Review: ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ (you still wanted a sequel, right?)

Story matters. Well, maybe not to these guys…

It’s been twenty years since the War of 1996, when locust-like aliens tried to destroy humanity and claim the Earth’s resources for their own. Since defeating the invaders, Earth has reverse-engineered the alien tech and unified the planet into a global defense force…preparing for the day when the invaders might return. Faster than you can say “Happy Fourth of July,” Earth is again tasked to survive, and only the actors they could get back from the last movie can save us…along with a few new folks and some damnably convenient intel exactly when it’s needed. If you thought the first ID4 was crazy-random bringing characters together, you haven’t seen anything yet!

Too many cooks spoil the soup? Semester-long college classes could be held explaining how bad the science is in this movie, but hey, it’s just a summer wannabe blockbuster, right? If all you want are special effects and explosions, that’s all here, along with the mandatory back stories on how your favorite characters have been getting along since the last movie. So…what’s the problem? “Franchisitis.” When the next wave of aliens (with no actual innovation improving upon their existing technology) proceeds to show Earth how pointless twenty years of preparation was, the writers press the deus ex machina button to create the solution of all solutions…if they can just survive long enough to use it! Ugh.
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Review: ‘Therapy for a Vampire’ (this is not normal)

An almost-sweet period vampire horror comedy set in Austria and spoken in German…with English subtitles.

It is September, 1932 in Vienna, Austria. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) seeks out Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) for help after making a generous donation. He’s a biteless and bored vampire who despises the undead wife he settled for, Countess Elsa (Jeanette Hain). The count pines after the centuries-lost vampire who turned him, Nadila, but his hope is renewed when he notices a painting in Freud’s office. The renowned therapist has been employing the services of Viktor (Dominic Oley) to illustrate the fervent dreams of other patients, but Viktor has also been substituting the woman in such drawings with a fantasy image of his headstrong girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan). Lucy knows Viktor would like if she presented herself more femininely, but the Count has his own ideas about making over Lucy when he decides she must be he reincarnation of his precious Nadila…but first, he’ll have to distract both the countess and Lucy’s lover by pairing them up for a promised painting — capturing an image of a vampire that can never be captured. What could possibly go horribly wrong?

Wunderbar! With few exceptions, here’s a vampire films that nails the classic tropes first before allowing the comedy to flow organically from the botched situations. From a nosey neighbor listening in on the young lovers to an abused house servant who tries to muscle in on the count’s action, the film takes its time setting up and executing the plot. The effects are subtle but amazing, from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movements to flight, wall crawling, fangs, claws, pupils widening at the sight of blood, and missing reflections. While the count becomes a bat to get about and is susceptible to obsessive counting, the countess prefers her wolf form and is distracted by her vanity, giving each vampire a unique presentation. It’s a game of husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and mortals and vampires; everyone wants something different but no one is willing to compromise. Oh, and there’s lots of blood and people dying…because VAMPIRES.
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A Reboot of Ghostbusters Had to Happen – Editorial

Speaking as a film critic, I think this NEEDED to happen: a full reboot. New characters, and the new group needed to be seen discovering the problem, inventing the equipment, and getting it done. The first group was all guys; why NOT all women? Lemme check…um…no, the only times being a man was important was Venkman creeping on his client and Stantz enjoying his PG-13 wet dream.

Ghostbusters2016RowenSure, it might have been nice if, after Ghostbusters 2, maybe there was an off-screen secret mission and, on the eve of opening multiple franchises across the US, the known Ghostbusters were all sucked into a dimensional rift while saving the world once again. The rightfully paranoid government (operating under Walter Peck) confiscated the “dangerous” equipment and buried it in an MiB warehouse, never to be seen again. This is all in spite of multiple denied requests by Egon’s daughter to reclaim what she considers her birthright after dad went missing when she was five; in the present and with a doctorate’s degree, she is able to replicate and improve upon her late father’s detection and capture equipment, enlisting previous classmates and a local subway-working acquaintance when she discovers a huge PKE surge from the tunnels below in conjunction to her current work…

A nice idea, but then the movie would have been about THEM, not the new team. What else could they do? Kill them off? Yeah, they MIGHT have done that — and maybe people would have been less cranky about it — but they didn’t. Murray was never going to agree to it and Rick Moranis quit the industry while waiting for a sequel. This is what we’ve got, it’s looking better all the time, and I’ll go and see it. Let’s just cool it with all the hate toward Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth.

After I have seen it, I’ll let you know if my idea was better or not.

FYI: where are all of my new reviews? Hey…it’s hard keeping up with all these celebrities — don’t you watch the news? — so shut up.

Please feel free to post your support and/or hate in the comments below.


Review: ‘Zootopia’ (It Takes All Kinds)

Prejudice 101 — for kids of all ages.

Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of making a difference, so she becomes a police officer in the big city. One problem: Judy is a bunny, and Zootopia is a metropolis fully stocked with predators and prey living life together in perfect harmony…but is everything as peaceful as it seems? Relegated to meter-maid duty because of her size and species, Judy seizes an opportunity to investigate a missing persons case to prove her worth, but her bid for success comes with a price if she fails to deliver. With the clock ticking, our hero enlists (read: hustles) the services of a grifter fox named Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman) to guide her through Zootopia’s seedy underbelly, but the truth she discovers is darker than anything a happy, hopeful little bunny could have ever imagined.

This is how smart people tell stories that matter: disguising it as escapism. While reportedly just an idea about anthropomorphic animals living together in a concrete jungle, the clever visual commentary on current society is a feast for the eyes, poking fun at everything from social media to pop culture. But tucked inside all the happy bunny and sly fox antics is a very real problem: how preconceptions and prejudice can lead to racism and genocide — not exactly Saturday morning topics of discussion. Zootopia manages an incredible balancing act having fun with their high concept while taking nothing away from the seriousness of their story, and that’s no small thing.
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Review: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (World’s Finest Mess)

When the best thing you can say is it’s not as bad as they say, what does that really say?

When Superman (Henry Cavill) made the conscious decision to kill General Zod (Michael Shannon) to stop Earth from being made-over into New Krypton, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is in Metropolis to witness firsthand the collateral damage of the super-brawl. It reminds him, of course, of when his own parents were killed — the first of many events leading up to him becoming Batman of Gotham City. Eighteen months later, Superman continues doing his hero thing, giving many hope that his powers make him a true god among men — an actual savior — but his status is called into question when African villagers are murdered during his rescue of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) on assignment. With American leaders genuinely concerned that Superman has gone or could go rogue, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) leverages their fears to gain access to recovered yet restricted Kryptonian tech. What is this evil villain’s true plan?

Welcome to this quarter’s chest-thumping studio-driven must-see movie — a film released unopposed and far enough away from the actual summer blockbuster season that one can’t help but feel an executive-level lack of confidence competing against other films, particularly those in the Marvel Universe. To be fair, Easter weekend provides an extra Friday off for parents to drag their kids out to see a superhero movie (“Please, Timmy? Can your mom and I go?”) The money’s there for the taking, but will the movie accomplish its primary goal: for Warner Bros. to shortcut their way into an ensemble Justice League film franchise and scare up some of that Marvel Universe Avengers profit?
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Why Did ‘The Force Awakens’ Succeed While ‘Superman Returns’ Failed?

The studio mission for two beloved (and lucrative) franchises was identical:

  • remind fans what they loved about the original movies while letting them forget the “uncool” films;
  • reboot the series for new fans while touching on nostalgia for old fans;
  • make the series relevant enough for today’s values to launch a new film franchise.

So why did this happen? Everything Bryan Singer failed to achieve with Superman Returns looked almost easy as J.J. Abrams exceeded expectations with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

MovieCryptSupermanReturnsTheForceAwakensLex Luthor threatens director Singer with kryptonite while R2 argues dialogue with director Abrams.

Was it a bigger, more rabid fan base? You can shoot that down a few ways. Superman has been around for over seventy-five years and has been reinvented in numerous ways; Star Wars has been around about half that time. That said, however, you don’t see a 501st Legion of Superman fans showing up at convention parades. If anything, Abrams (as a fan himself) was under far more pressure than Singer to relaunch a Star Wars film franchise in theaters and live up to expectations, so much so that he passed on the first offer to direct because he reportedly wanted to see it more than make it. Singer, as evidenced by his X-Men success, has an eye for detail and a passion for superhero stories; after the Brett Ratner derailing debacle X-Men 3: The Last Yawn Whatever, Singer essentially fixed everything with Days of Future Past, and he did it in style.

Was it a focus on more maternal, emotional, and arguably female-empowering material? Singer has reportedly gone to bat for Superman Returns hinting it was a film more for women than men, that maybe it was a mistake to have gone in that direction. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Abrams has not only made his new lead actor a woman but empowered her and cast nearly 50%/50% in gender equality; Princess Leia can still remember when it was just her and another slave girl in a room full of salivating males and a giant lascivious space slug.

MickeyAndSlavePrincessesOkay, NOW can we retire the metal slave bikini?

Is Abrams just better than Singer? Ouch. To be fair, DC comics owner Warner Bros. isn’t quite the powerhouse Disney has become, so the Galactic Rodent wasn’t about to let George Lucas’s golden goose go by the wayside. Singer never had that kind of support from Time Warner; it was more like everyone in the board room held their breath rather than champion their new Superman entry. Before the ink was dry, Disney announced its complete acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. and its intention to bottle the Force into energy drinks if it had to. While stepping into the same movie-making machine that empowered Joss Whedon to make Marvel’s The Avengers and finally prove to the world what his fans already knew, J.J. already had the chops and nothing to prove to anyone but himself; he genuinely seemed humbled by the experience in interviews and poured himself into the work.

Same mission; different results. In the end, the only thing for certain is that The Force Awakens felt more like the Star Wars fans fell in love with than Superman Returns felt like the Man of Steel they wanted and expected. While DC and Warner Bros. continues their attempt to copy Marvel’s success in building toward a Justice League movie, fans are already counting the days down until the Abrams-produced Episode VIII is unleashed while Singer’s X-Men: Age of Apocalypse looms on the horizon. While Star Wars continues peddling its Light and Dark Side ways, maybe it’s the idea of Superman that’s run its course; you don’t see Luke Skywalker wearing his underwear over his pants, do you?

Review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (And Destiny Awaits)

Here’s the short, short version: J.J. did it. Non-spoiler details to follow.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Galactic Rodent purchased a franchise from Lucas the George. After hiring Abrams the Promising, it was ordained a new story of heroic deeds and dire villains would be told — different enough, but not too different from the tales of old. As the days grew colder, the masses gathered and waited to hear the new stories, hopeful that they would not be disappointed…and most were NOT disappointed. For three days they heard the stories again and again, and in the castle, the Galactic Rodent smiled.

Well, how ELSE are you going to do a spoiler-free review? The most amazing part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is how little was revealed in the trailers. Audiences have long been spoiled by studios afraid surprises result in poor sales, that audiences don’t really want to be “surprised.” Maybe that’s true for Transformers movies, but not Star Wars. The secrets are back, and here’s the closest thing to a spoiler you’re going to get without wandering into the comments section: the secret is there are plenty of secrets still unrevealed. While Episode VII introduces a new cast, new situations, high adventure and a conclusion, it’s gone back to its serial roots by saying there’s more to come.
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