movie reviews

Aquaman makes a splash with exotic visuals and Jason Momoa’s charm

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If you grew up snickering at Aquaman while watching Super Friends, it might be difficult to imagine that the man talking to fish and riding sea horses would be the one to save the DC cinematic universe. (Personally, I was grateful to Aquaman for his safety tips warning against the hazards of seaweed wrapping around your legs or getting clothing snagged against pan handles. To my frustration, those clips don’t appear to be available on YouTube.)

OK, Aquaman isn’t a pop culture joke anymore. Not when Jason Momoa is cast as the King of the Seven Seas, portraying a charming lunk who could rip your arms off then enjoy a couple of pints afterwards. As Arthur Curry, he’s far more charismatic and compelling than Henry Cavill as Superman or Ben Affleck as Batman. Had Warner Brothers and DC Films tried to properly establish its core characters, rather than impatiently push its Justice League franchise, perhaps that superhero team-up wouldn’t have been such a flop.

Maybe there is no more DC cinematic universe, in terms of an interconnected series of films that all occupy the same storytelling space. But if DC were to call a mulligan and hide Batman v Superman and Justice League in the cupboard, Aquaman (along with last year’s Wonder Woman) is something that the studio could rebuild its superhero franchise around.

Yet Aquaman is perfectly capable of standing on its own, rather than be a piece of a convoluted puzzle. Director James Wan has built an impressive world around his superhero, creating a spectacle that aspires to the heights of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Avatar. However, while its influences are clear, this movie isn’t derivative. Arthur Curry’s journey from reluctant hero to champion might be familiar — a modern-day fable — but Aquaman feels new and exciting, providing visuals that we haven’t seen before.

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movie reviews

Bohemian Rhapsody reminds us Queen was great, ignores too much about Freddie Mercury

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If you’re a fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury, you will very likely enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie is a celebration of the band and its music. You’ll be reminded of just how much you loved songs like “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Radio Ga Ga,” along with deeper cuts such as “Love of My Life.”

Whether or not the film is a fitting tribute to Mercury will depend on your view. Director Bryan Singer (who was fired from the production yet is still credited) and writer Anthony McCarten take a safe approach to the singer’s personal life, largely settling for allusions to Mercury’s homosexuality, drug use and partying. Much like Mercury did publicly, the movie keeps that away from the audience.

However, Bohemian Rhapsody does a fine job of portraying Freddie Mercury, the rock star. Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) has all of the legendary frontman’s stage moves and swagger down. Mercury commanded the stage, punching, gyrating, and thrusting with the beats from bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor. The rest of Queen effectively faded into the background because the eye was always drawn to Mercury’s energy and charisma.

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movie reviews

Robert Redford’s charm carries The Old Man & The Gun, but only so far

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Robert Redford might regret saying that his starring role in The Old Man & the Gun may be his final on-screen performance. But if Redford is indeed going to retire from acting, he chose an excellent role to put a final bow on his acting career.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing Forrest Tucker, a 70-year-old man who can’t give up robbing banks. He just loves it too much and doesn’t want to do anything else. And don’t tell him that he’s too old for this; he’ll just take that as a challenge and try to show you wrong.

Tucker is an absolute charmer, which plays perfectly to Redford’s strengths as an actor. (Even when Redford is playing a deadly serious character, he shows off a wit that can easily pull someone to his side.) The shock of a kind, extremely well-dressed old man suddenly declaring that he’s robbing the bank — usually by showing his holstered revolver — is enough to make tellers and bank managers all too willing to comply.

Policemen and federal agents are amused and flustered by a common statement among all of the people he encounters during his robberies: He was really polite. He was so nice.

It’s almost surprising that Tucker wasn’t given a nickname like “The Gentleman Bandit” (though that would probably be an implicit endorsement of his actions). The media dubs the trio “The Over-the-Hill Gang,” however.) We should probably be thankful that director David Lowery didn’t give this movie such a title either. “The Old Man and the Gun” is taken from the 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann that told Tucker’s improbable story.

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movie reviews

The new Halloween movie is lean and mean, a rightful follow-up to 1978’s original

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With the abundance of revivals and reboots in movies and TV, another Halloween movie might not seem like something worth our attention. Horror movies, especially, have diluted celebrated brands by making new versions of classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But maybe no horror brand has been more watered down and misguided over the past 40 years than the Halloween franchise. Nine sequels (two of which were reboots) have been made since the original 1978 film, each of them moving further away from John Carpenter’s original vision. (To be fair, however, Carpenters vision in 1978 may not have been more than to make a scary slasher movie.)

The smart move by director David Gordon Green (who co-wrote the film with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) was to act like those previous nine films never happened. (There’s even a line that dismisses one of the sillier developments revealed in 1981’s Halloween II.) This 2018 edition of Halloween is a direct (albeit 40 years later) sequel to the original film, returning to the story and its two primary characters after four decades have passed.

What makes this Halloween compelling is that it does something horror movies rarely do: It looks at the trauma suffered by the survivors after their nightmarish circumstances. Typically in a horror flick, the survivor (or survivor) has somehow triumphed — or somehow endured — and the movie ends with the assumption that life will go on and maybe return to some sense of normalcy.

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movie reviews

A Star is Born fulfills advance hype with excellent work from Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

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Could A Star is Born possibly be better than its trailer? That’s a joke (or cynical opinion) often reserved for superhero blockbusters like Iron Man, Man of Steel and Suicide Squad.

The preview released in June got seemingly everyone excited for this movie and probably brought some relief to those who thought a remake of the 1976 Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson film was a terrible idea that could possibly destroy Bradley Cooper’s career (at least as a director).

No one’s laughing or wincing now.

Not only does Cooper give the best acting performance of his career, but he also impresses as a director. He lets scenes play out and trusts his actors, rather than resorting to quick cuts and editing to create a false sense of story movement. It’s not difficult to imagine that he’s providing the direction himself that he would’ve preferred other filmmakers gave him and his co-stars.

There might be a few scenes that go a bit long, especially in the movie’s less compelling second half. But when so many films now feel like they were sliced up and patched together in the editing bay, a movie that takes time with its characters and lets the actors shine feels refreshing.

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Podcast

Amusement Park Podcast 004: We broke the internet. Or maybe not

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Have we already been doing this for a month? Four episodes says we have. The fourth edition of The Amusement Park Podcast is now available.

This week, we respond to Entertainment Weekly‘s Captain Marvel reveal, ask if there’s just too much damn TV to watch, review Operation Finale, Searching and Juliet, Naked and share what we enjoyed from the past week.

You can listen or download below:

This is the week we get our website up and running. I can feel it! In the meantime, you can listen to episodes and find subscription links over there. Maybe we’ll have some blog posts too. Really!

You can find us on the following podcast platforms:

Enjoy your weekend and thank you for listening!

newsletter

Not a Newsletter: 03/04/18

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Hello from the mountains of North Carolina! Last week’s Not a Newsletter was a bit whiny, as I was hit with a surprise cold that had me feeling lousy and thinking burnout. I’m not sure that was totally accurate, but it’s on my mind and I put it out there. But plenty of us are working a lot and slogging through.

As I finish this up, the Oscars are hours away. It’s one of my favorite events of the year, though I don’t think that interest is shared among many friends, except for a close few. Yeah, the Oscars are self-important and probably silly. But for those of us who love movies, it’s the culmination of the past year. And maybe some of us like knowing we have good taste; our favorites were named “The Best”!

Due to feeling sick for a few days, it wasn’t the most productive writing week here at Casselbloggy HQ. That probably meant more reading. But I did manage to pound a few articles out, including a ranking of the 2018 Best Picture nominees.

Here’s what we have to show from the past seven days. Be excellent to each other.

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** So Trump was having a bad day and because he was in a pissy mood, he decided to put tariffs on steel and aluminum. Yeah, that seems rational. [NBC News]

** Jordan Peele is only the fourth African American to be nominated for Best Director. Could he be the first to win that Oscar? The Hollywood Reporter gathered those four filmmakers for a roundtable discussion. [THR]

** I’ve been a Detroit Tigers fan all of my life (or since my adolescence when I first took an interest in sports). It’s astounding to me that I didn’t know who the public address announcer at Comerica Park is. His name is Bobb Vergiels, and he drives from Central Florida to Detroit 12 times a year for that job. [Detroit News, hat tip Mike McClary]

** My pooping habits are quite normal, thank you very much. [Men’s Health]

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