AQUAMAN – FROM LAMEST COMIC STRIP SUPERHERO TO AQUADUDE!!

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF AQUAMAN REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Super cool and buff version of Aquaman/Arthur Curry who must challenge his bellicose brother Orm for the underwater Kingdom of Atlantis to prevent a war with the human race.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid-teens and up for some language, a great deal of cartoon violence which might be scary for younger children, the topic of adultery and a LOT of cleavage.

LONG TAKE:

When I was growing up, Aquaman was arguably the lamest superhero on the block. Justice League re-presented Jason Momoa (the ill-fated Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones  as a long haired hard-drinking rockstar/biker-dude Aquaman and it WORKED! This watery super hero has all the battle finesse of the Hulk and the smart aleck attitude of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. He was fun to watch and the highlight (with Gal Gadot’s long cameo as Wonder Woman) of the otherwise fairly anemic Justice League movie. This new installment to the struggling D.C. Universe reestablishes Aquaman’s origin as a comic book hero.

The bright vibrant colors, a complex but nonsensical plot, the ooh aah largely unexplained but visually exciting weaponry and pseudo technology, thecharacters with semi-magical abilities, the scene-chewing hammy handed acting from even the likes of  an over-breathy Nicole Kidman, and the posturing dialogue all underscore the comic book source material.

The story begins as Queen Atlanna (Kidman) of Atlantis flees an unwanted arranged marriage with a king we never meet. Wounded but still pretty battle-feisty she washes up on the shore of a lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry, (Temuera Morrison) with whom she falls in love. Several years later, she has born Tom a son, who they name Arthur, purportedly after the hurricane raging about them at the time, (foreboding anyone?) but obviously as a nod to Camelot, one of the many derivative references used to cobble together the script. Atlanna is soon forced, for the sake of her baby and his father, to return to Atlantis. The Once and Future King Arthur, (of the ocean not Camelot), is trained periodically by visits from Vulko (Willem Dafoe).

Fast forward to Arthur’s Biblical 33rd year and a war is set to break out between the about-to-be-blindsided human race and Queen Atlanna’s younger and legitimate son, Prince Orm (Patrick Wilson, mostly known for supernatural scariest like The Conjuring and Insidious series), who blames his mother for having brought shame to their family by bearing a half-breed bastard with a human. Orm strives to bring Unity to the nine Realms of Asgard, I mean the Seven Kingdoms under the ocean. He also wants revenge on the human race for the human waste dumped into the ocean. (Can anyone say Captain Planet?) No mention is made, of course as to: how the Atlantians and their hordes of sea critters handle their bathroom issues any differently, the fact that the dumpage is biodegradable, that the ocean is incredibly vast, Atlantis is pretty darn far from any coastal areas, and the other six realms don’t really seem to have any bone to pick with the human race. Sounds like Orm simply has mommy issues and brother envy to me.

Princess Mera, (Amber Heard, mostly eye-candy in previous films such as The Playboy Club and Magic Mike XXL) the daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren, as the rough tough guys in Rocky IV, Creed II and The Expendables franchise – keep in mind this man has a chemical engineering degree!), seeks Arthur out to stop the war by encouraging Arthur, the eldest son, to take his place as the rightful King. Arthur is reluctant as he aligns himself with humans and seems sure Atlantis is a nice place to visit but doesn’t want to live there. He is also mad about the fate of his mom … but I won’t give any spoilers here.

Mera and Arthur set out to find a special Excalibur-like Trident whose power is so strong it will not only defeat baby brother Orm, but bring all the realms together in a peaceful coalition. The rest of the movie is taken up with so many quests, including: duels, long treks through wastelands, battles with armies of inhuman monsters, underwater labryinths, and lessons in humiility, that Hercules’ patience would have been put to the test.

The whole thing is a big, bloated, but ultimately fun hoot. I can see why it was a huge hit in China. A lot of time is spent in meaningful stares, posturing in action figure stances, and dramatic appearances. There were times when the stilted language, bright colors and poised settings made it easy to envision the comic strip frames each scene could have been inspired by.

There’s no hanky-panky, although Atlanna lives with Arthur’s father out of wedlock, eschewing her obligations and fiancé. Arthur, in turn, spends most of the movie having “managed to get his shirt off” (thank you Galaxy Quest). There are a handful of minor profanities, which parents of minor children might not want repeated, and topics of war, adultery, and murder which parents might deem inappropriate for younger children. So, honestly, not much worse than your average Grimm’s fairy tale.

The CGI in the early scenes with Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison is pretty creepy. While not Tron: Legacy-level disturbing nor Henry Cavil’s Justice League Superman-mustache ridiculous, it’s distractingly noticeable. And CGI Willem Dafoe, in the training scenes, looks cut directly from a high-quality video game.

The music is darker and more ominous than it should be for a kids’ superhero movie, but then the topics of adultery, murder, treachery, betrayal, and incitement of global warfare are all pretty dark topics as well.

The character of Arthur / Aquaman is the highlight of the show, with his genial, protective giant personality, who rarely takes anyting completely seriously. With the size of Drax, the impulsive nature of Peter Quill, the fighting skills of Gamora, and the snarky attitude of Rocket, his D.C. hero is almost the entire Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy crew in one.

The bright vibrant colors in almost every scene clues you, right away, that we are here for a comic-book good time. And, ultimately, what do you want? As I have admonished before in other blogs about similarly themed movies: this is not Hamlet, or Chekov. It’s a superhero movie. Enjoy.

 

THE FLORIDA PROJECT – AN ATTEMPT TO ROMANTICIZE A GROTESQUELY NEGLIGENT TEEN MOTHER

My sister, Wynne, reviewed The Florida Project so I didn't, as it turned out, have to endure it. She kindly has written a guest review for us. Here it is: 

The Florida Project 

SHORT TAKE: 

The movie, The Florida Project, follows a six year old girl, Moonee, who lives with her criminally negligent teenaged mother during a summer vacation. Moonee lives at the Magic Castle motel in a run down area near Disneyworld where the beleaguered motel manager tries to keep watch over everyone.  This is a very disturbing movie. 

LONG TAKE: 

Halley (Bria Vinaite – newcomer who director, Sean Baker, found in real life on an Instagram selling marijuana related merchandise), Moonee's mother, is a horrible person and six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is one step behind her. Halley is a single mom who is lazy, does not have a legal job, has a terrible potty mouth, takes advantage of her only friends – Ashley (Mela Murder) and Bobby (Willem Dafoe), steals, and does not supervise her daughter's activities. Halley is a disgusting piece of humanity. 

Moonee is the leader of a small group of friends.  During the course of the movie these young children: spit on cars and people, burn down an abandoned building, curse and make obscene gestures, are rude and tell lies to get money for ice cream.  Moonee loses two friends over the course of the movie when their friends' parents realize what she is leading them to do. 

Moonee loses her friend, Dicky, after the spitting incident and Scooty, Ashley's son, after Ashley realizes her son and the other members of the "gang" started a fire at an abandoned condominium.  Moonee keeps one friend, Jancey. 

Reviewers characterized Halley as a mother struggling to support her daughter and describes Halley as poor and unfortunate. Far from the embattled single mom heroically trying to carve out a life for her daughter that they imply, Halley is an irresponsible, criminally negligent teenager.

Halley does not have a job doing legal activities but still manages to afford cigarettes and weed.  Instead of choosing a respectable job, like her friend Ashley who works as a waitress, Halley turns to prostitution.  Not only does Halley prostitute herself, but makes little effort to protect Moonee from her activities. Halley sends Moonee to take a bath while Halley "entertains" clients in the next room.  Now, you could argue, Halley did not want to leave Moonee alone while she "works", but Moonee runs the streets without supervision all day while Halley  lays in bed watching TV, listening to music and reading magazines. 

Halley does terrible things to people if they disagree with her. Halley gets her friend, Ashley, to steal food for her from the restaurant where Ashley works. But when Ashley does not want to steal food for Halley any more or give Halley rent money and confronts Halley about being a prostitute, Halley beats the snot out of Ashley.  

Haley gets angry with Bobby, the motel manager, and she … 

{Ed note: OK – GOTTA GIVE MY FIRST DISGUST WARNING HERE – but to provide the full expose of how demented this poor excuse for a mother is, it is fair to include this – but if you do not want to read it just be aware it's disgusting and skip down to where I mark that it is "SAFE NOW": 

…reaches into her panties and removes a used sanitary napkin and slaps it on the glass door.  Charming, and we are supposed to feel sorry for her terrible life.} 

SAFE NOW 

The movie throws in a few (what are supposed to be) warm and fuzzy mother-daughter moments: playing out in the rain, giving her daughter a ride in a STOLEN grocery cart, stealing and selling stolen items together, hitch hiking, making obscene gestures at people together, taking bikini selfies…… 

Dafoe's Bobby, the manager of the motel, is a kind, likable character.  He tries to keep the peace between the residents and the tourists.  Bobby keeps the place clean and repairs what's broken when needed. (Though what is truly broken in Halley he finds there is nothing he can do.)  He even watches out for the kids living there.  For example, he finds a strange middle age man hanging around the motel playground watching the little girls.  Bobby confronts the intruder, gets his name from the intruder's driver's license, threatens to call the police and tells him never to return. 

Eventually and predictably, the Florida Department of Children and Families show up with the police to remove Moonee and put her in foster care.  The case workers are shown to be somewhat incompetent.  Moonee escapes and runs to her friend, Jancey. The closing scene shows them running together to Disneyworld. You never know whether it was Ashley or Bobby who called DCF or if it was just in the natural course of events that Moonee's precarious situation came to their attention. 

When the credits roll you are left thinking: "WHAT?! Did I miss something??"  The ending is very abrupt and does not tell us what happens to Halley or Moonee.  It is left up to the audience's imagination.  After investing time and sitting through this emotionally gut wrenching movie, it is disappointing to not have a conclusion. An interview with the director reveals this was deliberate. Rather than coming up with a proper conclusion, the director/writer, Baker, decided to leave it up to the audience. Quoted from an interview Baker had with Ashley Lee for the Hollywood Reporter: "It's left up to interpretation but it's not supposed to be literal, it's supposed to be a moment in which we're putting the audience in the headspace of a child." However, Baker ignores the fact that this is a very disturbed child. The result is a very unsatisfying "resolution" to this already difficult to watch movie.

 

Obviously the director has an eye for finding new and underused talent.  Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, had never done anything in movies before but was very convincing as the self-destructive mother. Brooklynn Prince, as Moonee, is brand new also, but does well portraying the virtually abandoned child.  The ever brilliant but not often enough seen Willem Dafoe gives a strong quiet performance as the eye in this storm.  The three main characters give very convincing character portrayals of the troubled and those left to clean up behind them. Mr. Baker brought out the best in all three for this undeserving story. Perhaps Mr. Baker will put his talents to better use next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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