Family Drama (Hereditary, 2018)

hereditary_posterHereditary opens with a family preparing for a funeral. Annie’s mother has died. Much like Annie, the film feels…distant from this event. we learn that she was, in fact often struggling in their relationship.  And death has not changed that.

But things start to escalate as more tragedy hits and both Annie and her family seem to be coming apart at the seams.

Heredity is a horror movie that is very slow and deliberate. Other than a few “is there a ghost” style moments (odd reflections, flashing lights) it really feels like Hereditary is the exploration of a family that is being torn apart by a family history of unacknowledged mental illness.

Hereditary_still

 

Of course, the story is more than that. There is something darker lurking under the surface. Ari Aster (in his feature length debut as both a writer and director) moves the film at a very (deliberate) slow pace. He rarely relies on jarring us with a gruesome visual or jump scares (but there are a few). But it works so well. Hereditary is at times painful not through gore or shocking violence…but through it’s moments of emotional despair.

There is a scene at the dinner table that is both horrifying and heart wrenching.  And a lot of the emotional weight of the film comes from incredibly strong performances. Gabriel Byrne’s role as a father trying to keep his family imploding is wonderfully understated. He manages to remain sympathetic, even when he seems to be unable to support his belief in his wife’s lost grip on reality. Mary Shapiro is memorable as the young daughter (who was closest to Annie’s mother) who seems to be on the autism spectrum.

Toni Collette and Alex Wolff turn in terrific performances.  Collette’s Annie seems to distance herself from her family and the audience. But at at the same time, you get it. Her grief pours from the screen and washes over the audience.  And Wolff’s Peter is heart breaking to watch as he and his relationship with his mother seems to disintegrate before their eyes.

The horror of Hereditary is “can you trust the people who should care for you the most”? I mentioned that the film moves at a rather slow pace. And this really benefits the film. Pay attention. Listen in. Every little hint means something and rewards in the end.

Skating By (I, Tonya, 2017)

i_tonya_posterI will be honest…all I really remember about the Nancy Kerrigan story is that the talented skater and Olympic Hopeful was brutally assaulted, leaving her with a broken knee. What followed was pretty insane.  It became apparent that her attack was coordinated by people related to her competition…Tonya Harding. Harding, her husband, her bodyguard and two other individuals apparently colluded to commit the crime.

I, Tonya tells the story in a darkly comic fashion. Showing Hardings tough childhood, the film frames Tonya as a victim who struggles to break free.  The early film is actually quite heartbreaking as young Tonya, a talented skater at age four, manages to get the attention of a reluctant trainer. Her mother is cruel and absolutely horrific in her push for her daughter to succeed. The is a gut wrenching moment as her father drives away and Tonya is tearfully begging him to take her with him (McKenna Grace is wonderfully touching in her performance. You cannot help but feel broken for her).

She meets Jeff Galooley at age fifteen and begins a whirlwind remance that eventually becomes abusive.  But Jeff is absolutely certain that he needs to be with her, no matter how often she walks out.

Nancy Kerrigan plays only a small role, as the film is mainly focused on Harding’s life and the controversy on her end.

The film is based heavily on interviews with Harding, Jeff, there body guard Shawn and LaVona (Tonya’s mother).  The film has the framing device of on camera interviews with the primary players.  This allows for a unique narration.  We see Jeff hitting Tonya (the portrayal of the domestic violence is suitably unnerving) and Jeff interjects his denial of the events. Tonya pauses the film to quickly state that Kerrigan was no angel.

The performances here are top notch.  Both Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan have a good chemistry that convinces the audience both of their initial connection and the dissolution of the relationship.  And Allison Janney as LaVona is inspired.  You cannot help but despise her.

The makeup and costuming here is impressive.  Janney is almost unrecognizable (only her voice made me recognize her). For much of the movie, both Robbie and Stan look positively average. Considering these are two very attractive people, the makeup people deserve kudos.

Now to the part of the film that might be troubling for many.  Some take issue with the notion of “reforming a monster”.  Tonya was part of a despicable crime. And the notion of the film rehabilitating her image did not sit well with people.

And, in a way, this is not entirely inaccurate. If the film is truthful? Harding was not in on the crime. She was only loosely associated.  Mainly, she appears to maybe have only found out about her husband and bodyguards involvement after the fact. The film also portrays Jeff as having tried to put a stop to the plan. He had hoped to send letters with threats to Kerrigan…psychological warfare. In the film, when he finds out what Shawn had done, he is enraged that they went so far.

Does it rehabilitate Harding’s image? Does it make her seem a victim of cruel circumstances that shaped her into a tough person who got a raw deal? Yeah, I guess it does.  But if the information in the film is accurate at all? Maybe she deserves it.

 

So…is the Last Jedi overly reliant on suicide attacks? Is it Wrong?

The article that inspired this:

https://decider.com/2018/05/25/the-last-jedi-suicide/

All video footage, Last Jedi art, Star Wars a New Hope, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: the Last Jedi and Captain America the First Avenger are is ©2018 the Walt Disney Corp

Does the Last Jedi ruin Luke Skywalker? Or Redeem him?

 

Self Portraits and Unforgiven Art by Thom Wade
All other artwork, Star Wars images, Dark Empire & Dark Empire II comics, Indiana Jones, Star Wars video, Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios © 2018 the Walt Disney Corp

Dark Empire Art by Dave Dorman and Cam Kennedy

Solo_PosterIf you have ever wondered why the Millennium Falcon looks like tuning fork or how Han Solo got the name Han Solo? Solo a Star Wars Story will leave you giddy.

Han Solo is a young man enslaved by a brutal crime lord and in love with fellow slave Qi’ra. When their escape attempt goes awry, and they are separated, Han joins the Empire.  Not to good at it, sees an opportunity with Beckett and his crew.  They find themselves forced to pull off a dangerous heist to get back in the graces of the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.

It probably sounds at this point like I really disliked Solo. But actually, I had a lot of fun.  When the film focuses on the *story* (in other words, the heists) it is a whole lot of fun. But when it starts doing the whole “gotta show this thing the original trilogy referenced” it tends to feel forced into the story. And yeah, if you are making a Han Solo movie, you need Chewbacca.

The performances are largely quite good.  I mean, Bettany’s Voss actually kind of made me curious about his background. Woody Harrelson gives a dependable performance as a weary smuggler, hoping to retire.  Of course, Glover is a standout.  He manages to channel the swagger of Billy Dee Williams without merely imitating him.  The droid L3-37 is highly entertaining as a snarky co-pilot for Lando and a droids rights activist (When Lando asks if L3-37 needs anything, she responds “Equal rights?”).

Alden Ehrenreich is not bad in the role…but he does not quite have the self assured cockiness of Ford’s portrayal. The film plays Han as more of a “good guy optimist” who is on the path to the self centered cynic of a New Hope.

And while the film features many double and triple crosses, very little  of these come as a surprise.  The film tries to make you think you should be surprised…but stuff is telegraphed from afar.

I would say this is my least favorite of the New Star Wars films, but I still had a good time with it overall.

There should not be an official origin to the Joker…but if you gotta make the movie…

Deadpool_2_posterOkay….before I write up this review…give me a moment to go check out Twitter to find out how I should really feel about Deadpool.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay.  Well… let us try this as spoiler free as possible.  First, I cannot believe they killed Professor X twice in the film.

Oops.  Boy off to a bad start.  Let’s try this again.  Deadpool 2 is a sequel to a film from 2016 that was called Deadpool. It featured a bunch of characters from a comic book, also called Deadpool. It was pretty well received and now we have this movie. In this movie, some characters from the first film show up again, including Deadpool. Some new characters also show up.  There are fights, people die, there is swearing and lots of Ryan Reynolds. It is a sequel to a movie.

What? You want more?

Fine.

So, Deadpool would have been a perfectly fine film to leave as a one off. But apparently movie studios like money.  Part of what made the first film work for so many is it had a rather irreverent approach to Super Hero films.  Wade Wilson is a sarcastic mercenary who, in the first film was subjected to tests that left him severely scarred, but unable to die. He can recover from most any wound. That film centered around his relationship to Vanessa. In this film, we find his life bordering on blissful, until one of his contracts results in tragedy.

Deadpool finds himself, somewhat unwillingly, into trying to save a mutant kid from the time traveling Mutant Cable.  Things go haywire and violent stuff happens.

While the main theme of family does not always quite come together, the film is still ambitious in how it tries to give a character who cracks jokes to the theater audience an emotional through line. Sometimes it works and other times not so much.

Where the film works best is it’s humor.  The jokes come at a pretty fast pace, but Reynolds has a certain charm that allows for most of the jokes to land. There is an ongoing bit where Deadpool and new teammate Domino debate if “being lucky” is a real super power or even remotely cinematic.  But the filmmakers have a lot of fun with Domino’s amazing luck.

The film managed to surprise me repeatedly. I just had certain expectations due to “Comic Book Movie” that managed to surprise and entertain me. Brolin’s Cable is played straight which works very well against Reynold’s rapid fire motor mouth. I found Domino to be a blast in this film.  My one complaint is that I wish we got more Teenage Negasonic Warhead in this film, as she was such a highlight of the first film.

So, the first film was a bit stronger in how tightly it kept to the story, but honestly, I found myself (and the audience I was with) laughing throughout the film.  I enjoyed this one, and think in some areas, they may have even made some improvements.

That’s it!  The end is here!

Bringing everything to a close, we look at what the future may hold for DC’s Cinematic Universe.

All Marvel characters and footage © 2018 Marvel Comics Group

All DC Characters and footage © 2018 Warner Brothers

 

Part 1- https://youtu.be/D2zovFL1QgQ
Part 2- https://youtu.be/oy51WH3O86o
Part 3- https://youtu.be/1rrpUwYehuI
Part 4- https://youtu.be/alRmOuCRP9o
Part 5- https://youtu.be/r9J8CFRnkP0
Part 6- https://youtu.be/0N16wEC6hxE

And now it all comes together…the Justice League.

All Marvel Characters © 2018 Marvel Comics Group

All DC Characters and Video Footage © 2018 Warner Brothers

 

Part 1- https://youtu.be/D2zovFL1QgQ
Part 2- https://youtu.be/oy51WH3O86o
Part 3- https://youtu.be/1rrpUwYehuI
Part 4- https://youtu.be/alRmOuCRP9o
Part 5- https://youtu.be/r9J8CFRnkP0

 

Maze_Runner_Death_Cure_PosterIn an attempt to save Minho from WCKD, the film opens with a train heist.  We discover that WCKD has been searching for a Cure for the Flare, and this was the purpose of the Maze. In the minds of Ava Paige and her scientists, they are doing noble work, and if they must sacrifice some kids to save more people, it is worth that cost. The heist saves several kids, but not Minho.

When Thomas, Jorge, Brenda, Newt and Frypan decide to go on a secret mission to break Minho out of WCKD headquarters, they find that WCKD is actually at the center of a massive walled city. With help from an old ally they make their way into the city and WCKD headquarters.

The Death Cure got delayed due to a pretty bad accident involving star Dylan O’Brien during filming. But the end result is a pretty exciting film.  It is practically one long prison break type of film, with the heroes trying to save their friend and end WCKD.

Game of Throne’s Aidan Gillen (introduced in the Scorch Trials) makes a good heavy whose motives are not at all altruistic. Walton Goggins has brief but memorable role as a rebel leader dreaming of taking down the city. A couple characters get nice redemptive arcs and a few meet tragic ends.

The action is pretty non-stop and makes for an exciting close to the story (thanks to the producers for not splitting the last book into a two parter).

I enjoyed this series quite a bit, and I think it was well served by having the same director and screenwriters for all three films. Considering that other than the Maze Runner films, Director Wes Ball has only directed a few short films. He shows himself pretty prepared for big action.