Film Review: Brightburn (2019)

Release Date: May 9th, 2019 (Hungary, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Singapore)
Directed by: David Yarovesky
Written by: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Music by: Timothy Williams
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Michael Rooker (cameo), Rainn Wilson (cameo)

Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films, The H Collective, Troll Court Entertainment, Sony Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, baby, I… I know it’s been difficult for you lately, that you feel different from other kids. You are different. After your dad and I got married, we prayed for a baby for so long, to God, to the universe, to anyone that would listen. One night, one perfect night, someone listened.” – Tori Breyer

I wanted to see this in the theater a few months back but it came and went in my area pretty quickly. It’s finally available for rent, digitally, so I gave it a go.

Overall, this was an enjoyable experiment for 90 minutes. It’s not a great film, by any means, and it doesn’t really live up to the other work that James Gunn’s name has been attached to. But he didn’t direct this, he just produced it with a script written by his brother and cousin.

The plot is basically a “what if” story. It asks the question, what if Superman was evil instead of a good guy fighting for justice. While that’s not an original idea, just look at Homelander in Garth Ennis’ The Boys, this is the first time that I know of where it’s been applied to a kid. Also, this is the first time that I know of where it was used in a story that’s straight up horror.

Frankly, this plays more like a slasher film than a comic book movie. Except the killer doesn’t use sharp objects, he uses his superpowers.

And unlike slasher films, this has some pretty good acting, primarily from Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, who are reunited after both being in that recent Power Rangers movie.

I thought both parents were pretty damn good and they made the movie work from a dramatic standpoint.

There are also some good horror moments in the film.

For instance, I’m not a gore hound but I also don’t mind gore for the most part, as long as its not overly gratuitous and just there for the sake of being shocking. That being said, the scene where the waitress got a shard of glass in her eye and had to pull it out was hard to watch. But I kind of appreciated it, as it takes a lot to make me flinch. Eyeball gore usually does the trick though, even if it is CGI.

Anyway, this played out really well and the film pretty much ended like I thought it would. But still, it was a cool journey getting from point A to point B, even if I’ll probably never watch this again. But I would check out a sequel film, as the story after this would probably be more interesting.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: James Gunn’s Super and Slither.

Film Review: Joker (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hildur Guonadottir
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Marc Maron, Sondra James

BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, DC Films, Joint Effort, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” – Arthur Fleck

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

When this movie was first announced, I didn’t want it. The Joker does not need an origin story. In fact, part of what makes him work so well is that who he is, or was, is a mystery. The Joker is a fucked up force of nature and that’s all he needs to be.

However, if I’m being honest, there have been Joker origins in the comics over the years and there are a few I like. Now none of them are actually considered canon and they all contradict one another, which is something that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight sort of entertained with Heath Ledger’s Joker, as every time he told the story about how he got his scars, it was a different tale.

So as a standalone story, within its own universe, I can accept this concept. This is essentially an Elseworlds tale but at its core, this really isn’t so much a movie about the Joker character, as much as it is an examination of all the things that surround the creation of this specific fucked up force of nature.

By the time the second trailer for this rolled around, I started anticipating this immensely, as that’s the moment where I was sold on this picture.

However, the trailer showed that this film was a very strong homage to early Martin Scorsese movies, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I was kind of worried that this would tap into those pictures too much and just try to emulate them. But Joker is very much its own thing that goes in its own direction and while it channels those great Scorsese films, it doesn’t rely on them too heavily or use them as crutches to prop up the production.

So just to put it out there, Joker is an absolute masterpiece.

It is the best film in the comic book movie genre that I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, this may surpass it but I need to see how I feel after a few more viewings and after I process and digest this more. It’s still fresh in my memory, as I saw it about eight hours ago and it’s all my mind has been pondering over the course of the day.

I found it fitting that Robert De Niro was in this, being that he was the star of those two Scorsese films this channels. But the man was utter perfection playing opposite of the roles he was in, back in the day. His career sort of comes full circle and in a way, he legitimizes this movie and he hands the reins of greatness over to Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best actors of our time, who gave one of the three best performances of his career: the other two being Walk the Line and The Master.

The first thing a few people asked me today was who’s a better Joker: Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger? That’s really not an answerable question. While they both play a version of the same character, they really aren’t the same character. They play their roles very differently, in two very different films. Both were brilliant performances but they’re not really comparable. And maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense but I think it’ll be easier to understand after seeing this movie.

It doesn’t stop with Phoenix and De Niro though, as every actor in this was incredible. Zazie Beetz rose to the next level, as did Frances Conroy, who gives a stupendous performance. Even very minor characters were superb, specifically Marc Maron, who I wish had more scenes, and Leigh Gill, who played the dwarf that was the only character Joker spared because he was the only person in his life that was kind to him. As small as Gill’s role was, the guy was astounding. The scene in Joker’s apartment was one of the many high points of the film but its definitely one of the top two or three scenes and most of the credit should go to Gill, who was so convincing that it was almost too real.

Getting to the director, Todd Phillips, I wasn’t in any way sold on this guy doing this movie. He was a comedy writer and director and didn’t have any experience working on something as dramatic as this was going to need to be. But that’s my mistake and I judged the guy unfairly. However, my skepticism was still probably founded in the fact that this really was a new challenge for him. And frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of his other work but maybe I need to go back and give his previous films another shot. Because even if I’m not big on The Hangover, from memory, I did think that it was a fine film visually.

And that brings me to the visuals of this picture.

Joker had breathtaking cinematography.

What’s really cool, is that the movie commits to the bit from the get go, as it uses the Warner Bros. logo from the late ’70s. It then immediately gives you the opening shots of Gotham City (really, New York City) shot in a way that looks like it is presented on actual celluloid with a bit of a grain to it. But it doesn’t look like some bullshit modern filter that doesn’t look authentic because you can tell it’s a digital effect. This looks like the real thing and frankly, it immediately makes your brain feel like it is watching a long, lost Scorsese picture.

Additionally, everything in this movie is lit like it is a film from that era. The world these characters live in, the interiors of Joker’s apartment to his place of employment feel like they are genuinely small pieces of the low income areas of ’70s New York City. In fact, the film doesn’t fully feel like it slips into true HD until the big finale that sees the Joker make his introduction to the world, live on television.

The musical score and the use of classic pop tunes is also well done. The music doesn’t solely create the film’s atmosphere, it is just one part of the bigger, well refined and fine tuned machine, but it is a really important part.

For some reason, this film is controversial. The media thinks it’s going to inspire incel white men to murder theatergoers. Never mind that violent horror movies come and go every month and the media has no problem with those films. Yet, the media is creating fake outrage and fear because they’re the ones who are actually evil. It’s as if they want a tragedy to happen, just so they can say, “I told you so!”

In fact, this film is a fitting one for them to attack and try to destroy because it puts the mainstream media on blast, as well as entertainment and society in general. But the media fears that this will allow people to sympathize with a psycho and in that, it will somehow flip a switch in the audience’s brain like they’re all sleeper agents waiting for this secret, coded message to activate their kill mode. Seriously, what fucking world do we live in in 2019?!

Anyway, when the media or the mainstream manufactures fear, people usually lash out against that and go to see what all the fucking fuss is about. In its first day, Joker already broke the one day October record. I’m sure it will get the weekend record and monthly record for October when it is all said and done.

There has been a lot of hype about this film by those who have seen it. I usually take that shit with a grain of salt. However, the hype isn’t just a response to the media hysteria. Joker is as good as people are saying. I actually plan on seeing it in theaters again and that’s something I rarely do because time is precious and I’m a busy bitch.

The last thing I’ll say though, is that if Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips and this film aren’t nominated for Academy Awards in a few months, the Academy can go fuck itself. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be surprised if it is nominated for the marquee awards. Nowadays, those only go to movies about deaf chicks that fuck fish men and movies that act as fluffers for the politically decrepit film industry.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: early Martin Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Film Review: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title)
Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes

Review:

“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto

Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.

I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.

The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.

In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!

Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.

Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.

It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.

The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.

The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.

Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.

Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.

While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.

For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.

I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.

Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.

I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.

On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.

To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.

In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.

So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.

TV Review: Carnival Row (2019- )

Original Run: August 30th, 2019 – current
Created by: Rene Echevarria, Travis Beacham
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: A Killing On Carnival Row by Travis Beacham
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Simon McBurney, Tamzin Merchant, David Gyasi, Andrew Gower, Karla Crome, Arty Froushan, Indira Varma, Jared Harris, Alice Krige

Siesta Productions, Legendary Television, Amazon Studios, 8 Episodes (so far), 5-67 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It took a few episodes for this show to kind of hit any sort of stride. Around episode three or so, I thought I would like it, as it was coming together in an interesting way.

However, I couldn’t finish the first season and it was only eight episodes.

The problem with this show is not that it deals with political and social issues, it’s that it bashes you in the face with them, again and again. It’s so heavy-handed that I don’t even know how it can physically lift its arms to hit its audience and clobber them with narratives and tropes that feel extremely outdated and tired.

That being said, the acting is pretty damn good and this is a really good looking show in regards to its atmosphere, special effects and its rich world. But all that is destroyed by its predictable and tiresome agenda.

Carnival Row is a show that thinks its audience is stupid. It thinks it needs to spell everything out for you constantly because you’re not smart enough to connect dots and understand metaphors. It has to hold your hand like you’re an idiot toddler and drag you through its woke muck.

This feels like it was written by first year film school students with an axe to grind but their professor was too scared to tell them that they’re making trash because college kids today will just get them fired with a hashtag whether or not there is actually just cause in doing so.

Color me disappointed. I saw the trailer, thought this looked really interesting and I was on a high after Amazon Studios just gave us The Boys. Also, I like Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne and Jared Harris. But they aren’t able to make this even remotely palatable in its full form.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other modern fantasy television, none of which I’m crazy about.

Film Review: Critters Attack! (2019)

Also known as: Critters 5 (working title)
Release Date: July 13th, 2019 (Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Bobby Miller
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Based on: Critters by Stephen Herek, Domonic Muir, Don Keith Opper
Music by: Russ Howard III
Cast: Tashiana Washington, Dee Wallace, Jaeden Noel, Jack Fulton, Ava Preston, Leon Clingman, Vash Singh, Steve Blum (voice)

Blue Ribbon Content, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Television, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Taste my steel, you rat bastards. I have the best blades in the business.” – Chef Loong

So we don’t get any new Critters movies for two and a half decades but in the same year, we get a television show and a movie. Weirdly, the two aren’t related so I’m not sure if they’re both alternative sequels or alternative reboots. Or maybe one is a sequel and one is a reboot… I don’t know.

Does it really matter, though?

At their core, these are just movies about little carnivorous alien creatures that show up in small towns and eat the people, as well as dogs, cats, rats and anything that is meat or junk food.

Like the recent television show, this outing was pretty bad. I guess the main character was okay and it was neat seeing Dee Wallace return but none of that was enough to carry this dud.

The film also introduces us to a “good” Crite, who is trying to help the humans kill her “evil” brethren. I guess she’s sort of like what Gizmo was to the Gremlins.

For the most part, the film looks and feels cheap. I’d say that the alien Crites are still amusing and I much prefer them to be like they are in this film than in the television show, as they were regular conversationalists in that. Also, this isn’t derailed by a bizarre storyline that sees one of its main characters find out that they are some sort of human/Crite hybrid.

Still, this was worse than the show. It wasn’t as entertaining and maybe the show’s batshit craziness is what made it resonate with me a bit more. While that sounds contradictory to my statement about the bonkers addition of the human/Crite hybrid, at least that insanity kept my attention because my baffling bewilderment shifted into overdrive.

Plus, the show had Gilbert Gottfried and the voice of Stephen Merchant, which gives it some extra brownie points when compared to this pretty forgettable flick.

I mean, how do you not make a better film than Critters 3 or 4 in your sleep?

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: the Critters movies, as well as anything featuring Gremlins, Ghoulies or Munchies.

TV Review: The Boys (2019- )

Original Run: July 26th, 2019 – current
Created by: Eric Kripke
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Boys by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson
Music by: Christopher Lennertz
Cast: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Kapon, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell, Elisabeth Shue, Simon Pegg, Jennifer Esposito, Giancarlo Esposito, Haley Joel Osment, Brit Morgan

Sony Pictures Television, Amazon Studios, Kripke Enterprises, Point Grey Pictures, Original Film, Kickstart Entertainment, KFL Nightsky Productions, 8 Episodes (so far), 55-66 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

If I’m being honest, the trailer for this show hurts it. When I saw it, I thought it looked cheesy and way too edgy boi. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the show was something much better than what the trailer alluded to.

In fact, this is the best superhero show on television. Now I’m saying that only having seen the first season, as that’s all we’ve got at this point. However, I have a good feeling that it should maintain its quality, at least for another season or two, as it ends in a pretty profound way like a stiff, solid gut punch.

Like Preacher, another television show adapted from the comic book work of Garth Ennis, this is a dark tale that shows some people at their very worst while still providing enough lightheartedness to help take the edge off.

The cast is absolutely superb in this. Every single person that’s a regular on the show is putting in some top notch work. Karl Urban kills it in everything and that should go without saying. However, I don’t know much about Jack Quaid but I’m a fan now. The real standout though is Anthony Starr, who plays Homelander, who is this universe’s version of a Superman. Except this Superman is a total asshole that does some unbelievably heinous stuff.

I wasn’t completely sold on the show until episode four, which was the halfway point for this short season. Starr’s Homelander takes center stage and shows you the type of mad god that he is. While powerful superheroes turned evil and running amok is nothing new in the genre, this was some next level shit. And it was a moment that could have made the show or broke it. It certainly made it, as its perfectly executed, giving off the right sort of emotion and context, adding real depth to two of the main characters.

Since I loved the hell out of this show’s inaugural season, I don’t want to spoil too much. But if it’s not hitting the right notes for you early on, give it until the end of episode four. At the point, it’s hard not to go on.

The Boys is solid storytelling, solid character building and maybe the savior of the superhero genre, which is starting to get redundant and tiresome like spaghetti westerns by the late ’70s. And maybe that’s because this isn’t a standard superhero story, it’s real drama with high stakes and there are a lot of narrative threads and different avenues that the show can explore.

In only 8 episodes, it perfected world building and gave us something special… something I definitely want more of. Only two other shows really ensnared me like this in the last ten-to-twelve years: Mr. Robot and Breaking Bad.

Now the rating is pretty high but it just represents the first and so far only season. Hopefully, The Boys can maintain its quality moving forward.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: another Garth Ennis comic turned television show: Preacher.

TV Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2019- )

Original Run: March 27th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jemaine Clement
Directed by: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, various
Written by: Jemaine Clement, various
Based on: What We Do In the Shadows by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, Norma Tanega (opening theme)
Cast: Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillen, Mark Proksch, Doug Jones

FX Productions, Two Canoes Pictures, 343 Incorporated, 10 Episodes (so far), 24-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

What We Do In the Shadows was one of my favorite comedy movies of the last few years. Maybe, my favorite, in fact. But I wasn’t too keen on any of the ideas they threw around for spinoffs, whether it be the werewolf movie they mentioned or this television show. When you’ve got something great, you shouldn’t diminish it by milking the cow for more.

However, having now seen it, I do mostly like the show. Granted, it isn’t a straight remake of the movie. It’s very similar with the same general premise but it follows new characters in a new city. This also explores other types of vampires, which opens the door for more possibilities.

The humor is good and pretty consistent with the film. I don’t know most of the actors but I do know Matt Berry, who I became a fan of due to his work on The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh.

Still, it feels lacking after experiencing the greatness of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi in the film version. Both men have directed episodes of the show and I think that’s helped it, along with Clement providing some of the writing. And maybe they’ll make cameos at some point.

The show, overall, is off to a pretty good start and it’ll be interesting seeing how it evolves over time. But I fear that the formula could get tiresome fairly quickly. Only time will tell but for now, it’s definitely worth checking out for fans of the movie and Clement and Waititi’s brand of humor.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the film it’s based on, as well as other works by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.