By Jason Delgado
What a year 2020 has been. In terms of movie-going, theaters are having a rough go of it, to say the least. There is no other experience that can replicate seeing a film up on the big screen (especially IMAX) with a crowd, laughing, gasping, and enjoying it together. Hopefully, the day will come sooner, rather than later, when we can all become immersed by the big screen once again. With the yin comes the yang, and the bright side is that it’s never been easier to watch new movies at home.
Wonder Woman 1984 – Case in point, the highly-anticipated sequel to the smash hit Wonder Woman is now streaming on HBO Max. The first movie was a revelation for DC and Warner Brothers due to the stellar performances of Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and others, the great directorial effort by Patty Jenkins, and most importantly, finally showcasing a strong female superhero on the big screen. Why is that last point meaningful? Ask the young ladies around the world what Wonder Woman means to them now? Or the boys who had the outdated mentality of only seeing the other sex as being physically inferior. Some people, like Martin Scorsese, want to dismiss superhero flicks altogether, but role models for young children do mean something, and can have an impact beyond entertainment.
Social relevance aside, the first film was quite entertaining, other than an overreliance on special effects for the final act, as big budget spectacles are oftentimes famously known to do. I’m sorry to say that I don’t find WW84 to be as entertaining as its predecessor. Ironically, the big action spectacles of the young Diana Prince/Amazon warrior princess opening scene, and the finale, are what I enjoyed the most about this movie. Everything in between felt like a two and a half hour slogfest, with a few moments of levity, like when Chris Pine is trying on hilarious-by-their-very-nature 1980’s clothes. The ‘84’ in the title was largely squandered otherwise, which is a shame, because I love the 80’s. It’s a time period rife for references and fun, and other movies have built an entire theme around the decade of decadence and rise of pop culture, (e.g. The Wedding Singer and Ready Player One).
Gal Gadot as the fierce Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman, and Chris Pine as her deceased love interest Steve Trevor (I found the method of his return to the land of the living a bit sloppy and comical, although I won’t spoil it), are both still in fine acting form. I wish the right material was here for them. Speaking of being out of place, Kristen Wiig (SNL) and Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian, easily one of the best things about 2020) are great actors, but stuck out in a distracting way. I just didn’t see them as the antagonists that they were meant to be in this movie. Pascal, as Maxwell Lord, plays a blond, money-and-power-obsessed, failed businessman/con artist. Sound familiar?
I enjoy the overall theme, which is that everything comes with a price. Do you want power and riches? In the movie, that comes at the price of family. Everything has a cost, so is what you’re giving up worth it in the end? In real life (and especially in the 80’s), some people just don’t think about consequences enough. The power of film is that it can show us what we’re otherwise blind to. WW84 only touched on this theme on a surface level, but it could have been explored so much more meaningfully if it had fully committed to this concept.
I give WW84 2.5 hot sauce packets out of 5. I wanted to like it more than I did, but honestly, I fell asleep the first time attempting to watch it all the way through.
Soul – Does this movie have soul? Yes, it does! Going in, I thought that Soul was going to largely be about jazz music. There is some of that, but it’s more about the human soul. What is our destiny in life? These are huge questions for any film, let alone what I thought would be a kids’ movie. It’s reminiscent of another great Pixar film dealing with the metaphysical and music, Coco.
Joe, voiced by Jamie Foxx, is a middle school band teacher, who wants more out of life. He always wanted to become a famous jazz piano player, but all he gets are the occasional non-descript gigs at small clubs. His journey takes him to another realm to help someone else (22, voiced by Tina Fey) on her own quest to find herself. I love the humorous chemistry between Foxx and Fey in this flick.
I don’t want to spoil the details of the film, but I will say that it’s a beautiful movie, both inside (the story) and out (the visuals – New York City and beyond). Other existential questions that Soul asks are, what happens if you achieve your dream, and you still don’t feel any different? Or what if your dream isn’t what you were meant to do in life?
I can relate to this. One of my dreams was to become an NBA player. It didn’t quite happen, although I won a rec league championship with my friends, and we ran around the court like we won an NBA championship. Life is what you make it, and I’m having a blast writing for you right now.
Fun fact: Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails, along with Atticus Ross, wrote the film score for Soul. Of all of the random things to happen in 2020, the lead singer of a popular dark, edgy, 90’s alternative band creating an excellent kids’ movie score is right up there! Reznor has worked on David Fincher directed movie scores before this, but It looks like he is now on the path toward becoming the next Danny Elfman.
Soul is the kind of film that I could watch over and over again with my son, like he already does with Coco. My biggest criticism is that Soul did not hook my son all of the way throughout the movie like Coco does. Parents should be forewarned that Soul is more of an adult movie that kids can watch, as opposed to other Pixar films, which are kids movies that adults can watch.
I give Soul 4 out of 5 hot sauce packets. It’s so deep that your insides will be on fire!
Freaky – Growing up in the 80’s, I remember enjoying a slew of body-switching comedies (which may or may not hold up now, but they entertained me as a child): Vice Versa, 18 Again!, Like Father Like Son, and All of Me to name a few. The genre hit its zenith in 2003 with the popular remake of Freaky Friday, starring tabloid sensation Lindsay Lohan and Halloween scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis.
Freaky continues the fun transformation tradition, but with a horror twist. All that you really need to know about the film is that a timid, 17 year old high school girl, Millie (Kathryn Newton), switches bodies with a seasoned, Jason-like serial killer nicknamed the Blissfield Butcher, played by Vince Vaughn.
Freaky is everything you’d expect from the concept: entertaining, silly, funny, with a dash of horror, and not much else beneath the surface. My expectations were not ridiculously high, even though it is directed by Christopher Landon (Director of both Happy Death Day movies), who’s done a great job at balancing the difficult comedy/horror genre in his previous work. If you enjoy the concept, you’ll probably get a kick out of the film.
Freaky, like the aforementioned body-switching flicks, utilizes the cliche scene of the protagonist telling their closest friends (Played with campy exuberance by Celeste O’Conner, and Misha Osherovich) secrets that only they would know, in order to convince them of the switch. Groan-inducing for sure, but until we see a fresh idea to advance this kind of story, we’re stuck with the familiar trope.
There is a shocking, comedic/gross out scene near the end of the movie, and sometimes those kinds of scenes are just gross, but this one is funny in the way that it makes the audience uncomfortable.
Vince Vaughn is the big household name star of Freaky, and he is a joy to watch here, but Kathryn Newton steals this movie when she’s in full kill mode. Going from a shy, picked-on schoolgirl to a badass out for revenge is such a fun transformation, and Newton plays it perfectly.
I give Freaky 3.5 out of 5 hot sauce packets. It’s enough fire to have a good time!
Love and Monsters – “Tonight I think I’ll walk alone, I’ll find my soul as I go home.” Those aren’t just the lyrics to “Temptation” by New Order; isolation has been a theme for humankind, to varying degrees, for much of 2020. The question is, have you been using this time to find your soul?
After hiding underground for 7 years, Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien – Maze Runner), the protagonist of Love and Monsters, is ready to go on a hero’s quest to find his soul, all in the name of love for his long lost girlfriend. Dawson is a cuddly lover, not a fighter, so the new world where 95% of humanity is wiped out, and rodents, insects, amphibians, and crustaceans of unusual size roam the Earth, are even more frightful to someone like him.
The apocalypse has been a popular theme throughout film and television in recent times, particularly culminating with the rise of The Walking Dead (Check out the excellent recaps here by Transmute Jun!). Director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) recently said on Twitter, “I am a longtime devotee of Carl Jung’s theories of dreams and collective unconsciousness. Those theories inform my belief that the wave of viral outbreak zombie pics from the last 20 years were varying forms of prescient Covid nightmares.” Maybe this theory would explain how different people from around the world can invent something new at the same time without communicating with each other, or how we get three volcano disaster movies released at the same time. Or it could just be that studios want to ride the wave of whatever is popular at the time, but it is an interesting theory indeed.
Love and Monsters deals with the theme of isolation, and the humanity that can be found in things like a dog, a robot, and memories of loved ones. There’s a certain comfort in the connection to loneliness in this film, because of the pandemic that we’re experiencing together. It’s also beautifully shot, abounded by nature and greenery, due to no human pollution anymore.
This movie is fun, action-packed, humorous at times, and layered with just the right amount of thoughtfulness and emotion. Dylan O’Brien is at his emphatic best, and it’s so good to see that he’s healthy again (After the serious car accident on the set of Maze Runner 3), let alone carrying a great movie like he does here. Fun, yet important, cameos by Michael Rooker (Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Ariana Greenblatt (Stuck in the Middle) really add to this picture. Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist) rounds out the cast by being an atypical romantic interest in distress.
You may not have even pondered the effects that 2020 have had on your soul, but maybe movies such as Soul and Love and Monsters can help you get started on the journey. Or simply enjoy them for the thrill ride they are, the choice is yours.
I give Love and Monsters 4 out of 5 hot sauce packets. The film may take some liberties with being believable, but it’s so hot that it’ll scorch your soul.
Happy Holidays! Continue the discussion in our forum here.
Wonder Woman 1984 is currently in theaters, and can be streamed on HBO Max until January 25, 2021.
Soul is currently streaming on Disney+.
Freaky and Love and Monsters can be found on FandangoNow, Vudu, AMC Theatres On Demand, and on your local cable On Demand services.