Category Archives: Film

It Chapter Two

Remember that time where they took my very favorite book and made it into half of a movie? Somehow, that was two years ago. Good news: the name pf the sequel is in fact fine.

It Chapter Two does what was promised: we pick up the story a generation later, with the adult characters coming back to Derry to do what they promised, if there was a need. Pennywise is back, and he must be faced again in an apocalyptic showdown. But not before a lot of revisiting the past, both with additional flashbacks that sated my need for more scenes from that wholly non-idyllic summer of their youth and with the kind of revisiting the past that adults more traditionally do, gawking in disbelief at how the things that seemed so big and important now seem so small and far away. But with monsters.

I’ll never really be able to explain why the source material for these movies is so powerful to me. Because the above reads like it’s meant to be a joke, and not even a well-enough crafted joke to justify having made it, when the truth is I meant it sincerely. It’s like, King’s meditations on small town mid-century American childhood ring so true to me. And I know I’ll never actually know, because I was never there, two different ways, but it generates the kind of nostalgia in me that powers a political party. Except he tells the truth via his metaphor, because in fact everything was just as bad then as it is now. There’s a monster who comes back every so often to devour children.

Literally? Metaphorically?

Yes.

But I digress. The last thing I’ll say is that although it took me an hour or so turning it over in my mind, I’ve decided that they stuck the landing. It has a very strange climax, which could not possibly translate to a screen. At least, I don’t think so. I know that everyone made fun of the television series ending, which held onto the literal half of the book’s climax and scrapped the metaphysical version entirely, even though it’s a 50/50 split. This movie, on the other hand, leans about 80/20 metaphysical/literal, which also I think loses something, but does play up the difficulty inherent to a climactic battle with a being that is only slightly literally real.

One thing you will not see the people of 2019 saying is, “Seriously? After all those transformations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just a big $spoiler? Seriously?!” When people said that in 1990, they at least had the virtue of a semi-valid complaint. Barely. So, it’s a good thing to avoid.

Anyway. I think the kids did a better job than the adults, mostly, although I cannot deny that the adults did an excellent job of selling that they were the same people 27 years later. I also need to give props to Bill Skarsgård, who has supplanted Tim Curry in my mind’s eye as who Pennywise is. That’s impressive.

Not a bad way to spend three hours, although next time I won’t do it at an 11pm show after a 12 hour day at work. (I hope.)

Ready or Not (2019)

Here’s how you can tell you’re too far inside an industry: when I watched Ready or Not, I had no concern about the deadly game of hide and seek[1] (after all, the rich are different from us) nor about old stories of demonic deals for wealth (that’s just how you get rich), but it really bothered me that they were rich enough to have that kind of sprawling Victorian estate, full of secret passages for servants (and also not incidentally still full of servants) based on creating board games. I guess in real life it’s feasible that the brothers Parker, back when there were only like six boardgames to choose from[2], really did get outsizedly wealthy, and as a result this makes perfect sense. But man does it feel wrong based on my experiences watching a board game in development / following other games with at least a layman hobbyist’s knowledge of the industry.

If you can get past all that, though (I could, and my friends who are actually developing a game apparently could as well, so you should have no trouble), this is a movie that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and gore. To explain the setup a little more clearly than I probably already did, there’s this wealthy family, and on the night of your marriage into the family, you have to play a randomly selected game, in the old style. Like Old Maid, or checkers. Nothing that qualifies as a boardgame even by post WWII standards. And as long as you don’t pick Hide and Seek, that’s as far as it goes. But every generation or so, a sacrifice is required…

The reason it works is because both the writing and casting are top notch. I want to go into it more, but I try not to ever spoil more than the premise, and to elaborate further has all kinds of character and joke spoilers; not plot spoilers, because horror movie genre conventions almost always trump plot, and in the rare occasion where genre conventions are subverted, I would still lie and say there’s no plot to spoil, because anything else would itself be a spoiler again. Long story short, if you like things that are funny and aren’t allergic to violent deaths, this is a good way to spend a couple of hours.

[1] Fun fact: this is not the first hide and seek horror movie named Ready or Not. I’m guessing it’s the better one, though.
[2] Although the same percentage of them were Monopoly

Spider-Man: Far from Home

I saw the new Spider-Man movie over two weeks ago. You may consider primal scream therapy to be occurring during the paragraph break, because, seriously. I am consistently too busy when at work and too mentally drained when not at work to do almost anything thinky, and yet the further from the movie I get and the more other reactions I see, the harder the thinking part of a review becomes. It’s awesome[1].

So here’s the thing about Peter Parker. My formative experiences with the character (as opposed to Spider-Man, who was a sufficiently popular Marvel character that I was always baseline culturally aware of him) were in the Ultimate Series, where he was the glue that held everything together. Naturally, therefore, a movie that is positioning him for the same role in the MCU, as a result of massive spoilers from Endgame, is going to be my bread and butter.

Things that remain to be said:

  1. Far from Home is a title with very little nuance that I can detect. It’s straight up, Peter goes on a class trip to Europe, where some things that he was hoping to avoid if he wanted to keep his identity a secret occur. It feels like it should have been deeper than that?
  2. This movie does not explore the social and cultural ramifications of another massive spoiler from Endgame. It handwavily acknowledges them, and then ignores them. Which is good! That could be a very dark movie, and if I want to watch grim comics[2], that’s what DC is mostly doing.
  3. What the movie does instead is team up Spider-Man and Nick Fury and a new guy (unless you’ve heard of him elsewhere) against giant elemental creatures who want to devour the world and then move on to other dimensions, just like they did before now. Which is kind of big for a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but least he has the best AI acronym that has ever happened (E.D.I.T.H., and if you have somehow not seen this movie and can figure out the acronym, I’ll buy you a beer) to help him along the way.

It was good. It almost had me tricked on one plot point, which was impressive (but I cannot explain how of course). Another plot point was handled pretty clumsily, to the point where I’m not sure what they were going for, and the most obvious explanation equals truly bad writing. But my point is not that it was great, even by MCU standards. It was good, and it was consistently fun, and that’s the right tone of movie to follow the end of their ten year grand experiment.

[1] On the (haha) bright side, I have managed to spread a Fables graphic novel out over this whole period, and am zero books behind. ….but seriously, send help. This is a nightmare.
[2] But man would I watch a grim Marvel TV show about it. Which is what I thought Agents of SHIELD would do, but no, they had to go and prove complete divergence from the movies instead. Which is dumb and bad and wrong, and the writers are dumb and bad and wrong (or Kevin Feige is for forcing it on them), and grr, argh.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Thanks to punctuation, I don’t need to point out that this is distinct from the 1956 movie where Godzilla and his title are separated by a comma instead of a colon. I guess I did anyway, but these are the things I think about when searching IMDB for the correct link.

Aside from what is admittedly just an assumption that the 1956 version and this one have only the superficial parts you’d expect in common, what I knew about Godzilla: King of the Monsters is that it is set in the same world as Kong: Skull Island and would rather more deeply involve the secret government agency Monarch that they made mention of in the post-credits scene. So when I watched half of the movie thinking, “this is written like it’s a sequel to some movie I never saw,” that was a little confusing. Because it definitely wasn’t a sequel to Kong. I saw the Godzilla remake with Matthew Broderick, which predates this blog by some years, but I completely forgot until I looked up after the credits rolled that there was also a Godzilla remake five years ago, with Bryan Cranston who you may remember from Breaking Bad but who I remember from Malcolm in the Middle. Which it turns out that this movie is a sequel to, or at the least a sequel of sorts. Since I didn’t see it, I’m not really qualified to say? But it seems relevant, if you want to not be as confused as I was.

That confusion aside, it was exactly what you’d expect. There are a lot of monsters with names that you might recognize, and a lot of these monsters fight each other[1], and there’s a lot of discussion of radioactivity, and the title is pretty definitely a spoiler. It’s just that kind of movie. If you like the type, you will like this. It’s a little overwrought even by fate of the world standards, which I think is also as it should be? On the other hand, if you don’t like giant monsters fighting, there is definitely nothing above and beyond that baseline to draw you in.

But it was pretty good, you know? Also, there’s another sequel in the works.

[1] Side note, he said as though digressions were not already his stock in trade: there was a Godzilla-themed monster fighting video game on whatever system existed in 2002, so maybe a Nintendo 64 still? No, that would be at least GameCube. But also it might have been some form of Playstation. Whatever. That is where I recognized most of the names from, with the exception of Mothra and possibly Rodan.

Dark Phoenix

My job really is the worst right now, as I’ve learned over the past week of no longer having a co-worker. Because, obviously, the workload did not change to accomodate my new circumstance. Which is why, despite being seemingly the only person in the country who saw Dark Phoenix (and over a week ago, at that), I’m only now getting to a chance to review it. Ah, you ask, but how do you have time to write it now, on a Monday morning?

Joke’s on, well, on both of us really. Because the only reason I had time was that my machine was failing to connect to the network, so I can do some internet piggling instead. Only, now it’s back up, so, who knows when I’ll have time to get beyond these two paragraphs and into the actual review? (Answer: oh, look. Not only is it now Tuesday morning instead, but I’m also another review behind. Cool. Cool cool cool.)

Where was I? Oh, right, Dark Phoenix. And my understanding that it has not done well. This makes sense if you go by a random sampling of my friends, who watched the previews and were justifiably irritated that they showed a bunch of scenes on the theme of, “Oh no, what if a woman had a whole lot of power, but then she couldn’t use it properly and everyone were in danger?” Because, you know, it’s important for a company owned by Rupert Murdoch to keep banging that particular drum, if women are going to insist on continuing to run for high public office.

So, and here’s the spoiler that I cannot usefully review the movie without spilling: sure, they spent half the movie with her flailing around from betrayal to betrayal, lashing out with predictably tragic results. But in the second half of the movie, the people betraying her get their shit together and start supporting her again, because they realize she has not been the problem and that her power is not intrinsically bad or uncontrollable. Like everyone, she just needs her family (whatever that means to you) to support her.

All of this is not to say that it’s a great movie. But it’s a pretty good X-Men movie, and I am fine with it as the final entry in this version of their stories. Also: the precipitating space shuttle scene in act one? Completely worth the price of admission.

Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

During the credits for Detective Pikachu, I learned that the movie was based on a video game of the same name, which I had not been aware existed. So I guess this is technically a video game movie? Well, I guess Pokémon in general are from a video game, so that’s not really a revelation after all. Nevermind.

This is a kidmovie, mainly inasmuch as Pokémon is a kidgame. The good thing about this is that it doesn’t really reveal its colors until the too-neat denouement, and if I’m being realistic, lots of movies are wrapped up with a bow that are not strictly speaking aimed at kids. Still, this was, and its too-neat bow-wrapping was definitely kid-oriented.

Except for that, it turns out to be really good? Well, important caveat: if you like the tiny pokemen upon which its hat is hung. I am just barely the target audience for this movie, mostly because of all the Pokémon Go I’ve played. But they did an incredible job both of making the creatures that I guess replaced animals in the evolution of this particular world seem completely alive and real and part of the scenery, and also of giving those creatures personalities that were, at least on a per species scale, unique and identifiable. Okay, the last thing sounds less cool than it is, because there’s not much involved in making a monkey pokeman act like a monkey. But trust me: they did an amazing job of bringing the world to life, in every particular.

The plot? Well, our hero, Tim Goodman[1], who has given up on his dreams of being a Pokémon trainer to start a career in insurance, goes to a place not literally named Pokémon City to investigate his policeman father’s mysterious death. Well, no, to settle his estate, there’s no way the guy I just described would be investigating anything, except that his father’s Pokémon partner (everyone in the city has one, it’s not a cop thing) is Ryan Reynolds wearing a pikachu suit and a detective hat. Together, they… well, you know. Like I said, it’s a kidmovie at heart. It’s just a really excellently executed one, if you are down with the P.

[1] No, really.

Avengers: Endgame

I went to see the fourth Avengers movie on Friday afternoon, right after work and thusly before it was feasible that my on-call duties this weekend would interfere. (As it turns out, it has been non-stop smooth sailing, but I had no way to guess that then.) Obviously I can’t talk about the movie, because, well, you know.

So, the tickets I wanted to buy were sold out before I knew they were on sale. Not literally sold out, but the useful seats were, I mean. So I’ll have to go a second time[1] to see the Alamo’s version. None of this is the point. The point is: after I couldn’t get the tickets I wanted, I sat around for a few weeks waiting for the problem to solve itself, and then ended up not being able to get out of my on-call this weekend as previously referenced. The first time I knew for sure what show I would be able to make was Friday earlier in the afternoon. BUT: there’s this theater a few miles away attached to a mall, only the mall has been closed for years and is in the process of being torn down. Nobody goes to this theater.

So, I was able to get tolerable seats about two hours in advance, and went to a 5:30 show. When we got to the parking lot, it was… well, it’s not a huge lot, most everything beyond the theater’s entrance to the mall is fenced off. Also, what lot there is has not been well taken care of. The upshot of all this is that there are a limited number of spaces, yes, but there are a much more limited number of spaces that have been repainted anytime since the mall died. The upshot of that is that all of the good spaces were already taken, at only 5pm, and man can people not park straight without lines. Some lanes got gradually narrower, eventually dwindling into nothing; some lanes were only a little crooked off into the distance but with one random car blocking half the lane for no good reason. It was a mess and a madhouse. At 5 in the afternoon on a Friday at a mostly dead theater.

Someone not me said that this is plausibly a once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe even a once-in-an-ever) event, where the 22nd film over the course of 11 years tells one complete story. From my anecdotal evidence above, there are a lot of people who know that, even if they don’t have the same words for how weird and rare and wonderful this is.

The big question, then, is will these people be satisfied? Man, I don’t know. I started to say more, but then I realized that it would be by my considerations hugely spoilerish, so I will drop a follow-up comment below the review. Which I haven’t actually done yet; this is just a story about the time I went to see Avengers: Endgame.

And now: my review.

They stuck the landing.

[1] don’t throw me in that briar patch

Us (2019)

As foretold in prophecy[1], I have gone forth and seen Us, so that you don’t have to!

And, okay, it’s no surprise exactly for me to end up thinking you probably should see it anyway. But the uncomfortable squirming in the seat as the plot unfolded that is always what I’m looking for as a bare minimum for horror is exactly what most people want to avoid in the first place, so I should say more.

Thing one: despite what I thought going into the movie, the previews did not spoil the whole thing. They were stage-setting to provide enough knowledge and no more, exactly what a good preview should be. There’s a lot more meat here than I thought, and that is great news.

Thing two: this is not as good as Get Out. Which is okay, that movie was downright fantastic. I will say[2] that it did a thing I found pleasing and a little impressive, especially for the genre. The thing about Get Out is that it is a specific kind of horror, that only a black man (well, okay, person, but I do think it was a little more specific than that) in America can experience. Sure, it’s amplified to make its point, but its point is a distressingly common one that shouldn’t need to be made, and yet here we are. So, all of that said, a thing that I especially liked about Us is that it is not specific to race. This story could have had any characters in the main roles and had the same effect. No, bear with me, I’m not saying what you think I’m saying about “Good job, Jordan Peele, for appealing to a whiter wider audience.” Screw that, a) he can appeal to whatever audience he wants and b) white people have more to take away from Get Out than black people do in the first place; they already live there, like I was saying earlier.

No, my point is this: even though this movie could have been about anyone, it had four black people in the lead anyway, and that’s awesome.

Thing three: all that said, yes, it was creepy and squirmy as all heck, but it fell apart in the final act, both structurally (relying on ten minutes of exposition to explain how all this happened is never a good idea, and way less so in horror, where frankly no reason is usually the best reason) and thematically (it would change so much of the rest of the movie to get a different ending that it would only superficially be the same movie at all, but man did that ending undercut almost everything else that happened), and that just makes me sad.

Mostly because of how good the first two acts were.

[1] Well, in the comments section of someone’s social media account. Close enough.
[2] Content warning: white guy talking about race stuff.

Captain Marvel

I’ve tried to stay away from reviews of Captain Marvel, much as I try to stay away from reviews of most movies before I see them, but a little moreso this time. There’s too much going on for me to not want my opinion to be unadulterated, and especially since I didn’t see it for nearly a week. That said, I saw a couple reviews, and sure enough, this will be somewhat in response to those.

The first review was effusively positive, putting this near or in the top tier of Marvel movies over the past 11 years. I do not find that I agree with this, from a structural perspective. The origin story was approximately by the numbers, and the fish out of water elements that would have made it unique were blunted by a ’90s greatest hits soundtrack that pulled me out of the story every ten minutes[1]. There were twists, some predictable and some not, there were cool fight scenes, there were cool character beats. I absolutely liked it, but on the whole, it was merely fine.

Except. That’s not perfectly true, because context does matter, and boy does this movie ever have context. It’s the first Marvel movie (and nearly the first superhero movie; I can only think of one recent example[2]) with a female character in the lead. The other review I saw was mostly[3] talking about Brie Larson’s flat affect and not very sexy outfit. I cannot decide whether it’s sadder that the affect comment is factually incorrect, in that she laughed and smiled and got sad and angry pretty regularly, or that this was complained about in a published review even though the script lampshaded a “you’d be pretty if you smiled more” scene, right at the beginning of the second act.

My point is this. Captain Marvel is a great movie and a great Marvel movie, not because of the plot or the acting or the effects, but because Carol Danvers is unapologetically powerful and (this is separate, trust me) unapologetically strong.That shouldn’t be enough to elevate a movie from fine to great, but until the proposition stops being a controversial one, it will be.

[1] It’s not even that I dislike ’90s music. It’s good! But it was presented as “look how ’90s this music is! Because we’re in the ’90s and this is a prequel. Set in the ’90s. Get it?!”
[2] Hmmm. There’s also Tank Girl and arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It depends on how narrowly you proscribe the genre, I suppose. This is where years of Marvel comics reading is making me accidentally snobby, it seems.
[3] To be fair, which I’m somewhat disinclined to do, it may not have been mostly. It’s possible I got fed up and quit reading instead.