Review: Antebellum

Antebellum (2020)

Directors: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Writers: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Starring: Janelle Monae, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe

Plot: (I don’t know how to explain the plot without spoilers.)

Review: Don’t you hate when you can see how a movie could be good, maybe even great, but it just never quite lives up to that promise. It’s especially aggravating when literally everything is right there. That’s definitely the case with Antebellum. The plot is interesting. The acting is great. The set design, costumes and cinematography is all perfect. It just… falls flat in it’s execution. It’s really a bummer.

First off, I’ve got to admit something. I think a lot of the impact of Antebellum was taken from me, because I already knew the twist going in. I didn’t read it online. I didn’t have a friend accidentally let it slip. I just figured it out based on the trailers. For a movie with marketing focusing on the “what’s going on” factor, it really wasn’t that hard to put together. In fact, it’s so easy that I was surprised the ads were pushing the “twist” so adamantly. It seems dumb to show so much if you’re looking to sell it on that front. Pull a Cabin in the Woods and only show us scenes from the first act of the movie, if you want to hide stuff. Because, as it stands, the marketing definitely hurt my enjoyment of the movie.

But, even if the twist was intact, I’m still not sure I would’ve enjoyed Antebellum very much. The whole thing just felt kinda shallow. I saw one reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes say that, unfortunately, not every horror movie with a message can be Get Out. And, that just made me really sad because this definitely could’ve been that if someone super talented were behind the camera. Like, say, I don’t know… a Jordan Peele for instance. Or, heck, even a Steve McQueen. My problem is pretty much all in the way everything feels. I never bought that we were seeing an accurate depiction a plantation in the confederate South. The vibes just weren’t right. This isn’t 12 Years a Slave. It felt like a tv movie version they would show at a history museum. And, I think it kind of suffers for it. Plus, the horror and mystery elements aren’t even that good. I never once was even a little creeped out. Again, comparing it to a better movie, it’s no Get Out. And, lastly, the characters, other than Monae’s just feel flat. The villains are just evil. The other slaves are mostly background. And, well, no one really feels all that fleshed out. Now, imagine Jordan Peele’s take (or really anyone else who’s willing to put in the work) where we’ve got a super serious, Oscar worthy drama about slavery and we start to gradually learn that something is amiss here, until it eventually evolves into a full on horror flick. That’s definitely a movie I’d rather watch and kinda the movie I was expecting. Instead, we got this… which feels almost cartoony at times. I almost wonder if they rushed this to feel “relevant.” Oh well.

I’d in no way call Antebellum a complete disaster though. Like I said earlier, there are some things that work. Janelle Monae gives a pretty solid performance, as both her character on the plantation and the one in modern day. While it failed in its execution, the idea behind the movie is pretty good. And, everything really does look fantastic. The plantation looks era appropriate. The costumes are good. And, the cinematography really is impressive. There were quite a few absolutely beautiful shots. It’s a shame they were wasted on something so overall unimpressive.

Am I being too hard on Antebellum? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s just not fun to watch a middle of the road movie when you know it could’ve been something special. If given to someone who was willing to put the work in, rewrite the script once or twice more, and then taken it super seriously (and advertise it differently please), I think we could’ve gotten a great movie. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality we live in. Instead, Antebellum is just there. It’s not very good. It’s not bad. It just exists.

TL;DR: Antebellum feels like a lot of wasted potential.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

Review: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time (2020)

Director: Antonio Campos

Writers: Antonio and Paulo Campos

Starring: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, and Robert Pattinson

Plot: A small town teenager is brought into a web of broken souls, dirty preachers, and serial killers.

Review: The best way I could find to describe The Devil All the Time is “Coen Brothers lite”. Now, that might sound like an insult but I promise it’s not. I have great respect and love for the Coen brothers. So, invoking their name is a pretty high compliment. And, The Devil All the Time definitely earns it too. If you’re into movies like Fargo or No Country for Old Men, I think you’re going to enjoy this one too. Of course, don’t forget that I purposely put the “lite” on there. This isn’t as good as those movies, but it feels very similar (with the humor toned down dramatically).

I really loved how big The Devil All the Time felt. This is a movie with just a ton of plot in it. Tom Holland’s role is unquestionably our main character, but we probably only spend maybe a fourth of the movie with him. In fact, we don’t even see Holland until 47 minutes in. This is a huge story. It’s one of those tales that reaches out in a bunch of different directions before bringing everything back together in the end. It’s expertly done too. Each story and character is memorable. By the end, you really get a feel for the heft behind each character’s decision. You end up knowing these people inside and out. That makes the climax pay off even more than it already would’ve too. It’s kind of like if Game of Thrones had a more satisfying ending and was about a bunch of low income Midwesterners. (Sorry. I hadn’t dissed Game of Thrones in a couple months and needed to get it out.)

Of course, a good plot can only get you so far. You need a talented cast to really sell it. And, boy, does The Devil All the Time have an amazing group of actors. Up and down the cast list is super impressive, big-ish names that are known for being incredibly talented. They deliver too. Seriously, this movie is filled to the brim with great performances. Every single one sells the plight of their characters brilliantly. Like I said before, you can really feel what these people are going through and why they’re making the choices they are, even if you disagree with them.

All of the cast deserves as much praise as they can get but I’ve got to give a special callout to two actors in particular. Tom Holland killed it. This is the biggest serious role I’ve seen him in yet and it’s fantastic. He’s got a lot of baggage and heartbreak to carry around for the entire movie and nails it to a devastating degree. And, then, there’s Robert Pattinson. What can I say? The dude is so incredibly versatile. In this, we get to see his dark side as he plays the creepy, asshole preacher. There’s one sermon in particular that is just slimey and gross, especially in the context for why he’s delivering it. It had my skin crawling. It’s no surprise that both of these dudes are super talented, but it’s nice to see two actors at the top of their game continue to bring it time and again.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed The Devil All the Time. There were a couple of times where I was wondering why we were following certain characters, but everything came together super well in the end. It feels like an epic, even if it’s not world ending stuff. These characters and their stories will stick with me for quite a while. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for just a ton of really good stories that come together to create something even better.

TL;DR: The Devil All the Time is quite ambitious in it’s storytelling, which pays off with a satisfying ending and great acting.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: The Broken Hearts Gallery

The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020)

Director: Natalie Krinsky

Writer: Natalie Krinsky

Starring: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo, and Bernadette Peters

Plot: After an especially hard break up, Lucy starts an art gallery full of tokens of loves lost.

Review: I haven’t completely made up my mind on The Broken Hearts Gallery yet. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly good movie, but I did enjoy it. It’s cliched and overwritten, but I still felt connected to the characters. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a big softy, but I think I enjoyed this, on the surface, kind of average movie more than I was supposed to.

I do have to say that I enjoyed all of the characters. They’re all extremely likable, charismatic characters brought to life by charming, mostly up-and-coming actors. It’s hard not to fall in love with them just a little bit. Geraldine Viswanathan, who impressed in Blockers a few years ago, shines as the super energetic, charming female lead. You definitely end up sympathizing for her and wanting everything to work out. Then, we’ve got Dacre Montgomery (from Stranger Things) as the guy she’s trying to hook up with that just won’t give love a chance. It’s all stuff we’ve seen before but the characters definitely make it work. Plus, there’s an excellent supporting cast of names that you may not know but who’s faces are familiar. Her friends in particular are great. They’re played by the hopefully soon to be stars Molly Gordon (from Booksmart and Good Boys) and Phillipa Soo (from Hamilton). They’re probably the two characters I’ll remember most from this movie actually. They’re friendship was so unique and honest and heartfelt. If this were a tv show pilot, I’d probably keep watching just to get a few more doses of that relationship.

The main criticism I have with The Broken Hearts Gallery is with the dialogue. It’s too clever by about 30%. It’s one of those movies like a Juno or Lady Bird. You know, where every single line they say is clever, funny, and fast paced and no one acknowledges it. That type of dialogue always throws me off a bit. It always feels very written. Like, you can feel the writer perfecting it draft after draft. No one really talks like that. It’s just not natural.

But, I will say that The Broken Hearts Gallery did kind of win me over in the end. Like I said, I really enjoyed the characters and, within the final act, we learn some things about them that made the whole thing feel worth it. Character motivations finally clicked a bit and I was satisfied with having sat through it. Plus, I’m a big old romantic at heart and was won over by the cliched romantic comedy ending. I’m obviously not going to spoil anything… but you could probably figure it out on your own.

Overall, I did enjoy The Broken Hearts Gallery. The characters are likable. It’s romantic. I don’t know that I can recommend it to everyone. It’s still a little bit cliched and overwritten. But, if you’re looking for a cute date movie, you can do a lot worse.

TL;DR: Fun characters and a touching ending overshadow some too clever, cliched dialogue to make The Broken Hearts Gallery a rather pleasant experience.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Mulan

Mulan (2020)

Director: Niki Caro

Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin

Starring: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, and Jet Li

Plot: Hua Mulan disguises herself as a man to serve in the Chinese army in the place of her elderly father.

Review: I’ve used a lot of words to describe the various live action Disney remakes. I’ve used magical (Cinderella), thrilling (The Jungle Book), silly (101 Dalmatians), safe (The Lion King), unnecessary (Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin), weird (Dumbo), uncanny (Lady and the Tramp), blasphemous (Maleficent), and just downright awful (Alice in Wonderland). However, there’s one word I never expected to use with these movies: dull. But, man, the 2020 version of Mulan sure is dull.

Now, before anyone defends this movie, I get it. The original, animated Mulan was considered pretty offensive in China. They didn’t like the fact that one of their greatest legends was Disneyfied, Eddie Murphy and all. But, that original movie had a lot of charm. At least among American audiences, it’s come to be known as one of the classics of the Renaissance era. The songs. The characters. The story. Almost everything about the movie is beloved. Strip all of that away and you’re not left with much. There is almost no charm to 2020’s version. They’re telling you the same story but it almost feels like a sparknotes version. I never once smiled or laughed or even cheered on our leads. I was just bored.

Nowhere is that clearer than with our main character. They’ve kind of butchered Mulan’s arc here. In this version, she never seems like a normal girl. She’s this extreme fighting machine with so much god-given talented that people in her village refer to her as a witch. By doing this, you take away any sense of sacrifice, danger or struggle. She’s no longer someone who’s doing the right thing because she cares so deeply about her family. She’s now a killing machine that felt it was her duty to save China. By doing that, Disney really did a disservice to one of their more relatable characters. The remakes have neutered some pretty interesting characters before but I’ve never seen something this egregious. I straight up don’t like this version of Mulan. She doesn’t interest me. It’s such a baffling descision.

Honestly, stripping the story of all emotional connections would’ve been bad enough, but 2020’s Mulan didn’t stop there. Like I said, for some reason, they decided to make it a story about, essentially, Chinese superheroes. Thus, Shan Yu was, apparently, not scary enough. No, they needed a villain on par with this new version of Mulan. So, who could fight someone with the skills of a witch? Why, an actual witch of course! Yep. There’s actual magic characters in this movie. She turns into a phoenix. She teleports. She flies. She becomes a swarm of bats. She does a lot of things. And it’s… really not good. Again, it completely changes the story. This isn’t about one village girl standing up to a terrifying force anymore. This is two super powered beings meeting up on the battlefield. Did the script to Mulan and Shang-Chi somehow get mixed up at Disney HQ? What is going on here? How is the animated movie with Eddie Murphy voicing a dragon somehow the more grounded of the two movies? When I heard they were nixing Mushu and the songs, I really liked the idea. As much as I enjoy the original, I was looking forward to a different take on Mulan. Something realistic and gritty sounded so cool. Even if they could just barely hit PG-13 under Disney’s standards. But, how did that concept turn into this? It’s almost the exact opposite! If you’re going to “make it closer to the legend” then do that! Come on! It’s not hard! I demand a redo!

On a technical level, I don’t really have a lot to say about Mulan. Everything kind of felt perfectly average in the way that most of these remakes are. The costumes were stellar. The set design was cool. The performances were kind of a mixed bag. Some were great. Others were pretty bad. The directing was a tad overdone (especially in the action sequences which were pretty bad), but also had some really cool visuals. I don’t know. Nothing was bad, but I wouldn’t say it was fantastic either. It’s all just kind of perfectly acceptable.

Overall, I’d say that Mulan is super boring. They took all of the fun and excitement out of the animated original. I never once smiled. I didn’t really have any fun. I was baffled by a lot of the changes. I wouldn’t call it a bad movie necessarily. If it wasn’t connected in any way to the animated flick, I may have enjoyed it more. It’s just not a pleasant experience when compared to the original. It’s probably my least favorite remake since Maleficent. I can’t see myself ever rewatching it. If you’re at all interested, definitely wait until it’s free on Disney+ in a couple months. Then, you don’t feel the pressure to finish it. Because it can be hard to get through. I know I struggled with it.

Damn it. This movie could’ve been so cool…

TL;DR: The changes made for 2020’s Mulan make the story and the characters worse, which results in a much less fun movie.

Score: 5/10 (Meh)

Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Director: Dean Parisot

Writers: Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi, William Sadler, and Jillian Bell

Plot: Bill and Ted travel through time trying to find the song that’s going to save the universe.

Review: Bill and Ted are back, dudes! I honestly never thought I’d see the day. Even as Keanu and Alex brought it up over the years, I thought it was a pipe dream. There is no way a studio would dump funds into a belated sequel to a semi-cult classic. But, then, Keanu blew up again and, well, here we are. And, while far from perfect, Bill & Ted Face the Music is just what 2020 needed. Fun characters. Good vibes. Rocking tones. And, a heaping serving of nostalgia.

For the first 70% of Bill & Ted Face the Music or so, the plot is split into two distinct storylines. In one, we follow our lead characters from the other two movies in the franchise as they try to fulfill their destiny of saving the world. Then, we’ve got the other timeline with their daughters who are trying to help. Both have their pros and cons. But, I actually found myself more into the new characters. Don’t get me wrong though. I loved seeing William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq and Ted “Theodore” Logan again. Winter and Reeves fall right back into the roles perfectly and they’re just fun characters to be around. It was a lot of fun to see where they ended up going with their lives. However, their plot also gets a tad… repetitive. They’re trying to track down the perfect song by stealing it from their future selves. This involves a lot of future Bill & Teds (complete with a lot of makeup) and modern Bill & Ted talking to each other. I think it goes on for maybe just one scene too long. Despite having almost thirty years to think of a new idea, it feels like the writers could barely find enough for our duo to do for half of a relatively short movie. I never felt bored and enjoyed myself while watching it, but, once the movie wrapped, it did feel like they weren’t given that much exciting stuff to do.

But, weirdly enough, I did find myself super into the story that was being told with their daughters. I didn’t think I was going to be at first. It looked like the two actresses were just doing easy, SNL like impersonations of our favorite characters. However, they quickly grew on me and became my favorite part of the movie. Plot wise, they’re essentially doing a reboot of the first movie. Trying to help their dads, Billie and Thea (yes, that’s their names) travel through time to build the ultimate band to play the song that’ll save the universe. Yes, it’s a retread of the first movie but I still very much enjoyed it. It felt very much like Bill & Ted and that’s what I’m here for. Plus, this band they put together is a lot of fun and created some rocking tunes.

As for the tone, if you’ve seen the previous Bill & Ted movies, you pretty much know what to expect. They’re silly movies with charming characters that are bound to win you over. It’s nothing to be taken seriously or overthought. In fact, it was kind of the perfect pallet cleanser after Tenet. All of your favorite characters from the first movie are here. It only feels a little forced, unlike some sequels. Overall, I think fans of the series will be happy with this closing chapter.

I quite enjoyed this new adventure with Bill & Ted. Like I said, it wasn’t perfect. But, it made me happy. I liked seeing all the old characters and meeting some new ones. The jokes were funny. The plot was mostly good. And, the ending actually even made me tear up a bit. It’s definitely earned it’s spot right up there with the two previous excellent adventures. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back and watch the franchise from the beginning…

TL;DR: Bill & Ted Face the Music feels slightly forced at times, but is still a most excellent reunion.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Tenet

Tenet (2020)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan

Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh

Plot: A former CIA agent gets involved in a society of time travelers.

Review: The best way I can sum up how I feel about Tenet is with a quote from Robert Pattinson’s character, Neil: “Does your head hurt yet?” Then, maybe, followed up by one from John David Washington with “Well, try and keep up.” Because, damn, is this movie hard to keep straight.

I am not dumb. I just feel like throwing that out there. I can follow along with a lot of complicated stuff. But, I left the theater after my viewing of Tenet feeling like I truly grasped about 30% of what I’d seen. I had to come home to a handful of articles and YouTube videos before I felt confident to even write anything up on this. Even now, I’m not sure I could pass a test on this movie. Everything is super complicated. Add to that Nolan’s desire to keep people in the dark, even while they’re watching the movie, and you’re going to lose some people. Plus, there’s a lot of exposition. Just a ton of talking. And, for some reason, Nolan likes to absolutely crank everything up except for the dialogue. It’s this weird quirk that he’s got. The movie is super loud but you can barely hear the characters talk. AND, they only really say things once. So, easy to miss, quiet, essential, complicated exposition scenes? Yeah. I’m giving myself a pass on this one. It’s not my fault.

Regardless, I’ve got a pretty decent grasp on the plot now. I’m not completely lost anymore. So, what did I think of it? It’s good. Not great. You can tell that Nolan is a smart person who put a lot of thought into this script. I can see where he’s coming from now. I still think it’s a bit overly complex, but I’d like to watch it again before passing full judgment. I think this is a movie that will improve upon repeat viewings.

However, it definitely features that Christopher Nolan coldness that everyone talks about. He’s constantly accused of writing kind of flat, inhuman characters without much personality of emotion. I’ve always kind of defended him against those accusations, but I can definitely see it in Tenet. I don’t really care about any of these characters. None of the performances are mindblowing. It’s all in the storytelling and the visuals. I do think even Nolan himself knows that this time around though, because he doesn’t even bother giving his main character a name. But, as someone who’s enjoyment of a movie is almost directly tied to my love of the characters, this didn’t help Tenet’s inaccessibility for me.

The one thing that absolutely cannot be denied is that Tenet is a technically perfect movie. The cinematography is great. The score is top notch. The action scenes are very well done. It’s got some gigantic, awe-inspiring set pieces. There are amazing piratical effects with things moving both forward and backwards in time. You know, all the stuff we’ve come to expect from Christopher Nolan at this point. He’s one of the most renowned filmmakers of his generation for a reason. Even his lesser movies, like this one, are still worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.

Overall, I liked Tenet. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to tell you that leaving the theater though. However, after a bit of homework, I can definitely tell you that it’s at least a good movie. And, like I said, technically it’s gorgeous. This’ll be nominated for quite a few technical Oscars. It’s not my favorite Nolan movie. It’s actually probably closer to the bottom. But, it’s still worth watching and celebrating. I’m sure I’ll grow to like it more as time goes on. But, for now, it’s good. Go see it… if it’s safe to do so. Don’t die for this movie…

TL;DR: Tenet may be Christopher Nolan’s most inaccessible movie yet, but is worth the effort in the end.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)

Director: Armando Iannucci

Writers: Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci

Starring: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, and Paul Whitehouse

Plot: David Copperfield tells the story of his life from birth to now.

Review: Do you ever watch a movie not realizing that you’re a pretty big fan of the director, but having a really good time? And, then, you look it up later and you’re like “Oh, duh. I love this guys work.” That’s pretty much my experience with The Personal History of David Copperfield. The trailer for this looked really good, so I was excited know anything, really, about it. As it turns out, I really, really like this director and would’ve known exactly what to expect had I done some research. The director is one Mr. Armando Iannucci. That might not be a household name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of his work. He’s the one behind such wonderful, quirky, awkward comedies as In the Loop, Veep, Alan Partridge, and The Death of Stalin. So, knowing that, you pretty much know exactly what to expect. It’s going to be quirky. There’s going to be fun characters. And, it’s going to be really, really fun. Honestly, if you go by that mindset, The Personal History of David Copperfield definitely does not disappoint.

Honestly, as I was trying to catch up to the tone of David Copperfield, I was also trying to figure out what it’s purpose is. I have not read the book. I have not seen any other adaptations. So, this was my first foray into the Dickens’ novel. And, I was definitely enjoying myself. I thought the performances were great. The writing was clever. And, the characters were all super interesting. However, I didn’t really see the plot going anywhere special. Then, it hit me. This isn’t about the plot. This is about those characters and how they shaped David Copperfield’s life. It’s a love letter to the quirky and the weird. I had a much greater appreciation for everything from that point on. So, I guess you should go into this movie with the right mindset. It’s about quirky, strange characters and that’s exactly the point. I mean… I didn’t go in like that and still enjoyed it, but I feel like it’s still a helpful tip to give.

And it’s really no wonder I enjoyed Copperfield. Bringing Dickens’ characters to life, we have the most extraordinary cast. Seriously, there’s so many brilliant, hilarious actors in this movie. I kept mental notes throughout the movie on who I was going to mention, but I got overwhelmed. Everyone is so freaking good in this. It’s probably the theater going experience that had me laughing the hardest. It’s such a stacked cast and they’re all playing memorable, unique characters. If I had to pick, I guess I’d say that Hugh Laurie was my favorite though. He plays a guy who thinks he inherited the mind of a long dead British king and it’s very entertaining. I also very much enjoyed the choice to make this movie a tad colorblind. They went with whoever was best fitted for the role instead of making sure everything was historically accurate. This gave Dev Patel and others the chance to tackle some fantastic parts when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Plus, it’s great to see Dev in a different type of role. But, yeah, the whole cast was terrific. I would mention more, but I’m afraid I’d be here all day.

Lastly, I was super impressed by the stylistic choices made by Iannucci. He put it together almost as if it were a play, where we’d simultaneously see the action taking place and Copperfield over to the side narrating it. That and a couple of really unique, cool perspective shots made for a really entertaining viewing experience. Plus, of course, it had all of the terrific costumes and set design and everything else you’re looking for in adaptations of classic literature.

The only thing I’d say holds The Personal History of David Copperfield back a bit is the plot. Like I said earlier, it’s more of a character study. So, at the end, you don’t really feel like you’ve been on that grand or, even, that important of a journey. That’s probably more on the source material though. Still, the movie is fun enough that I can easily get past that. (I just wanted to explain why my score might be a tad lower than expected.)

So, really, I have nothing bad to say about The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s a very entertaining, well made movie with a killer cast. I kind of wish this were a theater company, because I’d love to see all of these people work together again. In fact, just have them adapt the whole classics section of the bookstore into movies. I’d be there for all of them.

TL;DR: Every single actor brings their A-game to this well-directed, quirky take on Dickens in The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: The New Mutants

The New Mutants (2020)

Director: Josh Boone

Writers: Josh Boone and Knate Lee

Starring: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga

Plot: A group of young mutants are held at a creepy facility with sinister intentions under the guise that they are being trained for something better.

Review: Well, here we are. The end of the road for the X-Men franchise. It’s been quite the journey. There was greatness. Then, the movies got pretty bad. Then, like Jean Grey’s Phoenix, they rose again to some of their highest heights. They should’ve ended things with the strong finale of Days of Future Past and Logan though, because the fall was almost just as hard. The last couple of X-Men movies have been some of the worst movies to come out in the last couple years. And, then, we have New Mutants. Poor New Mutants. It’s misery was dragged out for sooooooooo long. This movie was supposed to come out in April 2018! The actors have each had, like, four different projects release since the filming of this. In fact, The New Mutants is so old that Stan Lee is listed in the credits as a producer. As we know though, it just kept being pushed back time after time after time. And, to make matters worse, about halfway through my viewing at the theater, it just cut off. I swear this movie was cursed. Actually, having seen it, I kind of think the universe was doing us all a favor. Because, The New Mutants is bad. Like, really, really bad. There’s almost nothing in it that worked for me. In fact, I might even say it’s the worse in the franchise, which is really saying something.

I don’t even know where to begin with The New Mutants honestly. There’s just so much about it that’s disappointing. I guess we should talk about our heroes first. After all, this is predominately a super hero movie. The people that go out to watch it are looking for some of that Marvel awe and wonder or, at least, the watered down Fox version of it. So, does it at least deliver there? Surprise! The answer is no. Not at all really. While I was watching, I was trying to think back to the last time we saw superheroes represented in this lame a manner in a big budget movie. Unless I’m forgetting something, which is entirely possible, I think it was Fant4stic? You know… that other massive franchise that Fox just bailed on halfway through. Seriously, this is laughably bad. The fight choreography is almost non-existent with only slightly cool, short moment of badassery coming from Magik. The villain is one of the lamest we’ve seen in comic book movies period. She was not intimating or fun to watch in the least. The special effects looked worse than the CW superhero shows with the final battle looking especially cringey. I was just laughing every time they used their superpowers. We’re in a time where Ant-Man looks cool and realistic, but a girl who turns into a werewolf looks laughable. Come on, Fox! Get it together! (I mean… I know they’re no longer around, but, if this movie can be outdated so can my complaints about it. ) And, worst of all, these characters just didn’t click with me at all. They’re powers all felt like powers C-list superheroes would have with the personalities to match. Now, I get it. These are not the most popular Marvel characters. Heck, they’re not even the best X-Men characters. However, we are playing on a field where you have to sell your C or D-list characters as if they are the most important characters you have. Marvel Studios made Rocket and Groot cool! They’re probably about to do the same with Eternals. There’s no reason to blame your source material in comic book movies anymore. It’s your job to make these characters cool. Also, you’ve got the talent to get that done! The cast is filled with likable people, whose talent sometimes manages to poke through you’re shitty script. Making these characters work on the big screen shouldn’t be this difficult. If anything, New Mutants found a way to make the characters worse.

But, The New Mutants didn’t stop at being bad at just one genre? No! This movie sucks at two! Because it’s also marketed as a horror movie. And, yes, there are definitely horror elements to this movie. Was I ever scared? No. Did things ever tense up at all? No. Is there any imagery that is going to stick with me? No. Seriously, I get that it’s rated PG-13 but I bet you could show this movie to an 8 year old and they’d be fine. There’s nothing scary about it. I’m all for doing different things with the superhero genre. I think it’s needed. Logan and Joker were both great examples of stretching the genre in new and interesting ways. I was kinda hoping New Mutants would do the same. But, if you’re going to do horror, do horror. Don’t half-ass it. Make a legitimately scary movie that stands on it’s own as a horror movie. And, maybe, it just happens to feature superheroes. That sounds really cool. Those other two examples of genre bending I listed can stand on their own in those other mediums. Wolverine doesn’t need powers to make Logan work emotionally. You don’t need to know who the Joker is to feel the punch to the gut that is that movie. However, if you were to take the superheroes out of New Mutants, I’m not sure anyone would care to see this movie. It’s just another generic, teen horror flick. It’d get tossed on the same pile as movies like Countdown and Slender Man. Heck, the “monsters” even look like Slender Man!

I’ve read rumors that Fox was super disappointed in The New Mutants. Apparently, they saw the initial cut and almost wanted to start over again from scratch. Having seen the movie, I understand that urge. It’s really, really bad. Nothing about it works. It’s my least favorite of the X-Men movies. It takes Apocalypse’s place because at least that movie felt like it mattered. This is a big old nothing burger. Fox abandoned this movie, then just bailing as a company. Disney then inherited this mess and seemingly just didn’t want to release it. Again, I get it. I’m a little saddened that this is how the franchise had to go out though. While X-Men was never super consistent, it did give us some really high highs. It’s a shame it ended with the lowest of lows.

Oh well. Now Disney/Marvel has the rights. Time for a reboot.

(Actually, before we wrap this up, I do have one compliment for The New Mutants. It was very brave of them to have LGBT representation and it was fairly well done. Also, it’s great that the marketing hasn’t made a huge deal about it. That’s all. That compliment didn’t seem to fit anywhere else so I figured I’d throw it in at the end. Everything else sucks though. It’s definitely still not worth seeing.)

TL;DR: Almost nothing about The New Mutants works.

Score: 3/10 (Awful)

Let’s Talk About Batman, Suicide Squad, and Everything Else DC Fandome

For those of you who don’t know, DC had an online event yesterday where they announced huge news about their upcoming slate of movies and video games. Because the world is how it is, there was obviously no in person Comic Con. I mean… they had something like this but it was kind of lame. Opting out of that, DC decided to do their own thing instead. That turned out to be a really, really good move as the whole news cycle was dominated by them yesterday. Seriously, all of my social media feeds were flooded with nothing but DC moves. So, it was a big win for them.

As you probably know, I am mostly a Marvel guy. I’m going to admit that here. But, I’m not huge on shitting on the other side either. I love DC. I grew up watching Keaton’s Batman and Reeve’s Superman. Joker was one of my favorite movies of last year. Birds of Prey is up there for 2020. I’ve read a ton of the comics. I’ve watched a couple of the tv shows. I play the video games. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t hold my love for Marvel against me with any of my opinions. Just wanted to put that out there for anyone who stumbled upon this.

As a big DC fan, I’m very intrigued by a ton of what they were throwing down here. In fact, this might end up being a fairly lengthy post because I’ve got some thoughts. Some might be in the same vein as everyone else’s. A few are… I don’t know. A tad more controversial. But, I think they’re all worth sharing and discussing. So, be sure to let me know what you think as well, either in the comments below or on my Facebook feed. I love discussing movies and these are the type I tend to have the most fun debating. That being said… let’s get to it.

Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman is probably my favorite thing to come out of the DCEU. I love Gal Gadot’s portrayal of her. I love Patty Jenkins’ directorial style. I really, really loved the first movie. So, of course a sequel is going to have me pumped up. The fact that it’s set in the 80’s is an interesting turn too. I like the aesthetic. And, I really enjoy the looks we’ve had at Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord, even if we don’t completely know what his role in all of this is quite yet. I’m into the idea that he gives people what they want and somehow has made his way into the White House. A villain in the White House? Crazy talk. (Sobs.) But, I do have to admit that I’m a tad nervous about Cheetah. That’s going to be such a hard character to pull off. My dad mentioned that she looked like a character from Cats, which I can’t really argue with. Having an actor in the role like Kirsten Wiig, who is primarily known for comedy, won’t help in taking it seriously either. I hope I’m wrong. I’m still very excited for the movie. I want to get back to that world. You will find my butt in the theater the first showing of opening night with a giant grin on my face. I’m just a tad worried that the third act is going to seem laughable.

Gotham Knights

Is this the first time I’ve talked about video games on this blog? I think it is. Don’t worry. I’m still movie focused. But, holy crap, this looks amazing. I love the Bat-Family. I think they’re all really intriguing, kick-ass characters. Getting Batman out of the way and focusing on them for a bit seems like a brilliant move. And, the concept of playing as four different characters in a universe as fleshed out and cinematic as this really excites me. The fact that they allowed the colors to remain bright and popping is a nice change of pace too. It seems like DC is always trying to mute their color pallet to make things more “grounded.” To see mostly comic accurate costumes puts a smile of my face. Speaking of, The COURT OF OWLS ARE THE FREAKING VILLAINS! I remember reading those comics as they came out and reveling in the fact that I was witnessing the creation of the next iconic Batman villains. I’m excited to see them presented to the world of fans outside of the comic book readers. Because they really are super cool and dark and mysterious. The only thing I’m slightly disappointed in is the fact that this game exists outside of the iconic Arkham cannon, but that’s a very minor gripe. I can get over that fairly easily. I’m definitely pumped to give this game a shot. It looks terrific.

The Flash

I don’t really have a ton to say about The Flash, because, honestly, the panel didn’t either. Just wanted to mention that I’ve spent so much time just starring at this piece of concept art. It’s gorgeous. Michael Keaton is back in all of his glory. I will always love his movies. He is THE movie Batman for me. I can’t wait for him to suit up again. I hope it lives up to my hype. Also, it’s very cool that Ben Affleck is coming back. I thought he had a lot of promise in BVS that was thrown away in Justice League. I think he was one of the few movie Batmen who’s wings felted a bit clipped. There’s a lot of unexplored potential there, so I’m happy we may get to see a bit of that. So, my Flash thoughts are mostly Batman thoughts… Shit… I’m glad to see Ezra Miller back too. He’s another one I feel got the short shaft in the DCEU. We knew he was coming back though.

The Suicide Squad

This! This is the movie I’m most excited for in the DC lineup right now! I cannot wait to see Jame Gunn’s Suicide Squad. It looks so cool. We didn’t even get a full trailer and I still came away thrilled. I love that all of the actors described this as something different. A movie unlike any we’ve seen before. I love how stacked the cast is. And, I definitely love that a lot of them are playing D or even F-list characters, because that means Gunn has free reign to kill them off if need be. And that’s what Suicide Squad should be about. These guys are expendable. That’s the whole point. You can’t just have one of them die in the beginning of the movie and then have it be causality free from that point on like the first movie did. This one is going to be mayhem. It’s going to be James Gunn’s edgier work like Super fused with his mainstream Guardians flicks. It’s basically Gunn in his ultimate form. Or, at least, that’s what I’m hoping for and these sneak peaks give me no reason to doubt that. I’m definitely 100% on board here.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

This, I think, is where the controversy starts. I am openly not a fan of Zack Snyder’s take on the DC characters. I like Man of Steel. I thought it was a good introduction to Superman. But, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice completely squashed my enthusiasm for the Justice League. And, then, Justice League came along and did not fix things. Now, I get it. The JL we saw was not Snyder’s intended vision. It was a mashup between two very different takes on the universe. However, a lot of the moments I did enjoy in that movie felt distinctly Joss Whedon and the ones I didn’t felt a tad Snyder. I’m just not sure I can ever be on board with what he wants to do with these characters. There’s nothing in this trailer that convinces me otherwise either. I think he’s a great visual director, but his “gritty” take rubs me the wrong way. I much prefer the DCEU’s lighter fare like Wonder Woman, Shazam, and Birds of Prey. I’m more than willing to give Snyder another shot though. He’s very passionate about getting this out there. The cast wants it released. And, obviously, the fans are hungry for it. So, there must be something there worth seeing. I’m skeptical, but also happy that its coming out so we can put this whole thing to bed. We can all see what Snyder’s third act could’ve/should’ve/would’ve been and then move on however it’s deemed appropriate. If it rocks everyone’s socks off, we can continue with that vision. If it sucks, it’s another bad take on a bad movie. There’s really no risk here I guess. You know what, I talked myself into it. Let’s do this.

Oh, it’s four hours… well… back to skeptical it is…

Black Adam

I don’t really have a whole lot to say on Black Adam. I’m just excited that they’re bringing in the JSA. My personal theory is that he’s going to kick their asses, like, absolutely destroy them. I haven’t read a lot of Black Adam but I’ve seen that he can get incredibly brutal and just dead serious. So, I’d have him go in there, slaughter the JSA, and then tease a matchup with Shazam. This creates real tension for the crossover because we’ve seen how much they conflict at that point. I think it’d perfectly set the table for Shazam 3. But, that’s just my theory. They could end up turning him into an anti-hero since it’s The Rock. I really hope not though, because I think Black Adam could/should be very scary.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Fist of all, it looks like Sinbad is finally going to be in a movie called Shazam, even though I am still convinced that already happened. Second, it looks like the team is back. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I think they were kinda the weaker parts of the first movie. Still, I liked Shazam so I’m definitely looking forward to more.

Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League

Remember when I said that I was disappointed that Gotham Knights didn’t take place in the Arkham universe? Well, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League does, which is fantastic news. I loved those games. It’s one of my favorite takes on Batman. In fact, I’m replaying through the first one now. To see the world expand a bit outside of the Batverse is exciting to me. And, everything looks amazing here. The graphics look top notch. The character design is great. The banter between the characters feels fun. The team lineup is neat, though I’m hoping it’s a bit more extensive then what they’re showing us. It feels very cinematic. And, the Justice League is going to there! Can you imagine how scary it’s going to be to play as Harley, with nothing but a bat, going up against Superman? This game is going to be so good! There’s no way I’m going to miss out on it.

The Batman

And, finally, the big splash. The Batman trailer. I definitely have some thoughts here. Let me start off with my more negative ones. This is not the Batman movie I was hoping for. From the cast announcements and the director, I thought we were heading towards a take on Hush. And, more importantly to me, one that felt like the comics. I, honestly, feel like we haven’t had a comic accurate take of the caped crusader on screen yet. We got a couple of Tim Burton movies, some neon fever dreams from Schumacher, gritty crime dramas from Nolan, and Affleck’s Batman never really got to take off. I want something like the Arkham games or Batman: The Animated Series or, you know, the comics. I feel like stepping into a Fincher-esque crime movie is retreading the Nolan-verse to a certain degree. I digress though. There’s no reason to complain about what a movie is not. Let’s take it for what it is. By that standard, I’m very impressed. It looks terrific. The costume is great. Pattinson seems to fit into the part perfectly. I like the brutality of the one action scene we got. The Riddler seems dark and mysterious and very cool. I like the more grounded takes on the Batmobile and the Batcave. The directing seems to be topnotch. It all looks very cool. It’s almost like they’re taking the Nolan stuff even a step further, which I can actually appreciate. So, I’ve kinda got mixed feelings. It’s not the movie I wanted (but maybe the movie I needed right now? Sorry. Bad joke.) I’m still excited for it. I’m definitely going to go see it. The fact that they were able to put together this good of a trailer this early into production is a great sign. I’m just not nerdgasming in the same manner a lot of other Batfans are. Not yet at least.

And those are my thoughts on DC Fandome. There were a couple of other panels, but nothing that really caught my interest the way these did. Overall, a very good day for DC. I’m super excited about what the future holds for them. Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman are the two I’m most into right now. The rest, at the very least, look interesting. It’s going to be a good couple of years.

So, what did you think of DC Fandome? What are you excited for? Am I completely wrong about the Snyder cut? I’m sure you’ll let me know. Like I said, I thought it was a pretty good event. I’m pumped about a lot of DC stuff right now. And that’s all I could really ask for.

Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan (2020)

Director: Thea Sharrock

Writer: Mike White

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Ramon Rodriguez, Ariana Greenblatt, and Bryan Cranston

Plot: Ivan, a silverback gorilla, is the star of a local circus, but longs for a life outside of his cage.

Review: Circuses are in a weird transitional period right now. Thus, as are circus movies. You can’t just make a movie idolizing the circus anymore. It feels wrong and insincere. I’m looking at you, The Greatest Showman. But, companies like Disney don’t want to completely throw the whole business away either. After all, there’s a reason the industry was as resilient as it was. There’s something magical about the circus. As long as we ignore that deep, dark underbelly, it’s fun and gives us beautiful, memorable moments. That’s where the live action Dumbo failed. It made things a bit too dark. So, movies about the big top can’t go too hard or too soft, especially when aimed squarely at children. Both are problematic. So, what is a movie like The One and Only Ivan to do? Walk the middle line? Trying to appease both sides? Nah. Turns out that doesn’t work out all that well either.

That idea of walking the middle line is exactly what makes The Only and Only Ivan just barely work. It’s lacking any sort of punch. They tried to keep the majesty of the circus by having the animals be mostly happy with their all-around good guy trainer. That’s fine I guess. It’s not realistic, but it’s also a kids’ movie. Do whatever you need to in order to make things work. Buuuut, then you can’t have Ivan and the others clamoring for a better life outside. I mean… I guess you can, but it lowers the stakes rather dramatically. Why should we root for Ivan to roam freely when he seemed just as content and taken care of behind bars? I mean… as a rational human, I know that a gorilla can’t possibly be happy behind bars. But, that’s taking reality into this movie. We have to look at what’s presented on screen. And, you could make the argument that these particular animals seem just fine where they are. Again, it just kinda deflates any tension from the movie. I honestly would’ve been cool with whatever happened to these characters and that’s not something you should be able to say about a movie. You should want what the lead wants.

Other than the conflicted message, I don’t really have a whole lot of negative things to say about The One and Only Ivan. The visuals were all pretty good. There’s a few touches of that signature Disney magic. A couple of the shots gave me goosebumps. One particular image at the end will especially stick with me forever. The special effects are actually really good. They had a nice balance between realism and cartoony. We’re not dealing with the uncanny talking animal levels of The Lion King remake or the scary look of the Lady and the Tramp remake here. It’s right where it should be somewhere in the middle. I think other talking animal movies in the future should take notes. Speaking of, all of the cast does a fantastic job. The animal voice actors all seemed to fit their characters really well. Sam Rockwell is the perfect voice for a sympathetic gorilla character. And, the human actors all did a good job too. A lot of the ringleader’s likability comes from the fact that it’s the impeccable Bryan Cranston in the role. You kind of can’t help but love the guy.

Overall, I did enjoy The One and Only Ivan. I never felt like I wasted my time with it. It just didn’t blow me away either. I was never fully invested in the story and the message felt a little muddled. I wouldn’t turn people away from it, especially families with younger kids. But, I wouldn’t say you have to rush to Disney+ to watch this either.

TL;DR: The One and Only Ivan plays it a bit too safe to be engaging, but is still a fun, well made romp for families.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)