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.

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) – A Book Review

I must admit that I wasn’t that excited to hear about “The High Republic” campaign. This new Star Wars onslaught is set 200 years before the prequels and explores the Star Wars galaxy at a time when the Jedi were at their most powerful and the Republic was at its most efficient. I call it an onslaught because “The High Republic” includes novels, young adult novels, children’s books, comic books, talk shows, video games, and presumably a Disney+ event.

Personally, I enjoy moving forwards in terms of story, not backwards. I thought it was a mistake to do a “pre-prequel” storyline across so many mediums.

Frankly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I checked Star Wars: Light Of the Jedi out from my local library. Within the first twenty-five pages, I returned it and then bought a copy of my own. That’s how much it instantly captured my interest. Before I got anywhere close to finishing it, I wanted it on my bookshelves.

The premise involves a catastrophe regarding hyperspace that scientifically (in Star Wars’ reality) shouldn’t have happened. The book first executes the disaster, then explores the aftermath of the disaster, and then sets the stage for the ramifications of the disaster.

Furthermore, it introduces a whole new batch of Jedi and dives deeply into both the characters and their connection to the Force. The author, Charles Soule, presents a new philosophical take on the Force that I found both groundbreaking and riveting. I won’t spoil it too much, but he details how each Jedi interprets and uses the force differently, both in everyday life and in battle. These nuances were such thoughtful, fresh perspectives on the Force–it truly fascinated me.

I also consider the format of the book a real victory. It begins as a countdown of sorts and then reverses that format and introduces a build-up. It also alternates chapters between several different characters as they deal with the disaster and then the fallout of the disaster. Each chapter was relatively short, which made a fast paced plot move even more quickly.

The characterization proved engrossing, the storyline captured my interest, the structure and format of the book made reading it a pleasure, and the hints at things to come piqued my curiosity, which guaranteed my return for book two.

Despite my initial doubts, The Light Of the Jedi should be considered an unmitigated success. I highly recommend it to any and all Star Wars fans.

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.

The Turn Of the Screw By Henry James – A Book Review

Pictured above is my actual copy of The Turn Of the Screw by Henry James. I bought it in the early 1990s at my local Walmart when they had a 2 for $1 special going on. Yes, even in high school, I loved books and read them for the pure joy of it.

This book has sat on my shelves decade after decade ever since. Finally, after watching The Haunting Of Bly Manor, a show supposedly based on The Turn Of the Screw, I decided to read the source material.

I have to tell you, even though this is a short read, I found it to be quite a chore. Henry James, like so many others of his era, delivered complex sentence that, while carefully constructed, tended to take a while to say anything. That fact, coupled with very little actual information being conveyed by the narrator, proved frustrating.

In fact, I found the premise of this novel rather unbelievable in that no governess would write in such a complicated, intricate manner. This style of writing seemed very specific to authors such as Henry James from that particular moment in time. The idea that a governess would write so similarly bothered me. Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe all governesses wrote like world-renowned authors.

I also felt bothered by the fact that, by book’s end, we have no solid answers as to what exactly took place in The Turn Of the Screw. I’ve read some of the analyses regarding this novel, and I think they are all being quite gracious to Henry James.

Is it a ghost story? Is it a psychological story? Is it a story about induced hallucinations? Take your pick. All could be argued.

I must comment on one specific thing about the governess, though. Her infatuation with ten-year-old Miles troubled me to no end. Perhaps it was just me, but I picked up on some overt sexual overtones in The Turn Of the Screw. For example, the governess commented that, at one point, she kissed Miles. That was it. Not on the head. Not on the cheek. Just kissed. She also often described him as beautiful, charming, and perfect. She frequently held him, alone, when it was just the two of them. This coupled with the fact that the ten-year-old Miles spoke as though he was twenty-five, alarmed me. Remember, the governess is the narrator, so all information is flowing through her, including the depiction of Miles. By the book’s end, I was fairly sure our narrator was the story’s true villain. Maybe this is too modern of a reading … or maybe this kind of thing has always existed and it’s now more recognizable, even in books over a century old.

While I recognize that Henry James has been studied across the world for a very long time by some of our brightest minds, I honestly cannot claim to have enjoyed The Turn Of the Screw.

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.

Super Mario Odyssey – A Few Thoughts

You may remember that I had a great time playing Link’s Awakening. I had such a positive experience with that game, in fact, that I then searched the best overall games for the Nintendo Switch. Some of the games struck me as a little too juvenile, while others seemed a little too … intense. But then I saw him–my old friend, Mario.

Of course, we were never really friends.

I think I’ve mentioned that while I beat The Legend of Zelda and Metroid as a kid, I wasn’t a very good gamer in general. In fact, I’ve always been ashamed that I am the only person from that era in time who did not beat Super Mario Brothers.

So when I saw Super Mario Odyssey, I initially kept on scrolling. But then I consistently saw it on on various “best” lists. This prompted me to read a few reviews. Frankly, they were all glowing. I decided to take a chance on it.

Honestly, if you’re not a serious game and just want something fun to play, you can’t go wrong with Super Mario Odyssey.

First of all, the game immediately offers to give you directions throughout in the form of arrows on the ground telling you where to go. Of course, I accepted that offer. Secondly, while the actual gameplay is a little challenging, almost any age can handle it. It’s not ridiculously easy, but it’s pretty close. Third, the game simply looks fantastic. It is beautiful. Cartoony, yes, but gorgeously so. I’m serious–parts of this game looked stunning.

The premise is that you have to travel across the planet in a kind of hot air balloon in pursuit of Bowser, who, as expected, has kidnapped the princess. However, you have to stop at several different locales in order to collect “moons,” which power the ship. Each location is unique unto itself and a real blast. You can also collect tokens at these locations which enable you to buy different outfits for Mario, stickers and souvenirs for the ship, and even moons! Once I got the hang of the outfits and souvenirs, I wouldn’t leave a location until I had bought everything available.

Best of all, when you finish the game, a whole new challenge begins, which allows you to buy even more outfits and souvenirs!

I finished the game in a matter of weeks, and that’s with only playing a little bit at a time. You could probably finish this game in a few days if you really wanted to. It was so fun, I really wanted to make it last.

Even though I intended to play the secondary storyline of the game, I lost interest after a bit because it felt more like a treasure hunt than anything. I’ll probably return to it at some point, but, at that moment in time, I wanted to move on to another game.

If you’re looking for a family friendly, beautiful, fun game for the Nintendo Switch, I highly recommend Super Mario Odyssey.

The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – A Few Thoughts

I should begin by noting that I am not even close to being a serious gamer. In fact, the last time I consistently sat and played video games was circa 1989.

However, my children have a Nintendo Switch, and, as time passed, I couldn’t help but notice a game for sale called The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. As a kid, The Legend Of Zelda proved one of my all-time favorites. (I had the gold-plated cartridge with my NES.) Honestly, it was one of the only games I ever beat. To this day, I have very fond memories of that game.

My household has been spending a lot more time playing video games during the pandemic because, you know, the pandemic. My interest in Link’s Awakening grew. I watched a few videos showing the gameplay and saw that it really seemed to mirror the original. I decided to take a risk and buy it.

I’m so glad I did. Link’s Awakening was an absolute blast for this middle-aged guy. Because it mirrors The Legend Of Zelda in many ways, it felt very familiar. Of course, the graphics are obviously far better. But the maps, the dungeons, the weapons–much of it hearkens back to the source material. I adored the nostalgia of it all.

However, I got a little impatient with trying to figure things out. Since my subscription to Nintendo Power ran out three decades ago, I thought I’d see what the Internet had to say about getting through certain levels and defeating certain villains. A lot, as it happens. Temptation overtook me and I pretty much used the Internet from that moment forward and blazed through the game. Upon reflection, I wish I hadn’t. It was so much fun, I should have made it last a little longer. In all honesty, though, there were some parts to the game I don’t think I ever would have figured out on my own.

Link’s Awakening is a family friendly, innocent, entertaining game anyone can enjoy. It definitely rekindled a love of video games in this old man’s heart. I’ve heard good things about Breath Of the Wild, but I also hear it’s an immersive experience. I might have to save that one for the summer when I have more time.

WandaVision – My First Impression

The long wait is over and the MCU streaming shows have finally arrived at Disney Plus!

First up? WandaVision.

Personally, the wait was well worth it. I don’t know what I expected from WandaVision, but it certainly exceeded whatever I had in mind.

I’d like to initially say that the show is most delightful because it displays what we’ve all suspected to be true–Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have great chemistry together. We were made to believe that these two were in love during the MCU movies, and while they did their best to convey that storyline, it simply proved too hard to deliver what with all the stones and purple aliens and things blowing up.

But now we get to see them–just them–and they are a ton of fun.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth Olsen. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything other than the Marvel movies. Frankly, they didn’t give her much to work with while playing Wanda Maximoff. She often felt shoehorned in. And though she always had some cool action scenes, I never saw her being much else than angry, sad, or mopey. With WandaVision, we get to see a very full range from Olsen. Her voice, her body language, her eyes–she’s using them all to let us know what Wanda is feeling. Best of all? Olsen’s funny!

The premise of WandaVision … I don’t really know how to explain it nor do I really know much to explain. They are living within the realm of sitcoms. The first two episodes are in black and white with all the sitcom tropes and clichés you experienced during Leave It To Beaver, I Dream Of Jeannie, and I Love Lucy. They’ve got a full cast of delightful characters, especially Kathryn Hahn, and the first two episodes center around Vision’s boss coming to dinner and then a neighborhood talent show.

Yes, you read that right.

Yet, amidst these familiar events, there are moments of real foreboding, discomfort, and even suspense. WandaVision slips into something more like The Twilight Zone, but only for seconds at a time.

For me, the real joy of WandaVision is that I have no idea what’s going on, I have no idea what to expect, and I have no idea where they derived their plot. With most of the MCU movies there is a comic book somewhere out there that laid the groundwork. This feels totally original.

The tone is perfect, the acting is a blast, the story is unpredictable, and the show is just plain fun. I never had any doubts, but if WandaVision is any indication, the MCU has flawlessly transitioned to the small screen. Furthermore, they’ve already proven that they have no fear. These MCU shows will be given room to breathe, and these shows will break the mold previously set by the MCU.

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.