Saturday, May 19, 2018

Deadpool 2 Review

Deadpool 2
Director: David Leitch
 Cast Headliners: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazzie Beatz, Julian Dennison, Stefan Kapcic, several others
Original Release Date: May 18th, 2018


    The Deadpool film that released just a couple years back was such an event of its own way and so eventfully wonderful that news of a sequel of course brings excitement but also a solidly high bar to live up to.  It showed that R-rated  blockbuster / superhero films can be just as successful and mainstream as their less ...colorfully worded compatriots and gave nothing but nigh-perfect respect for the source while delivering a film that was well made in so many ways. The sequel decides to take that and make things just as crude and rude while dialing the action, spectacle, meta-nature and laughs even more higher than ever before. It's certainly noticed for a rush of a time in all ways.
Note that it helps to have seen most X-Men, MCU, DC movies around before viewing this aside the first of course. Not in that the plots connect but moreso in that the humor is that much more enjoyable for it. Within minutes Deadpool / Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) mocks the details of 2017's Logan as he attempts to do something drastic so as expected the manic mood is set once again.   Essentially after various (action and blood packed of course) shenanigans with mercenaries and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) he finds himself brought into the  (obviously just as small in number as the last Deadpool outing had) “X-Men” once again for an even more series of shenanigans.
If there's one drawback in this film compared to the first, others,  and objectively on its own is that the plot kind of has tenuous things keeping it all together. That may fit, as the first did, the erratic nature of the insane merc and wacky friends but some elements come through as half-thought.  Essentially, Deadpool and supporting friends find themselves dealing with a mutant “Firefist” boy Russel (Julian Dennison) with dangerous potential and a fierce cyborg warrior from the future Cable (Josh Brolin) with a quest of his own.
Of course the highlight of the film is its humor. The laughs are plentiful and certainly R-rated with swears and obscene content almost constantly. The script and writing is so sharp and wacky and nearly every moment has a memorable silly line or occurrence. As mentioned it helps to know X-Men and etc related otherwise other pop culture but the delivery makes it all work.  The cast helps this from faces old and new.
Of course front and center is Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool. He continues to give a perfect performance with enthusiastic , spastic voicing and one-liners. There's also a dosage of emotion and drama as well although there's often even laughs through those. The movement, the costume, the action and etc continues to be perfect to what one would want although a big portion has been seen before.  This multiplication nature is present in his friends too. Minor roles like his former roommate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) and bar owning friend Weasel (TJ Miller) bring some typical kind of laughs with a bit less of a role this time. The same applies to X-Men Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) who now has a joke of a partner in Yukio (Shiolo Kitsuna). Wade's own girlfriend in Baccarin's Vanessa has some good rapport again although joins the lessened crowd . It's greatly pleasing to see the roles of X-Men member Colossus (Stefan Kapcic) and taxi-driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) increase to brilliant comedic effect this time.
  Now the promotional materials sells Deadpool 2's “X-Force... totally derivative” team that he ends up forming as a bit more of a focus this time but ultimately they're not given much focus beyond aiding in the action and having some lines with one exception. It works fine for the context to no loss really but it's good to have these further supporting roles via mutant recruits electric-using Bedlam (Terry Crews), acid-spitting Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), acrobatic alien Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), and … one has to see what the “Vanisher” and Peter (Rob Delaney) can do.  A highlight, and fittingly most important to the comics , member is Domino (Zazzie Beatz) who's suave nature , sarcasm, and luck-based aura give many great moments once she appears in the late game. There may be some more surprise people that must be seen firsthand from cool to hilarious.
On the side of well anyone who's not Deadpool's direct friend there is much less in both quantity and effectiveness.  Aside various thugs and the anti-mutant Headmaster(Eddie Marsan) who are fittingly generic there's the importance of both Russel and Cable. Dennison's Russel gives some great laughs and even for a youth has some of the most cusses and grit of anyone around although at times its a bit of extreme / hamming it up overload.  It's good to see some of his stuff with Deadpool but due to circumstances he ends up being mainly a MacGuffin on the move.  Now, Josh Brolin  as Cable is arguably one of the most important things to Deadpool as a character from the X-Men universe due to their many, many comic issues together as foe like here and otherwise. Brolin gives a committed performance as always with a powerful demeanor not too dissimilar to  Thanos from Infinity War (ironically two Marvel films released by different studios weeks apart... perhaps expect a joke on this somewhere ). He's got a slick cyborg arm and technology and drives most of the film's action. His serious nature is a great canvas to pair off on with others for humor and its great once and whenever he is featured more and more. It's just only minor unfortunate that due to everything else going on his backstory, motivations, and chance to shine by himself are glanced over a moderate bit. But he does what he can to bring justice to what the character is and should be. All of these elements and additional characters begin to drive Deadpool 2 into slightly new turf for ambience more like his other superhero film peers but its an increase that mostly works and makes sense.
Previous director Tim Miller stepped away for this one, with his replacement being David Leitch. Leitch does a solid and nigh-spot on replacement job for this. Everything is brisk and snappy with action sequences feeling as they should with many sweet moments whether viscerally realistic or fantastical mixed between the typical kind of stuff. At only moments there's some rough CGI but as with the first film that kind of adds to its charm and occurs with most effects-heavy genre films these days.  For music, the most notable thing is that there is much more licensed retro, pop, rap, rock etc classic songs used here (almost like the rate of MCU's Guardians of the Galaxy but with an understandably more comedy bent). It does nothing but aid to the laughs although this cinematic technique is far from fresh anymore. There could have also been some more stretching the bar of how surreal imagery happens but that is a minuscule presence or lack thereof.  Although that "insert franchise sequence) was a great parodic fusion of those elements.
As a whole, fans are going to love this once again. It delivers more of the same and expanded Deadpool hard R action and laughs with the amount of everything doubled up on for mostly better and seldom worse. As the trailers say “they probably won't even do a third one” and if that's the element of what one is looking for it certainly does its best to aim for and meet it. Walk away with a smile, after the credits of course, having enjoyed the fun both dumb and brilliant ..intentional and just the way it turns out again .  8.75 out of 10

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War Review

Avengers: Infinity War
Directors: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo
Cast Headliners: Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Hero Ever At Once Including: Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Josh Brolin, Scarlet Johnnsson, Zoe Saldana, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, so many many more!!
Original Release Date: April 27th, 2018



It's astounding to think of (aside from the fact how quickly that time seems to have flown!) the things Marvel has accomplished with their MCU universe over the past 10 years.  Each different superhero introduced seemed to build on the world of the others and expand the scope from just a bit more than our reality to the supernatural and cosmic and so on. The first Avengers film as a monumental cinematic achievement of mixing worlds. Then more came and the second Avengers film was somehow even crazier. This has blended into other films and new faces becoming wilder in all kinds of locations, colors, shapes, time periods and galaxies. All of this has lead to Avengers: Infinity War as the third roundup of characters. It's with amazing pleasure to say that this is the biggest superhero crossover film of history and raises the epic stakes in all the ways wanted. 
If this was television, it would be the first episode of a “two part season finale” if not even series finale. So it really, really helps to have seen all or at least most of the previous films in this one besides a few exceptions. But who would be seeing this without that, or moreso reading this. Without having done that!! This picks up on...nearly everything ever over the past few years, and quite stunningly so.
Specifically, the movie starts (uniquely for MCU immediately) in the midst of ultimate universe trekking villain overlord Thanos (Josh Brolin)'s attack on the remaining Asgardian's ship led by the likes of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Heimdall (Idris Elba) and the Bruce Banner /  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) as he searches for the godlike-power granting infinity stones for his gauntlet which have been spread across places (And films). This sequence is a chilling microcosm of the whole experience... many actors , exciting action, and darkness in one. This is just the tip of the iceberg that ultimately does what fans have been wanting and the film has been hinting at for years.. the fusing of the MCU's space-based cosmic side and its  Earth-based characters. Thanos' conquests bring (nearly. totally..sorry Korg, Kraglin, Valkyrie, and (what may be the penultimate chance for) TV characters etc as they're passed over here but it's fine as there's so much else exciting things going on !) everything, everyone, everywhere to a culmination that is what one would want.
This means there's a tapestry of tapestries, an Avengers of Avengers of groups and characters at play... seriously a record for spectacle and quantity. But it works almost with a single hitch.  The attacks soon reach Earth in multiple places. The film smartly divides up various heroes into groups, often times with both heartwarming reunions or intriguing and/or. first meetings across the planet and galaxy with their own quests before throwing things together when need be. Although one hopes in the future some more of these combinations come together for something even crazier the situation here calls for it.
Groups vary in what they do and who they meet to at times wildly different but fun results that feel ripped out of a comic book special event as the film goes on a journey through the MCU's theme park map of greatest hits.   Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and for the first largest time to him Stephen / Dr.Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) contend with the likes of some of the alien “Children of Thanos” in Ebony Maw ( Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian(Terry Notary) in New York. Elsewhere in Scotland Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) , Vision (Paul Bettany), Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanov (Scarlet Johansson), and Sam Wilson / Falcon (Anthony Mackie) content with the other minions Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw).  In deep space the Guardians of the Galaxy made up at this point of Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel),  Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementiff) finally make their debut on the connected-Marvel stage as well by aiding a friend in need and finding themselves rendezvousing when the time is needed. Impressively aside all this is including major supporting allies for all locations . This includes wizard Wong(Benedict Wong),  the late-game likes of Wakandans King T'Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) along peers Okoye (Danai Gurirra),  Shuri (Letitia Wright), now-in-a-sense Bucky / “White Wolf” / Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and M'Baku (Winston Duke)  plus long-timer James Rhodey Rhodes / War Machine (Don Cheadle) and wildcard Nebula (Karen Gillian) to more (understandably) momentary characters like Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Ned (Jacob Batalon), The Collector (Benico Del Toro) and General Ross (William Hurt). There may even be some total surprises which are highlights in their own ways that need to be witnessed firsthand. This is one to be experienced as fresh as possible.
Directors The Russo Brothers are an iconic character of their own way through their style. This is both moment to moment crispness yet also in their effective handling of interlaced storytelling and characters that began in 2016's Civil War but is wonderfully expanded upon with the numbers here. Every story has stakes, every storyline and perspective snaps to each other with tact and excitement. It makes one of the longest blockbusters ever feel nigh-perfectly brisk and exciting with not a moment wasted.  If one gets tired of hyper spectacle, this is not the movie for them.
However it is understandable with a roster this large some are going to fade or be missed. It's pleasing to see that this seldom happens. Everyone (with meaning) has their chance to shine or do something from action to drama to humor.  Some are especially highlights of course. Downey's Stark finds himself literally confronting his inner demons that have been haunting him ever since 2012's film bringing leadership yet also bringing dual dramatic and humorous interactions new peers. Cumberbatch's Strange is great chemistry with him in a sort of magic versus technology, both headstrong playboys thing. They join their scene peer Holland as Parker in reaching a new level of superpower spectacle in addition to his heart in a movie filled with his (and others') charming heart just as often as it does despair.  Of all the original Avengers, Hemsworth's Thor makes most of an impact bringing ferocity and humor (particularly with who he ends up spending most of his time with) in spaces while reaching new emotional dramatic depths. Every galaxy Guardian is especially spot-on to their strengths from their films and it makes sense that some of the best characters in the franchise are the same for this film. Bautista's Drax , Pratt's Star-Lord, Klementiff's Mantis, and Cooper's Rocket greatly humor while Saldana's Gamora has some incredibly key dramatic confrontations with her former family in Nebula and Thanos that have been built on in her films for years. The likes of Captain America, Black Panther, Falcon,  Black Widow, Bucky , Scarlet Witch, and Vision and even moreso their underlings fall more to the wayside ( a little surprisingly so for the Captain) in all the mania but they have their usual attributes and highlights . Cheadle's Rhodey seems to have been given just a speck more meat this time.  One of the few disappointing factors with the film is how Ruffalo's Banner goes a little too hard on the comedic angle he learned in prior films and perhaps in Ragnarok. Some humorous and dramatic beats are not used that well for him although he has his own importance to things .  The villains (who aren't nameless alien troopers) face some similar mix of highlight and momentary-ness as it's their job to be fierce punching bags with perhaps Lawlor's Ebony Maw offering a unique chilling menace with his magic mastery to rival Strange's.
It makes since in a movie, and arguably the entire franchise to this point, about Thanos that he is a standout. Josh Brolin gives an incredible performance for what a 11 foot tall space ogre emperor can be.  The effects on him are convincing but in any event his performance carries through as well as how they use him. He takes the crown, as he should, for MCU and for good arguments the all time film villians. He is menacing, he is calculated, he has powerful combat abilities and chilling threats. He cracks a charismatic joke or two but without becoming too much of one himself.  What makes him stand out most of all his is dramatic sincerity. It's surprising that the some of the most emotion and growth in the film of so many others comes via him. One cannot wait to see what more he does in the already-said two part film. Because of that, don't expect total closure..that is also the exciting thing.
To match the epicenter that is the character count and side arcs is the spectacle and journies at place. The Russos take the  “airport scene” and ramp it up by by a thousand and then do that several different times throughout this film. Things are chaotic, fun, intense, epic all in one.  What adds to these are the many settings. There's some absolutely beautiful lush CGI visuals in this film. Colorful galactic worlds from the ruins of Titan to the mechanics of Thanos' ships to other surprising  cosmic places offering a whole mosaic of colors that were sometimes amiss in other Avengers or etc films. The more Earth-locations do not detract when they appear and even Wakanda seems to have  (mostly) upped its local CGI budget from the recent solo film.  Thanos (moreso) and his various levels of minions are aesthetically fierce and slick looking. Every superhero seems to have new tricks up their sleeves for a special CGI effects megaload that is amazing yet only at times is overwhelming. This is a pinnacle of MCU blockbuster visual spectacle which is aided by the stakes of how and where and what is going on. Just wait until the infnity stones themselves are used for some especially surreal stuff.  The soundtrack uses a good montage of the different corners of the universe (even some GotG retro!) with a sprinkling of notably better than usual orchestration. There's of course also the assumption that iconic heroic theme shows up..and the times it does are effectively highlights.
Really there's very little to complain about here because it all goes exactly how the fans would want it to go.  Marvel has been building up these happenings for many years and films and the clash is what it should be. The reunions and introductions of the nearly-entire universe of characters, epic intense stakes, weaving plotlines, humorous writing, beautiful visuals, stunning action  , shocking twists, charming fun, somber darkness, and more all come together as elements just as well as its many heroes' capabilities do. The Russo Brothers have made the third go-around of mega-crossover-classics a classic of heights all its own.
This is a  noteworthy cinematic event for the year, several years, and perhaps in a lifetime. Some things may get missed or come through a bit misshapen in the metaphorical pasta strainer but that adds to its message. The great, the mighty, the flawed in all that and more come together for something more.  This is just the beginning of the end ..or hopefully its just the end of the beginning. A year until the next part can't pass soon enough. If this is just a bar to be improved upon, we may not be ready for that level of excellence. Because this is something almost as special as it was the first time. 9.8 out of 10

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 accent...one 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
Dunkirk
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, adventurous..it'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 Wars..my film of the year...'s best odds at this show... and Williams is getting older..

Best Animated Feature:
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
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

Annihilation
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