Archive | November, 2019

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

25 Nov

By Tanner Smith

With “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave us a lighthearted teenage coming-of-age story in which a charismatic high-school kid wants to become an Avenger and sets out to prove himself by becoming a neighborhood friendly Spider-Man. How did it turn out?

Well, as per my typical response to a really good Spider-Man movie (“Spider-Man 2,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”), I thought it was the best Spider-Man movie to come. The story of Spider-Man has always appealed to me, so I’m always looking for that one movie that not only does it right but also does it differently from the others.

In “Homecoming,” Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) is only 15-16 years old, so he still has a lot of growing up to do as Spider-Boy before he becomes Spider-Man. That itself is a journey I’m interested in, especially for the MCU, in which his mentor is not Uncle Ben but Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

Neither Uncle Ben nor his murder are even mentioned in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” so we don’t really know what drives Peter to help people outside of Iron Man recruiting him for the events in “Captain America: Civil War” and Peter wanting to prove he can still do great things for the Avengers. The closest we get is a scene from “Civil War,” in which Tony asks Peter why he wants to be Spider-Man and Peter replies that he wants to “stand up for the little guy.”

The Avengers ghost Peter, who continues to call and check in, despite no one answering his calls unless he’s about to do something that’s going to look bad for everybody. So, he sets out to prove himself by investigating a series of strange robberies performed with alien technology left over from the attack in “The Avengers.” He tries to trace the source of the weapons and comes across a villain known as The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who is really a blue-collar worker who wants revenge for his job being ruined. Stark wants Peter to stay out of this because it’s too big for him, but Peter insists that he knows something he doesn’t and sticks to it.

Oh, and there’s a Homecoming dance his school is preparing for, and Peter wants to ask his classmate Liz (Laura Harrier) to go with him. Plus a house party run by bully Flash (Tony Revolori), who’s actually more dorky than Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) combined. Plus a field trip to Washington, D.C. that goes awry. Director Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) and his team of screenwriters have taken an MCU superhero movie and included a John Hughes teen formula into it, making for a fresh, funny, very enjoyable Marvel movie.

I mentioned in my original review that I really like Tony Stark’s progression as a character, since he’s made terrible mistakes as Iron Man in a few MCU movies prior before seeking to redeem himself in “Civil War” and then becoming Spider-Man’s mentor by basically warning him not to fall into the same traps he did. Every high-school coming-of-age story usually includes a mentor/student bond–here, it’s between Spider-Man and Iron Man. And it would only get more interesting and even heartbreakingly effective as the MCU would continue in the next two years.

Tom Holland is my favorite Peter Parker, Michael Keaton makes for an intriguing villain (especially when you learn his true identity), many of the side characters are likably goofy in their unique New York way, and when Peter has to rise to the challenge of becoming the hero he needs to be (rather than the hero he *wants* to be), it’s easy to root for him. So, I thoroughly enjoyed “Spider-Man: Homecoming” even more than “Spider-Man 2” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” simply because of how charming and likable it is.

But little did I know that something very special was waiting for me…and I’ll get to that awesomeness soon enough.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Drive (2011)

23 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Did you know some disgruntled movie patron tried to sue the filmmakers of “Drive” because it wasn’t what she expected it be?

No, I’m serious–she said it “bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film … having very little driving in the motion picture”.

To be fair, the film’s trailer made audiences believe it was some type of typical action picture, when really, the film itself only had about two car chases, slow-building tension, atmospheric quiet moments, and some very, VERY violent sequences.

“Drive,” directed by arthouse aficionado Nicholas Winding Refn, won high honors at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival–I don’t think Cannes would even want to recognize your “typical action picture.” (There are exceptions, obviously–they did premiere “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”)

Ryan Gosling shines in the lead role, known only as The Driver. With minimal dialogue and hardly any background, everything we need to know about him is through his actions and his facial reactions (sometimes, not even that–mostly, his face is emotionless). What we catch onto is that he’s an anti-hero. He will get his hands dirty when he knows there’s a way out and if no one gets hurt (and if it pays well), but what he wants for the most part is a quiet life.

We see in the opening scene that he has things figured out pretty quickly. He’s a getaway driver for a robbery, which leads to the scene everyone remembers–the camera remains with the car as it escapes and is pursued by police, making for one of the most suspenseful car chases in film history.

That’s the scene movie-theater audiences remember because it’s exactly what they wanted. Then, “Drive” is going to give them something different.

Two things happen to the Driver that get the story going–one is he meets his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio; the other is he meets the mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), whom the Driver’s friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) convinces to purchase a car for the Driver to race. The Driver doesn’t trust Rose, especially after finding out that he might have been connected with Shannon’s limp. When he’s with Irene and Benicio, his world is much brighter–he finally has companions; people in his life. But now, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is being released from prison, and the Driver’s world starts to unravel. Standard gets attacked by some criminals who want him to pull off a new heist. The Driver agrees to help in order to protect him, Irene, and Benicio. But something goes terribly wrong, which results in the Driver’s descent into darkness…

The Driver knows he tends to do some bad things–nowhere is that clearer than in a scene in which he watches TV with Benicio and asks if a cartoon shark is “a bad guy.” Benicio says yes, because he’s a shark. “Aren’t there any good sharks?” the Driver asks. He wants to be a good guy, but he knows he hasn’t done much to declare himself in that regard. And when things go from bad to worse, he snaps and does some very, VERY nasty things towards his antagonists.

All of this is told with great directing from Refn, subtle understated acting from Gosling, and a great deal of atmosphere. Admittedly, as a movie theater patron, I was perplexed. But as a film lover, I was fascinated. And it took just one more viewing for me to declare “Drive” as something special.

Oh, and the soundtrack? Fantastic. “Nightcall,” “Under Your Spell,” and especially “A Real Hero”–all of these techno songs add to the style and grit “Drive” is going for. (I work at a theater where the “Drive” soundtrack often plays over the stereo–my attention is always drawn to it when I should be getting back to work!)

Looking Back at 2010s Films: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

22 Nov

By Tanner Smith

In 2011, we had a surprise hit with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a sort-of prequel (kind of a reboot) to how the “Planet of the Apes” of its popular film series came to be. I certainly didn’t need this “sort-of prequel” but I was very surprised at how interesting and fresh it turned out to be. In 2014, we got a sequel: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a darker, more compelling man-versus-ape story than I ever would have anticipated. Then, in 2017, we got a concluding chapter for this “Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy.” “War for the Planet of the Apes.” It seemed to be building up to something, which should be obvious to us all that it doesn’t end well for mankind. From “rise” to “dawn” to “war”…let’s see what “War for the Planet of the Apes” has for us…

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is, in my opinion, the best “Planet of the Apes” movie ever made, maybe even better than the 1968 classic that started it all.

Talk about saving the best for last. (I don’t think there’s anywhere else for this franchise to go after this, so that’s a high compliment.)

This is a hell of a film. It’s powerful. It’s gripping. It’s complex. It’s brutal. it’s heartbreaking. It’s everything I didn’t know a “Planet of the Apes” movie could be. It even made me forget about how great “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was, because this one topped that!

The story, told from the apes’ perspective, involves Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his army of apes still having to fend for themselves against human soldiers who want to hunt and kill them. Caesar has tried time and time again to have peaceful coexistence between humans and apes, but the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) wants nothing more than to wipe every single last one of them out. Seeing no other alternative, Caesar embarks on a suicide mission to track down and kill the Colonel.

As the title suggests, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is building up to the end-all of one final battle between man and ape. But director Matt Reeves (who also directed “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) has something more on his mind, such as what it all means for both man and ape. The evils and casualties of war. The question as to whom is the true animal. Racism allegories. What it means to exact revenge. The sacrifices that are made. And so on. This doesn’t feel like a mere “Planet of the Apes” movie; it feels like a genuine war movie!

And it’s all done RIGHT. When the action kicks in, it’s exciting. When the drama settles in, it’s very moving. When characters are allowed to sit and discuss a few things, it means something. Even its comic relief, a scared, abused ape named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) whom Caesar and his crew come across, is done exactly right. In any other movie, this would have been akin to Jar Jar Binks.

The film can also take some time out to warm your heart. One of Caesar’s partners is Maurice (Karin Konoval), a wise orangutan who always has the right answers for Caesar. Along the way, Caesar and co. encounter a young mute girl (one of the wild humans they come across), and Maurice is the one to take care of her during the journey. I loved Maurice in the previous “Planet of the Apes” film, and seeing him care for this little girl melted my heart.

Notice how so far, I’ve talked so much about every other aspect that makes this film successful except for the effects factor? Well, how do the apes look? How do you make it credible? Well…if I thought they were put to great use in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” then they’re put to SPECTACULAR use in “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Caesar, Maurice, Bad Ape, every one of the “apes” look amazingly REAL. It’s the best motion-capture work I’ve ever seen in a film. And it was so wonderfully done that I wanted Andy Serkis to get an Oscar nomination just for bringing Caesar to life with much expression and dignity. How often do you see a bunch of CG creations and NOT notice that it’s computers at the source of them? It’s outstanding for all the right reasons.

I prayed for this one to win Best Visual Effects at the Oscars. (I didn’t take into account the first-rate effects of “Blade Runner 2049.”)

Where CAN the “Planet of the Apes” franchise go from here? It’s hard to tell. Maybe…remake 1968’s “Planet of the Apes,” with the updated technology? I don’t know. But I guess I’d be curious to find out if there IS something planned.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Chronicle (2012)

22 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Well, before director Josh Trank’s name became a punchline thanks to the messy blockbuster “Fantastic Four” (or “Fant4stic,” as people like to call it), he had a sleeper hit with the 2012 found-footage superhero teen film “Chronicle.”

Honestly, I feel bad for the guy for what happened with “Fant4stic.” He probably could’ve had something special if not for the studio interference. (Again, the studio system strikes.) Let’s see if he’s doing anything else.

*quick Google search*

Oh OK, he’s doing an Al Capone film with Tom Hardy, called “Fonzo.” Sounds good. Wonder when that’s coming out.

But back to “Chronicle.” “Chronicle” is a film about three high-school students–Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell), and Steve (Michael B. Jordan)–who come across some sort of otherworldly portal that leads them to a force that gives them superpowers. They have telekinesis, they can fly, and they’re stronger the more they use their abilities (“like a muscle”). Because it’s a found-footage movie (though from the perspective of different cameras to tell the whole story), they document it all–the kid holding the camera for the most part (Andrew) even operates it without touching it (meaning there’s very little shaky cam here!). But Andrew, who comes from a broken home and is constantly bullied in school, starts to feel dangerous urges with his new strength and uses them to get back at people who do him wrong.

The first half of “Chronicle” is lots of fun to watch over and over. The kids are played as real kids, they work off each other brilliantly, and they behave the way I think real kids would behave if they suddenly gained superpowers. (Although, wouldn’t it be more interesting if they showed it to their classmates? I digress.) The effects are nicely done, especially for the low budget. (The flying sequences are a little dated, but they’re not terribly done.) And I love seeing them experiment with their abilities–pranking people, flying around, catching a baseball mid-air through mind powers, and even the damage they can cause if they’re not careful…which brings me to the second act, which is very dark and grisly. Much of it has to do with Andrew’s loss of control, which if you go back and watch the film again is inevitable rather than sudden. It bothered me when I first saw “Chronicle”–it doesn’t anymore.

What I like best about “Chronicle” overall is that it tells the full story. It doesn’t set up for a sequel. There’s an obvious beginning, middle, and end, with all the right buildups and just about every right payoff, and it’s told very satisfyingly.

With that said, I do wonder what Matt found when he set off on his quest to find out what happened to him and his friends–what was that thing down there in the tunnel? Where did it come from? But on the other hand, maybe it’s best to keep wondering. I like “Chronicle” just the way it is.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

22 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Hooray! Spider-Man’s back after being “snapped” from existence in “Avengers: Infinity War” and brought back to kick some spidey ass in “Avengers: Endgame!” Speaking of which, spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame!” (Not just that Spider-Man is back, obviously—that’s kind of a given.) You’ve been warned. 

Even with more Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in the works, “Avengers: Endgame” worked wonderfully as a finale for all the MCU material we’ve seen in the past eleven years. But even so, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” which takes place after those events, works as an effective epilogue to “Endgame.” (It’s also much lighter than the heavy epic scale of “Endgame”—not that there’s anything wrong with that.) 

Directed by Jon Watts (who also directed “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and led by Tom Holland (the best live-action Spider-Man representation), “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is more practical and refreshingly so—lighthearted with a down-to-earth, humorous touch (I mean, for a Marvel superhero movie). 

Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) and his high-school friends, including his best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) and potential love interest M.J. (Zendaya), are “blipped” back to existence after Thanos finger-snapped half the Earth’s population away in “Avengers: Infinity War” (and the Avengers brought them back in “Avengers: Endgame”)—how convenient; most of their old classmates have already aged five years in their absence. (There’s a funny bit when we find out Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) mentions she vanished as well before she was suddenly brought back into her old apartment, which is now rented by someone else.) 

I personally would like to see more of what that must be like for others who were “blipped” away for five years. Think about it—if you were 16 and your little brother was 13, and you were suddenly blipped while time went on for everyone else including your brother, if you came back after five years, your brother would suddenly be older than you. How would that sibling dynamic work for you nowadays? That’d be an interesting story to follow. 

But I digress.

Peter is still mourning the loss of his mentor, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who died in the final battle of “Endgame.” He still wants to prove himself worthy of being Iron Man’s protege—a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, if you will—but he also wants to have somewhat of a social life as a high-school kid as well. He joins his classmates on a trip to Europe, and he couldn’t be more excited, mostly because he hopes to get closer to his crush, M.J. 

But uh-oh! Something serious is happening here. Venice is being torn apart by a mysterious, huge, seemingly water-based monster, causing Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to recruit him to save the day. They also brought in someone else to help: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has his own supersuit as well as his own skills, resources, and charisma that match Peter’s late mentor. He even gets a hero name: Mysterio.

Is it really a spoiler to say Mysterio isn’t really on the up-and-up? 

I have a complicated relationship with the “Spider-Man” movies—whenever a good one comes out, I always tell people it’s “the best ‘Spider-Man’ movie.” Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2,” Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and especially the wonderful, animated, highly energetic “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Well, I was perfectly satisfied to say that “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was “a good Spider-Man movie.” But then…we get the mid-credits scene. Every MCU movie has something extra to keep audiences through the end credits to tease the next adventure. This particular one made me drop my jaw before I exclaimed to myself, “Holy cow, WAS that the best Spider-Man movie??” I won’t give it away here, but I will say that now I’m REALLY curious to see the next Spider-Man movie, just to see what happens!

Maybe I’m overreacting. But still, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is a solid Spider-Man flick. Tom Holland is still a highly charismatic Peter Parker and the film goes deeper into the anxieties that comes with the responsibility of being Spider-Man. Whenever the film deals with Peter trying to have a social life as himself while still doing what he can as Spider-Man, it’s great. My favorite scene is when, without giving much away, he literally ends up in a maze of illusions that present his own fears and insecurities. 

I’m not a huge fan of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, because he’s more interesting before he reveals his true nature and then he just becomes another villain. But that’s really more of a nitpick because the reveal does lead to some cool action and also some nicely-done character moments (including my favorite scene I just mentioned). 

The overall focus of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is still where it should be: with the burden of being Spider-Man getting heavier and heavier for this kid who’s becoming a man in the process. And I’m always going to be interested in seeing the journey progress…especially after that mid-credits scene. (Seriously, I have to know! That was a hell of a cliffhanger!) 

Joker (2019)

22 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ****
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I can’t say “Joker” is one of the most “fun” movies I’ve seen this year, but it’s definitely one of the most unforgettable.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s just so demented and disturbing and tense and twisted and oddly fascinating at the same time…in other words, it’s the perfect Joker movie!

Oh wait, I’m supposed to come out of this movie wanting to commit heinous crimes and partake in bloody anarchy–that’s what the media told people to be afraid of, right?

Btw, don’t say anything like that about a movie unless you’ve actually seen it, because that makes you look pretty stupid.

“Joker” is a dark, gritty, violent character study that serves as the origin story for one of the most devious comic-book villains of all time: the Joker. I’ve seen comic-book movies that ask complex questions about the hero, such as where does one draw the line in the ways of vigilante action and whatnot. But Joker asks more challenging questions that most people wouldn’t want to know the true answers to, such as…what roles do WE play in the creation of a killer?

In that sense, this isn’t a film that glorifies violence–it’s not even a sympathetic origin story. Instead, it’s more of a cautionary tale about a guy who feels left out by society that doesn’t want to understand or help him, which causes things to go from bad to total horrific sh*t-storm.

But if you do see this movie and are appalled by something that could be seen as irresponsible or dangerous, that’s fair enough. Not everyone is going to have the same reaction. But see the movie before you decide.

Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Arthur Fleck, the sad, mentally-unstable clown-for-hire who doesn’t know what to do with his life…until he commits his first act of horrific violence and suddenly feels more alive because of it. Slowly but surely, we see this guy transform into one of the most storied, psychopathic comic book villains of all time.

A major surprise for me was that it was so easy for me to forget I’m watching a DC comic-book movie. Compared to the tone of this film, “The Dark Knight” feels more like your typical comic-book film. This film was directed by Todd Phillips (who was previously best-known for comedy hits like “Road Trip,” “Old School,” and the “Hangover” movies), and a lot of people have compared his storytelling to a Scorsese film (particularly “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy”)–but I don’t see it as a Scorsese-ripoff either. I think Phillips was inspired by touches of those films and added some touches of his own without copying Scorsese’s style.

The way the story develops was so chilling that there were times when I couldn’t move. Usually, I twitch in my seat or shake my legs out of nervousness during a good scary movie–but not this time. This time, there were numerous sequences during which I was frozen in place, just shocked at what was happening and what could happen next.

It’s a nightmare, and a well-crafted one at that.

Like I said, “Joker” is not necessarily a “fun” movie. If I want an entertaining film from DC, I’ll just watch “Shazam!” again.

Last thing I’ll say for now is there’s a moment I can’t help but appreciate from early in the film. It’s when Arthur watches a standup comedy show and takes notes on how to be influenced for his own performance–one of the notes he takes struck me to the core, that to win over the audience (which serves as a metaphor for general society), you have to act like you don’t have a mental illness.

The word I think I’m looking for is DAMN!

The Farewell (2019)

22 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If there’s anything more important than a comedy that can make you laugh, it’s one that makes you feel. “The Farewell” is a wonderful comedy-drama that goes for both the comedy and the drama at high goals, and succeeds at both.

“The Farewell” is a semi-autobiographical film from writer-director Lulu Wang, about a young woman, named Billi (well-played by Awkwafina, who stole scenes in last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians”), who doesn’t know how to feel about her Chinese family keeping her beloved grandmother’s fatal illness a secret. The grandmother (Shuzhen Zhou) is unaware that an entire wedding ceremony is happening in Changchun, China, just so everyone in the family can be there with her one last time. Billi, who’s spent most of her life in America (and lives in New York), sees a moral dilemma here (as did I—I didn’t know this was a common cultural thing with Chinese families) and wonders if she should tell her or not. 

Where to start with this film? For one thing, the family dynamic is wonderfully presented. It feels real, is written and acted beautifully, and reminds me of the complicated, ridiculous, and overall loving aspects of many extended families, such as my own. 

The acting is spot-on. Awkwafina is truly moving as the underachieving, emotional Billi—so much so that I had to keep reminding myself that this was the same hilarious loony from “Crazy Rich Asians.” (She has impressive range as an actress.) Shuzhen Zhou as Nai Nai (“Grandma”)…it’s a cliche to say someone in this type of role will “melt your heart,” but I can’t help it—she’s adorable and she melted my heart. Also good are Tzi Ma and Diana Lin as Billi’s parents who are dealing with this distressing secret while hiding under a shield. 

I love that this family can just take a moment every now and again and just talk—and I’m interested in what they have to say. There’s an extended dinner sequence in which the family talks about whether or not moving from China to America is the right thing. Is the American Dream a myth? Some think so, others don’t. It’s one of the best scenes in the film.

And last but not least, this film knows when to bring the levity. It’s not always a downer—sometimes, it’s very funny. But like with “50/50,” another “dramedy” that deals with heavy issues, this film knows death and cancer are never funny but the different ways people react to a situation like that can be humorous—and not with cheap laughs, either.

“The Farewell” is both appealing and emotional, and it’s one of the best films of 2019. I can’t recommend it enough.

Oh, and it’s rated PG! Remember when you could tell a mature story without containing adult language or imagery? So does Lulu Wang. 

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

22 Nov

By Tanner Smith

I admitted in my review of Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” that seeing that film was my first time seeing ANYTHING “Star Trek”-related. And it got me to watch other “Star Trek”-related stuff. I saw a few episodes from the ’60s TV series (on a “best-of” DVD) and a few episodes of “The Next Generation” too (it’s been on my Netflix list for years–I should really watch more of it), and in between, I watched the other movies. (I didn’t review them all, but I see them all.) Here are my quick thoughts on the pre-Abrams Star Trek movies:

“The Motion Picture”–boring+beautiful=beautifully boring
“The Wrath of Khan”–terrific film, one of my personal favorite movies (#215 in my Top 250 Favorite Movies)
“The Search for Spock”–overall pretty solid, though with a few awkward spots here and there
“The Voyage Home”–fun stuff (“Well, a double dumb-ass on YOU!”)
“The Final Frontier”–a pretty lousy movie with hardly anything accomplished…but it contains one of the best moments in any Star Trek movie (“I don’t want my pain taken away! I NEED my pain!” Pretty powerful stuff.)
“The Undiscovered Country”–…I remember seeing it…but I don’t remember what happens in it. (I’ll see it again sometime, surely.)
“First Contact”–VERY good

(And no, I haven’t seen a single episode of “Enterprise” or “Deep Space Nine” or whatever other spinoff series there was.)

Then came J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” which something old and brought in something new, which resulted in a fun adventure that respected the familiar characters. He was called back to make a new film, which became “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

What am I getting at with all of this? “The Wrath of Khan” is the film that I (and a lot of other movie lovers) get the most out of when it comes to quality “Star Trek” entertainment. And I feel like “Into Darkness” came really (and I mean REALLY) close to being the “Dark Knight” of the rebooted franchise.

But it failed. Why?

Because it ended up with nothing more than a reminder of how great “The Wrath of Khan” is. Can we say “irony”?

I rewatched “Star Trek Into Darkness” recently. It was my first time seeing it in six years, since it was first released, when I wrote the review. I forgot how much I truly enjoyed the first 90 minutes (or so) of this two-hour-12-minute movie. I loved it! It was taking the characters in deeper waters than expected, the action was just as exciting as the previous film but even more tense because the stakes were raised, the villain was great and I loved the parallel connections between him and Kirk…why didn’t I watch this film again in the last six years??

Oh, right…the ending. The final 20 minutes brought the whole film down like a house of cards. (Even so, I still can’t pan the movie overall, but everything that came before it was entertaining as hell. So…3 stars, I guess.)

It ticks me off, because I keep thinking of other ways this could have worked. Keep what they were going for, but throw out the “Wrath of Khan” callbacks (in that they recite the lines of dialogue practically word-for-word!!)…and have NO dialogue in the scene! Just focus on the emotions alone–everything that we’ve seen before would’ve been part of a puzzle that this would have been part of!

And most importantly, THROW OUT THE EPILOGUE! That’s the part that REALLY killed the movie for me. It’s like everything that we’ve been through before and everything we’ve learned (everything the characters themselves learned in the process)…suddenly meant nothing. If the writers (who also wrote “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″…that makes so much sense the more I think about it) wanted to leave a memorable impact on movie audiences, they should’ve given us more to think about than easy resolutions.

If they had, again, this could have been the “Dark Knight” of the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise! But alas…it made me want to watch “The Wrath of Khan” again.

But it came SO close!

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

21 Nov

By Tanner Smith

As fun as “Guardians of the Galaxy” was upon first viewing, much of it sort of wore off on me after watching it again. But “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which I have seen about four times now, is just about every bit the comedic, insane, energetic sci-fi romp that I like to revisit from time to time. (Not quite up there with “Serenity” for me–that’s the high standard I hold for this kind of fun sci-fi movie–but there are a lot of times when it reminded me of such.)

Yes, there are some things that still bug me about the Guardians themselves (especially Peter Quill’s arrogant personality), and yet…they don’t bug me AS MUCH as they should. Instead, I’m just having fun embracing this movie’s sense of humor, its vibrant colors, its effects, its pacing, and even its drama–and its characters are fun enough to get me through it.

The Guardians of the Galaxy–Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel), only this time he’s been regenerated and is now Baby Groot, designed to sell toys–are back and on the run. Looking for a place to hide, they encounter a celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell), who it turns out is Peter’s father. He can create anything much like a god (and can also destroy them if he wants) and seems like a good guy, so they crash with him. But as follows the formula for this kind of Marvel movie, something about Ego just doesn’t feel right. Peter doesn’t see it at first, of course, because he’s glad to find his father and bond with him, as well as discover who he himself is.

Yondu (Michael Rooker), the space pirate who sort of raised Peter as a drunk, abusive father type, is back into the mix, although his connection with Peter is called more into question, making for an interesting family dynamic. Other family dynamics are considered here. For example, one of the Guardians’ captives is Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s vengeful sister who wants to break free so she can kill her; the longer she’s with these people, the more she wants to assist them. And the Guardians consistently bicker and try to one-up each other in the downtime–one of them brings up that they’ve become like a “family” as a result. That’s actually a pretty telling statement. This movie is more than just intergalactic battles–it’s about relationships. And I admire this film for that.

Oh, and there’s a giant Pac Man that attacks…because that kind of thing works in a movie like this.

Everything in “Vol. 2” feels elevated from the first movie. The sense of humor is upped, the effects (from captivating to cheesy) are better, the emotions are more present, the worlds are more visually impressive, and it just overall feels more fun.

I mentioned Peter’s abrasive personality before, and sometimes, his ego is too much–sometimes, I want to smack some sense into this jerk. But I get that it’s part of his character and it’s a question of where he goes with certain choices he’ll have to make in the future. He does at least get when others are about to cross the line (otherwise, he wouldn’t be a Marvel superhero)–he even asks Rocket at one point, “What is your goal here? To get everyone to hate you?” So…I guess I give it a break here.

BUT as for his actions in “Avengers: Infinity War”…I’ll get to that later.

What else can I say but…”I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”

Doctor Sleep (2019)

21 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Doctor Sleep” is the sequel to “The Shining”…but is it a sequel to Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” or Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic “The Shining”? It’s no secret that Kubrick took a lot of creative liberties with King’s original ideas, to which King expressed his disappointment—on the other hand, it’s hailed by a majority of cineastes as one of the greatest horror masterpieces of all time because its atmosphere and execution caused us to fill in many blanks that we actually cared to fill in. (There’s even a documentary, “Room 237,” about all of the fan theories surrounding many of the film’s ambiguities.) 

King wrote a sequel to his original novel, titled “Doctor Sleep,” and writer-director Mike Flanagan, who established himself as a modern master of horror with movies like “Hush,” “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” and another King adaptation, “Gerald’s Game,” as well as a hit Netflix horror series, “The Haunting of Hill House,” is making it into a film. But not only is it to be a faithful adaptation of the “Doctor Sleep” novel—it also has to work as a sequel to Kubrick’s “The Shining,” because that’s what movie audiences who love the original want to see. That’s a really tough challenge to take: appeal to both Kubrick fans and King fans—and you thought Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (based on a Kubrick script) was ambitious! 

Well, no need to worry. It works wonders either way you look at it. “Doctor Sleep” is a terrific horror film and one of Flanagan’s most successful in an already-long line of gripping horror films. 

Our main character is Dan Torrence, who was the little boy (“Danny”) that was terrorized along with his mother (Alex Essoe, playing the Shelley Duvall role from the original film). Played by Ewan McGregor, he’s an aimless, alcoholic drifter who one day decides to get away from himself, as the experiences that haunted his childhood, which he’s tried to keep locked up using his psychic abilities (or “shine”) for many years, are still getting to him. After trying to drown out the senses of his gifts with booze, he wants to use it to help people (and himself). He travels to the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire, where he attends AA, gains a friend in his sponsor, named Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), and gets a job in hospice to care for dying people. (He knows when people are about to die and, using his shine, gives them each one last moment of peace and reassurance that there is life after death.) 

Fade to eight years later, when Dan has now cleaned up and bettered himself, and he also communicates telepathically with someone else who has the same psychic ability: a teenage girl named Abra (Kyleigh Curran), who is afraid to make her gifts known even to her parents. When a pack of nomadic, monstrous, humanistic beings is caught on her radar, Abra comes to Dan for help in stopping them from causing any more damage than they’ve already caused. Dan is reluctant as it seems these “people” are too dangerous, but before long, he knows he can’t let them get away with their doings. 

Let’s talk about these guys, shall we? They roam the country to capture, torture, and kill psychic children to feed off of their souls (or their “Steam,” as they call it)—they keep what’s left of the children’s essences in containers to feed off of when they need it. In return, they live longer lives than the average person. They may look ridiculous as somewhat of a ‘60s touring hippie rock band (complete with tour bus), but they are terrifying—especially in a gruesome sequence in which they snatch an innocent Little-Leaguer (Jacob Tremblay) and torture him to death to feed on more steam. They’re led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, wonderfully, subtly diabolical here), named for the black hat she always wears. Rose is near-immortal as she knows the ways of getting more steam (mostly by astral projection to seek more targets). 

Oh, and there’s a member on their team who can easily manipulate people’s minds by speaking to them. This is Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), a 15-year-old new member of the pack. Having her around makes things even more unsettling as she can easily convince someone to fall into one of their traps. 

They learn of Abra’s power, particularly that it’s stronger than they’ve ever faced before. Despite the possibility that she could fight back and overpower them, Rose insists on going after her to feed off her steam. Dan agrees to help Abra go against them when the time comes.

What surprised me most about “Doctor Sleep” (and what shouldn’t surprise me about any Mike Flanagan film by now) is that it put character and atmosphere ahead of terror and jump-scares. So much of the film depends on the acting, the writing, and the directing to keep us invested. They all work terrifically. Ewan McGregor is excellent as Dan Torrence, who is trying to move past his childhood traumas through alcoholism and then by getting away from himself before ultimately using his shine to help those in need. Up-and-comer Kyleigh Curran “shines” (forgive the pun) as Abra, a sweet, bright girl who is ready for battle when someone deserves to suffer for the horrific deeds they’ve done. We’re given plenty of time to witness the establishment of both interesting characters before they’re thrust into madness with Rose the Hat and co. Once that gets going, it’s an entertaining ride that also isn’t afraid to delve into deeper territory at times. 

As for the question as to whether this film is more “King” or “Kubrick,” I’d say it’s more “King.” Most of the time, watching the film is equal to the same experience as reading one of his stories. It’s more accessible than Kubrick’s work, which is to say that it’s more narratively polished and straightforward. But there are many visual cues that remind viewers of his work on “The Shining,” so that it still feels like a fitting sequel. And what’s even better is that it doesn’t rely TOO much on people having seen the original film (though it’s more of an interesting experience if you have seen it), and the scenes that call back to it (which have unfairly been dubbed as “fan service” by other critics) are satisfying because of its context within THIS story and not the previous story. 

I loved “Doctor Sleep” for being what it is and being a lot better than it could have been. How does it rank against “The Shining?” That’s both a fair and unfair question, but one is obviously all Kubrick and the other is obviously King (and Flanagan, obviously)—so, I guess it comes down to the question of are you fine with a more-than-suitable companion piece with more emotion than anticipated? I’m more than fine with it, which is why “Doctor Sleep” is one of my favorite films of 2019.