Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil poster

Maleficent in 2014 made a killing at the box office. It was a critical success, and (along with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) set off Disney’s current craze of remaking all of their IP as live action blockbusters. So the sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was a sure bet, right? Yes and no.

Angelina Jolie returns as the eponymous and misunderstood queen of the fey. Elle Fanning is back as her adopted daughter, the Princess Aurora. Prince Phillip has proposed to her, so now it’s time to meet the parents! Michelle Pfieffer sinks her teeth into the juicy role of Queen Ingrith, who bears a giant grudge against the magical moor lands and all magic users. This great feud breaks out between her and Maleficent. It’s like if Joan Crawford and Bette Davis’s squabbles were also all a pretense for war. There are certain elements in this film that seem to condemn the military-industrial complex. . . or at least its equivalent in a pre-industrial medieval setting.

Maleficent also discovers her heritage as she discovers a near-extinct species of dark fey that once lived all throughout the land but who have hunted by humans and driven into hiding. Their tribes are divided between wanting to pursue war or peace with the humans, with the peace faction being led by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the war faction led by Borra (Ed Skrein).

The giant action sequences and production design of this film are phenomenal. The only problem is that it’s the personal interactions between Pfieffer and Jolie that are the best parts here. The giant action scenes where they are literally fighting one another are altogether less interesting.

While visually stunning, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is missing some of its edge. I loved the first Maleficent. It’s an amazing film that dared to turn the essence of a classic Disney tale on its head. It features a strong feminist message about not pitting women against each other. This sequel feels like nothing but pitting powerful women against each other.

Still, the aesthetics of the film are amazing. Maleficent’s costumes and makeup/CG-enhancements make her absolutely stunning to look at. Maybe it’s the wings, maybe it’s those cheekbones, maybe it’s the CG-coloring that makes the green magic swirl in her eyes, but it’s gorgeous.

While maybe not as good as the first, like most modern sequels this film does it bigger and brashier. That’s not necessarily a good thing. If you’re a fan it’s a good enough reason to go ahead and make sure you see this on the big screen.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Joker

Joker

Send in the clowns…

So honestly I did not know what to expect when I purchased my Joker ticket. I had heard that it was great and earth-shattering. I had also heard it was pretty terrible. So you see why I had to go see it for myself, right?

The first thing that made me nervous was pulling up to the theater and seeing parked police cars. And when you think of why they had to be there, it made the whole experience even more surreal. My safety, as well as other moviegoers, were at risk. Because not everyone going to this movie would be sound of mind. And when you think about the public shootings…well… you can appreciate my growing concern.

Did I find this movie to be amazing? A masterpiece? No. Joaquin Phoenix did an AMAZING job in portraying arguably the most iconic comic book villain ever. Soooo creepy with those glassy, intense eyes set underneath those dark eyebrows, and he was so painfully skinny. His ribcage was a sight. He clearly lost weight for the role and it showed! Now, there were times when you sympathized with him. Clearly suffering from mental illness, and bullied by an unforgiving world, would certainly mess you up. That is not in question. It is what he does later on that doesn’t quite have you cheering him on. Deep down, you were glad he, I dunno, found himself?

I can’t and won’t pretend to know what if feels like to have one’s mind brimming and seething like a cauldron of negative thoughts. I can’t. And won’t allow myself to sink that low when it would be so easy to reach the bottom as Joker did. He had a mind of eels, a basket of drowned kittens. And all of what I said would have made him laugh. And can we talk about his laugh? Maybe we shouldn’t. I would hate to have nightmares….

He disturbed me. I would flinch and gasp with each outburst, as they increasingly grew more and more violent. The children’s hospital scene made me gasp then laugh then I had to cover my mouth. I wanted to hug him, but then he would have slit my throat… so no. He NEEDED to be institutionalized.

I felt uneasy whenever he had to interact with people but especially the black women in this movie. Example such as his social worker and the effervescent Sophie Dumond played by Zazie Beetz. I didn’t want the love story to blossom. I didn’t want her to even look at him and catch his crazy eye. But every good story needs conflict, right? Especially when you already know the horrible ending… I just wasn’t here for this poor unfortunate black women dealing with the white tears of a clown.

There’s a scene, in particular, that gave me chills. The Joker is standing on the curb and a car drives by with a man wearing a clown mask. They make eye contact. And Joker widens his eyes with the most disturbing smile on his face. I don’t know if I can look at Phoenix in the same way again.

Seeing Robert DeNiro was a treat. I loved him as the late night talk show host role as Murray Franklin. There’s something about the outro song that reminded me of SNL. It’s very jazzy and bluesy. And one of my other personal faves, Frances Conroy as Joker’s mom Penny, was a treat. She has such range as an actress. I’ve seen her as mortician’s widow, the angel of death, and now as the mother of the most insane criminal in the literary world. 

Anyway, I am not going to make this into a thinkpiece. As always, I wanted to share how I felt when seeing this. It was visceral, intense, and a proper origin story to one of my favorite characters. To borrow a phrase from a song:

“Everybody loves a winner so nobody loved me”

I can’t help but feel that is applicable to the sad, twisted, loveless tale of the Joker. He said life was a comedy. But most comedies are tragic. He needed help and no one cared enough to do so. He snapped while still smiling so hard his muscles ached and strained until his eyes watered. Still he smiled. This is not the tale of an underdog. This a tale of a man who laughed last.

Movie Review: Joker

Joker poster

Joker is a schizophrenic film. I’m loathe to use that term because it’s both a bit too on the nose (because of mental health issues explored in the film) and the term schizophrenia is largely misunderstood. However, it’s the best description (literally “split head”) of what is a gripping and gritty but at the same time somehow both banal, disturbing and irresponsible film.

In that way it is very much like its protagonist and the comics character he is based on. But the film also tries to draw from such a deep well of other films (better films) that it’s really hard to fully recommend to people when they’re probably better off just going back to the original source material.

Let’s start with the good. Joker is trying to present a complex character of someone who has been largely marginalized by society and essentially indicts the system that led to his emergence as a supervillain. I get that, and I really respect it, but I also wish it had just been done better. It’s also hard to feel bad for someone who is at their core a sociopath as we see someone falling down into that rabbit hole through escalating acts of violence. Some of them are warranted but most of them not.

Joaquin Phoenix does a great job here in presenting the multiple different layers of this character. The physicality alone he brings here is astounding and part of what makes this film so visceral and so (intentionally) unpleasant. The film also makes him a great classic unreliable narrator, so you’re left wondering how much of the film is real and how much might be delusional. However, you have to ask yourself, how much sympathy do we really need to give to a psychopath? This film doesn’t offer any good conclusions to that question.

To the extent this film inspires conversations about mental health care and the systemic ways in which we fail people on the margins of society, that is a good thing. To the extent that it inspires us to discuss growing income inequality and the marginalization of the poor and the true class warfare — the 1% beating down the disadvantaged — then those are good conversations.

The problem is that the film will also inspire other conversations that will be far less nuanced and will take all of the wrong messages from this film. These messages will inspire violence, creating more heat than light. That is ultimately this film’s downfall is that it has no sense of responsibility for what it is unleashing into the culture.

WARNING: The following contains very minor SPOILERS. They are not major plot points but includes a single line of dialogue, a discussion of songs used in the film, and how Joker draws from other films. If you’re familiar with those films, knowing their plots may be considered “spoilers” for how this film lays out its plot. However, I maintain none of these will actually spoil your enjoyment of the film. If anything, hopefully, it inspires some critical conversations. BUT if you don’t want to know these, skip to the final 2 paragraphs. Ok, minor “spoilers”:

In this same way, Joker as a character tries to absolve himself of all responsibility for the effects his actions have on society, eg, that he has inspired others to engage in violence. He doesn’t see himself as the leader of any sort of movement, even going so far as to say “I’m not political.” That statement is the Rosetta Stone for understanding why this film is flawed. In its heart of hearts, it probably believes this.

Furthermore, this is likely writer and director Todd Phillips giving himself an out and abrogating any personal responsibility for how others might interpret his film– in essence re-enacting the final act of the film where Joker goes on tv and uses the power of the media to spread his gospel of violence and nihilism.

Joker doesn’t care whether he’s inspiring people in the streets or not. He’s not a savior or a leader. But angry, disaffected people will listen to his message and go out and commit atrocities.

So, no, you don’t get to just say, “This isn’t political.” That is the mantra of privilege because you know that the effects of what you are putting out there into the culture is never going to personally affect you.

This film is political in the same way all the best art is political. Its best pieces and moments indict entire systems and ways of thinking. It exposes the corruption and indifference of a society who turns its back on the people who most need help. So saying it’s not political is both a cop-out and completely negates all the positive you’ve created.

Needless to say, this very specific moment in October of 2019, this film feels wholly irresponsible to put into the cultural zeitgeist. I have never worried about widespread mass shootings happening at screenings of any other film, even given the crowds Star Wars and Avengers were always going to attract. But I really worry about this weekend. Todd Phillips would have been far better to simply crank out another tired Hangover sequel and give us all a few laughs, even if they weren’t politically correct ones.

Which brings us to Phillips saying he stopped making comedy because he’s tired of “woke” culture. Bad news, Todd, there’s plenty of woke takes on dramas and comic book movies as well. Joker deserves all of the woke takes it can get, and I’m especially interested in hearing from black female critics about the treatment of Zazie Beetz‘s character in the film. By the way, Beetz’s performance is astounding, and every bit as good and layered as Phoenix’s, even though she gets 1/15th the screen time and 1/20th of the lines and character development.

The treatments and marginalization of other women of color in this film is also a great topic for discussion. We also see 0 representation and therefore a complete erasure of Latinx and Asian characters of any kind.

And because one good woke take deserves another, much ado has also been made about the inclusion of a song by Gary Glitter in a scene later in the film where Joker is dancing on a stairway, which can be seen in the trailer.

In so many ways, the inclusion of Gary Glitter on the soundtrack is incredibly on-brand for the film. It represents either complete ignorance of the fact that Glitter has been a known pedophile for decades, or a complete apathy to that fact.

Perhaps this is an attempt to be knowingly edgy and push people’s buttons in an attempt to troll “cancel culture.” But most likely it is that Phillips is just totally indifferent.

The entire film reeks of a practiced indifference and air of privilege that, ironically, the subject of the film is trying to skewer. Joker falls all over itself in its subtext and talking about how it doesn’t care too much. It, therefore, can’t possibly have the edge and satire it needs to actually say something coherent about an indifferent society that steps over and marginalizes people who have been hurt by the system or forgotten. You literally can’t be both.

The film also begs, borrows and steals from so many other films it becomes tiresome. This is a bad bar band covering hits from the 70s, but instead of singing Journey and Fleetwood Mac, it’s a remake of Scorsese’s King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Both of those films would fit in many critics’ and organizations’ top 25 list of the greatest films of all time. It’s doubtful Joker will even make it into my top 25 of this year.

You know how most of the Die Hard sequels weren’t actually originally written to be Die Hard? They were just action scripts floating around Hollywood and then someone said, “Take that script for WW3.com, and put John McClane in it. Now it’s Die Hard with a Vengeance.” This movie feels like someone’s script that tried to remake King of Comedy and then someone came along and said: “Let’s make this main character the Joker.”

The other film that gets most name-checked in Joker but has been perhaps the least discussed (the parallels to Scorsese were apparent from the trailers alone, so much so that it’s almost too easy a comparison) is the parallels to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Joker uses both a scene from the film at a pivotal point in the movie, and also uses its signature song “Smile” as a sort of theme song– so much so that it’s in the trailer.

On the surface, there are some real similarities. Both films are about the marginalization of regular people due to growing inequality. Both films deal with mental health and police brutality as well as crackdowns on organizing/protest movements. The main difference is their endings.

In Modern Times, after 90 minutes of factory work, abuse, a mental breakdown, being arrested, beaten up by the police, losing more jobs, having their dreams taken away from them by the rich and powerful on a couple of different occasions, Chaplain and his gamin girlfriend literally walk into the sunset after saying they can’t give up and never should no matter how many times they’ve been beaten down. They still need to work hard and will eventually come out on top.

Joker conveys the exact opposite message of that, so it feels like such a disservice to such classic a film as Modern Times to so explicitly reference it. It feels more like if Todd Phillips were standing in a movie line talking about Modern Times and Joker, Woody Allen would pull Charlie Chaplin out from behind a sign to say “I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work.” (That’s an Annie Hall reference, folks, since we’re talking 1970’s movies. And yes I’m still talking about Woody Allen even though he’s #cancelled.)

Given the ersatz quality of the filmmaking here, would you rather hear the classics played by the crappy bar band, or just pull out your records and listen to the originals? Don’t go see Joker if you haven’t seen King of Comedy. Or Taxi Driver. Or Modern Times. Your time will be better spent on the originals and classics rather than these pale imitations.

END “SPOILERS”

All of this is to say that Joker is a complicated and often contradictory mess. But it isn’t wholly bad. The tragedy of it all is that there are moments of sheer brilliance. Despite all my problems with it, I hope the film does incredibly well at the box office to send the signal that DC can/should abandon–for now– the pretext of a shared universe and simply churn out character-driven individual films. And sometimes they can be R-rated and gritty and complex.

And sometimes they can be whatever it is they’re doing in that new Birds of Prey trailer, which is everywhere I want to be. And sometimes it can be James Gunn making a Suicide Squad movie. But my hope is that next time they try to swing for the fences like this with something like Joker, they’ll bring someone more talented than Todd Phillips on to make sure we don’t get a self-contradicting warmed-over-King of Comedy remake with the clown prince of crime somehow shoehorned in.

3 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Abominable

Abominable

Abominable is a movie we’ve seen dozens of times before, so even though it runs on rails it isn’t altogether bad. The one thing that switches it up even a little bit is its Chinese setting. In the dozen of other iterations of this film, this would have always been set in America. Likely the most interesting thing about Abominable is what it says about the future of Sino-American relations and global culture as even American animation studios with American creative teams try to go after the Chinese market more explicitly.

But otherwise, this is just an animated E.T. with a Yeti.

Our main story revolves around Yi, a teenage girl played by Chloe Bennet (Marvel’s Agents of Shield), herself a Chinese-American, who finds this runaway creature, befriends it and decides she needs to take it back to Mount Everest where it came from. This trip ends up mirroring a planned trip that she and her recently deceased father had always meant to go on. The trip ends up healing her and her grief as they discover more and more of the yeti, who she names Everest, and his magical powers.

But also this seems like a tourist travel video promoting the beautiful and varied landscapes of China. If this movie had been set in America, they would have stopped at the iconic places we all would think of– Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc. They do the same with the Gobi Desert and the Yangtze River as it seems Everest’s most powerful magic is to completely distort space and time so that each of these things are within walking distance of one another. But hey, it’s a kids movie.

The animation is crisp and beautiful. It’s everything we expect DreamWorks to do. Everest’s playful design is quite reminiscent of another Dreamworks Animation main creature– Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon films. Kids will absolutely love him.

It’s also worth noting that writer and director Jill Culton is a veteran of Pixar who worked on not only the Monsters, Inc. films but also several of the Toy Storys. Everest is essentially Sully mixed with Toothless, and that’s not a bad combination. But as I said, we’ve seen this movie before. And frankly, it’s been done better. Monsters, Inc IS this movie, except the human Boo is the magical monster. But if you’re going to steal, then stealing from that and ET isn’t a bad place to start.

One of the most interesting choices of the film is that its antagonists, played by Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson read as English and American. That can’t be accidental, as it’s their greed, pride, etc that leads them to want to capture the yeti for their own nefarious purposes. It’s hard not to read something into that, although perhaps it’s completely earned.

Or perhaps we shouldn’t read anything more into it oh, the same way we don’t particularly read Maleficent or Cruella Deville as being “English” in an American context. Maybe it’s just a cute movie about a teenage girl and her friends who go on a magical adventure with a yeti.

Regardless, while you can do far better then this by-the-numbers animated film, you can also do much worse. If your kids drag you to Abominable, you won’t hate it, and you might even enjoy aspects of it. It’s not Pixar or How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s trying to be. And that’s not so terrible.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Hustlers

Hustlers movie poster

Who would have thought a movie about grift and strip clubs could be so boring? And yet here we are with Hustlers. Despite some hard work in the performances by Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, despite a feminist sensibility brought to the film’s cinematography and feel thanks to writer and director Lorene Scafaria, the end result is just boring.

The film is “based on a true story,” specifically, an article published by New York Magazine entitled “The Hustlers at Scores” written by Jessica Pressler. As the story goes, prior to the financial crisis of 2008, everything was hunky-dory in New York strip clubs. Idiot bankers were loose with their cash and made it rain.

But as with all things in the financial crisis, when Bear Stearns and Countrywide went down, it was the little people who got hurt– like the strippers. Suggesting that they are now like modern-day Robin Hoods taking advantage of the people who got bailouts, a group of former strippers begin a scam to start running up massive bills for bankers and brokers.

There’s a strong element of sisterhood and feminism as these girls stick together. Indeed, the film opens with Janet Jackson’s “Control,” providing a sort of thematic layout for the film. Lopez and Wu are always, in fact, in control of the situation, not the horny bankers who want to get rubbed on in a champagne room. So, good on you, girls!

While this isn’t saying much given her cinematic history, Hustlers might be the best performance by Lopez in a film ever. She’s the center of the story and is extremely compelling. Wu is also extremely good– at least on par with her star-making performance in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians or on Fresh Off the Boat, and certainly gives her more opportunities to stretch her dramatic acting chops. It just isn’t enough to save this film.

For those who might be interested in this film because of advertised cameos by Lizzo and Cardi B, those are literally little more than cameos. Blink and you’ll miss them. You will be disappointed. You will see more of them by watching one of their music videos on YouTube. However, Julia Stiles does show up as the journalist writing this story, which always sort of puts the brakes on the story– one of the many flaws in this film’s storytelling.

And for those coming to this film hoping for a little bit of sin and nudity, you are also going to be mostly out of luck. Please remember that there is free pornography on the internet, and you shouldn’t come to this film looking for cheap thrills. You won’t find it.

Indeed, one of the most fascinating things about this film is the feminist filmography. While there are some shots of nudity, most of it is actually not very sexual and presented almost in a businesslike fashion. The longest portion of nudity that you get is actually a naked man seen from the waist down as he is being taken to a hospital. Yup, there’s equal-opportunity nudity in this film. But that really isn’t what this movie is about. Again, if that’s what you’re looking for, there is porn on the internet.

But mostly this film is just plain boring. It feels much longer than its two hour run time and despite good character work by Wu and J-Lo, there really isn’t much more to see here. However, this film was definitely not made for me. Others may find a sense of enjoyment out of it even though I did not.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: It: Chapter Two

It: Chapter Two

They say you can’t run from your past. To ignore it is to repeat it.  They also say that the past is a mistress past shared. But I beg to differ. If the past is a mistress that is a terrifying long-limbed clown with yellow eyes, sharp teeth, and a red balloon then (by all means) leave that past behind you. Or better yet, just kill the damn thing. Clowns are creepy as hell!

If you have not guessed by now, I am referring to the second installment, the final chapter of the It movie. A movie I found to be surprisingly heartfelt and emotional when, of course, Pennywise the Dancing Clown was not drooling and about to tear into some young unsuspecting flesh.

Granted, and you many find this shocking; I DID NOT READ THE BOOK. Yet from what I read online this sequel was a faithful adaption to the novel with some minor changes. The start of the movie was brutal and jarring. If you read the book, you will know exactly what I’m referring to. The scene at the carnival was a gut punch to my soul; a still relevant reminder to what marginalized people deal with today. The irrational “need” to attack those who are different than you, those who do not fit, those who do not conform is still being perpetrated by monsters in 2019.  And the scary thing about it they look just like you and me. Yes, my heart broke, but it would not be the first time during the course of this movie.

But let me slow down. And focus on the bigger cast— the Losers Club. I found myself thoroughly touched by the bond between them all grown up, collectively successful, but united by a shared history drenched in blood, terror, and red balloons. Each and every actor has brought this authenticity to their respective characters. And can I say that the casting was top notch?!

Actually, I found myself smiling when they all met up at (slight spoiler) the Jade of the Orient. The passage of time was stamped out as these grown friends laughed and reminisced about the good times shared in that fateful summer of 1989. Sure, there were not many, but enough to forge a bond borne of commitment, sacrifice, unity, and, well, blood. Literally. They consecrated a pact that fateful summer which led to them reuniting 27 years later once Pennywise emerged from his deep slumber to terrorize Derry, Maine once more.

As stated before, I found each character of the ensemble cast to be enjoyable. None without their flaws to balance their inherent strengths. The adults building on what their younger counterparts began in the first movie that was released in 2017.

It: Chapter Two

Bill Denbrough played by James McAvoy was still very much the leader of this ragtag team of muta… er… misfits in 2019 as eh was in 1989. I love how he was willing to lend an open ear and open heart once the truth emerged behind the reason for their reunion. I was waiting for the stutter and was not disappointed. McAvoy played the hell out of the role and I loved when he got distressed which made him even more determined to do what was right. And, guys, that Funhouse scene with the mirrors will give you a nightmare.

Beverly Marsh played by Jessica Chastain continues to be the enigmatic, flame-haired siren. Broken by her father, but still very much a survivor which you see early on in the movie. I love Jessica. She always brings a vulnerability and softness to her roles. Yes, even kinda in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. But the less said about that movie the better. “Your hair is winter fire, January embers.” This line suddenly reminds me of Jean Grey. Jessica would have been great… Malachi, focus!

Mike Hanlon played by Isaiah Mustafa was easily the heart and soul of the group. At least to me. As expected with him being the librarian, he was also their memory and purpose. Having lost his family early on to a fire, it was no surprise that he bonded so deeply with the other Losers. He was fierce, determined, and relentless in the pursuit of knowledge necessary to calling back his family not borne of his flesh to combat an evil so alien and corrosive. He had that—wait for it— “Old Spice” about him. Lol.

Ben Hanscom played by Jay Ryan, to me, was great casting on so many levels. For starters, I love how the “ugly duckling” (ugh, I hate that term) became this swan with, well, abs. If you are at all familiar with what I am talking about then you already know. If not, check out CW’s “Beauty & the Beast”. You’ll thank me later. But just like his younger counterpart, Ben was the sweetest, most adorable, and sensitive Loser of them all. Content to remain on sidelines even as shown with his introduction into the movie. He remained the same at heart even though he transformed everything else about his life. He is the poster boy for the “Glow Up”. I am envious.

Eddie Kaspbrak played by James Ransone intrigued me. He was another one who was cast perfectly. For his entire life fear restricted him. Sterile environments kept him imprisoned. But you see his character start to evolve throughout the course of the movie which was a beautiful sight. His one-liners were on par with Richie Tozier’s. I am always here for some good banter. But yes, he turned out to be the bravest one. Go figure.

Richie Tozier played by Bill Hader was such a treat! His introduction made me turn my face, but the follow up had me laughing hysterically. And this is something I would do throughout the movie whenever he opened his mouth to say anything. Levity in such a dark situation is needed. “Gallows humor” is what they call it, right? His humor hid a certain truth which was acknowledged in this movie. Fans of the book have already discussed this online. The memes are amazing. Look them up!

Stanley Uris played by Andy Bean was easily the most fragile of the Losers Club then and now.  Oh, and also great casting yet again! I admit I was shocked at a revelation (again, I did not read the book), but he showed that he was the true visionary and perhaps the most in touch with himself. But what do we do to visionaries in fiction? What do we do to them so that others enjoy life more? I will give you a moment. 

It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown by Alexander Skarsgård was AMAZING.  Alexander is easily the creepiest of the famous Skarsgård brothers. If you’ve seen Netflix’s Hemlock Grove you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Already super tall at 6’4 and in that tattered attire, Skarsgård truly set himself apart from Tim Curry’s iconic Pennywise. Bone-chilling with the wine-colored eyes promising death, this is not one clown you want to make a balloon animal for you. I foresee a plethora of Pennywises this Halloween. I am prepared for the Ritual of Chud if need be.

Before I bring this to a close, I want to tell you about a scene that has been shown in the trailers. A scene meant to scare us, but instead, it had me literally lol’ing in the theater. THE OLD WOMAN. Omigawd. The blank stare, her peeking from around the corner, and her lil naked shimmy while having a seizure, gave me life! I see her dance being all the rage at cookouts.

Anyway…

I recommend that you go see It: Chapter Two. You will jump at parts of the movie. You will even laugh. But you will definitely see the genuine hard work breathed into this film by the cast and crew. It sheds light on past childhood trauma and how it can echo throughout our adult lives. But like that old woman said “nothing ever stays dead ”.

Advance Book Review: For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves

For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves

Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran’s new illustrated book of essays/biography/fan fiction For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves doesn’t come out until October, but my reading of it timed perfectly with the announcement of the fourth Matrix film and the end of filming Bill and Ted Face the Music. Keanu Reeves is the Internet’s boyfriend, has three film franchises (Matrix, Bill and Ted, John Wick), and resisted Disney/Marvel’s siren call. So, it’s the perfect time to look back at his career, see why he was loved and derided, and maybe even why he is more aspirational than any self-help guru.

Zageris and Curran structure For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves like a series of essays looking at different aspects of Keanu Reeves’ career with fun extras like trivia and a quiz about which character named “John” played by Reeves you are (I was John Constantine.). There’s also a spaghetti Western-style fan fiction about what he was up to in the two year gap between Devil’s Advocate (1997) and The Matrix (1999), and best of all, a pitch for a romantic comedy/musical spinoff of John Wick set in Paris and co-starring Charlize Theron and Winona Ryder.

The five essays cover a range of topics from how Reeves’ vulnerable approach to acting clashed with some critics and endeared fans, his identity as Asian-American/Canadian man, his hard-working approach to his acting craft, his collaborations with both actors and business partners, and finally, one about his roles that fall on the “evil” side of the spectrum. A repeated theme is how Reeves’ main goal as an actor is to create a pocket reality for audiences to project themselves on them. He does this by working tirelessly at different skills his characters have (The eight months of kung fu training for The Matrix, surfing dangerous areas in Kauai for Point Break.) and also actively listening to his scene partners and not having his performance overwhelm theirs. Zageris and Curran state that this quality is why actresses like Sandra Bullock and Winona Ryder want to work with him multiple times, and Bullock saying his kindness to her and rapport in Speed helped ease her into the world of show business.

However, what makes For Your Consideration go beyond just a blow by blow recap/analysis of Keanu Reeves’ 30+ year career is Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran using him as a vehicle to explore American society’s changing ideals of masculinity, the role of the Internet and celebrity, and how Reeves may have even paved the way for Asian-American representation in pop culture though he mainly plays white-passing roles. They discuss about how Reeves’ body is filmed like a female actor in some of his movies, and the similarities of how critics talk about his acting like assuming just because he played an airhead slacker in the Bill and Ted films that he was one and focusing on his looks and not his ability. As far as action movies, Zageris and Curran write about how Reeves’ earnest approach and emotional openness in films like Point Break and Speed set him apart from the machismo and smartassery of actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.

At times, For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves veers from being a work of cultural and film criticism with jokes to being almost a straight-up, self-help book with Keanu Reeves being held up as an example of how we should be. This goes beyond his characters’ mantras of “Be excellent” and Internet memes of calling people breathtaking and warm, vulnerable stories about how he uses Shakespeare monologues to stay calm and would rather read a book than be a celebrity.

Some of the self-help bits pop up in the chapter about collaboration that discusses how Reeves acts as if he’s in a supporting role even he is a leading man and praises his co-stars in interviews instead of talking about himself. The chapter also shows that he isn’t afraid to pursue his passions like bookmaking and motorcycle design and that his approach to these businesses mirrors his work with Chad Stahelski, who went from being his stunt double on The Matrix to directing him in all three John Wick films. There is a quote about Reeves’ dedication to learning fight choreography, gunplay, etc so that Stahelski has a full range of creative choices instead of cutting around him. (Basically, he was throwing shade on the Taken movies.)

Even if there isn’t enough space to go into detail of each and every Keanu Reeves role, Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran perform an excellent close reading of Keanu Reeves the actor and human being with funny spot illustrations like a “human evolution” chart from Theodore Logan to John Wick, bearded badass. It isn’t a total hagiography with some critiques of Reeves’ accent work and deadpan descriptions of some of his “weirder” film choices like Bad Batch and Knock Knock, which I want to track down. However, it’s an appreciation of actor, who wants to take audiences on heroic (or anti-heroic) journeys into the world with him not just as a guide, but as someone they can identify with and walk out of the theater playing air guitar, doing kung fu, killing a man with a pencil, or maybe just hugging one’s beloved pooch a little tighter.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Quirk Books provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Movie Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

There is nothing quite like the scalp-tingling, goosebumps-raising chills you get when you are scared. The sudden head rush as blood pounds in your temples. The involuntary gasp. The salty tang of sweat beads on your quivering upper lip. We have all felt it, experienced it. Some of us even, well, love it. Especially if we are horror junkies equipped with such fertile imagination.

I would assume that like me you are bookworms who cling tight to nostalgia. Books were my life and when I wasn’t reading comic books I had my hands on novels. One of my favorites was the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy. The hauntingly resonating stories along with those ghastly illustrations found a dark crevice in my heart. I’d read the stories every year around Halloween, honoring the tradition of my childhood, until it faded away. Until it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro would be directing the live-action Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark! Be still my beating heart, right?

Wrong.

Imagine rushing to see the movie. Imagine having tickets for opening night, but plans falling through, then you FINALLY get them for Saturday night. You ignore the hot stifling theater and the woman next to you who is talking non-stop and coughing. Now imagine watching the movie and not being scared, but woefully unimpressed? That was my experience.

Now imagine watching the movie and not being scared, but woefully unimpressed? That was my experience.

Stella Nicholls played by Zoe Margaret Colletti, our four-eyed heroine failed to gain my support. Our mutual nerd energies did not blend. She came across as whiny and, well, dumb. I see why she did the things she did (to move along the plot), but I kept saying to myself “girl, why?” then it turned into “girl, bye”, LOL. So, we had a shaky lead and even shakier cast.

Chuck Steinberg played by Austin Zajur was clearly the comic relief. That would have been more effective if he was funnier. The first half of the film I was rolling my eyes at his one-liners, but he grew on me. Like a fungus. He did have some moments where he actually shined. And when he had to deal with the big pale woman… that was chilling. Del Toro always excels with his monsters.

Auggie Hilderbrandt played by Gabriel Rush was the sensible, logical one.  Which means he’s the most stubborn one when it comes to the evil they unleash. Too little, too late. He was kinda adorable.

Ramon Rodriguez played by Michael Garza was easily the most intriguing of this lil Scooby gang.  Mysterious, handsome, and might had a switchblade. IDK. He had more layers than the others. Also, he was the only POC in the group. So naturally, I was here for that.

Ruth Steinberg played by Natalie Ganzhorn had more heart than I realized. She just wasn’t a vapid, beauty-obsessed prom queen. And this was shown before the “red spot” obliterated her face!

Tommy Millner played by Austin Abrams was such a complete and utter tool! He played the hell out of the role. Douchey, bigoted, and ugly all conveniently rolled into a letter jacket. When I first saw him, I wanted him to die.  Thank the heavens for Harold the Scarecrow. He heard my pleas.

The special effects and the truly grotesque monsters (Gawd, they were bone-chilling) were strong enough to offset such a predictable, run-of-the-mill cast. Granted, I was not expecting Oscar-winning performances or a dialogue that kept you rapt with attention, but I did expect more. Maybe I put too much stock in the buzz surrounding the movie. Maybe I hyped it up in mind so that the inner child who would be satisfied. But there were some chills, but no thrills. So tell me a story, Sarah Bellows. A GOOD one this time.

Movie Review: Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

David Leitch is one of the most kinetic directors working today. From his background in stunts and parlaying that into the masterwork that was the first John Wick, he catapulted into being one of Hollywood’s most visually interesting directors by following it up with Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. And now with Hobbs and Shaw hitting theaters, you may wonder if we’re getting a watered-down- by-franchise Leitch, or if we’re getting more of the same of his brilliance. It is decidedly the latter, as Letch takes the mismatched buddy cop action comedy and destroys it in a giant explosion. This is a comic book movie that isn’t based on a comic book.

It’s not high art, but it’s a lot of fun.

The film begins with one of its most interesting visual flourishes, showing our two protagonists played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham as they go about their days and tracking down, unbeknownst to them, the same bad guys. Their settings and methods are different, and therefore Leitch lights them in very different ways but often splits the screen between the two to show a stylistic contrast.

This is classic Leitch, and especially some of the Shaw moments feel right out of John Wick or Atomic Blonde. It’s almost like the rule that dialogue should come from character, but as a visual medium, film has the ability to develop their characters based on their movement, lighting, and editing.

Leitch just shoots The Rock differently– like he’s this giant wall, a force of nature. But a final sequence set in Samoa is something that none of Leitch’s previous films felt: personal, important. Placing native Pacific Islanders and showcasing them in a way that highlights what is special about one of the most overlooked groups in popular media (indigenous/native people of any type, really).

While we have Executive Produce Dwayne Johnson to thank for insisting as part of doing this film that it include representation for Pacific Islanders, Leitch is able to make this come alive and feel special and, dare I say, cool. It’s sort of a mini-Black Panther moment for Samoans, and that’s unique and a great example of using your privilege to uplift others.

But the best performance here is Idris Elba as Brixton, the bad guy. Also, his motorcycle, which leads me to ask, “Should David Leitch do a Transformers movie?” But, as the leader of a cult of technology-obsessed-and-enhanced bad guys, he’s not really that different from most action movie bad guys. But his keniciticsm is unsurpassed by anyone else. Essentially, his cybernetics and AI upgrades allow him to analyze and dodge almost all attacks. It’s the 21st-century version of what Sherlock Holmes/Robert Downey Jr is able to do in the Guy Ritchie films.

We also have Vanessa Kirby as Hattie, an MI-6 agent who is the third wheel to the Hobbs and Shaw axle this film is built around. Similar to the way Leitch has been able to elevate his femme fatales in Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 as major asskickers, so too is Hattie incredibly capable– easily able to square off against The Rock and Statham.

Leitch is a gifted comedic director (as showcased by his work on Deadpool 2), and this comes through in Hobbs and Shaw, where he even has his Deadpool 2 stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob Delaney cameo. In many ways, Deadpool 2 is the most similar of Leitch’s films to Hobbs and Shaw: they’re both the least visually experimental and groundbreaking, but they take the successful formula and kinetic action and place them in the bounds of a franchise. And fans eat it up.

However, as I said, this film is pretty braindead and expects viewers to completely ignore the laws of space, time, and geography. Jaunts from Moscow to Samoa seem to take mere minutes, and London to Moscow is an overnight red-eye flight. Also, apparently Moscow and Ukraine are really, really close to each other.

But perhaps the most egregious is a final climactic action sequence with a literal ticking clock running that expects us to believe that in the space of a half-hour we go from complete darkness before dawn, to golden-bathed morning on a clear summer morning to a torrential downpour. Time and weather do not work that way. Oh well. At least it all looked cool. Just don’t think about it too hard because its ridiculousness strains all credulity.

All this makes me think how absolutely spoiled we were by last summer’s Mission Impossible: Fallout. It’s instructive that director Christopher McQuarrie started in scriptwriting and Leitch started in stunts. Both of these films are the culmination of decades of their work in Hollywood– and it’s sort of a “two roads diverged in a wood” parable. McQuarrie brought the tight storytelling aesthetics of his early masterwork scripts like The Usual Suspects to become Fallout, and Leitch brought the kinetic popcorn sensibilities of his early stunt work and stunt directing to make Hobbs and Shaw feel all killer, no filler. But not everything needs to be so cerebral.

Still, I was not expecting to like Hobbs and Shaw as much as I did. It’s braindead, but it’s fun and lets Leitch paint on a much bigger canvas than before. Whether or not you have any investment in the Fast and Furious franchise, you could walk in and be entertained. Oh, and make sure you stay through the credits — all the way through — because the guy who made Deadpool 2 isn’t going to leave you without a tease for what’s next, would he?

3 and 1/2 stars out of 5

Spider-Man: Far From Home Spoiler Free Review

If you skipped our written review, we’ve got you covered with a take you can watch! Spider-Man: Far From Home has a lot of challenges in not only does it have to answer questions from Avengers: Endgame but also cap off the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe phase while setting up the next one.

The film does all of that and more.

We’ve got a SPOILER FREE review of the film.

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