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Movie Wednesday: Midway

Let me take you back to an older time. A simpler time. When smoking was cool and airplanes didn’t have covered-glass cockpits. Before all missiles were laser-guided and computerized. When a ship-mounted anti-air gattling gun took 3 people to operate. When those “damn dirty Japs” sunk our battleships as they idled in sunny Pearl Harbor.

Reminder: I’m not endorsing racist slurs, I’m merely quoting the sentiment of the time, that point in history, so stop taking everything so seriously and read with CONTEXT.

N.

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midway main movie cover art
One of these things is not like the others!

One of the main takeaways from this film, for me, is how ploddingly slow war combat was in the 1940s. Compared to anything from this century, the difference is mind-boggling! The technology feels like another world, another lifetime. Which it IS, in fact. Most of those who were alive at that time, at least those involved with the war, have passed on. And this film is, in many ways, a tribute to them, their bravery and sacrifice, and their heartbreak. Roland Emmerich is certainly qualified to handle this material.

Who dat?

midway main character screenshot
Kill Japs and chew gum at the same time? No problem!

Oh look it’s Ajax from Deadpool! Yes, folks, that’s up-and-comer Ed Skrein, probably most famous for playing the tropefully-British-accented villain in our favorite anti-hero movie of the past decade. It’s interesting hearing him do an American inflection now… it definitely sounds less natural. Obviously, since his native tongue is the Queen’s English. Gotta respect the man’s work, though.

Speaking of actors.. Dennis Quaid really doesn’t pull this off well. Perhaps its the way they wrote the character, but I just don’t believe it. I believe most of the others, including Woody Harrelson’s Nimitz (which was a tough sell). I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Nick Jonas ain’t winnin no prize either.

Do one thing and do it well

midway bomber-gunner
Open cockpits? Check. Manual aim? Check. Nick Jonas as a fearsome and relentless gunner? Umm…

But overall, Midway accomplishes its goal. It doesn’t focus unnecessarily on Pearl Harbor itself, but presents the tragedy with enough gravitas that we feel the motivation of our fallen brothers to seek righteous vengeance upon those who perpetrated it. It gives adequate treatment to the intelligence side of the equation — the “code breakers” — as well as the combat side. It even presents the Japanese forces and officers in a neutral and respectful light; in fact, it comes off as much less of a “rah rah, ‘Merica!” nationalistic stars-and-stripes-fest than many of its kin. So I respect that. Sure, it’s still an American film, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with patriotism.

The Verdict

One solid thumb-up.

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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 2

And now the actresses! Oh, I mean, uh.. actors.. who are.. female.. because they identify as such. Right? K. It’s so hard to keep track these days.

Oh, and guess what? If that offended you, you’ll probably want to stop reading now. Because I’m going to comment on their LOOKS as well as their talent. BLASPHEMY!! CRUCIFY HIM!!!!

Rhona Mitra

bill nighy and rhona mitra in rise of the lycans
You KNOW what he’s looking at.

As a long-time fan of the vampire/werewolf universe, I should surprise nobody with this pick. She almost looks as if she could have fangs hiding under those lips, her mouth and cheekbones with that ever-so-slight jut in that one spot. And she’s gorgeous, of course. But more importantly, she plays a really convincing blood-sucker. I may have already mentioned the ill-fated show The Gates, and of course she played the great predecessor of Kate Beckinsale’s infamous Selene. We mustn’t type-cast, however. That’s the trap these kind of actors often fall into — they become “too good at” playing a particular kind of character, so they have trouble finding other roles. I hope that doesn’t happen to her. Looking over her IMDB page, I see mostly TV gigs, which kinda makes sense. I’ll always remember, though, hers were the first bare pair I saw on screen in Hollow Man. Good times.

Olivia Wilde

olivia wilde in the lazarus effect
He’s holding his Jew-fro’d head in his hands, in anguish, because he’ll never be even close to the same league as her.

Thirteen. That’s all I need to say, really. House gave us a lot of good stuff in its 8 year run. But one of the best things had to be skyrocketing this beauty to the big time. I mean sure, she had a few movies beforehand, and some TV gigs, but I feel like this made her A-list. As such, I wasn’t even sure if she belonged on this list, but she kinda hasn’t been doin a lot of acting lately. She’s been producing and other stuff, which, great for her, but I’d like to see more of her back on the other side of the camera. I mean, have you seen The Lazarus Effect? Just.. go watch it. Now. It’s phenomenal.

Kat Graham

kat graham as bonnie bennett
B*tch please.

More vampires. Well, she played a witch, but on a show about vampires. And honestly, she was one of the few original main characters that I could stand. Seriously, give me this firecracker over ANY of the Stephen/Damon/Elena/Catherine bore-fest. At least she wasn’t a codependent puddle. But where I really fell for her was when she did a guest spot on Ridiculousness — you know, the show where a washed-up skater and his buddies watch found-footage of people doing ridiculous things (and usually injuring themselves) and make fun of them? She had such a playful chemistry and a great attitude. Not taking yourself too seriously, remembering that you’re first and foremost an entertainer? Yes, more of that please.

Mila Kunis

mila kunis stares into your soul
I have no words.

Speaking of not taking yourself too seriously. This gem has been doing that since she was a teenager. Again, not really sure if she belongs on this list, but that Jupiter Ascending garbage was just so terrible that I feel like she deserves so much better. I wasn’t a big That 70s Show guy, but I did fall in love with her voice and her banter on the Family Guy DVDs, especially in the commentary tracks. It wasn’t until.. probably Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that I really had a crush. But it was all over with Friends With Benefits. I was hooked. Then, Bad Moms and The Spy Who Dumped Me? Thank you ma’am, may I have another! A lot of it is the attitude, the chemistry and delivery — but those smoky dark eyes and contagious smile certainly don’t hurt.

Kate McKinnon

kate mckinnon
She’s just plain fun.

And finally.. speaking of The Spy Who Dumped Me (hmm, I wonder if I have a review of it somewhere).. Have you met our ex-first-lady-slash-ex-presidential-hopeful? Oh, sure, easily confused, her SNL impersonation was that uncanny. But really, I could watch this lady do just about anything. She made the Ghostbusters reboot worth watching. Same for the sleeper-hit Rough Night with ScarJo — I mean, let’s be honest, I watched that for my favorite buxom blonde with a “seductive husky voice” (not my words; it’s right there on her IMDB profile), but I stayed for the Australian-accented antics of this comedically brilliant woman.

Enjoy! Leave me a comment if you watch any of these movies or recognize these ladies from other works — I’d love to see more.

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Movie Wednesday: The Invisible Man

the invisible man promo image
Reasonable. Perfectly reasonable for a handprint that’s not mine to show up on the shower door. It’s all good.

One of the first films I’ve seen this year that was actually released this year. I think. Well, put it this way. One of the newest films I’ve seen this year after the theaters closed due to the pandemic. God I miss the movies.

Anyway. Let’s chat, shall we?

The Setup

Unlike the H. G. Wells novel that inspired it, the antagonist here is a charismatic and insanely wealthy gentleman, whose fortune and status owed to his brilliance in the field of ‘Optics’, which is to say, vision and sight-related technology, like cameras and image processing and light manipulation. The protagonist is his battered, controlled, and (at first) entirely victimized girlfriend. Of course, she realizes how bad her situation is and makes a daring escape from their compound-like home (which apparently doubles as his optics lab, I guess.. when you have enough money, you just merge your work and living space into one bougie-hipster-fest of a mansion?).

old black and white invisible man character
Someone’s wasting precious toilet-paper…

She holes-up with a good friend of hers, sees her sister, and starts trying to live a normal-ish life. Douche-optic-sci-guy dies and leaves her a ton of money. His brother, a sniveling lawyer with a little too-convenient story of their own strange relationship, serves up the will. She celebrates with some well-placed generosity and seems to be doing well.

Great, I’m with it so far.

The Plot Thickens

But. Always a but. She starts sensing a presence. An unseen entity pulls off her bed-covers while she sleeps, and a pair of foot imprints, seemingly standing on the edge of the blanket as she pulls it back, jump-start the insanity.

So this is not what I’d call “pure horror”, but it’s more of a horror-thriller hybrid. And it’s very well-done. The characters are developed, the story moves at a good pace, and the building sense of fear and psychosis is demonstrated with the right amount of visuals, musical cues, and dialog. Some of the best bits are when Cecelia simply converses with the empty space in front of her, knowing it’s not truly empty, but unable to find even the slightest crack in the facade to prove otherwise.

We could draw some comparisons to Hollow Man here (first R-rated movie I ever watched, no joke!), with similar pacing and action. Although in terms of the targets of affection, I think Kevin Bacon got the better deal by far — Elizabeth Shue AND Rhona Mitra? Yes plz. (I might have mentioned her before.) That’s not fair of me, though — Elizabeth Moss is fine too, but her character here is supposed to look like she’s been through hell, because she has!

kevin bacon hollow man in hoodie
Agent Smith meets Gumby.

Look Ma, No Hands!

As we build toward the climax, a couple things go wrong. First, the injuries that C. inflicts on herself should have been much more life-threatening. Second, once we learn how the invisibility suit actually works, it stands to reason that it being shot with multiple bullets would cause some serious malfunctioning, not this half-baked “self-healing” technology that seems to keep our killer both lead-proof AND eye-proof without a flinch. But hey, maybe I’m behind the times.

Despite me “calling it” before the last “mini-twist” was revealed (I’m trying to emulate K. here, but her gift for foreseeing story elements, plot-twists, and endings was absolutely astounding), I still enjoyed the fact that they went there. It helped bump C. over that last little ledge of neurosis, while giving her the motivation she needed to start actually fighting back.

That Ending, Tho…

But really. For all we’ve learned about Adrian, can we really believe for a second that he wouldn’t suspect her of being wired while they converse awkwardly over a reunion dinner? Or that he’d just LET her wander off alone to “freshen up”? Come on.

I did administer a few self-fives for predicting dialog just before it was said, so that was entertaining.

barney stinson self-five
You know, it’s not easy being this awesome.
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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 1

While enjoying some movies lately, and realizing I’ve missed on some epic ones, therefore taking the necessary steps to correct that (downloading it to my Plex library)… I realized that some of actors I truly enjoy seeing on the big screen are NOT your typical A-listers. Also, the fact that both of those movies feature Ewan McGregor is purely coincidence. COINCIDENCE I SAY!

Ahem.

Let’s get on to the list, shall we?

Disclaimer 1 (Feminists take note): Yes, these are all men; in Part 2, I will get to the ladies. K? So don’t flame me just yet. At least wait til you see my picks for the opposite sex. (OMG he used that word! CRUCIFY HIM!!!)

Disclaimer 2, this is heavy on the IMDB links. If you have a problem with that for some strange reason, just.. don’t click? Whatevs.

William Fitchner

william fitchner in prison break
You can’t hide from me, Michael!

The first of a few New Yorkers on this list, you may recognize him from, as mentioned above, Black Hawk Down, or Armageddon, or the TV show Prison Break. All excellent viewing choices. His voice and countenance are pretty unmistakable, once you’re dialed in to it. He brings an authenticity and sincerity to every character he plays, even when they’re ridiculously drawn. One of his lesser known (and highly underrated, and cut far too short of its potential, if you’d asked my wife) projects was a little ill-fated show called Invasion, about, you guessed it, body-snatching aliens invading earth. Which sounds, obviously, quite cliche, but he has a keen eye for suspense and personal drama, and that’s what shines through.

Paul Bettany

paul bettany in legion
*smoldering intensifies*

The token Englishman of the bunch. This guy can bring gravitas to ANYTHING. His role as the self-flagellating priest in The Da Vinci Code? As a fallen angel fighting for humans’ second chance in Legion? As the riotous Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale? Yes please; thank you sir, may I have another! Now, there is only so much one man can do. He couldn’t save the pseudo-dystopian-horror-Blade-knockoff that was Priest, God love him for trying (get it?? God? Priest? #ohbehave). But come on. He’s freakin Vision.

Kyle Chandler

kyle chandler friday night lights
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!

Another New Yorker! But you’d never have guessed it if you saw how flawlessly he pulled off that southern twang in Friday Night Lights, would ya? No, honestly, I defy you to watch that show and NOT get inspired and fired-up by Coach Taylor. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Oh, and the fantastic sleeper-hit, Game Night — sure, Bateman and McAdams are the stars, but you are absolutely drawn into Chandler’s rich-big-brother charisma like moth to flame. Funny enough, that movie also featured Landry from FNL as a creepy neighbor who takes things way too literally and way too seriously. Highly recommended.

Frank Grillo

frank grillo
turns out he actually IS a badass..

Our THIRD New Yorker of the bunch… wonder if that’s a pattern? Does it say something about me, or the actors I like? Hell if I know. Grillo is one of those guys that usually plays a similar character, but to a rare degree of perfection. It’s generally a cop or cop-like role, someone in some position of authority or enforcement — an Army guy, perhaps, or an investigator or an ex-somethin-or-other. The Purge movies, for one. That super short-lived series The Gates (Rhona Mitra ME-YOW!). And Prison Break, again.. hmm. COINCIDENCE! Also, End of Watch, amazing police-cam-style movie with a heart-wrenching finale. Amazing piece of work, that.

Michael Peña

michael pena meme from ant-man about 2020 disasters
plus Kobe died… and race riots… really, things can only go up from here, right?

Speaking of End of Watch, here’s our token Mexican. Oh stop. Really, I’m kidding. So sensitive, you people. But yeah, he’s amazing. Whether he’s knee-deep in the trenches of political intrigue in Shooter (moar Rhona Mitra.. hmm, ideas for Part 2 post starting to formulate!), making us laugh our our noses in Ant Man with his overly enthusiastic blitzkrieg-plot-recalls, or — spoiler alert — taking a bullet for his brother-in-arms in the middle of a gang-war-zone alley… He’s got my vote.

Honorable Mention

Not in the top 5, but here because he was the absolute PERFECT fit for this role — Death, in Supernatural: the one and only Julian Richings. Any other characterization of Death on-screen will be forever weighed against his, and I doubt they will measure up.

death in supernatural, snacking on pickle chips
He sure did love his pickle-chips. And, ya know, killing stuff. Cuz he’s DEATH.

Now go watch some movies! ❤

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Movie Wednesday: The Island (2005)

Reader! It’s been too long. I figured that I should get back to what I’m good at… watching, and subsequently reviewing, MOVIES!

“Good at” is debatable.

Shut up, voice-in-the-head. Nobody asked you.

Anyway, today we’re talking about the 2005 nearly-a-box-office-flop dystopia-action flick The Island. Let’s dive in!

But wait. If you wanna be REALLY entertained, just go read this review. It’s bonkers. In the best possible way. It made me laugh way more than I laughed at myself while writing this.

Wow, you’re really shootin’ for the stars there, huh?

The Who?

On paper, this movie has a lot of good things going for it. The cast, for one — eye-candy ScarJo & EwanMcG, the incomparable Sean Bean, the gravitas-laden Djimon Hounsou. Okay I guess that’s mostly it. No, wait… why does this guy look and sound so familiar? This friend of Ewan’s character, in the lab with the tubes. With the almost-comically-large nose. His mannerisms, his speech… it’s like something out of my teenage years. OHMYGOD it’s frickin’ Neelix! From Star Trek Voyager! I KNEW that guy was familiar. Ha! Neelix…

The problem is, these two incredible (-ly good looking) lead actors are asked to play these very naïve, child-like humans in this artificially homogenized semi-futuristic environment, but they can’t quite make it seem real. And I’m sure it’s not entirely their fault — Michael Bay isn’t known for being a master of eliciting pure emotion, so much as he is for making big stuff go boom. But the dialog often feels stilted and off-beat. I could forgive it if it were consistent, because that would actually suit the narrative and the plasticity of the utopian environment; but there are contrasting moments that sort of take you out of the immersion and make you remember “Oh, right, these are actors. Acting.” I’m not saying that’s wrong, just that it should happen less.

Did you really think you could walk away without it?

The What?

Let’s talk about the plot. I mean, if you’ve heard of a book called “Never Let Me Go”, or been at any point exposed to similar dystopian stories — heck, even if you saw the trailers for this movie — you’d kinda have an idea of where things are going. It’s not that complicated. But you watch because you want to go on that journey — you want to be teased a bit, to experience a touch of mystery and a glimmer of uncertainty.

But you kinda just know, from the moment the camera pans past a classroom of fully grown adults reading “Dick and Jane” aloud as if they’re actually learning it for the first time, that something’s very Soylent-Green here. You get the tease, sure, and you’re supposed to be in shared-suspense with Lincoln as he questions all the delicate order and pristine-ness of his proverbial ivory tower. But by the time he crawls up that ventilation shaft…

It’s always a ventilation shaft, isn’t it?

And by the time he watches in horror as the new mother is injected with death-serum as her baby is carried off to another mother who looks exactly like her, waiting in a neat little room with her handsome husband and some well-appointed paperwork… You already knew. You saw it coming. At least, you did if you were paying any attention. And again, when you watched with disgust along with the computer technician (who IS in-the-know, of course, but doesn’t change the fact that he’s not thrilled with everything his employer does) — and by the way why does he need to be so gross and greasy? I mean really, talk about your stereotyping. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, watching in disgust, as they cut open the waterbed-sized embryonic sac to reveal a “newborn, fully-grown” human. Even that, you should have seen coming. Oh, did I mention spoiler-alert? Right. Spoiler-alert!

That’s really what makes Buscemi’s character so incredibly unnecessary. I mean sure, he befriended Lincoln (for some strange reason) — probably seems him like a son he never had — but there’s absolutely no need for his over-expository recital of the movie’s key premise to the characters who are sitting on his couch dumb-founded as if they didn’t just experience exactly what he’s telling them. I mean, I get that they’re immature, but are they really THAT dumb? Are WE? I’d like to think not. Yet this scene just kinda felt like an unnecessary condescension to the viewer, as if the filmmakers were saying “Here, we were just SO CLEVER, but we’re gonna get you caught up now so you REALLY know what’s going on.”

You mean we’re not real people? Just actors?!? LIES!!

The Why?

Now, the point of a dystopian story is always to turn the mirror on its audience, to ask “How far will you let science/technology/ideology/etc. go?” To present us with a grim picture of the future where some thing, in this case genetic science and biotech, is taken to the Nth degree for selfish reasons by the world’s wealthy elite, and ask us the proverbial question, “Was it worth it?” So we get that. It may be shoved down our throats just a bit, but we do get it. The film makes a noble effort to enunciate its message without sounding terribly absurd or preachy. Is it effective? Eh.

So we’ve made it this far without actually explicitly stating the plot. Ready? Are you sure?

They’re cloning humans to use as organ donors, so the wealthy original humans (who the clones are made from) can live longer and overcome things like liver cancer, heart disease, etc. Gross, right? But also… kinda neat. In theory.

Now of course we could get into the typical questions like “But do they have a soul?”, “Do they feel love?” etc. It’s all very dramatic and existential. Great. But remember, this is Michael Bay. The Mister Torgue of movies. Which means this movie was about 40 minutes too long, and the second half was largely a mish-mash of gunfire, large explosions, vehicular manslaughter, and bad dialogue screamed over LOUD NOISES. But hey, at least you get to see John Coffey wake up from open-chest surgery and go on a brief rampage.

No, I swear, it’s a surprise. Really.

The End

Length does not work in this movie’s favor. I was actually hoping it would end on a cliffhanger — and I don’t generally enjoy cliffhangers — but it would have felt justified, in this case. Like, the star-crossed clone lovebirds suit-up to go back to the compound and wreak havoc and try to free their soulless brethren, and maybe we get up to their dramatic re-entrance to the surgical facility with the suddenly-turned-sympathetic black merc at their side, and we freeze-frame with guns drawn and cue the music. But no, instead we have to endure another 20 minutes of explosions, running around chasing people, and this incongruous City of Angels conclusion with all the clones in their white track-suits staggering out onto the hilltop with the sun blazing on the horizon.

But obviously, we had to kill Sean Bean. So there’s that.

I thought you said you were done.

Now you might have read all that and thought, “Wow, you really disliked this movie, huh?” Not at all! In fact I quite enjoyed it. I just had lots of thoughts and words. So I had to get them out and share them. Would I recommend the movie? Yeah, if you’re into this sort of thing, absolutely. Would I watch it again and again? No, probably not. It’s not like Gladiator or Forrest Gump. It’s a popcorn flick. The fact that I didn’t actually consume popcorn while watching notwithstanding.

PS: The product placement was SO laughably awful, I almost didn’t even want to go there. I mean seriously, it’s ridiculous. iMacs, Xbox, Michelob, Cadillac, and MSN. Just… wow. And MSN was like, an important thing IN the plot. I mean sure they called it the “Information Directory”, but, good lord. Pathetic. In hindsight, at least. 2005 was a long time ago, maybe Google wasn’t really the colossus it’s become. My memory’s a little hazy, that was college.

Anyway. Cheers! And welcome back to movie-time. =)

Movie-time: Starship Troopers

Featuredcropped movie cover of starship troopers

I’m doing my part!

Federal Propaganda

I’m back baby! And I finally understand those memes. Yes indeed, I’m talking about the one, the only, 1997 socio-political commentary disguised as big-budget sci-fi xeno-war Starship Troopers! And it did not disappoint.

i'm doing my part!
Yes you are, you little super-vaguely-ethic and kinda-androgynous thing you!

Do you want to know more?

Let me just start by saying the interjected propaganda bits are pure gold. It’s part of what elevates the film from your standard, near-B-grade sci-fi, to a legitimate topical satire. It doesn’t hurt that Barney Stinson is one of the scientists bandying about bug brutalization and badassery.

Look closely at how frenzied the mother is as she watchers her kids stomping on cockroaches. Or how the mobile infantry recruitment tactics bear a striking resemblance to decades-past American armed forces ads. This isn’t a movie about noble humans fighting evil bugs. This is a movie about runaway big-militarized-government and ruthless imperialism, with a dash of blind nationalism for good measure.

And it’s surprisingly relevant, even today.

rico with orange bug guts on him
I killed it. ‘Merica.

Welcome to the Roughnecks!

If you start paying too much attention to the visual FX, you’ll probably say it looks a bit dated. Now, this was 1997, 1 year later than Independence Day, for example, so you may be onto something. But remember, too, that this was only the late 90s. So I would say, actually, go back and watch other sci-fi from around the same time, and you’ll find that it actually fits right in.

The war-time scenes, both in training camp and actual combat, are average at best. There is a decent amount of guts and gore, mixed with some tongue-in-cheek humor and interpersonal drama, and sprinkled with the standard lead-character heroics. However, you get frustrated with lack of tactical sense and storm-trooper-level firearm competency (that is to say, very little, for those of you who’ve never seen Star Wars). But again, this actually screams ‘parody’ to me, as though they did it this way on purpose to show how laughable most sci-fi action really is.

The characters are, generally, a bit one-dimensional. But some of the actors play it so well that you’ll forgive them for it. Like the drill sergeant and the stump-arm commander. Make no mistake, a lot of the acting IS quite bad. But is it bad.. on purpose? Think about it.

The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand!

And can we just take a moment to acknowledge how incredibly forward-thinking this society was in one very small yet very significant way? Gender equality! The football team, the infantry, the co-ed showers. I mean, there was literally NO friction caused by the fact that men and women were completely equal in these environments. Hats off to that, my friends, hats off to that.

the cast agreed to do the shower scene only if the directory would film it naked too
[citation needed]

MEDIC!

Here’s the main problem I had with the character arcs and story. Right from the jump, Dizzy is framed as a strong, kickass woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t put up with your crap. She proves it in bootcamp, and again in the field. And yet, spoiler-alert, her death scene is just so terribly weak. I mean sure, she also played up the silly schoolgirl crush on Rico, but she definitely wasn’t the lovelorn doe-eyed damsel. Maybe I’m reading the character wrong. But COME ON. “It’s OK, because I got to have you”?? PLEASE. And your competition is literally in the front seat, maybe even within ear-shot.

If I were to see this movie remade, and I had any input, this scene would be my rewrite. Oh don’t get me wrong, she’d still die horribly. But ol’ Carmen would be close enough to hear Diz’s very last words, which would be something to the effect of, “But hey, Rico, I rocked your goddamn world!”, sending that metaphoric knife-to-the-heart for Ibanez. And she would NOT beg that candy-ass of a man to “hold me” or anything as she drew her last breath.

diz gets spiked by a bug
I was also disappointed by the lack of Wilhelm Screams.

Come on you apes! You wanna live forever?

Two thumbs up, but beware the dated CGI and bad acting.

PS: OMG is that freakin Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead!?! IT IS!! Hah. Oh I can not see him as a soldier. But he tried, God bless him, he tried. =)

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Movie Monday: Men In Black 4

Sure, it’s called ‘International’, whatever. It’s still the 4th one.

frank the pug from men in black
No dogs were harmed in the making of this review. Except this one. But he did it to himself. He smoked too much, drank too much, stayed out too late, partied too hard.. you know how these Hollywood types are. I can’t be held responsible. No blood on my hands. Still, I’ll miss the little mutt.

Make no mistake, I’m a fan of the series. The original was, like many Will Smith blockbusters of the late 90s, a force to be reckoned with. The elegance was in the simplicity — Smith at his standard boyishly charming cocky rookie game, Jones as the weathered old wise master, taking on a big bad with the unexpected help of an innocent-victim-turned-almost-femme-fatale. Overseen by Rip Torn at his finest. And Vincent D’whateveryoucallit amped up the ick to 11.

Men in Black Mr Jones and Mr Smith
The original. Accept no substitute.

5 years later, we get a surprisingly decent sequel. Nearly a full cadre of the original actors, and some fresh blood like Rosario Dawson added a healthy ‘oomph’ to the second step in the series. Plus it’s always fun to see Puddy do something ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, but overall there’s more to like than dislike.

men in black 2 agent J and K in mailman uniform
Spoiler-alert: amnesia (duh)

Another decade, another sequel. The third installment was.. passable. Again, lots of positives. Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson; the touching story of how K first discovered J as a child [spoiler alert!]. A bit more negatives, though — the villain, for one thing. I just couldn’t get past his.. everything. I mean, ‘ick’ is one thing; ‘just plain gross for gross’ sake’ is another. But the “I can see all future possibilities at once and it’s made my brain a little frappuccino-y” dude was really cute, and as I said, the timeline intersection subplot was worthwhile. So would I watch it again? For sure. Would I watch it more than a couple times? Ehhh… maybe, but I wouldn’t be ecstatic about it.

men in black 3 young J with dad's pocket watch
Probably the best scene of the whole film.

Now, we come to 2019. First of all, good luck getting ANY of those people to come back for round 4. I mean, at least one of them is dead. RIP, Rip. (And yes, that was literally on Twitter.) Fair enough; I didn’t really expect to see them anyway. No, this is a departure from the trilogy. This is… well, it’s like a remodeled apartment. The same foundations, the same basic framework, but with a lot of upgrades and a fresh coat of shiny new paint.

For starters, our new headliners — Hemsworth and Thompson (Tessa, not Emma; no relation) — are pretty. But the great thing is, she (particularly) doesn’t need to flaunt it. As the thematic undercurrent alludes to, this is no longer a ‘boys club’. This is the “Men and Women in Black”. A bit unfortunately, she still goes a little schoolgirl ga-ga over him — at first. She doesn’t let it stop her from being a badass, so it all evens out. Props.

men in black 3 chris hemsworth tessa thompson
the beautiful people, the beautiful people…

Now, the villains are immensely superior to anything we’ve yet seen, which is both refreshing and expected. On one hand, we know it’s going to take a lot more to stop them from bringing about our doom; but we kinda had to know that going in, otherwise what’s the point of another sequel? The side-story and featured NPC aliens (that’s RPG-talk for “neutral party characters” i.e. ones that aren’t the main bad-guys but aren’t necessarily at the beckon-call of our heroes either), are pretty decent.

Finally, we have this whole ‘internal intrigue’ / ‘mole in our midst’ plot. To me, it almost seemed like they wanted to make H out to be the mole, but then they wanted us to think it was C, then finally ol’ crusty boss-man. Now, this may seem like responsible mystery storytelling, right? And yes, I get it; you DO want the audience misdirected before you get to the big reveal. Obviously. But that traitor-y vibe, for me, lingered a bit too long on H’s character. I’m not sure if that’s the filmmaker’s fault or mine. Regardless, the storyline definitely does its job in taking us on the journey to a happy ending. It just felt a little too forced.

The thing I’m missing, I think, is the heart — that spirit of wonder and mystery that propelled the first film forward in a way that only truly good sci-fi does. This was more flash than function; more spark than fire. BUT! Still enjoyable. Good times.

And damn if that scene where he picks up the hammer ain’t a perfectly executed self-trolling-cameo.. I mean COME ON! You can’t not love it for at least a few seconds.

Spoiler alert: it’s not quite over…

One thumb up. Have fun out there friends! ❤

Disclaimer: None of these images are mine and I never claimed any rights over/about/related to them whatsoever. 😉

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In Less Than An Hour…

We all have our traditions. If you’re American like me, one of them probably involves doing a barbecue, and seeing some fireworks (or launching some of your own, if they’re legal in your county/city), tomorrow on July 4th. My wife and I usually did that too.

I’d like to share with you another tradition, which I think was a little more unique to us, or to her rather. It was also super adorable and always made me giggle.

Many of you know the 1996 sci-fi classic Independence Day. Will Smith, Bill Pullman (underrated actor, btw), Jeff Goldblum, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, and that poor actress that nobody remembers. And Data, being charmingly creepy as usual. It’s a wonderful, highly quotable (“Yes yes, yes, without the ‘oops’!”) summer blockbuster alien-flick with just the right amount of cheese.

For reference, this is entirely too much cheese. For anything. Ever.

Our tradition was that we’d watch this movie together, on or around the 4th. She’d actually been doing this before she met me, regaling her family with quoted lines and re-enactments of key moments.

But the best part, the very most endearing, silly, and charming thing she did, was this: She would recite, word-for-word, that ridiculous fervent patriotic hype-up-the-troops speech which the president gives to his combat pilots just before the climactic aerial battle that defines the film’s final act. And of course we’d all applaud her like we were just as amped as those soldiers about to fly to their collective doom. (Spoiler alert!)

I mean, they don’t ALL die, but if you expected more than a few key characters.. and the token rando.. to walk out alive, you obviously don’t know how these scenarios play out. =P

And so, without further ado, I present to you, that speech. Because it’s awesome. And she was awesome for doing it, for making us laugh, and for brining us together with joy and love.

President Whitmore: Good morning.

[PA doesn’t work; it wasn’t on. He turns it on.]

President Whitmore: Good morning.

In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world; And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.

“Mankind…” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist.

And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!

Today, we celebrate, our Independence Day!

Sometimes, you just wanna blow crap up…

If you’ve never seen the movie, do yourself a favor and watch it (on Hulu!). It’s just good old fashioned 90s sci-fi fun. And it actually holds up pretty well for its age.

Now go have an enjoyable, safe holiday weekend! Or, as Harry Connick Jr’s character would say…

Let’s kick the tires and light the fires, big daddy!

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Movie Monday: The Hustle

Hey kids, it’s that time again!

What time is it?

Time for a movie review! Try to contain your excitement.

the hustle movie poster
Promises, promises…

High Expectations

Both of these actresses are fabulous. I mean, neither one is everybody’s cup o’ tea, but they have terrific screen presence and charisma. Just look at Ocean’s 8 or Pitch Perfect. There’s a lot of potential here, given the vast difference in their appearance and demeanor (as characters, specifically, but also in general). Although, let’s face it, Wilson is very much a character-actor and doesn’t have nearly the range that Hathaway does.

The trailers gave us some really good lines about women being underestimated and using that to their advantage, with some hilarious “Rebel blunders” to guffaw at. And while the premise of the master grifter teaching the amateur the art of the con is not new, it does generally make for compelling cinema, when done right. However, when you take that formula too far off the rails, you can end up in cheese-land.

Sub-par Results

The problem here is that we get too deep too fast.

That’s what SHE said!

Right, anyway. What I mean is, there doesn’t seem to be a truly compelling reason for Jo (Hathaway) to take Penny (Wilson) under her wing. We’re just kind of shoehorned into it, like “Yep, that’s the way it is now, keep that train a’rollin’!”. Similarly, the main motivator (turf war, really?) for their ultimate “gentleman’s wager” really doesn’t seem that crucial to the story. Nor does the target, the silicon valley whiz-kid. Again, taking a page from the Ocean’s trilogy, why not just compete for the sake of competition?

And then there’s the whole she-Gollum shtick, which just didn’t work for me. It’s nothing against the actors or the writing… They’re leaning too far into the whole “Rebel Wilson isn’t really attractive” angle. Right? But I get it, that’s the characterization — Jo is sophisticated high-class elegance and Penny is the opposite. I’m completely on-board with that; I merely wanted to see more variety in the cons, not the same few tropes replayed.

Happy Endings

Spoiler alert! No, just kidding. I won’t actually tell you what happened. I will say that it wasn’t that bad. It was a little unnecessary, a little forced, sure. But overall, fairly satisfactory.

The Verdict

Meh. The ~48% audience-score on Rotten Tomatoes feels about right. It’s not a terrible movie! It’s just not that fantastic either. Worth a theater visit or a $4.99 rental? No, definitely not. Worth a spot on your watch-list when it comes to streaming-ville? Sure.

Movie Review: Hellboy (2019)

Featuredhellboy 2019 panoramic movie poster

It’s been 15 years since the original Guillermo Del Toro adaptation of the comic-book anti-hero Hellboy, a demon-prince-turned-good-guy who fights the forces of darkness for us here on Earth because he was raised to be SUCH A GOOD BOY! by his adopted father. And if that premise sounds cheesy to you, these movies are probably not your cup of tea. However, Del Toro is a master of his craft, and can turn just about anything into a decent movie, if not a visually striking and emotionally compelling film proper.

Have you SEEN Mama, Splice, or Crimson Peak? Go watch them. Srsly. Especially Crimson Peak.

So quite obviously, the remake/reboot/whatever-you-want-to-call-it drew heavy comparison and criticism for not “living up to” or “being as good as” its predecessor. Most remakes do. But this review isn’t about that (mostly). I’m also NOT a comic book reader; thus, I have absolutely no basis to relate either movie to their comic counterparts, nor to judge them based on how closely they resemble them. And frankly I don’t care. A movie is a movie, nothing less, nothing more.

Cool? Great, let’s get down to it.

The Good

There are a lot of things to like here in this 2019 reboot. The actors are charismatic and well-cast, and their chemistry is good. The creature design is stunning and otherworldly, in some ways harkening back to the Fae world of Maleficent, albeit with a much darker evil bent. With an R rating, we get a hefty helping of satisfyingly gory action and blood violence — the giant fights are super crunchy — all set against a thumping soundtrack that reminds us not to take it all too seriously. It is, after all, fantasy.

As most reboots do, it attempts to pay tribute to and acknowledge its origins. We get the infamous “horn-breaker” scene, the flashback to Rasputin’s occult-fueled demon-portal-opening (despite the horrible interjection of a completely unnecessary character; more on that in a minute), and even a direct re-quote with “Hey! I’m on your side!”

Then of course we have the inner turmoil of the Hellboy character himself — If he’s a monster himself, why does he fight monsters; does he really belong in this world? SO EMO. The dialogue and sub-story there is fairly satisfactory, if a little overplayed. I mean, he’s gonna have a tantrum at some point — that’s a given — but did it have to be so angsty? But ultimately he does, as we expect, lean on the teachings of his father and make the right choice.

so emo youtuber
Can you FEEL my feels??

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things to dislike, too. Pacing and consistency of ambiance being one (or two?). Half the time I felt like I was watching a blood-pumping action flick, another third of the time felt like a grimdark horror-fantasy, and the other.. whatever fraction is left.. of the time, I wasn’t sure how to feel. It wasn’t necessarily jarring, but it was definitely noticeable. My favorite scene, though, by far, was the very end, where our three protagonists just rampage through a baddie hideout to the tune of Kickstart My Heart.

Secondly. Ugh.. CGI. When will Hollywood re-learn that “less is more”? Have we just lost the magic of practical effects and the kind of backbreaking work that went into VFX masterpieces like Lord of the Rings and The Walking Dead? I guess it’s just cheaper these days to throw everything at the supercomputers. And to be fair, it’s usually just fine. But there IS such a thing as over-use. The Star Wars prequels (1-3) did it, probably even before it was a trope; and here, it’s a bit over-the-top. And the problem, when that happens, is that it takes you out of the fantasy that you’re supposed to be engrossed in and enjoying.

A small nit. Plot-holes don’t generally bother me too much. But the amount of blood sweat & tears that went into finding out this key piece of information — that the Blood Queen would return to the exact same spot in which she was slain, to be reborn, was pretty ludicrous. I mean, was that not obvious to anyone, EVER?

well like duh
Ya think?!?

The Ugly

Speaking of ugly, Baba Yaga? Gawd, I needed to shower after her main scenes. Shudder. If they were going for gross, they really nailed it. Anyway.

I have two major problems with this movie. One of them is likely dismissed as “but they were being faithful to the comics” — again, don’t care, but that’s fine if it helps you. The other is such a teeny part of the movie that it’s not a deal-breaker; I just need to point it out because of how god-awful it was before I took a minute to purge it from my brain so I could enjoy the rest of the show.

Firstly, the likely-dismissed problem. Mixing too many mythologies. Good lord, am I watching a King Arthur retcon, a Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland, if you’re completely unaware) spin-off, or freakin’ Hellboy?!? Pick something and stick with it! The sword in the stone is now a key to the demon apocalypse? Really? And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the character of Alice, but did we need the explicitly emphasized call-out to the rest of the Carroll-verse? I think I could have lived without it.

Secondly, the teeny part that drove me bonkers for half a minute. In the flashback to Rasputin’s demon-portal-summoning-ritual, the Nazis are ambushed by an Allied hero named “The Lobster”. He’s supposedly this super-elite soldier-hero commando. But… OH. MY. GOD. The cheese on this character.. you could cut it with a damn Pampered Chef knife. “Beware my claws!”?? No. Just no.

Also, the body-count during this little scuffle (same scene) was unsatisfactorily low. Especially at the hands of the legendary evil assassin Karl Kroenen, who, while shown on screen, is not named nor hardly acknowledged; which again, is fine, since it doesn’t fit this narrative, but still! You know, he has blade-arms, wears a menacing black faceless mask, and is really half-machine and runs on some weird combination of pocket-sand and black-magic…

I’m not bitter, I swear!

The Verdict

One thumb up. Despite my criticisms above, it’s still a decent movie — if you go into it without lofty expectations and don’t try to compare it to Del Toro’s work. It’s a fun little supernatural action romp through vaguely familiar territory, mixed with some brand-new characters and blended mythos that feel mostly complete, if a little rushed. Reminds me a bit of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which had the good fortune of NOT trying to “live up to” any precedent or source material.

Plans for a sequel? The ending scene points to “maybe” — they discover an aqua tank with a nameplate that keen viewers will recognize as a reference to Abe Sapien, the half-man-half-fish character from the original film. However, due the abysmal box-office performance, it’s not likely to materialize. And that’s not a bad thing. =)

New vs. old. They each had their merits. And you can definitely see the maturation of costume-makeup.