Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all the other Holiday stuff for other faiths, lifestyles, and all such and sundry. I've been super busy with side projects, playing Santa Claus, and overcoming the usual set of obstacles. I'm trying to play "Catch up" on some of the films I've missed, but there were also some new releases that I really wanted to look at for the blog.
At the beginning of the year, I had a shortlist of films I was looking forward to and a shortlist of films that I didn’t expect much out of. With the Justice League having fallen mostly flat and with expectations low, I placed Aquaman on the list with barely a shrug. Despite the fact that James Wan was at the helm, I didn’t think there was much the acclaimed horror director could do with such a one note hero in a film universe that had largely fallen flat. And, ironically scheduled to be released the same weekend, Bumblebee would be the first in a Transformers spin-off film to support that franchise. There was no WAY that film could manage to overcome five previously horrendous movies and manage to support it’s own premise to support a character incapable of speech itself.
But I also had a chance to see one of my most anticipated films of the year, so keep on reading to see my review of "Anna and the Apocalypse"....
So my plans to watch any film this past weekend were being thwarted at nearly every turn. The family wasn’t in the mood, I didn’t want to really go by myself, and the list kept on compiling until a frustrating Sunday afternoon found me purchasing tickets for Aquaman the following day and a whimsical purchase of Bumblebee that night. My wife, unlike myself, actually enjoyed some of the previous Transformer’s films. She also heard it was more of a “Girl and her Horse”-style narrative, so she was interested in seeing how such a feet would be accomplished and if it could remain true to the high octane action of giant robots fighting and transforming.
It took the film less than two minutes to cement itself as THE best live-action Transformers film in the entire series, which saw the movie opening up on the Cybertron of my distant childhood. Live action versions of the Transformers were doing battle on a big screen, including a discernible Shockwave, Soundwave, Prowl, Arcee, Ratchet, and Optimus Prime when Bumblebee came roaring onto the scene with a ferociousness that belied his size. Lasers, combat, and a powerful delivery on the nature of Bee’s mission set the tone of real stakes and challenge before the film shifts toward earth and the combat training of John Cena’s character, Agent Burner. He and his squad are caught in the middle of a brutal fight between Bee and one of his pursuers, Blitzwing. Indifferent to the humans around them, Blitzwing is a brutal machine intent on ripping the secrets of the Autobots plans from the Bee’s chest. In the struggle, Bee loses his voicebox, his power is dangerously low, and he is barely able to transform into an innocent car and avoid detection.
Fast forward some time later and we find a young girl, Charlee (Hailee Steinfeld), a young girl coping with the loss of her father and the new family unit of her mother, a new boyfriend, and a pubescent pest of a brother. She’s not popular, she’s not conventional, and she isn’t going to get the chip off her shoulder with a power of positivity lecture from the people in her life. In her struggle to find a sense of individuality and personal freedom, she winds up getting a broken down VW Bug that turns out to be our titular character.
Biff! Bam! Boom! We’re off to the races!
I mean, we get a couple of great performances and a bit of 80’s nostalgia (maybe a touch too much) and the film just hammers down on the relationship between Bee and Charlee, with Bee learning about the people of earth and their potential and fragility as a race. We get Charlee learning to care about more than just her grief. Both are set to overcome personal obstacles, including a dogged pursuer in the form of Cena’s Agent Burner. What could have been a typical “Mr. McGhee”-like performance from the ex-wrestler is nuanced with levity and a certain attention to detail that exposes him as a truly honorable man.
8 out of 10.
Which brings us to the next morning….
How do I put this one into words?
There are only so many times you can hit the same point repeatedly about a film, and I think my low expectations were well document when I started this week’s blog. So let me cut to the quick of it- I was wrong.
Aquaman may be the best of the DCEU films to date, surpassing even Wonderwoman with its bombastic titular character and the entire premise which takes us to a whole new alien world located far beneath our own world’s ocean depths. Atlantis isn’t just a singular city, either. We quickly learn that the kingdom, technologically advanced and arrogant in their consumption of power, has sunk below the sea due to its own hubris and the people have been forever changed by it. Many are now incapable of breathing the air above, some of the people have evolved beyond their human form, and others devolved. And all of the story is foreshadowed in a brief glimpse of HP Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” as it sits upon the table.
A child born of two worlds, Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) is the half-blood elder Prince to the crown of Atlantis. Distrusted by both the surface and the deep, his only purpose is to do what he feels is “right” by people. An early exchange shows us the heart of a man willing to stand despite the odds, but who is quickly able to soften when the situation changes. He has a lot of love in his heart and a lot of courage, but he is far from perfect and he is haunted by the choices of others.
When his younger half brother decides to unite the undersea kingdom to declare war on the surface, Arthur is approached to take his “rightful” place by people who do not truly believe in him. He has his own doubts, but the war and the lives at risk are enough to lure Aquaman to the deep where he must finally face his brother and find out what kind of man he will really be.
Jason Mamoa sets the perfect tone for the film, envisioning Aquaman as a blue-collar “everyman” who happens to have great powers and ferocious skills. But, while often joked about in pop culture, Aquaman’s greatest power is the one least considered when examining the cinematic adventures of a superhero. Arthur Curry can talk with fish- a skill we originally believe is probably the most common amongst Atlanteans, but which we find is actually an extremely rare gift.
And that’s what Aquaman is- an extremely rare gift from the production studio that previously brought us Batman Vs. Superman and The Justice League.
9 out of 10.
Anna and the Apocalypse
So we take this High School senior on the cusp of graduation. She wants to see the world, but her janitor father wants her to go to University. She wants to travel Australia, but her artistic best friend harbors romantic interests. She wants to leave her home town, but she’s also recovering from a poor romantic moment with the school bully. Anna is the prototypical “John Hughes”-style lead in a small town high school populated with the average teens who populate those classic films.
The world of Anna is filled with Disney Channel-influenced musical numbers, teens lamenting or celebrating their self-induced technological separations, romantic entanglements, energetic declarations of “change” or “making a difference” and so on, so forth, and all of it coming to a crashing halt when the dead rise through a zombie virus that spreads like a plague. Everything the characters were declaring, avoiding, or confronting becomes almost meaningless when the blood starts to splatter and heads begin to (literally) roll.
Anna (Ella Hunt) and her best friend John (Malcomb Cumming) are just turning over new leaves, kickstarting their lives through a jaunty song as they fail to see the carnage in the world around them. Bodies literally drop just behind them, unseen and unheard, before the two are finally confronted by one of the undead and are forced to take action. They soon join erstwhile school reporter and American transplant, Steph (Sarah Swire) and videographer Chris (Christopher Leveaux), who are hiding in the local bowling alley. Meanwhile, the many of the teens friends and families are trapped at the local High School with Anna’s father(Mark Benton) and the school’s recently promoted Headmaster Savage (Paul Kaye).
As civilization falls apart, Anna must take control of her life and rely on her friends to survive. As the film continues, the music adjusts to the tonal shift and retains a darker edge without sacrificing it’s pop-rock roots. Songs reminiscent of anthemic hard rock themes and morose electronic new wave echo through the characters journey. A symbolic journey of growth and change where some will survive and some will remain trapped in the town forever. It’s not often easy to wed horror and musical without sacrificing the latter to a camp comedy, but Anna steps into the occasional comedic dip only to reveal deeper horrors and real emotional depth.
9 out of ten.