The Reviews Are In: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

This is the last Fangirly review I will ever write. And it’s all Ellen’s fault.

See, Ellen has a job where a working knowledge of pop culture is requisite. Needless to say, Ellen is very good at her job. She knew long before I did that that reviews for James guardians-galaxy-2-poster-charactersGunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the film for which we bought our tickets weeks in advance, was getting slightly less glowing reviews than it’s predecessor. She told me, “Go into this movie thinking that’s it’s only OK, and it will probably exceed your expectations.”

So I did. I trust Ellen to a fault, not just because she’s my hero (please don’t tell her I said that), but because she has a nose for this sort of thing. Ellen’s the pop culture guru and I’m the one that can, under the right conditions, burp the first four letters of the jsc3020-cmp-v3781007-jsc3050-cmp-v2631009-comp-r-1486345142271_1280walphabet. You could say we both bring things to the table.

But as I sat through Vol. 2, I kept forgetting that it wasn’t a perfect specimen of modern film-making. I kept dancing in my seat to the soundtrack. I kept getting wrapped up in the story. I kept enjoying watching characters develop. I kept laughing so hard that I cried, and in some instances, crying so hard that I laughed. In short, I kept forgetting why I wasn’t supposed to love this movie unreservedly.

6ab3ae6be78d4be8fb6407ee754133c867474d74If I’m being honest, it wasn’t Ellen’s fault. She was just trying to shield us both from potential disappointment. But I can’t help but wonder what my experience of this movie might have been if I hadn’t spent the whole 136 minute run-time wondering which of it’s glaring flaws I was missing. I learned that I’d rather be surprised by life’s occasional disappointments rather than spend my time anticipating them. The pop culture landscape is such that people can earn a living from tearing down something someone else put blood and sweat into making.

So I’m done reading movie reviews. I encourage you to do the same. Whether you use guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-2016-billboard-1548them to decide which movies to see, or you use them to validate opinions you already had, I think that the brain trusts over at Entertainment Weekly have officially outlived their usefulness.

That being said, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to fans of Batman V. Superman. You thought that movie was great, and I trashed it. Hard. While I stand by what I said, you are entitled to love that dumpster fire of a movie (double standards are fun, aren’t they?).

Oh, I was supposed to review Guardian of the Galaxy, wasn’t I? Guys, so good.

Whitney Weldon

 

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The Reviews are In: Dr. Strange

maxresdefaultThere’s a moment during Marvel’s Dr. Strange when the titular Sorcerer Supreme, while discussing the (spoiler) sometimes dubious motivations of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo, thinks for a moment and says, “She’s… complicated.”

Complicated is a pretty good word for Dr. Strange, too. It’s characters are layered, it’s action set pieces are frickin breathtaking, and it boasts a level of political and social awareness and I, for one, am coming to expect from Marvel. But first things first. Let’s reign it in for a sec and talk about the Cumberbatch of it all. If you’re not a fan of England’s finest import doctor-strange-1since Posh, Scary, Baby, Sporty, and Ginger, you’re either not female or not a fan of marine mammals. If such is the case, this might not be the post for you. So… scoot. Yep. Go watch the new XXX trailer on repeat.

Are they gone? Oh good. Now that it’s just us Cumberbitches, let’s get to it.

Even as someone who expects only the very best from Benedict Cumberbatch, I found his performance impressive. His interpretation of Stephen Strange (a  Marvel Comics deep cut) is part Dr. House, part Tony Stark, and part Hilary Swank from The Next Karate Kid. It’s a zag for Cumberbatch, who’s characters tend to be varying degrees of austere. Dr. Stephen Strange is a celebrated neurosurgeon who loses everything when a car accident causes permanent nerve damage to his hands. He wanders the globe in search of a cure, only to stumble upon a secret order of sorcerer ninjas in Kathmandu who take him in and teach him their ways. He’s thrust into a world of magic, inter-dimensional evil, and Danish bad boys. That last one, of course, refers to Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), zealot follower of a malevolent force hell-bent on forcing the Earth into submission.

Dr. Strange doesn’t subvert superhero tropes by any means, but because the source doctor-strange-benedict-cumberbatch-rachel-mcadams-copertinamaterial is so unknown and the film itself so visually arresting, I sort of didn’t care. We still had an unfailingly loyal girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), a conflicted BFF (Ejiofor), and a reluctant teacher (Swinton). No, what made this movie interesting wasn’t it’s humor or complex characters or it’s new, mystical approach to superheroism, but it’s uncanny timing.

Stephen is given a choice between two opposing, but equally fanatical, factions. One is lead by a woman forced to make difficult, and often morally compromising, decisions that she believes will facilitate the greater good. The other is driven by a radical who, while claiming to be acting in the best interest of the world, actually seeks to acquire eternal life and make the human race as miserable as he is himself. Sound familiar?

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And THAT is what I love about the superhero genre, and why it will never bore me. Because almost without trying, they manage to reflect our own experiences back at us, in a way that encourages and rewards bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming tyranny. Also, the muscles.

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I really like the muscles.

Whitney Weldon

The Reviews Are In: Suicide Squad

suicide-squad-assembled.jpgI’m not going to tell you that there is nothing to like about Suicide Squad. The latest DC offering, with it’s confetti-colored Hot Topic aesthetic, is a fun time at the movies. But like it’s similarly underwhelming big brother Batman V. Superman, this movie unnerves me in a way that goes beyond just poor film making. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

SUICIDE-SQUAD-55Squad is an ostensibly anti-superhero film about a handful of colorful villains that, through the cloak-and-dagger machinations of some deadpanned civil servants, get drafted into the hero business. They can save the world in exchange for a commuted prison sentence, or they can get dead. Even so, it’s a hard sell. These baddies are, apparently, the only people in the entire DC universe equipped to take on Enchantress, an extra-dimensional witch-demon who is, I don’t know, trying to bend mankind to her will? As ever, villain motivations are a little fuzzy here.

The story itself is about as messy as it could be, and not it a good way. The entire first act is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller sitting in a restaurant with a colleague, delivering endless backstory and exposition between bites of steak, and even then the film manages to forget to introduce some of it’s characters (sorry, who is Slipknot?). It then proceeds to hit all the predictable notes, never letting you forget what kind of people the protagonists are (at one point, Harley Quinn smashes a store window for no discernible reason and drawls, “What do you expect, we’re bad guys!”, as if we were likely to forget).

As sloppy as the writing was, I’d happily overlook it if, just this once, DC had given me some interesting, fleshed-out characters to work with. Swing and a miss. All attempts at depth and humanity fall just short, resulting in a coterie of criminals that never really feel like much Suicide-Squad-Trailer-El-Diablo-Fire-xlarge-large_trans++Rp36Ti1MFCYr8PMuS2fHb17hoDUspm84EYl8tHPMRlkmore. Deadshot (Will Smith) stands out as the most sympathetic character, a man who is trying to reconcile the killer he is with the father he wants to be. Otherwise, there isn’t much to relate to here. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) is an archeologist with all the charisma of a Crate and Barrel lampshade. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a former kingpin who murdered his family in a fit of rage. Killer Croc and Boomerang, who between the two of them accrued about ten lines of dialogue, zero of which were memorable. And these were the least troubling of the crew. No, the majority of my beef lies with loony lovers Joker and Harley Quinn.

JOKER1On the one hand, you’ve got the Joker (Jared Leto), who’s particular brand of crazy is surprisingly formulary. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between this Joker and the Heath Leger performance that preceded it. The scariest part of Leger’s Joker was his restraint; his outward insane levity was constantly at war with the much darker madness within. Leto’s Joker wasn’t quite so…layered. And for as much unjustified screen time as he had in this film, there should have been layers.

Speaking of missing layers, we have Harley Quinn, who in true DC fashion is yet another female character not allowed to cover more than 40% of her body at any given time. As with the Joker, we are told that she’s nuts rather than allowed to see any evidence supporting that fact. Not to mention the fact that she’s fetishized beyond the point of relateability. I present exhibit A…

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I don’t want to say there was nothing redeeming about Suicide Squad. It boasts some pretty impressive cinematography and special effects. You might even say that Harley Quinn is a metaphor for the film itself: pretty to look at, and not nearly as wild as it could have been.

Whitney Weldon

 

 

The Reviews Are In: The Conjuring 2

Here’s a not-so-secret secret about me: I suffer from sleep paralysis. It’s a sleep disorder that causes the sufferer to maintain consciousness while the body remains asleep, causing temporary immobility. Sounds awful, right? It is. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the hallucinations. More often than not I see a dark, menacing, vaguely human shape standing Who-Plays-Demon-Conjuring-2in the corner on my room. Or, if I’m really lucky, I’ll see something waving to me from inside my closet. These experiences are the closest I’ve ever come to pure, mortal terror.

And, for the record, that’s pretty close.

The point of this story is that there is not, nor will there ever be, anything more terrifying than our own imaginations. And I further postulate that there isn’t one filmmaker working today who understands this better than James Wan, directer of The Conjuring 2. He knows how to give an audience a creaky floorboard, an empty rocking chair, and a shadowy presence looming slightly off-screen, and let their brains fill in the gaps.

This sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring (also directed by James Wan) once again stars Vera the-conjuring-2-movieFarminga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren, reputed paranormal investigators. This film, like it’s predecessor, tackles a real-life haunting, the case of the Enfield Poltergeist. In London, a single mother and her four children are terrorized by what they believe is the spirit of the previous owner of their home. Ed and Lorraine travel to England as agents of the Catholic church to determine if the haunting is legitimate.

Vera Farminga and Patrick Wilson are as groovy as ever and their onscreen romance continues to be the beating heart of the Conjuring franchise. Frances O’Connor also shines as the cockney mother at her wits end, as she and her family battle overdue rent, leaky

The Hunter. Photo by Matt Nettheim.

The Hunter. Photo by Matt Nettheim.

pipes, and the forces of darkness.

The best thing about this film is it’s restraint. Wan has a talent for building tension and then letting it diffuse, only to have it build again. It’s terrifying, but not relentlessly so. The audience gets the chance to recover from a scare before another one gets thrown at them.

I think it’s safe to say that the Conjuring franchise is horror for people who don’t like horror. These movies aren’t crude, or gory, or campy. They’re thoughtful and poignant and frequently so scary that half of your time will be spent actively trying to not crap yourself. You know, if that’s something you’re into.

Whitney Weldon 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reviews Are In: Captain America Civil War

captain-america-civil-war-robert-downey-jr-chris-evansMost superhero movies (actually, most movies in general) are more than willing to do the ethical legwork for you. The bad guys (easily distinguished by facial scars, a dark color pallet, or customary bad attitude) are always wrong, and the good guys (identifiable by their steely-eyed commitment to the greater good and general dishy-ness) are always right. Even those films that dip their toes into moral relativism always eventually find their way to the safer, more solid narrative ground of Righteous Hero v. Dastardly Villain. But what happens when everybody looks like a good guy? What is expected of us as an audience when everyone’s actions, including the guy in spandex we came to see, can be understood as right or wrong? For once, maybe the question of morality is open to our interpretation.

Such is the case with the third Captain America stand alone, Civil War. The film opens like 3049303-56d4dc054b73ayou’d expect: good guys going after bad guys. But when the good guys (here represented by Cap, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon) make a mistake with fatal consequences, there is a global outcry for a little accountability, in the form of UN sanctioned panel that would oversee the Avengers from here on out. Some, like Iron Man, Black Widow, and Vision, see this as a necessary compromise. Others, namely Cap, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon, see it as an undermining of what the Avengers are supposed to be- a group a super friends with the autonomy needed to keep the world safe from handsome alien conquistadors and shapely, artificially intelligent robots. The result can only be described as a, ahem, civil war.

1401x788-Captain-America-Trailer.jpgIf you’re worried that this movie sounds too much like a talky political drama, rest easy. Civil War has even more than the usual amount of ass-kicking. But what’s really cool about this movie is how the Russo Brothers managed to take out almost all the cartoonishness of superhero violence. There’s a scene, pretty early in the film, where Captain America falls from a ledge and gets beaten around like a rag doll before making an uncharacteristically graceless landing. And, even more surprising, he doesn’t immediately bounce back. Right away we get the feeling that, in this film at least, violence has consequences. And unlike many other action movies of it’s kind, it feels as though the fight scenes are built around the set pieces, and not the other way around. The characters have to adapt to and use their surroundings in a way that makes the idea of a super-soldier and a guy in a cat-suit going at it feel a little more grounded.

Also, I’d like to take this moment to mention Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, andbuc0410-trl-v0141027-173551 everything I want to say can be summed up in one onamonapia: meow. Seriously, don’t change a thing.

In fact, there isn’t one weak link in this cast. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is predictably wonderful, Robert Downey Jr. is invariably the coolest guy on screen, and Chris Evans
continues to give Captain America a depth and charm that has managed to turned one of Marvel’s most stoic (and frankly, boring) heroes into a surprisingly relatable  dude.

In this humble Fangirl’s opinion, Civil War is the best superhero movie we’ve gotten thus far. It’s beautifully made, and asks more of its audience than to simply Captain-America-Civil-War-Movie-Wallpaper-5go along for the ride. You feel obligated to choose a side, and for once, it might not be the same side as the guy with his name on all the posters. Right and wrong is a matter of perspective and actions have far reaching consequences. Does that sound a little familiar?

Whitney Weldon

 

 

 

The Reviews Are In (Late): The Jungle Book

THE JUNGLE BOOK

As much as you might like the recent string of Disney live-action remakes, I think we can all agree that none of them have improved on the original story. Even if you loved Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it’s not about to dethrone it’s cartoon predecessor. That being said, if enjoyable but ultimately underwhelming Disney remakes are the rule, the The Jungle Book is the exception. The
story and visuals are so improved that I left the theater, not Jonesing for the original version, MV5BMTkyNTUxMDczMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUzNDA4NjE@._V1_but wanting to buy myself another ticket for this one.

It’s surprising that a movie with the combined voice talents of Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and Ben Kingsley could find a young lead with enough screen presence to balance the screaming star-power of the supporting cast. Luckily Neel Sethi is the living incarnation of Mowgli, right down to the little red jungle shorts. He’s as precious as a little wolf puppy, which, in the context of the movie, is the highest compliment I can give.

It’s worth mentioning that this movie is definitely scarier than the 1967 cartoon you screen_shot_2016-02-21_at_10_16627afe.jpegremember. King Louie (Christopher Walken) is genuinely horrifying, as the family who sat behind me in the theater can testify. Likewise, Idris Elba’s Shere Khan is equally impressive; it’s not the first time I’ve been attracted to an anthropomorphized cartoon animal, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last. Point is… meow. Pun intended.

I originally wasn’t sold on Disney’s plan to capitalize on former cinematic glory by maxresdefaultremaking beloved classics. It seemed like a self-aggrandizing re-mix of the company’s
greatest hits. But if the films to come have as much heart and as much charm as The Jungle Book, it’s a stance I may need to reconsider.

Whitney Weldon

The Reviews are In: Batman V Superman

BvS_ImaxYou wanna know the real difference between Marvel and DC? It’s not just that Marvel has consistently given us funnier, more heart-felt, better written films. (If only it were just that). It’s that I can’t shake the feeling that DC is making movies they think we want to see, while Marvel is making the movies they want to see.  Most Marvel films project a sense of joy and exhilaration that I’ve yet to see matched in one of their DC counterparts. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t even try to break that streak. It’s a movie that revels in it’s own joylessness, and like every other Zack Snyder movie yet made, any substance it might have gets overshadowed by it’s own style.

Dawn of Justice opens two years after Man of Steel laid waste to Metropolis and exposed the existence of square-jawed, steely-eyed aliens (Henry Cavill). It’s a new world, and not everyone is rolling with the changes. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) doesn’t trust Superman’sBVS-1 ostensibly good intentions, and makes it his mission to stop him before he can do some real damage.  Also trying to put the screws to Superman is Lex Luthor. The Man of Steel’s nemesis is played here by Jessie Eisenberg, who seems to think that the only things required for a compelling bad guy are facial tics and a few schizoid-style loose associations.

For a movie that’s supposedly about the struggle between Idealism and Realism, this movie has little of either. Even for a comic book block buster, there’s a mind-numbing over-reliance on CGI effects, so nothing feels grounded. We never get a sense of the “real” Batman-v-Superman-Dawn-of-Justice-Wallpaper-HDworld that Bruce Wayne is trying to preserve. A fact that isn’t helped by the weirdly timed, totally nonsensical dream sequences (seriously, don’t ask). Meanwhile, Clark Kent’s trademark zeal for truth, justice, and the American way is slipping; in fact, Superman spends most of the film wondering whether mankind is worth the trouble of saving. By the end, it’s hard to remember why these good-doing dudes are fighting in the first place. And when they do finally settle their differences the moment has no impact, making their feud feel a little toothless.

It’s not that I’m prejudiced against DC. I just wish that, for once, they would start to measure their films in the depth and honesty of their stories and characters, rather than the number of times they make things go boom.

-Whitney Weldon