movies

REVIEW: “Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League” by Sean O’Connell

I’m a fan of creators having control over the things they create. Yes, to a degree, all art is a process of collaboration, whether it’s written or visual. But there’s nothing worse than seeing a creator either forced down an avenue they don’t want to explore or having their entire project taken out of their hands. The latter, it seems, is what happened with 2017’s Justice League movie. Full disclosure: I’m pretty neutral on Zack Snyder as a filmmaker—I’ve liked some of his films, and I’ve disliked some of his films. I’m also pretty neutral on the fandom that surrounds him—every fandom has positive and negative elements, and I think it’s disingenuous to paint any fandom based on its worst aspects. So, I don’t have any skin in the discourse that surrounds the Snyder Cut. What I do have, however, is an interest in the behind-the-scenes stories of films like Justice League. This interest is what brought me to Sean O’Connell’s Release the Snyder Cut. Going into it, I was hoping for a well-sourced examination into the making of the Justice League movie—what went wrong, how it went wrong, and how we got to a point where Snyder’s original cut could be made. Unfortunately, that’s not what the book is. Instead, O’Connell’s book reads as more of an extended blog post, briskly chronicling the history of the DCEU—from its earliest days with Man of Steel up until the disastrous theatrical release of Justice League and the subsequent fan-driven campaign to restore Snyder’s original cut. It’s fine, but there’s not much here that isn’t available elsewhere. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss. All thoughts are my own.

Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League by Sean O’Connell
Release the Snyder Cut is an entertaining, investigative, and emotional recap of 2017’s failed Justice League movie, followed closely by a breakdown of the exhaustive efforts by a dedicated fan base to unearth director Zack Snyder’s unfinished version. We’re currently in the golden age of superhero blockbusters. Movies like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Joker, and Avengers: Endgame routinely break box office records and compete for Oscars. Yet, Zack Snyder’s 2017 behemoth Justice League—a veritable sure bet at the Hollywood casino—tanked miserably, and the behind-the-scenes reasons for the movie’s demise are fascinating. The true story behind Justice League’s failure is only half of the juicy narrative, though. Snyder—who left the project months before filming concluded—still fans the flames that surround the rumor of a “Snyder Cut” of the film. This allegedly is the version of the story he wanted to tell before the studio, Warner Bros., pulled him off of the project. Hence, the “Snyder Cut.” Pop-culture fans love a meaty mystery, and the controversy swirling around the lost Snyder Cut of Justice League has been captivating comic-book movie fans for years. Additionally, an army of passionate DC and Snyder fans are committed to getting the “Cut” released. They already have gone to incredible lengths to fight for the movie’s opening, and have found strength, support, and charitable goals in their global “family” of Snyder Cut supporters. Their stories are remarkable, and the book is just as much about the dedicated fans who make up the Snyder Cut movement as it is about the unreleased film. Their efforts finally paid off with the recent announcement that Snyder’s cut will be released in 2021 by Warner Bros. and HBO Max. Release the Snyder Cut tells the entire story.

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Some Thoughts on the Godzilla/Kong “MonsterVerse” Thus Far

Godzilla and King Kong were two characters I knew of growing up but whose films I’d never seen. Everything I knew of them had been gleaned through cultural osmosis—I knew Godzilla was inspired by/related to the droppings of the atomic bombs in Japan, I knew that King Kong regularly climbed tall buildings with damsels in distress in hand, and I knew that both creatures tended to be defenders of humanity, fighting against other monsters. But that’s about it. Until recently, I’d never seen even a minute of any film that featured them—outside of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that riffed a couple of Godzilla films from the 1960s/1970s. So, with the imminent release of Godzilla vs Kong on HBO Max, I thought it might be time to look into Hollywood’s latest attempt to resurrect both of these franchises—this time, in a shared universe called the “MonsterVerse.” I didn’t really know what to expect or how good the movies would be, but I was excited to watch them. And, having seen the three that have been released, they’re as much of a mixed bag as I suspected. Some of them are very good, some of them are less good. But there’s clearly a lot of fun to be had in this universe. So, in that spirit, I’d like to share some brief thoughts on the three MonsterVerse films that have been released, followed by my hopes for Godzilla vs Kong.

(NOTE: There are full spoilers for Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Read at your own risk.)

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REVIEW: “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (Sundance Festival 2021)

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Like most Americans born after the 1960s, I grew up on Sesame Street. It was hugely influential on my early childhood development and I still have fond memories of it. It’s one of those shows that seems like it’s always been on. Obviously, there was a time before Sesame Street, but I can’t imagine what that was like. This is why Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, a new documentary that premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, interested me so. How did this monumental show become what it is? Who was behind its creation and how did they pull it off? That’s exactly what Street Gang seeks to answer and it does so both informatively and stylistically. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is a beautiful, heartwarming documentary. While it doesn’t contain a whole lot of new information, it’s well worth a watch for all who grew up on Sesame Street. (4 out of 5 wands)

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
Directed by Marilyn Agrelo
“Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” Based on Michael Davis’s best-selling book of the same name, Marilyn Agrelo’s film Street Gang explores how creator Joan Ganz Cooney, original series director Jon Stone, and legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson—among other key talents—joined forces to create a children’s television show that would become a groundbreaking cultural phenomenon. Recognizing that kids were utterly captivated by television, these visionaries set out to harness the power of the medium for good—to offer learning rather than products to children. More than 50 years later, the show reaches over 150 countries around the world, continuing to entertain while it educates.

Drawing on fantastic and funny behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with beloved cast members and crew, the film goes beyond the considerable nostalgic appeal of Sesame Street to tap into the enduring emotional resonance of the program’s core message of affirmation and inclusion—and the promise of preparing the next generation to imagine a better world for us all.

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REVIEW: “Wonder Woman 1984”

Three years after its theatrical release, 2017’s Wonder Woman remains one of the best entries in the DCEU. Perfectly capturing the spirit of Wonder Woman, the film is a testament to how good the DCEU can be when it allows itself to take risks and tell character-based stories. So, naturally, anticipation and expectations were high for Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins’ return to the character. Now, after numerous delays (some pandemic related, some not), a sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, is finally out. And it’s good. While having a couple of underbaked character arcs, running a bit too long, and being light on action, Wonder Woman 1984 is a marvelous return to the world of Wonder Woman. It’s buoyed by gorgeous visuals and even better performance and is sure to delight fans old and new. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984. Read at your own risk.)

Wonder Woman 1984 (written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and David Callaham; directed by Patty Jenkins)
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) lives quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s — an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile by curating ancient artifacts, and only performing heroic acts incognito. But soon, Diana will have to muster all of her strength, wisdom and courage as she finds herself squaring off against Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and the Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), a villainess who possesses superhuman strength and agility.

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REVIEW: “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special”

Continuing with the Holiday spirit, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special just came out on Disney+ today. I am (unfortunately) familiar with the infamously terrible original Star Wars Holiday Special, and when I heard that this new Lego special would be a quasi/spiritual sequel to that original special, I was both intrigued and terrified. The trailers made it look charming and irreverent, but everything about Life Day (the fictional holiday at the heart of both Star Wars holiday specials) is mired in controversy and questionable choices—seriously, who thought it was a good idea to have the original Holiday Special’s dialogue be comprised of almost entirely unsubtitled Wookie-speech? But still, it looked fun. With all of that in mind, how is The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s solid. It is a holiday-themed, caffeine-fueled, hyperactive joyride through Star Wars past and future that should satisfy the child audience the special is aimed at while potentially exhausting everyone else. (3 out of 5 wands.) 

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (Written by David Shayne, directed by Ken Cunningham)
Directly following the events of “Star Wars :The Rise of Skywalker,” Rey leaves her friends to prepare for Life Day as she sets off on a new adventure with BB-8 to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force. At a mysterious Jedi Temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure through beloved moments in Star Wars cinematic history, coming into contact with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan and other iconic heroes and villains from all nine Skywalker saga films. But will she make it back in time for the Life Day feast and learn the true meaning of holiday spirit?

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REVIEW: “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas movie musical? I certainly do, as do most others, I think. There’s just something about Christmas and musicals that go very well together. So, when I heard that Netflix was making Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, I was interested to see what they’d pull together. The trailer looked like a whimsical delight, filled with gorgeous sets and an all-star cast. And, having seen the film, that’s precisely what it is. While Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey could stand to be about thirty minutes shorter, it’s a bundle of holiday joy packed with fantastic performances, gorgeous visuals, and some pretty solid songs. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (written and directed by David E. Talbert)
A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event. Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within. From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert and featuring original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, and Davy Nathan, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility. 

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REVIEW: “Repo! The Genetic Opera”

I love a good, bad movie. Especially ones that aren’t trying to be bad. There’s something deeply enjoyable about a movie taking itself utterly seriously and being incredibly genuine with its material – especially when the results are probably not as objectively “good” as its creators might have intended. This is where Repo! The Genetic Opera enters. Repo! The Genetic Opera is a movie musical in the same vein as The Rocky Horror Picture Show – it’s a sci-fi musical made on a low budget that, in the years after its release, has found a cult following. And, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo! The Genetic Opera is just one of those films that have to be seen to be believed. It is all at once confusing, entertaining, delightful, baffling, and grotesque. It’s an experience to behold and it’s a film that I adore. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There are spoilers ahead.)

Repo! The Genetic Opera (written by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman)
In the mid-21st century, an epidemic of organ failures leads to the rise of GeneCo., a company providing transplants at a great price. Those who miss their payments become targets of GeneCo. mercenaries, who repossess the organs. In a world of drug addiction and legalized murder, a sheltered youth (Alexa Vega) seeks a cure for her rare disease as well as information about her family’s mysterious history. Her questions are answered at “The Genetic Opera.”

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REVIEW: “Tenet – The Complete Screenplay” by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s films are always a bit hit-or-miss for me. When they work, I enjoy his dramatic tendencies and his sense of scale and spectacle. But when they don’t work, they really don’t work. To this day, Inception remains one of those films that I can watch repeatedly without growing bored. But I haven’t liked a Nolan film since The Dark Knight Rises. It’s with this level of trepidation that I approached Tenet. With movie theaters in my state closed for the foreseeable future, I can’t see the film anytime soon. But I can read its recently published screenplay. Based on the writing, alone, Tenet is weak. It’s devoid of any meaningful characters, hampered with a premise that never fully makes sense, and reads less like a film and more like a collection of loosely related set pieces. (2 out of 5 wands) 

(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Tenet ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Tenet: The Complete Screenplay (written by Christopher Nolan)
Tenet is a global thriller whose action stretches across time zones, and stars Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington. The film displays Nolan’s preoccupations, especially how Time can shift from one moment to the next.

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REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

I’m going to be blunt. I’m not much of a Superman fan. There’s nothing wrong with the character or anything, his stories just don’t do much for me. That said, there is something about a story that intrigues me. He’s an alien refugee from a war-torn planet who dedicates himself to protecting the Earth. So, I’m open to finding a Superman story I enjoy. That’s partly why I decided to watch Superman: Man of Tomorrow, the newest animated film from DC Comics. The other reason is that Darren Criss, whom I’ve been a fan of since his early Starkid days, was voicing Superman and I was curious to see how that turned out. Well, having seen the film, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is deeply enjoyable. It might even rank among my favorite of the recent DC animated films. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Superman: Man of Tomorrow (written by Tim Sheridan, directed by Chris Palmer
Meet Clark Kent. Sent to Earth as an infant from the dying planet Krypton, he arrived with as many questions as the number of light-years he traveled. Now a young man, he makes his living in Metropolis as an intern at the Daily Planet – alongside reporter Lois Lane – while secretly wielding his alien powers of flight, super-strength and x-ray vision in the battle for good. Follow the fledgling hero as he engages in bloody battles with intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo and before fighting for his life with the alien Parasite. The world will learn about Superman…but first, Superman must save the world!

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REVIEW: “Project Power”

I love a good twist on a familiar trope. We see so many superhero movies these days that it’s hard for any of them to feel particularly unique. It’s not as simple as just making a serious one or a comedic one; you have to find a new twist to explore with superheroes, otherwise, it just feels like more of the same. This is where Project Power comes in. Premiering recently on Netflix, Project Power is a superhero movie that focuses less on the super-heroics of the story and more on how individual characters might react to living in a world where superpowers are not only common but easy to obtain. It’s a new spin on a familiar genre that prioritizes the voices of characters often underrepresented in the world of superheroes, and it’s well worth a watch. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Project Power. You have been warned.)

Project Power (written by Mattson Tomlin, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)
On the streets of New Orleans, word begins to spread about a mysterious new pill that unlocks superpowers unique to each user. The catch: You don’t know what will happen until you take it. While some develop bulletproof skin, invisibility, and super strength, others exhibit a deadlier reaction. But when the pill escalates crime within the city to dangerous levels, a local cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teams with a teenage dealer (Dominique Fishback) and a former soldier fueled by a secret vendetta (Jamie Foxx) to fight power with power and risk taking the pill in order to track down and stop the group responsible for creating it.

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