Come to Daddy Review

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Turns out Come to Daddy isn’t the next video in your Pornhub cache, it’s actually the Auckland based Ant Timpson’s feature film debut. A debut that declares his appreciation for a vast range of cinema, from reflective indie examinations to grindhouse carnage. Timpson affectionately makes the movie he wants. If only the result wasn’t as scatterbrain.

We open to the Beverly Hills based Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) trudging through a dense Oregon forest on his way to estranged father, Gordon’s (Stephen McHattie) secluded cabin. The don’t go in the woods trope lingers heavy and keeps you guessing just how and when this story will enter deadly territory.

The entire first act is especially intriguing while Norval, so set on building a relationship with a father that’s been vacant for thirty years of his life and is just now reaching out, ignores the treacherous nature that we can just taste in McHattie’s performance. Why would Gordon invite the son he abandoned to his secluded lake house only to treat him as an unwelcome smudge? Timpson relishes our played expectations. One moment you may have this one pegged as a man coming to terms with his remote dad narrative, the next maybe a quirky love drama between a hipster man-child and a blunt, small town coroner. But when the mystery’s put to rest and the gory mayhem takes off, the jarring curve this path takes feels like a let down.

Elija Wood, however, is anything but a letdown. Wood, much like Daniel Radcliffe, is determined to shed his fantasy epic stardom by jumping into obscure indie flavored rolls he’s passionate about, putting everything he’s got into Norval who, on paper, is the kind of superficial Hollywood d-bag you’d immediately stereotype. But with the fragile exterior that comes equipped with Wood, you find a well meaning person to get behind.

To its credit, Come to Daddy‘s heart never loses its center. The focus kept squarely on Norval’s self discovery by way of his twisted lineage to the very end. But the sudden third act genre shift takes the personable drama with a tinge of unsettling horror and abandons that grounded reality for one filled with pulpy caricatures and comedically unrealistic odds. This clashing new absurdist horror territory still hits a fair amount of its blood-soaked fun (an abruptly over the top performance from actor Michael Smiley is head scratching at first but earns a good laugh by his final scene). Unfortunately, none of that feels worthy of leaving behind what the movie starts out as, a quite confrontation on the expectations and realities of an inattentive father set to a beautiful lakeshore backdrop.

This one’s currently available to rent on streaming or at a finite amount of select theaters. Check it out if you ever wished to see Frodo confront daddy issues, dress up like a lady hobbit or become a bad-ass, blood-soaked metal hobbit.

The Lighthouse (2019) [Horrific Hidden Meaning]

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Horrific Hidden Meaning is a series that explores how horror movies can provide a platform of discussion for the uncomfortable realities within society and the human psyche.

Although not a full fledged horror film, cherrypicking ingredients of comedy, drama, fantasy and more, Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse  builds itself on a rock of horror stacked with deeper meaning behind its esoteric, Greek mythos-inspired exterior. Egger’s first film, The Witch, dealt heavily with female adversity in the 1630’s, not far removed from the events of the Salem witch trials, that echoed eerily similar to our current world. As a thematic follow up, Eggers’ second outing delves deep into the trenches of the male psyche and explores the undignified darkness within.

Dropped into a sort of cinematic limbo set in the 1890’s, we find ourselves at an isolated lighthouse island where Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (William Dafoe) have just arrive for a contract job. The older, experienced Wake barks and bellows orders at the younger Winslow, tasking him with all the dirty work like disposing the two men’s feces, stirring the oil and swabbing the floors. It quickly takes a toll. Winslow’s youthful reserved demeanor gets pushed to the brink.

Winslow can be any modern young man in a capitalist driven workforce. As long as he keeps his head down, works hard and earns his keep, he’ll someday enjoy the light at the top of the ladder. This light representing all the fortunes of becoming rich and successful. The power felt and the satisfaction earned from attaining The American Dream when the game is played just right. The inherit competition of such a dream, as explored through Winslow and Wake’s dynamic, can influence the alpha-male psyche in a seriously destructive manner.

Wake is an elderly, successful man who has achieved his goals and now, in his old age has earned the satisfaction of possessing the light all to himself. He gets to be the boss. And he enjoys the hell out of it, holding it over his underling and reminding him to know his place every chance he gets. This dynamic is demonstrated early on as Winslow painstakingly refuels the lighthouse. The camera pans up from Winslow in the dark bowels and rises up to Wake enjoying the blinding bright light in nude ecstasy. But unbeknownst to Winslow, we see an expression of discomfort in Wake while in that lantern room. His excessively orgasmic enjoyment of the burning brightness is taking some kind of toll on him, demonstrating the dissatisfaction felt by men who have invested their entire life to achieving a career or social status that the light represents, only to feel the emptiness that those excessive riches provide them. Winslow, much like any capitalism-driven young man, is attracted to the glamor at the top and the benefits that await, ignorant to the cost such a fixation can take on the soul.

Despite Wake’s grave warnings of the curse that comes with killing a seagull, Winslow snaps and takes his frustrations of subjugation out by smashing a particularly bothersome one to death. The second Winslow takes this step out of line from Wake’s overbearing rules and expresses anger, the camera pans up to reveal a harsh change in weather. The powers that be, mother nature herself, is not pleased. And as punishment, nature’s wrath shifts Winslow’s reality and the reality of the movie itself. From here on, whether we’re witnessing full-fledged delusion or not is anyone’s guess.

Winslow’s sin opens up the flood gates to his base conscious. The first manifestation of his torment arrives as a beached mermaid. His initial reaction is to lust over the beautiful creature. As he touches her breasts, the mermaid awakens and emits an agonizing mixture of scream and laughter, triggering Winslow to run in terror. A grim representation of the heterosexual male desire turned nightmare. A fantasy twisted into a horrifying rejection with the object of Winslow’s lust laughing at the vulnerable thing he is. And Winslow is particularly vulnerable considering his very name was stolen by a man he allowed to die in an accident he saw and did nothing to prevent. His guilt becomes more and more burdensome as nature’s curse weighs heavier. Later, Winslow submits to his cursed instincts, feverishly masturbating while his fantasies of having sex with the mermaid are engulfed by his unearthed guilt in a primal whirlwind of defeat.

Winslow’s capitalist-centered mindset of attaining the light at the top, perpetuated by his outburst of killing the seagull, triggers his unsavory base impulses. A metaphor for self-defeating feelings so easily provoked within men entangled in a capitalist rat race. A system that rewards indifference toward one another, rather than compassion, in the name of attaining optimal wealth and status. The internal guilt this heartless roadmap to success can evoke is symbolically portrayed with Winslow’s dredged up guilt from allowing a man to literally die for his selfish gain.

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Excessive alcohol consumption becomes Winslow’s one way to bond with Wake and escape his contempt, revealing an apt analogy. Men are not commonly expected to share vulnerabilities, and the inherent cutthroat competitive essence of business only accentuates the sentiment. Introduce alcohol and those walls come down. But the nightmare of any career driven male would be to spill his beans to a rival coworker in a drunken state, allowing them to use it against his character, to sabotage his chance at “the light.” When Winslow pours his guilty heart out to Wake in a drunken outpour, Wake’s eerie voice echoes through the walls, Why’d y’spill yer beans? In Winslow’s mind, he’s exposed his weakness and left himself defenseless, conveyed in his fever dream of a nude Wake standing above him and feeding the light’s power into a submitted Winslow’s eyes.

At this point, real or not, Wake has become the personification of Winslow’s internal shame, ridiculing and gas-lighting the feeble Winslow. The way Winslow sees it, he has no choice but to dominate and end this phantom of guilt and humiliation. A sequence of Winslow overpowering Wake, treating him like a dog and burying him metaphorically implies the dominating male ego overtaking and concealing its fragile vulnerabilities, in Winslow’s case, to a point of psychosis. A demented depiction of the male ego’s rejection of its vulnerabilities. This unhinged madness results in Winslow murdering Wake. Now with his projection of self-ridicule removed once and for all, Winslow can climb the stairs to the light, freed from his manifested guilt holding him back. But the light for which he sacrificed his own humanity to obtain devours him, its all consuming power completely undoing him. Just as wake knew, and just as any experienced man at the height of his success can impart, what is supposed to bring boundless satisfaction can instead bring unsatisfying madness if not kept at a measured distance.

Birds of Prey Review

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) takes your fondest memories of 2016’s Suicide Squad (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) and ditches the rest, delivering a Looney Tunes-fueled glitter rocket of a movie that reflects the splashy hallucinations of its protagonist.

Freshly dumped by The Joker, Harley Quinn now has to make it all on her own in the mean streets of Gotham City, devoid of the guidance from her former lover who defined her identity. It’s the “woman finds herself after devastating breakup” premise meets superhero fantasy. How Harley Got Her Groove Back. But in this feminist spin, instead of finding a more suiting man, she’s challenged to discover her independence alongside some new ass-kicking lady friends.

The schizophrenic plot revolves around a McGuffin diamond sought out by psychopathic gangster, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). When the prized gemstone winds up in the hands of a young pick-pocketing thief (Ella Jay Basco), mayhem cuts loose on the streets of Gotham as Harley fatefully finds herself between Roman and the kid. The non-linear story structure as Harley herself recounts events may come off as a jumbled turnoff to some but I found it apt for a story told from the perspective of an unbalanced mind. Spending time inside Harley’s delusional psyche is a gaudy treat as it becomes quickly apparent that the narcissistic, unreliable narrator is strong with this one.

And Margot’s Harley is so damn entrancing you can’t help but brush off her sociopathic tendencies the same way she so naively does. Margot’s at a highpoint in her career and can seem to do no wrong, owning the image of a beloved comic book character as a mere side project to her more academy-centric endeavors. Rosie Perez enters the nest as Renee Montoya, a gifted detective held back in her career by the credit stealing men she works under, delivering a solid, par for the course performance. Jurnee Smollett-Bell makes her jump from small screen to big as famed DC comics heroine, Dinah Lance, aka “Black Canary.” Her jaded, over-this-shit attitude accommodates even though the script provides little more than typical reluctant hero fare. Despite her limited screen presence, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s hard-ass portrayal of Helena Bertinelli, aka “Huntress” makes out as most memorable of the supporting Birds, impeccably balancing the tragedy, humor and grit her character calls for. Unfortunately, Ella Jay Basco as adolescent thief Cassandra Cain is the least memorable of the cast. Given that a large chunk of the story hinges on shared chemistry between her and Harley, Basco’s monotone, shruggie demeanor adds little to what should be a defining relationship.

Overall, the true scene-stealer here is Ewan McGregor as the villainous Black Mask. McGregor has a playfully good time with his part, manifesting a one-dimensional, crazed bad guy into one of his most committed performances in years. He’s hilariously over the top one moment and a delicate time bomb the next, demanding the attention of everyone in the room, and the audience. A blast to watch. During a gruesome face-carving revenge scene, he offers one of his victims a chance to live, only to change his mind over a “snot bubble”. A callous moment turned ludicrous that earns a laugh thanks to McGregor’s delivery. Also, an honorable mention must go to McGregor’s right-hand-man, Victor Zsasz, played by Chris Messina with perverse magnetism. A welcomed bonus to Black Mask’s threat.

Prey draws inspiration from both the irreverent, fourth-wall-breaking Deadpool and the punk rock, team up antics of Guardians of the Galaxy that would have benefited more by staying on the Deadpool side. Guardians was defined by its ensemble, each character aided by their chemistry and interaction with one another. The same can’t be said here. Birds is defined solely by Harley Quinn, ditching the rest of the team as an afterthought. The result is something that feels like it should be, and maybe even was in the early development stages, two movies, Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn. The third act brings the Birds together in a gloriously choreographed (as is all the action throughout) team up sequence undercut by the fact that this group has had little to no interaction up until now. The squad dynamics are lacking, reiterating that this should have been Harley’s movie from the get-go, demonstrated even further when the thrilling climactic standoff ditches the rest of the Birds to give us Harley’s character defining moment. She is, after all, the one we’re invested most in up to this point. The rest of the Birds should have been allowed their own feature to fully spread their wings in rather than share the limelight.

And while overcrowding may be only one of a few narrative cohesion issues, any hang ups are far outweighed by the film’s punching vivacity and ceaseless charm. Best exemplified during the middle act when Black Mask accepts a flimsy proposal to let our anti-heroin live despite having every reason not to. Before you get a moment to register it as a flaw, Harley’s very own musical head-trip cover of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” absorbs the screen and wins you right back. It’s this kind of unhinged imaginative battiness throughout that makes for a fitting and irresistibly entertaining Harley Quinn led movie.

This one just released to a theater near you. Check it out if you like Margot Robbie, satisfying close-up shots of greasy breakfast sandwiches, kick-ass action sequences or a DC Extended Universe movie that doesn’t leave you feeling cold and empty.

Five Nights in Maine (2015) Review

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Maris Curran’s Five Nights in Maine is a contemplative meditation on grief. Emphasis on meditation because although reasonably short, a bulk of this film’s runtime is spent following its lead character as he meanders through nature and contemplates sadness. It prioritizes mood over plot and your enjoyment will be greatly dictated by how enticing having that particular itch scratched sounds. Or if you even have an itch for that sort of thing to begin with.

The concept is straight forward. The love of Sherwin’s (David Oyelowo) life, Fiona (Hani Furstenberg), unexpectedly passes away in an automobile accident, leaving Sherwin to stew in his depression and hopelessness. Soon after, Lucinda (Dianne Wiest), his late wife’s mother in law and cause to Fiona’s heartache when she was alive, contacts Sherwin and asks him to travel to Maine so they can acquaint for the first time. There, Sherwin explores Fiona’s painful past with her mother and attempts to navigate his trauma alongside the bitter and severely ill Lucinda.

Curran, a first time director, makes the deliberate choice to keep the camera consistently tight on her actor’s faces in order to keep their emotional mourning front and center. An overall rewarding choice as Oyelowo and Wiest’s performances are what carry this otherwise bare-bones story. The scenes where these two actors go toe to toe, scoring points on each other with the subtlest of jabs and expressions makes for a watchable experience. Oyelowo wins the movie early on with one of the rawest and truest reactions to the unexpected news of tragedy that I’ve seen on screen in recent memory.

The movie’s most persistent flaw is its lack of anything engaging regarding its characters outside of the despair they feel over losing their shared loved one. Rosie Perez steps in for a handful of scenes as Lucinda’s 24/7 nurse as an attempt to add some reprieve from the doom and gloom of the two main players, but it falls flat. Her one provided platform for adding some comedic flavoring by telling an inappropriately dark story about a nearby lighthouse to Sherwin unfortunately misses its humorous mark, and for the remainder of the movie is given very little else to do, let alone add some color to the darkness. Even Sherwin, our protagonist, is lacking as a fully fleshed out character. Outside his heartache, he really has no defining attributes. He appears to be a business man, but we are equipped with no insight into that side of his life. Every significant aspect about himself apparently revolves around Fiona both before and after her death.

All said and done, this would likely play out far better as a short than a feature. It feels stretched out in order to reach its runtime. But enough with the woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’. However limited the ideas this movies sets out to explore, it explores them well enough. At its core, its about the hard bite of life and fighting to not let it turn you cold and bitter. Sherwin is forced to confront what he may someday become when he meets Lucinda, a sour old hermit, undone by a cruel hand in life. And in between this primary conflict, we explore, along with Sherwin, Maine’s sometimes giving and sometimes unforgiving natural habitat, to discover that hardship and good fortune must coexist.

This one’s currently streaming on Netflix. Give it a watch if you’re in a downer mood, or someone close to you just passed away, or you just went through a breakup, or your dog just died, or you’re home sick…or you just plain find sad things comforting.

Marvel Studios Won the Super Bowl

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If you’re like me, super bowl Sunday is less about football and more about catching the hot new movie trailers while the people who are there to actually, you know, watch the game get (rightfully) annoyed by your over enthusiasm for an advertisement over a game changing touchdown. Even with some ads getting released on the internet days before, they still save the biggest movie trailers for day of.

This year’s most exciting trailer was not for a movie, but Marvel’s ad for their three upcoming Disney+ series, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision and Loki. This is the first official footage released for these shows and they look absolutely glorious.

Spinning off from Avengers: Endgame, we start with some footage of Sam Wilson practicing throwing his newly inherited Captain America shield. Falcon and the Winter Soldier will supposedly trace Sam’s struggle to live up to the legacy of Steve Rogers. And it seems like Zemo (last seen in Captain America: Civil War) will return to make his transition a living hell. The shot of Bucky holding his gun to Zemo’s face hints at some great character drama ahead. Marvel is smart to launch a show with the intriguing spy-thriller tone of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the main delight will be the buddy-cop interactions between Sam and Bucky. The second this show was announced it just made perfect sense given the ball-busting relationship these two characters shared in Civil War. Who wouldn’t want to see an entire series of them kicking ass and trying to get along.

And then, quite possibly the most exciting reveal in this commercial, “Wanda, welcome home.” Given Wanda’s rich comic book history, WandaVision may be my most anticipated of the three series. Though they’ve utilized her short runtime well enough in the movies so far, if there’s any one character in the MCU deserving of her own series, its Wanda Maximoff. It seems as though the show will explore her reality-altering powers by having her create a little world within a sitcom show, where she will bring Vision back to life along with two newborn babies of their own. Wanda’s creating her own delusional reality, giving Legion a run for its money as “trippiest Marvel show.” The trailer flashes various sitcom-esque glimpses from a black and white, I Love Lucy aesthetic to a contemporary Modern Family kind of show. My favorite little treat from these quick glimpses: A blink-or-you’ll-miss-it shot appears of Wanda in her classic Scarlet Witch wardrobe from the comics.

Lastly, we get one shot from the Loki series. “I’m gonna burn this place to the ground.” Given that this show very recently began filming, it’s no surprise that this is all we get for now. This series will follow Loki after he escapes with the tesseract in that Avengers: Endgame scene. So this will play more like a “what if Loki escaped the Avengers’ clutches at the end of the first Avengers movie.” This series has great potential. There’s no question Tom Hiddleston can hold a lead part as this character. It’s a surprise it took this long to happen, really. And the recent news that Owen Wilson was cast in a supporting roll makes the comedic basis of this show all the more appealing.

The Ring (2002) [Horrific Hidden Meaning]

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Horrific Hidden Meaning is a series that explores how horror movies can provide a platform of discussion for the uncomfortable realities within society and the human psyche.

The year, 2002. The movie, The Ring. This moody, dread-filled story about a videotape that kills its viewer seven days after watching it scared up audiences and immensely influenced the horror genre with its massive popularity. Something about this spooky ghost tale hit audiences in all the right ways. Perhaps, in part because, at its core, The Ring hints at some mortifying personal truths that are even more revolting than the slimy, longhaired phantom that haunts its narrative.

The Ring follows Rachel (Naomi Watts) as she investigates her niece’s death by the cursed videotape. Once Rachel herself watches the tape, a race to reverse the inevitable ensues. At the heart of this plot lies Rachel’s son, Aidan (David Dorfman), who possess a small degree of mediumship. As a result, Aiden is a bit off-putting. His piercing baggy eyes and strangely precise form of speech convey just how left footed in comparison to other children he is.

When Rachel’s ex and Aidan’s father, Noah (Martin Henderson), enters the picture, it’s revealed that he abandoned Aidan and the responsibility of fatherhood. Living on the outskirt of his child’s life, Noah’s fear of raising Aiden got the better of him.

It’s here that the metaphor for the horror of a parent’s neglect toward their child takes form. This theme is brought to the extreme when it’s revealed that Samara (Daveigh Chase), the vengeful spirit behind the videotape, was murdered by her own mother. It turns out Samara, not unlike Aidan, had dark psychic abilities of her own. Unable to control her chaotic mind, Samara drove her parents mad with disturbing imagery until her mother killed her by throwing her down a deep, dark well.

Samara’s infertile mother wanted nothing more than to have a child. But when she adopted Samara, she resented the evil thing she got. Though transmitted through the prism of a ghost story, the true horror here is a parent’s resentment towered the anomalies their child can unexpectedly possess. Society expects a parent to love their child unconditionally, but what happens when displeasure or even animosity occurs in its place? With no outlet to express these unacceptable feelings to the world, much like Samara’s mother, madness can take over with disturbing results.

In addition to a conversation about paternal neglect, The Ring also features a delectable side of techno-horror. When exiled to a tiny barn loft by her father, Samara had nothing but a small television set to occupy her isolation. After her death, Samara’s choice to haunt the world through video is no coincidence. She extends the lack of affection she received from her father by making others feel the cold emptiness she experienced while sitting in front of her TV, cut off from any real human contact.

The thematic sentiment of detachment by way of technology persists throughout the movie. Samara’s father commits suicide by using all the electronics in his household to brutally electrocute himself after realizing there is no end to his daughter’s evil power. Noah is buried in his technology-heavy video journalism job in place of being a reliable father figure in his son’s life. The most striking visual assertions of this theme is when Rachel looks from her balcony to the windows of the apartments just across from hers. She observes multiple units, each exhibiting a lone individual watching television. Of course, the one that catches Rachel’s attention most is that of a child watching cartoons as a worn out, miserable looking single mother steps out for a smoke on her balcony. This brief moment is an apt way of showing both the boxed-in segregation as a result of automation, and Rachel’s inner reflection as a single mother.

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The movie portrays technology, specifically television as a way for people to escape rather than confront their essential human needs. At the climax of the movie, the spirit of Samara manipulates events to make a television set knock Rachel into the deep, dark well at the center of the story. This visual conveys the remote, desolate mentality technology can lay upon the human spirit, sending users down a hopeless pit.

Samara’s hand then grabs Rachel from the trench of the well, transmitting the moment of her death and allowing Rachel to understand Samara’s pain as a living person, experiencing her tragedy first-hand and in her shoes, rather than through images on a TV screen. This, in a sense, is a baptism for Rachel. She is now able to leave the well with an understanding of why Samara’s spirit lingers. With this, the movie conveys that knowledge by way of human contact is far more powerful than through the barrier of technology.

Rachel’s revelation is a turning point for Noah as well. Learning that Samara was a child who only wanted to be heard opens his eyes to his child who’s been left in a dark hole of his own without a father in his life.

Noah’s revelation, however, is short lived. Just when the movie takes a stance on human compassion as the ultimate deterrent to technological solitude, Samara’s spirit arrives with a vengeance and kills Noah. There was never an empathetic cure to Samara’s curse as Rachel comes to realize that the only way to avoid Samara’s wrath is by copying and showing her grim videotape to the next person. Here, the movie delivers its final nihilistic stance, that technological advancement is far more forward moving and expansive than human sentiment can ever be. In the end, just like Samara’s curse, technology will win, until its detached nature has fully consumed the world.

In the final scene, Rachel assists her son in making a copy of the videotape in order to lift the curse from him before his seven days are up. Little Aiden asks Rachel who they will show the tape to next. The last shot rests on the image of the well from the video. In a meta-sense, the audience viewing The Ring is next. In showing up to watch this escapist horror movie, the audience is themselves complicit in technology’s ever-evolving grasp on the collective human conscious, and aiding its expansion with their support.

About that Morbius Trailer…

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This week saw the long awaited (for some people maybe?) arrival of the Morbius trailer. In it, Jared Leto takes his second stab at bringing a comic book villain to life after his not-so-beloved roll as The Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad. This is Sony’s second movie featuring a solo take on a supporting Spider-Man character that started with 2018’s Venom. Even though Venom made all the money and then some, Sony is pretty brave to give a Spider-man villain with far less popularity or name-brand recognition than Venom his own movie. However, instead of gambling financial success based solely on the movie’s quality, they’ve opted to throw in a bunch of references and characters from the already successful Marvel Studios Spider-Man movies into the trailer as to ensure butts in seats.

I will be the first to admit that Morbius at the very least looks like it could be a fun time at the theater, and who am I kidding, I’ll be there opening weekend to see how it pans out. Jared Harris’, until the remedy is worse than the disease, line in response to Leto’s how far are we allowed to go? evokes chills and alludes to an intriguing theme that could be fun to explore in this context. The trailer itself is well edited and effective, using Beethoven just feels right for this classical, poetic narrative about a man who inadvertently turns himself into a living vampire while desperately searching for a cure to his crippling disease. And at the end of the day, I’m a sucker for anything from the horror or superhero genre, so this might as well be a delightful mix of chocolate and peanut butter to me.

My one nagging worry is the fact that these movies, weather Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios like it or not, will inevitably be connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity. We all rejoiced when Marvel Studios made a deal with Sony to make Spider-Man movies set in their Avengers universe, but now we are beginning to see the consequences to that deal with the devil. Since Sony owns the rights to all things associated with Spider-Man on the big screen, they are taking advantage of that ownership by referencing the narrative cliffhanger from last summer’s Spider-Man: Far From Home and bringing back Michael Keaton as The Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. And that’s just in this trailer alone. Who knows how far the actual movie will extend these connections.

Why is this something to worry about? Because for twenty-two movies Marvel Studios created a universe with standards, one with Kevin Feige as lead chef, using his ingredients to evoke a taste and consistency throughout. A beautiful mosaic was created under this authorship. Now, there will be a completely separate studio, not at all in sync with the MCU’s standard of quality, making movies in that same universe, bringing an imbalance to the carefully crafted world established by a team with a better track record for understanding these characters and this world. This is like if the writers room at The Big Bang Theory, through some business means, inherited a few characters from Vince Gilligan and his writing team at Breaking Bad and integrated them into the story of their show. Sure, as a Breaking Bad fan, you could just ignore this inconsistency by choosing not to watch The Big Bang Theory, but the quality and legacy of Vince Gilligan’s hard work and world building would be forever affected.

And make no mistake, this is only the beginning, especially if Morbius is a financial success. By association, this will make Venom, a movie originally made to exist within its own vacuum, connected to the MCU’s continuity, as Morbius will no doubt eventually cross over with that character. Not to mention, Sony is reported to already be mapping out their plans to have Tom Holland’s Spider-Man crossover with Tom Hardy’s Venom. At this rate, how long would it be before Sony holds a gun to Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man privileges in demand of a Venom or Morbius roll in their next developing Spider-Man movie, or even their next big Avengers-level crossover. All of this would not seem as scary of a possibility though if it weren’t for Sony’s track record of shoving characters into their movie’s narratives purely for ancillary reasons. From their forced inclusion of the black suit and Venom in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 to shoving a bunch of useless subplots into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in anticipation of building to an eventual Sinister Six spinoff movie. Those decisions were ultimately such a grand turnoff to audiences that Sony had no choice but to request a Marvel Studios bailout to help pull the Spider-Man franchise out of the hole they themselves dug it in.

All said, I’m not wholly against Sony making solo movies for Spider-Man’s supporting cast, I just wish they existed in their own separate continuity. At best, Venom was a silly but fun, B-level, action monster movie. It just doesn’t feel right adding it, along with Morbius, into the MCU canon. Though not highly probable, we can try to keep optimistic that Morbius will end up a solid entry that is worthy enough to stand alongside and add something of substance to the greater MCU. Maybe in this new decade, Sony will turn their past mistakes around and start taking these characters as seriously as Marvel Studios does. After all, they did produce Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that movie hit all the right marks in all the right places. You’d just have to ignore the fact that Spider-Verse was brought to life by the remarkably talented writing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, while Morbius’ writing credits go to the duo behind Gods of Egypt and Power Rangers. Gulp. Hold on to your butts.

Hellboy (2019): Blood Splatter, Absurdist Comedy and Inner Monsters

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Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) are widely celebrated by fans of Mike Mignola’s comic book series as definitive film adaptations. Comparatively, director Neil Marshall’s 2019 reboot was not as critically embraced. Even so, Hellboy (2019) holds its own value as a rebuttal to del Toro’s more earnest vision by turning its speakers to ten and blaring a metal fueled, blood-soaked monster movie.

Experienced as a genre filmmaker, most notably from his horror masterpiece, The Descent (2005), Marshall accepted the reigns to Hellboy only after insisting it be a clean reboot with no ties to del Toro’s work. He was inspired by the gothic-horror art from the comics and wanted to bring his vision to life with a hard R rating, unlike the two previous PG-13 films. Casting David Harbour in the titular roll was the next essential ingredient in giving the franchise its brash makeover.

While the core plot draws mainly from The Wild Hunt storyline from the comics, Marshal chose not to tether himself to this one specific narrative by also stitching in various short stories from Mignola’s vast world. This allowed for a very kinetic tone, jumping from one eerie setting to the next. From the grotesque Baba Yaga’s disturbing child-torture lair to a comedic flashback where Hellboy investigates a baby’s kidnapping by fairy. Marshal truly captured the Paranormal Investigator side that had yet to be as fully realized on film. He also made use of an array of practical effects mixed with digital, thanks to academy award winning makeup artist Joel Harlow, granting the creatures a legitimately disturbing and unforgettable tangibility.

The introduction of our hero finds Hellboy investigating the disappearance of missing fellow B.P.R.D. agent and good friend, Esteban Ruiz (Mario de la Rosa), who has been transformed into a vampire. Here, the movie makes its first loud statement that it is not to be taken seriously by pitting Hellboy against Ruiz in a Mexican wrestling match. Hoping to save Ruiz, Hellboy’s brute strength gets his good friend gruesomely killed instead. This inciting incident leads Hellboy to contemplate the undeniable monster within himself.

Hellboy’s mentor and father figure, Professor Broom, keeps him tethered to his morality. But after a betrayal from allies in the Osiris Club and revelation of his destiny to bring about the apocalypse, Hellboy wonders if his humanity is even worth keeping. Enter the newly resurrected Nimue, The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), who extends her hand to Hellboy to embrace their destiny together as king and queen of the apocalypse.

The third act battle is what makes this movie an all-timer in extreme monster mayhem. At this point, the stage is set between hero and villain. The Blood Queen and Hellboy both represent the outcasts of society, the former choosing revenge on the world with a gnarly, skin boiling plague and the ladder reluctantly showing up to fight for those that reject him for his devilish lineage.

Here, Hellboy and reluctant ally, agent Ben Daimio, must embrace the inner monsters they hate and fear within themselves to take on The Blood Queen and her henchman, Gruagach. Daimio, after spending the bulk of the story untrusting of the feral beast lying dormant within Hellboy, reveals a suppressed animal of his own. His distain toward Hellboy, it turns out, was a projection of his own self-loathing. In a pivotal moment of combat between Hellboy and a hulking Gruagach, Daimio transforms into savage jaguar, turning the tide of the battle with glorious ferocity. A primal surge of superhero team-up time can be felt as Hellboy and Daimio battle Gruagach together.

Daimio is eventually knocked out of the fight and it is now Hellboy’s turn to embrace the monster within. Defeated and brought to a checkmate after The Blood Queen kills his father figure and moral compass, Professor Broom, right before his eyes, Hellboy is left with no choice but to accept his destiny as king of the apocalypse by wielding King Arthur’s sword (yes, that King Arthur) and becoming fully possessed as a brutish, raging demon. Metaphorically, this beast within that Hellboy dreads is the primal, egocentric animal at the base core of all rational human beings.

Once Hellboy bears the sword, he assumes an even more devilish form. His muscles and stature protruding, horns full length and the suppressed fire within now ignited outward, engulfing his skin. A flaming crown above his head adds a clever touch of self-superiority. At the same time, as if to reflect Hellboy’s abandonment of empathy toward the human race, hell literally arrives on earth as a bloodbath of havoc and destruction unfolds across London. People are squashed, torn and mutilated as demon hordes from hell make earth their playground.

Just in the knick of time, Alice, Hellboy’s trusty medium friend, manages to summon the spirit of Professor Broom, who appeals to Hellboy’s better nature within. Now equipped with both monstrous strength and a renewed moral worth, Hellboy beheads The Blood Queen and sends her straight to hell. The final scene features Alice, Daimio and Hellboy raiding an evil cult as a fully functioning strike unit. The most colorful and entertaining action sequence in the movie ensues, reflecting a sense of freedom from the inner monsters that no longer burden them.

 

Rejoice, For The Batman Has Begun Filming!

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Matt Reeve’s The Batman officially began filming this week and rarely has a comic book movie this early in development felt like an assured ace in the hole to me. There have been a plethora of live action Batman films through the ages, ranging from great to terrible, but none have yet to perfectly capture the character and his world in all facets.

Even the greatest of the bunch (imo), The Dark Knight, while so perfectly executing definitive film versions of the Joker, Harvey Dent and Gotham City, didn’t quite stick the landing in giving us a Bruce Wayne from the best of the comics medium. Not to say that Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s interpretation didn’t fit finely into the movie they made, just that they chose to give the character different layers than the character has most often had in the comics.

With Nolan’s vision, we find a Bruce Wayne who can see a better Gotham in the horizon and longs for the day he won’t have to be Batman anymore. His heart set on finally hanging up the bat-suit and retiring with the woman he loves, Rachel Dawes. Whereas in the comics, the battle is all that keeps Bruce going and his personal happiness is always tragically trumped by the vow he made to his parents to be the vengeance of the night. This was never so perfectly portrayed on-screen as in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a 1993 animated adaptation. Here, after unexpectedly falling in love, Bruce begs to his parent’s grave to let him surrender Batman for his own happiness.

What specifically excites me about Reeves’ take being more faithful to the comic character than ever before is a quote he made back in January.

“It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir batman tale…It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been.”

While not explicitly promising a Batman that is obsessively driven by his job, it’s the point of view noir tale that stands out to me. A noir tale almost always features a detective protagonist obsessed with his work. Not to mention that the noir genre has been the backbone of Batman’s most significant comic storylines. The Dark Knight had elements of this fiction, but it will be a delight to see an adaptation that goes all the way with it.

The promise of a detective story is also long overdue. One of the character’s greatest super powers in the comics is his insanely high level intelligence as a detective. His books were so often framed as a detective story where he must solve a crime in order to catch a criminal. It’s astonishing with so many live-action adaptations there has been so little use of this essential ingredient. Bruce Wayne not only shaped his body to peak human perfection, but his mind as well. This aspect can also convey just how obsessively the character throws himself into his job. Batman can’t be bothered with the complications of his life as Bruce Wayne while Riddler’s latest twisted riddle has him manically occupied.

Speaking of The Riddler, that brings me to the most exciting part of this movie’s development, the casting. And Paul Dano as The Riddler is one of the best in an all around amazing cast. Dano has been an underrated actor throughout his career, always on the outskirts popping up in an indie movie here and there to deliver a fascinating performance, his most memorable being in There Will Be Blood. I figured his screen time would skyrocket after standing toe to toe with Danniel Day Luis, but it seems rare to catch a glimpse of him now days. A role with this kind of notoriety is long overdue for this actor. The Riddler as a character is also overdue for this kind of exposure. The last live-action treatment The Riddler got was by way of Jim Carry in Batman: Forever and the character deserves so much more than that one-dimensional, cartoonish portrayal. The Riddler functions as a crazed reflection of Batman’s obsessive intellect and it looks as though we may finally be treated to that on screen.

But before going any deeper into the supporting cast, our new batman begs to be addressed. Robert Pattinson may be an unlikely candidate at first glance, it’s tough to shed the ‘guy from those Twilight movies’ image from the mainstream, but given his most recent film rolls, he has potential to be the most inspired version of Bruce Wayne yet. Good Time, High Life, The Lighthouse and The King are all movies that not only reveal Pattinson’s surprising range, but his ability to choose distinctive and risky parts within groundbreaking visionary movies. The fact that he’s hopping on board such a mainstream movie only adds value to the unique vision of Reeves’ interpretation. His casting reminds me so much of Heath Ledger’s as the Joker. With so many mixed responses to weather he can take on a character this big, I have a feeling we’re going to get something just as special as Ledger’s performance.

Colin Farrell as The Penguin is yet another fantastic choice for a character who hasn’t received as much live-action love, at least not since Danny Devito’s legendary performance. And this casting seems to hint at a more grounded version than ever before. Andy Serkis as our latest Alfred seems solid and leaves the door open for such a versatile actor to take the part in any direction he pleases. Will he deliver the traditional, caring father-figure, or can we be in for a more tough-as-rocks, hardened interpretation? Serkis is certainly capable of delivering either or. John Turturro feels like an obvious choice for Carmine Falcone, a character that requires a scene stealer like Turturro to convey a chilling amount of power and presence. Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon is a name most of us would never have thought of for the roll but makes so much sense and feels just right when you hear it. His ability to convey a weathered and jaded but morally centered spirit will match perfectly with Gordon. And then there’s Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, an actor who has yet to fully prove herself in any groundbreaking roll, but amongst these supporting stars, it’s clear Reeves sees potential for her breakout in this classic part.

With a cast of villains this large, it seems more than likely that this movie will take inspiration from either of or both Batman: The Long Halloween or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. These two comic storylines feature a full roster of Batman’s rogues, the former spanning a year in Gotham and the ladder taking place in one night where the caped crusader is locked in the notorious nut-house with all the enemies he’s put away. This then begs the question, is there more casting news to come? Or have they kept some casting on the down low in order to withhold the element of surprise? The Joker and Two-Face seem to be the only A-list Bat-villains missing from the list. Could Joaquin Phoenix’s joker show up, or could yet another new interpretation make a debut in this movie?

All fanboy speculation aside, Matt Reeves captaining this ship seems to point in the direction of a genuinely quality film being produced. Batman as a character has had a rough go in the past several years with the morose, and frankly boring interpretation we were given through DC’s extended universe. Ben Affleck seems like he genuinely cared about the character, but the story and vision simply did not translate well. Batman is a character who has seen his live-action low points in the past and has just as often been revived from those ashes by a unique take from a visionary filmmaker. All signs point to this cycle repeating itself. Hot off the success of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Matt Reeves should be gearing up to blow us all away with a new era of Bat-fun.

 

 

Let’s talk about that Black Widow teaser trailer…

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This morning saw the drop of the new Black Widow trailer starring the Marvel Cinematic Universe veteran, Scarlett Johansson, who has been long overdue for her own solo outing. Seeing Natasha Romanov back on screen after biting the dust in last summer’s Avengers: Endgame may confuse some casual viewers of the MCU, but this movie has been reported to essentially be a flashback that fits squarely in between the timeline of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

Widow’s last scene in Civil War features Tony Stark casting her out as a criminal after betraying the team. She walks out of that scene and into this movie, a fugitive on the run. We’ll track what exactly the former Russian spy got up to in between leaving Stark’s side and joining Captain America’s underground vigilante team. It’s not hard to imagine this movie ending with an appearance from Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers or Anthony Mackey’s Sam Wilson extending their hand to Widow, linking us directly to Infinity War. But many reports suggest an involvement for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, which makes sense given his oversight role at this point in the timeline with William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross (seen in the trailer).

Johansson first appeared as the character back in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and I must admit I was not fully convinced the character was a necessary part of the MCU at that point. She felt like a forced set up for The Avengers and didn’t bring much more to the table than a mysterious facade and a skilled fist to Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury. It wasn’t until 2012’s The Avengers that I was all in on the character. That movie introduces her on a mission that feels like a scene from her very own spy movie. Combine that with the interrogation scene between her and Loki where a complex backstory as a Russian assassin is revealed and you have enough potential material to last a trilogy. Ever since, Johansson brought a consistent quality to Black Widow’s subsequent appearances that always left me salivating for more.

It’s a shame it took this long for a Black Widow movie to get made, especially since its placement in the MCU continuity right after Civil War makes it feel as though it should have released after that movie. Yet on the brighter side, we can assume the knowledge of her eventual untimely death will add a certain weight that the filmmakers couldn’t utilize back then. After all, who says the MCU needs to maintain a linear continuity, with all the future upcoming movies and Disney + series, we’ll no doubt be doing some scene diving into untapped continuity territory, like the five year time jump that took place in Endgame for example.

On a more straight forward note, this trailer gives off a real Bourn Identity meets Marvel Studios vibe, and how does that not sound exciting? Florence Pugh, who really upped her notoriety with last summer’s emotionally intense Midsommer, plays supporting character Yelena Belova. Marvel Comics lore has Belova take up the mantle of Black Widow, so surly we’ll see much more of her in the future. Academy award winner, Rachel Weisz, makes her MCU debut as Melina Vostokoff, also known as the villainous Iron Maiden from the comics. Vostokoff’s role appears to be an ally in the trailer, so either this is a completely new interpretation or she’ll become an antagonist before the end. David Harbour makes his jump from Stranger Things to Marvel as the eccentric Red Guardian, the Soviet equivalent of Captain America. Harbour already looks like he’s having a blast with this role. And finally, the trailer gives a brief glimpse at the beloved comic book villain, Taskmaster, a deadly foe who has the ability to mimic the fighting style of anyone he studies. No actor has been officially announced as this adversary, so Marvel is surly keeping the details to this one close to their vest. One thing is for sure, we got a lot of theorizing to do in the long wait for Black Widow’s release date on May 1st, 2020.