Mega Movie Catch Up

With the current global situation as well as local restrictions and advice to stay at home over the last few months, for many it’s an opportune time to catch up on a lot of entertainment, especially via streaming.

Although I don’t mind the cinema I tend to reserve that experience for major tent-pole films or stuff I want to see ASAP yet sometimes I just forget, uncertain of, or can’t be bothered with particular movies, which is why streaming is so perfect for those.

A few of the films I’m about to go through here were viewed before the pandemic took hold but I thought I’d throw them into the list anyway as I’ve only really reacted to them over on my Instagram. These are in no particular order but from here on there may be SPOILERS but also keep in mind many of these are way past the need for that (either because they’re that old or that bad)…

Aquaman (2018)
This movie is balls-the-the-wall crazy and it bloody knows it! It understands how ludicrous the concept is and embraces it by leaning in so hard to produce one of the more surprisingly entertaining experiences I’ve had with a movie.

The DCEU has struggled to find itself but slowly it resisted its more fanciful and fun comic book origins to embrace them and create fanciful and fun stories like Wonder Woman and Shazam! (both of which I really enjoyed). Aquaman doesn’t necessarily sit at the same table in terms of quality but there is a self-confidence and awareness (without being parody) about it that I absolutely admired. Director James Wan threw everything on the screen and I was happy to hold on and go for a ride.

If I were to give a comparable example to describe it: in terms of plot and tone it’s like the first Thor movie mashed with Ragnarokand then given LSD. That’s that much fun!

Props to Jason Mamoa for finally being interesting and charismatic in the role but the real MVP was Patrick Wilson as Orm, who I think needs to be in more things rather than just randomly pop up from time to time because he’s always been great!

X-Men Apocalypse (2016)
The X-Men films haven’t aged very well over the last 20 years and I say that as a fan of the originals. In all fairness they were a product of the trends at the time. Many years later the more successful films coming from DC and Marvel Studios as of late have embraced their origins as well as distilled what works best. Ever since the genuinely good First Class from 2011 it’s been a game of catch up for the mutants but sadly to continually diminishing returns.

It took me ages to get around to Apocalypse mainly because of the negative reviews… and sadly they were right. Whatever good will First Class and Days of Future Past cultivated (the latter really only did so by retconning The Last Stand out of existence), Apocalypse pisses all of it away by being a poor imitation of its contemporaries.

It’s a bad story poorly told and inconsistently presented. While I can admire the attempt at trying to be more like the more successful MCU films it misses the point of why those work and is a jumbled hot mess that wants to be dark yet colourful at the same time and misunderstands what people actually loved about these characters whether it be from the comics, the cartoon, or the original films. But mainly, for a film all about the end of the world, it just didn’t have any weight to it.

The third act climax, I’ll admit, was surprisingly fun but it just didn’t feel earned.

Dark Phoenix (2019)
Fuck this film and its blandness.

I went into this film thinking it would be garbage based on how other people reviewed it. That would at least have the potential to be INTERESTING in a way that Apocalypse was. But no… it’s not even bad enough to be such.

What’s absolutely frustrating about this final entry is that despite having the basic spine of a good story, every choice made is the most boring a director/writer could choose (Simon Kinberg wrote the much reviled The Last Stand so I wonder if this was his attempt at redemption). There were no risks taken, no effort to wow or thrill an audience. And most shockingly it turned a massive cosmic story into something small, claustrophobic and mundane.

Train to Busan (2016)
I’m not really a fan of horror in general. The scant few scary movies I do enjoy (or at least give a try) have to do more than just scare or shock. So after numerous recommendations online, I added this movie to my Netflix watch list where it sat for as long as I can remember having Netflix. I was never really in the mood for it. Couple that with how overdone zombies have been in media over the last decade and a half and I really dragged my feet on it. And I regret not getting to it sooner.

Train to Busan broke records in South Korea and rightfully so as it’s bloody amazing! There’s something refreshing and fascinating about seeing well-worn ideas and tropes through a different cultural lens and I think that plays a major part of this movie’s enjoyment.

Whether you prefer them slow or fast moving, these zombies are genuinely terrifying akin to a force of nature instead of of trying to push the envelope of how grotesque can you make a living corpse (which is what most western versions were trying to do). Also, despite being rather recognisable “randoms thrown into a life-or-death situation” these characters really work and even make you care about what happens to them (or hate them as is the case for at least one character in particular). If you were to break it down, it doesn’t really do that much new or unique but somehow it works like gangbusters!

I don’t think this film has re-invigorated my interest in zombie stories but it certainly made me remember that a different perspective on an old idea can have the potential to do something very cool.

Dragon Quest: Your Story (2019)
Another disclaimer: My interest in anime is extremely narrow with only a few titles I can list as some of my favourites. So while I did think the animation style I saw in the trailer for this looked cool I didn’t initially bite… and then I saw a spoiler for the ending.

The Dragon Quest games are apparently HUGE and this movie was a big deal and You Story was meant to be a way of emulating the western Disney/Pixar style in order to appeal to an international audience. And it’s a beautiful film to look at with plenty of fun and exciting moments. Also lots of moments that I can only guess fans of the franchise will pick up on.

To its credit it also did something absolutely ballsy with it’s ending and what it was trying to “say” with this story… and it fucked it up.

HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER:

It’s revealed that everything we’d been watching was actually a video game and our hero is in an simulator in “the real world.” The game is infected with a virus and its purpose it to make players realise that these games are a pointless waste (so far I can see where it’s going and anticipating the response). But then the movie makes an impassioned plea that the friends and time spent in the game are as important and valuable as anything in the real world and that’s where it loses it’s fucking mind and most of its audience.

As beautiful as this film is, I’m not sure I can recommend it because there’s really not a lot in it other than beautiful visuals.

Moana (2016)
I’m so surprised it took me as long as it did but then again I realised, for a while there, I wasn’t rushing out to see every movie out there.

There’s not much to say about this film other than how much fun it was. It’s an absolute delight with a few rather emotional beats and songs you may not be able to get out of your head. Despite the contemporary references they don’t don’t quite get tiring as one would anticipate. It’s funny, it’s energetic, and it’s heartfelt.

It’s also a much better replacement for the extremely dated Pocahontas, which many have made comparisons to, so there’s that.

Frozen 2 (2019)
We all realise that Anna was the hero of this sequel while Elsa was elsewhere discovering herself, right?

It’s odd to realise that the original Frozen was released in 2013 and despite how much it permeated the popular culture I’m not sure there was ever really a call for a sequel (which is probably why it took 6 years). But kids entertainment being what it is, it was bound to happen and I’m glad they took their time instead of just churning any old thing out.

As much as I enjoyed Frozen 2 this film really isn’t made for a guy like me and that’s perfectly fine. Amongst all the songs and amazing visuals there is a very heartfelt story about family and coming to terms with yourself (whatever that may be). It’s all subtext of course and many were hoping it would be more overt but I’m of the opinion if you can sneak in a little messaging here and there then those that need to hear it won’t have to contend with the parents that gatekeep that sort of thing.

Also, I know he’s the kid appeal character, but Olaf is infinitely worse than Jar Jar! There I said it.

Toy Story 4 (2019)
Now to a sequel nobody wanted but everyone eventually had to concede it was actually pretty good!

I was never as attached to Toy Story 3 as so many others so the “ending”, although absolutely wonderful and tugged and every single heart-string, never felt as closed or finite as so many others made it out to be. So the news of another sequel wasn’t sacrilege to me. Having seen it now and thoroughly enjoyed it I stand by the decision that despite it not being “needed”, it does make for an excellent proper “final” film.

It gives closure not to just Woody but also allows for BoPeep, a character who was ignored in previous films, a chance to shine. All while offering up a thrilling and fun adventure as well as another aspect of toy playing that wasn’t covered by the first three films (in the form of “lost toys” as well as those that remain in antique stores, which was particularly fascinating for me).

It’s one singular flaw, if you can call it that, was Forky. No, not the character itself but how he became to be. Providing a situation which raises that question when previously no one cared about it has the risk of interrupting the suspension of disbelief that films like this require. It’s minor and fleeting but for some people they may get stuck on it.

Detective Pikachu (2019)
Speaking of suspension of disbelief, have you ever had so much fun with a movie and yet end up actively disliking the source material it was based on?

Detective Pikachu is a fun and hilarious romp, which does a fantastic job at realising into live action the cartoon world that so many people have loved for the last few decades. But in doing so it raises so many questions…

I never had a problem with the premise despite joking about it being “legalised dog fighting”. I could set that aside because it was a kids cartoon. But seeing it in live action, the Pokemon Battles were actually the least of my concerns. There’s way too much to list here, so much so that it exceeded the threshold for the often-mentions suspension of disbelief, but sufficed to say I ended up overthinking the world being presented in what is basically a kids movie.

Oh, I still really enjoyed this film. It’s so much fun as I said. But now I retroactively resent Pokemon as a franchise because of this and I cannot remember that ever happening before.

Onward (2020)
These are unusual times but even without the pandemic forcing Disney to release Onward onto streaming instead of theatres as originally planned, I’m not sure this film had the legs to carry it as far as many of the other Pixar films (pun intended).

Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly charming and delightful film, which deliberately aims for the emotional beats once again yet I genuinely wonder if my opinion would be different if this had the chance to be in theatres instead of just Dinsey+, if there was more of a presence of it on social media and more marketing done. But on its own I found it to be an enjoyable enough and perfectly serviceable movie with a few laughs and some great actions scenes.

I’m not sure it has much beyond its embracing and extrapolating of fantasy D&D tropes. I do admire the world building it attempts in that regard and perhaps the animation format allows that to be easier to digest but overall I reckon “charming” is the best word I can use to describe it.

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)
There are films that serve as signposts in the evolution of their particular genres. In the broader action genre over the last 20 years they are The Matrix, The Bourne Identity, Transformers, and Taken. There are a few others you can throw in there but my point is that the success and popularity of these films (for better or worse) have always adjusted the sails and shifted the direction for films that follow.

John Wick was such a film. So it’s rather unfortunate that its own sequels didn’t quite understand which way the wind was blowing.

The original John Wick wowed audiences with its energy and intensity, ostensibly being stunt showreel with a simple and straightforward story, a seemingly absurd premise/motivation for our lead character, and hints of a highly organised underworld that were tantalising in their mystique.

Sadly, the energy and vibrancy of the original left when one half of the co-directing team went and did Atomic Blonde (which is frustratingly meh for all its efforts). Fans were intrigued by all the rules and systems in place in this underworld, The Continental and so forth, so the remaining filmmakers tried to expand on that in Chapter 2, resulting in dull and unnecessary sequel.

Parabellum is a vast improvement over Chapter2 as it brings much of the energy and intensity back. The fight scenes are brutal as much as they are inventive. Sure, some of them go for a minute too long but you forgive them for seeing how intricate and incredible the choreography is. And they all feel unique and fresh and just excellent in how it tries to outdo itself even within itself.

And like every movie there needs to be slower moments for the audience to catch their breath but the instant it delves into the lore and tries to do some world building, everything screeches to a fucking halt in order to deal with the High Table nonsense. It’s not just dull though, it’s absolutely pretentious and so far up its own arse that you can picture the filmmakers patting themselves on the back for how deep their mythology goes. In fact it gets so absurd at one point I wasn’t sure they were paying tribute or taking the piss out of Assassin’s Creed.

I really wanted to love this film but Parabellum is an otherwise good action movie bogged down by an unnecessary obsession with lore, making it the epitome of what’s wrong with genre fandom.


There are plenty more I saw during these last few months and plenty more I still need to see but I’m stopping it there for now.

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