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Batman and Harley Quinn – A Review

batman-harley-quinn-2dI haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on ArkhamJustice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.

Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!

The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie.  I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.

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Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.

As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.

Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.

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We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.

The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?

Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.

Free Fire – A Review

free_fire_ver17Free Fire is an intense scene of an action movie, stretched out to ninety minutes. It’s a shootout that takes place entirely in an abandoned warehouse, between different and splitting parties. By extending that premise to a whole movie, director Ben Wheatley explores the fun you can have with a limited scope. Unfortunately, he also discovers the problems you can run into when your concept isn’t backed up by writing or imagination.

It’s the 1970s and we meet a whole bunch of gun traffickers looking to close a deal. Of course, things go wrong, bullets start flying and not everyone is going to make it out alive. That’s the premise and I’m not too sure Wheatley thought more beyond that. The movie feels trapped in the warehouse and not in a good or suspenseful way. There’s just not a lot to do or see once the killing starts.

The action in the movie never rises above fine. Guns fire and shoot people but that’s it. There’s never a great, inventive moment of violence. Yes, the movie is low budget but other cheap action films have found ways to impress. Because the shootout keeps the characters grounded and seeking cover, it’s all very impersonal. When one character shoots another, it doesn’t feel connected. If the gun play was there to simply move the plot along, that would be easy to deal with, but when the whole concept of the movie is based around bullets going everywhere, it wouldn’t hurt for a little style. Heck, most of the movie’s posters have more style! Even the seventies setting is really only there for costumes and lack of cellphones.

le2x3o9uopj1jmcmkfdkq7mdbxbThe dialog never does more than it needs to do. The only reason characters come across as likable is because we have some fun actors on hand. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are the straight men of the assemble, playing relatively grounded characters. Sharlto Copley brings his unique brand of insanity and detachment to the screen. He’s not a fantastic character, but Copley injects the role with much needed uniqueness. Armie Hammer, for the first time in his career, impressed me. He plays Copley’s bodyguard and he’s a character with skill and poise. In a movie set in the 1970’s, Hammer is the only one looking to have fun with the decade. His character might be the only stylistic choice with any impact. If he could play more roles like that, I might not think of him as the blandest face in film.

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I imagine that blurb might have started with “It could have been…”

Free Fire is adequate. It’s an easy, uninspired way to pass an afternoon. But it’s not going down as a classic. Maybe a curiosity, or an example of how far you can stretch an idea without bringing real life to it. Free Fire isn’t as stylistic as Smokin’ Aces and the characters aren’t as “out of this world” as that film either. Free Fire isn’t as clever as Reservoir Dogs, the movie it’s most likely trying to ape. The dialog isn’t as biting and it’s missing a soundtrack to breathe life into the the void. In a world where John Wick is the standard for brutality, Free Fire comes across as rather toothless. The characters take hits, but when they start dragging themselves along the floor, the movies slows down with them. There’s a twist here or there, but nothing that affects the plot or how you feel about the characters.

I think given a better director, Free Fire could have been a new classic. The ingredients are all there, but most people can make cornbread if they follow the directions. What Free Fire needed was funny, clever dialog between more unique characters in between interesting gun play. If you’re staring at a TV and Free Fire is on, I’d say let it play. But it’s not something you need to seek out. Watch John Wick: Chapter 2 or Hardcore Henry instead. They bring new life into all that killing.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – A Review

valerianWe shouldn’t compare Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to The Fifth Element, even if director Luc Besson is behind both of these films.

We shouldn’t compare the two because The Fifth Element had lead actors we liked, like Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Valerian, on the other hand, has Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne. Dehaan, who was compelling in Chronicle, is a black hole of charisma in this film. As the action lead, he’s a failure. Too young to be taken seriously, too much of a snot to be likable, Dehaan’s portrayal as one of the galaxy’s best soldiers is hilariously off mark. Delevingne, who you might remember as the shaking, shadowy non-character Enchantress from Suicide Squad, fairs betters in the film but not by much. She has a flat, no-nonsense delivery that helps some of the lifeless dialog seem planned that way. But, she too comes across too young for the type of character she’s playing. If I’m supposed to believe either of these two have the field experience to be given any of the responsibility they have in Valerian, then consider me unconvinced. The only time I had any affection for them was when the two were dressed like characters from Final Fantasy X. Then they changed clothes and I lost all my positive feelings.

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets-hdWe shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because that nineties film had an energy that felt more like a comedy than a drama. It’s almost a scifi Rush Hour and not just because of a manic Chris Tucker. Valerian’s plot moves at a snails pace but I still found myself forgetting what our “heroes” were doing or if it had anything to do with the plot. The movie’s second act is a huge detour from anything that matters to the story and, when it finally gets back to the main plot, I had almost forgotten the goals and problems I was supposed to be invested in. A good example of why we shouldn’t compare the two movies is how The Fifth Element has that famous opera scene that connects to main plot. In Valerian, we had a strip tease from Rihanna that has little to do with the threat to the city (of a thousand planets). Sure, Dehaan needs her help, but only because of a sidequest that’s taking up forty minutes of the movie.

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There’s not much more to say about Valerian. It was an exhausting film and not in the way that War for the Planet of the Apes left me ragged. I was bored after the first half hour and was never won back. Clive Owen gives a performance that left me feeling bad for the guy. None of the supporting characters, alien or otherwise, were charming. While I complained about the reason Rihanna’s character is involved, she’s has an energy that the film desperately needs but then ignores. The alien race we follow from the beginning is too noble to be interesting and too passive to connect with. The film’s opening of humanity greeting hundreds of new races to it’s space station, all set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is charming but false advertising for the rest of the movie.

Yes, we should support original scifi (even adaptations), especially the ones that get bigger budgets. But, when the results are movies like Valerian, it’s hard to fault studios for not wanting to fund one hundred and fifty million dollar films, no matter how pretty they are. We shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because we still talk about that movie and Valerian will probably not last in the public consciousness. Heck, this review is running short because there just wasn’t enough on screen to talk about.

All the complaints people had about the Star Wars prequels apply here. Technical aptitude over plot, archetypes over characters, and stilted dialog over, well,, human dialog. George Lucas was torn apart by fans. Yet, for some reason, I’ve seen people trying to give Luc Besson a pass because he tried something big and grand and failed in the process. Maybe they’re just fans of The Fifth Element. But Valerian is no Fifth Element. Let’s not compare the two.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Review

spider_man_posterThe first Spider-Man movie came out in a day and age that has long past, one that you might not be able to recall. Spider-Man was a big deal, a massive event in theaters that got me to buy my tickets in advance for the first time. All the showings of it’s opening night were sold out. It was the post-9/11 movie we needed at the time. It was also fun and exciting and the first time the character had ever been on the big screen. It’s hard to put into words the energy that film created.

Now, that movie almost feels archaic. It’s a single, self-contained character story that takes place during the most important time in the hero’s life. Yes, it has plot-threads for a sequel, but when you look at the mess that is Amazing Spider-Man or it’s sequel, the first Sam Raimi film almost looks shy about presenting a sequel. It was a different world, one where a film had to actually be released and do well at the box office for it to get a sequel.

But we’re in a brave new world now! And while we’ve had many Spider-Man films since that first, landmark entry, we’ve never had a fifteen year old Peter Parker in a world of superheroes. So, now we have a Spider-Man who gets to interact with Iron Man and potentially join the Avengers. If he looks bad doing super heroics, it’s because other, better heroes have set the standard. And while Spider-Man: Homecoming tackles this, it’s not the area where the movie shines. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. are fun and quippy. But it’s where the movie feels less exciting.

spiderman-homecoming-3Peter was in high school for all of ten minutes in the first Tobey Maguire film and the Amazing Spider-Man failed to deliver on that front (as well as many others) even though it was greenlit for that very reason. So while it might seem like a repeat to put the kid in school, it’s not something we’ve actually seen in full effect before. And besides, it’s the story Spider-Man: Homecoming wants to tell anyway. The supporting cast in Peter’s life are memorable and funny and, if the series wanted to go that route, Marvel could set a whole film around just a week of Peter in school, no super heroics, and it would still be entertaining. I mean, I still turn out whenever a kid is bemoaning popularity status or attending parties, but that’s because I hate high school. But, I think that says something to the charm of the movie that I actually cared about Peter’s sophomore life, at least, most of the time.

It helps that Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker. He captures the youth, the enthusiasm, the awkwardness and the strength of the character. He does a great job being over his head and enjoying this new life at the same time. He likes being Spider-Man, which is an important part of the character that can be forgotten when responsibilities abound.

zendaya-in-spider-man-homecomingJacob Batalon’s Ned is hilarious and a great teammate for Peter. Zendaya’s Michelle has a promising future, made brighter by how many laughs she gets in a layered performance. Marisa Tomei doesn’t get the most screen time, nor does her Aunt May really shine, but she’s a pleasant addition. 

Really, the only character who the movie fails is Liz, Peter’s crush. I wish I could tell her more about her, but the movie didn’t so I’m at a loss. I think the shadow of Mary Jane looms over all the films that have come since and Marvel hasn’t entirely solved the issue just yet. Liz is nice, she’s smart, but she’s only there to be crushed upon. While the end of the movie does promise a solution to that, it doesn’t change the fact that we spent two hours with a character that doesn’t seem to matter to the writers.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is… well, he’s fine. It’s hard to beat the scenery chewing of Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin or the visual splendor of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. Keaton’s fairly actuate to the comics, visually frightening at times and physically up to the task of being the villain of the movie. But he’s not very interesting as a character and I was never waiting for his next scene. To be fair, in the comics, the Vulture is the second super villain Spider-Man ever dealt with and since we don’t want to see him go against the Chameleon or try to replicate the previous movies’ villains, he does make a certain amount of sense to include. If we have to stick to villains that haven’t appeared in films, I’d prefer Mysterio or Kraven the Hunter.

spider-man-homecoming-webbing-ferryThe action is never incredible, nothing in this film comes close to the train battle from Spider-Man 2 or even the crane rescue from the Spider-Man 3. But, there’s a kinetic energy to the scenes here and they move well. The idea in Spider-Man: Homecoming is that Peter is still new to all of this and not very good at the job. He’s got heart, but little coordination. What might normally be a car chase becomes a run through the suburbs. What normally would be a battle over a crowded ferry becomes an attempt to just do as little damage as possible. So, no, the action isn’t spectacular, but it works because Peter isn’t spectacular at being Spider-Man just yet.

My only other major gripe might not bother many other people. And it might be a minor spoiler, but I doubt it. The movie replicates a fairly iconic moment from Spider-Man comic history, one that Stan Lee wrote himself. In the comic, Peter triumphs because he thinks of all the people counting on him and everyone he loves. He can’t fail them. He overcomes a great challenge because his responsibility is great. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the scene is replicated from panel to screen, but the motivation is lost. Peter overcomes because he wants to be a superhero. He needs to prove it to himself. Normally, that would be fine as motivation, but for those of us who read Lee’s early comics, we know the scene has been done better. There’s a power to that moment that was lost in translation.

Other than that, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun time. It’s colorful, it’s zippy and it makes me excited to see this version of Peter Parker again. I know I’ve referenced the original trilogy multiple times in this review, but I do think this new entry is the first film to differentiate itself from what’s come before. It successfully stands on it’s own. It has personality, a vision and it makes for a pretty good Spider-Man movie.

Baby Driver – A Review

baby-driver-posterWho the heck is Ansel Elgort and why is he so entertaining? Because I don’t think I knew he existed until Baby Driver but that’s just one of many reason why I’m glad Baby Driver exists.

The movie is fast. It opens just as a bank robbery is starting and then immediately hits us in the face with the concept; crazy car chases set to an eclectic playlist of music. The first chase might be the best, but that’s not a knock against the the ones to come, just a comment on how the film starts at 90mph and doesn’t slow down.

It’s in this opening that Elgort’s starts with the charm as Baby, singing his favorite tune while waiting for the hired guns to do their work in the bank. It’s a wacky couple of minutes, with him throwing a personal dance party in the front seat of the car, but it’s delightful nonetheless.

From there, we meet the people that make up Baby’s world. The deadpan Kevin Spacey, Baby’s stepfather (grandfather? I don’t think I picked up on it), the adorable waitress Debora who finds Baby’s strangeness appealing, and a assortment of ne’er do wells who rob while Baby drives.

baby-driver-1It’s a fun movie with a lot of heart. The action is violent and R-rated, sure, but Baby has a conscience and it’s getting to him. He’d rather just leave with Debora and never look back, but he’s the best driver Kevin Spacey’s Doc can find, so it’s not so easy to get out of the business. In the midst of all the action and car chases, Baby tries to keep the body count low, sometimes to his own detriment.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the twists, though their fairly basic. Plot-wise, Baby Driver doesn’t bring much new to the genre. And that’s because it’s all in the execution. The car chases are choreographed like dances and I was constantly amazed by how much of it felt too chaotic to have been planned.

And there’s a shootout or two that have the same style. That shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who’s watched Edgar Wright’s The World’s End or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both had crazy fist fights that felt more like dances than anything else. And while Baby Driver scales back the absurdness, it doesn’t skimp on the fun.

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Jon Hamm is good as a semi-father figure, semi-tragic crook but Jamie Foxx steals the spotlight whenever he’s on screen. He’s an intense figure and everyone else seems in danger by just being around him. There’s some scenery chewing, but Foxx uses it to great affect. You don’t trust his character, but you like him anyway. Spacey, on the other hand, uses his low-key, monotone take to steal small moments left and right. He has one of the best jokes in the film and it’s so quick you might not even realize how great it was.

So, to summarize and not break the spirit of Baby Driver by dragging on, the movie is great. It’s fast, fun and is reminiscent of the thrill that was Mad Max: Fury Road. I won’t be surprised when it’s on everyone’s Best of the Year lists come December. I also won’t be surprised when Edgar Wright’s next film is fantastic as well, since I can’t think of a bad movie he’s directed. So, go see the movie, tell your friends and lets keep this guy working.

All Hallow’s Reads 2015 – The Visit: A Review

My friend, Nic and I had a meeting to go to, and it was far away and it was during the evening, so we had time to see a movie! And since my wife had refused to go see this with me, we ended up watching The Visit. And the real twist of the film was that it was good!

The Visit is the best thing M. Night Shyamalan has done since Signs. It’s not better than Signs. That movie is incredibly rewatchable for being as scary as it is. But The Visit doesn’t need to be rewatchable, it just needs to creep you out, take you on a wild ride of a third act and leave you feeling tense after the credits role.

Two kids visiting their grandparents doesn’t seem like it should be scary, but the ravages of age on the human brain can be frightening to young children. And the kids in this film are freaked out by behavior they haven’t seen or expected. But for the viewer, because we know who the director is, we’re sure it’s not just sun-downing or dementia. We know there is something else, right?

The Visit has a few red herrings to throw at us, but the end reveal left me satisfied and I found it creepier than going in the other direction. It helped that my friend and I were the only two people in the theater so I could really let myself react to the scares. I’m not one for talking to the screen, but there were plenty of times when I shook my head and yelled “No, I don’t want you to do that”, hoping to save myself from more tension.

If this movie had come out post-Signs or even after The Village, I think Shyamalan would be in a better place today then he is now. Luckily, The Visit is strong enough that I’m actually willing to call it a come back and see what else this once lost director has to offer. It will be a long time until he regains my full trust, but this is a good first step.

For different adventures this Halloween, all my friends are blogging our holiday celebrations!

First we have Smallville Chronicle with Nic Gunning, a long-time friend, co-worker and all-around fun time!

Then we have Sallylife’s Blog by Sally Murphy, another long-time friend, artist and all-around fun time!

And then there’s Musings From a Music Box by Kendra Mikols, my lovely wife, singer and all-around fun time!