Category Archives: Reviews

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.

Movie Review: Yesterday

Yesterday

At first glance, Yesterday might seem like a fresh, almost subversive take on updating the classic catalog of The Beatles. By taking the music of four working-class lads from Liverpool and putting it in the mouth of a working class son of Indian immigrants in Sheffield (and not making any mention of his ethnicity whatsoever), director Danny Boyle could be making a strong case for inclusion and racial equity. But on second glance the film is mostly just a basic romantic comedy (albeit one with a great soundtrack) and one which sort of falls apart in its third act.

But the journey, not the destination, is what is fun here. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) has never made it in music and is ready to give up when a worldwide simultaneous blackout leads to him being hit by a truck (set to the orchestral hit from “A Day in the Life”). And when he wakes up, no one remembers The Beatles except for him. As he begins performing their music, fame and fortune begin to find him, even as it pulls him apart from a potential romantic connection with his best friend since grade school/manager Ellie (Lily James). Along the way, Jack is mentored by Ed Sheeran (as himself) and an incredibly abrasive record executive played to the hilt by Kate McKinnon. And while Patel and James’s will they/won’t they rom com vibe is what holds the movie together, it’s McKinnon’s scene-stealing that is the real reason to see this movie.

But the rom-com skeleton wears somewhat thin, so the real determining factor in how much you will enjoy this film is how much you like the basic conceit of re-exploring the music of The Beatles through the lens of Jack covering their greatest hits. Yes, it’s good, though a few performances wear a little thin. An almost screaming version of “Help” owes almost as much to the vocal stylings of Kurt Cobain as John Lennon, but an extremely tender and stripped down “The Long and Winding Road” will floor you almost as much as it does Ed Sheeran.

The film also contains performances of Yesterday, In My Life, Something, Carry That Weight, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Elanor Rigby, Here Comes the Sun, Back in the USSR, Hey Jude, I Saw Her Standing There, and All You Need is Love, while at least name-checking a half dozen other songs like Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s nice, but at least for this fan, felt like a very cursory look at the most basic of The Beatles. Pulling out some deep cuts, and focusing less on the Lennon/McCartney songs would have been nice. Would it have killed them to include a Ringo song in there? “With a Little Help From My Friends” is right. there.

But that’s where this ode to the Beatles sort of breaks down. Since it focuses all on Jack as this genius solo artist, it belies what The Beatles were really all about, which was four incredibly talented people working together. George and Ringo were just as important as John and Paul in the alchemy that was their songwriting and performing. And this film and its performances lose all the depth in that signature Beatle harmony, and the call and response sections of songs like With a Little Help From My Friends. Missing those harmonies is another reason why the version of “Help” in the film is so unsatisfying.

In another film that very much drew inspiration from The Beatles, 2001’s I am Sam starring Sean Penn, there’s a line about what was special about The Beatles was when Paul McCartney wrote the first part of the song “Michelle” and then John Lennon wrote the “I love you, I love you, I love you” part, that was the essence of what The Beatles were about. Yesterday misses that dynamic completely.

And then the film ends in a completely whiffed third act that couldn’t be more by the numbers if it tried. And for a film so full of vibrancy and fun, the end leaves you feeling a little cold and unsatisfied.

As a rom-com, it’s a B-minus. As a celebration and nostalgic take on the music of the most influential music group of the 20th century, it’s an A. How much you enjoy this film will likely depend largely on how much you like The Beatles. But since many people do like them, that’s not a bad bet.

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Spoiler Free) Movie Review: Dark Phoenix

This is it, Dark Phoenix is the finale to the latest round of X-Men films. It’s an adaptation of the classic story, The Dark Phoenix Saga. But didn’t they already sort of do that with X-Men: The Last Stand?

We’ve seen the film and have our opinions right here on GPTV! Should you spend your money? Find out in this video review.

You can read our written review already posted on the site.

Movie Review: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

With all of the rumors, buzz, and delays in the lead up to Dark Phoenix, you’d think the film was a disaster of a film. The end product though is neither good nor bad. It just kid of “is.” Rounding out the newest quartet of Fox‘s X-Men films before they’re inevitably rebooted by Marvel, the film is a bunch of good ideas taken in the wrong direction.

The film adapts the classic comic story The Dark Phoenix Saga with some twists and other material. Originally written by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne, it’s a storyline that was also borrowed from in X-Men: The Last Stand, the last film in the original X film trilogy. Unlike X-Men: The Last Stand, this film isn’t a complete total disaster.

The story is simple. Infused with a comic force, Jean Grey’s powers are expanded and extended to a point she has trouble controlling them. And from there, disaster strikes pitting her against forces that want to control her and help her.

Dark Phoenix borrows liberally from the original material (the D’Bari and Vuk are included) as well as other storylines. Mainly that Charles Xavier is a completely horrible human being.

That’s really where the film revolves. Charles Xavier has done horrible things, mainly dealing with Jean Grey, and those decisions are coming back to haunt him. The exploration that the X-Men are a vanity project of his is there. An extension of his ego that he knows what’s right.

And that’s what’s frustrating about the film. The concepts are all there. The themes are all there. There’s an interesting psychological/thinking film within. Writer and director Simon Kinberg never seems to want to really commit to that, instead delivering a fairly popcorn focused film. The lessons from Logan are both present and not. These films can be more than just big action sequences. And even those sequences are underwhelming.

The Phoenix Force itself looks like leftover FX of Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The climactic train sequence has moments that are both inspired and not. Too much space is present making the sequence feel empty and not focused on a primary point. Magneto, Nightcrawler, and Storm get moments to truly stand out. Especially the latter two characters. The train sequence almost makes up for it. It also had me thinking how Snowpiercer has shown that a film on a train can be amazing.

But, back to the plot….

The film is lazy. Characters come in and out of scenes and sequences without explanation (D’Bari for example). Foreshadowing is so present you almost expect the characters to look at the camera with a smirk. Kinberg’s direction feels like it doesn’t have an “eye” or “vision.” Shots are panned out too far and don’t focus on one thing. It’s a scattered vision for a scattered film. And the cast as a whole feels like they’re phoning it in.

The film feels like it knows it’s the end as opposed to setting something else up. And the cast are in on that reality. The acting is… subpar at best. There’s some laughable line delivery. The audience literally laughed. The make-up itself too is distracting with the women sporting caked on make-up with slight sparkles. It all feels very low budget and B-movie but at the same time a very high budget film. With a reported $200 million budget, the movie just feels like everyone is checking boxes off and going through the motion.

The true joy of the film, as it has been in a few X films is “spot the mutant.” There’s lots of “guest” appearances such as Disco Dazzler, Kitty Pryde, and Quinton Quire. When you find yourself paying more attention to background characters than the main cast, you have issues. And even that feels cheap. The make-up here too isn’t present enough and there are moments where in a panned out scene someone looks normal and up close there’s some make-up to say “mutant.” Most of the mutants just look like average individuals, with nothing spectacular about it. I guess prosthetics and costumes weren’t in the budget. Much like everything else, it feels a bit halfassed.

What’s weird though is, the film is somewhat enjoyable. It’s not one I want to pay full price to see but in a matinee or on television, it’s worth the svelte 113 minutes it’ll cost in time.

Dark Phoenix has some bang moments and you can see where it could have been great. Much like the Phoenix Force itself, the film both creates and destroys the legacy of the previous three films. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.

Overall Rating: 6 out of 10

Movie Review: Aladdin

Aladdin 2019

“I can show you the world…” In a world where such classic animated films exist, it’s a relevant question to ask what you get from simply remaking something as beloved and classic and Disney’s 1992 Aladdin. With Director Guy Ritchie on board and Will Smith taking the place as the iconic blue genie, can they deliver something worthwhile?

Yes. Yes they can.

The remake updates the not-so-old film in a lot of ways. In fact, this film is so not-so-old that I can remember seeing it opening weekend at the old Scera Theater in Orem, Utah amid a massive throng of children and hearing those opening words of “Arabian Nights” describing its setting as “where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face– it’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.” This line was almost immediately redubbed and scrubbed from future soundtrack and home video releases to something that didn’t imply that Arabs are barbaric, so it’s not like Aladdin hasn’t needed some brushing up from day 1.

But perhaps what is most refreshing is its elevation of Princess Jasmine to, arguably, the main character of the film. While Aladdin still goes through his growth and character journey, so too does Jasmine grapple with her place in a patriarchal kingdom where she feels she is actually the most qualified person to rule. She’s not wrong, and Jasmine basically is coming for Elsa as the most overtly feminist member of the Disney pantheon. A new song added for the film, “Speechless,” is performed to perfection by Naomi Scott. If this song isn’t nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, I’ll eat a DVD of Aladdin.

[Minor spoiler ahead, skip to next paragraph if you don’t want to know] One of the most interesting ways they updated this and cranked the feminism up to 11 is a single line delivered by Aladdin in a new scene immediately post the “A Whole New World” magic carpet ride. Looking down at Agrabah, Jasmine talks about wanting to help all of the city’s residents. She wants to be listened to and help rule because she knows she can do a better job than anyone else. She turns to Prince Ali for his opinion, and he delivers one of the most astounding and wonderful lines of any film this year: “Why does it matter what I think?” Her self worth isn’t bound up in his approval, and he knows it. Aladdin: secret feminist ally? You read it here first.

But what so many people actually want to talk about is Genie and Will Smith. He’s actually pretty good, especially when they let him be charming and do his own thing. When he’s going through the motions of trying to deliver on the beloved performance of Robin Williams, it’s just really hard to do that. Smith does his best, and the results are decent. But most of Smith’s best moments are when he is in a human-esque form incognito in the palace. He has (limited) agency, desires, and even a romantic subplot to himself? (With the incredibly charming Nasim Pedrad from SNL who plays one of Jasmine’s handmaids and is almost worth the price of admission herself.)

Ritchie’s directing here is crisp and workmanlike, but eschews so much of the visual style and kineticism some of his other films have. That means “One Jump” becomes a parkour-inspired mini-heist of sorts, but most of the musical numbers can’t quite compete with the originals. The direction is similar to Ritchie’s recent The Man from UNCLE in that he doesn’t leave a lot of fingerprints, but the end result is pretty fun. An added dance scene that is straight out of Bollywood is particularly fun and a great bonus.

Still, there are a few moments that land a little poorly. This seems largely due to wanting to keep Smith caged and closely working on aping Williams. The genius of Robin Williams was they just let him riff in the sound booth and then animated around the fun he brought to the script. So some of the things are a little cringey, but it’s likely to make parents roll their eyes as they fondly remember The Fresh Prince and the animated original Aladdin, but that kids will enjoy.

So why remake a classic? This brings a fresh feminist take to a movie that didn’t need a ton of updating, so it’s just the right touch. And while Will Smith isn’t Robin Williams, he’s still immensely watchable but is outshined by the excellent leads playing Aladdin and especially Jasmine. Take your family and experience a whole new world of what Aladdin can be.

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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