Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Review: Has The Fast & Furious universe grown too weird with "Hobbs & Shaw?"

Hobbs & Shaw Review

You know, sometimes it makes me laugh, thinking about how much the "Fast & Furious" franchise has changed over the years. I remember when the first movie came out, the days of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. "The Fast and the Furious" was a gritty movie about underground street racing, it had an ultra realistic tone. I wouldn't call "The Fast and the Furious" an action movie, its a crime film. There are small bursts of action in that movie, nothing on the level of what we see in this franchise now. I would never guessed that somebody would drive a car through a building in order to get through a neighboring building in this franchise. Ever. Yet, that and crazier things have happened already.

With "Hobbs and Shaw," the first spin-off of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, there is a supervillain in the movie. I refused to just call the guy the film's villain, because he has implants in his eyes that lets him know when enemy's are going to punch him. When Idris Elba calls himself Black Superman in this movie, its played for laughs. But a part of me asks the other part of me if this series has finally jumped the shark. Literally, has the franchise JUMPED the shark? "Hobbs and Shaw" pushes the franchise so far to the deep end that I'm not sure what to really think of it.

As the "Fast and Furious" movies have grown in number, the car chases have grown crazier and wackier. In "Hobbs & Shaw" There is one giant set piece where several cars are all hooked together with a helicopter for a tail in the air. All while the heroes are being chased by a bad guy who is literally a cyborg. While there are plenty of people who go to movies like this to be wowed by the action and the set pieces and the effects, I can't help but focus on how weird this world has grown and if this at all fits into the greater universe being built.

The basic lowdown on "Hobbs and Shaw" is this, Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) is an MI-6 agent in charge of a horrible virus. This virus is stolen by Idris Elba's Bixton Lore, a cyber-genetically enhanced terrorist working for a shadowy evil organization called Eteon. He steals the virus and frames Hattie as a traitor. Both Shaw and Hobbs are recruited to retrieve the virus from Bixton. Of course because they are enemies, they are initially annoyed, but of course they'll become buddies as the movie wears on. I'm a little offended that I have to now cheer for Han's killer but whatever.

The premises in this franchise are fairly easy to follow, so that we can make room for several scenes of car chases, unbelievable stunts and plenty of red shirt henchmen getting their faces pummeled. This time though, everything is cranked up so much that it may feel a bit numbing at times. Of course, I stopped taking these movies seriously several episodes ago, but the more they try to make these unbelievable, the more they rewrite the rules of this universe, the more awkward it is to sit through these movies.

Its a good thing The Rock and Statham are both charisma machines because they make it very easy to buy into the movie's absurdities. They make it easy for the audience to cheer for them. It's also nice Idris Elba brings as much humility he possibly can to a purposely cartoonish bad guy. They make this rather dumb movie at least somewhat fun. They committed to these characters to the point where I actually cared that Hobbs and Shaw won the day. Which I think is the most you can ask for with a film like this. I also hope you guys enjoy the cameos by Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart. I hope you also listened real close for Keanu Reeves voice cameo.

There was a wild rumor that somebody somewhere wants to put "Fast and Furious" in space, and I don't know if I want to throw my hands up and say "too much" or I want to continue to just enjoy the ride, but I guess we'll see. This continues to be a moneymaker so I guess people don't care how crazy things get. There's a difference between trying something new and forgetting what you are, I hope this mistake isn't made.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Anybody excited for The Matrix 4

I love the whole Matrix trilogy.

There I said it.

"The Matrix" is revered as one of the finest motion pictures of the 90's. The two sequels from 2003 came with mixed results at best. But you know what, I like all of them. I recently watched the two sequels back in winter and I found myself still enjoying them. It's a fun trilogy, original in creation and huge in scale.

Despite thinking that "Revolutions" was about as good an ending this thing could conjure, we are getting a fourth Matrix film. So far, Carrie Ann-Moss is returning as Trinity and Keanu Reeves is returning as Neo. Hey, The Oracle said we'd probably see him again some day. It's science fiction, nobody ever really dies in science fiction. Lana Wachowski wrote, produced and directed the three Matrix movies with her sister Lily. Lana is attached to the fourth film in some regard, no word on Lily yet.

That's all the information we got so far, other than Warner Brothers is apparently beyond happy to jump back into the franchise. For now, I am anxiously waiting for a sequel and more details. This is small time right now, as pre-production as pre-production can be. So let's just wait and see where they go from here.

Tom Rothman is a Supervillain

Tom Rothman is a Supervillain.

As you may have already heard, the shared deal between Sony and Disney to allow Spider-Man to be featured in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise has ended. The deal was to allow Spidey to show up in the Disney/Marvel Studios film while Sony hot a percentage of sales revenue. Spidey's package included three Marvel appearances (Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame) and then a trilogy. It was to be expected that any type of negotiations or renewing of a deal would have taken place after the third proposed "Spider-Man" movie. But I guess those negotiations took place sooner and Sony bowed out of the deal. Disney simply wanted a little more money for their work, and Rothman got Sony to say no.

Yes, I have already heard people talking that Disney got greedy. There is certainly a little truth to that. But think about it. Businesses usually go into business deals to get something out of them. Sony came to Disney because they had no idea how to manage Spider-Man properly as a property. Disney put the character into their franchise, fostered him creatively, and made two solo movies that made tons of cash for the box office, making Sony very rich. If you are in a business deal with somebody and you doing most of the work for little of the profits, would you not at least try to negotiate for better?

Tom Rothman is a head executive producer over at Sony, and before he worked at Sony, he worked for 20th Century Fox. Would any of you find it interesting that Rothman didn't believe in "X-Men" when was being made for the year 2000? Do you know that Rothman cut the budget for "X-Men" and moved up the release date on Bryan Singer? There are several more stories about how Rothman tried to fuck up "X-Men." It was a property he thought was going to fail. The rub is, it didn't fail, and thankfully Singer was given a bit more freedom to make "X2" even better. You can tell that Rothman's ego was nearly demolished, because there was a massive slowdown on production for "X3" afterward, despite the big money the film brought in. He tried to take over a year to negotiate a deal for Bryan Singer's treatment for "X3," he wanted to tell the Phoenix Saga and he wanted shoot "X3" and "X4" back to back. But Rothman stalled on a deal with Singer as well as a release date for "X3."

So you know what happened? Bryan Singer got hired to make "Superman Returns" instead. Rothman then proceeded to speed up production on "X3," going through several directors who eventually bailed on the project before Brett Ratner was set in stone. The whole point of all of this was because Rothman was determined to beat Singer's Superman to the big screen. Whether you like "X3" or whether you don't, there is no denying that if Rothman had just set Singer and his production team in place for "X3" the week after "X2" crushed it at the box office, we would have probably got a vastly superior "X3" than the one we eventually got.

Rothman has done things like this his whole career. Remember "Independence Day?" 1996? Big alien spaceships? Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman? Yeah? It was one of the highest grossing pictures of that year. It sold the audience and a very clever marketing scheme, in fact, I'd call it the best marketed movie of the whole 1990's (maybe disputing the marketing on "Blair Witch Project," honestly that's a tough call). The movie was wildly popular upon release. So you know what Rothman did? He rushed the team behind "Independence Day" off Fox because he wanted to pay them half what he paid them for the first film for a sequel. Seriously, greenlighting a sequel to "Independence Day" a month after it came out should have been a no-brainer. "Independence Day" could have been a major franchise today, instead when a sequel finally came out twenty years later, nobody cared. All because Rothman is a shrewd business man.

Over the course of Rothman's tenure at Fox, several major blockbuster filmmakers stopped making their movies over there. Rothman is a man more obsessed with release dates and fiscal quarters instead of making movies people are going to like. I don't know, maybe he's possessed by Satan too, and Satan just wants to make people like this type of stuff suffer. Rothman is a ruiner of fun, and he needs to be stopped.

I don't know if anything resembling a miracle is going to come out of this. The weird thing is Tom Holland is still attached to play Spider-Man. How is Sony going to explain in a Tom Holland Spider-Man movie that all the MCU related connections are just gone? How do you make a Holland movie without referring to his past that is already established? You can't, so Sony's best bet would be reboot the franchise...for a third fucking time. The way Sony handles reboots...well...I guess get ready to watch Uncle Ben die for a third time. Sure, Sony got things right with "Enter The Spider-Verse" that doesn't mean they get to be ruiner of fun.

The MCU moving forward is also going to be kind of awkward just dropping Spidey from its continuity. How do you even explain that?

But hey, Venom and Spidey get to team-up now! ....

Monday, August 19, 2019

Review: "Good Boys" is a mini-Superbad

Good Boys Review
When I reflect upon the movies of the 2000's, I remember that it was a rich year for comedy. It was the height of Judd Apatow, the emergence of Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell and Danny McBride. I loved, and continue to love movies like "Anchorman," "Superbad," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Knocked Up," "The Hangover," "The 40 Year Old Virigin," "Tropic Thunder," "The Pineapple Express," "Talladega Nights," "Step Brothers," "Role Models" and "Wet Hot American Summer." That's not including British comedies and the offbeat stuff like Wes Anderson's run or something like "Napoleon Dynamite. That's also not including "The Room," which apparently wasn't a comedy in the first place but became one by default.

The 2010's didn't really have that same surge of raunchy, rowdy, R-rated comedy that the 2000's did. Sure, we get a "Get Him To The Greek" or a "Sausage Party" every once in a good while, but we are not getting the output we got last decade. It seems lots of the big guns of comedy moved to the small screen, and I definitely laughed way more in the comfort of my home instead at the movie theater this decade. I was really starting to think that those off-the-way R-rated comedies were put on hold for the decade.

Then something like "Good Boys" comes out, and shows me just what I needed.

Seth Rogen was behind this one and you could easily write off "Good Boys" as a mini-Superbad, and by and large, you'd kind of be right. Its about three friends who do some really bad things in order to get to a party they feel they NEED to get to. Sounds exactly like "Superbad" right? We aren't dealing with high school kids this time though, we are dealing with 6th graders. The world of grade school is not the same world as high school. But its still an environment ripe for big laughs. Seth Rogen scores everyone.

We meet Max (Jacob Trembley), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams). These boys have been best friends for a really long time and now they are about to face middle school together. They are going through budding puberty, discovering they like girls, and hoping to have a first kiss soon. Thor is a kid with a great singing voice, but he doesn't want anyone to know about it. He is often made fun of because he chickened out on drinking beer. Lucas is a good-hearted, boy scout type being rocked by his parents' impending divorce. Max didn't chicken out on drinking beer with the other boys though and he gets invited to Soren's house (Izac Wang), the most popular boy in school. Max's crush Brixlee (Millie Davis) is going to be there, and Max wants to make her his.

Max is able to convince Soren to let him bring Thor and Lucas to the party. The boys spend their afternoon after school trying to find kissing videos, which they accidentally only find porn. Max decides to use his dad's drone to spy on his older next door neighbor, a high school girl named Hannah (Molly Gordon) only to get the drone stolen. Thor steals Hannah's drugs she got for a concert she's attending. Knowing he'll get in trouble if he loses his fathers drone and really needing to go to Soren's party, Max can't get grounded. So he convinces Thor and Lucas to skip school with him so they can obtain a new drone and still get to the party that night.

That's the movie. Instead of  three high school students trying to get alcohol for an entire party so they can get laid. Three middle school friends are trying to get a drone so they can get to a party for their first kiss. Again, if you merely write-off "Good Boys" simply because it follows a familiar template, you are missing out. There is a sincerity and a sweetness to the comedy, because the boys are so young. Sure, these 12-year-olds know every bad word in the book. But the comedy boils down to much more than just "LOOK, THAT LITTLE BOY IS SAYING FUCK!" Consider a scene where the boys are selling a rare playing card for a popular Magic The Gathering style game. They are home alone and feel the need to find weapons in case the buyer is a kidnapper or a pedophile. Their "weapons" of choice are a bunch of sex toys belonging to Thor's parents. They don't know that though, they are merely 12-year-olds.

The movie is also engaging because the three boys are such good actors. We've been seeing Tremblay in many things now, and I have a feeling he's going to be one of the best actors of his generation. Noon and Williams are both exceptional young actors as well. This trio bounces off of each other pretty well. They play it believable. Sure, these are kids that know lots of curse words. But you know what? So did I, and I don't mind admitting that. These kids are playing movie characters, they are playing kids. Kids at twelve years of age. When they all have a big fight in the middle of the movie ,they all go their separate ways crying. They feel their age, not something that isn't real.

This isn't a movie that is trying to be cool. This isn't a movie that tries to make these characters look anything more than young teenagers. This is why the movie works. It feels real. This cast gave it their all, and the writing remains bold. "Good Boys" may look similar given the material, but in the hands of this cast and these situations, its something much different.

FINAL GRADE: A

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Is the Age of Nostalgia really working for you?

This was originally going to be a write-up on "Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling," the new short film on Netflix, and the first time Rocko has been on any type of syndication in a long time.

But, that won't be happening.

Sure, I watched the short. I enjoyed it. I was a fan of the animated show growing up. It had some funny moments of Rocko tackling modern life, and threw in some good puns here and there. But one thing kept nagging at me in the back of head. That nagging translated out to the following: did somebody somewhere really ask for this? I know fandoms create petitions and GoFundMe's all the time for revivals like this, with some arguably successful results, but was anybody's life really incomplete without Rocko in it anymore?

As we round out another decade of entertainment, it feels like we are living in the least creative time for screened media that I can name. Maybe I'm just missing something and when TV and film historians look back on this time many years later, maybe they'll have some bigger positives then I do. But I can't help it, we have become obsessed with what I can only describe as an Age of Nostalgia. Television has revamped several television shows. Disney keeps making live action movies of old animated classics. Things that haven't been popular in years are being talked as movies or shows. Just today I read about a new "G.I. Joe" spin-off series in the works, and I wonder, for how unpopular the first two movies were, why even bother?

I mean, the lack of creativity at the movie theater is already pretty daunting. Just a quick skim of Fandango would tell you that. Ask yourselves what the last movie you saw in a theater was that wasn't part of a franchise, wasn't based upon a comic book or novel, wasn't a spin-off, wasn't a remake, wasn't a prequel or sequel, wasn't some shameless rehash. It's a tough question to answer, isn't it? It's not like the 1990's where indie cinema got a fair shake, if you want something different, a true original voice, you literally have to WORK for it. Hell, genre movies aren't even trying to outdo anything else. Everyone studio is incorrigibly chasing "The Next Star Wars" or "The Next Game of Thrones." Apparently afraid to just make the next Big Thing.

I would also argue that this need to satisfy our nostalgic needs kind of plays into that. We would rather see a relaunch of something from their childhood than see someone try something new or different. I have to ask, is that what we really want. Is this really satisfying everyone? I can say for me personally, the results have been pretty meh. Live action "Lion King" did nothing for me, because its basically animated "Lion King," just with better animation. On the TV side, I only made it through a season and a half of "Fuller House," I only made it through a few episodes of "Roseanne" and the newest "X-Files" seasons were a waste of time.

The thing is, I really enjoyed "Twin Peaks: The Return" and I still hold lots of love for "Mad Max: Fury Road," and I think the reasons those two things clicked with me is that they were updates that still felt apart of their old worlds. They presented real development instead of treading water (which I think the shows above only did.) I may not be crazy about "Static Cling," but it at least had some funny insight of what it would be like now that Rocko is in a modern world, and they milked some good laughs from that concept. We can't just pretend time hasn't gone by, I need updates to be smarter and more clever, not just the same thing over again. Why even do that?

But there needs to be a balance, something that gives people what they want, without completely changing what it is they are making. Take the upcoming animated "Addams Family" trailer. I don't know what that is seriously supposed to be, but that ain't Addams Family...



You can go too far to different that it makes the thing you are trying to make unrecognizable. As with anything, there needs to be a fine line between an update and the same that needs to be struck for it to really be successful.

At the end of the day, I long for things that are new. I like being challenged. I like the potential of seeing something become a new franchise and we are just redoing everything, and making franchise of stuff we liked as kids, it doesn't allow for new creations. That makes me kind of sad.

Am I the only one? Do you honestly think "Top Gun 2" will work literally 33 years later? Are you counting down the days for the "Avatar" sequels? Are you longing day by day for a "Xena: Warrior Princess" reboot? Should I send Hollywood my scripts for "Street Sharks" and "Lost: The Movie" to see if they get made?

It seems the results are mixed at best. The DCEU is completely revamping what they are doing their DC superheroes, not connecting them to a universe. Universal Studios keeps trying to make their old school universal monsters a thing, and they've failed twice now. Nobody came and saw "Independence Day 2" in 2016. So I do wonder if it just depends on what the nostalgia is or if people are really asking for these things.

No matter what though, we are eventually going to run out of rebooting the things we love, then what are we going to do?

I was taught for years in school that each story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The end is part of the story. So I wonder if a story just keeps going on and on and on...does the story become less special?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: "Batman: Hush" is another satisfying DC animation installment

Batman: Hush Review
The general consensus is that "Batman: Hush" is one of the best Batman stories ever told. Originally written by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, it tells the story of how a mysterious new villain called Hush tries to destroy Batman. Hush recruits a whose-who of Batman villains, and the story features many fun twists and turns. It's ripe for a good adaptation, and still to this day, I am blown away we haven't seen Hush show up in the live-action movies yet. But, I have enjoyed, time and time again, the wonderful animated DC movies, and it seemed like a perfect fit.

Is this movie a frame-by-frame direct retelling of the original comic book? No, they made some differences. Honestly, some of the differences make up my list of gripes. In the novel, Hush is revealed to be Thomas Elliot. Elliot is an old friend of Bruce Wayne, they grew up as friends. Elliot has some dark secrets and demons and he blames the Wayne family for them, which explains why he becomes a villain later on. He knows seemingly everything about Bruce Wayne, even that he's Batman. He remains several steps ahead of Batman during his whole plot, always covering his tracks. While he gets other villains involved it is essentially his plan. This movie changes things up a bit, and I don't think I liked the differences here. Without giving anything away, they take away that prowess of Elliot and it rubbed me wrong. 

But hey, Batman gets a pretty fleshed out romance with Catwoman. I mean, it gets really fleshed out. Some really good development takes place here. Its cool to see Catwoman as a believable anti-hero, as she's been an on again, off again villain for awhile. 

The animation is, as to be expected, top notch. It's a harrowing adventure that plays a little rougher, if you are getting tired of all the kid-friendly superhero movies coming out. This is yet another good animated movie to add to the collection.

Review: "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" is a pretty nifty adaptation

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Review
I have been a big horror fan pretty much all my life, and I have hunch as to what lead to that fascination. While I've been a fan of authors like Stephen King, Richard Matheson and Edgar Allen Poe, I think the author that really set me over the edge of horror fandom was Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz wrote three anthologies under the "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" moniker. The stories were aimed at children, and I collected these anthologies when I was in 3rd and 4th grade. The stories were fairly easy to read, and had many humorous moments. But there was stuff that really got under the skin of young readers. Did I mention the artwork in the books? Because damn, it was nightmare-inducing. In fact, as the anthologies got reprinted, the original artwork was taken out as it was deemed too scary for young readers.

For a long time I tried to imagine a screened version of "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark," I didn't care if it would be a movie, a TV series or some kind of mini-series. I wanted to see someone step up to the plate and give it a try. I learned maybe two or so years ago that a movie was being planned. I pretty much jumped for joy when I read that Guillermo del Toro would be involved. As the movie got closer to release, I was bummed that it wasn't going to be a natural anthology.

At the same time, I get it. Anthologies are tough, they are only as good as their best story, and as bad their worst story. So maybe creating an original movie binding the stories, a la "Goosebumps" wasn't all that bad an idea. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie that was created here. Do I think it's a perfect movie? Absolutely not. The movie certainly plays the cliche game throughout. I think my dream adaptation would be a Twilight Zone style television series, where each story gets its own spotlight and can get fully explored. But hey, director Andre Ovredal did the best possible job he could to find a unique and cool way to throw in as many stories as possible.

The movie takes place in 1968, and we follow horror fan Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her two friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur). They get together on Halloween night in that year of 1968, and they eventually meet a new friend Ramon as they sneak into his car at a drive-in movie to get away from some bullies. Ramon is played by Michael Garza. Before we get too far into this review, let me point out that all four of these children don't even have Wikipedia pages yet. They are about as unknown as unknown actor gets. I have to say, for child actors, they give 110% to their roles. I think they did their very best and when I care about the fates of characters in a horror movie, that's a good sign. I cared about these guys.

This foursome decide to check out a supposed haunted house. The house originally belonged to the Bellow family, which helped found the town. Inside the haunted house they find a secret room belonging to the family's daughter Sarah. They also find Sarah's book of scary stories, the legend has it that if Sarah told you a story, it was the last story you'd ever hear. Sarah was removed from all family photographs, so even the family was afraid of her. So of course, the group eventually leaves the house with the book. Similar to the "Goosebumps" movie, the famous stories from Schwartz's anthologies begin to appear in the book as if by magic. Sure enough, they begin to come true in the town and terrorize the people of the town. Unlike "Goosebumps" though, this isn't some comedy where a silly version of Alvin Schwartz appears to help our group. The kids are on their own, and the results are sometimes fatal. We see lots of disturbing things happening to young people. Take a scene where a teenager begins to turn into a scarecrow and vomit hay. Much like the original artwork, this is a horror movie that really goes all out on the scares, and I applaud Ovredal for never holding back.

 For this movie, I was scared they'd water down the scares and numb the movie down a bit. But oh no, that's not true at all. I've read on Twitter that parents who took their kids to this were told by their kids that they probably won't sleep that night. I was amazed by the atmosphere created in this movie based on children's stories, and I was similarly amazed by the creepy scenes. I don't know if I'd say they all land, but the mood and atmosphere created for this was totally shocking.

I wish they cooked up a story that wasn't so similar to "Goosebumps." But like I said, they tried. It's not a perfect horror movie. In fact, better ones have already come out this year. But I have to say, that I went in with low expectations, and I ended up liking the result. I hope fans of the old Schwartz stories have a good time in the theater, and get all the nostalgic feels. 

FINALE GRADE: B