Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

Directed: Colin Trevorrow  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2h 4m  Studio: 

Screenwriter: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, BD Wong, Vincent D’ Onofrio, Judy Greer

Jurassic World is built on the foundations of the Jurassic Park Trilogy. “Welcome to Jurassic Park” is one of the most iconic lines in a movie in the past thirty years. Audiences’ love of this franchise has endured because it’s a solid, fun story. The bar was set high for Jurassic World.

Now, you don’t need to have seen the original films to enjoy this one, but some moments and scenes pay homage to them. This film dives right into a dinosaur theme park that’s been open for years. Thousands of people have come and gone. In this premise alone, this film exceeds its predecessor. Yet, it was the most logical place to continue this franchise. One of the attributes that work in this series favor is that no one has copied it or tried to reboot it in three decades. That makes the opening/title sequence of this film so smile-inducing. The music, imagery, and font are iconic and give the audience a taste of what’s in store. 

The Indominus Rex from ‘Jurassic World’ Image: Universal Studios via ILM.com

Viewers get to see this lush, detailed, rich island theme park environment with attributes that would absolutely pull in customers if it were real. Despite the obvious concerns of such a park, emulating the hallmarks of resort theme parks, visually and practically, makes it a huge step up from John Hammond’s original park. 

While it’s not essential, per se, to the plot, I have questions. What happened to the remains of the original dinosaurs, the first-generation ones that died out? How long did that take based on the lifespans of the varying breeds? Jurassic World has been open for years; how long is that? They needed time to survey, tear up old structures, build new ones, and create the new dinosaurs. With all the time involved, how did no one learn from the events of the last three films? 

Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins in ‘Jurassic World’ Image: Universal via thehollywoodreporter.com

A tremendous benefit of new technology and CGI advances is that the animals look much better! More realistic. It allows the actors to interact more efficiently with what ends up being added after the fact, all the things that chase them. BD Wong is back as Dr. Henry Wu, the curator/creator of the resurrected dinosaurs. Here his character is evolved, given greater scope. In the first film, he’s a younger lab man who’s not truly part of the plot. In Jurassic World, his inclusion is one of the story’s main threads, granting the franchise a more robust continuity. BD Wong is a talented actor with a range of characters depicted in his filmography, and I’m glad they could get him back to reprise this role. 

I love Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire, the director of operations of Jurassic World. She’s polished refined, but with grit. Her performance, energy, and presence as the work-a-holic auntie-in-charge of a workplace gone sideways are brilliant and fun. Her chemistry with Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady works too. He’s the perfect mix of sassy and ‘those things will eat you alive, keep your shit together’ employee you’d want to work with. Once upon a time, people wanted to dig up dinosaur fossils as a career with more earnest; now, in a world with living dinosaurs, you can train them, like Owen. Specifically, he trains raptors. The methodology behind this practice on-screen is believable enough not to be questioned, letting the viewer enjoy its idea. 

Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins in ‘Jurassic World’ Image: Universal Studios via insider.com

You can’t have a theme park without kids, so of course, Jurassic World has a few of its own. Claire’s nephews Zack (Robinson) and Gray (Simpkins) visit the park as everything goes wrong. They add a needed layer of youthfulness and extra characters to be at multiple places on the island. Their addition helps immensely with pace and permits more settings, dinosaurs, and action sequences. 

Jurassic World is an example of what happens when you ignore history-it will repeat itself. Denial may get you eaten. This installment of the Jurassic franchise has more people, more teeth, and more spectacle. It’s a fun movie worth a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Directed by: Garry Ross  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 1h 51m

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures  Screenwriter: Garry Ross, Olivia Milch

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Akwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter

What would you do for a cut of 150 million dollars? 

Debbie Ocean (Bullock) took five years, eight months, and twelve days to plan out the biggest heist of her life. Now that she’s out of prison, all she needs is to assemble the best in each area she needs to get the job done. First, she starts with her number two, Lou Miller (Blanchett), then moves on to a jeweler (Kaling). Next up, a street con (Akwafina), the mom next door (Paulson), a fashion designer (Bonham Carter), and a hacker (Rihanna). 

Ocean’s Eight is an action-comedy built upon its Ocean franchise predecessors. The lead of an almost all-male cast was Danny (George Clooney), Debbie’s brother. A nice attribute about this movie is that you don’t need to watch the previous ones for anything to make sense. Ocean’s Eight isn’t the first heist caper, nor the last-yet its all-female cast (of a solid group of actresses) gives it a welcoming freshness. This ensemble of seasoned actresses is an exceptional collaboration of funny, serious, and nuanced. I loved the fresh take on a museum theft. Plenty of places or people have been robbed in movies, but I’ve never seen anyone try to do so at The Met Gala. 

Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Akwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson in ‘Ocean’s Eight’ Image: Warner Bros. via nbcnews.com

The chemistry amongst the cast is energetic and makes the film that much more fun to watch. It’s cohesive and well-directed, with only a few plot questions about Debbie’s plan that jumped out at me. Ross utilizes music in the background to establish pace and tone throughout the movie. 

Ocean’s Eight isn’t overly serious or trying to reinvent this type of film, except for where it moved women from secondary characters to the primary ones. The playful nature of the setup to robbing The Met Gala is fantastic. It allows the audience to sit and enjoy a well-dressed movie with no other purpose than straightforward enjoyment. 

Sarah Paulson, Sandra Block, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, Akwafina in ‘Ocean’s Eight’ Image: Warner Bros. Pictures via nbcnews.com

Every movie is meant to be enjoyed or appreciated; why watch otherwise? Ocean’s Eight is the confident, smooth reality break you didn’t know you wanted to see. A movie like that should be on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Red Notice (2021)

Red Notice (2021)

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber  Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1h 55m

Studio: Netflix  Screenwriter: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson

Red Notice aims to hit the mark as a fun international heist caper but misses the mark. 

The film is full of clichés and overused tropes such as “the muscle,” “wisecracking loudmouth,” and “a stunning woman.” Such stereotypes are tired and unimaginative, like Johnson and Gadot’s performances and on-screen chemistry. 

Red Notice tries for an Indiana Jones feel with its plot that hoped to infuse light-hearted humor as in The Mummy with Ryan Reynolds casting but failed to deliver. Johnson plays John Hartley, an FBI profiler who ends up teaming up with art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) to catch “The Bishop” (Gadot), who sets them both up. 

There is no thrill while watching this treasure hunt, full of escapades, double-crossing, and uninspired fight scenes. This movie was doomed from the moment it was green-lit because its casting choices are the only thing propping up the story’s weak execution. All three of the main cast can give better performances than Red Notice’s script provides. Red Notice may be Netflix’s most-watched film in its history, but it in no way should have cost 200 million dollars! It was an interesting story concept with a cast full of people audiences love to see, so why wouldn’t anyone expect it to be a hit? Especially after Covid restrictions were lifted in many places. While adorable Gal Gadot doesn’t do it for me as a believable baddy, Johnson is just too stiff. John Cena could have pulled off being an irritated FBI agent, better matched against Reynolds quips, and physically able to make more believable facial expressions at Gadot. 

Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds in ‘Red Notice’ Image: Netflix via latimes.com

The focus of critiquing the casting here is because it’s all Netflix used to sell this film as watchable in theaters (where it did terribly) or on its streaming site. So I’m left to ponder how long Dwyane Johnson can keep getting type-cast in Hollywood as the ‘attractive muscular leading man?’ What does he have left talent-wise as time goes on when he can’t throw people down or jump from high heights from helicopters anymore? Couple that with Gal Gadot’s less than solid filmography as anything other than ‘the hot woman doing something’ (despite her outstanding Wonder Woman performance) and her talent abilities are to called into question. Everyone expects so much from them, yet films like Red Notice smoother any chance for either’s potential to shine. 

It’s no surprise then that Ryan Reynolds is the best thespian of this trio. Yes, he usually does the wisecracks, the comedic-often raunchy characters, but he still has the most range. Like Johnson and Gadot’s characters, Reynolds displays as tired as if they know their characters are reaching too hard-all under fake smiles, sunglasses, and chest-puffing. 

Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot in ‘Red Notice’ Image: Netflix via NYTimes.com

Writer and director Rawson Thurber created a story that takes itself too seriously in its execution despite a bit of cheese. Nothing sets this over-hyped movie apart from others in its genre, except its MacGuffin title and overuse of the color red. 

Red Notice truly is nothing special and not worth your time or spot on a watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Matrix: Resurrections (2021)

The Matrix: Resurrections (2021)

Directed by: Lana Wachowski  Rated:Runtime: 2h 28m  Studio: Warner Bros. 

Screenwriter: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Jonathan Groff

The Matrix: Resurrections, director and creator Lana Wachowski take to heart the motto of House Greyjoy from the TV show Game of Thrones “what is dead may never die.”

As the film’s title might suggest, characters make a comeback in the fourth installment of the Matrix franchise, and the trailer gives it away too. If you haven’t seen any of the original three Matrix films, don’t read this review. By default, it will spoil them, which I am against doing. However, Resurrections is chalked full of flashbacks, references, and actual clips from all three of its predecessors, so it would be impossible to review this without bringing them up. 

I like a film where I can try to figure out the plot versus having it spelled out for me because some filmmaker or studio thinks I’m too ignorant to follow along otherwise. You understand my meaning if you’ve ever seen a Christopher Nolan film. The Matrix: Resurrections, on the other hand, is the cinematic mind fuck of the other variety. The one where I ask myself what did I watch? Usually, that doesn’t happen in the first ten minutes or less, but this film did. I’m pleased I didn’t pay to see this in theaters.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne Moss in ‘Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros.

In typical Matrix-style, there’s too much talking with an overload of technical jargon that many viewers won’t understand. In the film, they use the term modal/window pane. This term can have a few meanings, mostly mathematical and dealing with web pages. Its rationale is thrown out in a ten-second line that if you miss or don’t understand, you’ll be confused about what’s going on. That, of course, makes it hard to watch a movie when you’re busy trying to figure out what you missed. So, allow me to explain a bit if you want to watch this film and don’t understand webpage technical speak. 

When a game developer, for example, wants to add new content or fix something with an existing product, they do so on computers in what is referred to as a sandbox. That way, they can’t inadvertently crash a server, think of playing a game online with others, or cause errors they can’t fix. The sandbox keeps all the testing contained until the developer wants to let it become a part of the program. I hope that makes sense. That is what they mean by a modal in this film. Bugs (Henwick), the new white rabbit, observes something that she understands as truth, something from the past, yet knows it’s wrong. That leads to the question of why? Enter the plot. 

Jessica Henwick as Bugs in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via thrillist.com

We learned man made machines and artificial intelligence in the trilogy, duh. At one point, the AI of machines went to war with mankind, and we lost. Machines took over the Earth. With no method of producing power the same way for themselves, the machines decided to grow human beings and use them as batteries. The Matrix was constructed to keep the billions of podded humans subconsciously oblivious to reality. In that, they allowed two main programs to run the system. That was, of course, a big reveal, the whole point of the second movie- getting to the architect. Culminating in the third film where Neo (Reeves) has a choice (not really.) Any of his options have a list of outcomes the machines find calculatedly acceptable, even wiping out Zion and starting over with a select few “freed” people. Those people won’t remember any of it, like wiping a hard drive and starting over. It’s a sick outlook on the ideas of fate, destiny, and free will. That no matter how hard you try, especially if you don’t know you’ve already lost, you are fucked. That twist about mankind’s chances was like a slap in the face. On the one hand, it was a good ending, as far as non-happy ones go. Yet, what was the point the Wachowski’s seemed to give the finger to everyone after creating all that?

Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via Screenrant.com

A viewer needs to remember those points about the original trilogy when watching the fourth installment. That no person has a choice, free will doesn’t exist. And the machines can wipe you like a computer, which is what the human brain is essentially, and put in what they want. That is how we find Neo again—saved by the machines and re-podded. In retrospect, he was carried off in the third film; he could have just been unconscious. Why fix his eyes, though? So Neo is reverted to being Mr. Anderson, another blue pill of the Matrix. Trinity (Moss) had rebar through her; she was dead! So I questioned while watching this how human was she? How much of her was synthetically replaced? The movie doesn’t address that at all; that’s an observation. Or why neither is, visually, 60-years older.

The logic, the construct for Neo/Thomas’s place in the Matrix again, isn’t original. I get the rationale; it’s a fitting “role” to put Thomas’s persona into after two decades. So he needs to be “freed” again. Yet this time, the Matrix is different. It’s gotten smarter about how to keep humans from wanting freedom. Sure it’s a reflection of people today being compliant and jacked in more to portable devices; straying from that is the architect of this. Well, he’s not an architect anymore; he’s an analyst. The parallel of an analyst and a psychiatrist is amusing, but Neil Patrick Harris does it so convincingly. 

Neil Patrick Harris as the analyst in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ vs. Helmut Bakaitis in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ Image: Warner Bros. via Screenrant.com

While the addition of Henwick and Harris are well placed and logical, those of Mateen’s Morpheus and Groff’s Smith is not. The logic is that Morpheus and Agent Smith’s characters were the cause and effect of Neo/Mr. Anderson’s freeing and growth in the original trilogy, therefore he would need a representation of them again. Except that Smith was obliterated, purged, deleted, whatever, and Morpheus is long dead too. Yet, “what is dead may never die” springs up again because Lana Wachowski has a problem letting go. While Mateen is an exceptional actor, his Morpheus comes across as a cheap knockoff, a poor duplicate of the original with none of the commanding presence Lawerance Fishburne gave to the character. Groff’s Smith is an off-putting show of bad acting, or what I imagine it was like for him at his casting call audition. Like a drunk guy at Comicon embarrassing himself in front of Hugo Weaving. Yet, the Matrix (the system) seemed to get off on its display of a toxic work environment with a boss who was completely comfortable, causing an employee with known PTSD to be triggered. Yes, that’s an evident and well-deserved middle finger to Warner Brothers by Lana Wachowski. 

Jonathan Groff in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via ew.com

The script for this film sucked. The story’s entire emotional resonance rests on how much you liked the Neo/Trinity love story in the first place or The Matrix trilogy in general. A script should be like the soul of a project, and The Matrix: Resurrections feels like a ghost. Reeves and Moss look tired, like their hearts were not in this project; others were utterly forgettable. In terms of entertainment, there is little meaningful purpose to be found in this movie. 

The plot has holes and questions that are never addressed, let alone answered. This lack of attention to detail creates an uneven pace far from seamless or cohesive. That, of course, is a significant reflection of the structure of the film, the direction. It highlights how much Lana needed Lily’s help with this project. The messages and themes crammed into this film go way beyond an excellent philosophical discussion creator. It’s a hot mess. Like throwing too much shit into the blender for a smoothie and thinking it will taste fine. Sure, there’s conflict and resolution, but how it’s propped up and how you get to the end is a gigantic waste of time and brain cells. 

Human batteries in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via Polygon.com

Visually it was fine, the sets, costume, etc., a far departure from the look of 1999. The music was as expected, fitting and relevant- except the Rage Against the Machine cover during the credits. What kind of mood were they trying to elicit with that? 

When The Matrix first debuted, it was visually ground-breaking for others in cinema regarding what they could do with special effects. It’s part of what made The Matrix such a hit, things like bullet-time. Twenty years later, with nothing like that to hold it up, Resurrections highlights just how vital a great script is and how much nostalgia alone doesn’t matter in cinema. Resurrections is a rampant display of why “what is dead may never die” should very much have stayed dead from all parties involved. The Matrix: Resurrections shouldnever be on anyone’s watchlist, and I wish there were a blue pill to make me forget I ever did. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

This Means War (2012)

This Means War (2012)

Directed by: McG  Runtime: 1h 38m  Rated: PG-13  Studio: 20th Century Fox

Screenwriter: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg

Cast: Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon

A happy working environment is what many hope to find at some point in life, alongside a profession we love. In This Means War CIA operatives, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) live their best lives in a job they excel at, as they are lifelong friends. Who better to have your back? One is a ladies’ man, and the other, more reserved, but when the same woman catches their respective eyes, all bets are off. This is the premise of McG’s romantic comedy. 

What unfolds instead is an absurd bromance between childhood friends, now spies. As farces go about the American government, the CIA is a lukewarm placeholder in terms of relevance. The subplot was stale, adding nothing more than white noise to the background. The execution of this promising plot fails with the grace of a gymnast blunder posted on YouTube. 

The best on-screen chemistry is between Hardy and Pine. It might have been a funnier movie if Witherspoon had been a faceless woman, start to finish. Why? It’s not all that funny and certainly not romantic. Unless relentless stalking, abuse of work resources, and taking shots at one another like a game of wack-a-mole is your idea of true friendship and romance. This film promised to be a fun popcorn flick with an exceptionally talented and attractive cast; however, nothing could save this pointless screenplay from being anything other than a pig with lipstick.  

 Tom Hardy and Chris Pine in “This Means War.” Image credit: Kimberly French/20th Century Fox

These three actors all have a plethora of films between them that are better to watch than this. Watch any of them. Watch anything that doesn’t involve McG or Timothy Dowling, and you roll the dice with Simon Kinberg. This flop has no place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Dune (2021)

DUNE (2021)

Director: Denis Villeneuve  Runtime: 2 hr 35 min  Rated: PG-13

Studio: Legendary Pictures  Based on: Frank Herbert’s novel ‘Dune’

Screenwriter: Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timohée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Dune is a science fiction saga layered with all the typical trappings of humanity. Rife with greed and civil unrest as a set of noble houses control planets for resources, wealth, and power. Often to the detriment of the locals. 

Not too far into the film, and I’m having a flashback to 2015’s Jupiter Ascending, which was marginally more exciting than this film. 

In Dune, the house of Atreides is given stewardship of planet Arrakis by the overlord of all the houses-the Emperor. House Atreides, people of a water planet, go to Arrakis, a desert world, to mine spice. It’s the only thing of value to the houses because though spice is a drug; they also use it to navigate space. Okay. Spice is only on Arrakis, with two other things: the locals, known as the Freemen, and massive sandworms. 

The Freemen walk in a certain way to not cause unnatural vibrations in the sand that would otherwise attract the worms. They also wear special garb to help them endure the intense heat of the surface. Freemen characters are Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Bardem), and Dr. Kynes (Duncan-Brewster). Dr. Kynes has the most screen time out of these three, and the trailers for this movie imply the other two have more significant roles than they do. So if you see Dune just because they are in it, you’ll have to wait for most of the film and will be vastly disappointed. 

Javier Bardem’s Stilgar in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via IGN.com

The previous stewards of Arrakis, House Harkonnen, mined the spice for 80 years and left abruptly. Houses Harkonnen and Atreides are sworn enemies but obey the Emperor’s decree of change. Still with me?

Paul Atreides (Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac), next in line to rule his homeworld. Paul follows his father and mother, Lady Jessica (Ferguson), to Arrakis to learn how to lead more. Dune is billed as a sci-fi hero’s journey of a young boy born for a destiny he can’t grasp. A journey to provide safety for his people and family, all while not giving into fear. 

Frank Herbert originally published Dune in 1965. 

‘Dune’ Spice harvester Image: Legendary Pictures via WSJ.com

To get to my following observation, let me highlight some key phrases and notions about Dune. 1. An Emperor (really) 2. Mine spice (Kessel) 3. Planet of sand (Tatooine) 4. Massive worms (Sarlacc pit, or Jabba) 5. Walking a certain way (Sand people) 6. Wear special garb (Sand people) 7. Hero’s journey (Luke) 8. A Young boy(Luke/Anakin) 9. Destiny (Luke/Anakin) 10. Not giving in to fear (Jedi) 11. High council (Jedi)12. Superpowers (the Force) 13. Imperium (Empire). I could go on. Before seeing this version of Dune, I knew nothing about it. I had never read the books or seen the previous movies, so I walked into the theater with no pre-knowledge or conceptions. However, after only a few minutes into the film, I was beyond irritated. 

This irritation was because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much George Lucas poached from Frank Herbert. Not drew on as inspiration, full-on stole. George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars films, A New Hope, twelve years after Dune was published. Yes, the troupes of a young hero’s journey, saving one’s family, and the notion of destiny are all well used throughout cinema and literary works; but this is something else. 

Sandworm of Arrakis in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via Looper.com

My urge to slap George Lucas aside, Villeneuve’s Dune isn’t worth the hype. It’s dull, cold, and wastes its runtime with lackluster performances. This film should have had gravitas and more substance, considering the vast source material available. I saw the trailer like millions of others, but I was unimpressed. The movie, like the trailer, left me with no investment in the plot or the characters. Dune’s filmmaker expects the audience to care and follow along with this story, though there’s no satisfaction at the end. 

Why is there no satisfaction or excitement to find out what happens next? Imagine the following: you wake to strangers in your home, there’s shooting, fire, and death. Therefore you flee for your life through dangerous parts of town to seek shelter and help from people you barely know. All while not disturbing the gigantic sandworms and daydreaming about a girl. These people agree to help you- end film. Without actual spoilers, I just summed up Dune

Zendaya in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via nerdist.com

Villeneuve cuts Dune off after two-and-a-half hours with no actual climax/resolution. Walking through worm-infested dunes isn’t a proper climax. It’s a bloody boring letdown. As an avid reader and fan of films, I know that movies rarely do their sourcebooks justice. Even though I haven’t read Dune, I don’t believe the first novel ended the way the film did. Please correct me if I’m wrong because Dune is one of the top 100 books of all time. 

How does such a popular novel make it to the silver screen with lackluster cast performance, pace, and lack of details? The most energy any character provides is Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, discounting Brolin and Bautista’s roles as gruff, angry soldiers. That’s not a stretch for them, so I hardly call it acting. 

Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via latimes.com

Stellan Skarsgård’s depiction of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was said to be terrifying. I’m a big fan of Mr. Skarsgård’s work, and terrifying isn’t the word I would use to describe him in this film. Authoritative, vengeful, physically imposing (he’s a tall man in real life) who flies, which I find to be a weird ability, but not terrifying. Again I haven’t read the books; maybe he’s amazingly terrific as his literary counterpart description. 

The Lady Jessica is credited as Atreides but is referred to as the Dukes’ concubine in the film. If she’s his concubine, she’s not his wife. Either way, she is the mother of the Dukes’ son, Paul. The Lady Jessica is part of the Bene Gesserit, a political shadow group of sorceress with a breeding program. Again, I have that Star Wars connection in my mind. Breeding, cloning. Female sorceress’s, the Nightsisters of Dathomir. By and large, Ferguson’s emotional range is that of a brick wall. 

Chalamet, Ferguson, and Isaac in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via Screenrant.com

Ferguson is a brick wall, and Timothée Chalamet is a wet mop. Why is there hype around this kid? Harry Potter had more emotional responses about his dead parents, whom he’d never met than Paul does about any of the stuff happening around him. And Paul is a lot older than an eleven-year-old. For that matter, Harry’s dead parents in memory form or in moving magical photos conveyed more emotion for their son than Lady Jessica. 

It’s not fair that all I can think about is Star Wars when watching this; Frank Herbert really should have sued George Lucas at some point. Star Wars has plenty of other things that separate it from Dune. Still, so many of the broad strokes are not original, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth about the franchise. Herbert crafted a sci-fi series in novel form, and had George Lucas never come along with Star Wars, who knows how popular the Dune series cinematically could have been long term. All it needed was a studio, cast, and director, along with an excellent screenplay to bring it all to life- a few decades too late. Instead, now, Dune is left seeming like recycled content. 

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via Vanityfair.com

The script and direction should be solid when watching a big-budget film with a solid cast based on a classic novel. The passage of too much time and George Lucas robbed Dune of its full potential. Try as Denis Villeneuve did to make a better version of the 1984 attempt of Dune; it still falls flat. The devil is in the details, and there were not enough of them for Dune to resonate as the larger-than-life story it’s branded to be. 

Hopefully, the next attempt at Dune on the big screen will better incorporate details about the Houses in general, the interpersonal connections, and the mystical components that were played up but meant nothing. The story isn’t compelling enough without energetic performances and more complete pictures of characters and story arcs. 

When plot mechanics are the backbone of a film with little emotional resonance (story), it shouldn’t be on anyone’s watchlist. That’s not a film worth anyone’s time.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Eternals (2021)

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloé Zhao   Runtime: 2 hr 36 mins  Rated: PG-13 

Studio: Marvel Studios  Screenwriter: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo

Cast: Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Ma Dong-seok, Kit Harington, Bill Skarsgård 

Eternals is everything a decade’s worth of MCU films couldn’t do; it tells a complete, complex, and compelling story, with a strong plot, from beginning to end. A story where you didn’t know how it or the characters would end up. When you spend a decade establishing characters, building up an ensemble to fight together, you expect them to win. You expect them to make it to the end of their respective standalone films, so there’s little mystery there. How you get from Iron Man to Endgame is largely spectacle. Flash over substance. 

Eternals is more substance over flash, and many movie-goers hate that. Over the years, the MCU model conditioned people to expect less story from Marvel films, which are padded with costumes, CGI, and action. Don’t despair. Eternals have plenty of CGI and action woven more intrinsically within this detailed, rich story. 

Perhaps this is part of what many disliked. Details. Being required to listen and pay attention; when it’s not a spectacle, that’s what films need. Perhaps it’s the openly gay couple with a kid? Get over yourselves. Maybe it’s the sex scene? Hm, that one is fair. Up to this point, you could take young kids to see their favorite superhero in what has been a G/PG rated aspect of this topic in the MCU thus far. Well, kids grow up. Comic characters are not just for kids, nor have they ever been. Eternals isn’t dark and deranged like Zack Snyder’s comic book character depictions. Eternals fall in the middle. I’ll grant you this tiny spoiler if you’re on the fence about this film based on this point. It’s tastefully done. Sure it’s clear at one point two of the characters are lying down and don’t have clothes on anymore, but it’s from the collarbones up. Take from that what you will. 

Image: Marvel Studios, composite by Kirsten Acuna/Insider.com

Exploring this further, Eternals has a well-rounded, diverse cast. There are black people; one of whom is deaf, white people, an Indian character, Asian characters, a Spanish character, and a kid. This large cast ticks off a bunch of boxes with ease and not for the sake of ticking off boxes. I appreciate a well-rounded, talented cast that lets the film be about the story-not character-specific. In prior MCU films, one or two characters always managed to show up even when it wasn’t their standalone film like the film wouldn’t work without their inclusion. While Eternals have costumes, you should consider them more as uniforms, extensions of their powers, and ship. In this manner, this ensemble is without the brightly colored spandex costumes and accompanying ego trips. It’s all the better for it. 

Fans, however, may not feel better about the film’s opening sequence. They’ll need to read the screen. This isn’t a bad thing! It certainly sets the tone for the movie and the upfront departure from every other MCU project to date. It provides needed backstory in a format that consumes less screen time and budget. This format will not resonate with every viewer, but it’s an essential blip in the overall runtime of the film. It’s hardly the first film to use this tactic. So, read it without complaint. It’s also an important reason to remember to show up and find a seat before the film starts! 

Celestial image from the MCU Image: Marvel via Screenrant.com

Eternals has gotten mixed reviews, and I’m going to point out why you should ignore the naysayers. 1. Marvel didn’t put nearly the marketing effort into hyping this movie as others. It’s like they didn’t know how because 2. They are obscure characters with no prior buildup 3. The teaser trailer did nothing for this movie. Please ignore it. 4. It’s not all Hulk-like smashing, gun-heavy violent 5. The box office sucked. On that last point, when American films come out usually, other countries see them first. China is an excellent example of this, and they opted not toallow Eternals into their theaters. When that happens, the studio will see fewer zeros from ticket sales. That’s just a fact. Couple that ban with still touchy post-Covid theater options, and it’s clear those previous metrics for evaluating a hit or flop need reassessment ASAP. With all that against it, tossing that all aside and Eternals should be considered a box office hit. 

Chloé Zhao did a bloody marvelous job bringing together a large ensemble that portrayed characters worth being invested in. A cast who have great chemistry and energy that are believable and meaningful. Full of details that make the plot move along at an incredible pace, with seamless cinematography. Zhao tells a consistent story whose themes are just right and impactful. The audience can understand their story, who they are, why they are on Earth, their purpose, and how it all fits together in the MCU, which is a fair point after Thanos. 

Kumail Nanjiani is Kingo in ‘Eternals’ Image: Marvel Studios via SYFYWire.com

Moving forward, I sincerely hope that the house of mouse doesn’t “Disney-fi” future work with the Eternals within the MCU because this fresh infusion of characters is a palate cleanser. The right amount of serious and grownup to intermix with the sassy, zany and quirky characters left doing projects with the MCU. 

Eternals is worth a spot on your watchlist and your time. Make sure to stick around for the two end credit scenes; one’s at the very end. Cheers!

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Star Trek (2009)

Director: J.J. Abrams    Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 mins.    Rated: PG-13

Studio: Paramount Pictures    Screenwriter: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

Based on: TV series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Lenard Nimoy, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood

It’s always a pleasure when something classic is reimagined and doesn’t stink. It’s even more enjoyable when there’s a substantial time gap between the two. Today I’m talking about Star Trek. Yes, a few T.V. shows bear that name, but this film is rebooting the original T.V. series in a fashion. 

Paramount Pictures Trailer for ‘Star Trek’ via Classic Trailers on YouTube.

J.J. Abrams directed a star-studded cast that perfectly depicted and paid homage to the original characters and the actors that played them. If you’re familiar with the original T.V. show or films, you can appreciate it more than if you have not. Creator Gene Rodenberry crafted a reality that explores space, sure, but set the bar for how humanity should be. Peaceful, collaborative, intelligent, inclusive, and open-minded. He was decades ahead of his time. His amazingly radical notions don’t have quite the impact today as they did when Star Trek first aired, but that’s a good thing. It represents progress. 

“Space, the final frontier.” I think of these iconic words as I look out an airplane window at 40,000 feet writing this. The multiple shades of blue, nothing visible beneath me, sparse speckling of clouds smeared onto the sky like an artist at work. It’s nothing compared to seeing the entire planet from above and afar. To try and imagine that or other worlds is beyond the scope of my appreciation. So when J.J. Abrams and the production team gave birth to this remake in such a vivid, plausible, and fun manner, it just had to be good. Right?

Yelchin, Pine, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Saldana in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’ Photo via Slashfilm.com

Captain James T. Kirk (Pine), Spock (Quinto), Lt. Uhura (Saldana), Soo-Lu (Cho), Ensign Chekov (Yelchin), Doctor McCoy (Urban), and Scotty (Pegg) are all superb casting choices! Everyone has this well-blended chemistry that makes you fall for them as their respective characters. Though Zachary Quinto’s resemblance to the original Spock, Lenard Nimoy, is uncanny. It’s one thing for an actor to look like someone else, but accurately depicting them is vital, and Quinto makes an excellent Spock. R.I.P. Mr. Nimoy.

This film introduces the Star Trek universe and the cast’s journey together. However, how the story originates is brilliant. Using one of the original Trek members as the catalyst to the plot allows the story to honor the original and carve out its own path for newer generations. It’s a genuinely clever way to reset many things about the original without destroying its memory. 

Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto as Star Trek’s Spock. Credit: People.com

The freshly minted crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet, work together to tackle the immense challenge of stopping a rogue Romulan captain named Nero (Bana) who is out to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time. Why? And how do you stop someone that can destroy planets? The answer to that and the reason for the plot working so well was the addition of “Spock Prime” (Nimoy) as he’s credited. The concept of the plot doesn’t work without his inclusion. 

It’s not just Mr. Nimoy but the entire cast who brings depth, energy, and believability to their roles. After all, that is what anyone wants from an actor, an outstanding performance. Star Trek gets that from everyone attached to the film; to me, that is a sign of great hiring. It’s also a sign of a great script. A project can have the best actors around, which can flop from a terrible script or a bad director. 

The Romulan ship, the Narada in ‘Star Trek.’ Image: Paramount Pictures

Another attribute that makes this iteration of Star Trek so appealing to watch is the production that created believable costumes for the various aliens, the sets and props, and the technology used to complete all the CGI. Every time Star Trek is taken on anew, it automatically benefits from the newest filmmaking tools of the time. This franchise has come a long way in visual appeal since 1966. It’s come a long way in general and paved the way for many first on T.V. 

This Star Trek does a spectacular job of character development in weaving the storylines together and representing how different species manage meeting new people in life and on the job. 

Bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’

Fantastic acting, set design, cinematography, directing, story, and humor make this film worth the effort into creating it. All these attributes created a movie worth seeing. J.J. Abrams boldly chose to go where many have gone before and comes out of warp speed with a refreshing winner of a reboot of a beloved sci-fi franchise. This Star Trek is worthy of a place on your watchlist!

-A Pen Lady

Uncategorized

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed by: James Gunn Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hrs 18 mins

Studio: Marvel Studios Screenwriter: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Teaser Trailer from Marvel Studios

So here we find our Guardians of the Galaxy, again, as the MCU’s tenth film. The Guardians are hired by a race called the Sovereign to save their planet’s power supply from becoming a dimensional-jumping onto-slug’s dinner feast. That plays out how it does, with the Sovereign chasing them across space for offending them. Remember, Rocket (Cooper) is a part of this group.

Along the way, they encounter a pair (Russell and Lementieff) who claim to know Quill’s (Pratt) father. Vol. 1 focused on Quill’s mom’s issues, so it follows that James Gunn would make Vol. 2 about his father’s issues. So, Peter, Drax (Bautista), and Gatorade (Saldana) go with the pair. Rocket and Groot (Diesel) have another task, including dealing with the incredible Karen Gillan’s Nebula.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Pom Klementieiff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Zoe Saldana Credit: Marvel Studios via IMDb.com

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the characters explore places and ideas that change how they view family and the universe. It’s touching moments like when Rocket gets a therapy lesson from Yondu of all people, with the humor and action that ground the story and moves it along with ease. The soundtrack helps too! Gunn’s starship of misfit toys and the well-selected tracks mesh so well. It’s another dose of quirk, the opposite of the Avengers ensemble, and it’s incredible how it all comes together. Plenty of people have posed the question ‘team Iron Man or team Cap’ over the years. What they should have been asking is, are you team Avengers or team GotG? Really, who would you want to save the universe?

As a sequel, the surprises of the characters’ personality traits and Gunn’s outlandish style is gone for the audience in Vol.2. Thankfully, it’s not gone-gone. Gunn’s focus is always the characters so the story feels like it’s organically in response to them.

Michael Rooker and Bradley Cooper in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Credit: Marvel Studios via Forbes.com

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is a fun, energetic, semi-dirty follow-up to Vol. 1. While not all the jokes hit their mark, plenty still do. The comedic style is still there, just like the tone and spunk of the first one. The story is solid, considering it focuses on Quill’s daddy issues. Full of sass and wit, it also has substance and continued character development, which is essential when characters will be seen again and again.

Personally, I think that Yondu and Baby Groot steal the film overall. Share your thoughts on your favorite Guardian character in the comments!

If you enjoyed Vol.1, you’d love Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 just as much. So it should be on your watchlist!

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Directed by: James Gunn   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hr 5 min  

Screenwriter: James Gunn, Nicole Pearlman   Studio: Marvel Studios

Based on: Various Marvel comic book characters

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Lee Pace

If the Avengers were a motley crew when forming, what does that make the Guardians of the Galaxy? Who are, at best, a collection of misfit toys. Ones without the benefits of standalone films preceding their silver screen MCU team-up. A group of characters virtually unknown before this film. 

None of the “Guardian” characters in the MCU’s version are original members in the comics. Not one. Guardians of the Galaxy (the comic) first appeared in 1969. Throughout the decades, they went largely under the radar of popularity. In 2008 Marvel relaunched, reshaped? reformed? the Guardians into the content director James Gunn found inspiration in. Fine. Great. Whatever. When this first came out, I had only seen one of James Gunn’s films. I could live the rest of my life without seeing anymore. So when I heard he was directing this movie, I was skeptical, at best. Marvel did what? I went and saw it without managing to see a trailer for it beforehand. So, yes, I went because it was Marvel. Surely they wouldn’t screw the pooch at this juncture in the MCU? 

Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 Credit: Marvel Studios via The Hollywood Reporter

No. They. Did. Not. In fact, this film grossed over $600 million more than it cost to make. Bravo! Okay, the pooch is fine. And James Gunn raised the bar for himself in terms of his filmmaking skills. How did he manage this? He dove into the treasure trove of characters associated with the Guardians, the relaunched version, and molded that into characters and a story that would seamlessly attach itself to the MCU’s ultimate storyline goals. 

In logical viewing order, this film is number nine. First, Captain Marvel introduced the audience, Colson and Nick Fury, to the reality of life outside of Earth. Still, the movie’s “public” wasn’t aware of it. That came later with Thor and certainly with Avengers. With Guardians of the Galaxy, the audience is introduced to space travel beyond the Bifrost. To new worlds and characters, and still connects it to Earth, the Battle of New York, Thanos, and beyond. 

In James Gunn’s version, the “Guardians” are Peter Quill a.k.a. Starlord (Pratt), Gamora (Saldana), the adopted daughter of Thanos, Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), Groot (Diesel), a nine-foot walking tree species, and Rocket the Raccoon (Cooper). 

Karen Gillan in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’ Credit: Marvel Studios via Syfywire.com

Adventure and comedy ensue when Quill can’t make money off a job he stole from his boss, Yondu (Rooker). Followed by a public altercation with bounty hunters (Rocket and Groot) that Yondu sets on him. The extra stiff wrinkle is that a mass murderer, Ronan (Pace), wants the item in question as well. He orders Gamora to retrieve the item for him. That doesn’t go as anticipated, and she is arrested with the others. Along the way, they meet Drax and agree to work together temporarily to stop Ronan from his genocidal goals. That’s the summary of this film, and yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is so much more than that. I really don’t want to give anything away. This version of the characters is excellent! They are everything all the other MCU characters to date are not. Guardians bring to the table a much-needed dose of humor and lightheartedness. All while facing some serious obstacles and foes. A more serious character might rebuke their cavalier attitudes and personas. What Gamora simply refers to as “idiots.” The Guardians rally, like the Avengers, and work together to tackle the tasks before them. 

Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’ Credit: Marvel Studios via CinemaBlend.com

The film’s pace always moves along, like an Olympic ice skater who displays a flawless performance. This is accomplished by the excellent cast chemistry and the fantastic performances of their respective characters, also with well-placed quips, jabs, and jokes throughout the film. Another contributor to the pace is the music. Between the jokes and the musical styles of the 1970s that just fit with this eclectic bunch, it really helps it move along. Additionally, it sets the tone of the film early on. Something that is always smart to do. 

Frankly, this film’s story could have been poorly received if the audience wasn’t “feeling” this movie’s overall tone and cadence. Primarily when it’s held up against the early MCU films. It just doesn’t take itself seriously like the others. And yet, it’s just what the doctor ordered. 

Guardians of the Galaxy is that underdog story that seemingly comes from know where and wins the hearts and minds of the audience. It adds to the MCU and still tells a grand standalone story that is deep, meaningful, watchable, enjoyable, and gifts the audience with characters it can’t help but love. A movie that can pull off all that is worth a place on your watchlist. Grab some snacks and settle in! 

—a pen lady