Midsommar (2019): An Amazing Film About Grief and Isolation

Image result for Midsommar poster

   “Hereditary” was one of my favorite films last year and this year “Midsommar” has the potential to be that too. This is a psychological disturbing horror film that delves into the depths of grief. The only thing that really holds it back is the only likable character is our main character.

The film was written and directed by Ari Aster.

The story follows Dani (Florence Pugh) after her sister kills herself and her parents she finds herself isolated and alone. When her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends when they travel to an isolated Swedish village that is the hometown of one of the friends for the village’s midsummer festival.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography is some of the best I’ve seen all year. There are wide shots that suck in just how isolating open spaces can be. The film largely takes place in daylight and Pawel Pogorzelski uses this to give an ethereal alien feel to our characters as they are drugged by their hosts and the midsummer 9 day festival begins.

Soundtrack – The music uses lots of chants and quick strikes on the strings and drums. This plays beautifully into the isolation and the nature focus of the cult and it plays into the isolation. The music is striking and it makes the scenes and experiences of the characters stand out.

Dani’s Isolation – Dani’s isolation is our primary perspective in the film. It is done beautifully and nature is used to portray it. She is alone, even when she is with people and this is reflected in wide shots of wherever she is (her college or the village) and her visions. The drugs cause some of those visions as well which compounds how alone she is feeling. In the end she is the Cult’s mark and her isolation she feels from the beginning the film is what is taken advantage of.

The Terror of the Cult – The cult is creepy. They view themselves as part of nature and will kill themselves when they reach a certain age or to keep the balance of how many people are in the village. This extends out to people bringing sacrifices to keep alive longer and to sustain the village bloodline. The creepiness is there the moment you enter the village. The villagers never give much information and there are hints in the art on what will happen to the tourists. They are the scariest part of the film and seeing it from Dani’s fear and isolation only makes it more powerful especially as she chooses Christian as the final sacrifice for the festival showing just how in the cult she has become.

Facing Grief – The main arc of the story is Dani facing her isolation and grief over her sister killing herself and their parents. The cult has a life built around the seasons and villagers willingly give up their lives for the cause. This acclimates her to death to the point that by the end she smiles even as her friends and ex are now all dead. For her the breaking scene is when she finds Christian in a sex ritual with a girl from the village. It is here the village women cry with her and in the burning of the past she is reborn in the village and smiles for the only time the entire film.

Okay:

The Characters as Expendable Tropes – The characters are all jerks except for Dani. Her boyfriend doesn’t want to be in the relationship and never listens to her, his friends are a partier and the one who is studying the village for his Thesis and never shows kindness to anyone. The friend who brought them there is terrible as well as he knew he was bringing them there to be sacrificed. The one reason it isn’t a con is it does play well into Dani’s isolation and her eventually becoming the May Queen and a member of the Cult.

If you enjoy horror films or Ari Aster, this is a film I highly recommend. The film is long but it doesn’t feel that way at all. “Midsommar” has has a Kubrickesque feel as it has you sit with characters and scenes so they sink in and you feel uncomfortable by what is happening or what might be about to happen. This is the kind of horror enjoy and the fact that the film uses the theme of grief as an exploration adds another layer to an already great film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 If the other tourists with Dani had been likable it would be perfect.

The Dead Don’t Die (2019): Clever Ideas in an Empty Story

Image result for the dead don't die

       The type of comedies I’m usually into are British style or dark comedy. This is a film that truly wants to be a dark comedy but I’m sad to say I didn’t laugh once. The premise is intriguing, the execution looks good but the writing just doesn’t work and none of the jokes landed for me. Comedies are a strange thing to review given how subjective it can be. There is such a thing as a film believing it to be more clever than it actually is, and this is that film. I think was the story was going for was calling out the tropes in horror but it forgot to give character arcs and a compelling story in the process.

The film was written and directed by Jim Jamusch who wrote and directed a different film I like in “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

The story follows Sheriff Cliff (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie (Adam Driver) as they deal with the zombie apocalypse in their small town of Centerville.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. The colors are stark and it does a good job of paying homage to classic zombie films by using red when death is happening and giving a little bit of light and day. Frederick Elmes really did a great job. Within the film you can see what inspirations he pulls from. It is really well done too.

The Cast – Bill Murray, Adam Drive, Tilda Swinton…this is an amazing cast who really deserved a better film. They act the hell out of their tropes, the problem is there isn’t much of a story to hang it all on, so they are wasted.

The Tropes of Zombie Films – We got the zombie invasion of a small town, survivors holed up in the Police Station, Hardware Store and a fight in a cemetery. All of these are so common and if they’d been played it straight like in “Shaun of the Dead,” I think this film could have worked.

Okay:

The Writing and Characters – The writing is all tell and can’t help but referencing itself. We have hipsters from out of town who all get killed (no surprise in a horror film) we have the mysterious owner of the funeral home who is an alien we find out at the very end, the hero cop and the veteran cop who doesn’t care anymore. Somehow the script thought making this about consumerism would give a greater point? The writing is just awful. The jokes fall flat and the characters don’t have arcs. They are static tropes reacting to the situation.

The Cons:

Poor Use of Meta-Humor – Early on Officer Ronnie references the song “The Dead Don’t Die,” as the theme song. He knows it will end badly because he read the script and Bill Murray’s Sheriff Cliff feels that he should have known some of what was going to happen because the director owes him. This is the kind of film that feels like an extended vacation that a director and his friends take in an Adam Sandler film.

An Empty Point – The point is about consumerism but there is nothing to show this beyond a gas station with a lot of horror memorabilia that is being sold. If you want to make a larger point about society you can, just work it better into the script. This film failed at that.

The more I talk about this film the more I dislike what this film is. This film could have worked as a meta-take on consumerism and movie culture but it doesn’t even have that as part of the world of the characters beyond one person. This one person isn’t integrated enough in the plot to illustrate the point either. What also sucks is it is a horror comedy but it wasn’t scary or funny. I can’t recommend this film and saying it okay is being generous. Don’t waste your time and just watch “Shaun of the Dead.”

Final Score: 4 / 10

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) – Bringing Closure to the Amazing Show

    I loved this film. “El Camino” is the perfect Epilogue and closure for Jesse Pinkman and “Breaking Bad” as a whole. “Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite shows of all time, and this film captures so many of those reasons why it is. Like the show the filming is stark in coloration, the music also gives it that intensity and the writing is the perfect example of showing and not telling. No wonder Vince Gilligan created a masterpiece in the show, as he does this so well again here. If you are a fan of the show, you will at the very least enjoy the film. I highly recommend it.

The film was directed and written by Vince Gilligan.

The story follows Jesse after his escape from the Neo-Nazis as he tries to find a way to freedom away from all that has happened as he seeks out his friends and connections for help.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – As a fan of the show, it was great finally getting closure. I enjoyed seeing all the characters still alive interact and their connection to Jesse as well as those who were dead and how they were defining the way he would live. The world of “Breaking Bad” is harsh and cruel and there isn’t much hope. Most of the series involves Jesse taking a literal and metaphorical beating so it was wonderful seeing that there were still moments of light in the dark. The soundtrack and cinematography bring this to life too with how stark scenes are shot and even the brightest day can be one of complete isolation and claustrophobia. Dave Porter’s soundtrack brings this world to life to the point that it is like being back in the show once more.

Jesse Pinkman – Aaron Paul is truly an underrated actor. This is a film where we get to fully know the depths of who Jesse is. Jesse is complicated, but in the end he is someone who wants to do good by others. We see that he only kills in self-defense, he wants to give everyone a chance and will surrender if he is ever caught while still doing all he can find freedom and start over. In the end he gets that when he gets revenge against those who built his cage for the Neo-Nazi Meth Game who had enslaved him and when Ed keeps his word and grants him a new identity in life in Alaska. Leading up to this we see Mike talk to him about Alaska being the best place to start over, Walt talking to him about going into business and college, Jane talking about meaning and making your own choices and the support from his friends Skinny Pete and Badger who risk everything for him as he retraces the cook for the Neo-Nazi’s Todd to reclaim his money. It is powerful and I love how much we learn about Jesse.

Is Redemption Possible? – The major theme of the film is redemption and if it is even possible. Jesse has hurt a lot of people and this is a film where we do see him try to make amends. He tells his parents it isn’t their fault he is who he became, and the cleaner Ed he gets him the money and kills to do so, knowing what it will cost him inside, even if revenge is still part of it. Jesse is so broken when he first escapes and it is Skinny Pete and Badger’s compassion that even gives him a chance at a life again and chance for redemption as they do a car swap and give him money to keep the police off his back. Jesse carries that with him. All he has is his life and the desire to live and to not hurt anymore, and in the end the film says there is a chance. The last conversation wouldn’t have been with Jane talking purpose otherwise.

Responsibility and Moving Forward – How redemption is possible is through responsibility. This is fulfilled in the show in Walter sacrificing himself to atone to Jesse and getting the money to his family and we see it once more with Jesse in how he doesn’t kill and at every chance the law accuses him he is surrenders willingly. Ed, giving him his out shows it too as he calls the cops but leads them away and tells Jesse, once he has the money the deal for a new life will happen. They even have a great talk at the end and Ed talks about how he doesn’t care about Jesse’s feelings, he made his choices. He is the closest thing to a father for Jesse in the end and I love their relationship as his stubbornness and in the end helping Jesse does help him to heal. R.I.P. Robert Forster, you were one of the best parts of “Breaking Bad” and this film.

Okay:

Film to Show as New Trend? – The fact that this is a film that is based off a streaming show is a trend that I’m putting as okay, as in I’m a little worried. I look towards Disney plus and see how they could you this trend to gain an even greater monopoly on television than they already have. This is a horrifying thought and I really hope that in the competition between streaming services we get more gems like this that are in no way tied to Disney.

This is a character study of Jesse Pinkman and in that it fully succeeds. We get the beautiful score and cinematography of the show and a bittersweet ending, showing us that maybe there can be hope even in the worst of despair. Like the ending of “Breaking Bad,” this film works. It completes Jesse’s story and I’m glad it was made. Aaron Paul’s Jesse and the amazing supporting cast appearing in this film make this an unforgettable ride. The only way I could see this working again is with a character like Saul Goodman who also has so many characters tied to his story. I don’t think that will happen and that I think that is good. This epilogue gives the show a completion I didn’t know it needed. It was a great ride and one I would highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 The near perfect television film. I wish it had been longer.

Detective Pikachu (2019): A Film That Captures the Heart of Pokémon

Image result for Detective Pikachu poster

        “Detective Pikachu” was not a film I expected to enjoy as much as I did. I grew up with Pokémon Blue and Yellow on the Gameboy, saw some of the original show and traded some cards in Elementary School. I was a casual fan who enjoyed the zoology aspect of it. Pokemon are a cool concept and this film explores the relationship as mutual versus what can easily be interpreted as “dog fights” of the games. This film truly honors the show where Pokémon love the humans they work with.

The film was directed by Rob Letterman who co-wrote it along with Benji Samit, Dan Hernandez and Derek Connolly.

The story follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he uncovers the mysterious death of his father, with his father’s partner Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – This is a world that explores the relationship with Pokémon and people. Tim is the base of this, as he doesn’t want his father’s Pokémon since he blames Pokémon for why his father was killed. From this, we get fighting rings, labs trying to control them, mutual relationship in the city and wild in the forest. There is so much diversity to Pokémon that it shows it is far more complicated in this world than at first glance. Most of the action takes place in Ryme City, which is the city where Pokémon and humans live in unity together.

The Pokémon – The Pokémon are easily the best part of the film. Each of them have distinct personalities with Pikachu and Mewtwo being the most distinct. In this world Pokémon and humans have bonded together and each person has a Pokémon of their own. It is a really neat concept and I like how it shows they are intelligent animals. They fight, they get angry at one another but they also care for each other and their humans too. I’d love to see more of them within this universe if we get a sequel.

The Side Characters – The side characters are who really carry the plot. Whether it is Ken Watanabe as Detective Yoshida or Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford…it is these side characters that make the film interesting as they bring a lot of depth to the roles, where our leads by contrast are pretty bland.

Detective Yoshida – Detective Yoshida knew Tim’s father Harry and serves somewhat of a mentor role for Tim, who doesn’t want to be in Ryme City. His Pokémon is a grumpy Snubbull who’s gruffness mirror’s Yoshida’s kindness. I wish we’d gotten more time with him as Ken Watanabe steals every scene he is in.

Mewtwo – Mewtwo is initially presented as the antagonist, as from all appearances it looks like it was the thing responsible for the death of Tim’s father. Over the course of the film we learn it is quite the opposite though as Mewtwo was the one who saved Harry Goodman from the evil machinations of Howard Clifford and his goal to control and rule over Pokémon.

Howard Clifford – Bill Nighy is the big bad and the setup of finding out his plan is great. From all appearances it looks like he is trying to stop his son who appears to be the one experimenting on Pokémon. The reveal comes when Tim finds Howard’s son tied up in the closet and Howard’s Ditto is shown to have been the one manipluting things on Howard’s behalf. It is brilliant as well as this broken man seeking to become a God by putting his mind into Mewtwo and combining people with their Pokémon so he can rule over them. It is very well done and I loved his final fight with Detective Pikachu.

Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu – Ryan Reynolds voices Pikachu and also plays Harry Goodman who we learn was combined with Pikachu by Mewtwo in order to save Harry’s life. Pikachu doesn’t remember what happened that night so we get to see how his relationship forms with Tim, who never had a good relationship with his dad. It is really well done and in the end he fights Howard’s possessed Mewtwo so that Tim can rescue Mewtwo from Howards subjugation. It is really well done fight and Reynold’s sarcastic and cute humor works so well as Detective Pikachu.

Okay:

The Leads – The leads are super bland. Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, though he is at least sympathetic as a kid trying to form a relationship with his dad through his Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Same goes with the other lead Lucy Stevens who is most memorable in that she has an anxious Psyduck while she isn’t afraid of anything, so is always making her Pokémon panicked. They aren’t bad, but they are very one-dimensional and easily the weakest parts of the film.

This was a good film. It is hard to call it great because the leads are so bland. The core reveal in the mystery was touching though. If we return to this world in sequels, chances are I’d be giving it a chance. This movie was far better than it looked like it would be in the trailers. Ryme City is fascinating and I’d watch more Reynolds and Watanabe interacting with Pokémon. If you are a fan of Pokémon, I think you’d love this film.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Brightburn (2019): An Enjoyable Horror Take on “Superman”

Image result for brightburn poster

    “Brightburn” was a film I enjoyed. It is good but it could have been great if it had been willing to explore the deconstruction of Superman and Smallville further. This is clearly what it takes inspiration from and gives us a horror alien invasion story in the process.

The film was directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian and Mark Gunn.

The story follows the Breyer family after a mysterious ship crashes near their farm carrying a mysterious child they name Brandon. This dream soon finds itself becoming a nightmare as Brandon begins to discover he has powers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Family – The family is the best exploration within this premise. We see a mother who hasn’t been able to have kids now having a son she loves and a dad who wants to be a father too. Elizabeth Banks is great as Tori Breyer and David Denham (Pam’s former fiance from “The Office”) does the distrusting anything new as a threat really well. There isn’t a happy ending for either of htem but the fact that this is a horror movie, I’m not going to spoil it. Watch their relationship with Brandon, which is the best part of the film.

The Horror of Power – We see Brandon go from someone who hurts people for revenge and to cover up things, to killing the ones he loves. This arc for his character made sense given the alien technology telling him to take over. It isn’t good in regards to “Superman” mythos, but I can see where they were taking that mythos when they were making this horror film. I might look more fondly on this film I enjoyed, depending on where they take a potential sequel.

Okay:

The “Kryptonite” – The one thing that is implied to be able to hurt Brandon Breyer is metal from the ship he came on. We never fully see this though and the reason why this is, isn’t explored. This was a major loss. This was originally going to be a con, but there are enough implications that the parents know it hurts him in how they act around him in relationship to the ship. This isn’t great but it isn’t a total loss of developing Brandon’s “kryptonite.”

The Corruption of Brandon Breyer / Brightburn – Brandon Beyer’s corruption is shown in two ways. The first is when he realizes he can’t get hurt after putting his hand in the blade of the lawnmower after throwing it, and the second are the visions of an alien voice telling him to “Take control.” The idea of him becoming a bully because of his power is far more developed than the alien side of his story. It is in the way he uses his ability to not get hurt to hurt and kill others once he realizes he can. The alien side needed to be developed more. It is clearly something driving him but we never get the purpose behind it. The alien side calling him to take control simply exists, which is why I only rate his corruption as okay.

The Cons:

Developing the World – The small town and characters overall feel underdeveloped. They experience events but we never get their deeper thoughts on things. In this way like “Us” this works almost better as an episode in a show. This is what makes it a con. I had no favorite character in this film but I did find the idea of the film appealing. There is potential in this world but beyond Michael Rooker appearing as a paranoid tv announcer talking about other superhumans who are causing problems elsewhere. I loved that bit of world building, but Brightburn needed to feel more lived in, and it didn’t. Same with the alien species that Brandon Breyer came from. We know nothing about them beyond Brandon’s desire to take control. This was an easy chance at world building that should have been explored more.

This is a film worth checking out, if you were a fan of super hero films or horror films. The film isn’t great but it is enjoyable. Even with the story needing to be longer and more developed it still kept me drawn to the screen through the run. If they make sequels I would most likely see if they keep this quality, though I hope they can be better. This is a premise that deserves to be more and if has sequels, there is the chance to do so. As someone who only got into horror films in the last few years, I saw this as promising.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – Worth it for the Monsters

Image result for godzilla 2019

   “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of monster films and this film does the monsters very well. Some of the human characters are a bit weakly written but the overall themes of the movie never change. I enjoyed this more than both of the other American Godzilla films (1998 and 2014). It doesn’t touch the original “Godzilla” though in quality. That film is one of my favorites to this day and I’ll be surprised if lightning strikes that again for any monster film. For non-spoiler thoughts it is worth checking out for how the monsters or Titans as they are called in this, are handled. So much personality is given to each creature and they really are the stars of the film.

The film was directed by Michael Dougherty and who co-wrote the film with Zach Shields.

The story follows the scientific organization Monarch as they seek to stop a terrorist organization lead by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) from releasing King Ghidorah and the Titans upon the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – Whenever the monsters it fight it is some of the best action on the screen. Whether it is Rodan taking out Monarch’s ships while facing Ghidorah and the last few fights of Godzilla against Ghidorah are simply beautiful. Cities are destroyed and we see just how entrancing these Titans (as they are called) are.

The Soundtrack -Bear McCreary is one of my favorite composers and he did a fantastic job here. Each monster has their own theme that captures the true epic scale of each of the Titans. He also captures a sense of forboding that permeates the soundtrack and plays into the themes of destruction and balance that give the film it’s strength.

Alan Jonah – Charles Dance is an amazing actor and this film is a great example of this. We never get his personal reasons for wanting to destroy the world but he still manages to give empathy even as he is wreaking destruction everywhere around him with the releasing of the Titans. He survives the film so I hope we get more of his backstory as I enjoyed the scenes he was in.

Dr. Serizawa – Ken Watanabe has always been one of the strongest characters in this Franchise. He is a scientist obsessed with the Titans and hoping that they can bring balance to the world. Here is sacrifices his own life to bring Godzilla back to life after humanity nearly kills Godzilla with an oxygen bomb. It is a touching scene and it completes his arc beautifully as he’s always been rooting for Godzilla and been right about Godzilla overall being a Titan protector rather than a destroyer.

The Monsters – The monsters are the best part of this film. They are given so much personality and their dynamics with one another are powerful. We have Ghidorah who has three heads, each with a different personality, you have Rodan who is aggressive but values staying alive that it will submit after a fight and you have the guardianesque Mothra who seeks to protect Godzilla and the planet even at the expense of it’s own life. Rodan was my favorite and I’m glad he survives the film. Watching them fight is leading me back to the Toho films post the original “Godzilla” and I can’t wait to review them later.

Balance versus Destruction – The main theme of the film is that between balance and destruction. Balance comes through union of humanity with the Titans which in this case is through Mothra and Godzilla while destruction is alien King Ghidorah who wants to destroy all life on Earth. This is expressed in our characters such as Madison, Mark and Monarch who seek to keep the balance and help Godzilla against Ghidorah and destruction is through Alan Jonah and his organization who bring death wherever they go. This illustration is beautiful and I loved how the people mirrored the monsters they represented.

Okay:

The Russells – The Russell family is really where we see a lot of the core themes of balance versus destruction. Emma is part of Jonah’s group and causing destruction until the end she embraces balance that her daughter and husband were following in seeking to protect and save Godzilla. The arc itself is alright but I felt the Russells were the weakest human characters. They at least got arcs though. Mark forgives Godzilla for killing their son in the last film and his actions along with their daughter Madison help Godzilla eventually defeat Ghidorah…along with Emma’s final sacrifice in her distracting of Ghidorah from going for the killing blow.

The Cons:

When the Action is Hidden – There are a few action sequences where the action is hidden and it is annoying. When Ghidorah is first released in Antarctica so much of the fight against Godzilla is hidden by snow and darkness. This was a major problem in “Godzilla” 2014 and I’m glad it isn’t as bad here, but it is still present.

The Comedy – The comedy is bad. The jokes are cringy and I wish they’d avoided humor all together. The only scene I kind of laughed at is when Alan Jonah is trying to help Madison relax after his men have slaughtered a bunch of people and she flips him off. The rest felt like them trying to shove in jokes when they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

This was a film that I enjoyed. The monsters and themes are well executed and the only things that really bring down the film is the fact that some human characters could have been developed better in regards to their motivation. This film should have stayed away from comedy as well and I hate how studios get around showing action by covering it in snow or mist. Here it doesn’t happen a lot but the times it does hurt the great action we do see. If you are a fan of monster films or any of the “Godzilla” films I’d say it is worth your time. It is definitely the best of the American Godzilla films and I hope more of the monsters we see get explored further.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solidly good monster film.

The monsters in this film made me want to check out their originals from the Toho films, which will definitely be reviews in the future as out of all the Toho films I’ve only seen and reviewed the original “Godzilla.”

 

Missing Link (2019): Amazing Animation Can’t Save This Story

Image result for Missing Link poster

     “Missing Link” is a film that could have been so much more. One thing Laika Studios is quite good at doing is taking a novel concept and going deeper with it. We see this with “Kubo and the Two Strings” which takes your basic adventure story and makes it about working through grief and exploring familial bonds. This story is bland. The strongest part of the film are Zoe Saldaña’s performance as Adelina Fortnight and Hugh Jackman as Sir Lionel Frost. The problem is they are fully inhabiting tropes that they never grow beyond. This was sad as this story deserved so much better.

The film was directed and written by Chris Butler.

The film follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who wants to join the “Society of Great Men,” who believes he finally has a chance to join the order when he receives a letter from the United States and meets Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) the Sasquatch. The leader of the “Society of Great Men” Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) sends a hunter (Timothy Olaphant) to stop him as Frost must call upon a former friend Adelina (Zoe Saldaña) to get Mr. Link back to his ancestors the Yeti, in the North.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Laika is a master of stop-motion animation. “Missing Link” continues that same quality. The levels of detail they put into the forest set, the Yeti Temple and the ship is just spectacular. This is Laika once again showing why they are famous for their animation.

Sir Lionel Frost – Sir Lionel is the only character with a real character arc. He goes from a sociopath who uses people for his own glory, to one who considers his friends family. We see this in how he cares for Adelina and Mr. Link/Susan and though it takes work for him to gain empathy, in the end he finally does. Hugh Jackman does a fantastic job in the role. He plays the stuffy English man stereotype but the film at least lets him grow beyond it. The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast and the boxes they are put into.

Adelina Fortnight – Zoe Saldaña’s character is good in that she grows beyond the death of her husband and becomes her own adventurer. The problem is the stereotype the film has given her. She is still one of the best characters in the film but she is the angry latina which is a problematic trope and I wish Laika had been better. I liked her character but that trope kept her from becoming more three-dimensional because she was playing a problematic trope that hurt what character had been formed.

The Yeti Elder – Emma Thompson does a great job as the leader of the Yeti’s in the Yeti Elder. They are a closed off community who imprison Lionel, Adelina and Mr. Link dubbing him a redneck and not one of them. She does a great job of showing why the warriors follow her and also the closed off nature of what her people have become. They are portrayed as a warrior civilization with her as the head with survival above all else. Which given their isolation, I can see but there was no nuance. The Yeti Elder showed as much. She was just as close minded as the English villain just not a sexist imperialist.

Okay:

The Villains – Lord Piggot-Dunceby is simply a sexist pig consumed by ego (he has a great design at least as he is the largest human in the film) while the hunter is just a western style cowboy who never feels threatening. The characters are one dimensional and they serve their purpose within the narrative but that is about it. I’m glad Stephen Fry at least hammed up Lord Piggot-Dunceby or he would have been a bore. So much more could have been to critique the British Empire and the era but Butler was really lazy in trying to delve deeply into any of these characters or ideas.

The Cons:

Mr Link/Susan – Zach Galifianakis was the wrong person for this role. Mr. Link needed to be played by more than a comedian as so much of what he says are meant to be jokes said by a comedian. This was a disservice for the literal mindset and childlike nature of Mr. Link. This is a character who doesn’t really grow. He eventually finds family in Adelina and Sir Lionel but that isn’t through his choice, it is through theirs. Throughout the story he is always rejected and a more nuanced actor and script could have made that mean something.

Colonial Tropes – The problematic colonialist tropes that stood out where how native cultures were treated as props. They were just there to get Sir Lionel to his next location and discovery was always seen as new. The power of the British Empire is never questioned even as the film tries to be progressive.

I didn’t like this film but I didn’t hate it either. This film was enjoyable and fine. I would also only recommend for people who are fans of Laika like myself and who want to keep the studio going. I don’t want stop-motion animation to become a thing of the past, and Laika Studios is still one of the best at it. I do wish this film had managed to stand more for something and hadn’t been problematic, but for a forgettable fun film, it was serviceable.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Toy Story 4 (2019): A Powerful Exploration of Purpose and Relationship

Image result for toy story 4 poster

    “Toy Story 4” was a great film that I didn’t think was probable. This was a series that had ended pretty definitively at the end of “Toy Story 3” so I wasn’t sure what else they were going to do. I’m happy to say I was surprised. This is a film that is powerful and explores identity, mortality, purpose. The main cast are the heart of the show and at this point it is easily one of my favorite films of the year. If you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this one out.

The film was directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton.

The story follows Woody and his friends on a road trip after Bonnie has created a new toy name Forky who believes himself to be trash. Woody mentors him but soon finds himself questioning what he’s known when he runs into Bo Peep who is a now a living the life of a “lost toy.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Pixar does such a great job building off each of their latest films. This is simply a stunningly animated movie that has more realistic looking people, the detail of fur on animals and tons of different surfaces that make-up the many toys. I hope Pixar continues to thrive and brings us more of this amazing art. Every few films introduce something new worth exploring. After this my wife and I went to the Pixar exhibit and got to see the science behind it first hand. If it is ever in your area, check it out.

The Characters – The strongest part of most Pixar films are the characters. This film is no exception. The support characters have the least to do so it is hard to call their story good but it is still fun. This film is truly about the new characters, Bo Peep and Woody.

Gabby Gabby – Gabby Gabby is the antagonist of the film. She is a doll who wants to be loved but thinks because her voice box is broken she will never be loved. Because of this she kidnaps Forky to get Woody’s voicebox. They clash through the film with her eventually winning in her aims to get the voice box, only to be tossed aside. She is is a complex antagonist in that you can see where her drive is coming from and that she doesn’t destroy others the way Stinky Pete, Sid or Lotso does in the original Trilogy. She comes around to love and respect Woody because of what he does for her and becomes friends with Forky. Christina Hendricks gives so much depth to this role and she is easily the best antagonist in any “Toy Story” film, and that is because she shows that there is more a broken toy can become. Her final act is leaving Woody and Bo to care for a lost girl at the carnival.

Bo Peep – Bo is a toy who has found independence in the lost toy life and is loving it. She spends her time helping other toys found enjoyement from being played and though she misses her toy family from before she lives what she has become. She has a role beyond being there for a kid and it is in this role that Woody is given the choice for his own future.

Forky – Forky is the toy Bonnie creates when she is alone at Kindergarten. It is a powerful moment and Forky is born with an existential crisis. For much of the film he is trying to return to the trash, since that was what he was made from. Woody is the one who convinces him that he has a purpose to live (as well as Gabby Gabby) and from here he accepts his place as Bonnie’s favorite toy. The process is devastating and his arc is like a newborn learning to think and reason. We’ve never witnessed the birth of sentience in a toy until this film within the “Toy Story Franchise.”

Woody – Woody’s arc this film is learning to find purpose beyond devotion to a kid. The beginning of this is when Bonnie no longer cares to play with him, which kicks things off and ends with the finding of Bo Peep and joining her with the carnival, knowing that there they can help other toys find kids. His arc is a gut punch though as it is after Buzz comes back to rescue him that he says good-bye and passes on his sheriff star to Jessie who had become the Sheriff for Bonnie when she played. It was neat and a great releasing of his ego on Woody’s part. Tom Hanks once again adds so many layers to this wonderful character.

Identity and Purpose – The main theme running through the story is that of identity and purpose. What this is for most toy’s is the devotion of a kid. This is what helps make Forky no longer seek death and is what drives Woody through the story up to this point. It isn’t until he meets Po that he sees that she is bringing joy to those who are lost or don’t have toys. Woody finds purpose in this and in his love for her. It is powerful and over the course of the film is set up really well. We get the flashback of when she leaves, Woody being left in the closet and the birth of Forky who Woody than mentors. This exploration of identity and purpose is really the core of the story and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Support Characters – The support characters are alright. Woody’s friends get some good comedy, but we never see them grow. Buzz, who has the most screen time among them is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. The same goes for Jessie. She is still the same Jessie the film began with as she was always a leader. Key and Peele play a comedic duo Ducky and Bunny. There are others as well who work on a comedic level, but it is hard to call what they have arcs. For this reason the supporting cast is only okay.

This is a film I highly recommend. I can’t wait to go back and watch the original “Toy Story Trilogy” again and see just how far Pixar has come in their animation and really storytelling too. If you are a fan of the other films, chances are you won’t be disappointed by this one. So far it is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Pixar creates and the future stories they tell.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019): A Worthy Adaptation of the Comic

Image result for batman vs tmnt film

This was a solid adaptation of the comic. The comic is better, but this was DC Animation showing that they know what to do with their stories. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman teaming up is such a camp concept and I have so much joy over the fact that the concept works. Comics are so supposed to be creative and think outside of the box and the comic and film both do this.

The film was directed by Jake Castoreno and written by Marly Halpern-Graser.

The story follows Batman as he investigates mysterious robberies of Wayne Industries Technology by mutant beings. Batman than investigates congruently with Batgirl and Robin to unravel the mystery.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is quite enjoyable. We get some good face-offs with characters and who they team up with. For example at one point we have Michelangelo loving Mr. Freeze while Damian is more serious, Batgirl and Donatello team up and Leonardo and Batman. We also get to see Batman face off against Shredder a few times and the team against Joker and Harley Quinn. This was easily the thing that kept me drawn into the movie the most and I’m glad the action meant something.

The World – This is the multi-verse world where the Shredder and his Foot Clan are in Gotham stealing technology and where Batman where Batgirl as Barbara Gordon and a Damian Robin are Batman’s team. It is a fascinating place to explore as from the team-up you expect a more grittier era but the world is balanced because there exist mutant turtles hunting down an evil ninja clan. Gotham and the world of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” work really together and I think that is due to both having gritty initial roots but having so much camp and crazy exist as well. This whole idea wouldn’t exist without being open to possibilities.

The Turtles – The Turtles are great and aren’t overused. Donatello forms a friendship with Batgirl, Raphael forms a friendship with Robin and a respect for Batman and Michelangelo grows into a greater hero with Batman’s help. The dynamic between them is classic with Raphael wanting to go rogue and I do love this version of Donatello, which plays up his smarts. Michelangelo even has moments of heroism and is the key to the story, which is rare in most “TMNT” stories I’ve watched.

Batman and Team – Troy Baker does an excellent job voicing both Batman and the Joker in this. He’s voiced the Joker before in “Arkham Origins” and this film really shows just how much range he has. The Batman is the perspective we first see and in a way they drive the story as the action largely takes place in Gotham.

The Ooze and Gotham – The Ooze is used after Ra’s al Ghul and Shredder team up and the inmates of Arkham Asylum are transformed into animal forms. We have Baine as a Jaguar, Mr. Freeze as a Polar Bear, Scarecrow as a crow, Harley as a Hyena (Voiced by the amazing Tara Strong!) and the Joker as a Cobra. In the comics there are more rogues transformed (also honorable mentions to Two-Face as Two-Faced cat and Poison Ivy as a Venus Fly Trap) but the core fights are the ones mentioned first. The ooze drives the story (as it is what turned the turtles into mutants) and at one point Batman is changed into a mutant bat that is against all things. It is only Michelangelo who saves him with the cure. This whole sequence was solid action and I liked that Batman needed help and also the fact it was the most underrated Ninja Turtle helped. Michelangelo saves Batman after he is transformed. It was a moment you rarely see in most Turtle films as Mikey is usually there only for comedic relief. Also major props to Troy Baker for voicing both Batman and the Joker beautifully.

Shredder – Shredder is really the guy in charge this time around. Ra’s al Ghul does ally with him and uses infecting the inmates of Gotham as a distraction but Shredder double crosses him and admits he plans to invade this universe and conquer it with his Foot Clan. He never stops being a threat and Batman is fought to a draw with him quite a few times before he is finally beat. The cool thing is his story doesn’t end there as the Ooze mixed with Joker Venom infects him and he transforms into Joker Shredder setting up a sequel. Giving they did this it better payoff.

Okay:

The Animation – The animation flows but you can also see how it is working with a budget. The comic has a level of detail that this animated feature simply does not have. It isn’t bad animation but the simplification hurts when the turtles are on screen as they feel less realized than the detail that was put into any human character on screen. Again, it wasn’t bad but I cannot put it as a pro.

Ra’s al Ghul – Ra’s al Ghul is not as compelling as the Shredder in this. The biggest reason is he is introduced late and we never have any worthy face-offs with Batman. In the first volume of the comic was far more compelling and essential. I like him facing off against Michelangelo but he never becomes a great villain. If anything he would have fit sticking around to fight in Arkham Asylum as it would have made him facing off against Damian and Batman mean more and give more power to Shredder’s inevitable betrayal.

The Cons:

Not A Complete Story – Volume 1 of “Batman vs. TMNT” was a complete story that did not need a sequel. This one is setting up a sequel, which is cool but I’ve seen enough shows and films crash and burn to know how arrogant that is. I loved that Shredder transformed but I hate the assumption that there will be a sequel when that is never a given.

If you like DC Animation, of which I am a fan this is a film well worth your time. It isn’t as great as the comic which I’d argue is a near perfect adaptation of the premise. This is film with decent animation and action with a compelling overall story. It i is overall faithful to the original comic while focusing in on the core fights. Initially this did annoy me but I like how it lead to the bonds forming between Batgirl, Robin and the Turtles. This is also an acquired taste. For me it was solidly good cause I like both of these universes, but for others it might be a bit more out of the bag. Regardless this film was so much fun.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid adaptation that could have been great.

Us (2019): Deconstructing Class and Race

Image result for us 2019 film poster

    “Us” is a great film that feels like an extended episode of a show. The premise is a lot of fun and it is worth seeing for Lupita Nyong’o alone as she portrays two very different characters. This story I would have rated higher if her family had been explored more or the family friends had been likable. There are also a lot of plot holes which makes this film a great idea, which is the biggest reason it is rated so high. It needed more the plot holes filled in. This film lacks the subtly of “Get Out,” which keeps it from being scored higher for me. It is still worth checking out though.

The film was written and directed by Jordan Peele.

The story follows Adelaide and her family in their summer home in Santa Cruz when their doppelgangers attack and hold them hostage.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Michael Abels soundtrack is haunting. He does a great job of tying in the alien with the familiar. This is especially so after the family takes home and the use of “I Got 5 On It” throughout the film. This use of music is the greatest example of why this is a film rather than an episode of a show.

The Tension – Tension is handled really well in this film. We start out with a flashback and unknown factor builds the story from there. This was the first “Home Invasion” horror I’ve seen beyond “Halloween.” This film does a good job building tension and it truly works as a thriller, though it did not scare me. So as a horror it could have worked better but it worked wonders as thriller.

Lupita Nyong’o – Lupita Nyong’o carries this film. As Adelaide she is someone who was once captive and is now free and just wants to be comfortable. It is when Red, the person above she trapped below who upsets things with the Tethered revolution that she truly sees what reality is. This is her awakening as her “friends” are more worried about appearances and class and reflect her selfishness while Red just wants to free the Tethered. In the end she kills Red but her lie and false reality are broken as her son Jason witnesses what she did and Red’s confession.

The Family – Adelaide and her family are certainly a pro of the film. I think what would have made them work better is more interactions with others. Adelaide is the only character who feels fully fleshed out. The family mostly works as a reaction to their Tethered duplicates. Gabe is someone who finds his strength when he’s overpowered, Zora sees the big picture and uses that in regards to her environment. She wins by getting out of the house.  The youngest, Jason is the one who sees the cost of what happened in all the deaths and knows his mother is a Tethered too. His mask he wears through the film comes off when he sees the truth of her past.

Exploring Race and Class Through Symbolism – Most of the explorations of race and class come through the symbolism in the story. We see this in the fact that Red once came from above and the first thing she did was rebel. We see it her designing the suits of the Tethered like prison uniforms and the Prison Industrial Complex that primarily uses African-Americans as prison labor. We see it in how Adelaide has forgotten and become part of the rich and that she only really wakes up after destroying herself (Red). There are so many ideas here that give the movie power and move it from good to great. The biggest disadvantage here is I wanted more. “Get Out” was a much better film because it fully explored the ideas and characters presented.

The Cons:

The Reasons for the Tethered – The Tethered are a government project made to control those on Earth. We never get an explanation beyond that and that reason also doesn’t make all that much sense given we are never shown them doing that prior. How do they control those above ground? Who were they before Red? There are so many questions that remain unanswered, which helps the story and symbolism. The meaning is largely symbolism and this was a chance to get beyond that. The Tethered and their relationship to those above are the biggest reason this story isn’t rated higher. It needed more exploration to truly work.

The Family Friends – Elisabeth Moss, her husband and their daughters are lame. They were unlikable from the beginning (vain, materialistic, egotistical) so them being killed by their Tethereds meant nothing. This was the wrong way to go as we need more to build up the family…and this family does not.

I thought this film was a solidly great thriller that could have been more if it developed the characters and story. At the end of the day I only felt that I knew Adelaide and Red and for a family trapped the family has to be more than ideas…the friends have to be more than ideas. In the end concept over character is what kept it from being rated higher. Still worth checking out for any of fan of Jordan Peele. He did a great job, I just wanted more.

Final Score: 9 / 10