Del Toro Ago Exhibit

Note: Been a busy week starting a new job and looking for a place in a new city. I’ll also be celebrating the holidays over the weekend, but I should hopefully have another blog post up over the weekend.

I remember watching my first Guillermo Del Toro film, Blade II over ten years ago. I didn’t know it was a Del Toro film at the time but I remembered loving the story and the action.

I followed up Blade II with Hellboy. At the time, Hellboy was one of my favourite comic book films and although it may not be a top five, the Hellboy films and Blade II both stand as distinctive entries in the genre of comic book films. Blade II and Hellboy II also both contain great performances from Luke Goss as the villains Nomak and Prince Nuada respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

Nomak                                                                                                                  Prince Nuada

Pan’s Labyrinth was a masterpiece that combined historical fiction and fantasy seamlessly, combined with great performances and more of the stunning imagery and creature design I was introduced to in Hellboy. Finally, Pacific Rim gave me a live-action mecha film that I have been dreaming of seeing since I watched Gundam Wing as a child.

There are earlier works by Del Toro, such as The Devil’s Backbone that I have not yet seen. I have also missed newer releases such as Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water. After seeing the Del Toro exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) I am making it a priority to travel through more of Del Toro’s filmography.

The exhibit “At Home with Monsters” began September 30th and will end on January 7, 2018. I caught the exhibit near the end of its run and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. The exhibit is not only a great tribute to Del Toro’s works, it is also an insight into his creative process and all of the influences that birthed his works. I don’t only recommend the exhibit to movie lovers or Del Toro fans, I believe it is also a must see for any creative mind.

“At Home with Monsters” uses real decorations and props from Del Toro’s own home (or one of them), which he refers to as the “Bleak House”. These props include life-size figures of characters from his movies, and my personal favourite, his “rain room”: a room with a simulated environment of a rainy day, where Del Toro likes to spend a few hours at a time writing. Many of the figures I follow, such as Ryan Holiday, will play one song on repeat in order to focus. I have adopted this strategy as well, playing a low-energy, repetitive song on a loop. After a few minutes, the song becomes part of the background noise but helps to block out other noises e.g. loud roommates. The rain room appears to have a similar effect, with the repetitive and consistent light drumming of rain on a window, complete with an artificial overcast sky outside.

Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft emerged as two of Del Toro’s literary influences. While I read some of Poe’s works in school, I have yet to touch H.P Lovecraft’s works. This is not due to an unwillingness,  Lovecraft has been on my list for a while but this exhibit makes him a priority. Del Toro has expressed interest in adapting Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”, going so far as to complete a screenplay for it. The exhibit featured a concept model of an ‘albino penguin’ for the film, which was basically a tall and pale penguin with puss infested eyes. Sweet dreams children.

I felt creatively motivated seeing Poe and Lovecraft represented. Both authors struggled to support themselves with their writing while they lived, but have since become legendary authors. I am not arrogant enough to assume the same fate will befall me, but their stories do give me motivation to continue working at my goal.

A theme of the exhibit, present in the Del Toro quotes plastered throughout, is that adulthood causes many people to lose their sense of wonder and creativity. Perhaps this is a cliche to some, but “At Home with Monsters” gives us a sense of what we can accomplish if we don’t let our curiosity die. A life-size statue of Poe reveals one inspiration, a wall of comics reveals another, a wall of novels reveals more… Del Toro’s works are the amalgamation of everything he consumed and continues to consume. His rain room is a childhood dream brought to life, the embodiment of someone who didn’t let go of what they wanted as a child. Del Toro didn’t only continue to dream, he continued to work at making his goal a reality, and that is what I intend to do as well.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Warning: This should be obvious but this review will have spoilers for previous Star Wars films

After seeing The Last Jedi yesterday, I am now ready to share my thoughts on one of my most anticipated films of 2017. While I believed The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, I still enjoyed the film and Rogue One also cemented my continuing interest in Star Wars lore.

I try to avoid reading or watching any reviews of a film before I see it, since I want to avoid going in with preconceptions. I also try to avoid social media as a whole since Han Solo’s death was spoiled for me by one of the attention-seeking denizens of YouTube. I wasn’t able to abstain completely prior to seeing The Last Jedi but I can only hope that I successfully subdue any preconceptions or at least acknowledge the impact they had on my viewing of this movie.

Episode VIII begins right where VII left off, cutting between the stories of Poe, Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren. I am happy to say that this film doesn’t come across as a complete rehash of Empire Strikes Back, although there are a few moments of similarity. The film’s strongest arc is definitely Kylo Ren’s, who is still dealing with the conflict of truly embracing the dark side. Rey and Ben shippers have a lot to moments to look forward to. Aside from the will they/won’t they moments, Episode VIII delves further into Ben’s past and his relationship with Luke Skywalker.

While the plot revolves around getting Luke to rejoin the Resistance, Luke is a reluctant mentor for Rey. He is a tragic figure whose past failures hinder his ability to move forward. There is plenty to love in the original Star Wars trilogy, but my enjoyment of them was always hampered by Mark Hamill’s subpar acting. Hamill has developed a lot as an actor since then, with a plethora of voice acting and live action roles separating his speaking roles as Luke in Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi. Hamill is able to bring true vulnerability to the role, along with the wisdom expected from the last Jedi Master.

Aside from criticisms that may be reasonable, there is also a slate of alt-right vitriol since this movie has too many women and minorities for their liking. I always found it amusing that people who use the word “triggered” to insult others, are actually the most triggered. They will not be bothered by any of the issues present in “liberal propaganda” but it’s all hands on deck if a film set in another galaxy isn’t dominated by white males. I will ignore these people’s opinions, since they are no more valid than the thoughts of a flat-earther.

Andy Serkis puts in another great motion capture performance as Snoke, surrounded by a cast that delivers for the most part. Finn’s marketing bait and switch, from possible Jedi to bumbling comic relief, was one of my biggest criticisms for the previous film and I happy to see that remedied here. Finn has a meatier role this time around. Domhall Gleeson’s General Hux straddled the line between campy and intense in The Force Awakens, but he crosses that line here quite a few times. There are some weak performances from some minor characters; ones who only have a few lines. While this shouldn’t hamper a film too much it didn’t help that two such characters had the film’s first spoken lines, seemingly setting the tone for what was to come.

Rey’s character was met with a flurry of Mary Sue complaints and some fans will be happy to see some of their thoughts addressed here. One reviewer I follow said The Last Jedi is the Cabin in the Woods of Star Wars films, and I have to admit that this thought influenced my outlook on certain scenes. For example, in one scene Snoke criticizes Ben Solo for his lack of commitment to the dark side, noting that killing Han Solo must have broken his spirt since he lost a fight to a girl who had never wielded a lightsaber. With the Cabin in the Woods comparison in mind, I had to think that writer/director Rian Johnson was trying to address some of the previous film’s biggest criticisms. The film also takes this approach when it delves into Rey’s history, giving us a reveal that may be anti-climactic for some, but also helps to set it apart from other Star Wars films.

I think that some of these scenes help to account for the polarizing reception that The Last Jedi has among fans. While The Rotten Tomatoes critic score is 92%, the audience score is 54%. I am sure that this low rating is partly due to people bothered by too much colour and ovaries, but I won’t say that the alt-right is mostly to blame.

The Last Jedi is nearly three hours long, and its length was the main criticism from the friend I saw it with. While I didn’t feel like the film dragged, I will understand if people say it could have been shorter.  New characters are introduced, such as Rose Tico, Star War’s first Asian character and an easy target for the alt-right. She is paired with Finn for the majority of the film and I have to agree that this is a subplot that could have been condensed at the very least. This subplot leads to the infamous confrontation with Phasma that we saw in the first trailer, but one can’t help but wonder if we could have arrived at that moment differently. The subplot would not have been improved if Rose was white. I will say that like Rogue One, this subplot helps to bring in more moral ambiguity to the Star Wars characters. Instead of characters who are affiliated with light or dark, The Last Jedi shows us more who are simply looking out for themselves.

There are some moments of humour, or attempted humour, that do not work. However, I will say that the majority of jokes didn’t feel out of place. Aside from some flat jokes, there are also several scenes or moments that could have been cut to allow screen time to be used more efficiently. Yes, porgs are cute. After the film cut to them for the tenth time, I started to get annoyed. As a result of some unnecessary or dragged out scenes, we miss out on other moments that could have been expanded, such as the reunions of key characters. It would have been great to see more of Princess Leia, especially since this was Carrie Fisher’s last performance. Obviously she may have been written somewhat sparsely with more in mind for Episode IX, but a weak subplot just brings more attention to what else could have been presented. There are now more questions that will have to be answered by Episode IX. 

To end on a more positive note, The Last Jedi, has moments, whether dramatic or action-oriented, that I believe will become iconic parts of Star Wars lore. The action, at the very least, is sure to please fans, but I believe the film has more to offer as well. I honestly believe I may need to watch The Last Jedi again before I can give it a true rating. For the moment, I will say that I am looking forward to seeing it again.

Star Wars Film Rankings

Rogue One

A New Hope

The Empire Strikes Back

Return of the Jedi

The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens

Revenge of the Sith

“” Attack of the Clones

“” The Phantom Menace

Alexandra Shipp: Blackish

The Thursday announcement that Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox properties, including X-Men, led to a lot of speculation concerning the future of the X-Men film universe. I shared some of my own thoughts on this, and while sharing the link on Twitter I came across another conversation. There were retweets all over my feed revealing one post after another arguing that Alexandra Shipp, who portrays Storm in X:Men Apocalypse and the upcoming Dark Phoenix, is too light-skinned to play Storm.

I didn’t comment on the argument at the time because I wanted to let it develop more, so that more contextual info would be available before I shared my thoughts. Two days after the conversation began, it is now easy to trace its inception.

This debate began after a fan asked Shipp if she would like Storm to meet Thor, now that the universes would likely be merged. Shipp’s enthusiastic response was then met with criticism from one fan, “Disney is re-casting the whole team, boo. Sorry. Dark Phoenix will be your last. We getting a dark skinned non-racially Ambiguous Storm like we deserve.”

Shipp then retorted:

Presumably, the debate that I viewed on Thursday originated from this exchange. It is not confirmed if Disney will start fresh with X-Men and recast after Dark Phoenix but that isn’t really the point here.

Maybe Disney will re-cast, and also usher in a jarring tone change (as I suspect). However, I don’t think that Shipp’s skin tone should be an issue central to her potential re-casting. If a darker-skinned actor takes her place I have no problem with that, but I also don’t think that Shipp’s skin tone gives us a bastardization of the character.

Shipp’s response reminds me of statements Halle Berry made concerning her own racial identity. Like Shipp, Berry is mixed and chose to identify as black from a young age, because she knew that is how the world would perceive her. For example, a white guy who says he doesn’t date black girls, would still see Berry as a black girl, instead of a white one.

While Shipp says she has never been “treated white” it is a fact that there is pervasive colourism in the world and in Hollywood. Even in Jamaica, a country that is 90% black, dark-skinned black people are performing skin bleaching to lighten their skin because they realize lighter-skin is viewed as more attractive. In other areas, such as Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East, lighter skin is inherently viewed as more attractive than darker skin. The preference for lighter skin often coincides with a preference for other features typically associated with whiteness, such as straighter hair, thinner lips and thinner noses. Light skin goes beyond the aesthetic, becoming a marker of status and privilege due to the legacy of slavery or colonialism. For someone like Shipp, she may benefit from this colourism in some situations, while also being subjected to racism like any other black person in other situations.

There is a trend in entertainment- whether it is music videos, television or film- to cast the lightest-skinned black people possible, especially if they are love interests or eye candy. After a while it isn’t simple happenstance that most of the attractive black women in entertainment have “sun-kissed skin”, it is a deliberate choice by casting executives. They can get people who are ethnic without being “too dark”. As Viola Davis says,  there is a pervasive conception that “If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy.” Of course, Hollywood sometimes graces us with an exception, but the word “exception” means that they are a minority within a minority. I have been over the “best actor for the part” argument, and the slate of talented black actors that seemingly come out of nowhere for productions like Luke Cage and Straight Outta Compton make it clear there is plenty of black talent out there, they just need opportunities for good roles.

Respect to Bad Boys II for its dark-skinned love interest

It is possible that I am setting the bar somewhat low for Storm since I am so used to roles being whitewashed anyway. Even films based on true stories, like 21, are not safe from Hollywood’s attempts to make it more “marketable”. Storm seems like one of the few untouchable characters, and this may be why fans are even more protective when it comes to her portrayal.

There were plenty of users arguing that the discussion of whether a black actress is black enough is divisive and racist in itself. I ignored most of these comments simply because this is the same logic used to shut down any discussion of racism nowadays. You complain about white supremacist marches in Charlottesville? You’re being divisive. You complain about another unarmed black kid getting killed? You’re divisive. You complain about a public figure saying something racist? You’re divisive.

In principle, I don’t think it is racist or “divisive” to complain about an actress’s skin tone. Especially since I am sure that many of the people using this “divisive” excuse routinely defend whitewashing in films, thereby enabling racist practices in Hollywood.

Now, there are also people who understand the implications of whitewashing in film, and genuinely just believe that there is nothing wrong with Shipp’s skin tone. The character is black, and Shipp is black as well. Shipp is mixed, but Apocalypse never states that the character is mixed, and Shipp is a visibly black individual. In terms of skin colour, she may not be Viola Davis or Lupita Nyong’o, but she definitely isn’t Paula Patton or Meghan Markle either.

All of this to say that while I don’t agree with the backlash against Shipp in this case, I can understand where the detractors are coming from. If Shipp did a poor job with the role I would probably be more likely to support them. However, I thought Shipp was great as Storm. Maybe I’m not the best person to judge but her accent also seemed a lot more authentic than whatever Halle Berry tried to do in X-Men 1 (2000). Although Apocalypse was a disappointing film I was looking forward to seeing more of this iteration of Storm and I hope that if she is recast, fans don’t cheer simply because she was too light-skinned for them.

Fox- A Disney Company

Today, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. The deal comprises numerous properties, ranging from The Simpsons, to Avatar, but the biggest point of interest for me is that Disney now has the rights to X-Men.  The development is now confirmed but this is something that a lot of Marvel fans have been praying for for a long time, if online discussion is any indication. I remember entire threads on the Internet Movie Database’s (IMDB) forums where people would demand that the rights for the X-Men films go back to Marvel. People would argue that the series needed a fresh start under Marvel Studios because the X-Men films mishandled characters like Cyclops (fair enough) or because they didn’t like the buttons on a costume (seems unreasonable). Like I have mentioned before when discussing the DCEU, when people want something to fail they become more sensitive to any perceived shortcomings.

Aside from the fans that have been praying for this, there are more reasonable fans who simply wanted to see the X-Men in the Avengers universe. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to see Wolverine in the Avengers film, which likely will not happen. Hugh Jackman previously said that he would be open to returning in the role if he got to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but he has said more recently that the “ship has sailed” for him. The scripts for Infinity War Part I and II are already written and being filmed, so normally I would say that the ship has sailed for seeing any former Fox properties in Infinity War. However, the rushed introduction of Spider-Man in Civil War does make me wonder if the filmmakers might be willing to squeeze something in for Part II.

One of my biggest worries was that darker and/or R-rated properties like Deadpool would be watered down to suit Disney’s “fun” and family-friendly silver screen image. Fortunately, Disney CEO Bob Iger has stated that Deadpool can remain R-rated at Disney. This is a step in the right direction, but it is still aligned with Marvel President Kevin Feige’s proclamation that the MCU will never be dark.

Deadpool had one noticeably dark segment, namely Wade’s time spent being tortured, but for the most part it still fits in with the “fun” tone that Feige is committed to.  In contrast, the X-Men films, especially X1, X2 and Days of Future Past (DOFP), are noticeably much darker than anything in the MCU’s films. The themes of prejudice from the comics are unashamedly fleshed out on screen, showcasing the violence and darkness that mutants experience. The opening scene of X1, where Magneto is separated from his parents in a concentration camp, is still one of my favourite openings in any film. I highly doubt we would see a scene like this if X1 was originally handled by Marvel Studios. Maybe most of the scene would be the same, and then a Stan Lee cameo would be used to alleviate the tension.

Now, the MCU has also given us properties like Jessica Jones and The Punisher, but I am not talking about Netflix here. I am talking about the big screen. When Disney originally acquired Marvel, people argued that imprints such as Touchstone would be used to distribute darker or R-rated material. However, we know now that any R-rated material so far has come from Netflix. Deadpool 3 will likely be the first R-rated X-Men film property that Disney gives us.

I think Disney will be willing to give Deadpool more R-rated sequels because they have already seen how successful his film was. The box office receipts are a testament to people’s love for the character in all his R-rated glory. In contrast, Disney might be more willing to take risks with X-Men since the most recent X-Men film, Apocalypse, underperformed (relative to previous entries) with critics and the box office. Additionally, Logan was a well received R-rated entry but marked the end of the X-Men film universe’s most popular character.

If darkness is viewed as the enemy, then “fun” will be viewed as the saviour. What about the rest of the films? Will X-Men be rebooted to offer more “fun” now? Will the themes of prejudice all be cut in order to make everything more family friendly? Will we get scenes like this one?

Or this one?

I doubt it.

Jason Isaacs and Free Speech

I have previously discussed the phenomenon of people who don’t believe that celebrities are allowed to have opinions. Any political comment, whether it is in an interview or on social media, is derided as inappropriate and a breach of some supposed social contract.

I don’t despite this mindset simply because it has resulted in some actors I like being vehemently criticized. I despise this mindset because of the inherent hypocrisy in it.

The most recent example I will use is a tweet I came across from Jason Isaacs, who expertly called out a Star Trek fan who said his political views are alienating the Star Trek Fan base.

 

So here we see a fan who feels like Jason Isaac’s political views are affecting “the fan base”, which we can translate to “me”. This fan is not speaking out on behalf of others, he is speaking out on behalf of himself. Isaacs previously criticized Trump via tweets and retweets of anti-Trump videos, so this *whitegenocide believer felt the need to call Isaacs out. It is obvious that someone who repeatedly uses the hashtag #whitegenocide doesn’t believe in the value of diversity and is likely to support the President who said Mexico “doesn’t send its best” to America and who also wants to keep Muslims out. So, instead of saying that he disagrees with Isaac’s political views, this twitter user simply tries to say that entertainers as a whole are not allowed to express political opinions.

It looks like @Eye_of_Empire has deleted some of the tweets in the thread since, but his original response to Isaacs appealed to the principle of free speech. So after criticizing someone for exercising their free speech, this user says his comment is appropriate because it was his legal right. Isaacs has that legal right too. Fine, maybe you want to argue that Isaacs is an actor so it is different. It shouldn’t be. Actors are real people too, with their own fears, values and political beliefs.

The real question here is if @Eye_of_Empire would be as upset with Jason Isaacs if Isaacs repeatedly proclaimed his love for Trump and his belief in White Genocide. I doubt that would bother @Eye_of_Empire as much. The idea that actors shouldn’t have opinions is a smokescreen for “actors shouldn’t express views different from mine”. If I disagree with an actor’s political views I say that I disagree, I don’t pretend like my anger is about the principle of actors discussing politics.

I was tempted to pursue another topic for this post but I decided to continue with this one because the irony is a godsend. Diversity and acceptance have always been themes of Star Trek, where people of different races (human and alien) look past their differences and work together. Star Trek even has the distinction of having tv’s first interracial kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk in 1968. So we have this apparent longtime fan of the show who is disgusted by an actor who speaks out against the bigot in Chief. Welcome to America.

Ben Affleck’s Future as Batman

By now I am sure many of you have read one article after another declaring that Ben Affleck will likely retire his role as Batman, and that Jake Gyllenhaal is in talks to replace him. Clickbait is nothing new when it comes to news, but the DCEU in particular is overwhelmed by articles that twist words and then create sensationalist headlines.

Another recent example was the recent announcement that DC’s future films will fall into two categories following Justice League, the interconnected films and unrelated ones such as the Joker origin film. This news either gets misunderstood completely or is just twisted into a headline that generates more attention, such as this one.

Ben Affleck has apparently said that committing to the Batman solo film is “something I’m contemplating”. Of course, there is uncertainty here, but from what I was hearing it sounded like Affleck confirmed he was done after Justice League. With how easy it is to share information online nowadays, some purveyors of this information forget to fact check or even read the articles they retweet before they share them. The YouTuber Akasan was one of many people to share the “end of DCEU” article, apparently without reading it.

Another problem is that there are plenty of people who want the DCEU to fail, and confirmation bias makes it far too easy to either focus on such articles or extrapolate far too much from simple headlines. No one made articles saying “Is this the end of the MCU?” when Thor: Ragnarok underwent a script rewrite and a director change. Marvel has had much better critical success with its films and a more impressive track record so people aren’t so quick to pray for its end.

Many fans hated Affleck’s casting when it was announced, and many of those haters likely changed their mind when they saw him on screen in BatmanvSuperman (BvS). However, it seems that there are people who either still hate Affleck in the role or simply don’t like him enough to like the DCEU as a whole. Or perhaps people realize that the polarizing nature of the DCEU makes it a much better subject for clickbait articles than the MCU and other entertainment properties. After all, a headline saying “Another Marvel film is coming” or “Infinity War Trailer Released” may not get as many eyeballs as “Affleck out as Batman! Jake Gyllenhaal in?”.

Justice League Review

Along with Netflix’s Punisher, November 17 also marked the release of Justice League. Anyone who watches my YouTube videos or has read my other articles knows that I hate the DC vs Marvel mentality that prevents people from trying to enjoy both properties. Due to my own openness to enjoy both, this weekend was an early Christmas.

After some disappointing results from BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad (don’t even get me started) I approached Justice League with cautious optimism. One of my biggest worries after seeing the trailers was that the studios would force more humour or “fun” into the film. Joss Whedon assisted with post-production but Ben Affleck has said that the tone was set prior to Whedon’s arrival. I have no problem with “fun” itself, but I hate the increasingly popular mentality that every comic book film has to be fun in order to be good. This mentality also leads to people targeting the tone as an issue if a film is poor. BvS had its share of issues, such as Eisenberg’s Luthor and the third act. The tone was the least of my worries but people flocked to that argument like moths to a flame. I was worried the filmmakers would now see adding more humour as the only key to success, as opposed to some better performances, character development etc.

I can say that most of the humour in the film works. There are some lines, particularly one from Batman, that felt out of place but the film didn’t end up being Thor: Ragnarok like I feared. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) provides most of the comic relief and will probably emerge as a new fan favourite. His Flash is young and inexperienced, serving mostly as crowd control and ancillary support in the fights. While I liked the character himself, I still have to wonder why Barry was given Wally West’s personality. Any fans of the Justice League animated show will remember Wally West’s flash as the comic relief. Meanwhile, Barry Allen is a more serious character. Miller is weaker in the more dramatic scenes, which is a surprise given his performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Maybe my friend was onto something when he said Zack Snyder’s weakness is directing actors.

However, the majority of performances either gave us something new to like or built off what we’ve seen before. Ben Affleck’s Batman is more optimistic about his ability to impact the world with the league but still has traces of the world weary Batman that many fans are probably familiar with. He has “contingency plans” and he still knows how to push people’s buttons, as demonstrated in a scene where he confronts Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot shines as the heart of the team, the warrior who also serves as a mother to the team’s new or reluctant members. Ray Fisher actually emerged as one of my favourite performances, but the writing and runtime doesn’t allow his character to flourish, especially in the second half. Jason Momoa is decent as Aquaman. Don’t get me wrong, he is an imposing figure on screen who has probably diminished the general public’s idea of Aquaman as a loser, but this film does lead me wondering how well he will carry a solo film.

Anyone who has seen all of the trailers or even saw BvS knows it was likely Superman would return. His return is actually tied into the plot from BvS, and is something that Batman is actively pursuing in the film. It doesn’t end up being a deus ex machina like I feared and Superman’s return actually leads to one of the film’s most memorable moments. Henry Cavill could be a wooden Superman at times but I actually enjoyed his performance here.

It is clear some scenes were cut from the film, either because we are missing parts from the trailer, or the fact that the film could have used some more time to flesh out the new Leaguers. To its credit, Justice League gives us a sense of character backstories without spending too much screen time to go in depth e.g. we learn Barry got struck by lightning and we know Cyborg was in an accident, but we don’t see it. This may be due to post-production cuts or it may have been the original cut. However, it begs the question of why ten or fifteen minutes couldn’t have been used to give Cyborg, The Flash or Aquaman some more devoted screen time. Stepping into the light is a theme of the film, not referring to tone, but referring to heroes who often work alone coming together to fight an enemy. At the beginning of the film Cyborg is still coming to terms with his new identity and takes some cues from Batman, keeping to himself while he tries to better understand his body and abilities. He makes it clear he can’t fully control his body yet and this leads to some interesting conflict, but this subplot is discarded in the film’s second half.

I hate to bring up a Marvel comparison but herein lies the advantage of doing solo films prior to the team-up. My previous paragraph could end up being null if each character got a solo film first. However, I will say that doing a team up film first can also generate more interest for a solo one. With their budgets, superhero films aren’t always guaranteed box office success. Maybe a Cyborg film done prior to Justice League would not have done as well as the studio hoped? Now, I hope the film comes to fruition due to Fisher’s performance.

Speaking of Marvel comparisons, Justice League does give us a pretty forgettable villain. I was excited to hear about Steppenwolf as the villain since it meant we could soon be getting Darkseid. The design we saw in the deleted scene of BvS is discarded here for a look that is more generic and looks poorly rendered for the majority of the film’s scenes.

Steppenwolf’s plot revolves around the Mother Boxes, three devices that can combine to turn any planet into the hellish environment of his homeworld (awesome getting a reference to Apokolips). The majority of Steppenwolf’s screen time is spent in search of the Mother Boxes, which leads to a memorable fight with the Amazons and some great fights with the League.

Wonder Woman shines as the battlefield MVP for most of the film. The Flash and Aquaman get their moments as well, while Cyborg serves his own purpose. It is an old joke that Batman would be useless against physically powerful villains but decades of comics show him fighting far more powerful foes with the use of gadgets and tactics. We get some of that here but there is also plenty of time when Batman is removed from his plane or bat mobile and ends up being the weakest link. Even when he is fighting one thug at the beginning of the film he is able to execute some stunning acrobatics (complete with slo-mo) but then still takes a lot of time to take down one person when compared to his speed in the warehouse fight in the first film. Now, this film makes it clear he is getting older and is more beaten up than ever, but his prowess ends up being inconsistent throughout the film.

While CGI provides us some great shots, such as Flash’s Sistine Chapel moment, it also gives us many other scenes where CGI simply seems unnecessary or poorly rendered. The fights fights are hampered by poor CGI in places, especially for the parademons. Like Steppenwolf himself, the parademons looked better in BvS (the Knightmare scene). Additionally, the fights are somewhat diminished by the fact that we aren’t as emotionally invested since the villain isn’t that interesting. He is physically powerful and imposing but so are his opponents, we need more than that to interest us. Ciaran Hinds’s voice acting sadly seems wasted. Steppenwolf has some good lines but overall he felt like another placeholder villain with a pretty generic motive that was provided simply so the league could have something to fight.

A film should not be judged simply for what it sets up, but I have to give the theatrical cut some credit for its ability to weave in other characters and worlds in its concise running time. We get a brief glimpse of Atlantis and glimpses of important characters from other worlds, such as the Greek Gods and Green Lanterns. There are two post-credits scenes and the second one leads well into the future DCEU movies, while also providing a glimpse of a character many fans have been waiting for.

Overall, Wonder Woman is still my favourite DCEU film, but there are some things that I liked about the Justice League movie. The final fight is more entertaining, which is probably unfair since the fight combines our favourite characters. Justice League is hampered by some of the same issues from its predecessors but still surpasses BvS Suicide Squad and after some thought I might have to say it beats Man of Steel. I might revisit this ranking in a week though.

For now:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Justice League
  3. Man of Steel
  4. Batman V Superman
  5. Suicide Squad

1922

It’s a good year for the King. The Dark Tower wasn’t an auspicious start but IT and Gerald’s Game have provided better follow ups. 1922, released on October 20th, also provides a strong follow up that also has a stronger ending than Gerald’s Game.

Based on Stephen King’s 2010 novella, published in “Full Dark, No Stars, 1922 follows Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) and his plot to kill his wife so that she will be unable to sell neighbouring farmland she has inherited. Arlette James (Molly Parker) wishes to sell her 100 inherited acres and move the family to Omaha. Since James wishes to stay in Hemingford Home he manipulates his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid) into helping him kill Arlette. The death happens pretty early on in the film, and the rest of the film focuses on James’s eventual retribution. We watch him lose the other people who are close to him, one way or another, and slowly descend into insanity.

Wilfred is played with a pretty thick accent, which took some getting used to. However, I was immersed in Jane’s performance quickly, watching him disappear into the role. Jane is also supported well by Parker and Schmid, who have the vast majority of the screentime for the film’s first half hour. Most of the film takes place on the James’s farm, adding to the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia that Arlette feels living in Hemingford Home.

The conflict between James and Arlette is introduced quickly, and another element that comes somewhat quickly is James’s manipulation of Henry. Editing makes the manipulation appear faster, but we get to see James building to it slowly. By this point in the story it is already clear that Henry has a stronger bond with his father than his mother. Wilfred first tells Henry that his mom has to leave their home and return to hers in order for them to stay together. Arlette becomes the figure trying to tear the family apart and we slowly see Henry drifting further away from her, until James is able to convince him there is no other way.

The murder scene itself is simple, but also gruesome. The director holds back on music during the scene, letting us focus on the sound of Molly’s screams instead. One of my biggest gripes with horror movies is that they sometimes rely on music or lack thereof too much, with the music becoming a giveaway for a jump scare or some other scene that is meant to scare us. There are times when the music in the background comes across as outright distracting but the murder scene and most of them are handled well. 1922 is more of a thriller than a horror movie, but it does have some creepy imagery that lingers in my mind. Like Gerald’s Game or It Comes at Night, if you don’t expect a monster movie, you will likely enjoy it.

One Arlette is removed from the story, its focus shifts to Henry and Wilfred, who are now united by the sin they’ve taken part in. This section of the film is actually my favourite, since Schmid is deftly able to play a character whose inner conflict starts to drive him further away from his family. The film is a tale about retribution and Wilfred receives his in spades. Unlike Gerald’s Game, 1922 also has a strong ending that complements everything that came before it.

Gerald’s Game

I watched Gerald’s Game about two weeks and uploaded a small review to my Instagram account, @moviegrapevine. However, I feel like this film deserves a proper review.

Gerald’s Game is based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name, following Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, a couple who retreat to a cabin in the hopes of reinvigorating their sex life. Although Jessie is initially open to bondage, she becomes uncomfortable when Gerald begins enacting a rape fantasy. After an argument Gerald suffers a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed.

I was intrigued when I heard about the film at work and Stephen King’s name made seeing this film a priority (Sorry Hemlock Grove). Stephen King adaptations can definitely go wrong but I was interested to see what King’s writing could bring to the concept.

Firstly, the director sets the stage well. Jessie’s thoughts are personified by a stronger, more assertive version of herself and the more cynical side represented by Gerald. The majority of the film takes place in the bedroom, with Jessie either alone or talking to the other versions of herself. From what I have read about the book, this film differs in the number of voices in Jessie’s head and the figures that she sees.

I have to give Gerald’s Game credit for being the first film in a while to force me to look away from the screen. One particularly gruesome is likely to stick with you, but Gerald’s Game has more to offer.

Gugino and Greenwood’s performances anchor the film, and truly help to breathe live into the script. As a side note, I hope I am as ripped as Bruce Greenwood when I’m 61.

Jessie’s voices also bring another element of intrigue and conflict, breaking down all the misogyny and unhappiness that Jessie tried to ignore in her marriage. These voices bring up repressed memories going all the way back to Jessie’s childhood, unearthing a traumatic event that led her to being handcuffed to a bed by a husband with rape fantasies. Although one character is the focus of the film, we learn a lot more about Gerald and Jessie as the film progresses.

I have heard some people complain that the film was boring but I honestly think this may be a case of different expectations, similar to It Comes At Night. If you expected a monster film instead of a survival one, It Comes at Night could definitely be considered boring. Gerald’s Game is not an action-packed horror film, it is a tense thriller about survival. If you expect anything different, then this film will be boring.

One of my biggest, and only criticisms comes from one element of the plot introduced later in the film. As Jessie becomes dehydrated her mind starts playing tricks on her, and we are introduced to a more supernatural element of the story. I didn’t have a problem with this element itself, since Gerald previously warned Jessie that she might see nightmarish visions before she died. It is the end of this arc that left me unsatisfied. The last ten minutes of the film as a whole are the weakest part, a small stain on an otherwise perfect canvas.

Regardless, Gerald’s Game is a Netflix gem and this review will likely be followed by a review of another King adaptation, 1922.