Movie Review ~ Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers

The Facts:

Synopsis: Thirty years after their popular television show ended, chipmunks Chip and Dale live very different lives. When a cast member from the original series mysteriously disappears, the pair must reunite to save their friend.
Stars: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, KiKi Layne, Flula Borg, Dennis Haysbert
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Rated: PG
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: It’s hard to believe it now, but the original run of Chip’ n Dale: Rescue Rangers on The Disney Channel was just three “seasons” that ran a little over a year, starting in 1989. That was prime time for me, and I vividly recall that whole cartoon programming block on the popular premium channel. Once it entered syndication, it would often air with DuckTales (another favorite) and TaleSpin (take it or leave it), but with the two chipmunks long being a favorite of mine since tiny tyke-hood, I was hooked on everything Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was serving up. As Disney+ enters its newest evolution in reexamining its content library, there’s been a trend in remaking or rebooting to varying degrees of success. 

This past Christmas, a low-down dirty shame of a movie came out called Home Sweet Home Alone. Daring to advertise itself with the tagline “Holiday Classics Were Meant to Be Broken” and break them, they sure did. A travesty of a reboot (or continuation, it was never clear), it was a dismal mess and didn’t bode well for any future project that might be coming down the pike. You’d imagine the blood draining out of my face when I saw the poster directly above this review for Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. “It’s not a reboot, it’s a comeback.” Here they go again with a clever tagline that kicked up some dirt at reboots while jockeying for a place on a higher bar. Disney was setting itself up for the same failure as before, right?

Initially, I was going to put on Chip’ n Dale: Rescue Rangers for background noise in my hotel room during an out-of-town work trip. It wasn’t one I was totally duty-bound to review, so… what’s the harm in just having it playing on the side? Then something strange happened. The film began, and I started laughing at jokes that I would never have understood fully as a kid, but I completely LOL-ed at them because they were specifically targeted at adults that were kids at the time the original series was released. Writers Dan Gregor (Dolittle) and Doug Mand appear to have been given carte blanche to give a highly detailed take on an animated children’s show and turn it into an Easter Egg hunt for big kids that now have a mortgage to pay.

The world of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is similar to the Toon Town of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with animated and live-action characters interacting normally. Cartoons are filmed like regular movies, and if you have the right amount of money, hand-drawn animated figures can “upgrade” themselves to computer-generated versions in order to stay relevant in the looks-obsessed society of today. Before we get to the present, we look back at the past with Dale’s (Andy Samberg, Palm Springs) voiceover telling the origin story of how he met Chip (John Mulaney, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) in grade school when both were social outcasts. Teaming up to become a comedy duo, they took their act to Hollywood, where they eventually landed a plum gig on, what else, Chip’ n Dale: Rescue Rangers. When Dale gets tired of playing the silly second banana to Chip, he makes a play for solo fame but loses both of their careers in doing so.

Thirty years later, someone has been stealing famous cartoon characters and selling them to the black market as digitally altered bootlegs. When old castmate Monterey Jack (Eric Bana, The Finest Hours) vanishes after reuniting the two former friends, the odd couple will need to put aside their past differences and use their fictitious crime-solving techniques in a real-world setting. Working with a disgraced detective (KiKi Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk) to elude an underbelly of criminal older toons (one that “won’t grow up” sure did) while trying to locate their friend, the duo meets up with familiar faces from their glory days as well as blink-and-you missed-them famous cartoons that will consistently surprise you.

This rollicking plot bursting with creativity at every turn is great news for long-time fans like me who leave the 97-minute film with a boost but might be problematic for parents trying to introduce their kids to their chipmunk chums from yesteryear. There are far too many “inside baseball” jokes that won’t resonate with children that don’t remember waiting a whole week for the next episode of a show that you couldn’t start over again immediately. Chock full of connections to many early ’90s cultural touchstones which brought me glee, I couldn’t help but wonder what an oddity this would feel like to someone with no frame of reference.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fun ride, engineered for an audience mature enough to get the rapid-fire nostalgia-rich jokes but not too mature to avoid taking a chance on a reboot, sorry, a comeback of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers in the first place. The solid, sensible voice work from Mulaney and Samberg gives the furry stars the type of personalities you might have anticipated them having were they to have offscreen personas. Finally, director Akiva Schaffer (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) stays mindful of plot and pacing, never letting the comedic action linger too long in one place. Far better than you’d expect and one I’m more than open to revisiting, Chip’ n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn’t one to let slip through the cracks.

Movie Review ~ Spider-Man: No Way Home

The Facts:

Synopsis: With Spider-Man’s identity now revealed, Peter asks Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx ,Willem Dafoe, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong, Paula Newsome

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 148 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: At a recent gathering of friends, the talk turned to movies (I only keep the best company, naturally) and we got to discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Aside from a heated debate comparing the movies made within the MCU with those that come from the realm of DC Comics, a few well-rounded film fans expressed a feeling of exhaustion when it came to these extravaganzas, and I can’t say I didn’t agree. Look, I’m plopping my tush into a theater seat as fast as the next person when the newest chapter in the seemingly endless series of interconnected superhero adventures is released but a feeling of sameness has seeped in for a while now. The bright spots are fewer and farther between, so when you look far ahead on the Marvel slate and see films scheduled out literally years in advance there’s less to get wowed about.

That was a discussion I had the Saturday night before I saw Spider-Man: No Way Home.  Three nights later I was leaving the screening fighting the urge to skip a little bit back to my car because Sony and Marvel have jointly delivered one of the collective franchise highlights to date.  It’s essentially an entertainment package aiming to please without coming off like it’s building a bridge to “what’s next”.  Though it certainly is a gateway to…something…it wastes little time with one foot out the door or an eye on the exit sign.  Instead, director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers keep the focus on hyper-immediacy which makes this third film featuring Tom Holland (Cherry) as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man the absolute best one yet.

While plot points are discussed below, rest assured there are no spoilers included (anywhere on this page) that have not been already revealed through marketing.

At the end of the previous film, for his final act of treachery Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed to the world that Peter Parker was Spider-Man.  Framed for Beck’s murder, Peter is hauled in with his family and friends by a shadow government agency before being released back to public scrutiny.  Assimilating to daily life under the eye of a cruel society based on unfounded judgement is easier said than done, however. Hatching a plan to make the world forget they ever found out his truth, Peter calls on Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Mauritanian) for his assistance, but the spell he orders gets complicated and winds up opening the multiverse, bringing forth everyone that ever knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man.  With the multiverse cracked, it allows villains from previous Spider-Man films not starring Holland to enter this realm…Big Baddies Spider-Man will have to track down and send back to where they came from.

It’s always odd when a different actor starts playing a role in an established franchise.  The first Spider-Man reboot saw Andrew Garfield take over for Tobey Maguire and I remember thinking at the time how weird it would be to see another actor in the role.  It was even more discombobulating when Holland stepped in so rapidly when the Garfield era came quickly to a close.  To have elements from the Maguire and Garfield films cross over into this third Holland one was a big risk but it comes off so well, it’s got to have other studios wondering how it could work in their own franchise tentpoles. 

What great possibilities this made into reality. Seeing Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, The Water Man) from Spider-Man 2 appear to greet Holland is one of those movie moments you can really get excited for.  I felt the same about O.G. villain Willem Dafoe (Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin acting the heck out of his role. Actually, it’s kind of incredible to see all of these legendary foes back together sharing the screen.  Even if the two Garfield villains are sort of lame (sorry Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans, but thank goodness Paul Giamatti didn’t show up), it’s more than a little thrilling when they’re all standing in the same room.

Most notable in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a true devotion to hitting as many emotional beats as action-heavy ones.  For as many spectacular scenes as there are, Watts and his team are willing to give Holland (who has never been better) and equally aces co-stars Zendaya (Malcom & Marie), Marisa Tomei (Frankie), Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Jacob Batalon (Banana Split) the space they need to deal with some major events that happen during the extended run time.  I don’t know if you’ll have a similar experience but darn it if I didn’t get a little misty on a least two separate occasions.  Fans that have waited a while for this will be more than pleased with the developments that take place and movie-goers in general who have held back from entering a theater will be sufficiently satiated by the feature. 

Movie Review ~ Being the Ricardos 

The Facts:  

Synopsis: Lucille Ball struggles in her personal life with husband Desi Arnaz amid cheating allegations, existing under the watchful eye of the FBI for being a potential communist threat, and much more. 

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale,  Jake Lacy, Alia Shawkat, Linda Lavin, Clark Gregg, Ronny Cox, John Rubinstein 

Director: Aaron Sorkin 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 125 minutes 

TMMM Score: (8/10) 

Review:  There was a time during one high school summer when I worked a job that ended at such a late hour that there was nothing much on television to watch but episodes of I Love Lucy.  Consequently, over the ensuing years I’ve found it comforting to fall asleep to the comedic stylings of Lucille Ball, be it on her landmark television program or her subsequent shows that didn’t feature her husband Desi Arnaz.  While I’m not an expert of all things Lucy, I know what I know so knew enough to realize that casting Nicole Kidman as the legendary comedienne was a big risk for writer/director Aaron Sorkin.  It was also a decision that sent fans reeling, wondering how the Aussie star could believably take on the New York Ball’s signature look and sound. 

As was the case with the woman she’s portraying, it’s wrong to underestimate Kidman, like, ever.  The Oscar-winner has proven time and time again that while she may not always pull off transformations on the physical side of the aisle, it’s not even necessary when you have the spirit of a person nailed to perfection.  You see, Kidman achieves something amazing in Sorkin’s new film Being the Ricardos: another carefully built performance by the actress from the inside out, reliant less on recreation & more on essence. It’s Lucille Ball, for sure, and precisely the razor sharp, vulnerable, very human star she certainly was.  

A trend recently with biopics, at least those bound by a feature-length run time, is not to take on the enormity of a life story because two hours is just not enough time to cover it all.  It certainly wouldn’t have been able to go into the kind of detail a Hollywood legend like Ball (or even Arnaz) would have deserved…I mean you’d need at least 45 minutes to discuss that disastrous 1974 movie version of the musical Mame alone!  I digress.  What Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) does is what he does quite well, find a point of time to focus on and then use that as the center with which to spring out the life events that helped get these people to this point.  And it works wonderfully here.

Maybe this is more well known but I had no idea there was a week of time in the early part of the run of I Love Lucy where Ball was under scrutiny by the McCarthy hearings and was accused of “being a Red” …and not just because of her hair.  The fallout from the first accusation and the potential for more over the ensuing week are played out while the cast rehearse a new script set to be taped in front of a live audience at the end of the week.  The stress of it all brings up once smoothed-over fissures in the Ricardos marriage, old rivalries between Lucy and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), and further ostracizes the writer’s room (made up of Jake Lacy, Rampage, Alia Shawkat, Green Room, and executive producer Tony Hale, American Ultra) from everyone.

I loved the behind the scenes view of I Love Lucy and the various contributors (all well-cast by Francine Maisler & Kathy Driscoll) to its success from creation onward. Javier Bardem (Skyfall) is strong as Desi, a most unenviable task for a persona often seen as the villain of the Desilu love story. Bardem and Kidman (Aquaman) don’t really look like their real-life counterparts, but it honestly doesn’t matter in the slightest.  If much time had been spent to achieve more of a resemblance, I think audiences would have focused too much on that and not on the acting both Oscar winners are doing.  Of all the actors Sorkin has brought together for his film, J.K. Simmons (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) and Arianda (Richard Jewell) are the closest to impression but are fantastic in the undertaking.  There are times when both are eerily similar to the William Frawley and Vivian Vance. It’s well-known the two didn’t get along in real life and if you didn’t know it before, you’ll know it after this movie.

Yes, you’ll see some famous scenes that have been recreated but they are part of a larger (good) idea Sorkin employs by showing viewers how Lucy would put together comic moments.  It’s always hard to gain access into the workings of a person’s “process” but Sorkin’s method has an appropriately cinematic flair that achieves its goal while also providing a nice jolt of nostalgic recognition.  Releasing in theaters before debuting on Amazon Prime in time for the holidays, Being the Ricardos is the kind of biopic I appreciate, one that doesn’t bite off more than it can chew yet remains satisfying. 

Movie Review ~ Ride the Eagle

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Leif’s estranged mother dies, she leaves him a ‘conditional inheritance’. He has to complete her elaborate to-do list before he gets her cabin in Yosemite. Leif steps into a wild world as the mother he never really knew tries to make amends from beyond the grave.

Stars: Jake Johnson, Susan Sarandon, D’Arcy Carden, J.K. Simmons, Luis Fernandez-Gil, Cleo King, Eric Edelstein, Billy Bungeroth

Director: Trent O’Donnell

Rated: NR

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Is it OK for me to start out by saying that the whole concept of Ride the Eagle didn’t thrill me at first? I mean, the entirety of the “Mom’s dead, but she left a video for you to watch and a list of things for you to do.” feels not just like something we’ve seen before but also a complete set-up to eventually wring the tears out of you in a most manipulative way.  Then celebrated television director Trent O’Donnell goes and casts Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon (Blackbird) as the mom seen only on a VHS tape…and even the casual viewer knows Sarandon has carved out a small niche playing dead or nearly deceased mothers ready to impart one final message to their loved ones left behind.  All this to say that I went into Ride the Eagle buckled in and ready to have my emotions toyed with.

How refreshing to find that the emotions that star and co-screenwriter (with O’Donnell) Jake Johnson played around with weren’t solely surrounding the sadness of loss but of something much more intriguing.  The road far more traveled was bypassed for a journey through a path less shaped by convention and that’s where the enjoyment (pure and mighty enjoyment) in this entertaining bit of whimsy comes on the strongest and lingers the longest.  That it was filmed in the middle of the pandemic with barely any of the eight-member cast in the same room is an accomplishment, especially when you consider the believable dynamics that are formed between the actors in 80-some minutes of screen time.

When he receives news his estranged mother Honey (Sarandon) has passed away after a brief illness, bohemian bongo player Leif (Johnson, Jurassic World) isn’t sure how to process the news at first.  Though she left him when he was 12 and he’s now past 40, their issues remained unresolved at the time of her death.  Living in a tiny house with his dog behind the mansion of his manager, the sometime musician (he’s the oldest member of a band called, hysterically, Restaurant), he doesn’t have much to worry about in terms of actual responsibility. Then, after a visit from family friend Missy (Cleo King, Transformers: Age of Extinction), he learns that his mother left him her impressive cabin in the gorgeous woods of Yosemite.  There’s a catch, though, and it comes in the form of a condition attached to the cabin. 

In order to become the owner of the cabin, Leif will have to complete a set of tasks designed by his mother as a final way of saying good-bye to the son she never got to know.  In doing so, he learns about the mother he passed on the opportunity to forgive in later years when she attempted to reach out.  So begins an eye-opening weekend for Leif and Nora (the dog) when they arrive at the cabin to find Honey has more than a few surprises up her sleeve for her son.  Just wait until you see what she’s hiding in all her cabinets, or what waits on the other side of the lake she has him kayak toward, or how he winds up talking to an ex (D’Arcy Carden, Bombshell, absolute perfection) and finds that maybe the one that got away thankfully didn’t go that far. 

If the film occasionally goes a bit too far in its sourness (the improvisatory talents of all involved tends to have the actors resort to dropping a f#$k or some variation because it sounds conversational…it doesn’t) it gets in a few good zingers here and there that actually feel earned.  For example, only a talent like J.K. Simmons (The Tomorrow War) could deliver a line written by Johnson/O’Donnell that is so incredibly filthy in the middle of a beautiful bit of eulogizing.  Even an attempted bit of phone naughtiness between Carden and Johnson goes off the rails with riotous glee.  These are the rare bits of perfectly crafted dialogue in film we hardly get nowadays and Ride the Eagle has quite a few of them.

Unpredictable is hard to come by in film but Ride the Eagle manages to stay ahead of viewers for nearly the entirety of its short run time.  You’re so invested in the characters and, in particular, Johnson’s incredibly charismatic star turn in the type of role that would normally be poison in gaining affection from an audience much less sympathy, that you won’t be thinking about the end.  If anything, you’ll be dreading it will soon be over. 

Movie Review ~ The Tomorrow War

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An ordinary family man is recruited by time travelers from 30 years in the future to fight in a deadly war against aliens.

Stars: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Theo Von, Jasmine Mathews, Mary Lynn Rajskub

Director: Chris McKay

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 140 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  It’s still been sort of a weird summer, hasn’t it?  While things felt like they were heading back on track with theaters re-opening, the business hasn’t exactly been booming.  Sure, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and F9: The Fast Saga unsurprisingly attracted devoted fans into seats based on their name recognition alone, the disappointing showing of the much anticipated musical In the Heights knocked the wind out of many sails just as things were getting going.  Approaching the traditionally jam-packed July 4th weekend, there’s not a smorgasbord to choose from in cinemas and definitely no major blockbuster release that historically debuted just ahead of the holiday weekend.

Instead, that action mega-ton popcorn film is making its premiere on Amazon Prime and while The Tomorrow War gets the job done as a frenzied, effects-heavy epic that just keeps going and going, it’s missing a few key elements that were magic ingredients to previous success in years past.  We’ll get into what those components are in a bit, but I want to say from the start that you absolutely should watch The Tomorrow War and not be deterred by a trailer and synopsis that suggests a bland sameness or Pratt’s waning promise as a capable lead in motion pictures.  Stumbling terribly at first, the film positively jolts to life about forty minutes in and hooked me for the remainder.

Several years in the future, Dan Forester (Pratt, Jurassic World) is a ordinary guy with a wife and daughter trying to get a better job after his military service.  Then, during a holiday party at their house when everyone is watching a soccer game on TV (at Christmas? I know…), the world changes when out of a center-field nebula armed visitors from the future appear and announce the need for volunteers to come and fight a war going on decades from now.  Over the next year, armies across the globe go forth and are decimated by alien creatures so terrifying the future visitors dare not share pictures for fear that they will have trouble recruiting present day citizens from traveling through time to battle them.  Eventually Dan is called up through a national draft and finds himself facing down these beasts along with others that have had no training in combat or evasive measures. 

These first forty or so minutes of The Tomorrow War that deals with all the exposition needed to inform the audience of a lot of plot details is pretty bad.  It’s awkward and gangly, sort of like Pratt’s weirdly uncomfortable look stuffed into a shirt/sweater combo during the holiday party.  The writing is poor, the acting is not much better, and all signs were pointing to 140 minutes of iffy effects to go along with the bad plot mechanics.  Then, something sort of amazing happens.  Director Chris McKay (The LEGO Movie) and writer Zach Dean put Dan and his untrained bunch face to face with an enemy that might just be one of the most terrifying creations seen in these alien beasts on Earth films yet.  I’m not kidding when I say that when we get our first look at the White Spikes I sat up rigid in my seat, jaw agape, and said “Oh no, I do not appreciate that.”  Much of this has to go to the effects folks who created this monster, seamlessly blending it (for the most part) with the live-action actors…but it’s a formidable foe that is nightmarishly ruthless.  That McKay keeps it hidden for an extended period of time also adds to its overall scariness when we finally do see it.

In time-travel movies, the filmmakers can play fast and loose with their rules, and they do so here as well, to some extent.  I won’t go too far into who Yvonne Strahovski (All I See Is You) is playing or how she figures into Forester’s life but the two join forces in the future which winds up having a major impact on the past.  Just when you think the movie is reaching its climax, you look at your watch and realize it’s only halfway done.  Then the next time you think it’s over, your watch tells you there’s a half hour left.  This happens two or three more times before the film actually wraps up and the multiple endings give The Tomorrow War an overall breathless pace but also contributes to a weariness after a time.  That extra time gives way for some slow dips in the action and dramatic scenes between Dan and his estranged father (J.K. Simmons, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as well as a few fun sequences of Indiana Jones-style adventure.  It’s a big package to digest and while it wouldn’t have worked on the big screen because you’d have to take it a bit more seriously, on the small screen some of these quirkier asides tend to play easier.

What is harder to take is Pratt’s clunker performance, a disappointing sign the actor isn’t delivering on some early promise that he had leading man potential.  An executive producer of the film, Pratt should have been even more on the ball as someone with a grander stake in the movie’s prospects but alas, he’s just missing that magical “it” factor that could have given all of his scenes more weight.  His jokes don’t land, his dramatic thrust isn’t felt, it’s just a vacant, mannequin type of performance that goes through the motions but doesn’t bring anything new.  That’s especially apparent as the film draws to a conclusion and becomes a one-man Pratt showcase even though he’s sharing the screen with likable actors like Sam Richardson (Werewolves Within) who outcharms him without even trying.

This is a big, big, big movie and not one you should be watching on a tiny computer screen or your phone.  You will want to check this one out and make The Tomorrow War an event if you can, trying your best to ignore it’s bad opening and enjoy when it shows what our heroes are up against.

Movie Review ~ Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Ray Porter, Jesse Eisenberg

Director: Zack Snyder

Rated: R

Running Length: 242 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Has there ever been a more bizarre and divisive situation of nerdom than the one surrounding the twisted tale of Zack Snyder’s Justice League?  By his own request, the director was replaced during the final weeks of production on the 2017 release (including editing and reshoots) so he could deal with the emotional recovery of the death of his daughter.  It was the right choice for Snyder but it left the film in the hands of Joss Whedon, the Marvel marvel who couldn’t find the same tone Snyder was going for and leaned into a more studio and populous theater friendly piece that didn’t serve the darker storyline that was imagined.  Not unexpectedly, though the film was ultimately credited to Snyder it bore little resemblance to his original vision and was hampered by many of Whedon’s trademarks, down to cringy bits of humor that didn’t work and a stupefying amount of bad special effects.

With Warner Brothers and the DC Universe riding high off the phenomenal success of Wonder Woman released earlier that year, the dismal failure (and tepid reception) of Justice League put a nail in the coffin for Henry Cavill’s Superman and encouraged Ben Affleck to exit a solo Batman project that was in the works.  It also derailed a planned film for The Flash and bumped the Wonder Woman sequel out, not to mention leading to some troubling accusations from co-star Ray Fisher on how the studio treated him after voicing concerns about unprofessionalism on set.  All in all…a big mess.  While a subsequent Aquaman film performed well and looked encouraging for Jason Momoa’s future as a box office star, Wonder Woman 1984s bow in late 2020 was met with true vitriol (all very unfair in my eyes) so the shaky ground remained.

While all of this was going on, though, a strange groundswell was starting that began almost as a joke but started to catch on before turning into a full-blown movement by comic book and franchise fans.  This was of course the birth of the # phenomenon and it was hard to avoid the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut pandemonium that took over Twitter.  Everyone knew that Snyder had expressed some displeasure that his vision wasn’t seen through to the end and that so much of what he shot wasn’t included or scenes he had wanted to shoot weren’t shot at all.  What people were clamoring for was to see Warner Brothers to hand the movie back to Snyder and let him re-edit the movie into the “Snyder Cut”… which is not exactly unheard of.  They’ve done it before with 1980’s Superman II, replacing director Richard Donner before filming was over but releasing his (not as good) version decades later.  Director’s cuts are fairly standard for releases now but there was something about this particular movie that kept both sides tight-lipped, with Warner Brothers even claiming at one point that there would definitely be no Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Here we are, though, and HBOMax is releasing a four-hour cut of Snyder’s reassembled film that aligns with his original plan.  Running a full two hours longer than the 2017 release, Snyder used material that Whedon chose not to go with and also shot quite a lot (a lot!) of new footage – so much so that this feels almost like a remake of the film everyone thumbs down-ed four years ago.  We all know that longer doesn’t equal better but in the case of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it most certainly does.  My original review of Justice League pointed out that the film’s introductions to the new characters felt rushed and not a lot of the movie felt cohesive due to the streamlined runtime.  With four hours to work with, Snyder is able to give each character their due and then some, providing more than enough character building to have the head spinning finale actually mean something this time around.

By and large, the story is mostly the same.  After burying Superman at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Live by Night) begins to assemble a team of other individuals with superpowers while Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Ralph Breaks the Internet) returns to her civilian life with the occasional crime fighting break now and again.  Batman has a sense that a darkness is coming and the need for a team of united strength is important and it’s only after Wonder Woman gets a desperate sign from her homeland with the key to a hidden message that she joins him in the recruitment process.  Together, they seek out Aquaman (Momoa, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) who has remained a mystery man in the waters off Iceland, The Flash (Ezra Miller, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) a kind-hearted social outcast that can run faster than the speed of light, and Cyborg (Fisher) a former high school football player saved from death by his scientist father (Joe Morton, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) now struggling to adjust to his altered appearance and overwhelming technological access.

Their combined powers will be needed to defeat Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds, Closed Circuit) a ghastly beast that has arrived on earth searching for three boxes that, when united, will call forth a dangerous entity that will destroy Earth.  As he travels around the globe gathering the pieces of the puzzle from clans that have an impact on Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the group realizes that the box possesses multiple powers.  (Yes, you’re correct in thinking this is all hokey pokey stuff and it’s just as absurd as it was the first time around…but with more time to add in context and backstory, it goes down just a little easier.) In addition to vanquishing all life, the “unity” can also restore it and bring the dead back to existence.  A fairly good tool to have when you’re down one superhero and know where he’s buried…

Like I said before, everything about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, is just…more.  There’s more story, more action, more blood (when people get thrown against walls, their heads tend to explode quite messily), and more gritty language than what you’ve come to expect.  It isn’t anything gratuitous and only adds to the all-encompassing feeling that Snyder has returned to the film.  I couldn’t shake off the feeling while watching it that it was the kind of event entertainment that back in the day networks would have shown once a year and the entire family would watch as a group.  Could the film have been trimmed down a bit – absolutely – but I was fairly enraptured with it all from the moment it started until it ended.  It may run 240ish minutes but it definitely doesn’t feel that long.

Not to say there weren’t some clunkier moments along the way.  At times, when the action dips you start to try to pick out which scenes were new and which ones were previously shot and it’s fairly obvious by tracking Affleck’s face which switched between expertly chiseled and comfortably fuller throughout.  Several scenes were clearly filmed on a soundstage that doesn’t match the rich detail of the other production design so one moment you’re with Diana as she’s traveling through a cave, Indiana Jones-style, and the next you’re watching a random actress silently acting out an overly cliché scene that’s there to show Cyborg’s softer side.  There’s more than a handful of effects which come off like a video game or Saturday morning animation than the polished inspired moments they could be.

Speaking of the effects and visuals, aside from the occasional sketchy etching a great effort has clearly been made to right some terrible wrongs seen in the original, namely the horrible job done on Cavill’s (Enola Holmes) face to digitally remove a mustache he had while filming reshoots.  Either those scenes were jettisoned completely, or the hundreds of digital techs credited at the end had their work cut out for them because by and large the movie looks sharp and excellent.  A number of action sequences have been restored and they haven’t been carelessly re-inserted – they’ve all been smoothly incorporated into the rest of the movie.  An early sequence of Wonder Woman stopping a bank robbery/bombing has been elongated and made it far more intense, visceral, and displays more of Wonder Woman’s abilities.  I went back and watched the same scene from the original and its so watered down and brief that it barely registers as a bout of action for the heroine.  Now it’s suspenseful and doesn’t feel like it minimizes the superhero or the plot.

Divided into six parts and an epilogue (which has about three or four endings within and several whopper surprises), Zack Snyder’s Justice League, is big big BIG and doesn’t quit until it’s good and ready to.  Its release renders the previous version totally obsolete in my book and this will be the only Justice League that I’ll recognize for future rewatches because it appears to tell a full story with a better overall picture of where these characters are headed.  Or were headed.  Last time I checked Cavill and Affleck were out and a new Batman movie is due out soon with Robert Pattinson in what looks to be the darkest take on the Caped Crusader yet.  Who knows what will come of this group for future outings but we do know that another Aquaman is swimming into production and due in 2022, the same year as The Flash movie which is rumored to have Affleck in it as well.  Despite those off-the-mark reviews for the recent sequel, a third Wonder Woman film has thankfully been greenlit.  Perhaps we’ll get a Cavill appearance in one of those films…or maybe Snyder will benefit from another Twitter grassroots campaign and a Justice League II will come to pass.  No matter what, Snyder’s vision is finally out there and whether you were a strong supporter of this cut being released or think the studio caving to fan demand is the most terrible thing ever (um, why?) this a film that demands some attention and a little admiration as well.  It’s goes for the brass ring with bold gusto.

Films in the DC Extended Universe

Man of Steel (2013)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)

Wonder Woman (2017)

Justice League (2017)

Aquaman (2018)

Shazam! (2019)

Birds of Prey (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Future films

The Suicide Squad (2021)

The Flash (2022)

Aquaman 2 (2022)

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

Movie Review ~ Palm Springs


The Facts
:

Synopsis: When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated as they are unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.

Stars: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, Tyler Hoechlin, J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes

Director: Max Barbakow

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Most movies are written, produced, and edited months and months before their intended release date so it would be impossible for any film to truly predict where the world would be when the project is revealed for public consumption.  Occasionally there are times when a movie is released at an opportune time that just happens to coincide with a major event and it seems like the creators had a kind of crystal ball in predicting the future.  An example off the top of my head is when The China Syndrome was released in March of 1979, a mere twelve days before the nuclear incident at Twelve Mile Island which bore a striking resemblance to the events depicted in the movie.

So you have to imagine that aside from general feelings of concern for their family, friends, and loved ones the creators of the Sundance hit Palm Springs were just a little happy to see their movie expressed tracked from its original theatrical release by distributors Hulu and Neon and sent right to Hulu’s streaming platform in time for the fourth of July weekend.  After all, by this time countless potential viewers had been cooped up indoors since early March and had been living what felt like the same day over and over again.  What better way to reward them than by offering up relatable laughs in a smart, funny comedy about a guy and girl stuck in a similar situation?

Waking up on the morning of a friend’s wedding he doesn’t want to attend with a girlfriend he doesn’t like, Nyles (Andy Samberg, Hotel Transylvania 2) is already over it.  He goes through the motions of the day and barely makes an effort to stay present at the wedding or the reception after.  His interactions with the guests seems strident at times, gregarious at others…like that fun guy at the party who can turn on a dime if he has one drink over his limit.  He does wind up having too many and saves maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti, The Wolf of Wall Street) from making a speech she clearly doesn’t want to give.  Finding a kindred soul also having a terrible time, Sarah is intrigued by Nyles and follows him for the rest of the evening…eventually leading her to a cave in the desert with a special power.  She enters and then wakes up the next morning…which is the same morning as the one before.

Turns out the cave holds a portal in the time space continuum and Sarah has joined Nyles in a never-ending time loop where they have to relive the same day over and over again.  It doesn’t matter how far they drive or where they are when the day has ended, they’ll always wake up in exactly the same place they woke up the day they went into the cave.  Nyles has lost track of how many days he’s been the loop but Sarah is determined to find a way out, mostly because she’s harboring a secret of why this particular day is one she’s not eager to relieve for eternity.

Obviously, the easy comparison to make here is Groundhog Day and there are flashes of that classic Bill Murray film in some of the concepts found in Andy Siara’s screenplay.  There’s also a little Happy Death Day 2U with a brief diversion into death not being a way out of the loop.  Yet Palm Springs is very much its own individual film and that’s due in no small part to Siara balancing the humor with a few reality checks along the way.  That’s especially surprising giving the people involved behind the scenes who aren’t usually known for living with two feet on the ground.

As an actor, I’ve found Samberg to be mostly obnoxious in a number of his roles but was pleasantly surprised to witness his grounded and wry take on a man resigned to relive a crappy day forever.  We meet him long after he’s accepted his fate so he’s laid-back and carefree…and Samberg wisely avoids making the character such a one-note bonehead that we can’t imagine spending 24 hours with him, let alone infinity.  He’s more than well matched with Milioti, finding that rare thing called chemistry.  She’s got the harder role to navigate because everything is new to her and she’s the one reacting to the situation for the first time.  How she responds dictates how the audience will respond to her and thankfully the role feels fleshed out and is performed with a sharpness not always found in high-concept comedies like this.

In addition to capturing commendable performances from the stars, director Max Barbakow fills the supporting roster with a nice array of character actors that slip in from time to time.  As another looper with a grudge against Samberg, J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man: Far from Home) is used in a utilitarian fashion but the simplicity of the role makes a scene late in the movie land with more impact.  Dale Dickey (The Guilt Trip), Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), June Squibb (Nebraska), and Peter Gallagher (A Bad Moms Christmas) also show up for little moments here and there, not reserving all the good stuff for Samberg and Milioti.  When a script has extra jokes for small supporting performers and is willing to share, you know it’s the sign of something above average.

The only downside to Palm Springs is I’m not sure it’s a film I’d put on my list to watch again.  It’s entertaining as all get-out and Siara’s script is so strong and on the mark it could easily get some awards recognition at the end of the year.  All the same…I just don’t know if it will hold up on repeat viewings.  That first time through was such a fun discovery, I feel like revisiting these characters wouldn’t capture the same magic.

Movie Review ~ Justice League

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Earth’s greatest heroes are assembled to form the Justice League, to combat a threat beyond each member’s capabilities.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciaran Hinds, Amber Heard

Director: Zack Snyder

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: With the rousing success of Wonder Woman this summer, you had high(er) hopes for Justice League too, didn’t you?  After the gloominess of Man of Steel, the critical drubbing lobbed at Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the just plain awful debut of the Suicide Squad, the first solo outing of the Amazon princess made a huge splash with a snazzy film that signaled the floundering DC Universe might be getting back on track.   Alas, it was not meant to be because five short months later Justice League arrives with a huge thud, halting any momentum Wonder Woman had kicked off.

The problems are evident from the beginning.  It should be noted that original director Zack Snyder had to be replaced shortly after filming ended while the movie was in post-production due to a family crisis. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) was brought it to touch up the script, and handle reshoots.  Huge mistake.  Whedon did good work with his involvement in the Marvel Universe but his humor doesn’t translate to the DC world that’s far darker and leaves itself less open for flights of fancy.  His attempts to inject jokey humor crash and burn, especially seeing that they are awkwardly inserted into sequences already filmed by Snyder.

Another elephant in the room to discuss is Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), or, more to the point, Cavill’s mustache.  After wrapping his scenes for Justice League, Cavill had grown a mustache to film a role in the next Mission: Impossible film and when he was called back for reshoots Paramount wouldn’t allow him to shave it.  So he filmed his new scenes with facial hair that was then digitally removed…badly.  Cavill comes off looking like a creepy puppet, with the bottom half of his face strangely not in communion with the upper.  He’s in the first shot of the movie and it’s a jarring image that sets the tone for the rest of this schizo outing.

The first half of the film is occupied by a bewildering series of episodic vignettes where we meet characters that the movie treats us as if we already know but in reality have never seen before.  We’re plopped right into the stories of Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) without much in the way of introduction or origin, almost like these were clips from a previous entry that was never released.  We’re supposed to know and care about these characters instantly, but their arrivals are treated with such little fanfare it’s hard to warm up to any of them.  Miller winds up being the most intriguing; his loner character is secretly desperate for friends and is brought into the fold by Batman (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl, checking out so much I can see why he’s trying to get excused from The Batman, a planned solo shot for the Caped Crusader) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Keeping Up with the Joneses).

What I always enjoyed about the previous incarnations of Batman and Superman was how they were up against villains that seemed somewhat plausible…at least for a comic-book foe.  From the Penguin to Lex Luthor, the heroes were battling adversaries that sought awesome power, not ones that already had other-worldly talents.  The villain in Justice League is Steppenwolf, a poorly rendered CGI baddie voiced by Ciarán Hinds (Frozen) that’s as generic as they come.  This is a bad guy that might have worked better as a Marvel rival but definitely not one the Justice League should be working to thwart.  Steppenwolf is on the hunt for three Mother Boxes that form a trinity that can, snooze, give him power over all earth.  Yawn, boring, wake me when it’s over.

Poor Wonder Woman.  That’s what I kept thinking throughout Justice League.  Gadot looks miserable having to carry this film, it’s clear the plot was tweaked at some point to give her character more to do and capitalize on the success of Wonder Woman.  Her ascension to co-lead comes at the sacrifice of a bunch of familiar faces that get sidelined.  Diane Lane (Inside Out) and Connie Nielsen  pop up in brief cameos as the mothers of Superman and Wonder Woman, J.K. Simmons (The Snowman) doesn’t even have to glue down his toupee, and Amy Adams (Her) wears multiple bad wigs but does get the most unintentionally funny line of dialogue in the film: “I’m no longer Lois Lane, dedicated reporter”.

The effects of the hand-off between Snyder and Whedon really sink the film in its last ¼, when the Justice League works together to stave off Steppenwolf before he can unite the Mother Boxes.  There are a few decent action sequences but they’re so darkly lit it all becomes a blur, especially when you add in Steppenwolf’s drone warriors that fly around in a head-spinning frenzy like wasps.  It’s a blessing the movie is as short as it is, but it still feels pretty long when the content is as forgettable as this.  You keep wanting to find something, anything to root for but no one seems interested in being memorable in any way shape or form.  It’s like everyone was forced into making this and are waiting for their final scene to be shot.

There’s a post-credit scene that does nothing to get you excited for the future, it feels like it was shot last week with the actors involved under duress.  Based on his performance here, I shudder to think about Momoa’s Aquaman film coming in 2018, wish that Wonder Woman 2 wasn’t two years away, and am intrigued at a chance to get more info on The Flash in 2020’s Flashpoint.   At this point, whatever the creative team behind these DC films are doing, it’s not working.  Not only do audiences deserve better, but so do the actors locked into contracts for future films.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Snowman

The Facts:

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, James D’Arcy, J.K. Simmons

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Whoa…it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie this bad from the get-go. Yes, The Snowman is unquestionably as terrible as you’ve heard it is and it’s likely going to wind up the worst movie released theatrically in 2017. That the film is even getting a wide release is a bit of a miracle and one has to give major chutzpah props to Universal Studios for daring to send out this not even half-baked lame thriller. What’s especially depressing is that so many talented (and Oscar-winning!) people were involved with this both in front of and behind the camera. Collectively, someone should be made to give back one of their Oscars and I’ll leave it to the group to decide who is going to part with their little gold man. A movie this incompetently made demands a sacrifice.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s international bestseller but evidentially substantially changed by the three screenwriters attributed to the script, The Snowman starts on the wrong foot and never recovers. Not that it attempts to, jumping right into introducing boozy Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) in Oslo as he stumbles back to the police force after a drunken bender. There’s little in the way of character introduction of any kind, the movie just happens to find recognizable faces along the way and incorporates them into the story when convenient.

There’s Rebecca Ferguson (Life) as, I think, a visiting detective with a secret agenda that still takes on local cases, such as the one with the missing woman that unites her with Harry. This investigation leads them to a possible serial killer who, Ferguson hilariously concludes, is triggered “by the falling snow”. Possible suspects include a suspicious husband of the missing woman (James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas), a creepy doctor (David Denick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and wealthy land developer played by J.K. Simmons (Patriots Day). Simmons is just one of the cast sporting a disastrous British accent, though the entire action takes place in Norway. Are these all just a specific band of ex-pats with a killer in their midst? Nah, all the signs and newspapers are in English…even the police station features no Norwegian signage.

I’ve always said I couldn’t get enough of Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace) but she’s playing twins here and it turns out…one Sevigny is more than enough. Then there’s the mysterious case of the nearly unrecognizable Val Kilmer seen only in flashback as a detective in neighboring Bergen. Looking shockingly sickly (the actor recently survived a throat tumor) and clearly dubbed, his performance is off the rails and just another piece of a puzzle that is just not meant to fit together. I can’t even go there with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) as Fassbender’s old girlfriend, especially after witnessing a clothed sex scene between the two that’s as awkwardly uncomfortable to watch as seeing a lab rat trying to mate with a St. Bernard.

Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has popped up in interviews saying that 15% of the script wound up not being filmed and that does not surprise me in the least. It at least explains how Oscar-winner and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker (Cape Fear) managed to piece together a movie that makes almost entirely no sense. There are no scene transitions or establishing shots so it is impossible to determine where the characters are in relation to not only the plot but each other. There’s one sequence cut so poorly that you think two actors are in the same room but are in fact miles away from each other. Ferguson’s hair changes color several times, about as many times as Fassbender’s hair gets longer then shorter from one moment to the next. While Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Into the Woods) captures some of the gloomier Norwegian vistas with a bit of flair, the visuals are weighed down heavily by the sterile production design from Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald (Oscar nominees themselves for The Imitation Game) that heavily favors latte colored IKEA furnishings.

A competent creative team has crafted a truly incompetent film here, even the finale is botched with the suggestion of a sequel so laughably inserted that your heart aches for the Universal Studios executive that must have pleaded for it to be incorporated just in case.  I’m usually not a fan of audiences talking during a movie but as the film progressed the chatter became louder and louder as everyone began to question what in the actual hell was going on. This is terrible filmmaking, an embarrassment for every single person above and below the line.  While it’s bound to be mentioned in the same breath as other Scandinavian-set thrillers, it not even fit to be included in the belch that follows that breath.

The Silver Bullet ~ Justice League

Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Thoughts: With Wonder Woman becoming the top-earning movie at the summer box office, the producers behind the DC Comics franchise are riding a wave of positivity right now.  Let’s hope they can keep that goodwill going strong as the November release of Justice League draws near.  I didn’t mind Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice nearly as much as my colleagues did but the unrelenting darkness of this franchise has kept it from truly taking off. Wonder Woman was a nice reminder of what these films could be while director Zac Snyder deals with a family tragedy, Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee postproduction so I’m hoping Whedon can bring a little Marvel spark to the DC Universe.  This extended look at Justice League gives a few more clues for audiences to decipher and one cliffhanger that already has the internet abuzz.