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Alien-Covenant-Trailer-Breakdown-1

Feels much more like the original Alien in terms of design and aesthetic.

Alien: Covenant is getting positive reviews it just doesn’t deserve and that I didn’t expect. The negative reviews make more sense to me, though I don’t fully agree with them. I think it boils down to a collective sigh of relief that it is not nearly as bad or as stupid or as bewildering as Prometheus was. At the same time, it almost makes me miss that movie. Which, if you know me at all, would seem a completely fucking loony tunes thing for me to say. I hate Prometheus and though I tried many a time, I never made it through a rewatch. That movie just falls apart about 45 minutes into it and never, ever recovers. But, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, at least it had some ambition, misdirected and poorly executed though it was.

Covenant is not really a good movie. It isn’t terrible, though, it’s just kind of there. Like I was saying, I find myself aligned neither with the ridiculous positive reviews nor with the ridiculous negative reviews. They all make points, some solid and some not so much, but I feel squarely in the middle in terms of my critical response. This was a movie where I couldn’t summon up much ire over the parts where it did get stupid. Nor did I really feel much in those moments where something interesting, whether visually or narratively, happened.

I don’t know if Covenant could rightly be described as a boring movie, but like Mass Effect: Andromeda, it does feel like a pseudo-remake of the first one. A movie that arises not to put a bold new chapter in the Alien book, but to basically try and remind us why we liked these movies in the first place. This is a problem because it fails by playing it too safe, too conservative, and by splitting its priorities so distinctly and unimaginatively that you wind up feeling like you’re watching three different movies, stapled together so ineptly that it becomes distracting if not ruinous for the whole franchise.

IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU *SPOILERS* Read the rest of this entry »

King-Arthur-Legend-of-the-Sword

Pick it up. You know you want to.

So if we take a really loose version of the Arthurian mythology, marry it to a cockney London (er… Londinium) gangster story, sprinkle in a bunch of references, some in tribute and some mocking, to other fantasy movies… this is what we get? This is what we get. The result is ridiculous and will offend the sensibilities of just about every type of nerd out there. Your history nerds will scratch their heads about everything from wardrobe to chronology to props, your mythology and literary nerds will want to know why King Arthur is suddenly Robin Hood, and your fantasy nerds might be placated by the most awesome magic sword in the history of magic swords, but their literalist tendencies will be set alight and pissed on by this movie’s utter disregard for consistent or coherent world-building. And we already know what the movie nerds think. Spoiler: they are not happy.

For my money, King Arthur is a more enjoyable movie than either of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films mostly because it dares to be far more bonkers and far more often at that. But it also has the same issues, including an overly dour colour scheme which mars some otherwise beautiful compositions and sequences. It also has an overly smug lead, which I’ll talk about more later. The visual issues are compounded by a really bad (in my theater anyway) use of 3D. Like, 2005 bad. This movie is so dark that many of the aesthetic details especially in CG-heavy scenes are lost. I would bet that this is not a theater issue but one with the quality of the post-processing, since many people are complaining about the uninspiring visuals of the movie. They aren’t totally correct, there’s a lot to love visually here, but the movie consistently holds itself back by being 3D for absolutely no fucking reason. When I get to see it again, it will not be in 3D and I’m hoping the visual elements register more clearly more often. On the other hand, the music in this movie is brilliant. Even the non-score anachronistic songs. Forget the term for those, but they are well-used here.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is overall a baffling movie. I don’t want to ruin anybody’s fun here, because this movie actually is plenty fun, it’s just that the whole thing doesn’t really come together the way you want it to. There are many elements that work well, especially when the movie isn’t taking itself seriously, but many more that do not. It’s a huge boys’ club, with almost no female characters and the few present get very little to do besides support the male hero or die trying, but it also wins some diversity points by not pretending the medieval world was lily white the way the racists like to. Some will accuse King Arthur, kind of wrong-headedly, of casting it like it’s taking place in Modern London rather than ~500CE Londinium. It’s a fascinating exercise, really, because here we have this remix, this mash-up, and who better to do that with Arthurian myth, especially with the music video sensibility that King Arthur displays, than Guy Ritchie? But honestly, did they ever stop to think if they should do it? No, they did not. They were planning like five of these. I doubt we’ll even get two.

MY KINGDOM FOR A SPOILER WARNING.

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Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-trailer-breakdown-21

Is there a more instantly iconic cast in Hollywood?

I am pleased to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (I’ll refer to it simply as Vol. 2) is, as many of you have found out for yourselves over the past week, every bit as good and in some ways much better than even the first one. Vol. 1 was a great surprise and still the boldest movie Marvel has yet made. Vol. 2 doubles down on the world it created and the characters that inhabit it, losing the freshness a little (which is being overstated as a complaint) but managing to improve on those few significant weak spots the first one did have.

One of those is the way certain characters were shorted much of an arc as the plot took over the movie. In Vol. 2 this never happens and no character, and there are so fucking many of them, gets shorted. They all have satisfying arcs, even Kraglin (Sean Gunn), wisely depending on interactions with each other. For people who like Marvel movies and fans of The Fast and the Furious franchise, this will feel familiar. It’s in pairings, parallels and polar opposites, that juggling so many characters and arcs becomes possible. Vol. 2 pulls this off with aplomb and manages to weave through tonal shifts, some of which are pretty shocking and risky. A stronger commitment to the sadness and loss hinted at in Vol. 1 is also demonstrated here, giving this goofy space movie an emotional core that is hard to find even in serious dramas. If I could compare that to something, it’d be a Pixar movie, where they definitely understand that the juxtaposition of light heartedness, humour, and fun against deeper, darker, and unresolved feelings provides a strong base for engaging drama and characterization. Not only this, but James Gunn managed to infuse this one with some pretty heavy existential and philosophical weight, which I’ll get to later on. I didn’t expect that.

All the way back when testing revealed that Vol. 2 was the MCU’s first movie that scored 100s (whatever that means), the hype has been real. There’s already a pretty misguided mini-backlash against this movie, fixated on gags that don’t quite land or the way the second act dismisses the overarching plot in favor of briefly becoming a shaggy hangout movie, but this stuff seems nitpicky to me. At the same time, I totally understand just how hard it is to deal with a movie as anticipated and hyped up as this one was. Your mind always wants to find that one thing wrong with it, so I take these nitpicks as a great sign personally. If the worst someone can say is that the space fruit ripeness joke feels a little forced then this is one helluva movie, right? It so is. Read the rest of this entry »

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No one will accuse this movie of not looking great.

Ghost in the Shell as a 20 years removed live action adaptation of a seminal anime film is at once completely unnecessary and completely inevitable. We live in a weird period where the tropes and signifiers of the cyberpunk genre are everywhere we look. It makes a sort of sense that the most influential pieces of that history are being reclaimed and re-positioned for modern audiences. Not only is Ghost in the Shell a thing that happened, but Blade Runner is getting a sequel, shows like Incorporated also pay direct homage to and update the William Gibson and Margaret Atwood cyberpunk vision for the 2010s. But when you watch Marvel movies or the CW superhero shows, the technological gimmicks as well as many of the technological themes stories address (artificial intelligence, human enhancement, etc) are also present.

This is because we kind of live cyberpunk now, we’ve got all the big elements: sketchy corporations accruing more and more power, poorly understood technological progress unevenly distributed and always dovetailing between transcendence and frivolity, and a world where high-tech gadgets and cybernetic crime, warfare, and identity are taken for granted.

So what time could be better than now for an adaptation of Ghost in the Shell? This movie’s historical and iconographical relevance is only rivaled by its failure to address another cornerstone of our times: the latter days of white supremacy in an increasingly global context. Make no mistake, Ghost in the Shell is a very political film but it accomplishes this accidentally and becomes a “useful fool” in the discourses of identity politics, racial/cultural hegemony, and the gyre of entertainment representation. Now, maybe you’re not interested in all that shit. Read the review anyway, because I’ll be getting into the more technical stuff that works or doesn’t first. If you’re looking for a quick summary of the kind I usually put here, let’s say that Ghost in the Shell is… okay. Too much of the narrative is simplified or compromised, and while the imagery and action is beautiful and memorable it also frequently feels cheap outside of the really great practical effects and props that are sprinkled throughout the movie. It also has pretty rad music, though they should have used the ’95 theme more.

//SPOILERS//follow.review Read the rest of this entry »

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This movie will totally prey on your irrational fear of triangles.

The Void is a movie where it is best to go in without knowing too much. However, to make sure the right people see this I will say up front that if you like cosmic horror (Lovecraft and/or Stephen King) and John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing you are primed to love this. It was made for you.

Beyond its horror pedigree and fairly game achievement of its ambitions, it is interesting to note that The Void is a partially cowdfunded film. That’s pretty cool to think about since not only are practical-effects driven movies like this one fairly rare nowadays, crowdfunding proves there’s both an appetite for them and the potential for more to be made.

Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski wrote and directed the hell out of this film. It has a fairly simple, straightforward premise that unfolds into truly eerie territory. One of the best things about it is that it gets at ya fast and often, spending only the minimal time on set up before getting into the good stuff. If you’re tired of horror movies that wait too long to show some monsters or tip the hand of weird shit going on, you’ll like the way this one is structured.

THERE ARE SPOILERS… IN THE VOID.

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kong-skull-island-halong

The sense of scale in this movie is just masterful.

I really, really didn’t like 2005’s King Kong and it was really the beginning of my reappraisal of Peter Jackson as a filmmaker (George Lucas 2.0). I only saw it the one time and while people have reassured me that it’s got redeeming qualities, and I’m sure it does, I have never had the desire to revisit it again.

Kong: Skull Island on the other hand? I think I’ll be rewatching this one a ton. For one thing, it’s fucking gorgeous. So well designed and beautifully shot. It’s an obvious course-correction after Godzilla 2014’s very mixed bag, and this might not sit well for fans of that movie, but I loved it. Mostly what this means is that Kong has a diverse cast of human characters that are fleshed out to varying degrees and have charisma and meaningful arcs (for the most part). Godzilla had one dude who just kept being inexplicably there for everything. Kong simply does it one better by paying a little more attention to the humans and also by making sure Kong is around early and often. It maintains the somewhat distant perspective on Kong that Godzilla had with its titular beast, but I actually kind of like that. It’s better if humans are sort of watching this big ape-god and arguing among themselves about its true motives and traits. It gives it a slight tinge of cosmic horror, where even with all the jawing about it we’re pretty sure no one really ever understands these great monsters fully.

In most ways, Kong plays like a very old fashioned adventure movie. It has a playful sensibility with tons of visual gags and a critical attention to small details that helps it pull off that swashbuckling tone. It feels like the cover of a 60’s Hollow Earth novel come to life, right down to the action figure hero and heroine. I was not expecting something with this much scale and confidence from Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose previous movie Kings of Summer is one I really liked but is almost laughably smaller in every conceivable way. Still, Vogt-Roberts might owe a debt to Gareth Edwards but he very much makes his own mark in the Kaijuverse that they are trying to build. I think he’s the best bet for bringing together that inevitable movie where Kong and Godzilla throw down. Read the rest of this entry »

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This movie is totally hollow.

Over time, an unofficial rule of this blog developed and it is that I don’t typically go back and review movies from a previous year. There are always way too many and not enough time in the current year so I usually concentrate on what I’m seeing in theaters. For Assassin’s Creed, I am going to make an exception. Because I’m mad at it. It is so, so bad and the worst part is that it’s kind of regular type bad (it’s a lazy, shallow mess) rather than interesting or ambitious type bad. If all a video game movie can hope for is to be some shade of bad, I’d prefer the ambitious and bizarre bad of Warcraft to this any fucking day.

About the nicest thing you can say about this movie is that it’s occasionally gorgeous and very occasionally has some interesting ideas or revisions of the Assassin’s Creed “lore” as we might know it from the games. I played those games in the halcyon days before Ubisoft decided to make it an annual release and drive anything good about it to the merry land of tedious repetition and stagnant innovation. Still, I was cautiously optimistic about this movie because the trailer was stylish and there’s some solid talent both behind and in front of the camera. I was one of the people who liked Justin Kurzel and Michael Fassbender’s previous collaboration, 2015’s Macbeth adaptation. If Kurzel could bring his grit and eye for imagery to a video game movie, all the better. And he did, sort of, which is why there are shots in Assassin’s Creed that are great and might even trick some viewers into believing it’s ever more than some pretty packaging for a completely boring, by the numbers plot-driven vanity project. And it does feel like a vanity project for Fassbender.

All that being said, Assassin’s Creed is what I called “regular type bad” so at the end of the day, its many sins will be glossed and forgiven by people with an investment in what it offers: the elusive and fleeting thrill of seeing moments from a video game brought to life in a movie. There’s also that people probably genuinely want this movie to be way better than it is, that will fill in the yawning gaps it leaves everywhere (but especially with characterization, of which there is almost none) with dismissive “they explained that” statements. And yes, this movie explains itself a lot, right from the half-assed opening text, but it rarely if ever does anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

hero_GetOut.png

Yeah.

I’m not super up on Key and Peele so I don’t really know the work of Jordan Peele but I have a feeling now that I should get acquainted. I saw Keanu and thought it was a bit similar to Pineapple Express but otherwise pretty good, and I’m aware of some of the most famous sketches Key and Peele have done. Mostly, though, I entered into Get Out without a lot of preconceived notions about Peele as a filmmaker. After Get Out, I’ve gotta say that I hope the rumors he has several more thematically similar movies planned are true.

Get Out plays like an homage to classic low-key horror from the 70’s and 80’s, movies that were big on atmosphere and low on flashy effects or obvious scares. I didn’t find Get Out to be particularly “scary” but that hardly matters. I think a horror movie doesn’t have to be scary in a visceral “looking over your shoulder at on the walk home” kind of way to be effective, and besides it is possible that non-white viewers will find it much more viscerally scary than I did as a viewer who passes for white and has not had to deal with the kind of shit that happens. That said, Get Out is incredibly unsettling and creepy, especially since it is punctuated by expertly placed comedy, like little release valves that tease some of the tension away just so Peele can double down on it a scene or two later. You’d never know this was Peele’s first horror movie, especially since humor in horror is a difficult rope to walk for even veteran filmmakers and it’s walked so very well here. Get Out is already one of the best movies of the year, and will probably go down as a hugely fresh perspective in horror, a genre that is at once welcoming and desperate for them.

Ultimately, Get Out is getting notice less for being a horror movie and more for being a movie that uses horror to discuss race. It’s worth noting that the way it’s a horror movie seems to be a seamless hybrid of horror from an urban black perspective (and urban is not here intended to be code for “street”) and classic atmospheric horror. The racial commentary is well constructed, wryly illustrated in dialogue and the premise/playing out of the story, and is unflinchingly confrontational without being polemic (and therefore much more difficult for assholes to dismiss). Some of its humor and perspective reminded me of the similarly clever Atlanta, so if you dig that but don’t usually like horror, this still might be a movie for you.

SPOILERS ARE POISON FOR HORROR MOVIES, SO QUIT READING NOW. Read the rest of this entry »

lego_batman_parental_lock

Such a feature would be useful for adults and the internet sometimes.

Finally a Batman movie I can fully get behind. I am well known for having mixed feelings about the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, especially on the writing level. I’m particularly mocking of the cultural impact, where you can’t get through a comment thread anywhere without someone doing the “____needs/___deserves” line, and the weird legions of maladjusted young men who rose up in the wake of criticisms about the Nolan movies to literally threaten the lives of film critics and people who disagreed with them.  Entirely the wrong lessons were drawn by fandom of those movies. I really feel for the long-time and holistic fans of Batman as a character and part of the larger DC mythos. To me, they are constantly abused by Hollywood. DC fans in general. There are those super serious fans out there who are probably predisposed toward hating and dismissing this movie, but I would really urge them to give this a chance. Because it’s not just a parody of Batman and his fandom and legacy, it’s also a huge fucking love letter to fans of the character, of comic books, and of nerds in general.

Except something weird happened when The Lego Movie arrived. Batman was a major character and he was not only a series of jokes about the silliest elements of the character, he was also really funny.That’s got a lot to do with Will Arnett who doubles down in this movie to deliver maybe the best cinematic Batman to date, but it also owes a lot to the way the writers and directors are also huge Batman fans and able to draw on almost a hundred years of cool shit, silly shit, and flat out weird shit for this version of the character. It seemed weird to set a movie around him, like we were all surprised that The Lego Movie wasn’t just a toy commercial, but a Lego Batman movie? That had to exist just to sell more overpriced licensed Lego, right?

Wrong. Lego Batman is legit. I wasn’t sure that the absence of Chris Lord and Phil Miller would be a good thing for this movie, but Chris McKay seriously knocks it out of the park. It takes more out of The Fast and the Furious and Deadpool than it does out of any existing Batman property. It’s full of humor that threatens the fourth wall, including numerous references to the other Batman movies and the age of the character. There’s a great vocal cast having a ball here. Biggest surprise? This movie has a strong emotional core about a lonely Batman who needs to let people in so he can relearn the value of family. If there are any missteps it’s that some parts are a tad underwritten (there were something like 6 writers on this) and it maybe relies too much on flat, bombastic superhero action. But for the most part, it re-appropriates the pseudo-stop-motion aesthetics of The Lego Movie, riffs on 78 years of Batman lore, and makes fun of the silly aspects of the character while also reminding us that Batman was always silly and that this is perfectly okay.

Also, this movie both makes fun of Suicide Squad and manages to be better at the core concept. That is just a win all the way down. Read the rest of this entry »

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One way to get free satellite.

So in anticipation of Diesel returning with another ridiculous but maybe good-hearted action franchise, I watched xXx for the first time since high school and saw xXx 2: State of the Union for the first time ever. I think most people (who give any shit) are surprised that Diesel has been so successful at resuscitating the key roles that made him famous. Maybe it’s because he didn’t wait a score of years to do it, like his action star predecessors have (and thus mostly failed). Maybe it’s because he has some talent as a producer and seems to be able to gather good people. I think a big part of it is that Diesel consistently has a lot of fun and wants to share the fun, both on screen and off, with all his fans. There’s something infectiously charming about the man, even when characters like Dominic Toretto and Richard B. Riddick don’t call for him to use much of it. Xander Cage, however, returning to a defunct franchise after like 15 years… well, that’s a different story.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is head and shoulders a better movie than either of the first two. It accomplishes this primarily by bringing in a lot from the Fast and Furious playbook, mostly in terms of building itself around a colorful ensemble of characters. It doesn’t quite work as well as, say, Fast Five did because it hasn’t had five movies to build a weird sort of following for even the most ridiculous and sketchy of its cast. The Return of Xander Cage mostly has the job of introducing a large, diverse, and kick-ass team which might pave the way for many more of these movies the way Fast Five did for that. Can Vin Diesel really be the core of two extremely similar relentless fun and stupid action franchises? Why the fuck not? I mean, his movies might be mostly dumb but they are consistently well made. Fast and Furious has a heart of gold and xXx has been weirdly infused with socio-political commentary in each of its three entries. I think what matters more than that, though, is Diesel seems to consistently be able to work with directors and writers who find the fun kind of stupid, and not the frustrating and insulting kind. I love action movies, and I love when the raise the bar to ridiculous new heights (which this one really does) and I appreciate not being treated like an idiot even though I am watching underwater motocross chases. It may be too subtle a thing for some people, but it’s a big part of the reason why I love most of the Fast and Furious movies and why I think I kinda loved xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Read the rest of this entry »

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