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Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi



"This isn't gonna end the way you think," Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) admonishes Rey (Daisy Ridley). Indeed, this line is both a challenge and a primer to the audience from writer-director Rian Johnson, the once and future steward of Star Wars. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson takes the lightsaber from J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens (and will pass it right back to Abrams for Episode IX) and crafts his continuation of the story of both the new guard of the saga, Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the old, the Skywalker twins Luke and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). The result is a grand, unwieldy, inspiring, endlessly surprising, weird, but uplifting Star Wars for the ages.

"There's something inside me that's always been there. Now it's awake. And I'm scared," Rey admits to Luke with her unique brand of endearing honesty. She tells the old Jedi Master she has come to return him to his sister Leia so he can save the Resistance in their time of greatest need. Luke has other ideas: "I came to this island to die." And with him, he hopes, will die the ancient Jedi order, the source of so much of the Galaxy's greatest failures. Rey is really on the isolated island of Ahch-To for a personal reason: she wants Luke to train her to be a Jedi. Luke refuses, despite Rey pointing out: "I've seen your daily routine. You're not busy." Rey does get her training, to a degree, but her indoctrination into the mystic arts of the Jedi is less about "moving rocks" but more about understanding the importance of the choices she makes. As the welcome sight of Yoda (Frank Oz) - Empire Strikes Back edition - tells "Young Skywalker" when they burn the last of the ancient Jedi tomes, "There's nothing in those books that isn't already inside her." 

Being a Jedi was never about your lightsaber color, or your ability "to control people" (how Rey described the Force to Luke). It was about choices, and ultimately, poor choices and an inability to see the big picture is what doomed the Jedi and the Galaxy for a long time. Rey's lessons on Ahch-To were less about learning cool new Force tricks as it was uncovering the truth behind Luke's choice to isolate himself from the Force and hide from the Galaxy - his greatest failure: Kylo Ren. Luke has a certain point of view about how Kylo turned to the Dark Side and destroyed Luke's fledgling new Jedi Order; Kylo, through a mental Force communion with Rey, has his own point of view: Luke tried to murder him and drove him to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The truth is somewhere in the middle, mired in Luke Skywalker's eternal weakness as Yoda once told Young Skywalker: "I sense much fear in you." Luke's fear of his nephew Ben Solo's potential drove him to make a fatal mistake. But in the end, they made the choices they made and they are who they are because of them.

The Last Jedi also wisely speaks to Luke Skywalker's legend, and how legends are always crafted around imperfect people. The truth never quite lives up. Luke scoffed at the idea that he would just march back into the fight, "laser sword" in hand, and stand up to the First Order. (Which is exactly what he does in the fantastic final moments of the film). Meanwhile, Rey believes in the legend, so much that The Last Jedi goes full on into a homage of Return of the Jedi, with Rey allowing herself to get captured and brought in front of Snoke, hoping she can turn Kylo Ren back to the good side and become Ben Solo again. This leads to a series of genuinely shocking moments as Snoke suddenly and unwittingly is beside himself, and Rey and Kylo fight side by side against the Praetorian Guard in possibly the best lightsaber battle in the saga's history. But in the end Rey and Kylo are who they are - she remains unwaveringly good while he is indeed the monster she says he is. Despite their bond through the Force, they are enemies and will be until they face each other one final time.

Meanwhile, there is a whole other movie going on. The Resistance is all but doomed as the First Order chases them around the Galaxy in a head-scratcher of a space chase that lasts almost the entire movie. This involves several desperate gambles, including Finn and his new friend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) going on a side mission to the casino planet Canto Bight to find a code breaker (Benicio Del Toro) who can get them into Snoke's Star Destroyer so they can destroy a Flux Capacitor - or something? The important thing is Finn once more gets to confront and have a final duel with Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), facing and overcoming his greatest fear once and for all. Poe Dameron gets a huge amount of screen time as he leads a mutiny to take control of the Resistance from Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) when Leia is incapacitated and learns the limits of being a headstrong, impulsive fighter jockey.

The Force Awakens effectively turned the saga over to our new heroes Rey, Finn and Poe, but The Last Jedi shows us that the new kids still have a lot to learn. None of the gambits the new generation tries actually pan out. Rey is unable to turn Kylo Ren. Finn and Rose went through the entire Canto Bight sequence for nothing as they couldn't shut down the Flux Capacitor and are captured. Poe's mutiny was easily foiled by Leia herself, who asserts that the old generation still has aces up their sleeves - watch and learn, kids. Leia and Holdo, whom Poe mistrusted, came up with a scheme to deliver the Resistance to a temporary sanctuary on the salt world of Crait. Holdo's sacrifice ramming the Resistance ship into Snoke's ship is what saved the Resistance. And Luke Skywalker finally returned to the fight, bidding his twin sister a sweet farewell, and confronting his former student Kylo Ren with a new bag of awesome Force tricks we've never seen before. There is still much to be learned from the generation who we now say goodbye to (RIP, Princess Carrie), and though the family is reunited on the Millennium Falcon at the end, the future of the Rebels and of the Galaxy is more precarious than ever. Episode IX will be the final test to see if Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose really have what it takes to save the Galaxy on their own.

As for the mystery of Rey's parents, the truth is strangely satisfying. Two years of debating her lineage (is she a Skywalker or a Kenobi?) was for naught. She is no one special. Her parents are "filthy junk traders who sold and abandoned her. They're probably dead in a pauper's grave." As Kylo tells her, "You don't have a place in this story." Which is the most powerful possible choice. Rey is told she's "no one special" because she's not tied to any characters, but that's exactly what makes her special. She was chosen by the Force to be something new, to craft her own role in this story. It's a tribute to how unwaveringly good Rey is that she is never tempted to turn to the Dark Side. She can't do what Luke did because she isn't Luke. She is Rey, and she will be who she is and what she chooses to be. A new kind of Jedi for whatever the Galaxy will become next.

While awkwardly paced as the longest Star Wars film ever, The Last Jedi nonetheless boasts the best third act of any Star Wars movie and delivers several truly "HOLY SHIT" moments. By my count, they are Leia surviving death in the vacuum of space by the will of the Force; Holdo jumping to lightspeed THROUGH Snoke's ship and slicing it in half; Snoke himself being sliced in half by Kylo Ren (Unkar Plutt's famous line "One half portion!" now applies to Snoke); Rey and Kylo fighting together as if they'd been teammates their whole lives; and Luke Skywalker unleashing the awesome power of the Force on Kylo Ren and the First Order with the greatest mind trick he ever pulled. The Last Jedi bids his final breath in The Last Jedi, but both old Skywalkers go out in magnificent fashion, the film honoring their legacy and importance to the Star Wars saga. What happens now is the biggest question in the Galaxy, but The Last Jedi not only reshuffled the deck but tossed all the cards in the air so they're blown by the wind. The contrivances and outright strange aspects of Johnson's film are held together by the sheer charisma of Ridley, Boyega, Isaac, Driver, Fisher, BB-8, and Hamill and the good will we maintain for them throughout.

"Let go of the past," Kylo tells Rey. "Kill it if you have to." The Last Jedi does its best to do just that, unshackling the saga as much as it can from the old characters, tropes, and traditions and even the old ways of what we thought the Force can do. Now, this new Star Wars trilogy probably won't end the way anyone thinks and that should ultimately prove to be a very good thing. We hope. And with that, it's time for this The Last Jedi review to end.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Justice League



"Children," Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) says with a bit of disbelief. "I'm working with children." Of course, Superman (Henry Cavill) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) giggling on the ground after they managed to save the world together earned a little bit of child-like goofy revelry. Child-like goofy revelry is the theme and provides the high points of Justice League, a superhero movie designed to please the Super Friends-loving children inside us first and foremost (and no one else). Director Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon who directed reshoots but only shares screenplay credit Chris Terrio) finally unite the seven six World's Greatest Superheroes - Superman, Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg - together in one superhero smash-em-up movie. The Justice League comes together to face - what else? - an invader from another world, the CGI conqueror Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), and his army horde big group of flying space insects called Parademons from the planet Apokolips. But first, the Justice League has to learn to work together (i.e. learn to work with Batman). 

Justice League follows up the events of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman died saving the world. Batman, who was consumed by hatred of the Man of Steel in the previous movie, is now consumed by guilt over his death and fear about the coming alien invasion he's powerless to stop. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman go hunting for new super friends, which takes up half of the movie. In Newfoundland, Batman finds Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, a local legend who is not-so-secretly the disgruntled King of the Seven Seas. Bruce Wayne has really gotten sloppy in his old age; he didn't seem remotely concerned that by publicly chatting with Curry, an entire town in Newfoundland now knows he's the Batman. Wayne also recruits Barry Allen, a gee whiz wunderkind who also happens to be the Fastest Man Alive. Allen instinctively understands he's the comic relief of this group and plays his role with (too much) aplomb. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Cyborg find each other - Cyborg was a college athlete named Victor Stone who was caught in some kind of explosion. His scientist father rebuilt him into a Cyborg using technology from what he calls the Change Engine, but is actually one of the three alien Mother Boxes Steppenwolf has returned to Earth to collect.

Steppenwolf is the boring alien lynchpin of Justice League's mythology - he came to Earth five thousand years ago with three Mother Boxes and way more Parademons than he brings in 2017. In DC Comics, Mother Boxes are all-purpose super computers, but in Justice League, they're just alien power sources which, when combined into 'The Unity', will terraform the Earth and turn it into the planet Apokolips, Steppenwolf's other dimensional home world. (Terraforming Earth is the exact same plan the Kryptonians had when they invaded Earth in Man of Steel. Don't any aliens want Earth as it is? It's a nice planet!) The film barely explains the mythology of the New Gods (or anything else), expecting the audience to have seen the other DC movies and the comic book nerds in the know to fill the newbies in afterwards. So Steppenwolf tried to turn the Earth all fiery and horrible, and turn humans into Parademons, but an alliance between the Amazons (Wonder Woman's people), the Atlanteans (Aquaman's people), the tribes of man, and even the Greek gods and a Green Lantern (who got his green ass whooped real fast) stood against Steppenwolf and banished him. The Atlanteans, Amazons, and men each took a Mother Box (in this universe, shouldn't it really be called a Martha Box?) to keep them separated. Like geniuses, the Atlanteans and Amazons put their Mother Boxes on display. The humans (for once) had the good sense to bury their Mother Box. How it ended up in the lab of Cyborg's father is one of Justice League's many plot holes that go unexplained.

So where the hell is Superman? Well, he is dead, but not forgotten. Justice League retcons the mistrust and ambiguity the world felt about the Man of Steel's existence. Now he was a beacon of hope whose banner is flown at all points around the globe in a state of perpetual mourning. The man Superman really was, Clark Kent, is missed terribly by his mother Martha (Diane Lane) and his fiance Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but no one on Earth misses him more than Batman. In his private moments with his butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Batman bemoans his own inadequacies at length (he's right about all of them). He's convinced that Superman is who the world needs (he's right about that too.) When the League minus Superman faces Steppenwolf for the first time and get their united asses handed to them, Batman decides it's time to really go dark - Pet Cemetary dark - and bring Superman back to life with the power of the Mother Box. This leads to the moment no one ever expected to see in a superhero movie: The Flash and Cyborg in a Smallville graveyard digging up Clark Kent's coffin.

Gal Gadot thankfully returns as the Wonder Woman we fell in love with last summer. Wonder Woman is unequivocably the best character in the movie and perpetually the only adult in the room. The best scene in Justice League is the argument when Batman goes full-on asshole and accuses Wonder Woman of failing the world by not being the beacon of hope Superman is. The other best scene is when Aquaman doesn't realize he's sitting on Wonder Woman's magic Lasso of Truth and start spilling his guts about his true feelings (Wonder Woman is gorgeous, he doesn't want to die, etc.) These character interactions between the League are terrific and savvy, full of knowing wit and a pleasing understanding of the characters and how they bounce off each other. The movie really picks up momentum when Superman comes back to life - complete, of course, with the obligatory fan service of Superman fighting the Justice League (and racing The Flash) - before Lois Lane's appearance calms him down and puts the human back in control of the Kryptonian. Superman is worth waiting for, and it's wonderful to see Henry Cavill smiling, relaxed and cracking jokes for the first time (no matter how weird his CGI'd face looks after the mustache he grew for Mission: Impossible 6 was digitally erased).

With so many superheroes and their disparate corners of the DC Universe (Gotham, Atlantis, Themyscira, Central City) being serviced - the Atlanteans and their Queen Mera (Amber Heard) really got short shafted; wait until the Aquaman movie next year to find out what all that Atlantis business was all about - Justice League takes on multiple tones not unlike what Stephen Soderbergh did with Traffic. The movie literally looks and feels different depending on what location they're at - Gotham looks like a cartoon city, then all of a sudden we cut to London and it looks like the real world - and the effect can be jarring. Imagine if Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was jammed together with A New Hope mixed with huge chunks of The LEGO Batman Movie and you get the idea. The first half of the movie leaps around like two dogs fighting over a stick, and the action scenes are mostly frenetic and unmemorable eyesores, with deafeningly loud and abrasive sound design that drowns out composer Danny Elfman's weaving of his classic Batman and John Williams' classic Superman scores into the music. Five years ago, The Avengers assembled for a crowd-pleasing and multi-layered 30 minute battle against aliens to defend New York City, showcasing each Avenger's powers, abilities, and strategies. The Justice League's final showdown with Steppenwolf is a rush job in a tiny town in the middle of Russia where they just keep punching Parademons and Steppenwolf until they win. The League may have been All In, according to the marketing, but in terms of everything it could be, the movie is Not All There.

After so many years of dreaming about this movie, the Justice League finally united but it only barely rises above the level of live action cartoon. However, the small, human moments: Bruce Wayne admitting to Wonder Woman that he's barely physically capable of being Batman anymore; Aquaman mocking Bruce Wayne dressing up "just like a bat" in response to wisecracks about "talking to fish"; Wonder Woman using her compassion to try to make Cyborg feel human and wanted; the look on Batman's face when his crazy plan worked and Superman came back to life; Batman: "Oh yeah, something's definitely bleeding..."; and Clark Kent and Lois Lane reuniting in a Smallville cornfield - the love story holding together the fate of the entire DC Universe - are worth celebrating. These are the moments that make Justice League almost worth it. Almost, but not really. Still, there's potentially nowhere to go but up from here; a wise choice by DC Films as to who will helm the sequel now that Zack Snyder is reportedly stepping aside will hopefully deliver an even better version of the part 2 teased in the rebuilding of Stately Wayne Manor into the Hall of Justice ("room for more") and in the post-credits scene. After a lifetime of dreaming about a Justice League movie, it's finally here and... well, it's here. Now with that fulfilled, we can share a new dream: one of a coherent Justice League movie. For that, I will be All In.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok



Strongest Avenger

"You'll always be the God of Mischief," Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tells his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), "But you could be so much more." Those words form the thematic crux of director Taika Waititi's raucous house party of a Marvel film Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi's electric and colorful palette and wall to wall jokes brings the hammer down on the crusty old Marvel formula of how to do a Thor movie. In Ragnarok, Thor has evolved, and continues to, from the haughty muscle of the Avengers into something more, and better. To accomplish this heroic feat, Waititi rips Thor from the things about the franchise that never worked like it should have (Asgard, the Warriors Three, the faux-Shakespearean pomposity) and things that have become crutches (Thor's magical hammer Mjolnir, which is destroyed in the first act and never comes back). The result is a leaner, funnier and better God of Thunder than ever before, ready for whatever the future holds.

Thor: Ragnarok is really a treatise against stagnation, of the Thor character and his side of the Marvel Universe, and of the Marvel brand itself. The yeoman's work of introducing Thor and the concept of Asgard is long past us and there is no time for looking back at those innocent times when Thor was in love with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Thor is on to new things and he never stops moving. When we reunite with Thor in Ragnarok, he's been on his own for a couple of years since he left Earth at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron to find the Infinity Stones (he didn't find any). No, instead what Thor found and continued to find throughout Ragnarok was something greater: himself and his true compass of what makes him a hero. Also, he found jokes. Lots and lots of jokes.

During those missing two years, Thor developed a wicked sense of humor. His wit was always there, kind of, but now it's been unleashed. Thor maintains his alpha god swagger, but it's tempered. He is much more laid back and self-aware than ever before. Hemsworth, who was the comedic highlight of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, fuses his inherent goofball wit into Thor and the result is as electric as Thor's newfound powers. Whether lying to both Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and his raging goliath alter ego the Incredible Hulk about which one of them he prefers, trying to charm the last Valkyrie of Asgard (a revelatory Tessa Thompson), or being much wiser to the machinations of Loki, Thor becomes more than just a hammer and a mane of hair (not coincidentally he loses both). Thor becomes, at long last, a great character.

Of course, the selling point of Thor: Ragnarok was the big showdown between Hulk and Thor, and it is indeed a fantastic and worthy smackdown riddled with sly in-jokes. In this, and in the grand spectacle of an intergalactic superhero film filled with gods and monsters, Ragnarok succeeds mightily. After a jumpy opening act where much Marvel admin has to get done - dropping by the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), for example - the film finds its sure footing and begins to run at breakneck speed in its second half. Waititi sends Thor bouncing around from Earth to Asgard to the junkyard planet of Sakaar, where he's captured and forced to become a Sakaarian Gladiator. All throughout, Thor encounters a bevy of whacko oddball characters, including Waititi himself playing the affable rock monster Korg.

Thor's fight to save Asgard from his heretofore unknown older sister Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett having a ball) is really a fight against his own status quo. Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ancient symbol of stagnation, shuffles off this mortal coil, and with him goes the old Thor movie paradigm - and good riddance. Hela wants to restore an order even older than Odin. Thor, whether he knows it or not, is looking for what comes next. Thor must save the people of Asgard from the total destruction of Ragnarok - "Because that's what heroes do" - but what both Thor and this movie really want is to move beyond Thor always being the same. As he tells Valkyrie in a revealing moment that gets lost amidst a sea of jokes, his destiny to sit upon the throne of Asgard meant stagnation to Thor. Asgard is eternal (or was), but in his heart Thor is looking for more. 

When Thor forms his team with the purposefully stupid name the Revengers to save Asgard from Hela, he urges his friends to move beyond their status quo to fight for a greater ideal. For Hulk, it means not staying on Sakaar and continuing as the prized champion gladiator of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum delightfully playing off his rocker). For Valkyrie, it means to stop burying her memories of the Valkyries being slaughtered by Hela millennia ago in a haze of alcohol and once more fighting to save the people of Asgard. And for Loki, it means trying just a little bit harder to be a better person and not resorting to his usual bag of tricks to achieve some vainglorious end. Loki takes the longest to get with the program, but even he finds a glimpse of his better self. Thor cheerleads them all with an unyielding sense of optimism that things will work out all right.

By the time the giant fire monster Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown) destroys Asgard and Hela along with it, Thor and his franchise have finally cut the cord with what a Thor movie used to be. Marvel itself seems to be evolving as well. 2017 was the year where its superhero films, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and now Ragnarok threw out the dusty old Marvel movie playbook and really explored what their superhero movies could be through color, humor, and the personal idiosyncrasies of their directors. Waititi splendidly seems to take it all the way with Ragnarok, and the result is a joyous and rowdy party with Thor as the Lord of Jokes and Revelry. Though Thor learns Ragnarok is inevitable, there's a victory here because Thor succeeded in saving his people, and he did it his way. Thor is Asgard's king, but more importantly, he is their hero, and he's ours. "They love me on Earth," Thor reminds Loki, at the end. "I'm very popular." After Ragnarok, Thor is more right about that than ever.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Blade Runner 2049



In the grey, polluted skies above Los Angeles circa 2049, and in the filthy streets below hunts the lonely Replicant. He knows what he is. Everyone around him knows what he is. He is a Blade Runner; a cop who hunts down and 'retires' other robots of his kind. How he feels about this - how he feels about anything - he keeps to himself. "This one doesn't even smile," a pleasure model Replicant (Mackenzie Davis) says to him. He does, sometimes. In the spare moments of his life when he finds Joi (Ana de Armas). 

K (Ryan Gosling), the Replicant in question, finds the meaning of his entire artificial life challenged in Blade Runner 2049. A sequel that should never have been made. A sequel that should never be, but is - a magnificent, immersive, visually impeccable, wondrous tour de force by director Denis Villeneuve and producer Sir Ridley Scott, the father of the original Blade Runner. Villeneuve achieved the impossible and crafted a follow up to one of the most acclaimed science fiction films ever made that honors everything that has endured for 35 years while going further, deeper, and grander. In 1989, Tim Burton's Batman was hailed as "The Movie of the Decade" as a marketing tool. Blade Runner 2049 is The Movie of the Decade. 

Villeneuve's Los Angeles, 30 years more stark, bleak, apocalyptic, and exceedingly beautiful than Scott's vision of 2019, is lonely, brutish and cold, populated by haggard life, both 'real' and artificial. It's a world where a man-made machine falls in love with a man-made hologram, but that love is as real and quantifiable as anything else, even if human beings scoff that both machines lack 'a soul.' Though women are hyper-sexualized in holographic advertisements and in the public statues of a desolate, abandoned Las Vegas, it's the men who are utterly broken inside.

Every important male in the movie, from K, to Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) the poor Nexus 8 model Replicant he retires to kick off the film, to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the blind, prophesying billionaire tyrant who manufactures Replicants but yearns to profit from them being able to create themselves, is a pitiable creature in their own right. The women of this world, real and artificial, are made of stronger stuff, from K's one true love, the sprightly hologram Joi, to his stern but fair LAPD Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to the Replicant revolutionary Freysa (Hiam Abbass) to the bright and isolated programmer of Replicant memories Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) to the villain of the piece, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). It takes a special kind of Replicant to inherit the torch of Best Blade Runner Baddie from Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in the original, but Luv is a revelation as Wallace's stunning yet brutal enforcer, desperate to be seen and loved by her creator. When Luv overwhelms K in their climactic fight, she announces with glee "I'm the best one!" and she is. From Wallace with Luv.

The world of Blade Runner 2049 is on the cusp of a revolution K unwittingly finds himself at the center of when he finds a literal box of bones. The mysteries tie to the disappearance of the main characters from the original film, Rachael (Sean Young, who reappears as she looked in the 1982 original thanks to computer-generated magic) and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the original titular Blade Runner. K wishing that what he finds about himself is true is the deeply moving through line upon which all of his actions hang, and his investigations leads to violence, more questions, and ultimately to Deckard himself. The fight, they drink, they bond, they are ripped apart violently. In the end, most (but not all) questions are answered and Deckard is given the gift of family he was forced to abandon for 30 years. Ford has revived his most beloved and iconic 80's film roles like Indiana Jones and Han Solo in the last decade, but his performance as Deckard is his best, most gripping, emotional, and resonant. "Who am I to you?" Deckard asks K in the final moments of the film. K smiles, unable to find the words. The final moment of Blade Runner 2049 is Deckard facing his daughter, separated by a wall of glass, the weary and sad old model facing the bright and hopeful future, while K lies in the snow, ready to retire, having lived and shown us things we people wouldn't believe.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

IT (2017)

IT (2017)


The following movie review is from someone who never read "IT," never saw the TV miniseries "IT," and didn't know anything about "IT," except that there was some sort of clown in "IT."

In IT, director Andy Muschietti's well-made and effective Jump Scare-pallooza adaptation of Stephen King's seminal horror bestseller, seven children wrestle with the eternal question of youth: how do you fight a CGI clown? The clown's name, he says, is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and he is a very evil clown who lives in the sewers beneath the haunted town of Derry, Maine. According to the movie's wobbly and undercooked mythology, Pennywise has been in Derry since the town was founded, killing children (and adults sometimes?) and feeding on their fear every 27 years. Then he takes a long clown nap and comes back. Why? Why anything? Let's get to the jump scares.

It's the summer of 1989 and seven children from Derry are so haunted by a killer clown and others also trying to kill them, they had no time whatsoever to go to their local bijou and watch Batman and Lethal Weapon 2. Imagine, seven kids who didn't see Batman in the summer of '89! It boggles the mind. How is that even possible? Well, these kids get a pass, I guess, because they're preoccupied by different a killer clown than the one Batman fights, and other lethal concerns.

These nerdy kids dub themselves the Losers Club, and they are, by order of being memorable, Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) the stutterer and ersatz leader who lost his baby brother to the clown in the film's iconic opening sequence, Richie (Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things) the one who swears a lot, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) the fat new kid on the block, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) the token black kid who looks like a young Muhammad Ali, and the rest. Into their midst enters the best character in the whole shebang, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who is a g-g-girl, but the kind of cool, courageous girl with a standard icky home life any boy would count themselves lucky to know. The Losers stick together, mostly, against any and all assailants, and the clown is just one of them. There are also juvenile delinquents in Derry who are so shockingly malevolent and homicidal, it's way more jarring than the sewer clown.

Each child is haunted by the clown throughout IT, which leads them to come together and ultimately fight It. The Losers Club becomes a Scooby Gang, trying to uncover the secrets of the clown as best they can. Each minor revelation they reach begs more questions: it seems like the clown has been around for centuries, but seems to have no rules. The clown can manifest into all of their homes or where ever they are, in daytime or night, and attack them at will. When the Losers realize the clown lives in The Obvious Haunted House in the middle of town, they enter with no plan or weapons and barely survive. Later, when Beverly is captured by the clown but not immediately murdered for some reason, the Losers return to the Haunted House armed with whatever they have. Again, the question is how do seven tweens fight a CGI clown? Turns out hitting it enough times with whatever's handy does the trick. 

Still, IT is held together by some strong, endearing performances from the kids and some terrific atmosphere, making the small town of Derry nice and sinister. Every adult in Derry is some kind of repulsive creep, and the local bullies are said to be 15 or 16 but look 25 compared to the tween cast. There are obvious odes to Stand By Me and Carrie, which, along with The Shining, are on the upper tier of Stephen King adaptations. IT falls somewhere below that level but is still a 🎈🎈🎈 good time horror tome. IT sticks the landing, bonding the Losers Club with their promise to return as adults in 27 years (or 2019) for the already greenlit IT: Chapter 2. But there's just something heartwarming about seven kids, now friends forever, bonded by self-inflicted stigmata. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Marvel's Inhumans



From the studio that brought you The Defenders, welcome to Marvel's first cosplay meetup fan film shot in IMAX. Imagine, if you will, a city on the moon. What would such a wonderland look like? If you guessed anything other than a Soviet era concrete missile silo with the interiors of last season's IKEA showroom, you sure don't know Marvel. In this shangri-la, called Attilan, live Marvel's Inhumans. We're used to cool techno-knights like Iron Man, heroic super soldiers like Captain America, and virile alien gods like Thor when we think of Marvel. These aren't those guys. 

Strictly C-list, the Inhumans are a group of genetically enhanced weirdos who were supposed to get their own movie once but got demoted to TV. What do the Inhumans do up there on the moon, one wonders? They exist. That's it. Every once in a while, they make one of the lower caste of their society sniff the mists of Terrigen. If they transform, cool, they're Inhumans too, and they sprout wings or hooves or something that's somehow 'useful' to their society. If not, they are banished to the moon mines to dig for moon rocks for the rest of their lives. What do the Inhumans do with all those moon rocks they dig for? Who knows. If the moon were made of green cheese, at least they could eat the cheese.

The Inhumans maintain a rigid society ruled by a Royal Family. Their king is a mute named Black Bolt (Anson Mount). Black Bolt's superpower seems to be making every face a family would carve in their Jack O'Lanterns, but his real power is his voice is so destructive that if he utters even the slightest sound, he could demolish whatever's in front of him. To demonstrate, in a flashback, a teenage Black Bolt slightly huffs and blows both of his parents straight into a concrete wall (every wall in Attilan is made of concrete), and it is hilarious. Black Bolt is married to Medusa (Serinda Swan), who is his personal translator and sex buddy, but her official title is Queen of the Inhumans. Medusa's power is her red hair that moves on its own, like Dr. Octopus' robot arms, but it's hair and of Playstation 1 quality CGI. Before the first hour of Inhumans is even up, the CGI budget for making the hair move proves too costly for the production and they snatch Medusa bald. There, budget issues solved. The producers must have patted themselves extra hard on the back for that fix.

In this monochrome Eden lives a snake named Maximus (Iwan Rheon, the hated Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones). Maximus is Black Bolt's younger brother but he is human. However, this means his superpower is he's the only Inhuman with a semblance of a personality and comes off as reasonably interesting. Maximus has schemes; he aims to kick his brother off the Concrete Throne and also nail his wife, whom he has the serious hots for and they may have done the nasty in the past-y. "Do you ever regret choosing him over me?" the skeevy Maximus asks Medusa. "No, of course not, he's the king," the power-hungry Medusa replies by choking him with her prehensile hair. Maximus gets the hint, so he goes ahead and engineers a coup. 

While the rest of the Royal Family sit around having dinner, Maximus skips the salad and breadsticks and overthrows society. Soon, he banishes most of the Royals to a terrible, horrible, infernal hell... "The Island of Oahu, Hawaii" according to the title card, which keeps reappearing even though we know it's Hawaii. While to us lowly humans, being kicked off the fucking moon and being sent to Honolulu seems like a fantastic upgrade, it's the worst thing that has ever happened to Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak (Ken Leung), who is the Black Bolt's Debbie Downer royal adviser, and Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), the captain of the royal guard. 

Gorgon ends up hanging ten with some local surfers who save him from drowning. They've heard of Inhumans but they don't give a shit, just like us. Karnak gets lost in the jungle, which is hilarious since Ken Leung has been there before when he was a castmember on Lost. Medusa ends up on a bus tour group; devoid of her super hair, she somehow pulls a switchblade on the Inhuman soldier Maximus sends to kill her. That's right, the Queen of the Inhumans cuts a bitch. Meanwhile, Black Bolt has the most exciting adventure of all: he shoplifts a suit from a haberdashery. In response, the Hawaii Five-0 sends four police cruisers after him! Shoplifting must be the number one crime in Oahu for a police response that severe. Black Bolt ends up getting booked by the po-po and spends the night in the clink, but he seems totally at home surrounded by four walls of concrete so he's not as sad as you'd think.

Then the story is over, because this is just "The First Chapter" of eight episodes, 75 minutes filmed with IMAX cameras for some reason. Will the Inhumans Royal Family ever reunite? Can they make it back to the moon and regain their status as the rulers of the moon's biggest secret silo? Will the humans on Earth discover the existence of the Inhumans and not call the Avengers because the Avengers have way more important business to attend to? Six more episodes on ABC starting on September 29th may answer those questions and others no one cares to ask. Also, there's a teenage princess named Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) who shoots fire and a giant bulldog named Lockjaw who can teleport, but they end up stuck in Attilan under house arrest. Still, it beats mining moon rocks.