Khal Drogo Goes to the Beach

Khal Drogo Goes to the Beach

The problem with Aquaman is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Half-hearted environmental PSA on the hazards of polluting our oceans? Showcase for all the kaiju that could be unleashed if given a higher budget? Tomb Raideresque adventure quest for a mysterious gold trident? Ridiculous over-the-top fantasy epic, à la Lord of the Rings? The answer shouldn’t be all of the above, but that’s what we’re getting, and we’re getting a LOT of it. At a runtime of over two and a half hours, Aquaman gets pretty hard to sit through, Jason Momoa’s rippling physique bedamned.

You’d think I, as the obvious target audience, would love all the swaggering braggadocio of Jason Momoa letting loose, but I didn’t. Aquaman sucked.  One of the reason’s Momoa’s turn as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones was so effective, was that there was so little of him. He was spread out through seven episodes; here, it’s two and a half hours of nothing but machismo. That’s all very well, and I have to hand him points for being enthusiastic, but the dude seems to have embraced his Khal Drogo character a little too tightly, and is unable to let it go. It just gets… painful, after a while.

Surprisingly, no one in this movie can act, and there are quite a handful of established actors in this piece who come with cult and  Oscar cred. Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson – often found in more highbrow, award-worthy work – as  Queen Atlanna, Vulko and Prince Orm, seem almost embarrassed to be in a superhero epic, and act accordingly. I expected more out of Patrick Wilson, who at least got to showcase a lot more of his skills as The Owl in Watchmen, but nothing can help his performance in this particular movie. The CGI is far too distracting, and perhaps the effort of trying to keep their faces straight began to tell.

Being an Oscar-winner is not a hindrance to doing a good job in a movie with a silly premise, as Robert Downey Jr. has demonstrated so often. It requires a sort of insouciance, and self-awareness, and without it the performance becomes tedious and flat, as Kidman, et. al., demonstrate. You have to really embrace being part of a superhero flick. There is no slumming it. Everyone knows the actors are in it to make money, but they need to project a sense of fun, which none of them end up doing.

Except Jason Momoa. That one is on the opposite end of the spectrum, having waaaay too much fun, like the drunkest guy at the party, capering about while everyone else awkwardly looks on. It might even have been fun if he wasn’t so aware of why he was cast to be Aquaman instead of some blonde, milquetoast boy scout. Do you know how many times he looks flirtatiously over his shoulder at the audience?

Thrice.

Do you know how  many times he goes shirtless in Aquaman?

Too many, and I can’t believe I’m complaining.

The truth is, relying on that body can only take one so far.  It just isn’t enough to distract from the reality of things: although the movie is beautiful and the underwater scenes are a marvel (my favourite visual is of Aquaman and Mera diving into the trench with a red flare, pursued by a thousand sea monsters), it’s  still a disjointed, bloated mess with cringey dialogue, needless backstory and unnecessary exposition.

I’ve had it with these DC movies. They’ve had so many chances to get it right, and they still keep sucking ass. I have decided this will be the last time I voluntarily pay for a DCEU offering. Unless it’s by Christopher Nolan, I’m out.

 

Gratuitous and Meaningless

Gratuitous and Meaningless

I watched Outlaw King for Chris Pine’s peen.

There, I said it.

I’m sorry, but if a big part of the buzz surrounding your movie is that its lead actor drops trou and goes full frontal, that’s going to be the main reason people will flock to see it, especially the ones who otherwise wouldn’t care about a band of scrappy outlaws fighting to regain control of their own country. Like me. To be fair, I’m not the biggest fan of war movies. There’s only so much men, muck and dying that an easily bored consumer like me, up to my ears in possible content to watch, can stomach.

So yes, I spent most of the two hours and one minute runtime waiting for my reward. I don’t know what it is about movie star peen, but an episode of Bojack Horseman does come to mind. In its latest season, Bojack plays a noirish PI a la True Detective McConaughey, who, through a series of machinations gone awry, somehow ends up doing a scene where he is required to be stark naked as he changes a light bulb. It’s supposed to represent an honest look at the character, flaws and all but instead is obviously gratuitous and meaningless. Which is where Chris Pine’s peen comes in. Thank you for your bravery, Chris Pine, but it is gratuitous and meaningless. Not that I don’t appreciate it, or the guts it took to let it all hang out.

And yet. And yet. When the benchmark for a medieval Scottish highland fling such as this is Braveheart, the seminal Mel Gibson-helmed movie that masterfully combines romance, catchphrases, fantasy, shady backroom deals and noble men with stout hearts riding forth for glory and honour, expectations are going to be high. It’s got to be more than a Chris Pine peen (Chris Peen?) movie. It’s got to encapsulate the wonder, the magic, the determination of early Scotsmen and one man’s drive to unite the warring clans of Scotland.

What we get are bad haircuts, duels staged for unknown reasons – just as gratuitous and meaningless as random peen – and (for me, anyway) a distracting cast. As a hardcore Thronie, the sight of Stannis Baratheon, Jeor Mormont and Brynden Blackfish Tully in medieval Scottish drag is jarring. I know, I know, actors are more than the parts they play, but HBO succeeded in pushing these actors to inhabit their parts so well, it’s difficult for me to separate them from the characters they have played in Game of Thrones. Pine, Taylor-Johnson and Pugh do give powerhouse performances and it’s hard to look away when they are on screen.

While Netflix’s Outlaw King has manliness and nobles riding out for glory, it is sadly short on the romance and the backroom deals aren’t so much shady as they are desperate. It’s unfair to expect real life events to always be glamorous and fantastical, but too many things go unexplained. Why are there so many pointless duels? Why do all the old kings dying take place so suddenly and with barely any lead up? Why aren’t the Scots sufficiently shocked when their future king kills his rival in a church? Why does the hair on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s beard not match his hair? Why are all the wigs so bad? What does it mean to raise the dragon and why does that sound like a euphemism for getting a boner?

Netflix gets a few things right – the quartered body of William Wallace nailed to a post in the town square, for one. It’s such an effective prop, it makes you believe the sight of it is enough to raise the ire of the Scots and incite riots. I had heard of the phrase “hanged, drawn and quartered,” but I’ve never really seen a fourth of someone’s body on display and I thought I had plumbed the depths of gore with The Walking Dead. There is also a scene that involves the swift punishment of Robert the Bruce’s younger brother c/o a sadistic Prince of Wales, which turns the stomach. Unlike Braveheart, which focused on Mel Gibson’s facial expressions and let the viewer’s imagination do the heavy lifting, this particular scene, scored by the wails of frightened women and children, is a searing punch to the gut. Lastly, the Battle of Bannockburn is claustrophobic, messy, chaotic and amazingly shot, giving the Battle of the Bastards a run for its cinematic money.

Still the story of Robert the Bruce and his fight to regain Scotland is too complicated by far for a two-hour movie. While the cast is able and the premise honourable, ultimately it falls far short of the standards set for movie epics. Too many questionable decisions and not enough concrete answers, and events that obviously took years and could’ve lent a lot more gravitas to the piece are skimmed over or compressed into minute sound bites. The performances are good, and the backdrop of Scotland is beautiful, but a movie is not based solely on crazed performances and an exotic locale, no matter how convincing the madness of the Black Douglas is. Neither can it be carried on the strength of one man’s peen, unless the peen belongs to Ron Jeremy, but that is another story.

Sleeping With Swamp Thing

Sleeping With Swamp Thing

I was looking forward to The Shape of Water, something Le Hubs and I have been planning to go see, but through a combination of factors – chief of them being apathy because it’s winter – didn’t really get to see until yesterday.

The Shape of Water, which, by del Toro’s confession, came from his obsession with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, is the story of what would happen if the girl ends up with the creature. It doesn’t help that the creature – referred to as “The Asset” – looks so much like Abe Sapien from Hellboy, it’s hard to silence the voice in my head screaming “origin story!” (For the record, I wasn’t the only one doing this.)

Set in the Cold War era, Elisa (Sally Hawkins, here a soundless tour-de-force) is a cleaner who works for a top-secret government institution whose main goal is to outstrip the Russians in the race for space dominance. She’s mute, lives above a movie theatre and has friends who are full of spunk: a gay BFF (Richard Jenkins) and a sassy black woman (Octavia Spencer, earning every inch of that Oscar cred) at work. Her life is a routine, and she seems content. Well, content enough. Whatever frustrations she may have are exorcised in her bathtub  before her morning even begins.

A story isn’t a story unless something happens, so of course something happens to Elisa, in the form of a mysterious tank brought in one day by Strickland (Michael Shannon, channeling that intense menace as always) who turns out to be the worst sort of alpha male. Twisted, racist and brutal, Strickland is dismissive of and yet inexplicably turned on by, imperfection.

The tank holds The Asset, an amphibious humanoid (Abe Sapien!) caught in the wilds of the Amazon and dragged to America for dissection because scientists need answers for allowing astronauts to breathe in space. Elisa meets The Asset (Abe Sapien!) and feels sorry for him. She decides to keep him company during her lunch break, and their unlikely bond is formed by  hard boiled eggs and classic oldies. Despite The Asset (Abe Sapien!) having a bulge as unobtrusive as a Ken doll, there are clearly sparks which lead to the inevitable.

Other things happen of course, as they must, because stories have to have beginnings, middles, and ends. There’s a beautifully evocative scene involving some towels and taps that are allowed to run. Stripped of everything, The Shape of Water celebrates love in its purest form, where looks don’t matter, shortcomings are overlooked and physical barriers are swept aside, the way humans have improbable sex with dinosaurs in those crazy erotic fiction novels that actually exist.  But having effectively silenced “Abe Sapien Origins!” the voice had popped up again, squeaking things like “monster porn!” and “slimy, slithery, splendid!”, the possible mechanics of this particular scenario so distracting, it messed with my ability to appreciate the movie  for how visually striking and remarkably tender it really is.

Maybe this was because I didn’t go in expecting a love story. That’s on me, for ignoring every obvious marker and breathless movie blurb. To be fair, I never expect a romance when it comes to Guillermo del Toro. Not even when it’s marketed as one. (Exhibit A: Crimson Peak.) To watch a Guillermo del Toro film is to surrender to the clutches of the visionary equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe, even when he goes full-on Technicolor with something like Pacific Rim. It’s the dance of the dark, and the sinister, everything imbued with the sweet scent of rot that seeps through his work. If there’s any sort of romance to be had from del Toro, it’s the deep and abiding love he has for the macabre.

 

Artwork by James Jean, by way of the official website of The Oscars

Justice delayed is still justice. Or something.

Justice delayed is still justice. Or something.

It’s official. It took the third movie for me to finally admit it, but Wonder Woman is single-handedly saving the DCU from its moody, emo self.

She’d already made the last third of BvS watchable, even if the rest of the movie was complete shit, similar Martha’s and all. The standalone Wonder Woman movie shone, if only because next to all those duds it was nice to see a DCU movie done right for once… done right, except for the fight scenes, which I wasn’t quite satisfied by, but it’s a minor complaint in a movie that was okay.

Full disclosure: I was fully prepared to dislike Justice League. I had seen Suicide Squad, and that ensemble movie was a complete dumpster fire. The aesthetic of the DCU has never charmed me, and I don’t think it’s meant to be charming at all. Not that every superhero world has to be charming, but if you’ve sat through Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, you’re going to come out of the theatre wondering if they hate their viewers. The world is too grim, its colour palette too dark, its heroes too tortured and there seems to be absolutely no hope of redemption from the cartoon characters who play their villains.

It doesn’t help that DC’s villains have been played in various reiterations by actors capable of truly mining the depths of their character – Heath Ledger’s Joker and Kevin Spacey’s Luthor come to mind. (I realize this is a bad time to celebrate Kevin Spacey, but the man can act. Let’s give him that.) After bravura performances like that, what are their successors supposed to do to avoid being carbon copies? We get Jared Leto as the Joker by way of Hot Topic. We get a motor-mouthed Jesse Eisenberg as a wholly irritating Lex Luthor. They even gave up on having an actual actor and handed us Steppenwolf (still can’t get over that name, my mind goes to Scandinavian metal bands whenever it’s mentioned.) Steppenwolf, for all the vocal stylings of Ciaran Hinds, is the crappiest CGI rendered character since Continue reading “Justice delayed is still justice. Or something.”

Thor:Ragnarok is totally, madly, wonderfully skux

Thor:Ragnarok is totally, madly, wonderfully skux

There are directors with a signature so unique, there is no mistaking their work for anyone else’s. Martin Scorsese and gravitas. Steven Spielberg and childlike wonder. Christopher Nolan and mindtrips, Wes Anderson and whimsy. Quentin Tarantino and dialogue, Tim Burton and oddities, Joss Whedon and wit… Taika Waititi and sheer unbridled irreverence?

It’s official. Taika Waititi takes nothing seriously, not even Asgard. And it works.

Continue reading “Thor:Ragnarok is totally, madly, wonderfully skux”