Category Archives: Film

Thor: Ragnarok

The problem with reviewing a new Marvel movie is the same as the problem with reviewing a new Dresden Files or Vlad Taltos book: too much accumulated past knowledge is required.That is, the only way to come close to getting a coherent thought out of me is if I assume you are aware of everything that has come before. Otherwise, I’m bound to spoil for previous movies.

For example, Thor: Ragnarok, which is not only the third Thor movie, it’s in the high teens for total Marvel Cinematic Universe movies overall. And okay, they don’t all of them interweave so tightly that you would need all the movies under your belt, but it’s still something like five or six, just to cover all the returning characters.

So, screw it, I’m doing that spoil for previous movies thing. See, the first Thor movie was about learning how to be worthy. Thor starts off as a bro, and needs to be a hero instead. Cool. The second one was about family (and also a little bit about the eventual Infinity War that we’re not quite to, yet, but that’s plot, and I’m talking theme here). Like, Loki is still a bad guy, or at least a mischief guy, but the brothers are brothers again and don’t have to spend so much energy on hating each other. It was nice!

This third movie is about becoming an adult. Training wheels are off, the end of the world Asgard is at hand, and Thor (and whoever else is willing to side with him; telling you in advance would be, well, telling) has to figure everything out for himself. Which, not bad for a dude who was a bro like six years ago. I mean, assuming he succeeds. But trying is also pretty cool. Bro Thor from 2011 would not have even tried to do anything except maybe tug on Odin’s arm, unless it was to charge forward blindly and get himself killed in the first thirty seconds.

So, that’s what the movie is. Remaining things to know are that it was almost more comedy  than action movie; that it has my personal favorite use of a Led Zeppelin song; that of course it was good, although at the same time it’s hard to know how to trust my opinion here anymore[1]; and that… no, I take it back, anything else I could possibly say would definitely be spoilers. Go see it!

[1] I mean, I didn’t like the Inhumans series, so at least I know there’s a bottom to this well of good faith.

Mother!

I wonder if I’ve reviewed a Darren Aronofsky movie before? I know I’ve seen one, so… oh, hey, I could check![1] And, there it is. Black Swan. Which a) I liked quite a bit, and b) I successfully predicted Natalie Portman’s best actress Oscar for that one. Go me!

To get it out of the way: Jennifer Lawrence is not going to win an Oscar for Mother! This is not a slam on her acting ability in general (which in fact is long since demonstrably solid), nor her performance here; it’s just not the kind of movie that I expect to be an Academy darling. It’s also not the kind of movie I can say virtually anything about. Here’s the blurb from imdb: “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”

That is an incredibly accurate description of the movie, that leaves aside the… I was going to say rising tension, but it’s more like ratcheting dread. A thing I thought during the first half of the movie that I still agree with now: Lawrence is basically portraying an introvert’s hell.

The surreality grows on a logarithmic scale (which to be fair is certainly a similarity to Black Swan), and I think I have no way to predict who might or might not like this movie. Me: it was nothing like what I expected, and I think its writer/director is entirely too impressed with it, but all the same, I thought it had its charms. (For one thing, both Lawrence and Javier Bardem were solid leads, despite what I said earlier about acting awards, and Michelle Pfeiffer was nearly perfect.) Mary, on the other hand, loathed it. So, y’know. Watch at your own risk?

Super annoying-to-me coda to this review: I saw the movie on Wednesday night, in a moderately exclusive Alamo Drafthouse preview showing. And then I’ve been so busy working that I couldn’t review it until post-release. Which is at least only today, instead of a week ago like usual. But: argh!

[1] Okay, inside baseball: yes, I realized I could check before I typed that faux realization, BUT, I realized it after I asked the question. So that counts, right?

It (2017)

I feel like maybe It should have had a name that will make its sequel in a year or so make more sense. Because, as is, it seems like it will appear to be a sequel, while in actuality it will be the second half of a coherent whole. I mean really, now, It 2? I hope not!

This is what you came here for, right?

But seriously, I think it may be broadly known among the readership here that It, by Stephen King, is my favorite book. I even, unjustifiably, like the ABC miniseries from lo these many years past. Sure, it’s under television guidelines, but it tried very hard to be a faithful adaptation. All the same, the idea of a multi-part cinematic version struck me as a pleasing idea, something I could maybe point to as “yeah, that’s why I like this book so much” without expecting someone to put in the time investment of a doorstop horror epic.

Mostly: this is that movie. It could have used another 45 minutes or so to breathe and allow the kids to be small town kids on their own for the summer, give an idea of what the oppressive horrific atmosphere was taking away from them. (And to allow some of the references to be built into the plot instead of just there to make sure ItFan117 was satisfied that their pet reference got made.) But all in all, it definitely did what I wanted, and I’m excited to see the second half. Hell, I may even watch this one again, but since I still haven’t seen The Dark Tower yet, that feels hard to justify.

That said, I do have some real complaints, and they are not the result of my pet fanboy moment being missed or misrepresented. Unfortunately, they are kind of all huge spoilers. So, I’ll put them in the comments.

Last thing: the acting / direction of those kids was seriously good.

EDIT: Having now posted my spoiler complaints in the comments section below: seriously, do not click through or read those unless you want third act plot destroying spoilers. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Last Shift

Mary was out of town for a couple days last week, so at one point I pulled a random movie off my Netflix watch list, which as will surprise nobody is like 90% horror. Last Watch was good as a mood piece, but very hard to make sense of if you find yourself paying the slightest bit of attention to the plot.

See, there’s a rookie cop, and it’s her first day (well, night) on the job, and she shows up at the precinct, only to find it empty of everything except office furniture and fluorescent light. Which, that was maybe cool when I was playing Resident Evil 2, but not for a movie? But it’s okay, soon someone else shows up to tell her she has to man the station overnight, until a hazmat team shows up to take away unsafe materials from the evidence room, after which the whole place will be shuttered and she’ll take up normal duties at the new station down the street built to replace this one.

So, fine, she starts her solo last shift at the station, and then… well, y’know, there’s a movie in there somewhere. And it’s appropriately creepy and jumpy and chock full of variously predictable and unexpected events. Y’know, a horror movie. The problem is, by the time I got to the end of the movie, I found that the premise retroactively made no amount of sense whatsoever. So if that would bother you, then don’t do it. If you could mostly get by on the mood part? They did a good job, other than the writing!

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I saw the MCU[1] version of Spider-Man nearly a week ago, which is becoming an uncomfortably common trend. I kind of have my job to blame, but maybe the ability to write and post from work (thanks, wifi hotspot!) will put a kibosh on all this. Then again, considering the degree to which my workload is about to increase, maybe it won’t.

Almost everything I want to say about it is along the lines of “How cool was it when…” or “Did you notice the easter egg about…”, which is problematic mainly because all of those things are spoilers. What’s not bad is that it means the movie was extremely cool and fun for me, and probably would be for you as well.

In any event, this borrowed as heavily and as obviously from Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man as most of the rest of the MCU has done from respective other branches of the Ultimate Marvel series, which as you will know from years of my reviews of Bendis’ work, I strongly approve of. Peter is a good kid who’s in over his head but who has the potential to be forged into the moral center of the superheroing world. Not yet, though; for now he really is a kid, and it will be fun letting him do that for a little while.

Also: Michael Keaton hit it out of the park.

Also also: the title is kind of… like, yes there was a Homecoming Dance, and I suppose it featured heavily in the high school life of one Peter Parker and his various friends, but seriously, they named a movie after the fact that they finally negotiated the rights to bring Spider-Man back under the Marvel umbrella instead of where it has languished in Sonyland for decades. And that’s just silly insider baseball stuff. Come on, guys, give me a real title for the next one.

Also also also: Spider-Man is straight up my favorite superhero, so it’s possible I’m biased on the praise I have provided today. Do with this knowledge what you will.

[1] Marvel Cinematic Universe, ie all the stuff under the Marvel Studios brand, ie Iron Man, The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD, etc.

Wonder Woman (2017)

I finally saw Wonder Woman on Father’s Day. Which I suppose is a little weird[1]? But we hadn’t seen it yet, and my dad was down (even though he had seen it, which is its own kind of cool), so, like that. I cannot decide if it fulfills its hype. I mean, obviously it’s very good. It’s better, probably, than its current series of DC movies deserves for it to be.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.

But like, is it uniquely good? It’s on track to have the biggest box office of the summer[2]. And it’s the first superhero movie with a female lead. Those are both big deals, although obviously the latter is the bigger. Anyway, there are these immortal Amazon women, sworn to defend mankind from the depredations of the god of war. And once they learn of a new war outside their realm, Diana goes forth to fulfill that destiny. Or, I think more accurately, she goes forth to decide whether mankind deserves her intended defense. Also, there’s a lot of cool comic book action in which a person who will one day probably be called Wonder Woman kicks some serious ass.

Is that a thing we’ve never seen before? A hero, on her journey to greatness? In a way, obviously we have. Some heroes journey from a state of selfishness, others from a state of innocence, and still others are just born that way, but they all start somewhere and face a first challenge, whether of the physical, spiritual, or moral variety. Or, let’s be honest, usually more than one of these. In another way, that’s probably me being a bit broad of scope, or just finding a way to not give any more spoilers than I already have done. But my real point is one I already made.

It literally is a thing we’ve never seen before. Although there have been female superheroes, none of them have scored a cinematic lead before, and that’s a big deal. It doesn’t make the movie uniquely good, but it makes the movie unique; the good news is, it was in fact also really good! Because what we need is a theatrical landscape in which it doesn’t strike me as weird, even for the few seconds it took me to decide to go with that instinct instead of immediately quelling it as was my initial reaction to myself, that both my father and I would want to celebrate his day by seeing a movie about a lady superhero. I mean, that’s dumb, right? It’s a comic book action movie, what about this is even the slightest bit strange?

(I still think I’d rather not have had the thought and had to figure out a different way to come at this, all things considered.)

[1] Bear with me, I’ll get back to it.
[2] Final outcome subject to change, but that’s the trend I’m seeing right now.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad was a clusterfuck.

I should clarify, lest I be misunderstood. It was a magnificent clusterfuck, exactly as it was meant to be. See, there’s this military lady, and she is trying to gather power and prestige to herself (like you do), to which end she has this idea to recruit a bunch of imprisoned supervillains to form a last line of defense team in case of unexpected threats to America and maybe the world. Especially in these uncertain times.

Which, fine, whatever, that’s just a convoluted premise. The clusterfuck comes along when the unexpected threat does, because it turns out that being a supervillain means not subsuming your needs to the needs of the many. Instead, every single person has an angle, and okay, yes, they don’t want the world to end any more than you or I or (let’s say) a Batman or a Superman would. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want something for themselves out of the deal.

The thing that makes this not a grimdark movie is that the whole thing is played for comedy (nearly for slapstick) instead of evil chess (like I imagine No Country for Old Men to have been). It was definitely better than the last two movies, which is the kind of trend line I like to see

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

If they had not made a Wonder Woman movie, I probably could have happily lived out my days not watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I mean, the name alone makes me cringe, and the turning point at the end of the second act is the kind of thing you come up with smoking weed with your friends in the basement, and then say whoa at each other a lot. (To be fair, maybe it would have played better if I hadn’t been spoiled for it? This is a thing I doubt.)

Anyway, that is an extremely poor degree of preconception, and it is my pleasure to say that, going in with that opinion, the movie was not too bad. Like, yes it was unrelentingly grim, and yes the stuff I already said above, and also Lois and Clark are goddamn terrible at “secret identity”. But there were things to like, as well.

1) I’ve heard people hating on Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex, but I had no real complaints. I haven’t seen a gleefully sociopathic version of the character that I recall, and it definitely worked. Plus, his plans were legit.
2) This is the first time I’ve ever geographically understood the relationship between Metropolis and Gotham. I would literally never have thought of it that way, yet it is 100% the best explanation I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was always like this and I just never knew?
3) Wonder Woman is a bad-ass by any measure. I am looking forward to that movie more than before.
4) The spoiler at the end of the movie, although in keeping with Snyder’s dark vision, actually earned the destination this series of movies has been aiming for, and if I believed for a second it would become the new status quo, I would grudgingly respect the film in retrospect.

But that is not how things will be by the end of the summer, and I can resume being benignly annoyed by the whole prospect.

Alien: Covenant

Got around to seeing me an Alien movie, and my short answer is this: it fell short of what it should have done in exactly the same way that Prometheus did before it, but without the benefit of my belief that if only Prometheus were the first half of a longer story, everything would come to rights again.

Here’s the thing. Alien: Covenant is exactly the movie I was looking for, a sequel in which we find out What Happens Next. …at least, it should have been. It so easily could have been. Instead, that plotline is jettisoned in favor of something that is no longer sfnal at all and back to pure horror. Which, okay, that is where this series started, and there’s nothing wrong with it, and I kind of appreciate the specific details of this horror movie, none of which I will be telling you.

But then, after failing to deliver on the possibilities of the first movie, it simultaneously fails to deliver on a bridge to the original 1979 Alien, which is the only other job it had. In point of fact, timelines being what they are, I would say it is impossible to get from this story to that one. (And if I were to ignore timelines, which is at least semi-possible, it would mean that to get from here to there, I would need Ridley Scott to make exactly the movie I wanted him to make this time, which he is clearly unwilling to do.)

Long story short once again, my advice is stick with Alien/Aliens and assume Ripley got her happy ending, as that is the best way to deal with this series.

The Fate of the Furious

A lot of things happened between the first movie in the series and and the eighth. Apparently what used to be a racer’s hijacking crew is now a racer’s international superspy organization? Or something like that. But six intervening movies is room for a lot of things to change, so, fair enough.

The Fate of the Furious pits Vin Diesel against everyone he’s ever known, because of reasons plus Charlize Theron. It is basically identical to the first movie at its core, with family and friendships pitted against outside forces (first time, the law; this last time, crazy world-threatening espionage), but the stakes and stunts have been escalated beyond all thought of realism. Which is cool! I mean, not if you’re looking for realism. Basically, you will either think this movie is incredibly dumb, or full of over the top hilarity.

The movies in between (which I still plan to watch) will be a lot harder to review now, I bet.