Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Review: Ocean’s 8

I kept meaning to watch the Ocean’s franchise, and then either something would annoy me within the first few minutes or I’d get distracted and blah. The fact it was an almost entirely male cast probably factored into this, since at this point of my life, I am highly reluctant to invest in male-centric franchises, I don’t care how much I love George Clooney. But Ocean’s 8 is an all female main cast, they didn’t cast the Bitch Who Shall Not Be Named (as I shall refer to the actress who got given the opportunity to PROVE A POINT and to fight for representation and turned it into a fat joke), and while it was in theaters, I was in desperate need of a distraction. So I went. And while it makes my heart heavy to remember what happened that night, I can’t regret getting to see a good movie out of it.

A heist comedy, Ocean’s 8 centers around Debbie Ocean (the late [or better be] Danny Ocean’s sister) as she is released from prison, and falls back into the family business. Her plans are ambitious, her old partner Lou is ride or die though with a touch of emotional concern, and Debbie has spent years making sure everything will work as long as the right people are in the right places at the right time. And without the help of a single man…aside as a fall guy, that is. And she has the perfect one in mind. A diverse cast makes up Debbie and Lou’s contacts and newcomers to their types of games, and in the end, revenge is served best cold as ice.

So the movie starts off in a very subtle way that I think is supremely powerful. It shows exactly how experienced Debbie is at these types of cons, and how she takes control of any situation she is. It proves to us that this Mastermind has the skills to back up her plan. Now cue the character meetings and setting up the bare bones of the heist. Each character, in their handful of scenes, had plenty of time to establish their situations, their personalities, and their own goals, as well as their skill sets. Were some of the backgrounds hokey? Yes, but it wasn’t just the ethnic characters. I mean, how hokey is a stay at home mom who is a fence? The Indian character dealing with a mother being pushy about marriage seems hokey to us because it’s a common trope, but it’s also a common trope because it is important to their culture and the character played with it a little at least.

We also started to establish some back story for Debbie and Lou without it being some giant info dump, it was relevant to the job. There are also plenty of secrets still remaining for the women to dive into later. The heist itself was amusing, with just enough tension to keep the story moving (no spoilers!). I was trying to figure out where the ending was going and where a missing piece went, so the end reveal to me was actually pretty satisfying, even if it was predictable. (It’s a heist comedy, I don’t go in expecting to be super-duper surprised, here.)

With any kind of ensemble cast, you always have to juggle your balls in the air carefully to make sure nothing goes horrible wrong or static. This is especially difficult with an already established franchise, depending on how tightly you want to link back to it. Now, the writers did a very smart thing for Ocean’s 8. They divorced themselves almost entirely from the main group, splintering off after a sister of a main character, and building up around here with a deliberate focus, and then they kept the numbers down. So rather than trying to expand or grow a character, they got to focus the entire movie on these different personalities shifting to slot together as a team, so no one character had to be the end-all-be-all, or worse, all of them having to grow to prevent comparisons. The weakest ones to my memory are Constance and Nine-Ball, but I think both have room to grow and develop further. I also liked how two of the characters weren’t the type we normally expect for their actresses.

Helena Bonham Carter has been pretty type cast to Belletrix and Tim Burton type characters, so getting to see her in an almost bubbly (if frail) and ditzy character was a very welcome change. And I love how Anne Hathaway’s character was trying to sell the image of who we know Anne to be, but actually was a much stronger, more assertive personality type, not to mention much smarter than initially expected by the team. Now with sequels, theycan build on this core group or add or take away, depending on the job. Personally, I hope they tie in with some of the women from the main franchise.

The setting is harder to comment on due to it being set in the real world, but I did like the different shots they used, and I thought Nine-Ball’s comments on the headquarters really was cool commentary on heist clichés. Why are they always set in old abandoned warehouses? I know, out of the way and lots of room, but still, points to the hacker that the cyber security for those places is usually awful. I also loved the different styles of gala dresses that they did for the Met scenes, and actually during the movie, I had a thought. Based on Sandra Bullock’s line about her dress being old, I thought they’d actually had the actresses pull old dresses that they had previously worn to events. Bullock has been blonde before, pulling from her wardrobe at that time would make sense to me, and I thought it was a cool touch about one-time-only dresses and getting a chance to wear them again. (Ya’ll can imagine my vivid disappointment when I found out I was wrong, I was heartbroken. It was such a good idea!!!) I did like how celebrities were there playing themselves except for our main cast, and it really helped add a touch of viewing a world that we normally only get to see on television.

This movie out of all the franchise has gotten a lot of ragging for being unoriginal or lacking in tension. And I’m just really confused. After the first Ocean’s movie, we all know the formula, there is no shocker to be had her. It’s the same as the old book serials–you know Holmes is going to solve the case, you know these set people are involved. The fun isn’t in the conclusion, it’s in getting there, like that missing piece I was hanging on to. (And I started slapping Aubrey’s shoulder over…I’m a violent movie buddy, ya’ll.) It’s about enjoying eight smart women getting to be eight smart women and getting one over a male dominated world. And even if it glorifies thieves and unethical characters… I’m okay with that, because at least it shows that we can do anything we set our minds to, a message that girls and women don’t get enough of, especially in today’s political climate. To quote Debbie, “Somewhere out there is an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. Do this for her.”

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Review: MCU Up to Infinity War (Part 3)

Here we go, the last one! Last time, we touched on Phase 2 and the first of Phase 3, and the last of the sequels that aren’t part of the Avengers. Now to finish what’s left of Phase 3. Starting with the same base I started with last time: This is not the place for an in-depth, full out review of every movie. This is, however, where it seems to be the best place for me to pause and give some of my thoughts and feelings towards the series as the whole. Admittedly as part of a series, I have a lot of movies to get through! It will be somewhat character-focused, because as someone who wants to be entertained, I am highly dependent on the characters, it’s just a fact. And I hate the Guardians, so this is NOT the place for GG talk, you 80’s babies, I’m sorry. But I will try to otherwise be fair!

Civil War tore our team into pieces. Following any one of the pieces would lead to problems, as it wouldn’t be fair to the other and give unnecessary biases. So the next movie went completely separate from them, picking up a new hero: Dr. Strange. Now, Stephen Strange can go one of two ways. He can be too much like Tony, so cue lots of repetitive nonsense, and now we’ve got a new style of magic involved, one that is–by nature of the comic source–Asian in influence, and with him being white, this can cause problems. The studio…actually made it worse by casting most of the major “good” characters as white. This hung like a shadow over the film, tainting what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable movie. Strange is a jerk like Tony, but he’s less of an idiot than him, so it’s more watch this self-absorbed man being forced to care about someone outside of himself rather than taking responsibility for his lax behavior.

That being said, I love how they made his magic so different from Thor’s and Loki’s, or even Wanda’s powers, and it really adds layers to the powers of this world. At times, the environments seemed very much like Inception, which got kinda dizzy for me, but at the same time, it was cool. At least until the end when they turned into bad kindergarten drawings, but you know, only so much they could do. I felt the same way about Ant-Man when he just kept shrinking and shrinking, that sort of thing is just really hard to conceptualize.

…Ya’ll, I still haven’t seen Spider-Man: Homecoming. My usual streaming sources don’t have it because of how hard-core they are being about only certain services having it, my Contour doesn’t have it available to rent but only as a digital copy, and I’ll just be honest, I am waaay too Spidey-ed out to want to invest 25-30 bucks buying a movie I may not even like. This is sort of the pitfall they are going to run into with this character. I love watching him in the ensemble films, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to watch his solo films in theaters, and then if I don’t catch the super narrow window where I can rent it… I just don’t see it. But that being said, I’ve heard it was great, and whatever happened in it seems fairly contained. (There was apparently some Tony/Pepper drama that I missed, but it seems somewhat resolved by Infinity War, sooo relevance doesn’t seem high. Yet.)

So now we come to my least favorite of all the Avengers. I just have so many problems with Black Panther. He’s hardly ever written well, which is a problem shared with Thor, and probably how he got on to my dislike list. But then they just do things with his character that just…squick me out, like the betrothal aspect of the Dora (it’s a harem, ya’ll), and the way his relationship with Storm went down (which felt very….”these are two black characters from Africa, of course they should get married!” rather than anything I could invest in), and then his token goddess is BAST who is a predominantly FEMALE worship goddess… You can see why he started leaving a bad taste in my mouth. As did the fact that Wakonda had to be this huge-ass secret from the rest of the world, leaving the rest of Africa to carry on with a pretty huge economical burden, which I am not touching on in this review because that is a mess I don’t know all the details about.

Civil War gave us our first look at this character, and he was…surprisingly tolerable to me. I was very much on the fence, but because he was actually written well, and that fixed half of his problems, I gave the film a chance. And I’m honestly really glad I did. All the parts of his character that I hated got either removed or twisted to make so much more sense, and that includes the side characters and Wakonda as a whole (in fact, it was part of the major plot of the film). The women characters were built up, and allowed to do so much that I really wish it would carry over to the rest of the franchise. My only critique is I think it was released at the wrong time. I think we should have gotten Black Panther right after Civil War, or at least closer to it (like flipping it and Dr. Strange?) because Dr. Strange didn’t do a very serious death-fake-out, and while Black Panther did it, it was when trailers for Infinity War were already out with T’Challa yelling, “Get that man a shield!” Sorta…takes the wind out of their sails.

Whelp, last one. The first part of Infinity War. (Call the next Avengers movie untitled all you want, it is effectively Infinity War Part 2, I can see the elements that they pushed into this movie and Ant-Man and the Wasp to get around doing a two-parter.) I’m not sure what’s left to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. I mean, I’ll be honest, I was cringing my way through 80% of the Guardians and Thor, with the remaining 20% being the big fight scenes, Gamora and Thanos, and Thor at the forge. But I don’t like those Marvel movies, so those sections weren’t for me. The rest of the movie was meant for the people like me, who came for the snarky, action movies.

I loved the dynamic between Wanda and the Vision, as well as with Rhodey and trying to bridge the gap between Steve’s team and the U.S. government. Steve coming in and taking charge filled us with relief, and Tony, Dr. Strange, and Peter Parker working together was a barrel of fun (especially the Aliens joke). The ending conflicts filled me with terror and heartbreak, and it was such a brave choice, I applaud them for it. I think Peter Quill was an idiot…but Peter is always an emotional idiot, so I’m not sure why people are shocked by it. I found the lack of Hawkeye until the end credit scene as a name drop to be a cop-out, though, and… I have strong feelings about Black Widow in this movie, but that’s going to have to be another blog post where I dissect some of the female agents of SHIELD. They barely nodded at this reunion between Natasha and Bruce, which was mildly infuriating. I also feel like this movie made Thor: Ragnorak completely pointless, and that just seems like a waste of everyone’s time.

Now as the last of Phase 3 wraps up, the MCU is at it’s big turning point. Most of the original Avengers cast wants out, due to either wanting to work on other projects or wanting away from iconic characters that are now typecasting what type of movies they can get work for or just an age thing, in addition to some of these characters’ just wrapping up what limited plot was available for them in the initial set-up. The plan (or so I’ve been told) is for Captain Marvel to be the new “center” of the MCU, and that’s…daring. Not because of a female anchor, I am all for that, but because of Carol Danvers. I love Carol, but she has two modes depending on who writes her–she’s either just as awesome as Steve, or she’s a self-righteous bitch. There is no in-between. So either everything is going to keep going on, full-steam ahead, or it’s going to fall apart.

For now, all we can do is wait and see.


Review: MCU Up to Infinity War (Part 2)

Alright, we are going to TRY and keep this from becoming a three parter. Last time, we touched on Phase 1, as well as most (and I emphasize most) of the sequels to those films. Now we’re on to the rest of the series, so lots of ground to cover. Starting with the same base I started with last time: This is not the place for an in-depth, full out review of every movie. This is, however, where it seems to be the best place for me to pause and give some of my thoughts and feelings towards the series as the whole. Admittedly as part of a series, I have a lot of movies to get through! It will be somewhat character-focused, because as someone who wants to be entertained, I am highly dependent on the characters, it’s just a fact. And I hate the Guardians, so this is NOT the place for GG talk, you 80’s babies, I’m sorry. But I will try to otherwise be fair!

We’ll just skip Iron Man 3 and Thor: Dark World, I already gave my impressions of those, though I will add a mention that at this point, those two franchises were starting to show their weak points. Not past the point of redeeming, but fraying. We were still lacking in strong female heroes, and we were relying purely on the momentum of the first Avengers movie to get our way to the next arc. And then we got Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Ya’ll. Black Widow and Agent 13 live!

Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes are a joy to watch, there is no doubt about that. But we finally got introduced to two fairly powerful female agents: Sharon Carter in her debut, and she was minor but fun, and then Natasha was finally able to escape her Every Woman shell. We got to see an actual personality to her, her sense of priorities which are wildly different compared to Steve’s and even Sharon’s, because this Natasha is first and foremost an assassin who now works for the good guys. Finally, Natasha could stand on her own. Add in the welcome dynamic between all the boys, and it was like a breath of fresh air.

And then Joss wrecked it. I told you all, I don’t like him anymore, and you are about to find out why. Short answer: Avengers: Age of Ultron. On the more minor, personal level, he confirmed the Ultimate Hawkeye route, which you all know that I am so hardcore on the Bobbi/Clint train, this is a betrayal of the highest order. But even if you push past all of that… This movie was a mess, and it had a lot of potential. Ultron was a great villian, and for all the obstacles of Pietro and Wanda due to them technically being X-Men, they did a great job in-story of modifying them. Pietro’s death even hit me hard!

But it was so much just throwing one-liners at each other, some of them working and some of them not, and with massive plot holes. I guess they just relied on people watching all the side shows and everything else for some of the small things? But I barely kept up with any of it at this point besides knowing some of it existing, so I felt like I was constantly missing something. And Black Widow, who had just come out of Winter Soldier as a better character…was the love interest? And a kinda shitty one at that. (Traci called this, I was shocked that my canon ship somehow became the crack ship and her crack ship became canon. Still am.) This movie felt like a pretty big step backwards for me.

Ant-Man did not help matters. It felt like trying to combine Iron Man and Thor, so not only was I getting the “My main protagonist is an idiot, ugh,” issues, but also second-hand embarrassment like I got from the other. Add in that I don’t like bugs, and yeah. This felt like a wash for me. Not even the fact that, for once, we weren’t focusing on a romantic interest as a reason to change but instead a family including a cute daughter, was enough to pull it back. I was crossing my fingers and praying for something to try and save this universe for me.

And as much as it broke my heart… Captain America: Civil War did it. There weren’t just a bunch of snappy one-liners going on, but an actual heart happening. And yeah. It hand-waved some hard set facts–such as the fact that there is no way the governments were able to create those Accords that fast–in order to make it work. That had to have been something waiting in the wings for years. But I bet that’s still waiting to be fully played out. I love the idea of these heroes trying to wrestle with their accountability. I loved how letter of the law versus spirit of the law had to be discussed, and like real life, no one was able to stay calm about it. And even when they are finally all on the same page again… Tony Stark dropped the sarcasm and the guilt and the need to be the smartest guy in the room to admit that he couldn’t let this go, because of his mother. It was raw emotion, and I left the movie wanting to cry.

Thank God, at this point, the MCU started to pick up again. But darn it all, I’m not going to be able to cover it all here. So I guess we are going to get a third part to this mess, so look out for that this weekend when I wrap up the rest of Phase 3, at least that’s been released.

…You know, this gives me time to finally watch Spiderman: Homecoming. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.


Review: MCU Up to Infinity War (Part 1)

This is not the place for an in-depth, full out review of every movie. This is, however, where it seems to be the best place for me to pause and give some of my thoughts and feelings towards the series as the whole. Admittedly as part of a series, I have a lot of movies to get through! It will be somewhat character-focused, because as someone who wants to be entertained, I am highly dependent on the characters, it’s just a fact. And I hate the Guardians, so this is NOT the place for GG talk, you 80’s babies, I’m sorry. But I will try to otherwise be fair!

Let’s go back to the beginning, ya’ll. The Hulk movies…were not the greatest start to this franchise. In fact, there were arguments that the first one isn’t even meant to be tied in with the series. I can see either way on this one, but you gotta admit, this was the early foundations for trying to figure out which way to approach the MCU. It is hard for me to have an opinion on these, they are so fragmented from the rest and the characters just aren’t consistent all across. I vaguely remember enjoying the second one with Ed Norton at least a little, and I wish we hadn’t lost all of it when he left. There were some shards there of something that could have been cool.

But the definite marked beginning of what we know as the MCU was with Iron Man. It was literally all we could ask for out of a Marvel movie. And it helped prove that if you film it and make it good, they will come! And honestly, I didn’t mind Iron Man 2 as much as other people seem to, in fact aside from addressing PTSD, I actually think Iron Man 3 is the weakest of the films. Tony is an idiot, this is a well established fact. I do think they’ve done an excellent job of trying to not only modernize it, because let’s be honest, Iron Man needed some serious help to appear like something of the current century, but also helping with some of the culturally insensitive areas. I do think there are issues with it going so hard-core to the Middle East and portraying them as an enemy, but it also tried to cushion that at least a little. Do I think it was enough? No. Also, Tony is still an idiot, and I cringe my way through some of his moments. But he is so brilliant and so much fun, I can’t help waiting for the next part.

I went into the MCU with two least-favorite Avengers. And Thor was the second-least-favorite, so his movie coming next was definitely my make-or-break with the series. Again, I’m the opposite of normal people. Most people don’t like how serious the first two Thor movies are, and the last one is usually the hand-over-fist favorite. I’m the other way around. Thor and Thor: Dark World were amazing in my opinion. I laughed without feeling like I was dealing with a big blonde idiot with the power of a god, though sometimes I still had second-hand embarrassment issues. And then the third movie was one giant second-hand embarrassment issue at times. Thor has gone the way of the goofy doof from the first two movies, and this brings me great personal pain.

Mostly, the Thor movies provided me with my favorite side-characters. Like so many girls my age, I love Loki, if only because of what crazy amount of character they’ve given him. But I also love Sif, who represents so much to me personally, and feel like she got gipped. (I understand, Jamie Alexander moved on and has a tricky schedule for filming, still not helping!) And of course, for a short scene, we got the premier of my favorite Avenger of all under normal circumstances: Hawkeye. There is a story about the three of us sitting on a sofa, because like hell was I going through this pain fest on my own if the movie was bad, Aubrey was trying to defend herself from Tsuki who was still young and ornery at the time. And we see Barton get the bow. And I lost it. Much to the confusion of Traci and Aubrey, who had no idea who Hawkeye was. We had to pause and rewind.

Captain America remains Aubrey’s favorite of the films to my knowledge, and you know, I can see why. This was almost the perfect movie. (Howard was a little annoying and not enough women, but otherwise, perfect movie.) And while I went in with this boot-laced, stick up his butt image of Steve Rogers in my head, Chris Evans really helped me relate to this figure from comic book history so much better. He’s part of why I was able to feel such outrage during the Hydra snafu that happened a couple years ago (that I’m still mad about), because I now care about this character and I am invested. Chris really helped a lot of people who wouldn’t normally be able to get into comics find something to connect to…and he has a lot of fun, and you can tell. I’m going to miss him. (I’ll get to the sequels further on in this conversation.)

Now we hit the first Avengers movie. Back then, I still liked Joss Whedon…my change of heart will become apparent as we go. But we got to bring all these strong characters together, which means interactions and conflicts as different priorities mix. It soft reset Hulk which I think is for the best because Mark Ruffalo has done some great things with Bruce Banner that have helped modernize him and he has some great chemistry with the rest of the cast. He really brings the sense of humanity to the Hulk that makes him less ridiculous of a character. It brought in some of these side characters we’ve gotten glimpses or short interactions with to help show that hey, us normal people had things handled. We got to see this team come together…and we loved every second of it. I cheered, I wanted to put Tony and Steve in a get-along shirt, I snorted in laughter, it was a great film.

And yet, this is also where some of the big, glaring holes in the MCU started showing. The only female of the original core group called the Avengers is Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, which puts the character in a sucky spot that she’s been in the comics for years too. She has to be not only Every Woman, but Every Spy, Every Assassin… They share the last one a little with Hawkeye this time, but now we have a new problem. This is where the costume reflected the decision right away that we were going Ultimate Hawkeye. And that’s a tricky spot to be in considering what happens with him, not to mention that aside from some stuff at the end, we didn’t get to see any of Clint’s personality due to the story construction, so Hawkeye fans (including Jeremy Renner, if I understand correctly) were vastly disappointed, and female fans continued to feel under represented.

Whether or not those holes will be addressed… Well, look out for Part 2.


Review: Love Never Dies

This is joining, “She Slays Monsters,” as a sort of weird review, but I’m been obsessing, so here we go. Note I’ve listened to the original cast recording, and watched the Australian production, soooo. I have opinions.

Love Never Dies picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. Still alive, Eric has relocated to Coney Island with Madame Giry and Meg, running a carnival/side show titled Phantasma. But he is unable to forget Christine, and when opportunity comes, he brings her to his new home. But both Eric and Christine have a secret they are carrying that will change the lives of Madame Giry, Meg, Raoul, and Christine’s son, Gustav. Things aren’t quite settled yet, and Christine will have to chose again…and face the consequences.

People have very strong feelings about Phantom. Some can’t tolerate even the first five minutes of this musical. And you know, I see their point when I listen to the original arrangement. It dragged, badly, with tons of chorus numbers, it made Madame Giry into a monster, confirming that Eric is too violent to deserve a happy ending, and it kept spoiling the ending! Even if people can stand Phantom (and some can’t compared to the book), the sequel tends to give them hives.

That being said, Love Never Dies was rearranged at one point, easing the plot issues, and it also helped make Eric more approachable. Are there still holes? Oh yeah, plus new ones. They cut out important information, such as that Eric has been helping Meg learn to sing (which explains why she is not just dancing anymore), and it emphasized how she was trying to get the Phantom’s attention at her mother’s urging. The production I watched also didn’t have Meg dancing enough, so that was a bad casting call I think, since the character is a trained ballet dancer and would retain at least some skill. Overall though, the restructuring of the musical made it something that those who love the musical of Phantom can appreciate too. Even the original writers and composers agreed that it was better, so proof that editing is important!

The setting of Coney Island was…both fitting and weird? It’s a very obvious place for Eric to hide, in a side show and carnival type setting. It’s somewhere he is familiar with from his childhood and he can blend in there easily. Madame Giry and Meg are the oddballs as far as fitting there, and it takes a lot of plot wrangling to get Christine and Raoul there for the meeting of all the players. That being said, I can’t think of anywhere else this could be set, so by process of elimination, it must be the best place for it. I felt like the music at least helped with the contrast, the songs Meg sang, particular “Bathing Beauty,” what Madame called vaudeville trash in the original and made me snort in laughter, helped contrast with Christine’s opera, showing just how far they’d fallen/shifted around.

Oh, characters. I feel like Raoul pulled a 180, and whether or not it makes sense…sort depends on your experience with the prequel. I had to watch it a couple of times and THINK about it, and realized that what happened was a disillusionment. Raoul believed himself in love with Christine (when he was just infatuated), believed himself to be this big hero (because he was the society favorite between him and Eric), and even won in the end…only to realize he didn’t love her, he wasn’t ever going to be as important as Christine, and so he forced himself to keep winning. Christine, in return, finds herself in a trap of her own making. She went with the society choice, especially considering how intense and violent Eric can be, only to have it all fall apart underneath her and she’s trying desperately to keep it all together.

Eric of course is the defeated villain, but rather than focusing on revenge, he still wants his original goal–Christine. Madame Giry is trying to recoup what she has lost by manipulating her daughter, and Meg… Meg fell for it and can no longer stand herself, so she wants Eric to rescue her like she thinks he rescued Christine from being another girl in the chorus, not realizing Christine’s talent and heart aren’t something that can be learned. It  makes the ending very bittersweet for everyone. As for new characters, the trio of “barkers” makes less sense in the rearrangement than it did in the original, and overall Gustav is very bland, but considering the fact he’s ten, I am betting there is some limitation there.

So what about the plot? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, not a lot of surprises. Even when you cut the spoiler-ridden stuff out of the original scripts, you figure out a lot of it before it happens. I do like the conflict that is shown between Raoul and Eric, and how it shows how time has affected these characters–Raoul is still trying to be the hero and is aggressive in stance and words, but Eric is more willing to let his words fight rather than physically engage until it is defensive. And Meg’s little bit before Christine performs really helps highlight how defeated she is. The ending drags though, even when cut. I honestly think it still needed work to pare it down.

Overall, I think this musical can be watched. Do you have to watch and make sure what version is being performed? Oh yeah. But if it’s the Australian rearrangement, I highly recommend at least trying it if you liked Phantom of the Opera as a musical. It is entertaining, and if nothing else, as a writer it’s a good example of what editing can do to change how a story is presented.


Review: Descendants 2

Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’m still determined to keep reviewing this movie series (I’m…ignoring the animated shorts unless forced). I was pretty hyped for this movie, especially as the actors kept saying how great it was turning out. And I see what they were talking about! I’m just…not as sure I agree?

Descendants 2 takes place months after the first film, with Mal and Ben firmly in a relationship…and very much in the public eye. When Mal suffers from anxiety over the level of pressure, there’s an inevitable fight that leads Mal to assume that she has made a mistake, returning to the Isle. Unfortunately, she and the other villain kids left some enemies behind when they turned good, and they will take any opportunity for revenge. The other VKs will have to convince Mal to return, and learn that they are both from the Isle, and from Auradon, and they can’t just abandon either side.

In a lot of ways, I can see why the cast and crew were so sure the sequel was a stronger movie. The story was much tighter this time, with a constant sense of suspense and the character reasoning was apparent to the audience. It was also not afraid to make fun of itself and the cliches of fairy tales, such as true love’s kiss. I was really excited by the show of growth in Mal’s powers, and I hope that is continued to be played with. Auradon seems determined to shove all the magic out, which is annoying, but Mal’s magic keeps asserting itself, so I’m hoping that will end.

New character wise, I feel like we’re beginning to drown in them. I’m not getting enough to be invested in all of the characters, and it forces the old characters to stay in their little story-boxes rather than having a chance to keep up the arcs that were started in the first film. In particular, while Carlos got more of a show this time and Evie got a little bit too, it was very much a focus on the new characters, Mal, and Ben. If the third film is going to introduce even more to the line-up, some cuts are going to have to be made. It took three viewings for me to catch that Lumiere was even present in the film, besides being a name drop early on, which while admittedly more of a nod than anything, is very telling to me.

Appearances, the bedrooms took a change again, which if you count the animated series for sake of argument, that means there have been three different looks to these bedrooms. Consistency apparently means nothing. (I have a feeling that because they are using this one castle that gets used for everything as their primary shooting location for the school, it’s made things extra difficult.) The costumes were great, and I like that there was a character reason for the Mal hair changes, which in trailers had me going, “WTF?” There were some cool details to the costuming, though, and unlike some of the outfits from the original film, these all seemed to be more in-line with each character. (Okay, some of it was still awful to look at, but that’s teen fashion in general sometimes.)

I think where I ended up disappointed the most was with the music. Some of it was great, things that continued the type of music from the first movie. Those, I was happy with. But much like the random Broadway music that had me going, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE,” this time it was the hip hop. I did okay with the battle-song between the two groups, Uma’s group and the VKs…barely. Uma’s villain song on its own though just made me cringe. I guess they were trying to make use of the talents they had available, but it just didn’t work for me. Of course, my dislike of most hip hop is a well-known fact, so unless it really makes sense or is done in such a way that it works (like Hamilton, I will admit), then I would rather it stay out of my stuff.

The ending was full of sequel bait. Uma’s little repeat of the, “You didn’t think that was the end of the story, did you?” line, Dizzy getting invited to the school, Evie having a list of similar kids who deserved a second chance. This could go really well for the franchise…or rather poorly. It sort of depends on what direction they keep going with it. If they cut down the characters and stick to a little more consistency in terms of sound, I think it will continue to be the success that it has been. The characters are good, the actors are good, the story is finally where it needs to be. Hopefully, it won’t backslide in the third movie.


Review: Underworld Blood Wars

Coming back to my werewolf/vampire staple with the latest entry into the franchise. This one felt like it finally bridged the gap between the first two and the fourth movie, giving me what I always look for as far as twists to the plot that I don’t see coming, while at the same time feeding into my expectations.

Underworld Blood Wars takes place an unspecified time after the end of Awakening. Selene is still on the run from Lycans and the vampire covens alike, as the Lycans continue to want possession of her daughter Eve, and the vampires want vengeance for the death of the previous Elders. For safety, Selene is not even aware of where her daughter is, to her own personal pain, and she even separates from David until forced to rely on his help. However, a new leader among the Lycans, Marius, is threatening even the limited safety of the remaining covens. A tentative alliance is struck…and then broken as truths come to light that may be the key to the future for the vampires.

Starting with the story, I felt like this was a good balance between the run-and-fight-when-cornered feelings and the direct battle confrontations that we’ve seen in all of the previous films. I also found that the backstabbing and flip-flop alliances returned, which always makes me happy since it gives a lot of potential for surprises depending on character (which I’ll get to). But we didn’t loose the depth of feelings that are always so subtle in these movies, which is more my cup of tea than anything. Selene still feels lost as a mother and especially without Michael, we have some closure at least with Michael to my eternal relief, David’s conflict between his duty to his bloodline and his feelings about Selene are told more in the silence and between the lines than straight out which is great. Even the reveal at the end with Eve, that she was stubborn and ignored her mother’s orders, makes me sooo happy.

I do feel like the world building is getting bloated at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the delving into Amelia’s backstory in this film, because I feel like Amelia has always gotten short-changed. Even the Nordic coven itself didn’t necessarily upset me, because it just makes sense that there was one group of pacifists in a war like this on one side. It was the way they decided to give Selene a power boost in this film, this idea of “going beyond” and hibernating under the ice… It was just weird and not explained well, vague mostly to keep from having to explain how it worked. There are better ways to give the character a bit of a boost to be able to work around a stronger enemy. Similarly, it felt like the nerfed Selene when convenient for the plot, and then made her this demi-goddess when needed. Consistency is important! They are also raising the gore factor in the films higher than I am necessarily comfortable with. The series has always been high on gore and gross, but this one nearly made me gag in the theater.

Character-wise, you have two groups: the veterans from previous films, and the new ones. I’ll start with the veterans. We didn’t see much of Eve or Michael, but in the case of the latter, he also got nerfed for the sake of plot. I’m happy about the plot being resolved, but honesty demands I point it out. Selene finally seems to be finding her groove again after being frozen and finding out that she has a kid. We saw some of the in control, Death Dealer and natural leader, that we have always known her as, but when she let that mask down a little, we also saw the hurt woman that she was. David grew a little bit from angry, whiny Luke-Skywalker-type into a leader in his own right for the majority of the film. What bit of angsting there was…was completely understandable. It reflected the growth that was going on with two other characters, his father Thomas and the deceased Amelia, who had a chance to actual show bits and pieces of who they are under the cranky people they usually come across as.

New characters…oye, there were a lot, like there always are. I like that we had two types of female characters–both schemers, one is the politician and one is the spy-soldier, and then the wise warrior. Most of the female characters had massive agency in this film, and were either using male minions or working in a partnership. I like it. Meanwhile, the males sort of suffered a little from a lack of depth being shown. They were either good soldier-boys for the coven, or they were the biker-reject soldiers for the Lycans. The main two of these camps, Varga and Marius…eh. They were pretty much one note the entire way through. And Varga, I had slight issues with…if only because I’ve seen Bradley James as two characters so firmly in my head, I had a very hard time breaking him out of them (King Arthur, and he’s our fan-cast for Scorpius Malfoy).

As a note of wicked story/character glee of mine–The new Elders are a flip from the previous ones. While the first set were Marcus, Viktor, and Amelia, the new group is Selene, David, and the new character introduced, Lena. David is the youngest, and is almost the blood-tie nod, which is usually a role reserved for a female character. Lena and Selene have centuries of experience on him, and we know from the way David has acted that when push comes to shove, he’ll defer to Selene. It still feels more like a balance of equals than the last three had, but I just love that two of the three are now female badasses.

Underworld is probably always going to be a movie that tugs at my geek strings. It has all the things I love in films (okay, and some things that I don’t necessarily like, but can tolerate in the name of getting everything else). They are, supposedly, already working on more for the series, and if it follows in the vein of Blood Wars, I am going to be just as eagerly waiting for it. Just…lay off the super vague world building.


Review: Justice League-The Flashpoint Paradox

There are two animated movie versions of the Justice League making the rounds, and you can tell them apart by animation styles and who is voicing Batman. One of them has touched on an alternate reality plot line that caught my interest on YouTube, and I just had to watch it.

The Flashpoint Paradox centers around the Flash–Barry Allen–as he is hit hard with the loss of his mother on his birthday. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself in a different timeline where she lives. Not only that, but Gotham is not the city he remembers. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, but instead his father Thomas. It seems like it wouldn’t be half bad, except there are other ripple effects. The Amazons and Atlantis are at war. There’s no Superman, and Cyborg works for the government. It’s a mess, and Barry needs to get back to his own time to make sure this doesn’t happen there. But there’s a trick to it, and it’s going to make him realize how important his own actions in his world are.

So, if you didn’t catch it, the whole Thomas Wayne as Batman was the thing that caught my attention. It was a very different Batman, and one that was sort of weird for me to adjust to. Yet it was very fascinating to see how the change, of Bruce dying instead of his parents, led to his father taking up the same mantel that his son would have. And then to counter that, we have a very different Joker. I do wish we had gotten to see Martha Wayne as the Joker in full rather than the little scene that showed who she was going to become after losing Bruce. I’d rather have that confrontation than the little fight with Yo-Yo. But the differences between Thomas and Bruce were cool to see and surprise Barry with, and I was all tearful at the end with what happened there too between them.

I also thought the war was very poorly explained. I mean, I followed along with it, but there was a certain level of random involved too. It also seemed really contradictory to Wonder Woman’s and Arthur’s characters as we know them. I mean, half the point of the Amazons living on their island is they are no longer going to be involved in the world of Man, and suddenly they are conquering Europe? And Atlantis was supposed to be a secret, even from the Amazons, so that even further makes no sense. And as for the affair? Just…ewww. This is probably something that the comics had the time to explain well, but the movie didn’t and it was rushed as a result.

Character-wise, there was a lot to cover and very little time to do it. It left a lot of things feeling rushed, as they try to show what this world did to all the characters but struggled to keep the story going at a good pace. Thomas, Cyborg, and Flash were the ones who really got the chance to show who they were. Everyone else was cardboard flat, and we could have done less with them. It might have involved restructuring or changing the comic book story, but since there was a time issue, focus was obviously desperately needed. Or maybe even dividing the movie into two parts, though that would make selling it more difficult. Either way, something was needed. I also felt like the reason why Flash couldn’t enter the speed force was pretty obvious as far as the source of the differences, despite them trying to cover it up and explain it as something else.

There was one thing that was shown well, and that was the world-building. Even if it was bloated with characters, the differences in the time streams were both obvious and organic. Chains of events led to the differences, a rippling effect of one thing being off. I like that when they went to save Superman, he was the buff farmboy we were expecting but a scared young man who was under developed due to lack of time outside of his containment. Batman was older and it showed, as was the amusing way they went with what happened to the Wayne fortune. Again, the war was poorly explained, but the effects it had on the world were well shown, even down to Cyborg’s enhancements. I get why they wanted to show everything, because it is all very interesting to look at and see what small changes can cause.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and it actually helped me appreciate the Flash more. He has never been my favorite DC hero (which admittedly, I deal with Wally West more than Barry), but this helped me appreciate him a little more. It also added a new layer to my love of all things Batman, which really didn’t need the feeding.


Review: Barbie Movies

Specifically, I am talking about what are referred to as Season 2 through 4 of Barbie movies on Wikipedia (I wasn’t born when Season 1 happened).

This may seem like something ridiculous for me to be watching as an adult, but believe it or not there are a lot of us who grew up with Barbie who enjoy watching the films if only to see what they’ve gone done did now. And to be honest, the evolution itself is pretty entertaining, and I like where it is going. For direct-to-home movies, the animation is never that bad for the time periods it is being produced in, and honestly I feel like while some of the story elements are goofy, the movies show how the brand is continuing to grow and try to not only appeal to girls, but help them find their voices and confidence.

The second “season” of films show their age the most–these films started coming out in 2001, when CGI animation was still figuring itself out. It did however set the tone as different from the prior two films by being in a different style. Most of these early movies, done from 2001-2009, were based either off of fairy tales or ballets, with a few originals thrown in that matched the theming of the mystical and fantasy elements. Even if the stories themselves are familiar, the writers didn’t approach them the same way and really worked to give the Barbie character agency rather than being the end goal like most fairy tale heroines are.

Examples include Rapunzel, where rather than always staying in the castle, she finds her way in and out of the tower on her own. One of the original stories, The Magic of Pegasus, has a princess go out to rescue her sister, herself, and other princesses. If anything the boy who comes along serves the role girls usually are relegated to–the practical one who only serves to help the hero. Even the rendition of The Three Musketeers works hard to show that these girls can be feminine and powerful at the same time. (Okay, I am a sucker for war fans, what can I say?)

The third season (2010-2015) is where they started reaching out to modern stories as well, almost entirely original with some being in fairy tale settings but with modern elements. This is where they really had fun with what they could come up with. While some sort of irked me for being rather shallow, such as A Fairy Secret, I did like this idea of there being a greater world that they were playing with in some of the films and others I thought really played around with traditional roles and made them fresher. The Pearl Princess was amusing with the fact that the main character used her love of dress up to find a good job that would suit her, and the traditional dork character was a hero in his own right.

There was also more variation in Barbie’s personality depending on the movie. She had definitive flaws, skills, and overall wasn’t nearly as grating as normal. For example, Kristen from The Pink Shoes was a talented dancer…she just couldn’t stick to the choreography, a flightiness to her personality rather than there being something necessarily wrong with other people’s opinions. While the end result is Kristen still getting to be a star ballerina, it isn’t for a traditional role with traditional choreography she would have to learn, but rather an original production that she would have a voice in. Similarly, Alexa in The Secret Door is shy and lacks confidence in herself. The movie is about helping her find out that she can do what her duties require of her as a princess, without calling her wrong for feeling shy sometimes.

The new fourth season (2016-Present) hasn’t had much going on so far, but it’s showing that they are going even farther out of their comfort zone (to my approval) and into some elements that really need more girl representation. It’s a fact that when it comes to things like space adventures, spy thrillers, and even video games, that male characters are usually the hero, and the girls are either the goal or they are the damsel in distress still. Even Bond Girls aren’t considered as good at their job as the male leads. But the Barbie movies are taking what they did with season two and applying them to these genres. In particular, I loved Starlight Adventures for what it was–middle-aged power hungry man had to get smacked down by a young woman who had this thing called environmental conscientiousness and morals. One of the upcoming movies is also centered around video games, which I am all for.

If you think Barbie movies are for little girls only, you are sadly mistaken. They aren’t too bad to watch on a lark on your own, nothing worse than a Disney movie, except these have the emphasis on girl-power where it belongs. The animation is increasing in quality as they go, and the stories are amusing. Give them a shot before you completely write them off, since there are plenty to choose from.


Review: Fast 8

Sometimes, I just want to veg out when I watch a movie. Lots of explosions, funny dialogue, great fight scenes, and I’m happy. (Ginny and I are best friends for a reason, ya’ll.) Extra bonus points? If Vin Diesel is in it. I have an embarrassing crush on his geeky butt, so if I get to watch him in any capacity, I am happy. The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of the ones where I get all of that, so of course it’s one of my favorites to watch, to the point I’ll even pay ridiculous theater ticket pricing to see it. (Of course, when I sat down to watch Fast 8: Fate of the Furious, I belatedly discovered that I somehow MISSED FAST 7, but I blame grief for Paul.)

Summary (non spoiler, but you best be warned there are some ahead): Things seemed to be looking up for Dom Toretto. He’s on his honeymoon with the girl he thought he lost, no one is after him, things are finally calm. Except they really, really aren’t. Secrets are coming out into the open, including the mysterious Cypher who has a personal stake in Dom’s happiness…or lack thereof. Dom is going to have to work against his team, the clock, and any doubts he may have about who he is in order to get out of this mess. But the rewards just might be worth it.

Okay, so one thing I love about Vin is how versitile he is, and this movie shows some of it. Dom has always been the mastermind in the group, and the big dog who isn’t afraid of joking around with his teammates. But this time, we get to see some of the doubt, and some of the anger, that Dom carries with him. This movie hints at some of the earlier comments earlier in the movie that had been left behind as the gang grew up, about living for the speed and the street racing. The concept of family has always been important to Dom, but this movie really hammers home where his priorities are. I loved seeing this different side of the character, seeing Vin really show his acting chops, and providing a solid contrast to some of the other characters.

Dwayne Johnson’s character, Hobb, got to show something beyond big and scary this movie. While they seriously hammed up his strength in some awesome ways, he’s less stiff and more amusing to watch now that he’s transitioned from being an enemy to being a babysitter on a job, to finally being part of the team. But really, the Brits were the best part of this movie and they completely stole the show. I won’t tattle on who belongs to who and what they do… But they steal the show and they are utterly priceless. I was in hysterics the entire time. I also liked a character who got introduced as I think the replacement for Brian’s character, especially since Hobbs has never been as by-the-book on legals and such as he was. Brian brought the cop-component to the team, understanding how that worked. Hobb is military and it shows. The new character seems to be bringing that cop element back to the team, provided he sticks around.

Sadly, there was a character who I didn’t approve of how they used her. Let it be known, I am NOT on team Lettie. I felt like she should have stayed dead, or taken on a sister-role when she did come back. The chemistry between her and Dom has never been there for me, especially compared to Elena who I felt fit him better, and who I loved as a character too. The route they take with her makes sense in some ways, because I can see her sacrificing her own happiness for Dom’s and the rest was just waiting for the best timing, but… I know why they killed her. It wasn’t even because it made the most sense story wise, because there was no reason to keep her alive for as long as they did only to kill her as a reaction. It was the writers trying to cut off a loose end because of people like me who hated the way they went and wanted to hold on to hope that Elena and Dom would end up back together. To the writers, Lettie and Dom is the way it is always going to be, and they wanted to be clear about it. Ugh. (BTW, George Lucas did this to shut the Luke/Leia shippers up too.)

Story and world building wise…the movie excels at ignoring the laws of physics and how things work, but it also knows how to laugh at itself about it. Tanks and orange sports cars, the ways you can blow up your engine and smoke your tires, and hacking car computers to make a zombie march… all of it is completely ridiculous, but it helps make for a fun movie as you wait for the next surprise. It keeps one-upping itself in terms of what is going to show up next, and I keep waiting for them to run out of them. (So far, they haven’t, but I haven’t heard of a Fast 9 yet either.) I do feel like the cast is getting a bit bloated. I love the characters, but it’s getting increasingly hard to focus on them in a story without relying heavily on the previous movies to know who they all are.

You don’t watch an action movie for its complex story telling or its plot twists. Most of the time, you know where the story is going and who is going to win in the end. You go for the characters, and for the sheer joy and excitement it gives you. So leave your logic at a door, and head off to see the snarky family love that is Fate of the Furious.