reviews

Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Premiere Review

Gilead’s a cesspool of discomfort that only gets worse, isn’t it?

This last weekend, The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 premiered on Hulu. Instead of gracing fans with just a single episode, though, Hulu gave fans three. Thank you, Hulu gods, for such a gift. Since they premiere Handmaid’s Tale weekly, it’s nice to be able to binge ourselves a little to get back into the show before wait each week to continue the journey. 

As the NerdBastards resident Handmaid’s Tale reviewer, I thought it might be good for me to cover such a momentous debut.

And boy, did the show really go for it.

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No Will Smith; no (major) problem.

With Will Smith completely uninterested in returning to the 22-year-old Men in Black franchise (once upon a time, Smith made it look good) and otherwise busy with other commercial pursuits (playing a blue-skinned, top-knotted, magical genie in the recent live-action Aladdin adaptation), Tommy Lee Jones all-but-retired from performing, Sony Pictures unsurprisingly turned to one of the MCU’s MVPs, Chris Hemsworth, and Hemsworth’s Thor: Ragnarok co-star, Tessa Thompson, to restart and/or soft reboot a series that last saw the darkened interior of an air-conditioned movie theater seven years ago (given the rapidity in which pop-culture favorites turn into yesterday’s disposable detritus, zero guarantee moviegoers will respond with more than just passing nostalgia). It was still a gamble. Hemsworth has yet to carry a film outside the MCU. Thompson has yet to topline a major studio film. On individual charisma and collective chemistry alone, Hemsworth and Thompson prove themselves more than worthy of headlining a big-budget, spectacle-driven franchise entry of their own, the F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious, Straight Outta Compton, The Negotiator, Friday) directed Men in Black: International. (more…)

Writer’s Note: This article got lost in the depths of our draft folder, but we’ve found the piece and are publishing it to give the (albeit late) review Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey deserves. 

Let’s start this review with the obvious, already overdone main point: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is not a very good Assassin’s Creed game. Not a bad game, mind you, but a game almost wholly uninterested and unattached the the previous adventures and lore of older Assassin’s Creed stories.

Now, onto the review, shall we?

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is technically the twelfth installment of this sprawling series, releasing on October 5th and quickly becoming a hot topic among gamers. Some are upset about its departure from its roots and its leveling obstacles. Others marvel at its open world experience and RPG adventuring. But, trying to be as objective as possible, what is Odyssey?

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When Bryan Singer’s X-Men opened twenty years ago, few expected a mid-budget superhero team-up to spawn two direct sequels, spin-offs, a reboot, and three sequels to the reboot (not to mention re-energizing the superhero genre), but it did, but like all good things – or all things in general – it had to come to an end, but nothing then or now said it had to end with a flaccid, turgid, ultimately pointless entry like the much-delayed, less-than-anticipated Dark Phoenix. A second go-round in bringing Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic comic-book storyline to the big screen – Dark Phoenix drops the “mutant cure” storyline that undermined and ultimately neutered Brett Ratner’s -Men: The Last Stand thirteen years ago – replacing it with a woefully underwritten, under-motivated central arc, Jean Grey’s transformation from troubled mutant with telekinetic and psychokinetic powers, to a rage-filled superpowered, near godlike super-mutant, but repeatedly fails to make her – and by extension, Dark Phoenix: the Movie – intrinsically or organically compelling, let alone passably watchable. Another missed opportunity, another misfire isn’t how nostalgia-prone X-fans wanted to see the series end before the Disney Industrial Complex folds the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s what Dark Phoenix delivers. (more…)

Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot left moviegoers – and some, if not most, film critics – generally unfulfilled, wanting more, more action, more Godzilla, and more kaiju-on-kaiju action. Godzilla spent the majority of his self-titled movie’s running time offscreen, shown only tangentially as an after-thought. When he finally made it onscreen, it was only briefly. Even the climactic battle between Godzilla and a no-name pair of generic monsters disappointed. Godzilla won the crown and/or title, of course, but humanity lost, not just lives or property, but the claim of ownership or dominion over the earth and its resources (cue environmental/climate change theme). In the 2014 reboot, San Francisco took the brunt of Godzilla’s final battle. By the end, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands had lost their lives, but in the Godzilla-verse, the human cost of kaiju battles usually gets sidestepped or simply ignored. The spectacle is all, the human drama, if any, always a distant second. That, of course, isn’t so much a criticism as it is an observation that also holds true for the direct sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, an unapologetically dazzling 200-million-dollar love letter to the Godzilla-verse that’s spanned more than sixty years (and counting). (more…)

You don’t have to be a cynic to recognize Disney’s corporate strategy to re-adapt practically the entirety of its animated back catalog into a seemingly endless stream of live-action or CGI-live-action feature-length films aren’t motivated by artistic or aesthetic considerations, but purely commercial ones. And it’s not just about how much box-office revenue this or that new release generates, but also future revenue via Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+, and, of course, extending intellectual property rights further into the future. It also makes sense why Guy Ritchie – no one’s idea of a family-oriented, mainstream director – jumped at the opportunity to direct the live-action remake of Disney’s 1992 animated classic, Aladdin, with Will Smith, a movie star with remarkable consistency, replacing the late Robin Williams as the cosmically powered, blue-skinned, wish-granting genie. (more…)

There’s slow, there’s slow burn, and then there’s Brightburn.

Nepotism can get you far in or out of Hollywood, but in the case of Brightburn, a rote, routine “What If?” Superman-as-supervillain origin story co-written by onetime schlock purveyor-turned-A-list director James Gunn’s brother and cousin, Brian and Mark, respectively, it’s not far enough. Gunn produced Brightburn, but he obviously played a key role in getting the Brightburn script in front of studio executives eager to capitalize on the lucrative superhero genre. He just as likely helped Brian and Mark to shape its not-quite-clever Superman-as-supervillain storyline. Gunn should have given the underwritten, undercooked script four, five, or even six more passes before deeming it worthy of actual production. Brightburn takes a steep dive off a short cliff, repeatedly failing to meet any of the Gunn trio’s supposedly subversive intentions, taking an old-to-comics-new-to-movies premise with promise and potential and instead delivering a flaccid, turgid, ultimately disposable contribution to the genre. (more…)

An unsurprising exercise in brand extension and hopeful franchise starter, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, the first, big-screen iteration of Pokémon, the made-in-Japan series of interconnected stories, videogames, trading cards, and animated films (TV and feature-length, including 21 of the latter, an unexpectedly mind-blowing number if there ever was one) centered on the titular, super-charged fantasy creatures who battle for supremacy with the guidance of their human trainers, partners, and friends, fails to fully or even partially embrace the inherent weirdness of its central premise in exchange for a slipshod, sloppy, slapdash neo-noir storyline involving a twenty-something searching for and reconnecting with his lost, presumably dead father (figuratively, if not literally). Repeatedly slowed down by logic lapses, coincidences, and contrivances that can be listed or described in a single review, Pokémon Detective Pikachu misses the mark by too much to be called anything except a middling misfire. (more…)

Five years ago, Keanu Reeves, pushing the half-century mark, but looking – and more importantly, performing like a super-fit, near-invulnerable 40-year-old – returned to the action genre he made his own more than two decades ago (e.g., Point Break, Speed, The Matrix Trilogy). As a result, he turned into one of the most unlikely movie stars of his generation (or any generation for that matter).  Little has changed since then. Rather than trying his hand at another big-budget, sci-fi-actioner doomed to failure amid outsized expectations, Reeves chose an entirely different, ultimately far more successful path. The first entry in the series, John Wick was a super-lean, super-efficient, minimalist action-thriller that placed a premium on physical stunts, many, if not most performed by Reeves himself, over logic- and physics-defying CG-enhanced effects. Then and now, John Wick was an anomaly, a glitch (so to speak) in the business matrix. While it didn’t become a mega-hit at the box office, the investment-to-return ratio was more than enough to get a sequel into production three years later, John Wick 2: Chapter 2, and a third entry, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, just two years later. (more…)

Set in an alternative universe – similar, but far from identical to ours – where a former TV star becomes president (because he played one on a popular, long-running show), an ultra-right-wing Rupert Murdoch-clone rules the airwaves (among other media), and where a Seth Rogen-looking character (played by Seth Rogen) somehow manages to make the jump from unemployed, lefty journo to head speechwriter for a secretary of state, future presidential candidate, to one-half of an unconventional romantic couple, the Jonathan Levine-directed Long Shot asks a tremendous amount from paying audience members and down-the-road future streamers: To set aside any all reality-world doubt and embrace the sheer wish-fulfillment fantasy inherent in the overused schlub-romances-a-beauty-queen-with-brains premise. If you can buy in, if you can get past what any reasonable person would consider the equivalent of a Big Ask, then Long Shot has a semi-random assortment of party favors and weed-soaked pleasures on offer for sporadic enjoyment and/or entertainment.   (more…)