8-Bit Christmas is a new HBO Max Christmas comedy, about a father recounting a story to his daughter. The story of his quest to get a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas during his youth in the late 1980s. As soon as you read that premise, your mind is probably thinking 8-Bit Christmas is like A Christmas Story meets Jingle All the Way, and I think that’s what the movie is aiming for. Unfortunately, that fun combination of retro Christmas movies exists in premise only, as 8-Bit Christmas seems to squander its humor – and the simple premise of “kid wants Nintendo for Christmas” – at every other turn.
The aforementioned father is Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris), who begins telling the tale when his family visits his parents’ house for the holidays, and he and his daughter boot up his old Nintendo Entertainment System (or simply “the Nintendo” as the film calls it, as many of us did back in the day). They pause the game as soon as they start playing it in order for Jake to spin his yarn, with the movie failing to make the obvious jab at the irony that they could be playing the Nintendo instead of talking about how he got it. If the movie fails to even make that obvious joke, well, let that be an indicator of things to come. There’s a lot of missed opportunities for humor going forward.
Flashing back to the “late 80s” and young Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) wants nothing more than to get an NES for Christmas. But his parents (Steve Zahn and June Diane Raphael) have no intention of getting him the console, citing its hefty price tag and, more annoyingly, buying into the hysteria of video game violence that many a dumb parent bought into during the 80s (and well into the 90s). The only kid in town who owns a Nintendo is a spoiled rich brat who insists the other kids in the neighborhood bring him gifts just for the opportunity to watch him play Nintendo. But Jake is desperate enough that he does what the rich kid asks just to catch a glimpse of the video game system.
That all changes when an accident occurs at the rich kid’s house, as the brat grows frustrated at his defective Power Glove (that is to say, his Power Glove) and he jumpkicks the TV, which falls and crushes his dog. The dog ends up being okay, but the film takes its sweet time letting us know this, which seems awfully cruel for a PG-rated movie (when will comedies learn that you can’t make a dog getting hurt funny? It just doesn’t work. It can’t). The rich kid’s parents then lead the neighborhood’s revolt against video games (though this isn’t brought up until later, and even then, feels only half-realized).
With his only access to Nintendo in the past, the young Jake Doyle decides to take matters into his own hands and win a Nintendo for himself, as his scout troop is giving one away to whomever can sell the most Christmas wreaths. Of course, that ends up being just one of several endeavors Jake Doyle partakes in his quest to get his own Nintendo. Sadly, every last one of these endeavors ends up feeling, you guessed it, half-realized.
That’s the main issue with 8-Bit Christmas, it introduces a number of situations that could be funny, but never manages to wring anything memorable or comedic out of them (I guess the idea that the gym teacher was among those bringing gifts to the rich kid in order to see the Nintendo was kind of funny, but that’s one quick gag). You could argue that the movie puts the nostalgia for Nintendo and the 80s ahead of the comedy, which could provide something entertaining (if pandering) in its own right. But 8-Bit Christmas even fails at the nostalgia.
For example, the only two real life games you see played in the movie are Paper Boy and Rampage, which are hardly the first two games you’d think of when you think of the NES. The game you see given the most play time is a fighting game made exclusively for the movie (and which goes unnamed, leading me to think the images the filmmakers made for the game were simply placeholders until they could secure the rights to use a real game, but never ended up getting the rights to whatever that was). Despite the movie being about a kid’s obsession with Nintendo, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda only get one verbal mention apiece. I mean, if your movie is going to pander to the nostalgia of people like me who grew up with Nintendo, then at least give us what we want to see.
There are other details the movie gets wrong about the time period, like how Jake’s sister is part of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, something that happened in 1983, two years before the NES was even released. Granted, I think the movie is trying to use Jake’s faulty memory as a means to give its flashback narrative an excuse to smoosh together as much 1980s as possible, similar to the television series The Goldbergs, but that can only go so far. It’s one thing if Adam Goldberg wears a Roger Rabbit shirt in a time before he should be wearing it, but it’s another thing if the entire story is built on some weird Frankenstein’s Monster of the 1980s.
The movie has a little bit of fun with the idea of Jake’s memory at first, like when he’s seen riding his bike wearing only a cap, until his present-day daughter asks if he wore a helmet like he always tells her, and then a helmet magically appears on the young Jake’s head in the flashback. There’s also Jake’s father’s penchant for swearing being replaced with an angry “God bless it!” as Jake censors the story for his daughter. Then there’s Jake’s parents’ blatant favoritism towards his sister, which he’s adding to his story to make it sound like the odds were stacked against him all the more. And I think we’re to assume the rich kid’s aforementioned jumpkick to the TV is supposed to be an embellishment. These are fun little ideas, but the movie seems to forget about this element as it goes on, which is a shame because this is where playing with the idea of faulty memory can be fun. Had they stuck to it throughout there could have been more creativity here.
I suppose asking for creativity out of this movie is asking for too much. Again, this is a movie of half-realizations. The pieces are all here to make for a good Christmas comedy, but nothing ever really comes together. For example, there’s a scene where – after all the stores sold out of Cabbage Patch Kids – Jake and his father decide to buy one for his sister from a “street dealer” in the middle of the night. The dealer (David Cross) opens the trunk of his car to reveal the Cabbage Patch Kids among other toys, including an NES. The scene feels entirely detached from the main plot until Jake sees the Nintendo in the trunk. But nothing comes from it. Jake doesn’t try to talk his dad into it or barter with the toy dealer to get the NES. So what’s the point of the scene? What’s the punchline? The concept of the guy dealing toys on the streets is an appropriately silly concept, but you kind of have to bring it to life with jokes and writing. Suffice to say, the Seinfeld scene with showerhead smugglers, this is not.
8-Bit Christmas’s inability to bring out the comedy in its situations is one of its two great faults. The other is that the movie can’t seem to decide who it wants its target audience to be. Given the film’s PG rating, it’s as crude as it can be, with references to vomit and diarrhea abound. At times it seems like it wants to get cruder with its content (like dropping a TV on a dog, not that that would ever be funny no matter the rating), but it’s too skittish to go further because it also wants to be a kids’ movie. But it also isn’t smart enough to figure out how to tell jokes within the “restraints” of its PG rating. 8-Bit Christmas is a movie that’s almost one thing, and not quite another.
This indecisiveness is perhaps most prevalent in the film’s finale in which – without spoiling anything – the movie suddenly tries to salvage itself with a heartwarming ending between young Jake and his father. Up until that point the movie has been aiming (and missing) to just be dumb fun, when it isn’t trying to be crude and irreverent, that is. So for the ending to suddenly try to bring sentimentality to the picture makes that sentiment feel unearned.
You can tell 8-Bit Christmas is yearning to be compared to A Christmas Story, which is considered a classic Christmas comedy. It’s not A Christmas Story, it’s not even Jingle All the Way. At least that movie embraced its lunacy and, dumb as it may be, is the kind of movie that will leave you with a big, goofy grin on your face. I would have been perfectly fine if 8-Bit Christmas were simply “Jingle All the Way but with a Nintendo.”
I admit I’ve seen far worse Christmas movies than 8-Bit Christmas. Winslow Fegley fits the role of a Nintendo obsessed kid in the 80s, and Neil Patrick Harris’s narration helps move things along. And its jabs at the pointless controversies surrounding video games back in the day are funny (though they’re only really funny if you’re someone like me, who remembers all that silliness, as opposed to the film bringing anything funny out of it through its own creativity). But the film ends up feeling aimless and directionless as it fails to capitalize on any of the situations it introduces. Was it really so difficult for 8-Bit Christmas to just have the silly, simple story of a kid wanting a Nintendo for Christmas, and running with it?
One other movie that 8-Bit Christmas may draw comparisons to is The Wizard, the 1989 Fred Savage vehicle that was little more than an advertisement for Nintendo (and Universal Studios). The difference between the two is that you can laugh at The Wizard, because it was supposed to be serious despite its failings. But when you’re supposed to laugh at something and can’t, it’s harder to appreciate even ironically.
8-Bit Christmas is like the Power Glove… it’s so bad.
Goodness gracious, what’s with November and making us feel old?! Xbox and GameCube turned twenty, the Wii turned 15, the Super Nintendo turned 31 just yesterday, and now, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast turns the big 3-0! Beauty and the Beast was released thirty years ago today, on November 22nd 1991.
Beauty and the Beast was the second proper film of the “Disney Renaissance” era, after The Little Mermaid (The Rescuers Down Under doesn’t count). The Little Mermaid may have kickstarted the Broadway musical-style of Disney film, but Beauty and the Beast took it to new heights, and ensured it was here to stay (well, there was that period in the 2000s when Disney left the musical behind, and perhaps not coincidentally it was considered another dark age for the studio).
Although the earliest Disney films were (and are) praised by film buffs and historians, Beauty and the Beast was really the first “prestige” animated film in that it broke a number of barriers for the medium’s recognition. Notably, it became the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, in addition to four other nominations. Though there are a few caveats to these in that three of those nominations were for Best Song (a credit to the film’s stellar song work, but it shows that the Academy refuses to nominate animated films in other categories). The fact that only two additional animated features have been nominated for Best Picture since, and the creation of the Best Animated Feature Oscar ten years later is more damning evidence that the Academy was never going to give animation a fair chance. And suffice to say, Beauty and the Beast didn’t actually win Best Picture. But at the time, this was a huge deal, and those caveats apply to the Academy Awards, not the film itself. Because Beauty and the Beast really is a great movie.
Beauty and the Beast appropriately became the first Disney film to have a Broadway musical adaptation, which ran until 2007. The film also saw a tenth anniversary release in select theaters in 2001, which even incorporated a previously deleted scene/song. It was then given a modestly successful 3D re-release in 2012 during Disney’s brief “re-release our classics in 3D” phase of the early 2010s. Perhaps we should look back at that time more fondly, since a few years later, Disney would begin full-on remaking all their animated classics into live-action movies, with Beauty and the Beast receiving this treatment in 2017. To be fair, it was one of Disney’s better live-action remakes, only really suffering by having the wildly miscast Emma Watson (who was autotuned to high heaven) in the leading role of Belle. The rest of it wasn’t so bad though.
While some of Beauty and the Beast’s standing as one of the best animated films has been muted somewhat with the rise of Pixar and more awareness to Studio Ghibli, it doesn’t take away from what a delightful film Beauty and the Beast still is. The story and characters are still among Disney’s best, and the same can be said of the film’s animation and those ever-so catchy songs. Simply put, Beauty and the Beast remains one of Disney Animation’s greatest achievements (I personally would consider it Disney’s best animated feature up until Frozen’s release in 2013). It’s a true Disney classic!
First thing’s first, I owe Ghostbusters 2 an apology. In a recent post, I described it as a “disappointing” sequel. I suppose, in an objective sense, that’s kind of true, seeing as Ghostbusters 2 was only a modest success, whereas the original was a decade-defining movie. But I spoke out of faulty memory. I hadn’t seen Ghostbusters 2 in years, and after you hear/read about how it wasn’t as good as the original Ghostbusters so often, I guess at some point I let that get the better of me. As I’m gearing up for Ghostbusters: Afterlife (a movie I have quite literally waited my whole life to see, given I was born the year of Ghostbusters 2’s release), I watched the original two Ghostbusters movies. And you know what? Ghostbusters 2 is actually a solid sequel. Maybe not an all-time great like the 1984 original, but Ghostbusters 2 is definitely better than it gets credit for.
Sure, Ghostbusters 2 has its faults: some story elements feel very loosely connected, the story of the Ghostbusters getting back together plays a little too close to the story of the formation of the Ghostbusters in the first movie, and that echoing is really felt in the third act, which feels a bit too familiar. There’s also that weird part with the disembodied heads in the subway which comes out of nowhere. Point being Ghostbusters 2 is a good movie that has its flaws, but it’s better than its reputation suggests. It just has the burden of being a good movie that follows-up a great one.
With that out of the way, there is one element of Ghostbusters 2 that stands out from its predecessor: it has something to say. While the original is one of my favorite films (and arguably the most quotable movie of all time), it is more about the comedy, the concepts and the entertainment. But Ghostbusters 2 has a message for its audience, and while it may be a bit overt, it’s so well meaning and earnest that it’d be hard to call it preachy.
In Ghostbusters 2, as the titular paranormal exterminators are slowly reforming, they discover a mysterious pink slime is taking over New York City. Meanwhile, at an art gallery, the spirit of a 16th century tyrant, Prince Vigo von Homburg Deutschendorf, begins to enter the world of the living through a painting, with his presence bringing about other specters as well.
It turns out that the slime is a physical manifestation of human emotion. Though the slime that’s building up under New York City is specifically the product of negative feelings: people’s anger towards one another, their contempt, frustrations, hostilities, and hatred. Vigo, the spirit of a wicked magician, is drawing strength from the presence of the negatively charged “mood slime,” allowing him to gain more and more power and influence in the physical world (though he plans to kidnap a baby and possess it to have a proper physical form).
The presence of the slime both creates and feeds off the negativity of people. When Ghostbusters (and friends) Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore (Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson) are exposed to it, they nearly come to blows. The negativity of the people of the city created the slime, and the slime in turn enhances that negativity. Hatred begets more hatred.
Later, the Ghostbusters learn that the slime can in fact be purified when exposed to positivity: love, friendship, hope, happiness, even song and dance. The presence of the “evil” slime isn’t entirely doom and gloom, and people can in fact reverse the negativity that they themselves created.
As Vigo gains in power, he can manipulate the negative slime to do his bidding, eventually sealing the art gallery with an impenetrable shield of negative energy so no one can interrupt his planned ritual to possess the aforementioned baby. To combat Vigo’s power, the Ghostbusters need to produce a massive amount of positivity in order to enter the art gallery. They end up using the purified “good” mood slime to animate the Statue of Liberty (“something that everyone in this town can get behind… a symbol“) as a means to instill hope and unity in the people of New York, blasting Howard Huntsberry’s “Higher and Higher” through loudspeakers for good measure.
Using the Statue of Liberty and the positivity it produces in people, the Ghostbusters break through the barrier into the art gallery. Although Vigo manifests, overpowering and immobilizing the Ghostbusters, the people throughout New York City, inspired and united, begin singing and embracing each other, weakening Vigo and forcing him to retreat into his painting. The Ghostbusters are then able to use the positive slime on the painting (in an admittedly disappointing final encounter) to seal off Vigo’s access to the physical world. Although the Ghostbusters get that last little moment of action, the real victory took place a few moments before then, when they instilled hope and happiness in the citizens of New York. It’s that positivity that destroyed Vigo’s power.
A few other creative works have had similar messages, that the very idea of good can save the day, but they are still pretty rare, and fewer still that feel genuine enough for their message to ring true (It’s a Wonderful Life and EarthBound are among the exceptions that come to mind). And it’s this optimistic, hopeful attitude that I feel propels Ghostbusters 2 into being a better film than it gets credit for (this, and the entertainment value).
Some may say that’s cheesy or naive (though by doing so, those same critics may be proving the movie’s point), but I think it’s a beautiful little message. One that resonates truer today than it did in 1989 when the film was released. In this day and age when it seems like people want any and every excuse to be angry at the world, hate on everything, and embrace cynicism and nihilism as some forms of intellectualisms, we could all learn a thing or two from something so purely optimistic. We’re willingly bringing about Vigo’s world. Let’s all try to be a little more like the Ghostbusters, piloting the Statue of Liberty and bringing out the best in each other.
Home Sweet Home Alone is a new Disney+ exclusive movie, and the sixth – yes, sixth – entry in the Home Alone franchise. The first two Home Alone films, released theatrically in the early 90s, have become holiday classics that people watch annually during Christmastime. They made Macauley Culkin a household name, as he starred as Kevin McCallister, a young boy who was accidentally left, well, home alone around Christmas. A duo of bungling burglars, Harry and Marv, tried to rob the McCallister home (and other nearby households) while the family was away for the holidays, only for Kevin to foil their efforts with a series of cartoonish booby traps that left Harry and Marv beaten and battered.
The original Home Alone was a massive hit. The immediate sequel was more of the same, but set things in the big city of New York. The sequel was less liked by critics, but audiences still embrace it as another annual viewing to this day.
After Macauley Culkin aged out of the role, you’d think the series would be good and done with. It wasn’t exactly a big fantasy franchise with a world of characters and deep mythology to explore. Kid beats up criminals at Christmas. That’s it. Audiences liked the first two, there didn’t need to be more.
But Hollywood being Hollywood, more Home Alones were made. They were various forms of standalone sequels and reboots, none of which featured anyone from the original cast. The third film was theatrically released, though after that it was straight to TV for the series. In this day and age of streaming services, it’s much less of a sting that Home Sweet Home Alone was released straight to Disney+, and in all fairness, it probably is the best installment since the first two films (but that’s a low hurdle to jump). Despite a solid effort, Home Sweet Home Alone still can’t escape the shadow of the first two beloved entries.
The story here is (what else?) a kid winds up being left home alone during Christmas, and has to fend off some burglars with some cartoonishly violent hijinks. Okay, I guess I should specify a little more, since the film at least tries to alter some elements of the formula.
In this entry, the kid is Max Mercer (Archie Yates), an English boy whose family has recently moved to the United States. Max and his mom (Aisling Bea) stop by an open house so Max can use the bathroom. The open house belongs to the McKenzie family, notably husband Jeff (Rob Delaney) and wife Pam (Ellie Kemper). The McKenzies are reluctantly selling their house (they haven’t even told the kids yet) as Jeff has recently lost his job, and Pam’s salary alone isn’t enough for them to keep their home. While Max is in the McKenzie house, he notices a box of old dolls, which Jeff inherited from his mother. Max and his mom note that the dolls are probably worth some money, particularly one malformed doll with an upside down head.
Jeff wishes his family could keep their home, and after doing some research on the dolls, realizes they are indeed worth good money, with the upside down-faced doll in particular being a rare misprint worth a small fortune. With that doll, the McKenzies can keep their home. The only problem is the doll has gone missing! Jeff suspects Max took the doll during his visit, and so tracks down the boy’s home. But by that point, everyone in the Mercer family has left on their vacation to Tokyo. Everyone, that is, except for Max, who fell asleep in a car in the garage to avoid all the noise of visiting relatives.
Through a typical Home Alone series of events, the Mercers are already on their way to Japan before they realize they’ve left Max behind. Meanwhile, Jeff and Pam, desperate to save their home, plan on breaking into the Mercer house in order to retrieve the missing doll, not knowing that Max is still inside. Max manages to overhear the McKenzies outside plotting their eventual break-in, and after misunderstanding a joke (Jeff mentions selling “an ugly little boy,” referring to the misprint doll), Max believes the McKenzies are planning to kidnap him. He wants to call the police, but fears his mother may get arrested for leaving him home alone, and so instead sets an elaborate series of booby traps in his house to beat the crap out of the McKenzies.
That’s kind of a bit of explanation for a Home Alone movie, don’t you think?
I suppose, to be fair, the movie is aiming for something more lighthearted, giving the “antagonists” a bit of sympathy so there can be a little heartwarming get-together once the misunderstandings are inevitably cleared up. It’s well intentioned, but the problem is making the “burglars” of a Home Alone movie into sympathetic characters works against the appeal of the franchise.
One of the reasons Home Alone appealed to young audiences is because the third act features a clever kid outsmarting some bad grownups. Though Kevin McCallister’s traps were often (cartoonishly) violent, you didn’t feel bad for laughing because Harry and Marv deserved it. They were jerks who broke into family homes and stole stuff during the Christmas season (with Marv going a step further and flooding the homes they stole from by clogging the sinks and turning them on full blast). They were simply bad guys. The audience delighted in seeing Harry and Marv get their comeuppance at the hands of Kevin McCallister. By contrast, Jeff and Pam McKenzie are a husband and wife simply trying to retrieve a family heirloom they think was stolen from them so they can save their family home. It’s a lot harder to laugh whenever Jeff and Pam get smacked in the face with a bag of flour. Or fall down a staircase. Or get their feet set on fire.
So, in a roundabout way, by trying to make Home Alone more family friendly (the kid isn’t in any real danger) they’ve actually made it less appropriate because now we’re laughing at the misfortunes of good people. Admittedly, I may be overthinking this a bit, but I do think Home Sweet Home Alone’s good intentions in this area are ultimately misguided for the material.
Something to note about Home Sweet Home Alone is that it actually does take place in the same continuity as the original two films. Kevin’s older brother Buzz McCallister is now a cop in Max’s neighborhood (with Devin Ratray reprising the role), and the Mercer family uses the “McCallister Home Security System.” The obvious implication being that Kevin grew up and started the home security company, which I found hilarious. The film isn’t overburdened with references to the original Home Alone movies, but what’s here is appreciated. Though it is a bit disappointing that Macauley Culkin didn’t have a cameo after rumors (and false confirmations) suggested otherwise ever since Home Sweet Home Alone was announced.
If I’m being honest, I expected much worse from Home Sweet Home Alone. Perhaps the overreactions of people in the age of social media simply made me fear the worst. But Home Sweet Home Alone is more bland and forgettable than it is outright horrible. Making the burglar “antagonists” sympathetic characters while still expecting us to laugh at the pain inflicted on them is the movie’s only egregious misstep. The rest is simply stuff we’ve seen done better in the first two movies. I admit I found some of the jokes to be funny, and Archie Yates is a cute kid who can carry the material (he was arguably the best part of Jojo Rabbit). Young audiences might get a kick out of the movie. It’s just that, of course, they’d be better off watching the original. Or even Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
No Time to Die is the twenty-fifth film in the James Bond franchise produced by Eon Productions, and the twenty-seventh Bond film overall. Notably, it is also the fifth and final entry in the Daniel Craig starring sub-series of James Bond films that began back in 2006 with Casino Royale. Though No Time to Die can’t quite measure up to some of Craig’s previous Bond efforts, it still manages to provide a fitting conclusion to Craig’s tenure in the iconic role.
Beginning shortly after the events of 2015’s Spectre, No Time to Die sees Bond living a new life with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), until he is tracked down by Spectre agents. Although Bond escapes the assassins, he believes Madeleine has betrayed him, and they part ways.
Fast forward a few years, and Bond is no longer working for MI6, but the CIA. His MI6 code number of “007” now belongs to a new agent, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), whom Bond inevitably has to work alongside in order to bring down the remaining Spectre agents.
Though someone else is determined to destroy the remnants of Spectre, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), an international terrorist with ties to Madeleine’s past. Safin has hijacked a secret lab and kidnapped/bought off one of its scientists, and is now in possession of ‘Project Heracles,’ a nanomachine bioweapon that infects its targets’ DNA. When Bond’s meddling with Spectre puts him in Safin’s sights, the secret agent finds himself on a mission to save the world from Safin’s plot. A mission that reunites Bond with Madeleine.
The plot is familiar territory for Bond films, and a number of key players make their return for Daniel Craig’s farewell as Bond. Ralph Fiennes is back as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Christoph Waltz makes a comeback as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, after appearing as the iconic villain in Spectre. No Time to Die even brings back Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, after the character’s absence in both Skyfall and Spectre.
With most of the key players back, it really helps add to the finality of the film. I admit I haven’t seen every James Bond movie, but I don’t think the series necessarily started over every time a new actor took on the role of Bond. As far as my knowledge goes, these Daniel Craig Bond films are the first series within the greater franchise to have a definitive beginning, middle and end. With No Time to Die being the last in this series, the filmmakers have given the film an appropriately melancholic tone throughout.
That’s not to say that it’s all down and depressing. This is very much a James Bond film, and there’s still plenty of entertainment to be had. Some of the action scenes are genuinely exhilarating, and the plot makes some exciting twists and turns.
In a number of ways, No Time to Die not only feels like a respectful sendoff to Daniel Craig’s Bond, but a loving tribute to all things James Bond, past and present. There is a caveat to this, however: both Skyfall and Spectre already kind of did that. And with due respect to No Time to Die, I think those films did it better.
Part of Skyfall’s appeal was that it was released around the 60th anniversary of the James Bond character, and the film celebrated the history of the character throughout. Spectre had a similar reverence for James Bond’s history, but celebrated in a different kind of way. Spectre brought back Blofeld, the recurring primary antagonist in the series, after years and years of legal issues prevented the use of the character, to give Bond his biggest threat. Both films played around with the history of James Bond, while creating entertaining, standalone movies in their own right.
By contrast, No Time to Die feels like the celebration has been going on a little too long. If Skyfall was like the main event, and Spectre was a much appreciated encore, No Time to Die feels like an additional encore that doesn’t have a whole lot to offer that hasn’t already been done. The party’s over, it’s getting late, we’ve got things to do in the morning.
That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate No Time to Die. It is a good movie. But the previous two films already gave Daniel Craig’s Bond two performances that would have made for fitting final acts (in fact, I believe at different points both films were considered the last Craig Bond films). So No Time to Die can at times feel like an epilogue that’s simply going through the motions. It does what it does well, I just think Casino Royale, Skyfall and Spectre did the same things better.
I think a major factor to that is that I just didn’t care for No Time to Die’s villain. Skyfall and Spectre both gave us all-time great Bond villains. The former featured Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, a physically intimidating foe who could get under Bond’s skin. As mentioned, the latter featured Christoph Waltz’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who could outsmart Bond and company at every turn.
Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin is a villain of little presence. We’re told he’s a genius, and a dangerous one at that. But with the past few villains we got to actually see them be geniuses and dangerous. We’re seemingly just supposed to accept Safin as James Bond’s greatest foe just because the movie tells us he is.
It probably doesn’t help the matter that Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld has a single scene cameo in the film, and in that one scene proves he’s the superior villain to Safin. I also don’t really understand what Safin’s motivation is. He wants to destroy Spectre out of personal revenge for his father, I get that. But then why does he also want to spread a DNA nanomachine virus across the globe, which is the kind of thing Spectre itself would do?
Though No Time to Die is a good movie, I think it would have been a much better one had the film simply kept Blofeld as the antagonist. For some reason, movies these days don’t have faith in the idea of a returning villain, as if being beaten by the hero once somehow destroys their credibility as the bad guy. There’s an advantage to returning villains in sequels in that we already know who they are and what they’re about, allowing for more time to be dedicated to the current story at hand. And considering this is the last James Bond film in its current incarnation, it would be all the more fitting to have kept Blofeld – the James Bond villain – as the big bad. By having Blofeld as the antagonist in the previous film and now bringing in a new villain out of the blue for the current James Bond’s big sendoff, it actually makes the proceedings feel less important as a result.
So No Time to Die may suffer from its villain scenario, and because it feels like it’s parroting its immediate predecessors too strongly while offering very little of its own. But No Time to Die is a good Bond film in its own right, providing the high quality action and spectacle you’d expect from the series. Though it may not be the best celebration of all things Bond in recent years, it’s still a celebration worth attending for fans of the series. And it gives a fitting farewell to arguably the best Bond since Sean Connery.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has long-since grown into the biggest movie franchise in history, producing 26 films since it began with Iron Man in 2008, and is now finding its way into television series (well, it did that a few years ago as well, but now those early ones don’t count). 2021 will ultimately see no less than four new movieentries in the franchise, and the past few months have already seen several streaming series added to the MCU. While the sheer amount of Marvel content is getting excessive, at the very least, it’d be hard to describe any entry in the MCU as “boring.”
Although not all of the MCU films are equals, Eternals – the third MCU film released in 2021 – is the first that had me waiting in anticipation not for something exciting to happen (though anything exciting would have been appreciated), but just for it to end. Even the weaker Marvel Studios movies (The Incredible Hulk, Captain Marvel) have at least provided some entertainment value, but Eternals – in a misguided attempt to prove its importance – apparently decided that it has no room for fun. Though the film’s over two and a half hour runtime suggests they could have found some time to boost the audience’s spirits.
Eternals tells the story of, well, the Eternals. An immortal race of super beings created by even more immortal, even more super beings called Celestials (basically giant robot gods). The Eternals were created to protect Earth (and other inhabited planets) from the Deviants, their evil counterparts. The Eternals are permitted by the Celestials to only use their powers to fight the Deviants, as to allow life on Earth to continue, but are not permitted to interfere with human conflicts and advancement (which is really just a weak excuse as to why the Eternals haven’t shown up in the MCU until now).
But they seem to interfere a hell of a lot anyway, with the Eternals being the real beings responsible for a number of human inventions (because God forbid humans are actually capable of accomplishing something). One of the Eternals even has the power to mind control humans, which seems entirely contradictory to their instructions not to interfere with humans.
The Eternals had seemingly rid the world of Deviants long ago, and gone their separate ways. They’ve moved on to live regular lives on Earth while they wait for centuries for their creator Celestial – Arishem – to instruct them to leave Earth in their ship (which looks like a triangular Kit Kat bar). But it seems the energy produced by the “snaps” of Thanos and the Hulk have somehow reawakened some Deviants, which have begun wreaking havoc once again. One Deviant, in particular, is capable of stealing the powers of Eternals and is beginning to gain sentience. So the Eternals must reassemble to stop the increasing threat of the Deviants (I guess the Avengers turned a blind eye to this one).
The Earth Eternals are an ensemble cast of characters: Ajak (Salma Hayek) is their leader, and has the power to heal. Sersi (Gemma Chan) is the compassionate one, and has the power to manipulate inanimate matter. Ikarus (Richard Madden) is the strongest, and possesses the powers of flight and laser eyes. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) can shoot projectile energy from his hands. Sprite (Lia McHugh) is an Eternal with the appearance of a child, and can project lifelike illusions (so she’s basically Loki). Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) has the ability of invention, which isn’t really a superpower, but I guess it is in this movie since humans are incapable of invention themselves. There’s also Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), a deaf Eternal with super speed. Druig (Barry Keoghan) possesses the aforementioned mind control. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) has the gift of super strength, and is the gentle giant of the group. Finally, Thena (Angelina Jolie) is the fiercest warrior of the Eternals, and can produce energy weapons from her hands.
It’s an eclectic lineup of characters, and the movie seems to have good intentions with its diversity (along with the culturally diverse cast and one character being deaf, Phastos is also gay), but the film ultimately fails these characters because they never really show any development as individuals.
Perhaps the one exception would be Kingo, who at least has a fun character history. While most of the Eternals have lived low-profile lives on Earth, Kingo has found fame as a Bollywood star. More specifically, as an entire lineage of Bollywood stars (to keep his immortality a secret). This would be the movie’s best idea, except it’s bettered a few moments after being introduced when – after Kingo is called back into action – production of his current film is halted, so he has his manager Karun (Harish Patel) join the Eternals on their adventure to film the whole thing as a documentary. So the manager is just tagging along for the rest of the movie.
An immortal superhero who doubles as a Bollywood star with his (quite regular human) manager at his side? Now that’s a fun idea! I’d see a whole movie based on that concept in a heartbeat! It’s just a shame the rest of Eternals is nowhere near as fun or creative as that one element.
The entire movie seems to be an extended sequence of flashbacks and exposition. It gets so tangled up in talks about how things happened and introduces so much faux-philosophy of how things could be, that Eternals seems to forget to actually tell the story at hand (the previously mentioned Deviant who gains sentience seems completely forgotten about as soon as he gains that sentience, until he randomly stumbles into the finale as the movie remembered about that loose end at the last minute).
There’s an attempted twist with the plot early on when the true nature of Arishem’s plan is revealed: Long ago, Arishem selected Earth to be a host planet for the birth of a new Celestial. The “seed” for the Celestial was planted within the Earth, but in order to grow, it needs a large number of intelligent life to inhabit the planet in order to produce the amount of energy needed to birth the Celestial (or some BS reason like that). So Thanos wiping out half the population prolonged “the Emergence,” while the Hulk bringing that half back all at once sped it up. The looming threat being that the birth of a Celestial means the death of the planet that births it.
This is where that ‘faux-philosophy’ rears its ugly head. Once Arishem’s true nature is revealed, the movie seems to think it’s providing some deep moral dilemma for the Eternals (and the audience) to ponder: do they save the Earth and its people at the expense of a Celestial? Or do they let Earth die because the Celestial could maybe make more planets that may or may not develop life?
That’s a stupid ass question. Of course saving the Earth is the only right answer! It’s not like another inhabited planet is at stake. It’s literally either the lives of every human being and living creature on Earth, or save some space robot so he can create some space junk and see what happens. We’re already here. So tough luck, space robot.
If the movie took a direct approach and came to the obvious conclusion that yes, Arishem is wrong and Earth needs to be saved, it would be alright. But the fact the movie treats it as such a thought-provoking conundrum is unintentionally hilarious. Although I suppose even if Eternals just ran with the idea, the whole “we were working for the bad guy all along” concept is the single most obvious “swerve” a movie like this could have possibly attempted. We now live in a time in which a movie where the good guys are simply the good guys and the bad guys are simply the bad guys would be a refreshing, original concept.
The movie as a whole just has an undeserved air of importance. It’s something closer to DC’s Man of Steel than it is any of the entertaining MCU features of yesteryear.
I am the first to admit that I dislike when Marvel movies (or any movie) undercuts emotional moments with an unnecessary bit of humor. So many movies today seem hesitant to let audiences feel emotions (“gotta throw in a dumb joke in a sad moment or the audience might actually feel sad!”). But now, here I am being a complete hypocrite, because I wish Eternals could have provided me with something, anything, to lighten the mood.
The whole movie is so joyless, and embracing in that joylessness as some kind of intellectualism. We have a bunch of apathetic characters who have lived for thousands of years (later revealed to actually be millions of years, because unless something is at least a million years old it doesn’t matter in Marvel movies anymore), and all they ever seem to talk about is how terrible humans are based on all the horrors they’ve witnessed over time. And of course, anything good humans did was actually an accomplishment made by the Eternals. How convenient.
You know what I miss? I miss the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. Now those were Marvel movies that showed what a super hero should be: a symbol of hope. Crucially, they also showed the importance of the people Spider-Man was fighting to protect, with the first two Raimi films featuring memorable scenes where the people of New York helped Spider-Man save the day, and stood up for their hero. Even J. Jonah Jameson was given a moment of selfless heroism.
These days, between the mini-series Loki and now in an even more boring package with the Eternals, the modern Marvel movies and series seem to treat humanity as an afterthought. The heroes are no longer fighting for people, because people are insignificant and just exist to run around and scream whenever the villains are doing something bad. As a result, the heroes just come across as fighting for their own egos instead of fighting for what’s right.
Eternals was directed by Chloé Zhao, who has recently risen to prominence and even won an Oscar. One would hope that such a director would bring a new artistic touch to the superhero genre. Instead, Zhao’s film simply strips away the artistic merit the genre does have, and tries to turn it into something else. Eternals is an attempt to turn a superhero movie into an arthouse film, and not a very good one.
These Marvel movies show no signs of slowing down. Here’s hoping that Eternals is simply a bump in the road, and that these movies can get back to what made us all like them to begin with.
Somehow, my October movie watching managed to surpass my September movie watching. So I figured a second edition of this “My Month in Movies” thing was in order. But I stress this again, don’t expect this to be a monthly thing. Only something I’ll do when I feel I’ve watched enough movies to warrant it, and if I have the interest. But I certainly had the interest this month!
I managed to watch twenty-five feature films throughout the month of Halloween, with the holiday itself inspiring me to watch a number of them as a means to get in the holiday spirit (I’m festive like that). And somehow, I still managed to find the time to rewatch the entirety of what is arguably the best television show of all time. I honestly don’t know how I managed to watch everything I did in October, but I guess a bit of insomnia freed up some of my usual sleep time, so that probably “helped.” Additionally, the only video games I put any time into during the month were Metroid Dread and Mario Party Superstars, the latter of which wasn’t released until the tail end of the month (but it was still released before Halloween, which is what Nintendo should have done with Luigi’s Mansion 3 a few years back. No, I still haven’t forgiven them for releasing Luigi’s Mansion 3 on the day of Halloween but constantly advertised it as being “just in time” for Halloween).
Anyway, my point being my free time this month was basically in watching, not playing. Which is another reason why I may skip writing another one of these next month (we’ll see). I’m so backlogged in my reviews and write-ups for video games, that I really should prioritize that aspect of my website for a while.
Why am I explaining all this to you? I have quite a few movies to talk about, so let’s get cracking at this.
Here is the full list of movies I watched in October 2021, in chronological order of when I watched them. Once again, movies I watched for the very first time are marked with asterisks.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
The Maltese Falcon
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3
Venom: Let There be Carnage*
The Addams Family 2 (2021)*
No Time to Die*
North by Northwest*
The Adventures of Tintin
Jaws: The Revenge*
The Evil Dead*
Evil Dead 2*
Army of Darkness*
Howl’s Moving Castle
In addition to all these movies, I also watched all 180 episodes of Seinfeld, as well as the 50-minute Disney+ special, The Muppets Haunted Mansion, which was cute (Gotta love The Muppets).
So quite the eclectic lineup, I must say. While in September my overall “flavor of the month” seemed to be action movies, for the obvious reasons in October it seemed to be various forms of horror and suspense. But if that’s too obvious, let’s say the flavor of the month was Alfred Hitchcock, seeing as I watched no less than four films by the great director. And yes, I started things off by watching the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trilogy again. What of it?
After Ninja Turtles, I rewatched The Maltese Falcon for the first time in a few years. A classic Humphrey Bogart film, and the first to pair him up with actors Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, the latter of which made his acting debut in The Maltese Falcon as the villain, Kasper Gutman, AKA “The Fat Man.” The Maltese Falcon is often considered the first film noire, but that’s debated. Either way, it’s a great piece of classic cinema.
Then I had the terrific opportunity to once again (more specifically, thrice again) see my all time favorite movie, Spirited Away, on the big screen. With Spirited Away’s limited re-releases in 2016 through 2019, as well as these three viewings and when I first saw it in 2003, this brings my overall theatrical viewings of Spirited Away to 14! That’s the third most I’ve seen a movie in theaters (or fourth, depending on how you view a tie), and if these re-releases keep up (please do), it will climb it’s way to the top in no time. It would be fitting, seeing as it is my favorite film.
You know, I’ve made it no secret that Spirited Away is my favorite movie (along with My Neighbor Totoro), and yet I still procrastinate on making my lists of favorite films (whether by decade, genre, overall, what have you). And I feel like I’m not alone there. It seems like a lot of people can point out their absolute favorite of something, but then when it comes to making some kind of concrete list, there’s some pressure with making it for some reason. You’d think knowing your favorite would make everything else fall into place. I don’t know, that’s just an observation.
Next up was Casablanca, one of the most acclaimed and beloved films of all time, and another that starred Bogart and featured Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. It also features one of the most famous misquotes in movie history (“Play it again, Sam!” is never actually uttered. Though Bogart’s character does tell a character named Sam to play a song on a piano, the words are never in that specific order). Another great classic.
After that I saw some recent movies in theaters. I’ve already reviewed Venom: Let There be Carnage and The Addams Family 2, so you can go ahead and read those if you want. But I also saw the newest James Bond film, and the last to star Daniel Craig: No Time to Die.
I mostly enjoyed No Time to Die. It featured some exhilarating action scenes, and it was a fitting, melancholic sendoff to Daniel Craig’s James Bond. With that said, I don’t think it was as good as Casino Royale, Skyfall or Spectre (I actually still haven’t seen Quantum of Solace). Despite doing most of what it did well, I don’t think No Time to Die did them as well as those aforementioned movies. But one thing that was a huge downgrade from the past few Bond films was the villain. The past two films featured Javier Bardem and Chrisoph Waltz as the villains (the latter as James Bond’s big bad, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, no less). The former was physically imposing, the latter was mentally intimidating. So when No Time to Die wheels out Rami Malek as the bad guy, he kind of falls flat. He just doesn’t have a villainous presence like his predecessors, and his character’s motives are murky, at best. Not to mention his defining physical trait is that he has bad skin. A lot of Bond villains have some hook to their appearance: Blofeld is usually bald and has a nasty scar across his face; Oddjob has his hat; Jaws has, well, a big metal jaw. But No Time to Die’s villain, Lyutsifer Safin, has bad skin… Yeah, not quite the same.
What’s really disappointing is that No Time to Die brings back Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, but just for a single scene cameo. He should have just been the villain again, really. Especially since this was Craig’s last Bond film, it would have made all the more sense for Blofeld to be the final villain, given the character’s history in the franchise. By making Blofeld the villain of the previous film and then ending this current James Bond series with a new villain, it actually makes the whole scenario feel less important. Why doesn’t Hollywood have any faith in the idea of returning villains anymore?
I really should just review No Time to Die. Maybe some day I’ll rewatch all of the Craig Bond films and give them all a write-up.
North by Northwest was the first Hitchcock film I watched in October, and was the only one of the four I watched during the month that I watched for the very first time. Even if you’ve never seen North by Northwest, if you’re familiar with iconic movie moments, you’re probably familiar with this one.
The fact that I watched North by Northwest right after a James Bond film was coincidental, but fitting, seeing as it greatly influenced the spy thriller genre, most notably James Bond. The twist here being that the main character isn’t actually a spy, but gets mistaken for one. This is another great Hitchcock film, but one that I feel has one major flaw: the ending is waaay too abrupt.
I know, I’ve committed cinematic blasphemy once again. But the film has such a great build and execution to just about every moment beforehand, and then it literally wraps up seconds, seconds, after the final confrontation with the bad guys. If a modern movie did the same thing, all people would ever talk about would be the abrupt ending. With classic Hollywood it’s the opposite, and we skirt over something like that and only highlight the good. Granted, I would prefer people be more positive and have the outlook that the good outweighs and overpowers the bad, but it does seem like film buffs have a bit of a double standard with these things.
Otherwise North by Northwest is another winner in Hitchcock’s belt. The film’s writer even mentioned that he wanted to make sure he wrote “The Hitchcock film to end all Hitchcock films” (which admittedly seems a bit odd. You’d think Alfred Hitchcock would be the only person in the film’s production who could rightfully make that call, really).
Next we have Dick Tracy from 1990. What a wild ride this movie is. Although its story and characters are very simplistic, what really makes Dick Tracy stand out is its utter commitment to style. While modern comic book movies try to make the worlds of the comics look “grounded” and “more realistic,” Dick Tracy had the complete opposite mentality. It wanted to make reality look like a comic book! Talk about being ahead of its time!
There’s so much color and style in Dick Tracy, that its imagery really sticks in the mind afterwards. Not to mention its wild parade of villains, with pretty much all of them hiding under heaps of prosthetic makeup. You have guys with tiny faces, guys with no faces, and guys with prune faces!
Dick Tracy kind of reminds me a lot of The Rocketeer (1991), which I guess is fitting, seeing as both films were attempts by Disney to create their own Indiana Jones-esque franchise. The key difference between the two is that Rocketeer was released under Disney itself, while the (relatively) more mature Dick Tracy was released under Disney’s now-defunct Touchstone brand (which, despite popular misconception, was just a brand name Disney used for more mature movies, and not a separate studio). Both should be ranked among Disney’s best live-action films.
I also reviewed The Adventures of Tintin already. And Fun Fact: I posted that review on the tenth anniversary of the film’s original release in Belgium (which is appropriately where the film was released first). Again, I’m festive.
After that, I watched the Jaws movies. Or should I say I watched Jaws, a genuine classic of horror, suspense and action, and then proceeded to watch three fanfictions that somehow got turned into feature films?
Okay, so in all fairness, Jaws 2 isn’t so bad, it’s just that it really had no hope to live up to the original. Jaws 3 is pretty darn bad though, but it actually got off a little easy over time because Jaws: The Revenge is so bad that it became the one everyone talks about in hate and disgust to this day.
At any rate, I don’t think anyone would blame me that I’ve seen the original Jaws many times over the years, but only just now watched the sequels for the first time. The first Jaws is an all-time classic, and the film that made Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg. It was the first-ever Summer blockbuster, and it still has to be one of the best.
Steven Spielberg’s films are rarely complex, but they’re so well done at everything they do that he makes them unforgettable. Jaws really is a simple horror movie at heart, but it’s surely one of the best ones. It really helps give the film some emotional weight that Spielberg made the three main characters into complex figures, and that each of the shark’s victims aren’t simply treated like mere “movie kills,” but are made appropriately tragic (two concepts that seem lost on most horror movies). And the shark (which is its name, not “Jaws” like the James Bond villain, just “The Shark”) is one of the great movie villains. A mostly unseen presence of terror and death, defined by its theme music.
Jaws really hasn’t aged a day. In fact, in some respects, it may resonate even stronger today in many ways. A deadly problem arises that could be resolved if a few simple rules are followed, but some selfish, greedy, stupid people blatantly ignore those rules and make the problem worse. Why does that sound so familiar?
It’s definitely worth mentioning that Spielberg had no hand in any of the Jaws sequels. Though to their credit, I suppose the Jaws sequels produced two of the most famous/parodied taglines in movie history. Surely you’ve heard some variation of “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” (Jaws 2) and “This time, it’s personal” (Jaws: The Revenge).
After Jaws I went into even more horror territory with the Evil Dead trilogy by Sam Raimi. The first Evil Dead is a straight-up horror movie. A low budget affair that sees the now iconic Ash Williams character (Bruce Campbell) survive a haunted cabin as his friends are possessed by demons one by one.
Evil Dead 2 is probably the best movie of the trilogy, and combines the horror with comedy. Interestingly, it’s as much a remake as it is a sequel, with its first ten or so minutes retelling the events of the first film while omitting most of the characters from the original (save for Ash and his girlfriend) and retconning the ending. And then many of the events of the first movie that involved the characters left out of the sequel are redone with different characters and situations in part 2. It’s an interesting take on a sequel, to say the least. I admit I have some mixed feelings about how it wipes away certain elements of its predecessor (effectively making the original movie a half-canon prologue), but Evil Dead 2 really does outdo the first film in basically every way otherwise. Plus, this is the one where Ash gets his chainsaw hand.
The third film of the trilogy, Army of Darkness, is relatively less acclaimed, but kind of brilliant in its own way. Although it’s still classified as a horror movie, it feels more like a total change of genre, doubling down on the cartoonish comedy of the second entry and placing the action in a swords and sorcery setting (okay, chainsaws and sorcery). That’s right, Ash goes back in time to medieval days and battles an army of skeletons. You have to respect a sequel that’s willing to be so different to what came before. It’s one of the most bonkers sequels ever.
We go back to modern releases with Dune, the latest cinematic interpretation of Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi epic. Like No Time to Die, maybe I’ll write a full review of this in the near future, but I have to say I wasn’t won over by it. I feel like Dune is one of those things where you really, really have to love sci-fi to get into it. I don’t know, it feels like one of those sci-fi stories that’s more about the situation and politics of its world than it is about story and characters. I find it really difficult to get into that kind of thing. And when turned into a movie it kind of works against itself. It’s basically watching a movie where people are constantly explaining things, but you don’t really feel for any of it. The new Dune movie takes its sweet time with so many things, but little of it goes into making you care about who the characters are. And I found the constant presence of big name celebrities to be more distracting than anything (a guy takes off his mask to reveal, dun dun dun, it’s Javier Bardem!).
I will say, the film is a spectacle, sometimes an effective one. And I think Bootstrap Baron Harkonnen is a good bad guy. A big, floating fat guy. Now that’s a villain! More villains need to be big, floating fat guys.
Back to Hitchcock with Psycho and Rear Window.
Psycho is probably Hitchcock’s most widely known film, and one of my favorites. The first half is more of a suspenseful movie, as a young woman steals forty-thousand dollars and runs off to start a new life with her boyfriend, only for it to switch into a horror film once she stops at the Bates Motel on her way to reunite with said boyfriend. The switch occurs, of course, in the infamous shower scene, which has to be the most famous “movie kill” in any horror movie. It also has to be the biggest switcheroo of a movie plot, and Alfred Hitchcock went to great lengths to ensure theaters wouldn’t permit anyone into the movie after it had already started, as to avoid spoiling the surprise. Wouldn’t that be cool if such a thing could still happen today? A classic.
Rear Window is less horror, but more suspense. The Entire movie takes place in a single location, but you really forget about that fact when watching it because it’s so engrossing. Rear Window is, of course, the movie where James Stewart plays a photographer (L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries), who has a broken leg which is keeping him stuck in his apartment. So he takes on the hobby of peeping at his neighbors to pass the time (yikes!), but suddenly his pastime has some importance, as he realizes one of his neighbors has murdered their wife in the middle of the night. Another very effective thriller by Hitchcock.
Along with Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle was also given another limited re-release in theaters (though I only saw Howl once this time around). I’ve stated in the past that Howl’s Moving Castle is the only Miyazaki film that’s notably “weaker” than the rest of the great director’s works, but that really is a very relative complaint. Howl’s Moving Castle still is a magical, imaginative movie with memorable characters. I got very nostalgic watching Howl this time around, with memories of seeing it in theaters when it was first released in the US sixteen years ago (geez, how has it been that long? How?). The screening of Howl’s Moving Castle even featured a showing of On Your Mark, the only music video directed by Miyazaki.
Going back to Hitchcock yet again, I watched The Birds, probably the most famous post-Psycho Hitchcock film (unless I’m forgetting the ordering of his movies, which is possible because he directed a ton of them). Another great horror movie. You could even make the argument that The Birds is a zombie movie, even though there’s no actual zombies, just (quite living) birds. But the way the movie plays out certainly feels like a zombie movie.
The Birds tells the story of a young woman who, after an encounter with a man at a pet store, decides to purchase him some birds (it’s more complicated an encounter than it sounds, but we’ll save the details for another time). She buys a couple of lovebirds, and shortly after delivering them to the man’s family home in the middle of a fishing hamlet, all of the birds in the area – regardless of species – begin to attack people. The film has a nice slow burn, with about a full half hour going by before the first bird – a single seagull – attacks our heroine.
One of my favorite things about The Birds is its heavy use of uncertainty, which really adds to the horror element. There’s never a given reason why birds start violently attacking people. It’s implied to the audience (not the characters) the presence of the lovebirds is the cause. But that’s – quite wonderfully – an explanation that creates more questions than answers. Hitchcock didn’t want to give a detailed explanation for why the birds start going crazy, which I can’t imagine a movie like this would do these days. If there were a modern movie like this, it would no doubt have to explain away every last detail. But Hitchcock was wise enough to know that the uncertainty of it makes it all the scarier.
That uncertainty is also present in the birds’ attacks. In the film, birds just start gathering in large numbers, and will swarm and attack at seemingly random moments. To add even more uncertainty to the picture, The Birds doesn’t really have a traditional ending. It ends with the surviving characters quietly leaving town after another attack – with the lovebirds in tow(!!) – amidst a currently tame mass of birds.
I kind of like that The Birds doesn’t really have an ending. Some may say that’s hypocritical, given my complaints with North by Northwest’s ending. But the difference is I feel like the vague ending of The Birds fits with the kind of movie it is, whereas the ending to North by Northwest is so abrupt it feels out of place in a movie that otherwise takes its time.
Finally, the last movie I watched this month was Ghostbusters, the 1984 comedy that was one of the biggest hits of its decade, and still a comedy classic. It was followed by a disappointing sequel in 1989, and an even more disappointing and unnecessary reboot in 2016. Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a third film in the original series (finally) comes to theaters later this month. Here’s hoping that Afterlife ends up being the first worthy sequel to Ghostbusters (not counting the animated series The Real Ghostbusters or the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, both of which seem to have a mostly fond reception).
It’s kind of funny that Ghostbusters spawned such a big franchise, because it really wasn’t that kind of movie. It was a comedy starring SNL alumni that was based in Dan Akroyd’s interest in the paranormal. But the film was just so well made, from writing and dialogue to its special effects, and perhaps most importantly, it had an imaginative story that in turn captured the imaginations of audiences. Ghostbusters is one of those comedies that stops being “just” a comedy and is simply a great movie all around.
Also of note, Ghostbusters was the first “visual effects comedy.” Before Ghostbusters, comedies weren’t considered commercially viable enough for studios to spend the money required for big visual effects. In that regard, Ghostbusters opened the door for movies like Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s just a shame that visual effects comedies are now basically extinct (can you think of a modern example of the sub-genre?).
Now I’m turning into a Ghostbusters history book. Point being, it’s a great movie, and one of my favorite comedies. But I guess I’ve rambled enough and we should be moving on. Let’s dish out some awards to the movies I watched in October!
Best Movie I Watched All Month: Spirited Away
Seeing as Spirited Away is my favorite movie, it’s guaranteed to be the best movie I watch in any month I watch it (if I watch it in the same month as My Neighbor Totoro, I guess it would be a tie between the two). With all due respect to the numerous great movies I watched this past month like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Psycho, Ghostbusters and Jaws, Spirited Away of course wins the crown. Chihiro’s odyssey to save her parents in a world of spirits and monsters is unforgettable from beginning to end.
One of the funny things about having favorites of anything (movies, video games, TV shows, songs, etc.) is that after a while, you tend to only think of the “whole” of your favorites, and take for granted the little details that helped make them your favorites to begin with. And when you experience your favorite things again, every now and again you’re reminded of those little things.
Spirited Away is a beautiful, touching film. But something these recent viewings reminded me of is its sense of humor. There are so many funny little touches to Spirited Away: The witch Yubaba using her magic to repair the damage done to her office, only to manually straighten a lampshade. A bowl of rice melts into goo due to the stench of a Stink Spirit. There’s the famous scene with the soot sprites carrying coal to a furnace. Chihiro notices one such sprite struggling to carry his lump of coal, and takes it upon herself to carry it for him (struggling herself in the process). Afterwards, all the soot sprites purposefully drop their coal in hopes Chihiro will do their work for them.
As an added bonus, the English dub features a small role for John Ratzenberger (remember that the Pixar guys helped in the dubbing of Miyazaki’s films), and the actor delivers some terrifically funny adlibs (that also don’t detract from the spirit of the movie, importantly).
Spirited Away is my favorite film, so I’ll continue to talk about it whenever I can. But because these recent viewings really made me appreciate Spirited Away’s many humorous moments all over again (and reminded me the part they played in me loving the movie to begin with), I figured I’d highlight those here. Spirited Away is widely (and rightly) acknowledged as one of the greatest and most influential animated films, but its sense of humor doesn’t get talked about as much as many of its other aspects. It should be talked about more, because along with everything else, Spirited Away is also a very funny film.
The best movie.
Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Jaws: The Revenge
From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows…
Last month, I mentioned how Speed 2: Cruise Control is sometimes considered the worst sequel ever. While Speed 2 is a bad sequel, and sadly crushed any hopes for a Speed 3, it did have some merit. The same cannot be said of Jaws: The Revenge. Behold, the worst sequel of all time!
Well, I may have to double check that later. But considering how great the original Jaws was in relation to how truly, unspeakably awful Jaws: The Revenge is, it has to be the greatest drop in quality a movie series has seen. It just has to be. How could something be worse?
Sure, there were two other Jaws movies in between the first Jaws and The Revenge, but The Revenge is so bad it could have been 16 sequels worth of diminishing returns. The Revenge is an insult to Jaws 3, let alone Jaws 2, let alone the original!
Why is it so bad? Geez, where do I even begin? Wait, I know a good spot to begin: the fact that the shark in this movie is literally out for revenge on the Brody family for what happened to the sharks in the first two movies! Oh yeah, I say the first two movies because Jaws: The Revenge ignores the events of Jaws 3 and is its own third entry. So it’s basically Jaws 3-2.
Not only is the idea that a shark could actively seek revenge absolutely ludicrous, but it even contradicts a line of dialogue from Jaws 2. This is also the movie where the shark roars like a lion. The movie where the shark blows up after getting stabbed by the front of a ship. And I don’t mean its body pops and blood and guts fly everywhere, I mean the shark actually explodes into a fireball!
Okay, so the movie is insulting to the audience’s intelligence, but even if we try to look past the idiocy, it’s still a bad sequel all around: Chief Martin Brody is dead from the get-go, having died of a heart attack in between Jaws 2 and this movie. So Roy Scheider is sorely missed (by the audience, I’m sure Scheider was happy he wasn’t featured). I guess he wasn’t in Jaws 3 either, but at least that continuity didn’t kill Martin Brody off screen. Though I guess getting killed off screen is a better character fate than surviving one horror film only to get killed by the same/virtually the same villain in one of the sequels, which just undermines their victory in the first movie. I hate that!
So the widowed Ellen Brody is the main character here. Her younger son is engaged to be married, only to be killed by the revenge-seeking shark…at Christmastime, of course (let’s kick Ellen Brody while she’s down). So Ellen leaves Amity Island to stay in the Bahamas with her older son, where the shark naturally follows her in a matter of days. That is one fast as hell shark!
And did I mention that Ellen Brody seems to have a psychic connection with the shark, and is able to sense its presence when it’s near? She also has flashbacks to events from the first movie in which she wasn’t even there to witness them. Geez…
Do I have to keep talking about Jaws: The Revenge? Maybe one day I’ll review all of the Jaws movies. But damn, what a fall from grace.
The worst sequel.
Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Dick Tracy (Evil Dead 2/Army of Darkness are close runners-up, and let’s include North by Northwest out of obligation)
If we’re being technical here, then sure, North by Northwest was the “best movie” I saw for the first time this past month. But I really can’t get past that abrupt ending. So North by Northwest seems like the answer I’m supposed to say here, but not the one I pick.
Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness may have also taken the crown, but I’m undecided as to which one I actually prefer (Evil Dead 2 is probably the best of the trilogy from a pure filmmaking perspective, but I really like how Army of Darkness just changes genres and goes nuts). Since I’m undecided there, I guess I can go ahead and select Dick Tracy as the winner for now.
Okay, so maybe my pick here isn’t as definitive as last month’s, but it’s something.
Again, Dick Tracy isn’t anything complex, but it’s a very easy movie to appreciate, perhaps more so today than it was in 1990. This is a movie that is unapologetically faithful to its source material. If anyone in the audience is confused or weirded out by it, that’s their problem. That’s a beautiful mentality that I wish we saw more of in movies today, when comic book movies and fantasy and science fiction feel the constant need to compromise.
As mentioned earlier, Dick Tracy reminds me a lot of The Rocketeer, released by Disney a year later. But where The Rocketeer had one villain encased in prosthetic makeup, I think Dick Tracy has more actors wearing prosthetics than those not wearing them. What other movie would give Al Pacino a hunched back, a goblin nose, and a butt chin? Or give Dustin Hoffman crooked lips and have him speak in incoherent mumbles?
Dick Tracy’s use of bright colors and cartoony sets are a constant delight, and its sheer commitment to bring the look of a comic to life in the most literal sense is admirable. Some might say that Dick Tracy is an exercise in style over substance, but so are Quentin Tarantino movies, and people seem to like those just fine. Not every film has to be deep.
On the downside, Dick Tracy is (like last month’s The Fugitive) one of those rare movies that was a really big deal the year it came out, but then fell under the radar over time. That’s a shame, because it really is something to see. Let’s start talking about Dick Tracy again! But let’s all try to forget the NES video game adaptation…
Another issue is that Dick Tracy is one of those movies Disney seems embarrassed of today, and the film is unavailable on Disney+. Probably because you can see boobs in one scene of the movie. Disney is okay with Thanos murdering half the population of the universe, but showing boobs? That’s going too far!
It may not be as readily available as other Disney movies, but Dick Tracy is definitely worth seeing. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but expect something that looks unlike anything else, and is defiantly itself.
One more thing: Big Boy did it.
The Guilty Pleasure Award: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
This crown really belongs to the 1990s TMNT trilogy as a whole, but I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze is the one that best exemplifies “guilty pleasure.”
The first TMNT movie is probably the most genuinely liked of any TMNT movie. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 is probably the most hated (though I can certainly find joy in it, if even ironically). But the second entry is the one where things started to get goofy, what with the “traditional pre-fight donuts” and the annoying pizza delivery boy sidekick and that Vanilla Ice scene. Not to mention the titular “secret of the ooze” isn’t actually revealed in the finished film (in early drafts of the script, the film would have revealed David Warner’s character to have been an Utrom, the same alien species as Krang. So the “secret” would have been that the ooze was created by aliens. Good thing they cut that but kept Vanilla Ice).
It’s a silly movie, but one in which my enjoyment of it is genuine. The first two TMNT movies remain some of my earliest movie memories, and while the first film is the better movie, as a wee tyke I preferred the sequel because it had mutant bad guys for the Turtles to fight (perfectly sound reasoning for a young child). It’s a nostalgic treat for me. But a really powerful one where it doesn’t merely bring back fond memories, but watching the movie takes me right back to the feelings I had when watching it as a kid, as if no time has passed. It’s hard to explain.
Simply put, TMNTII: The Secret of the Ooze is dumb fun. And I love it.
Just don’t ask me how regular Shredder survived getting crushed by a garbage truck in the first movie, yet meets his ultimate demise in TMNTII when a bunch of planks of wood fall on him after he mutated into the Super Shredder. I’ve been pondering that one since I was a kid…
The Best Sitcom Ever Award: Seinfeld
As mentioned, October wasn’t all about the movies for me, as I watched the entirety of Seinfeld (again), the best sitcom of all time. One of the few shows I appreciate in the same way I do a great movie.
Seinfeld began airing in 1989 (the year I was born, no less). Interestingly, that’s the same year The Simpsons debuted, and unless you count the locally broadcast “season zero” of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s the same year that show debuted as well. So 1989 was basically the most significant year ever for television comedy, but that milestone rarely gets brought up for some reason.
Seinfeld, the “show about nothing,” really was one of a kind. A show of a thousand catchphrases, that permeated through pop culture and created (or popularized) terms and phrases that people still use today (“Yadda yadda yadda, anyone?). Virtually every episode provides something memorable and quotable. And what other show continued to create iconic moments even in its late seasons (the infamous “Soup Nazi” episode was a product of season seven)?
An important element to Seinfeld’s enduring appeal is that it ended. When the show was at the zenith of its powers as the zeitgeist of all pop culture, Jerry Seinfeld and company decided to end the show on their terms, as to not overstay their welcome. I can’t think of another show that decided to end when it was still the show. In true George Costanza fashion, Seinfeld went out on a high note. If only The Simpsons had been so wise.
Sure, Seinfeld hit some bumps along the way (unpopular opinion, but Elaine really became insufferable in the later seasons), and the finale itself may not be so fondly remembered, but it wasn’t anything that damaged the reputation of the show (it wasn’t the Netflix seasons of Arrested Development, after all). Hey, with 180 episodes, it can’t all be perfect. There were bound to be some missteps. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The best sitcom.
And there we go. It’s done! Goodness gracious, I did not intend for this post to be this long at all. This My Month in Movies could eat the last My Month in Movies. If I decide to write any more of these down the road (emphasis on if), I certainly hope they don’t end up this long by default. I don’t know what happened here, I just started writing and then couldn’t stop.
There are a few movies I’d like to review soon: the fact that I still haven’t reviewed Luca and The Mitchell’s Vs. the Machines is dumbfounding for me. I should have reviewed them sooner. I would also like to review Ghostbusters: Afterlife once I’ve seen it. And I may review The Eternals, seeing as I’ve reviewed so many Marvel things already it feels like I’m obligated to do so by this point (though truth be told, I think I’m finally getting a bit Marvel’ed out… I blame Loki). Aside from those, and maybe a review for an older movie or two, I really want to start focusing this site on video games again for a while. Remember when this site used to be focused entirely on animated films and video games? I do. And I kind of miss it.
I have a whole stack of games that are ready and waiting for their reviews, I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to them yet. Maybe I just needed a break from writing about games and just needed to enjoy them for a while? Playing video games for fun… what a concept!
Anyway, I hope you had a fun read with this. It certainly was fun to write. It’s kind of nice to just write a bunch of quick things about a bunch of movies, as opposed to one big review for each individual movie. In a way, this felt like the “writing about movies” equivalent of WarioWare. Which reminds me, I still need to review the newest WarioWare. Dang it!
At the very least, I like to think I gave a sneak peak into my love of Spirited Away and Seinfeld, and gave you a place where Casablanca, Psycho and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all live in harmony. Now I’m off to review some video games.
The Adventures of Tintin is based on the Belgian comic strips of the same name by Hergé, which have had a strong influence on pop culture adventures in the decades since their initial publication. In 1981, director Steven Spielberg became a fan of Tintin after a critic compared his film Raiders of the Lost Ark to the famed comic stip. Hergé himself – who disliked the Tintin adaptations during his lifetime – believed Spielberg was the only director that could do Tintin justice. It’s fitting then, that when The Adventures of Tintin finally received a major feature film in 2011, it was directed by none other than Steven Spielberg himself. To add a cherry on top, Peter Jackson also had a prominent role with the film as a producer. Suffice to say, Tintin was getting some pretty special treatment.
Tintin would end up being the first animated film directed by Spielberg, as it utilized motion capture technology (though there’s an argument to be made as to how much a motion capture film counts as being animated). Tintin ended up garnering critical acclaim, earning favorable comparisons to Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series.
The film begins when Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young journalist, spots a model ship – the Unicorn – at a market. No sooner does Tintin purchase the ship that he is approached by two separate individuals who want to buy it off him. The first man is in a hurry and warns Tintin to “get out while he still can” before Tintin refuses the offer. The second man, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is more calm and collected, offering Tintin whatever he wants in exchange for the model of the Unicorn, but Tintin still refuses.
Now more curious than ever about the ship, Tintin takes the model home, only for it to be broken by his rambunctious dog Snowy, with an important piece getting lost in the commotion. Tintin’s apartment is later robbed, and the model ship stolen. Thankfully, the thieves couldn’t find the broken piece, which Snowy manages to uncover. This piece contains a small scroll, which promises to reveal the location of the real life Unicorn, and its unfathomable treasures, if the other pieces of the scroll are found.
This leads to a wild series of events for Tintin and Snowy, which sees them taking to land, sea and air in (and avoiding) almost every vehicle imaginable. They go to exotic lands, get into fistfights, and importantly, team up with a washed up sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis), who is a slave to the bottle. All the while trying to stay one step ahead of Sakharine and his men, who seek the fortune of the Unicorn for themselves, and are willing to do anything to get it.
The film is a lot of fun, and is one of those action-adventure movies that rarely gives the audience a moment to catch their breath. The Adventures of Tintin is one of those “BANG ZOOM!” rollercoaster type adventures that you rarely see much of anymore (perhaps even less so in the decade since Tintin’s release). I don’t think many would argue against the idea that The Adventures of Tintin is a more worthy successor to the 80s Indiana Jones trilogy than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ever was.
While the action and entertainment value may be consistently satisfying, the animation may be more of a mixed bag for some audiences. Although motion capture may work for visual effects characters in live-action movies, it hasn’t faired so well when using it as the basis for an entire animated film. Live-action films capture reality, animated films capture its essence by making their own reality. By trying to make animation look more real, motion capture films just end up looking artificial.
Thankfully, by the time Tintin rolled around, filmmakers seemed to have learned a bit since the days of the expressionless faces of The Polar Express. The characters here are heavily stylized (Sakharine kind of looks like an exaggerated version of Spielberg himself). They look like Hergés characters but with realistic skin and textures. The stylization certainly helps Tintin be less unintentionally creepy than previous motion capture films, although the ten years since the film’s release have revealed its visuals aren’t necessarily timeless, either. Some of the character’s movements can look stiff and awkward. Definitely an improvement over past efforts in motion capture, but even Tintin might look a little off to some viewers.
Still, I guess it plays all the more to the film’s benefit that The Adventures of Tintin is as fast paced and action packed as it is. You’ll be so swept away by the big set pieces that you likely won’t be thinking too deeply about the visuals while you’re watching the film, and can appreciate the overall look of it at face value.
Adding to the film’s entertainment value is its sense of humor. While Tintin may be aiming to look realistic, it embraces its animated side when it comes to comedy. Snowy being more competent and crafty than the humans, Captain Haddock often stumbling into a solution by sheer accident, things like that. And we even have a duo of bumbling police officers in Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg).
As the icing on the cake, The Adventures of Tintin features a great musical score courtesy of John Williams (this is a Spielberg film, after all). The music really sets the fun tone of the film right out of the gate.
On a more sour note, this film was initially to be the first in a planned trilogy of Tintin movies (the second would have swapped the director and producer roles for Spielberg and Peter Jackson, while a third film would have featured both filmmakers in both roles). But the Tintin sequels seem unlikely by this point. Spielberg and Jackson still bring them up from time to time, but it’s been ten years now. I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
Still, the Tintin movie we did get is a whole lot of fun. The kind of movie you can easily rewatch again and again for the sheer joy of it. It was a visual spectacle upon release in 2011, perhaps less so now. But its sense of excitement and adventure is undeniable.
The Addams Family is back again, in a follow-up to their 2019 animated reboot. The 2019 movie was an uneven affair, but it provided some fun moments for younger audiences. I feel like The Addams Family 2 can be described in pretty much the same way. It’s a cute, uneventful yet inoffensive animated film that may provide some entertainment for its target audience, though the older crowd definitely shouldn’t expect to be equally entertained, as they would be with the better animated offerings of today.
The story here is that the Addams parents, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron), feel that their children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsly (Javon Walton) are drifting apart from them. So to grow closer as a family, they decide to have an Addams Family road trip, with Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) and butler Lurch (Conrad Vernon) in tow. So it’s a similar setup to the recent The Mitchells vs. the Machines, though unfortunately it can’t hope to reach those heights.
An additional dilemma occurs, however, when a lawyer (Wallace Shawn) shows up at the Addamses’ door just as they’re about to leave, and informs Gomez and Morticia that Wednesday may not be their biological daughter, as she may have been switched with another baby at birth. Morticia and Gomez write off the lawyer’s claims at first, but grow suspicious once Uncle Fester reveals that, on the night of Wednesday’s birth, he accidentally scared the babies in the hospital when visiting his niece, so he juggled all the babies to calm them down. He thinks he put all the babies back in the proper place. Okay, that’s funny. That’s the kind of humor I expect from the Addams Family.
Sadly, that humor becomes less frequent as the movie goes on. Besides having the lawyer on their tail (he needs a DNA test, but Morticia and Gomez are determined to avoid him), the movie has a number of sub-plots: due to one of Wednesday’s science experiments, Uncle Fester is developing squid-like properties; Grandmama Addams (Bette Midler) stays at home to housesit and throw wild parties; Pugsley turns to Uncle Fester for advice on how to attract girls; and Cousin Itt (whose gibberish voice is provided by an electronically sped-up Snoop Dogg) shows up during the trip to… show up, really.
A persistent issue with these Addams Family movies (even going back to the live-action adaptations from the 90s) is that they feel the need to add so much story and plot, but play out more like a disconnected series of jokes. The Addams Family is at its best when it’s just the simple idea of this weird, creepy family interacting with “normal” people. Just lean into that and embrace those jokes, instead of trying to tie them together with so much plot. The family road trip was all the story this movie needed, did we really have to add the bigger issue of Wednesday’s parentage on top of that (and is it just me, or is Wednesday the Addams who always gets the spotlight)? If The Addams Family 2 were simply about the individual moments of the family’s road trip, and the hijinks therein, this may have been a really fun comedy.
Instead it’s only a so-so movie. The Addams Family 2, like its predecessor, seems to be aimed at introducing these characters to younger audiences, and that’s fine. A plus to that is it means, at its worst, the movie is simply unmemorable, as opposed to something offensively bad. Still, given the heights animated family films continue to reach in recent times, you can’t help but wish for more. I’m not expecting an animated classic here, but I think an animated Addams Family movie could produce a legitimately good comedy if given the effort. Sadly, I’m still waiting.
The Addams Family 2 has fun animation and a strong voice cast, which also includes Bill Hader as an eccentric scientist (particular praise goes to Isaac, Theron, and Moretz). But the writing falls a bit flat, and only a few of the jokes really land. You can’t help but feel these Addams Family movies are missed opportunities.
Still, it could be worse. It’s merely The Addams Family 2. Not The Addams Family: Let There be Carnage.
Venom: Let There be Carnage is the awkwardly-titled sequel to 2018’s Venom. While Venom wasn’t among the better superhero movies of recent years, it at least made the smart choice of saving its titular anti-hero’s primary nemesis, Carnage, for the sequel. So with the setup of its protagonist out of the way and a proper villain ready and waiting, the Venom sequel had the potential to be a big improvement over its predecessor.
Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Not only does Carnage fall short of the first Venom film, but it even bungles its namesake villain’s big screen debut.
Set a year after the first movie, journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has hit hard times: his ex-fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) is now engaged to someone else, his career is at a stand-still, and while the alien Symbiote Venom (voiced by Hardy) still resides in his body, the human/alien parasite duo have been laying low, due to Venom’s habit of “snacking on bad guy’s heads” leaving an accidental trail to their vigilantism.
The only break Brock can seem to get in his journalism are his interviews with death row inmate Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), with Kasady refusing to speak to anyone else. Eddie is trying to get information on Kasady’s missing victims, something that Venom manages to deduce by looking at the sketches on the wall of Kasady’s cell. Finding the missing bodies propels Eddie Brock’s career, which in turn causes a riff between him and Venom (the latter of which is desperate to eat bad guys again, having to settle for eating chickens for too long). During one last interview with Kasady, the deranged killer bites Eddie’s hand, and inadvertently gets a taste of Venom in addition to Eddie’s blood.
With their relationship strained, Eddie and Venom “break up,” with the alien Symbiote removing itself from Eddie’s body and hopping from host to host as to see the city (though seeing as none of these hosts are “perfect matches” for Venom, a number of them die as a result of being his host, which makes me wonder why I’m supposed to see Venom as a good guy). Meanwhile, Kasady’s earlier encounter with Eddie has produced a Symbiote spawn within Kasady’s body, which calls itself Carnage.
Carnage is basically a stronger version of Venom, and allows Kasady to break free just as he’s about to be executed. With a superpowered alien now inhabiting his body, the already dangerous Kasady can now commit any evil deed he so desires. Though that ultimately amounts to little more than breaking his longtime girlfriend Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris) – who also goes by “Shriek” due to her supersonic screams – out of her own prison, and then setting up a makeshift wedding between the two.
Naturally, the only person (and Symbiote) capable of stopping Carnage is Venom. So Brock sets out to reunite with his gooey alien buddy in hopes to save the city.
And that’s it, really. There’s not much else to the plot other than that. I suppose I wasn’t expecting an extravagant storyline here, but I would have at least hoped that with a simple plot, the movie would flesh out the elements it does have. But it never does, with two key areas really falling short of their potential.
The first of those areas is the relationship between Eddie and Venom itself. Here the dynamic between Eddie and Venom is almost entirely comedic. The first movie played their relationship for laughs on a number of occasions, but Carnage plays up the “odd couple” aspect of Eddie and Venom’s relationship at the expense of everything else. And I have to ask, does every superhero have to be funny these days? Particularly someone like Venom, who was always an anti-hero anyway, isn’t he allowed to be a little more serious? Do we really have to see Venom perform a mic drop? What’s the point of a Venom movie if Venom is just going to act like any other superhero, exactly?
The other underwhelming aspect of the film is (somehow) Carnage himself. I don’t know, a serial killer possessed by an alien entity sounds pretty terrifying. It should write itself. Instead, Kasady and Carnage seem to have no clear goal here. And I don’t mean in a “mindlessly create mayhem and destruction just for the hell of it” kind of way. That would actually be a kind of goal for a character like this (Carnage is often seen as Marvel’s answer to the Joker). What I mean is that the movie has no real idea what it wants out of its villains. Kasady and Carnage basically make a deal to free Barrison so Kasady can marry her, and maybe they’ll kill Venom when they get around to it. Nothing more. They’re evil, they’re just not ambitious.
What’s worse, when you combine these elements with a short running time, Venom: Let There be Carnage just kind of zooms by. I suppose that’s a better alternative to a bad movie overstaying its welcome, but maybe with some more time, Carnage could have given us a reason to care about its story.
The whole picture feels like it’s missing something. More specifically, Let There be Carnage feels like it’s missing an entire second act. We have the setup with the “breakup” between Eddie and Venom, and the birth of Carnage, but then we basically go from there straight to the big finale. When Venom and Carnage came face-to-face, I expected that to simply be the first meeting between the two, which would lead to a bigger fight later on. A few minutes into the battle I realized there wasn’t going to be a round two before the movie was through. That was disappointing. If you’re going to drop the ball on the story in a movie like this, at least make up for it with an excess in action between the alien monsters.
I suppose on the plus side, Tom Hardy seems to be having a fun time (he also helped produce), and it’s a credit to him that he’s able to keep things afloat. Of course, this makes it all the more of a shame that the film is so hellbent on making Venom a funny character, because I think Hardy has more to offer to the role than what’s allowed.
There might be moments of fun here and there in Venom: Let There be Carnage, but the film fails to develop any of its pieces, and put them together into a meaningful whole. Venom himself has become something of a joke, Carnage is surprisingly underwhelming, and the film is absent of a proper middle act, with the two remaining acts feeling like they’re set on fast-forward.
The first Venom didn’t exactly set a high watermark to reach. Even still, Let There be Carnage is a disappointment.