Monday, August 8, 2022

The Terminal List - Passed the Three-Episode Test


    Streaming on Amazon Prime

    One of my tactics for judging the potential quality of a series is the three-episode test; if I find myself engaged enough to want to know what happens after the third episode, then the show has earned my attention. The one platform where this has proven itself to be the most challenging (often annoyingly so) is Amazon Prime. While I appreciate Amazon for providing a universal platform for all kinds of content from many levels of creators (despite their business practices being less than ideal, to put it mildly), much of their original content hasn't proven worthy of my engagement. Either due to terrible execution of a fascinating idea or getting deprived of a satisfying conclusion in favor of aggressive sequel baiting. 

*cough* The Tomorrow War *cough* Upload *cough* 

    Lately, however, it seems that Amazon has finally found its strength in military-oriented dramas. Finding their footing with the first season of Reacher (a show based on the Jack Reacher mystery book series by Lee Child), they have struck gold yet again with an adaptation of The Terminal List by Jack Carr. A show that not only tells a compelling story but also showcases how far Chris Pratt appears to be stretching himself as an actor. It's delightfully surprising on all fronts, minus the bits of graphic violence here and there (all of which is in service to the story and not just there for the sake of being there). 

    The story follows Navy Seal Commander James Reece (Chris Pratt), who loses most of his squad in an ambush during a covert operation in the middle east. After returning home with the few survivors, things around him become less reliable, including his mental state. His recollection of recent events appears muddled and inconsistent. Not helped by the extra emotional trauma of his friend's recent death, shortly followed by his wife and daughter's murder. Desperate for answers, James goes off the grid in search of why someone would want to kill his comrades and family, making a list with the names of those responsible and marking them off one by one. The only question is how much can we trust James Reece's recollection of events given his troubled and discombobulated state? 

    The show makes the audience question the narrative within the first three episodes, engaging you with the mystery and eager to find the answers. When the truth is revealed (which I will not spoil here), the story evolves into a compelling yarn that questions the line between justice and vengeance. Showcasing how sometimes the two need to co-exist for better or worse. 

    The show doesn't do anything brand new or anything that hasn't been done before in a story like this, but that ultimately doesn't matter. As I have stated, you don't have to be original; you just have to be engaging. Have a story worth telling, an overarching theme worth investing in, with characters we can care about, and the rest will follow. It's not rocket science; it's basic human storytelling. 

    Chris Pratt delivers a surprisingly remarkable performance. While I would not go so far as to proclaim he's reached the echelon of superb actors like Andrew Garfield just yet, he appears to be on his way there. His performance is further enhanced by the superb supporting cast delivering equally surprising performances, including Taylor Kitsch as James's brother. 

    The action is also well-executed with decently staged shoot-outs, visceral hand-to-hand combat, and probably the scariest use of oddly-shaped hatchets I've seen in a series like this. 

    The MVP award goes to Constance Wu for playing an intelligent and capable journalist character in a genre that usually doesn't handle them well. 

    Probably my only nitpick is with the sound design. While it doesn't suffer from the lack of dynamic range between quiet and loud scenes (forcing you to constantly change the volume every ten minutes), it does suffer from another ever-annoying terrible habit: assuming muddled dialogue equals an extra-dramatic presentation. While there are ways to add proper drama to dialogue delivery, if your present technique forces me to activate closed captioning on my TV, it's not working! 

    While the graphic violence may turn off some viewers (understandably so), The Terminal List is a welcome and well-crafted feather in Amazon's hat. Its engaging story and compelling characters make it a must-watch for those with a Prime subscription. Here's hoping they continue to improve their line of original content like this in the future. 

    Amazon, while you are not yet forgiven for the atrocity that was The Tomorrow War, you are well on your way. Keep up the excellent work. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Jerry & Marge Go Large - A Film with a Big Heart


Streaming on Paramount+ 

    It's a beautiful feeling when you get to gush about a movie! Sometimes you come across a film that is so delightful, well crafted, and surprisingly entertaining that you find yourself uncertain if you're dreaming or not. It's been quite some time since I was genuinely swept away by a movie of any kind, let alone something from this year. Yet, here we are, talking about Jerry & Marge Go Large, a movie with so much heart that it deserves so much more attention and praise than I may be capable of providing. 

Short version: 

    Please stop reading and go see this movie immediately! 

For those of you who would like a few more details: 

    The story follows an older couple named Jerry (Bryan Cranston) and Marge (Annette Bening). Jerry is a mathematical genius recently forced into retirement from his long-time job as a line manager at Kellogs. With too much free time on his hands, Jerry seeks out a new challenge and finds it with the Lottery. It turns out Jerry discovers a flaw in the Lottery system, which (based on probability and timing) guarantees a higher amount of winning tickets. With this incredible discovery, Jerry and Marge decide to turn it into a business (including paying taxes and acquiring a license). They plan to use their winnings to help rebuild their dying hometown. Providing funds for the school, local businesses, and so on. Things seem to be moving along well enough until a college student named Tyler (Uly Schlesinger), another mathematical prodigy, discovers the same flaw in the Lottery system and takes advantage of it. Will the two join forces, or will things devolve into a clash of intellects? 

    Typically, this is the part where I go on about the movie and its qualities, what I liked and didn't like, what could have been better, and so on. But, honestly, I just love this movie to bits. I can't think of a single thing about this movie I didn't like or didn't enjoy. Literally, everything about this movie is so delightful and entertaining that whatever flaws may be present in the film, I either didn't notice or didn't care. 

    This is probably the best version of a "feel good" movie I have seen in a long time, and I cannot recommend it enough. The performances are top-notch, the writing is fantastic, the direction is seamless, and the narrative is engaging. 

  In whatever way you can see this movie, please do so post haste! 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Adam Project - What if "Timecop" was Intentionally Funny?



Streaming on Netflix 

    For those who may not know, Timecop is a science-fiction action movie from 1994 about a future where time travel exists and is heavily policed and regulated. It stars martial artists and former 90s action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, one of the many egotistical and eccentric action stars of the 90s, to the point that he had (I kid you not) a personal cameraman whose only job on set was to get great-looking shots of his biceps. The film was one of those cases where it had a great idea that could have been incredible and memorable for the right reasons, only for it to be bogged down by the demands of the action cinema craze at the time, not to mention the many bits of unintentional hilarity throughout the film's runtime, including at least one not-so-awesome scene of the hero defeating a henchman by performing the splits. 

    That film was recently featured on the popular podcast How Did This Get Made for good reasons, needless to say. 

    I mention this classic movie because it bares some resemblance to today's subject, The Adam Project. It may not be an official better remake of a bad movie, but it's close enough. A science-fiction action film about time travel with an attractive star, only it's a much better and more entertaining execution of the idea. Featuring jokes that land, visceral action scenes, exciting needle drops, and performances that feel genuine in every way. Despite a few unfortunate technical issues (which I will get into shortly), it's a fun film. 

    The story follows a young boy named Adam (Walker Scobell) dealing with the relatively recent loss of his father and school bullies. He takes his feelings out on his mother (Jennifer Garner), who is doing her best to help the situation. One night, while his mom is out on a date, Adam witnesses a strange event in the nearby woods and investigates. He finds a mysterious man (Ryan Reynolds) who turns out to be himself from the future. Future Adam traveled back in time to search for his wife who he believes was nearly the victim of attempted murder by the corporation that owns time travel tech and wants to prevent her from revealing something terrible. From there, the story flows into a series of well-timed jokes, touching moments, invigorating action scenes, and surprisingly clever writing. 

    Seriously, I am pleasantly surprised at how much fun this movie is. It probably shouldn't be a surprise, given director Shawn Levy's track record. This is the same guy who made Real Steel (a fun amalgamation of Rocky and The Champ but with robots and a genuinely entertaining kid) and is slated to do Deadpool 3. Although, to be fair, he also did Free Guy (which was basically Disney showing off all the new toys they bought with their acquisition of 20th Century Fox) and The Internship (the less said about that one, the better), so it's not like he's a mastermind. Still, when he's good, he's outstanding! 

    The dialogue and banter are probably what ultimately sells the movie. It's witty, well-timed, and precisely delivered by talented actors who feel like they're having a great time on set. Everyone's chemistry and energy feel fun and contagious. It's easy to forget to let the cast and characters have fun once in a while because it'll also encourage the audience to have fun with them. 

    The only aspect of the film that keeps me from declaring it perfect is the terrible and poorly mixed audio. Like many movies of the modern era, it doesn't seem to understand how to properly combine various levels of sound without damaging someone's sound system or, even worse, their hearing. The levels go from reasonable to excessively loud (typically during action scenes) with no proper transitions or sense of balance. Usually, I don't mind when an action scene ups the volume a little bit to increase the excitement, but if I find myself changing the volume on my TV every fifteen minutes, it's too much! 

    The Adam Project is a fun little adventure with likable characters and a cool enough concept to keep things moving smoothly. Aside from the awful sound mixing, it's an invigorating ride worth taking. Check it out. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Trailer Reaction - Wakanda Forever


    Marvel Studio's Black Panther is the unquestionable champion of the entire MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Its heavily textured characters, resonating story, exciting action sequences, and narrative priorities make it more than worthy of its Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Much of the quality of the film can be attributed to its co-writer & director, Ryan Cooglier, and especially to its leading star, the late Chadwick Boseman as King T'Challa/Black Panther. With his unfortunate and untimely passing back in 2020, there was much uncertainty circulating about rather or not the would be, or even should be, a follow-up. No actor in their right mind would even dare to suggest taking up the mantle, and implementing deep fake methods would be disrespectful and incredibly tacky. 

    Yet, here we are, with a recently dropped trailer for the upcoming follow-up, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. While the trailer itself is incredibly goosebump-inducing, what can we glean from the trailer regarding the narrative, concept, and most importantly, how they will handle the absence of its most significant element? 

    While I do not intend to break down the entire trailer in search of what the whole film may entail, I am going to examine some of the little hints sprinkled throughout and offer my thoughts on what it might likely be and why I'm incredibly excited for it. 

    So, let's start digging. 

    My first reaction upon seeing the trailer is how feminine-focused the story appears to be. The first film prided itself on featuring, among other things, incredible women characters with texture and depth. Since the creative team from the first film is making a triumphant return for this one, I am not surprised that element will remain, as it should. 

    As we go further into the trailer, the conflict appears to be one of civil unrest. There seems to be a war brewing between Wakanda (Black Panther's home) and an underwater kingdom of some kind. This is likely to be the introduction of another Marvel superhero character, Namor: The Sub-Mariner, prince of the sea. He's basically Marvel's rough equivalent to DCs Aquaman. His presence in this film is likely one of rivalry against Wakanda for some reason yet to be shown. 

    The only bit of dialogue featured in the trailer is from Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) proclaiming to the tribal council, "I am Queen of the most powerful nation in the world, and my entire family is gone! Have I not given everything?" Part of the speech plays over a brief clip showing a painting of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the previous King of Wakanda and former Black Panther. This would seem to imply that the filmmakers intend to incorporate the untimely death of King T'Challa into the narrative. While the reasons for this creative decision are unfortunate, given the circumstances, I think it was the best course of action. Not only is it respectful to Chadwick Boesman's memory, but it also paves the way for new heroes born from his inspiration. 

    Special attention should also be drawn to the trailer's choice of music: a surprisingly beautiful and appropriately kick-ass cover of Bob Marly's "No Woman, No Cry." On the surface, it seems like a lovely song to accompany the visuals, and while that is indeed the case to an extent, there is something much deeper underneath the surface. Given the proper context of the song and the aforementioned feminine-focused narrative I suggested, it would seem to hint that the film is likely about loss, love, and moving forward while honoring the memory of those who made you who you are. An appropriate story for this particular set of characters. 

    Whatever may be in store for us with this film, I have the utmost confidence that co-writer & director Ryan Coogler, along with the rest of the returning cast and crew, will present us with a story that not only honors Chadwick Boseman's memory; but continues to inspire and encourage greatness in us all with this next chapter. 

    I, for one, cannot wait to see how they will accomplish this task. We shall see come this November. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 


Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Gray Man - Just Go With It


Streaming on Netflix 

    There's no denying that The Russo Brothers have become a force to be reckoned with in modern cinema. After wowing audiences with their run of successful Marvel films, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Endgame (and causing some concern with their disappointing follow-ups 21 Bridges and Extraction), we were all wondering what would come next and if it would be an improvement over the last. Their latest outing, The Gray Man, a caffeine-induced spy vs. spy action thriller, may not win any awards for originality but will be remembered as a prime example of how to take overdone cliches and make them fresh. Also, a spectacular showcase of Ryan Gosling as a capable action star and just how fantastic of an actor Chris Evans is. 

    Based on the novel by Mark Greaney, the story follows a professional government agent codenamed Six (Ryan Gosling), who goes on the run after a failed assignment to take out a "bad guy." Upon discovering his handlers haven't been entirely honest with him, they hire a private contractor named Lloyd (Chris Evans), infamous for reckless and sadistic actions that yield results, to go after Six and recover something he took that they want back. From there, the film slips into the familiar territory of double-crosses, witty action banter, and over-the-top fight scenes that, in the hands of any other directing team, would feel stale and overdone. But, in the hands of The Russo Brothers, it all comes together in an enjoyable package that earns its use of cliches and overused spy movie tropes. Mainly because it's clearly having a blast with them all. 

    I mean that most sincerely and as honestly as possible! This movie is well aware of how overdone a lot of the tropes utilized are, and the movie makes a genuine effort to shake things up a little bit by presenting well-crafted action set pieces, larger-than-life characters, and clever use of subversion of expectations. While it may not be the most outstanding example of this phenomenon, I gladly rank it as one of the top 5 examples. 

    Chris Evans proves himself a versatile actor with his charismatic (albeit terrifying) portrayal of the main villain. The man has always shown incredible talent, and while I will never forget him as Captain America (my favorite Avenger), it's nice to see him have the opportunity to showcase his whole range. 

    The MVP award goes to Ana de Armas for playing a competent, capable, and bad-ass agent who, unlike most women characters in movies like this, is proactive and contributes to the narrative in ways that are not only meant to make the male lead look great. We need more women characters like this now more than ever. 

    While I immensely enjoyed this film, it's not without flaws. The editing can sometimes feel too choppy and hyper. Although to be fair, it's never to the point of incomprehension. Also, while the cliches are cleverly subverted (mostly), they still have a bit of annoyance to them simply because of how overused they are. Plus, there are too many crazy drone shots for my taste. 

    The Gray Man will not change up the spy thrillers anytime soon, but it will provide an excellent two hours' worth of entertainment for fans of the genre. Plus, it's a great example of what we may expect from these talented individuals outside of Marvel. I, for one, am excited about whatever comes next. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Come See The Light


    Today is the day, my beautiful readers, that my first novel officially launches and is made available for sale! 

    Many thanks to those who have pre-ordered their copies. I hope you enjoy reading the story, and I look forward to your thoughts and reviews. 

    If you haven't had the chance to do so yet, please help spread the word about the book to your friends and families. 

    Below is a link to my website with a few places where my book can be found. 

    Thank you all for your time and readership. Rest assured, this blog will continue to provide fun and thoughtful entries on movies and such for as long as I can type. 

    Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Batman - The Shadows are Safe


Streaming on HBO Max 
For rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon, and YouTube 

    I have made no secret of my disinterest in this year's Warner Brothers & DC Comics entry, yet again, falling back on their most oversaturated and overused superhero character in their entire lineup. While I am a Batman fan and enjoy a good story with him, I've grown tired of how his rights holders constantly convince themselves that he's their only marketable character. Not to mention the "Dark = Deep" argument that I've already discussed at great length and still find equally oversaturated in pop culture. So, when everyone was going on about how this new entry will be darker, grittier, and incredibly reminiscent of noir detective stories like Se7en, I was less than thrilled, to put it mildly. 

    However, having finally sat down to watch the movie, I am happy to report that it has surpassed my expectations and put my concerns to rest. While it may not be the best Batman story ever put to the silver screen (that distinction remains with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), it is at least a good Batman story that justifies and earns its dark tone and provides a narrative that couldn't be more relevant and appropriately shock-inducing even if it tried. This is one instance where I am delighted to have been proven wrong about something. 

    The story follows Bruce Wayne/Batman (Robert Pattinson) two years into his crusade against crime. He has already gained a reputation for being ruthless against criminals and is perceived as a demon in many ways. Things begin to take a strange and twisted turn when Batman finds himself on the trail of a sadistic serial killer, The Riddler (Paul Dano), who has started a dangerous and unnerving game of cat & mouse. Upon investigating, Batman discovers some terrible secrets about the city authorities, including unsettling details about his parents. Along the way, he enlists the aid of a professional thief named Selina Kyle/Catwoman (ZoĆ« Kravitz), who is searching for a friend of hers who may have gotten mixed up with the local crime boss. The fate of Gotham City rests on their shoulders, and all the mysteries must be solved before something inhumane befalls the innocent. 

    The stand-out feature of the film is its portrayal of Batman. While the character has enjoyed many interpretations in the comics, TV, and movies, this one feels particularly noteworthy. Everything from his outfit to how he enters a room feels demonic and monstrous. This is a Batman who is emotionally disturbed and uses that energy as a force for good. This is also probably the best use of turning Batman into an object of fear for the wicked and corrupt. 

    Along the way, he learns a valuable lesson about the difference between vengeance and justice. I won't spoil exactly how, but let's just say it'll likely offend some affiliates of the GOP, which I'm totally okay with. 

    That lesson about vengeance vs. justice is the central theme and dedicated message of the whole film, which I cannot praise enough. In this day & age, when we all feel powerless against real-world evil forces, it's easy to believe that vengeance, or any drastic action for that matter, is the only course of action for real change. However, as shown in this movie, it couldn't be farther from the truth. If we want real change, we all must do better than vengeance. 

    The comparisons to Se7en are indeed well-founded. This film feels less like a Batman movie and more like a gripping noir detective story that happens to have Batman. This may be par for the course in most comics, but it's rarely been appropriately portrayed on the silver screen. Unlike most other dark stories, this one isn't dark for the sake of it but instead takes full advantage of the style and atmosphere. Nothing feels forced or artificially inserted to meet a quota. Everything feels like it belongs in the world presented. 

    The only nitpicks I have with the film are a few aspects of the script and some of the characters not getting enough screen time as I might have liked. Some of the twisted riddles from the villain feel a bit too silly for their own good (though they do also serve as an unusual source of necessary levity), and the twist about Batman's parents felt out of place (although it does contribute to the overall thematic message of the film). Plus, there needed to be much more of Alfred (Andy Serkis). 

    The Batman is not the next greatest thing in superhero or comic book cinema, but it is an incredibly well-crafted film that deserves all the praise it has already received and has successfully demolished my previous concerns. I am genuinely looking forward to what may come next. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

The Terminal List - Passed the Three-Episode Test

      Streaming on Amazon Prime      One of my tactics for judging the potential quality of a series is the three-episode test; if I find m...