Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 2 (2021) – Brought Down By Holes in Part 1

“Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 2” doesn’t solve the issues of “Part 1” but it is the better film. When they are edited together I’m curious if they’ll take anything out or add some more scenes in as “Part 1” does not set-up “Part 2” well in regards to the mysteries well at all. This Part does have some great action though and it is enjoyable. So if you liked the first part I do recommend completing your watch and watching “Part 2.”

The film was directed by Chris Palmer and written by Tim Sheridan.

As Bruce Wayne (Jensen Ackles) is being controlled by Poison Ivy (Katee Sackhoff) for Carmine Falcone (Titus Welliver), the Holiday killings continue as Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) continues to grow more unstable.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is one thing this adaptation has done well as we get a great fight when Catwoman saves Bruce Wayne from Poison Ivy’s control, when Batman fights Scarecrow and the Mad Matter and in the final fight of the film. The action is kinetic and you can see what everyone is doing clearly.

Scarecrow – Scarecrow hits Batman with the fear toxin and with the Mad Hatter gets Carmine more of what he needs for his operation. I also suspect he and the Mad Hatter might have helped make the acid for Sal Maroni as that seems like a concoction they’d make. This version of Scarecrow looks haunting and we see him and he usually succeeds in causing chaos at least once before being taken down.

Poison Ivy – Katee Sackhoff’s Poison Ivy shows why she is easily the most powerful of Batman’s rogues. From mind controlling Bruce Wayne to sign over his assets to Carmine Falcone and later working with Two-Face to take out Falcone. She is a great threat and she ends up controlling Bruce Wayne for months.

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – Josh Duhamel is a better Two-Face than Harvey as I never believed his love for Gilda and Two-Face has a rough voice and is ruthless. This is the identity who only believes in chance and he is a great threat after Sal Maroni completes his birth into Two-Face with the acid in the court. He recruits Grundy, Joker, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy and takes out Carmine Falcone in the end before taking responsibility for the Holiday killings. He’s not as tragic as in the comics as he is fully another being while Two-Face in the comics was about revenge and it was personal. This Two-Face doesn’t believe in revenge, he simply is.

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Naya Rivera continues to be an amazing Catwoman. Her arc in this is protecting Carmine Falcone until on his death bed she learns Louisa was her mother as Falcone was her father. It was a good arc and I liked how she saved Batman a bunch. She was the most successful hero in this. In the end she opens up too as both Bruce Wayne and her shared their secret identities and are shown to be a couple at the end. R.I.P. Naya Nivera.

The Final Fight – You have Carmine and his daughter Sofia against Two-Face and the rogues with finally Batman and Catwoman arriving to even things out. It is a fantastic fight and begins with the rogues causing chaos in Gotham, which was a nice touch and in character for them. It was a great fight and the reveal of Catwoman’s origin was neat.

The “Holiday” Reveal – We learn that Alberto Falcone was a “Holiday” like in the comics as was Gilda and Harvey as the final. The difference is Gilda was with Alberto until Carmine broke up the relationship and forced her to get an abortion. In the end she kills off the Falcone line as revenge. I liked that her motivations were explored more but none of this was setup in “Part 1” and “Part 2” the reveals of it being here were very obvious, but I liked the different lore.

The Cons:

The Batman and Harvey Dent Friendship – Batman says they are friends but all they did was burn Falcone’s cash together once. They never became friends that we could see so it took me out of the film when Batman called them friends. They were co-workers at most.

The Dent Marriage – Gilda says she loved Harvey but I never saw love fully from either of them. Them getting divorced is referenced in this film too. Gilda saying she fell in love with Harvey was never truly shown.

“The Roman” and his Arc – Carmine Falcone met a young Bruce and told him “All you have is what you take.” This is apparently the message? It is a mess and Carmine was never shown to have ever loved his son Alberto and his past of what he did to Gilda was never even hinted at prior. He dies but because of all the added story holes it becomes a mess rather than a clear revenge story like in the comic.

Batman is Still Dumb – Batman is still dumb in this and is playing catch-up to even Carmine who figured out Gilda was “Holiday.” This was annoying and I hate that we only see Batman is good at fighting. He also just lets Gilda stay which seems counter to what we had seen before. We needed more time with him letting Catwoman be a thief and him being okay with it for it to work.

“Part 2” is an enjoyable mess. I like the voice cast a lot. Ackles makes a great Batman and I hope he can voice him again. Duhamel also has a great Two-Face voice. R.I.P. Naya Rivera who voiced an extremely memorable Catwoman. This cast is great and I wish the story had worked better. The new lore needed more setup and certain characters more exploration for this 2 Parter to work. Still, if you are looking for a fun adaptation I would say it is worth checking out.

Part 1: 7 / 10

Part 2: 7.5 / 10

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 1 (2021) – Adaptation That Isn’t Quite Working

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Letting Go of the Past and the Quest for Inner Peace

“Kung Fu Panda 2” is easily the best of the “Kung Fu Panda Trilogy” and of the best animated films out there. This is a film that deals with the themes of trauma, loss and found family as well as giving us some amazing action and character arcs. This film is a favorite and I think shows just how great animated stories can be. So without going into spoilers, this is one I highly recommend.

The film was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story follows Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five when they must stop Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his new weapon from conquest.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Opening – We get a great opening with Michelle Yeoh’s Soothsayer saying how Lord Shen used the invention of fireworks to come up with weapons leading to his exile after he heard a prophecy of a black and white warrior defeating him. This lead to his hunting down all pandas and his parents exiling him. After we see him return to Gongmen City, his home an defeating the martial arts masters with his new weapon. The stakes are immediate and we see what is at stake when Lord Shifu gets the message of what has happened and sends Po and the Furious Five to stop Lord Shen.

The Animation – The animation is almost realistic in the forest and some of the city settings with the details of ships looking almost lifelike. It is beautiful and plays into the dark tone of the film.

The Action – The action is great in this with memorable sequences being attacking Lord Shen at the palace and the docks where we see is cannons on full display as well as how great our heroes are against his wolf forces. There are slower moments too that add impact when the action sequences happen.

Wolf Boss – Danny McBride plays Lord Shen’s second-in-command and he is a good threat too as we see him hold his own against Po and how well he works wit his pack. He also isn’t all evil too as when Lord Shen says he should fire on their men to take out the Furious Five and their allies he refuses, leading to Lord Shen killing him.

The Furious Five – The Furious Five get more to do in this and we see how well they work as a team as they shout out tactics they use. They are there for Po in his identity crisis they use and each of them have their moment to shine in fighting Lord Shen or teaching Po in the case of Tigress. I loved them in this.

The Soothsayer – Michelle Yeoh’s Soothsayer is a character full of regret as we see she tries to help Lord Shen let go and heal but can’t though sh is able to help Po heal. We see the regret she feels for sharing the prophecy that lead to the hunting of Pandas and how much she wishes Lord Shen could heal. She is compelling andshines in every scene she is in.

Mr. Ping – Mr. Ping in this shares how he found and adopted Po and we see his arc as at one point he fears that Po has left him forever when Po doesn’t say “I love you” when he says good-bye. It is a heartbreaking scene and I’m glad one of the last scenes is Po returning to say Mr. Ping is his dad. James Hong is once again great and one of the most memorable characters. He never planned to b a dad but embraced it when it happened.

Lord Shen – Gary Oldman plays the best villain in this series. Shen is a villain with so much rage and regret who can’t accept love and it has driven him to hate everything. He is a brilliant inventor but in the end he can’t see anything beyond that which he can take. He is broken and alone and it makes him a fascinating villain. All he has is his ego, pride and resentment. Just like Tai Lung.

Po – Po’s arc is powerful in this as he figures out who he is as he never new his biological parents (though we see his dad survived Lord Shen and his wolves at the end) and his need to know puts the Furious Five at risks. He becomes driven for outside validation like Lord Shen and Tai Lung until he remembers his past and his mother saving him during his time with the Soothsayer. It is a powerful arc and with Inner Peace he is able to free his friends and defeat Lord Shen and his forces.

How the Past Can Consume – Lord Shen and Po are both consumed by feeling abandoned by their parents (for different reasons) and this leads to them acting out and ignoring those who care for them. Shen only has his hat and rage and Po only in accepting himself realizes the friends and family he has, finding peace in the present. They are contrasted in the message of the film.

Found and Created Family – Master Shifu, the Furious Five, Mr. Ping these are Po’s found family and it takes him nearly dying to realize it as he comes to understand that he may not have the family who saved him but he has a family who love him. These relationships illustrate why this Trilogy is one of my favorites.

This is the best film in the Trilogy and one of the best animated films out there. It has so many characters and they all have a chance to be amazing and nuanced. I love this film and each time I return to it I notice something new. I highly recommend this film and of course the Trilogy as a whole.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Kung Fu Panda (2008): Finding the Power Within and Accepting Yourself

I’ve been planning to finish up my reviews of this Trilogy as it is one that I come back to given how great the action, themes and characters are and once again I was not disappointed. Really the only weak part of the first film is First Act pacing and some of Po’s jokes early on. Besides that the core conflict and arcs are fantastic and without getting into spoilers I highly recommend this film.

“Kung Fu Panda” was directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story follows noodle cook Po (Jack Black) when he is chosen as the legendary Dragon Warrior and must face himself and the trials of martial arts as the feared warrior Tai Lung (Ian McShane) breaks out prison to get revenge against his master and the valley.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – There is beautiful comic book stylized 2D animation when Po is telling his story of joining the Furious Five in a dream and after the main colorful 3D for the rest of the film. The animation looks amazing and captures the beauty of the valley and the isolation of Tai Lung’s mountain prison well. The animation is smooth too leading to some great action sequences.

The Action – The action is amazing in this with Tai Lung’s escape, Tai Lung against the Furious Five and Tai Lung against Master Shifu as the best action sequences. We have a prison falling apart, a fight on a bridge and at the top of a mountain temple. You feel the punches and action and it establishes how powerful the Furious Five, Master Shifu and eventually Po are.

The Characters – The characters are what make this film work as especially for comedy they have to. All the main and supporting cast I cared about and I’ll go into a few here.

Mr. Ping – Mr. Ping is Po’s adopted dad and owner of the noodle shop in the village. He is traditional in that he wants Po to carry on the family trade but he supports Po when Po discovers being a martial art master is what he wants. James Hong gives him so much empathy and he is one of the reasons this Trilogy works so well.

The Furious Five – The Furious Five are fantastic though they exist more as the great team with their base personalities being Mantis is voiced by Seth Rogen and grumpy but open minded, Jolie’s Tigress is distrusting and the leader, Jackie Chan’s Monkey is the jokester, Lucy Liu’s Viper is kind and Cross’s Crane is sarcastic. They are the main protectors of the village in the valley and are Po’s idols and eventual friends.

Tai Lung – Tai Lung is a snow leopard voiced by Ian McShane driven by the expectations he places upon himself and his master Shifu that eventually drive him mad with rage. He believes himself the best and it made him entitled and unwilling to have any self-reflection. It is this that leads to his undoing when Po takes the message of the Dragon Scroll that the answer is within yourself that defeats Tai Lung who never grows beyond outside expectations, ego and rage. He is a great villain and easily one of the best animated villains. He also has all the best action sequences in the film showing just how dangerous he is.

Po – Po’s arc is to accept himself and the power that is within. It is a great hero’s journey that works well because of his mentors of Oogway, Shifu and his father Mr. Ping. Jack Black gives the character so much humanity and I liked his arc of learning martial arts and coming to accept himself. It is organic an made sense as did his starting out as an outsider among the Furious Five and earning their respect.

Master Shifu – Hoffman’s Shifu is the heart of this film as his relationship to Tai Lung gives us some of the best drama. After his failure to teach Tai Lung humility he stopped complimenting his students. He becomes strict and it is only after Oogway’s death and him passing on leadership of the Temple to him that he learns and grows and finds how to play to Po’s strengths. He has a great arc and I like how he finally finds the inner peace he’d always been seeking since Tai Lung’s betrayal.

Accepting Yourself – A huge theme of the film is self-acceptance and we see it Shifu and Po who do and in Tai Lung’s failure to do so. The Tao and martial arts are used as the means of teaching it and it is done really well.

The Cons:

Slow Start – The beginning is all set-up from Po’s perspective, which is fine but the greater story is really that between Shifu and Tai Lung which is a lot slower to kick off than I remember. If Tai Lung had been made part of the story sooner the film would be better.

Some of Po’s Jokes – Po’s fake confidence is grating and I felt like Master Shifu in some scene of just wanting the action to move forward. When bad jokes happen and Po jokes too much the story stalls.

The first 2 “Kung Fu Panda” films are easily 2 of my favorite animated films and it was great returning back to the beginning of this amazing trilogy. If you haven’t seen it and want animated films with a deeper point and great action and characters than this is the film for you.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Werewolves Within (2021): Good Once the Mystery Starts

“Werewolves Within” is a film that is a solid version of it’s premise. It is based on a Ubisoft VR game of the same name, which in turn I believe came from the Mafia style “One Night a Werewolf” game. I’ve played “One Night a Werewolf” and it is a fun game so it was cool to see a version of it brought to film here. I’d say the biggest thing keeping the film from being great is the comedy doesn’t always work and comedic writing doesn’t usually make for good character development. Still, this is a good film largely due to the final reveal and the core mystery so without going into spoilers, I do recommend the film.

The film was directed by Josh Ruben and written by Mishna Wolff.

The story follows Forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) when he is assigned to Beaverfield, a small town in crisis as the potential building of an oil pipeline is tearing the town apart. When murders start occuring the town begins to suspect one of them might be a werewolf.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This is a beautiful looking film that captures the terror and isolation of a werewolf in a small town really well. The fear of the people is captured in the darker grating and mist really well. Matthew Wise did a great job.

The Setup – Murder in a small town where everyone is given motive to hate as we have pro and anti-pipeline factions and interpersonal reasons why the murders could happen. It works well and Finn as the outsider gives a great perspective as well as us not fully knowing his backstory.

The Action – The action does tension really well as we never see the werewolf until the end. This leads the setup of if there even is one given we see some characters are just murders. Once everyone leaves the Inn and characters are going there seperate ways is when the action doesn’t stop and really works.

The Reveal – In the end the mailman Cecily played by Milana Vayntrub is the werewolf. She is setup as one of the kinder people in the town and Finn’s somewhat love interest so the reveal works as we see for her it is all survival. It is a cool reveal and I almost wondered if she’d turn Finn into a werewolf too.

The Cons:

The Character Introductions and First Act – You have the conservatives who hate outsiders with the obsessive driven wife and the cheating husband, you have the rich oil man who is trying to buy out the town, the gay couple who are liberal tech. millionaires, the dysfunctional and paranoid mechanics couple, the isolated hunter who hates people, the mailman Cecily, the kind woman who owns the inn and of course Ranger Finn. All are presented comedically by Cecily and it doesn’t work. I get it is setting the stage but we don’t get to know the characters beyond them liking or hating the pipeline. I would have just had them introduced at the Inn when the power goes out as the dynamic nature and complexity to them doesn’t come out until then. I disliked playing the town as a joke from the start as the drama with some comedy was when the film worked. This is the problem with the first act and keeps the film from being great.

This is a film that could have been great if it had done more to get to the action quicker and used that to explore the characters as it was at that point it was shining. The film does a good job establishing motives which make it a good mystery and when it does get to the action it is great. For this reason I would recommend it and Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub do a good job carrying the core story.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solidly good action and mystery film.

Wrath of Man (2021): Would Have Worked Better if the Film was Shorter

“Wrath of Man” is an enjoyable revenge thriller that never quite reaches good. This was a story that needed more focus on the characters and plot and having them flow together better, though the action does look great. When it comes to the action being great I’ve come to expect that from Guy Ritchie films and it is once again on display here.

The film was directed by Guy Ritchie who co-wrote the script with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies.

The story follows H (Jason Statham) when his past is slowly revealed after he stops the robbery of a cash truck.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of uncovering the past of a mysterious man who takes out a professional robbery of a cash truck is compelling. Sadly it wasn’t made the most of.

The Action – The action is great. From H’s rampages after his son’s death to the final showdown which is a shootout in the money depot. There are a lot of perspectives to track in that final action sequence and the film pulls it out.

The Final Act – The final act is the only time a lot of the characters get any development and for what scenes they have they are great. I cared about the people in the money depot and wish they’d been developed earlier in the film. This entire sequence is noting but consequence and nearly everyone dies. It reminded me of “Reservoir Dogs” that way.

Okay:

The Characters – The characters in this are okay but none of them are good. Why the villain becomes a sociopath after being an honorable veteran is never explained and his squad isn’t developed either. Same goes for the people in the money depot and even H only gets base development as being the head of a crime empire but we don’t know what they do beyond stealing from money trucks. The characters all needed more development in their motivations and backgrounds.

The Cons:

Length – Because characters weren’t developed this film could have been good as a 90 minute not a 2 hour film. There is a lot of time that just feels wasted and most of the work was clearly put into the final act. As a shorter film it could have worked though.

The Perspective Swaps – At one point we get the main villain’s perspective and also H’s backstory but it doesn’t go anywhere. We get scenes but not motivation beyond being told motivation. This film didn’t need the perspective swaps as in the end it just broke the focus of the narrative.

This was an enjoyable but flawed action film. If you want a cheap action rental and like Guy Ritchie films you’ll enjoy it, just know this isn’t one of his best and the script and characters needed more work. I still thought this film was fun though and Jason Statham feels understated in his performance, which helps the script problems somewhat.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Gunpowder Milkshake (2021): Beautiful Style and Action But World Needed More Development

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is a good stylized action film that would have been great if the world had been developed more. There aren’t really any unique villains which is a shame given how unique and fantastic the heroes are. This is still worth checking out though and I’m curious what Navot Papushado will make next as his style is a lot of fun and he knows how to film good action.

The film was directed and co-written by Navot Papushado with the other writer being Ehud Lavski.

The story follows the assassin Sam (Karen Gillan) when a job goes south and she must protect the child of the man she killed named Emily (Chloe Coleman) as Sam is reunited with her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey) and the sisterhood assassin organization her mother was once a part of.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – You have giant crime organizations, the secret Firm who controls everything and the Librarians a secret group of assassins and weapons sellers. This is such a fantastic introduction to a world that I’d like to spend more time in.

The Cinematography – The scene uses shadows and bright colors to give the world a unique and comic book feel. You can tell that this is a world of secret organizations and groups of assassin librarians as the colors and darkness capture the tone of the world so well. Michael Seresin did a great job on the cinematography.

The Action – The action is very stylized and brutal and looks amazing. The use of colors and how blood is a part of that with axes, swords and guns gives it a comic book feel that brings scenes to life. None of the action scenes are boring.

The Librarians / Sisterhood – The librarians / sisterhood are so much fun. You have Angela Bassett’s Anna May who doesn’t trust and has baggage with Scarlet, Michelle Yeoh’s Florence who is kind and the idealistic Madeleine played by Carla Gugino who loves the librarian part of the job and dies in the assault on the library by McAlister’s men. In the end they get revenge on McAlister and his organization and leave with Sam, Scarlet and Emily. I wish we had learned more about how their organization works as they are a cool idea but just need more development of what they’ve done and do and how they work as a group.

Sam and Scarlet – The core relationship is between Sam and Lena Headey’s Scarlet who is her mom. We learn her mom went underground because she went against the firm to kill her husband’s murder. She has lived with the regret since which leads to her helping protect the child Emily whose father Sam accidentally killed. They both become her surrogate parents with the Librarians / Sisterhood and seeing them all learn to open up and heal is powerful and worked. I wish we had more scenes with Sam and Scarlet.

The Cons:

Blocky Editing – Some of the editing ruins how flowing the pacing is and how much time has past isn’t always apparent. This is most apparent when the Boneheads show up to face Sam during the hostage exchange. It is unclear how quickly or when they showed up.

The Villains – For how awesome Sam and the Librarians are we don’t have any unique enemies or enemy leaders for them to face. The Firm is a bunch of old men and McAlister has nothing about him and his minions to make them unique. I wanted some unique villains like what we get in “James Bond” and “John Wick” as nearly everything else in this film worked. The Firm needed better minions than the Boneheads who just came off as dumb and incompetent.

Better editing and villains would have made this film great as the style of the film is unique, the core characters are great and I like the potential that exists in this unique world. If a sequel is ever made I will watch it as this film is still good and is one I recommend if you are looking for a solid action film.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) – Depends On Pop Culture References and is Surprisingly Boring

“Space Jam: New Legacy” is a film that could have been fun if it had embraced the core Looney Tunes comedy, focused on the core story and not depended so much on pop culture references that WB owns. Because it failed on these in big ways the film ended up being boring and a comedy shouldn’t be that. It comes off feeling like it was written by a committee (it was) and it shows. Without going into spoilers, this is a film I can’t recommend.

The film was directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by a committee (Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon and Celeste Howard).

The story follows LeBron James when he is forced to play a basketball game in the WB Server-verse after an A.I. named Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) kidnaps him and his son.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Looney Tunes – Like what I remember in the original “Space Jam” the Looney Tunes are the best part. Their chaotic and fun nature gives LeBron an arc of learning to have fun and it is cool seeing them in their element when they are all together. Whether it is Daffy’s ego or Bugs Bunny’s manipulations the Tunes function best in opposition to one another and conflict. Lola is the most normal of the bunch so provides a contrast to their antics. When they are Looney in their world the film showed how well they still can work but honestly not in a 2 hour film.

Goon Squad – His son designed the Goon Squad off of All-Star WNBA and NBA players and they look cool. You have Anthony Davis as a harpylike member with wings, Damian Lilliard as a metal man who can manipulate time, Diana Taurasi as a nagasque team mate, Klay Thompson as a being that can switch between water and fire and Nneka Ogwumike as a Spider-like member of the team. They have great designs and I wish we’d seen them in 2D interacting more with the Looney Tunes.

Okay:

LeBron and his Family – LeBron does okay as does Sonequa Martin-Green as his wife and Cedric Joe as his son. The main arc is him learning to accept that his son doesn’t love basketball the way he does and to accept he likes designing games. The family dynamic works and the arc is simple but it isn’t bad. The character relationships felt real.

The Cons:

Pacing – This film would have been improved by being half an hour shorter. It is a 2 hour film and feels like it. Humor should not be long as jokes can get old fast and this film is a shining example of exactly that. Characters only go through basic arcs so the extra time isn’t needed.

The Writing – The writing depends way too much on pop culture references and that is what brings it down. It has been years since I saw the original film (Since I was in Elementary School) so I wouldn’t be surprised if that film had the same problem. This one does go all in and it sucks as the Loony Tunes being Looney are the moments of actual comedy not playing roles in other worlds. Also there is some pretty cringe writing like the Porky Pig rap.

The Villain – Cheadle hams it up well but his character is so underwritten. I think he’s meant to be a toxic fan or like Pal from “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” but he does nothing really interesting and comes off as fake to LeBron’s son. He was never believable as complex as his being wholly ruled by ego was never fully explored. In these ways he didn’t work as an antagonist and even Cheadle’s performance couldn’t save the bad writing. His name as Al-G Rhythm is kind of clever at least.

Dependence on References – The Server-verse is basically WB’s “Kingdom Hearts” with every franchise existing on a world. This was bad to do as it made the film depend on references for humor. This is lazy writing and all it is is Looney Tunes Forrest Gumped into live action scenes making the scenes feel fake. Like the original “Space Jam” other worlds weren’t needed for the premise to work.

In the end this film is only okay but definitely not worth your time. I don’t know how well the original holds up but I will review it at some point. I feel like the Looney Tunes work best in their small chaotic skits or short films. They are meant to be characters without arcs and if they aren’t playing to their strengths you get characters in clips to make pop culture references, which I don’t find enjoyable or funny. This film isn’t worth your time and is way too long even to work as a fun film.

Final Score: 6 / 10 Okay but never rises to fun.

Top 5 Favorite Film Trilogies

Great film trilogies in my experience are hard to find. There are a lot of trilogies that don’t end as well as they started like the Original Star Wars Trilogy, the Godfather Trilogy, Spider-Man Trilogy or some that kept going after they could have or should have ended like “Toy Story” or the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises. There are also some trilogies like the Prequel or Sequel Star Wars Trilogies that don’t hold up well. There are also trilogies like “Iron Man” or “Captain America” that only work in the context of knowing other MCU films. So I’m not counting those. There are great films among those but they don’t stand on their own as self-contained trilogies. The trilogies that are favorites and ones that I chose are ones that do not have a 4th film at the time of writing this and whose stories feel complete and whole. Hopefully the studious keep that in mind cause if sequels are made to any of these this list will be redone, though I will save this list for posterity.

So without furether ado, here are my favorite trilogies. Also SPOILERS as I will be discussing characters and arcs.:

5) How to Train Your Dragon Trilogy

Coming in at 5th we have the “How to Train Your Dragon” Trilogy. The first film was directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois who also co-wrote the first film with Will Davies. Dean DeBlois would be the soul director and writer on the rest of the films of the trilogy. What makes this film work is the character arc of Hiccup and the changing vikings. We see Hiccup grow and become a leader as his relationship with his friends and family is developed believably over time. His relationship with Toothless and his father is the most developed as his father learns to trust dragons and event to protect them as Toothless learns to trust Hiccup and people too. The vikings change and become a dragon riding nation before finally having to let them go when Hiccup realizes the dragons will always be hunted. It is a powerful arc with the only downsides being some of Hiccups friends being annoying and the villains are never as compelling as the later trilogies in this list. Dreamworks created a beautifully animated film trilogy and deserved to make this list. This also won’t be the only time they’ve made the list. Also, here are the films in the Trilogy I’ve reviewed of “How to Train Your Dragon.” I highly recommend this film trilogy.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010): To Build a Bridge between Vikings and Dragons

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): A Time to Fight

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – On Growing Up and Letting Go

4) Kung Fu Panda Trilogy

I’m noticing a pattern for great trilogies. They have consistent writers throughout them all. The “Kung Fu Panda” Trilogy was written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger for all 3 films and because of that we get a consistent character arc for Shifu and Po, the most compelling characters of the trilogy. This trilogy has some amazing villains as well with Ian McShane as Tai Lung challenging Shifu’s self-worth and Po’s strength, Gary Oldman as Lord Shen challenging Po emotionally and psychologically and lastly J.K. Simmons as Kai forcing him to be the teacher and train the last of his people. It is a powerful arc defined by the villains but also his wonderful friendship with the Furious Five. This Wuxia inspired animated story brings so much humor and depth with compelling characters that I can’t help but recommend it. You will find great humor and philosophy in each of these films. Dreamworks did it again. Here is my review of “Kung Fu Panda 3.” I look forward to reviewing the fist 2 films in the future.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016): A Solid Part of the Series and Becoming a Teacher

Update July 25, 2021 – Here are the reviews for the first 2 films of this amazing Trilogy:

3) Planet of the Apes Trilogy

This is the third film series of “The Planet of the Apes” Franchise and it is by far the best at telling a story that matters with compelling characters. The first film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” gives us Caesar and the origin of the virus that would later decimate humanity. The second film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” explores if peace is possible between humans and apes and “War for the Planet of the Apes” gives us the origin of where the Franchise all began as we see the last of humanity as they were seek to stop the ape civilization and Caesar’s resistance to their oppression. This is a powerful trilogy with some of the consistency being Amanda Silver as a writer on the first 2 films and Matt Reeves as director in the last 2 films. Beyond that there are different directors and people at play though Serkis’s amazing performance as Caesar and some of Caesar’s relationships are consistent as each film builds upon the last. The standout villains are Koba an abused bonobo with nothing but hate for humans played by Tony Kebbell and the human extremist Colonel J. Wesley McCullough played by Woody Harrelson. Each of them defined Caesar and helped make him the leader of the chimps he became. The series is bittersweet and poignant and one I highly recommend. These were some of my earlier reviews on the blog.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): A Great Retelling of the Origins and Rise of Caesar

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014): How the Trauma of the Past Can Devour the Future

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017): Growing Beyond Caesar

2) Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Theatrical and Extended

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is one my favorite book trilogies of all time that every few years I return back to re-read. Each time I notice or find something new. This is probably why I haven’t reviewed the films yet as even though they are some of my favorite films of all time it would be hard not to compare to the book and I would like to do that comparing, contrasting and honoring justice. This film trilogy in both forms is kind of a miracle in casting, Peter Jackson’s direction and his writing team of Fran Walsh, Phillapa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair (For “The Two Towers”). This trilogy does adaptation so well as our members of the Fellowship all have arcs, the scope of Middle Earth feels real and lived in and the special effects still hold up. Studios have been trying to recreate this magic since and failing, with “The Hobbit” trilogy being a notable example. This trilogy was the perfect storm and I love going back to rewatch the theatrical and extended versions and listening to the commentary. Someday I’ll review these films and versions in full, but until that time, I can only highly recommend these book and film trilogies.

1) The Dark Knight Trilogy

Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy” is my favorite group of superhero films and some of my favorite films overall. You have Christopher Nolan directing all and co-writing “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” with his brother Jonathan Nolan and him co-writing “Batman Begins” with David S. Goyer. This consistency of vision and themes shows as we witness Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne’s growth as he challenged in belief by Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul, psychologically by Heath Ledger’s Joker and being wholly broken by Tom Hardy’s Bane and having to rebuild his belief, body and psychology once more. What happens to Batman also happens to Gotham from the villains too and we see how his allies deal with these trials. I love the universe Christopher Nolan created here and his versions of Scarecrow, Two-Face, Joker and Bane are some of my favorite versions of these characters. All of these great stories are elevated by Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack making this the perfect and consistent trilogy that I always love to return to. I never watch just on of these films as though they stand strong individually, each film in the trilogy makes the others better and enriches the overarching story. I can’t recommend this trilogy enough.

Batman Begins (2005): The Power Behind Overcoming Fear and an Amazing “Batman” Film

The Dark Knight (2008): A Masterpiece That Explores Virtue, Liberty and the Nature of Humanity

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): A Fantastic Film Exploring the Power of Ideas, Consequences of Lies and Finding Resolution

Black Widow (2021): An Exploration of Trauma, Abuse, Healing and Liberation

“Black Widow” is a really good film I wish had been made sooner given the timeline the story takes place in within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Florence Pugh easily steals the show but the core cast is fantastic and make the film work as well as it does. Without getting into spoilers the action and main characters are great and I recommend this film.

The film was directed by Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson.

The film follows Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) going into hiding after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” but pulled back into her old life when she learns the creator of the Black Widow program is still alive and works with her adopted sister and Black Widow Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) to stop him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of Natasha Romanoff bringing down the organization that turned her and so many into weapons is compelling. It works as a spy and espionage drama.

The Action – The action is great and there are some really fun fight sequences, especially whenever Taskmaster sows up. The fight sequence being a fight on a collapsing flying fortress.

Antonia / Taskmaster – Antonia is the daughter of General Dreykov, the creator of the Black Widow program who is nearly killed in a bomb Natasha used to try and kill the General. Her father then turns her into a cyborg assassin who is targeting Natasha through the film. In the end Natasha and Yelena free her as she like the other Black Widows was being mind controlled by her father.

Alexei / Red Guardian – David Harbour is so much in everything he is in. Here is the Russian super soldier who loves fighting more than anything else but finds himself imprisoned after he steals what was needed to perfect the Black Widow program. His arc is becoming the father he failed to be for Yelena and Natasha after they rescue him from prison.

The Main Black Widows – There are 3 main Black Widows and they drive the story. Melina who made the program and Natasha and Yelena being 2 who experienced different versions of the abuse and indoctrination into becoming Dreykov’s weapons.

Melina Vostokoff – Rachel Weisz plays the conflicted scientist and early version of the Black Widow program whose plan is what brings down Dreykov. She is a compelling character and I wanted to know more about her as we get glimpses of what she’s been through but never a full picture.

Natasha Romanoff – Natasha is a character pulled into her past and who faces it with strength. So much of her story is healing the bonds with her broken adopted family and helping to free others as she frees herself in turn. Scarlett Johansson does a good job and I hope someday we can see her mission in Budapest in some form. This is the story that defines what drives her and it captures that really well.

Yelena Belova – Florence Pugh is the best actor in this and steals every scene she is in. I can’t wait to see where Yelena’s story go and I liked how her actions drove the story. She is the one who got the family back together and saved her sisters. Pugh is amazing in every film I’ve seen her in and this is one of her best.

Facing Shared Trauma – Alexei, Melina, Natasha and Yelena become family in facing their shared trauma and seeking to write the wrongs of the Black Widow program. It is opening up and trusting they heal and it is powerfully done.

Freeing the Black Widows – The theme of freedom and liberation is core to the film as Yelena is driven to save her fellow sisters in the program which leads to freeing Alexei and in turn Melina and the rest of the Widows as they bring down the Red Room and end Dreykov’s abuse and oppression.

Okay:

The After-credits Scene – In the scene Contessa Valentina gives Yelena a new target, Clint Barton who she says is “responsible” for Natasha’s death. It is okay but it only works if you saw her recruit US Agent in “The Falcon and Winter Soldier.”

The Cons:

CGI Explosions – There are some scenes of running from explosions that look real bad. I find running or walking from explosions corny in general and it ruined some good action scenes.

General Dreykov – This villain is one note and is power for the sake of power. He has all this power but is just a cowardly creep. Easily one of the worst villains in the MCU. The Black Widows deserved a better enemy, Taskmaster was far more compelling.

I can’t wait to see Florence Pugh as the new Black Widow later on and I’m glad that Natasha Romanoff had a final sendoff, though this film should have been made and released when it took place after “Civil War.” This is really good action movie with a point and I appreciate what it sets up for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

The Golden Compass (2007): Missing the Core Tragedy of the Book

“The Golden Compass” is trying way to hard to be “Lord of the Rings” rather than embracing the tragic fantasy of His Dark Materials that Philip Pullman created. This is a shame as the movie is still enjoyable and a lot of the casting is spot on, it just misses the point of the book it takes it’s namesake from, which keeps it from being good. Still, as a piece of cinema history it is still worth checking out.

The film was directed and written by Chris Weitz.

The story follows the orphan Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) when she leaves Jordan College in search for her kidnapped friend and the other missing children taken by a mysterious organization.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Alexandre Desplat created a memorable soundtrack that captures terror and adventure when it needs to and fully captures the unique steampunk world that the film takes place in. Desplat’s talent is once again on full display here.

The Action – The action is great in this with some wonderful fight sequences from a duel between armored bears to Lyra and her allies against Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium mercenaries who kidnapped the children.

The World – The steampunk world of the book is on full display in this film as we have blimps, guns, steamships, the Magisterium who rules and controls everything, the traveling Gyptians, the mysterious witches, a nation of armored bears and the mysterious “Dust” that connects different realities.

The Gyptians – The Gyptians are great in the film with standout performances being the motherly Ma Costa played by Clare Higgins who steals every scene she is in she is so great and Lord Faa played by Jim Carter who plays the wisened driven leader extremely well. The Gyptians as seafairers and outsiders is captured extremely well in the film.

Lorek – Ian McKellan is amazing as the armored bear seeking to regain his honor. He like Ma Costa, John Faa and Lee Scoresby is one of Lyra’s mentors and protectors and his getting revenge against the corrupt Ragnar to regain his throne is done amazingly. McKellan gives the role so much weight and strength.

Lee Scoresby – Sam Elliot is how I imagined Lee looking in the books and it looks like Philip Pullman did too. I love this reluctant cowboy hero and Elliot gives depth to the scenes he is in as he helps Lyra and Lorek in their missions. I wish we’d gotten more of his history with Lorek though.

Mrs. Coulter – Nicole Kidman is exactly how I imagined Mrs. Coulter looking and she plays the subtle threat really well. We see her love of Lyra but also her self-hatred and inability to fully love in it. She is fine with others dying but not her daughter and all she does is for her own mysterious ends. To some degree she does believe in the Magisterium and the authority though which clearly drives her actions. I wish we could have seen her in all 3 films. Kidman owns this role and we only see bits and pieces of what could have been explored as we never get her backstory.

The Magisterium Council – The council is simply evil and controlling and after power but it works mostly due to how well Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee do as villains seeking to keep the status quo or use knowledge to their own ends. They work as baddies even if the nuance is gone. They are still believers even if it only in their own power, which makes them a good threat in the film.

Okay:

Lord Asriel – Lord Asriel like Lyra feels toned down in this. He isn’t cold like in the books and show and Daniel Craig feels wasted. When he has the chance to act he is great but besides the beginning the only other major scene with him is an action scene where he gets captured. This is a fascinating character and good actor who deserved better.

Lyra – Lyra when she is active in her story works but for a lot of this is only active as a last resort. She isn’t searching for Roger until she realizes what Mrs. Coulter is doing and she never questions. She is handed the plot on occasion (how to trick the King of the Armored Bears) and rarely feels like she is driving the plot or causing chaos. Dakota Blue Johnson still does okay but the script missed how Lyra is supposed to be an active agent in her story.

The Cons:

Missing Stories – Billy Costa’s death is left ambiguous, we never get how Lee and Lorek know each other, Serafina and Fadar Coram’s tragic past is missing and Mrs. Coulter’s tragic backstory. So much is missing and it takes away so much depth from the story.

Alethiometer / The Golden Compass – I hate how they show reading the Alethiometer. You basically get scenes shown in dust. All the mystery is gone and it plays more into the “telling” rather than “showing” problem the script and film has.

Roger – Roger is the most wooden actor and the script like Lyra forget about him. The character deserved better given how core he is to Lyra and the ending of the first book.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is all exposition and being told the plot and what to do. There is hardly any show in this film and the dialogue is the greatest example of why.

The Ending is a Lie – The ending is hopeful as Lyra is unknowingly taking Roger to his death. This should have never been cut as tragedy is a core part of the series. When I saw the scenes of what could have been I was so dissappointed in the studio for chickening out.

This is such a flawed film that could have been good or even great if it had remained faithful to the books. It shies away from the tragedy that defines the series and wastes an amazing cast because of it. I wanted to see how challenges would shape our characters as it did in the book and show but instead the film stayed safe and missed out on the amazing and tragic trilogy it chose to adapt.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Enjoyable but extremely flawed.