The Northman © Universal Pictures.

The Northman was another Hollywood movie that I wanted to see in theaters but missed. Just like The Last Duel, even if the movie ended up being bad (which they weren't), I wanted to see it in theaters to support the continued production of movies like this -- movies that aren't just another in the endless onslaught of comic book movies and nostalgia reboots from the late 80's and 90's. I want Hollywood to keep making these sorts of serious historic dramas.

But I haven't been to a movie theater in over 2 years thanks to the COVID pandemic. I would have been willing to go to the theaters for this (as well as for The Last Duel), but stuff kept coming up. We kept putting it off until, before we knew it, The Northman was out of theaters. But I'm no hypocrite. I also haven't seen any comic book movies in theaters either. I waited to see Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Batman until they were on streaming, and I still haven't seen Multiverse of Madness.

Much like The Last Duel, Northman is a brutal and dirty movie. Nobody gets blood-eagled, but there is plenty of violence, both grotesque and cathartic. Even the non-violent parts of the movie are grotesque and intense. Grown men built like trucks scream at each other, dance around, and even occasionally cry. This movie is constantly bombarding the audience with weird stuff, and it's all mesmerizing.

Northman threads a fine line between completely believable historical fiction and some mythological elements. On the one hand, I would believe the movie if it told me that it was inspired by true events. On the other hand, it's never entirely clear if the mythological content is actually supposed to be interpreted as really happening, of if they simply reflect the characters' belief in their gods and magics. Either way, the gritty, dirty, realistic settings are occasionally juxtaposed with beautiful and imaginative fantastical imagery.

The Northman - gritty setting
© Universal Pictures
The Northman - fantastical imagery
© Universal Pictures
The gritty, realistic setting is juxtaposed with imaginative fantastical imagery.
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I've been sitting out of a lot of movies this past few years due to the COVID pandemic. Even though I'm vaccinated and boosted, I'm just still not comfortable sitting in a crowded theater with a bunch of randos. And if I did go to a movie in a theater, I would wear a mask, and that can get uncomfortable for a whole 2 or 3 hour movie. I could maybe be convinced to go to a theater for a small movie with a mostly-empty theater, but for a big summer blockbuster, I'm just not there yet. So despite being a big Spider-Man fan, and generally having liked the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far, and despite the movie's universal acclaim and praise, I passed on seeing No Way Home in theaters when it released last year. I waited until it finally showed up on streaming, and just now finally got around to watching it this past weekend.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far is that none of them have been terribly surprising. Both Homecoming and Far From Home had pretty predictable plots, with the only real surprise being Mysterio's deathbed public reveal of Spider-Man's true identity. No Way Home does not deviate far in terms of predictability. The multiverse aspect and return of villains from the previous movie continuities was in the trailers, and the fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles was one of the worst-kept secrets of any movie ever.

In fact, the only real surprise for me was that this movie did not do the one thing that I really thought that it would do. It doesn't have any new villains -- not even in a bit part. I thought for sure that some new minor villains would show up early in the movie, knowing Spider-Man's identity, and threatening him, May, MJ, and/or Ned, and that would be the impetus for Peter going to Doctor Strange to reset the timeline.

Specifically, I was expecting to see the Scorpion. The end-credits stinger from Homecoming introduced Mac Gargan, who very much wanted to learn Spider-Man's identity from the Vulture. I thought for sure that with Spidey's identity being public, that the opening act of the movie would have J. Jonah Jameson hiring Mac Gargan to become the Scorpion to hunt down Peter Parker and capture or kill him. Peter would defeat Scorpion, but not before Gargan goes too far in threatening Peter's friends and family, leaving Peter with no choice but to go to Strange to help protect the people he loves.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Mac Gargan © Sony Pictures, Disney
I was surprised that the Scorpion did not show up early in this movie to raise the stakes.

This never happens. The impetus for going to Strange is that Peter and his friends aren't accepted into college because the colleges are afraid of the controversy of admitting a known vigilante. It feels like a flimsy excuse for wanting to change the timeline or mind-wipe the entire planet, especially considering that the MCU's Peter has strong connections to Stark Industries, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, and shouldn't have any problem finding ways for him and his friends to have professional lives together.

So I thought the lack of Scorpion was a huge missed opportunity. It would have raised the stakes, provided some act 1 action, and allowed for the inclusion of a new character. It also would have served as a red herring for the movie's trailers by letting Disney show some action scenes with a villain, while trying to keep the rest of the villain roster a secret for as long as possible. Maybe this was part of the original plan, but Marvel axed it after a version of Scorpion showed up in Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe they didn't want to look too similar to Spider-Verse?

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Oh, boy. Here we go. The Matrix: Resurrections is basically The Last Jedi of Matrix movies. If you hated The Last Jedi, then you'll probably hate this for much the same reason. Similar to The Last Jedi, The Matrix Resurrections is all about the creative pressure to live up to toxic fandom expectations, and it's predicated on a twist that a lot of fans might consider to be "unfaithful" to the original trilogy.

Personally, I liked The Last Jedi much more than most. I think it's the best film in the sequel trilogy, even if it does make a lot of very hard missteps. And the stuff that I liked most about The Last Jedi happened to be the stuff that most other people were most offended by.

Despite the similarities, I doubt that The Matrix Resurrections will be received with the same level of vitriol as The Last Jedi was. For one, we've seen a lot of these sort of cynical deconstructions of fandoms and sequel expectations since The Last Jedi released, and so I think a lot of the public is desensitized to it now. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, The Matrix Resurrections doesn't commit as fully to its cynical view of the franchise. While that might appease many fans who just want to see another "Matrix" movie, it's probably the biggest reason that I felt disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections.

Personally, I enjoyed the first half of the movie, but was immensely disappointed with the second half.

The Matrix Resurrections - sad Keanu
© Warner Bros., 2020.
The Last Jedi - jaded Luke
© Disney, 2017.
The Matrix Resurrections reminded me a lot of The Last Jedi, but without the guts to commit to its polarizing twist.

This review will be pretty spoiler-y, as I will be talking about the plot twist. So consider yourself warned, and watch the movie before reading further if you don't want to have it spoiled. Though at this point, just telling you that there are spoilers at all is probably already a spoiler, so what's the point of the warning?

...

If you care enough to not be spoiled, have you watched the movie yet? If not, then I'm assuming you don't care. OK. Good. Let's continue.

...

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I wanted to see The Last Duel in theaters. It is a story that my partner was interested to see, and we were making tentative plans to see it. I'm still hesitant to go to a movie theater due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. I actually passed on seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home in the theater because I don't want to sit in such a crowded space with total strangers. I was actually kind of relieved that The Last Duel was bombing in theaters. It would mean that we could go see it in theaters, and I could be comfortable in the knowledge that we should expect to have no problems social distancing in the theater.

But real life happened. We got busy with stuff, and kept putting it off. Then my partner actually caught COVID, so we were self-quarantined for 2 weeks. By the time we would have had an opportunity to go to the theater, I think The Last Duel had already been pulled.

So when we were sitting around in the holiday week between Christmas and New Year, with plenty of free time on our hands, we saw it while scrolling through HBO Max and decided to finally watch it.

The structure of The Last Duel is quite unorthodox for a feature film. It abandons the typical 3-act structure of most mainstream movies in favor of more of kind of a 4-act structure, in which the first 3 acts retell the same events from 3 different characters' perspectives. There isn't technically a 4th act, as the climactic duel is actually part of the 3rd act, but as it's a culmination of all 3 characters' plots, I kind of see it as its own 4th act.

The Last Duel - Carrouges
©: Scott Free Productions, 2020.
The Last Duel - Le Gris
©: Scott Free Productions, 2020.
The Last Duel - Margueritte
©: Scott Free Productions, 2020.
The Last Duel repeats almost the entire story 3 times, once from each characters' perspective.

I'm on the fence about this particular style of story-telling. On the one hand, there's a lot of subtly and nuance that re-frames or re-contextualizes most of the events depicted. We get to see multiple characters' conflicting perspectives of the same events, and how one person can believe himself a hero, while everyone else might see him as a self-righteous dick.

However, I have two significant complaints with the structure of this film, in particular.

The first complaint that I have with The Last Duel is that the desire to re-tell the same events 3 times leaves little time for anything else. We get one scene early in the movie of De Gris and Carrouges fighting together on the battlefield. There's nothing else to help build up and develop the deep friendship and respect that they supposedly have. The audience is constantly being told that they are good friends, but all we ever see is petty bickering between them. We just have to take the characters' word for it that they were ever friends to begin with.

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"We don't get a lot of things to really care about."

It is really difficult to talk about this movie without kind of spoiling the whole reason to recommend watching it. Needless to say, Pig is a cleverly-subversive rebuke of the toxicly-masculine "revenge porn" movies that it is inspired by -- movies like John Wick and Taken with a little Quentin Tarantino thrown in. The movie was pitched to me as "Nick Cage goes John Wick to rescue his kidnapped truffle pig." I like John Wick and Taken just fine, and I was surprised at where Pig ended up going, but it goes without saying that Pig ends up offering something much deeper and more meaningful.

Pig is a sad, depressing movie about dealing with loss and grief; about reflecting on lives that didn't turn out the way we wanted them to; about the past that was, the present that isn't, and the future that will never be. Sometimes life spirals out of control because of the poor choices we make; sometimes it's just tragic bad luck. Either way, we cannot undo what's done, and we can only go on one more day at a time.

Yet in spite of the depressing path that the story takes, Pig somehow manages to present an uplifting message about connecting with other people through empathy for them and their situation, and about finding common ground between people who cannot possibly be more different. Even if you can't get what you want through civil discourse, it's still not worth resorting to violence.

Pig will be another example that I will point to, along with The Martian and Moana, of a movie that doesn't need a traditional villain or a climactic fist-fight or shootout to tell a compelling and tension-filled story that can connect with an audience. Once again, the writers of any future Star Trek movies should pay close attention to this one, and take notes.

So yes, I highly recommend watching this film. If you haven't watched it yet, then you can stop reading here and come back when you have watched it, because I can't talk any more about why I like it without spoiling everything that makes it good and meaningful.

Did you watch it yet?

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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