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!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Movie Review: Pacific Rim Uprising (PG13 – 111 Minutes)

Pacific Rim was a movie by Guillermo del Toro that feels less like a Guillermo del Toro movie than most of his other movies – except for the one sequence with Ron Perlman. The movie was super silly fun, and posited that an inter-dimensional breach opened in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to release giant alien monsters known as Kaiju, which come to the coastal cities, and wreak havoc.  Humanity decides the best way to combat the kaiju is to build giant robots to fight them hand-to-hand.  The robots – called Jaegers – are so large that they require two pilots to operate them, and the two pilots must be ‘drift compatible’.  With the help of kaiju scientists Newton Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb, Stacker Pentecost bombs the breach, closing it, and preventing further kaiju arrivals.  If all that sounds a bit complicated, the bottom line is that it’s giant monsters fighting giant robots, and that’s about all you need to know.

In this follow-up, we meet Pentecost’s previously unmentioned son, Jake, who is bumming around the rim, squatting in half destroyed mansions, partying, and selling jaeger pieces that he scavenges. He’s basically Rey from the beginning of Episode 7.  Jake stumbles across Amara Namani, a young woman who has built her own mini-jaeger from scraps.  They both get arrested, and Jake’s adopted sister, Mako Mori, convinces him it is time to come back to the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps, and that Amara would be a great addition as a new cadet. 

Jake grumbles through the arrangement, and agrees to help rangers Nate Lambert and Jules Reyes train a group of new recruits to become jaeger pilots.  Jake is a bit skeptical, believing the war to be over. Meanwhile, Hermann Gottlieb is still working with the PPDC, warning that the kaiju may come back, while Newton Geizler is working with Liwen Shao, as her company has started building drone jaegers that can be remotely piloted – eliminating the two-pilot drift issues.

Inevitably, during a demonstration for the new drones, things go awry, and Jake has to get the cadets ready to battle some new kaiju’s before they are completely ready. 
The movie is really uneven, and similar to the first movie – they throw around names with a casualness that makes you wonder if you missed something. No, you’re not supposed to know all the names of the jaegers, even though they act like you are supposed to.  Yes, sometimes they refer to the kaiju by name, but you aren’t supposed to know those either.  Those parts absolutely feel like a video game (in particular, One Must Fall), where you would have to select or build your own jaeger based on the features you want.

This is the film directing debut of Steven DeKnight, and while the action is still super fun, the in-between parts (you know, with the human actors) are a bit of a struggle to get through. The movie has multiple competing storylines, and that would not be an issue if it could pick a focus a little better. Amara lost her parents, and built a jaeger, the cadets need to be trained, Geizler and Gottlieb are researching, Shao is determined to get the drones working, and Jake has to deal with his own unresolved father issues.  If you just turn off your brain and enjoy the action sequences, it’s just fine.
  • John Boyega tries his best, and is absolutely the most charismatic person in the movie, which is normally tough in a film with Charlie Day.  Boyega is wonderful, and fun, and does a great job with what he has.

  • Scott Eastwood is wooden and boring as Nate Lambert. Apparently, he and Jake used to pilot together, but Jake blah blah blah.  Honestly, I don’t remember. They seem to be find with one another.

  • Cailee Spaeny plays Amara Namani – and aside from being a huge jaeger fangirl, her tech awareness and mechanical skill was really interesting, and I did enjoy the payoff of her own jaeger, Scrapper.

  • Burn Gorman returns as Hermann Gottlieb who does his best to help figure out a way to get jaegers to their fight sequences faster, since previously they are slowly carried there by helicopters.

  • Charlie Day returns as Newton Geiszler and yes, there are definitely repercussions in this movie from him ‘drifting’ with a kaiju brain in the last movie. Turns out, that was a bad idea.

  • Tian Jing, who was one of my favorite parts of the Great Wall, plays Liwen Shao, one of my favorite parts of this movie. I found her character really interesting. She’s all business in the beginning, and definitely about getting the PPDC to use her drones, but then she actually gets a full character arc as she realizes what has happened with her tech.

  • Jin Zhang plays Marshal Quan, the man in charge of the PPDC.

  • Adria Arjona plays Jules Reyes, and seems to be there to exist only as eye candy for Nate and Jake – it was insulting. Apparently she was a great ranger, with mechanical skills, but that was all wiped away every time the guys oogled her.

  • Rinko Kikuchi returns at Mako Mori, there to help Jake step up to his destiny.

Overall, the kaiju/jaeger fight scenes were great, the story was a little rough, and some of the acting was not great.  It kept reminding me of Starship Troopers and if it had done a better job on the introducing-and-training-the-cadets storyline, it could have been a little more like it in a positive way.

5 out of 10, not great. Not terrible, but not great.  If you’re going to see it, see it in 3D!
Bonus, watch Starship Troopers again – would you like to know more?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Movie Review: Tomb Raider (PG13 – 118 minutes)

The first Tomb Raider game debuted in 1996, focused on Lara Croft, an incredibly wealthy heiress who travels the world looking for lost artifacts and relics. She’s Indiana Jones without the respect and day job.  I have played several of the versions, but honestly I never get very far, because Lara ends up having to shoot wolves and other animals, and I just don’t care for that.  I’d rather play any of the Uncharted series (If you haven’t played Uncharted: The Lost Legacy yet – go buy it now). 

The first Tomb Raider movie was called Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and came out in 2001 starring Angelina Jolie.  It’s cheesy and a little ridiculous, featuring Jolie doing a british accent and a younger (not young, I don’t think he was ever young) Daniel Craig doing a terrible American accent. 

That spawned a sequel where Lara and Gerard Butler chase after Pandora’s box.  Then, in 2013, the game was rebooted, and Lara was reverse-aged a bit, taken back to her younger days as she learned to become the world’s foremost raider of tombs. 

This movie is based on that reboot, and starts with a young Lara upset as her father leaves on an expedition.  We then zip forward to learn that he’s been missing many years, and Lara is working as a bike messenger because she is refusing to sign the papers acknowledging her father’s death and accept her inheritance.  In a conversation with her father’s associate and lawyer, she is given a puzzle box, which leads to her father’s secret office, which leads her to a man named Lu Ren in Hong Kong, which leads both of them to an island off the coast of Japan in search of the tomb of Himiko, an ancient queen who was said to bring death by her very touch. 

After barely making it to the island, Lara and Lu stumble across a group of mercenaries hired by a shady company (aren’t they always?), and it becomes a race to the tomb to discover the truth of what was buried long ago.

The movie is fast paced, with tons of action, and is by director Roar Uthaug.  He’s a Norwegian director and this is his first non-Norwegian film. I particularly enjoyed the chase sequences, of which there are several. There’s an interesting bike chase in the beginning, and foot chase in Hong Kong, and a chase at the very end.  The hand to hand fights are also pretty great.  The cast is pretty good:

  • Alicia Vikander is good as a young Lara, she’s not yet the heiress comfortable in her money, but currently a scrapper, working to get what she needs.  By the end of the movie, it’s actually not hard to believe she can grow into Angelina’s version.

  • Daniel Wu plays Lu Ren, and I will say this again – if you are not watching Into the Badlands, you really should be.  He’s great in this, even with very little to do. He is a perfect supporting character to Lara’s lead.

  • Dominic West plays Lord Richard Croft, who eventually seems to drive himself mad researching Himiko’s tomb and the mysterious company who is after it. 

  • Walton Goggins plays Mathias Vogel, and he is fine, but honestly, when you have Walton Goggins, you want him to go a little crazy.  Here he feels a bit restrained. I wanted him a bit more like he was in Predators – just straight up crazy and dangerous. Here, he does a great job of being tired, overworked, and frustrated by all Crofts in general.

  • Kristin Scott Thomas plays Ana Miller, who is an associate of Lord Croft, and continues to assure Lara that Lara doesn’t need to worry about the business as she is keeping good care of it…. Or is she?

  • Derek Jacobi shows up very briefly as the lawyer. And there is a Nick Frost cameo.

Overall, I was expecting this to be outright terrible, so I was really pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was!  I enjoyed the reveal of Himiko’s tomb/power once revealed, and the various action set pieces on the way to the reveal. It was certainly fun – and honestly, I hope they do make a sequel.
7 out of 10 – definitely benefitted from low expectations!

Bonus – Into the Badlands!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Movie Review: A Wrinkle In Time (PG – 109 minutes)

The book, A Wrinkle in Time, was write by Madeleine L’Engle, and was first published in 1962.  I remember reading it when I was in middle school, but honestly, I don’t remember much about the story, other than it was a little confusing.  It was adapted for a made for TV movie in 2003, which L'Engle was displeased with as it removed her overtones about Christianity. 

This version is directed by Ava DuVernay.  The story starts with young Meg, studying with her scientist father as he explains various frequencies.  Mr. and Mrs. Murray are both scientists, and are studying…well, I’m not entirely sure what they are studying. Frequencies, space-time, folds, the ability to travel light years in seconds using your mind, etc.  Mr. Murray is talking with Meg, and talking to her about the arrival of her new baby brother, who is about to be adopted. We flash forward several years, to the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Mr. Murray. 
Meg is now struggling in school, and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is extraordinarily intelligent, so he’s being bullied.  And because Meg is now sad and withdrawn, she’s being bullied – so it’s just bad for everyone.  Apparently Mr. Murray vanished after he and his wife gave a talk at a science symposium of some sort, and he went a little off-topic insisting that traveling through these ‘space-time wrinkles’ or ‘tesseracts’ was possible.  Immediately thereafter, he successfully ‘tessered’ and disappeared.  Four years later, Charles Wallace has been talking with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which.  The Mrs.s are three celestial being who have heard a call for help across the universe, and come to Charles Wallace, Meg, and her random friend Calvin, to come assist find their father, who they believe made the call. 

This leads to a cross-universe adventure during which the children successfully tesser with the Mrs.s to several planets, and finally find out that their father is on Camazotz, which is the center/home base of all darkness in the universe.  Meg has to battle her own lack of confidence to save her father and bring light back to the universe.
Ava DuVernay has done an incredible job with the look of this movie. It is stunning and luminous.  The story is a little confusing, but I think that has more to do with adapting a confusing book than with the movie itself.  Apparently she chose to remove some major pieces of the book, including Meg's other siblings, and the Christian tones.  I did want a little more explanation of the details and the science to what was happening - incidentally, the trailer above has a whole explanation that was not in the final movie! How exactly do you 'tesser'? Why is Meg looking like she is drowning in white sheets in the beginning, but by the end is surrounded by lustrous CGI ribbons? Again, it’s a kids story/book so that’s not as important. Along with the visuals, the costumes on the three Mrs.s are fantastic.  They are outrageous and beautiful, and change with just about every scene. The casting is divine, everyone is perfect for their roles.
  • Storm Reid plays Meg, and she is going to have an incredible career. She’s so charming and genuine, and when she is down and getting bullied at the beginning of the movie, her performance was heartbreaking. Also, on importance of representation – as a nerdy biracial girl who wears glasses – the lead of this movie being a nerdy biracial girl in glasses resulted in me crying through the first several minutes of this movie.  

  • Oprah Winfrey plays Mrs. Which, a very Oprah-like celestial being who seems to be either super large, or regular size, and offers advice and guidance to Meg.

  • Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs. Whatsit, the celestial being who first shows up to get Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin started on their adventure.  She seems unconvinced of Meg’s potential at first.

  • Mindy Kaling plays Mrs. Who, a celestial being who has evolved past language so only speaks in quotes, until she doesn’t anymore.

  • Levi Miller plays Calvin, and after showing up abruptly, is super supportive of Meg on the trip, even if not super helpful. Also – He looks enough like a young Ashmore that I had to double check the credits to see if the Ashmore twins have a younger brother. Apparently not.

  • Deric McCabe plays Charles Wallace, and while he was charming and precocious, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him once (SPOILER ALERT) he gets possessed by the IT, but I did enjoy that the love between he and Meg was what saved him.

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dr. Kate Murry, and she has little to do, but manages to do a wonderful job with what she has – conveying how much she loves and misses her husband when explaining to Calvin what happened.

  • Chris Pine plays Dr. Alex Murry, and again, not a ton to do but get annoyed that no one believes his theories, then get scared as he proves himself right.

  • Zach Galifianakis plays the Happy Medium, who the travelers visit to get some guidance on their journey. He helps Meg begin to realize that she can overcome her own self-consciousness to accept her own strength and succeed.  At least, I think that’s what he was doing.  He was also functioning as some comedy relief.

Overall, the movie was just fine.  The pacing was a little strange – at some points it felt like it was moving too fast, and at others, too slow.  There’s little to no explanation given for anything, again – I suppose that’s fine for a kids story, but I could have used a little more information here and there. Since a lot of the marketing embraced the "Be A Warrior!" part, I was expecting more battling/warring to be done.  I'm not sure that campaign made much sense. Meg is a 'warrior' in the sense that she does fight the darkness to bring back the light, but mainly within herself.  The movie looks lovely, and the overall message seems to be that everyone is worthy of love, and that love and light will heal the universe, so hey – I can definitely get behind that.

6 out of 10 – Gained points for Michael Pena! Lost points for not enough Michael Pena.
The trailer for the 2003 version - with Alfre Woodard!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Movie Review: Game Night (R – 100 minutes)

In 1997, there was a Michael Douglas movie called The Game, in which Douglas’s character is given a birthday gift by his younger brother, played by Sean Penn.  The gift is a game that basically ends up being life or death.  Why bring that up?  That movie kept popping into my head while watching Game Night.  This movie is from the same production team behind Horrible Bosses, which is hilarious and worth a watch if you haven’t. 

Game Night follows the story of Max and Annie, a couple drawn together because of their furious competitiveness playing various board games.  The movie begins with a montage showing how they met and got married intermingled with various game nights.  We then jump to present day, where Max and Annie are prepping for a game night and attempting to avoid their creepy police officer neighbor Gary.  When Gary was still married to his wife, Debbie, they came to game night. However, they have since divorced, and Gary hasn’t exactly taken it well, so Max and Annie spend a lot of time avoiding him.  They are also meeting with a fertility doctor as they are trying to have a baby.  The doctor seems to pin down that Max’s sperm isn’t great as a result of his stress about his brother coming into town to visit.  His brother, Brooks, has always been more popular, more charismatic, more successful, etc.  And now he’s coming to game night.

Max and Annie invite their friends, Kevin and Michelle (a married couple who were each other’s childhood sweethearts), and Ryan, who brings a new friend from work, Sarah.  Brooks eventually shows loudly arrives in a fancy new car, which draws Gary’s attention, ruining their plans to not let him know they were having a party.  After an evening in which Brooks humiliates Max in front of everyone – he insists on hosting game night at his house next week, promising something above and beyond.

The next week, everyone arrives at Brooks’s giant house, and he sets up a murder mystery game night.  Telling the group this ahead of time, they don’t react when some burly guys come in and kidnap Brooks.  Then an ‘FBI Agent’ comes in to give them files to help them solve the case.  Eventually they begin to realize that Brooks was really taken, and the rest of the night becomes a mess of trying to figure out what is real, what is fake, and what needs to be done to rescue Brooks.  Spoiler alert – it all has a happy ending.

The movie is directed by John Francis Daley (yes, from Freaks and Geeks and Bones) and Jonathan Goldstein.  It’s well-paced, and each character has just enough development that you are interested in them, without pulling focus from the two leads. The strength of the movie is absolutely the cast and the way they play off each other.

  • Jason Bateman plays Max, and honestly, if you like Jason Bateman – you’ll love him in this. He excels at “sarcastic straight man” in a comedy – something he perfected on Arrested Development and it fits perfectly here.  The subplot about him being stressed, and maybe not really wanting to have a baby felt a little forced, but ended up not overpowering the story, just another piece of the character. 

  • Rachel McAdams plays Annie, and I was a little surprised by how well she handled the comedy.  The age difference between her and Bateman felt noticeable, but they did pair well, and the chemistry of two really competitive people was believable.

  • Kyle Chandler plays Brooks, and was charming and popular, right up until he wasn’t anymore. It’s not a shift that is surprising, because you can see it coming, but he still manages to play that well.

  • Billy Magnussen plays Ryan, one of Max and Annie’s friends who keeps bringing over dumb ‘instagram model’ types to the game night montage.  He plays the pretty and dumb guy – but not dumb enough to be annoying, just clueless enough to be funny, and still genuinely concerned about his friends.
  • Sharon Horgan plays Sarah – Ryan’s Irish guest, who proves to be a breath of fresh air from his typical date night guests.  She is a co-worker of his, and while it seems that he originally brought her to win the game, the two begin to form a genuine bond over the course of the evening.

  • Lamorne Morris plays Kevin, and Kylie Bunbury plays Michelle – they have been a couple since grade school, and always come to Max and Annie’s game nights.  Their side plot is that during the course of preliminary games, Michelle lets it slip that she one time slept with a celebrity, even though they’ve been together forever, so the rest of their evening is them attempting to solve the game, while also solving how they both feel about that event.  It could have gotten painful or forced, but again, it manages to stay an interesting subplot – with a hilarious pay off.

  • Jesse Plemons plays Gary, the next door neighbor police officer, who is so creepy that he is no longer invited to game night after his divorce.  The lengths that Max and Annie go to prevent him from finding out they are hosting are really funny.  He steals every scene he’s in by just being creepy enough to not make you hate him, but almost make you feel for him – it’s a really fine line, and Plemons walks it well!

  • Michael C. Hall shows up briefly as the Bulgarian, an international criminal after a Fabrege Egg. Danny Huston shows up even more briefly as Donald Anderton, the current possessor of said Egg.
  • Chelsea Peretti plays Glenda, the secretary of the murder-mystery game night company, while an uncredited Jeffery Wright plays the “FBI Agent” working for the company.

Overall, the movie is short, simple, and entertaining. The cast elevates the material to make for a fun outing.  It’s worth a watch, but not necessarily at the theater.
7 out of 10 – Also, rewatch The Game, which is not nearly as entertaining, but is definitely way more creepy.