Thursday, January 3, 2019

Venom


RATING: D

This is a film that I didn't really believe would actually happen. It was a rather silly concept, and it was stuck in development for so long. A movie centering around a Spider-Man villain? Really? What could they possibly do with that? Oddly enough, apparently there is some interest among comic book fans for seeing movies centered around more villainous types. I can't see the appeal in that, in general. The biggest reason for this is that it generally becomes difficult to root for or like these type of--ahem--protagonists. Now, being an antihero can work if it's done correctly. But it was hard to see how it could be done here, especially for a guy who hadn't read the comics and whose only exposure to Venom was Spider-Man 3.

But the point is, I didn't believe the film would ever happen. I figured it would just be stuck in what they call "development hell" for all eternity; kind of like the X-Men Gambit film in the same genre. But now Venom has finally happened. (And Gambit might happen? Maybe? Who knows?) And it's... not as bad as it could have been. But that's probably one of the best compliments I have for it.

In this version of Venom, in a world where Spider-Man is nowhere to be seen, Eddie Brock is once again a reporter. And not a very good one; Tom Hardy's version of Brock is quite impulsive and it gets him fired. And he loses his fiancee. So he's down on his luck until, through a series of crazy events, gets bonded with the symbiote Venom. And he and the rest of his symbiote buddies (there are a few other ones on Earth) want to destroy Earth and eat its inhabitants. Nice, right?

Now, here Brock and Venom are two distinct personalities. Venom is actually a voice inside Brock's head; and one time he briefly detaches himself to speak to Brock face-to-face in some ghost-like form. This is actually executed pretty well; there's some pretty nice levity resulting from some of the dialogue between these two.

The problem here is that the movie takes a surprisingly long time to get going. It takes 35 minutes for Brock to get bonded with the symbiote. And it takes about 20-25 *more* minutes before Venom actually makes himself known via the "look" that we're used to from him. And about 30 minutes later... it's over.

Now Venom himself actually is pretty cool. But the problem is everything you have to sit through before the cool stuff finally starts happening. Basically all the characters in this movie are idiots. Brock himself isn't that enjoyable of a character, even if he isn't the weaselly jerk that Topher Grace's version of the character was. What makes it worse is that they seem to have no idea what kind of character Brock is. Is he an idiot? Is he smart? Is he down on his luck or does he have enough money to give handouts to random people? The movie has no idea. Also, I have no idea what kind of accent Hardy is trying to do for the character of Brock; it really doesn't work.

Furthermore, the plot is pretty stupid. The bad guy (the human bad guy, anyway) wants to merge humans with symbiotes and send them all into space because the planet is about to die. And then he's all too willing to give up the planet to the symbiote Riot when he shows up.

Now, some of the action scenes are pretty fun. The fight between Venom and Riot is pretty cool, even if it devolves into some silly CGI by the end. Venom dispatching some human minions by way of various methods like throwing them into each other is also fun. The car/motorcycle chase of the movie does not fare as well. It brings to mind Mission: Impossible 2 at one point, of all things.

Venom actually does partially succeed at making Brock and Venom people we don't feel too bad rooting for in this movie. That's probably one of the tougher tasks in a movie like this. Unfortunately, aside from some of the action scenes and visual effects, the movie gets just about everything else wrong. The script is laughable. You can kind of tell at times that this movie stinks of troubled production.

Even though they were able to succeed at making Venom an antihero (in a way), this still feels like an unnecessary movie. Maybe I'm in the minority of comic-book-movie fans, but a Venom movie would never have been on the shortlist of movies I'd ask for. As previously said, it's certainly not as bad as it could have been. And hardcore fans of the genre/character could probably do worse with their time. But the casual viewer can safely skip out on this. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Bumblebee


RATING: B

I don't think hardly anyone ever expected the Transformers movies to be classics or anything. But whatever one may think of the movies, most people can probably agree that they definitely could've been better than they have been--if they hadn't been directed by Michael Bay for five movies. A visual effect and sound design wizard, but one of the worst action movie directors Hollywood has seen in recent years. People go to Transformers to see robots fight each other, not for the juvenile/crude humor or for poorly written and unappealing *human* characters. 

But after the main Transformers movies hit their lowest point yet last year with The Last Knight, the series essentially got shelved. Transformers 6 was taken off the release schedule and never returned. The only problem? The prequel spin-off about Bumblebee was already too far long along in production to stop it, I guess. Regardless, it should've been a sad last gasp for a dead franchise. But it turned out surprisingly good. And not only that, it managed to be better than all of its predecessors (not that doing so was an incredibly difficult feat). 

The first good thing about this is that Michael Bay doesn't direct. Instead, he's just the executive producer and he seems pretty limited to just doing the visual/sound effects when needed. In other words--what he should have been limited to doing all along. Instead, Travis Knight directs this film. Unless you watched Kubo and the Two Strings, you've probably never heard of him. But the directorial switch yields an immediate positive effect. 

The first 10-15 minutes of this film alone are some of the best in the entire series. Most of it revolves around a battle at Cybertron, which feels more well done than the version we saw at the beginning of Dark of the Moon. We also get to see (temporarily) more Transformers, who have been redesigned to look closer to their original 1980's counterparts--something that will certainly please fans who have watched any Transformers lore beyond the movies. Then there's a battle between Bumblebee and a lone Decepticon on Earth, and it's pretty awesome. 

But the general plot set-up of this movie has more in common with E.T. or The Iron Giant. (It also takes place in the 80's--so get ready for a lot of 80's music, including Tears for Fears and a brief Rick Astley moment.) Bumblebee is stuck on Earth, and he gets found by a teenage girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) who befriends him. Unfortunately, government/army forces (led by John Cena--yup, seriously) are aware of his presence on Earth and intend to find him. And yes, that does sound a bit like the plot of E.T., doesn't it? 

This may make it sound like there's still more focus on the humans than is necessary. This is kind of true. The difference here is that (in general) it's actually more well written, and there's more heart to it. The humor is actually humorous this time (mostly). Hailee Steinfeld's character is easily more likable than any human protagonist we've had in this series thus far. There are still a few moments here and there that are just annoying and that we probably could've done without, but the fact that they even got us to really like a human protagonist in a Transformers movie is kind of unprecedented. Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky was at least tolerable, but we still were infinitely more interested in the robots than him. (Probably. If you weren't interested in the robots, then heaven knows why you were watching those movies anyways...) 

Regardless, there's still a decent amount of action to go around. Most of it comes at either the beginning or the end, but much of it is still quite fun. The robot fights are a little more fluid than before this time, even relying on martial arts moves. It's also worth noting that there's actually only a few Transformers here with much screen time, which will be easier for casual viewers to keep up with. 

Despite all of the improvements, this film still has its issues. It can move a little slowly at times for those wanting more of the robot action, even if the bond between Bumblebee and Charlie actually mostly works. There are some moments that made me roll my eyes--but most of them were just cliched material rather than straight up insulting-the-viewer dialogue (like Bay's installments often had). And the story they're telling has been done before, even if it's an improvement over what we got previously in this franchise. There's also still some moments where you think "Yeah, that definitely should have killed him/her"--usually in the wake of one of the explosions (which are also toned down compared to other installments) or, in one case, a vicious robot punch. 

Bumblebee's not a classic or even necessarily great, but it is definitely a huge step in the right direction for this franchise. It gets a lot right of what the main installments in the series got wrong, and it proves it's actually possible to make a good Transformers movie (and not just one that's a guilty pleasure). There's still room for improvement, and who knows where the series will go after this (or if it goes anywhere, depending upon how much money this thing makes). But if they keep Travis Knight or any other properly competent director on board, then I'm all for more. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Skyscraper

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RATING: D-

I remember when I first saw a trailer for this movie. It was during the Super Bowl. This was odd, because it wasn't a movie that I (or probably anyone, for that matter) had heard of prior to that. It wasn't exactly a big/highly anticipated movie--which is normally what you expect to see when it comes to Super Bowl trailers. And that trailer... well, it made an impression, though I'm not entirely sure it was a good one. On one hand, it had Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock in it, who's about as charismatic an action movie star as they come even if he's not in very many actually good movies. On the other hand, it also included jumping at least 50 feet from a crane into a giant skyscraper. Not exactly grounded in reality, right? Well, we didn't know it at the time (if memory serves, anyway), but it gets better: he's making that run and leap with a prosthetic leg. 

Somehow I think even the Fast and Furious movies would be raising their eyebrows at such an impossible stunt. But I will give that trailer credit for one thing: it left no doubt in the viewer's mind about what kind of movie it was, for better or for worse. It was a dumb action movie. And based on that preview, the only kind of positive expectations that could be placed on this movie would be that The Rock would make it at least watchable. As previously mentioned, he's a pretty doggone fun action star. 

So what exactly is this movie about, besides being about Dwayne Johnson making an impossible jump from a crane to a skyscraper with a prosthetic leg? Well, the focus is this skyscraper, which The Rock's character--Will Sawyer, a former FBI hostage squad guy--is hired to do a security check for. And this skyscraper, located in Hong Kong, is the tallest ever--taller than even the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. And just on that very day that Sawyer and his family are visiting for the security check and the building is almost ready to be opened to the public--guess what happens? Terrorists attack. Set the building ablaze. With Sawyer's family still in it. While Sawyer is outside of said building. Cue dumb action movie. (And yeah, the plot has been compared to Die Hard.) 

Sadly, there's hardly anything good about this movie. There's a couple of decent fistfights, but most of the action revolves around The Rock doing impossible stunts or people shooting at each other (and being terrible aims). And there are so many tired cliches that are used in this thing--namely, kidnapping good guy's family and threatening the hero--that the storyline just gets annoying. And as previously mentioned, most of the action just isn't that great. Probably the most interesting part is a scene in a hall of mirrors/projections (similar to John Wick: Chapter 2), but even that isn't all that well executed. 

As for the infamous skyscraper jump scene? The good news is, the long jump was *not* Sawyer's original plan. But it still becomes the plan out of necessity. The bad news is... that jump is not even the most unbelievable thing that Sawyer does in this movie. There's a part later where he has to scale down part of the on-fire building and get through some turbines (don't ask why, I already forgot) and get back up. It may not sound that different from Tom Cruise's scaling of the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible 4, but the difference is he had more proper equipment, and the building wasn't on fire and structurally unsound. Sawyer does not have the proper equipment, and the building is on fire and structurally unsound. The result is probably one of the least plausible action scenes you'll see all year. 

Skyscraper is about as good as you were probably expecting--which is to say, not good at all. Unfortunately, even The Rock can't save this. It doesn't help that there is no one else of note on the cast list. Again, though, if you saw the trailers, you probably knew this wouldn't be any good regardless. If you're wanting to see an action film this year staring The Rock, you should stick with Rampage instead. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Announcement

So, I'm making a big change with how I'm doing reviews. Few will probably even see this in the short-term, but I still find it important to explain what I'll be doing on here for the foreseeable future. I don't want to build up the reveal for a long time, so I'll just cut to the chase and *then* explain:

I will no longer being doing weekly reviews. I will also no longer being do movies older than one year; I will focus strictly on new releases in theaters or movies that have been released recently on Blu-Ray and DVD.

The main reason for this is basically that my viewership stats have been declining over an extended period of time lately. It hadn't bothered me much, but now it's gotten to a point where scarcely anyone is reading a new post. And anyone who's ever done any sort of content creation--whether it be blogging, video content or whatever--you probably know that it's frustrating to put time and effort into something and then have hardly anyone see it. I blame this partially on Facebook's algorithms--I post my reviews on a Page for the website there, and in the last year FB has set their algorithms so that Pages in general don't show up as much in a person's News Feed anymore (at least by default, anyway).

With all of that said, I can't really stop altogether. Overall, I enjoy it too much. Movies and writing are two passions of mine, and I find that I kind of need to combine the two--even if not on a timed basis like weekly, at least on occasion. So quitting altogether isn't really something I want to do.

But it still kind of feels like a waste of time at this point to be investing time and energy into writing up reviews for older movies that a lot of people have probably already seen and then have basically no one read those reviews anyway. This is also compounded with the fact that my life is a lot busier now than it was when I first started this site.

So the question is: how often will reviews be now? Well, it's not really a question of how often anymore; it's really just a matter of when I get around to watching certain new movies on my list. I do try to get to movies that I want to see in theaters on the opening weekend. I can also say with reasonable certainty that there should be at least one or two new reviews every month--and on a good month, hopefully a lot more than that. But some months may be quieter than others, and vice versa.

Also in the future: while I won't be doing any more reviews for movies older than one year, I may still drop a rating without a link in the Review Index for movies that I never reviewed that are part of franchises. For example: Ralph Breaks the Internet is about to hit theaters. I never reviewed the original Wreck-It Ralph. I'm not planning on watching/reviewing the new one until it's released on home media, but before then I may put a rating for the original in the Review Index--without linking a review. I may do this for other franchises as well that have new movies coming out but also have missing reviews--simply for completeness and reference's sake.

So, that's the gist of things. I don't plan on seeing any more movies in theaters in 2018, but there should still be a few reviews coming down the pipeline over the next couple of months. Until the next review...

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


RATING: A

It took eleven years and eight movies, but the Harry Potter series finally came to a conclusion. (Well, until the Fantastic Beasts prequels, that is.) It's kind of an impressive achievement to pull off to be able to make that many movies without ever really losing momentum--especially when some other book-to-movie adaptation series don't get the chance to finish, even with less movies. But perhaps that just drives home just how big of a phenomenon Harry Potter was/is. 

Anyone who was disappointed with Deathly Hallows Part 1 due to its slower pace won't be disappointed here. The film picks up right where the last one left off (literally doing a short replay of that film's final scene), and pretty much throws us right into the action. Here, Harry Potter and company are continuing their search to destroy the remaining Horcruxes and defeat Lord Voldemort once and for all. Unlike Part 1, though, there's less searching here and a lot more battling. 

Admittedly, even the first action set piece--a heist scene of sorts--may still feel like just killing time. However, a new destination immediately emerges afterwards for the next Horcrux--Hogwarts itself. And right when they go to find it, Voldemort's forces descend upon Hogwarts to eliminate Harry once and for all--and anyone who stands in their way. 

As such, it doesn't take very long for the big battle to begin. And when it does, even though we don't actually see all of the main war taking place, the film never lets up from there. We don't get a nearly-hour-long battle like in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (and that wasn't even the final act!), but everything that happens from here out is either action or setting up for action, and the only real breaks are for plot twists and needed exposition moments. 

While the first third of the film or so is just fine as far as Harry Potter films go, what follows from there (particularly the final 45 minutes) is so good that it puts almost the entire rest of the film series to shame. Whether it's all the awesome magical battle/dueling scenes, or one of the greatest plot twists ever pulled off late in the game, or also one of the better "apparition(s)-from-the-dead" scenes ever, there's hardly anything to not like here. Yes, we could grump a bit about one of the plot points that allows Voldemort to be defeated--but in all fairness, it was kind of shaky in the book too (regarding that blasted Elder Wand). But what we're given is still so good that one can overlook a couple of the more shaky plot points. Sometimes a film's or book's conclusion can still be great or spectacular--even if it's not quite perfect. 

Probably my greatest gripe of all with this film is how they handled Dumbledore's past. For all of the good that was done by splitting the movie into two parts and not having to cut out important stuff, they still didn't really do this part well. We meet Aberforth, Albus's brother, who attempts to cast doubt in Harry's mind of Albus. And their sister, Ariana, is briefly referenced (book fans will know the importance of all this). But the situation never really comes up again. The idea that Dumbledore isn't quite the man everyone thought he was is, in my opinion, so important in the book--but they touch on it so little in both Deathly Hallows movies. 

But beyond that, there's very little negativity that can be said. This is just a stellar conclusion to a great series. Some film series have a hard time ending things on a strong note--and seldom does a final chapter actually get to be the best one of the series. But perhaps it's easier when the final book of the source material was as good as it is. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


RATING: B+

The first ten minutes of this film -- on a purely cinematic level -- are some of the best in the entire Harry Potter film series. Beginning with a *rusting* Warner Bros level that helps to set the mood, followed by a rousing speech from Bill Nighy's Minister of Magic, Hermione having to wipe her parents' memories (for their safety), and Snape rendezvousing with Voldemort and the other Death Eaters for a creepy set-the-stage meeting--all to some of the best music in the entire series, courtesy of Alexandre Desplat. 

Of course, this is kind of one of the more infamous films of the Harry Potter series--for being the drawn-out prelude to the finale where supposedly not much happens, for being a Part 1 in general, and for being the one where Harry Potter and friends go camping. So such compliments in the first paragraph may seem a bit much. 

Here's the thing--it was a good idea to split this movie into two. Not just for the sake of the cash-grab, but the book is done better justice this way. Because it's a very long book, and a lot of important stuff happens in it. You couldn't have squashed all this into even one 150-minute movie. The final battle in Part 2 would've been very rushed. All the various plot twists towards the end would've been rushed, and some "less critical" ones might have even been left out. And how could you squash the hunt for about four or five Horcruxes into one movie? If you're still annoyed by all of this, you can blame the author for writing the book that way. (And even then, not quite everything got done proper justice--namely Dumbledore's past that comes to light in this book/movie(s).) 

And actually, a fair bit happens in the first hour of Part 1. Aside from what was previously mentioned, we get a pretty good action scene early on involving the "multiple Harry's" gambit, and we get a pretty awesome Ministry infiltration scene, which also shows us Voldemort's grip on the Wizarding World (via his pawns) starting to take full effect in alarming fashion. 

It's after that first hour where the whole "camping trip" starts, and things do admittedly get pretty slow-paced here for a bit. Here's the thing, though--unlike other installments in the series, it's kind of by design here--if that makes any sense. The idea is to instill the dreariness of the situation over lots of minutes of runtime, and to further explore the relationships between the main trio--which is done decently. It does feel like it could've been cut down a bit at times, and the slow pace just might be too much for some expecting more action in a penultimate film. That said, things do kick up again in the final 20-30 minutes, and a lot of interesting/exciting stuff happens there; the origin story of the Deathly Hallows stands out due to it being told in a unique animated style. 

Deathly Hallows Part 1 is, in other words, actually pretty good. The pacing may not be what some would like, but it kind of works in context. And David Yates continues to do a good job at directing. There were a few changes in director early on in the franchise, and I feel that having the same one down the stretch only helped the series. 

And now for the obligatory paragraph about the cast. There's actually not a lot of new faces with important roles in this one. I mentioned Bill Nighy earlier, but he's only onscreen for about five minutes. John Hurt gets arguably even less to do. Rhys Ifans fares better as Luna Lovegood's father, though. With regards to returning members, Helena Bonham Carter gets more deliciously over-the-top in this one. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort is a welcome menacing presence after being gone in the previous movie. Jason Isaacs is also back as Lucius Malfoy, and he does quite well in portraying a more disgraced, desperate version of the character. And of course, Radcliffe and Watson are good as always. 

This probably won't ever be remembered as one of the better Harry Potter films. And that's fine, because it still really isn't. But it's still not one of the worst either--for example, this is certainly better than the previous installment, Half-Blood Prince. And it still does a good job of setting some things up for Part 2. Not really a whole lot more that can be said; this film plays its role, and I guess your opinion of this film might depend upon your opinion of that role it plays. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp


RATING: B

Choosing to release this film two months after Avengers: Infinity War was not a good move. Mainly because Ant-Man is one of the lamest heroes in the Marvel Universe, and his first movie only worked because of the humor angle. I mean, come on; it was hard to not enjoy all the shrinking/enlarging madness, right? Despite all that, what Ant-Man is up to is probably one of the last things on most people's minds at this point. And yet here we are. 

In this film, Scott Lang/Ant-Man is on house arrest because of the events of Captain America: Civil War. And as such, he hasn't really had any contact with Hank Pym or his daughter Hope. But that changes when the Pyms discover there might be a way to bring back Hank's long-lost wife from the Quantum Realm (the place you go when you "shrink between the molecules" in this universe... which basically means if you didn't see the first movie, don't bother with this one). And Scott will be needed for that. But this time, Hope will also be suiting up into action as the Wasp--which is basically the same thing as Ant-Man, only with wings and some weird blasters with vague abilities. 

Anyways, so Scott and the Pyms set out to bring Hank's wife back. However, someone else--a "villain" by the name of Ghost--wants the technology as well to fix her weird unstable condition, which involves... well... ghosting through things. And for some reason, some non-super-powered normal criminal guy played by Walton Goggins wants the tech too, because... uh... you know, I'd already forgotten why before the movie was even over. 

This movie is admittedly pretty enjoyable; they take the best parts of the last movie and use them heavily. Which is to say, all the humor, plus all the shrinking/enlarging action. The latter caps off with a quite fun car chase involving a car that is constantly shrinking and then enlarging back to its normal size. In other words, the best thing about the movie is once again not even really Ant-Man (or the Wasp)--it's just the epic applications of the technology that allows Ant-Man to exist. Between stuff like that and just the often-hilarious dialogue, it's difficult to not enjoy the movie.

With that said, this movie is pretty doggone pointless. It doesn't really contribute hardly anything to the Marvel Cinematic Universe plot-wise; and when they're making us sit through as many movies as they are, that's a problem. If this movie (and its predecessor) stood completely on its own apart from any cinematic universe, I would probably be more forgiving. But I want this movie to mean something, and it really doesn't. Aside from a mid-credits scene which ties the movie to Infinity War, the only critical plot thing that happens here is the retrieval of Hank Pym's wife, which really isn't a good enough excuse by itself for this movie to exist. 

And then there's the problem with some of the characterization. Ant-Man often feels less like a character (except for the scenes with his daughter) than he just feels like Paul Rudd running around in a suit. And furthermore, Scott himself isn't allowed much room for progression; he's still a bit of a screw-up that is constantly being told by Hank and Hope "Shut up, Scott!" or "Darn it, Scott!" (The latter is more often said in less polite terms.) That heavy dose of deprecation gets annoying after a while. And while the Wasp and her actress Evangeline Lilly fare better than last time, it's not enough to bring this movie out of low-tier MCU material. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp will certainly make you laugh a lot. It's hard to not enjoy. But it's also hard to not shake the feeling that it's pretty pointless; and really, that mid-credits scene I mentioned earlier only exacerbates that. This movie doesn't really mean anything. It's a weak attempt to tide us over until Infinity War Part 2. And while it's impressive how Marvel continues to make even their low-tier material above average, I still think it's fair to expect that when they're putting out as many movies as they are these days, that all the movies *mean* something. This is basically one of those episodes of a TV show that you enjoy quite a bit but is still kind of filler. Even in a cinematic universe like this, this still isn't a TV show. Filler "movies" shouldn't exist. But then we wouldn't have a scene where a bug-sized car changes back to normal size while driving under a normal-sized car, thus sending the other normal-sized car flying. So you can see that I'm slightly conflicted here.