Zero Popped Corns

I Just Watched This Movie; “Avengers: Infinity War”

***SPOILERS***

Antagonists. The greatest of heroes are measured by the villains that they defeat. Most modern superhero movies forget this and have their protagonists face off against a singular villain with super strength, a sky beam, and a mindless army. If you study all of the battles from the previous 18 films, you’ll find that the most exciting battles are actually conflicts within the Avengers team. It takes a meticulous re-watch to even identify a villain in “Captain America: Civil War.” Thankfully, Marvel discovered this flaw, and created the perfect protagonist-antagonist conflict in the new movie, “Avengers: Infinity War.” The film follows Thanos (Josh Brolin), a purple hulk who chooses to wear only one gauntlet (did he lose the other one? or is it a Michael Jackson thing?). Realizing the necessity for an objective way to control overpopulation, Thanos comes up with the most efficient solution: halve the population in a painless, unbiased, and instant act. As simple as his plan seems, he must face off against several adversaries. These villains are actually the Avengers. That’s right, Marvel has brilliantly shown us the full power of the Avengers through the 42 previous movies just so that we understand how powerful our hero Thanos is when he fights them. By the way, did anyone know that Josh Brolin was that big? He must be at least 8ft tall!

Money. Movies can’t get made without money. Everyone on set needs to get paid, from the stars to the unpaid PAs. When a movie is in preproduction, funds are raised, investors are brought in, and a budget is created. For movies in the Marvel franchise, funding is not a problem. The movies are consistently lucrative and a fairly safe investment. However, while audiences didn’t seem to be fatigued from the Marvel superhero format after the previous 71 films, investors seemed to be. This film was underfunded and it showed. Early on, a fight scene takes place in New York City. The fight starts in a street, but quickly moves to Washington Square Park. If Marvel had a real budget, that scene would have been in a better park like Central Park, or at the very least Tompkins Square Park. Even worse, they obviously recycled sets from “Black Panther.”  Even the effects suffered. Vision (Paul Bettany) was rarely in full make-up which gave the false feeling that he was a person, and not just Siri come to life. Hulk as well was absent in most of the film because they couldn’t afford the VFX. But perhaps the worst part, was that towards the end, the VFX artists were shut down mid render and so a bunch of characters just disappear.

Relatability. When we watch a film, we enter into the story and the reality in which it takes place. This can be jarring for an audience if there is not an entry point that allows them to relate and understand the world. For this reason, superhero movies often include non-heroes that the audience can identify with. While all 112 Marvel movies have done this, unfortunately, the non-hero character does not exist in Infinity War. Every character has some sort of super power. It makes you wonder; where are the normal humans like Nick Fury, Jane Foster, or Hawkeye? Furthermore, as the Earth is attacked, where are the militaries? It seems awfully haughty of the Avengers to not ask for the help of the other 7 billion people. Practicality aside, the movie is just hard to understand. Like, I don’t have super strength, and I don’t see any characters without super strength, so how am I supposed to understand just how strong Thanos, or Thor, or Captain America are? Like they could all be weak compared to a normal human and we would never know. And how can we understand how these stones work without super intelligence? Usually they need to explains how things work to some average human side kick, but without one, we’ll never know basic answers to questions like: Why can’t the infinity stones create enough resources to support a larger population? Why does everyone across the galaxy speak english when there are thousands of languages on the planet Earth alone? Why is Gamora?

Over the course of the past 1200 Marvel films, audiences have come to know the formula of these movies. It’s hard to ask for too big of a change when the standard works, but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just enough to improve on its action, humor, characterization, and structure to create a fresh and compelling experience. I should note that this rating is contingent on viewing the film in a full theater; I give it zero popped corns!

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I Just Watched This Movie; “Darkest Hour”

Fresh Talent. Every great movie star had their start somewhere. Directors are always taking chances, casting relative unknowns with the hope that they will be the next big thing. The new film “Darkest Hour” takes the ultimate chance by choosing a total neophyte to play the lead role of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The actor, Mr. Oldman, an obvious stage name reflecting his advanced age, may not have been recognizable to audiences, but he still brought a tremendous presence to the role. As an older, unattractive, heavy man it seems that Gary hit the jackpot with a role that fit his physical features perfectly. His performance was astounding as well, though he mumbled a bit too many of his lines. Another first time actor, Kristin Scott Thomas, proved herself to be just as, if not more talented than her notable twin brother Daniel Day Lewis. In a supporting yet significant role, veteran actress Lily James (“Cinderella”, “Baby Driver”, “Downton Abbey”) delivered a strong performance as well.

Duration. It’s important that movies are a reasonable length. It’s scientifically proven that humans cannot sit in a chair for longer that two hours and thirty minutes without either falling asleep or having to urinate, so movies are kept within this limit. However, some directors look to push their captive human audience to the limits. Christopher Nolan is one such director. His films have progressively increased in length through the Batman series up to “Interstellar.” He ultimately reached a breaking point, though, last year when his epic film about Dunkirk hit the mark of three and a half hours. At such a length, the theaters declined to show it, and he was forced to split the film into two separate movies. The 2nd Unit crew, led by Assistant Director Joe Wright, took on the responsibility of refining the fourth parallel plot about Dunkirk, the one focused on Churchill, into its own full feature. After seeing the 90 minute “Dunkirk” and this 120 minute “Darkest Hour,” I am beyond excited to watch the original “Nolan Director’s cut” once released on DVD.

Historical Accuracy. Often the biggest controversies surrounding historical dramas is the accuracy of the events and people shown. The film, “Darkest Hour,” deals with an extremely important event in world history; The Second World War. During the movie it struck me as odd that the United States was only mentioned once, and really had no role. Here the British Prime Minister was dealing with the end of Western Europe and the threat of invasion at the hands of the Nazis, and not a single American was there to help. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the allied forces were dying, and even more civilians were being killed, captured, and thrown in concentration camps, and yet the movie refused to show any American assistance. This made no sense to me. I mean, didn’t the USA win World War II? So we must have been involved from the beginning of the war, right? Oh well, the Brits rewriting history I guess. On a side note, I will say that the film was accurate in it’s depiction of the British parlement. They have a much better system than the American congress. We should have our two parties sit on separate sides in stadium seating and let them yell and throw blank sheets of paper at each other.

While “Darkest Hour” was filled with a lot of talking and speeches, the film kept up its energy not just with clever dialogue and engrossing performances, but also with adept editing and deft camera work. I give it zero popped corns.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “The Fate of the Furious”

Star power. Early on in the history of the film industry, “star talent” became the driving force of audience’s attendance. If your movie could boast an actor or actress with a large following, the film would succeed at the box office. “The Fate of the Furious” is an example of taking this too far. The movie stars Vin Diesel (played by Dom Toretto), obviously named after his favorite car engine, as a man who can only say the word “Family.” Or does the movie star The Rock (played by Luke Hobbs), obviously named for his rock hard physique, as a man who just wants people to stop asking him to save the world? Or does it star Jason Statham (played by Deckard Shaw), obviously named after the famous actor known for action movies, as a man desperately in love with The Rock but too afraid to admit it? There is no clear star, and therefore, how do audiences know which one to go see? What if you’re a Toretto fan but the movie has more Hobbs than Toretto? You don’t want to risk that. So what if the movie broke the record for most pounds of muscle on a single screen? When I saw it this morning at the first showing of the day, the theater was practically empty. What a box office bomb! Add Charlize Theron to the mix and your aiming for such a wide audience it’s destined to fail.

Action. An action movie is one in which characters do more than just sit and talk. To be a great action film, there needs to be high-octane movement. Frustratingly, “The Fast and the Fateful 8” falls short of being even just a good action film. Sure it has a few fistfights, but every time the suspense gets built up, they just sit down on leather seats and gab. For the majority of the film, all of the main characters sit down in their cars, tap their foot, wiggle their arms, and say clipped catchphrases. The filmmakers think that they can fool us into feeling tension and danger by throwing in a few explosions behind them, but it’s clear that their cars can withstand any damage so it’s just a bunch of gimmicks. Even when they get out of the cars, they’re mostly just flirting and playfully insulting each other. Where’s the breakneck pacing and adrenaline inducing activity. I will admit that initially the film got some suspense from my fear of pedestrians being injured by the speeding cars. But by about a third of the way in, I realized that the film takes place in a world where all humans have superhuman reflexes and can jump out of the way to avoid a vehicle driving 11o mph through a busy sidewalk.

Cars. Thank god for the invention of cars. Can you imagine a movie like this, but all of the cars were horses! “The Furious Fates of the Fast” featured 15 times more cars than humans and all but *spoiler* were wrecked or destroyed. The budget breakdown for this movie must have been: $210 million for cars, $30 million for Vin Diesel, $8 million for the family, $2 million for fancy computer graphics, and 800 pounds of cod for The Rock. I have never seen so many cars in my life. They were literally raining from the sky. And honestly, they were the real heroes. If you look at the movie from a script analysis perspective, Toretto and his team were all flawless characters. It was the cars who pushed themselves to their limits and often sacrificed so much of their bodies to save the humans inside of them. At some point, the producer’s are going to eliminate all of the actors from the franchise and we’ll realize these were all just prequels to Pixar’s Cars (it ain’t just a theory).

Despite raising many questions like; Why didn’t any of the characters go into NASCAR? Does Dwayne Johnson write all his own lines? And was Scott Eastwood meant to be a replacement white guy for Paul Walker? because otherwise Scott was useless, the movie kept to the successful structure, tone, and theme of its predecessors. All in all, “The Fast and the Furiosa” was so much fun and deserves only praise for the way it perfectly combines giddying action with meaningful family drama. I give it zero popped corns!

 

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I Just Watched This Movie; “La La Land”

Show biz. There’s a whole industry based on chance encounters and capitalizing on chances to show your talents, it’s called show business. This environment is an untapped wealth of stories about pain, romance, triumph, and music that is explored for the first time in Damien Chazelle’s groundbreaking new film “La La Land.” The film follows a couple of young people dreaming of a career as an actress and a jazz musician. The pair, played by actual real life famous entertainers (how fun!), struggles to get noticed for their unparalleled talent. However, through love and support for each other, they’re able to persevere and find their own successes in the star-making world of Hollywood. Who doesn’t appreciate this kind of story? The answer is absolutely no one. This movie is universally acclaimed, proven by winning the most Golden Globes in history and receiving the most Oscar nominations in history.

Historical context. Sometimes a film can capture the zeitgeist perfectly and serve as a window into the time period at which it was released. As “La La Land” is enshrined at this years Oscars as the greatest film in history, it is comforting to know that it will represent the last moment before a great shift in this country. That shift, is the introduction of self driving cars. This movie, more than anything, embodies all of the issues that current society has with cars. They’re always getting stuck in traffic. If you are an actor or musician, you can’t practice your craft while driving. If you go to a party, you have to walk forever to get to where you parked. If you go to pick someone up, you can’t leave your car to go to the door so you must honk obnoxiously. What makes the film even greater is the casting. They chose the most well known driving actor of our time, Ryan Gosling (the Driver in the movie “Drive”). Gosling shows a cool, sexy ownership and control over his car that only he can. This movie will go down in history similar to how “Top Gun” remembers a time before drones when it was the epitome of cool to be a fighter pilot like the maverick, Tom Cruise.

Music. Everyone loves music. Music has the power to communicate deep themes and move an audience subconsciously to experience all forms of emotion. “La La Land” unfortunately failed to speak to today’s audiences through its many musical numbers. Perhaps to a viewer from the 1940’s, this movie would be jazzy, beautiful, exciting, powerful, and sentimental, but today’s audiences respond to new types of music. For a good comparison, take the most popular musical right now, “Hamilton.” Listen to the soundtrack, you’ll hear rap, hip hop, and R&B styles, styles that are completely absent from the “La La Land” soundtrack. Or think about all of the genres of music that have come since classical and jazz. We have rock, alternative, funk, electronic, beyoncé, and disco, but guess what “La La Land” went with? (none of them!). Seriously who cares about Jazz nowadays? We have better music to listen to, like John Legend or something.

Everyone has their own opinion on “La La Land,” but mine is that it was an extremely enjoyable film with catchy music, interesting cinematography, and a fresh look. I give it zero popped corns.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “Moana”

Money. All studios have only one goal, and that is to make money. It is refreshing to see great films supported by a studio, however the new film “Moana” is not one of those. No doubt in a way to profit from their new found “Frozen” audience, Disney decided to make an exact copy. In order to make it seem like they were selling something new and not just remaking “Frozen,” the filmmakers set the movie in the warm pacific islands with a character that manipulates water instead of ice and the snowman was replaced with a rooster. Other than that the films only differ by plot, characterization, cultural context, and themes. While some may be fooled into thinking this is an original movie, it is clear that this is a cash grab by Disney. Just look at the two films’ hit songs and tell me that “How Far I’ll Go” and “Let It Go” don’t both have the word “go”.

Musicals. Many movies use music sung by characters as a way to express the feelings of the characters and the plot of the story. While the music is a helpful tool, it is important that the music doesn’t overshadow the film. That is why it was so disappointing to hear the music in this film. Not only were the songs catchy and full of energy, they also gave the film a unique rhythm and mood. A great musical should have a bunch of very boring songs that are indistinguishable from each other and use a lot of excessive lyrics so that the audience can focus on what really matters; the visuals. Watching “Moana,” I feel like I could have closed my eyes during the whole movie and still genuinely enjoyed it. What good is the movie on screen then? Alexander Hamilton needs to learn from his mistake, or just stick to writing music for Broadway.

Type casting. When casting for a film, it is hard to avoid hiring actors and actresses that look the part. Not only did Disney fall into this trap, but they got actors that sounded and behaved like the characters as well. At a time when there is such a big call for diverse casting, all of the lead actors were of asian/pacific islander heritage just like the characters. Additionally, the actors were exactly who you’d expect. Maui, the demi-god character was played by real life demi-god Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (“Hercules”, “The Scorpion King”). Moana, the title character, an animated happy young girl who lives on an island was played by Auli’i Cravalho, an animated happy young girl from Hawai’i. At least the casting director got creative in casting a human to play the giant crab character.

It’s always delightful when a movie comes out that can be enjoyed any time and with any company. “Moana” is one of those films. From the wonderful music to the exciting and original story, this movie will surely be a classic. I give it zero popped corns.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “Zootopia”

Diversity. Since the beginning of the film industry, there has been a severe lack of representation for so many groups and types of people. That’s why a movie like “Zootopia” is so significant for the statement it makes. The film follows a bunny who breaks barriers as the first bunny cop. Facing the prejudice of all other animals, Judy Hopps proves herself to be an outstanding officer of the law eventually bringing together both predator and prey. This film is about bunny empowerment, something that not nearly enough films talk about or show. Most bunnies are stereotyped in “bunny” supporting roles, so it’s refreshing to see a bunny that has clear character development and takes an active role in the film. Additionally, the film has important social commentary on predator animals. While it’s easy for prey animals (who make up 90% of the population in the film) to give in to the fear of predators, the film preaches tolerance and compassion for the minority. I hope that when animals watch this film, it leaves an impact on them when they hop or scurry away from the theater.

Animation. Sometimes when there is a story to be told that extends beyond what can be created or afforded in real life, the film must be drawn. It is important that animation is only used when necessary, otherwise an audience will be bothered that the story isn’t live action. The film “Finding Nemo” works as an animated movie because if the film starred live humans instead of animated fish, the humans wouldn’t be able to breath much less act at the bottom of the ocean. However, “Zootopia” could be easily adapted to human characters in live action. The animals in the movie drive cars, wear the latest fashions, and even use apps on their iPhones. The story was adapted to a world of animals, and I found the cleverness in the parallelisms between the movie and modern human society to be humorous and cool. This ruined the serious drama which the filmmakers were clearly trying to make. I mean, the theater I was in was filled with children. I’m sure the writer never expected that. You’d think with all the nudity and violence the MPAA would have given it an R rating.

Accuracy. A movie has a responsibility to an audience to provide an honest representation of its subject matter. After reading the title, I was shocked that there isn’t one human in the whole film. This was a huge hurdle that I had to overcome in order to even watch the film, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Anyone who’s been to a zoo knows that the most common animal at the zoo is the human. Their enclosure is certainly the largest as it weaves around all of the other animal’s enclosures. The film’s absence of such an important species led me to speculate why it was not included. All I could come up with is that maybe the animals took over the world and killed off all of the humans. This gave the film a very dark tone that obviously went over the heads of the rest of the young audience. Hopefully, I’m wrong and there is an explanation in the sequel.

It is an enjoyable surprise when a film like “Zootopia” comes out and exceeds all expectations. Not only was the movie filled with creativity and originality, it also had very apt themes for today’s society. I give this movie zero popped corns.

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I Just Watched This Movie: “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

Evolution. Every strong story has characters that evolve over the course of the plot. The basics of story are that a character lacks something, need something, and takes action to fulfill that need. A gratifying ending is one where the character changes or acquires what they truly need. The writers of “The Hunger Games” tetralogy did not understand this concept at all, or at least it didn’t come across on screen. We all know that in the beginning, the characters are starved. Katniss and her “just a friend” had to kill wild animals just to survive. Peeta had to bake bread, which I assume was all he ate. So in order to end the series right, it would have been necessary to show them with a ton of food- really emphasize the character’s development from hungry to full. The film sadly did not include very much eating and the epilogue scene shows, by the lack of obese children, that things really haven’t changed.

Knowing Your Audience. Films are made for the people. A writer is constantly thinking about what an audience will think and feel when they experience a movie. The crew and cast must also do the same. When Keanu Reeves acts in a film, he knows that the audience isn’t looking for an emotional performance, they just want the guy on screen to say his lines. Critically acclaimed” actress Jennifer Lawrence obviously does not know this important acting rule. “The Hunger Games” is a young adult, dystopian future, love triangle franchise and as such, the level of acting should be mediocre. However, Lawrence brings her full effort to her performance and the result is a disconnect between audiences’ average expectations and the superior quality of the actual movie.

Cat. It is rare that an oscar winning actress can be upstaged, but Jennifer Lawrence never stood a chance against the cat playing the role of Buttercup. In a film that involves so much violence and emotional trauma, the passive resolve of that cat provided the movie with vital contrast.

Despite an outstanding performance being unnecessary, Jennifer Lawrence gave one anyway and the film was elevated to something more than just popular action movie. I give it zero popped corns only because the person sitting next to us really wanted one of the popped corns.

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