Postponed, again.

Hello, amazing readers!

I’ll need to postpone today’s post as well, and for the next week. This allows me time to get home and catch up so I get on schedule again and have a buffer built up again. I’m also still waiting for WP to fix the glitches that have been thwarting my efforts as well.

Thanks, everyone, for your patience!

Cheers,

a pen lady

Cruella (2021)

Cruella (2021)

Directed by: Craig Gillespie   Runtime: 2 hr 14 min   Rated: PG-13

Studio: Disney   Screenwriters: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna

Based on: Novel One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong

Once upon a time, there was a land where the first Walt-Disney movies were created. Where women fell in love at first sight or continually needed rescuing by a man. Where magic was mostly evil, and villains were bad, no reason why. 

Eventually, after many, many, many years, the rulers of this land changed and remodeled the great castle of the land. This land came to be known simply as Disney. Women were no longer plot devices forced into marriages, kidnapped, poisoned, or cursed. A place where all magic isn’t evil and women are empowered. Classic stories are reimagined here, and so are the villains. Now, they, too, have backstories, depth. 

Disney’s Cruella Official Trailer via YouTube

Disney’s latest reinvention is the villain from the 1961 cartoon movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella DeVil. Initially, she was an animated, chain-smoking, anorexic, verbally abusive, fur-wearing, puppy stealing, murderous maniac. Yes, the original cartoon was a children’s movie. There was a live-action film of the same name in the mid-90s… absolutely worth avoiding. 

So, how do you redeem such a vile creation? You split her traits into two people and go from there. 

Cruella isn’t about chasing down dogs, far from it. Though a handful is in the film, that part of the original has been stripped away. This retelling is sassy, edgy, and a tad dark. It was made with more mature audiences in mind. 

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson in Disney’s ‘Cruella’ Image Credit: Disney

Emma Stone plays the iconic, titular role of Cruella. The audience is introduced to her as a child, briefly. That peek into her past sets up her motivations and the overall tone of the film to come. Cruella is a nickname; her real name is Estella. Estella tries to stuff a part of herself (Cruella) away into a metaphorical box. It’s evident from the film’s title that it doesn’t work out. It’s why that doesn’t work that makes for a compelling journey into this character. 

Cruella’s depiction by Stone is absolutely believable. Her natural ability to exude snark while acting a tad mad and delivering salty lines, all while seemingly enjoying herself, is bang on. It reflects the original in a way that isn’t based on all the previous character flaws. Stone’s Cruella laugh is even on point. 

All Estella wants is to work in fashion, to design. With the help of her friends Horace (Hauser) and Jasper (Fry), she finds an in. She catches the attention of fashion legend, The Baroness (Thompson). Dreams do sometimes come true! Or, maybe not. Emma Thompson artfully depicts herself as the “it” lady of London. She makes Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) from The Devil Wears Prada look like a street performer. In fact, both Emma’s feed off one another so well in their shared scenes it’s difficult to determine who is better. 

Paul Walter Hauser, Emma Stone, & Joel Fry in ‘Cruella’ Image Credit: Disney

The pace of the film is relatively good. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down about seventy-five percent of the way through, but it’s not for long before it picks up again. 

This film establishes who Cruella is and why. From there, Disney sets up what she could become in a sequel or two. They could choose to keep her “brilliant, bad, and a little mad” (as a tagline goes), letting her embrace villainy. Or something else. Honestly, Emma Stone’s performance is too fabulous to go good. This Cruella doesn’t need to be on the same path as the animated one to wreak havoc. Nor should she. By remodeling this character, it ensures her original toxic demeanor and subliminal approval of killing animals for sport is never again seen as acceptable. 

Cruella tells a story that’s not a remake and is better for it. 

This film is absolutely worth putting on your watchlist and seeing in theaters. 

—a pen lady 

Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man (2008)

Directed by: Jon Favreau   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins

Studio: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment  

Screenwriters: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway

Created by: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau

Iron Man isn’t the first superhero film out there. Not by a long shot. It will, however, be remembered as the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The one that launched Marvel into its golden age of cinema. 

For those keeping track, this film is third chronologically. 

Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment’s Official Trailer for ‘Iron Man’ via YouTube, We Got This Covered

Tony Stark is Iron Man, and they are played by Robert Downey Jr. (RDJ). RDJ’s depiction of the decades-old character is spot-on in multiple ways. It’s as if Tony Stark was a real person at some point in time, then reincarnated into RDJ, who would go on to play… himself. It’s rare to find an actor/actress who performs so well in character you forget it’s not real. But that’s how well RDJ cultivated this character. 

The original material and RDJ’s natural charm and charisma were only two of the three ingredients that brought Iron Man to the masses. The third is director Jon Favreau. A genius for casting and creating in his own right. RDJ’s casting approval from Marvel came from Favreau not taking no for an answer to RDJ’s inclusion in the film.  

If Iron Manis your favorite Marvel character, now or ever, because of the films, thank RDJ (duh!) and especially thank Jon Favreau. 

Tony Stark/Iron Man’s story originally began in Vietnam. Shifting it to Afghanistan constructs a template for modern-day events and cultural relevance. 

Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Iron Man’ Image: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment

Both settings represent tension, greed, and war efforts, a sign of the respective times in each place. And yet, cinematic Iron Man follows his comic book material in de-escalating his companies role in war. A bold move considering the ongoing war in 2008. Still, the writers and Favreau re-crafted Tony Stark’s origin story to grow from that and not suffer the fate of his book material’s namesake. This Iron Man was destined for bigger things. 

A rich weapons manufacture turned humanitarian, turned hero works as a plot. Audiences get to see the process, how it’s made, how it works, how much it can do, how far it can go. It’s a nerd and engineer’s dream. 

The supporting cast members are terrific! Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is exactly right, as was Terrence Howard as Col. Rhodes. Their personalities and demeanors are an excellent counter-balance to Tony’s self-indulgent, eccentric, hyper-focused qualities. Obadiah Stain (Bridges) is the representation of how many view those that run gigantic companies. Hopefully without the literal cutthroat mentality. Bridges never has to work for presence in his scenes; he exudes it naturally. 

Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Iron Man’ Image Credit: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment

The pace is something this story has from start to finish. Between the dialogue or action sequences, it flies along, shifting from scene to scene with ease. 

Iron Man is more than explosions and destruction and amazing CGI. It’s rooted in the human condition and a compelling story with fantastic acting. The costume, a prop designed mainly through CGI, helps establishes this illusion of realism. A tool to keep Tony Stark alive, to right wrongs, and boggle the minds of engineers everywhere. 

While Iron Man isn’t this writer’s favorite Marvel character or a top-five MCU film pick, it’s worth a spot on your watchlist. Alone, or indeed, if you’ve decided to follow the MCU road. 

—a pen lady

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hrs. 5 mins.

Screenwriter: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet Studio: Marvel Studios  

Created by: Roy Thomas & Gene Colan Cast:  Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben

Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Greg Clark, Djimon Hounsou, Annette Bening

Captain Marvel is a vibrant, well-told story with details, great CGI, and character development. It moves along at an enjoyable pace too.

It’s difficult to find movies sometimes that represent strong, fun, well-acted female characters in stories that haven’t been done before. So when Captain Marvel came out, nearly ten years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the first thing many said was, ‘about time.’ 

Marvel Studio’s Official Trailer for ‘Captain Marvel’ via YouTube

That’s not to ignore the many female characters who fit the above description within the MCU already, but Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is the first to have a standalone film. 

Captain Marvel is technically the twenty-second MCU film. It’s sandwiched between Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Its placement is only essential because of the scenes in the credits, which logically explains Captain Marvel’s place in Endgame, the film after this one in release date order. Chronologically, Captain Marvel takes place in the mid-90s, so it’s natural to place it after Captain America: The First Avenger

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel is played by Bri Larson, who took a ton of flack for being cast. Some didn’t like how she looked for the role. Others objected to her cocky or unemotional depiction of the character. First, up to a certain point, women were not allowed to always fly, so when they could, being quiet and meek just wouldn’t do. Second, if male test pilots can be smug adrenaline junkies, why not women? To argue one can be but not the other is sexist. Third, Carol forgot everything about her life literally at one point. You can be told about your life, but there is little emotional resonance to be found if you don’t remember. Taking all the information provided about such a layered character and then crafting an authentic-like person from that is no small order. 

Lashana Lynch and Bri Larson in Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via the LA Times

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel’s journey of discovery is the main thread of this film. Other threads are not loose ends but tie-ins to the MCU as a whole. Some of those threads make more sense in chronological order viewing than the Captain Marvel story being introduced so late into the MCU. Those threads can seem like an afterthought as initially distributed. Still, discovery and agency are the leading personal themes of the movie, on top of how this story adds to the MCU. 

Speaking of adding to the MCU, think about Djimon Hounsou, Greg Clark, and Samuel L. Jackson. Hounsou first appeared in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014) as Korath the Pursuer. An older version of the same character seen in Captain Marvel. Despite some visual issues with his facial hair and eye color between the two films, I can’t tell if de-aging technology was used on him. He ages so well; I just don’t know. It was used on Greg Clark and Samuel L. Jackson. That’s not to say any of them look bad with its use, just an observation on the technology itself. It removes the need, in certain projects, to cast a younger version of an established character. It’s ingenious! 

The MCU is known for taking licenses with established characters, minor and significant, so they fit an enormously pre-planned cinematic adventure. They did this with Lashana Lynch’s character, Maria Rambeau. And Mar-Vell, played by Annette Bening. One is a clever reimagining connected to Carol’s origin story, and the other is a letdown. I won’t elaborate because that rabbit hole leads to spoiler territory. Still, both actresses brought convincing energy to their respective characters.

Still image of Kree Starforce from Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via Screen Rant

Everyone performs their roles well, and many of the characters seen again in future MCU roles are fleshed out here. It’s like a window into their origins without the need for their own story. If a viewer is familiar with Agent Coulson (Clark) or Agent Fury (Jackson), it’s a nice insight. If not, they can learn and appreciate the development of certain characters from a fresher perspective than others. 

In terms of tonality, Captain Marvel is a stark departure from that of Captain America: The First Avenger, but that’s to be expected. The individual stories of Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers, Thor, Tony Stark, and every other Avenger shouldn’t be the same. They are all vastly different people or aliens. That fact means audiences will not like certain characters over others, just as all people don’t like everyone they encounter. So it’s okay to not like a character, or specifically their standalone film(s). However, the character should be given a chance of redeemed likeability when working with others in the MCU. To be fair, that point is only valid if you plan on watching all the Marvel movies to date. 

Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn in Marvel Studio’s ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via Comicbook.com

I enjoyed Captain Marvel and Bri Larson’s portrayal of her. With Disney/Marvel now owning the rights again to the X-Men franchise, my sincerest wish is that they do better by those characters. Specifically that of Rouge, because her story is tied in with Carol Danvers in such vital ways. In the comics, that is when Carol was Ms. Marvel (later becoming Captain Marvel). Still, the MCU can be decently creative when they want. So time will tell. 

Whether you want to watch the whole MCU or not, Captain Marvel is a fun, energetic superhero adventure story worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady 

Stowaway (2021)

Stowaway (2021)

Directed by: Joe Penna     Rated: TV-MA    Runtime: 1 hr 56 mins

Studio: Netflix   Screenwriter: Joe Penna

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, Toni Collette

A private company called Hyperion, not NASA, is behind unmanned and manned missions to Mars in Stowaway. The audience never sees anyone from there, but they are in constant contact with the commander, Marina Barnett (Collette), one of the three-person crew. Like NASA, they do seem to care and have, more or less, a competent command structure. 

After the point of no return, a stowaway is discovered on board. How does that happen? Don’t fret about it too much because the explanation is flawed. Who from the ground crew didn’t notice a person is missing? Hello, security! Okay, it becomes evident that Michael (Anderson) didn’t do it on purpose. That doesn’t take away the fact that where he was hidden has damaged a critical component of the ship. A ship designed for only three people, with no spare parts. 

Officail Trailer for ‘Stowaway’ on Netflix

Stowaway isn’t an action, horror, or thriller space film. Really, after the plot is revealed, the story isn’t about if or how the problem can be rectified (though they try); the underlying message is denial. It’s a movie with some pace with characters unwilling to accept a horrible truth. There isn’t enough oxygen for all of them to make it to Mars alive. Stowaway’s actual center is on choices. What or who is worth sacrificing? Can they live with themselves if they do what they are being told needs to be done? Denial of an unfortunate moral dilemma. 

To become an astronaut means going through rigorous training, physically and mentally. On top of that, the individual adds something extra to a potential mission based on their specific expertise. Zoe Levenson (Kendrick) is a doctor, and David Kim (Kim) is a biologist. Between them and the commander/pilot, Marina, who was trained for this two-year mission, Michael is the odd man out. Should Michael die because he can’t do anything for the mission? Should one of the others kill themselves out of guilt, despite the situation not being the fault of any one of them? Should they try their luck with some hail-Mary ideas that might solve the problem? Acceptance, denial, and hard choices are the center of Stowaway

What would you do? 

Shamier Anderson, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, & Toni Collette in ‘Stowaway’ Image Credit: Netflix via NBC News

While the plot has legs, they collapse midway through the film. The story’s desire to stretch the limits of human companion and resilience is drowned out by the gross indecision of the crew, making the final act of the movie lackluster. 

The film’s pace and low energy lack the excitement that might otherwise be expected of the talented cast in this film. Still, for a movie that takes place in a few small rooms aboard a space taxi to Mars, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. While the cast is talented, this script didn’t allow any of them to do more than recite lines. None of them shine or stand out, but that’s not their fault.  

Stowaway is ultimately a movie that plays on the waiting room TV that you’re sort of invested in. It’s easily forgettable. There are far better space films out there that deal with similar themes that better utilize their cast and time allowance. 

Stowaway is not worth a place on your watchlist.

—a pen lady 

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Directed by: Joe Johnston   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 6 mins Studio: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios   Adapted: ‘Captain America’ comic by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby   Screenwriter: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Cast:  Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Haley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones

Over ten years after the start of the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU), some people may wonder what’s the best order to watch the impressive list of titles so far. There are twenty-three films and counting. While the first two Iron Man movies and The Incredible Hulk are technically the first three, it’s Captain America that should be seen first. 

Why Captain America? Simple, chronological order makes the most sense after all this time. All the stories in the MCU are linked somehow, even if in the most minor ways at first. 

Marvel Studios Official Trailer for ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ via YouTube

Chris Evans, who plays the title character of Steve Rogers/Captain America, is an excellent casting choice. He is to ‘Captain America’ what Christopher Reeves was for Superman, or Adam West was for Batman. An outstanding live-action representation of a cultural icon. Chris has a presence on screen. How he sounds and carries the character to how effortlessly he comes across with the other cast members, to his performances in action sequences. He takes the material, and it just fits him. 

While his role was small, Stanley Tucci, as Dr. Erskine, is warm and kind. He grants the audience an explanation of why an event in the film is the way it is, no comic background required. That’s a nice thing about the MCU, in a way, because some stuff they just tweaked to suit movies, you don’t need to be a comic nerd. A person can watch and just enjoy. 

The Red Skull (Weaving) is an iconic foe of Captain America in the comics, and Cap’s origin story can’t be done right without him. The MCU’s choice to use the Red Skull’s character in just this film is sad. After seeing Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, it’s hard to think of anyone else better suited for the role. Weaving did such a great job. His performance and energy are absolutely believable as the iconic megalomaniac.

Hugo Weaving and Samuel L. Jackson in Marvel Studios ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ Image via Comicbook.com

Cap’s origins can’t be told without also introducing Peggy Carter (Atwell) and Bucky (Stan). At this point, hindsight is an attribute to reviewing the MCU. In hindsight, it’s challenging to think of the other people who were considered for their roles. Atwell was a fantastic choice to embody such a significant, non-superhero role that extends beyond her place near Steve Rogers. There’s even a standalone TV show about Agent Carter staring Atwell that’s worth watching.

Bucky. Sebastian Stan’s depiction of Bucky, Steve’s best friend, is casting perfection. Again. His style, tone, mannerisms all tell the audience about him without saying much. The emotional bond, the resonance between Steve and Bucky aren’t forced or stale. They are authentic, as are the ones between Steve and Peggy and the Howling Commandos and Steve. If you don’t know who they are… just enjoy them. There is admiration, love, trust, and respect between many of the characters in this film. It’s crafted and depicted exceedingly well because the story is so well written. 

The entire story of Cap’s origins in the MCU is engaging and energetic. It has excellent casting and performances, tone, style, and set/scene/costume design. How they represented the 1940s, or WW2, isn’t dreary and drab, it easily could have been. Instead, it’s regular coloring which represents the styles of the period but without being sullen. Oh, and there’s action! 

Chris Evans & Sebastian Stan in Marvel Studios ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ Image via The Art of VFX

Captain America: The First Avenger checks all the boxes for crafting and depicting a perfect story. Out of the existing twenty-three MCU films, this one is in my top five. 

Whether you are looking for a one-night movie pick, or want to dive into the MCU for the first time, Captain America: The First Avenger should be on your watchlist. Then again, I’m biased. I’ve always been “Team Cap,” but to each their own.

** Special note. There are credit scenes in Marvel movies. This film has two. While watching in chronological order, some of these will be out of place.  Here, the end scene references the film that followed this (going by release date), which is The Avengers movie. FYI. **

—a pen lady

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

Based on: The novel ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ by Michael Koryta   Rated: R

Screenplay: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan  Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins 

Cast:  Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Medina Senghore

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a story that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be and therefore has no focus, no direction. While based on a novel by the same name, which I haven’t read, the film is forgettable despite the talented ensemble. 

Warner Bros. Pictures & New Line Cinema’s Official Trailer for ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ via YouTube

The intense opening scene choice is to engage the viewer and sets a tone for Hannah’s (Jolie) character. Quickly the audience figures out that what eats away at Hannah is never resolved; it’s never even explored. Given that Hannah is a smokejumper, she literally jumps out of planes to fight forest fires; it seems absurd she would still be working. Instead, she’s shunted off to a fire tower. I don’t know anything about firefighters within the forestry department (of any country), but that seems like it might be insulting to those that do staff such towers. Beyond that, she has no identification or uniform clearly indicating she is anything other than a backcountry camper/hiker. 

Hannah’s lack of credentials brings me to Conner (Little), a 12-year old she encounters, randomly, among the acres of trees. The kid has reason to be afraid and just decides to trust the first person he sees. Given the reason he’s in the woods, to begin with, that is a huge ask. There is nothing special about Little’s performance. Literally, any kid could be plopped into this role. That point is a letdown because the film, ultimately, is about him, not Hannah or fires. No one actually fights fires in this film. You see the all-consuming blaze, but it’s never a critical factor to the movie until the last twenty minutes or so. 

Finn Little and Angelina Jolie in New Line Cinema’s ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ via Collider

If you want a better story, conclusion, character development, and action that intimately involves fire, watch Backdraft. 

Jake (Gillen) and Patrick (Hoult) Blackwell are a sibling team of hitmen for…who the hell knows. Some character played by Tyler Perry is as weak as the toss-away excuse for the plot of the story. Perry’s one scene adds nothing that couldn’t be conveyed over an angry phone call from literally any voice. The brothers are a well-oiled machine, working well together. There is no backstory for them; they just kill anyone that gets in the way of their objective. Their dedication to one another and the job they are hired to do is admirable, even if Jake is old enough to be Patrick’s father. However, there’s only one reason two well-known actors were cast. If throwaway actors had been used, the audience wouldn’t be as invested in the pursuit through the woods. 

Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult in ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Image: New Line Cinema via Ballistic Magazine

A movie where the main character is a smokejumper who doesn’t go near a fire can’t be shot in Florida, where part of this film takes place. No, you need a more remote state where people are less likely to care about toting guns around. Montana’s the ticket; it’s remote enough! Alaska would have been my choice…

Remote or not, every area needs law enforcement. Who better than Jon Bernthal to depict Ethan Sawyer, a Sherif’s deputy with survival skills? I mean that as a compliment, he really fits the bill for this role. Allison Sawyer (Senghore) is a treasure! As Ethan’s pregnant wife, she handles herself like I want a survivalist living in the woods against some dangerous circumstances too. In terms of action and suspense, she steals the show. 

Medina Senghore in New Line Cinema’s ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’

Everyone knows Jolie can handle herself in action sequences. She made her mark off of films like SaltWanted, and the Lara Croft Tomb Raider franchise. She knew what the script for this film asked of her, and she took on the role, understanding it wasn’t anything like those mentioned above. Some may argue this diminishes Jolie’s abilities. She chose to take on this new project after her absence, of sorts, from mainstream adult roles. Yes, Hannah essentially hikes and sits around the whole film, but it’s not about her. The story insults the notion and need of proper healing and mental health after a tragedy more than Jolie’s acting chops. 

Those Who Wish Me Dead never evolves from the rationale that springboards the story into being. The film expects the audience to accept what’s happening because ‘it’s a thing that would happen’ and just go with it, despite some glaring questions that are never addressed or answered. Conner, Ethan, and Allison’s characters could have been more fleshed out and some backstory while dealing with the Blackwell brothers without Jolie’s character ever being part of the story. Or fire, for that matter. 

Medina Senghore and Jon Bernthal in New Line Cinema’s ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ via Collider Image Credit: New Line Cinema

The cast for this movie alone is not a reason to see it. The plot sure isn’t. Those Who Wish Me Dead suffers from false trailer expectations, like so many films. It frames it to be more action intense, including intense fire sequences, and it’s not. With a dry spell of content still plaguing online outlets and open theaters, you could watch this movie if you’re desperate, but don’t waste your money to do so. 

Under traditional viewing standards, I would say don’t add this to your watchlist. There are better films out there that successfully tackle the ideas in this film.

—a pen lady 

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix (1999)

Directed by: The Wachowski Brothers (formerly)  Runtime: 2 hrs. 16 mins  Rated: R

Studio: Warner Bros  Screenwriters: The Wachowski Brothers (formerly)

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving

Tell me if you’ve heard this before. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, then they die. Man evolves and recreates dinosaurs, which then eat man. Woman inherits the Earth. Oh, wait…that’s Jurassic Park. Let me try again. Man creates machines, then makes A.I. until the A.I. uses machines to take over the Earth and kill man. That’s, basically, the logic behind the Terminator movies. So, how is The Matrix an evolution beyond the troupe of machines taking over? Humans don’t know they are controlled by the machines; that they lost a long time ago. That twist and what follows is the critical deviation from the otherwise tired sci-fi troupe of humans fighting back against machines. 

Warner Bros. ‘The Matrix’ Official Trailer (remastered in HD by Jonathan Dailler) via YouTube

What is the Matrix? A dystopian hellscape unlike any other version around. It’s one part Tron from 1982, where humans “hack” into a computer system and change what they want from the inside. Another part is inspiration from the 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney with pod people or body-snatching…after a fashion. It’s also other things, but blend those two ideas together, and you’ve got an inkling of the plot. That description doesn’t do The Matrix justice. It’s a film you have to see to truly appreciate. To say more would be to give away things that are best enjoyed when you don’t know it’s coming. Why spoil the magic? That is what great cinematic storytelling does for an audience; it casts a spell. 

The Matrix was groundbreaking for its time and not just for the ingenious original story and cinematography but for the special effects. Even the trailer mesmerized viewers with the tone, pace, and music, even though, broadly, it didn’t tell anything about the plot. It grabbed eyeballs with the sample of the special effect wizardry to come. For the time, that alone was enough. What enables the film to still be appreciated by viewers two decades later is the story. The idea and notions that are explored are just as creatively invigorating now as it was then.  

‘The Matrix’ still image via Syfy Wire. Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Part of what established that appreciation is the cast. People that believably embody the roles they’ve been cast for and work well with everyone else. Keanu Reeves’s low-key, mellow persona lends exceptionally well to his depiction of Neo. A man that finds himself in a life-changing situation and is asked to be a leader. It’s an argument for those that don’t seek power can make the best leaders. Neo’s journey down the rabbit hole is visually stunning and created a new standard for every film after it to match. 

Trinity (Moss), Morpheus (Fishburne), and Agent Smith (Weaving) are all wonderful choices for their respective roles. Each exudes levels of presence while running, shooting, and fighting for their lives with excessive amounts of energy. Each of them and the other characters have these backstories that anchor them into the logic of the plot. It also shows the bonds between one another so that the audience further buys into the philosophical ideas being displayed. Whether the story is explaining and doing something or outright making a visual spectacle, the pace never drags. 

‘The Matrix’ still image via Wired. Image Credit: Warner Bros.

This film is not suited for younger viewers. Or people with a severe aversion to guns and weapons in their movies and lots of fighting. It’s one of three existing Matrix films, with a fourth due out this year in theaters. 

If you like a compelling detail-rich story with style, good acting, pace, and action, you will not be disappointed adding The Matrix to your watchlist. 

-a pen lady 

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants (2020)

Directed by: Josh Boone   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 1 hr 39 mins

Studio: 20th Century Studios     Screenwriter: Josh Boone, Knate Lee

Cast: Maisie Williams, Blu Hunt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Alice Braga

Movies adapted or based on comics have a wealth of material to work with when choosing which direction to take when crafting a script. Some characters, or ensembles, have exceeded expectations at the box office. Others have crashed and burned, making audiences cringe, even purging the experience from their memory. The New Mutants, however, created a whole new category, scripts that should be used as toilet paper. The numerous trailers are misleading as fook. I cringe even adding one.

The New Mutants is a spin-off series of the popular X-Men comic, so it has its spot in the comic world. It has no place in any cinematic universe. This film isn’t a hot mess because it was delayed due to Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox, including the X-Men film franchise. It sucks because writers Josh Boone and Knate Lee wrote a shit script. Fox being attached to it in some way is a curse, too; I mean, there are those other X-Men films we want to forget about. Fox let those happen…

20th Century Studios Offical Trailer for ‘The New Mutants’

Writer and director Josh Boone said in a Screen Rant interview he wanted younger people who feel like outsiders to see this (when it was in theaters), to see themselves reflected in it. To reflect the darker artwork of the The New Mutants series. Well, it does have a depressing, worn down, hopeless vibe going on in the film. It’s not a compliment. If I was a younger viewer, I wouldn’t want to relate to any of these characters. The X-Men comics and films reflect guilt when appropriate for damage or harm when a younger person’s mutant abilities manifest. The New Mutants do not. 

Dr. Reyes (Braga) is this “doctor” in charge of keeping these teenagers safe. New mutants can be a danger to themselves and others and need to learn control. That is easy enough to accept, but not when she’s the only person in a dilapidated holding camp, essentially. Unlike the minor afflictions or damage the X-Men characters caused before learning control, none of them had blood on their hands. That aspect is a fresh perspective and an honest one, never previously explored in comic films to date. Moving on from that and finding a place in the world is not the intended outcome for these five characters. 

I liked the idea of what to do with such mutants because let’s be honest, why would it not happen like that? Instead, our five teenagers are tested and assessed for possible inclusion in Dr. Reyes’s superior’s facility. A man who knows when a person manifests in their mutant ability, which is how they found Dani (Hunt). Fans might infer she means Charles Xavier. Given conversations between Dani and Illyanna (Taylor-Joy), it’s obvious this takes place well after X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Also, Dr. Reyes works for the Essex Corporation. If this film hadn’t bombed at the box office, that villain tidbit could have introduced the X-Men into the MCU. It’s safe to say The New Mutants will not be that inlet.

Masie Williams, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton, and Anya Taylor-Joy in 20th Century Studios film ‘The New Mutants’

The opening sequence in this film seems like it was chosen because they forgot to shoot the beginning of this film before running out of budget and time. Plenty of films out there require the audience to pay attention right out the gate and catch on shortly after. This movie’s beginning, however, misses the mark. It’s as if I started the film by selecting some random chapter in the movie and started from there. 

Most of the film is slow and offers nothing meaningful, even with the character’s worst memories coming to life. The fight scene at the end of this is a weird patchwork of those memories coming after them. The thing from the begging of the film (that was never really explained) shows up again too. It feels forced as Boone tries to have everyone’s origins come full circle, offering closure and self-esteem boosts.

While I am familiar with some of the cast and know they can act, this film does nothing for any of them. These teenage characters are portrayed as angsty, suicidal, depressed, and confrontational, on top of how they ended up in this facility. It’s a bit on the nose. Even with their feelings resolved some, it’s a stretch to say this movie is for the outsider YA fanbase. Every X-Men film has done better at that. The inclusion of an openly gay relationship between two teenage characters is not enough to save a movie with no clear definition of what it is.

Image from 20th Century Studios ‘The New Mutants’ via The Ringer

The New Mutants is tagged as a horror/fantasy film. Slightly creepy and messed up, yes. Scary? Not a fucking chance. It’s more horrifying that Disney continued to greenlight this train wreck after they acquired Fox. 

If I didn’t know that this ensemble was a spin-off from the X-Men comics, I would curse Josh Boone and Knate Lee for associating this film with vestiges of the X-Men universe. It’s beyond embarrassing. I feel bad for the actors who have this attached to their film biographies and that I wasted time watching it. While I yelled and cursed when watching X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, they at least had better stories, pace, character development, and action. I’d rewatch them than ever watch The New Mutants again. 

This movie should never be on your watchlist, not even if someone pays you. 

—a pen lady