Cinema Dispatch: 2021 Catch Up (Part 1)

Well it’s certainly been a while since I had to do one of these!  The ramp-up of the Omicron virus, the busy schedule of the Holiday season, and the fact that I lost power for almost a week right at the start of January meant that I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to before the year was up and I felt that my viewing history was a bit wanting.  Without at least trying to catch up on some of the big movies of the year, is it even worth putting together a top ten list or try to give some sort of critical evaluation of that year in movies?  Well… yes, I mean I always fall short of my movie-watching goal at the end of each year, but 2021 felt especially undermined by everything that happened, so we’ll be doing a few of these catch-ups to try and fill in some of those gaps!  Let’s get started!!

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Spencer and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon

Directed by Pablo Larrain

The Royal Family gathers together for Christmas, but Diana (Kristen Stewart) has been struggling in recent years to keep up a brave face in the presence of her extended family; especially since the rules and traditions of the Royal Family are not the easiest thing to adhere to, even for someone in the best of mental health.  Her husband Charles (Jack Farthing) is fed up with her change in behavior, and while her sons (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry) are much more sympathetic, even they have trouble reconciling this rift between their mother and the rest of the family.  Will Diana be able to continue on like this, or will this be the Christmas that changes everything?

Every once in a while I’ll see a movie that I should like a lot more than I actually do.  I can see how they approach interesting themes with a great deal of substance and depth, I can tell that the cinematography is very well done while also reinforcing the themes, and I can appreciate the acting as well as the dialogue in the script.  Yet even with all these elements working together, I’m left rather nonplussed; engaging with it on an intellectual level but just not feeling enough passion or excitement to walk away satisfied.  To elaborate on the film’s strengths, we have an excellent performance from Kristin Stewart who has to carry this movie on her shoulders, the overwhelming weight of the literal crown on her head is palpable in the way that she carries herself and how she reacts to situations around her.  The idea of feeling sorry for someone who is literally royalty is not exactly an easy feat, especially with wealth inequality and unrepresentative government indifference being such hot button issues these days, but it makes several smart choices with its narrative and style that it keeps those real-world implications from getting in the way of this one character’s story.  It’s uncomfortable and deeply saddening at points with the machinery of the Monarchy proving impenetrable (no one thing can be blamed for each and every stuffy decision and all the soulless pieces of it perfectly fit to reinforce each other), but it also finds catharsis in Diana’s struggle for freedom and peace and never gets so dark as to be an unbearable tour of misery.  Still, despite all these strong elements to the movie, I still felt detached from it all; so what about it is keeping me at bay?  Well, I think the answer is in what I just said, which is a feeling of detachment.  I don’t know the first thing about Princess Diana other than she died at some point while I was still in kindergarten, and the movie is in no particular hurry to provide answers to that question.  To the script’s credit, they do provide enough context and details for this particular character to work (meaning they could easily have swapped her out for a fictional character in a made-up kingdom) but the script turns out to be a doubled-edged sword as it does a lot more telling than it does showing.  We understand Diana’s ennui and how she is reacting to everything around her, but I still felt like I was observing her from afar instead of getting inside of her head.  This may also just be a flaw on my part, being rather unintuitive or perhaps a bit callous, but the lack of context also left me unclear as to what actual consequences there would be if she just stopped playing along, and the big dramatic ending of the movie kind of loses something when you realize that Diana isn’t actually risking or giving up anything to get to where she needs to go.  Sure, there’s the shame and disdain of her royal family that burrows deep into her psyche and are perhaps just as effective chains around her as the threat of genuine consequences would be, but it definitely feels like a critical piece of the puzzle is missing here.  On top of that, the movie is very sparse with long shots of mundane action and a very straightforward score.  None of it is bad per se, but there’s not a lot to perk your interest as far as spectacle; not in the sense of explosions or CG monsters, but I doubt it would have been too out of place for some dynamic camerawork or even some creative editing.  This means the movie relies almost entirely on its script and performances which, once again are very good, but to me, a movie about someone’s psychological issues should use all the tools at the filmmaker’s disposal and it never seems to want to go past a certain level of offbeat imagination.  I’m still gonna give this a recommendation if for no other reason than Stewart’s deeply heartbreaking performance, but it hews a bit too close to the cliché of the stuffy –drawing-room film than I would have expected from the studio that gave us I, Tonya.  Perhaps expecting that level of creative verve would have been inappropriate for a movie whose themes are about the stifling conformity of the aristocracy (especially one that’s ostensibly based on real people), but a few more flourishes here and there wouldn’t have hurt!

3 out of 5
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Cinema Dispatch: Free Guy

Free Guy and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Studios

Directed by Shawn Levy

When the Pandemic started over a year ago, this was one of the movies that got pushed back to try and court a big audience once things had settled down, and sadly it seems to have waited JUST long enough to catch the brunt of the Delta variant that has people gun-shy about going back to theaters once again. Still, even when the trailers for this were coming out in the pre-pandemic work, it was not something I was looking forward to as it looked like a cash grab from Ryan Reynolds; using his post-Deadpool clout to score a HUGE payday with something that KINDA resembles his usual shtick. Then again, Reynolds isn’t a guy who takes on roles lightly, especially SINCE Deadpool, and his other big cash grab movie Detective Pikachu turned out to be one of the best video game movies ever made! Can he make lightening strike twice with this send up of the AAA Game Industry, or is the video game curse one that even Ryan Reynolds can’t overcome more than once?

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is an NPC going about his day to day life in an online sandbox game known as Free City; basically if Grand Theft Auto 5’s online mode was smashed together with a not-so-self-aware version of the Saints Row series. Guy is no one of particular note in the game, he isn’t giving people quests or running in-app purchase storefront; instead he’s just a banker who’s daily routine involves getting stuck up by criminals multiple times a day as players complete the Bank Heist mission for XP. All of this is way over Guy’s head who along with his fellow NPCs doesn’t even know they are in a video game; they are just living their lives day to day and this is what it looks like! That is until Guy runs into a player named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) who seems familiar in some way and makes him start to think differently than before; so much so that he decides to take the glasses that these robbers are always wearing and discovers the user interface that’s hidden from all the NPCs. With this new world opening up to him, Guy goes after Molotov and even tries to make Free City a better place to live by stopping crime and being a Good Guy which gets him XP of his own and catches the attention of streamers out there; confused by this character (who they mistake as an actual player) trying to do GOOD things in the game. This attention however does not go unnoticed by the developers and the studio head Antwan (Taika Waititi) who is none too happy with someone trying to break their profitable game loop; especially right before the release of their sequel that will make Guy and his world obsolete. Will Guy’s quest for self-determination and heroism ultimately spell doom for himself and everything he holds dear? Who is this mysterious woman that he has fallen for, and what is her connection to the developers of the game itself? How can Ryan Reynolds be so dorky AND so cool at the same time!?

“Excelsior, Mo-Fos.”
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Cinema Dispatch: Knives Out

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Knives Out and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Rian Johnson

I gotta tell you, I was in LOVE with this movie from the very first trailer!  Seeing great actors like Michale Shannon, Toni Collette, and Daniel Craig, on screen with Captain America in a movie from the Last Jedi guy, AND it’s a juicy as heck murder mystery?  What more could one person ask for!?  Even with the best of trailers however, there’s always a possibility that what we saw was a cleaned up version of the best bits while the finished product is a compromised and messy waste of time; the Suicide Squad approach if you will.  Can Rian Johnson prove once again how great of a filmmaker he is despite how… “controversial” his last film was, or is this just more fuel to the fire for the more obnoxious anti-fans of The Last Jedi?  Let’s find out!!

The morning after the eighty-fifth birthday of famed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), he is found dead by his nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana De Anmas) with this throat slashed open by a knife, and because of his massive wealth and greedy family members it only makes sense to investigate things a bit further despite it looking like a suicide.  Not only that, famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) with his rich southern accent was brought in to investigate by a mysterious correspondent who sent him no identifying information but a wad of cash to find out if there was foul play or not.  His entire family was in attendance the night before and most of them stayed the night in the giant and ridiculously furnished mansion complete with a giant display of knives that looks like a rejected Game of Thrones prop, so there was plenty of opportunity for someone to get the drop on him and possibly make it look like a suicide.  The suspects include his children Linda and Walt (Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon), his children in-law Richard and Joni (Don Johnson and Toni Collette), and his grandchildren Hugh, Meg, and Jacob (Chirs Evans, Katherine Langford, and Jaeden Martell); all of whom are bizarre in their own way, but hardly seem to be the types to kill unless VERY highly motivated.  The key here is not finding the right method or the most capable suspect, but who had the most REASON to kill, and chance are it has to do with money as Harlan seems to have upset quite a few people at the party last night, though everyone is staying rather tight lipped about it.  Can Detective Blanc find the truth among all the lies, misdirection, and self-serving half-truths?  Which member of this eclectic family has the most to gain now that Harlan is gone, and who has the most to hide?  Is the big twist at the end that Detective Blanc was ACTUALLY Joe Bang in disguise this entire time!?

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“There was a time where I thought cracking bank vaults would solve all my problems.  Then I realized that my true passion was in cracking cases.  And also cracking bank vaults.  That’s just fun!”

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Cinema Dispatch: Avengers: Endgame

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Avengers: Endgame and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

My displeasure of Infinity War is well documented in both my review and the follow up piece I did, so I was frankly not looking forward to this one.  Still, the two films they’ve done since then, Ant-Man and The Wasp as well as Captain Marvel, were really great entries in the genre and confirmed that Marvel could still make a great film if they wanted to, and if nothing else it’ll be worth ripping off this Band-Aid once and for all and letting things get back on track before Thanos butting his ugly purple head in.  So hey, if I HAVE to be here I might as well try and find something to enjoy about it!  Is this the perfect conclusion to not just Infinity War but to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it currently exists, or does the first iteration of this franchise and these characters continue the utter disappointment from the LAST time we saw them?  Let’s find out!!

After the events of Infinity War which (SPOILER ALERT) ended with Thanos (Josh Brolin snapping his fingers and wiping out half of all living creatures in the universe, the remaining Avengers are stuck in a world on the brink of collapsing and with no real way to fix things. I  mean, they could go after Thanos and kick his head around a bit, especially now that Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is here to provide some cosmic backup, but would that even fix anything at this point?  The real question is whether or not those people can be brought back, Thanos or not, and after some time with no ideas they get a visit from one of the lesser known among them Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who might just have the answer they’re looking for what with his experiences in the Quantum Realm and all that entails.  The remaining Avengers which include Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), uh… whatever name Rhodes is going under now (Don Cheadle), as well as honorary members Rocket (Bradly Cooper and Sean Gunn) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and a barely held together Hawkeye (Jeremey Renner), now have a mission in place (and a rather odd one at that) to bring things back to the way they were before, but it’s incredibly risky and could actually make things worse if they DON’T succeed.  At even less than half their usual strength since everyone is still dealing with the trauma of what happened can The Avengers manage to pull off one more spectacular feat of heroism against the one foe they couldn’t overcome?  What dangers will they have to face along the way, and are all of them able to confront them with steadfast determination and the will necessary to succeed?  If this IS gonna be the last one of THIS specific kind of Marvel movie… maybe we could get a Star Wars crossover?  I mean it’s now or never, right?

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I’ll also settle for a movie where Captain America beats up those THE LAST JEDI IS SJW PROPAGANDA jerks.

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Cinema Dispatch: Infinite Patience – Has Marvel Gone Too Far!?

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Avengers: Infinity War and all the images you see in this editorial are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

So if you read my review of Avengers: Infinity War, you’d know that I had a few problems with it and that I couldn’t really discuss them in detail due to everything I found wrong with this movie containing MASSIVE SPOILERS!  Well now that it’s very likely everyone and their mom has already seen the movie (SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY MILLION IN ONE WEEKEND!?), I figured it’d be a good idea to get my thoughts written down about not just this movie but what it represents for the MCU as a whole and how they’ve run their business up to this point.  For the most part they’ve been enormously successful with even their minor missteps like Thor 2, Iron Man 2, and (the not so minor misstep) Iron Fist doing little to tarnish their sterling reputation.  There are places to improve in each film to be sure, and their overwhelming success has made it easy to take it all for granted, but when your last few films included Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor Ragnarok, and Black Panther, clearly they’re doing something right and should be celebrated for it.  With Infinity War however, something has changed and I am now worried about the future of the MCU; not financially as these will make money regardless, but that they might have gotten a bit too big for their own good and are taking the wrong kind of risks that could sour public opinion over time instead of the GOOD kind like hiring visionary directors such as Ryan Coogler to create memorable cinematic experiences instead of cheap popcorn fare.  So what exactly has changed?  Well let’s take an in depth look at where I felt this movie started going down the wrong path.

From here on out, we are in full on spoiler territory!

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Cinema Dispatch: Avengers: Infinity War

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Avengers: Infinity War and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

You know, for a while there I COMPLETELY forgot that this was supposed to be a two parter, and I don’t think I’m ENTIRELY at fault on that because PART ONE is never mentioned anywhere on the poster, on IMDb, not even on the Wikipedia page!  I don’t know, that just seems kind of curious considering they ARE for sure planning on doing another one of these (unlike what happened with Justice League PART 2), and yet they seem to want you to forget that little fact.  Either way, whether they put Part One, Part Three, or Part Sixty-Five on the poster, people will still come out to see it in droves because the brand is just THAT powerful at this point.  However, as was once said by a dude who presumably lived in this universe and died a horrible death, WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY, and with so many characters to juggle at once it is surely a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  Can Marvel pull it off once again like they’ve done pretty much every time they’ve stepped up to the plate, or is the build up to Thanos and the Infinity Stones a challenge even they aren’t truly prepared to face?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is, well basically everything we knew it was going to be leading up to it.  Thanos (Josh Brolin) is a purple alien who wants to destroy at least half of all life in the universe, and he’s finally making his big move to collect the Infinity Stones which is the only power source in existence strong enough to complete such a heinous act, and now The Avengers (as well as Avenger adjacent characters) are finally aware of what he’s up to and try to stop him from obtaining further gems.  Primarily, we’ve got three groups working together to try and stop him; The Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, and Pom Kiementieff) as well as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in space who are trying to stop him from getting that one Stone from Thor The Dark World, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are stuck on a spaceship heading to his home world after attempt by one of Thanos’s minions to steal the Time Stone from the Sorcerer Supreme, and basically everyone else back on Earth which includes Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle) The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trying to find a way to protect The Infinity Stone lodged in The Vision’s head (Paul Bettany) which involves a trip to Wakanda and everyone we remember from that movie a few months ago (Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright) minus Nakia who I’m guessing was off fighting crime elsewhere.  Oh, and as much as I KNOW it will break your heart… Hawkeye is not in this.  I’m sure Jeremy Renner will find a way to cope.  ANYWAY, that’s about it.  We’ve got three stories running parallel to each other with a giant purple jerk wad right in the center of it; tearing through anyone foolish enough to get in his way!  Can The Avengers (and its loose affiliates) manage to put up enough of a resistance to stop Thanos from causing mass genocide across the MCU?  What is he truly after, and will his backstory reveal any possible weaknesses that can be used to stop the evil tyrant once and for all?  Thanos may be strong, but can he defeat the one entity stronger than himself?  Disney’s reliance on BRAND NAME RECOGNITION!?

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“All your sequels have been canceled.  I made sure to it myself.”     “The HELL did he just say!?”

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Cinema Dispatch: Gifted

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Gifted and all the images you see in this review are owned by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Marc Webb

Has anyone else notice that Marc Webb now has four movies in a row with Superheroes in them?  Sure the Amazing Spider-Man movie are obvious, but 500 Days of Summer had Joseph Gordon-Levitt (AKA Robin) and now he’s directing Captain America in a movie about a girl genius!  Hell, if he can get back on track now that he isn’t weighed down by Sony’s super petty pet projects, maybe he’ll be the one to finally get Hugh Jackman that Oscar in some heartfelt indie drama or something!  Speaking of which, the indie vibe is certainly strong with this one which I don’t particularly begrudge the guy for considering he spent the last five years on terrible films.  If he needs a film to rediscover his roots and remind us all why he was such a promising up and coming director, I’m more than fine with it!  Does this manage to be the movie that resuscitate his fledgling directorial career, or will this prove once and for that he’s not that strong of a director even when he doesn’t have a giant studio breathing down his neck?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins on the first day of school for Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) who’s been home schooled by her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) up until now, but he’s determined for her to have a normal childhood which includes interacting with other children instead of just grownups like him and their helpful neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer).  Of course, Mary isn’t exactly a normal girl as she has SUPER impressive math skills which doesn’t go unnoticed by her teacher Miss Stevenson (Jenny Slate) or anyone else in the school which unfortunately leads to Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) finally tracking the two of them down.  So why is this bad thing?  Well since Mary isn’t technically Frank’s daughter (her mother is his sister and Evelyn’s daughter who died some time ago), she feels she can get a court to give her full custody of Mary and make sure that her brain is put to good use; mainly studying advanced calculus every day with college professors instead of going to grade school.  Fair enough I guess.  I mean, it’s not like she’s getting THAT much out of the first grade curriculum.  Then again, as we learn more about Evelyn and ESPECIALLY her relationship to Mary’s mother, things get a bit less clear cut and Frank is certainly not about to back down on trying to give Mary a normal life.  Will Frank get to keep Mary from a sheltered academic life, or is he simply holding her back from reaching her true potential.  What exactly happened that led to Frank having Mary in the first place?  Does anything from this movie look familiar to anyone else?

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Wait, are we sure this isn’t the Marvel Studios version of Logan?  So that would mean… she’s American Dream!! MC2 Universe confirmed!!

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Cinema Dispatch: Captain America: Civil War

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Captain America: Civil War and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

The Marvel money machine has deigned to appease the masses with the next chapter in their long running story about people in tights (or robo-tights) that STILL manages to be more character driven and exquisitely crafted than any number of big blockbusters that have tried to challenge Marvel to their title as king of the cinematic landscape (*cough* Batman v Superman *cough*).  Now we have another entry in the Captain America series which actually looks like an Avengers movie more than anything else.  Does Marvel once again show us what makes the Captain America movies so unique within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or has the whole enterprise gotten too massive to tell a simple story about one man throwing his mighty shield?  Let’s find out!!

The main thrust of the narrative in this movie is the Avengers having the whole “collateral damage” thing come back to bite them in the ass.  It’s been building up for a while, but when an operation in Nigeria goes south after the bad guy blows himself up and the blast is redirected by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) into a nearby building and killing eleven people in the process, it seems that the world powers have no choice but to step in.  Of course, the guy had stolen a biological weapon that could have killed THOUSANDS but no one wants to bring that up apparently.  Anyway, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) seems to be in a bad place right now and the guilt over his actions in the last ten or so movies are starting to eat away at him, so when the US government and the UN come to the Avengers with some international regulations, he jumps at the opportunity to get them all on board.  The biggest opponent to this new form of oversight though is Captain America (Chris Evans) who sees the writing on the wall and the possibility of those checking their power using that for nefarious ends.  Things only get worse when a UN meeting in Vienna about the new Avenger regulations (known as the Sokovia Accords) gets bombed as part of a terrorist attack and the only suspect is Bucky Barnes The Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan) who if you recall from the second Captain America movie escaped his captors and has been laying low ever since.  Not only is everyone and their grandma after this guy, but Captain America is the only one convinced that he could not have done it which makes it that much harder to keep the government, the other Avengers, and a new super hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) off of his back.  Can he clear Bucky’s name before the world leaders put a bullet in both their heads?  Who really DID bomb the UN meeting?  Will he be able to convince his fellow Avengers as well as Tony that the Sokovia Accords will lead to more harm than good?  Most importantly, how many cameos are they gonna squeeze into this!?

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“Did you guys kidnap me?”     “Yup.”     “That’s AWESOME!”

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