Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984 Delivers Throwback Fun

Wonder Woman 1984

The much delayed and anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 has finally been released in an unprecedented roll of the dice and experiment by Warner Bros. and its parent company AT&T. Released on HBO Max and in theaters, the film has pivoted a few times due to the current pandemic and shifting needs of consumers. Taking advantage of my big-screen television and surround sound, and not wanting to risk COVID, I took advantage of my HBO Max subscription to watch the film and in doing so, I felt transported back decades to the early years of comic film adaptations. That’s both a good and bad thing in the end. But, the end result is a film that’ll be polarizing and over years most likely dissected, analyzed, and opinion will shift for the positive.

Shifting the setting decades from the original, Wonder Woman is now in 1984 living her dual life. Longing for the return of her Steve Trevor, she’s been lonely and somewhat isolated. Enter the dreamstone, a MacGuffin that can make wishes come true. A failed businessman, Maxwell Lord, also wants the statue in hopes that he’ll be able to turn around his ventures and become a worldwide business dynamo. What results is a film that examines the 80s while also upending superhero movies in many ways.

Directed by the returning Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman 1984 features a story by Jenkins and Geoff Johns with a screenplay by Jenkins, Johns, and Dave Callaham. The story and direction have their bumps but overall the film feels like a throwback to earlier years of superhero films both in tone and look. This isn’t a film filled with cynicism and negativity. Instead, it’s a story about hope, love, and a positive future. It’s bright at times and wears its pacifist leanings on its armored sleeve.

The biggest break from other superhero films is the lack of a villain with a motivation to cause harm. Played by Pedro Pascal, Maxwell Lord is Donald Trump mixed with 1980s television hucksters. It’s established early Lord is a fraud attempting to make money through a pyramid scheme. He wants a successful business not to rule anything and we see that through his actions.

In the end, the issue presented is desires uncontrolled. Lord’s plan spirals out of control putting the world on the brink of nuclear war. In that way, we get a very different story from DC and Marvel films of the past. This isn’t a nefarious plan so much as a mistake. It’s a scam that gets out of control and results in unintended consequences.

Jenkins attempts to have fun with that spiraling out of control world as things amp up slowly and then the avalanche. Lord wants more and uses his newfound powers in an attempt to enrich himself and at the same time also create some stability… which only creates more instability. We’ve seen a similar plot in Bruce Almighty. While that film stayed isolated to Buffalo, this takes it to a global scale.

The team slowly builds Lords out of control failure from his empty office, to the Middle East, to the White House, and then beyond. It’s a ramping up of an out of control power and a man desperate to figure out what to do next. He easily could have just made himself the ruler of the world but he doesn’t. He wants to be “the” businessman.

Jenkins attempts to bring an 80s vision to the film’s 1980s setting. That results in a mixed result. The tone of the film has much more in common with Richard Donner‘s Superman than it does with anything post-2000, the “modern superhero film era”. Its colors, lighting, and overall attitude are one of positivity. It has a light tone never taking itself too seriously and playing loose with the logic of the story. We’re treated to a finale that breaks from the traditional punching that crescendoes most comic films. It puts an exclamation point that the film attempts to do something different.

But what the film really does is remove itself from the meta-cinematic universe we come to expect. Yes, the film has the return of Steve Trevor from the first story but it has little direct impact on other DC films nor does it set up or continue a meta story that involves 20 other films. It’s a two-issue story arc giving us breaks between drawn-out “events”. It’s supposed to be a breezy popcorn film focused on fun and it generally succeeds.

The film absolutely has issues with its story. Trevor’s return has a lingering of rape due to how it’s done. Kristen Wiig‘s Barbara Minerva/Cheetah is underused. Some of the film could have been tightened up in the details. The film is loose with some fat to it. Minor changes would have made a leaner and tighter film. Special effects at times are rough and some fight sequences feel a bit uninspired. But, every comic film released has had problems none are perfect and there are modern releases that are in a far rougher shape than this.

The actors all bring some interesting aspects to the film. Gal Gadot is supposed to be front and center and while she plays alone very well, she doesn’t quite have the draw power she had in the first film. That’s partially because everyone else is so over the top in their performances that her Diana/Wonder Woman comes off as too serious and dour at times.

Returning is Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Pine has the most fun of the actors continually being excited about the world he’s returned to. The joke happens over and over but Pine’s delivery never gets old and through him, the film gets to poke a lot of fun at the time period. Pine is our time capsule reminding us of the fashion, dances, and innovations of the decade.

Joining Gadot and Pine are Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord, the two “villains” of the film. I put that word in quotations because neither is truly evil.

Wiig plays the bookwormish Minerva who also works in the museum with Gadot’s Diana. In Diana she sees someone she inspires to be and her wish to do so brings unintended consequences. Wiig does a fantastic job of evolving from one thing to the other playing a convincing flower blooming. She does the stumbling nerd well and then the confident woman everyone wants to be around. There’s a lot of 80s John Hughes in the performance and it captures the decade well.

Pedro Pascal puts in an over the top performance tapping so much of what was wrong the decade. His scheming Lord is the insecure loser and con-artist we knew so many of the titans of the time were. Donald Trump, televangelists, late-night infomercials, Lord is all of these things in a bad wig. He’s the embodiment of everything wrong during that time period and does it with a delivery that emphasizes the slime. But, he also gives us a villain who isn’t so much one and as we learn someone the audience can relate to more than they want to admit.

Wonder Woman 1984 feels like the enjoyment will be directly inversed to how cynical one is. The more you are, the less you’ll like it. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself seriously and just roles with its ideas. The action sequences are enjoyable, performances a bit over the top, and a story that you just roll with. This is a popcorn film that wants you to not think and just go for the ride. It’s comic book escapism that takes its tone and look from comics delivering popcorn digital enjoyment.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Apple TV+’s Wolfwalkers Shows 2-D Animation at its Finest

Wolfwalkers

Animated films have received a ton of attention this year (since the production of many live-action films was postponed), with more on the way. Despite many big studio releases, I think it will be very hard to top Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers, another visually stunning work heavily inspired by Irish history and folklore. I say “another” because Tomm Moore and the studio Cartoon Saloon have been consistently crafting fantastic films in this vein for years. Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and now Wolfwalkers all pull from similar legends and historical art to create a trilogy of mesmerizing and joyous tales. All of the lessons learned from their previous works are on full display in this new release, as it deftly explores themes of otherness, transformation, and responsibility.

Wolfwalkers is set in Ireland during the Interregnum at the end of the Irish Confederate Wars, a period in English history where the monarch was overthrown and Oliver Cromwell made himself head of state and lord protector of the country. Cromwell then asserted control over Ireland, passing laws that discriminated against Irish Catholics and confiscating their land. This tension is baked into the story. As we are introduced to the main character Robyn and her father Goodfellowe, other children show disdain for Robyn because she’s English. Her father serves Cromwell in his crusade to tame the wild land (it’s not subtle, but it’s for kids, y’know?). Robyn’s desire to follow in her father’s footsteps lead her to meet Mebh, a girl who can turn into a wolf when she falls asleep. Robyn’s relationships with her father and with Mebh soon come into conflict after Cromwell orders all wolves in the forest killed.

In contrast to many of the Pixar-esque, 3-D animated films of this century, Wolfwalkers shows that 2-D animation is stronger than ever. The near death of 2-D animation in popular studios has led to innovation that few 3-D animated features have achieved. Even with several big 3-D movies being released this year, Wolfwalkers sets itself apart with its attention to visual storytelling.

Wolfwalkers

The film pulls heavily from Celtic art and imagery, while also using that imagery to contribute to the film’s story. The difference between settings is shown by the drastic visual contrast, as Robyn’s village is rendered in rigid, straight lines, while the surrounding forest is made up of semicircles and curves. As the villagers cut down the forest, we literally see the fields become drawn more like the town, with angular tree stumps covering the frame. This attention to detail is also present in the designs of the wolves, as the sketches their final animations were based on can be seen in many scenes. All these touches serve to emphasize Wolfwalkers’ themes, as the forest and the wolves feel unfettered and free while the inflexible angular lines of the town feel like a trap for the characters. Symbols of chains and prison bars are used in the village to highlight Robyn’s desires, while they reinforce her father’s worries.

All this artistry serves a well-told, if predictable story. This conflict has been seen in other children’s films (even other ones with wolves in them), but a smart script and a few twists and turns give the film enticing energy. I would rewatch this for the animation alone, but it’s so fun I ended up watching it twice before finishing this review! Wolfwalkers is an excellent addition to Tomm Moore’s unofficial Irish trilogy with stunning animation elevating its story to one of the best told of the year.

Review copy provided by Apple TV+

Movie Review: The Dark and the Wicked will settle for nothing less than your soul

There’s no other horror movie out there, this year, as sinister as The Dark and The Wicked. It’s relentless and cruel and impossible to stop watching. Director/screenwriter Bryan Bertino has put together a legitimate gauntlet of horrors in an almost micro-setting, focusing on a sister and brother duo that return to their farm home to take care of their haunted and lonely parents. Whatever’s oppressing this family takes no prisoners and is dead-set on indulging in as much evil as it can. It’s some of the scariest stuff to ever have been put on celluloid.

The Dark and The Wicked
The Dark and The Wicked

Bertino has chosen to put loneliness under the proverbial microscope with his movie. It’s mostly about the demons that such a circumstance invites and how family can be the antidote and the poison that enables it all. The small family at the core of the story have all become distant from one another. The siblings went their separate ways at one point in time and looks as if they didn’t keep in touch as they probably should’ve. Their only true connection is a bed-ridden father and an emotionally disturbed mother.

What’s impressive about this setup and how each character develops around is that none of the family’s prior history is flat out explained or dumped on the viewer through exposition. The way the siblings react to each other and speak tells you enough about the distance between them.

Keeping the story so focused on just a few characters really helps drive the point home. The farm where most everything takes place seems remote, almost devoid of motion even. Night scenes are drenched in deep shadows and the knowledge of remoteness heightens the tension. It always feels as if of some impending horror is primed and ready for torture at any given time.

Cinematographer Tristan Nyby deserves a lot of praise for this as the movie’s dread factor comes straight out of carefully selected shots that play with negative spaces and different tones of darkness. This is amplified by the film’s sound design, which refreshingly opts to interrupt silence with demonic growls and hellish sounds that few horror stories opt to indulge in.

The Dark and The Wicked
The Dark and The Wicked

Of course, this all rests on the shoulders of a tight script that wants to play up the devilry, without leaving doubt as to the source of the evil that’s invaded the family. There’s very little time spent with traditional horror tropes such as the one where the people involved spend a good portion of the movie trying to decide if the haunting is real or not. The siblings come to this conclusion fairly quick and know they have to do whatever they can to get everyone far away from their family home and its devil. Their disagreements and unresolved issues, though, is what holds them back.

Actors Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. are exceptional in their roles as the siblings. They project the burden of family and responsibility in their body language alone and excel in presenting their characters as people that do not know how to navigate the problems they face. Their reactions to the horrors is convincing to the point one can easily relate and see themselves in their position. They transform into people that are just like us. Not special. Just ordinary with a liberally portioned side of hell.

In a way, it does remind somewhat of movies like Hereditary and The Exorcist. The evil is real, which allows the narrative to go deeper into the terror. As a result, we get a story that’s heavy and overwhelmingly oppressive at certain points. The punishment the main characters are subjected to is relentless, but it really opens up the playing field for some very intense and very scary sequences. I won’t spoil those here but get ready for horrifying stuff.

The Dark and The Wicked is also well-paced. Though it hits hard and insistently, the movie never feels lethargic and it makes good use of its hour and a half runtime with something new happening in every scene. There are no repeated instances of self-slamming doors or flickering lights. The entity likes to go straight to the hard stuff.

Bryan Bertino should have everyone itching for a hint of his next movie, whatever that may be. The direction, the writing, the performances, and the tech artistry on display is impeccable. His movie is one that continues to haunt in the days following the first watch. It’s a story that has to be endured, but the reward is an experience unlike no other.

Movie Review: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a giant middle finger to the right and an exploration of the spiral into insanity the United States has fallen into since the previous movie. Continuing the same gonzo style filming, the movie puts Borat on a mission to deliver a gift to Donald Trump so that the leader of Kazakhstan can become his friend. That gift? Borat’s daughter. Yes, Borat has a partner in crime, his daughter Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev.

Borat is the creation of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who has perfected the use of characters to skewer his topics. This film is no exception. With the first film being such a success, the character has been ruined in a way. Cohen comes up with the brilliant alternative of having Borat play other characters as he makes his way around on his mission. Of course, things don’t go right and each character allows him to explore and create commentary about each of his targets. They range from QAnon conspiracists to the Christian Right, to Mike Pence and Rudy Guiliani. The film has a target and it’s the regressive, racist, and backward aspects of America.

The inclusion of the daughter adds new few layers to Cohen and Borat’s usual schtick. Played by “Irina Novak,” (really Maria Bakalova) Tutar, aka Sarah Jessica Parker, gives as good as she gets in the film. She also forces Borat to be more than a one-note character while also exploring and skewering aspects of society that he wouldn’t be able to touch. Abortion, misogyny, masturbation, and more are explored through the character. She also creates a new layer of jokes that are amazing.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an amazing exploration of America. Of course, what Borat and Sarah Jessica Parker say is shocking but it’s the lack of response and shock from those around them that’s the point. They expose the underbelly of rot that exists throughout the nation. Racism, antisemitism, misogyny, are in their crosshairs. Through their, and especially Sarah Jessica Parker’s journey, they expose the lies not of Kazakhstan but of America. They spotlight the ugly underneath and the acceptance of it by so many in so many different positions.

Through the offensiveness, there’s a lot of heart. We see the character grow as he interacts with his daughter and the film spotlights reason and sanity. A segment in a Jewish Temple and another with an African American women deliver the voices of reason. Though there’s many jokes made out of each segment, they give a break from the hate and ignorance spewed by so many others. Their focus in this film is clearly the white right, especially the privileged.

What’s more interesting in the film is that many more of the moments feel like pre-planned segments. There’s either complete random luck in the subjects, a lot of throwing darts to see what works, or it’s pre-planned sketches. No matter the method, the results are amazing and create a narrative that’s perfectly timed for the election. There’s also something that makes you appreciate what is pulled off, even more, when you attempt to figure out the logistics of it all. There are also such amazing lapses in security… it’s just baffling.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is the movie we need for the November election. Not only does it skewer the right, but it also shows the left’s heart. It weaves together topics like COVID and politics with a clear goal and points to make. It does so with humor and a no-fear attitude. It’s gonzo journalism wrapped up as sketch comedy. It’s not the same schtick as the original, it pulls off its brilliance and takes it to another level by adding in more of a plot and story.

There’s no way that Borat can go on as a character after these two films. He’s too well known. The film almost feels like it wanted to take everything so many found offensive about the character and show that he’s what America has let fully loose. The conspiracies, the misogyny, the antisemitism. And then take Borat and show he can grow. That you don’t need to be that way. There’s such a subversive flip in the film compared to the first. The original film had Borat highlighting horrid beliefs and actions while this film has that but growth and uncomfortableness on full display in its two main characters. The United States and its citizens are who we should be offended by is the point of the film.

It’s the rare sequel that might surpass the original. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm takes its weaknesses, a known schtick, and makes it its strength. It also shows that Cohen can make his characters more than simple jokes and he, and they, have so much room for growth and hopefully so much more to say.

Overall Rating: 9.0


Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will be released through Amazon Studios on Amazon Prime on October 23.

Movie Review: Push Attempts to Lift the Veil on Housing Issues

Push Movie Poster

As wages are stagnating, the price of urban life continues to rise across the globe. Director Fredrik Gertten’s new documentary PUSH follows UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she meets with people from around the world who are struggling to afford housing.

PUSH presents interviews with disaffected tenants, city mayors, and experts in international economics, connecting the several stories to the main issue. The film does not focus on one city, but on many. We follow Farha everywhere from Harlem to Seoul. The wide variety of perspectives very effectively put us in the shoes of Farha as she tries to come to a greater understanding of why housing inequality is such a big issue in many cities today.

Since the film spends so much time with Farha, it’s a good thing that she is a very compelling subject. Her passion for the cause endears us to her and to everyone she fights for. We also see the frustrations she faces within the UN and with large companies profiting from the current system. From UN delegates ignoring her to Presidents of Real Estate companies refusing to meet with her, the struggles Farha faces help us to empathise with her and believe in her cause.

One way Gertten connects the viewer with the topic is through the cinematography. It excellently captures the details of each city Farha visits. As we see the forces that are profiting off of displacing communities, Gertten also takes time to show small moments of joy that make those communities so powerful. We see a neighbor waving goodbye to children on their way to school, two men having a cup of coffee together, and a family relaxing on their couch. Though there are some points where the film drags, the editing and pacing keep us engaged throughout while the cinematography connects us with the circumstances each subject is facing.

A larger issue with PUSH is that it does not have much focus on history. Housing inequality such as redlining and segregation in the United States and other nations is touched on, but not discussed in much detail. The majority of people Farha meets with over the course of the film are white, and little time is devoted to discussing these points with POC. Though the documentarians might have felt unqualified to discuss such topics, I believe it could have strengthened their message to point out how the housing market has always been unequal.

Considering how world events are affecting many people’s ability to pay their rent, this film has become even more pertinent to our current situation. Though the message could have been stronger if it delved more into the history of housing and included more diverse voices, I would still recommend PUSH. It makes a strong case that the housing crisis should be taken seriously.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is a Joyous Finale

Bill and Ted Face the Music

When Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson first pitched their script for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1987, they had difficulty finding a studio that would take a chance on such a silly, over-the-top idea. With 31 years of hindsight, those studios might have jumped at the opportunity. Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter) and “Ted” Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) quickly became icons and have only grown in popularity due to nostalgia for the 80’s and 90’s. After living through the meat grinder of America in 2020, Bill and Ted’s positive attitude about any situation they find themselves in is refreshing. Whether they are trying to pass high school history, stopping evil robots, or saving reality, no obstacle can keep them down. The franchise has produced two T.V. shows, comics, video games, a musical, and everyone’s favorite… Bill and Ted’s Most Atypical Movie Cards and now Bill and Ted Face the Music. Bill and Ted is a franchise, dudes.

How many of us have quoted these movies with our bros? How many have triumphantly played air guitar in tribute to them? How many have been waiting expectantly for the finale to be released? I was so eager to see how the saga came to a close ever since the movie started production. After all this anticipation, I am happy to report that Bill and Ted Face the Music is a most bodacious sequel that lives up to the legacy of its excellent prequels.

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter have effortless chemistry as Ted and Bill (it feels kind of weird writing it like that…) whenever they are on-screen, but also bring a gruff edge to their performance when they play progressively more jaded versions of themselves. The script gives both of them some hilarious lines as they misunderstand their wives, themselves, and their mission. Both bring so much physical comedy to their scenes while never feeling too jarring. They also model a relationship that is not often seen in film, a supportive, loving friendship between men. Their work together is joyous to watch and cements them in my mind as one of the great cinematic duos. 

One issue the film faces head on is how to retcon the ending of the previous movie, where Bill and Ted seemingly wrote the song to save humanity. Rather than ignoring that, the opening scenes focus on how far Bill and Ted have gone to embrace their destiny. As Bill and Ted fumble around with bizarre instruments and begin throat singing at a wedding reception, we are shown all the years of dead ends they’ve faced and what brought them to this moment rather than it being limited to exposition. 

Of course, Bill and Ted have also been raising their two daughters to be versions of themselves from their prime. Once they begin their mission to make the best band of all time, their true strengths are revealed. Their years of listening to music and creating their own inspire a passion in every historical figure they meet, even Death himself! Samara Weaving and Bridgette Lundy-Paine are clearly having a great time with their roles and I was too as I watched them go further into the past while their fathers traveled to the future.

The two main stories complement each other as refined and trimmed down versions of the previous films in the series. While Billie and Thea’s adventure recalls the quest to find historical figures in the first movie, Bill and Ted’s journey more closely resembles the second film where they faced evil versions of themselves. The writers enjoyed building on the legacy they created while not relying on nostalgic references like other big franchise movies. These cinematic parallels also emphasize the theme of passing the torch, as Bill and Ted realize their destiny was fulfilled by their daughters, the true main characters. These two plotlines converge as all of time begins to converge as well, with a final scene of truly epic proportions.

While many smaller roles get terrific comedic bits to chew on (the marriage counselor fleeing her office, Louis Armstrong being transfixed by a smartphone), some feel under-utilized or mishandled. Dennis, the Bill and Ted Universe’s Terminator, started to grate on my nerves in the final act. His addition felt unnecessary in a group filled with great comedic roles and few straight men. Kid Cudi, while hilarious in parts, only seemed to have one joke and the reveal that he knew about Station, the extremely smart aliens from the second film, was confusing in a way none of the other references were. My issues with Dennis and Kid Cudi are relatively minor compared to one missed opportunity I noticed. During the first act of the movie, I was excited to see the story of the princesses after their bizarre double date/couples therapy appointment, but instead they are mostly ignored. The intriguing setup left me a bit disappointed. Their family members all have strong character arcs while they are mostly absent. 

Overall, the stories of Bill and Ted, and Billie and Thea were so strong that my minor issues with the film didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Bill and Ted Face the Music is a joyous finale to one of my favorite comedy series of all time and one I hope to revisit soon.

Score: 8.5

Movie Review: Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t

Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won't

Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t celebrates McFarlane’s history breaking run on Spawn and is a look at his career. The documentary intersperses footage from conventions, testimonials, and McFarlane himself. He recounts his time in comics with a recurring theme of “drive”. The documentary is an interesting one that mostly props McFarlane up with little criticism. In that way, it feels a bit glossed over in history and is an incomplete picture of his actual career in comics, film, television, and toys. But, the documentary goes through some interesting history doing a fine job of catching up those that might not know it.

From McFarlane’s beginning to modern times, the documentary covers a career that’s been focused and full of drive. From his early comic career to his start at Marvel, we get to see how his early years was one of luck that opened opportunity. We get some strife as he admits that his time at Marvel was one of being pushed back on with his style but he also praises some people he was able to work with there and the opportunities he received. It’s a look at working within a corporate structure as an artist.

But, where things get interesting is when the documentary shifts away from Marvel. While the formation of Image goes quickly, the documentary focuses on the collapse of the comic industry and how McFarlane weathered the storm. We get to see the pillars by which he built his empire and his shift from comics to film, television, video games, and most importantly toys. Though that too is painted as nothing but success with little failure or issues.

Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t isn’t all roses. A few minutes of it towards the end are dedicated to lawsuits and bankruptcy though all of them are just touched upon with little detail. McFarlane attempts to wash over the time as if success begets lawsuits, and there’s nothing more than others seeing opportunity. It comes off as if he did nothing wrong and everyone else was the issue. The documentary though highlights the losses. The rocky history of Image isn’t mentioned and his Chapter 11 filing is briefly mentioned. Though there’s been success there were failures too that aren’t explored enough. And that makes sense based on Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t’s focus. The documentary is meant as a puff celebration of Spawn #300, not as a hard-hitting history.

The documentary is about McFarlane’s belief. It’s about the belief in himself and his vision of how things should go. And it’s clearly worked for him. Spawn is still going, well past issue #300, setting a record each month witch each new release. McFarlane Toys continues to inovate and maybe we’ll eventually see Spawn on film again some day. McFarlane has had a successful career and Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t is focused on that. It dances around his impact. It dances around the industry has changed yet he remains. There’s so much more that could have been explored and expanded upon to make this documentary interesting. But, the final product feels a bit like a late night informercial, an advertisement wrapped up as something else.

If you don’t know anything about Todd McFarlane, a super fan, or a fan of Spawn, then Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t might be interesting. It’s surface deep in details dancing around the depth and never exploring statements or giving any examples of impact. For those looking at an exploration of comic history, even McFarlane’s career, there’s so many other documentaries and books to spend your time with.

Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t debuts on SyFY on July 25 at 11pm ET.

Overall Rating: 6.0

Movie Review: The Old Guard

The Old Guard

The Old Guard‘s concept is pretty simple. A group of immortals walks the Earth as a pack of mercenaries and an evil corporation wants to find out what makes them tick and develop a new drug from their gift. A new immortal is discovered and dragged into their shadowy world. Based on the comic series by Greg RuckaLeandro FernándezDaniela Miwa, and Jodi Wynne, and published by Image Comics. The film stars Charlize TheronKiKi Layne, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and is written by Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythwood.

There’s a lot of fantastic elements to The Old Guard. Most of those concepts get a little bit of depth but all feel like there could be so much more done with all of the elements. But, even with that, the film is beyond enjoyable with some fantastic action sequences (not enough of them really) and some solid character connections.

Lets go through bits of the film to discuss what does and doesn’t work:


The relationships – This is one of the best aspects of the film. The team is hundreds of years old and that’s a key aspect of so many members of the team. They have either formed bonds with each other or long for the loss of their friends and family of the past. Two team members are in a rather mature/different type of relationship having bonded over centuries. Team members have died (yes immortals can die) and then there’s the loss of family. It’s all on the table and the actors deliver the pain and love you’d expect in each situation.

The goal of the “evil” corporation – The evil corporation wants to use whatever genetic gift that keeps these individuals alive for medical purposes. Though they go about it in an evil way, and probably would do evil corporate things, the overall goal isn’t too out there. There’s something to debate about possibly being able to save the world but not doing so. There’s also moral debates about testing on these individuals since they can survive the testing in theory.

Choices weigh down on characters – The body count rises throughout the film and the idea of the blood on the hands of the immortals is a feature. There’s the concept of fighting their way through life. There’s the idea of living with family for as long as they can before their immortality is realized. It’s an interesting balance and discussion of choice of actions. The concept of killing one is difficult enough but also think about that body count rising over decades? Try to figure out what you’d do knowing you’ll see your friends and family die? Do you spend it with them? Or, do you run?

The theme of the film – The film ends in an interesting way. It’s not a spoiler to say the film is about leaving a footprint. Early in the film, there are moments that touch upon these individuals attempting to stay anonymous but the bigger question thing isn’t their anonymity but instead their impact for the better. That plays deeply into why the evil corporation wants them


There’s absolutely issues to the film. It foreshadows things a bit too much. You can predict what’s coming down the road with a bit too much easy. It doesn’t diminish the story at all and there’s reasons the foreshadowing happens, to explain the world and rules, but still, it feels a bit forced and a bit too obvious.

The Old Guard is an entertaining film that doesn’t use its twist in too many ways to make the concept not seem interesting. It also adds just enough reasons as to why it doesn’t. It’s the rare action film that has some moral questions underneath and themes to it that makes it a bit more than the fantastic action sequences. It would absolutely work better as an extended television series but from everything teased it looks like we’ll be getting more of the film series down the road. Here’s hoping as it’s an enjoyable two hours to kick back and relax to.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods is an essential part of Vietnam War cinema

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is a new Vietnam War movie classic, worthy of a spot among Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon. These movies all stand on their own and are inherently different because Vietnam itself was so unlike conventional warfare. It quite simply resists a particular storytelling mold due to it being a very singular kind of conflict, a different species of war. For Lee’s movie to make it into that list it needed to honor that same level of uniqueness present in those other films. I can gladly say it overwhelmingly achieves this.

Da 5 Bloods follows a group of four black Vietnam War veterans that go back to Vietnam to look for a box full of gold they buried during a mission with the intention of retrieving it later on. The group is led by Stormin’ Norman, played by an intensely magnetic Chadwick Boseman, a leader/teacher figure that basically acts as the Bloods’ own war version of Malcom X and Martin Luther King.

The film alternates between flashbacks and the present time (where it spends the majority of its time), with no de-aging tech used for the four main guys during flashbacks. Boseman’s character is the only one that looks young in the flashbacks because he’s the only one who didn’t make it out of the war.

It was so refreshing not being distracted by any de-aging techniques, which made The Irishman such a frustrating watch for me. I couldn’t go five minutes at a time without asking myself why a another actor wasn’t cast in the role of the younger Robert DeNiro.

In fact, the decision not to make the four main characters younger digitally also plays into some of the film’s strongest themes: combat memory and PTSD. That the same actors played both past and present versions of their characters gave the flashbacks a tragic sense of remembrance that communicated the very rough reality of how combat vets never truly leave the war behind. It’s a constant thing that makes vets think their wars never really end (another theme explored in the movie).

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

As stated earlier, the story stays the great majority of its time in the present. Their final mission in Vietnam–the retrieval of the buried gold–brings with it discussions on reparations and why black soldiers specifically deserve what’s rightfully theirs due to fighting for an America that didn’t respect them nor acknowledged their sacrifices back on the homefront.

This theme stuck with the movie throughout, making sure it was a part of every discussion that took place between the four vets. Spike Lee makes the point come across even clearer with his signature cuts to archival footage of black protests and black leaders like MLK and Malcom X adding their two-cents on any given discussion, even if it’s in presence alone. It evokes a kind of continuity for the black soldiers, seeing in Vietnam a contradiction of the very idea of military service. Why fight when black lives are being disregarded back home? Why not find this gold and give it back to the people? These questions lie at the heart of the film.

Black Lives Matter discourses are also echoed throughout the film thanks to its aggressive focus on how black military service means an entirely different thing altogether when compared with white military service. This sets this particular Vietnam War movie apart from the others, making it so different and unique in its own right. Apocalypse Now, for instance, explores war as madness. Platoon goes for misguided leadership, the absence of order, and a complete lack of accountability in war. Full Metal Jacket approaches the war as a morally corrupt and senseless act of mass violence that’s too far gone for it to be redeemed. Da 5 Bloods is about how something as historically charged as race in America completely changes what soldiers fight for. How society treats these soldiers at home will determine how their war is fought on the battlefield.

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

In other words, America brings a multitude of Americas to war, each meaning something different depending on who you ask and what color their skin is.

Delroy Lindo’s character, Paul, best exemplifies all of these metaphors. Paul is the character that most visibly carries the trauma of war on his persona. He’s unstable, angry, and resistant to help from the other vets. He’s a challenging character to engage with, but the movie’s genius is often seen through him as we go from being frustrated with Paul to understanding why it’s been so hard for him to leave the war behind.

Lindo puts on a performance for the ages. He grabs the audience and pulls them in close to him whether they want to or not, but it’s all for a cause. Spike Lee entrusts him with his signature monologue sequences, in which an actor stares straight to the camera to address a problem head-on and without restraint. Lindo steps up to the challenge and gives a monologue that we should be discussing for years to come as it ruminates on what happens when a country asks its most oppressed communities to go to war in its name. The monologue ties in well with the opening scenes of the movie in which we see archival footage of Muhammad Ali explaining why he refused to serve in the Vietnam War is shown.

Actors Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, and Clarke Peters all do a fantastic job stepping into the shoes of the other three vets. They represent a cohesive unit that also struggles with leaving the war behind while also representing what Vietnam meant to them through their own character arcs. Clarke Peters in particular always keeps up with Lindo’s intensity, playing the part of the moral compass without falling to the trappings of passing judgment on any of his friends. Jonathan Majors as Paul’s son also becomes a mayor player as his fractured relationship with his father manifests and changes as the movie progresses. To a point, he represents inherited trauma and how the war extends beyond the combat veteran’s experience to become a generational problem.

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

Da 5 Bloods is a powerhouse of emotion, politics, and black history that easily fits in with the Black Lives Matter movement currently voicing their anger on the streets today, but it never takes for granted that it’s first and foremost a Vietnam War movie. It’s important it doesn’t run away from that as the black experience in war has seldom been explored with the seriousness it deserves.

Vietnam War cinema in America has largely been dominated by white experiences of it. Spike Lee’s Vietnam War movie is invaluable because it sheds light on why it’s important everyone knows that not every soldier fights for their country for the same reasons. The color of a soldier’s skin dictates which version of America they’re fighting for, and they all differ on their definition of freedom.

Shudder’s CURSED FILMS is a surprisingly noble look at notorious horror cinema

Cursed Films
Shudder

The idea of a cursed film evokes images of satanic creatures standing behind the camera, corrupting what’s captured on celluloid. It’s a kind of subgenre in its own right, a kind of supernatural conspiracy theory hub for fans that do not believe in coincidence when it comes to set fires, mysterious crew deaths, and filming disasters. Shudder’s new Cursed Films docuseries traverses this particular horror terrain, and it does it well, but thankfully not in ways I was expecting.

Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series focusing on five films widely considered to be cursed by horror fans, collectors, and even casual moviegoers, especially those that love to dig into the mythos behind productions marked by tragedy and controversy.

The cursed movies explored in the docuseries are The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Omen, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and The Crow. As of the time of this writing, only the first three films have been explored in the series.

Those expecting a gratuitous indulgence in the dark stories surrounding these films, and validation of popular beliefs, will not leave entirely satisfied. I say this as a good thing. Cursed Films is, surprisingly (to me, at least), a very serious deconstruction of horror myths, where fact and fiction are separated and then dissected to get at the root of why people like to think cursed movies exist.

The first episode dives straight into perhaps the most controversial movie of the bunch, The Exorcist. My personal favorite horror movie (traditionalist that I am, I guess), William Friedkin’s movie about a girl possessed by a demon has been mired in darkness since day one. People worried that the actual making of the film resulted in the legitimate summoning of Lucifer and his army of possession-hungry demons. Injuries sustained by actors during production and even unexplained set burnings seems to confirm all of this to eager followers of the happenings of The Exorcist’s initial release.

People lined up in droves to see The Exorcist.

To tell you the truth, just writing the name of this movie down gives me chills, irrational though that may be. It’s the only movie that gets scarier with each viewing for me, and yet Cursed Films took me down a different path with it. It dedicated most of its runtime to explaining why people so aggressively associate the devil with the movie and why horror inspires audiences to pursue such dark trains of thought.

The show features psychologists, religious scholars, key production and cast members, and writers all mostly aligned within the idea that the only thing that can curse a movie is its audience. Psychological terms are conjured up to explain why fans gravitate towards curses to explain the mysteries of their favorite movies, all of which have perfectly plausible explanations (for the most part).

The Exorcist episode, for instance, debunks a lot of its myths by looking at the PR campaigns of a desperate movie studio hellbent on turning a profit while also looking at how some of the accidents in the workspace actually happened. It even includes talks on the impact of the work culture the movie’s director created during filming, which is well documented.

Perhaps the most potent and surgically precise look at a cursed film can be seen in the Poltergeist episode. Two deaths and rumors about the macabre nature of certain props have been circulated enough for some people to confirm the tragedies that accompany the franchise are the results of a curse, possibly originating from beyond the grave.

Scene from the movie Poltergeist.

What Cursed Films does with this movie is nothing short of masterful, going from legend to legend in an attempt to dispel the “curse,” which for the series means proving no such thing exists. It looks at the psychological and supernatural value people put into objects and locations seen in popular films and how it translates into a whole tradition of people visiting fictional haunted places as if they’re actually haunted.

I’ve participated in this, although not under the impression the place I visited was really haunted. I once had the chance to drive close to where the Amityville house from the infamous 1979 Amityville Horror movie was located. The fact the movie was loosely based on “true events”—that have since then been disproved—made the opportunity all the more enticing, so I took it. I saw the house. People live there. I saw no ghosts walking around, not a single swarm of flies hovering over its windows, and no blood dripping from its walls. In fact, I saw other houses that looked almost the same neighboring it. So much for a place housing one of the gates of Hell.

I thought about this short trip to Amityville a lot while watching Cursed Films. The show’s deconstruction of what could be termed as magical-horror thinking made me rethink the entire experience. It’s interesting because even though I knew the house wasn’t haunted, I did feel unsettled. The power of the movie, and the story it’s based on, had definitely charged the place with a supernatural sensation that was hard to shake off. In the end though, it was just a house. For the few minutes I was there, the only thing haunting it was a curious horror fan holding up traffic to take in one of horror cinema’s most iconic locations. Watching Cursed Films, one can feel a lot like this, especially if you’re prone to give into urban legends.

Cursed Films aims at reminding people horror fiction is just that, fiction. And it needs that emphasis on fiction. In fact, the docuseries suggests these myths and legends do a disservice to the people behind the scares, the ones who work for a living to get a scream out of people in the movie theaters. It’s a meditation on the power of belief when it comes to the representation of evil in film. It wants us to consider that movies themselves don’t have to be haunted to become superior works of horror fiction. They can achieve that pretty well on their own, without the necessity of being cursed.

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