Pet Sematary (2019) REVIEW

So…you know how sometimes, you get this idea, like “oh I know, I’ll treat myself to something that will allow me to see a lot of movies! I love movies! And hey, maybe I’ll start a movie blog, so I can nerd out about them!! YEAH!!!”

…and then you realize that means you have to see things like Pet Sematary.

Now, let’s reiterate: I am not a horror movie person. At all.

“But you said you saw Us three times!! That’s a horror movie!!” Yes. I did. And did it scar me? Ohhhhhh you BET. But I don’t consider Us a horror movie in the most traditional sense–it doesn’t throw things at the screen just for the sake of scaring you and that’s it. There’s so much more to it than just scares.

(If you’re curious, check out my in-depth review of Us right here)

Pet Sematary, on the other hand. Whew.

I know I didn’t technically have to see it, but if I’m gonna have a movie blog, I think I have to check out big things when I can. Maybe I won’t like it *cough*ALITABATTLEANGEL*cough*, but I still think it’s important to see it and figure out why I feel the way I do about it.

Maybe that’s just an excuse for my 4-ness…

Probably.

Anyway, here’s the thing: this is not a nice, happy movie. This thing is dark. I’m gonna try to humor my way through it as much as possible because I’m pretty sure that’s the only way I’ll survive this, but keep that in mind.

Originally, I was gonna try to write a cheerier version of the review after the gruesome detailed one, but I don’t know if that’s even gonna work, y’all.

So just be warned. This isn’t a fun time in any way.

I mean…there are cats! Yayyyyyy!

THE PLOT

The movie, which should really be called “White People Mess With Native American Burial Ground, Get What’s Coming To Them,” begins with an aerial shot of a forest, and as we zoom across the land, we see a building on fire. As we zoom in some more, we see a large house, a car parked in front with an open door, and a trail of blood going across the front porch. No one is in sight.

The screen changes to white, and we catch up with the Creed family: husband Louis (Jason Clarke), wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), and son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). They’re moving to the town of Ludlow, Maine from Boston to get a fresh start. They seem to be a really close family, and all seems well until they arrive at their new house. A large truck goes loudly speeding by, scaring everyone.

The next day, Louis is off for work at the university (?) as the on-campus doctor. Rachel, Ellie, and Gage are staying home. Ellie and Rachel notice a procession of kids in real creepy animal masks walk by, with what appears to be a dead dog in a wheelbarrow. Ellie is immediately intrigued, and wants to follow them, but she waits until Rachel is distracted with a phone call.

Ellie follows the trail through the woods and winds up at a “charming little landmark” (Rachel’s words): the infamous Pet Sematary. She walks around for a bit, investigating the different graves, until she comes across what almost looks like a dam of sorts. Determined, she starts to climb it, but is startled and therefore stopped by neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow). Ellie is stung by a bee on her way down, and Jud helps her remove the stinger and put dirt on it (because that’s…how you fix things…that or Windex).

Meanwhile, Rachel is on the phone with her own mom, unpacking things while she talks. She comes across a photo of a girl, and although she reacts negatively to the photo, we don’t find out why until a little later. Noticing Ellie isn’t in the house anymore, she goes searching, coming across the Pet Sematary and Ellie and Jud within it. Rachel thinks Jud’s a little sketchy at first (and the Pet Sematary is real creepy), so she grabs Ellie and gets out (now her mistake here is not getting out of Ludlow altogether which is really what she should have done).

That night, Ellie tries to ask her parents some questions about death (“why don’t pets live as long as people?”), but Rachel and Louis are clearly on different pages about this particular topic and the whole conversation ends up being kind of a muddled mess.

Then, we cut to Halloween. Louis is getting ready to take Ellie and some of her friends trick-or-treating, when he sees Jud motioning for him across the drive. Louis goes to him, and Jud shows him what he found: Ellie’s beloved cat, Church, dead on the side of the road. In a rather Anna Karenina-esque twist, Church was hit and killed by one of the trucks that’s always speeding across the road. Louis immediately decides that Ellie cannot see this, so Jud tells him they’ll deal with it that night.

Louis tells Rachel what they found, and Rachel begs Louis not to tell Ellie that Church is dead, just that he ran away. Louis seems reluctant at first, but decides to go along with it. That night, Louis and Jud head out to the Pet Sematary. Just before Louis can start digging the grave, however, something seems to come over Jud, and he asks things like “Ellie really loved that cat, didn’t she?” And “you really love Ellie, don’t you?”

Like yes, Jud, we all loved everyone, you gonna help bury the cat or nah?

But instead, Jud takes Louis over the dam/stick wall thing that Ellie tried to climb earlier, up across a swamp, and on top of some mountain-y thing where he tells Louis to bury the cat and use some of the nearby rocks as a cairn. It’s especially dramatic looking with the lightning striking every now and then.

The next day, Louis and Rachel sit Ellie down to tell her that Church ran away. Ellie says “but he’s right here!” Which is just not what you ever want to hear about a dead cat. Louis goes to investigate, and sure enough, Church is inside Ellie’s closet, alive and well.

Well…alive, at least.

But Church is different. He’s angrier, nastier, bites and scratches everyone. He brings a dead bird onto Louis and Rachel’s bed and starts eating it. He’s all bedraggled and sticky.

Louis, fed up with this, drives Church up to the end of the road and leaves him there.

We cut to Ellie’s birthday party, which she’s having a hard time enjoying because she feels guilty about Church running away again. But just when all hope seems lost, she spots Church casually walking down the road. Naturally, she runs after him, just in time for another one of those giant trucks to ruin everything.

With Ellie gone, Louis now must decide what he wants to do. He knows of a great power in the woods, something that could give him more time with his daughter, but Jud warned him: they don’t come back the same.

THE REVIEW

So…yeah.

I mean, I really loved Us, right? So maybe I am a horror movie aficionado now!

Nope.

Now, there were moments during the film where I thought “hey that’s kind of interesting–where are they going with this?” Or “wow I actually kind of like this character, maybe they won’t–oh. And they’re dead. Well.”

But generally, as I left the theatre, I was just kinda…numb. I genuinely couldn’t decide how I felt about it. I mean I got home and turned on every light possible, I think, and I started writing this review, but I couldn’t do it. I had to let it sit for a couple of days while my brain calmed down and my heart stopped racing every time I heard a noise beCAUSE WHAT IF IT’S DEMON ELLIE AHHHHHHHHHHHH–

Here’s the thing: I generally don’t like dark, depressing endings. Generally. The exceptions normally come in cases where I feel the dark ending really served the plot, I got really attached to the characters, there’s some deeper, hidden meaning to take away, and/or I feel like the story would have suffered with a lighter ending. For example, in Us, the characters we followed were likable, there was absolutely a hidden meaning, and the twist was there to make us question everything and to make each re-watch different. I saw Cabaret for the first time this past weekend, and that is not a happy musical by any means. But there were great characters, a hidden meaning (especially in today’s world), and the dark ending serves to really make you think about your own actions. If Cabaret had a lighter ending, the entire show would have suffered for it because the point of the plot would have been lost. Odd Thomas is one of my absolute favorite books and the movie adaptation is great, and the ending is absolutely tragic. There is some hope attached to it, but largely, it kicks you in the gut. But again: the characters are great, the tragic ending served the plot and the character development really well, and I do think it wouldn’t be as powerful without what happens in the end.

Now I will also throw in that generally I can do darker endings if there’s some hope thrown in. Isn’t that the whole point of the escapism of media? Don’t we want to leave behind the tragedy of our own lives to live someone else’s for a while?

With movies like Pet Sematary, there is absolutely no hope at all. And that’s…kinda sucky.

I’m not saying there weren’t parts of it I enjoyed, and I’m not saying I didn’t find the overall plot kinda fascinating because I absolutely did; what I am saying is that the ending of a story is really important, and when you don’t give your audiences anything to grasp hold of and instead leave them with the feeling of pulling the rug out from under them and dropping them into a pit below…well, it feels kind of unfair. And I don’t think it did this to everyone; horror movie fans everywhere generally seemed to like the remake.

But the biggest plot twist of all was the major change to the ending of the source material, and I genuinely think the film really suffers for it.

Also it ends so abruptly that when the lights in the theater come back on, you don’t get a chance to come back to yourself beforehand. It doesn’t ease you out of its world at all, and maybe that’s intentional (to up the creep factor, I guess, although…really? Did you really need to? DID YOU WATCH YOUR OWN FILM??).

So let’s dig up the details of this gruesome flick and why I don’t think I’ll be a horror aficionado anytime soon–maybe just a Jordan Peele aficionado.

Major spoiler warning now in effect!!

THE MUSIC

I…really liked the music for this film.

While I definitely don’t watch a lot of horror movies, I do listen to a lot of movie music and can appreciate a good soundtrack. While there were certainly a lot of moments in this film that had the stereotypical “CACOPHONY OF STRINGED INSTRUMENTS MAKING SCARY NOISES!!” Moments, there was a lot to offer besides that.

For example, I have the soundtrack up on Spotify as I type this and it’s just…euhhh.

The first track, “Wendigo,” slowly builds to an absolute nightmare of a track. It plays a lot with certain instruments cutting in and out unnaturally, melodies that go back and forth in your headphones from one ear to another, and my favorite effect: a sound that could either be someone digging up a grave or someone walking unnaturally quickly through the dirt of a graveyard. If you knew nothing of the film it came from, you could still wager a guess based on the title and the track itself what it might mean and that’s amazing.

“The Maine Road” (GET IT BECAUSE IT’S A MAIN ROAD BUT IT TAKES PLACE IN MAINE??????) has a haunting little melody that probably sounds like a cheerful children’s tune in a major key, but as it is in a minor key…it just doesn’t sound right.

“Fielding Fine” is one of my favorite tracks because it’s beautiful–it could almost not be from a horror film, that’s how relaxed and pleasant-sounding it is. It sounds a little sad, maybe, but it’s just a pretty little tune that someone could dance to. I think this plays in the beginning when the family is driving to their new home, and everything, at least at that moment, is okay.

And of course, the final track (before the cover of the song “Pet Sematary” which was written for the original film) is morbidly named “Wasn’t the Beginning?” Because, as you’ll realize once you see the movie, the first shot of the film is actually the ending. Though there’s no text that explains “THREE DAYS EARLIER” or whatever, it all clicks into place once you reach the ending of the movie. The track itself is is a little less horror-movie typical, but it’s sad-sounding, and you feel it in your gut. The track sounds hopeless, like we couldn’t have changed the outcome even if we wanted to, and that sucks. It’s a good track, it’s just morbid what it represents. They even bring back the piano from “Fielding Fine” (though it’s not the exact same tune) just to make me go “well that’s just GREAT.”

Actually, “The Maine Road,” “Just Not the Same,” and “Wasn’t the Beginning?” All feature the same eerie melody in different ways. While “The Maine Road” introduces the tune, it’s purposely warped and messed up in “Just Not the Same” (it even ties into the title). In “Wasn’t the Beginning?” We get the same tune from “The Maine Road,” but it’s played on the piano–and the only other time we heard that instrument was in “Fielding Fine.” The music constantly plays with the tragedy of the story in this way, and it’s…I mean it’s great, but it’s also REAL sad.

Anyway, point being, I actually really, really like the music. It’s scary all on its own without being paired with a horror movie…and I genuinely think the music is better than the movie itself. But we’ll get into that.

THE CHARACTERS

THEY ALL SUCK.

They are the WORST. And I get it, it’s a horror movie, so don’t get attached to anyone anyway, right? If they’re all just gonna die, why make them likable?

But here’s the thing: the suspense was even higher in Us because the characters WERE likable. It was scarier because the thought of losing any of them was just as scary as what might kill them off to begin with.

I wanted to like the characters, I really did, but the movie doesn’t let you. And maybe that’s the point of it. If you know the original story, you know who does and doesn’t make it, so don’t bother getting attached to begin with.

I dunno. I think you can still make likable characters even if the audience knows their ultimate fate, but maybe that’s just me. Characters are an important part of the story for me, so I can’t help feeling like there was such a huge missed opportunity here.

But let’s go down the list, shall we?

Louis is…*sigh*.

In the opening car scene, he seems like he’ll be your typical goofy dad, but that image is quickly shattered. Louis is a doctor, and we learn that a big part of the reason the family moved to begin with is because Louis always worked the graveyard shift (which I guess is a reference to another Stephen King story called The Graveyard Shift) and never got to spend time with his family. You kind of get this impression from him, but you also get the impression that he does really love his family and he wants to do right by them–he just goes about it in the worst way possible.

As a doctor, Louis has a very detached view of death, and we can assume he’s seen a lot of it. But we see this view shaken when he’s unable to save the university student that gets hit by a car (really all I’m learning from this is that everyone in Maine needs to build some damn fences by the roads). He’s shaken by this, so even though he understands death and knows the science behind it, it still shakes him when it hits home, be it someone he’s unable to save or his own family.

He also seems to want to be the ideal dad, which means giving into his wife when she begs him not to tell Ellie about her cat being dead. He wants so desperately to be perfect that he naturally blames himself when Ellie dies. It’s this guilt that, combined with the power he now knows of in the woods, leads him to his absolute terrible decision to bring his daughter back to life.

Louis is frustrating because he’s just so, so stupid. I mean, he’s a doctor, a “man of science” or whatever, Mr. “dying is perfectly natural, Ellie”, so it’s so incredibly annoying when he turns his back on all of that to bring his daughter back despite knowing what bringing Church back did to both him and his family. Despite being presented as the character full of logic, he’s so quick to throw logic out the window once it gets personal.

And maybe that’s the point of his character, the idea that grief is such a powerful force it can make smart people do really, really dumb things, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch it. I mean, isn’t this what we all make fun of horror movies for? Someone hears a noise and they go investigate it despite us being like “NOOOOOO!!!”? Someone stays in a house that is clearly haunted instead of getting the eff out?? So why is it that Louis is presented as such a tragic character when he brought all of this on himself? He’s the reason the rest of his family doesn’t survive the film. If he’d just gone with Rachel and Gage when they’d left and stayed with the family he claimed he wanted to spend more time with in the first place, none of this would have happened. YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE.

Speaking of Rachel…..*sigh*.

The point of Rachel is that she’s just as bad at dealing with death as her husband is, and with their powers combined they are really just Parents of the Year.

Rachel’s backstory in a nutshell: when she was a kid, she had an older sister named Zelda. Zelda suffered from severe spinal meningitis, to the point where she almost didn’t look human anymore and she definitely couldn’t get out of bed. Now, you could have made some point about how Zelda’s illness was amplified in the eyes of a child, and maybe her appearance wasn’t as bad as Rachel believed, but she was a scared little girl (what was that movie about the kid whose dreams became real? Before I Wake? In that film, the big twist is that the evil villain all along was an amplified image of his mom who died from cancer, whom he called the “canker man.” That was a brilliantly tragic twist, but here, Zelda is reduced to jump scares and creepy CGI–all possible humanity is stripped from her for the sake of Rachel’s backstory. And jump scares). Despite Rachel’s fears, her parents leave her alone with Zelda one night and instruct her to feed her sister (Rachel’s parents also qualify as the Parents of the Year). Now, this twist is changed from the source material, where Zelda chokes to death and Rachel is too scared to do anything. In this version, however, Rachel is too scared to even go in her sister’s room, so she sends the food up a dumb waiter that she knows is broken. Zelda ends up falling down the dumb waiter and dying, with Rachel’s last image of her being all twisted and ew and it all being her fault.

So that’s why Rachel is kinda iffy about death. She even argues with Louis when he tries to explain death to Ellie, because she’d rather her kids be protected from it as long as possible. Again, I get that this is the point of Rachel’s character–I do. But she chooses to hide this backstory from Louis up until the plot says she can tell it. It’s this story and how traumatized Rachel is about it that convinces Louis to tell Ellie that Church ran away rather than the truth. Now, if my significant other suddenly spewed out a story like that, I would say “wow, I’m so sorry, and also I think it would benefit everyone if you went to therapy.” Not in a mean way, but just…that clearly broke Rachel as a person, and she never got over it because she was never helped to.

Also she drops her two-year-old son out a window to her husband who brought their dead daughter back to life so, again, PARENTS OF THE YEAR, FOLKS.

Rachel and Louis are so frustrating as a couple because they never deal with anything, ever. Rather than seek help for his grief and maybe chat with his new neighbor friend who also seems to have experienced tragedy, Louis drugs Jud and goes out into the woods to resurrect his daughter rather than deal with her death in a healthy way. Even though his daughter just died, he stays behind because of “work stuff” while his wife and their ALIVE AND WELL TWO-YEAR-OLD SON leave. And when said two-year-old son, Gage, starts having nightmares and talking about the dead university kid Louis talked about earlier, instead of, again, maybe seeking out help and like a child psychiatrist, Rachel says “clearly we both need to go back to the awful house where Gage almost died and Ellie definitely did, nothing can go wrong I bet.”

We’re not even gonna go into how Louis locks Gage in a car and tells him to “not open the door for anyone, even Ellie.” THAT KID IS TWO YEARS OLD, LOUIS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING.

And THEN, Louis has a perfectly good chance to take Gage and leave. He knows now that Ellie is beyond saving, his wife is now dead, too, but Gage is still alive. He can take Gage and they can GTFO. But no, he just LEAVES THE TWO-YEAR-OLD IN THE CAR BECAUSE HE HAS SOME HERO COMPLEX AND DECIDES SURELY I CAN TAKE ON MY ZOMBIE DAUGHTER WHO HAS BEEN SHOWN TO HAVE A CRAZY UNNATURAL AMOUNT OF STRENGTH AND A WHOLE LOT OF BLOODLUST.

Jud kind of teeters back and forth between likable and not, but as we all know, it’s also his fault this all happened, too. Since he was the one to first show the haunted, evil graveyard to Louis and have him bury the cat there, he is very much responsible (although, Louis, again, is the worst in this moment: they pick out a perfectly fine area in the actual Pet Sematary, and suddenly Jud is all weird and asking him creepy questions and guiding him through a swamp that has an unnatural amount of fog and telling him “you have to do this yourself, I can’t help you?” Like…Louis. My man. That is when you get the hell outta dodge, friend). Now, Jud is very much a victim in this story: somehow the evil graveyard spirit possesses him and he regrets it very much. Maybe he truly believed Church would come back different, that Ellie may come back different. But the point is, he still did a stupid thing and everyone else suffered for it.

Also–why is it that Zombie Ellie made a point of resurrecting both Louis and Rachel, but left Jud there to rot? If you want a zombie army, don’t you want all the people you can get? What’s that? It’s because the plot says so?

…fine.

Ellie is the only character I would consider likable (Gage is two, and therefore his only personality traits consist of “toddler” and “has the Shining but it’s pointless because he dies anyway,” so. Also he is the son of the Parents of the Year), which of course means she dies. Ellie, as a nine-year-old, has a morbid fascination with the Pet Sematary and with the subject of death in general. She’s confronted with it when she wanders into the cemetery, and while Jud is happy to explain the history and discuss the stories behind each of the personalized grave markers, Ellie has to be dragged away by her mom who refuses to confront death because NO ONE HELPED HER THROUGH HER TRAUMA, so now she won’t help her daughter through hers.

I do think that Ellie’s curiosity about death plays really well into her zombie self–she says things like “I’m dead, aren’t I?” In such a calm way. Then, however, she gets all murderous and stereotypically evil, so we can’t even have a sympathetic villain because PLOT, I GUESS.

Then of course, there’s Church. I do think the scene where Church watches Ellie killing Jud while purring is extra funny only because I have a cat, and we constantly joke that she’s actually extremely evil and responsible for anything bad that happens. We love her to death (HA, JOKES!) but she’s definitely evil.

Even the ghost guy who’s supposed to serve as some kind of warning I guess is really confusing, because even though he “warns” Louis that the “barrier mustn’t be broken,” he also appears to Gage and that is what sends Rachel and Gage back to Ludlow and therefore, back to their deaths. I just…worst warning omen ever, basically.

Also, wow you killed off the only person of color in the film and had them serve as the supernatural helper, what a new trope that’s never been used before…ever…

THE SEMATARY

Okay first of all, this overhead shot of the sign while Ellie walks inside wasn’t actually in the film itself, and it’s my favorite shot in the trailers. It’s super unsettling and really well-done, and it’s NOT EVEN IN THE MOVIE.

Anyway.

I have to discuss the actual plot device that serves as the namesake of the story: the Pet Sematary. I think my favorite scene of the film is when Ellie discovers it and then walks around it with Jud.

You can tell the set designer and set dressers had a blast with this particular set, and it sucks we only really got to appreciate it for one minor scene. Every grave marker is so personalized, you can tell they thought of the story behind both the pet and the child behind the marker’s design in detail. While it’s certainly eerie (it is a cemetery after all), it’s also incredibly sad.

I mean, the kids of the town created this place specifically because of that stupid road and how many pets it constantly cost them (BUILD SOME FENCES, GUYS, PLEASE).

There’s an air of mystery around the area, and why I think you could very easily do a whole series of short stories just focusing on each grave marker–who was the pet? Who was the child? Did any of them have to be killed more than once because they re-buried them in the cursed land behind the Pet Sematary, like Jud did?

The idea behind the Pet Sematary is my favorite story element, and it’s a shame it doesn’t actually play as a big a part in the film as you might believe.

Also–Jud explains that the Pet Sematary is part of the land that the Creed family now owns…so like, if it’s always been a part of that land, why is it still there? The townspeople apparently didn’t build it on public ground for some reason, so like…why? Unless the original owner was cool with it. But then that means whoever buys the house and the land has the right to just get rid of it and build a park or something (which will still be building something on cursed ground, so like…still not great, but nobody knows that except Jud, right?)

Ooh, I have an idea for Pet Sematary 2

THE WENDIGO

Alright kids, let’s talk about supernatural creatures/cryptids, shall we?

Because the movie only hints at the backstory and the existence of the Wendigo, it’s apparently supposed to be the evil entity in the woods that controls everything. But again, the movie doesn’t really explain…any of it.

So I tried to do some research on my own, because by the end of the film, the Wendigo was the only thing I was really fascinated by as I was trying to block everything else from my brain to save my sanity.

The Wendigo is a creature from Algonquin myth, and while some stories would have you believe that the creature was originally a hunter/explorer who became lost and then so starving and desperate he resorted to cannibalism, the actual point of the myth is believed to be a story that warns people against greed. The idea is that no matter how much (people) the Wendigo eats, he is never satisfied, so be content with what you have and don’t wish for more because it won’t end well–or, more specifically, craving things you don’t actually need will never satisfy you and only leave you hungry for more.

While it became clear to me how this myth tied into the tale (and quite nicely, too!), this connection is never explored in the actual story, and I think that’s a shame. I read an article about how Western audiences seem to be fascinated by the Wendigo, but for all the wrong reasons: the Wendigo is supposed to be a tragic, yet scary figure. He’s alone and always craving more and more, and is never satisfied. He’s a warning to not be like him, and yet Western stories that feature him tend to up the scare factor over the tragic factor, which…I mean leave it to white people, right? #whyarewelikethis

So just for fun and because I’m a nerd, let’s compare how the legend of the Wendigo has been used in various forms of Western media. And remember, the whole idea behind the Wendigo is that it’s supposed to be a warning against greed–not a horror movie creature.

Let’s start with the one that first introduced me to the Wendigo: an episode of Supernatural.

Supernatural, back when I still really liked it, had a really great “monster-of-the-week” formula, and for its second episode ever, it focused on the Wendigo. In the show, the Wendigo’s backstory is simple: it was a human, it resorted to cannibalism, and now it stalks the woods hunting for campers every 23 years (the 23 years bit is never explained, it just makes it more ~spooky~). Sam and Dean, our two brothers, help out a group of campers looking for some friends that recently went missing in the woods. Sam and Dean consult their father’s journal, back when that mattered (I’m not bitter, I swear), and discover that based off the evidence, the creature they’re now hunting must be a Wendigo. Another trait wendigos are said to possess is the ability to mimic human cries, and this is one way they lure their “prey.” (Maybe the creature in BirdBox is a form of Wendigo…?)

Anyway, wendigos can only be killed with fire, so they end up killing the beast with flare guns (all I can think of is how useless the flare gun was in Us…). Because it’s just the way the show was, the Wendigo was the monster of the week, and was only featured to be spooky, kill some characters, and then die. Now, there are some monsters on Supernatural that have a really sad backstory that the brothers have to get into, but the Wendigo doesn’t get that. He’s simply someone who resorted to cannibalism, and now is a monster.

So does the idea of the Wendigo being about greed tie in here? Not really. Again, the wendigo’s purpose is to be scary and spooky and then die. That’s it.

Now, let’s move to a more recent example: the video game Until Dawn.

Until Dawn is, I think, one of my favorite games (says the person who hasn’t actually played it, but because it’s so story-focused, watching someone else play it is super fun). It does such a great job of setting up a typical “oooh a bunch of idiot teenagers spend a weekend in a spooky house and there’s a masked killer!” Before taking that typical plot, flipping it on its head, and throwing wendigos at us instead! (Also, it has both Hayden Panettiere and my dear son Rami Malek in it, so…yeah)

While the wendigos represent something a little more tragic in Until Dawn than in Supernatural, it’s still not really the tragic point that it should be. The idea is that wendigos have roamed the mountains at this particular ski lodge that Josh’s family owns, I guess, for quite a while. And because it’s a horror game, the backstory given is a creepy abandoned hospital where Experiments Went Horribly, Horribly Wrong. So the wendigos have always been there, but how do they tie into the story of our teenage protagonists?

The year before the main story takes place, a real awful prank was played on one of Josh’s sisters, Hannah. She runs off into the woods crying, and the only one who will go after her is their other sister, Beth. No matter what you choose, Hannah and Beth end up falling off a cliff, presumably to their deaths. That’s why Josh wants everyone back at the lodge that next year: to celebrate his sisters’ lives, presumably.

Except Hannah didn’t immediately die. Beth was dead instantly, and Hannah buried her, but Hannah was trapped and got to the point where she was so incredibly desperate and hungry that she dug up her sister’s body and ate her to survive. This turns Hannah into a Wendigo.

Later in the game, depending on what you choose, Josh is also turned into a Wendigo (I think he gets turned by his own sister, too).

Okay, so that’s really sad, definitely…but does it have anything to do with greed?

Not really. I mean each character has something wrong with them, sure, but none of the characters who turn into wendigos suffered from greed, necessarily. Josh just wanted his “friends” to suffer for causing his sisters to die. Hannah just wanted to be alone after being humiliated by people she trusted (and by the guy she liked).

It’s super sad and really well done, but again, the wendigos are presented as Scary Creatures to be killed because they’re a threat, and that’s about it.

Now, while the Wendigo in Pet Sematary certainly makes sense (Louis was so greedy when it came to wanting to have more time with his family, he ended up killing all of them and now they’re all stuck being zombie family together forever), the connection isn’t explained in context of the film and that’s frustrating and, in my opinion, a huge missed opportunity. It’s presented as a family horror drama with a light sprinkling of supernatural that’s never actually explained, and I think if you’re gonna bother throwing a Wendigo reference in, you should bother explaining it and expanding on it. Again, maybe in Pet Sematary 2

So is there a Western piece of media that uses the Wendigo in a more proper way, tying into the original legend a bit more?

Team, let’s talk about Hannibal.

Hannibal is one of my favorite shows from recent years, even though I would absolutely have to take a break in between episodes to let my brain calm down. It’s beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and incredibly fascinating. It’s also incredibly dark, and therefore, not for everyone. But just like Us, there are an infinite number of theories about Hannibal because so much of it is symbolic.

On the surface level, it makes sense to have Wendigo symbolism in a show about the most famous fictional cannibal…ever, but the show gives us so much more than that. There’s so much to infer when the Wendigo comes onscreen (besides the fact that the Wendigo is revealed to be, of course, Hannibal himself). All of the characters in Hannibal are both incredibly likable and incredibly unlikable all at once. Hannibal himself is classy, lonely, put-together but also incredibly evil–his quiet demeanor makes him all the more frightening when we see him kill. Will Graham is just a mess, but he’s also lonely, confused, and brilliant. Both Hannibal and Will are greedy for what they find in each other. Hannibal thinks Will is fascinating, incredibly talented, and incredibly broken. He finds a mirror in Will that he didn’t think was possible. Likewise, Will finds a human in Hannibal he didn’t expect to since he’s actually the killer he’s been hunting this whole time. But they’re also greedy in what they do in everyday life. Hannibal is greedy for recognition and, of course, for killing (and eating). Will is greedy for recognition, too, but in a way that gets him respect so people stop thinking he’s crazy. It’s a beautiful character study of a story, and the Wendigo serves as an important symbol that isn’t shied away from or used for cheap scares.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the examples I’ve personally come across. My point is, the legend behind the Wendigo and the tragedy, the warning about greed, is a fascinating story point that I think could tie into horror stories really, really well, and it just…doesn’t. The Wendigo is used for The Scares, or to be a background character so we can focus more on the idiotic humans (they’re just…THEY LEAVE A TWO-YEAR-OLD IN A CAR).

Which brings us to…

THE STORY I WISHED WE’D GOTTEN

Imagine for me, if you will, a story where the Wendigo plays a bigger role. Instead of being reduced to background lore and a minor appearance in the shadows, he’s the Big Baddie…or is he?

I use this photo here because I guess, originally, the kids in the creepy animal masks were supposed to play a bigger role. They were supposed to know all about the creepy cursed graveyard, and they were supposed to be somewhat supernatural themselves. Maybe they were supposed to be zombies, too, and that would explain why Ellie wears the cat mask when she goes on her murderous rages.

Imagine a story where Ellie is lost because of tragic circumstance. Where Louis imagines doing the unthinkable, but then remembers his own words to his daughter about how “dying is perfectly natural,” and he can’t bring himself to do it. He goes to Jud’s that night not dead-set (haha, puns) on a decision, but instead broken and in need of comfort. He confesses what he thought about doing, but he says he couldn’t bring himself to because she wouldn’t be the same, right? Jud is able to comfort Louis and apologize for even showing him the graveyard to begin with, and the two find solace in their own grief.

The next day, still hurting but maybe a little better, Louis tells Rachel that there is something out there in the woods, and he feels like he owes it to Jud, to Ellie, to dear, evil Church to figure out what’s really happening. Maybe she’s confused and upset, initially, because why won’t he just be with his family? But then Gage has nightmares, both about ghosts and about the Wendigo. Rachel’s unnerved by this, but she decides that she should definitely be with Louis, and if he’s determined about his, maybe she should be, too.

The third act is changed from a murder spree into a hunt, as Louis, Jud, and Rachel team up with other townspeople to learn about the Wendigo and decide that if the cursed ground is too tempting, maybe there’s some way to get rid of it, and the Wendigo, for good.

But in the final confrontation between Louis and the Wendigo, he sees himself reflected there. Maybe the Wendigo, if it was a person originally, lost his family, too. In a Donner Party-esque twist, maybe the only way to save the rest of his family was to have them all eat the dead member, but once they find out what he did, they’re so torn apart and distraught they can’t cope anymore. Filled with grief but also, now, an insatiable hunger, he eats the rest of his family, too. This is a tragic creature who is never satisfied, and preys on the people who are just like him. He hunts for those who crave more time with the departed, rather than be thankful for the time they had. He encourages people to use the cursed ground because it is how his evil, and his pain, will spread.

Maybe Louis still, ultimately, has to kill the Wendigo. Or maybe Rachel does. Maybe when they do, Church dies all over again, now without an evil spirit fueling him. Maybe the kids with the masks, revealed to yes, have been zombies this whole time, serving the Wendigo, also die, for real this time. Their masks fall away, revealing the human children underneath, finally free from the torment of serving the evil spirit in the woods. Maybe the fog finally leaves the graveyard, the sun rises, and the dead swamp is suddenly filled with the sounds of birds, frogs, insects…life, real life, has returned to the area.

Louis, Rachel, and Gage move away from Ludlow. Jud stays because it’s the only home he’s ever known, and he feels he has a duty to the townspeople there. They reflect on the wendigo’s story, and it’s implied that they’re actually better off now for their experiences, however horrible they may be. They visit Ellie’s grave once more before they leave, and Louis places her stuffed cat toy on her grave. Maybe they buried Church, properly this time, beside her. Maybe as they walk away, Gage sees his sister and her cat standing there, watching them, finally at peace.

Louis is able to confront his grief and how death changes when it’s personal, but that it’s still natural. Rachel is able to confront her fear of death and maybe even overcome it, even in a small way. Jud is able to truly apologize for his actions and save someone, just like he always wanted to. Gage is never left alone in a car. Ellie still dies, which is the whole “realism” Stephen King apparently wanted with this tale, but she doesn’t have to suffer as an innocent and the victim of a freak accident.

I realize, of course, this is all a moot point, as the source material for the story is nothing like this. However, though the movie may share a name, characters, and a good portion of the original story, so much of what was crucial was changed that it’s basically an entirely different story now. So why not go in the positive direction?

Oh, right. Because that’s not “cool,” I guess.

THE ENDING

The ending for Pet Sematary is real dark.

There is no hope anywhere. As much as people want to claim it’s ambiguous because Gage’s death is not shown, it’s not. The beginning shot of the film showed Jud’s house on fire, which we see at the end, and it showed the Creed’s house with the blood trail from Rachel, leading away into the woods, and we see their car, the front door open. Unless some magic individual showed up, fought a bunch of zombies, and took Gage, or Gage suddenly developed superpowers and escaped his family, Gage is dead, too.

Absolutely everyone dies, and the implication is that no one can escape the pull of the evil graveyard. That’s it. Quite literally, life sucks and then you die (and then sometimes your deranged family brings you back to life as an evil zombie).

I don’t know who to blame for this sudden surge in absolutely dark and depressing endings in media, but I think I’ll blame Game of Thrones. Along with, like, maybe The Walking Dead. It may be subversive and interesting when you first see it, but then when every story does it? It’s not interesting or a plot twist, anymore. It’s just damn depressing.

Pet Sematary claims to be a story that focuses on death, how it’s inevitable, and how maybe it’s not the best idea to lie about it or “protect” people from “the truth.” I get that it’s one of those things that isn’t exactly a fun conversation, but it has to happen at some point, right? Pet Sematary is like the ultimate worst-case scenario, where a group of people who were never taught to handle death in a healthy way get power over it, and everything literally goes to hell.

In some ways, it is that.

But it’s also just really, really depressing.

In the alternate version of the story I came up with back there, all of those topics are still handled, but the audience is still given some hope. We see a family go through a terrible, horrible tragedy that we hope will never befall us but, unfortunately, it still might. They go through it and they come out stronger for it. Yeah, it sucks, and of course we’d all prefer that it never happened, but it’s not like it happened in vain. They learned from it, they moved on in a healthy way, and they confronted something that they weren’t good at dealing with at first.

My alternate version can still be plenty scary, of course, but it can also make the viewer think about what they saw and how it applies to them. As it is, Pet Sematary tells the viewer that no matter how much you may prepare for it, death can come when you least expect it, there’s nothing you can do, and if given the chance to have power over it, humans will take it and mess it up, no exceptions.

Which like…well, shit.

Now don’t get me wrong, Us still ended with a lot of bloodshed, and the revelation that the person we were cheering for was lying to us the entire time, and that’s pretty unfortunate. But we still had characters we liked who survived, who looked their supposed fate in the face and said “um, no” and don’t we all hope that we would be like that if faced with the same thing?

We watch and read dystopian stories not for the horrible state the world is in at the beginning, but for how our heroes will rise above it and win in the end. Our own world is so scary right now, why would we ever subject ourselves to the same thing in media?

But maybe that’s just me, because Pet Sematary has a lot of diehard (HAHA, PUNS) fans just the way it is. I may not understand it personally, but it’s all a matter of taste.

I still think, however, that creators need to learn that maybe, just maybe, we want heroes to win. We want to see ourselves in characters onscreen who get a happy ending, because maybe we feel like we’ll never get one in our world.

Apparently, Pet Sematary had three different endings that were shown to test audiences, each one darker than the last. Because the last one seemed to get the biggest reaction from audiences, that was the one they went with.

But I think creators are misinterpreting good writing that gets a reaction vs. unfair writing that gets a reaction. When we watch a tragic ending that actually serves the plot, leaves us all better for it, and is handled with care, they get a big reaction. But when a good character dies for a tragic ending in an unexpected, unfair way that is never explained, never fully dealt with, and all done for the sake of a plot twist, they get a big reaction, too. But it’s because we feel cheated, not because we feel fulfilled.

And maybe creators don’t actually care about that, but I think media creators need to realize that, despite Jud’s warnings, sometimes dead is not better. A big reaction isn’t good if it’s full of anger because something was tastelessly done, or done simply to get people talking about it. There’s a way for these characters to complete their arcs and be handled with care, rather than just be killed off for the sake of some scares and a really dark ending. I don’t know, I think we’ve all had enough of that.

(And yes, this is absolutely also serving as a callout post for the TV show The Magicians, who recently killed off a great character in the most tasteless way possible, all for the sake of a plot twist and “big reactions,” and I’m still real bitter about it)

I mean, at least with Funny Games, the creator out and out said it was as dark as it was to be a direct jab at the media for glorifying violence as entertainment. Pet Sematary is dark and violent just to scare people and just to get a big reaction without a deeper meaning or message explicitly stated. Kinda cheap, when you think about it.

FAVORITE MOMENT

Ughhhhhhh um…this is gonna be really weird, but I actually really like how Ellie’s death scene happens? I like how it’s implied that the evil spirit possessing Church made it so that Ellie would be lured out into the road, like it knew that Ellie’s death would lead to a whole lot more zombies later.

So Ellie gets lured out, but Gage gets lured out, too, and Louis is able to save his son…and not his daughter. It’s actually a lot more tragic this way, I think, and a lot more “realism” I guess, if that’s what you want. The sound also cuts out when the gas tank flies off the truck, so it’s completely silent and slow-motion as Louis stumbles over to the road, sees Rachel falling to her knees to crawl away and sob…and it’s silent as he cradles his daughter’s body.

It’s surprisingly emotional, and absolutely meaningless later because remember kids, you can bring anyone back as a zombie, so sadness doesn’t really mater. Yay!

Also, this doesn’t count as a moment, but I loved learning about all the cats that played Church and how they had specific makeup artists and such. I love it.

“OOF” MOMENT

Listen, I know the haunted evil burial ground is supposed to be all spooky and mystical, but ohhhhhh man when it was first introduced, it was sooooo over the top with its fog machine effects, thunderstorm effects, lightning everywhere…I mean, I felt like we should be in Dracula’s lair or something.

It just wasn’t that scary, just ridiculously over-the-top and kinda goofy.

But it’s okay, we got plenty of jump scares featuring Rachel’s dead sister to make up for it! Yayyyyyyy!!!

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO SEE THIS MOVIE?

Look, if you’re a big horror movie fan, I’m sure you’ll like it. I guess. I don’t know, I’m clearly not a great judge of horror movies. But I know generally the reception has been good, despite my own personal feelings about it.

One review I watched said he didn’t think it was gruesome or scary enough, so…I guess do with that what you will, I had a horrible time sleeping the night I saw it, but go off, I guess.

I guess what I’m saying is that if horror movies aren’t usually your thing, Pet Sematary will definitely not be your thing at all. There is nothing in it worth seeing outside of it being a horror film–every detail of it only serves to be scary, nothing more.

I guess the little girl is good at acting creepy, but it’s not such a phenomenal job that I’ll insist you see it for that.

For me, though there were some things I liked (the music! The potential! The cats!), it wasn’t enough to have me say I enjoyed the film as a whole, because I really didn’t. I just sat there wishing it was something it was never intended to be–it’s a scary story, and it’s not meant to be anything more.

So if you like that kind of thing, sure. Go see it.

If you don’t, you can skip this one.

As for me, I give Pet Sematary

1.5/5 GRAVESTONES OF THINGS LOST BECAUSE OF THIS MOVIE!!

I mean no offense if you liked it, I just…why?

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Nothing groundbreaking, especially since it was mostly horror films. At least now I can say I saw a typical horror film, I gave it a chance,…and I hated it. Yay!

Anyway, new trailers include: Midsommar, which is from the same person who directed Hereditary (if you missed that one like I did, it’s pretty much just as dark and hopeless as Pet Sematary, though I know people were absolutely raving about it. Again, go off, I guess). It looks insanely creepy and weird, so uh…yeah probably not.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is such a nostalgic thing for me…I remember countless sleepovers where, if we were allowed, we’d read the books and then, of course, never sleep. The movie looks absolutely horrifying, and honestly? Good. It’s like it took stories that were scary for the kids who read them, and then realized those kids are now adults, so now we have to make it just as scary as it was then. Will I be seeing it? Honestly yeah, probably. Will I regret it? Honestly yeah, probably. The pull of nostalgia, like the cursed burial ground, is strong. My own personal Wendigo!

Annabelle Comes Home IS A BIG, BIG NO. NOPE. MM-MM. NUH-UH. If you come across a creepy doll in a box that says “do not open under any circumstances” THEN YOU DON’T OPEN IT!!! YOU LEAVE!!!! YOU GTFO!!!!!! WHY ARE PEOPLE LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!

Anyway, if Pet Sematary seems like something you’d like, then absolutely go for it. But if you were on the fence about it for whatever reason, I don’t think you need to see it for any reason.

But maybe like listen to the soundtrack, because that’s good.

Otherwise…don’t go exhuming people and re-burying them in cursed burial grounds. Just. Don’t do it.

No.

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Missing Link REVIEW

So yesterday, I took myself to the movies and saw Missing Link, the new film from Laika.

If you’re unaware, Laika is a studio that specializes in stop-motion epics that are full of heart and laughs and they generally always make me cry (in a good way), so there’s that. You’ve probably heard of them, they’re the minds behind Coraline, The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings.

(ParaNorman, by the by, is one of my all-time favorite movies and you can definitely expect a post about it around Halloween because y’all.)

While I feel like I saw advertising for Kubo EVERYWHERE prior to its release, I honestly had no idea Missing Link was even a thing until about a month ago, maybe. I truly didn’t know what to expect, except that it would have amazing visuals and hopefully other good things as well.

I was not entirely disappointed!

THE PLOT

The movie starts by following renowned classy adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and his less-than-enthusiastic valet Mr. Lint (David Walliams) on an epic quest: to get photographic evidence of none other than the Loch Ness Monster. It seems far-fetched at first, but after a unique move by Frost to broadcast bagpipes underwater, the monster appears! It takes some doing to get the creature posed (poor Mr. Lint is tasked with holding on to the rope), and once the picture is taken, Nessie grabs Mr. Lint in her mouth and dives underwater with him.

“Huh. A carnivore.” Frost says before diving in to rescue his poor valet. Frost does save him, but Nessie whacks their boat in retaliation, destroying the camera and Frost’s proof all in one fell swoop. Mr. Lint quits shortly after, proclaiming “I’m a human being, I can’t take this anymore, you’re INSANE, no wonder everyone leaves you!” Ouch. So, Frost is alone again, and it’s here that he stumbles across a letter written to him about undeniable proof of Bigfoot himself. Filled with new energy, Frost crashes the party of the “League of Adventurers” or whatever to announce his plans to get proof of Bigfoot so they’ll finally accept him into the society. Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), the head of the society and all around Not Nice Person, strikes a wager with Frost: if he brings back proof, he’ll be let into the society and respected. If he doesn’t, he never bothers them again.

Dunceby is convinced that Frost will fail, but not enough to not take some precautions of his own–he hires someone to kill Frost so any evidence he may or may not find will still never come to light and he’ll never have to deal with Frost again.

Frost, meanwhile, is determined and heads to the address specified in the letter. What he finds, however, is Bigfoot, the missing link himself (Zach Galifianakis). He’s mostly self-educated since he scares everyone off, and wrote to Frost because he hopes Frost will take him to the Himalayas to be with the Yetis, his cousins. He’s the only one of his kind, and he’s lonely, so he figures if he can be with his cousins, he won’t be so lonely anymore.

In exchange, Bigfoot promises to give Frost whatever proof he needs for the society. The deal is struck, and the bizarre duo head off on their adventure. Along the way, they must deal with Dunceby’s hitman, Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), Frost’s old flame Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), and the hard truth that maybe seeking out family in the wrong people is something many of us are all too good at.

THE REVIEW

I admittedly went into this with very high expectations because, again, I love Laika.

What I got was a very good, very beautiful movie. It’s not my favorite Laika film (nothing beats ParaNorman, nothinggggggg) by any means, but it’s a darn good movie and a really fun one to watch.

I feel like this film, more than some others from Laika, had a lot more “kid humor” in it. Potty humor especially abounds, which is, well, a choice. It’s not necessary for the film (especially when they have really clever jokes about chickens…more on that later) as there are plenty of other ways to establish Mr. Link’s naivety, but I digress.

I feel like that element is really what takes me out of the story more than anything else. There’s also the point that this is a very short film, running about 85 minutes in total, and there’s a lot they have to cram in plot-wise. I refuse to complain about the runtime, however, because it’s stop-motion and the dedication to even get 85 minutes is astonishing to me. So like. Yeah.

Plus like…I’m not the target audience for this film. I may love Laika with all my heart, but this is still a kids’ movie, and kids think that stuff is hilarious. So fine.

All that aside, this is a great movie. It’s so charming and lovable and filled with really interesting political parallels. Just…we’ll get there.

So what is it that makes this movie such a delight? Let’s follow in the big footsteps of Laika’s new family adventure and figure that out.

…that was a stretch for a metaphor, I admit. MOVING ON.

Spoiler warning now in effect!!

THE MUSIC

The music, like the movie as a whole, is charming.

There are a couple musical moments that definitely stood out: “Westward Ho” is a fun track that plays during the montage of Frost traveling to America to find the sender of the letter. “Forest Primeval” is probably my favorite track, and plays when Frost first sees Mr. Link and chases him through the forest. It’s fun and mystical and since it plays before we know his personality, it helps paint the mystery around Mr. Link as Frost desperately tries to catch him. “Bar Brawl” is fun and ridiculous, just like the scene it accompanies. It starts out slow and otherwise unassuming, and then once the fighting kicks up and guys are punching each other for no reason, the instruments really get going and it’s just ridiculous.

Overall, while the music is good, it doesn’t really take center stage at any point during the film, and it doesn’t really need to. It’s good, but it doesn’t take over.

Also, the end credits song “Do-Dilly-Do (A Friend Like You)” is ADORABLE. Please listen to it if you need to feel happy, it should do the trick. And it’s been stuck in my head all day and I can’t even complain about it.

Also, fun fact, the composer is Carter Burwell, who also did the music for the Twilight series, Three Billboards, and A Knight’s Tale. So. The more you know.

THE CHARACTERS

Since characters in media mean a lot to me and I won’t get invested if I don’t care about them *cough*ALITABATTLEANGEL*cough*, a big reason Laika is so dear to my heart is that they create such good characters. But why?

Despite their incredibly stylized appearances, Laika characters feel like real people. None of the characters in any of their movies are perfect–they’re all flawed in different ways, and their journey in the film usually ties into confronting those flaws and how they affect the other people in their lives. Coraline was so convinced her mother didn’t love her that she ended up traveling to an alternate world where her Other Mother loved her a little too much. Norman was so afraid of and sick of being bullied for his unique power with ghosts that he ignored his destiny so long he almost destroyed the world. Kubo was a scared little kid who just wanted a normal family that he didn’t stop to see the found family he’d created (yeah and then the twist is that they were actually his parents all along, which…ehhhhhh anyway). I would discuss The Boxtrolls, but I haven’t actually seen it since it was in theaters and I don’t remember enough of it to comment. This “dealing with our flaws” thing is something we all have to do at some point, so it’s refreshing to see it have to happen to these cartoon characters in their fantastical worlds, too.

This whole “confronting flaws that affect other people in my life” trope is probably the most prevalent in Missing Link. Lionel Frost is, despite being the guy we follow the entire film while the other characters only come in later, obnoxious. He just is. He’s full of himself, convinced he can do no wrong, and he’s incredibly selfish. He plays it off by being suave and “adventure-savvy,” but he doesn’t realize how much his selfishness affects others. He is only able to find a real happy ending when he starts actually thinking of and caring for others, even if it costs him his precious reputation. Even then, it’s hinted that he’s still not totally learned his lesson, but he’s getting there: Mr. Link is wondering what he’s going to do now that his plan for a home has fallen through, and Frost says “well I’m in the market for a new valet!” And Adelina has to elbow him to remind him to say “a new partner.”

Despite this being probably the most like a typical kids’ film Laika has ever made, it’s the first film to follow an adult protagonist compared to a kid. While Frost’s problems are not kid problems, his journey is still a valuable lesson to kids about making sure you put effort into relationships with people who want you for exactly who you are, not for who you’re not.

Frost’s journey is, of course, mirrored with Mr. Link’s/Susan’s.

(One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Frost is asking Mr. Link to choose his own name, maybe based off of someone who really touched his heart and his life in a positive way. Link goes off about this one prospector who came and didn’t run off scared the second they saw him, and how kind they were. Frost enthusiastically declares that yes! That prospector’s name should be his name! What was the name? And Link smiles and says “Susan.” Frost is initially like “but wait that’s a girl’s name…you know what? It suits you. Susan it is.” Which like??? LOOK AT LAIKA SMASHING GENDERING AROUND NAMES. YOU GO, LAIKA. And for the rest of the review, Mr. Link is now Susan, because that’s his name.)

Susan is just as alone as Frost is, but unlike Frost, Susan realizes this. He doesn’t want to be alone anymore, and called in Frost specifically so that he could find others like him, his kind, his family. Susan is awkward, being self-taught with language, so he doesn’t understand sarcasm or specific sayings. For example, when they’re trying to break into Adelina’s house, Frost hands Susan a grappling hook attached to a rope so that they can climb over the wall. Frost tells him to “throw it over,” and Susan does just that: he throws the hook and the rope in its entirety over the wall. Frost, annoyed, holds out his bag with the rest of his tools and says “oh great, well why don’t you just throw this over the wall, too?” And Susan does, of course. Because he was told to.

While Frost has been educated in “polite society” and understands all of this, Susan does not, and much of the character’s charm and humor comes from this. Susan is like a child in many ways, just wanting to belong and not understanding why people do the things they do.

Frost initially separates himself as much as possible from Susan, not wanting to be associated with him beyond bringing back proof to Dunceby, but Adelina is the one who points out how similar and utterly alone the two characters are. This realization being spelled out for both Frost and the audience is why the ending of the film, where the two characters choose to stay together and be their own family, is so heartwarming and satisfying.

Adelina as a character is just…she’s a spitfire. She’s likable instantly because she doesn’t swoon over Frost like he expects, she’s not afraid to be angry and fight, but she’s also not afraid to be gentle and emotional when it’s called for. She’s a fully rounded-out female character, which is still a rarity in today’s media, as I’ve discussed in both my Alita: Battle Angel review and my Captain Marvel review.

While it’s established that Adelina and Frost have a romantic history, it doesn’t become the sole reason Adelina joins their adventure. She’s been cooped up at home since her husband’s death, and she wants to get out. She flirts with Frost as he gradually becomes a better person, but ultimately, she doesn’t choose to stay with him. She says he’s a great man, now, but she deserves greater. It’s so refreshing to see these two characters acknowledge a past flame between them that clearly caused them both some pain, heal through that, and then ultimately move on. Frost may have wanted her to stay, but he doesn’t ask her to. He lets her go because, again, he’s learning to not be so selfish anymore.

The villains are also one of my favorite parts of any Laika film. Like the heroes, they’re not perfect characters, and they always have some reason behind why they do what they do. Our main villain is Lord Piggot-Dunceby, the mastermind behind the plan to thwart Frost’s expedition and the leader of the Society for Great Men or whatever. Both he and his assistant guy very clearly state that they don’t like Frost, he’s weird, and they aren’t afraid to stoop to new lows to get rid of him. Dunceby complains that all these young people are trying to change the world that he knows, and he doesn’t like it. Electricity. Suffrage. All ridiculous things that he didn’t grow up with, so he doesn’t understand them and doesn’t like them, doesn’t want to learn to understand or like them, so he doesn’t think they’re necessary. In a way, he’s just as selfish as Frost, and in him, we see what happens to someone who never learns to outgrow that selfishness.

The other constant villain is the hitman, Stenk. Stenk is a mean little weasel of a man who resorts to whatever means necessary to get what he wants. Be this in the form of sneaking around to listen in on Frost’s plans, threatening Adelina to get Frost to give up, inciting a mob mentality on the ship so they attack Susan (who, it’s established early on, doesn’t actually like fighting and wishes people weren’t so scared of him), the list goes on and on. Like Dunceby, Stenk believes that things should be done the way they always have been done, and like Frost, he wants fame attached to his name. Stenk initially wants to kill off Frost so he can take credit for the Bigfoot discovery, and it’s that notion that makes Frost start the bar fight with him. If Dunceby is the ultimate example of Frost’s selfishness, Stenk is the ultimate example of Frost’s journey for power and fame. Stenk, like Frost, has no real family or friends and is ultimately alone. He’s convinced that having his name be known and being famous will fix all his problems, but his death at the end of the film ultimately affects…no one. He dies alone, and as we’ll discuss a little later, he chooses to. Stenk and Dunceby are important foils for Frost, because by the end of the movie, Frost sees how easy it is to become them, and he realizes that he doesn’t want to.

Also Emma Thompson makes an appearance as a Yeti elder once they reach the Himalayas and she’s great. We’ll get to the Yetis in a moment.

THE ART

Like all Laika films, Missing Link is beautiful to watch. Someone on tumblr mentioned that it’s probably Laika’s prettiest film to date, and I would definitely agree. While every Laika film does a great job at visual world-building, they’ve absolutely upped the ante with every film, and Missing Link is definitely a crowning achievement. They built different sets to show the bustling streets of London, the forests and towns of early North America, the ocean during a storm, the beautiful, lush scenery of India, and the towering mountains of the Himalayas. Every shot of scenery is done with the utmost care and you can absolutely tell. There’s even a shot during the end credits where they show the workers building the India set as the elephant puppet is controlled and walking around–you’re able to get just a sense of how much work goes into these movies, even in just a short, seconds-long clip, and it’s just astounding.

For the actual character puppets, Laika uses 3D printers to create every single facial expression the characters use, and they swap out each face on the puppet for each frame as needed. I was able to see some of the different printed faces used in Coraline at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, and wow. I highly recommend looking up behind the scenes stuff for Laika films, because it just makes watching the movies a whole new experience and you appreciate everything so much more.

The colors used in the film are bright and cheerful, especially when Frost first sets out on his Bigfoot expedition. The character designs are stylized and fun, especially Susan himself, who is just the embodiment of the word “lovable.”

I can’t truly do the visuals of the film justice through words, you really have to see it to experience it all and fully grasp what I mean. It’s a very pretty movie. It really is, but calling it that just doesn’t do it justice.

THE TWIST/THE END

While Missing Link does have a twist of sorts, it’s not really on the same narrative-changing scale as say, ParaNorman.

Our bedraggled travelers have finally reached their destination, populated by Yetis, Susan’s own kind! They’re greeted by a Yeti Elder, who asks why they have come. Frost and the Elder actually have an interesting back-and-forth, where Frost promises they are not there to destroy anything the Yetis have built. Susan says he just wants to be with his family.

The Elder looks at Susan and says “ah…yes…our…cousin. The redneck.” She takes the three outside to a hidden valley in the snow-covered mountains, which she says has remained untouched and pure and always should. Our protagonists swear they’re not here to change that, but the Elder doesn’t believe them. (A great funny moment is when Frost says “we found it! Shangri-La!” And the Elder says “it has many names. We call it *unintelligible roaring noise*. It means “Keep Out, We Hate You.”)

She has them thrown into “The Inescapable Pit of Misery and Disappointment,” and boy, you can just tell how disappointed Susan is at being thrown away to rot by those who should love and accept him because they’re family.

We expect the Yetis to be different, to be welcoming to Susan, whom we’ve come to love and adore over the course of the film…but the Yetis are exact mirrors of the Society of Cool Guys back in London that Frost is obsessed with. Adelina points out that both Frost and Susan have been so busy desperately trying to prove themselves to people who don’t even want them, they don’t notice how alike they both are. She calls “the Great Lionel Frost” a myth, just like the monsters he chases, because he isn’t a great man. He isn’t even a good one.

Something about this strikes a chord in Frost, and he tells Susan to get up, because he’s going to fulfill his end of the bargain: he’s going to take Susan to where he belongs.

*cue EVERYONE CRYING but mostly me, probably*

The group manages to escape the Pit and evade the Yetis (while the Elder yells “quick! The people we don’t want here are escaping!!”) only to be stopped on the ice bridge by none other than Dunceby and Stenk (and the assistant guy whose name I completely forgot). Dunceby, determined to make sure Frost’s discovery never sees the light of day so he can’t outshine him, breaks the ice bridge, yelling out what would have once been Frost’s greatest nightmare and probably still is Dunceby’s: “no one will remember your name!”

It’s not Frost’s greatest fear anymore, though. His greatest fear now is losing the ones he’s come to care so much about, so they run. Dunceby, so caught up in his fury and obsession, doesn’t realize what he’s done until it’s too late, and he falls as the bridge breaks.

The whole thing is falling apart, now, as the characters desperately try to outrun it. The assistant guy is unable to and also ends up falling to his death. Then it’s just Frost, Adelina, and Susan, all tied together with a rope and hanging on for dear life. Stenk is safe, and is all set to drop the heroes to their doom. Frost says that he doesn’t have to, Dunceby is gone, now! But Stenk says that it isn’t about the paycheck anymore, he just genuinely hates Frost at this point and wants him gone, especially by his hand.

In the ensuing confrontation, our heroes manage to work together to safely reach the top of the cliff, while Stenk, so determined to off Frost, also falls into the rocks below.

Normally, in Laika films, the villains are developed in such a way that we want to see them be redeemed–they’re fully-formed characters just as much as the protagonists are, so there has to be a chance, right?

The difference here is that even if there is a chance for these three characters, they don’t want to change. They’re so caught up in their hatred and fear of Frost changing things and overshadowing them that their deaths serve as a sort of metaphor: they let their negativity rule their lives so much that it overpowered them and caused their ultimate demise. While Frost serves as a reminder that it’s so, so easy to become like those characters, it’s also just as easy to not become like them.

There’s a fascinating scene earlier in the film where Dunceby learns that Frost has evaded Stenk yet again and still lives. Dunceby throws a literal temper tantrum, in public, in front of all these people, and then proclaims that Frost’s existence is the “destruction of civilized society!!”

…Really?

It’s fitting, then, that he causes his own death by destroying something beautiful–an ice bridge that leads to Shangri-La itself.

While the assistant guy seems a little unsure of some of Dunceby’s actions, he ultimately stands by him and supports Dunceby’s decision to send a literal hitman after the guy. He dies trying to escape the results of Dunceby’s actions, and he’s unable to. While the assistant guy didn’t call any of the shots on his own, he certainly didn’t make any effort to stop Dunceby, and it caught up with him later.

Stenk is offered a chance by Frost. Frost says that Dunceby is gone, this doesn’t matter anymore! But Stenk is so obsessed with the principal of the thing, he puts his revenge ahead of anything else, his belief that Frost is still the bad guy…and it costs him dearly.

Now I don’t know how intentional any kind of political metaphor is in this movie, but I’m just saying…it’s interesting that all the villains work for a “Society of Great and Awesome Men” who believe that “men shape the world!” (“But I’ve learned that the world shapes us!” Frost says in response to this at the end) and that any kind of opposition to this way of life is a threat to everything they hold dear. They’re all old white guys. I’m just saying.

Dunceby even yells at Frost “you’ve aligned yourself with apes and women!” As if that’s an insult. Both the audience and Frost, by this point, have learned that both Susan and Adelina are so much more than that. But Dunceby refuses to see that because it goes against what he believes and it threatens his power.

There’s so much more we can talk about–how easily Stenk tries to stir up a mob on the ship by pointing at Susan carrying Adelina (he just rescued her) and yelling “look! A monster! And he’s got a defenseless girl!” Susan responds to this by saying “monster?” While Adelina says “DEFENSELESS??”

Or how Dunceby is introduced as a character by telling some long, drawn-out tale about his conquests and by waving a gun around.

Or how Dunceby tells Frost that the Society is renowned for traveling the world and “conquering and rescuing the savages” they come across.

Or how easily all the guys in the bar started fighting once just one person starts fighting, but Susan makes a face and doesn’t want to–who’s supposed to be the civilized one, again?

Or how Frost & Co. made a point of respecting Gamu the elder and asking for her help to find Shangri-La, whereas Dunceby & Co. made a point of threatening her, and when that didn’t work, threatening her baby grandson so they could get information out of her.

I’M JUST. SAYING.

FAVORITE MOMENT

I absolutely adored that entire opening sequence with the Loch Ness monster, it was just so fun and quirky. But I also totally loved the entire “dinner with Gamu” scene and all the jokes about the chicken (the chicken that we don’t talk about, of course). While my favorite moments are probably the funny ones because I think they’re executed so well, I also just enjoyed (of course) the visuals for the movie as a whole.

“OOF” MOMENT

Pretty much anything that was like, potty humor. It’s just not my cup of tea, and while I don’t think it ruined the movie by any means, it did distract at times. A lot of it was framed around Susan’s ignorance and general “not knowing how things work” and all that, which like, at least it makes sense, and one or two jokes would have been fine and still fit the character and narrative, but I just felt like there was too much of it. Again, though, I’m not the target audience, and I get it. I think it’s unfortunate, but I get it.

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO SEE THIS MOVIE?

Yes.

Look, my bias for Laika aside, this is a very good movie. It’s charming, it’s witty, it’s uplifting, and if you enjoy possibly unintentional but definitely can be pointed out political commentary that ends in a satisfying way, this movie is for you.

I think it’s so important to support studios like Laika. They put out consistently good films, and they work damn hard on them. There is unbelievable love and care put into every inch of their movies, and it’s not just a movie when they’re done with it: it’s a piece of art.

It’s not my favorite Laika film, it’s not the best movie I’ve ever scene, but it’s damn good and just a lot of fun. And again, we want to support studios like Laika and all the work they do.

Actually pretty much any studio putting out good animated films and isn’t Disney.

Nothing against Disney, just…well, okay, kind of something against Disney. They run the world and maybe like they shouldn’t.

Animated movies don’t get nearly the love and attention that they should because they’re animated, and it’s viewed as just a kids’ medium that can’t carry the emotional weight other films do. Studios like Laika prove that that simply isn’t the case. Animation can be just as breathtaking as live-action, just as powerful, and just as emotional.

Studios like Laika and Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells, The Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner) are proving that animation is a great medium for great stories, and I think we should all support them in that.

Overall, I give Missing Link

4/5 SASQUATCHES!!!

Look, they’re happy to see you!

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR:

Pretty much everything was a repeat and also showed before Dumbo, with one exception…

They’re making an animated movie of The Addams Family and it looks like it might actually be really, really good.

Other than that, same old, same old.

So that about does it for this review!

If you love Laika like I do, if you want to take your kids to a movie that won’t make you want to die a little inside, if you love a good story with good characters, if you just need an evening to relax and escape to another world where everything turns out happy, if you love found family stories, I highly recommend you take yourself to the movies and see Missing Link.

…we won’t get into how a bunch of stop-motion puppets have more facial expressions than a certain character in Dumbo…I swear……

………….but they totally do.

Dumbo (2019) REVIEW

So last week, I took myself to the movies and saw Dumbo, Tim Burton’s take on the 1941 Disney animated film.

I was apprehensive because the 1941 Dumbo is definitely not one of my favorite films–I mostly remember it just being kind of strange (and then I was scarred for life by that INSANE PINK ELEPHANTS SCENE). I know there are some diehard fans for the original, and nothing against that, it just wasn’t my cup of tea and I had no desire to revisit it before seeing this version.

On the other hand, it’s Tim Burton!!

I can say that it’s definitely a fun movie, it’s an absolute assault on the senses in typical Burton/Elfman fashion (in the best way), and it’s a good time.

Is it great?

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……

THE PLOT

It’s 1919! Circuses abound! Button-down shirts! Boots! Trains! Animal abuse! Yay!

…wait.

We start off by following the train for the Medici Brothers Circus, featuring such acts as a strongman, a mermaid, a horse-training duo, and elephants. As the train makes their next stop and tents begin to rise, we meet Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Milly has a cage of pet mice dressed for their own little circus (this is a reference to Timothy Q. Mouse from the original, but other than that, this little mouse circus of Milly’s is never explained) and she is giving them a check-up to establish that Milly is a Modern Girl (ohhhhh the theater nerd in me just realized…”Thoroughly Modern Millie” the musical…ughhhhhhhhhhhh) interested in ridiculous things like Science. Joe is younger than Milly and is just generally excited about everything. For instance, there’s a train!

Milly and Joe run through the circus to the train platform, looking for someone, and suddenly there he is: COLIN FARRELL! Okay, actually it’s their dad, Holt, played by Colin Farrell. They run to meet him (as I would do if I saw Colin Farrell on a train platform) but stop short when they see he’s missing an arm. Holt has just returned from fighting in World War I, and he’s come back to be with his kids and work in the circus again.

It’s clear there’s some tension between Holt and the kids as he greets them and goes to meet with the ring leader Max Medici himself (Danny DeVito) about getting his job in the circus back. Medici gives a great speech chock full of exposition to explain that not only did Holt’s wife die of influenza while he was away (and his kids had to endure that without him), but Medici also sold the horses Holt used in his act. But all is not lost! Medici recently purchased a ~pregnant elephant~ and since everyone loves babies, this will boost ticket sales like crazy and give Holt a job as the elephant guy!!

Holt is distressed, naturally, as he tries to come to terms with how much things have changed. We meet Rufus who is the current (?) elephant guy and a Grade A Worst Human Being Ever. Rufus doesn’t like Holt because he’s Decent, and also he’s taking his job? I think? Anyway, the pregnant elephant has given birth, and once the baby shakes off all the straw it was hiding in, it’s revealed to be not…typical.

Baby and Mrs. Jumbo are super close, and Milly and Joe immediately connect with the outcast baby elephant, but the rest of the circus members are kind of…meh about it. Medici in particular is convinced all is lost and he’s doomed, and Holt is tasked with hiding the baby’s massive ears for his debut performance.

So Baby Jumbo is dressed up for his debut to be carted around the tent, but since Rufus is the Worst Human Being Ever, he purposely causes a stampede with the elephants just to make Holt look bad (and to like, ruin the circus’s reputation in general but I don’t think he thought that hard about it). Fearing for her baby, Mrs. Jumbo storms in, chaos reigns, everyone’s screaming, and the tent collapses (in an ironic twist, the only casualty of this event is none other than Rufus himself).

(Also–Baby Jumbo was wheeled around in a carriage that said “Dear Baby Jumbo” but in the chaos of the stampede, the letters get messed up so it spells out “ear Baby Dumbo.” Milly suggests they keep the name instead of calling him Baby Jumbo just because it might make him think of his mom and make him sad. So at least it puts a slightly more positive spin on the original, where Dumbo was a cruel name given to him by the other elephants)

Mrs. Jumbo is labeled a mad elephant, and Medici sells her in a desperate attempt to save face and get money. Around the same time, Milly and Joe discover something unbelievable–Dumbo can fly! But no one believes them. During an accident at the following performance, however, Dumbo does fly, and now the circus is famous for it! Unfortunately, this draws the attention of V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who competes with Rufus for the title of Worst Human Being Ever.

The rest of the film is an exploration of family, power, and what really matters most in life: REUNITING DUMBO WITH HIS MOM. Oh and like, love, too. I guess.

THE REVIEW

So like, let me start off by saying that this movie has an excellent opening. I mean you are plunged right in to the Burton/Elfman madness and it’s INCREDIBLE. I mean I was watching and already giving this movie 6/5.

Then…we got introduced to the human characters.

Perhaps the biggest change from the original (except the removal of certain…crows…) is the emphasis on the human characters. I’ll go more into detail in that section, but I really think unfortunately that the human characters are why the film isn’t…great. Part of the issue is that they have all new storylines and nothing to pull from the original film, which I get. But because there is so much emphasis put on them, it’s a shame they’re really not developed all that well.

…I mean I say that, but some of the human characters are awesome. It’s a fine line that, again, I’ll get into later.

Generally, the movie has some really impressive points and some really disappointing points, and unfortunately, it’s so strongly one way or the other that the film suffers for it. Some of the characters are so lacking that they hurt the overall story. Some of them are so strong that all you can do is wish the others were more like them. Visually it’s so striking and fun that it’s disappointing when you aren’t looking at the detailed circus sets because you’re stuck with a forced emotional scene instead. The music is so intense and fun and whimsical that it almost seems out of place with the more lackluster moments.

But overall, I do think it’s a good movie. It was fun to watch, and in true Burton/Elfman fashion, I was absolutely transported to another time and place for the duration and it was a fun ride.

So what exactly is it that makes the film both so good and so meh at the same time?

Spoiler warning now in effect as we soar into the details of this Dumbo reimagining!

THE MUSIC

THE MUSIC. THE MUSIC THE MUSIC THE MUSIC.

*ahem*

Okay, so the music is Danny Elfman, which means it’s just…it’s phenomenal. It’s so good, you guys.

What I’ve always loved about Burton and Elfman’s teamwork is how well they work together with sight and sound to create a story. Elfman’s compositions serve to transport the viewer to somewhere magical just as much as Burton’s visuals do. The soundtrack just gives off incredibly fun “magic circus” vibes. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve gone to a circus? I barely remember the last time I was at one (I don’t really count Cirque de Soleil because it was a school thing and also that’s like Rich People Circus), but the soundtrack for Dumbo brings you to a circus just with just a couple notes.

My favorite tracks include “Train’s A Comin'” (IT PLAYS OVER THE CIRCUS TRAIN ARRIVING AND THE SOUND EFFECTS OF THE TRAIN MATCH UP WITH THE DRUMS AND IT!! IS AN EXPERIENCE!!), “The Homecoming” (that fun guitar melody that then slows down when the kids see their dad again and he’s missing an arm like THEY DON’T NEED WORDS BECAUSE THE MUSIC DOES IT ALL), “Goodbye Mrs. Jumbo” (it’s Dumbo’s theme song but slowed down and sad and just WHY), “Pink Elephants On Parade (2019)” (MORE ON THIS LATER OHHHHHHHMYGOD), and “Soaring Suite” (this is like if the words “uplifting and magical” were music).

I just…I can’t do it justice with words, y’all. It’s on Spotify, please listen to it, that’s the only way to really feel it.

“But I’m not a movie music nerd like you” YOU WILL LISTEN TO IT AND YOU WILL LIKE IT.

Also, we have to discuss “Baby Mine,” of course. Just like the heartbreaking scene in the original, this plays while Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo are separated after she’s labeled a mad elephant. She reaches her trunk through the bars to hold her son, who’s trying to reach her with his short little baby trunk. This time, though, the music comes from the various circus members, singing around a campfire. They’re clearly disheartened by the day’s events, and it’s a solemn scene as they sing and play instruments together, layered with the shots of Dumbo and his mom trying to reach each other.

Anyway. I’m not crying. Moving on.

Listen to the soundtrack.

THE CHARACTERS

Fun fact: that is the daughter’s facial expression the entire damn film.

So here’s the thing–I like the idea behind the human characters. I mean, think about it: a WWI vet returns to his home, the circus, missing an arm to find that his wife has died and the act he used to perform with her can no longer be. He can’t connect to his kids because he doesn’t know how to without their mom, not to mention, they had to endure her death without him. He can’t even begin to imagine their experiences. Then, the baby elephant he’s tasked with taking care of does connect with his kids, and that’s even before the elephant’s mother is taken away, too. He soon realizes that this baby elephant, this “abomination,” is the way to reconnect with his kids, and he wants that.

It’s hard, though, when this rich fancy guy shows up and gives his kids everything he’s unable to–a beautiful house with individual rooms, immediate belief in his daughter’s scientific dreams, and fame and fortune for their new best friend, the baby elephant.

So what does he do when the new guy gives the order to have the baby elephant’s mother killed? What can he do but be the hero his kids have always hoped he could be?

It’s an interesting idea to mirror the kids’ loss of their mother with Dumbo’s. It gives the kids motivation to reunite the elephants besides just “they’re kids and they believe in happy endings.” Milly and Joe want to reunite Dumbo and his mom because they would have done anything to reunite with their own mom–it’s why they can be frustrated by their father’s lack of belief both in them and in himself.

It’s such a shame this doesn’t translate in the film, then.

I found myself not really liking many of the human characters, but I couldn’t put a finger on why until Vandevere showed up. See, Vandevere, for as incredibly evil as he is, is so much fun. He’s a genuine cartoon villain come to life, he’s over-the-top ridiculous, and because of that, he’s probably the one human character I actually liked. It’s almost like Burton was like “okay, we can’t really push for realism in a story like this, so the villain doesn’t have to be realistic, either.”

And it works!!

Because the rest of the film is so stylistic and unrealistic, Vandevere fits right into the world the film creates and he’s an enjoyable character even though he’s the villain.

Everyone else, though?

Let me start by saying I love Colin Farrell, and we know he can play the estranged and troubled father because he does it incredibly well in Saving Mr. Banks. It just doesn’t translate as well here because, again, he’s almost too realistic for this outlandish story. If he’d been allowed to be a little more quirky, for example, he’d have fit into the world more and thus, been more likable. He did a great job though with what he had, it’s just that what he had seems like it should be from an entirely different movie; a realistic story about a failing circus rather than one that involves big-eared, flying elephants.

Eva Green’s Colette has to (literally and figuratively) walk this tightrope between cartoonish and realistic. She’s cartoonish for the most part, and I do like her character a lot, but she’s not developed to the same degree as the main family and Vandevere, so she feels incomplete. She’s still good, and mostly likable, and she doesn’t feel as out of place as Colin Farrell’s Holt does.

Danny DeVito’s Max Medici is ridiculously cartoony and fun in the beginning, so he fits in, but it’s not entirely clear what makes him change his mind to help the original circus group–after all, he was shown to primarily be interested in money, so why the sudden change of heart? Yeah Vandevere wanted to fire everyone from his original circus, but he was never shown to have really bonded with them in the first place. I’m glad he does have a change of heart, and it makes his speech at the end about the new circus really heartwarming, but again, there was some key element of development that’s just missing for him.

Joe has some really sweet moments, and I liked him just because he was always so excited and eager to please, but those are pretty much his only two character traits. He primarily serves as Milly’s helper, and while Milly and Holt get to have a nice father-daughter moment, Joe never gets anything of the equivalent, which kinda sucks, frankly.

The main circus ensemble are all pretty likable with the little dialogue they have, but like many of the other characters, they aren’t developed enough to really get graded as fully fleshed-out characters.

My biggest issue is with Milly. She drives me crazy.

I kept trying to make excuses for her. Maybe she’s like this because again, she had to watch her mom, whom she was clearly very close with, die. She had to take charge caring for her brother in their mom’s absence. She likes Science!

The bottom line is, however, that Milly has exactly one emotion through the entire film, and it’s 😐

Not that you couldn’t do something with that, you absolutely could, but Milly is supposed to be the emotional center of the film. It is her connection with Dumbo and her strained relationship with Holt that are supposed to drive so much of the story, and it just doesn’t work when she says all her lines like this 😐

Even when she charges up the ladder to get Dumbo a feather so he can fly out of the flames, and she falls and has to get pulled away, she doesn’t fight or try to get back to Dumbo, she doesn’t scream in worry for him, she doesn’t look concerned at all.

She looks like 😐

IT IS INSANE.

It is especially out of place in such a cartoony film. She’s surrounded by flying elephants and theme parks designed by Tim Burton and she just 😐

Dumbo, a CGI elephant, has more facial expressions and shows more emotion during this movie than our leading emotional character.

I mean, put her in a horror movie with creepy kids and I’m sure she’d do great, but FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. THIS IS A KID’S MOVIE. BE A KID. SHOW SOME WONDER. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT SCIENCE, SCIENCE IS COOL AND CALLS FOR FACIAL EXPRESSIONS. YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE DOES?

FLYING. ELEPHANTS.

The point is, the human characters could have worked. Many of them mostly do. But the character that is supposed to emotionally connect and invest us in the story and Dumbo himself just…

😐

Now don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely have an emotionless/seemingly emotionless character at the center of your film. You just can’t also have that character be the emotional center of your film. It just contradicts…everything.

And look, I get it, she’s a child actor. Unfortunately, I’m going to compare her to the likes of other child actors like, say, Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame or Sophia Lillis of It and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. I’m sure she can do great, just maybe not as the emotional center of a kid’s movie about flying elephants. I’m telling you, though, if she was cast as the creepy kid in a horror movie? She’d be awesome. Stop making films about creepy little boys and cast Nico Parker instead. For this particular movie, I just don’t think she was cast correctly.

And honestly, Dumbo does a great job all on his own on making us care about him.

But I genuinely think that the human characters, and Milly in particular, are really what keep this good movie from being great.

THE ART

So as you can tell from above, because it’s Tim Burton, the film is a visual marvel. Yeah it’s supposed to take place in our world in 1919, but stylistically, it feels like it takes place in an alternate version of our world where maybe elephants can fly.

Pigs, too, probably.

I mentioned the opening shot with the circus train in the music section (THE TRAIN SOUNDS!!! MATCH THE DRUM BEATS!!!!!), but it truly does a beautiful job of setting up the film. The train itself, being completely Burton-ized, looks like a face–every part of the train, in fact, looks just cartoony enough to not be real. All the sets in the film stand on this line of being sort of realistic but not quite. It reminds me a little of the engagement party scene in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, where everything looks real and as you’d expect but also just ever so slightly…off.

In a good way! I know Alice in Wonderland wasn’t necessarily a favorite when it was released, and I know Dumbo now isn’t getting rave reviews, but I do think these kind of stories are ideal for Burton. He does well with stories where characters are transported to an alternate land where things don’t have to make sense, and he does really well with circus stories (first Big Fish and now this??). Think about it: the main goal of a circus is to promise the impossible is real, to fool you into believing in magic. Burton’s style plays into circus stories because he specializes in the fantastical with the real, the impossible with the possible.

Also, he got to have Danny DeVito play a ringmaster again, which I’m sure was fun.

You would think it would be too much, and especially when Vandevere’s Dreamland comes into play, it almost feels like too much to take in for both you as the audience member and the characters onscreen. It never crosses that line, though. Everything visually in the film is a feast for the eyes in the best possible way, and everything has meaning and care behind it.

So much so that, like I mentioned above, scenes without all the visual marvel that rely on the characters to carry us through are sorely lacking. Pretty much any scene that focuses solely on the interactions and dialogues between the human characters are dull in comparison, and they shouldn’t be. The scenes where the kids connect with Dumbo are hard to get through, partly because we don’t have any fun circus scenery and mostly because we have to deal with Milly. Scenes where the emotions of the characters should provide all the spectacle we need are hurting, because when Milly and Joe are talking about “well maybe Dumbo misses his mom, we have to help him, we miss our mom, too!” And then “my mom gave me this key to look at whenever I felt like there was a door I couldn’t get through. Maybe I’ll still feel like I can’t open it, but the key reminds me that there’s always a way” are all said in the flattest possible way.

The visuals are stunning. The costumes are amazing. But they shouldn’t have to bear the weight of the characters’ lack of feeling through the entire film, and unfortunately, they do.

The opening scene with the train and the circus being set up is fun and loud and truly feels magical, and it’s a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to it (kind of like how the opening number of La La Land promised great things and then you left the theater carrying the broken pieces of your heart and also your dreams).

There’s another moment later in the film, however, where that magic comes back, if only for a moment.

We have to talk about pink elephants.

This is quite possibly my favorite scene in the film, which is kind of funny considering it’s my least favorite scene from the original. Dumbo doesn’t get drunk in the 2019 version, but there are still pink elephants dancing. As a way to prepare the audience at Dreamland’s Colosseum for Dumbo’s act, performers take giant bubble wands and in unison, create magic with them.

It’s unclear whether or not the bubbles actually form the elephants or if Dumbo’s just seeing things (hey, he’s probably never seen bubbles before), but it’s an absolutely spellbinding sight and honestly may be worth the price of admission alone (maybe). It’s a beautiful scene rather than a slightly terrifying one, and it manages to be just as overwhelming as the original animation but in an entirely different way. Dumbo gets caught up in the beauty of it just as much as we do.

I like to think of it as Dumbo and the rest of the Medici Bros. Circus members not being drunk literally, but rather being drunk on this new power and fame they suddenly possess.

Am I reading too much into it? Probably.

But seriously, it’s genuinely a spellbinding scene. I was actually shocked when I found out that the track for that scene was only 1:47–during the film, it feels like a full 4 minutes at least. Not because it felt like it went on forever in a bad way, it just felt like a full-length intense dance number that you don’t want to end, and it was less than two minutes??

Iconic.

THE “SUBTLETY”

Dumbo is not one for subtlety when it comes to the film’s message(s).

And honestly, it’s executed in such a fun way that for the most part, I’m okay with it.

For example, a large focus of the film is family, obviously. Holt has to find a way to reconnect with his own kids without his wife, Dumbo just wants his mom and she just wants him, and it’s implied that the circus ensemble all find family in each other (or they just believed that all along, they’re not really developed enough for us to say for sure).

This actually all comes to a head with our good ol’ baddie Vandevere. It starts when he introduces us to Colette, his…girlfriend? Her relationship with him is never explicitly explained, but it can be implied that she likes money and he has it. But Vandevere has no “real” family of his own to speak of. He then pulls Medici aside when he’s discussing buying out the circus, to which he says “I know there’s no other Medici. You probably wanted one, though.”

The circus is called “Medici Bros. Circus,” but Vandevere is right; Max Medici is actually the only one, there are no “brothers.” That’s partly why Medici is so easily swayed by Vandevere’s offer. He wants the money, sure, but he also wants to have a partner. He wants to belong to something bigger than himself.

This whole family idea comes to a head when Holt thanks Vandevere for the nice lodgings he and his kids receive, to which Vandevere simply replies “of course! Your family’s mine.”

I don’t know how it translates in writing, but when you hear him say that, your brain automatically finishes the saying: “your family is my family.” But that ain’t what he says. Vandevere makes it clear that he owns people, he doesn’t stoop down to the level of belonging with them.

This is made even more clear when Colette’s backstory is revealed: she was a street performer in Paris, Vandevere saw her, offered her more. There is no actual connection with them at all, he just owns her.

So when Vandevere goes absolutely bonkers in the last act of the film and everyone abandons him, it’s easy to infer why: everyone else has found family in each other because they sacrifice for each other and help each other. Vandevere would never do that for any of them, so they don’t help him when his whole amusement park burns to the ground–they leave him.

True family can’t be bought.

Colette and Vandevere have some fun and ridiculously over-the-top dialogue during their final confrontation as well. Colette and Dumbo fly to the tower that serves as the main power source for the park and shut it all down so they can get Mrs. Jumbo out. Vandevere storms inside and yells “WHAT HAPPENED TO MY POWER???”

To which Colette simply replies, “what power?”

GET IT. BECAUSE HE NEVER HAD ANY REAL POWER. LOVE WAS THE REAL POWER ALL ALONG AND HE HAS NONE.

GET IT.

Then, as Colette is leaving with Dumbo, he screams after her “YOU WERE NOTHING BEFORE I MADE YOU MY…MY…”

And Colette smugly looks at him and says “I believe the word you’re looking for is queen” and then she flies off with Dumbo like a badass leaving Vandevere sputtering after her.

GET IT. GET IT.

Okay, anyway.

And then it all comes together at the end because the circus is back together (sans a couple elephants) and now it’s called the Medici Family Circus instead.

GET IT.

Also there’s a real slap-you-in-the-face message about how animals shouldn’t be kept in cages or something. I’m just saying, if Dumbo’s mom had been raised in captivity, she wouldn’t know how to survive in the wild. Luckily we know she was actually captured as a pregnant adult, so the wild is what she knows and she’ll do fine. All Dumbo knows is people, but he has his mom in the wild to guide him. But if she’d been raised in captivity, the best thing to do would be to keep her but treat her well. It’s clear that prior to the Medici Family Circus, the animals were abused like crazy, and that’s absolutely accurate to 1919 circus life. But releasing an angry, abused animal into the wild is like sticking a target on their back–it doesn’t benefit anyone (except a very lucky predator, maybe).

Anyway, nothing is subtle, but that fits right alongside the overall cartooniness of it all.

(Also, we can absolutely talk about how ironic it is that Dumbo, as a “freak of nature” becomes a huge money-maker for an amusement park that looks a lot like Disneyland. They even show a vendor selling out of Dumbo plush toys every night–toys that look like the original animated Dumbo. And that park burns to the ground, the “freak of nature” is allowed to leave and be happy with his mom so he’s not on display every night for cruel humans, and the circus members find family performing with each other, not for others. It’s just interesting that a Disney film seems to be really taking a jab at how Disney runs things…especially with all those live-action remakes on the horizon…ANYWAY………)

THE ELEPHANTS

DO YOU LIKE CRYING??? Great.

All I could think of while watching this film was the different things I’ve read and heard about elephants in the past couple years or so.

For example, a study was done by UC Davis to research elephants and the different relationships they have with humans. They concluded that elephants can absolutely form special relationships with humans, which is especially interesting because unlike domesticated animals, they haven’t been bred over generations to get used to us. Of course it’s also true that elephants can be absolutely hostile to humans and to be fair, if you’re out hunting elephants, you absolutely deserve whatever the elephants do to you.

Another example was a study published in 2014 that stated that elephants will aid and care for other elephants when they’re sick or dying. If they hear another elephant in distress, they will go to them and respond with calls and touches to console them.

Elephants can suffer from PTSD–this can be caused by being tortured, abused, forced into captivity, or witnessing the death of a family member by a poacher.

They have a complex family and social system in their herds, where the elders instruct the young how to interpret calls and follow specific social cues. If the elders are killed, that information is never passed down to the younger elephants.

Perhaps most interestingly, elephants seem to mourn for their dead. If they encounter the remains or skeleton of another elephant, they slow down and will touch the bones with their trunk–they don’t do this for other remains they come across.

There’s even research that reports that elephants seem to cry as an emotional response.

Elephants are crazy complex creatures, and it makes having them be at the center of a movie like this all the more powerful, especially one scene in particular.

Throughout the film, Dumbo and his mom clearly have a very strong bond. They have a powerful connection, to the point where Dumbo is able to recognize his mom’s call all the way across Dreamland to where she’s being kept (in an attraction called “Nightmare Island” where they keep all the world’s “most dangerous animals”). At first I remember thinking “yeah right” but?? Knowing what we do about elephants, why wouldn’t he be able to recognize her call? I mean jeez, penguins can do it!

This is why the ending scene with Dumbo and his mom is so beautiful, because it’s so good to see them together and happy, finally.

But all that we know about elephants makes the “Baby Mine” scene even more upsetting. Of course Dumbo would reach for his mom with his little trunk. Of course his mom would reach out and cradle him with her trunk. Of course they would cry. OF COURSE.

Let’s not forget that the only reason Dumbo’s mom is chained up in this scene is because Rufus (Worst Human Being Ever) purposely put her baby in danger. Of course she heard him crying. Of course she sensed his fear. Of course she came running for him. He’s her baby. OF COURSE.

It’s the one scene that feels appropriately emotional, and it’s all because of CGI elephants.

My last three brain cells trying to figure my life out

FAVORITE MOMENT

I think it’s probably obvious because I’ve talked about the scenes extensively, but I love the pink elephants scene and “Baby Mine.” One is so ridiculously over-the-top it’s great, and one is just calm and sad and emotional its great.

“OOF” MOMENT

…can I say anytime Milly spoke?

Okay, okay, fine. Really it’s almost any time they tried to have an emotional scene with any of the human characters, it just never really comes across right. It never reaches the level of “Baby Mine,” and that would be fine except they make it seem like those scenes are supposed to hit that level. They just don’t.

Also, the whole “Medici Family Circus” montage has Danny DeVito break the fourth wall and talk right to the camera and it’s just…a choice.

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO SEE THIS MOVIE?

I think it’s very likely that for all my griping about the humans, it’s possible to not have it be that big a deal. Again, as much as it’s played out as being the main story of the film, it’s really not.

Despite all the 😐 , there’s still a whole lot of incredible scenery, stunning music, fantastic villainy from Michael Keaton, and a really cute little baby elephant.

This is still a very good movie, and it’s certainly a really fun time going to see it. If you need some escapism, you like Tim Burton/Danny Elfman, you like elephants, you like Dumbo, and you don’t care about emotional scenes and how they’re portrayed and you think I need to chill out, I definitely say go for it, see this movie.

It’s good. It’s not great, but it’s good. And it’s fun. And you’ll cry a little and then be all inspired about family or something.

Overall, I give Dumbo…

3.5/5 MAGICAL FLYING FEATHERS!!

I have no idea if the whole “Dumbo has to fly with a feather” is a key thing in the original film, but it was like a really big deal in this one. Until he realized that he didn’t need a feather to fly, the ~Magic Was Inside Him All Along~.

Or something.

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

We had a couple repeats (Ugly Dolls, for example) but also some new ones that we get to talk about! Missing Link is the newest film from the studio LAIKA, probably one of my favorite studios ever in the world, so I will absolutely be seeing it (in fact at the time of writing this I have already seen it and that review is on its way!).

I…can’t believe I’m about to say this, but…Dora and the Lost City of Gold looks…really…good? Like I genuinely don’t know how to approach this movie for the most part, but like…I mean I’m gonna see it, I just…I mean you don’t understand, it’s like someone saw that College Humor video and said “no but REALLY THOUGH.” And now here we are. Wow.

Abominable looks like it could be really, really cute, so I definitely want to see that. I am all for this sudden trend of movies where characters befriend mythological creatures and go on adventures. Can we have a Mothman adventure next??

Aladdin is…a movie…I mean, okay, I loved Aladdin as a kid. I also loved the character Aladdin as a kid because, I mean, c’mon. Plus, Robin Williams at his finest, really. Of course I’m gonna see it, and maybe it’ll be good, but also like…there has been no sign of Iago in any of the trailers and I have SEVERAL CONCERNS, OKAY.

And that about does it for this review! If this sounds like something you’d enjoy (and again, it is just generally a very good time), I say take yourself to the movies and see Dumbo.

Just like…don’t get too excited about it.

😐

Okay I’m done. I’ll stop.

Us REVIEW

IT’S FINALLY HERE AND IT’S GREAT.

So by now, I’ve actually seen Us three times (one of which was with my good bro Jack, whom I told I would give a shoutout–so if you’re reading, hello! Aren’t you so glad we saw this movie LATE AT NIGHT??? Nah, he loves being my friend–I come with discount popcorn, after all). Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated follow-up to Get Out was well worth the hype, at least in my opinion.

Did it absolutely terrify me and fill me with regret since I was housesitting for a week alone after seeing it? You BETCHA.

To be fair, though, I thought by the third time it wouldn’t scare me as much. I know what’s gonna happen, right? I KNOW IT’S A MOVIE, RIGHT?

See, this is the fun thing about Jordan Peele movies: you discover something new every time you watch it.

I mean it’s fun until you’re alone in a big, dark house, just waiting to see a red jumpsuit-clad, scissor-wielding individual waiting for you upon glancing outside. That’s the worst.

But anyway, let’s get into specifics and splice apart the details of this film because there are a LOT of them.

THE PLOT

We begin with the ominous sound of waves crashing accompanied by text that describes the miles and miles of abandoned tunnels that snake underneath the entirety of the United States (if you’d been theorizing and obsessively combing the trailers for details like I had, your first reaction to this might be “NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT CREEPY ABANDONED TUNNELS” and I think it’s a brilliant way to start out the film–you don’t know how it relates to anything yet, especially any of the footage you’ve seen, so it’s constantly in the back of your mind as you watch). According to the text onscreen, many of these tunnels have “no known purpose at all.”

So that’s comforting.

We then cut to a young girl (Madison Curry) watching TV in 1986. We see the ending of a news clip, followed by a rather unsettling commercial for Hands Across America. The TV then cuts to an ad for the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and suddenly, we’re right there! The young girl, Adelaide, is there with her parents celebrating her birthday. It’s established that her parents have a somewhat strained relationship, and it all comes to a head when the mom (Anna Diop) asks the dad (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) to watch his daughter, please, while she goes to the bathroom. The dad agrees, but he’s a little preoccupied with Whack-a-Mole at the moment. Adelaide wanders off to the shore, where a storm is both literally and figuratively brewing. She turns and sees the “Shaman’s Vision Quest” (a mirror maze, essentially) with the tagline “Find Yourself.”

Drawn inside just as the rain begins, she and her reflections wander around until suddenly, the power cuts out (because of COURSE IT DOES). Frightened, she hunts for the exit and begins whistling “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to calm her nerves. It’s all well and good until she hears someone else whistling, too. It’s not quite the same tune, and it doesn’t sound as sharp as her own whistling. She then bumps into what appears to be another reflection of herself, except it doesn’t turn around at the same time she does…

Flash forward to present day, where an older Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is heading on vacation with her husband Gabe (Duke Wilson) and their two kids, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). They seem to be your typical goofy family, on vacation at their summer home. Gabe wants to go meet their family friends at the beach, but Adelaide is reluctant because, well, it’s the Santa Cruz boardwalk. She gives in after Gabe adorably guilt-trips her about it, and on the way, they pass by an ambulance loading someone inside who looks…a little worse for wear, to say the least.

Later at the beach, Jason wanders off, passing by the mirror maze from Adelaide’s childhood, now rebranded as the “Merlin’s Forest” with the same tagline as before. He bypasses it, however, noticing instead a strange figure standing on the beach–a man wearing a red jumpsuit, a tattered green coat, and some blood dripping from his fingers. Adelaide, noticing Jason’s absence and fearing the worst, goes into a panic calling for him.

Later that night back at the house, Adelaide opens up to Gabe about her childhood trauma involving the mirror maze, but Gabe doesn’t really know what to do with the story. Then, of course, the power goes out. Jason appears in the doorway, saying “there’s a family in our driveway” (THAT LINE IS ICONIC AND SO, SO FREAKY).

Turns out, there is a family in the driveway, standing altogether in red jumpsuits and holding hands. Gabe attempts to talk with them and ask them to leave, but Adelaide’s immediate response is to call the cops (who are 14 minutes away, because OF COURSE THEY ARE). Soon though, the other family invades the home and are in control of Adelaide’s family in no time.

They are, as Jason points out, “us.” But what do they want, and why are they here?

The rest of the movie is an impressive game of cat-and-mouse as the Wilson family defend themselves from their malicious doppelgängers, try to figure out what is going on, and why it’s all happening to begin with.

Oh also? There’s a devious plot twist at the end.

Because of COURSE THERE IS.

THE REVIEW

Listen. LISTEN.

Us is a phenomenal feat of storytelling. It just is.

It’s baffling to me that all the people I saw it with, ALL THREE TIMES, didn’t seem to feel the same way.

I get where everyone’s coming from, of course. Get Out is an amazing, must-see film. It’s impressive in every sense of the word, and in some ways, its success hurt Jordan Peele for any follow-up films he creates. Because Get Out was such a strong debut, every film he makes from here on in is going to be compared to it, and that’s just the way it is.

I think that’s why so many people’s support for Us fizzled out once they saw it. What can you do but expect another Get Out, and Us just…isn’t that at all.

I’ve been thinking it, but Matpat’s Film Theory channel on YouTube said it: Us is a great film, and while it’s just as symbolic and noteworthy as Get Out, it’s different–and that’s hard to swallow on a first viewing. When you see Get Out for the first time, you truly do not know what to expect. When you see Us the first time, you can’t help thinking about and expecting another Get Out.

But Us is very much its own thing, and in a really good way.

I get it’s not everyone’s thing. I’m not a horror aficionado in any way (despite my being drawn to the stories of the genre because of my Enneagram four-ness) and I sacrificed my sanity for this film THREE TIMES because I loved and appreciated all the thought and heart that went into Get Out, and I hoped that Us would be the same in that respect. AND IT IS.

I think the other thing that makes me love it so strongly is that it’s original, dammit. It’s not a sequel, it’s not a remake, it’s not a live-action version of something that used to be animated, it’s not based on a true story (…that we know of), and it’s not inspired by a book or some other source material of the like. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s scary because it’s not based off of any lore that we can think of, you don’t know what’s going to happen going into it because it’s something we haven’t seen before. I imagine this is how people felt going into Friday the 13th the first time, or The Blair Witch Project. I think it’s why Crypt TV is so popular (and HORRIFYING, GOOD LORD). It seems like everything coming out of Hollywood is “based on,” or “inspired by,” or a “part two” (or three…or FOUR (looking at you, Pixar)).

Us is all its own, and it’s so, so nice. It was exhilarating when the lights finally dimmed and the logos began–all those months of waiting and theorizing finally coming to a head.

It does feel a little like the movie drops you off a cliff in the middle of nowhere with the twist, and I get that. It feels unfair, to some degree, because the movie doesn’t hold your hand and give a cut and dry explanation for everything like Get Out did. It’s disorienting. It’s frustrating.

And it means you have to see it again. Everything is different the second time around. Hell, it’s different the third time around (for my own sake and my sanity, I refuse Round 4 until it’s out to buy and I can convince other people to see it in a well-lit room during the day). It has you replaying every little moment, every bit of dialogue, every visual detail, searching for the clues you didn’t think to watch for the first time around.

I live for movies like this. It’s not just a good time out, a quick escape from real life, and then that’s it, back to the grind. You don’t get to turn your brain off for a couple hours because you need it to figure out what on EARTH is going on. Then you get to be full of regret afterwards when your brain betrays you at home and goes “hey what if your Tethered is right outside right now that would be crazy right hahahahaha”

But let’s get into specifics because, again, there is a LOT to go through and I’m sure I’ll miss only about a million things.

MAJOR spoiler warning from here on in!!! Trust me, you don’t want to have this spoiled for you before you get a chance to see this movie. Seriously. I actually promise it’s not as scary as the trailers made it seem. I mean it’s scary, but not horrifying. I haven’t seen Pet Sematary, but I’m assuming it’s not that. Or The Curse of La Llorona. You know what I mean–it doesn’t throw a million jump scares at you all at once. There are some, but it’s not the whole film.

ANYWAY. SPOILERS. YOU GET IT.

THE MUSIC

So I already discussed the soundtrack at length before the movie was out, and you can check that out here. It’s kind of funny looking back at that after having seen the movie, because I was only MOSTLY wrong about things!

The music is incredible. It’s so unsettling and nerve-wracking and always serves the film in a positive light. Again, I’ve discussed my favorite tracks already, but both “Run” and “Pas de deux” are still amazing to me and it was so fun when they started playing during the movie because I got to be like “HEY!!! HEYYYYY!! I KNOW THIS! :D”

There is one scene I absolutely have to cover when it comes to the music: the final fight between Adelaide and her Tethered, Red. The whole sequence is this crazy back and forth between Adelaide and Red battling it out in the present with flashes of the two of them performing ballet when they were teenagers, and the whole thing is underscored by, you guessed it, “Pas de deux.” It’s truly a cinematic feat, and it’s amazing to experience every time you watch the film.

By that scene, we’ve heard the iconic “I Got 5 On It” a couple times, so when the violins strike up the theme, it’s already familiar even if you didn’t know the song prior to watching the movie. However, it’s distorted–something familiar changed into something almost unrecognizable, not unlike the Tethered counterparts of the characters we met through the story.

Again. I could go on and on about the music forever, basically. We know this. It’s great. I love it. THERE’S MORE TO COVER.

THE CHARACTERS

As much as I love cinematic music, the thing that often really makes or breaks a film for me is the characters. If I don’t relate to them or even like them in any way, I’m just not going to get invested in the film at all *cough*ALITABATTLEANGEL*cough*.

So again, yet another reason I love Jordan Peele’s work is because he creates such dynamic, lovable characters. You love and support the Wilson family and are cheering for them the whole time, HOPING one of them doesn’t die. And this is a horror movie! Isn’t that normally the goal, ticking off how many deaths there are?? I mean it’s scary when Gabe gets dragged out of the house and off-screen by Abraham for a number of reasons, partly because it’s just hard to watch, but also because we can no longer see him. We don’t know what’s happening to him, and that’s absolutely horrifying because he’s such a great character!

I think it’s why the ending twist felt like such a betrayal for people–you cheer for Adelaide and love her and want her to win this whole time…only to find out that SHE’S BEEN THE TETHERED VERSION THIS WHOLE TIME?? We just watched her kill the REAL ADELAIDE??? It’s uncomfortable because we genuinely don’t know how to handle this information.

I’ll go into how this ties into one of the possible messages of the film later…but I think it’s one of my favorite things about the film (one of…well, many).

Adelaide and Gabe clearly have a good relationship, and that’s refreshing to see. They tease each other, they laugh with each other, they can talk to each other, they just give off the appearance of such a good team (even when things start going off the rails a bit). They love their kids, and so do we. Zora could easily have been the typical “teenage girl who complains about everything like Wi-Fi and is only ever on her phone” but at her core, she’s more than that. She isn’t afraid to take charge and when Jason gets his magic trick right, she fist bumps him even though she poked fun of home for it earlier on. Jason himself is a little odd, everyone can see that, but it’s nice that when the twin girls complain about him to Zora, she just says that he has a hard time. Every family member supports all the others, and it’s why they’re such good characters to be with the whole film.

In contrast, the Tethered counterparts are eerie. They look like this family we’ve grown to know and love, but they don’t act like them at all. It’s hard to tell if Red feels anything for her so-called family besides indifference. She clearly resents them as much as she resents Adelaide; she describes being forced to marry Abraham though she didn’t love him, how Umbrae is a monster compared to the beautiful Zora, and how she had to cut Pluto out of her stomach herself while Adelaide had a c-section with Jason. As much as the Tethered are bound together by shared experience, they don’t feel the same familial connections that their counterparts do.

All of that builds up to another fascinating character trait of Adelaide’s: her mothering. She is an incredible mother to Jason and Zora, and it shows through the film. But she also mothers Umbrae and Pluto. When she comes across Umbrae’s twisted form in the woods after Zora knocks her off the road, it’s clear she isn’t going to survive. Despite that, Umbrae keeps reaching out for Adelaide like she might still try to hurt her, all while making these uncomfortable noises as she dies. Adelaide, watching this, stays with her and gently says “shh, shh…” Likewise, she tries to talk Pluto down from his goal of setting the new family car on fire since her family was still inside it and all. When Jason gets Pluto to walk back into his own flames, Adelaide cries for him. It’s interesting to watch, and it does mean, of course, that Red takes Adelaide’s son while she’s busy mourning for Red’s.

The Tyler family make up the other characters we spend time with, and they’re…well…they’re set up as being even more well-off than the Wilson’s, and boy do they show it. They have a better boat, a better car, a better house with a backup generator, Kitty got plastic surgery done to try and stay young, their obnoxious daughters do cartwheels everywhere (most realistic part of the movie right there)…

They’re great foils for the Wilson’s, and it’s so interesting to compare the two home invasion scenes. Gabe may not believe or understand Adelaide’s paranoia at first, but when he notices that something definitely IS off, he is on-board with calling the cops and locking things down, no question. In contrast, Josh doesn’t believe Kitty when she says something is outside, and he makes fun of her for it. They get offed incredibly quickly because they’re so accustomed to their cozy lifestyle where everything is fine…plus, let’s be real, as a well-off white family, they don’t have to be on edge about anything, really.

We don’t get much development for the Jeremiah 11:11 homeless guy (more on him later), but one moment I think is fascinating is at the end when he’s a part of the human chain that Adelaide sees, the camera captures him staring up at the sun and smiling.

The Tethered aren’t monsters, they just genuinely don’t know any better.

THE ART

*deep inhale*

It’s GREAT.

Okay but like really, though. My third time around, I spent a lot more time taking the movie in visually, focusing on the costumes and the like (the second time I was busy focusing on Adelaide’s dialogue because it’s entirely different once you know, and the first time I was busy screaming).

The film in general has a very red color palette (which makes sense, representing both the Tethered’s outfits of choice and all the…blood). The first scene on the boardwalk with young Adelaide has a lot of warm, bold colors, which makes the contrasting cool blues in the mirror maze once the power shuts off kind of startling. Then, all the scenes at the beach house and at the beach before the Tethered’s entrance are very creamy and gold-colored. That all changes, of course, once the Tethered arrive. Red is everywhere, both the color and the character!

People have already touched on the fact that Adelaide wears all white in the beginning, and then her outfit gets more and more red as the film goes on because of, well, blood. Initially, I thought that was supposed to be all symbolic of her becoming more and more of a monster like her Tethered, but that was before I knew about ~the twist~.

But Adelaide wearing all white at the start that gradually becomes more red is actually a fascinating detail for a number of reasons. When I took Costume Design in college, we learned all about color theory, or the idea that certain colors have a specific effect on the human brain and, therefore, human emotions. It’s why heroes are often clad in blue and villains in red–not only are they contrasting colors, but they also represent entirely different things emotionally. Blue has a calming effect on the brain, which is why doctor’s offices will often have blue walls or posters of the sky with clouds or something. Blue is trustworthy, like heroes should be. Red, on the other hand, is angry–we can’t help but think of blood when we see red, and since blood should generally remain inside our bodies, when we see it outside, it’s a little jarring and we just don’t like it. That’s just scratching the surface, of course, and each color can represent a myriad of things. Red can also represent passion and general heightened emotion, just as blue can also represent sadness and heartache. The effect a certain color has on the brain all depends on what other effects are taken in in combination with it.

The color white, generally, represents purity. We all know that Adelaide’s outfit through most of the film is white, but my third time watching it, I noticed that all of her outfits are white. She wears a white dress, she wears a white hat…”but isn’t her swimsuit yellow?” I hear you say.

Remember how I said the color palette in the beginning was all creamy and gold?

Adelaide fits into her surroundings visually, and not only that, all her outfits are white and flowy. She looks almost angelic in the beginning, so subconsciously, we trust her. Dressing her in white gives her the appearance of being pure, so not only do we subconsciously trust her, we also want to protect her. We want her to win and survive.

It’s kind of a cruel joke on the part of the costume design–the creators know that Adelaide isn’t actually Adelaide, but the audience doesn’t. By getting us to subconsciously trust her because of how she’s dressed, we fall all the harder when the twist is revealed.

Her outfit gradually becoming more and more red throughout the film serves as both proof of the final twist, and as a metaphor for what she did. When she took Adelaide/Red’s place in the beginning of the film and chained her to the bed in the tunnels, she unknowingly started the Tethered revolution that would come back to haunt her years later. It’s her own fault the red of the Tethered gradually takes over her pure, perfect world above ground. She started this.

Also, yeah, it serves as a visual reminder the second time you watch the movie that Adelaide isn’t who we believe her to be.

Also-did you catch how the first rabbit we see in the opening credits and the rabbit Jason is holding at the end are both white with red eyes?

THE VILLAIN

So who IS the villain in Us?

It’s…us.

Or is it them?

I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE.

Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of people felt betrayed by the final twist in Us because it was essentially revealed that the whole time when we thought we were cheering for the hero, WE WERE ACTUALLY CHEERING FOR THE VILLAIN.

Or were we?

This is one of the most fascinating dilemmas of the movie, and another thing that separates it so vehemently from Get Out. Whereas Get Out had a very, very clear set of villains, Us doesn’t have that. It tries to draw you in to this whole “us vs. them” dynamic, and the first time watching the film, you probably buy it. The Tethered are the villains. They are twisted, almost inhuman versions of our protagonists, therefore they’re easy to hate. They don’t talk or interact with each other the way our heroes do; Red is the only one who can speak, but her voice is so raspy and choked that it’s unsettling. There’s a scene where Abraham and Gabe are on the boat, and Abraham calls out to another Tethered on the shore. They have a quick back and forth that is all done with shouting and yelling, and no specific words are used. It’s almost animalistic the way they communicate with each other, and it makes it that much easier for us to cheer for Gabe’s victory. After all, we like and relate to Gabe! He makes terrible dad jokes!!

Then, out of nowhere (at least for ME, apparently everyone else I saw the movie with guessed the twist early, which WHATEVER), we’re told that the person we’ve been cheering for is one of them, and the person she left down in the tunnels is actually the real Adelaide-one of us (“one of us, ONE OF US”). It just doesn’t feel fair!! The villains won after all!

Did they though?

I mean, yes, we see a shot of the Tethered’s human chain at the end and it’s absolutely terrifying (and apparently much more successful than the real Hands Across America campaign, but more on that later!), and it does seem that “fake Adelaide” is driving her “family” off into oblivion. Oh also? Jason knows the truth, now, so who knows where that’s gonna go.

But here’s the thing: “fake” Adelaide is still really great. We can’t ignore the fact that she’s an incredible wife and mother, as well as a dedicated fighter. She became so human during her time above ground that she had everyone, including the audience, fooled. Maybe she was born into the world of the Tethered, but she learned how to develop relationships and care for others and herself once she left that world behind. By claiming that we were actually cheering for the villain the whole time, we’re completely defining Adelaide by where she comes from, and that is something we seriously need to stop doing as human beings.

But okay, if Adelaide isn’t the villain, Red and the other Tethered are clearly the villains right?

Ehhhhhhhhhhhh…

When you think about it, Red’s whole story is actually incredibly tragic. She was born into a life of privilege above ground, but because she wandered off one night, she’s trapped below surrounded by people she doesn’t know who can’t even talk and have to eat raw rabbit to sustain themselves. She’s still connected to Adelaide, so when Adelaide takes up ballet, so too does she. I think it’s this combination of her dancing and the fact that she can talk (sort of, the speculation is that her voice sounds the way it does because when Adelaide choked her in the mirror maze, she crushed her vocal chords, and they never recovered) that shows the Tethered that she’s different. Maybe she can save them. They didn’t even know that there might be something better out there, but Red’s clearly smart, seeing as how she organized the whole revolution thing. She’d be able to figure out everything about the cloning experiment from what was left behind, and since all she knew of Hands Across America was her shirt and that ad she saw, she’d use that to make her statement for her new people. She wants them to take the place of their counterparts because that’s what happened to her. She wants them to make a statement because she never got to. She wants them to have their time in the sun because she can just barely remember what it was like, and she misses it. She’s so close to being successful, but Adelaide is smart, too. When she’s dying in Adelaide’s arms, she starts to whistle “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” again, because that was what first connected them to begin with.

And Adelaide chokes her again, this time for good.

She was the leader of a rather successful revolution that she never fully got to enjoy because she was so caught up in taking personal revenge, and shouldn’t she have been? Her entire life was stolen from her, and she had to grow up with these people who looked like her parents but were just so off somehow, and she’d never hear them say that they loved her ever again.

The Tethered kill a lot of people in the film, that’s true.

But they don’t know any better. Like Red explains, the entire cloning project was scrapped because they were “able to duplicate the human body, but not the soul.” They’re like children wandering around in the tunnels, uneducated, and no one was around to teach them because they just got left down there. So when Red shows up and tells these stories of the world above and their evil counterparts who take everything for granted, they believe it. They’re angry. They want revenge.

It’s all they were taught to know.

The human soul detail is interesting, because that means, theoretically, that Adelaide shouldn’t have a soul, and Red should. But what makes a soul, exactly? Red’s actions throughout the film seem soulless, after all. Her family are her tools that she uses to dispose of Adelaide’s family without a second thought. She kidnaps Jason without sparing a moment for her own son, burning alive just a few feet away…Adelaide, meanwhile, should be without a soul, but she’s extremely protective and caring.

I would posit that there are no villains in Us, not really, but it depends how you define it. Is someone a villain for wanting revenge on someone who stole their entire life? Is someone a villain for stealing someone else’s life, but then creating and caring for a family and always putting there safety first? Is someone a villain for wanting to have a life in the sun and to eat anything besides raw rabbit?

While Us tries to sell an “us vs. them” dynamic that pulls you in and convinces you the first time you see the movie, it’s just disorienting every time after that because you know. She’s not really an “us,” because she’s a “them.” She behaves like “us,” but that doesn’t mean anything because she’s still one of “them,” right?

*shrug emoji*

THE MESSAGE

So what does this all mean, exactly?

Again, Get Out had a very clear message: white people SUCK. Uh, I mean, racism is BAD and also still VERY MUCH A THING AND THAT IS NOT GOOD. Also, white people SUCK.

(No really, we’re the worst)

Us doesn’t do that, and it’s frustrating! JUST TELL US WHAT IT MEANS, PEELE!!

But what’s cool about all the ambiguity is that it allows people to make their own theory about the movie that connects with them personally. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure as a movie!

So is Us a commentary on the death of the American dream? Sure!

Is it about the dangers of cloning and science going too far (case in point: the in-home security device playing “Fuck Tha Police” instead of calling the police)? Absolutely!

Is it about the duality of man and the dangers of ignoring rather than embracing that? Yeah!

Is it just a good, original movie with some good scares, great characters, amazing acting, and an interesting story? Why, yes!

My personal favorite theories involve classism: how the Tethered represent the poorer classes, essentially invisible to the well-off but still an essential part of their lives, whether they know it or not; how society can’t function if we ignore the poorer classes because they’re important, too, and it’s dangerous in multiple ways for us to just brush that off; how it’s absolutely possible to take someone “uneducated” and teach them kindness, and how that’s really more important than anything else; how the “Merlin’s Forest” re-branding of the mirror maze still featured a totem pole outside and was probably just in response to growing complaints about the racist attraction and was a really poor attempt to fix that #America; how many of the weapons used to kill the Tethered in the film were typical symbols of the rich (a boat, a golf club, a fancy rock), and therefore is symbolic of how the rich constantly kill the poor with all their fancy “necessary” toys.

Did you notice how the first Tethered up was the guy who killed the homeless man in the beginning?

Did you notice how, though people were morbidly fascinated, we didn’t hear anything in the news about it and no one seemed overly concerned about the death of a homeless man?

The use of Hands Across America ties into this, as well. The more I read about it, the more connected to Us it appears to be. Hands Across America was nowhere near as successful as it claimed to be, giving to charities only $15 million when they promised $50 million. Get this–it was also specifically set up to raise money to fight homelessness.

It was also during the Reagan years, and he apparently talked about how the poor are poor because they choose to be, and they’re just not smart enough to get out of it.

Did the Tethered choose to be what they were?

Do the poor?

When Gabe asks the Tethered family who they are, Red says “we’re Americans.”

The poor are Americans. The rich and well-off are Americans. They shouldn’t be treated so differently.

The point is, while these theories really hit home with me personally, they’re not the only ones out there, and they’re not the only ones that make sense. This movie can mean a million things, and I love it for that.

FAVORITE MOMENT

I’ve talked at length about the “Pas de deux” scene, and I genuinely think it’s probably my favorite. Even reading about the creation of that scene was fascinating to me; every detail was considered, down to the incredible physical differences between not only adult Adelaide and Red, but the teenage dancers as well. While adult Adelaide is injured, she hobbles on and swings desperately to get a hit in because she’s fueled by emotion–teenage Adelaide is graceful and swathed in bright light as she twirls smoothly across the stage. Adult Red walks in angles, almost never bends at the waist, and moves sharply and upright in contrast to Adelaide’s limbs flying everywhere–teenage Red has to follow teenage Adelaide’s steps, but she’s down below in a hallway and doesn’t have enough room, so she gets slammed into the walls and floor a lot.

Honestly I think it’s worth the price of admission alone, because it’s such an assault on all your senses (in a good way).

But I also really love the final moment of Jason glaring at Adelaide because he knowwwwwwws.

Also, he has a pet rabbit at the end. He did say he wanted a dog, so I mean…

“OOF” MOMENT

Pretty much all of them involve Gabe. I mean, he dabs in the beginning. And when he tells Zora that the human chain is “some kinda fucked-up performance art” the LOOK she gives him. Absolutely savage.

It’s not really “oof” in a “oh that was awkward for a movie” way, it’s more “oof, what a DAD” kind of thing.

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO SEE THIS MOVIE?

Well, if you couldn’t have guessed already, YES.

PLEASE DO.

Is it scary? Yes, it definitely is. But what I keep telling people is that I genuinely don’t think it’s as scary as the trailers would have you believe–the trailers made it seem like it would be “ALL JUMPSCARES/ALL HORROR, ALL THE TIME” and it really…wasn’t. And not in a bad way at all! It was just an interesting marketing choice, because it got people like me who do NOT like horror movies but liked Get Out and want more going “DAMMIT JORDAN” and I’m assuming it got real horror movie buffs going “…wait what.” (Again, I’m assuming. I have no horror aficionado friends, as evidenced by how long it took to convince people TO GO SEE THIS WITH ME)

If you read my Us soundtrack post (here!), you know I also went into Lupita Nyong’o’s “Horror Movie Homework” in preparation for working on Us. One of the movies I thought was an interesting choice was Funny Games, and while we may never know for sure why Jordan Peele had Nyong’o watch certain films and not others, it is interesting to note that the creator of Funny Games said specifically that the movie is a commentary on how violence is portrayed and glorified in the media. Could that be why Us was marketed as a typical horror film without a deeper meaning? Is there a commentary there?

Who knows. I don’t.

ANYWAY, the point is, Us is so much more than a horror movie, if that’s what you’re worried about. I genuinely think there is so much to enjoy about it, and so, so much to talk about afterwards. If you like stuff like that, you should see it!!

(I didn’t even get INTO all the rabbits, the symbolism of the underground classrooms, the symbolism of the names, the many appearances of the numbers 11:11, or the fact that the homeless man’s Tethered is named JEREMIAH AND THAT’S THE BOOK OF THE BIBLE THE VERSE ON HIS SIGN IS FROM. “JEREMIAH 11:11” I’M SO MAD ABOUT THIS THAT IS SUCH A COOL DETAIL AND I HAD TO DIG FOR IT)

All in all, I give Us

5/5 OMINOUS GOLDEN PAIRS OF SCISSORS!!

Ooh…yeah that last pair definitely did something to someone…oh no…

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

I have such mixed feelings about Pet Sematary, guys. On the one hand, I think it’s interesting, I know it’s classic, and I’m drawn to it because I’m SUCH A FOUR. But on the other hand, just because I loved Us, doesn’t mean I can suddenly handle horror movies. I am a Weak Being. But…like…UGHHHHH so anyway. I MIGHT see it. I don’t know.

Listen I got dragged to the second John Wick movie with the guy I was seeing at the time, and I regretted it almost as much as when I got dragged to Kong: Skull Island. Actually…I might regret John Wick more…anyway, John Wick Chapter 3 is a thing. I probably won’t be seeing it. Someone could pay me, though. I can definitely be bought.

Little is another one of those movies that COULD be surprisingly good, or just really…really bad and cringey. I’ll probably wait till I read some reviews or something.

Ma looks ABSOLUTELY horrifying and it somehow made Octavia Spencer legitimately terrifying and I do NOT trust any movie that does that. It’s interesting in that it looks like it’s completely original, which as we’ve discussed, I really appreciate, but…oh it looks horrifying. Oh no.

Booksmart looks like it could be good, but it’s also kind of in the category of Little where it could also just be really bad. I mean it’s certainly going to be raunchy, as we can attest from the trailer. But who knows what it’s actually about?

I’m genuinely nervous and excited for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because like…I freely admit I love both Leonardo DiCaprio AND Brad Pitt and they’re working together on this?? Iconic. Amazing. But also like…Margot Robbie is gonna be playing Sharon Tate, y’all. YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS.

And that does it for this review! If you think you’d be up for Us, I really think it’s incredible and you should definitely see it. I get that the ambiguity isn’t for everyone (although apparently some people are upset that the final twist was made clear, they would have preferred that to be ambiguous. Which like…okay so you complain that it’s too ambiguous right now, and if the final twist HADN’T been confirmed? MORE AMBIGUITY IS WHAT YOU WANT?? Whatever) and that the horror factor is not a favorite, believe me, I know, but it’s so much more than all that.

Plus I can’t even begin to describe how fun it is to see the film in a crowded theater. Some of my favorite reactions include “aw HELL NAW” in response to Jason’s “there’s a family in our driveway” line, and a whole chorus of “NO, NO NO NO NO NO” in response to the Tethered family breaking into the house on cue.

If you’re up for it, take yourself to the movies and see Us.

Just, ya know…watch yourself.

Captain Marvel REVIEW

EYYYYY it’s been a hot second, huh?

So about a…couple weeks ago, I took myself and my dad (pretty much the only family member who will see superhero movies with me) to the movies and we saw Captain Marvel, the 21st (22nd? I hear conflicting reports) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the 1st MCU film to center around a woman hero. So that’s. Good.

I don’t generally follow all the DC vs. Marvel discourse, but I do know at the very least that Marvel has been supremely more successful with their cinematic releases than DC has. That being said-can you believe that DC released a woman-led superhero movie before Marvel? And it was GOOD??

Anyway. I was relatively excited just because I generally like superhero movies, I really like Brie Larson, and I am all for movies with a female lead (I think that was well-established by my Miss Bala review). That being said, I wasn’t like…immensely excited. I mean, I thought it would probably be good, but let’s think about how Marvel has dealt with its female superhero characters…

Yeah.

I am happy to report, however, that I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. So, without further ado, let’s dive into Captain Marvel.

THE PLOT

The movie begins with an actual explosion. Everything is all slow-motion-y and dramatic as our leading lady herself (Brie Larson) looks around, confused. She sees an older woman standing near her (Annette Bening) and someone else approaching with some sort of space gun thing. She then wakes up, and we formally meet her as Vers, a member of the Kree (some sort of alien race, for those of you who are admittedly as uneducated as I am about these details). She then goes to train with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). During the fight, their conversation reveals that Vers desperately wants to be a fully-recognized soldier, but Yon-Rogg says she lets her emotions control her actions too often and therefore, she isn’t ready. He says something about how once she’s able to defeat him without using her sparkle fist powers, then she’ll be ready.

Vers then meets with “Supreme Intelligence,” the leader of the Kree. No one knows what they really look like, they take the form of the person you most admire. For Vers, she sees the woman from her dream, though she doesn’t actually remember who she is. Supreme Intelligence basically says “yeah sure you can be a soldier and go on this mission but remember we gave you your sparkle fists and we can take them away too k have fun byeeee.”

Vers, Yon-Rogg, and the rest of their team are tasked with recovering an operative trapped on another planet. The Kree are in the middle of a war with another alien race, the Skrulls, and they’re fighting because apparently the Skrulls keep taking over planets and massacring everyone they come across. Yon-Rogg emphasizes how dangerous this mission is and like…I dunno they’re all emotionless alien soldiers so they all just nod like “yep.”

Anyway, the group splits up upon arrival and Vers comes across what she thinks is the Kree operative, but oh SNAP it’s actually a Skrull because they’re SHAPESHIFTERS. The other inhabitants the Kree come across turn out to also be Skrulls and it’s a full-out ambush. Vers gets captured. The Skrulls poke around in her head and she has a whole lot of memories and flashbacks that she does not remember at all. It turns out the Skrulls are looking for the woman from her dreams, whose name is Dr. Wendy Lawson. Vers manages to knock out the Skrulls keeping her captive with her sparkle fists and she escapes, crash-landing onto…EARTH.

Because this takes place sometime in the 90’s, she crash-lands into a Blockbuster Video (all together now…*in the aaaaarms of the angels, fly awaaaaaaay* RIP Blockbuster, forever in our hearts). Her crash, her space outfit, and her general demeanor alert a CGI’d-to-be-young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who begins chasing her down with, wait for it, AGENT COULSON (Clark Gregg). It takes some time and some deep conversations for Fury and Vers to really bond and trust each other, but soon they decide they’re on the same team and it’s up to them to figure out what’s really going on with the Kree and the Skrulls, and who Vers really is.

THE REVIEW

So like I mentioned above, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. I genuinely enjoyed it. Again, I tend to like superhero movies anyway, but I would say this is one you can enjoy even if you’re not typically a superhero fan. Like Wonder Woman and Black Panther before it, I think it offers a whole lot more as a film than just the whole “super person wears a funky outfit and fights bad guys with a quirky ensemble” thing.

Was it perfect? Not necessarily. I don’t think it’s a must-see like Black Panther, but it has a lot to offer. Plus, it made a lot of older white guys mad for some reason, so you know it’s probably a good idea to support it somehow.

The characters were all really likable, the plot twists were interesting, and all of the “girl power” moments were incredibly satisfying. All of the gags with Goose the cat were immensely enjoyable, and I do appreciate how the main relationship in Carol’s life was her best friend.

Also-the costume design. I mean, I know it’s crazy, but it is possible to have a woman superhero NOT wear a skin-tight outfit. I just. It’s insane. People have also pointed out that all of the Kree soldiers have the same outfit. Vers and Minn-Erva don’t get special designs that hug their bodies more, are more revealing, or in any way highlight the fact that they are women. It’s all the same because they are ALL Kree soldiers!

Even when Carol swaps her Kree gear for some human clothing, she doesn’t go for a dress, or shorts, or something skin-tight. It’s boots, loose jeans, a grungy t-shirt, and a leather jacket–and she STILL looks amazing and comfortable and she can STILL FIGHT. None of her fight scenes or actions in her human outfit are unbelievable because it does look like she could naturally pull all of it off. I didn’t fully appreciate how much of a breath of fresh air that all was until I re-watched some of the other Marvel films this past week to prep for Endgame and…pretty much all of Black Widow and Scarlet Witch’s costumes make me want to cry. It’s so unnecessarily just CLEAVAGE. ALL THE TIME.

(Now yes, to be fair, Steve has some very tight shirts of his own, which…I mean, it’s all a choice, okay)

But what exactly were the specific details that made the movie so good? What exactly made it just a good time to watch?

Let’s blast our way through the specifics, which means spoiler warning is now in effect!

(My pun game is…not as sharp as it once was when I started all of this)

THE MUSIC

As always, we begin with my favorite element: the music!

Much of the music didn’t really stand out to me in the beginning, admittedly. There was nothing I particularly noticed that stood out, at least at first. I mean, I feel like there’s a whole separate genre of cinematic music now that is just “it’s for a superhero movie; it’s heroic-sounding.”

That being said, the track “More Problems” (composer: Pindar Toprak) is phenomenal–a little over 8 minutes of what sounds like what would happen if a victorious battle cry was orchestrated. I believe it underscores most of the final act of the film (again, it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve seen it) when Carol learns the truth about everything and goes after Jude Law who DEFINITELY deserves it.

The other musical moment I really loved is during one of the final fights when “Just a Girl” plays. It’s such a Captain Marvel song, too; you can tell she’s having fun finally embracing her full identity and taking it out on the people who lied to her for years. Plus, it serves as a really poignant jab at the fact that this is the 21ST (or 22ND) MARVEL FILM AND THE FIRST CENTERED AROUND A WOMAN SUPERHERO. WHY.

THE CHARACTERS

For the most part, I felt all the characters were incredibly well-done for the purpose they served.

A lot of the film, I remember thinking that Carol herself wasn’t that well-developed, but that ties into the film perfectly–for a lot of it, we see her the only way she knows herself: a Kree warrior whose only goal is to go out on real missions to prove herself. As more of her memories get uncovered, however, we learn about her personality and what makes her who she is at the exact same time she does. We get connected to her as a character because we go through things right along with her, and I LOVE it.

(To go off for a moment here, I mentioned in my Alita: Battle Angel review that one of the things that really bugged me about the movie is that it was like in order for Alita to be a good hero and protagonist, she had to squash all of her emotions because it was the only way to move forward. I don’t think it made her relatable at all, it just further alienated her from me and I cared less and less about what happened to her or her story. Carol has a similar moment where she learns exactly what happened in her past, she’s at her lowest point, but instead of shoving it all deep inside her and refusing to acknowledge it, instead she uses that pain to move forward and be stronger because of it. She went through something awful and she lost someone incredibly dear to her; both characters did. What matters is how they were written to handle it, and it makes all the difference)

Baby Nick Fury was an absolute delight, and he had such an interesting arc over the course of a single film. We see him go from doubter and rule-follower to believer and fighter, and honestly it makes his meme line in Avengers all the funnier now. I mean: “I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.” You just KNOW that’s something he’d say that Carol would both be proud of him for and also tease him about. We’ve seen Fury as a leader in the other Marvel films, albeit not a perfect leader, but that’s part of what makes him such a good character. He’s just as flawed as the heroes he tries to be in charge of, but you can tell he’s weighed down by red tape and decisions that are beyond his control. Here, we get to see him be not only young and inexperienced, we get to see him form a real friendship with someone. The post-credits scene is phenomenal for this very reason; Carol and Fury have a fascinating bond, so when she shows up to confront the Avengers and Fury is nowhere in sight? Of course she’s pissed.

Maria is a wonderful character and a great best friend for Carol. I loved her the instant she came on-screen and she didn’t disappoint the entire film. She really brings humanity to Carol before she remembers everything, so she’s a perfect addition to Carol and Fury as a team. (Side note: there’s not an explicit romance in Captain Marvel, but many fans have pointed out that Carol and Maria are incredibly close, although they just say best friends. Then again, as one fan pointed out on tumblr, the film takes place right in the middle of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”…Carol and Maria were both in the military….speaks for itself. Plus, Brie Larson frequently retweets fan art of Captain Marvel either with Maria or Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, SOOOOOOOOOOO…..).

Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is yet another great character; he does such a good job at playing trustworthy in the beginning, and yet it’s totally believable when he’s revealed to be the real bad guy all along (is this why older white guys/white guys in general didn’t like the film? Because the white guy was the villain? Is that it?). He’s absolutely malicious in his final fight with Carol. Speaking of, that whole moment when Yon-Rogg says “I TOLD YOU THAT ONE DAY YOU’D HAVE TO PROVE YOURSELF TO ME BY BEATING ME WITHOUT USING YOUR POWERS WELL TODAY IS THAT DAY–” and Carol just decimates him with her sparkle fists and says “I don’t have to prove anything to you” that is ICONIC I AM LIVING.

The only character I feel wasn’t as developed as the others is Dr. Wendy Lawson, and that’s a shame since she’s supposed to be a big icon and inspiration in Carol’s life. We know she was intent on ending wars rather than fighting them, and she knew what the Kree really were compared to the Skrulls. So she’s clearly like, perfect, but we don’t see much of her. She’s featured silently in some memories of Carol’s, she does talk in at least once other, but most of her appearances in the film are actually when we see Carol talking with the Kree Supreme Intelligence.

“But Filmennial!” I hear you say, “you could just read the comics, and then you’d learn all there is to know about Dr. Lawson/Mar-Vell!” To which I say,

No.

That’s the nice thing about Marvel movies: they’re generally enjoyable even if you haven’t read all of the comics. There are so many, y’all. Plus there are different authors and timelines and I just…

No.

THE TWIST

The twist(s?) was very welcome, like I mentioned earlier, and it was an interesting commentary. Like Carol, we as the audience (unless you’ve read the ~comics~ I suppose (but seriously no offense, and I admire your dedication, I really do)) are brainwashed. We accept that the Kree are the good guys and the Skrulls are the bad guys because that’s all we know. It’s played out brilliantly, too; the good guys are soldiers, they look strong and proud, they go on missions to protect the galaxy from evil. We naturally want to trust them (isn’t that what we do in America, too?). On the opposite end, you have the Skrulls. Not only can they shape shift, thereby branding them instantly untrustworthy as they could be anyone, their natural form is much more alien than the Kree. Many of the Kree have blue skin, yes, but they still look human to some degree; the Skrulls look LITERALLY alien in comparison. They have green skin, weird Thanos chins, they’re bald, and they have pointy ears. Just based off of looks alone, they’re different, and our natural reaction is to believe they’re evil because they’re unrecognizable.

It’s disconcerting then to both Carol AND the audience when it’s revealed that the Skrulls are actually refugees; they are just searching for a peaceful planet to call home because not only did the Kree destroy their home, they keep hunting them to maintain their image (and just because they want to). Everything we’ve been told up to this point, everything we believed in, is a lie.

So then Carol finds out that not only was her mentor, Dr. Lawson, Kree herself, she was trying to end the war between the Kree and the Skrulls because there shouldn’t even be a war to begin with. It wasn’t the Skrulls that killed Dr. Lawson the day Carol was with her; it was none other than Yon-Rogg, Kree himself, and Carol’s mentor when she was training to be a Kree warrior. Her powers were not given to her by the Kree, it was an accident because she blew up the power source the Kree were after at Dr. Lawson’s request and ended up fusing with it. Yon-Rogg saw this and kidnapped her, essentially, purely hungry for the power Carol now possessed.

All of this is what makes the final fight sequences so fun and satisfying to watch. Carol takes her Kree uniform and has Maria’s daughter change the colors so it is all her own now (side note, Yon-Rogg asks “what have you done to your uniform” when he sees her again but like…it was a feature of the suit? Why did they build it with that feature if they didn’t want people to change them ever? It’s fine). She uses her powers, unafraid for the first time ever, and takes out everyone who lied to her so she can protect the ones they hunt.

Also, there are great moments in the final fight where Goose shows off his real identity as a Flerken, a terrifying and deadly alien being. So, a cat.

THE GIRL POWER

Captain Marvel does not shy away from its central messages of peace and girl power at all. It’s worth dwelling on the fact that Carol and Maria’s mentor in the military was a doctor who only wanted to end wars, not fight them. They wanted to work under her for that very reason, and also since they are women, they weren’t allowed to be actual pilots, and since that’s all they really wanted to be, this was their only way to get in the air.

Captain Marvel, as a character, specializes in ending wars. The Avengers, as a group and as a series, always seem to be a little more occupied with fighting wars rather than trying to find the best way to end them. Not always, of course, but compare this to Captain America’s origin film: the whole reason he signed up for the super soldier experiment is because it was the only way he could fight. It’s all he wanted to do…ever, basically. Iron Man started off wanting to quit building weapons so that the bad guys couldn’t get a hold of them, but then he ended up building a bunch of iron man suit weapons that the bad guys got a hold of time and time again anyways. There’s a reason why these two were the headliners for Captain America: Civil War.

It’s why I’m so, so glad that Captain Marvel will be joining the crew for Endgame, because if anyone can end the infinity war, it’s her.

I mentioned above that there’s a whole fight sequence underscored by No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” but that’s only one of the ways the film focuses on the idea of girl power. As previously stated, Carol and Maria weren’t allowed to be pilots simply because they were women. There’s a real gross flashback where some drunk soldier tells Carol that “it’s called a cockpit for a reason” which just…ew. There’s a scene where some guy tells Carol that she should smile, which I DEARLY hope was added in after the whole “guys complained that Captain Marvel doesn’t smile enough in the released footage and posters” thing. Probably not, but it was an extra funny scene just recalling that–and the look Carol gives him? ICONIC.

There are subtler things, too, that I don’t think everyone would catch. Throughout the film, Carol is told that her sparkle fist powers are a nuisance, a problem, that she should be able to fight without them. She should hide her powers so she doesn’t stand out, and the only way to do that is to control her emotions. How often do we hear complaints, jabs, and jokes that women are “too emotional” to get anything done?

It’s so refreshing, then, to see Carol go full-out with her powers and to embrace the emotions that got her to where she is. In her final confrontation with the Kree Supreme Intelligence, when Carol is being told that she should be grateful to the Kree for saving her since she’s only human…Carol uses that against the Supreme Intelligence. She embraces her identity as a human, a broken, emotional, angry human, and it’s only after she accepts all of that that she is able to overpower the Supreme Intelligence and the rest of the Kree.

Then Yon-Rogg, her Kree mentor, her friend, says that she must prove herself to him? After what she learned that he did? Nahhhhhhh.

Captain Marvel tells little girls watching that not only can they be superheroes too, but that they can be superheroes no matter what they’re feeling or who they are.

One of my favorite marketing things for this film will always be when they layer “see what makes her a hero”–they show the word “her” first, and then the other letters fade in to spell “a hero.” Captain Marvel is a woman first, with everything that entails, and a superhero second.

FAVORITE MOMENT

I’m so torn between Carol saying “you’re right–I’m only human” and then blasting the Supreme Intelligence away because that was SO SATISFYING and when she blasts Yon-Rogg away after saying “I have nothing to prove to you.” I JUST LOVE HER SO MUCH, ENDGAME IS GONNA BE GREAT, Y’ALL.

I mean actually Endgame is probably just gonna be a lot of pain. But at least it’ll be pain featuring CAPTAIN MARVEL!! YEAH!!!

“OOF” MOMENT

Genuinely, nothing stands out to me as awkward or unfortunate. My one nitpick is still about Wendy Lawson as a character, but that’s not really a “moment” thing.

I mean there was the moment when Goose scratched Fury’s eye. But that “oof” was more of a sympathy “oof” because I too have a vicious cat creature who would do that if given the chance.

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO SEE THIS MOVIE?

Well I’m late again, so if it’s still playing where you are, then yes, I think you should. Again, I don’t think it’s as much of a must-see as Black Panther (#BESTPICTUREINMYHEART), but it is a damn good time. Loose ends are tied up (rare for a Marvel movie), everything is satisfying, and it’s funny just as much as it’s poignant.

I don’t think you’ll regret going to see it, unless you’re offended that it’s not “for you,” in which case I dunno how to help you, fam.

All in all, I give Captain Marvel

4.5/5 CATS THAT ARE ACTUALLY FLERKENS!!

Well, that last one is definitely a Flerken, hence the tentacles. The other ones MIGHT be normal cats…

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

I don’t remember if there were any repeat trailers (again, it’s been a while, and they all kind of blur together at some point?) but as for newbies we have: Long Shot, which like…okay, I think it looks kind of fun. It has every potential to be absolutely terrible, and I’m prepared for that, but honestly it has been a while since there looks to be a semi-good new romantic comedy and I just want that, okay?

Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw is…a movie. I’ve never really followed the Fast and Furious franchise to begin with, and though it looks really tongue-in-cheek and kind of fun and full of banter, I’m sure it’s also full of pointless explosions and car chases and god knows what else. Which like, again…it’s a choice.

There was a new trailer for Dark Phoenix and guys…it’s just Frozen. That’s it. Girl with powers, girl scared of powers, girl struggles with controlling her powers, girl hurts family/friend because of this, girl blames herself…so on and so forth. I’m assuming there won’t be singing and dancing and living snowmen, but it’s basically the same, right?

Rocketman looks amazing and I will absolutely be seeing it.

Oh hey, speaking of Frozen, Frozen II is a thing that’s happening. I genuinely don’t know how to feel about it. I mean I’ll see it, obviously, but like…what even is the trailer? What is happening? Why is Elsa running into the ocean? Why are there new people? Why does Anna kill the cameraman? Whatever.

And with that, we come to the end of this review! I definitely enjoyed Captain Marvel and felt really empowered by the end, which I think is important. If it sounds like something you’d enjoy and it’s still playing at your theater, I highly recommend you take yourself to the movies and see Captain Marvel.

Also, boost the reviews and ticket sales so all the old bitter white guys who were complaining about it get even MORE mad.

Splicing Up the Details of the “Us” Soundtrack (and Lupita’s horror movie homework)

So Jordan Peele’s new nightmare, Us, opens TONIGHT!

Well, it opens tonight for all us normal people. Many who attended SXSW got to see it on March 8, and while everyone who saw it seems to LOVE it, they’re being very tight-lipped about the details.

I appreciate this, honestly, because there’s nothing quite like going into a Jordan Peele movie blind (I’m so thankful no one spoiled Get Out for me). So while we don’t know many details right now, #keepitbetweenUS, what we do know is that all the secrecy means one thing: PLOT TWISTS. PLOT TWISTS EVERYWHERE.

The soundtrack for Us came out just under a week ago, and since we all know how I feel about movie soundtracks, I thought I’d spend some time splicing apart whatever we can from the soundtrack itself and the track titles. After that we’ll take a look at Lupita Nyong’o’s horror movie homework to see what else we can speculate about…

What we’ll do is go through the list, track by track, and just speculate! Also included will be a drawing interpretation by me of what I think may happen in the movie based off of the music and the name of the song.

So, without further ado…

TRACK 1: “Anthem”

The soundtrack starts with “Anthem,” which lets you know from the very beginning that, just as Jordan Peele himself tweeted, Us is a horror movie. This first song is just real unsettling. There’s some kind of chanting going on, with a whole lot of white noise-esque sounds underneath it. The chanting builds, and underneath it, it sounds like we have one drum and a bunch of stringed instruments providing the rhythm. I can’t even begin to speculate what might be happening onscreen during this, but it probably isn’t good. It ends with some kind of minor chord strummed out, and it’s just…wow it’s unnerving.

By the way, the soundtrack is composed by Michael Abels, who also composed the soundtrack for-you guessed it-Get Out. I drew Jordan Peele here because I’m sure he had some say in it, but the real musical mastermind behind all of this is Michael Abels.

TRACK 2: “Outernet”

The next track is a shorter piece, and while I wouldn’t say it’s “happier” by any means, it’s definitely calmer. Strings play underneath a slow piano tune and there is no chanting to be heard anywhere!

This I’m assuming is when our main family is introduced: Adelaide, Gabe, Zora, and Jason. The song does kind of seem to set up an “everything’s fine…or is it” mood.

TRACK 3: “Spider”

I have NO idea what could possibly happen during this number. I tried looking through the cast to see if maybe there’s a character named “Spider,” but there doesn’t seem to be. This could be about an actual spider, of course. Maybe it serves as some sort of foreshadowing, or maybe it’s the first of those “things lining up” that Adelaide mentions in one of the trailers.

Either way, the song starts out somewhat pleasant and calm, like “Outernet,” but it builds up into, you guessed it, real unsettling.

I mean I thought the creepy animal of choice for this movie was a bunny…

…is there a type of bunny called “spider bunny”? IS THIS TIED INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE???

TRACK 4: “Ballet Memory”

This track is interesting-besides “Anthem,” it feels like the first track that really comes right out of a horror film. It builds up even more intensely than any of the other tracks, with strings all playing at once in all different notes. You can tell SOMETHING not good happens…

In the trailers, we do see glimpses of what appears to be some sort of ballet recital. Initially I thought the girl in the clips was Zora, but the cast list shows that there’s a “Young Adelaide” and a “Teenage Adelaide.” Since it is titled “Ballet Memory,” it’s possible the girl in the ballet clips is actually Adelaide. Perhaps she saw Red, her Tethered, as a child AND a teen…

TRACK 5: “Beach Walk”

This HAS to be referencing the beautiful shot in the trailers that shows the family walking along the beach with their shadows stretched behind them.

This is an interesting track, because while it should theoretically be a happy walk-yay vacation and seeing family friends!-it’s just as unnerving as anything else. The music is really gonna help remind us that, yes, this is a horror movie.

Also, the chanting from “Anthem” comes back in this track for a brief moment before we have some fun rhythm section stuff and squeaky strings. I say “fun” because it kind of is, but mostly it’s just creepy.

TRACK 6: “First Man Standing”

This title, I’m assuming, is referencing the clip in the trailers of the creepy guy Jason runs into on the beach. You know, the one in the tattered jacket facing away from Jason with two bloody fingers. That one!

This track is shorter as well, and actually most of it is kind of calm like “Outernet,” and then there’s a sudden build-up to what I’m assuming is the moment when Jason sees the creepy guy. Is he a Tethered? He looks like he has the iconic red jumpsuit, although he also has the weird green coat over it, so who knows.

TRACK 7: “Back to the House”

This, I’m assuming, is going to be a lot of Adelaide flashing back to her childhood since she thought she lost Jason on the beach (like we saw in the trailers). It’s definitely another unsettling little track, and since we all know what happens once they’re in the house…DON’T GO BACK TO THE HOUSE!!!

TRACK 8: “Keep You Safe”

This has to reference the scene in the trailers where Adelaide is talking to Jason about sticking with her so he’ll be safe. So obviously, Adelaide has had experiences with the Tethered, she knows what it did to her as a child, so it’s fascinating that she’d even agree to come back to this childhood home of hers in the first place…

There’s an interesting section in this track where the strings play a real intense melody that directly contrasts the calm mood of the beginning of the track-is this when Jason first notices…the family in the driveway???

TRACK 9: “Don’t Feel Like Myself”

This could be talking about a number of things, but I’m assuming at one point we have to jump to Elizabeth Moss’s character and her…unfortunate experience. We do see her having a brief conversation in her house with her husband in one trailer, and then of course there’s the iconic shot of her crawling to the camera.

So while I’m assuming this track is going to be about Kitty Tyler, it’s interesting that the track is called what it is…do the Tethered have some sort of possession abilities? How many times do we say that we “don’t feel like ourselves?”

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN

TRACK 10: “She Tried to Kill Me”

Based off of me thinking the previous track is about Kitty, I’m assuming then that the title of this track is referencing the moment where she’s crawling towards the camera…what if she gets into contact with Adelaide somehow and tells her that “she tried to kill me?”

If Adelaide is alerted that something is going on before their own Tethered’s show up, that would help explain why she seems to sort of know that something is wrong in the trailers after the “family in our driveway” line.

The other side of this is that this is actually another flashback of Adelaide’s-perhaps we get to see even more of her previous experiences with the Tethered.

Both this track and the previous are very similar-they’re not fast-paced by any means, but they’re eerie and suspenseful in a slow, creeping way. Again, you know something is wrong just by listening to it…if you played these tracks over footage of someone walking in a sunny garden, you’d be waiting for the ravenous zombie to jump out.

TRACK 11: “Boogieman’s Family”

This HAS to be this moment, when Jason says this and Gabe goes to investigate. We know the actual coming after them doesn’t start till the next track (based off the title).

I’m assuming based off this title that Jason called the bloody man on the beach the “Boogieman,” and so when he sees the other Tethered in the driveway, this is what he assumes-he has a family!

No chanting in this track, but there is some creepy choral “ooh-ing” alongside some unnerving string work. It’s just not a happy song, you guys.

TRACK 12: “Home Invasion”

Aaaaand the Tethered have joined the film!

This, of course, must be when the Tethered family breaks into the Wilson’s home. You can tell in the music EXACTLY when the actual invading starts…there’s a creepy, slow build-up before sudden strings and then everything is fast-paced and as unsettling as ever.

This is one of the longer songs on the soundtrack, which means this whole invasion scene is gonna be long and drawn-out and I JUST. That whole concept is absolutely my worst nightmare, why would you elongate it like this. Why.

Is it because it’s nightmare-inducing? Yeah. Yeah that’s it.

TRACK 13: “Once Upon a Time”

This is a little more difficult to figure out…we go from intense home-invasion music to slow, drawling strings and a title like that (also, the “ooh-ing” choir is back!)…I initially thought maybe this was Adelaide finally telling her family about her previous experiences with these things, but it’s odd that the Tethered would just let her talk for that long without like…killing all of them. If that is their goal! We don’t know!!

It’s also possible that maybe this is Red telling the story…maybe discussing the flashbacks we’ve already seen from her perspective.

Anyway. This is a real creepy track.

TRACK 14: “Run”

This is, without a doubt, my favorite song on the soundtrack. Up to this point, all the songs have kind of fit together, with their chanting and “ooh-ing” and long, drawn-out stringed instrument notes…but this song?

There’s a slow, menacing drum beat almost the whole way through, with short string notes played in between and all around but at different moments, and sometimes they make shrieking noises and sometimes they build-up without the drums and then silence…right before the drums kick back in.

There’s a brief section near the end that plays the melody the strings are plucking out with a piano, a moment where I’m assuming everyone thinks they’ve escaped and everything’s fine….BUT NOPE.

It’s still unsettling, of course, but what I think is really fascinating is that it’s called “Run.” It’s not a quick song at all-the constant drum beat does not sound like someone running, it sounds like someone marching. I’m assuming, of course, this means that the Wilson’s are running for their lives and all, but the fact that it’s not fast-paced music urging them on almost makes it scarier. It’s slow, it’s loud, it’s constant…it’s a little terrifying.

Compare it to “Escape the Subway” from the Spider-verse soundtrack-another song where the lead is running from the villain, but that song is fast-paced, it sounds like someone is definitely running!

This sounds like even if someone is running, they don’t actually have a chance.

TRACK 15: “Into the Water”

Since there’s a track later that actually mentions the boat in the title, it’s possible this isn’t referencing the boat at all. Still, I’m assuming this is some kind of attempted escape involving…the water.

Is water their weakness? IS THIS LIKE SIGNS ALL OVER AGAIN???

Probably not.

This track feels a lot more disjointed than some of the others-the music starts heading one direction before stopping abruptly and turning the complete other way with a new melody and new instruments. There’s a small section that’ll sound like running, then a sudden drum beat, then slow, constant, eerie strings…

I dunno, fam. I just wanna know how the pun boats will help the family.

TRACK 16: “Spark in the Closet”

I’m guessing this track is the one the plays during the scene we saw in the trailer of Jason and his Tethered, Pluto, in the closest together. With fire.

This is also the scene where Pluto takes his mask off and we see all his horrible burn scars on his face.

What is Pluto’s obsession with fire??? IS IT BECAUSE WATER IS THEIR WEAKNESS? PLUTO DID YOU NEVER PLAY POKÉMON?? FIRE IS WEAK TO WATER THAT DOESN’T HELP AT ALL!!! GET YOURSELF A BULBASAUR AND YOU’LL BE FINE

TRACK 17: “Escape to the Boat”

This is one of the only truly fast-paced and intense songs on the soundtrack, at least in the beginning. It slows down just as the instruments build, so WHO KNOWS WHAT THAT MEANS.

Based off the title, I’m assuming this is like, everyone makes a break for the boat. I’m also assuming this doesn’t work since we’re only about halfway through the soundtrack.

Also-the creepy chanting is back! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

TRACK 18: “Femme Fatale”

This is actually another one of my favorite tracks, I think.

Based off the title and what we see of Adelaide in the trailers, I’m assuming this is referencing her being a total badass.

It’s interesting, though, because the first half of the track sounds like it was ripped from a romance scene from a black-and-white movie. Or like, maybe Gone with the Wind. Then, once the creepiness comes in, the same theme distorts and the drums from “Run” are back. It’s just so unsettling and interesting and I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT MEANS!!!

It’s also possible this actually references Red. Like maybe the happy-ish music from the beginning is Red, and then the distortion is Adelaide coming after her…

We don’t really know that the Tethered are bad, do we…?

TRACK 19: “Silent Scream”

I’m guessing this is referencing the brief moment we catch in the trailers of Adelaide screaming while holding…someone. It’s too quick to catch who it is that she’s holding, buuuut….I’m assuming it isn’t…..good……

Also, for a track titled the way it is, it sure is anything but silent. It’s loud, with lots of instruments and melodies battling it out for dominance.

Basically, I’m assuming things are going really well by this point in the film. I’m sure everything’s fine.

TRACK 20: “News Report”

We see at least a couple shots in the trailers of the beach just…littered with what I’m assuming are corpses. Basically everyone in the cast is listed as playing two characters, which means everyone in the town has a Tethered, and they all attacked on that one night…for some reason.

Also rabbits are everywhere.

Since many of the shots are in daylight, we know that the attack starts with the home invasion at night but goes on into the next day, which is when I’m assuming the mysterious news report takes place.

Does the reporter live through the end of the film??? Probably not, but we’ll see.

TRACK 21: “Zora Drives”

This track, clearly, is about Zora driving-we do see her behind the wheel for a moment in the trailers.

The big question then, of course, is why she’s driving-what happened to lead to that point?? WHERE ARE ADELAIDE AND GABE.

This track also introduces us to a really creepy string tune that plays throughout the track at different speeds…so that’s…fun.

TRACK 22: “Death of Umbrae”

We know from the cast list that Zora’s Tethered is named Umbrae…so um…she apparently doesn’t make it.

This tells us a couple things-aside from the fact that yes, Umbrae dies, it tells us that the Tethered can be killed. There’s a way, somehow, for them to die.

Does Zora hit her with the car? Is that it?

This track features an “ahh-ing” choir and somber string notes. So I’m assuming her death is something dramatic and intense and maybe…not a good thing?

TRACK 23: “Somber Ride”

With a title like that, you’d expect like…something slow, something contemplative, something, ya know, somber? It’s not really. The strings are certainly somber, still super creepy, but there’s a drum beat that carries through most of the track to take away any element of “somber.”

It also makes me think, again, since this is the track following Umbrae’s death, maaaaaybe her death wasn’t such a good thing…

For example, what happens if your Tethered dies? Just how tethered together are the two of you? Does Umbrae’s death affect Zora in some way??

TRACK 24: “Immolation”

“Immolation” is, apparently, some kind of sacrifice, usually involving fire.

I’m assuming then that it has to do with Pluto somehow, since he’s the one attached to fire. The track itself has an interesting build-up, with intense choral singing leading into lots of “ahh-ing” combined with a quick-paced string melody and lots of drums. It certainly sounds like the build-up to some kind of sacrifice, but why is a sacrifice necessary?

Is it that a sacrifice is necessary to kill the Tethered? In that case, who was the sacrifice for Umbrae’s death?

What does ANY OF THIS MEAN???

TRACK 25: “Down the Rabbit Hole”

We’re now getting into the tracks that truly confuse me. I really don’t get the rabbit thing…why are they everywhere? Why is there rabbit IMAGERY everywhere??

The title is, of course, an Alice in Wonderland reference, but why? Alice never had a double of herself that I recall, although there is the whole Through the Looking Glass thing. We do see at least some mirror imagery in the trailers, so maybe that’s what the reference really is…

I dunno. It’s a cool track, though-it has a fun build-up to some fast-paced string melodies and some intense drum work. Clearly something dramatic happens!

TRACK 26: “Performance Art”

Look, the title was giving me nothing, and it’s almost impossible to speculate what could be happening at this point in the film.

Now we know that we have some ballet references in here, so that’s what the title could be referring to, but we don’t really know for sure.

Are the bunnies a performance art? IS THAT WHAT THEY MEAN??

TRACK 27: “Human”

Ah yes, the age-old question.

Something at this point in the film discusses the idea of being “human,” I’m assuming. Are the Tethered human? Are the Wilson’s any more or less human than the Tethered? Do certain actions taken throughout the film challenge that idea of being human? Does killing someone make you more or less human? If the Tethered aren’t human, does killing them make you more or less human?

I have no idea if that’s the rabbit hole (GET IT?? THESE ARE THE JOKES!!) the film will go down with this track or not, but it’s certainly an interesting concept.

The track itself is generally much more slow-paced than the previous ones leading up to it. It still has the creepy choir, but it’s generally more contemplative than the quick and creepy string melodies from before.

TRACK 28: “Battle Plan”

Aaaand we’re back to the chanting and the fast-paced strings and drums!!

This is a shorter track, again, but it’s full of determination! I’m assuming it’s a battle plan Adelaide comes up with, but again, we don’t know if the Tethered are actually villains or not…maybe this is the Wilson’s helping the Tethered overcome an entirely different enemy.

WHO KNOWS. I DON’T.

TRACK 29: “Pas de deux”

Another one of my favorite tracks!!

If you’ve watched the trailers…semi-obsessively hunting for clues like I have, then this track should sound familiar to you-this is the creepy remixed part of “I Got 5 On It” that we hear in the trailers, minus the actual “I Got 5 On It” section.

If you aren’t familiar with ballet terms (or you’re not a weeb like I freely admit I am and didn’t watch Princess Tutu ever), a pas de deux literally translates to “step of two” in French. It’s a duet dance, and a staple of any ballet.

Since we know ballet plays some kind of key role in this, it’s fascinating to me that this song comes after “Battle Plan.” A dance for two is part of the plan? Obviously it doesn’t have to be an actual dance, could be a metaphor, whatever, but can you imagine if their plan was actually dancing? GET ‘EM, ADELAIDE.

Also though, you can’t be talking about the duality of people and ballet without mentioning, of course, Swan Lake. The whole point of the story is that the white swan loses her love because the black swan, her evil double, deceives the prince and takes her place.

The more I think about it, the more I think it’s interesting that Black Swan was not one of the movies in Lupita Nyong’o’s homework stash, but more on that later…

TRACK 30: “They Can’t Hurt You”

This track reminds me a lot of “Keep You Safe” actually, both musically and in title. This is clearly the “calm after the storm” song. The battle has been won…they can’t hurt you.

But again, it’s unclear whether this is referencing the Wilson clan or the Tethered clan. Maybe it’s not referencing any of them at all.

What I really love about this song is that it’s actually hopeful sounding! It takes the creepy melody from “Pas de deux” and plays it slowly, on a piano, in a major key so it sounds uplifting rather than scary.

As “happy” as this song is (I’m hesitant to call any of this happy, it might mean nothing…), it’s not actually…the ending, much as it feels like it could be.

TRACK 31: “Finale”

DAMMIT, PEELE.

This song starts out sounding like a finale would. It’s slow, it’s peaceful, it sounds like the music that would play over someone picking up the pieces of their lives to start over after something awful happened.

It starts out sounding like maybe, everything’s fine. And even if it’s not fine in that moment, it will be, eventually.

BUT THEN.

The strings in the background change, a more haunting melody starts playing, and then it transitions back into that DAMN CHANTING. Things get faster, the chanting is there, everything sounds unhappy again, and then the piano version of the “Pas de deux” melody plays but it no longer sounds hopeful.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AND WHY IS IT LIKE THIS.

It’s also possible that this is the music that plays over the end credits. Which is fine, it does mean…theoretically, that the movie is indeed over by that point, but it still leaves you feeling like it isn’t quite over, there’s more to figure out. And actually, from what people have said, it is certainly a film you may need to see more than once to fully grasp it.

TRACK 32: “I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix from US)”

Now if you’re like me, all you wanted was access to the fabulous creepy remix of “I Got 5 On It” used in the trailer. AND WE GOT IT.

I love, love, LOVE this remix. It’s soooo unnerving but also extremely catchy??

Plus, I absolutely love that the remix version that has haunted us for the past couple months is in the official soundtrack in “Pas de deux.” We’ve all been thinking about this song subconsciously, and then we’re gonna hear it in theatres and OUR MINDS WILL JUST EXPLODE.

So that about does it for the soundtrack, and what little I can pull from what we have. If you’re curious, absolutely go check it out on Spotify or Apple Music/iTunes. Or like I think some of it is on YouTube.

So now…

Lupita Nyong’o Had Some Homework

Before filming Us, Jordan Peele gave lead actress Lupita Nyong’o some horror movie homework to prepare. We know which films he had her watch, so let’s break those down a little, shall we?

1. Dead Again

PLOT: A mute woman suffering from amnesia arrives at an orphanage, and a private detective and a hypnotist are tasked with finding out who she is. Thanks to the hypnotist, Mute Woman starts regaining her voice and some extremely vivid memories of a famous couple from the 1940’s (from what I can tell, the speculation is that the husband murdered the wife, but they don’t know for sure). Mute Woman and Detective start falling in love, but they bear a striking resemblance to the 1940’s couple…Mute Woman starts wondering if Detective will kill her so she’ll be dead…again.

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: Ummmm…I mean, okay, it’s possible that this might reference the Tethered’s connection to the other characters. Maybe the Tethered represent how they died in another life, and they need to make sure the cycle keeps going. I guess. Or they just want their respective characters to remember how they died so they don’t repeat the same mistakes?

2. The Shining

PLOT: Jack, a writer struggling with writer’s block, becomes the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel. He takes his wife and son with him. Once they’re snowed in, however, supernatural forces in the hotel start plaguing Jack so that he becomes hellbent on terrorizing his family, just as his son’s visions and premonitions get worse…

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: Okay, so basically everyone at least knows of The Shining, right? What this says to me is that there’s possibly some supernatural influence about Adelaide’s hometown in particular. After all, it at least seems that all her experiences with the Tethered are tied to that town, and that town alone. I hope it doesn’t mean that Gabe’s gonna go crazy and try to kill everyone. Or maybe Jason and Zora have premonitions?

3. The Babadook

PLOT: An exhausted widow caring for her six-year-old son by herself is plagued still by the grief of her husband’s death in a car accident (on their way to the hospital while she was in labor, no less). One night, her son asks her to read from a storybook called “Mister Babadook” about a weird creature who torments people once they’re aware of it. Of course, it starts doing just that…

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: If you haven’t seen The Babadook, well, small spoiler warning now in effect. The big debate about the film is whether or not the Babadook is actually real or if it’s just a metaphor for how we sometimes let grief control us. So this could mean that the Tethered are not actually real, but a metaphor for something else that we feel is connected to us…or something. Or they are very, very real.

4. It Follows

PLOT: A group of friends (and one girl in particular) spend the entire film pursued by an entity that can take the form of any person at all. The entity’s hunt is passed along via sex, so if you want to get rid of it, you have sex with someone to pass it on and then it’s their problem. The friends team up to try and find a way to kill the entity, and just when you think they’ve succeeded, a figure is seen walking behind our two leads…

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: Like The Babadook, It Follows is actually more of a metaphorical horror film discussing the danger and stigmas of STDs. So, again, this could be referring to the idea that the Tethered are not actually real creatures, but a representation of something else, something that affects humans in a different, monstrous way.

5. A Tale of Two Sisters

PLOT: The story follows Su-mi, a teenage girl who was just released from a mental institution after being treated for shock and psychosis. She lives with her father, her stepmother, and her younger sister. As the film goes on, it becomes more clear that everything we’re seeing, everything Su-mi is seeing, may not be real at all. The house is filled with ghosts…

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: Again, if you haven’t seen A Tale of Two Sisters, spoiler warning!! The big twist is that Su-mi actually has DID, or Dissociative identity disorder. She actually plays herself, her stepmother, AND her younger sister. Many of the scenes where we saw other actors were actually Su-mi talking with herself. There are definitely ghosts in the house, many of the characters see them, and one such ghost is indeed Su-mi’s sister. Su-mi’s sister died when a wardrobe fell on top of her, and the stepmother found her…and didn’t help. That’s why Su-mi was in the mental institution in the beginning of the movie. Now again, this could mean that the Tethered are some kind of dead ghost versions of the characters, or maybe they’re alternate personalities of them.

6. The Birds

PLOT: Melanie, a young socialite, visits her romantic interest Mitch at his seaside hometown. As she stays and meets more of the people there, more and more mysterious bird attacks keep happening. Melanie herself is attacked by a seagull on the way into the bay. As the bird attacks escalate, so too does the paranoia of the townspeople as they desperately search for a way to survive, and someone to blame.

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: Well some of the connections are clear already-someone visiting a seaside hometown where mysterious and unexplained attacks start occurring. There is a lot of potential symbolism in The Birds, ranging from the metaphor of women being birds to the idea that we should be more careful how we treat nature. I’m not sure whether any of those messages directly connect to Us, but we’ll have to wait to see. One interesting thing to note is that while The Birds starts out with the birds caged up while the humans can move about freely, by the end, it is clear that the humans are caged up and trapped while the birds can move about freely. Again, not sure if that ties in at all, I just think it’s neat.

7. Funny Games

PLOT: A family of four (including a dog) arrive for vacation at their lakeside house, where they meet with their rather strange neighbors. Strange things keep happening, but it doesn’t become really sinister until the two neighbors then take the family hostage and force them to play a number of “games” with them in order to stay alive.

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: The movie itself is cruel and grueling to sit through, and it’s supposed to be. It’s completely hopeless from the start, and the audience knows this, but it’s still hard to watch. Spoilers ahead: every single family member is nonchalantly offed by the end, and then it starts all over with a different family. While the home invasion connection is clear, I’m hoping that the Tethered’s goal is not to simply play games with Wilson’s in order for them to stay alive, because there has to be more to it then that. What is interesting is that the director for Funny Games has made it very clear that it is meant to be a commentary on how violence is presented in the media. It’s not supposed to be a film for entertainment because violence shouldn’t be entertaining. Now, whether or not that ties into Us or not remains to be seen. Another important element of Funny Games is all the fourth wall breaking done by the two villains. They make it clear time and again that this is a movie, and they have total control over it.

8. Martyrs

PLOT: A young abused girl escapes her torment and winds up at an orphanage, where she befriends another girl there. The first girl, Lucie, tells her new friend, Anna, about her abuse and how she feels she is constantly tortured by some mysterious ghost woman. 15 years later, Lucie is on the hunt for the family that abused her as a child, and ends up killing an entire family she believes to be responsible. Anna is horrified by this, and Lucie is “attacked” by the ghost woman in front of her; Anna only sees Lucie attacking herself. Later in the film, Anna meets the people who tortured Lucie, learning she is one of many. The group is set on discovering the secrets of the afterlife by creating “martyrs.”

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: The first obvious connection is that the mysterious ghost woman haunting Lucie isn’t real; it’s a manifestation of her guilt. When she escaped as a child, she left another girl behind, and that is what haunts her. So again, the Tethered may not be real, but instead a manifestation of something else. There’s also the potential connection again that the Tethered are the dead versions of the other characters. Maybe they got that way because they are “martyrs” in some sense of the word. From what I understand, Martyrs is another film that’s real hard to sit through, and the entire third act is just the audience being forced to watch Anna go through a whole lot of torture. So that’s…pleasant.

9. Let the Right One In

PLOT: The movie follows Oskar, a 12-year-old boy plagued by bullies and filled with ideas on how to get revenge on them. He never is able to go through with it. One day, a girl his age moves in next door named Eli. Despite Eli’s insistence that they can never be friends, the two do form a bond of sorts. Oskar is able to stand up to his bullies because of Eli’s encouragement, but the real trouble kicks in when Oskar learns what Eli is: a vampire.

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: It’s interesting to note that Peele’s list specifically focuses on this Swedish movie and not the English remake, Let Me In. While this movie is certainly a horror movie-lots of killings and vampiric activities-the big emphasis of the film is the relationship between Oskar and Eli. In the English remake, much more emphasis was put on the horror elements of the film, not the relationship. So this could mean that perhaps there is some sort of relationship built between one or more of the characters and their Tethered counterparts. Perhaps it’s Jason and Pluto, since we see them have an interesting seemingly non-violent encounter in a closet. Or maybe the Tethered are vampires. Who knows!

10. The Sixth Sense

PLOT: The film follows Malcolm, a child psychologist, and his current patient, Cole. Cole is plagued with visions of dead people, and Malcolm is tasked with helping him with his visions while at the same time healing the broken relationship with his wife who doesn’t seem to want to even talk to him anymore.

WHAT THIS COULD MEAN: If for some reason you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense yet, PLEASE DO SO. DO IT NOW BEFORE YOU READ FURTHER. It’s a brilliant plot twist and you must go into it blind!! Okay, for everyone else…this could mean a number of things. It could mean, again, that the Tethered are ghosts of some kind. It could mean that they don’t actually want to harm the Wilson’s or anyone else, they just need help. It could mean that the Wilson’s aren’t even alive themselves. I mean, The Sixth Sense has a thing with the color red…the Tethered wear red jumpsuits……I DUNNO, FAM.

It’s all speculation

While it’s super fun picking apart the soundtrack and the movie list, it’s still all speculation, and so far, only people who have seen the movie know what’s really going on, AND THEY’RE KEEPING IT BETWEEN THEM. #rude

I mean I’m thankful, but also…tell me everything.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to Us. I pick up something new from Get Out every time I watch it, and I’m hoping Us will be the same way. It’s my favorite kind of film-one that makes you think about it long after you’ve left the theatre.

Let me know if you’ve seen it and you loved it, or if you’re going to see it and are excited, or if you’re just avoiding it because it looks terrifying. Honestly, that’s fair. I’m terrified, too, I’m just inexplicably drawn to it. It’s because I’m a 4 on the Enneagram. It’s a curse.

…maybe the Tethered are part of some curse on the town??? WHAT ARE THEY??????

How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World REVIEW

This poster is deceitfully charming and does not prepare you for all the crying

So like…a couple weeks ago (almost a month ago…wow…), I took myself (and the parents) to the movies to see How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World!

I know what you’re thinking: “wait didn’t that movie come out like…ages ago why are you like this” to which I say, until I get paid to write these things, occasionally my actual job will take priority and will run My Entire Life.

Anyway, if for some reason you haven’t seen this yet and are still thinking about it (like I am) and want to know my thoughts, HERE YA GO.

I cried. A Lot.

Remember when animated movies weren’t super pretty and astounding and NOW

THE PLOT

Sometime nearby before the second movie, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) & Co. (Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Valka (Cate Blanchett)) are chasing down Vikings who capture dragons so they can free them and take them back to Berk. This raid we see goes well-ish, although there’s one dragon who purposely hides herself so she doesn’t get freed (it’s unclear why she does this, I mean she has this ability, but wouldn’t she want to be free? It’s possible she’s just real wary of humans, and after we meet Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), it’s understandable why). One of the Vikings on the ship makes an Angry Face as the group flies off, so we know that’s gonna come back to bite them. Hiccup introduces the new dragon recruits to Berk, which has become a paradise for dragons and humans alike (sort of). Toothless is still the Alpha Dragon (as we saw from the last movie) and sort of keeps all the other dragons in line. Gobber (Craig Ferguson) complains to Hiccup that he can’t keep bringing dragons back here because it makes them real vulnerable to attacks and also it’s just real crowded and dragons keep bathing in the soup. He also says that it’s about time Hiccup and Astrid got married, to which there’s a lot of awkward fanfare.

We catch up with the Angry Face Viking from earlier, who apparently works with this big Viking council that we’re only just now learning exists, and they’re all real bitter that Berk has become so peace-and-dragon-loving because they keep releasing the dragons they unfairly capture and that’s just Rude. This is where we meet Grimmel, the main villain. He’s real gaunt and evil-looking, and has these two scorpion-dragons that chillax with him. He doesn’t really care about everyone else’s problems with Berk and Hiccup as chief until they mention that Hiccup’s dragon is a Night Fury. I guess Grimmel is the reason we don’t see any other Night Furies-he killed ‘em all. He takes this pretty personally and vows to destroy Toothless and Hiccup and all of Berk or whatever, and he plans to use the dragon from earlier (the one who hid and didn’t go with the other dragons being freed) to lure Toothless into a trap.

Hiccup, meanwhile, has a lot of flashbacks to when he was a kid (which means we get to see Stoick (Gerard Butler!) again!!). In a very The Lion King moment, Stoick holds a young Hiccup in his arms as he looks out at the sunrise and talks about how one day, Hiccup will be chief of all of this. He also talks about something called “the Hidden World” which is a brand new plot device and apparently where all dragons come from/live/hide/something, it’s not really explained (remember how in the first movie, the dragon lair they found was supposed to be the main source of dragons? Now it’s the Hidden World). Hiccup decides that this Hidden World is their best chance, and that the way to fix everything is to straight up move Berk to the Hidden World, where humans and dragons can live secretly in peace.

Everyone else thinks this is crazy, but they go along with it (albeit kinda unwillingly) because Hiccup is the chief. Grimmel, however, is hot on their tail (PUN INTENDED) at every move, and he always seems to be three steps ahead of them. He introduces Toothless to the Light Fury (which Hiccup calls a “Bright Fury” at first which like I thought that was pretty good, that could’ve stuck, c’mon), and then the rest of the film is a tense back-and-forth between Hiccup, Grimmel, and the dragons these Vikings have begun to call friends.

Determination.jpg

THE REVIEW

I am full of emotions, y’all.

I’m part of a group of people that really kinda grew up with this franchise and these characters (the first movie came out when I was 13) so there’s something especially bittersweet here for me. It reminds me of when the last Harry Potter book came out, and then when the last movie came out…it feels a little like the ending of an era. Now, I realize that it doesn’t necessarily mean the end; it is Hollywood, after all! The Harry Potter universe is giving us Fantastic Beasts currently, and there’s every chance that more dragon movies will be made about the next generation, or even other characters.

Still, though, there’s nothing quite like the book closing on the original storyline.

I’m always skeptical about sequels, especially when it comes to a movie I love, because sometimes I feel they’re so unnecessary and just serve as a cash-grab for the company. I honestly would have been perfectly fine with just the first How to Train Your Dragon, except that both sequels do such a beautiful job with expanding the world and the characters (sometimes it kills them, but We Don’t Talk About That).

Still, as good as both How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Hidden World are, they’re not the first movie. The first movie will always be one of my favorite movies ever, and at least in my opinion, the two sequels never quite live up to it. Are they still amazing? ABSOLUTELY. I also know that I’m alone in thinking the first movie is better than the second (and third). Maybe I’m just bitter about it all ending; it’s hard to watch characters you love grow up and change, and make hard decisions in their world that end up affecting everything.

The point is, this is a great movie and a great end to a great series. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the first movie, but it’s still absolutely incredible.

Plus, crying. Lots of crying. So much crying.

I’m still crying.

So without further ado, let’s soar into what exactly makes this movie so incredible, and an excellent send-off to our favorite dork and his dragon.

Spoiler warning now in effect!!

LOOK EVERYTHING IS FINE AND HAPPY AND SHINY AND NOTHING WILL GO WRONG EVER AT ALL I SWEAR

THE MUSIC

Y’ALL.

So full disclosure, John Powell is one of my favorite composers, and the original How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack is definitely one of my favorites. It was the first soundtrack album I bought (kind of a moot point now that I use Spotify for everything, but back in high school it MEANT SOMETHING), I listen to it constantly even now, I recommended we play the music in high school band…I have a very strong connection to the original soundtrack, basically, if you couldn’t tell.

That is why every time the original theme started playing, I was basically already crying. It’s like when they used Hedwig’s theme in the last Harry Potter movie when sad things were happening-they used our own nostalgia against us!

And actually, it’s a genius move, no complaints here. Lots of tears, maybe, but no complaints!

There were lots of new things in the soundtrack that separated the story from its predecessors without taking anything away from it, in my opinion. It was adventurous and emotional and made me want a dragon friend to fly around on. That could be said of the whole movie series, really.

By far my favorite character detail aside from their frog faces is that their arms go out real wide and then they suddenly have tiny little claw hands LOOK AT THEM I LOVE THEM

THE CHARACTERS

Again, it’s How to Train Your Dragon, so the characters are all lovable and great (except for the villain, of course, and we’ll get to him).

Hiccup has always been a fascinating lead-he’s not the typical Viking we all think of, and he remains that way throughout the series. He believes in loving and rescuing the dragons above all else, and he really only engages in combat if he feels he has to (or if someone dear to him has been threatened or something). But what’s interesting about Hiccup in this film is that we get to see him truly struggling to fill his father’s shoes as the leader. We see him truly dealing with his father’s absence, shown particularly in flashbacks with his dad when he was super small. His big conflict in the film is that he knows he’s not his father, but he truly doesn’t know who he is besides the guy who saves dragons. So when he’s faced with the idea of losing Toothless, it’s a real roadblock for him. Astrid has a great conversation about who he is without Toothless-still a whole person. Hiccup has dealt with a lot of loss in his life-first his mom, then he found Toothless. Then he found his mom again, but lost his dad. Now he’s faced with losing Toothless, and there’s no real replacement for him. His mom is here again, but she’s been there at this point. Astrid is there, but again, she’s been there as well. There’s no one new Hiccup can focus on to help him get past the pain of loss…or is there? Hiccup’s arc in this film is all about him finding himself. He is the new person he has to love and accept to help him get over and deal with losing Toothless. I’m a strong believer in self-love (and I struggle a lot with it myself) so this was an incredibly personal part of the movie for me.

I would argue that none of the other characters have quite the arc that Hiccup has-none of them are growing and changing in quite the way that he is. Snotlout is in love with Hiccup’s mom for some…reason…Ruffnut and Tuffnut are delightful little dorks as always (Ruff’s capture and Tuff’s beard are absolutely two of my favorite plot points), Gobber is still the supportive gruff guy we all know and love, Fishlegs has a little baby dragon the whole time and it’s super cute (DID ANYONE ELSE NOTICE THAT AT THE END HE MADE HIMSELF A LITTLE STUFFED VERSION OF THE BABY DRAGON HE GAVE UP BECAUSE EVERY TIME I THINK ABOUT IT I CRY SOME MORE)…and of course, there’s Astrid. Astrid has always been a great character in my opinion, and her relationship with Hiccup has always been incredible to watch.

One of my favorite elements of the series is that Hiccup and Astrid never have any crazy relationship drama? We see how much they are friends as much as they are lovers, and it’s such a good, positive relationship model. When they’re married at the end, it’s made very clear they are leading Berk as equals. Would it have been great to get a little more individual development for Astrid? Yeah, of course. But their relationship isn’t the centerpiece for the films, nor should it be. How to Train Your Dragon has always, always been about friendship, especially when it comes to humans and nature.

Before we go forth to discuss the dragon characters, I have to touch on our main baddie, Grimmel. He’s…he’s a jerk you guys. And in a weirdly uncharacteristic move for this franchise, he’s not redeemable. The past films have always had some kind of arc for the “villain” so that we learn about them and they are allowed to grow and change. Grimmel is not treated the same way…his obsession with controlling and wiping out the dragons is never fully explained. He is filled with pure hatred for these creatures, and we never really learn why. To some degree it makes him all the more unnerving-it’s like he hates just for the sake of feeling hatred. He embraces anger and revenge, and he loves to torture both dragons and humans alike. He’s constantly outsmarting our heroes, and we find out that he’s controlling his scorpion dragons by brainwashing them with their own venom. He’s…he is not nice, fam. I guess he’s one of my pet peeves in the film, because while I appreciate how delightfully evil he is, it’s weird that we never truly learn that much about him. Even the other village leaders follow him purely because he’s a lil’ scary. What is his DEAL, y’all???

So since we can’t really touch on Grimmel all that much purely because the movie doesn’t really let us, that brings us to some of the dragon characters. Particularly, Toothless and the Light Fury (does she have a name? Sparkles? Can it be Sparkles? She’s real glittery you guys).

HAHAHA I LOVE CRYING

THE FRIENDSHIP AND GROWING UP

Like I mentioned above, the How to Train Your Dragon series is about friendship above all else. It starts with an outcast kid finding kinship with a lonely force of nature. Hiccup finds purpose in Toothless just as much as companionship, and Toothless finds love and loyalty in Hiccup just as much as purpose.

I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than a good story about companionship between humans and animals. It’s why stories involving “the boy and his dog” or “the girl and her horse” are so iconic. Many of us know that we humans are social creatures, but many of us also feel that we generally kinda suck at connecting with other humans. We know we can’t survive alone and we’re not supposed to, but damn it, it’s hard! That’s why we’re drawn to stories where the awkward outcast finds a powerful, social relationship with an animal. It’s made more powerful because the bond is often formed without words.

We all want relationships like that, so it’s nice when we get to see or hear about a relationship like that.

What I love about the How to Train Your Dragon series is that it gives us that relationship, but it also shows us what happens to it over time. After all, we all know that theoretically the story continues past the first “death scare that actually makes the bond stronger and makes the grumpy dad believe in the power of love” or the “very important race that doesn’t need to be won but actually yes it does because that means you can keep your horse because it clearly only listens to you also here’s some flowers and like a trophy I guess.”

Hiccup and Toothless are tested in the first movie when they’re learning about each other, when Stoick separates them, when Toothless dives into the fire to save Hiccup (well, most of him). Their bond is strengthened when Hiccup loses his leg because now they’re both physically “broken.” They’re tested in the second movie when they face a new foe, when Toothless loses control and costs Hiccup his dad, when Hiccup yells at him to leave for that, and then later when Hiccup apologizes and begs for his best friend to come back.

In some ways, the series set us up for a hard fall with the third film, because we believed up to this point that their friendship could and would stand against anything. We saw it stand up against impossible odds, didn’t we? What could possible change that?

COLD, HARD REALITY, OF COURSE.

Here’s the facts, y’all. Toothless, much as he seems to share a human bond with Hiccup, is an animal. He’s a part of nature. He’s gone his whole life being the only one of his kind, so as much as he loves Hiccup and all his other dragon friends, he’s lonely. Like us humans, he craves that social relationship with others of his kind.

So of course when he meets the Light Fury, he desperately wants to be with her.

Now I don’t think Toothless, when Hiccup initially lets him go after the Light Fury, was actually planning on staying away forever. I think it would be hard for him to communicate that to Hiccup, necessarily, but I also think he trusts Hiccup to know how much he wants to be with the Light Fury. Hiccup, of course, is a human and therefore plagued with anxiety, so this doesn’t quite work out, and Toothless is a lil’ bitter about that.

Toothless has a deep, inner need to be with the Light Fury and the other dragons-he wants to be with her and the other dragons. We see most of the movie from Hiccup’s point of view, so all we are really allowed to relate to is Hiccup’s anxiety about Toothless’s departure. But it’s meant to be that way-we are like Hiccup, we will always relate to him more, so therefore we will always want him to be with Toothless. That’s how it’s always been, right?

The reality, however, is different. Because of the dragons’ presence, Berk is a target. Because of Stoick’s death, Hiccup is the leader and has to make hard decisions. Because of how humans are, dragons are not safe. Because, because, because…

And isn’t that how it is in reality?

As much as this is a fantasy series, it does bring in some things that are just as real as what we all have to deal with at some point; but it’s never been the forefront of the series as much as it is in this third film.

We all know that friendships grow and change just like we do. Sometimes, we have to leave good friends behind because of whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean your friendship has to end. Maybe sometimes it does, and that’s okay, too-but it doesn’t have to. Life gets in the way and you may have to say goodbye, but that doesn’t mean your friendship is any weaker for it. I’ll touch more on the very ending of the film a bit later because it really ties into this. Many of our friendships, battered and tested by distance and time, can remain the same-just as strong as when they began.

It can still hurt of course, which brings us to…

HAHAHAHA I STILL LOVE CRYING HAHAHAHA

THE GOODBYE

Everyone ready to cry?

GREAT.

I will freely admit that a teaser for the film actually spoiled the big goodbye twist for me. There was a short clip of Toothless, looking longingly off to some other dragons flying nearby, with a voiceover of Hiccup saying “it’s okay, bud. It’s time.”

Once I’d picked up the shattered pieces of my heart, I realized I was actually thankful for this…I think the film was slightly easier to sit through since I knew what was coming. Granted, the movie teases the Big Goodbye relatively early on. Hiccup almost says goodbye to Toothless after they first find him in the secret dragon lair, but then Plot happens.

Unfortunately, knowing it was coming did not make it any easier to sit through.

The bond between Toothless and Hiccup is a refreshing one, so simple and powerful and hopeful! So watching them hug one last time and say goodbye for…they didn’t know how long?

My popcorn was flavored with my many, many tears.

But! I knew this was coming! Plus, it made sense plot wise, the dragons weren’t safe, Toothless wouldn’t be alone, and neither would Hiccup! It’s okay! They’re still friends! It’s fine!!!

What was NOT fine was then having to watch the ENTIRE VILLAGE OF BERK SAY GOODBYE TO THEIR DRAGONS, TOO. I mean, all at once, everyone is hugging their dragons and crying and I JUST.

I think the real kicker, though, was watching Astrid say goodbye to Stormfly. There was something about the way her voice cracked and their little snuggle hug…

Anyway, not even popcorn anymore, just soggy, salty, once-was-popcorn.

(Fun fact: supposedly the dragons have voice actors to help the animators with facial expressions and gestures before final editing, and I guess Toothless straight-up says “I don’t want to leave you” in that final hug with Hiccup so I’m just gonna go crawl under a rock and sob for a thousand years, thanks)

It was heart-wrenching, and you know it’s the best solution all-around because humans are awful and can’t be trusted with nice things like dragons.

But you know what else it was? Hopeful.

Goodbyes are just as real as friendships, unfortunately, and the move highlights that pretty strongly. But it also makes clear that not only is everyone strong enough to say goodbye, everyone is never alone when they say goodbye, either. Sure, Berk and the dragons had to separate, but they still had each other. Toothless has the Light Fury and his whole dragon community, and Hiccup has Astrid and all of Berk. It’s bittersweet, sure, but it’s real (as real as an animated movie about Vikings and their dragon buddies can be).

But you didn’t think that was the end of the story, did you?

Cause of death: the way Hiccup looks at Astrid

THE ENDING

I remember when the last Harry Potter book came out-I was too young to go hang out outside the bookstores with my siblings and their friends, and I didn’t have a group of my own to go with (this was when I was attending a fairly conservative school that required a signed permission slip to even check the Harry Potter books out of the school library, so…). But I do remember my parents and I reading the book together. We’d each take turns reading a chapter out loud, and sometimes my dad would have to take over if my mom and I were crying, which happened a lot. I remember being so pleased with it. It felt like a perfect ending for these characters I’d grown up with. They deserved the happy endings they got, and I was so pleased they all remained friends.

When the movies came out and they ended the same way, with our leads all grown up and seeing their own children off to have their own adventures, that was when I became more aware of the outcry. I hadn’t realized how many people hated the ending before that. They felt betrayed that these characters, their characters, would just grow up and have normal lives…have kids…so on and so forth. Many remain disgruntled with their job choices.

Finally though, one of my friends posted on Facebook an article explaining why my generation seemed to be so miffed with the ending-it didn’t feel like our ending. It felt like we watched these millennial kids we grew up with achieve the baby boomer dream, and they were happy with that? Many of us maybe don’t want kids. Many of us don’t see a marriage and a family as our happy ending. Many of us wanted more of an acknowledgement for the trauma these characters went through.

Whatever the reason, and I’m sure there are more, people were unhappy.

I think more than anything, though, we were just mad that there was an ending at all. Sometimes it’s easier for us to swallow if the story ends before a big epilogue that skips 20 years and emphasizes the whole “where are they now?” Thing. At least then, we can imagine what happened-we can still see ourselves in those characters and imagine they’re still with us as we grow and change ourselves. But when we’re told what happens, when we’re shown the reality of the 20 years later and the marriage and the kids and the family, we suddenly don’t see ourselves anymore. We’re still in the stage of our lives where we’re slowly picking up the pieces of the battle of Hogwarts-we haven’t reached the stage where we send our own kids off to magic school and wave to them from the platform with our perfect spouse before we head off to our perfect job.

I think it felt like a betrayal of an ending because we felt like we’d been left behind by these characters we used to be able to relate to.

I bring all this up because I was expecting the same thing from How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. After all, we get the same thing-a flash forward of however many years, our leads we used to be able to relate to now older, wiser, full of facial hair or whatever, and they have kids. They are no longer our relatable protagonists because they have grown and changed and gone through life and we’re forced to face that very suddenly. It’s jarring-quite suddenly out of the fog we see Hiccup, but it’s not our Hiccup. This one is taller, even more muscular, quite full of facial hair, and he holds himself in a way we haven’t seen before. Then there’s Astrid-poised, older, not the scrawny overconfident kid we remember. And then there’s MINI Hiccup and Astrid!!

From the other end of the fog, we see him-Toothless, standing on the rocks with the Light Fury. They look relatively unchanged compared to our human heroes, and it actually takes a moment for Toothless to recognize Hiccup and not attack. Then MINI Toothless’s come streaming over the rocks and onto the boat, Hiccup and Toothless are reunited, and then Hiccup has his kids reach their little hands out to touch Toothless’s nose, just like their dad did at the beginning of the story.

What I really like about the ending is Hiccup’s final narration. He talks about how when he was a kid, there were dragons. So on and so forth, humans suck, so the dragons had to leave…but legends say that when an earthquake happens, or a volcano erupts, it’s just the dragons reminding us that they’re here, waiting for us to be ready for them…

Listen I am all for believing that dragon buddies are real and just waiting for us to not be so stupid and violent. I’m down with this.

As sad as the ending is, and I am not kidding when I tell you about the crying, yes it’s a kid’s movie, shut up, it’s extremely hopeful. For me, that’s the best kind of ending. It encourages dealing with goodbyes in a healthy way; to recognize them, to embrace them, and then to seek out the good that you still have. For Hiccup, he lost constant contact with a dear friend…but he found a leader within himself, friends and family with the people of Berk, and a connection with his fellow leader and equal in Astrid.

Friendship is incredibly powerful-but sometimes life gets in the way. Goodbyes suck-but they’re necessary. Most of all though?

Dragons are real-we’re just too big of jerks to handle them yet.

But just like Hiccup taught his kids to approach the dragons with kindness, so each generation that comes is a more kind, hopeful one.

C’mon I couldn’t NOT put this moment in

“OOF” MOMENT

I…genuinely don’t think there was one? I think my main pet peeve is just that we truly do not know much about the Light Fury. She’s barely developed (aside from the moment where she saves Hiccup from falling #OHLOOKIAMCRYINGAGAIN), and I get why, but like…what is her name?? I NEED A SHIP NAME FOR HER AND TOOTHLESS.

Wait…actually…that whole weird subplot with Snotlout having a thing for Hiccup’s mom. Just…why.

Also, what happened to Grimmel’s scorpion dragons? We saw they were being brainwashed, so they could theoretically be saved and good like the rest of the dragons, but they just…die in the explosion I guess? Meh.

FAVORITE MOMENT

Ugh, so many. However, I will settle on the end of Toothless trying to romance the Light Fury on the beach. When all else fails, he draws her face in the sand. It’s a delightful callback to my favorite scene from the first movie, and also my favorite piece on the soundtrack. Like I teared up then just because of what it called back to, and that was EARLY.

Yes I know it’s a kid’s movie shut up.

Can you imagine if Hiccup tried to actually ride Toothless this way he’d be falling off in a MILLISECOND and Astrid would be laughing

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO SEE THIS MOVIE?

Look, clearly, I have a lot of feelings. Like, I do just in general, but especially about this movie.

I think it goes without saying that if you’re a fan of the series, see this movie. If you’ve seen even a part of the films and/or the TV shows, see this movie. If you like really, really well-animated things that make you laugh and cry, see this movie.

I get this series isn’t for everyone-different things speak to different people after all. But if you just want a genuinely good escape, I definitely think you should take yourself to this movie.

If it’s still in theatres. This is a super late post, after all. Otherwise, see it when it comes out to buy, because it is so, so worth it!

I give this movie…….

5/5 TEARDROPS THAT ARE ALSO SAD AND CRYING!!

Look, that last one is still coming to terms with everything, it doesn’t even know what to feel yet

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

There were a lot of repeats…I mean between this and the 2nd LEGO Movie, I’ve seen a lot of kids’ movies lately, okay??

The two new ones were Angry Birds 2 which…..UGHHHHHHHH. I was a big fan of the game back in the day, okay? I wasn’t great at it by any means, but it was cute and fun! I wanted to like the first movie, I really did, but…wow. It was…it was real bad. I think it had good parts, I genuinely laughed once (maybe twice), but overall…wow.

The other new one is Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. I’ve never really been a Nancy Drew person, which is weird when I think about it because I think the series is like, exactly my aesthetic. It’s probably because everyone else liked it, therefore I couldn’t. I had to find something ~unique~. Hence, Harriet the Spy. Which I do recommend if you haven’t read it. Anyway, this adaptation stars Sophia Lillis in the title role, whom you may recognize since she was Bev in the new IT adaptation! It actually genuinely looks enjoyable, though it’s definitely a kid’s film. I mean the How to Train Your Dragon series is also for kids, but it doesn’t necessarily market itself as such.

Anyway, that does it for this review!! Hiatus over, I’m back for at least a while, and hopefully I’ll be adding a new feature to the reviews coming soon!

For now, if The Hidden World is still playing near you, I highly recommend you see it because crying is good for you, ya know?

Alita: Battle Angel Review

Soooo last week, I took myself (and my dad) to the movies, and we saw Alita: Battle Angel. I really didn’t know what to expect from it, but I know people were excited, and my dad wanted to see it, and since it’ll probably be nominated for something since it’s James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, I figured I should see it.

I have…mixed feelings about it.

But we’ll get into all that later.

them big eyes will see into your soulllllll

THE PLOT

The movie starts with Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the head and partial torso of a cyborg in the scrapyard of Iron City. He gives her a body since he is a cyborg clinic doctor of some sort, and the cyborg awakens the next morning to a brand new body (and also a head of hair? That’s never explained). This is Alita (Rosa Salazar). Alita talks with Ido and his assistant (Idara Victor), asking if they know who she is, as she has no idea. Ido claims to not know either, and he takes Alita out for a brief day on the town. This is where she meets Hugo (Keean Johnson) and he’s cute and saves her from oncoming traffic so naturally she liiiiikes him.

Because of this meeting with Hugo, Alita’s rebellious teenage phase kicks in fast, and she meets with him and his pals as often as possible, learning of a rather violent and popular sport called Motorball. She joins them for a scrimmage, and after she’s shoved aside by Hugo’s friend Tanji (Jorge Landeborg Jr.), her vengeful warrior phase kicks in fast and she absolutely decimates him in retaliation. Tanji complains about this to Hugo, and Hugo just goes “haha yeah she beat you up lol she’s pretty” (I mean that’s basically it, okay).

In other news, some…villain or something is apparently targeting women on the streets at night where he apparently destroys them and sells their parts (this is never fully explained in the movie, but apparently in the manga it’s common knowledge that the world has gotten to the point where humans can replace almost their entire body with cyborg parts, and if they could, why wouldn’t they? We see this in the film, but we never really get an explanation. Anyway). Because of this, Ido doesn’t want Alita out alone after dark. But she’s ~rebellious~ so she follows him one night and, based off of what she sees, assumes Ido is the murderer. She tries to stop him, but it’s revealed that he’s actually hunting the murderer, and this was actually a trap. They’re attacked by various cyborgs, and though Ido tells Alita to stay out of the way, Alita dives into combat to save him and absolutely destroys two of the three cyborgs (she cripples the third and he escapes screaming that he “NEVER FORGETS!!!!! EVER!!!!!!!”).

The battle brings on a sort of flashback for Alita, where she’s in a big battle on the moon, as you do. Ido reveals that he is a hunter warrior, which is kind of like Iron City’s version of police since they don’t actually have police. Anyone can apply to be a hunter warrior (or bounty hunter as they’re called during the other half of the movie), and they get paid for the marks they destroy. Alita, naturally, is all over this but Ido says it’s too dangerous. Alita, in response, runs away from him very maturely.

There’s a lot of other stuff that happens, basically Alita really wants to know who she is but she also becomes a hunter warrior, also she gets a new body. As you do. She does all this against Ido’s wishes but ~she doesn’t live by his rules~. Ido is initially upset by this but then he’s like “eh whatever.” His assistant has maybe three sentences the whole film. Hugo gives Alita sparkle eyes the whole film, but his main character trait is that he wants to get to the sky city of Zalem, which is where Alita probably came from since she was found in the scrapyard.

I can’t really say much more without spoilers, so let’s dive into it.

this scene was cool until you realize that half the terrible things that happen later wouldn’t happen if Alita hadn’t…been like this

THE REVIEW

I really wanted to like this movie. Really!

I like robots. I like cyberpunk. I like beautiful scenery and well-choreographed fight scenes. I like intricate world-building.

But I also really like good characters. And I really…didn’t like anyone in this movie. I didn’t like the script (much of the dialogue was so cheesy that the actors couldn’t do much about it). I really didn’t like most of the plot.

Now, this movie is based off of a manga (Battle Angel Alita, or Gunnm). And from what I’ve read from fans of the manga, this is a relatively faithful adaptation, and they really like it! And that’s great. I came into this completely fresh-I’m an anime fan myself, but I’d never read Gunnm and I’d never seen the two OVA’s that were made based off the manga. All of this was completely new to me, and it was hard to follow, felt really disjointed, and just…bleh.

So it’s entirely possible that maybe I would have liked it if I’d been a fan of the manga first-it’s always fun to see something like that come to life in a new way. I think it’s why I’ll probably really like the Detective Pikachu movie no matter how weird it is.

But coming to this as an outsider, there wasn’t anything for me to like, really. I’ll go into each point in more detail, but I guess if you’re an avid Battle Angel fan, you might wanna stop reading now. I don’t have a lot of good things to say, admittedly. Except about the scenery and the character design (with the exception of those big ol’ scary eyes), both of which were delightful. But the acting? I don’t get why everyone is obsessed with Rosa Salazar’s performance in particular. The romance? Bleh. Not believable and sooooo predictable and just…there’s no basis to it. The characters? Anyone I may have liked is killed or has two lines of dialogue. The animals? HAHA RIP. The plot? It just felt very all over the place and just…I didn’t really care about it? The villains? The main big bad barely shows up, teasing a sequel, of COURSE. They build up this big fight and there is ZERO PAYOFF.

I did want to like it, really! It just wasn’t enjoyable for me. I’ll include things that would have helped, in my opinion, but again: if you did really like the film, that’s awesome! I’m happy for you! I did not, but that’s on me, it’s my personal taste, and ours differs here.

For everyone else, let’s get into it. Spoiler warning now in effect!

get it she’s lit up because she’s a “fallen angel” GET IT

THE MUSIC

As always, we start with the music.

Meh.

Honestly it didn’t play that big a part in the movie. There were the occasional moments where the fun techno-y beat would come in and that was fun, it fit the cyberpunk aesthetic. But there was no particular score moment that really stood out to me. I’d probably have to listen to the soundtrack on its own so that I can be a better judge of it without my negative thoughts about the movie crowding my brain.

The credits song was a Dua Lipa song about being powerful, so that was good.

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 219

THE CHARACTERS

Alright, sit down with me, kids, as we discuss why I didn’t like anyone in this film. (actually, I take that back: I liked 3 people. We’ll get to that)

So much of the film hinges on the likability of three characters since we spend the most time with them, hands down: Ido, Alita, and Hugo.

Ido is probably the most likable of those three for me, but that’s not saying much. He’s interesting, at least-we learn that he runs this clinic where he does free repairs on people who have cyborg parts and can’t afford to go anywhere else. He keeps the clinic open with the payments he receives as a hunter warrior/bounty hunter. He had a daughter in a wheelchair (we never learn why she is in a wheelchair, if there was an accident or something she was born with, it’s never explained) named Alita who was killed by one of Ido’s patients. This is why his wife (?) Chiren (Jennifer Connolly) left him. He names Alita after his dead daughter, and her first body is one he designed for his daughter that she never got to use (I guess in the source material, he names Alita after a late cat he was very fond of, but I guess that wasn’t ~dramatic~ enough for the film). But while Ido has all these interesting traits, they never do a lot with him. He is a plot device used to put Alita and Hugo back together. He clearly is protective of Alita since he sort of accidentally replaces his daughter with her, but even after she disobeys his orders countless times, he never punishes her or argues with her, not really. He has one facial expression the entire film. Alita is able to manipulate him to do what she wants suuuuuuper easily. And it doesn’t even matter because she does what she wants anyway!

Hugo is ~cool~ because he wears a leather jacket and has long broody floppy hair and he rides a motorized unicycle (YOU THINK I’M KIDDING). But he’s pretty and thinks Alita is pretty and he’s a strong, developed character because he makes sure the audience knows he is not intimidated by how terrifyingly murderous Alita is. That’s a line. In the film. He says “you know most guys would be intimidated by a girl like you” BUT I’M NOT MOST GUYS I’M ~DIFFERENT~. We learn next to nothing about his backstory, except that he wants to get to the sky city. Honestly that’s like, everyone’s backstory. They all want to get to the sky city because Iron City is absolute hell. He’s almost interesting when it’s revealed that he and his friends work for Vector (Mahershala Ali) by paralyzing people and stealing necessary parts. He got into it in order to raise enough money to get to Zalem. However, once he and Alita are ~involved~, he wants to get out of the business. Especially before Alita finds out. BECAUSE WHY TELL HER HIMSELF, AM I RIGHT. So, I mean, yeah he feels bad about the part-stealing once he loves Alita, but we don’t even know him long enough to see where that would have gone because he gets killed. And then he’s alive. And then he dies again.

Alita is…annoying. She really is. I adored her in the beginning because it was super cute watching her discover the world. Oranges?? Amazing! CHOCOLATE??? Best thing ever!!!! Cute boys??? Ooooooooh! They could have done so much more with that! Like how does she know how to react around Hugo? How does she know about kissing or hand-holding or any of that? Can you imagine a scene where Hugo explains a kiss to her? (A la Mork and Mindy, of course) But we never get that. Look, I love that she is the main character of this film. She is a badass girl and the center of a major sci-fi thriller, which is awesome! But you can’t make a character like that be so invincible that they’re just not relatable. The fight scenes were almost never nail-biters because you know Alita will be fine-even when she’s nothing but a torso with a head and one arm, she somehow punches her way out and Ido rebuilds her anyway. They try to make it this big thing that Alita is starting over with a clean slate, only she can decide if she’s gonna be good or bad…which is fine, except she never really has that clean slate. Except for the very beginning when she’s discovering oranges and boys, she is never naive enough to have a choice. She is immediately drawn to the violence of Motorball because she was a warrior. She’s drawn to conflict and loves fighting because she was a warrior. She never had a clean slate-but she could have been a fascinating anti-hero choosing a new path. Maybe she did terrible things in the past, killed hundreds, maybe thousands, and being aware of that is what helps her change. But no, instead we get a forced narrative and an impossibly invincible hero we can never really worry about because of course she’ll be fine.

My other main issue with Alita as a character is that she never has to face the consequences of her actions. Not really. She never apologizes to Ido for going out at night against his wishes because she saved him so of course everything’s fine. She never apologizes for Ito for getting his dead daughter’s cyborg body destroyed in the second fight with Grewishka. She immediately gets the Berserker body she wanted after the fight, despite Ido saying she shouldn’t have it because of how dangerous and lethal it is. She never assumes that it is her fault that Zapan came after Hugo and killed Tanji because of the way she humiliated him. She doesn’t even have to face the consequence of Hugo’s first death because Chiren is there like a freakin deus ex machina and surgically wires him to Alita’s life force to save him.

“But what about Hugo’s death the second time??” Look, I get that this is from the source material, but the emotional impact of Hugo’s death is utterly destroyed the second he has to die again. Also, how do we even know for sure he’s dead this time? All we saw is him falling dramatically. I know he’s dead in the source material, but this is Hollywood. Do they ever really die?

I’m not saying it’s not awesome that Alita is so powerful- again, it’s great to see an ultra-powerful female character be the star and the center of a major sci-fi film. We should have more stuff like that! But it’s like filmmakers are so afraid to make anything other than a perfect, flawless female who’s way overpowered and has no weaknesses. That scene at the end where she slices her own tear in half? What, is she not allowed to feel? (Trick question-she’s a cyborg)

There’s nothing wrong with giving your hero characters some flaws-that’s what makes them relatable. We want to see them succeed when we know they’ve struggled to get where they are. We cheer for them when they overcome their own flaws because we want to do the same. People want to see themselves on the screen, especially as the hero: but it doesn’t seem attainable when the hero is perfect. Take my personal favorite Marvel hero Iron Man, for example: dude’s a mess. He’s narcissistic, a genius and he flaunts it, and absolutely riddled with PTSD. He has panic attacks in Iron Man 3. It didn’t weaken him as a hero-it made us feel for him and be happy for him when he pushed through his pain. He cries and we cry with him because that’s okay!

Alita is not allowed to mourn Hugo because she has to stay strong to make it to Zalem to fight Nova. Fine, but let her break down. That scream she gave when Hugo fell? Show her broken, alone in her bed crying. If she loved Hugo like she said, she would absolutely be torn apart by his (second) death. But we never see that. She sheds one tear and cuts it in half. She’s not allowed to feel because she’d be less of a hero if she did.

And that simply isn’t true! Let heroes be vulnerable. It makes their successes that much more powerful for the audience.

I could rant about Alita as a character forever (clearly) but I have to touch on some other characters:

First, let’s discuss some of the other bounty hunters: most of them end up dead, and we never really learn much about them anyways! Cool, that was fun. There is one bounty hunter who works with a whole lot of robot dogs, which like…give me a movie about him, please!!

Next: Ido’s assistant Nurse Gerhad, Tanji, and Koyomi (Lana Condor). Both Gerhad and Koyomi make it through the film alive (miraculously) but Tanji is brutally murdered trying to save Hugo. And all we get is one shot of his death and on mention from Hugo that he died. Alita (naturally) doesn’t seem to care that Tanji is dead-that would be facing the consequences of her actions and as we know, Alita doesn’t do that.

Gerhad and Koyomi have a couple sentences each in the film. And that’s it.

Fun fact: you can’t claim it’s diversity if your diverse characters all die or barely speak during the film!!

this whole scene is one big cringe

THE ROMANCE

Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

When I read some reviews from people who knew the source material, I was hoping that Alita’s and Hugo’s relationship would be further developed in the manga, but it doesn’t really sound like it. I guess the major change is that apparently, Hugo was so blinded by his desperation to get to the sky city that he didn’t notice Alita’s feelings for him. That could have been fun, but instead, we get this.

Alita and Hugo are obsessed with each other, like, to a scary degree, and right from the start. Alita’s fixation on him kind of makes sense, he saves her from getting smashed in the street, and she’s a cyborg, it’d be fascinating to go into how cyborg “love” might be different from human love (and I feel like they sort of play with that in a later scene? But it’s never really…explained. Like she quite literally takes out her own heart and offers it to Hugo and when he refuses she’s just like “HAHA THAT WAS INTENSE, SORRY LOL” like…what), but nooooooooo. Hugo I guess just has a thing for big eyes? Idk man.

Look, I’m a huge romantic, I own this about myself. I think it’s absolutely possible for Hollywood to create a lovely, beautiful romantic relationship, but of course, the flip-side is also true. If you couldn’t tell, characters are important to me and can really make or break a film in my opinion. As previously discussed, none of the characters in Alita: Battle Angel really spoke to me (literally and figuratively since they died or had two lines in the entire film), and that includes our main pair of lovers here. I guess they’re going for a Hunger Games-esque relationship with these two-two teens in a dystopian world, battling their circumstances and their feelings for each other or whatever.

Now, everyone has their own opinions about how the Hunger Games romance(s) work(ed) out, but you have to admit that at the very least, we got some actual character development for our romantic leads. They all had scenes that showed all sides of them: good, bad, broken, and unique. Gale is Katniss’s best friend, her person, but he’s also easily blinded by anger and his personal desire for revenge, and he’s also incredibly selfish. Peeta is completely selfless in some ways, he would give himself for Katniss in an instant (they both would, really). He was abused by his parents and is also never not injured. Like…really. He’s also very quick to shut people (especially Katniss) out when he’s hurting. Katniss, as our narrator and main character, is the one we spend the most time with, so we know her the best. She’s incredibly caring and protective, and all of her most glorified actions in the rebellion are born completely out of her love for someone or something (placing bunches of flowers all around Rue’s body, singing the “hanging tree” song, doing the famous whistle and salute, and of course, volunteering to take Prim’s place). Katniss also has terrible PTSD, I mean, of course she does. Like Gale, she’s also easily blinded by anger. She often acts without thinking. Like Peeta, she’s willing to give her life in an instant because she thinks she’s not worth it.

Now, all of that is those characters at their most basic. Compare that to Alita and Hugo. What sides do we see of them? Hugo wants to go to the sky city. Okay…do we know why? He just wants to escape the “hell” that is the Iron City. I mean, okay, fine. He chooses Alita over his friends, specifically by telling them they need to stop stealing people’s cyborg parts for money. He gets framed for a murder he doesn’t commit. Alita wants to learn about her past, and she disobeys the father figure who rescues her time and time again to do it. She’s ruthless when it comes to people who are hunting her down, presumably because of her mysterious warrior past. She loves the little dog she befriends (I assume? They had two interactions before…we don’t talk about that scene).

Alita and Hugo are cookiecutter characters at best; they do the things they do because it moves the story along and the plot calls for it, not because of any specific character traits they possess that explains their actions.

Katniss is a rebellious teenager just as much as Alita is. But all of Katniss’s actions are motivated by who she is, not what she is. Alita doesn’t have any quirks (besides giant eyes and being a cyborg, I guess?) to help explain her behavior except TEENAGE GIRL!!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!

All this to say, Alita and Hugo’s romance isn’t believable because they aren’t believable as whole, separate characters on their own.

Now, I realize that this is just one movie, and unfortunately, there’s a giant sequel-tease, so there will probably be at least one more of these. So Alita may very well be more developed in the future. I’m also sure she’s well-developed in the source material; anime and manga characters are (generally) consistently very, very well-developed and well-rounded characters with positive and negative traits alike. Hugo might even be interesting in the source material instead of just ~pretty~ and ~brooding~.

He reminds me of that violinist guy from that one…weird movie High Strung. Anyone see that? I think it’s on Netflix. It’s a trip. There’s a scene where guys fence with violin bows.

(also like…that whole second death scene is just…first of all, it takes away all of the emotion from the initial death scene, like Alita already went through this, but like…isn’t her body like super powerful now? Like it heals itself? Is there a reason she couldn’t just…let go and cradle Hugo as they fell so she took most of the brunt force of the landing? No? Is it…is it because of the drama and the sequel-baiting? Is that it? Yeah. Yeah that’s it.

It’s that stupid door from Titanic all over again.)

we don’t talk about this scene

THE ONE MOMENT

We have to talk about it. They put it in here so we have to talk about it.

So listen, when I was reading reviews from people who knew the source material, I was disappointed to learn that this scene is also in the source material. I mean, I’m not surprised I guess, but…blech.

I knew there was going to be some moment where Alita put blood on her face like war paint (which is very unsanitary but you do you I guess) because of the trailer.

But I guess I thought the blood would be like, her father figure. For like real intense motivation, you know? Or like maybe, in her flashbacks, she would always be wearing warpaint or something, so this would be a way to connect with her previous self.

But no. What happens is that the pure, innocent, cute little stray dog that Alita befriended in the beginning stands up to Grewishka to protect Alita…and he gets slaughtered for it.

And it’s the dog’s blood that Alita puts on her face.

Look, I’m sure it’s supposed to represent some intense metaphor like the DEATH OF INNOCENCE because this is also right before Alita destroys her “younger” body (YEAH WHEN SHE GETS HER NEW BODY, it changes as it gets used to her, which basically means she gets more curves and bigger boobs onscreen. This causes the nurse and the doctor to be like “oh she was older than we thought. Haha!” GROSS. STOP. NO. WHY.)

Like, whatever, but leave innocent little dogs out of this. We already don’t deserve dogs and you’re making it worse. There has to be some other way to symbolize the DEATH OF INNOCENCE.

For example, that moment in Mulan? It’s when she replaces her father’s conscription notice with her hair comb. It perfectly symbolizes the DEATH OF INNOCENCE and the change Mulan goes through-she matures so much in that instance and she’ll never try to be a delicate flower again.

See? Beautiful, effective symbolism, all without the unnecessary death of lovable canines. Thanks.

this guy’s CG robot throat is very distracting, not gonna lie

THE “VILLAINS”

You could argue that this movie has multiple villains. You could try to do that, yes.

The big baddie is the mysterious Nova, who…we barely see during the film. He can somehow infiltrate the bodies of others, which is never explained, and while his reigning presence is brought up through the film, there’s never any pay-off because HEAVEN FORBID WE DON’T HAVE A SEQUEL.

Other villains include Zapan (pictured above), who only became a villain really because Alita made a big deal about showing him up at the bar. Like, he was obnoxious and rude and obviously not great before, but Alita’s insistence at humiliating him turned him into an actual villain. She is the reason he frames Hugo for murder and ultimately is the reason for his death. Alita slices his face off because, I mean, TEENAGE GIRLS AM I RIGHT.

There’s also Vector, who like, could have been a fascinating villain if he’d had…any development whatsoever. But he’s the villain because!! He…rigged the Motorball tryouts! And…he doesn’t like Alita! That’s…that’s about all he is and does. The rest of the movie, Nova is basically controlling him, and when Alita kills Vector? It’s not even Vector. She has no mercy for him and doesn’t even let him die as Vector. He dies as a Nova puppet. Which like…ooh, you go, Alita? You really…showed him? Vector’s not even her main enemy, but he’s built up as if he is, and then his death is like “meh, well, that’s done.”

WHAT IS HIS BACKSTORY??? WHY did he get into the nasty business of transporting people(‘s organs) to the sky city??? WHO IS HE??? We will literally never know. Now Mahershala Ali does great with the role, of course, for what little it actually is.

Grewishka is built up as this BIG, BAD BADDIE WITH NO FEELINGS!!! ONLY HATRED!!! KILL ALITA!!!! MRAHHHHHH!!! GET BIG EVIL CHAIN CLAW ARMS!!!!!

And then Alita kills him REAL quick in the final act. And that’s it.

Cool.

LOOK ALITA’S WEARING A RAINBOW SHIRT, GUYS. ARE WE GONNA BOYCOTT THIS MOVIE??? NO…? Is it because she has a heterosexual relationship? Yeah. Yeah that’s it.

THE ART

Aight, there is a LOT I dislike about this movie, clearly. And I will own that. But I do have to talk about the scenery, the designs, and the general art of the movie.

Because DAMN, YOU GUYS.

While I was sitting there absolutely hating pretty much everyone who was on the screen, I was simultaneously in awe of the design of the movie. Because this is a LOVELY movie you guys, at least visually. The world-building of the Iron City is stunning and I loved whenever they were just walking around or showing different parts of the city. The character design? Gorgeous. The design of Alita’s first body is like, engraved ivory or something, it’s beautiful. The Motorball scrimmage scene is just fun-looking, it’s gritty and dystopian and perfect. The thought that goes into the design of every single different cyborg character is incredible.

Now, I have mixed feelings about Alita’s ridiculously giant eyes. It’s like we said “hey can we have an actually decent anime adaptation that isn’t white-washed and clearly shows love for the source material?” and Hollywood was like “so what you’re saying is…the thing we’re missing in these anime adaptations…is the biG ANIME EYES!! YES!!!” and we all said “no wait” but they did it anyway.

However, I read from one of the people who knows the source material, that apparently when Ido finds Alita in the scrapyard originally, her eyes are OPEN. Like that’d be super freaky of course, but apparently it’s because there’s this whole big theme in the original series about the importance of eyes-in the current world, it’s possible to replace almost every part of your body with cyborg parts. Eyes are incredibly valuable because of this. Plus there’s all that stuff we know about “eyes being the window to the soul” or whatever.

So like, from that standpoint? Super cool.

Did they actually explain that or go into that in the movie?

No.

At least everything was pretty to look at.

more movies with robots holding cute little stuffed mushrooms, please

WHAT I WISHED HAD HAPPENED

I think this movie had a lot riding on it, and it had a lot of potential. Apparently, I am very alone in thinking it wasn’t good…at all. And that’s fine.

One thing that consistently bugs me the more I think about it is Alita’s characterization. Now, again, I don’t know how it goes down in the manga/OVAs, but when I liked Alita the most is when she had just woken up and was seeing the world for the first time-that was when she was actually vulnerable. That was when Alita was relatable. Seeing Alita freak out about chocolate? YES, GIRL, ME TOO. Seeing her lose her mind about a cute boy that saved her and smiled at her? SAME, GIRL, SAME. And this picture here, where she’s curled up like a kid with a cute stuffed…thing?

As soon as Alita becomes this invincible weapon, she loses any humanity she’d previously developed and Hugo apparently loved her for. And maybe that’s the point. But it was so quick.

She NEVER goes back to this vulnerable kid again-even when she loses Hugo (for real…”for real”) she doesn’t get to break down about it. Yeah, she screams for him in the moment, but like I mentioned before, she then slices her own tear in half and doesn’t let herself feel weak.

Now, okay, okay, this could be good setup for an interesting arc in the sequel. I agree! Maybe Alita learns that letting yourself feel the sad things makes you more human, not less, and isn’t that what Hugo would have wanted (I guess? who knows what Hugo wants. His character is never explained. Except big eyes? Is that what he wants?)? Sure!

My point is that you can’t give Alita all these vulnerable scenes and then rip ALL of that away from her-why does she have no remorse for those she kills? Why does she paint the dog’s blood on her face rather than cry for it?

Dear Hollywood,

You’re allowed to write strong female characters that also have emotions. Showing them breaking down and feeling sad and then working to overcome those feelings, watching them dealing with them rather than ignoring them…that’s what makes a strong female character.

Female characters don’t have to be either ALL emotion or NO emotion. They can be both.

Groundbreaking, I know.

All I want is a movie about a cyborg girl who discovers things like oranges and chocolate and then discovers she used to be a weapon and then spends time choosing to be a weapon again, not because she feels like she has to because she used to, but because she finds something to fight for. Let her feel something about the people she kills. It’s okay to. Or if she doesn’t explain why. Let her go through a journey.

As beautifully choreographed as the fight scenes in this movie were, maybe less fight scenes and more character development. It makes the story stronger.

Just me?

Okay.

THE WAND CHOOSES THE WIZARD, ALITA. Or the sword chooses the cyborg. Because yes, it is a ~magical cyborg sword~

“OOF” MOMENT

…can I say the whole movie?

Okay, okay, that’s mean. But really, there were so many moments that just…ugh it didn’t feel like I was watching a big blockbuster movie, it felt like I was watching a student film project. It’s the dang script. “You are the most human person I’ve ever met”? REALLY?

YOU HAVE REAL HUMAN FRIENDS, HUGO. NOT THAT YOU WOULD KNOW BECAUSE YOU IGNORE THEM MOST OF THE FILM AS SOON AS ALITA SHOWS UP.

Anyway. That dog death scene though. The one we don’t talk about. Yeah. That moment wins.

FAVORITE MOMENT

Hands down it’s when Alita tries chocolate for the first time.

“wait who is this character you didn’t talk about this chara-” yeah because she’s in the movie for all of one entire scene and then she dies. BUT SHE GETS A POSTER!

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO THIS MOVIE?

Look, clearly, I am not the person to answer this question.

But, the general consensus seems to be that yes, you should. Do you like the source material? Great, you’ll probably like the movie. Do you like movies with lots of fights and a dead dog and poorly developed characters and terrible dialogue and did I mention the dead dog and also no pay-off because Hollywood can’t make a movie without baiting a sequel anymore? Cool! You’ll definitely like this movie!

I understand that people who are a fan of the source material are a fan of this adaptation, and that’s great! But coming into it as a fresh eye with no knowledge of the source material? I hated it. I really did. And I hate it more the more I think about it. A week has gone by and I’ve definitely settled on hating it. I used to just dislike it.

But if you like it, that is AWESOME. I’m glad you can appreciate things about this movie that I can’t!

But for me, I give Alita: Battle Angel…

1/5 VERY GOOD BOYS WHO ARE ALSO VERY ALIVE BECAUSE THEY DESERVED BETTER!!

Look at how happy and pure and not dead they are!

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

We got a couple of repeats as usual (Us!!!! And Pet Sematary AGAIN), so here are the newbies: Captive State looks FASCINATING. When the trailer first started, I thought it was another Cloverfield movie (and let’s be real-it might still somehow be a Cloverfield movie), but it looks like it’s some sort of dystopian take on political issues but with ALIENS??? I really hope it’s as interesting as it looks, because it sounds like it might be really cool. Next is MIB: International WHICH. Y’ALL. FAM. I AM SO BEYOND EXCITED FOR THIS MOVIE. I didn’t even know I needed Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as MIB agents but I DO. I SO DO!!!! The Hustle looks…mehhhhhhhh. I so want it to be good, I’ve loved Anne Hathaway lately, but Rebel Wilson movies seem to be extremely hit or miss. Like it’s a fun premise and it could be really good, but it could also be a lot of physical humor revolving around “haha Rebel Wilson is fat and Anne Hathaway isn’t” which like…we need to stop doing that in female-led movies. In ANY movies, but especially female-led ones because we are better than that. Finally, there was Tolkien, which, as soon as someone figures out what that movie is actually about, please let me know. Like…is it about his life? How he came up with Lord of the Rings? The trailer is really pretty but it honestly doesn’t tell us much. Except that Lily Collins is in it, and I love her. Which means she probably dies.

And that does it for this review! If you made it this far and still want to see the movie, go for it. I won’t understand it, but you do you, pal.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Review

GET IT BECAUSE THEY PARODY AND MAKE FUN OF ACTION FANTASY FILMS. GET IT.

So this morning, I took myself to the movies and saw The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. Yes, I took myself to a movie on Valentine’s Day and I LOVED it. Next question.

I saw the original film kind of by accident, my friends and I had planned to see another film (I don’t even remember what it was now) but we got there way too late, and we said “well, maybe we can at least make fun of The Lego Movie.”

And then we were BLOWN away! Like someone on my tumblr said, “the lego movies have NO BUSINESS being as good as they are!”

Granted no one believes me when I swear up and down that The Lego Movie is actually really well-done and heartfelt with an important message and it’s super self-aware and FUNNY. And feel-good! It’s honestly one of my favorite movies, but it’s hard to convince people that it’s good. I mean, I get it-it sounds stupid and…like, also why is it even a thing?

The point is, I was tentatively really excited for the sequel. The first one was amazing-does the second one stand on its level?

and this is everything you need to know about these characters, right here, in one picture

THE PLOT

We pick up technically sort of right after the end of the first movie, when Dad (Will Ferrell) tells Finn (Jadon Sand) that if he can play down in the basement now with the Legos, so can his younger sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). Cue Bricksburg being attacked by those monsters/aliens made out of the bigger Lego sets designed for younger kids. We see everyone ready to attack, but Emmett (Chris Pratt) tells them to hold it, we don’t need to fight anymore! Emmett makes a big heart out of Legos and gives it to the aliens…who promptly eat it, prompting the rest of Bricksburg to attack.

Five years pass, and Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) narrates how they came to where they are now: embittered by years of rebuilding things only to have the aliens destroy them, they have built a new, less-shiny, dystopian city called “Apocalypseburg.” The citizens are scruffy, angry versions of their former selves (in a fun scene, Emmett walks through the city in a similar way to the intro scene of the first movie, greeting all the same characters who are now all dystopian and stuff-even the cats!), giving up on building anything bright and fun lest it attract the aliens. Everyone, that is, except Emmett, who is still just as happy-go-lucky as we remember him. Lucy tries to get him in the dystopian mood, telling him to brood, and in an attempt to do so, Emmett discusses a dream he had about “Armamageddon” where everyone is lost into the BINS of STOR-AGE!!

Oh and also, he built Lucy a cute little house!! Emmett’s super excited about it (he even made a little throw pillow that has “E + L Forever” embroidered on it), but Lucy is worried the bright colors will attract the aliens. Sure enough, a weird ship shows up and attacks them. The citizens of Apocalypseburg hide in a big safe-room thing they built, but in an effort to save one of the adorable alien stars, Emmett opens the door slightly and accidentally lets in General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz!!!).

Mayhem grabs Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman), and Benny (Charlie Day) and takes them to the “Systar System” for a matrimonial ceremony. Once there, they meet Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who swears she is NOT. EVIL. Really. I promise.

Meanwhile, Emmett rebuilds his house for Lucy as a spaceship, determined to go save his friends, and on the way, he meets REX DANGERVEST (also voiced by Chris Pratt). Rex becomes kind of a mentor to Emmett as they travel, but can they save their friends before Armamageddon hits? Will they find out what is REALLY going on?

this is the entire film pretty much

THE REVIEW

So in a similar fashion to the first movie, there’s a relatively big plot twist and reveal near the end that changes everything. Up to that point, it’s a pretty standard family film with a lot of meta jokes and really lovely animation and fun moments, but…it’s just kind of okay. I kept guessing where they were going with this (after all, one reason I love the first film is how it out of NOWHERE pulls at your heartstrings and changes everything about the movie up to that point), but honestly? I was so, so wrong. I could kind of guess some details (it’s called “ArMAMAgeddon” for a reason) but I couldn’t predict everything, and I’m glad I couldn’t.

It was still good and fun to watch, but the humor felt…not as good as the first movie. It felt more forced, which makes sense. After all, the original threw EVERYONE for a loop, it was so out-of-nowhere and GOOD. Then, in an effort to keep that money-making up, we got Lego: Batman which was…okay. Still good! Still fun! But not…the same. It was clearly made without the same amount of love the first film was. Then we got Ninjago and everyone kinda lost hope in the Lego movies.

Basically, this movie had a lot to live up to, and for me, it didn’t really meet that bar…up until the big twist and the ending. I still think I prefer the first movie by…a lot, BUT, this movie did deliver a great couple twists that changed everything and made me go “AWWWW.” It was a great, positive, feel-good film about the importance of love and togetherness.

People (specifically my ol’ college buds) make fun of me for preferring generally happy, feel-good stories, but honestly? I think sometimes that’s what you need. Generally, we watch movies, plays, musicals, TV, or read books to escape. Isn’t it much more enjoyable if that escape makes you feel good? Now I’m a 4 on the Enneagram, so I do love a good sad story, or misunderstood character, or best of all a tragic, TRAGIC backstory. But I also like to come away from a story feeling good and happy-I want to re-experience stuff like that.

Anyway, tangent done. The point is, I did really, really like this movie. It’s just a lot of fun, and really heartfelt and wonderful, especially at the end. Does it live up to the first movie? Nah, at least not in my opinion, but it’s still good. Better than Batman and Ninjago, that’s for sure.

But what makes it so, dare I say…AWESOME??

Spoiler warning now in effect!

EVERYTHING IS AWESOMEEEEE

THE MUSIC

As Lucy says at one point…”Oh no, are we in a musical??”

Yes. This is a musical. Kind of.

Really there are only three songs that feature the characters breaking out into song and two of them are really headlined by Tiffany Haddish as the queen.

It’s interesting, because I distinctly remember thinking the score from the first movie was one of my favorite things ever, it was just super fun and had NO BUSINESS BEING THAT GOOD. Plus there was everyone’s favorite bop “Everything is Awesome.”

This doesn’t have as good of a score, in my opinion, but the soundtrack is still good. “Not Evil” is just ridiculous and super fun, and if I was still auditioning for musicals I would ABSOLUTELY use it. “Catchy Song” does, as the lyrics say, get stuck in your head. But it’s fun and cute, and the scene in the movie that features it is one of my favorites. “Gotham City Guys” is…okay. It’s a fun song, but the relationship built up between the queen and Batman is just…I mean it’s fanfiction material. It’s not bad, it’s juuuuuuust…unique?

But the real amazing song is, and wait for it… “Everything’s Not Awesome.”

Yeah. They did that.

Just when all hope seems lost, the group sings about how yes, everything is NOT awesome. It’s the same tune as “Everything is Awesome” but slowed down and with a piano and really, really sad lyrics…UNTIL……

Lucy’s lyrics in the song are amazing, and this song is what really helped change my mind about the film. She sings “Everything’s not awesome/but that doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless and bleak/everything’s not awesome but in my heart I believe/we can make things better if we stick together/side by side, you and I, we will build it together” which is cute, right?

It then combines with the lyrics to “Catchy Song” but instead of “this song’s gonna get stuck inside your head” the cast sings “this song’s gonna get stuck inside your heart.” WHICH IS SO DORKY AND RIDICULOUS AND I LOVE IT.

Then, the song goes on: “Everything’s not awesome/things can’t be awesome all of the time/it’s unrealistic expectation/but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make everything awesome/in a less idealistic kind of way”

WHICH. LIKE.

Not to mention that the first credits song is all about how awesome credits are because we get to see the names of all the other people who worked on the movie (they timed it so that they sing about specific people like the editor when their name is onscreen and it’s adorable) which like yes!!! Give those people love!! The other two credits songs are all about how we should come together even if we’re different if there was ever a message kids should hear these days, it’s that. They go about their lives seeing adults fight constantly, so to see this movie and get the message that it’s better to work together and focus on love rather than hate…I support this.

my last three brain cells

THE CHARACTERS

Many of the characters are exactly who we loved from the first film (with the possible exception of Batman because I still just…I don’t know how I feel about his whole marriage arc) and it’s a delight. Emmett is relatable AF as always, Lucy is an amazing badass who like faces consequences and changes her mind and realizes the power of love which like YES, Unikitty, MetalBeard, and Benny are sweet lil’ beans yet again. General/Sweet Mayhem is adorable and my love for her increased when I realized she was voiced by Stephanie Beatriz (HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT I AM THE WORST FAN). Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi was super funky and I loved her constant shape-shifting through the film, it was just fun to watch (and after the big twist, my love for her increased). The Queen’s minions (Ice Cream Cone and Banarnar are the two really coming to mind because they were my favs) are super fun, and of course, our human characters are great. Finn and Bianca are super great and I love them, and even though we didn’t see Will Ferrell as Dad this time, we DID see Maya Rudolph as Mom which was fun!

I’m upset Vitruvius didn’t make an appearance, even as a ghost, but I’m most upset about Bad Cop. YOU GAVE LORD BUSINESS TWO WHOLE GOLF REFERENCES, AND BAD COP DOESN’T EVEN GET A WORD, JUST A GRUNT???

#rude

Rex Dangervest is…is a character. I like the meta jokes about who he is (IT’S BECAUSE HE’S VOICED BY CHRIS PRATT GET IT) but he’s never that likable, and granted he’s actually not supposed to be as we learn later. But unfortunately that means we’re stuck with him for a lot of the film, and he’s just…ugh he’s so loud and obsessed with destruction and bleh.

“But wait isn’t that the point?” YES. Exactly.

Let’s talk about the big twists so we can go into why Rex is the worst.

I love how the soldiers’ weapons are cake pops but also WHY DOES BIANCA HAVE SO MANY CAKE POPS AND WHY ISN’T SHE EATING THEM CAKE POPS ARE GREAT, BIANCA

THE TWIST(S)

The clock is ticking down the minutes to the dreaded 5:15, which is when the Queen will marry Batman (that is a real sentence I just typed, yes). Lucy has met up with Emmett and Rex and they have concocted a plan to destroy the wedding ceremony. However, Lucy learns that General Mayhem, without her helmet, is actually Sweet Mayhem, and is super nice and also? The Queen does not want to destroy the world and bring about Armamageddon, she just wants to unite their two worlds in love so the fighting can stop! The whole fight, Lucy and Sweet have been going back and forth with “you started it, no you started it!” And when Lucy points that out, Sweet says no, really, you guys started it.

At the same time, the Queen takes her original form: the heart that Emmett gave the aliens at the beginning of the movie. Lucy realizes that the aliens have never wanted to fight, they took the heart Emmett gave them and made it their queen!

At the same time again, we learn why she’s called Queen Watevra Wa”Nabi: when Bianca first started playing with Legos when she was a lot younger, Finn made her that Lego heart and gave it to her, telling her it could be “whatever she wanted it to be.”

AWWWWWWWW

Also, her friends were never brainwashed like she thought, they just genuinely liked the Systar System better because it’s happier there and everyone is friends! (Which means that Superman and Green Lantern were not brainwashed into being friends, they just genuinely became friends which IS ALSO GROWTH OKAY)

Lucy tries to stop Emmett, but Rex convinces him that Lucy must also be brainwashed, so he goes through with destroying everything.

This has us cut to “reality,” where Mom walks in on Finn and Bianca fighting again-Finn (as Emmett) destroyed the tower Bianca built because she took his stuff (the characters that Mayhem captured). Mom (after stepping on a Lego twice because can you believe they didn’t have that gag in the first movie) says alright, this is really it now, time to pack up the Legos and put them into storage. Finn tells Bianca (as he grabs the spaceship containing Emmett and Rex, allowing them to “make their escape) that she “ruined everything” and she says softly after him that she just wanted him to play with her. (This brings to mind the scene earlier where Sweet Mayhem was telling Lucy that they wanted to be friends because they really looked up to them, which translates to Bianca wants to play with Finn because she really looks up to her brother AND I’M CRYING)

This next twist is…a trip.

Rex reveals to Emmett that he IS EMMETT. He is Emmett who got tossed under the dryer and never found, who hardened because of that, and built a time machine to go back and save himself from…himself. It’s a little funky, but it explains why Chris Pratt voices both characters. Emmett is horrified, but Rex points out that this is great though, look at how tough and mature Emmett is now! Isn’t that what he wanted?

We cut back to our other group, thrown into the bins with the lids on. I kid you not, they show us a THE END TITLE CARD. YEAH. THEY DO THAT.

But Lucy says “woah, no, this is not that story that ends on a depressing cliffhanger.”

This is when “Everything’s Not Awesome” is sung, and the music maybe metaphorically reaches Finn’s heart, and he opens the bin of Legos from his sister’s room. He finds the pieces that build up the Queen, and he remakes her as a heart. He brings it to his sister in her room as the music swells and it’s ADORABLE, OKAY.

Meanwhile, Rex has banished Emmett to under the dryer to think about his actions or something, but then Rex comes there anyway to like beat him up I guess. But Lucy comes for him and saves him!! Lucy and Emmett talk to Rex, try to get him to come with them, but Rex says that since Lucy came for Emmett, Rex will never exist now (“I’m Back to the Future-ing!” he says I KID YOU NOT).

There’s one more twist I promise (although it’s just kind of funny). Anyway, we catch up with Mom, who hears her kids and walks outside to find them playing together with the Legos, and it’s super sweet. She smiles watching them, and then we hear Will Ferrell from inside yell “honey, where are my pants?”

YEAH REMEMBER HOW THAT WAS NEVER EXPLAINED IN THE FIRST MOVIE. GOD BLESS, THAT MEANS FINN HEARS HIS DAD SAY THAT A LOT. I LOVE IT.

I dunno how much acting Pratt had to do for this character tbh I mean…that’s the joke

THE MESSAGE

So the big overall message is one of unity, like I mentioned earlier with the music. There’s no big epic fight, just like how there wasn’t a big epic fight in the first film. There’s just reconciliation between a family, and it’s done in a really sweet way in both movies.

Another message that centers around Rex entirely is that of the dangers of toxic masculinity. Think about it: Rex’s big power is that he can destroy things. He loves it, he LIVES for it; that’s his thing, and he’s proud of it. He was hardened by no one coming to save him under the dryer, and he let that anger control him into wanting to ruin the possible happiness and reconciliation between the two worlds. He is, very purposely, every single action hero ever.

(Quick sidenote and speaking of action heroes: the Bruce Willis cameos in the film were AMAZING. I mean, so random, but great)

Rex represents all the anger Finn feels at Bianca. She steals his toys, she ruins everything…so he breaks her stuff.

One of my favorite lines is when Emmett is talking to Rex at the end and says that there’s nothing about what Rex does that is particularly tough-he takes the easy way out and never wants to connect with or save anyone, only himself. Emmett says that “opening your heart? That’s really tough.”

You could argue when Rex is “Back to the Future-ing” at the end, he does open up a little to Lucy and Emmett, but the important thing is just that: he disappears. He is all anger and destruction and he is not needed.

Now he did teach Emmett how to destroy, and that’s a part of him now. Heck, Rex IS Emmett, remember?

But that’s not all Emmett is. He doesn’t have a perfectly chiseled face, he doesn’t thrive off of loneliness and destroying things, he’s a dork who named his plant “Planty” and buys his girl coffee every morning, he remembers the name of every cat that belongs to that one lady he says hi to every day, he is constantly full of hope, he loves his friends, he loves pop music, and he believes correctly that opening your heart is a really tough thing to do…but it’s worth it. He has never once fought a major villain in the franchise-he talks to them. He offers his hand to them. He tells them that love is more powerful than anything else.

And Lucy loves him for it. All his friends love him for it.

Kids are seeing that anger doesn’t actually solve anything, but peace and love does.

Which brings us to some…interesting reviews I’ve seen…

I wonder if the men are mad because Batman looks like this for most of the film

THE REVIEWS

So you know how Google has this thing where, if you Google a movie now, you can see critic reviews and audience reviews?

So like, I read a while ago that some people started boycotting the Lego: Batman movie because-and I’m serious-it is gay propaganda. The reason? Because Robin is adopted by Bruce Wayne…and Batman. So it promotes…”same-sex adoption.”

I cannot stress how much Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person.

Reviews of that nature have also come after this movie…there are complaints about Bianca’s shirt, which has a rainbow collar (yes, really). There are complaints about Batman’s marriage to Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi because it promotes a marriage to a “nonbinary character.” At first I thought they were referring to the Queen, although characters throughout the film refer to the Queen as “her” which like, she could still be nonbinary, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. Then I realized-Batman. Batman’s nonbinary, of course. That’s why they’re all upset (refer to photo above).

Other complaints are about how it features “undermining the father’s role in the home” (IS THIS BECAUSE WE ONLY HEARD WILL FERRELL AND DIDN’T SEE HIM. HE’S PROBABLY HIDING AFTER THAT DISASTER OF A SHERLOCK HOLMES ADAPTATION HE TRIED TO BE IN) and that it features a character with blue hair who is a “social justice warrior” (I am happy to report that I just today dyed my hair blue, I will be reporting to my social justice warrior camp in the morning).

There are even complaints about how the female characters save the day.

It’s people like this who the movie is targeting, in a way. They are the Rex Dangervest’s of the world. And they had to watch (with their CHILDREN) themselves get undermined on the big screen by a blue-haired FEMALE social justice warrior, a nonbinary Batman, and a girl with a rainbow collared shirt (in front of their CHILDREN).

I don’t want to attack anyone who thinks all of that, really I don’t. I just think maybe if those are your complaints about the movie, maybe you’re not really watching it, you’re just looking for things to hate about it. Everything seems like an attack on you personally when you view it that way. Also? It’s a kid’s movie. Also also? It’s a MOVIE. IT’S MADE-UP, Y’ALL.

I’m not saying it doesn’t have an effect even though it’s made-up, I’m just saying we’re going to war over something that doesn’t really warrant it. I mean…one of the characters is a banana. Who slips on his own peel frequently. That is a recurring gag in the film.

But if you think this movie is bad for your kids because it’s pushing some kind of “politically correct agenda” which is simply…”be nice to each other”, then, well, yeah, I’m gonna make fun of you for it a lil’ bit. And I will absolutely keep dying my hair blue and wearing rainbows all the time.

(also like someone complained that Benny is gay?? And like, I’m super bi you guys, if I missed the big gay agenda push with Benny, I don’t think it’s there. If we’re gonna label it, I would say Benny’s pretty asexual. Have you seen him get excited about literally anything else other than a spaceship? Yeah)

Planty is never seen again after this scene. RIP Planty.

“OOF” MOMENT

I’ve already expressed my distaste at the ONE TINY SCENE THAT THEY GAVE TO BAD COP, SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS UP WITH THAT. But I think I’d have to award this moment to the scene where Maya Rudolph steps on a Lego…twice. While it’s an appropriate gag, obviously, it felt very Maya Rudolph-y and not very…Lego Movie-y. It just felt out of place with the tone of the movie. And the tone of this movie is like, allllll over the place.

Also like, whatever scene confirmed Benny’s gayness for a lot of angry parents. It was so bad and subtle I MISSED IT.

FAVORITE MOMENT

The entire ending with all the heartfeltness is probably it, but I have to highlight the scene where Unikitty becomes…Ultrakatty. I feel like I appreciate cat jokes a lot more now that I have a cat. Also there’s a scene where a loud noise wakes Unikitty up and she just puffs up like crazy. It was my cat on the screen, basically.

Also the second part of the credits is ridiculously adorable because it shows pictures of the Lego creations of real-live siblings and it’s SO. CUTE.

“they come in pieces” these are the PUNS

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO THIS MOVIE?

Like I’ve said, I’ve never really been able to convince people that the Lego movies are actually really, really good. I still genuinely think the first movie is better, but this one is a worthy follow-up, even though it’s not quite as good.

If you liked the first one, even if you were unimpressed with Batman and Ninjago, I think you will like this one. It goes back to its roots more than the spin-offs do, and it is genuinely enjoyable, especially once the twist kicks in. Plus, there are SO MANY META JOKES. SO MANY.

If you’re looking for reasons to hate it, like I said, you won’t like it, of course. If you like fun, feel-good movies and you’re willing to give this a chance, please consider checking out the original and then seeing this one.

They are really, really good, I promise!!

All in all, I give The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,

4/5 BASIC LEGO BRICKS WITH EXAGGERATED ANIME EYES!!

Because for some reason all of the Systar System characters had crazy big anime eyes. It must be for the added emphasis on those puppy-eyes scenes.

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Bunch of repeats, although some of them had a new version of the trailer, like Uglydolls (brace yourself, guys, the bad guy seems to be…A BLONDE WHITE MALE!!!) and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (I am SO EXCITED and also SO TERRIFIED if they do ANYTHING to Toothless, I genuinely won’t survive. I’m crying over animated flying lizards already and we still have a week). Newbies include Toy Story 4 which…ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh why is this happening?? Is it the money???? It’s the money, isn’t it. They ended it PERFECTLY with Toy Story 3, but noooooooo. And look, it’s Pixar, and it’s the Toy Story franchise, so it has a good chance of being like, actually good. But….why does it exist in the first place??? Stupid money. Speaking of cash-grabs, The Secret Life of Pets 2 looks….aight, I guess. I was real excited about the first one, and then it was just kinda…meh. So I don’t have high hopes for this one. The one I’m REALLY excited for is Detective Pikachu. I mean…that is my and a whole lot of other people’s childhoods coming to life in a very, very weird way on screen and I am SO EXCITED. Plus like, Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu??? I am living.

Thankfully I didn’t have to sit through another Brightburn trailer this time.

That’s it for this review! I guess one reason I don’t understand the negative reviews (mostly because I disagree with the basis entirely) is because I really wanted to just…pull the good things out of it? Like I said, it’s not as good as the first one I don’t think, but there’s still really heartwarming stuff that happens. But I forget that we don’t like heartwarming I guess.

Anyway, I thought it was good, and I’m all down for skewing the review results against people who are angry about the movie because Benny is…gay.

I just-he’s not even the character who wore the rainbow-collared shirt??? Whatever.

Miss Bala 2019 Review

but like hear me out, even the tagline is misleading because…she doesn’t really change, it’s just her though? I mean she gets a gun but she doesn’t even really use it, my dudes

So a couple days ago, I took myself to the movies and saw Miss Bala, which WOW, that trailer was misleading. It wasn’t misleading in a bad way, at least in my opinion, but I can see where some people may have gone to see it expecting one movie, and then they got an entirely DIFFERENT movie.

So what was this movie, billed as an intense action-thriller starring Gina Rodriguez ruining a whole bunch of men’s lives in an incredible red dress?

So hear me out, in some ways, it was exactly that. But it was also so much more.

So let’s learn all about the incredible power of female friendship because, and I cannot stress this enough, THAT’S what Miss Bala is really about.

if only we could all look as put together while we contemplate our life decisions

THE PLOT

The movie begins following Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez), a professional makeup artist who dreams of being more and maybe like even a designer one day instead of following the same old boring canned designs? She and the audience get a grim in-your-face reminder of her position when her supervisor flat-out says “we don’t pay you to think.”

Great, thanks for that.

But it can only bring her down for so long, because after the fashion show, Gloria heads down to Tijuana, Mexico to spend the weekend with her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo). Suzu is entering the Miss Baja California pageant, and Gloria, naturally, will be her makeup artist. There’s a really fun scene where they sign up and the pageant coordinator gives her a once-over and Gloria’s all “oh yeah I’m not entering” and the coordinator just full-out Regina George is like “oh I didn’t think so.” (Like?? has she SEEN Gina Rodriguez???) Suzu takes on the audience’s reaction and is ready to THROW DOWN with this coordinator, but Gloria talks her out of it.

Later that night, Gloria is practicing Suzu’s makeup and they have a really sweet heart-to-heart about how they’re family and all and Suzu gives Gloria this dorky adorable friendship bracelet she made her and it’s all very nice.

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT HAPPY STUFF, we cut to Suzu and Gloria heading to a club to shmooze with some of the pageant higher-ups (Suzu drops the plot point here that the chief of police tends to sleep with the pageant winner every year BUT IT’S A RUMOR OKAY EVERYTHING’S FINE). Gloria heads to the bathroom after Mr. Chief of Police GROPES her, but she doesn’t want to ruin Suzu’s chance at winning, so she just quietly leaves. In the stall, though, she sees and hears a group of guys break in through the ceiling vent and um, they got guns. One of them finds Gloria and pulls her out, which is where she first makes eye contact with the leader, Lino Esparza (Ismael Cruz Cordova). Though egged on to shoot Gloria because she’s seen them, Lino seems to find her intriguing because she’s an American. He tells her she has ten seconds to get out.

Gloria desperately tries to get to Suzu in the crowded club, but it’s too late-the guys open fire on the club and it’s chaos. Gloria barely makes it out, but she still cannot find Suzu (though she keeps passing girls who could be her, but they keep getting shot or hurt and it’s jarring). She ends up spending the night in a cafe with other survivors, with Suzu not answering her phone. Gloria finds a policeman outside, says she’s a survivor and she saw the men who did this. The policeman offers to take her to the station, but something’s wrong. Instead, he takes her to a hotel, and she is grabbed by none other than Lino Esparza’s men.

She is later barely able to escape after being forced to leave a car with a bomb inside parked outside a safehouse. Because of this, she is captured by the DEA, and told she will only be released if she delivers Lino to the DEA.

The rest of the movie is a tense back-and-forth between Gloria and her life with Esparza’s men, all while desperately searching for Suzu. Can she save Suzu and escape from a life of crime, or will she be forced to live out her days as a slave to Esparza’s gang, forever wondering what happened to her dear friend?

this is basically the movie, various men telling Gloria what to do while she just death-stares the entire time

THE REVIEW

Even from the plot summary, it sounds like the movie that was advertised. I mean, isn’t it, in some way, a version of Taken? I mean even the tagline “who would you become to save your family?” I mean it’s…it’s Taken, you guys.

Except it’s not. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually liked Taken when I saw it, but this is not that movie. The way it’s billed, you think Gloria will develop some kind of relationship with Lino and be his gang queen or something, but really she’s doing it to save her friend so it’s all a lie. And like…that is not what happens. You can tell it’s what Lino wants to happen (except for the it being all a lie part)-he’s obsessed with Gloria pretty much from the moment he sees her. He is beyond happy to control her and make her special, groom her into being his “queen.”

But Gloria? She is having NONE of that.

Even when it seems hopeless, and it seems hopeless a LOT, Gloria never loses sight of her goal: Suzu. Saving Suzu is all she wants. She is not in it for any kind of sick relationship with Lino or DEA guy (SPOILER granted, DEA guy doesn’t really last long enough to even make it a possibility but also he kinda betrayed Gloria so we don’t care for him that much tbh).

Now, are there action-packed scenes as advertised? Yes, of course. But you know how in movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Liam Neeson or I guess Dwayne Johnson is doing stuff like that now whatever ANYWAY, generally in movies like that, the action scenes are “fun?” They’re always played to show you how impossibly immortal our main guy is, or how weird and ridiculous some of the stunts can get. They’re played to bring out your inner animal to cheer for all the destruction or something I guess, I’ve never enjoyed stuff like that so I can’t speak for why they’re the way they are. The action scenes in this movie are never enjoyable, they’re never there to show off stunts and grunts and whatever else you look for. These scenes are appropriately horrific. The shootout in the club at the beginning is terrifying and stressful, the stand-off in the lot between the gang and the DEA is tense and difficult, and the final assault on the party, despite it being the most played up in the trailer, is scary. It just is.

And honestly? It’s one of the things I appreciate the most about the movie. It felt real, not just played up for entertainment.

I could go on about that for a while, but there are other reasons this movie isn’t the movie that was advertised. I’ll go into those more down below.

So it’s not the movie that was advertised-but is it good?

Honestly? It’s pretty okay.

Like The Kid Who Would Be King, I don’t think this is a movie that’ll win any awards. It’s a little messy, especially in the beginning, and the ending kinda comes out of nowhere. Plus, even though it knows what movie it wants to be, it was not advertised as such, so people don’t really know what to do with it. Plus apparently it’s very loosely based off of a 2011 Mexican film of the same name, so some people have an issue with that.

Look, despite the messiness, I still think there are interesting and good things in this film-plus, Gina Rodriguez is a goddess.

I can’t fully detail my opinion here, so let’s just dive in deeper and discuss.

Spoilers ahead!!

what do you mean she doesn’t look like she’s in the middle of a shootout in this picture isn’t that what you’d look like

THE MUSIC

I really liked the music! I don’t think there was any one musical moment that really stood out to me, although the club shootout was eerie because the club music kept playing over the carnage which was just…very unsettling. Effective, but also just kind of…blech.

Actually, having looked up the soundtrack on Spotify, I can say that the sweet guitar theme in the song called “Gloria & Suzu” is adorable and sweet, and then “Gloria Drives” is a direct contradiction and is super suspenseful and just ACK.

Also, we have to talk about the end credits song “Call the Shots” by Leslie Grace because DAMN. The lyrics are exactly why I like what I do like about this movie, and we’ll get into why in a later section. But seriously, this song is good. Add it to your “empowerment” playlist.

man this entire scene where he flips her hair all over on one side and she just glares at him in the mirror like AHHHH

THE CHARACTERS

Probably appropriately, we don’t have a lot of characters to discuss because a lot of them don’t get fully developed (I mean many of them do die so).

We have to start with our leading lady, light of my soul, Gloria Fuentes. I’m probably biased because I would die for Gina Rodriguez, but Gloria is a wonderful lead to follow through the movie. Again, her goal the entire time is just to find and save her best friend, and it’s just so pure and good you want her to succeed. Gloria is not perfect of course. She breaks down a lot on various jobs from Lino, I mean girl is scared, all right, and in order to save herself she accidentally helps her new comrade Isabel get…killed. You could argue that it is that scene, however, that helps to solidify her actions in the final act. Anyway, point is, Gloria is a good character to follow, and she is smart, capable, and has a good arc-we’re happy that she wins in the end because she deserves it. She is constantly underestimated by the men in the film, and she lets them, partly because she is used to it, but also because it leads to their downfall in many cases and her victory. Fools.

Suzu is, unfortunately, absent from much of the film, but she is an absolute ray of sunshine when she is onscreen. This is good because we have to want her to be rescued. In the little bit we do see of her, she clearly cares for Gloria a lot, and she just genuinely wants to win Miss Baja California. She is too pure and good and I’m so happy she’s okay in the end. I mean, unfortunately, she’s changed because of what happened to her, but she does get rescued.

Lino Esparza is a fascinating villain, and the more I think about it, the more I’m glad they depicted him the way they did. The movie does a fantastic job of painting him as a monster and a human. He does terrible, terrible things. He kills without a second thought. He has no problem ordering Gloria to strip for him, to lie down next to him, to untie his boots for him. He is absolutely drunk on the power he owns because he believes he deserves it. But…he’s dang attractive! And he at least seems to care for Gloria, sort of, but more importantly, look! He has a sweet family who cooks delicious food and there are children and he’s great with them and one day he just wants to buy that land so they just own it and awwww!! Lino is humanized to some degree for both the audience and Gloria, but never so much that we forget how awful he is. He’s well-rounded, and that’s important!

There are other characters, like I mentioned, but they’re not developed or even really important in the way that those three are. Lino has a henchman who never trusts Gloria and treats Isabel like a sex slave. DEA guy Brian has no soul (he tells Gloria there will be a SWAT guy available to get her out of the standoff, but when Gloria says there isn’t anyone there, he just says “k you’re on your own bye” LIKE. EXCUSE YOU). Suzu has a little brother who is Gloria’s godson and he is precious and also comes out unharmed! Isabel is precious, if I could have made any changes, it would have been to have both her AND Gloria take Lino’s crew down, but I get why her death happened.

Basically, the characters that were developed are well-developed, and that’s important. There aren’t a lot of them, but there don’t really need to be. We don’t need to know Henchman #1’s entire backstory to dislike him for the way he behaves towards Isabel. DEA guy Brian had plenty of character development in the betrayal scene and that was all I needed to know about him honestly.

Gina Rodriguez cries a lot in this movie and can I just say how illegal that should be

THE TWIST

I guess the first twist is in the middle when Gloria saves Lino in the lot standoff, but that was shown in the trailer so doesn’t count. The big twist comes at the very end.

Throughout the film, Gloria has been asking Lino to help her find Suzu because he promised. He dances around the topic a lot, but that’s just kind of how he is so it’s not really suspicious…until it is.

The ultimate plan is for Gloria to infiltrate the Miss Baja California pageant and win so that she can be invited to the Chief of Police’s room (yeah that rumor where he sleeps with the winner? HAHA NOT A RUMOR). Once there, Esparza’s men will attack and take him down so that she can find Suzu.

At the party, Gloria does find Suzu! But when she pulls Suzu aside to talk, she discovers something awful-Suzu was sold into a sex-trafficking ring run by none other than Lino Esparza himself. She has a tattoo on her hand that matches the one on Lino’s back-a tattoo logo.

So the whole time Lino was pretending to be looking for Suzu, he knew exactly where she was.

Filled with fury at this revelation but being taken to the Chief of Police’s room now, she decides to ruin the plan. She writes on a card to show to the Chief of Police that Lino Esparza is coming to kill him. This of course leads to a gigantic shootout that Gloria walks through (remember that footage from the trailer with her in the red dress? Mmm. Yep.).

There, she finds both Suzu…and Lino. Lino, still playing innocent, tells Gloria “see! I told you we’d find her!” But Gloria is having none of it. She asks Suzu to show Lino her hand with the tattoo. So Lino knows now, but even though Gloria’s pointing a gun at him, he doesn’t think she’ll shoot (this mirrors an earlier scene where he was teaching her to shoot and she had the gun pointed at him for a time). Unlike earlier though, she does take the shot. This ties in to the bigger theme of the film:

I have a lot of feelings about this dress

THE THEME

Underestimating women, but especially Gloria, is what I would argue to be the main theme of the film.

Throughout the entire film, Gloria is underestimated by every man she comes in contact with. Her supervisor? She “doesn’t get paid to think.” DEA guy Brian? Cool if she can bring them Lino, but if not, she’ll be another casualty in the standoff and not his problem. Henchman #1? He just doesn’t want her to distract Lino, but of course she can’t be the mole. Also, she’s a terrible cook who sets the kitchen on fire (newsflash: she did it on purpose as part of her plan and also you’re an idiot). And most of all: Lino Esparza. He thinks Gloria is fascinating and he likes her because she’s American, like he was. He senses some fight in her, but not enough to do anything about it. He degrades her by touching her, ordering her around, dressing her up, by owning her. He teaches her to shoot because he wants her to be able to defend herself on their next job because obviously she’s totally going to stay with him, but he does not think she will shoot him even when she’s pointing a gun at him.

Women are objects for men throughout the film. It’s ironic that part of the last job takes place at a beauty pageant, something famously ridiculed for the way it showcases women. Suzu is sold as a sex slave, and she’s entering this pageant knowing, probably, that if she wins she may have no choice but to sleep with the Chief of Police. Isabel is absolutely a sex slave for Henchman #1, and both she and Gloria are immediately delegated to cooking for the men at their hideout. Every party shown in the movie has obvious shots of women in tight dresses leading men out of room post-sex, shots of strippers, shots of girls whose only job is to look pretty for the men that own them in this world.

This movie does not end with Gloria taking a gun and shooting all of Esparza’s men in revenge, as well as every other horny guy there. She uses the gun on the Chief of Police, someone who canonically has taken advantage of and slept with who knows how many desperate girls simply because he can, someone who has groped not only Gloria but multiple girls throughout the film. She uses the gun on Lino Esparza, the man in charge of the sex trafficking ring that took her best friend, the man who tried to groom, abuse, and use her, the man who killed Isabel without a second thought because sometimes “sacrifices need to be made.”

And that’s it.

Once Lino is dead, Gloria grabs Suzu and they immediately surrender to the police.

I think that’s why many people (specifically all the old white guy reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes #I’MJUSTSAYING) don’t like this film. It was advertised as that big macho man movie except ohhhhh DUDE it has Gina Rodriguez in a tight red dress DUUUUUUUUDE!!!

Gloria is never objectified for the audience’s sake. She is objectified by the men in the film because that is the point-these men underestimate her and think they can own her, and they cannot.

Why?

Because of female friendship. Gloria’s quest to find Suzu is what drives her, and she never, ever wavers. When she shoots the Chief of Police, she is also shooting the man who would have forced Suzu to sleep with him if she’d won the pageant. When she shoots Lino, she is also shooting the man who sold her friend like a collectible trinket.

Despite being advertised as a big, violent movie with GUNS!, guns are never glorified in the way it was maybe advertised. Lino loves his weapons of course, but again, Gloria only uses it to bring two of her and Suzu’s and many, many women’s abusers down. Then, she drops it. She doesn’t need it anymore. In an age where there are violent shootings every day in the US, I admire this movie for not painting it as some kind of saving grace for Gloria-it was a tool to save her and her friend, and then, she was done.

There’s a lot of Lino dressing Gloria up and then staring at her while she just looks so, so, so very done

THE RELATIONSHIP

I have to talk a little about the Lino/Gloria relationship because I really appreciate the way it was handled.

It would have been incredibly easy to have some sort of “romantic” element added to it-Lino clearly at least lusts for her, and Gloria starts to see some sort of human side to him after he takes her to see his family.

However, it never went that direction, and I am so thankful for that.

Every scene with Lino and Gloria is kind of disgusting to some degree, which is exactly how it should be. He’s constantly staring at her, touching her, flat-out ordering her to strip, or messing with her hair. It’s never loving, it’s always possessive. And Gloria never reacts like maybe she wants it, ever-she’s always stone-faced and clearly trying not to like, scream. Maybe that’s just what I wanted to do.

Even when Gloria may start seeing some sort of good in him, this is immediately shattered by how easy it is for him to murder Isabel. This is a double-edged sword, because it was Gloria’s action of putting the tracking chip in Isabel’s phone (though granted, she did not know it was Isabel’s phone when she did it, she was on a time-limit) that led to her being labeled a traitor. But that’s all Lino needs to execute her, despite Gloria’s screams of protest. She begs to just be able to talk to him, maybe she can make him see sense, but Lino doesn’t let her, he wants her to be taken away where she can’t interfere.

This action solidifies Gloria’s feelings toward him. It SUCKS that Isabel dies, but in a way it’s necessary for Gloria to fully realize Lino as a monster. You could argue that the discovery of the link between Suzu and Lino also does this, but I think you have to build it gradually. Gloria’s furious at Lino, but she won’t do anything to him because her priority is Suzu. Once Suzu is found oh and also he’s the one in charge of that trafficking ring? Then all bets are off.

Basically, they could have added this Stockholm syndrome plotline to this, and I’m so glad they didn’t.

one of a couple different posters for the original movie

THE RE-IMAGINING

The poster above is one for the 2011 movie I mentioned earlier. It also got mixed reviews, but generally people seemed to like it, especially those people angry about this new movie.

I think because they share a title and a very, very basic plot connection, it’s easy to claim this 2019 movie is a remake, in which case it would be a very bad one. The main character is completely different and the Miss Baja California plotline is played way, WAY down.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s fair to call this film a remake-I would say it’s more of a re-imagining. Even the opening credits claim it’s inspired by the 2011 film, not based on.

Now, I haven’t seen the 2011 film, but from what I gather and see, the bullet imagery is played up a lot more in that film than this one. The point of that film is the infiltration of the beauty pageant-the point of this film is Gloria as a character and her friendship with Suzu. The pageant is never the point, merely a side thing.

Anyway, you’re welcome to do what you want of course, I just generally don’t think it’s fair to compare these two films since honestly, they seem to be very different. Should the 2019 film have been named something different, then? I mean yeah, maybe. But like The Power of Friendship sounds like a My Little Pony movie, so…

LOOK. AT. THAT. DRESS.

“OOF” MOMENT

Again, every scene where Lino touched Gloria just was GROSS and EW but we gotta give this one to the ending where Gloria is suddenly recruited by the CIA?????

Um…I mean cool she deserves it but also WHAT.

FAVORITE MOMENT

When Gloria found Suzu and gave her the friendship bracelet she’d been holding on to to show her that she’d been looking for her this whole time I JUST THEY LOVE EACH OTHER SO MUCH I SUPPORT THEM.

same poster again because I couldn’t find an alternate one? Did they make any?

SHOULD YOU TAKE YOURSELF TO THIS MOVIE?

So listen-it’s honestly tough for me to recommend this movie. I saw a review that called it “genre-defying” and I agree with that. It’s hard to place this movie because it’s so…not what people thought. And that’s not a bad thing, at least for me. I did like it, and I loved the direction it took, but the violence is tough to watch. Again, I feel like it’s meant to be because it’s not directed as entertaining action scenes, which is good. It’s appropriately horrific, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

Still, the violence is not the entire movie. Gina Rodriguez absolutely steals the show and does amazing, and it’s so, so satisfying when she finds Suzu and wins. If you like typical action thrillers, you may not like this film. But if you like character-driven, tense films where the bad guys DEFINITELY LOSE and the good girls are incredible AND WIN, then I think you might like this one. Above all else, I think it does have a good story with great characters, and again, a very satisfying ending (prior to the CIA recruitment because that was just waaaaaay out of left field).

As a whole, I give this film…

3/5 FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS!!!!

Because we all know it, that friendship bracelet was a much bigger symbol to the film than a bullet, despite both film title and advertising.

TRAILERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

You would think that by now I’ve seen the Pet Sematary trailer enough to know and prepare for that stupid truck jumpscare in the beginning. I’m not, though. Lots of repeat trailers for this movie, but our new contenders are: Captain Marvel, which I will absolutely be seeing. I mean, Marvel finally giving a female superhero their own movie???? I’M THERE. Plus I would die for Brie Larson, much like I would die for Gina Rodriguez. Cold Pursuit looks…meh. It was so hard to tell what the movie was even about from the trailer, it was just like “LOOK! LIAM NEESON! Also explosions! Cars in trees! Loud noises! Excitement! LIAM NEESON AGAIN!” so um…right now it’s a no from me, unless there’s some incredible plot or I hear good things. But. Meh. And then there was Brightburn, which when I was taking notes in my phone I actually wrote “Brightburn what the GUCK” and I didn’t correct it because that feels a lot more accurate to how I feel about it. I mean, we’ve all been spammed with trailers for The Prodigy, and now this looks like almost the same film except the kid is like an evil..alien? I guess? That stupid jumpscare at the end though. Nope.

And that does it for this review!

Is Miss Bala a great movie? Not really. But I can appreciate and like things about it, and if you think you can too, I recommend taking yourself to the movies to see Miss Bala.

Or if you just wanna see Gina Rodriguez walk around in that dress with explosions in the background because honestly, price of admission, right there.