Review of Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

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This is the second movie of this series, a sequel to Wreck-it Ralph (2012). It was directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, and opened on November 21, 2018. It stars the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Ed O’Neill, Gal Godot, Taraji P. Henson and Alfred Molina. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature for both the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Awards. For anyone who is confused by the scenario, Ralph and Vanellope are characters from obsolete arcade video games. This review contains spoilers.

Wreck-it Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz live in neighboring games at Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade. After the previous film where Ralph tries too hard to become a hero, Ralph and Vanellope become best friends. However, Vanellope is bored with her racing game. Ralph tries to help out with a bonus track and Vanellope is thrilled, but the diversion results in a broken steering wheel on her game’s cabinet. The part only seems to be available on Ebay, so the two of them take advantage of new wi-fi in the arcade to infiltrate the Internet in search of the part. As ingénues, they accidentally bid up the price, but win the auction, then have to raise the money to pay for it. After a couple of false starts, they find Yesss, an algorithm for BuzzTube, who helps Ralph make a lot of money from silly videos. Meanwhile, Vanellope finds friends among the princesses at the Disney site and is attracted by hazards in the game Slaughter Race, where she meets champion driver Shank. Horrified that Vanellope might leave him, Ralph looks for help in damaging Slaughter Race. Spamley introduces Ralph to Double Dan, who gives him an insecurity virus that will replicate flaws. The virus replicates Vanellope’s glitch and forces Slaughter Race to reboot, which will delete Vanellope. Can Ralph save the day? Can he keep Vanellope as his friend? What will happen if he can’t?

This is one of those wonderful kids animations that works on multiple levels. There are the bright, colorful characters for the little kids and important, serious themes for older ones. In addition, this seems to be light satire. The serious themes here are about the importance of friendship, about letting your friends grow and follow their own paths, and how your insecurities and need can sabotage relationships when you double down and don’t let them grow. The animators’ vision of the Internet as a huge, busy city with blue twittery songbirds is clever and entertaining—Disney must have recouped their costs just from the product placements alone. The sequence where Vanellope realizes she’s a real Disney princess that needs her own song is both ironic and priceless. Then Ralph makes the right decision at the end and everybody grows up a little bit.

I really couldn’t find any negatives in this. It was cute and heartwarming, and carries a great message. Awww.

Don’t miss the post-credits scene with the rabbit. Five stars.

Wrap up of the Daredevil Reviews

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So, there are a number of reasons why this series would never have happened on other entertainment services than Netflix with a MA (mature audience) rating. The first of course, is the darkness of both the subject matter and the production. This is about evil as represented by organized crime and a cast of people who are trying to do something about it. The production doesn’t hold back on either blood or the representations of evil. Lots of people get hurt and killed in ugly ways, and a few get tortured along the way. Especially in the first season, Daredevil isn’t always a nice person.

This production is tailored to fit well into today’s expectations, as the cast is diverse and there are some liberal additions to the story lines—organized crime forcing poor minority immigrants out of their homes, etc. However, there is a darkness in the heart of the story that current viewers may not recognize. This story is very much about the Irish experience. The Irish weren’t considered white in the US in the 19th century, and Daredevil debuted in 1964 when there was still active discrimination against Irish Catholics in the US. This means that when Marvel released the comic, it was actually a diversity addition to their offerings.

Next, I’m surprised that there’s been no comment on the ideology here. Despite the trimmings, this show presents something you don’t see much these days—that is conservative values including love, family, respect, religion, strict morals, Western culture and the rule of law. The discussion of good and evil is framed in Catholic terms as about the Christian God versus the adversarial Satan, and Matt is working from a strict Christian moral system that defines what is acceptable for a “good” person to do and what’s not. The danger in failing is losing his soul and, as Sister Maggie warns him, becoming the monster himself.

The last issue is something interesting that’s understated here, but built clearly into the concept. It’s considered politically incorrect to discuss racial characteristics these days, but since the Irish and Germans are now both white, then they’re fair game, right? Plus, I’ve got a lot of Irish and German in my family tree, and I can talk about my own roots. So, the Germanic tribes really like order, punctuality and world domination. The Celtic tribes, on the other hand, are known for passion, wit and ferocity. This means you want to put Germans in control of your transportation system and the Irish in as first responders—firefighters and police. If you don’t believe in racial characteristics and you want to do it the other way around, then fine, but the results are your problem. So this story is about Matt Murdock’s Irish fire against Wilson Fisk’s Germanic drive for order and world domination. It’s an old war, going all the way back to the Iron Age in Europe, but still playing out here in the neighborhoods of NYC.

I love complex works. Congratulations to the show’s stars and production team for carrying it off so well.

Review of Netflix’s Daredevil Season 3

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This MCU show premiered on Netflix in October of 2018, produced by Marvel Television in association with ABC Studios, with Erik Oleson as the showrunner. Principal stars include Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Wilson Bethel as Poindexter/Bullseye. This review contains spoilers.

Daredevil is thought to have been killed in a building collapse (see The Defenders review), but a badly injured Matt washes out of the city storm sewer and is found by a passer-by. He refuses to be taken to the hospital, and takes sanctuary at Clinton Church, where Father Lantom places him with Sister Maggie, back in the orphanage where Matt grew up. He makes a slow recovery, emotionally, physically and spiritually, and eventually starts going out as a vigilante again. Results are poor at first, but as he gets stronger, he finds that Fisk is gaining power again as an organized crime boss. Convincing the FBI he is a valuable informant, Fisk has moved into a penthouse apartment in Manhattan where he gives out enough information to eliminate other crime bosses, while working to establish a new protection racket. He subverts the agents guarding him, including Nadeem and the psychopathic Poindexter. Meanwhile, Foggy Nelson is still working at his job with a new firm and Karen Page has taken a position as a reporter for The Bulletin. The two of them continue to pay the rent on Matt’s apartment, but they are losing hope that he’s still alive. After Fisk’s release hits the papers, Foggy is surprised by a sudden encounter with Matt, who steals his wallet and uses the IDs to gain entrance to Fisk’s prison. He is identified and manages to escape, but is intercepted by a taxi driven by Fisk’s man and plunged off a dock into the river. He escapes there, too, and when Fisk sends the FBI to get him, they find only wet clothes in a pile on the floor of Matt’s apartment. Foggy and Karen insist that they need to work through the law, and Matt joins them to try to find witnesses to turn on Fisk. The stakes continue to rise, as Fisk gains more power and outfits Poindexter with a fake Daredevil suit to make trouble for the trio. Eventually Matt decides that the law won’t prevail, and that he needs to kill Fisk. He misses once because Fisk has Page cornered at the church, but with Karen safe, he crashes Fisk’s wedding with his love Vanessa in order to try again. Confronted with the dark Daredevil, Matt has to make a final decision about how his life will go.

So, this season is absolutely brilliant. Completely reduced by events, Matt Murdock has to totally rebuild his life from nothing. He lurks around in a parka and a baseball cap, and he’s back to basic black for his vigilante work. He’s got no friends, no ID, no money, and depends on charity at the church to eat. He’s haunted by his father’s ghost, his missing mother, an ephemeral Fisk, and a fake, sneering, evil Daredevil that’s exactly what he could become. However, he’s shed Matt’s disability, too—now he’s just himself. In this season, the black of his mask is relieved by a touch of white lining, though at the end we see a red edge peeking out from under his tee-shirt. On the action side, Matt’s escape from the prison is pretty awesome, and all shot in one take. Plus, in the unrelieved grimness of the series so far, suddenly this season presents some completely hilarious moments.

Check it out on Netflix. Five stars.

Review of Deadpool 2

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This Marvel superhero film is the second in the series, following Deadpool (2016). It’s directed by David Leitch and stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison and Morena Baccarin. It was released into theaters 18 May 2018. This review contains spoilers.

Since the events of the last film, Deadpool (a.k.a. Wade Wilson) has been touring the world, fighting ninjas, yakuza, and whoever else, looking for what meaning might be left in his life. He loses his girlfriend. He tries a stint as an X-man trainee, but it doesn’t work out. However, as a result of this, he ends up becoming the hero of a young boy with dangerous supernatural abilities. He tries to reject this role, but eventually brings together an X-Force team to rescue the boy from the evil, time-traveling cyborg Cable. Can he pull this off? Can he get his girlfriend back? Can he fix Ryan Reynolds’career mistakes?

We have to wait a while to get to the heart of this film, while Wade searches around for the theme. However, once he’s focused on doing the right thing, then we can get on with the plot. The remaining space is taken up with social commentary and jokes that make this pretty much a satire of superhero franchises. The gags go by fast, so pay attention.

The movie did get criticism for the “fridging” of Wade’s girlfriend Vanessa. For anyone who’s not familiar with the term, it refers to threatening, injuring or killing a superhero’s girlfriend to provide motive for the plot. That leaves the woman with a very limited role. Writers and producers agreed they had engaged in this gimmick, and suggested fridging Deadpool in a different movie. Turn about.

This film is all highly creative, of course, and the writing/directing crew doesn’t really care that they pierce the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. They’re also testing a few boundaries as far as offensiveness goes. I see that Ryan Reynolds is listed on the writing team this time, so I’m wondering how much he has to do with the comedy and commentary. He’s certainly found his niche as the bad guy anti-superhero. Although this film isn’t as impressive as the first one, it carries on the tradition well enough. His X-Force team turns out to be surprisingly attractive, too, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them.

One other thing that merits mention is the choreography and gymnastics stunts in these films. There was only one instance of the gymnastics here, but same as the last film, it was breathtaking air ballet from a real person. Well, okay—I just like gorgeous stunts.

Four stars.

Review of The Legend of Tarzan

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The Legend of Tarzan is based on characters first created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the novel Tarzan of the Apes, published in 1912. This film is directed by David Yates and the screenplay was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer. It’s distributed by Warner Bros.

The story is set in the colonial period of the late 1800s. The Congo has been divided between the UK and Belgium, and the Belgian government has gone into heavy debt to build infrastructure. King Leopold II sends an envoy named Léon Rom to find the diamonds of Opar in order to finance further expansion, including an army to enforce Belgian rule. Rom’s crew is massacred, but Chief Mbonga (of Opar?) offers to trade the diamonds for Tarzan. In England, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke is invited by King Leopold to inspect the development in the Congo, but he declines. George Washington Williams, an American envoy, convinces Clayton to go on the mission, as he suspects the Belgians are dealing in slaves. Clayton’s wife Jane née Porter also insists on going along. In Africa they reconnect with a local tribe that knew Clayton as Tarzan. During the night, the village is attacked by Rom, who kills the chief and kidnaps Jane, but Williams manages to rescue Tarzan. The two of them uncover the diamond plot, as well as the slavery operation, while working to rescue Jane. They continue pursuit to the coast, where they have a final confrontation with Rom and the Belgian army.

As a long-time Burroughs fan, I’m hard to satisfy, but mostly I’ll give interpretations of Tarzan a chance. This one is pretty decent. They did a reasonable job of representing Tarzan, who wears only a thin veneer of civilization along with his expensive clothes. The theme of this film is anti-colonialism, of course, and it features a couple of the Congolese tribesmen in visible supporting roles. Williams is an African American and brings the American concerns about slavery to the picture. On the negative side, they didn’t give Jane a whole lot to do and they’ve played fast and loose with some of the details. They’ve rewritten the bit where Tarzan met Jane, and muddled their way through the Opar issue. Opar really is a fabled lost city, and in Burroughs’ stories it’s located in the Congo and inhabited by a tribe of degenerate beast men led by a high priestess—here they’ve made the men of Opar seem like just another group of local tribesmen and I don’t see the priestess anywhere. Also, Opar had nothing to do with the death of Tarzan’s ape mother Kala. Okay, I know, I know. You shouldn’t ever try to make the details of a book and a movie match up. I’m just feeling a little OCD about it.

Three and a half stars.

Review of Captain America: Civil War

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Have been to the movies again. This is a Marvel flic. It got really good advance buzz, so I was looking forward to it, with decent results.

The Avengers are in trouble. They’ve conducted several epic battles with bad guys that have resulted in extensive property damage and loss of life, which they take no responsibility for whatever. Once this has started, then challenges seem to increase. World governments are trying to bring them under UN control to reduce the problem. There’s a split in the ranks about whether they should agree to this, with Tony Stark taking the position they should sign and then work on issues, and Captain America taking the position that they need to maintain autonomy. Besides this problem, he has just located his friend Bucky, who has become a “winter soldier” controlled by Hydra. Bucky is still dangerous, as he can be triggered by the right code, and he’s carrying a lot of baggage because of things he done under Hydra’s control. Still, Cap wants to support him because of their past friendship. It also looks like there are other of Hydra’s winter soldiers who can be activated. This situation opens a wider split within the Avengers, and they start to battle it out.

This film is beautifully made, has fun moments, great acting from the cast, and features the usual cameo by Stan Lee. However, it turns out to be somewhat ideological, given the individualism vs. cooperation conflict that is the main theme. The usual formula for action-adventure movies is smash, smash, sentimental interlude, smash, smash. This one went smash, smash, dramatic interlude, smash. Normally I prefer movies with substance, but this one seems to be a parable for our times, where you can fight to a standstill, but somehow never win. Four stars.

Review of Deadpool

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I’ve been to the movies again. Let’s hear it for a winner!

Background: This is part of the X-Men franchise. Apparently their budget was low to begin with, and then cut again just before they started work on the film. So, no one was expecting very much from this character? It’s a box office smash. The result is highly creative, suggesting budget cuts might benefit lots of other overworked Hollywood projects. This is also an R-rated adult film, which means they’ve made about $300 million in the first weekend without the teen market.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein. Directed by Tim Miller.
Plot: Nothing outstanding here. Wade Wilson is a former special forces veteran who is now working as a mercenary. He meets escort Vanessa Carlysle and the two have hot sex, which blossoms into a serious relationship. They’re on the point of marriage when Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’s approached by an organization that offers an experimental cure. This turns out to be a shady organization that creates dangerous mutants through torture to use as slaves for hire. Things don’t go as planned, leaving Vanessa in jeopardy. I’ll let you go see the film to get the rest.

What makes this such a success? Deadpool is an antihero. This allows the film to make fun of lots of different things, including itself. The opening credits tell us the film stars “God’s Perfect Idiot,” is produced by “Asshats,” directed by “An Overpaid Tool” and written by “The Real Heroes Here.” That pretty much sets the tone for the whole thing. Apparently the budget cuts reduced roles for characters that would have detracted from the stars and greatly cut the action sequences (thank God!).

One thing I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere else: This was a visually stunning film. The two leads are very easy on the eyes, and much of the action sequences are executed in a complex, slow motion ballet. The sword work is outstanding. I went so far as to look up some making-of videos. I thought it would all be done with wires, but I don’t see them. Instead, it looks like they just launched people into the air. Whew.

Of course, there’s not a lot of depth to the script, but you can’t have everything. I’m going to go all out and give this one five stars.

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