My Brief(ish) Review of Solo: A Star Wars Story (No Spoilers)

KCJwEj9Have you ever had that experience where you’re not particularly hungry, but you decide to eat anyway, and so you just eat whatever happens to be there, even though you’re not particularly craving it at the moment, and while you don’t necessarily dislike that food, after you eat it and get that full sensation, you’re just kind of like “why did I just eat that?” That’s kind of how I felt walking out of Solo. It’s not a particularly bad movie, but it wasn’t really a movie that I was clamoring for, and I pretty much only watched it because I didn’t want to be out of the loop in the nerd and/or movie community (both online, and irl).

But yeah, it’s a perfectly adequate movie. It has some flaws, but nothing too egregious. Likewise, it has some high points, but nothing overly remarkable. It you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll probably enjoy it, but it probably won’t be one of your favorites of the series. If you want answers to such *thrilling* questions as: “Why does Lando pronounce Han’s name with a short ‘a’ (like ‘hand’ without the ‘d’), while everyone else pronounces it ‘Hahn’?”, “What does it mean that Han did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, when a parsec is a unit of distance?”, “How exactly did Han beat Lando in a card game to win ownership of the Millennium Falcon?”, and other “intriguing mysteries” [/sarcasm], then you should probably check this out.

I’m probably sounding more down on this movie than I should. Again, I didn’t really dislike it. I just didn’t walk out of it saying “well, I can’t wait to see that again!” either. See it if you want, don’t if it you don’t. For those who are on the fence about whether to see it in theaters, or just wait to stream it, I’ll say this: there is one somewhat spoilery surprise that you might not want ruined, so if you’re very very anti-spoilers, you might want to see it in theaters before someone spoils it for you, but at the same time, it’s not something huge and mind-blowing. It probably won’t rock your world. People who talk about it would probably say something more along the lines of: “Oh, yeah, I was surprised to see that happen. Definitely didn’t see it coming.” As opposed to: “OH MY GOSH. I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT HAPPENED. MIND BLOWN.”

So yeah, definitely not the must-see movie of the summer, but it’s an entertaining enough way to spend two hours. You’ll probably enjoy it if you see it, but you’re not missing out on a lot if you skip it or wait to stream it.

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A Quiet Place Review (No spoilers)

f568606d8e8644259f1eedd92f5fb272*Sigh* You guys, I honestly don’t even want to write this review. A Quiet Place was a well-crafted movie that most moviegoers will enjoy, but it didn’t really speak to me personally, and I didn’t really enjoy it. That’s it. Thanks for coming. See you next time.

…. I guess you’re probably wanting more than that, so here we go:

As I said, this movie was very well-crafted. So far it has critics raving, and it looks likely to get a positive response from audiences, so perhaps I should mention what it did well first. This movie really plays up the “quiet” angle. This is definitely a film that follows the mantra “show, don’t tell.” If you’re a fan of visual storytelling, this film is for you. Most of the key plot points, backstory, and other stuff that would normally be established through exposition are shown to you in this movie rather than told. So pay attention to what you’re seeing, otherwise you might miss something really important.

In addition to that, as I mentioned, the movie is very quiet. There’s very little spoken dialogue (it’s mostly sign language with subtitles) and the music is usually subdued. It was actually so quiet for much of the movie that I was nervous about eating my popcorn for fear that the sound would potentially bother those sitting around me. There was a point about 20 minutes into the movie where the man sitting next to me tried to whisper something to the woman that he was with, and she quickly shushed him saying: “This movie’s too quiet! We can’t whisper! They’ll hear us!” Luckily, that seemed to be the sentiment of the rest of the patrons: I’ll admit, I was worried when I initially walked into the auditorium and it was mostly full of loud and rambunctious teenagers, but I was pleasantly surprised that they quieted down once the movie started. (Unfortunately, I’ve had a few past experiences where that was not the case).

This movie is also a slow burn that earns its suspenseful moments. While there are a few scares sprinkled throughout the movie, it saves most of them for its climax. (It actually reminded me a lot of Signs in terms of its structure and pacing, if that’s a helpful reference for anyone).

Lastly, this movie is surprisingly minimalistic in its storytelling. It gives you exactly as much information as you need to know, and nothing more. In fact, at the end of the movie (no spoilers, I promise) it literally just gives you enough information so that you know exactly how the story is going to resolve, and once that information is provided, the credits roll. Most movies will show you the conclusion, no matter how obvious it is. Instead, A Quiet Place is like “So you know how this is going to end now, right? We cool? Okay, thanks for coming.”

So why didn’t I like this? Two main reasons: first, this was a very suspenseful movie, but it wasn’t very creepy. This is a great movie to see if you want to be on the edge of your seat, but not so great if you’re expecting chills to be sent down your spine. I’m not sure if it was the advertising, or just my personal mindset going into it, but I was expecting more of the latter than the former. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy horror movies that are suspenseful rather than creepy. Psycho is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’d say that it is more about suspense than an unnatural creepiness that gets under your skin. A Quiet Place seems partially like this was just a case of mistaken expectations. I thought the movie was going to be one thing, but instead it was something totally different, and even though the different thing was good, I was disappointed because I didn’t get what I wanted.

However, there was a second and much bigger reason that I didn’t enjoy this movie: fairly early in the movie (about 30 minutes in), it is revealed that the two main characters have made a decision that’s going to significantly affect their lives, the lives of their children, and their chances of survival. I don’t think the filmmakers wanted you to ponder whether or not it was a good decision, or whether you would have made the same decision were you in their shoes. Rather, I think they just wanted you to take the decision for granted and roll with it. But I didn’t. Instead of saying, “okay, that’s the direction they’ve decided to take this story” and moving on, I spent most of the rest of the movie weighing the pros and cons of this decision, and contemplating whether or not the decision was in the best interest of the characters, and even humanity as a whole. (In a somewhat vague summary: it may have been a good idea in the long term, but in the short term, at that point in time, it was likely a very very bad idea that significantly endangered the main characters and their children.) And so, rather than focusing on the events of the movie as they happened, I spent most of the movie internally debating whether or not the characters made the right choice, and, to be honest, I never really came to a definitive conclusion. Again, I don’t think the filmmakers intended for this to happen. Questioning the merits and disadvantages of this decision certainly didn’t seem to be the point of the film. But for whatever reason, it stuck out to me and distracted me for the entire movie.

Anyway, if you want to see a film that knows how to build suspense and uses its sound design and visual storytelling extremely effectively, you’ll probably enjoy A Quiet Place. Just try not to overanalyze the characters’ choices. It may prevent you from enjoying an otherwise well-made movie.

Black Panther Review (No Spoilers)

black-panther-hr-posterHere’s my spoiler-free review of Black Panther:

I said in my initial reaction that this might be my new favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but that only time would tell. Two days and an additional viewing later, I’m still not exactly sure where it will land in my personal MCU rankings, but I’m still pretty certain it will be very near the top. So what makes this movie so good? To honestly answer that question, I feel like I’d have to make feature-length commentary track for the entire movie, akin to a director’s commentary. Instead, I’ll just have to settle for a few general statements.

I may as well start with one of my favorite aspects of the film: the score. It may seem odd to point this out first, but the score was absolutely phenomenal. It almost felt like it was its own character within the movie. Unlike many previous Marvel movies where the score is unnoticeable and forgettable, throughout pretty much the entire film I found myself amazed by how much the music enhanced what we were seeing on the screen. In fact, I made sure to listen to the album in its entirety yesterday, and I’m even listening to it again as I write this. (To be clear, I’m talking about the instrumental score by Ludwig Göransson, not the original music by Kendrick Lamar, though that was used to good effect as well.) It will almost certainly be nominated for “Best Score” in next year’s iteration of the McKoovies (shameless plug).

An additional amazing strength of this film was its cast. The amount of great characters is so high, it’s possible that Black Panther’s character was overshadowed in his own film. It’s not that T’Challa was particularly uninteresting. On the contrary, several times throughout the film, I found myself thinking “T’Challa is freaking cool.” However, the film just happens to feature several other characters that may be cooler: Killmonger, Shuri, Okoye, M’Baku, Nakia, and so on. I honestly don’t think I could pick a favorite character from this film. Two brief side notes about Shuri: one, I love that this might be the best sibling relationship we’ve seen in a superhero movie yet; the banter and interactions between T’Challa and Shuri are completely believable and entertaining. Two, someone online mentioned that it’s cool that Shuri now gets to be the second quick-witted sciencey teen in the MCU in addition to Peter Parker, and the second that they pointed that out, I suddenly realized that I needed to see a Peter/Shuri relationship on screen NOW. Heck with Liz or Michelle, I better see Peter meet Shuri in Infinity War, and I better see SPARKS FLY. The world needs this, Marvel. You better not hold out on us.

An additional great aspect of this film is how NOT black-and-white it is (no pun intended). The good guys are flawed and the bad guys have understandable motives. There are times when you may not agree with the good guys’ philosophies and what they do. There are times when you may actually agree with the bad guys’ philosophies and what they do. This is not your typical good vs evil story that you see in many superhero films. However, ultimately Killmonger (the main villain) goes too far in trying to pursue his goals, which leads to Black Panther needing to stop him. That said, this might be the best ideological conflict we’ve gotten in a Marvel film so far.

Despite this, Black Panther is still a superhero movie at its core. While it takes many of the basic elements of superhero movies and improves upon them (and includes so much more than just your basic superhero movie), it doesn’t quite transcend the genre like The Dark Knight or Logan did. So if you hate superhero movies, you may still end up disliking this for some of its superhero-ish elements, but if you’re merely picky about which superhero films you choose to see, this is highly likely to be one that you’ll enjoy (and if you like/love superhero movies, you probably like/love this).

One other thing that bears mentioning: upon my first viewing, I thought that the pacing and suspense were great. While the movie did have some predictable moments, I found myself genuinely not knowing what was going to happen several times. I also walked out the movie completely PUMPED. Yet some of the enjoyability and suspense that was there on my first viewing wasn’t present the second time around. In my experience, it’s possible to know everything that’s going to happen within a movie but still feel suspense (Jurassic Park, Psycho, and 10 Cloverfield Lane provide some good examples of this), but it just wasn’t there for me on the second viewing. However, it’s entirely possible that this was simply due to some inconsiderate patrons seated near me that were distracting me throughout the movie. (The guy next to me had his phone in his lap, and he had some kind of notification light that kept blinking every few seconds throughout the entire first half of the movie until I finally asked him to put his phone away, and a guy about 3 or 4 people down from me was muttering commentary throughout the entire movie – and not just occasionally, it was literally like once a minute he would say something. Anyway, the moral of the story is please be considerate and actually do the basic theater etiquette things – keep your phone put away, and if you need to make a comment, keep it quiet and do it exceedingly sparingly). All of that said, when I finally see this movie a third time (likely when it’s available for home purchase), it’s entirely possible that I may find myself liking it as much as the first time. Stay tuned.

There’s a ton more I could say about this film, but I don’t want to turn this into a full-length essay. In short: this movie is great in several ways that I haven’t even mentioned, and it deserves to be seen. Get to the theater as soon as you can, because it’s worth it. The only other thing I have to say is:

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The Cloverfield Paradox – Review

DVPD_0XXkAAyTbWMe, for the first half of this movie: “it’s dumb, but I love it.” Me, for the second half of this movie: “it’s just dumb.” Read on for the rest of my (mostly spoiler free) thoughts.

Travel back in time to a little over ten years ago: a trailer dropped for a monster movie, and the marketing campaign was crazy enough to give you the release date of the movie, but not the title. It was eventually revealed that the title was Cloverfield and the movie went on to become a surprise hit. Fast forward to two years ago: out of nowhere, a trailer dropped for a movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane and audiences were surprised to discover that not only was Cloverfield getting a (sort-of) sequel, but that the movie was only two months away from release. Upon release, it received high praise from critics and audiences alike, and was seen by most as a superior film to the first. Now, jump to last night. Viewers of the “big game” were treated to a commercial for a third film, The Cloverfield Paradox, that not only promised to explain what happened in the first movie, but also came with a surprising release schedule: you can watch it tonight, on Netflix. It appeared that the marketing and the release schedules were getting crazier with each film. Would this movie also continue the trend of being of higher quality than its predecessor? Unfortunately, no.

A cliche, but more accurate, title for this movie would be Cloverfield: Origins because it not only blatantly explains the first movie (and to some degree the second), it also seems like it is going to be the set-up for any future Cloverfield movies (a fourth one is purportedly already on the way). That’s a bit of a bummer, because even if all of the other films are great, viewers of them who wonder “why did this event happen?” are going to have to go back and watch this mediocre film for an explanation. Another way to think of it – this movie is for the Cloverfield series what the prequel trilogy was for Star Wars: it was the backstory that you thought you wanted, and it had some cool bits, but it mostly makes you wish you didn’t know the backstory and leaves you wondering if this movie retroactively lessens the coolness of the previous ones (and potential future ones).

That said, there were parts I enjoyed. As I mentioned above, despite some of its flaws (and we’ll get to those in a moment), the first half of the movie has some genuinely mind-bending horror elements. I’m not a huge fan of horror movies, but, oddly enough, when this movie was simply trying to be pure horror, that’s usually when I enjoyed it the most. Also, throughout the film, they provide several puzzle pieces that explain the backstory connecting the three Cloverfield films. For the first few such pieces I had some “Oh my gosh, mind blown!” reactions, but as the film progressed, each new revelation had diminishing effects, to the point where the big revelation that we get in the final shot of the film pretty much just made me say (rather unenthusiastically), “cool, I guess.”

27540205_10160015883600374_8847721534562164590_nHowever, the two biggest flaws in the film are probably the writing and the editing. It took me most of the film to figure out which of those two elements was the real problem before I finally realized that it was both. A lot of the dialogue is simply not good and the movie is put together in a very jarring way – it switches tones and scenes and settings and storylines at seemingly random points. In other words, this movie tends to be rather confusing. Not in a good, keep-you-guessing and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next kind of way, but mostly just a “wait, what just happened, and why was that important?” kind of way. Given, most of the seemingly random things are addressed later in the film (as in “Ah! So that’s why they randomly showed us that scene 20 minutes ago”), but there are also several elements that are not. For example: *Minor spoiler* – what was with the husband back on earth randomly going to a friend’s bunker? Other than the crazy guy from the second movie, who just happens to have a bunker? Were they trying to draw some kind of weird parallel to the second film? If so, what was the point? Also, what’s up with the little girl that he randomly rescued? Again, she could have been part of the aforementioned weird parallel, but it seems like a weird and unnecessary Easter egg. “Hey, we’re gonna have a guy rescue a girl and take her to a bunker!” “Does this storyline serve any purpose in the film whatsoever?” “Nah, we just wanted to remind you of the clearly superior film that we made two years ago.” *end spoiler*

So, should you watch this movie? Well, it’s on Netflix so if you don’t mind potentially wasting an hour and half of your life, then go for it. If you’re a little more choosy than that, this movie is pretty much only for the hardcore Cloververse continuity nerds who want more of a backstory to the first movie, and also want to know how the first connects to the second. If neither of those questions intrigue you, skip this, and just go over to Amazon Prime and watch (or re-watch) 10 Cloverfield Lane (it stands on its own just fine).

 

X-Men: Apocalypse Review – NO SPOILERS

cf7kkqeuuaeqameThe following review contains NO SPOILERS.

tl;dr – X-Men: Apocalypse may have had some flaws, but it was packed with so many awesome moments that by the time the credits rolled, I didn’t really care about them.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. X-Men: Apocalypse is getting pretty mehh reviews from critics. Does it deserve that? Maybe. Did the X-Men movie/comic book fan inside me love this movie? Yes. Did the film critic inside me love this movie? I’m not sure, my inner fanboy was being too loud, so I think the film critic inside me may have simply checked out. All of this is to say that X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t as finely crafted of a film as previous entries like Days of Future Past, but that doesn’t stop it from being an incredibly entertaining movie.

X-Men: Apocalypse’s biggest strength is also it’s biggest weakness: it tries too hard to please the fans. For me, there were so many moments that made my inner fanboy squeal with joy, and not just my inner X-Men movie fan, but also my inner X-Men comic book fan. For the first time ever, it looks like Bryan Singer decided to appeal to the comic book readers by including several elements from the comics. I can’t discuss too many without giving away spoilers, but I think this was most evident with the characters of Scott and Jean – they are better developed in this movie than they were in any of the previous films, especially Jean.

To be honest, Magneto is probably my favorite character of the franchise (more on him in a bit), but Jean was my favorite character in this film, and Sophie Turner was great as the character. It may help that her voice even sounds a little like Jean from the 90s cartoon. And for comic book fans, Jean finally gets to do something in this movie that I’ve been waiting to see since they introduced her character all the way back in the first X-Men. Xavier also gets to show off his powers more than in previous films

So, in summary, there is a lot of awesome stuff in this movie that will satisfy your inner fanboy/fangirl that I can’t discuss without revealing spoilers. Just know that they’re there, and they’re awesome.

However, while this movie might be the most fanboy-friendly X-Men movie to date, it accomplishes this at the expense of the emotional resonance of most of the previous films. Most of the X-Men films focus pretty heavily on themes like discrimination and maintaining hope during dark times. This movie is pretty much only about a team of superheroes stopping a bad guy who wants to destroy the world. In fact, this movie feels much more like most Marvel Cinematic Universe films than it does like most previous X-Men films – it has an underdeveloped villain who wants to do bad stuff because reasons, it throws in tons of references to please comic book fans, and it’s packed with well-timed humor. While I am a huge fan of the MCU, I have not been one of the people campaigning to give the X-Men rights back to Marvel, because I felt that the X-Men films under Marvel’s control would feel a lot more like this movie than previous spectacular entries like Days of Future Past, First Class, and X2. If future X-Men films follow this trend, they may as well give the rights back to Marvel so we can at least see some cool crossovers (Avengers vs X-Men movie, anyone?) That said, I still have hope that Singer can turn the ship around with the next movie. I honestly feel that his movies work better when he’s trying to make a good movie rather than when he is trying to please the fans.

Another complaint is about Magneto. As I said, he’s probably my favorite character from the franchise, but they do some pretty weird things with him here. They give him some pretty decent motivation for why he does what he does in this movie, but I still thought that it felt like joining Apocalypse in his mission was a bit of an overreaction. You want to kill the humans that discriminate against mutants? Totally cool, bro. You want to kill human and mutant alike in an extinction level event? Not cool man, not cool.

Lastly, there is a lot of convenience in this movie. Characters happen to randomly be in the right place at the right time more than once. Also,  Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen seem pretty quick to go along with his plans with pretty much no explanation. “You want to cause a mass extinction killing all but only the strongest people on earth? Okay. Can I come too?” seems to be the motivation of all except Magneto.

So, as I said, not the best X-Men film. But if you go into the movie looking for an exciting action movie rather than an intellectually stimulating film that happens to feature superheroes, you’ll have a good time.

P.S. Stay until the end of the credits.

What are your thought on X-Men: Apocalypse? Sound off in the comments section below, and be sure to use spoiler warnings when appropriate!

 

Captain America: Civil War Review

Captain-America-Civil-War-main-posterThe following review contains NO SPOILERS.

tl;dr – I’m not sure if Civil War is a perfect movie, but it is a perfect comic book movie. I honestly believe that years from now, this will be considered the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Bold claims above, I know, but this movie packs an emotional punch. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ll say that the state of the MCU at the end of this movie is about the same state that the Rebellion is in at the end of Episode V, hence the reference above. I’m still processing this movie, so I don’t know if I can definitively rank it with other comic book movies. But it might be the best MCU movie so far, and it might even be the best comic book movie of all time. Might. Like I said, I’m still processing.

Being a massive comic book fan, I personally consider the original Civil War storyline to be one of the best stories that Marvel has ever published. Saying that, I also have to say that I was extremely satisfied with this film. No, it doesn’t even come close to following the storyline from the comics (none of the Marvel movies really have), but it followed the spirit of the comic perfectly. Both Cap’s and Tony’s viewpoints have merit, and I feel the story will successfully create a divide among moviegoers, just like the original story divided comic book readers. While the marketing for this film has been pretty good, I know several people who are confused about why they are fighting. That will not be the case when you watch this film. Lines are drawn, and they are very clear, and everyone will pick a side for a specific reason. Everyone. Oh, and unlike a certain other superhero fight movie that came out this year (*cough* BvS *cough*), the title fight is a significant portion of this movie, and there may be more than one round of fighting.

This is Marvel’s most serious movie to date. Don’t get wrong there is some terrific and spot-on humor. It might actually some of the best-utilized humor in the MCU. Unlike some of the jokes in Age of Ultron, which seemed scripted (obviously they were, as it was a movie, but a lot of them felt very unnatural), my initial reaction is to say that all of the gags in this movie felt like they would actually happen in these given situations with these specific people. Especially the ones from Spider-Man.

Oh yeah, Spider-Man’s in this movie. I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is the best Spider-Man we’ve ever gotten in a movie. While I thought he was amaz-, nope, spectac-, nope, sensatio-, nope, um, really good, he’s only in the movie for like 10-15 minutes. I’ll need to see his full movie next year to determine whether I really regard him as the best (as am I a huge and unashamed fan of the both the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield iterations of Spider-Man). But he was really good, and I’m now even more excited for his movie next year.

Prior to this tangent, I was talking about the seriousness of this movie. As I said, just as Empire Strikes Back took a dark turn after the original Star Wars, this movie sees most of our favorite characters go down dark paths. It’s not as dark as say Marvel’s own Daredevil show or even something like the Dark Knight trilogy, but this isn’t your happy-go-lucky Avengers team that we’ve seen up until now. Bad stuff happens, and that bad stuff has consequences. Much like the original comic, the story goes past the point of no return, and I doubt that things will ever be the same for most of these characters.

Speaking of characters, they all get their moments to shine. Everyone, and I mean everyone, of the Avengers gets their own little storyline in this movie. The character that I was most surprised about getting a significant story was Sharon Carter, however. She was criminally under-utilized in Winter Soldier. And while she isn’t featured in this movie quite as much as I wish she’d be (she is one of the best supporting character from the Captain America comics), it was certainly a pleasant surprise to see her as much as we did. All that said, the comments that “this isn’t an Avengers movie, this is a Captain America movie” are totally false. Sure, almost everything that happens in this movie can be traced back to Captain America, but it’s in the same way that almost everything that happens in Age of Ultron can be traced back to Tony. If this movie needed to be called “Captain America: Civil War”, AoU should have been called “Iron Man: Age of Ultron.” Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint, I loved this movie, but “Avengers: Civil War” would have been a more fitting title.

There is really so much more I could say. The acting was great. The action was mind-blowingly amazing. There were so many moments that made my comic-book-nerd heart happy. Spider-Man was wonderful. Black Panther was set up extremely well for his upcoming movie. There were so many great character interactions, especially between members of the same teams, and members of the opposite teams. (So pretty much all of the character interactions). Every character gets a moment to be cool. And, while I definitely have a side (Team Cap all the way), there is no clear-cut choice between who is right and who is wrong.

I don’t feel like I need to rant any more about this movie. If you haven’t seen this yet, stop what you are doing and go to the theater right now. If you’ve already seen this, you should probably go see it again (I definitely will). Let me know what you think in the comments below, and be sure to use spoiler warnings where appropriate! If you enjoyed this review, please consider sharing it on social media!