Zack Snyder’s Justice League

This movie is an overly long, self indulgent, slog, but it’s also a lot better than the originally released Justice League movie.

A little history for those who haven’t been following the Snyder cut saga… Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and he had a grand plan to complete his superhero trilogy with Justice League. As principal photography was wrapping up, Snyder ensured a family tragedy that took him away from the production. Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, took advantage of Snyder’s absence to hire a new writer director to complete the film. The result was a very bad Justice League movie that satisfied no one. Snyder began teasing his fans by saying he had a nearly complete version of the film that he would give them if only Warner Bros. let him. What resulted was a years long fan campaign to release the Snyder cut. Finally after all these years, $70 million dollars in additional filming and cgi work, we have the Snyder Cut now dubbed Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Clocking in at 4 hours and 2minutes and presented in the baffling 4:3 aspect ratio which means it’s a square image not a rectangle like all other movies today. Is this film worth checking out?

That’s a complicated question. If you are a die hard Snyder fan, you’ve already watched it twice. If you are a DC fan? You’ve probably already checked it out or will be checking it out regardless of what I say. If you’re a movie fan and curious about the filmmaking process the difference last between the original and this are so fascinating that I’d say you have to check it out. If you are a casual viewer looking for a movie to watch this weekend you can skip this. It’s not worth your four hours.

To break it down, the film follows the same plot as the original. There are three mother boxes, super powered cubes hidden on earth. The alien villain Steppenwolf comes to earth to unite the boxes and destroy earth as we know it. Batman brings together a team of super powered individuals to stop him.

I don’t like to compare one film to another, but the comparisons are the most interesting part of this movie. For instance the plot is given more time to breath and unfold naturally here than in the original. The character arcs and storylines actually make sense and work here. And tonally the film feels cohesive as opposed to the jumble we got the first time around. These are massive improvements.

The character of Cyborg has a really compelling personal journey here. He’s played by Ray Fisher. He was a star athlete who after a horrific accident is transformed into something less human and more machine. He provides a strong emotional heart as he grapples with his identity and place in the world.

Aquaman is given a more serious and internalized quality here than in the original. Wonder Woman is less hung up on her ex boyfriend but given little else to do. The Flash is still the goofy comic relief character although he does have a nice compelling moment toward the end that really works. Batman isn’t funny in this one unlike his depiction in the original. It’s a much better performance from Affleck too.

All in all the performances are strong. The look of the film is solid Snyder has a strong visual aesthetic. He also handles the action well. There are some genuinely exciting moments and cool action that surprised me.

That said this movie is so self indulgent! After every other scene I said to myself they could’ve cut that. There’s a three minute scene in which a trio of women readily sing a folk song over Aquaman’s sweater that he leaves behind after he swims away. Why was this included? What did it add? Next to nothing. There’s a 10 second reaction shot of Gal Gadot’s face as she stares at a wall. We could’ve cut after three seconds. There’s a slow motion sequence of Aquaman walking into a storm. It takes forever and feels like a perfume ad was accidentally cut into the movie. I excepted the sensual voice over to cut in telling us about Dolce and Gabbanas latest scent. It was so long and just felt like Synder was rubbing our noses in it. He had all the time in the world and decided to use it.

For me the biggest improvement in the film is with the villains. Steppenwolf has a stunning design. He looks really unique and cool here. He also a really interesting motivation. He is a servant of Darkseid an intergalactic warlord who conquers and enslaved worlds. Steppenwolf failed him and is trying his hardest to get back in his good graces. It’s a really compelling motivation for a villain.

The climactic confrontation feels streamlined and more exciting. I quite enjoyed the finale and really got into it. It feels like anything could happen and that the happy ending isn’t a foregone conclusion.

However, there’s another half an hour after that climax. The last half hour of the movie is absolutely insufferable. It’s just scene after scene of fam service and sequel setups that will never happen. It’s just Snyder indulging himself and wasting our time on badly written scenes that amount to nothing in this narrative and setup movies that don’t exist. Maybe I was just in a bad mood after spending 3 and a half hours watching a movie I had already seen, but that last half hour was agony.

The advertising for the film promised a brand new movie. I didn’t get a brand new movie. I got 75% of the same movie and 25% deleted scenes and shots being held longer. It’s tonally consistent and that 25% does add a lot of character, but it’s so much the same it doesn’t feel worth it to me.

A note about Snyder’s superheroes. They’re all vicious sociopaths. Wonder Woman murders a lot a dudes in this movie. Aquaman stabs a villain in the back. Superman pins a guy down and pummels him almost to death then lasers him in brutal fashion. These are brutal almost cruel versions of these characters. I know it’s a different interpretation of the characters, but do you really have to cut a guys head off after he’s been killed?

In the end, would I recommend this movie to anybody asking? I would definitely recommend it over the theatrically released version. It’s a much better movie. There are a lot of improvements made here. It’s undeniably a stronger film. But it does have a lot of problems. If you’re on the fence about checking this out I don’t think you’ll miss much if you watch something else. If you’re interested in the changes made it’ll be fascinating and frustrating.

This is such a hard one to rate. Is it my cup of tea? It’s somebody’s cup of tea that’s for sure. How do I give it a letter grade? A fit effort? F for wasting so much time? For me, some of it is my cup of tea, a lot of it isn’t. Half a cup of tea. Letter grade? Middle of the road… B

Moxie

At times ham-handed, at times wonderfully genuine, this coming if are story is a big old feminist anthem that is pretty good.

Directed by Amy Poehler, Moxie tells the story of high school junior Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson, who is struggling to find something she’s passionate about. After witnessing the blatant sexism on display in her school, she starts publishing a zine calling out the wrongdoers in.

The story is really a drama, but tonally it operates as a comedy. It deals with privilege, sexual violence, and unjust power structures, but it feels at all times like a goofy comedy. Ike Barinholtz hams it up as an inept teacher. Amy poehler wrings laughs as Vivian’s mom. And the dorky mascot is genuinely funny, but they feel out of place considering the subject matter.

When the movie becomes sincere I think it really shifts into gear. Vivian’s struggle with self doubt and her disappointment with failure is really affective and heart wrenching at times. She has a delightful romance with a doofy but sincere dude named Seth, played by Nico Hiraga. He likes skate boarding and that’s about it, but he’s supportive and earnest. And I love the tender moments between him and Vivian.

Some of the feminism and girl power moments feel forced. The movie shifts into sermon mode on a couple of occasions, and that really didn’t work for me. It’s not that I disagree with the sentiments expressed. I just wish they came about more organically and elegantly. The shift from naturalistic teen movie to political speech just feels false and pulled me out of the movie.

The cast deserves a lot of credit here. Lead by a great Hadley Robinson as Vivian these characters really come alive.

Patrick Schwarzenegger is chillingly effect as the Golden boy quarterback who is nasty and sinister toward anything he can’t have.

And my favorite was Lauren Thai as Claudia. She’s Vivian’s best friend since infancy and wants to support her feminist movement but fears the consequences. She has a lot of pressure from home to stay out of trouble. She gives a great performance, in an interesting part, offering a unique perspective.

The movie culminates in a really great moment that I loved. That was almost instantly cut down by an awkward and forced denouement. It felt like they didn’t want to add any additional scenes, so they just mashed all the subplots together to wrap things up neatly. I really disliked that ending. I felt genuine emotion follows by disappointment by the ham handed conclusion.

All that said, I enjoyed the movie. It’s a mixed bag, but you can do worse this weekend. Entertain by flawed. It’s half a cup of tea for me. B

Coming 2 America

This is pleasant sequel that tries to do way too many things, but still ends up being a pretty enjoyable comedy.

Thirty years after Prince Akeem of Zemunda journeyed to Queens in search of a bride, he’s back, and he has a lot on his plate. He finally takes the throne from his father played by Janes Earl Jones. He faces off a rival kingdom lead by Wesley Snipes. He discovers he has a long lost son in Queens. His daughter wants to rule the kingdom but can’t. He must train his son to be king. His son falls in love with the royal stylist. And his sons uncouth family gets a taste of the royal life. And Akeem must reckon the man he wanted to be with the man he’s become. Phew. I think I got them all, but there’s probably a few plot strands I missed.

There’s way too much happening in this movie. Because our attention is so divided no one plot line really stands out or makes an impact. This movie feels like eating a samples pack. There’s a lot of good stuff mixed in there, but once you taste something you enjoy it’s gone. You have to move on to the next sample which isn’t as good, but it’s over soon. You move on to the next thing. The overall impression is positive. I enjoyed enough of the samples that I had a good time. But I don’t feel satisfied. I definitely don’t feel full.

I like Eddie Murphy in this role. He plays Akeem and brings charm and humor. His daughter Meeka is played by KiKi Layne, and she’s a really strong presence. Arsenic Hall is back playing multiple roles and he’s having a great time. It’s a lot of nostalgic fun seeing the entire original cast together again. And the new cast members especially Wesley Snipes and Jermaine Fowler turn in really fun performances.

The movie wasn’t laugh out loud funny for me. It’s more of a soft chuckle kind of affair. I smiled a lot. I blame the editing for this. The movie is cut within an inch of its life. The editing just zaps the comedic timing out of a lot of these scenes. I don’t know why the editor didn’t trust the actors to make the jokes land.

Overall the movie is really fluffy. It’s bright and breezy and goes down easy. It’s not good storytelling. It’s too crowded and distracted. There are way worse movies out there you could watch. I’d recommend checking out the original. It’s a superior film. However if you’re looking for something pleasant to fill out an empty afternoon this movie will fit that bill.

Its currently streaming on Amazon prime. Its half a cup of tea for me. B

Chaos Walking

Charming leads and an intriguing premise can’t save this movie from being a rushed somewhat generic young adult adventure.

Todd Hewitt, played by current Spider-man Tom Holland, is a young man who lives in a world where people’s thoughts appear floating above their heads in cgi clouds. They call it the noise. Todd is described as a young runt by the men in the village. All the women have disappeared until one day, Viola, played by Daisy Ridley, crash lands nearby in a space ship.

I love the premise. All your thoughts are on display at all times. Nowhere to hide.

Teen boy finds a girl. Maybe the only girl on the planet.

Mysterious and dark forces at work in the village drive these two out on a wild adventure.

Sign me up. The problem is the execution. The movie is based on a trilogy of young adult books and this movie ends up feeling like one of the many Hunger Games cash grabs that littered movie theaters a few years ago. I can picture the studio notes now, “make it more like Hunger Games!”

The movie is less about what it would be like to have your thoughts on display and more about what cool sci fi action stuff can you do with the noise. This person thinks about a snake, and a snake jumps out and attacks! Cool. I’d rather see what that constant exposure and lack of privacy would do to a person.

There’s a lot of running around in the woods while our heroes are chased by adults who just can’t stand that these young ones are different. Where have we seen that before?

Just like all the other young adult adventures of recent years, it has a great cast. Mads Mikkelsen is always a fantastic villain. David Oyelowo brings a bonkers intensity. Demian Belchir is great as Todd’s adoptive father. But Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are the standouts. Tom Holland is a really terrific actor. He is open and expressive and does a great struggling to hide his true feelings. Daisy Ridley brings a nice stoicism to her role that offsets the Holland’s wide open performance. These two ring real emotion out of the few quiet moments they’re given.

The real problem I had was with the story telling. The movie needed to take its time creating this world. It took until about the halfway point before I realized the movie doesn’t take place on earth. It wasn’t supposed to be a surprise or a twist. They just never made it clear. Where does the noise come from? Who are these people? How does this world work? The movie brushes past all these questions to get to the adventure. I don’t think you can have gripping action if you don’t even know what planet you’re on.

All in all the movie isn’t terrible. It’s very watchable, and it’ll play nicely on TV some lazy Sunday. It’s not a good movie, and it’s not worth spending the money to rent it right away. Which is too bad because I really wanted to like this movie.

Not my cup of tea. B-

Tom and Jerry

After the heavy and emotional Pieces of a Woman, I decided it was time for some lighter fair. It just so happened that Warner Bros. released Tom and Jerry yesterday on HBO Max. I figured there couldn’t be a more to ally opposite movie out there, so I gave it a shot. Honestly it’s a bit of a mixed bag for me.

I grew up loving Tom and Jerry. They were some of my favorites on Saturday mornings, and this movie is firmly aimed at kids. The pitch and pace of this movie is one hundred percent for the under 10 set. The characters are pretty one note. The acting is heightened to a cartoonish level. The storyline is incredibly simplistic and the emotions are all at 11. No nuance or subtext here.

I wish I could say that the movie follows Tom the Cat and Jerry mouse as they engage in their constant battles. Unfortunately the movie decides to sideline them in favor of a slew generic hotel employees preparing for a celebrity wedding. The movie should be called The Royal Gate Hotel (featuring an appearance by Tom and Jerry)

Tom and Jerry exist kind of on the periphery of the hotel drama taking place. Occasionally the movie launches into a classic Tom and Jerry style sequence of madcap slapstick. These moments are pretty fun. I didn’t laugh out loud, but they made me smile. And I felt that warm nostalgia for my childhood that can be so intoxicating.

What really caught me was the animation. This movie is a combination of live action and animation. All the animals in the movie are animated in a way that mimics the classic 2D hand drawn style of the original cartoons. The interaction between the animated and the real is a lot of fun to see. They take an almost Roger Rabbit approach to the way the animated characters interact with real objects and real people. It’s technically brilliant and quite fun to see.

All of these criticisms are kind of moot in the face of the big question: will kids like it? I kept asking myself “would I have liked this as a kid?” I tried to get into the mindset of 8 year old me. As I looked at the movie through his eyes, I enjoyed the Tom and Jerry bits, and was disinterested in the human bits. I think that’s the same reaction a lot of kids will have to this movie.

I think Tom and Jerry works so well is because it’s such a heightened elemental conflict. Tom wants to eat Jerry. Jerry wants to live. Tom wants to kick Jerry out. Jerry wants to stay. That is just so much more compelling than a hotel event planner trying to preparing a wedding for a celebrity who is in disagreement with her fiancé about the scope of their wedding. I’d rather watch a cat try to smash a mouse than a generic 20 something try to plan the wedding of two spoiled billionaires. And 8 year old me agrees.

All in all it’s not great. If you have little kids they might get enjoy some of it. If you love Tom and Jerry, you might get a nostalgic twinge during it. If you’ve just watched an emotionally devastating independent film it might the perfect way to recalibrate your broken heart.

It’s not really my cup of tea. C

Class Action Park

Streaming on HBO Max, this documentary tells the story of a world without rules a world that is wild and fun and resulted in the deaths of five people. The movie is full of unbelievable stories. Memorable anecdotes and an interesting perspective on growing up.

Action Park was an amusement park located in New Jersey. It was opened by Eugene Mulvihill in 1978 back when water parks were new and it was basically the Wild West. “Uncle Gene” as he was called by friends and employees didn’t believe in rules or regulations. He wanted to recreate his country upbringing and give to the kids of the area. This meant a lazy river designed to mimic the most intense rapids of the Colorado River, a twenty foot cliff that kids could jump off of into a stream fed pool, and something called the kayak experience in which underwater fans churned up the water to give the feel of intense waves.

The film incorporates former employees and former guests of the park to share their experiences. Their anecdotes would be unbelievable if they weren’t all corroborated by each other.

One if the most incredible attractions was called the Cannonball Loop. It was a water slide that began in a steep decline then shot up into a 360 degree vertical loop that then deposited the rider into a pool. This slide was designed by Uncle Gene on the back of a napkin. He hired local welders to put it together. They dummies down to test it. They came out the other side mangled. They made adjustments and Uncle Gene offered $100 to anybody brave enough to go down the slide. The first brave sounds came out with bloodied mouths from hitting their faces in the loop. They made some changes and Uncle Gene paid some more kids to try it out. These kids came out the other side with scratches. They couldn’t figure out why until they opened the slide and found the teeth from the first kids embedded in the padding of the slide.

The actual cannonball loop.

That’s just the first of many insane stories that this film has to offer. It gets crazier from there if you can believe that. The big question is with insane safety risks like this how did this park stay open? It turns out Uncle Gene had connections and a ruthless streak that the film explores. Spoiler alert but money talks. Health and safety are secondary to a healthy profit.

The film takes its time exploring these ridiculous rides and the wild anecdotes of irresponsible people behaving badly. It also explains how all this was allowed to happen, but it then shows the cost of this place. Five people died at this park. Lack safety regulations and no enforcement of rules by employees lead to the deaths of five people, and the film gives a deep exploration of one family’s experience with losing a child at the park. It’s a heartbreaking and harrowing story.

The movie ultimately explores how growing up has changed over the years. Today kids have rigid schedules full of sports teams and musii oh c lessons. Kids back then were told to go out and play. They had more freedom back then, but was that a good thing? After all they spent their free time at places like Action Park where nothing was safe and you were almost guaranteed to get seriously hurt or killed. It would be easy to glorify that past like most of our nostalgic media does, but this film takes a harder look at how this generation grew up.

I really loved this movie. I laughed. I cried. I thought about things in a new way. It’s a crazy story that elicited a similar reaction to Tiger King where every new detail made me say “are you kidding?”out loud. I highly recommend this wild ride.

Definitely my cup of tea. A

Avengers Endgame

Oh boy, this is a movie and a half. This is the culmination of more than a decade of superhero movies, and it satisfies in almost every way.

For the uninitiated, this film will be difficult. It does a nice job reestablishing characters and relationships, but it isn’t for the newbies. It deals with a lot of very specific details from previous films. A lot of the best moments are payoffs from four or five films ago, and the character arcs are a decade old now. It’s still going to carry a lot of entertainment value, but it will be more of a challenge if this is your first go around with the Marvel universe.

However, if you have seen these films, it does not disappoint. It will be an emotional rollercoaster. The film aims for the heart and nails it. The action delivers both entertaining visuals as well as heavy fan service and moments of pure glee. The film is a high flying adventure. Characters are bounced all over different layers of time and space. They go on an epic quest in the grand old fashioned sense and face all manner of obstacles both computer generated and wonderfully human.

Most of the film plays like a comedy and a very funny comedy at that. There are dozens of talented performers on display, but it never feels like a competition. Everyone is given their own space to play. It helps that every performer here is firing on a different comedic level. There is Robert Downey Jr. for the dry sarcasm. Paul Rudd brings your innocent goofball. Chris Hemsworth brings a surprising blend of broad humor and human tragedy. There are so many more layers at work that the film never sags or feels like it’s dragging on.

It was once said that dialogue in action movies is tolerated to get us through to the next action scene. In the Marvel movies the action is tolerated to get to the dialogue because in the dialogue is where the characters shine, and these movies succeed because of the characters. Special effects and action haven’t propped up this decade of Marvel movies. It is the great character work and the great actors inhabiting those characters that make these movies worth seeing. Endgame understands that better than most of its predecessors. It dedicates so much of its runtime to the characters, their development, their interactions, their loss, and their hope. It takes the time to make them human amidst the chaos.

Recently, my dad told me the last words he said to his mother before she passed. In this movie a character dies. The last words spoken to that character are almost identical to my dads words. The film is bombastic and huge. It has a scene in which a space god fights a purple super alien with a magic axe. However, the film never forgets those real genuine human moments that hit hardest. It never forgets that under all the cgi and fantasy these are human stories about people. In the final moments of the film the theater was filled with the sounds of sniffling and stifled sobs. This movie goes for the heart and reminds why we have been watching these movies for the last ten years.

The movie is very effective and affecting. It is well done and very entertaining. As a fan of these movies, it is my cup of tea. As a movie fan, it is my cup of tea. – A-

Alita: Battle Angel

What a bad movie.

Alita: Battle Angel follows the story of a doctor who treats cyborgs in a far off distant future. Scraps fall from a city in the sky. The last city left after the Fall. In the scrap pile he finds the parts of a cyborg girl. He takes the parts and gives her a new body and a new name, Alita. She awakens and tries to determine who she is and where she belongs through killing and destroying tons of villainous cyborgs.

The dialogue is almost entirely exposition. The exposition is almost entirely people explaining things to Alita. Whether it’s the doctor explaining the Fall to Alita, or explaining cyborg body parts or technobabble about nanoparticles, or her boyfriend explaining the rules of rollerball and how things work “down here”, or the villains explaining how badass and evil they are, the movie never stops explaining stuff to everybody else. It is tedious and tiresome.

It’s especially tedious when they drone on and on about a backstory that sounds way more interesting than the story currently being told. Who cares about Alita? There was apparently a class war between the wealthy elite and the proletariat and the Mars army tried to bring down a tyrant. It’s heady and complicated, but it’s more compelling than watching a bunch of actors faces CGI’d onto some goofy looking robot bodies.

The CGI in this film is alternately photo realistic. The detail they have put into the minutest elements of these cyborgs is a marvel to behold… in most shots. In a lot of the shots the cyborgs look too slippery and shiny to be taken seriously. Comparing the opening shots of Alita to the cyborgs in the rollerball game is like watching the best and worst of what CGI can accomplish.

The real failing of the film however is the characters. Alita could be a compelling character. A woman trying to figure out who and what she is. The problem is the film never explores what she was. She seems to have been a warrior before, and she’s a warrior now. She seems to have been a good guy before. She’s a good guy now. Her boyfriend is like watching cardboard. He’s a flat character. He seems like a nice guy, but he has a dark secret, but it’s not a big deal. He’s bland and generically handsome and generically cool. The doctor is basically whatever the story needs him to be. He is secretive, then just tells her everything. He is guarded then not. He is peaceful, and then he’s a killer. He is the most important relationship in Alita’s life, then he disappears for 45 minutes of the excessive run time.

This is a movie full of action set pieces. Each set piece is trying to be the next biggest most iconic moment in action set pieces, but they just fold in on themselves and become a bland potpourri. It’s big, loud, and long. It is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Not my cup of tea. Grade – C