Category Archives: Film

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.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

A thing to know about the Fantastic Beasts sequel is, it has no sympathy if you don’t particularly remember (or especially none if you didn’t see) the first movie. This message brought to you by my attempts to penetrate the main focus of the action for about the first half of the movie.

See, there’s this guy that everyone is trying to find (Grindelwald and cronies, American and British aurors, young Dumbledore and our hero Newt) in Paris, and that was fine as far as it went, but it would have been nice to have any idea why he mattered. Eventually, I remembered dim spoilers for the previous movie that brought it into focus, but like I said, the script for The Crimes of Grindelwald did absolutely nothing to help me in that quest.

In the pros column, I enjoyed seeing the wizarding world of France, more beasts = cool, and the picture was beautiful (thanks, new 4K TV!). Also, the movie was significantly better than I expected. In the cons column, to form a real opinion, I need to rewatch it with a better idea of what’s going on the whole time, and probably to rewatch the first one right before that. Which is annoying, but not the worst thing that has ever happened.

Anyway, if you’re still into Harry Potter and especially if you liked the first movie of this… trilogy? Let’s say trilogy. Well, if those things apply to you, you already saw this, since it came out months ago. But, you were correct to do so! (And you’re welcome for the validation.)

Happy Death Day 2U

At the very beginning of Happy Death Day, while the Universal logo is appearing, they did something clever. It hitches like a record scratch and restarts, twice, before proceeding. Just enough to let you know what you’re getting into, right?

Happy Death Day 2U starts with a mild similarity, in which the hitch splits the screen in two, and then in three. Which, if you don’t know what they’re going for, I guess it would be a spoiler to tell you? But anyway, my point here is mostly to say that I believe the science fiction slasher movie is wholly untrodden ground, and they deserve props for this alone.

Except for the slight genre shift, though, the movie follows an extremely important rule of horror movie sequels, first spoken by Joe Bob Briggs more than thirty years ago[1], and here I am paraphrasing: Just make the same damn movie as you did the first time. (In some ways this movie takes the advice even more literally than is typical, but that stands to reason.) But yeah. Starts on the same day the last movie ended? Yes indeed. Follows (mostly) the same characters who are faced with (essentially) the same problems? Aye. Rule: followed!

The plot is so full of holes that it would more properly be referred to as a colander, but neither movie takes itself very seriously, so that’s fine. Plus, the more serious parts are actually thoughtful and touching, which gives them even more leeway as far as I’m concerned. As long as they keep the same cast and (I presume) writers/directors, I will cheerfully watch (and probably rewatch) these movies in perpetuity.

[1] Citation needed.[2]
[2] Haha, beat you to it. It’s possible I could find it, if he was writing for the Dallas paper that still exists and if they have internetted their 1980s archives. I first read it in a book of collected columns, so.

Fido

First things first: ugh, commercials. Like, I dislike them, sure, that’s fine, so does everyone. But there’s a qualitative difference between a show made with commercial breaks in mind, and a movie. Hell, even old school movies on network television, they had people with talent who selected break points as naturally as possible. Modern streaming services with commercials, though… man. It’s just so bad.

Anyway, though, I did watch a movie, despite the many travails involved. Fido exists in relatively unexplored territory: this is the zombie post-apocalypse. Humans won, at least sort of? According to the instructional film at the beginning of the movie, our species continues in walled safe zones, controlled by ZomCon, who has also developed a collar to keep zombies under control. Upshot: sure, the world’s a mess, but in the places where people are alive, they’re thriving. Zombies keep the houses in order, they keep the factories running, they keep the parks clean, and so on, leaving everyone else free to live out their 1950s utopia.

Enter one lonely neglected boy and one newly acquired zombie manservant, mix in a few hilarious mistakes, and there you have it. Black comedy, with zombies! But seriously, it was pretty funny. It was for sure the funniest Carrie-Anne Moss has ever been.

It Stains the Sands Red

Obviously, they can’t all be winners. But what hurts is when I can see the way to… okay, that’s an unfair claim. It Stains the Sands Red was never going to be a winner. Let me start over.

See, there’s this zombie apocalypse in progress, as usual. And there’s a Vegas stripper who finds herself crossing the desert, trying to reach an airplane to a beach in Mexico, where for some reason things are safe? Best not to dwell on that part, I’m sure. The thing is, there’s a zombie following her across the desert, for the reason zombies do such things.

All of this is the core of a pretty good movie, right? Minimalist cast: one protagonist, two foes (the zombie and the desert), and from there it’s just endurance and determination. Whoever has the most, wins. And if they had made a 70-75 minute movie with that core, I think I would have gotten past my first act eye-rolling and accepted it for what it was.

Instead, they added a pointless plot complication in the second act, and also a pointless third act to resolve the complication. So, on the whole, ugh. And while that’s not my only complaint, it’s the only one that doesn’t have big spoilers. So I’ll leave it here, wishing they’d made the movie I can see in my head instead of the one I could see on the screen.