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 movement..games 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)
12.   Star Wars: Battlefront 2(STARWARSSIMULATORWITHCAMPAIGNANDCLONEWARSANDDEEPERSHIPS)

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


                

The Disaster Artist Review

The Disaster Artist
Director: James Franco

Cast Headliners: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, many many others
Original Release Date: December 1st, 2017 (limited)
   Quotes like “Ahahahahhaha, what a story Mark”  , “You’re tearing me apart Lisa!”, and of course” Oh hi Mark” define legendary movies. Or at least to those in the know, they’re from the infamously bad…yet so terrible it’s in a way good film, 2003’s The Room. The Disaster Artist is a film about the making of that film, and the enigmatic hilarious legend of its creator Tommy Wiseau. On the surface it seems like it could be as silly as its source, but within is a hilarious and heartfelt recreation and tribute to the situation that led to that…disasterpiece.
The story, mostly adapted from the biographical novel of the same name, details the meeting of the two friends, collaborators, and stars of The Room in Tommy Wiseau(James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). This is after (the first sign of this) a funny montage, likely true, of celebrity cameos commenting on the films importance from JJ Abrams to Danny McBride more. The focus goes from acting school to the duo’s bonding over old films to the insane idea of making a film together.. luckily that they did. 
What a story Franco rather, who (in addition to directing / producing it) embodies Wiseau so incredibly well in his performance. His look, his method of speech, his movement… he’s almost unrecognizable as his usual self and is nearly 100 spot on as Tommy. It’s a hard task as Wiseau is a one of a kind person, having a distinct accent that’s “New Orleans” and Franco lives it up wonderfully. The laughs come both from the famous circumstances in addition to original pieces to add to the Wiseau canon. Even when not causing humor, he’s sincere and endearing, angry and hateworthy… each moment doing what it needs to. The only time this falters is into some slight over-exaggeration of things, and when a scene calls for Franco to not have the trademark hair look on fully display. Otherwise he’s the perfect take a fan would want or would cause mirth to anyone.
The other Franco as Greg is a bit less spot on , with some cheesy makeup but he is alright in his dumb innocentness. What is believable, and funny, is how Greg is amazed and intrigued by Wiseau. Their friendship leads to some of the best jokes and drama of the film.  Great care was placed into giving the rest of the cast to the usual comedy crew. Particularly the likes of The Room’s Peter / Kyle (Nathan Fielder), Claudette / Carolyn (Jacki Weaver), and even Chris R (Zac Efron) and Denny / Phillip (Josh Hutcherson) are spot and slapstick. Lisa / Juliette (Ari Graynor) is of course a part although she is reserved mainly for jokes.
Characters that viewers of the Room have no prior basis on are good as well. Of course Seth Rogen makes his way to a James Franco / Evan Goldberg made flick, here as surprisingly more subdued than usual (for his roles) sarcastic script supervisor Sandy.  There’s so many minor original parts that show up… played by the likes of Sharon Stone, Hannibal Burress, Bryan Cranston, Randall Park, Bob Odenkirk,  and more. While purists of The Room may view these as unneeded, they are actually fine and for better worse momentary additions who often have extremely humorous lines to add to the script. 
   That’s the main thing about The Disaster Artist. Its primary audience to enjoy it the most will be fans of The Room’s cult status. There are plenty of moments that mock, or endear, parts of that film. However, the movie is funny enough to be enjoyable to any due to the inanity of Wiseau and peers around. The drama , sadness, and inspiration make it a (odd) inspiring story amidst some occasional melodrama. 
Of unique note is the effort placed into its setting and references. The late 90s / early 00s California are felt strongly from clothing to pop music. One will not hear at “Rhythm Of the Night” without a big smile after viewing.  The flow of it all works silly and swell.
       Just as its title implies, something wonderful is made out of a bad situation. The Room is known as one of the worst movies ever but at the same time one of the most iconic.  This film has taken its behind the scenes into something just as funny and with some deeper stuff as well. This is coming from a fan , but..for hoping what it should be… what a story Franco, 9.52 out of 10 


The Shape Of Water Review

The Shape Of Water
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast Headliners:  Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlberg 
Original Release Date: December 8th , 2017


Gullermo Del Toro is synonymous with “personal aesthetic”. His, almost always some level of fantastic, films have a distinct sense of style and technique. His fascination of the supernatural have  covered immersive topics from defending the world from aliens, gothic ghost stories, fairy tales amidst war, or fitting to his plate adaptations of the likes of Hellboy and Blade. His latest film, The Shape Of Water, is an original tale that distinctly sets itself in 1950s/60s Cold War Americana that showcases in nearly every aspect its sense of “beautiful”.
The protagonist of this dark romance is government facility cleaner Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who is mute. She lives a bit of a mundane but content existence, capturing the repeating sense of urbia in her daily commute and scrubdown. All performances in the film are of the highest caliber, but Hawkins is even more notable in how convincing she is. She uses ASL signage with no words , and she moves as one who was a real user would. Even without even hand dialogue, Elisa’s every expression, action, movement is endearing, humorous, or inspiring.  This makes sense for the prime premise… there’s a fish-like being in The Asset (Doug Jones), who she becomes attached to helping out. Jones is great (as always when paired with Del Toro’s vision)… the Asset is so realistic and at the same time, chillingly alien. Both practical and CGI, his appearance is cool while having a spark of charm. Together these two scenes are great. One wouldn’t think a romance with these circumstances  could be so moving, but it is. 
The supporting cast of this shady science saga range are great whether allies or foes. There’s Elisa’s kindly yet nervous father figure Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). There’s a surprising element of what Dr.”Bob” (Michael Stuhlberg) is doing behind the scenes. Minor roles like government aligned Fleming (David Hewlett) and General Hoyt(Nick Searcy) ride more along the line of being merely kooky stereotypes, but maybe that’s Del Toro going for the pulpiness he is often found of. 
To mess up this twisting, exciting tale (much more than meets the eye) is Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who is more of a monster than the Asset could ever be perceived as. Shannon often finds himself in the villainous seat in his film career, but it is for great reason. Strickland is remorseless, demanding, occasionally very funny (the quality script aids in all situations). Shannon brings the utmost of fury and emotion to his scenes. Like the best villains, there’s a bit of sympathy for where he’s coming from and the audience surely is as interested in his scenes as the others. This is a role for him for the ages.
The plot is a slow burner at times but it adds to the mysteries of whats going on. The main arc of Elisa and the Asset finds its way to those around her, and is both emotional and exciting in its feels. Surprises aid to this and the less that’s known the better going in.  It’s long, but justifies itself by the end, allowing for side-stories and interactions that add to the drama. This makes action that much more intense when it appears.
Beautiful as a word most applies to the amazing soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. It’s gorgeous in use of strings and choir, and has a fitting aquatic quality that helps with the immersion. There’s also choice uses of retro pop and etc music that add to the distinct Cold War, urban and suburban archetype feel that takes the viewer back.
Del Toro knows how to cast, knows how to excite, knows how to arrange a score but as always he’s best at a sense of magic visually. The directing and cinematography is crisp and quality. Wide shots give a sense of place. This is aided by fantastic set design that feels gritty realistic and at the same time slightly surreal.  This feels Del Toro more than ever.
Overall, because of that, this film is incredibly reccomendable. Great performances, immersion, audio/visuals, and emotional drama. There’s very little wrong with this, although one must know its not so much a horror as it is a charming romantic tale …between some bloody dark drama. The Shape Of Water’s shape is of a great film. 9.05 out of 10  



Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok / JL Review

Thor: Ragnarok    . Edit: Nov Superheroes both with JL!
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast Headliners:  Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, many others 
Original Release Date: November 3rd,  2017



 Thor has been a core staple of Marvels Cinematic Universe. From a surprising and important debut to core parts in the first Avengers film, the Norse god of thunder's given an electrifying awesome , charming, and noble part to the saga along with his slippery brother Loki . However 2013's last Thor-centric film The Dark World was a victim, perhaps the nadir, of MCU sameness ...with awkward extraneous humor and generic tropes of villians / plots .  Thor: Ragnarok mostly addresses both problems for this third outing , and injects a wild dose of cosmic weird fun and ..the Hulk. 

    In what seems like tradition for Thor (Chris Hemsworth) at this point , the story opens with an exciting standalone action sequence in a far off realm. Thor confronts the firey demon Surtur ( Clancy Brown , adding what amounts to a stereotypical but fearsome voice ) to stop the supposed prophecy of Ragnarok . From the start the great strengths of this yarn are shown.... Great mystical backgrounds, awesome action against hordes of fire demons, and a soundtrack that jumps between Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song ( one of several smart influences of using pop music (although sparingly ) taken from Guardians Of the Galaxy along with the junky space aesthetic and dry humor ) and 1980s synth beats. Of course, this is far from the end of stopping Ragnarok or the only world that's visited. 

    It's a long, mostly epic , twisting tale of realms and planets and surprises. There's the golden city of Asgard with the likes of Loki ( Tom Hiddleston ) posing as the missing Odin ( Anthony Hopkins), replacement doorkeeper Skurge the Executioner ( Karl Urban) , the Warriors Three , an exiled Heimdall ( Idris Elba) . Be on the lookout for some great minor cameos here. Notably missing is Sif , and Jane and crew although Portman at least gets a mention . This is threatened by the sinister villian Hela( Cate Blanchett ), the goddess of death.  Earth and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) even show up in a short but hillarious and important way to tie the MCU together. 

   Primarily the main addition is the world of Sakaar in deep space , where Thor and Loki find themselves stranded. There is a former Asgardian Valkyrie ( Tessa Thompson), the incredibly unique tyrant The Grandmaster ( Jeff Goldblum) who runs an arena filled with  gladiators such as Korg (Taika Waititi, also director ) and ... the Hulk / Bruce Banner ( Mark Ruffalo) . Somehow this diverse godly / alien cast works great together as a whole .

    Hemsworth's Thor is similiar as usual, fierce , determined, and charismatic. Fitting with the tone of the piece he is even more funny than ever especially with peers. His arc is an expanded and mostly more nuanced version of what he's gone through before , such as with Loki. So too Hiddleston gives a similar take as ever but at this point one doesn't want much different either as he delivers moments of laughs and hate in his obviously ever-shifting allegiances. Elba's Heimdall has more of a role than ever in both importance and action . It's unfortunate that the likes of the Warriors Three are almost literally swept under the rug in their brief moments and Hopkins Odin just has a couple parts but it's a fast moving snappy piece .

     It's neat that Hela is the first female primary antagonist in the MCU and one of the few in the genre around. Blanchett is...decent or so if not the highlight by any means . Her spiky headdress and ability to throw daggers is cool in concept but leads to some cheesy CGI between the good action. She is best at being snarky and vile , at times to the level of hamming but her threat is mostly felt . So too is Skurge, as Urban comes off , fitting with the character, as pathetic more than fearsome with a little built endgame twist that redeems his role right out of the comics...underused otherwise .

  Sakaarians outshine their Asgardian, as they should. Thompson's Valkyrie too flits between friend and foe, and is great in both. She bring a surprising drunken, sassy take to the role that fits her intriguing arc ...funny and fierce in equal amounts . Korg and other charming aliens like Miek the bug add trademark New Zealand style bizzare humor right out of the directors other work.  It's no surprise that Jeff Goldblum is perfect for the material As Grandmaster...get ready as this is Goldblum at his most Goldblum.... Weird, hilarious, dry, narcissistic, awkward etc ... A highlight if one is into his style .

   This character showcases what Waititi has done so well... In making not just Thor 3, or Guardians 2.5 , but ... MCU Hulk 2. The humor in the film is great at nearly every turn. Often breaking audience expectations or tropes , aiming for the juxtaposition and the bizarre . It's a movie where Hulk talks, and smashes more than ever . His banter and fights with Thor are great , and with others. This applies whether he's a giant green barbarian or the geeky human Banner . Ruffalo shines in the late appearance , as confused and neurotic as ever . It's not perfect but nearly all jokes and pairings are almost always in the range of stellar .

  Waititi is a master of directing character centric dialogue and humor, but he is able to step into the shoes of cosmic superheroics quite well. The action scenes are great , from the arena to space dogfights right out of the best of the inspirations. Some are less effective than others, but the best are so good and literally sparking it's alright . So too with the music and visuals, being colorful and retro and believeable. Some are more jarring / cheesy  but they are few . That too may be a point. The synth pieces are seldom but great , with a typical string score between them.

   Perhaps the only other drawback is the pacing . A great story of a strange new world is happening with Thor and friends on Sakaar, but while Asgard is eventually brought back into things the plot of Helas shenngins and conquests is less exciting and a roadbump when they appear. The finale makes right for it but any earlier appearances are slightly weaker, as mentioned.

  Overall, this takes ingredients of past Thor and MCU typical fare and tosses some spice of Waititi style humor , GoTG colorful 80s weirdness, and alot of Hulk heart. It doesn't redefine the genre , but is a whole lot of silly fun. It redefines what marvel solo films can be if they need it , and they did it here . 8.65 out of 10

AND

(bonus mini-wanted to jot down quick thoughts) (Justice League: Alot of stakes went into this as it was the long-wanted debut of DC's famous team and the culmination of the DCEU to date. Its a noticeable mix / clash of the visions of the darker , typical Snyder epic material and the humor of Joss Whedon.. which on their own both would work wonders, tho at times there's a tonal and narrative dissonance.  However what the film gets strongly right is the team dynamic between all the heroes and their characterization in general... Affleck's wisened Batman, his mentor role to the fast talking , youthful comic relief in The Flash, his awkwardness with the (a bit too but understanding) brooding Cyborg in Fisher, the ever great Gadot as Wonder Woman and a late-game Cavill as Superman. Momoa's Aquaman is also a highlight, both funny and fierce just like his days as the Khal. Supporters range from the great in Iron's Alfred to falling more through the cracks in Lane's Martha or Adam's Lane or Crudup's Henry Allen.  The villian too has a menacing voice in Hinds but Steppenwolf is ultimately a generic , poorer CGI excuse to unite the team. The plot is simple, skimming DC references but works in the end.. something straightforward works for the cotnext. The action sequences, moreso when the team is together, are exciting and genuinely fun. There's a sense of brightness to it all that was needed. It could have been more, but the good is good..hope they're more like it . 8.05 out of 10 ))
   

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