Monday, December 18, 2017

52nd Annual James Loutzenhiser Awards


Get Out was the big winner for the Kansas City Film Critics Circle's 52nd Annual James Loutzenhiser Awards taking home the Vince Koehler Award for Best Sci-fi, Fantasy, or Horror Film along with Best Original Screenplay and the big prize of Best Picture. Call Me By Your Name also took home three awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and became the second winner of the Tom Poe Award for Best LGBTQ Film. You can find a list of all the winners inside.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Beauty and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

Guillermo del Toro puts his own spin on the Beauty and the Beast tale in The Shape of Water which stars Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor at the the Occam Aerospace Research Center who discovers just what the scientists and military men are studying. Doug Jones, who worked with del Toro before in the Hellboy films and Pan's Labyrinth, is transformed by practical and CGI effects into a creature who is part Abe Sapien and part the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Never given a name, nor able to speak (just like the woman who falls for him), the design of "the asset" is terrific.

The story is pretty standard. Girl meets boy from the wrong side of the tracks, they fall in love, and all hell breaks loose. The talent both in front and behind the camera elevates the words on the printed page into a magical fairy tale which is joyful to watch. The setting of the 1960s, Elisa's (Hawkins) inability to speak, Richard Jenkins as her confidant, and Michael Shannon as the brutal colonel in control of the experiment, all add interesting pieces to the puzzle making The Shape of Water more than the sum of its parts. Supporting performances from Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Lauren Lee Smith all bring something to add and help flesh out the world.

Wonder Wheel

Falling neither at the top nor bottom of the Woody Allen scale, the writer/director's latest fits somewhere in the middle. Set in Coney Island during the 1950s, Wonder Wheel tells the story of a distraught waitress (Kate Winslet) cheating on her husband (Jim Belushi) with a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) with delusions of becoming a great writer. Matters are complicated by the arrival of her husband's daughter (Juno Temple) from a previous marriage, on-the-run from her gangster husband, who also catches the lifeguard's eye, and our waitress' arson-loving preteen son (Jack Gore) setting fire to everything he can find.

Winslet is the ensemble stand-out of the piece as a middle-aged woman determined that her affair lead her out of the mess her life has become. Other than the fact that he's the outsider to the family, Timberlake turns out to be an odd choice for narrator. Winslet, Temple, or even Belushi (who is almost too convincing as the prototypical bad drunk with a temper) would seem to offer a better insight into the story. In the end, Winslet's perfomance and the setting of a 50s Coney Island help make up for some of the film's shortcomings (including an opening act better suited to a stage performance).

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ferdinand


2017 wasn't the best year for animation. Although there are several solid films, including two from Disney/Pixar, there was no clear standout. Based on the 1938 children's story, Ferdinand is another solid animated feature which is surprisingly moving coming from Blue Sky Studios (best known for the more comedic Ice Age franchise) as the combination of six writers work to build out the simple story of a bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight, into a feature film. The result is a funny, but also unexpectedly clever (including the best possible bull in a China shop joke) and heartfelt, film.

The Librarians - The Dark Secret / The Steal of Fortune


The Librarians open up their Fourth Season by going back to the beginning, not the beginning of the series but the beginning of the franchise. News that one of the original cornerstones has been uncovered (which, if combined with the others, could be used to make the Library solid in this dimension once more) pauses preparation for the tethering ceremony to connect Flynn (Noah Wyle) and Eve (Rebecca Romijn) to the Library. Knowing the situation is dire, and the Librarians must stop the heretic Order of Shadows from recovering the remaining stones and destroying the Library, forces Jenkins (John Larroquette) to reveal the dark secret of who he's been keeping prisoner in the Library for a century - Flynn's original Guardian Nicole Noone (Sonya Walger).

Batman #36


Okay, this is pretty good. Kicking off a new arc, writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann tackle the issue of Batman's impending wedding to Catwoman, and his friendship with Superman, from the perspective of both the Dark Knight Detective and the Man of Steel. While both are attempting to get to the bottom of their latest cases (which will end up linked by the end of the issue) each has to deal with the women in their lives asking why one hasn't talked with the other about the wedding.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


I love Star Wars. I'm a fan. Always have been. My love of film, science fiction, and movie merchandise can be traced back to the film that sprung from the mind of George Lucas. I mention this because, as a fan, it's not always easy to look critically at what you love. However, I will do my best (while avoiding spoilers).

Detroit

Kathryn Bigelow's distressing and unflinching look into the Algiers Motel killings during Detroit's 1967 12th Street Riot, is as masterful as it is hard to watch. It's a brutal film to sit through as the director refuses to pull punches or tack on any kind of happy or hopeful ending. As a result the film struggled mightily at the box office despite being a critical success. There are obviously parallels between the story we see unfold and recent events, such as those in Ferguson, Missouri. In 50 years we may not have come as far as we had hoped.

Screenwriter Mark Boal pieced together the script from written accounts and interviews with survivors. Algee Smith leads an exceptional cast as one of many held captive at gunpoint, threatened, beaten, and subject to psychological torture by racist police officers (Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O'Toole) and members of the National Guard in the Algiers Motel. The longer the police stay, looking for a shooter that doesn't exist, the deeper the hole they dig for themselves and potential witnesses to their actions.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Usagi Yojimbo #164


The middle chapter of "The Mouse Trap" picks up with Usagi's attacker delivering the rabbit ronnin to the Black Goblin Gang where the quick intervention of Inspector Ishida and the thief Nezumi prevent a groggy Usagi from meeting an inglorious end. Although Ishida is able to save his friend, Usagi is able to overhear a bit of the underlings talk about the hidden true head of the gang, and several members are killed by our heroes, Usagi and Ishida don't learn about the next attack of the Black Goblin Gang until it is too late.

Star Wars Disney Princess Action Pack


Also check out Star Wars Pack 1, Pack 2, Pack 3, Pack 4, Pack 5, Pack 6, Pack 7, Pack 8, Pack 9, Pack 10, Pack 11, Pack 12, Pack 13, Pack 14, Pack 15, and Disney Pack 1 and Pack 2.

Psych: The Movie


Set three years after the events of the Psych season finale, Psych: The Movie reunites the cast in San Fransisco where Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dulé Hill) will insert themselves into the attempted murder of Juliet's (Maggie Lawson) partner leading to a confrontation with an old enemy. Along with all the familiar faces (including a cameo of Timothy Omundson, who suffered a stroke shortly before the shooting of the TV-movie), we get the usual catchphrases (even if some of the them feel a bit forced) and goofiness from the fake psychic detective and his pharmaceutical salesman partner fans of the show remember fondly.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Phantom Thread


In a career that spans more than 35 years Daniel Day-Lewis has raised the bar for actors. While his role as dress designer Reynolds Woodcock may not be his most notable, Daniel Day-Lewis does not disappoint in what he has stated will be his final on-screen performance. Teaming up once again with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, the pair worked together previously on There Will Be Blood, the actor is terrific in the offbeat drama which I'll admit I would like more if it didn't save its best moments (at least plot-wise) for the finale.

The Disaster Artist

Do you know the phrase "so bad, it's good?" James Franco does double duty directing and starring in this behind-the-scenes look at the making of writer, producer, and star Tommy Wiseau's (played here by James Franco) The Room which some have dubbed one of the best bad movies ever made akin to the films of Ed Wood.

Dave Franco stars as Tommy's best-friend Greg who goes with him to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of becoming Hollywood actors. After struggling to find work, the pair decide to shoot their own film (despite having no expertise on any part of the process). The result is a disaster that became a cult favorite which is still shown in theaters to this day.

The Disaster Artist is basically a one-joke film about untalented people making a movie that people enjoy despite its numerous flaws. Franco's film doesn't attempt to explain Tommy Wiseau or the plot of a movie cast members themselves didn't understand, instead it earnestly looks at the friendship that birthed such a beloved abomination onto the unprepared movie-going public.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Despicable Me 3

The fourth movie of the Despicable Me franchise is the weakest and most disappointing (and that's from someone who enjoyed Minions!). Screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio go through the motions putting Gru (Steve Carell) back in the life of crime (but not really) with the twin brother he never knew (and who is even a worse villain than Dru). Other than Minions, this is the first of the franchise that doesn't put Gru's relationship with his three adopted daughters front-and-center. Instead, the girls are thrown into a subplot involving Lucy (Kristen Wiig) struggling with her new role as a mother. As to the franchise lovable henchmen, the Minions meander around for much of the script in their own subplot which never goes anywhere all that interesting.

The Flash - Don't Run


Christmas comes to Central City, but no one is in a celebratory mood as Barry (Grant Gustin) is abducted by the Thinker and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) is kidnapped by Amunet Black (Katee Sackhoff). With limited resources at their disposal, Iris (Candice Patton) is forced to choose which one becomes the priority for the team to recover. While the episode is apparently the last we will see of Clifford DeVoe (Neil Sandilands), it's far from the last we'll see of the Thinker whose need for new metahumans, one in particular, is finally explained.

Justice League Action - Skyjacked


"Skyjacked" is a fun Justice League Action short featuring Harley Quinn (Tara Strong) and Poison Ivy (Natasha Leggero) attempting to steal a Javelin from the Justice League which is complicated by the arrival of Batman (Kevin Conroy). Ever since Batman: The Animated Series the team-up of Harley and Ivy has provided some enjoyable moments on both TV and in comics, and "Skyjacked" continues that trend.

War for the Planet of the Apes

The third (and likely final) entry to the modern retelling of The Planet of the Apes saga focuses on the war between remaining human military (this time led by Woody Harrelson) and Caesar's (Andy Serkis) race of intelligent apes. After an attack on the ape's base that left his family dead, Caesar sets out on a quest for vengeance against The Colonel (Harrelson) which will become complicated by the discovery of a young human girl (Amiah Miller) and learning his followers have been captured by the enemy.

While the real conflict in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was between the apes themselves, War for the Planet of the Apes focuses instead on painting the humans, particularly Harrelson, as the villains in a more straightforward storyline of revenge leading to a definite conclusion to Caesar's story. This works in the film's favor, allowing the series to end on a high note (even if director Matt Reeves misses on several key moments, such as hamfistedly spelling out far too much in the final scene).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Post


The Post is unquestionably lesser Spielberg and is more comparable to 1994's The Paper than Spotlight or All the President's Men in examining a newspaper room chasing down a story. While there's nothing wrong with that (lesser Spielberg is still Spielberg), and cast and crew still deliver an entertaining and informative film, it never reaches the the heights to which it aspires.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Supergirl - Reign


Supergirl pulls out all the stops for its mid-season finale with a memorable first meeting between Kara (Melissa Benoist) and Reign (Odette Annable) that leaves the Girl of Steel broken, battered, bruised, and defeated. Prior to the "Crisis on Earth-X" crossover we finally got some information about just who and what Reign really is. Despite Sam being taken over by the Kryptonian programming it appears she's more of Jekyll/Hyde character keeping her humanity and only aware of her other self's actions in nightmares. Beginning by burning her symbol all over National City and leaving a trail of dead drug gangbangers, eventually this Kryptonian "devil" steps toe-to-to with Supergirl (and more than holds her own).

John Wick #1


Set prior to John Wick's retirement in the first film, the new series from Dynamite Entertainment focuses on the professional killer's earlier career. Ghosts from the past lead John Wick to El Paso, Texas where an encounter leads to a confrontation with a gangster he knew from childhood. Whether or not Wick was specifically hunting the killers, or merely coincidence, is a bit unclear (although the former seems more likely). Stepping in on a hit allows John to reintroduce himself to and old "friend" and likely get him into considerable trouble int he issues to follow.

Lucifer - The Sinnerman


"The Sinnerman" plays on four themes of Lucifer's Third Season. The first, which gives the episode its name, involves the Sinnerman (Kevin Carroll) upping his game by murdering those whom Lucifer (Tom Ellis) has given favors to, and temporary kidnapping Lucifer (for a purpose that seems to support an alternate identity for out season's big bad), eventually leading to the criminal's capture and face-to-face with the Devil himself. Is this really the Sinnerman, or has the real villain yet to show his face? Tied into this storyline is the growing sexual tension between Decker (Lauren German) and Pierce (Tom Welling), which even Lucifer begins to pick up on as the episode comes to a close.

Blizzcon 2017 Cosplay (Part 3)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Tomb Raider: Survivor's Crusade #1


The first issue of Tomb Raider: Survivor's Crusade takes Lara Croft to Corniglia, Italy inside a secret underground tomb discovered by Trinity. Lara isn't there for the tomb, its riddles, or its treasures. She's come seeking out members of the mysterious organization for answers concerning the identity of the person responsible for her father's death.

Blade of the Immortal

Based on the Japanese manga of the same name, Blade of the Immortal is bloody affair from director Takashi Miike. The story centers around the cursed samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) who cannot die. Approached by a young girl (Hana Sugisaki) who reminds the samurai of his lost sister, our hero reluctantly agrees to help her get vengeance on the swordsmen who killed her father and their leader Anotsu Kagehisa (Sôta Fukushi).

In terms of action and body count, the movie doesn't disappoint. However, adapting two books from the series into a single film proves to be a bit awkward at times. There's a completely unnecessary subplot of a group of mercenaries killing off the same samurai as our hero which only bloats the film's already considerable running time. Also troubling is the script's inability to decide how great a swordsman our protagonist truly is. In the opening and closing scenes our hero is unstoppable, taking down an insane number of enemies. However, in pretty much every scene in-between, in one-on-one combat with Anotsu's lieutenants, his skill is highly questionable. The result is an interesting, if uneven, action film.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Orientation


Okay, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is officially out of ideas. Tell me if this sounds familiar, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team wake to discover they've been transported to a mysterious new world and will spend several episodes (about half a season, maybe) trying to find their way home? Yeah, that was last season's second-half arc. It's always where this season begins with the team abducted and shot into the future awakening aboard a Kree prison ship and struggling (and failing) to discover how and why they ended up in their current predicament.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Florida Project


In a rundown hotel walking distance from Disney World live 6 year-old Mooney (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Set during a single summer, the film focuses on Mooney's friendships with Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and her mother's struggles, scams, and cons to come up with rent every week while a fall-out with her best friend (Mela Murder) causes trouble for her both herself and her daughter.

Last Flag Flying

Last Flag Flying is a by-the-numbers road trip movie featuring three talented actors (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne) and an experienced director (Richard Linklater), all of whom have done more memorable work. The film centers around Carell's character seeking out two Vietnam War buddies when he learns his son's body is being shipped back from Afghanistan. Having not seen each other in decades, and tied together by an irresponsible act that left another member of their unit dead, the odd couple of Fishburne and Cranston begin the long journey to help their old friend bury his son.

There's nothing really wrong with the film, other than being Linklater's least-ambitious project in recent memory. This is the man who spent more than a decade putting Boyhood together and crafted the most accurate version of a Philip K. Dick story we've ever seen on film. The solid, if predictable, script offers plenty of moments for each of the three actors to shine. It has its heart in the right place and should play well to both military and civilian families alike, although I didn't find the film's emotional moments as affecting as the film's premise suggests.

The Square

I'll be honest, I don't know exactly what to make of The Square. It's hard to create a satire poking fun at pretentiousness when your film is at least as pretentious as as the subject of your mockery. Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund's film certainly provides its share of moments satirizing modern art, middling celebrities, what wealthy donors of the arts really care about, and marketers. However, the film is over-brimming with subplots involving a threatening letter, a mugging, an angry child, a crazy one-night stand (Elisabeth Moss), and a marketing plan so ridiculous it's impossible to take it seriously.

Claes Bang stars as the curator and public face of a museum in Stockholm about to unveil their newest addition (which gives the film its name). The wistful, if hopelessly naive, piece of art is a square in which the artist believes that whoever enters leaves all negativity behind and will receive whatever help they need from those that pass by. As concepts go it's no more or less ridiculous than an artist (Terry Notary) jumping around like an ape and nearly sexually-violating a young woman during a dinner for wealthy donors.