When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were….well, don’t worry about it, there is a significant recap to remind you and get you current from the final moments of Wizards. Which, to be honest, left us hanging a bit and with a need to wrap it all up.
And, yeah, that’s not entirely going to happen, but that isn’t a surprise either. Rise of the Titans breaks into new ground for the franchise, having done fantasy and science fiction and myth, we’re now into Kaiju, with obvious nods to Godzilla vs Kong and Pacific Rim. The story is big in more ways than one. It is also a bit more rushed than the series since they’ve only allowed themselves a bit less than 2 hours to cover all the ground they wanted. And it is a LOT of ground. It also means there isn’t any of the really quality voice acting and character building we’ve seen in the past…because this is a wrap up. There are revelations and epiphanies (and some logic leaps for that matter) but none of the big arcs we’ve seen in the past, unless you count this as the end of an uber-long arc for all the shows, which would be fair.
The story was written and directed by several people, which shows in the breakdown of this event movie. For all intents it’s about 4 episodes in length, and the flick is divided into some natural breaks, though completely one story. This also isn’t a segment of the franchise that you can watch out of order, as you could the many series. Without the grounding of the previous stories, it will make absolutely no sense. It’s a gift to its audience, and has a wonderful ending that I’m desperately hoping they just leave as is. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is and doesn’t require anything more.
Either way, if you loved the foundation series, as I did, then you will enjoy and must see this conclusion. If you haven’t found the shows yet, give them a shot. Yes, they’re for younger people, but there is so much in there that adults will be well hooked and entertained as well. At least some of us will be.
Remember that couple you used to hang out with all the time, but then they had a kid and you drifted apart as life pulled you in different directions? Well, the Buckmans are that couple and, with the child about to fly the coup, they’re back. Paul Reiser (The Little Hours) and Helen Hunt (Ride) are still at the center of this odd romantic sort of comedy, but Abby Quinn joins them as their suitably neurotic daughter, and holds her own. Other notables returning are Jon Pankow with a fun storyline of his own that he shares with Antoinette LaVecchia. And Richard Kind (Ride), likewise, with the wonderful Kecia Lewis. Another amusing add, for Quinn’s benefit, is Asif Ali (WandaVision), who delivers his broad humor with incredible precision and confidence.
The season, much like any long comedy set, has it’s weak moments. But Reiser, who wrote a good part of the season, also gave it a particular shape. The dozen episodes hold together for a very satisfying conclusion and pause, setting up another season if that should ever come. If you liked the original run, you’ll slip back into this extension fairly seamlessly. It has all the warts and flaws of the original, but it has evolved to fit in with the times and it has embraced the long gap between our view of their lives. And, as with the original, it stays just meaty enough in its examination of marriage to avoid being easily dismissed.
OK, I get it. I understand why some folks will just love this crazy and silly romp through parenthood and basketball. And, to be completely fair, LeBron James actually pulls off his role believably. And Don Cheadle (Avengers: Endgame) gets to eat some serious scenery as well.
As a story, this is about on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. It doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But the Tron/Matrix send up, and totally unabashed WB advertisement for every bit of IP they still own, entertains on several levels. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the references and background characters. (Though I also have to admit that voices for the classic ‘toons and some of their characterizations, esp. Bugs, didn’t quite work for me.)
Helping James out as his on-screen son, Cedric Joe feels about perfect. And Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery) got to show us a new side of herself as James’ partner.
But most of the kudos really have to go to director Malcolm D. Lee who found the tone and the pace to keep it all going. He’s the core reason this crazy gamble worked. A brilliant classic? No. But certainly not an embarrassment. And while it will work on the big screen, it honestly is fine on a smaller one as well.
It’s all comes down to this: the origin. And what a nice payoff it is. As you’d expect, given the previous two parts, the cast reprises from the previous 1994 and 1978 time frames to inhabit the 1666 characters. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are back at the center along with Ashley Zukerman (The Code), Gillian Jacobs (Life Partners), and, now with a bit more range, Benjamin Flores Jr. (Rim of the World).
Having the setup of the previous two parts, this third flies in a swift 2 hours of suspense, action, and frustration. But the best part is that everything you’ve learned comes back into play right up through the end. And there is where it stumbles just the tiniest bit.
The main action resolves perfectly fine and acceptably. But there is a moment, and you can’t miss it, where there is an obvious and boneheaded oversight. I know it’s a trope of the genre, but it could have been less ham-handed. In fact, if it weren’t for that, I’d have rated the whole movie higher. That gaff cost it because after all the clever, subversive, and frankly well thought out planning, it was cheap and insulting to the audience.
But that frustration aside, which is small in comparison to the journey, this is a great trilogy of dark fun executed with a clever eye and solid talent. Leigh Janiak pulled the sequence off with aplomb and will have me watching for her next project for sure; as well as some of the cast.
The third of the D+ MCU series is, again, unique in design and storytelling, playing into it’s main character to inform the style. I give them great credit for that. Like each of the original comics the series are based on, they are allowing creators the freedom to tell the character stories in the most appropriate ways.
However that means that each time, each show has to level-set for the audience. Because of that the initial pacing of this short series, much like WandaVision, was slow, but it had an ever-increasing cadence that came together by the end. Interestingly, the light-hearted feeling of it all made the entire season feel like a close cousin of Doctor Who, especially given one of the bigger reveals. For those who don’t watch both shows, they would have had no dissonance while watching. But, for those of us who are broader omnivores in the genre, the tone and pace were unmistakable. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was occasionally distracting for me.
Also, much like WandaVision, I feel like this is a show that is going to be more enjoyable on rewatch…once it all makes sense. I didn’t have suspense pulling me along so much as curiosity while all the parts were spinning in the air. Some of that is the Owen Wilson (bliss) interplay with Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok), which was amusing, but not quite intense enough to pull me in.
On the other hand, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn), and Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country) really brought the energy and impact throughout the story. There are several shorter-lasting roles of note too, but to list them would be to spoil. Suffice to say that the cast embraced the absurdity of it all and ran with it in earnest. (Also not unlike Doctor Who.) And they sold it well. It certainly helped to have a single director, Kate Herron, to guide the entire ship into its final port. Herron’s complete guidance was especially needed so that the delightful physical metaphor in play could be handled well from beginning to end.
My biggest gripe: I only wish it had more than six episodes for the season. Even though it didn’t feel rushed, and I got ahead of several aspects, I’d love to see what more they could have explored. Fortunately, there is a second season already planned.
As a total sidebar, what is happening now in the MCU as Phase 4 is getting spun up is exactly what Ron Howard had hoped to do with Dark Tower (jumping between movies and TV series). The idea was thwarted by the studios. You gotta believe Howard is watching with a certain amount of evil glee at the success of the MCU. You’d also hope that the studios are kicking themselves at this point having missed the chance to blaze that ground and build an empire. But studios don’t have a soul…or long memory…so I suspect they’ve not even acknowledged the miss.
While this sequel can’t compete with the unrelenting tension of the first installment, it is an adventure all its own, building out the world and the story. It’s also a hand-off of sorts, shifting focus from Emily Blunt (Animal Crackers) to her children, Noah Jupe (The Titan) and Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place). Though I must admit, I don’t recall Jupe’s character being so bloody foolish in the first movie.
Director John Krasinski (Animal Crackers) also nicely shifted the adult focus to Cillian Murphy (Anna), providing a different view of the invasion and its impact. And he continued to show his writing ability with a tightly constructed story that uses everything he threw into it.
But this story has quite a bit more soundtrack in it than the first. To be fair, Krasinski sort of tapped that trick in the first part and repeating it would have been boring. But the film definitely had a bit less suspense for the talking. And the impact of Djimon Honsou (Serenity) was less than I’d have hoped for, though I appreciate Krasinski’s strong choices again for the story and structure.
If you liked the first part of this tale, you do have to see the second. Watching the characters grow (literally and emotionally) isn’t something you get often enough anymore. Natural sequels are hard to come by, but this found a way.
When last we left our story in 1994, we thought we had an idea of what was going on…only to be disabused of that at the very end. So here we are in 1978 to learn more. Leigh Janiak returns to continue guiding the story, and this time it’s decidedly darker.
Gone is the wry humor, though there is a certain amount of sarcasm. Gone is the light fun. This one is deadly serious and angsty; much more a typical slasher in the woods film than the previous. Janiak captures the era in color pallet and sensibility nicely, but I did miss the fun of the first part. A change in her co-writer to the up-and-coming Zak Olkewicz probably helped inform that shift.
That said, the cast and her direction continues to impress: Embracing the genre and running with it while still managing to keep it female forward. The additions of Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Emily Rudd, and Ted Sutherland to the sprawling tale also worked nicely. The three drive the majority of the action and expand what we know of the characters and the mystery from the ’94 frame.
Fear Street is turning out to be a wonderfully crafted, long story. As a series of movie releases over months or years, it would have been a frustrating wait and lose momentum. As a three week sequence it is building nicely and keeping me engaged. I’m curious to see how it continues to evolve into the 1666 origin time-frame and if it can pay off. But, even if it falls flat, the first two are credible horror flicks, full of fun, mayhem, surprises, and nice twists to the genre.
Preface: It has been 18 months since I last saw a movie in the theater. The last film I saw before lockdown was a dual weekend of Bad Boys for Life and Dolittle. I have wide tastes, what can I say? It wasn’t until the beginning of June I was even considering the possibility of returning thanks to finally being able to be vax’d in my state. But it wasn’t until this movie I was even motivated to try again.
So why did we even need this movie? It’s a reasonable question given what we know of Black Widow’s path. This movie nestles between Civil War and Infinity War for Scarlett Johansson’s (Marriage Story) character. We know where she ends up. So why? The simple answer is that she was always an enigma. It was part of her allure and charm. But we also had hints of her past and how it haunted her throughout Phases 1-3. There was never time to explore those tales because they would have been distracting to the main plots. This movie focuses solely on her and gives us the depth and some of the answers we had been looking for: who was Natasha and what was all that red ink she was on about for so long?
Basically, Johansson got the send off her character deserved in this gap-filling flick. But that is, of course, also part of the problem. We know a good deal of who lives and who dies because, well, we know what came next. It sucks some of the tension out of Eric Pearson’s (Godzilla vs. Kong) script which is, otherwise, an action and suspense-filled story. Though Director Cate Shortland did her best to keep us distracted from those facts with lots of clever fights and a mostly great cast.
As Johansson’s sister, Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is more than up to the task. No real surprise there either given her range and previous showings. And as her “parents,” Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and David Harbour (Extraction) are comically and nicely cast. Harbour is doomed to be a sidekick the rest of his life, but he does it well.
If there is a flaw in the cast, it is Ray Winstone (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). He just comes across as absurd and uncredible. Even if you buy into what he appears to have achieved, his demeanor and how he uses it feels wrong. From his accent to his posture he feels fake. Certainly, we enjoy his wrap up to this tale, but I would have liked to see someone else in that role who could have carried it with a bit more gravitas and truth.
Another aspect to this movie is that it was delayed almost 18 months. It should have come out before Falcon and Winter Soldier (which, in turn, should have been out before WandaVision). The only real connection is the tag to Black Widow, which is echoed at the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier, but it is also about the shape of the stories and information. Someday I may rewatch it all in the right order to see what that’s like, but it is interesting seeing the all the intended bits finally. And there is still plenty left untold about Black Widow…some of which I think we might see in the forthcoming Hawkeye. But if not, I’m OK with that too.
And to the last and most important question: is it worth seeing in theaters? That answer is mixed. It is certainly filmed for the big screen (I did go see it in IMAX). It’s gorgeous at times. But the pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already bad before the lockdowns: people think the theater is their living rooms. Talking, phones, etc were all on display. And, on a personal note, having folks right next to us (they opened the seats that morning unbeknownst to me) wasn’t very comfortable.
The truth is, a good movie is good on the big or the smaller screen, because it is about the story, not the spectacle. Black Widow will certainly be less breath-taking at moments on a home setup, even with a large TV, but the story should hold up and be engaging if you have interest in the MCU.
To be honest, I haven’t decided if I’m going back to the theater any time soon. My recent experience has left me a tad nonplussed on the idea, but we’ll see. And given the rise of variants, it may not even be a choice I have in a couple weeks, cause that’s just the world we live in now. Part of the reason I pushed for this outing was that I saw a window of opportunity and wanted to take advantage. It was certainly interesting to be packed in with the public again after so long. It also helped me realize just how nice my own home setup is now, having enhanced it a bit during the pandemic.
Yes, everyone is still a little too nice and everything is still a little too easy in this series, but I wish there had been a show like this when I was growing up. Because, despite all the young adult, sit-commy tropes, it tackles a wide range of issues head-on that almost no one else has tried. It also manages to finally pull itself free of the confines of the original book to be able to start its own course.
This second season of Victor also broadens its focus. Where the first season was very focused on the stress and fear and wonderfulness of Victor’s struggle to come out, this season tackles the aftermath. And it isn’t all pretty, though it is all well-meaning. And, sure, that’s where things are a bit too easy. But, like the first season, this is a show of hope not trauma. The young LGBTQ+ community needs to know it can go right. And, even when it doesn’t, that there is a community out there for them.
But the show goes beyond that demo to take in growing up as a whole. With several storylines around Victor, as well as some adult struggles, the world expands to something a little more real. I recognize that it’s all manipulative as hell, but it manages to do it in a good and cathartic way that allows you to forgive it.
A renewal still hasn’t been announced, but if they can maintain the quality and trajectory, I’d love to see where they take it next.
Wow there’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s not only frenetic in the extreme through the first two thirds, it’s packed with comments and commentary. Logic?? Well, not so much of that, but it is certainly (and surprisingly) entertaining. I have to admit, I have almost no memory of the original Boss Baby. Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much as they recap what’s necessary…at least enough to jog your memory.
There is a lot of great voice talent throughout the movie, but the highlight is Alec Baldwin (Motherless Brooklyn) and Jeff Goldblum (Hotel Artemis) trying to outdo one another as oily characters with nothing but disdain for the world. That, of course, shorts the plot considerably, but it isn’t like the plot makes tons of sense. And the satirical edge of it all is nicely played; the kids pageant is particularly scathing if you really listen to it.
Writer/director Tom McGrath (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted) delivered again one of those movies you come to in order to turn off your brain and take a funny, pretty ride with some laughs. I suspect it will live in my memory only slightly longer than the first film, but will remain roughly as ephemeral. It certainly aims at all ages for its entertainment.