How To Save DC Movies

25 10 2017

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In what might be my final Creators article, I delve deep into the current state of DC movies and my opinion on what went wrong. Whether you agree or disagree, check it out here!

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Dunkirk- Review

26 07 2017

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After such movies as The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar, it’s fair to say Christopher Nolan sets a high bar for cinema, one that would set an almost crushing weight of expectation from fans with each new movie onto most directors. Luckily, Nolan is not like some directors, and made a bold move by tackling a project- World War II- that marked a strong departure from the “sci-fi and comic book” movies that had become his defining brand. In my (and most actual critics’) opinion, this endeavor pays off by producing a visually and technically stunning film, with images and moments that will not be soon forgotten.

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The Continued Adventures of Scarecrow.

Like the majority of the audience, I was unfamiliar with the events of Dunkirk before I heard about the movie. It’s not a story of a major victory like D-Day, but rather a desperate retreat by the French, British, and Belgium forces after a military disaster, where “survival is victory.” With German fighter planes and bombers picking off the Allied ships, British citizens with boats came to help evacuate the 400,000 stranded troops.

Fans of Nolan may recognize that the above summary of the events is a remarkably straightforward and simple plot for him to tell. There’s no multiple dream levels or time travel tomfoolery here, just us following groups of people in the air, sea, and beaches. Even the soundtrack from Hans Zimmer is noticeably ambient compared to other works such as Inception or The Dark Knight trilogy. However, Nolan did choose to go a nonlinear route with the storytelling, based on how long each counterpart group was actually involved in the historic event. So, while we only see the hour of time that was the plane mission, it’s told alongside a week’s worth of content from the beached troops, and the day that the civilian boats came to help. This device subtly added more tension, as we knew a bit of details about the future, but not the specifics of what happened to the characters. However, the big payoff came when all three timelines finally intersected in the third act, and everything ran in real time.

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His name is Bane, here to crash your plane.

One other notable departure from classic Nolan films was the light character details (Cillian Murphy is only listed as “Shivering Soldier,” and he was one of the few people who actually talked). According to Nolan in an interview with NPR, they were intentionally light on character depth, because he wanted the audience to “care about a character simply by virtue of what it is they’re trying to achieve onscreen in a physical sense, a task they’re trying to achieve. We very immediately, as audience members, we…find ourselves in their shoes very quickly, and I wanted to make a film that really snuck up on the emotions.”

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Can you have English subtitles on an English movie?

With the caliber of Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Cillian Murphy, who are so capable of portraying relatable characters, we didn’t need a ton of background or character-driven dialogue, but at the same time, it would still have been nice to hear them interact more (although it was nice to hear Michael Caine’s cameo on the radio). However, in retrospect, these relatively unknown characters actually helped provide more immersion in the actual events. It was less like, “I wonder if Commander Bolton is thinking about his wife and children back in their little cabin,” and more like, “OMG THIS SHIP IS ON FIRE AND SINKING.” Also, since veterans of the battle were interviewed beforehand, this is probably the closest to the feeling we’ll ever experience (for example, the soldier walking into the ocean to swim to his death was based on a firsthand account).

The movie is absolutely beautiful in IMAX, especially the breathtaking aerial dogfights over the water. This is because the the bulk of the film was shot in IMAX, with giant IMAX cameras strapped to plane replicas as they flew after each other, or were free-handed over the water in boats. The majority of the shots and effects were practical (with around 1,500 extras and battleships physically built), displaying an insane commitment to detail and authenticity that holds up better than the usual CGI-animated summer blockbuster.

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“Needs more extras!” – Chris Nolan, probably.

In summary, Dunkirk is a simple story with simple characters, but it’s told in spectacular fashion. It won’t be displacing my top few Nolan movies, but is still a solid and surprisingly moving film that should be watched in theaters. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to the troops and civilians who endured on those beaches.





Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

12 07 2017

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It’s weird to say that the sixth Spider-Man movie (that kicks off the third reboot) is not only a good idea, but exactly what we needed, but here we are. After the disastrous Amazing Spider-Man movies, with their overly brooding tone yet cheesy villains, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a breath of fresh air. It’s not free of problems, and hasn’t replaced Spider-Man 2 as my favorite spidey movie, but it fits neatly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also feeling like a standalone film.

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When Tony realizes his chances with Aunt May are gone.

Tom Holland makes an excellent Peter Parker, depicting the best high-school era version we’ve gotten (sorry,  Andrew Garfield was a terrible “nerdy” high school student). He seems like a normal teen blessed with powers who got to join an epic event (remember when he stole Captain America’s shield?), and then gets antsy and frustrated when it all seems to have ended. His Peter Parker was relatable, quippy and sufficiently awkward, just as it should be. His friends were also awkward but effective, particularly his hilarious best friend Ned (AKA The Guy in the Chair).

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man acted the benefactor/mentor character quite well in his own trademark style (his opening banter with Peter in the car was especially entertaining). However, he was appropriately off to the side- this needed to be focused on Peter Parker, not Tony Stark. I appreciated how they realistically explained why he wasn’t around more, and showed that he wasn’t completely leaving Peter unsupervised, thanks to the (invasive) surveillance and “training wheel” protocols (Happy still could have been a little more accommodating with the whole “liaison” thing though).

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You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

I really enjoyed watching Vulture as the villain. Michael Keaton was a thousand times better as an antagonist than any garbage bad guys the two Amazing Spider-Man movies tried to offer (remember how terrible those villains were?!). Vulture actually had some motivation, with helping his family and workers, and that blue-collar-everyman status earned him sympathy from the audience (at least until we saw his swanky house). His portrayal of the Vulture brought back warm fuzzy memories of Molina’s Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2. He was also more menacing than expected, with palpable tension present in the car scene.

I’m also glad Vulture didn’t die. It would have just been another tragic friend/girlfriend’s parental figure who died indirectly because of Spider-Man, who would then beat himself up over again. That story-line has been used so many times already in previous Spider-Man films, it’s become its own trope.

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Forget the Washington Monument- it’ll take weeks to rebuild that Lego Death Star,

Besides the epic new version of the old Spider-Man theme song we got in the beginning, the score wasn’t too memorable. However that does seem to be par for the course with Marvel Avengers movies, or maybe Hans Zimmerman spoiled me with the Dark Knight trilogy. There was also plenty of CGI, but nothing too obvious or glaring- this is about a guy swinging on a web fighting a mechanical bird man, after all.

I enjoyed the “street level” feel of the movie- no alien invasion or giant warships here, just a gang selling weapons with modified alien tech from the Avengers New York fight. It was also nice to have a Spider-Man movie where he doesn’t go through 10 levels of drama fawning after a girl; this was more like a high school crush. I’m still not down with this version of Aunt May, and don’t even get me STARTED with “MJ,” who’s completely different in appearance and personality than any other version of Mary Jane. I understand wanting to make things different, but those two character interpretations are so out of left field it’s distracting. And yes, I’m aware that they stated later she’s actually not Mary Jane, but that just makes her line a big, dumb Easter egg that’s not even a real Easter egg. Zendaya’s character was perfect without confusing everyone with a cheap twist.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this movie. It was colorful, humorous, and entertaining, unlike the last three Spider-Man movies (did I mention I hated those?). I’m excited to see where they take this, and how Peter’s world might change after the next two Avengers films.

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My face, when she called herself “MJ.”

 

 





Wonder Woman- Movie Review

14 06 2017

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Wonder Woman tells the story of how when all seemed lost, a group of desperate people turned to a superhero to save them, where others had failed. I’m referencing, of course, to how this film just redeemed the flaming trash heap of current DC movies for all those Warner Bros executives. It’s not a perfect movie, and it doesn’t come close to dethroning Dark Knight as my favorite comic book movie (and one of my top movies in general). However, it is unquestionably a few levels higher from the rest of the DC Justice League Movie Universe Extravaganza, or whatever they’re calling it these days.

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Chris Pine the Lucky Guy

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine worked well together, and were basically the meatiest characters of the film. And yes, part of that is because they’re in loooove, but also Steve Trevor was there to show Diana that mankind was not complety corrupt and evil, and could even show selfless heroism, which ultimately catapulted her into her full powers in the finale. It was also important that he act as the audience’s connection in the movies, grounding all the crazy Amazon shenanigans with appropriate reactions. That said, people were just a little too chill when that woman blew up a church steeple by flying into it. Is everyone just overly jaded from the Great War?

Everyone else served their purpose as a character, including the rest of her surprisingly diverse crew. Ares was a little under-cooked as a villain (partly because of him staying in the shadows for the twist), but was still worlds better than this movie universe’s awful versions of Joker and Lex Luthor. I know that’s not a high bar, but it was refreshing not to cringe through a ridiculous performance (remember Enchantress?!). Creating his own armor from burning metal wreckage on the fly was pretty BA, as well.

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Wonder Woman saves Wolverine from Stryker?

Speaking of visual effects, the CGI was OK through the movie. Boss Mode Ares looked better than Poop Troll Doomsday from Batman V Superman (again, pretty low bar to hurdle). But honestly, Gal Gadot jumping several stories while throwing a tank is going to look a little wonky no matter how much money is spent. The best bit of CGI was a detail I didn’t find out about until later- apparently during some of the re-shoots, Gal Gadot’s 6-months-pregnant belly was given its own hole in the Wonder Woman costume, and painted green for removal later. How crazy is that?!

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It’s weird that Amazons fighting in WW1 is a more coherent storyline than Batman fighting Superman, but here we are.

I realize most of my grading so far is in comparison with the earlier DC movies, but it’s kind of what happens when a studio decides to make these movies all connected. In case you didn’t notice, I’m not really a fan of those films. That said, let’s run through what I liked about just this movie. I enjoyed Gal Gadot’s portrayal of a powerful yet innocently naive Diana, someone who likes ice cream and babies (not at the same time), but who is still a warrior trained for fighting. She’s possibly the best woman superhero we’ve seen in movies yet- who’s not there just to look sexy while fighting impassively in slow motion(though she is gorgeous). She also did not play some impersonal, arrogant figure who seems more machine than woman. I already said I thought her moments with Steve and his merry crew were great. As a history nerd, the World War 1 backdrop was fantastic, and also made sense since it was “the war to end all worlds.” Also, this film focused on being a story about a superhero, not a commercial for five upcoming superhero movies.

Diana’s unveiling scene in No Man’s Land (little on the nose) also may go down as one of the more iconic comic books scenes. The only other moment I could compare its vivid imagery and striking score to in DC’s current lineup would be Superman’s first flight in Man of Steel, or Enchantress belly-dancing in Suicide Squad (haha!). While this movie has certainly elevated DC back to a fighting position, it’ll be interesting to see if Justice League continues to even higher heights, or drags us back down to the brooding, overly-inflated ground.

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I still needed more Fashion Time With Etta.





Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

24 12 2016

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Five years ago, you could have never told me a Disney standalone Star Wars spinoff movie would be a good thing. That sentence alone would have conjured up images of the wonderfully nightmarish Star Wars Holiday Special. Plot twist: Rogue One delivers a story worthy of the Star Wars universe, and one that can stand right up there with the original trilogy (I’m giving a stink eye to you, prequels). By the way, if you’re new here- the chances of spoilers ahead are high, very high.

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The Rebels standing in a base, probably built on hope.

While some of the official posters for this movie look like a Celebrate Rebel Diversity Day promo flyer, each one ended up helping make Rogue One memorable (except maybe Forest Whitaker- didn’t really get his character). Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso fantastically anchored the movie with the right amount of grit and heart, and it’s difficult to imagine any other actress filling her role. However, the highlight for me was the darkly sarcastic K-2SO, due to Alan Tudyk’s  timed delivery. Donnie Yen was essentially a blind samurai, which yes, we’ve all seen before, but hey we haven’t seen it in Star Wars! His bro time with Wen Jiang‘s Baze Malbus was great to watch (even their bro deaths), which brings me to the biggest downer. Rogue One‘s all like, “Here’s your new favorite characters! Now they’re all dead. Haha!” This wasn’t really a plot twist (otherwise where were these people later?), but at the same time I’m surprised nobody at all made it out to, I dunno, some far planet to help the Rebellion from there. In the end, it was the right decision.

It was great to get back into the world of the original trilogy- the Rebellion vs. the Empire. We got Mon Motha and Bail Organa, Admiral Ackbar’s extended family, classic Rebel ships, X and Y-Wings, and plenty of screaming Rebel deaths, just like old times. In the absence of any Jedi, the Empire is indeed more formidable, and it was fun to see the plucky Rebels ever-so-barely come out with a (costly) victory. Also, the Death Star eclipsing a sun and nuking a city was terrifyingly epic.

 

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Pew-Pew-Pew-Yaaaay!

 

Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic was memorable, but his character seemed to consistently fail throughout the movie, and didn’t seem that menacing anymore by the end. He didn’t spot Galen’s treachery, he lost the plans, lost the base, even lost the reward for his part in the Death Star creation, and got fried by the Death Star (should this movie just be called “Krennic’s Really Bad Day“?). He also had the cards stacked against him whenever he appeared in scenes next to more iconic Imperial villains such as Vader and Tarkin.

Speaking of Tarkin (how about that segue?), his CGI resurrection has brought mixed feelings among  fans. I for one had no idea he would appear (since Peter Cushing has passed on), so his reveal in the movie was initially a shock, but a happy shock. Grand Moff Tarkin is a notorious villain and is inherently tied to everyone’s memory of the first Death Star. But it was also wildly distracting for me, as the CGI technology (although impressive) took all my focus. Is it, as some people state, disrespectful to bring back an actor from the grave? It wasn’t a perfect replica, but it was far, far better than other posthumous creations I’ve seen, and seemed to be in line with Cushing’s original portrayal. A hologram might have done just as much justice (and in a meta sense felt like a ghost), or they could have gone full prosthetic on a similar actor, but would that have been any more respectful by giving his role to someone else, or would the recast even have been less distracting? I’m not sure.  That said, by all accounts Peter Cushing would have loved to have been in more Star Wars movies (ironically unlike Sir Alec Guiness), so all things considered, we didn’t really answer this question at all.

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My favorite character, and the main character.

 

Now let’s talk some Darth Vader!  Basically, he was fantastic, and brutal. As in, “I probably shouldn’t be cheering for Vader as he murders the faces off all these heroes, but isn’t this awesome?!” With just two appearances in the movie, they redefined Vader. His massacre moment aside, this is someone who gets cut up and burned on a volcano planet and years later builds a freakin’ castle on it, because he can. Joking aside, I liked the trip back to Mustafar because it gave a glimpse into Vader’s psyche. He either views Mustafar as his true birth place, or he prefers to feed off the anger and emotions it gives him, or both. His character has always kicked butt, but this movie provided a wonderful reminder why he’s the most feared in the galaxy. Gone are our memories of Anakin not liking sand, because “it’s coarse and rough, and gets everywhere.” That said, Vader DIDN’T get out and fight on the Scariff beaches…

My list of drawbacks for the film is quite short. Some of the easter eggs were a little too on the nose, mainly the Ugly Face Duo from the Tatooine cantina, who just happened to be on a different planet across the galaxy at the right time. Also, to put on my nerd glasses, but Darth Vader originally mentions plans being beamed onto Leia’s ship, vs. handed over in the world’s scariest relay game of Pass The Plans Along Before Vader Chokes You To Death (still working on that name). Oh, and CGI Leia was FAR worse-looking than CGI Tarkin. Besides those few things, there were a few cringe-worthy lines that were in the trailer (Jyn’s “I rebel” line) but were removed from the movie, so kudos to you, Disney.

 

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When you barge into the boss’s sauna.

In the end, Rogue One does a better job at setting up the original trilogy than Revenge of the Sith did, and I immediately felt a strong urge to watch A New Hope (I still haven’t, but it was a nice feeling). Disney/Lucasfilm effectively kept this separate from the numbered episodes (no opening crawl, no John Williams, texts over locations), and it paid off by feeling fresh. The creators of this film did a great job of using familiar toys in the Star Wars playground in new ways, giving us a slightly darker, more unique take on their universe- one filled with hope, sorrow, and star dust.





Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them- Review

27 11 2016

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Fantastic Spinoffs and How To Cash Them is J.K. Rowling’s latest addition to her magical world. It’s also Part 1 of a new movie series, the first Harry Potter-less work, AND her first screenplay, so you could say there’s a lot riding on this. Spoiler alert: it’s doing fine financially, and delivers an enjoyable ride, but neither categories quite rise to the original series’ heights.

Granted, I’m one of those people who grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, so you can say “bah!” to this review if you’re a young whippersnapper. It is fun to see the wizarding world outside the point of view of a student and his friends, and Newt and company are an interesting team, but time (and future installments) will have to show if Rowling has the same level of character arcs and story building that the original saga is known for.

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Ron and Hermione, wondering how Harry let himself go.

First the good- I liked all the new characters, particularly Jacob, the no-maj (muggle, he’s a muggle, darn it!). While not normally the biggest fan of Eddie Redmayne, he brought the right mix of awkwardness and likability to Newt, although he could maybe consider buying a better suitcase. Tina and Queenie completed the cast out well enough, but I would have liked a bit more of Tina’s backstory, and a reason why someone like Queenie is so automatically smitten with someone like Jacob. Is it because he’s a muggle, or clueless, or has really sweet thoughts?

The creatures themselves were mostly fantastic, but some were a little too cartoonish for me. Granted, some of the earlier Harry Potter films probably haven’t aged well with their CGI characters/effects. The platypus-like Niffler is unsurprisingly my favorite creature. He may have ruined countless lives during the movie by stealing valuable and savings, but gosh if he isn’t a cute lil’ bugger! There were plenty of creatures, and I can’t wait to buy the bread versions of them sometime in Harry Potter World.

I’m not sure very many people were particularly surprised by the villain “twist” “reveal.” I mean, when you start the film with a long shot of the back of the villain’s head, and then a main character shows up with the exact same distinct haircut style (but a different color), he probably isn’t the hero. Also, Grindelwald may be the future big bad of this new series, but it’s going to be difficult to separate him from the heavily recognizable actor who plays him.

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Colin Farrell is magically confused and definitely not bad.

My only other criticism of the film was that the ending fell a little flat, thanks to some convenient plot devices. Everyone just saw half the city destroyed, but luckily we just realized that one thing (that we didn’t know the use of earlier) only works with this specific magical beast for exactly this type of situation. And all these buildings fell over, but luckily they can be quickly fixed with easy-looking spells (why are there even construction workers in this world?). And…I guess nobody died during all the flying cars and collapsing walls? Sure. Hopefully these forgetful spells work better than Jacob’s, is all I’m saying. Also, when did we have to stop yelling out spells to cast them?

At the bottom of all this, I think I just missed the old characters we knew, and Hogwarts with its colorful professors. Of course, it’s only been one movie so far, and the greatness of some characters only comes to light after several installments (looking at you, Snape), but rumor is this series of tales will jump ahead quite a bit chronologically, and Newt may not even be the main character  throughout. Instead of a focused story about a group of specific characters, we might get more of a scattered (but entertaining) history lesson about the world of magic, leading up to the time of Harry Potter. Time will tell if that’s enough for lightning to strike twice.

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Look, the Plot Device Beast!





Doctor Strange- Review

27 11 2016

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Put on your 3D glasses and prepare for wand-less magic, ’cause it’s time for Doctor Strange! Roughly the 200th entry in the Marvel franchise, this time it’s British Cumberbatch starring as that superhero you never heard about. Surprisingly (and unfortunately), Benedict as Dr. Strange puts on a sometimes-strained American accent, vs. his beloved British one. Even more surprising (for me) is that Doctor Strange is a solidly entertaining movie that makes some bold creative moves- moves that pay off.

To get the obvious point out of the way, yes, hopefully the creators sent a nice thank-you note to Inception. If bending buildings and multiple realities didn’t trigger any memories, you probably never saw that Nolan film. However, Strange rides the crazy train a few more stops with the visual insanity. Taking a queue from Ant Man‘s other dimension, Stephen Strange teleports and travels through multiple universes filled with randomness and tripiness. The hands. Oh, the hands! Sparking portals, dark dimensions, and weapons pulled out of thin air made this my favorite 3-D movie to come out in a long time.

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Besides Benedict, the highlight for me was Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (which by the way, should not be a name you give to a woman). She brought a character who was unassuming but confident, and serious with an ever-present under layer of humor. It’s a nuanced performance that stands out in a movie of big, big villains and forgettable girlfriends. Speaking of villains, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), though played by a fine villain actor, is here simply an average bad guy, which makes him one of the top 3 villains in the Marvel movie universe. If we had maybe a few more minutes of screentime with him, and maybe a bit more clarification on his motives, this could have gone from a good movie to a great one.

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Like most of you, I had little to no previous knowledge about the comic series of Doctor Strange, but this thankfully was not a stumbling block. I felt like I was keeping up, and even when things got really weird, I could just watch the pretty things fly by in 3D. It also played out like a normal superhero origins movie at its core (complete with training montage), but was mixed with enough acting and writing talent to keep me entertained.

Altogether, for me Doctor Strange was one of the stronger standalone Marvel movies. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it didn’t bend over backwards to advertise every other Marvel film, and it bucked a bit of their normal story formula, focusing instead on being its own movie. Heck, they even rebuild the city in the climactic fight instead of tearing it down. However, it maintains the humor, action, and world-building prowess of the Marvel film universe, and proves that there’s still magic up their sleeve (har! har!).