Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Review: "Happily" is a savagely original experience

                                         

Have you ever been in love? Have you been married? Have you been married a long time or a short time? Is it everything our entertainment and our culture promised you? If the answer to the last question I asked is yes, then can you please explain how you got that to happen? Life isn't always rainbows and gumdrops, and relationships are the exact same way. We are constantly pushed in relationships, there is give-and-take and there is compromise. It's really the only way to make it work. All of that with trust.

"Happily" is about a couple you could only find in the movies. It stars Kerry Bishe and Joel McHale playing a couple whom seemingly hit it off at first sight. They have been married for 14 years and they still treat their relationship like they are in the beginning of the honeymoon stage and their a couple of teenagers. They never fight, they are always sweet to each other and their sex life is through the roof constantly. Their couples friends are so jealous to the point that their friends don't feel like they can honestly hang out with them any longer. How can you honestly make it work?

Kerry Bishe and Joel McHale are two actors I love unabashedly. I love just about everything Joel McHale has done so far. Whether in movies or his television performances, I think he really is one of the most unappreciated actors of his generation, he spins gold every time he steps in front of a camera, and his work here is just as good as he's ever been. Kerry Bishe is an actress you definitely recognize. Whether through "Red State" or "Argo," she's got one of those faces. She's also pretty unappreciated and she proves here just how much of a delight she can be in a leading role.

Bishe plays Janet and McHale plays Tom and like I said above, they have the seemingly perfect marriage. Then one day a weird, and I mean weird guy (Stephen Root) comes to visit them. This guy talks about some kind of error in their relationship and how they must take these two injections to make them normal again. He's concerned with their perfect marriage. He won't allow them to leave their home and claims calling the cops won't help anything and he could very well have superpowers. Janet and Tom are spooked to say the least, and Janet ends up killing the guy. They hide the body.

Janet and Tom are then invited by their friends, those who couldn't stand hanging out with them any longer, at a couples trip at a nice AirBnB for the weekend. They decide to do so to look normal, and they get the suspicion that one of their friends is pranking them. They want to find out if this was an elaborate prank or if something weird is truly going on. Each of their friends has a reason to mess with them, but they could be in serious trouble. So they must behave normal.

I wish I could keep explaining this film, but if you are going to enjoy for yourself, the explanation stops there. "Happily" is full of fun twists and turns. It has some real things to say about trust in relationships and how hard they can be. It's about how even the best relationships are tested when you're out in the real world and sometimes it feels like the world is working to test that relationship. The film co-stars Natalie Zea, Natalie Morales, Charlyne Yi, Breckin Meyer, Jon Daly and Paul Scheer, all of whom provide great supporting work. 

The movie is left ambiguous. Not everybody is going to enjoy that everything gets tied into a nice bow. The film also kind of devolves into something that involves the who cast, so its weird that there is so much on Janet and Tom's characters and I think the ending would have landed better if the whole cast had some sort of focus. But this is the first film by BenDavid Grabinski, and its a very strong debut. I am looking forward to seeing what he has under his sleeve. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Review: "Thunder Force" can't quite hang with the other superhero films out there.

 
For the past decade, we have been completely spoiled with superhero stories. Whether they appear on the big screen or the small screen, superhero storytelling has really taken off. Artists have really tapped into what makes this type of storytelling such a treat to audiences and we have had content that is overwhelming good. Remember, I am not saying that we are flooded with masterpieces, because that's not true either. But the majority of what we get is good. There are so many good examples of superhero stories out there now, whether you like more adult storytelling or something that is more loose and broad. The thing is, with all of these examples, it seems weird to think that someone can make a bad superhero story using television or movies.

"Thunder Force" sadly, is probably the worst superhero movie in a decade. The legit last time I remember hating a superhero movie this bad was "Green Lantern."

I like Melissa McCarthy. I LOVE Octavia Spencer. While Melissa McCarthy's husband Ben Falcone is funny in his starring roles, he hasn't particularly wowed me with his directorial credits. It seems his entire career has amounted to throwing his wife in a goofy premise then rely on "Fatty Fall Down" humor. While I am grateful that there really isn't any fat humor in this movie. It stinks that we have a superhero comedy that neither thrilling or humorous.

McCarthy and Spencer play Lydia Berman and Emily Scanton respectively. Lydia and Emily became best friends quick as young teens and remained friends throughout high school. Emily was the smart bookworm and Lydia was the wild child and they had each other and it was a perfect friendship. Lydia wanted to stay in their hometown and take life as it came to her. Emily wanted to leave her hometown and make something out of herself, which left their friendship and parting of ways. As adults, it's their high school reunion and the world has changed drastically. People with superpowers are everywhere seemingly, and they mostly commit crimes. No superhero in sight. Lydia hasn't seen Emily in years and she decides to visit where she works. Emily has become a profound scientist who has found a way to give superpowers to regular people. She is able to give Lydia superpowers and they both decide to become superheroes called The Thunder Force.

Its definitely an interesting premise for a superhero movie. Its ripe for humor, using the conventions of the superhero genre to make jokes and to parody it. But it seems to me that Ben Falcone has never really picked up a comic book before. His comedy here is so ordinary, going for easy jokes, and it almost feels like its come from a novice writer. Not someone who already has a few screenplays under their belt. There is also no real stakes to anything. Emily has a daughter, their relationship improves. Lydia and Emily get into a fight, and they make up only a few scenes later. The big battle at the end of the movie has no stakes. It's hard to have that thrill of superhero movie without any danger.

Jason Bateman, Pom Klementieff, Bobby Cannavale and Melissa Leo all co-star. Each and every one of them a great actor. They have absolutely nothing to do here. Each and every one of them wasted. It's a real bummer. The special effects are something special, if this were the 90's. The costumes look like they are from a television show, not a movie.

All of this tells me that I'm blown away that a movie this bad, with so many good and even great examples out there, even exists. With all the talent involved, and all the potential. We barely got anything in return.

Monday, April 12, 2021

March Madness: Heroes vs Villains VII Results

Its been a long, hard-fought battle. We have a first. For the first time in seven years of doing March Madness Heroes vs. Villains, a villain has taken the top honors. The results are in and...




That's right, Agatha Harkness of "WandaVision" fame has been crowned champion of this year's poll. She is the first villain to ever win this competition. (No Batman this year!) After six years of heroes taking the top spot, this was a nice surprise. 

Hope you guys had fun this year. We will see you next year!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

March Madness Heroes vs. Villains-THE FINAL FOUR!

 

And just like that...there were four. The final four got all of their votes in their respected brackets. Wanda Maximoff dethroned The Mandalorian. Agatha Harkness dethroned Harley Quinn. The villains bracket has gone every which way, but I doubt anybody saw The Candyman moving as far as he did. Of course, Batman is still on top.

Please vote for your favorite hero and favorite villain. No more movie vs. movie characters or TV vs TV characters. You have until April 5th.


First trailer for "Ready Player Tw...oops...I mean...."Space Jam: A New Legacy"

 The first trailer for the new "Space Jam: A New Legacy" is here, and much as I expected, its ridiculous.

Not because we have Lebron James as the lead. It doesn't seem to me that Lebron James has the same national love that Jordan did in the 90's, but I've also heard many basketball fanatics compare James' legacy to Jordan's. I don't watch nearly enough NBA anymore to give a valid opinion. It doesn't matter who they picked. Back in the 90's, Warner Brothers had all sorts of ideas for a sequel that included different sports. They thought about a skating sequel with Tony Hawk, a golf movie with Tiger Woods and a driving movie with Jeff Gordon. Even a movie that didn't have a sports star but featured Jackie Chan. All sorts of ideas were thrown around before landing back on the basketball roots. I don't mind that Lebron is the basketball star they picked.

What makes me laugh about this trailer is, as I watching it, I thought to myself, "This is Ready Player Two." Lebron James gets sucked into this techno sphere thingy, and he starts falling through digital space and we see all these themed planets. That's exactly how Ernest Cline described the OASIS in his book and that's how Steven Speilberg shot his movie back in 2018. The "SeverVerse" looks like the OASIS by design. Since Warner Brothers made "Space Jam" and "Ready Player One" they are using the same intellectual property, that's why you see King Kong and Iron Giant running to get a good seat for the inveitable game.

For some reason, between "Ready Player One" and between their "LEGO Movie" franchise, Warner Brothers makes this movie every couple years. For some reason, Warner Brothers LOVES showing off all the intellectual property they own. It's like they constantly have to say "Hey, look what we own here! Now go buy a subscription to HBOMax!"

Look I get it. They wanted to do something different for their sequel. I like that. I get that. Too many sequels tread water, even today. So a different direction is welcoming. But it still feels like a need to show off what the studio owns and since they've done that a lot lately, is it really original?

But alas, we will see Lebron and the Looney Tunes play basketball in the ServerVerse, and such guests as the Droogs, The War Boys, Space Ghost, Penguin, Iron Giant, King Kong, The Flintstones, Jack Nicholson's Joker and Joaquin Phoenix's Joker will be in attendance for the big game.



We are living in a time of IP overload, and this might just be the crown jewel of that so far.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Review: "Godzilla vs Kong" is everything you'd expect!


At this point, I am going to assume you saw and enjoyed "Godzilla" in 2014. If you haven't seen it, you should. If you have any interest in giant monsters tearing it up, check it out. I also hope you enjoyed "Kong: Skull Island" in 2017, and that you finally saw "Godzilla: King of Monsters" in 2019. If you haven't seen any of those and you are the target audience for these films, you should see them.

Other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I'd wager to say this new "Godzilla Movie Universe" or whatever it s called, has been the second most successful cinematic universe so far. Possibly that "Conjuring" universe may be up there too, but this new line of Godzilla and Kong movies have sizable fanbase and they've all done decently at the box office. "Godzilla vs. Kong" is a bunch of fun, and if this is something you want, absolutely see it. You should know what you're getting yourself into. There is a giant lizard named Godzilla and there is a giant gorilla named King Kong and they are going to throw down.

For the first time in five years, Godzilla is attacking places on Earth, and nobody seems to know why. This prompts the world to begin hunting him again. Meanwhile, a company called Apex Cybernetics recruits some scientists to find out if Hollow Earth exist; which is supposed to be the birth place of all titans. Apex is looking for a power source for mysterious reasons. The scientist recruits Kong, who has been living on Skull Island under surveillance of the company Monarch. Because of Godzilla's sudden temper, and Kong being a helper to find Hollow Earth, this puts Godzilla and Kong on a crash course to fight one another. The thing is, there is always some kind of evil corporation in movies like this, right? Not everything is what it seems to be with Apex, right?

These new Godzilla and Kong movies have had solid human casts so far. Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown return from "Godzilla: King of the Monsters." They are both incredible actors who do good work reprising their roles here. They joined by new characters played by Alexander Skarsgaard, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, and Demian Bichir. All of these actors do what they must and they put enough power in their performances to make the human emotion count.

But the real meat and potatoes of the film isn't the acting, right? You've come to watch two monsters wreak havoc on each other. Let me just tell you, havoc gets wreaked. There are some big Godzilla versus Kong battles in these movies and let me tell you its spectacular. The kaiju carnage is spectacular. The visual effects for these battles is absolutely stunning and if you've loved the action sequences in these movies thus far, get ready for the punches this movie packs. The visuals for Hollow Earth are also amazing. Hollow Earth is a mesmerizing, dangerous place. I can almost guarantee that this will be up for visual effects next year.

You know if you want this or not. If you want this, go for it. It's buckets of fun.
 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Heroes vs. Villains March Madness- Round Four Voting

 So...other than The Candyman. Everybody else literally got all of their votes. 

We are getting down to the wire now, folks. Happy voting. You have until April 1st for this round.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Heroes vs. Villains March Madness- Round Three Voting

ROUND TWO RESULTS: http://www.youmeandmovies.com/2021/03/march-madness-heroes-vs-villains-round.html 

ROUND THREE VOTING ENDS MARCH 29TH!

March Madness Heroes vs. Villains: Round Two Results


Round Two is over, and looking at my screenshots below, most of the voting was pretty lop-sided.










For Round Three, Batman and will take on Thor and Princess Leia will take on Samwise Gamgee. If that doesn't display franchise wars, I don't know what will. For TV heroes, The Mandalorian will take on Meredith Grey and Johnny Lawrence will take on Wanda Maximoff. As far as villains go, Darth Maul will take on The Witch King. Hela will take on The Candyman. For TV villains, Harley Quinn will take on Littlefinger. John Creese will take on Agatha Harkness. Voting for Round Three will end March 29th.

2020 Was Better Than I Thought: "Another Round" and "Minari" reviewed

 The year 2020 was a better year for movies than I originally thought. I am sure some people may disagree with that statement. The theaters were closed, the "big movies" of 2020 were mostly moved to 2021, possibly further. But there were so many great movies that came out. As with how most years work, there are movies that come out at the end of 2020, and don't get a major release until the next year. I have been catching up with lots of these releases as they have been coming out. I can honestly say that I would definitely put "Promising Young Woman," "One Night In Miami" and "Nomadland" on my top 20 of 2020.

I would also put both "Minari" and "Another Round" on that list too. 

There aren't too many years when I catch up with things, that my list looks incredibly different, but 2020 is definitely one of those years.

"Another Round" is an import from Denmark, known as "Binge Drinking." It stars Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chieffe from "Casino Royale"), Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, and Magnus Millang. These four actors play four teachers who are don't feel fulfilled by life anymore. Some of them are married, have families, don't have many struggles, but they just aren't feeling alive like they used to. So they hatch a plan together. They are going to plan to until their Blood Alcohol Content is 0.05 a day. They have read a scientific study that drinking to that BAC point each day can improve relaxation and creativity. They are reluctant to begin, but they all give in. Soon enough, they are much more relaxed and happier just drinking to and maintaining that 0.05 BAC each day.

"Another Round" begins as a silly comedy at first. They enjoy this experiment so much that they begin to drink more and more. Its all fun and games though, once the constant drinking leads to trouble at their homes as well as genuine alcoholism. The movie transitions well from a dramatic-comedy to a full on drama. All four actors do incredible work here, and Mads proves why he's really one of the best actors of his generation. While he's done many things here in America, he does lots in his home country of Denmark, and I've learned through the years that his range knows no bounds.

You may hear lots about the film's ending. Believe the hype around the ending. It's a beautiful, soulful ending and yes, easily the best of 2020. A valuable reminder that we get one life to live and its a beautiful, beautiful life. So be sure you feel alive every day.


While we are the sum total of choices, we are certainly groomed by circumstances beyond our control. "Minari" takes place in 1983, where a Korean immigrant family, The Yi's, move from California to Arkansas to in hopes of growing Korean produce to sell in Dallas. Jacob Yi, the father, played by Steve Yuen, is optimistic for his family's future. Monica Yi, the mother, played by Han Ye-ri is much less optimistic and they argue quite a bit about their future. Their youngest son David (Alan Kim), has a heart condition and Monica worries a lot about having the funds needed to provide what he needs for medical health.

"Minari" deals with family dynamics, the push and pull of American culture while also never letting go of the traditions and customs from the country you were born in. It's a movie about the decisions our families make have an impact on the lives in which their children become. Jacob is at first, unsuccessful in his farming, simply because its not something he's used to in rural America. Jacob eventually gets help from a local veteran named Paul. Paul is played by my merry surprise by Will Patton. A great character actor we just don't see enough of these days. Who delivers a potent performance here.

I am over-the-moon happy that the world is getting to know Steve Yuen, because he's an incredible actor overall and he does great work here. The Glenn you see on "The Walking Dead" TV show is much different from his comic book counter-part, but Yuen has always done a very good job on the show. He really came into his own with his work in "Burning," which is still one of the best movies from the 2010's. I am glad he is getting the recognition he deserves with his work here. He does tremendous work here in this movie. He bounces off of Han Ye-ri perfectly, who also does good work here. A couple who could fall apart at any moment if the wrong thing happens. Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho play the family's children, and they are both fine young actors, and do very good here. As does Youn Yuh-jung is the grandmother, who is very crucial in certain moments of the film, and she does it well. This is a family of great performances, all adding to the drama.

Both of these films are worth your time and attention. So seek them out!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Heroes vs. Villains March Madness Bracket- Round Two Voting

 You get to vote until March 26th. Happy voting!


March Madness Heroes vs Villains First Round Results

                                       

First Round is over. What a battle its been. 

As far as movies go; Batman remains strong, easily taking Sonic out of the competition. He will be involved in a classic DC stand-off against Cyborg. Austin Powers, Thor and Prince Akeem also are advancing for the heroes, Austin Powers and Prince Akeem being upset wins, given seed. Princess Leia is advancing, as well as Clarice Starling and Samwise Gamgee, shocking nobody. For TV heroes, The Mandalorian continues his dominance, facing Ser Davos Seaworth in round 2. Father Gabriel Stokes, Meredith Grey, Lt. Columbo, Johnny Lawrence, Jim Hopper and Wanda Maximoff are all advancing as well.

For the villains side, Arthur Fleck for the movie villains continues his dominance. Dr. Evil, Hela and Syndrome were the biggest upsets in the movie villain bracket, advancing over their opponents. The Witch King and Amon Geoth are all advancing. For TV villains, Harley Quinn continues her dominance. Not too many surprises over at their side of the bracket.

I am building the second round voting poll right now.










Thursday, March 18, 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League IS better than Joss Whedon's Justice League. But does "better" mean "masterpiece?"

                                       

I've said it before, and I'll say one last time, the reason why "Zack Snyder's Justice League" exists should be reason enough to celebrate. It's great what can happen when the fans of something are listened to and they get exactly what they want. Most times, when studios buy intellectual property, we get what THEY think we want, instead of what we'd actually like to see. Sometimes its good and sometimes it is not good and that's the gamble of filmmaking. So it's great we are getting something rabid fans asked for. On an artistic level, its also great that a director got to fulfill the vision he had for a particular story and characters. Making something on your own terms is, surprisingly, not as common as you think. Not in mainstream Hollywood. So when an artist gets to unleash themselves on something that has been in their head for years, surely that's exciting.

For better or for worse, "Zack Snyder's Justice League" was going to be a lauded experience. There is a certain group of fans that got this movie made, and they are a very vocal group of fans. Fans that are unfortunately not very welcoming to other opinions. On one level I dreaded this day, but that toxic fandom is the fandom's fault, not the movie's fault. So I did want to know how Zack Snyder's four hour epic worked as a movie.

Much has been hyped about the four hour run time and the "R" rating. There has been equally lots of banter about how "Zack Snyder's Justice League" is this BRAND NEW MOVIE. But allow me to say that this is an oversell of sorts. The Justice League movie we got in 2017, that was finished by Joss Whedon after the tragic loss of Zack Snyder's daughter, was about an alien named Steppenwolf coming to Earth to retrieve the Mother Boxes in order to achieve world domination. So Batman recruits a bunch of heroes and resurrects Superman to stop him. "Zack Snyder's Justice League" is about...an alien named Steppenwolf coming to Earth to retrieve the Mother Boxes in order to achieve world domination. So Batman recruits a bunch of heroes and resurrects Superman to stop him. Sure, given the four hour runtime, HOW the story is told maybe "different." Sure, this time, Steppenwolf is retrieving the Mother Boxes for the evil Darkseid, which to put in simple terms, is DC's version of Thanos. Given this slight adjustment, Steppenwolf is much more of a character this time out, which is nice. When villains are given personality, it makes the stakes higher.

I don't think the movie gains anything by being rated "R." The restricted rating never means blood and cursing, at least not always. A movie with an "R" rating usually means its an adult movie about mature ideas. When you basically have the bones of the same story as before, but just told in a slightly different way, I can't say it elevates the material to being more adult. Despite what DC fandom will try and dress this as, "Zack Snyder's Justice League" is just like every Marvel movie and most modern blockbusters coming out these days. The good guys are trying to stop a bad guy from getting a glowing goober (remember Enter The Spider-Verse?). That's really all the story amounts to. If you think a movie is "mature" or "adult" simply because Cyborg and Batman say fuck a few times or because Batman impales a parademon, then I guess that means it earned its "R" rating, but this is very much an adolescent's version of an "R" rated movie.

Zack Snyder is just a film director in my eyes. There are movies by him that I've really, really liked. There are also movies he's made that make me scratch my head in bewilderment. He's not my favorite working in movies right now, but he's far from my least favorite. I've read enough of his interviews to know he loves these characters, and he thinks their awesome. I don't think that thinking something is awesome is enough license to adapt something, but he's got lots of heart. There are moments in "Zack Snyder's Justice League" that did make my heart swoon. First of all, Cyborg and Flash (and like I said above, Steppenwolf) are fleshed out as characters. That's important, because they are the only two members of the Justice League that we only know from this movie. You really get a feel for who they are as characters, and their motivations are fleshed out. Something that you simply can't get in a two hour movie.

Jared Leto's Joker probably has as much screen time as he did in "Suicide Squad." But I have to say, that all those Leto haters after "Suicide Squad" are going to shut right up after they see him here. This is the Leto Joker we deserved. Remember watching "The Dark Knight" being fixed on Heath Ledger in every scene? Same thing in the Joaquin Phoenix movie and even the 1989 Batman? Well, Leto's one scene in this movie, you won't be able to pay attention to anything else. Jared Leto is fucking amazing in his one scene. Yep, you read that right. He's amazing. Leto has always been a great actor. Sometimes, a script stunts you as a performer. Leto delights here, just delights. This is a version of the Joker I'd pay to see over and over.

I've always liked Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and I've always liked Ben Affleck as Batman. Yes, its true, Ben Affleck is a fine actor. He's a good Batman. When he's working from a good script, he's a terrific performer. Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck together are always great to see in this movie. I'd happily pay for a Ben Affleck trilogy with J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, and yes, unleash Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke. All of these actors show up in this movie in some form and I enjoyed all three of them. The various supporting cast is all very good here.

It doesn't matter if you are watching the 2017 Joss Whedon film or the Zack Snyder's version, there are mechanics to the story telling that never win me over completely. I don't understand why Batman goes from Superman's main enemy to calling him a symbol of hope dramatically because his mother shares his mother's name. While Steppenwolf's personality is an improvement this time, his lack of personality from the 2017 film was given to Darkseid. Darkseid is such an ordinary supervillain in this film. He wants to conquer Earth because he's a conqueror and that's what he does. End of character. Plus, the design of Steppenwolf, Darkseid and the parademons is so heightened and cartoonish that I never found any of them threatening. Sure, you could say the same thing about Thanos and Marvel villains. But the difference is that the Marvel movies are so self-aware that I buy that world. When you have a story about a bunch of superheroes stopping a supervillain from using the Mother Boxes and make this dreary film and take it overly-serious, well that comes off ridiculous. It comes off even more ridiculous when you add a bunch of poorly rendered blood effects into the action scenes, just to justify that "R" rating.

Oh and Martian Manhunter showing up? He has two small scenes and that's it. Not the exciting introduction you'd want by any means. He's not featured in any of the big or important scenes in this movie. He shows up to talk to himself then talk to Bruce Wayne, then he flies away. Nothing exciting sadly.

So in the end. It's the same story as the first film. I wouldn't really call this a "new movie." But if you've read Snyder's interviews since 2017 and read his plans for the Justice League trilogy he pitched to WB many years ago, you can see where this story was headed in his brain. So I guess that's kind of cool. I would say given the Knightmare extended scene in this movie that I'd be down to see what else Snyder had in mind for this story and characters. So I guess for that reason alone, you can count this as a win. The action scenes are longer. Some of the characters are more fleshed out. There is so much exposition due to the long run time that you may sometimes mistake the screenwriter for George Lucas. But other times, the dialogue is better than the previous movie. The story really has time to breathe instead of bulldozing through development due to the shorter run time.

"Zack Snyder's Justice League" is definitely the Justice League movie I will return to for pleasure. But is it a masterpiece? I don't think I'd give it that high a praise.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Heroes vs. Villains March Madness is here! VOTE TODAY

 Here is the first round of voting for this years new edition of Heroes vs. Villains March Madness. It is set up like last year. I have created a survey style voting bracket, so you can vote easily. You will have until the 21st! Happy voting. Spread the word, share with friends and family!

Be sure to use the scroller directly next to the survey in order to answer all questions pertaining to the vote!


Monday, March 15, 2021

MARCH MADNESS: HEROES VS. VILLAINS IS BACK

                                      

Guess what's back, back again!

Since 2015, I have conducted a "Heroes vs. Villains" entertainment bracket every March as a way to celebrate it being the month it is, as well as the March Madness that is so famous this time of year. Instead of basketball though, I pit some of the most popular, coolest heroes and villains from movies and TV to battle it out for superiority. Over the years, we've seen superheroes, super-spies, cops, soldiers, and just, plain good-hearted characters face off against supervillains, dark lords, monsters, vampires, and all forms of evil. It's been fun watching the votes go down and this year won't be any different!

Last year, our final four were Batman, The Mandalorian, Arthur Fleck and Harley Quinn, which just goes to show were our pop culture is at this very moment. Will these characters reign supreme again? Or will the new challengers listed below make their mark? Batman has won all but one competition, can he win again? 

It's all up to you. Starting March 17th, I will once again post a bracket using Google Documents, and you will be able to vote right here on the site. Why I didn't just do this the first few years is beyond me, forgive me for being not very tech-savvy. But I want to make it as easy as possible to vote, which is what will happen here. Voting will begin on March 17th for First Round. Second Round voting will begin on March 21st. Third Round voting will begin March 24th. Fourth Round voting will begin March 29th. The Final Four vote will begin April 1st. The Final battle between the biggest hero and the biggest villain will commence on April 5th. 

Here's who is competing this year, listed by seed:

MOVIE HEROES

  1. Batman (Batman films)
  2. Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings)
  3. Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars franchise)
  4. Thor (MCU)
  5. Joe Gardner (Soul)
  6. Laurie Strode (Halloween franchise)
  7. Clarice Starling (Hannibal franchise)
  8. Black Canary (Birds of Prey)
  9. Cyborg (DCEU)
  10. Elizabeth Swan (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise)
  11. Prince Akeem (Coming To America franchise)
  12. Austin Powers (Austin Powers franchise)
  13. Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Deadpool films)
  14. David Dunn (Unbreakable franchise)
  15. J.J. Gittes (Chinatown)
  16. Sonic The Hedgehog (Sonic The Hedgehog)
TV HEROES
  1. The Mandalorian (Disney+ The Mandalorian)
  2. Wanda Maximoff (Disney+ WandaVision)
  3. Johnny Lawrence (Netflix's Cobra Kai)
  4. Michael Burnham (Paramount+ Star Trek: Discovery)
  5. Father Gabriel Stokes (AMC's The Walking Dead)
  6. Lt. Columbo (NBC's Columbo)
  7. Jim Hopper (Netflix's Stranger Things)
  8. Billy Butcher (Amazon Prime's The Boys)
  9. Ser Davos Seaworth (HBO's Game of Thrones)
  10. Beth Harmon (Netflix's The Queen's Gambit)
  11. Atticus Freeman (HBO's Lovecraft Country)
  12. Ted Lasso (AppleTV+ Ted Lasso)
  13. Meredith Grey (ABC's Grey's Anatomy)
  14. Lt. Terry Jeffords (NBC's Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
  15. Stargirl (CW's Stargirl)
  16. Harvey Birdman (Cartoon Network's Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law)
Movie Villains
  1. Arthur Fleck (Joker)
  2. Amon Goeth (Schindler's List)
  3. The Shark (Jaws franchise)
  4. The Witch King (Lord of the Rings trilogy)
  5. Bride of Frankenstein (Bride of Frankenstein)
  6. Steppenwolf (DCEU)
  7. The Candyman (The Candyman)
  8. Darth Maul (Star Wars franchise)
  9. Buffalo Bill (Hannibal franchise)
  10. Dr. Robotnik (Sonic The Hedgehog)
  11. Hela (MCU)
  12. Dr. Evil (Austin Powers franchise)
  13. Mr. Glass (Unbreakable franchise)
  14. Syndrome (The Incredibles)
  15. Kaonashi (Spirited Away)
  16. Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
TV Villains
  1. Harley Quinn (HBOMax's Harley Quinn)
  2. Agatha Harkness (Disney+ WandaVision)
  3. John Creese (Netflix's Cobra Kai)
  4. Beta (AMC's The Walking Dead)
  5. Petyr Baelish (HBO's Game of Thrones)
  6. Commander Fred Waterford (Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale)
  7. Reign (CW's Supergirl)
  8. Katherine Pierce (CW's The Vampire Diaries)
  9. Bobby Axelrod (Showtime's Billions)
  10. The Hormone Monster (Netflix's Big Mouth)
  11. Constance Langdon (FX's American Horror Story)
  12. Head Six (Syfy's Battlestar Galactica)
  13. Hush (CW's Batwoman)
  14. Randall Flagg (Paramount+ The Stand)
  15. Livia Soprano (HBO's The Sopranos)
  16. Mumm-Ra (Cartoon Network's Thundercats)
Voting begins in a couple days. As always, have fun all!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Weekend Movie Round-up

 Because movie theaters aren't quite open to full capacity yet and because the studios are taking their time and being cautious about their releases, watching new movies at home has been a new normal for the last year now. It's crazy to think its been a whole year of COVID-19 and I'm hoping everyone can get the vaccine as soon as possible. No matter what happens, we are still getting new films at home, and its working so far as an alternative to the movie theater. 

"Coming to America" is one of my favorite films of all time. Any time a sequel is made over 30 years after the original came out, I am always cautious. I want so bad to like "Maverick" when it comes out, but there is also some hesitation. It's easy to be away from something so long that the new result doesn't live up to expectations. "Coming 2 America" is not better than the original, but that's okay. It's still wildly entertaining.

Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Louie Anderson, James Earl Jones, and Shari Headely all return from the previous film. Akeem is still a prince, but his father is close to death. Because Akeem has fathered three daughters, the royalty is at risk of reverting to another royal family once they marry. Unbeknownst to Akeem, but known to Semmi, Akeem hooked up with a girl in Queens (Leslie Jones) and fathered a son (Jermaine Fowler). Akeem and Semmi return to Queens, New York to track down his son. Akeem is successful, and his son comes back to Africa with him, and learns the fine art of becoming a prince. But his son is his own man, growing up in America, and he's got his own ideas for his new country and newfound royalty. Which could butt heads with Akeem's long lasting tradition.

"Coming 2 America" definitely features some sequel-idis, it features many of the same story threads from the first films. But it does a good job of updating for a more modern world. The original cast fits right back into this world, are all very funny revisiting their roles. The additions of Fowler, Jones, Tracey Morgan, Trevor Noah and Wesley Snipes add to the movie as well. Being PG-13, it isn't nearly as raunchy as the original film, but the film is able to side-step much of this with aplomb. What's clever is the movie feels raunchy at times without ever really tipping into that kind of humor. If that makes sense at all.

It's hard sometimes to really tap into the magic of something old. But sometimes, that doesn't really need to happen. There is plenty of fun to be had with "Coming 2 America," and it was really enjoyable to see these characters I love once again.

The "Groundhog Day" affect is quickly becoming a cliche in this business. We are seeing quite a few movies these days of people repeating the same day, over and over again, determined to break the cycle. Because this isn't a new idea, for me I like to see how entertaining something can be, and how it can play with expectations. I'm looking at execution over originality, and I have to say "Boss Level" is a mostly satisfying action thriller.

Frank Grillo is an actor I have admired for sometime now. I think he's been ripe for a leading role for quite awhile now. I am glad director Joe Carnahan gave him a chance, because Grillo proved that he can lead with the best of them. In "Boss Level," Grillo plays Roy Pulver. A typical ex-military, alcoholic who has an ex-wife and a child he barely knows. Every day he wakes up to shady people trying to kill him. There is a playful attitude to "Boss Level," as Roy is continually narrating his life, trying to piece together this mystery, spewing corny joke after corny joke to anybody who will listen. This definitely feels like an 1980's action movie made in 2021. 

A ton of fun actors make their way through this film. Including Naomi Watts, Mel Gibson, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Annabelle Willis and Will Sasso. Also look for Rob Gronkowski in a particularly funny cameo and Frank Grillo's own son Rio playing his son in the movie. Joe Carnahan is like Michael Bay, so get ready for a bunch of crazy mayhem and characters that could only exist in the movies. Like many other Carnahan movies, he over-extends his plot for no reason. Sometimes the film feels a bit overly-long and acts as if its trying too hard to be clever, something Carnahan hasn't got over quite yet. But there is still plenty of fun to be had here.

I also caught "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" It is thoroughly ridiculous.

I am able to catch quite a few movies since so much is getting released at home. So expect big reports like this in the future.

Friday, March 5, 2021

That's a wrap on WandaVision (SPOILERS)

                                               

THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS PERTAINING TO THE DISNEY+ MINI-SERIES "WANDAVISION" YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

That's a wrap on "WandaVision." The new mini-series that premiered on Disney+ roughly nine weeks ago. The mini-series revolved around Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and basically chronicled what she has been up to since all of our favorite Marvel heroes defeated Thanos and brought everyone back to life. After The Battle For Earth (which is what the final battle in "Avengers: Endgame" is referred to, on its Wiki page at least) loved ones who got dusted were reunited, and some of the heroes died. Vision sadly was unable to return due to the sad timing of Thanos' snap. Wanda felt like one of the very few who lost everything and gained nothing in return. She was determined to deal with her grief, so she used her unbelievable power to create her own reality in a sleepy town of Westview.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, and which was hotly debated on social media, the first few episodes definitely threw people off. Why are Wanda and Vision living through old school sitcoms? Who is controlling all of this? Somebody within the universe is watching too? Who is it and why? There was definitely some fun to be had in those first few episodes, and I'm not sure everybody got the joke. But it did all make sense by the end. 

If "WandaVision" was about anything, it was about grief. How we can sometimes turn to nostalgia in order to restrain the pain of whatever is making us grieve in the first place. We learn that as Wanda and Pietro were growing up, they had a poor but happy home. She grew up watching DVD's of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Bewitched." That was her family bonding time, and of course she would hold on to those precious memories when trying to cope with the pain of missing Vision and her brother. We can't wear nostalgia as armor though, that will slowly tear us apart, just as it did Wanda on the show. Someone I follow on Twitter called WandaVision "The Good version of 'Ready Player One.''' While that might be funny, when you think about it long enough, it makes perfect sense.

One of the things "WandaVision" definitely benefitted from was the weekly episode release. Something that seems foreign in a binge TV world. That set up worked for the show, rather than against it. Since each ending made the audience guess about next week. Kathryn Hahn is definitely someone from the comic books, but who? WHOA, Evan Peters who played Quicksilver in the Fox "X-Men" movies...is now playing him again now?!? What does this mean! Monica Rambeau? I know that name from somewhere! WHOA, WANDA'S KIDS HAVE SUPERPOWERS! There was always something to talk about each week, which added to the fun. 

Overall, and this is the comic book nerd in me talking so take it as you will, but the answers to these questions could sometimes be underwhelming. When they introduced Wanda's children, and the break-neck speed at which they grew in this show, I thought Young Avengers may be on the horizon. But in order to release the people of Westview from her spell and in order to stop Agatha Harkness (more on her in a bit) Wanda had to do away with the reality she created for herself. That means that Vision and her children disappeared. Sadly, if Young Avengers ever happens (which seems not that far-fetched since we have already been introduced to Harley Keener and Cassie Lang in this universe) it'll be without Speed and Wiccan. Too bad. While Evan Peters showing up as a character he played in X-Men, the reason as to why he was Quicksilver here may have disappointed some viewers. Obviously, messing with the multiverse is on the horizon with the MCU, but it doesn't start here. Evan Peters is basically the end of a joke and nothing more.

One of the biggest strengths of this show has been Kathryn Hahn and her fabulous work as Agnes, and the slow introduction of her being Agatha Harkness. Agatha Harkness was an evil magic-user from the comic books who has ran into all sorts of characters in the comic books, Wanda included. In the show, she wants to absorb Wanda's power. Because, yes, while this show did explore all sorts of themes, its a superhero show at the end of the day. Of course there's a Big Bad that Wanda was destined to take care of. Like I said, Hahn was great here, and I am glad that Agatha doesn't die, leaving the door open for her character to return in some form.

I equally enjoyed Teyonah Parris' work as Monica Rambeau. The daughter of Maria Rambeau, whom we met in the "Captain Marvel" movie in 2019. We find out that Monica was one of the many people who got dusted from Thanos' snap, and she re-materializes in hospital, where she was staying due to her mom's health. She comes back to learn that Maria died of her health complications, she volunteers to enter the mysterious force field created by Wanda, agreeing with SWORD, an organization created by her mother. (Apparently since the 90's, even though somehow this is the first we are hearing about it) Monica Rambeau already has powers and I'm sure we will learn more about those powers sometime in the future, because the finale today made it clear that Monica isn't going anywhere soon. I like Teyonah Parris a lot and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

Those are all the big comic book characters introduced. The BIG CAMEO that Paul Bettany kept teasing the last few weeks ended up being just smoke and mirrors. The final episode today is a pretty big spectacle and little else. Personally, I am not sure nine episodes were needed, but those missing the big superhero fights were satisfied. Some people like that the final episode wasn't a big cameo fest, while others were expecting someone big to show up. It just goes to show that we have to let go of our expectations with these pieces of entertainment. Sometimes people ruin things for themselves because they are always holding onto rumors or things they hear or read on the internet and they treat it like the Holy Word and we can't do that. Wanda's future is going to be pretty crazy, suggests the final credit scene of this last episode, personally after her journey here, that's all I needed. This was an overall very enjoyable mini-series. Disney proved that Marvel could be cool on their streaming service and now I'm excited for "Falcon and the Winter Soldier" even more.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The award shows are weird this year

                                             

Amazing that the 2021 award season is just now kicking off at the time every year where its usually winding down. But you thank COVID-19 for that.

I didn't watch the Golden Globes last night. I read the winners list this morning. I know Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted and knowing them, I am sure they did really well. The older I get, the more cynical around awards I have noticed I get. Sure, I am a little interested to see who pompous Hollywood likes to give their golden statues to, but that's all it is, it's pompous Hollywood self-congratulating themselves. I know there fans of these ceremonies and people who specifically like the kinds of movies that the award's season covers, and I don't mean to judge what they like. You are more than okay to like the movies you like and enjoy the awards season. The older I get though, the more I think the conversations around award circuits is limited. I detest the idea that certain filmmakers will make an "Oscar-bait" movie. Because honestly, doesn't that make awards redundant? I don't like that entire genres and entire types of films are ignored because the subject matter isn't enough for the award circuit. It all drives me nuts more and more.

2021 awards are going to be even weirder this year. For some reason, because of COVID, the awards got pushed back this year. COVID may have made the business cautious, to be safe over being sorry, and I understand that completely. But I don't get that the measure of a year really goes kapoot. They were successfully able to work around it. It was postponed and many actors, from what I saw, received their awards from home last night. Good move, for sure. But including 2021 releases when we should be focusing on the year 2020. Each year has their own mix of great moments from film and television and I think if you are going to pick what the best of each year was, it has to be set within that year.

"Judas and The Black Messiah" is a wildly great movie. I gave the movie a great review. Movies that great usually don't come out this early in a year. If its such an early anomaly, why is it being caked in with a bunch of 2020 titles. Don't get me wrong, I am glad Daniel Kaluuya is getting recognized for his work in this film. But it almost feels like an unfair advantage against a sea of 2020 films filled with great performances that got pushed to side for a 2021 movie.

I don't remember these awards being categorized by a year and three months, they are the best of the year, so we should focus on the year in question. That year is 2020.

I feel like this isn't a COVID issue and I don't understand why it happened. It makes the whole season of awards very weird and I don't know how this will affect the future of these ceremonies.

Oh well. I've spoken my peace on the subject. Now I am going to start figuring out who will appear on my annual Heroes vs. Villains March Madness bracket!

Monday, February 22, 2021

2021 Notable Releases

                                            

2021 has been, like any other movie year, one of ups and downs. I've been busy as a bumblebee this past year, so I haven't had as much time to write as I'd like. But rest assured, I am seeing as many 2021 releases as I can. All of which have been in the comfort of my home. Because of the pandemic, there is still so much being released at home. Netflix is releasing new movies a week. HBOMax is pretty much doing the same. Streaming services are keeping the business afloat right now. I don't know how theaters are really doing right now. But streaming is making it work. Digital rentals are making it work. With all of this together, I am still awash in film. What some people don't seem to understand either is that "new" doesn't automatically mean 2021. I've been spending 2021 watching as many movies that I haven't seen yet. From the 2000's, the 90's, the 80's, even the 30's. I've been watching 2020 movies that I haven't had a chance to see yet. Anything you haven't seen yet is new, and its been an adventure at home, even when I'm not actively going to the theater.

That's not to say that 2021 hasn't already been memorable. Let's dig through some of the 2021 releases that I haven't written about yet. 

HBOMax Releases

It was pretty canny move for Warner Bros. to release their entire yearly slate on HBOMax as well as theaters. Has it paid off so far? Well, that really depends. A studio is a studio. They will have hits and misses, and usually in the beginning, there are mostly misses. "Locked Down" starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway features two great leads, it's got a fun "Ocean's 11" style vibe, but its pretty teflon Hollywood as far as story and structure is concerned. There wasn't enough here to fully wow me in any way. It's a movie that tried really hard to use COVID-19 as a springboard, but just because you take advantage of a momentary gimmick doesn't mean your movie is going automatically be good. The movie itself doesn't have much to say about how our society has changed or evolved because of this and it's entertaining enough to matter. It's very, very light entertainment.

"The Little Things" starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto is a fairly typical, gritty detective movie. We got two hotshot cops who are trying to solve a series of grizzly murders. They constantly trying to one-up each other. They will eventually grow to respect each other. One cop has a family he really cares about, the other is divorced with a tough past that will miraculously tie into the story in this movie being told. Does any of this sound familiar? Because it should. We see so many of these types of movies, that they are a dime a dozen. So much so that I wonder why Denzel and even Rami bothered in the first place, surely they could find better projects to spend their talents on. It tries hard to reach a morally gray ending, but its really not enough to warrant a "good enough" rating, especially since they aren't covering new material here.

Warner Brothers will probably have more misses this year, each year is full of them.

More than a magician

Easily the best thing I've seen in 2021 so far has been "In and Of Itself" which is currently showing on Hulu. On the surface, it may look like magician Derek DelGaudio performing one of the many showings he had live from New York City (I believe it was?) but this isn't just some special. DelGaudio isn't the typical magician. When I say that, I don't mean that I can't figure out the prestige in his tricks. I'll confess to you all, magicians do nothing for me anymore due to "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist." Simply because I spend my time trying to figure out the trick instead of focusing on the show. DelGaudio isn't just a typical magician, he is also a vulnerable storyteller. There is so much of DelGaudio that goes into his show that its almost an autobiography. Not only that, but he asks his audience to give something of themselves to the show as well. One of the big, story-weaving tricks is that each member of the audience must pick a card, each card has a specific nickname on it and you must pick a nickname card that pertains to your life. How that ties into DelGaudio's show is just part of the fun. Magician's don't need to be vulnerable, they don't need to tell their stories to us. But DelGaudio chose to in order to enhance his show and it makes for quite the experience.

JT making it real!

I can't say that I was a big NSYNC fan growing up. I also didn't really care for Justin Timberlake as an actor when he first started showing up in movies. Much like many celebrities who jump into acting, Timberlake carried his persona into his roles and it usually hurt the movie in some way. Those days could be behind him now. Scoring big playing in films like "The Social Network" and "Inside Llewyn Davis," Timberlake has made a true name for himself as an actor. He just leveled up this year in the unforgettable "Palmer" available on AppleTV+. Palmer is a guy who has just got out of prison when we meet him. He's currently living with his grandmother until he gets on his feet. He's got a parole officer, he's struggling to find work. The whole bit. Despite the violent arrest on his record, he's able to get a janitorial job at a school. Palmer reluctantly bonds with a child who lives next door to his grandmother, and they begin hanging out quite a bit. The child's mother is taken away due to drugs and the boy stays with Palmer's grandmother, which leads Palmer to become even closer to the boy. When his past tries to catch up with him, Palmer must make some quick, smart decisions. It's a simple story, a straightforward tale but its well done. Justin Timberlake gives the best performance he's given in anything so far, and just watching him grow is all the reason to see it.

Worth The Hype

As we draw closer to a very weird Awards circuit, you'll be hearing much about "Nomadland" which is now available on Hulu. I watched this past weekend and I am glad I did. I am usually weary of anything getting such a big push from awards season lobbyists, but in this case, they are dead right. "Nomadland' is visual poetry. A miracle of a movie. Francis McDormand lands yet another stellar, memorable performance to add to her unbelievable career. Here, she plays Fern, a woman who sadly lost everything in 2011. Her job, her husband, her home. Because of her circumstance, she sells most of her belongings, purchases a van and equips it to live out of. She becomes a "nomad," and spends her days looking for work. 

We get what feels like an exclusive look at a very small corner of our country's culture. Fern follows a long line of other nomads; people who are living out of their cars, constantly traveling for work, a community that gets together and learns and teaches itself survival and self-sufficiency skills. What's amazing is the movie features actual, real-life nomads. There isn't much of a story here, as Fern drifts in and out of the Nomads, working, seeing the corners of our great nation. McDormand is able to speak volumes by just making a face, just reacting to this newfound lifestyle. There are many parts of the movie that feature no dialogue and McDormand is able to communicate much by just how she reacts to things. It's amazing acting. A once-in-a-lifetime performance by an actress that has elevated herself year after year.

The movie is also wise to not look down on these people or their lifestyles. There isn't some big dramatic change, that you often see in these types of movies. This isn't a situation that Fern is trying to escape. In fact, its really about what its like when you finally find your people, find your destiny, what you want out of life. "Nomadland" is a movie that simply gives you a glimpse of a facet of our country's culture. A truly spiritual and wonderful experience.


There is all sorts of good stuff out right now that is simply brand new. Check it out!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

MORTAL KOMBAT TRAILER

So, the upcoming "Mortal Kombat" trailer has arrived. It looks like B-Movie mayhem. I am all for it. 

While I wasn't the biggest fan of "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation" in 1997, the first film from 1995 had its charms. But I don't think either movie has aged particularly well. The costumes look like Halloween cosplay. But most of all, the fight scenes were in such slow motion that they deflated the action sequences. They just never looked particularly natural. So the most important thing I was watching for with this new take was how the fights look. I love that they really pay homage to the games in which they are based on, as well as looking like raw, naturalistic fights.

For fans of the game, it might be weird that there is a brand new character introduced. Lewis Tan is playing a new character named Cole Young. While I do think its weird to introduce a brand new character into a world that is already rich with characters, this could be some smoke and mirrors. I have a movie friend who was discussing his theories with me. One could be that Cole Young is an alias for Johnny Cage, and that Young was a failed actor who decided to become a cage fighter. (Get it? Cage? Ho, ho). The other theory is that Cole Young is an alias of Bi-Han, the first Sub-Zero who would become the villain Noob Sabiot. It's clear from this trailer that the bad blood between Sub-Zero and Scorpion will be explored in this movie. So I really wouldn't mind seeing one of these theories materialize. If he is indeed just a new character, its really weird to base a movie around him. In the games, the story arguably belongs to Lui Kang, so to sideline him and make him a supporting character is strange. If they go more a "Game of Thrones" route, and tell multiple stories, that could be cool. But might be odd for a movie.

I like all types of movies. I like Oscar bait. I like experimental and artsy stuff. But I also like genre junk like this. I am big a fan of this game franchise, one of my absolute favorites. I'm excited to see what they've done here. But remember, this is based upon a video game, and the video was particularly very silly. I'm not expecting Oscar-caliber writing from this movie, and you shouldn't either. Go to the movie on its terms.

But I'm just over-the-moon excited to see Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion. He is, in fact, my favorite Japanese actor. He already looks amazing!


What do you think MK fans? 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League looks fine. Just fine.

 

I think "Zack Snyder's Justice League" looks fine. It doesn't look terrible, it doesn't look like the messiah of superhero films either. It looks fine. The DCEU (if we can even call this movie apart of that) has been high and low, basically from the start. There are movies that I really like from that camp of films, and there are films that I don't care for much at all. It's totally okay if you like the films I don't like. Its perfectly okay if you love the entire franchise. If you also happen to be the type of fan that was will gush all over anything that features characters you've grown up loving all you're life? Guess what? That's okay too! 

 I am not here to get in your face for liking the films you like. I don't need to know the reasons why you like the films you like. To tell the truth, the story of how "Zack Snyder's Justice League" is a remarkable one. Snyder didn't finish "Justice League" in 2017 because his child had health complications. No matter what you think of Snyder or the films he's made, that's really sad. I don't wish that type of grief on anybody, and I am glad that he pulled through that time in his life. Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the film. While I like "Justice League" to a degree, its not without its flaws. One of those flaws is how the film kind of feels like a Frankenstein Monster. Two styles of two different directors are fighting for air, and it ends up feeling like a strange experience. 

 The fans for years have been begging DC to allow Zack Snyder to release his cut of the film. Warner Brothers decided to give Snyder a few million to do so and they are now giving the fans what they asked for. It's truly a great story. An artist gets to fulfill the vision he had for the story he wanted to tell. The fans to get to revel in that vision. It's a great example of what happens when fandom comes together and when the establishment decides to listen, and what can come of that. 

With that said, a very specific type of fan asked for this. I think no matter what, those fans are going to love this movie, no matter what it ends up being. That's perfectly okay if they like the movie and they like anything and everything about it. I hope I enjoy it when it comes out. The thing is, Zack Snyder is kind of all over the place when it comes to the movies he makes. There are films of his I really like, but he can also colossally screw the pooch as well. I think he's said some really crazy things in the press before. Overall, he's a decent guy and a decent filmmaker, but maybe not the guy you put in charge of a big franchise like this.

 I've said this thousands and thousands of times, too. I don't get the need to make these characters dark. Or why fans feel the need to bully others into believing that these characters need to be dark. Comedies are funny, horror films are scary. Superhero movies also have a very distinct style to them. If you can't handle that, that's on you, not the genre. I'm not saying I'm against dark comic book movies. It really depends on the character. Punisher should be dark. Wolverine and Spawn should be dark. Batman...it really depends. Because he's been so flexible over the years that you can virtually tell any story with him. There was a time when I only thought dark Batman mattered. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the Christopher Nolan movies and "Batman Forever" hurt my heart and all I wanted was dark and serious Batman. As I have gotten older, I still like Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." I like playing the Arkhamverse video games. But I also like the Adam West era Batman. I enjoy "Batman: The Brave and The Bold." Yes, I still love "The LEGO Batman Movie." Batman can be much more than one thing. Dark, gritty storytelling featuring Batman isn't a bad thing. For me though, the darkness needs to illuminate something or help elevate the story, or features a metaphor. There are plenty of Batman stories that are dark for darkness sake, and I don't tend to like those stories at all. It really depends on the character and what kind of story you want to tell if you are going to create a dark superhero story. I tend to not like dark superhero stories simply to say "gritty is cool!" You have to be saying something if you want to do that. There's also a big difference between dark and serious toned. 

What it looks like we have here is a Justice League movie where heroes will drop F-bombs and acting mopey because someone set off the Mother Boxes and one of the alien invaders is named GRANNY GOODNESS. Overly serious DC is even more silly compared to Marvel because DC is way more engulfed in fantasy and their characters or much more goofy. That's why DC dark works a lot less. Sorry, not sorry. Just my opinion. I'll still check this out. I like SOME of Snyder's work and I hope he can surprise me here. But I never get the need to make superheroes so dark and serious and angsty. Maybe that was cool when I was 16, but as I've gotten older and see comic books as they are, dark superhero stories seem dopey to me. 

If you are excited for this movie though, then be excited. I am not here to take that away from you. I merely want to explain why I'm on the fence about this. You don't have to be on the same fence. I only hope that you allow for others to have their opinions too. Fandom has become so toxic to the point that talking about these franchise blockbusters has lost its fun and we should curate a space for discussion. Not alienate others over their opinions. I know because I used to suck when it came to discussing film. But I caught myself and years ago I decided to quit. You can have your opinion and I will have mine. 

 I would love to see the end of gatekeeping as well. Because here's another thing, whether its DC superheroes or Marvel superheroes, Disney Princesses or Star Wars Jedi's. All of these fandoms are going to last longer than we do. We don't need to alienate fans based upon when they got into a franchise. We don't need to like a certain film or a certain era to fit in or to look a certain way. It's okay to like whatever you want to like. I know I was one of the few that didn't really care for "The Joker" in 2019. Joaquin Phoenix doesn't need to be my Joker, though. There are plenty of Joker's that I hold dear to my heart, and I love that. I'm not going to rail on "The Joker" ever again because I already said everything I wanted to say. If you liked that movie, then Joaquin Phoenix can be your Joker and that's absolutely fine. No harm, no foul. 

 I hope for a day when fandom isn't so toxic and we don't use other franchises as ways to offend others. We already have enough problems in the world, we don't need to be hassling people over which flavor of superhero they like. 

 For right now, Zack Snyder has a new movie coming next month. Let's see how it turns out...

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Review: "Judas and The Black Messiah" is worth the hype

 
History matters. As our world gets crazier and crazier its become more and more important that we remember that always.

"Judas and The Black Messiah" tells the unbelievable true story Bill O'Neal. Bill was a petty criminal during the early 1960's who got arrested for attempted theft of a car and also impersonating a police officer. While under arrest, he is approached by FBI Agent Roy Mitchell. Mitchell offers to drop all of O'Neal's charges if he goes undercover for the FBI and infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, headed by Fred Hampton. Fred Hampton and Bill O'Neal become very close with one another, even while O'Neal slips intel to the FBI. As O'Neal stays within the Black Panther Party for a long amount of time, being rejected each time he wants to end being an informant, the closer he gets to Hampton.

It may turn some readers off to discuss The Black Panther Party. I'm sure there are some viewers out there who won't agree with the portrayal of the Black Panther Party in this movie. But again, history is history and it matters. Real, actual history matters, no that revisionist crap that gets lauded on the internet now and again. It would probably blow some people's minds to learn that the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party created a free lunch program. Hampton united street gangs and other civil rights groups under a multiracial coalition known as the Rainbow Coalition. And there is more evidence then not that there was an alliance between the FBI, Chicago Police and other government agencies to kill Hampton. This is all history that is readily available to you and the real story of the Black Panther Party has been a real eye-opener when I first started reading about it avidly. 

"Judas and The Black Messiah" works wonders due to its electrifying cast. You got Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, giving another great performance to add to his already impressive resume. The same can be said about LaKeith Stanfield, who plays Bill O'Neal. You got Jesse Plemons as FBI Agent Roy Mitchell. All three of these men are some of the best young actors working in the business right now and all three of them knock it out of the ballpark. I can't wait to see what comes of these guys' careers, because they are all on a roll right now. I also have to single out Martin Sheen who shows up a few times as J. Edgar Hoover. At first, I only recognized Sheen by his iconic voice. The make-up effects on Sheen to look like Hoover is honestly amazing. Sometimes a little can go a long way. Sometimes, too much looks really bad. But here, the make-up is just right and well done.

This is historical drama done right. At the same time, "Judas and The Black Messiah" is also very much of the moment. At a time when facts get distorted daily, where lies are taken as truths, and when history can just simply be made up to fit someone's narrative and its enough for someone to simply say "I read this somewhere" so suddenly their a historian. A movie like "Judas and The Black Messiah" matters. Believe the hype on this one folks, it's done note perfect.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Stand: Modern Pop Culture's Most Confounding Misfire


I've never been shy about my Stephen King love on this blog. So I bet you thought I was excited for "The Stand" coming to CBS All Access this past December. You'd be absolutely right. I couldn't wait to see this mini-series play out. Especially since the cast looked spectacular on paper.

For anybody who hasn't read Stephen King's epic book, "The Stand" is essentially about the end of the world. A bio-terrorist weapon is accidentally unleashed on the American public, a weapon so powerful that it has a 97% kill rate. It is a weapon of many names; A6, Captain Trips and most popularly Superflu. The government's failure to contain the virus leads to millions of deaths, and soon the Superflu pandemic reaches global proportions. The few survivors left in America are drawn towards one of two opposing forces, either through dreams or visions. One is Abigail Freemantle, also known as Mother Abigail, an elderly Christian. The other is Randall Flagg, a name hardcore King fans should recognize, a man who very well could be The Devil and is pretty much the ultimate embodiment of evil. As Abigail draws the good-hearted, moral survivors; Flagg influences the outcasts, the easily manipulated and the immoral survivors. Which leads to a confrontation between both groups for survival. It boils down to essentially being King's version of "The Lord of the Rings." As four members of Mother Abigail's group (representing four hobbits, a fellowship) to confront Randall Flagg (a dark lord) at a sanctuary he's made in Las Vegas (because which other city would be a better stand in for Mordor?)

There was an adaptation of "The Stand" made in 1994. While it was made-for-TV and it's very, very 90's, it still holds up okay. It adapted most of the big events from the novel (which I should mention was over 1,100 pages). It starred great actors like Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Ed Harris, Ruby Dee, Miguel Ferrer and Ed Harris. It may be a bit dated and the special effects used in it might look a little silly, it's still a perfectly okay adaptation.

I tell you all of this up front. Because if you've never read the book and if you've never seen the 90's mini-series, then the new 2020 adaptation will probably make little to no sense.

Stephen King's book is a pretty straightforward read. So it puzzles me that one would read this epic book and tell themselves "You know what would make this cool? If we told the story in non-linear fashion!" But that's exactly what creator Josh Boone and showrunner Ben Cavell decided to do. They have told King's epic in non-linear fashion, jumping all over the book for no particular reason other than to purposely confuse the audience. That's only for the first three episodes though. Then it decides to start telling the story in regular fashion. It's like the creators watched "Lost," were big fans of that show and decided to copy it for a little while before realizing it didn't make any sense.

Because of this choice in storytelling, there is no character development for anybody. The two main leads spark a romance and it's never earned. Randall Flagg, the big bad of the story, never comes off scary, intimidating, or a force to be feared. There are bodies crucified all along the Las Vegas strip, we see Flagg brutally murder a man who didn't listen to him. Still, Flagg comes off as a goofy, post-Quentin Tarantino villain. This kills me because Alexander Skarsgaard was hired to play him and I know for a fact that you give Skarsgaard good scripts, he'll get you something out of it.

In fact, one of the reasons I was so excited for this adaptation was the cast. When you read the cast on paper, you would think you'd be in for a good adaptation. You got James Marsden as Stewart Redman, the main hero of the story. You got Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail. You got Greg Kinnear as Glen Bateman, a guy who becomes very close to Stewart. You got Nat Wolff as Lloyd Henreid, a criminal who becomes Flagg's right-hand man. You got Ezra Miller as The Trashcan Man, a schizophrenic who becomes obsessed with doing Flagg's bidding. You've got JK Simmons, Bryan Cranston, Hamish Linklater and Daniel Sunjata making glorified cameos. These are lots of good actors right here, lots of other actors, like Odessa Young, Fiona Dourif, Eion Bailey, Owen Teague, and Katherine McNamara who I also dig in roles. And actors that I did come to respect from being in this. Like Jovan Adepo and Brad William Henke. King's "The Stand" is a sprawling epic, rich with some of the best characters he's ever written. So you need reliable actors to bring these characters to life. These actors are good and if anybody else on the planet wrote this mini-series, I bet they'd kill it. But each and every actor in this entire mini-series is wasted, working with bad scripts and given zero character development. The show constantly feels like its on fast forward, its never given a chance to breathe. Events shake out and we feel nothing for the characters or their circumstances.

I also understand that in a world where books are adapted multiple times, you have to put your personal stamp on it. That means taking some liberties. But none of those creative liberties work in this adaptation. Lloyd Henreid in particular is a guy who is fine being Flagg's right-hand man, but slowly begins to realize that he's in over his head and that maybe he made a bad choice following Flagg. Wolff plays Lloyd like he's The Joker without any make-up on. A deranged, manic individual. When it comes to the part where he should begin to feel guilty over joining Flagg, it never feels earned. When you read "The Stand," you learn that Flagg keeps a very stern, very authoritarian hand over his followers. Which is why Vegas gets cleaned up and running much faster than the sanctuary our heroes create. There are certain behaviors that Flagg forbids, which gives him his power. Flagg's New Vegas in this adaptation is so overblown that's its honestly almost funny, furnished with gladiatorial death-matches and threesomes happening out in the open. 

Stephen King has returned to add upon "The Stand" more times than George Lucas returned to his original "Star Wars" trilogy. "The Stand" was originally written in 1978, then King released a "Complete and Uncut" edition in 1990. That's the version I read in grade school and basically the only version sold in stores as far as I can tell. One thing about this new adaptation was that King wrote a new coda. The last episode of this mini-series is entirely new material King wrote recently. To understand my frustrations, I will have to dive into spoilers. So if you have any desire to watch this or if you plan to read the book, you might want to bail.

So the coda begins after the nuclear destruction of Las Vegas. Flagg and all of his followers are killed after The Hand of God moment. Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) gives birth to her baby, who begins showing symptoms of Superflu, but quickly overcomes it. Stu, the only survivor of the foursome who came to confront Flagg returns and meets his baby. Stu and Frannie decided to move back to Frannie's homestate of Maine. Even though they have a perfect community there that has power and doctors and the whole bit. But they for some reason decide to go to Maine anyway, away from essentials and into uncertainly with a new baby. They stop at a house to camp for one evening and while Frannie tries to get water out of a well, she falls in. In a dream, she is confronted by Flagg, resists his temptations then is congradulated by Mother Abigail. Stu was away gathering supplies during all of this, and when he returns, he sees a little girl he's never seen before holding his baby and who helps him get Frannie out of the well. She also magically cures all of Frannie's injuries. And that's pretty much it. While there is some religious symbolism and lip service to how violence never ends in this world, this coda is sadly meaningless. One thing I will praise is when Stu and Frannie originally come on the house, there is some tension in the scene that is sadly missing from the rest of the mini-series. I don't know how you adapt a Stephen King novel and not make it scary or intense, but this mini-series managed just that. Just like everything else in this mini-series, the stakes and meaning behind the scenes are never earned. Even in this coda.

I read Stephen King's "The Stand" in grade school. The 90's mini-series used to play at least once a year on The Sci/Fi channel, and I watched it alot growing up. I also had a really cool English teacher in grade school who allowed me to do a book report on "The Stand." I feel like I know the story pretty well. They hired some great actors for this new adaptation and they give it their all for sure. Greg Kinnear and Brian William Henke in particular stick out here. But because of the way Boone and Cavell chose to tell this story, the audience will get nothing from this. There are no stakes. There is no character development (something that is particularly shocking, since this new version is three hours longer than the 90's version), nothing has any sort of emotional weight to it. This adaptation is a sad, confounding mess.

Josh Boone directed "The New Mutants" last year, another experienced I loathed. Between "The Stand" and "The New Mutants," Hollywood needs to stop letting Josh Boone destroy things I love.