Tag: Movie Review

John Wick is back and bringing his best for Chapter 3

John Wick is back and bringing his best for Chapter 3

Keanu Reeves’ 2014 action vehicle John Wick was lightning in a bottle.

Where Reeves was previously known in the genre as a trench coat wearing techno-superhero, the late 2010s has changed his action pedigree to that of a retired super assassin skilled in glorious gun-fu.

That film exhibited wonderful cartoony violence in a way that enthralled audiences. It was a self-contained story with a hint of mysterious flavor that could have easily stood on its own.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) was less contained. But even if its script clearly acted as the middle man for another sequel, the film was magnificent in its world-building. It elaborated on the mysterious underbelly of the first movie in a way that created intrigue rather than spoiling the fun.

And it somehow kept up a high caliber of action at the same time.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) masterfully blends and elevates the action-packed precedent of the first movie and the world-building of the second to continue an experience warranting the fourth chapter it aims to establish.

Chapter 3 follows Reeves’ titular character as he aims to reverse his excommunication from the worldwide “High Table” assassin society after killing one of its leading members in a safe haven at the end of the second film.

Like Chapter 2, this movie immediately drops its audience into a story that services its past while introducing new elements.

Wick travels to Casablanca and recruits Sofia (Halle Berry) to pay off a debt she owes. Meanwhile veteran characters Winston (Ian McShane), Charon (Lance Reddick) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) face political repercussions at the hands of a clinical and captivating Adjudicator for the High Table (Asia Kate Dillon).

Facing the consequences for one’s actions is the name of the game, as Chapter 3 establishes multiple times while audiences are introduced to more of the assassin underworld through locales like a training academy and a currency manufacturer in the ramparts of a medieval castle.

The movie embellishes John Wick’s brilliant universe, where gory street level duels are bathed in neon lights despite being planned by codified and cordial socialites in almost baroque meeting places.

The growing universe is enthralling for series veterans, yet I would argue Chapter 3 utilizes it’s exposition in a way that gives newcomers a fun experience unraveling how Reeves got himself into trouble. Like The Hangover, but with trained assassins.

Some of the fine details would be lost, but John Wick supplements its world-building with creative action to make the experience worthwhile.

The hyper-violence of this film is a spectacle. Within the first 20 minutes, Reeves beats a man to death with a copy of Dante’s Inferno and kills motorcycle-riding goons while galloping through New York traffic on a horse.

Yet that hyper-violence is perfectly balanced by enough realism to give confrontations weight and suspense. Wick is constantly battered, retains his scars and takes multiple pauses in the middle of firefights to reload. Every body and bullet casing hits the floor with satisfying clunks.

Not all of the action perfectly hits its mark. One at the midpoint in particular feels a little aimless as endless opponents come out of nowhere.

Though even less stellar scenes have high points, such as that rather aimless fight using Sofia’s dogs to great effect. Never before have I encountered uncomfortable mauling scenes with lovably good boys.

Cinematography and color in Chapter 3 also go a long way to make action more impressive.

For example, a later firefight is dulled by losing most hand-to-hand choreography in the face of near-invincible enemies. But the scene’s nauseating green palate emphasizes how uncomfortable the once-friendly setting is for Wick.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum arguably succeeds best in that it plays well to the strengths its predecessors while keeping things fresh.

Though a few of the action scenes aren’t as stellar as others, long-time fans of Mr. Wick’s exploits will not be disappointed. Especially if they love the assassin-filled world Chapter 2 began to reveal.

And even if I wouldn’t recommend it, Chapter 3 seems like it could work as a standalone flick. It certainly did for my Grandpa.

I’m very much looking forward to the Chapter 4 this movie’s namesake sets up.

Even if it won’t have the same mind-blowing realization for me that Reeves’ great, cocky foil Zero is played by Mark Dacascos: The Chairman from Iron Chef America.


Featured Image courtesy of Movie Poster HD

A video series to die for

A video series to die for

I can’t remember the last time I was so productive.

After a long night’s sleep, I got up early today and went to the gym. Then I came home, showered and made myself breakfast:

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Eggs AND bacon? Wild.

I don’t even know who I am anymore.

After all that, I also went ahead and kicked off my work for the day. Mostly sending out emails to various sources.

It’s the least I could do after wasting most of yesterday thinking too hard about Wacky Races. I love the post, but boy did I spend way too much time writing it.

Naturally that means it’s time to waste more time blog writing. Gotta finish what I started.

I’m always on the lookout for new videos and podcasts to play in the background of my life.

Those usually involve video game content (though I might have to reshuffle some mainstays after reading this stellar Kotaku article), but I also really enjoy movie-focused videos.

“Kill Count,” a new series I recently discovered by the channel Dead Meat — hosted by James A. Janisse — fits the latter.

Yet it fills a different niche than I usually focus on: Horror movies.

Specifically appreciating the often creative, over-the-top kills in horror movies. Or, as the pendulum tends to swing, also lampooning the uncreative and lazy sides of horror.

When the channel first appeared in my recommendations, I was a bit misled. I expected the videos to just be montages. A Buzzfeed-esque “top ten kills” kind of premise. Specifically my first experience was for John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thinga video of his I watched because I’ve been interested in the film’s practical effects recently.

But that video, and the “Kill Count” series as a whole, is much smarter.

It’s essentially a series of spoiler-laden reviews, talking about movie plots, development cycles and places in history as much as they focus on the kills.

Every video also includes a break-down of the victims in each film (showing the interesting bent toward male deaths in cinema), a specified “best” and “worst” kill distinction as well as a live bit playing on events from the movie.

However, I think one of my favorite things about “Kill Count” is how funny the series is. The videos are nearly satirical movie reviews that provide great commentary and mile-a-minute jokes.

Janisse breaks the fourth wall a lot to remind the audience that they’re watching a review for yucks more than a serious catalog of deaths.

My favorite instance was in his 2010 Predators Kill Count:

“I just do these videos to make jokes, y’all. I’m not an official dead body census taker.”

I’m in the midst of binging through his reviews of classics like the Alien movies, and they’ve been wonderful background noise while working on Gladeo pieces.

Pieces which should be published by the end of the month, as far as I’m aware. Just so you all can keep it on your calendars.

Janisse also has a podcast that I may have to be on the lookout for now that I’ve blown through The Dropout.

So that’s my recommendation for the day.

If you like horror movies, comedic takes and creative deaths, “Kill Count” is worth a watch. Just as long as you don’t mind spoilers.


Featured Image courtesy of Gaurav Shakya via Wikimedia Commons

Jordan Peele brings Us, a captivating horror/thriller/slasher experience

Jordan Peele brings Us, a captivating horror/thriller/slasher experience

I don’t typically go to the movie theatre to see horror movies.

The last time I did, I watched the Blumhouse classic Truth or Dare on a date. Horror movies peaked in that moment, and I decided I never needed to see one on the silver screen again.

Just kidding, it was a dumpster fire.

It also had nothing to do with the reason I don’t see horror movies. I’m just a baby when they’re done right.

But I loved Jordan Peele’s Get Out, so when Us was coming out and my friends Juan and Nina were interested, the perfect opportunity to support this great filmmaker arrived.

Before I jump into the movie, I’ll briefly address the elephant in the room: I had an awful experience watching Us. Won’t go into too much detail because you can read through my angry Twitter thread.

I just think it’s worth mentioning because I enjoyed this movie, especially talking with my friends about it on our drive home, but I wasn’t as enthralled as I could have been.

That said, there’s plenty of objective things I can say about this movie.

Us follows the Wilson family — Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) — as they vacation in Santa Cruz. Adelaide’s nerves get the best of her as she recalls coming across a doppelgänger of herself at the boardwalk’s hall of mirrors over thirty years earlier.

Her fears are justified when a family of doppelgängers, each deformed and known as the Tethered, arrive to torment and kill them.

There isn’t a whole lot else I can say without spoiling the film, yet there are a couple of major plot beats that I feel are worth addressing. Some of you may consider them minor spoilers.

Fair warning.

Most notably that compared to Get Out, Jordan Peele’s newest movie is a bit more predictable. If you’re anything like my friend Jonathan, you can probably guess the explanation why evil clones suddenly arrive.

That being said, the way the story is handled completely supersedes that complaint. Peele’s world and characters are so engrossing that you almost don’t care why the Tethered have arrived until it’s explained.

Even with the explanations given, there’s a decent amount of mystery left on the table to keep viewers mulling over questions. That’s clearly the intent.

It doesn’t matter why certain things happen so much as it matters that things are happening and the characters need to deal with them.

It’s great that Peele has created such an interesting scenario that you want to know more after the movie cuts to black, but you don’t NEED to know more to enjoy it.

Beyond this mysterious lore, Us has two other major draws: The cinematography and the acting.

From the opening scene of a young Adelaide wandering the hall of mirrors on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, it’s clear that Us is a marvel to watch. Tension mounts immediately just trying to figure out which girl (and which exit sign) is real.

There are scenes all over the movie that stick with me. From Nyong’o’s Tethered character Red slamming Adelaide’s face into a glass table, leaving her reflection shattered, to the first reveal of Tethered outside the Wilson family in a gruesome scene.

This movie is more of a slasher flick than a horror/thriller at times, and it handily capitalizes on all of the blood-gurgling imagery and sound effects you’d expect.

However, arguably the best scene comes toward the end, where Nyong’o’s bug-eyed, Tethered face is large in the foreground as the grounded regular version is creeping up with a fireplace poker.

It’s gorgeous to watch, and highlights just how amazing Nyong’o is in the movie.

Every actor plays two roles. A normal, quirky human and their scarred, primal Tethered counterpart.

Besides perhaps Alex at times (who I would give a pass being the youngest actor in the movie), everyone nails playing the duel versions of themselves — in some ways completely alien, but in more ways amplifications of each other’s good or bad sides. I particularly liked how Duke captured a hulking, imposing monster of a man and a crippled, goofy family man.

Yet nobody plays like Lupita Nyong’o.

I’ll frankly be upset if she doesn’t at least get a Best Actress nod for this. Nyong’o became a real powerhouse to me with Us, much like Daniel Kaluuya after Get Out.

Hers is the only Tethered that speaks, and every word comes out hoarse as she struggles to talk. It’s a bone-chilling performance, especially combined with her rigid, mechanical mannerisms.

The fact that she plays that intensity against a normal, terrified version of herself makes it stand out that much more.

A lot more of my negatives with this movie come from my viewer experience — laughter at inappropriate, tense moments and Instagram glowing two rows ahead does not mesh with suspenseful horror. So it’s hard to tell what parts I didn’t like for the movie or for the audience.

But I can absolutely say what I enjoyed about Us, even if I’d like to see it again. The cinematography is great, the acting is amazing and any sort of plot hole or missing lore just serves to create a captivating and mysterious experience.

I’m certainly still thinking about ideas the movie posed, and how some reveals completely re-contextualize the movie — one of my favorite things in film.

And that’s not to say anything about the killer Bernard Herrmann-esque score by Michael Abels.

Us is a great movie, and a wonderful second showing for Peele. I would highly recommend it (even if you wait to see it in the dark at home).

Yet it offered one thing more shocking than anything else:

How the hell did Jordan Peele context switch between directing such a suspenseful, deep horror film and goofy high jinx voice acting for Toy Story 4?

The man truly is an enigma.


Featured Image courtesy of IMDB

Captain Marvel is an excellent, if flawed, lynchpin for the MCU

Captain Marvel is an excellent, if flawed, lynchpin for the MCU

So, guess who just saw Captain Marvel? The movie which Meninism Magazine voted worst blight on masculinity since Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters.

I kid. Any relation to real-life absurdist magazines or misogynistic straw polls is purely coincidental.

It’s just hilarious to me how reactionary the hate for this movie has been leading up to its release.

But that’s neither here nor there. I’m not here to make political statements.

I’m here to review a Marvel movie.

As a general disclaimer, I wasn’t excited for Captain Marvel like I was for Infinity War.

Not because of the aforementioned testosterone backlash — though I’ll admit some of the film’s advertising seemed a little too determined to prod that tiger.

I just happen to know next to nothing about Carol Danvers, so it was going to take a lot to convince me she is the Avenger’s one true hope.

Luckily, the experience was more fun than I expected and proved the heroine’s place in this narrative.

Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as “Vers,” an amnesiac member of the Kree Empire’s armada of intergalactic warrior-heroes locked in conflict with a shapeshifting race of alien terrorists called the Skrull.

Vers has visions of a human life as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, and winds up on Earth before her untrustworthy narrative is resolved.

There she must sort out her fractured past, flush out the invading alien threat and have buddy cop adventures with Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury — over ten years before he starts the Avenger’s Initiative in 2008’s Iron Man.

The movie starts strong by putting the clichéd complexities of an “amnesiac protagonist” on the back burner for an in media res emphasis of the living world in Marvel’s deep space, similar to Guardians of the Galaxy.

But when things got to Earth, I became concerned.

The burst of mid-90s nostalgia pandering — complete with a Blockbuster video and Stan Lee cameo rehearsing for his appearance in 1995’s Mallrats — is fun and gives Larson a quirky “fish out of water” bit reminiscent of Wonder Woman.

I imagine it’s not uncommon to levy comparisons to DC’s female-led superhero film, but I think the better comparison is with Solo: A Star Wars Story.

My least favorite part of that origin story was the way it condensed every bit of information you know about the character’s past into the span of a week. It was blatantly referential rather than clever and story-driven, weakening Han Solo as a character.

When Captain Marvel introduces Nick Fury, dropping bits and pieces of recognizable information for MCU veterans to say,

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I was afraid the film would fall into the same trappings of timeline condensation.

However, it handles itself far more tactfully, and instead ties huge loose ends of a decade-long story into succinct bows. It’s, dare I say, a marvel how well Captain Marvel stands as the “inciting incident” for the rest of the MCU.

The final product is not my favorite Marvel film as an overall experience. But the wonderful cast helps solidify the movie’s place.

Jackson is a stellar second lead. His interactions with Larson, Carol’s best friend Maria (played by Lashana Lynch in a performance that stood out despite a late entrance) and the kitty Goose were solid cinematic glue.

I have to give extra props to the effects department for selling a de-aged Jackson so well over almost two hours.

The alien races’ full-makeup and costumes also worked, with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) each nailing their roles as Kree and Skrull commanders respectively.

Thanks to them, the “alien war” serving as Captain Marvel‘s crux was far more interesting than I expected based on YouTube think pieces setting up certain Avengers as confederates due to the Skrull’s infamy in comics.

The movie also benefitted from being smaller in scale than I expected.

Everything was very interpersonal, only briefly referencing “world threatening” stakes that most superhero movies rely on. As an added bonus, this made the effects more contained, befitting plot and action where needed.

But of course, there’s the lead. Brie Larson is charming and wonderful as the kick-ass, witty, and snarky hero who growls at aliens and doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone.

I had a few smaller gripes with her character, such as the only injury she ever suffered being a bloody nose (mostly to contribute to her mysterious past) and the forced reliance on amnesia tropes as a whole.

Though that’s more on the screenplay than her performance.

It’s also worth mentioning one of my Dad’s complaints with the film: She very quickly accepts a sudden shift in perspective on [Spoilers]. That, in turn, feeds my own issue that after the character development, her powers seemed incredibly vast considering their somewhat modest origins.

That said, an action set piece at the end of the movie makes great use of visuals to show her strength and definitely sold Captain Marvel as a powerful ally in the upcoming second fight against Thanos.

The film’s score also offered some distinct positives. It relied more heavily on variations of the main theme than a glut of pop songs (like Guardians), and there was a stand out moment where Western vibes took over the melody during a one-on-one confrontation in the desert.

So that, in a nutshell, is Captain Marvel.

A solid enough Marvel flick that perhaps falters most in its primary storyline’s reliance on amnesiac origin story clichés, but makes up for it with beyond excellent world building, special effects befitting a more personal adventure (that really only got wonky once or twice) and a top-notch cast.

All playing second fiddle to the cutest cat ever committed to film.

After Captain Marvel, I’m very ready for Endgame to hurry up and hit theaters, because if the mid-credit stinger was any indication, it should be a wild ride.


Featured Image courtesy of IMDb

The fatal flaw in Crimes of Grindelwald

The fatal flaw in Crimes of Grindelwald

With Screen Actors Guild and Visual Effects Society voting for academy awards approaching, my family has been spending the last few days watching a lot of movie screeners we’ve been accruing. Hence my (not so) little review of Aquaman last night and my intent to do some more 2018 movie discussions this weekend.

Today we watched two movies with interesting points I wanted to talk about, but Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald wound up being a much more impassioned subject than I expected. So I think I’ll save Green Book for later.

Gotta split up my writing a little bit, get some mileage for my daily writings.

I’ll be focusing more on one specific point that I feel did this film and the themes it creates a huge disservice, so the post as a whole won’t be as much of a general ‘go see or don’t see’ review. Those elements will be there, but I’ll be a bit more open with spoilers and such.

So if that concerns you, you’ve been warned.

There’s no reason to hide the fact that I’ve always been a big Harry Potter fan. Grew up reading all the books with my Mom, and we’ve seen the movies together too.

I’m not exactly that super-fan who remembers each detail about the series, as that’s a kind of person I’ve met and felt pretty inadequate next to. But I am a huge fan all the same, and I’ve been excited to see Crimes of Grindelwald.

A lot of that excitement actually stems from the fact that I quite enjoyed the first Fantastic Beasts movie in its own right.

It had a very fun energy to examining wizards in America, rather than Britain, in the 1920’s. But that along wouldn’t have carried the movie quite as well without Eddie Redmayne taking the helm as Newt Scamander.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always something charming about the copacetic magic of Daniel Radcliffe and his friends evolving from innocent school kids to warriors in a world-changing duel against wizard Hitler.

But after eight movies following those kids, it was pretty refreshing to watch someone new, and Redmayne was definitely something new and refreshing.

I actually don’t think I fully understood what was so nice about his character until I watched this video by the Pop Culture Detective about the actor’s more nontraditional take on a usually hyper-masculine hero archetype and how it goes to enrich the movie’s themes.

I’d highly recommend watching that, because it puts some nice perspective into what made Newt’s hijinx-filled journey through New York so fun.

Crimes of Grindelwald takes things in a vastly different direction than the original Fantastic Beasts. From the first few moments Newt is present, it’s revealed that the fun adventure in Fantastic Beasts was all in service of a young Albus Dumbledore (played fairly well by Jude Law) trying to get the protagonist involved in a fight against Johnny Depp’s older wizard Hitler, Grindelwald.

The second movie takes on a far darker tone and digs way deeper into the lore of the universe (much like the later Harry Potter stories), and this tonal shift colors the first with an interesting bit of hindsight.

Depp’s character perfectly highlights the weird and uncomfortable air this change creates. He’s sometimes doing a goofy Jack Sparrow-esque routine of glancing into windows wide-eyed, but those moments happen concurrently with scenes where he and his people are slaughtering families.

I wasn’t sure I liked the dichotomy being played out until later scenes came up that showed how his almost goofier, more relatable side makes him an enticing figure in the wizarding world, the kind of leader people will follow no matter how monstrous his means to an end are.

It plays well into the rise of fascism undercurrent to the movie (which conveniently takes place before World War II and uses the impending war as a plot device), and in the end I loved the way every character’s story weaved in.

… Except for one of them, which became such a problem for me that I’d almost say it ruined a significant chunk of the movie.

Ezra Miller’s Credence was a huge part of the first movie, as it was revealed the boy who essentially housed a demonic creature was being conditioned by Grindelwald to help destroy the government. As the Pop Culture Detective lays out in his video, part of the tragedy that made Fantastic Beasts so compelling comes when Newt cannot save Credence before he’s torn apart by magic attacks.

It was a really powerful scene…

Until you get to this movie and find out he’s somehow still alive?

Unless I missed something, there’s no explanation as to how or why Credence survived. Just that fact that Newt won’t help the government try to kill him again.

As a result of this early reveal, most of the plot lines for main characters are extremely reiterative of the first movie. They’re searching for Credence before he can be used by Grindelwald for evil.

It made me feel like the first movie mattered far less, and Miller’s portrayal of a far more darkly-influenced Credence was a less compelling compelling subject to save than the scared child of Fantastic Beasts.

My problem wasn’t that his character has developed, it’s that his character should have been dead.

Without that, it felt like so much of the world and it’s characters took too many steps back from their developments.

That was enough of a problem for me that no matter how much I enjoyed the slowly-converging plot threads, the lovely European backdrops and the beasts that made the first movie so fantastic, the overall package felt much more empty.

… Oh, and for some reason all of the advertising focuses a lot on the Deathly Hallows imagery, but I don’t believe any of that showed up in the movie. Just saying.

That’s just my opinion on what really hurt an otherwise great movie, though. But if you have a different take on the issue, feel free to let me know!

I’m always up to opening a den of discussion.

Ocean Comrade doesn’t flounder

Ocean Comrade doesn’t flounder

… But it also isn’t what I would call a great movie.

It just happens to have the rest of the DCEU as a point of comparison, and in that pantheon of films it succeeds better than most.

Aquaman (or Ocean Comrade as my sister serendipitously called the titular hero) has a few things going in its favor.

Visually, there are plenty of scenes that are marvelous — though sometimes a little too reminiscent of 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

The city of Atlantis in its full lit-up glory is beautiful next to some of the drab environments in places like Gotham City, and scenes like Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Herd) diving into a monster-filled abyss lit up only by a red flare and the occasional lightning flash really left an impression.

I also do have to give credit to Momoa, as I enjoyed his character far more here than in Justice League. Especially considering he and most of the other actors were likely suspended on wires the whole time, he keeps a strong, fun energy throughout.

Even when they milk that female sex appeal for all its worth.

Plus he has good chemistry with Herd’s fish-out-of-water, especially in one moment when she first visits the surface world and he indulges in her ignorance by splitting a buffet of roses.

Aquaman also has some fantastic fight choreography. When the first trailers were coming out, I thought the trident combat underwater looked a little wonky. There are some wonky visual effects, but the fighting wasn’t.

In fact, there are two battles in particular — one on the submarine seen in most trailers and the climactic fight against Oceanmaster (King Orm (Willem Dafoe)) — that are stunningly well-done and frankly brutal in the best kind of way.

In that first scene I actually laughed and applauded watching Momoa just decimate fools.

The first act of the film is honestly its best part. Between that sometimes brutal, sometimes fun and drunken Aquaman action and the touching expositional scene with his star-crossed parents, I was invested more than any other DC movie going in.

But frankly, that’s about the extent of my compliments toward Aquaman. Because once things break into the second act, I’d argue it falls apart.

Might as well start with what I teased already: Some of the visuals are real wonky, particularly in underwater scenes. When I mentioned how hard it must have been to perform so much on wires, I do have plenty of respect for the actors involved.

But there are more than a few moments where it looks like characters are getting dragged around on wires instead of swimming.

Everyone’s hair looked good moving around underwater, to be fair. But I feel like if as much work had gone into swimming animations as had gone into the backdrops, it could have been really special.

If the movie had been a really solid experience all the way through, I might not have paid that issue too much mind. But while there’s a great 90-minute movie in Aquaman, what we got was a nearly 150-minute experience that drags so hard in the middle.

Part of the reason for that is because Aquaman tries to balance half a dozen storylines at once and doesn’t do so successfully.

Right in the middle of the movie, just after Momoa and Herd arrive in Atlantis following a disaster hitting the surface world so they can start hunting for the MacGuffin which will help Aquaman defeat his half-brother, Dafoe (how those two are meant to be related is beyond me).

In the next stretch of the film there’s an action-packed detour to be echoed later, a boatload of exposition on the history of the underwater kingdom and an Uncharted-esque expedition to a desert temple which leads to a longer MacGuffin hunt.

Oh, and while we’re at it, we threw in a fun montage for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta building his suit, as well as underwater political drama between four different nations.

If some of the concurrent plot threads were chopped down, it would have made the movie cleaner. That might have also saved a lot of the scenes from feeling too jarring with time skips (because there are a lot of those).

The last place I think Aquaman fails rather badly is with explaining it’s own mythology.

In terms of the DCEU movies, one bad example example is how much it’s emphasized that Momoa has never been to Atlantis. So much so that he has to ask Mera her name when she saves him.

But… He went to Atlantis and met Mera in Justice League, right? Unless I remember the scene wrong, they were there when Steppenwolf steals the Atlantean mother box.

So what’s the deal, cinematic universe lore?

For in-movie rules, Atlantean powers are a bit of a grab bag. Aquaman can exist underwater and on land, which makes sense considering his hybrid status. Yet so can Mera, which suggests that perhaps they all can.

Except there are a ton of soldiers who need to wear reverse diving suits (that keep water inside — it’s pretty cute actually).

So maybe just the royal-blooded Atlanteans can breath out of the water?

Except Dafoe’s character at one point says he can’t go to the surface.

… But then also he does go there for his climactic final fight with Aquaman?

I don’t know! It was just confusing, and lost me pretty easily. That’s not even mentioning the extra powers, like Aquaman being the only one who can communicate with fish or Mera seemingly being the only one with aquakinesis.

Even if you want to wave this off by using the movie’s supposed logic that water breathing and other powers came from the same disaster that sunk Atlantis, it still seemed very inconsistently distributed.

Also, on that note, not enough goes into why there are four different underwater nations and why they don’t get along for all the political drama to be compelling or even make sense.

Also also, there’s a part of the movie that seems to involve inter-dimensional travel using some strange portal that comes out of nowhere.

I know a lot of this probably sounds like nitpicking. But there’s a lot of time to nitpick when the movie had such a weak middle section.

All that being said, I’ll still undoubtedly say that Aquaman is better than half the other DC movies. It’s more fun and comic book-y than Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman could ever hope to be.

But it also comes nowhere near Wonder Woman in being a good movie. Despite how rough the third act was, I’d still say it was more comprehensive throughout than Aquaman.

I’m seemingly in the minority with my opinions toward this movie considering how much acclaim it’s gotten, and I’m sure some people will want to call me a Marvel fanboy for that.

I just don’t think Aquaman was immune from criticism simply because it stood higher than a lot of its immediate peers. And yeah, compared to most Marvel movies, it is pretty lame.

But for a DC movie, it was pretty good.

Plus it gave me something to write about today, so I suppose it can’t be all THAT bad.

A Christmas cinematic double feature: Mary Poppins and The Grinch

A Christmas cinematic double feature: Mary Poppins and The Grinch

Yesterday I mentioned something about saving my “grumpy about Christmas” post for today. But I’ve decided not to bah humbug it up.

It helps that I slept most of the day drugged up on advil and dayquil, so I’m a bit more chill.

Instead, I figured why not talk about movies?

After all, there’s nothing open over Christmas, so my family has had a lot of time to watch movies while I’ve laid about in a sickened stupor. Tonight I wanted to feature what I’d consider the double feature of “movies that are reboots of older things that nobody asked for and shouldn’t exist.”

Starting with the sort-of sequel to the 1964 Disney classic, “Mary Poppins,” and followed up with the Illumination take on Dr. Seuss’s classic, “The Grinch.”


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Image courtesy of IMDb

So right off the bat, I think it’s fair to let you all know that I don’t have a hugely nostalgic connection to the original Mary Poppins. I’ve watched it and had the songs engrained in my head, but I didn’t walk into this pseudo-sequel with any inflated expectations.

That being said, I still fully appreciate the original for what was so groundbreaking about it. “Mary Poppins Returns” seems to appreciate it too, but to a fault.

The reason I keep calling the movie a “sequel” conditionally is because this movie essentially isn’t.

Yes, it takes place a few dozen years later and follows the exploits of the children from the first movie, now with families of their own. But the actual content of the movie is essentially just the original with a new coat of paint.

I’m not kidding. All of the musical numbers, from one set in a fantastical 2D world to one featuring the lamp lighters (a proxy for the original chimney sweepers) happened in just about the same sequence.

It even features all the same overarching messages about family and the importance of childhood wonder.

So really, think about “Mary Poppins Returns” as a reboot more than it is a sequel and certain elements about it become much better. But there are also elements that become far worse.

In the prior category: The visuals. All of the magical sequences and music numbers are gorgeous and well-composed. Most of them take on a similar style to their original counterparts and feel classic with updates to not be 50 years outdated.

Special props go to the portion of the film where Mary takes the Banks children into a porcelain bowl. There are little touches like everyone’s feet clinking while they walk that makes the whole sequence outstanding.

On top of that, I’d say that Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda do pretty good jobs fitting the large shoes left behind by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with.

My problems: Nothing outside of the visuals are memorable. There isn’t a single song I remembered, which is a shame considering how timeless and integral pieces like “Spoonful of Sugar” were to the original’s longevity.

It also falters from being a “sequel” that basically isn’t. There’s no exposition when Mary Poppins arrives, as it seems assumed that the audience has seen the original. She shows up, the parents remark that they remember her but don’t believe she was actually magic and then simply let her come in and bath their children.

It’s honestly that quick, which makes it clear the movie wanted to get to the whimsey without any of the groundwork.

A more nitpick-y personal gripe is that the movie is very inconstant with its rules. For instance, the parents remark on their disbelief of her magic but do not broach into the issue of her looking exactly the same outside of a quick joke.

Also, when Mary remarks that adults always forget the youthful joy of her magic, that’s quickly contradicted by the appearance of Miranda’s character — apparently one of the child chimney sweeps from the original — who happens to remember her.

I don’t want to harp on it too long at risk of sounding like someone leveling deeply analytical complaints at a children’s movie, but because of the lack of memorable songs and rehashed plot I was so bored by the middle of the film that I couldn’t help but nitpick it.

If you’re looking for a very pretty movie to park your kids in front of (or you adore the original), you’ll get a lot out of Mary Poppins Returns as a visual spectacle.

Outside of that, however, there isn’t a ton there that isn’t done better in the original. I’d say it’s average at best, and I likely won’t remember much of it next month.


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Image courtesy of IMDb

Unlike Mary Poppins, I would count myself as an invested Grinch fan thanks to the wonderful 1966 Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” It’s a true family classic that’s near perfect.

In contemporary cinematography, the Grinch has had a rougher time.

So with Illumination taking the helm of a second reboot in what I guess can be called the Dr. Seuss’s Grinch franchise, I was cautiously optimistic. I do like other movies of theirs like “Sing,” but bemoaned the possibility of it being very out-of-touch.

Having seen the movie now, I can pretty easily say it’s somewhere in the middle.

Outside of an unnerving character design for the titular character (those human-like pearly whites never sat well with me), “The Grinch” is a gorgeous movie. The environments especially, with a mix of Seussian winter wonderlands and more modern, opulent town settings.

However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cringe almost immediately hearing the rap version of the 1966 Grinch song. The soundtrack was probably the worst part of the movie if you ask me.

Either there was unfitting rap, too many modern day Christmas tunes that made me question just how human the Whos were in this universe, or a few strangely Jesus-heavy songs that made me question whether the Whos had a religious part of their Christmas traditions.

Are there Jewish Whos, in that case?

Outside of musical choices, the rest of the movie was handled was better than I had expected. The hour-and-a-half runtime mostly went quick. Pharrell Williams as the Narrator was… Okay. As was Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch.

I actually quite liked the way they handled his interactions with Max. Most of the best scenes in the movie were between the two of them, as it gave a lot of background to why they’re such good friends. More than the 1966 version, in a good way. Ties into the whole family narrative.

I’ll give Illumination props for it.

They also give Cindy-Lou Who a much larger role in the story, which is an idea I appreciate considering she is the crux that changes Grinch’s mind.

However in execution she’s pretty much every ‘I want to catch Santa’ cliché you’ve ever seen, has a design that was uncomfortably close to Edith from “Despicable Me” and has a ‘quirky’ character trait of carrying around a hockey stick for whatever reason.

The way her storyline intersects with The Grinch is predictable, but for a kids movie she serves her purpose well enough.

All-and-all, I’d say “The Grinch” 2018 was fun and well animated. Pretty good for what it was, even if parts of the set dressing were strange and uncomfortable for my tastes.

Though maybe I’m just too old and yelling at the kids on my lawn for their rap musics while lauding the original through rose-colored glasses.

That being said, I think the 1966 version and even (I shutter to admit) the Jim Carrey version did get something right which was almost detrimentally wrong with Illumination’s version.

You know how earlier I mentioned appreciating how cute the stuff between The Grinch and Max were? I do think it’s a nice touch, but it’s emblematic of the fact that the main character is made a little TOO cute, sympathetic and ‘relatable.’ The movie leans hard into his tragic backstory as justification for him acting like a jerk when in all honesty he’s probably the funniest, cutest Grinch we’ve ever seen.

But maybe that’s just a personal problem for me. After all, who am I to argue with a fun-loving misunderstood cool guy of a Grinch who uses lots of sweet gadgets in an (admittedly pretty great) Christmas-stealing montage.

It’s definitely not the worst version of the story you could show off.

Jim Carrey took that prize years ago.


Featured image courtesy of Thomas’s Pics via Wikimedia Commons

Out of the Frying Pan…

Thanks to everyone for indulging me in taking a couple days off from writing these things so I could spend time with my Grandma before she left for Florida again tonight.

Yesterday especially we spent a bunch of time together going to breakfast and watching a movie before going to a revolving sushi bar to celebrate my Mom’s birthday.

If anyone’s curious, that movie was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Netflix. Not planning on doing a full mini-review about it, but it was a cute little movie.

Very, very predictable. But cute.

Pretty much your typical Nazi aftermath blossoming love story. That’s a genre that exists right?

Well either way, worth watching if you like docu-drama type stuff, but I wouldn’t go out of the way for it.

I won’t linger too long on that however, because I’m not really planning on lingering too long on my blog in general tonight. I mostly just wanted to put something out justifying the fact that I missed a few days while simultaneously trying to buy myself some extra leeway for the next few days.

Because as I found out, I was a little off with dates in my calendar and will actually be far busier in the next week than I anticipated.

After taking my first Sensation and Perception exam tomorrow morning, I’ll be gearing up for next week’s gauntlet:

My first Learning and Memory exam on Monday.

The rough draft of my Sensation and Perception research paper due Tuesday.

The rough draft of my Learning and Memory research paper due Wednesday.

For some reason both my psych classes have very clearly conspired together in an effort to ruin my life for the next few days. So I’ll be dealing with all of that and might not come around to post things — unless I decide to post about some things that make me happy or less stressed or something.

Which includes things like this.

We got Halloween cereal, y’all. The end times may be here, but at least we’ll get to spend them being spooky.

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ fails to live up to its ancestors

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ fails to live up to its ancestors

While taking a break from doing my homework, reading chapters from Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” ironically enough, my family finally watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Honestly? I wasn’t very impressed.

As the middle in the trilogy rebooting Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park movies, Fallen Kingdom kicks off three years after the first Jurassic World. The park that was established in that film has been abandoned, and all of the freed dinosaurs are at risk when the island is set to explode in a cataclysmic volcanic event.

When Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) are brought back to help rescue a number of species for a philanthropic conservationist, they discover more sinister motivations under the surface and must take on both greedy human beings and powerful, ancient beasts.

While there’s a decent set-up here, it isn’t executed very well. At all.

I’ll be spoiling bits and pieces of this movie here, though not in too much detail (in my opinion). If that’s a concern of yours, here’s your warning.

Fallen Kingdom falls apart almost immediately with the introduction of some weak tertiary characters. In the time since Howard’s character left the theme park she once led, she became a dinosaur rights activist.

Which yes, is about as overt a metaphor as it sounds.

Two of her assistants, Franklin (Justice Smith) and Zia (Daniella Pineda), come along on the rescue mission. Their status as bigger players in the film are indicated with as cliché an introduction as it gets. They’re the only members of what looks to be a semi-large staff who have speaking roles, and those roles are mostly playing off of each other as bickering friends.

Then as they start to fly to the old park, their archetypes are immediately stated. Smith is a scaredy-cat technical nerd and Pineda is a dinosaur veterinarian (yeah) who takes no nonsense from anyone.

Neither changes over the course of the movie and only appear enough to help move the plot along, so they feel like one-note comic relief.

Perhaps that’s harsh, as they play their roles well. But they get a lot more screen time during the early part of the movie — which is kind of the worst part. So that might have colored my perception.

Pratt does a good job as a leading man, though his performance isn’t exactly inspired. Meanwhile, Howard’s character seems to take a complete 180 from her original role and seemed like a totally different character.

Granted, it has been a whole since I saw the first Jurassic World, so maybe I’m just not remembering her quite that well. But with that in mind, her performance seemed a bit jarringly out-of-character.

However the biggest problem with the film is the fact it’s hard to even begin suspending one’s disbelief while watching it.

For instance, at one point Pratt’s character is partially paralyzed and literally rolling out-of-the-way of a pool of magma slowly encroaching him.

The movie has next to no tension up until the finale because of things like this.

Things like this make other silly bits stand out in a bad way. At one point a character was watching footage of Pratt’s character training the main raptor from Jurassic World, Blue, while it was young.

The scene itself was obviously meant to help emphasize the larger moment, his character completing an arc from being willing to abandon the dinosaur at the start of the film to remembering how much he loves it, I was so generally disinterested that I couldn’t help but think about other strange details.

Like the fact that the footage was expertly edited together as of from a reality TV show with a confessional booth.

Instead of being engrossed in a story about dinosaurs walking the Earth again and nearly going extinct, I was too busy wondering who decided to edit together Pratt’s training footage so that someone could one day watch it as an exposition dump.

There are lots of little moments like this throughout the movie, where I was left wondering why certain things were happening.

Another issue with Fallen Kingdom is that it had a bit of a tone problem.

At one point, there are action-adventure scenes with characters escaping from an exploding volcano. Then there are times where the film seems almost unreasonably dark, with one character getting pretty graphically ripped apart on-screen. Then there were also moments of loss and other sad parts that seemed in-place only to push an environmental message.

Then there are scenes with characters evading one another that feel eerily like Looney Toons. Notably one with one character following closely behind another without noticing them.

It’s almost too silly for a movie that’s trying as hard as it is to be darker and edgier than the first. Because I’ll be blunt, the villain in Fallen Kingdom is kind of an unforgivable monster of a human being, almost cartoonishly so.

His plan is equally as cartoonishly evil, playing with themes of illegal animal trapping, trafficking and using genetics for unethical purposes.

Yet the filmmakers don’t seem to fully commit to the dark tone that otherwise could have made for a stellar overall package — even if it could scare away a certain sect of audience members.

While this review is mostly negative thus far, I will say the end of the movie is actually far better than the first two-thirds. Most of the darker stuff comes in here, and discounting a ridiculous twist in the last few minutes, everything is more engaging and tense.

On top of that, I would argue that the movie’s CGI and a lot of its cinematography is actually really well done.

There were no moments I can recall where seeing a dinosaur on-screen took me out of a moment because it looked fake. In fact, the Indoraptor creates to serve as a more environmental antagonist, is used really well in a number of scenes with lighting contrast.

Yet for as pretty and clearly well-made as the movie is, the tonal issues and a general inability to suspend my disbelief unfortunately took me out of most scenes.

Fallen Kingdom is a hard movie to place.

I wouldn’t say it’s a kid’s film because a lot of it is dark and violent.

Yet it doesn’t fully commit to that dark tone until the very end, which makes it hard to recommend as a serious take on the Jurassic Park formula — probably the darkest since the original.

It’s a confused film that seems to be trying harder to push some kind of deeper message about either scientific caution or the importance of family than it is being a fun dinosaur flick. A lot of it is actually kind of unpleasant.

But it is a pretty film, and fits into an overall story we’ve been following for a long time now. So I suppose if those kinds of things catch your interest, you can watch it on those merits.

Otherwise, it might not be worth the time. I certainly don’t think I’d go back and rewatch it anytime soon.

Also, don’t be fooled by its advertising. Jeff Goldblum barely has a role in the movie.

And that just might be its most vital flaw.

Impossible to Miss

Impossible to Miss

There were many reasons why DC’s 2017 cinematic film Justice League was a critical flop.

Amongst them was the fact that some of the CGI was kind of wonky. The fight scenes, particularly during the climactic fight against a dark red backdrop, were mostly hit-or-miss.

However, arguably the most disastrously well-known CGI mishap in the movie was Superman’s mouth.

See, as the story goes, Henry Cavill moved on to take part in Mission Impossible: Fallout after he finished recording his scenes for Justice League. The part required him to grow a bushy mustache.

Then DC decided to reshoot parts of Justice League after Joss Whedon took over as Director. By then, Cavill was full mustache mode and not allowed to shave due to Paramount stepping in.

So much money was spent digitally removing the mustache, and everyone universally agrees the effect was awful.

True story.

While that may have become one of the downfalls of DC’s big crossover event, now that I’ve seen the new Mission Impossible… I think it was worth it to save this movie.

Fallout, the latest in the long-running Tom Cruise tentpole series of action-adventure spy thrillers, is a great movie. Action-packed, well-acted and full of some gorgeous cinematography.

Yet… The whole isn’t necessarily a sum of its parts. For all of the wonderful things within Fallout, it feels incredibly bloated at its two-and-a-half hour runtime.

Frankly that was the biggest complaint my family pretty much collectively came to after leaving the theatre. Each scene on its own was pretty wonderful, but a good chunk of them could have been easily left on the cutting room floor without losing anything. Making the film better, somewhat more concise in fact.

For instance, as the trailers show, much of the movie is set in Paris, France. However, the climax of the film takes place in Kashmir. There’s an entire sequence between those two locations that takes place in London, England which could have easily been cut down wildly and happen in Paris as well.

There are also far too many action scenes. The most prevalent ones in the trailers, a fight including Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill in a bathroom, happens early in the flick. It’s wonderfully choreographed and edge-of-your-seat intense.

But then there are easily six or seven massive action scenes throughout the rest of the film which all give the same rush without a break. It’s exhausting in practice, despite the fact that each fight or chase is memorable on its own.

Peter Rosenthal puts it best in his three-minute review of the film for the Onion honestly:

But action is what’s expected of a Mission Impossible movie. Tom Cruise will always be doing his own stunts. It’ll always, always be fun and exciting — even if slightly overdone this time around.

What I hadn’t necessarily been expecting out of Fallout were the wonderful interactions between Cavill and Cruise, as well as some of the actually stunning shots in the film.

On the first point, watching Cavill come into the MI universe with such a robust, fun role actually made me mad. He is a great actor who really sells a complex (though somewhat predictable) character who fits right into an already well-established canon.

I really wish DC utilized him better. Because if I’m showing my cards, the DCEU Superman isn’t really that great in my opinion. But now I know that he could be fantastic if he was given a better set of circumstances to inhabit.

As a side note, when I mention Cavill’s character being predictable, the same could essentially be said for most of the movie. Many of the plot beats are set up well in advanced and fairly easy to read for anyone who has enjoyed their fair share of spy thrillers.

But I feel it’s a testament to Fallout’s screenplay that even when early film predictions one might have, do come out correct by the end, it’s still a wild ride getting there. A ride which takes those predictable ideas and does utilize them in ways which still have surprises and intriguing twists.

Honestly I think a good reason for that is the chemistry between Cruise and Cavill. While the other members of Ethan Hunt’s crew do still have significant roles, they take more of a backseat to Superman and he really steps it up.

The other thing I loved about Fallout were a number of the action set pieces throughout. As I mentioned, much of the movie takes place in Paris and boy do they make good use of that locale.

Fallout showcases a variety of things in Paris, from famous landmarks to smaller alleyways that paint a real picture of what can be seen.

Their use of landmarks in particular are very well done. Probably my favorite action scene in the film was a chase between a motorcycle-riding Cruise and the Parisian police. In it, there’s a long tracking shot of Cruise driving backwards through traffic in a circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It’s a gorgeous shot and really well-paced within the scene to be exciting and cool without lasting too long as to lose its luster.

There are scenes like this all over the movie that are captivating… But like I mentioned before, falters in that there are arguably too many of them. There was enough content in Fallout to easily fill two movies, and a more hefty editor would have been appreciated.

The climax of the movie is especially bloated and honestly jumps the shark to a ridiculous degree. Which is saying something considering we’re discussing Mission Impossible.

I won’t give too much away. I’ll just say it was the clearest case of ‘they should not have survived this’ in the movie, which winds up highlighting how many times the characters should have died throughout the entire rest of the flick.

In spite of that, even the climax takes many clichés of the genre and presents them in a way that’s engaging. So I’ll give the filmmakers credit in that regard.

In all honesty, if the Mission Impossible franchise is something you enjoy, it’s likely you’ve already seen the movie. It’s certainly a re-watchable guilty pleasure of a series for my family. In that case, I’m sure you enjoyed this movie as much as we did.

Because in spite of its somewhat glaring issues, it’s still a fantastic Mission Impossible movie at heart. One with great action, stunning visuals, some well-crafted character moments and an intriguing collision of at least five-or-six different groups that doesn’t really lose focus or become confusion.

If you are new to Mission Impossible, however, just know that this particular entry in the series is very long and very draining to sit through. A good amount of it could have been cut out, even if it was great.

Basically the movie was too much of a good thing, but still good all the same.

Plus, as far as I was aware, it managed to have a number of beautiful female characters involved in pivotal action and character-driven scenes — and none of them got undressed once during the movie.

So good on you MI crew. Glad to see you had some restraint.