“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Trailer!

Angelina Jolie is back in business as the horned witch Maleficent in the first full-length trailer for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (great title, by the way), looking just as demonic as ever. Coming hard on the heels of the announcement that Jolie will be joining the Marvel Studios team in next year’s The Eternals, it looks like the actress is going to enjoy our undivided attention – as we try to figure out which Marvel role she’s taking, and how she’ll match her performance in the first Maleficent, which was lauded as pretty much the only good thing about the movie.

Jolie is going up against Michelle Pfeiffer in the Maleficent sequel, which looks to be an interesting conflict – villainous female characters have always been relatively rare in Disney movies, so it’s cool to get not one, but two, here. If great acting is the best thing going for the Maleficent franchise, then Pfeiffer is probably a good choice – but her character, Queen Ingrith, doesn’t have much to do in the trailer: which is very upsetting, considering that Pfeiffer was already cheated of a cool action-heroine role in Ant-Man And The Wasp last year, even when she was armed with a wicked-looking javelin. Hopefully we’ll see her in a more active role here. The official synopsis says that Maleficent and Princess Aurora will be joining forces to protect the magical creatures of their homeland from “new adversaries” – i.e. probably Queen Ingrith. I have hope that Ingrith will be an active magical-beast-hunter, rather than someone who just sits around in a castle all day, exchanging witty quips with Maleficent.

Oh yeah, Princess Aurora is back, obviously, but she makes no impression on me from her brief appearance in the trailer, so we’ll just skip over her.

And on to…well, not much else, honestly. A few shots of ravens flying. One truly awful freeze-frame at 0:52 (which I just realized is also the trailer thumbnail) where Jolie’s costume looks horrendous – the wings do not work, in any way, shape or form, and the horned hairpiece looks like a cheap Halloween-store prop. The lighting in that shot is pretty bad, to be fair (green isn’t too flattering, in general), but Jolie’s makeup also seems odd.

Overall, pretty decent trailer, without a whole lot to offer. Nice to see Jolie donning the horns again, though (even if they do look ridiculous).

Trailer Rating: 6/10

“Wine Country” Movie Review!

Get ready to clear a space in your itinerary for this brilliantly funny day-in-the-life story. The premise of Wine Country is simple – a group of women come together in Napa Valley for a birthday party, but soon find themselves arguing bitterly and turning on each other, as their frantic schedule of wine-tasting, sightseeing and accidental art shows becomes too much for them to handle. Hysterical mayhem ensues.

The writing is what makes Wine Country so appealing: the dialogue is hilarious, but extremely real. All the subtle movements of conversation, the awkward pauses, the interruptions, the mumbled whispers: they’re all there. The situations in which the women find themselves are always real – whether they’re discovering the meaning of life in the eyes of a raccoon, or a stranger in the house wielding a dead cuttlefish. It was one particular scene, early in the film, when the group goes out to a restaurant, that confirmed to me that the writing was perfect – that scene was identical to many family reunions I’ve attended.

However, it’s not until the tarot-card reader arrives that the movie suddenly…has a plot. Up until that point, the story is episodic and uneventful, we have no clear grasp on the characters, and we don’t even really get the sense that they’re stressed out – well, except Catherine, but we’ll get to her in a moment. But after the cards have been read, leaving them all with a deep sense of dread and impending death, the women are suddenly at each others’ throats, and the plot suddenly jumps into action and doesn’t ever slow down again. This might have been jarring, if the tarot-card scene hadn’t been phenomenal. Lady Sunshine (Cherry Jones), their reader, is one of the standouts in Wine Country, with her deadpan delivery of depressing news and her chipper smile as she announces the price of the reading. This scene is one of the best in the movie, and really jump-starts everything that happens next – as the women inevitably take the message of the cards to heart.

As for the women themselves, they work best when they’re a team, but they’re worth talking about individually because a lot of them really are that good. Obviously, I have to mention Amy Poehler and Tina Fey first, but I’d really rather not. Fey is just fine as Tammy, the rough-and-tough cowgirl who acts as a mentor to the women, and she manages to get some impactful and funny material to work with, but her performance is, for the most part, uninspiring. Poehler is great to begin with, playing Abby, the group leader and party planner who makes it her responsibility to get her team moving frenetically around Napa – but then somewhere in the third act her character just seems to dry up, and Poehler’s acting became forced and cringey: she tries to have an emotional monologue about climate change and first-world-problems, but it sounds unnatural and scripted – a lot of the best acting in the movie is that which feels improvised, and Poehler’s often doesn’t.

Maya Rudolph and Paula Pell, however, have a lot more to offer: Rudolph’s character Naomi is irreverent and relateable – even as she struggles with personal issues. Each character has a moment in the spotlight, and Naomi’s is definitely her drunken birthday-speech where she manages to fall off a piano – or is it her third-act encounter with a poisonous snake? Or perhaps the scene where she confesses how terrified she is of death? She has a lot of great moments. Pell has almost as many, playing the confident, boisterous, and energetic Val, who falls in love with a modern artist and then has to deal with the fall-out.

Catherine and Rebecca, are the best characters on the team, memorably portrayed by Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch, respectively. Gasteyer’s workaholic character is the outcast in the group, constantly leaving to take important calls or trying to convince her friends to do things none of them want to do. Dratch, on the other hand, plays the timid life-coach and birthday girl, whose attempts to keep her friends in check by offering them “feedback” only succeed in making her the target for all their pent-up anger and resentment.

Meanwhile, Emily Spivey portrays Jenny, the final member of the team, who has virtually nothing to do. For what it’s worth, she does a good job with what she’s got, but the role is so underwritten it’s hard to tell.

Wine Country manages to pack a delightfully entertaining punch, even with a few missteps in pacing and character development. Add it to your schedule if you’re looking for a hilarious comedy about friendship, loyalty, and female bonding, all set against the beautiful backdrop of Napa Valley’s rolling hills and vineyards.

Movie Rating: 8.5/10

“Judy” Trailer!

While it’s only a little more than a minute long and features no dialogue, the first trailer for the Judy Garland biopic Judy is a poignant and powerful statement about one of the 20th Century’s most tragic and beloved celebrities: it goes straight for the heart – and it doesn’t miss.

Firstly, there’s no denying that RenĂ©e Zellweger looks the part: and no surprise, considering the two-hour long transformation Zellweger had to go through daily on set to become Garland. The trailer features a heartbreaking rendition of Over The Rainbow by Zellweger herself, who makes it her own in a new – yet immediately familiar – fashion. The song, in fact, looks to be one of the key focuses of the movie, which will be set in the year leading up to Garland’s death at the age of 47, during which the singer and actress performed in London at a series of famous concerts. We catch brief glimpses of her life onstage in the trailer, including song-and-dance routines and filming for the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Garland’s Oz co-star Margaret Hamilton will even make an appearance, played by Fenella Woolgar.

But Judy will also look into Garland’s personal life, with Game of Thrones‘ Bella Ramsey portraying her daughter Lorna, while Finn Wittrock and Rufus Sewell will play Garland’s fifth and third husbands, respectively. There are hints of her drug addiction and her struggles with a life of stardom. Biopics such as these have a tendency to dig a little too deep into the dark sides of the people they portray, but musical biopics can leave us with an uplifting feeling even when the story being told is uniquely depressing. Just as Bohemian Rhapsody showed Freddie Mercury’s legacy of great music, so Judy must also: showing us the tragedy of her passing, but reminding us of the hope she left behind.

Judy has to compete with many other musical biopics, but the legacy of its larger-than-life protagonist will probably boost it into consideration for awards season, just like Bohemian Rhapsody before it. Hopefully we’ll get another trailer – one that perhaps doesn’t aim to rip out our heartstrings?

Trailer Rating: 10/10

Richard Madden Joins “The Eternals”

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The cast for Marvel’s upcoming film The Eternals continues to take shape – and continues to nab big-name actors, with Richard Madden of Game of Thrones being the latest addition to the team roster. While Marvel has not yet released an official statement on the casting, Madden is believed to be playing the Eternal Ikaris, one of the film’s three male lead characters. So let’s take a brief look into the character of Ikaris, and what we might expect to see from him in the film.

Ikaris is one of the major Eternals, possessing the ability to fly, manipulate energies through molecular distortion, and teleport. He is immortal and invulnerable to most weapons (who isn’t, in the MCU?). He was born thousands of years ago, in Siberia, and inspired the ancient Greek legend of Icarus – well, technically his son did that, but I’m trying to keep this simple. Ikaris is the cousin and arch-nemesis of one of the Eternals’ greatest villains, Druig, who is also expected to show up in The Eternals. I have a theory we might see Druig even earlier, in the Black Widow prequel, and Ikaris’ Russian origin might suggest another connection, however tenuous. In the comics, Druig hunts Ikaris, searching for the location of the Pyramid of the Winds, located in the Arctic Circle – if Druig does appear in Black Widow, he might be looking for Ikaris, following a trail that could lead him to the sacred Pyramid in The Eternals.

In another comic run, Ikaris and the Eternal Thena defeat Druig in the fictional Russian state of Vorozheika, where Druig is attempting to win the allegiance of other Eternals. Ikaris and Thena have a long-standing conflict that could add another dimension to his character. But it is Ikaris’ relationship with another Eternal, the sorceress Sersi, that has frequently been rumored to be a crucial aspect of the Eternals film: it could make The Eternals the first MCU film to actually focus on a romantic storyline. Previous attempts to make love stories fit into Marvel films have all fallen a bit flat, with the designated “love interest” characters feeling one-dimensional and boring – for instance, Sharon Carter, who fell in love with her aunt’s ex-boyfriend; or Doctor Strange’s ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer, who was just…there; or Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend, a character that did not deserve to be gifted the incredible talents of actress Natalie Portman – and apparently Portman agreed, since she stepped out of the role after Thor: The Dark World and wouldn’t even return for a cameo in Avengers: Endgame – the filmmakers had to use old deleted footage of her instead.

So having a love story be the possible focus of a Marvel film could be one of two things: one the one hand, it could go down like the Fosters, Carters and Palmers of previous films – or, with a decent amount of screentime lavished on it, it could actually be pretty decent. In my opinion, the greatest comic-book movie romance of all time has to be that of Diana Prince and Steve Trevor in DC’s 2017 hit Wonder Woman, but maybe a similarly adorable couple could replace them – or at least try to come close. Richard Madden seems likely to be starring alongside Angelina Jolie as Sersi, so that dynamic should be interesting, if nothing else.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Trailer!

The Avengers: Endgame spoiler ban imposed by directors Joe and Anthony Russo lifted today with this trailer for the next installment in the Spider-man franchise, but it’s your choice whether you want to read on. Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame lie ahead!

You’ve been warned.

Spider-man: Far From Home looks like it will pick up right where Endgame left off, with Peter Parker returning to school and trying to rebuild his life after having been snapped out of existence for five years. Needless to say, it won’t be easy. The new Far From Home trailer unveils some huge new concepts that are clearly to impact Phase 4 of the MCU – just as the first Avengers movie introduced us to Thanos and Infinity Stones, Spider-man is paving the way for a Marvel Multiverse.

In other words, anything can happen, from this point on. The Multiverse is a mind-boggling concept that, in hindsight, seems to have been set up in Endgame: there, in order to defeat Thanos, the Avengers were forced to travel back in time and open up branch-realities – realities in which Loki escaped with the Tesseract during the Battle of New York, or Gamora never met the Guardians of the Galaxy, for instance. At the end of Endgame, Captain America was sent back in time to shut down these alternate realities and prevent them from impacting our timeline – but it seems he might have missed a few.

Something big is happening in Far From Home. Elemental demons, seemingly a product of all this reality-bending, time-traveling stuff, are attacking the earth, coming through a “hole in our dimension” as Nick Fury calls it – and the only thing that stands in their way is Spider-man, who will now probably have to do some reality-bending of his own to stop them. The Multiverse has apparently been opened, which means we could see all sorts of weird things from now on: alternate versions of characters, for instance. I doubt that Spidey will be able to stop this, and I also doubt he’ll want to. Throughout the trailer, we see him mourning the death of his mentor and father-figure, Tony Stark (told you this contained spoilers). The Multiverse could easily bring back Tony, or an alternate version of Tony: in fact, the Multiverse makes any number of things possible. That Black Widow movie that’s coming up, even though Black Widow is currently dead? Well, maybe this is alternate Black Widow. The Scarlet Witch streaming show that will be set in the 1950’s, before Scarlet Witch was born? Time travel shenanigans and pocket-dimensions could explain that too.

The Multiverse can make pretty much anything – and everything – a reality. The MCU just got a whole lot bigger, and a whole lot more complicated.

So let’s bring our focus back down to earth: obviously, this trailer is going to be talked about in the coming days and weeks for the Multiverse reveal, but there’s a lot of other stuff happening here that’s also worth mentioning. Nick Fury and Maria Hill are back, as we expected, and Fury has recruited Peter Parker for this mission because apparently every other superhero is currently occupied (that seems…implausible, to say the least, but we’ll roll with it). Another big surprise is seeing Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Mysterio working for Fury – in fact, he seems to be the head of this operation to shut down the Multiverse: which seems a little dangerous, since Mysterio is a Spider-man villain in the comics.

Peter himself is still cheerful and innocent, and seems a little nervous about going into the Multiverse, following in the footsteps of Miles Morales in last year’s animated (and completely unrelated) Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse. He wears a variety of cool new outfits, but he is obviously still adjusting to his new role as one of Earth’s mightiest heroes – he stills thinks of himself as the friendly neighborhood Spider-man. He has some romantic tension with MJ, but he’s being removed from his friends, pulled away from them by his duties even as he tries to enjoy a European vacation.

The real star here is clearly supposed to be Mysterio, who is shown wearing his iconic fish-bowl helmet and using magic. But there’s another character whose absence is already like a gaping hole in the dimension, and that’s Tony Stark. There’s graffiti of him on walls, and shrines dedicated to him in street-corners: while bringing Tony back might be cheating, it’s at least a possibility now with the introduction of the Multiverse.

Trailer Rating: 8/10