Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Avengers (2012)

Avengers (2012)

Directed by: Joss Whedon   Runtime: 2 hrs. 25 mins.   Rated: PG-13

Studio: Marvel Studios   Screenwriter: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jermey Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgård, Clark Gregg

Avengers is the culmination of years of planning and strategic story-telling. Number seven in proper viewing order. It brings together Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Black Widow (Johansson), Hawkeye (Renner), and Hulk (Ruffalo). Together they work to stop Loki (Hiddleston) and his aspirations of ruling Midgard (Earth). 

Yep, that Loki. And he’s not alone. He’s got an army. Loki’s introduction beyond Asgard was visually impressive! The audience gets to see more character development with him and everyone. 

Trailer for ‘The Avengers’ Credit: Marvel Studios via YouTube.com

The Hulk was recast. The previous one played by Edward Norton came across exceptionally well as a geeky scientist. Other than that, Marvel swapping him out with Mark Ruffalo isn’t a big deal. Still, Marvel uses the Avengers to create a backstory and rationale for Hulk’s quick and seamless participation. 

Hawkeye gets more screen time here than he did in Thor, where the character appeared, briefly. His storyline within the movie mixes with Black Widows. They’ve worked together for years, and the audience gets to see this bond, which feels authentic. Their respective roles always matter more within the ensemble, what they add to the group and why they stick around. They’re the only two without something “extra,” so they are the closest to everyday people. That makes them more relatable. 

In the beginning, they’re a motley crew, but they rally. NYC gets trashed in the process, but it’s not their faults Loki came. 

The Avengers in ‘The Avengers’ Credit: Marvel Studios via Cinemablend.com

The story itself isn’t complicated, nor should it be with a movie like this. It’s designed to be engaging and fun. There’s no prerequisite to see this film if you don’t care about the standalone films before it. No need to have read comics, ever. With these stories, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) ambition is to build upon the one before it. It’s easier to watch an ensemble do something, like saving the world when the audience is invested in the characters. Marvel building up the characters beforehand was an excellent strategy to get the audience invested. 

Books have been made into films for decades. Stories as rich, diverse, complex, and satisfying as Lord of the Ring are masterfully adapted to the screen, but the material only goes so far. Avengers is dozens of stories and connections, their potential- limitless. Why? Because comic books engage multiple-age groups over a wide range of lifestyles and cultures. Comic adaptations, done right, don’t have to end. 

Chitauri in ‘Avengers’ Credit: Marvel Studios via Screenrant.com

The characters are engaging and watchable. The performances by all are convincing, for what the roles asked of them. No one from this franchise will win an Oscar for their acting; the script never allow for that level of depth and range. However, awards should be given for excellent editing, sound editing, CGI, and stunt work. The actors may be the “face” of the film, but the lion’s share of what makes it what it is comes from the handwork and efforts of all the behind-the-scenes magic. 

Avengers is a fun, loud, colorful, action-packed film that’s worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady

Uncategorized

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Directed by: Ivan Reitman     Runtime: 1 hr. 45 mins.     Rated: PG

Studio: Columbia Pictures     Screenwriters: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd

Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver

There’s no denying when a film’s following endures over the decades, someone did something right. When someone utters the term ‘movie magic,’ you can look to such a film as an example of what that means. Almost four decades after the release of the first film, Ghostbusters is such a movie. 

A supernatural film caters to a particular group of movie-goers, which can make money, sure. What made Ghostbusters such a hit was the notion of the supernatural being blended with comedy. Yet not in an offbeat or cheesy manner. This melding of genres, first and foremost, as successful as it was, is because of excellent story crafting.

Official Trailer for ‘Ghostbusters’ Credit: Columbia Pictures via YouTube.com

I’m a proponent that every film project begins and ends with the story. How well a script is executed in cinema (or television) is the foundation to success. Yes, many other factors can ruin a project, but it starts with the story. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis birthed the idea of Ghostbusters to the page, and Ivan Reitman ran with it. It was a perfect melding of story and vision coming together. 

Simply put, Ghostbusters is about a group of scientists that go into business for themselves who are the animal catchers of the supernatural. For a price. Some jobs are easy, some are more involved, but when the world’s fate is at stake (with New York City as the epicenter), who ya gonna call? 

Part of the magic of this film is the technical jargon and gadgets used. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or if scientifically, it’s easily debunked. The way those attributes are utilized makes it seem believable and seamless into the world they belong to. That’s not an easy thing to do, let alone want to watch in a more critical world of films today. That’s as adults. As a child sees it, who wouldn’t want a proton pack? 

‘Ghostbusters’ image from Columbia Pictures via Denofgeek.com

The stunts, special effects, and cinematography are all other components that add to the movie magic within Ghostbusters. Creating the proton streams, Slimer, any of the spooks and specters, and a hundred plus tall marshmallow man add to the story and magic. Crafting the right camera shots and angles really help sell the tone of the film. From wide-angle shots of the city to the close-ups of characters’ reactions to the action, it all works together. 

Ghostbusters is one of those films that is gifted with a memorable musical score, and as a bonus, it has a theme song. I play some of this film’s music on my front porch every Halloween with other music because it’s just so fitting. 

For a movie that is close to four decades old, it’s still funny. Most films will show their age over time with the character’s lines/references, but Ghostbusters doesn’t really suffer from that. The worst that can be said is that it highlights the styles of 1980s America. 

Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd in ‘Ghostbusters’ via Vanity Fair

The most significant component is cast chemistry. When the casting for each role is bang on, it’s fantastic. When the entire cast meshes well and feeds off of one another’s performances, the project is all the better for it. Winston (Hudson) and Egon’s (Ramis) presence and humor balance out Ray (Aykroyd) and Peter’s (Murray) more eccentric personality attributes. To that end, you have polar opposites in Dana (Weaver) and Janine’s (Potts) characters, but they still have a place that belongs in the film. Even though he’s the odd man out, Louis (Moranis) is this endearing, naive neighbor that gets caught up in the action and adds to the comedy. 

Ghostbusters is a movie that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s meant to be a fun sci-fi/comedy that you enjoy with popcorn that happens to be a well-constructed story with great acting. It absolutely is worth a place on your watchlist! Enjoy. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

A Quiet Place 2 (2021)

A Quiet Place 2 (2021)

Directed by: Jon Krasinski   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 1 hr. 37 mins.

Studio: Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes

Screenwriter: Jon Krasinski, Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Cast: Jon Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou

I take care not to put out spoilers that ruin a movie in my reviews/posts. To dance around them when reviewing franchise films, where one builds upon another. Though, strictly speaking, they’re not sequels. A Quiet Place 2 is very much a traditional sequel. To talk about it will mean referencing its predecessor a little. There may be baby-sized spoilers, but nothing major. Therefore, don’t read this until you’ve seen the first one. 

Paramount Pictures final trailer for ‘A Quiet Place 2’ via YouTube.com

A Quiet Place 2 is not one of those sequels that’s a letdown. Sure, some of the mystery is gone now that audiences understand the alien’s trigger. That doesn’t equate to a lack of suspense and thrills. I couldn’t remember the last time I jumped in my seat seeing a movie, and for this one, it happened twice. 

The film picks up right where the first left off. In a flashback/memory, the audience gets to experience the day the aliens came. Yes, it shows multiple perspectives and not just the person having the flashback; it’s forgivable. Move on. It’s effortlessly shown and seamlessly goes right back to the movie’s present. By adding this, viewers see the connections with other townspeople the Abbott family knew. This is nice because there is no need to explain who someone is later on. Case in point, Emmett (Murphy). 

Emmett and Regan (Simmonds) are the genuine leads of the film. Evelyn (Blunt) and Marcus (Jupe) have sizable chunks, but someone has to keep an eye on baby Abbott. With the family farm in ruins, a safe and sound-proof space is crucial with a newborn in tow. 

Noah Jupe, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds in ‘A Quiet Place 2’ Image Credit: Paramout Pictures via Screenrant.com

Everyone’s acting is on point, to a level that questions how. How did Krasinski get such real-life-like emotional reactions? When Noah Jupe’s Marcus screams and panics (which is all he seems to do), did he have a coach? Or Emily Blunt’s resolve as Evelyn to carry around that crate and baby on an injured foot is pure grit. Grit is not a term I would use to describe Emily Blunt typically. The natural-seeming reactions of Millicent Simmonds’s Regan are also amazing to see depicted, as she is deaf in real life too. All of it adds to the believability and suspense as you watch these characters struggle to survive. 

Let’s talk feet for a moment. Evelyn walks around barefoot as the Abbott’s have elected to do, with a wound and dirty bandage. Ow and yuck! On top of that, they must now walk beyond the soft sandy paths they established near home. I’m barefoot most of the time, so my feet are used to a certain degree of abuse. However, walking on and running through the places the characters do without issue isn’t believable. Maybe if they were as light-footed as the elf, Legolas, from Lord of the Ring. 

Krasinski doesn’t expand on the aliens in any way, which will bug some viewers who expect answers and details. In this, A Quiet Place 2’s alien foe is like the concept of the zombies in AMC’s The Walking Dead. There is no ‘why,’ only how to survive around them. A bleak notion, to be sure!

Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Djimon Hounson, Millicent Simmonds in ‘A Quiet Place 2’ Imgae Credit: Paramount Pictures via Screenrant.com

A Quiet Place 2 isn’t short on action and suspense. The film may have more dialogue, but it still invokes the same need for audience participation with being silent. With excellent sound editing and solid performances by the cast, the story holds up well against its predecessor. Seeing the first film, and this one is like being enveloped into a great book. When it’s over, you still want more. That’s a sign of excellent storytelling. 

If you are a fan of action, suspense, and drama with a fantastic cast and great story, A Quiet Place 2 should make it on to a high place on your watch list. 

—a pen lady

6-25-21

*Currently, you can only see this film in theaters. If it’s safe for you to see and you can see it in theaters before its home release, see it on the big screen. Some films are always better viewed on a gigantic screen, in the dark, with a superior sound system. This is one of those films. Cheers! 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

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 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

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 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002) 

Directed by: Steven Spielberg   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 26 mins

Studio: Dreamworks Pictures & 20th Century Fox   Screenwriter: 

Adapted: Short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick

Cast: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Neal McDonough, Max von Sydow

In the year 2054, there’s no murder in Washington D.C., and it’s been that way for six years with the use of Pre-Crime in Minority Report

Pre-Crime is a division of the police that arrests people before they commit murders. How is that possible? With the use of ‘pre-cogs.’ The pre-cogs are three people that were given birth to by drug addicts and, as such, caused the babies to have a severe mental handicap. A doctor who sought to cure them of their afflictions caused an unintended anomaly to manifest in some—the ability to see future murders. 

Dreamworks Pictures & 20th Century Fox ‘Minority Report’ Trailer via YouTube

Minority Report is an overly complicated story of a murder, the vehicle for the plot, but, to me, is secondary to the film’s themes. These themes ask things of the audience that are overlooked by most of the characters. What are the ethical and moral obligations of using technology in many avenues of life? Doesn’t it take away free will? How can due process be ignored? In America, we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but what if we haven’t committed said crime yet? There is a line between thinking of doing something and actually following through. The story follows the philosophical logic that events are bound by causality. That past events/actions/choices are always the cause of future events. 

Yes, the movie is a melding of action and ideas while solving a crime, but it has a huge plot hole that isn’t recognizable until the ending. I’m not talking about the gigantic question about how Pre-Crime can work long term when it’s based on three people. What happens when they die someday? That’s not even the plot hole; that’s just a huge, logical question. 

‘Minority Report’ Image: Dreamworks Pictures & 20th Century Pictures

For 2002, the film utilizes the technology available to create visually impressive “future” tech vibes that twenty years later have worked their way into our lives. There are no spider drones, but we have drones. We don’t have manually powered cycling sonic guns or fly around in jet packs. Our streets don’t look that nice anywhere in America, but the self-driving cars are sleek and sexy. Eat your heart out, Tesla. I also had Westworld vibes! 

Minority Report moves along well enough but drags at times. Specifically, when the main character, Chief of Pre-Crime, John Anderton (Cruise), sinks into his depressed, self-loathing, and self-destructive habits. Cruise is in charge in this role, and runs, jumps, climbs, and gets shot at repeatedly. That just described ninety percent of his career. It’s an a-typical performance and nothing spectacular from anything else he’s done. His ex-wife Lara’s addition, beyond old videos, is a crutch and isn’t needed if only to satisfy Spielberg’s sappy cliché ending. 

Samantha Morton in ‘Minority Report’ Image: Dreamworks Pictures & 20th Century Fox via Wired.com

While Colin Farrell (Danny Witwer) and Neal McDonough (Fletcher) don’t have as much screen time, they do bring great energy when on screen. Witwer is out to find the flaw in the system because he’s against over-reaching on people’s rights. Fletcher is second in command and is tasked to bring in John when determined he will commit a murder. 

Cruise may be the principal character, but it’s Agatha (Samantha Morton) who stole the show for me. Agatha is one of the three pre-cogs. All three live in a sterile room in a pool of specialized, nutrient liquid while constantly hooked up to provide a live, recordable feed from their minds of murders that haven’t happened yet. Sedated every moment of their lives, barely able to move or speak. A slave from the moment their minds opened up, unable to close again. At one point, she asks, “can you see?” and while Agatha is asking about something specific, it carries a double meaning for all of the themes presented throughout the movie. Her character is the most energetic and emotionally engaging in terms of performance. 

Tom Cruise in ‘Minority Report’ Image: Dreamworks Pictures & 20th Century Fox via Wired.com

Minority Report is this oddly lit movie that highlights the depth some will go to circumvent the system. No matter how advanced we get, humans are still materialistic, dirty, emotional creatures of habit at our core. The movie is part crime-solving, part action, and mystery. If you like crime, action, or sci-fi films, Minority Report is worth a place on your watchlist, even if you need to rent it. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Directed by: Michael Dougherty   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs 12 mins

Studio: Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Screenwriter: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, Bradly Whitford, Vera Farmiga

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the second film in the “monsterverse” trilogy. The first was Kong: Skull Island. Where Skull Island had a much better storyline, tone, and pace, it also, more or less, had a better logical explanation of the monsters. ‘King of the Monsters’ fails at this. 

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is basically monster porn with the weakest plot and cringy lines. If you’re a big fan of monsters, then this film probably won’t put you off. Though keep in mind the trailer’s tone compared to the actual movie is misleading.

Warner Bros. Pictures Final Trailer for ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’

The human characters have a purpose but have no depth. They exist merely to justify the limp excuse for a plot that moves along with the smoothness of a newbie learning stick shift. A story that revolves around culling the infectious human race with monsters—one of which is an alien. Seriously? This film is convoluted enough without that add-on. The whole justification for monsters existing in the entire trilogy is tenable until this screenplay, which is an exercise on how to fail film school. It’s meant to set up the third film, Godzilla v Kong

If I had watched these in order, I never would have watched the third film. Instead, I was under the impression I didn’t need to see this film, so I saw ‘Skull Island’ and then Godzilla v Kong. Viewing the third film, I was confused as hell, so if you can make it through this film, more power to you. 

While watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I stopped three times. My brain simply didn’t want to process the fecking train wreck in progress. Forcing myself to finish this is a crime against my brain cells. I just can’t. I don’t care about it enough to know how it ends. That’s a sad admission for any movie-goer. 

The first film is like the first act of a movie, the setup. The second film is the middle, where the plot thickens, and lots of other details are learned. Finally, the third movie is the climax, the action, or reveal, and conclusion. Keeping that in mind, that is what this “monsterverse” is set up to be. The filmmakers are playing a long game. Trying to reinvent and expand beyond every monster film before them. 

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Image: Legendary Pictures

Kong: Skull Island is a good start; this film is the equivalent of X-Men the Last Stand. The bastard, hot-mess of a franchise everyone wants to forget about. Godzilla v Kong is like a constant show of rock em’ sock em.’ However, if you understand the setup, it’s acceptable as such. You know what you’re getting going in. 

Some argue there should be fewer humans in these movies; I disagree. The monsters can’t communicate, so the audience will understand, they were not designed to be. Therefore you need the human component. 

If you like monsters, action, a believable story, and brain cells, there are far better movies to watch. Pacific Rim is an excellent, more recent example to see. Not this! Anything but this travesty of plot and logic. Godzilla: King of the Monsters should never make it onto your watchlist. Read a spoiler about it online and skip to the third film if you want, but forget it was ever produced. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

A Quiet Place (2018)

A Quiet Place (2018)

Directed by: John Krasinski   Screenwriters: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski 

Studio: Paramount Pictures, Platinum Dunes   Rated: PG-13    Runtime: 1 hr. 30 min.

Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

We’ve all seen, heard, or read about narratives that involve aliens, zombies, or an apocalyptic hellscape that is Earth after some catastrophe. A Quiet Place is different in so many ways. The audience is tossed right into the story in progress and stays full speed ahead—never stopping to assume the viewer is too daft to understand. 

When aliens land on Earth and hunt anything that makes noise, you’d think the human race was doomed. Yet, life will out! There are always those who survive…that endure. 

Paramount Pictures Australia Final Trailer for ‘A Quiet Place’ via YouTube

The audience is introduced to the Abbott family, parents (Krasinski and Blunt), and their three children. The eldest is deaf, just like the actress who plays her (Simmonds). In a world where you must be silent, I applaud the inclusion of such a character and their perspective! Not only does it help fuel the tension, but it highlights the increased risk to a person who can’t tell what makes a sound or when danger is near.  

In A Quiet Place, you cannot make a sound. “If they hear you, they hunt you” is the tagline for this film and an absolute mantra. The minimal use of sound or speaking creates tension. It sets the tone of the movie immediately, fueling the suspense.  

I love Emily Blunt as an actress, and she is impressive in this film. There is a scene (that I won’t spoil) with her when one of the creatures is in the house that blows my mind. She’s in the process of doing something that would typically involve an enormous amount of noise, and she stays silent. Many viewers can imagine themselves in the same predicament. The magnitude of how the film connects with the audience in this scene is fantastic. 

Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds in Paramount Pictures ‘A Quiet Place’ Image via Bloodydisgusting.com

Acting with gestures, established signals, and sign language creates an aspect of the Abbott’s environment that the audience recognizes as necessary yet believable in terms of reality for the characters. Moving and responding to something that’s not really there with authentic reactions is always great to see from actors. Now, if the audience can also suppress their urge to scream or yell,…even better!

A Quiet Place is so well-written. It flows from one scene to the next with a pace that is so thrilling and suspenseful, packed with so much detail it’s hard to believe this film is only an hour and a half long. 

The design of the CGI aliens is fantastic, disturbing, and refreshingly original. What sound is heard in the film is exceptionally edited. It enhances the dynamic effect silence plays, created to keep up the suspense of the plot. 

Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, John Krasinski in ‘A Quiet Place’ Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

A Quiet Place unfolds, basically on one set. It’s full of compelling narrative (if silence is narrative!) and drama that leaves you on the edge of your seat and still leaves you wanting more when the credits roll. A movie like this should definitely be on your watchlist.

Ideally, a Quiet Place should be watched in a quiet environment where you won’t be bothered. You can thank me later. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews, Uncategorized

Avatar (2009)

Avatar (2009)

Directed by: James Cameron  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hr 42 min

Studio: 20th Century Fox  Screenwriter: James Cameron

Cast:  Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni  

Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore

Avatar smashed box office records in 2009 by earning 2.6 billion more than the budget the studio gave director James Cameron to create. That is an insane amount of ticket sales worldwide! Is it justified?

A decade earlier, The Matrix was released and hailed for its innovative story-telling because there had never been anything like it previously. Avatar’s hype is cut from the same cloth. The newer CGI and motion capture technology then enabled James Cameron to create and develop a movie that set a bar for what future films could do. 

‘Avatar’ Official Trailer by 20th Century Studios via YouR

In Avatar, humans seek out a mineral on the lush jungle alien planet of Pandora. The smallest amount sells for a fortune back on Earth. Their efforts are stalled by the natives of Pandora, the Na’vi. Earth scientists create avatars to move more freely on the planet, whose air is toxic to humans, and to aid in communication efforts. At first, the company that runs this operation wanted the help and cooperation of the Na’vi, another reason for the avatar program. 

Avatars are genetically created shells manufactured from human and Na’vi DNA. The human mind is essentially uploaded into the avatar body, becoming a life model decoy (to get Marvel on you). The head of the Avatar program is Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), an exobiologist.

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in ‘Avatar’ Image Credit: IMDB/20th Century Fox/Disney

Greed and impatientness win out, and the company plots to use their hired mercenaries, led by Col. Quaritch (Lang), to force the natives from their home. The Colonel enlists the help of avatar driver and former Marine Jake Sully (Worthington) to give him intel while learning the Na’vi’s ways. In this, the plot is tired. It’s a regurgitated mash-up of Pocahontas (1995) meets FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). Or any civilization that has been colonized or almost wiped out from a more significant, more powerful, outside force. 

That outside force also endangers the history preserved in the environment of Pandora in which all life is connected. The Na’vi refer to this as Ewya and revere this connection as sacred. It’s at this point that the plot is redeemed some. All the Pandoran creatures look alien, which creates this more believable sense of being far from Earth. Even plant life aids in this. What sells most viewers on Avatar isn’t the story but the visual. The stunning CGI is the lion’s share of the film. 

‘Avatar’ still Image Credit: 20th Century Studios via New York Film Acadamy

Neytiri (Saldana) is the daughter of her clan’s leader and is tasked to teach Jake Sully their ways. While Jake Sully’s character interacts with just about every other character in this film, it’s the interactions with Neytiri that show the acting depth. From the facial movements to the jumping from trees to interacting with the wildlife… it’s all motion capture. There is nothing else to play off of onset; it’s all added later digitally. It’s so well acted! Worthington and Saldana give such impressive performances emotionally and physically; it makes you forgive the central plot trope. Instead, focusing on the trope of environmentalism. 

Unlike previous films that single out corporate greed and human waste and consumption issues, Avatar is different. The action and character development move the film along at a pace that doesn’t make you remember you are watching an almost three-hour film. It makes its points without having to over-explain them. Which I find refreshing. 

‘Avatar’ still Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

If you can forgive, or don’t care, about the plot being built upon the same troupes as so many other films before it, have a go and watch this. If you like action/sci-fi or any of the thespians cast in this film, you won’t be disappointed. As a personal observation, mind what device you watch this movie on. I started watching this on my iPad before switching over to a TV. The colors on the iPad were terrible! So if you watch this understand the colors should pop and have a richness to them. If they don’t, watch on something else, or you will cheat yourself out of the essential experience people flocked to the theaters to see. Avatar should be on your watchlist regardless. 

There are two sequels for this film to hit theaters in the next few years. More than a decade later, will Avatar’s reliance on CGI still wow and impress? Time will tell. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Push (2009)

PUSH (2009)

Directed by: Paul McGuigan   Runtime: 1 hr 51 min   Rated: PG-13  

Studio: Summit Entertainment   Screenwriter: David Bourla 

Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou

In 2009, “super” anything movies had not yet taken the world by storm, with enthralling special effects, CGI, costumes, and storylines that would play the long game with fans the world over. The original Fantastic Four movie came out a few years before this, also starring Chris Evans. And the MCU would begin the following year with Iron Man. For context. 

Nick Grant (Chris Evans) and Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) are two powered Americans in Hong Kong. Nick is hiding out from Division Agent Carver (Djimon Hounsou) after Agent Carver kills Nick’s father. Cassie shows up to help Nick find Division property and a missing woman (Camilla Belle). Division is a side organization within the U.S. Government that tracks down enhanced people with mental powers. That’s the gist of the plot. 

‘Push’ Official Trailer via Summit Screening Room on YouTube

In terms of believability, it’s a cliché of a story. Powered people are hunted to be weaponized or disposed of if they don’t comply. Yet, it transitions well from one scene to the next for a story with an unassuming premise. It has a pace that works with the B-grade camera style that is at times gritty and shaky. That with the low lighting of the streets and decor of Hong Kong it works. In a way, it helps set the tone because this sense of realism would be lost if it was clean and smooth. Between the camera delivery and the cinematography itself, mixed with the action, one can forgive the cliché. 

Evans and Fanning have the chemistry of siblings, but they aren’t. They work off one another so well it enhances their respective performances. Hounsou always has this gravitas about him in his roles. In Push, he is clearly the main threat without working at it or doing too much to assert his character’s ruthlessness. The most dangerous people tend to be the quieter ones who don’t yell but flex their power in other ways; that’s Agent Carver. Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle) is a vehicle for the plot. Still, Belle’s delivery of her character is as believable and entertaining as a wet sock. 

The issue that I find most at fault with this story is tying up loose ends. Cassie is basically an unaccompanied minor running around Hong Kong. The film addresses her mother but never explains how a 13-year-old American gets there. Push could have been a little longer and fleshed out a more satisfying ending, but it didn’t. It barely made more in the box office than it cost to produce- for a studio that qualifies as a flop. Flops don’t get sequels. Push ended with a setup to answer questions in a sequel that never came. Maybe if the story had been more original, it would have satisfied audiences more. Despite the lackluster box office earnings, the film still garnered mixed reviews. 

Summit Entertainment still from ‘Push’ via IMDB

Push isn’t the best movie of all time, but it’s a good watch for action and decent acting with a cast that makes up for an otherwise bland concept. Don’t go in expecting to be wowed. This movie is a fair way to kill two-hours without feeling like you’ve lost brain cells by doing so. Push isn’t so bad you couldn’t put it on your watchlist. 

-a pen lady