Mini-Movie Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

A movie poster with an orange background and Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the two largest figures.  Two women are in the middle of the frame and the new Terminator is at the bottom with the name of the move and the crew listed in white lettering.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminator:_Dark_Fate

So, this is another time that I wish that I could use typical spoiler tags (<spoiler></spoiler>) on the blog as it would make writing this mini-review much easier. A cursory search on google shows that it is possible on WordPress, but you need to be a paid user to access the feature (at the time of writing). I scanned through all of the “embeds” and wasn’t able to find it, but did run across what I wanted to do on a forum. However, this being the case, I will try to discuss the movie in a non-spoiler way.

Know this, however. There is a major spoiler within the first five minutes of the movie. Your reaction to the movie is largely going to depend on whether or not you buy this particular scene. Fans of the classic two movies Terminator and Terminator 2 probably won’t like this scene, while those of the newer generations may care less/may forgive what happens in the scene, and may find this one a good or decent movie. A lot of it depends on your frame of reference, point of view towards, and attachment to the original two movies that are well regarded.

The Good

Okay, as I mention periodically, I don’t watch the reviews for a movie until after I’ve seen it as I don’t want to be influenced by any perceived biases on the part of the reviewers. That wasn’t always the case as I remember watching Siskel & Ebert movie reviews as a child for their opinion on the latest genre fair–except for Star Wars and a couple of other major exceptions, they always tended to be mixed or negative from what I remember.

However, afterwards I watched the reviews to see how closely my opinions matched with reviewers. In this, both the reviewers and myself are closely aligned. The actors/performers were awesome (“on point,” I believe is the current, soon-to-be dated reference), and did an amazing job. The new actors and the return of Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger really worked well and they all gave solid and believable performances. I thought the establishing scenes with the protagonist and her brother and father were witty, charming, and fun, not necessarily because of the script, but because of the actors and the way they portrayed their characters.

The Bad

As usual, the script/story. This seems to be a repeated meme and one that you’d think Hollywood would work harder at getting right. You can’t get through the door unless you’re part of the Writer’s Guild (or Director’s Guild, or Producer’s Guild), but the story has 5 credited writers (for the story & 3 for the screenplay), and yet the scripts continue to (often) be the weakest parts of the movie. This is probably a blog topic for another time, so I’ll save it, but Hollywood is too entrenched (in my opinion) in trying to find a magic “formula” that guarantees success. It’s a business wrapped around art–sometimes you’re going to hit it big (The Lord of the Rings 2001-2003) and sometimes you’re going to strikeout (Dungeons & Dragons2000). The best you can do is put up the best you can in terms of talent and story and swing for the fences–which Hollywood would argue isn’t a sustainable business model–but which gives you movies like Terminator: Dark Fate.

So what’s actually wrong with the script? It is basically a “callback” to ideas presented in the first two Terminator movies. While not a one-to-one recreation, there are scenes right out of the two movies that newer viewers might think are original, but have actually been done before (and better) by the older movies. Small vehicle (insert protagonists inside it) vs “Big Bad” vehicle, check. Helicopter scene, check. I had to physically clamp my jaw down to keep from sighing or reacting when I saw yet another scene that had a reference point from one of the other movies.

The Ugly

This is a no spoiler mini-review, but we have to talk about the first scene in the first five minutes. This is an Alien 3 level scene. If you want to know absolutely nothing–then maybe skip to the next section now . . . . . .

Okay, still reading? This scene destroys the themes of the first two movies and makes those movies seem irrelevant, in exactly the same way that Alien 3 did for Aliens (and to a lesser extent, the way the Disney Star Wars movies have done for the the original trilogy). There’s this “thing” in Hollywood that says if you don’t want to deal with things in a previous movie, its okay to write your beginning (or whole movie) in such a way that completely drops that whole set of themes so that you can do what you want to do. And that’s not what we, as an audience, want. Ideally, we want you, the creators, to advance the plot, in novel and unique ways that we never thought of (Empire Strikes Back–>Star Wars, Aliens–>Alien, Terminator 2–>Terminator, Bourne Supremacy–>Bourne Identity, etc.). Less ideally, we’ll accept (or at least I will), same character/plot (or different characters with same basic plot) inside a different setting (Home Alone 2, Karate Kid 2, Jaws 2, Predator 2, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, etc.). Not okay (in my book) are the movies that destroy characters, themes, and mythology just because you don’t want to be bothered with them (Alien 3, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and now Terminator: Dark Fate).

Overall Grade: C (although this really should lower)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Above Average (B) for the actors’ performances, but well below average for the script/screenplay (D) = a C. However, the fact that it really plays hard and fast with the continuity of the overall Terminator series really does annoy me and while it is a movie I could actually get through (unlike Terminator Genisys), it is one that, while full of action like other Terminator movies, makes me wonder if I should rate it much lower than I have as I don’t feel that it was a very good movie in the overall Terminator “franchise” (for the business people) or “canon” (for the audience members).

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Greyhound (AppleTV+)

Tom Hanks as a Navy Captain with a captain's hat against a blue background with clouds, sea, world war 2 ships and a plane in the background with the words : Tom Hanks Greyhound in white.  A black and white logo is in the bottom right with the Apple symbol and TV beside it.
Image Source: https://9to5mac.com/2020/07/09/new-tom-hanks-movie-apple-tv/

Over the past weekend, I was looking for a movie to watch. I decided that I should probably just try to watch a movie each week from the different streaming services that I subscribe to in order to maximize their value–as you’ll see, there are services that I subscribe to that I rarely watch or use, even though they have excellent content. Most of the time, it is because I pretty much focus on the “Big 2″ (which, for me, are Netflix and Amazon Prime Video). Hulu and Tubi are distant (way distant) third and fourth places.

However, one service that I alsways forget that I have (thanks to a promotion for when I got my iPhone, is AppleTV+. They have a couple of shows that I’m interested in, but haven’t yet seen (For All Mankind and See). I thought I’d watch them during the pandemic after school was over, but then there were the high profile cases of police brutality and resulting protests in the US that captivated me and so, I still haven’t seen them yet. However, after visiting each service and not really finding anything that jumped out to me, I actually remembered AppleTV+, and when I went on, I remembered that they had a movie from Sony that I’d seen the previews on and thought might be pretty good so, I decided to give it a watch.

Greyhound Movie Trailer

Greyhound

The screenplay was written by Tom Hanks, who also stars as the captain of the destroyer tasked with protecting a convoy of merchant marine ships during WWII from the predations of German U-Boats in the Atlantic Sea. There are two other destroyers to help in the task, but the story focuses around his ship and his crew.

After a brief set-up, the story gets started in earnest, and we see his motivation for wanting to do everything he can to survive and come back home safely. The movie is short, a little over 90 minutes, but it is an intense 90 minutes. You feel for the safety of the crew, the ship, and the convoy. This movie did, in 90 minutes, what Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight wasn’t able to do, for me, in 2 hours and 32 minutes.

This shows that the power of traditional storytelling–exposition, complications leading to rising, action, a climax, a resolution, a denouement (falling action) along with a character epiphany. This movie has all of these traits, and while short, is still one of the most intense movies that I’ve seen this year. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It is a war movie, so keep that in mind going in–if military stories bore you, then chances are good that you won’t like this unless you get swept up in the tension of what happens in the story.

Other Elements

This movie isn’t only a war story, however. It also makes a statement about faith and religion. Unlike many “faith-based” movies that have come out over the past few years, it doesn’t put faith over the story, nor does it set out to tell the audience how to think. It just allows its main character to show his expressions of faith in both the context of the story and his outlook on the events of the story and then leaves it up to the audience to judge. Some might argue that the inclusion of those elements are actually pushing it on the audience–and that’s their right to argue that point, but for me, I saw it as simply showing how one man’s faith was put into practice (and tested) over the course of the story in which he tries to keep himself, his crew, and the ships he’s charged to protect alive.

Another element that I noticed was role of African Americans. I think the African American actors did an excellent job portraying the characters in the movie, but they were the typical “subservient” cooks roles. Now, again that’s going to be because of the time-period, and the screenplay takes pains to show how integral one of the cooks was to the ship in a poignant and affecting scene, so I can’t fault the movie–even though I do fault the time-period. Still, the movie handled the race issue as sensitively as I felt it could–it was just disappointing not to see more of those actors in relation to the overall story as they were pretty good actors in their own sense of pathos and duty.

Overall Rating: A (95-98)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Is this a perfect movie. No, not by a long-shot. There are things that I wish were a little better. The ending felt a bit rushed, there was the limited on-screen time for the African American actors/characters, and there were a couple of smaller issues that could have been ironed out, but overall, I had a tense, but enjoyable time watching the movie.

I’ve not felt this excited about seeing naval battle sense Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. I really liked it and felt that both Sony and Apple scored a win with this one.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Gemini Man

Will Smith with a "face capture" rig performing "Junior."
Image Source: https://www.fxguide.com/fxfeatured/face-it-will-gemini-man/

Over the Fourth of July Holiday weekend here in America, my family (my mother and my step-father) and I watched Gemini Man. I was leery at first as it didn’t get very good reviews, from professional reviewers (26% Critical; 83% Audience). Now, going in, I’d seen the trailers, but I didn’t really know anything about the script (apparently, a 1997 script that had been bought, shelved because the technology wasn’t good enough at the time, and then attached to many different stars), nor did I now anything about the preferred way it was shown (4K, 120 frames per second, and 3D).

The Script

Okay, so I should be clear–my mother and step-father liked the movie; me–not so much. Most of my issues stem from the script. While I liked the action scenes, I felt there were too few of them based on the movie’s concept/trailer, but really I had two major problems: the dialogue and the pacing. The dialogue actually factors into the pacing–there’s too much dialogue. In most movies, dialogue reveals character. Here, however, the dialogue is mostly exposition. For instance, there was a great scene where Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character and Will Smith’s character are discussing a “wire” that Smith’s character just found. Very witty and very real–and then, (minor spoiler). it is revealed that she really is spying on him, which just undercut all emotion, characterization, and wasted 3-5 minutes of screen-time setting up something just to throw it away on the very next scene. Maybe have some doubt for a while until it matters, and then reveal it when she has to make a choice–save Smith’s character and reveal her identity or keep her identity secret? How about that, script? No? Okay–your call. 26% Rotten Tomatoes score–just saying.

Also, I think that it really feels its age as it seems to make more of “cloning” without actually getting into the science behind it. It’s almost a “cloning = bad” situation going on without actually taking into account some of the real-life “horrors” that have happened as recently as the Chinese doctor (Dr. He Jiankui) who “gene-edited” babies. There’s none of that “real world” world-building going on.

Young Will Smith (aka “Junior”)

So, most of my problems with the movie come from the script. Some of it comes from the CGI in the movie. I liked the performances and the look of “Junior” in the night scenes, but in the day scenes, it was clear that it was CGI and dipped (for me) into “Uncanny Valley.”

I thought that the beginning scenes almost worked at times, but the ending scenes, while I liked the dialogue, didn’t quite work for me.

Another thing, I also thought that it took too long to get “Junior” into the action. The first 30 minutes are mostly set-up and, as I mentioned above, it wastes scenes and time when it could get right into the action–there’s not enough action for it to waste so much time, nor is there enough complexity for the amount of time it takes–to me, it all feels like wasted time.

Overall Rating: (C 75)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I don’t have the option to give half stars because really, this would be a (2.5 stars otherwise). I think this is movie is one that needed to be held and it needed reshoots–a “revision” of sorts). It needed less dialogue and more action–probably one or two more action scenes and less dialogue, or at least, dialogue that was more relevant to the idea/horror of cloning. It also, in my opinion, needed another pass at the daytime scenes for “Junior.” I really had high hopes for this one, but it was the actual script that (mostly) let me down.

Sidney


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Mini-Review: The Last Witch-Hunter

Vin Diesel walking at night in dark clothes and long black trench coat on a wet city street full of puddles with a car behind him that has its headlights on full beam.  He is walking in front of the car, towards the camera.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1618442/

Sorry this blog post is a little late, but I didn’t really have time yesterday to work on it. It will be a little shorter than normal today as I have a couple of deadlines that are today (6/30) and one tomorrow that I need to be sure and meet. However, I did see a movie over the weekend–The Last Witch-Hunter–that I’ve been wanting to see for a while. It is currently streaming on Tubi–a free streaming site supported by ads that play during the movie (more on that later).

Vin Diesel “Vehicle”

This movie is primarily geared around Vin Diesel as the star of the movie. It focuses and spends quite a bit of time with Vin’s character. In many ways this is a good thing, as Vin is always likable in this role. However, the focus on his character means that we see little-to no character development or motivation for the other characters. The “twist” is poorly set up, coming through expositional dialogue rather than being organically revealed via the plot and the villains have almost no motivation, especially the Witch Queen who serves as the movie’s “Big Bad.”

While there are other named actors in this movie, such as Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, they aren’t really used to great effect in the roles they play and their screen-time is greatly diminished do to the almost relentless focus on Kaulder, Vin Diesel’s character. For me, the highlight of the movie was actually the performance of the female lead, Rose Leslie, who played Chloe. I enjoyed the “pluckiness” of the character and thought that it turned something that was fairly familiar into something that was enjoyable.

Highlander By Way of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

When I say familiar, I mean it. Essentially, this movie is a compilation of many of the scenes/ideas from both Highlander and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are even flashback scenes evoking the lost “love” of Kaulder’s life during his “sword and sorcery” days just like in Highlander. The modern day elements play out more along the lines of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but there still shades of Highlander even there.

While I’m sure the movie nodes to other modern day “undying heroes” movies and tropes, these are the two in which I kept seeing the most references for as I watched the movie. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you happen to like those two movies. If you’re unsure at all, then watch how the history of the hero unfolds and keep track of how the character is introduced and interacts with the love interest, and in both instances, you’ll see similarities within what I’m going to refer to as the “Undying Hero” genre.

Commercial Breaks Really Hurt

This is the second movie that I’ve watched on Tubi, and I have to say that while they have movies that none of the other streaming services have (especially ones that I’m interested in watching for the most part), their model while free, really hurts them in terms of me watching them on a long-term basis. While I don’t agree that every network needs a streaming service–CBS AllAcess, why do you even exist, except for corporate greed as your star show, Star Trek Picard is available on Netflix everywhere else in the world–I would be willing to pay a small fee for Tubi (no more than $2 a month), or have them added on to Netflix, again for a nominal fee. I stopped watching movies on commercial TV a while back because commercial breaks began to become onerous and the networks would edit content. While not quite as egregious as normal network TV (and certainly no editing of content), the ad break would happen in places that broke the tension. I don’t recall an ad break happening in the last half hour of the movie, but I think there were a total of 7 or 8 breaks over the run-time of the movie.

Overall Rating (B- 80-82)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So, “Your Mileage May Vary” definitely applies here. Your enjoyment of the movie will probably hinge on two very important factors: 1) do you like Vin Diesel and his acting style and 2) do you like the “Undying Hero” genre, or in other words, do you like Highlander and/or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? If the answer is yes to both of those (like me), then this is going to be a fairly enjoyable watch, if your answer is yes to one of the two questions, then you’ll probably find it bog-standard average–nothing special, but totally watchable, but if your answer is no to both of these things, then you’ll probably want to watch something else as there’s no escaping either of these two factors.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: The King’s Speech

A scene from the movie where the King, his wife, and Logue stand and yell out in a large brown room.
Image Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Kings-Speech

A couple of weeks ago, I watched The King’s Speech before it left Netflix. Again, like The Dark Knight, this movie is considered an “essential” watch for those who are interested in film. As I’d not yet seen it, but heard that it was good enough that several schools have shown it, I thought that I should make sure to watch it before it left.

A Period Piece Par Excellence

While some may not like period pieces and dramas, as a History Minor, I don’t mind them. Like any work, I don’t think that the genre is inherently boring (as I heard it explained), but rather it is up to the skill of the individual creators as to how the work holds my interest. I have to say that the King’s Speech was masterful. I enjoyed all of the actors in it, especially the principals. I could easily understand the pain of the main character. As an introvert, public speaking is probably one of my least favorite activities (yes, I’m aware of the irony–a scholar who/teacher who doesn’t like public speaking). However, the protagonist’s condition goes far worse than mine and I could empathize. The acting was amazing, the sets and locations were effective, evoking Britain on the cusp of World War 2, and the story was very engaging.

This is How You Do a Modern “Classic”

Unlike The Dark Knight, I was engaged with the is story the entire way through–although the very first scene was very painful (but that’s the point–to show the character in crisis while we watch him solve his problem all through the movie). However, even though much of the solution to the problem comes from the character of Dr. Logue, the king has to take an active role in solving his own problem. There are places in the movie where part of the problem comes from the king’s refusal to engage with Logue’s methods–again, this is what I like in a movie rather than the “antagonist” being presented as the heroic figure — as in The Dark Knight or Pitch Black.

I can see why this is shown in schools–although I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable showing it at the Middle School level, but definitely at the High School level as it not just shows the time period, but also the concept of grit.

Overall Rating (A 95-100)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is the type of movie that I like–a strong protagonist, with problems that they have to actively overcome. The time period was unique (as was the problem), and the acting and movie was stellar. At the time of its release, I wondered if it was really worth all the hype. I can say, without a doubt, it was, and is! I loved it!

Have a great day!

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger in white green and red face paint as the Joker, sitting on the ground, against a white brick wall, looking up menacingly at the camera.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468569/

Full Disclosure: I saw this movie earlier this year and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it and posting this on the blog.

So, let me just say right now and upfront: 1) I am NOT the target audience for this movie, 2) if you think this is going to be another glowing review of this movie, you might want to stop reading now, and 3) I have an inherent bias against this type of movie–which I will explain in the blog post. In other words, if this is your favorite movie, I will NOT be complimentary towards it–so I’m just warning you upfront.

Also, before I begin, I should note that I can separate and appreciate the actors’ performances in this movie, especially Heath Ledger. Having seen and enjoyed his work in other movies (notably The Knight’s Tale), I find it sad that he is not still with us. All the actors do a phenomenal job–no, I have stylistic and philosophical problems with the movie.

Why Am I Torturing Myself?

This is a GREAT question. Life is too short to watch movies that I don’t enjoy (or know that I’m not going to enjoy). Well, unfortunately, The Dark Knight is one of those seminal films that someone who is a “film scholar” has to see. It is very much a modern “reference” film to see how film-making “changed” with its release. My dissertation director has already asked me if I’ve had a chance to see Joker yet, so I know that that film is also in my future at some point. However, The Dark Knight was on Netflix, but was pulled towards the end of March, so I decided I would go ahead and just watch it and get it out of the way. I knew I wouldn’t like it–but I thought that I could hold my nose long enough to get through it. Well, I did, but it has been a real struggle.

Stylistic Problems

While my problems are mostly philosophical, I do still have some real issues with the style of the movie. The hero does nothing to solve the problem. Batman, and by extension, Bruce Wayne is a very passive hero who does very little to solve the problem.

Also, the costuming of the Batman character looks really weak. Very few of the actors portraying the character really look good in the suit–I think because it is a “movie” suit rather than a vigilante costume designed to inspire terror. Remember, Batman was conceived in 1939, when Gothic movies were popular and where the image of a bat would be considered horrifying to the psyche. However, in 2008, when the movie was released the world is entirely different and the suit in now iconic rather than imposing. I guess my point is that I don’t see this Batman as able to inspire the type of fear that he does in the criminals of Gotham.

Finally, it is a long movie. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, it tested my patience–breaking it actually. So much so, that I actually had to break the movie up into 2 sittings. I don’t see how critics can complain about The Return of the King’s runtime 3 hours and 28 minutes and not have an issue with The Dark Knight’s grueling length. Yes, the latter is almost an hour longer, but I was so engrossed in the world that I didn’t notice it, while I was so weary of the Dark Knight’s world that I could hardly believe it when I turned it off, only to discover I was only halfway finished with it and would need another whole session just to finish it.

Ugh!

Philosophical Problems

This is where I can really cut loose on the movie. We might as well had titled this movie The Joker as well because the Joker gets all of the good lines and all of the screen time. Heck, the Joker basically becomes the hero of the movie in a very post 9/11 fashion. Heath Ledger’s Joker becomes an embodiment of the two things I hate most about “Real Life” (RL): the “bully” as hero and the hero as one who can’t act because they have rules. Let’s take on the bully as hero idea first. So, the Joker is essentially “The Superman of Bullies.” From the very first instance we see the Joker in the movie, he kills the leader of the first mob (an African American, btw, continuing the trend of black characters dying off first in movies)

The Joker’s appeal comes from his “power“–he doesn’t have to follow any rules. He can just do whatever he wants. For some unknown reason, that seems to be a “fantasy” of this generation. Rules only apply to others and not to me. A digression: I see it all the time with drivers making U-Turns all the time. When I was a child, a U-Turn was a major no-no (almost taboo) and it was very rare when I saw it–now I see it sometimes 2-3 times a day (even though it is dangerous to other drivers on the road–hence, the reason it is illegal). This is exactly what the Joker embodies–that only “fools” follow the “rules.” He wants chaos, he wants disorder, he wants to just destroy for the sake of destroying. This is also what 9/11 is about–terrorist want to cause fear just to disrupt lives, so as to change behavior. In some ways, this movie is fighting the war against terrorism all over again, just with the Joker standing in for the terrorists and the need to get revenge.

Overall Rating (D 65-69)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

You have to understand, while this was competently crafted and acted, and received near universal praise, I have to say that I was not impressed. Yes, the dialogue was slick and Heath Ledger’s Joker was mesmerizing as a performance, that is ALL I saw it as–a performance. This type of movie embodies all the aesthetics that I dislike within a movie, but unless I need to watch it again for a class or scholarly work, this is one movie I will not be revisiting.

I know it is, for many, their favorite movie of all time, but for me, I did not enjoy it. When I mentioned that I’d not seen it, I got looks of amazement from the circle that I was with at the time. Next time this movie comes up in conversation, it is likely me who will be giving that same look of amazement for those extolling its virtues and praise.

Sidney


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Movie Mini-Review: Jurassic World: The Fallen World

Picture of a T-Rex standing over the male protagonist with a volcano erupting in the background.
Image Source: https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2423581/jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-has-screened-here-are-the-early-reactions

Over Memorial Day weekend, I watched this movie as I missed it during the original theatrical release. My mother and stepfather loved–they loved it better than the first Jurassic World movie. While I also liked it, I found that I didn’t like it as much as the original movie.

A Tale of Two Movies

I think one of the reasons why I didn’t like it as much as my parents is that the movie actually seems to be two different stories broken into two discrete parts. The first part of the movie is a more traditional Jurassic Park type movie, where the protagonists go to an exotic island, interact with dinosaurs, and do their best to survive. Jurassic Park, in my opinion, is at its best when it is operating at this level. I think that I really enjoyed this first part of the movie.

However, there is a second part of the movie where they move the dinosaurs back to the mainland. It makes up a significant chunk of the 3rd act of the film, and while I understand the reason (plot-wise) for why they did it this way, I really think that it lost some intangible magic of the movie when it did so. They did interact with dinosaurs better in this movie than in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, but still, the modern setting, while having several good set pieces in this section, just loses something when it isn’t an isolated story.

The Problem with Dr. Henry Wu & Owen Grady

So, this includes a slight spoiler that you might want to skip if you want to go into movie completely “fresh.”

Skip in 3, 2, 1 . . .

SKIP

Okay, if you’re still here, then you don’t care about spoilers or have seen the movie. So here goes: the characterization of Dr. Henry Wu is a problem here. Now, I really like the actor B. D. Wong, and I’m glad he’s in the movie, but the way in which his character is articulated in this movie is a problem. His character has morphed into a villain and I just can’t see his character making that change. As articulated in the original movie, Henry Wu is a very smart, very interested researcher that has, over time, morphed into a Dennis Nedry type character (greedy and amoral) that I just can’t believe and it always brings me out of the movie when it is called for by the script.

In addition, Owen Grady as a protagonist to me is just a blank slate. Unlike Grant, Ellie, or Ian Malcolm from the first movie (Jurassic Park), I don’t get a sense of personality from this character. He doesn’t really stand out for me and is just another generic “hero,” which (I can’t believe I’m calling out) just isn’t very interesting in this case. There are so many wonderful characters in the first movie, and the characters in the sequels and rebooted franchise always seem to take a backseat to the dinosaurs. The first movie had its focus squarely on the humans, but here the characters seem “flat” in a way–their arc isn’t nearly as pronounced as Jurassic Park.

Overall Grade: B (85)

This isn’t a bad movie–it just doesn’t (in my opinion) achieve the same heights as its originator movie of Jurassic Park. While the 2nd half of the movie isn’t nearly as strong as the first, it is still a good, action-packed movie, that still has characterization issues that keep me at a distance. It is a fun movie that just doesn’t hit in all areas for me. The action is strong, the setting is hit or miss, but the characterization seems a bit weak (bland/generic) for my tastes.

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Extraction (Netflix)

A picture of a bearded Chris Hemsworth in military gear looking to the right off-screen against a yellowish background of an Indian cityscape with the words" Netflix Extraction Official Trailer"
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6P3nI6VnlY

This past weekend I watched a movie produced by Netflix. While not my first Netflix movie, I generally pass them up in favor of seeing “studio” produced movies as I’m trying to catch up on movies that I’ve missed theatrically. As an individual, I’ve seen a lot of movies; however, as a film student, I feel that I don’t have the same repertoire as some of my colleagues (one of my friends at school who is also a film student and working on his dissertation watches a movie a day on his phone! I sometimes struggle to keep up with the movie a week paradigm that I’ve set for myself.) This movie was written by Joe Russo (Avengers Infinity War/Endgame) and stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor & Avengers movies). So, did I like it–yes, I did, for the most part.

“The Protector”

This story is very much in the style of films made famous by Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies. However, there is a difference, story-wise. While those are about “revenge” in some way, this film owes much more to films like Liam Neesom’s Taken movies (which I’ve not seen) and the BMW short film The Escape (which I have seen) in that there is more an element of protection than revenge. While different in tone, the plot actually functions a lot like other movies in the action genre–I’m specifically thinking of 16 Blocks, Special Forces, and Mile 22 (all of which I’ve seen–see, I do have a pretty good film knowledge base to draw on 😉 for my analysis). Chris Hemsworth’s character is tasked with “extracting” a target from a rival faction. I won’t go into the specific plot elements–but suffice to say, if you’ve seen any of those movies, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of the story progression. While not always the most original of ideas or execution, it was still an enjoyable and had enough novel elements to set it above many others in its genre.

“Gun-Fu”

Your enjoyment of the movie will depend largely on your tolerance for “gun-fu,” which is the combination of gun-play, martial arts, and ultra close-in gun-play in which the shooting all happens at extremely close ranges–sometimes right up in a character’s face (literally). This type of fighting and choreagraphy was made famous by John Wick. If you hate that style of action/combat, then chances are good you’re going to hate this movie.

There are also other set pieces in here besides the Gun-Fu that are really well done. There is a car chase scene that is really complex and visually interesting (check out the camera placement during the chase). This scene is NOT shot like traditional Hollywood action set-pieces and (for me) that really made it come alive. Is it the BEST chase scene I’ve ever seen? No, some of the Bourne/Bond movies hold that distinction, but check out the way this movie is shot vs those and you’ll immediately see a difference. Also, the ending sequence has to be mentioned–tense and climatic, I really think it rivals some of the best moments of other “protector” like films referenced above.

What I Didn’t Like

Okay, this isn’t a perfect movie. The story, some are going to argue, is fairly predictable. While you can’t see all of the “turns” coming, you can probably spot most of them.

Going beyond the story though, the sound mixing on this one was rough. The dialogue, in some parts was mixed too low to hear without me having to turn up my system, but then when the action got going, I would have to turn down the system as the gunshots rang out to loud and I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I personally couldn’t find a perfect setting–the dialogue always seemed too low and the action always seemed too loud.

Lastly, there’s a lot of violence happening in this story. I know its “Gun-Fu,” but the amount of people being shot in the head, especially, is high. People lose digits, are stabbed in multiple places/ways, and in one case, I kid (ostensibly a drug runner) is thrown off a roof. If violence makes you squeamish at all, this movie may not be for you. Most of it is justified by the story, but you can tell there was a little one upmanship happening here with other films in the genre.

Overall Grade: B

While definitely not a novel story or characterization, there were enough new elements (stunts and set-pieces) and enough articulation of the overall theme, that I didn’t find it tedious or a retread of something I’d already seen. Also, while the violence was a bit over-the-top for me and took me out of the story sometimes, I thought that the actual “action” of the story delivered for me what I was looking for in an action movie. It was fun, but had a heart, and wasn’t a pessimistic, dark, gritty drama that so many films in the genre try to be.

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Star Wars IX: Rise of Skywalker

Rise of Skywalker Movie Poster--Rey holding a blue lightsaber against a cool blue backgroud while Kylo Ren holding a red lightsaber against a burgundy background
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527338/

Last weekend, I watched Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (RoS) for the first time. I know that it has a fairly poor rating, 52% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing, but I felt that it was, overall a much better story than its predecessor–The Last Jedi. I can’t (and won’t) go into too much territory in terms of spoilers (although I can’t be sure that what I discuss won’t give hints/clues to those the movie’s structure/plot, so you’ve been warned). I think–and will always think–that hiring Rian Johnson was a mistake because he’s not, at heart, a sci-fi writer. As you can see with Knives Out, he’s best when he’s being “clever.” Clever can mean a couple of different things here: 1) witty as Knives Out seems to be a satirical movie (based on the trailers) full of repartee between the characters and 2) provocateur, throwing things our/subverting expectations just because he can, something Last Jedi was filled with. Rise of Skywalker rights the ship, but is ultimately a decent movie, but is an unsatisfying end to a trilogy (and epic 9 film saga) because it has to spend so much time trying to undo the missteps of the previous two movies.

What I Liked

Action: The action of the first movie was back–thank goodness. Instead of action happening off screen in Last Jedi–Luke never getting to confront Kylo (or even Rey about what happened to her parents) was such a downer for me. Luke is (and was) the central character of the Skywalker saga that it was criminal for him to be dispatched in such a ignominious fashion in the previous movie. The action has returned in this one and while not nearly as thrilling as the original trilogy, there are some set pieces that were inventive and well-done. Action scenes, lightsaber battles, and space scenes seemed to be back to the level we expect from Star Wars films

(Some) of the Characterizations: These characters felt more like what we introduced to in The Force Awakens. While some things seemed notably off–the fact that Finn & Rey (first movie) were co-opted by Rey & Kylo storyline (the 2nd movie & fan-base with their “Reylo” fan-fic element)–comes to mind, the characters seemed to stay and be truer to their natures than in the previous movie.

Explanations: While seen as a “walk-back” by many reviewers, what Rise of Skywalker actually gives us is some answers (now I don’t always like those answers or the way they were delivered), but at least it wasn’t just thrown out there to flatly contradict what we were shown in The Force Awakens (“Rey, your parents were nothing special”).

What I Didn’t Like

The Need for “walkbacks”: You’ll notice I’m spending a lot of time talking about Rise of Skywalker in terms of what it did in comparison to Last Jedi. That’s intentional and it shouldn’t be necessary. In the Return of the Jedi, Lucas had already established the characters, deepened the plot, and made Luke’s conflict (destroy or redeem Vader) clear. In Rise, we are so busy explaining elements from the previous movie that made no sense, that the actual “trilogy” went out the window.

No Trilogy: related to the last point–this actually wasn’t a trilogy arc. It was movie 1, movie 1 again (Rian Johnson’s interpretation), movie 3. The “Reylo” storyline proves it. In the original trilogy, Han & Leia “spark” in movie one, their feelings are exposed in movie two, and they deepen in movie 3. In the Disney trilogy, Rey and Finn “spark” in movie one, “why do keep holding my hand?”, but in movie two (Rian Johnson interpretation), Rey and Kylo “spark” and Rose and Finn are supposed to “spark,” and in movie three Finn hints to Rey his feelings, but never says them outright and is in a “platonic” relationship that includes his best friend Poe Dameron (3 way hug) and Rey and Kylo expose their feelings for each other (“Ben”) in that “star-crossed” lovers way. Nothing in the trilogy pays off in the way that it should because movie two didn’t “deepen” anything in the way that a good second chapter of a trilogy should have and the “payoff” you would normally get from the third movie either isn’t there or is far below what it should have been.

Little Details: So many of the little details were off. Some of it was due to the untimely deaths of original trilogy cast members (or advancing ages). Obviously, Carrie Fisher’s heartbreaking and untimely death meant that the filmmakers had to incorporate scenes that were already shot into the narrative to give Leia’s character an appropriate sendoff, but even Chewbacca didn’t look like, sound like, or “run” like Chewbacca as it was different actor portraying him. C-3PO’s voice is higher than normal (again do to age of actor), and Artoo Detoo is hardly used. Some of it was due to the “walk backs” necessary. And some of it was due to the way Disney wants its SW movies to appeal to a new audience while trying to “pander” to the old audience as well. Disney is like look–here are the old droids you remember, but aren’t the new droids–BB-8 and the new droid they introduced just for Rise whose name I can’t even remember (it’s that forgettable as a droid) so cool because, hey, they’re new, and everyone likes new stuff, right, right? There are so many small issues that one only notices if the person is truly invested in the Star Wars world. For me, there are so many of them that it begins to seriously detract from the quality of the story and begins to make it seem more and more like a pale imitation of the original.

Overall Grade: B- (80)

I really think this is a stellar improvement of the last movie, but there are so many flaws in it because it can’t do what the 3rd movie in a trilogy should do, but must spend so much time trying to address the poor choices of the 2nd installment that it really weighs the film down for me.

While not a 52% (which would be a low, low F on a grading scale by the way), and yes I know that RT isn’t a grading scale, but a percentage of people who like/dislike the movie, but my point stands–this movie isn’t as bad as some would have you think as they would like to “punish” this movie and Disney with a low RT score–I still think that it is hamstrung by the fact that it has to essentially be a truncated 2nd act and then a partial resolution that has so many compromises that, while a fun and satisfying movie on its own, it can’t be a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy, let alone a 9 movie saga which is what is was purported to be.

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

A image of ancient Chinese characters: two women and two men.  "A Film By Ang Lee" Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Image Source: http://www.mediacircus.net/cthd.html

So, in an effort to be a better film student, I’m trying to catch as many of the “major” and important releases that I’ve missed before they go off of various streaming services. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a movie that I’d always intended to see (due to my love of martial arts movies), but was, in all honesty, put off by because of the Oscar hype that surrounded it. I won’t go off into a long discussion (rant) about hype, but let’s just say, in some cases, hype has the opposite effect on me–it makes me less inclined to see a movie, not more. However, with it (at the time of this blog post), scheduled to go off of Netflix later this month, it seemed like the perfect time to check it out.

What I Liked

In a way, waiting might have been a good thing. I don’t think hat I would have appreciated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nearly as much. What it does, it does very well and is an example of something that “transcends its genre.”

I liked the personal story being told and the way it handles its central characters. In a way, this is a story about love–what is it, how is it exhibited, what happens when it is unrequited, what happens when it is set free, what is the place of marriage and love–are they analogous, or are they mutually exclusive? It is also the story of women and their roles and functions in a patriarchal society. This is the element that I feel that I would have missed had I seen it when it came out. Hear me out, as I’m not an unenlightened neanderthal. However, there are certain genres that turn me off–crime/mob stories, heist stories, and, yup, you guessed it, “love” stories. In my earlier days, this focus on love, marriage, and women’s issues would have “ruined” the movie for me. However, having taken Dr. Hixon’s Disney film class, I now understand how those tropes have permeated through the movie landscape (for good or ill) and I’ve learned to pick up on them and not “hate” them as much as I used to.

I also liked the martial arts. For a martial arts movie, I thought the actual fights were good Now obviously, that isn’t the true focus of the movie and they could have been stronger, especially the earlier ones. But I found the ones in the later half of the movie to be particularly interesting and well done in terms of choreography.

The characters were also well done, although the women characters are the ones who truly shine in story. The men are a bit one note, even the two main male leads. Both seemed under used. While I’m glad they didn’t go with the traditional “love” triangle for this story, breaking the focus up between the two male characters meant that neither the “strong, silent” protagonist or the “rebel without a cause” protagonist had a chance to shine. They both seemed under developed due to the lack of screen time they were given.

Finally, I like the story. Again, it wasn’t as strong as I’d been led to believe by the hype–it isn’t the best story I’ve seen in a martial arts movie–the Ip Man movies come quickly to mind, but it is far from the worst. I would give the plot (just the events of the story) an A-/B+ alone.

What I Didn’t Like

Okay, really the only thing I didn’t like is this movie’s claim to fame: the unrealistic gravity defying “flying-running” on air. I understand this from a stylistic choice and even from an aesthetic choice to differentiate your martial arts movie from everything else out there, but every time it was on the screen, it took me out of the action.

Look, I’m more into well edited, hyper kinetic fight sequences. The pseudo-rolling combat of Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, the methodical and clearly paced combat of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man, and the frenetic energy coupled with masterful comedic timing of Jackie Chan’s earlier movies (specifically thinking of Rumble in the Bronx here). Each one of these shows that it is possible to create a believable fight sequence that is both clear and fun to watch (okay, okay, so the edits in Marvel Movies are sometimes hard to follow, but as my mind mostly fills in the gaps, I’m okay with it).

However, knowing that it is clearly impossible for the action in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be occurring without wires really takes me out of the action and story. I would have even preferred some sort of supernatural/hypernatural explanation because for humans to run up walls, jump from rooftop to rooftop and fight on swaying limbs was just too far for me. It didn’t help that the actors/stunt people clearly looked like they were being held upright by wires, even if we couldn’t see the wires. The way their bodies moved and swayed, clearly indicated that gravity was affecting them in a way that only wires/harnesses could have mitigated.

Had the movie been made today, a lot of the action would have probably been digitally created using digital models of the characters and animated with appropriate physics. I know it is heresy, but it would have to have been done this way for me to have liked it and kept it from distracting me and taking me out of the story.

Overall Grade: A-

Overall, I think this movie did what it set out to do: tell an interesting story about two female characters in a repressive, patriarchal male society in ancient China. While I’m not sure that I like the very element it was praised for (the unrealistic flying effects), I can say that I did like the story, characters, and martial arts far more and those elements really made the movie come alive for me.

Sidney


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