The Art of Self-Defense (2019): An Amazing Critique of Toxic Masculinity

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    “The Art of Self-Defense” is a film that was so close to the film I wanted. If you like black comedies and thrillers, chances are you will enjoy this film. This film is good, the cast is great, the writing and plot structure is solid. Most of the issues I have are with the larger world the story takes place in and how consequences are expressed. This a film that should have been longer given how much I found went unexplained. Before I get into spoilers though, I definitely recommend it.

The film was written and directed by Riley Stearns. This is the first film I’ve seen him do, so I hope he makes more.

The story follows Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) who after being attacked and nearly killed by bikers joins a Karate Dojo in order to learn self-defense. He soon learns all is not as it appears as he transforms under the tutelage of the Sensei.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Casey’s Arc – Casey’s story is strong. You have a guy who is afraid and at one point doesn’t even want to leave his house after he is nearly killed by a group of mysterious bikers. After he joins the Dojo he improves from Sensei in that he stands up for himself and starts to finally form connections with others. Where it falls apart is that his Sensei is a fanatic and his whole philosophy is based on dominance and destruction over others. Casey loses his job because he punches his boss in an asserting his dominance and Sensei uses this to make him his accountant at the dojo. When Casey realizes this and that Sensei was the one who had beat him up in the first place he gets revenge and finally changes the dojo. Jesse Eisenberg is wonderful in this role as the character he plays is anti-social and it is only among the other anti-social people of the dojo that he finds friends. Anna is his ally in the dojo and after learning her story and seeing how she saved his life when Sensei and the motorcycle gang almost killed him, he makes her Sensei after killing the prior one with a gun.

Toxic Masculinity – The main theme running through the story is that of toxic masculinity. Sensei believes that everything should be masculine and that masculine things are the only things men should like. This is expressed in that he believes in not just as martial arts as the only way to truly fight but also that heavy metal music, choosing to start fights and make others like you or destroying them and that women aren’t capable of this and are weaker in all things (she is up to brown belt but will never be black belt even though she is the strongest person in the dojo). This is all in reaction to the loss of his wife and him abandoning his “feminine” name.

The Cons:

Unfocused on the World Being Personal or Large – The main con in this film is that there is a larger story going on in the sidelines that never truly becomes part of the main narrative. Casey kills an undercover cop for the dojo but there aren’t any consequences for it. The dojo is so impenetrable from consequences outside of it that it comes off as unrealistic. This unfocus also related to the theme of the film in toxic masculinity. I wish the story had been told through Anna’s eyes, because it is through Casey’s we only get see so much of the ideology of Sensei and because he is new we don’t see why the others follow him so mindlessly. Why does Anna stay? These are all things I wanted to know that should’ve been fleshed out. There needed to be more reasons for motivations and beliefs beyond Sensei’s.

This is a solidly great film. The writing is sharp and the story flows. If the problem of consequences and it either staying focused on the small world of the dojo or truly making the world feel large the problem would have been solved. In the end scale is really what kept the film from landing higher on the list. I definitely recommend this film. It won’t make my Top 5 at the end of the year but I can’t wait to see what this director does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

The Lighthouse (2019): The Haunting Light

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     “The Lighthouse” is worth the hype. This is a film that feels that taps into the human psyche and the terror of both isolation and the monsters people are capable of being. It does all this while still having nuance within the script and giving us complicated characters. It helps that it is beautifully filmed. I really hope we see more films like this. It certainly feels like a film that Hitchcock would make or any of his contemporaries. From the almost stage nature and the symbolism and depth that carries the film, beyond the amazing performances by Pattinson and Dafoe. Before I get into spoilers, I highly recommend this film.

The film was directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, with Max Eggers being the other writer.

The story follows Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is contracted out to be wickie for 4 weeks on an Island of the coast of New England. He meets impatient man in charge Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), and begins to experience strange visions after finding a statue of a mermaid buried within his bed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This film is beautiful. The use light in black and white is used to create a haunting and isolating environment. Jarin Blaschke truly did a beautiful job.

The Writing – The script feels like a stage play at times while still being natural. Characters will give monologues and the two of them read from a book, and that book becomes part of the theme and narrative. Myths and legends are weaved into the lives and lies of our characters. This is all used in the theme of the dreams tied to what the characters preach about. There is a sense of the supernatural through the entire narrative.

The Characters – Dafoe and Pattinson fully inhabit their characters. You have the superstitious Wake whose story about his bad leg is all lie but clearly is connected and worthy of the light from the Lighthouse. Both of them are so incredibly flawed and seeing them build trust with one another that falls apart is tragic and powerful. Each of them carries lies from their past and origins and over the course of the story those truths are revealed and come at costs to the different characters. Each of them are people who wouldn’t have a relationship as colleagues unless they had to. Wake likes his solitude and has committed crimes to keep it and has regret from it just as Winslow regrets what has driven him here. He clearly doesn’t want to be a drifter but feels as if he has no choice and because of it he can’t trust. Neither of them are good people but them being complicated makes their going mad all the more fantastic to witness.

Isolation, Loneliness and Lies and delusions – Some of the major themes of the story involve the isolation of our characters, the lies they tell one another and the loneliness they each face. The characters are consumed by visions and delusions. Winslow dreams of a mermaid and killing or having sex with it and sees visions of tentacles rising from Wake and him looking like a sea deity. The only time the characters aren’t alone is over meal time or when Winslow finally drinks with Wake. It is here we see the connection they come to share that is destroyed by the truth of their actions and past and the all consuming madness of the light.

The Consuming Truth – What ends up being a major theme of the story is consuming truth. As the characters go mad they learn more about one another see in the end the revelation of the lies and truth destroys their sanity and lives. It is powerful as both characters are murders and in turn meet their ends as they attack one another and give mortal injuries that signal that there is no escape for either from the truth.

The Haunting Light – The light from the Lighthouse is used hauntingly throughout the film. Winslow goes from not caring about it it becoming his obsession. He kills to see the light and in turn it leads to his eyes burning and him being punished by the gulls. The light is never peaceful and even when there is ecstasy it always has a dark implication. Wake masturbates to it and it is when Winslow watches him do it he sees tentacles above for the first time, an early sign of his madness. It is unknown if the light brings about the madness or simply reveals it but it is center to the story and I loved it.

I loved this movie. It is truly worth the hype. I really want to see Pattinson’s Batman now and this easily one of the best performances Willem Dafoe has done. If you like movies full of rich themes, psychological horror and are beautifully filmed, this is the film for you. This film doesn’t feel long at all. This might be my favorite film of the year and I can’t wait to see what Robert Eggers creates next.

10 / 10 The film is perfect and well worth your time.

Joker (2019): Can More Batman Rogues Get This Treatment?

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        “Joker” is a film that has received both a lot of hate and love. I can understand both perspectives but find myself on the liking side. I’m a huge fan of the Batman Rogues gallery and how different they all are psychologically is what makes them so compelling. Hell, they are more compelling than Batman. It is one reason Warner Brothers always casts big name celebrities in the roles. There is so much to do, even if we only get a glimpse into their psyche. This film is a deep dive into the Joker and it works.

The film was directed and written by Todd Phillips who co-wrote it with Scott Silver.

The story follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill clown for hire in Gotham City. As his life falls further apart he aspires to be a stand up comedian. Secrets tied to his past combined with social collapse in Gotham forever change him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Gotham – Gotham is so wonderfully portrayed in this film. The city is dark and grimy and you see the build up of trash (from the garbage men strike going on at the beginning of the film) contrasted with the Wayne’s version of Gotham where you have fundraisers at beautiful hotels and Wayne Manor, which is so far away from the city that they feel barely connected. You also get taste of the everyday life from the comedy clubs to Robert De Niro’s talk show host Murray. This is a version of Gotham I hope we see more of as it makes that it is a city where unless you are wealthy you will get eaten up and spit out. Which does help explain the rise of Joker and all the Batman rogues to come.

Isolation – One thing the film portrays will is isolation. Arthur Fleck doesn’t have any friends and the film follows his point of view. We see how alone he is with his mother, when he’s working and any large social event he is invisible, except for at the end when he’s embraced his new identity as the Joker.

Joker / Arthur Fleck – This is a story told from the perspective of Arthur Fleck. We don’t really see any of Gotham besides what we see from his point of view. This is great as we come to see how isolated, alone and ill he is. He’s medicated, has a tick where he laughs uncontrollably, lives with his mom who is also mentally unstable and is in a job he hates where he has no job protection or security. I wish there’d been more of a push for him to become a killer. This version of Joker is already broken and unstable and when he does kill for the first time in self-defense has no regret, but loves the attention it is getting him in the revolution taking place in Gotham. Joaquin Phoenix portrays this sociopath really well. From his dancing when he feels freedom and his lost within himself and delusions that we see through the film. This is a character completely alone and that combined with everything else just makes this character’s already unstable mind, so much worse to the point that he adopts the Joker identity.

Dreams, Delusions and the Unreliable Narrator – One of the reasons I think this film works as a Joker film is because it still gives us the unreliable mind of the Joker. Throughout the film Arthur has visions of being with his neighbor and to him they are real until reality comes crashing down on him. This brings up the possibility of this being all a lie told by the Joker at the hospital, as the final scene is him being interviewed before he kills the person interviewing him. This film is his justification, his life where he abused and bullied, the inequalities in Gotham and self-defense, in the case of his first murders. The versions of the Joker from the comic would tell some version of this, as the Joker is never responsible for anything. It is how he gaslit Harley Quinn. For me this is what works even though the writing had a lot of tell when it needed more show.

The Cons:

Themes Needed to go Deeper – There are a few themes the film touches upon, but isn’t willing to go deeper. We see wealth inequality and the detachment of the wealthy like Thomas Wayne and how insulated the rich are from the poor even as they cut their resources. Again, it is touched upon but there was so much they could have done with this. How was Arthur and his mother affording their apartment? What were some of the policies that Thomas Wayne wanted to enact? What is the history of the Waynes to Gotham? Who are the people protesting? These are all questions that would have enriched this theme. Same with lack of mental health care, Arthur loses his social worker but we never see him interact with others in his state or hear about her other clients. These are all great ideas that exist and the film briefly touches, but it needed so much more to elevate the film and better flesh out the world.

Too Much Tell, Needed More Show – This film has some dialogue that isn’t great. Joker literally blames “society” on the talk show, which is a living meme at this point given how Disney and other studios have used the vagueness of society to try and make their films appear more progressive, without actually addressing any issues. The dialogue at times feels unnatural, which is one reason why the best scenes are simply Joaquin Phoenix quietly acting. The guy truly deserves an Oscar for this role as he elevated a film with his performance. The telling rather than showing was easily my biggest issue with this film and I wish we had gotten more show.

This was a controversial film and I have friends who loved it and hated it. I really liked it and it was a film I’d highly recommend to any Scorsese fan (Phillips clearly takes inspiration from a lot of his work in how he frames Gotham and presents characters). I hope more of Batman’s rogues get this treatment as Scarecrow, Riddler, Penguin, Bane and countless others have stories worthy of the big screen. They are much more compelling than Batman (as Batman’s rogues usually are) and I hope this film inspires more of their stories to be told. This film didn’t achieve its full potential, but I appreciate what it did accomplish.

9.3 / 10. I really enjoyed this flawed film and I hope more Batman rogues get this treatment.

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

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   “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

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       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

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        “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

Batman: Hush (2019) – Missing the Point of the Comic

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This is a film that had the potential to say so much more in adaptation, but wasn’t willing to take that chance. Maybe it was because they knew kids might check this out or maybe it was just wanting to play it safe…but I appreciate the comic so much more after. This is a film that captures the base events of the comics (minus one major one) but isn’t willing to go deeper. Without giving away spoilers that is all I’m going to say. If you are fan of DC animation it is worth watching for the animation and the voice actors as always do a great job, but if you read the comic I think you should skip this and save yourself the disappointment. I really enjoy DC animation and as someone who liked the comic but didn’t think it was good or great. This film did nothing to improve on a great premise.

The film was directed by Justin Copeland and written by Ernie Altbacker.

The story follows Batman as he faces a new enemy named Hush, who knows all his secrets and seeks to unravel his life.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Animation – The animation flows and is beautiful…I just wish there’d been a better script. I’ll get into cons below but this a very well animated film, as can be said for most DC Animated films. The action is seamless, emotion is well portrayed in facial expressions and the colors make each scene stand out.

The Bat Family Moments – There are some good moments with Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne and Barbara Gordon. In each case you see why Bruce is fighting for them and why he trusts them. They are all small moments. It is a check-in or a training, but you see how much he cares. I appreciated this and as it was here we had a bit of levity the film needed.

The Selena Kyle Romance – This romance was handled better than expected. Batman saves her from Poison Ivy’s control and she saves his life at the end. In-between they date but it doesn’t lead anywhere due to Batman’s baggage. He does reveal his secret identity, like in the comics so I appreciated that. It made their more have more even if the film failed to grow on that. I think the film wanted this to be the focus but missed so much. We needed more with Selena or the Bat Family and their thoughts on one another. We got base happy for Bruce or distrust of Selena but nothing deeper. That was a disservice to all the characters.

Okay:

The Rogues – The rogues are underused. You have Batman and Catwoman fighting a Poison Ivy controlled Superman and Batman going to Lex Luthor and it not meaning anything. I’d say that is a theme. Thomas Elliot is used and unless you’ve read the comic or other sources just how important he is. Here he is an underutilized puzzle piece that leads to the function of advancing another’s plot. We fight Bane, Scarecrow, Riddler, Harley Quinn, Joker and Poison Ivy but in the original where Killer Croc was the the kidnapper not Bane who sparked everything off, it meant more. The villains are here to show up. Beyond the Joker scene which is lessened because of how Thomas Elliot is used we get an empty hate scene of Batman punching him. I get he was meant to kill him here like in the comics, but everything that happens after makes this moment mean nothing. In the comic it was still horrifying but at least Batman’s rage was understandable.

The Riddler – The Riddler is the big bad. He is saved in a Lazarus pit as he was dying and from it realizes that Batman is Bruce Wayne. This is true to the comics but unlike the comics where Thomas Elliot is a serial killer who functions as his hand (who is a famous surgeon so he can become Jason Todd and others due to plastic surgery). Riddler he is revealed and he falls into fire. If he lives I’m asking how as Catwoman saves Batman to stop him from saving Batman and that is why they break-up. The core of the comics was Bruce’s obsession but here it is over the top. There is no nuance’s to Bruce Wayne’s rule and that is the ending we get.

The Cons:

The Use of Hush – In this case I’m referring to Thomas Elliot. This film uses him as another friend to use not as another sociopathic killer who wanted Bruce’s life like in the comic. He is a plot device and nothing more. This is a shame as Hush is a great villain. This film does him wrong. He isn’t even Elliot, in the end the Riddler is behind the bandages which makes him look silly and bald with a scar of a question mark. It is all the gritty and edgy with none of the point. Elliot in the comics was set up leading up to his rivalry with Wayne and him being used by the Riddler made sense. Making him the Riddler is just a waste.

The Point is Weaker Than the Comics – The point of the comics that I got is that is that obsession can lead to self-destruction. We see this in how Thomas Elliot kills his parents to be like Bruce Wayne, The Riddler setting up everything to destroy Bruce Wayne’s life just to know knowing his identity means nothing and Bruce Wayne loses the relationships he’s developed with Selena Kyle. The film does the third point and that is it. I get animation can be expensive but making Riddler Hush is stupid for multiple reasons. We never get Riddler’s backstory in this for one and Elliot exists only for another person for Bruce to lose. This means nothing. There is no Hush as Jason Todd. This film made me appreciate the comic so much more. What a waste.

You really have no reason to watch this. Go watch the fights on youtube. This story could have made Thomas Elliot more complex, gone more into the Riddler, Selena Kyle or even Bruce Wayne. We got less than the comics. This movie is a waste and not worth your time. Just get the comic on comixology. You’ll get a story that actually means something and not something pretty that means so much less. This is a DC animation film that isn’t worth it. I’m sorry to all the voice actors and animators. Check out their better stuff. They deserved a better story.

Final Score: 6 / 10

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – Strong Villain With a Promise for the Next Phase

   “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was a really good film. It is easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film of 2019. Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal have great chemistry together as Spider-Man and Mysterio and there are some really great twists. This film also has two great after-credits scenes and some of the best action in any of the films in the MCU. If you are a fan of the MCU or this version of Spider-Man from “Homecoming,” I strongly recommend you check it out. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

The film was directed by Jon Watts and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

The story takes place after “Endgame” and involves Peter and his class taking a trip to Europe. While there Elementals attack and Nick Fury commissions Peter Parker as they work with Mysterio to take on the Elemental threat.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – This film has better action than  “Homecoming” though “Homecoming” has a better emotional core in regards to Parker’s friends. This is a movie that fully embraces the action and that is both a pro and  a con and for me the pro won out. We see giant monsters facing off against Spider-Man and Mysterio using Venice or Prague as the places where the battle is taking place. The action has consequences and you get why Peter chooses the choices he does. You see how Spider-Man is usually fighting losing battles and it is only through his mind and cleverness that he pulls a win out of potential losses.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – S.H.I.E.L.D. is screwed after the “Blip” (the 5 year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame”). Fury admits he doesn’t know the state of the world and that most of the heroes are gone, which lets Mysterio step and Spider-Man being forced to step-up. I love the how they are still a threat and undercover but also are secret agents acting with limited information, which ends up paying off later.

The Blip – “The Blip” is the five  year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame” and here it is recognized and played for laughs sorrows. It is played for laughs as in a band concert has people pop in on the same day and cause chaos and sorrow in that Aunt May and Spider-Man are raising money for the homeless blipped. The fact that half the population was gone for five years has consequences and Spider-Man knows that better than anyone.

Mysterio – Gyllenhaal carries so much of this film as Quentin Beck / Mysterio. He relates to Peter enough to give up his gift and we see him willing to risk it and all and even win when he loses. Mysterio was the engineer who invented the holograms that Tony Stark used for therapy in “Civil War.” Out of resentment of Tony naming his technology B.A.R.F. he finds others who were wronged by Tony in the past and together they create Mysterio. He is such a fun threat and you can see why he is angry and that he does want to be a hero, even though his way of going about it is villainous. He is easily one of the best Spider-Man live action film villains. His final revenge is brilliant, which is a pro I list later.

Spider-Man / Tom Holland – Tom Holland is amazing as Spider-Man. In this we see the core “With great power comes great responsibility” when Tony Stark gives him the A.I. E.D.I.T.H. The Network controls drones and satellites all over the world and is used through a pair of glasses. At one point Peter nearly gets his classmates killed and after he gives Mysterio E.D.I.T.H. When he finally realizes his mistakes and goes to face Mysterio he is nearly broken and it is only through working with Happy that he is able to finally defeat Mysterio. The lesser plot is his crush on MJ. They do end up together but it is one of the weaker parts of the film.

The End Credits Reveals – There are 2 end-credits scenes and both are great. The first involves a deep fake video from Mysterio’s organization that has Mysterio reveal to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and that he was responsible for the drones and that Mysterio was trying to stop him. This was made even more powerful by J.K. Simmons being back as J. Jonah Jamison who in the MCU is an Alex Jones reporter type. It is such a great scene. Simmons owns this role and the MCU was smart to pull him into their version of the character.

The second film reveals that Nick Fury and Anita Hill were Talos and a Skrull the entire time. He calls Nick Fury and it is revealed that Fury is with the Skrulls in space. Both endings give so much possibilities for the next phase in the MCU. It also explains why S.H.I.E.L.D. had limited information. They were aliens who didn’t know the modern Earth after “The Blip.” The first after-credits scene is stronger but I loved them both.

 

Okay: MJ – Zendaya is a great actress but her character doesn’t do much in this beyond being a love interest. She finds out who Spider-Man is over the course of the school trip and her and Peter end up together. Overall her character is okay in this, which is a shame as she was great in “Homecoming.” They should not have put MJ in the “Love Interest” box. I wish that there had been potential for romance but Peter’s responsibility pulling him back from that, given Mysterio’s plans and what happens after.

Aunt May and Happy – This is an awkward romance that is also mostly played for laughs due to how it makes Peter feel. It wasn’t bad but it was screen-time that could have gone to developing MJ as a character, more about life after “the blip” or more Mysterio time. It wasn’t bad but it could have been cut.

The Cons:

The Teachers – The Teachers are played for jokes and really lame. I wish they weren’t so much at the front of the film. Their humor is awkward and they cause a clash of tones with how serious the main Mysterio plot is. The jokes at times are sitcom level bad and we aren’t given a reason to care about either. The rival had better development for me and he was still a con.

The Rival Brad – Peter has a rival in this film, his name is Brad and he is weak. He takes away from MJ’s development and feels tacked on. We at least get some recognition of “The Blip” where it sounds like he was Freshman before and now he is a Senior but it is only briefly touched upon. If they plan to make him a venom, that might work but only as finding his own self worth. Brad only exists as an outcropping of Peter’s insecurities which doesn’t develop MJ. The character was pretty forgettable and I would have traded his role for more screen-time for Peter’s friends or Mysterio and his organization.

This is a film that could have been great. You have a compelling villain, romance and Peter Parker growing but it having consequences. So why do I not see this film higher? This was easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film but that doesn’t give it a pass. This isn’t “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or “Infinity War.” I really like this version of Peter Parker and what the MCU has done with him. He isn’t in personal stakes like Morales and his Uncle but the personal wishes versus responsibility are still key. Mysterio lets him give up responsibility and he pays the price for it at the end. That is is quintessential Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I really enjoyed this film and I think any Spider-Man fan will enjoy it immensely. This is a film that Holland and Gyllenhaal could have carried on their own.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

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

      “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is a really good film. It isn’t as good as the first 2 films, but this is a solid end to the franchise. If you’ve come this far I’d say it is worth finishing. The ending is one of the most heart touching things you’ll see this year and the animation and action are the best this series has ever been. Also I am biased in that I am glad this is the ending.  A trilogy is a a great way to end any series and when you go beyond that it is easy for studios to mess up.

The film was directed, produced and written by Dean DeBlois, with Brad Lewis being the other producer.

The story involves Hiccup and his dragon-riders continuing to rescue dragons and bringing them to Berk. This leads to overcrowding leading Hiccup to call upon his dad’s dream of finding the “Hidden World” where dragons and humans can live and peace. All doesn’t go according to plan when an old dragon hunter enters the scene. Grimmel who hunted the Night Fury to near extinction. With the warlords at his back he brings war to Hiccup and Berk.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is great. Grimmel (the main baddy) and his Deathgrippers (venom-fire spitting dragons) cause some great action sequences when they are escaping, capturing dragons or fighting against Hiccup. Visually the action sequences are a lot of fun. The fact that Hiccup and his main crew now use dragon armor and Hiccup has a burning swords adds to the visual appeal of it all.

The Animation – The animation is the best it is has ever been. It must have been difficult to animate the Hidden World when they finally reach it. There are such a variety of dragons and mirage of colors that it simply draws you in. Same goes for when Hiccup moves the Vikings to find a new land. The sheer amount of characters and creatures in motion is seamless, as well as the reveal of the new forest island they choose to call home. This is a movie animated on an epic scale and it loves it up to that. Every scene has so much detail to it, while still focusing in on the characters who drive the action.

Astrid and Hiccup – This is the core relationship that drives the series. Astrid and Hiccup are the heroes of the film. Astrid is the one who sees the big picture and sees the people, while everything Hiccup does is to protect the dragons. It is a wonderful dynamic and we see how they compliment one another. Hiccup is the idealist while Astrid is much more down to earth. I do wish Astrid had got more development as so much of her development is tied to Hiccup as chief, but it still shows they are partners. This is really them growing as leaders and in regards to Hiccup, him accepting that the dragons should be free and not domesticated.

Toothless and the Light Fury – This relationship is a relationship between two cats. Like Astrid and Hiccup they compliment one another as the Light Fury shows Toothless that he can lead all dragons and be their guardian. The Light Fury is also being used to her getting revenge is a mini-arc that I appreciated, as well as her coming to trust humans when she saves Hiccup after he frees Toothless from Grimmel’s control. This relationship was adorable and was just as core as the main relationship that drove the film.

The Ending – The ending is a reunion of friends. Astrid and Hiccup take their kids to the Hidden World where the dragons are living and meet the Light Fury and Toothless’s babies. It is really sweet and for any fan of the series you will feel. This gave the series a sense of finality too, which “Kung Fu Panda 3” didn’t give in the same way. This was smart and if the studio does go greedy, they’ll have to be really smart to give this trilogy a worthy epilogue.

Okay:

Grimmel the Grisley – F. Murray Abraham is good at giving us a threatening feeling character in Grimmel. His introduction is killing a dragon without reacting and escaping Burk, even with it being full of dragons. He also has the Light Fury that he uses to bait Toothless, which is clever. Traps are his game and they could have been used so much more. He has a trap that nearly works that should have killed at least one of the characters (Hiccup’s dad was killed last film, raise the stakes). But in the end it doesn’t work. This doesn’t help as from here on in he never feels like a threat. Our heroes beat him without their dragons after Grimmel takes control of them when he captures Toothless, and though we are given good visuals it is nothing more. He needed to truly hurt our heroes or have a real personal reason we saw to want to end all dragons. We don’t get either, which makes him the weakest enemy in the Trilogy. Still a decent villain but he deserved so much more lore and development.

The Cons:

The Villain Warlords – There are 4 warlords who clearly have different looking armor so should have had differing personalities and goals, but they don’t. Instead we have 4 people who hate Berk, want to kill dragons but not use them in anyway we ever see (resources, etc.) and are all just stupid fighters. The only thing that sets them apart is their armor sets and the fact that 3 are men and 1 is a woman. This isn’t good. They should have been in a more adversarial relationship against Grimmel (or split between them in loyalties) or at least have different expressed goals at what they’d do with the killed dragons. They served no purpose beyond paying Grimmel to take on Berk. David Tennant voiced one of the warlords, and I couldn’t even tell. He’s one of my favorite actors so it was such a horrible use of such great talent.

If you’ve come this far, you deserve to finish. The film itself is solidly good with a great ending and it does give a bit more lore. Where it fails is in the minor characters, which is a shame is that is the only thing keeping the film from greatness. I wanted more time with Hiccup’s mom Valka and his Uncle, or any of the Warlords. They deserved better development. I would still recommend to any who love the series and great animation. This film knows that this is the end and it goes all in on the operatic fights and the core relationships. This is a film that knows how to say good-bye.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10