My Month in Movies (October 2021)

Hey! I’m doing this again!

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).

*Ahem!*

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

Spirited Away

Casablanca

Venom: Let There be Carnage*

The Addams Family 2 (2021)*

No Time to Die*

North by Northwest*

Dick Tracy*

The Adventures of Tintin

Jaws

Jaws 2*

Jaws 3(D)*

Jaws: The Revenge*

The Evil Dead*

Evil Dead 2*

Army of Darkness*

Dune (2021)*

Psycho

Rear Window

Howl’s Moving Castle

The Birds

Ghostbusters

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.

Until next time… do something!

The Adventures of Tintin Review

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.

7

The Addams Family 2 Review

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.

5

Venom: Let There be Carnage Review

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?

“There is a LOT of talk about chickens and chocolate in this movie.”

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.

4

My Month in Movies (September 2021)

Well, here’s something a little bit different. I had a pretty solid month in movie-watching this September (the month of my birthday!), so I figured I’d write something quick about it here.

I watched over twenty movies in September, which may not be a whole lot for some people, but for me (these days) it’s something. Quite an eclectic lot of movies too, I must say. A number of them I watched for the first time.

Despite the name of this post, I don’t think this will be a monthly thing (if it were, I should have started this a couple of years ago when I was watching movies more frequently), but I thought it’d be a fun thing to write for a change of pace, and maybe I’ll write more of these here and there in the future. We’ll see.

Here is the full list of movies I watched in September 2021 in order of viewing. Movies I watched for the first time will be marked with an asterisk.

Shan-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings*

Bright*

Speed*

Demolition Man

Superman (1978)

Lethal Weapon

The Rocketeer

Last Action Hero*

Lethal Weapon 2

The Fugitive*

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

TMNT (2007)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Jurassic Park

Tron

Speed 2: Cruise Control*

Citizen Kane

Goodfellas

Up

So yeah, quite the variety of movies. I like to think of myself as someone who can appreciate both Citizen Kane and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thank you very much.

Speaking of TMNT, as you probably guessed by this list, along with my recent review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, I’m on a bit of a Ninja Turtles kick as of late (I can’t wait for that Shredder’s Revenge game next year). I actually reviewed all of the TMNT movies a few years back, but I feel like I have more to say about them. Maybe soon I’ll write an entire retrospective of the TMNT movies, and some other stuff about them as well.

Anyway, a number of the movies I have listed here that I haven’t reviewed, I would like to review some day. Some sooner than others, as I have a lot of things to say about the Speed movies, The Fugitive and Last Action Hero.

I also have to say, after watching the original Superman movie for the first time since I was a kid, I think THAT is how Superman should be depicted. I’ve grown something of a disdain for the character over the years, but I think that has more to do with the depictions of the character in the years since than it does the character himself. People are always trying to make Superman “cool” or “gritty,” or coming up with dumb ‘what if?’ scenarios like “what if Superman went bad?” and crap like that. A lot of what works for other comic book superheroes just doesn’t work for Superman. Keep him simple: a beacon of hope and optimism. The 1978 movie, despite some flaws, gets that so right. Just make Superman THAT.

Of course, there’s a lot to say about Citizen Kane and Goodfellas. Great movies, to be sure. However, if I’m being completely honest, the best film I watched last month was Up. I know, I’ve committed cinematic blasphemy by daring to say anything is better than Citizen Kane, and I’d be shunned by movie buffs by even suggesting that something could be better than the work of the movie buff man-god Martin Scorsese. Hey, I’m not saying Citizen Kane and Goodfellas are bad, just that I think Up is better. Of course, so much as suggesting such a thing – particularly of an animated film – would get me disgraced as a “serious” movie buff. Oh well, I’d rather enjoy movies than fit into some club.

It seems action movies were my overall flavor of the month for September . While most of the action movies I watched were good, the best of the lot has to be Speed. I can’t believe I had never watched it before.

I also watched some notable “technically revolutionary” films in Jurassic Park and Tron. Two truly pioneering movies that I’ll no doubt talk more about later. Speaking of Tron, I also watched The Rocketeer again. Like Tron, The Rocketeer deserves mention with the best live-action Disney movies, alongside the more obvious choices of Mary Poppins and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

I already reviewed Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was also a lot of fun. My apologies to Mr. Scorsese that I watched a Marvel movie in the same month as one of his films. Or maybe he should apologize for being such a prude. That works too.

Best Movie I Watched All Month: Up

Still one of Pixar’s best films. Part of me is tempted to even say it’s the best Pixar film, but when I remember Inside Out, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Toy Story 2 (still the best Toy Story) it gets difficult to pick a definitive winner. But Up is probably in the top three at least. Still one of my favorite movies full-stop.

Sure, Citizen Kane and Goodfellas are classic films that have earned their acclaim: Citizen Kane is widely considered the greatest film of all time, and I can understand it being considered the best up until that point. Though if we’re being honest, it isn’t magically better than any other great movie to be released since, as critics would have you believe. It’s just kind of become that “safe pick” for critics, similar to what Ocarina of Time would become for video games. It’s great, but many other works are just as great. Meanwhile, Goodfellas is often hailed as one of the best films of the 1990s, and rightfully so. It’s also often considered to be Martin Scorsese’s best film. To that I say… yeah, it probably is.

My point though, is that I can appreciate Citizen Kane and Goodfellas as great, groundbreaking films. They make for great conversation and it’s fun to dissect and analyze them. But Up is the kind of film that really moves me. It makes me appreciate life and its little things more. It makes me want to be a better person. It makes me cry. No Citizen Kane or Goodfellas has affected me on that level. So Up gets the crown. Sorry/Not sorry.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time this Month: Speed (The Fugitive being a close runner-up)

I’m not sure if it’s the numerous references to Speed made in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, or my need for more Dennis Hopper in my life, but I finally decided to check Speed out. Boy, am I glad I did. It’s honestly one of the best pure action movies I’ve ever seen. It deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Terminator 2. It’s pure popcorn bliss.

Shame about Speed 2: Cruise Control. Talk about a dip in quality between a movie and its sequel. Woof. Very ouch.

The Fugitive is also a classic 90s film, released a year earlier than Speed. Though it’s more of a suspenseful thriller than pure action. A feature film remake of the 1960s television series, The Fugitive was actually a really big deal in 1993, but for some reason doesn’t get talked about much anymore. We need to fix that and start talking about it again.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Bright

Speed 2 may be a disappointing sequel, but it isn’t entirely without merit (there are a few brief moments of suspense, and Willem DaFoe is fun as the baddie, even if he’s not an equal to Dennis Hopper’s villain from the original). Bright, on the other hand… Whoo boy….

In case you’ve forgotten (hopefully you’ve forgotten?), Bright is that Netflix movie from a few years back starring Will Smith as an LAPD officer in a modern world filled with fantasy races and creatures, with Will Smith’s partner being an orc. It isn’t the worst concept ever, but I always wonder why Hollywood and the like are constantly trying to “reinvent” fantasy. Fantasy opens the door to literally any story, in a way that no other genre can. So why not use that to tell an original story, instead of trying to reinvent fantasy itself?

Anyway, Bright is from the same director as 2016’s Suicide Squad, and somehow makes that movie look like a joy by comparison. The social commentary – while perhaps well meaning at some early point – is so heavy handed and constant (and I mean constant), that it just comes across as trying way too hard. The movie may have had something with that if it knew how to dial it back a little, but instead its constant shouting of its themes make it seem like it’s trying desperately to be important.

Basically, it’s like a Niell Blomkamp movie. Only fantasy instead of sci-fi.

On top of that, we have action that isn’t really exciting, comedy that isn’t funny, and a wildly inconsistent tone (note to filmmakers: if you’re going to go into as dark of territory as having the villains in your film murder a family, don’t try to be a jokey buddy cop movie two minutes later. It just doesn’t work). It’s a messy, ugly, unpleasant movie.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

I genuinely love this movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not what you would call a “good” movie. It’s just that I don’t care. I’m having too much fun.

While none of the Ninja Turtles films would be considered fine cinema, I enjoy them greatly. As someone born during the boom of Turtlemania, I have a soft spot for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The first two films, in particular, are some of my earliest movie memories.

But Out of the Shadows is the Ninja Turtles movie I always wanted as a kid, but didn’t get until 2016. While the ugly character designs for the turtles are carried over from the (also enjoyable) 2014 movie, everything else is like the 1987 cartoon and the toys brought to life on the screen: It has Krang, it has Bebop and Rocksteady, it has Baxter Stockman, it brought back Casey Jones, it has the Technodrome, it has the theme song!

Due to Michael Bay being attached as producer, a lot of people seem to lump the 2014 and 2016 Ninja Turtles movies together with those awful, awful Transformers movies. They really don’t deserve that. The Transformers movies are bad. The Ninja Turtles reboot movies are fun. Dumb fun. But a whole lot of it!

It’s a shame Out of the Shadows was a box office bomb (which I once again attribute more to the Transformers/Michael Bay connection than the movie itself), because I feel like the series finally got on track to replicating the TMNT we all knew from the cartoons and video games, and could have had another fun sequel or two. But it was a dead end. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now being rebooted (again) with two different movies (one animated, and a new live-action one), so it’s unfortunate that Out of the Shadows won’t have a proper follow-up. At the very least, please don’t recast Tyler Perry. He seemed to be having the time of his life as Baxter Stockman.

And there you go!

Again, hopefully I’ll be able to write about these movies more in-depth at some point, whether through reviews or other such write-ups. I already have so much more to say about some of them, that I really should get to those soon. And some of the movies I didn’t talk about as much here definitely deserve more love. We’ll see how quickly/slowly I get around to all of these.

September was definitely an enjoyable movie watching month for me. I’ll have to wait and see how October stacks up. If it does I may have to write another one of these (the fact that I already have my tickets to see Spirited Away – my favorite film – on the big screen is already a great sign). But please, don’t expect me to write these every month. I’m already backlogged with my video game reviews, I really should emphasize those for a while before I think about writing something else…

Hopefully you had a fun little read here. It was fun to write, and something a little different for me. So I hope you had a decently good time with this. At the very least, I gave you a place where you could read a little bit about Citizen Kane and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in one spot. I see this as an accomplishment.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the twenty-fifth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By now these Marvel films are so frequent, that it may be easy to take for granted the fact that they’ve been mostly good. Shang-Chi is the second of four MCU movies being released in 2021 alone, and it comes after we’ve already had four different Disney+ series set in the MCU in recent months. Amidst so much Marvel-ness, a movie like Shang-Chi (which harkens back to the superhero origin stories of the MCU’s early days) could have been drowned out as the rest of the MCU seems to be aiming for grand scale epics. But Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings not only stands on its own two feet, but stands tall among its MCU contemporaries. It may not exactly reinvent the Marvel formula, but Shang-Chi manages to improve on it in a few key areas.

Although the film’s hero is the titular Shang-Chi or “Shaun” (Simu Liu), the film’s backstory centers around his father, Wenwu (Tony Leung).

Over a thousand years ago, Wenwu discovered the Ten Rings, mystical artifacts that granted him superhuman strength and abilities, as well as immortality. With them, he became a warlord and established his army, which he dubbed “The Ten Rings” after the source of his power. As centuries passed, the Ten Rings organization adapted with time, eventually becoming more of a terrorist organization than an army. But their goal was still the same: bringing down nations and give Wenwu more power.

In 1996, Wenwu had begun searching for a legendary village called Ta Lo – which serves as a kind of gateway to a dimension of mythical creatures – in hopes to conquer this new world. Wenwu finds the entrance to Ta Lo, but is confronted by its guardian, a woman named Ying Li (Fala Chen). Ying Li has powers of her own, granted to the people of Ta Lo by its dragon protector. Despite the power of the rings, Wenwu is defeated by Ying Li. But the two quickly fall in love, with Wenwu making return visits to the site just to see Ying Li again. Her love changes him to the point that he removes the rings and abandons his organization so he can start a family. But the people of Ta Lo frown on the relationship, and won’t allow Wenwu access to their village due to his dark past. So Ying Li leaves her people (and her powers) behind in order to be with him. Shang-Chi is born to the couple a few years later, followed by a daughter named Xialing (Meng’er Zhang).

When Shang-Chi and Xialing were kids, a tragedy struck that cost them the life of their mother. With Ying Li gone, Wenwu fell back into his old ways, reclaimed his organization and put the rings back on. Shang-Chi became just another assassin in training to his father. Xialing became ignored by Wenwu, who claimed his daughter reminded him too much of his late wife to even look at her (she would learn to teach herself the same techniques Shang-Chi was learning in order to survive the world her father created). Eventually, Shang-Chi couldn’t handle life under his father any more, and so he left, leaving his sister behind.

Fast forward to the present day (which I believe is currently 2023 in the MCU), and Shang-Chi, as Shaun, has been living a mostly normal life in America. He’s become a chauffer at a fancy hotel alongside his friend Katy (Awkwafina), with whom he often spends long nights goofing off. That is until one day, when assassins sent by Wenwu confront Shang-Chi during a bus ride, leaving him no choice but to reveal his past (and fighting abilities) to Katy (as well as providing one of the MCU’s best set pieces in quite some time). Wenwu is after both siblings, so Shang-Chi – with Katy in tow – sets out to find his sister and uncover his father’s plot.

For anyone familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which I think it’s safe to assume is pretty much everyone at this point) the story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings won’t feel like anything new. It follows the established Marvel formula pretty closely. But Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stands out in at least two key areas.

The first are the action scenes. As enjoyable as these Marvel movies are, I have to admit their familiarity can extend beyond their narrative structure, and even bleed into the action sequences. They’re almost never boring, but many of the MCU’s action scenes can feel a bit deja vu, as if Marvel has found its safe spot with its action, and doesn’t wish to tread new waters with it. But Shang-Chi is one of the exceptions, with beautifully choreographed fighting sequences, and big set pieces that dare to do something visually distinct from the rest of the pack (pointing again to the bus sequence, where one moment has the audience peaking in on the action from the windows).

The other area in which Shang-Chi stands out is in its villain. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a pretty persistent villain issue, with the baddies not being nearly as memorable as the good guys (kind of a reverse of the superhero movies from before the MCU, in which the villains often outshined the hero). If an MCU villain isn’t some rich guy with the same powers as the hero, it’s another underdeveloped bad guy from the deep reaches of space (see Ronan the Accuser or Malekith). Very few of the MCU’s bad guys could be called “interesting,” with perhaps the only examples so far being Thanos, Erik Killmonger, and Adrian Toomes/Vulture (okay, and I suppose Loki… at least until his own series turned him into the most passive and boring hero in the MCU). But I think Wenwu is arguably the best of the lot.

Wenwu is the MCU’s proper adaptation of the Mandarin character (mercifully retconning the ridiculous twist on the character from Iron Man 3. And don’t worry, Shang-Chi addresses that whole situation brilliantly). But Wenwu certainly transcends his (outdated) comic counterpart. Wenwu is a villain who’s ruthless but sympathetic, powerful but pitiable. While audiences were expected to understand where Thanos was coming from, with Wenwu you actually kind of feel for him.

Without spoiling too much, Wenwu’s ultimate goal is to be reunited with his late wife. He’s a man who’s lived for over a thousand years, but only the small handful of years he spent with Ying Li meant something. Despite living centuries with power as his only ambition, he willingly gave up that power when he found someone he could love. The problem is he could only love that one person. And the fact that that love didn’t extend to his children after his wife’s passing is part of what makes him a villain.

Though the movie is well cast all-around, I do feel that Tony Leung’s performance as Wenwu deserves special mention as one of the best in the MCU dating all the way back to the first Iron Man.

There are other, smaller things I like about the movie: the titular Ten Rings are one of the more fun super powers the Marvel movies have provided. Wenwu wears five rings on each arm (they’re more bracelets than rings, really), and can shoot them off and bring them back with his mind, they can link together to make a whip or shield, or just hover around him like some kind of magic satellites. Conversely, Shang-Chi himself doesn’t seem to have any actual super powers. He’s a really good fighter, but doesn’t have any powers in the traditional sense. I thought that was a fun little twist on Marvel norms.

I also kind of like that Shang-Chi is a (mostly) self-contained origin story. I feel like that’s what Marvel should have focused on for a while after Avengers: Endgame, though Shang-Chi is only an exception here, as Marvel seems hellbent on fast-tracking the next Endgame-level scenario (*Cough! Loki! Cough!*). So enjoy these more standalone MCU features while you can.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may be familiar Marvel territory in a lot of ways (which isn’t too bad of a thing, given Marvel’s track record), but for both hardcore fans and the more casual Marvel audience, the action scenes and villain may make it stand out in the Marvel canon, no matter how many movies and TV shows they churn out.

7

Free Guy Review

Free Guy is a comedy with a fun premise: a video game NPC (Non-Player Character) slowly realizing he is, in fact, a video game character, and wanting something better out of life than what his programming entails. All of which is influenced by his unrequited love for the avatar of a player.

The NPC in question is simply named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a bank teller in a video game called Free City, which is basically Grand Theft Auto crossed with Fortnite (the destructive open-world of the former, and the garish, unharmonious elements of the latter). Guy lives a simple life: he wakes up, says hello to his goldfish, puts on the same suit, gets the same cup of coffee, and walks to work with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) – a security guard at the same bank – before spending the rest of his day on the ground as the bank is continuously robbed day and night.

Naturally, in a game like Free City, the bank in which Guy works exists solely as a mission for players to rob in order to get in-game currency and experience points. The players are known to the NPCs simply as “Sunglasses Guys,” with their eyewear being the movie’s physical representation of the players’ Heads-Up Display. The NPCs understand that there’s something different about the Sunglasses Guys, as they can’t fully communicate with them or do the things they’re able to do, but since it’s always been a part of their lives, they just accept it. The robberies at the bank are so frequent, that poor Buddy has never once done any real security work, as he hits the ground by default as soon as a player kicks in the door. To Guy, Buddy, and everyone else at the bank, getting robbed is part of their daily routine.

Things begin to change when, during one of his daily walks to work, Guy becomes smitten with a Sunglasses Woman named Molotov Girl, who is the avatar of Millie Rusk (both portrayed by Jodie Comer). Guy still goes to work, but can’t get the girl of his dreams out of his head, and wishes to meet her. So when the bank is inevitably robbed again, Guy doesn’t have the patience for it. Guy stands up to the bank robber, accidentally killing him in the process (he can respawn later), then takes his sunglasses, to the absolute confusion of everyone else at the bank.

Once outside, Guy tries on the sunglasses and sees his world in a whole new light: He can see the locations of missions in his immediate area, the NPCs and Sunglasses Guys have their levels displayed overhead, and health and power-ups are scattered all over the place. These are all only visible when he has the sunglasses on, so it’s like a cute video game version of They Live.

With his (literal) new outlook on life, Guy hopes to reunite with Molotov Girl and make a connection with her. But it won’t be easy. Free City is already a dangerous place as it is, but the developers of the game – particularly their boss Antwan (Taika Waititi) – believe Guy is the result of a player hacking the game to control an NPC, and make it their mission to make life in the game as difficult as possible for him, seeing as they can’t trace him to any actual hacker to punish him otherwise.

That’s the base premise of the story, and in that regard, Free Guy is a whole lot of fun. There are, however, some added details to the plot that I have more mixed feelings about.

It turns out Millie is a former Indie developer who helped design a game called Life Itself alongside Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery), who now works for Antwan’s company. Life Itself was to be a game about watching its characters grow and learn organically without player influence (sounds pretentious enough to be a real Indie game), but Keys’ and Millie’s studio was bought out by Antwan, killing Life Itself in the process. Keys just kind of gave up on his dreams and now works on Free City for a paycheck, but Millie believes Antwan stole the code for Life Itself and used it in Free City. So she plays the game as Molotov Girl to try and find proof of Antwan’s theft. It probably won’t take very long to connect the dots that Guy is actual proof of Life Itself’s code hidden being hidden within Free City, and that he not only grew and learned as Life Itself intended, but managed to gain sentience.

I don’t know, I’m a little disappointed that the film felt the need to give an explanation as to why Guy is able to defy what he’s supposed to do in the game. Movies these days seem to have a compulsive need to feed audiences every detail (God forbid we have to use our imaginations), and it kind of takes some of the fun away from a concept like this. Imagine if Wreck-It Ralph had to develop an entire side story just to explain why Ralph could go against his programming. It’d be totally unnecessary. Sometimes “because it’s a movie” should really be all the explanation you need.

The more serious elements of the “real world” side story is where Free Guy starts to fumble a bit (including a kind of cheesy budding romance between Millie and Keys). I could also live without the cameos from real life Twitch Streamers and YouTubers, which I think were meant to make things feel more authentic, but only end up reminding me of how annoying and obnoxious those areas of gaming are. There are a few references and cameos from real video games, such as Mega Man’s Mega Buster and the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2, but they are surprisingly few. I would have rather seen more of the cameos from actual games, instead of the internet personalities who play them. Additionally, because Free Guy was produced by 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) around the same time of the Disney buyout, the film also gets in a big fanservice-heavy moment featuring a few other Disney-owned properties. While this certainly works better and is far more crowd-pleasing than the Twitch cameos, it does make me wish all the more that the references to actual video games got the same kind of love and attention.

Still, Free Guy is funny and charming enough that it ultimately wins out. I especially like Ryan Reynolds in the role of Guy, who makes the bumbling NPC an innocent and naive hero who’s all too easy to root for. At the expense of being hated by a lot of people, I feel Ryan Reynolds’ schtick as Deadpool can get a little grating after a while, but here the act never wears thin. Jodie Comer makes for a great foil, and seeing as her character is the one who bridges the film’s two worlds, she gets a nice double act to play.

I also like the film on a visual level. Free City certainly looks like it could be a modern video game (for better or worse), and the video game setting allows for some fun visual effects. The film additionally features a solid musical score courtesy of Christophe Beck (who manages to sneak in a piece from one of his previous film scores that I won’t spoil here). Free Guy even has a surprisingly life-affirming message through Guy’s story, which is probably the more serious element of the plot the film should have focused more on, instead of all the real world hullabaloo.

The plotlines with the human characters may detract a little from the silly innocence of the “video game NPC falls in love with a player character and ditches his programming” premise that the film sold itself on. But whenever the film gets back to that premise, and we see the lengths Guy will go to in order to win Molotov Girl’s affections, and the turmoil he goes through the more he learns about the world he inhabits, Free Guy is a winner. It’s fun, funny and heartfelt, and even has a bit of originality going for it. It’s not too often those things come together these days.

6

The Suicide Squad Review

What a time we live in, where a sequel can differentiate itself from its predecessor with the word “the.”

The Suicide Squad is the sort of sequel/almost a reboot of 2016’s Suicide Squad, one of the most disliked movies in the DC Extended Universe. Most people are referring to 2021’s The Suicide Squad as a “standalone sequel” in that it shares some characters and the basic premise of the first film, but is otherwise disconnected from it, similar to the recent Space Jam sequel. In regards to The Suicide Squad, it may be better described as an “embarrassed sequel” given that it actually does share direct continuity with the 2016 film, even though it wants nothing to do with it.

I understand the intent. Given the reception to the 2016 original, it makes sense that the 2021 film would want to distance itself from it. But this also just makes the DCEU an even more fragmented mess than it already is. We are, after all, talking about a franchise that’s trying (quite desperately) to replicate the shared continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but has seemingly dropped the ball at every opportunity to make a connected narrative between its movies. Man of Steel was originally just a Superman movie, but then Warner Bros. saw the success Marvel was having, and retconned Man of Steel into the first part of their shared universe, and its would-be sequel was mutated into Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which also featured Wonder Woman). This is a series in which Batman exists but, since Ben Affleck lost interest, just doesn’t show up anymore, and the upcoming film The Batman (there’s that “the” again) has lost all connections to the DCEU during its production. This is the movie universe of DC comics, and yet the Joker has become nothing more than a name whispered by other characters ever since Suicide Squad, and the 2019 movie Joker had nothing to do with the DCEU version of the villain (I’m sensing a theme here). And now we have a sequel to Suicide Squad that feels like it wants nothing to do with Suicide Squad, with that “the” in the title indicating they want to start over, instead of continue from where they left off with a Suicide Squad 2.

My point being that DC and Warner Bros. should either scrap the DCEU and just focus on the individual films, or actually care about continuity and cohesiveness. The DCEU is so full of starts and stops that it makes the Star Wars sequel trilogy look like it had a coherent narrative thread.

Against all odds, the DCEU has managed to produce a few good standalone movies (Wonder Woman and Shazam! come to mind), so even if The Suicide Squad does no favors for the greater DCEU, it still has a chance to stand on its own two feet. After all, it’s helmed by James Gunn, the director behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, with Gunn being given this gig during the interim of his firing and re-hiring by Disney (DC was all too happy to pick up what Marvel discarded).

It seems like the whole controversy of Gunn’s firing from Disney and Marvel has strangely lionized the director, whom people now talk about like some kind of creative visionary (Guardians of the Galaxy may be one of the best MCU movies, but I think that’s due to a number of factors – not least of which being the characters Marvel themselves created – as opposed to some auteurship on Gunn’s part). And I feel that has played a large part in the acclaim that The Suicide Squad has received. It is admittedly an improvement over the 2016 Suicide Squad film, and a good number of the DCEU movies for that matter. But that isn’t exactly a high hurdle to jump, now is it?

The truth is that The Suicide Squad is just kind of okay. It provides some fun moments while you’re watching it, but you may forget all about it as soon as it’s over. The whole “misfit superhero team” sub-genre has been done so many times now, that it’s more or less indistinguishable from “proper” superhero movies by this point (1999’s Mystery Men pioneered this trend, and that was years before superhero movies became the omni-genre they are today). So unless you consider excessive violence as original, The Suicide Squad doesn’t exactly introduce anything new to the proceedings.

One of the returning characters from the 2016 film is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the corrupt government official who operates “Task Force X” (or the titular “Suicide Squad”), a disposable task force comprised of gifted criminals and convicts. Each member of the squad is implanted with an explosive device, should they go against orders, leaving them at Waller’s beck and call.

The story here is that the nation of Corto Maltese has been overtaken by an anti-American regime. Corto Maltese happens to house an old laboratory called Jötunheim, which is the source of an extraterrestrial experiment dubbed “Project Starfish.” So Waller sends in the Suicide Squad on a mission to destroy Jötunheim before Project Starfish can fall into the new regime’s hands.

Well, in actuality, Waller sends in two Suicide Squads. The first group includes returning characters Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). It turns out this Suicide Squad is intended to live up to its name, and simply serve as a distraction as its members are brutally killed one by one (except for Harley and Rick Flag, of course. The former being taken prisoner and the latter being found by rebel soldiers. Captain Boomerang dies unceremoniously though, so if you happened to be one of the few people who liked the first Suicide Squad movie, screw you I guess). I don’t know why three characters who helped saved the world in the 2016 film were considered so expendable by Waller, but I guess this was supposed to be a bait-and-switch and subvert the audience’s expectations (the doomed team also consists of actors Nathan Fillion and Guardians of the Galaxy’s own Michael Rooker in a further attempt to throw us off). But all it really ends up doing is steal a joke from Deadpool 2.

Anyway, with the terrorist regime believing they completely disposed of Task Force X, the real Suicide Squad can enter the nation undetected to continue their mission. This team is captained by Robert DuBois/Bloodsport (portrayed by Knuckles himself, Idris Elba), a mercenary who is a perfect marksman. Basically, he’s Deadshot from the first movie (he even has a similar backstory with a daughter he desperately wishes he could take proper care of). In fact, he WAS going to be Deadshot, with Elba initially being recast in the role as Will Smith had a scheduling conflict. But since the studio (wisely) wanted to leave the door open for Smith to return, they just swapped the character name and called it a day. While that does seem a bit halfhearted, it does make me want to see a Deadshot meets Bloodsport movie down the road.

The other members of Bloodsport’s squad include Cleo Caza/Ratchatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), a woman who can command rats, an ability passed down by her father (Ratchatcher 1, of course). Christopher Smith/Peacemaker (John Cena), a jingoistic mercenary with similar abilities to Bloodsport (that makes three). Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), a man who throws destructive polka-dots. Finally, Nanaue/King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), is a half-man, half-shark who is dimwitted but seemingly indestructible.

Most of the film is comprised of the group’s misadventures through Corto Maltese: how they end up allied with the nation’s rebels, become reunited with Harley Quinn and Rick Flag, and the many bloody battles that ensue between them and the regime’s forces.

One thing the film does really well is representing each character that comprises its oddball team. The 2016 Suicide Squad movie gave something of an effort to make each member of its team feel important, even if it was ultimately a showcase for Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Birds of Prey didn’t even give a damn about its titular group, and focused so heavily on Quinn I wonder why they even bothered making it a Birds of Prey movie. But here, each member of the main Suicide Squad gets a distinct personality, backstory, and moments to make you care about who they are (even Pola-Dot Man, albeit the running joke of his hatred towards his mother becomes a bit one-note after a while).

Further praise has to go to the cast who help bring these characters to life. While they all deserve credit, particular praise goes to Elba, Robbie, Cena, and Melchior: Despite the glaring similarities between Bloodsport and predecessor Deadshot, Idris Elba’s performance is what really separates him from Will Smith’s character (Smith put Deadshot’s more human side front and center, but kept the ruthless villain aspect at the ready for when it was necessary, whereas Elba does something of the opposite with Bloodsport). Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn feels like she’s had a proper growth from her previous appearances. Cena makes Peacemaker simultaneously dead serious and comically naive. And Melchior gives Cleo/Ratcatcher a sensitivity that makes the character the heart of the film.

On the downside of things, I find myself having trouble remembering the finer details of the main plot and the action scenes that take us from one point to the next. Said action scenes are really more about the violence than they are any kind of structure, which leaves them all kind of blurring together (though there is a fun scene where Bloodsport and Peacemaker find new ways to one-up each other with how they take out their targets). There’s a lot of faces being blown off, dudes getting ripped in half, and people being otherwise crushed, splattered and eaten. The violence certainly separates the action scenes here from those of the 2016 film, though I wouldn’t say that the action is any better than what was in that film, either.

James Gunn seems to revel in this splatterhouse approach. And with the film’s R rating, I’m sure many would argue that The Suicide Squad has allowed the filmmaker to take the gloves off, and go crazy in a way he never could with Marvel’s PG-13 limits. But I think, if we compare this film to Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a good example of limitations opening the door to creativity. The first Guardians of the Galaxy was released back in 2014, and I can still remember the big action-filled moments, because they had a sense of structure to them. The Suicide Squad barely came out, and I can’t really remember the details of the action scenes. They’re all just kind of a blood-soaked blur. This gratuitous violence may work for B-movie shlock horror, but it doesn’t make for very fun or memorable super hero action.

“Sylvester Stallone voicing a shark is a highlight. But then again, how could it not be?”

I know I’m supposed to view something like The Suicide Squad as some kind of subversion of the superhero genre. That it’s supposedly upending the genre’s rules and conventions, and holding a big middle finger to superhero norms. But this kind of attitude actually feels commonplace now. It would actually be more original these days to see an upfront superhero movie, with a competent main character who actively wants to do good, than it is to see another group of sarcastic, superpowered misfits and anti-heroes (is it really any surprise that Wonder Woman is still the most acclaimed film in the DCEU?).

The Suicide Squad thinks itself some kind of rebel standing high above the crowd. In actuality, it’s just kind of standing somewhere in the middle of it.

5

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Review

These days, it seems Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy gets unwarranted flak, as people claim it kickstarted the popularity of “dark and gritty” takes on comic book super heroes. I have to disagree. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films simply took themselves seriously. Batman, his villains, and the world of Gotham City are relatively darker and (usually) more grounded than the usual super hero fare, so Nolan’s films leaned into that, and they successfully gave audiences a more mature super hero world. But they never featured gratuitous violence and gore. They didn’t fill half the dialogue with F-bombs just to look cool. Those are the kind of cringeworthy “dark and gritty” elements that comic books themselves have utilized for decades, as the medium was taken over by man-children who thought adding blood, swearing and sex automatically made things grown up (in actuality, their execution only made comic books more immature). Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were mature simply by embracing its mythology as something serious, and really don’t deserve to be lumped into the same category as the “edgier” comic book stuff whose understanding of maturity is about equal to that of a teenage boy cussing out a bunch of kids on Xbox Live.

Suffice to say, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Despite the movie receiving some acclaim upon its early 2020 release, Birds of Prey ends up being little more than a showcase of those supposedly adult comic book elements that only end up having an opposite effect. This is what I think of when I hear the words “dark and gritty” used negatively.

Go ahead and call me a prude or say I’m being oversensitive or whatever, but I find it to be more eye-rolling than funny when Harley Quinn takes a whiff of some cocaine during a shootout so she can go “full crazy” and shoot her enemy’s brains out. And I don’t think any movie set in the same world as Batman needs to have a scene in which the villain murders a rival gangster and his family by peeling their faces off. But it’s just so edgy and cool, right?

It all becomes exhausting, really. And it’s made all the more exhausting by the fact that the screen is continuously bombarded by various graphics. You know, like a character being introduced with a graphic of their name, and then a bunch of doodles and jokes drawn on and around them like a college sketchbook. The kind of thing that was fun when Scott Pilgrim did it way back when, but now is just the go-to trope for movies that think themselves quirky and irreverent. It’s just soOooOo wacky!

The story here is that Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has broken up with the Joker. Because she’s been so strongly associated with the Joker, no other criminal in Gotham City would dare cross her, no matter how often she crossed them, lest they invoke Joker’s wrath. But after Harley foolishly lets the whole city know that she and “Mistah J” are no longer a thing in a public display by blowing up the chemical plant where Joker finalized Harleen Quinzel’s transformation into Harley Quinn, Gotham City’s criminals are all too happy to put a bounty on her head. Most notably Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan “Hello There!” McGregor), who has a vendetta with Quinn.

Harley then becomes entangled in a chase for a valuable diamond, which is embedded with the account numbers of the wealthy Bertinelli mob family, who were murdered years ago. A young pickpocket, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) swipes the diamond from Sionis’ right hand man, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), making her Sionis’ new number one target. Cassandra swallows the diamond to hide it (with the film never missing the opportunity for an easy poop joke as to how she’ll reclaim the diamond later), and soon bumps into Harley. Being the targets of practically every gangster in Gotham City, Harley and Cassandra become partners in crime, hoping to pull one over Sionis and Zsasz and use the diamond to make a new life for themselves.

Along the way, Harley also makes allies/enemies/frenemies with Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett), a singer at a night club owned by Sionis; Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), an alcoholic, disillusioned detective; and Helena/The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is known by others as the “Crossbow Killer.” Together, the group forms the titular Birds of Prey.

But do they though? Despite the movie being called “Birds of Prey,” it’s really more about Harley Quinn than it is the group of characters as a whole. Suicide Squad also highlighted Quinn, but it at least felt like a proper team of characters. Here, Harley Quinn is front and center, with the others occasionally getting mixed up in her shenanigans (Huntress in particular seems forgotten about for large stretches of the film, mostly coming across as a side plot as the Crossbow Killer until the finale). There’s nothing innately wrong with the idea of a Harley Quinn movie, and Margot Robbie is good in the role, but it is a little odd how the movie acts like it’s built around this team of anti-heroes, even though it’s only really interested in one of them. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that when the film struggled at the box office, Warner Bros. created the alternate title of Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey and changed the film’s marketing accordingly.

Though it may stumble in regards to the overall team, I do admit I like the idea of Harley Quinn’s story. She’s dedicated her life to the villainous Joker, and others perceived her to be merely an extension of him. Now that she’s free of the Joker, Harley is determined to prove her independence and make a name for herself. But of course she’s still crazy and a criminal and all that, so it’s a fun setup that should allow for character growth, at least in theory. Though it probably would have been more impactful if we properly saw her relationship with the Joker in a previous film, instead of just the bits and pieces Suicide Squad teased. But the DC Extended Universe is so hellbent on catching up to Marvel’s movies that these DC movies can’t be bothered to tell full stories, and just hope the legacies of these characters from other media can fill in the finer details.

Like past DCEU films, the cast is strong even if the script is not. Particular praise goes to Margot Robbie, who’s allowed to do more with Harley Quinn as a character than she was in Suicide Squad; and to Ewan McGregor, who makes Sionis a flamboyant psychopath and narcissist. Though even with these performances, these characters might becoming straining after a while. It’s almost like they could have given more time to the other Birds of Prey to give us the occasional reprieve or something.

Despite the highlights, I really can’t recommend Birds of Prey. Whatever good the film does manage to produce is drowned by its sheer joylessness. Instead of reflecting the chaos and bedlam of its heroine, it’s just a formulaic superhero outing but removed of just about all of the genre’s usual entertainment value (I admit the final action set piece, in which the film actually becomes a Birds of Prey movie, is decently fun. Though by then it’s too little, too late). What could have been an anarchic anti-superhero movie instead feels empty, with all the aforementioned graphics thrown on the screen a shallow attempt to make us think the movie has some semblance of invention. Then add the film’s many desperate attempts to earn that “hard R” rating, and it feels like even more padding to a movie that otherwise has nothing to it.

Harley Quinn can be a fun character. It’s possible there could be a good Harley Quinn movie somewhere down the road. But Birds of Prey certainly isn’t it.

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Suicide Squad (2016) Review

Suicide Squad was released in 2016 as the third entry in the “DC Extended Universe,” following Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Though the film would break a number of box office records, and even become the first film in the “DCEU” to snag an Oscar (for Hair and Makeup), it was derided by critics. To this day, you’ll still see it at the bottom of rankings of the DCEU films (and close to the bottom of similar rankings of DC movies on the whole). Even its 2021 sequel “The Suicide Squad” seems to want to separate itself from the 2016 film as much as possible (notice they didn’t call it Suicide Squad 2).

Despite my initial curiosity, Suicide Squad’s reception made me lose interest (perhaps if it hadn’t been released mere months after Batman V. Superman, I could have mustered up the strength). So I actually just watched Suicide Squad for the first time for this review and in preparation to watch the second film/soft reboot/whatever. And I have to say, I didn’t think Suicide Squad was that bad.

Don’t get me wrong, Suicide Squad isn’t that good, either. But for my money, it’s more entertaining than Man of Steel, and certainly more coherent than Batman V. Superman or Justice League (and that includes the questionably praised “Snyder Cut”).

There are at least a few good things going for Suicide Squad, so already we’re better off than with the aforementioned movies. The first and foremost of these positives being the main cast: We have Will Smith as Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, a deadly assassin with perfect marksmanship; Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (the former Harleen Quinzel), the Joker’s equally insane girlfriend; and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the corrupt government official who forms the titular Suicide Squad as her disposable task force.

We also have Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian villain who uses a boomerang surprisingly few times in the film; El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a man who can create fire; and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a sewer-dwelling man who looks sort of like a crocodile and possesses superhuman strength. There’s also Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who commands the Suicide Squad under Waller. Flag is joined by his bodyguard, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the only real heroic member of the task force. Oh yeah, and David Harbour shows up as Waller’s right hand government goon (the years since the film’s release have proven David Harbour should really have had a bigger role in a movie like this).

Another, oddly-specific thing I liked about the movie is that, once the Suicide Squad gets sent on their mission, that’s it. That’s the movie. Most super hero movies have a certain structure, and had Suicide Squad followed that structure, we’d probably see the group dispatched on a mission, which would result in either A) failure, so the team would have to redeem themselves with the bigger mission later on, or B) success, proving themselves worthy of the bigger mission later on. So I kind of like how we just have the setup of being introduced to the characters and Waller’s idea of “Task Force X,” and then once things go bad, the task force is sent in, and the rest of the movie is that mission. Maybe I’m grasping at straws here (I am), but I found that I liked that overall structure.

One thing I liked considerably less, however, was the film’s villain scenario. The film’s big bad is The Enchantress, an ancient witch possessing the body of Dr. June Moone (both portrayed by Cara Delevinge). It’s kind of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario, before the Enchantress inevitably takes full control. The Enchantress was to be a key member in Waller’s Task Force X, with Waller keeping the witch’s heart in a briefcase as leverage (effectively making the Enchantress Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean). But Enchantress breaks free of her control by (and stay with me here) releasing her brother’s spirit from a jar, with her brother then possessing a man, releasing a tentacle from said man’s body to ensnare a few other men, who are then merged with subway tracks (?!) to transform into a hulking CG monstrosity, who can share his power with the Enchantress to keep her alive until she recovers her heart. You get all that?

As you might expect, it’s Enchantress breaking free from Waller’s control and performing some vague, world-threatening spell that serves as the catalyst for Waller to pull the trigger and send in her new task force. So the Suicide Squad, accompanied by Rick Flag and his men, are to put a stop to the Enchantress. Meanwhile, the Joker (Jared Leto) plots to “rescue” Harley from Waller’s forces.

The problem with Enchantress as the villain is, despite Delevinge’s attempts to make the Enchantress a complex villain with their duel personalities, the character just kind of comes across as silly. Between the weird CG added to and around the character, the dancing she’s constantly doing as she performs a seemingly unending spell, and the fact that Delevinge’s voice seems to be dubbed over herself, I found myself giggling whenever the Enchantress was on screen. And I’m sure that’s not the reaction they were going for with the character.

“Teehee.”

Of course, we have to talk about the elephant in the room: Jared Leto’s take on the Joker. Heath Ledger’s performance of Batman’s nemesis in The Dark Knight gave us one of the all-time great movie villains. Before that, Jack Nicholson’s interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime was the highlight in the otherwise aged 1989 Tim Burton film. So the character had a lot of acclaimed history to live up to. If Jared Leto’s Joker couldn’t quite do that, it’s no unforgiveable sin. The problem is, even on its own merits, Suicide Squad’s Joker is a disappointment. He comes across as silly when he’s trying to be serious, and boring when he’s trying to be crazy. This Joker lacks a sense of presence and terror, and is instead a character we’re supposed to be afraid of simply because of his legacy through past interpretations. It should be unsurprising that this Joker has yet to show up again in subsequent movies (save for a cameo in the aforementioned “Snyder Cut”).

Perhaps things could have been different, had Jared Leto’s Joker been the main villain of the film (or maybe it would have only expanded on this version’s problems). Suicide Squad’s director, David Ayer – in a respectable admittance to the film’s faults – has said if he could do the movie over again, he would have made Joker the main villain. That probably would have benefitted things greatly, not just because it’s weird to introduce the Joker (of all characters) into the DCEU as a bit player, but also because Enchantress feels like she belongs in a different movie. I think DC is at its best with its more grounded characters (we all love Batman), and I’ve never thought those elements meshed with the more extravagant characters (like Superman). They just never feel like a cohesive whole in the way the Marvel characters do. And Suicide Squad’s villain scenario is a blatant example of this. Cut out the Enchantress and promote the Joker, and maybe they would have had something.

“I’m getting flashbacks to some old Dairy Queen commercials here…”

Another disappointing aspect to Suicide Squad are the action scenes. There’s really just nothing to them. You have a few gunfights with Enchantress’ soldiers (who remind me of the Putty Patrol from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers), and a few other such scuffles with more of the same creatures before the big, flashy CG finale against Enchantress and her tentacle/subway track brother. These action scenes would be pretty uneventful as they are, but the film’s insistence on gloomy, dim lighting makes them even more difficult to enjoy. The final showdown has the opposite problem, with the overbearing CG proving too bright and distracting.

I will give the film credit in that it attempts to find a few moments amidst the chaos to shed light on each of its anti-heroes. It may not master its balancing act (Deadshot and Harley Quinn easily get the most screen time, but that’s okay), and the movie awkwardly waits until later on in its runtime before it gives certain characters their moment (better late than never, I guess). But the attempt is appreciated, especially when you consider how Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman had such poor characterization that you could rarely find logical justification or reasoning for their characters’ actions.

So at the expense of being hated by comic book movie fans everywhere: No, I don’t think 2016’s Suicide Squad is the worst DC movie ever made. It ultimately stumbles, and I can’t recommend it. But I do think it was an improvement over the two DCEU films that came before it, and better than some of the ones that came after (like Justice League). The DCEU would eventually receive a few good movies (Wonder Woman, or my personal favorite so far, Shazam!). Suicide Squad may not be among those good movies, but maybe it helped us get there.

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