Season 2 doesn’t hit the same highs, but still keeps the premise interesting.
It’s an anthology with the basic requirement that each of the short films must involve love, death, or robots. Mostly robots. Here’s a summary of the films:
Automated Customer Service
A woman finds the help line to be very unhelpful when her roomba goes lethal.
Two brothers compete in a race to prove themselves to the locals in their new home.
In a world where everyone lives forever, cops have to stop overpopulation.
Snow in the Desert
Snow is a man who seemingly can’t age and is targeted by bounty hunters.
The Tall Grass
A man takes a smoking break and learns that you should never leave a stopped train.
All Through the House
Two children meet a very different version of Santa Claus.
A pilot has to defeat his own security robot in order to stay alive after a crash.
The Drowned Giant
A man becomes fascinated by the body of a huge man that washed up on shore.
The first season of this show was originally supposed to be a new Heavy Metal film that eventually ran out of production steam and just became a series of short films. However, the fact that they were originally supposed to be part of a film like Heavy Metal meant that a lot of time and effort and passion had been put into the projects. You could tell how much effort everyone put into each of the shorts, which is why some of them were so impressively detailed and why they managed to get past the uncanny valley so much more than most films. This season seems to have had just a few more constraints on time than the previous one, because the animation isn’t quite as elevated. That’s not to say there aren’t still amazingly well animated episodes (for example, Life Hutch has a photorealistic Michael B. Jordan and Ice mimics the animation style of season 1’s Zima Blue), it just happens that there aren’t as many episodes where my mind was blown by the creativity of the imagery.
I will say that this season definitely doesn’t follow the Heavy Metal-level exploitation like the first season. Very little of this season relies on extreme violence or sexuality. The problem is that they also don’t have a ton of stories that are as entertaining or creative as the last season. That said, here’s how I rank the episodes:
8. The Tall Grass
Really short and a story that’s been done a ton, in which a person wanders into tall grass that’s supernatural.
7. Snow in the Desert
The idea of the loneliness of immortality has been done before and, while this is well animated, it doesn’t go far enough to be memorable.
6. Automated Customer Service
The animation style here doesn’t sit well with me, but at least some of the jokes are funny.
5. Pop Squad
The idea of an agency that kills children is viscerally horrifying, but a world of haves and have nots based on mortality is old.
4. Life Hutch
This episode benefits from Michael B. Jordan and the fact that the animation is damned near perfect.
The animation style is great and the imagery is crafted to be the focus rather than the story.
2. All Through the House
This was by far the most original story and it will stick with me for a while. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it.
1. The Drowned Giant
Tim Miller wrote and directed this and it’s basically the perfect study of humanity and oddities.
Overall, the season is short and you can probably get through it quickly. I recommend at least watching the top 4.
Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan star in this true story about a wrongful conviction.
SUMMARY (Spoilers, but not really, cuz true)
In 1989, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard lawyer, travels to Alabama to head up the Southern Center for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to defend Death-Penalty cases and appeals. This later became the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative (after Congress decided to cut funding for Death-Penalty resources). Together with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), Bryan takes up a number of cases, including that of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx). Stevenson quickly begins to believe that McMillian, who was convicted of the murder of a white woman named Ronda Morrison, was innocent of the charges and had been used as a scapegoat by local law enforcement. Despite having a number of witnesses that McMillian was present at a public event at the time of the murder, the new prosecutor Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) refuses to look into the case and the court refuses to grant a new trial even after Stevenson gets the State’s primary witness, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), to recant. It takes many years and multiple appeals, but eventually Stevenson is able to free McMillian.
In response to the recent (as of this writing) protests arising from the death of George Floyd, Amazon has removed the rental cost on a number of films, including this one. I recommend taking advantage of this, because the movies on the list are great. I selected this one, however, because I’m an attorney in the South. I’ve never witnessed any civil rights violation as bad as the ones alleged in this film (or in the events which form its basis), but I still have been around long enough to know that there are gross inequalities between states, counties, or even different judges, and that race, gender, or sexuality can massively amplify those inequalities. As events in the past… well, history of America, but also the last few weeks, have reminded us, racism is still an issue in this country. In fact, I had a disturbing realization during this movie that all of the events depicted are within my lifetime, including the revelation that another wrongful conviction took 28 years to reverse.
The strength of this movie, naturally, is in its performances. The leads are all unbelievably charismatic and believable, from Michael B. Jordan’s optimistic but not really naive portrayal of Stevenson to Foxx’s portrayal of a disillusioned and broken man to Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal trying to do just one good thing.
The plot of the movie is pretty standard for how courtroom dramas like these always play out. If you’ve seen Gideon’s Trumpet or The Hurricane, then you have seen this film before. In any story that’s based on a real life case, you can probably guess from the beginning that the end of the film is going to have someone getting exonerated. It would probably be a bummer to tell the story of a person who was executed and then later proven innocent (which has definitely happened), so the movie naturally picked a case with a “happy” ending. Unfortunately, that same logic is one of the weaknesses of the film, because it tries to portray most of what happened to McMillian as being a matter of figurative and literal black-and-white.
That’s not to say that there weren’t a number of extra culpable people in his case, there absolutely were, but the film only touches on the fact that almost all of the people responsible were not only elected, but continued to be elected after the charges against McMillian were dropped. While Jordan does deliver a short monologue on how a rural Southern jury might perceive McMillian (even in 1989), the fact is that any number of people might have wanted to speak out against this, but the entire community would have been at their throats for doing so. Hell, the prosecutor and Sheriff were both basically threatened by the voters if they didn’t have someone convicted for the murder. Racism isn’t just ten bad people in power, it’s the hundred bad people who want those ten people in power, but aren’t willing to do the dirty deeds themselves. The movie also shies away from emphasizing the fact that the media had long condemned McMillian from the moment he got arrested, a reminder that journalists can often contribute to injustice as much as they can fight against it. However, the movie DID go further into it than many other films, so I will still give it credit.
Honestly, this is still a really well-done film, even if it’s pretty formulaic by necessity. I think it also goes into some issues with the legal system that people should be aware are not just remnants of the 50s or 60s, but are still problems in the modern day. Hell, the Alabama rule that allowed a judge to overrule a jury and impose a one-sided Death Penalty, as happened in this case with Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. (yes, that name is real), was only eliminated in 2017. This kind of regional or local inequality still exists. There’s a county line near me where on one side, possession of marijuana resulted in a dropped case for some community service, on the other side, possession was ten days jail (until Florida accidentally made it impossible to prosecute cannabis cases last year).
I try not to get too political on this blog, but right now is a great time to watch a film based on real, and recent, events and get a picture of how our country has been in recent years and to realize that some problems are not just coming out of nowhere. There aren’t going to be a lot of easy solutions, and anything is going to take time, but the first step is to acknowledge there’s a problem. If you watch this movie, or read up on the case that it’s focused on, then it becomes really hard to claim that there aren’t issues in the country. Please, do yourself a favor, check it out.
Netflix debuts an adaptation of a comic about a single mother raising her superpowered son.
Nicole Reese (Alisha Wainwright) is a single mother raising her son Dion (Ja’Siah Young) after the death of her husband Mark (Michael B. Jordan) in a freak storm. She is shocked one day when she finds that Dion can move objects with his mind, something he cannot quite control yet. Nicole and her husband’s best friend Pat (Jason Ritter) struggle to keep Dion’s abilities secret from the world while also dealing with the impact this development has on her and her son.
The best part about this show is that, for the most part, the focus is on the difficulties of being a single parent, rather than on superheroics. Except for when she’s worried that Dion is going to get caught by some assumed shadowy government agency or something like that, Nicole treats him just like a normal kid. We also see Dion handling most situations like he was a normal kid. He has issues with other students. He has trouble making friends. He gets embarrassed when what he enjoys isn’t “cool.” Most of the time, this is just a drama about single parenting.
That isn’t to say that the superhero elements aren’t well done. The powers and abilities that Dion manifests are interesting and his difficulties in using them are understandable. He’s a child who has unbelievable power, so naturally he doesn’t focus it well. Hell, he doesn’t focus well in general, because, again, child. When he uses his abilities, they frequently spin out of control or operate on a bigger scale than he intended. This means that he’s dangerous not only to himself but to everyone around him. Worst of all, he likes seeing his powers work, because of course he does. Who wouldn’t? I mean, Peter Parker enjoyed being superstrong and sticking to stuff and that’s significantly less interesting than seemingly limitless telekinesis. Also, without spoiling too much, he gets to use them in the traditional “end of a superhero arc” capacity and it’s pretty fun to watch.
The performances in the series are excellent. I do admit that I’m sad that Michael B. Jordan isn’t in it too much, as he’s just… so damned good in everything. I mean, the man was good in Fant4stic, and that’s basically the equivalent of overcoming cinematic ebola. Still, the rest of the cast are no slouches. Alisha Wainwright does a great job portraying a mother who suddenly is dealing with an unnatural situation but still trying her best. She makes us feel the concern that permeates her every action towards Dion. Ja’Siah Young is also excellent as Dion. He’s so likeable and conveys his childish curiosity so well that you do believe he’s moving all of the stuff with his mind. He also gives realistic responses to issues with others. He cries, he whines, he gets upset easily, but he also has unnatural resolve when he needs it. Jason Ritter manages to probably portray the widest range in the series and it’s all believable, to the point that you will be very uncomfortable at some parts.
The problem with the show is that the script is just pretty mediocre. The effects are decent for the budget, but it never really grabs you the way that a show like this should. It just doesn’t find the hook.
Overall, I enjoyed the show for what it was. I recommend giving it a shot. It’s not Stranger Things or The Good Place or something that strong, but it’s still good.
Black Panther, the highest-grossing film in history with a majority black cast and crew, is also the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.
Following his father, T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the heir to the mantle of the Black Panther, returns to his homeland of Wakanda, a secretly hyper-advanced but isolated African nation, to become the king and rejoin his superintelligent sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his wise mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Along with his head guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), he rescues his former girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from her undercover duties attempting to end human trafficking so that she can attend the ceremony. T’Challa takes on the only challenger to the throne, M’Baku (Winston Duke), and emerges victorious, but spares his life.
Meanwhile, thief and murderer of Wakandans Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) steal a weapon made from Vibranium, a near-magical metal that is found almost exclusively in Wakanda. T’Challa’s friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) asks T’Challa to capture Klaue, who murdered W’Kabi’s parents. T’Challa captures Klaue in South Korea, but Stevens rescues him… only to kill him shortly after and present his body to W’Kabi to gain entry to Wakanda. Stevens reveals himself to be N’Jadaka, the son of T’Chaka’s brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), who betrayed Wakanda until being killed by the king. This makes Killmonger a candidate for the throne of Wakanda. He challenges T’Challa and wins, knocking T’Challa off of a waterfall.
Killmonger, now the king, prepares to distribute Wakanda’s advanced weapons to secret operatives around the world with the plan of staging insurrections to institute black supremacy in the major world powers. Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda, and CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) flee to M’Baku’s territory and find that T’Challa is alive. They give him the heart-shaped herb that powers the Black Panther and he returns. While Okoye and T’Challa’s loyalists fight W’Kabi and Killmonger’s soldiers, T’Challa and Killmonger battle, with T’Challa emerging victorious. Killmonger, mortally wounded, chooses to die rather than live in prison. T’Challa realizes that isolation from the world has weakened Wakanda and chooses to reveal the nature of the country to the United Nations.
Well, this is the first Superhero Movie to be nominated for Best Picture for Academy Award. Is it a perfect film? Well, let’s Pro-Con this.
Here’s what the movie does well: First, it features a representation of African culture that has not often been seen before, particularly the Afro-Futurist aspects. Most depictions of Africa often ignore the developed areas and instead focus on the more tribal and poor areas. Hell, most movies treat “Africa” like it’s just one country, rather than dozens of countries with wildly different cultures, something that this movie makes a point of avoiding. Even Coming to America, which does depict a similarly wealthy and powerful African country like Wakanda, doesn’t particularly have an underlying representation of the nature of different African cultures like this movie. None of this is by accident, either, as Ryan Coogler spent a lot of time and effort working symbols of various countries and groups into things ranging from backgrounds and sets to costume choices.
Second, the supporting characters in the movie are fantastic, particularly the female characters. Letitia Wright’s Shuri is the embodiment of the plucky genius to a degree that, appropriately, is usually found only in comic books. She’s been described by at least one Executive Producer as the single smartest human in the MCU, which means that she’s outclassed Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, and Tony Stark. Despite her intellect, or perhaps because of it, Shuri is one of the more relatable characters, being mostly a rebellious and creative teenager finding her place in the world. Okoye, on the other hand, is not necessarily relatable, instead being a well-crafted rendition of the Amazon archetype, a stoic warrior. However, her wonderful sense of humor keeps her from being too serious and her care for the country and the people in it make her stand out from being generic. Also, they cast Danai Gurira without having seen her in The Walking Dead, something that’s insane to me. Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as she always is, although her character as the love interest sometimes seems a little underdeveloped, due to always sharing the scenes. In contrast, Winston Duke’s M’Baku, while he has little screen time, is well-developed because he’s always the focus.
Third, and let’s be honest about this, Killmonger is the best part of this film. It’s rare for a film to go out of its way in presenting a villain’s ideology in this way… as having so much of a point that the hero actually has to change his way of thinking in response. Throughout the movie, T’Challa, like all of the kings of Wakanda, is mired in tradition and isolation. Wakanda has never needed allies, nor has it wanted them, but this has limited their way of thinking. For example, they still use TRIAL BY COMBAT as a way to select their leaders, something that is, on every level, freaking ridiculous for a sophisticated society (as the movie even points out implicitly). Additionally, their refusal to help others has resulted in a much more awful world for everyone, particularly their neighbors. Killmonger points out that Wakanda could have helped stop the slave trade or made Africa technologically advanced enough to prevent colonial exploitation… but just chose not to because of their insular nature. Killmonger points out that they could easily have solved so many of the injustices which have been levied upon black people over the centuries which have resulted in the countries doing the exploiting gaining wealth and power… but, again, chose not to. So, he decides that it’s their obligation now to try and undo that mistake. Unfortunately, he also has a big chip on his shoulder from having his father murdered, which leads him to believe that the only just action is to literally reverse everything that has happened and create a world where black people are subjugating everyone else. Still, it’s telling that, at the end of the movie, T’Challa is forced to admit that isolation has weakened Wakanda and that things need to change.
Also, the music was great, most of the action sequences were solid, the locations were all interesting, and the writing was amazing in most of the scenes. So, yeah, lots of good stuff.
As for the things that the movie didn’t do perfectly: Pacing in the movie isn’t great. The first time I saw it I didn’t really notice, because I was kind of caught up in the clever writing, but yeah, there’s a lot of scenes in the second act that feel a little slow.
Several of the action sequences didn’t have the best CGI, particularly of T’Challa. The stunts were great, but when you do a CGI sequence in the middle of a live-action film, particularly one where the CGI figure is close to the camera, you get a lot of uncanny valley action and some of it doesn’t hold up well.
Mostly, the biggest problem with Black Panther is Black Panther. T’Challa is well portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, but the character itself is actually a little blunted because of the number of other great characters in the movie. The other problem is that he’s genuinely too overpowered in this film against anyone other than Killmonger. The armor that Shuri gives him is completely invincible against almost anything, so even during the major chase scene in Korea, T’Challa is never really at risk. Also, the final fight just isn’t that interesting, since it’s two nearly invulnerable people punching each other. The best parts of the performance are when it’s Boseman as T’Challa, not the Black Panther.
So, no, this isn’t a perfect movie. I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year… in fact, I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year featuring a black lead (Into the Spider-Verse takes the gold), but it’s still a good movie. Mostly, though, it’s an important movie. A few years ago, the Sony leak confirmed that, within film studios, the myth that “black films don’t travel,” i.e. that black films can’t make money internationally, was still going strong. This movie kicked that myth in the nuts. It proved that representation does not necessarily mean falling into stereotypes or trying to remove the characters from their cultural roots. It showed that a diverse cast and crew can produce a different feel to a film and that a film could address race relations within a structure of a normal action movie. If you don’t think that’s significant, let me remind you that Hattie McDaniel, the first black person to be nominated and win an Oscar, wasn’t allowed to attend the premier of Gone With the Wind due to Georgia’s segregation laws. THAT WAS IN 1940.
Overall, I don’t know that I think this movie deserves to win Best Picture, but I do think it deserved the nomination. It’s a well-done film on many levels, even if it has its flaws, and I think it represents something much bigger than itself.
One complaint I do want to address right now is that superhero films aren’t deserving of this kind of accolade. I see a lot of critics online complaining about the idea that this is “legitimizing” superhero films, which are just popcorn flicks. To that I say: Good. Legitimize them. They’re genre films with a lot of rules and shortcuts that can be taken, to be sure, but you know what else that applies to? Westerns. Mob movies. War films. All of which are constantly given critical accolades as art, when they deserve it. So, let’s encourage people to make artsier, more impacting superhero films, and stop treating them like they are just there to grab the box-office.
Well, Creed II came out and I saw it after Thanksgiving with a group of degenerate reprobates. We also call them lawyers.
SUMMARY (Spoilers if you haven’t seen any trailers)
Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been winning multiple fights following his loss by decision to “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew) in the last film. He’s also moved from Light Heavyweight up to Heavyweight, it seems, but that doesn’t really get mentioned. Finally, he’s fighting for the WBC Heavyweight Title once held by his father Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and his trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). He wins the fight against the past-his-prime champion Danny Wheeler (Andre Ward) then proposes to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). However, he is soon challenged to a fight by Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed his father in the ring. Since this is a boxing movie, there will be boxing.
Okay, so, the Rocky series has been, well, uneven in the past. The first film is one of the most inspiring stories of perseverance and human will on-screen. The second film was… that movie over again but this time Rocky wins. The third film was the campy story of Rocky having everything, losing it all, then getting it all back. The fourth film is him winning the Cold War in the most campy way possible that’s still awesome. There is no fifth Rocky, but the sixth Rocky is almost as good as the first and has almost none of the campiness of its predecessors. Creed was close to the first film in terms of sincerity and inspiration.
So, if Creed was closer, spiritually, to the first movie, then it makes sense that this one would be closer to Rocky II, but the filmmakers decided to instead combine the next three films by having Adonis become champion, deal with the thought of losing it all (sadly, not to Mr. T), then confronting a person who killed someone close to him (albeit, by surrogate). However, while the film series became slowly campier, less realistic, and more prone to corny subplots or pointless characters, this film… mostly avoids that. I say mostly because one subplot in the movie is that Rocky keeps trying to get the city to replace a streetlight and it’s honestly weird that it comes up in 3 scenes without ever being resolved. Aside from that, the film is mostly serious, dealing with the emotional states of all of the characters.
Here are the real pros of the film:
Michael B. Jordan is a hell of an actor. Possibly the best that’s been in the series and given that Burgess Meredith was in the original, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. He can be funny, serious, threatening, sad, scared, or desperate and none of it ever feels contrived or out of character. Similarly, Sylvester Stallone actually gets to remind us that he is an actor of some pedigree when he plays the older Rocky, who is starting to view Creed as a surrogate son just as he faces potentially dying in the ring. Their interactions stay just as fresh as the last film.
Reintroducing Drago should have been a terrible idea, but instead of being the cartoonish villain he was in Rocky IV, we’re instead shown a man who lost everything because of one fight. Drago’s wife left him, he’s broke, he lives a terrible life in Ukraine, and his only comfort comes from dreaming of the day when his son will become a success. While they don’t actually make Ivan Drago particularly sympathetic throughout the film, they do a solid job of making his son Viktor, the focus of much of Adonis’ anger and insecurity, actually seem like he’s a victim of his circumstances rather than an outright villain. Unlike Rocky IV, we do actually see both sides going through an actual character arc, rather than just side-by-side training montages.
However, there are training montages and, while I’m sad that they don’t take place in the Ukraine mountains, they are excellent. Under Rocky, Adonis’ regiment is basically a form of torture masquerading as a workout. Through the magic of movies, though, this makes him stronger rather than causing massive internal organ failure. It’s awesome.
The final fight of the movie is extremely exciting. After all the build-up, the film milks every blow, often in slow-mo, for everything that it’s worth. People were literally applauding at the end of the rounds in the theater, and I could not blame them. I like watching boxing, but this was much cleaner and more fun for casual viewers.
Also, everyone on Earth should want Apollo Creed’s gravestone.
Now for the cons:
The music in this is, for the most part, not as good as its predecessor. Or the original Rocky or Rocky III. For the record, only 3 people have ever done the music for the Rocky series, with Bill Conti doing every Rocky movie except for Vince DiCola’s Rocky IV compositions. Ryan Coogler’s collaborator Ludwig Göransson did both Creed and this film, however, the music in this just isn’t as pleasant or original. Partially because they did more music in Tessa’s style which involves being deaf. I was also deeply upset that there wasn’t a cover of “Livin’ in America” played during Creed’s entrance to fight Drago. His dad got James Brown to do it live, he could at least have gotten an impersonator.
While the last fight is pretty spectacular, the other boxing matches in the film don’t have the smooth steady-cam from the last film and, frankly, they look a little half-assed compared to the end. I understand that they wanted the last fight to stand out, but I also don’t think they needed to lower them as much as they did in order to do it.
Rocky’s streetlight will remain a mystery unless it gets brought up in the next movie.
Overall, it’s a fun movie. It’s definitely one of the lower Rocky films, but, since there’s really only one bad Rocky film, that’s still saying something pretty good. If you liked the series thus far, you’ll like this.