Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (PG13 – 137 minutes

I never saw the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending, but I heard it described as a beautiful mess.  That is exactly how I would describe this movie as well.

Luc Besson is a filmmaker that I have liked for quite a while – even if some of his movies have been misfires. The Professional, La Femme Nikita, Lucy, The Messenger – all have some interesting action and amazing visuals.  However, the Fifth Element is easily my favorite of his filmography.  A trippy sci-fi epic with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich in Jean-Paul Gautier outfits as they race to save the world from Gary Oldman and a solid mass of evil. 

Since I enjoyed that so much, I was looking forward to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – even though I was skeptical of the two leads.  The story is taken from a French graphic novel, Valerian and Laureline, and was a passion project that Besson worked on bringing to the screen for many years.

The story begins on a beautiful planet where a race of pearl-like beings are living peacefully, harvesting pearls from the oceans of their world and using a little, adorable creature to multiply those pearls, which seem to power everything in their lives.  Suddenly, multiple spaceships begin crashing down onto their planet from the atmosphere above.  Investigating a fallen ship, the king and queen and a group of their people take shelter when a massive ship crashes into and destroys their planet, as their daughter, the princess, is trapped outside.

Meanwhile, across the universe, we are introduced to Major Valerian and his partner Sargeant Laureline as they are relaxing and off-duty.  He proposes to her (this felt like a joke to be, but apparently he was serious? Hard to tell, they had zero chemistry), just as they head off to their latest mission.  They head to a planet that has a huge inter-dimensional shopping market to intercept the sale of a ‘converter’ (which is one of those cute little animals we saw in the beginning).  They make it out of the market and take the converter back to Alpha – the “City of a Thousand Planets”, which is made up of many different spaceships that eventually bonded together as more and more species learned of its existence.  While there, Valerian and Laureline learn from their commander that there is a spot in the center of Alpha that seems to be radioactive, and they need to find out what is going on there.

From this point on, things get a little muddled.  A meeting gets interrupted by some of the remaining Pearl species who take the commander, Laureline keeps the converter, Valerian chases the Pearls, Laureline has to put a jellyfish on her head to find Valerian, once she does – she gets captured by another species who wants to eat her brain so Valerian asks Ethan Hawke to borrow a shapeshifting Rhianna to get Laureline out, Rhianna gets killed off-screen, the two eventually learn that the spot in the center of the city is the Pearls and that they've been prepping a ship to leave and start a new life for which they need the converter to make more pearls to power their ship, but since the commander is the one who was responsible for destroying their world they also would like a little revenge.  And Valerian continues to ask Laureline to marry him, almost constantly.

I will say honestly, the movie is beautiful.  The sequence on the Pearl planet is astounding.  The notion of the ‘City of a Thousand Planets’ is really interesting, but the story is so muddled and the acting so wooden that it was very easy to lose interest in what was happening.  I wanted to love it, but felt like I couldn’t.  The majority of the movie is effects and CGI, so there are just a few actors with sizeable live-action roles.

  • Dane DeHaan was interesting in Chronicle. I haven’t liked him in anything I have seen him in since then. Here he is wooden, and honestly, not believable as an action lead – and a major in the military. Also, the constant asking of Laureline to marry him got really annoying and bordered on harassment.

  • Cara Delevingne plays Laureline, and again, very wooden. She was actually less wooden than DeHaan, but still not entirely believable as a military operative. Yes, she's better in this than she was in Suicide Squad - but as bad as this is - it's better than that one.

  • Clive Owen plays the commander in such a way that you are well aware he will be revealed as the villain behind everything.

  • Rhianna plays Bubble for what seems to be no reason. She’s a shapeshifter who has a dance sequence, during which the switching to body doubles who did the actual dancing was painfully obvious.  She seems to be in this movie just for the sake of putting Rhianna in this movie – she literally has one scene as her, and one scene where she ADRs for a digital version. Neither scene had any particular bearing to the plot, so the whole thing felt useless.

  • Ethan Hawke has literally one scene where he introduces Valerian to Bubble.
  • Herbie Hancock plays the minister.  Yes, Herbie Hancock plays the minister. Why not just use Tiny Lister again?

Listen, it’s ambitious and it looks great. The problem is, you don’t feel anything while watching it. It all just seems like very attractive mess. Yes, you should probably see it, and to take the best advantage of the visuals, you should see it in the theater, but be prepared for everything other than the visuals to be disappointing.

5 out of 10. Gained points for Ethan Hawke trying to Ruby Rod the middle of this movie, but lost points for him not getting close. 

Bonus – more Fifth Element fun from Cinema Sins.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: SpiderMan Homecoming (PG13 – 143 minutes)

At this point, you should have a pretty solid base knowledge of SpiderMan. He was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, orphaned at a young age, raised by his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben, bitten by a radioactive spider which gave him superpowers, and used his considerable intellect to build gadgets to go along with his new powers.  After first using his new powers for his own popularity and financial gains, the murder of his Uncle Ben by a criminal he could have stopped causes him to realize that “with great power comes great responsibility”, which becomes his center – and the reason he’s easily one of the most relatable superheroes out there. Peter is a quiet, shy, nerdy ‘wallflower’ who has to deal with the struggles of day to day existence, but SpiderMan allows him to help those he can.  He’s had several different incarnations on TV and in movies – and while Sam Raimi’s first movie nailed the origin story, my favorite incarnation is still the animated series from the 90s, which paired with the XMen animated 90s series.

After the third in the first series ruined one of the best villains (here I of course mean Venom, no one cares about Sandman) and one reboot too many (look, we all like Andrew Garfield, but so much of those two movies was wrong), Sony decided to make a deal with Marvel, and allow a new Peter Parker to join the MCU.  I was hoping for Miles Morales – but – Once I saw Captain America Civil War, Tom Holland completely won me over.  And the eyes on the outfit moved! Amazing!

Even after that debut, I wasn’t sure we needed another SpiderMan movie so quickly, but I have to say, again, I was won over, and this is easily one of (if not the) best SpiderMan movies.
The movie picks up just after the events of Captain America Civil War, Peter has returned home to high school, eagerly awaiting more work from Tony Stark and the Avengers. He spends his time at school during the day, telling all his classmates he has an internship with Tony Stark that is preventing him from attending too many after curricular activities. He then spends the afternoons and evenings chasing bad guys around and generally being a ‘friendly, neighborhood, Spiderman’. 
Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes, a construction company owner had a huge city contract to clean up after the ‘incident’ in New York, you remember, when the Avengers battled the Chitari army?  Well, a shady new government/Tony Stark organization called Damage Control steps in to take over the contract.  Furious, Toomes resorts to stealing bits of tech and teaming up with some of his crew to make and sell new and elaborate weapons to make ends meet.

One of his evenings out, SpiderMan encounters criminals using these weapons.  He attempts to warn Stark through Happy Hogan, but that doesn’t seem to go very well.  During a party at a classmate’s house, he ends up trailing and tagging some of the criminals as they were about to make a deal – this puts SpiderMan on the radar of Toomes who has used some of the found tech to build himself Vulture-like wings and claws that aid him in his thefts. 

Following his tag, while also on a school Academic Decathlon trip to Washington D.C., Peter finds that the crew is stealing the tech from Damage Control, and ends up learning there will be another deal made back in New York on the Staten Island Ferry.  He shows up to stop the deal, ends up interrupting what was going to be a big sting and almost loses the ferry and everyone on it in the firefight. However, Iron Man shows up to save his butt, and chastise him for not listening when told to stand down earlier. Peter tells him he just wants to help and knows he is capable of more, but Stark is convinced Peter is not yet ready - and takes back his fancy suit.  This leaves Peter to decide whether or not to pursue one final showdown with the Vulture, without his fancy Stark Industries suit. Spoiler Alert – he does.

The movie is fast-paced and fun, which is important for a flick that’s over two hours. The action is wonderful, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated not going through the origin story yet again – we are all aware of the radioactive spider bite – we don’t need to see it one more time (looking at you, every Batman movie).  I also appreciate the effort made to tell a localized story – often with stand-alone Marvel movies, the question is often why the lead hero wouldn’t simply call the other Avengers. Here, SpiderMan operating alone makes perfect sense. Director Jon Watts was clear that this was going to be a more high-school Spiderman than any other, and that he was looking to John Hughes movies for inspiration, and what a great choice. The cast around Holland is just as fantastic as he is and manage to steal several scenes.

  • Tom Holland is a wonderful Peter Parker, and at 19 when they started shooting, is the most age appropriate Peter Parker to date. The others have all been closer to 30 attempting to play a teenager. Holland has a background in dance and gymnastics, and makes the movements and action believable. He’s also a great actor, and really makes you feel his conflicting excitement and nervousness.  I can’t wait to see both his appearance in the Infinity Gauntlet movie, and his next Spiderman outing.

  • Michael Keaton is absolutely fantastic as the Vulture. Now, I was for sure not in favor of using the Vulture as the villain, but what a great way to update him. And Keaton, just amazing – so sinister, but for so many of the right reasons. He is just incredible and I am so happy he was in this movie.

  • Robert Downey Jr. continues to blur the lines between RDJ and Stark and really does a good job being concerned about, disappointed in, and then proud of his protégé. He’s wonderful in this – and quite honestly, if we never get another stand-alone Iron Man movie, but he keeps popping in from time to time like this – I’d be happy.  Speaking of which - Jon Favreau brings back his continuously irritated Happy Hogan, and I loved his bits in this.

  • Marisa Tomei plays the youngest version of Aunt May to date, and she’s pretty charming and fun, and much more sassy that I’m used to Aunt May being.

  • Zendaya plays Michelle, a classmate of Peter’s who truly doesn’t care about what’s going on with everyone around her, and I really loved her character so much more than I expected to. Indifferent and hilarious, I am really intrigued to see where she goes next (please dye her hair red).

  • Donald Glover, who campaigned to play SpiderMan back when Garfield was cast, gets rewarded for his campaign with a small role in this movie. He plays criminal Aaron Davis (who is known as the Prowler in the comics, and is the uncle to Miles Morales).  His character helps SpiderMan learn where he needs to go next, and that he needs to work on his interrogation skills, and mentions his nephew lives in the area – which means at some point, Miles will show up!

  • Jacob Batalon plays Ned, Peter’s “Guy in the Chair”, what an excellent job this kid does. He’s so entertaining and so genuine. He’s got Peter’s back before and after learning his secret, doing what he can to assist SpiderMan whenever possible.

  • Laura Harrier plays Liz, Peter’s crush in this movie. She’s smart and pretty, and also willing to give Peter a chance or two, which of course he blows because of his SpiderMan-ing. That’s how that usually goes for Peter.

  • Tony Revolori plays this version of Flash Thompson, and since they are now at a high school for math/science/engineering – he’s smarter this time around, but still the same old bully.  I loved this version, and thought Revolori was perfect.

  • Abraham Attah plays Abe, another student on the Academic Decathlon team who is there to keep Flash in place, he also stole the few scenes he was in.

  • Bokeem Woodbine plays a version of the Shocker, and again, would not have picked the Shocker as one of the many SpiderMan villains that should come to screen, but they did such a good job of giving him just a little to do that I ended up entirely on board.  Plus, seeing Woodbine again made me want to rewatch the Big Hit.

  • Tyne Daly shows up as the head of Damage Control in a role I would call very Amanda Waller-y. I look forward to her role being a through-string in more MCU pieces.  I am intrigued to see what else she does, as she seems to have a lot of alien tech at her disposal.  I feel like bringing her into one of the New York based Marvel Netflix shows would be really interesting.
  • Hannibal Buress plays the gym teacher at the school, and Martin Starr plays the Academic Decathlon coach and both of them were incredibly hilarious in their small roles.

I loved this movie, I really did.  I wasn’t expecting to, and I think that’s why it snuck up on me.  Stay all the way through the credits (duh.) for an especially self-aware hilarious post-credit sequence.  I can’t wait to see more SpiderMan movies with this new crew. SpiderMan has such a wide range of villains, you can go a long way without retreading what has already been done (please no more Green Goblins!!).

9 out of 10 – near flawless.  It is a little long, even though it didn’t feel like it.

Bonus – cast interviews!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Movie Review: The House (R – 88 minutes)

Every once in a while we get a fun little comedy that stars a bunch of friends and seems more like an excuse for them to hang out rather than to make a real movie. They’re mostly entertaining to watch, but almost always have the effect of making you wish you could hang out on set with these folks.  I would say that last year's Sisters felt that way.

The House fits in that category.  Scott and Kate Johansen seem to be a pair a clueless parents with a daughter about to head off to college.  The problem is, they were counting on a community scholarship to pay for college, and that suddenly gets canceled as shady community leader Bob shifts the money to a fancy community pool instead. Outvoted, since most townspeople are more interested in a fancy pool than sending their daughter to college, Scott and Kate are confused and desperate – also, they seem to have been terrible at financial planning.  This lines up perfectly with their friend Frank, who is recently divorced from his wife Raina and falling apart because of a gambling problem.  Frank’s house is mostly empty since his wife took just about everything, so he gets the idea to turn his house into an illegal casino. 

It starts out harmless enough, with the local townspeople enjoying the opportunity to blow off some steam and spend their money.  However, soon enough things start to get out of control, and the underground casino draws the attention of both local gangsters and local police – eventually leading to a showdown with the crook who shifted the scholarship away from the Johansen’s in the first place.

The story is straightforward and simple, again, you don’t need a ton of plot here - just a set up to let some very comedic actors play around in and bring their own punchlines.  The movie is directed by Andrew Jay Cohen, who has been mostly a writer up to this point (Neighbors, Mike and Dave need Wedding Dates).  Here, he frames each shot to make the most use of the actors in it, and I have to believe that most of the movie was improv-style, making me want to watch all the outtakes. Yes, there are some over the end credits – but I feel like there are tons more somewhere!

  • Will Ferrell plays Scott Johansen and delivers a solid performance – I actually prefer him as a regular guy slowly going crazy then an absurd character.

  • Amy Poehler plays Kate Johansen and of course, delivers another solid performance as a woman who wants to do the right thing but also gets sucked into the casino life.

  • Jason Mantzoukas plays Frank, and is all crazy brilliance as he slowly pulls it together through running an illegal casino.

  • Ryan Simpkins plays Alex Johansen and actually does a good job as a kid who just wants to go to school, but also wants to hang out with and not disappoint her parents. I enjoyed the scenes of her with her friends.

  • Nick Kroll plays Bob Schaeffer, the crook who shifts the scholarship away from the Johansens. Kroll excels at playing this type of horrible person, so he’s perfect in this.

  • Allison Tolman plays Dawn, Bob’s partner in crime/conscious.
  • Rob Huebel plays Officer Chandler, a nice neighborhood cop who gets caught up in Bob’s shadiness, but does the right thing at the end.

  • The townspeople are played by various talented comedians and sketch artists – this helps provide the most comedy possible, even for small scenes: Rory Scovel plays Joe, Lennon Parham plays Martha, Cedric Yarbrough plays Reggie, Kyle Kinane plays Garvey, Michaela Watkins plays Raina, and there are plenty more with essentially cameos.
  • Jeremy Renner has one ridiculous scene as Tommy, the gangster who seems to attempt to move in once the Johansens start to lose control and take on semi-gangster alter-egos.

I really enjoyed this movie, I thought it was silly and fun, and with an 88 minute run time (perfect for comedies), it’s a quick bit of entertainment.
8 out of 10 – gained points for Renner, I wish he was in the movie more.  Lost points for the townsfolk almost immediately starting up a fight club in the casino – apparently there was a lot of buried resentments!

Cast Interviews!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver (R – 112 minutes)

Edgar Wright has made a lot of really fun movies starting with his “Cornetto Trilogy” in the UK – Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.  He moved on to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which was a really fun adaptation of a graphic novel.  This movie is a little bit different than his previous work, but stills feels familiar in parts.

Baby Driver begins with a heist – Baby, yes, he goes by Baby, is a getaway driver.  He does all his getaway driving to music he carefully selects and plays on various MP3 players as well as recording various conversations and mixing them into original tracks. The opening heist seems to go smoothly, and the three bank robbers, Buddy, Darling, and Griff, hop into the car and Baby drives them away from the scene and the cops.

Baby meets a waitress, Debora, and they bond over music.  We learn that Baby is staying with and caring for his elderly and deaf foster father.  We also learn that Baby is working off a debt to ‘Doc’, the man who sets up these robberies for which he drives getaway.  Doc tells Baby he has one more job before he is done, and sets Baby up with a new crew, featuring Bats, No Nose, and J.D.  Once again, Baby does some incredible driving, but Bats turns out to be a bit of a maniac, and surprise surprise, Doc decides that he will not let Baby out of their deal.  He goes so far as to threaten both Debora and his foster father. 

Baby tries to make plans with Debora to run away – but gets pulled into another job by Doc with Bats, Buddy, and Darling. The job goes sideways, and Baby has to evade both the cops and his crew, get his foster father to safety, and meet up with Debora, just in time to get arrested.

Honestly, that’s about it for the plot – there’s not a ton of story, and there doesn’t need to be. The magic of this movie is the in between moments.  It is what director Edgar Wright does with the actors and action.  The movie is ultra slick and extremely polished.  Every action sequences is set to the song that Baby is listening to, right down to the gunfire matching the drumbeats of the song. It is a very unique way to frame a movie, and makes the action sequences particularly engaging. He manages to cast people who perfectly fit his story.

  • Ansel Elgort plays Baby, and his burgeoning DJ career probably helped him work with the music in this role. I think my dislike of Ansel Elgort carried through to Baby.  That’s not really his fault – it’s mine. He does a wonderful job portraying a kid who went through a painful childhood capped off by a car accident that killed both parents. He does a great job portraying Baby as disconnected and distant, but at the same time, yearning for a connection and finding that through music.

  • Jon Bernthal has one scene in this movie as Griff – the wildcard in the first crew. I found this interesting since it felt like he featured heavily in the marketing.

  • Jon Hamm plays Buddy – who at first seems to be a decent guy, but once he loses his love, he goes dangerous scary.

  • Eiza Gonzalez plays Darling – Buddy’s girlfriend and sidekick and partner in crime.

  • Lily James plays Debora - she’s sweet and gentle and quickly won over by Baby’s genuineness. Baby for his part, is won over by her sweetness, and her similarities to his mother, based on what we learn via flashback.

  • Kevin Spacey plays Doc who begins as a villain holding Baby’s future hostage, but has a flip at the end that seems to indicate he feels a bit protective of Baby.

  • CJ Jones plays Joseph, and he’s charming and concerned as Baby’s foster father. The most touching moments in the movie were between the two of them.  He really is deaf, although not really as old as he plays in the movie. He is an absolutely fascinating man, born one of seven hearing children to two deaf parents, however, did eventually lose his hearing at age 7 to spinal meningitis.  He has been an actor for years, has toured the world with a one-man show, and gives motivational speeches to colleges and companies.

  • Jamie Foxx plays Bats whose main character motivation seems to be that he’s crazy. He’s crazy and distrusting, which is a bad combination in a bank robber.  I can’t tell if it’s a good use of Jamie Foxx, or if they should have let him go a little further.  

Overall I liked the movie, I didn’t love it – but I will certainly agree that it is fantastically put together, and a great ride.  I was missing a bit of the sense of fun that some of Wright’s earlier films had as this was a bit more serious all the way through – which doesn’t take away from the movie, it’s just not quite the tone I was expecting. I enjoyed the very Edgar Wright-y parts, the quick cuts and zooms. I also found this to be one of the cases where I felt disconnected from the movie because I didn’t really like any of the characters.  All the crew members were equally insane and untrustworthy; Doc seemed to be the big bad for the front part and at the end has some sort of out-of-nowhere flip to sacrifice himself for Baby. Because I was still hating him from the beginning where he straight up threatened to kill Baby’s foster father, I felt like that came out of nowhere.  All that said, it’s absolutely worth seeing, because it’s Wright’s assembling of familiar pieces in a unique way that makes for an original movie.

7 out of 10 – gained points for the music integration – lost points because I disliked all the characters.
Cast Interviews!