*MOVIE RECAP: PAIN AND GLORY (Dolor y Gloria)

Full disclosure, Pedro Almodovar is by far my favorite living filmmaker alive today. To me, Almodovar is the closest thing we have to Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini in terms of originality and style. His body of work is beyond impressive and complex, which can be intimidating for anyone attempting to watch an Almodovar film for the first time. However, Pain and Glory is an excellent entry point for anyone interested in exploring the deep and outstanding filmography of Pedro Almodovar.

The story centers around Salvador (Antonio Banderas), a depressed movie director who is thinking of retiring from filmmaking because of chronic health problems. Meanwhile, a film festival wants to screen one of Salvador’s films and have the director and the lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) do a Q & A after the screening. But Salvador and Alberto had a falling out and have not spoken to each other in many years.

Reconnecting with Alberto, followed by a series of encounters with people from his past; Plus, a look back at his childhood leads Salvador to reflect on his choices throughout his life. Additionally, the mother and son relationship is a crucial component of this story. Salvador’s mom Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), is a highly influential figure here. The constant collaboration between Penelope Cruz and Almodovar is always magic.

We get to see young Salvador (Asier Flores) coming of age in a small town village in Spain under the influence of Franco’s fascist regime. It is remarkable how the old worldly nature of living in caves and catacombs’ housing style, somewhat disconnected from the modern 20th century, is presented. This depiction of provincial Spain and the old-world country people of Spain is beautifully done.

Young Salvador’s sexual awakening and his relationship with the female energy are significant components of this story. Also, the way that childhood is remembered through the company of women who helped define the world for him is extremely important. The mother-son bedside scene as their older selves is one of the most powerfully moving written scenes in the entire Almodovar filmography.

Ultimately, this is the story of a filmmaker in crisis — Reflecting on his career and life story while dealing with his body breaking down. On top of that, reconnecting with essential people from his past, like Alberto and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), forces Salvador to reconsider multiple aspects of his life. At the same time, remembering his sexual awakening also allows Salvador to resurrect his creative spirit and piece together all these different elements of his life’s journey.

The parallels between Pedro Almodovar and Salvador are astounding. The character of Salvador is clearly modeled after Almodovar; Salvador dresses like him and even lives in an apartment that closely resembles Almodovar’s place. In addition, they are both dealing with similar health issues, including back pain.

Incredible performance by Antonio Banderas. There is a physical aspect to this role that Banderas captures brilliantly. Plus, Banderas’s vulnerability comes across exceptionally well. Salvador lives in darkness, but there is beauty and a colorful energy around him.

Pain and Glory is an impressive film — It comes off as fresh and different but somewhat familiar to previous films by Almodovar. As far as I can tell, Almodovar uses similar themes here that he developed in his earlier movies. It feels like this is the story Pedro had been making for the last 40 years of his filmmaking career. His stories and themes always seem to relate to the same central thing; sexual identity, cinema culture, and Spanish culture.

All in all, this is a highly complex story, but all of it comes together cohesively. It is an intensely personal film, full of melancholy, regret, addiction, depression, pain, and glory.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Pain and Glory (2019).

*MOVIE RECAP: DON’T LOOK UP

I’m surprised how divided most people are about this movie; some people appreciate the climate change metaphor, and others flat out hate it. The reviews have been all over the place. I sense political sensitivities are driving most of the negative feedback.

Anyhow, the story centers around the discovery of a comet by a tenure university professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a Ph.D. candidate, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). According to their calculations, this comet’s trajectory is in a direct collision course with Earth. And its impact will potentially be more significant than the comet that wiped out the Dinosaurs. As a result, human life on Earth will probably cease to exist — which means they have to urgently bring this information to the US government and the White House.

At the White House, the president of the U.S., Jane Orlean (Meryl Streep), doesn’t really take this information seriously and dismisses it as a political distraction from the upcoming elections. It is important to note that Meryl Streep’s POTUS is a right-wing nationalist modeled after Trump. So these two scientists have no choice but to take this information to the media.

From this point on, it is all-out chaos as our main characters frantically try to convince the world of the severity of this extinction-level event. While the media, the press, and the government don’t seem too concerned about the gravity of the situation. At the same time, most of society seems more interested in the love life of two celebrities. And even Leo’s character falls for celebrity culture and becomes a celebrity scientist, corrupted by fame. 

Eventually, POTUS uses this potential life-ending catastrophe as a political tool to attack the left. She weaponizes the phrase Don’t Look Up as a catchphrase for her right-wing supporters, similar to how Trump weaponized the MAGA phrase. With this performance, Meryl Streep channels most of the current prop of right-wing politicians; her character comes across as somewhat cartoonish, but it rings hilariously and scarily true in many aspects. 

The entire ensemble cast is impressive but somewhat underutilized. Nevertheless, there were some standouts like Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill); this character is pretty notable as the inept son and Chief of Staff to the President — His scenes are hysterical. The Air Force General (Paul Guilfoyle) charging people for free snacks at the White House was genius.

The character of Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) is fascinating as this weird and anti-social tech billionaire. He is a heavy political donor who controls POTUS and sets up the agenda for the White House. This character represents all of the outside corporate interests dictating domestic and foreign policy in the US government. It is beyond obvious that this character is a mashup of a bunch of billionaires like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

However, one of the most complex characters in this movie is Yule (Timothy Chalamet); this character provides the spiritual component needed for the overall viewpoint of this storyline. Yule comes across as the spiritual consciousness of this movie. Also, the ending of the film and the credit scenes were definitely my favorite parts of this movie.

Don’t Look Up is a well-intended sci/fi dramedy— A parable for climate change and the cynical, irresponsible approach by those with the tools and power to bring about change. And by using a planet-killing meteor as a metaphor for climate change, this movie directly critiques modern society, social media culture, bureaucracy, and politics. When considering the current political climate where everything is politicized, Adam McKay is one of the few filmmakers out there bold enough to address essential and profound real-world issues by using farce and satire.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

DON’T LOOK UP, 2021. (Streaming on Netflix)

*MOVIE RECAP: THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS

It is hard to believe that it has been over 20 years since the original Matrix was released in theaters. Back then, when the Matrix was released in 1999, I was a young buck, working for AMC theaters as a projectionist, so naturally, I clearly remember this movie’s cultural impact when it came out.

It was a revolutionary film — we had never seen anything like it before; from all the groundbreaking special effects, the wild action sequences, bullet time effects, and the fantastic fighting scenes — it changed filmmaking forever.

Movies in the 90s were failing miserably to integrate new technology like the internet into their plot lines. And their attempt to utilize new cutting-edge special effects was falling hopelessly flat.

Primarily, films released in 1995 had a rougher time — movies like Hackers (1995), The Net (1995), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Virtuosity (1995), and Assassins (1995), to name a few — they struggled to use the internet and futuristic technology in their storylines. They were all clunky and unimpressive movies. However, Assassins wasn’t that bad; it had lots of potential to be a better movie, but it was made in the 90s, and the studio butchered the original screenplay — they should’ve waited a few years to make this movie.

Interestingly enough, Assasins was also written by the Wachowskis.

However, in 1999, The Matrix figured out how to properly integrate internet technology in a film. The mind-twisting storytelling inter-mingled with Eastern philosophy felt radical and fresh. While at the same time, The Matrix helped usher in the internet generation.

Sadly, the sequels didn’t live up to the same level of the original film. For me, their overall storylines felt convoluted. But overall, The Matrix Reloaded (2) and The Matrix Revolutions (3) had terrific special effects and action sequences. Most notably, the highway chase sequence in Matrix Reloaded was outstanding. Oh, and I can’t forget that rave slash dance floor orgy scene in Zion — it was one of the coolest scenes in the entire trilogy. Additionally, The Matrix 2 was a fun and exciting sequel — it introduced cool new characters like the Merovingian, Seraph, Niobe, the ghost twins, the key maker, and so on. And it also expanded on the world-building from the original Matrix film.

But Matrix Revolutions (3) disappointed me and left me perplexed. So, as a result, I was beyond skeptical upon hearing about a 4th Matrix movie. Especially since Neo clearly dies at the end of Matrix Revolutions by sacrificing himself to bring peace between humans and the machines. But we never really saw what happened to Neo’s body after the machines took his dead body away. So as the title of this 4th movie implies, there is a resurrection.

It has been 60 years since Neo died at the end of Matrix 3, and things are way different. The Matrix has evolved; no more dial-up is needed to hook into the Matrix. The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) has replaced the Architect as the new mastermind behind things. Let’s remember that because of Neo’s sacrifice at the end of the original trilogy, humans were supposed to co-exist with the machines and be skeptical of technology. Instead, humans have now entirely embraced it.

The opening scene is an almost identical redo of the opening scene from the original Matrix, but with new character Bugs instead of Trinity. It is important to note that this movie was shot digitally, while the original trilogy was shot on film.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back inside the Matrix with no memory from his past — He is now a video game developer who has dreams and visions that resemble Neo’s past from the 3 previous movies. Neo has created a virtual reality game that comes close to the likeness of the characters and narrative of the original Matrix trilogy — By the way, the game is also called The Matrix.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is also resurrected and back inside the Matrix under the name Tiffany — she lives a normal life, is married with kids, and has zero memory of her past. Amazingly, the on-screen chemistry between these two is stronger than ever.

Agent Smith, the AI program, returns, but now he is played by Jonathan Graff and not Hugo Weaving. Jonathan Graff is outstanding in this new version of Agent Smith, Graff had some flashes of weaving’s version, but this character is an entirely new take on Agent Smith. There is a new version of Morpheus played by (Yahya Abdul-Maten); this new version is a computer program based on the original Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne — this new Morpheus annoyed the hell out of me. On the other hand, It was great seeing Naobi (Jada Pinkett-Smith) return as an older version of her character and she is now the leader of the new Zion. Also, brand new character Bugs (Jessica Henwick) is a solid addition to this series.

It has taken me some time to process and reflect on this movie. The premise is bold and daring. Writer-Director Lana Wachowski has created a smart and sophisticated movie with multiple themes. This film attempts to revisit and revise what reality is and what we perceive as real.

All be told, there was no wow factor here like in the previous 3 films. The action sequences are mostly meh until the last action scene of the movie — which was a pretty impressive action scene. The rest of the action sequences are unremarkable and not groundbreaking, like in the previous films. Also, Neo never uses a gun here, which was a refreshing and bold choice. Still, there are some beautiful shots throughout this movie.

There is also this brilliant self-awareness to this movie when they take a direct shot at Warner Bros for making movies about the Matrix, based on Neo’s video game. There is a scene where we hear about Warner Bro’s threatening to go ahead and make a movie with or without Neo’s blessing. Similar to how Warner Bros planned to make this 4th movie with or without the Wachowskis.

The whole concept of a digital self-image was innovative. I loved seeing the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) making a quick cameo, looking Like a crazed hobo —ranting like a lunatic. Massive fan service points for including Sati (Priyanka Chopra) in this new storyline. Sati was an essential character from Matrix Revolutions (3), and now she is again a crucial character in this 4th movie. But I wonder what happened to the “Kid” (Clayton Watson) from the previous films. I thought that maybe he was the heir apparent to Neo, and he is not even mentioned here.

Ultimately, The Matrix Resurrection is a love story between Neo and Trinity — so yes, they are the ONE together. And although somewhat forced, this 4th movie does connect and ties in with the original 3 films. It manages to convey a distrust for the “real” world and the notion that we are being manipulated — and how our whole idea of reality is distorted. You have to go in with an open mind and be free of any expectations. I sense other movies in this series might be coming. I, for one, would love to see live-action prequels.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Matrix Resurrection (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD

At a glance, Those who Wish Me Dead had the makings of a terrific movie. For one, it is directed by Taylor Sheridan and based on a novel of the same name by Michael Koryta. The adaptation was scripted by Taylor Sheridan along with Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond, 2006). On top of all that, the casting assembled here is impressive but very underutilized.

Angelina Jolie plays Hanna, a disgraced firefighter and smoke jumper, haunted by the death of a colleague and three young kids due to a mistake on her part. For the confused, a smokejumper is someone who combats forest fires and wildfires.

Hanna now spends her time alone in a fire tower, where people live for months and months in total isolation looking for wildfires. 

We also have Connor (Finn Little), a young boy on the run from assassins. Connor’s father, Owen (Jake Weber), is helping the local DA build a case against some bad people. The DA gets blown up by two assassins, and Owen is the next target — So they have to flee. For me, this whole running from the killers’ premise was a bit weird and convoluted.

In any case, Connor and Hanna cross each other’s paths, and they both have to fend off the hired killers.

The two hired killers have zero redeeming qualities, but they are excellent together; Assassin 1, Jack (Aidan Gillen, little finger in Game of Thrones) is evil and remorseless; Assassin 2, Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) is creepy as fuck. The chemistry between these two psychotic contract killers is outstanding, and the humor is solid.

The rest of the characters lacked more depth and development. Jon Bernthal’s character needed more screen time and more dialogue. Also, Tyler Perry’s character went nowhere and seemed unnecessary. However, Allison (Medina Senghore) steals the movie — She has some of the best action sequences and some of the strongest scenes of the entire film.

Taylor Sheridan has a good track record of well-written and well-developed characters that feel genuine. Unfortunately, this is wasn’t the case here, so this film feels underwhelming. There were no socio-economic themes like in his previous work. And there are plenty of holes in the overall storyline and premise.

The special effects looked silly and not very realistic. Except for the dry lightning storms, those scenes were pretty cool. In addition, the dialogue and overall premise seemed flawed. As a result, the whole movie comes off as a sloppy popcorn movie. In essence, it has an old-school 90s throwback action movie vibe. Most reviewers have compared it as a mixture of The Client (1994) meets Firestorm (Howie Long’s 1998 movie).

Ultimately, Those who Wish Me Dead is not that bad; it is just pretty unremarkable. And it didn’t really do it for me, but it is a short movie to watch, so it is definitely worth seeing at least once.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK

Mob movies will always capture my attention, especially over the top, cartoonish, bumbling New Jersey mafia guys like the characters from The Sopranos. 

Many Saints means Moltisanti in Italian, which pretty much tells you that this movie is really all about Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and indirectly about a young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini).

Nonetheless, we still get to see a younger version of Anthony Soprano growing up in Newark, New Jersey, idolizing his uncle Dickie and becoming a man. As we slowly see young Tony picking up some street smarts — I found similar Michael Corleone overtones here, where both characters don’t want anything to do with their family businesses at first.

The casting is impressive across the board. It was fun recognizing the younger characters, and while some of the actors are obviously doing straight-up impressions, they all did an excellent job.

Vera Farmiga captures Livia Soprano brilliantly. Finally, we get to briefly see some of the early toxic relationship dynamics between Livia and Tony from the first season of the Sopranos. Further exploring the relationship between Livia and Tony in the next movie will be crucial — of course, if there is a sequel to this prequel — there should definitely be another movie.

Corey Stoll is outstanding here — he nails all of the Maneurismns from Junior Soprano. We get to see how petty and insecure Junior can be even as a younger man. And how Junior schemes and manipulates his way into more positions of power.

Ray Liotta delivers a convincing performance playing dual roles as twin brothers “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti. Liotta makes both parts stand out; Hollywood Moltisanti is mean and abusive towards the women in his life. In contrast, twin brother Sally Moltisanti is more philosophical and reflective. Ray Liotta is mobster movie royalty, so having him involved in this movie gives it a sense of gangster movie legitimacy.

The power structure of the DiMeo crime family is not fully explained or broken down like I wanted to, but we still get to see early versions of Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), and Silvio Dante (John Magaro). The backstory of Silvio’s hair and eventual toupee is hilarious.

I wanted to see more of Tony’s father, Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal); he was relegated to more of a background character here. Hopefully, the next film will feature Johnny Soprano in a more prominent role.

Plus, we have a pre-teen and a teenage version of young Artie Bucco. Also, teenage versions of Carmela Soprano (Lauren Di Mario) and Jackie Aprile (Chase Vacnin), all of these three characters, provide some memorable scenes. The teenage version of Janice Soprano (Alexandra Intrator) stands out as a fascinating character to explore further as the Soprano extended universe moves along in other movies or TV projects.

However, the performance by Alessandro Nivola is exceptional — I think that this is an Academy Award-worthy performance. Dickie Moltisanti was always a present memory throughout the series, and Nivola’s performance cements Dickie’s importance and legacy in the general scope of all things Sopranos.

Dickie is a highly conflicted man, wrestling with inner demons, extremely menacing and out of control, while at the same time trying to do the right thing for the people in his life. Alexandro Nivola brings this character to life beautifully.

The women in Dickie’s life are remarkable; His wife, Joanne Moltisanti (Gabriella Piazza), his mistress, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), and even Livia Soprano — all of them assert a particular type of influence on Dickie.

On top of all that, we have a racial component that serves as the backdrop of the whole story. Harold (Leslie Odom Jr) runs numbers, collects money, and works as a street enforcer for Dickie. Through Harold’s eye, we begin to see the cultural and social changes starting to take place in New Jersey and the brewing racial tensions between the established communities living in Newark. Additionally, the 1967 Newark riots are a crucial plotline here, which is a pretty remarkable thing, considering that I cannot recall this historical event ever featured anywhere in cinematic history.

Anyhow, there is plenty of things to dissect here. There is lots of fan service with plenty of references to the TV series sprinkled throughout the movie, so you have to pay close attention — It is a lot more enjoyable if you are familiar with the show.

The voiceover of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) at the start of the movie was cool. I know it is weird because he is dead, but don’t think about it too much or try to make sense of it — let it take you along for the ride. After all, there were many esoteric and supernatural themes throughout the series. So the movie opening this way and being narrated by Christopher throughout parts of the movie is right on brand.

Oh, and there is this brilliant scene of baby Christopher’s reaction to meeting his young uncle Tony for the first time.

Anyway, liking or not liking a movie is a concept pretty hard for me to put together in simple terms of like or dislike. So my measuring stick has always been based on whether a movie or TV series is engaging or not engaging. And whether it is memorable or unmemorable.

The Many Saints of Newark meets all those requirements; it is a fascinating and pretty memorable movie. In essence, it is a fascinating story as it relates to the Sopranos TV series.

So, yes, this Soprano story holds up as a standalone movie. It feels like an origins story; it is a film aimed at fans of the series, as it spends time setting up, putting pieces in place for things to make sense, primarily for fans of the show. It does not taint the legacy of the show, but it actually manages to extend specific themes and storylines from the series

This movie serves as the perfect setup for more Soprano movies and content, especially the impending rise of Tony Soprano within the DiMeo crime family. And the inevitable confrontation between Harold and Tony.

For one, there is tons of space between the end of this movie and the first episode of the Sopranos TV series, which is why David Chase should continue to make more prequels and more Sopranos-driven content.

In any case, I didn’t realize how deep and invested I got into this movie, that when the opening theme song from the series started playing, I was like, fuck, they got me!

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE SUICIDE SQUAD

I went into this movie feeling pretty skeptical and not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. However, I get the sense that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is finally beginning to find its way. 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) was an exceptional achievement. Birds of Prey (2020) was pretty fucking enjoyable. And now we have The Suicide Squad (2021), which is not really a sequel or a reboot of the 2016 Suicide Squad movie, but more of a fixer-upper slash relaunch of the series — Will Smith is out, and Margot Robbie is in; she is now the heart and soul of this franchise.

The original 2016 Suicide Squad movie wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t very memorable. I could tell that some editing issues plague the final theatrical cut. But, surprisingly, Will Smith was actually good in it, playing Deadshot — he was not as annoying as he usually is. And of course, Margot Robbie was excellent. She came to this role well prepared — she took this Harley Quinn character seriously and did some solid research before taking on this role. 

Here, what stands out the most is how director James Gunn uses many of the same elements from his Guardian of the Galaxy movies and how well those same elements work.

The premise is generally the same as the 2016 movie; the Suicide Squad is again comprised of a bunch of imprisoned super-villains who the US government recruits to fulfill a suicide mission. Some of these villains have unique superpowers, and some are just highly skilled at killing people and blowing shit up. 

The members of this new Suicide Squad are quirky characters with some very unique and odd qualities. Most notably, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone ), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Michael Rooker), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), and Weasel (Sean Gunn). All of these new characters get a nice and quick backstory slash introduction at the start of the movie.

We also have newcomer Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who is essentially the same character as Will Smith’s Deadshot. Additionally, the main star of this franchise, Harley Quinn, is back along with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). 

Our anti-heroes are sent to a fictional Latin American island nation in a seek and destroy mission to kill an alien creature being kept in a lab. And of course, unexpected things go down, and no one is safe — everyone is expandable.

Spoiler alert! We have a few characters played by big-name actors who get killed almost immediately — that was surprising but also pretty cool.

The casting of super-criminals is solid. John Cena is hilarious, especially when making dick jokes — Cena is finding his niche as a muscle-bound action-comedy actor. 

Polka-Dot Man was a weird-ass character, but a pretty compelling one. He has this sad and tragic backstory with big-time mommy issues. Sylvester Stallone is outstanding voicing King Shark — This character is a more interesting version of Groot. Taika Waititi showing up as Ratcatcher’s father was an exceptional choice.

Rick Flagg was developed better here and was a lot more likable than in the 2016 movie. Amanda Waller is the most consistent character from both Suicide Squad movies. She continues to be a sinister force behind the scenes. 

But unquestionably, Harley Quinn is better as the lead character and not as a side character like she kinda was in the 2016 movie. Margot Robbie embodies this character beautifully, as we all got to see in Birds of Prey. 

I liked the whole thing of Harley getting kidnapped by dictator Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto). This plotline was crucial to develop Harley Quinn further as a character. Not to mention how lucky Juan Diego Botto was on having an on-screen hookup scene with Margot Robbie — Every geek in the universe was dying with envy.

My only issue with this movie is in the same old Hollywood-style representation of Latin American stereotypes.

First of all, whoever wrote the Spanish language dialogue and characters is a clueless asshole. Or maybe it wasn’t one person, and instead, it was a group of clueless assholes. It doesn’t really matter — the whole thing was beyond insensitive; it was dumb and irresponsibly stupid. Hollywood still doesn’t “get it” when it comes to writing Hispanic characters. They don’t really care to reach out to writers like myself or others like myself with real-life experiences and who can actually write legit Spanish language dialogue and write more believable and less cartoonish Hispanic characters.

In any case, Besides all the poorly written Spanish-speaking characters, The Suicide squad is a shockingly fun and wild ride, full of over-the-top, gruesome violence, with some cool and unexpected twists and turns. There is solid chemistry between all of these new characters. They are all bad guys but with some slight redeeming qualities, similar to Deadpool in terms of sarcastic tone. James Gunn needs to make more of these movies.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Suicide Squad (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (SNYDER CUT)

There is this unique pleasure for movie nerds like myself to watch a director’s cut of a movie — you know, watching a movie as originally intended to be seen.

My measuring stick determining how good a movie or a TV show is — has always been based on how memorable or unmemorable the movie or show ends up being.

Having said that, by my own personal metric, the theatrical cut of Justice League directed by Josh Whedon, or also known as the Whedon cut, was not a memorable movie. It was way over the top, cheesy, and unfocused in terms of storytelling, with plot holes all over the place. Nevertheless, the Whedon cut wasn’t as awful as most fans have expressed; it was actually pretty watchable and, at times, somewhat entertaining, but it was far from what it was expected from this ensemble cast of superheroes. It was very forgettable, to say the least.

I blame the studio for this meh version of the Justice League. First, they jumped the gun and rushed to make their own version of an Avengers type of movie. And, unfortunately, it was way too soon — Because they were still introducing and developing movies featuring the characters that make up the core team of the Justice League members.

Everybody reading this blog probably knows by now that Zack Snyder had to drop out of Justice League in the middle of the shooting of this movie due to a family tragedy. Josh Whedon stepped in, and the rest of the story lives on perpetually in motion picture infamy.

The controversy between the two versions of this movie prompted an online campaign to release the director’s cut, or the Snyder cut as it is now officially known.

There are people out there who are disgusted by the fandom for pushing Warner bros. hard to release the Snyder Cut. Calling these hardcore fans toxic and such. However, I don’t see it this way; Fans should absolutely have a say in how things are being presented and sold to them. We, the fans, spend our money on movies, toys, merchandise, and all kinds of media entertainment products. Mediocrity will not be easily accepted anymore. This is a lesson for movie studios to pay close attention and to learn from all the outrage this Whedon Cut created.

This version is 4 hours long; I watched the whole thing in 2 seatings — and I was very much engaged in it throughout the 4 hours. It is more than a Director’s cut; it is an entirely different movie. It is leaps and bounds better than the theatrical cut. I think this version could’ve worked in theaters as a two-part movie, just like the Avengers two-parts Infinity war and Endgame movies.

Although my comic book knowledge of the DC Extended Universe is far from being encyclopedic, this movie is the best and the closest thing you will ever get to a superhero comic book slash graphic novel on film. Sin City (2005), 300 (2006), and Watchmen (2009) are my favorite graphic novels adapted into films. Coincidentally, Zack Snyder directed both 300 and Watchmen. I have some issues with 300, but for the most part, I thought Watchmen was actually a pretty damn good adaptation (except for changing the ending from the graphic novel).

This Snyder Cut has epic vibes to it — the CGI looks clean and pretty. It is beautifully shot, a gorgeous movie to watch. And, it is darker, grittier than anything Marvel has released. Dark superhero stories are what I like to see.

Here are the main differences from the theatrical version:

Aquaman is way more involved in the story, and his character has Godlike vibes here, similar to the way Thor was presented in the Marvel universe.

The cyborg plotline here is another vast improvement from the Whedon Cut. Unlike the theatrical version, Cyborg here is an integral part of this movie. We got to see how Cyborg is a God amongst men in terms of his powers and how those powers are unique within the modern technological world.

The Flash is more compelling here and funnier. But I still don’t know much about him and his powers. So I’m looking forward to The Flash stand-alone movie.

Superman kicked ass. I loved seeing this version of angry, pissed-off Superman — and the black suit made things even more extraordinary.

Wonder Woman is also better here than in the theatrical cut; she is presented as an old God in terms of her level of strength and power. But there is zero continuity with the events of Wonder Woman 84. I have no clue how they are planning to make WW84 fit into the larger scope of things.

We get a much better version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. This is the version of Batman the fandom wanted to see or close enough to it. The nightmare scene between Batman and the Joker was incredible. — it teased us on what happened with Robin (it seems like Joker killed Robin). This version of Jared Leto’s Joker was impressive.

We finally get to see Darkseid and how powerful, menacing, and evil he really is. The fighting sequence between the old heroes and gods against Darkseid was terrific. Watching Zeus, Artemis, Ares, King Arthur, and even a Green Lantern in battle was fucking awesome.

The whole premise of the Mother Boxes was better presented. There was also more depth to Steppenwolf. Introducing Granny Goodness on film was an outstanding idea. Let’s remember that both Darkseid and Granny Goodness were original Jack Kirby creations.

The Snyder Cut was an excellent movie-watching experience. I was fine the 4 hours; it didn’t feel like it dragged too long. I think the 4 hours were just about right to move the story forward for the sake of storytelling and character development. This type of long format should be the standard from now on — Maybe even breaking them down in parts might be the way to go. It just feels like it is meant to be consumed that way.

Zack Snyder has pulled off something awe-inspiring here. As movie and superhero fans, we are fortunate to have seen a 4 hour never before seen version of all these unique comic book characters. The next online fan campaign should be for Warner to restore the Snyder verse.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX.

*MOVIE RECAP: COMING 2 AMERICA

Ok, sad to say this but Coming 2 America sucks ass — It is a terrible sequel, and it failed to live up to the greatness of the original Coming to America movie (1988).

First of all, Coming to America is a classic comedy; if it’s on TV when I’m browsing through channels, I always stop and watch it, regardless of how deep in the story the movie might be on. The original was rated R, and this sequel is PG-13, a major red flag right off the get-go.

Our old friend Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) from the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda is now king, and Lisa (Shari Headley) is the Queen; they have three young daughters. The central plot conflict here is that their marriage has not given them a male heir, which tradition dictates that only a male heir can lay claim to the throne of Zamunda.

Warlord General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) from a neighboring nation wants to marry his son with one of Akeem’s daughters to unite both kingdoms, bring peace, and avoid war. Obviously, King Akeem, Queen Lisa, and their daughters are opposed to this idea.

Akeem discovers that he has a son living in New York from a wild one-night stand during Akeem’s first visit to New York City. So now, presented with this new fact, Akeem decides to return to Queens in search of his long-lost son and convince him to take his rightful place as the future ruler of Zamunda.

Returning to NY, Akeem tracks down his illegitimate son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and convinces him to move to Zamunda. But first, Lavelle will need to go through a training and learning process before establishing him as the future heir to the throne.

From this point on, whatever little promise this movie initially showed goes completely over a cliff.

Akeem becomes just another character here. The premise of this sequel entirely undoes Akeem’s journey of self-discovery from the original movie. Prince Akeem discovered something about himself through his 1988 journey while living and working in New York City, which he seemed to utterly forget 33 years later. His trip to America was also fun and hilarious, with the whole fish out of water angle. He was so unaware of the real world, hell-bent on finding his future wife in Queens. King Akeem spends almost no time in Queens or in NYC, which contradicts this sequel’s title. Maybe they should’ve just called this movie “Zamunda” or “Coming to Zamunda” instead of Coming 2 America.

I wanted to see a lot more of Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and we don’t really get much of him this time around. Wesley Snipes is hilarious; there is a level of Pageantry to his performance — I can tell he was having a blast with this role. Plus, the chemistry between Murphy and Snipes is excellent, probably my favorite thing from this movie.

Jermaine Fowler needed more time to develop his Lavelle character, similar to how Akeem was developed in the original film. Also, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan are annoying as fuck, especially with what they are given to work within their characters.

This next generation of Zamunda rulers was also poorly developed. And the jokes delivered by the new cast members don’t hit at all and fall flat…. I think I laughed once and chuckled a few times throughout the whole thing.

Nevertheless, the throwbacks to the original film are pretty cool. Watching John Amos, James Earl Jones, and Louie Anderson return was pure nostalgic awesomeness. I wished Eriq La Salle (Darryl) and Allison Dean (Patrice) had returned in some capacity.

It was great seeing the Barbershop guys back, you know, the old characters played by Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy. Although, it is hard to believe that those guys could still look the same as they did in ’88 or even be alive 33 years later. But hey, sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and go along for the sake of mindless entertainment.

Now, here is the potentially redeeming storyline if this coming to America franchise continues—so hear me out.

Colin Jost shows up early in this movie, playing Mr. Duke, a direct relative of the Duke Brothers from Eddie Murphy’s first film, Trading Places (1983). The Duke Brothers (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy) had an important cameo in Coming to America, which brilliantly ended up linking the Trading Places slash Coming to America universes together. And, if they continue to build upon this connection, therein lies the makings of a potential reboot of those two movie universes. Get Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Eddie Murphy on board, and here we go.

Despite taking 33 years to make this sequel, Coming 2 America is a sequel that we did not really need or wanted but expected to be better. It simply does not have the long-lasting comedic effect that the original 1988 movie had. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a shameless exercise of fan service. Hell, I even welcome those types of movies from time to time. However, this movie just did not quite work for me. It is definitely a more family-friendly movie. But still, it comes off as lazy, unfunny, and not as edgy as the original.

One out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿

Coming 2 America (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: DOLEMITE

This is one of those movies that always seem to end up getting buried in algorithm purgatory. If you missed it when it was initially released, you have to search for it on Netflix’s endless catalog of original content. If it were a non-streaming release, it would probably be in constant rotation on cable TV.

Dolemite was a character created by standup performer Rudy Ray Moore back in the mid-70s. He performed as this Dolemite character during his standup routines, becoming a popular underground comedy act, and he eventually made comedy records as this character. All of those Dolemite LPs became bestselling comedy albums, reaching the bestselling charts.

Dolemite has been cited as a source of influence for many hip-hop artists that came out of the 80’s and 90s rap scene (Snoop Dog has credited Dolemite as his most significant influence).

During the blaxploitation era, Rudy Ray Moore made and acted in a bunch of blaxploitation films. However, his Dolemite character became his most iconic role.

Eddie Murphy is superb here playing Moore. He brilliantly captures the essence of this middle-aged performer who is still figuring things out as an artist and will not stop chasing his dream of being a star at this late stage of his life.

Wesley Snipes is excellent playing D’urville Smith, the director of the first Dolemite movie, who was never really sold on the concept of Dolemite but seized the opportunity of directing this movie as a springboard into other jobs. D’urville Smith was an actor best known for playing Diego, the elevator man on Rosemary’s Baby — I’m glad to see Wesley Snipes back on top form here.

Dolemite was Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), who also directed Murphy and Snipes in the sequel to Coming to America. Seasoned screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote this movie; They are a screenwriting team that has made a name for themselves, writing biopics like Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, and The People vs. Larry Flint.

Dolemite is My Name is a very inspiring movie; Rudy Ray Moore teaches us that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. You get the sense watching this film that everybody involved in the making of this movie treated this story with much respect, appreciation, and reverence. It should be on everyone’s watchlist.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DOLEMITE (2019). Streaming on Netflix

*MOVIE RECAP: GODZILLA VS KONG

As much as the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” might be valid for appraising works of literature, it’s downright true with this movie. The movie title says it all; it is all about two giant monsters punching and kicking each other into oblivion.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth and latest installment in the cinematic MonsterVerse series. The first movie in this monster series was Godzilla (2014), which was a pretty good movie directed by the exceptional Gareth Edwards.

The second entry into this shared universe was Kong: Skull Island (2017), a highly entertaining, fun, and at times, pretty compelling movie. I had a good time watching this 2017 version of King Kong.

The third movie was Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). This movie had a lot of stuff to unpack. It wasn’t bad at all; I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The whole concept of the Titans as the original and rightful rulers of the planet was awesome. The plot twist about Monster Zero as an invasive species, an alien creature not meant to be on Earth, was brilliant.

Sadly, Godzilla vs. Kong is not as memorable as the previous three Monsterverse movies. The storyline or plot (if you can call it a plot) centers around Getting Kong to his original homeland, which is supposed to be somewhere deep within the Hollow Earth. We learned that there is supposed to be some type of ancient historic rivalry between Godzilla’s ancestors and Kong’s ancestors.

We have the Apex corporation, a shady biotech company keeping Kong in a containment dome type of structure that resembles Skull Island. This sinister biotech company is using the skeleton remains of Ghidorah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to engineer a monster of their own to challenge and kill Godzilla.

The human character component is pretty weak here. Despite the impressive casting, the characters are all poorly developed. Except for Jia (Kaylee Hottle), she is the last remaining member of the now-extinct Iwi people from skull island. She is deaf and communicates with Kong through sign language; her relationship with King Kong was the most interesting part of this movie.

The Hollow Earth concept is a fascinating idea. Watching how this myth is given such a prominent role in the storyline was interesting; however, this movie’s overall approach towards the Hollow Earth theory was beyond silly.

The only redemptive feature in this movie was the monster fight scenes; they were my favorite thing from the whole movie. Those scenes alone are worth watching this movie.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the less impressive movie out of all four MonsterVerse films. Nevertheless, this movie is a wild big-screen spectacle. The CGI, Sound effects, and all of the special effects are fantastic; the whole thing is meant to be enjoyed better on the big screen and IMAX. You have to suspend disbelief for however long this movie runs and let it take you along for a ridiculous action-packed ride.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).

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