Wonder Woman (2017) Review

     There, DC. Was that so hard?

     Who knew that adapting a single character and faithfully staying to the core fundamentals of said character would, you know, make a great movie? I mean, this is a game changer people! 

     Diana of Themyscira (Gal Godot), daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Zeus leads a carefree life until a man, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), somehow manages to crash onto the island and warns of the War to End All Wars. Diana takes it upon herself to go to our world and put an end to her brother Ares, finally ending the Great War. 

     Everything that DC did wrong with their last three outings, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad; Wonder Woman gets right in pretty much every way. First off, here’s a story with an actual beginning, middle, and end. Yes, a fully formed story that isn’t just a set up for another movie or a “Universe.”

     I thought it was illegal to do that in comic book movies nowadays. 

     Second, there was an actual focus and care on developing a character. One. Character. You know, to understand and care about them and their motivation, instead of just throwing them in a blender and wonder what went wrong? 

    The whole movie is contingent on the performance of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, and I  sincerely cannot imagine anyone else in the part. She’s got the asskickery down, no question, but between bashing people’s heads in, she exhibits a warmth, an innocence that adds to her strength, not diminishes it. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for an actor to pull that off???

     Yeah, there is a love story here involving Steve and Diana, and its easily the best relationship of the DC Universe films (yep better than Lois and Clark). The chemistry between Pine and Godot is genuine, and natural to the story. Makes me smile thinking about it. 

     The supporting cast of Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock as Sameer, Charlie, and Chief respectfully, just knock it out of the park. These three actors know the value of supporting their lead, and have their moments to shine, but never overshadow Godot in any way. I actually remembered their characters names without looking at my notes, what does that tell you?

     Director Patty Jenkins has made something truly special here. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Having seen 2005’s Electra, and 2004’s Catwoman which are unbelievable pieces of shit, female superheroes were never the fucking problem. Shitty writing, acting, directing, etc. were the problem. Those films were disrespectful to the source material, and to filmmaking in general. 

     Like Diana at the start of the film, maybe I am much too naive in how the way the world works. I finally got to see the story of one of the greatest superheroes ever up on the big screen. It never, ever, should have taken this long for it to happen. Fuck it, I’m just so happy it was done this well. 

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

     I am probably one of the few people on earth that actually liked Prometheus back when it was first released. Yeah, it’s got a lot of logistical problems, but the mixture of horror/sci-fi and the question of our mortality was damn intriguing. It had a unique point of view that set it apart from the other films in the Alien series. 

     Alien: Covenant? It’s just old hat by now. 

     We know the plot to most of the Alien flicks by now: It starts with a transmission and the crew of the Covenant, which is a colonial ship, follows the source to a planet which may be inhabitable for its people. So the crew lead by Oram (Billy Curdup) decide to investigate and come across David (Michael Fassbender) and yeah, it’s not gonna end up pretty. 

     As far as acting and visuals go, the film is pretty tip top. Katherine Waterson’s Daniels joins the ranks of strong women the franchise is known for. I can see how difficult it can be to act vulnerable while also kicking ass. Fassbender’s duel roles as David and the Covenant’s Walter shows that the man just owns every role he plays. Shit, even Danny McBride (yes, that guy) manages to convey a sincere level of vulnerability that made me care. 

     But the problem isn’t the acting or the wonderfully disgusting visuals, but the rehashing of old troupes and ideas already used in previous installments. There’s a section of the film that expands on the Engineers that was pretty kick ass but it was done with as soon as it was introduced. It was clear to me that director Ridley Scott had some ideas to expand on the themes of Prometheus but clearly he wanted to give fans more of what they wanted, which was the xenomorphs. 

     The fans were wrong. Fucking wrong. 

     Since this is pretty much a fan service flick, fans will enjoy it. I’m just pissed that we could’ve gotten something different, a little unique to set it apart from the other flicks. Instead, it’s just Alien: Redux. 

Twin Peaks (2017) Review: Episodes 1-2

     “I’ll see you in 25 years”– Laura Palmer. 

     That line. Jesus. I’m still reeling from this premiere. The short of it is that this is pure David Lynch: its not what I expected, while at the same time being exactly what I expected. 

     If that doesn’t describe what David Lynch is (or co creater Mark Frost), I don’t know what does.

     To attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum, I’ll just rundown some bare bones elements. Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still in the Black Lodge as predicted by Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) 25 years ago. Now it appears that there is an opportunity to escape. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery that seems to have popped up with a high school principal played by Matthew Lillard embroiled in a murder plot involving his possible mistress. I don’t know, I don’t trust anything laid out in front of me. 

     So getting that out of the way, David Lynch wasn’t fucking around when he said that he wanted each episode to be a movie in its own right. It pretty much is though. 

     What really gets me to be honest, is that all of the events in the Black Lodge feel like continuations of the original series, while the new storylines, as it were, have a wholly different feel from before. Lynch was wise enough to see that the soap opera satire that helped to define the original, was no longer relevant in today’s era. 

     With network restrictions a thing of the past, this series goes into the surrealistic imagery with an abundance of reckless abandon. Nothing seems to be held back, well, for the moment at least. As soon as I heard the eerie talk from the Other Place, I knew we were back home. 

     I have always attempted to make the point that it isn’t coherency that makes David Lynch projects special, but the emotions evoked from the incoherent images. There is an epicness in scope; with Twin Peaks itself getting a little short changed at the mement in these two episodes. 

     In all purity, the emotions that this series got me to explore was fascination and fear. Lynch was never one to shy away from horror, and he makes me feel uneasy. I was truly sad though that Sheriff Truman wasn’t there, and that the Log Lady was so frail (The actress would pass away after filming her scenes). But more than anything I was sad about Coop. He never deserved to end up there. 

     As melancholic as I may make this sound, I am already in love with this Twin Peaks. The murder mystery set up feels right out of Lost Highway. Hell, the cinematography feels like a cross between Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. The sound design is pure Lynch, it felt like being right at home. And as always the choice of music is just sublime, with an 80s aesthetic, commonly used, even though it was a Lynchian trope dating back to Blue Velvet. 

     I can only truly recommend these episodes to fans of David Lynch, not just Twin Peaks. The show is much different now, a more unhinged beast of not giving a fuck. I have no god damn clue what the fuck is going on, or even where it’s going, and that is exactly what I wanted out of this revival. Mr. Lynch, Mr Frost, wecome back. 

     

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) Review

     From the opening scene I knew I was going to be in for a fun ride. Living in an age where its all about the dark, gritty, painfully serious, tortured superhero film, it’s such a refreshing take when you can laugh and smile at a sentient baby tree dancing his ass off. 

     That’s the kind of joy that you cherish. 

     It’s been only a few months since the last film, when Star Lord (Chris Pratt) finally comes to meet his father Ego (Kurt Russell) and he’s happy as can be. But Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) suspects something else is afoot while Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and, somehow, Yondu (Michael Rooker) are being chased down by the Sovereign race for stealing batteries. 

      Yeah, you read that right. 

     I don’t know what surprised me more; the absolute fun I was having, or the unexpected depth there was to a story with a giant living planet. 

      Make no mistake, this is a father/son movie through and through. Here’s that rare sequel that took the foundation of the original film, and actually expanded and built upon what came before it. This felt like more of a continuation than just a straight up sequel. 

     A lot of love has to be given to one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, Michael Rooker. His Yondu got such an emotional upgrade in this entry, adding more humor, and dare I say,  a warmth that was lacking in the character the first time around. 

     No one other than director James Gunn could have made a film like this one. I just came to accept that the Marvel films have to play it a little safe in order to keep the brand going, but Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 clearly shows that you can take thematic risks, like the perils of fatherhood, the fear of abandonment, to new fucking pop culture heights. 

     I didn’t expect this movie to be on par with the last, and I sure as shit didn’t expect to be wiping tears from my eyes, especially to a movie with a baby tree dancing his ass off to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky. 

     Well Marvel, you raised the bar again. Now fucking keep it there. 

Power Rangers (2017) Review

     Ah, another property being relaunched as a potential film franchise. The nostalgia kick is too strong to ignore. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of Power Rangers television show. I knew who everyone was, it was too cheesy for me even in elementary school. 

     Well, we’ve come now to the inevitable film reboot, and I got to say… 

     That it ain’t bad…

     The plot is pretty much what you’d expect from a Power Rangers movie: Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) wakes up from her deep slumber, and starts causing some shit, meanwhile a group of misfit teens acquire some gems and superhuman powers. Lead by Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Rangers have to work together to defeat Rita, and find themselves in the process. 

     I genuinely feel that this will quite possibly be the best movie that will ever be made with this material. I mean that as high praise. The acting, writing, and even the directing is a lot better than this movie deserves. Let’s not kid ourselves here; its a giant monster/robot movie. Who the fuck is going to see this to get a thoughtful high school drama in the vein of John Hughes? I sure as shit didn’t. 

     Where the movie broke through was the respect that was given to actually develop and respect the characters. Yes, I’m even including the genetic clone of Zac Efron as the Red Ranger (shut up, he is). My God, even Rita Repulsa was given an intriguing backstory as a fallen ranger (a shiny nickel for those that guess what color she was). Even Alpha-5 (Bill Hader) was actually funny, and didn’t make me want to throw a beverage at the screen. I want a Zordon/Alpha-5 spin off where they just bitch to each other for 90 minutes. Just take my money. 

     Like any good pasta dish, Power Rangers does have it’s fair amount of cheese, especially when they fight the monster, because of course it does. Its a god damn Power Rangers movie!! I don’t give a shit how many Oscars the movie might have won in the future, if there wasn’t those cheesy mecha battles, the film would’ve been a complete failure. I even had a joyous grin on my face when the theme song played. 
     Bear in mind, I never thought the series in all of it’s incarnations was really any good. Just wasn’t a fan. It was too cheap and low budget even for my unrefined tastes as a child. But if the show had been anything like this movie, I would’ve been that guy that wouldn’t shut up about the show. 

     Never have a been happier to be proven wrong about the quality of a film. I never thought I would say that I liked a Power Rangers movie. Never. 

The Ridiculous Joys of Mystery Science Theater 3000

On April 14, 2017 something happened. After 18 years, Mystery Science Theater 3000 returned to effectively grace our screens, simultaneously enhancing and ruining the moviegoing experience for all. 

     The series has always followed some poor dude up in space being forced to watch shitty movies, usually of the horror and sci-fi genre, by some crazy scientist in the name of… well science. Said dude is joined by robots Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Croooow. (Its just Crow). The opening song literally sings to you the whole premise of the show, so I don’t know why I just did that. 

     Anyhoo, this show is the definition of cult series, because not everyone will like. Most don’t, but once you experience it and embrace it, so much fun can be had. 

     I had written before about the sheer joy and lunacy of the Midnight Movie, and it’s now available on Netflix. This show, along with Monstervision, were the Midnight Movie shows for me (they never aired at midnight). 

     Watching the first episode of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I was hit with the realization that my love of unbelievably shitty films steams from this series. With the ungodly amount of bad films I’ve seen over the years, the show gave me a tool that has endured me to survive: the gift of laughter. 

     I had never seen a show where characters talked back to the screen, making witty asides that would make Oscar Wilde green with envy. Nothing can top a well delivered joke in line with the films being watched. There was never a show like this before, and I’ll be damned if there was ever a show like it since. It’s truly a unique creature, built from television and cinema. 

     Even with the show’s move to Netflix, its the same thing as before! Believe me this is such a great thing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 changed the way an entire generation watched and experienced films, the unsightly horrors from the voids of space. I’m just giddy. 

     I’m hoping a new generation will now pick up the series and have its imagination fucked with, much like mine was. And while I’ve been lamenting this whole “Reboot” fever, I’m not gonna say a bad word about this trend. Reboot All in the Family, I don’t give a fuck, I got Mystery Science Theater 3000. 

     The world isn’t such a bad place after all. 

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review 

     Ghost in the Shell has been a seminal classic in anime for over 20 years, with its complex themes of humanity’s relationship to technology, it’s questioning of human nature, and the spirituality that comes with it. Sounds really deep and cool right? Well, good luck finding it in this incarnation. 

     The story begins about the same, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a human robot hybrid working for the authorities to stop cyber crimes from happening. But soon enough she’ll discover her former identity, and the truth if she is really just a ghost in the shell. 

     I know that there are times when you need to separate the film at hand, and the source material but this time its unavoidable. The material doesn’t work for an American audience. All of the nuances, the spirituality, the philosophical aspects are all gone in this version. It’s like a shell of its former self and yes, the irony is not lost on me. 

     Did the director tell the actors not to act, and just stand there and be set dressing? Don’t get me wrong, the film is visually stunning, and does look like an anime come to life, but at what cost? The story’s soul. Trust me, an origin story is a terrible substitute for actual characterization. She even acts the same when she finds out the truth. Its almost hilarious. 

     What it comes down to is that the movie is poorly acted, when they attempt to, excruciatingly written, and just plain boring. The pace is so laborious that I wish I got paid to see this, so I’d have something to show for it. 

Get Out (2017) Review 

     Ever since I was in my early teens, and I caught a showing of Night of the Living Dead on tv, I was floored. The flick is terrifying, but what stands out the most is that the main character of Ben is black man. In a film made in 1968. Well, to be more accurate, what stands out is that Ben survives the night, only to be shot in the head by a posse with checking if he was undead first. It was sad, and left me in shock. 

     Jordan Peele’s Get Out is evocative of the social commentary that Night of the Living Dead had. Some overt, like the opening, some more subtle, like the attire worn at the party, but its influence is all over the picture. 

     Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous to meet his girlfriend, Rose’s (Allison Williams), parents because they don’t know he’s black. But not to worry, Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) are those cool white liberals that are so understanding. Even if there is something off about them…

     As Ipreviously mentioned, I love a horror film with some social commentary, and a big deal has been made about Get Out’s message on interracial matters, but that shouldn’t be the first thing to look at. Competency, and skill as a horror film should be looked at first, and done well, or no matter how powerful your statement is, it will falter. 

     Jordan Peele knows his horror films, Jesus Christ. 

     Peele knows that a horror film’s success or failure depends entirely on its pacing and editing. John Carpenter’s Halloween being the prime example. Peele is aware of when to hold back, when to drop hints, and to actually have likeable sympathetic characters. It’s like a foreplay before the big climax. 

     Luckily, the performances serve the material so well; Keener and Whitford know exactly the right balance between sweet and creepy. Right out of the gate, you know something is wrong, but they’re so nice (perfect metaphor for race). Kaluuya’s performance as Chris hits his beats perfectly. He is the conduit for us, the audience, and its been such a long time that I felt scared for a character in a horror movie, much less one that I was actually rooting for. Trust me, that’s all too rare. 

     I’m so happy to see a filmmaker make a film that is evocative of the horror films of the 60s and 70s, one’s were filmmakers put their fears on screen for us to experience. And Get Out is one hell of an experience. 

Starman (1984): The Most Underrated Love Story Ever. (Spoilers)

     On this Valentine’s Day, I was thinking of some romantic movies to basically cry over (I keeps it real). Strangely though one movie has randomly come up time and time again among my male friends: John Carpenter’s Starman. 
     Never heard of it? 

      First, sit in the corner and think about your life choices

      Secondly, be prepared to happy cry your ass off, because it’ll give you hope in love. 

      Thirdly, it’s a science fiction flick, so it’s alright for men to cry. If you don’t, you must have the darkest of souls, and need professional help. 

     The premise is pretty straightforward: An alien has crashed on earth and needs to get home. He comes across a widow (Karen Allen) who’s grieving over the death of her husband (Jeff “The Dude” Bridges). The “Starman” takes her late husband’s form from a hair strand. After losing her shit, she reluctantly drives him to the rendezvous point. 

     And obviously she starts to fall in love with him, but that’s not makes this movie special. There’s way too many reasons. 

     Jeff Bridges is clearly, one of the greatest actors who has ever lived. I’m not kidding. I may be in the minority, but this role is the best performance he has ever given. With his clipped speech, and awkward, jerky movements, I thought this was a real story about an alien (I was not a bright child). The man gives a balancing act of weird, but gentle, comical, but without condescension.

      I have never been more in love with Karen Allen in my life because of this movie. Its her character arch that the whole movie hinges on. yeah its predictable that she’ll fall in love with the Starman, but my god its so organic, so effortless, that you accept its formula, and move on. How does she make being strongly vulnerable so easy? You feel sorry for her, sure, but you don’t pity her at all. I admire her. And the train scene…

     I’ll try not to cry, but the train scene (too late) is so beautiful. Karen Allen’s character, Jenny Hayden, cannot have children and explains it to the Starman. On the train, stowing away, they make love. 

     Then he tells her he gave her a baby. That it would be both her husband’s baby, but also his baby.

     Jesus Christ. 

     He tells her he will be a teacher, and if she didn’t want it, he will stop it. The genuine emotions in this scene are so masterful. He tells her happily, she is just overwhelmed. 

     The music in this scene, by Jack Nitzsche, is going to break you in tears. Especially the final scene where he has to say goodbye to her. Where she finally gets to say goodbye to a form of her husband. I mean, man, she gets to have a baby now. Trust me on this, the music will get you. 

     The funny thing is, I completely forgot about how the US military is after them because alien? It makes some important points about the savagery of humanity  (especially the deer scene), but its the love story at its core that makes me weep. 

     And still to this day, my father bitches about how a sequel was never made. Seriously, every person who’s seen it wants to know what happened to the baby. I kid you not, Jeff Bridges said this even in an interview for Tron: Legacy. 

     For this Valentine’s Day, this movie will bring couples together. Even the most cynical. You won’t regret it. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review 

     Right before I sat down to watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story it dawned on me what a risk this film is for Disney; even though this is quite possibly the biggest franchise in the history of movies, can audiences accept an installment that has no Jedi and principal characters that we have never even met before?

     The short of it is that, yes. Yes they sure can. 

     To help clear up any confusion for the casual fan, this story takes place 19 years after the fall of the Republic, and the rise of the Empire. The Rebellion is in full swing, and they’re on the verge of collapsing. With word being reached that the Empire has a weapon that can destroy entire planets, they recruit the daughter of the architect in charge, Jyn (Felicity Jones) to gather information on this station. 

     Jyn is partnered up with a whole squad including Cassian (Diego Luna), K2 (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut (Donnie Yen), Baze (Wen Jiang), and Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) to eventually steal the plans for the Death Star and bring hope to the rebellion. 

     What struck me the most about the movie was just how emotionally invested I was in the characters. Please bear in mind that almost every character is a creation for Rogue One never having appeared in any other sort of media. I had heard some gripes that first two acts slug along, but it was those two acts that made me care. I get that everyone wants to get to the good shit, i.e. the theft of the plans, but understand that the third act only works because we came to care about this team. 

     I apologize for being so vague on the details that made the story so emotionally engrossing, but I can’t in good conscious ruin the loving craftsmanship that went into the production. Yes there’s a whole lot of fan service, but the core story is about Jyn and her crew. 

      Its been a few days since I saw the movie, and I can’t shake it. Not even The Force Awakens left me thinking about its stories and characters this much. I was so terrified that Rogue One was going to be an insulting cash grab; instead what we got was an engrossing, heartfelt tale that left me wiping away tears, and an inspirational feeling that I haven’t felt in years. 

     This, this movie is why I love Star Wars.