July 31, 2021

Review: Welcome to the “Jungle Cruise”

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised when Jungle Cruise, the latest Disney period film to be based on a theme park ride (but almost certainly not the last), opened with an orchestral arrangement of a Metallica song — performed by Metallica themselves! It’s a bit of an odd choice, but the music, courtesy of James Newton Howard, continues to be wonderful throughout the entire film — thank goodness for its strong start.

Jungle Cruise stars Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, who travels to the Amazon with her brother McGregor (had to look that one up), played by the pathetically charming Jack Whitehall. In the Amazon, Lily meets Frank, the charismatic and witty skipper of a charter boat played, of course, by guaranteed franchise-starter Dwayne Johnson. The three of them navigate through the jungle (I wish Jumanji hadn’t snatched up “Welcome to the Jungle,” an orchestral cover would’ve been a dream come true) in search of a MacGuffin that will heal the world, or something. It’s all in the name of adventure — the destination is less important than the journey here.

July 30, 2021

Review: Courage and Honor Drive “The Green Knight”

The best word I could think of as I sat in the theater, watching the credits fly by on screen for David Lowery’s new film The Green Knight, was “wow.” My thought process was soon able to transcend that single word and I could form coherent thoughts. Here they are.

Adapted from the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this hybrid fantasy/drama features Dev Patel as the titular Sir Gawain, faced with a choice one day in King Arthur’s court. A knight (played by the unrecognizable, yet incomparable Ralph Ineson) offers a challenge, for any member of the court to lay a blow against him with his own axe. However, one year hence, the knight will be able to do the same to the brave one who dares face him. The brash Gawain, seeking glory and recognition, decapitates the knight, but of course that isn’t the end. For Gawain, the story has only just begun.

As a critic, this film is hard to review. As a viewer, time lost all control as I was pulled into a fully-realized, dirty, grimy, brutal fantasy world, in which the rules of magic are never explained and you aren’t sure what’s real and what isn’t until the film’s conclusion…and even then, not every question is answered. I would be lying if I said this film didn’t spark conversation with the people I saw it with — in fact, The Green Knight led to some of the best film discussions I’ve had in a while.

July 27, 2021

Review: “Blood Red Sky” Puts Vampires on a Plane

In another world, Blood Red Sky is a tale about finding the line between the human and animalistic parts of ourselves, and the sophistications of maintaining a balance between the two. In our world, on the other hand, it’s just about vampires on a plane.

I’m kind of glad we got the story that we got, though. It may not be that deep or intelligent, but Blood Red Sky pulls off its premise surprisingly well. German widow Nadja (Peri Baumeister), apparently suffering from leukemia, boards a plane to New York with her soft-spoken son Elias (Carl Anton Koch). The plane is hijacked mid-flight, and for a bit we follow the expected story pattern of terrorists taking control. This time, though, there’s an added twist — here there be monsters, and they’re hungry for blood.

It might sound delightfully absurd (á la Snakes on a Plane), and believe me, it is, but there’s so much more to it. The film plays everything completely straight, even the absolutely ludicrous concepts it continues to introduce. Writer/director Peter Thorwarth’s story makes the most of its premise and gives us exactly what it entails — an action-packed, hyper-violent thrill ride. Aeorophobics, beware.

July 24, 2021

Review: Shyamalan is Back on Top in Surreal Thriller “Old”

This afternoon, I tried explaining the entire plot of M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller Old to my mother, who promised me she was never going to watch it. After doing the best I could, I realized how absurd and nonsensical it sounded coming out of my mouth. The story, but all rights, is relatively simple, so I had no idea why I couldn’t do it justice. Maybe I’m just bad at explaining the plots of films I enjoy.

Then I realized: Old is an experience. The eerie one-word title and promising plot twists don’t mean too much at all when you’re not watching them onscreen. Shyamalan’s films have always been twisty and turny, but Old is something else entirely — it’s visceral, profound, disturbing, depressing, and everywhere in between.

July 19, 2021

Review: “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is an Entertaining Diversion

There’s only so much star power a movie can have. Pulp Fiction and Interstellar show how to do it right — the cast gets their time to shine, and isn’t overshadowed by the sheer amount of talent involved. The opposite is true for Space Jam: A New Legacy.

While the sequel to the 1996 cult classic isn’t so much bogged down by the actors involved (though there are many), it mostly suffers from an influx of intellectual property (IP). Warner Bros, the studio behind about half of the movies and shows you love, has decided to throw all of their IP at the Space Jam wall and see what sticks. This movie is about the Looney Tunes playing basketball, but you’ll see cameos from King Kong, the Iron Giant, the Scooby gang, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and many more. Too many, in fact.

July 17, 2021

Review: “Gunpowder Milkshake” is Just Another Day at the Office

Imagine a psychedelic 70s action movie, made in the present day. Now imagine that it was the most ridiculously violent thing you’ve ever seen.

Bingo. You’ve got Gunpowder Milkshake.

This new action/comedy from Netflix stars Karen Gillan as Sam, an assassin who loses the protection of a powerful guild after a job goes south. So she gives herself a new mission — protecting Emily (Chloe Coleman), the spunky eight (and three quarters) year old daughter of one of Sam’s targets. This is set in a world with a hospital, library and diner specifically for hitmen (and, more importantly, women) — very clearly inspired by John Wick and Hotel Artemis, just a few of the many influences that the film boasts.

July 16, 2021

Review: Ice Nine Kills is Top of Their Game with “Hip To Be Scared”

“This confession has meant…nothing.”

Horror-themed band Ice Nine Kills is a recent discovery of mine. Their best album (as “Hip To Be Scared” proclaims) is undoubtedly The Silver Scream, released in 2018. Most every song is inspired by a horror film, leading to some wildly inventive lyrics and brilliant melodies.

While they specialize in heavy metal, I enjoy Ice Nine Kills the most when they stray from that path. Their acoustic-only live album Undead and Unplugged, recorded at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, is a favorite of mine, because it converts their usually fast-paced and loud songs into subtler, slower versions that I can get on board with.

Ahead of the debut of their new album, The Silver Scream 2: Horrorwood, INK (as they’re known by their fanbase) has released a single from the album entitled “Hip to be Scared.” It’s inspired by American Psycho, and features numerous lyrical references to specific events in the film. They don’t mean much to me at the moment as I haven’t actually seen the film, but what I can appreciate is that the song combines moments of heavy metal with a more subdued melody, fit in between musical skits that poke fun at the band itself. It’s INK at their most self-referential, irreverent humor yet, and I’m here for it.

I feel like this is the beginning of a reinvention, and The Silver Scream was the leap they needed to get here. If The Silver Scream 2 includes more songs like this, I’m fully on board. And if the devil makes exceptions, consider me an All-American Psycho. [Grade: A]

July 15, 2021

Review: The First Season of “Loki” Takes the MCU to Bizarre New Heights

There’s never been a better time to be a Marvel fan.

They’re spoiling us with content, honestly. Black Widow released smack dab in the middle of Loki’s run, and we have another Disney+ TV series coming in just under a month. And when you think of the sheer amount of films they have planned for the future…hoo boy.

But today, I’m here to talk about the first season of Loki, which changed the game of the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet again, introducing the Time Variance Authority, which is perhaps “the greatest power in the universe,” according to the Trickster God himself.

First of all, I’ll be discussing major spoilers in this review — I don’t know how I’d cover this show with mentioning some key plot points. If I discussed anything specific beyond episode one, I’d be branching into that territory, so I just figured I’d go full send, no holds barred. It’s what Loki would want.

I’m fresh off the season finale, so excuse any recency bias I may have. One thing that I can be sure of, confidently, if that Loki is the most creative MCU series thus far. WandaVision (which had the benefit of being first) did something completely different, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier returned to the more straightforward MCU procedure. Loki once again threw away the playbook and elected to forge its own path…and damn, is it glorious.

July 13, 2021

The 2021 Emmy Nominations Celebrate what the Oscars Ignore

For decades, the Academy Awards have been largely about recognizing lesser-known films and performances. Be honest — how many average viewers saw Minari, The Father or Sound of Metal, in comparison with the 2020 nominations (Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood etc). To be fair, there weren’t many high-awareness movies released in 2020, but it’s always felt to me like the Golden Globes and Emmys have been better about appealing to the masses, as opposed to solely the cinephiles.

This year especially, the Emmys have seen fit to recognize two big blockbuster franchises that the Oscars have largely ignored for years: Marvel and Star Wars. Sure, Black Panther got nominated for Best Picture in 2019, and John Williams was nominated for six of the nine Star Wars films he worked on, but they’ve always been an underrepresented part of awards — not to mention some of the most successful franchises the entertainment world has ever seen.

In the 73rd Emmys (which take place September 19), The Mandalorian and The Crown have received the most nominations, each with 24. The expected hits are nominated for Best Drama Series, including The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale and This Is Us, but Amazon Prime’s The Boys has been unexpectedly thrown in there — another win for fans of the superhero genre (even though its chances of actually winning the award are slim to none, it’s great that it’s at least recognized for being a top-tier show).

Review: “Black Widow” Provides Closure for an Icon

When you Google Scarlett Johansson, you may notice that the first four films that pop up are from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which she plays Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. It’s arguably her most iconic role, and for good reason — she’s been part of the well-established universe for twelve years, and in that time her character has emerged from relative obscurity into mainstream pop culture knowledge. When compared with her Avengers co-stars, though, her story is very much lacking.

Now, Johansson is the third of the original Avengers to retire from the MCU, following in the footsteps of Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans. It’s only now that Marvel has deemed it necessary to give Natasha a solo film, after her death in Avengers: Endgame. I suppose they hoped it would be more meaningful, retroactively giving the character more merit so we’re sadder to see her go.

In that regard, they’re partially successful. Because Black Widow is set between 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, it’s able to give Natasha a storyline worthy of her status as the “enigmatic, mysterious” Avenger. She’s trying to make peace with her past, an arc which is made more poetic and satisfying because we know that this is her last chance to do so, and the outcome is even more cathartic for that same reason.