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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.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Hitman: Silent Assassin | Fan Trailer For the 2007 Movie

Update: To see similar treatment of the remake, Hitman: Agent 47, please go here.

First, I want to thank the editing/fan trailer communities on Reddit and Discord, and my friends for early feedback.

A couple of years I reviewed the original Hitman movie and the remake, and I cut together my first fan-made trailer. This one should've gone up shortly after those reviews. In fact, those typing parts had been done for a while, but the rest of the video wasn't coming together well. Besides technical difficulties (my own ineptitude), I was going back to school, or work, or both, and it was easy to justify the procrastination.

Recently turning this blog into something a little more helped a lot though because I hope to encourage others to try doing this too. So, where's the best place to start with that...

It's really going to vary for everybody, depending on what they like to watch and play. As far as narrative for one of these videos, I still don't know how to come up with that from scratch. The Spider-Man one used the same style of a different trailer, and this one used the game's Silent Assassin ranking system for missions. There are a lot of books and tutorials on editing, but I got lucky and learned the basics in school, so I'm not sure where to actually start with those other resources. 

On the technical side, Blender is a good editor. So far, it and an editor called Olive are the only free resources I know that mkv files. Blender lacks audio control though, so another program like Audacity is necessary too.

Anyway, I hope people give editing a shot. It's like another form of fan fiction that can spark more and more creative ideas. 

Also, what is your favorite fan trailer and/or editing resource? Please mention it in the comments.

This video, and others are collected, on-site, here.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Peter Pan (1953) | Guest Appearing on the Dolewhip and Dreams Podcast by Matthew Ryan Limerick

Update: Matt has rebranded Dolewhip and Dreams as Saturday Morning Confidential. The D&D episodes are still there, and the links below still work. Also, all podcasts are collected in a Spotify playlist here.

Saturday Morning Confidential Podcast

Peter Pan, along with Winnie the Pooh, was one of my earliest hits of Disney magic as a baby. And while I, and many of us, watch or revisits or favorites, it's rare that we get the opportunity to really dive into them. We usually just check if we feel the same way about it, and that's that. With my friend Matthew Ryan Limerick, we went a little bit further. Please check out the Saturday Morning Confidential Podcast for what we had to say, and also listen to other episodes because they cover a wide range of Disney classics and lore with other incredible guests.

Saturday Morning Confidential Podcast Links

SpotifyApple Podcasts


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Bad Education (2020) | Video Review

I'm still figuring out video reviews, but it's definitely nice to get back into them. I've been using the free time to write more on here, learn 3d modeling & animation, and there are still non-review videos on the horizon. Plus, this site now has its own social media.

Bad Education has incredible acting from the entire cast, with Jackman being the standout, sharp writing, and also a great score (which I talk about a little more in the written version of this review). I hope you enjoy the movie and this video.

This video, and others are collected, on-site, here.


Bad Education (2020)

Bad Education
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.



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.



Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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

The Girl in the Spider's Web
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
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.


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.


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.