SAMARITAN (2022) – Sylvester Stallone Kicks Butt as Grizzled Gray Superhero

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Sylvester Stallone as a superhero?

Who’s he playing? Senior Citizen Man?

And with that, we’ll dispense with the “old people” jokes for the rest of this column. I just think it’s funny that in this day and age, between CGI effects in the movies, and the healthy regimens of many actors who like Stallone are aging much better than previous generations, you can tell a story about an older superhero with a 76-year-old actor in the lead role and have it be believable! This is a good thing.

SAMARITAN (2022) opens with young Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) recounting the story of twin brother superheroes Samaritan and Nemesis, who fought to the death twenty years earlier when Nemesis went rogue and tried to kill his good superhero brother Samaritan with a special hammer he forged just for the job. Both men were killed in a massive explosion inside a warehouse, but Sam doesn’t believe Samaritan died. He believes the former superhero is just hiding out somewhere.

And when the garbage man named Joe (Sylvester Stallone) who lives in the apartment across the street from him shows up one day and saves him from some gang member bullies, showing off superior strength and fighting skills, Sam believes he has found his man. He believes Joe is Samaritan.

Meanwhile, local gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) discovers Nemesis’ hammer and mask and decides to use them both as he begins a crime campaign to wreak havoc and cause chaos across the city. Sam is part of this gang, and Cyrus has taken a liking to him, but when things get more dangerous and Sam’s life is endangered, he turns to Joe for help, and he gets it, but not in the way he was expecting.

As superhero stories go, the one told in SAMARITAN, now playing in theaters and also available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video, is pretty standard. It didn’t really do all that much for me, and the longer it went on, the less I was interested in it. Also, the big reveal at the end wasn’t that hard to figure out, because there were enough clues in place earlier in this one to see how it was going to go down. Bragi F. Schut wrote the screenplay, and other than a few good lines for Stallone, it’s nothing to write home about.

I like Stallone, and admittedly he’s the main reason I wanted to see this move, and on that front, it wasn’t a disappointment because he’s pretty darn good in the role. Of course, he’s been doing this for so long he can probably do it in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean it’s not another enjoyable performance. From Rocky to Rambo to a myriad of other action film performances, Sylvester Stallone has a presence and persona that serves him well. He’s the working man’s action hero, the blue-collar tough guy, who is more at home dishing out wisdom and advice over wise-cracking one-liners.

And he’s at it again here. Joe becomes a mentor and father figure to Sam, and late in the movie schools the boy on the nuances of good and bad in the world, of how people mistakenly believe it’s all about good vs. evil. Joe tells Sam it’s not that clear cut because there is good and bad in every person, and it’s all about the choices people make. It also goes without saying that Stallone is believable here as the grizzled superhero, as he efficiently kicks the butts of much younger villainous foes.

This also isn’t the first foray into superheroes for the Rocky/Rambo star. He provided the voice for the CGI-created King Shark in the hilarious THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), a fun performance in a very fun movie. He was less memorable in a small role in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) as Stakar Ogord. Stallone is currently working on THE EXPENDABLES 4, due out next year, a series I’ve enjoyed.

I can’t say that I was all that impressed with Javon “Wanna” Walton as Sam. There was something rather annoying about his personality.

Pilou Asbaek is decent as the villain, Cyrus. He’s had plenty of practice. He’s played similar tough guy roles in films like OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021) and GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017). He also played Euron Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES (2016-2019).

I did enjoy Dascha Polanco as Sam’s mom Tiffany. She makes for a memorable hard-working single mom who because of her job can’t be there as often as she likes for her son. She’s as tough as nails, a side of her which she gets to show off later in the story.

Moises Arias also stands out as an annoying gang member named Reza who is a constant thorn in Sam’s side.

Directed by Julius Avery, SAMARITAN is a decent superhero movie, but not a great one. Its look is standard and didn’t offer anything I hadn’t seen before, and its action sequences, while okay, aren’t mind-blowing. It’s ultimately successful for a couple of reasons. It tells a simple straightforward story and doesn’t get lost in a convoluted muddled mess of storytelling like some of the recent Marvel entries, films like DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2021) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). It’s also not overlong and doesn’t get boring.

Most of all, it benefits from the presence of Sylvester Stallone. Watching him play the lead role was a real treat. It’s like ROCKY meets UNBREAKABLE (2000).

He’ll not only go the distance; he won’t even be down for the count. Not ever.

Yo, Adrian! Look, no black eyes!

—END–

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) – Fourth Thor Movie A Misfire From Start to Finish

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So, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) opens and in the first scene we see a thin bald humanoid on a barren desert landscape, and for a split-second my mind flashes back some thirty some odd years to the opening of STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) which opened in a similar way. I chuckle and quickly dismiss the memory, but then a funny thing happened over the course of the next two hours.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, the latest Marvel superhero movie and the fourth Thor movie, goes full throttle with the humor, most of it silly, and sadly, most of it misfiring, which once more reminded me of that STAR TREK movie of old, STAR TREK V, which is generally considered to be the weakest in the original STAR TREK movie series. STAR TREK V followed the immensely popular and successful STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) which had a superior script and at times was laugh out loud funny. STAR TREK V tried to recapture this formula, but with a far lesser script, its humor didn’t really work, and the film suffered from a bad case of the sillies which sadly didn’t translate into laughter.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER also suffers from a bad case of the sillies.

The bald humanoid in the opening scene is Gorr (Christian Bale) who, after watching his young daughter die, gets to meet their god, only to be disappointed when he learns from this god that his and his daughter’s life means nothing to the gods. When Gorr denounces the god, the deity tries to kill him, but an all-powerful dark sword reaches out to Gorr, and he uses it to slay the god. Not only this, but Gorr decides to make it his life’s goal to kill all the gods in the universe.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, busily saving different planets and civilizations from disaster, but when he receives a distress call from Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who’s running the new Asgard on Earth, he leaves his guardian friends and returns to Earth with his rock buddy Korg (Taika Waititi). There they learn that Gorr is in town, and he’s taking no prisoners.

Thor also learns that the love of his life, the woman who he has not been able to forget, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has changed her look a bit: she’s now wielding his old hammer and dressed in fighting garb, and she calls herself The Mighty Thor. While he’s impressed, he’s also confused, but it turns out that Jane has cancer, and she doesn’t have much time left, and so when she felt the hammer reaching out to her, she accepted it, hoping that perhaps it could restore her to health. And while it does give her great strength and the ability to fly, it’s not doing anything to rid her of the cancer.

Gorr wants Thor’s new hammer, Stormbreaker, to use it to access unlimited power in the universe to destroy all the gods, and when he manages to steal it away from Thor, it’s up to our heroes, Thor, Jane, and Valkyrie to chase Gorr to the ends of the universe to get it back and save the gods.

I’ve said this before, but I’m just not a big fan of fantasy plots in superhero movies, and the Marvel films have increasingly gone this route, being more about witches, evil spells, gods, and a whole host of other things that are so far outside any sense of reality. So, the plot here in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER did nothing for me. In fact, I was quite bored. I did like the theme of the uselessness of gods, of how they really don’t help humanity all that much, and much of what Gorr has to say in this movie makes a lot of sense, but the film downplays this theme.

The rule of the day in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is silly humor, and unfortunately, it just isn’t all that sharp. I saw this is in a fairly crowded theater, and it was a fairly quiet theater. No loud laughter, cheers, groans, just silence. Even after the two post-credit scenes, the audience departed quietly. No chatter, no buzz, no excitement.

It’s no surprise that humor is a huge part of this movie, since it was written and directed by Taika Waititi, a very funny guy who wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from 2019, JOJO RABBIT (2019). Waititi also directed the previous Thor movie, THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), a film I enjoyed more than THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, mostly because the humor in that movie worked better.

Here, it’s one misfire after another, from Jane’s constant search for a catch phrase, which was more sad than funny, to Thor’s banter with the Guardians of the Galaxy, which for the most part fell flat. Speaking of whom, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and friends are completely wasted in a glorified group cameo that has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. Unlike the appearance of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in THOR: RAGNAROK, who was integral to the plot of that movie, the Guardians of the Galaxy here in this movie have no importance whatsoever other than to exchange some quips with Thor before they disappear for the rest of the proceedings.

Then there’s the screaming goats— yes, you heard that right. Screaming goats—, two animals which Thor receives as gifts early in the film. For some reason, they can’t stop screaming, this horrendous high-pitched wail. They do this nonstop throughout the movie whenever they show up. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s not.

The humor reaches its lowest point when Russell Crowe shows up as Zeus, in one of the most unfunny tries-too-hard-to-be-funny scenes in the history of the MCU.

So, the humor is a complete disaster. The screenplay which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin-Robinson struggles to get laughs, and also doesn’t really have much of a story to tell. The whole thing just felt muddled from beginning to end.

The other theme that is prevalent in the movie is love, as the love story between Thor and Jane makes up a huge chunk of the film, and for the most part, I like these two characters and their story is interesting, but sadly, it’s not much of a love story. We have barely seen them on screen together, and when he have, it’s not like they were steaming up the theater. And the overall theme, that love is the reason for everything, as Thor tells Gorr at the end of the movie, and that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, largely falls flat. It all just seemed superficial.

Chris Hemsworth has never looked better as Thor. He’s in super shape, and he looks like he’s as powerful as the character he is playing. But the forced humor in the script doesn’t do him any favors, and gone are the days when his awkwardness with humanity would be funny, simply because he’s no longer awkward and that source of humor no longer exists.

Natalie Portman largely hams it up as The Mighty Thor, and while she may have been having a good time in the movie, it doesn’t translate all that well to her character. Her best scenes are when she is Jane, dealing with her cancer.

Tessa Thompson fares better as Valkyrie. She has a more natural story arc throughout the movie, and Thompson makes her formidable, and she’s very comfortable playing this exceedingly strong female superhero.

But the most intriguing performance and perhaps the best in the movie belongs to Christian Bale as Gorr. Yes, the Dark Knight is now a dark villain! Bale is now the second movie Batman to play a villain in a Marvel movie, as Michael Keaton played the villainous Adrian Toomes in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017). Playing Batman must be good practice because both these actors, Keaton and Bale, have been some of the best Marvel villains yet!

In Bale’s case, he doesn’t fare quite as well as Keaton did in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING for the simple reason that unfortunately his Gorr isn’t in the movie very much. But when he is, Bale is very, very good. He looks as if his character from THE FIGHTER (2010), boxer Dicky Eklund, donned some silver make-up and gained some superpowers! Gorr’s story is certainly the most intriguing in the movie, how he felt slighted by the gods, how they didn’t save his daughter, and so he has decided to take them all down, in the interest of making the universe a better place to live. There are times when it’s difficult to argue with that logic.

But like I said, as good as Bale was as Gorr, he’s not in the movie much. Instead, there’s plenty of Thor and Jane/aka The Mighty Thor, and gods, and silliness, and more silliness, and a pair of screaming goats.

I saw THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER in IMAX, and I can’t say that it added a whole lot to the movie experience. It was a bit louder, yes, the screen a bit larger, but the film did not have any element in its story which IMAX enhanced, unlike another Christian Bale movie from a few years back, FORD V FERRARI (2019), in which he co-starred with Matt Damon (who has a cameo here too by the way playing an actor who plays Loki on stage) in which IMAX made the racing car scenes even more authentic, and I really felt as if I were in those cars with the actors.

Marvel is officially in a slump. Since AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), they have really struggled to reclaim their mojo, and other than SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) haven’t made a film that I’ve truly enjoyed since.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER means well but is a misfire from start to finish. Whatever seriousness its story wants to project is lost in humor that doesn’t work and in a plot that suffers from a very bad case of the sillies.

It simply tries too hard to be funny, so much so, that for the most part, the audience forgot to laugh.

—END–

THE BATMAN (2022) – Film Noir Batman Goes On Way Too Long

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A funny thing happened while I was watching THE BATMAN (2022).

The latest Batman movie, which is yet another reimagining of the masked vigilante of Gotham city by one of my favorite movie directors working today, Matt Reeves, and which introduces Robert Pattinson to the role of the Caped Crusader, has been receiving heaps of praise from critics and fans alike since its theatrical premiere on March 4… it’s currently streaming on HBO Max… with some even calling it the best Batman movie yet!

For me, I was really enjoying it, and like many others was blown away by its dark film noir take on the subject, and at the end of two hours, I was leaning towards agreeing with those who were calling this the best Batman ever. But then that funny thing happened. The movie kept going. And going. And going. So… at the end of three hours, I didn’t hold that same opinion.

See, THE BATMAN is long. Like, super long! As in two hours and fifty-six minutes long. And yes, these days this is a pet peeve of mine. Movies in general are trending towards the time management equivalent of Major League Baseball games. If you’re going to make a movie that is three hours long, you darn well better have a good reason for it, and for my money, most films I see that run well over two hours, don’t. Someone needs to edit these would-be sagas down.

So, while I liked THE BATMAN, what I liked least about it was that it was so gosh darn long. And this is from someone who was really into this film and was enjoying the ride all the way up to that two-hour mark.

It also didn’t help that the plot as laid out in the screenplay by director Matt Reeves and Peter Craig isn’t anything to write home about. The story is all about corruption. The Riddler (Paul Dano) is targeting the corrupt public officials of Gotham City because he’s sick and tired of the lies and cheats of those running the city, and hence the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and others are all being murdered in the most horrific of ways, complete with personalized letters and riddles meant for Batman (Robert Pattinson) who decides he will find out who is killing the corrupt leaders of Gotham and why. He teams with Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) to do this, as Kyle is interested because her best friend was involved and was subsequently killed because of her involvement. Their investigation leads them to the dark underbelly of Gotham City, filled with organized crime and corruption, and folks like Oz aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and gangster Carmine Falcone (John Turturo).

At the end of the day, you know who wins.

You don’t need three hours to figure it out. Did I say THE BATMAN was long?

The screenplay is not a strength of this movie. It does a decent job with some of the characters. I liked the take on Batman where he’s viewed more as a detective and vigilante, who is quite shadowy and frightening, and I also liked how most of the comic book aspects of the villains took a back seat to more realistic interpretations, but sadly we’ve seen all this before.

Craig was one of the screenwriters who wrote THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), the very dark Sandra Bullock drama where she played an ex-con out of prison dealing with people who continued to see her as a worthless monster who didn’t deserve to be alive. The feeling of hopelessness from that movie is often on display here in THE BATMAN, and that works well. Likewise, the dark tone is on par with Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) which Reeves wrote and directed. I have no problem this. In fact, I really liked the grim outlook which THE BATMAN presented.

The problem though is a question I asked myself before I sat down to watch this one, which was: do we really need yet another reimagining of Batman? I mean, it used to be years would pass before filmmakers would return to remaking great stories which had already been told. I mean, we just saw Ben Affleck in the role a mere five years ago in JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017).

So, while I liked a lot of what Matt Reeves did with this movie, most of it is just stuff I’ve seen before. And if I’m going to sit through a three hour movie, I’d prefer it not be on stuff I’ve seen before. Have I mentioned yet that this film is long???

As I said, Matt Reeves is one of my favorite movie directors. He directed CLOVERFIELD (2008), LET ME IN (2010) Hammer Films’ vampire remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz that I actually prefer over the original, as well as the very entertaining DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). For the most part, I enjoyed Reeves’ work here on THE BATMAN. I loved how he depicted Batman’s movements, with slow heavy footsteps that made him more monstrous and ominous than any previous interpretation. He instilled fear before he threw any punches. The film noir feel of the movie was awesome. With its constant rain pelting Gotham City, the film had a definite BLADE RUNNER (1982) feel to it.

The action sequences were okay. I’ve seen better. But the overall drama, conflict, and story simply doesn’t hold up for all three hours of this very long movie.

I’m a fan of Robert Pattinson. Not because of TWILIGHT, a series which I hated then and still hate now, but because of what he’s done since. He’s been terrific in such movies as THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016), GOOD TIME (2017), and most recently as a slimy reverend in THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020). As Batman, Pattinson is excellent! He is certainly not the problem with this movie. In fact, I enjoyed Pattinson as Batman so much I would be more than happy to watch him play the role again. I liked his tortured take on the character… again, nothing new… but Pattinson did it well.

Where does Pattison rank with the movie Batmans? Tough to say now, as he has only played the role once. I love Christian Bale’s take on the character, and I’ve always been a fan of Michael Keaton’s work as the Caped Crusader in his two Batman movies. Interestingly enough, the Batman I believed Pattison resembled the most was… Adam West from the campy 60s version! There’s something about Pattison’s jawline beneath the cowl that calls to mind West. For such a dark movie, there are several nods to the Adam West version of Batman here in THE BATMAN, such as the bust of William Shakespeare in Wayne Manor.

The rest of the cast is solid, and all add to the pieces which make up THE BATMAN. Zoe Kravitz is okay as Selina Kyle. We just saw her in the thriller KIMI (2022), and I actually enjoyed her more in KIMI than here as Catwoman.

Jeffrey Wright, fresh off his memorable swan song as CIA agent and James Bond buddy Felix Leiter in NO TIME TO DIE (2021), makes for an effective James Gordon. An unrecognizable Colin Farrell is excellent as Oz aka The Penguin who looks like he would have been right at home operating inside the world of THE SOPRANOS (1999-2007) The same can be said for John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. Besides Pattinson, Farrell and Turturro deliver the best performances in the movie.

Andy Serkis does well as Alfred in limited screen time. Speaking of limited screen time, we barely see Paul Dano as the Riddler, which works against the movie. In his brief screen time, Dano didn’t really impress me as the villain.

THE BATMAN also features an atmospheric and haunting music score by Michael Giacchino, which reminded me a lot of the score he wrote for LET ME IN.

Is THE BATMAN the best Batman movie ever?

No.

Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) remains the gold standard of Batman movies, and for my money is the best Batman movie to date. Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (2005) is not that far behind. And while they have not aged well, Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) are both excellent Batman movies. You have Michael Keaton as Batman in both, and Jack Nicholson’s Joker in BATMAN, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman— still the best movie Catwoman yet— in BATMAN RETURNS.

Where does THE BATMAN rank?

Well, for its first two hours, it was right up there with THE DARK KNIGHT. But it goes on far too long and just doesn’t have the legs to go the distance. It lost me in its final hour, and by the time Batman and Catwoman are taking down the Riddler and friends, the only thing I was thinking about was finally being able to stand up again.

Did I mention this movie was very long?

—END—

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Best Movies of 2021

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Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:

10. THE TOMORROW WAR

One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!

9. FEAR STREET: PART THREE – 1666

My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.

8. NO SUDDEN MOVE

Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.

6. THE UNFORGIVABLE

Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.

5. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.

4. THE DIG

Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:

3. THE COURIER

Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.

2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:

1. DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021) – Superior Action Carries This Marvel Adventure but Weak Characterizations Prevent It from Soaring

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I finally caught up with Marvel’s SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021) now that it’s streaming for free on Disney +.

And while I liked it better than BLACK WIDOW (2021) I can’t say that I loved it.

People have been complaiing that the Marvel superhero movies have run their course for a long time now, but I haven’t been one of those voices. I’ve loved the Marvel superhero films. Since IRON MAN (2008), they have been on a remarkable run churning out one quality superhero movie after another. In fact, most of their movies have made my top ten lists during the years of their releases. One, BLACK PANTHER (2018), transcended the genre and was as insightful a movie about race as any other serious drama.

All this being said, it’s been a while since I’ve really loved a Marvel movie. They are definitely struggling to reclaim their mojo after AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) wrapped up most of their initial ongoing superhero storylines, which begged the question, where do they go from here? Well, so far, they haven’t really gone anywhere. They seem to be running in place.

But that’s not to say I didn’t like SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. I did. I just didn’t love it.

One of the reasons I didn’t love it is I’m just not a huge fantasy fan, and the bulk of this movie’s plot revolves around fantasy elements rather than superhero components.

Shaun (Simu Liu) is a young man in his twenties who lives an unassuming life, working as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). But in reality, his real name is Shang-Chi, and he’s the son of two powerful warriors, Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and Ying Li (Fala Chen). Thousands of years ago, Xu Wenwu gets his hands on the Ten Rings, mystical weapons that give him unstoppable power. He goes through the centuries wielding that power in selfish ways, doing whatever he pleases, until he meets and is bested by Ying Li. They fall in love, have two children, and life is grand until people seeking vengeance against Xu Wenwu murder Ying Li, and they’re able to do this because as parents, Ying Li and Xu Wenwu had given up their powers.

Afterwards, all bets are off as Xu Wenwu vows revenge against these murderers and asks his young son Shang-Chi to help him. But, Shang-Chi doesn’t see himself as a junior version of his father, and so he runs away to the United States where he changes his name to Shaun and tries to live the good life. Which is what he does until his father comes looking for him. See, it seems daddy had heard from mommy, but mommy is dead so…. story-wise, the third act of this movie becomes muddled and is by far the weakest part of the movie. It involves battling dragons, a special effects extravaganza, but hardly compelling storytelling.

I also had to keep reminding myself that this movie’s title was SHANG- CHI, not XU WENWU, because at times the story is much more about Shang-Chi’s father than him.

Also, it’s another origin tale which is almost unnecessary. The final reel has Shang-Chi meeting some familiar Marvel faces explaining to him that they need him and that his life is about to change forever. Had this movie begun this way, now that would have been interesting!

By far, my favorite part of SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS was its action sequences. It contains some truly memorable scenes. The chase scene on the bus is exceedingly well-done and exciting. Likewise, the chase scene at the fight club is also rousing. However, the climactic battle during the film’s third act falls rather flat. Overall, I enjoyed the work of director Destin Daniel Cretton here. Visually, this one does not disappoint.

But the script by Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham isn’t quite up to the usual Marvel standards. The humor is there and largely works, but the story is meh and the characterizations mediocre at best. A lot of the time I just didn’t know what the characters were thinking or feeing, especially Shang Chi and his father Xu Wenwu. Not a good thing in a movie. And at times, the story couldn’t decide whether Xu Wenwu was a villain or a sympathetic character. The characterizations were not clearly defined.

Dave Callaham co-wrote the screenplay of MORTAL KOMBAT (2021) which shared a lot of the same thematic and story elements with SHANG-CHI. He also co-wrote the deplorable WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020). I enjoyed SHANG-CHI more than these two movies.

Simu Liu is okay as Shang Chi. He’s likable enough, but that’s about it. I can’t say he ever wowed me here.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung fares somewhat better as Xu Wenwu, although he too suffers from writing that does not clearly define his character. Is he a villain or sympathetic? In the film’s opening moments, when we learn what he has been up to the past thousand years, he certainly seems like a clear-cut villain. But then he becomes a daddy and gives up his evil ways, only to revert to them to seek vengeance for the murder of his wife, a decision that in many stories could be a sympathetic one. But here, it doesn’t help that the film’s hero, Shang-Chi, kinda hates his father.

Awkwafina is better than both these two as Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy. She’s funny and lively throughout. Unfortunately though, she’s reduced to being just a sidekick.

Fala Chen is very good as Shang-Chi’s mother Li, but she’s mostly in this movie via flashback. At first, especially since it’s her voice telling the story in the film’s opening moments, you think she’s going to be a more prominent character, but she’s not. And she pretty much disappears during the film’s second half. A head scratcher.

Meng-er Zhang is solid as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, but sadly she plays second fiddle to Shang-Chi throughout this one.

And Michelle Yeoh shows up as Shang-Chi’s aunt, Ying Nan, and she’s fine in this supporting role.

Finally, there’s poor Ben Kingsley playing Trevor Slattery, a character he played back in IRON MAN 3 (2013). Slattery was the main villain in that one, until it was revealed that he wasn’t, that he was an actor who was only pretending to be the bad guy. Here, he’s imprisoned for that transgression, but he helps our heroes escape, and he spends the rest of the movie as light comic relief. And he’s fairly funny, but it’s Ben Kingsley for crying out loud!

The action sequences in SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS are so good they are definitely worth a look, but with a mediocre plot and weak characterizations, the film is certainly not one of Marvel’s better superhero movies. While it had its moments, and there were a few times when I was really into this one, taken as a whole, it’s only slightly better than average.

Unlike many of its Marvel predecessors, I don’t think this one will be making my top 10 list at the end of the year.

—END—

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) – James Gunn’s Sequel Best Superhero Movie of the Year So Far

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The burning question behind THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), the follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) is: is it a reboot or is it a sequel?

The promos and folks behind this flick have played coy with this information, my thoughts being that if they committed to calling this one a sequel, it would have had a stigma attached to it before it even played to an audience. It’s also the reason I’m guessing this one wasn’t called SUICIDE SQUAD 2. But I’m here to say without any secrecy that THE SUICIDE SQUAD is definitely a sequel.

And under the guidance of writer/director James Gunn, who was not attached to the first film, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is way way better than the first movie. In fact, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is so good it’s my favorite superhero movie of the year. Which I know isn’t saying a whole heck of a lot because I simply haven’t seen a lot of superhero movies this year, but it’s an exceptional movie, entertaining and fun from start to finish.

The first SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), which hails from the DC Universe, centered around a group of supervillains who were coerced into acting as superheroes, doing the dirtiest of jobs, the type that the authorities wouldn’t even think about approaching the likes of Batman and Superman to carry out. In short, these guys have no respect. They also have no choice, because their “handler”, the icy cold Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) injects implants into these dudes so that if they go off mission, they are killed instantly.

The first film was a mixed bag. Decent characters, pretty lame story, so-so writing, a very good performance by Will Smith, but it was Margot Robbie who stole the movie with her insanely electrifying performance as Harley Quinn.

Robbie returns as Quinn for THE SUICIDE SQUAD, and within the first few minutes of this second movie, the script jumps out at you with superior writing and just like that, you know you’re in for a helluva ride and a far better experience than what you had in the first film.

And that’s because THE SUICIDE SQUAD was written and directed by James Gunn, the man behind Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies. Those films were highly entertaining, the writing comedic, and the exchanges between the characters laugh inducing. It’s the same here in THE SUICIDE SQUAD, only this flick is rated R, so the violence is bloodier, and the body count— including the “good” guys, is much higher.

The film opens as Amanda Waller sends the suicide squad on another deadly mission, this time infiltrating the island of Corto Maltese. There has just been a deadly coup, and the military generals on the island have executed the ruling family and have taken over. Normally, this wouldn’t interest the United States all that much, but the reason the events on Corto Maltese matter is the previous government had access to a super secret weapon with alien origins, and if it falls into the hands of the new ruling generals, could be used to harm countless innocents. So, the suicide squad’s mission is to infiltrate the island, get past the army, break into the secret lab, and destroy the alien weapon.

Easy-peasy, right? Wrong! They’re not called the suicide squad for nothing!

And they’re not the only suicide squad in town. For this mission, Waller also sends in a second team, led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba). This team also includes Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).

The less said about the plot of THE SUICIDE SQUAD the better. There are lots of twists and turns, and the less you know going in, the more fun you’ll have with this one. I will say that what I just described takes place in the opening moments of the movie. After that, it’s a roller coaster thrill ride that simply doesn’t stop as these misfit superheroes converge on the island and attempt to thwart both an aggressive military regime and a deadly alien technology.

The script by James Gunn is so good and so well-written, that it is levels above the plot description. It takes a standard story and turns it into something really memorable. The dialogue and banter between the characters is off the charts entertaining.

Gunn’s direction is equally as good. The movie is chock full of cool scenes and moments. THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not afraid to take its time when getting a laugh. There are some moments where the characters are allowed to react to things that will have you laughing out loud. And the action scenes don’t disappoint. Even kaiju fans won’t be disappointed.

Margot Robbie is excellent once again as Harley Quinn. Yet, she doesn’t dominate this movie like she did the first one, and that’s because Gunn has written equally compelling characters. So, Robbie is every bit as effective as she was the first time around, except this time, she’s sharing the screen with characters who are every bit as interesting as she is.

Idris Elba as Bloodsport is probably the central character in this sequel. Elba carries this movie. He makes Bloodsport the noble assassin who says he’s loyal to no one, but inside, he’s a leader who takes care of those who work for him.

His relationship with Ratcatcher 2, played by Daniela Melchior, is one of the best parts of the film. Melchior is excellent as Ratcatcher 2, a young woman who can control rats. She was one of my favorite characters in this movie, and her relationship with Bloodsport is a big reason why. Especially because she reminds Bloodsport of his daughter, and he vows to protect her, and she gives it right back saying she’ll be the one protecting him. Both prove to be true.

Both John Cena as Peacemaker and David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man have their moments and make for a couple of really interesting characters. And in a bit of inspired casting, Sylvester Stallone is hilarious lending his voice to the slow witted and very hungry King Shark.

Joel Kinnaman is also memorable as Colonel Rick Flag, reprising the role he played in the first movie. He’s far better in this movie, as is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. The characterizations are just that clearer, they have more depth, and as a result the audience understands them better.

And like a lot of superhero movies these days, the villains in THE SUICIDE SQUAD are of less consequence, because so much of the focus is on the flawed heroes themselves. That being said, Peter Capaldi enjoys many scene stealing moments as the nefarious Thinker. He’s the closest thing to a main villain the movie has.

There are so many memorable moments in THE SUICIDE SQUAD, especially little ones, which hammer home themes like governments with secrets and the cost of keeping them. Peacemaker’s mantra is he loves peace but he’ll kill anyone to keep it. There’s symbolism with Ratcatcher 2’s rats, described as the lowest and most hated of all creatures, but even rats have value. And not to be a spoiler (so skip the next line if you don’t want to know anything about the film’s conclusion), but the final line of the alien creature was that it was happy floating in space looking at the stars, the implication being that yet again it was humankind who messed things up.

There are notable large moments as well, most of them unexpected, like the result of the romantic evening between the new dictator and Harley Quinn. He proposes to her, wanting to make her his queen, and since as she says he is so freaking hot, she says yes. But then he says the wrong thing, and that doesn’t sit well with Harley. Her brief diatribe after the fact about having bad taste in men, and the suffering men cause when women break up with these jerks, hits a bulls eye.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is easily the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in 2021. It’s my favorite superhero of the year so far.

—END—

THUNDER FORCE (2021) – Latest In Long Line of Unfunny Movie Comedies

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I was really in the mood for a comedy this weekend. I needed to unwind and laugh and was looking for a movie to help me do just that.

Sadly, I chose THUNDER FORCE (2021), the new Netflix superhero comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer.

THUNDER FORCE is the latest in a long line of movie comedies that simply aren’t funny. I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: the movie comedy right now is the one movie genre that is in the most trouble. You just don’t see many good ones any more. Where have all the great comic geniuses of the world gone? They’re not out there making movies, that I can tell you!

THUNDER FORCE also isn’t helped by its plot, the idea that every day people suddenly inherit superpowers and become superheroes. This theme has been overdone in such recent films like UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) and PROJECT: POWER (2020), two serious superhero movies that also weren’t all that good.

But the biggest problem with THUNDER FORCE is it is simply not that funny. Director/writer and Melissa McCarthy hubby Ben Falcone has written a script that includes potentially humorous scenarios but without clever crisp jokes to pull these scenes off, leaving the audience with nary a chuckle. I barely laughed. In fact, within the first few minutes of this one, I was seriously bored, and the film runs a very long one hour and forty six minutes. That’s an excruciatingly long time to not be funny.

And to be bored by a movie which stars Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, two actors I really enjoy, says a lot!

McCarthy and Spencer play best friends Lydia and Emily, and they’ve been friends since high school, and the movie actually spends a good chunk of its opening minutes playing out their entire back story, which is as dull a way to open a superhero comedy as one can imagine! You have to wait 10-15 minutes before McCarthy and Spencer even show up. They live in Chicago during a time when evil super powered Miscreants terrorize the world. Spencer’s Emily lost her parents to Miscreants, and she has vowed to defeat them in her parents’ name. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? I’m surprised she doesn’t live in a cave and have a butler named Alfred. Anyway, Emily has worked her entire life on finding a way to give ordinary people superpowers, and one day while hanging around inside her best friend’s lab, Lydia accidentally receives those powers, and the next thing you know, she and Emily are a pair of unlikely superheroes who go by the name of Thunder Force taking on the city’s villainous Miscreants, led by the corrupt politician The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his henchmen The Crab (Jason Bateman) and Laser (Pom Klementieff).

Yawn.

Actually this plot would have been fine had the jokes been funny. But they’re not. This is as unfunny a comedy as I’ve seen in a while. If you want to understand the level of humor here, it reminded me of another awful Netflix comedy which also used Force in its title, the excruciatingly mundane TV series SPACE FORCE which starred Steve Carell and John Malkovich. Both of these projects are prime examples of forced humor!

This is also about as unfunny as I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy, and I’m a fan. She has a few minor moments here and there, but that’s about it. Octavia Spencer pretty much plays it straight, which means she fits in with the overall tone of the movie, which in spite of supposedly being a comedy, can’t seem to garner a laugh.

The villains fare the best, which isn’t saying much. Bobby Cannavale as The King is at least interesting to watch, even if the running gag of him not knowing his henchmen’s names is never all that comical. Jason Bateman enjoys the best moments in the movie as The Crab, a human Miscreant hybrid with crab claws for hands. He gets some of the better lines in the movie, and he pulls them off with ease, and his scenes with Melissa McCarthy were about the only times in the movie where I felt compelled to pay attention. The rest was a snore fest.

If Pom Klementieff as Laser looks like she walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie, that’s because she plays Mantis in that Cinematic Universe, and the two characters resemble each other. She’s actually funnier as Mantis.

Melissa Leo is completely lost in a nothing role as Allie, the third member and behind the scenes operative of Thunder Force.

Ben Falcone has written and directed other Melissa McCarthy movies. I didn’t see their most recent collaboration, SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2020), but their film before that, LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018), which also opened to negative reviews, I actually liked and laughed quite a bit. Not so here with THUNDER FORCE. Too much time is spent on the super hero plot, which is lame and forgettable, and not enough time is spent on honing the humor.

If you are looking for laughs, you’ll need to keep on looking because you won’t find them in THUNDER FORCE. It’s one of the dullest comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

—END–

10 Worst Movies of 2020

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And now for the 10 Worst Movies of 2020.

Just like with by Top 10 Best Movies List, this year’s list comes with a giant asterisk, thanks to COVID-19 closing movie theaters across the country. While I have continued to review movies throughout the year, they have been on streaming and OnDemand services, and so without national theater chains to provide the same movies for all of us, a lot of movies I saw this year, you may not have, and vice versa.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the list:

10. EMMA

This one doesn’t really belong on a Worst Movies List, but as I rank all the movies I see throughout the year, it did happen to fall 10th from the worst. This elegant version of Jane Austen’s novel is simply a colossal bore, pure and simple. Looked great, but the script and characterizations put me to sleep. Stars Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role as Emma, and she’s much better in the current and superior Netflix TV show THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020). The film also wastes the usually reliable Bill Nighy. One of the few movies this year I saw on the big screen. Still didn’t help.

9. COFFEE & KAREEM

Forgettable Netflix buddy comedy starring Ed Helms. So forgettable not even worth mentioning!

8. THE RHYTHM SECTION

I love Blake Lively, but this was a really stupid action movie that not even Lively could save. She plays a woman who learns that the plane crash that killed her family wasn’t an accident, and so she…with no prior experience… decides to learn how to become an international assassin to make the terrorists responsible for her family’s death pay. Yup. That’s believable. Her trainer, played by Jude Law, is so good at what he does that she becomes the female equivalent of Jason Bourne and wipes the floor with these terrorists all rather easily. The film tries for an ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) vibe, but the plot is too dumb for it to pull it off.

7. WONDER WOMAN 1984

Where to start with this one? There are so many ways that this sequel is awful. For starters, it’s everything the original WONDER WOMAN is not. I didn’t even enjoy Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman. But the biggest culprit is the script, and a plot built around a relic that… wait for it…. grants wishes! That’s right, Aladdin, you wish it, and it can happen! Heck, that’s how this story brings back a deceased character from the first movie, played by Chris Pine. No basis in reality. Instantly one of the worst DC superhero movies of all time.

6. SPENSER: CONFIDENTIAL

Another Netflix clunker. This time it’s Mark Wahlberg playing Boston private detective Spenser from the Robert B. Parker novels, only the film changes everything about the characters, and tries to turn this into a comedy. So, not only will Spenser purists be disappointed, but so will those of us who like a good comedy, since it’s not funny at all. You know things are bad when not even Alan Arkin can make you laugh!

5. THE TURNING

Forgettable horror movie starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard, loosely based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw. Turn this one off.

Betty Gilpin as Crystal in “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel.

4. THE HUNT

A lot of folks liked this one, a dark action thriller about a group of liberals who are hunting human prey, folks they view as right wing low lifes. Stars Betty Gilpin as the one victim who won’t quit, and yes, she is very good and the best part of this movie. But for me, the rest of this film was a misfire from start to finish.

3. LIKE A BOSS

Another unfunny comedy, this one starring Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne as friends sparring with villainess Salma Hayek over a beauty company. Very few laughs here, making it a chore to sit through.

2. WASP NETWORK

Netflix film about Cuban spies in the United States completely wastes the talents of Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Wagner Moura, and Ana de Armas. Features the most uneven script of the year, with characters appearing and then disappearing for long chunks of time. Fails to build any kind of momentum. Probably the dullest movie I watched all year.

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN
  1. THE BABYSITER: KILLER QUEEN

My pick for the worst movie of 2020 is THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN, a testament as to why you shouldn’t make a sequel just for the same of making one. A sequel to the clever and lively horror/comedy THE BABYSTTER, this flick isn’t funny, isn’t scary, and isn’t enjoyable in the least. Terrible script. By far, the movie I enjoyed the least this year.

And there you have it, my list of the 10 Worst Movies I saw in 2020.

Okay, on to 2021!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020) – Disappointing Sequel One of DC’s Worst

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WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020), the highly anticipated sequel to WONDER WOMAN (2017), was finally released this week after many delays due to the COVID 19 pandemic both to theaters…. which really aren’t safe yet to attend, sorry to say…. and to the streaming service HBO MAX. Like many of you, I subscribed to HBO MAX just to see WONDER WOMAN 1984, and in my case, the subscription was a gift from my youngest son, Jonny. Thanks, Jonny!

Now, I absolutely loved the first WONDER WOMAN movie, which for me, was by far the best of the recent superhero movies put out by DC, which sadly, isn’t saying much, because most of their recent superhero films have been pretty bad, and have paled in comparison to their Marvel counterparts.

And I’m sorry to say… and I say this almost in disbelief… that not only is WONDER WOMAN 1984 nowhere near as good as WONDER WOMAN, but it also joins the ranks of DC’s worst movies, films like BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) for instance.

In simplest terms, WONDER WOMAN 1984 is downright awful.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that it lost me before the opening credits even rolled, and then it never recovered! There’s a pre-credit sequence featuring a child Diana Prince competing with adult warriors in a long and excruciatingly boring competition in which young Diana ultimately cheats and then learns a lesson about not cheating, and how it’s always important to tell the truth, because at the end of the day, truth is the only thing that matters.

Nothing wrong with this message, and it does tie in later to the plot, as an adult Diana also attempts a cheat in this story, but the sequence I thought was long and simply not very engaging. Sadly, the rest of the film isn’t much of an improvement.

The story takes place in 1984, which is another draw about this movie, that it would take place in a decade that seems to be getting lots of attention of late and viewed in recent movies with plenty of nostalgia. And the decade definitely fits in with the theme of the movie, which is even if you have a lot, why not ask for more? You deserve to have it all! A movie from that decade, Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET (1987) did a much better job with that theme, and it was current at the time, with Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko’s catchphrase, “Greed is good,” a character that was loosely based on Donald Trump, of all people!

And other than an early montage filled with 80s clothes, hairstyles, behaviors, and settings, like the ubiquitous shopping mall, there really isn’t a lot in WONDER WOMAN 1984 that captures the feel of the decade. Director Patty Jenkins, who directed the first WONDER WOMAN, drops the ball here in that regard. There’s not even a lot of cool 80s songs on the soundtrack! She dropped the ball on the whole production, sadly.

The plot, if you want to call it that, finds Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in the 1980s working for the Smithsonian in Washington D. C. She is investigating an ancient artifact with the bookish and unconfident Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). The artifact, it seems, possesses the ability to grant wishes to anyone who touches it. Come again? Yup. You heard me right. It grants wishes. This is the level of fantasy we’re talking about here.

So, Wonder Woman wishes for the return of her lost lover from the first movie, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and suddenly Steve is there with her in the 1980s! How about that? She didn’t even have to say it three times! It’s just about the lamest way to resurrect a dead character and put him back into a movie. Talk about lazy writing!

Barbara wishes to be more like Wonder Woman, and she gradually gains power which leads her to become the rather villainous The Cheetah!

And the main villain here, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a con artist who’s on TV every day touting his ponzi oil scheme, telling people if they can dream it, they can have it. Eventually, Lord gets his hands on the artifact and he’s soon on his way to using it to become the most powerful man in the world, unless Wonder Woman can stop him. Blah, blah, blah.

I am a big fan of the original LOST IN SPACE (1965-68) TV show, and the ridiculous plot of this movie reminded me of something we would have seen on that show, where Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) discovers a wish machine (there is an episode like that, by the way) and his poor decisions wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Robinson family. The plot was ludicrous then (the writing wasn’t LOST IN SPACE’s strong suit) and it’s just as ludicrous now.

Everything I liked about WONDER WOMAN is gone in the sequel.

I loved Gal Gadot’s performance in that first movie. Sadly, she is completely forgettable here. Sure, a lot of it is the script, by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham… it took three people to write this mess?…. but some of it is Gadot didn’t seem nearly as inspired here.

Chris Pine is okay as Steve Trevor, but he’s playing a “wish” character here… the only reason he exists is because of a wish… so it’s hard to pay him much attention.

Kristen Wiig is enjoyable early on, but once she converts to The Cheetah, she’s as dull as the rest of the movie.

And Pedro Pascal, who I have really enjoyed on the TV show NARCOS (2015-17) and in such movies as TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019) and THE GREAT WALL (2016) completely hams it up here as Maxwell Lord, so much so that he was as far removed from a real character as one can possibly get. Pascal currently stars as the Mandalorian on the series THE MANDALORIAN (2019-22).

Even the aciton scenes to this one were a letdown. There wasn’t one action sequence I enjoyed. The film runs for two and a half hours, and I was bored the entire time.

There are other goofs as well. For instance, in the crazy finale, when the world is on the verge of nuclear war, the U.S. defenses are alerted that Russian missiles are airborne. Now, having lived through the 1980s, at a time when the Soviet Union still existed, I’m pretty sure those would have been Soviet missiles that were launched. Small potatoes? Perhaps, but it’s all part of a sloppy poorly written production that is a major disappointment.

WONDER WOMAN deserved a much better sequel than this.

Whereas WONDER WOMAN ranks as one of DC’s best superhero movies, WONDER WOMAN 1984 sadly is one of their worst.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover
Print cover
For the Love of Horror cover (3)
Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) – Strange Hybrid of Superhero/Serial Killer Movie Doesn’t Really Work

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unknown origins

Before I get to the review, a bit of reality: Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite filmmakers working today, released his latest movie this weekend to theaters, TENET (2020). I really want to see it. However, here in the United States, things are still so bad with COVID-19, that to go to a movie theater now would be a very risky endeavor. And so, I passed and will continue to pass until things improve. Sadly, this may be a while yet. Most medical experts agree that things will get worse before they get better, due largely to the poor choices being made regarding masks and social distancing by so many in the country, thanks in large part to the completely incompetent and reckless leadership— lack of leadership really— of the Trump administration. And so, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to review movies accessed at home, rather than at the theater.

And now on to our review:

A couple of weeks back, I reviewed PROJECT POWER (2020), a superhero movie about a pill that gives people superpowers, a different and not overly successful tweak to the superhero genre. Up today it’s UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020), which adds a tweak of its own: a serial killer who bases his murders on superhero origin stories. Yup, a superhero serial killer movie. A strange hybrid indeed.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS, which hails from Spain, and is now available on Netflix, tells the story of police detective David Valentin (Javier Rey) working his first case, and it’s a doozy: a serial killer who displays his victims in elaborate situations which seem to have no connection, that is until retired detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) notices a superhero connection while looking at some of the evidence upon David’s request. And Cosme is familiar with superheroes because his son Jorge (Brays Efe) who runs a comic book store is a complete geek on the subject and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things superheroes.

Norma (Veronica Echegui), the idiosyncratic head of homicide, decides to hire Jorge as a consultant and immediately makes him David’s partner on the case. Jorge’s first contribution is that he informs them that the murders are all based on superhero origin stories. As the murders continue, it’s up to this oddball duo to find and stop the mysterious serial killer.

As I said, UNKNOWN ORIGINS is a weird hybrid of superhero and serial killer. The trailer on Netflix definitely highlighted the comedic aspects of the movie, and so when I sat down to watch this one, I expected it to be a lighthearted farce, perhaps even a spoof, but that’s not how this one plays out at all.

It begins all rather dark, as the serial killer aspects are lurid and disturbing. The opening segments have R-rated serial killer movie written all over them. But then things take a comedic turn once Jorge and David are paired together, a strange juxtaposition after the serious opening. But the film never becomes a full-fledged comedy either. Instead, it gravitates towards the straight superhero tale, and this is where the film falters the most, with an almost ridiculous plot point of David becoming less a cop and more a superhero.

At the end of the day, even though this one is full of potential, the story just didn’t work for me, and as such, I didn’t enjoy the screenplay by director David Galan Galindo and Fernando Navarro as much as I thought I would. The comedy is way too subdued, and the same can be said for the darker serial killer parts. The film starts off creepily enough but then pulls back. For a while, it looked like this one would have a WATCHMEN (2009) or KICK-ASS (2010) feel, but UNKNOWN ORIGINS is never as tight or as consistent as those movies.

And I thought the supehero stuff towards the end didn’t work at all. It’s supposed to be a homage to superheroes, particularly Batman, but it just didn’t work. The number one reason is I didn’t believe any of it, which goes back to the writing. Jorge is a believable character, and his character remains consistent. However, David hates superheroes, and so to believe he undergoes a transformation where he actually agrees to become a supehero, that just didn’t work for me.

And sadly, the poorest written character is the female lead, Norma. She’s the least believable character in the movie, and her romance with David is one of the most forced and least believable screen romances I’ve seen in a while.

Also, the twist here, where we learn the killer’s secret identity, is the same exact one I saw last week in the serial killer film THE SILENCING (2020).

Director David Galan Galindo scores highest when working darkest, but unfortunately, this only occurs in the film’s early moments which are actually quite creepy. The bulk of the movie is about superheroes and their need to exist, and that part to me never won me over.

And the comedy never really takes off either, which is too bad because the two main characters do share some chemistry. David has a Clint Eastwood vibe about him, and there’s a lot of Zach Galifianakis in Brays Efe’s portrayal of Jorge. So, imagine a buddy cop movie starring a young Clint Eastwood and Zach Galifianakis and you get the idea, and for parts of this movie, this chemistry really works, but it never becomes a dominant part of the tale.

I enjoyed both Bray Efe’s and Javier Rey’s performances, Efe in particular. And while I said Rey’s performance reminded me of a young Clint Eastwood, he’s also dressed like Chris Noth used to be on the classic TV show LAW AND ORDER. In fact, there’s a line in the film where Norma chastizes him for dressing like a 90s TV cop.

Speaking of Norma, while Veronica Echegui delivers a spirited performance, the role was my least favorite in the film, mostly because she was the least believable.

And Antonio Resines adds fine support as the not-so-retired cop Cosme.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS also suffers from two other major problems. It doesn’t have a strong hero, nor does it have a strong villain. Technically, David and Jorge are the heroes, but in the framework of the story, the hero is supposed to be the superhero which David becomes, and this doesn’t happen until the end of the movie. And by the way his superhero costume is rather lame. Likewise, the identity of the killer is not revealed until the end either, and so for the majority of the film he operates in the shadows.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, you might enjoy UNKNOWN ORIGINS. Its heart is in the right place, as it gets all the geeky references right and tries really hard to be a love letter to superheroes, but I found the tone and feel of this one to be all over the place and never consistent or believable enough to really win me over.

It tries hard, but at the end of the day, it’s just too superficial to become a major part of superhero movie lore.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.