Wednesday, November 30, 2016
I was checking the mail with my dog when I saw an issue of Entertainment Weekly in our mailbox. This is surprising because my fiancee and I don't have a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. This may shock most of you, but all of my entertainment news I get from online sources. I never read many magazines or newspapers. Maybe if I have an appointment somewhere, I may crack open one, but I never subscribe to anything. I found this to be odd, and I asked my fiancee if she started a subscription with the magazine and she declined. Weird, I thought. But there was a cool story about "Suicide Squad" in it at the time, so I gave it a read. Soon, these issues of Entertainment Weekly came week after week after week. My fiancee has checked her banking account and I have checked mine religiously since then. We don't seem to be victims of identity theft. Hey, I don't mind if Entertainment Weekly is giving away free magazines, so I have had these to read each week.
There was a great article in this week's issue about "Rouge One: A Star Wars Story" and I wanted to write about it today.
I don't think I need to make any clearer how excited I am about this movie. More so than any other "Star Wars" movie. This is Disney's big gamble with this popular saga. Entertainment Weekly calls it "the most daring Star Wars yet," no shit. Finally, we have a story that goes astray from the Skywalker family. We are going to witness this universe expanded. And since these movies are officially cut off from the larger Star Wars expanded universe, filmmakers don't need to be tied down to details found in books, comics, games or the like. We are seeing original stories unfold, with characters we haven't met yet.
One thing the article brings up is "can a movie full of new characters engage fans?" Well, I think that question was quasi-answered last year. Sure, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia all appear in episode VII, but they weren't the leads. Heck, Skywalker was barely in it at all. This new trilogy is going to exclusively focus on Finn, Rey, Poe, Kylo Ren and the other new characters and our old friends will remain in the background. "The Force Awakens" made a huge profit last year, and yes, much of that profit is due to the fact that "Star Wars" is int he title, but there is no doubt how these new faces of the franchise stood out last year. Its a given. I get it though, "Rogue One" is going to be entirely new ground. We will have Darth Vader in the background, but the article assures us that Vader is going to be in the background. I don't know how large of a role Mon Mothra will play in this or Forest Whitaker's character, who apparently is a classic character from one of the cartoons. But "Rogue One" will be made up of entirely new faces. But this is healthy for the franchise to expand its universe.
The article runs through Disney's plans for the franchise. We know Episode VIII is coming next year. We know the Han Solo movie is coming in 2018, then in 2019 Episode XI. The article then says that nobody knows what really comes next. But its pretty clear something will come next. Its just up in the air at this point. So I guess the rumored Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan movie is still a rumor at this point. Finding out what will come next is based solely on the green "Rogue One" brings the studio this December. The article could be deceiving, but I don't think it is. Depending on how good "Rogue One," does will determine how far and deep this universe can go. So please folks, see this movie. I know all of you were probably planning on it anyway. But please, go. See it sooner rather than later. Let's see Disney go as far off-the-rails as possible. The article discusses how the plot for "Rogue One" is designed so that even casual fans can follow. But, I'd love to see a movie that didn't spoon feed the details. Let's see how far we can push story, character and theme. That can only happen if we show them that this is the storytelling we want. Speak with your wallets. As cool as the "Han Solo" movie sounds, and as excited as I am that Alden Ehrenreich is playing Han and Donald Freaking Glover is Lando Calrissian. I already have a sneaking suspicion that "Han Solo" is just going to be a Greatest Hits CD. Every mystery about Solo's past is going to be revealed. Do we really need a movie to do that for us? I could be wrong, I hope I'm wrong but right now, I harbor the suspicion. I want more movies that deter from the main cast. Open this universe up to us!
The article touches on some of the hardware seen in the movie and its all really cool. It looks like the ships will slowly turn from the Clone War era to the Empire era. That's pretty cool. But the article doesn't get too far into it. I didn't read into too much of the plot details. I don't want to spoil this for myself. I want to go in as spoiler-free as possible. I know its about stealing the plans for the Death Star. The plans Leia hides in R2-D2, the thing that helped Luke destroy the Death Star. Cool. But that's all I want to know. I want this movie to ride over me, to thrill me and surprise me.
I really, really can't wait.
See you there?
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Hacksaw Ridge Review
There is definitely nobody in Hollywood quite like Mel Gibson. Personal life aside, I have liked many of his films, either as a director or actor. "Braveheart" is one of my favorite films of all time, hardwired into my psyche thanks to my dad. I don't care what anyone thinks of that, I will forever love the film and my mind won't change. "Apocalypto" was quite amazing in its own right too, but I didn't much care for "The Passion of the Christ." I think his films are interesting because he's tackled some kind of history in all of his films, he's made them all extremely bloody and even though he tries to aim for authenticity, the historical inaccuracies still bleed right through. His films sometimes feel like happy accidents, even though I have liked more films he's directed than I have disliked.
"Hacksaw Ridge" tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) a devout Christian who has a mighty fear of God after almost killing his brother as a child. He never once picked up a gun or a weapon of any kind growing up, and despite being brought up with an extremely abusive father (Hugo Weaving). As an adult, World War II hits home and his older brother volunteers. Despite his stance against violence, Doss volunteers for the army. But this comes with a twist, he will be a medic only and not carry a weapon into combat. This doesn't make him very popular with his bunkmates, but he eventually goes to war with no weapon. He saves a miraculous amount of lives and is the first man to be awarded with the Congressional Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
I think the movie Gibson was trying to make was to show us that courage can come in all forms, a brave man doesn't have to fire a weapon in combat, but bravery can come in many different forms. That's a thoughtful message, but I think that theme gets lost in Gibson's movie. His typical fetishes are on display here. I mean, why does every lead character in every Gibson movie have to have a weird dream? That essentially does nothing to progress the film? "Hacksaw Ridge" is also a movie that is filled with plot conveniences, nothing feels natural in this movie. Things just happen because the movie needs an accuse to get to Doss's big moments. I mean, pay close attention to the court marshall trial scene, how the scene resolves is so astoundingly ludicrous that I nearly bursted out laughing.
Vince Vaughn shows up as Doss's commanding officer, and while I think Vaughn has always had good comedic timing. He's supposed to be this intimidating figure, but the moments that fall the flattest are when he's trying to intimidate his men. It seems Vaughn is completely at odds with his character and his usual persona and his time on screen is, quite frankly, weird. Sam Worthington tries to make his time onscreen count, but he's playing a caricature not a character. Theresa Palmer plays the girl who Doss eventually marries, and she's just the typical mopey, wife-at-home. Andrew Garfield's performance itself is all-over-the-place. His southern accent makes him sound like a five year old boy. His characters personality changes feel forced and not natural. Garfield is trying to aim for some big emotional beats, but he ends up falling short every time. Its too bad, I have seen Garfield do good work before. I have seen "The Social Network" and "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." But Garfield is starting to remind me of Mark Wahlberg a whole lot. You can tell when Garfield is trying and when he isn't, here he just isn't.
The war scenes are pretty top notch. They are exactly what you'd expect from Mel Gibson. Murky, muddy and full of blood. Gibson can still pull off visual thunder with his war scenes. These aren't standard action scenes, and they shouldn't be. I just wish the rest of his films fired on the same cylinders as his war scenes. The drama in the film feels so lifeless and it doesn't feel like a misstep Gibson would take. The characters are strangely stranded in a film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. "Hacksaw Ridge" is at times fascinating, but those moments don't add up and only equate to a mess.
FINAL GRADE: C-
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
SEASON FOUR, EPISODE SEVEN-"DEALS WITH OUR DEVILS"
Its been almost a full month since we last had an episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and the last time we were all together, it was on the eve of "Doctor Strange." What's always been fun about "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is how the show ties into the movies being released. Ghost Rider got his powers from a magical source, this entire season has been dabbing in the magical realms, and Doctor Strange got his powers from a magical source. I know the TV show usually gets leftovers from the movies and the movies have yet to really recognize the TV side of things in any form, but that doesn't mean that this isn't all in the same universe. I was a little disappointed to find out that there was no link whatsoever to what happened in "Doctor Strange," if you look for that stuff in this show, you will be equally disappointed.
To be honest, with what's going on this season, I wouldn't know how they could fit Doctor Strange in anywhere. A simple acknowledgement would have done the trick, but there was a lot to stuff into this episode. Eli set that ghost machine off last episode, which sucked up Robbie, Coulson and Fitz into some kind of white light. As tonight's episode begins, Mack and Melinda try searching for Coulson and Fitz, but Director Mace feels they might be dead. They are not dead, they just aren't in the realm. They landed in some other existence, they can see everyone around them. They just can't be seen or heard. Melinda recruits Dr. Radcliffe to help them and with the assistance of his AI, they are able to bring Coulson and Fitz back into existence.
Meanwhile, Mack goes after the Chinese gangs who worked with Lucy for answers, Melinda tries some dark magic to bring Coulson back, and Director Mace may not be trusted. He sent Jemma on a secret mission to look at a Inhuman cocoon, she briefly studies it before being whisked away in a black bag. Why is director Mace conducting so much secrecy? We know that Mace has had contact with the US senator who is racist against Inhumans. I am wondering if Mace is going to end up being a bad guy, I could certainly see it happening. I like Jason O'Mara so far on this series, I am hoping he sticks around because I like his acting and I dig his character, it would be too bad if he were to end up a villain. With how things are shaking out I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up on the bad side of fence. I think Dr. Radcliffe's AI is definitely up to something bad. The sting before the end of the episode I think all but confirmed this, look out for her.
Another thing...Mack as a Ghost Rider? I don't know if that is built to last or if it was just a one-time thing, but boy seeing Mack like that was a crazy. I'd love to see a flamed out Mack carrying his shotgun-axe. That would be pretty cool to get the rest of the season of that, but I think I missed if Ghost Rider saved him or not. I'd love to see Robbie and Mack, walking arm-in-arm, tearing shit up against the bad guys. It will be interesting to see where Eli goes from here, who did a good job taking out S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tonight. There are lots of threads dangling about, but the show is doing a good job stringing them all together.
What did everyone else think?
Monday, November 28, 2016
When the "Power Ranger" trailer hit about a month or so ago, it didn't look exactly like the television show I grew up with. I wouldn't say that this is a bad thing. I have read that some film critics feel that nostalgia isn't good for us. That its a cancer that is only making sure we stay several steps behind instead of pushing ahead. If "Power Rangers" was just a massive retread, nostalgia for the sake of it, I don't know if I'd be all that invested in it. I don't know if I could take it seriously or allow it to entertain me past a surface value. But this new movie feels different, and right now, different feels bad.
I think that can be said about Rita Repulsa, the villain of the movie, who was the iconic villain on the television show. When Elizabeth Banks was cast, I think it through many people off, simply because nobody would have expected that type of casting. She looks nothing like the old character did, and since Banks has been seemingly everywhere for the past few years, it was easy to see this as stunt casting. I have warmed up to the idea though, and I am curious more than anything about what she plans to do in the role.
I think that can be said about Rita Repulsa, the villain of the movie, who was the iconic villain on the television show. When Elizabeth Banks was cast, I think it through many people off, simply because nobody would have expected that type of casting. She looks nothing like the old character did, and since Banks has been seemingly everywhere for the past few years, it was easy to see this as stunt casting. I have warmed up to the idea though, and I am curious more than anything about what she plans to do in the role.
Yeah, Elizabeth Banks isn't going to be doing a Machiko Soga impression by any stretch of the imagination, and that's a good thing. Whatever we get next year, it will be Banks doing something entirely her own. That ain't bad.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The Lobster Review
Well, here's an interesting premise for you:
In a near future, if you are single, you are taken to a hotel. You get to spend the next forty-five days at this hotel. Your purpose at this hotel is to find a romantic partner to spend the rest of your life with, the hotel will know when you've found your permanent partner when they see that this partner has something in common with you. If its been forty-five days and you still haven't found a romantic partner, the hotel will turn you into an animal of your choice. Yep, in the future, you have forty-five days to find someone to spend the rest of your life with, or spend the rest of your life as your favorite animal. Weird, huh? Don't want to have a time limit to find love? Don't want to be at the hotel, period? Go ahead, try and escape. They will catch you. The residents of the hotel use tranquilizer guns to fetch the runaway residents back, and get additional time at the hotel for it!
To call "The Lobster" a weird movie would be an understatement. Weird, to me doesn't mean bad. I don't think any idea is a bad idea for a movie. It all depends on how its directed, written, acted and created. "The Lobster" works because its quite funny, not in a slapstick way or even a offbeat way. "The Lobster" is an absurdist comedy, a type of story where the hero (in this case, David played by Colin Farrell) can't find purpose in life. When we meet David, he feels like his life is over. He will find nobody to love him, his dog is actually his brother, who couldn't find a romantic partner. As he trudges along at the hotel, he makes several friends (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw, in particular), but very few candidates to fill the void of his love life. He never seems particularly happy either.
Its also funny because David decides that if he can't find love, he wants to become a lobster. Because they can live a long time and he loves the sea. Not bad, eh?
The entire movie revolves around his experience at this weird hotel. A hotel where masturbation is banned, but sexual stimulation by the hotel's maid are mandatory. Where opportunities are made for you to meet your potential partner. Where people leaving the hotel can do anything they want on the last day before they become an animal. Its a silly, silly world, but it feels profoundly believable. Colin Farrell sells his character, he allows himself to slide right into this very silly world. It feels authentic, and it feels like a real place, something that is non-fiction. Its a surprisingly powerful performance by Farrell and one of the best things he's done in awhile.
Not that he's alone, as John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw are both exceptional here. Rachel Weisz shows up and delivers a good performance. Lea Seydoux, who you may remember from "Spectre" last year, does incredible work here too. It is a beautifully acted experience and the cast helps you buy into the absurd world their characters inhabit.
My only real gripe is that the film lags a bit too much in its final half hour. So much so that I could feel myself loosing interest. It almost seems like they didn't really know how to end it. I wish things didn't slow down so much in the final stretch, because everything leading up to that stretch is beyond fascinating. This is a deep portrayal of what filmmaking is about. Creating worlds we'd never really see and making us buy into their premise. "The Lobster" will allow you dream big, to make sure you aren't afraid of your ideas, no matter how strange they may be, because strange doesn't mean bad. I doubt we will ever live in a world where we are forced to find love or be turned into an animal, but I believe in a world like that now, thanks to "The Lobster"
FINAL GRADE: B+
World War II was fascinating to me and all the history surrounding the event is some of my favorite history out there. I studied history in college, and even before I decided on that as a major, the world of WWII was fascinating to me. A war that involved nearly every country in some capacity, unforgivable inhumanity, a major shift in the status quo of the world, its amazing. I also don't know how many of you know this, but I love a good spy thriller. Especially when there is a strong male and female lead to bounce off of each other. The possibilities for storytelling, theme and emotion in that category is endless.
"Allied," the new movie by Robert Zemeckis, is a movie right up my alley. I am the target audience here. Right from the opening frames, there was lots to appreciate it. Right away, it feels like you are in the early 1940's. I love it when movies feel like time machines, and Zemeckis creates his world with authentic realism. The cars, the music, the clothes, the culture, it all sucks you into this world and forces you to pay attention. So much so, that it took me a little bit to settle into the film itself, I was so engulfed in the world Zemeckis made that I wanted to just press pause and appreciate it all. This is an excellent example of a period piece that I have seen in awhile. But there is much more to the film besides some well made technical stuff.
What is "Allied" exactly? Some have compared it to "Casablanca," which is fair, but they are a bit different from each other. "Casablanca" was romantic and dramatic, "Allied" is much more in the vein of a thriller. Plus, "Allied" is much more rough around the edges. There is an assassination sequence that is every bit as brutal and bloody as you can imagine. The violence in the film doesn't feel like action picture violence and its over before it begins. Honestly, there isn't much of it at all. The movie is much more concerned with Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne (Marion Cotillard), who meet in Casablanca in 1941 for an assassination on a Nazi official. When they meet, Marianne tries to make it look like her and Max are married. They put on a charade, spend time together, but eventually begin to really care about it each other. After the assassination, Max asks Marianne to come back with him to London to be his wife. She agrees, and they start a family. What surprised me most about all of this was just how much time is put into building their relationship. The first half of the movie focuses only on Max and Marianne getting to know each other. This is not some premise we have to buy into because the story demands it, we buy into the premise because the actors draw us in. We don't see that in a lot of movies, so when it happens, the movie is much better.
Especially since Max finds out a year into his marriage with Marianne that she is a German spy and that Max must kill her or be hanged for treason. This isn't a movie where we are just supposed to accept something due to a convenience, but the film earns it in every way. It helps that both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard brought their A-game to this. We feel their emotions, they create a believable romance. I like that the romance in general isn't cheesy or unconditioned, but it merely feels like something real. They both make it real. They are accompanied by a stellar supporting cast including Richard Harris and Lizzy Caplan, both of whom also do good work. If you don't like a movie that takes its time to really set up its characters, so that we can believe whatever happens, then you may not like "Allied." This totally worked for me, though. The cast even allows to get soaked into the mystery of the film, and keeps us guessing all film long.
If you've got an appreciation for the old school, you may be mightily entertained by "Allied." Zemeckis paints a realistic, vibrant world and the story is rightfully told by both Pitt and Cotillard. There is so much to like here, so just let yourself get absorbed.
FINAL GRADE: A
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Out of all the Pixar studios franchises that they have graced us over the years, I have always thought that "Cars" was their lesser franchise. I just never got much out of it. I prefer just about any other Pixar movie in existence either of the "Cars" movies. They just don't have the same appeal I feel the other Pixar movies have. I think they are fluffy entertainment instead of a presentation of something that appeals to every person in the theater. When Pixar hits a home run, its because they have created something that can appeal to the masses, they aren't just making movies for children and things adults have to tolerate. Each movie in the "Cars" franchise so far hasn't really connected to the other and they both seem to have their own styles and feel like different movies altogether. Its kind of an odd franchise in that regard.
"Cars 3" seems to be different. It seems more rigid than the last two movies. It seems more realistic, either that or animation has got much better over the years. Again, this looks like a completely different style of film that we are used to and it doesn't seem like this will have much in common with either "Cars" and definitely "Cars 2." I am willing to look into more on this one. This was interesting!
When David Lynch made "Dune" back in the 1980's, movie theaters were given glossary cards so that they could keep up with the film's story and characters. I don't know if that was Lynch's fault or the studios or what, but the film didn't quite translate out onto screen like it should have. The best adaptation of "Dune," as far as I am concerned, is the Syfy mini-series from 2002. I think the reasons are obvious. You need more than one movie to really make something like "Dune" work. Imagine if Peter Jackson merely made one "Lord of the Rings" movie. Imagine all the important and emotional material that would have to get edited out in order to fit that bill? I feel so much was already left out of the movies already. "Dune" is a dense, massive story and it needs the proper amount of time to fully tell the story that needs to be told.
Legendary Pictures got the rights to "Dune" today. Which can only mean a "Dune" adaptation is around the corner. There are no actors or directors or anybody attached to this thing yet. But this could be a very monetary endeavor for Legendary Pictures, or it could lead to catastrophy. It will boil down to who they decide to attach to this thing. Will they get people who enjoyed the book? Who care about the material? Or will it just be another listless cash machine whose soul purpose is to generate revenue? Legendary Pictures has the chance to do something awesome. I hope they do, I hope they do.
Monday, November 21, 2016
ASH VS. THE EVIL DEAD
SEASON TWO, EPISODE EIGHT (ASHY SLASHY)
Last week, we learned that Pablo literally has the Book of the Dead inside his body and Baal knows that if Pablo dies, so does the book, which is the only thing that can defeat him. We know that Ash got captured last week, as well as being brainwashed by Baal in order to kill Pablo. This was all set up for tonight, when Pablo, Ruby and Kelly try to rescue Ash. They don't know Ash has been brainwashed and they don't know that he is a threat to them. He sure was a threat to Sheriff Emery, who opened the episode with his decapitation. I know he earned a slight redemption this week, but Emery was a big douche, and I never mind when douchey characters die. I don't care if they are good or bad, I am so glad he's gone.
The funniest part of the episode was when Kelly fought against Ash's evil puppet given to him by Baal. We were introduced to the puppet last week, and while he was quite funny last week his encounter with Kelly is both a little creepy and still humorous. There fight is the grotesque delightfulness of delirium we have come to expect from this show, and I found the high humor throughout all the bloodlust.
By the end of the episode, Ash was never brainwashed by Baal. Getting Baal and Pablo in the same room was all part of his plan that he apparently hatched to himself a few episodes back. Its a little funny, and then Baal and Pablo fight. Pablo destroys Baal, all the while Baal is trying to stop him by all means necessary. Right before the credits roll, we see the unthinkable, we her the unfathomable. Right before Baal dies, he slices Pablo's body in half. The one cardinal sin I hoped against last week, came to fruition, and I could not be sadder. Pablo is dead. Why is this show on a roll with killing all of my favorite characters? I am really not a fan of any of this, they introduced two cool characters and quickly killed them off, and now they decimate a fan favorite? And for what? Shock? Will this death play into something significant in later episodes? I would hope so, because Pablo deserves more than that. We were just getting into a cool time for his character, then they let him go. Shameful.
What did everyone else think?
"Trolls" is next in a long line of musicals featuring popular music. While its a catchy subgenre of movie, I can't say its particularly original. How come these movies don't write original music like Disney movies do? Do they use popular music to sell more tickets? Sure, sometimes the music can be used in a reasonable context, but sometimes I can get taken out of an experience completely when I am focusing on the song and the movie. I also feel that messes with the film's possible timelessness not using popular music. This is my winded paragraph trying to explain that I came into this really feeling like I was going to hate this movie.
Truth be told, I don't hate "Trolls." I think "Trolls" is a pleasant children's film. Its colorful animation is some of the sleekest animation you'll see in a theater all year, and after a strong animation year we've had, that should be taken as a high compliment. What really blew my mind was how offbeat some of the humor was. When it comes to children's movies, it can be easy to guess the type of laughs you'll get. In order to appeal to its target audience, the humor in kids movies are usually safe and full of slapstick. So be sure I was surprised when there were some offbeat humor moments that I thought worked with the film. No, "Trolls" is no "Sausage Party," but there were some unique moments that I think will surprise and delight adult audiences. It creates a state of enjoyment for all audiences that I felt something like "Ice Age: Collision Course" failed at earlier this year. The cast, which includes Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, James Corden, Russell Brand, and Gwen Stefani, all do solid voice work, creating sensational characters.
The trolls are a race of small creatures that live in an exclusive state of bliss. That happiness is thwarted when large creatures known as The Bergens arrive. The Bergens are not like the Trolls, they are never happy. But they can become happy when they eat a troll. They trapped the trolls in tree in a cage and each year, they have a festival where they eat the trolls. Sounds dark, but nothing horribly out-of-line occurs in the film and it does a good job of setting up genuine stakes for a movie. The king of trolls Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) leads an escape from The Bergens. Twenty years later, Peppy's daughter Poppy (Kendrick) plans a big party celebrating their escape, despite glum troll Branch (Timberlake) feeling the celebration will attract The Bergens. Which in fact, happens. So the trolls must once again escape the Bergens.
Its a simple story, but that's best for family films. "Trolls" features everything you'd expect to see from a children's movie: The next generation rising up against evil, a not-totally-evil character on the bad side, a character coming to terms with who they are, awakenings, etc. It so much so does this that it almost feels like a checklist. But the animation, the characters, and yes even the music is enough to make this one memorable enough!
FINAL GRADE: B
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them Review
On paper, turning a book within a book into one movie is a risky idea. Turning that book within a book into the next big film franchise? Something that shouldn't even be attempted. But alas, here we are. David Yates, who took the reins on the last four "Harry Potter" movies returns to the wizarding world. Only this time, its in 1920's Jazz Age America and we are following a man named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a former Hogwarts teacher who is now writing a book on beasts of the magical world. He goes to New York City to "get a birthday present" for a friend.
The book 'Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them' was a textbook Harry Potter had during his first year at Hogwarts. We encounter the book in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. J.K. Rowling actually did write a version of the textbook to read under the pseudonym Newt Scamander. I never read the textbook version, but I don't know if a book that is less that 200 pages is worthy enough to become a proposed three part franchise. I have been a little critical toward the whole ordeal for awhile. I thought "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them" the movie would just be a silly excuse to make more money of a franchise that ended. So color me surprised when I find out that the film is actually pretty good. Better than pretty good. "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them" was something I can honestly say I didn't quite expect.
So we have Redmayne's Newt Scamander in 1920's New York. We know he's got a suitcase full of weird creatures. Everything is going fine and dandy until he runs into Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), as the two men play an accidental game of mistaken suitcases. Jacob mistakes his suitcase for Newt's, Jacob ends up letting loose several of Newt's monster friends onto the city. That's extra bad since human-wizard relations in America are much more heightened due to the fact that "something" is destroying No-Maj (American term for Muggle) property. Newt's antics catch the eye of Tina (Katherine Waterston) a former Auror who sees this case as her way back to her former glory, but who ends up helping Newt get his creatures back. While being pursued by the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) and an anti-witch group led by a hysteric Mary Lou Barbone (Samantha Morton).
What could have been a generic man-on-a-chase style film actually becomes something new. The visuals, as thought, are quite breath-taking. The world living inside Newt's suitcase is something of a marvel. I figured the film would be impressive technically speaking. What I didn't expect was to laugh as much as I did throughout the thing. The film is very funny. What's also surprising is the film is quite startling at times. The film put me on edge at some points. The film definitely earns its PG-13 rating and at some points pushes it. There is a subplot involving a Obscurus, a Dementor on steroids if you will, and the moments with it are quite shocking. I was amazed by what David Yates got away with in his movie.
Like with all the Harry Potter films, the cast assembled is quite impressive. Eddie Redmayne does an impeccable job creating a quirky character while also etching in the tiny details. Katie Waterston was such a discovery two years ago in "Inherent Vice," and now once again dishes a good performance, as does Dan Fogler who has flawless comedic timing. They guided by a supporting cast that includes Jon Voight, Colin Ferrell, Ezra Miller, Carmen Ejogo and Ron Freaking Perlman. I felt happy to step back inside the world of Harry Potter.
The movie does a good job of not relying on callbacks on the previous Harry Potter film series for cheap lip service. Sure Dumbledore, Hogwarts and The LeStrange family get name dropped, but its kept pretty minimal. Too often, movies like this rely heavily on what came before in order to keep the cash flow coming, but Yates does a very good job of making this movie stand on its own too feet. I will put emphasis on the "pretty good" though. Its not flawless. Like too many blockbusters these days, there are plot-points that purposely unresolved in order to set up what's coming. They provide enough of an itch that says "hey, join us next time." There is a certain big actor who appears as a certain important character to Harry Potter lore, but once that actor is onscreen, he might as well look at the camera and say "see you in a few years for the sequel!" Its a pretty useless appearance and honestly does nothing to really set up anything, so why include at all? There is also a subplot involving an old love interest of Newt's. Again, there is a recognizable actress in a picture, and its pretty clear that we learn more about that in another movie, but if its going to be significant in another movie, why is it in this movie? There are only a couple instances of this happening, but its almost enough to take me out of the entire movie. We have way too many blockbusters guilty of merely advertising what's coming next instead of focusing on the movie being made, and its starting to become an issue with me.
But a couple subplot errors aren't enough to keep you out of the theater. At the very least, this film didn't feature a glowing doodad that Newt and company had to suddenly turn off in order to save the day. The film packs an adventurous punch. Its funny. Its even a little scary. Who would have thought that the reflection of a bigger franchise had so much to offer? I liked stepping in this wizarding world time machine, and I can't wait to see what's next.
FINAL GRADE: A-
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Well this is quite interesting.
I had no idea that this was a graphic novel. In fact, the one thing that caught my attention was that I had never heard of this. I thought maybe it would something original, instead of just a new brand trying to peak through the woodwork. So I was wrong, but oh well, here's the trailer for "Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets." The title alone sounds like something out of the 1960's or 1970's, which in a strange way, caught my attention.
The trailer itself? It doesn't do much for me. I like Dane DeHaan, but I don't get much off of Cara Delevingne, I have firmly come to that conclusion. I also don't know how I feel about this trailer giving off a "Guardians of the Galaxy" vibe, because there can be only one!
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Two years ago, Ava DuVernay made "Selma." It was one of those biopic films that redefined what could be done with the genre. It was never just a greatest hits of Martin Luther King Jr's life. Instead, it focused on a specific moment in Martin Luther King's life, and it exploited that moment with nurturing care and brutal realism. Obviously, DuVernay is constantly thinking of African-American issues in our country. Because going from "Selma" to "13th" wouldn't have made sense otherwise. It seems like "Selma" was almost a warm-up to what would be "13th," a documentary on Netflix dealing with the slavery in America. But just like "Selma" wasn't just some biopic of an important man, "13th" isn't just a look at slavery.
Did you think slavery died after the Civil War? "13th" said no, it did not die after the Civil War. After the 13th Amendment was passed in our country, it abolished slavery and indentured servitude. BUT, there is a loophole that allows the act of slavery to still thrive. Has anyone actually taken a good look at the actual amendment itself? If you really read it, it says that the act of slavery is abolished, unless the person in question is a criminal. Essentially. This created an opportunity for racists to gain control over African-Americans in this country once again. Slavery never died in America, it only evolved and took different forms over the years, from segregation to secret murders. Today? Simply take a look at our prison system.
Let's really think about this for a moment. Would it really be that hard to believe that The Justice System in our country is used to keep African-Americans as unpaid help? Think about it. Ever since the Nixon era, throughout the Reagan and even the Bill Clinton administration, there has been some kind of war on crime. We learn that budgets slowly increased between each administration in order to push money towards this crusade. As this "war" pushed forward, the number of incarcerated African-American men began to increase and increase and increase until today with over two million men in our jail system. We learn just how stacked the deck of cards is against them. Corporations write laws and are lobbied at a government level, media works against their favor, there is a complete lack of effort in actually rehabilitating these men, they just go to prison and serve their sentence. Because its hard for felons to get jobs, they bounce right back jail. Most of these men didn't kill anyone. They didn't commit treason, they didn't sell drugs in lots of situations, they didn't sell child pornography. Many African-American men are put in jail for petty crimes and the system is designed to make sure they never get out.
There needs to be a massive prison reform overhaul in this country. Where fair punishments are dealt on people in question, no matter the color of their skin. Corporations and lobbyist need to get out of the prison business. Prisons should work toward helping these men get back on their feet and rehabilitate them. Not creating a sensory depriving environment that will only hurt them in the long run. Many countries in Europe where inmates are given whole households and their inmate return rates are so small compared to our country. So what are we doing wrong? We don't help our inmates change, we make sure they come back. Our country is so lost in this system that we may never be able to change it, and that's the scariest moment in the entire film.
Whether you find all of this untrue or not, I don't get how you can't be persuaded by DeVernay's magnificent documentary. There is so much detail and so much information given in an insightful, unnerving way that its hard not to open your eyes to it. We have not put our past behind us, the ugliest parts of our history have been laid bare. "13th" is a wake-up call, a notion to call up arms. This is a real problem in this country, and people are loosing their lives in this country because of it. This movie is downright frightening with the picture it creates and its almost unbelievable how long this has been going on.
I don't know if the race problems in this country will ever completely go away, but if everybody sees "13th" and some genuine change can come out of it, it would be the ultimate step in the right direction.
FINAL GRADE: A
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review
I really liked the first "Jack Reacher." I know this is an unpopular opinion due to his personal life, but I really enjoy Tom Cruise' presence in film. I think he really brings it when he acts and he is one of our few movie stars who can actually bring out the emotion and the detail of a character. There is a difference between a movie star and a movie actor, and Cruise makes walking that line look effortless. He's not the only reason "Jack Reacher" succeeded. It may have been a mystery, but it was filled with intrigue, grit and it was edgy. It created a world we wanted to know more about.
Instead of creating an intriguing mystery, "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" just a familiar mystery.
The film begins with one of its best scenes. We find a police scene, with six men laying on the ground. Whoever was in the fight with them, he absolutely pummeled them. Two sheriffs enter a diner outside the fight where the last one standing is staying. That last man standing is, of course, Jack Reacher. Apparently, these two are involved in something illegal connected to the military. Reacher has them arrested. He then gets a call from an old friend, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has been working in the military for awhile. She is then wanted for arrest due to espionage and murder charges. Reacher hops on the trail to find out if Turner really did these things.
And this is about the time the movie begins to spiral out of control. There are only a couple redeeming factors involved. We have another good performance by Tom Cruise, who believes in everything he's doing, so the audience follows him. The action is top-notch and pulls into the film as well. But everything else? Its really not worth it. This is a plain thriller you'll see coming a mile away. Its turns into a cop-on-the-chase movie, trying to clear Turner's name, as well as Reacher's name. There is a cocky assassin in this movie, that we know Reacher will destroy in a fight by the end of the film, and of course, governmental corruption you see coming. There is also an obnoxious subplot involving Danika Yarosh who playing a girl who may or may not be Reacher's biological daughter. The only reason this subplot exists is to give the film's climax a weak emotional attachment for Reacher, which ends up coming off supremely stupid once we find out what happens in the end.
I have seen Cobie Smulders in just about every episode of "How I Met Your Mother." I have seen her in "Avengers" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." I have seen her in "The Slammin' Salmon." I think she's a pretty lady, but she's just a pretty face. To me, she's always come off as somebody who just recites lines in front of a camera. I have never really got anything off of her as an actress. She's always come off as underwhelming, not who I would want as a lead actress role for this movie. Give her a cliched Politically Correct subplot, and you've got a stomach-turning mess. There are some good actors in this, including Aldis Hodge and Robert Knepper, but the script is so painfully familiar that I just don't see a point to any of it.
No movie can just coast on good action or the charm of its lead actor. But "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" attempts to pull it off with sickening detail. While there were minimal moments of this film that I did like, they don't come close to making up for the pointless sludge through this story.
FINAL GRADE: C-
Monday, November 14, 2016
Back in October 2014, Kevin Feige, producer at Marvel studios, was unraveling his plan for Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We were so stoked for movies like "Black Panther," and "Captain Marvel." We also got excited for great movies that have already come to pass, like "Captain America: Civil War" and "Doctor Strange." One movie that was promised in the Phase Three line-up was "The Inhumans," a unique group of superheroes that got their powers through walking through mysterious, alien mists. It was was going to be a bold Phase of films, and I could hardly wait for them to get started.
Then on ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." they introduced the concept of "Inhumans" on the show. Oh man, I thought, we were going to see some kind of true TV-movie mesh soon. Something fans have been craving for awhile. We are so pumped and primed to see the Marvel TV characters share a screen with the movie characters that its driving us mad. This was the first big step, and we got evermore excited to see the "Inhumans" movie.
But there were setbacks. Marvel got Spider-man back, "Ant-Man" was a sleeper hit. Then they began adding more movies to the Phase Three timeline. Movies got pushed back, and the schedule got bigger. The biggest question mark was "The Inhumans" movie, and it thought that it wasn't going to happen. Rumors fluttered the internet about no Inhumans movie. Then in recent months, Kevin Feige gave hope, we would see The Inhumans eventually. Did he mean Phase Four? When would we see them?
Tonight, the question has been answered. The Inhumans are coming to TV in 2017. It was announced today for a show premiering in Fall 2017. Along with the first two episodes appearing on IMAX screens weeks before the premiere.
So while its really cool to finally see The Inhumans, why bother with two IMAX episodes in theaters before the show begins when you can just see the episodes on your TV for free? I am not sure I understand the logic behind that. From a fan standpoint, I would have loved a feature-length movie version of these characters. I'll be interested to see how a network like ABC has the budget to properly adapt the Royal Family of Inhumans to the screen.
What worries me the most is if we will ever actually see TV and movie characters together in some kind of endeavor. My hope is fading...
ASH VS THE EVIL DEAD
SEASON TWO, EPISODES SIX AND SEVEN- "TRAPPED INSIDE & DELUSION"
So much has happened between now and Halloween in the world of Ash Campbell. We were introduced to Baal, the big bad of our story. He poisoned the mind Sheriff Thomas Emery, who has been at odds with Ash and his group all season. Baal gets Thomas and a possible possessed angry mob to Brock's house where Ash and his group are hiding out. They are trying to get whatever is hidden inside Pablo out of him. But they can't really do that to supreme affect with a mob outside, especially when some of them are deadits. This episode sadly lead to the death of Ted Raimi's character Chet. Which killed me. I am not so much a fan of the trend of introducing cool characters on this show and then killing them before we have time to enjoy them. But that has become common procedure on this show.
What I also didn't expect was one of the women on the show being disguised as Baal and him successfully capturing Ash at the end of episode six, leading us into episode seven. The show took an interesting chance on episode seven. We have Ash trapped in some kind of demented mental hospital. Being psychologically tortured by, what we understand to be Baal's minions. He also has this weird puppet stuck to his hand where his chainsaw should be. Clowning with him at every turn. Did anybody ever see Mel Gibson's "The Groundhog?" Similar concept, only condensed to a half-hour and much more demented. This was a quieter episode than we are used to, and kind of what the show needed at this point. Too much cartoonish violence in one sitting. We need an episode to balance everything we already love about this show.
The mental hospital place that Ash is trapped is being manipulated by Baal. We see that right before the credits start rolling. We see that the doctor Ash has supposedly been seeing tells him to destroy a specific monster. All good and well in the land of Ash, right? Except that monster is the one trapped in Pablo.
Do not kill Pablo, "Ash vs Evil Dead."
I can spare you Brock, and I can spare you Chet. But don't you dare kill Pablo
What did everyone else think?
Sunday, November 13, 2016
"Ghost In The Shell" is a remake of a 1995 Japanese Anime movie. Its been a long while since I saw the original film, but one thing I DO remember was being taken aback by the masterful animation and the style of the anime. This put Japanese anime on my radar, and for that, I will never forget it.
So of course, in this day in age, we are getting a remake.
This film has already created a whirlwind of controversy with Scarlet Johansson in the main role. Hey Scarlet is all good and dandy, but playing a Japanese character? This is indeed a remake of Japanese anime, so why are next to do characters actually Japanese or even Asian for that matter? White-washed roles strikes again!
With all of that in mind, I honestly don't know what to think or how to feel about this. All of the white actors in this have taken me completely out of the trailer. No matter how many times I try to watch it. There are some stunning visuals and the trailer gets kudos for a splendid use of a Depeche Mode song. But it feels like the movie went completely out of its way to come off unauthentic and that rubs me wrong.
What did you think?
Ever since I was a young boy, I have believed that we are not alone in the universe. How could we? Am I really supposed to believe that there is no other intelligent live out there? Anywhere? Across the billions of stars across the universe? We live on the only planet with life on it? Give me break, there is no way that can be true? Will we ever witness an alien arrival? Who knows, that remains to be seen. But if we did, what would that encounter be like? There are so many movies out there that would let us believe that alien life in the stars is dangerous and tyrannical. But what if it wasn't? What if we were visited by creatures from another world, and they ended up being friendly, yet alone, provided something significant for us?
"Arrival" is unlike any alien movie you'll see this year, or any year prior. "Arrival" is not your typical alien invasion movie. This is a movie that possesses skewed marketing. The film looks more dramatic and less action-packed, and that's entirely true. "Arrival" is a drama film, not an action movie. If you are expecting anything along the lines of "Independence Day," you better move on, because that ship doesn't dock here. This is a movie that is defined by its drama, it moves forward because of its drama. It uses a small piece of action to create one or two intense situations, but that's about it. This is by no means, an action invasion movie that we are used to. If you are expecting that, you will be disappointed.
If I could compare "Arrival" to any film, it would be "Signs." I know not all of you are M. Night Shyamalan admirers and I honestly am not one these days either. But what made "Signs" special was that it was not the global conflict alien movie we are used to. It showed how an alien invasion affected rural America, a family that was distant from much of the action and how that affected them. It was a clever set up for the movie, because not everybody lives in a urbanized area, some people would only see an alien invasion through their television screens and I was amazed Shymalan was able to create a thriller that way. Even though we feel the affect globally, I wouldn't call "Arrival" a global conflict movie. Its not even a conflict movie. The entire movie virtually takes place in a makeshift military base outside of a landed flying saucer. Its a very small scale affair.
Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a college Linguistics professor who has had some tragedies in her life. Her husband is separated from her, her daughter died of cancer, her days are lonely. When the aliens start arriving on Earth, she is recruited Colonial Weber (Forest Whitaker), to try and translate and talk to the alien visitors. She works closely with an astrophysicist Ian (Jeremy Renner) and she goes into the flying saucer in order to make contact with the aliens. What do they want? Why are they here? Are they here with good intentions? Or sinister intentions?
The film isn't too big on special effects. How gravity works in the alien ship is actually quite cool and feels like an original experience. The aliens are kind of a disappointment, the only real disappointment I had all film. They float, they have tentacles, they make strange, moaning noises. That's the best they could do? But I suppose this isn't so much about the aliens and how this small group of people react to what the aliens want. "Arrival" is a wildly optimistic film, a film that completely rewrites what we can expect from alien invasion films and science fiction in general. I could easily put invasion in quotes, because the film really isn't about an invasion. The aliens come for a very specific reason, and I find it shockingly fitting that this movie came out right after the presidential election. The film directly relates to many feelings I have had since the election, and if you are feeling sore about it, I have a feeling "Arrival" will help you get through it. The film delivers a grand metaphor on the human race and how no matter where we come from, we need each other or we will continue to be self-destructive.
The work done by Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker is spectacular. Amy Adams is one of the very few actresses out there that can create a relate-able human being and carry an entire film with them. Never do the people she creates actually feel like characters. Her and Renner have incredible chemistry and create a realistic bond. Whitaker is just...classic Whitaker. Can't wait to see him now in "Star Wars!" "Arrival" may not be the slam! BANG! action movie you'd expect from the genre, but its easily a film we need right now.
FINAL GRADE: A
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Kevin Hart: What Now? Review
Your enjoyment of "Kevin Hart: What Now?" will be based entirely on what you think of him. If you find Kevin Hart's comedic style tedium and annoying, I should warn you to not get near this one. If you like Kevin Hart's personality, then should be right up your alley. This really isn't a movie per se, this is a DVD of one of Kevin Hart's stand-up performances accompanied by a short film. I will say that I found both the short film and the stand-up routine to be very funny. I do enjoy Hart's stand-up. My fiancee and I have one of Kevin Hart's comedian DVD's and it is good for laughs. This is a feature length version of one of those.
The short film before is a James Bond style, "Casino Royale" riff. Kevin Hart and Halle Money (Halle Berry) are trying to win money in a poker game against a sinister European business man. The scene features several cameos, including Don Cheadle, Eric Helms and Peter Mensah. There are several jokes targeting Don Cheadle's entire filmography. While there is some funny material, it feels kind of distant from the stand-up routine. I am sure Hart just wanted to have some fun, and make this more of an event so he could sell it at theaters. But its really confusing as to how this really connects to the stand-up part of the film. If you want to see a bunch of good actors reenact a James Bond short film, then you'll come away liking the scene.
No matter what though, if you enjoy Kevin Hart as a comedic icon, then I'd say go check out this movie. There is enough good material from the stand-up that will make you laugh until you hurt. Hart's manic personality is on full force here, and it should please his fans. The short film is fun too, even if it comes of disjointed from the rest of the film.
FINAL GRADE: B
Monday, November 7, 2016
Doctor Strange Review
"Doctor Strange" is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. At this point, it shouldn't even be called that. Each film could easily just be called "Marvel" and each chapter could focus on one character or several. Kevin Feige and all the brilliant actors and collaborators who have had a chance to work with him have done the unthinkable. They have successfully created a massive, interlocking universe on film. Through it all, they are still finding time to introduce different characters into the storyline and consider different ideas. If you thought this franchise was going to keep things real simply because "The Dark Knight" made money, well you'd be wrong.
Now, I saw lots of pictures online jokingly call "Doctor Strange" a mixture of "Harry Potter," "The Matrix" and "Inception." Honestly, I hate comparisons like this. Let's not oversimplify this thing. In "The Matrix," Neo found out that the normal world he lived in was not only a lie, but was keeping him prisoner to an unnoticeable force. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) isn't a prisoner, but he learns just how big the world really is. That makes him more in line with Harry Potter than Neo. But even Harry Potter is bad comparison. Harry Potter became the person he is, because he was the Chosen One. I wouldn't call "Doctor Strange" a Chosen One story. Which is nice, those are a dime a dozen. Stephen Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon with a hotshot record. This has brought him a lot of clout in the medical world. Then one night, tragedy strikes, and Strange looses the ability to operate with his hands. Looking for any outlet to save his hands and get back to seemingly the only thing that gives him a purpose, he stumbles upon The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) quite by accident. All he wants is his hands back, Strange never asks to join a group dedicated to keeping the world save from mystical threats. He never asks to battle against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a mystical warrior who lost his way. But he does anyway, because its the right thing to do.
"Doctor Strange" follows the "Iron Man" template closely. Both men are pompous pricks when we meet them. Both are humbled by situations of great strife. Both men become heroes after overcoming extraordinary circumstances. Its interesting how "Doctor Strange" takes the bones of the movie that got this franchise going and does something different with it. "Doctor Strange" isn't merely a remake of "Iron Man," just like I really wouldn't call "The Force Awakens" a remake of "A New Hope." The characters have similarities and I liked how the show exposes how the characters are alike, but most importantly, how they differ.
Many movies recently in the MCU have had to do with the hero or heroes in question collecting a McGuffin in order to stop the bad guys or thwart the good guys plan. Captain America had to keep Red Skull from getting the Cosmic Cube, Thor had to stop Malekith from getting the Aether, The Guardians had to stop Ronan from getting The Orb, Ant-Man had to make sure Cross's particles didn't end up in the wrong hands. Its a easy storytelling device that has been the pinnacle of Marvel's complaints. I am happy to say that this isn't a movie about Doctor Strange finding some McGuffin before the bad guys do. Although, that doesn't mean the movie isn't simple. "Doctor Strange" is about the millionth blockbuster this year that features a glowing doodad of terror erupting in a city during the film's climax and Doctor Strange has to simply do something or turn something off in order to save the day. Okay, so its a little different, so that's why I could stand "Doctor Strange's" formula, but its hard to ignore that our blockbusters are all starting to look alike. I'd also argue that nearly all the Marvel films thus far have had bold, superb musical scores. The work done by Michael Giacchino is fine, but doesn't give the epic feeling these movies usually have. The scenes weren't happening musically.
The work by the cast is fantastic, and this could honestly one of the most talented casts ever assembled for a Marvel movie. We have Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, and while Cumberbatch seems to be everywhere at the moment, it never affects his performances. He brings a energetic life to Strange that I quite enjoyed. Rachel McAdams is an actress I usually don't champion, but she allowed to create a likable character in the limited screentime she has. Tilda Swinton does good work as The Ancient One. I also have to say that Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Karl Mordo. While he's mostly heroic in this movie (something his character wasn't in the comics), we can see the villainous seeds begin to take hold by the end of the film, could Mordo rival Loki as Marvel's best villain? We'll have to wait and see. I hope so. Marvel still struggles in the villain department and it stinks that such a great actor like Mads Mikkelsen is given so little to do in the film. He etches in enough detail to make this count, its just that the script lets him down. The Marvel universe is so rich in villains, and I can't believe that the bad guys of the films seem like afterthoughts.
"Doctor Strange" isn't the best Marvel film you've ever seen, but its a film that will likely stick in your mind. Marvel is still unstoppable at bringing massive canvasses of pop entertainment to the big screen. The shots of the multiverse and different dimensions and astral projections should be reason enough to see this on the best screen in your area. The actors came to work and did a good job. Yes, Marvel still has problems they really, severely need to tweak, but I am astounded by how they are able to make big, fun superhero movies despite featuring the same problems. Will that affect them down the road? We'll have to wait and see.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Review
I've been a big fan of WB animation with the DC characters, but they have now completely outdone themselves.
I own "Batman: The Movie," the true first film with Batman in it. It takes place in the 1960's Batman world. It stars Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, reprising their roles from the 1960's TV show. I know it feels like the whole world prefers it when Batman is dark and gritty. I'll admit it myself, Batman is at his most interesting when we are dealing in a bleak world, because he a bleak character. He watched his parents die for crying out loud. But there is no denying that the campy 1960's stint is part of our pop culture history, and to pretend it doesn't exist simply because of what Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan did is silly. I get a big kick out of "Batman: The Movie" and I love the vibe of the old TV show.
"Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" is a gigantic, nostalgia thrill ride. Its an animated adventure featuring the 1960's world of Batman. Adam West and Burt Ward lend their voices for Batman and Robin, and Julie Newmar reprises her role as Catwoman. The film features the animated copies of 1960's style Joker, Riddler and Penguin as well and there is a massive list of Easter Eggs from the TV show that I could talk about them all night. Its just so much fun looking at the old-school designs in animated form and listening to West's and Ward's voices coming out of those animated avatars.
The storyline is what you'd expect from the old Batman television series. Except there are some differences. This Batman and Robin operate at night. The Joker's car and gadgets are much more dangerous than before. Heck, Batman even has a Bat-themed rocket ship that flies them to space. Why? Because there is a fight at a space station. Why the hell not? There are several things this movie does that the TV show never did, simply because the budget, the scope and the scale of the show was not up to the task at the time. But I loved that the movie still felt to stay in the spirit of the old show, no matter how many new things they throw into it. It feels like something of its own, while also appreciating what came before.
I mean Catwoman creates a drug that will turn Batman evil, and that plot gets wrestled into another involving a gun that can duplicate anything or anyone. These are artifacts and ideas you would only find on a zany episode of "Batman: The TV Show." There are those classic one-liners that made Burt Ward and Adam West famous, and I'll admit that some of them made me smile, and others made me laugh out loud. There are more double-crosses in this film to shake a stick at, but its all in good fun and never confusing for the viewers. What was also kind of fun was seeing Julie Newmar's Catwoman earn a little redemption, even if its only slight. Something I did not expect to see here. But my favorite thing they did with the film, which I also think is the most important decision made in the film was what I stated above. This is a movie of its own, taking a page from nostalgia. It never lets the past overwrought the movie. It was designed to be fun for people of all ages, not just those who are into the 1960's serial or all things Batman.
So if you are children of the 1960's show and you have children of your own now and you are figuring out how to introduce this Batman to them, this would be a fun avenue. Its something nostalgic that exists on its own terms, not simply a hollow exercise. It sounded like Adam West and Burt Ward were having a ball doing this again and it was a wild reminder of what came before. Now WB, please give us an animated Burtonverse Batman movie. Please? Bring back Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Pat Hingle and Billy Dee Williams. Even go off some old notes and bring in Marlon Wayans to voice Robin. Now that would be something!
FINAL GRADE: A
The Birth Of A Nation Review
This is going to be a review of "The Birth of A Nation." Not the 1915 silent film made by D.W. Griffith. Something that is still considered one of the most important films ever made. Yeah, it may be a staunch look at the attitudes of our country at the time. But one fellow critic referred to the film as "The American 'Triumph of the Will,'" which is, quite frankly, the best description of that film. I've seen only mere scenes of that film, and that was enough for me. What I will be reviewing tonight is the new film about the Nat Turner rebellion; written, directed and starring Nate Parker. Nate Parker is an actor I have enjoyed for awhile, and I always like to see actors I respect make the jump to the director's chair.
Fist off, many people may still have "12 Years A Slave" stuck in your head. That's fair, that film came out in 2013, its still a fairly young film. So, how does "The Birth Of A Nation" differ from "12 Years A Slave?" Well the later was about an anomaly, a tale of how a free black man survived his worst nightmare and what affect he had on history moving forward. "The Birth Of A Nation" is more of a starring contest within the day in the life of slave owners and the slaves themselves. We get the best look at just how horrifying it was to live in the south back then. The film examines how such an awful system broke the people trapped in it, and how bloody revolution became the only option of surviving through such a system. This also happens to be the story of Nat Turner. A slave and preacher who came to realization that rebellion could change the world, and he turned on his masters, got a group of slaves together and killed 60 white people in the south.
In actuality, "The Birth Of A Nation" is different from a lot of movies about slavery. No matter how brutal and violent many slavery movies are, there is always some kind out for the audience. There is always that one good slave owner that white audiences can relate to. Nate Parker cleverly doesn't give his audience an out in his movie. The south is an ugly, wallowing place in "The Birth Of A Nation" and even the least racist white characters in the film are people you can't even relate too, just because of how normal slavery is painted through the white characters' eyes. Nate Parker takes the audience by the face and smears its face in the harsh reality of the time it is set in. This makes many of the films themes more believable and more emotional.
How does Nate Parker's film stack up against other slavery movies? Well, that's a tough question. I think Nate Parker delivers an incredible lead performance. He is successfully guided by an fantastic supporting cast, including Armie Hammer, Jackie Earl Haley, Gabrielle Union, Aja Naomi King, Colman Domingo, and Penelope Ann Miller. Parker works with a huge host of collaborators that make moments in this film intense and brutally beautiful. However, I couldn't help but think throughout watching this film that I was watching a novice director making his first feature. Even though Nat Turner's slave rebellion was short-lived, the two-hour running time feels quite brief. I think Parker could have benefitted from making the film longer, drawing out certain scenes. There was a slapdash quality to certain moments in this film that deserved emotional heft. There are moments that feel like they are aiming to be epic, but fall short. There were also moments that I feel needed more time and work to breathe, the film feels like its constantly in a race with itself, and I feel that affected the outcome.
Here's the thing; a directorial debut for anybody rarely becomes known as a masterpiece. Any writer and director needs time to build and nurture their voice. For a first time director, "The Birth of A Nation" is a frantically stunning motion picture. It is full of powerful moments. It is brought to life by a stellar group of actors. Its a history lesson that is also a very personal movie for the director, and it also kind of ties into social events today. Parker gets so much right as a first timer that its hard to admit that a great movie is getting away from him. But "The Birth of A Nation" is evidence that once Nate Parker makes his masterpiece, its going to blow our minds completely.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
I was going to watch "Morgan" as a way of ending my long, fun week of all things Halloween related. I was hoping that "Morgan" would be this badass, science fiction-horror film. That was how the film was categorized on Wikipedia. Why did I consult Wikipedia, I don't know, sometimes I do. But as many of you know, I should not have trusted Wikipedia. Yes, the film is science fiction. But horror? No. Unless you find gore scary. I don't look at blood and personally have nightmares over it, but that's just me.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Morgan, and Taylor-Joy in particular blew me away when I first saw her in "The Witch" earlier this year. I was hoping for another great movie featuring her in it. While I think Taylor-Joy does incredible work here, she's playing a silly, cliche character in a rather dumb movie. Morgan is a bioengineered human created by a company that specializes in creating artificial human beings. Morgan is that sparkly test subject that surpasses all the test. Except she's still unstable and the death of someone working for the company, a risk assessment specialist played by Kate Mara shows up to evaluate Morgan. I'd give a name for Kate Mara's character, but she's so one-note, so one-dimensional, so soulless in the entire film that she shouldn't even have a name. I don't even know if her character truly even had a name, she was so mind-numbingly ordinary that she came off nameless.
So this risk assessment specialist meets with Morgan's handlers, the scientists who created her and she meets with Morgan herself and everything seems to look good. The scientists are impressed with their own work and they have become very attached to their creation. But when another scientists evaluates her and pushes her, Morgan kills them. Mara's character asks for Morgan to be terminated, but the scientists can't do it, so they lock up Mara's character and run away with Morgan...
This is when "Morgan" goes so far off the rails that I can't take it serious anymore. If this premise sounds familiar to you, it was kind of similar to "Ex Machina," the brilliant and far superior film made last year. A movie that made my top ten of the year last year, which I would keep on that list today. If you've seen "Ex Machina" or "Frankenstein" or even "Splice," those films are far superior and do more with the premise than "Morgan" does. "Morgan" is a movie about the first artificially made human being, a nearly perfect human. Shouldn't there be a sense of wonder behind this? Shouldn't there be some shock and awe to the film? Shouldn't this feel like vintage Steven Spielberg? Sadly, "Morgan" is none of those things. Sadly, "Morgan" is a hollow thriller that gets stupider and stupider as the running time drags on. The moments that are supposed to be scary are never close to being scary. The few good ideas in the movie are never fully explored, never put into any sort of general context. They are just kind of there, with no story to hold them together.
Then there is a reveal at the end. And it further ruined an already unbearable experience for me. Surprises only work if the audience can see how it comes together in the context of the movie. Sure, big reveals and surprises in movies can catch us off guard, but the ones that work service the movie, they make themselves apart of the story, if you take the time to dissect the scene, it fits into the film and you can see how the filmmakers got there. The surprise in "Morgan" is a complete cheat. I hate to do this, but I am going to spoil it. There is no way I am supposed to buy that Kate Mara's character was an artificial human this whole time. There is no evidence of that in the movie. No build up. No history. That is in the film just to throw one last egg at the wall to see if anything sticks. It is a cheat, and the audience will certainly feel cheated.
This film flabbergasts me because Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Mara are good actors. So are Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Paul Giamatti and Jennifer Jason Leigh. What are all of these good actors doing in such a horrible movie? This film is an embarrassment. Pieces of far better science fiction films that don't add up to satisfying whole. Something that is tremendously irritating to sit through and something I won't miss at all.
FINAL GRADE: D