My review of the movie “Us” by Jordan Peele (MILD SPOILERS)

US the movie

US the movie

Jordan Peele’s second horror movie, Us, dropped this last weekend, and it’s making quite a splash. But is it good?

I quite enjoyed his first movie, GET OUT, even though I found it somewhat racist and unnecessarily focused on divisive politics. Just the same, it was a taut, well-constructed, highly atmospheric film.

US let me down. I’d hoped for the same level of quality as GET OUT, but unfortunately US is a bit of a mess. It can’t quite strike a consistent tone, the pacing is off, and the tacked on scientific explanation at the end proves that sometimes less is more. The best episodes of Twilight Zone were the ones where they didn’t try to explain what you just watched.

And if you are going to explain things, action must follow that explanation. You don’t have a strange story, then an explanation at the end, and that’s it. Something must follow that explanation. It must go somewhere. Otherwise it feels like the filmmaker simply justifying the movie.

But that’s pretty much what we get in US, followed by what might be the most telegraphed reveal of all time.

The actors uniformly do a great job, the atmosphere is taut, until a few misplaced jokes are fired out, and the film contains some fun, original ideas. Bonus points for that.

Bottom line: for horror fans, US delivers a taut, original narrative, so it’s definitely worth a watch. But the execution is muddled and the whole is not as satisfying as GET OUT. C+

Looks like that’s about where the audience score for Rotten Tomatoes is. Never trust the critics, especially for a movie that has been politicized, as US has.

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The Alita: Battle Angel movie rocks! My review

Alita Battle Angel

Battle Angel Alita poster

I saw ALITA BATTLE ANGEL recently, and here are my brief NO SPOILERS thoughts.

Alita Battle Angel is a blast. A extremely fun, well-made movie, put together by the unlikely duo of Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron (who I would describe as opposites in their approach to filmmaking, one fast and loose, one meticulous and slow). But somehow it works.

I’m a big fan of the original manga,and I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. For years it looked like James Cameron himself might make it, but that didn’t happen. And you know what? That’s okay. The movie we got is quite good, and he did at least co-write it, so the movie has the benefit of his strong narrative underpinnings.

Alita herself is well-realized and is a fantastic character. They do such a good job making her awesome that any other defects in the movie sort of melt away, much like the Marvel movies in their approach to heroes.

Is it perfect? No, there are flaws here and there, as there are in any movie, and the ending sets up a sequel that we might never get. But the movie is good enough that you’ll want that sequel. At least I do.

Which brings up an interesting point. Right now the critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes is in the 50s. The audience score is in the 90s. Trust the audience score. So why do the critics judge Alita so harshly? Why is it that the critics have become less and less reliable lately?

Look at Last Jedi, which had the opposite situation — an overwhelmingly positive critical response but an audience score in the 40s. That particular situation had to do with politics. Does this one — that is, Alita? Or, to put it another way, does Alita’s complete lack of a political agenda hurt it with the critics?

It’s the only explanation I can come up with, because it’s a damn fun movie. Better than Aquaman, which I quite liked.

I saw it in IMAX 3D, which is definitely the best way to watch this movie.

Highly recommended!

 

 

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About that Lord of the Rings TV series Amazon is working on . . .

Interesting! That Amazon Lord of the Rings TV series will focus on Numenor and the Second Age. This is actually a pretty cool idea. Sauron himself will almost certainly be a character. I would bet that the series focuses on him slowly corrupting Numenor. Also, the emergence of a resistance against him.

Numenor is also a confined location, and it could be shot mostly on sets, so it wouldn’t prove quite as expensive as shooting in New Zealand on location (if they went that route).

Tolkien wrote an unfinished love story about characters in Numenor. It touches on broader events, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the two proud lovers of that story are characters, or at least inspire characters.

Other characters, ancestors of Aragorn, develop a resistance to Sauron later in the timeline. I would expect the series to be set then.

I will miss traveling through Middle-Earth, though. That is part of the appeal of the saga, so hopefully we will see some of Arnor and Gondor, too. And that would be in keeping with the timeline.

What do you think?

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My review of Captain Marvel

Capt Marvel movie

I saw CAPTAIN MARVEL recently, and here are my brief NO SPOILERS thoughts on it.

All the Marvel movies have been entertaining, and this one is no exception. It has a fast-moving plot, multiple space aliens, and a character trying to find her way.

But is it good? Well, it’s okay. It’s definitely a mid or lower-tier Marvel movie. The friend I saw it with ranked it around the tier of Ant Man and the Wasp, and I would have to agree with that. The difference that makes AMatW superior, in my opinion, is that they nailed the character of Ant Man in that movie.

They didn’t do so well with Captain Marvel, the character. Marvel (the studio) has always been very good at building their heroes, often to the detriment of their villains, but it works, and it’s created some very memorable franchises (or sub-franchises?). Perhaps a different actress could have elevated the material and really brought Captain Marvel to life in a big way, but Brie Larson, while fine, just doesn’t have that ability. And the writing does her no favors.

The other big problem with her development is Sam Jackson. He’s just too good. He’s so effortlessly charismatic that he steals every scene, but if you’re going to have a star of that caliber serve as a supporting lead (and much of this film is a buddy movie, so he gets a lot of screentime) you need to have your lead be equally as engaging. John Travolta could do it. Brie Larson can’t. And unfortunately Sam Jackson has more chemistry with the cat than with her.

But, again, I don’t want to blame Brie too much. Her political preaching may be annoying, but if I waited for actors that I agreed with to come along I would never see a movie. So I can let that go. Her performance is pretty meh, but the writing that informs it is even worse. This is the one time I can think of that the Marvel creative team really let a main character down, and it’s a shame.

What about the rest of the movie? Well, it’s fast and zippy until a certain plot twist halfway in, and that plot twist felt more like a comment on modern day politics than an attempt at good storytelling (hint: it has something to do with immigration). After that point the plot mechanics become somewhat clunky, and the last act is muddled because of it. Ronan the Accuser is totally wasted, and in fact he’s made into a joke to build up Capt. Marvel’s character more — not a great move on the part of the writers.

Also, there’s some continuity problems this movie creates, since it’s set before most of the other movies.

And don’t get me started on how Nick Fury loses his eye. Sigh.

Anyway, I could go on, but I don’t dislike the movie enough to savage it, and I don’t like it enough to really recommend it. If you’re a Marvel completist, you’ll see this movie, and you won’t have a bad time at the theater. Sam Jackson and the cat are great, and there’s some cool alien stuff. There are some politics, and I do feel that they somewhat derail the movie, and the whole thing feels kind of messy, but with a different writer and director I would be interested to see the further adventures of Carol Danvers in a future movie, hopefully in space.

If you want a pro-female action movie to go see this weekend, I would highly recommend the far, far better ALITA BATTLE ANGEL.

Have you seen Captain Marvel? What did you think?

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My thoughts on Stranger Things Season 2

 

Stranger Things Season 2

Stranger Things Season 2

I love this show. I just finished Season 2, and here are my brief yet rambling thoughts on it. Very minor spoilers ahead.

Season Two did the impossible — it was a perfect continuation of the mood and flavor of Season 1. It picks up a year after Season One ended, but certain cliffhangery elements from that first season are just now reaching critical mass. And then things get crazy.

Stranger Things is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket. It’s just a wonderful show all around — great characters, great atmosphere, terrific pacing and filmmaking. And it really does feel more like a film in some wasy than a television show. They’ve taken elements from some of the great 80s properties and creators — King, Speilberg, Carpenter, Lynch — blended them all together and added something new, and the result is awesome.

Stranger Things raises the bar for serialized television entertainment. The mind reels to think of the possibility of getting an eight-episode-season of the Star Wars TV show at this level of quality. (!!)

MINOR SPOILERS, addressing The Lost Sister: Eleven is back, and she kicks ass. The showrunners opt not to give us the reuninon between Eleven and Mike that we want to see right away, however, instead sending Eleven off on her own quest after a few episodes. That particular episode seems to be divisive among fans, and I get it, but I also understand why the showrunners felt it necessary. Eleven needed to come to the fork in the road in her own life and make a choice. The main problem with the Lost Sister (that particular episode) is that none of the new characters are likeable. I would argue that that was the point, that if Eight and her gang had been people we wanted to see more of than Eleven would have been tempted to make another choice. However, I will say that I think the events of that episode could have been streamlined and intercut with events back in Hawkins. But one slightly jarring episode is a minor complaint for an otherwise amazing piece of entertainment.

That controversy aside, wow! What a terrific season. I love that we even get a touch of Lovecraft in Season 2. Perhaps the Mind Flayer isn’t a Lovecraftian horror, but it certainly seems to be very similar. If the Duffer brothers can establish its place in a larger pantheon, we’ll have full-on Lovecraft here (well, almost; there won’t be as much dread, because the world is not doomed and the universe is not quite as hostile . . . yet), and I couldn’t be happier.

Anyway, I’m tempted to rewatch the season already. I loved it, and I can’t wait for Season Three.

What are your thoughts?

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My thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell” — No Spoilers

ghost in the shell

Ghost in the shell movie

I saw “Ghost in the Shell” yesterday, and here are my brief NO SPOILERS thoughts on it.

The good: First, I have to say that “Ghost” is a perfectly fine science fiction thriller set in a dystopian near-future. It’s competently made, and I think all sci-fi fans should support competently made sci-fi that’s not part of an existing live-action franchise. (I’m well aware of its animated and drawn history.)

The visuals are rich, the tech is fun, and the script is reasonably tight and focused. I recommend seeing the film in 3D Imax, because its greatest strengths are its visuals.

The bad: All that said, it’s not a perfect movie. The storytelling isn’t as robust as I would have liked, and the script does’t allow the story to explore the more interesting areas of the universe. Where does tech end and humanity begin? It’s a compelling question even if it’s been mined before, and, I would think, the central one for this universe, but it’s not explored in any depth here.

The movie could have used a writer and director that would have lent the story and universe the depth it deserves, and it’s sad to see Ghost in the Shell shortchanged in that way.

The climax should have been longer and more interesting. I would say more here but I want to keep this spoiler-free.

The action was surprisingly lackluster. I was hoping for some big fun action scenes. Minority Report wasn’t great, for example, but it did deliver on the action and was a more fun movie because of it. I would say Ghost in the Shell is a better movie than Minority Report but would’ve been improved by some more compelling action sequences.

I was never invested in Major’s character as much as I wanted to be. Part of this is the writing, part of it’s the acting. Why does ScarJo play Major as a robot? Her brain is human, after all — it’s not as if she’s without emotion. Sure, she can be disconnected and adrift in the world, but a little emoting would be okay, surely.

In sum: All right, I’ll stop there. I’m sounding way too negative for a fun little sci-fi movie with great visuals and a well-developed environment. I would still recommend seeing it, but keep your expectations in check and you might just have a good time.

I hope this movie does well enough to warrant a sequel because I want to see this universe explored in more detail, with a more robust script and story. I just hope that a new writing and directing team take over for the next one, and that someone tells ScarJo it’s okay to emote every now and then.

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Stars Wars meets . . . Lovecraft?

STWHANSOLO2016001-int3-2-d553f

I’m a very happy geek right now. I just finished reading the new standalone Han Solo arc (the graphic novel), and I can’t stop grinning. Why? Because there are now Lovecraftian horrors in the Star Wars universe.

That’s right, and without giving away too much, there does at one point appear in the story a giant tentacled monstrosity from another dimension. I could not be more excited. Star Wars already had wizards, knights, spaceships, pirates, smugglers, monsters galore, all the tropes of epic fantasy as well as science fiction, but until now it lacked that one crucial ingredient: Lovecraftian horror.

Now Star Wars has it all, baby! The SW universe has just about every cool geek thing that you could imagine. Heck, it even has fish-people.

I can’t wait to see what use they make of other-dimensional horrors now. Was it just a one-time thing, or will they try to incorporate other psuedo-Lovecraftian terrors into the ‘verse?

To be sure, the Lovecraftian element is very minor, of course. The comic is mainly about expanding on the idea of intersteller racing as introduced in “Bloodlines” — but with great art and a cool OT vibe.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Han-Solo-ebook/dp/B01MU3DJ6L/

 

Have you read the comic? What do you think?

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My thoughts on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Fantastic-Beasts-And-Where-to-Find-Them

Fantastic-Beasts-And-Where-to-Find-Them

I just saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Here are a few brief NO SPOILERS impressions:

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It felt very much like a return to the world of Harry Potter, and that’s a good thing. I’m not as big into Potter as some people are, but I’m very fond of the movies and have watched each one multiple times.

Will I watch Fantastic Beasts again? I don’t know. Honestly, I didn’t love it as much as I was hoping to. I didn’t DISlike it, but I thought the plot was too scattered, with too many characters that didn’t serve the story and that weren’t fleshed out at all. The main character, Newt, was quite likable but even he wasn’t fleshed out in any depth. Hints were dropped to set up his development for the next movie . . . and that just didn’t work for me. I wanted to, ahem, root for Newt in this movie, not the next.

The most likable character in the movie is Newt’s baker sidekick. The actor playing him does a great job, even if he’s a bit too on the nose at times. I felt that character could have used just a few rough edges to keep him from being overly syrupy, but he still comes off a winner.

Strangely, although the screenplay was written by JK Rowling herself, the women in the story aren’t made terribly interesting or compelling. No Hermione Grangers here. There is one that is quite likable, but even she is a bit too syrupy for my liking.

In short, I thought the plot was thin and scattered and the characters weren’t developed enough. The world didn’t feel quite as deep and interesting as it did in the Harry Potter movies. And the ending was a blatant set-up for Part Two. Which I would be okay with if they’d made Part One a bit more robust and intriguing.

I would certainly recommend all Potter-heads to go see it, and anyone that wants a light, fun, magical time at the movies, but don’t expect it to be the new Harry Potter.

Maybe the sequel will improve on the first. I hate to say it, but I kind of hope they bring in a new scriptwriter. JK is an amazing novelist, and I can’t wait to read her next book, but as a scriptwriter . . . well. Maybe she just needs practice.

But those are just my thoughts. What did you think?

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On Phantasm Ravager and the Phantasm Series

Phantasm

Phantasm

Well, I’ve completed my marathon of the Phantasm series, concluding with the final, just released fifth movie Phantasm: Ravager. And I want more. I just love this series. When you think of trippy, fast-paced sci-fi horror series that tell a continuous story over several movies, there’s really not much there. Thank goodness for Phantasm.

Eerie, dream-like, action-packed, with more WTF moments than any ten other series put together. I love it, and the series holds up surprisingly well. I look forward to seeing the revamped version of the first movie where they digitally improve some of the special effects (in some shots in the first movie you can actually see the fishing line they used to run the silver spheres on–but that’s a minor issue).

The series never does answer the question of how Reggie miraculously survived the first movie while Jody didn’t. I guess that will go down as one of the series’s biggest mysteries. And we never really get to learn the secret behind Mike’s connection to the Tall Man, although Ravager does give us a hint (I won’t spoil it).

So how is Phantasm: Ravager? Does Phantasm stick the landing?

I’ve been waiting for years (almost twenty years!) for the story to reach a conclusion, and I have to say . . . hm. It’s not baaad, but, well, it is what it is. A movie made fifteen years too late on a shoestring budget and not directed by the original filmmaker (although he did produce and co-write it). The movie gets very head-trippy, which I appreciate, but unfortunately that aspect comes in part due to an Alzheimer’s subplot. My dad died from Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago, so this hit a little too close to home for me, and it felt a little out of tone with the rest of the series, although I admired how they used it to address Reggie’s suddenly advanced age.

Gotta love Reggie. The lovable side character who somehow became the main character just because he’s so awesome. What a character! A randy hippie ice cream man who can play the guitar and wield a four-barreled shotgun. Love it. They really should have made this movie years ago, though, when he and the other actors were a bit younger. It has been about forty years since the original, after all, and none of them are young anymore.

But I digress. If nothing else, Phantasm: Ravager does indeed feel “Phantasm-y”, and I’m intrigued by how they ended it. I read an interview where Don Coscarelli talks about a possible TV series continuing or redoing the story, and I’ve got to say, that would rock! I would LOVE a Phantasm TV series, but only if Don is involved somehow and it’s done at a high level. Think Supernatural meets Twin Peaks.

I don’t know how they could ever replace Angus Scrimm, the actor who played the series’s villain, the Tall Man, so well and who made him an iconic horror movie foe complete with his own catchphrase. Seriously, try imagining any other actor saying “Boooooy”. It really doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
So Ravager isn’t perfect, but it does tie things up in an interesting way while leaving room for some stories to come.
I really wish they hadn’t had rap music during the final credits, though. I mean, really? Rap? In Phantasm? Why? It was jarring and out of place.
Sigh. I will fix it in my fan edit.

Because yes, when Phantasm Ravager is available on DVD, I’ll add it to my fan edit combining the rest of the series into one long movie. I will have to do some judicious editing on Ravager, though, paring it down to its essentials and removing the Alzheimer’s subplot, which just seemed out of place and which hits me, personally, in the wrong way.

Okay, so that’s my Phantasm rant. Rant over. Long live Phantasm!

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