After five seasons and a movie, Steven Universe gives us… reality?
Steven Universe (Zach Callison), along with the Crystal Gems Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall), Lapis Lazuli (Jennifer Paz), Peridot (Shelby Rabara), and Bismuth (Uzo “Yes, Uzo Aduba” Aduba) finally dealt with the Great Diamond Authority (Patti LuPone, Lisa Hannigan, Christine Ebersole) and brought (relative) peace to the galaxy. In the movie two years later, the team managed to deal with Spinel (Sarah Stiles), a victim of Steven’s mother’s (Susan Egan) selfishness. They also founded an interstellar haven for gems that are now without purpose. And that’s where this series begins.
Steven and the Gems are now trying to run “Little Homeschool,” a facility for gems to learn how to deal with not being essentially slaves or soldiers under the Diamond Authority. The running of the school is tedious and often much less satisfying than fighting evil dictators was, and problems start to arise because of it.
In a lot of ways, this might be the best thing this series ever gave us, because it reminds us that there is no end to progress, it’s just a hill you keep rolling the ball up and hoping it doesn’t roll down. The Movie tried to address this idea, and did to an extent, but the show gets a lot more of the point across. There are messages about the fact that adulthood (which is what Steven has essentially hit) consists largely of responsibilities that are not the kind of fun challenges we see on television. Sure, when you fight a giant centipede there’s a chance you die, but after the fight’s over, it’s over. When you finish teaching a class of gems how to operate a bank account, then… you need to teach the next class. Unlike a genocidal war (like the Diamonds usually waged), there is no end to helping the world develop. The show is reminding us how hard doing “good” really is, something that it always tried to do in the past with empathy.
In addition to that very somber theme, the show deals with the reality of how trauma is usually associated with the kind of things Steven has dealt with, as well as the trauma of finding out that your parent was, in fact, not a great person. In this series, at least so far, Steven discovers that he may be inheriting some of his mother’s rage-based powers, which leads him to be afraid of expressing himself openly. We also see many of the characters fearing change, whether it be relationships ending or just evolving.
The only problem so far is that they haven’t really indicated what direction the mini-series is going to go, nor how many episodes it’s going to be, but I can say that I think there’s some interesting things set-up and I really hope they pay off.
This movie is an uninspired knock-off and I hate it.
SUMMARY (Spoilers, but who gives a crap)
There’s an app that tells you when you’re going to die, down to the second. However, even if you try to avoid your fate, it ensures that you die, because the “user agreement” specifically says that you can’t use the information to avoid your fate.
Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) a nurse with a harassing boss, a dead mom, a somewhat estranged sister, and no personality, downloads the app after a patient tells her that it’s real and then he dies. She finds out that she’s set to die in 3 days. She tries to remove the app from her phone and meets Matt (Jordan Calloway), who conveniently has a slightly shorter countdown and is also freaked out. They go to see a priest who tells them that the app is actually a demonic curse by the demon Ozhin, who gets to torment them until their deaths because they tried to avoid their fate… by an app that Ozhin apparently created. The curse can only be broken by proving the app wrong, which Quinn does by killing herself in a way that allows her to be revived, but then there’s a sequel hook anyway because f*ck this movie.
Remember Final Destination, a film series containing a number of entertainingly elaborate deaths designed to ensure that people can’t really cheat their fate? Didn’t you wish that most of those deaths had been sudden or simple and off-screen? Then this is the movie for you. Rather than elaborate death traps, we occasionally get flashes of a demon in cameras or mirrors, but nothing he does is ever really that scary or creepy, unless the victims participate in it. Even then, that’s like 10 minutes of the movie, max. Most of the film is just people trying to figure out how to get into the phone and seeing if altering the code changes your fate. There are like 3 different pointless subplots which seem cobbled together so that the runtime could reach 90 minutes, including Quinn trying to kill her boss so that his app is wrong, because he’s a sexual harasser. I mean, I wouldn’t mourn him, but the fact that she finds out that hell is real and then plans to commit murder kind of suggests she isn’t smart. Maybe go get a blessing and baptism from the priest and enjoy eternal paradise, cuz apparently Catholicism is incidentally the correct religion?
The biggest problem is the premise: The App tells you you’re going to die, but if you try to avoid it, you just get killed at the same time as you would have died if the app never existed in the first place. In other words, you’re not cheating anything or getting any benefit. Apparently, Ozhin created this just because it gives him the ability to mess with people. Not to drag them to hell or to steal their souls, just to mess with them. So a demon creates a very popular application which exposes the fact that apparently Heaven and Hell are undeniably real and that’s just to mess with a handful of people who were going to die anyway. It’s just so damned dumb.
The studio behind Kubo and the Two Strings, ParaNorman, and Coraline brings us a story of a lonely sasquatch.
It’s 1886 and Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is a cryptozoologist (minus the scientist part) who dreams of being in the “Society of Great Men.” He makes a bet with the head of the society, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), to prove the existence of the Sasquatch. Frost journeys to the Pacific Northwest and quickly finds the Bigfoot (Zach Galifianakis), who reveals he sent a letter to Frost asking for help. The Bigfoot is lonely and asks for Frost’s aid in finding more of its kind in the form of Yeti (Emma Thompson). They are aided by Frost’s ex-girlfriend Adelina (Zoe Saldana) and chased by Piggot-Dunceby’s minion Stenk (Timothy Olyphant).
So, most of the other films by Laika, the studio that made this film, have been fairly dark in tone, whereas this movie is notably lighter. I think that might have biased me a little bit against this movie, because I was constantly waiting for the boom to be lowered. While there are quite a number of fairly dark moments, including a number of near-death scenes involving firearms, it still was overall a lighthearted film. However, despite my expectations being subverted, I did find this movie extremely charming.
First, the animation is exactly as great as you would expect from Laika, with so much attention to detail that I honestly don’t understand how this could have been done without driving most of the animators insane. According to the production notes, there were 110 sets alone for this movie, as well as scenes featuring rain, snow, and sand, all of which interact with the characters. Seriously, who has the dedication to make a film like this shot by shot? Laika, apparently, and it is amazingly well done.
Second, the movie has some good humor in it. Most of it is childish humor, but since it’s a movie for children, that tracks. Zach Galifianakis’s performance as Mr. Link the Bigfoot contains a level of innocence and yearning that somehow comes through when combined with the very elaborate visuals. Perhaps the funniest one-liners, however, come from the very disaffected and sarcastic Yeti Queen played by Emma Thompson. Several of them did have me laughing out loud.
Last, while the plot is simple, the movie mostly focuses on the feelings of its main characters as they go through the adventure. We get a lot of good character moments which make them feel real to us, despite the fact that they are animated. The art style helps with this, giving everyone exaggerated features which allow us to more easily capture their feelings. Everyone has an arc, even if the arc is small or contrary to what we expect, and it allows us to feel like they were all really together on this adventure. It’s a basic tool of storytelling that Laika seems to understand completely and it helps.
Overall, solid film. I mean, it’s a kids movie and I don’t want it to win best animated film (I Lost My Body, which I’ll review soon, is better), but it’s still worth seeing if you have little ones.
This is just one of the best movies I’ve seen in awhile and the Oscars would be even dumber than they are to deny it.
SUMMARY (Not really any spoilers, but you should still probably go see this cold if you can)
The Kim family, composed of father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), is destitute and stuck working part-time jobs to make ends meet. A friend of Ki-woo’s, Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon), offers Ki-woo a recommendation to be the English tutor of the daughter of the wealthy Park family, Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so). Ki-woo uses Ki-jeong’s art skills to forge documents saying he’s a university graduate, only for the mother of the Park family, Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), to completely ignore them and base her decision almost solely on Min-hyuk’s recommendation, giving him the job. When Yeon-gyo mentions that she wants an art teacher for her son, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun), Ki-woo claims to know a famous art teacher who is really Ki-jeong. Ki-jeong manages to, in turn, recommend Ki-taek as a driver for the Park patriarch, Dong-ik (Byun Hee-bong), who recommends Chung-sook as a housekeeper. Soon, the entire Kim family deceptively works under the Park family, which only starts to make their differences much more pronounced. Eventually, the Kims make a discovery that leads to a more serious and dire conflict.
Bong Joon-ho, the director of this film, has previously been lauded for films like Mother (seriously, see this film), The Host (see this if you like monster movies), and Snowpiercer (also really good), but this film is the best thing he’s done yet.
In terms of visual storytelling, this movie is superb. Every shot and every performance tells you what is going on even if you don’t pay attention to the dialogue. You could watch this film without subtitles and you would still be able to follow the general story, even if you missed some of the details. The structure of the city in which the film takes place is a simple device, but it works: The Park family lives at the top of a very tall hill in a compound which has a lot of greenery whereas the Kim family lives in a semi-basement at the bottom of the hill. There is repeated dialogue about the fact that the Park family distinguishes the Kim family by their particular smell, which the Kims believe is related to them living in the semi-basement below ground. The film uses this as one of the many metaphors they put forth to discuss how the upper-class really feels about the lower-class.
On the surface, the Park family is generous and kind, but they are always about maintaining “the line” between the rich and poor. The poor can be employees, but never friends or peers. The line is frequently drawn between the upstairs and downstairs, or the front and back of the car. Even the daughter, Da-hye, who seems willing to be romantically involved with people of a lower class, appears to be doing it partially out of rebellion, showing that she is fully aware of the fact that her family views them as lessers. It’s never that the Parks are cruel to the Kims, in fact they pay them quite well, but the gap between the two must be maintained, whether by position or by walls.
One of the things that the movie highlights is that the difference between the wealthy and the poor is that the poor can have all of their upward momentum crushed by a single tragedy, whereas the wealthy never have to contemplate that kind of loss. Mrs. Park is mostly concerned about getting her children good tutors so that they can get into top-level schools or live out their potential as artists, two things that the Kim children couldn’t achieve despite their apparently superior talents. The Kims are more concerned with things like the fact that they can’t afford to get the bugs out of their house and have to rely on public sprayers, or that their apartment can flood if it rains too much. The film subverts the usual tendency to try and portray the antagonists as angelic, by showing them realistically using underhanded tactics to get and maintain their “leg-up.” By showing their circumstances, however, we understand why they feel it to be necessary to do such things.
I will say that, while I don’t want to get into the second half of the film to avoid spoilers, the second half is the tensest hour of film I’ve seen in a long time. It starts off, appropriately, with a fairly comic scene featuring a discussion of the class divide, before descending rapidly into a thriller-movie atmosphere for a while and expanding on the class division theme massively.
One of the aspects of the film that I like most is that it never feels tied down to the conventions of any one particular genre. There are comedy, drama, thriller, and even horror elements and they all fit within the scenes in which they appear. The cinematography, dialogue, and acting are all superior. The themes of the movie, while they were supposedly reflective of the state of South Korea, which has been suffering from a substantial debt crisis since 1997’s Asian Financial Crisis, pretty much work everywhere.
DC combines all of its current television shows, most of its prior ones, and many of its movies into one giant crossover that… was pretty awesome.
It’s literally impossible to summarize this in a reasonable amount of time. Let’s just say there are a lot of Earths (probably not an actual infinite number) which are being destroyed. All of the headlining heroes from the shows join forces to come up with a convoluted scheme to stop the destruction of the multiverse. The series features Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), Green Arrow (Stephen “Dem Abs” Amell), Superman (Tyler Hoechlin and Brandon Routh), The Atom (Osric Chau and Brandon Routh), Batwoman (Ruby Rose), The Flash (Grant Gustin, John Wesley Shipp, and Ezra Miller), John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Black Lightning (Cress Williams), Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer), and so many more I’m really going to get lost. This is without getting into all of the cameos from actors who have been in old media, like Burt Ward, Tom Welling, and Kevin Conroy. Many of the actors play multiple roles.
The original Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book was one of the most influential events in the industry. The multiverse had been DC Comics mechanism for explaining away bad or inconsistent writing or characters for a long time, but relying on it had gotten too difficult, since it meant that there was basically no official continuity for anything. When the Crisis happened, DC not only killed off the multiverse, but hundreds of characters, ranging from minor characters like Huntress to major characters like Supergirl and the Flash. It was one of the most successful comic book series ever released at the time and is used as a benchmark when discussing comic book continuity. It’s kind of a big deal, is what I’m saying.
The reason why the comic Crisis on Infinite Earths worked is because all of the characters were well-established. No time was really needed to give backstory to Superman or The Flash because everyone knew who they were so well that we already had emotional investment in them. The reason the Justice League movie didn’t work was for the exact opposite reason: Nobody really knew or had any connections to any of the characters since only three of them had been in anything prior and only one of those movies was memorable in a good way. Also, Superman was dead for most of the movie, so that emotional connection was essentially cut. Now, you can replace emotional connections with spectacle, like Commando or The Expendables, but it’s better to have both. That’s what Avengers: Endgame did so well, spending the first two acts on emotional scenes and character moments, then spending the last act giving us the spectacle that we finally wanted.
This crossover actually mostly did it right.
First, almost all of the characters were well established. Yes, you might not have liked all of the series equally, but, by mixing-and-matching team-ups, almost every scene had something in it that you had a history with. Even more than that, by referencing all of the older shows and films that they’ve made, mostly just to have the characters we remember from them die tragically, the series was able to raise the stakes of the entire event while cashing in on nostalgia.
Second, the plot, while it does have a lot of fetch quests and convoluted elements in it, is pretty straightforward: Stop the bad guy. The thing is that the Anti-Monitor, the villain, doesn’t just have one plan to thwart, he has a ton of other plots that also have to be dealt with. The Anti-Monitor is also just too powerful and too above-it-all to really be punched to death by Superman, unlike certain other DC crossover villains, instead requiring actual sacrifices to gain the power to deal with him.
Third, LEX. FREAKING. LUTHOR. My god, did they make a great decision in giving Jon Cryer this role and my god did they write him correctly. Lex is the single smartest character in existence but, rather than trying to save it, can’t resist using his power to try and kill Superman. Much as how Thanos is the one with the actual character arc in Avengers: Infinity War, Lex is the one with the biggest character arc and the series is all the better for it.
Are there problems with the series? Oh yeah, it’s still a mess trying to get this many characters to all have their “moments,” but I was genuinely impressed at how well they pulled it off. Since the nature of the entire TV multiverse is changed by the end of it, I’m looking forward to seeing how DC will handle their new continuity.
HBO has given us a continuation of the famous 1986-87 comic series that changed the industry.
It’s been 34 years since a giant mutant squid appeared in the middle of New York City, killed off several million people, and convinced the Earth that aliens were invading, preventing nuclear war. Since then, superheroes have been outlawed and Robert Redford has been president. An incident involving an attempt by the racist “Seventh Kavalry” to kill all of the law enforcement officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma has led to the passage of laws which allow Law Enforcement Officers to operate as costumed figures to protect their secret identities.
Angela Abar (Regina King), a survivor of the “White Night,” operates as a Tulsa detective under the name “Sister Night” along with her fellow survivor Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) and Det. Wade Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson). After a police shooting by the Kavalry, Abar gets dragged into a series of events intertwining her fate with the characters who are still standing from the events of the original Watchmen: Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt, Laurie “Silk Spectre” Blake, and Jon “Doctor Manhattan” Osterman.
Damon Lindelof, the creator of the show, has spent a decade being roundly (and justifiably) chastised for the fact that his previous creation, Lost, appeared to have no f*cking clue where the story was going. As if to compensate, this show clearly was thoroughly plotted before the first scene was shot. It’s almost as coherent in terms of themes and storytelling as its namesake comic, which is saying something. Without saying what it is, they have their own version of the clock motif from the comic and it pays off from the first episode to the last.
Every performance is great, which makes it hard for me to really say who the standout is. I’m going to say it’s Regina King, mostly because she gets the most screen-time and is the focus of the story, but the fact that such an amazing actor isn’t head-and-shoulders above the supporting cast tells you how elevated the supporting cast is. Many of them have to play characters who operate almost entirely through masks that don’t allow for expression which is impressive.
In terms of storytelling, the show manages to both select and adapt some of the more memorable elements of the comic, including a completely linearly non-linear episode (it makes sense in context), which contains one of the best temporal mind-screws I’ve seen in quite a while. The show does a great job managing it’s fairly large cast and they accomplish a lot of worldbuilding through showing, not telling (which is something that I will literally always applaud). While the original Watchmen essentially satirized the existence of superheroes by pointing out that only damaged people would ever think superheroics are a good option, this show continues that by showing that people inspired by superheroes are also likely to view violence and secrecy more than normal people. The themes about the nature of racism are handled well, attacking it from all angles.
The main thing that I appreciate about this is that it isn’t just Watchmen 2. The show isn’t focused just on the characters and what happened to them after the series, it’s about what would be changed in a world like the one that Watchmen is set in. It’s similar to what I appreciate about The Mandalorian: It’s showing me more about a world that I want to see more of, but it isn’t just trying to force a continuation of the previous story. Yes, it involves some of the same characters, but it doesn’t focus on them.
The third Star Wars trilogy has ended and I’m finally agreeing to review one of them.
THE DEAD SPEAK!!! By which I mean that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) sends a broadcast into the galaxy in order to apparently draw in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It turns out that Palpatine created Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) in order to draw Ren to the dark side. He reveals that he has a fleet of planet-killing ships called the “Final Order” that are set to launch soon and promises Ren a place at his side if he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley). Naturally, the good guys find this out with about 24 hours to stop it. Rey is training under General Leia Organa (Carrie “I love you, Space Mom” Fisher), but upon finding out that Palpatine is back, she joins Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 in order to locate a wayfinder to the planet where Palpatine is.
The group heads to desert planet Pasaana where they meet Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee “F*cking” Williams), who helps them find a dagger that contains Sith writing. Rey and Kylo Ren fight and Rey accidentally blows up a ship that she thinks has Chewbacca on it. C-3PO can translate the dagger, but he can’t divulge the translation, so they have to take him to another planet where he gets his memory wiped and Poe sees his ex-girlfriend Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell). Rey finds out Chewbacca’s still alive, so the group rescues him and they find the location of the wayfinder is… on the second Death Star. Or what’s left of it, rather.
When the group gets there, they meet Jannah (Naomi Ackle), a former stormtrooper and Rey and Kylo Ren fight again. Leia dies calling out to Kylo Ren, allowing Rey to strike a lethal blow, but she heals him. Rey leaves, alone, but finds the wayfinder after speaking with a dead Luke Skywalker (Mark “The Best Joker” Hamill) as Kylo Ren turns good after speaking with a memory of the dead Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Also, Rey’s Palpatine’s granddaughter, because sure. Rey heads to Exegol, the hidden planet of the Sith, while telling the rest of the Resistance how to get there. The Resistance is short on manpower, but Poe believes that the rest of the galaxy will show up to fight when the chips are down. Kylo Ren, now Ben Solo again, arrive at Exegol and kill the knights of Ren, but get their asses kicked by a literally crippled and blind Palpatine, who incapacitates them both. Rey, empowered by all the Jedi from the series so far, uses two lightsabers to reflect Palpatine’s force lightning back at him, killing him until the plot will require otherwise. Rey dies from her injuries, but is revived by Ben Solo who dies in her place. Lando Calrissian does most of the Resistance’s heavy lifting and brings reinforcements to destroy the “Final Order.” Rey goes to Tatooine and buries Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers, presumably because Alderaan is harder to bury stuff in, and changes her name to Rey Skywalker.
Star Wars has been a big part of my life, as I’m sure it has for almost everyone from my generation. I was too young to see the original films, but I watched the VHS copies at more than a dozen houses when I was growing up, because I was friends with nerds. Since then, I’ve been with it through the good and the bad. I was there when Han stopped shooting first. I was there when Shadows of the Empire gave us that awesome Hoth level. I was there when Midichlorians were suddenly how the Force worked rather than, you know, space magic. I was there when Captain Rex ran the last flight to Endor on Star Tours. I was there when Ahsoka Tano met the completely different Captain Rex. I read the Thrawn Trilogy and still consider the character to be one of the best contributions to the franchise and I was there when he finally became canon. I owe a ton to this franchise and, even when it’s had its low points, they’ve always been worth it for the highs.
And that’s this film in a nutshell: A bunch of lows that you can ignore to get to the highs.
I assume after suggesting that this film has lows that several of you are going to attempt to leap through the screen and murder me, so I can only respond that I love Star Wars and part of loving it is accepting that it isn’t perfect. Love requires accepting flaws, otherwise you’re just lusting after an ideal… of Star Wars.
The biggest problem with the film is that Carrie Fisher died and everything is worse for it. Not just in the movie, but in the world. Watching the film try to shoehorn in whatever unused footage they had on the cutting room floor and make her into a central character was painful on a lot of levels. They had to write constantly awkward dialogue in order for her responses to make sense, or, at one point, literally have another character give exposition about what she’s doing. It reminded me of Bela Lugosi’s “performance” in Plan 9 from Outer Space and that bodes well for no one.
Another problem for me came from the fact that the film tries to retcon parts of The Last Jedi that people didn’t like, rather than just accept them and move on. Not that there weren’t things in that movie that needed to be addressed and perhaps corrected, but a lot of the stuff could just have been ignored rather than overwritten and seeing that kind of forced correction in a film can get distracting. I mean, they did have to talk about the “Holdo Maneuver” (and WHY EVERYONE WOULDN’T JUST CONSTANTLY USE IT), but the response that it’s just “a one-in-a-million shot” makes Holdo’s actions in the previous movie completely ridiculous. There were a bunch of moments like that where I kept hearing Abrams screaming “F*CK YOU RIAN JOHNSON” through the camera.
The film refuses to explain a lot of things, even by Star Wars standards. (How is Palpatine alive? Why would he broadcast his plans to the rest of the galaxy? How did he get to Exegol? How did he build and staff all of those ships in 30 years? Who developed the technology to destroy a planet with a Star Destroyer? If you had that technology, why not just give it to the First Order? Since when does the Force allow people to teleport stuff? When did Palpatine have a kid and how and why?) Since it’s Star Wars, most of that stuff can be ignored as being a tribute to the series’ origins in Republic Serials, which rarely explained anything, but I do understand why some people might be annoyed by it.
Also, there are a few weird fanservice moments, like Chewie finally getting a medal, which don’t completely make sense within the movie even if they were sweet.
However, all of those things are offset by all of the things that this movie did well. It gave us some of the best lightsaber battles in the series which weren’t marred by the overused acrobatics of the prequels. It managed to connect more of the franchise together than any previous film (except maybe Solo) by including references to the prequels, original films, spin-offs, cartoons, and of course the current trilogy. It had some great emotional moments and some beautiful shots, as well as the happy ending that we needed.
What it did best was remind us of all the great moments that we’ve had because of Star Wars. This movie finally gave us sequences of the whole current team together after a movie of being constantly split up and reminded us of how well the series always handled personality interplay. That’s been true since watching Obi-Wan, Luke, Han, and even Chewie interact in A New Hope. We got to watch Billy Dee Williams show us what an old Lando who has had some hard times would look like, but we also got to see him bring hope to everyone. Seeing Han Solo have a real heart-to-heart with his son was beautiful, even if it was clearly supposed to have been Leia’s scene. It’s something that can only work so well because we spent years with these characters and we know how they got to this point. People may complain that some things are just fanservice, but seeing Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) back behind the controls of an X-Wing is an experience that no other series can really give you, and there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of that to deepen an emotional moment.
This isn’t the best Star Wars movie, but it did provide me with an experience that no other movie could and I have to give it credit for that.