Tenet – A Movie Review

I wish I could say to you that Tenet is an intellectual masterpiece, that Christopher Nolan has broken with cinematic convention to such a degree that he has essentially reinvented the medium, and that the story is so complex it works as the equivalent of a Russian doll.

I wish I could say all of that, but I can’t.

Tenet is a confusing mess of a plot with wooden dialogue and an obvious atmosphere of overinflated self-importance. From the minute it started to the minute it ended, I didn’t quite know what was going on, nor did I particularly care.

You could argue that I simply didn’t get it. Maybe I’m not smart enough to decipher the enigma of Christopher Nolan’s work. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I don’t believe Tenet was conceived or written particularly well.

However, there were some highpoints. John David Washington is very charismatic. Though he seemed stiff and restrained throughout the film and had truly awful dialogue, he still emitted an undeniable quality of stardom. Robert Pattinson, believe it or not, is absolutely a good actor and fun to watch. Elizabeth Debicki also had terrible dialogue to work with and little to do in the film, but the six foot, three inch actress also displayed charisma.

In truth, even if Nolan’s plots don’t always click for me, the direction and cinematic quality typically win me over. This was not the case with Tenet. It didn’t look especially beautiful, the shots were not awe-inspiring, and even the angles struck me as rather mundane.

There’s no denying that Christopher Nolan normally makes good movies worthy of praise, but, in my opinion, he missed the mark with Tenet.

Godzilla vs. Kong – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, right?

Let’s start with the positives–the special effects in Godzilla vs. Kong are spectacular. You see every hair on Kong’s body, every scale on Godzilla’s face. It really is very impressive.

Also, when the two behemoths clash, it is epic. The falling buildings, the crashing waves, the displaced earth–they’ve got the physics of their brawling down pretty well.

Furthermore, the actors–respectable names like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and three minutes of Kyle Chandler–they’re trying. They’re trying. So. Hard.

And the director, Adam Wingard, he’s doing his best. He really is. The movie looks great. The actors are obviously giving it their all. I think he’s got everyone motivated, he’s got the film appearing exquisite, and he’s got the technical people overachieving.

But, despite all of those positives, the movie is just dumb.

There’s no other way to put it.

I wish they would stop trying to insert human stories into monster fight movies. I wish they would stop trying to humanize monsters. I wish they would stop trying to force motivation upon the monsters.

Here’s my monster fight movie–monster’s fight for 75 to 90 minutes. Multimedia news reports are spliced in to provide context. Done. Everyone is happy.

Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot going for it. It’s a fun, entertaining spectacle with sublime special effects (even on the “small” screen through HBO Max). But there’s a lot about this movie that just plain doesn’t make any sense at all, no matter how suspended the disbelief.

Emma. – A Movie Review

After truly enjoying Little Women with my wife and daughters, I thought Emma. might be another hit with the family. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we never quite got around to watching it. My wife and I noticed that it was now available on HBO MAX, so at around ten o’clock at night, after the kids were in bed, we decided to give it a shot.

Let me quickly note that I have never read the book nor have I seen any previous film adaptation of the source material. The previews made it look bright, cheerful, amusing, and pretty. With a PG rating, I thought it would be perfect. We figured we’d preview it for an hour to be sure it was family friendly, then restart it with the kids the next day.

Let me be frank–I was bored. So. Bored. I didn’t find Emma. charming, amusing, or cheerful. However, it was definitely bright and very, very pretty. More on that in a moment.

Emma is a handsome, clever, and rich young woman who is surprisingly unlikable in this film. Is she equally unlikable in the book? I don’t know. As I said–I haven’t read it. She’s supposed to be a matchmaker, yet I found her motivations selfish, contemptable, and ill-intentioned.

Furthermore, in the end, she was rewarded for her bad behavior, which I found troublesome.

So, as you can tell, the story did nothing for me.

However, there’s no denying that Emma. is a beautiful film. The colors are bold and bright. The costumes are magnificent. The scenery is exquisite. It’s shot very well and it looks great.

My wife and I ended up watching the entire film, which kept us awake past midnight, so there must have been something engaging about it.

Even with that being said, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Emma.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

As I said with my original Justice League review, I’m going to like a Justice League movie no matter what. I’ve loved these particular characters since I was a small child reading comic books and watching Super Friends.

But, even with that stated, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vastly superior version of what came out in 2017. Allow me to elaborate.

As you know, Zack Snyder had to step away from Justice League due to the tragic suicide of his daughter, Autumn. Warner Brothers brought in Joss Whedon, who had obviously enjoyed great success with the MCU, to take over directing duties. Whedon made significant changes to Snyder’s version, and, because the studio wanted Justice League to come in under two hours, a very different movie released from what was originally intended.

I am not a Zack Snyder acolyte, but I personally believe he is unfairly mocked. I believe he has a specific vision with his movies, a particular style, and an unmatched kinetic energy. With Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, people wanted him to copy MCU. Zack Snyder is never going to do anything but what he wants to do. Whether you like him or not, he seems to be loyal to his own artistic sensibilities. He had a take on Batman and Superman, and he stuck with it.

As a result, Zack Snyder’s Justice League felt incredibly satisfying. This Justice League, unlike its predecessor, is truly a continuation of the story that came before. This is the same Wonder Woman, the same Batman, the same Martha Kent, the same Lois Lane, and a continuously evolving Superman.

We get to see Batman organically tackle the ramifications of Batman v Superman. We get to witness Lois and Martha grieve the loss of Clark Kent. We get to see Wonder Woman truly try to reenter the world. And we get to bear witness to the hero’s journey of Superman.

Furthermore, Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg are now fully realized characters. The hokey jokes are gone. The bad one-liners have been erased. Instead, we get rounded characters given room to breathe. Rumors existed that Cyborg was the true star of Justice League before Whedon’s involvement, and I would say that this is true. The Flash is even more endearing than in the 2017 version, and far more interesting. And Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman, shows off some real acting skills now that he’s not been reduced to a surfer barbarian dude.

Of course, among the biggest differences are the cosmetic changes to Steppenwolf and the inclusion of Darkseid. Steppenwolf now looks very, very cool and seeing Darkseid on screen in such a terrifying role is, frankly, awesome. Steppenwolf is clearly obedient to Darkseid, even fearful of Darkseid, and so his motivation is much different, much easier to understand, and much better. Steppenwolf is a threat to the entire planet, and our heroes treat him as such. This is not a cartoon. This is war.

In fact, the whole story just makes a LOT more sense. From the ancient attack involving Greek Gods, Amazons, and Atlanteans to the whole reason they bring Superman back from the dead (and how they do it), the movie simply takes time to allow characters to explain, to interact, and to experience. As a result, the audience is given time to understand.

Though the movie is four hours long, it flew by for me. I’m a DC fan and I enjoy Snyder’s take on DC characters, so your opinion regarding the film’s length may vary from mine. Knowing that this is likely Snyder’s last foray into the DC Universe, I truly savored every minute of this movie.

I must admit that it was bittersweet, however. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has an epilogue that will leave you salivating for more. Snyder is on record as saying he intended his Justice League to be a trilogy. He shows us quite a bit of what could have happened in those two subsequent films. It’s a shame we probably won’t ever see them made.

Finally, and though this could perhaps be considered a spoiler, he ended the movie with a simple: “For Autumn.” I won’t lie–that unassuming dedication nearly brought me to tears. In a way, I imagine the release of this movie is a sort of closure for Snyder regarding his daughter’s death. There will obviously forever be a hole in his heart due to the loss, but the fact that his daughter’s death and Justice League are inexorably linked is undeniable. I think it was brave of him to share that with the world.

Radioactive – A Movie Review

My wife and I tend to enjoy movies based on historical events. Though we’d honestly never heard of Radioactive, we both like Rosamund Pike and I generally find Amazon Originals to be high quality.

While we’re glad we watched Radioactive, we agreed that it probably isn’t for everyone.

First of all, as expected, it is well made with very good acting. The sets, the effects, the costumes–all were top notch. They also depicted Marie Curie as an actual human being with very real flaws. I always envisioned Curie as a stuffy old woman, so this dynamic presentation shook up my presumptions.

I also appreciated a very fast pace. In just under two hours, they managed to cover most of her adult life. Furthermore, they did their best to explain the process of her science–warts and all.

However, Radioactive took some surrealistic turns that might prove jarring for some viewers. It would also jump forward in time for a few moments in order to illustrate the ramifications of Curie’s work, which, while interesting, seemed largely unnecessary.

Finally, I can’t help but sense that the film may have taken some liberties in the interest of creating drama. After watching the movie, you can do a quick Google search to see how much of it was sensationalized. Surprisingly, Curie actually was somewhat scandalous in her own time.

There’s no denying, though, the hugely important scientific contributions Curie made to the world and the film does an excellent job at conveying that fact. It also makes a point to accurately depict Curie having to work far harder at obtaining the basic resources her male counterparts easily received. Some things never change, I guess.

Radioactive will surely make you look at Curie in a different light, but that’s not a bad thing. Like I said, it looks great, is very well acted, generally maintains historical accuracy, and even takes a few experimental risks to keep you on your toes. If movies based on history are your thing, Radioactive will surely entertain.

(Note: For teachers thinking about showing this film in classrooms, be aware that there is brief nudity and suggestive moments between Curie and her husband. I would encourage you to view the movie beforehand to determine your comfort level.)

The Midnight Sky – A Movie Review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Midnight Sky when I saw its title card appear on Netflix. The description and trailer didn’t totally captivate me, but they didn’t repel me, either.

In the end, I watched it because I generally like George Clooney and because I enjoy “realistic” science fiction movies about space travel–recent films like Moon, Interstellar, Arrival, The Martian, and Ad Astra immediately spring to mind.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the year is around 2049, a global catastrophe has occurred, and George Clooney’s character is one of Earth’s last survivors as he manages an observation station in the far north. He has taken it up on himself to try to contact a space crew returning from Jupiter in order to deter them from entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The good news is that I only intended to watch an hour of the movie before going to bed and, instead, I ended up watching the whole thing while staying up far too late. It is an interesting, exciting film that keeps the audience guessing and holds them in a constant state of anticipation.

I also appreciated that it suggested horrible tragedy and violence in many cases without actually showing anything terribly gory.

My primary issue with The Midnight Sky, however, is that I felt as though I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie in several other films. The Road seemed to be a heavy influence, as did those other science fiction movies I already mentioned, especially The Martian. It was made very well, it had great pacing, and it looked good, yet none of it struck me as original. Finally, George Clooney, who has made a career off of his charm, displayed none of that natural charisma. That–coupled with the David Letterman beard–made for a pretty dour character.

The Midnight Sky is fine. It’s not bad–not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it kept me up an hour more than I intended. It’s a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable science fiction movie. But it’s also not necessarily a unique experience that will make you feel like you’ve seen something new.

Black Beauty (2020) – A Movie Review

Did you know Black Beauty is based on a book written by Anna Sewell and published in 1877? I sure didn’t.

I remember watching a Black Beauty movie as a kid in the early 1980s. Though I don’t remember much about it, I still have fond feelings for it even to this day.

When I discovered that Disney Plus released an adaptation of the title, I couldn’t wait to watch it with my own kids.

I’m very pleased to share with you that I think Black Beauty (2020) is a wonderful family film. It is exciting, pleasing to the eye, emotional, fast-paced, and imparts several important lessons.

I’ll admit that it gets a little sappy from time to time and that it pushes the boundaries of logic when it comes to plot, but, like I said, it’s got a great message and proved entertaining for the whole family.

If you have Disney Plus and would like to watch something as a family, you could do a lot worse than Black Beauty.

Soul – A Movie Review

I loved Soul, but my kids can’t necessarily say the same.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, the premise is that Joe, a middle school band teacher, is finally about to catch his big break after years of near misses. He’s landed a coveted jazz gig, one that could literally change his life, but then experiences an accident that will probably end up killing him hours before his performance. He travels to a point leading to “the great beyond,” but manages to escape that plane of existence by finding the place souls reside before being born. From that moment forth, he attempts to hitch a ride back to Earth in order to repossess his own body.

Does that sound complicated? It is. Yet, for as complex and even existential as Soul is, it unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner.

At its heart, Soul is about managing what drives us in life while still maintaining a willingness to enjoy every day. It’s an important lesson, one that I think many adults will respond to. Furthermore, as a parent, I strongly reacted to how we guide our children through childhood. We so often want our children to find “their thing,” to excel in a specific area, that we forget to allow them to simply explore all of life’s facets. Soul reminds us that living well should be enough.

The animation is, as you would expect from Pixar, exquisite. In fact, my wife commented that, until the characters enter the frame, the Earthly environments are photorealistic. I also have to commend the surrealistic scenarios depicting those moments beyond reality as we know it. They were challenging, astonishing, fun, and beautiful.

In fact, Pixar showed incredible bravery in even making Soul. This is a high-concept, philosophical, even potentially controversial film–and it’s a children’s movie! But, even having said all that, it’s fun. It’s funny. Even while diving deeply into the meaning of life, it’s still graceful and lighthearted.

Of course, when a movie features a jazz musician, the jazz must be perfect. Jon Batiste fills that role flawlessly. And as for those reality-bending moments outside of life as we know it? Who else could be better at that kind of music than Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame?

Finally, Jamie Foxx delivers a likability to Joe even when Joe is not always likable. Joe has allowed his passion to overtake virtually every other aspect of his life, and Foxx understands how to convey this without making Joe seem villainous. Tina Fey plays a soul named 22 who becomes ensnared in Joe’s plot to return to Earth, and, like Joe, 22 is not always her best self. Yet, Tina Fey straddles that line between making 22 both annoying and lovable that, frankly, shouldn’t have worked. In the end, both Foxx and Fey’s voices are the reason the movie hits the emotional pitch that it does.

However, though my wife and I loved it, I should note that my kids weren’t crazy about it. My eight-year-old had a little trouble following the plot and said everything kind of looked the same, whereas my twelve-year-old described it as just “okay” and kind of “weird.”

Pixar has sometimes been accused of making very adult children’s movies, and I wonder if Soul will end up winning over more adults than children. Regardless, Soul is a daring, gorgeous movie that isn’t afraid to tackle truly existential issues.

Wonder Woman: 1984 – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Let me start by saying that I adore the first Wonder Woman film. That moment when Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and crosses No Man’s Land … I think it will forevermore be one of the most iconic cinematic scenes in movie history. Furthermore, it had a tight storyline, introduced the entire world and culture of Themyscira, and provided a potent moment in history with World War I. True, the final battle with the prerequisite big bad left something to be desired, but otherwise the movie proved a total success. It had heart, humor, and a real soul.

1984 has … some … of those things … at times.

I’m afraid Wonder Woman: 1984 fell a little flat with me.

The good news is that there’s a lot to like about Wonder Woman: 1984. Kristen Wiig totally sold me as Barbara Minerva. Furthermore, I think we all need to give Wiig huge respect for filming an intense action movie at forty-five years of age. She looks amazing and we get to see her as the superstar she’s always been.

Gal Gadot, as usual, oozes charisma and her chemistry with Chris Pine is as sharp as ever.

The opening scene featuring the Amazons during Diana’s childhood is superb. I’ve heard rumors they are making a spinoff film focusing upon the Amazons and I think that’s a very wise decision. I just pray they continue to include Robin Wright and Connie Nielson.

Also, the final scene of the movie, particularly in how it relates to Barbara Minerva, is wonderful. They fixed everything that disappointed me about the final scene in the first film.

Unfortunately, though they got the ending right in Wonder Woman: 1984, I fear they missed several steps getting there. My major issue with the film centers around its central premise. I won’t spoil it for you, but it explains how Chris Pine’s dead character returns and how Barbara Minerva undergoes a certain change. Look, I know we’re dealing with fantasy, but after such a relatively grounded first film deeply rooted in the horrors or World War I, 1984’s premise seemed rather silly. Sadly, that premise never led anywhere more complex than its most basic concept. The story, as a whole, just didn’t work for me.

I’m also afraid that the special effects simply didn’t hold up to the first film. Diana is now using her magic lasso much like Tarzan uses vines or Spider-Man uses webs. I kept finding myself getting distracted by the physics of the lasso and how Diana swinging about didn’t ever look natural. The lasso seemed to appear and disappear at will and didn’t adhere to any certain length or rigidity. Simply put, it didn’t look good.

Finally, Wonder Woman: 1984 struck me as a series of vignettes rather than a complete story. The opening scene on Themyscira is so beautiful, but ultimately unnecessary to the overall story. Most of Chris Pine’s scenes are there for comedic effect and could have been left on the cutting room floor. Diana experiences some new revelations about her abilities that are, honestly, unnecessary to the story as well and rather contradictory to what we’ve seen from her in Batman v Superman and Justice League. Finally, the incredible moment in the trailer when Wonder Woman lassos lightening? Total letdown.

I really do regret to say that Wonder Woman: 1984 is not as well written as its predecessor, the special effects are not as good as its predecessor, and it’s nowhere near as substantive as its predecessor. However, I’ll keep watching Wonder Woman movies because I love the character, I love Themyscira, and I love Gal Gadot working with Patty Jenkins.

The New Mutants – A Movie Review

Honestly, The New Mutants proved to be an entertaining watch. I understand this movie has suffered a great deal of drama and has, consequently, been lampooned in the court of public opinion, but it actually has a lot going for it.

First of all, The New Mutants is packed with young star power. Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones, Anya Joy-Taylor from The Queen’s Gambit, and Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things all have featured roles.

Secondly, it’s a relatively small film. The cast is limited, the setting is isolated, and the story is tightly focused on basically six people.

Finally, you don’t need to know much of anything to watch The New Mutants. It’s pretty much a standalone film with only passing references to the X-Men universe in which it presumably belongs. I appreciated that it wasn’t your typical superhero fare in that it felt far more akin to a horror movie than anything. Yes, these are characters based on those from the comic books, and they have mutant abilities, but none of them yearn to put on tights or go save the world.

This is not to say that The New Mutants is perfect. The story is a little confusing, the dialogue is–at times–cliched. But, the special effects are pretty fun, especially when Heaton and Joy-Taylor’s characters power up.

At a touch over ninety minutes, The New Mutants is a very easy watch. I suspect we will see much more in the decades to come from these young stars, so this will be a provocative film to look back upon.