Thursday, April 12, 2018

RP1 Review

Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast Headliners: Tye Sheridan, Mark Rylance,  Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendehlsohn, TJ Miller, several others
Original Release Date: March 29th, 2018

Ready Player One's premise would have been exciting enough on its own. A Willy Wonka for a future age where people would rather live in virtual reality than this one. Add to that the fact that it's Mr.Steven Spielberg himself playing with he sci-fi genre, and a bit more of a gritty blockbuster scale again. Then there's the fact that in this film and world it's not just any VR game but one in which anyone's dreams are possible...often in the form of other franchises. This mish-mash of things would have made me see it anyways but there was also the wide praise of the original novel. Every bit of praise is deserved for that but it put my eyes in a certain perspective for the movie adaptation. It tries to skim through the potential of the original but makes tweaks, additions, and removals. However one must think of it objectively... and even at that still it's a highly enjoyable VR dystopian time.

In the film's 2045 there's a future which is not entirely outside of what our own can be. The most incredible massively multiplayer video game, community, and so much more ever exists in the OASIS.. a virtual realm where anyone's dreams can come true. Often this is through video game challenges, quests, and collaboration. This stands as contrast to the bleak , overcrowded, polluted and gritty futurescape of Columbus, Ohio where corporations such as internet provider IOI seem to have more power than the actual government. What drives the plot is that upon his deathbed the Oasis' creator James Halliday (frequent Spielberg collaborator Mark Rylance) has left one final clue within his game. There's three keys across the digital universe which will grant the finder unlimited virtual access and power. Somehow someway these must be won through challenges and homages to the Halliday's life and passions. Suffice to say it's an epic journey to get to the end of the en-devour .
On the “good” side of the net are the “gunters” (easter egg hunters trying to find digital clues to the meaning of it all) in the likes of main protagonist Wade Watts aka the blue punked out “Parzival” (Tye Sheridan) , the orc-like “Aech” (who's real name and portray-er should be seen firsthand although it is slightly less important than in the novel), badass charismatic Samantha aka A3rtemis (Olivia Cooke) , and the feudal Japan-inspired samurai Toshiro / Daito (Win Morisaki) and ninja Zhou / Sho (Phillip Zhao). Together these high five end up finding their paths leading parallel as the mysteries are solved.
Opposing them is the megacorp of IOI who seeks to win the contest and enforce restrictions on its use led by villain and (here) CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendehlsohn) and his henchmen across the real world in F'Nale(Hannah John-Kamen) and Oasis in iRok (TJ Miller). There's also noble flashback and etc appearances by the likes of the Oasis's creators in Halliday aka often “Anorak the wizard” and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).
Spielberg films are often known for their ensemble of characters to an equal or more level than the individuals and the same applies here. Sheridan's Watts is...decent if typical. He offers some bits of emotion along his inspiration and adeptness but has mixed results on charm or humor. The “Dai/Sho” pair exists to be chiefly on the sidelines to an lesser extant than in the novel . Aech has humor aplenty along ingenuity but has a (purposefully considering the reason) slightly hard to comprehend voice filtering effect going on although this is slightly alleviated when their real world counterpart finally appears at brief intervals. Cooke's Artemis is a bit of a highlight, especially on the frontlines of battle as she has some of the most personality / spunk and aptitude of the games in the film. Although romance comes across in this film with mixed results and timing. Simon  Pegg is great in what little moments he has even with an wishes especially he could be at the novel's level of involvement. Mendehlsen gives a typical grimly evil performance although with much more screentime and variety than recent works while his peers fall to the wayside, Notable exception being TJ Miller's “mercenary” who's role is greatly expanded from the novel and offers both chilling vocal takes and a plenitude of laughs.
The casting that is almost pitch-perfectly spot on is Mark Rylance as Halliday. It's as if the book pages came to life. Whether as a Bill Gates-esque real person or a wise wizard avatar, Rylance immerses himself into the role and is nigh-unrecognizable from past works. This is key as it's a film about the life of this almost , to its world, mythical important figure and he delivers.
The script and character's add to one side of what Spielberg does best.... heart. From friendship to thwarting bad guys there's an appropriately old-school feel good charm that often comes up and is fitting of a movie that tries to celebrate all things gaming and the internet. This is aided by Alan Silvestri's score that leans more to old-school or at times a sense of whimsy and ambience is achieved through literal old pop and rock songs. The 1980s focus is definitely explained in the plot although only as to what the runtime allows.
Then there's the other side of Steven Spielberg as work … his visual spectacle. This rings mostly true in both realities. His 2045 Columbus has real seeming set design and locations that one can imagine themselves strolling through in perhaps even less years than that. Conversely, what is always going to be the highlight of the movie and the novel is the concept of the Oasis. The Oasis is accessed through gear from goggles to super-seat-pod things. Within, a world immerses audiences and players alike. Only momentarily curiously is the decision to render this space with a “electronic” filter resembling a high-fidelity video game or animated film cinematic. Nearly all characters, creatures, and locations on screen are CGI and surreal looking but ends up mostly working. One may be a bit put off by the fantasy facial designs of the avatars like Parzival, Art3mis, and Nolan but ultimately one gets used to it and it's almost, concept aside, a visually intense experience like... Avatar was years back. IMAX screening greatly adds to this.
Sequences Spielberg delivers on include car chases, walks through time and space, interpretations of other media and a final battle to rival most final battles ever done for spectacle and mania. These are aided by the fact that the Oasis offers not only original characters but allows anyone to bring in their favorite video game, movie, comic book, and etc material to use. This turns each viewing of the film into an easter “gunt” of its own with cameos that ultimately amount to fascinating set dressing. Don't be surprised to see such varied things as the Iron Giant, horror movie villians like Freddy and Jason, King Kong, Sonic the Hedgehog, Hello Kitty, and so so much more fighting against each other or side by side in the background. The movie did vastly more amounts than this (including some sorely missed recreations) but what does come through (or in truly one thrilling case added) is very neat to see come together.
Perhaps the greatest faults in the film come from how much it tries to pull together. This makes sense for the format of what it is but the challenges are stringed together with truncated versions of character growth from the book only sometimes thrown in. The ending's surroundings circumstances are also slightly new for questionable reasons. However the brisk pace makes it pretty easily digestable for the mass audience and it manages to make its lore exposition be tolerable to even a total newcomer. Get the keys, win the game and so on even with its just a scoop of the vast sundae that is the novel.
There's plenty of cheese within the film and it's deeper themes are just only poked at to how much the source did. But it's a shiny, gorgeous, surprising and fun ride worth seeing for the adventure and stakes it provides. Perhaps it's all intended as Halliday would want... to be fun. 8.7 out of 10

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review

Pacific Rim: Uprising
Director: Steven DeKnight
Cast Headliners: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Scott Eastwood?
Original Release Date: March 23rd, 2018

     Pacific Rim: Uprising presents a conundrum. On one hand, it's great that it exists as it faced numerous delays and behind the scenes changes in what is a fascinating universe of robotic jaegers and monstrous “kaiju”. On the other hand one of those losses along the way was original director and creator Guellirmo Del Toro departing. In this second film, he only has some loose ideas and production whilst Steven Deknight steps into the director chair. So too is just some of the old cast and ideas used and yet like him some totally original concepts as well. The result is... a fun if mixed bag. It shows that sometimes the way things were were for a reason.
Picking up 10 years after humanity repelled the kaiju back to their alien planet with their massive jaeger mecha suits is a world that's changed. Bootleg jaegers run in the streets and police ones aim to stop them. New generations rise from the ruins and latest technology. The main protagonist of this film (with the previous one only getting some all too brief mentions) is in Jake Pentecost(John Boyega) so of the previous film's jaeger Commander Stacker. Through his scavenging (and a goofy typical “nameless minor bad guy gang” chase scene) he meets young inventor Amara (Cailee Spaeny). Their actions land them in trouble with authority figures including the first film's Mako (Rinko Kikuchi).
Therein lies the premise for the film. In a world devoid of kaijus invading a young academy of teens is lead by pilot veterans Jake, Mako, and Nate (Scott Eastwood) to prepare for their possible return. Of course problems arise from mysterious rogue jaegers and other entities lurking out there.
While the “acadamy” shtick is fitting for Del Toro's original anime roots it is also one of the film's biggest flaws. It's not to say every film needs to have experienced warriors in the lead but there's a line between character growth and sheer in-narrative incompetence.  This derives from the weakness of the kid's training plot between the momentary (cool) action. Stereotypes and silliness abound, from Spaeny's Amara having a rivalry with a peer to the other kids existing as one note. Seeing Kirk fail at his tests in Star Trek was fine because he quickly learned how to win the challenge. Here this takes hours with less effectiveness.
It's not as if the other characters are more than a note or two either. Eastwood's Nate is as generic as they can be aside from a bit of his real dad's dry humor. His love interest Jules (Adria Arjona) may have literally less than 4 lines in the film. Kikuchi's Mori is given far less to do in this film.  The cheese is evident in additions in support through inventor Shao (Jing Tian) and commander Mashall Quan(Zhang Tin).
There is highlights however. Boyega's Jake brings the charm and enthusiasm he has as Finn and other such roles in other movies with a bit of extra ham. He's nothing record setting but he has some sense of ingenuity, sincerity, and humor. The surprisingly increased roles come from returners  cane-touting Dr.Herman Gottleib( Burn Gorman) who's fierceness and humor have been dialed up and his peer Dr.Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) who has as well...perhaps too much in what as to be seen firsthand to see why. In the latter's case, it certainly isn't boring but is questionable.
These films aren't about characters and acting though (although the first suffered , if less so, in the same departments). They're about the wild action. That's one thing that DeKnight gets kind of right. While action is sporadic, when it happens its as destructive and large as one would expect. New weaponry and ideas are used in this one for some sweet if at times missed opportunities of  situations. This is aided by a pumping score and pace for when it gets going its brisk. Of paticuliar note is the jaeger vs jaeger duel and the mania of the last act.
The aesthetic takes a turn that some may view as either an improvement or not. The battles take place almost entirely in broad daylight, unlike Del Toro's dark , rain and neon infused scenes . This makes for clearer views and yet also shows of special CGI effect that range from awe-inspiring to undercooked.  These two have some overly ridiculous moments at times.
It's definitely not perfect, and a bit of a bar below the first film, but this movie has fun value. Aside its narrative oddness there's big dumb monster fun inside. Fans of the first may enjoy where the worldbuilding has gone. Hopefully if a 3 ever comes it can learn from the changes of this and focus on the strides. 7.41 out of 10 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscar Thoughts / Predictions 2018

Oscar Predictions And Thoughts 2018 List / 90th Academy Awards  For 3/4/18        

    It's that time again... the 90th time with a clean rounded anniversary year... for the grandest face-off of last year's achievements and films. Truly many could-be (And may will) “at-lasts” and important steps, along beloved acclaim while some surprises as well. The major popular categories , who will likely win and who I'm cheering for etc.

Best Picture:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

  Who Will Win: It's hard to say... truly a year with some fantastic films with no clear shot. But I think the clear fight tonight is two ways between The Shape Of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri due to how respected their makers are and the result. Possibly leaded by Call Me By Your Name. Although as other years have shown, anything can happen anywhere.

Who I Want To Win: The Shape Of Water... Del Toro made something amongst his best ever and it truly shows what films can be..magical , deep,'s everything.

Best Actress:
Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie - I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird
Meryl Streep - The Post

Who Will Win:  I think that the Shape Vs Three Billboards battle extends to many others, so I gotta go to Hawkins (who is unique via ASL) versus McDormand. However, the other three are apparently strong contenders... Robbie with a showpiece and Streep being..Streep as always.

Who I Want To Win:  Sally Hawkins, for doing so much with so little.

Best Actor:
Timothee Chalamet - Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis - Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya - Get Out
Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington - Roman J Israel, Esq

Who Will Win:  It's really tough... hopefully Daniel Day-Lewis who almost always does and may his last one if he's truly leaving the industry. Or Gary Oldman at first... I feel darkest hour could be a dark horse. However I could see Get Out breaking conventions

Who I Want To Win: Any of those mentioned above, for notability. Moreso Oldman since he's been a topic after Leonardo DiCaprio.

Best Supporting Actress:
Mary J Blige - Mudbound
Allison Janney - I, Tonya
Lesley Manville - Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer - The Shape of Water

Who Will Win: Word on the street is Metcalf has high odds, no comment really haven't seen most of these.

Who I Want To Win: Since it was the only film I saw,  Spencer for Del Toro.

Best Supporting Actor:
Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins - The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer - All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who Will Win: An interesting cross-fight for Three Billboards. It will be one of Harrelson/ Rockwell for that reason. Plummer has high buzz as well while the others could dark horse it.

Who I Want To Win: I hear Rockwell, I feel he's earned it. I look forward to seeing him in that film soon. 

Best Director:
Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan
Get Out - Jordan Peele
Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig
Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson
The Shape of Water - Guillermo Del Toro

Who Will Win:  As always, and super true this year, could go any way. Perhaps less so for Phantom Thread. But I feel Del Toro has the mark..

Who I Want To Win: Del Toro because it was great, but also.. Nolan, because he never has..and that's what he's best at...a tough tie.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Call Me By Your Name - screenplay by James Ivory
The Disaster Artist - screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H Weber
Logan - screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; story by James Mangold
Molly's Game - written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound - screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Who Will Win: This seems like a spot Call Me By Your Name may lock, or a genre surprise like...any of the others. Logan and Disaster Artist less so do to subject...but..

Who I Want To Win: DISASTER ARTIST PLEASE..because it deserved so many more nominations. Almost at that point, Logan as well... exceptional.

Best Original Screenplay:
The Big Sick - written by Emily V Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out - written by Jordan Peele
Lady Bird - written by Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water - screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; story by Guillermo del Toro
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - written by Martin McDonagh

Who Will Win: Shape Vs Three Billboards, with plentiful contenders,,, maybe something refreshing like Big Sick or Get Out.

Who I Want To Win: Get Out would be especially pleasant due to its themes, seconded by the great Big Sick . Both comedians branching into film

Best Original Score:
Dunkirk - Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread - Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water - Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - John Williams
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Carter Burwell

Who Will Win:  Here its in my opinion Zimmer Vs Desplat, reknown and beloved makers.

Who I Want To Win:  Either for Dunkirk or Shape Of Water, incredible. However this may be Star film of the year...'s best odds at this show... and Williams is getting older..

Best Animated Feature:
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Who Will Win: Coco has this nigh-locked as per “good Pixar movie” tradition. However, the refreshing Breadwinner or Loving Vincent could take it.

Who I Want To Win: I wouldn't mind Coco.

Best Cinematography:
Blade Runner 2049 - Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour - Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk - Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound - Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water - Dan Laustsen

Who Will Win: Deakins has honest odds at a film that should have gotten so much more...and he's gotten older too and never has. But Dunkirk and Shape have high quality, as I hear for Mudbound. Viscious category.

Who I Want To Win: Almost equally between Blade Runner, Shape, and Dunkirk... aside the reason above. All fantastic looking.

Best Costume Design:
Beauty and the Beast - Jacqueline Durran
Darkest Hour - Jacqueline Durran
Phantom Thread - Mark Bridges
The Shape of Water - Luis Sequeira
Victoria and Abdul - Consolata Boyle

Who Will Win: If they count the creature as part of it, Shape Of Water, as convcing as Hawkins is. Otherwise perhaps the literal Phantom Thread.

Who I Want To Win: Shape or Beauty and The Beast for fantasy.

Best make-up and hairstyling:
Darkest Hour - Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski & Lucy Sibbick
Victoria and Abdul - Daniel Phillips & Lou Sheppard
Wonder - Arjen Tuiten

Who Will Win: Darkest Hour, for Oldman's look.

Who I Want To Win: Darkest Hour, for Oldman's look..duh!

Best production design:
Beauty and the Beast - production design by Sarah Greenwood; set decoration by Katie Spencer
Blade Runner 2049 - production design by Dennis Gassner; set decoration by Alessandra Querzola
Darkest Hour - production design by Sarah Greenwood; set decoration by Katie Spencer
Dunkirk - production design by Nathan Crowley; set decoration by Gary Fettis
The Shape of Water - production design by Paul Denham Austerberry; set decoration by Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

Who Will Win: Another tough category... lifted by the gorgeous Blade Runner and Shape.

Who I Want To Win: See above, although here as well Beauty is lush.

Best visual effects:
Blade Runner 2049 - John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert & Richard R Hoover
Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner & Dan Sudick
Kong: Skull Island - Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza & Mike Meinardus
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan & Chris Corbould
War for the Planet of the Apes - Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon & Joel Whist

Who Will Win: Ah my favorite category...the kind of movies reacted to by me. The Academy loves their Planet of the Apes, could see that... or almost anything else.

Who I Want To Win: Star Wars has some odds here but I think even moreso Blade Runner was magnificent (and if it doesn't win elsewhere get at least one)

Best film editing:
Baby Driver - Paul Machliss & Jonathan Amos
Dunkirk - Lee Smith
I, Tonya - Tatiana S Riegel
The Shape of Water - Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Jon Gregory

Who Will Win: Anyone aside Tony, seriously locked category. Perhaps Baby Driver has a chane.

Who I Want To Win: Almost a tied love of Baby Driver and Dunkirk, snappy.

Let the match commence this weekend!! Enjoy the presenters and spectacle

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Annihilation Review

Director: Alex Garland
Cast Headliners: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac
Original Release Date: February 23, 2018 (Theatrical Run USA Only)

Alex Garland has become one to watch. He already was notable for his past works including writing on 28 Days Later and Dredd but it was his directorial debut in Ex Machina which proved his knack for deep sci-fi. Annihilation, semi-loosely based upon a trilogy of novels, is his next take on material that will terrify as much as it causes wonder in its beauty.
The movie jumps around in its time-telling which is one of its drawbacks due to things being discussed “in present” before or after they occur “in the past”. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist being interrogated by a group of government officials led by Lomax(Benedict Wong, who just asks a few sincere questions and not much else aside a particularly great line) after a disastrous mission.
The majority of the film shows the unfolding of this mission into the surreal rainbow-alien covered wilderness of The Shimmer. Lena finds herself at a military base outside this quarantine zone after her husband Kane(Oscar Isaac) shows up disillusioned and sick at her apartment after he was the only survivor of a previous expedition to the Shimmer with his unit of secretive government operatives. Both are abducted by the government Southern Reach task force led by psychologist Dr.Ventress(Jennifer Jason Leigh). With Kane in recovery the coincidentally all-women team of Lena, Ventress, paramedic Anya(Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie(Tessa Thompson), and geologist Cass(Tuva Novotny) venture past the boundary wall of The Shimmer into its coastal heart to find answers on what happened to the previous team.
The movie's primary standout is its tone which isn't surprising from director Garland. Every second spent inside Shimmer-affected lands is ominous and uneasy. The forest-filled setting and at times greyed-out dark pallette , as well as the use of aliens, may remind one of the great 2016 film Arrival in many ways. Although here the use of time and its plot is more linear and traditional with increased action. Post-apocalyptic abandoned towns and installations are contrasted by quiet natural glens and beaches. There's actually some beautiful use of color and plentiful surreal trippy imagery . That's because in The Shimmer, biological matter is being slowly mutated. This leads to strange flower patterns, crystal structures, and flesh-like fungus covered trees and buildings for background. It also leads to animals both oddly serene( like flower-deers, translucent fish, and plant-shaped-imitation people) and deadly (like the alligator-shark hybrid and undead zombie-like bear seen in promotional material). The mysteries of what can happen within is a standout through this ambience and the less one knows the better.
Aside from some at times questionable use of jumping around or spending on certain sequences the plot is filled with the afromented surprise and twists. Matter, time, and sanity are questioned on what is planned by the characters to be a simple in and out mission(and which actually surmounts to more or less that … much more of a haunted alien swamp house than the constant subtleness of Ex Machina). Horror and action are words that apply to some parts of the film but not always. It more often leaves one feeling like they have been affected by alien wonder themselves and thinking upon its Lovecraftian science than pulse pounding action although be warned the terror can be terrifying at moments.
Garland's cinematography and direction is of course wonderful. Some of the special effects can be slightly less convincing but it is very slight. Music is moreso the variance with some chilling otherworldly strings and horns mixed in with out of place calm acoustic guitar or folk songs. The peak of the film comes as the human world is left behind and the hellish heart of mission's destination is reached with its shocking answers and happenings.
For all of its strengths through tone , mystery, and bizzareness the characters along for the ride are a mixed bag. Portman's Lena gives a more or less decent performance whether sincere, depressed, inquisitive , or heroic. Isaac's Kane's true self is mostly contained to some flashbacks where he has both warmth and disaffected natures...increased by his PTSD on return after which he sits the majority of the rest of the film out. Rodriguez's Anya is perhaps more or less the only other most notable role of the film bringing spunk , paranoia, and occasional humor depending on the situation. It's ironic that there is some meta reunions through both Padme Portman and Poe Isaac from Star Wars being married and Thor of the MCU's female friends Jane (Portman as well) and Valyrie (Thompson / Josie) being in the same film. Unlike that role , and others, Thompson is just kind of ...there and subdued although aiming to try. The same applies top Leigh's Ventress and Novotny's Cass. The film is about characters in some ways as their personal pasts haunt them almost as much as the Shimmer does, but this varies in effectiveness as stated.
It's surprises are at times typical, but particularly its ending will stay with the viewer. It's worth the buildup and mysterious voyage. Garland has made a solid mashup of sci-fi, horror, and drama one again that is worth for its more or less unique blend of chilling and relaxing elements. 8.25 out of 10

Black Panther Review

Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast Headliners: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, Martin Freeman, many others
Original Release Date: February 16th, 2018

          The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone on for so long now (nearing 10 years with 1-3 films per year) that it's becoming harder and harder to be truly unique anymore.  The origin trope of “guy from the normal world gets powers, meets a larger  than life world” has had slight permutations but , aside smartly making things less about the origin and more about building their character arc, been played out in very similar ways. Black Panther's focus to have it be ABOUT the larger than life world of its own gives it a unique flair. It's also important and inspiring that, coincidentally or perhaps as it should be for the inspiration, this is the first major comic-based superhero blockbuster , PG-13 film  who is black. This makes it even a better feeling that the movie is good at that. The potential of T'Challa and Wakanda is utilized more or less as it was wanted to be.
A slickly animated intro shows the fusion sci-fi / magic basis of what the fictional MCU nation of Wakanda is. In the midst of Africa long ago, a large meteorite of vibranium (the source of captain America's shield and many other things) crashed into a mountain and granted the local people incredible technological advances . In the midst of strife, the goddess Bast gave the leader of the Wakandans the abilities to be the Black Panther through the vibranium-laced heart-shaped herb.  The country soon set itself isolated to hide the secrets from the outside. This epic background history gives the movie's titular role something unique... he is a legacy of responsibility he's known about his whole life, compared to most other MCU heroes who find their lives changed into something wild. Protagonist  T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was born into a life that would require his heroics. Another important flashback  occurs that should be seen firsthand to show what this sometimes entails.
The present tense of the plot jumps (in one of the only ties to the larger MCU making it smartly standalone) to right after 2016's Captain America: Civil War where T'Challa had a guest introductory role. He is returning home after the death of his father to truly bear the title and responsibilities of  King of Wakanda where of course things don't go without incident. Soon met after a neat battle sequence are fellow Wakandans in is his bodyguard and top leader of the fierce Dora Milaje Okoye (Dania Guirira), his ex-girlfriend spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), his mother Ramonda (Angela Basset), and sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Additional Wakandans include more bit roles in Zuri (Forest Whitaker) , W'Kabi(Daniel Kaluuya), and M'Baku (Winston Duke). 
This large and nigh-allstar ensemble cast is one of the highlights of the film. In what is some of the most supporting characters introduced in a MCU film at once there's almost  nothing but total admiration for every single one the characters and performances unlike other such films where there may be one or two highlights. Boseman as T'Challa , when he isn't using his awesome acrobatic and martial arts abilities through his herb powers and (new and more capable!) armor suit, has some strong character growth and confrontations. He may appear to be one of the fiercest superheroes around but he has some dramatic weaknesses and growth to attain the title including visions of his late father T'Chaka(John Kani in a bit more of a role than Civil War although still slight) in the dreamy ancestral realm; he also doesn't forget to drop a suave quip or threat at times although less than most of his peers.  Guirrira's Okoye brings with her some of the film's best action moments and morals. So too does the caring Nyong'o as Nakia or the wise-cracking (comedic highlight) Wright as Shuri. Truly everyone gets to get in on the action and plot.   The likes of  Whittaker as Zuri , Bassett as Ramonda , and Kayuula as W'kabi  are lesser involved and effective  but bring an authenticity to the accents and participation. Duke's M'Baku is a surprising highlight that has to be seen firsthand to know why.
This extends to the non-Wakandan and or villainous characters.  Also returning from Civil War is CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who has a definitely larger role bringing some “outsider eyes”, humor, and action although at times he feels at times a bit over-the-top naive or something unneeded but he's often likeable.  Wonderfully over-the-top is one of the villains (returning from his small debut years ago in 2015's Avengers 2) in Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who T'Challa encounters early into his fresh reign. Serkis is even more insane and evil than he was in that film. He hams and ramps up the evil madman angle and brings a unique oddball hipster take to things alongside his new laser hand cannon. It's a bit unfortunate there's not actually more to him in the long epic plot, but thats because of an even more vile force in Erik “Killmonger” Stevens( Michael B Jordan).
Jordan as Killmonger is a highlight solid role in a tapestry of solid roles. Like the best of MCU and overall film villians (which her certainly contends for being higher than lower on the chart)  he has a sympathetic motivation to his evil plans.  He is at times charming , occasionally humorous , smart, cunning, and deadly. He has an arc and meaning of his own naturally mirroring T'Challa's that unfolds its mysteries as the story goes on. He is better in combat when his face can be seen (sometimes questionably covering his unique look with armor suits etc) and at times is generic but just as much is deeply memorable while touching upon some important themes.
The story and plot is thus long but filled with some epic stakes and twists. Parts of it may remind one of Shakespearean or by extension (literally..) the Lion King-esque melodrama but it works. This is epic nation spanning stuff of tribes and royal inheritance that makes it more than just street level bank robbers. Plentiful action and excitement exists aided by this. A trip to South Korea perhaps a side distraction but in Wakanda proper, paticuliarly the end, there's some big excitement .
Ryan Coogler brings a solid directing angle to things. The best fights match his work in Creed via visceral realistic duels on waterfall for tribal rights and so on. Hand to hand with spears and the like makes things as exciting as a good boxing match or fencing duel that fits for him. So to are the lush natural landscapes of Wakanda's countryside or smaller interior spaces (more on its unique look in a moment). Larger takes vary at times but also impress. His soundtrack composing friend Ludwig Goranssen gives a truly great original score of relevant drums and strings that give it a truly African flair. Kendrick Lamar made a great original rap album for the film as well although unfortunately just a few pieces are used.
The visuals... at times stun and at other times disappoint. The movie's magical fantasy lore and sci-fi utopia ambience each impress as a whole on the surface level. This may be  the biggest Afro-futurist influenced spectacle to have ever released.. with incredible colorful costumes and dreamy spirit dimensions and giant rhinos and laser shields and spears right out of the comic world.  At times this CGI and set-design can inspire awe. But unfortunately, at other times this CGI is weaker than used to likely due to the abundance of it (although even older films such as the Guardians of the Galaxy managed to pull it off). This harms particularly so some of the fights where both heroic and opposing forces are utlizing armor suits and can look like a film from a past era than the latest in spectacle. However, the good is uniquely impressive and the flaws are not egregious to ruin it all.
As a whole, Black Panther sets out to what it wanted and needed to be more or less. The Black Panther himself dives deeper into his world both growing into it and setting things up (excitingly) for the future. This unique vision burns strong aside some typical tropes. It's an important movie while remaining fun , mystical, action-packed and of course humorous. Wakanda Forever. 8.64 out of 10

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Films / Video Games Of 2017

My Top Ten Favorite Films / Video Games Of 2017

Say what one will about this year for themselves or our world, it’s certainly been commendable for media across all fields.  It’s wild to believe how much has come and gone, and how much of it stands amongst the greatest of greats.  As always, if something obvious is missing, I haven’t experienced it or enough of it to justify… or I don’t agree. Here it goes:

Top Ten Films Of 2017
1.       Star Wars: The Last Jedi: For bringing us back Luke Skywalker almost like we once knew him… for having him reunite with R2-D2, Chewie, etc… and for making Rey’s journey just as epic and more unexpected, with incredible visuals / cinematography … for shaking up what Star Wars was and can be.
2.       The Disaster Artist: For the ultimate on-screen Wiseau impression aside the guy himself from Franco. For being hilarious, both to anyone and even moreso…the fans. Yet also, dramatic and inspirational.
3.       Dunkirk: For adding another crisp directed film to Nolan’s lineup…haunting, gritty, realistic at the same time… war the disaster movie.
4.       Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2: For taking the first movie and making things bigger, crazier, more colorful, more action packed and wild and funny with legend Kurt Russell… and baby Groot.
5.       Blade Runner 2049: For being both a fantastic followup to the original as well as its own, music and atmosphere drenched noir story.. with great performances and transporting one to the future.
6.       The Shape Of Water: For its wonderful set design, music, romance and horror..not just from the monster. For showing that words aren’t needed for emotion.
7.       War For The Planet Of The Apes:  For bringing Ceaser’s journey to a close, with style, epic stakes, and emotion. For sweeping vistas and evil Harrelson, and a sense of closure and motivation.
8.       Logan: For being the most different X-Men film yet..and in its own dark , gritty way. For being a western with claws, for having not just a great sendoff for Wolverine..but for Professor X as well.
9.       Baby Driver: For being hilarious, frenetic, totally Edgar Wright…great soundtrack. Great performances, from everyone.
10.   The Lego Batman Movie: For being the ultimate Bat-tribute, incredibly charming and with a lesson or two amidst wild fun.
Honorable 11 -13:
11.   Thor: Ragnarok (ZANYHULK)
12.   It (SCARY80SCLOWN)
13.   Detroit (GRITTYTRAGEDY)

Top Ten Video Games Of 2017
1.       YET ALSO, 2 .. I cant choose…Nintendo was stellar. Super Mario Odyssey: For going back to that 64 / Sunshine style… and some Galaxy…and some NES….and fresh.. a little bit of everything. Gorgeous, free, fun , the cap is so fresh from capture to in one.. so much to do yet not long enough, but oh so sweet while it lasts… the one that was dreamed of.
2.       YET ALSO, 1 .. I cant choose...Nintendo was stellar The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild:  For being worth the long wait and journey. For taking the franchise to a more open and influenced by others place than ever while also being true to the series’ best aspects. The setting, the music, the ideas (weapons aside).. the dream.
3.       Sonic Mania: For showing Sanic games can be awesome again. For letting a fan make what fans want.. both using the original while having tasty morsels of new, packed with references and fun. For making one feel like its back in the day exactly again.
4.       Gravity Rush 2: For putting an open world into its tutorial, and then bringing one to an open world(s) all next to each other. For being fun, fluid, fresh and beautiful.
5.       Horizon: Zero Dawn: For being shiny and fresh in concept. For mixing a great narrative heavy story with freedom. For showing that companies can be fresh out of a box.
6.       Splatoon 2: For being as great as the first game, and better. For bringing in features wanted and unexpected. For some of the best single player level design, and for being the game the first was meant to be.
7.       (Episodes 3 to 5 Of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 3 A New Frontier… epic, emotional stuff with wildly varying choices. But, was released between 2016/2017 so really...) Injustice 2: I must admit, I have a personal attachment via NRS. However, truly fun for its refined fighting system, gorgeous visuals, DC tributes, and content and roster. It’d be up here anyways.
8.       Mass Effect: Andromeda: For being so shiny and open..even if it wasn’t everything it should have been. For its ideas and ambition, for its combat, for perhaps one last ride.
9.       Golf Story: For being a retro throwback yet so fresh. For its soundtrack and writing, and making golf wild and more fun than ever.
10.   Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle: For being so weird it somehow works. For making tactical combat accessible . For its laughs and charm and depth.
Honorable 11 – 13:
11.   A Hat in Time(COLORFULINDIE)

13.   For Honor(INTENSE)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars "Episode VIII" : The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast Headliners: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, more
Original Release Date: December 15th, 2017

                It’s crazy to think that Star Wars has not just been back after a long absence, not just overall great and worthy, but has reached Episode 8 of the sequel trilogy. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has the “middle chapter” aspect to answer in the franchise which defined the darker middle chapter in the first place. It’s sprawling, it’s epic, it’s action-packed, it’s emotional, it’s not perfect but it’s a heck of a ride. As Luke says the film “does not go the way one thinks”… going against audience expectations for at times worse yet for the most part better. It’s old, it’s new, and it’s something beyond.
                Taking the story back to the main continuation of the saga after last year’s Rogue One, this is next set of complications in the conflict of the evil First Order and the Resistance. The base of D’Qar is under attack as an evacuation is underway. It’s a sequence that perhaps crystallizes the essence of both the film and Disney’s era as it has humor both fun and awkward, beautiful cosmic scenery in its exhilarating action (iMAX 3d as always adds much) and dramatic stakes. The situation of bombers and space cruisers could be the climax of some other movies but here it’s just the start, as is tradition.
                Really, the main arc of the plot picks up literally where 2015’s The Force Awakens ended. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is delivering Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber back on the remote island planet of Ach-To to both gain his help in the war and training / answers for herself. Suffice to say, this does not go smooth. Luke is stubborn and regretful and the greatness of the film is what it takes for him to be ready for the world again.  There’s also Rey’s visions, notably her distant communication via magic Force bond to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
                Everything about this “A story” arc is wonderful. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is as charming, funny, and fierce as she was in the last film. More than ever, the stakes at play have her character go to some dark and conflicted places as she moves along the path of the Jedi.  Adam Driver was amazing as Kylo in the last film and he’s even more incredible this time in his evilness and doubling down on the moral ambiguity. In a sense, he’s just as much of a protagonist as Rey.  It’s as if the hero’s journey of the OT of films and the angsty confliction of the PT happens at once. Paired together, hating each other, trying to find the hope of the dark / light in each other between these two characters is memorable, emotional, epic…particularly ramping up as the plot goes on. They are each mirrored in a mentor, although these range in impact.
                Almost the titular character of the movie is the legendary Luke Skywalker. Luckily, he says more than the nothing he had in the last film. He says a lot, and important things at that. Hamill is… so great in his return. Now this will likely be a point of contention amongst past fans …forever, but it’s the way his story led in that he’s far from the perfect hero anymore. This old man Luke is broken, regretful, and likely depressed. But finds a new hope.  It’s ironic that his existence has ended up much like his old masters Yoda and Obi-Wan in that he’s a homeless wanderer on this isle who has eschewed the Force and its trappings along with the world as a whole.  This is due to some shocking revelations about him and Kylo Ren / Ben Solo that is handled for the most part profoundly. Hamill’s sorrow is felt but so too eventually is his confidence and power. He’s wise and or a spark of his old heroic charisma when the time comes. He’s even funnier than ever, a sign of how Hamill has grown since the OT via his voice and other work. It’s great to have him as such a key and important part, especially with Rey, Kylo, and others (including some really nice reunion moments with R2-D2 and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo)). It may be filled with a couple bits of controversy and plot decision to his extent of involvement but one cannot fault the long wanted return of him to the plot.
       If Rey has Luke to look up to, Kylo has Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Snoke, even more realistically captured via CGI mocap) is chillingly evil and powerful. His evil would make Palpatine proud while at the same time having a unique sense of arrogance to him.  It’s a moderate shame that his presence is only slightly more than the prior film and more into his motivations isn’t deeply explored but Star Wars is often, and moreso with Disney, about the current stakes than the background lore (at times) so its logical.  The aesthetics of his headquarters and red Praetorian guards are also imposing and impressive.
                While all of the epic Jedi / Sith story is going on and before it joins them, the likes of the Resistance have their own stories to undergo that are not quite up to the heights but have their gems. General Leia (Carrie Fisher) commands a fleet of ships engaged in a constant struggle with those of General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). There’s familiar characters like BB-8, C3PO, Admiral Ackbar, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who attempt to solve the stakes at hand. These are joined by new faces including Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran).   
                There’s some excitement and twists to be had (as across the film) but the least of these happens amidst the space. So to as happened with past SW films, the less powerful characters get involved in their own struggles that tend to have a bit of mixed importance. Leia, Poe, and Holdo struggle how to lead the Resistance while Finn and Poe take the advice of Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyongo) to find the support on the planet Canto Bight.
                Through these at times over-CGI-and-joke packed locations the characters shine through. Of course it’s unfortunate that we lost Fisher in our world, but in Star Wars she is her best Leia since the old days..much more than TFA. She is just as sassy and wise as the old days while getting a bit more into the literal action this time.  Isaac’s Poe too has an increased role, having some roadblocks to his responsibility amidst his wisecracks and shots fired.  Dern, ever effective, has some cool mean-ness as Holdo although some questionable plot happens but she and her dialogue is effective. Gleeson’s villainous Hux is just as evil and even slightly more humorous this time.
                Boyega as Finn continues to charm, and has some funny and good interactions with Tran’s Rose. She is a more civilian-level take than anyone else and has her own moments of humor and emotion. But their plot to a casino is, while packed with alien galactic wonder, a bit pointless and meandering. There’s a crossover with the shady, stammering criminal DJ (Benicio Del Toro) and the return of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) to add some excitement (particularly when plot threads converge) but it feels filler with some silly concepts compared to the epic war and Jedi stories.
  At times the humor and seriousness clash with each other ..jokes to serious and back, although this is more of a sign of a post - MCU era than the films fault ..but there's effective of each that add to the wild fun or drama depending. And the Porgs , adorable flying puppy bird creatures, are always a charm.  This movie feels like true Star Wars in it's tapestry of attributes. One in particular takes one back to the past ..

                There’s plot holes, there’s some surprising revelations but the good is good. As a audio-visual standpoint, the Star Wars experience has never been as immersive. Director Rian Johnson, in turn with his wild ideas of what the force can do, brings fantastic cinematography, backgrounds (paticuliary the red and white salt of Crait...unique enough from Hoth ) , and visuals. The action is so great, when it shows up (bearing in mind this is more of a nuanced “Empire” of the era so far) whether in space or on the ground.  The music by John Williams is once again, and more than ever, subdued but some re-used pieces adds to the scenes amidst a couple choice highlights.  For Johnson’s sake, if this didn’t have the frame of reference of being Star Wars his effort would be commendable in itself, and added to Star Wars its wild but mostly works.
    This movie has been met with controversy, from the highest of highs to some vehement fan hate or disappointment, with of course all levels of in between. That’s likely because it’s the most fresh, different Star Wars to date in the post-Lucas era… filled with as much mysteries and questions than answers and excitement. The great is so great though, and even in its confusion its vastly entertaining. In time hopefully people can see its risks as strides. For they are in its epic, emotional ride. 9.78 out of 10