June 21, 2017

Logan (2017)

Hugh Jackman

Before Wonder Woman came along and stole all of its thunder, Logan had been the talk of the 2017 superhero realm. It was hailed as gritty and exciting and everyone loved the psychotic little girl who slashes everyone in sight.

But those words, "gritty" and "exciting" get tossed around a lot. What do they mean, exactly? I don't want to go all Merriam-Webster (considering its Twitter account is currently a phenomenon unto itself), but sometimes my nerd side wins out. You see, gritty has two meanings. Either:
     a. covered with grit, or
     b. showing courage and resolve

There's something happening in movies where people have begun to describe films as "gritty" that seem to fall much more into the first category than the second. Like Logan. Do Wolverine and the other characters "show courage and resolve" in the movie? Sure, I suppose. Not more than any other typical comic book movie. Probably less so, actually. It is, however, shot in a dessert with a lot of dirt, dust, and later, blood everywhere. Which is why I'm convinced it got slapped with the "gritty" label in the first place. Just because he now goes by "Logan" and doesn't have his hair in the those cheesy wings doesn't suddenly make him gritty.

I bring this up because this movie is dirty. Like, gross. Not just in a "people don't shower like in the Old West" kind of way, but also in a "people's heads are being literally chopped off and blood is spurting everywhere" horror movie kind of way. The combination obviously appeals to a wide audience, considering the box office numbers on this movie, but I really can't say why.

I'll be the first to admit I am squeamish about violence. I think people can understand and appreciate the violence of a situation without having to see actual bodies being dismembered and such. But again, it seems like a certain segment of the population actually enjoys seeing copious amounts of blood spewing from slashed bodies, so this movie appeals to those people.

For the rest of us, um, well, there's not much. Yes, the little girl is awesome. And yes, I suppose it's hypocritical to applaud a child for slashing adults with her tiny Wolverine claws after denouncing it for several paragraphs, but hey, she's taking on adults twice her size. It's obviously more impressive than the hulking Hugh Jackman that could probably beat up most people with his bare fists. Though the girl's action skills are the highlight of the movie, she doesn't speak much. So she's not so much a complete character as an awesome stunt person.

So for main characters, there's Wolverine, the same sulking, hulking character as always, a girl who doesn't talk, Stephen Merchant, who plays an albino whose white makeup looks like it's going to rub off any minute, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X, whom we need to talk about.

First of all, didn't he die? Like, we all watched him evaporate in X3. I know this isn't a real universe, but WTF? No explanation, he's just suddenly there again. I would have been happy to see him instead of Jame McAvoy for a change, except he then executes the most awkward Spanish accent  I've heard since my Chinese mother starting taking Spanish classes. Ven aqui! NON NON NON Patrick! No wonder the little girl doesn't talk. I wouldn't want to respond to him either. Except then at some point, he abandons the Spanish and just speaks English, which makes even less sense. Either he's speaking Spanish because he doesn't think she'll understand English, or he's just speaking Spanish to torture the audience. It's unclear, really.

I just kept watching this movie, holding out hope for a big moment that would turn things around for me. I wanted to believe that my fellow movie watchers couldn't have gushed over this movie just because of some cool stunts from a child and a thin layer of dirt over everything. I mean yes, we'll all miss Wolverine (I mean, sort of), this being is last movie and all, but you can't pad his ratings just out of nostalgia. We deserve better!

All I can say is that I watched this two days ago and the only things that stand out in my memory are: the little girl's stunts and Patrick Stewart's Spanish. If he doesn't win next year's Katherine Heigl Award, I will be shocked. Estupefacto!

Final word: I'm sure we'll have to suffer through multiple spin-off series of other characters now, but thank God at least one is over.

June 14, 2017

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, et al

I'll admit, I haven't been a big fan of these prequels to begin with. I think the actors are miscast, there's not nearly enough action, and it's awkward to keep having Wolverine pop in as his normal, adult self, while the rest of them are supposed to be vastly younger versions of themselves. And as I remarked after the last one, can we stop making these?!?

But here I am, after watching it anyway (marriage is hard!), but with even less good things to say. James McAvoy is still nothing like Patrick Stewart, and Michael Fassbender somehow makes Magneto even more annoying. Look, we all know his back story and when he discovered his powers in Auschwitz. It's what made his character a bit sad and more relatable instead of just some super-villain who obliterates people while inexplicably flying in the air. And one of the other X-Men movies (X2? I can't even remember at this point) already addressed his friendship with Professor X, which made viewers realize Magneto was complicated and had both a good side and a bad side. Fine.

But nooooo, this movie had to go and create more back story to try and make Magneto even more sympathetic. There's only enough room for one brooding hero in a group and I'm afraid Wolverine already called dibs on it. Doing this to Magneto only drags out the plot into a soap opera no one cares about. We watch these movies for the mutant powers, damn it!

So that's basically the movie: brooding Magneto and Jame McAvoy's attempts at looking intense while mind reading. I mean sure, the "main" plot point is about the world' first mutant - an all-powerful Egyptian-type guy with face paint that looks like a blue version of Darth Maul in Star Wars, but so much screen time is taken up by sad Michael Fassbender it's hard to take anything else in. Oh, there's a random throwback to Halle Berry's Storm (without ever actually mentioning her by name and suddenly making her African) and the addition of Olivia Munn, which would be far more exciting if they hadn't dressed her up in a dominatrix outfit for no particular reason. So all in all, an eclectic mix of everything they could think of to try and make a semi-decent movie people would pay to watch.

Final word: I'm starting to wonder if the hype over Logan is because the movie is actually good, or if it's just a sweet relief from comic book movies like this.

June 8, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

Gal Gadot

Undoubtedly, one of the most irritating thing about being a woman is the fact that our experiences and feelings are constantly dismissed as overreactions. I need to preface this review with that statement because I'm going to attempt to explain why women all over the country have been losing their minds over seeing this movie. Because when all is said and done, it's a just a superhero movie. I'm going to dive into the specifics of what made it great, but it's still just a superhero movie. It's not going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It is, however, going to be remembered as a turning point in superhero movies, and I hope, movie-making in general.

A lot has been made about how this is the first female-directed superhero movie. That it's the first female superhero movie in a decade. That it's the first movie ever about Wonder Woman. All of those things are amazing, yes. And they will assuredly continue to be talked about in the wake of Wonder Woman's $100M weekend debut.

But as I sat in the theater, watching the opening sequence of the movie, none of those things crossed my mind. Instead, I watched a team of awesome athletic women perform stunts I've never seen women perform, and certainly never en masse. I watched as a literal utopia of strong women took over the screen and I damn near cried. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but much like seeing your ethnicity represented positively for the first time, watching these women execute stunts that have always been shown onscreen by men was overwhelming. Seeing so many capable women at one time (some of them over fifty. gasp!), interacting with each other, without any references to men, was so groundbreaking and exciting I honestly still get teary-eyed thinking about it days later. It was a something I never knew I longed to see until I saw it.

It's not just the opening sequence, of course. The entire movie is being hailed as the embodiment of female empowerment, which is somehow both accurate and overstating it (which I'll get to later). I believe women are responding so positively to Wonder Woman not just because it's a female lead, but because it portrays an inspiring female lead. Our choices are generally limited to damaged sexy vixen, stone cold assassin, or strong-ish woman who still needs a man's help in the end. Wonder Woman is both someone we can look up to and someone we can already see ourselves in. [Side note: extra props for having a female villain as well. Not all women need to be virtuous heroes.]

Like other successful superhero films, Wonder Woman does an excellent job of balancing the action with moments of tenderness and a good dose of humor. In this case, much of the humor is derived from showing Diana's incredulous reactions to the sexist human world from which she has been shielded her entire life. Everything from standards of dress to voting rights are touched upon, and it so delicately highlights the inequalities women have been faced with for decades without having to get heavy-handed. And through it all, Diana's unshakable confidence beams through. It's fucking magical.

It is not, however, as one Twitter user proclaimed, "flawless." My complaints are minor, but in light of this film bearing the neon sign of FEMINISM, I feel compelled to address the areas in which I thought it fell slightly short.

First of all, the fucking high heels. Why, in God's name, would she wear wedge high heels? I felt so proud that her outfit was neither corseted into a ridiculous waistline nor so skimpy it would be completely unrealistic to fight in, but then they had to go and slap heels on her? No action hero would wear heels to run and fight people. Sorry, but that's not negotiable. I'm tired of seeing women forced to run and fight in heels.

Secondly, Chris Pine. For one thing, I find it slightly confusing that he is in the Star Trek franchise but then pops up here. I realize he's an actor and that actors are often in different movies, but there's something about crossing franchise universes that rubs me the wrong way. It just doesn't seem right that Captain Kirk would also be back in WWI with a DC Comics superhero. It also doesn't help that I mix him up with Chris Evans and thought he was Captain America at first, which would be even more unacceptable. (But seriously, what's with every male superhero being named Chris?)

I just sort of wish he hadn't been in the movie. Not just Pine specifically, but his character. I understand his reason for being there - bringing a love counterpoint to a plot based on war, and I appreciate that he was created to be a strong character alongside Wonder Woman and not just a throwaway love interest like so many women have been for men in their superhero movie. By no means am I suggesting that women can't be feminists if they fall in love, but I guess I just selfishly wanted another Moana moment where a man never even had to enter the equation. THIS WAS OUR MOMENT, and we had to share it with a man. It was just a little disappointing, even if he was actually a good guy.

Lastly, I thought the movie fell into a few easy stereotypes that could have easily been avoided. I was excited that Gadot was able to speak naturally in her accent instead of forcing her to use a contrived American accent (though wondered why Chris Pine had said American accent when he was supposedly British). But I did the Scottish guy have to wear the kilt? Or did the Moroccan guy have to wear a fez? And did the Native American guy have to use smoke signals and go by the name "Chief?" I mean, ffs. Like, I'm glad the characters got a hot second to discuss the obstacles of racism, genocide, and PTSD, but seriously. Chief.

As with any insanely popular movie, there has been some push back from people who feel the need to stand out by hating on anything popular (except in this case, it's not the hipsters). There is the strange argument that the movie is somehow less progressive because Wonder Woman is seen crushing armies of men and that we as women shouldn't be aiming for equality in such a violent world. To that, I say STFU. (Sorry for all the acronyms in this post, but I'm embracing my Millennial status.) The movie is set in the time of WWI. War is violent. And frankly, so are the comics. Despite all that, the movie didn't come off as overly violent, and we weren't subjected to decapitated heads or anything even remotely gory. Instead, I took the violence as a more of a sad commentary on our world and Wonder Woman's participation in it as a sign of strength and compassion, rather than depravity.  

Final word: I made the picture below my computer wallpaper so I could look at it every day and harness the feeling I had when I watched this movie. Take from that what you will.

June 3, 2017

Fourth Annual Snarky Awards

Either I'm getting soft in my old age or I've finally learned how to pick a decent movie because it was almost difficult to come up with enough nominees to fill the categories this year. I actually couldn't even come up with a "worst movie of the year" category, which is sort of shocking, considering my keen ability to hate so much. It's been a surprisingly mediocre year.

But thanks to a wonderful suggestion from a reader, I do have a new category! Scroll through to find it at the bottom.

The Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark Award 

for the least believable casting choice for a character

Charlize Theron, Kubo and the Two Strings


for the actor who attempted to single-handedly ruin a movie 

Emma Thompson, Beauty and the Beast


for the worst movie you've never heard of



for the worst movie that other people inexplicably loved

Hacksaw Ridge

As a footnote, I want to add that Seth Rogan in Sausage Party was a VERY close second for the Katherine Heigl Award, but ultimately I decided against giving it to him because the movie had a number of other glaring flaws, while Beauty and the Beast was really, really brought down by Thompson's accent.