Author

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
About the Author
Founder of Backseat Directors. Host of The Backseat Directors Podcast, and The Mega Movie Show! Continually surprised that he's getting older and not forever 24. Quit the corporate life to pursue his passions and spend more time at home. Grateful for the talented team at Backseat Directors, and for all the incredible work they do. Lover of movies, the BYU Cougars, Amy Jane and Groucho. Let's go to the movies!

ROUNDTABLE REVIEW: Mulan

*Editor’s note: this is the second roundtable review we have done on Backseat Directors. This format has been a lot of fun for our writers, and you can expect to see this more in the future with bigger blockbuster type films. For a more comprehensive (spoiler-free) review of Mulan, check out The Formal Review’s Podcast episode 25 (season 3) and his thoughts of the movie.

Mulan is available VOD (video on demand) on Disney+ for $29.99. The movie will be available to all Disney+ subscribers to stream for free come Dec. 4, 2020.

Walt Disney Studios | Rated: PG-13 | Run Time: 115 minutes | Director: Niki Caro

Rachel Wagner: I’m not sure what I expected out of this new Mulan. I haven’t been a big fan of most of these Disney live-action remakes, but occasionally they will produce a winner. The trailers looked pretty good and I felt that it is a story that could warrant different interpretations. Unfortunately, what they came up with thoroughly underwhelmed me. The power of the original Mulan (1998) is an ordinary girl who makes sacrifices to save her father and learns to be a warrior. In this new version, Mulan has the power of “chi” and is destined to save China, which is far less interesting. I also thought the actress Liu Yifei was very wooden and flat in the role. I think this might have something to do with a language barrier, but whatever the reason it kept me from being engaged in the film. In the end, they went for a superhero, “chosen one” narrative, and that was a huge mistake; making for a film that nobody will remember in 2 years, let alone 22 like the original animated classic.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

CJ Marshall: An old basketball coach used to tell me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Disney’s live-action Mulan feels like a perfect example of this. Mulan (2020) is merely decent, and the external forces (politics, Disney classic remake, expectation) are hard to ignore, because they don’t allow this phoenix to fly. They’re trying to serve too many masters here, and in doing so, it lacks a focus and gravity that would have made it a better picture. A Wuxia remake of Disney’s Mulan should have been better than this…especially with Donnie Yen and Jet Li involved. If you are a Disney+ subscriber, just wait until the movie is available to stream for free in December.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

The Formal Review: As an Asian American, Mulan (2020) was a great experience, and frankly, it was the best thing that could come from a Disney remake of an animated movie. Unfortunately, the look of it won’t be appreciated because they won’t have a big enough screen to do so. The action and the colors and the costumes all looked great; though, historically inaccurate. Even though it’s trying to be diverse with its obvious attempt to be a wuxia film, it’s not exactly the genre it was trying to be. To tell an “authentic” story of a legendary Chinese warrior, Disney hired a white director, a white costume designer, four white screenwriters, a white composer, a white cinematographer, white film editor, and a white casting director. It was a good attempt, but a better one would be to have given a person of Asian descent the reins on at least one of those professions to help out. Having a female director is great, but there are plenty of Asian directors of all genders out there that could have directed this. The representation that it had on screen is important but so is the representation behind the camera as well. Even so, the score by Henry Gregson Williams is pretty amazing. Though controversial, the film had some really good acting by the many stars. It dared to be different while also feeling the same. It had a lot of good things that make it worth the watch. I recommend splitting the $30 rental price with some family or friends, and enjoy the movie together.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Parker Johnson: In an ironic twist of fate, the parts where Mulan (2020) honors the original animated movie with its own twists were the parts that I most enjoyed throughout the movie. The relationship between Mulan and her father was expanded beautifully. I think the writers really understood that their relationship drove the whole story, and executed that part of the story perfectly. I thought the group of soldiers were portrayed wonderfully here, and I wish we got more time with them individually as opposed to just the love interest. The callbacks to the original musical numbers in both the score and dialogue was executed brilliantly. Sadly, every distinctly original element of this live action adaptation felt out of place or completely irrelevant to the story. The way chi is used in this story just felt like a lazy way to justify wire-fu to Americans not familiar with Asian/martial arts cinema, rather than having Mulan have natural talent in addition to her hard work and training. The witch detracts from Jason Scott Lee’s imposing performance as Bori Khan and his army, both in screen time and importance to the plot, and the idea of chi as traditional magic further muddles the idea of chi. Finally, the phoenix is literally only there for the most in-your-face symbolism since Game of Thrones. Mulan is one of the best live-action Disney Remakes alongside Cinderella (2015) and Aladdin (2019), but it still falls short of being great. I would advise those who want to see it to wait until December when it will be free to watch. Although somewhat enjoyable, $30 is just too much to pay.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

ROUNDTABLE REVIEW: Tenet

*Editor’s note: Today’s review will be the first of its kind on Backseat Directors. Since our writers’ opinions of TENET varied quite a bit we decided to give each of them an opportunity to share their experience and thoughts of the movie. Each writer was given one paragraph to share their quick thoughts. For a more in-depth (spoiler-filled) discussion of TENET, go listen to Ep. 113 of the Backseat Directors Podcast.

Warner Bros. Pictures | Rated: PG-13 | Run Time: 150 minutes | Director: Christopher Nolan

Parker Johnson: One thing that made the movie so enjoyable for me was seeing Kenneth Branaugh as a villain. Most of the time I’m used to either seeing him as the protagonist, a mentor figure, or Gilderory Lockheart. I was impressed by the range of emotions his character went through, and how his character genuinely believed he was in the right–even in the act of doing awful things. There’s one scene in the movie where he flies into a rage that made me more tense in a movie then I’ve been for years. Bravo sir, bravo. 

Recommendation: Go See It!

Rachel Wagner: There will be some people who try and paint those of us who did not enjoy Tenet as simpletons unwilling to embrace risky filmmaking. I would ask those people to consider what their own basic demands for a film are? For me, it’s engaging characters, interesting story, and coherent dialogue. Tenet failed at all 3 of these requirements. The characters for the most part were flat with little backstory or depth to their roles. The story was difficult to follow and overwhelmed by a loud blaring score and very choppy editing, and the dialogue was frequently unintelligible. If I literally can’t understand what the characters are saying because of the bizarre sound mix choices it doesn’t matter how great the visuals and action are. In fact, it only makes me more frustrated that such craft and spectacle is wasted in a self-indulgent slog. I have always been a fan of director Christopher Nolan, even in his more divisive films like Interstellar (2014) or The Dark Knight Rises (2012), but he deliberately made choices in Tenet to ostracize his audience from the picture and make it an overall unpleasant experience. Especially having such a yearning for a big blockbuster on the IMAX I wanted to love what he offered in Tenet, but I did not.

Recommendation: NO GO

The Formal Review: Nolan uses numerous scientific theories and the ROTAS palindromic square in a very ambitious and ingenious way. He is able take those ideas and stage them via action sequences that run backward and forward through time simultaneously. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema gives some amazing scenes that make a James Bond film look low key. Ludwig Göransson’s score is very Hans Zimmer like, and it is a thunderstorm. The film has Nolan trying to outdo the espionage film genre by making his own filled with speedboats, glamorous locations, and a lot of crisp suits. Each actor does a good job at playing their roles with Washington and Branaugh being the standouts. The former is able to be like his father while also establishing himself as a lead man. The latter is no surprise as he is a Shakespearean actor and he can do almost any role. The film does have some issues with dialogue being muffled and it feels too short for the complexities it tackles. This can make the film feel confusing, and maybe subtitles would have been beneficial. The character development and Nolan’s treatment of his female characters could be better. For better or worse, this movie has Nolan trying to outdo himself, and each viewer will decide if he is successful. In short, it is in the top tier of Nolan films; go see it! The best experience would be in a theatre with the best audio possible like Dolby Cinema. Any other thoughts would involve spoilers and a full analysis will be coming later.

Recommendation: Go See It!

Rachel Ogden: With Hollywood plagued by a one-time-watch epidemic, director Christopher Nolan has created something you can’t possibly grasp without multiple viewings. Every choice is a gesture of faith in the audience; faith that we will do our best to keep up and that we’ll come back for more. The dialogue moves as fast as John David Washington runs, and the content is cerebrally ambitious without losing the thrill of the ride. Rather than be intimidated, I think you should be excited; just don’t get hung up on what you don’t understand and enjoy what you do. Though I’m only on my first viewing, I wouldn’t be surprised if TENET became my favorite Nolan movie.

Recommendation: Go See It!

André Hutchens: As it goes with every Christopher Nolan film (it seems), TENET was one of the most, if not THE most highly anticipated film of 2020. Coronavirus pandemic be damned, there was no stopping this film from debuting in actual movie theaters, and allowing audiences worldwide the opportunity to experience the latest Nolan film the way every Nolan film should be experienced. Perhaps his most complex and intellectually challenging movie yet, Nolan has crafted a unique and bold movie that will be discussed in social circles for months (and maybe years) to come. TENET presents time-travel like no other movie before it, which will require the intent concentration and focus of its audience. John David Washington is a star in the making, and Robert Pattinson’s role only helps to build my excitement for his next project as Bruce Wayne in The Batman (2021). Other than a few scenes that really struggled to properly sound mix the audio and I was unable to understand the dialogue, this movie is a must see in theaters. See TENET in IMAX if you can; this movie deserves that kind of spectacle.

Recommendation: Go See It!

REVIEW: 7500

Amazon Studios
Rated: R
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director: Patrick Vollrath

Watching the trailer for 7500 might leave you somewhat underwhelmed and uninterested, as it did me. Airplane hijacking movies are a dime a dozen; an outdated genre that still lingers on. Even 19 years post 9/11, we seem to revisit this collective trauma annually with the release of new hijacking movies. I have my fair share of hijacking favorites that I enjoy revisiting from time to time: Air Force One (1997), Con Air (1997), Snakes on a Plane (2006), all “turn off your brain” kind of films that are the epitome of popcorn flicks. (Man, 1997 was a great year for hijacking movies!) Physical force and action sequences usually dominate this genre, but I am happy to say that 7500 couldn’t be more different to the typical hijacking movie.

7500 debuted last year at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, and was released in the U.S. this June on Amazon Prime Video. It is directed by German born Patrick Vollrath, this being his first full-length feature film. The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tobias, First Officer and co-pilot of a commercial flight from Berlin to Paris; and Omid Memar as Vedat, a young Turkish Islamic Extremist, who is having second thoughts on the morality of this hijacking.

The plot of of the movie is as follows: a commercial airliner is taking 85 passengers from Berlin to Paris. Islamic Extremists attempt to take over the plane using broken bottles of glass as weapons, and taking some of the passengers as hostages. The are unable to break into the cockpit, so they use threats of violence and death on passengers in an attempt to coerce the pilots to let them in. Without giving too much away, this is the basic plot of the film. But what makes this movie so intriguing—and ultimately why I am going to recommend it—is because of how deeply intimate and thought-provoking the story is.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears in a scene of 7500 | Amazon Studios.

The entirety of the movie takes place inside the cockpit of this airliner. It felt reminiscent of films like Buried (2010) and Locke (2013), or maybe if you mixed those two together. You get to see in detail the level of complexity that exists within these marvelous machines, and the level of education needed to pilot them. There is no musical score throughout the film, which adds to the authenticity of this small world created on screen. Gordon-Levitt and Memar bring exceptional performances to their roles, and gives me hope that one day Gordon-Levitt will be seen and revered as a highly talented actor, and land the larger roles that he has earned.

I often hear other movie fans say that the most fundamental aspect of a movie its ability to entertain its audience. I have a hard time agreeing with this notion. If entertainment was the goal of every movie, then the value of movies would mean very little to those who do enjoy them. My belief about what makes film so universally loved by humans everywhere is its ability to tell a meaningful story. Stories (specifically stories about the human experience) are what captivates the minds and hearts of the audience. 7500 gets at the heart of humanity in the midst of trial and tribulation. It will make you think about ethical and moral dilemmas that you otherwise might not be thinking about. I love movies that make me ask myself, “What would I do if I were in that same situation?” but without offering a clear path or definition of what that right answer is. Yes, there are specific character and plot sequences that I would have changed up a bit, but there isn’t anything too egregious enough for me to give more attention to.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, go give 7500 a shot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised on the outcome, and at only 90 minutes, it’s well worth the investment of your time.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Vivarium

Vertigo Releasing
Rated: R
Run Time: 97 minutes
Director: Lorcan Finnegan

The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 has completely turned the film and movie theater industries on their heads: every big budget movie has been delayed from its original release date; new dates are added in hopes that movie theaters will reopen soon, only to see the rescheduled dates be delayed again. Things have gotten so bad for movie theater companies nationwide that a petition to receive federal funding has been circulating and gaining momentum. #SaveYourCinema has become the rallying cry of movie fans and movie theater owners alike. (If you want to show your support, go visit www.saveyourcinema.com). The economy shutdown has likely saved lives and slowed the spread of the coronavirus, but it has also decimated countless small businesses, and continues to threaten larger corporations like AMC, Regal, Cinemark, etc.

As movie theater owners and patrons work to adjust to the new way of conducting business and supporting movie theaters, streaming services fill a void left in the vacuum of the movie industry shutdown. Dozens of movies that were slated for theatrical release were quickly switched to a VOD (video on demand) worldwide debut (e.g. Trolls World Tour), or some other movies had their worldwide debut on streaming services like Apple TV+ (e.g. Greyhound).

I had a friend mention to me last week that he misses seeing new movies. My response to him was that he more likely misses seeing new BLOCKBUSTER movies since there is a plethora of new movies that continue to release almost every single week (to which he agreed). Between streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ etc., and VOD services like iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon Prime, there are dozens and dozens of new 2020 movies that are available to watch right now—to the point that I have ventured into seeing new movies that I otherwise would not have watched before… Which has not always been a pleasant experience.

And thus begins my review of Vivarium

From left to right: Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris, and Jesse Eisenberg in s scene of Vivarium | Vertigo Releasing.

Vivarium debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 2019. It never had a theatrical release and was instead released VOD worldwide back in March of this year. Vivarium tells the story of a young couple (played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) that is on the hunt for their first home together. They walk into a home developer’s office and meet with an odd real estate agent named Martin. Martin has a bizarre mannerism about him. He’s polite and is always smiling, but his social awkwardness was almost too much for me to handle. Like any good salesman, Martin guilts the young couple to take a drive with him to a new suburban development called Yonder, and to take a tour of the freshly built homes. As they pull into the new development you notice that everything is exactly the same—from the color of the houses, to the size of the houses, everything is in perfect unison. As Martin takes the couple on a tour of house #9, Martin’s mannerisms become more and more uncomfortable, and even sociopathic. As the tour comes to an end, Martin disappears outside leaving the couple alone inside. Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) go to their car and attempt to exit the neighborhood. They drive for hours trying to find the exit all the while ending up right back where they started at house #9.

At the beginning of the movie before any of the human characters are introduced, there is a short clip of the parasitic life-cycle of a cuckoo bird. If you’re unfamiliar with a cuckoo bird, get ready to be educated. Female cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nest of other bird species. Once hatched, the baby cuckoo pushes out any other baby bird or egg from the mother bird, and then is tended to by the surrogate mother bird. Even as the cuckoo grows to sizes bigger than the surrogate mother bird, the cuckoo begs and whines for attention, food, and care from the surrogate. When Gemma and Tom are left alone and unable to escape from this bizarre labyrinth of houses, they discover a box outside house #9 that says, “Raise the child and be released.” I am not inclined to say anymore about the story without getting into spoiler territory; suffice it to say, the cuckoo clip in the beginning has a little something to do with the overall plot of the movie.

Vivarium is an original story that presents a unique and interesting enough plot to hold some viewers’ attentions, but not enough to hold mine. It presents some ethical and moral dilemmas throughout the movie that scratch the surface of really getting you to wonder, “What would I do in this same situation?” but not deep enough to really explore those elements. The pacing is very slow, and the lack of music (although not completely devoid of a score) makes the pacing that much slower. I was very much intrigued by the trailer, and since new movies are not the most abundant product around, I took a stab. But I would be doing everyone reading this a disservice if I said I liked Vivarium, or would recommend it—I just can’t. Even with the creatively clever title “Vivarium” (think Aquarium or Terrarium), there’s just not enough substance to fill even a decent run time of 97 minutes.

Vivarium is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

Robin Bissell: An Unexpected Path to the Director’s Chair

Robin Bissell and Taraji P. Henson on set of The Best of Enemies (2018).

Movies are the creation derived from the dreams, inspiration, ideas, and hard work of countless minds and hands. If you stay at the end of each movie as the credits begin to roll, you’ll get a glimpse of just how many people it really does take to bring a movie to life. The name Robin Bissell might not sound entirely familiar to the casual movie fan, and it might even elude some of the more self-declared cinephiles, but without a doubt it is a name you’ll want to follow in the Hollywood industry.

Have you ever heard of Pleasantville (1998), or Seabiscuit (2003)? How about The Hunger Games (2012)?—only the third highest grossing movie at the domestic box office in 2012, grossing over $408 million. Bissell served as an associate producer and executive producer (respectively) on all three of these films (among others). But Bissell’s path to Hollywood was an unexpected one to say the least.

Bissell’s upbringing exposed him to theater and plays, but it was at the end of his freshman year at the University of Maryland that Bissell discovered his ability to write music. This discovery inspired him to drop out of college during his sophomore year and head west to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career in either music or acting, both equal passions of his. Friends and family admonished him to choose one and focus on that—and he chose singing/song writing. Bissell was able to form a band and land a record deal with A&M Records, only to see that deal nullified once PolyGram bought out A&M Records. This didn’t stop Bissell and his band, Everything, from pursuing their love of music and playing shows all over town.

Robin Bissell, co-lead singer of the band Everything, playing a show in 1995.

After a few years of playing music, Bissell felt ready for a change; a new adventure of sorts. Bissell’s love of film had never diminished, and ultimately, it was Bissell’s connections that he had made through music that landed him an opportunity in the film industry. Bissell’s friend, agent Melanie Ramsayer, lined him up an interview as an assistant to a movie writer who was about to direct his very first film. This new director had fired his last three assistants, and Bissell went in to interview for the opening. Even after being warned at how awful this assistant position was going to be, Bissell persisted and never wavered during the interview. When the interview concluded and Bissell was making his way to back to his car, he realized he had forgotten to ask for a script of this new movie. So Bissell went back into the building only to run into the new director himself, Gary Ross, who then hired him on the spot. This new movie being made was Pleasantville, starring Jeff Daniels, Reese Witherspoon, and Tobey Maguire.

(Left to right) Robin Bissell, Reese Witherspoon and Paul Walker on set of Pleasantville (1996).

Bissell’s hiring came two months before principal photography began for Pleasantville, and with no experience and no idea how to actually do his job, Bissell became a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge as he possibly could. He worked long hours and took on more responsibilities, and during the extensive fifteen-month post-production of Pleasantville (while other producers left to take care of other projects), Bissell picked up the slack and made his worth known to Gary Ross as well as others; Ross ended up making Bissell an associate producer for Pleasantville.

And thus began his new journey in Hollywood.

Bissell would go on to be hired as a full-time producing partner for Gary Ross and Larger Than Life Productions, and would be part of the making of such films as Seabiscuit, The Tale of Despereaux (2008), and The Hunger Games. When Comcast bought Universal Studios back in 2010, they ended up buying out the contract that Universal had with Larger Than Life Productions. Gary Ross, Bissell, and co. were still able to make The Hunger Games, whose financial success allowed Bissell the flexibility to set off on his own in pursuit of a project he had been thinking of making for a number of years.

Sam Rockwell and Robin Bissell on set of The Best of Enemies (2018).

It was back in 2005 that Bissell came across an article in Time Magazine about two individuals back in the 1970’s that were on opposing sides of civil rights activism occurring in Durham, NC; Ann Atwater, a Black woman and civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a White man and president of the KKK chapter in Durham, NC. This story grabbed Bissell’s attention, and years later would end up being the passion project that put him in the director’s chair of his very own movie titled, The Best of Enemies (2019). This story is explored in detail on episode 110 of the Backseat Directors Podcast. Bissell’s journey from college drop-out, to musician, to an assistant, to associate producer, to executive producer, to a writer and director of his own movie was likely the most unexpected journey he could have imagined. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Bissell’s career is to follow your heart. Even if the path before you is uncertain and obscure, the only way to know is to take that leap and move forward. I encourage all readers to listen to the rest of his story and learn more about the man, and the movie fan, Robin Bissell.

REVIEW: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

NETFLIX
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 123 minutes
Director: David Dobkin

Do you ever find yourself dreading a movie you don’t want to watch, because deep down you know you’re not going to like it? You might be asking yourself, “Why am I even going to watch a movie I have no interest in seeing?” As a movie reviewer, I ask myself this same question far too often—specifically anything starring Will Ferrell. Enter Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (let’s just call it ‘Fire Saga‘ for short) is a 2020 film that was released June 26 on Netflix. The film is directed by David Dobkin and stars Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong and Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir, two Icelandic musicians that dream of performing and winning the Eurovision Song Contest. For us uncultured Americans who might be unfamiliar with the Eurovision Song Contest, this is a real international song competition that has been held annually since 1956. Competitors from 50 different European countries (and more recently some non-European countries) compete in a sing-off where each individual country is allowed to submit one song to be performed by their representing artists. It is one of the most watched non-sporting television events in the world.

Getting back to my previous comment about dreading this movie, “dreading” might be too harsh of a word. Will Ferrell movies just aren’t my cup of tea. Like many other SNL actors that have made the jump to feature films, Ferrell has his fans and his detractors. I wouldn’t consider myself in either of those camps; his comedy style just doesn’t have that much appeal to me. I hope my review of ‘Fire Saga’ is as objectively fair as possible, admitting that I probably had made up my mind about this movie within the first five minutes.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams appear in a scene of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga | Netflix.

‘Fire Saga’ tells the story of Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir (a play on words that I am only now noticing), two Icelanders’ journey to fulfill their lifelong dream of performing at the Eurovision Song Contest. Lars has dealt with criticism and ridicule from his small Icelandic town, and the reproach of a father who has felt nothing but disappointment toward his son. Sigrit is the second member of Fire Saga, and the only faithful supporter of Lars and his dreams. Unfortunately, Sigrit is also the only one with any real singing talent. Along their journey they are helped and hindered by other performers at the Eurovision Song Contest, namely the Russian singer and favorite-to-win-the-competition, Alexander Lemtov (played by Dan Stevens); and Greek singer, Mita Xenaki (played by Melissanthi Mahut). It’s an odd sight seeing quality actors like McAdams and Stevens starring in a movie like ‘Fire Saga’. Perhaps it was the opportunity to go travel to incredibly beautiful shooting locations like Iceland, Scotland, London and Tel Aviv, Israel. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to make a quick paycheck starring in a film that required little-to-no effort on anyone’s part. Ferrell and McAdams make for an odd duo, and their chemistry, even for a movie like this, never felt like it gelled.

Will Ferrell movies have a knack for the silly and outrageous, and ‘Fire Saga’ is no exception. If you’re not a fan of Will Ferrell movies you’ll likely find your eyes becoming exhausted from all the excessive eye-rolling you’ll experience from this movie. Again, like most Will Ferrell movies, the plot is razor thin, and the occasional laughs are also mixed in with groans. There are some heartfelt moments between Lars and his disapproving father (played by Pierce Brosnan), and some very catchy pop music, which just might end up being the highlight of the movie. My Marianne performs the incredible female vocals for Sigrit, while Ferrell does his own vocals, which appear on the soundtrack too. I was surprised to see that Dan Stevens did not do his own singing. He has the ability and the talent, but for whatever reason, did not perform his iconic “Lion of Love” song.

The deciding factor for my recommendation came down to two things: whether or not you’re a fan of Will Ferrell, and the excessive run time. At 123 minutes, ‘Fire Saga’ is about 25 minutes too long. There’s only so much of this kind of comedy that I can take, and 2 hours is just too long for me. I know Ferrell has his fans out there, but I’m just not one of them. For the Ferrell fans, you’ve likely seen this movie already, but if you haven’t, go turn it on and enjoy the silly laughs that has made Ferrell’s career what it is today. For the rest of you, this is just not a movie I can recommend.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: My Spy

STX Films
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 99 minutes
Director: Pete Segal

(*Disclaimer: This movie review was originally written on March 12, 2020. My Spy is not screening in theaters, but is available streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Let’s just start out by addressing the elephant in the room: COVID-19. Also know as the Coronavirus, COVID-19 continues to impact societies, peoples, industries and businesses all over the world. Whoever you are that is reading this review, and wherever you find yourself, I wish you well. Stay safe, stay healthy, and be smart about your decisions. Who knows when things will settle back into what we consider “normal?” Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.

With that said, I want to quickly focus on the current impact COVID-19 is having on the movie industry. James Bond: No Time to Die was the first domino to fall in what is now a long chain of movie release delays. My Spy was set to release March 13 nationwide, until it wasn’t. On March 9, STX Films announced that the movie was going to be pushed back in little more than a month with a new release date of April 17. Compared to recent announcements concerning release delays, My Spy came out fairly unscathed. Whether or not that new April 17 release date will remain unchanged is still to be seen. I’m not predicting anything, but I imagine the studio will stick with this date. There are a lot of moving parts that go into changing movie release dates. It’s a complicated task to delay a movie, so to move it again after an already announced second date seems highly unlikely. The only scenario I could see keeping this movie out of theaters on April 17 is if movie theaters nationwide shut down. I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

Even with the movie delay already certain, Salt Lake City still hosted a screening of My Spy this week. (As long as movie theaters are still letting people inside their doors, you know where to find me). My Spy is the most recent project from Director Peter Segal. Perhaps most known for his iconic 1995 comedy, Tommy Boy (1995), Segal has a long list of well known movies that have both hit and missed for audiences and critics alike. From 50 First Dates (2004) and Anger Management (2003), to Get Smart (2008) and Second Act (2018), Segal’s filmography are all movies you’ve likely seen before, and maybe even enjoy to a certain extent, but just don’t quite capture that memorable quality that really great films often do. And so it is with My Spy.

Chloe Coleman and Dave Bautista in a scene of My Spy | STX Films.

Every so often in Hollywood, a big, muscly, charismatic action-movie-hero graces us with his presence (and I say “his” because we have yet to get the big, muscly action-movie-heroine of the same caliber as Stallone or Schwarzenegger. I believe that Gina Carano could be the first). And they seem to come in waves. Stallone, then Schwarzenegger and now Dwayne Johnson; physical specimens that have a real commanding presence on screen, but also a very likable way about them no matter which movie they play in. These three actors seem to be in a category all to themselves. That’s not to say there are no other great action-movie-heroes in the business. Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg, Tom Hardy, Vin Diesel, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham etc. all fit the bill of a really great action-movie-hero, but when lined up against those aforementioned three, it’s an unfair competition. Now we enter a category of action-movie-heroes that is hard to define. This is the category of actors that are without a doubt, physical specimens themselves, routinely score roles in action movies, but still somehow have not achieved that status of any of the previously mentioned actors. I’m talking Dolph Lundgren, Carl Weathers, John Cena, Dave Bautista etc. Don’t get me wrong…in no way am I attempting to criticize these actors or their careers. I just wonder what kept, or has kept these actors from really breaking out and a making a name for themselves that can rival those of their contemporaries…if you have any ideas, please do share them with me.

To Bautista’s credit, My Spy really seems to be his kind of movie. Not much is asked of Bautista outside of just being himself. There is a natural chemistry between him and Chloe Coleman that helps endear the characters to the audience. My Spy uses the same DNA as the 90’s classic Kindergarten Cop, but emphasizes the relationship between JJ (Dave Bautista) and his smaller counterpart, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), more so than his potential romantic interest in Sophie’s mother (Parisa Fitz-Henley). This is a refreshing take on an already used storyline, and helps to distinguish it from its DNA predecessor.

Chloe Coleman and Dave Bautista in a scene of My Spy | STX Films.

As likeable as Bautista is in My Spy, it’s Chloe Coleman that steals the spotlight. Starring in her very first feature film, Coleman plays her part like a seasoned actress. I’m always impressed by child actors that display levels of talent on screen that many adult actors fail to achieve. Coleman is no exception. Her character, Sophie, is able to go toe to toe with JJ in wit and bravery, which will keep any of the younger audience members entertained and engaged in the film. Coleman’s acting career seems as if it’s about to take flight, as she is slated to star in a few upcoming films, namely Avatar 2, scheduled to come out in 2021.

Without a doubt, families and children were the intended audience for My Spy. But given its PG-13 rating, and the amount of violence and language that does happen in this movie, I would caution parents to maybe watch the movie first before bringing children, or maybe just check out the review from Common Sense Media, which will detail the content in full.

Overall, I enjoyed My Spy for what it is, and the audience it was intended for. If you’re looking for a fun night out with your family, and this is an option in theaters, maybe wait for a discount movie night or a matinee.

Recommendation: Maybe a Matinee

REVIEW: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Warner Home Video
Rated: R
Run Time: 90 minutes
Directors: Matt Peters & Christina Sotta

It’s extremely rare when you watch an animated movie and forget that you’re watching…an animated movie. It’s extremely rare that an animated movie has a production, story and overall quality that takes you out of a normal animated experience and gives you (to a certain extent) the feel of a live-action film. Thus was my experience while watching Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

Apokolips War‘ is the fifteenth and final film in the current DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU), and the direct sequel to Justice League Dark (2017). It debuted on May 5, 2020 as a direct-to-video release by Warner Bros. Animation. The movie was co-directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and is loosely based on the graphic novel, “The Darkseid War” by Geoff Johns. ‘Apokolips War‘ tells the story of our DC heroes taking on their arch nemesis, Darkseid, on his home planet of Apokolips in an all-out final battle. Unlike many happy-go-lucky superhero movies of today, ‘Apokolips War‘ does not shy away from showing real world consequences to having these god-like beings duke it out, and the inevitable casualties and collateral damage that ensue.

Apokolips War‘ is going to have wide appeal to any DC fan. Whether you’re a fan of DC Comics, DC movies, or both, you’ll find a lot to like about this movie. Superhero team-ups are abundant; you’ll see most of your favorite DC characters ranging from the Justice League, to the Teen Titans and the Suicide Squad. With so many characters to juggle in one movie, it can be very challenging finding enough screen time to give to each character, while also not feeling overcrowded and bogged down with too much at once. ‘Apokolips War‘ does well in finding enough screen time for the DC superhero favorites to shine, while also allowing the less popular characters to have their own moments and appeal to their own subset of fans.

As first time directors in the DCAMU, Peters and Sotta do well in guiding the movie along a fairly complex storyline, and doing it in just under 90 minutes. Peters and Sotta deliver a dark, bloody, and sometimes shocking film with this animated feature. With the critical and audience reception being very successful, don’t at all be surprised when Peters and Sotta ultimately find themselves back in the director’s chair for future animated movies.

The Justice League listens intently to Superman’s plan on how to defeat Darkseid in a scene of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War | Warner Home Video.

As much as I enjoyed this movie, there are a couple of things that really bothered me on initial watch—something that Superman said that felt…well, just felt very “un-Superman”-like. Here is the quote:

“I want to make this perfectly clear—we are facing an existential threat to the planet. We can’t wait for Darkseid to make the first move. That could mean the end of us. We have to attack!”

Superman in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020).

The notion that Superman is willing and ready to make an offensive attack on his enemy without his enemy attacking first seems to go against everything that Superman stands for. It’s a statement and sentiment that feels hopeless, and one based on fear. Even after Superman presents this plan to the Justice League and the Teen Titans, neither Batman nor Wonder Woman make any objections. The only voices of reason come from Flash, Cyborg and Lex Luthor—yes, THE Lex Luthor—who offered the only other alternative plan opposed to Superman’s. This plot point felt all too convenient, and just too sloppy for my liking. With an extra 10 minutes of movie time, a backstory sufficient enough could have helped to build up to this point.

Lastly (and not to give any major spoilers away) I’ll be very vague with this critique. Time travel has become an oft used plot convenience for many superhero movies today. I would like to see some writers let go of that crutch and really dig deep in giving audiences something more…permanent.

If you’re an animation fan; if you’re a DC fan; if you’re just a fan of superhero movies in general, I definitely think you should give Justice League Dark: Apokolips War a shot. You might find yourself wanting to go back and start at the beginning of the DCAMU. For those of you who are interested in where to start, the following is the DCAMU in order from beginning to end:

  1. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
  2. Justice League: War (2014)
  3. Son of Batman (2014)
  4. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
  5. Batman vs. Robin (2015)
  6. Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
  7. Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)
  8. Justice League Dark (2017)
  9. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
  10. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)
  11. The Death of Superman (2018)
  12. Reign of the Supermen (2019)
  13. Batman: Hush (2019)
  14. Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (2019)
  15. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Utah-Based Movie Theater Chain, Megaplex Theatres, Reopening Soon

Megaplex Theatres at Jordan Commons | Courtesy of Megaplex Theatres, Larry H. Miller Company.

It’s a great day for all movie fans in Utah. Megaplex Theatres, part of the Larry H. Miller Company, just announced today that they will be reopening most locations on Thursday, June 18.

Theaters nationwide shuttered their doors in early March in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Regal Cinemas was the first major theater chain to announce closures of their theaters back on March 16, 2020.

It has been a long three months for moviegoers as they have had to wait patiently for things to settle down enough for movie theater companies to even consider reopening. Megaplex Theatres officially closed their doors on March 18, 2020—exactly three months to the day from their scheduled reopening.

Megaplex Theatres has made assurances that they will go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their employees and patrons. Megaplex has officially adopted Utah’s Cinema Promise:

Utah’s theatre exhibitors, in collaboration with statewide elected officials and health experts, recommend that individual owners and operators design and implement voluntary commitments and practices regarding the health and safety of their employees and customers, resulting in “Utah’s Cinema Promise.” This promise correlates with the state’s “Utah Leads Together” plan and its specific industry guidelines for all phases of COVID-19 stabilization and recovery. “Utah’s Cinema Promise” was developed to help instill comfort and confidence that cinema operators will take appropriate actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among employees and customers.

Utah’s Cinema Promise – Final Draft 3_050720
Rocky Mountain National Association of Theatre Owners

To see Megaplex Theatres’ full guidelines and procedures for reopening, click the following link: Reopening Guidelines.

However, not every Megaplex Theatre location will reopen on June 18. Here is the list of locations that will reopen:

  • Jordan Commons in Sandy
  • The Gateway in Salt Lake City
  • Thanksgiving Point in Lehi
  • The District in South Jordan
  • The Junction in Ogden
  • Legacy Crossing in Centerville
  • Valley Fair in West Valley City
  • Providence in Logan
  • Cedar Stadium in Cedar City
  • Pineview in St. George
  • Geneva Mill in Vineyard
  • Cottonwood Luxury in Holladay

As businesses and other institutions begin to reopen, the feeling of normalcy seems to be creeping back into the lives of Americans everywhere. The Coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented event in our lifetime; with over 30+ million having lost their jobs, it has turned lives upside down and inside out. The reopening of movie theaters might seem fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but even the small things (like movie theaters) help our society come back together.

For more information regarding the reopening of Megaplex Theatres, click the following FAQ link.

Zack Snyder Announces His Long Desired Cut of ‘Justice League’ and the World Reacts

Justice League (2017) | Warner Bros. Pictures

Wednesday, May 20 will be a day long remembered by fans of Zack Snyder and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). For over two years now, fans of Zack Snyder and his vision of the DCEU have been advocating for the release of Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League, and they finally got their answer this morning. In a live stream watch party of Man of Steel (2013) on VERO, director Zack Snyder gave the announcement himself. We will walk you through the days leading up to this event, the announcement, and then the reactions from fans everywhere.

Let’s back it up a bit and start at the beginning. For some of you readers who might be unfamiliar with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement online, it all began with this single tweet from user @MovieBuff100 only 4 days after the worldwide release of the theatrical cut of Justice League in 2017:

Ever since this tweet, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has become a rallying cry for supporters of Zack Snyder and his original vision of the Justice League movie. When leaks began to surface online regarding the troublesome production and reshoots of Justice League (director Zack Snyder being replaced by Joss Whedon), and that much of the actual film seen in theaters was not what Snyder and Co. had filmed, fans of Snyder began to organize, using this hashtag as their rallying cry. Unelected leaders took the reigns and created the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut Twitter account, all dedicated to the promotion of Snyder’s Cut of Justice League, and the education of those unfamiliar with the movement:

As the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement grew, the online support began to transcend the social media arena, and fans really put their money where their mouths were. Billboards, bus stop posters, and banners flown from planes during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con were all organized by Snyder fans to show their support of the filmmaker, dubbed #ProjectComicCon, and to make a public statement to Warner Bros. that there were indeed many fans who wanted to see the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League:

https://twitter.com/willrowactor/status/1152725215937519618?s=20

Money from fans all over the world was donated to make these banners and billboards come to life, but the fans didn’t stop there. Half of that same money raised for these signs was donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in honor of Zack Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, who died by suicide during the post-production of Justice League back in 2017:

https://twitter.com/willrowactor/status/1154508985384370176?s=20

After the success of #ProjectComicCon, fans moved their attention to creating awareness of their cause at the 2019 New York Comic Con. Once again, thousands of dollars were donated from fans all around the world, and organizers were able to purchase screen time on a billboard in Time Square:

At this point a lot of steam was building behind the movement, and people were beginning to take notice. Bloggers, big media outlets, and even Zack Snyder himself gave their attention to what these fans were doing. The stage was now set for the second anniversary of the theatrical release of Justice League; the time was ripe to make a huge statement to Warner Bros. that the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was to be taken seriously, and that they were here to stay. On Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019—a day that will be long remembered as a key turning point in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement—hundreds of thousands of fans and supporters across the globe rallied to make the hashtag “trend” on Twitter—and trend it did. The real turning point was when Wonder Woman, Batman and Snyder all joined in to tweet their support of the ‘Snyder Cut’:

On March 28, 2020 Snyder announced on VERO that he was going to host a live streaming watch party of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on Sunday, March 29 and would include director’s commentary on the movie.

At the end of the live stream, Snyder teased his audience with a cliffhanger message shrouded in mystery. Check it out below:

Now we’ve arrived at Monday, May 18, 2020. Snyder announces another live streaming watch party of his 2013 film, Man of Steel, on VERO. It is now the morning of Wednesday, May 20, and rumors all over the internet are swirling about what could come out of this watch party hosted by Snyder:

If you are interested in reading a recap of the entire director’s commentary, and want to save some time without watching the three-hour VERO stream, check out the Twitter thread posted by the Backseat Directors‘ Twitter account:

Both Zack and Debbie Snyder were in attendance on the VERO stream, providing commentary on the making and production of Man of Steel. As the movie began wrapping up, fans online began to get anxious, wondering if Snyder would actually reveal any news regarding his ‘Snyder Cut’…

Until Superman himself showed up:

Henry Cavill (who has been noticeably quiet about the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement) dropped in on the VERO stream to everyone’s surprise:

As Cavill and the Snyders continued their conversation, more people began to pop up on the VERO stream. Fans and supporters of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were invited to participate in a chat and ask the Snyders questions. The very last question was asked by Twitter user @CaresDaniella regarding the ‘Snyder Cut’ and when we would all be able to see it:

The moment the entire internet had been waiting for had finally come. No more beating around the bush; no more sugar coating; Zack was asked clearly and directly, and here was his response:

Yes! It finally happened. Zack Snyder officially confirmed the release of his cut of Justice League, set to debut on HBO Max in 2021, with the official title being, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (very appropriate, in my opinion):

Years of hard work, dedication, and a love of the Snyders came pouring out all at once in a flood of tweets for so many that had a hand in this movement. Here are just a few:

The journey of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement has been full of ups and downs, hard fought battles, hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to both the cause and to AFSP, and years of hoping and waiting. These fans will see their dreams become a reality in 2021 when Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuts on the shiny, new Warner Bros. streaming platform, HBO Max. And for the Snyders, a sense of joy and vindication has to be swelling within them. Debbie and Zack suffered an unthinkable tragedy during the making of Justice League, and in many ways this is sure to feel like the ending to a chapter left unfinished.

RELATED

How I Changed My Mind About ‘Batman v Superman’

If this entire experience (which is sure to be made into a documentary at some point) can be summed up in a single word, I think the most appropriate would be ‘hope.’

“What’s the ‘S’ stand for?”

“It’s not an ‘S’. In my world it means HOPE.”

If you’d like to watch the entire VERO live stream of Man of Steel, with director Zack Snyder, the link has been posted below.

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