Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The Mummy is Universal’s quasi remake of their own 1932 Boris Karloff film. It is the first entry in what they call the Dark Universe, a planned series of interconnected monster films, set to include Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Mummy in fact opens with a new Dark Universe logo.

The plot is similar to the original. An Egyptian tomb is (accidentally) found, and the titular Mummy awakes and is on a quest to bring back her ancient lover. In the original the Mummy was male but had a mostly similar scheme.

There’s a little more to the plot than that, but basically Tom Cruise is the host for the Mummy’s lover, and the film has him being chased around by the Mummy in various action scenes.

While it attempts to retain its horror roots, the tone of this movie goes all over the place. Tom Cruise’s intro is an action comedy scene. More humor follows, including scenes where a dead friend of his that only he can see keeps pestering him. I doubt anyone came to the Mummy for laughs.

More of a sense of mystery is lost as we get the Mummy’s backstory almost right away via narration by Russel Crowe. It would have worked better for the audience to learn said backstory along with the main character.

Russel Crowe is the link to the wider Dark Universe that this film tries to prepare us for. He is the shady leader of a secret organization that fights monsters throughout the world. Basically it’s to the Dark Universe what SHIELD is to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Crowe filling in as this world’s Nick Fury. At headquarters of said secret organization we get our Easter Eggs/nods to other monsters. We see skulls with vampire teeth, an encased hand from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and many other items in the background. Also, I don’t know if this was meant as a joke or not, but a book that appeared in Brandon Fraser’s 1999 Mummy film is shown.

Also regarding Crowe, they tease it at first, but after not very long he is revealed to be Dr. Jekyll, who of course has the sinister alter ego of Mr. Hyde, which does play a minor point in the plot.

We’re in an interesting time in Hollywood now, as studios are trying to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Warner Brothers has finally established a DC Universe while also doing the Monsterverse with King Kong and Godzilla. Hasbro is also working on a shared film universe with various toy properties they have. It’s a wonder why Marvel thought of this first. This Dark Universe in particular could have been done years ago. They did in fact, cross over their monsters in the 1940s, with Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. However those movies were made after ten plus years of making separate monster movies, that whole world was not planned from the ground up.

It is notable that the Dark Universe takes place in the present, where many of the original Universal Monster movies took place in the past. However, due to the aforementioned Easter Eggs, it is evident that monstrous events have taken place already in this world. Should they choose to do so, some of the other upcoming Dark Universe pictures, such as Creature, could take place before Mummy. The timeline could be spread out a bit.

I’m still curious to see other Dark Universe films, but they need to get really good really fast if this universe is to be sustained.

Kong: Skull Island is the second entry in what is called the Monsterverse, which began with 2014’s Godzilla and will continue into at least two more films. Skull Island is a period piece set in the 1970s. Just as the Vietnam War ended, an American military unit, led by Samuel L Jackson, is assigned to escort a group of scientists to an island that was just discovered via satellite. Skull island is surrounded by a perpetual storm, which explains why the outside world hadn’t found it already.

Kong: Skull Island breaks the basic rule (which I believe the original Kong might have established) of not showing the monster right away. As soon as the expedition gets to Skull Island they encounter Kong. They at least show Kong’s hands first, but the big reveal comes pretty fast. In the original King Kong, the monster doesn’t show up for quite a while. We get time to build up the mystery and tension, as the audience obviously knows there are monsters to be encountered before the film characters do. Kong Skull Island offers none of this.

Not only that, but it spoils what should be a surprise in the plot. The opening scene is actually in 1945. During World War II an American and Japanese pilot have shot each other down and crashed on Skull Island. They’re fighting to the death when Kong arrives. So later in the second act when the Vietnam vets discover an American who’s been living on the island for the past 28 years, it’s not a surprise at all. Granted this plot point was revealed in the trailer too, but still, it should be something of a shock. Even worse, the WWII vet, played by John C. Reilly, is played for laughs. As I’m writing this I think back to the original Predator, I can honestly remember feeling a sense of dread as the soldiers trekked through the jungle, being picked off one by one by the predator. Even though it was Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was still thinking “Arnold, just forget about it, just get on the chopper and go home!” Here on Skull Island, we have another group of soldiers trekking through the jungle, and instead of one killer alien, there’s a whole bunch of big giant monsters running around, and most of the time it’s not even remotely scary.

Further removing itself from the proper tone is the soundtrack, which reminding us that it’s set in the 1970s by having hits of that era playing. While it was great music, and, just as in Suicide Squad, I was perfectly happy to hear Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, cool songs alone don’t save a movie.

One piece of advice writers are given is to start the story as late as possible. It would have worked to start the film with the military unit getting assigned to the island, and the audience would slowly find out what’s going on as the characters do. There’s that scene in the trailer where Samuel L. Jackson points his gun at John Goodman and says something to the effect of “You better tell me what’s going on right now.” By that point in the movie the audience already knows everything Goodman tells him. After the un-needed WWII flashback we get a scene in Washington introducing John Goodman as an agent of Monarch, which is the secret government group that looks for giant monsters. Monarch appeared in the previous Godzilla film, and presumably will be the Monsterverse equivalent to Marvel’s SHIELD. At this point Monarch is considered a joke by most, but Goodman manages to finagle this mission. He does provide some interesting personal backstory to how Monarch came to be, but, in my opinion, this whole scene in Washington could have been cut, and the audience could have learned all of Goodman’s secrets at the same time as Samuel L. Jackson.

There are lots of other giant monsters to see on the island. We don’t get to see dinosaurs, (and I just realized, why not!!!) but there is a giant spider. Giant ants are hinted at but never shown. Kong’s primary antagonists are called Skull Crushers, and they may vaguely remind audiences of something across from Godzilla and Cloverfield.

Interestingly enough, Kong appears to have an ambiguous ending, leaving the audience to wonder if anyone escaped the island or not. However, as the credits roll we learn what happened to the WWII vet. There is the question of, given this is a period piece, how the general public never learned of Skull Island. Late in the movie the characters simply state they’ll never tell anyone, which is a bit to believe.

This issue is partly hinted at in the post-credit scene. Yes by the way there is a post credit scene, which sets up the monster mayhem to come. King Kong vs Godzilla is slated for 2020. Monster fans often speculate on how they will fight when Kong is significantly smaller than Godzilla. Kong Skull Island tells us that Kong is just a baby, so presumably he’ll have grown in the last 40 plus years.

There is some decent cinematography, with imagery that reminds audiences not just of old monster movies, but of Vietnam movies like Apocalypse now etc. The basic story is interesting, and provides some good old fashion monster fun, but overall was disappointing. It’s remarkable that over eighty years later the original King Kong is still the best Kong film.

Lego Batman is a spinoff from the 2014 Lego movie (which featured Batman), and has a surprising level of introspection into the Batman character.

It’s a very meta film, with Batman’s voice talking over the opening credits, remarking how cool movies start in black with ominous music, going on to comment on the Warner Brother’s and DC logos. The opening scene offers more self-awareness as its remarked that a plane with a ton of explosives is flying over a city (Gotham) with an extremely high crime rate. Naturally the Joker hijacks the plane, but the pilot is not scared of the Joker at all, as he remarks all the times Batman has stopped him (actually referencing the Dark Knight film as well as Tim Burton’s first Batman film). When asked what to do, Commissioner Gordon says out loud that they’ll do the only thing they ever do, which is turn on the Bat-signal. Naturally Batman saves the day. Joker gets away, but Batman is greeted with his usual hero’s welcome. Batman soon returns to his Bat-cave, as a journalists comments that Batman will probably go home and have a big party with all his friends.

This leads to some surprisingly quiet and mundane moments. Batman goes home to his mansion, puts some lobster in the microwave, and eats by himself. Watching the “You complete me” scene from Jerry McGuire he cracks up laughing, he finds it hilarious. His butler Alfred eventually shows up, and we immediately get the surrogate father/son relationship between the two. Batman acts like a spoiled child, while Alfred tells him that he needs friends.

Lego Batman’s central theme is Batman learning that he needs other people, and also explores what Batman fears the most, along with the concept of a sidekick, his relationship with the law, and Batman’s relationship with the Joker. In fact, it is a breakthrough in that relationship that leads to the resolution at the film’s climax.

Without giving major spoilers, early on in the movie, Joker outsmarts Batman by actually surrendering. Joker knows being locked up at Arkham won’t be enough for Batman, and this knowledge moves the plot. Along the way Joker teams up with villains from various media, including Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, King Kong, the Kraken, Dracula, Sauron from Lord of the Rings, the Gremlins, and the Daleks from Dr. Who, which are referred to as British robots. I wonder if they weren’t allowed to use the name Daleks or something.

Batman villains aren’t lacking however, we get the traditional rogues gallery of Catwoman, the Riddler, etc, but also a bunch of obscure ones. The Joker breaks the fourth wall telling us that all these characters, no matter how ridiculous (Condiment Man) are real characters, and actually encourages us to Google them.

Lego Batman is the kind of movie you’ll want to get on DVD and pause a million times to get all the Easter eggs. I doubt any movie ever had more Easter eggs than this. I believe there are references to every live action Batman appearance (including the 1940’s serials), as well as nods to the animated series of the 90’s and Batman Beyond, and nods to various comic books like The Dark Knight Returns. There’s a ton of references to the Batman Adam West TV show of the 1960’s. Actual villains from the show like King Tut and Egg Head appear, there’s more than one reference to the Bat-Shark Repellent, and there’s even actual footage of the series shown.

Given the plot, I was hoping Batman would team up with heroes from other media. This didn’t happen, but there is an appearance by Superman and the Justice League. In their segment we get both musical and visual nods to the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and we see a bunch of obscure characters from the old Super Friends cartoon.

Personally, one of my big nerd fantasies is a story/a world with characters from  various media, comics, TV, film, video games, etc. all together. The Lego film series may be the closest I come to seeing this. It’s nice to have various references to things in film, but things like that don’t matter unless the movie is good. Given it’s a kids movie, Lego Batman is infinitely better than it needed to be. It is a very poignant examination of the Batman character and the tropes that surround it. Honestly, Lego Batman may be the best Batman movie there is.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Strange, the latest entry in the Marvel Universe, opens up the world of magic in the MCU. At first it plays like Iron Man with magic. Strange is an arrogant but brilliant celebrity neurosurgeon. He’s on the lecture circuit and on TV and is pretty rich. While Tony Stark in the first Iron Man was an asshole, he was played up as a cool asshole. Dr. Strange takes the chance of presenting the main character as a real asshole. In fact in one scene the audience audibly reacted to his assholeness.

So one night Strange is driving his sports car too fast and looking at his phone. This causes an accident which messes up his hands. Now he’s out of work and looking for a way to heal himself. Desperately running out of options, he follows an off the wall tip to travel to Nepal for a chance at healing.

Here he runs across the Ancient One, not an old Asian man like in the comics, but a Celtic woman who apparently is much older than she looks, and is the latest in a long line of Ancient Ones. She wastes no time exposing Strange to magic, putting him on a wicked mind trip and allowing some great cinematography. There’s no sequence of Strange doubting, then coming to believe, it’s straight up right to the magic.

So Strange begins training, eventually learns magic, and reluctantly comes into a conflict with enemy sorcerers who are seeking to bring a powerful being from another universe into our realm. Along the way we are introduced to the idea of a multiverse, meaning the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just one universe known to exist.

Dr. Strange follows the familiar trope of someone who never knew about something suddenly becoming a master of it/being better at it than people who’ve trained their whole lives. We don’t get a sense of exactly how long Strange has been training, but his accident does happen in the present day. They do try to work around that by showing strange astrally projecting himself so he can study in his sleep. While I appreciated that it wasn’t enough for me. There’s almost no reason why his accident could have been in the past and the film could have acknowledged that he’d been training for years.

Like many MCU films the villain seems rather one note. We do get to see the big bad at the end and I thought he looked a little silly. Interestingly enough the third act doesn’t feature the normal epic battle, rather Strange manages to trick his enemy to get the victory.

The post credit scene is an interesting one, in that it seems to have changed something from a previous MCU sequel.

Dr. Strange isn’t one of the better MCU movies, but it’s not one of the worst either. Assuming it gets a sequel someday, I hope it would introduce more horror/scary elements.

Shin Godzilla, also known as Godzilla Resurgence, is the 31rst film in the Godzilla franchise. Produced by Toho pictures, it was given a limited US theatrical release for one week in October of 2016.
Not tied to any previous Godzilla film, Shin opens with the Tokyo Bay Aqua line being flooded. Government officials meet to discuss action, and one person suggests that the disaster is due to a giant creature. While dismissed, is quickly (too quickly) revealed to be accurate, as a giant tail is shown coming out of the ocean near Japan.
The central problem of Shin is too many scenes of people sitting in a room arguing/discussing what action to take. While I appreciate the critique of an inefficient Japanese government, these scenes aren’t compelling enough to maintain interest in the film.
Soon the creature come ashore, after the government predicted it couldn’t. The first shot of the creature appeared to be done with puppetry instead of CGI, it looked really different and they eyes in particular didn’t look good to me. Honestly I thought the creature was Anguirus at first because of the design. However what happens is we see Godzilla evolve on screen until he changes to his final form, which is the tallest Godzilla ever on screen.
Some backstory is dropped about how the creature was mutated from toxic/radioactive waste dumped in the ocean. There’s no suspense or even story about trying to expose this information, it’s just kind of there. We get some angle about a missing scientist (who we never see on screen) who’s been studying the possibility of the creature’s existence for years. In the notes he left behind he named the creature both Godzilla and the original Japanese name Gojira, which was a sort of Easter Egg for the fans.
The final act is more satisfying, with the humans coming up with some innovative ways to slow down Godzilla. The creatures powers are enhanced in this film, but come with an accompanying weakness.
Naturally the Shin Godzilla is left open for a sequel, but while I appreciated the effort of trying to make a political statement, future entries in this series will need to be much more interesting.

Suicide Squad is the third entry in the DC Extended Universe. A Dirty Dozen with super villains, the premise is government operative Amanda Waller assembles a team of criminals to fight super human threats. However, only a handful of the operatives are meta-humans themselves. One might wonder why regular humans are on this team, aside from the fact that they’re characters the movie audience knows or are played by well known actors like Will Smith.

I’ve never seen a movie that tried so hard to have a cool soundtrack. It opens with three or four classic songs in a row while the premise is set up. While I was perfectly happy to hear Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, by that point the constant use of songs seemed excessive.

While working so hard to be cool it forgets a few basic things, like giving the audience enough time to read the text shown to introduce each squad member. In fact the opening shot is of Harley Quinn’s prison and they show text on the bottom right corner of the screen to tell us the location, but the colors on that part of the shot are so dark I couldn’t even read it in time.

Interestingly enough the squad isn’t assembled for a specific mission, but soon enough a situation arises that they’re sent off into, partly involving finding a certain mystery contact. The identity of that contact serves as a plot twist but the way it’s edited doesn’t carry the feeling of shock that it should, it’s just kind of like “oh ok.” Shortly after this another bit of information is presented to the team that is supposed to surprise them, but I couldn’t quite grasp why this information would be surprising, other than to serve that part of the script where the team says “screw this mission I’m going home.”

Most of the Squad members seem pretty interesting, but this team movie mostly centers around Harley Quinn, because she’s a beloved character, and Deadshot, because he’s played by Will Smith. Quinn is fantastic by the way, and I’d happily watch another movie with her, but potentially more interesting characters like Killer Croc are underused. I wanted to know what his condition is, what is his life like, etc. Instead Killer Croc seems to serve the role of Groot in this August would be block buster. Action happens, Harley says something funny, Croc grunts, repeat.

The character Slipknot just kind of shows up, and it’s said that he can climb anything. Why can he climb anything? Is he a skilled master thief (and if that’s all it is why does this qualify him to be on a team to fight meta-humans)? Is he a meta-human? Can he climb walls like Spiderman or something?

Katana is another character that just kind of shows up, apparently because when they wrote the script they forgot to introduce her earlier. She seemed like a cool character I’d like to see more of. She’s not a criminal, but a government operative, which left me wondering why she joined the team in the “screw this mission we’re going to the bar” scene. Maybe because the writers didn’t know what else to do with her or they didn’t have time to film a scene where she fought them instead.

Team leader Rick Flag is pretty good, his life as a government operative leaves him conflicted. Amanda Waller is like an evil Nick Fury of this universe and she’s good to watch. I enjoyed the Joker as well.

The final battle isn’t very suspenseful. The evil plot isn’t exactly clear, a machine is being built, but I couldn’t tell you what it was supposed to do, other than generic destruction. There’s no timeline on this plan either, it just seems to always be there with no real progress. One of the big bads get’s destroyed by conventional explosives, which made me wonder why the conventional military couldn’t have stopped it, aside from the fact that the movie is about Suicide Squad. Rick Flag himself wonders why he can’t just take care of the problem with his own soldiers. So is a character in this movie wondering why this movie exists?

As I’m writing this I realize I have a lot of negative things to say. I didn’t hate watching this movie. Looking back on it Harley Quinn pretty much saved it. I will say that one of the things the DC Extended Universe has over the Marvel Cinematic Universe is they’ve established that a lot of things have already happened. Rick Flag has a history. The actual government name of Suicide Squad, Task Force X, has a history. Katana has a history, and Batman ran Killer Croc out of town. Batman vs Superman established a Batman that was active for 20 years, and the upcoming Wonder Woman movie takes place in World War One. (BTW I’m disappointed nobody made a World War One movie since it’s been a hundred years. I find it ironic that the only World War One movie we’ll get is a Wonder Woman movie.)I enjoy this approach more than how Marvel has all their big name heroes being active right now.

Suicide Squad is not a terrible movie, but in the context of a underwhelming Man of Steel and a divisive Batman vs Superman, this movie needed to be so much better than it was. In fact, for all my complaints I’d still say it’s the best movie of this universe so far. As I think about it, that’s worrisome for the future of this franchise.

Eddie the Eagle is a bio-pic about Eddie Edwards, a British Olympic Ski jumper who did not excel at his sport, but captured the imagination of people around the world for his determination and spirit.

It begins with his childhood, as a young Eddie is fascinated by the Olympics, and is determined to be an Olympic athlete. Through a short sequence we see him attempt various sports that would be in the summer games, before deciding on the winter sport of skiing. It is not said outright, but it is evident that Eddie has some disability such as Autism or Asperger Syndrome. Perhaps because of this he is portrayed with a single mindedness to be in the Olympics, and his lack of athletic ability doesn’t waver him in that vision.

Eddie attempts to make the Olympic Skiing team. Falling short, he realizes that the British don’t have a ski jumping team. The next sequence has him training in Germany. We see his struggles with both trying to be a great ski jumper, and with other athletes around him making fun of him etc.

Hugh Jackman enters the film as a hard drinking disgraced American ski jumper who ends up reluctantly being his coach. This character has his own arc which is of redemption, including an appearance by actor Christopher Walken. Jackman’s character feels a little flat, not rising up much against his archetype. After viewing I learned Jackman’s character is fictional, so that is probably why.

After overcoming a series of obstacles Eddie makes it to the Olympics and becomes a celebrity after placing last in the 70 meter jump but simultaneously breaking the British Ski Jump record. Worried that he has become a novelty and wanting to be taken seriously, he enters the 90m event, leading to the climax of the film.

Approaching the final jump, he has a conversation with his hero, champion ski jumper Matti “The Flying Finn” Nykänen. This is an interesting conversation with a theme of the importance of doing your best, no matter how good your best may be.

The film ends with Eddie returning home to a hero’s welcome. His mother is portrayed as having always supporting him while his father did not. At the end his father tells Eddie he’s proud of him, but seemingly not out of any character development but rather because that’s how plots for these kind of movies work. They never have a movie like this where the father is encouraging and the mother is not.

Eddie the Eagle provides some feel good moments, but does not have the impact an inspirational story like this should. Parts of the film, like Eddie hurting himself a lot in his early ski jump attempts, are played for laughs when they should be seeking audience sympathy.

Just as Eddie the Eagle was not the best ski jumper, this is not the best inspirational film, but like Eddie Edwards, it’s endearing and pushes the right buttons enough to get at least some of the audience behind it.