Category Archives: Entertainment

Guns, Lots of Guns: John Wick Parabellum Movie Review

John Wick was a movie that quite frankly caught me off-guard.  I went into it expecting some kind of mindless action flick and got caught up in a visceral revenge movie with amazing fight scenes.  John Wick as a character possessed intriguing levels of depth and a level of resignation and crisp professionalism about everything he did.  There was no wasted movement, no extra effort.

Coming out of that, John Wick 2 was far more mindless and violent.  It had a over-complicated plot that tried to tie into a greater world, one of debts and secret societies and complex conspiracies, one which the first one hinted at but never really explained.  JW2 explored that world, but at a cost to the titular character.  His motivations became murky, his actions lost their singular, vengeful purpose.  Also, to challenge him, the fights became bigger, broader, more elaborate and challenging.

Into that setting sweeps John Wick 3 and at first, it seems to take a step back to the original.  John is fighting to survive.  But then it delves back into the secret society stuff, which, while interesting, doesn’t grip as emotionally.  There’s plenty of action.  Some very awesome fight scenes, especially early on… but then there’s some mid movie that are *over* choreographed, almost wooden.  You can almost hear the director going stop, now do step b, stop, now do step c, etc.  And then the motivations become less clear.  Is John doing what he does to survive or for some other reason.  Is this part of his plan, has he had a plan?  Indeed, is John his real name?

It’s a sort of existential crisis that robs the movie of some of the hook.  It’s an interesting set of twists, but these twists aren’t explored.  Bits of JW’s past are brought up, hinted at, revealed, and discarded without any emotional impact.  The ties that bind this secretive criminal empire are shown, but we aren’t given reason to care.  Each new group is either a reluctant ally or the source of countless assassins willing to die for the chance to take down John Wick.

And boy do they die.  Sometimes in inadvertently amusing fashions as they come and go so quickly.  JW’s coup-de-grace headshot is almost comical as the CGI blood splatters from him splitting skulls and stabbing through craniums and then following up with headshots.  The action is rapid-fire (see what I did there?) and it doesn’t stop.  The tension is constant, with some heel-turn moments that leave you guessing… but also left me unsatisfied.  Those who take action are for the most part open books, but JW’s motivations are hard to interpret and, well, murky.  And those of some of his allies, well, those can be even less satisfying.

I’m all for the awesome carnage and the fantastic fight scenes.  Keanu Reeves and Halley Berry do and did some amazing scenes and I would love to see this level of fedelity in more action movies.  On the other side of things, the movie’s writers need to be beaten.  Both actors did fantastic jobs with the bits they were given, but the writers seemed to think that a few mysterious looks and sparse words would do, when in reality that’s just not enough.  At this point, hundreds, possibly even a thousand, assassins have died at John’s hands.  People don’t go blindly to their deaths against those kinds of odds without real motivation.  Someone doesn’t *kill* that many people without some kind of real drive.  Give JW a story worthy of that drive, not some half-assed power struggle in an organization that we don’t even know the name of… after three movies.

Make the goals, the motivations, something we are emotionally invested in… make the carnage something worthwhile.  Otherwise you end up with this, a movie where a guy we used to know kills a lot of faceless mooks in really cool, creative ways.

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Shazaam! Movie Review (No Spoilers)

DC/Warner Brothers has done a shift towards more light-hearted entertainment and they went to the kid/superhero Shazaam with their latest release.

It’s a pretty big shift, one that began (arguably) with Wonder Woman and continued with Aquaman.  Overall, it’s a shift I appreciate because, well, I’ll admit I detested their grimdark approach from before.

So how does it work?  Well… it’s complicated.  On the one hand, the actors involved do a fantastic job.  Zach Levi totally sells his role as the titular superhero/kid.  The kid actors, too, do fantastic jobs.   Same for everyone else, they play their roles brilliantly and some of the side characters are positively awesome, feeling far more real than anything else and therefore reinforcing the suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand… holy crap is the opening dark.  I was actually getting pretty uncomfortable with it and starting to wonder if I’d been sold a humorous superhero movie cover on another grimdark Zach Snyder flick.  It got better, but given the tone and theme of the rest of the movie, they could have cut that whole section out or done it as a flashback.  The villain, too, is a dark, vengeful type totally at odds with the lighthearted tone of other parts of the movie.  He didn’t really fit, nor did some of the CGI.  I mean, it was cool to see… but it was also pure nightmare fodder for kids.

Which brings me back around to some of the branding.  They marketed it as a family movie, but I won’t be bringing my kid to it (I nearly did and now I’m glad I didn’t).  It’s not just some of the violence & CGI (which are both borderline for what I’d feel appropriate for young kids), but there’s some themes on family that are really, really dark for young kids to take in.

They’re mostly done well.  There’s no promises that are made by the story that aren’t paid off (sometimes in heartbreaking fashion).  The story is tight enough and flows pretty well from scene to scene, with no moments jumping out as not fitting.  There’s a few loose ends and some things you just have to make assumptions on (or just sort of ignore as being sequel material or something they didn’t have time to wrap up).  But those are minor things.

The humor is awesome.  There aren’t any jokes that fall flat and it all works organically.  The kinds of humor that would naturally come from the ridiculous situation.  Once it gets going, the movie is a whole lot of fun.

There’s a bit of awkward wording, some lines just don’t make sense in the context of what’s happening in the rest of the movie.  It’s either the CGI not matching up to the scenes or editing having changed what happened.  They’re small things, though, and easily overlooked with everything else going on.

All in all, though, it’s a fun movie.  It’s not one I’m going to go see again in theaters, but I will be buying a copy.  It’s also, as I said, not one I’ll be showing my son until he’s a bit older.  It passes the fun bar, it’s almost on track to match Marvel’s movie franchise, except for that whole darkness at the beginning.

 

 

King of the Seas: Aquaman Movie Review (no spoilers)

I watched Aquaman last night.  I’ve got to say, I haven’t been this hyped up about a DC movie in… well, ever.  Which is pretty amusing considering Aquaman has been sort of a joke for a long, long time.

The movie manages to live up to that hype.  It’s fun, it’s got good action, an understandable plot, and motivations for the characters that actually make sense.  They do a great job showing Aquaman’s character, in little things he does, not just the big dumb hero stuff of saving the world.  Some of it is sort of check the box, (save the nuns, check, save the trapped guy, check), but a lot of that stuff is cliche for a reason: it shows that he actually cares enough about people to risk himself to save people caught in the middle of his battles.

There’s a whole lot of comic book technology/magic.  It’ll make your head hurt if you think about it, so just eat your popcorn and enjoy it.  The other thing that rubbed me raw was the 2-3 minute pause to lecture about environmentalism.  Okay, I got it, it’s going to be a priority for the people (mer-people?  Atlanteans?) involved.  However, maybe instead of pushing issues that we’ve actually fixed in the past fifty years, you could focus on real environmental issues like illegal fishing trawlers that are pushing fish to extinction?  Oh, wait, those are Chinese fishing trawlers and WB doesn’t want to risk the Chinese market for the movie, so that won’t make the screen.

The movie glossed over some of the who’s who,  as well.  We get that the “fishermen” and the “brine” kingdoms don’t want to fight.  They’re also fish people and crabs, apparently, with no mention of how or why they evolved that way, while the Atlanteans somehow stayed as they were.  It didn’t need a ton of exposition, and I’ll admit, it all looked cool, but a bit more about what happened that they all changed so much might have been good.  Same for the Trench, though the sahuaghin-like creatures obviously couldn’t talk for themselves, it would have been nice to know what drove them so crazy (maybe the pressure, maybe they made pacts with cthuluoid entities, who knows?)

But by and large, the movie had good pacing and a plot you could follow.  Mamoa’s Aquaman shows moments of intelligence and compassion (two features sadly lacking in other DC movies).  I found myself on the edge of my seat for some of the movie because they actually made you care about the characters and there were a couple of times that I had no idea how they were going to get out of situations.  The underwater fight scenes are epic, the underwater cities are pretty epic, too.  There’s a bit too much shaky-cam at times, but I could still follow the action.

There’s also a lot of homages to the inspirations of the comic books.  There’s a HP Lovecraft book, Jules Verne references, and enough references and asides to make geeks, well, geek out.  They were little things, but the fact that they were there suggested a lot of thought went into the movie.

All in all, I’ll put it up as the best of the DC movies, hands down better than Wonder Woman and so much better than Batman v Superman and Justice League that it’s almost comical.  This is the sort of movie they should have done from the beginning, with a lead actor who’s given a bit of free reign to make his character his, to own it and add in his own humor.  Make no mistake, this movie succeeded because it embraced the weirdness that is an underwater kingdom and a superhero who swims well and can talk to fish.  They played that up for the ladies with a leading man who was eye-candy, but they also gave him the freedom as an actor to include his humor and swagger, and his performance felt far more human than the walking, talking, statues we had in Batman V Superman.

This was a fun, enjoyable movie.  It was good enough that I plan to see it a second time.  There’s nothing about the movie that startles or amazes, it was just a solid, fun movie.  I very much recommend seeing it in theaters, too, if for no other reason than to really enjoy the special effects.  A step in the right direction by DC, and I hope they’ll continue this with Zach Levi in the upcoming Shazaam.

Solo Movie Review

As the year has been pretty busy, I didn’t get to see Solo while it was still in theaters.  To be clear, I didn’t approach this movie expecting it to be the best Star Wars movie ever.  I wanted something fun and light-hearted, something to distract and entertain.  And coming away from it, that’s what I got.

It is fun, fast paced, and it’s got enough action and characterization that you come to care about the characters involved.  The movie went through extensive rewrites and reshoots when Ron Howard took over.  You can pretty much identify, scene by scene, where his influence is.  The actors, action, and plot move along comfortably.  Other sections lag behind a bit and there’s a much more campy feel.

The story has plot-holes you could drive a Star Destroyer through and additions to the Star Wars setting that range from interesting to asinine.  But it moves along well, the acting isn’t bad at all, and it passes the bar of being *fun* if a little bit of a stretch at times.  It feels very rushed.  Solo goes from a street rat to an “experienced” smuggler in the course of a movie.  Sections of the ending were clearly in the campier/more humorous tone rather than the grimmer, darker tone of other parts of the movie.  This would have made a better TV series than a standalone movie.

Solo is a movie that didn’t do well not because it wasn’t a decent movie, but because of the disappointment that fans had with The Last Jedi (and that in itself is a can of worms I’m not going to open right now, but you can read my review of TLJ ).  It’s also a movie that didn’t necessarily need to be made and which answers questions most of us don’t have.  We don’t need to know where Han got his blaster or his dice, or why he likes the YT 1300 Corellian Freighter.  There was a perfectly good novel series that covered all that, once upon a time.  It’s not to say the actors or director did a bad job.  They didn’t. There were sections where I was caught up in “young” Han’s story… but again, it’s a story that didn’t need to be told.  It was entertaining and fun along the way, but I wish the focus had been more on the story itself, rather than an origin story for Han.  I wish there’d been more characterization.  More ties to a greater universe, instead of the barrage of homages to the original trilogy.

Helloween Masquerade

Hey everyone.  I celebrated my birthday this weekend by visiting the Helloween Masquerade here in Denver.  The big draw of it for me was Cruxshadows, one of my favorite bands, and since they rarely (if ever) tour in the US and it happened to fall on my birthday weekend, everything worked out perfectly.

If you’re a fan of their music, I shouldn’ t have to tell you how awesome it is to see them live.  They have a ton of energy, their songs resonate with me, and overall, it was a great experience.  If you’re not a fan of their music, I’ll link some of their stuff and feel free to watch.  It’s not for everyone, but I find it’s great writing music for me.

Oh, and to top things off, they started playing this song right around midnight (and the start of my birthday).

All in all, it was a great weekend, the perfect way to get me charged up to tackle all these books I need to write.

Here’s a couple of their songs that I enjoy:

A Worthy Evolution: The Predator Movie Review

Hey everyone.  I went and saw The Predator this weekend.  It’s getting rather mixed reviews, so I thought I’d put in my own two cents.

You know the scene in Ant Man, where Luis  is explaining something and it rambles everywhere and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is probably the best part of the movie?  That’s Shane Black’s The Predator.   It’s fast, it rambles, there’s scenes & dialogue that you think are going somewhere and end up going off on a tangent instead… and it’s a lot of fun on the way.

I’ll note that I didn’t give The Predator a very high bar to success.  It had to be better than the last Alien vs Predator movie (which was about as bad as dousing my eyeballs with lime).  It surpassed that by a wide margin.   In fact, I’ll rate it as one of my favorite movies this year.

There were a ton of 80’s references in the movie, everything from “get to the choppas” to the fact that the movie opened with no previews, it went straight into the movie sort of like movies *used* to do.

The humor was good, the characters were just strong enough that you could root for them without having to worry about a lot of angst as they died.  The Group 2 military folks were… well, very accurate in a lot of ways, from the inter-service rivalries to the fact that they dealt with horrible situations with dark humor and an unwillingness to give up.

The action was over-the-top and in some ways, just totally unbelievable.  But it worked with the overall story.  The Stargazer project boss was sufficiently crazy and evil that after a first couple scenes with him, you know he’s going to die horribly and you’re actually rooting for a predator as he dismantles his henchmen.

There’s some story and plot elements that either weren’t made clear enough or that they could have spent some time on… but I’ll accept the hand-wave in a combination of (very) unreliable narrator and the limits of the movie.  There’s details that we don’t need to know and that Shane Black streamlined the movie is obvious.  The couple of scenes where we get a break from the relentless pace are used to establish characterization and to add depth to the movie.

I’ve got a couple of complaints as far as the use of actors.  Yvonne Stahovoski’s character was almost criminally underused.  She’s a fantastic actress and I would have like to see more of her.  Olivia Munn’s scientist was a bit too much of a bad-ass for her background, but she pulled it off well enough.

Story wise, I felt like it was a combination of Lethal Weapon and Predator, with the gritty buddy-cop feel to the two lead military characters.  Which worked very well for me, especially with the blend of humor.  The references to 80’s and 90’s action movies were great.  I feel like it needed a scene with Danny Glover sitting on a toilet saying “I’m getting too old for this shit,” but other than that, I think it was far more “predator” than the last few movies in that vein.

The ending, too, sets the stage for a sequel I’d actually like to see, with humans using and adapting alien tech.  I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I definitely think it’s a great ending (even if they jump ahead missing some key details on how they got there).

The movie is surprisingly pro-military and at the same time, very anti-authority.  The ‘authorities’ have private mercenaries and conduct experiments and authorize murders and false-imprisonment of innocent people.  The actual military members we see are trustworthy, work hard, and sacrifice everything to do what’s right, even when they know they’re going up against something they can’t defeat.  There was a lot of the Aliens vibe from the “military” characters in this one, and I really liked that.

So don’t believe all the internet rage and certainly don’t judge the movie based on the critic reviews.  It’s crazy, it’s messy, but man is this movie a whole lot of fun.  So loosen your tie, sit back, and just enjoy the ride.

Movie Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

As things go, Ant Man and the Wasp was exactly the movie I needed to see.   If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, or even if you aren’t, it’s fun, fast paced, and humorous.  The risks are dire and personal, this isn’t a movie where they’re fighting an alien of ridiculous power and strength.  These are people dealing with problems that make sense (even if some of those problems involve quantum mechanics).

It’s a movie that doesn’t hesitate to use humor to diffuse a tense situation and where the nonsensical is an acceptable route for problem-solving.  It rewards the audience for paying attention.  It also does a great job of showing that super-powers don’t necessarily solve problems and often times makes things more complicated.  It does all that without being preachy or boring, while still giving you enough time to process everything that’s happened.

And yeah, it ties into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Captain America Civil War and Infinity War.  At this point, I’m having a difficult time thinking of a movie they haven’t done well enough to be entertaining.  Ant Man and the Wasp is fun, engaging, and there’s enough interesting emotional and “real” world problems that I really found myself on the edge of my seat.  So if you haven’t already seen it, go watch it already.