Fantastic Beasts Rapid Fire Review
If you were to ask me what the story of Harry Potter is, I would have told you it was about a hairy man becoming a potter. I have never seen nor read anything in the Harry Potter franchise and have next to no knowledge of the characters or its stories, so this year is finally the time I dive into the Wizarding World and see what makes this franchise so beloved by many. Why not start off with what many consider the worst of the bunch as my first impression of this universe? If some people can fall in love with Star Wars through watching the prequels first (Yes, those people exist.), then maybe I, too, can become a Harry Potter fan by watching the worst installments before the good stuff.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them--Delightfully childish sometimes and dreadfully dark at others. It's a fine enough start to a trilogy, but aside from creatively striking creatures, dazzling magic spells, and the show stealing baker Jacob, there's not much that is fantastic.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald--Daring to dive into darker themes, this second outing caught my attention from the get-go and didn't let go. Johnny Depp does a wonderful job at playing a compelling evildoer, but Jacob the baker is still the highlight of the movie. A lot of teases of deeper character developments arise, but the movie falls into the great sin of second parts of a trilogy--relying greatly upon the commitment of the viewer to see the next installment in order to get the payoffs. This movie should have sought out to be more of a standalone feature, because unfortunately…
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore--There's a moment in the movie where the characters regroup after completing their sidequests, and Dumbledore says, "The fact that things didn't go precisely the plan was precisely the plan." He then says that things are a lot worse now despite their efforts. I think that's a pretty good summation of this movie. It feels so random and lacks a clear direction, resulting in a worse experience overall.
Now that this trilogy is out of the way, I won't feel disappointed with them after watching the proper Harry Potter saga. If anything, I'm more excited to continue this journey, knowing how beloved the next movies are by the fans. I'll rapidly review the first four movies once I watch them and also reveal what Hogwarts house I'm in.
the matrix reloaded
It’s 2023, and that means it’s time to make (and most likely) break some resolutions! This year, I’m going to try to watch movies that have been recommended to me by friends and family that have been on my watch list for quite some time, and the first one on my list is Matrix Reloaded. Oh man, not a great way to start the year.
The original Matrix remains a highly regarded sci-fi classic and for good reason. It takes a crazy concept, such as the world being fully digital, and eases the viewers into such an elaborate universe, and then there’s the freaking awesome action that, for the most part, holds up fairly well. I’ve seen it almost 10 times now, and I’ve enjoyed every viewing. For some reason, I never got around to the sequel, which was recommended to me by an old coworker. Oh boy, why did he tell me to do that? This was not up to par in terms of quality compared to its predecessor. In fact, this was unintentionally one of the funniest non-comedy movies I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but laugh at most of the very odd choices that the Wachowskis made. I feel like there was a meeting, and the Wachowskis said something along the lines of, “You know how the first movie was kind of weird but understandable? Well, let’s bump up the weirdness way, way up, and the reasoning and logic of everything way, way down!” To their credit, it was entertaining, but not for the same reason as the original. Let’s start with the main gist of the plot and work our way through it. The idea for this movie isn’t a bad one, and it even sounds like an interesting continuation. Neo and the gang must stop the overlord machines from destroying the last human city on Earth, but as they try to end the war before the final battle begins, Neo has disturbing visions that make him question his actions. It sounds exciting and potentially has some great character development as Neo struggles with his identity as the One and the responsibilities that come with it. Unfortunately, the movie is more focused on “artistic” shots and bigger action pieces. It ultimately feels like a mishmash of so many neat ideas, but they all feel underdeveloped and lack any cohesion to them. Smushed in between the crazy ideas are some truly awkward moments that baffled me. What could have been time spent honing the new material was instead spent on some of the most ludicrous and random blobs of buffoonery that I’ve seen in a sci-fi flick. I don’t even want to mention what happens because of how awkward it is. These moments were both hilarious because of how poorly executed they are, but also, they feel unneeded and a waste of time. Again, they could have chosen to further development their insane universe a bit more, but instead, we get some of the most useless parts that will either make you cringe or laugh from the absurdity–or both! Speaking of absurdities, the fight scenes are way more complex this time around, which is both impressive and way too ambitious. On the one hand, the highway scene is an absolute blast from start to finish, with some well-timed edits, beautiful shots, and impressive choreography, and on the other hand, there’s a scene where a fully CGI Keanu Reeves fights a wave of fully CGI Agent Smiths…and it looks like a video game cutscene. You know how back in the day it was kind of jarring to see a cutscene in a video game that had better graphics than the game itself? Well, it's like that but the other way around. The bewildering story coupled with ambitious filmmaking techniques that have not aged very well left me very disappointed after enjoying the first one for so many years.
Though some of the graphics are disappointing and laughably bad sometimes, the majority of the film does look good. In fact, it takes the leathery, dark, rustic, and slow-motion elements of the original and throws it into different scenarios, creating a unique art style that still remains different to this day. The grimy underworld of the last human colony is an aesthetically cool sight to behold, though some of its animated parts are a bit rough around the edges, and the major contrasts of blacks and whites in the Matrix itself is used in some very visually pleasing ways. There's a lot of artistic creativity that I greatly appreciate. The Matrix trilogy is something that never would get made today, but back then, they got weird and crazy and were rewarded for it. It's a testament to the ingenuity of the filmmakers and the crew members both on set and on the computer. If you plan on watching this movie, just be aware that there will be some eye sores, but you also have to take into consideration that it came out in the early 2000s. No one else but Star Wars was attempting to do special effects like this at the time. And I'm willing to bet that some of these animators, set designers, artists, technicians, and everyone else that contributed to the artistry of this film went on to influence the creation of better techniques and technologies, that have ultimately resulted in the unbelievably good special effects we have today. I think this film is to be admired for its contributions to the industry and its ambitious effects as a steppingstone to greater things.
The performances range from boring to drastically odd, and I don't think it's at the fault of the actors, for the most part. There are a lot of moments where the characters try to recapture the coolness of being expressionless like they did in the first movie, except there was a reason for it there. The scenes called for it. It fit the tone, and it seemed like the cast understood how to give compelling performances even when they're told not to convey emotions. This time around, everyone seems to struggle at being cool, even Mr. John Wick himself Keanu Reeves. It seems as though the actors are not invested in the scene or have absolutely no idea what's going on--maybe a little bit of both. On the other end of the spectrum, we have performances that go so over-the-top that it clashes with the tone of the other actors. I don't believe this is the fault of the talent onscreen, as there were probably takes that were a bit toned down, but the decision to include the takes that are cartoonishly dramatic made this feel like a completely different movie than it did five minutes prior. Kind of like the story itself, the characters and their interactions feel like a jumbled concoction of different tones and levels of excitement. It's certainly not the worst acting I've seen, but what was presented didn't pull me in and make me care for the characters like the original did.
The Matrix Reloaded is like a new version of an app. There's some bugs and odd designs that affect your experience with it, but at the same time, it's the same app you've enjoyed using before. So, at the end of the day, I enjoyed The Matrix Reloaded and seeing the continuing adventures of Neo and his friends. I just hope the next one got a major upgrade.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
For the past couple of years, I've tried to watch a Christmas classic that I hadn't seen before. This year, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was on my watch list. I had heard about this movie a lot, and to be honest, I don't ever want to hear about this movie again.
From the first scene, I knew the movie was in trouble. The film opens up with an innocent family roadtrip to find a live Christmas tree to put in their living room. Seems good natured enough, until a truck driver ticks off the dad, and road rage ensues, causing car stunts that would make Fast & the Furious proud. Now, I know the scene was meant to be comedic, exaggerating road rage to the extreme, but the execution left me silent. Perhaps it was the editing or the writing or the shots or a combination of all of them, but by the end of the scene, I was not laughing. I was cringing. And this was, unfortunately, my experience throughout the movie. There were possibly two jokes that got a chuckle out of me. I remember one said by a little girl, who I think gave the best performance, but she was in a scene for maybe five minutes. Just for the record: I do enjoy Christmas comedies. The Santa Clause, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Home Alone--I thoroughly enjoy humorous holiday movies. I did not enjoy this one. It does have a solid premise: outlandish and silly antics ensue as a dad tries to put together an ideal Christmas, and literally everything goes wrong. I was looking forward to seeing this play out. However, my "Christmas bonus" each year from now on is to find better movies to watch than this.
The story (more like a series of skits) revolves around Clark Griswold as he tries to give his family the best Christmas ever. In fact, he’s planning on getting a pool with the Christmas bonus that he anticipates will come. To be honest, I wasn’t really rooting for the guy to accomplish his mission. From the get-go, we see him put his family in mortal danger, and throughout the film, he almost commits adultery, almost kills his neighbors, and ruins the house because he must absolutely without question get his ideal Christmas no matter what. He’s just not a likable guy, but hey, he’s getting a pool for his family, so I guess that’s something. I never felt like he was a character worth being invested in or even caring about. If I don’t care about the character, then I really don’t care about what’s happening around him. I don’t think it’s because of the style of the movie either. A similar movie that comes to mind is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It, too, is a series of skits with barely a story holding it together until the end, yet I found myself looking forward to every forthcoming scene, excited to see what shenanigans the knights would get themselves in. Here, I didn’t care, and about halfway through, I was ready to turn it off and watch something else. Heck, the antagonist of the movie has more of an emotional journey than Clark, and his “journey” lasts a whole 60 seconds! It felt like there wasn’t a point at all to the goofy antics, and if the movie doesn’t have a point–even to make some kind of comedic look on life and its ridiculousness–then there’s not a point in caring.
I suppose one shining light in this jumbled mess is the acting. It seems as though the actors are having fun on set, especially Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest, who play the neighbors. They are ecstatic with their acting, even when the script has nary a pun or joke for them to say. They were definitely the highlights aside from the child actors. Again, one little girl had the best delivery out of everybody. However, a lot of the other actors seemed rather bored or confused by the scenes they were in. I know if I was them I would be questioning whether or not I was starring in a comedy as the lines were being delivered, and I got that impression a time or two.
It sort of bothers me that a movie like this is worthy of being featured in Christmas shows and events. I even asked around to see the consensus on other people’s views on this “classic,” because I felt like I missed something, but to my surprise, everyone I asked that had seen it didn’t like it either. So don’t just take my word for it; spend your hard earned holiday time on something that will bring you much more joy.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
How does one even attempt to follow up one of the most profound and culturally impactful superhero films of all time? The task that lay before director Ryan Coogler and his crew must have been a daunting one, and to even release a fully completed film like this is a truly impressive feat. I just wish I could say the same about the movie as a whole.
I have very mixed feelings on the finished product. On the one hand, it's a fond tribute and farewell to beloved actor Chadwick Boseman, as well as a continuation of his legacy as the iconic character of T'Challa, but on the other, this is more of a commercial for future Marvel projects, rather than a compelling narrative. First off, the scenes that were done well are full of fantastic performances and wonderful filmmaking artistry that will tug at the heart. The big themes in this movie are grief and the struggle of moving on from loss. As someone who was traumatized by the loss of a loved one, this story had an impact on me that most movies don't. Unlike most Marvel stories, this one dared to tackle a very real, heartbreaking subject matter, and I applaud the bravery of the filmmakers to take on such a task. Honestly, if the movie just stayed focused on that, it might have been Marvel's best film to date. Unfortunately, their focus was scattered. This story isn't just about grieving; it's also a bombardment of teases and promotions for upcoming shows and movies. Thunderbolts, Iron Heart, and Black Panther 3 were all set up here, and I would be absolutely surprised if Marvel didn't make a Namor movie after this. It’s a movie that feels unfocused, especially when it comes to some of the more spoilery stuff. It almost feels like they didn’t bother changing a lot of moments that they had planned before Boseman’s untimely death and merely swapped him out for Latitia Wright’s character Shuri. Shuri goes through a bit too much throughout the movie on top of her brother’s death, which is why I think the script wasn’t written with her in mind originally. Because the story doesn’t focus on Shuri’s struggle with losing her brother–though the scenes that do are done very well–it sort of feels a bit disappointing, because I really like Shuri and wanted the movie focused primarily on her. Instead, the story struggles to juggle so many items that some of them fall on the floor. Sometimes less is more, and I hope the next Black Panther movie takes this to heart.
A big criticism from the previous film was directed towards the special effects. I don’t think such a claim can be made here. It seems as though the special effects team took the criticism to heart, and, despite the absolutely ridiculousness that’s on display sometimes, this looks much more impressive than the 2018 phenomenon. When I heard that Namor was going to be in the movie, I thought for sure he would look silly; after all, he has elvish ears, green swim shorts, and wings on his ankles. He is the pinnacle of comic book crazy designs (and one of the oldest at that!). However, he and his fellow underwater kin look pretty cool surprisingly. That may be due to the fact that the filmmakers decided to change up the aesthetic of the characters for the movie. In the comics, they’re Atlanteans, but here, they come from a hidden underwater city from South America, with heavy doses of Native American inspirations. It’s a unique look that makes Namor and his people stand out from, say, another superhero movie about people that live in the ocean. Speaking of the ocean, there are some truly impressive shots underwater that allowed the special effects artists to flex their skills. Additionally, there are some truly beautiful shots that just dazzle the eyes. What this movie lacks in engaging storytelling it makes up for in its cinematography.
The acting is also a spectacle. I'm sure some of the emotional performances were coming from a real and raw place. This couldn't have been an easy job for the actors as they take their characters into uncertainties and hardships. Letitia gives a compelling performance of a grief-stricken Shuri, trying desperately to cling onto the sadness she feels so she never has to get over her brother's death. There are some moving scenes with her, and she nails it. Angela Bassett also did a fantastic job. She demanded the audience's attention with every line she spoke. Her delivery was filled with profound intensity and is almost Shakespearean. Essentially, she was epic and seemed to have poured her heart into it. Newcomer Tenoch Huerta did an admirable job as Namor the Submariner. This is a character that is as old as Marvel and undoubtedly proved challenging with a somewhat silly appearance and very cartoonish powers. However, he brought the intensity of the character to life in a very compelling manner, balancing the dark themes of the antihero with a subtle silliness that helps him not come across too seriously. After all, he is playing a fish man that can fly through the air. The actors throughout the movie did a great job overall, having moments to shine and let loose with emotional moments, but unfortunately, they aren't given a script that focuses on building upon the characters--it's more concerned with building the universe for another decade.
There is no way Black Panther: Wakanda Forever could live up to the reputation set by the first film. There were so many factors that made the predecessor so special, and the stars didn't quite align for the sequel. Despite the many flaws, I'm glad to see the characters again and witness them overcome real world issues. It's why I adore the Marvel universe; the characters feel real as they deal with relatable problems. As long as the storytellers remember this fundamental principal moving forward, the legacy of Black Panther will live on forever.
A Quiet Place Part II
When I saw A Quiet Place in theaters, I was utterly shocked how good it was. It remains one of my favorite horror films, and when the sequel was announced, I was nervous. Could the sequel live up to the incredible reputation of the original, or will it blemish it? After watching it, I can happily say that I can't imagine watching the first one without immediately watching this one right after it. It not only continues the gripping story of the first, but it keeps up its incredible quality.
There is an expression in theater called "Chekhov's gun," and it's an expression that reminds the storyteller that they need to make every element of their story necessary. A Quiet Place Part II masters this. The first film also incorporated this philosophy, but the second one learned to fully embrace it every step of the way. Every line, every prop, every set design, and every environment serves a purpose. Even little things that I didn't notice at first came back in a huge way later on. I kept shouting in my head "Brilliant!" over and over again. What I admire so much about the original flick is that it's an incredibly smart movie. This one rivals it, though there is an element that may make people still gravitate towards the first one more. This feels bigger. There are more locations and has a bit of a journey. For obvious reasons from the previous film, this makes sense; the family needs to move on to find a new home. However, the solitary farmland of the first made the movie feel more personal and slightly more scary, due to the steady and calmness of the family's lifestyle going so horribly wrong. Here though, there's not a functioning homelife to feel safe and make the scary moments more impactful. With the family on the move, we come to expect something terrifying is around every corner, and the tension is always there, losing a little luster in the process as we get used to the uneasy feeling. Again, I think the story and clever use of its elements is done wonderfully, but it loses its scare factor ever so slightly. It's still an impactful and emotionally gripping tale full of terrors and triumphs.
John Krasinski returns to the directing chair, and his directing skills are really impressive. Who would have known Jim from The Office would have been an amazing horror director? But my goodness, he absolutely can deliver a fantastic movie. There is an incredible one shot that was just outstanding, and the way things are strategically shot that subtly helps you remember small details that play an important part later on is great craftsmanship. I was also impressed with the editing. This is probably one of the more finer examples on how to implement multiple story arcs into a movie. There’s a moment where three events at three very different locations happen simultaneously, and though jumping between different happenings isn’t anything new, I found myself rather impressed with the execution this time around. Just about any action movie has some kind of interlocking chain of events that the audience jumps back and forth in their viewing. Take for instance Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (It was the first movie that popped into my head at the moment, and I don’t know why. Oh well, it works.): at the end, we see Anakin Skywalker fly his way to the droid command ship, while the Jedi get tangled up fending off a Sith, and meanwhile, Padme is retaking the palace. Again, a lot of movies do this, but in A Quiet Place Part II, I feel like every cut to another location is more strategic and purposeful than most movies. There’s just something about it that makes it a breath of fresh air. It’s different, but it feels natural and fluid. That’s just one example of how well this motion picture was edited together. The duology of these movies are absolutely great subjects to study when it comes to the artistic craft of the industry.
The actors also are well versed in their craft. The kids were really impressive considering how young they are, and Millicent Simmonds, once again, is a major highlight. Being deaf in real life adds so much authenticity to the character, and I’m sure some of her reactions to people not being able to communicate with her was reflective of real-world interactions, adding realism to her scenes. She and her fellow actors made the horror of their predicaments feel real as well. I got lost in the movie a few times, hoping the people won't get hurt, even though I know full well it's all fake, but that's how good the performances were--they helped transport me into their world. From old faces to new survivors, the cast did a stellar job at bringing to life their terrifying world.
Sequels often leave viewers either disappointed or, in a few instances, shocked to find themselves claiming the original is inferior. This is a unique case because the quality remains steady from the previous installment, resulting in a movie that fans of the first film will enjoy. For me, I don't think I'll be able to watch A Quiet Place without jumping right into Part II from now; it's an incredible duology that might as well be watched back-to-back as a single, epic masterpiece.
Movies began as artistic experimentations to showcase the wonderful power of imagination. Even in the early days, filmmakers pushed themselves to think outside of the box in order to bring to life fantastical adventures of cowboys, astronauts, and magicians, and through the many years, people still find ways to utilize video in unique ways, creating newer sub-genres, such as found footage movies. With the advent of digital video readily available on almost any device, pretty much every electronic we use is a camera, and the movie Searching uses this concept to its advantage.
Searching is easily one of the most unique movies I have ever seen. For the majority of the time, not a single frame was shot with a traditional camera, until we see footage from security cameras. It was mostly done through computer cameras, phone cameras, and screen recordings. It’s such a simple idea to record a movie on a computer, but the execution was exceptionally well thought out. Throughout the story, we see a stressed, widowed father trying desperately to find his missing daughter, and we follow his mouse clicks and web searches as the mystery unfolds. It’s seriously unique and is an impressive way to convey characters’ thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I desperately want to give examples of how the movie used its methods to produce emotional resonance, but the least I say about its cleverness the better. If you want something different to watch, this may be a pleasant surprise for you, as it was for me.
There’s not much to say about the artistry of this film, since it’s so focused on computer apps and screen time, but I will say the editing was stellar. Going from website navigations to tracing GPS locations was pretty seamless and kept the story riveting. There were a few uses of regular cameras, such as footage from a news channel, which helped transition the story along into new territories, and I also think there was a clever use of a livestream that was used in a very effective way. One camera use that I think may have been done better was from a scene involving security cameras. It wasn’t very believable that the cameras were hidden (unless they were disguised as other items, but we weren’t shown that), which made the movie feel cinematic at those times. It’s very odd for me to critique a movie for getting good shots, but in the context here, the shots probably could have benefitted from being behind an object with a slightly obscured view. Aside from that, the clever uses involving the computer screen and the applications at play made this an engaging and insightful thriller that kept me excited to see how the mystery would play out.
Lastly, I want to complement the actors for having to perform over video chats and vlogs. These types of videos are sort of awkward in real life, since they’re less interactive than an in-person meeting. Sometimes those on the other end of the camera are nervously fidgeting or struggling to say what their thinking without making a mistake, which is much different than the perfect speeches and emotional dialogues we see in movies all of the time. Here, the actors did a great job of delivering their lines in realistic ways that made it feel like such a conversation actually could happen in these conditions. Even though everyone did great, I think Michelle La perfectly captured the awkwardness of a teenager on the internet. She nailed the reassuring yet timid nature of a teen telling their parent about their late-night activities, as well as the cringy straightforwardness when a father walks in on a vlog being made. In addition to all of that, her character–without spoiling anything–has something to deal with internally, and that struggle can be felt layered within her scenes. Though she doesn’t have many scenes, she perfectly captures the realism of video calls and the insecurities that come with digital communication.
Searching is a fascinating filmmaking endeavor, and seeing how the artists behind this movie cleverly use their resources was fascinating. The style is bold, and the story is exciting. This may just be the movie to watch if you're "searching" for something special.
Top Gun: Maverick was a special treat this summer, and its massive box office pull was no surprise. Its engrossing story and engaging characters helped make the movie soar far above expectations. After having a delightful time with the movie, I wanted to watch the original to see why so many people have a nostalgic love for the franchise.
When I went to go see the sequel, I expected it to have a cheesy 80s charm to it, only to be pleasantly surprised by some maturity in its story, but let me tell you that I should have very much expected it from the original. This movie is about as 80s as you can get–catchy music, macho men, shirtless macho men, steamy young romance, Tom Cruise, American patriotism, and a whole lotta fun. That last bit is the movie’s primary focus. In fact, that’s the entirety of its focus for the majority of the film; an actual plot didn’t occur until way later on. Whereas Maverick made the plot of the story clear from the start, this movie lingered on and on until it was practically forced to have some kind of conflict to close out the movie. I think ultimately that’s the biggest sin this movie committed. There just wasn’t a sense of danger or tension for the majority of the movie. It was basically half bromance and half romance until a conflict finally reared up near the end. Because of this, I didn’t feel nearly as engaged as I was with the sequel. Undeniably, it’s a fun movie, filled with corny dialogue and military planes doing cool maneuvers, and for some, this is enough. For me, like the boys having a need for speed, I have a need for some meat to the story.
One thing that’s really impressive with this movie is the lack of CGI elements. This is old-school filmmaking, after all. You either do it for real, or you don’t. I definitely appreciate the harrowing plane footage and impressive military craft. It's well shot and edited, and it still looks great after all these years. Some of the plane footage is a bit bumpier than what we're used to from blockbusters, but I imagine it wasn't easy getting those shots with the cameras back then. Remember: this was before 4K footage. Editors couldn't zoom in as much as they can now, and the cameras needed to be up close and personal or have really long lenses. Thinking about the technology of the time, it is impressive and is probably why so many people have found memories of it, because it was something that wasn't seen very much back then. There's only one caveat about the filmmaking of this, and that's the "love" scene. I say "love" in quotations, because it's more cringe inducing rather than romantic. It's suppose to be sensual, but I found myself either disgusted or humored. To be honest, the scene was unnecessary and failed to make me happy for the couple's progressing relationship. Aside from that oddly directed and shot scene, the movie is well crafted.
The acting however definitely hasn't aged as well as the visuals. This is an 80s movie, and the decade knew how to make some cheesy goodness. Cruise and Val Kilmer can be quite the goofy pair from time to time, both when they get along and don't. It's just so over-the-top (gun) that it's hardly believable that they're actually rivals and not brothers picking on each other. Some of the side characters shout out lines that I'm sure had to be reshot several times because I can't imagine anyone getting through it the first time with a straight face. The only actor that I think nailed their lines and made them somewhat believable was Kelly McGillis. Granted, she had fairly normal scenes and wasn't involved in some of the goofier moments, but still, her acting felt natural. Now, I'm not saying the acting was bad overall. There is a certain charm that a lot of people (myself included) really enjoy. There's a lot of positivity and good nature to these performances, but it's worth noting for those coming from watching Maverick like me.
Top Gun is undeniably a relic of the 80s. It's full of one liners, machismo, cool shots of cool dudes doing cool things, bright colors, catchy tunes, and sense of fun throughout its runtime. However, Top Gun doesn't quite live up to the best of 80s action flicks due to its dull story, weird moments, and visuals that haven't held up as well as other films, but that doesn't wholly hinder the movie from making a solid landing.
thor: love & thunder
Though he is known for his mighty strength, Thor isn’t known for having strong movies. The first movie is a tolerable, Shakespearean fantasy that plays on its theatrical inspirations a little too much, and the less said about the sequel the better. It wasn’t until Taiki Waititi’s direction in Thor: Ragnarök that the god of thunder got some positive reception on the big screen, but does lightning strike twice for Waititi, Hemsworth, and the rest?
Unfortunately, Ragnarök was a nice flash of lightning, but this is more of a 2-year-old’s crayon drawing of a lightning bolt, which looks more like a snake or a noodle. Oh, how lucky we got with Thor: The Dark World…we had no idea how good we had it. This isn’t just the worst Thor movie; this is probably the worst Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. This was the first time I had ever said out loud, “Enough with the jokes.” And I wasn’t even halfway through it. This is basically a bunch of SNL skits stitched together rather than being an actual movie. Something like this can work. Monty Python was the master of this type of filmmaking. However, this is trying to have a serious story to tie together all of the gags and giggles, rather than being just a straight up comedy. In one scene, kids are being kidnapped and threatened with being slaughtered, and then the next scene, Thor is pouring beer on his ax because the ax is jealous of Thor’s affection for his old hammer. In one scene, Jane Foster is dealing with cancer, and then the next scene, Russel Crowe is rambling about an orgy. The tonal inconsistency, the unrelentless jokes, and plot holes out the wazoo made this feel like a halfhearted attempt at movie making. I seriously felt like I wasted my time watching this. Marvel Studios knows how to make engaging and emotionally charged movies. They’ve made some incredible passion projects, which resulted in some of the greatest superhero movies ever made, not to mention several worldwide phenomena hits. And somehow this got a pass and was released to theaters. This is one of those rare movies that made me feel mad watching it. I don’t want to hate this movie. I’ve loved Marvel ever since I was a kid. Heck, I sat through the entirety of both Iron Fist and Inhumans shows–talk about loyalty! Yet somehow, I would rather rewatch either of those awful shows than rewatch this again.
Despite the horribly written story, the visuals are surprisingly a delight. When it comes to Marvel movies, the VFX artists must have a lot of fun because there are some amazing shots showing off their talent. There are a couple of standout fights that feature some clever and grotesquely detailed animations that should have been included in a better movie. In fact, one fight takes place in a monochrome realm, and wow, that was a visual treat! However, there are other places where the CGI seems bland and uninspired. Korg somehow looks like a less rendered model from previous movies, and some of the background elements feel a little slapped together. Obviously, a lot of thought went into each shot to create these fantastical worlds, but because the plot cares more about how many jokes can be spat out before the credits roll rather than telling a compelling narrative, the effects have a cheap feeling to them. Special effects are meant to complement the story, like icing on a cake, but if the icing is layered on top of a pile of crap, then it's not very appetizing. Which is a shame, because I think I was more invested in seeing the artists' creativity on display rather than what was happening amongst the characters. I feel like watching the behind-the-scenes with the artists and animators explaining their thought process behind their work would be more compelling than the movie they worked on.
Speaking of the characters, it's really a darn shame that so many great actors are wasted here. Hemsworth has shown many sides of Thor through the years, and he's been able to explore the character's inner feelings towards all that has happened to him. Infinity War, by far, has Hemsworth's best performance of the character, which made me so excited to see him get another solo outing. Unfortunately, the character of Thor has gone from being a heart broken yet persevering king to a bumbling buffoon. I'm not opposed to Hemsworth making Thor funny; he did a great job of bringing out the humorous side of the character in Ragnarök and Endgame. However, this movie was relentless in trying to make him into a comedic relief…in a movie full of comedic reliefs. Natalie Portman is a phenomenal actress that has proven time and time again that she can command a scene with her acting talents, and she may have done so here too, except she was directed to be a cartoon character and not someone dealing with cancer. Seriously, she could have had some amazing scenes where she showcased the internal struggle of someone who is inching closer and closer to death yet still puts up a fight for others over her own needs, but instead, the cancer bit is almost shrugged off at times in favor of making her into a giddy jokester. Russell Crowe was the biggest disappointment. It's freaking Russell Crowe playing Zeus, and he wasn't allowed to be freaking Zeus. Instead, he acted as an unimpressive and annoying version of the mighty god of Roman mythology. The only actor that was allowed to show off their chops was Christian Bale as Gorr the god butcher. Honestly, he was the best thing about the movie, and I wished the movie was about his character. Gorr allowed him to explore an emotionally driven villain that is both incredibly disturbing and saddening. Gorr is betrayed by his faith in a god, and in turn, he becomes a vengeful killer who takes his prayers and desires into his own hands. It’s an intriguing premise for a character, and he would have been a great antagonist for the god of thunder. However, despite such a memorable performance, Christian Bale is hindered by the lack of screentime for his character. There was so much potential with Bale’s acting chops in this role, and because the movie didn’t want to focus on the deeply compelling religious-themed character, we don’t get to see Bale elevate the character to stardom like other iconic Marvel villains. This movie had so much potential to be an epic tale of a devout religious man falling away from his faith and battling deities in order to reclaim his lost love, and with a cast like this, it could have been one of the deepest and most thought provoking superhero movies ever made. Instead, the great talent was wasted on gags, jokes, and tomfoolery.
This movie makes me mad. There are so many wasted concepts and themes that could have made this movie phenomenal, but instead, it wastes our time with some of the most childish antics and poorly written jokes I’ve seen in a while. I think that’s what I’m upset about the most–we’ve seen Marvel do some stellar work with lesser known characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange, but when it comes to the Norse god of thunder whose tales of might and mystery predate Marvel comic books and are as fascinating and epic as when they were first told, you would think there would be some love poured into the making of this movie and cause a thunderous applause from the audience. Instead, the movie left me angry and silent.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Many movies these days target childhood memories and nostalgic feelings in order to coax us into coming to the big screen again and again. Top Gun: Maverick is no exception, but as someone who has no nostalgia for the original film nor knows anything about it, this is merely a standalone movie for me. As I sat amongst one of the most packed theater screenings I've been to since the pandemic, I had a suspicion I was about to watch something special.
Top Gun: Maverick picks up the story from the original in modern times. The characters have aged, and many of them have gone their separate ways. Now, Maverick finds himself in an awkward position in his life: a teacher to new recruits of Top Gun. As someone who was new to this character, I was able to pick up pretty fast that this guy was not made to do things by the book. He loves independence and resists authority, and now, he has to control, discipline, and order others around, others that embody his once youthful and more carefree look on life. It's a great personal challenge to him, and we get to see his struggles, as well as the struggles of the students, take on different scenarios and push them to their limits. I was quite surprised how emotionally driven it was. I had this expectation that it would be an explosive and corny action flick with an 80s vibe to it, and though there are elements of all of this, there's a good narrative at the heart of this movie. The story hooked me near at the start, and it did not let me go until the credits rolled. And even then, I'm still thinking about how awesome this movie was, and I want to see the original just to understand the characters and their story better.
With so many blockbusters relying on fantastical animations to wow and amaze us, the computer imagery starts to blend together and become less impressive the more we see it. In this movie, CGI is used very wisely alongside practical effects. In fact, Tom Cruise, being a daredevil once again, learned how to fly fighter jets for this movie. With that in mind, I was trying to catch any green screen effects behind him, but it all looked so convincing, which made the flying seem so real. Maybe CGI was used more than I think, but the use of it is genius. When you can't seem to tell what's real and what's not in a movie, the visual effects artists have done an amazing job. This movie definitely demands that you see it on the big screen. From its crazy aerial views to the delightfully deafening sounds, this was made for theaters and their unique technology. The editing team and artists behind-the-scenes blended their talents together to create a cacophony of sights and sounds that amaze the senses that transport you into the world onscreen. Who needs 3D glasses to be immersed in a movie when the fantastic talents of the cast and crew are this good?
Of course, all of this would be for naught if we didn’t care about the characters. Thankfully, the actors do a stellar job of making the new and old pilots so lovable, even with quirks and faults. But ultimately, that’s a big theme in the movie: helping people overcome their personal hurdles in order to accomplish incredible things. Speaking of incredible things, Tom Cruise once again daredevils his way through the movie by actually doing some of the dangerous stunts, but he also does an exceptional job at portraying a man with decades of pain, accomplishments, losses, and experience. He knows exactly how much cockiness, frustration, determination, and sadness to convey in every scene. If I were to guess, this was an emotional role for Cruise to return to, because that’s what I sensed watching him act. His co-stars, mostly cast members, do a great job too, most notably Miles Teller, who plays the son of “Goose” from the original film. His chemistry with Cruise was quite good, and they made these characters feel real with some of their emotional back-and-forths. Their quarrels made me question who to cheer on more, but neither actor outshone the other. They had their moments to be in the spotlight, and that’s something that worked well in the movie’s favor. The characters were the primary focus of the story, allowing each actor moments to connect with the audience, and this allowed the action scenes to be really exciting. The actors made us care about the outcome of the overall conflict, making us want to see the characters complete their mission instead of just expecting the heroes to win as we’re so accustomed to seeing these days. The emotions were high amongst the audience I was with, resulting in howling applause. I say, the actors accomplished their mission in making this an incredible movie.
There are only a few times when you go to the theater and receive a truly memorable experience, when you and a whole room of people are moved emotionally, smile uncontrollably, and leave afterward uplifted. Even though I have no emotional connection to the original movie, I couldn't help but join in on the applause and cheers of the crowd. Top Gun: Maverick is a triumph.
After seeing the original Doctor Strange, Marvel's master of the mystic arts became one of my favorite characters of the franchise. I knew next to nothing about the guy and found his story so compelling, and after several appearances in other movies, the good doctor finally takes the lead in his own adventure again. Unfortunately, the long wait for another strange adventure wasn't worth it.
In this tale of magic and wizardry, Doctor Strange finds himself on the run across dimensions to save a superpowered teen from the fallen hero Scarlett Witch, who wants to use the girl's powers for her own plans. Director Sam Raimi took a very interesting approach to superhero movies by making this one a chase movie, a niche subgenre of adventure films, that focuses primarily on running, sprinting, hopping, jumping, and more running. It's a bold take, but unfortunately, this doesn't lend itself to be a very character-focused story. It's more of what I refer to as a "roller coaster movie." It's exciting and thrilling and a whole lot of fun, but after you finish it, you probably won't think about anything other than the rush of adrenaline you had. Roller coasters are all about the thrill of the moment rather than the long-lasting memory of a good story, and that's exactly what this movie accomplishes. I find this rather unfortunate because there are some strong themes that are present here, except that the scenes don't linger on them long enough for us to appreciate them. The theme of loneliness and the loss of love is a major part of this, but it ultimately is used as an excuse to cause a lot of hocus pocus to happen rather than challenging the characters to grow and mature, like the previous film. It's a disappointing follow up to a fascinating origin story about a man who chose to give up his career, his fame, his wealth, and his love in order to serve the greater good, and though there are glimpses of Strange's internal struggles, he's a bit too busy running around universes to really be bothered by it.
The original Doctor Strange movie utilized the weirdness of the comic book illustrations to create a unique visual style that was amazing to watch on the big screen, and with the director of Evil Dead running the show this time around, the visuals are absolutely bonkers and are a wonder to behold. I guarantee you that VFX artists had a grand time coming up with the crazy designs of some of the spells on display. From conjuring weapons to battling with music, this is another delightful romp through the mystical corner of the Marvel universe. In fact, Raimi incorporates his knowledge of the horror genre to blend the superhero antics with some spooky imagery. If you recall in Spider-Man 2 starring Tobey Maguire (which Raimi also directed), there's a slightly terrifying scene where Doctor Octopus's arms come alive in a hospital and slaughter the doctors in the room. There's more of that in this movie, and it fits the tone of Doctor Strange much better than the wall crawler. In fact, there are horror elements that are used in some very creative and freaky ways. It's unlike anything previous Marvel films within the MCU have done before, and fantasy fans most likely won't be disappointed by the magical mishaps on display.
Because the movie focuses on chase scenes and moving at a rapid pace, the all-star cast don't really get a chance to let their acting prowess shine. There are a couple of notable scenes where Benedict Cumberbatch gets to explore the themes of sacrifice and loneliness, but it doesn't happen as often as I would have liked. Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch pretty much steals the show every time she's in a scene. She conveys anger, frustration, emptiness, and pain throughout the movie, and she does a phenomenal job. It's a little jarring at first because we've seen her play the innocent and sweet Wanda in several projects by now, so seeing her in a villainous role is somewhat odd but a welcome change of pace. Unfortunately, Benedict Wong is underutilized once again. He always delivers some stand out moments, but he is left on the sidelines way too often. Newcomer Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez does a fine job for her MCU debut, but I wish we had more personal moments with her. Here, she runs and screams and cries and doesn't really offer much in terms of character traits. She is definitely the MacGuffin of the plot, which doesn't allow much room to show us her personality and characteristics. This is her debut after all, and I'm sure we'll see more of her down the line. It's just slightly disappointing because she appears to have potential as an iconic superhero actress. There are not many performances to write home about this time around, except for Olsen and her devilish charm, and but that's not to say it's bad. They are very entertaining and do a fine job, but it's not necessarily something we haven't seen in other action films before.
Doctor Strange's adventure through the multiverse is a bit of a letdown of a sequel. With its focus on constant action and bombardment of spectacle, we lose a bit of the heart and meaningful storytelling of the original film. If the next chapter of the mystical master can combine the better elements of this movie and its predecessor, Marvel may have me under their spell again.
Just in case there’s anyone out there that isn’t totally confused about Marvel movie rights, Marvel Studios does not own the film rights to Spider-Man, even though their logo has appeared on three of the most recent Spider-Man movies. It’s a partnership between Marvel and Sony Pictures, who own the movie rights, but if Sony wants a full cut of the box office profits, they need to make their own movies without Marvel Studios’ involvement. Thus, the Venom movies exist, and based on the quality of those movies, I’m not surprised by the crap on display in the latest installment in the Sony-verse/Venom-verse/Lack-of-Quality-Control-verse.
Morbius is the next chapter in Sony’s saga of ruining Spider-Man related characters. Admittedly, there are some aspects of passion and creativity, but there are a lot of other aspects that say the opposite. Let’s start with the good, which is a smaller list. I do like the premise of this movie. Much like Marvel’s green goliath Hulk, Morbius is a character that deals with the monster within. He’s a man with an extremely rare and dreadful disease, and after spending decades researching a cure for it, he finds one, only to discover some horrific side effects–he’s become a vampire. The cure that saved his life also killed people around him. Throughout the story, Morbius tries to fix his vampiric nature, while also having to deal with another monster on the loose. It’s typical Marvel storytelling, but this is where we get into the awfulness of the film. The story seems fairly simple on paper, but plot holes pop up constantly, making a lot of the sequences feel random and disjointed. In fact, the biggest blunder of the whole movie is the ending or lack thereof. The movie tells us what Morbius's fate at the end will be, except the story comes to an abrupt stop before it can happen. Sort of like what happens when a car drives into a giant cement wall, the movie crashes, leaving the audience in shock as to what just happened. The dialogue doesn’t help. I am convinced this is the first draft of the script. It literally has to be. The lines are so bland, cliche, and straight forward. It’s either telling the audience exactly what’s happening or what’s going to happen, or it makes a futile effort to make us laugh. The one thing it has going for it is that its attempt at humor happens less than the Venom movies. I guess that's an improvement. What could have been an interesting look at a relatively unknown character became a waste of time.
Because of the lack of an engaging script, one would assume the acting isn't anything to write home about, and it's a safe assumption here. The actors certainly acted. They did their job. But sometimes I wonder if it was unbearable for them. Let's start with the good doctor himself, Jared Leto. As usual, Leto did method acting for the role, relying on his crutches or a wheelchair offscreen in order to embrace the pain of his character. While that's admirable, it didn't pay off. There are many times where Leto seemed either bored or kind of lost as to what's happening. I think that has more to do with the script. He's doing everything right, but it comes across as corny or just unmemorable. His assistant played by Adria Adjorna is also doing everything she can to do a good job, but if Leto struggled to make a living vampire interesting, she really struggled with her role. She has less to do and is the literal definition of a supporting character--her only purpose is to support the protagonist against the antagonist. Speaking of the antagonist, Matt Smith plays Morbius' childhood friend Milo, and he at least gets to have some fun. There are a couple of times that I imagine the script said something like, "Milo did something silly like a total goofball." And my gosh, he did just that. It's as weird and out-of-place as Spider-Man dancing in front of a clothing store in Spider-Man 3. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's what they were going for. I'm not sure if they were trying to be comedic with him or not. However, I know they were trying to make Al Madrigal's character the comedic relief, to very mixed results. He literally just shows up to spat out a witty line or two, and then he's done. Honestly, if they took his character and his partner out of the movie, it probably wouldn't change a thing. I could go on, but I just feel icky criticizing these wonderful actors. They did the best they could with what they were given, and I hope they at least had a good time and a nice paycheck.
Ok, I'll try to say a few nice things before we end the review. I do think some of the cinematography, set designs, and lighting were very well done. Director Daniel Espinosa seemed to have some fun ideas when making the action scenes, although I think Sony hampered with it along the way. Most notably, there are a couple of moments where a violent thing happened, only for there to not be any blood, which resulted in shots that were just absolutely strange. Espinosa seemed to really want to make a bloody vampire movie, but Sony wanted that sweet PG-13 rating. Besides the awkwardness of the violence, there are some good shots that show off Morbius' monstrous side, most notably his first transformation. I also really liked the execution of his powers. Whenever Morbius used his powers, there's a unique, ghostly, cloudy streak that follows his movements. It's very reminiscent of the directional lines in comic books to emphasize the action. There are some moments that show off artistic creativity, but unfortunately, special effects only go so far. Special effects are meant to complement the story, but if the story isn't captivating, the special effects lose their effectiveness.
Morbius is another disappointing attempt at building a cinematic universe around the Spider-Man franchise. With its forgettable story and uninteresting characters, this vampire movie feels like it drains the life out of you. If the post credit scene is any indication, this won't be the last time we see Morbius…and Sony tarnishing the legacy of its characters.
Being a teenager is not easy. It’s full of awkward changes that help shape us into, hopefully, wise and caring adults. You could say it’s a transformative time for all of us, and in Pixar’s latest animated feature, they take that concept to the extreme.
Turning Red is about a young girl named Meilin, who has just become a teenager, and the weirdness that starts to happen during this stage of her life. In addition to what you’re probably thinking about, she has to deal with another weird change in her life–becoming a giant red panda every time she gets emotionally excited. Despite the silly premise that sounds like a Hulk story but for younger audiences, the movie has some surprisingly resonant themes throughout. As you learn more about the red panda shape shifting ability, you begin to realize what the true meaning behind the film is, and it might end up being a bit of a tear jerker for some viewers. I will avoid discussing the plot further in order to save the surprises of the film for you and just say that I was quite surprised by some touching scenes. I wish those scenes happened more frequently though. This is a movie that isn’t necessarily for me. From some of the physical humor to its teenage inappropriateness, I just didn’t find this movie really funny. It didn’t click for me, and that’s ok because I know it will make someone laugh and bring them great joy. For me, I found a lot of it a bit cringy. I guess I have a certain expectation whenever I see the Pixar lamp jump across the screen before a movie begins, and sure, they’ve made comical and sometimes extremely campy movies before. This one definitely feels like one of them, except this has a bit more heart to it. I can’t argue against the emotional resonance that’s at the center of this story, but I feel as though the movie leaned a bit too much towards the goofy comedy aspects rather than finding a nice balance between the silly and the serious. By the time the movie got serious and showed us what the story was really about, I almost didn’t care because I halfway expected another joke about puberty to show up any second. Looking back, I do like those serious moments, but the overabundance of gags and shenanigans made the movie less impactful for me. Turning Red has its charms and will undoubtedly have its fans due to its uniqueness in the animation world, but the style and execution may vary based on the artistic taste of the viewer.
Visually, Turning Red takes on an aesthetic inspired by other art styles and blends it with the high quality we've come to know from Pixar. I am really loving how Pixar has been mixing different styles to help make their movies stand out from other animated features. This movie takes on more of an anime look, with some elements of a modern 2D television series, such as the rebooted Ducktales series. This gives the animators plenty of opportunities to exaggerate the characters and their emotions in extreme ways. From enlarging eyes to colorful blasts bombarding the screen, the childhood cartoon vibes are on full display. Not only are the characters very eye-catching, but the environments are a well-executed blend of Asian art and western structures. As someone who loves Asian art, this was a visual treat for me, and because Pixar loves showing off how powerful their computers are, there was a ton of detail in each environment. It's a captivating world filled with multicultural inspirations, which creates one of the more unique looks to be seen in an animated movie.
Like the very expressive characters, the voice cast demanded your attention. This is where I think some audience members may vary in their enjoyment. Let me be clear that no one did a bad job. I bet watching these actors record their lines was an absolute blast. I can only imagine they had the time of their lives behind the mic, but like the television inspirations this movie takes after, the cast did a lot of yelling, a lot of loud breathing, and noises that probably sound extremely silly without context. At times, it reminded me of Teen Titans Go! and how the characters just screamed and raised their voices all the time. Again, the cast didn't do a bad job. When the script decided to be serious, the actors did a great job portraying the heavy emotions, but that only happens a few times. The voice direction is definitely different this time around for Pixar. Like the movie's style, the voice work is loud, crazy, fun, and sometimes obnoxious.
Turning Red gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I admire the creativity and artistry on display, as well as the heartfelt message of family and generational pain. On the other, I didn't laugh at most of the jokes and felt as though I was watching a lower budget television show. Of course, this could just be reflective of my taste in humor. I can see this being an absolute delight for younger, more modern viewers, and that's ok. Not every movie Pixar makes has to be a gut puncher like Up, Inside Out, and Toy Story 3. Sometimes, it's ok to let loose and be a goofball…or a red panda in this case.
To be honest, I’m a bit scared of the ocean. Beneath the dark depths could be anything, including sea monsters that we haven’t discovered yet, and who knows what they’re capable of! Leave it to Pixar to take a concept like this and make a cute adventure out of it.
Like Monsters, Inc., Pixar takes the fear of monsters lurking out of sight and uses it to tell a heartwarming story about friendship. Luca tells the story of a sea monster named, uh, Luca, overcoming the challenges of living life among humans. The center of the tale revolves around him and the two friends he meets: Alberto (another sea monster) and Giulia (a daughter of a fisherman), as they get ready for a race in town. It’s a simple story and wonderfully blissful. There’s nothing extremely deep or complicated about it. It’s merely new friends learning to get along and enjoy life together, and that plays to the narrative’s strengths and weaknesses. The movie’s strength lies within the simplicity. The main setting is a small seaside town, yet because of the tightly woven narrative between the protagonists, it’s highly memorable. Excuse the odd comparison, but this reminds me of the early Assassin’s Creed video games (bear with me). In Assassin’s Creed II, you went on a grand adventure across Italy through several decades, but in the follow up game, you are strictly placed in Rome throughout the adventure. The setting of Rome stood out more than any of the locations in the previous game because of how intimately you came to understand the location. The town of Portorosso is like that for me. Even the wandering and unimportant civilians stood out, with their charming mannerisms and reactions to the shenanigans around them. You get but a glimpse of the townsfolk, but it’s just enough to make you want to get to know them and their little community more. However, the small-scale tale is hindered by, well, its smallness. Pixar is known for out-of-the-box ideas when it comes to their stories. From looking at reality differently through the eyes of toys and bugs to taking us beyond our world, such as alternate dimensions and even into the metaphysical realm of our psyche, Pixar challenges themselves to think creatively. Unfortunately, this isn’t a creative movie. You can easily spot inspirations from other films, such as The Little Mermaid, and as a result, you may experience a sense of deja vu and know exactly what to expect as the story progresses. Despite that, Luca is a nice, relaxing getaway that just makes you feel good while watching it.
I talked briefly about the characters and their charm, and a major part of what makes them charming is the absolutely gorgeous animation. Pixar movies have been pretty breathtaking in terms of visuals in the past, but this one dares to be artistic. It’s like a blend of Peanuts and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It almost has a Genndy Tartakovsky feel, and I love it! The animation is silky smooth, and it allows the overexaggerated designs and expressions to pop much more than previous movies. Remember how the emotions of Inside Out were animated a bit more over-the-top than the humans? It’s like that, except it’s literally every character. Additionally, in line with the characters being more cartoony, the environment takes on a more colorful and overly saturated aesthetic. Ok, yes, the water still looks photoreal (Pixar really likes their water technology.), but the props, buildings, and the seafloor have such vibrant colors that, like the childlike endearment of the story, it makes you feel good watching it. I guess it’s like a warm and inviting painting that captures your attention in a museum. The wonderful mixture of colors and shapes and lighting all culminate in a visual delight, and your eyes will thank you for watching it.
As expected, the voice work is fantastic. They are well directed, and the performances are just as cheery and warm as the visuals themselves. However, there’s one voice in particular I felt was a bit out of place with the rest of the cast. As great as Jack Grazer did as Alberto, his voice reminded me too much of Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender. This honestly wouldn’t have been a problem, but the rest of the cast used very strong Italian accents, which made Grazer’s voice sound more like an early 2000s American high schooler in comparison. Overvall, the joyful script provided some delightful voice work that compliments the already gleeful movie.
Despite the relatable characters and universal story about childhood experiences, Luca doesn’t hit quite the same way as previous Pixar films. It’s a charming story filled with childish whimsy, but unlike other stories, this doesn’t explore the themes as deeply as it could have. Nonetheless, Luca is a nice escape from the stress of the world and allows us to remember a time when life seemed simpler and more fantastical.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
Fun Fact: since the Marvel Cinematic Universe started in 2008 with Iron Man, there has not been a director to fully complete a trilogy in the enormous franchise. Jon Favreau directed the first two Iron Man movies, with Shane Black taking over the third one. The Russo Brothers took the reins away from Joe Johnston and Joss Whedon and made the final two Captain America and Avengers films respectively. And Thor…well, let’s say it’s a surprise to see Taika Waiti returning for the next installment. Spider-Man: No Way Home concludes the Home trilogy, and Jon Watts managed to direct all three. A big congrats are in order for him. Not just for his dedication to the franchise, but for making one of the best superhero movies of all time.
Everyone loves Spider-Man. A good reason for this is his relatability. He’s a superhero that has to keep his grades up, pay bills, deal with bullies, face hardship and heartbreak. A lot of people feel like they could be Spider-Man because we all get down on our luck sometimes, yet we push on through because we have responsibilities to uphold. In Spidey’s latest big screen outing, things haven’t changed much for the wall-crawler. He's preparing to head off to college, but the public hates him for the events of the previous movie. Just another day in the life of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man! And after a failed attempt to manipulate reality to fix Peter's life via Doctor Strange, chaos erupts, and it's up to webhead and his friends to ensure the universe doesn't collapse. There's more to it than this that carries a lot of emotion and heart, but to say more would be a disservice to you. All I can say is this is one of my favorite Marvel films to date. Everything we love about the character and his stories is fully embraced here, and it's a thrilling and heartfelt ride from start to finish.
What I can talk about are the actors, and with an A-list cast that features Tom Holland, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Benedict Cumberbatch, and many others, it's no surprise we get some amazing performances. This is probably the most heavy and emotionally intense Spidey film since Spider-Man 2, and everyone knocked it out of the park. Just about every joke landed successfully, but at the same time, the cast managed to get the audience I was with both cheering and weeping. Seriously, this is a great movie, and it's because of the spectacular performances that the story works so well.
Another element that worked very well was the special effects. Spider-Man was one of the earliest examples of how special effects could bring comic book adventures to life, and Spidey's cinematic exploits continue to push computers to their breaking points. Sure, a lot of the swinging and spellcasting is merely animated, but with well-done choreography and camerawork, it's a blast. In fact, there are some moments that are actually aesthetically pleasing. There's one particular shot of Spidey swinging at sunset that is wallpaper worthy. Also, most movies have a definitive shot that is the best of them all--the "money shot." Honestly though, Watts and his team were so creative and had so much fun putting this crazy thing together that I'm not sure which is the money shot. There are so many to choose from! A lot of passion went into the visuals of this, which results in an artistic movie that oozes with creativity.
From the script to the technical prowess, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a success. It's a movie that celebrates the character's legacy while also paving the way for a new era of super-heroic adventures. Ultimately, this is an amazing fantasy that will continue to capture the hearts of audiences for generations to come.
They say there’s truth in myths. Perhaps ancient tales of gods and monsters happened but from the perspectives of mortals trying to process the events before them. Instead of magical deities, they were aliens with technological wonders. This is the interesting premise of Marvel’s latest superhero epic, Eternals, but unfortunately, the rest of the film is neither interesting nor epic.
The pitch for Eternals is fantastic. A group of alien warriors with superpowers come to Earth during the dawn of ancient civilization, and their names go on to inspire legends such as Icarus and Athena. Meanwhile, they hide among us, helping the human race achieve great and terrible things, awaiting the day to fulfill their long gesting destiny. It’s a really neat concept, but however, it’s a bloated mess. Think about (and bear with me) a pie. It’s a very delicious pie, and you can’t wait to dive in. However, we need to cut the pie up into pieces. There’s a piece of the pie that has Sersi’s love story with Icarus. There’s a piece of the pie that’s about the origin of the Eternals. Another piece has the origin story of their adversaries. Another piece is about the “band getting back together.” Another piece has a mental health subplot. Another is about the bombing of Hiroshima. Oh, and there’s another piece that contains a subplot of an unintelligent life form finding consciousness and meaning in its place in the cosmos. And the main plot of the story is in all of that somewhere. Basically, there are so many slices of the pie that the pieces become extremely thin, and when you get a taste of it, it’s hardly anything and unsatisfactory (Thanksgiving is coming up, and food has been on my mind, ok!). This movie had the potential to be a superhero film unlike any other, but with all of the subplots mixed together, it feels like a 22-episode season of a TV show wrapped into 2 and a half hours. It reminded me of The Last Airbender movie, where it fast forwarded through roughly 20-episodes worth of stories, resulting in one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen…and yes, the same fate was given to Eternals as well. What could have been a very well-prepared pie turned into an unsavory serving that isn’t worth anyone’s time.
Sometimes bad movies can at least be somewhat enjoyable if the cast appears to be having fun. Unfortunately, the cast seemed just as bored as I was. Some may say their lack of emotions is a part of their alien characteristics, like Spock. Unlike Spock, none of them seem to embrace the oddity of their characters and are just going through the motions until the director yells cut and a paycheck is handed to them. Even the usually great Angelina Jolie surprised me by how much she didn’t seem to care. Her character is one of the more interesting ones due to a very mature and admirable theme. Instead of an Oscar-worthy performance, Jolie acted as if she was having a staring contest most of the time. The only one out of the bunch that entertained me was Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo. He was the only one that the script allowed to have any sense of fun. He managed to get a chuckle or two out of me, and I had a sense that he was trying to really make the character his own and very memorable. I say it worked. I remember the character very positively. The rest of them I just don’t care about at all. I sincerely believe these actors are extremely talented, but with a bloated script that doesn’t allow much room for great acting opportunities, the cast just comes off as robotic, which is saying something considering the robots of Marvel are some of the most memorable characters in the whole franchise.
Is there any praise I can give this movie? Actually yes! This is one of the most visually pleasing Marvel movies to date. Instead of bombarding your eyes with visuals cooked up on a computer, this movie instead admires the warmth and beauty of our world, even with its rough edges. This comes as no surprise as director Chloé Zhao has a talent with capturing wonderful shots showcasing environments, documentary-style. It’s refreshing to see a big-budget blockbuster feel more “down to earth” because it’s showing, well, the earth itself. There’s some great artistry here, no doubt, and it’s something I hope comic book movies embrace a little bit more in the future.
To be honest, I do think there was great potential here, but this movie is a perfect example of putting too many eggs in one basket. There's a great book about writing screenplays called Save the Cat, and in it, there’s a discussion about simplifying your movie and not overstuffing it. Otherwise, you fail to deliver a great story that people will remember. Something like this probably would have worked better as a Disney+ show, but alas, this movie went way too big, so you should stay home.