Maybe a Matinee

REVIEW: Bill and Ted Face the Music

United Artists Releasing
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director: Dean Parisot

Your calculated consideration in viewing this editorial is most appreciated, dude!

What to say about the third and (I’m sure it’s safe to say) final installment of the Bill & Ted series? Well, I can’t speak about one movie without the other two in this case, especially since there’s so much reference to them in Bill & Ted Face the Music. So let’s start from the beginning…

Like many who are reading this, I grew up watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989, the first in the trilogy). Though I was born and introduced to it long after 80‘s culture had diminished, this became one of the solidified go-to’s watched on pre-teen Saturday night sleepovers and on trans-state road trips. Dated as it is, it’s one-liners have always lived on in my family circle, and I’ve shamelessly shown it to family and friends who missed it amongst the sea of 80’s classics.

I went ahead and watched the original again at about the time I heard that ‘Face the Music‘ had received a release date. It had been about a decade since I last watched it, and as ridiculous as it is, it has truly kept its good humored, sincere savor over the past years. I especially loved the plot point that’s probably the most in your face but that I had never really given a lot of weight to: they learned history and defied expectations by being who they truly were, a couple of chill, really nice guys that could get along with anyone including the most diverse group of historical figures. As a history buff, and also someone that didn’t do well in school, this aspect alone makes me want to stand by this movie’s goodness forever. Oh, and the soundtrack is THE BEST.

What followed for me was a viewing that was a long time coming. I didn’t grow up watching Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (the 1991 sequel), and I’ve always been hesitant to visit it. I don’t know what it was; maybe it’s the fact that most comedy sequels are usually awful and I really didn’t want it to taint my love for the first movie, or maybe it was just that the Death character on the movie posters and VHS covers creeped me out as a kid, and I still have some PTSD. But unfortunately, and I think based off pure coincidence, my two stated worries had some legitimate grounds. Where ‘Bogus Journey‘ isn’t busy taking a few quirks from the first movie and exhausting them till all logic and good humor has dulled, it adds a cartoonish underworld, a long awaited creepy Death character (not to mention the creepiest martians), dirtier jokes, uneven tone, and finally a less endearing, less clever representation of Bill and Ted. Another big disappointment for me is where the first movie takes the unique approach of making the antagonist intangible (namely their intelligence, the looming lack of time, and the fear of being separated by military school), the sequel just makes the villain an evil European future guy and some uncomfortably insulting evil robot versions of our heroes. I feel like I just said everything, so I’ll leave it there. Sorry to offend any die hard fans, but the sequel is pretty bogus.

(From left to right): Samara Weaving, Kristen Schaal, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter appear in a scene of Bill and Ted Face the Music | United Artists Releasing.

Now you may understand why I was a bit ambivalent about watching the third. Surprisingly, the same writers have helmed the script for all three movies, so for my friends that are nostalgic toward the first AND the second, I’m confident that you’ll enjoy this.

Bill and Ted find themselves still stuck 40 years later after the events of the first two films without their hit song which supposedly was going to bring the world into harmony. They go on an adventure through the future to get the song from their future selves while their daughters go back in time to find the most talented songwriters in the world (reminiscent of the first movie). Everyone ends up running into mortal danger which reintroduces Death and the underworld (referring to the sequel). Sounds like a big mess but it actually works more decently than you think.

It was weird approaching a movie with both positive and negative bias but I can honestly say the following: Bill & Ted Face the Music takes familiar characters and aspects across both of its predecessors to make a fun enough conclusion for our two excellent friends. The fact that they basically never changed over the half century annoyed me a bit at first, but they eventually wear you down (I mean how can you not love Keanu no matter what?). The ending was heartwarming with a climatic performance along with a sweet familial reveal, even if it did feel a bit hurried.

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in a scene of Bill and Ted Face the Music | United Artists Releasing.

Now being that this film is in theaters, I do need to give a responsible review before designating this flick. It does play on many past tropes that may feel entirely exhausted. I mean, we’re so culturally far from the 80’s stereotype bros that we started out with, so this vibe may not appeal to everyone (fan of the originals or not). I’ll say that the fact that the two millennial daughters are pretty much a pale imitation of their metalhead fathers often made for a more annoying and illogical detail than a fun redirection. As mentioned, the ending and even much of the movie itself felt just a little rushed (perhaps too much was going on between the two plots). Lastly, it’s just nowhere near as comical as the first–at least not enough to quote for years to come. 

I will say that all the faithfulness to the first movie was enough to help me overlook many of those offbeat quirks. So in the end, ‘Face the Music‘ was a necessary, even crucial addition to the Bill & Ted saga as a whole because it makes up for the second movie and gives us a decently solid conclusion. However, I still think that the world would be better off with solely the original in their movie collection. But if they need to see the full story, it’ll make for a fun enough watch. But maybe spare the miles and movie ticket and rent it on-demand.

Recommendation: Maybe A Matinee

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: Bloodshot

Sony Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: David S.F. Wilson

The Story/The Direction:

Bloodshot is a superhero film based on the Valiant Comics character of the same name. It is supposed to be the first installment in a series of films set within a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe. The film was directed by first-timer David S.F. Wilson. It obviously stars Vin Diesel, and has Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce as co-stars. Bloodshot tells the story of a marine who was killed-in-action, only to be brought back to life with technological superpowers by an organization that wants to use him as a weapon.

If viewers have seen and liked a Vin Diesel action film before, there is a lot of stuff in this to like as well. This film has a muscular man running around with explosions, shootouts, and beatdowns. Most of the action scenes in this film, aside from the first one, are pretty well done and engaging—they definitely look a whole lot better than other Diesel films. The pacing is pretty decent, and one who enjoys the action won’t feel bored as there are a lot of quick cuts during fight scenes. The director’s experience with computer graphics (CG) is noticeable in the action scenes in both good and bad ways. The good is that some of the action looks very coherent and engaging. 

The Characters:

While I have never read the Valiant Comics’ ‘Bloodshot,’ it does have a lot of fans, both domestically and internationally; and when Diesel is added as the character—who also has his own fanbase—theoretically, a good film would be produced. Diesel himself does do a decent job as this action hero who grunts and flexes some decent action sequences. He kicks a lot of butt, which is the most that can be expected from a film like this. His character basically looks like he should have been from TerminatorGenisys in some scenes. This actually looks fairly cool and keeps the film entertaining. He does add his characteristic machismo which effectively makes him an action hero, but the actor’s performance itself doesn’t bring any depth to the role.

Vin Diesel’s character shown regenerating after being shot in a scene of Bloodshot | Sony Pictures

The Flaws:

Overall, however, this is not a good film. The CGI is really bad at points, the characters are very underdeveloped, and the story is all over the place. There is even a line of dialogue in the film that has Pearce’s character, Dr. Emil Harting, making fun of one of his designer’s stories because he had done every cliché in the book, which honestly seems meta in a way? Because this film is really—and I mean really—cliché. Pearce is okay, but he really isn’t that villainous as an evil-scientist character. He seems more emphatic towards his creations than anything. There is a comedy in this film which seems off from a film aspect. If this film had been made more as a complete action story, it could have been better. The comedy made me laugh, but that was from how corny it is than anything else. Also for a film called, ‘Bloodshot,’ there is very little blood. This is probably due to the PG-13 rating, and maybe an R rating would have made this film better in that aspect. However, this film is probably marketing for young teenagers, which an R rating would prevent them from seeing it. 

Overall:

Bloodshot is a popcorn movie that one might want to watch while doing laundry. It does have solid action scenes and a relentless pace that normally would have been really good for a 4DX theater. The film definitely was fun to see in this format, but it is not needed as viewers probably won’t be watching this film too many times, or would be willing to pay extra. It’s a shame because Diesel is put into a terribly written film that could have been so much more. However, it does have some solid Vin Diesel action and thus some entertainment value, but maybe wait for it to be on television or a streaming service. If you’re not a fan of Vin Diesel, skip it altogether.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media. The Formal Review is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: I Still Believe

Lionsgate
Rated: PG
Run Time: 115 minutes
Directors: Andrew & Jon Erwin

For some filmgoers, the mere mention of “faith-based films” makes them cringe; this, unfortunately, is not without due cause. While many solid films exist in the market, there are far too many demonize “non-believers,” while billing those with faith as almost mythic-like humans ready to part the seas and challenge the evils of the world.

With this history in mind, I try to be a little forgiving of the genre when a flawed but well-meaning film like I Still Believe comes to theaters. It’s not a game-changer or a great film, but it’s sweet, with a competent cast and inspiring message. That’s enough to get a recommendation from me. I Still Believe is directed by the Erwin Brothers who did the 2018 film, I Can Only Imagine (which is one of the best of the genre in recent years). Here, we follow the story of another Christian musician, Jeremy Camp (played by KJ Apa), and the struggles he faces as his first wife Melissa (played by Britt Robertson) battles with cancer.

For most of the movie, things play out reminiscent of a “Nicholas Sparks-ian” weepy-romance: we have our attractive young people who meet in sandy locations with dewy sunlight. At first, the romance is threatened by another suitor but eventually they declare their love just in time for our female character to get in an accident or become terminally ill. This is exactly how things play out here except, of course, this is a true story: Camp and his wife really did fall in love, they really did have a moment of healing, and she really did face-off with cancer. This battle that led him to write the popular title-song I Still Believe (the song and the music as a whole are not as good as I Can Only Imagine, which saps some of the energy from certain sequences). Obviously a true story is going to be more impactful than fiction (and we have to be more forgiving of story tropes) but it is nevertheless still predictable.

Britt Robertson and KJ Apa in a scene of I Still Believe | Lionsgate

The key to making a film like this effective is getting the right casting and portraying enough moments of earned emotion—I Still Believe passes both of these tests. It is not one of the best faith-based films of recent memory, but it is solid and inspiring enough to be worth a watch. While Robertson is getting too old for these types of teen roles, she and Apa have nice chemistry together which goes a long way. The script is also smart, giving them more than just anguish and misery to face together; we get to see them staring at stars in a planetarium, singing tunes by the ocean, and spending time with family together. This helps bond us as viewers to the couple especially as things get harder.

Unfortunately, the first act of I Still Believe has an extended back and forth love triangle, which I did not care for. It was so obvious who was going to get together that the melodrama of “will she/won’t she” was not interesting in the least. That said, once the cancer plot goes into full gear the film mostly earns its emotion. I particularly loved a scene with Gary Sinese (playing Camp’s father) where he talks about the disappointments in his life but how each one of them has brought him closer to God. I saw I Still Believe about 10 days ago and that message, along with his performance, has really stayed with me and made a positive impression.

KJ Apa performs a song in a scene of I Still Believe | Lionsgate

Thankfully there are enough strong moments in I Still Believe to make it worthy of a recommendation, especially for its target demographic of religious evangelicals. There were times I got a little sleepy (both because I was sick and the pacing sagged), and it is not reinventing the wheel; but in the end, it is a sincere and sweet story of faith and love, and sometimes that’s enough.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: The Call of the Wild

20th Century Studios
Rated: PG
Run Time: 100 minutes
Director: Chris Sanders

The Story/The Direction

The Call of the Wild is an adventure film based on the Jack London 1903 novel of the same name, with numerous other cinematic versions of the story. The film is directed by Chris Sanders—in his live-action directorial debut—and stars Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, and Colin Woodell. It takes place in the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush. A dog named ‘Buck’ is stolen from his home in California and sent to Canada, where he befriends Thornton (played by Ford). Buck gets in touch with his ancestral wild side and his experiences change his life forever. This story was previously adapted into a silent film in 1923 and then again in 1935, 1972 and 1997 with dialogue, starring Jack Mulhall, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, and Rutger Hauer as Thornton, respectively.

For those who did not read the book in their middle school or high school English classes, the novel deals with a Christian theme of love and redemption. It also is about the survival of the fittest as London puts Buck in conflict with humans, other dogs, and the environment itself. He must challenge, survive, and conquer all of these conflicts. Buck is a domesticated dog at the beginning of the story but he must change to survive. He must learn to get in touch with his ancestral instincts and become a wild animal. The law of the pack rules, and good-natured animals can be torn to pieces; as such, London also looks at “nature vs. nurture”. Raised as a pet, Buck is (by heredity) a wolf. The change of environment brings up his innate characteristics and strengths to the point where he fights for survival and becomes the leader of the pack. 

The 1935 film has become more famous for its off-screen problems between its stars of Gable and Loretta Young which I’ll get to in a minute. Aside from the issues behind the scenes, this movie really changes the protagonist of the original story. The film omits all but one of the book’s storylines and concentrates the film on Thornton. Having said that, the most famous scene from the book did make it into the movie where Thornton bets that Buck can pull a half-ton sled for 100 yards. But the film focuses not on the harsh conditions of life encountered by a sled dog but it is a lighthearted romantic adventure film that just so happens to feature a dog as a pet. 

It has some really breathtaking winter scenery and the actors are on point. Gable plays his alpha male well while Jack Oakie provides comedic relief. Loretta Young is the damsel-in-distress, but she’s not always helpless. Gable and Young have some really good chemistry together mostly because it was real. They were noted to be very flirtatious on set but there’s more to it than that: Young and Gable were rumored to have an affair during filming but on the train back to Hollywood from Washington state, Gable entered Young’s compartment and raped her. She then became pregnant with Gable’s child who he constantly denied was his. For many years Young insisted the girl was adopted even though she bore a striking resemblance to her two attractive parents. This led to a lot of problems in her life( of which I won’t go into but it is a very interesting story). Feel free to check out Anne Helen Petersen’s article on this story for the full details. Aside from these off-screen issues, this film does give some good entertainment from an old film even though it’s barely a faithful adaptation of Jack London’s story. It’s worth checking out especially if you’re looking for a classic feel of a movie. 

The only person most Americans will recognize in the 1972 film is Charlton Heston. This version is more faithful to Jack London’s novella but still it focuses more on the human aspect of the story. The cinematography is great and Heston does well in the lead role. If you’re a fan of his, this film is worth checking out. The 1996 film has a slightly longer title The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon and is narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. This film accurately shows this rugged and unsentimental portrait of a dog’s life pushing to survive. However, the film still feels hard to attach to because of the real life dogs. This film is worth checking out as it is the best adaptation in comparison to the prior two films.

Now does this story and meaning track over to the newest rendition? For the most part, yes, it does. Does it show the story’s brutal side? No, but it’s a PG movie. It’s a simpler take on the book but that makes it more appropriate for younger viewers; however, the themes and messages of London’s story are still there. Buck is still learning to survive in the wild and through his CGI eyes, this film is an entertaining family film with themes of courage and perseverance. There are also some really nice set cinematography when Buck becomes a sled dog for Perrault (Sy) and François (Gee) on a mail delivery route.

John Thornton (played by Harrison Ford) in a scene with ‘Buck’ in The Call of the Wild | 20th Century Studios

The Characters

Buck’s arc is similar to the book starting off as this very spoiled dog living in the south on a plantation. He then sees his wild side in an (honestly) very well done symbol. Using Terry Notary for the motion capture of Buck has been criticized because it made Buck more of a cartoon than anything else. Admittedly, it does feel like a Disney cartoon a lot of the time, however that’s not too much of a bad thing. The last three live-action films, that mostly focused on either the humans or the dogs, were not relatable. This was the issue with the most recent version of The Lion King. The non-cartoon look of the CGI made the film absolutely boring—even with the songs, there was nothing relatable to the film. Adding the big, expressive eyes made Buck more relatable, and the use of CGI ensures that no animals were mistreated. A human could follow Buck and care for him. The audience wants him to survive and feels for him when he’s hurt. Along with that, it allows for Buck to be able to interact with other wild animals authentically and viewers do not have to worry about any animal cruelty.

Dogs and animals aside, Ford is perhaps perfect as Thornton. His Thornton is such a relatable character and one can see why he attaches himself to Buck. Their relationship is perhaps the best part of the film.

John Thornton (played by Harrison Ford) in a scene with ‘Buck’ in The Call of the Wild | 20th Century Studios

The Flaws

The biggest flaw about the film is that it feels a little softened compared to the original brutal version of London’s tale. It does feel fairly corny at times such as when Sy’s character says, “We don’t just carry the mail. We carry lives.” Stevens’ Hal is a very corny villain but he is having fun with it. Sometimes the CGI dog does feel a little too cartoonish, but it feels very Disney. There are some scenes that are a little silly, like a dog pulling off a WWE move. In addition, the relationship between Buck and Thornton is the best part; however it takes two-thirds of the movie for them to have a scene together. This is not a big deal because Buck is still relatable but when the film was marked to include more of their relationship, it was definitely less. However, that is more accurate to the story even though a viewer would think that Ford was in the film more than he was, given the marketing.

Overall

Though safe, the film is a fairly enjoyable retelling the tale. The scenery looks really great at times, and Ford is close to perfect as Thornton. Dog lovers will have their heartstrings pulled.  The CGI dog is not too bad because he is relatable and kids will love him. There are enough moments to keep parents entertained while the kids are watching the cute dog do funny things. It is not Pixar or anything but it is a fine film. London’s themes are there to discuss with kids without scaring them. It is a good film to take kids to, but maybe for a matinee.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media. The Formal Review is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: The Photograph

Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 106 minutes
Director: Stella Meghie

The Photograph was the perfect film to watch on Valentine’s Day: a classic romance with nostalgic nods, a jazzy soundtrack, and lovely acting. The film takes place in both New York and New Orleans, with these settings actually playing a fun role themselves. Actors Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield star opposite one another, and it was something new to see Issa Rae play a more reserved character. I love her in the HBO series, Insecure, and she was hilarious in the 2019 film, Little. I’m so used to seeing her in comedies, and I think that is where her strengths lie—maybe that’s the reason that her delivery on some of the more serious dialogue felt forced to me. The supporting cast almost outshines the two leads: Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Bird Box) and Kevin Harrison Jr. (Mudbound, It Comes At Night) played characters who provided some much needed comic relief.

The love story between the two leads begins when journalist Michael Block (Stanfield) discovers a photograph (get it?) while working on a story in New Orleans. He wants to learn more about the photographer of said photograph, and is led to Mae (Rae), whose mother was the photographer. The film goes between modern times and the past, following her mother’s romantic life in 1980’s New Orleans, and her own love story with Stanfield. The juxtaposition between the mother-daughter relationship through the time jumps was well-executed.

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in a scene of The Photograph | Universal Pictures

Being a photography major, I really enjoyed the nostalgic storyline of “the past.” Much of it took place in a DIY darkroom, while prints were being developed. The care and detail that went into showing the delicate process of film photography was lovely. This is something I think the film portrayed really well: the fact that photographs can be instrumental in telling a story that can last decades and connect us to our loved ones’ pasts. In all, The Photograph was an enjoyable romance, following most stereotypes of the genre, which is why I say it was slightly lackluster. The cast, nostalgia, and the soundtrack were the highlights of the film.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: Birds of Prey

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: Cathy Yan

Ok so full disclosure, as I’ve gotten further invested into cinema, I think I’ve developed a certain degree of snobbiness when it comes to superhero movies. I think it’s gotten better though. As I used to think that a majority of these movies – DC, Marvel, or otherwise – were simply meant to entertain (which is debatably the sole and most important purpose of movies anyway), I can now see valuable elements in most of these films. Whether it’s gaining a poignant and emotional perspective of the insatiable need for justice that Bruce Wayne feels in Batman vs. Superman, or simply identifying the 2-week-long residual sorrow I felt after the biggest casualty in Avengers: Endgame, there are some epic and complex stories to be told, and who says we can’t have a lot of fun and see some crazy intergalactic battles while we’re at it? There’s also a lot to be said of the realism that translates through these films i.e. The Dark Knight trilogy, and most recently, Joker. Then there’s the timely social topics that are portrayed on this stage and have a considerable impact of their own. Wonder Woman stood as one of the most popular movies of 2017 in large part because of how great it was to see a female lead independently, and organically become a timeless icon all over again. All I’m trying to say is that there’s absolutely potential for great cinema here.

With that preface, I can adequately contrast that from how I felt about Birds of Prey. I’d just simply say that I think this was a step backwards for DC and superhero movies. The movie wanted so badly to be Harley Quinn focussed, which may have been a good idea but they get distracted by subplots of uninteresting characters that seem to drag out, and a villain that indirectly tests Harley’s codependency issues but whose motives are blurred and actions bizarre… and he is in no way the Joker (which I believe would’ve made for a far better movie). 

Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Humor and deeper topics alike are overshadowed by awkward CGI violence, weird egg sandwich obsessions, and slap-induced hallucinogenic dance scenes, not to mention choppy story telling. Much of their goal to make this movie zany and unique just comes off as fluff and a lack of direction. 

Realism is often tossed out the window to grant more and more indestructible power to the lead characters, but then this power isn’t followed up with any sincere message, and instead is left with bland dialogue and sometimes subpar acting. So, I’d pass this up for perhaps an awards season movie that you missed or some upcoming premieres. For DC fans – who cares what I say! I know you need to eventually see this. Just maybe wait for a matinee. 

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: Gretel & Hansel

United Artists Releasing
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 87 minutes
Director: Oz Perkins

Sophia Lillis is on her way to become this generation’s “scream queen,” and that is not without merit.  When I first saw the teaser trailer for this film I was filled with glee. Another art house horror film like The VVitch?  This was gonna be fun! I eagerly awaited the movie and was delighted at the really creepy prologue. The movie proper began and I was instantly reminded of The VVitch. As the movie kept going I just kept getting reminded of that movie, for better and for worse.

My Quibbles… 

Commitment issues: Like The VVitch, this story takes place in the Middle Ages and tries to keep the language and the dialogue within that time frame. However, there are times when the choice of words is very clearly modern, which can take you out of the movie. At one point, a dish falls and breaks on the floor, and the witch literally says “another one bites the dust.” It’s a small quibble though, and I understand that they had to compromise to make this movie more accessible to people. 

The prologue’s connection with the rest of the movie: I won’t get into spoilers here… Just a thought about the witch, and how the movie sets up her character. Her character arc takes a turn in the third act that never felt like it paid off. It left me wondering why the story chose to bring up certain aspects of the witch and her background, only to see those aspects go nowhere.

Too many nightmares – not enough development: During the second act of the movie, Gretel has two nightmares that play out in different scenes. Each nightmare last about five minutes. They are fairly terrifying, but I think one nightmare scene would have sufficed; the extra time could have been used to develop the witch’s background more instead of providing us with clumsy exposition near the end of the movie.

The ending: I honestly believe this was the studio’s fault. They tried to have their cake and eat it too. It felt as if they couldn’t decide on how the movie should end, and what message it would give, so they chose to go with both— happily scary ever after? I really wished they would’ve committed to one or the other.

Alice Krige as “Holda” (the witch) in Gretel & Hansel | United Artists Releasing

My Enjoyments…

Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige: Gretel and the witch made one of the best parts of this movie. Like I said in the introduction, Sophia Lillis is making her mark on the horror genre, and she’s excelling at it. But it was Alice Krige as the witch that carried the movie. She brings actual depth, and even sympathy, to a role that could’ve just been played as another monster role. 

The visuals: Okay. This is where the movie really EXCELS. This isn’t an R-rated film, so it doesn’t rely on blood and gore. It makes incredible use of visual imagery. The movie is shot beautifully, and thankfully, not too dark. The character design is out of this world. They were able to make people and creatures terrifying without much frill. There is a lot of “Halloween costume” potential in the movie. 

Fairy tale nods: There are a lot of little nods to other fairy tales cleverly hidden throughout the film—mushrooms from Alice in Wonderland, the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz, wolves from Little Red Riding Hood; maybe hints of a larger, shared universe, perhaps? It was fun to notice them.

Final Thoughts…

There were a lot of good things about this film: the atmosphere and visuals were excellent, the two main leads were fantastic, most of the script was really interesting—but the final act felt rushed and poorly written. I wished there was just a little more effort put into the character development and screenplay. Ultimately, if you like arthouse horror movies, I would recommend you see this as a matinee, or wait until it is available streaming.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

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