Free Guy: A Solid Heroic Story (Spoiler-Free)

Ryan Reynolds plays a really nice guy in a crapsack world.

This movie isn’t the first one about a video game character developing sentience, with previous entries ranging from Disney’s Tron (sort-of) to at least one incarnation of Mega Man to the Christopher Lambert vehicle Nirvana. In fact, the craptastic movie Serenity from last year had that plot. However, this movie manages to both update and reinvigorate the concept in ways that make it feel fresh and interesting. A big part of that is that Ryan Reynolds manages to play a sincerely good character with good motivations while still being an unbelievably skilled badass. It’s fun to watch him be a hero and to fight for the underdog. Moreover, the film addresses an interesting point about human nature and why we choose certain things as recreation, particularly violently killing and tormenting other humanoids.

If you haven’t played Undertale, maybe give that a try?

Guy (Reynolds) lives in Free City, a sandbox video game which mostly allows players to commit random acts of mayhem in a city populated by NPCs like Guy. His best friend is Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard at the bank Guy works at, which gets robbed regularly, though the pair never seem to mind. Things change when Guy spots a player named Molotov (Jodie Comer), who leads Guy to steal a pair of the sunglasses that separate NPCs from Players. He tries to connect with Molotov, who is actually a woman named Millie that believes that Free City was based on stolen code, created by her and her friend Keys (Joe Keery), by its supposed creator Antwan (Taika Waititi). As Antwan plans on releasing a new version of Free City soon, Millie and Guy have to help each other save the digital world (not the one from Digimon).

Guy, meet Molotov. Usually, that’s a hot experience.

Part of what makes this movie work is that there are two plots running simultaneously, both Millie’s quest to prove that Antwan stole her code and Guy’s quest for Millie, and they do a great job moving between them. It makes Guy’s awesome action sequences and moments of self-reflection more impactful when balanced with Millie’s more complex and mundane plans to try to thwart Antwan. It’s great that even though Guy is ostensibly the protagonist and Antwan the villain, they never are operating in the same world. The interplay between the real and virtual worlds keeps either from getting boring. 

This is the face of evil.

As far as action and humor goes, this movie manages to do both very well. It has some scenes that are, possibly intentionally, reminiscent of Deadpool. It’s weird that, in some ways, this movie manages to do in a few minutes what Ready Player One tried to do for almost two hours. There is a great scene in this movie where Guy gets to be the pop culture blending protagonist that I really wanted to see in Ready Player One, but since Guy does it organically and without commenting too heavily on it, it’s more fun. It’s also interesting that the movie’s plot involves people recognizing that Guy sticking up for the NPCs is something that speaks to our own inner selves. Why do people prefer killing fictional characters rather than being a hero and keeping them safe? Is that a sign that humanity is more prone to violence or just that those are the options that are most fed to us? Well, the movie actually gives an interesting answer at the end, although whether it’s true or not is up to the viewer. Either way, I like that there’s something to chew on for the viewer.

Video Games don’t cause violence, but why not get the endorphins from helping people?

Overall, I really recommend this movie, particularly if you’re a fan of Ryan Reynolds. It has some good jokes, some good action, and some stuff to ponder.

Disney’s Jungle Cruise: The Mummy Meets the Rock – Disney+ Review

It’s the exact right kind of dumb and fun.

On some level, this movie seemed like the perfect film for Dwayne Johnson, because much of this movie feels similar to the adventure horror-comedy film The Mummy and Johnson’s first film was The Mummy Returns. Admittedly, he probably wants us to forget that because of the horrible CGI Scorpion King in that movie, but it still feels good to see The Rock take on the role of the adventurer for this film. He’s funny, he’s quirky, he’s quippy, he’s charming, and, as a bonus, he looks like he could benchpress the boat on which most of the film takes place. He’s everything you want in a protagonist in this kind of story. 

He’s also a hell of a showman.

Johnson plays Frank Wolff, a skipper who does tourist trips along the Amazon River which are replete with terrible puns and bad jokes. He owes money to local harbormaster Nilo (Paul Giamatti), which leads him to offer his services to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), a botanist searching for a flower that cures all disease. Lily, along with her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), are being pursued by the German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who seeks to use the cure-all to help Germany win World War I. Unfortunately for Frank and Lily, it turns out that the flower is also connected to the conquest of Don Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), who is not quite as dead as you’d expect for someone born in the 1500s. This will be the real rumble in the jungle.

I’m not being blunt, because Emily already is.

As much as I love Johnson and his willingness to deliver absolutely terrible jokes with a straight face, I also have to give a lot of credit in this film to Emily Blunt. Unlike most “strong” female protagonists in these kinds of films that end up devolving into damsels in distress, Blunt’s portrayal of Lily starts as being extremely competent and mostly maintains that throughout the film. She often has to rely on Frank for some things, because of his expertise at piloting the boat and surviving in the jungle, but even when the film seems like she’s going to end up being the helpless victim, it actually gives her a consistent level of skills that enable her to get out of trouble on her own. Blunt’s chemistry with Johnson is also great, although their relationship develops at a bit of an inconsistent pace. Actually, pacing is pretty much the biggest negative in the film on the whole.

There’s also the occasional question of how they still look so good while on a boat.

Other positives in the film include Whitehall’s fun portrayal of MacGregor, one of the first openly gay main characters in a Disney film, and Veronica Falcon’s portrayal of Trader Sam, the character that probably aged the worst from the original ride. The updating of Sam’s character was done organically enough that hopefully it won’t anger people who believe that nostalgia has to consist of being fed the same thing repeatedly. The creature designs in the film, while not the best CGI I’ve seen, are very creative, particularly the undead conquistadors. Jesse Plemons, as he usually does, plays a creepy villainous character that seems completely unhinged most of the time. 

This is the villain of the bee plot.

Overall, if you like fun adventure movies, this will be right up your alley.

Centaurworld: It’s the Cutest Form of Body Horror – Netflix Review

Seriously, this show is like My Little Pony meets Cronenberg.

When you think of a show about a character that jumps from one world into a completely different fantasy setting, you probably always assume that character is going to be human. This show cleverly goes in the exact opposite direction, with the main character being a horse who journeys through a fantastic world trying to find her human rider. Along the way, she meets a cast of colorful characters and has amazing adventures, only most of the characters and adventures, while presented as cartoonish and fun, are deeply unsettling when you think about them. I have to give a lot of credit to whoever pitched this initially, they either lied tremendously or managed to convince Netflix to give a lot of money to a crazy idea. 

Ever been around really happy people? It sucks, doesn’t it?

Horse (Kimiko Glenn) is a warhorse who is separated from her Rider (Jessie Mueller) during a war with an army of minotaurs. Horse ends up being transported by a mystical artifact to a cartoonish place called Centaurworld where almost everything is half-animal and half-human. She meets a group of centaurs who agree to help her: Alpaca centaur Wammawink (Megan Hilty), zebra centaur Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), finch centaur Ched (Chris Diamantopoulos), gerenuk centaur Glendale (Megan Nicole Dong), and giraffe centaur Durpleton (Josh Radnor). Together, the group must travel through Centaurworld to find all of the pieces of Horse’s artifact and hopefully reunite her with Rider. 

They follow a literal rainbow road

In the first episode of the show, we see the gritty reality that Horse comes from where everything is animated with a lot more shading and a darker palette than the rest of the series, which only makes the colorful cartoonish animation of Centaurworld more pronounced. Horse, notably, starts out with her original animation, which makes her stand out more among the characters. As the series progresses, however, Horse starts to slowly change to resemble Centaurworld’s animation and, much to her horror, takes on some of Centaurworld’s ridiculous magical nature. Centaurworld, like the worlds of My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite, is filled with singing and logic-breaking magical characters, something that contrasts with Horse’s sword-and-sorcery world, so a lot of her arc is adjusting to this new normal. However, while Centaurworld is colorful, a lot of the character traits are genuinely unpleasant. For example, the centaurs shoot tiny copies of themselves out, which tend to just start screaming and running around in terror at being surrounded by giants. At some points, it appears they just kill themselves, something that their normal-sized counterparts seem to just ignore. Tons of other elements of the characters are similarly messed-up. So, while you may enjoy the show for the fun song numbers or crazy designs, you might also enjoy the twisted sense of humor that comes from these elements.

The original world is pretty messed up, too.

Overall, solid show, just… be warned.

F9: The Fast Saga Continues (Spoiler-Free)

The series that basically defines “sit back and enjoy the ride” is still going.

Do you remember how you saw the first “The Fast and the Furious” movie? It’s funny how much I feel it dates me because I didn’t see it until I rented it on DVD. Same with the second film and Tokyo Drift and, by that point, I was mostly burned out on the series. I didn’t even consider seeing the fourth movie in the theaters, which admittedly I regret, because that completely changed the franchise on almost every level. I skipped the fourth and fifth films until I decided to watch the sixth film, only to discover that the movies I missed were probably the best in the series. Since seeing those, I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed these movies more and more because I finally started to get into all of the spectacle of it. They show you crazy stuff that you just couldn’t see anywhere else and that’s one of the most beautiful parts of movies as a medium. Since then, every movie has had to one-up the previous level of insanity and, against all odds, has mostly succeeded. This movie is no exception.

Like flipping an armored convoy.

Two years after the events of The Fate of the Furious, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) are living a secluded life raising their son Brian. They’re approached by Roman, Tej, and Ramsey (Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel) about Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) capturing Cipher (Charlize Theron), Dom’s former blackmailer. However, the plane is attacked and taken down by none other than Jakob Toretto (John Cena), Dom’s never-before-mentioned brother. Dom needs to get the whole team together, including a still-alive Han Lue (Sung Kang) (It’s not a spoiler if it’s in the trailer) in order to stop his brother. 

I’m not sure we got Justice for Han, since Shaw WAS trying to kill him. Eh, maybe in Hobbes and Shaw 2.

In a franchise that uses the word “family” approximately 300 times a movie, it’s a bit of a tough sell that Dom Toretto has a brother that he has somehow neglected to mention, despite the fact that his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), is a recurring character. Naturally, the movie shows us a falling out between the two brothers to try and explain it, but it still feels a bit contrived. Then again, it’s Fast and the Furious, so you quickly move past it and enjoy the ride. The stunts in this movie, naturally, obey only the laws of Fast and the Furious Physics, which is to say no real physics whatsoever. You have to suspend levels of disbelief equal to most fairy tales, but the movie absolutely makes that worth it. Some of the fight sequences that cross over with the driving sequences are equal parts ridiculous and awesome. In a surprising twist that adds a level to the film, the movie actually has one of the characters realize how ridiculous the escalation of events have gotten and point out that they all should be dead by now. There’s not much of a conclusion to this revelation, so I’m hoping it continues through the tenth movie. 

Also, we need John Cena in some scenes with the Rock, people.

Overall, solid film if you liked the rest of the franchise.

BNA (Brand New Animal): Beastmen can be the Most Human – Netflix Anime Mini-Review

For people who want a bigger Beastars Fix.

The Joker On The Sofa

I take a look at Netflix’s new story about discrimination. It’s solid.

SUMMARY

Humanity is not alone. Since ancient times, the beastkin, humans who can shift into humanoid animal forms, have lived on Earth, but have been hated for as long as anyone can remember. They have finally managed to find refuge in Japan in Anima City, a metropolis built just for them. The newest arrival is Michiru Kagemore (Sumire Morohoshi/Cherami Leigh), a tanuki beastman, who was formerly a normal human high school girl until a year prior. Having grown sick of hiding from humans who now want to harm her, she heads to the city to find a cure for her condition. She gets caught up in a bombing attempt by terrorists and is saved by Shirou Ogami (Yoshimasa Hosoya/Ben Diskin), a wolf beastman with incredible strength and regenerative ability. Soon, Michiru finds herself embroiled in a massive conspiracy…

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Freaky: Genuinely Fun Horror – Amazon Rental Review

I’m taking a break due to work being heavy, but this is now on HBO Max and everyone should check it out.

The Joker On The Sofa

A girl and a masked slasher switch bodies. Hilarity and gore ensue.

SUMMARY

For decades the people of Blissfield have been attacked by the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a masked slasher. During one of his newest attacks, the Butcher acquires the dagger of La Dola. The next day, he attacks local teen Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), who manages to survive after being stabbed in the shoulder after her police officer sister, Char (Dana Drori), arrives and scares the killer away. The next day, Millie awakes inside of the Butcher’s body and vice-versa. Now the murderer is plying his deadly trade in her body and she has to convince her best friends Nyla and Josh (Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich) to help her get her body back before the high school is a bloodbath.

Be afraid of the teenage girl, Vince Vaughn.

END SUMMARY

Taking place in the same universe as

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Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans: Tales of Arcadia Comes to a Bitter End – Netflix Review

After several years and three series, we get the last chapter of Trollhunters.

Back in 2016, Guillermo del Toro debuted his Trollhunters series as the first entry in the franchise that he called “Tales of Arcadia,” after the town in which the shows take place. It ended up being a blend of genres with magical realism and science-fiction both working in the same space. Moreover, the shows did a good job of focusing on the characters and their motivations, giving the stories a lot of emotional weight beyond many shows designed for children. They also shared characters, with several secondary characters from one show becoming leads in the next. While Trollhunters and 3Below mostly stood on their own, Wizards was less self-contained and relied heavily on the audience to have watched Trollhunters in order to follow the plot. Naturally, as the conclusion, you really had to watch all of those series to get this film. 

Big cast.

At the conclusion of Wizards, there was a strong hint that the greatest threat to all of the characters was still ahead, even though Nari (Angel Lin) of the Arcane Order had switched sides. Sure enough, the film reveals that the two remaining members, Bellroc and Skrael (Piotr Michael and Kay Bess), can kidnap her and force her to help summon the Titans, beasts that will remake the Earth back to the moment of creation. Merlin’s apprentice Douxie (Colin O’Donoghue) tries to buy time, but ultimately, the Titans arise. Now it’s up to the Trollhunter Jim Lake (Emile Hirsch), whose powers currently aren’t working, as well as his girlfriend and powerful spellcaster Claire Nunez (Lexi Medrano), his best friend Toby (Charlie Saxton), and the trolls Blinky and Aaaaargh (Kelsey Grammer and Fred Tatasciore) to stop them. Fortunately, they’ve got a lot of help coming, ranging from dragons to aliens to the occasional suburban mom. 

Which you need when fighting a volcano that walks.

I’m going to go ahead and say that this film was probably re-written at some point. The film, like the franchise, is built around the nature of sacrifice and what heroes do in order to help the rest of the world. Jim is a hero because he is willing to risk his life for others. Krel and Aja (Diego Luna and Tatiana Maslany) are willing to sacrifice their freedom in order to keep the peace. Douxie has sacrificed centuries to try and be a guardian of magic and the Earth itself. The end of this series was probably always going to have a lot of loss, because that’s usually the price we pay for keeping the world safe, and much of this movie really drives that home. A lot of characters die or sacrifice themselves, and those losses really hit you in the gut. I was really glad that a series took the stakes of the film seriously and didn’t just wave everything away. ***SPOILERS*** At least until the ending, which undoes the events of literally everything that’s happened in the entire franchise. I’m not kidding, everything is undone and, honestly, I’m not sure that I believe the new timeline won’t result in everything dying. It’s genuinely selfish of Jim to go from a situation in which some of his friends are dead but the world is safe to putting everything back up in the air, completely, out of a hope of saving them. It really not only ruined the movie, it ruined the character.

There’s a Pacific Rim nod somewhere.

Overall, until the end, it was a solid film, but man, did they drop the ball. 

Five Short Reviews

Here are the things I didn’t have time to review this week.

Happily

Tom and Janet (Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé) have been married for 14 years and still act like horny newlyweds, constantly in love and lust with each other and doing caring gestures towards each other. This, naturally, drives all of their friends insane. Eventually, they get a visit from a stranger (Stephen Root) before going on a couples’ retreat that changes everyone involved. The thing about this movie is that the idea of having a couple that is so in love that everyone hates them is pretty solid. After all, as they point out, why are you married if you don’t think of your partner as your best friend? The problem is that the movie ends up going too far beyond reality and, honestly, it just plays out pretty blandly. Good premise, bad execution. The performances are really good, which only hurts me more.

This is a Tuesday for them.

The Ones Below

Kate and Justin (Clémence Poésy and Stephen Campbell Moore) are a couple expecting a baby who, through an accident, are blamed by their neighbors for the loss of their pregnancy. Kate begins to suspect that Jon and Theresa (David Morrissey and Laura Birn) are trying to steal her baby, but Justin believes she’s just having a mental breakdown. The biggest problem with this movie is that it doesn’t leave as much ambiguity as you would want for this kind of set-up, nor is the payoff big enough to justify being able to guess the ending early on. Still, there are some good parts to it. It’s not a “must-see,” but it’s shot very well and for a first-time director, there are a number of solid elements. 

Not a fun time.

Leverage: Redemption

If you loved the show Leverage, good news, it’s back. With Noah Wyle coming in as the newby and Aleyse Shannon replacing Aldis Hodge in some of the episodes as the tech person, the team is (mostly) back, albeit without Timothy Hutton (possibly due to the statutory rape allegations). The show pretty much starts to go back to formula, but when it’s a formula as fun as Leverage, you’re not too upset about that. I still absolutely love Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, and Beth Riesgraf in their roles as con-woman, hitter, and thief, respectively. It’s notable that the show has done a lot more “ripped from the headlines” this season, clearly addressing actual criminal behavior in the world that’s going unpunished, which will work for some people more than others. Personally, I liked it.

Noah Wyle is in good company.

Too Hot to Handle (Season 2)

Well, the show about hot and horny people trying to find real romance is back and… yeah, it’s still dumb and trashy and I still watched the whole thing. I think they gave commentator Desiree Birch some better lines this season and it does help. Other than that, it is much the same as last season, with you rooting for some couples and against others. This season seemed to have a lot more brazen rule-breaking, so if you are into that, you will enjoy the show. If you don’t like trash, this will not be your thing.

Marvin and Melinda made me want to scream a lot.

The Naked Director

This show is a fictionalized account of the rise of Japanese adult film director Toru Muranishi (Takayuki Yamada) and adult film star Kaoru Kuroki (Misato Morita). It’s mostly an exploration of the Japanese pornograpnic film industry throughout the 1970s to 90s and how it reshaped Japan’s perception of indecency. It’s very interesting to see how restrictive japanese society was towards sexuality and how it has impacted their societal development over the last few decades.

He’s also an actor.