johnny Depp, reports are conflicting, from what I hear. Do your own research and what you feel is right. 

Note: Fiftieth post, and thank you to the friend who drove me 80 minutes (round-trip) to the theatre for this one!

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a magical mess that could only come from the creative cluster-bombed brain of post-Potter-published J.K Rowling. Apologies for the alliteration, it comes with the series.

The Crimes of Grindelwald, first and foremost is a reverse of the first Fantastic Beasts movie. People are the main plot points, and the animals are just along for the ride, and it's a non-traditional wild ride. The Crimes of Gindelwald, short and sweet, is about finding Credence (Ezra Miller), a wizard with almost no control over his powers, before Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) recruits him. But, along the way, a ton of stuff happens because Rowling writes her films in the same lengthy manner she writes her books.

First, we should get Depp out of the way. Personally, he's become incredibly problematic, allegedly abusive (if allegations were proven please correct me), and a shell of who he was. Professionally, he seems to have gotten his act together, and that can't be ignored either. Rowling and Depp together have pulled off something incredible, by creating a timeless take on current, and past, American politics. Depp hasn't had this kind of charisma in years onscreen, but it's easy to hang off his every word, before being reminded that "The beast of burden will always be necessary," when referring to muggles (or anyone considered "other") is the word of a monster. George Lucas was able to do something similar in the Star Wars prequels that demonstrated how political power can be consolidated and abused under one person. That was more through chaos than fear. Rowling leans on fear, racism, and misplaced hope (not Star Wars hope) to make this story hers. Unfortunately, it's just a small piece of the story.

The Crimes of Grindelwald spends most of its time introducing, or re-introducing, characters at an alarming rate. In the Wizarding World, that means they each have fully fleshed out backstories just waiting to be explored. Instead of reserving these backstories for the website Pottermore, Rowling and director David Yates explore them onscreen. Not only that, but a lot of time is spent just jumping from setup encounter to setup encounter, such as members of several Ministries of Magic who are hunting Credence. They don't really catch up to him until the end, and that's when they could've been revealed. They're quick to introduce to new audiences.

As for the characters we know and love...they're still lovely but Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Newt (Eddie Redmayne), and Queenie (Alison Sudol, who'd make a great Harley Quinn) and Jacob (Dan Fogler), are stuck with ridiculous strained relationship subplots. For what it's worth, the actors roll with them, and Rowling's strengths actually shine through. While the major story is a mess, her character work repairs a lot of that damage. The boys fixing out their relationship issues bring out the best moments of the movie, like when Jacob tells Newt that he shouldn't compare Tina's eyes to salamanders (this may work in some situations...give it a shot). The same can be said when the Fantastic Beasts are going in and out of the trunk.

The creature design looks better than ever, although the CGI is a little overused on them since the new batch of films. Animatronics and more practical methods should be considered, when possible. Some faces on the beasts just look a little cartoony. Regardless, Newt swimming with a Kelpie in a glassless tank/lake, and luring a "lion" with a fuzzy bauble at the end of his wand makes up for the look being not quite right.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is Rowling unchecked. One episode of the podcast Potterless, by Mike Schubert, is a great primer for the movie because he mentions how Rowling will go on for pages beautifully describing scenery, recapping past books, and digging in Harry's mind. It's fun to read but difficult to watch, since film is meant to condense those pages and make them pop in a different way. Moving forward, hopefully she and Yates, or she and some fresh blood, keep that in mind.

3/5

Note: Thanks again to the friend who drove me to the theatre, and if anyone wants more Harry Pottter in their life, please checkout Potterless by Mike Schubert, the story of a 25-year-old man reading the series for the first time. Each episode he discusses a few chapters with a special guest. It's fun, insightful, and I couldn't have written this without his help either. 
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