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.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Bob Odenkirk is definitely somebody in the terrific "Nobody"

                                     

I am so obsessed with movies that I love reading about the behind-the-scenes making of movies. What ideas led to that finished product we see on the big screen in the dark. Back in 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a science fiction action film called "Total Recall." The character Schwarzenegger was hired to play was an ordinary that essentially got himself into an extraordinary situation. The thing is, looking at Arnold, he's not an ordinary man. He was built to be an action star, so when he's playing an ordinary man doing action packed things, I don't believe he's an ordinary man. I mean, look at his physic. Its one of the reasons why "Total Recall" has never completely worked for me. Before Arnold was cast in "Total Recall," the studio making the film considered both William Hurt and, oddly enough, Richard Dreyfuss. I have to admit, a "Total Recall" featuring either of those guys would have been something special. William Hurt and Richard Dreyfuss are definitely just regular guys and seeing them throw down in action movie would have been cool.

Bob Odenkirk is an actor I have loved for many years, but he's not a guy who think of when thinking of action heroes. He's superb in things like "Breaking Bad," "Better Call Saul," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Incredibles," "Fargo" and a huge host of comedic material he's done over the years. That's always been his MO, comedy. So its extra shocking to see him throw down in a movie like "Nobody." I want to say that its the best kind of shock though, because "Nobody" is the best pure action movie since "John Wick."

Odenkirk plays Hutch. He's a typical everyman, whose days seem to blur together. He's got a family, and he clearly loves them, but they don't seem to have a close bond. His wife and him barely have time during the week for each other. Hutch seems like he's settled in life but not satisfied and he's barely registering as a human. He wakes up in the morning, makes breakfast, goes to work comes home, eats dinner, sleeps. Rinse, wash repeat. Most of the time too, he forgets to put the garbage out on garbage day. He's also become a passive person. That becomes clear when people break into his home and his teenage son shows more bravery against the thieves. 

Hutch has a secret though. A secret he keeps from everyone in his world. This secret though is literally tearing him apart though, because he's living the life of a caged lion and soon his rage is going to consume him. See, before Hutch had a family, and a dead-end job, he was an "auditor," and that's a fancy term for assassin. He broke fools left and right before settling down into a normal life and it seems this is eating at him. Hutch eventually goes back and using some talents of old friends, finds the thieves, they are a regular couple who broke into his home due to desperation though, so he eventually leaves. When some punks get on a bus on his way home, his rage is unleased.

One of the punks Hutch wrecks on the bus happens to have connections to the Russian Mafia, and when the head of the Mafia finds out what has happened to him, they want revenge. As movies like these go, the Mafia will eventually regret that decision.

Let me just say that Bob Odenkirk absolutely slaps as Hutch. I love, love, love it when actors break out of their comfort zones to do something new, and this is easily the best modern example of that. He's a believable fighter in this movie, and the action scenes are full of fun moments. But they work more than that though. During the brawl on the bus, because Hutch hasn't been a killer for awhile, he's slow to really heat up as a fighter. Hutch isn't an invulnerable superhero in this. Each punch and kick he throws seems to cost him something by contrast. It makes the action scenes more visceral, it makes them more believable and it makes the stakes higher. 

Did I mention that Christopher Lloyd shows up in this as Hutch's dad. You know Christopher Lloyd right? Doc from "Back To The Future." Yeah, he's in this and let me just say holy shit. Holy shit. That's all I will say about his performance in this.

There is a comedic vibe to some of the scenes in this movie, but Odenkirk plays Hutch honest and authentic all the way through. This could be the best thing he's done so far. There are many great co-stars he gets to bounce off of in this film. Including Michael Ironside, Connie Nielsen, RZA and Colin Salmon, all of whom do great work in this film as well.

"Nobody" is a rich piece of action entertainment. It's filled with actors ripping up scenery. It's got some bone-crunching action scenes. There are bits of believable romance in it. There are a few laughs here and there. It's everything we go to the movies for. There's even a nice set up for spin-offs and sequels and I definitely want more of Hutch. When you see this, you will want more Hutch afterward too. More than anything, you will demand to see your favorite actors in different ways. I want to see actors break out of their comfort zones more often. Odenkirk nailed it. This is one of 2021's best films so far, so check it out.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Spiral Review: Can Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson breathe life into dormant franchise?

I can't say I am the world's biggest admirer of the "Saw" franchise.

I think as far as modern horror goes, I think the first "Saw" movie is a really great horror movie. But like many horror classics, it gets wrapped up in obscurity thanks to the many needless franchises. I think the horror genre is very much like the comedy genre, most movies in these genres don't need to become franchises. When I saw "Saw II" I thought it was fair, but I could see the flaws beginning to seep in. I thought "Saw III" was a pretty big pile of crap. I haven't seen any other "Saw" movies since. Whoops, scratch that, I did watch "Jigsaw" on Amazon Prime a few years ago, and I don't think it did enough to revitalize the franchise and it felt more of the same. Except it had a direct-to-video quality to it.

"Spiral: From The Book of Saw" was an idea conceived by none other than Chris Rock. Rock has been having a good quarantine time so far. "Fargo" season four may not be the best season, but Chris Rock felt like a revelation in that season. I had never seen him do so well in a dramatic role. While "Fargo" is known for its dark comedy, there is nothing hilarious about Rock's role in that season. He means business pretty much throughout and he does exceptional work. Apparently, he was a "Saw" fan and he explained his idea to an executive producer from Lionsgate Pictures in Brazil at a wedding of all places. That put into motion this new film that does do what I think "Jigsaw" tried to do, revitalize the franchise. Because its the 2020's and Hollywood has got lazy, of course the name of the game right now is revitalize what we can.

It's clear after watching "Spiral" that Chris Rock was also a fan of "Se7en" because at times it feels like I'm watching "Se7en." If you had to explain the "Saw" franchise as simply as possible. It's essentially about a serial killer who specifically targets people who don't appreciate being alive and puts them in creepy, deadly scenarios to see if they can appreciate life if they are lucky to survive. There is usually a cop or two trying to find the serial killer as well. That's essentially all the movies. In "Spiral" the Jigsaw Killer is dead. But he's spawned some copycats known as Spiral. This new killer seems to be targeting corrupt cops and the only honest cop, a man named Detective Zeke Banks, played by Chris Rock, trying to figure out why.

"Spiral" brings back the Saw-style gruesome killings, but that never appealed to me. Movies like "Saw" and "Hostile," that isn't horror to me. Some people like that blood and guts and I guess find it "scary," but that type of stuff isn't for me. That will always be torture porn to me and torture porn isn't scary to me, its sleazy and uninteresting. There are plenty of slasher movies that are scary due to their mood and atmosphere. That's the thing that gets me the most, mood and atmosphere. "Spiral" isn't a torture porn all the way through. I was shocked by how story oriented it is. Samuel L. Jackson, who is great in everything, tears up scenery with Chris Rock. Max Minghella, who you may remember from The Handmaid's Tale, is also very good here. The movie is under an hour and a half, so things are moving at a gallop, but the actors are definitely not the problem here.

Lifelong fans of this franchise will appreciate the kills. Casual fans will hopefully appreciate the acting and the characters. I think as a whole, the movie moves a little too much from the original that it feels like a "Se7en" rip-off or more of a "Saw" fanfiction than a continuation or even a spin-off. I love that Chris Rock is challenging himself as an actor, especially this late in his career. I look forward to whatever else he chooses to do in his future. When someone gets a dream project made, it has to be exciting. Maybe I'm grouchy because I never really cared about this franchise, so if you like these movies, perhaps check this out for yourself. For me, its a mixed bag of goods and bads.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

I Have No Remorse For Hating "Without Remorse"

                                         

Tom Clancy was a very successful, very popular writer. I never cracked too many of his books, but my dad sure did. My dad introduced me to Stephen King and Tom Clancy, and I became the biggest King fan. My dad spoke very highly of both authors, so I figured Clancy knew his stuff. You wouldn't really gather that from Clancy's movies adaptations. The Harrison Ford Jack Ryan run is mediocre, so was "The Sum of All Fears" 2002, with Ben Affleck playing the titular character. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" seemed like such a generic spy movie that I couldn't really take it seriously. I really love "The Hunt For The Red October" and the Amazon Prime "Jack Ryan" series starring John Krasinski as Jack Ryan.

"Without Remorse" has nothing to do with Jack Ryan, but a different character that lives in Tom Clancy's universe. Michael B. Jordan is playing John Clark, and Michael B. Jordan is destined to be a star. You could tell that from "Creed" and you could tell that from "Black Panther" or any of the indies he starred in before landing in the "Creed" movies. He's got movie stardom written all over him. I love that he is willing to try his hand in directing, producing and whatever else he's choosing to do and wish him luck. I very much like Michael B. Jordan as an actor and I want to make that clear before I start dunking on his latest movie.

Yep. Sorry Clancy fans. Sorry Michael B. Jordan fans. But "Without Remorse" is not a very good movie at all. 

"Without Remorse" is essentially a spy thriller action movie. I love spy thrillers. I love action movies. To each their own, right? For spy thrillers to work for me, the movie has to be making a point about the politics they are discussing. A critique, a compliment, just say something. "Without Remorse" is so muddled and so frustrating because it has absolutely nothing to say. It feels like a Cold War movie where we forgot that the Cold War has been over for a couple decades now. When a movie in which politics plays an important role in the storytelling, the politics better make sense. They also better at least try instead of being so ordinary. The United States government is corrupt and has done some shady shit in order to keep freedom and justice ringing? Stop the presses!

Where "Without Remorse" really bites is in the action scenes. If you make an action movie, and the action scenes are not exciting, not thrilling and I don't at least cringe away by how intensely authentic they are. I'm sorry then you've failed in my eyes. The action in "Without Remorse" is not exciting. It is not thrilling. It's pretty generic action. The characters are not totally fleshed out and they don't have exciting backstories, so it feels like there are no stakes. If we don't care about the characters, I don't care about the fight. Sure, John Clark lost his family to terrorists, so he's out for revenge. But, that motive is pretty played out at this time. 

The action scenes of "John Wick" matter because the character is brought to life swiftly by Keanu Reeves and they make his backstory thrilling, and they set him up so tenderly before his entire life gets turned upside down. The action scenes in "The Raid" matter because when a group of everyday cops get hurled into an impossible situation, the actors have made us care about the cops enough that we want them to live, even though we know not all of them will. "The Rock" is one of my favorite action movies. Its a movie that can be called mindless entertainment. On a logical level, there are big moments that don't make sense. But that movie works for me because Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage are working overtime to make this very goofy movie matter and it shows. They care, so the audience cares as well. Any and all of this is missing from "Without Remorse."

Jamie Bell, Guy Pierce, Jodi Turner-Smith, Brett Gelman...all wonderful actors. All wasted in this movie.

The Marvel-style sting after the credits? Could have been cooler if the movie we actually watched was better. So many blockbuster franchises are designed like bigger, more expensive television shows. It'd be nice for once if you are making a modern blockbuster franchise to work tooth and nail to make sure that first film works. Reel us in with something great first, then build upon that.

It isn't enough to throw up some action that is cool-looking and for it to be enough. Maybe I'm weird, but "Without Remorse" feels ordinary in every way, and in a world where we have seen some incredibly intense action and meaningful spy thrillers, I need a little bit more than ordinary. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Let There Be Carnage!

 


"Venom: Let There Be Carnage"

Looks cool...I guess.

I didn't go crazy in love for the first movie, so I am a bit skeptical of this movie. It does kind of look like the exact same movie as the first "Venom." But instead of giving us the origin of Venom, we will be getting the origin of Carnage and Venom will have to stop him. It seems like a typical sequel, but any movie has some potential so I'll be interested to see where this leads. I think if Woody Harrelson is given a knockout script, he will do really well as Carnage. I do enjoy the work by Tom Hardy, so I may take a peek at this just for his sake. Plus, Stephen Graham is one of the most underrated supporting actors out there, and I'm glad to see him on board for this.

The opening scene with Venom making Eddie Brock breakfast did make me giggle a little, so maybe this won't be terrible. Hopefully.

Yes, I did notice the Marvel connections. It tough telling what type of universe this is. The Daily Bugle has appeared in the MCU, but not as a newspaper, as a website. An InfoWars style website. So who really knows if this is supposed to be the MCU. The font on the newspaper of the Daily Bugle reminded me of the Tobey McGuire movies. Yes, some have speculated that you get a blink-and-you'll-miss-it look at an Avengers headline. Who knows. Tough to really tell which and what universe this takes place in. I guess we will have to wait and see.

What did you all think?

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Review: Sony Animation levels up with the wonderful "The Mitchells vs. The Machines"

Animation can be either/or experience for me. It's either going to cater to the whole family or it will be fun for the kids while the parents sit there patiently and unwind after a long week at the office. The best animated films for family have something that every member of the family of every age can relate to or it illuminates something profound about the world, which is much riskier. I wasn't expecting what I saw in "Zootopia," but it remains one of the best in recent Disney output films simply due to that risk factor.

Sony Animation may have leveled up in a big way this year. In 2018, they blew the world up with the release of "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse." I like Spidey and I like Miles Morales. I was pleased as punch to see him in a movie. But I can't honestly say I was expecting it to be THAT GOOD. I still love "Spider-Verse" and its very much still one of the best films of the 2010's. Sony may have hit another home run with "The Mitchells vs The Machines."

"The Mitchells vs. The Machines" has everything you'd want from a family film. It's got big laughs for the kids and big laughs for the adults. There are hidden laughs everywhere. Some things you're kids are going to understand and some things only adults will understand, but its never inappropriate at all. Much like "Spider-Verse," there is the visceral, cutting-edge, otherworldly animation that was just gorgeous to look at. It also features a storyline that can be relatable to all. What else could you honestly want from a family film? Do you like action? Because this has it. Do you like "cute" characters in an animated film? This has it. If you want comedy and if you want sentimental moments, "The Mitchells vs The Machines" has it all.

"The Mitchells vs. The Machines" is about, of course, the Mitchells. They are, according to their neighbors, a quirky family. The mom is always bright and colorful and a little weird. The father is a goofball. The young son is obsessed with dinosaurs, and is socially awkward. The daughter is an aspiring filmmaker. Growing up, Katie (the daughter) was unfortunately ostracized in school because nobody really understood her. As she got older, she turned to make films on her own and post them on YouTube. Her hard work over the years landed her in a film school for college and she finally began to connect with people who understood her. Does anybody remember the feeling you got when you finally found "your people?" Was it in college? High school? Can you remember when you found those best friends you understood you better than anyone else? Just how overwhelmingly profound that was?

The father, named Rick has always been hesitant of Katie pursuing her career in film. It's understandable. There is always that fine line with parents and their children between wanting them to be their own people and make sure they make responsible future decisions. I know I've butted heads with my own parents before about my future, so I can definitely relate. We want our children to be their own people, but we also want what's best for them and it can be a slippery slope at times. Rick and Katie are always butting heads, and to kind of defuse the situation, they decide to go on a road trip vacation.

Then robots start taking over the world...

What ensues is a hilarious, kinetically-charged film full of action and laughs. It's about family, and how its okay to not be normal. Because nobody is normal. It's been scientifically proven that we all have our quirks, even the most stern of us. Its also a movie about family, and the changes and self-discovery we make for the ones we really, truly love. It's a film beaming over with emotion. It's something truly special. Featuring the voice work by Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Olivia Colman, Maya Rudolf, Eric Andre and Fred Armisan, everybody doing great work.

Sony Animation is on a roll right now and I hope they continue to do well. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

How Did You Spend Star Wars Day?

May The Fourth Be With You All? May fourth is the unofficial, or perhaps it is official, day we all call Star Wars day. This is the day we dedicate ourselves to one of the biggest franchises of all time. In 2021 in particular, Disney spoiled the Star Wars fanbase, delivering some exciting new Star Wars content on their streaming service, Disney+. We got plenty of Star Wars on the way through Disney+ and it seems the service is finally living up the excitement people had for it when it was released in 2019.

How did you spend your Star Wars day this year? Me? I was very curious about "Star Wars: The Bad Batch." The new animated series on Disney+, its first 75 minute episode premiered on the service, a nice gesture from Disney after they definitely dropped the ball when they didn't release "Solo" on this day. "The Bad Batch" works as a sequel and spin-off of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," a very popular animated series that was canon with the movies. "The Bad Batch" are a small group of clone troopers that had special mutated DNA that gave them each a slight ability, even though they aren't really technically "superheroes." I actually never watched "The Clone Wars" cartoon. There was a separate animated series that came out in 2003 that lead up to "Revenge of the Sith" that I think has gone deeply unappreciated. I really love the 2003 series made by Genndy Tartakovsky, but after seeing "The Bad Batch," I may dig into the series made in 2008.

The Bad Batch consists of Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, Crosshair and Echo (all of whom are voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). Given those nicknames, you can probably guess everyone's special expertise. Hunter is the team leader and most badass looking character, Wrecker is the muscle, Tech is good with tech, Crosshair is the sniper, and Echo is a cyborg. At the beginning of the episode, they are helping a Jedi-lead group of clone troopers take out some enemy battle droids. As the battle is wrapping up, we see Emperor Palpatine executes Order 66. The Jedi is immediately shot down with her Padawon on the run. Because The Bad Batch have that special DNA, they can actually think for themselves. So they are a bit wreary about killing Jedi's and don't necessarily believe they are doing anything treasonous. Hunter chases the Padawon, but lets him go, which will come back to haunt the group later.

What will be cool is that we will see how the end of the Clone Wars will start to affect the status quo of the galaxy, especially as the Empire begins to rise. It seems the series will touch on how Kamino will be affected by the end of the war, the planet that provided the clone troopers for the former republic. As the need for clone troopers is put in question. The end of the war will also test the loyalty of the Bad Batch and where their loyalties will lie. Admiral Tarkin shows up and it seems like he will be a prominent character in this series. Saw Gerrera (voiced by Andrew Kishino, played by Forest Whitaker in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story") also shows up and we learn why he decided to become a rebel! Even though she doesn't show up in this first episode, but Fennec Shand, who was prominent on "The Mandalorian" will appear on the show. Ming-Na Wen who played the character on "The Mandalorian" will also provide her voice on "The Bad Batch."

"The Bad Batch" will have sixteen episodes in all for its first season, and I will probably review the rest of the season as a whole once it concludes. But I did enjoy what I've seen so far!

I also watched "The Force Awakens From It's Nap" a three minute "Star Wars" themed adventure featuring Maggie Simpson from "The Simpsons.'' It was appropriately silly.

Hope you all had a nice Star Wars day. I got tons of reviews on the way this week. I've seen "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" and "Stowaway" on Netflix. "Without Remorse" on Amazon Prime and I got plenty to say about those. So keep an eye out for that!