reviews

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…)

Love the 80s? Who doesn’t! But what’s even better than the 80s? The 80s nostalgia merchandise! Heavily pixelated graphics, pop culture references, and the ability to transport you back in time to the 1980s where you can feel like a kid again! On Kickstarter, with 12 days left as of this article, Retro Gaming Cards! gives you just that. The feel of retro gaming with the 80s aesthetic and subtle pop culture references. A great game for friends and family who don’t want to learn a lot of complicated rules. Open the box, sit down, and start having fun with Retro Gaming Cards!

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Note: Mild spoilers to follow. 

It seems like an eternity ago, but just a year ago, moviegoers around the globe emerged from multiplexes stunned, shocked, and otherwise shook by Avengers: Infinity War. Ten years and 20, interconnected, universe-expanding movies didn’t prepare them for the utter and complete defeat of the Avengers and Thanos’ overwhelming victory. In a snap felt around the universe, Thanos extinguished half of all life sentient life, including many (actually, most) of the superheroes who’ve made their home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the previous decade. Even knowing that Avengers: Infinity War was just part one of a two-part, superhero epic did little to give moviegoers a sense of hope, however small, that the MCU would be restored to balance – not Thanos’ idea of genocidal balance – but where might and right stood together on one side of the wish-fulfillment equation against cosmic forces of evil and where individual and collective heroism, super or otherwise, clearly and simply mattered. (more…)