Friday, August 6, 2021

Val Kilmer bears his soul in the unforgettable "Val"

                                         

It may seem like a sleazy vanity project when an actor decides to make a documentary about their own lives. Or, when handled right, it can be the summation of a person's soul. Thankfully, we get the latter with "Val."

Even if you are apart of the Generation Z crowd, if you become a big enough cinephile, you will come across Val Kilmer eventually. He was a big name throughout the 80's and 90's, who eventually struggled to find work when it was deemed he was too hard to work with. He disappeared from the limelight by the mid-2000's, sometimes coming out of the wood work to star in a indie drama or two. The ruggedly handsome man ballooned to obesity. Then sadly, eventually developed throat cancer. Thankfully, Val Kilmer has survived his cancer, and he's still trucking along. Still attached to make an appearance in that "Top Gun" sequel that is still apparently coming some time soon.

Val Kilmer grew up in the heart of Hollywoodland, and he and his brothers were always making films of their own. Kilmer was one of the first stars who had a video camera when they were made, and he created seemingly endless home movies, and testimonials from all of the films he worked on. All of this footage used to tell the story of a man who loved movies and acting. This is the story of Val Kilmer. Whether you like him or not, whether you thought he was jerk or not. The truth is, you got the story that the media furnished for you. We sometimes forget that every story has two sides. 

From what I gathered from this documentary. Val Kilmer was a man who was ridiculously in love with the world of film. So much so that he is relentless on himself and he was relentless on those around him and sometimes that can cause some tension, to say the least. I don't believe he did the things he did because he is a malicious person he just a very intense artist. I am not saying I excuse his bad behavior, he feels remorse for his own behavior. Understanding where it all comes from is the first step we make to bettering ourselves as people. Val Kilmer digs deep in these recorded memories, and rehashing the things he's done and what has come of all of it.

Val has mad respect for all the people he's worked with (except maybe John Frankenheimer, that's up for debate!) It's definitely inspiring to see a man who has been living his dream, seemingly from out of the womb. Also, living his dream for others in his family (His younger brother accidently drowned at age 15, he enjoyed making home movies with Val). No matter how big we get as stars or how big our heads get from working in the industry for so long, Val Kilmer proves that we never too big for self-reflection and watching a man throw it all out of there, to get his story out there is an overwhelmingly inspiring experience.

"Val" is not the movie I thought I needed this year, but something I am so glad I got this year. With all the down time COVID brought this passed year, it was a year full of my own self-reflection. It's always good to look yourself in a mirror and take inventory on what you've become and it can help you enormously. "Val" isn't just a beautiful summation of a man's career, its not just the x-ray of a man's life, it is lovely self-portrait of the rollercoaster of good and bad on the ride called life. 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Yep, that's "The Suicide Squad" alright.

                                         

One of the biggest letdowns of the 2010's for me was "Suicide Squad." After many superhero movies that had hit the big screen up, I was ready for a movie about supervillains being forced to work for the government for shortened prison sentences. I was hoping for a different kind of comic book movie, because that's what you do with that kind of premise...something different. I wouldn't have minded a gritty movie. If anybody could have made this work, it was David Ayer. So what did Warner Brothers do? They panicked, stripped Ayer's vision for spare parts and just gave us another, carbon-copy "superhero" movie...except this time it starred supervillains. Hard pass.

I hope Warner Brothers is starting to see that if they give their artists the opportunity to fly, they make great comic book movies. Just like what James Gunn just did with "The Suicide Squad." James Gunn's film is basically the comic book version of "The Dirty Dozen," which is exactly what I want from a Suicide Squad movie. The worst of the worst supervillains are forced to work for the government. That pesky Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) always knowing how to manipulate the baddies with ease. All of this within the James Gunn anesthetic. Count me in.

"The Suicide Squad" is so amazing, you're going to be begging for a James Gunn DC Universe. I want that. Come on DC, make James Gunn the Kevin Feige of DC. You know you'd see your profits soar if you decided to do that. Make him the main producer of a DC film universe. Imagining where Gunn not only allowed each DC superhero to really shine, but also the bottom-of-the-barrel characters to shine as well!? Oh man, I long for something like that.

The film begins with Johnny Cash's "Folsom City Blues" playing as Savant (Michael Rooker) gets recruited into the Suicide Squad. The movie doesn't waste time introducing new characters. You get to know some as the film progresses, but don't expect a 30 minute Wikipedia information dump like the first film did. Some characters you'll only learn their names, you'll get to see them in action and then poof. They're gone. This is a movie that definitely makes the team live up to its name. Not everybody makes it out of this one, in fact, most of the team is dead by the end of the film. I loved the unpredictable nature of this film. There are character deaths that take place that I am absolutely shocked happened. I knew there were going to be deaths, but not THOSE deaths. I thought to myself, "wow, they really let James Gunn go there." But we are all richer for it. An unpredictable movie like this is exactly what we needed.

Joel Kinnamen, Margot Robbie, and Jai Courtney return as Rick Flag, Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang from the first film. The movie plays coy about this really being a sequel, even if some of the players from the first film appear again. They are joined by Bloodsport (Idris Elba); an assassin you put Superman in the hospital with a kryptonite bullet, Peacemaker (John Cena) very much an anti-Captain America, Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchoir); who can control rats, King Shark (Slyvester Stallone); who is a giant walking talking shark, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) who kills people...with dots, TDK (Nathan Fillion) who can detach his arms, Weasel (Sean Gunn) a giant weasel, Blackguard (Peter Davidson); a gunman, Javelin (Flula Borg); who can kill with a javelin, and Mongal (Mayling Ng) an alien. All have to go to the island nation of Corto Maltese to destroy a base working on a secret threat to world peace known as Project Starfish.

The mayhem and anarchy start right away, and Gunn barely slows down the carnage. His style of humor shines through and through here. Everybody does really well here. It will be hard for you to really pick a favorite of the bunch. Idris Elba is a straight up badass here. John Cena is surprisingly amazing here, I never knew there would ever be a day I'd love John Cena, but here we are. Polka Dot Man is a bottom-of-the-barrel Batman villain nobody remembers, so of course Gunn takes him and makes him the heart of the film. Along with Ratcatcher and Dastmalchian does some of his finest work here as Polka Dot Man. Daniela Melchoir is a real discovery here. Viola Davis plays Waller with much more malice here than before, very much the anti-Nick Fury.

The film is packed with cameos, both from the DC Universe and Gunn's previous films. (Look for Pom Klementieff moment, who played Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). As trailers have shown, Starro shows up and its an amazing scene with him in it. The only character complaint I have is the lack of personality with King Shark. Sly does a good job, but giving King Shark a dumb personality just seems very safe. Especially with all the personality he has in the Harley Quinn cartoon on HBOMax.

Where the film really works though is that this is a movie about supervillains, through and through. Even when the team gets heroic, those heroics are only a means to an end. The 2016 film had the supervillains turn into superheroes rather quickly. Their loyalty is to each other, a group of misfits who become a family because they don't have anything else. They aren't working for the world's sake, even when it seems like they are. While, Gunn does lace his film with humor, it's never overpowering. This is a story that merely takes place in a world with superpowered people and aliens and weird monsters and things of that nature. It treats those things as real, and sometimes the humor comes from taking something fanatical and making it mundane. The film is very clever and it puts character first in a spectacular way.

If you felt jaded by the 2016 film. James Gunn just made it up to us in a big way. This is the "Suicide Squad" movie we deserved in the first place, and people are going to love this one. As much as I'd miss Gunn's influence at Marvel, please allow him to make more DC stuff, he gets it. We need it.

Monday, August 2, 2021

"The Green Knight" is an early contender for Best Film of 2021

                                          

"The Green Knight" is easily my favorite film of the year so far. Possibly could end up being best, depending on how the rest of the year goes. It's imaginative, hypnotic, epic, and richly realized all in equal measure. It's an epic fantasy film told through the arthouse lens. It's "Lord of the Rings" or "Game of Thrones" in a box. It's weird, strange and disturbing. It's fanatical and radical and will surely keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Okay, hopefully that's enough adjectives for now. I just need to set the mood for this review. There was a time when fantasy on film was very silly. It depended on weird names, and lots of action and lots of zany silliness to make sure the audience knew they were watching fantasy. Even the best efforts of this genre, like "Lord of the Rings," also suffers from just a hint of silliness. Make all that silliness matter is why "Lord of the Rings" sticks out so well, but it's been a problem with the genre for awhile. If you thought "Game of Thrones" took fantasy serious, just wait until to you see "The Green Knight." This is a movie lathered in Arthurian Legend, with mix of modern epic fantasy with a wee bit of "The Seventh Seal" thrown in for good measure. Not to say that "The Green Knight" is pieces of other movies, Heavens, no. I just want to set the stage for what you are going to see. This will make you think and you will have to interpret the film in your own way. Which sometimes frustrates viewers. It's certainly not a trope that existed in fantasy films before.

Dev Patel plays Gawain, he is the nephew of King Arthur. He's a knight on his way to becoming as respected as his uncle. Except maybe not. He spends Christmas in a brothel, so maybe he isn't the honorable man he's supposed to be. He is enjoying a meal with his uncle, played by Sean Harris, and the other knights of the round table, when their meal is interrupted by a mysterious Green Knight, which looks like a being conjured from someone's nightmare. The Green Knight wants to challenge one of the knights to a "game." If one of the knights can lay a blow on the Green Knight, then he will give away his prized axe. However, next Christmas they must meet The Green Knight for a wound of equal measure. Gawain, who feels inferior and a bit boring compared to the other knights, accepts the challenge. The Green Knight simply puts his weapon down and allows Gawain to behead him. End of the Green Knight already? Except no. The Green Knight simply picks up his head and leaves. Gawain must wallow in the anxiety of getting his head cut off by the Green Knight next year.

As the next Christmas approaches, King Arthur insists to the reluctant Gawain to uphold the oath, even if the Green Knight is just playing a game. Gawain embarks on a quest to face The Green Knight. A journey that leads him to some shady scavengers, a talking fox, a lord whose wife looks exactly like his brothel lover Essel (Alicia Vikander), a ghost, and some giants. The film keeps a consistent mood of feeling kind of realistic, never feeling like our favorite high fantasy movies from the past. Like I said above, this is an arthouse version of an epic fantasy. It's strange but it is epic in equal measure.

How Dev Patel hasn't won an Oscar yet seems odd, but I am sure his career is going to upgrade after his incredible work in this film. Absolutely perfect from beginning to end. Ralph Ineson plays the Green Knight. He's a name you may not recognize at first. He's best known for his work on the British version of "The Office" but has appeared in supporting and background roles in such films as diverse as "Harry Potter," "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Ready Player One," "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Gunpowder Milkshake." His big starring role came in 2015 in "The Witch." He's poised to be star. He's got a tall, intense presence in films and he's got a rumbling, iconic voice that I can't believe he isn't more famous then he is. It's an incredible performance by Ineson and one in which I hope elevates his career. The film is full of great actors doing great work, including Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris, Erin Kellyman, Joel Edgerton and Barry Keoghan. It's well acted from a powerful ensemble.

Much will be debated about the film's ending and I don't want to indulge in spoilers in this review. If you are interested in a different kind of fantasy film, look no further. "The Green Knight" has left me dying to see it again. A shining star within a rather slow summer. And an early contender for the top of the 2021 releases.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

M. Night Shyamalan's "Old" isn't as bad as "The Happening" but doesn't compare to his early work either.

                                             

When "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and "Signs" came out, I was still pretty young, but I was a budding movie fan. I hadn't seen a ton yet, but I definitely could see greatness in certain directors at the time. I thought by this time now, 2021, that we'd be calling M. Night Shyamalan as a 21st Century horror auteur. Sadly, he never quite got there. I hated "The Village" the first time I saw it, and as I've seen a couple times since, well, its not a great or good movie, but it isn't a total failure. I thought "The Lady In The Water" was a total failure though, and "The Happening" is Shyamalan's worst according to me. His adaptation of "The Last Airbender" was laughably bad to me too.

Then later in 2010, something special happened. M. Night Shyamalan had an idea to introduce his Night Chronicles brand. He created the Night Chronicles studio and planned to write and produce some ideas, with someone else stepping in as director. Many film critics of the time thought what Shyamalan really needed was some collaborators, and I agreed. "Devil" was the first movie to come from Night Chronicles and while it didn't set the box office on fire, it was a special film, a word-of-mouth hit. Maybe that wasn't enough. I don't have the inside story to why Shyamalan's other Night Chronicles films didn't get made. But I thought it was a shame.

Shyamalan made a few more stupid films before he made his first great movie in over a decade. That film was "Split." I still stand by my review I wrote back in 2017. It's such a well put together film. Richly imagined. Beautifully acted. Wonderfully shot. It also had a fun twist that worked, the first one in a long time. It seemed like Shyamalan was back on his feet again and was having fun with some characters he had made awhile ago, and he had a fun idea to bring those things together. Unfortunately, I didn't think "Glass," the follow-up to "Split" was a bit disappointing. The thing is, Shyamalan's series on AppleTV+ called "Servant," starring Rupert Grint and Toby Kebbell is awesome. So he's still a very up and down artist.

Sadly, "Old" isn't a complete return to form. There are some good actors in this movie, including Gael Garcia Bernal, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Rufus Sewell, and Vicky Krieps to name a few. It features beautiful cinematography. It's got a potentially interesting premise that could be something very strange and frightening. A group of people get taken to an island where every half hour is a year off their life. The longer they are on the island, the more and more they age. Like I said, this had some potential to be interesting, but I can't really say that M. Night Shyamalan hits any grace notes with what he does here.

This being a Shyamalan film, there's a big twist. Yep, this is essentially a big budget "Twilight Zone" episode. Shyamalan in the late 90's and early 2000's was an expert at the twist ending. Suddenly, he's now hit or miss. I don't want this review to be littered with spoilers, but the twist here stinks. It raises more questions than it has time to answer, because the twist comes at the end. The type of twist they introduce here could have been better served it was similar to what we see in "Cabin In The Woods." It's simply too big to just throw in at the end of the movie.

Shyamalan also has a tendency to give his characters really weird tics instead of genuine personality. The guy from "The Happening" who loved plants and couldn't stop talking about hot dogs...well...it never gets that weird in old, but Shyamalan still sacrifices personality and development for goofiness. I mean there's a rap star named Mid-Sized Sedan in this movie and I can't help but laugh about that. Even when he's in moments in this film meant to be serious.

"Old" isn't as bad as Shyamalan's early blunders but I can't help but admit that I feeling of something to be desired when the credits began to roll.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Karen Gillen shines in the butt-kicking, Girl Power-fueled "Gunpowder Milkshake"

                                        

2021 has been a great year for action.

"Nobody" is still my very favorite, breaking the rules of the typical action film while also playing very blissfully with the rules. I also got a kick out of "Boss Level," a kind of "Groundhog Day" action movie. "Black Widow" and to a certain degree, "Zack Snyder's Justice League" proved that superhero action is doing just fine (though TV has been blowing it out of the water so far) and there is plenty of fun to be had with movies like "F9." Even if that fun is a little ridiculous.

Now, its time to enter the world of Girl Power action with a little Netflix film called "Gunpowder Milkshake." Featuring an all-star cast of lovely ladies that includes Karen Gillen, Lena Headley, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino. These women are badasses. They've been in something awesome if you don't immediately recognize their names. This is a perfect cast for a movie like this and believe me, these women set off fireworks with their work in this film.

Karen Gillen in particular shines as the lead in this film. I've liked Karen Gillen a lot in what I've seen so far. Like Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the recent "Jumanji" movies. She's been great in lots of stuff so far. But much like Sigourney Weaver becoming Ellen Ripley or Linda Hamilton becoming Sarah Connor or Uma Thurman becoming The Bride, Gillen becomes Eva in a very special way that I think audiences will be blown away by.

The plot of "Gunpowder Milkshake" is pretty simple, and it may even be familiar. Eva is an assassin who got into this work because her mother (Headley) was also an assassin. Eva's mother abandoned her without an explanation, Eva feels abandoned whereas her mother really left her due to a job gone wrong. A grown Eva also kills the wrong guy's son on a job, which leads to entire criminal empire trying to kill her. She eventually saves a little girl named Emily (Chloe Coleman) who gets wrapped up in the plot because Eva killed her shady father. Eva must protect Emily and protect herself. She eventually rekindles her relationship with her mother, as well as her mother's friends who have helped in the assassination business. 

So yeah, it's not an original plot by any means, but I'll tell you why that doesn't matter. The action scenes are so top-notch, in-your-face and feature moments that will make you cringe with delight. It's such an incredibly fun movie to sit and watch. It's got plenty of quick laughs, big action and even a few sentimental moments that don't fall short because the cast is on their game here.

When you've got Paul Giamatti playing Eva's shady boss, and Ralph Ineson being a crummy crime lord, you are in for a treat.

It's still summer time and that means watching fun movies. This is such a great entry into the action genre that if you care at all, you check it out now!

Friday, July 16, 2021

"Space Jam: A New Legacy" might shine for kids, but its a game worth missing

                                         

When "Space Jam" came out in 1996, I missed it in theaters. But I got it for my birthday the following year on VHS. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world and every Friday when I got home from school, I watched it.

Remember, this was 1997 and I was in first grade.

I have watched the movie since, and I honestly don't think the movie has aged particularly well. When you don't have the 90's blinders on, "Space Jam" is a really weird movie where nothing makes much sense at all. Michael Jordan wasn't much of an actor, even though he was playing himself and it was pretty much harmless fluff, but I don't feel the same fun that I did when I was a kid.

Warner Brothers tried many years after 1996 to try and get a sequel made. Michael Jordan didn't want to return. So the studio tried to take things in a different direction. There was going to be a "Race Jam" with Jeff Gordon. They had an idea for "Skate Jam" with Tony Hawk. A golf version with Tiger Woods. And some kind of sequel starring Jackie Chan...yeah, I don't get that one. All of those ideas got dropped for one reason or another and it seemed that "Space Jam" would become an old relic of 90's pop culture and that's where it would stay.

But in the 2020's, pop culture has decided we are going to be living in a time constant nostalgia, and "Space Jam: A New Legacy'' takes that idea to the extreme with reckless abandon. Instead of Michael Jordan, we have LeBron James as the NBA superstar who has to play a game of basketball with the Looney Tunes. This time, they aren't playing aliens and they aren't going to space. But rather, LeBron and his son Dominic (Cedric Joe) get sucked into a Warner Brothers computer server, known as the Server Verse by a malevolent computer Program AI-G (Don Cheadle). So instead outer space its cyberspace!

Like many crappy sequels, "A New Legacy" is built on the same spine as the first film. We see a young LeBron in the 90s. He is playing a Game Boy before a game, he's so enthralled that his coach (Wood Harris) has to get his attention. Young LeBron has the chance to shoot the shot that will win them the game, and he misses. So he basically vows to get all distractions out of his life so he can focus primarily on basketball. Which helps him turn into the superstar he is today. His two boys are showing promise in basketball, his oldest is really into it. While his youngest son is very much a tech-savvy kid who can create his own video games. LeBron wants his youngest son Dominic to focus on basketball, while Dominic wants to chase his dream of making video games. They but heads here. 

This argument flairs up until they are sucked into the Server Verse. AI-G takes Dominic away and allows him to work on a version of basketball that gives the player style points and power ups and other video game advantages and challenges LeBron to basketball game that Dominic creates. Inside the Server Verse is every fictional world WB has ever created and LeBron lands in Looney Tune world. When I initially talked about the trailer earlier this year, I made a joke about this being like "Ready Player One" as the Server Verse looks exactly how Ernest Cline describes The OASIS in his book. This leads to a bunch of Intellectual Property jokes, most of which aren't that clever. Honestly, Warner Brothers decides to make a movie showing off their IP every few years (just look at their LEGO movies).

With so many characters at LeBron's disposal, I am not sure why he is required to limit recruiting only Looney Tunes, other than the function of the film. They reference the first film, even though in the first film the alien planet was real within the universe and the Looney Tunes lived underground, making no sense whatsoever. The aliens from the first film even cameo in this. Kids will probably like this movie a lot, especially LeBron fans. There are plenty of characters kids will scream for. The several pop culture jokes sadly aren't that clever, but pretty easy. Kids will probably enjoy the wild energy of the film too.

For adults, the jokes sadly don't land. The story is the exact same as the first pretty much. As someone who grew up with the first film, this is a pretending copy. LeBron James is pretty wooden playing a version of himself and even though Jordan wasn't an actor, he brought a certain charisma that James does not. There is a nice message that family is everything. But the movie leans into the weird and wild moreso. I've seen people comparing this "crossover" to something like "Avengers: Endgame" but the characters in Avengers were built up carefully and each had part to play. If characters from different franchises simply waving in the background is enough to compare to "Avengers: Endgame" then I guess the future of filmmaking, even franchise filmmaking, is doomed.

Despite the flashy lights and the distractions. "Space Jam: A New Legacy" is basically another sequel, one I'm not sure anyone asked for. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Loki is my favorite of the MCU Disney+ shows. Here's why...

                                          

THIS REVIEW OF LOKI IS GOING TO CONTAIN SPOILERS!!! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE ENTIRE SERIES YET. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

All hail the God of Mischief baby!

The Disney+ MCU shows have been good up to "Loki." I wouldn't call "WandaVision" or "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" great. I liked that "WandaVision" was good, but I think it could have been great if Marvel dared to just make Wanda's grief the villain, much of the last half of "WandaVision" seemed like a forced narrative to include some superhero antics, while it was entertaining, I feel like there was a cooler, more compelling alternative. "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" was good, but for six hours, they simply tried to pack too much into the mini-series. I give Marvel the benefit of the doubt right now, because they are still playing with the six hour storytelling format. I have all the faith in the world that they will master it. It shows with "Loki," the show that I think is their first great Disney+ offering.

One thing I've liked about he MCU shows across the board is that they are built around mysteries. Many complain about the Marvel movies because they built from the same kit. The heroes are chasing a villain who wants a McGuffin and they have to get to the McGuffin first or stop the villain from getting to it. Certainly not all the movies follow that format but many do. The MCU shows on Disney+ have been built around mysteries. "Loki" has been full of intriguing mysteries. This show doesn't follow the Loki who got killed by Thanos in "Infinity War." This isn't some prequel. This show follows the Loki who stole the Tesseract in the middle of the Time Heist in "Avengers: Endgame." Loki wasn't supposed to take the Tesseract, so he gets arrested by the Time Variance Authority, a police force that exists deep within the multiverse to keep interdimensional travelers from messing with the timelines.

Getting confused yet? Buckle up, because the Marvel movies are going to get WHOOOLLLLEEE lot weirder than some intergalactic tyrant trying to obtain a magic space glove. For so many years, superhero movies had to act "realistic" in order not to scare away regular audiences, and I am happy that we have crossed a threshold that allows studios to really make any kind of comic book movie they want. The multiverse is a concept you find in both Marvel and DC comic stories. The idea that there are multiple Earths and multiple versions of us has the potential to be fun. "Loki" was definitely tons of fun. Especially when Loki is able to weasel into the TVA, become friends with agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) and help them capture "variants;" those people who are trying to mess with the continuity of the timelines.

First, Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston throwing down together delighted me completely. Such a fun duo and whoever thought to pair them together deserves a raise at Marvel. I loved every second they were onscreen together and I hope we see more of that in the future, as the "Loki" finale promised a second season. Second, this is where the mystery really begins to come into play. There are different variants...different versions of Loki. Specifically a female version of Loki named Sylvie. I never knew who Sophia Di Martino was before "Loki," but her work as Sylvie is top notch. She's going to be a star after this, because her work is really incredible. While Sylvie and Loki start out as enemies, she's trying to find out secrets behind the TVA, which of course draws the two together. Of course, nothing is what it seems at the TVA. Of course, it isn't run by those we think it is. When learning that the whole organization is made up of variants who are working for the organization against their free will, well, things get exciting and more delightfully weird moving forward.

How delightfully weird? How about meeting even more versions of Loki? I have been trying to guess who veteran actor Richard E. Grant was going to play in this show, and I have to say that his "Classic Loki" is much fun. I love the retro costume and his proper way of speaking when giving his backstory. Yes, I got a kick out of alligator Loki and Kid Loki. I cackled when I saw Throg trying to get his hammer or when we got a glimpse of Thanos' yellow helicopter. See, Loki eventually finds himself at the end of time, ready to get eaten by a giant void monster, a place where variants are taken when they are really in trouble. But of course Loki and Sylvia escape together and they finally meet who is really behind the TVA.

This is where things get interesting.

They meet He Who Remains, played by Jonathon Majors. You probably saw him in "Lovecraft Country," a show that should have got a second season. You probably saw him in "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" too. If you read movie news, you definitely read he was going to play Kang The Conqueror in "Ant-Man 3." Kang is an interesting character in the comics. He's a time traveling supervillain who has gone by many names over the years, which makes his identity kind of a pain to keep up with. But he's been a formidable foe against the Avengers for many years. He Who Remains explains to Sylvie and Loki that eons ago, there was a multiverse war between the many different variants of He Who Remains, had their war continued, it would have destroyed all of existence. The creation of the TVA was the only way to stop the war. He Who Remains gives the duo an offer; kill him and end the singular timeline, which will cause branch realities and much chaos The Ancient One talked about to Hulk in "Avengers: Endgame" or take over control of the TVA. Sylvia feels like her life has been a lie and doesn't believe He Who Remains, so she tries to kill him; Loki tries to stop her because he knows the chaos that ensues with timelines crossing and branch realities isn't good. 

Sylvia is victorious though, He Who Remains is killed. The realities begin to create branches. 

Kevin Feige wasn't kidding when he said "Loki" was really going to set the stage for the future. The MCU movies have been notorious for being commercials for the future, but the finale of "Loki" is clever in how they are setting up future stories without it feeling like a commercial, but something that has real stakes. The rumors we have been hearing regarding "Spider-Man: No Way Home" makes much more sense now. As does why Dr. Strange's sequel is about a multiverse of madness. Things are about to get really crazy. And I hope Marvel does a good job in continuing to introduce the general audience to the multiverse.

Aside from setting up some really cool stuff for future projects, the special effects in each episode is as good as you'd expect. The many great performances by Hiddleston, Wilson, Di Martino, Grant and others like Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wunmi Mosaku are all great across the board. Jonathon Majors is electrifying in the series finale and what's fun is that he's going to probably have a completely different personality the next time we see him. Once again, Marvel has created lots of memorable characters, like alligator Loki and the animated Miss Minutes that people will talk about for many years to come. 

But "Loki" wins me over because it was a tight mystery that kept me guessing all six weeks long. It remained constant, told one story through the finish line and now all bets are off. The best of the Disney+ shows so far.

Friday, July 9, 2021

MCU honors Scarlet Johansson one last time with "Black Widow." SPOILER FILLED REVIEW

                                          

It's wild to think that despite being a founding member of The Avengers and being in this franchise since 2010, we are just now getting around to a solo "Black Widow" movie. Especially with everything that happens in Black Widow's solo outing, I could have done with an entire trilogy of Natasha (Johansson) overseas with her "family" in Russia going on adventures. Alas, we could still get that but in a much different way.

I can't get into "Black Widow" and what makes the film tick without getting into spoilers. So this will be a spoiler filled review. There are things that happen in this movie that challenge the comic book lover in me while also giving a piece of me that just wanted to love an entertaining movie. When a comic book movie comes out, a movie based on some piece of nostalgic pop culture we love, we tip toe between being a fan of the source material and being a fan of movies. Sometimes those fandoms wrestle inside of us for supremacy when forming our opinions of these movies. The Twitter community has already been relentless on this movie. Reasons that I personally think are a tad unfair. So I will be getting into the thematic meat of the movie.

Anybody who has been a hardcore MCU fan knows who Black Widow is by now. She was a former Russian spy who eventually joined SHIELD, she had to earn her way into our country because of her past dealing with being a spy from another country. We got bits and pieces of how strict her former spy agency was, going as far to learn that she was sterilized before becoming a full fledged black widow. An ongoing story is some mission involving Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) but something we've never seen on screen. I regret to inform you that there is no Budapest scene in this movie. BUT we finally learn the information regarding the mission. Before SHIELD let Natasha into the United States and expunged her crimes, she had to kill a man named General Dreykov. We learn through dialogue that Natasha brought a building down the general in it, as well as the general's daughter. The supposed murder of the general's daughter has loomed large in Black Widow's memories, but killing Dreykov brought down the Red Room. The secret training facility that created Black Widows for Russia.

But the movie doesn't start there. The movie begins in 1995 in the Midwest. We see a young Natasha playing with her "sister" Yelena. Their "mother" is Melina (Rachel Weisz) and their "father" is Alexei (David Harbour). Alexei comes home and has a heated, cryptic discussion with Melina and then they take the girls and run. They are being hunted by SHIELD agents. During this chase scene, we see Melina in action and see that Alexei has some superpowers. They escape and rendezvous with Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone, one of the most underrated villain actors in the business right now). The girls have to go with Dreykov, and we see that young Natasha has already had some training of sorts. She's afraid of the Red Room, and most importantly, she doesn't want Yelena to go there. The girls are sadly put to sleep and put in a helicopter with Dreykov.

Anybody who still complains that Marvel movies are kids movies, and aren't dark and serious enough, will probably sing a different tune after seeing "Black Widow." The opening credit scene is pretty grim stuff, seeing young girls marched out of a metal crate, being taken to become super-spies. We still only get glimpses of how terrible the Red Room is, but it is enough to scare the average child. The film also features a pretty grim forced suicide and there is a very graphic explanation of a sterilization in the movie. The movie never gets as grim as a Zack Snyder DC movie, but its not something kids under the age of 11 should probably see. Unless you're fully prepared to have a discussion of what sterilization is.

"Black Widow" takes place after Natasha has left America after the Civil War. She goes back to Russia and finds sanctuary from an old contact named Rick Mason (O-T Fagbenle) and Natasha eventually comes into contact with a grown up Yelena (Florence Pugh) and she learns that Dreykov is indeed still alive and still training Black Widows. He has them all brainwashed and there is a certain red substance that can free the widows of Dreykov's brainwashing, and that Dreykov is searching for this substance. Just like how many of these movies boil down to, Natasha and Yelena will reconnect with Melina and Alexei, and plan to free the widows of being brainwashed and finish Dreykov off for good.

Dreykov is also training a different kind of assassin with Taskmaster. A killer who has the ability to copy the fighting techniques of any one they watch. We get glimpses of Taskmaster watching scenes from other movies, and she copies fighting styles of Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Panther and Bucky, even brandishing similar weapons to theirs. 

Natasha's reunion with Yelena, Melina and Alexei are rocky at first. In these quieter moments of the movie is where I think "Black Widow" really shines. The film deals very much in legacy, and what we leave behind depending on our choices. It's a movie about what family means, especially in the light of having families that disappoint us. How that trust and bond comes back together again, or maybe how it doesn't. It's also about how we change our past for the better with just a bit of effort. This hefty material for a mere "kids movie" and I appreciated the mature turn this film makes. Johansson benefits greatly by terrific cast with Pugh, Weisz and Harbour delivering knockout performances to aid Johansson. The film's themes become even greater once the big twist comes to light...

...and this is where comic book nerds are going to go a little bonkers. In fact, Twitter was a madhouse on this subject this morning. In the comic books, Taskmaster was a man named Tony Masters and he had the ability to copy the fighting styles of his opponents, which made him dangerous. In "Black Widow" we find out that Taskmaster is Dreykov's daughter Antonia. The beautiful and talented Olga Kurylenko shows up to play Antonia, but its pretty much an extended cameo performance, she doesn't speak once if I remember correctly. So Dreykov never died, and his daughter never died. He put a chip in her head which allows her to copy the fighting styles of her opponents. Something that comic fans have not liked at all.

Fans are comparing this twist to the Mandarin twist from "Iron Man 3" and I think that's a bit of an oversell. The twist from "Iron Man 3" changed the character to such a degree that they might as well invented a different character all together. Here, there is a gender swap and a tech piece that gives Taskmaster her powers. The MCU has been making their characters as believable as possible since the beginning. I'm not going to get into the "woke" debate, because frankly, I'm sick and tired of it. So if you can't handle that they gender swapped a D-list villain, then I guess you should skip this.

"Black Widow" may follow the same formula as passed MCU films, there may be some controversy following the adaptation choices of some of the characters. There is also this thing with Dreykov where he gives off a pheromone that makes sure the Black Widows can't consciously attack him, even if they want to. So Natasha has to break her nose so her brain can't react to the pheromone. It's a little ridiculous that the climax of this movie boils down to Black Widow breaking her nose. I thought that was a little funny. But I loved the storyline in this movie. The performances are great all the way around. The action scenes are top notch. A great way to send off Scarlet Johansson. I hope they stay true to the comics and have Yelena take over the Black Widow mantle. I also hope we get more Melina and Alexei. A Russian Guard movie needs happening!

Also the mid-credit scene will probably be weird for those who haven't watched "Falcon and The Winter Soldier" on Disney+. If you have, well, now you'll know why Yelena is appearing on the Hawkeye show later this year!

Overall, not the worst Marvel movie. A fun and entertaining watch for sure.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Ridiculous Summer continues with "America: The Motion Picture" and "The Tomorrow War"

 Even though the world is opening up again, I'm still seeing lots of new movies at home. I'm a busy guy these days, so getting out to the theater isn't something that is quite easy right now. Plus, instead of having any sort of premium cable or special packages, I just have an internet connection and a handful of streaming services for myself. I think to myself, if I'm paying for all of these services, why not use them? The streaming services are still hard at work delivering content that you can see anywhere else. I think I can safely predict that due to COVID, the dynamic of entertainment and how we access it has changed, and will remained changed. The conglomerates are going to use these streaming services to their advantage every year. I think COVID saved the streaming wars from really taking steam. Maybe they could still happen, maybe the bubble might still burst. But it seems like this pandemic built them all to stay, and they will be used to the studios advantage. Accessing so much entertainment at home...maybe it was the future, and maybe that future got sped up. 

We'll just wait and see how that all pans out for now...we are going to get into some more ridiculous summer movies you can enjoy at home.

What if the Revolutionary War involved George Washington being guided by Abe Lincoln's ghost? What if Benedict Arnold was a werewolf? What if the Big Ben could turn into an evil Transformer and it fought Paul Bunyan? What if science was used to get beer to turn British soldiers into American frat boys? Such is the ridiculous world of "America: The Motion Picture" a movie so bonkers that you need to see it to believe it. This obviously isn't our actual history, but I kind of wish it was, I wonder how weirder our beloved country would be if this was real.

The history of the formation of our country has been turned into an Avengers movie. Benedict Arnold kills Abe Lincoln, who is best friends with George Washington. George Washington then gathers a group of heroes; such as the beer guzzling Sam Adams, a science obsessed female Thomas Edison, Native American Geronimo, the blacksmith John Henry and the centaur Paul Revere. Yep, this is the universe of this story, and its the whole movie is complete nonsense. Your appetite for nonsense will determine if this movie is for you. Because its pretty non-stop and relentless, but if you are the right audience member, it will be for you. Or you may have to get drunk or high then watch, get some friends together and watch. Depending on mood, you'll really enjoy this or you'll hate every minute.

"The Tomorrow War" can be described as a little "Edge of Tomorrow," a little "Independence Day," a little "Black Hawk Down" with a tad bit of social commentary thrown in for good measure. You've probably got the premise down pat by now. Chris Pratt plays an ex-soldier high school science teacher. He comes home one night to a Christmas party at his house. He's got friends, a beautiful wife and daughter and an estranged father. Suddenly, while enjoying a soccer game, the game itself is interrupted by human soldiers who claim to be from the future. They talk about a future war where humanity is losing badly, and they need people from the past to fight to beat the aliens.

If the world captures these people and tries to figure out if this is real or not, don't count on it. That would take too much time and the movie needs to happen. Humans are swiftly drafted into service to fight a future war, after the world sends a decent chunk of their military into the future and they end up dead. Chris Pratt's character is drafted into service. He is quickly taken to basic training, which really isn't much. People are are shot into the future wearing kevlar and their street clothes and get a quick lesson on using a gun, then they are ready! It's still thirty years in the past, and if numbers are so dire, you'd think you'd train a bunch of Joe Schmoes for battle to save the world instead of just giving them guns and hoping for the best. It's a good thing Pratt's character was an ex-soldier, that way something in this movie can happen.

I bring up the "Independence Day" because, not a lot of personality is given to each of the characters. They have something special about them, a specific stereotype, that will be important to plot later on. Pratt wants to be a scientist really bad, and he can't get the job. JK Simmons plays his father, who he doesn't get along with until the movie really needs them to be family. In the future, Pratt's character meets his daughter all grown up played by Yvonne Strahovski, and during their meeting, Pratt learns some not so good things about his future. Of course, this all ends with a family being big and happy again because FAMILY! It's a good message don't get me wrong, but its so artificial in its execution that its a little laughable.

Where the movie really shines is its action set pieces. The moments of action are pretty frequent, and they are full of bangs and bombast. The aliens themselves are pretty wild looking. Since Paramount made this movie, I wonder if this film was ever in the running for being apart of the Cloverfield universe. (Die hard movie fans will get that joke) The cool visuals and tough-as-nails characters may be enough for you to love this movie. I liked pieces of the movie for sure. Chris Pratt is a capable performer. He shows great range I didn't know he had in this. The movie features an entire ensemble of good actors giving it their all. The idea of going into the future to beat some alien bad guys is a cool concept, but I think the execution wasn't handled as well as hoped. But if dumb summer fun is what you need right now, this should fit the bill perfectly.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Summer is ridiculously here with "F9" and "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard"


Many states are opening up now, and as movies like "F9" and "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" get released, it feels like a post-quarantine summer movie season is here.

There is a scene early in "F9" where Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are talking about all the missions they've been on over the course of the franchise. They take a moment to realize that over all the crazy things they've done, they don't have a scratch on them to show for it. "F9" is as ridiculous as this franchise gets, and it even tested my appetite for cheesy summer blockbusters. I still cackle at the realization that this franchise started as a gritty, realistic, neo-noir crime movie about street racing and has morphed into a no-nonsense thesis on nonsense. But I can at least find the charm when the movie takes the time to realize how preposterous a franchise they've created.

"F9" and "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" really feel like a pair of summer blockbusters. Which I guess is perfect for now. They are both are stupid in terms of laws of logic and physics. They both feature humor that walks the line between clever and corny. They both feature crazy amounts of action. They also both feature terrific A-list led ensembles. How much you like either of these films will solely depend upon how much craziness you an tolerate and how much you turn your mind off.

I like Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson quite a bit. I can't really remember the one time I rented "The Hitman's Bodyguard." It was kind of fun for what I can remember, but as you can read, not very memorable. I didn't think it was something that needed a sequel. After watching the movie itself, I can tell why this didn't need a sequel. So much of it feels like treading water. Recycled jokes from the last movie. Memorable plot mechanics. Memorable humor. Just with Salma Hayek in the mix. I like Salma a lot, but she's not enough to save an otherwise paper thin action film. I think at this point Reynolds and Jackson can bring charisma into anything, and that at least makes what you're watching fun, but the movie itself as a familiar plot and of course, everything ends up okay in the end.

On the plus side, I do like that Frank Grillo shows up in this. I think he's on his way to being a leading star and he's showing that he can be loose and limber with the right script. He's not just a gritty tough guy all the time.

The mission statement of "The Fast and Furious" movies seems to be how can we be more ridiculous in the next movie. That becomes perfectly clear when the rumors end up true and the crew literally shoot themselves up into space to stop a satellite late in the film. Cipher, the cyberterrorist Charlize Theron plays is still at large here and she teams up with Dom's estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) to add some stakes. But when Han (Sung Kang) ends up alive and the explanation for why he's alive is flimsy at best, why does any death matter? Why even bother adding stakes at all if nothing those stakes provide matters? I don't really know how this franchise is going to keep me invested or expect me to care about this family onscreen if everybody can come back from the dead. And in speaking of coming back from the dead, this franchise has made it clear that one person in particular can't come back. And I'm not sure if it helps or haunts the franchise to treat one actor as some kind of shadow in the background. It's weird to me.

The bottom line is, both of these movies have summer blockbuster all over them. If you want to see some crazy car chases involving giant magnets, look no further. If you want three wisecracking hitmen stopping a destructive plot, look no further. Its going to depend upon the individual on whether or not you find either of these films charming or cheesy. Even though I've been a fan of the mindless fun that comes along with "The Fast and Furious" franchise, this latest entry has even tested my patience on the formula a bit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

DC Animation strikes again with "Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One"

                                               

I'm not going to waste time sounding like a broken record. I've written hundreds and hundreds of words regarding my love for the DC animated movies. I don't love them all, but they are so good, so entertaining to watch. At this point, you may have jumped on watching them. They release a few direct-to-video each year. They bring some really good talent in for voice acting. They have made some of their own stories and adapted some great storylines from the comics. They have become a part of each year I look forward to as a movie fan.

This year has been a doozy. First, was "Batman: Soul of the Dragon" a Batman story that took place in the 70's and was told in the style of blaxploitation and 70's style kung fu films. It was so much fun. And now, available today, was the first half of the adaptation of "Batman: The Long Halloween." This is one of the greatest Batman comics of all time. We are finally getting an honest-to-God adaptation of it. Like I said, it is a doozy. Everything I hoped it would be so far.

"Batman: The Long Halloween" takes place in some of the early years in Batman's crimefighting career. It has even been suggested that "The Long Halloween" takes place on the same Earth as "Batman: Year One." The various mob families in Gotham City are trying to hold onto their power as the more colorful supervillains of Gotham begin to rise in power. The most powerful of these mobsters is Carmine "The Roman" Falcone, the character you may remember from "Batman Begins." Without warning, people connected to Falcone's criminal empire begin being murdered, always on a holiday. It starts with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, another member of Falcone's crime family is killed. Even though Batman is in an alliance with Captain James Gordon of the Gotham police department and Harvey Dent, the district attorney of the city, to bring down the Falcone crime family, they must also find out who the holiday killer is.

If you know the history of these characters, there is quite of fun ahead of you. It's a great story of how certain characters are born and how Batman builds a persona that is to last for years. There are some incredible actors who provide their voices here. Including Jansen Ackles as Batman, Josh Duhamel as Harvey Dent, Naya Rivera as Catwoman (in the last role she'll have, unfortunately), David Dastmalchian as The Calendar Man, Titus Welliver as Falcone and Troy Baker doing a great Mark Hamil-like take on The Joker.

There's lots of good twists and turns here and there is quite the cliffhanger left as the film concludes. This is was just so much fun, and you should check it out.


Monday, June 21, 2021

"Luca" isn't top tier Pixar, but its good

                                                

There was a time in the late 90's and throughout the 2000's where Pixar seemed to be able to do no wrong. They made thought-provoking but wildly entertaining animated movies that appealed to every age in the theater. They walked a thin line between something for adults and something just for kids, and there movies were a massive mix of emotions. You and your family was getting something truly special each time a new Pixar film came out.

But these days, Pixar has become just another animated studio these days. They are making fluff pieces just for kids. They are repeating themselves, instead of challenging themselves, which seemed to be defining characteristic of theirs. Sure, every once in awhile, they remind us what made them special in the first place. Every once in awhile, they make something like "Inside Out" or "Soul" and I find myself getting excited again. But then they continue to make things they make now. There is nothing wrong with making safe kids movies...I guess. I just always appreciated Pixar because they dared to treat kids smarter than any other studio, and now they seem to fall in line with them.

"Luca" is about a sea monster named Luca Paguro, voiced by the incredible child actor Jacob Tremblay. Luca is training to be a goatfish herder. His life has grown mundane, and he dreams of going to the surface and seeing what land life is like. His parents forbid it though, out of fear of the humans, see humans hunt sea monsters, so it would be very dangerous for Luca to venture to the surface. 

So guess what Luca wants to do? Go ahead. Guess. Like a shoemaker who wants to be a musician, or a rat that wants to be a chef or a princess who wants to be a warrior or a world of cars that wants to make sense, Luca wants to go to the surface. Like so many Pixar movies recently, this is about a person who wants to defy the odds and take a risk. A just message for a family film, but one we've seen so many times when Pixar used to mix things up and that it feels redundant. So of course, Luca makes a friend. His friend's name is Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) he's a free-spirited, expressive and enthusiastic sea monster who ventures to the surface world alot. When he shows Luca that when sea monsters are on the surface and the water dries off their skin, they appear human. Luca can't resist then, he wants to see the surface more often.

Alberto is hungry to see the whole world, he has a dream to get ahold of Vespa, a motorcycle where he can travel the world. Alberto gets Luca excited about an Italian triathlon with a cash prize big enough for them to buy a Vespa. So disguised as humans, they train for the triathlon, and make friends with a human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who helps them train. One thing I will praise "Luca" for is the small scale of the story's stakes. Not every single storyline in movies has to be a world crisis. In fact, its good to remind kids that the small things in life matter, and how dedication and hard work to something than help them earn some type of reward and help them gain confidence they will need in this world.

There's humor in this movie but its all slapstick silliness around when Luca and Alberto get wet. They are able to dry at a break-neck speed which makes you question science and logic in equal measure. The mythology of the sea monsters is very vague, and usually Pixar is much better building a world for the characters and story to compliment, and that's just not the case here. The animation is top-notch, which is something we can always depend upon with Pixar. There is lots of talent in the voice acting department, including Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan, all of whom do good work here.

Pixar doesn't seem to be itself these days. It's weird to me that "Onward," "Soul" and "Luca" did not appear behind a paywall on Disney+ like all of their recent releases. I don't know what's going on behind the scenes, if anything and I am not trying to stir the pot. It's merely an observation. If Disney is going to act like they don't care, why should I care? "Luca" isn't a bad film at all. It's quite entertaining and I think how much you like it or love it will depend on how much you are pulled into this world. These days, it seems Pixar is either making things exclusively for adults or they are playing very kid friendly, when back in their golden years they treaded the line perfectly. They are just another family studio making family movies. That isn't a bad thing, but its very different then what they used to be.

Monday, June 14, 2021

I've decided who my favorite working director is...

 Sometimes, its not always easy for me to pick my favorites of anything. I can be rash, or sometimes I can be in the moment. Making my top ten of each year, making my top 1000 almost a year ago, I really try with those lists. I take time to think what really made an impression on me when I sit down to make lists. Naming favorite actors and filmmakers gets tough for me. Its weird because I feel like I generally like most actors and I like most filmmakers. I've spent my whole my life being deep in film fandom, and I've come to realize that even the best actors and even the best filmmakers have some movies on their resumes that aren't good. It doesn't make them bad. Movies are art, and sometimes it means something different to others. Also I love movies from all genres and decades, and that makes picking favorites more complicated too.

But after some thinking, and watching a really cool trailer over the weekend, I think I know who my favorite working director is. I've spent lots of time watching this guys movies. I've loved them all. But loving his movies isn't enough. There are plenty of directors out there that I don't think have missed yet, like Quentin Tarantino. I've loved all of Tarantino's films. The thing with Tarantino. Its the same thing with Christopher Nolan. You can see this with dozens of filmmakers. Tarantino, Nolan...these guys take the same core idea and retell the same story over and over again. Tarantino is always making a Western. Essentially all of his movies are Westerns, that revolve around revenge. Nolan's "Memento," "Inception" and "The Dark Knight" may not look the same. But they are all about a man who is trying to better his life, but ends up making things worse. Same with "The Prestige" too. Great movies, but all feature the same core concept.

Even when you look at work by titans such as Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese, these are two men who don't necessarily repeat themselves. However, and I am going to sound like an artsy-fartsy tool for saying this, but they both have distinct "visual signatures." There are certain styles and certai shots that you can only find in a Speilberg or Scorsese movie. You can watch "Goodfellas," "Shutter Island," "Gangs of New York" and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" over a nice long weekend and come away thinking, yeah Martin Scorsese made all of those. It's hard to describe, but many directors have their own visual signatures. Things you can spot and tell yourself, hey this is made by so-and-so.

I think Edgar Wright is my favorite working director. "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "Baby Driver," "Scott Pilgrim" I LOVE THESE MOVIES. I LOVE THEM LOTS. But again, its more than love. I love that Edgar Wright never really repeats himself. "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" may both feature Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in lead roles, but they are totally different movies, not just in story but execution as well. "Baby Driver" may as well exist on a totally different planet from those films. As does "Scott Pilgrim" and even "At World's End." They each feel different thematically. 

Edgar Wright is a genuine movie nerd. His favorites list was my inspiration to create my Top 1000 Favorite Films. He is a lover of all movies, and genres and styles. That really shows in his movies. When you watch each movie I listed above, there is a certain genre he is playing with in each film or genres. He is able to make them stick out in a particular way. There are tons of references to other films, which just shows Wright's nerdiness. It's amazing to see him show off his inspirations, while also making the movies his own.

Check out this trailer for "The Last Night in Soho." My God, I can't wait to see this. "Shaun of the Dead" may have had horror elements, but it was an ultimately funny movie. "The Last Night In Soho" looks like a full blown horror movie. I can't wait to see it.


Check out the movies above, and get ready to see my favorite director at work...

Friday, June 11, 2021

New Order: A Violent Green Revolution!


Well this isn't something you put on when you've got a free Saturday night and you want to be entertained.

"New Order" is an import from Mexico, it won a few jury prizes during a festival run, right around the time the world started shutting down for COVID. It's a movie that gives a visualization of what it might look like if the poor got fed up enough and decided they were finally going to eat the rich. I am not going to pretend I am an expert on class and politics down in Mexico, but some of this film is at least relatable as an American viewer. Sometimes, it seems like we are barely holding a violent revolution of some kind by mere shoe-strings. It seems we are divided by class and race and host of other things, nobody wants to help, we just want to point our fingers on those on the other side of the fence. Telling the world our problems are all their fault.

"New Order" begins at a wedding, of Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) and Cristian (Fernando Cuautle). The families of Marianne and Cristian are rich, uber rich it seems. There is a lavish party for the newlyweds, the judge is on their way to make the wedding legal, but they are taking a long time. There is talk of jammed airports and hospitals. Civil unrest in the distance of Mexico City. Then when Marianne's mom goes to turn on the water in her bathroom, it runs green. There is small talk and some quick development before a bunch of people begin to rush the wedding. The civil unrest spilling into this wedding.

Why is everyone angry? Well it seems like the 99% is after the 1%, but there is no real context set to why. I guess with social class divides in my own country, I should get the point of why a bunch of poor people are wanting to stick it to the rich. But every country has their own history and their own culture and society. The reasons why the poor here in America would want to eat the rich may not align with the reasons the poor in Mexico would want to do the same. Why the uprising is happening, who organized it, and why this is all happening is never really explained.

Marianne is eventually taken by military. As she leaves her wedding party to help a person close to their family, who is poor and needing money for a family medical procedure. The military are bad though. It seems a shady, shadowy, evil military organization has seized the opportunity to take over the country. At least, that's what I thought? Again, we are never given an explanation to how this military entity took power so easily, or if the poor are in cahoots with the military. That too, is never explained. We just know that Marianne is being ransomed for money, along with lots of other people belonging to rich families. While Marianne's family works behind the scenes to get the cash, while Marianne is subject to a horrible prison experience.

I was interested in "New Order" for a couple reasons. I like international cinema quite a bit. I also saw the trailer on YouTube a few months back and found it fascinating. The movie is really too short for any real development to take place, and I don't think enough of the story is given the explanation it needs for me to care. Take note though, there is some very striking imagery in this movie. But for as much talk I read online about the brutality on display in this film, I honestly thought "The Nightingale" from 2018 was harder to sit through.

Still though, this a movie for a certain kind of audience. Again, not a Friday night fun night where when you have an evening free you put on "New Order." If you really care what a political and social uprising would look like today, look no further. But if want context, its missing here.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"In The Heights" is the perfect movie at the perfect time

                                       

2020 was a hard year, but you don't need me to tell you that.

In fact 2020 through right now has been hard. We are feeling lots of political angst. We experienced a once in a lifetime global pandemic, and sadly some people really believed it wasn't real. We saw social injustice occur. We've been separated from a our families and our friends and our communities and it seems we all didn't get through this passed year without any scars. On the eve I write this up, my home state of Illinois is going to be fully open. It's been great to see news reports of excitement throughout my state. I'm personally fully vaccinated, say what you want about it, I'm not here to debate you, but I am glad I got it done for myself. It seems we are slowly coming out of the dark, even though we have tons still to work on as a people, we are getting out of the dark.

It's a perfect time to go to your local theater and see "In The Heights."

Some of you may shy away and say eww, musical. But we live in cynical world right now, and for some reason, we are addicted to cynical stories right now. I don't know why you'd truly want dark superhero movies when the world around us is so dark already, but its the time we are living in right now. It helps me to see something as joyous and as broad-stroked as this. Something that makes you feel happy to be alive. We get one life, and you got to be sure you're happy.

"In The Heights" takes place in a neighborhood in New York City called Washington Heights. It's a closely knit community of diverse individuals, who are all trying to get by and make their dreams come true. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) is trying to get enough money together to go back to the Dominican Republic and get a beach bar. Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Schmits) is selling his life in order to send his daughter to Harvard, while his daughter (Leslie Grace) wants to make a difference in her community. Usnavi has a crush on a girl named Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who just wants to be seen through her art.

These people. Their friends. Their family. Their entire community. It all interweaves together. The community affects the people as a whole. The community and vibrant and they feel for each other. It's the type of energy we need so much right now. Not in just one community but in all communities. We can achieve our dreams together, but we have to try first.

If you caught "Hamilton" on Disney+ or if you actually saw the musical live, you know Anthony Ramos and Lin-Manual Miranda, who also makes an appearance in this movie. These guys have the goods and there are many great musical numbers and dancing in this movie. I don't know the backgrounds of the other performers. I don't know if actors like Schmits or Corey Hawkins or Stephanie Beatriz really sang, but its a fun watch all the way through, the music is so addictive throughout.

We need a movie like "In The Heights" right now. I implore you all to see this in a theater. Allow this thing to make money, lots of it. Send the message to Hollywood, loud and clear. Sing it out. We need movies like this right now. It's boisterous but its also human. A wonderful piece of pop entertainment that also means something true in all of us. Please pay money to see this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

"Seance" is a big splash for Simon Barrett

                                         

I don't know how many horror fans know the name Simon Barret, but they surely should. He has written some of the best modern horror movies in recent memory. He's written and directed segments in the anthology movies "V/H/S" and "V/H/S 2" and "The ABC's of Death." All fun films for all horror fans to see. He also wrote "You're Next," something you need to just track down and see without watching trailers or reading about it. You'll be glad you did. He also wrote "The Guest," a fun little action horror thriller. Last but kind of least, he wrote the 2016 "Blair Witch." He's had all sorts of stuff to his name by now. In 2021, he wrote and directed his first full feature film, "Seance."

"Seance" feels like the typical horror film you've probably seen before. A bunch of girls at a boarding school are having fun scaring each other during lights out. Alice (Innana Sarrkis) is the ruthless leader of this clique of girls and one of her pranks involves invoking a suicide of a past student. This rattles Kerrie, one of Alice's girlfriends. Kerrie, played by Megan Best, heads back to her room and after some weird stuff happening there she dies. It is also ruled a suicide.

New student Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) takes Kerrie's place at the school. She is bullied by Alice and her horrible friends, which leads all of them to detention. Instead of doing what they are supposed to do, they try to contact Kerrie through a seance. Like these movies usually go, talking to ghosts once they've left the Earth tends to not go well. Alice's girlfriends eventually begin to die one at a time. Is there an angry ghost after them? Is Camille killing them? Is Alice killing them? What's going on here?!

Something to expect from a Simon Barrett movie is to expect the unexpected. "Seance" unravels like a typical slasher ghost thriller, but there are little tweaks to the genre that I found unexpected. Nothing is completely what it seems, and had "Seance" received a full blown theatrical release, it would have been a spooky good time at theater. It's not perfect, but it sure is fun. I love how Barrett inserts some fun into horror movies and rich characters that are full of fun too.

Suki Waterhouse, Inanna Sarrkis, Madisen Beaty, Ella-Rae Smith, Stephanie Sy and Djouliet Amara make up the main cast of girls, and they all do a good job. They all bring something special to their roles while also making their characters feel human. They do really well here. The boarding school is just creepy enough to create some good tension, but isn't the typical old boarding house meant to look creepy because that's what we expect here. There is a difference to what Barrett creates.

I don't want to spill too many beans on this one. If you are a fan of this genre, check this one out. If you've seen any of the movies I listed in my first paragraph, then you'll probably know to expect. If you like horror that throws a wrench into what you think you're going to see, this should be a fun one for you.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Oh hey! It's Cruella...but no De Vil

                                         

This is the last straw. The straw that broke the camel's back.

If Disney, or any studio for that matter, makes another origin story about a supervillain and explains that they really aren't so bad, but society or an even more evil individual was responsible for their villainy and their just plain misunderstood, well I am going to skip them. I don't think "Hannibal Rising," or "Maleficent" or "Joker" and I am not such a fan of "Cruella." To put it in the simplest of terms, I find movies like this pointless, especially when "Cruella" and the other movies I listed take monstrous villains and explain them in the lamest of terms.

If you want more, I'll be happy to indulge. I think Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are having a ball in this movie, and that at least makes it watchable. If you think a hybrid of sorts involving "Joker" and "The Devil Wears Prada" sounds like fun to you, then you should see this. You may be the audience for it. It doesn't play as dark or daring as either of those films, because this is still Disney after all. But you may still have fun. The set design and the costume design is about as outstanding as it could get, and this movie could possibly get Oscar nods in both those categories next year. The supporting cast includes Mark Strong, Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, all of whom do very well here. The movie has an awesome soundtrack, and the movie is great to just sit and listen to. 

I just wish this was all in service of a movie that wasn't pointless.

So here's the thing, Emma Stone's Cruella is actually Estella and she was raised by a single mother. Her mother knew from a young age how cunning her daughter was, but she loved her. One night, she goes to the house of a lady for help. Instead, the lady kills her mother and Estella is orphaned. She rises on the streets meeting two kind-hearted con men named Horace and Jasper (ho, ho!) and eventually gets into fashion. The lady that killed her mother is known as The Baroness (Thompson), who is a high profile fashion designer, and Estella who has been going by Cruella as a nickname as a girl, gets her revenge!

If you really want to call it that. In the original 1961 animated movies, and the live-action Glenn Close movies, Cruella DeVil was a dog napper. She killed dogs in order to make coats out of them. That's an awful, slimy person to say the very least. Here, she has dog side kicks, she apologizes for all of her bad behavior. Horace and Jasper agree to do Cruella's bidding because she is going after bad people. She's still very pro-dog by the end of the film. How does she get the nick name DeVil? Why are you wasting The Rolling Stone's best song on a character who doesn't transform into a villain by the end?

There is literally a mid-credit scene where Roger is writing the famous Cruella DeVil song from the animated classic. But in the context of this film, it makes no sense. Cruella commits some crimes here, but none of them really affect Roger. She apologizes for how she treats people and the movie makes us believe that even her shady at best actions are justified. Why have the song written in the first place? How can you expect me to believe this Cruella turns into a psychopathic dog-napper?

These villain origin movies we are getting aren't offensive. They aren't completely bad, and that what is making them even more frustrating. There is lots of good work and effort going into these movies. But the movies themselves are just pointless. I want to know why Cruella DeVil became the dog-hating, dog-killing coat maker from the other films. I don't care about Estella, I don't care about another girl on film getting wronged and them getting their revenge, always playing the revenge safe because this is Disney film. 

If you want to make a villain origin story, cool. But you got to make sure they are villains by the end of the film.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Devil Made Me Tell You About the Third Conjuring Movie...

                                         

We are living in a time cinematic universes. While there are have been a ton that have tried to emulate Marvel, many have not been successful. DC went from trying to catch up with Marvel, and has instead resorted down to kind of doing something different, maybe. Universal tried it with "The Dark Universe," but "The Mummy" in 2017 was so bad that the Dark Universe was only one movie. Arguably, the second most successful cinematic universe next to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the Conjuring Universe. I bet one day what's going on with Godzilla and King Kong will get there, but for right now its Conjuring. They branched out into other franchises and they've garnered lots of fans. While "Annabelle," and "The Nun" and all are fine, nothing beats the scares of the first two Conjuring films.

The third film, "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It," may be a mouthful for a film title, it's based on an actual case from 1981. It was literally known as the Devil Made Me Do It case. It involved Ed and Lorraine Warren, real life demonologists who performed an exorcism on an 8-year-old. Apparently during the exorcism, Arnie; a family member, invites the demon inside of him so it will leave the 8-year-old. Later, Arnie kills his landlord, but it wasn't really Arnie apparently, it was the evil spirit forcing him to. Arnie was in some deep trouble in 1981, but the Warrens helped with the trial. Instead of the death chair, Arnie served 5 years for manslaughter. It sounds too wild to be a true story, but all of the Conjuring movies are based on actual cases regarding the Warrens. An actual recording of the real exorcism plays during the credits.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farminga have become the Warrens at this point. There is a grace of realism in their performances. They make it real and authentic. Which is good, because this third film is easily the craziest of the films made so far. There is so much wild imagery on display that I wonder just how much of it was reality and how much of it was Hollywood exaggerating the realism.

The first film in the series is arguably the scariest, while the second film had some good scenes. I can't say I was honestly scared throughout much of this. Too much of a reliance on special effects, not enough of the tense imagery and shock value of the first two films. The story itself is very interesting, but this wasn't nearly as scary as the first two. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

"A Quiet Place Part II" just kind of exists

                                         

I was a really big fan of the first "A Quiet Place." The whole cast, across the board, were amazing in it. It proved that John Krasinski had an eye for directing. It was amazing telling a modern story nearly in silence. Most of all, it had some really scary parts in it. The entire stretch of Emily Blunt in the bathtub is probably one of my favorite moments in any scary movie in the last decade. I was really happy with the film overall and I was excited by the prospect of a sequel.

A sequel is exactly what we got. John Krasinski is once again directing. Krasinski co-wrote the first film with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, and this time for the sequel, he is writing all by himself. He proves once again that he's got a remarkable eye. He can shoot scenes really well. He can bring some great performances out of people, even veteran great actors like Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou. I think if Krasinski really wants a career directing movies, he's going to be just fine.

With all that said and with all do respect, I don't think "A Quiet Place Part II" really goes anywhere as a sequel. It almost doesn't feel scary. It doesn't have a single moment that even comes close to matching the bathtub scene in the first film. There is a cool opening sequence, where we learn (kind of) what life was like the moment before the aliens came to Earth. Why the aliens came and what their motive is, is never expanded upon. But it usually isn't in movies like this. I always find it fun seeing how the world fell apart in these types of movies, and its a pretty good opening scene. 

Besides the opening sequence, I can't really say there's anything else really scary. There aren't any good boo scares and not much suspense, and I think that was the most disappointing thing about the movie.

Cillian Murphy plays an old friend of John Krasinski's character and he eventually meets up with Krasinski's family, Murphy knows of a place where other survivor's are. The family plan to go to this Survivor's colony, which is on an island. The aliens can't seem to swim very well. There, they will use the signal from the daughter's deaf earpiece to send an even greater signal to help fight the aliens. Okay, cool story, but it does end up feeling like a bigger version of the first movie.

The acting is still solid all around. There is still some fun to be had. But "A Quiet Place Part II" does indeed feel like a sequel.

Friday, May 21, 2021

It seems Zack Snyder is having fun making movies again with "Army of the Dead"

It's been quite the ride watching Zack Snyder's career unfold. He's one of those guys where I have very much been a cheerleader and I have very much been a dissenter. I can't say that he's one of my favorite filmmakers of all time or at all. I think he's said some pretty freaking bizarre things in the press. But at the same time, I'd be a liar if I said I hated all of his films. There  are movies of his I very much love, even when it seemed like the rest of the world did not. Anytime you hear the guy say awesome at a junket or a convention or an interview, you're in for some type of treat. He likes making big bags of awesome. He's the guy that throws everything including the kitchen sink at you, and that kitchen sink has another kitchen sink stuck inside of it somehow. But he tries for emotional payoff and social/political metaphor as well, which makes his films a wee bit more exciting compared to someone like Michael Bay or Joe Carnahan.

"Dawn of the Dead" from 2004 was one of those rare remakes that I actually like a lot, so I thought it would be fun for Snyder to return to the realm of zombies. If you've seen trailers for "Army of the Dead," you know what you're in for. It's a simple, straightforward plot. A zombie outbreak occurs in Las Vegas, and wouldn't you know, our government gets a grip on it before it overruns the country. Las Vegas is completely walled off from the rest of the world, trapping the zombies inside. A businessman hires a crew to retrieve $250 million from one of his casinos, money that has already been declared lost and covered by insurance. A crew is hired and they go in. Of course this being a heist film as well, the businessman isn't really concerned about the money and the heist is actually about something else entirely.

It's a simple story, but simple doesn't mean bad. As far as zombies go, this is original and ambitious and unlike the typical "survivors survive during a zombie apocalypse." Something we've seen done to death by this point. The film features several Snyder touches. You know this is a Snyder movie without knowing his name was on it. Much like "Dawn of the Dead" and "Watchmen," "Army of the Dead" features a bombastic, hilarious opening credits sequence. Essentially a mini movie explaining how Las Vegas became the zombie wasteland it is in this film. While I would argue that "Dawn of the Dead" and Watchmen's" opening credits are better, "Army of the Dead" comes pretty close.

"Army of the Dead" is full of actors I have lots of admiration for. I think Dave Bautista is an excellent lead here, and he's been revving up for this kind of role for awhile now. There's people like Omari Hardwick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garrett Dillahunt, Theo Rossi, and Raul Castillo that I like. There's actors I'm not as familiar with like Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, and Nora Arnezeder who are all fine. That's it, though. They're fine. While all of these actors are good and they bring more charm to this film that a bunch of no-namers couldn't, they are still playing types. There isn't enough development for any of them to really make me care about them as characters, but enough charm there that I root for a good ending?

One actress in particular sticks out, and that's Tig Notaro as the pilot the crew needs to fly them out of the city once they get the payload. She's terrific, better than she needed to be. I'd love about 50 spin-off movies of just her and she doesn't even need to be fighting zombies. She really sticks out here, breathing life into a thankless, rather one-dimensional character. She's simply terrific.

Its a little weird to me that I find the zombies in this movie more appealing that the humans, but I have to be honest. In this story, the zombies evolve and some become Alphas; zombies that are smart and can move differently and can fight. Again, this isn't the typical zombie movie and they pose more of threat to the humans to make the stakes higher. Also, yes, the zombie tiger gets some good material here, it's a very good zombie kitty.

If you are going to get all uptight over Snyder "ripping off" someone, please forget it. Snyder is paying tribute to several horror filmmakers here. Again, Snyder is the guy with the kitchen sink, but I think its fun how he pays homage to the great horror filmmakers in history while also making something that is clearly his own. 

You can also bet that Zack Snyder used The Cranberries song in this. Yes, THAT Cranberries song. He's Zack Snyder making a zombie movie, of course he used that song.

"Army of the Dead" isn't a perfect film by any stretch of the mind, but it's certainly fun. It's a ton of fun. After a decade of making several hapless, grimdark superhero movies. After a decade of being manhandled and misunderstood by Warner Brothers. I say forget #RestoreTheSnyderverse. Seriously, forget it. I'd rather Snyder make movies like "Army of the Dead." This is Snyder straight from the tap, and we are all richer for it.