Us – DeaconsDen Reaction

“Us” is the second film from director Jordan Peele. After a very successful career in comedy, Peele dropped the mic on his debut film, “Get Out.” That film won Peele his first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was also nominated for Best Picture. Now will he continue his fantastic directorial start with “Us,” or does he hit a sophomore slump?

“Us” is the story of the Wilson family who is terrorized throughout one night by what appears to be their doppelgängers. The family is led by matriarch Adelaide, portrayed by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Her husband Gabe is played by Winston Duke, giving us a reunion of two actors from 2018’s “Black Panther.” Their two children, daughter Zora and son Jason are played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex respectively. All four actors give great performances, with Nyong’o in particular showing all emotional ranges with some of the best work of her career.

Peele’s direction continues to amaze with some great shots and keeping things very well paced. I was asked, “will it scare me?” I don’t think it’s a jump scare sort of movie, but with a movie like this it’s all about the atmosphere for me. It’s the situation that’s terrifying. To help highlight the horror is the score by Michael Abels, returning from scoring “Get Out.” Abels operatic orchestral sounds permeate the film with a haunted vibe that really underscores the beauty and horror of the people and their twins.

One question you will ask about “Us” is if Jordan Peele creates another “Get Out?” This film is different animal from its predecessor. With “Get Out,” Peele was making a specific point within the bounds of the horror genre. “Us” can be interpreted multiple ways. I will not speculate so as not to spoil anything, but the end of the film really brings home (at least for me) what sets in motion the events of the film. I’m not one for calling an up and coming filmmaker “the next” anyone because I find it unfair. However, as a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, “Us” really reminds me of his film “The Birds.” In that film birds attack the people with no explanation at all and it’s a masterclass in suspense while offering the viewer to make their own choice on what the events represent. “Us” works in that same regard.

Jordan Peele definitely continues this hot streak with the mind bending “Us.” It’s just as layered as his prior film while allowing us (pun not intended) the opportunity to see how we view it and view ourselves as well. I look forward to getting this on blu-ray for back to back views with “Get Out” and breakdown more of Peele’s commentary on society.

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Aquaman – DeaconsDen Reactions

The King of the Seven Seas arrives in his first full fledged motion picture. Aquaman is the sixth film in DC’s cinematic universe, taking place after 2017’s Justice League. Jason Momoa reprises his role as Arthur Curry and what we receive as viewers is a visually ambitious story of a man simply wanting to understand his place amongst his people.

From the jump, Aquaman, probably more than any recent comic book film I’ve seen (at the of this writing, I have not seen Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse) embraces the overall feel of a comic book. To me it felt like a silver age story. Really basic, easy to follow. I did not see that as a negative. I know people are familiar with Aquaman, but he is not a character on the level of popularity as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or even The Flash. I think director James Wan made a smart choice in the way he chose to adapt the character.

Visually, as I mentioned earlier, Aquaman is very much ambitious. I don’t know how else to imagine Atlantis looking like, but I did not expect it to look like that. Atlantis is vibrant and bold yet detailed. It reminds me of the digital world in Tron: Legacy. To me it’s the most visually impressive film since James Cameron’s Avatar. This is further highlighted by Rupert Gregson-Williams score that really gives the feeing if both being underwater and techno driven.

One of the biggest questions about Aquaman might be, how are the performances? Momoa in particular?I felt everyone involved do their best to bring this world to life. Amber Heard bring steely determination to Mera as she knows what she wants for her home, as does swollen Dafoe as Vulko, who trains Arthur as a child and teen. Also we get to see a screen legend in Nicole Kidman get her badass moment and it is certainly badass. The best overall acting I believe belong to Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Arthur’s brother Orm and Black Manta respectively. Two of Aquaman’s greatest adversaries and I believe both actors channel different forms of rage that define their characters. I hope there is a sequel and I want both to return.

This bring me to Momoa himself. He’s not a particularly good actor, but more of a strong presence. This works strongly in his favor as some of the material can be a little hammy at times, it works for him because hammy appears to be a strong area for him. However, I feel this works in the context of the film as well. We get multiple flashbacks of young Arthur with Vulko and he asks about his mother and Atlantis. He’s constantly told to be patient and the years pass with no resolution. This makes his attitude and the beginning of Aquaman even in Justice League more understandable. James Wan knows his lead actor doesn’t quite have the chops as his supporting cast, so he simply lets Momoa be Momoa. This isn’t his take on a particular iteration of the character, this is if Jason Momoa has superpowers. For this reason, it works for me.

Aquaman plays like a mashup of 80s sword/sorcery/adventure films. From its plotting, to its style and music. I had a blast from start to finish and I can not wait to go back to Atlantis with Arthur and Mera.

A Simple Favor – DeaconsDen Reaction

This one, took me by surprise. I expected to enjoy A Simple Favor because it seemed like the type of mystery-thriller I’m accustomed to enjoying, but I legitimately loved this and it is the second time a film with Blake Lively has become one of my favorites of the year (the first being The Shallows).

A Simple Favor is directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters) with a script by Jessica Sharzer based on the nice of the same name by Darcey Bell. It stars Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding.

Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is a single mother with a Vlog dedicated to cooking, is investigating the disappearance of her best friend Emily Nelson (Lively). Emily had asked Stephanie to pick up her son after school (the simple favor) and never returned. From there, whatever can happen will happen.

There are quite a few elements that make A Simple Favor a great fun time at the movies. One of these is the perfect casting and chemistry of Kendrick and Lively. Their conversations with each other in the first third of the film is a blast to watch because you have a fusion of Kendrick’s awkward yet adorableness and Lively’s liberated and assertiveness. The combination of the two is undeniably potent.

Now you might be able to telegraph the beats that come along with a film like A Simple Favor and while I feel that is certainly by design, the ride is what you are here for. You basically have a modern Hitchcockian comedy-thriller. When it wants to be funny, it is hilarious. If the film decides to take itself seriously, it absolutely does and you manage to switch gears with it just as easily. Anything you know about a noir film and those tropes and cliches are present but it is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It just wants to have you enjoy the wheel and it certainly entertains. It gets twisted and even slides to the dark side for a moment, but it all works and never felt disjointed.

With all the focus now on major tent pole films, I adore the opportunity to enjoy experiences like this that take something familiar and just manage to give you something new with something old. A Simple Favor is simply fun.

Mission: Impossible- Fallout – DeaconsDen Reaction

Mission: Impossible- Fallout is the sixth film in the series. For the first time in the franchise, a director has returned to helm the mission and Christopher McQuarrie, director of 2015’s Rogue Nation has proven along with Cruise, that Ethan Hunt belongs with the heavyweights of cinematic action heroes.

The Mission: Impossible films have taken quite an evolution over its run. The next best thing I can relate them to is the Fast and the Furious series, but those films began as one thing and then the decision was made to make them something else. And it was the right call. Mission: Impossible however began in 1996 with the original film, a spy thriller that closely felt like an episode of the television series the films are based on, directed by a master of paranoia in Brian De Palma. Then in 2000 we get a mashup of a Bond film, crazy stylish action and a vibe of badass, from action maestro John Woo. In 2006, JJ Abrams made his directorial debut with the 3rd film that married the spy thrills and action. The kinks from the first 3 films were ironed out in 2011’s Ghost Protocol that was directed by Brad Bird. Ghost Protocol was a refined version of the prior films that also gave us a glimpse of what the series wanted to become. It was a spy film, but more so than its predecessors, it felt a tad more grounded. The other films were good spy films, but the felt like spy films. Ghost Protocol started making the audience feel the real world stakes. 2015 brought about Rogue Nation and with that film, we see the goal of the Mission: Impossible films. A well blended mix of light and heavy. The events of the film are presented to enjoy as entertainment cinematically, but also allows you to take in world of espionage it presents. And now 3 years after the release of Rogue Nation we come to Fallout.

And what a ride it is.

Fallout is easily best in the franchise. After Rogue Nation, I went back and forth on what I felt was the best of the series between Rogue Nation and Ghost Protocol. The debate is settled. It’s Fallout. McQuarrie and Cruise deliver an awesome film that’s loaded with character and boasts some of the best action sequences since Mad Max Fury Road.

Fallout is not just a title relating to the theft of plutonium that starts the story off. It also refers to the fallout of Ethan Hunt’s actions over the years. The effects that reverberate to his personal life, profession and the world are all in play here. In addition to showing us and telling us these ramifications, it’s best used in the film as being personified as Henry Cavill’s Agent Walker. Forced on Hunt during his mission to recover the nuclear material, Walker is the hammer to Hunt’s scalpel. Hunt wants to accomplish the mission as best and with a little damage as possible. Walker just wants the job done. They are quite the case of contrasting characters. Ethan’s actions also impact his partners in the field as his victories in Rogue Nation play a role with Ilsa Faust (great to have Rebecca Ferguson back). By the end of the film’s final act, we’re given almost a revitalization of Ethan, the IMF and the series as a whole.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is deserving of all the praise it can get. It is a smart and relentless spy thriller and action film that doesn’t let up, pays tribute to its predecessors adds some new dimension to Ethan Hunt and his place not only defending the world, but his place in cinema history as well.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies – DeaconsDen Reaction

Robin, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg and Beast Boy have hit the big screen together in this animated film based on the series Teen Titans Go! How did this quintet fare in their first movie adventure?

So I must begin with a little history. Teen Titans Go is a comedic spinoff of the Teen Titans series that aired for 5 seasons from 2003-2006. Teen Titans Go brought back the same voice actors from the original series, Scott Menville as Robin, Tara Strong as Raven, Greg Cipes as Beast Boy, Hynden Walch as Starfire and Khary Payton as Cyborg. The original show was really well received and enjoyed by many for balancing the character development and storylines while never forgetting that these are teenagers. Upon the release of the newer series, fans were not pleased with the new direction. It’s goofy, irreverent and does not take itself seriously.

Or does it?

One of the things I’ve grown to love about Teen Titans Go even as an adult in his 30s, is how committed it is to being what it wants to be and how it reflects things that we see everyday especially in a world occupied by social media. In terms of its quirkiness, it’s like an animated Seinfeld which is my favorite sitcom ever. Both shows have a cast of characters that have different characteristics and traits. And both poke fun at everyday situations. I especially love how it always lets people know that they are here to stay since you always hear about how people are fuming that this show exists and not the original. Well, this movie is here to remind you of its place in the world just like the show.

Believe it or not, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is both a hilarious spoof on superhero cinema and our love of them, while simultaneously providing its own commentary on its place in superhero media. Just because these aren’t what you specifically loved before, it doesn’t make them any less heroes. The show is super funny. This film was super funny and heartfelt. It actually makes a case for its place in the landscape and I find that a very important concept to explore in a landscape where it’s questionable it seems to have multiple iterations of comic book characters.

Oh and if you are a fan of DC Comics, which I assume if you see this movie anyway, there are references and Easter eggs galore. So many. And if there was a DC character you’ve wanted to see on screen, you probably will see them. No matter how obscure. Seriously, I don’t want to give spoilers, but there is one character I’d love to see in live action one day and it was great to see her (that’s all I’ll indicate) on screen.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is a great time for kids who love seeing these characters be what they know them to be on television and adults will appreciate some of the DC related jokes and nods as well as the commentary about superheroes and the media we love to consume about them.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – DeaconsDen Review

The second Star Wars Story focuses on that lovable smuggler, the scruffy looking nerf herder himself, Han Solo. Solo is directed by industry veteran Ron Howard and believe it or not, is also a fun space Western/heist film that I think can also be a good entry point for people who might not consider themselves fans of the franchise.

Alden Ehrenreich plays Han and the obvious question is how is his performance since Harrison Ford is all we know? The answer is that Ehrenreich does a fine job in channeling traits that Ford has given the character, but still giving us his own spin. The Han that we were all familiar with is an accomplished smuggler, the Han in Solo is learning the ropes and knows how to get out of a situation, but has much to learn about the criminal underworld he’s gotten himself into. It’s a refreshing take to see the character adapt to a new situation just as we saw him adapt from smuggler to rebel in the original trilogy.

Solo also has a very solid and recognizable supporting cast. Emilia Clarke is Qi’ra, the love of Han’s past. Clarke gives a more sensitive performance as a woman who, like Han simply is trying to survive.

We also get solid acting from veterans Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton as Beckett and Val respectively. They lead the crew that gives Han his first steps into a larger world.

And of course I have to mention Donald Glover as Lando who just oozes cool just as Billy Dee Williams did back in 1980.

Solo feels to me the most like something George Lucas would have made during his peak with Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It’s not demanding your familiarity with Star Wars lore. Granted there are many little nods and winks for fans, but works as a space western by itself. It also has a fantastic score by John Powell that invokes John Williams work. I always get chills when I hear the TIE Fighter attack from A New Hope and that plays in this score as well.

My criticisms are very few, but definitely noticeable. First the film isn’t very long, clocking in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, but the opening third of the film isn’t very well paced. This could be a result of the switch from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who were the original directors before being replaced with Howard. Another issue I had was with the look of the film. I found the lighting and cinematography very grey and dark, but without any sort of distinction. I know the look may have been to depict the grime of the criminal element Han is involved with, but for me it didn’t have any stylishness to it. Just grey, dark and dull.

Despite these issues, Solo: A Star Wars Story is more in line with what I would like to see from these anthology films. Movies that are set in the Star Wars universe, but take advantage of different genres without playing into the larger picture. This one worked for me way better than Rogue One did. With smaller expectations, Lucasfilm can really carve out a little niche amongst a titan franchise.

Final Rating 3/4

A Quiet Place – DeaconsDen Review

A Quiet Place is so quiet, I was afraid to munch on my snacks during my viewing. So yes, its trailers were certainly effective.

Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed) are a married couple with children who inhabit a world that is now overrun with creatures who are extra sensitive to sound and therefore silence is the only survival.

At 90 minutes, A Quiet Place wastes no time dropping us into the gut wrenching world where not even a pin drop may be quiet enough. It’s tense, unsettling and horrifying. The creatures themselves once you finally see them are nasty looking, yet like Jaws the threat of them is all the fear you need.

For communication, the family uses American Sign Language, too not only keep as quiet as possible, but also because the oldest child Regan is deaf (played by actress Millicent Simmons, who is deaf in real life). While dealing with surviving, there is also a great little personal conflict between father and daughter that further strengthens the theme of communication even when you can’t say so.

An element of A Quiet Place that I appreciated was the film’s score by Marco Beltrami. Since the film has thrust you into this world of silence, Beltrami’s score is used to relieve the audience in a way. It takes the edge off because you consciously find yourself limiting the sounds you make. In my viewing, I would hear people try to hold back their coughs. It’s fantastic immersive filmmaking I applaud Krasinski for also wanting to give you a break. And you’ll need it once things start to ratchet up.

A Quiet Place is a nice slice of creative horror that uses the performance of its casts as well as its concept to the maximum and never wastes a second of your time. For this reviewer who is a huge horror movie buff, this is something fun and unique and special.

Final Rating (4/4)