Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I can't believe a day went by and I didn't discuss the "Captain Marvel" trailer

So there's a new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie coming out next year. It looks pretty rad. The trailer for the film hit the internet yesterday. I didn't even discuss it! How could I?

"Captain Marvel" is going to be a big building block for the future of this franchise. For one, this is Marvel's first female led film. Its also going to be a huge puzzle piece to where this story will be going after all the Thanos funny business is taken care of. Oh yes, the MCU is stopping after Infinity War. There are plans for the foreseeable future. From the sound of it, there is going to be big emphasis on space and the cosmos, which should be exciting.

"Captain Marvel" will take place in the 1990's. If you couldn't tell from the trailer, Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, but with hair, two eyes and a younger looking self. As does Clark Gregg returning as Phil Coulson. We also know that Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou will return as Ronan and Korath from "Guardians of the Galaxy." But as our hero crashes into a 1990's styled Blockbuster Video, its pretty clear how serious they are taking this. Brie Larson will star as Carol Danvers who becomes Captain Marvel, and I think she looks great!

Its a short trailer, and I have no idea of what the story will really be. But that's a good thing. I am getting tired of all trailers giving the whole movie away anyway!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Behind The Scenes Pic of the day whistles and clicks its teeth at you!

I find that there have been a handful of underrated children's movies from the last decade. Of course there have, there are underrated films in each genre at any given time. But sometimes, I am so flabbergasted how much a movie doesn't hit the mark that I feel a director made a movie just for me. When you think of Wes Anderson and stop motion animation, it almost feels like the two should have gone hand-in-hand since the beginning of Anderson's career. He's already got two stop motion animation films under his belt. One was "Isle of Dogs," which if you didn't catch in theaters, you should really catch sometime soon now that the film is on DVD. The other is "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"

"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is probably one of my all-time favorite Wes Anderson movies. For a guy who has an entire resume full of rich experiences, I hope that means something. I think each of his motion creations are perfectly matched with inspiring voices. I love the look and feel of the film. It's funny, its energetic and it is accessible to all ages. One of those amazing voices in the movie is Bill Murray, an Anderson regular for all intents and purposes. Murray gives voice to a badger who gets into some arguments with Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney).

I guess they also got some time on set too!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Joaquin Phoenix first Joker Pic

Over the weekend, Warner Brothers dropped a picture of Joaquin Phoenix in the upcoming "Joker" movie they are planning. The movie that is going to be independent of the other DCEU works (even though Jared Leto is still signed on with the DCEU and has upcoming appearances coming too). The thing that is weird is that its just a picture of Phoenix. He's not in any make-up. Obviously, its a picture of Pre-Joker Joker. But that's just a picture of Joaquin Phoenix.

So...what's the point?

If there is any movie that has a big question mark over it for me, its this Joker origin movie. I honestly don't see the point of doing it if it doesn't connect to the grander story DC and WB is telling. I also just don't see how people are supposed to get excited for the most popular supervillain of all time by simply releasing a picture of Joaquin Phoenix with no make up. I know they've got the legendary Martin Scorsese producing this. I know Todd "The Hangover" Phillips is directing. I know Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz (Domino from Deadpool 2) and Brett Cullen are co-starring (Alec Baldwin dropped out as Thomas Wayne and was replaced by Cullen, who played a senator in The Dark Knight Rises.) So yes, there are some popular and great people in the mix for this. I just don't get why its being made, other than the fact to just cash grab off of Joker's name.

There has been some controversy over at Sony, because they are making independent movies based on Spider-Man villains. "Venom" could end up being popular because he eventually became an anti-hero with his own line of comics. But I don't see the appeal of making stand-alone movies based on C-list Spider-Man villains if Spider-Man himself won't make an appearance. These movies won't be connected to Holland's Spider-Man nor the greater MCU. So what's the appeal? I wonder if there will be greater appeal with this stand-alone Joker movie, since the character is much more popular. But do we need a Joker movie without Batman? Do we need a Joker origin, period? The best part about the character has always been his mysterious background. A villain who simply came out of nowhere and began acting out for no apparent reason. Even Joker's greatest comic book "origin" story, the story Heath Ledger read to prepare for "The Dark Knight," ended up not being a concrete origin by the end. Joker's mystique has always been apart of his character, so why explain him?

I guess at this point I really need a trailer. I'm a huge Batman fan. The Joker can be an engaging, magnetic, haunting character when done right onscreen. But they are advertising this as a movie where Joker rises to crime. So it'll be "Goodfellas" with clown make-up? I'm not sure how appealing that is to me, no matter how much I like the source material.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" is a touching, sentimental look at the life of Fred Rogers

Won't You Be My Neighbor Review

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, one of my favorite things to watch was "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." Why wouldn't I? There wasn't anything else like it on TV, except I guess maybe "Sesame Street," which I also watched religiously. But even though I could best compare the two shows, they couldn't have been more different from each other. Now, as a young kid, I didn't really pick up on what Fred Rogers was trying to do. In fact, I hadn't even thought about it until I really went deep into the new documentary about the life and times of Fred Rogers. The reason why Fred Rogers was so beloved was because of he was a damn revolutionary. Television sets in his day were referred to as idiot boxes, but at a young age, Rogers saw something else. He didn't just see faces and hear voices coming out of a box. He saw a tool that could connect us all. He saw a gateway into the minds of people everywhere, and he found a way to teach people and have not just children, but families and communities learning from each other. The best movies, and now in this golden age, the best TV, connects us with the rest of the world. It's safe to say that Fred Rogers was a early pioneer of this ideal.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor" is built like your typical documentary about a person. We get a glimpse of the early life of Fred Rogers. We get a glimpse of how he became interested in puppets. We get a glimpse of his rise in television, and the various struggles that brought to him. While the structure is like most documentaries about people, director Morgan Neville doesn't take the easy road. This is not the typical film about a person. I find rather exhilarating that Neville was able to find a way to make a documentary that does everything we've come to expect from them, but also not at the same time. Its interesting to see what Neville truly focuses on when unraveling who Fred Rogers really was, and sets a context to who Rogers became to be.

Who was Fred Rogers? A man who had originally set out seminary to become a Presbyterian minister. Yet, he was constantly gravitating towards the television set, and what it could offer. Funny, since by and large he seemed to hate TV. He hated because of what it offered children to watch. A constant theme throughout the entire movie. Everything delivered to children was so simple and so slapstick, and it never was willing to challenge children in any form. Rogers grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, when the world of child development really began to change. The way in which Rogers tied child development with his unconditional faith made him the most unexpected social warrior of our time, but then again, that's why we love him. 

I mean, the things Rogers brings up are true. It seems when making entertainment for children, even today, those in charge are working for the lowest common denominator. Everything has to be so silly, and so simple and we are afraid to treat children like human beings. I never really picked up on this watching the original show, but as I watched footage of previous episodes, its crazy how much Rogers treated children like people. You'd never see puppets on a children's show today discussing such things as war or assassination or discrimination, and Rogers dared to break those barriers, determined to further educate the children. He used it as a tool to spread love and tolerance in his messages. He always took his time too, another critical error he saw in young entertainment was over-stimulation. Rogers took his time with everything, from counting a minute to discussing the life cycle of a fish. He understood the importance of just taking a breath.

Also the greatest lesson he taught was liking yourself just the way you are. Never apologizing for it. A big theme that occurs in the film is the constant desire to reveal Fred Rogers' sexual orientation. Was he gay or was he not gay? He was this older man who was a puppeteer and worked with children. So, he's got to be gay, right? One of the several ridiculous, superficial needs to put people in boxes. I cant attest to it too. I spent five years working at a daycare center, and when I'd meet fathers of children, or when I told certain people what I did for a living, the attitude was always the same. Every guy thought they had me figured out. I had to have either been gay or been a child predator or I was just trying to score with my female co-workers. None of this was true of course, I became so comfortable with my teaching craft that I didn't care what anybody thought of what I was doing. That was the greatest thing Rogers could teach. It doesn't matter what bullies think of you, I like you just the way you are. Don't change for people, be the change in your own life.

There is a blissfully touching moment at the end of the film. When the documentarian does an exercise that Rogers used to do with his peers and pupils. He'd ask you take a moment and think of someone who helped you in a special and important moment in your life. The documentarian asks this of all the individuals he interviewed for his movie. Watching everyone take the moment, to really think about what was being ask. It became more of a self-healing meditation than just a cerebral exercise and the release etched on everyone's face was palpable. It broke me down to tears. I thought of important people in my life, and just for a moment, one simple moment, it was enough to of an emotional response that I truly wrestled with it. A quick moment of true concentration and thankfulness can deliver an overwhelming emotional response. As times got darker in the life of Fred Rogers, he forgot to just continue to be genuine. Which is the point of it all.


Review: "BlackKklansman" is the film to beat this year.

BlackKklansman Review

I've never been a very political person, and I've tried to keep political talk minimal at worst, and totally non-existent at best. But man, in this day and age, that seems like an impossible task. Everything is political these days. Things that have no business being political are precisely political these days. Sometimes it seems like our country is ready to implode, and good lord does that scare me. It doesn't help my fear center knowing that my wife and I just brought a lovely child into this world, and I am already having some fits of anxiety wondering just how much this world is going to change as she gets older. I mean, damn, she already was born during a time when a reality star became president.

Now look. Yes, I was disappointed by the election results back in 2016. I didn't vote for Trump, but lets admit that Decision 2016 was just a shitshow all around. Even though I don't agree with much of what he does, I do find it a little fascinating that somebody with no government or military experience just kind of waltzed into the presidency. I don't think Trump is the Anti-Christ, I think he's a baffoon that got into his dream job somehow and now doesn't know what to do. At the same time, I am not sure I want him impeached, because Pence actually scares me more than Trump does.

One thing is for certain though, some of our very best talents have woken up during this period, and they are delivering some of their very best work. Some say that "BlackKklansman" is a wake up call for Spike Lee. To me, that's a really unfair. Lee has been on par with his best early work in 2015 with the remarkable "Chi-raq." A movie I missed in 2015, but which blew me away completely once I finally caught up with it. "The 25th Hour" was 2002. Bamboozled was 2000. Sure, he's made some crap in between there, the hits he makes are so precise that I can forgive him for a bad movie every once in awhile. Same with every director in the business. I hope this is all saying something too, because sometimes I am not so sure Spike Lee likes the whole white race.

"BlackKklansman" is a film that is based on a true story. It's so freaking strange that you aren't going to believe its real, but apparently is real. Ron Stallworth was the first African American police officer in Colorado Springs. He was hired in the early 1970's. He jumps around from department to department, hearing racial slurs while he does, goes undercover to a Black Panther Party only to end up in the intelligence division. To kill time one day, he calls the local Ku Klux Klan chapter, pretending to be a white person. What starts as a seeming prank, ends with Stallworth recruiting Jewish Officer Zimmerman to pretend to be him in the flesh. Stallworth and Zimmerman begin to infiltrate the KKK, and eventually learn of a possible attack.

Again, it doesn't sound real, but somehow it is. The movie that ensues is something that a wicked sense of humor, but also takes a real stand. Spike Lee has always been righteously angry, in cases both deserved and undeserved. Here, this is righteousness I can get behind. It helps when Lee adds some of the best humor in any of his films since "Do The Right Thing." It helps that he has put together one of the best acting ensembles he has ever had. John David Washington may not be a name that jumps out at you yet. In fact, if you've never seen HBO's "Ballers," you've probably never seen the guy. That will change as of 2018. He is getting on next years' Oscar ballot. I can't fathom how he won't. Washington plays Stallworth with an absolute perfection of the craft. I don't know if I have anything else to say about Adam Driver, the guy is just amazing, and he plays Zimmerman here. You may remember Laura Herrier from "Spider-Man: Homecoming," and she's great here as Stallworth's girlfriend. Topher Grace plays David Duke, the David Duke. Grace is really good at playing these low-key assholes, and he does a miraculous job here. Also look for Alec Baldwin in the early moments of the movie, giving us one of the film's biggest laughs.

There is a big difference between making something look like a particular time and making your film look like a community theater presentation. The small details DO matter in a movie, at least to me anyway. Spike Lee went all out with a crew of amazing individuals, and the costumes, the places and the general attitude of the film feels like the 1970's. There is a genuine realism to each and every scene that only added to the film's craft. I love it when history movies feel like time machines and not actual movies. While there is a comedic style to the film, its also amazing just how lived in this world feels.

The film ends with various footage of the Charlottesville protests, and while that may seem like a random thing to put into the final reel, it actually makes striking sense. I don't think it was an accident that this film's release date was the one-year anniversary of the protests. I think Lee is saying, loud and clear, that no matter how many steps forward we make, we then take just as many steps backward. No matter how well renowned we are as a nation, its still taken us hundreds of years to solve the race issue in this country. Worst yet? We still haven't answered it. While "BlackKklansman" is a funny movie, and certainly brings the entertainment factor. It also cut deep in a very meaningful way.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Summer 2018: The Retrospect

There has been something special about summer movies ever since the 1970s. The summer movie season has become an event. How hard can the studios entertain the audiences? It seems that has been the ultimate dare from studio to studio. Why not? The schools are out, people are planning vacations, the mindset is ultimately relaxation, or at least, as relaxed as you can get being a working American these days. I've always loved the summer movie season and I am always curious to see what the studios cook up while I enjoy much needed free air conditioning.

This summer though, everything changed for me. My wife and I brought home our first baby girl. This summer has been the best summer of my life because of it, and I hardly got a chance to step into a movie theater. There were some things I missed this summer. I missed "Mile 22" and "Slender Man" and "Mamma Mia 2" and "Adrift" and "Alpha." There were some big independent market movies like "Sorry To Bother You" and "Blackkklansman" that I've missed too. But that's okay, there will be plenty of time to catch up on all of those. Based upon what I did end up seeing though, I can say that summer 2018 was overall good.

There were a couple surprises like "Ocean's 8," simply because I didn't expect to like that movie. There was once again, a great superhero output. I hope you are all caught up on your Marvel movies, because 2019 is going to be a big year. No matter which comic company you prefer. The independent films I did see, "Book Club" and "Tully," were both good movies, but nothing I'd call great. But that didn't matter. We had "Mission: Impossible" and "Incredibles II" and sequels we didn't ask for, but ended up being fun in the first place.

The biggest error for me was "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom." It was just a mere retread disguised as a new sequel. Nothing new or invigorating. Just the same old stuff we've come to know from the franchise. But in a summer movie season, one reason to be disappointed is a good thing. There were plenty of other surprises, but those surprises were good. That is the most I can ask for in a summer movie season.

While I didn't review it on my site, the last real summer movie I saw was "Crazy Rich Asians." Which was wildly entertaining. Is it predictable? Absolutely. But I think its predictable by design. There was no other way. The movie bends over backwards to entertain though. There are many funny moments and the cast is spot on every turn. I think Constance Wu is poised to become a big star and she certainly deserves it.

For all that I missed, I hope you all enjoyed it, I will do my best to catch up with everything. After its all said and done, I think summer 2018 ended up being a good one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a good summer movie season in my book. As the weather begins to chill and the leaves begin to change, I will forever cherish the moments made here, as I always have.

Review: Netflix's "NextGen" is visually arresting, but doesn't really feel like a family movie

NextGen Review
It seems like more and more companies are trying to get into the children's family business. I can hardly blame them. Lots of these movies, except unless they come from the Disney vault, aren't based upon other sources. If they catch on, that's usually not just one or two, but sometimes three or four tickets that get bought in one sitting. If they really catch on, families will back again and again. Then, boom, you've got yourself a film franchise. It seems Paramount and Sony and Dreamworks are all working hard to compete with the Disney-Pixar machine, and why not? Competition is a good thing, no matter if Disney is eyeing to buy the whole damn world, competition is a good thing. It seems Netflix getting into the children's film business was only a matter of time. Why does a family have to spend tons of money on growing movie ticket prices and overpriced snacks when you can cuddle up on your own couch and make your own snacks for free?

"NextGen" is a bold statement for the animated family film by Netflix. I am not sure it works as a satisfying whole. But there are a couple of things that the movie does so right that I have to give it a recommendation. It's not flat out awful like so many Netflix original films are. There are some familiar voices in this movie, including John Krasinski, Jason Sudeikis, Constance Wu, David Cross and Michael Pena, just to name a few. For some reason, it never feels forced, the voices don't stick out like a sore thumb like the big celebrity voices can sometimes do. The computer animation is absolutely breathtaking. It's so richly detailed that while you are sitting at home, depending on how awesome your home television is, its a dreamlike vision. There is some action in the movie, and I was impressed that the action felt more cinematic in a grounded way instead of action feeling very childish. I'm not trying to sound negative, I just think that there is a certain style of acti81,on you find in animated kids movies, but "NextGen" makes something that feels more for the movies.

The story is going to sound wildly familiar. Millennials and young parents may find themselves dosing off depending on what they think of the storyline, because like I said, you've seen this movie before. It is essentially a "kid falls in love with their giant robot" movie. If you've seen "The Iron Giant." If you've seen "Transformers." If you've seen "Big Hero Six." There have been versions of this story that haven't involved robots, but aliens or monsters or whatever. It's an old, almost cliche story device at this point. Charlyne Yi voices Mai, a girl whose father walked out on her when she was very young. She's grown up with her mother (Wu) but still feels distant from her when lots of technology starts taking over. Every home has a personal robot thanks to IQ Robotics. Sudeikis gives voice to the charismatic Justin Pin, who is introducing a new line of personal robots. Pin has a little sidekick, who is working on some side projects and one of them gets away and finds its way to Mai.

The first half of the movie is the best part. The film does a really good job of setting up Mai and the renegade robot 72281, voiced by Krasinski. The film eventually boils down to a broken robot and a broken girl having an inseparable bond, and that is a very sweet message. Like I said familiar, the characters both save each other, but there is some semi-mature content in this film, and it will take some serious discussions between parent and child afterward, which can be rewarding.

But there lies the problem as well. This movie can't decide if it wants to be a children's movie or a movie about childhood. Yes, there is a huge difference. "Where The Wild Things Are" is a movie about childhood, it has nothing in common with your typical Pixar movie. There are some big themes this movie is playing with, and I love the ambition. But the tonal shifts almost become too hard to bare. Is the film intended to be something kid-friendly, or something to be taken a little more seriously, the movie can't decide, so how can we? It can't even decide on its humor. There is a pet dog in the movie, and in the middle of the movie, it randomly begins talking. The movie bleeps out two words that were meant to be F-bombs, and it becomes awkward to listen to. Plus, the dog only talking through mere parts of the movie makes no sense with the rest of the movie.

No matter how you look at it, even though inconsistent, "NextGen" still manages to pull off an ultimately enjoyable experience. Thanks in large part to its beautiful animation and its cinematic action sequences. There are couple moments that I want to just watch again, and that's the beauty of having these movies on hand due to the streaming services. Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu and everything coming in the future are only going to get more competitive, and if they keep reaching like they did here, the audience will be the winners every time.