Saturday, October 14, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villenueve
Cast Headliners:  Ryan Gosling, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford,   others
Original Release Date: October 6th, 2017

  Blade Runner is one of THE sci-fi legends of all time. Atmospheric beyond most before or since, its dark cyberpunk world showcased monumental technical achievements by Ridley Scott, perhaps Harrison Ford's most iconic role after Han Solo and Indiana Jones as Rick Deckard, and a nor-influenced, slow burning and deep story on what it means to be truly human. It stood alone in its story aside being a archetype of its genre, but its world provoked questions of what more stories could be told. Blade Runner 2049 answers that question with a film that faithfully matches the tone and nearly almost the quality of the original. 
The year, not surprisingly, is 2049... a far future from our own that is perhaps even more exotic (As the original took place in 2019). The primary setting of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas is either dystopian layers upon layers of cityscapes or the wastelands and junkyards outside of it. As is the original, there's humans, and then there's the bio-android “replicants” who are created for work.  The hero of the tale is K (Ryan Gosling), one of the Blade Runners... as with Deckard in the original a member of the LAPD tracking down replicants who need to be taken out. His mission to take down Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) begins to unravel an intricate spider-web of lost people, miracles, action, and intrigue. 
As with the first the movie's primary joy is via visuals and audio. Director Denis Villeneuve once again delivers incredibly on this front. Modern budget and special effects showcase a breathtaking, dark, and beautiful future world. Landscapes astonish and seem so real despite likely being not so. The neon and blackness of Los Angeles, the sterile coldness of the LAPD, the alien-like wastelands and junk piles, the surreal and monolithic interiors of the Wallace Corporation, and later a trip to the Mars-like  red dusty abandoned city of Las Vegas are intensely memorable and artistic. This cinematography applies in closer scenes as well. Vehicles, robots, holograms are all so lifelike in their mix of futurism yet with an often appearance of retro looks right from the 80s that match that tone. 
Nearly even better is the audio. The score by Hans Zimmer brings to mind the best of Van Gelis' magnum opus of an original via synths, electronics, and strings. Moment to moment sounds pop and rumble no matter what's occuring. A fantastic example of this is during K and Sapper's first brawl, where a simmering pot of food can be heard quietly cooking throughout it all. 
This is an extremely long movie that can be slow moving and at times lost in its slightly philosophical side (as was the classic film). Revelations and twists take tons of minutes and scenes to unfold, slow scenes at that. But it is all for good reason because of the skill at play. Action is infrequent but memorable and exciting. The plot serves as a fitting legacy of the old film while being perfectly fine for newcomers, with some surprising turns. Sometimes the placement of certain scenes or choices is questionable, but these are minor mistakes on an epic great journey. 
They end up as just side dishes to the scrumptious cyberpunk immersion of the main course but the cast of characters and performances are solid as well. Gosling's K brings to mind his role in Drive....silent yet fierce while also being emotional when the time comes. He's likable and intimidating when he needs to be, and as he is a replicant himself that feeling comes through well. His chemistry with hologram girlfriend Joi (Ana De Armas) is great.  Armas is sweet, funny, loving and the two of them's ups and downs bring a bright cheerful core into a dark film.  
There's many bit players who bring it greatly with what they are. K's superior Lt.Joshi(Robin Wright) is commandingly fierce with the occasional stereotypical cop laughs when she appears. Bautista's Sapper is different than most roles...quiet and committed while also tough. Sylvia Hoek's plays a fearsome replicant foe called Luv who has an edgy likable sense to her. Various other, smaller and bit less memorable but still alright roles appear: Barkhad Abdi as black market dealer Doc Badger, Carla Juri as memory maker Dr.Stelline, Lennie James as junkyard owner Mr.Cotton, and even familiar faces like Edward James Olmos as Gaff and Sean Young as Rachel(also via old audio clips).
Two other characters who make the most impact are fittingly enough some of the most important. Jared Leto's Niander Wallace is quickly the villain of the film. He's blind, an CEO and inventor mastermind of an intergalactic company, and sees through hovering creepy drones that float around him. To add to this, he has a god-complex.,..talking wonderfully of “restorming Eden to re-take her”. He is chilling yet in just a few scenes.   Then, there's Deckard himself.
Audiences expecting a lot of Harrison Ford must be patient, as it takes perhaps too much time for him to actually join the epic events of the film . Once he appears every scene Deckard is in is great. Harrison Ford brings that same level of enthusiasm to his return as he did as Han Solo in Star Wars : The Force Awakens. He is tough, inquisitive, and funny.  He and K make a great team, once it finally happens. It's in a way a close and follow-up to the original Blade Runner with important and emotional consequences, yet also hinting at a possible future. It's good that he's in this to tie it all together.

Overall, this serves as a well deserved follow-up to the classic that Ridley Scott would be proud of... smartly done with someone with perhaps even more talent at general filmcraft in Villeneuve. It transports the viewer into a dark, sweeping epic tale of replicants and future cities whether they're a fan of the old or a first timer. It's been done before, but done again with new paintbrushes... it's a new kind of masterpiece. 9.05 out of 10

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle Review

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle
Director: Matthew Vaughan 
Cast Headliners: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Jullianne Moore, Pedro Pascal , Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum,  many others
Original Release Date: September 22nd, 2017



 The first film in this series, 2014's Kingsmen : The Secret Service, was a pleasantly great surprise. It looked decent or so, but ended up being a greatly fun wild mix of action, humor, and larger than life aspects. Of course the announcement of a sequel has to leave one curious with excitement for where it can go. In this second film, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, this potential is definitely reached as a whole.
The movie picks up some manner of time in the wake of the prior film. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now a more experienced and adept agent in the British covert spy society “The Kingsmen”. He works with the likes of his peers including technical support Merlin (Mark Strong), his old friend and fellow agent Roxy (Sophie Cookson), and new leader Arthur (Michael Gambon). Yet between his responsibilities he still has time to see his girlfriend.. the Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom) and his various friends from his home area. Things seem great of course, but an epic , almost 2.5 hour plot unfolds that goes to some crazy, action-packed, and wild places.
Events eventually transpire to where the main team of Eggsy and Merlin must seek out their American counterparts, The Statesmen. This adds to the star-packed cast with their agents such as the charismatic Tequila (Channing Tatum), their technical support Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), leader “Champ” Champagne (Jeff Bridges) , and the badass lasso-wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). They are needed to contend with the insane villain Poppy (Jullianne Moore) of the titular Golden Circle.
This expanded cast does two good things for the movie. It both expands the (ever-more-unrealistic) world's lore into interesting and epic places. It also leads to some interesting and funny dynamics between all the factions. An insane, wacky spy montage of people and places. For as prim and proper the Kingsmen are in their stereotype of England, the Statesmen are as “Murrica” as possible with their whiskey Kentucky operations, cowboy hats and revolvers, and sense of justice. The same hyper pulp applies to nearly every facet of this world.
The characters themselves are a mixed bag of use. Egerton's Eggsy is once again a likeable and cool protagonist, here being much more skilled in battle and dialogue but not forgetting his youthful arrogant roots. His friendship with Merlin is a highlight, and Strong is as wiseand helpful and occasionally as always too. Tatum's Tequila captures the gung-ho nature of his USA peers and has some coolness and laughs however he unfortunately is a bit of a smaller part. The same applies to the supporting staff on both sides of the pond, from Roxy, Arthur, Ginger Ale, Princess Tilde, and the dude Champ not having much more than the occasional drop of exposition or a joke.
There are luckily exceptions to this. Pascal's Whiskey is a highlight right up there with Eggsy and Merlin. He adopts a gloriously over-hammed and just on the borderline of cheesy “cowpoke” accent for this role, and has some action scenes and jokes that stand highly through what his role is. Marketing has spoiled that perhaps Colin Firth's Harry / Galahad may not be as dead as what was shown in the last film. The reveal of why and how is an emotional , and important feels story arc that must be seen firsthand. But be assured that this is done well and he is once again a highlight. Moore's Poppy is an insanely , funnily evil Martha Stewart-esque innocent exterior kind of villian...replite with an old-school diner and town filled with robot dogs and salonists in the middle of jungle ruins. She is a bit over the top , but often intimidates and charms. These aspects of the villianous side are of course more memorable than generic henchmen such as Engel (Tom Benedict Knight) and traitorous Kingsmen Charlie (Edward Holcroft...although who almost reaches Bond villian memorable tier with his metal rockem-sock-em cyborg arm). There is also Elton John as Elton John...who well, it must be seen but he's silly and amazing in what he adds. Various other characters show up as well such as the President (Bruce Greenwood) and Charlie's girlfriend Clara (Poppy, ironically enough, Delevigne) who add to the story in surprising ways.
The plot of the movie is long but as a whole worth it. There are many twists and turns, as with the first one and others of this genre, that keep the interest and stakes going. There's some deeper themes explore with the drug trade , relationships, and amnesia that are explored to various results. Some parts are a slowdown from what's around them, but when the humor , ridiculousness, and action come its worth it.
Without a doubt on those last two points, director Matthew Vaughan delivers once again. There's a style that has become a now-trademark for him via this series and Kick-Ass... Crazy, frenetic shots. Choice uses of popular and original music (even in less fast paced scenes). Constant “really now!?!?” kind of feelings. The scale has been raised from 11 to 12 for this movie in nearly every way, for better or worse. At times this surrealness once again leads to some less than remarkable backgrounds, but when it counts it delivers.

It's a sequel that tries to be “can lightning strike twice”. It almost does, and hits the same level of insanity, brutalness, crudeness, charm, and fun as one would want. Fans of the series will be delighted, and even as a standalone, it's a shiny, crisp, wild spy blockbuster that's packed with memorable moments. Mixing between cheesy and truly great, it's worth the time. 8.1 out of 10  

Friday, September 15, 2017

It Review

It
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast Headliners: Bil Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis,  several others
Original Release Date: September 8th, 2017


The novel and 1990 mini-series It can be said to be one of author Stephen King's most iconic stories. The terror trip of a tale of an evil clown, a band of friends, and a mysterious town is both thrilling and influential on other things. It's understandable that this remake / reboot should be viewed with some manner of hesistance... after all, there's many bad horror and overall remakes of films out there. The horror genre has changed in the past 27 (what an intentional number) years as well, so how does this turn out. It's pleasing to say that this is a well deserved remake worthy of the concept.
The movie, smartly, does not cover the massive volume of the book (which was a multi-episode TV mini-series more than a movie) so thus is actually the first film in a planned two film adaptation. This may confuse casuals who were not aware and has a bit of an obvious “Chapter One” text at the end, but it is also in a way self contained. The film as expected takes place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine in 1988. A boy goes (quite horrifyingly) missing after he's attacked and dragged away by a sewer dwelling circus clown, Pennywise / “It” (Bill Skarsgard). This dark sequence is just within moments of the film, and it is far from the end of the terror train that follows.
Some short time later, the lives of a group of children in the town of Derry are followed. There's the likes of the missing boy Georgie's stuttering older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), and his various friends including fast talking jokester Richie (Finn Wolfhard), fearful Jewish Stan (Wyatt Oleff), and nervous Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) who are eventually intertwined in their lives with new friends in black farmboy Mike (Chosen Jacobs), chubby new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and the only girl in outcast Bev ( Sophia Lillis). There's also periphery characters in the gang of bullies led by Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) amongst some parents and townsfolk.
The film has an ensemble cast of mostly children, and they prove to be greatly casted. As with other incarnations of this story, the overall friendship...whether in juvenile (and often truly funny..at times stupid) jokes or the ups and downs of bonding , between the kids is a strong suit. Every kid has their moment to shine, whether through heroism or horrifying fright. Lieberher's Bill is a sort of protagonist who has some alright moments. Paticuliarly, the main peers in Wolfhard's (purposefully.,... a much different kind of role to his past work in Stranger Things!) annoying comic relief Richie and Lillis's stressed yet tough Bev stand as highlights. Slightly unfortunate is the fact that some kids end up just delivering a line or two and end up as a stereotype as “token black”, “token Jew”, “token sweet fat kid” etc but when they are featured they are alright... hopefully their characters get more to do in part 2.
The movie does a great job in both its whimsical joy and darkest of horror. The camera work and direction by director Andy Muschietti is commendable, with lush outdoor scenery or grimy skin-crawling houses and sewers the quest goes on. The effects on the various monsters and visions are also really, frighteningly real seeming and quality. This I contrasted by choice set design, costuming, and the occasional background music that takes one back to the 1980s. Not to mention that the film's orchaestral score is often solid too. The influence of It was felt in the television show Stranger Things, so its ironic but understandable that the same overall tone is matched here with its look, whimsy, and setting...it's only fitting and full circle that even includes one of the same stars. But on its own, it holds well.
This movie is thrillingly, often jarringly and pulse poundingly scary. At times the repitition of some tactics get old or some choices are silly (come on... that “Dancing” scene? The heavy metal rock fight?). However the film often finds ways to shock... both with (a moderate or so amount of) jump scares and creepy , more nuanced imagery as it should be. All the good things have been said of the film, and not even mentioning the titular Pennywise. Skarsgard is... great in the role for sure. His appearance both neutral and in the many forms he takes is unsettling and demonic. It's hard to compare to Tim Curry in the original, because that was so iconic. Smartly, it's a semi-different role... a darker look (in a darker toned film than its equivalent peers) in costume and more brutal of a character. He speaks much less, but when it does he gives a creepy voice and luckily rare terrifying laugh. His scheming , wretched cunning is a memorable highlight of the film that may haunt the viewer long after. This is alongside some close to taboo other themes that add to the dark tapestry.

The movie has a big name to live up to , but it comes really close to what it should be. The pulse pounding onslaught may at times be overwhelming and repitative, but the scares count when they count...and the heart in the daytime. As its own, it is a quality horror film... and leaves one wanting the next part. 8 out of 10  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Multi-Reviewmania: The Dark Tower/Valerian/Detroit

Multi-Reviewmania: The Dark Tower / Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets / Detroit:

 Every so often (it's been since 2013... hopefully I have enough thorough reviews to allow for this rare exception) I get
so caught up with life, including seeing movies, that I don't have time to break out thorough reviews for all of them. So, it's
the return of a combo review of some recent films, shorter than average... may some truly remarkable things break the article streak,
ahead, perhaps after some rest time... for now very casual.



- The Dark Tower: Context, I'm a fan... A dream to see come to life of Stephen King's transmedia magnum opus. That also carries with it expectations, and paticuliar
letdowns yet joys. In mainly a bad way, attempts to cram sequences and details from across 8 novels into a mostly too brisk
1h 40min while also being mostly an "attempt" at the first book with an extra scooping of the second... This can be messy
and may mess up things for sequels that are unlikely to happen. However, it's cool seeing these things brought to life more or less.
Idris Elba is pretty good as Roland Deschain the legendary gunslinger of alternate place Mid-World... but his badass demeanor
and combat skills fade as he is more of a bodyguard and sidekick to Jake Chambers, a haunted boy played by Tom Taylor to decent
regard but gets most of the focus in an obvious "young adult franchise appeal" move. Their relationship, and some fish out of
water moments that otherwise are the only charm in too much mundane reality, grows and is a highlight. The Man in Black, Matthew
McConaughey, is an accurately vile villian..... charming and devil-ish in demeanor and fearsome in power. It's a shame
so many other elements range from just decent to weak or worse. The "low men" minions are creepy but generic whether
disguised as humans or as beasts on the battlefield. Jake's family plot is muddled, cheesy, and hollow. The citizens of
Mid-World are just as forgetabble aside from slightly noteworthy minor parts like Arra (Claudia Kim), Pimli (Fran Kranz), or
Sayre (Jackie Earle Haley...too little). Mid-World is kind of gorgeous as is The Dark Tower itself, as is the other fascinating odd magic and technology, kudos to the
scenery and effects...but is barely dwelt upon. The action is decent and visceral...but amounts to just a couple sequences in what is
mainly alot of walking and weird lore that goes mainly mysterious.... a bit of a letdown to fans and dense for newcomers though an attempt is made.
Alright soundtrack. Decent stakes, but should have been more. That describes the film...an interesting if slightly cookie cutter
magical sci-fi adventure that could have been so much more if more of an attempt was put into crafting and accuracy. 7.4 out
of 10

- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Directed by Luc Besson of the Fifth Element and others, the French legend...
of course there was alot of hype in this as his return to true science fiction. However, while it has French style imagination and visual
spectacle in pretty good amounts it also has just as much or even more extraneous French cheesy whimsy. One imagines that if
this is just a taste of the classic comic series, there's many ideas to explore...and for sure it attempts to give a look at an
interesting universe. This is brought down by a film that is...mixed in its aspects to say the least. Commendable, unique
creativity in its plethora of places( a virtual reality dimension market planet! a planet of magical ocean pearls right out of a
Final Fantasy video game cutscene! The titular utopia of biomes and species!) and neat alien species, creatures, technology,
and spaceships etc. This leads to some wonderfully colorful and artistic views of beings, landscapes, and costumes. However,
at times this CGI overload (perhaps not since Cameron's Avatar has this much been seen) can appear low resolution or cheesy..
with some muddled people at closer inspection and hazy music. It's a fascinating world, but its plot is filled with useless
side diversions and hardly likeable characters. Leads Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are... mediocrely
decent at best... no doubt with the cheesy script to blame if not also their questioonable talent as seen in other blockbuster work of late.
The likes of Clive Owen, Rutger Hauer, and Herbie Hancock mumble their way through exposition and mundane military chatter. When
the only memorable enthusiastic performances are (arguably diversionary) aliens by the likes of John Goodman and Rihanna, one knows there's a problem with
the kind of heart that lacks within this universe. Sam Spruell is a extremely minor gem as a noble General. Action and
excitement pops up but Besson uses too much whimsy with sometimes too much epic and flashbacks to give a dissonance of tones between
silly and dark. The ambition can be felt, and it has value, but it also has more than a couple weaker areas. 6.85 out of 10


- Detroit: The best movie on this list to be sur..to no surprise. Katheryn Bigelow is a name that always indicates quality.
This, shockingly very true, historical narrative is as dark and gripping as any of her best. Words like dark, dire, and
stressfull are understatements in this tale of race and police struggles. There is an interesting mixture of actual news and historical
footage with dramaticized filmed Bigelow footage (this latter part being the majority). This aids to make it feel real, especially
so given Ms.Bigelow's knack for great camerawork and pulse pounding action / tortue. It starts as a tapestery of moments
in different lives, but ends up becoming a story about the Algiers Motel Incident within the 1967 riots. Some performances
stick out as extra stellar ... John Boyega's committed and stoic security guard Melvin Dismukes, the happiest of youth and
deepest of sorrow in musicians of The Dramatics Morris(Joseph-David Jones) and Larry Cleveland Reed(Algee Smith), and veteran
Greene(Anthony Mackie who gives a familiar to his work in Bay and the MCU but memorable turn). The context is unfortunate, but
racist abusive cop villian Phillip Krauss(Will Poulter)(just like but most of all out of like minded
peers) is a chilling antagonistic performance. Some of the characterization may be extreme, but it adds
to the violent, dark almost horror / thriller tone of the piece. This is real events at the end
of the day though, which makes this drama not a fiction of terror but one people went through on all
sides... with deep lessons to be learned for today's age. Emotional, bloody, violent, tense (aided
by a dark pulsing score)... Bigelow transports the audience back into a long (perhaps a bit
too much..and with some narrow focus that may have been aided by a bit more context) intense
tale of what happened. 8.7 out of 10

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dunkirk Review

Dunkrk 
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast Headliners: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, many others
Original Release Date: July 21st, 2017

 The term “war is hell” is a term that has been explored through many films and media over the years. Particularly in the grand epic stakes of World War 2, where true stories are epic, dramatic, and sorrowful enough to provide inspiring, or harrowing, tales of warfare. Dunkirk names itself after the true Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. Director Christopher Nolan takes his first attempt at a WW2 film, and the result is what one would expect it to be.
The stakes match history: in 1940, British and French forces had been pushed the edge of France (just a short while across the sea from Britain) by Nazi forces. From all sides enemy forces are hunting down the troops, and the situation seems dire.
The approach and intricate touch of Nolan is noticeable right off the bat. The movie plays, like Memento and Inception prior, with time and layers of storytelling. There is the aspect of the British ground forces leaving the beach including soldiers (in a way the main protagonist of ) Tommy(Fionn Whitehead ) alongside Gibson(Aneurin Barnard) and Alex(Harry Styles from pop band One Direction ) under leadership such as Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D'Arcy). Separately, there is the civilian family out at far sea of Mr.Dawson(Mark Rylance) and his helpers son Peter(Tom Glynn-Carney) and friend George(Barry Keoghan) who meet an unnamed Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy). Lastly, there's the air battle in the skies above of RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden).
These perspectives play with time and place, with events taking place either one week, one day, or one hour before a nexus point. It is however not really confusing, moreso a narrative puzzle that is intriguing to figure out , as often Nolan has. Things make sense in due time and the escalating tension of the plots is helped by big events ramping up and up. It's neat to see where the plotlines and timelines interconnect into each other once they eventually do.
This strong aspect of the movie ties together even strongly when considering the visual and audio treat of it all. Nolan's directing and camera work reaches some of the highest heights of his career. This ranges in a spectrum from the most real of intimate shots on the frontline, to the most beautiful and grey skies of the air foce combat. When water comes, it is claustropbic. Explosions and bullets seem within inches of the audience's fate. This leads to that “survival” aspect of the film more than most war films. This is aided by an amazing, layered score soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (as he always does) who's ticking strings and other instruments tie into the pulse of what s going down in the desperate stakes. Additionally, the audio design of everything is loud, realistic, and effective. Every inch of this is real and gritty...costumes, grey skies, somber music. It's an intense experience.
“Survival experience” would explain this film in another way in that , while it is brutal and dire, it is not so much a movie about action in that it is about reacting to action in a real way. The German Nazi forces are never humanized (this was apparently done on purposes) and mostly appear off-screen. This gives the movie a haunting, intense quality since danger can come from anywhere anytime, as it was likely on the real location of Dunkirk back then. The threats are fire, water, and so on due to that...it makes war an elemental force which is fitting in many ways. However a possible drawback is, there is not really much of a driving plot or storyline other than “survive and get out”. The vague experiences of the film due lead to some intense situations, but they are sporadic in the waves of conflict rather than having a definning character arc within that conflict.
The performances and characters within the film reflect that. It seems that usually in his films there is the coincidence of strong writing and acting. Even the (many) unnamed characters come across as sincere and momentarily memorable, as per Nolan tradition. No one really gets much dialogue to speak but that is in line with the ambience at play. When they do, there is some memorable players. Whitehead's Tommy is a bit of a generic young everyman but that may be the point..he does alright with what he's given and is an endearing face in the danger. This seem aspect can be seen in those accompianment such as Lowden's pilot Collins, D'Arcy's Colonel, and Glynn-Carney's Peter.
The standouts thus standout even more strongly. Tom Hardy's Farrier speaks perhaps the most little of all, but in his eyes and physical movement he gives a powerful and dedicate performance as any in his career. Branagh's Commander shouts orders and speaks quietly of grim things, but is emotional and sincere within it. Style's Alex shows the pop singer has some great acting talent.. he has a bit of brutish nature and swagger that makes him stand out amongst the British forces. The best dramatic scenes come from Rylance's Dawson (who is extremely wise, determined, and badass) and especially with Murphy's Soldier who is affected by regret and PTSD. The emotional feels will stick with the viewer long after the film in these cases.

In the pantheon of both World War 2 and Nolan films, there's been perhaps some better. It is not a traditional one of either. But what it is, is a finely crafted, slightly surreal and intense tale of courage and survival in a desperate situation. Bravo Nolan at your take. 9 out of 10

Thursday, July 20, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast Headliners: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, various apes and humans 
Original Release Date: July 14th, 2017


The modern reboot series of the Planet of the Apes franchise has trended towards not just decent, but incredible. These new films have tapped into state of the art special effects , dramatic and effective writing, stellar cinematography, and a epic scope to levels that arguably surpass the 70s series by leaps and bounds. War for the Planet of the Apes marks a sort of end of this new take (although as with any of  what is successful in Hollywood these  days, there are plans and likely to be more) on the apes. It ties into the themes, plot elements, and excellence of the series to deliver a fitting conclusion and reach masterful new heights in many areas. The title is war, but if anything, it could be called “Finale of the Planet of the Apes” for its themes and wraparound.
A few years after the events of 2014's post-apocalyptic Dawn (and even further past 2011's apocalyptic Rise), the larger human force teased in the end of that film hunts down the ape community of Caeser(Andy Serkis). The human military still has not learned their lesson to both not put the blame on him, and also to think they can stop him and his simian people so easily. The movie shows its strengths from the get-go with a dark, brutal, intense action battle of human soldier (including traitor “donkey” ape allies)  attacking the apes at their base. From here the stakes only amp up as a tale of revenge and finality is told.
The CGI special effects reach an incredible new height in this film. Serkis' Caeser , as ever, is a monumental achievement of both the visual spectacle of mocapped movement and the dramatic nuance as the voice and face of the role. All of the apes look more real than ever, but particularly Caeser  seems just as real as any human in reality. Moreso than all others he seems like a real prop, a costume, mask or model with his fur and movements and all. This however are all effects of CGI which is amazingly impressive. In terms of a character, Serkis' voice (used now most of the time although there is delicately swift use of sign language as well) performance is stellar. He is gruff yet emotional. When making demands, when feeling sorrow, when being inspired, and even a moment of humor this ape is a legend. One of the greats, and his character arc (And the choices he has to make ) are highly great.
This combo visual / dramatic quality of ape characters is present in most others as well. On his mission, Caeser finds himself joined by a “squad” that consists of the gungho Rocket(Terry Notary), the loyal Luca(Michael Adamthwaite), and the wise Maurice (Karin Konoval...who seems even realer than any other).  The friendship and tactical skill between these forms a strong and memorable bond leading to excitement and emotion. High effort seems to be placed on these ape with the budget, since when there is dozens of apes on screen the effects can be more noticeable as not real. But zoomed in, one would believe these apes are right alongside the real human actors. Some other minor highlights of apes include the sincerity of Caeser's “daughter-in-law” Lake(Sara Canning), albino Winter(Aleks Paunovic) and even the return of  the second film's vile villain Koba(Toby Kebbell via visions).  There's also the important new, non-ape but noble addition of mute young girl Nova(Amiah Miller) who the heroes take under their wing after finding her on the road. Her nuanced, mostly silent performance earns her a place amongst the best of apes. An ape that is just as praiseworthy as Caeser or Maurice is the newcomer of “crazed old hermit” Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). He is from a different culture than the main apes and has a (sign) language barrier. He also is uniquely cowardly, bizarre, and hilarious. His comic relief and charm function blend well into an otherwise grim movie and its interesting how unrecognizable but effective Zahn is in this highlight role.
The human villains (Nova aside there are not really any noble ones this time... the presence of Jason Clarke's character is only slightly missed however in the excellence of the other elements) get strong vile if generalized with one exception characterization.  The legion of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are ruthless, abusive and are as if they are some ancient Roman Legion rather than just generic soldiers. They are a threat to far outdo other human villains across the franchise, well equipped and fearsome.
To oppose Caeser, there's the Colonel... and Woody Harrelson gives a really good performance. It is not often he has played the villain, and he has a knack for it. He is a zealot filled with rage..almost ridiculously so. His stance is manic and Harrelson drips evil and bringing this across. There's even a small bit of sympathy for him in the right moments, and of course humor in a evil way. He ends up being more of a far off character but his influence is felt. One will hate him, and cheer for his hopeful demise.
That brings a fair point... the title is “War” and while there is some incredible, visually stunning action as with the others in this trilogy it comes in ebbs and flows. Do not come into this expecting constant slaughter. It is , once again, a more visceral, slower epic journey. This journey pays off when it needs to though and is no less exciting or intense in its nuance.
The music in this movie is fantastic. Compose Michael Giacchino both uses repeating leitmotifs and surprises with diverse sounding pieces that add to the emotional feels, the excitement, and the unfolding intricate plans with occasional bouts of whimsy and magic. It is a lush, orchaestral soundtrack that highly adds to scenes.
What scenes they are... director Matt Reeves delivers strongly not only on the apes themselves but also on nearly every other aspect. The cinematography is great both intimately up close and from af far. There are breathtaking, beautiful uses of landscapes from surreal coastal beaches and solemn forests to desolate snowy mountains. The tracking when action pops up brings the viewer right into the scene while also being awe-inspiringly larger than life. His touch and style are distinct and it was a smart choice having him finish off the story to new heights.
This is a long, epic movie that can beat times  drawn out but in the end pays off. It helps to have seen the others in the trilogy to understand the stakes and context for what's going on..alongside some references and surprising new twists. It can be heady, but it can also be pure fun...or pure emotional feels. Pure epic is a word to descibe this saga, and this piece of it. Caeser will not be forgotten, and what he did for the apes... and its franchise. 9.12 out of 10

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Director: Jon Watts
Cast Headliners: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, many others
Original Release Date: July 7th, 2017 (My 24th bday, what a party!)



  Another few years, yet another another Spider-Man “reboot”. However with Spider-Man: Homecoming it feels this web-slinger is here to stay via the live action MCU. In a sense this film is interesting as well because he technically made a great and first appearance in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. Now it's time to head back to New York City and give him his own solo adventure / spin-off.
 What is found is a fun lighthearted superhero time. 
 The movie picks up at various reactionary points of the MCU time-line. There's ( a bit surprisingly , for a Spider-Man movie but not for a MCU movie (see Thor 2 etc) a bit of a lengthy intro to the main antagonist in Adrian Toomes aka Vulture (Michael Keaton) who salvages alien gear  and rubble from The Avengers (the first movie in 2012) earning his moniker. Jumping forward , there's the aftermath for  Peter Parker / Spider-Man(Tom Holland) from 2016's Captain America: Civil War battle where he showed up. It's the first of a few interesting uses of MCU connections , and it works to fill in the lore and timeline of the world and give context for how he feels.
Although Peter may have super abilities and a super suit he is also a high schooler. This is the youngest Spidey to date and the movie goes deep on high school, youthful shenangins even more than the Garfield or Macguire films. But it works fine. The balance of Peter and his high school chums (such as Jacob Batalon as Ned, who is one of the movie's comedic and heartwarming highlights) joking around , taking tests, having romance and academic team melodrama against the more superheroic epic story is balanced well. Holland is charming as civilian Peter, having youthful charisma with a knack for science and investigating. These make these scenes, which director Jon Watts calls inspired by classic John Hughes movies, finely tolerable especially when it comes to his jokes with awkward yet hilarious Ned.
For so much casting announcements given in the lead up to the film, most of the high school related cast boils down to some minor , or less than minor, jokes or scenes. Characters like arty sarcastic Michelle(Zendaya,,,who clearly is set for a bigger role in sequels), bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori),  teacher Mr.Harrington(Martin Starr), Principal Morita(Kenneth Choi), Abraham (Abraham Attah), Coach Wilson (Hannibal Burress), and even the “love interest” of Liz Allan(Laura Harrier) are played by talented performers from elsewhere but just give a few lines of jokes or interactions with Peter / Ned etc here. However the writing is for the most part solid whether funny or dramatic. 
Peter's non-HS support crew is a bit more memorable. Aunt May(Marisa Tomei) is as charming as ever and has some memorable lines but isn't in the film that much either. It's good to see Happy Hogan(Jon Favreau) be a semi-major role again , funny as ever. He is the first of some surprising connection and returns. It's a twist to see who “Karen the Suit Lady” (Jennifer Connolly) is but she nearly matches the best of Bettany's Vision/Jarvis from other films. 
So much advertising had been done on how Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) was a big part in the film and... he is for the most part. Whether it's the mentioning of “the Stark Internship' or him offering comedic or action help he is a key if often off-screen part. Downey is as great and charming and funny as ever. It's great to see Spider-Man and Iron Man in action on at least one occasion. Holland's other best scenes as a civilian are with RDJ, and there's some decent emotional feels of him being a sort of father figure , and goal via the Avengers, to Peter. However if the fact that this was “Iron Man 4” or even “Iron Man 3.5” were a concern don't be alarmed, this s still mostly a Spider-Man movie.
The villainous angle similarly ranges from great to slightly forgettable. Michael Keaton is an absolute highlight of the film as the winged (even cooler than Falcon) Vulture. Keaton's Toomes takes  bit to leave an impression as his glimpses are brief aside from some decent effects and action. However, once certain twists and arcs are established, he becomes a fascinating foe to Spider-Man with a logical, emotional, and perhaps even justifiable point of view. He's aspects of Dafoe's Green Goblin, Molina's Doctor Octopus, and some original blue-colorness that gives him better and better scenes and lines . A solid entry in the MCU as a character, and his wing suit gives him combat capabiilities to go toe to toe with Spider-Man.  His related characters end up being generic goons however, such as “the Shockers” (who don't even get  costume, despite merchandise) in Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine) and Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green). There's also the weird mechanic Tinkerer(Michael Chernus) and an extremely small but alright appearances by sequel-set-up  gangsters Aaron Davis(the future Prowler perhaps ) (Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino) and Mac Gargan(the future Scorpion perhaps) (Michael Mando). It adds some layers to give Vulture some lackeys, but luckily he counts more than the minions. 
For all its mostly strengths in characters, humor / writing, drama, and plot the action and spectacle is... decent. No complaints truly, as Watts shoots some solid looking (even non-combat) visuals and scenery. The Spidey suit looks just as good as the best and better at times as does Vulture, Iron Man etc.  However no matter the foe whether thugs or super villians the battles are..... decent if short. They are scattered through the film and raise in stakes at times but aren't as memorable as thebest of them. Occasionally as well the CGI effects aren't as good as other moments, and the music (aside a certain theme showing up) isn't as snappy as past iterations. But it's fun often as well(such as a montage of him , right out of the comics, doing neighborhood heroics) Through it all at least Holland has some decent quips, charm, and acrobatics which make his action / spideylike. These are just minor drawbacks.
New Spider-Man films have and will continue to go a number of ways. His debut in Civil War gave a good head start, and here the promise is mostly delivered on.  It's a typical kind of Spider-Man film, but has good highlights making it worth watching in the general kind of stuff. Fans of the character, or usual MCU movies, will like this. The MCU elements make it special, and even without those the other elements do as well. It ain't perfect, but neither is Spider-Man himself  yet and his its many good aspects..that's the point. 7.97 out of 10.


(PS: Was cool to have one of my favorite heroes on my birthday. Also to have Keaton have been both Batman (lol crossover) and Birdman(heh) over his career)