Glass Review

At last, M. Night Shyamalan’s dramatic conclusion to his superhero trilogy, Glass, has arrived. And while I was dissatisfied with Split, I had good faith that Glass would turn out significantly better.

Glass brings superhero David Dunn (known as The Overseer and played by Bruce Willis) to a final confrontation with the villains Kevin Crumb (The Beast played by James McAvoy) and Elijah Price (Mr. Glass played by Sam Jackson). All three are locked inside a mental hospital run by psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who specializes in those with delusions of grandeur. Staple is determined to show these men that their powers aren’t all that special, but a nefarious plot by Mr. Glass awaits just below the surface, ready to show the world his true potential.

Glass first comes out of the gate swingin’, continuing this story in an interesting direction that instantly hooked me. We get some strong storytelling elements mixed with some suspenseful scenes that really stood out as remarkable.

Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst very quickly.

For about an hour Glass just treads water, bringing the plot and characters to a complete standstill. It’s when our leads arrive to the mental hospital, where the film becomes fixated on what I’d argue is the overarching message of Glass, “Are these guys really superheroes, or is it all in their heads?” The thing is, we already know these characters are extraordinary because we’ve already seen Split and Unbreakable, therefore we know exactly how this will play out. But it doesn’t matter anyways, because the resolve to this theme is non-existent. The great “aha” moment is summed up in Bruce Willis kicking down a door. What a waste of valuable screen time.

Ultimately Glass displays some of the most fundamental flaws with Shyamalan’s filmmaking style and camerawork. The movie is plagued with awkward close-ups, scenes that go nowhere, and pretentiously boring camera angles that make Glass visually difficult to watch. Some of the upside-down shots and camera pans are so bizarre and unnecessary that some will call it artistically bold, but I call it bologna.

The acting often came off as wooden and emotionless from majority of the cast, Anya Taylor-Joy and Spencer Treat Clark were particularly unpleasant. James McAvoy and Sam Jackson stood out as the only noteworthy performances, but maybe they were a little too convincing. As you’ll recall from Split, McAvoy’s character was often goofy and hard to take seriously because of his multiple personalities. This often clashes with the tone of the film, which attempts to take the subject matter gravely serious. Dramatic scenes are frequently undercut by McAvoy acting like a nine-year-old and hacking up a lung, completely throwing the tone of the film off. Am I supposed to be laughing? Scared? Emotional? Shyamalan sure doesn’t know.

The climax between The Overseer and the Beast/Mr. Glass, what all this was supposedly building up to, was dead on arrival. There’s no satisfying battle or showdown, and any real action is marred by the terrible camerawork. Everybody kind of just stands around with their hands in their pockets, and again nothing of worth is accomplished.

And then, there’s the twist. A classic Shyamalan twist ending that’s bound to frustrate those who enjoyed the film up until that point. But for those of us who were already disappointed and bored out of our minds, the twist was merely the last straw. A plot move that irreparably damaged any worthwhile story elements the audience could take away.

I don’t really know what Glass was trying to accomplish, and I don’t really know if it succeeded in this or not. What I do know is just how slow, underwhelming, and anticlimactic it all was. Anyone who says this is Shyamalan’s return to form is misleading you. I can’t stress it enough, Shyamalan has talent, and his greatest works (Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense) are no accident. To my disappointment, Glass was one his accidents. A movie that set out to intrigue and excite the audience but ended up having the opposite effect.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

Bumblebee Review: A Solid B!

I, like many, found the Michael Bay Transformers movies increasingly unbearable to watch. The first film started out as a so-so guilty pleasure.  The second dropped off completely and was boring and racist. The rest were history.

As fate would have it, another Transformers movie was produced less than a year after The Last Knight; a film that would act as a prequel to Bay’s entire franchise, titled Bumblebee. In actuality this film would go on to bear no resemblance to any of Michael Bay’s films, but it didn’t matter. The collective public groaned and rolled their eyes at the thought of another Transformers movie. They were already on a downward spiral in quality, with The Last Knight being an incoherent mess. How could Bumblebee be any better?

In a shocking twist of events, it can be better! Much better, actually.

Bumblebee takes the basic premise of the first Transformers movie, and shaves away all the fat that makes the plot bloated and boring. There’re bad robots (called Decepticons) chasing down the last of the good robots (called Autobots), who seek to regroup to retake their home planet Cybertron. One of the good robots (nicknamed Bumblebee) goes into hiding on Earth and eventually befriends an awkward, angsty kid named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). Together they build a unique friendship and cause mischief. It thankfully doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

From the minute the film starts, it’s evident that Bumblebee is doing its best to emulate the 80’s Transformers cartoon it’s originally based on. We’re immediately visually assaulted by an interplanetary war of robots, all of whom are fighting, shooting, calling for backup, the works. There’s little introduction to who, what, when, where, and why; and yet I found it easy to identify who was good and who was bad, just like any good kids show from the 80’s.

In the same vein I feel that these characters are easily identifiable with young kids/teens. Hailee Steinfeld is a likable actress who plays the part well, and Bumblebee’s antics play off her more temperamental personality in an amusing way.

And Bumblebee doesn’t just look like the Transformers show, because its style and feel are also similar. You can’t go five minutes without being reminded: This is a totally 80’s movie. Chock full of references to Elvis Costello, the Grenada conflict, and Ronald Reagan, Bumblebee lays on the pop culture quite heavily. The soundtrack is laced with songs from groups ranging from Tears for Fears to The Smiths, mostly songs that really exemplified the era.

Bumblebee goes so overboard in its 1980’s allusions that one can assume it was purposeful. The thought process being, make it so dated and cheesy that it inherently becomes charming. And for the most part, this method works! I found myself laughing a lot at the ridiculous teen stereotypes and cultural fads of the time (Remember Alf!).

It’s a shame that Bumblebee is even associated with the other Transformers films, because it’s really its own thing entirely. I’ve heard Bumblebee compared to The Iron Giant, which is a slight overexaggeration, but I think that mindset is on the right path.

Bumblebee is big blockbuster family fun with lots of adventure, action, and just a pinch of cleverness. Bumblebee‘s the kind of film you wish came out mid-summer and not in the middle of winter.

Yes, they play it safe in more ways than one (not to mention the numerous gaffs and other issues), but I found this excusable when looking at the broader scope of what this film is trying to accomplish. That is, making an entertaining Transformers movie that’s a little more thoughtful and faithful to the original show than previous attempts. That makes Bumblebee alright in my book.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Welcome to Marwen Review: The Most Disappointing Movie of 2018

There was no film in 2018 I anticipated more than Welcome to Marwen. Based on a true story, Welcome to Marwen tells the story of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), an artist who suffers from PTSD after being assaulted by a group of Neo-Nazis. Having lost his memory and ability to draw from the attack, he now lives out his life through a fictional village he created in his backyard called Marwen. Marwen, a mock WWII-era Belgian village, serves as a place for Mark to project his life experiences. This includes the many women of Marwen, who protect Mark’s fictional version of himself Captain Hogie from the occupying Nazis.

As Mark must soon face the reality of his torment, he uses Marwen and his characters to help cope, for better or worse.

To my utter amazement, Welcome to Marwen turned out to be one of the least compelling, boring, and melodramatic films I’ve seen in a while. How could a film with such a unique and heartfelt premise be such a box office bomb? Well, I’ll tell you.

For starters, Welcome to Marwen attempts to overexplain and describe the story instead of showing it. Exposition is lazily shoved in the audience’s face in the form of monologues, obvious dialogue, and even old photographs in Mark’s/Steve Carell’s scrapbooks. Several characters practically look at the screen and address the audience as they nonchalantly deliver exposition. Because of this we don’t get to fully experience a lot of pivotal events in the life of Mark which makes it harder to relate to him. The whole film is building up to a courtroom confrontation between Mark and his bigoted assailants, and what was meant to be a satisfying conclusion was rushed and left me feeling discontent.

All this overexplaining leads a lot of the symbolism in the movie, which is sprinkled throughout the entire picture, to feel on the nose and rather pointless to the viewer. Overlying themes of courage, addiction, and accepting those who are different beat you over the head so hard you’ll have to check for bruises when you leave the theater.

Welcome to Marwen’s plot was sappy and often confused in what emotions they wanted the audience to feel. Dramatically sad moments are undercut by awkwardly humorous ones. Scenes meant to evoke panic or fear have hammy acting and include inappropriate music swelling. The best example of this is when Kurt (the ex-boyfriend of Mark’s neighbor Nicol) mistakes him as a Nazi sympathizer and proceeds to harass him. The scene was intended to be suspenseful, but everything from the hokey acting to the soundtrack made it unintentionally funny.

And at the center of this mess is a story worth telling, and an actor/ director combo that should’ve been a match made in heaven. Carell has done some great dramatic work (The Big Short and Foxcatcher) and Zemeckis has made many iconic American movies (like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump).

Sadly, Welcome to Marwen is a testament to what happens when filmmakers get lazy and indulge in excesses. Having your drama movie be too whimsical and sentimental makes it sappy and far-fetched. Too much exposition leads the audience to not care about the characters. And too much forced symbolism mixed with melodramatic acting makes a mockery of the inspiring story the film is based on.

If you want a condensed, captivating version of Welcome to Marwen that gets the point across without being too overdramatic, just go watch the trailer. This was without a doubt the most disappointing film of 2018.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

It seems like Sony Animation has been on a losing streak for several years now. After releasing several films I would describe as mediocre (Hotel Transylvania 3) and critical failures (The Emoji Movie), they were due for a hit. That being said, I don’t think anyone could’ve accurately guessed just how stunning and wonderful Sony’s next film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, would be. All the right writers, voice actors, and animators melded together to make one adventurous, beautifully animated movie.

We begin with our protagonist Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), your typical kid caught in an awkward stage of life, forced into a new school system by his stern, police officer father Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry). Miles’ life changes forever when he is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him heightened senses and a whole host of new “spider-like” abilities. Soon after he meets the web-slinger himself Spider-Man (Chris Pine), who inspires Miles to follow in his footsteps.

And after a strange twist of events (all involving interdimensional travel), Miles meets several other Spider-Men from other universes. Including the likes of Spider-Man Noir (a black and white Spider-Man from the 1930s voiced by Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker (an anime take on Spider-Man voiced by Kimiko Glenn), and Gwen Stacey, a.k.a. Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld). Together they must work to stop the evil doomsday plot of Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who wants to open a portal to another dimension.

The art direction of Spider-Verse gives the illusion of being like an animated comic book. Full of onscreen onomatopoeias, text bubbles, and unique scene transitions. Objects in the background (and anything else not in focus) have this slight blurred discoloration, like what an old 3-D movie might look like if you took off your glasses. It can be quite hard to describe something as visually trippy and detailed as this, and it’s best understood from just viewing the movie. Let’s just say the creators of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse skillfully tested the boundaries of imagination through animation.

The depiction of Miles Morales as Spider-Man is one I quite enjoyed, as he embodied the image of the coming-of-age teen. He’s awkward, flawed, and the kind of individual a lot of fans could really connect to. Really, Miles stands out a lot from the other major depictions of Spider-Man in film, and he’s probably my favorite among them.

I’ve also noticed the superhero genre become more self-aware as time goes on. To remain fresh and relevant, movies like Deadpool and Spider-Verse flip the superhero genre on its head and directly address the ridiculousness and predictability of these films. Spider-Verse knows we’re sick and tired of origin stories, doomsday weapons, and predictable villains; actively satirizing all these clichés in a variety of clever in-jokes.

Here, Peter Parker constantly makes jokes pointing out overused villain dialogue like “You have 24 hours…”, as well as the lack of serious threat bad guys pose because the superhero always saves the day anyways. It’s all similar to what Scream did for the horror genre in the 90’s, it cleverly subverted the formula by directly satirizing the stereotypes. It’s fascinating to see movies like Spider-Verse broach this topic, and the nonchalant way they go about it is laugh out loud hilarious as well as poignant.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is jam-packed with so many characters, plot lines, and backstories that it’s kind of overwhelming. Kind of like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, except actually good. Rarely do I say this, but I think this film could stand to be a bit longer. Flesh these people out even more and give us even better backstories to characters like Kingpin and Aaron Davis (Spider-Man’s uncle voiced by Mahershala Ali). I would’ve also liked to see more of the alternate universe Spider-Men/Women. They each had such unique personalities (given to them by their respective voice actors) that really deserved more screen time.

Overall, Spider-Verse was super character-driven, with enough raw energy and good humor to drive the plot towards one visually trippy, mind-boggling climax. A satisfying ending, to one helluva movie. The film ends with a commemorative quote from Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man) that perfectly embodies the message of Spider-Verse. It reads as follows:

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed, without a doubt, a real superhero,”

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Ralph Breaks the Internet Review

If there were ever a film I was cautiously optimistic about watching, it’d be Ralph Breaks the Internet. As a huge fan of Wreck-it-Ralph, hearing that there would be a direct sequel was exciting. I mean, the potential is limitless with this kind of flick. But when I heard the plot would focus on current internet trends, my heart skipped a beat. All I could think about was the abominable movie that came out just the previous year, The Emoji Movie. Surely Disney wouldn’t make the same mistake as Sony, right? Right?

Taking place several years after the events of the first Wreck-it-Ralph, we see that all is relatively good in the gaming world for our likable heroes Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). That is, until one day a part breaks on Vanellope’s video game Sugar Rush, causing the arcade owner to unplug it. This leaves many without homes and causes Vanellope to question her place in the pixelated world of the arcade. To fix this mess, she and Ralph decide to travel to the vast, sometimes overwhelming world of the internet, where they hope to order her game a new part on eBay and save the day. Coming across many unique characters and situations in the process.

Making a movie about internet culture is practically a death sentence for your longevity as a film. Make the wrong joke about a fly-by-night app or defunct social media platform, and your movie is suddenly labeled as “dated”. Destined to be either hated or forgotten. Take a look at the most extreme case of this, The Emoji Movie. An embodiment of everything wrong with the internet and social media, it’s become one of the most hated movies of recent years.

It’s no surprise that initially Ralph Breaks the Internet was giving off bad Emoji Movie vibes, as both plots essentially deal with the same topic. Thankfully Ralph handles the topic of internet culture with much more grace, humor, and creativity. All things Wreck-it-Ralph fans are sure to respect in this installment. The visualization of eBay, pop-up ads, and the Google search engine are quite cutesy, and viewers are sure to get a kick out of imagination that went behind them.

This isn’t to say there weren’t references that were DOA, dated on arrival. Numerous jokes simply didn’t work because, as the film itself so bluntly puts it, that was trending fifteen seconds ago. Unless you’re still obsessed with screaming goats, hot pepper challenges, and Fortnite dances, you’ll probably find some of this humor a tad out of touch.

Early on there is a clear side plot established featuring Fix-it Felix Jr. and Calhoun that is immediately abandoned. In fact, we don’t see those characters again until the end of the movie. Not that the film needed a story involving these old side characters, I just found it odd that they teased the audience with a plot thread they had no intention of sticking to.

Regardless of dumped side stories, the true focus of Ralph Breaks the Internet is on the budding (yet soon to be strained) friendship of Ralph and Vanellope. We’re given a lot of great moments between the two, which really fleshes out the characters beyond what was seen in the first movie. Both voice actors bring a lot of well-defined personality to the roles, and the unlikely pair have so much chemistry together it’s kind of mind-boggling to think about.

There’s also a clear message worked in about friends keeping close despite growing apart and having different goals to achieve in life. It’s touching and a little complex, but easy enough to understand for young kids.

And I think that’s where the real strength of Ralph Breaks the Internet lies. Not in the trendy jokes or many callbacks to Disney products, but in the fascinating people that inhabit this very thought out world. Ralph doesn’t rely on past characters and environments to prop up its new story, as we get a whole host of new ones in their place. The film hardly even has a villain per se. The most villainous act in the movie is actually carried out by one of the protagonists, how interesting.

Even with some plot flubs and cringe-filled humor, I feel that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a genuinely solid sequel to a wonderfully imaginative family movie.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Grinch Review

Special Order 937 from Illumination Entertainment’s upper management:

“Priority one. Ensure return of cash profit. All creativity secondary. Audience expendable.”

If that Alien reference was to crass or obscure for you, let me clarify. I’m catching on to Illumination Entertainment’s (the makers of Despicable Me, Sing, etc.) business model of putting financial gain before creativity and filmmaking passion. They actively strive to meet the animation industries bare minimum requirements for a passable mainstream picture. The character models and backgrounds they use are cheaply rendered and don’t have a lot of detail, all to save a quick buck. Their stories are average and likely to go for cheap sentimentality to appear emotional and deep.

Case and point, The Grinch.

I’m sure you know the plot to this classic Dr. Seuss story. It takes place in the town of Whoville, inhabited by a group of jolly people that love the Christmas season. Yes, everyone loves Christmas, all except for the mean old Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) who lives atop a mountain with his pet dog Max. Harboring a hatred for all things Christmas, The Grinch devises a plan to steal Christmas by thieving the Who’s holiday gifts and possessions.

A fun, stylish children’s book that rejects consumerism and materialism around Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! becomes a little more relevant with every passing year. This 2018 interpretation of The Grinch doesn’t take much of a stance on anything, and its reason for existing is questionable. Nothing added is new to the story and therefore is quite predictable and bland. It’s the cinematic equivalent to a rice cake. You eat it because it’s filling and not too unhealthy, but it’s still bland and not very tasty.

The Grinch himself isn’t very “grinchy”. He’s more just a slightly irritable jerk than the ultimate antithesis to Christmas joy. Less mean-spirited, more goofball. Heck, The Grinch smiles more than probably every other incarnation of The Grinch put together. I think Illumination did this so that his character would appeal more to young children, but in the Chuck Jones animated version The Grinch looks menacing, and kids love that TV special. And to top it all off, they had Benedict Cumberbatch voice him, which really baffled me. They thought, “Hey, Cumberbatch is a big star that audiences like, have him voice The Grinch!” The problem there is that he doesn’t fit the character well, completely wasting his acting ability.

It’s tragic because there’s some decent voice acting from very talented actors throughout The Grinch, including Cumberbatch. Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, and even Pharrell Williams (who provides the narration) lended their voices for the film. It’s too bad their roles in The Grinch didn’t allow them to utilize their unique acting abilities. All except maybe Kenan, who really gets to be vocally expressive in his role as an obnoxiously jolly individual.

Overall, I believe young children and parents may enjoy the bright colors and “in your face” slapstick humor, but the reality is that this film had so much potential to be something more. Illumination has the talent, money, and resources to pull off something exciting, something magical that is truly memorable for all the right reasons. But with films like The Grinch they play it safe, making a film that’s so sanitized and cautious that there isn’t a truly new idea in sight. And sooner or later their shortcuts are going to reflect in their box office revenue.

I’m fully aware that studio films must be made with a financial profit in mind. Period. But with animation companies like Disney, Laika and DreamWorks there’s at least some give and take with money vs creativity. They take some gambles and put their all into making something people won’t only want to see, but something they can come back to years later and still enjoy. Bottom line, a clear artistic vision is always present with these studios, even if the film isn’t very good. I still go back and watch movies like Coraline, Beauty and the Beast, and Shrek 2. Unfortunately, I can’t see myself going back to view Illumination’s The Grinch ever again.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

 

 

 

 

The Old Man & the Gun Review

Some men rob banks just for the heck of it. Because the thrill of the chase is just too pleasing and satisfying to pass on. At least, that was the mindset of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a bank robber and escape artist known for escaping prison more than a dozen times. Tucker was recognized as the guy who commits armed robbery in the kindest and most respectful of ways, all while having a smile on his face.

Depicted here are the later years of Tucker’s life, after he meets a rancher named Jewel (Sissy Spacek) who quickly becomes his love interest. While balancing between his love and criminal lives, he discovers a detective named John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is hot on his trail. And Tucker isn’t far from being caught again.

It’s a quaint little movie, and it peacefully tells its story without the flashiness of other bank heist features. There aren’t any shootouts or elaborate theft plots, just a quiet and well-meaning story told in a compelling and ambient way. In fact, we cleverly never even see Tucker draw a gun on someone, an interesting display of the strong screenwriting.

Robert Redford as Tucker is a genuine actor at the top of his game, and dare I say he overshadows the great performances of Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck. Every word that leaves his mouth is charming, and it’s hard to believe this sincere old man is a lawbreaker and prison escapee. Yet, even with this knowledge we attach ourselves to and sympathize with Tucker.

At the center of The Old Man & the Gun is a vaguely uplifting tale about aging, and where people derive satisfaction from life. Forrest Tucker continues to steal money to feel alive, perhaps not fully happy living under the normal circumstances of an aging man. John Hunt, the detective tasked with bringing Tucker down, is in the middle of a midlife crisis. A crisis only cured by his desire to discover and capture the elusive criminal. Not a lot is shared in terms of the philosophy of life, but I think the average viewer can take plenty meaning from it.

The Old Man & the Gun is most easily described as a boring movie that keeps you entertained. It sounds paradoxical, but just like the slow-moving individuals the film depicts, The Old Man & the Gun is doing everything other powerful dramas of our time do. Just, at a lot slower pace.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint