Friday, April 28, 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Movie Name/Year: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Length: 2h 4min
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Marvel Studios, The South Australian Film Corporation, Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Disney+
Director: Peyton Reed
Writer: Jeff Loveness
Actors: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Bill Murray, Katy M. O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Jamie Andrew Cutler, David Dastmalchian, Randall Park
Blurb from IMDb: Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne are dragged into the Quantum Realm, along with Hope's parents and Scott's daughter Cassie. Together they must find a way to escape, but what secrets is Hope's mother hiding? And who is the mysterious Kang?

Selina’s Point of View:
I’m a Marvel fan girl. That said, even I have to admit that the Phase 4 films were a bit lacking. Aside from Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) the others all had something that brought them down.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) is the only one not to blame. The whole movie had to be rewritten after the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, and I don’t think any of us were ready to move on without him. Black Widow (2021) was good, but it came way too late in the story to have the effect they were hoping for. On top of that, Taskmaster could have been done better. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) had a great story, but some of the special effects were just bad. Disney has the money to put real effort into that sort of thing. There was no excuse for that. Eternals (2021) never drew me in. I wound up skipping it. (I’ll watch it eventually, though.) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) was fun, but it felt more like a Sam Raimi flick than something under the Marvel umbrella (which is not bad, just not what I was looking for).
And let’s just not discuss Thor: Love and Thunder (2022). The longer I sit on the memory of that film the more I resent it.
The Marvel teams put so much into the TV shows that I think they just figured the movies would skate by on the fame of the MCU. I’m guessing the higher ups were confused when people expressed their annoyance.

Going into Phase 5, I figured it’d be more of the same. I resigned myself to just not feeling the same when watching a Marvel movie. I even put off watching Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Imagine my surprise when I finally sat down to watch it and felt that spark.
Quantumania is the first movie since No Way Home that has felt like Marvel to me. It was very much in the same vein as the other two Ant-Man films. It was funny – without going too far (like Love and Thunder did). It affected me emotionally, but not to a place of exhaustion (like Wakanda Forever did). It did have a couple of minor graphic defects (like Legend of the Ten Rings), but it still showed a ton of effort.
It felt like visiting an old friend and catching up on their new life over dinner.
I’m not surprised that critics hated it. They’re like people looking for a Michelin star meal from a Kraft mac and cheese box. Of course, they’re not going to get it. Marvel isn’t meant to be high art; it’s meant to be a comfort. And Quantumania has all the comfort I hope to find in a Marvel flick.
There are some thinly veiled parallels to the social climate of today. I don’t think it goes too far, though. Personally, I support the messages that were being sold. People on the other side of the argument won’t be too happy though.
If you like the other Ant-Man films, you’re going to enjoy Quantumania.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 47%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 83%
Metascore – 48%
Metacritic User Score – 5.8
IMDB Score –6.3/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 4.5/5
P.S. Mid credit scene and after credit scene.
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Black Demon (2023)

Movie Name/Year: The Black Demon (2023)
Genre: Action
Length: 1h 40min
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: The Avenue
Director: Adrian Grünberg
Writer: Boise Esquerra, Carlos Cisco
Actors: Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Julio César Cedillo
Blurb: Josh Lucas (Ford v Ferrari, Yellowstone) stars in this edge-of-your-seat action thriller from the director of Rambo: Last Blood. Oilman Paul Sturges' (Lucas) idyllic family vacation turns into a nightmare when they encounter a ferocious megalodon shark that will stop at nothing to protect its territory. Stranded and under constant attack, Paul and his family must somehow find a way to get his family back to shore alive before it strikes again in this epic battle between humans and nature

Selina’s Point of View:
There is very little that I love more than a good creature feature. In fact, the only thing I devour more readily is mythology and folklore. Both my favorites cross paths with The Black Demon. I knew the moment I saw the trailer that I had to see the film.
When we watched the trailer on our monthly stream, I remarked that I thought the shark CGI was well done. Now that I’ve seen the full feature, I think I was right. Although there was one scene where I thought it looked a little janky, it was only a few seconds long. Most of the time, the graphics were on point.
For the majority of The Black Demon, the megalodon is just on the edge of perception. Aside from a couple of attack scenes, it’s only a ghost under the waves. A shape on the horizon. Honestly, that’s the best way to go about something like this. If you go back to the GOAT of shark movies, Jaws (1975), it does the same thing, but with lesser technology. Giving the fear and tension of the shark without having it constantly shown keeps viewers from being numb to it when it really matters.
When the entire shark is finally seen, the scale of it is incredible – and the CGI holds up enough to be scary.
Something else that’s often associated with creature features is campy acting.

Josh Lucas (Ford v Ferrari, Sweet Home Alabama, Yellowstone) covered that base. I wasn’t in love with the way he played the main character Paul Sturges. He over did it in some scenes while not quite reacting enough in others. He always felt just a bit off. That’s where my complaints end, though. Fernanda Urrejola managed to give a believable performance across from him, while the children, Venus Ariel (Exposed, DMZ, NCIS: New Orleans) and Carlos Solórzano (Yoga Friends, The Resident, Flamin’ Hot), also kept me engaged.
My favorite, though, was Julio Cesar Cedillo (Cowboys & Aliens, Sicario, Chupa). Every time Cedillo was on screen, he owned the movie. He became his character completely. There was absolutely no flaw in his performance. I couldn’t find one if I tried.
I enjoyed The Black Demon. The way the folklore of the creature crossed with the message of environmental issues worked. It might not have been a perfect film, but it was entertaining.
I think it’s worth a ticket if you’re looking for a night at the movies. You can see it exclusively in theaters, April 28.

Cat’s Point of View:
I am pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before but, I am a sucker for shark movies. I have been absolutely fascinated by the toothsome terrors of the sea ever since my dad brought home some shark teeth for me from a job site he was working on when I was roughly in 3rd grade. Some of those were megalodon teeth. I was hooked.
Now I won’t say that I enjoy every shark movie out there - but if the shark even looks decently realistic, then they’ve got a good shot at holding my attention.
The trailer for The Black Demon gave me hope that this was going to be a shark movie done right. I am happy to report that it was generally successful in that regard.
The focus of The Black Demon is primarily on the family’s journey through various difficult situations. The shark was an ever-present threat that forced them to face things head-on. I really appreciated that the focus wasn’t all on a horrible killer shark - but on the people and the environment. The legendary creature got little screen time, but when it did it was very effective. The shadow play pitting the humans against the vehicle for nature’s vengeance was something I rather enjoyed.

Of course, there were some spectacular shots of the shark that sent shivers right through me.
This production really hit home for me, considering the story was set on an offshore oil rig and focused on the toll it had taken on the environment and people that lived nearby. Oil drilling is a hot topic in my state - both for environmental impact and economic reasons. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico provides a lot to Louisiana’s economy. Yet, at the same time, it has been the source of great environmental disasters - such as the BP Deepwater Horizon incident of 2010.
The Black Demon, however, wasn’t set in the Gulf of Mexico but, presumably, in the Gulf of California - otherwise known as the Sea of Cortez. That happens to be where the legend of the demon shark hails from. There was even an episode of the cryptid-hunting show Monsterquest (2007-) titled Mega Jaws (2009) that focused on this particularly elusive shark.
The acting was also solid, and Fernanda Urrejola and Josh Lucas had great on-screen chemistry. Some moments felt a little over-the-top, but when you’re being hunted by a massive shark, I would imagine some melodramatic behavior might be warranted.
I enjoyed The Black Demon more than I thought I might - despite a couple of plot holes here and there. This is one shark film that I wouldn’t mind watching again in the future.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 3.5/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, April 24, 2023

From Black (2023)

Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: From Black (2023)
Genre: Horror
Length:  1h 40min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Darkroom Films, Eyevox, K7 Entertainment, K7 Storytellers, Shudder
Director: Thomas Marchese
Writers: Jessub Flower, Thomas Marchese
Actors: Aerial Nicole, Alicia S Mason, Anna Camp, Eduardo Campirano, Ian Casselberry, Jennifer Lafleur, John Ales, Nicholas Marchan, Ritchie Montgomery, Travis Hammer
Shudder Blurb: A young mother, crushed by guilt after the disappearance of her young son 5 years previously, is presented with a bizarre offer to learn the truth and set things right. But how far is she willing to go, and is she willing to pay the terrifying price for a chance to hold her boy again?

Selina’s Point of View:
From Black had a strong start. It dropped right into the tension, then showed what started the whole thing. Watching Anna Camp’s (Pitch Perfect, The Help, Desperados) main character, Cora, wake up to find her son had gone missing while she was high was heartbreaking. In fact, Camp’s entire performance was amazing. I believed everything she was selling.
After that, I had some serious trouble staying invested.
Every chapter felt like it was repeating the last. I appreciate that it was showing the tedious nature of the ritual before going into the harder scares – but it didn’t work for me. It didn’t set me up for anything, didn’t cause the scares to hit harder. Most of the time it didn’t even really lead to extra character development. There’s a reason most horror movies skip the setting up process of those rituals.
I will say that the design of the demon was glorious. It felt like it was inspired by Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – which still has some of the most impressive demon designs I’ve ever seen.
From Black would have benefited from being ten minutes shorter. If the editing was a little tighter, I think I would have found myself more engrossed.
Despite From Black not being my cup of tea, I see how others might enjoy it.
Cat’s Point of View:
From Black is one of those movies I’ve looked forward to watching; and having a chance to view a screener offered a thrill of anticipation. I wouldn’t exactly say I was excited to watch - only because of the subject matter therein. We’re dealing with real nightmare fuel here. It’s a parent’s worst fear for something to happen to their children, after all. 

One such loss was at the core of this story. It’s hard to know how productions with this sort of narrative are going to land until you watch them. Depending on what is involved and how well that’s executed makes all the difference whether or not there will be ugly tears or a whole lot of cringe. 

When you mix such loss with supernatural horror, that takes things to a whole different level. There’s a little bit of extra effort involved to maintain suspension of disbelief. Not only does the story need to be good, but then there are effects involved, too. I’ve been intrigued as to how From Black would approach this, and on board to see how it all would play out. 

Anna Camp’s performance was a visceral gut punch. I knew she could handle what this role would throw at her, and she was my primary draw to this production. Before her run on the Pitch Perfect (2012) trilogy, I got to know her through True Blood (2008-2014). In From Black, Camp just embodied a vessel for grief and regret from the consequences of her character’s poor decisions. My heart went out to her and I was on that roller coaster ride from start to finish. 

The score from From Black kept me at the edge of my seat. The tension was thick just from the fairly dissonant notes that stopped just short of cacophony, and it set up everything else happening on screen well. This wasn’t a movie for light and airy music, and the tone was fitting.

I was surprised to learn that this was writer and director Thomas Marchese’s (Innocent, Fallen, Road to Hope) first full-length fictional production. His background seems to have been predominantly in shorts and documentary work thus far. Though, I think his experience with cinematography served him very well in From Black. There were some shots that were really amazing, and he really played to the ‘less is more’ where the more horrific aspects were concerned. It seemed like most of the paranormal elements were also handled with well-executed practical effects. 

You really don’t need buckets of blood and flashy CGI bells and whistles to sell something horrifying and heartbreaking. 

I’m curious and interested in seeing what else Marchese might bring to the horror genre in the future. 

While I’m a little miffed with whoever put the trailer together for From Black, as it reveals things better left unveiled during the actual movie, I found the film to be a solid watch. I got everything out of it that I expected and even a satisfying ending. It’s not a movie I could see myself watching repeatedly due to the subject matter, though I definitely would recommend anyone with a Shudder subscription to give this indie-horror filmed in small-town Mississippi a chance.

From Black will become available to stream on Shudder and AMC+ on April 28th, 2023.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 9/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 3/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3.5/5

Trust the Dice: Parental Advisory Rating – R
Movie Trailer: