TOY STORY 4 – A Purpose-Driven Plaything

TS4 Poster

There have been few movie series so perfectly ended as Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story Trilogy. The third entry tied up all the loose ends, pulled at our heartstrings almost to the breaking point (that furnace scene…), and left all our favorite characters in a great spot where they would be taken care of and happy.

But I suppose that, given how well Toy Story 3 fared at the box office, there was no way Pixar, and its parent company Disney, would leave that money-making potential alone. There would eventually be a fourth entry in this venerable series. And now, it’s here.

Toy Story 4 reunited us with all our favorite toy friends that we’ve grown to love in the past 25 years and took them on a new adventure that indeed had its moments that were genuine and heartfelt. But ultimately, this movie seemed unnecessary and even hindered the legacy of the previous films. Perhaps Pixar should have just left well enough alone.

Despite its superfluousness, Toy Story 4 had a strong, quality thematic core to it that made it one of the deepest Pixar films to date – containing questions about the very nature of existence and what we are here to accomplish. Thankfully, we have a Creator who gave each of us a reason for being.

SPOILERS AHEAD

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SHAZAM! – A Worthy Champion

MV5BMjIyNTkwODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUyMTA5NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has been playing catch-up to Marvel Studios pretty much since the DCEU’s inception. Man of Steel was a good, if somewhat flawed, first entry. What came next were half-baked films that had interesting concepts but poor execution (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), just plain stinkers (Suicide Squad), and stylistically schizophrenic messes (Justice League).

There have been enjoyable and fun films in the DCEU (Wonder Woman and Aquaman), but they still are in the minority. And now it seems that Warner Bros. and DC are attempting a new strategy to downplay the “shared universe” aspect of the franchise – which could be good or bad, but generally frustrating for a continuity nerd like myself.

Shazam!, the newest film in the DCEU, was definitely on par with the two enjoyable DCEU films. It’s a fun story full of youthful exuberance and wonders, with a charismatic lead, an intriguing concept, and some really entertaining set pieces.

One cannot help but compare Shazam! to the MCU’s latest entry, Captain Marvel. They were released within a month of each other and both titular characters have historically held the title “Captain Marvel” (Shazam was originally called Captain Marvel when the character debuted in 1939, but decades worth of legal challenges now prevent DC from using the name). But if there’s one hero truly worthy of that moniker, it is definitely Billy Batson – a more interesting character who actually changed, matured, took time to develop his powers, all of which made his journey interesting.

Can’t say the same thing about Carol Danvers.

Shazam! was also one of the most spiritually poignant DCEU movies, with lots of subtle and blatant theological references peppered throughout the narrative and the main character’s DNA. It made Billy Batson’s journey similar to that of many biblical heroes.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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Why THE LAST JEDI is Terrible…in Detail

TLJ

Ever since it was released in December 2017, I’ve wanted to write a review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This film was so bad – not just because of its construction and execution, but because of what it has done to fundamental parts of the Star Wars franchise and mythos – not to mention the schism it created with the franchise’s loyal fanbase.

I really wanted to break down all the minutiae of why The Last Jedi is awful – if for nothing but my own catharsis. But I hesitated because I had a lot going on personally and professionally at the time and several other people who are much more talented than myself have done a better job of explaining why The Last Jedi doesn’t work than I ever could.

At first, I thought that Red Letter Media’s take on The Last Jedi was the best – both their initial review as well as their “Plinkett Review.” RLM is a favorite of mine because they take the time to explain exactly why a film doesn’t work and have actual examples to back up their claims. Their dissections of the Star Wars prequel films, in particular, are a master class in bad storytelling.

But then, I saw this two-part, three-plus-hour piece of brilliance from HackFraud Media. They were obviously riffing on RLM’s Plinkett reviews, which is pretty funny in and of itself. But this review went into even more detail than the exceptional RLM version – taking apart all the film’s absurd characterizations, lazy storytelling, half-baked subversions, and long-term damage done to the saga itself in a clinical, profound, and entertaining way.

Just a warning that, like RLM, there is some profanity.

The Living Masters of Film Music

ASCAPWorkshop2017-Recording

Who doesn’t love a good film score?

Writing music for film is a true art form. At its best, film music enhances the story and fills the screen (and by extension, the viewer) with emotion. The actors and the lines provide the context, but the score is where the real emotion lies. It can make our hearts race with anxiousness, share in the triumph of the protagonist, feel the love between a couple, and so much more.

It is also a collaborative effort – a collaboration between the composer and the vision of the director. The best composers compliment the director’s action and drama on screen. Not calling attention to their work, but letting it work in tandem with each scene – perfectly balanced, as a certain mad Titan is prone to say.

A great score can also elevate the movie to heights the writer and director never dreamed. Even the pedigree of a categorically bad film is raised slightly because of the astounding amount of dramatic wind the music puts in the sagging story’s flimsy sails.

It may be a bit daring to say that film music can sometimes bring home the emotional theme to a story. In my personal experience, I have often had the spiritual theme to a film I’m reviewing revealed to me by remembering the music.

Over the past three months, I’ve enjoyed a free trial of Apple Music, the iTunes streaming service. It’s quite good with lots of variety. Not sure if I’m going to continue the service. But this trial enabled me to listen to a variety of film scores from some of my favorite composers. It really got me thinking about who the greatest composers are today.

So as a thought exercise, here’s my list of the ten greatest living film composers. Continue reading

CAPTAIN MARVEL – An Empty (Super) Suit

CM PosterMuch hay has been made about the new Marvel Studios film, Captain Marvel. “Finally,” they say, “A Marvel Studios film has a female lead.” It’s an “important” film, you must understand. As it will finally give women and girls someone to look up to and root for in the pop culture sphere. Never mind that there have been many other heroines over the decades.

The culture at large is giving this film and its star so much press and love simply because of what Captain Marvel supposedly represents. Whether the film is actually good or not appears to be a secondary concern.

Captain Marvel is not good. In fact, it is probably the worst film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. The film boasted impressive production value and honestly surprised me by containing very little openly feminist propaganda (though there are some eye-rolling zingers). However, the movie failed on a fundamental storytelling level and undermined the rock-solid footing of the MCU – a franchise that allegedly now rests on the shoulders of this thoroughly drab and unlikeable hero.

And so many women and girls will now see Captain Marvel as a halcyon of female empowerment, which, given how the character behaved in the film, is really sad. The film version of Wonder Woman is a much better candidate for that honor.

Still, as unlikeable as the title character was, Captain Marvel does delve into an interesting concept in Christian thought that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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