Tag Archives: action

Mulan (2020)

I am growing ever more cynical, a fact of which I am not fond. Especially in a world where I have offspring. (Which this one seems to be.)

The thing about Mulan is, it’s a good movie. It’s got a good heart, a lot of fantasy Chinese combat[1], a cast full of characters worth empathy on virtually all sides of the conflict, and a message worth embracing. I never saw the original animated version, nor do I know if it is based on any actual legend? But there’s a girl, and a war, and a conscription. One male from every family to join the Emperor’s army and save China from, y’know, the Bad Guys. Except in the case of the girl’s family, the only male is her father, still crippled by the last war. So, rather than let him go to a certain death, she takes his place!

Plot twist! (or not), it turns out the Chinese warriors in the age of the Middle Kingdom[2] aren’t cool with the idea of womenfolk fighting, and they will almost certainly kill her if they find out her secret. This is the heart of the movie, and it is also where my cynicism springs to the fore.

The problem is this: as much as I liked the movie, and wanted to like the movie, I couldn’t bring myself to believe in the outcome. This is what 2020 has done to me, I guess. Ugh.

It’s good, though, and it’s okay to be heartwarmed instead of cynical, if you can swing it. I mean, it’s not like it’s only heartwarming, for that matter. Every beat in the movie is earned, even if I didn’t believe it. The failure is in me, and my willingness to be open to the magic of people watching reality play out in real time and change their opinions as a result.

[1] for which there is a term but I forget what it is. I thought it was wuxia, but that does not imply fantastical elements, only the martial arts themselves.
[2] This is a term I have plausibly heard, or possibly made up, and which in any case could have nothing whatsoever to do with the time period in which the movie is actually set. I just want to sound informed without doing any work. The truly sad part is, in the time it took me to type this, I could have just looked it up instead.

The Next Karate Kid

Cobra Kai arrived on Netflix a few weeks ago, and now that I’m back at work (a future month of paternity leave yet remains to me, which I will use later, hooray) I have a lot more time to watch TV[1]. Which means I watched all four of the Pat Morita Karate Kid movies this week, three of which I had previously seen. (And all three of which I would recommend refamiliarizing with prior to Cobra Kai, which I also recommend. It pays off, is all I’m saying.)

Then there’s The Next Karate Kid, in which Pat Morita is hanging out in Boston with the wife of a deceased WWII buddy after a big 50th anniversary of their war heroism ceremony, and then for reasons that do not bear looking at too closely, he’s left in charge of her high school granddaughter for a few months. If you guessed that what she really needs is the kind of discipline and confidence that karate can provide, well, that has pretty much covered every salient point of the movie.

That said, Mr. Miyagi is a hell of a character, and the monk interludes are worth the price of admission, even if plot points such as “why was this a good idea, conceptually, to leave a Okinawan stranger in charge of a teenaged girl” and “how could any school possibly allow a random military guy to put his own private student army in charge of the other students” are truly inexplicable.

I’m not saying go watch it, but there’s good stuff in there if you did. I miss Miyagi all over again, thanks to this big giant rewatch fest.

[1] Unless it has subtitles. I actually am working, and you can’t watch the screen nearly enough to keep up with a subtitled show or film. That’s just math.

Revenge (2017)

Another entry from the over a year old now back of my list of Shudder movies[1]. Revenge is one of those movies in which a lady been done wrong by almost always some dudes rather than a dude, in a very specific way that benefits from a trigger warning in these more enlightened days. Later, she takes, uh, revenge[2] on them.

And there’s really not a ton more to say. It’s a pretty good example of what it is, and alternates between being genuinely tense, genuinely disturbing, excessively gory, and over the top silly. You wouldn’t that that would be a thing in this subgenre, but between the burn scar transfer and the circular house chase… Maybe they were going for slickly stylish, which is a thing some action movies do these days. (This is occasionally an action movie, though it’s mostly a tense thriller.)

[1] Sidebar: A thing I hate about tech patents is that it means most streaming services, unless they had a vanishingly rare novel idea or have enough money to pay someone, are forced to have really terrible watchlist organization, when they’re even allowed to have watchlists at all.
[2] Usually the title of a movie with this plot is not so on the nose. I Spit on Your Grave, for obvious example.

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

So, I did it! I got the Alamo Season Pass thingy, which this is not a commercial for, but one free movie a day is kind of great? I have to go twice a month to not lose money on the deal, and I want to go a lot more than that, although I think there’s a tiny human hoping to thwart my plans. …who will probably succeed. But for now, salad days[1]!

Upshot, on Thursday we saw Birds of Prey, a movie about which I have non-controversial opinions. To recap, I thought the Wonder Woman movie was great at being the first female-led superhero movie, but the actual film itself has not aged well for me outside that context. It’s perfectly cromulent as a superhero movie but no more than that. I thought Aquaman was shockingly good, better than it had any right to be, and therefore maybe a half-rank above “perfectly cromulent etc”? The rest of the modern DC movies are hot garbage at best, including Suicide Squad, except that Harley Quinn was revelatory in it.

All of that to say: Birds of Prey would fall on a tier maybe just above hot garbage, except for that fantabulous emancipation bit. As nearly as I can determine, Margot Robbie was born to play this role. (She seems to think so too, given her heavy involvement in getting the movie made.) This is basically Harley’s transition from the Joker’s emotionally manipulated girlfriend to chaotic good trending neutral antihero, and she’s hilarious every step of the way. Plus, the narration! I will keep watching her make these movies as long as she’s interested.

[1] I have no idea what that means. What it conveys, yes. What it means that results in conveying that: not a clue.

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.

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

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.