Movie Review: Megan Leavey

I wanted to be an MP in the Army and work in a K-9 unit. Then I realized I was not the right fit for the military and decided to play to my strengths as a writer. However, my affinity for the military did not fade and working dogs are awesome. When a film about the Armed Forces comes out I try to see it and Megan Leavey was right up my alley. Did it stand out in this month of trash or should I have saved my money for Baby Driver?

To escape the monotony of her life Megan, played by Kate Mara, joins the Marine Corps. After a disciplinary incident leaves her doing grunt work, she grows attached to a working dog named Rex.

Two years ago I saw a movie called Max. It was about a working dog living with the family of his handler that died on deployment. It was very corny on purpose. The kid character was supposed to be a twerp, the villains were supposed to be cartoonish, and the overall tone was supposed to be light-hearted. For what it was, Max was successful, a call back to dog movies that was also about being a soldier. However, the corn factor downplayed the whole thing. It was very tone deaf when the titular Max would have a fit while fireworks go off, followed by a scene of kids doing BMX stunts.

Leavey is the complete antithesis. For one thing, it is based on a true story. Instead of overt subtext about going through trauma, film is about Rex and Megan sharing a bond through war. Not unlike human soldiers, the two are inseparable and the latter half of the movie is about Megan dealing with the anxiety of being apart.

That is where Leavey does well. Mara is one of those actors that are only as good as the material they are given. While dealing with the separation she is very emotional and focused on trying to bring Rex home. There is a lot going on, whereas the first half is pretty dull. We see Megan go through boot camp and deploy with very little to keep your attention. It is just stuff that happens because that was how it played out in real life.

From what I could tell, Leavey was trying to be a Clint Eastwood film. It was very matter-of-fact, honest, and obvious. However, Eastwood knows how to bring a script to life and get good performances out of his actors. American Sniper may have been cheaper than dirt, but the themes and Bradley Cooper’s performance made it exceptional. Leavey starts with a whole lot of nothing before actually getting to something. It was more concerned with being faithful to the story than being a movie. Sully was very plain, but it was still trying to be a movie.

A couple more things irked me that other people will not care about. During the pass and review segment of Megan’s graduation from boot camp, none of the extras in formation marched in-step. Also, Mara does not look like a Marine or any service member. This is subjective, but women in the military do not look like models because they actually work. She a good actor, but I think a Katee Sackhoff or Portia Doubleday would have been a better physical fit for the part.

All in all, Megan Leavey is very average. It is not that great given the first half is a slog, but it is well meaning. It is about the bonds of war between man and his best friend. You cannot ask for more. In terms of a recommendation, if you saw Max and were left wanting, give it a look. For everyone else, unless you are a fan of the military and war movies, you would not miss anything sitting this one out.

Movie Review: It Comes at Night

June does not look good for movies. While Wonder Woman and It Comes at Night were the exception, the rest of the month is a no go for me. Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 look like poison, Transformers 5 requires no explanation, and some true stories and comedies I do not want to see. Until Baby Driver comes out on the 29th, I will be ignoring everything else because Edgar Wright is a genius. I might see Megan Leavey because military and dogs. Was It Comes a good start to a dower month or should you see Wonder Woman again?

After an epidemic destroys civilization, a family out in the woods takes extra precautions to ensure their safety. Their simple lives turn upside down when they invite another family to stay with them.

Whatever you think It Comes is, you are wrong. The homeless-apocalypse has many tropes you can easily predict like its base genre, post-apocalypse. You know there is going to be dark subject matter and terrible things will happen to the characters. If you have seen The Road, read Walking Dead, or played The Last of Us, you have an idea of what will happen in It Comes and that is what the film is trying to do.

Paranoia plays a big part in the horror and setting. The virus in question is airborne and if you know anything about diseases, airborne is the worst. You can get it just by breathing or being near someone who is infected. Even then you cannot be sure if they are sick or if you are sick until you start showing symptoms. The characters know this and are well aware of the possibility of infection.

The conflicts deal with their survival and fear of getting sick. The characters stick to a schedule and rules that must be followed lest they risk death. Then they have to consider what other people will do to them in the event they are attacked. Many scenes are all about the characters questioning each other, arguing about breaking the rules, and trying to get a one up because they have no idea what the other group is trying to do. The individual conflicts would have been boring had the performance been less than stellar.

At the same time, as an audience member, you have your own expectations because you have seen movies. You have an inkling of what might happen and are constantly changing it up as the film progresses. In that way, It Comes puts you in the characters’ shoes. A hundred different things are going through their heads because they are so afraid and you are always thinking about what is going on. The movie is meta in this way because you are doing the same thing.

With small films it matters not the what, but the how. How movies are made is what sets them apart. While It Comes is not unlike your average post-apocalypse, it is made in a way that makes its special. The use of light and darkness is just incredible. In scenes of heavy blacks there is only one light source emanating from the characters. It conveys a sense of isolation that they experience living in such cramped quarters in the middle of nowhere. It also adds to the horror of not knowing what may be happening in the thick void around them.

It Comes at Night is borderline amazing. It is not the next best thing, but still impressive. As another annual good horror film following Witch from 2016, it does its job. It reaffirms my faith that not all contemporary horror movies are total trash and a select few creative people know what they are doing. I highly recommend giving it a look if you are a fan of the genre and post-apocalypse.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Looking back at BvS I think I was a little too harsh. It was still a miserable experience seeing a film franchise cut its own throat with a hacksaw. That being said, I take solace in knowing Zack Snyder cared about what he was doing. Unlike Brian Singer he is not embarrassed by his fandom and WB gave him the money to realize his ambition. Even Ben Affleck loved playing Batman, dull performance aside.

However, that is a fraction of merit out of a whole lot of garbage. No one else cared to make BvS great and I do not blame them. When you have a hack like David S. Goyer writing your screenplay, I would not try either. Even if WB was accelerating its plans to establish a cinematic universe, it could have been done with finesse. BvS failed on the page before it reached the screen.

Wonder Woman is in a position to subvert any apprehension one may have. It does not take place in the current timeline of the DCEU, but before. There is a lot that can be done and Goyer is nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, I have faith in Gal Gadot’s ability as an actor. She did not have nearly enough to do in BvS and now she has a chance to prove herself. I still think she is not physically built for the part. Seriously, Chun Li from Street Fighter has more muscle in her thighs than Gadot in her entire body. Does Wonder Woman’s origin make up for last year’s misery or does the DCEU need to die?

When a pilot named Steve, played by Chris Pine, crash lands on the island of Themyscira, Diana discovers that the world is in the midst of WWI. Thinking it is the work of Ares, she goes with Steve to help end the war.

WB finally did the smart thing and just copied Marvel. WW is straight up First Avenger with a little bit of Thor in the beginning. From the overall look and set-up, to the fish-out-of-water humor with Bronze Age Diana in 1918 England, it is everything a Marvel fan would expect. There is even a small team of Howling Commandos made up of token characters. It was as if WB hired people who knew what they were doing and cared about the material.

Turns out, copying the competition actually worked because WW is great. Of course, because the last DCEU movies were so bad (I don’t even remember Suicide Squad), there was nowhere it could go but up. If you can ignore the parallels, the film stands its ground as a separate entity. There is character development, theme, a clear story that has decent pacing, and humor to balance it all out. It is confounding that something so simplistic and easy is liken to masterpiece.

If you have seen First Avenger, WW is the same movie. Where Rogers was an idyllic wimp that wanted to do good, Diana is a naive warrior that wants to do good whose thinking is grounded in the Classical. Her perception of right and wrong and the concept of sides in a conflict are one-dimensional. When trying to end the war, she cannot grasp the idea of people killing people because they are all the same. To her, a Brit and a German is the same thing because they are Man. Taking place during WWI is clever because that war was so morally gray and unlike anything we had scene in human history.

Though thankfully apolitical, WW does not really do much with this idea. Beyond “war is bad,” the film, like its character’s ideals is one-dimensional and does not get into the nature of Man. It makes it clear that our need to kill each other comes from one guy and Diana needs to kill him to bring peace. That is all well and good, but there was a point toward the end that would have been a gut punch to the soul if taken in another direction. It would have been tragic, but also compelling. A lot of potential was lost trying to be heartfelt and positive.

However, WW is not trying to make you think and that is not a bad thing. If the Captain America movies explored Rogers’ need for a war to fight, you know how depressing they would have been? He would have flashbacks and fits of rage and the Avengers would get him a service dog to try and help him through his anxiety. It would be very dark and WW did not want to go down that route. What we got instead was a fun action adventure about bringing peace to the world. That is the most anyone can ask for.

Like Atlas and the Globe, Gadot carries the whole film. In between BvS and now she decided what she wanted to do with the character and pulled it off flawlessly. She plays Diana with such innocence and naiveté that the idyllic and humorous moments feel genuine. She comes from a world where myth is reality and she does not know what do in Man’s domain. Pine plays his usual “charming action man” character. He has great chemistry with Gadot and they play off each other very well. Everyone else was pretty good and it was nice to see Danny Huston and Ewen Bremner working again.

My only real gripe with WW is the action. I could tell director Patty Jenkins had no eye for it because all of the sequences were awkward. They were trying way too hard to look “cool” with a lot of slow motion and the actors doing flips because they could. Each action sequence is full of disparate “cool” moves that do not connect in a cohesive manner. Usually in an action scene, every move leads into the next naturally. Even the uncoordinated fights in Force Awakens were appealing and made sense. In WW it looks like 10 year-old me ripping off the sword fights in Mummy Returns in slow motion.

If you were dissatisfied with BvS and long for WB to get its head out of its ass, Wonder Woman is what you are looking for. It has heart and humor, something Marvel has been doing right for almost a decade. A part of me wishes it was 300 with women, but the DCEU was flawed at its inception, now everyone is playing catch-up. This was a step in the right direction and we can only hope WB puts this much effort into their next installment.

Also, my condolences to Zach Snyder and his family.

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I was 11 when I saw the first Pirates (not that one). It was like something I had never seen before. Johnny Depp’s character was enthralling with a performance that I will never forget. The skeleton pirates are still awesome and the action scenes quaint compared to today. I watched it over and over to the point I ruined the disk and it remains a cornerstone of my childhood. As for the sequels, I could care less.

Even when I was young I knew something was wrong. The reuse of jokes in Dead Man’s Chest irked me, like the writers could not come up with new material. The coffin gag was nice, but the rest of the jokes are recycled. The whole “anti-pirate” subplot was also irritating. The characters would not shut up about being pirates and hating pirates and I did not care. Thank god Bill Nigh was a cool Cthulhu monster.

It got worse in At World’s End with Beckett’s character executing people for sympathizing with pirates like they were hiding them in their attics. Are these guys 18th Century Nazis? Are pirates a repressed minority? “Sir, they’re singing.” First line in the whole film and I wanted to leave. Sadly I stayed in the theater and was happy when it came to end. Then On Stranger Tides came out, but I had the good sense to ignore it. I have no idea how it ties into Dead Men Tell No Tales and I do not care. Was it terrible or did it reignite some semblance of affinity for the Pirates series?

I cannot say because I did not see it…

No, for real, I stayed home and wrote this instead. Then I watched some Trigun, an old anime from back when Saturday nights were Adult Swim and not Toonami. After that, I started a new blog for my friend’s literary magazine Ghost Parachutes. I highly recommend checking out their flash fiction, written by some of Orlando’s best.

At first I was not planning on skipping Dead Men. As a critic, amateur or otherwise, you must contend with the possibility of seeing something terrible. Regardless of what I expected and my own experiences with the Pirates movies, I had to see it and report my findings.

Aside from the fact I do not get paid for this and are not under obligation to write a review, I decided to pass on Dead Men. What changed my mind was a Sneak Peek in the previews before I think Covenant or Guardians Vol. 2? I avoid preview clips like the plague and this one was playing right in front of me on the big screen. It showed a small chuck of the film that was not indicative of the whole, but it was confounding nonetheless.

For about two and a half minutes I was witness to the worst humor I have ever seen. It went beyond copying the last success and was downright bad. “Stop talking so the girl can undress.” “Why didn’t you stop talking?” “Your profession sounds like ‘whore’ so that’s a thing.” Jack Sparrow did some Jack Sparrow stuff. Then the “anti-pirate” element came up and that was it for me.

My mouth was agape, questioning how something this awkward and stilted was given life. Did Bruckheimer not learn from the past? Did he think because Stranger Tides was successful that he could do more of the same and reap equal profits? Why? Just because something makes a lot of money does not mean it is good. Does that make the Transformers movies great? If that is the case, I should just quit and stick with the old stuff. I am not one for post-modernism, but back in the day, people actually cared about the art of cinema.

My mom was kind enough to give me four AMC passes. My parents have been very great about supporting this hobby and I could not be more grateful. I owe them a lot and the last thing I want to do is use their generosity on a Pirates film. I have one ticket left and I will be using it on Wonder Woman instead. You can only trick me so many times before I get wise. I know this is not a proper review and I am probably wrong, but please avoid Dead Men Tell No Tales. Let this series die.  It should never have been a series in the first place.

Also, skip Baywatch. It deserves failure because it is a remake… and Baywatch.

Movie Review: Alien: Covenant

I have no clue why everyone thought Prometheus was too complicated and vague to understand. Some people go to a planet to find the origin of humanity and stuff happens. That is it. There is nothing complex or too difficult to figure out on your own. A lot of it can be chalked up to assumption, but because no one likes to think anymore, they needed a Blu-ray release with deleted scenes that were not in the final cut for a reason.

The dumb criticism was the progenitor of contemporary nitpicking, where every lapse in logic must be explained, or no one will like your movie. People hate Prometheus but give a pass to Star Trek: Into Darkness because it explained its plot holes? Are you serious? However, there were questions that went unanswered. I for one would like to know what came of Shaw’s journey to meet the Engineers. Does Alien: Covenant answer these questions or is it actually terrible.

While on a colony mission, the crew of the Covenant receives a distress call from a nearby planet. After landing, they discover they should have left it alone.

Congratulations, everyone that thought Prometheus was terrible! You got exactly what you wanted: a two-dimensional sci-fi horror film that explains everything so your dumb asses know what is happening without challenging you in any way! You do not have to think because Covenant does it for you! There is no nuance like the theme of meeting your maker and the horror of finding them. No! It is the same shit you have seen before! Thanks for complaining Ridley Scott into submission, one of the most prolific directors in history, pricks!

Of course this all comes down to judging a movie based on what I want instead of what it is. I like Prometheus and I expected something of equal measure, something different from the traditional Alien formula. Judging Covenant as its own entity, however, does not change that it is not that great.

From the very beginning you know what is going to happen. Everyone is going to die, a thing you saw coming happens, followed by a twist that was set up an hour before. Where the Alien series was always a slasher movie in space, Covenant is a bad slasher movie in space. The characters are more disposable than a Red-Shirt and not worth consideration. I was not at all interested in their respective plights or lack thereof. When the characters died, my reaction was “Whose that?”

The only interesting character was David/Walter, played masterfully by Michael Fassbender. He had a personality and motive that was fascinating and I wanted to see more of him. I wanted to see where he would go and understand his reasoning. Everyone else was just along for the ride. The main protagonist is only memorable because of her hair. Billy Crudup’s character is so petty and pathetic I was waiting for him to die. The rest of the characters were just meat with dialog. At least Danny McBride tried and I remember him because he did things.

At that point it became a waiting game. I sat in my seat anticipating when people would buy it based on my experiences with horror and that is the problem. I had no clue what was going to happen in Prometheus and it surprised me. It was this story that was unique with complicated themes that could have led to anything. I wanted to see where it would go because it was different. In Covenant, you know exactly what is going to happen because it is so obvious. Had the emphasis been on David’s story, there would be no issue. Take out Alien in the title and it has more in common with a Sci-Fi Channel original movie.

Being a Ridley Scott film Covenant is very well made. Like Scorsese the man is old as dirt and has not lost his edge. The movie is beautifully bleak with real, lived in sets thanks to Scott’s admiration for the practical. I wish I could say the same for the Xenomorph CG. The pacing is excellent with plenty build up packed with underlining dread that felt genuine. It is unfortunate that the sum of the film’s parts is not enough to ignore its overall problems.

I recommend Alien: Covenant if you want to see more of the same. If you want to see a Xenomorph kill stupid characters and nothing else, look no further. It is unfortunate that David’s story, the best part, is such a small component. For the rest of us, re-watch Prometheus, Alien, and Aliens. Alien 3 is okay, but not that great if I am being honest. If you can turn your brain off, Alien: Resurrection is pretty good. It is basically Firefly with blood and guts. Look to the old; ignore the new.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

I have said on more than one occasion that the first Guardians of the Galaxy is not the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It was funny with great whit, a cast that gelled together, and had perfect direction thanks to James Gunn. The movie’s strengths were the humor and characters, which is usually what you need to make a good Marvel film. However, that was all Guardians had to offer. The main story and individual character motivations could not have been more secondary. It was a McGuffin plot about under-developed people finding a thing to stop a thing.

It is important to remember that Guardians came out of nowhere. No one outside of comic fans had any idea who Star Lord or Rocket Raccoon were. The movie had merits, but those in charge could have done better than a McGuffin story. It is the safest bet with a new property; even Force Awakens and Avengers had McGuffin plots. Then again, both titles came from an established base that everyone understood. With Vol. 2 there is more pressure to do something different. Did it surpass the first Guardians or did I waste my money?

After Rocket, played by Bradley Copper steals valuable artifacts from a powerful alien race, the Guardians are forced to flee before crash landing on a random planet. While trying to fix what remain of their ship Peter, played by Chris Pratt, is met by his long lost father Ego, played by Kurt Russell.

Vol. 2 corrects the mistakes of its predecessor. The chief focus this time around is the characters. The story is a vehicle to put them in situations so they can learn and change. There are short bursts of action between sizable chunks of different pairs of characters going through their own thing. Rocket and Yondu, Gamora and Nebula, and Peter and Ego are given ample space to have an arc.

The individual pairs culminate in the film’s perfectly executed theme of family. Where the Fast and Furious movies outright tell you they are a family, the Guardians characters are anything but. They each have desires and motivations that are not congruent with each other nor do they really like one another. Vol. 2 puts the characters into situations where they must grow and learn to live with each other.

I would go so far as to say the film has more in common with a drama than a sci-fi action-adventure. After the beginning, the tone gradually seeps into a realm of melancholy that I did not see coming. Peter tries to be a kid again while Ego steps into a patriarchal role while preparing him for an unknown purpose. Nebula’s motivations for wanting to kill Gamora go far beyond simple revenge. Yondu has the most compelling arc that ties into Peter’s. It reminded me a lot of LEGO Batman and the relationship between Bruce and Alfred.

Another element that changed from the first Guardians was the humor, but not for the better. I know humor is subjective and what I find funny borders on depressing, but Vol. 2 did not make me laugh. I get a feeling the writers noticed Drax, Groot, and Rocket became more popular than they thought, and gave them bigger parts in the sequel. While they were the standouts (Groot especially), the rest of the humor was pretty bad. It was like they were trying too hard to keep up with the stronger bits.

There is a lot of terrible faux laughter. If you want your characters to laugh at something, at least make it sound authentic. This is real laughter. In fact, none of the other MCU movies have faux laughter because they are trying to make the audience laugh. Then there was Taserface, played by Chris Sullivan, whose sole punch line is his name. Some of the gags were not clever, but they were well constructed and made sense.

Could have been worse.

In terms of the cast, everyone was on point, but the standout was Russell. The man is charisma incarnate with a filmography that rivals his costars through and through. The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone, Stargate… Need I say more? If you ask me, Russell was overdue for a part in an MCU film. Had he popped up in the first Iron Man, he would have been Nick Fury because he played him in Escape From New York. Any hint of what he is like as Ego would be spoilers. Do yourself a favor and see for yourself.

Sequels are always a troublesome lot. It is impossible to follow up a successful previous installment and achieve the same result, unless you are talking about Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is a direct reversal of the first; the bad is good and the good bad. Though the downturn in humor was disheartening, the drama of the characters more than makes up for the lack of laughs.

Editorial 29: Difficult Question

I have come to realize that what I say in writing has negative connotations.  Regardless of intent or context, there is always the possibility someone will be offended.  As a consequence, what I say creates a persona that does not reflect who I am.  When you are trying to gain a following, it is important to understand how people see you.  And because no one ever gives me feedback, I am forced to ask outright:

Based on what have you read (hopefully), who do you think I am, regardless if you know me or not, and what do you think I believe when it comes to religion, politics, etc?

Please be as honest as you can.  I will take anything I can get.