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.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: "Malcolm & Marie" is a modern day "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Or at least, it tries to be.

There's a new movie on Netflix that I have been trying to wrap my head around all day. It's called "Malcolm & Marie" and features Zendaya and John David Washington. They are literally the only characters in the entire movie. Washington plays Malcolm, a filmmaker who had a premiere night. Zendaya plays his girlfriend Marie, an actress. Malcolm comes home concerned about his movie, how critics will take it, how he's been reduced to a stereotype in the press, he's concerned about his image. All the while he didn't thank his girlfriend in his speech before the film premiered and she feels that the movie heavily borrows from her and their personal life. This leads to an entire night of diving into their relationship, and all of their wants, needs, desires and disappointments come flooding out of each of them.

In style and tone, the film really reminds me of "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" A movie which is one of my all-time favorites. You may remember reading it on my Top 1000 Movies List in the summer. "Malcolm & Marie" feels like a stage play, as it takes place pretty much all in one take and never leaves its one location. Both films are shot in very surreal black and white. Both films with couples letting out their secrets and inner thoughts over the course of a very long night. These two films would make for a very interesting double feature. One of them is a masterpiece in my eyes. The other, I am not exactly sure what to call it. 

It's clear that John David Washington and Zendaya are both very talented performers. And you can bet that they throw themselves at these roles. John David Washington is on the fast track to becoming just as prolific as his father. I've been spending the last few years trying to figure out what I think of Zendaya as an actress. She's fine in the "Spider-Man" movies. She was fine in "The Greatest Showman" and I haven't had the pleasure of watching any of "Euphoria" yet. But I can say with honesty that I think she's leveled up quite a bit with her performance here. She's overwhelmingly powerful at times here. The movie is rich with performance and that's saying something given that there's only two actors present here. I just wish they had a better script to work with.

First of all, Malcolm Elliot would be a horrible neighbor and very difficult person to live next to. Consider a scene where Marie goes to the bathroom outside. Consider a scene where they play music really loud and shout profanity as they argue at God knows what hour of the night. It's odd behavior that you only find in the movies, I know. But the way it's portrayed in this movie just comes off exhaustive after awhile. 

Plus, there is all the shouting in the house, and I wonder what the insulation is like for that home they live in.

I don't know how realistic this film is meant to be. I mean, there's no special effects, nothing supernatural or otherwise weird. It's played as real world as real world gets. And yet, human beings don't behave like actual human beings. I mean, what kind of couple shouts across the house at one another on more than one occasion? I mean, I know people joke about this stuff, but does it really actually happen? Do actors really have overblown, obnoxious reactions to critics? I don't know, but it didn't feel authentic and it felt phony.

I can see how the critical reception has been mixed but the audience reception has been highly positive. If you are the type of person who can be drawn by two actors giving it their all that you can ignore the rest of the flaws presented in the film, then you are going to love "Malcolm & Marie." This is merely an observation, not a dissection. But I notice that lots of people can drawn by actors, no matter how phony the film's contents are. Much like "Hillbilly Elergy," this is a movie that has two performances so solid that I wish there was a movie worthy of the said performances. Sadly, it's a film that doesn't feel authentic. A movie that presents ideas but has nothing to say about those ideas. Honestly, it feels like a jumbled experience and I don't really know how to feel about it.

FINAL GRADE: C

Friday, February 5, 2021

Hard Week For Losses

 

 This week, it has sadly been announced that we lost Christopher Plummer and Hal Holbrook. These two men were legendary actors who had lengthy, popular careers in movies that spanned many decades. Christopher Plummer died at age 91, and Hal Holbrook; who died on January 23rd but whose death wasn't announced until this week, was 95. These men had nice long lives, full of memorable performances.

The career of Christopher Plummer is so massive, I could type all day long about his career. Instead, I am going to give you ten films that feature great performances by Plummer and I hope you seek them all out. There was so much more to his career than "The Sound of Music."

1. "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" (2009)

2. "The Insider" (1999)

3. "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" (1991)

4. "Beginners" (2010)

5. "12 Monkeys" (1995)

6. "The Return of the Pink Panther" (1975)

7. "Dolores Claiborne" (1995)

8. "The New World" (2005)

9. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" (2017)

10. "Knives Out" (2019)

Now, I know. I am a horrible, horrible Millennial. I don't have much variety as far as years go for Plummers career. But going through my favorite performances by Plummer has also made me want to dissect the rest of his career, and I can hardly wait to get started.


Here's ten great Hal Halbrook movies.

1. "Magnum Force" (1973)

2. "All The President's Men" (1976)

3. "Into The Wild" (2007)

4. "The Firm" (1993)

5. "The Fog" (1980)

6. "Promised Land" (2012)

7. "Wall Street" (1987)

8. "Lincoln" (2012)

9. "The Majestic" (2001)

10. "Mark Twain Tonight!" (1956)

Hal Holbrook also served our country during World War II. He held the rank of Staff Sargent in the United States Army. Thank you, Hal, for your service.

If each of these ten films aren't enough for you, these men had many other movies, TV appearances and stage plays to their credits. There is so much to find if you go looking and I encourage you do. These two titans will be missed.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Who is watching WandaVision?

 

Anybody watching "WandaVision" on Disney+?

It's the new Marvel Cinematic Universe show hat premiered on Disney+ four weeks ago, gracing us with a new episode a week. And while it may not be the "first" MCU show ever, even though we will find out later whether that's debatable or not. The shows on Disney+ will completely tie into the future movies. Featuring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Scarlet Witch and Vision, and also featuring Randall Park as Jimmy Woo; reprising his role from "Ant-Man and The Wasp" as well as Kat Dennings; reprising her role as Darcy Lewis from the "Thor." movies. 

If you haven't read any reactions to the first few episodes yet, its pretty confusing at first glance. The first two episodes are basically riffs on shows like "Bewitched" and "I Love Lucy." I am sure there are plenty of Generation Zers who probably saw those episodes and were very confused. That's not meant to be a slap on younger generations either, old school television isn't referenced nearly as much as it used to, so its okay if you read those references above and have no clue what I'm yapping about. Scarlet Witch and Vision are pretty much spending their time in a always revolving sitcom. There seems to be somebody watching though and people have been a fun time trying to figure it out.

Whoa...whoa! I've read some people say. Where are all the superpowers? Why isn't there a villain Scarlet Witch is fighting? There are some out there who have been expecting the typical Marvel adventure. It's okay if you don't care for "WandaVision," but remember that for the last decade, Marvel made a multi-billion dollar brand using mainly C and D list heroes. At this new stage in the game, Marvel has bought, literally bought, themselves the clout and the right to experiment if they choose to. I like that Kevin Feige is choosing to test his audience, to show us that these characters can do more that the ordinary, and that there is much more to superheroes then who they choose to fight. Its also a little amazing to me that people were giving Marvel grief for making "the same stuff" over and over, now they are really trying something new and they are getting heat for that now too.

A character that Scarlet Witch (who goes by Wanda only on this show) comes into contact with Geraldine, who is played by Teyonah Parris. At first Geraldine is a friend. But how she is reacts to Wanda and the things she says to him begin to confuse Wanda. There are many strange things that seem off about Wanda's surroundings. She can't seem to figure it out.

Every episode features a brand new puzzle piece. There is definitely a mystery as to what is going on with Wanda and she seems to become more and more unhinged each episode. I am not here to give everything away so far. I'll write more about this show as it continues to unfold. But so far its exciting, so far its fun, and so far its intriguing enough to keep me guessing, still featuring the humor and inspiration of the Marvel movies, just in a different way. Comic book fans will love the references and love figuring out the callbacks to story arcs such as "House of M," or "Avengers Disassembled" or "Avengers: Standoff!" and the run of Vision comics by Tom King. There are several great performances by actors like Kathryn Hahn and Fred Melamed. 

This is something that will keep you guessing, its not structured like other MCU stuff, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worthwhile. I hope you keep tuning in, because I sure will. I used to write about many of MCU's shows, and I will happily sit back and write down my thoughts on this one. Marvel continues to keep their audience they worked so hard to build on the hook and after a particularly tough hiatus, its nice to have them all back!

Wonder Woman 1984: 2020's Most Misunderstood Film

 

In just about every way, 2020 was a weird, shitty year. It was also a very busy year for me. Even though we spent most of 2020 collectively in quarantine, my personal life kept me from writing a lot, I spent months not writing a single thing. I did see quite a few movies and while most of the big name films got moved to this year, or possibly beyond, there were still some films considered must-sees that I saw, but didn't have a chance to review. I wanted to write those reviews in the coming days. Get ready for me to dish on things like "Tenet," and "Sonic The Hedgehog" and some other stuff you may like, along with the 2021 movies I am watching as well.

I have had a chance to see "Wonder Woman 1984" twice now. That's definitely allowed my opinion on the film to be clarified. Because it seems like the camps for this film are "It's Good" or "It's The Worst Movie Ever." I have even read some people say that "Wonder Woman 1984" is worse than "Batman vs Superman" and "Suicide Squad." I'm not going to say that I am jumping up and down for this sequel, to but say is its worse than those two films is quite extreme. I hate to use the word I am about to use, because I believe in different opinions and people having their own opinions, but I have I don't know how else to really explain myself. The decisions made by characters in "Wonder Woman 1984" may be silly and corny and strange at times, but they OBJECTIFIABILY make sense. Sorry not sorry. I understand and can relate to the characters in their thinking, something I easily can't say about the characters in the other movies.

If you are going to get mad or tune out when you see a scene in a Wonder Woman swing through the sky, using her Lasso of Truth to catch lightning bolts, then perhaps superhero movies aren't your thing. Wonder Woman has used her Lasso for a huge host of odd things in the comic books. If you can't come to terms with the conventions of a superhero movie, why are you watching them? I don't mean to sound defensive, or like I am on the attack, but I wholeheartedly despise how people can't come to terms with the superhero genre. We suddenly need our superhero stories to be so grimdark and self-serious just because a few "dark" superhero movies made money. There is more silly history in comic books than there is dark history and while you may not like that, it's your problem, not the genres. Here's another example I like. If you don't like horror movies because you don't like being scared, that's cool. To each their own. But if you watch a horror movie anyway, do you get to criticize the horror movie for being scary?

I also have to say that I'm always baffled by the details people choose to get hung up on. So, as obvious as this may come off, "Wonder Woman 1984" takes place in the 1980's. Director Patty Jenkins chose to use scores for music instead of anything iconic from the decade. Some people flipped because of that. Really, because there wasn't enough music that you can easily put on YouTube to listen to instantly wasn't featured in the film is enough to call "Wonder Woman 1984" a flop? Seriously, the worst thing that I hoped wouldn't happen has happened to our pop culture. The hooks of nostalgia are sunken so deep into our bodies that we expect it now in everything.

When I call "Wonder Woman 1984" 2020's misunderstood film, I am not trying to call it a perfect film. It's not. I prefer the first film to this sequel. It's a movie with flaws. It's a movie with strange decisions made. No matter how hard DC tries, or doesn't try hard enough, I don't know if we'll get a well oiled machine of superhero films like we are getting from Marvel. For me, I think enough works with "Wonder Woman 1984" to make it a win. I think it has a very specific message that won me over, and it was quite timely for that matter.

So, it's 1984. Wonder Woman is living among humans, doing good deeds for them any time she can. During the day, she works at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. She befriends a new employee named Barbara (Kristen Wiig) who is never noticed by her co-workers, or men to be honest. Wonder Woman is missing Steve Trevor terribly (Chris Pine) but she trying to make the most of her life now. Barbara and Diana (Wonder Woman's alter ego) study a brown crystal that comes to the Smithsonian one day, which catches the eye of shrewd businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) who has taken an interest in the Smithsonian. When he studies and learns that the brown crystal is an ancient Dreamstone, a crystal that grants wishes. Maxwell Lord wishes to...literally become...the Dreamstone. So he has the power to grant people wishes, which he uses in order to get his business going.

What makes "Wonder Woman 1984" at least more interesting compared to some superhero movies is the "villains." When Maxwell Lord wishes to become the human embodiment of the Dreamstone, he doesn't do it in a mad grab for power, not initially. He's a businessman who is down on his luck, and wants to simply provide for his son. Even if he has to cut some corners in order to do so. When Barbara uses the Dreamstone to be more like Diana. She likes the sudden attention and newfound confidence it brings her and she also likes the superpowers it gives her. Barbara doesn't mean to lose her way, but when you have been invisible all your life, and you find out you are finally visible, it is hard to give up and it can mess with your head. Anytime one of these movies introduces villains you at least understand, they are much richer as a result. 

How is Kristen Wiig's performance? Not as bad as I would have thought. Any time an actor branches out from their comfort zone, it can be exciting. There is definitely no goofiness to Kristen Wiig's performance and it all kind of feels natural. But I wouldn't say it's something that blew my mind completely. This isn't the same level of Heath Ledger playing The Joker, nowhere close. But I think she does exactly what was required of her and brings some natural feeling, especially as Barbara's appearance gets weirder as the movie goes on.

Even Diana can't resist the power of the Dreamstone which leads to one of the weirdest decisions in the whole movie. Diana wishes for Steve Trevor to return from the dead, and he does. Unfortunately, she becomes weaker because of her wish. When people wish for things, they get something taken away. So when Wonder Woman fights, and she gets hit, it hurts. She bleeds every once in awhile. And she figures out that the only way to regain all of her abilities to renounce her wish, but Trevor is her soulmate, so can she do it?

After two viewings, the thing that won me over both times is how shamelessly sincere the movie is. It almost feels like a critique on 2020 as a year, or maybe a critique of 2016-2020. I can't really tell. What I can say is its a judgmental, cynical, greedy world we live in and its amazing how much people seem to care about their needs and wants, worse yet, we criticize  those who simply want to lend a helping hand. So many of us look for individuals and politicians to save us when we can simply make the world a better place. If we really want to make the world a better place, without putting too much effort in at all, we should try to invest in each other, our families, our friends. When it becomes all about everyone else, it becomes all about you. I think its a message we needed this year, and that determined sincerity really won me over.

Say what you want, its okay your mileage varies. Superhero stories are weird and can be kind of silly. "Wonder Woman 1984" isn't without its flaws, and there are some very odd decisions but it still can deliver that one thing you didn't know you needed, but once you got it, profoundly important.