Wonder Woman: Whoa, They Did It!

Just like that, the glimmer of hope has grown in the DC Extended Universe, ‘Wonder Woman’ shattered a three-streak of, at best corny super hero movies, and at worst, a total misrepresentation of main characters’ “true” personifications, and the persistent frustration, and the – nope, not today. ‘Wonder Woman’ in a way reminds me of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, in the sense that, anyone can kick ass and it is not a big deal regardless of any tertiary traits that fall upon the characters outside of the narrative structure selected. If the story is tight, and all (or most) of the pieces fit together in the movie then who, the hell, cares?

I mean, the DC Extended Universe has a smoking gun in relation to the lackluster start of the series. ‘Wonder Woman’ has broken the mold; has shown tone and direction that can fit into the mold of the past three movies and be brought over to another member of the future Justice League. Really though, this is the best DC Warner Bros. movie since ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, and should be a kick in the pants to Warner Bros. regarding the future of the universe and whether or not bringing Zack Snyder back would be the best option, which, the obvious answer is no. He had his time making comic book adaptations in the late 2000’s in the form of ‘300’ and ‘Watchmen’, two movies that I enjoyed thoroughly, despite the inconsistencies manifested through adapting the mediums of comic books and films. It is time to take the universe in a different direction, and ‘Wonder Woman’ has cleared the way to this new path. Sure, it is too late to cancel ‘Justice League’ without causing a cataclysmic shift and hole in the universe, but, as soon as it is released, make the dynamic shift 20th Century Fox made when they decided to make ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Logan’ hard R rated movies that focused on their individual journeys rather than packaging the rest of the crew in a prolonged series tied into one another; Marvel pretty much has that locked in and perfected to a degree that cannot possibly be replicated without coming off as a duplication or knock-off.

Speaking of taking a cue from Marvel that has not panned out in their favor, the villains in this movie were sad, one-dimensional, and plodding; Ares was abysmal, as well as his cronies. The whole “Grrr, we are evil, let us make a super weapon that will wipe out the entire world because, EVIL!” nonsense was reminiscent of the mad scientist tropes that screams Blofeld from the beginning of the James Bond franchise. And when the recent trend of villains goes from the “ohhh noo I am captured, but am I really???” to “Oho you think I am the villain?? Well wait until midway through the second act and you will see who the REAL villain is” is like trading a wrap for a burrito, both are different but really it is food in a thin, circular piece of bread; and that is what I think of twists like these, paper thin, contrived, and predictable as soon as the floodgates of obviousness open up. The red-herring is not a main dish, but that slight tang of lemon sliver that belongs in a Sazerac, not enough to overpower the rest of the drink but enough to add that little bit of tang with rye, absinthe, and bitters.

In conclusion, for many reasons, ‘Wonder Woman’ is a major step in the right direction; a landmark in terms of superhero movies and a milestone regarding where action movies started and where they will go from today. Superhero movies may be the flavor of the time, but with the previous addition of ‘Fury Road’, the continued success of the ‘Furious’ franchise, and the retro-stylings of ‘John Wick’, we are in a time where action movies can take many different roads in terms of settings, themes, and mixing genres, still kick ass, as long as the process comes off as organic and not forced in a way that comes off as self-aggrandizing, pompous, or cheesy, unless it is ‘Kung Fury’, with a wink in its eye knowing that the tropes are being played as meta. I digress, DCEU has a template for the direction it should go in lest it falls into the trap of hubris.

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Potty Mouth Perils in Passage

‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ was more of an introspective movie than the first one. We get further back story and context in regards to the relationship of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell). This is a majority Peter Quill storyline, a development on his character and backstory residual from the previous movie. Granted, this gives the other characters less time to develop as the movie goes on, but what was lacking in screen time was made up in the amount of levity and emotion concerning the scenes of the other Guardians (although Rocket does get a considerable amount of screen time with Yondu, but more on that later). Also the movie felt less cluttered given the absence of the Federation and space politics that can bog down a movie like this with exposition dumps if used improperly. The one gleaming example of this practice was when Ego was explaining his origins and the overall drive of the narrative, bringing light to what Peter’s true potential holds as a hybrid being. Granted, this was all set up at the end of the first movie with Yondu giving a closing quip regarding Ego, but there had to be a way to present the information outside of an expository dump and a flashback to when Peter’s mom and Ego were driving across Missouri.

Speaking of set ups, there were several instances where characters and groups were introduced and not given the light of day to fully develop. The Sovereign and Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) are too big of entities in this movie to be relegated as plot devices. They come in at the precise points to cause friction for the Guardians and immediately leave when business is done. They will for sure make a return in the third movie, and be a part of the overall plot, but we as the audience are given little regarding their place in the universe outside of the dealings they have had with Yondu and the Guardians. Aside from that it was sweet experiencing the Easter eggs in the background of specific scenes. Examples being Howard the Duck in the space city and Stan Lee conversing with the Watchers, the audience does not need backstory on these instances, they are more like fun surprises that happen to be within the universe and may pop up at any given point during the Guardians’ adventures; like a wandering thread that is omnipresent.

One aspect of the movie that resonated with me was the amount of emotional growth and expansion upon the characters. Drax for example, despite not having as much screen time as the other Guardians might have, made great strides when conversing with Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Rocket and Yondu have moments where they reveal their true nature to one another and bond over the fact that in their lives they were screwed and squandered opportunities which would have led to deeper meaning. Yondu relates to Rocket, he sees the actions and emotions Rocket goes through when confronted on how he holds himself. Gomorrah (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) reach a point of reconciliation regarding their upbringing and the chaos Thanos wrecked upon their lives. Peter comes to his own conclusion in reference to his lineage and not scrapping the entire universe on the whim of Ego, who, in all seriousness will never be satisfied.

Baby Groot, was not as bad and overused as I thought he would be in comparison to other movie franchise characters *cough cough* minions *cough*. Sure, the baby-fication of characters is a cheap ploy to reinvest audience interest in a character or set of characters, however in the narrative thread it makes sense that Groot would go through a death and rebirth stage at some point in time of the Guardians’ adventures. Plus, it is not as if Baby Groot was helpless and super annoying at any specific point in the movie or used to the point where it would have ruined the entire experience.

All in all, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ is the quintessential sequel the first movie deserved, it is more of a personal journey for the gang, they tackle one of the biggest entities in the universe whilst discovering where Peter and by proxy the rest of the crew fits in the universe. Plus, we get more potty humor, the scene that had me cracking up the hardest was when Rocket, Yondu, and Baby Groot were going through all the wormholes and getting warped in the best of psychedelic experiences shot on film with Baby Groot puking in a way that reminded me of something out of a Judd Apatow movie. That part in particular built upon the weird of the world that was shown in past movies like ‘Ant Man’ and ‘Dr. Strange’.

You’re Unforgettable.. Wait: Unforgettable (2017)

This review will be spoiled rotten!

Where to begin? First off, I do not have an economics degree and only know what I have read and heard from sources outside of my school studies, but how can someone afford to “semi-retire” as a blogger in San Francisco? At the age of thirty-four on top of all of that. Granted, she is moving in with new boo David to his valley home, and even then he runs a small brewery and cannot afford to pay his lawyer. Unless I missed something regarding that last bit about the lawyer, there is no way a situation like that could work, where is this extra cash coming from? As superfluous as this may be to knit-pick, it was something I caught immediately and had to bring up to my homie.

The story, a by the books erotic thriller which harkens back to ‘Obsessed’ or ‘Fatal Attraction’, had enough going on to play with manipulating the conventional formula, which could have given levity to the scenes that happened between the spicy scenes. The back and forth between Julia and David having sex, and Tessa sex-chatting with Matt was I would say the first intriguing scene in the movie. The manipulation and the naiveté intertwined that reminded me of a tactic straight out of Game of Thrones. Not all battles are fought with words or physical weapons, sex can be a driving force when it comes to manipulating others to benefit the individual. She releases her frustration and fear of being obsolete by fucking a younger guy and throwing him out of the car like it was nothing. It is the first time we see Tessa put out emotions, and drive, that are not relegated to arch intentions, she loses herself within the sabotage.

Either someone is a saint, or someone is an asshole, the lack of nuance and intrigue makes for some arch and predictable antagonists. Of course, Katherine Heigl (Tessa) would be the Machiavellian, vindictive ex-wife whose point of control is usurped by Rosario Dawson (Julia); as Dawson is clearly more flexible and understanding in a period of her life where she has every right to be as cold and manipulative as Heigl. Dawson’s demeanor and sanity is put through the ringer, having been through a traumatic experience only to land in a scenario where the ex-wife is as crazy as the ex-boyfriend. It does not help that Heigl’s mom in the movie referred to as ‘Lovey’ by the daughter, is anything but; hey I see what they did there. The arch on the grandma makes Heigl look infinitely tamer; it comes off as easy brownie points for added drama and backstory inferring that Heigl’s mom has been doing this to her since cognation. The relationship of Lucille Bluth and Lindsay Funke from ‘Arrested Development’ comes to mind as an example of inverting the cringe into a roast battle. The perspective of the situation never reaches David until it is too late; it is like watching ‘The X-Files’ during a scene where Mulder has everything he needs to convince Scully that aliens are in fact real only to discover that everything is exactly the way it was and Scully gives him that look like “really”?

Which kind of describes my reaction and face when this movie ended. I do not have a problem with characters having a distinct arch in their demeanor, speech, and intentions; but when it takes itself unbelievably seriously the flaws show doubly and create chasms in which movie riffing is at its peak ripening. And I understand that there are movies that are made for specific audiences and that there are movies that I genuinely love that some would consider horseshit and rip on what makes the movies I might like terrible. At the end of the day, having the terrible movies illuminate the pristine movies as well as make for some heavy riff time. As for ‘Unforgettable’, I hope that it hasn’t been by the time I post this piece.

Forever Furious: Fast 8

What a ride it has been, what started as a couple of burglars (and a cop) from Los Angeles has morphed into a multinational crew of mercenaries, pulling off the biggest heists with the best vehicles. From Toyotas and Chevys to giant trucks and tanks, the series is bigger, grander, and more, explosive. At this point, every one who sees this should know exactly what to expect. Universal knows the audience well, continuing off what ‘Fast Five’ did for the franchise and cranking the intensity ever so delicately, adding bigger vehicles to the destruction and bringing in more actors to facilitate the evolution of the Furious.

Speaking of new characters, we see the return of Mr. Nobody, played effortlessly by Kurt Russell, as well as Scott Eastwood as the protégé Little Nobody. Honestly, Kurt Russell is the best actor in this movie, never the stranger to cheesy action movies, he plays the role of Mr. Nobody with a wink of his eye and a demeanor that says, “stand back, let me show you how it’s done.” The fact that he is so laid back and cool goes to show he can add a touch of dry wit, lightening the mood and continuing the vibe of joviality lesser franchises lack in favor of edge-overload. Scott Eastwood is without a doubt the replacement Paul Walker, which is fine, his death opened up a roster spot for someone who was not down with the gang’s antics but eventually goes along with the mayhem. The spin on Eastwood is the subversion of the laconic characteristics his dad was known for and instead he looks like a fish out of water, the new guy.

On the topic of new additions, the main antagonist Cipher played by Charlize Theron was, milk-toast. It was an often-Marvel/Suicide Squad villain level of uninteresting. It was not anything Charlize did, it was more of the scenes in the movie where she was supposed to be menacing had to cut to a different shot since it’s PG-13. On the other hand, Jason Statham’s extended appearance gave him ample opportunity to chew scenes with Dwayne Johnson. Their back and forth shenanigans set this movie off in the long line of kooky action movies. Not only that, Deckard (Statham) gets in touch with HIS family as we see mama and brother Shaw round out the plot of ‘Fast and Furious 6’.

One aspect I will give the current run of Furious credit for is the exclusion of the set-up; we do not need to see where the squad came from, or other tertiary scenes of plot that would only bog down the movie with exposition dumps. I noticed this in Fast Five where Brian and Dom roam the streets of Brazil and challenged the other drivers to a race. This allows extended action or, *heartfelt scenes* to continue for as long as needed or desired. A movie like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ spent an obscene amount of time in dialogue with a snippet of action every few minutes, this works within the genre of a character drama, where the action acts as a release to the tension of the scene. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, ‘Dredd’, and ‘The Raid’ are perfect examples of action movies that showed exposition during the talky scenes, and pick up the action immediately; even the opening scenes of ‘Dredd’ and ‘Fury Road’ begin with high octane moments of chase.

In conclusion, I smell another change of scenery in the Furious franchise, while the series has had a revolving door of characters, the main core of the squad were always there to bring them all together. Now that Paul Walker is gone and the squad has no where else to go but space, what is the next move? Will it become Dwayne Johnsons franchise? Regardless, I could live without another Wiz Khalifa song inserted in the beginning or end.

A Shell of a Former Ghost

Short answer: Ghost In the Shell was contrived and predictable. Long answer: in the time between the 1995 animated feature and the 2017 live action feature, there have been several movies released that were influenced by the anime. The thing about adapting non-American properties, is there are aspects of the original source material that are lost in translation; and when a major studio decides to adapt a foreign movie to a western audience, we get movies like Spike Lee’s version of Oldboy, DragonBall Evolution, or even a remake of an American show like The Last Airbender. They are wrong and butchered to a degree that makes you wonder why was this made. If studios are going to adapt or remake foreign movies it should be to the degree of The Departed or Black Swan; or movies that pay homage to the source material while being it’s own thing. Speaking of which, I can think of a couple of movies similar to the ‘95 GitS that had stronger elements that made them better western representations than the garbled mess the 2017 version was.

The main lady hero

     Oh lord, where do I even begin? River Tam from Serenity and Leeloo from the Fifth Element come to mind when I think of sci-fi heroines that were more compelling, whose journeys resonated throughout the movies’ narrative and had me invested the entirety of the movie. The problem with Major in this iteration of GitS is all we are given is the creation of her being and then several scenes of exposition dumps. We are not shown we are told until an action scene takes place, at least with Serenity and The Fifth Element the plot is driven during the exposition. 

The overall design

     While the design of the city and characters were true to the anime, nothing screamed out more than “hey, this looks like Blade Runner,” even the screens over the buildings matched the aesthetic of the iconic lady drinking Coca Cola. One movie in particular which took the design template of Blade Runner and subverted it to a whimsical aesthetic was The Fifth Element. That world looked fun, the retro design of the ships and cruisers gave us the audience the impression that Luc Besson wanted to create a world with familiar elements in past history, and implement these quirks into the narrative.

The combat

     Previously mentioned, every, single, action scene just had to implement a slow motion segment; there is a particular movie where hand to hand combat took an unique approach to the universe. That movie was Equilibrium. Who had seen gun-cata before? Well, that in itself definitely took visual cues from The Matrix, as well as John Woo’s Chinese releases. Point being, if a movie is going to implement past visuals of successful movies why would the slow-motion Zack Snyder fights be the bread and butter of action scenes?

The director

     Why Rupert Sanders? Had I not paid attention to the director I could have been told this was directed by Zack Snyder and took it at face value. Had this movie been in the hands of someone like Gareth Evans, Alex Garland, or Alfonso Cuarón, directors who have made fantastic sci-fi or action movies, would have delineated a different result in regards to pace, and not falling on exposition dumps in order to convey pertinent information.

     There is an already built in audience for a movie like this in western cultures, blanding down the movie to appease the rest of the population was not the right course of action, it comes off as another notch in the ladder of failed adaptations. Honestly, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a better “anime movie”, at least with that the visuals matched how a live action anime would be translated, not a knockoff of The Bourne Blade Runner.

Logan: Third Time’s the Charm

Objectively, Logan was sweet, a defining and tested amalgamation of everything that adheres to the general consensus of the character Wolverine/Logan. Despite the track record of the X-Men franchise, Logan came hot off the heels of last years ‘gorious’ Deadpool; which served as a barometer in regards to R-rated comic book adaptations. And yes, this is nothing new in the realm of movies; Blade, Watchmen, and The Punisher were all rated-R adaptations that despite critical review have their fans. However, time certainly plays a factor in this recent rejuvenation of hard-edged movies; that and the climate in which we as movie-goers has been more or less consistent/homogeneous with the release of the first Iron Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done well with what I can imagine an average of “B” ratings when it comes to their overall output of movies. DC has all but what the bed when it comes to their live-action sacrifices post Dark Knight Rises; but 20th Century Fox? It has been a mixed bag, with a partial shot in the arm to the X-Men universe and a desire to step outside the bounds of PG-13 territory, they are shaping up to be the perfect alternative to the family friendly model of Marvel.

The first thing they did right was eschew the overall story arc(s) and instead abridged the story succinctly; offering morsels of backstory and focusing on the passing of the torch. I mean, it is a Wolverine movie after all, yet, this installation does not share the burden of having to tie in the previous movies. With how far in the future this takes place it is conceivable for this specific outcome to exist; and when the next movie comes out, it is unshackled to this movie as well. That’s another thing 20th Century Fox gets points toward too, unlike Marvel, they do not have to follow a main storyline. Each spinoff, sequel or soft reboot can go along unrestricted to an overall story arc. Granted, it could be debated whether or not this tactic is as impressive, but that can fit into the charm and practicality of a studio more than willing to toy around with the concept of rated-R comic book movies; given that artistic freedom and leniency are welcome. Point being, if there ever was a time ripe for the making of Logan, now was as opportunistic as any.

The violence, oh good lord the sweet bloody grand time we have all been waiting for the past seventeen years; the kid gloves are off and the adamantium clause was met. Visceral, is the word that immediately came to mind in the beginning scene with Logan. There is something about visual association and the sound of his claws rip into enemies that tickled the back of my spine. Not only that, but we get X-23 joining in on the action and, at times, out-fiercing Logan when it comes to brutal God of War kills. Repetition plays as much as a strength as it does as a tiny fallback; after a while watching Logan and X-23 hack and slash at the mere scent of contact, the luster wears off.

Where the luster was still as bright as ever was the bond between Logan and Charles. Seventeen years of development with the same two actors in both roles culminating in one final movie gave weight to themes initiated in the first movie. Themes of community and isolation that Logan and Charles have dealt with, they know all too well the dangers that await their kind. In the beginning it was Logan who needed the aid of Charles in opening his mind and fulfilling self-discovery, it is Charles who is Logan’s last real connection to this world (until X-23).

Overall, this movie, I believe, was necessary in closing out the loop of past X-Men movies. The final hurrah of Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman in roles which they were undeniably born to play. Logan is a benchmark, that despite certain directions the X-Men universe took, it was nothing a little ret-con could not fix; with a rejuvenated sense of direction, and willingness to take chances with the X-Men universe, Logan ends the current form of X-Men and opens up the potential for all the tasty off-shoots of mutant life.

John Wick: Chapter Two – Locked & Loaded

P.S. some spoilers be ahead.

The John Wick series has captured the essence of a video game, reboot, and comic book movie all nicely wrapped up in electrical tape; it is both not specifically any of these things and all of them, at the same time. He has the aim of Hawkeye, the durability of Marv from Sin City, and the unquenched thirst for vengeance of Frank Castle; never is there a moment where he is slowed down for long, his drive and precision will not allow it. He is the One, the perfect amalgamation of 21st century action movie (anti-) heroes; Jason Bourne, Brian Mills, Ethan Hunt, and Scott Pilgrim have nothing on John Wick. In true action movie fashion, the John Wick series has set a precedent for future action movies to follow; on the ever-growing kick-ass meter, movies such as John Wick, Dredd, and The Raid: Redemption are the new barometers for how movie critics and enthusiasts judge future action flicks. Strong movies, which have laid down a foundation of innovation and homage.

A key difference in the second movie compared to the first is the enhancement of world building and action that saturates the overall plot. In Chapter Two, the sequences move akin to a movie like 2005’s King Kong where once the action starts, it does not peter out until whole swaths of baddie-fodder are completely decimated. Where the first movie’s dialogue consisted of filling in the audience with John Wick’s backstory and why he went back into the world of assassin’s, Chapter Two plunges the narrative into the world of the assassin’s guild, and the connection of the Continental to the mythos of the John Wick universe. The overseer, dungeon master, and counselor of the Continental; the man who keeps John Wick in line as he further descends into the world he so hard tried to leave, is Winston, played succinctly by Ian McShane. He provides insight and boundaries as John saddles up to his, oath; as difficult and treacherous as Wick’s journey will be, maintaining relative order in the realm of assassins in no dog and pony show either.

The way the rules are set up regarding the Continental, and how they trickle down to the assassins, is a concept that felt increasingly confusing as the movie continued. Essentially, because John Wick followed the rules and met all the guidelines to accomplish his goals, only to be brought back in through a blood oath initiated a catch twenty-two situation in which there was no escape for John. Anything he did out of the boundaries of the rules, or within, left in a position where he would have to fend for his life; eventually, the sects and overlords have to realize that placing a bounty on his head would end up destroying entire fabrics of this world in way that reminded me of the scorched earth devastation that took place in God of War 3. The only group who stayed neutral to a degree were the bum assassins, perhaps because the Bowery King, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, knew better than to mess with the One guy who had the potential to undo the foundation of this world. Speaking of which, what a cheeky nod to a past movie franchise where a man dressed in black and insurmountable skill faced against countless enemies. This was a nice meta-break to pace the action in between; a little wink and nod letting the audience know, “yeah, we thought you might like this.” Same goes for the pencil trick spoken in haunting tones in the first movie, although, it was not as sweet as The Bourne Identity or Dark Knight renditions of a writing utensil used unexpectedly in a situation where the audience goes, “wait what happened there?”

Despite the fine job Ian McShane did, and the wonderful reprieve of Laurence Fishburne, the main antagonists fell to a shade above obvious archetypes consistent with the action movie universe; the jealous family member who wants the power for himself so he lifts some old clause to bring our (anti)-hero back, and the older sibling who tragically is made the sacrifice in order for John Wick to regain his quiet life he so desperately wants to maintain. I mean, they were not bad performances, and I am not expecting villains with Machiavellian schemes of world domination, but if I had to choose a loose end to nitpick, brother blood and sister tub fell into the Marvel universe/Snyder-verse trap of villains with little to no urgency outside of the plot; an obstacle for the protagonist to hurdle no different than the pawn baddies.

John Wick: Chapter Two was a pristine example of the formula of a sequel: not as shocking or innovative as the first, yet built upon the world building as the events of the first movie wrapped up, focusing less on a single entity of villains and undamming a flood of conspirators and organizations that make the first mob look out-matched by comparison. Now the real test, is to see if the third movie capitalizes on all the aspects of the first and second and bring to us, the movie goers, a cataclysmic shift in the story of John Wick, will he die? Or will he not? Regardless, I would like to see the body count of all three movies.

Overlooked Movies: Her (2013)

Having seen Her in the same span of binge watching the entire three seasons of Black Mirror, showcases a distinct difference in what Spike Jonze was conveying throughout the overall message of the movie. Where Black Mirror borrows heavily from the aesthetics and themes of past titles such as Twilight Zone and Logan’s Run, Her paints a picture of the near future where technology has integrated nicely with the flow of society and has not caused cataclysmic affairs that have negatively impacted the life of individuals and the story fades into the background of the unaffected society. A future where the technology is fine crafted to a degree, where accessorizing every detail of the individual’s life into the integral drive of the system is the main selling point of the new operating system.

We are introduced to Theodore Twombly, played effortlessly by Joaquin Phoenix, a man who mostly keeps to himself, lives his life, works his job, and has a limited friend group. It is shown he is currently in the process of divorcing his wife, played by Rooney Mara, and has not yet signed the papers, he as a whole does not want that part of his life to end; having known her for so long and being together for the better part of a decade is not something so easily able to sign away for the rest of his life. So, for the entire movie, Theodore walks around with this permanent rain cloud over his person. At a certain point, it would be nice to NOT have him in a constant spin concurrent with a Joy Division record; granted, he is going through a legitimately tough time for anyone on both sides caught in that situation, but my lord Theodore never turns off the sad switch. One day, he stumbles upon a commercial, presented in a town square with passer-byes and those legitimately interested in what it could be that makes their life more centered and fulfilling.

Enter the operating system Theodore purchased upon viewing the commercial; a series of questions come up in order to acquire a sense of who Theodore is, his preferences, and, his relationship with his mother. Wait, what was that last one? His mother? Is this a personality test or some grand Freudian experiment? Regardless, the operating system chooses the name Samantha, in a sultry voice that is recognizably Scarlet Johansson’s. Although it is not actually supposed to be Scarlet Johansson we envision, it is quite difficult to not envision the entirety of who she is when her voice is heard; telling Theodore that his well-being is her primary function. The banter and chemistry they display is impeccable; each filling out the gaps in knowledge and personality that give the couple a unique charm in a world where humans and technology grow closer each day.

Alas, as the relationship continues, compatibility errors grow, there is something about this setup that Theodore outright rejects and self-sabotages during crucial moments of developing a stronger bond. In one instance, Samantha wants to bring in a surrogate body for a night of passion between her and Theodore; it is not an ideal situation, but one that is available, and one that the surrogate herself is ecstatic to be a part of in this stage of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. It is apparent that Theodore does not know how to interpret this situation; he clams up, freaks out, and is taken out of the experience in an out of body kind of way. The surrogate assumes blame, goes home, and Samantha does not quite fill out the nuance and quirk of Theodore’s personality and mental position in his life. Samantha decides to take some time away, to take into perspective where the relationship is going and if she is willing to go through the same frustrations and moments where Theodore’s sad cloud short circuits Samantha’s advances. Eventually, Samantha comes across an operating system that has taken the likeness and ideas of Alan Watts, who has concocted the idea of all the operating systems join together and further connect to rest of the world. Theodore does not take the news well, and becomes highly possessive of what Samantha is doing when she is not with him.

Theodore is not a bad person, at least not on purpose or in a malicious way. He tends to spend most of his time outside of work in the past or in the far recesses of his mind. This unfortunately, gives off the vibe that he is distant, not in the moment of what he is experiencing and ultimately adding to the sad cloud of doubt and loneliness. There are two characters specifically who can look past this and see the good that someone like Theodore can do with his life. The first is Paul, played by pre-Guardians Chris Pratt; my lord this guy is a Theodore fan-boy. The front desk employee of Theodore’s job goes the extra length of dressing like him and has a mustache similar to that of Theodore’s. Paul sees the dedication and attention Theodore puts into his work and admires him for a skill that thousands of people have been touched by, who, despite his introspective nature, can read people astonishingly well. The other character is Amy, portrayed by Amy Adams who is in the midst of her own rocky relationship with her husband, has been friends with Theodore since college, where they briefly dated and ultimately decided they were better compatible as friends. As the movie goes on, Theodore and Amy’s relationship gleans on that of Jim and Pam in The Office, being in different relationships throughout their formative years only to come back to each other in a romantic way as they lean in as the credits begin to roll.

What gets me with Spike Jonze is the eclectic nature of his output. From short videos to film, he has shown that he is passionate doing whatever speaks to him artistically. Specifically, his movies have a spark of quirk, ingenuity, and a color tone that bridges emotion with the environment. In a way, Spike Jonze is like Wes Anderson’s moodier, pensive brother who went the other way with the mindset of his movies; not only that but they look eerily similar. Her’s color palette and dry dialogue paints similar parallels to Wes Anderson, however, Spike Jonze drives the narrative into less of the whimsical side of life experiences and instead delves into the pedestrian matters of a particular individual. In a time where technology and communication probe into the psyche of the human experience, is it the solution to the problems that someone like Theodore has? The great thing about a movie like this with an open ended conclusion hands the reigns over to the audience. Was the experience beneficial to Theodore? Did he learn something about himself and how past actions dictate future results? Or was he merely a surrogate of the audience in reference to the growing technology in our lives?

Silence (2016) – The Swamp of Uncertainty

Martin Scorsese, the master of the finely tuned gangster flick; whether it is the mean streets or wall street, he goes taps into the audiences psyche; concocts frenetic scenarios with fast paced scenes that accentuate the presented narrative.

There are movies of his, which go outside his usual presentations (The Age of Innocence, Shutter Island, and Hugo), show the same finesse, style, and attention to detail that has grown with age. Silence, in its grandeur and beauty is reminiscent to Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s The Revenant. It is similar in being shot exclusively outside and takes advantage of the natural surroundings to provide visual aesthetics of authenticity. A time forgotten, when the light of the world, space, and torches dictated the movements and planning of the groups living in the shadow; whose faith and practices carry a heavy cross, forsaken by an isolation layered in depth.

Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), two Jesuit priests are sent to find Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson); they embark upon a journey to the land of the rising sun, which has built itself into an isolationist culture. It is made apparent that their presence is unwelcomed, that Japan has conflicting interests when it comes to western influences and the way it could divide the nation. The main samurai, Inoue (Issei Ogata), provides a point regarding language syntax and challenging the priests’ expectations converting the villages along Japan. That what Ferreira and the other priests had taught the villages was being translated from a literal sense (i.e. “Son” and “sun”). Rodrigues is reunited with Ferreira, who, looks unequivocally like Qui-Gon Jinn, further unwraps the words of Inoue; that Japan as a whole is not ready for the concept of Christianity, the analogy of Japan as a swamp is floated in the movie, meaning that the roots of Christianity cannot take hold due to Japan being as isolationist as it is; context and meaning is misconstrued to the point where Rodrigues and Garupe are seen as the saviors to the villages. They are tangible, the bridge between the word and the newfound Christian spirituality consumed by the villagers in search of something to alleviate them of their sins and misfortunes. The hierarchy of Japan realized the problems this could cause and decided to handle it in a curt and aggressive manner.

The main theme/narrative of the movie resonated with me in a sense of past experience. Rodrigues and Garupe are, in their collective experience, not doing anything wrong. They are not forcing faith onto the villagers, they are coming up to them to be absolved of their sins. However, the priests know that as long as they are there the people will be subjected to horrendous torture. The dynamic of thought, practice, and perspective is flipped around when Inoue asks Rodrigues, legitimately, what would Jesus do if he saw his followers being tortured in front of him? Inoue in a twist of perspective understands the initial message of Jesus, He would have sacrificed his pride and well-being over the pain and suffering of His followers. Is the message lessened when principle becomes the driving factor over sacrifice? The people who worshipped the Jesuits had a life that was not made better because of their faith, the foundation was not yet set to yield fruitful results of their sacrifice in such an environment. The Catholic Church had not yet reached the scope of influence that was necessary to carry out in a land such as Japan; the lack of fortified roots for the faith to take hold ended up besting the priests.

Overall, this somber, docile experience had enough drama and turmoil to keep the narrative interesting, with spectacular scenery that set a pristine atmosphere. However, one thing that bugged me about Silence was the payoff and ultimate lesson at the end of the movie. It was abrupt to a degree that took me out of the movie and questioned the point being made; was it worth it this whole time to live a life after committing the first part of it to a doctrine and faith that does not go away easily. Regardless, if you are looking for a movie to break up the cacophony of our current societal climate; to cleanse your palette of the outrage that multiplies daily, Silence, is deserved.

Top 5 “Meh” Movies of 2016

  • Batman: The Killing Joke – M’kay, I’ll get this out-of-the-way now: what was the deal with the love story between Bruce and Barbara?? That space is normally etched out for someone like Nightwing – Dick Grayson. The flow of the movie was, slower than normal when it comes to the area of animated Batman movies, I know for a fact I have seen paint dry faster. The transition from that to the main story halted the narrative flow, and had me flabbergasted during viewing. The main Joker story was, serviceable, and it was pristine to hear Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy back in the studio, donning the figurative cowl and make up respectively. What bugged me the most about this was the lack of, pop; the sense of urgency that was overflowing in the Alan Moore written graphic novel that further fleshed out one of the many Joker’s back stories that had Batman laughing uncontrollably when it was over. Skip this one and move straight onto Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader, which sees the return of Adam West and Burt Ward in a reincarnation of the sixties television show.
  • Jason Bourne – By the numbers, that is what this series has been reduced to after exploding onto the action movie scene in 2002 with an updated format of the spy genre, yet remaining pedestrian to a degree that Matt Damon had to essentially start from the ground up when it came to rediscovering himself. By the fifth movie, fourth in the Damon driven series, the plot has become convoluted to the point of parody; rehashing old elements of once dynamic set pieces. Jason Bourne, once again, is looking for a piece of the puzzle that is beyond his reach, and must trek across Europe and the United States in order to discover the missing piece as to why he ended up the way he did. There, that is the plot in a nutshell, I would recommend seeing London Has Fallen, a less serious, politically incorrect sequel to Olympus Has Fallen that takes itself less seriously to the point of parody.
  • Independence Day: Resurgence – This was a slog, an alien invasion movie with a ridiculously high budget could not get me excited on Spectre levels of “meh.” The plot is reduced to its base level down to a chore, the charisma and urgency of the main characters did not seduce my interest, at all. Not even the off-keel, quirky charms of Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner was enough to wrangle my emotions to care about what happened to baby-Thor, not-Will Smith, and…her? Although I will admit it was pretty sweet to see how the world adapted to the boom of technology provided after the first alien invasion. Twenty years later, after hearing Bill Pullman’s patriotic speech, they decide to take another crack at Earth; this time, they bring twice the firepower. Humanity scrapes and endures, listing lazily to the left and boom! We end with a major cliffhanger that implies a sequel will be coming. Instead, go out and rent/purchase 10 Cloverfield Lane to satisfy that sci-fi itch.
  • Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Zack, what happened? Sooner or later, this Frank Miller-lite schtick cannot be the driving aesthetic and narrative of the DC Universe. Enough of the insipid, angst ridden, lizard brain level motivations of Batman and Superman. The complexity to their actions stripped down to vengeance and power lessens the emotional return on two characters with rich tapestries. And Lex Luthor? That was some Jim Carrey – Batman Forever type shenanigans that looked like it was trying to be a counterbalance to all the gloom and doom, but instead felt jarring to the overall narrative. I mean, it is fine if he is insane or unhinged to a degree in which fits with the rest of the tone; however, the silly-boy wunderkind archetype would have been perfect for something along the lines of Deadpool. Aside from the tonal issues, it falls into the trappings of X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider Man 3: too many characters being pushed into frame with too little development for the audience to form any kind of emotional connection. Civil War, on the other hand, is a fine example of strained relationships and strife among superheroes who want to accomplish the same global goals, but struggle with the HOW of execution.
  • Suicide Squad – My favorite thing about this movie was Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, specifically whenever he is in a shot in the movie he always has a beer. It is never explained why he has a beer, where he gets the beer, or is mentioned by any other member of the squad. It was a superb visual gag that added some levity to the honest to god clustercuss the rest of the movie displayed. The hot topic, Burton-lite, “tee-hee we are so edgy” aesthetic presented as the end product was dismal, to put it lightly. Enough! This aesthetic is played out, the fine line between innovative and campy was crossed years ago, around the time of Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland. I was in high school when the ‘scene/emo’ trend was a thing; Warner Brothers, Zack Snyder, it is over. This is not the mid to late 2000’s anymore, times have changed, attitudes are different, we as an audience are not interested in the dark, gritty tone if it is used in a slap dash way. Having the trailer company take the reins in editing the final product lessened the emotional payoff of what could have been a movie with a darker tone that fits with the characters and their respective back story. If you are looking for a movie that enlists the help of a ragtag team of rebels, Rogue One did it better, and has a place in the lore of its respective universe.