Find Me At Screen Rant

Friday, April 20, 2018

Chappaquiddick

CHAPPAQUIDDICK

** SPOILERS **

Chappaquiddick is a sturdy lesson in crisis management, Kennedy-style. On July 18, 1969 - a couple of days before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon - the DUI Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (Jason Clarke) drove his car off the Dike Bridge into the water below. Kennedy somehow escaped but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) wasn't as lucky. As Kennedy emerged safely, Mary Jo drowned in his vehicle. Fearing public disgrace, the end of his prospective Presidential run and the ruination of his political career, Kennedy waited 9 hours to report the incident. Instead, he recruited Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), his cousin, attorney, and family fixer, and Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan), the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, to help him explain away the crime. And he would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for the meddling press, investigators, and everyone else peering into this careless and sloppy attempt at a cover-up. 

As Kennedy wrestles with his conscience, his poor character, and the expectations of his disappointed, ailing father Joseph P. Kennedy (Bruce Dern) - whose strategies for a cover-up Kennedy ignores - Chappaquiddick doesn't really build up steam until the lawyers come into the picture. Led by Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), essentially Mr. Burns' ten high-priced lawyers all take turns yelling at Kennedy for his hare-brained ideas to keep his name clean. Kennedy's dumbest, by far, was feigning a concussion the night of the accident and wearing a neckbrace to Mary Jo's funeral. Like the swarthy guy who wore a neckbrace to the trail and Mike Brady subsequently exposed in a Brady Bunch episode, Kennedy forgot a guy in a neckbrace shouldn't be able to crane his neck around. In the end, Kennedy never did become President, but his public statement and apology to the voters of Massachusetts ended up saving his political career.

Clarke is terrific as Ted Kennedy, and Chappaquiddick does a fine job evoking the Kennedy mythology, asking the audience to weigh whatever positive mystique the family retains to this day against the ugly reality of the deeply flawed, entitled men who carry that surname. The Kennedy magic largely died with Jack and Bobby, but Chappaquiddick showed enough of the mystique remained that the local law enforcement and even the voters still bent over backward to explain away the grave mistakes of the surviving Kennedy brother.

Friday, April 13, 2018

DC's Legends of Tomorrow at Screen Rant

DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW AT SCREEN RANT 

Midway in season 2 of DC's Legends of Tomorrow, during the Legion of Doom story arc, the needle began to move. Legends was always considered the fourth and least of the Arrowverse shows behind Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow, but a shift had begun. Now that Legends' fabulous, raucous, and utterly bizarre season 3 is over, it has surpassed its sister series and has taken the top slot as the most entertaining - and dare I say best - Arrowverse series on The CW.

I've gotten to write some fun features in recognition of Legends season 3 for Screen Rant. Check them out collected below:




Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Tomb Raider

TOMB RAIDER

** SPOILERS **

Tomb Raider could be more accurately titled "Lara Croft's Adventures With The 2nd Unit." The reboot of the 2001 and 2004 films that starred Angelina Jolie as the world's most famous British video game heroine (which itself is based on the video game reboot of the 1990s games) is the origin story of the titular Tomb Raider. Here, Lara is a 21 year old launched on her first adventure to find her father Dominic West, missing for 7 years and presumed dead on a mysterious Japanese island. Essentially "Lara Croft Begins", the young Tomb Raider-in-training must travel to that same island to find answers and her destiny. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way to that island, the film lost its director Roar Uthaug and its two credited screenwriters. They must have died en route. With no director and no story to speak of, this left the 2nd unit to stage elaborate stunt shows for Lara to survive to pad out the film's running time.

"I'm not that kind of Croft," Lara says wink-wink in the beginning. Indeed, Alicia Vikander is the best and only thing to watch in Tomb Raider, but she decidedly isn't her predecessor. The commonalities Vikander shares with Jolie are that they are both Academy Award-winners and neither of them are British, which seem to be the two requirements to portray Lara Croft. Lean, chiseled, and constantly injured, Vikander's Lara is neither as fully-formed in bountiful proportions nor in Tomb Raiding skills and gadgetry as Jolie, but she makes up for it in pluck and likeability. Jolie was a perfect video game avatar given flesh and form. In contrast, Vikander's Lara is not the best at everything; she gets her ass kicked a lot and barely scrapes through by the seat of her pants (she also wears pants in the jungle, unlike her predecessor). By the end though, Vikander takes on the more familiar iconography, weaponry, and confidence of Lara Croft, but she's more interesting as a reckless youth in over her head.

The first act of Tomb Raider is its best: unwilling to inherit the vast fortune left behind by her missing father, Lara spends her wayward youth getting pummeled in an MMA gym and eking out a living as an East London bike courier. This section of Tomb Raider surprisingly plays as a welcome (if unintended) homage to Jessica Alba in Dark Angel, wherein Alba's genetically-engineered super soldier also made two-wheeled deliveries while hanging with the eclectic layabouts of Jam Pony Express. Soon, Lara discovers her dad is a big weirdo: the kind who uses his own family crypt (on the grounds of Croft Manor!) as a secret headquarters full of Tomb Raiding paraphenelia. Lord Richard Croft left behind puzzles for his clever daughter to solve, as well as video instructions to destroy all evidence of his quarry: the tomb of an ancient Japanese Empress of Death. Lara decides to use the research to find her father. She jets off to Hong Kong and hires drunk sailor Daniel Wu to charter her a course to the mystery island in the Devil's Triangle. Sure, enough the seas start getting rough and their tiny ship is tossed. The movie's ability to tell a coherent story also goes down with the boat. 

Essentially, Lara washes ashore on Lian Yu, the island Oliver Queen was trapped on in Arrow. On the island, instead of Deathstroke, Lara meets the lone American in the film played by Walter Goggins, a dead-eyed villain who has been on the island for 7 years looking for the Japanese Empress' tomb. Why? He doesn't say. He works for a shadowy evil global network called Trinity. Why? He doesn't say. Why does Trinity want what's in the tomb? He doesn't say. To proclaim that every other character in Tomb Raider besides Lara is "underwritten" seems insufficient; it's more like they are "unwritten." Once the 2nd unit takes over the movie, Lara is kidnapped, beaten, chased, shot at, strangled, and survives harrowing cliffhangers that should have killed her. Yet, for everything else not involving frenetic action that Vikander is gamely up for, the island is Tomb Raider's dead zone.

Meanwhile, after 7 years of Goggins and his armed mercenaries leading an Asian death camp, they somehow were unable to find The World's Most Obvious Tomb On A Mountain Which Has Puzzles Set In The Gate until Lara showed up. 7 years?! The island isn't even that big: Lara ran across it in like a minute. Oh, Lara's father is alive, no surprise, and he's a huge disappointment. Lord Croft is no Henry Jones Sr.; he's as boring and empty as the blank pages in Henry's diary. The raiding of the Japanese Empress' tomb is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-lite, with Lara solving easy color puzzles while the bad guys are picked apart by the tomb's many death traps. Adding to the sum total of Things That Don't Make Sense, the island is dangerous to get to by boat because storms sink anything that sails towards it, but Trinity can send a helicopter to the island any time it wants and they're greeted by clear, sunny, blue skies.  

Tomb Raider utterly fails its star and the audience. The film collapses like the floor of the Japanese Empress' tomb under Lara's dainty weight. Through it all, though, Vikander is imminently watchable and gung ho, even if the stunt team are the only ones in the production offering her any support. If Tomb Raider ignites the desire in any girls or boys in the audience to enter the Tomb Raiding profession, Tomb Raider teaches that the most important skill a Tomb Raider can have is the ability to do one-armed pullups. This will literally save your life every ten minutes despite whatever the 2nd unit can throw at you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Red Sparrow

RED SPARROW
** SPOILERS **

"Your superiors are getting impatient," Dominika Egorova's handler says to her more than once in Red Sparrow. Personally, I wouldn't consider the audience Jennifer Lawrence's "superior", but it does accurately describe sitting through the bulk of Red Sparrow. Lawrence plays Dominika, a prima ballerina who suffers a terrible accident on stage that ends her lauded career. Her value to the state depended entirely on being a beautiful dancer, but now that she can no longer dance, what is to become of Dominika and her sick mother Joely Richardson? The solution comes in the form of her uncle Matthias Schoenaert, a high-ranking official in Russian Intelligence who's a bit of a perv. Schoenaert has always fancied his fetching niece and sends her to serve the state in a brand new way: to be a Sparrow. "You sent me to Whore School," Dominika later accuses him. Well, yes. Funny, that.

To be a Sparrow, Dominika learns all of the important arts, namely how to seduce a man or woman and get all of their secrets, which also sets them up for disappearance or assassination. After learning her injury was no accident, Dominika gained her admission into Sparrow School by attacking the two ballerinas who ruined her career, in the first of two naked and bloody mid-sex bathroom beatdowns that brings to mind the banya scene from Eastern Promises. Dominika is then raped as she sets up a powerful Russian magnate for assassination, and thus her Sparrow School tuition is paid. Sparrow School is the best part of the movie; it's like Hogwarts for sexy Russian adults where the magic is all about what goes on underneath their robes. Dominika is a reluctant but quick study at disrobing, and soon, she graduates with honors and is ready to be a real-life Sparrow. 

Dominika's mission is to get close to the goofy-named CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and learn all of his secrets. As soon as this crazy hot Russian no one had ever heard of before gets close to Nash, everyone in the CIA knows she's a Sparrow, but they all play along anyway. (It's obvious why Nash lets Dominika get close to him.) As the story lurches forward for a glacially-paced 2 1/2 hour runtime, Dominika gets drawn into a labyrinthine web involving a drunken US Senator's assistant played by Mary-Louise Parker (the only comic relief in this grimly serious film) selling secrets in exchange for six figures in booze money. There's also a mole in the Russian government Dominika must uncover. Mostly, Dominika wants to get revenge on her uncle for sending her to Sparrow School in the first place, and for all of the torture and beatings she endures for Mother Russia.

Red Sparrow took a lot of shots on the Internet for basically being a Black Widow movie, but to finally see Red Sparrow is to realize this isn't a Marvel film at all. Though there's plenty of graphic and bloody violence, Dominika is no action heroine. Sparrow School teaches Dominika plenty about sex and seduction but no kung-fu superhero skills. Still, Sparrow School was more engaging than the 2/3rds of the movie with Dominika out in the wild, as we try to sort out what she's doing and why. Is Dominika a good Sparrow or a bad Sparrow, and who is she ultimately working for? For her part, Lawrence goes for broke playing Dominika, especially in the sex and nudity department. Probably the biggest victim of Internet leaks of her private photos a few years ago, Lawrence decides that it's high time she gets paid for your Fappening, and more power to her. Red Sparrow is also a reunion between Jennifer and her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence (no relation), and naturally, it contains the staple of Jennifer Lawrence waking up in a hospital. That Katniss Everdeen classic bit is evergreen, even if she's called Dominika now.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER

** SPOILERS **

Wakanda Forever!

Greetings from Wakanda! It's a nice place to visit and... goddamn it, why can't I live here forever? The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken us to far-flung locales like Asgard, Knowhere, Sakaar, and uh, Queens, but it turns out the greatest destination of all is right in our own backyard. Well, Africa, which secretly houses the hidden nation of Wakanda. Director Ryan Coogler's Black Panther builds a sensational and inviting new universe within the Marvel Universe and populates it with a noble king, a dastardly but provocative villain, dynamic and inspiring women, and only two white people. (Okay, three, counting Bucky Barnes.) Truly, Wakanda is the best place on Earth.

We first met and immediately grew to love T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War, but Black Panther only deepens our admiration for the Wakandan King. Newly crowned after the death of his father King T'Chaka (John Kani), T'Challa fends off two challengers to his throne while hunting down an old enemy, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), the devious black market smuggler who has spent decades heisting Vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth, which is only found in Wakanda. Aside from an explosive jaunt in South Korea (and trips to Oakland, CA), the bulk of Black Panther vividly explores Wakanda and asks pointed questions about the sins of its past and its hopeful future.

Soon, T'Challa discovers a long-buried secret of his father's: a tragic tale of fratricide and the existence of his American-born cousin, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, all amazing swagger). The gradual reveal of Killmonger's history and why he covets the Wakandan throne elevates Black Panther to another level of superhero movie altogether. As does the thoughtful political debate the film inspires, where T'Challa wrestles with whether to shed Wakanda's millennia-held guise as a poor Third World nation and use their Vibranium technology to benefit the world. Meanwhile, Killmonger has his own ideas about that: conquest, and arming people of African descent with Vibranium weapons to forge a Wakandan Empire. T'Challa and his cousin Erik are two sides of the same coin, and their conflict is thrilling, deeply personal, and by the end, genuinely moving.

The Black Panther has a ball playing with all of the toys at his disposal, gleefully provided by the scene-stealer Shuri (Letitia Wright), T'Challa's irrepressible teenage sister who also happens to be the smartest person on the planet. Along with Shuri, the king is also surrounded by the most resplendent female cast ever in a Marvel movie. His mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is noble and proud. Wakanda's greatest warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of the elite all-female Dora Milaje, is every bit as formidable as the king she protects. Best of all, Nakia (Lupita N'yongo) shatters the "Marvel Girlfriend" tradition by being devoted to her king while remaining independent, brave, globally-minded, and heroic in a fight. Nakia is as personally responsible for saving Wakanda as T'Challa is, a fact that does not escape his attention or appreciation.

Black Panther is not just a great Marvel superhero movie, it's one of the best-ever examples of the genre. Coogler stages thrilling action set pieces and not just honors Marvel's proven comic book movie tropes but also invokes classic James Bond movie iconography with a "Q scene" of T'Challa receiving upgraded tech, an eye-popping casino action sequence, and a glorious Bond-like end credits sequence. (Black Panther is as great a Bond movie as Skyfall, in fact.) The third act is reminiscent of and betters The Phantom Menace, with three simultaneous action sequences: a battle between two armies in a field, an aerial dogfight, and the hero and villain battling in a high-tech subterranean location that seems to descend into infinity. Through it all, we heartily cheer on the heroes while the villains maintain understandable motivations as they commit their nefarious acts. Also, Black Panther is the only superhero movie where two of the only three white people in it are missing their left arms. Like Wakanda itself, that's a record that should remain forever unbroken.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX

** SPOILERS **

Show of hands if the origin and backstory of the Cloverfield monster from 10 years ago was a pressing concern to you. All right, everyone at Bad Robot, put your hands down. 

The Cloverfield Paradox, long delayed and suddenly appearing on Netflix without warning like the giant monster did in Manhattan a decade ago, used to be a sci-fi film called God Particle. On a space station, an international bunch of science-y types are trying to solve the Earth's enegy crisis by firing a particle accelerator in orbit. The plan is to produce limitless clean energy which would prevent the wars brewing across all nations. Somehow, when they fired their particle accelerator, they made the Earth disappear. And somewhere along the way, J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot got ahold of God Particle and decided to Cloverfield it up. They took a hacksaw to God Particle and then shoehorned the Cloverfield backstory into it. The shoehorn was emblazoned with the Bad Robot logo and came with a coupon for a free Slusho.

The hack'n'slash is evident from the opening credits, which are comprised of multiple cuts of scenes that probably explain the story better and deepen the characters. Instead, what we're left with is a half-cooked sci-fi thriller with very little explanation of what's happening. The scientists on board the now-rebranded Cloverfield Space Station - it's never made clear what most of their jobs are besides that David Oyelowo is the mission leader and Chris O'Dowd is the doofy mechanic whose arm gets painlessly ripped off - are faced with a lot of weird happenings. Elizabeth Debicki suddenly materializes within a wall, despite the fact that no one has any idea who she is. Meanwhile, a Russian guy and a German guy played by Daniel Bruhl are reentacting World War II in the year 2028 and really hate each other. Each claims the other is a traitor, and depending on which parallel universe they are actually in, they both could be right. 

Oh yes, the space station ended up in a parallel universe - though the movie adds confusion by showing the Cloverfield Station drift off into space so when they 'lose' Earth, it's not clear if the planet is really gone or they just floated too far away from it. There's no super smart techsplaining in Cloverfield Paradox, and the fix is pretty simple: just fire the particle accelerator again and all will be well. It really was just that easy; the only complication was most of the astronauts deciding to kill each other. 

Our sympathies are firmly with Gugu Mbatha-Raw from Black Mirror, the only actual character in the movie. She mourns for the family who died because of a tragic mistake she made, and she's tempted to stay in the parallel world because her kids are alive there, never mind how that could possibly work. Eventually, she makes the obvious but difficult decision to not go live in a Mirror Universe, which already has a perfectly fine version of her. Meanwhile, on Earth, her husband Roger Davies runs into the path of the giant Cloverfield monsters now rampaging all over the planet, and he has to get himself and a young girl he found to Ned Flanders' emergency bunker in a half-baked subplot. 

The Cloverfield Paradox reveals that the monsters from the first movie and the ones from this movie we barely see are all on Earth because of the horrific goofup by the Cloverfield Station. So there are our answers. These astronauts are entirely to blame. While the parallel world Debicki is from is caught up in a world war, at least there seem to be no kaiju there so maybe Mbatha-Raw should have stuck around the Mirror Universe after all. And speaking of Mirror Universes, does this one need an Emperor? Because I know of one who's out of work and looking for a new gig.



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

** SPOILERS **

Behold science fiction cinema's worst on screen couple, a romantic pairing so repellent, they make Anakin and Padme look like Jack and Rose. Dane DeHaan is Valerian, a Major in the ill-defined United Human Federation. Cara Delevingne is Laureline, a fellow agent who, despite being infinitely more competent than Valerian, is ranked beneath him as a mere Sergeant, so that's what the future's like. Valerian and Laureline are partners, but more than that, together or apart - but especially together - they are cosmic black holes of human empathy. Valerian is a total creep; a smarmy, self-obsessed waste of matter who is somehow the hero of this movie because his name is in the title. Laureline is forever fending off his lewd advances of love and marriage, all the while secretly attracted to him because she herself is devoid of anything resembling palpable humanity. They are gross.

Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, based upon a 'beloved' series of graphic novels you probably have to be a Frenchman to have ever heard of, is a lot like his well-regarded The Fifth Element, except with Valerian, Besson cranks up the splatters of colors while wringing out all of the charm and whimsy. The skeezbag and supposed lady killer Valerian is no Bruce Willis, not even close. Willis possesses the gravitas and charisma of a true movie star, while DeHaan is pure anti-matter. Milla Jovovich was vulnerable and loveable in a way that Laureline could never be because Laureline is a sociopath just like Valerian, encased in a 'cool female action hero' facade that wears thin mere moments after being graced with her presence. Valerian and Laureline are meant to be together and save a universe you're screaming to escape upon entry.

It starts off so well too: The City of a Thousand Planets was once Alpha Station, the International Space Station celebrating the cooperation and unity of mankind before aliens started arriving and joining their technology to ours in a charming montage set to David Bowie's "Space Oddity." Exponentially growing to become a gigantic, multi-species city, Alpha Station eventually leaves Earth orbit, and 500 years later, it becomes the fabled City of a Thousand Planets, home to 70 million humans and aliens working together in intergalactic harmony. However, something's rotten in the City of a Thousand Plants, involving a secret conspiracy within the government and the genocide of a planet over a MacGuffin: a little alien critter that poops out countless priceless alien pearls. 

Everything in the movie is fine for about 10 minutes, which is not coincidentally when we meet Valerian and Laureline. After this, the movie itself becomes poop, with a convoluted plot offering zero surprises to anyone paying attention or has seen any other sci-fi movie. Ethan Hawke and Rihanna drop in to ham in it up, but overall, everyone in Valerian, human or alien, looks either befuddled or downright embarrassed. Everyone except Valerian and Laureline, that is. Both DeHaan and Delevingne are at least gung ho about starring in this universe, which places them and their noxious 'will they or won't they?' love affair firmly at the center, like the fetid core of a rotten apple.

Clive Owen is also in this. What happened to his career?


 

Followers