Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

You really emBARK on a journey!…..shut up.

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS/INTERVIEWS]

“Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film written/produced/directed by the famous Wes Anderson, and it stars some big names like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as some very good boys (dogs). Set in a futuristic Japan, the conflict involves young Atari Kobayashi, nephew and ward of the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi, searching for his dog on the isolated Trash Island, where all dogs have been exiled to due to a dog-virus that causes everyone to be scared of their own pets.

Personally, I’ve actually never seen a Wes Anderson film before (that might surprise some of you, but anyone who grew up in the area that I did could vouch that none of us were really talking about that style of film when we were in high school) but I do love stop-motion animation and I do understand Anderson’s credibility as an artistic filmmaker. Upon seeing trailers I was also interested due to the setting being in Japan, especially since I enjoyed Laika Animation’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016), a stop-motion film having a Feudal-Japanese setting. Besides, despite me being a “cat person” (because you apparently have to pick one), who doesn’t love good dogs?

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The film follows characters in two settings, Megasaki City and Trash Island. Starting with the latter, Atari crash lands on the island and is found by the five dogs who roam in their own pack. All are enthusiastic about helping Atari except Chief (Bryan Cranston), but he reluctantly accepts the task anyway and the crew travels deeper into Trash Island to find Atari’s old bodyguard dog. Meanwhile in the city, we see the political side of the decision to outlaw dogs with dictator-like policy from Kobayashi, opposed by a “Science Party” that is making strides to cure the dog viruses and bring the pets back. The film also spends time on a foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who is the only student vocalizing concerns over the Kobayashi dynasty.

Throughout these different sub-plots and stories we get, I personally enjoyed the moments with Atari and the dogs. Anderson takes the time to give these dogs different personalities and backgrounds and the interactions they have with the boy Atari make this a very charming film. For example, Chief tends not to get along with the other dogs or always has a different opinion because he’s a stray. Anderson makes sure that the audience’s immersion is through the dogs themselves by giving them very human characteristics. The animation itself is precisely executed and ended up being very visually appealing and a contributing factor to the movie’s adventurous feel.

Anderson makes an artistic decision to have mostly all the human characters only speak Japanese, and I liked this for two reasons. One being what I mentioned earlier, the audience’s perspective is further drawn towards that of the dogs. Secondly, it gives the animation more time to shine because you start to look for visual storytelling rather than exposition. I also think the film is structured very well with a relatively short runtime of 1 hour and 41 minutes, because there are elements to unpack and I didn’t feel dissatisfied with any sub-plot being ignored or incomplete. Everything does seem to tie up in the end and I’ve gotta give it to Anderson for that one.

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While I did enjoy this film and don’t think this movie had any malicious intent or should cause any rioting, I do have to point out what I thought was a little problematic with the use of the Japanese setting. After the movie was done and my brain went into “what was wrong with it?” mode, I ended up asking myself one big question: “Why Japan?”

This movie is about a psuedo-facist leader outlawing a largely innocent group and getting away with it by brainwashing the public that doesn’t seem to know any better. To be completely honest, this sounds a lot more like America than Japan. While Anderson used things in the culture like taiko drums, haikus, cherry blossoms, etc…all of this seemed to serve no real purpose other than to be an aesthetic. Think of it like when you have this amazing picture ready to upload to instagram, and while searching for the right filter there was one called “Japanese” and that’s the one you decide to go with. Again, I highly doubt any of this was intentional, but using the “Japan implies that a foreign setting was required to make us believe an outrageous policy like fear-mongering the public to dislike dogs…and unfortunately Japan took the fall on this one for a story that I could have very much believed happening in the Western world (apparently Anderson has done a similar thing with India in “The Darjeeling Limited”…guess I should check that one out).

I’m all for having an homage to another culture and for having more movies be international, but the culture or its members didn’t play the significant role in the movie that I was led to believe…it just coexisted while we focused on the Dogs. This is so odd to me because I commended Anderson for being more focused and humanizing the dogs, and having the humans speak only Japanese up above…but at the same time it feels a little gross because you dehumanize the people of the culture but still use the culture as a setting for the film.

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Truthfully, I could’ve ignored ALL of this if it weren’t for one thing that tipped me over the often blurred line between appreciation and appropriation…and that is the use of Greta Gerwig’s character, Tracy Walker. The fact that a character from Ohio (because Lord knows OHIO is the most woke place on the planet) is the only one amongst the masses that can see the corruption of the Kobayashi dynasty really leaves a sour taste in my mouth, similar to when I see the “White Savior” trope. Sure, Atari is the hero to the dogs…but he spends most of the movie with them on Trash Island being out of the spotlight to the rest of the characters while Tracy is over in Megasaki City actually getting people to rally behind the cause. By doing this, the film really does show that the use of Japanese culture is poorly thought-out despite the use of Japanese actors and imagery, because at the end of the day they could’ve done this with ANY foreign culture and it wouldn’t have made a difference. This belittles everyone into this one bubble of “Eastern” rather than showing what is unique about the hundreds of cultures that aren’t in the West.

While definitely being a little problematic, “Isle of Dogs” still manages to be a technically impressive and positive story with its own unique charisma. With all things considered, “Isle of Dogs” gets a 7/10.

 

Guest Post – Movie Review: Ready Player One

Don’t Think Too Hard, “Ready Player One” is Just a Video Game

[THIS IS A GUEST POST BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY GOOD FRIEND (and my co-host of the “Overrated Podcast”) UDAY MEHTA. SHOW HIM SOME LOVE AND FIND HIS COLUMN, HIS SOLO PODCAST, AND OUR PODCAST AT HIS WEBSITE]

I remember seeing the trailer for Ready Player One. I was in theaters, absentmindedly on my phone waiting for the actual movie to start. It was upon hearing one word that my eyes flickered to the screen. Parzival. An alternate spelling of Percival, Parzival is the titular character in the story of the Holy Grail, and one of the Knights of the Round Table. It was a strange tidbit to recall in that moment, but it was enough to pique my curiosity. A sci-fi movie that made semi-obscure historical reference?

 I promptly forgot about the entire thing until a few weeks later when I found out it was a Steven Spielberg-directed movie. Yes, Steven Spielberg, best known this decade for his work on films such as The Post, Lincoln, and War Horse, was directing an adventure role playing movie. Now that was enough to get me to the theater.

The Plot

 The movie follows a lonesome teenager with an alliterative made-for-film white-dude name (Wade Watts) and his avatar (the aforementioned Parzival) in the Oasis, a virtual world whose creator James Halladay has since passed. Halladay is revered in a Jobs/Musk-like fashion, where his followers pore over every aspect of his life. By participating in fights and other competitions, you can earn coins, make customizations to your avatar, and purchase weapons. There’s one catch – if your avatar dies in the Oasis, you lose everything. Your money, your weapons, your upgrades, all of it. You’d respawn as a bare-bones character and have to work your way back up.

 Parzival’s crew is a bunch of lovable misfits, including the beefy mechanic Aech, steely swordsman Daito, and some dude named Sho (they don’t really spend a lot of time on him). The primary driver is the presence of an Easter egg – depicted as an actual Egg in the Oasis – hidden somewhere in the game by Halladay before his passing. Accessing the egg requires the successful completion of three challenges blah blah blah. There isn’t much overall depth to the plot, as we collectively proceed from challenge to challenge, with one of our heroes finding a way to complete each one. The crew is opposed by a faceless corporation “Innovative Online Industries” (IOI) headed by generic boss Nolan Sorrento. IOI has access to plenty of money and weaponry, but they naturally lack the innocence and spirit that make Parzival and co special.

Parzival – and by extension, Wade – is your average guy, no cool upgrades or abilities, just someone looking to find an escape from his life of poverty and bad family dynamics. Pretty relatable, right? Oh, and there’s a love interest, Art3mis (the Greek goddess of hunting), who Parzival falls in love with by virtue of healthily cyber-stalking everything she does. He’s a really nice guy, you just have to get to know him! She warns him that he’d be “repulsed” if he saw her in real life, which is slightly disingenuous because they cast an attractive actress with… a birthmark?

The Verdict

Despite its predictability, even with the tired tropes, it’s still an incredibly fun ride. The movie is relatively self-aware of the stereotypes it’s playing out – from the wise wizard avatar Anorak that represents Halladay, to the guy in a suit that represents CEO Sorrento, to the random-person-you-encounter-on-your-quest-that-turns-out-to-be-an-important-ally. It’s good for what it is, a dystopian action film which focuses on the enduring importance of friendship and its triumph over greed. Like with any book-to-film adaptation, there are facets of the story on which they didn’t have time to spend (the loyalty centers, the death of Wade’s family, Ogden Morrow’s background), but elements that are definitively improved (hacking Sorrento’s headset, the use of TJ Miller’s I-R0k). It’s not a set of puzzles where you as a viewer are trying to figure out what’s coming next, but rather a relaxing journey through the furthest reaches of a virtual world. You may not care about the “war for control of the future”, but you want to find the Easter Egg just as much as Parzival does.

 This is the movie that Adam Sandler’s 2015 shithole ‘Pixels’ should have been.

Pacman, Galaga, Centipede, Tetris, Duck Hunt, Frogger – all these classic arcade games were built into the film as characters, which just might have worked if some other minor details (plot, dialogue, character development) were better. But Ready Player One incorporates the nostalgia trips in an inconspicuous, blink-and-you-miss-it fashion. While Pixels sets up Donkey Kong as Sandler’s final villain behind a ‘We Will Rock You’ soundtrack and a weirdly placed dick joke, Ready Player One flashes through its homages, from a Tron motorcycle during a race, to the magic spell from Excalibur, to a brief costume change into Clark Kent. Avoiding using these references as plot devices – apart from an extended sequence from The Shining – is what helps this film invoke the desired amount of hazy nostalgia.

The Memory

To me, the basic construct of the movie was evocative of a reference they didn’t even mention (or didn’t have the rights to) – Megaman. In the mid-2000s, it aired as a TV show (Megaman NT Warrior) and was released as a long series of video games (Megaman Battle Network). The main construct of the show is a virtual ‘net’ that humans can log into with their ‘net navi’ (short for navigator), where humans interface with their navis by uploading battle chips and weapons. A later season has an arc where humans can fully synchronize with their net navis . The show’s antagonists were textbook villains that wanted to take over and/or destroy the net, headlined by Dr. Wily, an original creator of the net. There’s even a reddish-pink love interest and a big buff friend! Vaguely familiar, isn’t it?

Movie Review – Pacific Rim Uprising

Kind of seems like the caused an Apocalypse rather than cancelling it…

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS/INTERVIEWS]

The good news is that everyone’s favorite awesome-dumb-movie is back with a sequel. The bad news is they scrapped some of the “awesome” for more “dumb”.

“Pacific Rim Uprising” is NOT directed by Guillermo Del Toro this time around, and is instead helmed by Steven DeKnight. John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s character from the last movie, and the setting is a time where (for the most part) there is peace because the Kaiju haven’t attacked for years…but also yeah they come back because its the sequel.

Look I’m going to level here, this movie has absolutely zero substance to it. Obviously no one watches the first one for an awe-inspiring story either, but at least that one had SOMETHING going on and a few memorable lines and actors. Even aside from that, the first one knows what it is and gives you the first Jaeger/Kaiju fight within the first 5-10 minutes. This one really strongly reeks of things I’m not a fan of: “Sequel-itis” and obvious attempts to set up a *cue rap horns* CINEMATIC UNIVERSE!!

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Like I said, the first “Pacific Rim” knew what it was, and I don’t even remember the characters outside Mako and Pentecost, despite the fact that Charlie Hunnam was the main protagonist. Their backstories were vague, short, and sweet just so we could get to more of the action. If you’ve kept up with my stuff, you would know that my favorite part about any story is the characters, and I will say I appreciate them trying in this one. However, I would also rather have a movie stick to what it can do best than try to do another thing and end up executing it poorly. John Boyega is charismatic enough indeed as Jake Pentecost, but then we get all the teenager characters and I start internally yelling at the screen to get to the fights already. Even with the cadets aside, Scott Eastwood somehow has negative charisma points in his portrayal of the “by the book” character that’s supposed to oppose Jake. Then you have this side plot with Charlie Day’s character and there’s a “twist” you can see coming within his first scene…it just feels like the writer’s room wasn’t filtering any of their ideas and just cramming them all in.

Don’t get me wrong, I can forgive all of this. A good friend of mine once said that a movie can be a pile of garbage and all of that can be overlooked because of one thing: Giant Robots fighting Giant Monsters. Unfortunately, that part didn’t live up as much either.

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Granted, since this movie takes place well in the future, they had to think of new threats and some sort of “novel” idea to bring the Kaiju back. First they settle on this idea of “Rogue Jaegers” and we get to see two fights between Gipsy Avenger and the “evil” Jaeger, Obsidian Fury. The first one in the city is the first bit of action we get, and it slightly disappoints, especially considering how long it took to get there. Then we get a rematch that was admittedly super cool, probably even the best fight in the movie. After that, the rest of the fights just didn’t live up. It was cool to see four different Jaegers doing their thing in the final scenes, but everyone except Gipsy Avenger gets their butts handed to them within a few minutes (probably because they decided to let teenagers pilot Jaegers against bigger-than-usual Kaiju…so at least they got that part to make sense).

Something I had noticed about the fight choreography was that Del Toro not only framed the shots well last time, but the Jaegers were intentionally somewhat slow and clunky, which would make sense for a giant towering robot that was so big it needed two pilots. They scrap that concept in this one and the Jaegers move with a lot more fluidity, which I realize that some people might be a fan of. Personally, I preferred it when they moved slower but I get that their technology has advanced…I just wish they said something about it or addressed it somewhere. It’s a minor point I know, but I would take anything to add a little more sense to the movie as a whole.

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I never want to bring up the first one in comparison whenever I’m talking about a sequel, but that’s really hard to do when a sequel constantly tries to capture the magic of the first one and doesn’t. There’s even a line where one of the scientists talks to Jake and says something like “Your father gave good speeches! Remember the one about cancelling the apocalypse?” Of course I remember that, anyone who’s ever seen the first one remembers that! This one was somehow trying to be it’s own thing while also trying to be its predecessor (i.e. Constant referencing to the first, but not using the awesome theme song everyone liked), and it made for a messy movie even by the lowered standards I have for movies about big monsters. What’s worse is they set-up ANOTHER one, with a somehow even dumber premise!?!

It just makes me sad, the first one had some value and genuinely made me happy, but because everything needs to be a franchise nowadays the brand of “Pacific Rim” is going to lose its value and that’s not fun for anyone. The second Kingsmen movie last year had SOME of these problems, but “Pacific Rim Uprising” has more of them and its much more obvious. I guess you should go see this one if you really just want more giant robot vs giant monster action, or if you like John Boyega, and if you don’t care about literally anything else.

“Pacific Rim Uprising” gets a whopping 5.5/10

 

Movie Review – Black Panther

The Revolution will not be Televised.

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS/INTERVIEWS]

Well it looks like my favorite director and favorite actor are 3 for 3 on their team-ups. I don’t even know where to begin, that’s how happy I am. Here goes my attempt…

“Black Panther” is the 18th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it picks up where “Captain America: Civil War” left off and brings the focus to the Prince T’Challa having to formally take up the mantle of Black Panther and King of Wakanda. In this movie, we get familiarized with Wakandan culture, T’Challa’s family and best friends, and the conflict that revolves around Wakanda itself. We really do get to focus on this country and these characters because there’s barely any MCU-extras in this. In fact you really don’t even need to be caught up to watch this one on its own. What seemed like a tall order ends up being an original movie with many conflicted characters that you actually care about, an absolutely phenomenal villain (oh we’ll get there, trust me), and it manages to bring social commentary to the front without being forceful or preachy. It all just works so well.

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However, most movies aren’t perfect (even the ones like this that I personally will take with me to my grave), and I specifically made sure to see this one twice to really be fair to it and anyone reading. I couldn’t catch anything glaringly wrong without nitpicking, but there’s a few technical issues that mess with the flow a little. This movie kind of does the “Wonder Woman” thing where that first shot of Themyscira (in this case, Wakanda) looks absolutely gorgeous…but from there on out the CGI takes a dive and its not “unwatchable” but its frustrating because we’ve seen “Doctor Strange” and how amazing the effects were there, so I felt a little disappointed in that end. As many of you may have heard, there’s a lack of action and big fights in this one. From where I stand, the first fight between T’Challa and M’Baku is a bare-knuckle fight and its AMAZING because they actually go for an MMA-style bout with punches and grappling rather than the unrealistic “Black Widow” scissor kicking and a million cuts just to get one sequence right. However, admittedly the final fights are kind of bland. Lastly, I feel like the pacing could turn some people off, because the climax happens intensely and quickly after a lot of exposition and fleshing-out. I didn’t mind it because I felt like I knew the situation well enough before the thing happens, but I think an extra 10 minutes would’ve made a huge difference (would put the runtime right at the 2.5 hour mark, which I don’t mind because the time used is well spent).

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So that was me nitpicking…and all that aside this is still the best MCU movie and in the top 5 Superhero movies for me. Everything the movie does well is done so ridiculously well that you feel satisfied and familiar with Wakanda because the world and the characters are built properly so that audiences can understand them. The movie just exudes passion and power and it really captivates you. Lets get into specifics:

Anyone can look at this cast and already be amazed, but wow they ALL delivered. I can’t honestly think of a single main character or performance I disliked because all of the characters and their different motives got a chance to shine and they all got to be heard. Okoye, Nakia, M’Baku were all fantastic, Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) absolutely stole the show. She does such an amazing job of juxtaposing being T’Challa’s younger sister with being one of the brightest minds in the world, rivaling guys like Tony Stark and Dr. Strange. The best part is that all of these characters develop and conflict with each other, because of the way Coogler establishes them early on, everything that happens after just makes sense and you end up picking sides but also understanding where everyone is coming from.

The film is so ridiculously layered and there’s so much to unpack, but I wanted to highlight a few things in particular. Yes, this is a very culturally relevant and important, but like I may have mentioned before it doesn’t preach to you. It takes you on this journey and all of sudden you’re hit with things that all end up making sense and gives the film an organic feel. On that note, the “Marvel humor” that so many people complain about also isn’t there. Any jokes made are very dry and unforced to go along with these characters, think of T’challa’s “I don’t care” line in Civil War when he wasn’t really trying to be funny, but it just was. Coogler also did his thing with subtleties and having a reason for all the small details, which just made me so happy especially when it was supplemented by Ludwig Gorranson’s score and Kendrick Lamar’s original songs. Even after all of this…I still haven’t gotten to the best part.

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Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger is, without a doubt, my favorite part of this movie. It is always tough to capture a character who is fueled by anger because often times it can look/feel silly…but Killmonger brought a very real and relatable feeling to the table and was so fantastic on every level. This is a villain that makes the heroes look within themselves, and at his core philosophy…he isn’t wrong. He takes it too far, sure, but he just wants to help innocent people, and he’s so mad that the people with the resources to help aren’t doing anything. You’re going to have to watch the movie to understand, but the issues that Killmonger brings up affect Wakanda, the characters, and the Marvel universe going forward.

“Black Panther” is an excellent addition to cinematic history, and I’m giving it a 9.5/10; Wakanda Forever.

2018 Best Picture Nominees – The Shape of Water

On second thought, maybe I don’t want fried fish for dinner.

If you’re following my takes on the Best Picture Nominees, here’s what I have so far:

old review on Dunkirk

Darkest Hour

Link to the podcast where my co-host and I talk The Post

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[NO SPOILERS]

“The Shape of Water” is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and is a Fantasy/Drama film about a mute woman who falls in love with a…well…you’ve probably heard by now.

So when it comes to Guillermo Del Toro, I’ve always disagreed with some of my peers. For anyone just joining us on this review, I don’t do the “film school” type of reviews and I’ve emphasized quite often that I’m just a regular guy who loves movies. That being said…I did not care for “Pan’s Labyrinth”. I don’t know why, I just thought it was dumb. Maybe it wasn’t for me, maybe I watched it in a bad mood, but for whatever reason I didn’t see what the big deal was. So right off the bat, my relationship with Guillermo Del Toro wasn’t a great one.

So when I sat down to watch “The Shape of Water”, I did my best to go at it with an open mind and take it for what it is. In the process of doing that, I can very easily see why this film seems to be the “favorite” for many people among this year’s nominees. However, it fell short for me and so far I’d put it as #2 on my list of the 5 I’ve seen (I haven’t done a review for my #1…but we’ll get to it eventually). While being a consistent, beautiful, sometimes breathtaking story with great characters, this film tends to have me hooked and then lose me with certain decisions or scenes I found ridiculous. It felt like eating an amazing candy bar and at some point finding a random raisin in it. The raisin doesn’t offend every fiber of your being, but still messes with the experience and you remember the raisin every time you remember the candy bar as a whole. If you’re already confused/annoyed…it gets worse. So maybe we should do positive points first.

There is a consistent theme here that I interpreted as being the concept of loneliness, and the movie makes sure we see how these different characters deal with that. Everyone here feels empty and wants to feel full (not from candy bars…and most certainly not from raisins) and they find that through the various things that come their way. The main character Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, obviously finds her comfort and fulfillment in the creature himself. Whereas the antagonist Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, finds his comfort in his professional success and in being superior to others. Not only do both characters have the similar feeling, but both rely on the creature for their fulfillment and the two forces clash very well and make for drama that the audience can get emotionally invested in. It also helps that both Hawkins and Shannon have put on performances that put them as the top contenders for the acting awards, especially considering that Hawkins is playing a character that doesn’t have dialogue.

The romance aspect of the film itself (initially what I wasn’t looking forward to) was something that I could actually believe by the end. While I think some viewers may struggle with a sense of disbelief, I don’t think this was the case for me and most others because of the way it is presented. My only wish was that they spent a little more time showing us the little things that cause the romance to blossom and why Elisa specifically feels love towards this creature, as opposed to those things being in a montage to progress the story to the actual point of conflict. Even then, Del Toro did a phenomenal job of exploring and showing a romance between two individuals that don’t really have anyone else, and I think that message really sticks with viewers and fosters the love for this film. That’s honestly the main thing, this whole movie is just very sweet and that’s something we genuinely don’t see as much. Add in all the magnificent visual storytelling that Del Toro has a knack for and it’s no surprise that you end up having a movie that could walk away being the best picture of 2017.

So what’s the issue? Even after me admitting all of this, why would I still have anything wrong with this? To be fair, they are little things, but they bothered me nonetheless. I feel like at some points the movie sacrificed subtlety and executed its points in a very obvious, cheesy, and sometimes predictable manner.  Without being too specific to avoid details, there is a point where Elisa feels something towards this creature…and instead of showing us her expression and letting her feelings be obvious that way (which I KNOW the actor and director are capable of) instead we get the most out-of-place musical number ever (I’m not kidding). There was more than one moment like that which just took me out of the emotional ride the movie put me on, and sometimes I feel like these things happened all for the sake of being abstract, which is fine..as long as it stays within the boundaries of what was presented and created in the first place. Even with that aside, while I think this was an incredibly creative movie and I admire it, I always want a “best picture” to do something different and stun me in a way I didn’t think about before. In that context, I think this movie is amazing but the overall premise feels a little familiar to me and it didn’t help that some of the story beats were mentally being laid out in my head before it happened on screen.

That previous paragraph aside, I still do mainly think of the positives and find this movie a beautiful piece of art. Even if it didn’t have that final x-factor to make it my favorite this year, I’m still giving “The Shape of Water” a 9/10.

 

The Thing about Cinematic Universes..

Let’s ignore the fact that I disappeared for a few months because life is crazy and just go into a deep dive on Cinematic Universes. So I recently, like a few optimists out there, watched the movie known as “Justice League”. I also, like a majority of the population, saw “Thor Ragnarok”. Additionally, me and a few other nerds on r/marvelstudios spent weeks praying for a trailer for “Avengers: Infinity War” that was given to us last week and blew all of our minds…and just happened to break the record for most viewed movie trailer on Youtube.

I know that not writing reviews for either Thor or Justice League were very out of character for me (although not as out of character as Batman was…), so just to be really quick about it:

  • I loved “Thor: Ragnarok”. It was unexpected, the improv feel made me happy, I got to see more obscure comic book things I never thought I’d see on the big screen, sure it was pretty weightless on the universe when compared to the Ragnarok comic book but I’m fine if we goof off with Thor and Hulk before we get real for “Black Panther” and before the potential for a major shake-up in the next two Avengers movies. Lastly, Jeff Goldblum is a national treasure and I won’t accept anything less.
  • “Justice League”…I’m not mad, I’m just frustrated. There is a decent movie in here bogged down by unfortunate tragedy behind the scenes, bad production decisions separate from that, and absolutely horrible executive decisions. However, the more I think/talk about it, the more I actually do get mad because it finally became very obvious that whoever is making the decisions behind the DCCU doesn’t actually care about the characters and what they’ve done for people (there is an entire generation of us that grew up on the Justice League Animated Series). I’m sick of being an apologist about it, this thing was a mess and frankly I’d be okay if they cancelled the DCCU.

Between the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios (coming up on their 10th anniversary) juxtaposed with the potential $500k loss on “Justice League” for the DCCU, the laughably bad attempt at a “Dark Universe” by Universal, Sony literally making a deal with Disney so that Spider-Man can be better, and the upcoming X-Force from Fox that spawned from the success of “Deadpool”…It’s becoming obvious that studios are struggling and scrambling to achieve what Marvel Studios has. In this post I’ll attempt to limit being an MCU fanboy/gushing over my idol Kevin Feige to try and pinpoint why studios that are trying this “Universe” thing are failing.

(P.S: Vanity Fair published this article for the MCU’s 10 year celebration, I’ll be referring to it quite a bit.)

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Making a Franchise Before Making a Good Movie

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Take a good look at that picture. That was a promotional image released by Universal for their “Dark Universe”. Objectively it looks cool, especially the inclusion of A-list celebrities, so what’s the issue? This thing was circulating the internet BEFORE the first film in the franchise, “The Mummy”, was even released. Universal jumped the gun to announce and plan this multi-billion dollar list of movies…and the box office revenue/critical reception to the first film speaks for itself. Here we are now with rumors of the thing possibly being cancelled due to top members of the production teams wanting out.

It was pretty gutsy of them to go for the power move, but now it just looks silly. Its even more embarrassing than that scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Harry literally walks down the aisle of Sony’s slated “Sinister Six” movie that we now know never happened and never will.

It’s great that you want to be ambitious and bold, even Feige took a huge risk with the initial phases of the MCU. Still, we come back to the fact that that first Iron-Man movie was absolutely amazing and is still the gold-standard for superhero origin movies, not to mention that the Avenger initiative wasn’t brought up once in the movie until the credits rolled. In some of these other franchises…the first movie wasn’t exactly great (“Man of Steel”, “The Mummy”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and felt the need to rub their non-existent franchise in your face. It was a “start smaller and build” strategy for Marvel, versus a “We have a Franchise coming up, the first movie will be out in a year” strategy for the others, and that is a HUGE difference when it comes to building fans as well.

Overreacting and Overcorrecting

If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that a very common theme in production for the DCCU movies included extensive re-shoots and even re-writes. Justice League had to go through so many changes that they had to use CGI to remove Superman’s mustache that actor Henry Cavill needed for another role. The “Suicide Squad” script was heavily revised after the accidental enormous success of Fox’s “Deadpool”, and a ton of movies were announced and had casting rumors after response to “Batman vs Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, notably an Affleck directed Batman movie and a possible Gotham City Sirens movie starring Margot Robbie. At some point, it felt like DC was making it up as they went along and that isn’t on accident.

By changing their scripts, movies, and production plans on a whim, Warner Bros. showed us that this giant narrative they’re trying to accomplish wasn’t being given much thought. Rather, they were being extremely reactionary to the criticism and little praise their movies got. Now obviously things change for studios and it is good to cut what isn’t working and what is, but it’s like they would open up Facebook the day after their movie showed, compile every stupid comment they could find, and make huge executive decisions off of those.

For example: Suicide Squad’s reception was bad > but people liked Margot as Harley Quinn > Let’s announce “Gotham City Sirens” > What about all the issues about this movie? > They wont care once we announce “Gotham City Sirens”, we’ll seem progressive and it’ll be fine.

Similarly, think about the X-Men movies and “Days of Future Past”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a damn good comic movie, but it arguably did seem like a response to the frustration behind “The Last Stand” and the success of “First Class”. If that doesn’t seem odd to anyone, think about “Apocalypse” (yikes) and the hinting of a very obvious intention to re-start the Phoenix Saga in a future movie…even though it would make more sense to do something new rather than to keep fixing Brett Ratner’s screw-up.

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Interfering with Creators

It’s such a shocker that the most successful movie DC had was the one where Warner Bros hired a good director and gave her a lot of creative freedom! That was sarcasm, that isn’t shocking it all. It also isn’t surprising that the less-than-successful MCU movies were the ones where Feige was least involved and Ike Perlmutter was still making huge decisions. I really don’t have to emphasize that the most successful comic-book movies had talented directors with creative freedom, that should be obvious. Yet somehow, bad decisions kept being made and in 2017 I got to see Batman suck in a movie for the first time since I watched “Batman Forever” (so many regrets).

Actually Caring

It warms my heart to read the Vanity Fair article and find out that Feige, like so many comic-fans/movie-nerds, is just an innocent fanboy with a desire to see his favorite characters represented properly on the big screen. That is the kind of person that should be in charge that rarely ever gets to be. What needs to be realized is that a lot of these characters that studios can “build a universe” around are all unique and can hold a lot of significance to a lot of people. Often times, people don’t even want to see a character in a live action movie because they’re scared it’ll be ridiculous (such is the case for me and Batman Beyond). So when executives view these characters as simple cash cows or good PR for their corporate image, it feels a little insulting to the fans. Again, this should be obvious, yet here we are.

Well that’s enough rambling about comic movies for now, see you soon for my review of *inhales*…THE LAST JEDI!!!!

Movie Review – The Lego Ninjago Movie

All cats involved in the production in this movie were all great pets that I’m sure were misunderstood.

Have you ever been the only childless adult in a theater full of parents and kids? Then laugh uncontrollably when the “My Little Pony Movie” trailer comes on and some kid yells “I WANNA SEE THAT DADDY”? Would highly recommend if you’re feeling like a mad lad.

“The Lego Ninjago Movie” is the third Lego movie and stars Dave Franco, Jackie Chan, Justin Theroux, and others. I remember seeing the trailer for this one while watching “The Lego Batman Movie” and thinking to myself that I definitely wanted to see it, because I’ve had so much fun with these past two Lego movies. Not only do I absolutely love Legos, but the animation style is still pretty darn cool and impressive and it made for a new “sub-genre” in the genre of animated movies. Let me explain:

 

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If you think about the last two Lego movies, they were fresh because it felt like animation that was not only family friendly, but with messages and fun for adults. There was self-aware humor for the franchises they parodied, a lot of sarcasm, a lot of poking fun at the genre as well (especially in the case of “The Lego Batman Movie”). Throw in some A-list celebrities (Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and SO many more) and you have yourself a great movie.

Whereas “The Lego Batman Movie” had a lot of similarities in theme and structure to “The Lego Movie”, it still felt fresh due to the focus on a character that’s been around for 75 years and making fun of everything that happened in those 75 years (you can peep my review for that back in February here). Unfortunately I have to say that trying to do the same with the Ninjago franchise just didn’t work as well, and caused the formula to be exposed.

Before I get into that, I should note some good things. I think the animation is getting even better (Ninjago city looked better than Gotham did in the last movie) and while the star-studded celebrities may not be entirely present, there’s still some great voice acting from funny people like Dave Franco, Jackie Chan, and Kumail Nanjiani. I laughed a few times, but you also have to remember I have the sense of humor of a toddler sometimes. Regardless, there are one or two small punchlines that kids won’t get, and the action scenes are also pretty sweet. Now that I got that out of the way…

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This movie just felt really predictable and unoriginal. Keep in mind if you know how I roll, you know I think “Its formulaic so I don’t like it” is one of the laziest movie criticisms anyone can say, and most people sound so pompous when they talk about it (and it turns out they haven’t even seen the installment of the franchise they’re bashing 9 out of 10 times). So for me to say that this movie followed a formula is kind of a big deal to me. What bothered me the most is that I always associate the Lego movies with parody and satire…and this plot-line was so generic that it was begging to be parodied? Kid that no one likes, is secretly a super cool hero, Dad is evil, and Uncle is good? I feel like I’ve seen this kind of movie so many times and that a sarcastic interpretation of it with the Lego medium would’ve been a great opportunity…but this was the first time I felt like a Lego movie was exactly what everyone assumed the first one was going to be: A kid’s movie that parents would be dragged to only to be dragged to their local Lego store right after.

Admittedly I might be sounding too harsh, especially if the intention was just to make a family friendly movie. But honestly, my stance on “kids” movies is that they can be powerful and fun for everyone, and we all know that there are so many examples of this. Yeah, you can make a movie that’s just meant for kids, but if you get me into the theater by marketing to me, I’m going to expect something in it for me (especially given your track record with previous movies). So because of that, my opinion on this one isn’t that it’s “bad”…but it’s just kind of there to kill time.

“The Lego Ninjago Movie” gets a 6/10.

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