I’m not super familiar with the Venom character in the comics nor have I ever been particularly drawn to it. Sure, that doesn’t belay the fact that Venom is an extremely popular character in Marvel Comics and that its first film (if we ignore Spider-Man 3) was a surprise hit.
The first one was mildly entertaining and had some funny bits. The sequel, Venom: Let There be Carnage continues in that vein. It’s entertaining, has some funny bits. But ultimately it’s dumb, silly, and it’s trash. It’s basically what comic book movies used to be but just better made. It fall short of the mindless cinematic fun of the last few Godzilla films.
When Let There be Carnage begins, we are introduced to a young Cletus Kassady who is voiced by Woody Harrelson, but played by another actor. He and the girl he loves, Francis, are residents of St. Estes Home for Unwanted Children (yes, that really is the name). Frances is being taken away to the Ravencroft Institute because her “mutation” is getting worse. This makes Kassady sad and will later motivate what he does for the rest of the film.
We skip forward to the present to the present day as we see Eddie Brock has not improved himself since the last outing and is engaging in perpetual bickering with his symbiote. He is still an out of work journalist, and not even a very good ne at that. He’s given the opportunity to interview death row inmate Cletus Kassady, a supposedly dangerous serial killer, for no other reason than Cletus asked for him, not because he’s any good. Detective Milligan, of the SFPD thinks, that it would help reveal the location of other bodies. Brock needs the work hoping he can sell the story somewhere, and obviously Cletus is using Eddie to code headlines and quotes as a message to his old flame, who he doesn’t even know is even alive.
There are indeed clues as to where the notorious killer buried other bodies, and in true Hollywood fashion, they are hidden in plain sight for everyone to see. Except it is Venom who is able to piece the clues together, thus allowing Eddie to take the glory. Who these other victims are, and why they were killed, we are not told. Conveniently, after bodies are discovered, the governor lifts the moratorium on the death penalty and good ole Cletus is on a fast track to execution. This upsets him mightily for in a subsequent interview with Eddie, Cletus takes a bite out of Eddie, drawing blood. Yeah, you saw in in the trailer “I have tasted blood before, and that is not it.” So in a sort of reverse vampirism, Cletus has a bit of the symbiote in him. Just as he is near death, the symbiote manifests in him and becomes…CARNAGE. Prison wackiness ensues, including the ability for all the prisoners to just leave their cells for whatever reason. Bodies pie up in a bloodless PG-13 rampage of violence.
Meanwhile, Eddie and Venom’s bickering gets to comical levels as Venom throws Eddie’s things out the window, including his TV, telling him to get out. All the while Eddie saying, this is my home. Yeah, this is the major breakup scene in the movie usually between married couples.
But we know how this goes. Boy meets symbiote, boy and symbiote break up, boy and symbiote gets back together. There is a scene of Venom, in his natural form, going to a costumed rave where people just love his “outfit” and accept him for who he is. The icing on this particular metaphorical cake comes when Venom goes up to the entertainment’s mic and proclaims his “I don’t need that man in my life” moment. And there is much rejoicing.
Kassady makes a deal with the Carnage symbiote. He wants to find his old lover and Carnage wants to kill Venom. They figure it’s a win win situation. They easily find Frances and free her from the institute, not without leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, however. In a PG-13 version of Natural Born Killers, they gleefully make out while killing people.
This could be quite a deadly trio, except that Frances’s “mutation” is a deafening shriek. In fact, that is her character in Marvel comics. But for the symbiotes, loud sounds and fire are their weaknesses. So not exactly a match made in heaven.
There is little to fault the actors. They are simply doing their best with the thin material that they are given. Tom Hardy is a likeable enough Eddie Broke, but Eddie himself is not very smart or good at anything he does. I think Woody Harrelson’s performance as Kassady works only because he pulls his crazy Woody act which we have all seen many times before. The biggest tragedy was the wasted character of Frances “Shriek” Barrison as portrayed by Oscar nominated Naomi Harris. Much of her character is relegated to just being in her cell making menacing eyes at her captors. Michelle Williams as Eddie’s ex girlfriend is given even less of a significant role other than damsel in distress, who really should have been killed several times over if you can believe the villains. Seriously, my favorite character is the corner store owner, Mrs. Chen, played by Peggy Lu. She has some actually funny lines and displays more authentic personality than the rest of the characters.
As with a majority of comic book movies, the last act of the film is an indulgent all you can eat buffet of CGI and loud noise. It is handled as well as could be expected, but also as badly as can be expected. It is many times dark, confusing and extended longer than it needs to be.
The best reason to watch this, unfortunately, is to see the mid-credits scene which made the whole 90 minute runtime worth it as it is a significant twist to…well, everything. But other than that, the movie is a fun romp that is an easy 90 minute distraction for a matinee or rental. The plot is thin, and relies on too many unfunny lines. We really get no sense of any real characters, especially Cletus Kassady who is supposedly some notorious serial killer, but his back story is only given to us in a cartoon form.
Growing up as a young lad in the 70s, The Hands of Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu, was one of my favorite comics to read, more so than Batman or Spider-Man. Yes, I knew it had some racist imagery, but there were no Chinese heroic characters in any comics at all at the time. We took what we could get. The writing by Doug Moench was a bit more mature and the art of greats like Paul Gulacy and the late Gene Day were eye popping. It helped, of course, that that era’s depiction of Shang-Chi was modeled heavily after the likeness of the late Bruce Lee. So it was with great anticipation, hope, and fear when Marvel announced they would be making a Shang-Chi movie. Would they make a cringe inducing cliché of orientalism like Mulan or would they make something that respects culture? Well, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the MCU has expanded their roster of big screen characters and not only added more representation and diversity to their ever growing dramatis personae, but also created a top tier entry into the Marvel movie pantheon of heroes with one of the most if not the most compelling origin stories in years.
Simu Liu, who is best known for his stint on the Canadian series Kim’s Convenience, makes his leading role debut on the big screen as the title character of Shang-Chi (calling himself Shaun in America) where he plays an everyday slacker youth pretty happy at his job as a San Francisco hotel parking attendant (honestly, in San Francisco, that can be pretty decent money). He is content to do his job and hang out with best friend Katy (Akwafina).
That simple contented life is interrupted one day as a random stranger demands the pendant he wears around his neck that was given to him by his late mother. And in the tradition of Jackie Chan, he is forced to defend himself . What follows is an incredible fight scene with choreography by the late Brad Allan, a former member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team. With a judicious blend of practical stunts and effects mixed with some CG, we get the first true action scene that will probably go don as one of the most memorable in MCU history. The influences of Jackie Chan films are very clear as the stakes go higher and Simu Liu plays the reluctant badass fighter.
It is revealed after this that Shaun, came to America to get away from his criminal father and his past. His real name is Shang-Chi and his father is the true criminal mastermind behind the Ten Rings organization that made its first appearance in Iron Man and was given the false face of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Shang-Chi reveals that if the men who attacked him were after his pendant, then they are after his sister’s as well. He decides to travel to Macau to find his sister, Xialing, played by Meng’er Zhang. Since Katy is his best friend, she goes along for the ride, because that’s what best buds do.
It doesn’t take long (besides another excellent fight, this time on scaffolding) before we have a full family reunion with their imposing father who is played by Hong Kong cinema’s legendary Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, as Xu Wenwu. Against comic book tropes, he is not a villain of pure evil. His history is much more nuanced than that and he knows he has done many bad things in the past in a personal quest for power. He gave all that up when he met their mother, but reverted back to his ways after her death. And in that time trained Shang-Chi to be an instrument of death by training him in every form of martial art.
Revealing much more after that will give away too much plot details. In fact, there is not much wasted in this film and an odd side effect of that is that the not so great trailers were the way they were because showing more would give away too much of the plot. And there is a nice plot going on with some drama and performances that stand out more than is not usually seen in films based on comic books. The family dynamic here is believable, much more than what is portrayed in Black Widow which wavered from fake to just jokes. And much of that believability belongs to Tony Leung, who lends a majestic gravitas to his performance as man who has lived for over a thousand years because of the power granted to him by the Ten Rings. Tony Leung is a legend of an actor and if you have not had a chance to see any of his films, especially ones directed by Wong Kar Wai, I highly recommend you seek them out.
Not content to have only one regal supporting role from Asian cinema’s legends, we also graced with MIchelle Yeoh, who plays the aunt of Shang-Chi and Xialing and who wants to stop Wenwu. As in everything that she has done lately, Michelle Yeoh instantly classes the place up. Whether it’s in the high profile Crazy Rich Asians or the little rom-com Last Christmas she provides an air of legitimacy to the more fantastical elements of the plot latter. Yeoh plays the protector of a village that holds a secret that Wenwu desperately wishes for. As is often the case, be careful what you wish for. Though his motivations are not unsound, his reasonings definitely are relatable.
At one point, the movie has to acknowledge that it’s a Marvel film and, for better or worse, we have the inevitable effects laden last battle that has become not only a mainstay of Marvel movies, but comic book movies on the whole. I would understand those that check out at this point because the movie goes full on fantastical. We are treated to mystical creatures straight out of Chinese mythology and a CGI filled battle between multiple forces that humans and non-humans. But bare with me, what still keeps this interesting is the family conflict between father and son. Shang-Chi must inevitably battle his father and yet there is an emotional honesty between their conflict. Neither wants this but they have to do what they have to do. And it is a testament to Tony Leung power as an actor, who has never been featured in a Hollywood movie, to provide us with a character that is human and sympathetic instead of a two-dimensional villain who merely wants power.
It is both a good and bad thing that this is a Marvel film. It does fit well into the Marvel universe. But unfortunately it also has to be part of that larger narrative and as such the Ten Rings will indeed be very important. We don’t know where they truly come from, only that they are very old and they are very powerful. Don’t bother checking up wiki or YouTube because any explanation of them you’ll find are from the comics and the actual powers are fully explored yet. And of course there is the heavy CG battle that was mentioned previously. For some this may come as a heavy break from the relatively grounded fights from earlier. This, for me, nails the multiple genres of Chinese martial arts films and manages to balance the two of fantasy kung fu with grounded fights. This is a genuine martial arts fantasy that does not render itself into absurdity.
Simu Liu is a true breakout star in this vehicle. His character is not the usual arrogant flippant quip filled protagonist who has to be humbled like a Tony Stark or Stephen Strange. He is pretty much a guy who enjoys his working class life until he has to step up. Now, Awkwafina, who I have been a fan with her performances in Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, is there to not only provide the comic relief but is also there as our anchor from the normal world to this fantastical world of mysticism and martial arts. And against typical trope, she does not serve as the typical love interest for the hero, they are best friends and she is not afraid to call him out for doing something stupid, such as choosing the name Shaun from Shang-Chi to hide from his father. Meng’er Zhang, who has mostly done stage work in China, is another breakout star of the film as Xialing, Shang-Chi’s sister. Fala Chan manages to hold her own against Tony Leung, playing his wife and the mother of Shang-Chi and Xialing. Needless to say, this movie does really well in its portrayal of women who are able to hold their own.
Director, Destin Daniel Cretton makes his big-budget debut with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. His previous film, Just Mercy, featured performances from MCU alums Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson (who was also in Cretton’s Short Term 12). He made a very conscious and rather brave choice to have the actors speak much of their lines in Mandarin and it gives the film an air of authenticity. He also contributed to the screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. This is not only the first Marvel film with a predominantly Asian cast, it’s the first one with an Asian director. Chloe Zhao will be Marvel’s first Asian woman, and first Academy Award winning director when The Eternals comes out. Cretton very consciously breaks away from Asian stereotypes yet still manages to add the touches of Asian culture that is authentic, such as what many typical Chinese household have for breakfast.
Yes, representation matters, both in front and behind the camera. Shang-Chi feels Asian in not only it’s the performance off its actors but from the production as well. There are subtle details that add verisimilitude to not only Asians but Asian Americans as well, such as that one point that Wenwu addresses Katy as “American Girl” and asks her if she even knows her own Chinese name. This is actually a big thing about the Chinese and Chinese American experience. Katy is not just the outlet for the outsider to this world, but she is the outsider to the Chinese. Her family is inhabited by three generations, hers, her mother, and her grandmother. The grandmother speaks Mandarin, while the mother speaks slightly accented English. Katy is straight up ABC (American Born Chinese). There’s even a joke when Katy and Shang-Chi meet a character who speaks Mandarin to her, he pauses and says “Don’t worry, I speak ABC.”
I highly recommend this movie, not just because it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s a damn good film that is enjoyable on its own as a martial arts film that genuinely entertains. Forget what you know from the 70s comics and even the modern ones for a bit. You may be feeling a bit of Marvel fatigue, you may be feeling superhero fatigue, but if you pass up seeing this, preferably in a theater, you are missing out on something that is genuinely fun to watch. Yes, see this in the theater if you feel safe to do so. And need I say that you have to stay through the very end as there is a mid credits scene and a post credit scene? Yes, it’s Marvel.
This is a spoiler review. Come on, it’s giant monsters fighting each other, y’all really don’t care about plot and writing, do you?
Growing up in a certain era with late night Creature Features on the weekends, monster movies, especially Godzilla movies were a mainstay of my childhood. Watching the old 60s films were fun and fed a childhood glee of just watching giant monster wreck cities and each other other. And in an age of a world pandemic, Godzilla Vs Kong was not only a heaping dose of nostalgia, it may have defibrillated the theater industry.
There is a basic plot that is just there as an excuse to go from one monstrous action sequence to another. Kong, decades after the events of Skull Island is in a biodome with a holographic dome to simulate a natural sky. He’s just too smart to be fooled by it. He has a bond with a mute little girl who is the only survivor of of the island tribe seen in Kong of Skull Island.
Meanwhile, Godzilla has attacked an Apex cybernetics facility for no reason. Well, there are, but that is revealed later. Monarch which is the super not-secret organization studying the Titans does not know the reason. Madison (once again played by Millie Bobby Brown), the young character from King of the Monsters, has a suspicion that Apex is hiding something from the public. She gets her information from listening to a conspiracy podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry) who claims to be on the inside of Apex. In the light of the whole Q’Anon phenomenon, this comes across as more silly than it was meant to be. But hey, this was supposed to come out a year ago, then Covid happened. She decides to track down this mysterious podcaster with a friend (Julian Dennison) in tow who really serves no purpose other than to panic a lot.
And amidst this, Apex and Monarch seemingly have a plan to relocate Kong to the natural habitat of his ancestors, the Hollow Earth. Yeah, science is pretty much out the window in this series. But as they are transporting Kong on a giant cargo ship. Godzilla senses the presence of another Alpha Titan, you know, sorta like in Highlander. So Godzilla attacks, they fight. And it as a spectacular protracted fight that destroys almost an entire fleet of ships. And honestly, cannons against Godzilla never works but stupid humans will do stupid things.
It soon becomes apparent which humans we should care about. Certainly not the daughter of Apex CEO who just wanted to dump Ong in the water and bug out. She didn’t even want to stick around for the fight. Plus she is overly arrogant and has a secret agenda as corporate CEO daughters are want to do in the genre. When she and the gang make it inside the hollow earth area, her agenda becomes apparently. It being clear is another thing. as it makes no sense.
Meanwhile, Madison and her own Scooby Gang break into the wrecked Apex facility way more easier than is possible and end up on an underground high speed travelling, I don’t know what to call it, thingy that takes them all the way from Florida to Hong Kong. And when they get there, they discover Apex’s big secret, which really isn’t that much of a secret if you’ve been following the movie. All right, it’s a Mecha-Godzilla. It’s somehow hooked up to the decapitated heads of Ghidorah (Kevin) from King of the Monsters. And it’s “pilot” is named Ren Serizawa who is supposedly the son of Professor Serizawa from the last two movies. Yeah, whatever.
In the hollow earth, Kong is having a blast destroying other monsters that get in his way, and he eventually finds himself in a throne room, where he gets to make himself at home. It turns out that all along, Apex wanted to access the hollow earth to get some kind of energy source to power up Mecha-Godzilla for the purpose of destroying Godzilla.
Godzilla makes his way to Hong Kong. There can be only one, after all. While there he senses Kong and the energy. So get this, he uses his atomic breath to drill right into the hollow earth, so Kong climbs up/down to Hong Kong. Big monster fight. Hong Kong undergoes Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel proportions of destruction. Mecha-Godzilla shows up. More monsters fighting.
So it may sound like I’m bashing the film for its silliness, but that silliness serves its purpose to get from one giant set piece to another. Godzilla Vs Kong delivers on the spectacle of giant titans battling it out. And unlike the last two Godzilla films, much of the fights take place during the day or well lit. Hong Kong’s skyline and neon light office building provide the perfect backdrop for the battles.
Whatever plot there is is a paper thin one with science that is beyond dubious. And there are enough plot holes to drive a truck through. Yet, just like the 60s era of Godzilla wilms and childhood nostalgia, I did not care. It was glorious trash on a scale that is the perfect cure for nearly a year of lockdown. It was as if they took the cheesy story and premise of the 60 era films and fed injected the steroids known as modern special effects and big budget into it. The special effects are top-notch with every punch and bite seemingly having some impact to them. Not only that, there is some actual noticeable fight choreography to the action scenes with the surroundings not only serving as backdrops but as weapons as well. Godzilla vs. Kong is due out on home media formats of DVD, Blu-Ray, 3D Blu-Ray (!), and 4k on 6/15/21. Get it in the best format available, which is not streaming, support physical media and crank up the volume.
The following review contains spoilers for The Last of Us from 2013. Minor spoilers for Part 2 are in the main review and MAJOR spoilers are below the Spoiler line.
Background and Setting
In 2013, the Playstation 3 was coming towards the end of its life cycle making way for he PS4. One of the games closing out the cycle would be one of the most well received games of all time. The game’s much praised story is actually very basic. In 2013, a wordwide pandemic spreads, turning its victims into crazed zombie-like humans. Based on a real life fungus called cordyceps, it spread rapidly among humans. We first meet Joel and his brother on Outbreak Day when everything turns badly. Trying to escape their town, Joel loses his daughter to gunfire from a federal soldier ordered to kill on site.
Fast forward twenty years and the world has devolved into barely functioning one, with Americans living in designated militarized quarantine zones. Joel is a grizzled survivor smuggling things past FEDRA, the military law. He and his partner Tess end up taking up a job to escort a 14 year old girl named Ellie, to meet a resistance group called the Fireflies. They find out along the way that the reason she is important is that she is immune to the disease that has devastated most of the human population. The idea is for the Fireflies to get her to their own lab to hopefully make a vaccine to save the world.
Tess, dies along the way, and the Fireflies they were supposed to meet are dead from a FEDRA raid. Joel plans to take her to Tommy, his brother who lives in Jackson Wyoming and may still has contacts with the group. Initially planing to dump her with his brother so Tommy can take her the rest of the way, he finds there is now a bond where he feels obligated to take her all the way.
They finally make their way to the lab located in Salt Lake and it turns out that it is possible to make a vaccine, but they have to take out her brain, which of course would mean killing her. Joel makes the decision that he will save her and rescues her from the hospital while she is still sedated. When she wakes up, he tells her there was never a cure and that there were dozens of others like her and no vaccine was found. Roll credits as they head back into Jackson.
The Last of Us Part 2
Four years have passed and Ellie is now eighteen, starting a relationship with Dina, another girl from Jackson. It is alluded to that there is some tension between Ellie and Joel. After a violent and tragic incident while on patrol (you can probably figure out what that is), Ellie decides to seek vengeance on the people responsible. Dina decides to accompany her on this journey that leads to Seattle, the city where the people she seeks come from.
As opposed to a long travel across the country, we quickly get to Seattle. From there, we begin a slog of a game where I guess the player gets used to the mechanics of stealth, combat, and scrounging for supplies. This a a pretty standard way of getting the player used to the game mechanics.
Once in Seattle, Ellie and Dina are on an ongoing hunt for the revenge. Along the way as well will be, of course, “infected.” New types of infected are introduced that were not seen before in the previous game, including a stalkers, who are wild and feral and the shamblers who are much tougher than the bloaters from the first game.
The biggest threat in the city is actually the humans, the paramilitary outfit calling themselves the WLF, the Washington Liberation Front. What is intriguing within the story of the game is that Ellie and Dina have appeared to stumble into a war between the WLF and another faction, a group of religious zealots calling themselves the Seraphites.
About halfway through the game, though, the narrative flips and you play as Abby, the main character on the opposing side, a WLF member who is a tough and seasoned trooper. It begins at the point of the eventual showdown between the two. Her story is a reflection to the days that Ellie spends in Seattle but it does not play outr concurrently. So ten or fifteen hours as Ellie, then a switch.
The game plays out as a semi-open world of Seattle, there is much to explore and many drawers and cabinets to scrounge for supplies such as ammo, and ingredients to craft things such as healing items (alcohol and a rag, combine as healing items in the game, even for gunshot wounds. You’ll have to accept that in this world.) Unfortunately much of that becomes tedious as you’ll often find drawers or cabinets empty.
There are a couple of ways to play it such as stealthy where you can sneak up on enemies and perform stealth kills with Ellie’s trusty, and seemingly indestructible switchblade. Abby doesn’t have the luxury of an indestructible switchblade, and must, just as the first game, craft shivs. Really, a military group has access to guns and ammo, but can’t have even the simplest hunting or combat knife?
Just as in the first game, you can choose to play stealthy or go in guns blazing for most areas. Or you can do a combination of the two, sneak up, eliminate lookouts and go guns blazing on only a handful of enemies. There is, however, the added danger of trained dogs that the WLF use nd they can sniff out Ellie even when laying prone in tall grass. Yes, you do have to kill dogs in this game, and that sucks.
There is much to like about this game, and the first thing that most, even the haters will like is that the graphics quality really follows the high standards that studio Naughty Dog had set with the previous game as well as the Uncharted series. Backgrounds and art design are incredibly photo-realistic and capture a city that has decayed from a combination of deadly pandemic, fighting, and rising sea levels.
Character models do seem to suffer a bit even though, just as the previous game, the game characters were motion captured. At times, there seem to be odd expressions on their faces even as they are doing nothing. New types of infected (don’t call them zombies because they are not) are creative, especially one particular boss-like one that is encountered about two-thirds into the game.
The game, however, suffers from pacing issues, especially in the beginning of the game, as it tries to introduce multiple characters into the game. The original primarily focused on three, then two characters that we follow for the game. Tertiary characters in the first game, came and went as the game progressed. But in Part 2, supporting characters stay within the game most the time, so they show up multiple times. The game also feels stretched out with additional obstacles and detours for simple things like going from one end of the street to another. It feels padded just to stretch out the gaming hours needlessly and becomes repetitive.
The most contentious part of the game will be the story. There are various reasons other critics will pile on about why they dislike the game and some are genuinely valid, others not so. To me, the story works overall, though as I’ve said before it does suffer from some pacing issues. There are also issues with how some of the supporting characters are treated or portrayed. To be clear, this game is not about good people. Ellie may have been a spunky innocent young teen with charm in the first game but she’s now grown and seen her share of bad things and participated in bad things. Abby is someone we meet who is already had her share of killings. This isn’t a story about good people doing bad things. This is a story about bad people who end up doing horrendous things.
Perhaps we are spoiled on the John Wick body count revenge where a simple act makes a person seek bloody revenge on hundreds of cardboard personality goons. The Last of Us Part 2 does not approach revenge so easily. Sure at first we may be along for the ride and cheering each act of bloody violence on, but it soon becomes apparent that both characters have lost something in themselves though blind vengeance, lose, and pain. Since this is a narrative driven game, you have no choice but to play along with the story beats as violent acts often cross the lines of even video game norms. Often times, especially towards the end portions of the game, I found myself just wanting peace.Was vengeance really worth all this bloodshed? The old saying of digging to graves when you seek revenge applies here as seeking violent revenge kills part of one’s humanity.
There are, of course, people who are going to be upset because the idea is that revenge is bad. They’ll criticize this game for having a weak story. The first game had one of the most simplistic of plots and multiple instances of arriving at their destination only to discover that “the Princess is at another castle.” The first game was a work of genius because everything clicked in the way the story was told and in the interaction of just two main characters. It doesn’t work as well in Part 2 as there are multiple characters throughout the game and differing points of views. It’s as if Naughty Dog tried to make their video game version of Unforgiven, but fell short.
In the end this is a solidly made game. The gameplay is very good, and can be very tense at times. The added ability of going prone in stealth mode is very welcome. The added Seraphite enemy battles can be especially tough as they are much more aware and use coded whistles to communicate with each other. The whistling can be grating, as it is meant to be.
Not everyone is going to like the game. I get that. It definitely has some issues. But if you are going to bash on it because it features a gay character, and a trans side character, maybe you should re-examine how you feel about gay and trans people in the real world.
Should pale death, with treble dread, make the ocean caves our bed, God who hears the surges roll deign to save our suppliant soul.
Director Robert Eggers made quite a splash with the unsettling horror film The Witch. With The Lighthouse, he ramps that sense of unsettlement up to eleven and creates a horror movie that centers around madness and features two incredible performances from a pair of actors that are often underappreciated for their craft.
The Lighthouse is set entirely on a small island where a solitary lighthouse is to be manned by two men who are also the sole human occupants of the island for four weeks until the next relief comes. Willem Dafoe as Thomas Wake is the old grizzled sea dog of the pair who is the senior in charge and has been doing lighthouse duties for a long time now — perhaps too long. Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow, is the young newcomer who has taken his first lighthouse duties thinking there would be good money in it by the end.
The pair are strangers to each other and it’s not even until about halfway through the film that they even exchange names. Tensions begin on the very first day as Pattinson’s character refuses to drink during dinner with the veteran, saying it is against regulations. The old man treats Pattinson as nothing more than a hard laborer. He has him doing all the repairs, all the hard work, and the cleaning. All this time he is noting everything in a log book and makes it clear that he is the only one that maintains with the lighthouse lamp.
As the days and weeks go by, nerves begin to fray as Winslow becomes tired of Wake’s old sea stories and verbal abuses. Winslow begins to see things that he is not sure is real or imagined. All this time, the relationship between the pair wax from friendliness to outright physical fights as they while away nights drinking alcohol.
Throughout the film, Eggers creates a feeling of dread and unease as we and Winslow question whether what he has seen is either real or not. It does not help that Wake questions the youth’s own grip on reality about questionable actions that are presented as those of Wake’s.
Their confines are claustrophobic and made to look even more so as the films was shot in the narrow aspect ratio of 1.19:1 which is even more narrow of an aspect ration than old tube televisions which were 1.33:1. It is also shot with stark black and white film which adds to the atmospheric nature of dread that permeates the entire movie. The cinematography is by Jarin Blashke, who had also shot The Witch for Eggers previously. While that was a film that was muted in colors, the decision to go black and white for The Lighthouse makes every shadow and every scene all the more unsettling. Location filming took place at the real lighthouse on Cape Forchu in Nova Scotia. The normally attractive tourist spot becomes a menacing gothic figure surrounded by crashing waves and angry storms under the lens of Bashke.
Accompanying this beautifully shot film is a menacing score by Mark Korven, another alum from Egger’s The Witch. From the opening shot, ominous deep minor notes immediately make you aware that an impending dark tale is about to unfold and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. Throughout the narrative, Korven’s score looms over scenes like a heavy anchor around the necks of the characters, weighing the feel of the film down with moods of unease, even in the most mundane of scenes.
Much of what makes this film work hinges on the ability of just two actors to carry this film with a minimum of budget and special effects. Fortunately for us, Eggers draws out some of the best performances on the year from the two cast members. Robert Pattinson has steadily been building a solid acting resume, post Twilight and he is steadily maturing as one of the most respected and accomplished actors of his age. Willem Dafoe turns in what is possibly his best performance ever as Thomas Wake, channeling a dark abusive old sea dog, chewing on a pipe, and dripping salty, often vitriolic lines.
Despite this being a horror film, it won’t appeal to all horror fans. There are no jump scares and there is no masked slasher slowly stalking victims trying to run away. Much of the horror in this is psychological and builds up as characters begin to lose their grips on sanity. Soon both men will descend into their own form of madness and we as a viewer are left to wonder whose vision of reality is true — or even if both of them are not seeing things as they are. Most certainly, the ending may not make much sense to average horror fans but even so, it will be one of those endings that will make you think about it after the lights come on in the cinema. If there is a universal lesson that we can all take from this film it’s that it’s bad luck to kill a seabird.
Robert Eggers, with his follow-up to The Witch is carving a niche for himself in the horror genre that elevates him to an auteur status that is currently occupied by artists of vision like Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) who are changing how we see modern horror movies. Instead of going for cheap jump-scares and torture porn deaths, they make you feel dread, fear, and unease. And in the end that is those things make for good horror.
Final Score: 9/10
Bonus Content: While watching The Lighthouse, I could not help but think of an episode of The Simpsons. And true to the South Park meme, The Simpsons already did it with an episode titled Mountain of Madness where Mr. Burns and Homer are trapped in a cabin together and they slowly go mad. Of course it’s not the exact same story but it is a little fun to compare the two.
So for legal reasons, and for my declaration of fair use, below is a clip from that episode.
I have not gone to San Diego Comic-con in over a decade, and of course not Hall H. I frankly don’t miss all the crowds and the annoying press of people , especially for Hall H where it can get really packed and bit hot. And it seems that a lot of studios are not going for the big wall to wall presentations anymore like that have done before. Warner Brothers and DC had nothing to bring to comic con this year. And originally, neither did Marvel. But Kevin Feige being the smart marketer that he is, realized that this year was the perfect opportunity to dominate the geek news cycle with Marvel news. So on Saturday, July 20th, Feige and Marvel brought the boom to the room.
Since I could not be there personally, I had to rely social media feeds and YouTube streamers who were also watching social media feeds. It was actually kind of fun. The slate of announcements were for many things were already expected. However there were a few surprises such as casting, and a major reveal in the end.
Obviously if you are not up to date on the most recent Marvel films, including Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, there will be spoilers ahead.
I know that most fans know very little to nothing about the Eternals. And I highly doubt that anyone out there were thinking “Yeah! Eternals! This is what I’ve always wanted.” And in the history of Marvel comics, they were not a top tier title, or middle tier for that matter. But their existence as the early inhabitants of earth feeds into that History Channel Ancient Astronaut itch. Their inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be huge, though. For one thing it is possible this lays down the foundations on why some people become super powered instead of getting killed by, say gamma rays, a radioactive spider, or a super soldier serum.
The Eternals are not exactly a superhero team, they are a race of beings that have existed on earth since the beginning of time. Marvel’s panel introduced audience to the cast: Angelina Jolie will star as Thena alongside Richard Madden as Ikaris, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Lia McHugh as Sprite, and Don Lee as Gilgamesh.
That is a huge stable of talent. And I looks forward to seeing what they do with this. For a more informed take on the significance of The Eternals and what the implications are for the MCU, I recommended Robert Jefferson of Comics Explained to break it down for you.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Gracing Hall H were Chris Helmsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Natalie Portman. Now Ms. Portman has had very little to do in the Thor movies since the Dark World and even her scenes in Avengers Endgame was previously shot footage with some post audio recorded by her. That would beg the question on why she is there. Director Taika Waititi was a fan of Jason Aaron’s comic run of The Mighty Thor where Jane Foster assumed the mantle of Lady Thor. I don’t know how they are going to handle the handing over of ther mantle because the circumstances are unique in the comics and the way the MCU is set up now, it doesn’t seem to be going in the same direction. For the film, though, Jane Foster will be known as Mighty Thor.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Yeah, I know a lot out there have no clue who Shang Chi is but I have to say I have never been more dreading and excited. I am excited because Shang Chi was one of my favorite comics in the 70s and especially when artist Paul Gullacy was drawing the comics where he straight up modeled Shang Chi after Bruce Lee to the point that Marvel probably told him to cut it out.
Now, Shang Chi comes with some baggage and the big one is of course that he is the son of Fu Manchu which is possibly one of the worst racist Yellow Peril Stereotypes in history. Marvel lost the rights to the Sax Rohmer characters a few years back. And now they have cast Hong Kong legend Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as the true Mandarin who had been hinted at as a character since Iron Man and did wrong in Iron Man 3. Now the Mandarin is still a problematic character as far as race, but the name doesn’t have the racist baggage that Fu Manchu has.
Newcomer, Simu Liu was introduced as Shang Chi who had only received news that he got the part four days before the panel. But Mr. Liu is not a stranger to Marvel Studios as he had been campaigning for an Asian superhero before Shang Chi was ever officially announced as a project. He seemed to interact really well with the crowd and has a natural charming personality.
I’ll have more thoughts on Shang Chi in an future post. But Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has a lot riding on it that casual fans may not be aware of.
After the events of Endgame, many cynics hve coiced the opinion on why people would want to see a Black Widow movie. Which begs the question of why not? Just because Tony Stark dies in the finale of Endgame does not mean that there is no reason to watch the previous movies with Iron Man. Black Widow is no different. And make no mistake, this is going to be an origin. Joining the cast besides Scarlet Johansson will be David Harbour as Alexei, the Red Guardian.
This looks to be a more grounded film as well as a spy thriller. Besides the Red Guardian which is essentially Russia’s version of Captain America, will be Taskmaster who is a master mimic of fighting styles, making him very difficult to defeat.
Coming to Disney Plus. When the creators outright say that the show is going to be strange, they probably. It will feature Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, and Vision who we last saw dead in Avengers Infinity War. And it will take place after the events of Avengers endgame.
Now, how they bring Vision back from the dead has not been revealed but there are no shortage of theories as to how this can be done. Most likely it has to do with what Shuri did at the last minute in a scene in Infinity War.
I had also been promised that other MCU characters would make appearances in the show as well. The rumors that the show would take place during the 50’s was a bit off. It will apparently have a 50’s feel to it, whatever that means. But it will explore the nature and powers of Wanda more. That brings us to her joining Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
“Just because Quentin Beck made up lies about the multiverse, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.” Declared Kevin Feige. Director Scott Derrickson promises that this will be the first Marvel Studios horror movie. Benedict Cumberbatch showed up and received a belated happy birthday from the host and audience.
The title itself opens up a lot of possibilities and it has also been confirmed that not only will Benedict Cumberbatch be reprising his role as Strange, but that he will be joined by Elizabeth Olsen reprising her role as Scarlet Witch. My personal theory which is total speculation is that an event will happen within the WandaVision series that will lead up to being resolved in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
And it could all lead to Marvel’s House of M, which would be epic. Robert Jefferson is once again, on hand to give an in depth explanation to one of the major storylines to shape the Marvel Comics universe in his four-part House of M videos. Part 1 is below.
Falcon and Winter Soldier
Coming to Disney Plus in 2020 will be Falcon and Winter Soldier in their own limited series. It’s not Captain America and the Winter Soldier. Let me say why this title really works and just may shot down the nerdy theorist out there. Just because Steve Rogers gave his shield to Falcon does not mean he is Captain America. In my opinion, these things may work in the comics where you have month to month to sell the transition. I may even work as a television series. This series is only supposed to be six episodes, however.
From a storytelling standpoint it makes sense that public wants Wilson to be the new Captain America, and maybe he even tries to assume the mantle for a while. But Sam Wilson is not Steve Rogers and he has to come to terms with his own identity too. This really
For Disney Plus, this has the potential to be the most fun and experimental of any series they have on their table or even their movies. What if? was a comic series that was popular for some time in the 70s through the 80s which were usually one issue speculations such as “What if Conan was in the Modern Age?” “What if Mary Jane were Bitten by the Radioactive Spider?” The comics would start with an introduction by a Watcher who basically served as the Rod Serling of the series.
Jeffrey Wright, who has been seen in such big franchises as The Hunger Games, Westworld, and Boardwalk Empire will be providing the voice of The Watcher.
Also coming to the Disney Plus streaming service is a Hawkeye series. Apparently it will be focusing on Renner’s Hawkey character training Kate Bishop to be the new Hawkeye. “I get to teach someone else how to be a superhero without super powers.” They used the same graphic as the title graphic for Matt Fraction’s run of Hawkeye, which Io9 called one of Marvel’s greatest comics. Yes, there will presumably be a female takeover of the Haweye mantle. Cue anti SJW outrage. But I am intrigued.
So some bloke named Tom Hiddleston showed up for the announcement of a show that was no secret. Loki will be a limited series streaming on Disney Plus although he had died in Avengers Infinity War, he was very much alive in the time travel portion of Avengers Endgame. And we saw that he had an out. And the version of Loki that will be on the show is going to be the evil Loki, not the chaotic good one that we saw at the end of Thor Ragnarok and the beginning of Infinity War.
Two-time Academy Award winning actor Mahershala Ali came out on stage at the very tail end of the Marvel presentation. At this point, everyone on stage and in the audience were handed Black Widow hats, but Mr. Ali did not have one. WHen Kevin asked him why he did not have a hat on, he said he brought his own. He put it on and it had a newly revamped logo for Marvel’s Blade. Mic drop of the con.
Blade had a decent following and had some success as a film franchise starring Wesley Snipes. This would mark Marvel Studio’s foray into the darker universe. The original movies were rated R and Bob Iger, CEO of Disney has said in no uncertain terms that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would not be rated R. Deadpool would be on his own at Fox. It is not impossible for Blade to be rated PG-13. The original comics were written under the outdated days of the Comics Code.
Nevertheless, the it will be some time before we see Blade on screen as Kevin Feige said after the presentation that it would not be part of Phase 4 but rather Phase 5. So many things can happen behind the scenes. Maybe Bob Iger will change his mind.`
Fantastic Four and More
A reboot of Fantastic Four was essentially name-dropped as the panel was closing as well as mentions that Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2. We know the sequels are coming, but there is no release time frame set but it is inevitable. They were name-dropped as well as Fantastic Four. And like Blade, these sequels look to probably be in Phase 5.
Now, if you think this is Marvel’s mic drop, remember that their appearance at Comic-Con was a last minute decision. And there is still D23 coming up in August which is the major convention run by Disney which they have been promoting for some time to supplant San Diego. Expect to hear more details on Black Panther’s sequel, Captain Marvel, and expect a team-up film to close out the phase. I am sure Marvel has a lot more news to make and more details on the films already mentioned.
There is going to undoubtedly be some pushback against Marvel for having such a diverse cast of characters in their upcoming phase of movies and it will probably be from the same corner of the internet that were going to boycott Captain Marvel and drive its box office numbers down, you know, the same ones who thought that Black Panther was pandering to minorities and was going to be a box office failure. Well, they are proving themselves to be nothing more than circular group of people echoing each other. And we know that half these people on YouTube making their little screeds could not care less or really even believe in what they say. They do it for the clicks and the views. And the fact that there is supposed outrage over diversity shows exactly why there is a need to have diversity. Now these movies may fail. But it probably won’t be because of diversity or more representation of marginalized people. If they fail, it will fail because they are just bad.
If I made any errors in the announcements, forgive me. I will make corrections in the comment section if needed.
It has finally come down to this, writing. I have not blogged since the dinosaur days of Geocities and I’ve missed it. So here I am letting loose an outlet for the voices in my head and all the pop culture references you can shake a stick at.
So let’s see, for starters, be prepared for almost everything nerdy and geek. After all we’re hip now, right? Soon to come will be reviews, opinions about geek culture, fans, conventions, of course anime. Oh and expect layout and site changes since I am new to WordPress and have no idea what I am doing yet.