Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman... Everyone is Wasted in Justice League by Ryan Hill

 
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When director George Miller, he of the Mad Max films, was gearing up to make a Justice League Mortal film years ago featuring a younger cast (including Armie Hammer as Bruce Wayne/Batman) there was outcry among the fan community. It was developed during the height of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and that plus aging down the DC Comics characters to their early twenties made the movie a bad idea from the beginning.

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Ten years later, the Justice League has finally made their way to theaters, courtesy of the minds behind Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Honestly? I wish the studio had moved ahead with Justice League Mortal.

The “plot,” as it is, centers around the big bad Steppenwolf, trying to get a hold of these three mother boxes – or whatever they’re called; it doesn’t matter – so he can remake Earth in his Hellish image. It should also be noted that Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds, is made up of the finest computer graphics that 1997 has to offer. Standing in his way are the Justice League: Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). After the league spends the first hour trying to figure out if they want to team up, they decide to stop Steppenwolf.

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Where to begin with Justice League and its buffet of issues. Zack Snyder’s direction? His muted, bland color scheme? The unnecessary slow-motion, which even features a crate of fruit flying? The special effects, which look worse than they did in the trailers? The fact that its painfully obvious which parts Joss Whedon reshot, especially the scenes where the filmmakers used CGI to get rid of Henry Cavill's mustache? The obnoxious use of green screen thrown into bits of every scene, including an exterior corn field conversation between Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane? Giving well-known characters like Commissioner Gordon nothing to do except show up on screen? Ben Affleck’s paunch? His obvious boredom? The film’s three beginnings, none of which connect to the other? The plot, which doesn’t even kick in until halfway through the film? The overreaction – again – to BvS’s criticism that it unnecessarily killed thousands of people by having some random family get caught in the crossfire between the heroes and the villain?

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My mother always said if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, so here’s the nice things about Justice League. Composter Danny Elfman resurrects his old Batman theme from 1989, and even John Williams’ original Superman theme for the score. Aquaman has a couple of cool scenes, mostly because Momoa himself is cool and will always be cool, because he’s Khal Drogo and that’s just the way the world works sometimes. Ezra Miller’s Flash has a moment or two, but all the speed scenes are wasted. Quicksilver, the Marvel universe’s resident speedster, was utilized so much better in two X-Men films and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In response, Justice League offers up Miller obviously running on a treadmill as CGI lightning bolts fly around him.

Oh. Wait. I got back into saying not nice things. Sorry Mom!

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Justice League s garbage. In their rush to replicate Marvel’s success, Warner Bros. and DC have skipped the years of legwork their adversary put in to get to The Avengers, which works so well because most of the characters were established in standalone films. On the other end of the spectrum, Justice League is overburdened with the task of establishing so many characters, spending the first hour going in six or seven directions trying to let the audience get to know everyone, including newcomers Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. At 119 minutes, Justice League was edited down to the bone, leaving more breathing room in outer space than the film. There isn’t close to enough time to do anyone justice – GET IT??? – leaving everyone with maybe one okay scene to strut their stuff.

Considering the $300 million budget, Justice League shouldn’t feel like a workprint that still needs effects work and editing.

Audiences deserve better.

The DC films deserve better.

The world deserves better.

 

 

Thor Brings on Ragnarok with a Wink and a Nudge by Ryan Hill

 
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Let’s be honest. Thor may do cool things with his magic hammer, but he’s one of the least interesting characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s not particularly funny, he’s difficult to connect with, and he’s, well … kind of boring. The first Thor was decent enough, but after the mess that was The Dark World, things needed a drastic makeover if Thor: Ragnarok would be worth anyone’s time.

Enter writer-director Taika Waititi, another art house director getting their big break on a comic book film. Waititi doesn’t have a high profile here in the U.S., with his highest grossing film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, making a little more than $5 million. Waititi sounds like a major gamble, but look closer. Wilderpeople was a delight from beginning to end, and the director’s vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows is a comedy classic.

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Maybe to assuage fears that Waititi wasn’t up to the task of Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel released a sort of preview of what to expect with Team Thor, a short detailing what the God of Thunder was up to during the events of Captain America: Civil War. Some of the jokes from Team Thor even made it into Ragnarok.

Ragnarok finds Thor learning that he has an older sister, Hela (a delicious Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. The only thing that’s kept her from destroying Asgard all these years has been their father Odin, who imprisoned her. The problem is Odin at death’s door, and once he dies – which he does early on – Hela is freed, and quickly returns to wreak havoc. Things get tricky when Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and becomes a slave/prisoner who works for free under the control of the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum). Thor is forced to fight to the death in a sci-fi gladiator arena, and runs into his old pal Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who’s been missing since the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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Ragnarok isn’t the best Marvel film, but it is one of the best, and is definitely the funniest. None of the other Marvel films come close. Not even the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Chris Hemsworth has always been funny, but he takes it to another level under Waititi’s direction. His dry, silly brand of humor works perfectly with Hemsworth. Waititi injects a lot of the humor himself, playing Korg, a character made up entirely of rock. There’s also fun cameos galore, and the supporting cast, especially Jeff Goldblum, is clearly having a blast. Ragnarok is the first time Hulk has been featured as someone who does more than just smash things, teaming with Thor to make an intergalactic odd couple. Blanchett’s Hela, despite being a typical “big bad,” has some fun moments, and even Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is more enjoyable than usual. It should be noted that while I’ve enjoyed Loki, I’ve always found him a bit overrated. He’s never as fun as he could be.

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Anyone familiar with Waititi’s previous films will delight in Ragnarok. This isn’t a case of an art house director cashing in on a studio film or getting overwhelmed with the jump from working with a $2 million budget to $180 million. Marvel wisely let Waititi do his own thing, and the result is Thor: Ragnarok is exactly the entertaining and joyful ride one would expect from a $180 million budgeted Taika Waititi film.

N.C. State Football is No. 14. That's cool. by Ryan Hill

 
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Call me heartless. A battle-hardened cynic. Wimp. Weenie. Just don't call me crazy for not blowing a gasket over N.C. State football being No. 14 in the nation.

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Sure, Wolfpack football hasn't been ranked this high since 2003, when Philip Rivers was QB. That in itself is exciting. The team has a pivotal two-game stretch coming up against Top 10 opponents Notre Dame and Clemson (both games I think we'll lose), which, if the Pack were to somehow win both, would propel the program to heights not seen in, oh, 50 years? That's fun and all, but I'm not going to throw a parade any time soon. State's been on the cusp before, and every time we've slid right back into the loving embrace of mediocrity.

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State hasn't won the ACC in football since 1979. The last hoops title was 1987. In short, we haven't won anything of note in a long, long time. But we sure have come close a lot! What's that glass ceiling gotten us? A lot of heartbreak and the moniker known as N.C. State shit.

I doubt that will change with this year's football team, so why get my hopes up? I'm taking each game as it comes, and if we win? Cool. If we lose? Eh. Not like it was the first, fifth, or tenth time that's happened.

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I've endured more than enough heartbreak over my Wolfpack, and a few years ago I hit the wall. Until State wins something of real note - a conference title, national championship, etc. - I can only get so emotionally invested. It's great seeing all the national exposure football has been getting - even if it makes most Pack fans cringe because attention typically equals a big fat loss - and I'm enjoying their success, but we're barely past the halfway point in the season. 

Yes, things are starting to feel a little different in Raleigh. Aside from that brain fart in the opener against South Carolina, football hasn't had any of their typical hiccups. Even basketball feels like the ship may have been righted with new coach Kevin Keatts. But at this point, it's all still conjecture, and much as I want to get excited about State having nice things, I've been burned way too many times to count my chickens before they hatch. For now, I'm just taking it one game at a time, fully prepared to handle another heartbreaking, N.C. State shit-esque loss. 

Maybe it's because I'm 37, and the results of a bunch of college kids playing sports doesn't matter as much to me. Maybe it's all the losing. I don't know. Either way, I'll be cheering the Pack on game day, but don't be surprised if I shrug off another heartbreaking loss... or enjoy the win for a short while before remembering how many games - and potential losses - are left in the season.

Happy Death Day's fun premise hampered by PG-13 rating by Ryan Hill

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Slasher flicks should always be rated R. It should be a truth universally accepted by every living being in the entire history of living beings. What fun is a slasher flick without fun deaths and gratuitous violence? Nobody cares about the characters in these things; audiences just want to have their blood lust satiated. It's the entire point of Drew Goddard's classic deconstruction of the entire horror genre, Cabin in the Woods.

So why is Happy Death Day bothering with a PG-13 rating? What's a slasher film without blood? Doesn’t that make it an average, run-of-the-mill film?

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After getting murdered by a killer in a creepy baby mask, Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up to find that she's stuck reliving the same day over and over until she can ID said murderer. Tree goes through the suspects one by one, dying each time she's got it wrong. It's Groundhog Day, but for the slasher genre. Things get kicked up a notch for Tree when she realizes each death is leaving a permanent scar, giving her a somewhat finite amount of deaths before she dies for real.

The good part about Happy Death Day is its very much aware of its ridiculous premise. Everyone is in on the joke, especially Tree, which makes for some silly fun. Working her way through potential suspects, dead-ends are met with a shrug as they each end with her death. It’s just a shame those deaths are mostly uninspired and blood-free, partly due to the film’s PG-13 rating. Happy Death Day still could’ve gotten a little creative with the deaths, as the similarly-themed and PG-13 rated Edge of Tomorrow had all sorts of fun killing Tom Cruise over. And over. And over.

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Despite not having enough “awesome” deaths, Happy Death Day is mostly fun, at least until the third act. That’s where the PG-13 rating really hurts, since things break down into a typical slasher genre third act with the killer chasing the heroine. Happy Death Day tries to put a spin on the killer’s identity, but it’s pretty easy to guess who the killer is within the first 20 minutes.

Happy Death Day doesn’t break any ground in the slasher genre, but it’s breezy enough entertainment. The premise also leaves open the opportunity for oodles of sequels, a la Final Destination. If there is a Happy Death Day 2 though, hopefully it will embrace a R-rating.

Stephen King's It Gets a Scary, Funny Adaptation by Ryan Hill

 
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Does anybody really like clowns? There’s something not right with them. The white faces? The wigs? The silly behavior? All of the above? Hard to say. But pretty much everyone under the age of, say, 45 is terrified of one clown in particular.

Pennywise, the evil clown from Stephen King’s novel It.

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Famously played by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries, Pennywise comes to Derry, Maine every 27 years to feast on scared children. In the hands of Curry, the clown was as evil as he was fun. An all-time villain that to this day still holds up. Now, 27 YEARS AFTER THE MINISERIES, Pennywise has returned on the big screen.

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It’s the summer of 1989, and a group of kids dubbed the Losers want nothing more than to have a fun summer with no worries and no run-ins with the local bullies. That doesn’t really go according to plan, thanks to Pennywise, who terrorizes the kids one by one, feeding on their biggest fears. Bill, the Losers’ leader, is haunted by the death of his little brother Georgie, whom Pennywise killed the year before. Another is terrified of a strange painting. In true Stephen King fashion – and an obvious nod to his novel Carrie – the lone girl in the group is most afraid of her period. As the summer goes on, the Losers realize they’re all being hunted by Pennywise, and since the adults won’t do anything, take matters into their own hands.

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The 1990 miniseries version of It introduced a generation to the work of King with a bang. The author was HUGE in 1990, and King’s novels, with their supernatural elements, piqued the interest of eager young readers like myself. The catch? Most of us weren’t allowed to read his books, because they were “too scary.” The It miniseries was a chance for my generation to finally get a taste of King, and it did not fail to deliver. I was 10, and even though the miniseries aired on network TV, prompting a lack of gore, Pennywise scared the dickens out of everyone.

This new version of It is the first of two films based on the novel, with this one focusing on the Losers as children. Cutting King’s 1,100-page novel into two is no easy feat, and the first half of It can basically be described as evil clown messes with kids. There’s a struggle to reconcile the connection between the Losers and Pennywise, but once those two threads come together, It becomes almost non-stop horror.

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The film is vintage King. Children coming of age, over-the-top adults, sadistic baddies, shocking terror … It, more than maybe all the other King adaptations, feels like one of his novels come to life.

It’s also maybe the funniest King movie.

Yes, It is full of solid scares. Where the 1990 version of Pennywise was scary and fun, this version, played by Bill Skarsgard, is just plain menacing. With the freedom to work within an R-rating, director Andy Muschietti doesn’t skimp on the gore, fully realizing the horror within It. But none of it would work without the Losers. They trade rapid fire quips, and drop F-bombs just like regular kids. The best of the bunch is Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things), who regards his mouth as a gift. The Losers are so funny and authentic, they’d fit in with any of the John Hughes films around at the film’s 1989 setting.

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It’s hard to look at this new adaptation of It without acknowledging the miniseries’ huge influence, but the film really does stand on its own two feet. Alternately hilarious and scary (and not without a couple of shortcomings), It is, to coin a generic critic phrase, a roller-coaster ride.

Atomic Blonde's action can't overshadow plot by Ryan Hill

 

Not that there was any doubt, but Charlize Theron is a bad ass. She’s never been afraid to mix it up, but 2015’s classic Mad Max: Fury Road only solidified things. The Oscar winning actress takes things to another level with Atomic Blonde, beating the ever-loving snot of everything that comes her way, and looking good while doing it.

Atomic Blonde is 100 percent style over substance. It looks gorgeous, has a great soundtrack and the action sequences are amazing, though the film could’ve used one more to keep things from dragging a bit in the middle. But the plot?

Well …

Maybe it’s best not to worry so much about that. All that’s necessary to know is near the end of the Cold War in 1989 Berlin, British spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) has been assigned to find out who killed a fellow agent and stole a list containing the names of spies hidden in a watch. Lorraine is partnered with a shady agent played by James McAvoy, who’s intentions are very easy to figure out. The cast also includes John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones.

Again, when watching Atomic Blonde, don’t worry about the plot. It borrows the list of spies idea from the first Mission: Impossible and surpasses that film’s topsy-turvy, hard to follow plot by throwing so many unnecessary twists into the mix near the film’s ending, it’s enough to make one throw up their hands and give up trying to make sense of life in general. It’s a true mess. Thankfully, the plot isn’t the main attraction. That’s the action and it delivers in spades.

Directed by David Leitch, one half of the duo behind the first John Wick (and the upcoming Deadpool 2), the action in Blonde is fierce. Wick was a ballet of bullets, but Blonde trades bullets for fists, culminating in a stunning fist fight that lasts a good five minutes. The best part? The characters actually get tired from the fighting, stumbling around as they struggle to get breaths in between punches. It’s fantastic.

The bonkers plot really hurts Atomic Blonde and justifies the film’s style-over-substance feel, but the action – and Charlize Theron – deserve better than a plot with a zillion holes in it. There’s been talk of a sequel, and if so hopefully Atomic Blonde 2 will have a plot that makes sense. Or at least partial sense.

Dunkirk is a modern war classic by Ryan Hill

 

The evacuation of 400,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers in Dunkirk during World War II is an amazing story, and one that has flown under the radar in the U.S., since it didn’t involve any Americans. With the German army surrounding the coastal town of Dunkirk, France, the armies only had one route of escape; via the sea. If the armies surrendered, Germany would have invaded Britain, and from there the United States. It’s one of the defining moments of World War II, and Christopher Nolan has made quite possibly his defining picture in Dunkirk, the director’s take on the evacuation.

Taking a page from Mad Mad: Fury Road, Dunkirk is more about the event than any one character. It tackles the evacuation from the land, the sea and the air. Each storyline lasts a different amount of time (a week, a day and an hour), but in typical Nolan fashion, the storylines interweave and time jumps back and forth.

There isn’t exactly a true “star” in Dunkirk, which features Mark Rylance as a civilian boater, Kenneth Branagh and Fionn Whitehead as the de facto lead, as his character is all over the place trying to get off the beach with One Direction’s Harry Styles in tow. But not to worry, Styles is fine. His presence as a soldier who only cares about survival isn’t a distraction. And yes, Nolan has once again cast Tom Hardy in a role where he wears a mask, a la The Dark Knight Rises, playing a courageous RAF pilot.

It’s hard to get true, genuine scares in a movie, at least for me. Having seen so many films, most standard horrors feel like a 90-minute prank show, with the director hiding out of frame, fingers tapping together like Mr. Burns and muttering “excellent” under their breath as they unleash scare after scare, but Dunkirk delivers 107 minutes of tense, suspenseful film making.

The best CGI for a film is the kind nobody notices, and Nolan knows that. Using practical effects when at all possible, whatever CGI made it into Dunkirk is impossible to spot. Combined with the director’s insistence on using film – mainly the large format IMAX – and the magnificent sound editing, Nolan has crafted a technical masterpiece. At no point does Dunkirk let up, and without CGI robots running around to remind the audience this isn’t real, the film has an authenticity that just doesn’t happen that often. In short, the deep, gorgeous imagery is immersive, the bullets are loud, the engines are louder, and there’s nowhere for the characters, or the audience, to run in Dunkirk.

And it’s scary as Hell.

Ask a Demon - New Book Edition by Ryan Hill

 

Today marks the release of Bart of Darkness, Verse 2 in my epic tome, The Book of Bart

 

Darkness chronicles my adventures trying to uncover a powerful cult that's intent on breaking the balance between Heaven and Hell, sending the entire world into chaos. 

Okay, yes, Samantha helped. A little.

And just like I did with making a historical record of The Book of Bart - Verse 1, I used a ghostwriter for Darkness.

Why use a ghostwriter? Simple, really.

I've got better things to do.

I'm not the type to sit down in front of a computer for days on end, stringing together enough words to make a book. Even I'm not that sadistic.

I'm also one of those who likes to get the attention/praise/ego boost without putting the work in. My ghostwriter puts in the elbow grease, I reap the rewards. I don't know how he feels about the arrangement, but it suits me just fine.

Let's turn the Ask a Demon format on its head and ask Ryan!

Q (Bart): How honored do you feel putting pen to paper to tell my story?

A (Ryan): Oh, extremely. You wouldn't believe. It's the most beautiful thing.

Q (Bart): Is that sarcasm?

A (Ryan): I don't know. Is it?

Q (Bart): Would you rather I found someone else to tell my story?

A (Ryan): We both know that nobody else would tell your story as well as I do at the pay you offer.

Q (Bart): True. So what keeps you coming back, Mr. I wish I had a raise but the world just doesn't work that way?

A (Ryan): Same reason you won't write your story. I've got nothing better to do.

Q (Bart): That's ridiculous. There's nothing better you could possibly do with your day than tell my story.

A (Ryan): Says you.

The Q&A gets a little muffled at this point, since I had to teach Ryan a thing or two about gratitude.

A (Ryan): I apologize for my earlier hubris. Telling Bart's story is the honor of a lifetime. A thousand lifetimes, even. -wipes blood from nose-

And there you have it! Ryan loves telling my story (as well he should). 

You can see how amazing my story is yourself over at Amazon

Check it out!

Spider-Man’s “Homecoming” is Pretty Amazing by Ryan Hill

 

There was a minute there when nobody cared about a Spider-Man movie anymore. After the disappointment of “Spider-Man 3” in 2007, the series was rebooted in 2012 to mixed results, and that reboot was scuttled after only two films. It seemed Spider-Man could no longer do whatever a spider could. The character was so downtrodden, Spidey’s parent studio worked out a deal with Marvel to use the character in their cinematic universe.

Now, after all these years, Spider-Man is finally home with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

But does the world need a second reboot of Spider-Man, the sixth film featuring the web-slinger since 2001? In the hands of Marvel, the answer is hell yes.

“Captain America: Civil War” gave the world a glimpse at what Marvel could do with their most popular character. In short, they nailed Spider-Man. In the web-slinger’s limited screen time, Tom Holland portrayed the character with a perfect mix of wonder, amazement and snark. The Tobey Maguire trilogy was good but mopey, the Andrew Garfield films were, eh, whatever, but “Homecoming” is everything that makes Spider-Man so great.

“Homecoming” ignores Spider-Man’s origin story, but still focuses on Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s life in high school. He’s tormented by the bully Flash, crushing hard on his debate team colleague Liz, and wishing more than anything Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) would make him a full-time Avenger.

But the fifteen-year-old Parker has bigger fish to fry outside of the classroom, like stopping Vulture (Michael Keaton) from stealing weaponry left behind in the wake of battles fought by the Avengers.

Director Jon Watts, who made the Kevin Bacon indie “Cop Car,” also knows just how New York-centric Spider-Man is. Without the skyscrapers of that metropolis to swing from, Spidey is left to hitch rides on trains or run around, resulting in a great “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” homage. It’s one of many nods to the great John Hughes, which “Homecoming” takes most of its cues from. The film is very much in the vein of a Hughes film, just with … you know … a guy running around in red tights shooting webs from his wrists.

“Homecoming” is one of the most fun blockbusters – comic book or otherwise – out there. It rivals “Guardians of the Galaxy” for sheer joy and is as good as, if not better than, “Spider-Man 2,” which is considered one of the best superhero films ever made. It even has a solid villain in Vulture, something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been missing outside of Loki, who even then hasn’t been fully utilized.

The key word for “Homecoming” is fun. By keeping the stakes lower – Spider-Man doesn’t have to save the world – the film avoids the underlying sadness of Ben Parker’s death, which anchored the original trilogy, and veer away from pretty much everything in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films. Marvel is free to embrace the Spider-Man character, relishing in Peter’s high school years, but without that pesky origin story.

It’s also one of the best Marvel films, and arguably the best Spider-Man film ever.

 

Pixar Mostly Makes up for Cars 2 with Cars 3 by Ryan Hill

 

When Disney purchased Pixar, the animation studio pledged to make a sequel every other year. It’s why there’s been a Monsters University and Finding Dory. Neither Monsters, Inc. or Finding Nemo needed a sequel, but in the quest for the almighty dollar, they happened. Pixar’s list of sequels also includes the worst film they’ve ever made, Cars 2, which should have put the franchise in the garage.

Get it?

Because it’s a series of films about cars?

Anyway. Considering around $10 billion of Cars merchandise has been sold to date, not to mention the combined $1 billion the first two entries earned worldwide at the box office, why wouldn’t there be a Cars 3?

This time around, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is the aging veteran struggling to hold onto relevance in the Piston Cup circuit. Once Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a new, more powerful racer, enters the scene, its curtains for McQueen and his contemporaries. McQueen tries to hang on, but a horrific wreck sends him back to square one. Working to get back to a championship level, the racer butts heads with the smart but insecure Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonso), who once had dreams of being a racer herself.

The best thing about Cars 3? There’s racing. Lots of it. The opening race in Cars was stunning, and the lack of speed in a franchise about a race car has been more than disappointing. That’s not the case in Cars 3, thank goodness.

Cars 3 is completely unnecessary. After Cars, there wasn’t a lot of room for an organic sequel. How many movies about cars can there be? It helps explain the ludicrous premise of Cars 2. Cars 3 does its best to remedy things, forgetting all about the first sequel and building upon themes from the first film, especially the relationship between Lightning and Doc Hudson. Scenes from the original Cars are used in flashback, including Paul Newman’s voice. There’s even new material featuring Newman, with Pixar using alternate takes and behind the scenes conversations from his voice recording sessions during the first Cars for the new material.

The addition or original material from Newman, who died in 2008, only adds to the nostalgic and bittersweet McQueen/Doc relationship, which lies at the heart of Cars 3. Newman’s presence also makes up for the absence of Michael Keaton, who voiced the first film’s villain, Chick Hicks. Keaton has been replaced by Up co-director Bob Peterson. This time around, Hicks hosts a racing show, getting digs in at McQueen every chance he gets.  

Cars 3 isn’t as good as the original Cars, but it’s cute enough entertainment. Outside of Toy Story, Pixar has struggled with sequels, and Cars 3 doesn’t solve that issue. The threequel gets it right for the most part, For the most part, Cars 3 gets it right. At least, as much as a Cars sequel can.

Put THE MUMMY Back in the Tomb by Ryan Hill

 

The first reboot of The Mummy in 1999 was silly, cheesy popcorn entertainment. It wasn’t anything special, but it grossed more than $400 million worldwide, spawning two sequels of decreasing quality. The franchise, like the Mummy itself, was left for dead in 2008 after the disastrous third entry, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Like any good member of the undead, the Mummy is back after 11 years, this time sporting Tom Cruise and the kickoff to a cinematic universe of classic movie monsters.

Even with a megastar and an entire universe behind this dark and dreary version of The Mummy, it doesn’t hold a candle to the bright and colorful 1999 version.

Cruise stars as his typical cocky self with Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Jake Johnson and Sofia Boutella as the title character. The plot is a rehash of the previous Mummy films: a mummy wakes up, sucks up people’s life for regeneration, then goes on a rampage as epic as the CGI and budget allows.

The decision to create a cinematic universe out of a group of monsters that were at best loosely connected to begin with reeks of money, but that’s a “no, duh” statement. Dubbed the Dark Universe, this is Universal Studio’s attempt to cash in on the cinematic universe craze started by Marvel and copied by DC, now Universal, and soon Paramount’s Transformers universe will hit theaters.

The funny thing about the Dark Universe is Universal tried it once before with the horrific, awful, please God burn the negatives of the print Van Helsing. That Hugh Jackman monstrosity – phrasing – combined Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and a werewolf, much like this new Dark Universe. The Mummy is meant to be the start of that universe, which also includes a Bride of Frankenstein film, The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

But why kick things off with a new Mummy? It’s lazy. More to the point, why would Cruise star in the film? Sure, The Mummy tries to be a “Tom Cruise” movie, giving his character the typical, “cocky a------e turns good” arc that defines most Cruise films, but it fails in spectacular fashion. If Cruise’s arrogance isn’t fun, or in the case of Edge of Tomorrow leads to a series of deaths, there’s no point. The Mummy has neither, instead featuring the most unlikable Cruise character since … ever? Maybe Lions for Lambs?

Alex Kurtzman, making his directing debut, seems lost behind the camera. Every decision made feels like it was done to appease a studio suit, editing out everything that isn’t loud or goes boom. The result is a near-incoherent mess with massive gaps in logic and questionable character motivations that never go unanswered.

If this Dark Universe – which is such a big deal, the film has a logo for the universe before the opening credits – is to thrive, things better improve. Because if The Mummy is any indication, this universe will get sucked into a black hole before it even has a chance to untangle its bandages.

 

Wonder Woman is DC's Finest but Still Can't Touch Marvel by Ryan Hill

 

In the time it took to get a Wonder Woman film on the screen, we’ve seen:

  • Five Spider-Man movies, including a hard reboot after Spider-Man 3
  • Nine Batman entries, including Batman v Superman and one version done entirely in LEGO
  • Six X-Men’s
  • Three Wolverine’s
  • Deadpool
  • Doctor Strange
  • Ant-Man
  • Two Guardians of the Galaxy's
  • Suicide Squad
  • Two Kick-Ass’s
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Three misbegotten Fantastic Four flicks

And that isn’t including the terrible Green Lantern experiment with Ryan Reynolds or Jonah Hex, which clocks in at about 80 minutes – including credits.

What the heck took so long? Was it fear? Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable properties in comics, and arguably the most popular female property. Maybe sexism? The thought that a woman couldn’t open a film like Wonder Woman? I don’t know, but it’s ridiculous it took this long for the world to finally – finally – get a Wonder Woman film. Maybe duds like the Halle Berry starrer Catwoman and Elektra scared off the studio, despite having a pre-Avengers Joss Whedon ready to make a Wonder Woman film (he’s now doing a live-action Batgirl).

But I digress.

Gal Gadot reprises her role of Diana Prince, first introduced in the mess known as Batman v Superman. Instead of moving the DC Universe timeline closer to the next potential mess, Justice League, Wonder Woman moves the action back 100 years to World War I to tell Prince’s origin story. Believing Ares, the God of War, to be responsible for the War to End All Wars, Prince travels to London with superspy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to take him down and end WWI.

Wonder Woman is far and away the best of the new, interconnected DC Universe films. For starters, it’s competent. That’s a huge step up. There are some truly entertaining sequences in the film, and the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is fantastic. But, it’s also painfully predictable – even character twists are obvious within two minutes of them appearing – and suffers from a third act riddled with bloated CG effects and weak storytelling, like most superhero films. Factoring in the Marvel films, Wonder Woman ranks in the lower half of the recent superhero films to come out.

Wonder Woman almost feels like a moment more than a film. It can truly open the door for not only female-led superhero films, but more women at the helm of these big blockbusters. Director Patty Jenkins is only the second female director to have a budget of more than $100 million to work with, the other being Kathryn Bigelow on K-19: The Widowmaker back in… 2002. The film itself may be hit and miss, but hopefully Wonder Woman will open the door for more unique voices in Hollywood today.

Those a-holes, the Guardians of the Galaxy, are back with Vol. 2 by Ryan Hill

 

In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was an outlier for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nestled between Captain America: The Winter Solider and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the little-known property caught everyone by surprise. And how could it not? It starred Chris Pratt, the doughy doofus from Parks & Recreation, featured a talking raccoon and a tree that only said, “I am Groot,” and was directed by James Gunn, who’d found cult success with Super and Slither, but little else. As everyone knows, Guardians was a massive hit, made Pratt one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and gave the world the wonder that is Baby Groot. After three years, the a-holes are back for Vol. 2.

Set three months after the original, Pratt’s Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel’s Baby Groot are living off their victory against Ronan and the Kree in the first film, taking high-paying jobs across the galaxy, like protecting batteries for the Sovereign, a race that has gold, well, everything, and considers themselves superior to the rest of the galaxy. After Rocket steals some batteries for himself, the Sovereign are hot on the Guardians’ tail, looking for retribution. They’re rescued by Peter’s long-lost father, Ego. The living planet.

It makes sense, considering Quill’s ego, that his father would bear that name and be a planet that can manifest itself as a bearded Kurt Russell. That’s what we in the “biz” would define as ironic. Their father-son relationship sets the course for Vol. 2, which doesn’t get a good foothold until Russell appears.

For all that Vol. 2 does right, especially in the sense that it’s a sequel, it falls victim to a few sequel pitfalls. With all the characters established in the original, Gunn dives straight into the action, relying on the audience’s familiarity more than setting the stage for what’s to come. That familiarity gives Gunn more confidence in his direction, building off the visuals of the original for even more fantastic shots.  

Vol. 2’s marketing focused heavily on the characters and with good reason. For a film carrying a budget well north of $200 million, Vol. 2 is more character driven than anything else. One reason for sequels is to give audiences a chance to spend more time with characters they enjoy and Gunn has taken that to heart. He’s fleshed out fringe characters from the original – Yondu is fantastic – even going so far as to give Nebula depth.

Nebula!

The character who did nothing but shout generic lines in the original!

Even she’s fleshed out!

(That’s amazing).

Those character moments define Vol. 2. Yes, there’s big action and great special effects, but the heart of the original beats through every frame of Vol. 2, and the emphasis on character makes the sequel the most poignant and emotional in the entire MCU.

In some ways, Vol. 2 surpasses the first Guardians. The third act is more than CGI porn and there are even more character moments than the original. Vol. 2 also struggles to gain momentum out of the gate, and doesn’t establish a primary villain until late in the game. The emphasis on character may disappoint those who were hoping for a more rollicking adventure, but with time and repeat viewings, Vol. 2 may end up a more satisfying film than its predecessor.

Ask a Demon - Easter Edition by Ryan Hill

 

It goes without saying that a demon* like myself isn't a huge fan of Easter. Nobody associated with Hell likes the holiday, which with Good Friday thrown in, is a THREE DAY HOLIDAY THAT TAKES UP AN ENTIRE WEEKEND EVERY YEAR. It's bad enough having to face Easter Sunday, but Easter weekend? That's like watching the Alvin & the Chipmunks movie, then somehow getting roped into watching its three sequels. 

Pure

Unadulterated

Torture

But to every cloud there is a silver lining, and Easter is no different.

To draw attention away from what Easter really is, a few demons got together and decided to "kill 'em with kindness," which in this case entails bunnies, eggs, and candy.

The Easter Bunny is a symbol people can get behind that isn't, well, you know. Throw in the candy, which is terrible for people and causes cavities, diabetes, noxious gas, weight gain, and the occasional heart attack, and Easter weekend is almost bearable. 

Almost.

For those who look forward to the weekend, try not to O.D. on jelly beans. Or do. I know I'll be drowning myself in them.

 

* So I'm currently an ex-demon. Tomato, Tomahto.

On to the questions... I mean... question.

Danny Danny Danny asks...

You know my mind and desires, where is what I seek?

A fortune cookie kind of question merits a fortune cookie kind of answer: In bed.

Need advice from Bartholomew? Want to know what movie to see this weekend? Send your question to ryan@ryanhillwrites.com.

Drew Hayes talks villains, FORGING HEPHAESTUS in the Authordome by Ryan Hill

 

Drew Hayes is pretty awesome. His novels are fun as hell, he's wearing a beer can helmet in his author photo, and he's a really nice guy.

Does that sound like a man crush? Nah...

Does it, though?

Just kidding. Drew is a great guy/author/friend, though.

Drew does have a new novel out, Forging Hephaestus, which is all about villains. It's also rated 4.8 out of 5 on Amazon after 68 reviews, which is stupid impressive. For contrast, my novel, The Book of Bart, is rated 4 out of 5 after 77 reviews.

* = Yes, this is a shameless plug

 

That said, Drew has strapped on the armor, chosen his weapon of choice (a bachelorette party straw), and is ready to step into the Authordome for a record FOURTH TIME. 

Will he survive? Absolutely. This is all virtual/not in the real world.

Two authors enter.

Two authors leave.

Welcome back to the Authordome, Drew! This is your fourth time entering the infamous arena. Do you think this time will be more Fury Road or Batman & Robin?

I'd say more Kung Fury than anything else.

You have plenty of experience writing superheroes with your Super Powered series, but Forging Hephaestus is a bit of a new direction for you, focusing on the villains instead of heroes. What made you want to look at the "darker" side of superheroes?

I’d say it was less about wanting out and out darkness, though the nature of the tale does lead to a more violent tone than some of my other works, than it was just wanting to try something really different. Villains get to have more fun, take the pragmatic path over the moral one, and generally get away with things no superhero ever could, which made the idea of writing about them really interesting. Plus, there was no way I’d get away with a superhero named Johnny Three Dicks, that’s solely villain territory.

Ryan note: Johnny Three Dicks is one of the best superhero names EVER

First thing that comes to mind. Favorite superhero movie/TV show. GO!

For movies, it’s either Deadpool or Batman Begins, both were great films overall. TV shows… if we’re being really loose with the term “superhero” then I’d go with the short-lived show Limitless, which was way more charming and fun than it had any right to be. If we’re sticking with classic superhero properties though, then I’d say Justice League Unlimited.

Villains always have the most fun, but they can be difficult main characters because you need something to anchor the story. How did you approach that in Hephaestus? Just make the main character boring? How do you go about writing a story about a villain with other villains there?

I think the book, and the series as a whole, are anchored on the basic idea of survival. That’s why the villains even have a code (the series is titled Villains’ Code after all) and why they enforce it. Because none of them want to die or be sent to jail, they have to do their villainy with intelligence and care, hence why they’re able to function around other villains and not launch stupid schemes every week. Those villains do exist in the world, mind you, and they are another source of potential antagonists for the main character villains. Lots of potential enemies!

Who is your favorite villain? If you say the Joker, you must use 150 words or more to explain why. I'll also laugh and point at your answer as I'm posting it on my site.

Right rogue’s gallery, wrong villain. I think Mr. Freeze (the version from the '90s Batman Animated Series) is one of the best villains ever written for one simple fact: he isn’t even really a villain. Victor Fries is a brilliant scientist trying to save his wife, only to be betrayed and mutated by the head of the company he worked for. Rather than go on a straight-up murder spree, he focuses on robbing people to get enough money to continue research on curing his wife. And what stops him? A billionaire with ultra-tech protecting his wealthy corporate buddies.

Dumb question of the interview: Is Forging Hephaestus set in the same world as Super Powereds?

No, it is not. This story was about playing with the worlds and tropes of classic comic books, which are more reality-removed than the Super Powereds world. Rather than messing with my existing property to fit a new mold, it made more sense to build this world from the ground up and make it exactly the way it needed to be.

What's next for you? Another entry in your awesome Fred the Vampire Accountant series?

If all goes as expected, that should indeed be next on the docket. Fred No. 4 is written and in REUTS hands, so ideally it should be out in summer as usual.

Last but not least, sell us Forging Hephaestus in haiku format.

A guild of villains
Capes, mechs, mutants, and lies
What more do you need?

Thanks again to Drew for being a good sport in the Authordome. You can read more about him and his works at his site, which is chock full o' goodness.

Whole 30 Update No. 4 - Rebellion by Ryan Hill

 

This Whole 30 demon, "life style change," whatever you want to call it, is a never-ending pit of despair and hopelessness that would make even the most peppy person's butt hole cringe. On Saturday, my wonderful fiancee and I - led by me - went into full on rebellion mode. 

rebel.jpg

For the day.

And it felt glorious.

I've mentioned before how food is not only for the body, but the soul. After a day of ingesting all the junk and alcohol our bodies could stand, I can say that good food is almost as important for your spirit as your body.

So what if I gained three pounds that day? WORTH IT.

This week has been more of the same. A little cheating here and there, but trying to keep it under control. Whole 30 is no longer running/ruining the lives of my wonderful fiancee and myself. We've applied some lessons learned, but the program as a whole? (Phrasing). FINITO.

That program can eat a bag of pig's feet covered in grass and dirt.

 

Whole 30 Update No. 3 - Brain Games by Ryan Hill

 

It doesn't seem to matter if my wonderful fiancee and I include some cheat meals here and there to appease the beast known as Whole 30. That evil, sadistic, greasy bastard still finds a way to mess with our heads.

Both my wonderful fiancee and I want to eat everything in sight, like a couple of hungry, hungry hippos. Or a vampire that hasn't drank blood in however long it takes them to get uber cranky and hangry. THAT'S WHERE WE ARE.

It's getting to my wonderful fiancee in a myriad of ways. She can't eat her beloved cheese. Enjoy her favorite Starbucks items. She's - and she'll be the first to admit it - a bit of a germophobe, and doesn't entirely trust our dishwasher, meaning she washes all dishes by hand. When cooking extravagant (by Whole 30 standards, though some stuff has been amazing) meals every night, the dishes pile up. Some nights, she's on her feet for at least two hours, cooking and cleaning. I'm allowed to help with drying the dishes and putting them up, but my wonderful fiancee's Celiac disease has left her in a position where she only trusts herself to get everything clean. This won't always be the case, but it is for the moment.

A lot of our mental anguish comes down to the age-old adage that PEOPLE WANT WHAT THEY CAN'T HAVE. This diet is so stupid restrictive, my wonderful fiancee and I are dying a little on the inside as time goes on. It stinks, we hate it, but on the other hand... 

I'm down seven pounds since we started Whole 30 almost two weeks ago. 

Whole 30 Update No. 2 - Sweet Lord Chipotle by Ryan Hill

 

It's quite possible my wonderful fiancee is struggling with the Whole 30 devil more than I am. She dreams of tacos, specifically Chipotle. We drove past one the other day and she reached out, begging for the Sweet Lord Chipotle to take her in his warm embrace, filling her stomach with all sorts of burrito goodness.

That's not even mentioning the sugar withdrawal. Sweet Lord Chipotle, someone get us out of this sadistic diet!

I've spent a lot of Whole 30 trying to accept the fact that I'm not going to get a lot of joy from food for a while. My wonderful fiancee HAS come up with some amazing meals, but that doesn't mean I don't miss... you know... good/processed food. Because I do. A lot. The first night on Whole 30, I dreamt of Diet Sunkist. No joke. 

Below is a dramatic recreation of an actual pre-Whole 30 conversation with my wonderful fiancee:

MWF: Why can't you give up soda for 30 days?

Me: I don't want to.

MWF: Why? It's terrible for you.

Me: Don't take this away from me. I love my soda. It's my happy place when I get to work.

MWF: Your happy place?

Me: Yes. Drinking it in the morning makes me happy, so I need it.

MWF: Yeah. You don't sound like an addict at all.

Me: ...

After a cooking mishap Friday night, Week 1 of Whole 30 broke my wonderful fiancee. Her love for Chipotle was strong, and so we partook in the Whole 30 sin of burrito goodness. It was glorious. 

Although...

After five days of going o naturale, both my wonderful finacee - especially my wonderful fiancee - experienced stomach issues, to the point Chipotle has been put in the time out corner for the foreseeable future. 

We also drank some wine on Saturday. Again, it was nothing short of glorious.

Because of our transgressions, my wonderful fiancee decided last week was more of a "soft launch" for Whole 30. So far, this week has been back to strict Whole 30, but once the weekend comes, things change.

The weekend is a time to unwind from the work week. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Food plays into that. It's not only nourishing, but good food can lift a person's spirits. Not that my wonderful fiancee hasn't made some flippin' sweet meals on Whole 30 - she has - but going out, eating food prepared by someone else just has a different vibe to it. Basically, it seems we're going to have some sort of cheat system built in. So it's not Whole 30, it's Our 30. 

To which I say...

Whole 30 Update No. 1: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly by Ryan Hill

 

The first few days of the Whole 30 program have come and gone, and somehow I'm still doing this thing.

Does it have to do with my fiancee's ultimatum that if I don't complete the 30 day program that I can never complain about gaining weight again for the rest of my life? A little.

Does it have to do with early results? A lot.

Now, I haven't magically dropped all the weight I want to, but I have dropped enough to make me curious what Week 2 will bring.

As for no soda/alcohol/pizza/enjoying life? That part is more out of sight, out of mind. So long as I don't talk about it, I'm okay. The second I start talking about it, I become a puddle of immaturity, kicking my legs in the air and begging my fiancee to let me off the hook. 

Of course, she won't let me off the hook.

I'm still getting used to drinking coffee with this ghetto Whole 30 approved creamer and the soda thing has been - so far - not too terrible, thanks to a supply of La Croix berry flavored soda.

I did try this gingerberry flavored Kombucha. It smelled like antiseptic. Tasted like it too.

Overall, I'd say Whole 30 isn't bad. But I still have the weekend to come, and that's when I like to let loose a bit.

Stay tuned.

The Fiancee and I Started the Whole 30 Program by Ryan Hill

 

On Monday, my wonderful fiancee and I started - at her request - the Whole 30 program, a super-strict version of the paleo diet that causes sadness, despair, hunger, and potentially some weight loss.

The gist of the program is that for 30 days, it's all about the natural foods - meat, vegetables, fruit. Nothing processed. Nothing with sugar. No bread. No pizza. No alcohol. The program is nothing short of an evil scheme to make people like me suffer to no end. And lose some weight. 

Honestly? It's not that bad. I try to eat well, so the eating part isn't too bad. I will miss pizza. And popcorn. And chocolate. And all these other things that are awful for you.

Like soda.

Diet Sunkist is my happy morning drink. I'm not huge on coffee - NO CREAMER FOR WHOLE 30 BY THE WAY - so DSK puts a smile on my face. My wonderful fiancee feels my soda "dependency" needs to be broken. I disagree. But that's not even the worst of it. Zero alcohol can be consumed during this program. 

None.

Zip.

Nada.

That reason alone makes me think whomever created the Whole 30 program should have to dip themselves in honey and sprinkles, then lets ants crawl all over them. All the while listening to a never-ending loop of Creed. That way, their mind, body, and soul will all be attacked, giving them an idea of what this program - on its third day, no less - is doing to me.

I'll provide updates as this goes along, but for right now, I MISS FOOD.