Film Review: Aquaman (2018)

Release Date: November 26th, 2018 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan
Based on: Aquaman by Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Djimon Hounsou, Julie Andrews (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice)

Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Films, Mad Ghost Productions, 143 Minutes

Review:

“You think you’re unworthy to lead because you’re of two different worlds? But that is exactly why you are worthy!” – Mera

People talked this movie up quite a bit when it came out but I didn’t see it in the theater because the holidays are busy for me and this is not a Tolkien movie.

But I had high hopes as several people I tend to trust told me that I’d like it. Well, they were wrong. I mean, I didn’t hate it and if you are comparing this to the other DCEU films, it’s actually the second best. However, that’s not a high threshold to try and beat.

First off, I like Jason Mamoa and I like Jason Mamoa in this movie. However, he’s basically playing Jason Mamoa and not Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman. Well, at least not how Aquaman has been written for decades. And couldn’t he have gone blonde? He could’ve kept the long hair and beard, as Aquaman has had that look before but I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger did a good job of once playing Conan without brunette locks.

But the thing is, he doesn’t feel like Aquaman and he really just feels like a badass buff dude with similar powers to Aquaman.

I thought that Amber Heard was pretty on point as Mera, though. She needs a bit more confidence if she’s to be the tough as nails future queen but this was a good start, assuming they make more of these, which they probably will.

Most importantly, though, Mamoa and Heard had damn good chemistry and that’s what had to carry this movie and it was certainly a strength when everything else around it felt like aquatic Candyland.

Other than a handful of good actors, mainly Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Temuera Morrison, the rest of the film was pretty lackluster and underwhelming.

It had action, it was fun for the most part, but a lot of the film felt too dragged out once you got to the middle. It had really good pacing for about 45 minutes but then the plot just seemed to be a mixture of different genres and this didn’t have a clear identity as to what it was. Some of these genre twists seemed like they were more in conflict with the film as a whole than being a collection of interesting ingredients there to make the dish taste better.

I didn’t like how Black Manta was handled and he’s just sort of a henchman and an afterthought in this film. He’s much more badass than that. Read Dan Abnett’s first few story arcs on his run of the Aquman comic. There, Black Manta was a dangerous terrorist that had Aquaman and Atlantis in the palm of his hand. I know that they introduced him in this film to build him up for later but I just don’t feel like they did it effectively and it’ll be hard to take him seriously as the big baddie when he was just portrayed as Mr. Laserface and then get knocked down a cliff. Plus, with his helmet on, the effect they used on his voice mixed with the actor’s line delivery, reminded me of Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

Patrick Wilson was pretty good as the Ocean Master but the way he was written was confusing. He’s willing to do pure evil to maintain his throne but he doesn’t seem to commit to the bit and he just sort of accepts his fate when his mom shows up and tells him to love his brother.

This film is an example of something being fun and entertaining but not being good and not being something that I particularly like. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and that goes for all the films in the DCEU. But that also doesn’t mean that I won’t watch the sequel, I probably will but I doubt I’ll see that one in the theater either.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC Comics movies within the same shared universe.

Documentary Review: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (2009)

Release Date: July 21st, 2009
Directed by: Eric Matthies
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Zack Snyder, Gerard Way, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein

Eric Matthies Productions, Warner Bros., 29 Minutes

Review:

I believe that this was originally included on the DVD release of Watchmen back in 2009 but I never owned the original DVD so I’m not sure.

This documentary is very tied to the movie, however, as most of the interviews are with the actors from the film, as well as its director, Zack Snyder. But we also get to hear from some comic book personalities, such as Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, as well as Len Wein and Gerard Way.

Cast aside, this is not a documentary about the film adaptation, it is about the original comic book, which many consider to be one of the all-time masterpieces in comic book history. Carla Gugino even refers to this as the Citizen Kane of the comic book medium. She might not be wrong there and frankly, I’ve found few people that weren’t moved by Watchmen in some way.

This is a shorter documentary than it should be, as this great work deserves to be explored for more than 29 minutes. But still, it is informative and really gets into the messages within it, its philosophy, its style, the art and its cultural impact.

I’m not sure if there is a longer and more comprehensive documentary on the Watchmen comic but this is fairly satisfactory until one eventually gets made. Maybe HBO will do it, as they are now coming out with a Watchmen TV show.

If you love the comic, which you should, this is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the 2009 Watchmen movie and other recent comic book documentaries.

Film Review: Watchmen (2009)

Release Date: February 23rd, 2009 (London premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Based on: Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore (uncredited)
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer

Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lawrence Gordon Productions, 162 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 215 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!” – Rorschach

When Watchmen first came out, I was super excited just based off of the trailer alone and having just come off the greatness that was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, once seeing the film, I was pretty disappointed. Because of that, I never watched it again until now, ten years later, shy of two months.

I really wanted to give this another shot but if I was going to watch it, it had to be the Ultimate Cut. I needed to see the director’s complete vision and adaptation of the comic, which I have loved since first picking it up in the early ’90s.

I don’t know if it’s because I finally watched the Ultimate Cut or because all those years ago, I saw this three hour epic at a midnight showing and grew dead tired but this was not the same experience. This was something much greater and even closer to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ great comic was supposed to be. I’ve been hard on Zack Snyder before and while this isn’t perfection, it’s still a stupendous adaptation that hits the right notes narrative wise and tonally.

I think that one major issue I had with it initially, is that it is almost a panel to shot recreation of the comic. I thought that it should have taken a bit more creative license but seeing the complete version, I’m glad that they didn’t and my initial assessment was wrong.

It’s been so long since I saw the theatrical version, so it’s hard for me to tell what wasn’t in that one and what was added to this version but the most notable addition is the inclusion of the animated bits, which tell the story of The Black Freighter, which had its story sprinkled throughout the original comic. The movie felt like it was missing that in the original version and the way that they use it here is really cool. Also, the animation was incredible and also matched the tone of the comic quite well.

The only big difference between this and the comic is the omission of the giant kaiju monster that wrecked New York City. It’s replaced here with a more realistic threat but I felt like the kaiju thing was always really cool and I feel like it would have worked in the film. But it’s exclusion doesn’t really hurt the movie. I’m just baffled as to why it was changed when everything else is so damn close to the source material. Plus, kaiju make everything better.

I thought that the acting in the film was exceptional and as great as it is, there are two people who really stole the show: Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian. These two guys had an incredible presence when they were on the screen. This was also the first time I noticed Morgan and I’m glad to see him carve out a fine career since this picture.

Malin Åkerman and Patrick Wilson carry the bulk of the acting duties, as the story seems to feature them the most, even though it balances all these characters very well. I thought both of them put in solid performances. But I can’t really knock anyone in the movie for not carrying their weight and doing the source material justice.

This was and still is the greatest thing that Zack Snyder has ever directed. I’m not trying to knock his more recent work but I feel like he’s always trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that he had here and it just isn’t working on the same level for him.

The Ultimate Cut is very long, almost four hours. However, it moves swiftly and a lot of ground is covered in that time. As I get older, I don’t have the attention span to sit and watch long movies like this in one sitting but the length didn’t bother me here. I was glued to the screen and sucked into this universe.

I’m glad that I finally got to revisit Watchmen and that I went with the Ultimate Cut. This should be the version that everyone watches and the only one that exists.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty damn unique but I guess if you needed to pair it with something, Blade Runner or The Dark Knight.

Film Review: The Conjuring (2013)

Also known as: The Warren Files (working title)
Release Date: June 8th, 2013 (Nocturna, Madrid International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Music by: Joseph Bishara
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

New Line Cinema, The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group, Warner Bros., 112 Minutes

Review:

“When the music stops, you’ll see him in the mirror standing behind you.” – April

Seeing this has been long overdue but at the same time, I was never in a rush. Reason being, modern horror is predominantly CGI jump scares and lame haunted house or generic boogeyman stories. I’m not against haunted house movies but I’ve seen so many that a film needs to find a way to tackle the genre with something fresh or interesting or it’s going to hit my brain like a fistful of Ambien.

Anyway, this was a decent film for what it is but going back to what I just said, it gave me nothing new to sink my teeth into.

There’s a creepy house, ghosts, demons, a killer doll, some general witchcraft stuff, exorcism and nothing new. This is like a bunch of mundane horror tropes thrown into a blender and then splashed out onto the screen: a gooey, sloppy mess.

The biggest positive for me was the acting. I thought all the main players were good and convincing in their roles. Lili Taylor had the biggest challenge out of all the top stars but she did a wonderful job, worked in a pretty wide range of emotions and temperament and sold the possession thing quite well. I also like seeing Ron Livingston in anything because I’ll always remember how much I loved him in Office Space, almost twenty years ago. But his dramatic stuff has always been quite good too.

This isn’t a bad movie and I don’t want to treat it as such. It’s well made and it looks pretty damn good, even the unnecessary CGI bits didn’t become too much of a distraction. But I thought the cinematography was well done and the film’s tone works.

For someone who hasn’t seen dozens of haunted house movies, this is probably really effective. I guess that’s why it resonates with younger fans so well.

My biggest issue is just that the story crams so many different horrors into this tight box. It’s as if they planned spinoffs from the get go.

At some point, I will probably check out some of the other Conjuring related movies. But like I was with this, I don’t feel a real rush in needing to see them.

Also, weren’t the Warrens exposed as frauds decades ago? But I guess this is based on “true events”. But I think that enough time has past that new moviegoers are too young to even know who the Warrens were. But at the same time, I feel like this does capitalize on selling some bullshit. Sorry, I just hate charlatans.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Conjuring films and spinoffs, as well as James Wan’s Insidious series and Dead Silence.

Film Review: Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Release Date: October 1st, 2015 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Music by: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig, Sean Young, Michael Pare

Caliber Media Company, Realmbuilders Productions, The Jokers Films, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Say goodbye to my wife. I’ll say hello to yours.” – Sheriff Franklin Hunt

*Written in 2016.

From the moment I saw the Bone Tomahawk trailer, I thought it looked really interesting and I was a bit hyped to see it. Plus, it starred Kurt Russell.

The film is a western with horror mixed in, which makes it a pretty unique package. A sheriff and a posse head off into the wilderness to find a woman who was taken by Indians. The catch is, these aren’t normal Indians, they are cannibalistic and bizarre. Think The Hills Have Eyes meets The Searchers.

Kurt Russell is fine enough in the role but it isn’t a great or special performance. He looks to be enjoying himself but he isn’t doing anything exceptional. He certainly doesn’t project the magic he had in Tombstone or the more recent The Hateful Eight. The film also stars Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox with brief appearances from Sid Haig and David Arquette.

Overall, the film was underwhelming. There wasn’t a whole lot of terror and dread, even once the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan. The action was mediocre, the acting was average and the plot wasn’t anything spectacular. In fact, it was fairly boring.

The uniqueness of the film’s plot was spoiled by the trailer and the movie itself didn’t do much to expand on it. It also played it safe. With the subject matter and the intensity of the trailer, the movie just didn’t have the balls I was expecting it to.

Now I don’t think the movie should have been a gore festival but it was pretty uneventful and the horror element wasn’t remotely scary. There was just a lot of cannibal Indians grunting and walking around making weird noises because they have whistles in their throats. And the whole whistle throat thing was probably employed to make them seem supernatural and scary but it was kind of goofy.

Bone Tomahawk is okay enough for a single viewing on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic by any means. It has its fans out there but it will most likely fade into obscurity fairly quickly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Ravenous, Four of the Apocalypse and The Burrowers.

Film Review: Young Adult (2011)

Release Date: December 9th, 2011 (limited)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser

Mandate Pictures, Mr. Mudd, Right of Way Films, Denver & Delilah Films, Paramount Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes in order to heal… a few people have to get hurt.” – Mavis Gary

It may be easy to watch Young Adult and to just see Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary as a self-absorbed asshole. It may also be easy to just dismiss her as an unlikable character and someone that isn’t relatable. But this isn’t a movie about a terrible person, it is a movie about a person with mental illness.

The film follows Mavis, shortly after her divorce, as she decides to go back to her small hometown to reconnect with the man she feels she is destined to be with, even if he is already married and just had a baby. In the process, she runs into a bullied kid from high school, Patton Oswalt’s Matt Freehauf. The two start to develop a bond and Matt becomes Mavis’ voice of reason.

As the film plays out, you start to see through Mavis’ surface and start to understand that she is not well and probably never has been. Matt is the only person that ever had patience with her and understood what was happening that didn’t just tolerate her because she was the prom queen in high school. It’s the dynamic and the solid chemistry between Theron and Oswalt that makes this movie work so well.

Mavis’ day job is being the ghost writer for a young adult book series. The movie starts with her suffering from writer’s block but then she starts to write the story, reflecting on her own life as a form of literary therapy. Theron’s narrations of her character’s written work serve to give some sort of metaphorical insight to her thought process and her eventual closure. While this is a trope that has been used to death in film, I really like how it was used here.

The biggest strength of this film is the acting. Theron was exceptional and while she is already seen as an exceptional actress, this just felt very personal and she’s never been more convincing. I’m not saying that she is mentally broken like Mavis but it just felt as if there was a real part of herself in this character. Additionally, Patton Oswalt has never been better and I’m a long time Oswalt fan.

This film was also a collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Both of them worked together on the critically acclaimed Juno. This re-teaming produced a better product, however. Yes, I really enjoy Juno but this picture eclipses it and it’s kind of disheartening that this didn’t get the recognition and fanfare that Juno did. But the Academy and the top critics are just weird in what they accept and what they don’t.

Young Adult is a better film than its lack of award show buzz would have you believe. Many critics did seem to like it but it came out in a year where people thought Moneyball deserved a Motion Picture of the Year nomination. That’s not a knock against Moneyball but c’mon, Motion Picture of the Year caliber? Really? And I’m not saying that Young Adult is the best film of 2011 but it’s a better movie than half the films that got the big nomination. And to put it bluntly, Theron put in a better performance than Meryl Streep that year, who already had more Oscars than wieners in a pack of hot dogs.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Margot at the Wedding, as the two share some themes and narrative similarities.

Film Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Release Date: March 19th, 2016 (Auditorio Nacional premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Scoot McNairy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Patrick Wilson, Kevin Costner, Carla Gugino

DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2016.

I finally got around to seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I wasn’t in a rush to see it and I was debating if I was going to check it out in the theater at all. The trailers did nothing for me and Zack Snyder has a pretty lackluster track record. However, after seeing it today, in a nice quiet theater, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

It wasn’t as bad of an experience as I had anticipated. But then again, it is more of the same if you have already witnessed Zack Snyder’s mostly awful Man of Steel. Sure, it has new stuff added in and it is that new stuff that gives this mostly dull film some life but once the big battle with Doomsday starts, it becomes Snyder style destruction porn to the tune of mediocre special effects and overly stylized dirty shots. I don’t think Snyder will be satisfied until he destroys the universe ten times over.

Let me point out the positives before I turn into a total dick, however.

Ben Affleck IS Batman. Okay, maybe Michael Keaton still has the edge for me but Affleck represents the Caped Crusader in a way that the previous Batman, Christian Bale, just couldn’t. The growly voice is gone and replaced with a much more plausible voice changer. His facial expressions and demeanor are just on point and I feel like I am watching a angrier, more mature version of the Dark Knight from the perfect Batman: The Animated Series. There are weird and uncharacteristic things that Batman does, but I will get into that later and it still doesn’t diminish what Ben Affleck did with this character.

Gal Gadot is pretty good as Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman. She isn’t in the film enough to guarantee that she is made for the role but from what I saw, I think she’s a good choice. Although she was overly sexualized with armor that gave her bigger boobs and a few perfectly timed crotch and ass shots of glory. But Zack Snyder is kind of a “lowest common denominator” director, so tits and ass for the masses!

Henry Cavill is a fine Superman, even though he has to portray the role in these incredibly flawed films. His Clark Kent is passable but you never see very much of Clark and therefore aren’t able to get a sense of the character’s two sides. In fact, his two personas are mostly pointless in this film, other than having Clark meet Bruce at a Lex Luthor shindig and to have someone for Perry White to wonder where they ran off to again.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane is okay. I feel like we got the most we were going to get out of her in Man of Steel and she doesn’t feel like a true Lois to me. I think the director just went for the biggest name he could get at the time and she does come with critical acclaim.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is kind of intriguing. I liked the chemistry between Alfred and Bruce and it will be interesting to see him have more time to play the character when a solo Batman film comes out.

The film’s score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL was pretty damned good. Wonder Woman’s theme was especially bad ass.

Another big positive for me, is that the film starts twenty years into Batman’s legacy. He is already well established and his rogue’s gallery is out there causing havoc in Gotham City. It’s refreshing to not have to sit through another two and a half hour origin story for the umpteenth time.

Now on to the bad.

Lex Luthor is fucking shit. This isn’t a knock against Jesse Eisenberg for what he did, it is a knock against the filmmakers for casting him in the first place. And shaving him bald in the end doesn’t make up for the unpainted Nolan Joker-esque look of the character. He is whimsical, crazy and too bizarre to ever become the future President of the United States. His plot was idiotic, his execution was terrible and there was nothing even interesting about him. In fact, he reminded me of Lex Luthor’s annoying nephew Lenny from the horrendous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. You know, the character played by Ducky from Pretty In Pink as an amped up more strange version of Ducky. I’m hoping, that in a future film, it is revealed that he was just Lenny Luthor playing with his uncle’s empire until his uncle gets back from where ever he is – maybe hanging out with Darkseid.

Speaking of Darkseid, it is obvious he is coming due to Batman having visions about it. But when the hell did Batman become a psychic with special visions? Is this Batman a metahuman with special powers? It’s weird and it doesn’t fit the character unless he’s been huffing gases from Scarecrow’s evil warehouse or spending too much time around Axis Chemicals.

Also, Batman murders the fuck out of people. Zack Snyder defended this in an interview by pointing out that Batman has killed before. Well, yes, he has. However, it’s never been his intention and he’s never been so reckless and careless about it. It is kind of Batman’s code not to kill. Zack Snyder, between this, Batman’s mystic eye, Batman branding criminals with his logo – giving them a death sentence – and the fact that he has to shoot a gun every time there is one on the set just proves that Snyder doesn’t give a fuck about source material and has probably never read a Batman comic other than the Frank Miller stuff he claims he based this off of. And even then, it still doesn’t fit the Frank Miller Batman mold.

The Batman versus Superman showdown is pretty awesome when it happens but it just doesn’t get to where you hope it would. Ultimately, Batman decides not to kill Superman at the last second, because his mom is also named Martha. “You’re mom’s name is Martha?” “Yep!” “Did we just become best friends?!” “Yep!”

Doomsday is a pile of shit whose sole purpose is to destroy the entire world, which he nearly accomplishes until Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman beat him. Superman gets mortally wounded and dies. But it’s obviously an homage to his comic book encounter with Doomsday, who killed him. Superman will be back, just like in the comics and his death in the film is neither a shocking moment or anything that you feel will be permanent. It plays more like “Oh, they did that? Whatever. See you next movie, Supes.”

And why was everything so dark and depressing throughout this entire film? Where is the yin to the yang? This was just yang and yang. Superman and Batman are great in the comics together because there is a clear difference between them. There was no real difference in this film. Both are vigilantes, both take the law into their own hands and both are tortured depressing characters hellbent on destroying each other. Superman is the all-American good guy. Batman is the antihero. In this film, they’re both just angry, damaged forces of nature destined to collide and there is no real contrast between them.

I will say that the film is more refreshing than the cookie cutter Marvel-Disney shit lately. I wouldn’t call it a better film than the Marvel stuff but it is different and not trying to emulate it too much.

I don’t have much excitement for what’s next but I hope I am pleasantly surprised. There was more good than bad in this film. I just hope that Zack Snyder is never allowed to direct again but he’s attached to direct the follow-up to this picture. Ultimately, I’m more interested in the solo hero films than the big Justice League movies coming first.