Archive for the Fantasy Category

Avatar: The Way of Water

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy with tags on December 19, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It was thirteen years ago that director James Cameron wowed audiences with Avatar. With a box office of $2.9 billion, it still ranks as the highest-grossing film worldwide. Now he has finally returned with its sequel. Avatar: The Way of Water is set on Pandora, an extrasolar moon from the Alpha Centauri System. With an unintentional nod to the Fast & Furious franchise, it’s all about family. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña are back as parents: Jake and Neytiri. They manage an extended clan that consists of two sons (James Flatters & Britain Dalton) and a daughter (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss ), as well as an adopted daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). Her mother is Dr. Grace Augustine, who was mortally wounded and perished in the original. There’s also a human boy named Spider (Jack Champion), the son of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Once again, evil colonizer humans invade Pandora. The “Sky People” are led by Quaritch, who technically died in the previous installment. However, he’s back in a slightly different form thanks to scientific advances. Jake and his family realize their presence has put the fellow citizens of their forest dwelling in danger. As a result, they exile themselves from that area and retreat to the sea. There they meet a new community on Pandora led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet). Despite their altruistic desire to avoid conflict, you can best believe a monumental battle is imminent.

The plot is a simple tale that preaches environmentalism over industrialism. That lesson is amusing coming from a director who reportedly spent $350 million to make this picture a high-tech stunner. The director has never been about sense or subtlety, but whatever. It’s all about the visual exhibition. The Way of Water delivers that using the most extravagant methods available. Reportedly, this is the 4th most expensive movie ever made, and it looks it. Advanced motion capture perfectly mimics the actors playing Na’vi characters. The technology not only impressively reproduces their underwater manipulations while swimming but their facial expressions as well.

It all builds to an epic showdown. The climax is a massive water-based confrontation between the invading humans vs. the native Na’vi. The latter gets a generous assist from aquatic creatures. The spectacle makes up for the deficiencies in the story. My frequent quibble: it’s far too long. The production is a patience-testing 3 hours and 12 minutes. Cameron could have easily trimmed an hour out of this bloated narrative to make it a little more efficient and enjoyable. Lengthy sequences exist to simply highlight the splendor of Pandora. The marvels of marine animals include a prolonged focus on alien whales. Part of the chronicle is akin to a nature documentary. Granted, it is gorgeous. See this in 3D on a big screen in a theater to fully appreciate its beauty and wonder. I was enthralled.

12-15-22

Black Adam

Posted in Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on October 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I don’t know how to enjoy a superhero picture like this anymore. As a coherent drama starring complex individuals with emotions that captivate your attention, Black Adam is awful. As a series of impressive special effects and explosions strung together in a halfhearted attempt at a story, it’s not….terrible. This is part of the DC Extended Universe which has been marred by more than a few clunkers: Man of Steel, Birds of Prey, and Justice League (both versions) being the most egregious examples. Comparatively, this is one of the better entries. I’d put it on the same level with films in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, which include Marvel characters like Venom and Morbius. To quote Mongomery Burns in the Simpsons episode Brush with Greatness: “I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this.” So that’s a recommendation of sorts.

Part of my exasperation with this film is the convoluted exposition. Screenwriters Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani have injected irrelevant plot details. It begins 5,000 years ago in a fictional land called Kahndaq. The middle eastern country is on the Sinai peninsula. It’s vaguely Egyptian to anyone with a casual knowledge of geography. An ancient king named Anh-Kot enslaves his people to dig for a magical element called Eternium. He wishes to create the Crown of Sabbac that will imbue the wearer with great strength. A young boy (Jalon Christian) using the power of Shazam transforms into a mighty champion initially known as Teth-Adam. Out for revenge, he kills King Anh-Kot and ends his reign. Teth-Adam is subsequently imprisoned, but the human man evolves from a myth into legend. Khandaq is still oppressed in the modern day under the rule of the Intergang, a mercenary team led by the militant Ishmael Gregor (Marwan Kenzari). Will any hero emerge to save them?

That’s a cue for the usually affable Dwayne Johnson — in a surprisingly somber performance — to take the stage. Teth Adam — later christened Black Adam — seeks to free the citizens of Kahndaq from being oppressed. That’s good. However, he’s also a godlike force with an unlimited appetite for destruction. . Because of that, the Justice Society (not the League) of America need to curtail his power. Their leader Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), rounds up a team consisting of Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). I guess Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were busy. I’m not a comic book aesthete, so I admit I am at a disadvantage. I rely on what is depicted here, but these characters emerge without explanation. Who are they? What can they do? Sorry. They simply appear and start doing magical things. When a poignant friendship between Hawkman and Dr. Fate is introduced, I felt absolutely nothing. Ditto for Cyclone and Atom Smasher’s developing romance.

Black Adam is a compelling character that straddles a murky line between a hero and a villain. He has an altruistic desire to help his community but remains a violent figure of chaos. The movie desperately clings to occupy a moral gray area for most of the production. A bigger threat looms when someone else takes the form of a demonic beast. The deeper we get into the picture, it’s clear that Black Adam is a good guy that is endearing. He was awakened from a 5,000-year slumber, so he’s got a lot to learn. Teen Amon Tomaz (Bodhi Sabongui) wants to help. Black Adam’s unfamiliarity with sarcasm is amusing. He attempts to incorporate it along with catchphrases into his interactions. The complicated exposition is merely an excuse to present an array of chaotic stuff. The production offers a lot of fights, chases, and battles for the viewer’s enjoyment. It’s never dull. I’ll give it that, so if you’re looking for action and excitement, it satisfies that department. Just don’t expect a meaningful story.

10-20-22

Hocus Pocus 2

Posted in Comedy, Family, Fantasy with tags on October 3, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hocus Pocus was underappreciated in its time. Released in 1993, the picture was a commercial failure at the box office and got terrible reviews. However, something interesting happened over the years. Repeat showings on the Disney Channel and ABC Family (now Freeform) ultimately refashioned the flop into a beloved classic with a dedicated audience.

I don’t hold the original dear. Why? Well, so full disclosure. I had never seen it until just last week. However, I was preparing to review Hocus Pocus 2. I figured I should be acquainted with the first film. Considering them both, they are equally lightweight and silly. Yet I’d give the sequel a slight edge.

The youthful supporting cast here surpasses that of its predecessor. In this story, a teen girl named Becca (Whitney Peak) inadvertently lights the Black Flame candle and brings the Sanderson sisters back, who are out for revenge. These are the witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Their vicious personalities have mellowed with age. The opening intro shows that the sisters were misunderstood as children. Incidentally, Taylor Henderson is a standout as a younger version of Winifred, Bette Midler’s character. The witchy trio of Winnie, Sarah, and Mary are the only characters that return. Oops! Save for the notable exception of zombie Billy Butcherson. His storied history with the sisters comprises a minor plot point. Billy is delightfully portrayed by actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, The Shape of Water), who frequently appears in Guillermo del Toro’s movies.

Girl power reigns supreme in the follow-up. Becca has a quirky best friend named Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). The two have a tenuous relationship with former bestie Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). She has become a popular girl, much to their dismay. Cassie has a dim-witted boyfriend (Froy Gutierrez), but her loyalties still reside with her girls. The teens ultimately band together to stop the evil sisters. Lessons taught are that sisterhood is a powerful thing and that making fun of others for being different is not cool.

Despite sweeping cultural changes over the past 29 years, Hocus Pocus 2 is still a retread. There are some new jokes. Instead of a broom, Mary flies around on two Roombas under each foot. Those robotic vacuum cleaners will assist them later. The utter confusion the witches experience at Walgreens is the funniest scene. Like its forerunner, there are some musical numbers. I did appreciate a cleverly altered Elton John song, “The Witch Is Back.” This is a family film after all. Furthermore, when a group of children is told that a virgin must light the candle to summon the witches, a little boy — who looks to be about 5 — asks, “What is a virgin?” Fitting because none of the kids asked this question in the first installment.

This comedy is a pleasant diversion and manages to offer some improvements. For most people who watch this on Disney+, nostalgia will be a significant factor in their enjoyment. If you treasure the 90s flick, feel free to conjure up an extra star for my review.

09-30-22

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Romance with tags on August 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disappointment, thy name is Three Thousand Years of Longing. Director George Miller’s film had all the ingredients to be one of my favorites of the summer. The auteur is the orchestrator behind the beloved Mad Max franchise. Additionally, Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are two of our era’s most unique actors. The juxtaposition of these two introspective personalities could only produce sparks, right? Somehow the chasm between idea and execution was vast.

Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) recounts a narrative of her life which she will render as a fantasy. She is a scholar of mythology. While in Istanbul to deliver a talk, she discovers a glass bottle in an antique shop. A fellow professor (Erdil Yasaroglu) suggests another item. Yet she is fascinated by the object, so he purchases it for her. While cleaning the bottle in her quarters, she unleashes a djinn (Idris Elba) from the lamp. The genie has the power to grant three wishes, but Alithea is skeptical. Despite his offer, she clings tightly to the mantra “Be careful what you wish for.”

The foundation sets the stage for the djinn to recount four separate yarns. The result should’ve been a thrilling journey. Unfortunately, the picture is a lethargic story about telling meandering stories. The spirit regales us with tales of his life that include queens, princes, and the like. Themes of love and desire untie them all. Yet his reflections fail to maintain interest. It doesn’t help that they’re all conveyed in a hotel room which gives the production an oddly claustrophobic feel. The CGI-enhanced depictions have their moments. Some elements hint at the excitement of Universal’s costumed adventure epics made in the 1940s, like Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. However, the reflective interactions between Swinton and Elba dazzle far more than the special effects.

George Miller has fashioned a somber fable about discourse, or more specifically — two people talking in a restrictive space while wearing plush white terry cloth bathrobes provided by the establishment. Mad Max Fury Road is one of the most exciting action movies of the last decade. Some would say ever. It’s been seven years since Miller’s previous outing, so expectations were admittedly elevated. This passive meditation couldn’t be more different. Even the director himself dubbed his work “anti-Mad Max.” Respect for attempting a project made for personal reasons and not commercial success. The supernatural romance had a $60 million budget and made $2.9 million in its opening weekend. The only magic I experienced in this mystical tribute to storytelling was as a soporiferous drug that worked its spell on me as I struggled to stay awake.

08-25-22

Lightyear

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Three sentences flash across the screen to set the stage. “In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” After it was over, I didn’t buy that assertion. Yeah, I know. It’s probably best not to question such things. This feature doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny, but given that the most captivating character didn’t become a toy back then is a huge leap of faith. Sox the cat (Peter Sohn) is the breakout star and it’s not even close. Buzz Lightyear’s robotic feline companion is an absolute delight. Buzz Lightyear himself? Oh sure, he’s in the film too. Just not a particularly interesting personality. He’s kind of an oaf, a bit of a dullard too.

Lightyear concerns a human astronaut (Chris Evans) — er uh space ranger — who is responsible for marooning his crew of travelers on a hostile alien planet. You see he’s branded a failure at the outset. He even tries to quit the mission but his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) refuses to accept his resignation. So Buzz attempts to devise the perfect formula for a working hyperspeed crystal to get his crew off this foreign planet, thereby fixing his mistake and fulfilling his duty. Buzz undergoes a series of test flights to reach hyperspeed to bring everyone back home. Whenever Buzz zips away in his spacecraft for a few minutes, four years elapse for everyone else. He doesn’t age but everyone else does — rather quickly. Unfortunately, he isn’t successful for a very long time. Decades pass and the progression of time suggest the first 10 minutes of Up. Guess who finally comes up with the correct formula? Psst…See the first paragraph.

My encapsulation above may read like the complete saga, but it’s just a prelude. The setup seeks to establish the emotional basis for the formulaic drama that comprises the bulk of the picture. Lightyear and Sox have their moments interacting as a duo. That computerized feline saves his owner’s neck on more than one occasion. There is a refreshing simplicity to their relationship. Yet this chronicle doesn’t allow them to shine alone. The plot introduces a goofy collection of additional helpers. Three space-colony outcasts show up to assist Lightyear in his objective. Chief among this ragtag trio is Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Alisha’s granddaughter. She’s flanked by Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) a naive and inexperienced recruit, and Darby Steel (Dale Soules) an elderly convict on parole.

This is where the moral comes through: “Collaborate as a team. Be less of a maverick.” The idea that cooperation is glorified as the ultimate goal is so ubiquitous in children’s entertainment these days that you accept it as standard-issue. I’d suggest that a great many intellectuals or innovators in the adult world are free-thinking radicals, and far from conformists, but perhaps that concept is a bit too revolutionary for Pixar. Anyway, the woebegone characters are uninteresting and detract from the narrative rather than add to it. The sad-sack troupe faces off against an invading force of robots led by the mysterious Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) — another callback to the original Toy Story.

Lightyear isn’t terrible. It’s nicely animated and features an adventure with some lively sequences. But bestowing your creation with that title incites the exalted history of the Toy Story franchise. The first two are widely considered Pixar’s best. This production is not even in the same cosmos. It’s a straightforward tale, painfully ordinary and utterly lacking in imagination or depth. The only remarkable individual is a mechanical cat. Meanwhile, the milieu is oppressive and dreary. The plot throws in generic developments. A time travel subplot yields a reveal that is a ho-hum of a surprise. This is not the awe-inspiring entertainment that you’d expect to become any child’s most treasured movie. Lightyear may take place on a different planet, but creatively it remains — earthbound.

06-16-22

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on May 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“I’m not a monster. I’m a mother.”

Why not be both? Benedict Cumberbatch may get top billing, but the driving force of the narrative is Elizabeth Olsen. She is Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch. The woman loves her sons Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) dearly. She simply wants them back with her safe and sound. Nothing wrong with that, right? The problem is, to accomplish this, she has to create a lot of chaos. What’s a mother to do? Enter America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to travel to different worlds in the multiverse. Unfortunately, America cannot control her abilities. She is being chased by a demonic entity and requests the help of Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong). Strange realizes he needs further assistance and so he appeals to Wanda Maximoff for help.

The chronicle is surprisingly basic but made needlessly complicated. The title may be saddled with the sobriquet “In the Multiverse of Madness,” but this is a direct sequel to Doctor Strange. It’s not a movie for uninformed viewers. It demands knowledge of other Marvel properties before watching. Obviously, you must see part one. A familiarity with Spider-Man: No Way Home and the TV shows What If…? and Loki might also improve your experience. Essential viewing is the Disney+ TV show WandaVision. In that series, Wanda has two kids and the love for her sons is her motivation here in what could have been a straightforward saga. Complicating matters are cameos that distract from the drama at its heart.

This sequel is conspicuously hampered by a slavish devotion to being a piece in a much larger puzzle. Callbacks to other individuals within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) pop up to check off boxes and remind the viewer this is merely a chapter in a media franchise. The saga is burdened by the introduction of people that reference other releases and suggest potential developments in future films. A tedious detour presents Stephen Strange attending the wedding of Christine Palmer where Dr. Nic West also happens to be a guest. The extended sequence hijacks the narrative only to justify that Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg’s names be included on the movie poster. In another development, we meet Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo. He is the Sorcerer Supreme of the Illuminati, a secret society made of superheroes that Doctor Strange originally formed. This includes alternate versions of well-known characters from previous MCU features that have been recast. It feels like a distraction shoehorned into the account. They have little to do with the central tale. Even screenwriter Michael Waldron seems to secretly loathe their presence. No detailed spoilers, but I wouldn’t get attached to all of them.

It’s nice when an auteur can bring their style to the Marvel machine. Let’s face it. In this context, directors are talent for hire that must adhere to a set of rules overseen by a committee with the final say. The caliber of notables tapped to oversee something within the MCU is a most impressive list. Some are more successful than others at injecting their stamp onto the material. Taika Waititi added camp to Thor: Ragnarok. Chloé Zhao brought thoughtful introspection to Eternals. Sam Raimi brings his eccentric spirit. He’s already familiar with the superhero genre. The Spider-Man trilogy he helmed starring Tobey Maguire beginning back in 2002 is iconic. But it’s the horror aesthetic of The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell that informs the DNA of this picture.

Doctor Strange 2 (yes I’m calling it that) is a weird and wild blockbuster. Director Sam Raimi’s signature is all over this film. When Stephen Strange and his ally America are falling through multiple universes, it is a surreal trip employing bizarre visuals and music. At one point they even briefly become cartoons. The snippet is one of the most inspired bits I’ve seen in a movie all year. Later Stephen Strange uses Dreamwalking (don’t ask) to take over the corpse of another variant of himself called Defender Strange. His walking and talking zombie is hideous. It can be entertaining — especially when Elizabeth Olsen is on screen as The Scarlet Witch doing her magic. When the story gets sidetracked by tributaries and detours it’s less captivating. It’s a mixed bag for me, although I lean toward a recommendation. It’s a fun summer flick with fantasy elements and special effects. I guess I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

05-05-22

Petite Maman

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Foreign with tags on April 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a wistful ode to childhood. Petite Maman — which means “little mother ” — tells the story of an 8-year-old girl who has just lost her beloved grandmother (Margo Abascal). Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) joins her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) in the painful endeavor of cleaning out her mother’s childhood home in the countryside. Mom is deeply disturbed by the process and leaves that night without saying goodbye. The next morning Nelly goes off to play in the forest and happens upon another girl her own age. The stranger’s name is Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) and she’s building a fort made of branches in the woods.

The less said about the narrative the better. Many reviews have spoiled the central conceit of the film. That’s a shame because the mystery is one of the film’s greatest charms. What exactly this meditative reflection is trying to say is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Nothing is explained. The bonds of family, specifically between mothers and daughters, is certainly a theme. Director Sciamma has cited Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki as an influence. A French movie told from the naive perspective of a child also recalls René Clément’s 1952 masterpiece Forbidden Games.

The story is slight and it unfolds at a languid pace. Whether Sciamma’s vague meditation approaches the depth of its influences is open for discussion. Your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, the bewitching yarn does manage to captivate in a mere 72 minutes. That’s saying something these days when films double this length routinely do not. It is in the quiet moments of solitude that the atmosphere can resonate as intensely as pages of dialogue. Sometimes the most profound ideas aren’t overtly expressed but rather felt with the heart. The otherworldly fantasy mines the evocative mood of a fairy tale. A tender devotion to the characters shines through, elevating the fable with warmth and poignancy.

Petite Maman opens in select US theaters on April 22 and goes wider on April 29.

01-22-22

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on April 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

So if you’ve completely divested from the Wizarding World, you have my respect. Nevertheless, you’ll need a primer for this review. The Secrets of Dumbledore is part three of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which is a spin-off/prequel to the Harry Potter movies. If you’ve seen the other two, it remains a convoluted saga that requires a lot of work to keep track of what’s going on. That’s a warning if you’re not a dedicated fan of this stuff. You must see the other entries first to understand this one. Or better yet, skip all three entirely and watch a satisfying fantasy. Anyway, the positive news is that this entry improves upon the last.

We’re three episodes into this joyless series and I still have no idea what this overarching drama is even trying to say or why. It appears to be a political allegory condemning fascist ideology. Fun! If I can boil this account down to its basic essence, it’s good vs. evil in the form of an honest wizard named Dumbledore (Jude Law) against the malevolent wizard Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). The two made an unbreakable oath never to harm each other a long time ago. The upcoming reveal of the Supreme Mugwump is approaching. A fawn called a Qilin will bow to the leader that is most pure of heart. Grindelwald is manipulating the process and he must be stopped. Dumbledore assembles a team to curtail Grindelwald’s nefarious plans.

Side note: I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge that actor Mads Mikkelsen has taken over the role originally played by Johnny Depp. It’s like when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York in TV’s Bewitched in 1969 and no one acknowledged on screen that this was a different actor. The reasons for the decision are different though. Mikkelsen’s emotionless performance may be adequate but it isn’t an improvement. Bowing to the court of public opinion is so much more important than artistic merit.

What the feature has going for it is a nice-looking fantasy adventure with great production design and visual effects. There’s a section where Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) goes to rescue his brother Theseus (Callum Turne). He has to mimic the moves of these little scorpion critters. I was mildly amused by that. There are engaging moments here and there. Yet once again there are too many characters. An aggregation of returning individuals includes actors Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, and Fiona Glascott. However, the MVP award goes to Dan Fogler as the non-magic Jacob Kowalski. It is a testament to his ability to turn a minor character into a fascinating personality. He seizes focus as the charismatic spice in a bland stew. Meanwhile the episodic nature of the plot sort of plods along without a strong story or compelling focus.

Nonetheless, The Secrets of Dumbledore is a vast upgrade over its predecessor. The Crimes of Grindelwald came out four years ago. I couldn’t even begin to recall what happened. It was such an ordeal, I probably blocked it out to be quite honest. So before I went to see this, I forced myself to do a significant amount of research on the internet to reacquaint myself with the lore. I even read the plot synopsis of the current release on Wikipedia. Going to see this felt more like a homework assignment than actual entertainment. However, doing that preparation did make my experience more enjoyable. I give this film a pass. If you have the base knowledge to enjoy this flick, then consider it worthy of your time. If you aren’t, steer clear.

04-15-22

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Martial Arts with tags on April 7, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The owner of a laundromat undergoes a fiscal audit. With Tax Day arriving on Monday, April 18, Everything Everywhere All at Once couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time. Although my simplification of the plot doesn’t even begin to convey the ensuing mashup of science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and martial arts in this genre-defying picture. Directed by the duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) their second feature is like Alice in Wonderland on steroids.

Michelle Yeoh is Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged, Chinese American matriarch who runs the aforementioned laundromat in Simi Valley with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has been dating her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) for three years now. Her mother hasn’t accepted their relationship. Evelyn is also organizing a Chinese New Year party. Her equally critical father affectionally known as Gong Gong has just arrived from China to attend her little shindig. Meanwhile, her husband is planning to serve her with divorce papers. Needless to say, tensions are high. Evelyn has a lot on her plate. The tale is set in motion when Evelyn and Waymond meet with a tax auditor (an amusingly frumpy-looking Jaime Lee Curtis) working for the IRS.

During their chaotic meeting, Waymond starts acting weird. He privately informs Evelyn that alternate realities concurrently exist. There are many parallel worlds, each one based on whatever decision a person makes. At this point, I have to admit the prospect of yet another production that employs the concept of a multiverse did not excite me. It’s been so heavily exploited by Marvel as of late. Despite my reservations, it becomes a refreshingly goofy construct that — gosh darn it — I embraced. Evelyn is the key to ending a conflict that is raging across infinite dimensions. An evil being known as the Jobu Tupaki (also played by Stephanie Hsu) is seeking to kill and destroy everything. Evelyn is the only one who can stop her.

Everything Everywhere must be seen to be believed. Mere words cannot do it justice. Nevertheless, I will try. This jumping across from one universe to another requires that a person (first wearing a Bluetooth headset) perform some unconventional maneuvers. These actions include eating chapstick, purposefully giving yourself paper cuts, photocopying your rear end, or doing an unspeakable act with a trophy. Once one propels their consciousness into a different dimension, the individual will acquire the memories and special skills of that version of themselves. Does that make sense? It is a little confusing, but a film review shouldn’t ruin the surprises in a flick you haven’t seen. There are websites to explicate all the gobbledygook afterward. The production’s ability to creatively detail various worlds is an impressive spectacle that few movies attempt. Editor Paul Rogers manages to assemble the Daniels’ frenetic vision into a mostly coherent narrative. Everything Everywhere is a wildly inventive, uniquely intense — and at times — bewildering story.

Holding it all together is the emotional dynamic of this captivating family. Evelyn & Waymond & Joy & Gong Gong are a memorable clan portrayed by an appealing cast. Legendary action queen Michelle Yeoh is front and center as the multiverse hopping protagonist. In assorted iterations, she plays a master chef, an international movie star (not unlike herself), and a woman with hot dogs for fingers. She is a dismissive and demanding personality. Conversely, her husband Waymond is gentle and kind. I didn’t realize Short Round (Indiana Jones) / Data (The Goonies) would be playing the dad. Seeing Ke Huy Quan again was an absolute joy. James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China) as the aging grandfather is also a delight. The 93-year-old actor hasn’t stopped working since the 1950s. Talk about prolific! Stephanie Hsu (TV’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) — a newcomer by comparison — finds the nuance in a character with contrasting personalities.

Everything Everywhere keeps the insanity dialed to 11 for the duration of the picture. The action is a pure sensory overload that is both exhilarating and exhausting. The cosmic bombast bludgeons the viewer into submission without a rest. That is, not until near the end when a quiet moment features a silent conversation between two rocks with googly eyes. But even that dialogue with subtitles is such a bizarre sight that it still feels like the zaniness hasn’t subsided. This treatise on existential despair builds to a rather nihilistic moral: Nothing matters. However, there is a caveat. If we show love and kindness to others, then perhaps anything is possible. The sentimental idea is a touching resolution that offers some hope. Is that a tear? I think maybe this family will make it together after all.

04-05-22

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on December 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Spider-man has had a long and varied history on film. It all began rather inauspiciously in 1977 with a made-for-TV movie that served as the pilot for The Amazing Spider-Man series on CBS. That starred Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp in The Sound of Music). Since then, we’ve gotten productions with a considerably higher budget: the Sam Raimi directed pictures (2002–2007) starring Tobey Maguire and those helmed by Marc Webb (2012–2014) with Andrew Garfield. Sony’s Licensing agreement with Marvel Studios then allowed a group of movies featuring Tom Holland to officially become a part of the MCU. There was Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), then Far From Home (2019), and now the latest No Way Home. The recurring word “home” appearing in every title has always made differentiating these titles a little difficult for this reviewer. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed them. The latest is no exception.

The story is refreshingly succinct at heart. After Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is Spider-Man, Peter appeals for help from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to conjure a spell to make people forget his true identity. Complications arise.

What makes the 8th Spider-Man entry different in yet another SONY-produced installment is the way it effectively embraces nostalgia. Peter Parker must contend with a panoply of villains in this episode. These include the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). This then is the cinematic equivalent of a greatest hits album if you will. Still using that analogy, I will offer there are a few bonus cuts as well. The additions will delight longtime fans of the franchise. It’s a superficial pleasure, but a genuine one.

The screenplay’s attempts at poignancy and significance will resonate more with people who come to this movie already invested. Learning from your mistakes and the link between power and responsibility are imparted as words of wisdom. Another lesson is giving people second chances, even at the expense of making some extremely bad choices. A key plot point is that Peter is conflicted by people who divide over whether he is a hero or a menace to society. J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons ) is a conspiracy theorist with his own news show on the internet. Jameson vociferously speaks out against the web-slinger. The public seems divided, although we the audience are invited to view Jameson as a crackpot.

Then Peter makes a choice. Director Jon Watts is working from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Up until this point, they had managed to keep me on board with the various machinations of the story. Even the leap required to accept that Doctor Strange would agree to cast that ridiculous spell. Peter’s error in judgment goes against the strict admonitions of Doctor Strange. It is a highly flawed decision that I could never get behind. Quite frankly, it’s indefensible. “You only have yourself to blame!” was my reaction to every bad thing that happens thereafter. This includes someone’s death.

No Way Home is still a sturdy, entertaining flick. You’ll get the requisite battles and they’re fine. More appreciated is the camaraderie between these beloved characters. Actors Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Zendaya (MJ Jones-Watson), and Jacob Batalon (Ned Leeds) have a rapport that is deeply affecting. They have a connection. You truly believe in their core friendship. However, I would argue that Holland has become so ultrabuff he looks out of place, especially in one scene where he appears shirtless. Their interactions are what carried me through the standard-issue action scenes. The screenplay seeks to inject sentimentality into the narrative with emotional developments. These efforts are more meaningful because of their chemistry. The relationship of this trio goes a long way into making us care.

To say this picture has resonated with audiences is an understatement. Spider-Man: No Way Home has accomplished what heretofore seemed impossible post-pandemic. At $260 million, it’s the 2nd biggest U.S. opening OF ALL TIME. Only Avengers: Endgame did more with the $357 million it earned in April 2019. Given that the theatrical landscape was a lot more welcoming in 2019, it makes the achievement even more incredible. This made more in just one weekend than the entire gross of any movie since 2019. The last was Rise of Skywalker with $515 million. No Way Home may just top that. Stay tuned.

12-21-21