Working on It

(a review of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017))

(spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 2, John Wick (2014))

Oh my everloving fuck with the middle child movies lately. At least this one is definitely getting a finale, and man will it be good, but I’m going to be so fucking anxious about this whole ordeal until the series is finished.

Chapter 2 was damn good, like the first. Its predecessor I found better, but this entry shined so well because it delved much more deeply into the world of assassins and other such walks of life. I get so wrapped up into the mythology. It’s a deep, multifaceted world, and so inviting too. In this film we get to see kind of the underground of the underground, a network of hobos and probably vagabonds led by Laurence Fishburne. John enlists the help of this Bowery King to heal from a series of failed hit attempts on his life, and to further his goals.

There’s much in this film, somehow more than in the last, about dredging up the past. The tone almost tells a complete story of John Wick, but leaves just enough out to solidify his enigma. We learn in this film that he apparently required aid to complete his impossible task the night he wanted out some years before, another theme in this entry: humanizing John Wick. He gets hurt more, needs help more. So really throughout this series we are peeling away the layers to understand the nature of a higher being, maybe to find out he is not that different. If I’m not wrong, and I truly hope I’m not, the third film will be an exploration of anger, of the motivational rage within a man. And what a ride it will be.

 

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Wasn’t Your Daddy

(a review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017))

(spoilers)

Fifteen movies in and I’m not even close to getting tired of the MCU. Guardians 2 was yet another in a long line of mostly masterful Marvel-comic-book-based films all somehow managing to smoothly take place in the same world. But you know this, I know this, everyone knows this, so let’s cut the preamble. It’s the MCU. It’s so familiar. I might as well be talking about bread.

As with any good sequel, I sat and contemplated (for use right here in this blog) which film in this series within a series was better, but no contest Guardians 1. The story was better, the characterization was more honest, and the humor wasn’t forced at all. But, pluses and minuses, the villain in 2 was better. Way better. I haven’t felt such seething hatred for a villain since… I don’t know. Some time ago. (I’m bad at this.) And kudos to Kurt Russell for bringing to life one of my favorite Marvel villains from my childhood.

This second film also had the best Stan Lee cameo yet, confirming, mostly, a long-running fan theory than Stan the Man is the same being across all Marvel films and is at least associated with the Watchers if not an uncannily different-looking member of their race. A long believer of this theory and participant in discussions regarding why it makes so much sense, I felt truly engaged, although this may have been planned from the outset.

But speaking of emotions, another reason that Vol. 2 was a strong contender against Vol. 1 was the heartstring angle. As I said, I truly hated Ego, and that started with, “It broke my heart to put that tumor in her head,” an intensely personal, humanizing touch to his sociopathy and villainy. But other than that is the obvious: Yondu’s death. And not just his death, but his sacrifice, and the expression of his true nature beforehand. Three years ago he would have died, I wouldn’t have cared, and he forever would have been “Blue Merle.” Now I’ll watch The Walking Dead sometime in the future and get nostalgic for Yondu.

So where does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 rank in the MCU? Sixth, seventh maybe. It certainly wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. There are simply too many superb films to choose from in this list already, with many more to come from the looks of things.

Beaver Catching

(a review of It (2017))

(spoilers)

Blown away. I was blown away. This movie was fantastic. Coming off of several years of development, many changes of writer, director, titular actor, and the general schism of what should and should not be included from the source material (yeah, no thanks on the orgy), I had high hopes but was uncertain. That was until the first trailer premiered, and I knew then that I was right to hope.

The story of seven children versus an ageless entity that eats humans and salts the meat with their fear is so basic yet so complex. To look at it through a single scope it to see a coming of age story where kids face their various fears, and conquer them. But It is more than that. And much of the complexity is revealed in the title. “It” speaks of mystery, of anonymity, and of innocence. The monster is not Pennywise the dancing clown anymore than it is a mummy or a leper, and yet it is all of those things and more. It is formless, and all forms, all at once. And It’s aggressors, seven children, know not how to address It, even amongst themselves. It is an “it” because giving it a name would show some kind of knowledge, and understanding is the death of fear. Even as adults the monster will be “It” because they are still afraid, an emotion than transports one back to childhood.

And I felt all of this theming and nuance in the film. Group that with the already great story, some out of this world acting by the seven Losers, and effects so perfectly designed, this movie was everything, if not a little lacking in the fright department. But only as a comparison to other films. Horror is in the eye of the beholder, and I know some like theirs with a little extra scary or some added gore, but this film to me was just the right amount, exactly scary enough; I wasn’t pissing myself, and I wasn’t laughing at its attempts.

And as for the ending, I could not have thought of a more perfect finale. A huge fan of good final battles, of course I was in love, but the way Pennywise is so damaged, and how he drops deeper into the sewer system to wait for the adults to come back in twenty-seven years where they will have to delve deeper if they are to conquer evil was just great, iconic cinema. I cannot wait for Chapter 2.

Giving My Consent

(a review of Ghost in the Shell (2017))

(spoilers)

I really don’t want to talk about whitewashing and the problem it may or may not be, so I’m not gonna. Not now, at least.

What I’d rather get into is that this is my first (maybe?) review of a feature film based on anime/manga. To start, I fucking hate anime. I hate the exaggerated nonsense, I hate the cinematography, I hate how cheap a lot of it is, I hate the overly drawn-out stories, and I hate the super fans. But this movie looked awesome, and it wasn’t anime, it was real people.

I honestly don’t have much to say about this film other than that I greatly enjoyed it. It was a really good story, it was fantastic philosophical scifi, so on. Most of my more pathetic complaints I voiced in my previous review on The Dark Tower, about building worlds we never get to see more of, but again, that’s on me for being greedy, as this story does not need more chapters to be complete. Beyond that though, I have to actually commend this film; it finally put the correct word into my mouth that I can use in future arguments against weeaboos (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Weeaboo): ‘subtlety.’ What I hate so much about anime is that it lacks subtlety. And, readers, stop here and inbox me your suggestions that prove otherwise, I will watch them (also maybe), but in my experience, this is vastly true. And this aspect reverberated in Ghost in the Shell.

I don’t know how the manga and anime were written, having never viewed either, but if I were a bettin’ man, I would guess they are just as in your face as this movie was about its central theme.

“Your ghost, Major. Your ghost. Your ghost in your shell.”

I get it!

Come one, use the word ‘soul’ every once in a while. Talk all about her soul, and how it’s still in her body even though her body’s more machine now than man. I’m a smart person, I’d get the theme, I’d get the title, I’d question if it’s really her soul or because she’s so close to robot maybe it’s not a soul but more of a dead soul… like a, a…. Like a ghost! And the body, her robot body, and how she learns they’re controlling her, keeping her encased, keeping her soul, her ghost, trapped, in like… in a shell! I get it! Wow!

If you think I’m being too sarcastic, you haven’t watched the movie. They really harp on this, and it takes away from some otherwise good dialogue. The story had several interesting characters, fair plot twists, and again tapped into a vast, engaging cyberpunk world. I just would’ve shot myself if they said the movie title one more time.

Oh, and, why did mostly everyone speak in English except for their commander and like one other person? I don’t get why that’s a thing. But, he made up for it by being a badass, so it’s cool.

Throwaway Bullies & Not Enough Demons

(a review of The Dark Tower (2017))

(spoilers for The Dark Tower, Jupiter Ascending (2015))

Trying so hard to win us back to the side of films based on Stephen King works following decades of mostly bad ones, we’re getting two this year in theatres and another on Netflix, all of which have looked promising. And The Dark Tower was good, I guess. I get dazzled by how fantastic both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are. The kid that played Jake did well too, surprisingly so when considering the number of shitty child actors that get work anyway. I can say that I was sufficiently wowed by this one, but didn’t fall in love with it.

Sure, it had plenty to like, baritone eye candy aside. I sure do love when the asshole stepfather gets fucked and dead. Moreso, the kid actually agrees, “Yeah, fuck this place,” and goes off with the cool cowboy dude to another dimension, something you know I get all pissy about if you remember my Jupiter Ascending review. But despite a cool ending and plenty of imagination, the whole ordeal was fairly rushed. Either not confident in the possibility of a sequel or just lazy or whatever, this story began, middled, and ended. I mean, we’re talking about Randall Flagg here, but still, McConaughey seemed pretty dead, everything seemed pretty final.

I went in to this hoping for the beginning of a saga; maybe not eight movies, but like three of four. Really there just wasn’t enough for me. In that regard I am again reminded of Jupiter Ascending, but also of The Fifth Element, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Ghost in the Shell (next! Giving My Consent), all of which tantalize with vast, inviting worlds but shut their doors and never let us explore any further. (Unless for Nightmare you count Oogie’s Revenge, or Kingdom Hearts.) If a sequel was planned but never made (John Carter, The Golden Compass) okay I get it, and I do read that The Dark Tower might get a sequel film and a prequel TV series, but not only is none of that guaranteed but more importantly the movie ended. The conclusion had that sweet sense of finality, the long-awaited death of a serious antagonist following his utter defeat.

There’s something to be said here for hope. Largely and truly am I not the man to predict the waxing and waning interests of moviegoers not only everywhere but even in my home country (I can barely convince my friends why some movies are better than they think), but isn’t it feasible that having little confidence in a film’s success reflects within that movie if you allow it to? I may be wrong, but gambling on an ending that would provide more leeway for a sequel when you clearly want one seems like the better choice, because that makes people want one too. The list I wrote above, The Fifth Element, The Nightmare Before Christmas, they don’t need sequels, I just want sequels because I’m greedy and in love. The Dark Tower needs a sequel, needs an expansion on the story and the world built within, or at least it did all the way until the ending. And the difference here from the other listed movies is that the story was rushed through and unsatisfying while those other films have very satisfying stories.

I know I could just go read the Dark Tower novels (likewise for John Carter and His Dark Materials), something I fully intend to do anyway, but that’s not the point. Books continue to work for their film versions when they premiere as backdrops, as usually better versions of the same story that take more of your time. They’re there to explain away some of the things that don’t make sense in the film versions (which happens a lot in the Harry Potter films), either directly or simply by being more inviting. Of course this is not the case one hundred percent of the time; on rare occasions, the film is actually better (Stardust). But my point here is that a film should be able to stand on its own feet. I do not fully discount the books but a film also requires a spine. It should not force me to say, “Okay, I guess I’ll go read the books,” because it wasn’t satisfying enough or the sequel is never going to get made or for whatever reason. Yes I should certainly go read the books anyway, but the audience should be encouraged to do so, not forced.

Never Actually in Control

(a review of Jurassic World (2015))

(spoilers)

Following Jurassic Park 3, which I tried my ass off to like, I did not have high hopes for the series, assuming that the third and least best was the sendoff, the final chapter. Underestimated studios’ franchise milking, I had. Jurassic World edges pretty closely to a soft reboot, which to quote a wise blogger are the worst idea ever. However, I find it easier to compare this to Star Wars, where the time jump makes it less of a soft reboot and more of a straight sequel. In this case only one somewhat minor character returns, but next time we get Jeff Goldblum! Woo!

So the movie was good, but I have some complaints. The first one is simple: whenever there is a computer screen, large or small, displaying deployed military unit’s individual heart rates or various other health stats, they’re gonna die, or at least most of them will. And it’s so fucking obvious.

Not that I cared, though. Because they were probably just as unlikeable as everyone else in this movie except for Chris Pratt. And I do mean everyone. The arbitrarily British assistant, the tech in the Jurassic Park tee, the nauseous helicopter piloting instructor, the men around Chris Pratt (who only existed to showcase Pratt’s character’s awesomeness). Then you move on to the bigger roles. Vincent D’Onofrio was the villain, but not even a very good one, which is unlike him. Claire sucked. She was awkward and messily over-organized, all things I can forgive for being the bounds of the scope of a meh actress, but we’re supposed to care about her emotional subplot after she decides to care more about the park than the twenty-one thousand people in the park, including her two nephews? Fuck off. Masrani, the owner of the park, was okay, cool even, until he agreed with not evacuating because of the small matter of a loose, barely locatable, killer dinosaur of unknown intelligence and power. And don’t get me started on those fucking kids. The small scruffy one was way too whiny, another emotional subplot in which I refuse to invest; you can’t force me to care about divorce with dinosaurs in my face. And the older, cheating-hearted, bipolar one? The one that would be all emotionally unavailable and stock teenager-y, then “you’re a genius, bro!,” then back to fuck you kid, then could fix a jeep that had been sitting there for twenty years? Yeah fuck him. When are we going to get a Jurassic Park movie where a kid gets eaten? That’d be some shit. Poor British nanny assistant woman got like a two minute death scene, at the end of which she definitely wasn’t dead right away, she was gonna drown/be digested to death. Yeah, I know, I said, “unlikeable,” but still, D’Onofrio died in like a second to a generic raptor eating. Sure, you can argue that he wasn’t the real villain, that the Indominus was, but two things: (1) ‘man is the real animal’ is inarguably the theme of this saga from the beginning, and (2) no matter what he deserved a worse death than British assistant lady. At least the Indominus rex went out in a cool way following an awesome battle. And maybe Claire will get eaten in Fallen Kingdom.

Mostly liking this movie is about acceptance. Acceptance of things in movies that you can’t change, I guess. You have to accept that tech guy would be able to get a Jurassic Park tee shirt from eBay even though the park never opened. You have to accept the bull you’re fed about Hammond imparting his dream to Masrani. You have to come to terms with the idea that this park only took around ten years to reopen, that they captured and corralled, rebuilt and relocated, did all the normal things an island locale amusement park would have to do to open but with dinosaurs added to the mix; really, you have to believe that it could open at all, considering Jurassic Park never did. Then you have to accept that people could possibly get bored of dinosaurs after only a decade, thus spawning the need for previously nonexistent ones.

What I couldn’t accept, however, and this is where the movie took a slight nosedive for me, is the explanation of the Indominus by Dr. Wu to Masrani. The previous trilogy’s science took a few liberal steps but was certainly acceptable, except this was 2015 and we are all fully aware that arbitrary “cuttlefish genes” wouldn’t give an animal all positive cuttlefish traits while not forcing it to be aquatic! Genes aren’t superpowers!

However, credit where it is due and I must say the same scene that damned this movie also saved it. Something else Dr. Wu said was amazing to me. 1993’s view of dinosaurs was as they appeared in Jurassic Park. It would’ve been dumb to change them to our current knowledge of feathers and so on just to be more accurate. So, Dr. Wu explained this by stating that they have always filled in the missing gaps, and that the dinos look the way they do because of human perception, that realistic dinosaurs would look way different. What I liked is that they didn’t have to do that, but they did. To like movies, sometimes you have to look and accept instead of immediately dismiss, because if you look hard enough you’ll often find surprises.

But I Never Get Bored

(a review of G. I. Joe: Retaliation (2013))

(spoilers for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra (2009), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016))

Soft reboots are the worst idea ever. The Rise of Cobra messed around a good bit with the feel of the classic G.I. Joe cartoons and comics, traded hints of fantasy for hints of scifi, but all around was fun and I couldn’t hate it, the near reunion of the Mummy series that it was. So they took that, and removed Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Hawk, Destro, Sgt. Stone, Breaker, and Ripcord, gave us back Storm Shadow unbelievably just to redeem him for some reason, and killed Channing Tatum. Oh and Gordon-Levitt was recast, which is always a terrible idea.

Truthfully the character of Cobra Commander did not suffer much with the change to Luke Bracey. He still holds a certain amount of pizzazz, his mustache-twirling plan being dastardly enough this episode. But killing off Duke to replace him with Flint? Are you kidding me? That’s discount Duke! Half the charm, thrice the forgettableness!

Ray Stevenson was a good Firefly, and Dwayne Johnson a good Roadblock, although he needed more time with a fucking huge gun for my tastes. Mostly I just disliked the idea that there were good set pieces here, some good actors and brief hints of good story, but it was all mixed up by too many changes to the established lore. You can’t just do that. You can’t just upset a dozen characters and half a dozen storylines, ask us to forget all that, and drop us in like this to a new world peopled by some from the old. Oh look, there’s Jonathan Pryce and Channing Tatum, so it’s a sequel, but where is EVERYBODY ELSE?

If I was a little bit older and remembered a little bit more of the TV show I probably would have been joining in with everyone else who was angry at the significant change (complete revision) to the Baroness’ backstory in the first film, but instead I’m just angry now because the change to Storm Shadow’s in this “sequel” was so dumb and unnecessary. And I was bored because I’m actually, really, truly, getting tired of watching a major (probably non-U.S.) city get blown the fuck up. When it’s significant, sure, but when I feel like they have a major city dartboard in the writing room and there’s zero talk about the horror that is 8.8 million people being slaughtered, I don’t feel like I’m being coerced into caring, and I should be. Because it’s a movie and that’s terrible and I’m human and I should be made to care with music and crying and blood. For the love of fuck show me a woman running, carrying her newborn, and maybe a puppy too, as the explosion hits and the ground heaves up only to cut to some important world politician sitting down suddenly because he’s going to pass out because NINE MILLION PEOPLE JUST DIED!

Retaliation also suffered the same as TMNT: Out of the Shadows: it had a very middle child feel. Without a sequel, Cobra Commander will have gotten away for good. Plans are in the works for a third, a noted regret has been passed that Duke was killed so maybe he’ll get revived somehow, probably in some nonsense way, but there’s also talk of an Avengers-esque shared universe with M.A.S.K., I think Micro Machines, and some other Hasbro properties. However, in light of the existence of The Avengers, and now The Justice League, who’s going to care? So probably none of those things will happen.

Hoo-ah.