Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review: The Highlight Reel of "Superman: Red Son"

Superman: Red Son Review

It would probably be too weird for mainstream audiences to grasp alternate universes right now, even though they are beginning to make headway in our superhero movies. As much fun as it would be to see a live-action version of the classic stories from Marvel and DC that do not take place in their mainstream continuities, I don't think we are quite there yet. We will have to see how successful Marvel is with their multiverse stories in the coming years, and to see what DC does in the future if the idea is going to be appealing or not to the general audience. Alas, there is always Warner Brothers Animation to itch that spot for comic book fans dying to see movie versions of these stories.

"Superman: Red Son" asks the question, what if Superman landed in the Soviet Union and stood for Communism and Soviet ideals instead of landing in Kansas and taking on more democratic ideals? It tells the story of how Kal-el (he never really goes by the alias Clark Kent) was an ally for Stalin and how he viewed American ideals as bondage and corrupt. We see Lex Luthor as more of a hero, as he tries to stop this Superman in the name of protecting the free world. The features fun new takes on Batman, Wonder Woman, Brainiac and the Green Lantern Corps as they react to this continuity. In the end, its a story about even the most pure of us can be manipulated to believe anything. In the world we are living in now, that's actually a fairly important issue.

The movie retells the story in movie form. All the big moments from the book are represented, for the most part. We see how Lex Luthor got Brainiac to shrink Stalingrad, we see the United States propaganda version of Superman created by Luthor who ends up losing badly (Bizarro anyone?). We see how the United States government uses the Green Lantern Corps to their advantage. The thing is, this all feels like it is moving in fast forward. The movie is only a little under an hour and a half. So it seems the story from the comics is always bulldozing through moments that feel like they should have time to breathe.

There is also some changes to the ending to form more of a happier ending. Even though I can't really say that "Red Son" ended badly. Don't worry Conservatives, "Red Son" isn't some type of Bernie Sanders indoctrination, in movie or comic form. Superman eventually sees the errors of his ways and saves the world. There is some lip service to the Global United States Luthor creates at the end of the comic book, but its altered in the movie to give him a more heroic ending. Also, there is no predestination paradox from the comic book. So comic book fans should know it doesn't quite end the way the comic book did.

Jason Isaacs is one of my favorite British actors, starring in such things as "Armageddon" and "The Patriot" and "Harry Potter." I had no idea he could create such an amazing Russian accent but I remember being surprised reading his name when the credits were rolling. Its very good voicework. 

Overall, this is another win for Warner Brothers Animation and their straight-to-DVD DC films

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Off The Cuff: Hunters Episode One



The first episode of "Hunters" on Amazon Prime was an hour and a half. So it took my evening to gather thoughts after watching it. Here's what I had to say about it. Please share this video with your friends and family if you liked it!

Review: "The Last Thing He Wanted" is a fairly straightforward, familiar political thriller

The Last Thing He Wanted
It could not be any more clearer than it is now that we are in the midst's of the streaming service wars. Obviously, I have known this for awhile, but it becomes clearer and clearer to me every day. Each streaming app that is available today are all competing relentlessly for our hard earned dollars. When Netflix first began, most of their original movies were indie fare they bought from film festivals throughout the year. While they are still doing that to an extent, it is becoming much more competitive. They are beginning to throw big money at big name stars and big name filmmakers to create worthwhile content, to veer people away from the lines and the crowded seats of the multiplex and just to enjoy hit, original movies in the comfort of your homes. It nice to see a platform that is about pushing stars and story instead of relying on a brand to make money. At the same time, Netflix continues to be a television giant rather than an all-purpose place for media.

There are tons of great actors in "The Last Thing He Wanted," a recently released movie on Netflix. It stars Anne Hathaway as a political journalist in 1984, covering the Reagan years. I love Anne Hathaway. I am not crazy about her off-camera ego, but when she commits to a character, she commits. She plays Elena McMahon. Elena McMahon is played like a typical hardened journalist we see in movies. She presses for the story, asks the tough questions, she isn't intimidated by anybody. Anne Hathaway does a typical good job here bringing her together. She is our eyes for the story that is about to unfold and she takes us by the hand and guides us reasonably.

Willem Dafoe plays her father, Richard McMahon. They've been estranged for several years and come back together after Elena's mother dies. Elena's mother was taking care of Richard as he was dying, a job that now falls on Elena. Willem Dafoe is also very good here, creating yet another memorable supporting character. What Elena soon begins to realize that as she is taking care of father, she also begins to take care of his secret business in weapons dealing. She soon becomes way over her head, as she responds to the fast-lane world of weapons dealing. 

This sounds like something that should be amazing, right? Well, it ends up being a mixed bag. The performances are top-notch. But its fairly familiar territory if you know your political thrillers. Things are done out of convenience to plot, rather than anything realistic or logical. Consider a scene where Elena is being driven around by a dangerous smuggler, where he, literally, gets scared driving at night, sees some tall grass. This allows him to drop the gun he had on Elena. She promptly picks it up and puts it on him, taking over the car. She kicks him out and drives away. It never explained how she really knows where she's going. Its never explained how a journalist with no experience with weapons knows how to work a gun. We just kind of have to go with it.

Ben Affleck plays Treat Morrison, a high-level government official. He eventually becomes romantically linked to Elena when he discovers a glitch in her documentation. As she is moving around doing arms deals. Of course they become romantically involved. Its like we can't just have a movie without the cliches of what came before. I've also always liked Ben Affleck, that's another fringe opinion of mine, but I do think he's become even better as a performer as the years pile on. I just wish he was given something more compelling to do here.

I'm not trying to say that Netflix hasn't had any hits yet. I still religiously love "Roma," "The Irishman" and "Marriage Story." Still, with those three hits, I'm not sure the rest of their movie catalog is another to get new potential customers to buy their service monthly. Its still fairly new for the streaming wars, so it will be interesting to see how they continue to unfold. But I hope the platform can get a little more aggressive with their offerings. They don't need to just buy up everything they see. Make it quality!

FINAL GRADE: C

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What "Off The Cuff" will be



One thing I promised at the dawn of this new decade of my website was doing more with videos. I got lots of ideas for YouTube videos, and I am trying to figure out what will be the most fun for people. I am planning on transferring all of my reviews I've written in 2020 so far to video versions. I am also trying to come up with other ideas for videos. One thing that I have decided will definitely be a constant is something I call "Off The Cuff."

It's exactly how it sounds, they will just be me and a camera talking about various subjects. I won't have a HD camera, I won't use any bells or whistles for the videos. They will just be me and my thoughts, unfiltered and unedited. The night of The Academy Awards, I made one of these videos on a whim and I posted it on YouTube, you can find it there. I posted my latest video at the top of this post. You can also look to the right side of my website on the home page and click the link to my YouTube channel to find my videos. I am still trying to figure out what I am going to do, but I will keep you posted and hope you enjoy this new content.

Tonight on "Off The Cuff," I discuss the first two weeks of "Survivor: Winners At War," the brand new season of the show. It is the 20th anniversary of the show and they are celebrating by bringing back twenty winners. It's already been an interesting couple of weeks and I'll be interested to see how it all pans out. If you like the show, I hope you dig into the video.

Like I said, I will keep you guys posted on future ideas. 

Review: "The Photograph" is a believable, tender love story worth your time

The Photograph Review

It seems like romance movies take one of two forms. One is the romantic comedy, where humor is built around a bunch of cliches, they sort of take on the same template, which is why I never really got into them. The other form is a fairly standard romance movie, but those also have cliche's of their own and which very few have ever tried to do anything different with. There are very few straight up romance movies that I ever really take to.

"The Photograph" is an anomaly. It's a movie about love which themes are universal. There don't seem to be any cliches in sight, even if there are any or not. It's subtle. It's not necessarily a movie you've seen before. It is a movie full of real people who just happen to be played by actors, not characters you really see in a movie. Their interactions are relatable, their flirting is smart. This is the type of romance movie I hope to see every time there is one at the theater.

Issa Rae plays Mae, who is fairly distraught and confused after the passing of her mother. Mae's mother was an acclaimed photographer and Mae was estranged from her for many years. Not too long after her passing, an old photo from Mae's mother's past is revealed from a safety deposit box. This leaves Mae wanting even more to find out more about her mother's life, right as she begins a budding romance with rising journalist Michael Block (Lakeith Stanfield). Just reading that synopsis, you probably feel like you've seen this before. It may seem like one of those movies where everything lines up perfectly. It may sound it feels like an episode of "This Is Us" or 2018's "Life Itself" where circumstance, karma and life seem to feed off others in cheesy ways. Well, "The Photograph" is exactly that. 

Like I said, its a smart romance movie. It gets us to care about the characters, to relate to them. The movie is full of smart flirting and beats from relationships I am sure all will recognize. It's a movie about familiarity without being on-the-nose. It's funny without being cheesy. It's dramatic without being melodramatic. It builds upon its themes without adding any unnecessary silliness to make the movie more interesting. Simply put, it's a love story without any stupid crap added to it and it actually makes for an interesting plot.

Lakeith Stanfield is the next big thing. I can just tell. I saw him in "Sorry to Bother You" in 2018. He was great in both "Kives Out" and "Uncut Gems" last year. If you haven't begun watching "Atlanta" on FX yet, you are missing out on one of the very best television shows on right now, which he is apart of. I love the guy and he does a knock-out job in this movie. The romance between his character and Issa Rae in the glue to the entire movie, and they are perfectly coupled together. Issa Rae is also fantastic in this movie. The entire cast does a very good job here, but the whole movie is steered by Stanfiled and Rae, both of whom do excellent work here.

This is a different kind of love story, and it just might work for you.

FINAL GRADE: B

Monday, February 17, 2020

Stranger Things 4 Trailer

Earlier tonight, I watched a new movie on Netflix called "The Coldest Game." It took place during the Cold War and it was about a chess player who goes to a tournament in Russia to play Russia's best chess player. Because that's the type of thing that happened during the Cold War. The movie was a huge disappointment, so much so that I am not even sure how I could even begin to write about it. Those are always the movies that hurt most. The movies that are so profoundly bad that you can't even discuss what makes them bad. Words fail you.

Lets talk about a different Cold War era Netflix story. We got a small trailer over the weekend for "Stranger Things 4." What makes me cackle is that it looks like a prequel to "Black Widow"


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Review: Allison Brie upgrades big time with Netflix's "Horse Girl."

Horse Girl Review
Even though I am aware of Alison Brie, I am not totally up to date with her filmography and career. I was a hardened fan of "BoJack Horsemen" and it makes me terribly sad that it ended last week. Her voice work in the "LEGO Franchise" as UniKitty is big fun. She was funny in "Get Hard" and "The Disaster Artist," but those were relatively small roles. I never got into "Community" yet, but plan to do so as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I don't remember "Scream 4" that well. But "The Five Year Engagement" is an underrated comedy and Brie's moments along side Chris Pratt were very funny. From there, all I really know is that she's Dave Franco's wife.

Alison Brie's upgrades in a big way in "Horse Girl." The wild new movie on Netflix. She gives a five-star performance. I know we still have award season gitters, I know the year just started and its a LONG way until December 2020, but Brie's performance is so confident, so strange that I'd love for it to somehow be in the awards talk by the end of this year. But alas, I need to wait to see how the rest of the year goes. It's just that...when someone really breaks their own mold, in a way we've never seen before. It's shocking in the best way and its amazing.

How do I even describe "Horse Girl?" I've been wondering that since last night. Allison Brie plays Sarah. She works at a fabric company. She likes horses. She's kind of introverted, maybe even autistic in the way she has conversations with people. But she's nice and most people find her nice, even if she's a little overbearing to like. She likes her science fiction shows too. Obviously, she also likes horses. But she begins to see things, little glimpses of things. She begins to have really weird dreams where she is laying in an all-white limbo and she sees a man laying next to her (John Ortiz), then she begins to see the same man in real life.

Is she developing a mental disorder? Is she a clone created in a lab somewhere? Is she being prepped to be taken by aliens? Those are the three culprits investigated in the movie, and I don't think you'll be able to guess where the movie is heading. Sometimes, the movie feels like a comedy. Other times it feels like a dramedy. Other times it feels experimental. Other times it kind of feels David Lynchian. Point being, it will keep you guessing until the end. The ending isn't shocking, it's just end of a wild ride that I didn't want to end.

Like I said, Allison Brie is just amazing, I hope she takes on more challenging work like I see here. Molly Shannon is also pretty good as Sarah's co-worker. After seeing her be so over-the-top on SNL for years, it's interesting to see her play a fairly normal person, she does great work. The cast does really well. If you like your cinema wildly weird, check this out. Netflix is getting better and better picking movies for their platform.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Monday, February 10, 2020

Harley Quinns. Harley Quinns everywhere.

I cannot honestly explain how Harley Quinn became such an icon for DC recently. Maybe, for their screened entertainment, the heroes didn't quite work as well as they thought. So perhaps they decided to go the anti-hero and villain route. I mean, it's been working. No matter what I feel about "Joker," it made tons of money, it found its audience and it even got two Oscars last night. Hell, Joaquin Phoenix had a phenomenal season at the awards this year and that is highly respectable. I am hearing some very positive things about James Gunn's reinvention of "The Suicide Squad" and its got all the potential in the world to be amazing.

As far other DC characters go, I never really thought that Harley Quinn would be the center of my DC fandom at any given moment. I never hated the character, she was just not who I expected I would end up loving the most ant any given time. Boy, was I wrong. DC Universe's "Harley Quinn" cartoon is amazing. It is simply amazing. You know what else? That "Birds of Prey" movie? That's pretty fucking fantastic too.

I know, you didn't see that coming. Or maybe you did, I don't know. Either way, my reaction certainly surprised me. I really like Margot Robbie. She may have been relatively unknown before being cast as Harley Quinn, she is one of those lightning-in-the-bottle casting for comic book movies. Yes, she's on the same exact level as Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man or Mickey Rourke as Marv. Yes, she's that iconic and I can't imagine this character ever getting revamped. In fact, I don't want it to. She was easily the best part of "Suicide Squad." The thing is, besides Margot's work and Will Smith's work, the more and more I think of "Suicide Squad," the more I hate it. I knew Margot Robbie could shine in a stand-alone movie. I just didn't like the fact that the stand alone movie in question was going to be "Birds of Prey." Harley Quinn isn't a character associated with that group, and to exclude Birds of Prey's central character (aka Batgirl) and shoving Harley Quinn in it just bank on the popularity of the character put a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't think I'd care for "Birds of Prey and the Obnoxiously Long Title to Explain One Harley Quinn's Presence." I didn't think I'd care for it one bit.

Perhaps it was those low expectations that finally won me over. Maybe the concept and the actors and the style was so wild that it ended up working. I don't know really know what happened but whatever happened, it worked. It really worked. I was pretty amazed by how much I liked "Birds of Prey." Yeah, its different from the comics, but that's not really a bad thing. There is an attitude and a confidence to the movie that is just amazing. It's so freaking bonkers and over-the-top but still has the power to entertain immensely. This is all my way of saying that many people missed out on this one over the weekend and that's too bad.

 We are going to be talking about "Birds of Prey" tonight. We are also going to be talking about the cartoon show too. Because like I said, I can't believe how much Harley Quinn is working as a character right now. If you like warped worlds and insane violence and totally weirdness in your comic book movies or shows, you owe it to yourself to see "Birds of Prey" and watch the "Harley Quinn" cartoon.

Its too bad that so many are so afraid of feminism right now, and it sucks that we think its such a bad word in popular culture right now. I don't care if a movie or a show is about all men or all women, if you can tell a great story, create engaging characters...that's all I really need at the end of the day. As I stated above, there was a lot going against "Birds of Prey" in my mind. I think if people actually went out and saw "Birds of Prey" they would be drawn into the strange style of the movie, the enriching and imaginative world. I think people would be impressed by the how strong the characters are here. Yes, there is a feeling of Girl Power throughout the film. Yes, there are bright colors and sugar-high moments. But the characters are that great, and the confidence in every moment of the film makes all the difference.

In "Birds of Prey," Harley Quinn has broken up with The Joker. She's on her own for the first time in a long time. Everybody is after now though, including gangster Ronan Sionis AKA Black Mask (Ewen McGregor), thing is that there are lots of people in Sionis's orbit who could help Harley Quinn be free of him. I love that this looks like the typical superhero movie, but its anything but. They said "Suicide Squad" was to be the middle finger to the comic book movie establishment, but that missed the mark. "Birds of Prey" may be the answer. In the "Harley Quinn" cartoon, Harley has also "broken up" with the Joker. She isn't looking to redeem herself like in the movie though. She wants to prove that she can be a force to be reckoned with without the Clown Prince of Crime. She gets friends like Poison Ivy, Doctor Psycho, King Shark and Clayface to be her crew and she launches crime sprees of her own to be Gotham's next big villain.

Both "Birds of Prey" and "Harley Quinn" revolve around Harley Quinn building a new family after she loses The Joker, the one person she considered her whole world. They both deal with a person trying to create a world for themselves, they are about taking charge of yourself, because it is up to you to move forward in your life. It may seem messed up learning these important lessons in movies and shows about supervillains, but hey, whatever works. The mistake would be to make these stories accessible to young ages, but it seems really wrong for young girls to idolize Harley Quinn in any form. Even though she learns important lessons in her journey in the movie and the show, she is not an person to be celebrated. I am glad "Birds of Prey" ended up being rated R and that her cartoon ended up with a TV-MA. Its true to the character.

"Birds of Prey" is fun because its a terrific ensemble. Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Dinah Lance, a night club singer who gets too close to Black Mask. Mary Elizabeth Windstead plays Helena Bertinelli, a vigilante who wishes people just knew her name. Rosie Perez plays Renee Montoya, a Gotham cop whose cases are always being credited by men. Then there is Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, an orphan who is also a pick-pocket. She steals from the wrong person and sets the whole story in motion. I love that this "team" doesn't ever really become a team, even at the end. This is dressed like a typical superhero team-up, but its anything but. This group doesn't come together, and they all have valid reasons to not trust each other. But they come together for each other, and that's what its all about. Throwing away old rivalries and problems to defeat a greater good.

Can I also just say that Ewen McGregor plays a delightfully terrible scumbag after a career of happy-go-lucky good guys and it was everything I needed? Yes people, don't worry, he sports the mask you want him to for a nice chunk of the movie.

There is so much to love about the "Harley Quinn" cartoon that I am not quite sure I can list them all off. I love that Clayface is always trying to do different acting routines. Because remember, he was a former actor turned villain in the comics. I love that Poison Ivy lives in a leafy apartment instead of a greenhouse. I love that she has a "Little Shop of Horrors-like" buddy named Frank. Frank needs to be comic book canon now. I love that there is a moment where Jim Gordon lights up the Bat-Signal just so he can get relationship advice from Batman. I love King Shark's urban clothes. I love all of Doctor Psycho. I love that Kite-Man is guy we see from time to time. I love the funny website that supervillains use to hire henchmen. I love how The Legion of Doom parodies office life. I love that we get a glimpse of this weird, warped DC Universe that we never see in the comic books. I love that Harley Quinn's landlord goes on crime sprees with her. I think why I love this so much is just how unique it feels. The style this cartoon is calling to isn't the references you think. I love that.

Both "Birds of Prey" and "Harley Quinn" are quite hyper-violent. There is a moment in "Birds of Prey" where Harley is taking down some henchmen with a steel baseball bat that honestly made me cringe. In the cartoon? Well, somebody is always losing a head or losing a limb or dying in such a perverse way that you'll either laugh or scream. Not that "Birds of Prey" is honestly that different. A guy gets blown apart by a grenade for crying out loud. "Birds of Prey" in particular has action scenes that you aren't going to expect. Guaranteed.

I think what I am most impressed by with "Birds of Prey" and "Harley Quinn" is that the movie challenges our empathy. These are all flawed individuals, these are criminals and when you allow your audience to empathize with people of this caliber, it can sometimes be a tall order. Making somebody like Harley Quinn the center of the universe almost seems sociopathic on paper, but the artists behind this movie and this show prove that you can tell worthwhile stories involving any type of person. Its not like they are daring the audience to be just like these people anyway, you can have your empathy challenged without getting a calling to crime.

Harley Quinn of all people has stolen my heart. I love this Harley Quinn phase and I am curious to see how long it lasts. If you missed "Birds of Prey," you are screwing yourself out of a good time. So go this weekend!

Review: Is Shia Labeouf experiencing his own renaissance? A review of "Honey Boy"

Honey Boy Review
 Remember Matthew McConaughey's career in the late 90's and throughout the 2000's? He settled into a career of doing light and disposable fair. He did lots of rom-coms. He did safe stuff like "Sahara." When you put the movies "The Wedding Planner," "Failure to Launch," "How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days," "Fool's Gold" and "Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past" all next to each other, it seemed like McConaughey was basically playing the same character. Then in 2010, there was a dramatic shift. He broke out in a film called "The Lincoln Lawyer." He only began to go up from there. "Dallas Buyers Club," "True Detective," "Gold," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Interstellar," "Mud," "Killer Joe," "Sing," "Kubo and the Two Strings...he began to challenge himself as an artist and a performer. The results were endless and the sky seemed like the limit. They called McConaughey's sudden heel turn the "McConaissance" because it did feel like he went through a rebirth as an actor.

I bring this up because it seems like Shia LaBeouf is starting to go through this now. Actually, I am not sure if "starting to" is really the right phrasing. LaBeouf started acting when he was young, and throughout the 2000's after his "Even Steven" career, he wanted to show how tough he was and he did lots of stuff like "Transformers" and "I, Robot" and it seemed like through much of the 2000's he was playing the same character (much like McConaughey). Then as early as 2012, LaBeouf started pushing himself as a performer and started making more daring decisions as an actor. I'd recommend films like "Lawless," and "Fury" and "Nymphomaniac" and especially "American Honey" which I named one of the ten best films of the 2010's recently.

Not only does LaBeouf star in the recent "Honey Boy" but he also wrote it and its partially (or possibly mostly) based on his life as young actor and how that affected him later in life. It's not a straight up autobiography, simply something that was based on his life and something he had to get out of his system while he was in rehab. You can tell this is based on his life, as the movie opens on a film set and there are noises that sound like Autobots in the background. We then meet Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges). Otis seems to be kind of drifting through being an actor and drifting through life as we meet him. Otis gets into a car crash, gets into a drunken brawl with police and then gets sent to rehab. His counselor (played by the underrated Laura San Giacomo) tells him that if he flees before she says he's ready, he will go to prison.

We then meet Otis as a decade earlier, now played by Noah Jupe, who you may remember from "A Quiet Place" and "Suburbicon." If you know LaBeouf's life, then you may see some things you recognize. LaBeouf himself plays Otis' father who helps Otis in his career as a child actor. LaBeouf's character name is James and James really isn't the best father. He smokes in front of his son, allows his own son to smoke. He says incredibly vulgar things around his son. He leaves him by himself for long amounts of time to get drunk and go to strip clubs. He loves his son, but he will do anything to make sure he gets famous. He is also unpredictable, manic and aggressive. The movie jumps from 1995 to 2005 and Otis' counselor comes to the conclusion that Otis may be suffering from PTSD.

It seems like Lucas Hedges has decided to be the guy that plays damaged young men. There is a definate pattern present as you watch his films "Manchester By The Sea" and "Lady Bird" and "Ben is Back" and "Boy Erased" and "Mid-90s." The thing is, he seems to bring something new and fresh to each new role. He seems determined to never repeat himself, even though he is essentially the same character movie by movie. He has a great range that you really don't see much in other actors his age. 

LaBeouf? He is a vile tornado of self-indulgence here. He totally disappears into the role he has provided for himself. He loses himself in the role and it is yet another great moment in a career that is budding towards brilliance. He has grown up before our eyes and we didn't even notice. So why don't we pay a little respect.

This isn't a screed against LaBeouf's father. This is very much a movie about acceptance, forgiveness and redemption. It's boldly told and richly imagined. I've seen many stories about how parents use their parents in unhealthy ways to see that they become famous and it can sometimes be ugly. LaBeouf has said himself that his father was "a different kind of man" and described him as a hippie that abused drugs. That is very clear throughout the movie. I hope LaBeouf's little personal renaissance can continue for as long as it possibly can. He deserves it. While it came out in 2019, it hit Amazon Prime recently. Too bad, I think this movie could have really made a big awards push this season. But Amazon has tons of money so they must rule all. Forget awards season though, turn on your app and support this great movie!

FINAL GRADE: A

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Off The Cuff: My review of the 92nd Academy Awards Ceremony

Usually on Academy Award night, I usually make predictions, scrutinize the movies, and see everything before tonight. That didn't happen this year.

Why?

Find out below


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

RIP Kirk Douglas

"You only live once, but when you live like me, once is enough." Frank Sinatra said that a long time ago. While he was obviously was talking about himself, you could also apply that to the life of Kirk Douglas. Even though, 103 isn't enough and it could never be enough. Look at everything Kirk Douglas accomplished. Not only did he have a lengthy film career that spanned decades, the charity work that did around Hollywood for the whole of that career has been felt in the same exact time, decades.

Since the early 2010's, I was obsessed over the Roman Empire slave wars and I got into the "Spartacus" TV show hard. That eventually lead me to see the movie and the 1960 movie is as epic as it could possibly for the time. Douglas is amazing in it. It's an amazing lead performance. It's not nearly as vulgar as the TV show was, but it certainly didn't need to be. We don't get movies on that type of scale that feel epic in a classic way. It was nice.

There's also "Ace In The Hole," which I think is one of those movies all Americans should see, especially right now in a time where the media is frenzy every hour of every day. "Paths of Glory" was one of the first movies that didn't feature a romanticized version of war. I recently watched "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" on Disney+ which was a fun watch and featuring a great Douglas role. Those are just some of his very best roles. We could be here all night if we really wanted to, discussing this movie or that movie from this decade or that decade.



Douglas did so much for his community and did so much for all of us, helping flex our creativity. Thanks Kirk, you will be missed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Review: "Gretel and Hansel" is a creepy though uneven surprise

Gretel and Hansel Review

If you were to ask me that I'd be seeing a movie about Gretel and Hansel and it would remind me of the movie "The Witch," I wouldn't have believed you. 

Granted, I don't want this to sound like I am saying "Gretel and Hansel" is better than "The Witch." It's just a much grander effort than I would have expected from a horror movie this early in the new year. It feels very much in the vein of the original Grimm fairy tale. What were the original Grimm fairy tales like? Much darker than you probably think. We have grown up over the decades seeing sanitized and Disney-fied versions of fairy tales that we forget (or probably didn't know) how dark those early fairy tales were in tone and style. Take "The Three Little Pigs" for instance. We grew up hearing that a Big Bad Wolf came along and blew down two houses belonging to pigs, before he got to a brick house he couldn't destroy. In the original writings, The Big Bad Wolf not only blows down those first two houses, but eats the first two pigs. When the wolf gets to the brick house and the third pig, he can't blow it down. So he tries to get in through the chimney, when he does, the pig has a pot kettle boiling and he cooks and eats the wolf alive. Not only does the third pig eat the wolf, he eats his two brothers.

In the original "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale, the two siblings don't get lost in the forest as per usual. They have an bitchy stepmother who manipulates their father to cast them out, getting them lost in the forest. They come across a house made out of yummy things to eat, and out comes a witch to greet them. She begins to fatten up the children because she's planning on cooking them and eating them. As the witch is preparing her oven, Gretel sees an opportunity. She pushes the witch into her own oven and burns the witch alive. Thus getting her brother and leaving the house behind.

"Gretel and Hansel" returns this fairy tale back to its horror roots. Instead of a bitchy stepmother to deal with, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and Hansel (Sammy Leaky) have to deal with a mother who is slowly losing her mind. So the children run away, much like the original fairy tale, they happen upon a house that smells like delicious food. Gone is the house made of candy, sugar and other sweets. This is merely just a house. But it is the home of a woman named Holda (played by Alice Krige). Holda is incredibly creepy, both in look and in performance and its wonderful acting on Krige's part.

I think its not totally unintentional that the movie is called "Gretel and Hansel" instead of the original "Hansel and Gretel," but there is a reason for that. I don't mean to make anybody cringe, but there is a bit of feminism within the movie. While Holda pays lip service to it in a couple of instances, we begin to figure out that Gretel may have magical witch powers of her own and one of the cliffhangers of the movie is whether or not Gretel will be a good or a bad witch. But if you think you are going to get an "agenda" shoved down your throat, relax. This movie has more to say about coming-of-age and shifting into adulthood more than anything else. And why not? That shift into adulthood is kinda scary. Its definitely different leaving the comfort of your home and vanishing into the real world and I think the movie represents some of those anxieties in a big way. 

The movie boils down to Holda trying to train Gretel to become a bad witch and Holda's ultimate plan is for Gretel to literally eat Hansel to complete her evil training. I know, its even more messed up than the Brothers Grimm could have even imagined. For a movie that is barely an hour and a half, getting to this point feels like you are watching molasses drip. It should also be pointed out that "Gretel and Hansel" is more unsettling and moody than it is scary. There really aren't many scare tactics in this movie. It is very much a slow burn. There are moments of uneasy surreal scenes and there are some weird dream sequences. This is a movie that slowly puts the hooks into you, not something that is trying to make you jump out of your seat at every given moment. For that, I do give "Gretel and Hansel" kudos for thinking outside the box.

I am intrigued by the future of Sophia Lillis, because I think she has the potential to be a big star as she gets older. She had one of the most commanding presences in the "IT" movies and she made her moments on "Sharp Objects" from HBO count. Sammy Leaky is also a wonderful discovery here. It seems so unorthodox to put children in harms way, even in the horror genre. These two children really sell the peril and the angst they are in and they play off Krige really well. Especially in the moments when Krige's Holda gets weirder and weirder.

January and February are usually slow months when it comes to movies. But every once in awhile we get some surprises that come out of the woodwork. Based upon how its created, I am not sure if "Gretel and Hansel" will be for everybody. But if you are up for some spooky and moody fair, this should go down smooth for you.

FINAL GRADE: B

Monday, February 3, 2020

What we learned from the Marvel Disney+ Game Day spot



I hope anybody who watched last night's Super Bowl enjoyed the game. I would say it sure was an exciting one. One of my favorite things to see is the movie trailers. Even though they only range about thirty seconds long, they sure do end up being fun teases for what's coming.

One of the things I am very excited for are the Disney+ shows that will take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think its a fun way to expand the universe. I just hope the movies will continue to be cohesive on their own without having to mention the shows. One of the traps "Solo: A Star Wars Story" fell into was the feeling of having to do homework just to watch a movie. Maybe with how this franchise has worked thus far, fans are already on board for that. Hell, we were teased and teased that TV shows were already taking place in the MCU. But these Disney+ shows are going to fully and completely take place in this universe, and that can lead to some pros and cons. Hopefully it all turns out well.

So far, I am definitely on board. That thirty second clip above featuring some small looks at "Falcon and The Winter Soldier," "WandaVision" and "Loki." They were fun looks and they have already brought up some fun questions regarding these shows and what will eventually happen in them.

In "Falcon and the Winter Soldier," we see Sam practicing with the new shield that Steve Rogers gave him. They are following modern comics closely here giving the Captain America mantle to Sam Wilson and I love it. I also love that Falcon and Bucky are still going to be buddies for this show. We see Bucky pointing a gun at Zemo, who is returning from "Captain America: Civil War" and seemingly will be the main villain here. Bucky points a gun at him, but seemingly drops bullets, does Bucky still have his HYDRA implants in? You'll notice that somebody who looks like Captain America is running on what looks like a football field. That is John Walker, being played by Wyatt Russell. Walker is also known as US Agent, a man who took up Cap's mantle while he was gone in the comics.

I think "WandaVision" might end up being my favorite of these shows. I love how gloriously weird the show looks. I love that it seems to be satirizing old television sitcoms. The thing is, I am not quite sure how much is real and how much is in Wanda's head. I wonder if her powers are starting to wig out on her, which is what happened in the "House of M" storyline in the comics. I wonder if Vision is meant to be real or if he is in Wanda's head. Wanda appears to be pregnant in some moments of the trailer and there is a gag where we see two pacifiers fly into the air. It looks like the rumors of Wanda's children, Wiccan (a magic user like his mama) and Speed (super-speed like his uncle) will appear in the show. With "Avengers: Endgame" introducing Cassie Lang as an older girl and the movie going out of its way to show Harley Keener at Tony Stark's wedding, I really think we are going to get a Young Avengers movie or show some time down the line.

The look at "Loki" really isn't much. It just shows Tom Hiddleston sitting in what looks like an interrogation room talking about burning the place down. The big takeaway from this short scene is the logo on what appears to be a prison uniform worn by Loki. The symbol on Loki's prison uniform reads TVA. In the comics, this stands for Time Variance Authority, which is basically Marvel's time police. This show isn't about Loki who we saw die at the hands of Thanos. This is the Loki who stole the Tesseract and left with it in "Avengers:Endgame." This Loki started a new timeline and the new show will follow this timeline. Looks like Loki gets in trouble traveling through the multiverse. Yep, its true. It really looks like the multiverse is going to be very important to the next phase of the MCU. I am really beginning to believe that Secret Wars is going to be the next Infinity War-level event. Which is totally fine with me.

With Zemo being in "Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and Thaddeus Ross apparently appearing in "Black Widow," there are rumors that the MCU is about to deliver a version of The Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts are, for all intents and purposes, the Marvel version of DC's Suicide Squad. A bunch of supervillains and anti-heroes brought together to do work for the government. Since Tony Stark is dead and Cap is an old man, Black Widow is dead and Thor is off-earth, the future of the Avengers as a team is unclear right now. There are rumors that Thaddeus Ross (who eventually becomes Red Hulk and becomes a member of the Thunderbolts) will want to make his own superpowered team. That team may end up being the Thunderbolts if true. There are plenty of villains still alive in this universe, and according to Kevin Feige we will see some of them again in some capacity. Zemo was a member of the Thunderbolts in the comics. John "US Agent" Walker was a warden of a prison that held many of the members of the team too. Much evidence seems to be pointing to the debut of this team (The "Black Widow" mid-credit scene may also hint at this, but I read that on WeGotThisCovered.com which is a fucking clickbait site.)

I don't know how I feel about a supervillain team in the MCU. Simply because DC already has Suicide Squad up and running and I think people will see it as a knock-off. But for right now, this is all speculation and I wouldn't treat any of this concrete yet.

Did you like this spot? Are you excited for these shows? 

You,Me & Movies Presents...The First Annual Gene Ebert Award Nominees

You all have been voting all January.

The nominees for my website's first ever Awards Show. They are the Gene Ebert awards. Yes, I did a slight name change to avoid any sort of legal trouble. But hey, this way I get to pay homage to the two film critics who proved to me that film criticism does matter. Now that we have boiled down the categories to five nominees (and nine nominees for best picture) let us check out work. You will have one week to vote for ONE WINNER in each category. You can email me your ballot (bloggershawn@gmail.com) Or you can leave a comment on this write-up, at the bottom of the article. I will also have fun putting together little voting spaces on my personal Facebook page. So you can find me there too.

At the end of the week, I will spend the weekend calculating the final votes. Then I will put my planned video together for all of you. Hopefully, we'll get this thing figured by early next week! It's up to you though, so get voting!

Here is the First Annual Gene Ebert Awards Ballot...


THE NOMINEES
Best Actor in a Lead Role
Adam Sandler, “Uncut Gems”
Eddie Murphy, “Dolemite is my Name”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Robert De Niro, “The Irishman”
Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”

Best Actress in a Lead Role
Awkafina, “The Farewell”
Beanie Feldstein, “Booksmart”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Lupita Nyong’o, “Us”
Thomasin McKenzie, “Jojo Rabbit”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Chris Evans, “Knives Out”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
John Lithgow, “Bombshell”
Kevin Hart, “Jumanji: The Next Level”
Willem Dafoe, “The Lighthouse”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”
Julia Fox, “Uncut Gems”
Kyleigh Curran, “Doctor Sleep”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
Zhao Shuzhen, “The Farewell”

Best Motion Picture
1917
Avengers: Endgame
Knives Out
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Parasite
The Farewell
The Irishman
Uncut Gems
Us

Best Director
Jordan Peele, “Us”
Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Olivia Wilde, “Booksmart”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”

Best Visual Effects
Ad Astra
Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Gemini Man
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Best Animated Film
Frozen 2
Missing Link
The Addams Family
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Toy Story 4

Best Original Screenplay
Knives Out
Midsommar
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
The Farewell
Uncut Gems

Best Adapted Screenplay
Avengers: Endgame
Doctor Sleep
Jojo Rabbit
Spider-Man: Far From Home
The Irishman

Achievement in Voice Acting
Ryan Reynolds, “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu”
Bradley Cooper, “Avengers: Endgame”
Tiffany Haddish, “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part”
Idina Menzel, “Frozen 2”
Tom Hanks, “Toy Story 4”

Achievement In the Horror Genre
Doctor Sleep
Midsommar
The Lighthouse
Us
Ready or Not

Achievement in the Action Genre
Anna
Gemini Man
John Wick 3
Shaft
Triple Frontier

Achievement in Superhero & Comic Book Movie Genre
Avengers: Endgame
Captain Marvel
Men In Black: International
Shazam!
Spider-Man: Far From Home

Best Original Score
Midsommar
Us
Joker
Knives Out
Godzilla: King of the Monsters