Disney Plus/Marvel Series Roundup: Part 1

Hello there, and I wish you all the happiest of holidays. So earlier this autumn I finally got on board with the Disney+ streaming service. On a quick note, I’m a big fan, as it has plenty of interesting film and tv, and I find it to be easy to navigate. Anyhow, as was expected/announced, D+ would be home to a bunch of new original content based on the company’s various IPs. Among these would of course be a bunch of shows connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, since there were so many released, with many more to come, I didn’t feel like making individual posts for each one. So instead, I’ll be doing a bundle post similar to what I did for “The Fable” and “Along with the Gods“, making one of these when I’ve gotten through say four of these. Oh, and I guess spoilers. Not for the shows themselves, but rather for what’s come before in the MCU, as their connectivity drives a lot of the setups for these shows. So yeah, Marvel movie spoilers abound. But if you’re caught up or simply don’t give a hoot, then let’s get into these shows!

WandaVision

Following the events of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”, superpowered beings Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have settled into a nice, quiet existence in suburban America, living happily married in a… sitcom styled life? But this happy life starts getting disrupted when strange things start happening around them. “WandaVision” was the first show to be released in this new slate of Marvel TV content, and I would say it kicks things off with an absolute bang. While the first episode being more “I Love Lucy” rather than “Avengers” might be a bit of an odd situation at first, I found it to be quite refreshing, both parodying and embracing sitcom tropes of various eras while mixing in superpowers in cute and funny ways. But as mentioned, they start weaving in mystery sci-fi elements, which adds a little bit of an “X-Files” vibe to it. And the show balances the goofs with the intrigue wonderfully, creating an atmosphere all its own within the MCU, making for some highly engaging TV. Add on some pitch perfect performances from Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, and various other supporting actors, and it kept me engrossed from start to end… for the most part.
While I do love the initial episodes and what they do, the back end, while not terrible, does lose some steam for me when they start going more for the typical VFX heavy superhero finale type stuff. It’s still pretty fun, but it just doesn’t feel a strong or creative as what came before. On a more positive note, it does add some fun mythology to the overarching Marvel story, and the action itself is pretty fun, and there is even a bit of drama in those parts that hit me pretty hard.
So yeah, excellent first half, really good second. It’s a damn good way to kick off this new slate of Marvel content. 9/10.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Following on from the events of “Endgame”, the world is without a Captain America, and both Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) are trying to find ways of moving on with their lives. But as they try to deal with their own personal issues and past demons, the odd couple are forced to team up when a group of seemingly enhanced beings start wreaking havoc in the world. This show builds on a lot from what the Russo bros did with both their “Captain America” sequels, trying to imbue the usual superhero adventuring with somewhat of a political thriller edge. Like Tom Clancy stories but with more quips and people getting flung around. And while I don’t think the show is quite on par with the “Cap” movies, I still enjoyed where the story went. A globetrotting adventure trying to deal with the morality of vigilantism and if it’s possible to move on from what you’ve done, a story of legacy, of potential redemption and evolution. And while I don’t think it’s perfect, and I do have to question if this shouldn’t have been a movie instead, I had a lot of fun with it. I liked that they tried to discuss some heavier themes while also giving us our superhero action, I like the way it gave these returning characters something to chew on in order to perhaps move on with their lives, I like how it attempts to confront us and the whole superhero thing as a whole. It makes for a fun action-thriller story and it makes for some really compelling character work.
The acting’s also quite good, with the chemistry between Mackie and Stan being quite an engaging thing to watch at all times as we see how they bounce off of each other as their characters’ relationship evolves. Newcomers to this universe like Wyatt Russell and Erin Kellyman make for fun additions, and the familiar guest stars round out the cast nicely as well.
I very much also like the action scenes in this. While the pew pew laser stuff of other Marvel flicks can be fun, I highly enjoy the relatively stripped back approach. Yes, it’s still big, superpowered showdowns, chases, and whatnot, but there are no shiny beams or plasma or magic for once. It’s a little refreshing.
So it stumbles a little bit in storytelling, and maybe it’s a little longer than it needed to be (coulda been a movie), but otherwise it’s a fun show. 8/10.

Loki season 1

After a little mishap involving the Avengers time traveling, a dropped magical space cube, and no one looking at him, an alternate timeline version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) finds himself escaping capture… only to get captured by someone else, this time by the TVA, a mysterious organization maintaining order in the the various timelines of the multiverse. So we follow Loki as he is brought by the TVA to help them stop a mysterious ne’er-do-well, or face eradication. A bit like “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” before it, I am not 100% certain this fit in this TV format, it almost feels a little dragged out at times. Otherwise, I had a blast with it. I loved seeing Loki hopping through time, I loved seeing how the TVA operates, I loved seeing Multiversal shenanigans, and I loved Tom Hiddleston getting to have a bit of fun. Not that he hadn’t had the chance before, the man has always been great as Loki, but since he’s THE main player in this series, he gets to stretch out a bit more and do way more silly antics than before, and it’s so clear that he revels in every second. But we also get to see more sides to him, he’s explored in really enjoyable ways. And as a fan of wacky sci-fi concepts, I was pleased to see so many different ones here, all used in ways that were either intriguing, exciting, or outright funny. Action’s also pretty good, solid mix of martial arts, VFX, and general creativity.
This also sports one of, if not the best supporting cast of all these shows so far, from people like Owen Wilson, Gugu M’batha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Eugene Cordero, Sophia Di Martino, Tara Strong, and various other very talented people. Everyone gets room to play, and everyone contributes something fun and compelling to proceedings.
And now for the best part of the show: The music. It was composed by Natalie Holt, and it is absolutely incredible. A strange, operatic mix of influences, from the usual superhero stuff, to classic fantasy, to really old sci-fi/horror, there’s a lot of ground covered. Brass, strings, piano, theremins(!), fucking MOOG synths, Holt plays around a lot with her music, and it makes for probably my favorite Marvel score. it’s so god damn good. Even if you don’t watch the show, do me/yourself a favor and check out the music at least.
A little long maybe, but otherwise season 1 of “Loki” is a really fun sci-fi series that truly opens the MCU up to the multiverse in really intriguing ways. Also, you did indeed read it right, season 1. So far it’s the only mainline/live action D+/Marvel series to get more than one season. So it’ll be interesting to see where they take it. 8/10.

Hawkeye

Jingle bells, New York smells, Hawkeye got a shoooooow. But yeah, this show follows Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) as he might have to put his christmas celebration on hold when a young. bold woman named Kate (Hailee Steinfeld) gets involved/chased by some bad dudes, all while his past mistakes come back to haunt him. I am slowly but surely running out of ways to say “I like this show”. It’s even harder now since “Hawkeye” almost never does anything too unique. The “I’ll be late for christmas” trope, the “I did some bad shit, and now it’s coming back to bite me in the ass” stuff, the “youngling idolizing a supposed hero” trope, it does a lot of very familiar stuff. Arguably it does them all quite well, and it’s fun to see those events unfold, but there’s not much to mention about the story. Where it’s strong as hell however is in the characters. This is the most depth we’ve gotten from Clint in all of the MCU, and I finally find him really compelling now that he’s gotten space to play. And his relationship to the young Kate is fun too, with the two sharing some really fun bits of character development. I’m also happy to say that I loved Renner and Steinfeld together, they are a lot of fun and share some wonderful chemistry. Supporting cast is great too, with everyone from Vera Farmiga, Tony Dalton (MVP), Fra Fee, Alaqua Cox, Linda Cardellini, and more delivering stellar work.
Action’s well handled, the score is enjoyable, and I love the warm christmas vibes it brings. Not much else to be said. “Hawkeye” is a fun action show. 8/10.

So on the whole, I very much enjoyed all of these. If I had to rank them, it’d probably be
“Wandavision”
“Loki”
“Falcon”
“Hawkeye”
But overall, I like all of these. They’re fun.
Have a good one and happy holidays.

Series Review: Andor – Season 1 (2022)

Ever since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, and in turn today’s topic of “Star Wars”, it’s been interesting to see how the franchise has developed. From new movies of varying quality, to reviving a beloved cartoon, to creating new shows in the universe, it has been fascinating to chart its evolution under the House of Mouse. And while I won’t cover it all on here, because of the sheer quantity of things, there’s been one thing airing this Autumn that I was interested in covering. And now that it’s over, I can. So let’s go.

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Andor”.

Set a few years before “Rogue One”, we follow Cassian Andor (Diego Lina) as he maneuvers the tense climate surrounding the iron grip of the galactic empire and the slow rise of the rebellion, finding himself slowly and reluctantly involved in the fight. The plot of “Andor” is one of the more fresh-feeling ones we’ve gotten from this franchise in recent years (not throwing shade at the others, BTW). Instead of a more typical adventure narrative like in… most of the other “Star Wars” adaptations, this takes more influence from spy thrillers and political dramas, giving us a lingering and brooding tension over the state of the galaxy rather than mainly relying on quick bits of excitement. While Cassian is our main guy, we also do get to see people on both sides of the empire/rebel conflict and what parts they play in the grand scheme of the galaxy. From navigation of high society and politics, to the inner machinations of the empire’s boardrooms, to the blue collar people caught in the middle, the show covers the “Star Wars” universe and its conflicts in really nuanced, clever, and dramatically satisfying ways that feel wholly unique to this show. The slow burn might put some people off, but I personally love that aspect of the show, and a great part of an overall great story.

The characters in this are great. They are all really flawed, nuanced, and have a very grounded feel to them, which gives them a real believability. Let’s talk about our leading man and title character, Cassian Andor. A somewhat cynical man with a tense past who wants nothing to do with the bigger conflict. He’s hard to discuss without going into spoiler, so I’ll just say that he’s a really compelling lead with an excellent arc, with Diego Luna just giving a fantastic performance. As for the rest of the cast, everyone’s just terrific. Stellan Skarsgård, Kyle Soller, Denise Gough, Genevieve O’Reilly, Adria Arjona, Alastair Mackenzie, Dave Chapman, Anton Lesser, and so many more, there’s not a weak link amongst them. It’s just a banger cast, all playing really interesting characters.

The score for the show was composed by Nicholas Britell, and it’s just spectacular. Traditional orchestration mixed with some interesting synth and modulation usage makes for a score that very much fits within the franchise, while still having its own distinct flavor. What I also like is that so much of it is relatively quiet, not in a way that just blends into the background the background and disappears, but rather it creates this somber tone that lingers within each scene, making it so any scene where it gets a bit more loud stick out all the more and have a greater emotional impact. It’s really good sonic storytelling that also is generally pleasing to my ears.

“Andor” was created for the streaming service Disney Plus by Tony Gilroy, with writing by him and a few more cool people (names will be in tags so as to not clutter this bit with too many names), and directing duties divided between Toby Haynes, Benjamin Caron, and Susanna White. And I just love how this show is crafted. Each scene beautifully shot, without looking too polished or overly crafted. It rides a line between looking high budget while still maintaining an almost guerrilla like feel, which I think perfectly fits with the show constantly giving us a lot of contrast between the grit and grime of blue collar settlements, and the sheen of high Coruscant society or the overly sterile look of the empire’s facilities. So there’s a lot of excellent visual storytelling going on between the camera work and the production design. Mix this with an abundance of practical effects, with some really good CG thrown in at times, and you get one of the most visually interesting big budget shows around. It’s just an insanely well crafted show.

This show/season has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 93% positive rating and a “fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 74/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 8.4/10.

So as you could probably tell, I loved season 1 of “Andor”. Even as I sit here, thinking and writing, it just gets better and better within my noggin. It has a great story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic directing/cinematography/effects. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Andor” is a 9.84/10. Which means it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Andor” season 1 is now completed.

Hey dude, did you watch Andor?
And or what?

Movie Review: Underwater (2020)

Amongst other things, we’ve dealt with the horrors of vampires, possession, and small town Oregon, so now it’s time to switch it up a bit, going for the ultimate horror… liquid.

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Underwater”.

In a research base located in the Mariana Trench, a group of scientists must fight for their survival when a mysterious earthquake suddenly erupts, destroying part of the facility. So now the team have to find a way to get out and maybe also find out what the hell is going on. In some ways, this story is “Alien”, in some ways it is “The Abyss”, and in a lot of ways it is just okay. I like some of the reveals that happen, and I wouldn’t say I was ever bored with what was going on, but I wasn’t super invested either. It was just sort of a passable sci-fi/horror story that quickly went by. And I guess that might be a bit of an issue. Not just that there’s little of a dramatic hook, but also the borderline breakneck pace. On occasion that can work, and I get that they want to have some perpetual intensity going thanks to that, but I think they could’ve benefitted from slowing down, building some dread, let us get to know the place and people a bit more. It’s still mildly entertaining, but it sadly never fully hooked me.

The characters in this are… eh? Again, they feel vastly underdeveloped. They try to throw in quick things every now and then to add some characterization, but it’s never enough to truly make me care… but I also didn’t outright dislike them, they sort of exist in this weird bubble of being watchable and occasionally likable, but never compelling, it’s weird. What I can say however is that I generally like the cast in this, most of the performances in this are really good. Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamoudou Athie, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr (always nice to see him), Gunner Wright, they’re all good. There is also the heavy presence of a certain horrible person that shall not be named. But taking his horrible shit aside for two seconds, he just doesn’t work in this movie. They try to make him the comic relief, and none of his jokes land, along with the performance being not great. So that’s a big, annoying stain on the otherwise really good cast.

The score for the movie was composed by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts, and finally there’s something I can just outright praise. This score is great, mixing traditional orchestration with electronics and synths to create a mesmerizing and fun soundscape that fully captures the strange, almost alien sensation of being stuck so deep beneath the ocean’s surface. It’s just great stuff that actually manages to elevate certain moments of the movie. So that’s nice.

“Underwater” was directed by William Eubank, and I think he did a really good job here. His direction is slick, stylish, and scool… okay, that didn’t work, but you get the point. His direction just helps the otherwise underdeveloped script come to life more, as he really does bring the deep sea station and ocean floor sections to life. Combine his direction with Bojan Bazelli’s frankly gorgeous cinematography, and you get a really cool looking movie. Furthermore, the effects in this are stellar and there’s some great sets as well. On the whole it’s just really well crafted.

This movie has not been super well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 48% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 48/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 5.8/10.

While it is very underdeveloped in the script department, I can’t say that I disliked “Underwater”. It’s an okay survival thriller. It has an okay-ish story, meh characters, really good performances, great music, and really good directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Blub blub*. My final score for “Underwater” is a 6.21/10. So while very flawed, I’d say that it can still be worth renting.

My review of “Underwater” is now completed.

I love water, but there’s no fucking way you’ll see me in an underwater base. I value my sanity and not-being-at-constant-risk-of-drowning status too much.

Movie Review: The Fly (1986)

We’ve been keeping it fairly modern with the last few Month of Spooks reviews, so how about we jump back a couple years this time? Back… to the futu- 1980s.

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “The Fly”.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is an eccentric scientist, quietly working on creating a working teleporter. And one day he decides to pull a risky experiment by placing himself in the teleporter. What he doesn’t notice however is that a small housefly joins him inside of the machine, which will change his life in strange, horrifying ways. “The Fly” is part mad scientist story, part body horror, and part tragic love story, and it somehow balances it all in a really entertaining, eerie, and surprisingly poignant way. The story isn’t necessarily a slow burn, but it still take its time to set up Brundle and his journey from regular scientist to something more, mixing in a whirlwind romance with a journalist (Geena Davis) that I feel works really well not only on its own, but also in really grounding the drama and making any horrific turns have more weight. And while the mad scientist story is pretty fun on its own, what really sells it and makes the narrative as strong as it ends up being is the surprisingly human drama that is in there. It turns what would’ve been an otherwise standard sci-fi story into a beautiful tragedy… while still also giving us some grim, goopy body horror to marvel at.

The characters in this are all colorful, interesting, and go through fairly interesting arcs. First up is Seth Brundle, a pretty odd man of science. He’s a generally good-natured oddball who goes through a fascinating transformation, both physically and mentally, that I found quite intriguing and made for some really compelling drama and horror. And Jeff Goldblum gives a damn good performance. Next is Veronica, a tough yet kind journalist that Brundle enters into a relationship with. She’s a fairly interesting character, and Geena Davis is great in the role. We also get supporting work from people like John Getz, Joy Boushel, and more, all delivering pretty solid work.

The score for the movie was composed by Howard Shore and it’s great. It mainly consists of a classical orchestra, with brass, woodwind, strings, and percussion filling that space. But what I really like about the score is the sonic storytelling going on. Early on it’s way more light and playful, capturing the excitement surrounding Brundle’s attempt at nailing teleportation. But a he starts changing and things slowly get more horror-y, the score takes on a more sinister tone, with an underlying sadness lurking beneath. It’s interesting to listen to it and makes for a really compelling score that really helps elevate the drama.

Based on a short story by George Langelaan, “The Fly” was directed and co-written by David Cronenberg, who did a damn good job. Cronenberg is really good at creating this sweeping dread, having this uncomfortable suspense lurk in the background for all scenes, even as nothing particularly bad is meant to be going on. It gives the movie this strange vibe that makes it stick out and keep my interest throughout the entire runtime. Now, let’s talk about the effects here, because those are arguably what the movie’s known for at this point. Yeah, they are absolutely stellar, Chris Walas made sure these effects were as detailed, goopy, gory, and disgusting as they could, which really makes them a horrifying sight that works well for the story. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve seen  movie that’s made me gag. I can handle blood and gore, but there’s some shit in this that actually managed to upset my body… so kudos to the crew for that, you succeeded with what I can only assume was your goal.

This movie has been very well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 93% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 79/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.6/10.

“The Fly” is a wonderfully crafted horror tragedy that compelled me from start to end. It has a great story, really good characters, great performances, great music, and great directing/effects. Time for my final score. *Buzz*. My final score for “The Fly” is a 9.67/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “The Fly” is now completed.

Ian Malcolm would have a field day with Seth Brundle. And I would happily watch Goldblum ripping into Goldblum.

Guest Post: The Invisible Man (1933)

Hi there, friends! Editor and showrunner Markus here, just wanting to make a quick introduction before we move on. As you probably understood from the title and header image, today’s words come courtesy of a special guest instead of being the usual ramblings of yours truly. And said guest is my dear friend Mary, who you actually saw some words from last year as well. So if you enjoyed her pieces last year, then you are in for a treat. So without further ado, let’s see what she has to say about “The Invisible Man”.

The 1930s were a time of great fear across the Western world. There was so much poverty, brought on by the Great Depression (and the mass exodus from the American “dust bowl” or hyperinflation in Europe). Fascism was on the rise across many US towns and, most notable of course, in Germany and Italy. There was no joy; no escapism. Every day was a fight to survive.
So it makes sense that cinema capitalised on this experience by directing this fear and trauma at the “other”. Monster movies – be it The Mummy or Dracula – gave cinema goers the chance to be on the side of good. To place themselves in the “mob” with their pitchforks and questions, cinema goers (those who could afford the admission price) had the chance at catharsis. There was somewhere to direct all of their worries and prejudices – whether that was a man who had suddenly become too powerful and murderous or a man who simply didn’t look like everyone else. And that is the backdrop for James Whale’s 1933 movie, The Invisible Man. Whale directed three films after bringing Frankenstein to the big screen in 1931 before returning to the “monster movie”. Indeed, Boris Karloff and Colin Clive were both considered for the titular role, here, before the purring, snarling Claude Rains was cast. There are plenty of crossover elements between Whale’s two films, as even casual viewers would no doubt pick up on.

The film, loosely based on the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, centres around Jack Griffin (Rains), a scientist who has been conducting invisibility experiments on himself. His latest concoction of tinctures has worked – he is now fully invisible to the naked eye. Wrapped in bandages and heavy clothing, he approaches a small inn in order to finish his experiments. What he doesn’t realise is the very potion that is keeping him invisible is also turning him murderously insane.

The film opens with bombastic brass screaming over the title credits, whilst the whistling sound of heavy wind and snow permeates the entire film. Griffin is the quintessential outsider or “other”. He dresses strangely and he repeats his desire to be left alone upon securing a room at The Lion’s Head inn. There is immediate speculation from the regular patrons as to who he is, where he has come from and why he is covered in bandages. “Bumped his head on the prison wall on the way over,” one astute Cockney remarks.

A viewer warning should be presented with this film. Una O’Connor, the howling banshee who appeared in The Bride of Frankenstein, has a far more prominent role, here. If you can suffer through the first twenty minutes of her shrieking and screaming (seriously, adjust your volume here because it is awful), you’ll be rewarded with far more entertaining performances. The cast includes the likes of Henry Travers (Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life) as Dr. Cranley and Gloria Stuart (the elderly Rose in Titanic) as his daughter, Flora. B-movie regular, William Harrigan, stars as Dr. Arthur Kemp, whom Griffin is intent on murdering. The acting often veers into melodrama territory, but Rains and Harrigan keep things grounded and suspenseful. Because whilst this film might not carry all of the thrills and spills of the Leigh Whannel remake, there is plenty of tension and well executed special effects. Griffin is often shot from below, giving him this huge frame that fills the screen. Claude Rains vocal performance is so powerful and commanding. He purrs and slithers his way through maniacal speech after speech, at one point raising his fist and yelling, “The whole world is frightened to death!” Kemp’s paranoia at his former colleague’s nefarious plans is palpable. He is a man who spends the entire film, quite literally, looking over his shoulder.

The “floating” effects really must have frightened cinema goers back in 1933. On the most part, they still stand up to this day. Watching no one strike a match and light a cigarette, mid-air, is rather fun and impressive. There are opening doors, floating beer glasses and creaking windows, too, which must have seemed so delightful and beyond technical comprehension at the time. However, these effects quickly descend into vicious chaos as men are strangled or pushed down flights of stairs by “no one”. The scene featuring the derailing of the passenger train is extremely shocking and a clear indicator of Griffin’s murderous intentions. It really grounds the viewer in terror – much more so than a few invisible slaps.

The two “big reveals” of the film are also really well done. First, we see Griffin unravel his bandages only to realise that we can see right through him. This is built up beautifully – a few cuts between each roll of the bandage coming off – until the moment of shock itself. In contrast to this, within the last twenty seconds, we also get to see Claude Rains, fully, for the first time. It’s a strangely humanising moment for a character who has been anything but.

And that’s where The Invisible Man really stands in contrast to Whale’s previous monster movie. In Frankenstein’s monster we had a creature who longed to be loved; to be part of a community. Griffin’s invisible alter ego earns no such empathy from viewers. He is cold and maniacal, with no hint of who he was before he started messing around with science. His character is power hungry and violent, with no care for who he uses or hurts. Despite Flora and Dr. Cranley’s pleas about Jack being a good man, we just get no sense of this. We get a straightforward villain who is easy to dislike. When the police and villagers are rounding up their (metaphorical) pitchforks to look for him, here, you will them on in their quest. Whale and Rains present and out and out “baddie”, a pantomime-esque villain who exists simply to be loathed and feared.

The Invisible Man is such an icon of horror and an enjoyable addition to the Universal Monsters family. Whilst it’s lacking in bloodshed in comparison to its contemporary renderings, Claude Rains vocal performance (and the fun special effects) make it well worth the watch this spooky season.

Written by Mary Muñoz

Movie Review: Train to Busan (2016)

Hi there, ready for more Month of Spooks content? Because I sure as hell am! So let’s quit dawdling and get into the review!

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Train to Busan”!

On what starts as a day like any other, businessman Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) gets on the train from Seoul to Busan with his daughter (Su-an Kim). But their trip soon takes a turn for the worse when a zombie outbreak starts and finds itself spreading across the country, and inside of the train. So it’s up to Seok-Woo, his daughter, and the other passengers on the train to try and survive. In a world of “The Walking Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “Resident Evil”, and countless other adaptations, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’d be difficult to find a way to make a zombie story interesting again. Well, I’m more than happy to say that “Train to Busan” more than succeeds, taking the classic setup of a group of survivors against hordes of zombies, and cramming it into the confined space of a train. But it’s not just the claustrophobic setting that helps sell the story, as the crew here come up with all sorts of interesting, unique, entertaining, and intense set pieces, all while putting their own little spin on how zombies work. The story also does a good job of escalating the narrative and the threat in dramatically interesting ways, starting in its first few minutes as a regular drama, adding on layers of interesting social commentary, and soon mixing in the intense zombie carnage, making sure that the suspense never lets up until the credits. It’s just fantastic storytelling that masterfully covers so much ground in very focused and enjoyable ways.

I thought the characters in this were great. I mean, not all of them are great people, but they all have clear, distinguished personalities and compelling motivations and arcs that help ground the drama and horror, making us care more for what is happening, leading me to actually fear for them and really feel something when they do. And the cast is just fantastic, containing people like Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Maa Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, and many more, with none being a weak link. Everyone delivers top tier work.

The score for the movie was composed by Jang Young-gyu, and it’s just great. High intensity brass, foreboding strings, emotional piano, it covers all the typical beats you expect to find in a movie like this and does it incredibly well. It may not necessarily be the most memorable score out there, but it works perfectly well for elevating the emotions in the moment.

“Train to Busan” was directed by Yeon Sang-ho, and I think he did a fantastic job with it. The man knows how to utilize space within set pieces, somehow using the same level of claustrophobia for both pure suspense and fun action. Just the way he frames the groups of zombies within the train creates this overwhelming sense of dread, but then in a later scene finds some fun, creative way of having the characters deal with them. He balances the scares with the sense of fun incredibly well, making for a really well balanced viewing. But there’s also a good amount of aerial shots to give a sense of how far this apocalypse has already gone in just a short amount of time, and I think that further adds a lot of intensity to proceedings. The effects are great as well, the editing is solid, and the cinematography by Lee Hyung-deok is beautiful. ’tis just really well crafted.

This movie’s been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 94% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 73/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.6/10.

“Train to Busan” is absolutely fantastic, blending human drama with action and horror marvelously. It has a great story, great characters, fantastic performances, great music, and fantastic direction/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Braaaains*. My final score for “Train to Busan” is a 9.89/10. Which means it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Train to Busan” is now completed.

Ma Dong-seok is just the coolest.

Movie Review: A Quiet Place (2018)

My friends, it is that time of year once again… electricity price incre- I mean the Month of Spooks! For those ones who maybe be new, during the month of October, I will be dedicating the blog to the spookier side of entertainment. So yeah… let the spooky shit commence!

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “A Quiet Place”.

The world has gone to shit. Society has been broken down by monsters that will hunt and kill you if you make a noise. In the middle of this apocalypse is the Abbott family, just trying their best to stay completely silent in order to survive. I enjoyed the story here, because it’s very simple. It takes the one sentence premise of “Shut the fuck up or the blind monsters will nom on your bits” and works to create a suspenseful and and engaging survival thriller out of it. And while I do think it loses some of its intensity and creepiness towards the end, as it goes for a big-ish finale and showing off the monsters a bit much, I still think it mostly succeeds in otherwise creating tense scenarios that had me invested. I also think that the filmmakers were smart in making this movie a brisk 90 minutes, as it keeps it flowing along nicely and never letting any bit overstay its welcome. It’s a solid, if simple horror story.

The characters in this are… fine? There is an attempt to give them *some* depth, but it rarely strikes the gold they’d need in order to get me to say “Yeah, I care about all of these people”. I will say that the arc between the father and the daughter is the most interesting aspect, but I feel like they don’t do enough with it to call it a truly compelling character arc/dynamic. I like the idea with it, and there’s some interesting moments involving it, but it still feels VERY surface level. What I can say however is that the performances in this are great. John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe all deliver top tier work. Especially Simmonds, she’s the MVP here.

The score for the movie was composed by Marco Beltrami, who we talked about a fair bit earlier this year when we went through the “Scream” movies. Anyhow, Beltrami’s score in this movie is really good. His big, intense set piece tracks are really fun, playing around with brass, strings, and even some fun sound effects mixed in. And his quieter, more emotional tracks are really good too. Beltrami’s a composer I’ve liked for years, and this is another hit from him.

“A Quiet Place” was directed and co-written by John Krasinski, and I think he did a solid job here. He has a good way of using space to sell action and building the suspense around the situations. And holy hell, the cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen is gorgeous, striking the perfect balance between general eye candy and solid visual storytelling. Christopher Tellefsen’s editing is also pretty solid. It’s just a generally well crafted movie.

This movie’s been quite well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 96% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 82/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.5/10.

While its characters are a bit underdeveloped, “A Quiet Place” is a tense and highly solidly well made horror movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has a good story, okay-ish characters, great performances, great music, and really good direction/cinematography. Time for my final score. *BOO!*. My final score for “A Quiet Place” is an 8.01/10. So while flawed, it’s worth buying.

My review of “A Quite Place” is now completed.

Ssshhhh, be quiet, or the monsters will find my dumb ramblings.

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

You almost gotta respect the sheer gall of Universal and its producers with this one. Fuckers were so confident that their *checks notes* “Dark Universe” was gonna kick off and be an instant hit, in order to try and ape the success of the MCU. But it flopped harder than a fish that was dropped from a plane. But hey, they did manage to get *checks notes again* one movie in, so let’s finally have a look at it, shall we.

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “The Mummy” from 2017.

When Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) wakes from a millennia long slumber to wreak havoc on the world, it is up to soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) to find some way of stopping the rampaging mummy’s crusade. Where to begin… well, I can begin by saying that the story here isn’t outright horrible. Reluctant hero, end of the world threat, ancient curses, destinies, there are ingredients here for a solid adventure flick… which was done very well in 1999, but I digress. As far as how it’s put together here, there’s nothing outright offensively bad here, but there’s also nothing that great either. It’s just a fairly uninspired rollercoaster, pretty much never rising above a shrug for me. It’s more or less the safest execution they could’ve tried for an action-fantasy-horror blockbuster in order to try and misguidedly kick off a cinematic universe. On occasion it threatens to include some fun world building, or there’s a cool idea for a set piece, but because of the lifeless execution, it pretty much just feels like a creative flatline from front to back.

The characters in this are… no, that’s it, they just are. Nothing of interest is really done with them. Our leading man, Nick, is a bit of a dick, a prick, a dude that should be smacked with a stick… but it’s not in an interesting way. He’s just a flatly written twat who we should find engagement from because he’s our hero, played by movie star Tom Cruise. Now, Cruise tries, and he’s fine in the role, but the character itself is just flat as hell. Annabelle Wallis plays an archaeologist who gets involved in the adventure, and she flip-flops between being a no-shit-taking lady who doesn’t sanction Nick’s buffoonery, and having a soft spot for him, but it’s not handled with enough grace and nuance to properly work. Wallis tries her best here, but she doesn’t get enough stuff to really dig her teeth into. Sofia Boutella is pretty good as Ahmanet, our main antagonist, and that’s mainly because she has such a great presence on screen. Otherwise the character is a fairly typical almighty entity type villain. Then there’s Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, the head of an organization that’s into chasing monsters. Character isn’t much on paper again, but I really liked Crowe in the role, because he got to have a bit of fun here, which led to one sequence that made me smirk because of his performance. So yeah, Crowe’s fun. The cast also includes people like Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance (wasted), Marwan Kenzari, and more, who try their best despite not having the best material.

The score for the movie was composed by Brian Tyler, and it’s alright. Some nice string work and decent brass sections… and that’s about it. Tyler’s a great composer, and he composed a score that worked alright here. Not his most inspired work, but it’s a decently solid bit of music.

“The Mummy” was directed by Alex Kurtzman, and I think he did *sigh* an alright job here. There’s nothing horrible about his direction, everything’s passably edited, and occasionally pretty well shot. He does decent work with the action scenes as well. The VFX here are solid, giving us a helthy blend of practical and CG. Really, the craft here is perfectly fine. It comes down to the uninspired writing and various production issues here. Nothing that really gets to feel inspired or like it has any heart to it.

This movie hasn’t been very well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 15% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 34/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 5.4/10.

Is 2017’s “The Mummy” one of the worst movies on the planet? No, not at all. But I also don’t recommend it, I feel like it’s a little too lifeless to really engage. Its story is a flatline, none of the characters really engage, the cast are okay, the music’s okay, and the direction and action is fine. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Mummy” is a 4.55/10. So I’d recommend skipping it.

My review of “The Mummy” is now completed.

Look, having a series of movies about a secret organization going after classic monsters isn’t a horrible idea… I just think the approach by the producers was very misguided.

Movie Review: Belle (2022)

Hi, how are you? Long time no see. Anyhow, let’s talk about some anime!

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Belle”.

Following a traumatic event many years ago, high schooler Suzu (Kaho Nakamura) has become a shadow of her former self, becoming very quiet and withdrawn. But one day seh joins “U”, an online community where you can be whoever you want to be. In here she becomes Belle, an internationally beloved pop star. However, her reign soon takes a turn after she finds out about a mysterious user known as The Beast (Takeru Satoh). As you can probably tell, this story takes some cues from “Beauty and the Beast. And it uses some of those elements as a springboard to tell a tale of finding oneself again, exploring the effect of trauma on a person, and how it makes on act in real life and online. And I think it does a beautiful job exploring its themes, all while perfectly balancing emotional resonance with popcorn friendly fun, creating a magnificently wonderful story.

Much like the story before them, the characters in this strike a really nice balance between an emotionally rich realness and easily digestible tropes. Many of the characters at first glance sort of fit into familiar stereotypes in various animes and coming-of-age dramas. But as we go on throughout the movie, more is unveiled about our cast to add depth. And then you add the characters’ reactions to the immediate events of the story, they feel more dynamic and real and I found the entire cast quite engrossing. Speaking of cast, the actors in this are all quite good. Featuring people like Kaho Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, Ryo Narita, Lilas Ikuta, Shota Sometami, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Koji Yakusho, and many more, there’s not a weak link in this cast.

The score for the movie was composed by Yuta Bandoh, Ludvig Forssell (SWEDEN REPRESENT!), Miho Hazama, and Taisei Iwasaki, and it’s great. It’s a varied mix of traditional orchestration with more more electronic/synthy sound, which I think perfectly marries the real world drama and cyberspace parts of the world/story marvelously. It’s exciting, it’s emotional, it’s fun, it just works so well. There’s also a few song-songs (for lack of a better word) done by Japanese group Millennium Parade, and holy fuck, they are so good. Not only are they a delight to listen to on their own, but they also help with the storytelling in their respective scenes. So yeah, this movie has some wonderful music.

“Belle” was written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, with animation by his own studio, Studio Chizu. And once again, everything on that end is top tier. Every shot is lovingly crafted, drawing the eye to the visual splendor in every frame. What I also like is how they differentiate the real world from the world of “U”. The real world is pretty much all 2D animation, with fairly muted colors, whereas nearly everything going on inside of “U” is done in 3D with some really slick cel-shading and plenty of saturated and crisp colors. And just briefly, that 3D stuff is some of the best I’ve seen. Cel-shaded 3D in anime can often look really rough, but the insane wizards at Chizu managed to make it pretty much flawless. But pretty art/animation only gets you so far, but luckily I can happily say that Hosoda’s direction shine’s here. From the quiet scenes between characters, to the action scenes inside of “U”, to the more comedic bits, all of it is perfectly directed.

This movie’s been quite well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 95% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 83/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.2/10.

So yeah, I absolutely loved “Belle”. It’s an emotionally rich adventure that I can’t wait to revisit in the future. It has a fantastic story, great characters, great performances, fantastic music, and fantastic direction/animation. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Belle” is a 9.93/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Belle” is now completed.

Hosoda-san sure loves the internet, huh?

Movie Review: Spiderhead (2022)

Spiderhead, Spiderhead, is a head on a Spider’s neck. Though it is, also a, brand new film, on Netflix. Look ooouuuut… it is a Spiderheeeeeaaaad.

Ladies, gents, and non-binaries… “Spiderhead”.

The near future, convicts are given the opportunity to reduce their sentences by taking part in some medical experiments involving emotion-altering drugs. One such convict is Jeff (Miles Teller), who soon starts to question these experiments, and their charismatic creator (Chris Hemsworth). I love this premise, it’s open to so much interesting shit. It sets itself up to be a really intriguing suspense thriller and potential mindbender. And while I didn’t hate the execution of the narrative in the movie, I did feel that it was a little undercooked. What we get works just fine, even though it never reaches the heights of its potential. I wasn’t bored, I didn’t dislike any of it, but it plays things a bit too safe to fully engage.

The characters in this are alright. Again, the script is a little undercooked and plays things safe, so they never reach the depths that they potentially could. But I also didn’t find them utterly uninteresting, just underdeveloped. But what really saves them from being walking flatlines are the actors, all of whom do a solid job here. Miles Teller is really good in the lead role. Jurnee Smollett is great as Teller’s friend inside this odd facility. And then there’s Chris Hemsworth, who is by far the best part of the movie. He is clearly having a ball playing this shady, yet highly charismatic and outwardly friendly dude. He plays it really well, and he clearly has that glint in his eye that says “I am having so much fun right now!”, which makes his performance even more enjoyable for me. The supporting cast is solid too, containing people like Nathan Jones, Tess Haubrich, Mark Paguio, Angie Milliken, Charles Parnell, and more, all delivering solid performances.

The score for the movie was composed by Joseph Trapanese, and it was fine. It’s this low-key, synth-based score that works fine within its respective scenes. It doesn’t really stick out that much, but it also doesn’t ruin any scene. It’s fine. There’s also a good amount of licensed songs used throughout, and I think they work really well for their respective scenes, they feel well integrated into the storytelling.

Based on a short story by George Saunders, “Spiderhead” was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, with Joseph Kosinski handling directing duties. And I will say, Kosinski does a damn good job directing this. His direction is slick, but never feels too perfect or glossy. One thing I really like about his directing is his usage of space. He gives the actors plenty of space to work in, while still making it feel confined and intimate, really benefitting the thriller vibes the story goes for. Really, Kosinski’s style really helps elevate this and make it a bit more watchable. And on a sidenote, the dude’s certainly having one hell of a summer ain’t he? He’s got this out on Netflix right now, but he’s also got the new “Top Gun” out in cinemas, which people seem to really like. So you know… good for him for finding work!

This movie just came out, so exact numbers can and will change somewhat. But at the time of writing it’s gotten quite a mixed reception. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 52% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 55/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 5.7/10.

While it admittedly doesn’t live up to its potential, I still found “Spiderhead” to be a decently enjoyable little thriller. It has an okay story, okay characters, great performances, good music, and really good direction. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Spiderhead” is a 6.32/10. So while flawed, it’s still worth watching.

My review of “Spiderhead” is now completed.

Can’t wait for the sequel, Scorpionbutt.