Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Unpopular opinion, but 2018’s Venom was so much better than this. Venom: Let There Be Carnage once again follows Eddie Brock and his symbiote pal Venom as they face off against Carnage, an offspring of Venom that latches onto serial killer Cletus Kasady after biting Eddie’s hand. Now, with a bloodthirsty Carnage on the loose, Eddie and Venom must work out their differences in order to take down the red symbiote. After the surprising success of the first film, Tom Hardy and co return to deliver a leaner and wackier sequel! Whatever you liked or didn’t like about the first film, Let There Be Carnage delivers even more of what made the first Venom successful. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing and unfortunately for Let There Be Carnage, it’s more obnoxious than it is pleasant.

A bit of context for the unaware, but I adored the first film! I acknowledge its absurdity, but there’s an undeniable charm and magic about Venom. Whether intentional or not, Venom was a throwback to the superhero films of the early 2000’s, which made it feel out of place in the current film landscape. I also have a bit of a man crush on Tom Hardy, so watching his unhinged performance was a treat for me. As I walked into the theater, I was anticipating that same magic that I experienced with the first film. Imagine returning to Disney World after spending so many years away only to find the experience to be lifeless and disappointing. It sounds devastating, doesn’t it? Well, that’s how I felt after watching Let There Be Carnage. It’s tonally consistent with the first film, but Let There Be Carnage tries so hard to outdo its predecessor, that it comes across as grating.

There was a point during the film where my girlfriend turned to me and said, “Yo, Venom talks too much. Like, shut up!” I laughed because it was true! The dynamic between Eddie and Venom is the first film’s greatest strength, but Let There Be Carnage tries too hard to play up that odd couple dynamic that it eventually starts to overstay its welcome. The only time I’ve heard this much nagging in my life was when my mother was nagging me about going to college! There’s never a moment in Let There Be Carnage where sequences are allowed to breathe because Venom always has to say something funny in order to generate cheap laughs. Every line of dialogue out of Venom’s mouth is just throwing stuff at the wall in the hopes that something sticks.

This film does absolutely no favors for Woody Harrelson. For a film titled “Let There Be Carnage,” Carnage lacks any sort of menace, motivation, or presence. Visually, Carnage looks great, but it’s all show and no go. Why does Carnage want to kill Venom? Your guess is as good as mine. There’s one sequence that tries to give Cletus Kasady some sort of depth and it’s an animated sequence that recounts his childhood. Tonally, it’s consistent with Cletus’ demented personality and provides some insight into why the character is the way he is.

Speaking of visuals, this is one pretty movie, and I’m not just talking about the actors either! This is one aspect where Let There Be Carnage outdoes the first film. There’s a clear sense of scope and scale that cinematographer Robert Richardson effectively manages to convey with the symbiotes. There are so many gorgeous shots that emphasize the magnificence of these alien creatures in ways that the first film was unable to do. As previously mentioned, the hand drawn animation for Cletus’ backstory is so unique for a superhero film because it’s something that hasn’t been done before in this particular genre. Richardson’s cinematography is an absolute improvement over the last film.

From a technical aspect, Let There Be Carnage is about as good as it gets. The design for the symbiotes is top notch and accurate to the comics and the cinematography captures scale really well. The biggest issue is that it tries so hard to be in on the joke that it feels staged. Part of the magic of the first film was that it was unintentionally silly. The sequel tries to throw anything and everything at the audience in the hopes that something will stick, but it simply can’t replicate what that first film was able to capture. Sometimes, less is more and even with its shorter runtime, Let There Be Carnage does too much only to accomplish very little.

Homeboy: Mickey Rourke’s First Draft to The Wrestler

What is it about movies with Mickey Rourke playing washed-up athletes that move me so much? Homeboy was a passion project of Rourke’s for many years; in fact, he wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Sir” Eddie Cook. With his screenplay written, it was time to hire a director; enter: Michael Seresin, cinematographer for Angel Heart and Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes movies. Homeboy would also be Seresin’s first and final directorial feature. Rourke would also cast his then-wife Debra Feuer as the film’s love interest. As you can see, Rourke had a lot of stock put into this film, but like most passion projects, it was ultimately dismissed by the general audience. Even today, you won’t find that many people who have even heard of this movie. For further proof, look this film up on Letterboxd. Rourke would eventually make a comeback by playing a similar character in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, so in what ways did The Wrestler where Homeboy failed?

Before we dive into the review, let’s start with the basics. What’s it about? Mickey Rourke plays Johnny Walker, a washed-up boxer with brain damage. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Walker links up with sleazy fight promoter Wesley Pendergass played by a lively Christopher Walken before he became a walking meme. Much like the sleazy promoter he is, Pendergass hopes to make a profit off of Walker despite the toll that fighting has taken on his body, but Walker might be ready to give it up when he meets Ruby, played by Debra Heuer. With a promising fight on the horizon, Walker needs to make his decision: fight for pride or fight for love?

I love my films rugged with a side of vulnerability and Homeboy is a wonderful concoction that is both masculine and emotionally exposed. Mickey Rourke is good at a lot of things, but he’s one of the few action stars who isn’t afraid of being vulnerable onscreen. Rourke’s strengths as a physical performer go a long way in running home the point that Johnny Walker is a man way past his prime. Just like a wounded dog with some bite left in it, Walker limps his way throughout the film and only comes alive when it’s time to fight. It’s a quiet performance with very little dialogue, but from the body movements to the beaten down look in his eyes, Rourke is able to say so much without having to say a word. There’s probably a good reason they don’t have Rourke talk too much and it’s to hide the terrible accent that jumps between Southern and Rourke’s regular speaking voice. In comparison to The Wrestler, it was probably way too soon for Rourke to play a washed up fighter way past his prime, but you can’t call it a miscast because the performance is believable.

It isn’t only the characters who are out of luck and out of time, but it’s pretty much all of Asbury Park, NJ that looks like it was scrapped up and left for the bikers and drunks who inhabit it. When we’re not hanging out with Rourke and crew in the ring, we’re hanging out with Rourke and crew by the shore, the empty amusement park, and… Only in cinema is it possible to make the most rough and tumble areas seem so pleasant and beautiful. Part of that charm is because of the major and minor characters who live in this world. Homeboy isn’t as concerned with plot as it is with vibes and getting to know all the major and minor characters who inhabit this world. “Vibes” is the keyword here because Homeboy is pure vibes. There are a handful of boxing sequences throughout, but for the most part, we’re just following Walker and Pendergass as they talk about love and dinosaurs. Yes, Christopher Walker’s Pendergass gives a monologue about dinosaurs.

Speaking of Christopher Walken, the man gives a delightfully slimy performance as Wesley Pendergass! We all know the iconic Walken voice, but I feel as if there’s not enough talk about him as a character actor. From King of New York to Pulp Fiction, Walken proves that no matter how big or small the role is, he’s still the one you’ll be talking about once the film’s over. Walken and Rourke do make a terrific pairing because Walken’s flamboyant persona is a neat contrast that works well with Rourke’s demure performance. Their personalities are different, but much like Walker, Pendergass is also down on his luck; the only difference is how both characters deal with it. For all the expensive clothes Pendergass flaunts, he’ll still sneak into hotel rooms with his meth buddy to steal some cash. The performance works because despite how sleazy the character is, it’s Walken’s charisma that draws you in. It’s obvious that Pendergass is bad for Walker, but their dialogue together comes across as so genuine that the friendship doesn’t feel one-sided until the third act, which is a bit messy in terms of pacing.

Homeboy is all over the place with its pacing and editing. There were definitely moments where I felt the sequences dragged on for too long and could have used some trimming. The final act of the film jumps between two narratives: Walker’s final fight and Pendergass’ robbery. At times, the fight sequence goes on for so long, that you forget that there’s a robbery going on at the same time. There’s no tension because there’s no rhythm, and without that rhythm, neither of those two narratives get to really stand out. It also doesn’t help that they set all of this up so suddenly near the end of the second act, which is a small part to a larger issue. I like the overall hangout vibe of the film, but there are times when it suddenly decides to have a plot that it throws off the film’s tempo. It meanders quite a bit which will be a challenge for most viewers, but the strength of Homeboy’s characters and setting are more than enough to make the film an enjoyable experience.

Homeboy is the sweet spot between Rocky and The Wrestler and is the perfect fit for a triple feature. It isn’t as uplifting as Rocky, but it’s not as depressing as The Wrestler, so it works as the middle ground. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of pacing, but that’s ok because it’s pleasant to lose track of time with these characters. Rourke’s physical performance is outstanding, but he still looks too young to take on this particular role and no amount of prosthetics can accurately display age the way that time can. Under a more confident director, this could have been an outstanding sports film, but it’s too aimless to ever appeal to a wider audience. What keeps it from being an outright failure is the sincerity in the performances, setting, and tone.

CANDYMAN (2021): Thematically Relevant but

“Say his name!” No, I don’t think I will. Mia DaCosta’s Candyman stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, and Coleman Domingo. Part sequel and part reimagining of the first film, Candyman (2021) is about visual artist Anthony McCoy as he begins his research for his next art piece. After hearing the legend of Candyman and Helen Lyle, Anthony heads on over to Cabrini-Green, the site of the events of the first film, in hopes of finding inspiration for his next project. As he learns about the Candyman legend(s), Anthony might have finally found his next project, but in doing so, he might have also reawakened an evil that has seemingly lay dormant for 30 years. Guts are flying, blood is gushing, and bees are stinging and Anthony might have a part to play.

Candyman (2021) couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. The film’s running theme is that of black oppression and the appropriation of its victims. It’s also a film about gentrification, urban legends, and the relationship between artists and critics. Oh yeah, it’s also a slasher film! Candyman (2021) is an amalgamation of different ideas that never fully come together to form a complete thought. At times, it feels more like a college lecture than a horror film, which would’ve been fine if there had been an equal amount of scares to balance out the social commentary. On a technical level, it’s impeccable, but on a storytelling level, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Praise where praise is due, Nia DaCosta has a great eye for visuals and she does utilize them for some effective scares. DaCosta’s use of shadow puppets is the best example of “show don’t tell” that is both visually engaging and eerie while also being thematically relevant to the themes of urban legends and how we tell those stories. Stay for the credits, by the way. DaCosta also captures some super gnarly kills! I may sound like a psychopath for saying that, but what makes the kills so effective are the way they’re shot. DaCosta shoots a lot of the kills from a distance, so instead of watching the slaughter up close, all of the kills are viewed from mirrors, and windows. Speaking of distance, it’s time to talk about the characters.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has all the makings of a movie star: he’s charismatic and built like a superhero. That being said, he’s not particularly good here and no matter how hard he tries, it doesn’t fix the fact that the character of Anthony McCoy is severely underwritten. The character has very little in terms of agency and all the events of the film happen because the plot needs them to happen. Much like the leprous sores on Anthony’s arm, you watch what little personality he had slowly decay until he fully becomes a non-entity in the third act.

Candyman (2021) will live or die based on what you make of the third act and quite frankly, the third act is a frustrating misfire. The film might not have a compelling protagonist, but Anthony is the protagonist nonetheless. Well, that is until the film suddenly changes its perspective from Anthony to Teyonah Parris’ Brianna Cartwright. For two-thirds of the film, Candyman (2021) does little to flesh out Brianna’s character which makes the sudden shift feel unearned. The third act also has characters suddenly behave irrationally and out of character. Colman Domingo is probably the best supporting performance in Candyman (2021), but the third act has his character go through a sudden personality change without any supplemental scenes to justify that transformation. The sudden character shifts and the unsubtle messaging are ultimately what burden the third act.

One of the very first shots in Candyman (2021) is a shadow puppet of a black boy being beaten by a group of police officers. The message here is obvious: cops are bad and the film brings up that message in the opening and closing acts of the film. The police officers in the third act are cartoonishly evil and serve as nothing but nameless villains who show up to be hacked down by the Candyman. Mia DaCosta shoots those final kills impeccably, but the meaning behind those kills mean next to nothing because the film lacks narrative and thematic focus. Mia DaCosta’s Candyman (2021) interprets the legend of Candyman as a spirit of vengeance for the wrongfully oppressed, but the execution of that theme doesn’t quite land.

Candyman (2021) has tremendous ambition. Mia DaCosta is an insanely talented director with a distinct visual style and a lot of ideas on her mind. It’s the fact that those ideas don’t always land that keeps Candyman (2021) from truly being great. For fans of Tony Todd, you’ll either love or hate his lack of screen presence. In relation to the themes of Candyman (2021), it’s actually one of the best aspects of the film because it now frames Candyman as an idea who takes on a new form (or face) with each passing generation. That being said, Candyman (2021) clumsily makes its way to the finish line with underdeveloped characters, an uneven chain of events, and half baked themes and ideas.

Shang-Chi: Marvel’s Toughest Action Film

It’s been awhile, brahs. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a new Marvel movie based on a new character. I see Marvel dominating on the streaming platforms with Loki, Wanda/Vision, and Cap and the Winter Soldier but I just can’t help but feel disinterested. Even with The Eternals coming out, I still couldn’t shake this feeling that there was nowhere else to go after Endgame. Was there something wrong with me? Did I catch a case of the dreadful “superhero fatigue” that has been plaguing the conversation since the start of the MCU’s hot streak? What could Marvel possibly give me that could keep me engaged with their projects moving forward? Well, there’s an answer to that and that answer is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings!

Director Daniel Destin Cretton, director of Short Term 12 and Just Mercy, makes his MCU directorial debut with Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first film with an Asian lead. Cretton brings along with him Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu, with Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and first-time actress Meng’er Zhang rounding out the supporting cast. Much like Black Panther, Shang-Chi represents Asian culture in a way we hadn’t seen in a superhero film before. With its influences deriving from wuxia and martial arts films, my expectations were high. I was anticipating a Marvel film with immaculate stunt choreography and gorgeous cinematography. Does it deliver on those promises? Absolutely! Could this be one of Marvel’s best solo films? Almost, but not quite. Shang-Chi comes so close to greatness, but the tropes inherent within the MCU keep it from ever reaching that level. I just got a call from Kevin Feige asking me what kept Shang-Chi from being a masterpiece. Well, Mr. Feige, let’s get on to the review!

I like to end things on a positive note, so let’s start with the negative. There are actually a few things about Shang-Chi that didn’t land with me, but its biggest problem is that gosh-dang third act! The third act is overloaded with lifeless CGI that sucks a bit of soul out of what started off as a lively, energetic martial arts film. It’s not just the artificial nature of the third act that threw me off, but it was also how unfocused it felt. The first two acts do a tremendous job of setting up the relationship and conflict between Shang-Chi and his father Xu Wenwu, that you expect the third act to feel lower scale and intimate. However, because the third act needed something to keep Michelle Yeoh and the other characters busy, the third act suddenly decides to introduce a CGI monster with little to no setup. At this point, Marvel’s too big to ever go small again which really sucks because had they cut the budget of Shang-Chi in half, it would have resulted in a more focused story.

This is just one of a few other problems I had with the film, but I can set aside those grievances if the film delivers on great action. I kid you not, this is some of the best action I’ve seen in a Marvel film since the Captain America films. The mixture of practical stunt work and choreography with William Pope’s gorgeous cinematography make Shang-Chi’s action sequences really pop. At times, the action feels more like a ballet than it does actual fighting and it’s best exemplified in the opening meet cute between Tony Leung and Fala Chen. Their movements are so fluid and graceful, that it manages to say more about their romance than simple dialogue ever could. If you love Wuxia and Jackie Chan movies, then you’ll find a lot to love about Shang-Chi.

In some ways, Shang-Chi is comparable to Doctor Strange in that they’re both visually exceptional Marvel films that are ultimately weighed down by the MCU formula to ever truly break free from it. That being said, I love Shang-Chi in the same way I love Iron Man and it’s because of the film’s overall message of identity and finding your purpose. At the start of the film, Shang-Chi, a descendant of royalty mind you, is wasting his life away as a parking valet with his friend Katy played by Awkwafina. The movie tells us on many occasions that Shang-Chi could be so much more than he is and as the movie progresses, you see the character embrace his true potential. As someone who’s wasted away on lifeless, dead-end jobs, it felt all too real for me. We all have the potential to be something more, but the real challenge is whether we go for it or run from it?

Hulk: Hulk Needs a Hug

HULK SMASH!!!! After nearly 13 years of being passed around like a hot potato, Ang Lee’s Hulk made its official debut onto the silver screen. Coming fresh off the acclaim of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee set his sights on his next big project: a character drama about a big green meathead who has some daddy issues. With X-Men and Spider-Man proving to be absolute bangers with the general audience, it was only natural that the Hulk would be next; I mean, hell, they even got Spider-Man’s composer Danny Elfman to score this thing! Perhaps it was misguided ambition to make such a somber film out of a character who turns green and smashes things; or, considering that Batman Begins would come out two years later, perhaps we just weren’t ready for it. Regardless, Hulk still remains a fascinating entry into a genre that was still finding its place in the cinematic landscape.

First things first: the plot. Eric Bana’s Bruce Banner is a genetics researcher with some buried trauma that he needs to work out. One day, after a science experiment goes wrong, the gamma unleashes something that’s been laying dormant since childhood: Ronnie from Jersey Shore!!! If you’ve read the comics, then you know how this goes. It’s a tale as old as time and a song as old as rhyme, but instead of doubling down on the camp, Hulk feels more serious and meditative. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Hulk’s really a character drama about repressed trauma and Bruce’s traumas are resurfaced with the arrival of his father David Banner, the man responsible for creating the Hulk.

Speaking of David Banner, Nick Nolte’s performance is like a fine Christmas ham, only if you left the ham to bake in a dumpster for an entire week. Nolte legitimately looks so unkempt that you can practically smell him from the screen. While Nolte is doing his thing, Eric Bana kinda just mopes around with nothing much to do. Eric Bana is fine, but if we were to rank him against Norton and Ruffalo, Bana would be ranked last. Bruce Banner is a cipher in this film, which isn’t something you want for a film that’s such a slow-burn. Some will stick with it while others will tune out, but for those who stuck with Ang Lee’s vision, he rewards you with an emotionally impactful third act.

The sequence in question is between Bruce and David Banner as both finally come face to face. Whatever feelings you might have about Hulk up until this point, this final confrontation was always the endgame for Hulk’s story. With Bruce’s repressed memories finally resurfaced, it’s time for him to confront his father one last time. Nolte goes all out and leaves nothing on the table as he delivers one of the greatest monologues of any superhero film. The final battle might not be the strongest fight sequence in a superhero film and in fact looks a quite dated by today’s CGI standards, but it’s what it represents that ultimately makes it such a crucial moment in the film.

Hulk is really weird man, even for a superhero film. For fans of the MCU or superhero films in general, the unconventional nature of Ang Lee’s Hulk might enthrall you or repulse you, but it will stick with you in some way regardless. Hulk comes so close to greatness, but Bruce Banner is such an underwritten character that it’s difficult to buy into what’s going on. There’s also a weird action sequence between the Hulk and a trio of mutant poodles that throws off the serious vibe that the film was going for. It’s a tragedy disguised as a superhero film and despite its imperfections, Hulk still proves to be a thoughtful and emotional journey about a man learning to come to terms with his emotions.

Wild Strawberries

Brah, I’m still young but this film had me questioning my whole existence.

What’s It About?

Isak Borg is a physician who’s about to receive an award from the university he graduated in. Isak goes on a road trip from Stockholm to Lund, Sweden with his daughter-in-law who isn’t particularly fond of him. Along the way, they meet a couple of hitchhikers who hop along for the ride. Now, as Isak treks through to his destination, he learns to come to terms with his past, present, and future. The plot of Wild Strawberries is very simple, but it does make for a deep and introspective character study on life, death, and the regrets of the past. Isak isn’t just traveling through Sweden, but he’s also traveling through the points in his life that helped mold him into the person he is today.

Who’s In It?

Victor David Sjöström plays Isak Borg and he rocks! I did some research on the actor and he was apparently a renowned director as well. In fact, he was one of the A-list directors during the “Golden Age of Silent Film.” It’s fitting that a director/actor of such caliber would be cast to play a a character who’s also highly regarded in their field of profession. The opening monologue Sjöström gives sets up the themes of the whole film. Isak has achieved so much, but even with all his achievements, there’s still a sense of loneliness and regret that he feels. It’s a melancholic performance, but ultimately, it leads to a cathartic resolution. Sjostrom’s performance is understated in that he never resorts to grandiose theatrics to get the character’s thoughts across, but by the same token, it manages to speak volumes even if it isn’t in your face.

Did You Like It?

This might be my favorite Bergman film that I’ve seen so far. Wild Strawberries is a moving tale on introspection and loneliness with gorgeous cinematography and a powerful performance from Sjostrom. Bergman’s use of dream sequences provide all the necessary backstory for Isak as well as context for why he is the way he is. If you’ve seen A Christmas Carol, then Wild Strawberries will feel familiar to you, but Isak’s ghosts are his dreams and they work to help him accept the things of the past in order for him to accept his present and future. If The Seventh Seal left you distressed, then Wild Strawberries will leave you with a sense of hope. It’s a melancholic look at life, but it’s also a celebration of the achievements of a life well lived and it’s this overall message that Bergman gives us that left me moved on an emotional level.

Wild at Heart

David Lynch takes us on a road trip with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune, two lovers looking to run away from Fortune’s mother Marietta who’s hired a hitman to find and kill Sailor. Along the way, Sailor and Fortune meet a couple of surreal characters that could only exist in a David Lynch film, such as Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru. It’s sweet, it’s violent, and it’s occasionally funny, but how does it stack up against Cage’s filmography? Well, crank up some Powermad and bring your best Elvis impression because we’re cruising down the road that is Wild at Heart.

Cage Performance:

Cage and Lynch only worked together once? That’s a real shame because their personalities make them a perfect match. Roy Sailor is the bad boy with a heart of gold and he’ll do anything for the love of his life Lula even if it involves getting his hands dirty. Cage’s chemistry with Laura Dern is equally sweet as it is sexy and you actively root for the characters to make it through all their predicaments. Cage is delivering a solid performance here, but compared to his later films, he’s not as eccentric as you would expect or want. Wild at Heart has Cage and Dern as two lead performances, but this leans more towards Laura Dern than it does Nic Cage. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a big part of the film, but this is very much Lula’s story from beginning to end. Cage meshes well with the bizarre nature of Wild at Heart, but it’s thankfully not distracting enough to make it meme-worthy.

Most Cage Moment:

The opening sequence where Cage’s Roy Sailor kills a hitman who’s paid by Marietta to kill him is definitely the most violent and unhinged Cage gets in the film. It’s comically violent and over the top and Nicolas Cage gives it his all as he pummels the man’s brains out. The sequence starts out relatively mild with swinger and jazz music playing in the background, but as the hitman provokes Roy, you can tell there’s a real situation brewing and it’s painted all over Roy’s face. Once the hitman makes his move, Roy let’s loose like an untamed animal; metal music is blasting and blood is splattering all over the floor, as Roy beats the man to death with Lula and Marietta watching in absolute horror. The kicker is that once it’s over, the swinger music starts playing again and Roy lights up his cigarette as if nothing happened. This sequence shows that Cage can do crazy and violent.

Good Cage or Bad Cage?

It’s serviceable Cage, but not his best role by a long shot. What makes Nicolas Cage such a compelling onscreen presence is his willingness to get weird and hammy in ways his costars won’t, but since Wild at Heart is a romance film, director David Lynch needs Cage to tone it down in order for the romance between him and Laura Dern to feel genuine. Fortunately, Wild at Heart is already bizarre on its own terms and has an equal amount of bizarre and outlandish characters to help even things out. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru and Diane Ladd’s Marietta Fortune are incredible performances and they easily run home with the entire film. There are still a couple of gems to mine from Cage’s performance, such as his Elvis accent and his sick mosh kicks, but Cage lets his costars ham it up this time around. If we’re judging this based on how crazy Nic Cage gets, you could definitely find crazier, but Wild at Heart works because the chemistry between Cage and Dern is genuine. It’s not a wild performance, but it’s a sweet performance that feels so real in a film that skews toward the surreal.

Matchstick Men

Literally had to look up Alison Lohman’s age in Matchstick Men because it wasn’t matching up for me.

PLOT:

Nicolas Cage plays Roy Waller, a con man who’s pretty good at his job, but it’s apparent that he’s not proud of what he does. On top of that, Waller has tourettes and OCD, so he’s always twitching and having the urge to clean up his house under moments of severe stress. Roy takes medication to keep the tics at bay. On top of all this mental baggage, Roy also finds out that he has a daughter. Now, Roy has to learn to be a father as he preps for one of the biggest cons of his life. As far as Nicolas Cage films go, this is a straightforward character drama directed by one of the most prolific directors of all time. There’s plenty of Nic Cage mannerisms to fill out the film, but it’s done in service of the story as well as the character’s development.

BEST CAGE MOMENT:

There’s a sequence where Roy has run out of his prescription medication and he needs to call his psychiatrist to fill it out, except for one thing: his shrink is out of office! In a state of utter panic, Roy drives to the pharmacy looking to fill out a prescription. This is the point where Nicolas Cage is allowed to let loose as Roy’s tics take full control. The frantic nature of the cinematography and editing also complement the performance really well and it leaves you in a state of unease. Just like a Coke bottle that’s been shaken up, Cage’s performance is just waiting for the cap to be opened, and when it does, it’s an eruption of joy.

Cage-Director Dynamic:

I wish Ridley Scott and Nicolas Cage worked together again, because their collaboration on Matchstick Men is dynamite. Ridley Scott perfectly utilizes Nicolas Cage and keeps him from totally going off the rails. Scott does a great job of writing compelling protagonists and Roy Waller is no exception with all his tics and mannerisms. He’s not a cartoon character, but Scott and Cage are perfectly in sync with each other that they know the right moments to hold back and when to really go for it. There’s a genuine respect and sympathy for the character of Roy and it’s because of Scott’s direction and Cage’s skills as an actor that keep the character from turning into a walking meme.

Good Cage or Bad Cage?

This is some top-tier, gourmet Cage right here! It’s not easy making a con man into a sympathetic character, but because Cage is a legitimately compelling actor, he makes Roy into a layered and sympathetic protagonist. The sweetest moments are between him and Alison Lohman who plays Roy’s daughter, and the father-daughter dynamic is believable because of the strength of both performers. Roy’s just trying to be a good dad, and even when he fumbles, you can tell that he’s genuinely trying to do right by her. If you want a Nicolas Cage film that balances between genuine and hammy, then Matchstick Men is the film for you. Unceasingly entertaining from start to finish, this is a great Nic Cage performance in an equally great movie.

The Seventh Seal

Strawberries and milk? Weird combo, but ok.

What’s It About?

Antonius Block is a knight who’s become wary of the notion of God and faith. One day, Death, played by Bengt Ekerot, comes knock-knock-knockin’ at Antonius’ door. In an effort to postpone his sentence, Antonius challenges Death to a chess match. Along the way, Block and his squire Jons encounter Jof, Mia, a mute, a blacksmith and his wife as they trek through Medieval Europe in the midst of the bubonic plague. If that sounds existentially dreadful to you, don’t worry guys, it absolutely is! That isn’t to say that it’s bleak all the way through, and there are moments that bring much needed levity and optimism to a film that can be quite philosophically stacked.

Who’s In It?

Max von Sydow, who you might know from The Exorcist, Game of Thrones, and his most iconic role, Rush Hour 3, plays Antonius Block, a Knight who represents the uncertainty of whether God exists or not. “I want God to stretch out his hand, uncover his face and speak to me” says Antonius as he confesses his doubts to Death. Years of fighting in the Crusades has exhausted the poor man and he looks for some sort of redemption before Death comes to take him away. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Gunnar Björnstrand as Jöns, Antonius’ squire who doesn’t believe in God or Satan and tries to reason with Antonius that there is nothing after death. “Emptiness in the moonlight” says Jöns to Antonius as they watch a supposed witch being burned alive for coming in contact with Satan himself. The look of terror in her eyes seems to confirm what Jons knew and what Antonius feared: that there is nothing after death…or does it?

Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson play Jof and Mia, a married couple who work as traveling actors and entertainers. The Seventh Seal brightens up everytime they appear onscreen and their purity and outlook on life even manages to make Antonius forget about his existential dilemma for a brief moment. The strawberries and milk sequence is such a banger because it’s the one time where the film slows down to give the characters a moment of peace. The dialogue between Jof, Mia, and Antonius is poetic and it works in presenting another viewpoint that’s different from the nihilistic tone that’s been present thus far. Even with the threat of the plague and death looming over the film, Jof and Mia are the two people to handle the terror with tranquility. In the end, death comes for us all, but to be able to love is what makes life worth living.

Is It Good?

There’s a reason The Seventh Seal still remains one of the greatest films of all time. The Seventh Seal is an artistic look into the existential questions of faith, death, and what makes life worth living. There are stacks on stacks on stacks of symbolism and allegory that even flew over my head, but director Ingmar Bergman’s use of dialogue and cinematography are more than enough to help get the message across. The Seventh Seal was a daunting task for me considering this was my first Bergman film, but after a rewatch and a bit of reading, I was able to get a better sense of what the film was trying to achieve. For as bleak and nihilistic as The Seventh Seal is, there is a sense of hope that accompanies it. Does God exist or does He not? Who cares? In the end, it’s how we live now that makes life fulfilling.

The Suicide Squad

Idris Elba is Father of the Year!

What’s It About?

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here! Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Rick Flagg, and Captain Boomerang are back, but this time, they’re joined up with a new team of misfit toys in order to quell a rebellion in Corto Maltese. It’s pretty straightforward, right? Well, that’s because you’ve seen films like this many times before. It’s a basic action movie premise, but no matter how generic it looks on paper, it’s the execution that matters, and director James Gunn executes it with expert craftsmanship. The Suicide Squad is like a box of chocolates. You never know who’s gonna get their heads blown off!

Who’s In It?

Amanda Waller, Rick Flagg, Harley Quinn, and Captain Boomerang are back, baby! Amanda Waller is so cold-blooded this time around that she makes the Squad look like the Justice League by comparison. Rick Flagg is actually cool now and it’s in no small part due to actor Joel Kinnaman being given much more material to work with. In terms of comedic chops, Harley Quinn still remains the least funny of the bunch, but there’s no denying she’s given the best set piece of the whole film. It’s an impeccably choreographed set piece filled with gunfire, dismembered limbs, flowers, and unicorns. Who would’ve thought killing people could look so cute?

The original cast each get their moment to shine, but Gunn introduces an entirely new batch of characters who are guaranteed to make you fall in love with them. The Peacemaker is equally terrifying as he is hilarious and John Cena is perfect in capturing that big doofus energy of the character; he reminds me of a psychotic Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove. Idris Elba is a classy gent, so it’s nice seeing him being an absolute scumbag and throwing F-bombs left and right. Last, but not least, we have King Shark, who’s an absolute softy who also has a ravenous hunger for human flesh. He elicited most of the biggest laughs from me as well as the biggest emotional reactions. No film truly works without characters to anchor the story down and it’s Gunn’s ability to humanize these characters that makes The Suicide Squad a bloody good time.

Is It Any Good?

The Suicide Squad is astoundingly good, and just like a cool glass of water, it’s a refreshing take on the source material that also washes away the bad taste of the first film. For those of you dreading on rewatching the first film for fear of feeling lost, fret not, because James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad stands on its own without the extra baggage of being a sequel to Suicide Squad. It’s crude, it’s hysterical, and it’s moving in ways the first film wasn’t. James Gunn might be the safe and obvious choice to handle an IP like this, but when he’s able to scoop from the bottom of the barrel to craft a group of likable characters, it’s no wonder every studio wants to snatch him up. The Suicide Squad will make you laugh, cry, scream “ooh” and “aah,” but most importantly, it’ll make you fall in love with the characters.