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

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Young Adult (2011)


The first time I watched Young Adult, the ending was so frustrating that I went back to the box office to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a palate cleanser. While taking in a second show certainly wasn't a mistake, discounting more than Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt's phenomenal performances and the careful depiction of a disorder called Trichotillomania in Young Adult was.

It's better if this starts with what Trichotillomania (Trich) is because it's what prompted this review. So, Trich is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair. Other BFRBs include skin picking (Dermatillomania), nail biting (Onychophagia), lip and cheek biting, compulsive nose picking, compulsive hair cutting and shaving (Trichotemnomania), and hair eating (Trichophagia), among others. It's often triggered, as depicted in this movie, by stress or anxiety, but some people with Trich pull without realizing they're doing it. It's believed that 2-3% of people have it, and a significant percentage of those people are women. How that affects Young Adult's main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is more prominent than I even remember, but it's still subtle. Trich is clearly something that she has, not who she is. I'll go more into that toward the end.

The movie's summary from Vudu is "Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a 37-year old former prom queen, and current writer of young adult novels, who returns home to relive her glory days and win back her now-married high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). When she finds her homecoming more challenging than expected, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), and both must face the harsh realities of growing up in this brilliant and bittersweet story." It is directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diabolo Cody.

I'm not sure there's anything that can be added about Theron and Oswalt that hasn't already been said. Still, on rewatch, what did stick out to me is the moments Theron has of vulnerability and clearheadedness as Mavis. In a way that works and feels rewarding, those moments feel so different from the character we get to know. So, when they quickly vanish toward the end of the movie, you may want to shout at the screen or, like I did, reach for silver-screen-colored mouthwash. That didn't happen this time around, and I may know why.

Anti-hero led tv shows are huge now, and it's not just The Sopranos anymore. The best comparison I can make to Mavis is Bojack Horseman. The worst comparison is to other YA authors, so let's get that out of the way first. YA is a diverse genre full of more than high school drama and romance, and even if it wasn't, and these writers have to become part of that world, a lot of them still know how to "turn it off" when it comes to business and just interacting with people. This movie reminded me of a video (here) about Twilight's Stephanie Meyers, and how she is in fact an adult, treats fans and non-fans with respect, is the exact opposite of Fifty Shades of Grey's E.L James and Harry Potter's J.K Rowling in that regard, and should at the bare minimum be recognized for not being a narcissist. Mavis, especially as a ghostwriter of a declining series, falls into this mix on a sliding scale. While she's an adult, she tends to slip down as she struggles at times to maintain that role. She's the type that would stir the pot if Twitter had been as prolific in 2011 as it is now.

Back to the Bojack comparisons, whenever he tries to make big changes all at once, he backslides hard. Mavis is kind of the same way; a long week in her hometown isn't going to do much, if anything, as far making substantial changes. Plus, this isn't a Lifetime movie where the hometown is full of the nicest souls in the world. Mercury, Minnesota is just a regular, albeit fictitious, town. Which brings us to Buddy Slade, a regular guy in this regular town.

Patrick Wilson has gotten better with age and is sinking into more exciting roles, like Ocean Master in Aquaman. At the time though, he was taking these love interest roles that, to me, didn't seem right and needed an actor who was a little more eccentric in some way. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl in Watchmen is kind of in-between because it's about finding that spark again. Anyway, Wilson is a great fit as Buddy Slade, playing the stable husband and new father perfectly. And it's not like it's a boring role either. It's easy to imagine him getting his dad jokes ready for after the baby's first words. His wife even has the drum set and rimshot he needs. The only issue with Buddy is that he seems a little too civil to Mavis and allows her to take her plans for him a little too far. He doesn't lead her on whatsoever, but he brushes off her reminiscing and going into intimate recollections a little too easily and often. She may be the same person, but he's not, and there are things I've seen floating around social media now that make that topic perfect to bring up.

One small thing about Oswalt's character that gets better with age is how they handle his high school bullying since the U.S. is taking bullying much more seriously these days. Honestly, the whole movie gets better with age, much like Matt's home-brewed bourbon. This is still Oswalt's best performance. He said that he consulted with an acting coach and physical therapist for the role, and it shows in more than just how his character walks. Here's hoping he returns to more dramatic roles, or at least collaborations with Theron, Reitman, or Cody, soon.

The recent expression online is something like "if you knew me in high school, no you didn't." Mavis didn't grow up, but most people around her did, at least to some extent. Matt may make action figures as a hobby, but he also does bookkeeping and accounts payable work for a bar. Meanwhile, Mavis is an author who regularly blows off her publisher.

Actions like that, social media in general, and the concept of "adulting" make Young Adult perfect for now. Although it’s not exactly social media, Mavis is borrowing lines she overhears from people in stores and restaurants and parroting them as dialogue and thoughts for characters in her book. And as far as "adulting" goes, she lives like a recent college grad who's just scraping by, and honestly there's nothing wrong with that even for a 37-year-old. It happens, especially in the real world in 2020. The problem is that she doesn’t have the emotional maturity she should at that age.

As I mentioned, Mercury is a fictional town, but it's very far from an unbelievable one. It's a place that's just starting to get some big name restaurants and stores, and Reitman and Cody's way of showing that is similar to how Theron is shown. Some people don't change, they just appear to change. The same thing goes for some old, rural towns. The place doesn't look great, but it's not supposed to. So, strictly visually, the best visuals come from the awesome opening credits and seeing the inner workings of a cassette player. Anyway, getting a combination KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut isn't a real milestone (although it's a first lesson in corporate consolidation) if the school mascot is still a Native American and the school team is still called The Indians. Although, the movie does note that it's a step up from Injun, and that's true, and this was 2011. Baby steps can still be steps. And this movie was a big step forward when it comes to Trichotillomania.

Young Adult, Example of Trichotillomania from Mavis
Mavis (Charlize Theron), a fellow Tricher, and her parents, who are well-intentioned but uninformed on Trich | Copyright 2011 ViacomCBS 

When looking for other writers who covered that angle of the movie, there wasn't a lot, unfortunately, but something interesting did stick out. Mavis is the first character in a mainstream movie, that I've seen, to clearly have Trich. Based on what I’ve seen on forums, like here and Gender Focus, some people in the BFRB community take issue with that because they think others will think only people like her have it or that you can't recover from it. It's very clear though, that she just pulls when stressed or anxious, and it's separate from who she is. It's also clear from the clip-on hairpieces and hairstyles she wears that people involved in that aspect of the movie either did their research or have first-hand experience (we have no way of knowing which).

The first time I saw her pull and the glimpse of a bald spot felt like real milestones on their own. I’m a man, so I saw myself represented by someone who doesn’t look like me, and the impact of that is unexplainable. The moment her parents (Jill Eikenberry and Richard Bekins) brought up her pulling really brought it home. This is the clip, and it is EXACTLY what so many uninformed parents, close friends, significant others, or even teachers (who are some of the worst triggers just, at best, because of the nature of school and test taking) have said to so many kids and others with Trich and other BFRBs. "You're not still pulling it are you?" and "it's just that your hair is so beautiful." That scene is brief, but just imagine it over eighteen years, or a lifetime. Even people, usually men, who don't mind being bald, hear it sometimes, and they just want the constant badgering, guilt, and shame to stop. Add wanting to feel beautiful and being a woman on top of that, and it's unimaginable. So for a better perspective on that, I have some recommendations to share.

My friend Abby Andrew has a YouTube channel where she talks about, among other things, alopecia, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. She's done some videos about how bald women are represented in popular media. Please check her stuff out, too. For more information on BFRBs, please go to The TLC Foundation for BFRBs and The Canadian BFRB Support Network. For Trichotillomania specifically, there are a lot of YouTubers out there now who are talking about it openly, and they're just a quick search away. There is also a wonderful documentary called Trichster on Amazon Prime and VHX. It is directed by Jillian Corsie and features one of the more prominent YouTubers with Trich, Rebecca Brown.

5/5

Even someone who's not approaching the movie that personally can find a lot to appreciate about it.

Note: This review was edited by Laura A. Barton of the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN).








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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Devil All The Time (2020) | Short Review

The Devil All The Time is by Antonio and Paulo Campos, and IMDB’s summary of it is “Sinister characters converge around a young man (Tom Holland) devoted time protecting those he lives in a postwar backwoods town teeming with corruption and brutality.”

That’s really just one of several stories being told, actually. It’s great that everyone gets a complete follow-through, but if I was to write a headline for a (longer) review it’d be like “Choose your own adventure, and stick with your favorite.” This movie may have better presented as a miniseries. Every story and character reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it still doesn't feel like enough either. 

I liked the multifaceted takes on religion, good, bad, and ugly. The bad has a lot of dimensions, as we have people who are just misguided by their strong faith, and they’re much more than simply using God to fulfill acts of greed and lust. Some of that is present too, but seeing them all together keeps the movie’s voice at least somewhat new. That, along with the setting, gave me a There Will Be Blood vibe, in a good way. It probably helps that There Will Be Blood is actually (finally!) a recent watch.

The cast was very good. Robert Pattinson, of course, stood out. Sebastian Stan did too. Tom Holland was great, but Marvel is just really hard to shake off. This doesn’t help, but he’ll be fantastic in an “Alien Costume” adaptation, when the time comes. The biggest surprise is Harry Melling (Dudley in Harry Potter) as one of the preachers. His energy, similar to Pattinson’s in this, is absolutely infectious.

Since some of us are starved for the theatre experience, that definitely is influencing things. I put this on without hesitation because I just turned in my laptop for repairs. This is being typed out on a goddamn phone. Still, The Devil All The Time will keep audiences engrossed in its story, as it seamlessly jumps back and forth in time, and I will be looking forward to the next project from The Campos.


3.75/5

And higher if it was a miniseries.


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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.

Teaser Poster
Teaser Poster | 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 Preywhich 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 works hard to earn its rating.

3.5/5

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. Fuck Disney for doing this, and fuck them for doing this, too. 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. 

4/5



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

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