Archives for posts with tag: fantasy

MV5BOTM2NTI3NTc3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzM1OTQyNTM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Solo: A Star Wars Story is basically Space Oliver Twist followed by Space Any Double-Cross Movie. Maybe particularly that later Pirates of the Caribbean movie that didn’t make any sense. That is: Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) grows up in a gang of thieves led by a disgusting worm, and then he escapes to the glamor of smuggling, via the army. Since it is directed by Ron Howard, it at least resembles, in many useful ways, a film.

Also there is a girl, Kira (Emilia Clarke). Oh, sorry. Qi’ra.

Oh man. I was lukewarm on her until I realized her name was stupid for no reason, and now I hate her. She starts out also as one Fagin’s Lady Proxima’s gang, but she does. not. escape. She is forced to enter a life of misery and crime and large jewelry as organized crime honcho Dryden Vos’s (Paul Bettany) right hand lady. She and Han of course meet again, and this is most of the movie.

But first Han has to enter his own life of crime, via a small gang of smugglers: Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio (Jon Favreau). They are disposable, but they teach him valuable lessons about trust and introduce him to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Lando still owns the Millennium Falcon (with all her upholstery and other, you know, useful parts), and dresses like it’s the sexy space-70s. Billy Dee Williams should be extremely flattered. Lando is the best part of this movie, because Donald Glover appears to be having the time of his life, and his character makes sense.

The women in this movie are okay. At least they dress more or less appropriately to context, so that’s a step forward on The Last Jedi. There may be a fleeting moment when the film passes the Bechdel test, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an angry rebellious droid provides almost the right amount of moderately intelligent humor and social commentary (she is worse than K-2SO, but that’s a hard act to follow).

It was fine. I don’t think it was necessary. Sure, it’s neat to meet Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), but I already knew about as much about Han’s past as I wanted. Ugh. Why was there a girl? Just give me Han, Chewbacca, and Lando. I would watch hours of that.

Stray observations (Spoilers):

  • Darth Maul? Why.
  • Han’s surname is made up on the fly by a bored Imperial pencil-pusher. Possibly I love this.
  • I want Edna Mode to talk to Lando about his wardrobe.

Director: Ron Howard
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes
Score: 3/5

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Spoilers, obviously.

As a pretty severe Star Wars nerd, I disliked this movie. I resent the toxic combination of fan service to the original series and spiteful defiance of the existing Extended Universe. This was a crappy riff on The Empire Strikes Back and I wish it had been Dark Force Rising. You could even cast Oscar Isaac as Grand Admiral Thrawn. He’s been painted blue before.

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As a person who has seen a film before, I hated this movie. Somehow, at two and a half hours long, it managed to be both frenetic and boring. Even the laughs were telegraphed and rather joyless. Most of the emotional beats relied on the real death of Carrie Fisher, which is cheap and lazy.

Look. A Star Wars movie does not require six acts, especially if nothing really happens in most of them, and it would be easier to care about some of these people if they weren’t stupid. If a single errant TIE fighter will destroy your entire squadron of bombers, perhaps your formation needs reconsidering. If you’re infiltrating a fancy casino, don’t break everything, and don’t trust the first guy you meet in jail. You met him in jail. If your mutiny only lasts for thirty seconds because you didn’t do some very basic forward planning, maybe every insulting thing Laura Dern has said to you is true.

Oscar Isaac is still ludicrously handsome (and in case you were forgetting, both Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern are there, slightly creepily, to remind you). The lightsaber battle of Kylo Ren and Rey against the red people was visually striking and the final battle on the mineral planet was visually stunning, with its trails of blood-red salts. Porgs are cute. But this patchwork preachy nonsense is not a movie.

Stray observations (VERY SPOILERY):

  • Astral projection is asinine and if Luke was just going to die anyway he could have just shown up. And the bait-and-switch with Leia’s death was not only cheap but actually offensive.
  • Laura Dern is cool and all, but why do women in the military command structure of the Resistance wear drapey and impractical clothes? Mon Mothma wasn’t a general, and Carlist Rieekan never showed up anywhere in his goddamn pajamas.
  • Hey, Poe? I know you love your droid, but a lot of people just died. Read the room.
  • “I’m with the Resistance.” Cool, Rose. He’s eight, and doesn’t look especially politically aware.

Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: PG-13
Length: a way, way too long 152 minutes
Score: 2/5

MV5BMTcyNzk5NDg1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM5MDQxNDM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Not your mother’s buddy-cop comedy,” we are told. I wish it had been. I would have liked it a lot more. Instead it was tonally inconsistent and gory.

LA, some time, some universe. Lots of different species live there: the Elves are all rich, the Orcs get the crap beaten out of them by the LAPD in front of their wives, the humans seem pretty standard. Ward (Will Smith) is a human cop, and he’s been shot in the chest by an Orc robber. Now his new partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), is an Orc. No one is thrilled about this, and Ward’s police friends (Margaret Cho, Ike Barinholtz, some others) are impressively gross about it.

I expected this to be a parable about racial difference, and if the jokes had been as good as the first ten minutes promised, that would have been a solid film. But no, there’s a bunch of supernatural nonsense instead. There are (gasp!) evil Elves, led by Noomi Rapace, and a crazy Elf lady with a magic wand that drips glowing blue goo and kills people (Lucy Fry), and gangs of mean Orcs and gangs of mean humans, and a lot of not making sense. Oh, and a prophecy!

It may have been better as a series, à la “Almost Human.” Then the world-building would have been less rushed, and the magical Feds (Edgar Ramírez and Happy Anderson) might have been more than vestigial, which probably I would have enjoyed. Or at least understood.

Director: David Ayer
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5

During the wars against Napoleon, the government, in the person of Sir Walter Pole (Samuel West, who has not aged especially well and who is wearing an awful wig), seeks assistance from a Yorkshireman magician, Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan). Thus events are set in motion.

Mr Norrell is not especially keen on the practice of magic, but he does manage to terrify the French fleet and bring Lady Pole (Alice Englert) back from the dead. To do the latter he must enlist the help of the Gentleman (Marc Warren), who then proceeds to be generally ominous and specifically cruel. This appears to come as a surprise to everyone, which bugged the living crap out of me in the book and did not seem better in the miniseries: has it ever worked out to raise someone from the dead? does that not always come with trade-offs you eventually realize you really didn’t want to make? So she goes bananas and everyone is unhappy about it, particularly her husband and a servant in their house, Stephen Black (Ariyon Bakare). Stephen is also being chased around by the Gentleman, and he also hates it.

MV5BOTZkMDViYzQtMGNhNi00N2EyLWI2ZTQtM2FiOWNlNWYyYjEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjExMjk0ODk@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_Enter another magician, Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), who is more engaging than Mr Norrell but less cautious. He becomes the Army’s magician and serves along Wellington (Ronan Vibert) in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. He has a lovely wife, Arabella (Charlotte Riley). His relationship with Mr Norrell is fraught.

A fringe of servants, hangers-on, and academics fill out the cast. Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) is particularly squirrelly and interesting; Mr Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Mr Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) are charmingly naïve and just trying to help. Plus there’s a vagabond street magician, Vinculus (Paul Kaye), who babbles about somebody called the Raven King early, and confuses you. Things become more and more involved and unpleasant, but it never quite loses the plot.

In general, the production is admirable, although blue filters are becoming an irritating crutch. The casting is careful and concerned more with fidelity to the book than good looks, which is unusual. The plot is simplified but manages not to lose essentials; unfortunately it does lose the charm of the dry, academic tone of the novel (your mileage may vary on how charming you find that, I guess).

If you like fantasy without dragons and gratuitous nudity and are not immediately annoyed by a man in a top hat, give it a shot.

Stray observations:

  • Strange encounters a young lady in Venice, a Miss Flora Greysteel (Lucinda Dryzek). Her face is very familiar but hard to place–she was young Elizabeth Swann in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie nearly a decade and a half ago.
  • They cheap out on Waterloo, and it’s incoherent and disappointing. Relatedly, Ronan Vibert is not good-looking enough to play the Iron Duke. But it’s fun to have Jamie Parker around as the honorable and slightly sardonic Major Grant!
  • Edward Petherbridge plays the mad king George! Haven’t seen him around in ages.

Director: Toby Haynes
Rating: TV-MA, probably, for creep factor rather than sex or violence
Length: 7 one-hour episodes
Score: 4/5

It’s not clear how I managed to avoid seeing this for nearly a decade and a half. It’s dreadful, but in a rather pleasing way (unlike Van Helsing, for instance, of a similar vintage and genre). Underworld seems to act as a bridge between Anne Rice (rock and roll, way too much attention paid to clothes, a rather teenage stab at eroticism) and Stephenie Meyer (war with the werewolves, a blue filter, no personalities whatsoever). Also there’s Michael Sheen!

MV5BMjIxNDExNDEyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODY1OTkxMw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_In a heavily blue-filtered city in eastern Europe (?) populated by American doctors but policemen in Mercedes Benzes, a woman starts a voice-over. There’s been a war between Vampyres and Lycans for at least six? fourteen? centuries. For some centuries, since the death of Lucian (Michael Sheen) at the hands of Kraven (Shane Brolly), the Vampyres have been ascendant. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a Vampyre assassin or “death-dealer,” and fears they may have done too good a job exterminating the Lycans. Then she will be bored, because she enjoys killing Lycans, because they killed her family. Duh.

But there’s a wrinkle! Lucian is OBVIOUSLY NOT DEAD. And the Lycans are chasing a human called Michael (Scott Speedman) for nefarious purposes of their own! So Selene is not bored. Instead she wakes up a fancy elder Vampyre, Viktor (Bill Nighy), and shenanigans, they ensue.

Sure, Selene is discount Trinity, black vinyl, trenchcoat, and all. One wonders what Scott Speedman is even doing here. But Michael Sheen looks less embarrassed than he did in Twilight, and Bill Nighy is welcome here, or as Davey Jones, or wherever he feels like showing up.

Does the mythology make sense? No, not at all. Is that the problem with the movie? Not even a little bit.

There are four more of these. Hooray!

Stray observations:

  • There are a lot of guns for a monster movie. But! the Vampyres use silver bullets and the Lycans use UV bullets, so it’s cool.
  • Bill Nighy’s Vampyre make-up is apparently water-soluble, which is a problem.
  • Wentworth Miller has hair. It’s weird.

Director: Len Wiseman
Rating: R
Length: 121 minutes
Score: 2/5

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So this was always going to be refried Captain America. And to a certain extent they tried to make it not that, but not so much that they could avoid a guy, named Steve, leaving his lady love, in a plane, with a horrible weapon on board, and not planning to make it back. So not very hard.

Which is a shame, because a lot of the other stuff was quite good. It’s the first DC Comics movie in a while that didn’t make me fall asleep or want to die, for starters (Between this and “Powerless,” there’s rather a charm offensive going on, isn’t there?). Lucy Davis as a harried secretary was delightful. And Diana’s advance across No Man’s Land was visually stunning and emotionally affecting.

Quick capsule of the plot, for those of you currently living under rocks: Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised on the island of Amazons, who are biding their time until Ares is released back into the world and they must defeat him. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is an American spy and pilot who stumbles upon them. Diana decides that she must help him rescue the Germans from the influence of Ares. Imperial Germany is represented by General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), who are developing a still more terrible gas to release in the trenches. With their ragtag bunch of not-heroes–a vaguely shell-shocked Scottish sniper, Charlie (Ewen Bremner), a womanizing would-be actor, Samir (Saïd Taghmaoui), and a First Nations smuggler whose name I didn’t catch and who is billed as Chief (Eugene Brave Rock)–they go into Belgium in search of the plant that produces this weapon.

Diana’s childhood and origin story are well done, and her relationships with her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright) are largely charming if, you know, pretty exposition-heavy. The introduction of Steve and their mutual lack of comprehension is played for perhaps not enough laughs, and Diana’s failure to understand Edwardian fashion would be unbearable if not for Lucy Davis’s tremendous side-eye. The action stuff is not half-assed, although I suspect the effects will age rather badly. The film utterly fails to give the audience a sense of the scope of the war.

And this might be where it lost me. Diana–despite being a superweapon and speaking however many languages–was painfully dense. She never figured out how big the war was, partly because she interrupted everyone who tried to explain, and her constant lecturing just made her look self-righteous and naïve. Which, pardon me, is not a great look. I get that we’re trying to say something deep about humanity and evil or whatever, and something feminist about how women something or other, but if your paladin is too dumb to understand metaphors or numbers larger than four, it’s rough.

She was gorgeous and noble and athletic and her trench salon blowout was truly remarkable, but complete the goddamn thought.

Stray observations:

  • I would have thought that, in an equestrian society without the male gaze, there might be more trousers.
  • It was nice to see some downtrodden Belgian soldiers with their tasseled caps; they always get skipped. In fact, there is a refreshing variety generally of Allied forces.
  • She knows the difference between hydrogen- and sulfur-based weaponized gases, but not what the “front” is? Okay.

Director: Patty Jenkins
Rating: PG-13
Length: 141 minutes
Score: 4/5

To be honest, I enjoyed the hell out of this. Does that mean it’s any good? Yes and no. Look, it’s not my fault if you expected this to be either the happy-go-lucky nonsense of the Brendan Fraser original or an actual proper film. Would either option have been better? Probably.

You know the plot. An Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), nearly manages to summon Ultimate Evil into the world, but she’s stopped just in time, mummified alive, and buried in the desert. Some time later, an unscrupulous antiquities looter, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his dimwitted sidekick (Nick from “New Girl”), and a beautiful archaeologist, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), find the mummy, free the mummy, and must defeat the mummy. Since this one is set in the present, there’s more ISIS and science-adjacent goofiness. Neither of these is an improvement.

MV5BMjM5NzM5NTgxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDEyNTk4MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Among the film’s strengths are its energy, Cruise’s commitment, and, occasionally, Nick from “New Girl”‘s comedic chops. One gets the impression that every pitch meeting Cruise attends now ends with him saying, “Sure, but turn it up to eleven.” Mummy not enough for you? Crusader zombies! Tom Cruise has been on screen for seven whole minutes? Drop a missile on him! Archaeologists in films aren’t wifty enough already? Add Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) into the mix! And Edward Hyde (Russell Crowe with less make-up)!

So, yeah, it’s not half-assed. But it’s not really something worth whole-assing. It doesn’t add anything except unnecessary moralizing and special effects. It’s not quite silly enough–one feels the lack of John Hannah keenly. Boutella, one feels, is wasted in her rôle. We all know she’s athletic and beautiful, but Ahmanet could have slightly more personality. And whatever, Jenny. I get that we don’t want to have Evelyn’s cutesy incompetence, but you’re a cipher. And no woman archaeologist wears her hair down in the field.

Everyone told me this was awful, and it wasn’t awful. It was mindless and full of explosions, which is what I expected and wanted. Get a great big bag of popcorn.

Director: Alex Kurtzman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes
Score: 3/5

It’s good that Dakota Blue Richards has figured out what to do with her life and has a solid gig on “Endeavour,” because the beginning of her career was a series of bad fantasy movies in which she was an irritating child, first Golden Compass and then this, and Secret of Moonacre is even worse than Golden Compass. I’m guessing the original book wasn’t much cop, either.

Maria Merryweather (Richards) is a Victorian orphan, and her father left her debts and a magic book. Her governess, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson), takes her to live with her uncle Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd) in the country. He has an enormous and beautiful house, bad manners, and unexplained misery. Maria is obnoxious and inevitably gets lost in the great big forest where Uncle Benjamin has expressly forbidden her to go.

MV5BMjIzMTM3MjY0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTA0MzQ4Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The magic book tells Maria about a longstanding curse on the area, which is called Moonacre. Some witch (Natasha McElhone) had some magic pearls, and the two families (the De Noirs, which I am not making up, and the Merryweathers) want control of them, so there are five hundred years of Capulet-Montague nonsense and when the next moon rises the whole place will fall in the sea, I think. Tim Curry is the current head De Noir, and his minions or possibly sons are emo steampunk morons. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but also some things are over-explained. And there’s a big dog that sometimes turns into a black lion.

There are a lot of tiny dumb things–how Maria’s bustle and train are just the frame with no fabric, how Juliet Stevenson is ludicrously under- and mis-used, the possible love story of Maria with a De Noir son/minion–but they get lost under the giant pile of stupidity.

Director: Gabor Csupo
Rating: PG & PG-13
Length: 103 minutes
Score: 1/5

To be fair to this movie, I didn’t see all of it, couldn’t hear it at all, and I may have been napping while I got a mani-pedi for large swaths of it. That may be the reason it got a one rather than a nil out of five. I’m definitely sure I don’t want to know more about it.

A Chinese general raises a long-dead emperor for purposes I’m not aware of. This long-dead emperor is played by Jet Li because I guess Jet Li also must pay the bills. Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (not played by Rachel Weisz this time but instead Maria Bello) are trying to find Shangri-La, I think. They do, anyhow. They bring their son, named something other (Luke Ford), and, of course, John Hannah.

The son meets a girl, Lin (Isabella Leong), and eventually we find out that she is the immortal daughter of Michelle Yeoh, who guards the fountain of youth(?) in Shangri-La. Naturally Jet Li needs to find the fountain to be brought fully back to life and regain his ability to turn into a three-headed dragon. Which he does, and also raises the famous army of terra cotta soldiers to fight….something. It looks pretty cool, I won’t lie.

But Michelle Yeoh’s long-dead husband then also raises a zombie army to fight the terra cotta soldiers so we’re back at square one? But I think Rick’s kid finds out how to love or something, after a long series of mildly to moderately gross firearm/genital jokes.

Also, there are yetis, but they’re on our side.

Director: Rob Cohen
Rating: PG-13
Length: 112 minutes
Score: 1/5

MV5BNjM1M2Y3NWUtOWM1MS00YjUzLThiNmEtNjdiMTZmMzg3NTY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_An ancestral curse gives Penelope (Christina Ricci) a pig face, and she therefore struggles to find love. Especially because, by the terms of the curse, it is assumed (particularly by her mother, played by the inimitable Catherine O’Hara) that she must marry a rich man. So she needs someone from old money, still rich, who doesn’t mind the pig face. Tricky.

People are bigger assholes than you’d expect, though. The deformity is pretty mild (especially on Christina Ricci, where it’s a bit…on the nose*), and she comes with a lot of money. You’d figure someone would be happy to cope, even if Penelope weren’t fairly interesting and nice, which, of course, she is. Also Richard E. Grant is her dad, which is a 10/10, dad-wise. But Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods) is cartoonishly appalled by her face, and he runs off to a reporter (Peter Dinklage) who’s been trying to get a glimpse of Penelope for years.  The usual shenanigans lead to a mistaken identity gambit in which Edward and the reporter hire Max (James McAvoy) to pretend to court Penelope.

It’s cute. It’s not careful, or especially clever, or particularly original, but it’s cute.

Stray observations:

  • Nigel Havers is in this movie.
  • Reese Witherspoon is also there, to teach Penelope a little sass.
  • Ostensibly, Penelope takes place in the States. But it is very obviously filmed in England, and nearly everyone in it is British.

Director: Mark Palansky
Rating: PG or so
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 3/5

* I am so, so sorry.