Thursday, June 22, 2017

“Transformers: The Last Knight” – A run-on sentence, but with explosions.

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is Transformers: The Last Knight is the third best (and third worst) movie in the franchise. The bad news is it’s still a Transformers sequel. Yes, you read that right and you are wrong – the first Transformers movie is one of the best popcorn flicks ever. One of these days, I’m going to write a defense of that movie, but for now, I’ll just point out that 57% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes (and 85% of audience members) thought it was more good than bad. Movies two, four, and five all sit in the teens and movie three mustered a semi-respectable 35%.

I’m not going to argue that The Last Knight is even remotely decent, but I’ve read some early reviews written by critics who are calling the fifth installment the worst of the franchise, which is demonstrably wrong. The second movie, Revenge of the Fallen, is the worst of the franchise and it’s not even close. Revenge of the Fallen featured racist caricatures of black people dressed as Autobots, two different scenes with a dog fucking another dog, a tiny Decepticon humping Megan Fox’s leg, John Turturro in a jock strap, wrecking ball testicles on a transformer, John Turturro describing the testicles, Shia Labeouf’s mom running around campus high on pot brownies, and a human transformer with a tentacle probe extending out of her ass while raping Sam in his dorm room. Yes, The Last Knight contains a pile of terrible, but if you are ranking the movies of the franchise from best to worst it goes:

Transformers.
Eight negative orders of magnitude.
Dark of the Moon.
Rock bottom.
The Last Knight.
Age of Extinction.
Five hundred feet of crap.
Revenge of the Fallen.

One of the calmer scenes of the film.

The screening of The Last Knight was fun for me because I took a friend who had never seen a Transformers movie and his reaction after the film was priceless. “That was the most incoherent movie I have ever seen,” he said. “Welcome to Transformers-land,” I replied. And he was right. The Last Knight is a two hour and twenty-nine minute kludge of bad dialogue, explosions, and Anthony Hopkins trading insults with his robot butler. I have to believe the way this movie got written was a bunch of studio executives saying things like:

Exec #1: People love Game of Thrones, what if we had a dragon transformer!?

Exec #2: Dude, what if it had three heads?!

Exec #2: (to despondent writer): Come on, write it down!

Exec #1: People love Downton Abbey, too.

Exec #2: Two words - transformer butler.

Exec #1: Two more words – hot English chick.

Despondent writer: That’s three words.

Exec #1: That’s why you’re the writer and we’re the idea men.

Despondent writer: *kills self with pen*

I hope the despondent writer killed whichever exec thought up baby dinosaurs before turning the pen on himself.

(SPOILER ALERT. Does it really count as a spoiler if the movie is complete nonsense?)

The main plot of the movie is one we’ve seen before - reconstituting Cybertron (the Transformers’ home planet). A flying medusa transformer named Quintessa (Gemma Chan) captures Optimus Prime (Peter Cullenn) and forces him to become evil (Nemesis Prime, please tell me you are laughing now) by stroking his face and turning his eyes purple. Don’t worry. He’ll snap out of it when he hears Bumblebee’s true voice (I am not making this up). Quintessa’s plan is to fly the shell of Cybertron to Earth (which she says is inhabited by a planet-sized transformer named Unicron), reclaim her magic staff that created all the Transformers and which was stolen 1,600 years earlier by twelve knights (wait for it), and suck all the energy out of Earth to make Cybertron whole again. In order to buy into this plot you have to forget about the All Spark being the creator of the transformers (movie one) and that Megatron had to open a portal to bring Cybertron to Earth (movie three) because he forgot Quintessa existed. Like I said in my review of Age of Extinction, they’ve had plenty of time to write a coherent narrative for the franchise, but the studio and Michael Bay can’t see past the new toys they want to sell and the sets they want to blow up.

This movie might have been okay had it just stuck with the main plot of Quintessa/Cybertron vs Unicron, but, like I said, kludge. The movie kicks off with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table fighting a battle against some barbarians. Merlin (Stanley Tucci, who apparently loved being in the fourth movie so much he decided to slum it again as a completely different character) drunkenly stumbles to a cave where the twelve transformer knights are hanging out and he begs them for help in the battle. They give him Quintessa’s staff, transform and combine into a three-headed dragon, and kill all the barbarians. Sooo, why did they give him the staff? Also, King Arthur? Really?

(Side note: hilariously, The Last Knight isn’t the worst movie featuring King Arthur this year.)

Yes, that's really King Arthur.

Fast forward to present day and a new military outfit is hunting transformers down and killing them. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Bumblebee, and a couple other Autobots are fighting them and hiding in a junk yard, but this doesn’t matter to the plot. There’s also a teenage girl (Isabela Moner) who is friends with an R2-D2 rip-off who seems like she will be a main character, but ends up being worthless, annoying, and doesn’t matter to the plot. Anthony Hopkins plays Sir Edmund Burton, the keeper of the secret history of transformers on Earth, who has been waiting his whole life for the transformer apocalypse, but ends up serving as matchmaker to Cade and the hot English chick, Vivian (Laura Haddock). Sir Edmund doesn’t matter to the plot at all, but he is important because he provides 99% of the exposition in this film. Vivian only matters in that her DNA (she’s related to Merlin) makes her the only thing that can activate the staff…except for every transformer. There are also dinobots that don’t fight in the climactic battle for some reason, baby dinobots for no reason, a bunch of giant horns popping out of the ground that get talked about a lot then forgotten halfway through the movie, a talisman that is supposed to be the key to the staff but that spends most of the movie molesting Cade except for the one time it becomes a sword for ten seconds, Josh Duhamel yelling military jargon, John Turturro yelling about scrotum books, and a sassy robot butler that won’t even make a decent toy. Yeah, I know that was a run-on sentence and if I lost you during that paragraph, that’s the joke of this movie.

Continuing the absurdity, do you know what a deus ex machina is? It’s when something appears in the movie for no reason other than to be a convenient plot device to solve a problem. Exhibit number one - since Bumblebee has been with this franchise since the beginning and killing him would hurt toy sales, he is suddenly able to rebuild himself after being torn to shreds. Picture the T1000 rebuilding itself after being frozen and shot into a million pieces. Exhibit number two - another transformer can create time bubbles around things in order to freeze them. Like with Bumblebee, this allows any good guy to be saved at any time and any bad guy stopped just in time to prevent them from doing something bad. This may be the deus of all machinas. Picture that poor despondent writer killing himself.

Robot butler.

The amazing thing about this film is that it makes two and a half hours feel like a week. Since the movie doesn’t give a shit about any of the characters (human or robot) enough to even begin to develop them or make you care about them, nearly all of the screen time is devoted to explosions, CGI pixels fighting with each other, Anthony Hopkins explaining something (to be fair, Hopkins appears to be having the time of his life in this film), and the overly used and familiar stock footage of military hardware that Michael Bay almost certainly jerks off to.

As you finish reading, there are two things I want you to keep in mind. One, the marketing for this film is lying to you. Every trailer is yelling about The Last Knight being the last chapter, but that is complete bullshit. The film has a mid-credits scene that guarantees more Transformers films. Two, this film is not the worst movie of the year, but it’s in the running. If you just want to see transformers transforming, sweet cars, Mark Wahlberg shirtless, Laura Haddock melting your eyes in her stripper dress (to quote Cade Yeager), or two-plus hours of fireballs, have at it. But at least you can rest assured that nothing in this movie is openly trying to fuck something else in this movie. Well, unless you count the French transformer sexually harassing Vivian, but still - only third-worst.

Rating: You should ask for all of your money back, but you won’t listen. If you’ve seen any of the Transformers sequels, you’ve seen them all, and I know that because the last two films grossed $1.1 billion EACH.

Friday, June 16, 2017

“Cars 3” – You can take your stats and shove up them up your tailpipe.

As a lifelong baseball fan, statistics are interesting to me, have been ever since I was a kid. I loved reading baseball articles that painted a fantastical picture of my favorite players doing seemingly otherworldly things and I loved how they weaved in just enough numbers to make comparisons to other players without making the article seem like a lecture. Today, those writers are mostly gone, replaced with talentless writers who spew nothing but complex statistics in order to one-up other hack writers with even more complex statistics. Stay with me now - this will make sense in a minute.

“ADVANCED METRICS YOU LUDDITES!!!” they scream in ever smugger written diarrhea. “RBIs and batting average are stupid, #pitcherwins” they chant as often as possible. If these jerks care about baseball, you wouldn’t know it throughout their deep-dive statistical ejaculations. Every article they write seems aimed solely at impressing a team’s front office rather than impressing readers who just want to catch up a little on the season. My point is they have sucked a massive amount of fun out of the game and it’s no wonder that baseball is quietly panicking about losing the young generation as a fan base when the vast majority of current baseball writers can’t shut the hell up about wOBA+ and launch trajectories. If I don’t give a shit that Mike Trout averages whatever degrees of launch angle and exit velocities on his batted balls, I guarantee you nobody under the age of eighteen does either. Just let us enjoy the game.

(Side note: Shout out to Grant Brisbee of SB Nation who seems to be the only baseball writer still writing about the game and not calculations. Also, he’s hilarious. I highly recommend reading his stuff.)

Borrrrrr-ing.

So, imagine my reaction to Cars 3 when a stats guru on a talking head sports show appears and starts yammering about ideal tire inflation, turn radii, and advanced simulation training for a new generation of cars. Now, imagine what a bunch of elementary school kids are thinking. They just wanted to watch a bunch of talking cars race and make jokes, do you really think they’re happy about math showing up in their movie?

Here’s the worst thing - when Lightning McQueen tries to make his comeback (in case you didn’t know, the entire movie is about a new generation of cars winning all the races and Lightning trying to stay in the game), neither Lightning, his trainer, or his sponsor try to use any of the advanced metrics to squeeze a few more miles per hour out of Lightning. His trainer literally has him doing calisthenics and taking naps. Why bother bringing them up at all if you are not going to use them? And that would be partially why my kid kept asking if we could leave during the second act of this film. In other words, just let us enjoy the race.

That’s enough out of me, here is what the target audience (my five-year old) had to say.

Did you like Cars 3?
Yeah.

What did you like?
I liked Cruz.

Who is Cruz and why did you like her?
The yellow car. I liked her because she was funny.

Worst. Trainer. Ever.

What did you not like about the movie?
The talking.

Was there too much talking?
Everyone.

What was the funniest part of the movie?
I don’t know.

Was the movie very funny?
Yeah.

What part would you want to take out of the movie?
The talking parts.

What would you have them do instead of talking?
I would have them race.

Did they not race very much?
No.

Who was the bad guy car?
The gray and black one. Storm. He was cool. Lightning tried to get faster than him by getting his tired dirty.

Not gonna lie - was kind of rooting for Storm. He looks awesome.

When did Lightning get his tires dirty?
On the beach when Cruz said “the beach ate me.”

Did Lightning get any faster?
No. He got slower. He was still slower than Storm.

Do you think cars can get faster by exercising?
Yeah. I think so.

You don’t think that’s ridiculous?
*Giggles* I don’t think so.

What was the best part of the movie?
Racing.

Which race was your favorite?
The demolition race.

This is how you get a kid's attention.

Why?
Because I like demolitions and school buses.

If you could be a car in Cars 3, what car would you be?
I’d be Lightning, but faster than Storm.

What else do you want to tell me about the movie?
That’s all!

Would you tell other people that they should go see Cars 3?
Uhhh…yeah.

Why?
Because I do.

How many stars would you give the movie?
Ten.

How many times do you want to watch the movie?
One hundred.

Rating: They should pay ten dollars just because.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

“The Mummy (2017)” – No, a different mummy.

Did you know that Universal Pictures is launching a whole franchise called Dark Universe? Maybe I’m slipping a bit on Hollywood current events because I had not heard so much as a whisper about this until screening the first film in the franchise - The Mummy - Tuesday night (June 7). My friend told me about this franchise as we waited for movie to start, describing how this universe was summed up as Gods vs. Monsters. After some research, it’s more accurate to describe it as Universal executives remembering they made a slew of classic monster movies several decades ago, have several billion dollars on hand from The Fast and The Furious and Despicable Me franchises, and figuring they can’t make a worse literary-monster mashup than The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Of course, by this time those executives were drunk and had forgotten they were responsible for Dracula Untold just three years ago.

On top of knowing nothing about this Dark Universe, I also had seen exactly no trailers for The Mummy until the night after screening the full film. I highly recommend doing this to see how deceptive or honest a trailer for a given movie ended up being. In the case of The Mummy, the trailer promised a dark horror/action flick with a mostly serious and dramatic tone. That trailer is a big fat liar. What we got instead was a goofy action-comedy trying to make you believe it was dark because of its color palette. In the end, it delivered a crappy film that made Boris Karloff turn in his grave. But, here’s the weird thing - I liked it. I know. Maybe I’m slipping a bit.

At least she looked cool.

(Side note: The trailer gives away 90% of the movie, so I’ll give you a mostly worthless SPOILER warning now.)

Why did I like this movie? Great question. Well, for starters Tom Cruise dies. My friend asked if I like Tom Cruise and if that’s why I liked the movie. I do not like Tom Cruise as a human, but I do think he’s a really good actor. But that’s not why I like watching him die in movies. It’s because A-list movie stars never die in movies unless they play the villain and sometimes not even then. It’s probably just a coincidence that my favorite Tom Cruise movie is Edge of Tomorrow. My point is that whatever you may think of Tom Cruise outside of a movie, the man really is a good actor. And, as he did in Edge of Tomorrow, he plays a character (Nick Morton) who’s kind of a weasel, which is against type for typical Cruise characters. I also appreciate that Universal is thinking big and trying to create a whole new universe to bring to us. Yeah, they’re cheating a bit by using existing characters, but Marvel and DC didn’t exactly start from scratch and Universal doesn’t have decades worth of source material like Marvel and DC do.

There also wasn’t anything in the film that triggered my hatred the way other shitty movies have. There were no overblown controversies about acting choices or screwing up a classic or remake fatigue. Aside from one weirdo who clapped way too loud at Jekyll introducing himself, the audience didn’t behave in a manner that caused my brain to hurt. There weren’t any deliberately idiotic moments in the film designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But the biggest factor is probably me just being in exactly the right mood to enjoy a bad popcorn flick. Dismissing how likely this movie is to crush the franchise in its infancy, I’m curious enough about where they are going with this Dark Universe that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

That being said, this movie is shit. There is no glossing over that fact and none of my friends were amused by this film like I was. The film starts off with title cards and narration (two signs of post-production add-ons due to lazy/bad writing), a story of medieval knights and their coffins being discovered in modern-day London, then introduces us to Nick and his pal, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), two American reconnaissance soldiers scheming to find and sell ancient artifacts in Northern Iraq while on duty. Ten minutes in and I turned my brain off as a precaution to prevent brain damage. Making them derelict soldiers murdered any chance of sympathizing with them, but it was done solely to justify a filming a drone strike on terrorists in which the resulting crater revealed the burial sight of our villain, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella).

I don't really like me either.

Enter Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance), a man trying to act like he’s in charge but constantly deferring to archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). Also, he’s well aware of Nick and Chris’ shenanigans, but doesn’t even offer a cursory explanation for why they aren’t rotting in Leavenworth. Jenny, Nick, and Chris (and nobody else, for some reason) go down into the hole and discover a sarcophagus immersed in a pool of mercury guarded by six Egyptian statues. Despite Ahmanet being a known evil, the Egyptians engineered the prison (a prison realized by Jenny through a series of Hollywood leaps in logic) so that simply cutting one cable removed the sarcophagus from the pool. Neat.

As soon as the sarcophagus is out, Nick starts blacking out and having visions of Ahmanet (this goes on through the entire film and is used as a convenient plot device whenever the movie can’t figure out how to get to the next location) while Ahmanet immediately summons a hoard of camel spiders, one of which bites Chris. This allows Ahmanet to possess Chris, creating another plot device in which Chris mostly appears as an expositioning zombie-ghost. Seriously, there might be something wrong with me.

The real problem with this movie is it isn’t interested in its own main plot (the mummy and her goal), but is interested in setting up this so-called Dark Universe. Ahmanet isn’t cursed nor does she throw a curse out prior to her mummification. They simply say she’s evil, wants to complete a ritual to bring the god Set into the mortal plane, and can be stopped by mercury. Since Nick is responsible for her release, she’s chosen him as the vessel for Set and Chris keeps appearing to Nick to remind him of such. She is eating people to regain her entire form, not because it makes her stronger but because that’s what they did in The Mummy remake in 1999 (the fun Brendan Fraser one) and this new version is incredibly lazy. All she has to do is put a ruby back in a magic knife and stab Norton with it to conjure Set. She’s as pointless as Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger and just as terribly developed.

Her eyes and tattoos meant as little as her goal.

(Side note: For a movie trying to convince everyone it has nothing to do with Fraser’s flick, it borrows heavily from it. Including the reconstitution thing, her face appears in a sand storm, the hero fights a bunch of animated skeleton warriors with a club, Nick and Chris are both soldiers searching for buried treasure, the hero falls for a hot Egyptologist with a British accent, a goofy character doing the bidding of the villain, and the villain is trying to resurrect someone).

About halfway through the film Ahmanet is captured by the Prodigium, a secret organization led by Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) to combat evil. Yes, that Dr. Jekyll and yes, combat evil. Their hideout is filled with easter eggs of familiar monster parts (skulls and various other body parts) and the threat of raising Set doesn’t concern them beyond Set also being evil. The entire third act is nothing more than a set-up for Norton to sacrifice himself to defeat Ahmanet, but become something more than human that won’t be revealed until some later movie. Also, he stabs himself with the completed knife for reasons that don’t make sense even in this absurd movie. Yeah, I’m pretty sure something broke me (maybe being exposed to Disney World for two solid weeks?).

In what little screen time Russell Crowe gets, he gives us a Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde that we learn just enough about to be interested in for the next film. Also, Jenny is part of this organization, though she quickly becomes the clich├ęd damsel in distress despite having been built up as a strong character during the first two acts. The worst character (and actor) is easily Chris, as I’ve already described, and Johnson proves that he is nothing more than Nick Miller from New Girl, which made it extra weird every time he said Nick’s name. Come to think of it, every episode of that show is superior to this film.

You're the leader of the what now?

I’m sure I could have been much meaner to this film, but like I said, my anger wasn’t stoked at all. After two days of pondering, I still can’t come up with a good reason I liked this film beyond my logical brain just needing a rest and my lizard brain taking over for two hours. One thing I can promise you is that if the next movie in the franchise isn’t cancelled due to this stinker (reportedly, the next film is The Bride of Frankenstein), I won’t be nearly as forgiving if it’s similar. Unless Tom Cruise dies again in the film.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back. The Mummy is what happens when you cross 2004’s Van Helsing with a bear riding a unicycle. I’m not sure what that means, but you probably shouldn’t pay for it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

“Wonder Woman” – No, I will not make a lasso of truth or wonder pun.

As I write this (on May 31), Wonder Woman is currently enjoying a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (over 93 reviews). No, that is not a typo and, yes, we’re talking about a DC movie co-written and co-produced by Zack Snyder (directed by Patty Jenkins). If you’ve listened to my Movie Fixers podcast (shameless plug), you’ve heard us talk about how Rotten Tomatoes scores are terrible for judging the actual quality of a movie because that score is based on a ike-it question - thumbs up or thumbs down? I have no problem with that score because I would answer thumbs up for Wonder Woman. However, if you asked me if I thought the movie was worthy of a score of a 97 out of 100 in terms of how good it was, I would say no. More like a solid 81. So, before we go any further, now is your chance to walk away from this review knowing nothing more than I liked the movie and if you only see five movies this year, Wonder Woman is a very solid choice. Last chance…

(It probably goes without saying that this review will include SPOILERS.)

Wonder Woman reminded me a lot of my experience watching The Dark Knight Rises. At first, I thought The Dark Knight Rises was a really good movie…and then it took my wife less than an hour to point out that I was wrong and list all the reasons it was only mediocre. For Wonder Woman, I was on the flip side of that conversation, taking all of forty-five minutes to point out to my friend, who thought it was really good, that it was just a little better than average. The reason why 97% of critics like Wonder Woman is because 97% of critics have seen the other DC movies and have been dying inside since Man of Steel (55% approval rating notwithstanding, that movie was only slightly better than awful).

Good.

I’ve made no secret of my loathing of Zack Snyder films and I’m pinning everything bad in Wonder Woman on him (so, kudos to co-writers Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs). It’s not like I’m just being mean because we have a pile of movies from Snyder that range from kind of watchable to grocery store tantrum from a four-year old. Right off the bat, you can see his fingerprints on the story and visuals as we are forced to watch the Amazon women do flippies off horses while shooting arrows. And what would a Zack Snyder film be without filming some of those flippies in slow motion? You’re right - more enjoyable. Right after this, we’re treated to a ridiculous back story that butchers some Greek mythology. Don’t you start with me, comic book nerds. I don’t care if that’s how it was in the comics; that just means it was stupid twice. And I’m not talking about how Diana (Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot) is the daughter of Zeus, I’m talking about the rest of the absurdity of Ares killing the entire Pantheon of gods single-handedly, not dying when Zeus shoots him with a thunderbolt, and Zeus hiding the Amazons from Ares on an island protected by nothing more than a cloaking device and a fog bank before dying himself (Zeus, that is). But if there’s anything Snyder loves more than slo-mo, it’s wildly convoluted stories. And there’s still more to this one.

(Side note: it also turns out the island is a single night’s sailboat ride away from London. Think about that for moment.)

Apparently, these women are supposed to be the protectors of mankind, yet they refuse to leave the island for fear of being discovered by Ares, yet somehow speak hundreds of ancient and modern languages despite never leaving the island, yet somehow don’t know about modern inventions like firearms or clocks. Plus, Diana’s mother (the queen of the Amazons, played by Connie Nielsen) refuses to let Diana train to be a warrior because “the stronger she gets the sooner Ares finds her” (wait, why?), relents, but refuses to tell Diana the truth about Diana being a demigod because “the more she knows the sooner Ares finds her” (seriously, why?), and refuses to let Diana leave the island because if she leaves the island the sooner Ares finds her. Okay, that last one makes sense, but what never actually happens is Ares looking for Diana, or any of the Amazons for that matter.

Good.

The entire plot of this movie boils down to Ares wanting to kill all of mankind, which he can’t just do for some reason, and Diana wanting to stop him. Her inspiration comes in the form of Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crashes on the island and makes the Amazons aware of World War I. Diana says she must help end the war and save innocent lives and she can do that by killing Ares. With Ares dead, the corruption of mankind disappears and, poof, no more war. Except we’ve seen Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman and World War II happens so either that story is bullshit or (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Ares doesn’t really die in this movie. The frustrating thing is that you could cut Ares completely out this movie and you wouldn’t have to change anything else except for cutting the final battle scene.

Speaking of which, that fight scene represents everything wrong with the DC Extended Universe films (you’re right, there’s way too much wrong for that to be possible). First, it looks like it was ripped directly out of the Doomsday fight scene from BvS and that scene made angels throw up. Second, it ends with Diana winning because she figures out that Steve said he loved her when she couldn’t hear anything after a bomb blast (also, she’s holding a tank above her head while Ares just stands there watching her). Third, she develops an array of additional superpowers (beyond being super strong and fast) including flight, the ability to shoot lightning bolts out of her bracelets, and the ability to dissolve high-velocity projectiles with her mind. In other words, she’s Neo and Zeus, but also super hot (it’s not just me saying this, half the men in the movie comment on her beauty). Also, she appears to have a healing factor in the beginning of the film (bleeding from a gunshot wound), but is invulnerable by the end. Fourth, slo-mo. Fifth, Ares shows up quite literally to monologue, then tells Diana how to beat him. Sixth, the secondary plot ends just as confusingly (if Steve needed fire to destroy the deadly poison in the airplane, why not just set the airplane on fire? Or send it into the raging warehouse inferno right next to the runway?) Seven, Diana’s ability to shoot thunderbolts (and the fact that she is able to kill gods) sure seems like it would have come in handy during the Doomsday fight in BvS, doesn’t it? Eight, remember, Ares killed every other Greek god by himself and now we’re supposed to believe that a mere demigod can kill him? If Zeus was able to create a weapon (Diana) to kill Ares, wouldn’t Zeus have just been able to kill Ares outright? Ninth, Ares forgets he can teleport. Tenth, fuuuuuuuck!

NO!

By now, you probably think I’m being way too hard on this movie (or that I’m a Marvel fanboy), but I was pretty down on the entirety of the MCU prior to The Avengers. Ironman was easily the best of those movies and it too had all kinds of plot problems and a really stupid villain. Wonder Woman and Ironman are on the same level in my book. The thing that made Ironman was its cast, most significantly Robert Downey Jr. The thing that makes Wonder Woman is Gal Gadot, though with a really good assist from Chris Pine, plus the second act of the film where the real character development happens. The best scene in the film happens in the boat ride to London. Even though the dialogue was pretty cheesy on paper, Pine and Gadot act the shit out of it and deliver something preposterously charming. The entire second act is filled with scenes like this and we get the unthinkable from a DCEU film - comic relief and brevity. It’s so good that you probably won’t notice (or will simply forgive) that the third act is stolen from Captain America: The First Avenger (superhero and band of misfits goes into enemy territory to stop evil Germans from deploying their superweapon; airplane containing superweapon is stolen by good guys, flown away, and destroyed). I can’t overemphasize how good Pine and Gadot were and how well they carried this film.

So charming.

Finally, I must mention what is easily the best action sequence in the film (and entire DCEU), which also occurs in the second act. Diana charges no-man’s land and comes under massive gunfire, hiding behind her shield. But she crouches down behind the shield because it’s really small. Oh my god, something logical just happened in a DC movie. Anyway, this scene looked great and worked on every level, including how much of a nightmare no-man’s land looked like. The scene continues into a town behind the German lines, where Diana gets to kick the asses of dozens of German soldiers. It works great to showcase her powers (which the climax ruined), entertain the hell out of the audience (despite the goddam slo-mo’s that ruin the flow of the action), and build the bonds between Diana, Steve and his crew. Act 2 is why I came out of the film happy and not cleaning up angel vomit.

Rating: I’m tempted to say don’t ask for any money back, but this movie only looks like a home run because of its ghastly DCEU brethren. Ask for two dollars back.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

“Alien: Covenant” – A great use of a mulligan.

After the visually pleasing, but narrative mess that was 2012’s Prometheus, and the continued misses in the video game arena, the Alien franchise has been on life support for years. To be fair, Prometheus turned something of a profit and the critical reception was favorable, but the majority of filmgoers felt as disappointed in it as I was. Throw in the terrible Alien vs. Predator movies and every fan of the series was ready for it to be over. Of course, being a film and Alien nerd, I knew a sequel to Prometheus was in the works, but I was understandably skeptical. Ridley Scott was asking for the (approximately) seventeenth do-over and I was willing to give it to him. Not because I believed he could produce another worthy Alien film, but because his last movie was the fantastic The Martian. So, he teed up Alien: Covenant, took a massive swing, and knocked the bastard right down the fairway.

The main point of Prometheus was to deliver an origin story depicting how the aliens came to be. It was filled with half-baked stories and barely developed concepts that clashed with each other and its characters, leaving the viewer wondering if half the movie was hiding somewhere in Scott’s closet. Alien: Covenant dispenses with nearly everything we saw in Prometheus except for a couple of core components. David the evil android (Michael Fassbender) and the aliens originating from black goo developed by pale-faced tall guys. Let the do-over commence.

You can stay, you creepy freakshow.

(SPOILERS ahead, but I promise I’ll keep them to a minimum).

Covenant picks up ten years after the events of Prometheus. A colony ship experiences some space turbulence and the crew is awakened to deal with the issues. After affecting some repairs, they discover a radio transmission of someone singing a John Denver song (I swear I’m not making this up) and track it to a nearby planet (relatively speaking). After some discussion in which executive officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston) argues they should continue to their original destination (Origae-6), the rest of the crew point out that Origae-6 is really far away and this other planet isn’t and who wants to go back into cryosleep?

The remainder of the film takes place on the planet (except for the obligatory final fight on a space ship), and there we get into the familiar structure of an Alien movie. Crew members get picked off one by one by lethal aliens, though not the familiar xenomorphs we know and love. What makes the movie interesting is that David is also on this planet and he’s been busy experimenting and evolving the black goo life forms and this is where we get the reduxed origin story. I will say no more, but the creepy factor is through the roof. What I will say is Michael Fassbender should win an Oscar for delivering such a chilling character. On that note, Fassbender also plays Walter, an android manning the colony ship. His versatility as an actor is on full display as he delivers a Walter who is straight-laced, but inquisitive opposite his David. Brent Spiner would be proud.

I hope you're not the evil android. You look really similar.

As strong and tight as this movie is narratively, there are some small technical issues that keep it from being a great movie. One example are the spores that are ingested by the crew members soon after planet fall. Rather than go with them simply ingesting spores in the air, the spores fly around like a little flock of birds with consciousness and into the human’s orifices. This took me out of the film because it felt like Scott and company were trying too hard. More than that was the look of the familiar alien we waited so long to see. It never felt completely there or with any real depth, despite the production including guys in creature suits. Prior to researching, I thought the aliens were entirely CGI, so learning about the creature suits is even more disappointing. What made the original two movies so great and terrifying was how real the creatures seemed. Mind you, I’m only complaining just a little about this, but I wasn’t the only one making this comment after viewing the film.

Sure, it looks scary when it stops moving.

Prior to this film, but after screening King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, my friend and I were discussing critical reviews and how they should be received. I know a lot of people love griping about critics, heck, I used to be one of them. But it’s not personal. Think of it this way - you probably will only see five or so movies per year and we are just trying to help you choose. In the case of Alien: Covenant, it’s worth giving Ridley Scott another chance.

Rating: Ask for fifty cents back and breathe that sigh of relief you’ve been holding in for this franchise.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” – By the power of Greyskull.

Once upon a time a director set out to tell his version of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. That director had a grand vision of using his unique frantic style of cinematography and a pile of 3-D effects to bring King Arthur, dirt, and a bunch of arrows right into your face. With the gross domestic product of Kiribati at his disposal, he began production and proceeded to tell a story that only vaguely resembled the classic tale. Apparently, actually reading the story was of little importance to him or his co-writers, as they created a version of Arthur that was one part He-Man, one part Moses, and one part mob boss. Whence the story was shown to an audience - many of whom dressed for the occasion in their finest armor and linens - some in that audience became confused and disappointed in a story featuring unsympathetic and shallow characters, a story that lacked a coherent plot, a story with a villain who had everything he wanted in life, but threw it all away by continuously making bonehead decisions in order to control a magic sword that he thought would give him everything he wanted in life. After the story was over, some in the audience left with a bitter taste in their mouth, placing curses on that director’s house. Curses that will never take effect because nobody in the audience was an actual wizard. But one person made a vow before exiting - “I will forgive Guy Ritchie for this mess of a movie if he promises to make Sherlock Holmes 3.”

And the townspeople knoweth not what lyeth ahead. Eth.

Oh, you would like to hear another story? Very well. This is the story inside the story I just told you. But beware - this story has SPOILERS and not one thing I’m about to tell you did I make up.

Once upon a time there was a king named Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) who had a lovely wife and young son. We do not know if Uther was a good king, but his brother Vortigern (Jude Law) wore black, so Uther must be the good one. Uther ruled a kingdom that was under siege from an evil wizard named Mordred. Mordred sent three enchanted elephants the size of castles to destroy Uther’s castle. But Uther had a magical sword named Excalibur which he used to smite Mordred and his army. But the evil Vortigern murdered his wife and gave her body to an octopus with three ladies attached (it’s literally a three-lady octopus thing) so he could become Skeletor and kill Uther despite Uther wielding Excalibur. Anyway, to save his son Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), Uther sent young Arthur off in a boat (his wife was dead by this time), threw the sword in the air, and became a stone in which the sword was stuck until the true heir came to claim it.

If you aren't Merlin, you don't get a name.

Many years later, Arthur, having been raised by prostitutes and trained to fight by a Chinese martial arts master named George, became a mob boss running a racket in the city of Londinium. After cutting the beard off of a Viking, Vortigern’s soldiers raid Arthur’s brothel and accidentally send him to Vortigern’s castle to try to pull the sword out of the stone. When Arthur succeeds, he passes out from the power of the sword. Instead of doing the very logical thing and killing Arthur right away, Vortigern makes a huge spectacle out of executing Arthur, but Arthur is rescued by a mage referred to only as The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who can control animals with her mind. She and her accomplices take Arthur to their cave in the woods to meet with Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Bill (Aidan Gillen) to plan how to start a rebellion to oust Vortigern. They pull off many jobs harassing and disrupting Vortigern’s construction of a wizard’s tower, but I can’t describe them to you because they only talk about them. Then the next thing we know, they have already completed the tasks. Also, Vortigern’s wizardry begins and ends with making candles light themselves, so the tower doesn’t really make any sense.

You don't remember the war elephants from the classic tale?

After a botched assassination attempt, Arthur throws Excalibur into a lake because he’s a quitter, but gets it back after holding the Lady of the Lake’s hand in a mud puddle. Despite controlling an army of 100,000 soldiers, Arthur and friends win the day when The Mage controls an enormous snake that eats everyone in the castle. Somehow, Vortigern escapes and has time to run up to his daughters’ room, kill one of his daughters, take her down to the secret octopus-ladies’ cave to put his daughter’s dead body in the water, and transform, once again, into Skeletor. But, since Arthur is wearing white and is not distracted by a little boy like his father, he defeats Skeletor because magic is inconsistent. Arthur then becomes king, knights all of his friends, and builds a round table. The end.

Oh, you think I left out a part of the story? What about Merlin you ask? That’s a great question - you should ask Mr. Ritchie why he would leave the most interesting character of the entire tale out of his movie. I’m guessing because it risked making this movie seem absurd.

Rating: Ask for nine and a half dollars back and try to forget He-Man’s catch phrase that is definitely stuck in your head now.

Friday, May 5, 2017

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” - And the streak is no more (or, It’s a Trap!).

Well, it had to end sometime. Marvel was on amazing streak of great movie after great movie, but nothing goes on forever. Kind of like United States’ good standing in the world, but that’s a discussion for another time. Back in 2014, we all wondered how a movie featuring a raccoon and a talking tree could possibly be anything more than childish, mindless entertainment, and we were shocked to find out how much fun that could be with just the right mix of chemistry, writing, and directing. Everything in that movie clicked. Three years later and expectations are through the roof because we’ve been spoiled. Dance, acting monkeys, DANCE! But you’re not worried, right? We were wrong to be suspicious of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, we were wrong to be pessimistic of Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange? Pshh. It had Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton, let’s not be absurd; that movie was a tee-ball. By now, we’re Atlanta Braves fans in 2006. Fourteen years in a row making the playoffs and the division is a joke. Of course they’ll make the playoffs again. Like I said, all streaks end.

I don’t know if it’s just because Marvel got cocky or complacent, especially with DC continuing step all over itself, but everything that went right in the first Guardians failed miserably in Volume 2, and it’s very easy to find a culprit because nearly everybody returned for the sequel. James Gunn directed both, Kevin Feige produced both, and all of the actors are back. The difference lies in - surprise, surprise - the writing. The first flick was co-written by James Gunn (also directing both movies) and Nicole Perlman, whereas the second is only credited to Gunn. Considering both movies feature big action and juvenile comedy, but only the second feels like an episode of the Three Stooges featuring SpongeBob Squarepants, I’m going to go out on a limb and blame Gunn for this lousy sequel. It felt like two hours of dudes fucking around on a film set for two-plus hours and calling it a movie.

Son - do you want to have a catch?

(SPOILERS, not that it really matters. Nothing of consequence is in this movie. I’ll explain.)

The big trap to avoid with sequels is to not rehash the first movie or overdo or exaggerate elements that made the first movie great. Think every comedy sequel you’ve ever seen. Other traps to avoid are retconning your characters (like when Jobu-worshipping, chicken-sacrificing, scowling Pedro Cerrano in Major League inexplicably became a happy-go-lucky Buddhist in the sequel) and telling the same jokes. Guardians 2 belly flops into all of those traps, stands back up, then falls on the traps it missed the first time.

For starters, the movie doesn’t propel the Infinity Wars storyline at all. AT ALL. There’s one tiny reference during the end credits, but it’s so obscure that only uber-comic book nerds would get it. This movie’s plot is “hey, remember when Yondu said Quill’s dad was a prick at the end of the first movie? What if we made a whole movie about that, but stop writing any more than that because we can just throw music and dick and poop jokes out for the rest of the film?” What’s worse is that you will spend most of the movie wondering when they are going to get to anything resembling a point. For roughly ninety minutes, it’s just Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) dad, Ego (Kurt Russell), trying to bond with Peter while the rest of the characters bicker and occasionally fight with something or someone while Drax (Dave Bautista) loudly laughs at everything and baby Groot wanders around being cute. It’s funny because he’s a baby. Baby Groot. Get it? If you were eight years old you’d get it.

Awwwwwww. Look at the wittle bittie Groot.

Of course, during that entire ninety minutes, you’re waiting for Ego to reveal how much of a dick he is because the last movie already told you as much. And that’s a long time to wait, so here’s what you have to put up with. For reasons that have nothing to do with creativity, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are heavily featured. What’s that? You loved those characters; what’s wrong with them being in the sequel? Well, like Maleficent and the Wicked Witch of the East, they’re really good guys, they’re just misunderstood and had bad childhoods. Fuuuuuuck. Why can’t evil characters just be evil? Not everyone is misunderstood. Yes, I know Yondu revealed a slight soft spot in the first film, but do you really want to see him near tears because another Ravager shunned him? Besides Yondu, you can watch Drax and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) rarely use their fighting skills and Drax over-laugh at everything while simultaneously insulting people because he doesn’t understand metaphors. Remember how funny that was in the first movie? Double-down on that four, Mr. Blackjack dealer.

But don’t worry! Baby Groot, everyone! You loved him dancing in that little pot at the end of the first film, so here’s a truckload of baby Groot’s YouTube channel while you watch Nebula bear her soul about just wanting a sister (as she sheds a single tear) and Peter and Ego playing catch with a ball of light on Ego’s planet (a planet that looked like Willy Wonka’s fever dream after a hit of bad acid). Oh my god, folks, the Champ is down.

You're mailing it in. No, you're mailing it in.

My friend described the movie very well as “slap-sticky”, and I agree with that assessment. My other friend said he was entertained, but would not defend the movie. But more than that, the charm and heart of the first movie wasn’t just missing from this sequel, but ripped out of its body and laughed at because Drax said it looks like a penis. Or a turd. I can’t remember which, but they did talk about those two things a lot in the movie. I also think the actors knew this movie sucked. All of the chemistry was gone and they looked like they were mailing everything in, content to let Kurt Russell Wyatt-Earp his way through his scenes. It was almost as if every character/actor was really a doppleganger created by the aliens from Galaxy Quest after they watched the first movie.

You might think I hated this movie, but you’d be wrong. What I am is severely disappointed. The movie isn’t terrible, but it also doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and gets very tedious at points. It doesn’t even do a good job of using music (or even using good songs) like the first movie did. Mostly, it’s just uninteresting. It’s a movie aimed directly at eight-year olds and selling you baby Groot dolls…and that is why the streak is over.

Rating: Ask for eight dollars back and don’t act so smug, DC fans, your streak is still intact. You’re oh-for-three with three embarrassing whiffs so far.