Thursday, November 30, 2017

TV Review: "The Inhumans" (The Last Five Episodes)




I am beginning to notice something about myself. When it comes to TV shows, if the show doesn't really grab me in the first few episodes, its really hard for me to get into the show. No matter how much of a fanboy I am before hand. I have yet to finish the first season of "Iron Fist" on Netflix, and even though its a Marvel property, it's snail pace move and its wooden characters kept me from finishing and as I watched "The Defenders" at the end of the summer, it felt like it didn't matter. We are living in the Golden Era of television still, and the playing field is beyond competitive. I don't have time to waste on a shitty show, not when there is so much potentially great stuff I could be watching instead.

I meant to start reviewing one episode of "The Inhumans" a week, like I do with "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." but I just couldn't. "The Inhumans" is, without a doubt, in my mind, the worst of the Marvel television shows. As the last five episodes played out, I sat on my couch very confused, very baffled and very letdown. What a big waste of a golden opportunity. Here was ABC's opportunity to make more sense of the Inhuman storylines from "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Here was their chance to make something much more outside the box. It was an ambitious idea to opt out of making an "Inhumans" movie and making their debut on television. But they are so far off course that it is mind-numbing. All my complaints from the first few episodes were only heightened in the last five. A story that could have been told in perhaps four episodes is spread thin beyond breaking point. Beyond that, it just gives us more time to hang out on an ugly set, with actors who can't act in service of a story that mostly goes nowhere.

I feel bad saying this, but I am really trying to think of some redeeming qualities. I really am. I just can't think of any. How could a performance by Iwan Rheon go so disasterously off-course? How could they turn Black Bolt into such a non-character? How could they make Attilan so visually uninteresting? How could they run around in circles in these last five episodes, making the same highlights and the same points over and over again?

Even the other Marvel shows I wasn't too crazy about had some redeeming qualities. In "Iron Fist," at least there was some fun episodes and David Wenham had some fun hamming it up as a villain. At least "The Defenders" had Sigourney Weaver and the team had some good chemistry, even if the scripts nearly made them stiff by design. At least in "The Punisher," there were times when Jon Bernthal actually resembled The Punisher, and the birth of Jigsaw should lend for some good stories later. I don't see "The Inhumans" can move past this in any significant way. I don't see how they can pitch a new season. I don't see how anybody can see anything positive in this train-wreck of a mess. I don't see how they could make what looks like a 1990's TV show look any more appealing.

"The Inhumans" is the ultimate "coulda, woulda, shoulda" of Marvel entertainment, and ABC made all the wrong decisions, right to left. What could have saved these last few episodes would be more Lockjaw, but we barely see him and it left me feeling cold. The story doesn't improve in the end, the characters don't improve, the actors don't improve. It felt like watching the sequel to David Lynch's "Dune." And the show featured possibly the most unexciting "season finale" in any superhero show ever. I can't remember the last episode of anything feeling so goddamn bland.

I hope that Marvel is taking a long look at fan reaction to its television arm this year, because it's been pretty mediocre. I still have to push through "The Runaways," and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." starts tomorrow (AKA the only reason why I decided to finish this season) and I hope Marvel can win back some good graces. But one thing is for sure, it really feels like this might be our one and only trip to Attilan. Fox's Marvel shows are blowing Disney Marvel out of the water this year, and I hope they have a solid plan to get back in the game next year. They need one badly.

Review: "Suburbicon" is a place I wouldn't recommend visiting. Not quite.

Suburbicon Review

Man, I was really thinking I was going to love "Suburbicon." The film is directed by George Clooney, who, believe it or not, is a good director. I loved "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "The Ides of March" and "Good Night and Good Luck." I also thought "Leatherheads" was a pretty decent film too. He is working from a script by none other than the Coen brothers. The film stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac and Glenn Fleshler. I thought for sure this was going to be a movie I would have lost my mind over.

I sat on the film for a whole day, and now I can't believe it. But my mind is boggled that I didn't love it. In fact, I am a little deflated that I didn't love it. It's frustrating because there is lots to like about this movie. "Suburbicon" is a film that is full of good performances. The cinematography by Robert Elswit paints a 1950's suburban nightmare. The grimy promise of an American Dream with a dark secret at its core. The music by Alexandre Desplat is a remarkable one, setting mood with some simple key notes. The thing is, there is lots of extra that makes this movie look and sound good, but that doesn't carry the movie. 

I have written before on this blog about the dangers of putting multiple storylines in one movie. It's unfair to treat movies like mini-television shows and it takes someone really special to juggle several storylines at once. The problem with "Suburbicon" is that two stories take center stage. One story revolves around the Mayers family, the first African-American family to move into this nice little slice of Americana, the problem is that the town is all white and as soon as word gets out that there is a black family in this all white community, things get hostile in a quick! The entire neighborhood wants them out. Then there is the story about a robbery in the home of Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his wife Margaret (Julianne Moore). Their son Nicky (Noah Jupe) watches from the dinner table as his family is put to sleep and robbed, and when he awakens, he learns that his mother died during the attack, leading Margaret's twin sister Rose, also played by Moore, moving into the house. Things aren't what they seem in the Lodge household and Nicky soon realizes that he never really knew his father ever. 

Nicky spends a lot of time with the Mayers son Andy (Tony Epsinosa), and it appears that Nicky may be the link between these two stories, but perspectives switch like the wind blowing and the stories are so willfully disconnected that it becomes disjointed quickly. The tonal shifts of each story work against each other, not for each other. Dramatic comedy is a real chore to capitalize on and as good as the Coen brothers are, even they don't always get it right. I think Clooney comes close to making the stories and the humor land, but some of it falls flat. There is never a good firm grasp of the tones, and the film feels like a scattered mess throughout much of its running time. I didn't know whether I should be laughing or gasping from horror and that uncertainty worked against the film.

The other problem is that George Clooney never really makes the film his own. I think its really interesting that if you look the movies he's directed so far, he's never really identified a certain style as his signature. "Good Night and Good Luck" doesn't look like "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and neither of those films looks like "The Monuments Men." But I think Clooney was able to make you feel his vision through each of those films. With "Suburbicon," it feels like he is leaning on the style of the Coen brothers so heavily that he never makes the film its own, it feels too much like a stunt. Before I did some research, I actually firmly believed that this was a Coen brothers movie, and Clooney could certainly be a "ghost director" for the brothers. But Clooney never makes it his own, this feels like a karaoke movie, instead of something of its own.

I will say that Noah Jupe does great work as Nicky and he handles some emotions that I think the average adult actor would have difficulty with. I don't even know how you explain to a child the material he has to play here, but he does so without blinking an eye. Damon is good here, a seemingly innocent man who becomes more vile as the film wears on. Moore has played characters like this before, and she proves that she has real control of her craft. Oscar Isaac shows up as an insurance fraud investigator, and he pops in and does some good work and gets out. Isaac is on the rise of being a big star and he proves his range here. But the power behind this film is done through Jupe, a grand child performance.

I can also say that the film does seem to have something on its mind. I can tell it has something important to say, even if it is a little muddled in its message. I can get that we as humans have a bad habit of pointing the finger at those over the fence, those in other regions of the world, those we don't trust. When in actuality, the people we should be regulating the most are those that live right next to you. One of the best moments in the film is the opening credit sequence, when an informational film about living in the town of Suburbicon plays out, just like they used to do in the 1950's. I love movies about communities who harbor secrets, innocent towns that have a dark heart. But the tones are all over the place here that I can't focus. If this is a dark movie, then why don't I feel unsettled? And if this is supposed to be a comedy, then why am I not laughing more? 

George Clooney is a good director, and one minor misstep won't change that. He gets lots right here, which makes "Suburbicon" more frustrating then just another down-the-nose bad movie. There is lots of thought and meaning in the scenes of this movie, even if I don't think they quite add up. George Clooney will make another complete film. "Suburbicon" just doesn't add up to anything.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The "Avengers: Infinity War" trailer promises the Mother of all blockbusters

May 2nd, 2008 will be a date I will never forget. I also think most comic book and film geeks worldwide won't forget this date. This was the day that everything changed in the industry. The entire way of blockbuster filmmaking was altered. The possibilities in which franchises in film are made somehow became limitless once Samuel L. Jackson came out of the shadows, introducing himself as Nick Fury and discussing The Avengers Initiative with Robert Downey Jr.s Tony Stark. Ever since, Disney has been formulating a universe on film, stretching onto television, sometimes running across distribution companies. Ever since that glorious evening I had back in 2008, I have been enjoying this wild ride.

I mention this because, when Kevin Feige took the stage somehow hidden in California in October of 2014, he announced "Avengers: Infinity War," which at the time was going to be one giant movie cut in half. He announced that these two films would be an culmination of everything that has happened since "Iron Man." Now, "Avengers: Infinity War" is one film and "Avengers 4" will apparently be a separate film with its own story, even though everyone in "Infinity War" will show up in "Avengers 4." No matter. The next two Avenger movies will be closing out a huge chunk of storytelling that's been told since 2008 and it will set the stage for...whatever's ahead. While I can't wait to see what's next, and how the universe will be change in 2020, there is also a melancholy sense taking over.

I know some people are getting some superhero movie fatigue. I can understand that. If you haven't grown up loving these characters, you may not understand just how awesome it is to be fan of this stuff, how fun its been to be a fan of this stuff for almost a decade now. I can see when each year is flooded with all sorts of superhero movies that it may seem a little much. But for me, it's not an option. I grew loving superhero stories. I still love superhero stories. It's just the way I'm wired. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been my own personal "Star Wars." This all matters very much to me, and I hope and pray I am singing these same praises about the DCEU at some point. I love that we live in a world right now where these movies can be made, and that they are taken seriously.

Ever since Feige announced his Phase Three plans on that day in October 2014, I have been keeping a close eye out for "Avengers: Infinity War." The movie where Thanos' (Josh Brolin) plot to collect all the Infinity Stones would come to a head, and would feature literally every Marvel hero introduced so far to challenge him. The trailer is everything I hoped we would get and more. I only have to patiently a little while longer, for now, this incredible trailer will do.

In January, I have a big announcement regarding the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Something that will celebrate all the great work Disney and Marvel have done, something I think fans of this series will enjoy. So be sure to check back in the new year. 2018 will be a year of many celebrations for me, and since this is possibly the biggest film franchise I have lived through in its entirety so far, I want to write something special leading up to "Infinity War." The future is so cool!

What a great trailer! Thanos looks awesome and I think the big lead up since 2012 will pay off big time. The bearded Steve Rogers is cool. That battle in Wakanda looks EPIC! I sure hope Vision isn't dying in this! But what is with that human form of his? And is he finally dating Wanda? We didn't get too much, just a taste. This is a good teaser trailer. I don't think I could piece together plot details yet. While I liked the beginning of the trailer with the various Avengers saying the famous Nick Fury line. Although, I would have loved if they said the famous Avengers issue one line. The same line Samuel L. Jackson said in the first Avengers teaser trailer. Missed opportunity there!

Everything is coming together nice. I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: "The Snowman" is yet another surprise in Micheal Fassbender's recent bad films list

The Snowman Review

So, I don’t know who this imposter masquerading as Michael Fassbender is, but he needs to go the fuck away and bring the real Micahael Fassbender back to us. Especially now rather than later before he makes any real damage to Fassbender’s career.

When I first saw Fassbender in “300,” then saw him in “Hunger” a year later, then in “Inglorious Basterds” a year after that, it was pretty clear what was happening. It becomes pretty clear to anyone who truly loves movies when you are seeing an actor’s career mold together. I figured it was only going to be a matter of time before we saw Fassbender nearly everywhere, and sure enough he became a household name in no time. It’s not surprising, he’s a good-looking guy with some real range as a performer. He’s had lead roles and supporting, he’s played heroes and villains, and he’s been funny and serious, all in synced and equal measure. The guy does good work. But suddenly, he’s hit a slog. He seemed to be phoning it in with “X-Men: Apocalypse,” he turned in a weird performance in “Alien: Covenant.” Then he pushed for his long-awaited “Assassin’s Creed” adaptation, a movie that baffled more than anything I saw last year.

Once again, he’s made a head-scratcher of a decision starring in “The Snowman.” “The Snowman” is based on the seventh book of a series of novels by Jo Nesbo. Why they decided to begin this film series with the seventh book is never explained in the movie, but the film never delivers a good reason to explore the novels. They revolve around Harry Hole, the type of police detective you’d find in the old 1930’s film noirs. He’s tired, he’s burdened by a dark past, he drinks heavily and is constantly falling asleep drunk on a bench instead of finding shelter. I don’t know if this is how Hole behaves in the books, I got all of this from the weird performance by Michael Fassbender, who plays Hole in the movie.

Hole takes on a case to find a serial killer named The Snowman who has resurfaced after many years. The Snowman has been operating on and off for a long time, and he’s never been caught. He’s a man who cuts the heads off his victims and replaces them with snowball heads. Not that this really matters, the snowman motif never pays off in the movie and for an R-rated creepy movie, there is very little visceral material in the film. This is another one of those thrillers with no thrills and horror films with no horrors. It also features a mystery that wraps itself up in the film’s opening credit sequence.

Oh yes, you’ve seen movies like this before. “The Snowman” features a laughably ridiculous opening credit sequence which pretty much gives away the origin of the serial killer. This quickly becomes a mystery movie that gives you all the answers upfront, a simple fill-in-the-blanks movie. Kind of like “Lucky Number Slevin.” The audience basically sits around waiting to find out who the little kid is, which takes very little effort, and the rest of the film slugs on with disjointed scenery. It has been rumored that 15% of the script was never shot. It clearly shows when character sub-plots go nowhere, and the entire experience as a whole is blitheringly incoherent.

Instead of a compelling, invigorating mystery, we get J.K. Simmons sporting a weird British-ish accent. We have Chloe Sevigny wooden and stiff. We get Toby Jones, Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsberg all looking bored. And Val Kilmer…Wax Doll Val Kilmer. At least, that’s apparently what all the casting notes say it is. It doesn’t look like the real Val Kilmer. I had to sit and stair at the screen to really figure out who that was. It looks like someone mad a rubber Val Kilmer mask, cut their hair in a weird way, then superglued the rubber Val Kilmer mask to their face. The noise that comes out of Val Kilmer’s mouth doesn’t sound like Val Kilmer’s voice. I suppose there is a network of imposters that are kidnapping all of our favorite actors, even though Kilmer has been phoning it in since the end of the 90’s. Why did all of these great actors sign up for a film so rotten? Didn’t they watch a copy of the finished film and not bother to ask what their characters were doing half the time?

When Wax Doll Val Kilmer shoots his gun in the air for no apparent reason, all I could really do was laugh. It’s takes something so wildly off-base with a serious drama or a mystery or a horror movie when I am literally laughing at all the nonsense on screen. But sadly, that’s what “The Snowman” is, it’s complete nonsense. From beginning to end, a bunch of complete nonsense. Whatever goodwill that may lay in the Jo Nesbo’s books was miserably lost in this adaptation. I also don’t know what is going on with Michael Fassbender but he really needs to get back on track. He needs to stop pushing these franchises that will go nowhere and he just needs to start keeping an eye out for quality movies again. Fassbender was once a name that was so promising, and he may be set to tarnish everything that took so much time to build.

“The Snowman” is a bland movie. A mystery that has no mystery, it takes the lazy route at every turn, and when the movie isn’t being lazy, its wackily incoherent. When the killer is “revealed” and when you learn how they connect to the other characters in the movie, you are going to beg for Rick Moranis to pop out in his Lord Helmet outfit and recite the killer’s reveal. It’s that remarkably stupid that only comedy could save this from being a total mess. But this is a serious drama and we are supposed to take this story serious. But the film is so willfully bad that none of it matters. 


Monday, November 27, 2017

A Wrinkle In Time Trailer

One of the first books I remember reading in school was A Wrinkle In Time. I thought the book was incredibly cool, something that stuck in my head as I grew up. As me being who I am, I grew up imagining what the movie version would look like. It appears that there have been a few movie versions, all of them seemingly TV movies, that I just never got around to seeing. I am happy to be getting a big budget, silver-screen version of this story.

I think Ava DuVernay is a interesting choice for director. I like that she is given free reign to give this story a try. I think she definitely has an eye for great drama, and it will be cool to see what she does with the more fanatical parts of this story.

This movie clearly looks cool and DuVernay has got some big talent on deck here. I can't wait to see.

Review: "A Bad Mom's Christmas" should have had the montage song from "Team America" in it

A Bad Mom's Christmas Review

I never saw the original "Bad Moms." I just never got around to seeing it, from what I have heard, it doesn't sound like I missed much. I have always liked Mila Kunis and I think she's grown as an actress over the course of her career. I think Kirsten Bell can be hilarious when she chooses the right material, which is usually about fifty-fifty. I think Kathryn Hahn is pretty freaking hilarious in most of the stuff she was in. I wasn't expecting anything amazing with "A Bad Moms Christmas," I was solely hoping for something enjoyable.

"A Bad Moms Christmas" isn't offensively bad, but I think its a bit far from enjoyable. I hate to break it to you, readers, but the only word I could use to describe it is "odd." It's a very odd movie. It feels like a begrudgingly odd experience. The movie feels like one big montage. I was reminded of the montage song from "Team America: World Police," because it seemed like every other moment of screen-time was devoted to a montage. That song should have been in the movie. When Amy (Kunis), Kiki (Bell) and Carla (Hahn) decide that their uninvited moms are there to pester them for the Christmas holiday, there is a montage of them getting drunk and eating food. Then there is a montage of their family on a fun trip, then there are listless montages after that. It's weird that the whole film feels like a montage.

When we aren't looking at a mirage of unconnected scenery, we get a typical, Hallmark-type Christmas tale. Each of these women has a separate problem with their mothers. Amy's mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski) likes traditional Christmas's even though they bore the rest of the family out, and after Amy promised her family a mellow Christmas, she clashes with Ruth. Kiki doesn't feel like she ever receives space from her mother Sandy (Cheryl Hines), and when Sandy plans to buy the house right next door to Kiki's, it drives her insane. Then there is Carla and her mother Susan Sarandon playing Isis. It's a typical, modern Sarandon role where she plays a wild, sexy lady. Isis needs to borrow money from Carla, and Carla doesn't want to give it to her because she knows she's reckless with money. Each of these storylines is satisfied with a typical Hollywood ending, with a nice green and red holiday bow wrapped around the film's ending. There are no surprises here.

The film doesn't even promise what the title eludes to. There is nothing "bad" about these bad moms. Oh, maybe they grind a Santa Claus and they go watch the guy from "This Is Us" in a Christmas-style strip tease. There is no raunchy dialogue, none of the comedy lands, and there are no situations that are funny. I usually base my reaction to comedies on how often I laugh, and I didn't laugh very often. In fact, I will admit that I fell asleep a time or two. 

The movie is predictable. The film really isn't funny. It's not raunchy at all. The acting is fine, I guess. The movie doesn't really bring anything new to the table. That what makes it so odd. It's an oddly passive experience and I can't say I will remember it a week from now.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Rampage Trailer

I always knew that The Rock would be destined for great things as an action star. Funny too, since for a long while in his acting career, he didn't do lots of action. I get it why, I know lots of people fear being type cast or adopting a certain persona that you can't get out of. The problem is that he went so far in the other direction that he became a joke. Lots of the kiddy stuff he did wasn't funny nor was it particularly good, and I am glad that he finally returned where he belonged, in the action movie arena. I have enjoyed The Rock's turn in "The Fast and Furious" franchise. I have really enjoyed his presents in a lot of the other action oriented stuff he has been doing. Even though it's not an action show, The Rock is really good on HBO's "Ballers," a show everyone should check out.

Just because it feels like The Rock is back home doesn't mean everything he is going to do is going to be great. I am a little hesitant for when "Rampage" gets released. What looks like a fairly typical monster movie is actually based on a video game. A video game that my brother use to play frequently on our Nintendo 64. I also had a game boy version of the game too. The movie being set in Chicago is no random movie setting. The first place you destroyed in the video game were cities in Illinois and you do attack Chicago. One of the first cities you destroy was Peoria, and since we are from Peoria, we made a big deal about that. The game was simple, you chose a monster, between a giant gorilla, a giant wolf or a giant lizard and you destroyed cities. That was basically it, so that didn't leave lots of room for crafting a story.

The video game is getting adapted into a movie and it seems like they are going the most generic way possible in explaining how three animals became huge monsters. I suppose I would have thought this was cool back when I loved playing the game. But after many recent years of CGI things destroying cities, this just looks like more of the same.

Incredibles 2 trailer

The trailer for "The Incredibles 2" hit over the weekend. We barely got any footage. If that, I honestly don't know if anything we saw will actually end up in the film. But it was great nonetheless.

"The Incredibles" is my favorite of the Pixar films. Not just because it has superheroes in it, but because it was a smart, clever movie with superheroes in it. It still holds up today as Pixar's biggest and best film. While so many Pixar films got prequels and sequels, there was no continuation of "The Incredibles" for over a decade, and I thought we'd never see this superpowered family ever again. But I was wrong. I am hoping that it ends up being awesome. I want a whole series of these films and I want them all to work!

Review: "Mayhem" is exactly what it sounds like.

Mayhem Review
Steve Yeun grew in popularity thanks to “The Walking Dead.” Everyone grew to love Glen, that is if you weren’t like me and found him endearing from the beginning. It was a lot of fun watching him grow as a character and the incredible work Yeun did on the show highlighted the best of what the character had to offer. Even though they jumped the shark with his “death” scene only to kill not too much later in the show, it was still a worthy death and the show has missed him greatly.

I am fondly happy to learn that Yeun’s career is on the up even after “The Walking Dead.” He appeared in “Okja,” the Netflix sleeper that I think more people should sit down and watch. Now, he’s stared in “Mayhem,” a twisted, crazy thriller about one man having a very bad day that only gets worse. Many of us already don’t like working a job we hate. It only gets worse when you framed by your company for something you didn’t do. It gets even worse still when the building you work in that just fired you is quarantined and a infectious virus that forces you to unleash your deepest, darkest fantasies, no matter the stakes, is unleased in your building. All three of these things happen to Derek Cho, the character Steve Yeun plays in this movie. The virus is called D-13 or maybe it was D-17? Anyway, it allows to unleash your wildest impulses. You become extremely violent, you become extremely horny, everything you are thinking about is taken to the extreme. Choas reigns in this once peaceful office building.

Despite the chaos taking place in the office building, Derek Cho is determined to get to the top floor, where all the executives are barricaded, and plead his case to keep his job and uncover the shady dealings that got him fired. He must fight his way through the never-ending people that look like they have been hit with a slight version of the Rage Virus from “28 Days Later.” He joins forces with Margot Robbie look-alike Samara Weaving who plays Melanie who has a grudge of her own with the company’s executives. What ensues is a blood-soaked satire of office life and how we are sometimes too bound to the jobs we live, even when we don’t particularly like them.

The film doesn’t even pretend to be grounded or gritty. “Mayhem” knows full well it’s a movie, and it is aiming to please you for every amount of its running time. It is a movie that is covered in blood. There are some cold, hard laughs, but they land with a sharp punch. Don’t expect a Oscar nominated script from this one, because you ain’t gonna get one. Don’t expect “Mayhem” to change the world or hold some significant hold on the genre, because that ain’t happening either. This is a movie that you throw your feet up on the recliner for and just enjoy.

All the performances in this movie range from good to ridiculous-but-in-a-good-way. There is very little, if anything at all, that is meant to be taken literally or seriously in this movie. People kill each other in highly gruesome fashions, people run around naked, people don weapons of all types. None of it is meant to be taken out of context, it’s all crazy cool, hilarious fun. I do really like Yuen here, and I think he’s going to have a fine career moving forward. I also really liked Samara’s work in the film. We have seen these archetypes to hell and back, but they make the most out of them. Most genre fans may compare this to “The Belko Experiment,” and they would somewhat be right. I think “Mayhem” is different enough that it stands apart. But there are some striking similarities and it’s kind a “Armageddon-Deep Imapct-1998” thing. But I think its worth seeing, it’s a hell of a lot of fun!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

TV REVIEW: Marvel's The Punisher



When we look back at 2017 in regards of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we will remember that it was a tough year for their television branch. “The Defenders” was quasi-fun, but too short for its own good and mostly boring. “The Inhumans” was completely terrible on nearly every conceivable level. And “Iron Fist,” honestly, I never finished it. We still have “The Runaways” coming to Hulu and season five of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on the way, but I can’t in good faith say I am excited for those. I feel deflated as far as Marvel television goes, a feeling I never thought I’d have.

I thought “The Punisher” would be the savings grace for the year. After all, Jon Bernthal made a huge statement as the character in season two of “Daredevil.” It was never Netflix-Marvel’s plan to make a “Punisher” show, but after how popular the character was on “Daredevil,” he was given a spin-off. I liked the idea of a Punisher television show. I love myself a good revenge story, and a Marvel version would be something I would never protest to. I will also let you in on a little secret. I like watching justice be served. Even as a kid, I couldn’t stand watching people get away with stuff, either in a fictional world and even real life. I was a big tattle tail and I would do anything to make sure people who did something bad had their day. It’s always nice watching someone really kick ass, which is why revenge flicks are some of my favorite flicks.

Sadly, The Punisher has had a tough track record on live-action popular culture. I have a soft spot for Thomas Jane’s turn with the character and I think the 2004 movie is criminally underrated. I thought the Dolph Lundgren and Ray Stevenson versions were criminally dumb. So, it’s mostly been a tough road, but I had high hopes for Jon Bernthal’s turn as the character would be a new beginning in a new direction. He was so good in “Daredevil.”

After I finished the first episode of Netflix’s “The Punisher” I was totally on board. I raved about it on social media, saying that’s the Punisher alright. The series begins with The Punisher (Bernthal) chasing some bikers on a big truck, killing them. He kills a cartel leader in Mexico with a sniper rifle all the way in El Paso, TX. He kills a guy in the bathroom by choking him with his own neck-tie. He then burns his skull armor and blends into society as a construction worker. He keeps to himself, mostly ridiculed by a group of assholes. The new worker tries to befriend anyone he can, and falls in line with the assholes. Turns out the assholes are trying to rob a mob card game and they are more than just assholes, they are thieves. The bring in the new guy to their crew, and take him on the mob robbery. The robbery goes wrong, and it’s the new guys fault, so they plan to kill him. The Punisher steps in and kills the assholes, saves the new guy then takes out the mob guys before they can reach the new guy. It’s a fantastic episode, really sets a tone that works for The Punisher. I was hungry for more after that episode.

I wish I was as enthusiastic about the other twelve episodes. Sadly, the whole series slows way down after that explosive episode. There is action here and there, but not nearly on a scale that you would expect from a Punisher series. The Punisher isn’t a superhero, he doesn’t wear a cape, he has no superpowers. He is a hand-to-hand combat, explosives and weapons expert. He’s a militaristic, comic book version of Paul Kersey. If this show focused on The Punisher going around New York City, killing drug dealers and murderers and mobsters and the corrupt, this would have been something. This show would have worked in spades had they just kept things simple.

Alas, things are not kept simple. In fact, it gets so bogged down in a useless, needless plot and at times, The Punisher’s supporting cast gets more screen time than The Punisher himself does. But none of his supporting cast is really that interesting. The show also completely retcons everything we learned in “Daredevil” season two. It wasn’t mobsters who were responsible for The Punisher’s family dying. They were, but they weren’t. We see The Punisher before he became a vigilante, his alter-ego Frank Castle. Frank Castle and his close friend Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) were lieutenants in the United States Marines. They are brought into a special team by CIA officer William Rawlins (Paul Schulze). Rawlins promises making the world a better place. But Castle finds out that they may be killing innocence and that Rawlins tactics are questionable. Rawlins nearly gets Castle, Russo and his men killed on a mission Castle advised against. All of this and more makes Castle the enemy, and it was Rawlins who targeted Frank’s family.

The show is more of a government conspiracy than anything else. Frank catches wind that Rawlins and Russo are still alive and doing some shady shit with each other. And their conspiracy also got a computer’s guy named David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) on their trail. Lieberman was shot by corrupt cops on Rawlins payroll, but he didn’t die, and he’s been in hiding ever since. Lieberman and Castle will join forces and go after Rawlins and Russo.

I don’t mind the different origin of The Punisher and the government conspiracy storyline would have been cool, but it’s so painfully dull that it’s mind numbing. There is so much devotion to Russo banging Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) a Homeland Security agent hot on the trail of Rawlins. There is so much devotion to Castle and Lieberman sitting around talking about morality. There is so much devotion to a sub-plot involving a soldier with PTSD, that leads him to become a terrorist-of-sorts. There is so much devotion Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) and his support group for troops, all making the same political messages repeatedly. There is also a ridiculous sub-plot revolving around Castle meeting Lieberman’s family, and doing stuff for them, while Lieberman watches from his computer because he bugged his own house to watch his family while he was underground. It’s a weird, weird sub-plot.

The show tries to make some points on gun violence in America, soldiers coming home with PTSD, and soldiers being forgotten by our government and the system once they got home. All worthy points to make, all ideas that would make an intriguing television show. But “The Punisher” never explores these points in any significant way, that it feels like wasted time. One of the biggest problems with “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” and even the eight episodes of “The Defenders” is that they have a story that would be told in three to five episodes. But they get stretched to eight to thirteen episodes. With “The Punisher,” it feels like they have enough story for a two-and-a-half-hour movie, but it got stretched across thirteen hours of television show. The last two episodes feels like a finale stretched across two hours. Pacing has been hard to pin down with these Netflix-Marvel shows. It was an annoyance with the other shows though, here it’s a distraction.

It’s too bad because Jon Bernthal is acting his ass off here, trying to make it all count. I wasn’t a big fan of Ben Barnes in the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies. But that was a long time ago, and he’s clearly matured as a performer. He does good work as Russo, and he’s one evil bastard in this. The entire cast does good work, and it’s tough to see so much good work on a show that is mostly boring.

When I sit down to watch a show called “The Punisher,” I don’t want to meander in a sub-plot about a kid with bad PTSD, especially when the pay-off is so rotten like it is here. I don’t want Frank Castle sitting around talking morality episode after episode. I don’t want to see the sexual encounters of the main villain. I don’t want a finale cut into two episodes. I want to see The Punisher blowing scum away. That’s what his character is supposed to do. That’s the core of the character, getting vengeance on those who killed his family, then making sure no evil-doers do something similar to other innocent people. This should have been non-stop action from beginning to end, instead we get a somewhat political conspiracy thriller that has no idea what the fuck it’s about and that’s just sad all around.

Review: "Justice League" flies, but not without some turbulence.

Justice League Review

It’s that time of year again. Warner Brothers released a new movie set in the DC Extended Universe. Several film critics write bad reviews, there is controversy over its Rotten Tomatoes score, the DC fanboys defend it to the death and flame battle anyone who disagrees with them. There are so much over-analyzed issues any time Warner Brothers releases a new movie. But I don’t care about any of that. If you love DC, more power to you. I am not going to sit back and write how this compares to anything Marvel does. Once a decade, maybe more, there are this tepid franchise wars. They are ugly for no reason, and frankly, I am sick of hearing about them. I may have been guilty of franchise hyperbole in the past, and I am quitting right now.

It's interesting to try and gauge “Justice League.” If the DCEU’s films were darts on a dart board, I would say that “Justice League” at least hits the board. It didn’t hit the wall next to the board like “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. However, it didn’t quite hit the target than say “Man of Steel” and “Wonder Woman” did. I think it works better as a whole than “Batman vs. Superman” and I think that “Justice League” proves that Warner Brothers is getting closer to making the ensemble superhero movie they so desperately want to make. I have to say, the things that are great in this movie are so great they will make you swoon. Not just hardcore DC fans, but fans of superhero movies in general. There are images and performances here that are wonderful, and some of the coolest superhero moments you’ll see in a theater this year. There is so much good here that I wish I could tip my hat and say job well done.

But it’s not 1998 anymore. We are past the time when we only used to get a superhero movie every five or so years. Superhero movies have become commonplace, but only that but great superhero movies are commonplace. So, it’s weird and frustrating that there is so much “Justice League” gets wrong while simultaneously getting so much right. Lots of blame is already getting heaped on Snyder, and that boggles my mind a bit. This is not Snyder’s train wreck, by any means. I think Snyder has a great eye as a director, and he creates a visual style that I think fits well in a superhero movie. It seems the studio is never confident in the people they hire, so we get reshoots, re-dos and a new director coming in for clean-up. What WB should be doing is hiring people passionate about the material and stepping out of their way.

Let’s discuss the good of “Justice League” first. I think Ben Affleck gets a bad rap for no reason. Yes, he sucked in the 1990’s, but we aren’t living in that decade anymore. Affleck has grown exponentially since then, and he’s developed some real range as a performer. His Batman is terrific, and I think he creates a brooding style that is awesome and fitting. Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite of the group. Having just finish her solo movie, she’s easily the most developed. Gal Gadot braces every scene it’s the last movie she’s going to make. I feel like she was born to give this character live-action life and she’s amazing in every moment she’s on screen. This isn’t really a spoiler, since anybody could have guessed this, but Henry Cavil returns as Superman, and everything I would ever want from a modern Superman, and reminds us of the glory days of Christopher Reeve.

The rest of the League? They are fine, I guess. Ezra Miller is an actor I have enjoyed over the years, in films like “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and I think he’s got real range as a performer. I think there are moments in “Justice League” wear he really shines, but the script makes his character way too overly-jokey and some it lands, and some of it doesn’t. It’s interesting how they have envisioned Aquaman in the modern world. But sadly, they don’t give Jason Mamoa much to play. He’s basically a “bro” version of Kal Drogo who speaks better English. I won’t say he’s not entertaining, every once in a while he is. I love when he taunts the other teammates. I love that he screams like a Comanche Indian during battle. There is a moment when he unknowingly sits on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth that provides some big laughs. But there really isn’t much to the character. I feel like I can’t really judge Ray Fischer’s Cyborg, because he feels like a device for the League to use, instead of an actual character. He’s connected to the big weapon that The Big Bad of the movie uses in his evil plot, and that seems like Cyborg’s only use. He seems to exist in the League only to destroy the bad weapon, there is very little development in his character. Sure, there is some backstory here, which I hope pays off in his solo movie, but it’s basically glossed over to make room for all the other things happening in this movie.

That kind of leads to the films biggest flaw. There is too much of “Justice League” that is reactionary. It’s reacting to the other DCEU movies. It is reacting to the negativity of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It is reacting to the Marvel movies and what they represent. Throw in introducing Atlantis, Aquaman, Cyborg, Steppenwolf, The Mother Boxes and you have a bloated, overstuffed script that gets messy in some points. At least “Justice League” is quasi-coherent and not the editing nightmare “Batman vs. Superman” was. But the problems are so glaring that you can’t NOT notice them. This goes back to my point where WB needs to just trust the people they hire and allow them to tell a good story with these characters. Both “Batman vs. Superman” and “Justice League” (and even “Suicide Squad”) suffer big time from having too many cooks in the kitchen. They are also adopting the wrong things from other franchises. It looks like both DC and Marvel will have a villain problem, because Steppenwolf stinks as a villain. He’s basically a CGI giant that gloats about his evil plot all movie, and is never really given any personality. He retrieves the devices needed for his master weapon with a genuine amount of ease. There is no tension to many of the scenes with him in it. And his parademons aren’t really intimidating either, these flying, monstrous insect guys. Sure, every dark lord needs an army but I feel like the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” were more terrifying. Steppenwolf’s evil plot? It involves another glowing McGuffin, and the whole movie comes down to simply turning off an apocalyptic weapon. A plot device that is wearing out its welcome in all high-concept action movies.

I know it may sound like I am beating up on this movie too much. But here is the thing, the material that works, works so well that it feels like a great movie is slipping away from Snyder. I liked watching the team gradually come together. I liked the moments in Atlantis and the invisible Amazon island. I liked the flashback battle between Steppenwolf’s forces, and the alliance between Men, Gods, Atlantians and Amazons, as well as some special guests that will make DC fans’ jaws drop. I liked some of the back-and-forth between characters. I liked watching the team together on their off time (save for a ridiculous ethics discussion about reviving Superman that went on too long and written poorly). I liked lots of the film’s energy and I liked the way much of it was shot. I felt pretty nostalgic when Danny Elfman recycled his 1989 Batman score, and I liked his musical contributions in general. I think DC fans are in for a treat when they view both the post-credit scenes after the movie. There aren’t an over-abundance of silly scenes or poorly written plot points like in “Batman vs. Superman.” Some of this material is so great that it feels it should belong in a different movie. “Justice League” tap dances on the line between pass and fail that its almost dizzying. What’s killing me is that WB and DC are clearly listening to their critics and trying to improve. At the same time, they keep making the same mistakes. If they can’t overcome all of their flaws, they will keep making mediocre fare.

The year 2017 was a big year for the studio and this franchise. I will even say that 2017 has mostly been a step in the right direction. Where this franchise goes from here is crucial and I am hoping and praying that WB makes the right decisions going forward.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: "Ingrid Goes West" tells a sincere tale of 20th Century loneliness

Ingrid Goes West Review

I am an avid movie watcher and writer by night. I have a day job, and every morning I make a forty-five minute, sometimes solid hour commute to my work. There is a radio show that I listen to quite a bit on the ride in. They discuss random things, a little of this and a little of that. One morning, they were discussing the link between depression and social media. I honestly got to say, they were making a compelling argument. We do put lots of stuff online on social media these days, and for most people, it’s only the positive stuff that goes on their social media accounts. And while many post their latest piece of good news or the magnificent thing they are doing, someone, somewhere is feeling depressed that they don’t have your life.

We meet a girl named Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) who is starring at her home, browsing the Instagram page of a “friend” of hers. The thing is, Ingrid doesn’t feel like she’s friends with this person anymore, they keep posting wedding photo after wedding photo, for a ceremony Ingrid wasn’t invited to. How can you be close friends with someone and not be invited to their wedding? What went wrong? Ingrid gets so upset that she crashes her friend’s wedding and sprayed her friends with mace.

During a brief stay at a mental institution, Ingrid is constantly writing letters to the girl she maced, trying to let her know that she hasn’t been herself ever since her mother passed away. That’s right, Ingrid’s mother has died, and left her with a nice sum of money. Not really going anywhere in life and in a rut socially, Ingrid becomes obsessed with a social media personality Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). So, she uses the money her mother left her and goes out to Los Angeles, to further stalk Sloane. After a couple hit-or-miss encounters, she meets Sloane by giving back her lost dog. Which she ended up stealing to meet Sloane. Ingrid is one of those messed up weirdos that she’s quasi-typecast at playing. But she does it so well in such a strange way that you are drawn to her. Even though her behavior is appalling.

Sloane is instantly drawn to Ingrid and they become close friends. Ingrid finally gets what she has wanted for so long. For the longest time, Ingrid’s mother was the only person who was ever nice to her. She had trouble making friends. As the movie wears on though, we get an idea of why that is, and perhaps people aren’t just being bitchy towards Ingrid. And maybe Sloane isn’t exactly the person Ingrid expects her to be. And yes, this all comes to a head by the end of the film. We have seen plenty of films about people wanting to cut corners to reach a goal, to try and pull off some grand scheme that gets tougher as the film wears on. There is a formula to “Ingrid Goes West” and because the movie follows that formula so closely is what keeps the movie from being great or even incredible.

I will say that “Ingrid Goes West” is very good, though. What makes it worthwhile, although formulaic, is the impeccable work done by both Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza. For my money, these are two of the most talented actresses of their generation, and they never miss a beat with their roles. Olsen has been proving roughly seven years now that she has leagues more talent compared to her sisters. She’s been honing that talent in unexpected ways. We’ve seen her take on several dramatic roles and a couple blockbusters. But we’ve never really seen her let loose like she does here. She’s great in this movie, and the sky is the limit as far as her range as a performer goes. And Plaza? Like I said above, she plays a creep and makes it compelling. That’s extremely hard to do, no matter how many Oscars you have in your closet, and Plaza does some believable work here.

O’Shea Jackson Jr.  floored audiences in 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton,” a movie in which he played his own father. Here, he plays Ingrid’s landlord who also is writing an unlicensed spec script for Batman, hoping to eventually make it big as a screenwriter. Ingrid and Jackson’s Dan Pinto eventually are drawn to each other. It feels like a natural romance, not something that is just shoehorned into the movie simply to give Ingrid a love-interest. I honestly didn’t expect them to fall for each other and their relationship is carefully created by both the actors and the script. I think O’Shea Jackson Jr. has a very long career ahead of him.

The other big performance is by Billy Magnussen, who you may remember as one of the asshole realtors Steve Carell meets in “The Big Short.” He plays Nicky, Sloane’s uncontrollable brother, and it’s fairly like the work he did in “The Big Short,” but its pumped to the brim with steroids. I don’t want that to sound like it’s a bad performance, far from it. Magnussen is hard to look away from when he shambles onscreen, and he purposely becomes a thorn in Ingrid’s side. It’s a high-octane performance and it’s clear that Magnussen absolutely relished it.

“Ingrid Goes West” has some hard but honest things to say about the overwhelming and addicting landscape of social media and the negative effects of too much profile surfing can lead to. It’s also a smart movie about when you hit rock bottom personally, and you are desperate for a connection with another person, so much so that you’ll do anything to find that connection. It’s a movie that really asks you to find out who your friends are, and that maybe you’ll find your true friends in the most unexpected places. These are all lessons I’ve learned before, but “Ingrid Goes West” makes its points in a clever, intelligent and fun way that it’s hard not to like it.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Deadpool 2 Thanksgiving Poster

Now that's a poster
There has always been a special kind of humor to the world of "Deadpool." It's no wonder it was a superhero movie unlike any other. I love that pretty much all the characters we enjoyed in the first film are coming back for the sequel. Plus, some cool, cool new characters that I can't wait to see in action.

I NEED this poster!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Five Promo

Overall, I have enjoyed "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." life on television. But even I can admit that it has been a rocky road since the beginning. I think the show is solid. I think the show is fun. But I don't know if I can honestly say that it's a great show. I think there have been great episodes, I think there have been a great story arc or two. The show overall? It's mostly uneven. It seems the greatness comes in shifts. But I think there is still enough fun to be had that I keep watching.

One thing that has nagged at me for awhile is its circular plots. This is a spy agency that has faced many hardships and villains and evil organizations throughout the comic books. Yes, HYDRA is its "arch-nemesis," but there is more to S.H.I.E.L.D. than just them. It's seems like HYDRA and Inhumans have dominated the show since its inception. I have been starved for the new for a couple years now. Finally, it seems like ABC is trying harder to do something newer with this show. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team is going off-Earth this season.

It looks like there is going to be some Kree action this season, but the space setting seems kinda cool. I just hope that they don't set up some big things then decide not to follow through with them. That has been the shows biggest downfall over the years.

Monday, November 13, 2017

"Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" trailer looks crazy cool!

Well, here's a nice what if storyline for you comic book lovers!

Every once in awhile, for shits and grins, comic book companies will drop their characters in different time periods to tell their stories. Marvel has put their heroes in Colonial America before. We have had a Spider-Man in nearly every point in the future before, Superman in an alternate timeline landed in Russia as an infant instead of America and became an advocate for communism instead of freedom and justice. Much like with all comics, the results have ranged from good to bad. I'd be lying though, if I said I was never intrigued. I always love to see what a company has up their sleeves.

An upcoming DC animation film is called "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" and will drop Bruce Wayne, Gotham City and his greater mythology in the Victorian age. Take a look...

I have enjoyed pretty much all of the DC animated films, so you can guess I am excited for this one. Keep an eye out for it.

Review: "Murder On The Orient Express" is an all-star, fun-filled murder mystery

Murder on the Orient Express Review

For some reason, I have always been drawn to murder mysteries. I especially like the set-up of the “house party murder” mystery movie. A bunch of people go to a house or mansion and they start dying one-by-one, or one person dies and the rest have to figure out who the killer is. I have always found much joy in the set up. I love “House of Haunted Hill” and I love watching it every Halloween. I have enjoyed all versions of “And Then There Were None.” One of my favorite Family Guy episodes is the two-part parody “And Then There Were Fewer.” There is something intriguing about the murder being in the same vicinity as all the innocence and how they must figure out who the killer is. I find great fun in the premise.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is pretty much like “And Then There Were None” except on a train. Sort of. People aren’t dying left and right. You will have to forgive my ignorance, but until tonight, I had no idea that both the “And Then There Were None” and “Murder on the Orient Express” were books written by Agatha Christie. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though, both stories are clearly born from the same wheelhouse. Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is one of many Hercule Poirot novels she wrote, which revolved around a Belgian detective of the same name, who self-proclaimed himself as the best detective in the world.

“Murder on the Orient Express” has been adapted four times, including this 2017 version, and now I am curious in tracking down the other versions in watching them, simply to see how they differ from this version. In the 2017 version, we have Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot. He’s got his mustache twirled at both sides, he’s got stylized hair and a stylized costume, and he speaks with a peculiar accent. It’s clear why Poirot self-proclaims himself the best detective in the world, he sees things the average commentator would easily miss. He’s like Shaun from USA’s “Psych” except with a wild accent, and wilder appearance and living in the 1930’s.

We meet Poirot at the tail-end of a job, and now he’s ready to go home for a quick vacation before signing onto another case. A friend gets him on the Orient Express to travel across from Jerusalem to Europe. The trip seems to be going normally until the train derails from an avalanche, and there is also the death of Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) a slimy American businessman Poirot encounters on the train. Everyone is a suspect and Poirot has to solve the case before the train gets put back on the rails and before they skid back into the station, where the police will just bag anybody they see fit, apparently.

The train features an all-star cast; including Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, and Tom Bateman. That cast right there is enough to get anybody excited, but I was bit nervous. When literally every character, supporting or lead, is occupied by a star-studded actor, it can lead to “The Departed” or it can lead to “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Sometimes all those egos get in the way, the director doesn’t manage them, and it can run the risk of failure. Kenneth Branagh has already made his share of films, and managing several personalities is something he has mastered. The result is a well-acted, fun mystery movie. It’s definitely a hyper-stylized take on the material, where all the details are almost otherworldly and there is a ton of CGI. I won’t say that it overly- relied on the CGI, but more natural scenes may have fit the story better.

All the actors do incredible work here, all pushing towards a collaborative goal of telling a good story and telling it well. I can’t honestly say that anybody sticks out in particular, and I think the entire cast hits some strong strides throughout the film. No doubt, the character that will keep your eyes glued to the television will be Branagh’s Poirot. It’s such a strange performance that you will either like him or detest him. There may not be any middle ground. I will admit that I was entertained by Branagh’s performance, even if it’s a little hammy and overreaching at times.

No doubt the biggest problem with the film, and this has been a problem in a number of Branagh’s earlier films, is the guy is completely devoid of shooting action. When things get action-packed, no matter however so slightly, everything seems hard to follow. Branagh makes confusing action scenes, even in Marvel’s “Thor,” that it takes you out of the experience all together. There are only mere moments when things absurdly break out into action, and those are the moments that fail hardest in the movie. If Branagh is going to continue to put action sequences in his movies, he is going to have to get better at directing them.

The film is more dreamy than realistic, but there is a grandeur feeling throughout the whole running time. Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography makes each scene absolutely luminous, like you just woke up and took a plunge into your wildest dreams. The music by Patrick Doyle is operatic in a powerful way. The screenplay by Michael Green works in a fairy formulaic way according to other movies like these, but keep in mind I never read Christie’s book before seeing this, I never saw the other versions before seeing this, this is my first exposure to this story. There are definitely some tropes that Green abides by, but the film plays fun overall. The film is a technical marvel and the all-star cast definitely came to play, and everyone delivers a memorable performance. 


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dark Universe 2017-2017??

Somebody should find the photographer and his original photo from above. Then take it and keep in a special place for fifty or so years. It'll probably be worth some money.

Before it even got a chance to pick up anything resembling steam, Universal's "Dark Universe" may have suffered a permanant steak to the heart. The franchise's two main producers, Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, have abandoned the franchise and planning to move onto completely different projects.

So is the project dead? Not exactly. Apparently, Universal is playing with some ideas to keep the franchise alive. They are looking into finding new writers and producers to keep the franchise alive, but they are also thinking about creating a bunch of one-off movies, but these one-offs won't be connected to a larger story. It's no surprise that Jason Blum of Blumhouse Pictures is in the mix to get those one-offs off the ground. As of right now, "Bride of Frankenstein," which was to be the next chapter in the Dark Universe, has been put on hold and right now Universal is trying to formulate a plan for moving forward.

Honestly, I can't say I am surprised by any of this. "The Mummy" had disappointing ticket sales, and I am honestly shocked that Universal was surprised by it. A shared universe of Universal's classic monsters doesn't exactly jazz lots of people up, especially people in my demographic, simply because they don't get the iconography of it. Myself and many people my age weren't alive during the big classic monster surge, and had the movie emphasized what made that era special, perhaps they would have been more successful in their efforts. The other big mistake was making these superheroic action movies. They should have stayed deep in the arena of horror, once again emphasizing what makes these iconic characters great. Not everything has to be a Marvel universe to work, it's all about understanding your iconography.

I think the idea had potential, which makes this hurt a bit. Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as The Frankenstein Monster and Angelina Jolie as his Bride would all be things I would have been interested in seeing. They were also circling around The Rock, Scarlet Johansson and Channing Tatum for roles in the franchise. This could have been something special, but it was managed and created poorly and they were fighting an uphill battle releasing this idea in a market that was so unfamiliar with these characters.

This is the second time Universal's tried this (remember that "Dracula" movie with Luke Evans? That was supposed to kick-start a Universal Monster franchise, but for some reason, didn't pan out. There was some talk that Luke Evans would be Dracula for The Dark Universe, but that never panned out either for equally mysterious reasons.) and that is all evidence that Universal either doesn't know what they are doing or is hiring the wrong people. They need to pick one, focus on what's not working, and move forward perfecting what works and fix what doesn't.

For right now, I don't know if we'll set foot in the Dark Universe again, it's looking rather...well...dark.


Review: "Geostorm" is a stock disaster movie with a few glaring missteps

Geostorm Review

I am not sure all movies are created equal. In the sense of reviewing a film after viewing it.

I think, or at the very least would like to hope, that filmmakers have some goals they are trying to achieve when they sit down to make a movie. I would strongly think that each director’s goals are different. When I write letter grades down at the end of each of my reviews, those aren’t letter grades of the movie per se. They are a measurement of how I think the director achieved his goals and how it stacks up to other films in its genre. That’s what Roger Ebert did, and it’s a barometer I wanted to adopt.

When you look at a movie like “Geostorm,” you have to go into it knowing it’s going to be both ludicrous and ridiculous in equal measure. When the crew set out to make “Geostorm,” it’s clear that they didn’t have major awards on their mind. They aren’t setting out to change the world. They aren’t trying to make a brain stumper, something that will impact you as you leave the theater and go home. I would argue that every disaster movie fits this mold. Should I even waste time trying to tell you how “Geostorm” makes zero sense on a logical or narrative level, but perhaps you could find some fun in its premise.

I have always tried to take disaster movies as they are. I love “Armageddon,” and I know it was one of the worst reviewed films of 1998. But I still loved it. Yes, it’s ludicrous and ridiculous and when I watch it now, I see just how mind-numbingly silly it is that something bad happens in space literally every five minutes. But I do appreciate that Michael Bay at least tried to make his characters meaningful and tried to tell a decent story. “Armageddon” knows it’s a movie, so there is fun to be had. I really liked “Dante’s Peak” and its more scientific slant to the story. “Volcano” was fun, but a little too Hollywood for me to love. “Independence Day” was a big deal in my house growing up and still is. But I could never really connect to “Day After Tomorrow” or “2012.”

“Geostorm” tells the story of a space station and machine called The Dutch Boy. It’s a big ship of satellites that can control climate, even stopping a typhoon in Shanghai. But one day somebody on the station sabotages the Dutch Boy, triggering a geostorm, which is a global cataclysm of bad weather, and if somebody doesn’t get the station under control, this cataclysm will eventually destroy the world. The government sends up Jake Lawson (Gerald Butler) to get it under control, he was kicked off the station three years prior due to stopping a typhoon without governmental approval.

So, it’s kind of “Olympus Has Fallen” with bad weather. Gerald Butler is pretty much your typical Gerald Butler, and I am starting to notice he pretty much is the same guy in each movie. Same ex-wife, same broken family, same bad attitude who turns heroic on a dime. He may just be the same action hero stereotype in each film. He’s fine here, but it’s easy to notice. The cast is full of good actors, like Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish, Jim Sturgess, Andy Garcia and Robert Sheenan. Everybody does exactly what they were asked to do, and in these disaster movies, no matter how uncannily stupid the premise, they attract big stars and they are required to take it seriously. These guys do what they are asked to do.

What’s surprising is just how mediocre the visuals are. I couldn’t believe how cartoonish so much of the special effects were. There is a moment when a fire breaks out from under a road, or when an ice storm destroys a beach or a massive electrical storm. What blew my mind is how fake it was? I mean, we are in the golden age of visuals, right? Did the entire budget go towards the actors and not what’s on screen? Because for disaster movies, you need good visuals. To treat the main ingredient that draws audiences as secondary was a mistake.

The film works best when it’s just a silly action movie. I think most of these disaster movies begin to flake out when they try to do too much, get a little too ambitious. The malfunction of a climate control space station that is wreaking havoc on planet Earth has potential for a good movie. But when they throw in the government conspiracies and the generic bad guy, I lose interest fast. That was the biggest flaw in “Geostorm,” that and also the horrendous special effects. Everything else is what you would expect from a typical disaster movie. I can’t fault a disaster movie for being a disaster movie. I just wish it wasn’t so overly-ambitious.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: "A Ghost Story" is an exceptional look at life, death, afterlife and everything in between.

A Ghost Story Review

It’s been a few hours now that I have seen “A Ghost Story,” and I have been trying to put my thoughts into words that can form sentences. I have trying to make sense of what I just saw, and I still don’t know if I have it all figured out. I think I would benefit from a second viewing. I also think that this is going to be a movie I obsessively watch, over and over again, for many years to come. I will be pulling it apart, dissecting entire scenes and stretches, trying to figure out what it was writer and director David Lowery was trying to say. Make no mistake about it folks, this is a movie that will have you thinking about it, well after the credits roll. Some of you make hate it and some of you may love it. From what I have read since my screening, I have learned that this is one of the most divisive films of the year, with no middle ground.

I can tell you that I fall on the side of the fence which calls this movie good. I wouldn’t just call it a good movie though, this is a great movie. An amazing movie. A movie that gets into your head and deep under your skin and refuses to leave you alone. Just like the ghost of C (Casey Affleck) can’t seem to leave his widowed wife M (Rooney Mara) alone after he tragically dies in a car accident early in the movie. But is it really his wife he can’t let go of, or is it something else? I get confused myself, and I sadly don’t have the answers. The thing is, “A Ghost Story” refuses to offer up easy answers. That’s no doubt where all the haters come from. Many people out there want easy answers to movie’s questions, people find comfort and safety in being spoon-fed exposition in every movie they see. “A Ghost Story” isn’t for everybody, and I hate highly praising a movie that is, by design, not for all audiences. If you are an adventurous film lover, then you should really give this one a try. If not, move on, you’ll be frustrated by this one.

“A Ghost Story” is definitely a movie that deals with a ghost, duh right? But it’s not horror movie. It’s a movie that seems to encompass the entire experience of life and death and what comes after those two things in a beautiful portrait of a movie. It deals in life, love, loss, longing, loneliness, with an equal hand and with equal insight. It makes you think of all of these things deeply and how they all fit into your life. Before C dies in his accident, you can’t really tell if he is having trouble with his marriage to M or not, but it’s pretty clear she misses him after his death. One night on the hospital table, he rises, wearing a sheet and with two eerie black holes for eyes. Like a Halloween costume some little kid through together at the last minute.

What’s amazing is that for the rest of the movie, minus one or two scenes, Casey Affleck is under the bedsheet. He is a floating bedsheet ghost who does not speak for the rest of the film. He observes the human lives he comes into contact with. He never seems to go anywhere else, like he’s trapped in this house. Did he miss his opportunity for the afterlife? Have several horror movies with ghosts been right all along and they can’t move to the afterlife until they complete a goal? Why is C’s ghost still roaming this house? We not only see him observing his wife, but we see who moves into the house after she eventually moves out. The people that seem to inhabit the house, a deconstruction of the house, and eventually what becomes an urban landscape many years into the future.

What’s amazing about the movie is how Lowery plays with the perception of time and how it seems to differ between ghosts and life. There are no cheesy title-cards announcing the passage of time. We almost feel the passage of time through C’s ghost. What feels like minutes or seconds is many years in the real world and how Lowery communicates that is one of the wonders of the film. He makes a film shorter than two hours seemingly feel like an entire lifetime, no easy feat that.

Perhaps my theories and ideas on the movie are all wrong. Perhaps I have totally missed what Lowery was aiming for in the first place. If that’s the case, then I really don’t care. It’s been awhile since I have seen something so original, so strange and delightful all at once. This is a movie that I am very much glad that I saw. I don’t drop the big M word very often, simply put I don’t like to. I know what the words sets up in people’s minds regarding the movie in question. Especially with a movie that I know will infuriate some people. I can’t help it, though. “A Ghost Story” is a masterpiece.