LOKI (2021)

The best of the Disney+ Marvel shows so far.

Production design is outstanding, the cast is charismatic and strange. It’s a tight six episodes too, which is a real sweet spot for these series. Feels like the best parts of a Dr Who adventure mashed together with a big budget behind it.

There’s SO MUCH fan service drawing from the deepest, more ridiculous and obscure depths of Marvel Comics’ silliness.

Ultimately the story ends up servicing the next big phase of MCU projects, but it does so with style and the characters are fun. I mean, they weren’t exactly going to let Tom Hiddleston off the hook easily, were they?

Alligator Loki is MVP.

Recommended.

RAYA & THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

Solid family adventure film with the obligatory gorgeous Disney Animated visuals.

At what point do we stop commenting on how pretty each new one is, given that the next one will inevitably somehow manage to surpass it? Nonetheless, design aesthetics are fantastic here, and unique among their animated collection.

It’s a Disney princess film with a SouthEast Asian setting, no love interests and a vaguely post-apocalyptic bent.

Potentially questionable moral for young children about trusting untrustworthy people, but overall it’s pretty great.

Recommended.

WANDAVISION (2021)

A solid start to the MCU’s new Disney+ arm.

A little slow to start for the first two or so episodes, but quickly gets comfortable playing with its concept and pushes what’s expected of a superhero show out into some interesting directions.

I’ll save the big plot twists and geekery for a spoiler section after the click-through, but safe to say there’s some solid easter eggs and fan service woven into it all.

If you’re not familiar with much of the Marvel universe there’s still a decent amount to enjoy in the satirisation of various television sitcoms over the years, and at its heart it’s fundamentally about Wanda and her sadness. If anything it could have stood to lean a little harder on the sitcom tropes, since there was a lot of good material in the supporting cast that felt a little shoved aside when the main arc needed to wrap up.

Great supporting cast, Paul Bettany imbues The Vision with a wonderful humanity, and extra accolades must go out to Elizabeth Olsen for such a multi-faceted performance anchoring it all together.

Hard to say what got shuffled out in terms of the larger MCU tie-ins since the release schedule was scrambled last year, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon and bodes well for the D+ series going forward.

Criticisms and larger discussions are pretty spoilery so consider yourself warned:

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “WANDAVISION (2021)”

SOUL (2020)

All the emotional storytelling you’ve come to expect from Pixar wrapped up in stunningly brilliant abstracted visuals and perfect sound design.

In a lot of ways it presents as Ratatouille for music, but it has much more to offer while still keeping a light enough touch that you never feel clubbed over the head by its themes.

The otherwordly soundtrack and score is fantastic (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross doing a Pixar film?!) and the visual design (especially around the astral elements) is absolutely gorgeous.

Of course, you already assume that, going into one of these, and I’m happy to report the quality is strong and rich as ever.

Of the two or three major cinematic releases that dropped to streaming for Xmas this year, this is absolutely the one you should watch.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019)

The two MALEFICENT movies exist in a weird tangent of the Disney live-action reboot universe.

On the one hand they’re an interesting perspective shift on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale with a surprisingly A-list cast (Jolie! Pfeiffer! Ejiofor! Fanning!) mixed in with some surprise appearances (Warwick Davis! Ed Skrein!). They’ve got the sort of largely well-done fantasy special effects that only a swollen purse and high-grade talent pool can produce.

On the other hand they’re overly melodramatic, exposition heavy and self-serious in a way that doesn’t serve much more than generic fantasy cliche tropes. Also, the humans (with few exceptions) are quite unambiguously the villains, especially in this film, so there’s little conflict in siding with this supposed “Mistress of Evil” who never does anything considerably evil at all. It sort of gets handwaved away as being the perception of her by commonfolk, but I still feel like Angelina Jolie must have signed on expecting something vampier and more fun than the little she really gets to do.

Characters are paper thin, plot goes nowhere interesting, action is pedestrian and stakes aren’t engaging, even the design is at most blandly pretty. The first one was okay but this feels unnecessary.

FROZEN 2 (2019)

In some ways more charming than the first, in others less inspired.

Kind of a mixed bag — half the songs were forgettable and the overall story felt like a bridging episode between a strong first film and a bigger, more creative third one.

But the visual design is wonderful, painted on an autumnal Scandinavian pallette and the colonialist narrative touched on some darker concepts without really confronting them, which I suppose is understandable as this is still ostensibly a film for kids.

Doesn’t really transform the franchise in any meaningful way despite heaping on new elemental mythology and expanding the world, something that plays more like the setup to a more interesting trilogy rather than a really solid standalone in its own right.

That said, Kristoff’s 80s power ballad backed by imaginary reindeer harmonies is a brilliant bit of tonal anachronism and I like that the fundamental messages are of community support and reparations.

Overall not bad but I assume the next one will be better.

STAR WARS: RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

It’s fine.

Certainly not the best STAR WARS film, still not the worst.

Mostly felt like a series of loose ends and by-committee decisions dressed up in some of the most impressive, cool visuals of the whole franchise. The pacing is a mess, especially the first 45min, but eventually it levels out and becomes… fine.

Wastes too much time trying to backtrack over plot points from THE LAST JEDI (a movie which is also just fine, hyberbole aside) and doesn’t flesh out any of the interesting possibilities of The Force which that movie raised.

Adam Driver is great, everyone else does what they can at a breakneck speed through pinballing plot points and inconsequential Macguffins. But hey, it looks mostly fantastic even if everything amounts to a very medium scramble without any real tension or stakes.

People want this to be either amazing or awful and it’s really not either of those. Lucasfilm really should have planned the arc much more, but they did stick the landing even if they fractured an ankle doing so.

THE MANDALORIAN is doing much better, and now that I’m back from vacation I’ll have to get to get back to finishing that one up.

THE MANDALORIAN s01 e01/02 (2019)

Only two episodes in and already the best thing to come out of STAR WARS in 20 years.

Has a really vintage feel to it, like older pulp Westerns against a SW universe backdrop and enough balance of practical effects and higher concept space stuff to keep it interesting yet still very grounded.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that a certain integral character is the most adorable critter ever and they’re 100% going to sell a billion toys of it.

So far, so good. Very promising.