Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon

By: Kevin Jordan

Has it been so long?

I am so happy to watch a new movie that is not Oscar bait (though I’m still happy about those) and not called Wonder Woman 1984. I’m also a sucker for fantastical quest movies, so all this movie had to do was not be, well, Wonder Woman 1984. Low bar, I know. It did get a little dicey at times like, early in the film when exploding farts became a thing, or later when a baby threw his own diaper at someone’s face. But, I let those go because the dragon was endearing and the other characters were the familiar ragtag bunch of misfits that always make quest movies fun. Mostly, it’s just been so long since a fun blockbuster-type movie came out, especially one that wasn’t a soul-crushing disappointment, that farts and diapers were almost welcome. I know another movie that could have used some of that.

And now, as always, the thoughts of the movie’s target audience, my eight-year old son.

What was the last new movie you saw?

The last new movie I saw was *thinking* I don’t even remember. Oh wait…was it…Godmothered?

I think you are right. How happy are you to see a new movie?

Pretty happy.

The new movie is Raya and the Last Dragon. What was you first thought after watching it?

I thought about what the genres were.

What are the genres?

Adventure. Fantasy. And did I say comedy? It was actually pretty funny.

Let’s start with the comedy. What was funny about it?

There was one joke when Raya found Sisu at the end of the river and she made this funny joke. I don’t remember what it was, but it made sense.

Who is Sisu?

She’s like this dragon. The last dragon that ever lived. She can swim fast and we she holds the dragon gems she gets another power from her siblings. One power was she could turn into a human.

Does she spend more time as a dragon or a human?

A human.

Do you think that was good or should she have stayed a dragon the whole time?

It was good because she could hide as a human so people wouldn’t capture her. And Kumandra needs dragons.

What is Kumandra?

Kumandra is where all of the people were one big city, but now they’re all enemies.

Why does Kumandra need dragons?

Because dragons brought them water and stuff and plants and good food.

What is the adventure part of the movie?

They have to try to make Kumandra back to Kumandra. So they have to get all the enemies back to Kumandra.

Who is they?

Raya and her friends.

Tell me about Raya and her friends.

There’s this big dude. I don’t remember what his name was, but he is huge and buff. And there is this little kid that works at a hibachi restaurant on a boat in the middle of the river. There’s Sisu, obviously. Raya (I said Raya, right?). And the baby ninja who is in charge of the monkeys.

Sounds like a really funny group.

Told you – the movie is funny.

How are Raya and her friends going to bring back Kumandra?

They have to get back, well, in the beginning of the movie, the dragon gem broke. To bring Kumandra back, they have to find the pieces and connect the gem back into a ball again.

What happened when the gem broke?

There are these purple monster thingies that if they touch people, the people turn to stone. The purple monster thingies are like ten feet tall and ten feet wide and are walking, slimy, jello things.

So, they have to put the gem back together before the purple monsters turn everyone to stone?

Yes.

If all they have to do is put the dragon gem back together, why do they need a dragon? Why do they need Sisu?

I said it, but I just lost it.

It’s okay. Who are all the enemies in the movie?

Fang. Spine. Tail. I can’t remember the other one. But everything is around a big river shaped like a dragon, so all the places are named after body parts.

Who broke the dragon gem?

The princess of Fang.

Is she also a main enemy?

Yes. Everyone is kind of enemies, but they have to friend each other like in a video game.

Is that how they make Kumandra?

Yes. They make friends, build a better team, and do jobs.

Who is your favorite character in the movie?

The ninja baby and the monkeys. Because it’s a baby and why not?

What was your favorite part of the movie?

Hmmm. That was a good question. It is *thinking* *rolling around on the couch* when they find Sisu and when she makes a ton of good jokes that adults and kids understand. Therefore, it’s a amazing. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Were there any parts of the movie you didn’t like?

Not really.

Was any part of the movie too scary for kids?

No. It’s an animation movie.

Animation can still be scary. Do you think young kids might be scared by ten-foot tall, purple jello monsters that turn people into stone?

Yeah, no. Unless their parents dress up as one and chase their kids.

That would be scary. Overall, what did you think of the movie?

It was pretty good. Pretty funny. Pretty adventure-y. Pretty fantasy-y.

Rating: If the movie were twenty bucks, I would ask for no money back because a lot of kids would really like it and it’s meant for kids to watch.

Gemini Man

Gemini Man

By: Kevin Jordan

Dude, you got a computer on your face.

 

Now, this is a story all about how

My life got flipped-turned upside down

And I’d like to take a minute

Just sit right there

I’ll tell you how I became the target of a group of elite killers, including a clone of me thirty years my junior

 

In west Philadelphia born and raised (I even wear a Philadelphia hat and confirm my birth city)

On the playground was where I spent most of my days (playground being a euphemism for battlefield and training grounds)

Chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool

And all shootin some bad guys with my super-duper sniper skills all over the world (I’m Henry Brogan (Will Smith))

When a couple of guys who were up to no good (well, guy and gal, Clay Verris (Clive Owen), and Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond))

Started making trouble in my neighborhood (by lying to me about my final kill and having me followed by a DIA agent named Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

I got in one little fight and my mom got scared (just kidding, my mom doesn’t know I’m an assassin and I killed the team of mercenaries sent to kill me in my home)

I said “I’m going to rescue Agent Zaka..Zakawaka..Zachoo..Danny and get the heck out of Dodge”

I am the greatest!

I begged and pleaded with her day after day (actually, I just told her she was the next target and had five minutes to get out)

So she packed a quick bag and we went on our way

She beat up a merc and gave me his teeth

So we hopped on a boat and said “we need a safe place to hide”

 

First class, yo this is bad (my friend Baron (Benedict Wong) picked us up in his prop plane)

Then getting shot at by my clone in Cartegena

Is this what Clay was doing with my DNA

Hmm this is not alright (including the CGI used to render my clone’s younger face of me..yikes)

 

But wait I hear a Russian guy can tell me all about the last target I killed

Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat (anybody else weirded out by having to meet the guy in a bathhouse in Budapest?)

I don’t think so (but at least he told me about the target)

I’ll see when I get there (round two against my clone)

I hope he’s prepared for the prince of state-sanctioned murdered

The CGI looks fine in a single frame.

Well, the plane landed and when I came out

There was a dude who looked just like me standing there with a gun

I ain’t trying to kill him

I just got here

I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared (after fighting him again in another example of clearly and poorly rendered CGI fight scenes)

 

I whispered to Danny “How’d they know where we were”

Turns out I had a bug in me and my clone dug it out

If anything I could say that this clone was rare

But I thought “Nah, forget it – Yo, homes to Gimini headquarters”

 

We pulled up at a light in the middle of some town

And my clone yelled to us “Yo homes get out of the van!”

I looked at my kingdom (the town)

We were finally there

To duke it out with Clay and his army as the Prince of..you get the idea

 

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and for me to never, ever write a review using song lyrics again. You are welcome.

Doctor Strange

By: Kevin Jordan

Starring Bunsonburner Cucumberpatch.

doctor_strange_poster

If you are a fan of BBC’s Sherlock and haven’t laughed like a hyena lately, check out the ways people have gotten his name wrong (intentionally and unintentionally).  What I love is that everybody knows who we’re talking about – as is mentioned several times in that link – and you probably read right past me referring to just ‘him’ without a second thought.  That’s the power of Bartleby Scratchanitch and might be why he’s been cast in seemingly every movie for the past five years.  And not just random movies for paychecks either.  He’s starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, several prestige films, cameoed in TV shows and other movies, was nominated for best actor as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, given us possibly the best Sherlock Holmes portrayal in history, and now is playing a prominent superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Doctor Strange.  He’s like Nicholas Cage, but getting roles that Cage can’t even sniff at any more (also, Shaggypants is a much better actor).

If he hadn’t already played Sherlock, I would have been skeptical of Bishandchips being cast as a super hero.  As it is, casting him as an acerbic, arrogant, superhero who has to learn some humility is pretty much par for his course, especially since Robert Downey Jr. is already Iron Man.  Much like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is another unknown Marvel property that exceeds expectations partly because of superb casting.  In addition to Biddlebosh, Doctor Strange features Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams.  Wait…that can’t be right – they got four Oscar nominated actors and a James Bond villain in this movie?  Holy $#%^.  Also, they were all really, really good.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Perhaps the trickiest component of the film was giving the audience a character with an origin story that seems far more suited to a Harry Potter movie than an MCU film.  In a nutshell, Strange is a surgeon who loses his livelihood after a car accident maims his hands.  In desperation, he goes to Nepal to track down some magicians after Benjamin Bratt explains how they helped him heal from paralysis.  Yes, that Benjamin Bratt.  Strange learns magic, is taught about the infinite universes (multiverse) by The Ancient One (Swinton), and trains with Mordo (Ejiofor) in a Hogwarts-like setting.  Except without all the dragons and elves.  But, there is a lot of hand waving and library scenes.  And magical circles and teleportation.  If not Potter, then at least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Huh….Cage…anyway.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Strange learns that this group is charged with keeping the Earth safe from a world-eating cloud monster (Dormamu) from another universe and Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to help Dormamu eat the Earth by destroying the three buildings on Earth that keep him at bay.  I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous and it is.  But it also works within the context of this film, as well as the MCU.  And because this movie is following a classic playbook (the hero’s journey), Strange rejects the quest at first (he just wants to heal his hands), then reluctantly agrees to fight for the cause.  I’m not saying it’s a great plot.  In fact, there are plenty of faulty pieces that would have been much more glaring if the other components of the movie didn’t make up for it.  For all you pouty DC fans, a couple of examples are Strange’s cape is very inconsistent (it’s alive…or something, and protects him…sometimes), the mirror universe seems to be there strictly for Inception-y special effects (they can bend buildings in there), and why doesn’t Kaecilius steal some other powerful artifacts and books in addition to the two pages from one book he steals at the beginning of the movie?  I mean they’re literally just sitting out in the open.  There, happy now?

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

Even though they left some things underdeveloped and even though making the noob fight the most powerful and dangerous entity in all the universes seems a tad clichéd, the movie is still immensely entertaining.  Like all MCU movies, the comedic relief hits every mark, things introduced early on have importance later in the movie, the romantic subplot between Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) doesn’t feel trite, the chemistry between Strange and Mordo is great, and Swinton crushes every scene she’s in, even when she’s fight-acting.  I didn’t know she could do that.  The movie even manages to include a “crossing the streams moment” that works on multiple levels.  Yes, it’s a deus ex machina, but Marvel manages to make it fun instead of eye-rolling.

And she didn't even say hi-yah.

And she didn’t even say hi-yah.

So, what do I think of it overall?  Well, I can’t just completely dismiss those earlier complaints.  But, with a cast including Bumpysplash and a summer filled with middling popcorn flicks, we’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, so it automatically gets a little slack.  Not to mention expectations were high because Marvel hasn’t whiffed on any of their films since The Incredible Hulk.  But most importantly, Barslap Cooneylatch was so good and fun that the movie could have been much worse and I still would have forgiven it.  Luckily, it wasn’t.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, and thanks to Binneyloon Crazypants for having such an awesome name (and being a great sport about it).

The Martian

By: Kevin Jordan

Fictional humans on Mars is better than nothing.

martian

A friend and I were chatting about space stuff, and one of the things we discussed was NASA’s current estimate of launching a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030’s.  She was crestfallen when I said “no chance” and explained to her why that’s a pipe dream.  (We were supposed to have a replacement for the space shuttle by 2010 – which is now estimated for 2024 – and that was just for lifting astronauts to the International Space Station just 250 miles above the Earth, as opposed to the roughly 35 million miles to Mars.  You do the math.)  So, both of us will most likely be dead before that ever happens (and I’m still in my thirties).  The closest she and I will get to seeing that achievement is by watching movies like The Martian.

There are many movies that are easy comparisons to The MartianGravity, Apollo 13, Red Planet – really, any space movie in which disaster strikes and the character(s) must survive an impossible situation.  (Castaway is an appropriate comparison as well).  The one thing that differentiates The Martian from those other films is that The Martian doesn’t take itself so seriously.  That’s not a complaint about those other films, but it’s what makes The Martian feel like a breath of fresh air (and a sorely needed one in this genre).  It’s nice sitting through a movie in which characters aren’t hyperventilating every other scene or playing tic-tac-toe to decide which button she should push because the writer or director was too lazy to make the character smarter than an airlock.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead and, also, he dies at the end.  Or not.  Gotcha.)

Matt Damon plays the title character, astronaut Mark Watney.  He and his team are on the surface of Mars when a massive storm forces them to evacuate to the relative safety of space.  While making their way toward their escape rocket, Mark is hit by a piece of debris that destroys his health monitor, renders him unconscious, and knocks him out of visual range of the rest of the crew.  Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to leave him for dead in order to save the rest of the crew and they all leave the planet.  When Mark awakes, he is alone, but his suit is intact and their habitat survived the storm.  Since you are an intelligent movie goer, you immediately begin to list problems because you understand that (a) the ship cannot turn around because they don’t have the supplies to do that and still make it back to Earth alive, (b) the shortest current travel time to Mars is eight months, so Mark must survive at least that long, and (c) how long can Mark survive in the habitat given there is most definitely not enough food and water to last even the minimum eight months?  Those are all good points and I’m not going to address any of them because I think you should pay money to watch this film.

But I will tell you a little bit about the characters, which will give some hints as to what happens.  For starters, Mark is a botanist and the previews show him growing stuff.  Part of the fun of this movie is how he solves problems like that, so from now until you see this movie, see if you can figure out how he does that (and, no, there are no plants of any kind already growing in the habitat prior to the disaster).  Going back to what I said earlier, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, so Mark is presented as a rational, level-headed, non-panicky guy trying to make the best out of the worst possible situation imaginable.  Much of the movie is presented as him speaking to recording devices throughout the habitat and we see him making light of situations, thinking and talking out problems and solutions, and choosing the exact right moments to cuss.  It’s the perfect way to present this movie because there is always tension in the background (you are always waiting for something to go wrong), but is overshadowed by Mark’s resiliency.

The crew is presented the same way, but the five of them are really the equivalent of one character.  Captain Lewis is the brain, the serious leader who must make all the hard choices.  Martinez (Michael Pena) is the mouth, providing the comic relief.  Johanssen (Kate Mara) is the heart, balancing the voices of reason with the voices of emotion.  Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) are the limbs, providing feedback to the body, but mostly just doing what they are asked.  While it seems like they should have a bigger role in the movie (considering their acting chops), they are minor supporting characters.  And, of course they are, they’re on their way home – what can they do?

The major supporting characters are the folks at NASA who are trying to figure out how to keep Mark alive long enough to mount a rescue mission.  The main players are Director Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his direct reports – Montrose (Kristen Wiig), Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), supported by a mix of managers (Sean Bean, Benedict Wong) and techies (Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong).  Like the Mars crew, the NASA crew Voltron themselves (yes, I just made a verb out of Voltron) into a single entity, each character providing a different trait.  The difference is Sanders, Montrose, and Kapoor have the most screen time, aside from Matt Damon, so they are much more fleshed-out than the ship crew and provide more than a single trait.  The biggest surprise for me was Wiig.  I normally end up despising her characters, but her Montrose was a much more likable character and her delivery was far superior than past performances (especially when delivering humor).  This time, I actually wanted her character to succeed rather than die in a spontaneous mission control accident.

Besides all of that, the most enjoyable thing about the movie is the realism.  Unlike the pie-in-the-sky science of Red Planet or the idiocy of Gravity’s physics, everything that happened in The Martian seems like someone thought about it for more time than it takes to toast bread.  From the food to the fuel to the travelling to the air to the rescue mission solutions to the matching relative velocities, it never felt like the movie was asking me to stretch the definition of “suspend your disbelief” to the point of making my brain cry.  I’m sure there is some liberty taken with the science, but if the average layperson (me) didn’t spot it without Neil Tyson DeGrasse pointing it out, then the filmmakers did a good job.

Thinking about this movie afterward, it might just be the best film I’ve seen all year.  At the very least, it’s the most complete.  The story is simple, thoughtful, and doesn’t have any glaring, obvious plot holes (this isn’t a surprise considering it’s based on a novel of the same name by Andy Weir.  But, nice adaptation by Drew Goddard).  The visuals are wonderful and even the 3-D was better than usual, providing some amazing depth and color (though I did learn a tip for 3-D viewing, you must sit dead center on the screen – I know, duh, right?).  Matt Damon nails his performance, as do the make-up and costume guys (I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned them before, but it had to be said here).  But most importantly, it’s a movie you’ll want to watch many times over, because besides being a great movie, at this point, the zombie apocalypse is going to happen before we see an actual human on Mars.

Rating: You definitely underpaid for this movie.  Even if you paid twice.