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Review: Baby Driver

Jun 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221653:43629:0[/embed] Baby DriverDirector: Edgar WrightRated: RRelease Date: June 28, 2017 Don't worry. Baby Driver isn't a musical in the traditional sense. It doesn't have characters breaking out in song and spiraling into wild, Busby Berkley style dance numbers (unless you count car chases as dance numbers). Instead, it features Baby (Ansel Elgort), an expert driver who is forced into being the driver on a series of heists by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Through a series of events, Baby tries to pull himself away from a life of crime while falling for Debora (Lily James), a charming waitress he meets at a diner. The plot itself is a little thin, but that's because it's not really the point. What Wright wants to do with this film is turn soundtrack into character; make a film that flows as well as its soundtrack. It's a bold effort, and it makes the soundtrack the leading star. It's an absolutely fantastic soundtrack that runs the gamut from classic rock to modern rap, each song cued up with the film's editing and action. The excuse is that Baby has tinnitus so he's always listening to music to get rid of the ringing. What that results in is car chases cued wonderfully to songs, entire scenes edited to the beat of whatever Baby is listening to, and a soundtrack that often informs the film more than anything else going on on screen. It also means that every character is defined by the music, every choice bent around what's playing. Even the dialog is often a diatribe on the meaning of music to people, and in that aspect the film is endlessly interesting. Wright's direction of the action is just as interesting. His shots and editing go beyond coherent, which is a base we shouldn't have to applaud, but will thanks to having just seen The Last Knight. He weaves together brilliant plot, music, and real driving into some masterful sequences. The first 20 minutes of this movie are an almost perfect execution of Wright's "car chase musical" idea form the opening beats featuring “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to the first moment that Baby's headphones sadly come off. Unfortunately, that marks a bit of a stumble for the film. The movie loses its thread a little bit once the full commitment to musical drops. Maybe it was impossible to really keep the entire film moving forward as a coherent whole while remaining faithful to the constant music (most musicals don't do that), but once the film ditches the idea to advance the plot it starts to lose some of its charm. There's still plenty of good to go around, and any time the film kicks back into car chase mode it picks the thread back up. But between these moments things get a little awkward. The movie still works, but it's disappointing it doesn't fully commit to its bold idea. Do not mistake a lack of fully successful execution with lack of quality. Part of the reason the film's inability to fully dive into its soundtrack-is-god style is so annoying is because what it's doing is so challenging and interesting, that when comes together it does it so well. This isn't some cheap gimmick like Suicide Squad tried to do. It's even a step up from Guardians of the Galaxy's use of soundtrack. It's a bold experiment in making music into a full blown character, and as an experiment it both works and fails. But man, when it works, like those first 20 minutes, it works so well.  I wish as much could be said for the story itself. While Baby and Deborah's story arc is pretty well flushed out, the rest of the characters lose a bit of push. This is especially true for Doc, who wavers between all out evil and a paternal gangster. With the focus on the music and action, the characters and their motivations get lost. The end of the film explodes into a bloody action flick that feels at odds with the almost charming tone of the rest of the film. Maybe this is a repudiation of the musical genre in general, and a wink at the soundtrack-as-character itself, but it feels almost like a cop-out. It's as if Wright realized he couldn't carry on his brilliant weaving of music and action so he just didn't. Baby Driver should be seen simply because it is such a bold and wonderful idea. It really does execute it well for most of the movie. That's why I kind of hate to say that it doesn't pull it off fully. That makes it sound like it has failed, but just trying to do this is a success. I'd rather have films that try something incredible and fall just a little short than ones that don't try at all.
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Fred Astaire meets Bullit
Edgar Wright is a director with a specific vision, and it's led him to make some of the most genre-bending films in the past decade, and some of the funniest. It's also led him to leave Ant-Man. How do you bounce back from so...

Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Jun 26 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221622:43616:0[/embed] War for the Planet of the ApesDirector: Matt ReevesRelease Date: July 14th, 2017Rated: PG-13 Years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still struggling with his role in the death of his former friend and rival Koba. With the apes retreating to the forest, the last remnants of humanity have taken a more aggressive approach (sparked by Koba's attack on them years prior) led by the militant extremist, Colonel (Woody Harrelson). When Colonel crosses the line and threatens his family, Caesar decides to travel across the states to hunt down the Colonel and get his revenge.  First things first, War is absolutely gorgeous. Somehow improving on the visuals found in the second film, War gives us flair like snowy fur, wet fur, and several visually distinct settings. This film can often be dark (both figuratively and literally), yet the lighting is kept at such a balance each motion captured ape is still distinct when sitting in caves or walking around during night scenes. And although we've seen it in action two films prior, the motion capture animation is still sublime. Serkis' Caesar is, with just cause, a standout above the rest as Caesar now more closely resembles the intelligent apes found in the 70s films. I personally miss the broken English he spoke in the previous film, but a Caesar without stilted dialogue allows Serkis to evolve the character with a more nuanced performance outside of physical acting.  Each film in this modern Apes trilogy has had its own distinct flavor. Rise has an undercurrent of dread, constantly inching its way toward the expected uprising, Dawn is a clash of violence and ideologies as the new status quo is established, and War is the methodical denouement in which the stage is set for the Planet of the Apes story everyone is familiar with. Because of this, unfortunately, this film has more of a pacing issue than the others. Essentially becoming a revenge thriller as Caesar morphs into an one-ape army, War sort of meanders through the second act until the thread for the final act reveals itself. This slower pace seems entirely intentional as Caesar's revenge arc lacks any satisfactory developments. But regardless of how this deliberately slower act reflects Caesar's core growth toward the end of the trilogy, and conveying Caesar's loss of hope and direction, I can't help but think a brisker pace would make the tone of the eventual ape escape less jarring. If all this talk of a slower, character intensive piece scares you away, no need to worry. I'm not going to go into depth about it here, but there's a extended prison break scene and it's probably the best thing in this entire trilogy. While War loses the grey morality of the previous two films as one side is a clear cut villain -- thus losing a bit of the nuance of the rest of the trilogy -- having a side to truly root for improves the trilogy overall. It's sort of freeing, actually. The tone of the film gets a more lighthearted spin once Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, pictured below) is introduced and the pacing problems of the second act melt away completely. The final third of the film is fun, has quite a bit of metaphorically intriguing imagery, and brings the trilogy to a close in a splendid way.  When all was said and done, I couldn't believe how this trilogy pulled it off. It's rare you'll get one well made reboot film, let alone an entire trilogy. The Apes trilogy has always been a sleeper hit these past few Summers, and because of the smaller attention, Matt Reeves was able to keep a steady vision for the final two films without much interference. War for the Planet of the Apes is a "blockbuster" in name only, and because of this was able to make the many brave choices it does. I mean, it's a film trilogy about monkey business which also includes death, hardship, disease, mediation between warring states, post-traumatic stress disorder, class struggles, and even some poop flinging for good measure.  I'm hard pressed to think of a better modern trilogy, or one that isn't one of the big five (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, and Back to the Future), that could measure up to this. War of the Planet of the Apes is the finest end to a trilogy I've seen in a long time. 
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Ape Escape
Combing through nostalgic culture has become the norm, and unfortunately, so have the middling resulting projects. Audiences have, sadly, come to expect reboots to suffer as studios struggle to re-capture what made something ...

Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting

Jun 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221623:43612:0[/embed] Day-Lewis' career has been full of memorable performances dating back into the 1980s. His breakthrough was 1989's My Left Foot, for which he won his first Academy Award. Day-Lewis would also win Oscars for his performances in There Will Be Blood and Lincoln; he received Best Actor nominations for In the Name of the Father and Gangs of New York. Day-Lewis will purportedly promote The Phantom Thread as the film gets closer to release. Perhaps more details will emerge then regarding this very sudden decision. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to rewatch The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Boxer. I'm going to need a lot of milkshakes. [via Variety]
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No more milkshakes
In totally unexpected news, Daniel Day-Lewis has decided to retire from acting. One of the finest actors of his generation, Day-Lewis' last onscreen role will be in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Phantom Thread, which comes out D...

Review: Cars 3

Jun 19 // Drew Stuart
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Here in my Car(s 3)
Pixar has made a name for itself these past few decades by delivering quality kids films that everyone can enjoy, regardless of age. Yet among those films, the Cars series is rarely included, and for good reason. The storytel...


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Seriously watch it right now
We got a brief look at Black Panther last night during game 4 of the NBA Finals and to sum it up, it looks amazing. Set in the technologically advanced but secluded African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther will tell the story...

Flixist Discusses: Is Wonder Woman a Great Movie or Just an Important One? [Part 2]

Jun 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221587:43586:0[/embed] Alec: As the guy who wrote Flixist’s review of Get Out, I understand a parallel there. We've talked in the past about how everything is political now. It's likely that it always has been, but it's much more widely recognized now than it used to be. To get off topic for a minute: Not a terribly long time ago, I was thinking about a hypothetical movie about racism vs one about sexism. One follows a member of the KKK, the other an MRA-esque pickup artist: which do we as a society see as more problematic? It's not the latter. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I'm certainly not the best person to list them, but this results in an interesting parallel to Black Panther (and Ryan Coogler in particular): Creed was, I learned upon entering the theater I saw it in, a “black” movie. The trailers leading up to it primarily featured Kevin Hart and Ice Cube in movies I had never seen trailers for. And it's offensively reductive to think of Creed (a movie I love) in those terms, but that is what Regal decided its audience would be. Racists may have been unhappy that the next Rocky focused on the experiences of a black man, but I don't think anyone who accepted that premise was concerned about Ryan Coogler. I think that, in a similar vein, the same man directing Black Panther is not necessarily controversial. And the backlash of a white director doing Black Panther would be more virulent than it was about, say, Paul Fieg directing the female-led Ghostbusters. There is an expectation, I think, that movies about black people will largely be made by black people. This leads into a whole host of other issues, but to get back to the actual discussion we're having: I don't see a woman analog. Movies about women are rarely made by women and, crucially, there is no expectation that they be. I think that’s why a woman directing Wonder Woman could even be in question. Of course she should, but… men tell women's stories all the time! So maybe she doesn't “need to”? It's an infuriating logic, but I can sorta see it (in a missing-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of way). And I realize now that I pretty much didn't respond to what you said… but I'd like to get your thoughts on this before going back to some of your other points (particularly about the younger generation and what this means for them, because I think that's crucial). Hubert: This is an interesting tangent, because we’re talking about the larger cultural idea concerning different people’s stories, who is telling their stories, expectations about those stories, and who gets to tell people’s stories. I think Wonder Woman would have a different sensibility if it was directed by a man; and Get Out would be different if it was directed by a white person. It goes beyond the individual style of a director and gets down to what these stories mean in terms of the identity of the director and the identities of the characters and the politics of the moment. After serving on the Cannes jury, Jessica Chastain stated publicly that the female characters in the movies she watched weren’t great. She was disturbed that they lacked depth and were such passive characters to the men around them; they weren’t representative of the women she knew in her own life. Chastain called for more women to tell stories on the big screen so the female characters had more dimension and agency. A lot of people still think of movies about women as “chick flicks”, but stories about women go beyond those dismissive labels. As more women direct movies and more stories are told about women, the idea of a movie about women or by women expands beyond a reductive niche. The same goes for films by and about people of color. The reason we’re having this whole conversation and probably will for a while is because the default sensibility in so many kinds of art is predominantly white and male.  That’s not to say that all movies about women should only be directed by women, or that all movies about people of color should only be directed by members of that ethnicity. But maybe some stories lend themselves to that type of consideration more than others. Like I think of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle from last year, which I didn’t like (I’m in the vast minority) despite a great Isabelle Huppert performance. It’s a movie about a woman who’s raped and how she processes the incident and reacts to it, but it’s directed by a man, with a screenplay by a man, adapted from a novel by a man. And it felt like it. I’m glad you mentioned the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. I think this comes back to the symbolic cultural dimension of films and how that informs a strong personal attachment to something. These days I think it’s just middling-to-okay, but lots of my friends rally around it. Part of that is a counterpoint to the over-the-top male-nerd rage over an all-female Ghostbusters remake. But beyond the rebuke of manchild gatekeeping, whenever the movie feels like a Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones comedy, it’s fun to watch because they’re doing their own thing and their personalities drive the story. Unfortunately, it’s a beat-for-beat remake of the original Ghostbusters. I feel like there’s a good-to-great movie trapped inside of a calculated, studio-mandated formula. And maybe someone other than Feig should have directed it. Though imagine the s**t-show if Feig was hired to direct Black Panther. Alec: It would be something to behold. Ultimately, we're talking about representation, and not just in the people on screen. Representation behind the scenes, allowing stories to be told by the people whose stories are actually being told. In certain circles, “representation” has developed a negative connotation -- something like tokenism -- but it’s a crucially important thing to have stories told about all kinds of people, and to have them told by the kinds of people who have a deep investment in those stories. It’s not just about who is on screen. Let’s be honest: a story about Wonder Woman means a lot less to someone who grew up wanting to be Superman. (That actually brings up a whole other discussion re: the fact that I don’t think anyone will grow up wanting to be Zack Snyder’s version of Superman) And here we return to this image of parents taking a photo of their daughter doing a Wonder Woman-y pose at the movie theater. That little girl is getting to see a badass woman starring in her own movie on the big screen for basically the first time ever. AND she gets to see that in a movie that refuses to sexualize one of the most attractive human beings to ever exist; nay, a movie that never even considers sexualizing her in the first place! It would be oh-so-easy to have all kinds of gratuitous fan service in this movie, given the generally sparse nature of her costume, but the film never calls attention to it. All of that unnecessary slow-mo in Wonder Woman may seem Snyder-esque, but it’s different in purpose: it’s always to call attention to the cool thing that’s being done and not the way the person doing it is dressed (an issue he has with his slow-motion (and regular-motion) portrayals of women). And I love that. I am ecstatic for that little girl, that she gets to grow up in a world where she has a movie that treats its badass woman protagonist as a badass protagonist first and a woman, well, first also but in, ya know, a positive way. I just wish I liked the movie itself more. Because I am celebrating all of these things that surround the movie and things that the movie does that are sort of abstracted from the actual quality of the movie itself. Sexualization of a character does not a make a movie inherently bad; it would make a Wonder Woman movie inherently problematic, but it is not a clear measure of the film’s quality. And when I think about the narrative foibles or the really-very-bad CGI, I just get sad, because I want to unequivocally shout from the heavens that this movie is a gamechanger not just culturally but as a piece of art (or, at the very least, entertainment). And it’s not; it’s just good. But when I put in all those caveats, I worry about diminishing the excitement of that little girl doing her pose. It’s not that she’d ever read a thing I said about it, but that the negativity of people like me could poison the well and take her excitement about this new awesome thing for her and crush it. I don’t want that to happen, and I don’t want to be that kind of person, that kind of guy. And so I don’t always know how to critique it, because it’s become inextricably linked from its own importance. Hubert: I think you can understand the joy or enthusiasm that the young girl has for Wonder Woman as a symbol even if you didn’t like Wonder Woman the movie as much as she did. The fact that you’re concerned about diminishing someone else’s enthusiasm for Wonder Woman safeguards you from being a total grump. You’re trying to avoid being a downer, which is a lot better than most people on the internet (says this guy on the internet). Instead, you’re saying, “You got that out of Wonder Woman? Awesome!” You acknowledge that it means something important to someone else, and you’re doing your best to understand that. To me, that’s the way around this whole sliding scale of quality question. Regardless of the movie itself, you can at least mutually understand its importance as this thing in the world. The movie is working as an empathy machine, and so is the conversation around the movie. Whenever I talk to friends about movies or books or any sort of art, I’m usually more interested in hearing what they think first before saying what I think. I want to share in their enthusiasm or passion for something, see where they’re coming from. We’ll disagree on some stuff, and what’s important to someone else may not have been something I was paying attention to when I was watching, but now I’m more aware of that concern. Generally it doesn’t matter if we agree on the quality of the work. It’s the conversation about this thing in common between us that matters; it’s about what new ideas we’ll have talking to each other about this thing in common. It’s interesting how you’re disappointed in Wonder Woman being merely good. As if being good wasn’t enough. But with some things, that so true! You want to experience that transformative, transcendent feeling. I’ve felt that same way about other movies, most recently with Your Name and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Both were so hyped up for me, but both just left me thinking, “That was all right.” I get why people love those movies on paper when I think of what happens in the abstract, but it just didn’t affect me in the same way. And that’s fine. This might be my inner Platonist talking, but the idea of something is always more perfect than its actual material manifestation. It might be the human tendency to conflate the idea of the thing with the actual thing when assessing quality, but if so, oh well. I guess all I can really say is that you should be happy for that girl at the movies, and don’t worry about spoiling her connection to Wonder Woman just because you didn’t like it as much. You’re conscious of what it means to her and to others. It’s not like you’re being a total asshole or questioning her intellect or trying to debate her about aesthetics. As long as you aren’t tweeting “Well, actually…” to a bunch of Wonder Woman fans on the internet or antagonizing people for not sharing your opinions, I think everyone will be fine. And yet sadly, that happens a lot since the internet is, at its worst, a solipsistic misanthropy machine. Alec: I don't remember which review it was (I've done too many at this point), but I once wrote passionately in defense of movies that are Just Good. Considering all of the dreck we have to deal with, being genuinely Good is a triumph, and I have never seen a Good movie that I felt was a waste of my time or a thing I regretted doing. Good is not fundamentally or inherently problematic. When Good becomes a problem (for me) is when other people rave about how Great, Amazing, Wonderful, etc. a thing is. It becomes impossible to celebrate a thing's Goodness when everyone else is celebrating Greatness. I want to be able to say, "Ya know, Wonder Woman was pretty good. It had its flaws, but it it's definitely a few steps above anything the DCEU has done up to this point." Instead, I end up arguing, because there are people who reject the idea that it is anything short of a triumph. And while on some level I see where they're coming from, I also don't think they're looking at the film critically; they're getting swept up into it. And that's not necessarily to say that people who like the movie more than me are wrong (storytelling impacts different people very differently, which is largely the reason why we do these discussions in the first place) but that I get concerned that people write off flaws and the next movie that could be Great learning from the mistakes of the thing that is Good repeats them instead. I'd rather live in a world where every movie is Good than one where it has fallen into constant mediocrity. Even so, I want movies better than Wonder Woman. This can be the new bar we set, but it's also hardly an impossible one to overcome.  Wonder Woman is the beginning of something great; I just don't think it's great in and of itself.
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Racism, sexism, etc.
We're back with the second (and final) part of our Wonder Woman discussion, where we get into much, um, headier(?) topics than we did yesterday. Hubert continues to use big words, and I continue to make broad statements that ...

Flixist Discusses: Is Wonder Woman a Great Movie or Just an Important One? [Part 1]

Jun 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221013:43185:0[/embed] Alec: Before we really get into the issue at hand, I want to establish my DC cred (or lack thereof). I liked Man of Steel and thought Batman v Superman was bad but worth seeing in IMAX and that the Director’s Cut was actually decent, if still infuriatingly stupid. Also, Suicide Squad was awful. My first introduction to Wonder Woman as a character came in Batman v Superman and I came into this knowing pretty much nothing about her. If this movie changes her up (as I imagine it does), I couldn't tell you how. Crucially, I also don't care. I think that, by this point, the modern DCEU has staked out its underlying theme: Do heroes have a place in the world? While Marvel films seem more-or-less content to have them around in some capacity, DC questions their existence (in that sense, it has more in common with Fox’s Marvel films than Disney's). Do I think it succeeds? Not really, at least most of the time, but I do think it's a more interesting question than Marvel's. Prior to getting into the specific merits of Wonder Woman, its place in DC’s canon, and -- perhaps most crucially -- its place in American culture in 2017, I wanted to get your opinion on the DCEU and also whether you agree with my assessment of the story it’s trying (and often failing) to tell. Hubert: I agree that the DCEU movies ask what place heroes have in the world. That’s the crux of Man of Steel (which I didn’t care for), and the film has a pretty dark, non-committal answer to the question. Rather than a moral beacon, the Superman in Man of Steel is unsure of his purpose and constantly wrestles with self-doubt. After saving a bus full of drowning children, Clark’s dad isn’t proud that his son did the right thing. He essentially says, “Maybe you should have let those kids die to protect yourself.” That’s one effed-up moral compass, Pa Kent--you standing near a magnet? And then Pa Kent commits suicide by tornado in front of his wife and kid to prove a point. Jesus, Jonathan, how messed up was your dad? So Superman is this glum hero who seems burdened by his need to do the right thing rather than fueled by it. Meanwhile, Batman is a homicidal psychopath who’s really into CrossFit. That’s not my preferred iteration of the character. It’s pretty striking that the Batman and Superman of the DCEU are these really damaged people that are still working through their traumas. Worse, they find no sense of meaning or purpose in their heroism. They remind me of the grim-and-gritty Batman and Superman analogs from the comics of the 1990s. And yeah, Suicide Squad sucked on toast. I feel like Wonder Woman is a break from that grimness and glumness. She’s this optimistic, idealistic, confident hero who wants to help people because it’s the right thing to do. Full stop. She would save a bus full of drowning children and take them out for ice cream after that. That’s the kind of heroism I think of when I think of Superman, but it’ll take the DCEU Superman years of therapy to undo the BS his dad gave him. Alec: I think it's true that Wonder Woman is a radically different take on a superhero than what Zack Snyder has thus far done with the DCEU. Wisecrack did a really interesting video recently about the philosophical failures of Batman v Superman, focusing largely on the fact that Batman is the objectivist ideal that Snyder loves (and Frank Miller portrayed in The Dark Knight Returns) but so, in many ways, is Superman. Wonder Woman is very much not that. She is, it seems, in the wrong universe. (I think this is furthered by the fact that she is literally a god, which complicates the whole Superman-as-god-kinda-but-not-really thing that has been the crux of the franchise thus far.) That said, even if the hero doesn't feel like a natural fit, her movie does. It's more colorful and quippier, to be sure, but it's still rather brutal. Marvel dealt with the idea of civilian casualties in Captain America: Civil War, but they didn't show Scarlet Witch walking through the building she destroyed like they made Diana walk through the mustard gas’d village. (I could imagine a truly horrific R-rated cut of this movie.) Beyond that, the over-reliance on CGI, particularly towards the end, felt very DC, particularly since their movies have objectively worse effects than do Marvel’s, and I found Wonder Woman's effects to be consistently and seriously lacking. Which brings us, ultimately, to what this whole thing is about, because I feel weird criticizing this movie, because the movie is genuinely important. It is the first $100 million+ blockbuster to be directed by a woman and first film in either comic cinematic universe to center on a woman. It has made a ton of money, and I'm ecstatic for that, because apparently there was a question about whether or not women could make movies that people would want to see. And now that question is (or should be) settled firmly in the “Yes” camp. And good.  But my feelings are complicated greatly by the fact that I think the movie is pretty good but not the brilliant, revolutionary thing that so many folks in my Facebook feed appear to have experienced. Because I think this movie is important historically, but I don't think history will be kind to it.  Hubert: I liked the movie a lot more than you did, but I also sense that a lot of the love people have for Wonder Woman is rooted in its historical significance and/or personal significance. A couple of my friends have talked about seeing the movie with their daughters, or with their nieces and young cousins, and the sense of pride they felt watching it. Other friends talk about the confidence the movie instilled in them as women, which is something they haven’t felt from other movies. On my way to the theater to see Wonder Woman, I saw some parents take a picture of their young daughter striking a Wonder Woman-y pose in front of the Wonder Woman poster; I immediately thought of my niece, who isn’t even a year old, and what she might think of the movie when she eventually sees it. Conversely, I have a couple friends who outright refuse to see the movie because of Gal Gadot’s service in the IDF and her support of Israel. People may love (or hate) a movie for what it represents at the moment rather than what the movie is in and of itself. But I think that’s fine. It’s natural, even. It’s unavoidable. I think that’s how people encounter art and consume entertainment in their daily lives. No movie is ever a movie in and of itself. There’s the work, there’s the viewer and what they bring to the work, and there’s the social/political/historical context in which the viewer encounters the work. We can’t step outside of world history or personal history, and neither can a work of art or entertainment. My reaction to a movie may cool over time, and that’s natural because we change our minds, the hype dies down, and maybe in our reassessment we realize we aren’t so hot on the thing we once really liked. The reverse is true as well. There have been plenty of movies I’ve come to love later when I’m in a different point in my life and can see the work differently. This may be weird to say, but I think Get Out and Wonder Woman occupy a similar space this year in terms of their social/historical significance and how that affects people’s individual love for the film. I like Get Out a lot and think it’s a well made horror-comedy with remarkable insights about race, though I don’t think it’s the masterpiece other people think it is. But that’s fine. As an assimilated Filipino guy who grew up in the suburbs, my personal connection to Get Out isn’t anything like the personal connection of my Haitian friend who’s married to a white woman. I guess I’m saying that we never experience art in an ahistorical, non-biographical social vacuum. I guess I’m also saying there may be a similar cultural conversation surrounding Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther come February 2018. [Check back tomorrow for Part 2!]
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The answer might surprise me
So, Wonder Woman is out. We here at Flixist are big fans, but I will admit to being a bit more lukewarm than many of my colleagues here (as well as most of my social circle). But quality aside, it's an important mov...

Review: The Mummy

Jun 09 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221584:43585:0[/embed] The MummyDirector: Alex KurtzmanRelease Date: June 9, 2016Rated: PG-13 The Mummy has very little to do with the classic horror film from 1932 because that is a classic. Nor does it have much to do with the Brendan Fraser led (words I'll probably never type again) The Mummy from 1999 because that was fun. Nor does it really have anything to do with any mummy that you're thinking about unless you're thinking about a mostly naked Sofia Boutella with some rotting skin.  We find Boutella, playing the ancient and evil Princess Ahmanet, being buried alive because she's evil. Flash forward to modern day and tomb raider Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his pal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) discover her tomb after calling in an air strike because they're also in the army. From there the movie makes a lot of illogical leaps that basically lead Nick to become the chosen one, which means the evil god Set will inhabit his body after ceremony is performed by Ahmanet wherein she stabs him. Add in Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) to say a lot of exposition, and hint at the bigger Dark Universe as a whole, and a love interest for Nick (Annabelle Wallis), and you've got yourself... nearly nothing.  That is basically what The Mummy amounts to. By the time the film is nearing its ending it literally feels like it hasn't even started. You would think that issue would stem from the fact that they've shoved too much universe building into the film, but it is actually the opposite. The movie never seems to be able to establish any universe at all. We're supposed to care about Nick and his love interest, but she's such a 90s action movie MacGuffin that I've completely forgotten her name. We never get a true feeling for what Nick is going through, and Ahmanet's powers are so wishy washy and illogical that it creates plot holes that are hard to ignore. It's a superhero origin story where the superhero never shows up.  I will give credit where its due. I'm excited to see more of Russel Crowe's Jekyll/Hyde. The actor actually imbues his exposition with a bit of panache, and Jekyll's brief appearance is the most fun the movie has. In fact, aside from that the movie is just bland. Universal wants to establish a "dark" universe, but there's nothing dark about this movie at all except for its instance to mute every color in existence. It plays the same note throughout, feeling more like a dated action movie than a modern blockbuster. The DC Extended Universe may have its issues, but at least its got a tone and feeling of its own. The Mummy can't differentiate itself from the myriad of other action flicks released each year. That may come from Alex Kurtzman's directing. Why Universal would take the risk on a guy only known for producing is beyond me, but his first big studio movie lacks any character at all. His action sequences are competent enough, but rely a bit too much on unremarkable CGI, and he routinely wastes the charms of Tom Cruise, who wavers back and forth on whether he's really committed to playing the role. In fairness, if I saw the way the movie was unfolding, I'd probably stop caring too. Finally, Kurtzman just can't keep the pace. The film lulls and then picks up randomly and then lulls again. Part of that probably comes from the screenplay-by-committee (six credited writers) production, but Kurtzman could have made it flow better. The sad fact is that The Mummy isn't truly terrible. It isn't really anything. There's some decent action sequences with some clever gimmicks sprinkled in. There's a plot that's illogical, but passable, and actors who, under the right circumstances, could make something interesting happen. But nothing interesting does happen. The Mummy is two hours of nothing, and at this moment that means that the entirety of the Dark Universe is two hours of nothing. Universal better pray for a big bang soon or it'll keep on being nothing, and none of their stars will shine. 
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Don't universes get started with a bang?
Everybody wants a superhero movie universe now. Thanks to Marvel's insane success at stringing together a cinematic comic universe, every movie studio out there wants a piece of the pie. You can't really blame them. Cinematic...

Wonder Woman is the hero the DCEU deserves, and also the one it needs right now

Jun 07 // Hubert Vigilla
Up until Wonder Woman, the DCEU has been defined by oppressive brooding. Man of Steel featured a Superman hobbled by self-doubt for at least half of the story. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a clash between a sociopathic demi-god with daddy issues and a homicidal psychopath with mommy issues. Suicide Squad was a bad movie full of bad guys. No one seems to enjoy heroism in any of these movies. Except for Wonder Woman. As I mentioned last year, Wonder Woman was the only genuine hero in Batman v Superman. She leaps into battle with gusto and handles herself capably. She could have saved the day herself if Batman and Superman were such dumb meatheads. Throughout Wonder Woman's origin story, Diana admires strength and bravery and being totally kick ass. She marvels at the Amazons as they spar, and she mimics their moves. Diana, throwing punches at the air, smiling on a hill--that was me at five-years-old standing on a coffee table watching Bruce Lee movies. I imagine that a bunch of kids, particularly girls, will also punch and kick along with Gadot on screen. Her martial prowess is grounded in an unshakable sense of compassion and kindness. Her first time eating ice cream is a great comedic moment, but it's also all about Diana's ceaseless love. She's so appreciative for the cone, she's so gracious to the vendor--and yes, come to think of it, ice cream is pretty awesome the first time you ever eat it (and the 5,000th time, too). As she watches villagers besieged and in pain, her instinct is to help them rather than allow them to suffer; when she sees a horse being whipped, she thinks of a more humane way to treat animals. While Man of Steel shied away from collateral damage by keeping Superman and Zod battling through the skies, Wonder Woman is there in the mud, wandering through the murderous gas, like she's a superhero working for some humanitarian NGO. In the most memorable action scene in the film, Wonder Woman is the first one out of the trenches leading the charge into No Man's Land. As she draws the machine gunfire and holds her ground, she's the beacon of hope, an example for others to follow. She accepts this duty without any sense of guilt or doubt. She's saving the day. Why do it begrudgingly. In the most absurd of wars, a moral light. Wonder Woman always wanted to be a hero. She always is a hero. If there's a moment of disenchantment in heroism, it's not because she's a dark and brooding figure unsure of herself and her powers. Rather, it's when she realizes that humanity excels at reckless murder. It's a philosophical crisis rather than a psychological crisis, which is fitting for a mythic character's dilemma. A worldview is questioned, so what's the response? To keep fighting for your ideals. Love, valor, ice cream--nevertheless, she persisted. In addition to the hope and unabashed heroism, Wonder Woman is the most competently made DCEU movie. The colorful utopian idyll of Themyscira serves as a counterpoint to a morally gray Europe during the first World War. The screenplay may not reinvent the superhero movie or the superhero origin story, but it covers that well-trod ground briskly and with humor. Jenkins lets the camera linger on Diana's face a little longer as she reacts to people and the world around her; Gadot's subtle facial expressions offer an unexpected depth to the performance that isn't present in the other DCEU movies. There's not much going on in the heads of Batman and Superman that a scream or a grunt won't convey, but Wonder Woman has an internal life. Jenkins' filmmaking adds some allure to the otherwise rote romance that develops between Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Diana. Subverting the usual gender tropes we see in blockbuster movies, the only overtly sexy moment in the film involves a naked, chiseled Pine emerging from a shimmering Themysciran bath. In any other movie that would be the moment for a gratuitous Angelina Jolie butt shot, but no--Wonder Woman subverts it to great effect. Even when Diana and Steve eventually sleep together, that's handled with relative maturity. An adult is charge for once in the otherwise adolescent DCEU. In Wonder Woman, there's no embarrassing horndog gawking at a woman's body a la Suicide Squad. Instead of pin-ups or conquests, Gadot and her fellow Amazons are lensed like warriors and athletes; Bruce-Lee-ification rather than objectification. The slow motion in the action scenes seem to be a nod to Zack Snyder's aesthetic, but they also reminded me of Michael Jordan highlight reels. Here, enjoy the grace and the hang time of someone doing something extraordinary. And yeah, the kid in me wished I could so something like that. At its best, moments like this split the difference between Richard Donner's Superman ("You will believe a man can fly") and that song from Space Jam ("I Believe I Can Fly"). Sure, the last half hour of Wonder Woman strays into schlocky CG superhero territory. I was sort of hoping the final battle with Ares would be shot like a moving neoclassical painting as seen with the backstory at the beginning, but alas. It's basically the Doomsday fight from Batman v Superman, but with more magic lightning. And yeah, the bookending narrative is a clunky device that leads to the film's awkward beginning and ending. And yet, I'm hopeful, and it's the first time I've had that feeling with a DCEU movie. Rather than cynical, it's sincere. In an interview with The New York Times, Jenkins said, "I'm tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing." She later added, "It's terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world." Outside the theater as I was going to catch Wonder Woman, a little girl stood in front of the movie poster and held her arms up in front of her face while her parents took a picture. What it feels like to stand on a hill.
Wonder Woman DCEU photo
Kick ass, take names, eat ice cream
Wonder Woman is just what the DCEU needed. It's been getting very good reviews, and it's also been performing well at the global box office. As of this writing, it's earned $240 million worldwide. It's not stratospheric busin...

Review: Wonder Woman

May 31 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221570:43578:0[/embed] Wonder WomanDirector: Patty JenkinsRelease Date: June 2, 2017Rated: PG-13 Diana (Gal Gadot) is the Princess of Themyscira, an island inhabiting an ancient Amazonian race put on the Earth by Zeus to stifle mankind's need for war. Molded from clay and birthed by Zeus, Diana has always been a little different from the rest of her Amazonian sisters and put to the true test when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an English spy, crash lands on her home and brings news of a great war happening around the world (WWI). Figuring it to be the work of Ares, the god of war, Diana demands to be taken to the front line. But when in the outside world, Diana has to come to grips with her own humanity as she learns the real driving force behind the war.  Let's get this out of the way first. Wonder Woman is an origin story. The plot follows a lot of the standard beats you've come to expect from origin stories (complete with a sequence introducing the flashback in question), but unlike other films of its ilk, rather than a character slowly becoming a mythological being, Wonder Woman essentially works backwards. As it's introducing Diana and her world, the film takes an already established higher being and challenges her infallibility. Always being sure to treat her as a goddess, the narrative instead veers away from the stereotypical physical change and focuses on internal struggle and strife. Momentous scenes in origin stories like first donning of the famous suit, fighting the main villain, and the original call to action, are subdued in favor of zeroing in on Diana's matter-of-fact perspective. Basically, there's no need to have Diana change into a hero since she already is one, and I can't understate how refreshing it is to learn about her humanity instead.  Ambitious as the internal narrative is, it wouldn't have worked without a strong performance from its lead. To be completely honest, I was worried about Gal Gadot's strength as a lead actress going into this. Thankfully, that worry only lasted about 20 minutes. While the first chunk of the film is stilted and full of bad acting and accents (likening it to a more generic version of Xena: Warrior Princess), once Gadot is introduced everything perks right up. She's kind of incredible in the way she commands attention here (befitting the character too). Director Patty Jenkins takes a little time each shot to make Gadot stand out a little more, whether its subtly pointing out the fact she is taller than most of her co-stars, or the costume design making her look just different enough from everyone else. Gadot and Jenkins work together to really nail the fish out of water angle here, and further smooth out any edges Gadot could have in her performance.  But Gadot's performance wouldn't have meant anything without a great script. Wonder Woman may not be perfectly written in all areas (as one big moment diminishes her character), but there's a great balance of levity and drama. What I came to appreciate the most were smaller beats allowing the actors to really dig into their characters. Chris Pine is as charming as he's ever been, so the best scenes of the film are simply subdued conversations between Steve and Diana. These smaller, character intense moments also help to elevate the later generic superhero action taking place toward the climax. There's an added layer of catharsis, but it doesn't mean the climax is safe from gender normative action where Diana is suddenly not the character she was the rest of the film. The climax will need further discussion once more folks see it for sure.  As for the action, it's fine. The action scenes are a bit Snyder-esque as they use slow motion to emphasize movement, but there is a greater sense of fluidity in the motion. Once Diana starts whipping around dudes with a golden rope, the film basks in some very cool visuals. There's unfortunately a bit of unintentional slapstick during some of the scenes, but it gives the film a little flavor not seen in other DC Comics films. I'll give it a pass.  The fear when reviewing superhero films is critically analyzing them within a bubble. Initially, I was worried I'd attribute Wonder Woman's success to being a well made film within the DC Extended Universe (and we've been burned so many times), and just clinging to it like a life raft in a sea of schmaltz. But, after writing this review, I've come to the conclusion it's just a damn good film.  Wonder Woman, the oft-misplaced icon in DC's Holy Trinity, has truly made her mark on cinema. Less Batmen and supermenches, more wonderful women please.  Second Opinion: Wonder Woman gets almost everything right for its first two acts. Its action sequences are impressive, and utilize Wonder Woman's superpowers in unique and awesome ways. Patty Jenkins has a surprising eye for action for a drama director that allows it to flow and build, a feature many directors seem to lack. But more important than the kick ass action sequences is the fact the film works as a character piece. Unlike other DCEU films, you actually care about what's going on, the plot unfolds in a coherent way, and the characters act like they should. Yes, it may hit on a few (OK, a lot) of cliches, but it implements them to a tee. A lot of the charm comes from Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, who turn their relationship into something special. The film actually hits emotionally, which is why it's too bad the third act turns into nothing more than an action brawler. It doesn't fit with the rest of the film's tone, and feels more like a Zack Snyder movie than anything else. This doesn't sully the film as a whole, however, leading to a superhero movie that feels like its own thing. 80 -- Matthew Razak
Wonder Woman Review photo
Some kind of wonderful
DC Comics and Warner Bros have been, well, let's say misguided in their attempts at launching a series of films comparable to Marvel's success. Deciding to push through critical failure (thanks to overall box office success),...

Review: Baywatch

May 24 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221553:43568:0[/embed] BaywatchDirector: Seth GordonRelease Date: May 26, 2017Rated: R Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) is a lifeguard everyone loves. He may take his job a bit too seriously, but in the world of Baywatch, his lifeguard post includes its own arm of the local government (complete with enough of a budget to afford things like ATVs). When confronted with the disgraced, former Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), he's forced to put his feelings about the new recruit aside when they uncover a larger drug plot at hand that's threatening the entire bay. But when the police won't investigate, Lt. Mitch and his lifeguard crew decide to take matters into their own hands and dicks and boobs.  Like most unfortunate comedies to fall in this category, Baywatch substitutes actual jokes with raunchy humor. Now I don't have a problem with raunch in practice, as dick jokes are as classic as apple pie, but they're only great when they don't disrupt the flow of the film. It's hard to explain, but I'll try and elaborate on my problem with Baywatch's genitalia humor by outlining one of its more problematic scenes. In the first fifteen minutes or so, Ronnie (Jon Bass), the archetypal loser of the bunch, has a crush on the lifeguard CJ (Kelly Rohrback) -- who's only purpose in this film is to be ogled -- and chokes on some food when she runs by. After CJ delivers the heimlich maneuver (complete with thrusting), Ronnie becomes erect. But to hide it from her, he nervously stumbles until he falls and gets stuck, dick first, in a beach chair. Thus resulting in a large crowd of people surrounding Ronnie as CJ and Mitch talk about setting him free. If it sounds like my summary made the scene seem devoid of charm, it was actually much worse experiencing it first hand. Sure it serves the purpose of introducing Ronnie and CJ's dynamic, but paints their friendship in an unpleasant, slog of a light.  It's a shame Baywatch relies so much on low hanging fruit humor, since it can be intelligent when it puts forth an effort. When the film allows itself to be made fun of, it actually makes for pretty fantastic sequences. The film's opening, for example, combines all that you'd expect to see (Johnson diving in slow motion, wide shots of the beach) but injects with a major nod to how ridiculous it all is once the title card shows up. There are even a few inspired raunchy bits (like the talking balls gag), and the fact that Mitch never refers to Brody by his real name. These occasional bright spots in the dialogue only make the rest of the script more disappointing by comparison.  But the major factor at play is how straight it plays the premise. Baywatch, while occasionally winking at itself, also takes things much more seriously than you'd hope. Long stretches are dedicated to plot exposition, or un-interestingly shot action sequences. Rather than laugh, or even question what I was watching, I often found myself having no reaction at all. And with a comedy that clocks in at two hours, that's pretty much the equivalent of drowning in shallow water. It's something that could've easily been avoided had you tried to kick around a bit.  Like the vapid characters of its source material, Baywatch is great to look at but once it opens its mouth you realize how hollow it is. It's almost as if the entire film plays in slow motion.  Baywatch is a bad watch. I know I should feel guilty about not ending this review on a better joke, but that'd mean putting in more effort than the film did. 
Baywatch Review photo
So much emocean
Baywatch is another film in the same vein of nostalgic television reboots like The A-Team, CHiPs, and the crazily successful 21 Jump Street. A show known only for attractive people running in slow motion serving as a sor...

In defense of Roger Moore

May 24 // Matthew Razak
First, Roger Moore could deliver a one-liner like no other. Part of this was the fact that he didn't really look like he could deliver a one-liner. Moore never had the rough suaveness of Connery, the playfulness of Lazenby, the sneering edge of Dalton, the boyish charm of Brosnan or the harsh facade of Craig. He was straight-laced, upright, and square-jawed so when he delivered a line like, "Just keeping the British end up," while raising his iconic eyebrow it was just mischievous enough to actually work. Only Connery could nail a one-liner like Moore did.  Often Moore is criticized for taking Bond in a comedic direction and eventually into camp territory. However, this trend towards a more ridiculous Bond was well in place by the time Moore took over, and, in fact, was clearly what audiences wanted at the time. After Connery left following You Only Live Twice, a film full of what would come to be known as Moore-style Bond action, Eon Productions actually did ground Bond. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the most prolifically grounded Bond films there is, and could fit right in with Craig's current slate of films minus a few sight gags. It did not do as well as previous Bonds at the box office (though still was one of the top films of the year), so what happened? Full tilt the other way with Connery returning one last time for Diamonds Are Forever and the true birth of a less serious Bond. This is what audiences wanted from their Bond at the time, and Moore was way better than anyone else at playing it up with a wink to the camera.  Combining the newer direction of the franchise with Moore's uncanny ability to play it straight while still finding the fun of a scene worked really well for Bond. But he's still remembered for the excess and ridiculousness instead of subtle nods. And that is a fair complaint. He went to space and shot lasers (more on this later) for Pete's sake. However, lost in the mire of space stations (Moonraker), underwater sea labs (The Spy Who Loved Me) and hot air balloon raids with an all female circus (Octopussy), is that fact that a lot of Moore's bond films weren't that big at all. In fact he kicked off his tenure with the relatively subdued Live and Let Die, which featured an incredibly complex story that played Moore's stiff Britishness against a Harlem gang to surprising effect. The Man with the Golden Gun may start to show signs of the preponderance of overblown Bond that was too come (slide whistle car flips and Sheriff Pepper), but it also ends with a one-on-one showdown between two foes. Yes, it's in a ridiculous setting, but Moore actually pulls the tension out of it alongside the fantastic Christopher Lee. Then there is For Your Eyes Only, a film in which Moore's Bond is a complete and total badass. If it weren't for the Bibi scenes the film would be one of the straightest played Bond films around.  But Bond wasn't (and isn't really) about being subdued. In fact Roger Moore's best Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, is easily one of the best Bond films around specifically because it is everything that makes Bond great. Moore delivers a fantastic performance from the pitch perfect parachute-stunt opening to the inevitable victory in an evil villains base. The film is everything a Bond movie should be, cliche and all. If Goldfinger began defining what a Bond film is then The Spy Who Loved Me finalized that definition. Even in its overblown Bond glory the film finds time to hit some emotional notes, especially when Bond's late wife is brought up and Moore tersely shuts the conversation down. Moore's Bond is at its comic finest, but also some of his cruelest. At one point a henchman is grabbing Bond's tie to keep from falling off a roof. Once he gets the information he needs Moore simply knocks the tie away letting him fall with a stone cold, "What a helpful chap." Let's also give fashion credit where its due. While Connery's grey 3-piece suit in Goldfinger may be the gold standard of Bond fashion, sometimes he went a bit too high fashion to stay classically trendy. Moore will always look sharp for the most part. His long neck meant that the large collars of the 70s don't look out of style and his Savile Row suits couldn't get more British. In one of the the ugliest eras in men's fashion Moore's Bond stayed classic for the most part. Maybe it could seem stuffy at the time, but thanks to Moore Bond looks timelessly stylish in a suit.  Finally, Moore saved the franchise. After OHMSS people thought that Bond wouldn't be able to survive without Connery. Recasting seemed like a mistake, especially since Diamonds performed so much better. Then Moore came along and his take on Bond worked with audiences. People enjoyed watching his Bond, and the franchise stayed relevant. Moonraker might be ridiculous, but it bought full into the Star Wars craze of the time and remained the highest grossing Bond film for decades. No other Bond could have made Moonraker even remotely work. Thanks to Moore's performance its easy to see how he's metaphorically winking at the camera throughout the ridiculousness. At that time it is what Bond needed to succeed and only Moore's Bond could handle that. Moore took a fun approach to Bond that these days is often looked down upon, but while all his films weren't fantastic, and he easily should have stopped before A View to A Kill thanks to his age, what Moore did was truly define James Bond. His own delight in having fun with the movies shines through his performances. Maybe that fun has moved on from action cinema, and maybe that isn't entirely a good thing. Looking at modern Bond films its when the franchise finds that balance between drama and humor that it really works as Skyfall showed, especially when compared to the dour Quantum of Solace and the overly punchy Spectre. Moore might not be your favorite Bond, but he deserves to be remembered as a man who defined what we truly think of Bond overall. There would be no James Bond without Roger Moore.
Bond photo
Why his Bond is better than you think
Yesterday we heard the sad news that Roger Moore had passed away. If you're like me it hit you pretty hard, because if you're like me Roger Moore's James Bond is something you love. A lot of people are not like me. Most don't...

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This guy is this guy--not a real stretch
Last we heard on the Venom movie front, Andrew Garfield was still the defacto Spider-Man, Spider-Man had not shown up in the Marvel cinematic universe, and Sony had not learned it was more lucrative to play nice with Marvel t...

The Dark Crystal photo
Scariest childrens movie ever
Netflix -- because it evidently doesn't have enough things to get excited about -- has announced that it is working with the Jim Henson Company to produce a 10 episode prequel to the classic film The Dark Crystal, called The ...

Star Trek Discovery photo
This is before the original?
After delay and delay and delay we finally have our first look at Star Trek: Discovery. It is very confusing. Check out the trailer and you'll see the cast getting into plenty of scrapes and even some moral quandries (good), ...

Trailer: Bong Joon Ho's Okja looks like a gorgeous, Spielbergian eco-terror adventure

May 18 // Hubert Vigilla
As The Playlist notes, Bong decided to partner with Netflix for his newest film to avoid the distribution and release headaches he experienced working with the Weinsteins on Snowpiercer. (Ugh, ol' Harvey Scissorhands.) Okja's international cast includes An Seo Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Okja will be out on Netflix and in select theaters on June 28th. Let us know how you think and what that cuddly super-pig creature might taste like in the comments. (I mean, yeah, bacon, but with notes of what, exactly?) [via The Playlist]
Trailer: Okja photo
Tastes f**king good
Bong Joon Ho is one of Korea's most acclaimed and beloved filmmakers, and one of the most respected directors in the world. He made an international name for himself with 2003's Memories of a Murder, and went on to craft The ...

Review: Alien: Covenant

May 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221515:43550:0[/embed] Alien: CovenantDirector: Ridley ScottRelease Date: May 18, 2017Rating: R  Coming from Covenant’s marketing campaign, you might be surprised by the first name in its opening credits: Michael Fassbender. And right off the bat we know that something is wrong, because in the trailer that was pretty cool for two minutes (before being very, very stupid right at the end), you see Fassbender… twice? We’ve been led to believe that Katherine Waterson is our protagonist, and yet we don’t begin the film with her (rather with Fassbender’s David character, from Prometheus). And then we go to Fassbender’s other character, an android named Walter. We aren’t introduced to the cast until after the first exciting thing happens: A solar event damages the ship and forces the crew members from their cryosleep. In the chaos that ensues, we finally meet our Ripley. And it just goes downhill from there. The first thing you see Daniels – the Strong Independent Woman who is going to take down the xenomorph at the end (one would assume) – do is fail to get out of her sleeping pod. You see some guys get out, then they help her. And then her husband, played perplexingly for less than two minutes by James Franco, can’t get out… but no one can get him out either and he burns up in his pod. And then we’re treated to our Strong Independent Woman being sad about her dead husband while watching a video he left her on a tablet. Ugh. But Daniels doesn’t take over; she’s second in command to Billy Krudup’s character, who is sad that no one respects him and thinks it is because he is a man of faith (there is no evidence to support this). Their ship is transporting a couple thousand colonists to their new home, but after the solar incident and the death of their captain, everyone is a little iffy about getting back into their cryogenic pods – especially since Walter tells them there is a not-insignificant chance that this kind of thing could happen again. Conveniently (or not), they receive a distress beacon from a nearby planet that falls perfectly within the habitable zone. It’s weeks away rather than years, so Krudup decides they should go check it out. When hell breaks loose however many minutes later, I found myself thinking not about what I was seeing but about my complete lack of reaction to it. Technically, there’s some good stuff here. There are some genuinely great shots, and the production design in general is very cool. But functionally there’s nothing. You know what emotion you’re supposed to feel because you have an understanding of cinematic language. The music swells, the camera gets shaky, and the editing gets jumping; oh, something tense is going on. But I don’t feel any tension. And then I’m watching Amy Seimetz fire on a baby xenomorph and thinking about why this doesn’t work for me. Even the body horror stuff that sort of worked didn’t really work. [embed]221515:43549:0[/embed] The Chestburster in the original Alien was a genuinely shocking moment. It’s probably one of cinema’s most iconic images, and works on pretty much every level. Alien: Covenant knows that a xenomorph bursting from a chest isn’t good enough anymore, so it has a few much more disturbing ways to birth aliens from a human body. And they’re definitely disgusting, getting the grossed-out reaction from the crowd that they were going for, but the intensity of the violence doesn’t actually serve the plot in any meaningful way. It’s just horrific imagery for the sake of it, there to shock the audience more than the characters in the film. You may appreciate the inventiveness for a moment, but then you have to deal with the CGI xenomorphs that come out and all the gorgeous practical effects that lead up to it can’t stop you from groaning. Or laughing. The audience laughed a lot. They actually clapped a couple of times, usually after the Xenomorph had killed someone in a particularly vicious way. I wondered about that: Why? Was it because the characters were so boring that everyone was just glad they were dead? I mean, I had already forgotten several of the characters by the time the credits rolled, only remembering once I rewatched the trailer just to make sure that it was, in fact, selling the same product that I had just witnessed. The crew on the Covenant probably had names, but I only remember two of them: Daniels and Tennessee. (There is also Walter, but we’ll get to that later.) Tennessee is played by Danny McBride, and he’s got a fairly unpleasant personality, but he’s the only one who actually has personality at all. The characters are largely expendable, and the script seems well aware of that, because it makes no attempt to develop anyone who dies early and only a marginal effort to develop the ones who make it to the third act. The four-plus-minute scene that I mentioned earlier, a slice of which is featured in that trailer, is important because it’s not actually in the movie. Like, at all. And it’s interesting because watching that clip after seeing the film, I saw more character development for some of those people than in the entire two hours of nonsense I sat through. I would assume that it was originally supposed to be part of the film; it seems odd that it wouldn’t be, and it’s the only time James Franco says things while alive. It actually feels like it’s from a completely different movie. They talk about the crew members, but make no reference to all of the other (sleeping) colonists on the ship. Watching that, I would never have known that they weren’t the sole bodies aboard the Covenant. And sure, it makes only marginally less sense than the stuff the characters actually do say, but it leads me to wonder what place it was supposed to serve… and what the movie was supposed to look like. Because I don’t believe for a second that Alien: Covenant is the movie that it was supposed to be. Clearly it’s not the movie that Fox’s marketing department wanted it to be, but I have trouble believing it’s the movie Ridley Scott was trying to make. Then again, I don’t have any idea what movie he was trying to make, because there’s no consistency of any sort. Really, it feels like the movie is fucking with you sometimes. Nowhere is this clearer than the truly bizarre sequences like the one where Michael Fassbender as David (who just-so-happens to be on this planet) is showing Michael Fassbender as Walter how to play the recorder. The camera swings back and forth in a long take as one Fassbender tells the other about “fingering holes,” something that happens for several straight minutes. That sequence is probably as long as the character-building clip I mentioned that didn’t make it into the film… yet somehow the innuendo-filled recorder scene is important? At first, I was convinced that David was going to kill Walter and take over his place at this point, maybe force the recorder through Walter’s throat, but no: He literally just shows him how to play the recorder. It’s just two Michael Fassbenders, like Ridley Scott finally figured out the facial technology that David Fincher has been using for years and wanted to show it off. Look, Fassbender is one of my favorite actors, and if they want to have scenes of just him talking to himself, that’s fine… but this is just stupid. As with most scenes David is in, there seems to be an attempt at philosophy. As I mentioned, Fassbender is the protagonist, both as David and Walter. They’re two very different models of the same Android, and the underlying logic behind their creation could lead to some interesting discussions. There are hints of that, and other things. David talks (constantly) about creation and perfection and humanity and love, but these proclamations aren’t part of a dialogue. It’s like listening to a college freshman who read “Ozymandias” for the first time and has now figured out the meaning of life and really, really wants to tell you about how cool he is. He says vapid things in vain attempts at profundity, and it’s just sad. It’s theoretically an extension of the ideas raised in Prometheus (particularly with regards to creation), but it’s ultimately nothing at all. And that’s Alien: Covenant as a whole. It’s nothing. By the time this review is published, I will likely have forgotten everything about it, except for the feelings it left me with. I wanted it to be good; I wanted that oh-so badly. I wanted Ridley Scott to prove he still had it. But Covenant proves that he does not. This is Scott giving up on his most famous franchise. This is me giving up on him.
Alien: Covenant Review photo
Fool Me Twice
As reviled as it is (justifiably or not), Prometheus deserves a little pass for being unlike its Alien siblings in large part because of its branding. It may be in the same canon, but it’s not pretending to be an Alien ...

Review: The Wall

May 03 // Rick Lash
The Wall photo
Anything but simple
The premise is simple, the film anything but. Iraq, 2007. The war is coming to an end, but maybe someone should have told that to the "bad guys." Two American soldiers. Not just any American soldiers, but a sniper team, ...

The Dark Tower photo
It definitely has a tower
First, if you haven't read Stephen King's The Dark Tower series go and do that. It's fantastic, and his greatest undertaking as a writer. It's a massive western, science fiction, fantasy, met narrative that can get ...

Tribeca: Arden's Wake and the Continued Brilliance of Penrose Studios' VR Storytelling

May 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221501:43542:0[/embed] There’s still no name for what Arden’s Wake is. Eugene Chung mentioned this in his interview with Hubert and with me, and I imagine probably every other one he did as well. And it’s an important thing to consider. It is, to some degree, a short film, since you are more-or-less a passive observer of a pre-scripted story that lasts fifteen minutes. But even if you’re a passive observer, you are an active part of the world. Thanks to the HTC Vive, you have a 15 x 15 square within which you can walk around. At the end of Allumette, I was handed a Vive controller, and I controlled a matchstick (relevant to the story) and watched as it reacted to the world and the world reacted to it, but this was very distinctly a thing that took place after the main narrative. Arden’s Wake had nothing of the sort. You can’t reach out and touch the world in any way, and this is important; as Chung wrote in a blog post in December of 2015, presence and storytelling are in conflict. The instant you take hold of that controller and start to watch as the match lights up the clouds around you, you forget about what you’re watching. You’re paying attention to yourself and what you’re doing. You’re taken out of the narrative as you’re pulled into the experience. And those things can exist side-by-side, but not in concert.  And, of course, this has serious implications for the design of VR experiences. Back in 2014, I interviewed Dr. Richard Marks, who was a key player in the creation of PlayStation VR, and he talked about the importance of Presence – how it was really the whole point of the thing. (About a year later, I would later inadvertently punch him during a demo of then-Project Morpheus, because he was standing where a virtual rack of weapons was.) And in a game setting, that’s more-or-less true, though arguably once you’ve reached a flow state, you’re no longer “aware” of yourself and have given over to the experience, at which point you can give your full attention to any narrative. But that doesn’t work for Arden’s Wake or anything like it. There is no flow state because there’s no gameplay. All it can do to keep you from distracting yourself is to limit your interactivity. So you can do one thing and one thing only: Look. You’re the camera, seeing the action from as close or as far as you like. You can, of course, ignore the story if you’d like, but without any interactivity, there’s not much reason to. A critical lesson used in Allumette and continued here is the addition of an acclimation period to the story. As with its predecessor, Arden’s Wake does not throw you directly into its story. You begin underwater, miniature debris sinking around you as the opening credits roll. This is the time where you get over the “Wow!” factor. This is when you get to spin around in circles and look at all of the cool things. By the time you see the characters coming into view, you’re ready to focus on them. Or, at least, that’s the idea. I found this to be more-or-less the case when I saw Allumette and definitely the case by Arden’s Wake, but I discussed it with another critic who had missed last year’s showcase, so this was her first time experiencing virtual reality of this sort. She told me that she spent most of the story looking around, too enveloped by the world itself to follow the story. That said, she also took issue with the presentation of the narrative, which likely factored into her distraction. The most crucial difference between Allumette and Arden’s Wake is the addition of non-player camera movement. Allumette was a basically static experience. You stood by a bridge and watched the tiny characters play out their story. A flying ship came in and offered another thing for the players to look at, but the world itself was locked in place. You were the only one who could affect what you were looking at. (This led to the life-changing moment, when I instinctively ducked under a virtual bridge so as not to hit my head;) Arden’s Wake takes place in two locations: Atop a sunken skyscraper (this is, presumably, many years in the future) in the protagonist’s small home and the water beneath it. There isn’t a cut from one to the other. Instead, the camera slowly descends into the waves as we follow a submersible deep down when the protagonist must go after her father. I was aware of the movement, sure, but this was a moment of transition; the momentary feeling of presence didn’t affect my experience of the story, and the shift itself felt natural. It was a logical extension of the purely static location, with the movement itself feeling oh-so-finely tuned, enough to get you where you needed to go without getting bored while also not so fast that you feel disoriented. Even though it’s happening outside of your control, you don’t feel like you’ve lost control. You can still move. You can look at the submersible from any angle, or walk around, though you probably won’t want to. The visuals are cute, the story is funny, and there’s voice-acted dialogue this time. You’ll get drawn in not just because it’s a story presented in a way that you’ve never seen but because it’s a story that is just generally well-crafted. As was the case with Allumette, the folks at Penrose have proven themselves to be storytellers first. In the early days of VR, that’s all the more crucial. There are many different kinds of VR experiences (the Tribeca VR festival had a number of them), as creators test the possibilities of the new medium, and the Penrose brand is just one of many viable options. But it’s also easily the best version of VR storytelling I’ve come across. Eugene Chung and his team have developed an understanding of what does and doesn’t work that far surpasses most of their competition. This is, in part, because they’re trying something different: this form of minimally interactive narrative is generally reserved for 360/spherical video live-action films. And, as we established from the outset, that’s not really what these are. We’ll come up with a name sooner or later, but it’s a type of story that lacks the inherent limitations of 360 video. The limitations are, for the most part, self-imposed, and we’ve already seen how that can and will change over time. Each new Penrose production is a step up from the one before it, which makes what’s to come all the more exciting. At fifteen minutes, Arden Wake’s prologue felt all too short, but it served as an effective teaser for the entire narrative to follow. I’m extremely excited to get my eyes –not my hands – on the final product.
Arden's Wake photo
VR's Best Storytellers Get Even Better
Last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, I was invited to a special preview of a semi-interactive non-movie non-game hybrid called Allumette, which would have its world premiere a few days later. It was a forty-five-minute sol...

Review: LA 92

Apr 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221425:43497:0[/embed] LA 92Directors: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. MartinRating: RRelease Date: April 28, 2019 (NYC, LA); April 30, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)  Lindsay and Martin start not with the LA riots of 1992, but instead the Watts riots of 1965. Another case of police brutality and violence, another instance of outrage and destruction. Riots might be viewed as a type of self-harm. When a community is helpless to redress a wrong, they wound themselves. It makes sense that the specter of Watts lingers through the film, suggesting an inescapable inevitability of violence in the face of cyclical, systemic, and maybe even perpetual racism. These are decades and decades of oppression manifested in a grandiose act of self-mutilation. Tensions ratchet up following the beating of Rodney King. LA 92 notes the death of Latasha Harlins as part of the fomenting rage, which would lead to a lot of Korean businesses getting targeted during the riots themselves. Harlins was allegedly trying to shoplift orange juice at a convenience store. She got into a struggle with store owner Soon Ja Du, who shot Harlins dead at the register. Harlins was just 15 years old. The verdict in the murder case implies a lot of unsavory things about how the minority status of blacks and Asians are so different in the eyes of white America. (This goes beyond the purview of this review, but I couldn't help but think of the myth of the model minority that seems to pit blacks and Asians against one another, as if the American experience for these ethnic groups are commensurate simply by dint of minority status.) The build to the riots themselves on the day of the Rodney King verdict is so ominous. It's played out through a series of escalations; an argument over donuts, shoutdowns in the courthouse parking lot, feet on the ground, gatherings in churches. The anger has been shut in so long, it can't be contained. The cops are evacuated out of fear for their safety. The social order breaks down. Then the riot happens. The riot on screen is an unrelenting cinematic assault for at least an hour. The rage is palpable, as are the confusion and sadness. There's also a lot of sadistic happiness, the type of manic glee that comes with vengeance and feelings of dominance. A man's face gets caved in on camera, and people laugh at him in triumph. One scene I can't get out of my head. A man gets beaten, and his genitals are exposed. His attackers spray paint his face and and his private parts black. He quivers on the ground in the way that people in movies quiver when they're about to die. And then a preacher approaches the man slowly, fire and rubble around him; there's a Bible in one hand and his arms are outstretched like Christ. That's end times imagery; it happened in my own lifetime. Occasionally it feels like the gyre of a score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans will completely overtake the madness on screen. Yet the imagery is so potently organized and the emotions are so raw; the music felt like perfect symphonic accompaniment. There is nothing subtle or subdued about what's happening or what anyone is feeling in those moments. That score also enhances the unfolding chaos of what happened. As businesses in Koreatown are targeted, Korean men with guns fire at passing cars. One guy unloads a whole clip from his handgun with abandon and a psychotic determination on his face. It's no surprise that LA 92 refuses to provide a conciliatory conclusion. Rodney King's "Can we all get along?" was such a punchline of a quote even in 1992, but to see the full press conference is another matter. King's so overwhelmed saying those words. There's nothing to laugh about. It's one of the most earnest expressions of empathy he could offer, tinged by an awareness of how meek and helpless it might sound. So many images and moments of LA 92 will haunt me, but the new context of King's question chills me when I think of it. The answer seems like, "I'm not sure."
Review: LA 92 photo
Chilling, apocalyptic, and timely
It's been 25 years since the LA riots, and there are a number of films coming out that revisit this harrowing moment in the country's history. The most high-profile might be Let It Fall: LA from 1982-1992 from John Ridley, sc...

Star Wars: Episode IX and Indiana Jones 5 get release dates

Apr 26 // Matthew Razak
Disney also announced a host of other release dates including a two year delay for Gigantic.  Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 has been pushed back from March 9, 2018 to November 21, 2018. A Wrinkle in Time will now open a month earlier, on March 9, 2018 instead of April 6, 2018. Disney Animation’s Gigantic has been delayed a full twoyears from November 21, 2018 to November 25, 2020. The live-action comedy Magic Campwill open in theaters on April 6, 2018. An untitled Marvel movie has been pushed from July 10, 2020 to August 7, 2020. Two new Untitled Disney Live-Action films have been set for release on April 3, 2020 and March 12, 2021. A new Untitled Pixar movie is now dated for June 18, 2021 An untitled Disney Animation movie has been pushed a year from November 25, 2020 to November 24, 2021. [via Collider]  
Star Wars photo
Yea, Indy is still happening
Two massive release dates landed yesterday. The first you knew was coming and isn't much of a surprise: Star Wars: Episode IX will release on May 24, 2019. With the last two Star Wars films hitting in the holiday se...

Last Jedi photo
Dark. Light. So much more.
We're going to get a lot of Star Wars trailers in the coming years. In fact we've had plenty just off of the first two Disney released films, and yet the second that theme kicks in I get excited like its the first time a...

Thor: Ragnarok trailer photo
Ahhhhh-ohhhh-aaaaaaaah-AAAAH!
If you asked me two years ago if I'd be excited about a new Thor movie, the answer would be, "No, not at all." Enter Thor: Ragnarok from Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). It's... it... Guys...

Joss Whedon will direct a standalone Batgirl movie for the DCEU

Mar 30 // Hubert Vigilla
This also makes me wonder if this will feature a Dick Grayson/Nightwing appearance to set up the Nightwing movie that was announced a month ago. Is this the start of the DCEU Bat Family sub-universe, aka the DCEUBFSU? Whedon makes sense for Batgirl. The creator and driving force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a solid choice to steer a Batgirl story in a reliable direction. I wonder what iteration of Batgirl it will be, though. Will it be the new hipster Batgirl of Burnside (the Brooklyn of Gotham City) who sports the bossest new costume around, or will this be a more classic iteration of Barbara Gordon? We'll report more details as they arise. What do you think of this news? Is the DCEU doing something right? Will this wind up delayed by the summer? Let us know in the comments. [via Variety]
Joss Whedon Batgirl photo
BAH GAWD! THAT'S JOSS WHEDON'S MUSIC!
Variety reports that Joss Whedon will direct a standalone Batgirl movie for Warner Bros. and the DCEU. Whedon will also write the film and serve as producer. Variety notes that comics writer and producer Geoff Johns will be o...

New Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer has Peter Parker and Tony Stark at odds

Mar 28 // Hubert Vigilla
I wonder if this trailer gives too much away about the story. In particular, Spidey back in the low-fi/DIY suit seems like it should have been saved for the film itself rather than spoiled for the trailer. That would make for a dramatic reveal. What do you think? Let us know in the comments. Spider-Man: Homecoming will be out July 7th.
Spider-Man: Homecoming photo
Is Spider-Man more than just a suit?
The first Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer gave us a taste of the Marvel Studios webslinger, which seems to have a charm and ease that Sony never managed to get right in their Amazing films. The happy-go-lucky/I-love-savin...

Every Power Rangers Season, Ranked

Mar 27 // Nick Valdez
Honorable Mention: Power Rangers Ninja Steel As of this writing, Ninja Steel is only ten episodes in (so halfway through the first half), so I can't fully rank it among the others yet. I've been enjoying what I've seen so far, however. Far removed from Neo-Saban's (when Saban reacquired the rights to the series' production in 2012) early growing pains, this season resets the age of the team -- they're teens in high school again -- and it's got all of the goofiness of the OG seasons but with better acting. I mean, they just introduced a gold ranger, who's a country western star and his helmet has a hat on it. What's not to like?  20. Power Rangers Operation Overdrive Summary: Two brothers try to steal a legendary crown (the Corona Aurora), but are imprisoned. Years later, explorer Andrew Hartford uncovers the crown, freeing the two bad bros. Andrew then brings in five folks, including his son, to become Power Rangers and gather the pieces of Corona Aurora before the baddies do.  Operation Overdrive is just a huge mess. I'm not exactly sure who or what to blame for its overall terribleness, but it's a combination of terribly written plots, terrible acting, terrible suits, a rap opening theme, and a bunch of characters who were all awful jerks. Seriously, this is the only season in Power Rangers where each member of the team is a selfish person with little redeeming value. The worst season of the Disney era, and the worst season overall.  19. Power Rangers Samurai/Super Samurai Summary: After otherworldly monsters invade feudal Japan, the Shiba clan trains generations of samurai to fight them and keep the otherworld (the Sanzu River) from flooding into the human one.  After Saban reacquired the production rights to the series from Disney in 2010 (which fans have dubbed the "Neo-Saban Era"), they took one of the shows I never thought would be adapted, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. The original series was unequivocally Japanese, so naturally there would be translation pains. But Samurai was the victim of a lot of factors. The series had moved to Nickelodeon, seasons were cut down to 20 episodes apiece (thus separating each series into two halves), episodes were aired out of order (the premiere was the fourth one produced), acting was all around awful (not to mention the worst child acting of the series), and it directly adapted plots from the original Japanese series even if it didn't make much sense in English. But, regardless of all of these factors, the show became popular enough (again) to keep going, mostly due to how unique of the season's theme was.  18. Power Rangers Mystic Force Summary: After dark forces of magic threaten the world, a great sorceress gathers five destined teens to be become Power Ranger wizards and fight the armies of the undead.  Like Samurai, Mystic Force is another season with a theme unique from the rest. The magical world (along with the admittedly cool look for the rangers themselves) could've been a great thing. However, the season became too focused on world building, introducing new characters every few episodes rather than allowing the season to breathe and/or give its core Ranger team the focus necessary. It became a Red Ranger season, meaning the Red Ranger got the bulk of the character work, but this was also a huge misfire since the Red this season (named Nick, sadly) was bland and uninteresting. The finale also had a random "mystical creatures vs. normies" kind of thing that sort of popped up out of nowhere, but the less said about that the better.  17. Power Rangers Megaforce/Super Megaforce Summary: Five teens are chosen to defend the world from an invading insect army then unlock powers at an alarming rate, eventually resulting in the ability to morph into every generation of Power Rangers before them.  Okay, there's quite a bit to unpack here. Megaforce was technically announced as the 20th Anniversary of the series, but nothing was officially done about it until Super Megaforce. Imagine the combined 100 episodes of two different shows mangled into a 40 episode nonsense machine and that's Megaforce. Rapid pacing combined with random tributes to Power Rangers never seen before (not even editing the Sentai exclusive teams out of the footage), and an overall laziness contributed to this season's downfall. Even more troublesome was what happened behind the scenes during their big anniversary episode. Saban had initially invited a bunch of old cast members but rescinded many of those invites before filming because they had become too expensive. So that's why you get two minutes of Tommy toward the end of the season and not much more there. But the suits and power changes were cool, so whatever.  16. Power Rangers Turbo Summary: The Rangers drive cars really fast.  Turbo was such a bad season it nearly ended the series altogether. After debuting with Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (which is oddly counted in the series' story despite being f**king terrible), it took footage from the Japanese Carranger, which was made as an intentional parody and saved Super Sentai overseas, and gave it gritty overtones. Its constant need to be taken seriously clashed with episodes where they got baked into a giant pizza or that one where Justin was stuck on a bicycle moving on its own. None of it was helped by a major casting change midway through when the OG cast decided to move on from the project after a few of them had stayed on for like a billion episodes. The one thing that saves this particular series is the fact I liked the new cast quite a bit. Patricia Ja Lee was the first Asian American Pink Ranger, and Selwyn Ward was a great Red Ranger. The two injected much of the needed personality this season (and beyond).  15. Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue Summary: When Demons attack Mariner Bay, the Lightspeed organization recruits five individuals with expertise to become a rescue squad of Rangers to save the day.  For these next few entries, there are seasons which were almost good but not quite there. These seasons often had great ideas but were hindered by other aspects of the production. Lightspeed Rescue was awesome for a number of reasons: The military theme gave the Rangers a more professional vibe than in seasons past; the suits had a nice, clean look to them; it had a good theme song; they created a unique power ranger for the series; and Carter Greyson was an awesome, no-nonsense Red Ranger who shot first and asked questions later. What keeps it from being great, however, is the lack of interesting villains, often befuddling writing (such as focusing the traditional team-up episode between seasons on some random child actor), and  the fact that one of the main villains was just terrible.  14. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers S3 Summary: The Rangers get ninja powers before turning into children and then aliens show up.  While fans are nostalgic for Power Rangers' initial run, most seem to forget how bad the third season was. A strong brand with the gradual loss of popularity, the writers had no idea what to really do anymore. With an increased budget leading to less Japanese footage, it adapted Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie into the series proper, adding in Ninja Powers, the Tengu Warriors, the Ninja Megazord (even using toy footage when the Ninja Megazord combined with the old Titanus zord), and eventually turning the Rangers into kids for the last half of the season. The brief (and terrible) Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers mini-season debuted here, and those are probably the worst episodes of the initial run. And I'm including Trini's troll doll. Still a lot better than the seasons higher up on the list, however.  13. Power Rangers Wild Force Summary: Five people are gathered on the floating island of Animaria, an island full of ancient animals called upon to protect the earth from pollution and environmental junk like that.  Wild Force suffers many of Lightspeed Rescue's issues,  with uninteresting villains (until the last few episodes anyway), weird decisions (their mentor was the worst), increased focus on Red Ranger, and an overbearing environmental message, but it's a rung above thanks to some standout episodes. Its crossover, "Reinforcements from the Future," is one of the best; the 10th Anniversary "Forever Red" episode remains one of my favorites; the suits were cool, and I actually was a fan of its Red Ranger until he committed an actual murder. I can't look at this season the same anymore, sadly.  12. Power Rangers Dino Charge/Dino Super Charge Summary: Five, then six, then seven, then ten people gather together when each discovers a long hidden dino gem, full of a transformative power that helps them fight the forces of evil.  The reason Megaforce was such a hearty failure is that it no longer had the excuse of Saban re-learning how to produce the series. But apparently they needed two series to figure out exactly how to handle things, because Dino Charge was a major improvement all around. It had better pacing, better filler episodes (meaning they don't contribute to the story but often provide character growth or comedy), a better cast of actors (Brandon Mejia is a great Red Ranger), and goes down in Ranger history for having the most Rangers on a single team at ten. Though not all of the Rangers were worthwhile (it's hard to develop ten different people in 40 episodes) and it fell apart toward the end, Dino Charge was still more enjoyable than most.  11. Power Rangers Zeo  Summary: After the destruction of the Command Center leaves them stranded, Zordon unveils a new set of powers from the Zeo Crystal, and this new level of power is needed more than ever against an invading machine legion.  Although Power Rangers was no stranger to change the first three seasons, the series didn't officially receive its first major overhaul until Zeo. Accompanied by an opening theme touting these new powers (based off of footage of a new season of Super Sentai) as "stronger than before," Zeo was an interesting thing. The Machine Empire had a larger villainous scope than Rita or Zedd, but they never accomplished anything concrete. There may have been a new Command Center, powers that technically grow in strength forever (thus leaving a plot hole for fans to argue about ad infinitum), and a starkly different suit overall, but Zeo also felt like a step down from the original series. It was a strange but much-needed transitional period, resulting in the loss of David Yost (who stepped out of the series due to terrible conditions behind the scenes), the loss of Karen Ashley's Aisha (who was written out of the show as a child), and the loss of quite a few viewers. This is where the nostalgia ends for most folks. But there were some great episodes within, like "King for a Day," which featured one of the best Bulk and Skull plots of the entire series. 10. Power Rangers Jungle Fury Summary: Three students of the kung-fu Order of the Claw are chosen to fight an ancient evil, Dai Shi, and rebalance the chi of the world.  Almost the final season of the series (before Disney decided to give it one last victory lap, RPM), it would've been a fine one to go out on. While it's got some goofy qualities (like talking flies and master karate folks turning into animals at the end for some reason), it was an ambitious season. Featuring only three initial Rangers (with a fourth and fifth debuting much later), this season played out like a kung-fu movie for kids. The suits are pretty cool, the fights were well choreographed in-suit and out, and instead of making a motorcycle to promote toy sales like other seasons, Jungle Fury chose to add three unique Rangers (who were initially evil puppets: another cool layer).  The finale may have been a bit rushed and unfulfilling, but it featured all eight Rangers fighting an undead army of monsters before a giant King Faux-dorah showed up for ten seconds. Also, the villains had a face turn, and that was pretty cool.  9. Power Rangers Lost Galaxy Summary: Five strangers pull five mystical swords out of a rock and gain the power to save their floating space colony from an evil scorpion.  While Lost Galaxy isn't one of my favorites, I have to give credit where it's due. It's a season filled with so many of my personal favorite episodes ("The Rescue Mission," "To the Tenth Power/The Power of Pink," just to name a few) and one of my favorite sixth Rangers (Magna Defender, who eventually turned his powers over to Leo's brother Mike), but its shoes were just too big to fill. This was the first season of the series where the cast rotated out every year, and the first of the post-Zordon era, and after In Space's great finale everything felt lacking, naturally.  No matter how good in might've been in retrospect, it's another victim of growing pains. Quite a common problem for the series overall, as you might've noticed.  8. Power Rangers Ninja Storm Summary: After their entire ninja school was kidnapped by the evil ninja Lothor, three less than great ninja students are chosen to become the Wind Ninja Power Rangers and fight to save their fellow ninjas.  Though Disney acquired the production rights to the series mid-Wild Force, its first actual foray into the show was a fantastic debut. Though fans had to get used to a lot of new norms (32 episode series lengths, New Zealand locations and actors, less direct violence), there was an overall newness to the series that felt like a breath of fresh air. This first season focused on three initial Rangers (which had never been done before) before adding two Rival Rangers to the foray and had some pretty great acting from its main cast. The main villain, Lothor, was too hokey for it, and some of the episodes bordered on cartoonish terribleness, but the stark contrast of its style to seasons before and after helped make its mark among the others.  7. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers S1 Summary: When evil sorceress Rita Repulsa escapes her prison of 10,000 years, a giant floating head and his robot butler recruit a team of teenagers with attitude. He endows them with dinosaur powers and they learn the value of teamwork and environmental friendliness.  Yes, the season of the series with the most fans isn't the best one. Though it began the Power Rangers legacy and introduced traditions (like the mythical sixth Ranger) and other mythos to the series, it was back before any nuance was added. There were monster-of-the-week episodes --  most of which are unmemorable (save for the "Rapping Pumpkin"), the teens themselves didn't have as much attitude as advertised (they were goodie goodies who recycled and the like), and it was back before good dialogue was a thing in this show. But, credit where it's due and all that.  6. Power Rangers Dino Thunder Summary: When the Mercer Corporation unleashes an army of dinosaurs, three kids stumble on dino powers and Tommy Oliver recruits them to form his very own team of Power Rangers.  When the ratings for the series began to falter, Disney brought the series back to its roots. A dinosaur theme, three Rangers at the start (which honestly might be why some of Disney's seasons worked so well), and the return of Jason David Frank as series mentor. Naturally, this meant Tommy Oliver got such a heavy focus (he became a Ranger again and got one of the best episodes of the series with "Fighting Spirit"), but the the rest of the cast were no slouches either. It takes quite a bit to take attention away from Tommy, but this team managed to do it.  The teens felt like teens for once (they fought among each other, hated school and things like training), the main villain was complicated (which was a welcome change post-Lothor), and it even managed an evil Ranger plot with everything else going on. It's not higher on the list because it has to compete with tighter series, but Dino Thunder is highly recommended.  5. Power Rangers SPD Summary: Space cops in the future.  I'll just say it outright: S.P.D. was slept on. With the best non-MMPR opening theme (which was no coincidence, as it brought back longtime composer Ron Wasserman) and the best suits from the Disney era, it nails a military theme that Lightspeed Rescue attempted years before. It also has a complicated set of Rangers in its core team, and is set years into the future, giving it a different vibe from previous seasons. Plus, there was a major story thread teased throughout which actually got the most focus toward the end of the season. A Power Rangers season with actual good foreshadowing? Yeah, it happened.  You see, this team was officially the "B Squad" or the second best. When the A Squad goes missing mid-season and re-emerges as bad guys toward the end. the final arc became overcoming their "second best" anxiety rather than taking on their generic villain.  4. Power Rangers Time Force Summary: Earth cops from the future.  Time Force is the closest to B-movie quality the series has ever come. With an older cast (some of whom with previous acting experience, which is why so much of the series is well acted), a team of Rangers from the future, some of the best suits the series has ever had, the best non-Tommy sixth Ranger (Eric the Quantum Ranger), and an unconventional villain (Rancic) who eventually gave up his evil ways when he put his daughter in danger. Though it's not a perfect series, as Rancic is the core of many of its problems (he's sort of an unsympathetic jerk despite the series trying to portray him as the opposite), and some of the team isn't as developed as others, the season featured quite a bit of nuance in its storytelling, which hadn't been present in the series before. It'd be years before it got that level of nuance again.  3. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers S2 Summary: Zordon's team of teenagers with attitude face even greater challenges than before like how to negotiate proper pay per episode.  The best season of Power Rangers' initial run was after they worked out the kinks. Lord Zedd was introduced, Tommy lost his Green Ranger powers and became the White Ranger, there's an episode where Kimberly impersonates Rita Repulsa, three of the original cast were written out of the show due to contract disputes, Rita and Zedd get married, the Green Ranger and White Ranger fight in colonial Angel Grove, and Kimberly goes back in time and fights a Mexican stereotype cactus monster with the help of Wild West versions of her friends.  Writing this all out highlights how goofy the season was overall, but that's what I love about it. It wasn't overly serious like the first season, didn't have the budget of the third season, and it's the version of the OG series I remember most fondly. Still not great, but great by early Power Rangers standards for sure.  2. Power Rangers RPM Summary: After a computer virus creates an army of machines, the remnants of humanity retreat to the domed city of Corinth, where a team of Power Rangers is the last line of defense for everyone.  Intended to be the final season of the series, showrunners decided to go for broke and throw everything they had into creating a post-apocalyptic film for kids. Lifting creative elements from films like Mad Max and Terminator, then adding a Power Rangers layer helped give this season a vibe no other season had before. It was more creatively cemented than years past, and actually had good cinematography, which had made RPM look much different than its predecessors. It truly had a sense of finality and reverence that the series had only had once before.  What keeps it from the top however, is  that behind-the-scenes events (going over budget, shifting showrunners) led to problems toward the second half. Most problematical, one of its major plots aped a famous villain from many years before. This may not have mattered to most fans, but this one small flaw does keep it from the top spot in my eyes. But not by much.  1. Power Rangers In Space Summary: When an army of villains defeats the Power Rangers, the team escapes into space and gains a new set of powers before returning to Earth and laying the smackdown on errybody.  Like RPM, In Space was originally going to be the final season of the show, but it had such good ratings it basically saved the series. Going for broke, the production team decided to send it off with a space opera. A villainess fondly remembered for her multiplicity (which was huge for a kids show), the return of Adam for a guest-starring role in an episode as the Black Power Ranger, a set of evil Rangers that took multiple episodes to defeat, a Silver Ranger with a cool sword gun, and an actual end to the story started years before in Mighty Morphin episode one.  It featured a finale (which, admittedly, seems weak in retrospect when compared to the better written seasons of the later years) that not only captured Power Rangers at its best but also reflected the series' campy-yet-serious spirit. It had a scope no other kids show had at the time and truly set the series on the path it's on today. There you have it! Those are how every season of Power Rangers ranks among the others. If you're looking for particular episodes to watch, here are my favorites:  1. "Doctor K" -- Power Rangers RPM E11 2. "Countdown to Destruction" -- Power Rangers In Space E42-43  3. "Green With Evil" Mighty Morhpin Power Rangers S1 E17-21
Power Rangers Month photo
After 10,000 years and 831 episodes
It's been a weird twenty something years. Power Rangers has seen good days and bad days, both supreme bouts of popularity and near cancellation. Yet somehow, this series has survived so long that it's managed to get three dif...

Justice League photo
Oh...alright
Justice League is technically one of Flixist's Most Anticipated of 2017 out of morbid curiosity. After getting a glimpse at this first official trailer, I'm not really sure what to think. It seems it has a less dour tone than...

Review: Power Rangers

Mar 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221258:43472:0[/embed] Power RangersDirector: Dean IsrealiteRelease Date: March 24, 2017Rated: PG-13 Power Rangers follows the well-known roots of the original TV series. Five teenagers -- Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Billy (RJ Cyler), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Zack (Ludi Lin), and Trini (Becky G) -- stumble on five mysterious coins granting them superpowers. Upon discovering a spaceship deep underground along with a giant face-in-the-wall Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), the teens learn they're the latest team of Power Rangers, colorful suited heroes who need to protect the Zeo Crystal from good-girl-gone-bad Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). The PG-13 rating and big screen budget affords the film some great updates to the original series' ideas, but at times also feels like a two hour fan film when the goofy series terminology (words like "morph" and the "Zeo Crystal," which will mean more to fans) is juxtaposed with the grounded world of the film.  Thankfully when I say "grounded," I actually mean a deeper look at characterization and themes inherent in the series and not "dark and gritty." You're not going to, say, see Zack shoot someone in the face but will definitely hear him make a masturbation joke. The risque' jokes and sultrier villain help carve out a much needed separate identity from the TV series, but these kinds of additions tend to make for a confusing film overall. It's hard to gauge exactly who the film is meant for when some of the jokes and situations may be a bit too complicated for the current intended fanbase (kids) yet it's not afraid to dive into hokey territory at times to make cede kids happy. There's also so much drastically different from the original production it'll alienate nostalgic curiosity. But in that same breath, Power Rangers often bends over backwards to include bits of unnecessary fan service to cater to old fans, undercutting its own footprint. So it ends up perceived as non-committal to either vision. No one is going to be truly happy with the film's tone.  While its tone may be at war with itself, Power Rangers absolutely nails the chemistry of the core five. Aided by the fact they're all relatively unknown (save for RJ Cyler and Becky G, who turn in the best performances of the group), these five carry the film through its rougher patches. Scenes that wouldn't work elsewhere or ebb the flow of plot, such as one where five teens sit around a campfire and share their biggest secrets without prompting, manage to land because the cast is so enjoyable to watch. The great focus on characterization allows each of them to find their groove in the film and give the Rangers a much needed personality. It's why you see their faces during the big Man of Steel/Transformers sequence (where the Megazord fights Goldar through Krispy Kreme Grove), too. As unique as Power Rangers' fights should be, they devolve into CG nonsense you'll find elsewhere. But the chemistry of the team I came to love by the end adds a much needed humanity and fun while teasing much better films (presumably) to come.  Elizabeth Banks' Rita is also truly remarkable. Finding the sweet spot between scenery chewing and serious, each of her scenes is a highlight. Banks helps to balance the sometimes overwrought seriousness of the Power Rangers' tone with her charismatic cheese. Bryan Cranston's Zordon is fine, but I'll give him credit for going full body make-up for the role. I find myself at war with my "fan" reaction to the film since I dig the layered characters (as Billy reveals he's on the Autism spectrum and one character hints at a potential homosexual identity), the original theme gets used once (it's poorly timed, but has a nostalgic angle fans would instantly recognize), and even the suits look nice when standing still (which is something I never thought I'd believe, really), but then there's a masturbation joke not five minutes in after a boring "gritty" title card once again revealing a clash of tones holding the film back. I suppose the project would have landed better had it a director who wasn't prone to much of the generic blockbuster film camera angles and quirks. Power Rangers' flow stutters as development often comes to complete standstills, but then moves to scenes where concepts are introduced pretty rapidly (and several poorly soundtracked montages). I know this is probably weird to say with as loud of a property as this, but I enjoyed the quiet moments of the film rather than when it played out like an expensive music video. The final battle has something, like, six track changes and that's only one example of the film never quite getting comfortable with itself save for a few brief scenes. Even if it's not comfortable with itself, that does not mean it escapes franchise building. There's no saving it from feeling like the first entry of a larger series rather than a single entity. Make no mistake, I have no delusions over the quality of the Power Rangers property. This was tough to adapt, I'm sure, and the end result is much better and worse than I had anticipated.  Much like Power Rangers, I too am confused. Although I didn't like a lot of its editing choices, and feel like it could've been trimmed for brevity, I want to see this cast in another film with all of the kinks ironed out. There's powerful potential here, you just have to sit through this one first. 
Power Rangers Review photo
Oh, I have a headache
More so than any of the reviews I've written, I feel I have to preface this one a bit. Since I (literally in some cases) hold the Power Rangers brand so close to my chest, I've been keeping a close eye on the reboot since the...

What if Lewis Tan played Danny Rand in Iron Fist instead of Finn Jones?

Mar 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221386:43470:0[/embed] We'd Get Far Better Fight Scenes Above is the Iron Fist fight scene that everyone's abuzz about. Lewis Tan is an actual martial artist. He's built like an athlete. He moves well. He looks comfortable throwing punches, kicking, and rolling around on the ground with a sense of purpose. By comparison, not once does Jones move like a martial artist. There's no rhythm or ease or fluidity. Jones moves like a guy fighting, not a fighter--big difference. The directors used a number of techniques to make up for Jones' shortcomings as a martial artist: odd camera angles, shaky cam, obscuring close ups and long shots, excessive cutting, fighting in shadows or bad lighting, fighting in a hoodie. Whenever I couldn't see Jones' face, I just assumed a stunt performer was doing the fighting for him. Watch the fight above again and notice how little you see Jones' face when complicated moves or reactions are required. (Also, who'd want to fight in a hoodie? That would cut off your peripheral vision.) Whenever Jones has to do the fights himself, he looks clumsy. He lacks the instinctual poise and physicality of a trained fighter. He doesn't even have the body awareness, confident footwork, or balance of a dancer. Had Lewis Tan been cast as Danny Rand, you wouldn't need to make up for a lack of martial arts skill. Tan would be able to perform fights and stunts at a high level. He'd collaborate with the fight choreographer and action director since he'd know what he's capable of doing as a martial artist. They might even go beyond drunken boxing and use animal styles, traditional weapons like jians and three-section staffs, or a good old-fashioned horse bench fight. (If there are two things I love, it's three-section staffs and a good old-fashioned horse bench fight.) [embed]221386:43471:0[/embed] Someone like Tan could radically transform the fight scenes in Iron Fist. Fights in the show currently feel like perfunctory spectacle. Instead, with a martial artist in the lead, we'd explore Danny Rand's character through action. He'd have an actual fighting style that's individual and idiosyncratic, something that Jones never develops in 13 episodes. Bruce Lee moves a certain way, Jet Li moves a certain way, Jackie Chan moves a certain way, Donnie Yen moves a certain way. Danny Rand, the world's greatest martial artist, should also have a character-defining physicality. It may also be a way to define K'un-L'un's martial culture and imply what its larger fighting philosophy might be. Tan doing the fights himself would change the way the fight scenes are shot. Camera angles and movements could be used with greater care rather than to obscure faces. Fight scenes could be edited with rhythm, and cuts would be defined by body movement and action. It's nice to have a hero who doesn't have to fight in a hoodie or in the dark so much. The fights may also be able to tell certain kinds of stories, with Danny not just overpowering his opponents but outsmarting them. Overall, I think the action in Iron Fist could potentially be on par with Daredevil. It would have its own flavor as well since the fighting in the show wouldn't be like any of the other Marvel shows. More than anything, Tan could make Iron Fist feel more like an actual martial arts series. Confronting Asian Stereotypes While I'm okay with Danny Rand as a white guy in theory, I'm also aware that he is an artifact of a time and an iteration of a well-worn trope. I'm also okay with Danny Rand as an Asian guy because that's far more interesting than what we got in the show. It's the 21st century, so maybe old versions of characters can be reinvented for their times and for a new medium while retaining the original spirit. By casting an Asian-American as Danny Rand, the show could explore issues of race, identity, Asian stereotypes, and orientalism. Even just optically or subtextually, these topics matter when it comes to the traditions and cultures involved. Finn Jones' constant meditating, doing origami, and spouting off fortune cookie mysticism is some unintentionally awful and unavoidable pseudo-yellowface dreck. It's not even quaintly bizarre appropriation like the Billy Jack movies; it's just uncomfortable. There are so many assumptions about Asian masculinity that can be explored through Danny Rand. Since we'd be dealing with an Asian-American character, that could lead to some exploration of different cultural expectations imposed on Danny by others. There's also the idea of an Asian in-between. Asians assimilate easily into American culture yet are simultaneously regarded as a racial/cultural Other. Or maybe the new version of Danny is half-Asian, which sets up another interesting racial dynamic. Ultimately an Asian-American Danny Rand would wind up playing with the idea of a return to a mother culture and how that affects personal notions of identity. In an interview with Vulture, Tan made a common yet astute observation about how Asian-Americans are viewed and view themselves: I think it would be really interesting to have that feeling of an outsider. There’s no more of an outsider than an Asian-American: We feel like outsiders in Asia and we feel like outsiders at home. That’s been really difficult--especially for me. It’s been hard for me, because in the casting world, it’s very specific. So when they see me and I’m six-two, I’m a 180 pounds, I’m a muscular half-Asian dude. They’re like, “Well, I don’t know what to do with this guy.” They’re like, “He’s not Asian, he’s not white... no.” That’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. So I understand those frustrations of being an outsider. (As an aside, I think Jordan Peele's Get Out offered a brief but memorable exploration of this Asian in-between state during the backyard party scene.) In addition to the above, the relationship between Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Danny Rand would feel much different. Maybe it's just me, but there's something about Jones as Danny that makes me think of guys who fetishize Asian culture (and especially Asian women) to an unhealthy degree. Maybe it's also the quality of Jones' performance--it's awfully patrician and leering instead of being flirty. The issues may be obviated with an Asian lead, or maybe these issues can become part of a more explicit exploration of racial fetishism. Representation in the Media On the note of Colleen Wing, I can't help but think of how cool it would be for a high-profile series to feature two Asians of mixed descent as leads. Admittedly, part of this stems from being an uncle now. I wonder how my niece might see some aspect of her identity reflected in pop culture. I suppose one day there may be a show about a half-white Jewish Filipina that will mirror my niece's own upbringing. When that happens, we'll probably have flying cars and be living in a post-scarcity utopia. Let's hope we get there. In all seriousness, I wonder who my niece's role models might be. I also wonder what people may think of my niece based on appearance alone. And that's why representation matters. More people and more voices and more experiences means more stories that we may not have heard and should hear. These narratives are machines for developing empathy and mutual understanding. In the case of Iron Fist, this machine also happens to hit bad guys in the face. (Woody Guthrie used to write that on his guitar until he thought of a punchier phrase.) There's something to be said about a show starring Asians just affirming the Asian martial arts stereotypes of the past. But that might be a lazy hot-take version of a bigger and more important conversation about old cultural ideas. Casting two Asian leads might be a chance to help deconstruct those antiquated notions about Asians whether they're the product of the 19th century, pulp fiction, or John Hughes movies. One show can't do it alone, so in an ideal scenario it will be one of many steps in the ongoing conversation of actual culture and how it's depicted in pop culture, and how both are these constructs in flux. The yellow menace can be inverted and undone, and ditto the sage-like magical Asian or the nerdy Asian math-god. I mean, come on, it kind of worked in The Last Dragon, all right? The Show Still Would Have Sucked Because of the Writing To paraphrase the bard of the squared circle Stone Cold Steve Austin, it's hard to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. With the current writers and producers, Iron Fist was going to suck no matter what. Even with a solid martial artist in the lead, it's hard to make a compelling character out of Danny Rand as written. He'd still be selfish and entitled. He'd still suck at everything. He'd still be prone to temper tantrums and amateur-hour decisions that wind up hurting people around him. I called him Anakin Skywalker with erectile dysfunction in the review because that's precisely how he comes across--a bratty crybaby whose rage gets in the way of his potential. Who wants to watch a frightened, confused jaboni as a hero? What's more, Iron Fist would still be rife with poor pacing and inert scenes. We'd still have to sit through conversations in corporate boardrooms, waiting for the delightful reprieve of someone philosophically punching bad guys in the face. To be honest, the Iron Fist fiasco makes me feel bad for Finn Jones. Even though he was on Game of Thrones, this was supposed to be his potential big break. It's been roundly panned, and he's taken the brunt of the criticism since he's the lead and has been inartfully defending an indefensible show during his press tour. This role has undermined whatever talents Jones may have. Now, he seems like the latest Blandy McBlanderson: an anodyne, interchangeable white male lead. Showrunner Scott Buck deserves a lot of the blame for the show's critical drubbing, and the same goes for the writers of Iron Fist. There's a fundamentally poor grasp of storytelling that goes beyond issues of representation and the problematic tropes of the past. Iron Fist is a martial arts show that doesn't give a crap about the martial arts. It's a crummy commercial for The Defenders, and it feels like it. Buck--who is credited with ruining the show Dexter in its closing seasons--is also the showrunner of Inhumans. If Iron Fist is any indication of how Scott Buck handles superheroes, I can't wait to watch Medusa and Karnak go over the finer points of purchasing supplemental insurance. Black Bolt will destroy a city with a whine. This is just a bigger indictment of the cynicism behind Iron Fist, a 13-hour set-up show for the next Netflix/Marvel product that fanboys and fangirls will watch anyway even if it's garbage. The writers and producers relied on old tropes and old approaches thinking they're sufficient, assuming people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad. The billionaire playboy who travels to the far east is played out and needs to be put to rest. We need new kinds of stories, and there are plenty of voices out there waiting for a chance to be heard. There are also many unfamiliar faces we should be seeing. Had Lewis Tan been cast as the lead in the current version of Iron Fist, he'd be anchored to Danny Rand the bratty milksop, the least heroic and least interesting character in his own show. What a waste of potential, but man, what a resume builder.
Lewis Tan: Iron Fist? photo
Missed opportunity by Marvel/Netflix?
The first season of Iron Fist was the worst kind of disaster--a boring disaster. At least half of the season was devoted to a corporate takeover plot. Iron Fist features more scenes in corner offices and conference rooms than...


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