Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: "Like Me" is...like...really lame.

Like Me Review

The trailers for this movie were really haunting, and really cool. That's my only explanation for giving this film a chance. The trailers featured imagery that we rarely see in movies, if at all, and I was totally drawn in. That's my best excuse. I like to champion independent cinema whenever I can, simply because it doesn't get a fair shake compared to the blockbusters, which we don't get too many good ones anyway. I like experimental cinema when its done right, I never mind exposing a piece of myself to a movie, I don't mind discussing and thinking about what images and scenes meant, that's part of the fun. I also like to see what chops new filmmakers have, because with the rate Hollywood has been going, we are going to be mightily dependent on the new blood.

With all that said, "Like Me," written and directed by newcomer Robert Mockler is a pretentious mixed bag. An experimental movie which gives its audience very few emotions. A movie that wipes your face in self-loathing and darkness just for the sake of wiping your in self-loathing and darkness. A meditation in millennial narcissism but without anything confident or intelligent to say. Don't get me wrong, Mockler can conjure up a startling image, that I am certain. I think after some tweaking, he can be a profound and perplexing filmmaker for all the right reasons. If we look at this first feature though, there is nothing much to it.

And before the debate starts, yes I understood the film just fine. There are several arty hippsters that will attach themselves to a film like this just to have a pet cause, just because they know its supposed to appeal to them. In every case, they will pick a fight with a "hater" and come to the simple conclusion that they just didn't get it. I understood the film just fine. I can say with confidence that there isn't much to get. Kiya (Addison Timlin) throws herself at this role, and relishes every moment. She's playing a girl who essentially goes a media-driven crime spree because she's tired of being a loner. Even in a world that is rich in social media, how easy is it to become isolated and alone? Very easy, the film suggests and Kiya goes out into the night, doing very disturbing things, posting her videos on the internet just get that connection. Just to be noticed. She is mocked by a harping YouTube personality (Ian Nelson), which only makes her videos more visceral, leveling the stakes. The first video she makes is one of the best moments in the film, when she sticks up a convenience store clerk with a toy gun until he wets himself. Its shot with such a raw, subtle power that I couldn't look away from the screen.

Had the rest of the film fired on those same cylinders, I would be agast right now, on the verge of insanity as I sang the praises of Mockler. The movie really goes out of its way to continue being twisted and dark, but it fails as a genuine experience. It fails as entertainment. What could turn terribly haunting when Kiya kidnaps a motel clerk, forcing him to do disgusting things with junk food. Taking a homeless man to a diner, and going on a road trip to get some revenge should all add up to some horrifying, and at the very least memorable imagery. But nothing is haunting in a good way, its all haunting in a repulsive way. There are just too many scenes of close-up vomiting and close-up of fast-forwarding mouths chewing junk food that gets old very fast. And no, there is no hidden message, there is no profound discovery. I mean, is it really Mocker's point to prove that millennials can be lonely in this digital-driven, modern world? Wow, such insight Mr. Mockler! You mean to tell me that millennials can't get so depressed and lonely that they snap? I would have never known.

The actors do what they can, and they try hard to make them count. Heck, I am sure I could cut some scenes from this movie and randomly edit them to a disc, send it to somebody, and cause nightmares for a month. I guess in that regard, "Like Me" is worth at least a look. There are some camera games Mockler plays that make you think this movie has a pulse. I hope that Mockler does grow as an artist and I do wish him well. I just hope he remembers that when he's making points that have already been made countless times in movies, that he does it in an insightful, fresh way. I also hope that his future movies will have a point, I don't mind doing the digging, but I want something to be on the other end of my work. Experimental movies can have a beginning, middle and end and they can certainly mean something, but you got to get us there as the director.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Batman Ninja trailer

Batman transported to ancient Japan. Yes please!

Can't wait!

Who Played It Best: Pennywise The Dancing Clown

Who Played It Best?

Pennywise The Dancing Clown

It seems like every one of my columns I've created for this blog have become irregular. I apologize for that. I am the only person to writes on this thing and I absorb so many movies in a given week, and have so many ideas for this blog that I more or less execute successfully. Add in a day job and a personal life, and it gets tough to keep up with all the things I like to do here. It's probably not going to help when my daughter is born this summer, but hey, I've been waiting for that moment all my life, and I cross that bridge when I get to it.

If you've never seen this on my blog before, its a very simple game. I present two actors who have played the same character, and then I give my readers one week to vote and decide who they think portrayed the said character the best. We've had fun over the years battling it out with characters such as Batman, Hulk, The Wicked Witch, Lois Lane, James Bond, The Wicked Witch and so on and so forth. It's been a while so let's dive right in.

If there is one monster that has frightened me more over the course of my life than any other pop culture monster, its Pennywise The Dancing Clown. I have a deep phobia of clowns in the first place, so add that this monster chooses to wear the skin of the clown in order to lure children to him and he can embody the deepest, darkest fear of any person in their proximity, dear god that's terrifying. I watched the 1990 version of "IT" and read the excellent Stephen King novel over one long summer, and while I enjoyed both experiences, it made me a bit delirious. The rain used to freak me out, being in the shower would freak me out. As I got older, I didn't feel the 1990 version held up very well. Tim Curry still did very well, and there are definitely some pros to his version, but the version itself just doesn't have the shelf life I feel it should. I dreamed of an updated version of this story. Apparently, Hollywood has been trying to get an updated version since around 2009/2010, and I prayed that it wouldn't hit development hell. Sure enough in 2017, we got that updated version. Bill Skarsgard it the scene with a powerful statement, but now, who played it best?

My Two Cents
This is one of the hardest editions of this column. On one hand, I think Tim Curry's version has a strong leg to stand on mainly due to appearance. I think Curry's is a little scarier simply because he looks like a normal clown. Skarsgard's version suffers from one fatal flaw that so many horror remakes suffer from, its clear the filmmakers tried to make Pennywise scary. Curry is extra scary because he looks like a conventional clown, so when the creep sets in, it leaves the audience in more of an unease. Skarsgard just looks like he's trying too hard, and in the book, Pennywise looked like a normal clown until he was ready to strike. That sense of normalcy should have been important in both versions, and I believe that only the 1990 version embraced it. With that said, I laugh more than I get scared when I watch Curry's version. Like I said about that shelf life above, Curry just feels outdated. While Skarsgard's version is clearly trying to scare you, he succeeds more often than not. So, while this is incredibly tough, I have to give the edge to Skarsgard.

Agree? Disagree? Fire away in the comment section below. You can also email me your answers at bloggershawn@gmail.com. A week from today, I will announce the winner. Now its time to get back on track with this thing!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: Prepare to bow before the power of King T'Challa from "Black Panther"

Black Panther Review

As I exited the theater with my wife after our viewing of “Black Panther” this afternoon, she asked me how I thought it compared to the other Marvel movies. I thought about it for awhile, and at this point, its such a task to compare the MCU movies. Much like Pixar, or the filmography of Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg or the Coen Brothers, franchises and directors who barely screw-up, its hard to compare the Marvel movies. Marvel studios has done such a great job of creating a persuasive, vibrant film universe that comparing the films at all seems almost arbitrary. Do you like space operas with some rough gags? Go enjoy the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. Do you like Tom Clancy style spy movies with a comic book twist? Go enjoy the “Captain America” movies. Do you like trippy magic adventures and comedic heist movies? Then “Doctor Strange” and “Ant-Man” are for you. Marvel has got really good at creating entirely different experiences and each film feels like a different level of greatness.

In “Black Panther,” we journey to the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Billions of years ago, a meteorite containing vibranium crashed into the lands that would eventually make up the nation, and five tribes ended up founding the nation. If you’ve been keeping up with the MCU movies at this point, you may remember that vibranium was used to make Captain America’s shield, and that Ultron stole lots of it in bulk for himself in the second “Avengers” film. It’s the strongest substance in this world, and the Wakandan people have used it to build technology, vehicles, weapons and medicines all far beyond the rest of the world’s resources, and they’ve managed to create a world hidden from the world, in order to preserve and protect this precious metal.

“Black Panther” picks up roughly a week after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” but I don’t want this to feel like a sequel. Because its not. The movie does a good job speeding newcomers up on the recent events, and really all you need to know is Prince T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) father was killed in a terrorist attack in “Civil War” and now T’Challa is gearing up to be the new king of Wakanda. Much of the first half of the movie deals with the traditions and culture of Wakanda. Yes, Wakanda is not a real place, but what director Ryan Coogler does so well here is create a fictional country that feels very real. Every weapon, every piece of clothing, every building, every piece of art on the walls, all adds to the culture of this fictional place. This is exactly what Peter Jackson did so well with “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” films, creating a world that feels lived in, feels like a piece of worldy history, even though its about a place that has never existed.

These superhero movies are made or broken by their supervillains. For any movie of any genre, you have to have a villain that is just as interesting and grounded as the hero. “Black Panther” has a great villain in Erik Killmonger, brought to magnificent life by Michael B. Jordan. Its easy for these superhero movies to just throw in a villain who wants world domination or to blow up New York City, just because he’s the bad guy. But its harder to set up a situation that’s not just black and white. Killmonger grew up in the United States, but he has Wakandan ties. He’s read the histories of Africa, about how Africans were forced out of their homes to become slaves, how they were terribly abused by “colonizers” all around the world. He sees how the world has rarely changed, and how those of African descent are still treated terribly. He sees the racial profiling, the police brutality. He also knows that Wakanda has the tools to put their people on top, so he wonders why Wakanda refuses to do anything to help their people. Killmonger goes about this entirely the wrong way, but its hard to deny that his philosophy is wrong. Michael B. Jordan relishes every moment he’s onscreen, with a hellish confidence that’s absolutely intoxicating every moment of his screen time.

 Yes, this is a movie that comes from a black perspective and I bet there are those who will right this movie off just for being progressive, and that’s too bad. I wouldn’t say that “Black Panther” is selling an agenda and it’s still very much a comic book movie. It only features a modern perspective. What shocked me most about the movie was how feminist the movie is, and not in a negative way. One thing my wife kept discussing on the ride home was how well the movie created strong female characters. The Dora Milaje, an all-female throne protecting combat unit is lead by Okoye (Danai Gurira). Gurira, who has become popular thanks to her incredible work on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” deserves unlimited credit on creating another badass who is both witty and intelligent. Speaking of brains, I love that the smartest character in the whole movie is Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s brother and an all-purpose female version of James Bond’s Q. Although the gadgets and inventions coming from Shuri would make Bond uber-jealous. There isn’t a single woman in this movie who is the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, every woman shows profound strength and smarts.

The movie is known for featuring a predominant black cast, and as far as that goes, the film features a who’s-who of the best black actors in the business. Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Isaach de Bankole, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all delivering absolutely incredible performances. All putting in the effort to help create a believable world. Even though the supporting cast is great, its Chadwick Boseman who drives the whole thing as the lead. He expands his character from his introduction in “Civil War” and continues to push why he popularized the character in the first place. I wasn’t too impressed by “42” or “Get On Up” as movies, but Boseman’s power as a performer was undeniable, he’s going to have a great career.

I don’t want to get too far into spoilers, because right before “Infinity War” is released, I will discuss “Black Panther” again. All I want to say is my biggest gripe with “Black Panther” is a gripe I have with many of the MCU movies. If Loki has had as much mileage in these movies as he has. Even Nebula is starting to branch out seemingly. This all proves that the villains can be just as marketable as the heroes, and in the comic books, the superheroes had frequent run-ins with their ever-growing rogues galleries. I wish I could say the same about these movies.

For now, I can’t wait to see the future of this franchise. Kevin Fiege is already trying to get Ryan Coogler attached for a sequel, and that is great news. I hope Coolger gets the same clout and freedom that James Gunn, Joss Whedon and the Russo Brothers have at Marvel. After how well he created this corner of the universe, I can’t imagine it in anybody else’s hands. “Black Panther” was everything I hoped it would be and more and its an announcement that Wakanda truly will be forever.

And man, all of that writing and I didn’t even touch upon the vibranium-armored war rhinos…


Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Incredibles 2" trailer

When I am asked what my favorite animated kids movie is, one of the movies I hold pretty high on my list is "The Incredibles." I love that it was a surface superhero movie, but it was also a very smart fable about what's expected of us and how responsibility leaps onto us at a moments notice. How expectations may not be what we always suspect. I love the movie. I have dreamed of a new movie for a very long time, and finally, over a decade later. We are getting it.

This looks like it could be a lot of fun. Plus, I love the posters below, I want them.

I literally want all three of them. They are perfect.

The only thing I do worry about is that it will essentially be a different version of the first film. I guess that's an unnecessary evil in this business. I have lamented before how much I find it to be lazy when a sequel just treads water instead of pushing our characters in a new direction or highlight something in the characters that didn't happen in the first film. The Pixar sequels, other than the "Toy Story" sequels, haven't held the same traction as their predecessors. The sequels have been safer and lazier than before. I was hoping Pixar would just deal in original ideas, but sequels were going to happen eventually. I have a huge love for the first film, and I am hoping and praying that I can love this series. 

Third "Ready Player One" trailer

There was a book I got for Christmas last year called "Ready Player One" and I am nearly finished reading it. Just in time too, because next month, the film adaptation of the movie will be hitting theaters. When I saw the first trailer, I thought that the movie looked cool. I figured I had to start with the book, and I am sure glad that did. Its a great read, and watching the parallels between the movie and the book has been great fun.

You are probably wondering why these trailers keep featuring Willy Wonka music, well the character who invented the VR in this movie is heavily based upon Willy Wonka. If you've seen every trailer, then you probably think that this is just going to be a big bag of nostalgia, a reference to a whole bunch of easy targets. If Steven Spielberg understands the book, and I bet he will, then this will be a good adaptation. Yes, Ernest Cline, the author of the book, was pretty obsessed with all things popular culture, but he makes that fit well into the context of his story. I think Spielberg will make sure that translates well to the screen. I think its going to be much more than just "hey, look it a reference to this, hey its a reference to that!" The book has been more than that.

It's not going to be much longer now!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: "Winchester" feels like a wave of fresh air in the horror genre

Winchester Review

It seems like the paradigm of horror fandom seems to be shifting. It seems to me that we’ve been so conditioned by the modern horror film that when something truly different and genuinely scary comes along, it goes by without a trace, leaving modern audiences unsatisfied. I was dumbfounded by the general reaction to both “It Follows” and “The Witch.” These are movies built on mood and atmosphere, and they are classically styled horror films. But after many years of movies in the genre full of torture porn, needless gore, and sweaty, untalented teenagers running around with a handheld camera screaming at a darkened room, movies that takes us back and use some classic styles and try to scare the audience is more and more important. I don’t know what that says about me as a horror fan, but I am being honest.

“Winchester” is definitely a movie that stands out in the genre because it doesn’t look like a modern horror film. It takes place in the early 1900’s. It’s a classic haunted house set-up. It’s got two great leads in Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke. The movie relies on the audience caring about the characters, so when they do end up in peril, the audience cares. Instead of merely brainstorming interesting ways to kill the characters before we even get to know them. We don’t get too many horror films like “Winchester” these days, which probably helped my shape my overall opinion of it. Yes, there are some “boo-scares,” and I got to say that by and large, they work pretty well. I usually find “boo-scares” to be lazy and obvious, but when they are done just right, they are affective.

“Winchester” tells the story of Sarah Winchester (Mirren), the wife of the famous William Winchester who founded Winchester guns. After losing her husband and their daughter in a small amount of time has left her in grief. Not only that, but Sarah begins to think that she is cursed as she begins to think that she is seeing the spirits of the dead who were struck down by Winchester firearms. To help these spirits cross over to the other side of life, her home is under construction around the clock, constantly building rooms, trapping spirits in those rooms, and allowing them to go to the next life. Then they rebuild the room for a different spirit and it goes along. Her home would eventually be dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, and is still believed to be one of the most haunted places not only in the United States but in the world.

Jason Clarke plays Eric Price, a psychiatrist who is hired by the Winchester Firearms board to determine whether or not Sarah is going crazy or not. Of course, Eric Price doesn’t believe in ghosts. Of course, he’s a troubled man suffering from a past trauma. Of course, by the end of the film, both of those sentences will leave Price satisfied as they are both connected to the mystery of the film. So yeah, there are some plot points in “Winchester” that you can teleplay basically from the beginning. But the work by Mirren and Clarke is so undeniably strong, that they make you believe in a story that is contemporary Hollywood. The rest of the cast is pretty solid too. It wouldn’t be a haunted house movie without a creepy kid getting possessed by ghosts, and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey does a good job transitioning between sweet and innocent and downright evil. Sarah Snook plays his mother; Sarah’s daughter and she does good work here in a role that would probably be a throw-away role in the hands of another actress.

One other dissenting aspect of the film is that there is some over-reliance on special effects. But those CGI moments are so fake-looking that it kind of takes me out of the film. If I can tell a scene is clearly made up of computer pixels, I’ll be fully drawn into the scare. It’s the same minor problem I had with “IT” s scares. Either put down enough money on the CGI to make it look more authentic, or drop it entirely for practical scares. I’d take make-up and mood over half-ass special effects work every day of the week.

But the good acting keeps you engaged. The scares that land keep you on your toes. The mystery keeps you guessing. And in a genre dominated by found footage, that is a welcoming miracle. This is the type of movie that makes me believe that horror hasn’t completely lost its way and if you have any love for the genre whatsoever, you should check this out. I wanted to get out of the house after more than twenty-four hours of snow, I wanted to see a movie. There wasn’t much playing close to me. I liked the actors involved so I decided to give “Winchester” a try, and I am glad I did. Perhaps my low expectations also helped me enjoy this movie more than most. It felt like a surprise, and I hope this is a movie that picks up traction by word-of-mouth. Here’s hoping that Hollywood learns the right lessons from this movie, the genre could sure use it.


Monday, February 12, 2018

The Grinch trailer

Who here has been watching The Winter Olympics. If you have, you may have caught a glimpse of the brand new Grinch coming to cinemas soon.

When the live-action, Jim Carrey Grinch movie came out, I was in fifth grade. I went to a packed theater with my parents, and two friends from school. We enjoyed ourselves well enough, but I am not sure it was due to "The Grinch," even at such a young age, I wasn't blown away by it. Despite the inspired casting of Jim Carrey, despite the remarkable set design and cinematography, it just wasn't that good of a movie and I remember it got lots of hate for the time.

Its hard to believe that the Carrey movie came out 18 years ago. Now a new generation of children are in the world, and I am not sure the Carrey version is suitable for them. We are getting an animated version of the story from Universal, the film will feature Benedict Cumberbatch providing the voice for The Grinch. Man, could Universal be anymore on the nose?

Looks fine. I haven't been a huge fan of the recent Dr. Suess adaptations haven't been the best. We'll see how this goes.

Dissecting The MCU: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Six- "The Avengers" 2012)

Dissecting The MCU

Part Six

The Avengers

I’ve spoken many times before about how filmmaking as we knew it changed the moment in 2008 when Samuel L. Jackson emerged from the shadows in front of Robert Downey Jr, inviting his character, Tony Stark, into The Avengers Initiative. For better or for worse, the old era filmmaking ended and a new era began, whether we realize it or not, that’s exactly what happened. From that moment forward, Marvel Studios, and very soon after Disney Pictures had been working towards an “Avengers” movie. A movie that would bring together a group of characters who had been established in separate film franchises. They would then go back to their original franchises then eventually team up again later on down the road. At the time, it was hard to fathom. Seeing a movie like that. It was completely unheard of. Could Disney and Paramount and Marvel pull it off? What were they pulling off? Would each character only get a total of five minutes of screen time, or would the film be four hours long? Would any director and any screenwriter on the face of the planet be able to juggle that many personalities at once?

The answer to that all of those questions were a rousing yes. “The Avengers” was everything fans of this crazy experiment were hoping for and more. Trust me, there were many people who were skeptical. Even after the Iron Man movies were great, even after “The Incredible Hulk” turned out to be fun, even after “Thor” and “Captain America” clicked with audiences, there was still skepticism within the fan community. When the finished product came out, there were many people who said that “The Avengers” was a miracle that a movie could feature as many characters as it did and still be able to balance them ably. Honestly, that was never a miracle, this is what an issue of “The Avengers” looks like. This is what the very best of the “X-Men” movies looked like. Juggling each personality, given them room to breathe and develop, have each of them bounce off of each other, this is classic comic book storytelling. This is exactly what this was supposed to look like. Writer and director Joss Whedon was a relative no-name when he was hired to make “The Avengers,” I certainly wasn’t familiar with him. After some careful research I found out that he was responsible for “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “Dollhouse” and “Serenity” on television. He was mainly a television maker. Talk about a big risk from Marvel studios. But hey, as we go along further in this series, that’s something you’ll see a lot with Marvel. They took risks, they took chances, they didn’t just go after the famous, well-known, popular director. It was clear that they found the right people to make these movies. Telling from “The Avengers,” Whedon understood these characters, understood what made them tick, and clearly loved playing with action figures as a child.

The year 2012 was kind of a bumpy one for me personally. You see, I was all ready to graduate from college in May, only to find out as I was signing up for my second semester that I took some crucial classes out of order and I needed to finish them in the right order before I could student teach. That meant sticking another whole semester plus a summer class to get it all done. I was pissed. I couldn’t believe my advisor didn’t help me catch that before this time. Finding out mere months before my last semester was over to learn that I wasn’t going to graduate at my attempted time was hard. As the year grew closer to a close, it was even harder. All my friends were getting excited to graduate and move onto the next phase of their lives, and while it was only for one semester, I felt like I had been held back. I needed some good, old-fashioned escapism. And if there was any year that was ripe for cinematic escapism, it was 2012. This was the year that was going to give us the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. The year where we would get a brand new “Spider-Man” franchise. The year we got a new Daniel Craig James Bond film. The year where Ridley Scott returned to the “Alien” franchise. The year Peter Jackson was returning to Middle-Earth to shoot “The Hobbit.” Plus, there wasn’t a single Michael Bay movie in sight. This was going to be a definitive year for film geeks. And it all began with “The Avengers.” This was a divisive year at the theater too, each of the movies I listed above weren’t even close to having universal acclaim. But in May, when I couldn’t stop beating myself up for my mistakes of that school year, I needed “The Avengers” more than most.

I re-watched the movie this weekend, and one thing I always found interesting about the movie is how gleefully it borrowed from both the mainstream Marvel universe as well as the Ultimate Marvel universe. Now, I’ve talked about the Ultimate Marvel universe in this series before. But for those who aren’t avid comic book readers, let me give you a quick definition of Ultimate Marvel. Back in 2000, Marvel was losing readers fast, and they struggled to get new readers. Why? The audience didn’t like having to have so much knowledge of past events, they didn’t like the outdated costumes, they thought the stories were too silly. Marvel was getting close to shutting their doors permanently. It’s a problem even DC has from time to time. How do you keep telling this long, complicated continuity while keeping the readers interested and without needing years and years of prior knowledge? It gets hard. Marvel had an idea, start from scratch, but this time in a different universe within its own multiverse. Thus, The Ultimate Marvel universe was born. It featured the same heroes we know and love, but younger, more modern, updated, and featuring more believable, grounded origins. (Instead of Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider, he’s bitten by a genetically modified spider.) The brand was a hit, and quickly brought Marvel out of its Dark Age.

Pretty much every character trait you see in “The Avengers” as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large can be traced back to the Ultimate Marvel Universe. From Samuel L. Jackson playing Nick Fury, to the government backing and funding The Avengers, to Tony Stark being a drunken womanizer to Hawkeye’s cooler-looking, more tactical, modern outfit. It all owes its roots back to the Ultimate Marvel universe, which just proves how well received the universe was. In the Ultimate Marvel universe, the Avengers, dubbed the Ultimates, fought off an alien invasion. In the mainstream universe, they stop a plot by Loki. I found it very interesting and clever how Whedon blended both Loki and an alien invasion into this introductory movie. And I hope all true Marvel lovers caught it too.

What kind of kills me about the movie, and its something I kind of alluded to last night, is how I think Marvel missed out on a big opportunity using music. Each superhero leading up to “The Avengers” had a specific score, and I wish they utilized those scores when introducing these heroes in “The Avengers.” There is a moment in “The Avengers” when Loki and Cap are fighting, and Iron Man flies into the fight to Cap’s aide. He intercepts the signal from Black Widow’s quinjet, playing Black Sabbath from the quinjet. I would have loved if every character had the same sort of introduction with the scores from their respected movies. The use of music is a profoundly powerful tool in the making of any movie. Look at the iconic evil representing good and evil in “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” Each movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a new score with each new movie, aside from “The Avengers” movies, and I kind of think it sucks that they never used the original scores. With that said, “The Avengers” theme has become an iconic score in its own right, so there’s a win there.

Through five movies, we’d already grown to love Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America as characters. We grew to love Black Widow from “Iron Man 2,” Hawkeye had a nice cameo in “Thor,” and heck we grew to love Phil Coulson, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. That’s important too, since he’s the whole lynchpin of the Avengers assembling to save the world. I think why Marvel has been so successful is that they took their time to set up these characters, and slowly began to have them interact with each other. DC proved that you can’t just pull the trigger right away. It takes time for the audience to assimilate with these characters, to get to know them. Understand them as people. You rely on prior knowledge with many of these superhero movies, especially heroes that aren’t as well known compared to Superman or Batman. The average audience member needs to understand the tropes of the genre, and how they are alike and different. That takes time, and Marvel certainly benefited from taking their time.

I was shell-shocked walking out of the theater, so taken aback by a high the movie gave me. My girlfriend and some of our friends caught a midnight premiere, and at the time I was selling electronics at Wal-Mart. I didn’t care that I had to work at 7am the next morning, I was going to see the movie. Even after existing the auditorium, I didn’t care how early I had to get up for work, that I’d only get mere hours of sleep. It didn’t matter, it felt like a lot of time and patience had paid off in a big way. Then when the mid-credit scene played out, I was once again pulled into the excitement and anticipation of the future, just as I was when Nick Fury appeared at the end of “Iron Man.” This is the great power cinema can offer when it’s at its best.

Next week, we’ll kick off Phase Two with “Iron Man 3.”

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dissecting the MCU: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Five- "Captain America: The First Avenger" 2011)

Dissecting The MCU

Part Five

Captain America: The First Avenger

Our next film in this look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes a look at “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

I remember spending many days wondering who Marvel would pick to play Thor, and like I said the last time we were together, even trying to find somebody to play Captain America was even more difficult to figure out. For Thor, you need a tall guy who doesn’t mind speaking like he’s known William Shakespeare in person mixed with a professional wrestler, and they got to make that language believable. For Captain America, you need a wholesome man who can act like he doesn’t have a shade of deception, manipulation, greed, evil or jealously in their heart. They had to act like leader, a good man no matter what decision they made. Plus, they had to have blonde hair and blue eyes, the all-American look. These were the two tough gigs, the ones Marvel absolutely had to nail, otherwise this experiment of a cinematic universe would fall like a house of cards.

I had some hope, as they got Thor right. It didn’t matter that Chris Hemsworth was a complete unknown at the time, for the most part. Who on Earth would play the Captain? Joe Johnston was hired to direct, and if you’ve seen “The Rocketeer,” then you know how perfect the match between director and material would be. Captain America’s first movie was to be set in World War II, Marvel was really going to do the origin story correct. So, who would be Johnston’s Captain?

Above all other casting decision, this was the one that had the most attention on the internet. I used to read tons and tons and tons of movie forums in that day, I belonged and discussed in many of them too. There was a good handful of people who thought the role would fall between two people, Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio, both nice choices in their own right, but the other half of fandom seemed to give the excuse that both actors were too old. You see, Steve Rogers was in his twenty’s when he was doused with the Super Soldier serum, and while Damon and DiCaprio were both talented men, they were getting really close to 40, how could they play mid twenty’s in a believable manner? Channing Tatum was suggested by fans, and so was Matthew Fox. Maximonline suggested Josh Duhamel. No matter what you think of those choices, I think all of them were way better suggestions than the 2008 rumor that Matthew McConaughey was going to play the role. Yep, glad that turned out to be just a rumor.

Around 2010, Marvel finally stopped keeping fandom in the dark. We knew Marvel was looking at actors in their mid to late twenty’s, the oldest they were looking at was 31. So okay, Marvel was playing things pretty close to the source material. We knew John Krasinski was an early favorite for the part, then Ryan Phillipe came up and confirmed he auditioned. Garrett Hedlund, Chace Crawford, Mike Vogel and Sebastian Stan (who ironically ended up being cast as Bucky Barnes) were all in the mix too. I had to be honest, at the time I really wanted to see Garrett Hedlund get the part, out of all the men they were circling. Even Alexander Skarsgaard auditioned for the role. But eventually they landed on someone else, someone who never came up in any sort of news story or press release, someone who turned down the role three times before finally accepting it. In 2010, we found out that Chris Evans would play Captain America.

I was pissed at the time. The guy from those cheesy “Fantastic Four” movies. The guy from “Not Another Teen Movie.” The guy from “Cellular” and a host of other mediocre to bad movies, a guy who had not proven any sort of range as an actor, and got stuck playing the same character in all his movies? Marvel was convincing me that he was going to play the Captain? I thought the franchise was fucked. I thought the studio shot themselves in the foot. I thought the movie was going to be failure way before I had even seen a trailer. I mean, casting for the film was rounding out well. Hugo Weaving may have been a save, obvious choice to play Red Skull, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad choice. Weaving is one of those rare actors who can play a villain well, and also make them feel different with each new performance. There is a reason why in 2016 that Weaving was in the mix to play Pennywise in the recent “IT” movie, the guy does bad guys well and I was excited to see his Red Skull. But Chris Evans as Captain America? What were they thinking on that?

Well, when the movie finally came out, I instantly shut up. I don’t know what it was about the character or the script or just an actor maturing into something better than they were before, but the Chris Evans who went to play Captain America was NOT the same Chris Evans prior. Everything, no matter how major or minor the detail that makes Captain America who he is was beautifully and brilliantly brought to life by Evans. There was a genuine sweetness, innocence and elegance to Evans’ Steve Rogers, but he was a good man with determined moral compass. He wasn’t afraid to be a realist, not afraid to confront problems or know his flaws, he was a man to look up to a born leader who was stuck in a frail, sick body. Not only was it a flawless, surprising performance by Evans, but the script absolutely nailed the character too. They didn’t make him cheesy. They didn’t make him overly comedic. They didn’t sex the character up. They didn’t give him several stupid one-liners to spew. The writers really did their homework to get Steve Rogers/Captain America just right. Apparently, Chris Evans did his homework too, because he made the character believable, he made somebody we could all strive to live up to. I can’t believe how perfect he got it. It’s one of those moments that left me shocked as a film fan, but the best possible kind of shocked.

I will also let you in on a little secret. In 2002, I was obsessed with HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” a mini-series detailing a company during World War II who were instrumental in winning that war. The series starred Neal McDonough. For many years, I was hoping and praying that somebody would make a Captain America movie within the release of that mini-series, and I always believed Neal McDonough would be the perfect Captain America. So, it always made me laugh that McDonough was eventually cast in the film as Dum Dum Dugan, one of the soldiers who would help Cap fight HYDRA, as apart of a group of soldiers called The Howling Commandos. It always made me laugh that McDonough got cast in the movie, and its one of those small world things that dawns on you as a film geek who reads comic books. I absolutely loved that The Howling Commandos got a much-needed nod in the movie, and I only wished that they introduced the Infinity Formula so that Dum Dum’s aging would slowdown, I would have loved to see McDonough’s Dum Dum Dugan as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom Dugan eventually became in the comics. I guess, never say never though.

The rest of the cast rounded out very well. Hayley Atwell was an actress I knew nothing about before seeing the movie, and I absolutely fell in love with her as Peggy Carter. Stanley Tucci was perfect as Dr. Erkstine, Tommy Lee Jones was equally perfect as Chester Phillips. It would take a few years, but I would end up laughing that Richard Armitage would end up playing Thorin in “The Hobbit” movies, since he appears as a villain in this movie. It’s also funny to see Natalie Dormer show up in a small appearance, since she seems to play seductive women in everything she’s in. Toby Jones was also very good as Armin Zola, a character we will talk about in the future. I also have to say that even early on, Sebastian Stan was really great as Bucky, and Dominic Cooper was really good as a young Tony Stark.

As I stated above, every detail of personality with Captain America was spot-on, but the other details of the movie were strong too. The movie kind of feels like a time machine while your watching it. Like you got a glimpse of a World War II America that just happened to have a super soldier in it for some reason. The costumes, the cars, the sets, how everything is stylized, its amazing the attention to detail that was present in this movie. But at the same time, despite all the grounding of realism from a real time, it still felt like a comic book. There is a crackjack quality to the movie. It feels like a swashbuckling adventure movie. I remember reading that Kevin Feige and Joe Johnston mentioned that one of the inspirations for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” After watching the movie over the weekend, I can totally see that connection. It definitely did feel like an Indiana Jones movie in some aspects. For the time and place of the movie, and what they were hoping to accomplish with the movie, that tone is totally appropriate.

I also need to point out that Alan Silvestri wrote one of the best scores in any superhero movie with his music in this first film. If you’ve got eagle ears like me, then you’ll notice that they never used Silvestri’s score again in any of the other Captain America movies, that to me is a shame. I think and believe all things Captain America when that song comes in on a scene or plays out. I cannot, cannot believe this is the only movie where we heard that score, that should have been the heroes definitive score. It’s one of the most glaring mistakes that these Marvel movies make time and time again, and we will get into more detail on that in my piece tomorrow. But I have to single out that gracious, powerful piece of music here for good reason.

I remember seeing this movie for the first time in a packed theater on a hot evening in July 2011. My girlfriend and I had gone to my hometown to see my mom for her birthday and it felt like a movie that everyone would like. I was glad to see that was just the case. As the credits rolled and we saw that quick glimpse of what we would expect from The Avengers movie, my heart stopped, I was out of breath. I was so giddy that I couldn’t handle it. We talked Avengers all night long when we got back, and I was glad to know that no matter how old you were or how much knowledge you had with superheroes and comic books, these movies could still inspire and bring the best out of people. That will always be what I treasure most.

Tomorrow, as I catch up on this countdown, I will discuss “The Avengers!” That should be a fun one.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Deadpool 2 trailer

May 2018 is shaping up to be a stellar month of movies.

In the first weekend, we will get "Avengers: Infinity War," which may so unbelievably powerful that it makes everything else pale in its comparison. Maybe. I could be way wrong. May 2018 is also the same month that we are getting "Solo: A Star Wars Story." A movie that will break the winter norm and come out in May. I know the movie has had a tough and rough birth, but telling from the first trailer, I am 100% on board for it. I am hoping for very good things.

In between those two films is "Deadpool 2," the R-rated, superhero sensation is finally getting a follow-up. This time, Deadpool is teaming up with Cable, played by Josh Brolin, a mutant from the future who has jumped through time lots and has helped the X-Men lots in the comics. But he also ran into Deadpool many times in the comics too. It's about goddamn time Cable showed up in these movies, took long enough Fox. Yes, Josh Brolin is Cable. Yes, Josh Brolin is also playing Thanos in "Avengers: Infinity War." Yes, Josh Brolin is going to be in two totally different Marvel movies in the same month. In the :Deadpool 2" trailer, see how many Infinity War jokes regarding Brolin you can name.

The plot has been heavily underwrapped so far, which I always love. I have to find it to be a minor miracle that we are getting so much secrecy from a "Deadpool" movie. But so be it. I don't want to know every detail of this movie. I love that its a surprise.

Yes, the trailer is full of typical Wade Wilson humor. Get ready!

Venom trailer

So the first trailer for "Venom" is here.

I've been on the fence about this, and I can't truly say the trailer has won me over. Especially since we don't even see Venom in any capacity. Something makes me wonder if Tom Hardy signed onto this thinking he was going to be in an MCU movie, only to be a little disappointed that he wasn't. Now, he can't get out of his obligations, so he's just going for the ride.

I am little confused by Sony's thinking and how they will allow Spider-Man in the MCU, but some of his villains and supporting characters will get their own franchises in a separate universe. "Catwoman" in 2005 was all kinds of terrible, and part of the reason it was so terrible is that I don't think audiences want a universe where Catwoman never interacts with Batman. I am not sure Venom really works without Spider-Man given the comics history. They are going to have to do some serious re-tooling and rely heavily on the Ultimate Marvel version of the character, and perhaps that all won't be enough.

I've been reading comics for a long time, and I didn't get much of "tense imagery" with the typical gritty Tom Hardy voice-over. I am not sure what the average movie-goer will think of this.

Review: "Den of Thieves" is a shameless rip-off of better crime movies.

Den of Thieves Review
There are no more mysteries to the world anymore, I've been told that before. As far as we've come in the 21st Century, it does seem to feel that way. I don't know how you can really look at a movie and truly say that it's something new. It does seem like every good story has been told, and its impossible to reinvent the wheel now. I don't get too upset when a movie doesn't feel original. If you are willing to tell a story that's engaging and entertaining, if your actors are willing to do their job, and if everything can at least make some sense, then chances are I am willing to hear what you have to say. I'd even argue that if you are so subtle and subversive in telling an old story in a new way, it almost feels original.

What I don't really appreciate is when someone so blatantly borrows (and that word is being very generous, very generous) from other movies, and doesn't plan to do much beyond that, it gets hard for me to follow you into your story. "Den of Thieves" feels like it was made by a bunch of teenagers who just learned to cuss and just found out what sex is. These teenagers apparently have only seen the movies "Heat" and "The Usual Suspects," because if "Den of Thieves" is anything, its a lazy hybrid of those movies. Except shot through a filter of "Grand Theft Auto" branded steroids. Its a bizarre miscalculation, something that doesn't feel deep or surprising or entertaining, which sucks since I can tell the movie wants to do all three of those things.

Gerard Butler plays "Big Nick" O'Brien, a gritty Los Angeles sheriff who plans to bring down Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) an ex-marine turned bank robber who is planning a big job at the Federal Reserve Bank with his crew. Big Nick recruits Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) a bartender who is a criminal on the side, to infiltrate Merrimen and his crew and feed him information back to trap him. Merrimen and Big Nick have a history, so its personal for both of these men. Which translates out to lots of mean-mugging stylized poses of these two men starring each other down, leading up to a blood-soaked shootout, between the good guys and the bad guys, resulting in countless lives.

What kills me is how slimy Big Nick is as a character. Sure, we get some lip service of him being corrupt, he is willing to do whatever it takes in order to bring the bad guys down, no matter if its illegal or not. But we get a scene where he his wife finds out that Big Nick has been cheating on her with strippers, so of course she calls for a divorce. And when he's served divorce papers, who goes and tries to beat up her new boyfriend even though he's at fault for the divorce. It's hard for me to really cheer for the "hero" of a movie if that character spends very little time being heroic. I can't call Big Nick an anti-hero, he's just an asshole we have to root for because he's the one carrying the badge. I haven't even mentioned the awkward scene of Big Nick torturing Donnie in order to get him to comply to be a mole in Merrimen's crew. There is a small explanation of cops being beat down by the demands of job, but honestly, so many similar movies have already covered this ground that you got to approach in a different way, or a significant way, its not enough to simply highlight that fact then expect your audience to root for a genuinely unlikable person.

The movie does little to fill these men with personality, they are more ticks and mannerisms instead of actual people resembling anything remotely like character development. There are so many scenes of men starring each other down with a brooding glare that I almost wanted to laugh. Stretching the film in a slow drag toward nearly two and a half hours of screen time for no apparent reason. Only for shootout at the end, and the shootout is so shamelessly lifted from "Heat" that its distracting, when it should be exhilarating. So the director, Christian Gudegast, really likes Michael Mann. That's cool. I like Michael Mann, but many have been lifting that particular shootout for many years now, its tough to really get excited about something you've seen countless times before. Especially since "Den of Thieves" is so content on going through the motions.

Then there's the "twist" at the end. Except its not a twist. The reveal is so telegraphed from start to finish that not only will the average audience member be able to guess the twist, but you are going to have it figured so fast that you are going to sit in the theater angry and agitated, waiting for the ending to play out.  There is nothing even remotely surprising about the "twist" at the end that it feels like a waste of time. Not something that is going to leave a stamp on me later after I've left the theater.

The cast is fine? I mean, I don't think it really takes much effort to look brooding and badass with fake tattoo's on your arms. The film is well shot, and there are some dark laughs in the movie, but they are far and few between, and they are not enough to save this movie. There is a moment where 50 Cent, a member of Merrimen's crew and a father of a teenager going out to her first prom dance, takes her date on a talk to intimidate him. While I can understand that protective urge, especially since I am going to be the father of a daughter very soon, the scene is wasted. It was done in "Bad Boys II," and it was done way better there. "Den of Thieves" feels like the copying of several sheets of other movies' scripts and putting into one script. Then making every character unlikable and drawing the length of the movie past a breaking point. Not to mention writing a "story" that has no idea what the fuck its about. "Den of Thieves" is a movie full of issues, masquerading as something trying to be clever. Buyer beware.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Review: The light never fades on "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight"

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight Review
Every year, a handful of animated, direct-to-video DC superhero movies are released throughout the year. Like sprinkles being shook all over the cake of the year. Every year, I wonder more and more why Bruce Trimm and his other collaborators aren't in charge of the DCEU. Clearly, he has a wicked sense for what makes the DC heroes tick, and he makes wonderful superhero adventures time after time. How Warner Brothers hasn't, at the very least, attempted to get the attention of Trimm to work for the DCEU is beyond my abstract thought, and he could work some real wonders.

At this point, if you've been paying attention, the animated DC movies have been fun, they've been popular and they are selling. So as with all sorts of various franchises, its time to get a little weirder. "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" was a non-canon one-shot comic which essentially asked the question, what if Bruce Wayne operated in Gotham City during the Victorian Era instead of present day. These types of stories have happened a lot in the comics, both Marvel and DC. There was a story in Marvel which put its characters during the colonial period in America. I never read the "Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" one-shot, but I was certainly interested in the movie. The animated DC movies had earned the opportunity to start to get a little more weird, and a little more daring with their adaptations.

Being a huge fan of Batman, I found this to be a very fun, clever look at Victorian Gotham. Right as the film begins, there are parallels involving characters you know that put a big smile on my face. Poison Ivy is an exotic dancer at a circus-like production. Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, all of whom wore the Robin uniform at one time, are orphans working as errand boys for a local criminal. Funny enough, they stick up Poison Ivy on her walk back home. She rescued by Batman, whose costume is very Victorian. The fights are visceral, and even brutal. There is no wonder this movie got an R-rating, and not just for language. But this adventure is tougher around the edges.

Batman saves Ivy from the orphans and their master crony, but he does not save her from Jack The Ripper, a killer that has been loose in Gotham for an unknown amount of time. Some people are beginning to believe that Batman and Jack The Ripper are the same person. This becomes the mystery of the film. Who is Jack The Ripper? Batman is on the case, and I like that the movie did a good job of portraying Batman's detective skills, something that has been drastically missing in many of his recent movies.

The movie features clever riffs on Arkham Asylum, Blackgate Penitentiary, Harvey Dent, Leslie Thompkins is a nun instead of a doctor here, Selina Kyle isn't quite Catwoman, but she's close, James Gordon and Harvey Bullock are characters here, and long time fans of Batman will enjoy how the characters, places and concepts have been "updated" for the Victorian era. I figured that Jack The Ripper would end up being their version of The Joker, but I was wrong. The reveal of Jack The Ripper is quite the surprise. I am not sure if this is the ending of the original comic book, but I think it certainly worked here. Just because there are some clever representations here, doesn't mean that you know the story as it unfolds.

The animation is really good here, and seems to be getting better and better with every film. The fire in this movie, in particular, stood out for me. I know that's probably weird, but I assure you its true. It feels very natural when fires break out here. Bruce Greenwood was an interesting choice to voice Batman, but as I heard his voice more and more as the movie went along, I learned quickly that he will happily be absorbed into the Batman voice fandom. I would love to hear him voice the character in any future films.

"Batman: Gotham By Gaslight" is another fun DC movie, and it will make you wish we were getting movies like this from the bigger wigs at Warner Bros.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Death Wish Red-Band "Grindhouse'' trailer

Okay, I may not be crazy about this movie. But that was AWESOME trailer. Seriously, I wish more trailers looked like this.

Despite the flashy trailer, I don't think this will even come close to touching the original film. "Death Wish" in the 1970's basically gave birth to the mainstream revenge movie. After so many movies in this little sub-genre, I don't know what Eli Roth can bring to the table that makes this remake relevant.

Well, actually that's not true. I could see them tying the film to the uneasy gun laws we have in our country. About how many cops seem to be getting away with murdering black teenagers instead of doing their jobs. About the radical divide that I am starting to see more and more in this beloved country of mine. About how the criminal landscape has changed, but its still just as dangerous. All of those avenues would be worthwhile for a remake. The original "Death Wish" was partially a social commentary as much as it was a revenge movie.

I have a feeling that Eli Roth isn't interested in that aspect though. He loves the blood-spatter, the gore, the guts everywhere. I mean just take a look at the kill in the trailer at the car shop. This is going to be unnecessarily violent, because that's all Roth likes to really do. I'll be shocked if this movie has a deeper meaning than its surface, which is sad, because it completely misses the point of the original.

But hey, cool trailer, Eli!

Super Bowl 52 trailers

Always my favorite part of the Super Bowl is seeing all the coming attractions.

I apologize. I meant to write this last night, but then, something happened. Something that completely changed the trajectory of my attention. Ironically, it has to do with this post. You've no doubt heard about it. You've probably already read my review. I had to hop on my Netflix account, immediately after the game, and watch "The Cloverfield Paradox." Almost twenty-four hours after my first viewing, I am still thinking about it. The reaction to the film has been divisive. But are we really surprised by that? This is a J.J. Abrams production, of course we are going to be confused. Of course its not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But it gave me what I wanted, something to think about. Something I will theorize about until October probably. "Cloverfield 4" has already been filmed, and its going to take place during World War II. It's coming later this year, and more than ever, I'm excited.

Let's take a look at "Cloverfield Paradox" Super Bowl add:

A good, old-fashioned mystery box.

The "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" peak looked fine. Not something that is jazzing me up to see it. But it looks fine. What looked like it was going to be a dinosaur survival movie looks like its just going to be another dinosaurs-eat-humans movie. Kinda disappointing. I also can't help but wonder if they are purposely leaning on nostalgia with this teaser in order to keep people interested? I just don't see what mileage this franchise still has.

The Rock's "Skyscraper" looks like it might be fun. It doesn't appear to be based off of an existing franchise. Or a novel. Or a movie. Or a comic book. Or a video game. Or a YA book series. Or anything like that. They are relying on star-power to get butts in seats here, which is wildly ambitious in this day and age. I hope it works out for them. I hope this ends up being a fun movie.

"Avengers: Infinity War" I can't even with you right now. God, I'm so excited.

This could end up being a sleeper hit, a movie nobody expects but turns out awesome and succeeds through word-of-mouth. It's got a great cast, a hell of a hook for a premise. I love that we are getting good glimpses into the story, without having the whole thing being given away. Let's hope this one sticks the landing.

If you missed the first season of "Westworld" on HBO two years ago, time to catch up by any means necessary. This was my favorite thing on TV two years ago, and I've been patiently waiting for its triumphant return. I never would have guessed this show could make Kanye West music beautiful, nice touch there HBO!

This one has had me intrigued for almost a year now. I am a huge, huge Stephen King fan. That is no secret around here. In the age where we are actually getting good King adaptations, why not try something different? Castle Rock is a small town, which has been the setting for many of King's books and short stories. It may not be a real place, but King has a way of making places feel more real than we realize. This is sure to be one of the highlights of the year, TV-wise. It's got a great cast, and I love that we can't even begin to guess where the storyline is going.

Jack Ryan stories, through TV or movies, have been hit or miss since the early 1990's. I can't say I'm fully onboard for this, but I'll definitely give it a try.

Last night, we got our first look at "Solo: A Star Wars Story," the next anthology movie featuring a young Han Solo. Earlier today, we got a full trailer. I am so on board for this. Everyone looks perfectly cast. Plus, it doesn't look like it will just be a simple karaoke CD about Han Solo. It would be easy just answer all the unanswered questions regarding the character, but it seems we will get a nice, stand-alone story. I am all aboard!

Oh, and check out these posters!

Another trailer that debuted last night was for "Mission: Impossible Fallout," the sixth installment of the "Mission: Impossible" series. Also today, the official trailer was released. It looks bananas. But I like that there is something of a continuity in these movies. Sometimes. Almost. Better than the Bond movies. The Bond films, as good as they are, always felt like a giant unconnected, episodic TV show. An anthology of sorts. (Up until the Daniel Craig era, that is) While the continuity in the "Mission:Impossible" series isn't perfect, I like that they are at least trying. I continue to be invested in this series. Hoping for another good one!

That's all! Which one did you like the most!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Review: Is "Cloverfield Paradox" a unprecedented Super Bowl surprise, or nothing special?

Cloverfield Paradox Review

Something funny happened this Super Bowl Sunday and leave it to J.J. Abrams, the master of surprise, to leave me totally flabbergasted. 

"Cloverfield" was 2008, and if there is one modern movie that had a really good marketing campaign, alongside "The Dark Knight" and "The Blair Witch Project," it was "Cloverfield." No matter what you felt about the first movie, its marketing was excellent. It's trailer was screened in front of "Transformers" in 2007, and it had no title. It left people frantic for what they were going to see. Was it a "Rampage" movie? Another "Godzilla" movie. Hell, I remember one there were somebody thought it was the biblical monsters Behemoth and Ziz. Then there all the pictures on the film's website, and videos that you would find out later had nothing to do with the movie at all. It was shrouded in mystery, but honestly, could you expect anything different from J.J. Abrams?

The movie itself was a fairly ordinary found footage survival monster movie. I thought the young, mostly unknown cast did a good job of making it count, and I know not everyone agrees with that, but I was impressed by what they did with that script. After "Cloverfield" came "10 Cloverfield Lane," which didn't tie into the first movie at all, only by name. But you can tell how the themes of that movie could correlate into the first movie. It was truly a spiritual sequel by every definition of the word. Both movies were solid science fiction films, even if they didn't connect at all.

We knew a third film in this franchise, entitled "God Particle" was coming this year, but we just didn't know it was going to be tonight after the Super Bowl. Well played, Netflix, well played. Netflix bought the film from Paramount because Paramount didn't think they could make much money off of it, and Netflix released it earlier than all of us could guess, but also changing the title from "God Particle" to "Cloverfield Paradox."

It feels with this third film, Paramount, Abrams and everyone else is throwing everything at the audience, including the kitchen sink. "Cloverfield Paradox" is full of recognizable faces, there is Gugu Mbatha-Raw from "Doctor Who, Chris O'Dowd from "Bridesmaids," Daniel Bruhl from "inglorious Basterds and Captain America: Civil War," David Oyelowo from "Selma," Zhang Ziyi from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," John Ortiz from "Miami Vice" and Elizabeth Debicki whom you just saw in "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol II." It's a great cast, and they certainly do what they can here. 

The movie itself? Well, its more questions than answers. The movie is being advertised as a prequel to the first "Cloverfield" movie, but I am not entirely sure that's what happened. I am going to have to watch this one again this week to fully wrap my head around it. I am sure fans of Netflix's "Black Mirror" will see this as one big episode from that show, and they wouldn't be too far off the mark. The actors all came and did their job, and the special effects are certainly cool. But the storyline feels like it cherry-picked between a dozen or so scripts and just put them together in one script.

In the future, the Earth is suffering from an energy crisis so terrible that the worlds are considering going to war with each other. So an international space crew goes up to into space after discovering an unlimited energy source. The crew spends two years trying to harness this source to no avail. Finally they get ahold of it, but bad things start to happen, and before we know it, Earth has suddenly disappeared. Then, strange things begin to happen on the space station. Mysterious people show up, people start dying, the whole bit. The movie plays with ideas of alternate dimensions and multiple realities, but in no specific ways, it doesn't really connect or focus on a story its trying to tell.

At one moment it feels like "Event Horizon," another moment it feels like "Alien," another moment it feels like "Sunshine." It feels like a summation of about a dozen different space movies that I can think of, but never really focusing on a satisfying whole. I am sure what some people want to know is how it ties into "Cloverfield." I already know that some believe it doesn't connect at all, leaving them frustrated. I think the movie connects to the first "Cloverfield," I mean, without giving anything away, there is that big money shot at the end. I am just not sure it connects the way people believe it does.

The actors make most of the frustrating parts bearable in this movie, and the top-notch special effects certainly will keep audiences entranced in this one. I do believe that "Cloverfield Paradox" does have something on its mind, I am just not entirely sure what it is. What's most frustrating is that I can't tell if this is just a mystery movie with a good puzzle or if its purposely confusing for the sake of it. I will have to give this one another watch, and afterward maybe I'll write a second piece where we can pull this thing apart together. For now, "Cloverfield Paradox" is an interesting entry in this "Cloverfield" series, whatever the series is at this point. But I can't help but admit that I think this entry could have been more.