Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director: J.A Bayona
 Cast Headliners: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, others
Original Release Date: June 22nd, 2018

How many ways can you skin a cat, or rather, how many ways can you make a Jurassic Park / World / what have you film. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes out after 2015's Jurassic World brought back the franchise for a more modern era with its own attempts. There is a sense that this is a true trilogy, more than Spielberg's own ones were. However what's inside is a range of excitement from the fascinating to the silly. However there's definitely some strides forward for every stumble back.

Picking up after the collapse of the functioning park in the last film, a situation arises on Isla Nublar when a volcano is erupting that threatens to destroy all of the dinosaurs on the island along itself. Previous heroes Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) are recruited by friends of the older film's Hammond in Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) to go to the island and rescue as many possible..including the last trained velociraptor Blue. They're joined by hip young recruits in technician Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Dr.Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) along head of security Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine).
To the film's credit, it does attempt to do some different things with the formula. Yes there's an island of these prehistoric giant lizards escaping containment as has been seen 4+ times before. But there are some exciting sequences involving escaping the lava. It's pure mania of natural disaster, running dinosaurs , and multiple ridiculous moments that all the heroes due. This film, even more than the last one, throws some of the “realism” out the window and goes for the extreme. There's cool visuals in the creatures and environments yet there's also some CGI special effects that are rough looking to the point of almost shame. For every cool creature, there's almost as much something cheesy. It's unknown how much this is due to J.A Bayona being in the director chair for this is a bit different to his more dramatic, smaller scale work before.
However, his horror film influence is felt by a strong point (when it appears). This movie brings back some of that literal , night-time rainy darkness that was missing from the last one. There's some true jump scares and creepy moments delivered of course through a soft PG-13 lense. The other deviation is that, in one of several things borrowed from Jurassic Park 2 The Lost World , a large part of this movie leaves the island behind. It has to be seen firsthand but be prepared for some surburbia and laboratories and a criminal human element that's almost nothing like what has been seen before. The action impresses although it does drag at times but when it's fresh it's fresh (get ready for yet another genetic variant dinosaur in the Indoraptor..). Michael Giacchino's score continues his June trend to both effective and melodramatic effects. There may even be some moments of emotion with these beasts, particularly when they suffer.
The scientific , dino elements are more of the same which is fine enough especially when it's fun. Where things are a bit more shaky is within the cast itself. Pratt's Owen and Howard's Claire have a nice rapport again although this time their relationship takes a bit of a step back to the shenanigans at play. It's more of the same.. whether Pratt with his Star-Lord-esque swashbuckling machismo or Howard with her courage and caring. Pratt, when he's not pulling off unbelievable jumps or rolling around for a laugh (you'll see) does have some slight deeper stuff with his connection to Blue the raptor... be ready for some baby flashbacks that may warm one's heart. The younger recruits in Smith's Franklin and Pineada's Rodriguez attempt comic relief but more often annoy. Cromwell gives an alright performance to share a franchise connection and sincerity but isn't around much. Spall's Mill's does what he needs to do but ends up coming off as cheesy in his own way once the context furthers. On that prior note, trailers showed the return of Dr.Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) from the old films. It's unfortunate that he does not have much more than minutes of screentime contrary to what one may think. He has some greatly deep and slightly odd lines that may or may not be ad-libs but these sentences may amount to more than what he has. The more gruff personnel like Levine's Wheatley, Dr.Wu (B.D Wong) , and an eccentric auctioneer Gunnar (Toby Jones..such a unique actor …) do little more than add momentary cheese and exposition to the plot. Some of this stuff even feels just like 2015 again to an extent. What young Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) , the Sir's granddaughter, brings to the film and beyond may also land to a mixed reaction. 
This movie definitely delivers some more same old dinosaur, jungle fun amidst its sea of lava and cheese. Somehow a human element that's both increased to better and worse off amounts occurs. It could have tapped into its themes more, and shown us less or more truthful things before release, but it just about delivers on what one would want. Here's hoping the next one has even more steps forward than back... and is further fresh without being too derivative. 7.7 out of 10

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Incredibles 2 Review

Incredibles 2
Director: Brad Bird
 Cast Headliners: Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson,  Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Kenner, Jack-Jack, s 
Original Release Date: June 15th, 2018

Few Pixar, and even overall Disney animated films, are held to the same respect as The Incredibles.  That 2004 tale of superheroes and espionage stood apart from its CGI animated peers for its excellence as well as managing to balance humor, heart, and some of the most serious themes yet or since seen in “children’s” animation.  There’s been several many Pixar sequels since then, to varying success, but at last after 14 years Incredibles 2 is here. It’s a delight to say that it’s well worth the wait.
     The special feeling the original had is helped by the fact that the movie takes place more or less right after where the last thing picked up. An exciting opening sequence shows the teased showdown between the titular superhero family of strong Bob Parr / Mr.Incredible (Craig T Nelson), his malleable stretch-wielding wife Helen / Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and kids invisible energy-blasting Violet(Sarah Vowell), hyperspeed Dash(Huck Milner, recast due to how much time has passed), and apparently bystanding baby Jack-Jack versus the evil mole-like supervillian Underminer(John Ratzenberger). Immediately the (even more improved to modern standards) slick visuals and action is present. There’s destruction and punching acrobatics, as the first, that would hold up against the best of the superhero genre today. 
    Of course, the situation doesn’t end there and ultimately through a pretty solid (if slightly inferior to the first and derivative of others) plot the family finds themselves both dealing with themselves and faces old and new.  This divides the movie into essentially two disparate plot lines.  The old cast is perfect at what they do (including the return of Lucius Best / Frozone (Samuel L Jackson) who appears in similar side-spots as last time around) but the new elements bring some benefit. 
On one hand, there’s the quest of an even more increased role for Elastigirl as she meets the superhero advocate business moguls of the Deavor siblings in Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) as they find a plot by the Screenslaver(Bill Wise) unfold.  The quality of the voice cast continues with these. Odenkirk’s Winston brings his trademark charisma into an animated realm with a bit of child-at-heart-superfan optimism Agent Coulson of the MCU would be proud of. She’s contrasted nicely with Keener’s Evelyn who is a laidback character of a bit of a new type to Pixar.  Of course the Screenslaver’s role has to be seen firsthand, but leads to some actually kind of chilling and scary sequences with his mind-control devices and serious radical ideologies (remember we’re still talking about a Disney film). 
Some cast fades to the side, mainly the new heroes who Elastigirl meets in portal-using Voyd (Sophia Bush), gravity crushing Krushauer(Phil LaMarr), eldery lava vomiting Reflux (Paul Eiding), an owl-man, a strong one etc who boil down to tropes and add to the worldbuilding that the first had but just act as mainly pieces within set-pieces. There’s not enough Underminer either but it seems there never was meant to be.  Government agent Rick Dicker brings the classic “government agent” angle in his new performer Jonathan Banks but too is a bit.
    Because this is a series, as many Pixar, about family and that succeeds in its funniness and drama. The other side of the film coin, ironic enough, is while Elastigirl goes on more of an adventure, Mr.Incredible has to face the large challenge of being a stay-at-home dad. This leads to some great laughs and the occasional charming motion as he deals with Dash’s math(unfortauntely some of his only memorable moments from him in the film ) and Violet’s boy problems etc. Most of all, he’s dealing with Jack-Jack.  Jack-Jack is an absolute standout in this film. Only seen before in a deleted scene / short film, the main thing here is his superheroic powers are active and known about. This leads to some of the best stuff, both at home and (to be seen firsthand, abroad) as he uses powers such as eye beams, fire, transformation, teleporting, and more. It’s a great combination that makes him both awesomely useful and humorous. Just wait till the family starts visiting old friend Edna Mode (Brad Bird) again.. She may have some wonderful new fashion and otherwise ideas.
The master touch of creator and director Brad Bird can be felt again. The different plots end up converging in an exciting way. Before, during, and after the action is snappy and fast-paced with ways that raise the spectacle more than ever.   This is helped by the brilliant soundtrack by Michael Giacchino again with all of its retro/ spy influence. With the jams, the retro-stylized aesthetic, and more it transports viewers into such a distinct, memorable and long-missed world.
    That’s the thing.. There’s really no complaints about the movie other than that it’s been mostly done before.  More of the same is what was wanted, and what works. This is while managing to raise itself to new visual and excitement spectacles with some slight boost to depth and nuance. Who knows where things will go from here, but this is what was wanted.. some of Pixar’s best as ever. 9 out of 10

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Director: Ron Howard, mostly
 Cast Headliners: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke,  Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Chewbacca
Original Release Date: May 25th, 2018

  Another wait, another 5 and some days months and another Star Wars film is here already. Can the world handle it this quickly, can we still be stunned and excited.. and is there justification to know everything abut Han Solo's past in a film. Well, the answer is... mostly. Solo: A Star Wars Story marks Disney's second attempt at a non-”Skywalker Saga” film with something slightly lower stakes than ever. It's a different kind of feel and attempt on Star Wars while still sticking to a lot of families for better or worse.  But as with the smuggler, there's a lot of fun to be had.
Timeline wise, this film lies even earlier than Rogue One did but also after the Revenge Of The Sith in an lore era that Disney seems invested in more than any other which makes it about 13-10 years before Episode 4. After some kind of fusion of the main film's title crawl and R1's lack of one, the movie jumps (perhaps just  a bit too vaguely) into the life of a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich). On the famous lore but slummy construction yard city planet Corellia he steals cars for an alien gang along his first love Qi'Ra (Emilia Clarke).  Events transpire that send him on a galactic journey as he deals with the criminal underworld of  gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and his rivals, the Empire, and meeting the likes of faces to audiences familiar (like Chewbacca(Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian(Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover)) along unfamiliar like Tobias Beckett( Woody Harrelson), Val(Thandie Newton), Rio(Jon Favreau), and L3(Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
It's a cast that ends up having a heart as tight-knit as any other famous crew to ride the Millenium Falcon and others, after that vehicle's inaugural and clean-looking voyage. Now sincehe movie is about Han an incredibly important question is how good is his younger replacement and what is his arc like. He's far from a Harrison Ford, but Alden E tries his best. He only vaguely looks like him (we can hope 10 more years in the Stars changed his face somehow) and his voice drifts between being nothing at all like Ford to an admirable impression attempt. However, there are times where he captures just a fraction of the right kind of charisma. It may make sense that he's a bit of a incompetent person and broken as he's this youth thrust into the world like some of his other peers in the franchise. This allows for moments both touching... and foolish. Stripping away the fact that he's Han Solo (one will see the, perhaps silly,  importance of his last name) he'd be an alright lead in anything else. But when comparing to a character so iconic, he certainly falls just a bit short. 
It's good that (some) of the cast around him make up for this. Particularly, in his classic friendships with Chewbacca and Lando who are each great for different reasons. Joonas S' time as Chewie has been firmly put in place, as the younger agile actor moves all over the place as the walking furbag to great action and smiles. His introduction , his bickering and bonds with Han are swiftly and gladly put in place just like the old times and its neat to see them first get to know each other. This is honestly some of the best awesome and humorous Chewie moments of all the films. Likewise, Glover's Lando has some uneasy connections to Han once he shows up(deep timewise into the film at that). Glover gives a fantastic impression as Billy Dee Williams, looking and even moreso dressing the stylish part dripping with swagger. He's not perfect as he lacks some punch in moments, but he his slightly cheese of hamming it up leads to some great humor and memorable moments.
The entirely new allies  and foes are.. a mixed bag. Harrelson's Beckett is arguably one of the most important characters of the film to Han. He's... decent at Woody just being typical Woody but that's rarely a bad thing. He's got some wise words, quips  and is fearsome in battle but ultimately his importance both to Han and the film is just to a middling extent. Clarke's Emilia is in similar turf luckily offering some more of her charming side than what the rest of Hollywood has attempted to user her for. It's most likely due to a kind of rocky script for this whether humorous or romantic...not the Star Wars best.  Newton's Val and Favreau's monkey alien Rio have some laughs and heroic moments but aren't around enough for much impact.  It doesn't help that there's all kinds of (admittedly cool looking ) aliens and criminals that do the same. Lastly in the most center,  Waller-Bridge's L3 brings some of the most humorous lines as well , a sort of radical droid-pride unhinged character (and the most prominent female droid to date).  She has some of the most memorable jokes yet also some of the most awkward ones and may not land with every viewer.  I also must be noted that this “sassy AI “ stereotype has been done before both in R1's K2 and the game's HK not to mention Bender from Futurama. While it can be enjoyable (and she has some slight dramatic stuff to share with her owner Lando) it's familiar turf.
The villianous roles tie to the arguably scatter brained, shenanginsy nature of the plot. Its hard to call anyone a strong central antagonist (if this is to be compared to R1 as well, perhaps a pattern of a weaker point when compared to the legends old like Vader and newer like Kylo Ren). Bettany's Dryden  is.... there. He has some threats, some suave quips and has a uniquely fancy side to him that wouldn't feel out of place in a James Bond film (although, once again seen even as recently as Episode 8's Canto Bight.. the patterns start to become more clear as the frequency goes on). He actually doesn't appear that often or in too central of scenes, perhaps a victim of reshoots.  But it's more of a film about the beats along the way then the story itself. Trailers have also hinted at surprises including the heavily armored warrior Enfys Nest and their gang. This character and some others mainly act as additives to the action but have some alright greater meanings.  It's also neat to see the Empire in just a tertiary role with the stakes being more personal than galaxy saving.
On direction and reshoots, that must be noted. After controversy Ron Howard ended up being the one to do most of the directorial work on this film and cross the finish line after the Christopher Lord and Phil Miller duo departed. Luckily, this does not feel like a film of clashing visual ideologies. It feels like, aside from being very typical Star Wars (as it's hard not to be), general Howard..... basic but effective.  There are some crisp practical effects and close shot along with some nice vistas and CGI effects amidst the various alien worlds (if high in quantity, a bit low in imagination with some very big exceptions). 
This is a movie that becomes more about the action than the characters or started. A film in broad strokes more than much other Star Wars. There's great battles and thrilling sequences, from train heists in snowy mountains to war torn Empire frontlines. Even some “sabacc” card games offer unique excitement.  The film manages to be both smaller than ever and also some of the biggest spectacle to date.  And of course the “Kessel Run” is every bit as exciting of a space sequence as any.  The music by John Powell is , like his peers in other Star Wars works who aren't the legend, just an attempt at repeating the style John Williams has done but nothing non-commendable. There's some extra good sound editing and vocal filters than ever.
To a layman, this is bit of a more simple and standalone Star Wars film. To a fan however, its neat to see how many references and lore appear here. It's not just in ways that are logical (and smartly not in non-logical ways as has happened in some of the other Disney works) but in subtle things. The planets and occasions have been mentioned, but keep an ear out for names and such that will excite how things are so connected.  There's sequel hints that may mean this is not the end of the “Solo” era, with some more exciting than others.
As a whole, Solo is mostly well worth it. There's always the question of why it needed to exist since Harrison Ford gave the character such a cinematic career. However, the swagger related to what Han is and the formative unseen parts of his life give a seed that more things can be worked off of. Here this is to some great and also more mundane things, but it is interesting and fun. Don't expect a new favorite or something crazy cooly fresh but the Star Wars itch is scratched. Now , the long wait ahead to the next isn't minded..and may the edges be pushed to more than less success as well. 7.95 out of 10

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 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