Thursday, March 28, 2019

MIRROR, MIRROR: a review of "Us"

Written, Produced and Directed by Jordan Peele
**** (four stars)

There is an expression that we all tend to utilize when confronted with another individual--usually a loved one--who is behaving in a manner unusual to how we tend to recognize, and therefore understand them. The expression in question that we use to describe the person behaving differently, strangely or even badly, is the following: "You don't seem like yourself."

Over the years, I have come to view that statement as a complete fallacy for the simple fact that no matter how we may be behaving outwardly, no matter how different, strange or badly, no matter how incomprehensible we may seem, we are always ourselves...especially when our behaviors may seem to be bubbling up from the deepest, darkest recesses of our multi-faceted personalities and psyche.

It is through this specific conceptual lens that I found myself staring through as I screened "Us,"  Writer/Producer/Director Jordan Peele's second film and follow up to his box office behemoth, critical smash hit and Oscar winning social horror film "Get Out" (2017). 

Certainly, for the purposes of this review and as a practice of Savage Cinema, I will refrain from any and all spoilers, but what I can tell you at this time is that Jordan Peele is the real deal as he has proven himself to not being a one-trick-pony and there is not one instance of the mythical "sophomore slump" whatsoever. With "Us," Peele has firmly established not only that "Get Out" was no fluke but that he is indeed one of our most inventive, imaginative and blessedly original filmmakers in a world of sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and re-imaginings.

"Us" is original indeed, as Jordan Peele takes the conventions and aesthetics of the psychological horror thriller and filters them through a ferocious social commentary that this time around is disturbingly grim to an apocalyptic degree. So deeply under my skin this film burrowed that I found myself driving home from the theater in complete silence as I needed to have the time and space to get my thoughts together as well as calm my spirits down from what I had just experienced.

Jordan Peele's "Us" opens in the year 1986 as young Adelaide Thomas, along with her parents, visits a beachfront carnival in Santa Cruz. Adelaide soon wanders off and finds herself inside of a funhouse hall of mirrors, where she is confronted by her own doppelganger. Even though Adelaide is soon reunited with her parents, she remains severely traumatized and unable to speak about her experience.

Flash forward to present day where the adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is now married to Gabe (Winston Duke) and Mother to their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). With plans to travel to their Santa Cruz beach house for a summer vacation, as well as meet up with their friends, the perpetually argumentative and inebriated Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss) and their twin daughters, Cali and Noelle (Becca and Lindsey Tyler), Adelaide continues to grow more unsettled as the memories of her childhood trauma begins to resurface.

And then, on one fateful night, a group of four, red jumpsuit wearing individuals appear in the family's driveway, holding hands. Soon, the home is invaded by the foursome who call themselves "The Tethered" and Adelaide and her family struggle to survive the night as they are under attack by these scissor wielding assailants who nightmarishly look like ghoulish doppelganger versions of themselves.

With the arrival of Jordan Peele's "Us," we are graced with the realization that Peele has unquestionably become a new vibrant creative filmmaking voice filled with intelligence, invention and a fiercely committed intention to weaving purposefully multi-layered material designed to force us to confront the darkest recesses of our shared humanity while also entertaining and making us jump out of our seats in fright.

With just two films, I am amazed with how quickly Jordan Peele has already established his own cinematic universe. While he extends and expands his visual palate to often striking degrees with "Us," both this film and "Get Out" are clearly playing off of each other with his filmmaking aesthetics. From the music from Composer Michael Abels, who also scored "Get Out," to the brilliance of Peele's entire Sound Design team and most certainly, Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis for the striking, almost hallucinogenic mirror imagery that fuels the film's themes of duality, I am unable to stress enough how much "Us" is delivered in a multi-layered style that makes for an experience that demands several viewings.

As with his predecessor "Get Out," "Us" is best experienced with a modicum of information so as to not dilute the overall effect. That said, and for me, the ultimate effect of this film was profoundly unsettling. Unlike "Get Out," where Peele's social commentary about race, racism and being Black in a post-Obama America was the ingenious engine that drove that film, Peele wisely did not return explicitly to that conceptual well. Even so, the racial politics of "Us," while more subtle are no less seismic.

As often announce upon this page, representation is everything and with "Us," Jordan Peele has given us a mainstream horror film that just happens to feature an African-American family in the leading roles as well as existing as the core of the film inits entirety. To that end, and in its own matter-of-fact aesthetic, Peele has delivered a window into an area of African-American culture that is not often presented: the image of an affluent, upper middle class, college educated, two-parent Black family with the ability to take a summer vacation and even purchase a boat--all aspects that are never even blinked at with films starring White protagonists. To that end, Peele's inclusion of cultural signposts such as Gabe's Howard University sweatshirt as well as the family's love of Luniz's "I Got 5 On It" were most welcome due to the utter normalcy of their presentation (despite Adelaide's odd inability to snap her fingers on beat...) 

Oh, how I wish I could express some more explicit thoughts about Peele's motifs within "Us," from the presentation of rabbits, the 1986 Hands Across America campaign, Adelaide repetitively finding herself chained, the recurring notion of events happening within 15 minute time frames (plus whatever you may have caught that I missed) but again, I do not wish to spoil.

That being said, I do think that what I am able to present to you is the film's primary theme of the duality that exists within ourselves, no matter how virtuous or venomous we may be, either separately or simultaneously. What I am speaking of is essentially the darkest corners of ourselves, the areas of ourselves that we do not wish to legitimize but we all know exist within ourselves.

In fact, at this time, I do invite you to please take a moment to do something that I am certain will be unpleasant for you. There is no need or request for you to share, but for right now, I am asking you to just ponder over your lives and experiences and take a moment to think of the very worst thing you have ever done, the ugliest thoughts you may have harbored, the very things about yourself that you would never, ever wish for anyone to know.  The pieces of ourselves that we generally strive to temper, to contain and to even bury. Now that you have taken this moment, and fully understanding that even these reprehensible aspects are as much a part of you and I as our wonderful attributes, just imagine if those dark seeds grew and took a larger shape, either in yourselves or within society.

For me, Jordan Peele's "Us" takes the concept of being's one own worst enemy to a grander, more insidious and even subterranean depths where the rapacious, shadowy souls that make up The Tethered serve nearly the same function as The Sunken Place in "Get Out"--the dark pit where we lose ourselves and are therefore consumed by some other hungry entity that has been wrestling for control.

Here is where Peele infuses the bloodletting horror with an equally brutal gut punch of cultural social commentary: that even with as much affluence and objects of materialism we may surround ourselves with, no one is immune or safe from their own worst impulses. From here, Peele expands his scope as as "Us" made me think about how our darkest selves have been manifested throughout social media and comment threads, where the lens of anonymity has emboldened so many to cast any sense of caution, decorum, respect, dignity and humanity to the four winds and spew every conceivable vomitous thought.

And certainly, what of our social political discourse in the Trump era, leading with the Commander In Chief himself, continuously emboldened by the roars of his adoring crowds as well as any perceived political victories, to continue to unapologetically fire off everything from innocuous insults to blusteringly blown dog whistle language which then emboldens supporters and true believers to do the very same in the real world, thus inciting increased fear, division, wrath, anger, and rage. With that, Jordan Peele's "Us" extends largely from a stylish, grotesquely effective horror thriller into a punishing societal warning that our apocalypse will not only arrive from our own hands but if we continue upon this path, it will be imminent. 

As his conduits, Peele struck gold with his entire cast, who all perform double duties as their primary characters plus their shadow selves of The Tethered. Yet, Lupita Nyong'o performance as Adelaide and her shadow self known as Red is remarkable to behold and I have to say that her physical and vocal mastery in both roles is gradually becoming more apparent to me as I recall the film...also a tremendous reason "Us" demands subsequent viewings.

You know, I think I may have expressed more than enough as I urge you, even those of you who are not horror film fans (like myself as I give the genre a wide berth generally), to see a ferociously original film that speaks directly to this moment in time in our shared existence in the 21st century.  Jordan Peele's "Us" is a film of even greater intensity than "Get Out" as he has indeed ratcheted up the scare factor and the violence (bloody but not gratuitous). But it is also a film of great humanity through its artistry, humor and overall humanity despite the dire and doom throughout.

And for me, it is already one of 2019's very best films.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

BLAST FROM THE PAST: a review of "Captain Marvel"

Based upon the Marvel Comics series created by Stan Lee & Gene Colan and Roy Thomas & Gene Colan
Story by Nicole Perlman & Meg LeFauve & Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Screenplay Written by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
*** (three stars)

With only a tad more steps forwards before we arrive at Anthony & Joe Russo's "Avengers: Endgame," we have to take several steps backwards.

While that statement was not necessarily designed to speak to the overall quality of Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Captain Marvel," the latest addition to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, it would also not be mistaken to attribute a critique to that statement either. With "Captain Marvel," what we have here is a film that takes bold steps while also functioning as yet another placeholder before the real main event. Its slightly akin to doing some more homework before being allowed to go to the party.

That said, what Boden and Fleck have achieved, and quite deftly, is a more unique and subtly feminist take upon the well worn origin story and classic Marvel styled existential crisis, making for  a most formidable hero, and for quite a lengthy stretch of "Captain Marvel," I felt that the film would be equal to her. But, even the most powerful superhero in the universe is not impervious to the cliches and trappings of the comic book film genre.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Captain Marvel" reaches backwards in time nearly 25 years to 1995 during which Earth finds itself caught in the middle of an intergalactic war between two extraterrestrial species, the militaristic race known as the Kree and their arch-adversaries, the shape-shifters known as the Skrulls.

Kree soldier Vers (Brie Larson), who serves under the command of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), her mentor and trainer, suffers from nightmares and fractured memories of Earthling Air Force pilot Carol Danvers--a person whose life she is unable to recognize. During a skirmish with the Skrulls, Vers is subjected to a mental probe thus triggering more submerged yet fragmented memories. Vers soon escapes and in her battle with the Skrulls, she crash lands in a Los Angeles Blockbuster Video Store.

Investigating the disturbance at the video store is low level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and recent recruit Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) who immediately become embroiled in the Skrulls' relentless pursuit of Vers, thus forcing a team-up between Vers and Fury.

Utilizing her extracted memories, and through a series of crucial reunions, devastating betrayals and indispensable new alliances, the existential mysteries of Vers' true identity and history will all formulate into the realization of her fullest potential and capabilities as Captain Marvel, a hero poised to end all wars for the good of the universe.

Now 21 films strong, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is firmly established as the top tier with regards to our comic book movie genre as they are consistently handsome productions that are exceedingly well cast and more often than not, superbly plotted and executed with skill, imagination and with Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" (2017) and Anthony & Joe Russo's "Avengers: Infinity War" (2017), a deeply surprising and enormously welcome amount of personal vision and storytelling risk taking.

Where Marvel has its considerable faults lies in the fact that there is a certain sameness to the films regarding character arcs, plotting, visual aesthetics and the fact that at times, that aforementioned feeling of doing homework creeps in, especially, when all you may be wishing for is that forward momentum instead of having to learn more rules, powers, weaknesses and dynamics to fully understand not only the film you are watching but also to see how it will lock into the expanding building block nature of the series as a whole.

At its very best, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Captain Marvel" is both refreshingly ambitious as well as sharing a certain tedium, which honestly never settles in until the obligatory extended climax. As with all of the past Marvel features, Boden and Fleck have helmed a glistening production, augmented by strong performances (the chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson is warmly engaging), seamless special effects (the de-aging process for Jackson and Clark Gregg is especially stellar), and armed with a quiet confidence that felt to be breezy in its sly, matter-of-fact style, which did add a welcome droll sense of humor to the proceedings overall.

With its placement within this Marvel film series, Boden and Fleck have delivered an installment that essentially serves as a sequel and a prequel as "Captain Marvel" simultaneously sets up the stage for the events to come in "Avengers: Endgame" by crafting a dual origin story of both our titular heroine and Nick Fury, who in this film is 25 years younger and has the usage of both of his eyes (although we do learn how he does come to wear his ever present eye-patch).

I definitely appreciated how Boden and Fleck did not utilize a heavy hand with any sense of '90's nostalgia as "Captain Marvel" is indeed a (gulp!) period piece. All of the details (especially the music selections) felt to be true without turning the film into a funhouse parody of 1995, a very wise decision so as to not become a distraction while also providing some clever pop cultural touchstone humor (I chuckled at the slowness of floppy discs loading information into computers compared to the instantaneous speed of 2019--ahhh memories!).

At its very best and most ambitious, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Captain Marvel" is indeed a dazzling statement that should really put the horribly misguided misconception that films about female superheroes as the leading characters are creative and box office poison to rest once and for all. In fact, and in comparison to Patty Jenkins' outstanding "Wonder Woman" (2017), I feel that Boden and Fleck have created an even more subversively feminist cinematic experience than Jenkins (although I do feel that Jenkins made an exceedingly better film).

Essentially, with "Wonder Woman," any sense of a feminist statement was wrapped up entirely within the film's title as well as the character's name. For "Captain Marvel," we have a comic book film starring a superhero who just happens to be a woman. At no point within the film do any characters comment and reflect upon Vers' womanhood--and for that matter, any of the film's female characters from Kree to Skrulls to Earthlings, most notably Vers/Carol Danvers' best friend and Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) and definitely, the wonderful Annette Bening who appears in an extremely pivotal role regarding Vers' existential journey. No woman is objectified or sexualized and are all presented as steadfast individuals all fighting for their respective causes--just as if all of these characters had been portrayed by men.

But all of that being said, all of these characters are women and that in and of itself is a powerful form of representation that is not typically witnessed within mainstream motion pictures and definitely not within big budgeted franchise productions. And just as with "Wonder Woman," I can only imagine what seeing this film feels to young girls to witness and unquestionably adult women who have seen more than their fair share of blockbuster movies without any significant women represented whatsoever. Taking that in mind, Boden and Fleck's approach is indeed more subtle in its vision but no less powerful than what Patty Jenkins accomplished with "Wonder Woman."

The existential journey of Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, like all of our Marvel heroes, is a voyage of self-discovery and the realization of one fullest potential. Yet to see this journey represented by a woman was palpable, certainly as much as what we all experienced with "Black Panther" and its representation of African culture, history, political structure and technology  juxtaposed against the lives of African-Americans cut off from our own culture and history through enslavement. In short, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's"Captain Marvel" is the rare Marvel film that is actually about something other than heroes and villains.

With many terrific sequences that are as primal as they are psychedelic and presented courtesy of beautifully edited suites by Editors Elliot Graham and Debbie Berman, we are given the full odyssey of Vers at key moments in her life that reverberate, repeat, play off of each other and build like repetitive movements within a jazz or orchestral composition. In some ways, "Captain Marvel" served the same purpose as a film like Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day" (1993) as we are given key moments that continuously repeat themselves through Vers' life until she is at last able to piece the fragments of her memories together, merge them with her life in the present to fully determine who she will become in the future.

Who am I now? Who was I? Who am I destined to be? Again, the signature existential journey/crisis of all Marvel heroes (as well as for all of us in the audience) but again, to see it in full representation by a woman felt refreshing to say the least.

And even within the story itself, there are these crucial, and again, subtle touches that I thought were speaking to the female experience in a male dominated society. What I am referring to is how the Kree, through their training of Vers, continuously instruct her to keep her emotions buried in order to exert the fullest amount of control as a soldier. During the course of the film, we discover the complete intent of those instructions from the Kree but what emerges when Vers finally taps firmly and unapologetically into her emotions and combines them with her already formidable abilities, is a woman at her most invincible.

Brie Larson, with her wry charm and adorned for much of the film in a baseball cap, leather jacket and Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, perfectly embodied this character who demonstrates that Captain Marvel is at her most indestructible when her emotions join her ingenuity, strength, fearlessness, boldness, relentlessness, agility, integrity and empathy--a discovery she arrives at through a powerful love for herself, her friends and compatriots and the universe itself. And when her hands and eyes begin to glow like the brightest light of the sun and she soars through the galaxy as the unstoppable force of nature she is, that is when "Captain Marvel" begins to soar...sort of.

As previously stated, one of Marvel's weakest points with their films has been their climax sequences, which more often than not exist as sound and light shows and do not provide the sense of awe and exhilaration necessary to send you out of the theater high above the clouds. Now, this aspect is not exclusive to Marvel as it is indeed more of a symptom of 21st century movies as these bombastic conclusions are just the norm and often, to a numbing degree.

For Marvel, it is the ending of CGI overdrive that we have seen literally 20 times over and in doing so, this did rob "Captain Marvel" of some of its power and its tremendous sense of good will it had so richly earned over 75% of the film, and most of the film's action felt akin to a now classic chase thriller like Andrew Davis' "The Fugitive" (1993). I guess what I am saying is that I needed the film to continue to ascend as Vers continued to become her greatest self and what was received felt to be more of a leveling off and the stagnated move ending cataclysm that has become the standard, for better or for worse.

And so, with Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Captain Marvel," here we are at the precipice of "Avengers: Endgame" with the entrance of the hero who was sent a distress call at the conclusion of "Avengers: Infinity War." While her debut solo entry was not as grand of an entrance as it could've been, it was strong enough to warrant the following...

...Thanos had seriously better watch his back!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

ONCE THERE WERE DRAGONS: a review of "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World"

Based upon the book series by Cressida Cowell
Written and Directed by Dean DeBlois
*** (three stars)

With all due respect to my beautiful grey cat named Rigby, I wish to take some moments to speak about my sleek black cat named Jada.

Jada has been my beloved friend for almost the full 14 years of her life. She is a very mischievous cat, one who always races away from me should I attempt to capture her for an embrace. Yet once fully retrieved, she is a ball of affection, kneading and purring profusely, her wet nose pushing gently at my glasses, the top of her head making forceful connections with my chin. Typically, she is an especially quiet cat as she is nowhere near as talkative as Rigby. But by mealtimes, she more than makes her presence and demands for food known. Jada has a ravenous appetite, gobbling up her daily meals within what feels to be a blink of an eye and then races away to the basement door behind which sits Rigby who is leisurely eating his meals, the very meals that Jada would devour herself if she could somehow break through the door.

Jada is pleasantly plump but do not let a little chubbiness fool you as she is still able to fly through the house at the speed of light.  She trails (or herds) me wherever I go. She often sits near me in an old black chair as I write these reviews. She sleeps alongside me in bed. And on the living room love seat each night, Jada has permanently claimed her space with me, whether next to me or on top of me as she drapes her body over my shoulder, stretching her front legs and paws down my chest towards my stomach. While she can exude such sweet loyalty, she can definitely be more than a little cross as her tail can deliver several slow, curling warnings to not disturb her rest, especially if one of her enormously expressive eyes opens into a furrowed slit.

I have taken this time in describing my blessed companion because when I first saw Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders' masterful, resplendent "How To Train Your Dragon" (2010), the first chapter in the film trilogy involving the young Viking Hiccup and his unexpected friendship with the sleek, black Night Fury dragon named Toothless, there was one moment in particular when Toothless curled up for a rest, eyes and tail settling around himself and I vividly remember remarking to myself, "That's Jada!!!" And in turn, as I am unable to help myself, I will often call Jada "my little Toothless" as she regards me with a quizzical expression before settling down over my shoulder once again.

And so, I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive to see Dean DeBlois' "How To Train Your Dragon; The Hidden World," as it is indeed the final chapter in the story of Hiccup and Toothless. Of course, as I had adored the original film as well as DeBlois' superb "How To Train Your Dragon 2" (2014), I was more than thrilled to see a new episode. But as I had loved the friendship of Hiccup and Toothless so very much, complete with its reminders of my own relationship with Jada, I was unsure as to how emotionally powerful such a conclusion would potentially be.

Yes, with "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," Hiccup and Toothless' journey does indeed reach its enormously effective and tender hearted conclusion but that being said, the film in its entirety does not quite scale the extreme heights of its predecessors. This is certainly not a quality that ultimately derails all that had arrived before, and this third installment is not a disappointment whatsoever. I feel that overall, DeBlois has unquestionably created a fine ending to an especially classy film trilogy during an era where so many films, animated or otherwise, have forsake the art in favor of commerce. With "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," we are given a film that  show us handsomely how the two can co-exist.

Picking up one year after the events of the second film, which concluded with Hiccup (again voiced by Jay Baruchel) becoming the Chief of his Viking village of Berk and Toothless ascending to becoming the Alpha of all dragons, the island of  Berk has now become over-populated with dragons due to Hiccup's rescue missions with his dragon rider friends and all in the service of his dream to create a full human/dragon utopia.

Meanwhile, the evil Grimmel the Grisly (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), in cahoots with warlords, holds in captivity a white Night Fury dragon, who will be used as bait to attract and capture Toothless, thus leading to the full destruction of the dragons in their entirety.

After surviving an attack on Berk by Grimmel, Hiccup decides to lead his village and the dragons to "The Hidden World," a secret, safe haven for dragons to exist peacefully, a world once described to him as a small child by his now deceased Father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler in flashback sequences).

And as for Toothless, his life takes quite the unexpected turn once he does meet the white Night Fury (dubbed a "Light Fury"), and who soon reciprocates his affections. But as Night Furies mate for life, what does this new romance mean for the friendship between Toothless and Hiccup?

Just as with the previous two installments, Dean DeBlois' "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" is a meticulously detailed, lushly animated, lovingly realized escapade with a powerful attention to story, character, locale and emotion. Additionally, I continue to be engaged with the variety of dragon species presented in the film, each type given its own distinct personalities and attributes.

To that end, I appreciated how DeBlois has allowed his human characters to grow with each film, and with regards to "The Hidden World," Hiccup takes an even larger stage into his adulthood as he deeply wrestles not only with how he chooses to lead the Vikings as their young Chief, undeniably within the shadow of his deceased Father, but also his building romance with the courageous, spunky Astrid (engagingly voiced by America Ferrera), a love story that foreshadows their future marriage and eventual co-leadership of their tribe.

Of course, the enormously beating heart of this film lies within three interlinked love stories. In addition to the aforementioned union between Hiccup and Astrid, we are of course invested with Toothless and the Light Fury, which in turn fuels, informs and advances the central love story between Toothless and Hiccup to its beautifully earned tear stained finale, a conclusion that wonderfully plays into the mythology of dragons and precisely why we are unable to view them anymore.

With the luxurious Toothless, who for me, has been one of the most captivatingly realized animated creatures I have been fortunate enough to witness, I continue to be thankful and amazed with how DeBlois has refused to make him "cartoonish," so to speak, always treating him as if he were a real, living, breathing member of the animal kingdom with his own characteristics, behaviors, attributes and qualities that are completely idiosyncratic to himself and his well as with the Light Fury.

I adored their romance, their dynamic with each other, their humorous mating rituals and dance of attraction which literally takes to the skies in several of the series' breathtaking, dazzling flying sequences. And again, the animation is simply astounding as both Toothless and the Light Fury communicate without spoken words and entirely through stunning body language that does indeed communicate all we need to know to understand their courtship.

To that end, we completely understand precisely why the Light Fury does not trust Hiccup, for why would she as she has been held captive, and will soon be killed by humans? To that end, and most urgently, we understand the quandary that Toothless faces as he is forced to choose between his love and his best friend. And animals being animals, hard wired through DNA to be whom they are, the choices are inevitable even as both he and Hiccup are equally afraid of having to confront farewells.

Even with all of this wonderment, I was softer on this film than the previous two chapters essentially because for every thing that indeed happens within this film, not terribly much happens. In fact, "The Hidden World" quite often reminded me of my feelings with Pixar and Lee Unkrich's "Toy Story 3" (2010), another highly entertaining, exceedingly emotional film that also felt to be more than a little padded as the rampant hijinks that took up much of the film did feel to contain more than a little conceptual wheel spinning.

With "The Hidden World," I had the same emotions as so much of the film is essentially a series of ambush attacks and escapes and all at the service of sustaining a fairly generic good vs. evil battle with a fairly generic and frankly, uninteresting villain in Grimmel the Grisly. Because of this quality, the film dragged a bit when I felt it should have continued to soar.

In retrospect, I wonder if this film even needed to have a villain at all! What if the film simply excised Grimmel and kept every other element? That would've altered some of the frame work of the series as the Viking battles have been integral to the overall plot and dragon mythology. But even so, perhaps if the film  had been even more daring and riskier, it could have had a greater potential with being something more triumphant that what it actually was.

The beauty of this series has always been the core relationship between Hiccup and Toothless and therefore, a mirror to the bond we formulate with our animal companions every day. With Dean DeBlois' "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," I could not help but to think about if Jada, Rigby and I were ever to be separated for an especially extended period, and then, if we were to be reunited, would they remember me? Would all that I gave to them throughout our lives be returned back to me? Or were the feelings of love just projections I placed onto them to invent a bond that truthfully never existed?

In my heart, I feel that Jada and Rigby would remember me, for sometimes, when Rigby sees me after a time when we have been apart, I look to his eyes and his gaze honestly feels as if he hasn't seen me in a year, when it has only been a few hours in a day. And also, when, on a Friday night, after yet another achingly long week, as I ease back to rest upon the love seat, Jada will blissfully appear, climb me, settle in upon my shoulder and begin to purr emphatically, as if she is soothing me for the night in a fashion that feels to be nothing less than nurturing.

Our bond with animals is something that exists of such purity and while I will never understand it, I remain so thankful to be a part of its power and exquisite grace. With "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," it is unquestionably this very power and exquisite grace that is paramount and provides a level of ache, sorrow and uplift that is truly rare for any film, animated or otherwise. The film's final moments are crystalline in their utter beauty and in doing so, Dean DeBlois celebrates and upholds the bonds we create and share with animals brilliantly, for these are the bonds which are unbreakable.

Friday, March 1, 2019


Now that everything regarding the 2018 movie year has officially been completed with the Academy Awards and my own Savage Scorecard series residing in the recent past, I can now fully focus all of my energies upon the 2019 movie year, which this month already houses two extremely anticipated films.

At this point, I would be hard pressed to think of too many other movies yet to be released this year that are as anticipated as Writer/Director Jordan Peele's "Us,"  his follow-up to the astounding "Get Out" (2017). As I have always said, I tend to give horror films a wide berth as I typically do not enjoy the sensation of being scared. BUT...This is Jordan Peele we're talking about and with one film, I am ready to follow him anywhere. So, let's hope Peele does not  hit the dreaded "Sophomore slump" with his latest feature.

Of course, there is also the latest Marvel Comics entry, the 1990's set "Captain Marvel" starring Brie Larson in the titular role and what will also be the precursor to the upcoming Avengers movie in April 2019.

With those two movies plus "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," this is more than enough for me to sink my teeth into this month. So, as always, please do wish me good luck and god health and I will see you when the house lights go down!!!