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) 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver Review

Baby Driver
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast Headliners: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, others.
Original Release Date: June 28th, 2017

 Edgar Wright needs no introduction. Rather his style as a director is so distinct..from the buddy romps of the “Cornetto Trilogy” of Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz / The World's End to the incredibly snappy adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs the World. He has a touch of hold mania in everything he does, so to have him create a new film is always an event. Baby Driver continues the tradition of unique, wild, hilarious and action packed films he has made in the past.
The outset and general theme of the film may seem to be generic, but in time it proves to be have many unique redeeming values. A gang of criminals robs banks and the sort with a getaway driver. This crew consists of our hero Baby (Ansel Elgort) and at various times a rotating roster of no-good doing but often likeable crooks including Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling(Eliza Gonzalez), Bats(Jamie Foxx), and less present but additionally Griff(Jon Bernthal), No-Nose(Flea), and JD(Lanny Joon). They work for the criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Elsewhere in his life, Baby interacts with a mute roommate Joe (CJ Jones) and finds love in waitress Debora(Lily James).
It's both a large and intimate cast depending on the situation. The rotating group of robbers leaves some amiss such as Bernthal but everyone makes an impression across heists. In time the core Baby/Buddy/Darling/Bats dynamic becomes a great thing about the film, right up there with the best of Pegg / Frost in an American, criminal kind of way. Everyone , aided by snappy writing and usually clever humor, gives a great performance. Particularly Hamm, Foxx, and Spacey. The audience will fid themselves constantly jumping between cheering for, hating, and laughing along and with these interesting criminal characters through ferocity and charm. The dialogue delivery can be almost too punchy and stereotypical but that's a bit of the point one imagines. It just adds to the film's style.
The blend of style and performance ties directly into the hero in Baby. He's a great driver but doesn't talk much (one of a few comparisons to the 2011 film Drive...if that is an ice cube, this is a firecracker). An event in his youth left a ringing in his air and so he constantly listens to music to help him focus and balance things out. This is the first sign of the bland of music and happenings... Elgort was perhaps chosen more for his physical charisma than his charm, as he oddly dances around scenes in tune to his music. A t first this will surprise the viewer, and his standoffish personality may leave some distaste. But over time as the action ramps up, so too does it all make sense from Wright's approach..
This is a movie of a few relationships and interplays but a foremost one, and a place where Elgort succeeds as Baby moreso alongside Lily James as Debora, is the romance. There's (but not overbearing) several warm well done romance scenes that provide a good through line to the film. Their moments together are breaths of charming air in the mania and bleeds chemistry. This I the Scott Pilgrim influence coming through and succeeding.
What defines Baby Driver, because it happens so often, is the blend of action and music. The soundtrack is filled with a large variety of pop, rock, funk, etc songs that fit perfectly with where they are placed in a manner t make the Guardians of the Galaxy proud..and then some. More-so than that or others however is that they feed directly into the scenes more than not. Drums become cars crushing into each other. Gun shots become guitar riffs. It's a symphony of action and mania on many clever occasions.
Even on their own the action is incredible. There's plenty of it filled with twists and turns and excitement and blood. Snappy but not hard to keep track of in true Wright style. This cinematic craftsmanship carries into scenes...rotating cameras, close shooting and tracking etc.. it feels real yet surreal in a perfect wild blend.
Constant excitement comes from these musical action moments as well as the plot itself. The trailers appear to give away a lot but in actuality hide so many twists and turns. The plot has many layers, from silly to frantic to even some emotion. The ride runs a bit long and goes in some same strokes, but becomes even more and more worth it. This is best to go in with the blinders on. It will turn out better than expected for one,, and from surprising areas that constantly hide delights.

Edgar Wright has made another wild legend , among-st his best, with this film. The humor, director-ship, story, and uniqueness are high mark. Sometimes the jokes are too silly or it takes some mistakes with character use but these are minor. It's a wild fun film that's worth checking out and is a unique musical highlight of the year so far. 8.75 out of 10

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight Review

Transformers: The Last Knight
Director: Michael Bay
Cast Headliners: Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Isabella Moner, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, many , too many, others
Original Release Date: June 21st, 2017  

  Another couple years, anotherrrrr Transformers film. The ride never ends when these keep making money. But it seems the barrel has really started to be scrapped with this fifth installment with Transformers: The Last Knight. One knows what to expect by now, although this time its wilder than ever for good and bad. It's once again not boring..but that doesn't mean it's any good. Some highest of highs but the lowest possible lows of ever. Where does one even begin.
Much buzz had been made about the mania of the inclusion of King Arthur(Liam Garrigan), Merlin(A very stupidly drunk Stanley Tucci in lieu of his role from the 4th film), and historical / medieval elements. Like many elements of this movie, this is barely involved / pointless and a let down. One of many retcons to the lore is that apparently transformers have been actively involved in the affairs of humanity for all of their history (lol). Merlin had a mechanical staff for his magic that has been lost for ages.
Picking up in the present the world once again (as has happened many times in this franchise) has its stakes changed after the various events of the past few Transformers films. The cast is mainly new, again , from the human side. Cade Yeager(Mark Wahlberg) and autobot Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl)   very randomly make the loose acquaintance of a young orphan girl named Izabella (Isabella Moner) and her bot Sqweeks in the ruins of Chicago. Proceeding back to their home wacky junkyard of side characters they are joined by allies including the memorable Age Of Extinction stereotype autobots Drift(Ken Watanabe), Hound(John Goodman), Crosshairs(John DiMaggio) amongst little seen and less memorable allies like dinosaurs including Grimlock and merchant Daytrader (Steve Buscemi giving at least a Big Lebowski reunion) and the annoying assistant mechanic Jimmy(Jerrod Carmichael).
For some reason even though the Autobots have proven to be nobler than than the Deceptions for many years and films now the US Government has formed the TRF anti-transformer force led by some silly characters (Tony Hale appears as a scientist with some ok jokes) and the return of soldier Lennox (Josh Duhamel). Using their own army of non-transformer robots , walkers, drones, and soldiers they attempt to chase down Markey Mark's Cade and friends. Stupidly, they even temporarily ally with the (once again..what happened to Galvatron/look? The lore is ruined by this point beyond even the X-Men timeline) return of the Decepticons in Megatron (Frank Welker here), who has a new look and a ripoff of the Suicide Squad (who get name cards and music.in front of a crew of literal lawyers..grr... then fade away shortly after).
This doesn't even describe the even further mess of factions present. In Britain, an eccentric member of the “Witwiccan Order:”Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and his bot allies Cogman(Jim Carter) and Hot Rod (Omary Sy) recruit the aid of historian Vivian (Laura Haddock) to solve the mystery of Merlin's staff.  They later fold in the USA characters for an “epic” journey. Elsewhere still, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen)'s cliffhanger from the last movie in space reaches a whimper of a conclusion as he crash lands on Cybertron and is corrupted by his apparent creator the robotic demonic goddess Quintessa (Gemma Chan) as she prepares to collide her planet with Earth. In Cuba, the return of Simmons(John Turturro) literally phones in a cameo and some “humor” after being absent from the fourth film. Even Shia LaBeouf's fate is addressed and cameos this time. Although these elements are not enough to bring back a lost fan if they had left prior to this point.
It's a lot of characters, locations, and places to keep track of  to a level even more overwhelming than ever before in a series that has done so.  Very few elements stick out from this messy yet awesome mess. While Wahlberg's Cade is even more manical and lame than AoE he does have some decent chemistry and interaction with the ok charm and vigor of Haddock's Vivian. For all of the marketing material implying that Moner's Izabella was a main character she appears in barely any of the movie and annoys more than anything when she is present at all. A  zany, odd highlight are the characters surrounding Sir Edmund. It's in a way sad to see the legendary Hopkins choose a role like this and a lot of his lines are cringeworthy. But he also has a manic, zany sense to him that one can tell he had fun doing this role as he does with stupid passion. Carter's Cogman and him are the true pair of chemistry in the film. Cogman is cool, funny, and great.. a sort of C-3PO / K2SO from Star Wars though not as great. Too many swears as ever. The various Autobots and Decepticons give alright voiced performances but fade into the manic fast movie tapestry. Duhamel does litle more than shout orders either, although isnt that what he always did.
A  semi major dissapointment of the movie is Optimus Prime. The series has never really decided whether he should be featured as a leader, a protagonist, or cameo. Its no surprise that him being a villian is not handleed well either. He is barely in it either, his “evil acts” aren't even that destructive with one exception. The lore with him and Quintessa is interestig but also breaks conventions previously established. It's a neat idea but in the end done wrong. Just about anything with lore in the movie can be thought of as such, with a random World War 2 flasbback not adding much to the plot aside setting up no doubt future spinoffs of “transformers across history”
The characters..mostly bad. The humor... occasionally funny, often stupid. The lore and backstory, mostly ruined. The plot, long , often stupid and confusing, and messier than ever. However there are some true redeeming qualities. The mania of puzzle pieces won't leave one bored and laughing in a likely unintended way brings cheesy charm to the movie. The music is lush (although jarringlt mocked at one point in a meta way) and the visuals are mostly great. There's some truly nice visual shots and effects of robotic beings. Yet also, there is just as many or more times where effects are obvious as well..it's a mixed bag. Action is epic in stakes and scale yet confusing. Although sometimes one has to appreciate the explosion mania Michael Bay has going on his directing, as ever.  Although the line between impressive and headache indusing spectacle is an ever thinner one.
This movie takes the previously established characters, lore, and conventions that were already in a blender...and blends them again. New elements are mostly cheesy or pointless, but some things are alright. It's a very bad film, perhaps the lowest quality of the franchise. Yet if one is completely bored, or liked previous entries in the franchise, it somehow still mananges to have some silly redeeming value. Only some... 6 out of 10

Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie
Director: David Soren
Cast Headliners: Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele
Original Release Date: June 2nd, 2017
Seen: Late June 2017


Who didn't read the Captain Underpants series back in the day. It was a staple of late 90s/early to mid 00s elementary and middle schools. It was juvenile, it was silly, and it was full of a lot of charm across author Dav Pilkey's sequels, spinoffs,  and similar works. It is surprising that it has taken this long to get an animated movie but the wait is mostly highly worth it. With a title like “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” one perhaps expects and hopes for more in the future.
The movie , greatly looking with the first of many animation styles (director David Soren of Dreamworks nicely weaves between living comic sketchings, a nice 3d CGI look, even “flip-o-rama” and live sock puppet action) gives the fictional story of what Captain Underpants is. He is a wacky comic book character made by elementary school students George(Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch). Their imagination is as much as their love for pranks which is much to the ire of those like principal Mr.Krupp (Ed Helms) or bully-nerd Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele). There is also the villainous science replacment teacher Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll). A lunch lady Edith (Kristen Schaal) also gets some funny and sweet moments between some unnamed staff. It's a small cast of named characters, but that's fine enough when they are memorable. 
It turns out that the boy's have a magic ring that make Principal Krupp actually believe he is Captain Underpants from their confiscated comics. Helms is great as both the mean Krupp, the babylike yet stereotypically manly / superheroic Underpants, and some fun disguises / other moments. He is adaptable as both and is almost unrecognizable (as he was also solid in The Lorax). Sometimes he darts between the two different roles within moments and it is handled well with charm.  The child characters are funny as well. It's amazing how Hart, Middleditch, and Peele are also unrecognizable and sound just (aside their age-gravelynes of course) like children. Their performance and enthusiasm make it all believable for laughs and wit.   Kroll's Professor P is a generic villain but that's the point  and it gives him the chance to deliver some cheesy lines in a German accent. For readers of the book, they all feel right off the page and for newcomers they're charming / hateable.
The humor is silly and childish but that's the point as well. It will make a kid, adult, or anyone with  a sense of dumb humor laugh. Things happen snappily and quickly. The plot is as simple as can be and almost flows too quickly but it's an excuse to deliver lighthearted charm and wild happenings. The music was partially composed by Weird Al Yankovic and fits well to match the sugar pop colorful visuals. 
There's not much else to this aside some surprising moments of deeper feels and emotion. For fans, they will like the adaptation and some “lore cameos” to the book series (the movie is mostly an adaptation of the first few books with some other call outs) and the capturing the literal toilet humor and schoolyard fun. Non-fans, or those with families and heck even animation fans of all ages will like this breezy wild adventure. It's perhaps a bit too short, simple and fast happening, but it's very sweet. 7.85 out of 10

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast Headliners: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielson,  David Thewlis, Danny Huston, others
 Original Release Date: June 2nd, 2017


Finally after all these years several important marks are made in this film. The first Wonder Woman movie ever in the big screens. The first (to summarize this review) good quality female led superhero movie. It's also the first time DC Comics has a solo, flashback origin movie in the DCEU since Man of Steel's starting it. Wonder Woman does well in most regards and the fact that it is anything but a wreck is something to be celebrated as there were those risk factors either unproven or with poor precedence. This movie is a mix of unique and tropes but the combo makes for mostly fun.
The main arc of the film takes us back to what could be any amount of time to the land of the Amazons on the “paradise island” of Themyscira. The young daughter of the queen gets into various hi-jinks and learns of the lore of this all female  society. This opening portion has some nice colorful visuals but drags on for a bit of awhile and packs the first of many cheesy moments in the film. But how can one not have some cheese when it comes to a mix of pulp , history, and myth in one. There is a standout, painterly sequence where the tale of the fascinating background lore of Ares, Zeus, and the other gods is told.
After some more training an older Diana , as she is known, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) finds her world turned upside down when a  American/ British spy in Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island on the heels of a German army. This is about the last we see of a decent performance in aunt Antiope (Robin Wright, always fierce) and her mother queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, less memorable but also decent). Events transpire to where instead Wonder Woman ends up in the world of the rest of humankind and World War 1.
Here is where the true movie starts both in plot and quality. World War 1 may at first seem like a basic setting (and one of several influences from competitor's 2011 Captain America 1 and even Thor 1 in its fish out of waterness) but it ends up proving its worth. The movie is a fine period piece, with nice background visuals and costuming and feel. This makes it perhaps the most visually distinct film in the DCEU yet for uniqueness.
Whether it be in action, drama, or humor one of the most memorable highlights of the film is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. This was already seen in 2016's Batman Vs Superman but here it is aided moreso but the “origin aspect” as she is more naive both in grounds for character growth as well as some good humor in learning the ways of WW1 Britain . Although her accent gives a stark contrast to most of her co-stars it works considering her homeland, fictionally that is. It does not hinder the several , emotional scenes she has whether confrontational or impassioned. In action, she is sleek and cool looking... the iconic warrior as ever. She doesn't need to talk much, as she carries a presence with her in all occasions much like the best work of one such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Her co-stars are also very solid. Chris Pine is great as Steve Trevor. He brings all of the charisma, swagger, humor, and well meaning as he does in a role like Captain Kirk in the new Star Treks with perhaps a new level of coolness. The “soldier squad”, often a trope of these kinds of movies is slightly extra memorable whether its the charming actor Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), manic sniper Charlie (Ewan Bremner), and the chilled out smuggler Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). The chemistry between heroes is great, particularly between Gadot and Pine. Worth mentioning as well is the brief appearances by assistant Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) who brings some quirky humor. David Thewlis is also great in his role as Sir Patrick Morgan, with some good speeches and an important role that should be seen firsthand as the mostly enticing plot unfolds.
The villains are mostly generic German and some Ottoman soldiers but they are led by some memorable antagonists. There's the odd and vile Dr.Poison (Elena Anaya) and the stoic, if a bit (although not without merit) cartoonishly evil General Ludendorff(Danny Huston). These opponents are typical but effective. Ares may also appear at some point, and when he does his role is fearsome and epic..although that too should be seen firsthand for full effect.
This is actually only the second theatrical film by director Patty Jenkins. Which is surprising, because she has a talent for excitement. For the most part the action is frenetic and plentiful. Special effects at times make things seem right out of the comic panels with vibrant color and crazy movement in a manner much like Snyder although at times more grounded. Select slow motion adds to the importance of scenes. However, the main negative aspect of this movie is that sometimes the slow-down is NOT a plus. Exciting moments will be either disrupted in their midst or subsequently ruined by something that's either too slow or (in one circumstance) too fast in speed. These add to the cheese amongst other things that suspend disbelief in even a comic film.  However these moments do not bring the whole experience down and are in the semi-minority.
Overall this movie offers a fun, exciting , and at times darkly emotional and epic origin story for Wonder Woman. It looks and moves nicely in its high points aide from some weaker or trope-ish portions. The importance of fhis film should be noticed though and that aspect makes things in a way even more enjoyable., Wonder Woman brings a majesty and glory to the war front with her, and one should enjoy these battles in this tale.. and hopes for even better battles ahead. 8 out of 10

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Director: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Cast Headliners: Johnny Depp, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelaro, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, several others
Original Release Date: May 26th, 2017

                It’s an interesting feeling. On one hand, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (the franchise’s fifth installment) is the first one in about 6 years which makes it feel long wanted. Yet also as it is the fifth time around the block, and after rapidly releasing sequels, it feels similar in other ways.  However the combination of these two factors answer the argument well for why there should be another one. It’s a bit silly, very fun, swashbuckling time that ties together all of the films to date and brings in some fresh new tweaks to the familiar formula.
                The main arc of the movie picks up years after the 2011’s On Stranger Tides. Through various vignettes we are introduced to the film’s main heroes. There’s the newer stars in the son of Will Turner grown into an adventurous young man in Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and his love/hate ally Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) the scientist.  Then of course, rounding out the trio is the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who finds himself in the midst of pirating shenanigans with a crew that continues to lose faith in him.
                Against him, there’s a fearsome foe in the (almost titular) Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem). He and his crew, accomplished through gorgeously spooky special CGI special effects in their chopped-to-bits-ness, are ghost pirates who are cursed by a flashback event (including a less convincing CGI Depp) by the efforts of Jack Sparrow. He seeks revenge as the heroes race to find the legendary “Trident of Poseidon” while dealing with the typical multitudes of side plots and characters.  Bardem is a great villain as Salazar. Salazar acts and looks fearsome yet also has a sympathetic side to him. Much like Davy Jones before him (and perhaps surpassing Blackbeard via this nuance) his presence is a rogue factor that lights up the screen. Bardem gave it his all and his a solid highlight of the cast, as are his kooky ghastly crew members.
                The aforementioned other characters are… numerous.  The humor of this film is for the most part in high form though often goes for sillier than ever (especially for Depp’s Sparrow). This most often comes from the delight of his own classic crew of pirates above the “Dying Gull” pathetic ship. This includes the bearded Gibbs(Kevin McNally), the newer addition from On Stranger Tide’s Scrum (Stephen Graham), and the little person Marty (Martin Klebba). The movie really builds on the relationship and plot points of past films for effective writing and humor (it helps to have seen others but it does stand alone in its fun). Everyone gets, as typical for this franchise, a small moment to shine. There’s other characters like the British aligned Lieutenant Scarfield (David Wenham) and the witch Shansa(Golshifteh Farahani) but these never come across as more than generic evil and get (sometimes literally) lost in the flow. Paul McCartney even makes a silly but alright glorified cameo as “Uncle Jack” that is worth it to those who knew.  He had to keep up with the Rolling Stones somehow apparently.
                When it comes to the main cast, they are effective. Thwaite’s Henry is very much like his farther, warm and brave. Scodelario’s Carina matches the similar content and leagues of her past heroines whilst perhaps having more humor and charm than some films in the franchise. Even THE Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Turner (Keira Knightley) show up again which really serves to tie the franchise together although their appearances must be seen firsthand as to why.  Johnny Depp brings the laughs, the swagger, and all of what we would expect as Jack Sparrow and he is a constant delight. Although, and this has been an increasing problem with each installment, he at times is a constantly drunker than ever cartoonish outline of his character who just kind of seems “to be along for the ride”. But the movie around him has the fun to make it work. One wouldn’t want him to not be in these in some way. Barbarossa(Geoffrey Rush) also shows up as now a pirate king of the sea, another instance really tying the series together. Rush is great, as always, at times unlikeable but also at times the most likeable of all. See this to find out way.
                The fun comes in droves via the plentiful action and spectacle. While some CGI effects are obvious, some action goes on too long (and of course the movie is a two plus hour epic but it never feels too wasted), and there are some questionable ridiculous moments the audience will be often smiling. There’s the lush music and scenery. There’s the constant “na-nah-nah” franchise theme that maybe gets used too much but also how could one not enjoy the views. The action is really more over the top than ever and in its madness it’s kind of glorious.

                Overall, it has its problems as a general film but has its strengths as a POTC movie. It’s a sunny, sometimes dark, usually funny and exciting blockbuster. The ties to the past and character growth make it stand out as one of the better if not best entries. This is said to possibly be the last in the series, which in one way would work. But also, it leaves one hopeful for the new heroes and setup for the future..stay after the credits. Either way, a 7.8 out of 10