So, I saw Ant-Man the other day. I had recently acquired the Regal Unlimited Movie Pass and decided “hey, why not?” While I highly recommend the Regal Unlimited Movie Pass, I can not say the same for the new Ant-Man movie. It’s received so much hate, and I honestly can see why. It’s odd because I typically choose not to hate on movies; however, this one just felt so… lifeless. Johnathon Majors puts in a great performance, yet at the same time, I feel as if every actor/actress in the whole movie was given so little to work with. Superhero movies are made in many different styles. Some of my favorites are Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, as well as the Christopher Nolan and Robert Battinson Batmans. But, what makes those different? The idea to me of what a great superhero film can be is not a single fact. It’s the ability to make a fake world seem seamless and real, packed with emotions and beauty. It’s how franchises like Star Wars have survived. Sure, the galaxy is made up, but it feels and looks real. Yet, even the “real” stuff in Marvel movies has recently felt fake, and this movie feels almost the worst about that. It was so jarring after recently watching arguably the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen with the new Avatar movie, and following that up with this film. Rumors of overworking and underpaying VFX artists by Marvel are guaranteed to be true, and it shows here. Even if we look past the dialogue and certain parts of the story that just feel not really cared about, it just doesn’t feel like a real movie. Every single scene, it is painfully obvious how CGI’d everything is, and it’s not in a fun way. It is painful to the eyes. When everything is color graded to look the same and there is clearly nothing real that the actors were given to work with, it loses any whimsical nature that can come with new worlds (which this movie had a HUGE chance to showcase). To me, it just shows how much Marvel needs to slow down and stop micromanaging. Almost every one of my favorite superhero movies gave room for the writers and directors to work on their own, gave time for them to carefully craft the world and story they wanted to create, and understood that it is possible to make a superhero film that doesn’t feel like every other Marvel film in the last three years. There isn’t even much more to say for me. I’m just deeply disappointed in the potential that is squandered here.
I recently rewatched The Shawshank Redemption and its emotional rollercoaster really pushed me hard (as it always does). Every time I watch a movie, I always come and think about different aspects of it. This time around, I want to think about the idea of hope in the movie. I feel as if in real life, nobody ever fully understands the importance of hope until they hit a wall that seems impossible to get past. There is nothing that encapsulates that feeling like when Andy realizes there isn’t a chance that he’ll finally be redeemed as not-guilty. Not a chance. So, how does he find hope? Yes, it helps that there’s a huge tunnel he’s building, but it also helps that he sees a goal. For him, it’s leaving. His quote “get busy living, or get busy dying,” is absolutely iconic and emotional. It calls into question how we all live our lives. For me, when I rewatched this movie, it immediately made me want to say all the things to people I want to say but haven’t. To not be afraid. To have hope is to be able to live a life, and I believe this movie exemplifies that. Recent movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi have also had such a clear message of hope, and how the smallest showing of it can push a person or groups of people past whatever they thought to be possible. How I see The Shawshank Redemption is a movie that is heartbreaking; however, at its core, it has moments where it make the audience have trust that something good is coming. I have almost never had a movie make me cry like that, yet leave me at the end with such a sigh of relief and a realization of hope.
Side note: All of this is helped by some of the best possible casting for a movie there can be. Every performance invokes deep emotional reactions, which only adds to the story.
How does Alden Ehrenreich, who recently played Han Solo, end up in a movie like Cocaine Bear? How does Ray Liotta (rest in peace), a key cast member in Goodfellas, end up in a movie like Cocaine Bear? How does the rest of the cast of Cocaine Bear, end up in a movie like that after they’ve been successful elsewhere? The answer isn’t that their careers have fallen off of a cliff; it’s that Cocaine Bear is fucking awesome. I’m not even sure that it’s really a great movie, or that I even liked it that much. At the very least, though, it was fun to watch in a stupid way. How does a movie like this even succeed in today’s market? Well, as Marvel movies have recently gotten more flack, we have seen a rise in different types of movies coming to market again. People have been looking for escapism in easy and funny ways, and Cocaine Bear fills that gap. Personally, I remember laughing hard the first time I saw a commercial for Cocaine Bear. The title explained everything we needed to know. We wanted to go see it. There’s a lot of talk about higher art in terms of filmmaking, and many people would likely not consider this film in that area. However, it is in the top of the list in the less nuanced sense of filmmaking, in my opinion. It taps into the beautiful art of slapstick comedy with some of its chaos. What I love is what it means for the larger picture of movies. I don’t necessarily want more movies of this style, but I also want more movies with this corny heart. A bunch of great actors together for a “stupid” movie? Why not? It appears it’s possible to happen again now just because of the irrational success of an odd movie like Cocaine Bear.
How do you balance introducing an audience to a universe they don’t know, while also satisfying an audience that does know of that universe. Denis Villeneuve has experienced this multiple times, creating two of my favorite films of all time: Blade Runner 2049 and Dune: Part One. Arrival is also one of my favorite films ever; but it doesn’t fit the point I am attempting to make here. Dune is the movie I truly want to focus on today. I had never read the books going in to see this movie, nor have I read them yet since. To describe the feeling, though, of the opening of the movie. Villeneuve knows how to turn a crazy, otherworldly atmosphere, and make it into something that we care deeply for the characters about. I will never forget the moment I first heard the bagpipes blare through our RPX movie theater as House Atreides landed on Arrakis for the first time. You see, Dune was one of the first large movies that came out after some of the pandemic restrictions were lifted. There was a nervous feeling going in, as if I hadn’t had a true experience like this in a long time, and Dune truly made it feel like one. One of the most consistent ideas that pops up throughout Villeneuve’s work is his combination of cinematography and music/sound design. It’s easier to have music with an impact when Hans Zimmer makes your soundtrack, I will admit; however, Villeneuve focuses on the pure scale of these worlds and cultures we have never seen. He captures the size of everything perfectly, and the music that feels so inherently powerful, familiar, and yet somehow foreign makes us as the audience feel like we are not in our element. But that’s how Dune gets it right. Much like Paul, we are figuring things out as we go (although he knows more information than us to start, obviously). I was anxious; but I was so immediately enthralled with these worlds and people and scales that I felt legitimately heartbroken and empty when House Atreides was essentially destroyed and teamed up on.
What happened after the movie, though, was also some of my fovorite parts. As I stood in the chilly movie theater parking lot in the middle of the night with my friends, I realized how special this movie was. We were all so excited; however, we were all so nervous that the next movie would not be funded. As mentioned before, there had not been many successful movies after COVID yet, so there was no guarantee that this would be successful. That, to me, though, is the beauty of Dune. Past just its music and cinematography (and everything else about it), it felt like a real investment. It felt beautiful and like a breath of air knowing that yes, a movie can be successful in this climate that is unique and powerful. For the future, I think this shows that Villeneuve is especially adept at adapting and adding to works. I feel like for the industry, it really shows the power of acting and grandeur. There was so much emotion and care in every moment, and it never felt fake. Every shot looked so real and scaled so correctly. It’s not just a film to be experienced, it a beautiful film that other filmmakers should look up to for inspiration.
What does it mean to be a “blockbuster?” What makes a blockbuster movie seems to be up for debate in recent years. Does it just mean how much money is put into a movie? How much it makes? To me, it’s not a particular tangible effect, but rather how many of them come together. Blockbusters, with all of the emotions and beautiful stories they create, are meant to be more than a movie. They are meant to be an experience. So when I walked into the movie theater to watch a 3D showing of Avatar: The Way of Water, I was immensely excited. The first movie was something I wish I could’ve seen as a child in theaters. I was seven when the first movie came out, and twenty when the second came out. I never kept up with the rereleases, so when I sat through this movie, I finally understood. I understood why Avatar is the highest grossing movie ever. It’s an experience. It’s a true blockbuster. The movie naturally has a mystical aspect, taking us into a different world (literally), with aspects we don’t understand. However, even in the crazy scenes with whales who can talk, it feels human. When you sit in the theater, you are witnessing almost no shots that were included without CGI. You can sense the countless hours that it took for each frame to be rendered into the most realistic CGI blue people I will ever see (until the next Avatar sequel). There is never a moment spent where you don’t feel like you are a part of another planet. What ultimately makes this movie a “true” blockbuster to me is the idea that it spends its actual time with the planet. We get to admire its beauty before the action starts. Why would I care about a whale getting hurt, or a world getting plundered for resources, if I have not spent hours with the people and creatures of that world. In a current movie landscape where many larger movies would have us with the limited perspectives of the humans, Avatar: The Way of Water understands that it’s important to be one with the world. It’s important to show what a real movie experience can be. And more than anything, it’s important that other large-budget movies follow suit. There’s a reason the highest grossing movies of all time are essentially all two hours at minimum. To be a great blockbuster, it has to take it’s time; and this movie understands that. James Cameron, as a director who has made movies that have earned an unimaginable amount of money, understands that.
My name is Lucas Ferdinand-McDonald, and this blog, “A Loving Review,” is going to create loving looks at all aspects of movies, theming, and more!
I look forward to begin posting and creating content for all of you!