Army of the Dead- Review

Back in the day, my book club read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. They took Jane Austen’s classic, word for word, and added some scenes of zombie attacks. Characters who disappeared from the original story were now potential victims of the horde. It’s brilliant and worth a read.

Army of the Dead could have been titled Ocean’s 11 & Zombies. Instead of Clooney, we get Dave Bautista (a better trade) assembling a crew of miscreants to break into an underground safe of a Vegas casino and escape with the millions in cash. Oh, and Vegas has been overrun by zombies.

That plot goes about how you expect, so don’t go in expecting high cinema (and if you do, that’s on you. Come on now). After all, zombie movies are meant to be drinking games. When the zombies take out someone from the crew, drink! Army of the Dead manages to pull some emotion out at the end, something only possible when a little care is put into the characters.

There are a ton of heist movies and zombie movies and it’s a little surprising this mashup isn’t done more often. If you’re a fan of either, this one works on both fronts. It’s a fun ride.

Grade: A

The Snyder Cut – Review

Mythbusters once did an episode wondering if it was possible to polish a turd. Given enough time, it was plausible. So what about Justice League? How long would that take? Turns out, 4 hours and 2 minutes.

Zack Snyder movies all have a “look”. As J J Abrams is to the lens flare, Snyder is gratuitous slow motion in a muted color palette. If you’ve seen 300, you know this look. That’s not to say it’s bad. I remember enjoying 300, but that was awhile ago, and it might have aged as well as rolled-up pant legs.

With the Avengers making all the money, DC tapped Snyder to bring up the Justice League to compete. Sadly, tragedy hit the Snyder family and he stepped down from the project. DC brought in geek-icon-turned-major- asshole Joss Whedon to finish Snyder’s vision. If the rumors are true, Whedon made life hell on set and made extensive cuts and rewrites to the script. When it was finally released, it blazed a trail to the large dumpster fire that swallowed Whedon’s reputation.

Years passed and crazed comic book geeks caught wind of a “Snyder Cut” of Justice League. Who knows what really existed then, but when HBO launched their streaming service in the middle of a pandemic, they were desperate for content and Zack Snyder’s Justice League became official.

Four hours is a lot of time to invest in anything, especially a movie. But the Snyder Cut is a lot better than the theatrical release. So much better that it didn’t feel like four hours. Yes, it’s too long and the 30 minute epilogue should not have existed, but the story feels more complete. Cyborg is a real character that you can empathize with. The bad guy has motivations you can comprehend. And he somehow made Aquaman cool.

My biggest gripe is the same for all of these DC movies. The casting is wrong. Affleck is not my favorite Batman. Jared Leto’s atrocious Joker makes Affleck’s casting worse. Henry Cavill is a good Superman but not when paired with Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. It makes it obvious that the casting director is the true genius behind the Marvel movies.

Is this worth your time? That’s hard to answer. It’s a much better movie, though it takes an investment. From a purely movie geek perspective, things like this never happen. Director’s Cuts exist, yes, but nothing like this. Even the 27 versions of Blade Runner don’t compare. I say if you’ve got HBO Max already, it’s worth checking out. Even if it takes you a week to get through.

Grade: B-

Raya and the Last Dragon – Review

The Last Jedi (Star Wars, Episode VIII) was released in 2017 to an incredibly divisive fanbase. While most normal folks debated if it was better or worse than the Prequels, those who felt the angriest formed a mob of hate and vile and lashed out against everyone associated with the film. Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of color to star in a Star Wars movie, took the brunt of the vitriol. Her feeds were quickly filled with racist and sexist messages to the point she had to disappear entirely from the internet, leaving only an Instagram bio of “Afraid, but doing it anyway.”

The whole situation was the worst of humanity and the internet. The mob gladly accepting the digital white hoods that internet anonymity hands out like candy. Sadly, Tran is far from the only person to experience something like this, and thankfully, this was not the end of her story.

Raya and the Last Dragon is set in a fictional world mirroring Southeast Asia. It tells the story of a girl (Wait… this is Disney. She’s a princess, and a badass) on a quest to find the last dragon, rumored to still be alive after the other dragons were turned to stone in a final sacrifice to save humanity. From there, things go bad – real bad – and Raya has to pick up the pieces of her mistakes (literally).

Raya is one of the most action-heavy animated movies Disney has made. There is a lot of martial arts kicking and punching and Raya has a pretty sweet chain sword. It’s all pretty tame, of course, but she was only one “GET OVER HERE!” away from a completely different movie. While it is heavy on the action, it’s ultimately a tale of trust and learning what that word really means.

Awkwafina voices the dragon and it took me a bit to get used to her character. She’s part dragon, part unicorn and completely not what I was expecting from a dragon. And I’ve seen Eddie Murphy’s take. Thinking back after watching it, the direction on the character was 100% intentional. I’m betting I won’t have those issues when I watch it again, having missed the genius of the writers the first time around.

This takes us back to Kelly Marie Tran who voices Raya. The story goes that while in the recording booth, she looked at her lines at a critical point in the movie and told the director she wanted to try something different. She ad-libs some dialog around how she (Raya) trusted someone she shouldn’t have and and now the world’s broken. The lines used in the movie are hers.

Our world struggles with representation in our heroes. Star Wars tried and Tran suffered for the sin of not being Carrie Fisher. Thankfully, she’s back as Disney’s first Southeast Asian Princess and stronger than ever.

Grade: A

Wonder Woman 1984 – Review

Watching a DC Universe movie is a lot like trusting a fart. At best, you’ll get a little chuckle. At worst, you’ll Justice League your pants.

Wonder Woman has been the one bright point in that sea of disappointment. Her first solo movie was great and she alone made Batman V Superman watchable, despite that glass ceiling keeping her name off the title. Batman V Superman and the Woman Tired of This Shit must have been too long for the posters.

In a post-Justice League world, Wonder Woman 1984 was again pitched as the savior of the DC Universe movies. The team from the original was back and hey, who doesn’t love the 80s? Sadly, it seems the immunity from the DC franchise stink has finally run out.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a mess. Logic holes abound. The plot is head-scratchingly slow. The 80s references are meaningless to the point that there is no reason for this to be set in 1984. Worst of all, it insults your intelligence even when you take “movie logic” into consideration. As an example, I’d wager that WWI pilots would not feel perfectly comfortable in a modern fighter jet, but they would know what a firework is.

The sad part is that you can see a good movie buried under the nonsense. Pablo Pascal, sans Baby Yoda, could have been a decent villain and the Monkey’s Paw plot line would have been great. I’m sure the initial pitch sounded like an easy sell. I don’t know where it all went wrong, but the end result is sadly not worth the two and a half hour investment.

Grade: D

COVID Movie Rentals – Musings

The movie industry is going through a tough time these days. Movie theaters are closed during the summer blockbuster season when billion dollar box office hauls make up for the huge losses from those Adam Sandler films. Things are getting desperate enough to cause the studios to experiment, or dare I say, innovate.

Movies go through a very specific rollout. 90 days in theaters, then up for digital purchase and Blu-ray for $20, then digital rental for $6. Finally, the movie will be on the streaming services. AMC and Cinemark have strictly defined the 90 day window to protect their popcorn sales, but the studios haven’t been too bothered by it since they get at least four chances to make some money on Adam Sandler.

But now all of that is out the window. Universal was the first to crack with Trolls World Tour. That movie never hit theaters. Instead, it was released as a $20 digital rental, effectively replacing the 90 day theatrical run. It was a huge success. In three weekends, it made almost $100mil. And given the better revenue splits, they pocketed about as much as if it had made $300mil in the theaters. Who knows what the impact will be down the line in the other release windows, but it was so successful AMC immediately pushed out a press release banning all Universal movies from their theaters.

That ban was short lived, though. Just this week, AMC and Universal made a deal to shorten the 90 cinema window to just 17 days. So after 3 weekends, you’ll be able to buy the movies on iTunes.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Disney announced today that Mulan will also skip theaters, but will cost $30 for a rental. And because they like money, it’s only available to DisneyPlus subscribers already paying $6/mo. Will it work as well as Trolls? We will find out on September 4.

I find all of this fascinating as these massive companies struggle to find new solutions. If Mulan fails, what does that mean for Black Widow? Warner Bros is sitting on Tenet, the “only in theaters” masterpiece that will supposedly bring folks back to the cinemas. Their strategy has been to keep pushing the movie back two weeks and hope this whole thing blows over. Maybe we’ll see it next summer.

If anyone goes in for the $20 or $30 rental, let me know. If you compare the cost of a family of three going to the movies, it’s a bargain. I will probably wait until the normal rental window for most movies, but they might get me with Black Widow. Bastards.