Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Hateful Eight Review

The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast Headliners : Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh , Walton Goggins
Original Release Date : December 25th/slow wide rollout in weeks ahead 2015

(Briefer since done from relatives on mobile )

 Quentin Tarantino is the kind of director who's style is distinct in everything he does. One can expect plentiful cusses, interesting characters, intricate plots and so on. 2012's Django Unchained showed his first foray into the Western genre worked quite amazingly with his talents. His second Western , The Hateful Eight , uses most of them well but a bit different yet still incredibly enjoyable take is used than that heroic tale or his past grit being somewhere in the middle.

  The film takes place in post-Civil War, deep winter , wilderness Wyoming as Major Marquis Warren ( Samuel L Jackson ) has some bounties to take to town and he runs into fellow bounty hunter John Ruth ( Kurt  Russell ) with his highly valued captive Daisy Domergue ( Jennifer Jason Leigh ) and company. Events transpire which leaves them stranded together with the titular "hateful " strangers in a blizzard who include gentlemenly Brit Oswaldo ( Tim Roth ), former Confederate general Smithers ( Bruce Dern ), Bob from Mexico (Demian Bichir), and soon to be sheriff Cliff Mannix ( Walton Goggins ) amongst others.
    Every single one of the characters in this piece are both incredible perfroamances by their actors as well as fascinating characters .  Jackson and Russell especially are in their finest charismatic form , and have some great scenes. Leigh's Daisy also brings a cool angle to the film as a sort of villian. One can't wait to see these different eccentric characters interact , and oh they certainly do.  Channing Tatum is also great in a role that has to be seen first hand.

   the  film uses one  sole primary setting but Tarantino makes things interesting. Beautiful shots are used inside and out and the world feels so real which makes it more played straight then the anachronistic parts of Django.   This is stretched at times when shots are used for awhile...
   One could see merit in the long drawn out approach Tarantino takes , but that doesn't hide its a lonnnnnng film running almost three hours. Not all of it is needed , but if one has the time to spare its worth it to see the great slow burn dark mystery of a plot unfold.  there's some, emphasis on that, bloody  action hiding deep within too.
  It's big and long and stuffed with plot twists but it shows a different spin from Tarantino on a Western. In the end it's worth it to see these acting legends do their thing and expectations to be surprised. 9.05 out of 10

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Films/Video Games of 2015

Here it is, the end of this crazy big year. Not just for personal life, but for media as well.  Without further ado, here are my FAVORITES of the year moreso than objective quality.

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2015:

#1: Star Wars (Episode VII): The Force Awakens, for being a dream come true both in the fact that it happens and in quality following on the end of the legends before
it bravo JJ and every part of it.

#2: Mad Max: Fury Road, for being SHINY AND CHROME yet really in its intense atmosphere and beautiful visuals and plentiful action, performances simply woah.

#3: Avengers (2): Age of Ultron, for somehow being just as crazy and cool as the groundbreaking first and just about upping the notch for scale if not more of the
cool superhero same

#4 : The Hateful Eight, for it's interesting characters and dense mysterious Tarantino plot and shiny Western style if long but worth it for the resolution.

#5: (Fast and the) Furious 7, for having insane action, plentiful laughs, and mainly from the epic amount of intentional cheese as well as feels for Paul Walker
handeld well wit this ensemble cast.

#6: Inside Out, for being Pixar's best original idea in years and offering their best laughs and emotion and artistic beauty as those legends.

#7: The Martian, for being funny, realistic, intense, and a happily inspiration space Damon adventure.

     (I would put the excellent animated Song of the Sea but its year status is shaky so) #8: Kingsmen: The Secret Service, for its crazy action and laughs in bound
while also being thoroughly unique fun ride dat SLJ villian.

#9: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, for offering a emotional , intense action packed finale for the series making up for some flaws on the way with a powerful
set of showdowns.

#10: Ex-Machina, for chilling cinematic shots and thrilling dialogue with powerful performances and big ideas.

Honorables with a word:
#11: Ant-man (funny !)
#12:Spectre (Waltz!)
       (Would do  powerful Selma but shaky year release status) #12: Jurassic World (Dinos!)
       #13: Southpaw( boxing!)
       #14: Crimson Peak (ghosts!)
       #15: Tommorowland(imagination!)


#1 and GOTY:  Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, for offering an incredibly dense and lengthy set of missions and things to do, with a story that is at
times sparse but when powerful its so powerful, yet mainly wins this for offering the most dynamic stealth gameplay of the series if not ever and a pinnacle achievement
of Hideo Kojima before their closure under konami as it breathes excellence, beauty, and craft.

#2: Fallout 4, for finally happening and bringing a massive world with it that belongs right up there with the legendary Fo3 if not in newness but wonderful
exploration times and detailed crafting, fun combat, for endless stories in the wasteland.

#3: Splatoon, because offering the chance to be a squid now or a kid now with unique colorful visuals and innovative multiplayer shooting gameplay with a great
campaign/boss battles on the side making it Nintendo's freshest game in years.

#4:The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, because of dat writing and sidequest complexity as well as a beautiful massive world larger than any others on this list as well
as immensely fun intricate hardcore combat in a long epic saga of a story.

#5: Super Mario Maker, by making 2d game design fun and casual with the legendary brand as well as some fresh ideas that come from its remix nature; endless levels
online literally infinite fun crazy replay value.

(Would put Majora's Mask 3D here for being an amazing game with nice remake and features, but remakes dont count imo so actually).....................
............ #6: Star Wars Battlefront (EA), for bringing back most of the fun aspects of the gameplay core of the past ones in this series but most of all
for having some of the best visuals ever and capturing that Star Wars feel with some sweet mp maps and modes that will get even cooler in time.

#7: Yoshi's Wooly World, for its excellent  charming visuals, music, level design, and simple smooth platforming gameplay that perhaps even surpasses Epic Yarn
and some of the past in the series.

#8: Batman: Arkham Knight, for having more of the same excellent  sneaking and combat, beautiful visuals, and a epic story/characters if not brought down by
 a little bit too much of the alright but not the best batmobile as well simply not being as excellent as its past games in the series if not still really cool.

#9: Undertale, for having amazingly amazing music and unique time based combat in a otherwise funny interesting Earthbound style RPG and thats something it
well earns being compared to.

#10: Halo 5:Guardians, intense shooting gameplay and some sweet levels if not the best plot but certainly awesome multiplayer with the cool warzone and crazy

Honorables with a word:
#11: Guitar Hero Live (live play!)
#12: Bloodborne (atmosphere!)
#13: Call of Duty: Black Ops III (content!)
#14: Mad Max (cars!)
#15: Pillars of Eternity (classic!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars (Episode VII): The Force Awakens

Director: JJ Abrams
Cast Headliners: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyongo,  MANY  many many others
Original Release Date : December 18th, 2015

(whew 100th post! and so crazy to be finally doing this review wow, dreams!)

TO START WOW; disclosure in that the Star Wars franchise , from films to animation to novels to merchandise to video games and more aka all of this amazing universe is my favorite media anything in my life ever.  George Lucas' legendary creation changed the world but it also influenced my life immensely as well offering impactful lessons, adventurous action, and sparked my imagination from the highest height of excellence  to the lowest of  holiday wookiee specials.... I take it all. So of course I would have taken anything that came out of Disney's acquisition of the godly IP. Even more of a dream besides the franchise being thriving once again is that Star Wars: (Episode 7) The Force Awakens is FINALLLLLLLY delivering the tale of what happens after the end of the 1980s' Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Dedicated fans knew the prequels were one promise but that Lucas promised we were seeing a 9 (or perhaps 12 as he mentioned in a small comment decades back, though “trilogy” implies one thing)  film saga. So it was an amazing shock this is here, but also its like that gift I and the fandom were promised a long time ago. It's a dream that THE saga is back and I can so happily says it overall delivers on belonging amongst the best.
The film picks up, just as real life, around 30 years after the end of Episode 6 and Luke, Han, Leia and crew defeated the Empire's second Death Star.  It's immediately revealed in the opening crawl that Luke has gone missing and both the First Order(formerly the Empire ) and Resistance (formerly the Rebels) to search for him. As always its a tale that must be seen first hand but what it is effective on is providing a sucessor to the end of the original trilogy. It answers a lot of questions, but it keeps large swathes of what happened in between the trilogies vague and perhaps thats a good thing as this is just the start of a era and Star Wars has always been best when piquing our interest for more with hints to a bigger world. It certainly does that without leaving the audience's feeling entirely lost. It is effective as both a sequel and new beginning and that's Disney's most impressive accomplishment.   While it's literally integral to the plot, I wish we'd seen more of Mark Hammil's Luke but well that ties into its marketing and other great themes as well...... all part of the “legends” angle that's in the film.
There's so many things to discuss so there's no better way than to just dive into it.  First are the new younger characters to the franchise introduced here.   The main heroes come in Rey (Daisy Ridley) a desert scavenger on Tatooine-but-more-surreal ( in a post-apocalpytic way carried throughout the film as wreckage of past battle dots it)Jakku and Finn an ex-stormtrooper of the First Order.  Rey, much to a delightful surprise, is actually the film's lead protagonist. Ridley showcases an wonderful talent from naivity of the past Anakin/Luke to dramatic emotion to humor to combat skill.  Equal remarks can be said of John Boyega as Finn, who brings a aspect to the franchise we've never seen in the core films with dealing with  his changing  of factions.  Each brings a energetic fresh set of interesting personalities when theyre alone, but together they have great  exciting chemistry for the ruckus that occurs.  Both grow ever more enjoyable as the film progresses and I cant wait to see more of them as they are worthy of joining the best. There's also the adorable and perhaps even moreso cooler-than-R2  droid BB-8, viley evil General Hux(Domnhall Gleeson) who has dynamic interactions with his peers nuanced Kylo( who I'll get to shortly), mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (a mocapped Andy Serkis), and the cold but ultimately more minor than expected yet still cool and in a way integral Captain Phasma(Game of Throne fame Gwendoline Christie).  Word is that she'll get an expanded role in the sequel, along with hopefully equally solid if sparesely seen Resistance pilot Poe Dameron ( a great Oscar Isaac) and wise Maz Kanata( a mocapped Lupita Nyongo) amongst others. 

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has within the span of these couple hours cemented himself as an incredible actor and villian as well. While he looks like a  helmeted dark menace Vader, and he very much is, he brings a nuance that evokes what someone like Anakin in the prequels didnt have due to his talent, occasional failure , rage, and overwhleming force of  unique personality. This is raised tenfold as the movie goes on, but just know youll love every minute of him whether one's scared or other reactions. And of course there's his tri-lightsaber seeing some action. A fitting young edgy adversary for the new generation. It's an impressive cast and I admit I'd totally have loved the movie even if it was just all these newcomers. But it's more than that. 

      That's because this film is both a new start and a legacy to the past.   It certainly feels fresh with its wonderful visuals and directorial style trademark of JJ Abrams, but more expertly is the overall tone of THE best of the old ones.    Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca(Peter Mayhew) end up finding their way into the plot and its not a spoiler to say they are kings of the show for coolness and humor.  For perhaps decades Harrison Ford has seemed like he's bored and grumpy in any roles he's taken but here he's simply, amazing. It's like Return of the Jedi and the other OT were made yesterday for his enthusiasm and passion, and as a fan that makes this so perfect from a Han angle.   Besides being the Han we remember, the movie contains more of that fun swashbuckling vibe that was slightly missing from the prequels.  The humor, some of the best ever, is delivered by veteran and newcomer alike and it is just witty and feels natural like the classics.  There's also a bunch of references to old lines and happenings, important and for comedy, but it just works.   C3PO (Anthony Daniels) adds to this, Leia( Carrie Fisher) adds to this, R2, and so on making it have  a classic  very Star Wars core and overall well done one at that.    
Besides characters' personality and humor from the old one this comes into the film itself too. Action brings the visceralness of the Millenium Falcon , X-wings, TIE fighters and so on but aided by Abrams visual touch.   Planets are perhaps less varied than the prequels but invoke some beautiful shots (See in IMAX!).   Music is done by John Williams, leaning more torwards ambient than iconic with the new stuff but some old themes are used well and however there's some golden moments buried in the new competent material.  Physical proprs and locations are used making it very much like it was actually made like a 70s/80s film too and it shines in  the trademark wacky aliens, creatures, and hints to a larger world (vague just as the early Star Wars were as well, up to one's interpretation if thats good or not but I enjoy that they can go from BB-8's great reactions to including staple OT moments like “ have you heard of the Trillian Massacre?”.  The movie's star wars magic levels are high on the charts.  This also ties into the cool meta angle that the main heroes and villians have when it comes to the plot and viewing the past, but that's a story for another day for fans to dissect for years and its sparked by it being presented so well. 

     While JJ and crew have overall taken what was great about the originals and brewed up a pretty crazy cool followup, it of course is true that not all of it is entirely new. The elements which seem familiar are so because they're drawn from a greatest hit of homages to the franchise. Most of the scoop in this Star Wars sundae comes specifically from Episode4, with their being a desert planet opening, a important droid,  wacky cantina to visit with Han Solo and Chewie, and climatic battle against a big First Order/enemy base. There's also moments of Episode5 (Twists, darkness, a snow planet), 6 (a hologram emperor and a bridge), and even some of the prequels (Prophecy talk and well ...Kylo's Renning).  But while this holds it back from being a true legend as it draws from so much of the actual milestones in film history, that's not a bad thing as its using the best of those materials while still bringing in some fresh stuff hidden within for a new adventure.  I think that's JJ Abram's greatest life accomplishment in this balancing of old and new, and Id say this has been my favorite film and his best for that reason.  Before he was trying to be Star Wars in his Star Treks, here he actually did it to amazing effect. Though I will welcome someone for future entries to take it off the rails from the homages perhaps now that we have all this out of the way. 

           The Episode VII we all hoped for could have been anything, especially if George Lucas would have had a more heavy hand on it oh boy, so I am of course very happy and glad for Disney/Abrams and co taking it on. No it's not too family friendly, no it's not too much like the Marvel cinematic universe since its Star Wars through and through in every way.  It brings the legendary aspects back and creates some fresh possibilities. While its familiar in many ways thats an incredibly fine thing to me and many Id say. As Han says, “We're home.”  And now that the dots are connected from old to new, it's even more exciting for where the franchise can go that it lives again.  Almost a new legend in itself, but as always the way it should be and as Lucas said “poetry.” 9.76 out of 10   

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Video Game Review : Metal Gear Solid 5 : The Phantom Pain

(Something new , once in a while )

Metal Gear Solid 5( - 2) : The Phantom Pain :  Well that was a whole lot of stuff. Both in that the game is really really long, longest one in the series and surprising for a game like this. But also in that alot is going on in it. Where do I even begin..... Just with all of it! What shines the brightest is the core stealth gameplay. Mgs is always about using one's own approach in big areas with cool gadgets, and well the open world design was the next logical step and leads to some crazy things. Sneak in, guns blazing, helicopter assault, use comrades..... the same scenario can go zillions of ways which was so fresh. The open world takes a little bit of red dead redemption and a little bit of far cry into it with its outposts and so on, with crafting components galore which meant there was always something to do. That's a good thing though since while there was some exceptions, the same formula of sandbox play is in nearly every mission and gets slightly old after dozens and dozens of hours . but by that point the amazing has been felt .This is certainly a   kojima game, and it shines in its superbly beautiful visuals , music choices, and cinematics. But maybe it became a little too much game instead of cinema influenced game like the past , since there's so few actual cutscenes. much of the juicy stuff of lore is saved for hours of audio logs, I wish some were integrated into the main action.   but the characters are all so good personality and voice actors wise , and even Kiefer does a good replacement as Big Boss, it just fits.  However if one is stubborn to change it feels like bits of classic mgs are between these huge empty stretches , but a kojima fan should know to expect experiments
The core storyline is great as a self contained story  and side ops fine within reason .  But as for the game we were promised, the fall of big boss....welll one has to play to see but things get messy here and there, with some cut stories and other bizzare choices (though it is cool to see the Ocelot/Miller dynamic, some of the best of those mentioned great voice actors ).  This is especially messy in chapter 2 with its wonky mix of challenge levels and actual great story bits which I wish were in the first part. Also there's grinding which just doesn't belong at this point.  but those good moments are worth it , it can be thought of as "bonus round " .    The other thing that got tiresome was boss fights, for a franchise which has had some of the best of all time its disappointing there's so few and so few good ones. 

The mother base system is also great once one gets a hang of it, blowing away peace walkers and making everything count. 

Oh also if all of this huge worlds and missions and secrets and bases and customizing and story wasn't enough. There's the newer patched in versus mp. The same fun gameplay but limited in maps and modes, and with barely any players it seems. But just another side dish to an meaty main course.

It's hard to say if this is the best mgs game, because of all the new things and presentation change. But if kojima never comes back, he went out with a bang and overall contender fsho for goty 2015 to me. A wild ride it was Big Boss , may the diamond dogs live on forever. 9.45 out of 10

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast Headliners: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, many many others
Original Release Date : November 20th, 2015  

It's hard to believe that the Hunger Games franchise has come to its end since it seems like it just started. In some ways its as if each installment has been part of one really long epic experience, and this is even truer with this film. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the end of the road of Katniss' journey, and some great things lie in wait. It manages to end with a bang and a intentional whimper, with everything in between on the way there.

The original novel upon which this was based was quite lengthy and filled with happenings which caused the film version to happen as two parts. The first part was decent but filled with far too much dialogue and slow burn buildup since in the novel it was intended that way and director Francis Lawrence went for a mostly straight adaptation. However, luckily, with every buildup there most usually come a release of tension and that unfolds here as tons of brilliant, intense action and climaxes. Numerous dangers both physical and emotional await our heroes on their ride to the end. Perhaps a point that makes this film have a less stand alone quality since it ties so heavily into the past few and especially the last one for it begins very much in media res.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) begins the film barely recovering from meeting the apparently changed Peeta(Josh Hutcherson) after he has been rescued from the Capitol's clutches. The movie hangs for a bit but not too long within the safety of District 13 but then moves to the final battlefields of the revolution against the vile President Snow(Donald Sutherland)'s government.

Katniss isn't in her quest the battle reaches the final enemy strongholds and cities and she's joined by sometimes lover, oftentimes friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), flamboyant fellow victor Finnick (Sam Claflin), their military squad leader Boggs (Mahershala Ali), filmmaker Cressida (Natalie Dormer), and several more. The film has an extremely large cast beyond this and overall, as there's Katniss' home support team of Haymitch(Woody Harrelson, ever humorous), Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final ever film, and he ends it in style with a CGI version of him or two and a meta-tribute at one point), President Coin(Julianne Moore), Johanna (Jena Malone), and so many more. It can be confidently said that every character in this grand tapestry, heroic to villianous, big to small, is great in their performance. Though a couple get lost in the movement of things, the cast each get their moment to have something to say one more time.
Above all others, both in the world's lore and in it as a experience to audiences, is the impact Jennifer Lawrence has as Katniss. Lawrence, an Academy Award winner, is simply one of the best actresses around in the industry today and its so good to see that her last turn on the franchise is a good one. She brings emotion, inspiration, and badassness in every situation that arises. Of particular note are her interactions with Peeta and Gale and her attitude to the mega villain President Snow. Even with no others around she brings an craft that earns both her character and herself the moniker “the girl on fire”, as she burns up the screen with her heroic talent. Katniss will go into Hollywood history as one of the great heroines of all time.
There's more than just final dialogue and drama to go through in the film of course, which is what alleviates the problem that was faced in part 1 (though be prepared for for possible tears as the franchise reaches new peaks of sadness and darkness). The film has several incredible action sequenes as the battle to sieze the Capital occurs. Just as the book describes (The film is nearly a flawless translation), the city itself becomes an arena like the titular Hunger Games were. Danger looks at every turn from flamethrowers, soldier ambushes, and traps that have to be seen firsthand which gives the movie a constant thrill which rivals the best of what was seen in actual arenas of the first two installments. But here it is made even more intense in that Katniss is so close to the doorstep of the one who's pulling all the strings. Kudos to the other Lawrence on this project in his directorial expertise which mixes beauty and lethalness whatever the situation may be.

There's a lot to digest in this film and a lot to wrap up. But nearly every moment is worth it and the core thins come through, from seeing old friends to explosive final battles to exploring deep themes on the meanings of war and power. This film is the result of what the meanings of the franchise is all about, and Katniss , and Jennifer Lawrence and co, compete in this “final game” with incredible style. The series has had its ups and downs but it finishes just about as well as any epic saga does. When it was good, things got great. Rue would be proud. 8.8 out of 10

The Night Before Review

The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast Headliners: Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie
Original Release Date : November 20th, 2015

  The Night Before has a fairly simple premise. After his parent's death on the holiday, a New York City guy named Ethan (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) spends every subsequent holiday getting into some extreme ruckus with his friends Isaac(Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie). This sounds like the premise to any typical Christmas comedy, but this is actually the latest in a series of collaborations between Seth Rogen and his friend and producing partner Evan Goldberg so much like their works like This is The End and The Interview one can expect an emphasis on the word “extreme.”
The film picks up years later with Isaac expecting a baby with his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) and Chris becoming a mega NFL star. Ethan's not really gone anywhere aside still having a big crush on his ex Diana (Lizzy Caplan). This was all seen in the trailers, which is a big detraction of the film. The core plot and most of the film's jokes were seen in some amount in the several trailers released in the promotional campaign. That's not to say all the surprises and gag are ruined however, such as a couple other actors that have to be seen and some wacky happenings. The surprise that can be talked about is that the movie actually has a , albeit dumb, main McGuffin for the crew to get to the “Nutcracker Ball” as this is to be the trio's last one together as their lives change.
That story exists mainly as a thread to tie together some gags of course, but it has its good moments as mentioned. Everyone has their moment to drop a funny line or get into a strange situation, with particularly Rogen offering his usual stupid (and narcotic assisted) shenangins that will cause some chuckles to be had. It's also nice to see Anthony Mackie be in more straight up comedy after his turns in the more actiony Marvel films and dramatic roles he's been in of late as he has a knack for making one laugh. JGL's Ethan is pretty good but acts more as a bystander of events around him than a comedic standout. There's also bit roles of people like Michael Shannon of Mr.Green and Mindy Kaling's Sarah ,but their roles are ones that have to be enjoyed as they unfold.

The film is largely shown by the trailers and falls largely into the Rogen-lewd/drug-influenced/extreme shenangins style, but there's a spot or two of serious emotion speckled in and a large dollop of holiday shtick. But this movie mostly sets out to the typical bar it aims for, and offers a lot of laughs and even more silliness for better or worse along the way. 7.7 out of 10

Monday, November 9, 2015

Spectre Review

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast Headliners: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz, Lea Sydoux
Original Release Date : November 6th, 2015

  The time has come for another James Bond film. And while Spectre delivers the staples of a new entry, it also brings in some cool connections as well. This is the fourth incarnation of Craig, and the second by director Sam Mendes so coming off the excellent Skyfall hopes were high. It lives up to a good amount but not all of those hopes but is overall pretty recommendable. But who can hate a Bond film, Quantum of Solace aside....
The movie picks up with a amazingly cool looking sequence in Mexico during a Day of the Dead festival. James Bond (Daniel Craig)'s world has been shaken up after the events of the last film and he's on a mission to track evil to its source. Scenes like this , with its colorful locale and skeleton costumes, really showcase Mendes' skills from a cinematic aspect. There's some greatly shot pieces from a visual aspect, whether its the pop of the unique scenery, sweeping vistas, crazy car chases, or following people through facilities. His touch has definitely been evident and one would hope he can return again. The one who also brings back good form is Craig with his ever great balance of charisma and coolness. Q (Ben Whishaw), Ms.Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), and the new M (Ralph Fiennes) also bring back their great supporting presence and actually get to be a bit more in on the action this time.
On that action specifically there are some quality things. Sequences like the finale and various encounters with Hinx (Dave Bautista who is all too undeveloped) are intense and exciting. Action makes sense and is visceral (with a couple exaggerated moments up to variable enjoyment depending on how crazy one likes to see their Bond films get) but that's when it happens.

A problem with the film is its pacing . A bit too long is spent in some sequences that could have been spent in others. While everything makes sense there is just some meandering moments in parts of the plot and repeated themes both from within the film and from Skyfall.
However once the plot gets going to its best beats its great. This comes from meeting characters like new head of British Intelligence C (Andrew Scott) who is shaking up Bond's organization, main “Bond girl” Dr.Swann (a great Lea Seydoux), and of course from the villian in Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Waltz, and his character's syndicate SPECTRE (brought from classic franchise films) are presented wonderfully. Their evil operation and objectives leads to some great scenes and really ties into all of the Craig films in some cool ways. And as for the man himself, his performances are so good. His villain is deliciously, diabolically evil. The problem is that there's not enough of him. Due to various circumstances, he gets sidelined to happenings. Between this and the sparse action the film does not use enough of its strong suits.

But though those good moments make up for any plodding. They keep one going through the film which arguably nearly matches the best of the franchise but falls short through little innovation. That doesn't mean its not a overall entertaining showdown, and perhaps says that sometimes all that a good James Bond film needs is just another adventure done mostly solidly. 8.3 out of 10

Friday, October 30, 2015

Crimson Peak Review

Crimson Peak
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast Headliners: Mia Waskiowaska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain
Original Release Date : October 16th, 2015
Seen: October 2014 (Test Cut)

(Note: I saw this in a test audience screening in October 2014 where I had the honor of meeting Mr.Guillermo himself so this review reflects the state of the film at that time. However, from what I have heard the changes came to visual fidelity of the VFX and minor cuts so this review should stay valid.)  
Ghost stories are often a dime a dozen. There’s a house, there’s some unknowing residents who get spooked, and there’s the audience who gets spooked by that spooking. But they often fall into a similar pattern. Enter Guillermo Del Toro who brings his magic touch with him. Crimson Peak isn’t just a ghost story as much as it is also a period piece but also something a bit more.
The period element to this film comes in that it takes place primarily in 1901 in some elegant place in the United States. Edith Cushing (Mia Waskiowska) soon becomes swooned by the mysterious businessman Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and in time they move to his old family home in England with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).  It’s no surprise that things don’t exactly stay at this level of romance and the film isn’t just mere mystery. But it’s an interesting premise which makes it every bit as gothic romance as it is a horror film.

            While it’s theme is unique, its heroine is not so much. Edith’s responses to the mystery and drama make sense for the character but as a performance she is lackluster. Luckily there’s stellar performances by both Hiddleston and Chastain as the Sharpe siblings. If one has seen some of his other characters in films they can see once again how Hiddleston can be so charismatic in unique way. Chastain is a bit out of character but great in what she does.   There’s also solid if slightly sparse appearances by Edith’s friend Dr.Alan MicMichael (Charlie Hunnam).
            The movie has a large part of its quality within some of its characters but of course when one watches a Del Toro film the takeaway is in its spectacle.  Things are more Devil’s Backbone than Pacific Rim here however.  It’s a slow, subtle burn with moments of supernatural terror but never really jump scare. The director accomplishes this through nuanced scary sequences and a overall existential dead . This is aided by beautiful sets, quality (at the time of seeing a bit rough though) special effects on ghostly creatures, and tight camera work.   It’s definitely a Del Toro film and his craft gives it a special level of quality.
            However, for his more “traditional” horror films its solid if slightly unambitious. It’s his smallest scope in his career with the meanings behind things telegraphed a mile away where he usually keeps things more subtle.  Even the least shining Del Toro film is still solid however.
            Much like the mysteriousness of its plot and English manor hiding terrifying secrets, there’s some solid performances and moments in here if something doesn’t feel a bit off. But  a fan of the director will enjoy the experience, or of the neat overlap of horror and romance period piece fans. 8.65 out of 10

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Martian Review

The Martian
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast Headliners: Matt Damon, Chiwefel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain , Jeff Daniels
Original Release Date : October 2nd, 2015

               The Martian is in some ways Ridley Scott trying to make the least Ridley Scott science fiction film he can. Whereas Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus where dark and very fantastical this film literally shines with color and is more “hard sci-fi” with its fact. Where those films either focused on a single character or an crew but never both at once, this one mixes all manner of perspectives. He uses humor and optimism which have not often been found in his work. Its different, but this adaptation of the Andy Weir novel works very very well for many reasons. It's much more than a guy stuck on Mars.
The film introduces the Ares III mission to Mars in an undetermined point in the future consisting of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Vogel (Aksel Hennie), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan), and Martinez (Michael Pena). Its not surprise from the promotional material that their mission goes awry and Mark is left behind to survive.
In a way its as if there's two films here. Watney must make do with what he has on desolate Mars. The film is absolutely one of Matt Damon's finest pieces in his career. He makes the viewer laugh, cheer, and cry through his triumphs and failures. He manages to have all this happen with no one else around and this is a testament to both Damon and Ridley Scott. He used his directorial prowress to make us afraid in Alien and here its used to make use hope so much for Watney's well being sense he's a hero who is worth having around.
This optimistic humor is the film's big surprise. Its used as a remedy to a very scary situation. That's not to say there aren't sequences of intensity and dread but for the most part the cold void of space is filled in with snappy writing and charming humor. This is true in both sides of the film.
The other film here, besides the “Cast Away in space “ of Watney is the events happening on Earth at NASA. This includes a team of director Teddy (Jeff Daniels), Mars Mission head Vincent (Chiwetel Ejiofor), PR lead Annie (Kirsten Wiig), and many more. It's an all star cast and everyone gets a chance to shine. Whether its in snappy planning at home or seeing the rest of the Martian crew in orbit theres not a single character that feels not fleshed out. Strong writing gives a reason to like everyone as a character and strong performances are their to match.
The story is something filled with surprises as well, and the prime appeal is seeing how things unfold in both locales. This is a strong story and the science is also never too hard to understand. Perhaps one of the few slips is that sometimes large gaps of time will pass that maybe would have been interesting to see.
This is a Ridley Scott film so of course the visuals were guaranteed to be impeccable and they are as beautiful as ever. Its as if this was actually filmed on Mars with landscapes being beautiful as they are. Every prop and item in the world seems as if it is somewhere out in a lab right now. Everything is well shot and edited. With everything being so pretty its another small downstep in that some sequences, notably the end, have moments where the visuals seem to drop in quality compared to the rest of the film but for the most part its galactic goodness.

The Martian is unique sci fi . It brings a fancy visual feast for sure and some good drama. But it stands out as being remember able for its characters and humor and optimistic . For a planet so dead, its a very human film. Ridley Scott has once again showed another side of what the science fiction genre can be and while it can be said to have a simple premise it is certainly a fun ride. 8.65 out of 10

Pawn Sacrifice Review

Pawn Sacrifice 
Director:  Edward Zwick 
Cast Headliners: Tobey Macguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard
Original Release Date: September 16th, 2015

Seen: October 2015

     Who would think that a chess player could be a rockstar? Who could think that one could turn the story of chess god Bobby Fischer into a Rocky 4-esque cold war thriller? Who would think that Tobey Macguire would be in a historical drama? Well all this and more happens in Pawn Sacrifice, the story of Bobby Fisher and his key games against Russian players.
The movie is a staple biopic in that it follows Bobby Fischer (Tobey Macguire) from his young childhood and onwards. The early sequences with his Cold War involved mother Regina (Robin Weigart) are alright notwithstanding his interest in chess since the actors chosen for his younger selves are not exactly cohesive or effective. Luckily things much improve when it jumps to his critical years in the 1970s as his climb to fame happened.
Macguire gives an interesting performance as Fischer. He ranges from cool and calculating in matches to delivering paranoid delusions to his sister Joan (Lilly Rabe). While it certainly shows Fischer's descent to madness, its unfortunate that Macguire appears to over-act a bit at times and thus he's not the highlight of the film.
The supporting cast luckily makes up for him. His assistants in priest William Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) and manager Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlberg) are great in their roles and the film is at its strongest when these three interact and have standoffs as the stress mounts. Lombardy and Marshall provide a nice contrast in the different personalities, and the film feels at times to be their story as well.
But how about those Russians. Well they are for the most part shown as generic evil chess villians, but of course his opponent in the 1972 is Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). Schreiber is an a unique facet of the film in that his perspective is under-utilized and that he barely has any lines of dialogue. Perhaps it is fitting for the real man but one feels wanting to have seen more or perhaps it is a feeling of being underwhelmed instead.
The other, and perhaps tragic, underwhelming facet of Pawn Sacrifice is... the chess matches. There are many occasions where Fischer will start a match and it will skip to its conclusion. Even in pivotal ones that are shown the action isn't focused on the bored leaving a viewer confused at times unless they are paying attention. The film ends up being more about everything BUT the actual chess. What is shot nicely though are some occasional landscapes from the world tour Fischer goes on.

Pawn Sacrifice is an attempt at being a great biography that hits some good notes but falls short of that greatness. Its side characters are good, but its protagonist isn't. The world around chess can be nice to look at or intense to witness, but the matches arent. Its a decent shell with a hollow core. Much like Fischer himself. 7.65 out of 10

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F Review

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F
Special English Theatrical Dubbed Release/Seen: August 2015

Dragon Ball Z is back again… again with another new feature length movie. Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F has some references and characters from last year’s Battle of Gods but stands on its as it features the return of Frieza. Which really makes it that DBZ is not just back again but is thriving with a major happening going on. This is the ultimate evil, back in full and more powerful than ever!!   Justifiably the movie about his return and revenge does justice to the old sagas of old and feels like something creator Akira Toriyama himself dreamt up in his glory days.
All the legendary Z-fighters feature in this film. From Goku (Sean Schemmel) to Vegeta and Piccolo (Chris Sabat), Tien, Gohan, Master Roshi, and more the original cast returns again and delivers a wonderful and lively set of performances. Whether it’s in intensity or through the film dub there are many greatly written humorous moments where they bring coolness/charm.  
But of course what would this movie be without Frieza (Chris Ayres).   From the second he appears on screen he is vile and evil as ever and perhaps even more so.  Frieza comes to Earth more powerful than ever and with his complete legions in tow, and it makes the situation that much more dire for it and his menacing promises.  He always one of the legendary villains and its great to see him again in fullest despicable form.   His revenge and invasion of Earth plot (never fully seen in the anime series) gives the film a much darker slant than most in the DBZ repertoire.
The other great use of classic characters is between Goku and Vegeta. They have a lot of great jokes as they train under Lord Beerus and Whis in far space; but what the movie really has as a central theme is their rivalry and arguably their love-hate bromance.  On his own Goku is awesome and Vegeta is too, but this movie brings them together in a way that hasn’t been present in a while.      
The other Z-fighters and minor characters also get more developed screen time in a incredible sequence which, without giving too much away, involves massive scales of action as Frieza invades. These are also some of the movie’s best parts.  Of note here is newcomer (to the anime at least) Jaco the Galactic Patrolman who appears in deep Dragonball lore. Even this newcomer’s action is so good it feels like he’s always been there.
The action and dark stakes are great and animated beautifully while in 2D. Weirdly however this film has brought the new addition of large uses CGI animation to the DBZ franchise. At times it is seamless and aids the action but other times its questionable. Its inclusion is one of the film’s drawbacks.   The other is that unlike Battle of the Gods this one is not so easily “pickup” to a non-fan as there is a lot of references to the Frieza saga and later ones of the anime. But if hasn’t seen those, then they likely aren’t watching this movie at all.

This movie takes the DBZ formula and brings it to cinema scale in the finest and awesome form. For a fan it’s a must see and is in the top best of the franchise, and if one somehow thought the last film was too humorous this brings a top notch deeper level of drama , character development, and action. That’s 8.9 kamehameha’s out of 10.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ant-Man Review

Director:  Peyton Reed
Cast Headliners: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Corey Stoll
Original Release Date: July 17th, 2015

It’s been a while since the Marvel cinematic universe has had a classic style origin movie. The kind of movie where an average guy gets incredible powers that the must learn to control to save the day. But these people never really end up being that simple, whether they’re a billionaire or an orphan in world war 2. Ant-Man manages to break fresh ground in a different direction for the MCU and offer a surprisingly fresh experience.
In this case the movie sets up a world where Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has created the Ant-man suit and been the hero before (shown via some surprising flashbacks. Cameos like these are some of the film’s strongest moments).  He entrusts the suit, after a series of events, to burglar Scott Lang ( Paul Rudd) whom he trains with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to foil the plans of the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).
The titular suit allows its wearer to shrink down to miniature size and communicate with ants. This leads to some exciting sequences and moments as unexpected situations are turned into explosive battlefields or acrobatics tests for Scott. The ants are given great characterization too and it will make one be amazed in ways they didn’t think possible.
While the visuals are mostly great this is one of the movies that is on the lighter side of action in the MCU. When fight scenes appear they are short but oh so sweet and once again the surprises are GREAT whether they be big or small. 
The film is actually moreso of a comedic heist. The jokes are hilarious and come from great lines by Rudd and especially from his fellow accomplice Luis (Michael Pena).  Pena’s abstract performance is definitely a highlight and it can be inferred that he’s working on material that ex-director of the flick Edgar Wright once worked on.  Peyton Reed did a fine job stepping in to finish things and the pace is mostly good though the simpler scope makes things feel like so much has happened at once.
The movie does manage to have a solid plot however ramping up from the most street-level life since Daredevil for Scott to its crazy finale.  But where one will laugh and be amazed by its wacky world in the course of the movie it cannot be said that they will remember Paul Rudd’s performance. He’s got charisma and laughs but he’s mostly just kind of “there” as a reactionary force.   The same goes for Corey Stoll as the main enemy Yellowjacket, who is moustache twirling evil from the first nanosecond he’s on screen.
Luckily, there is a great dynamic between Scott Lang and his mentors Hank  and Hope Pym.  Douglas gives a performance to outdo everyone else in the feature and has some emotional moments with his daughter.  His talent is not wasted here and he makes every scene he’s in enjoyable with his strong characterization which surpasses the main hero but perhaps that makes since for he was the original. Lilly is also great and at one point mentions that it should have been her in the armor suit and I do concur.    The rapport is best when this trio is joined by Luis and other friends of Scott for this is a movie where the best enjoyment is gotten from “hahaha” instead of “ dang awesome”.
Ant-Man manages to both be an effective slight twist on a more traditional Marvel superhero origin movie while also offering some great surprises and connections to a larger world.  It’s a palate cleanser end to their “phase two” of movie projects and its simple pure fun isn’t going to make cinematic history. Though there’s much more than meets the eye with this small hero who offers big entertainment and is worth the time to a fan of unique laughs and heists.  8.63 out of 10

Monday, July 6, 2015

Terminator: Genisys Review

Terminator: Genisys
Director:  Alan Taylor
Cast Headliners: Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger 
Original Release Date: July 1st, 2015

            Terminator Genisys is tricky.  Is it a sequel or a remake or a reboot? Well it’s a bit of everything above. It starts with the continuing fight of John Conner (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney as the protagonist who offers little in the way of screen presence or coolness) and the human armies in the post-apocalyptic world controlled by Skynet.  Events transpire to send Kyle back in time to the era of the original Terminator film.
            Large parts are spent with Kyle meeting a changed  from what he had been told to expect for the era Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke ) and her surprise friendly “Pops”  terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as they deal with threats including a younger arnie look-alike terminator and a liquid foe as well straight out of the second film (Lee Byung-Han who doesn’t do much). This is followed by a jump to a changed 2017 in this “twisted “ timeline where , much like the third film, they must stop  Skynet from being turned on.
            While it touts itself as a “whole fresh new Terminator film” it’s very much a greatest hits of tropes from the franchise. There’s some thrilling chase scenes and action moments, and an impending sense of dread. But despite its smorgasboard of features and actors it can feel messy at times.  The plot gets into some repetitive silly stuff towards the end and some action drags on. That’s not even to mention some jokes that fall flat.
            However when the action comes through it can be pretty neat (especially when the film’s subpar CGI doesn’t appear). There’s also a very great humorous performance by Arnie as Pops who manages to give this film a neat semi-satirical identity and who has the films best lines and moments. Emilia Clark is a decent replacement Sarah Connor as well although she’s by far no khaleesi with this hammy script.
            It’s messy and halfbaked and rehashing a bit too many past tropes but in a way Terminator  Genisys also feels like a attempted tribute to the franchise. It didn’t come far enough to that point unfortunately but its not without its simple enjoyment. 6.8 out of 10

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inside Out Review

Inside Out 
Director:  Pete Docter 
Cast Headliners: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Harder, Mindy Kaling , Lewis Black 
Original Release Date: June 19th, 2015

(Please excuse the brevity , doing this from the car ) 

Pixar , normally pioneers in amazing film craft , have been in a bit.of a slump of average quality sequels and cliched ideas in the past few years.  I can happily say that Inside Out is great because it once again shows the world a fresh world filled with great characters and story like they remember. Because this this time its a sort of film within a film.

       There's uniquely two plots to this film that literally influence each other .  On one level there's  young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) who finds her pleasant Minnesota life uprooted as she moves with Mom (Diane Lane ) and Dad ( Kyle Maclachlan ) to San Francisco .  She struggles with the impact of this .

       This informs the plot "inside " her mind where Joy ( Amy Poehler) , Sadness (Phyllis Smith ),  Disgust ( Mindy Kaling), Fear ( Bill Harder ), and Anger (Lewis Black ) exist as little colorful people who control the stare of her mind in a whimsical mind control room ala Star Trek.  Ruckus occurs and Joy and Sadness, nornally totally at odds with each other , have to traverse the crazy surreal lands of Rileys mind as the outside world affects them.
     There's several wonderful aspects of the film.  The writing is top notch with even minor characters giving great chuckles .  Of note is Boing Boing ( Richard Kind ) who helps the main duo on their quest.   The humor is slapstick and bizzare to match the world around them but it just all works very well.    
      The movie aesethically stands apart so much from Pixar's other works and film.worlds in general. The animation style hearkens back to Looney Tunes and UPA-films of the past than a copy and paste from their other works.  Places like " Imagination Land " and " Abstract Thought " show their creativity .  It all pops with color and life .
     But as with any great animated Pixar experience, its not just laughs and color. Its about moments of sad feelings and. a great plot, and that's here.  The story has some great twists and turns and is guaranteed to fill one with surprising amounts of somberness and excitement .    Though of course there's likely a good ending......

     With Inside Out this time they've remembered what makes their movies great. The mind shennagins may make it hard to swallow for some but its worth it for one who likes a enjoyable experience .   8.75 out of 10

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World Review

Jurassic World
Director:  Collin Trevorrow
Cast Headliners: Chris Pratt, Bryce-Dallas Howard
Original Release Date: June 12th, 2015

   When one sees the word “Jurassic”, in this case with “world”, on a movie poster they know what to expect. A situation goes wrong and dinosaurs cause shenanigans in the modern world.  Jurassic World doesn’t deviate very much from this formula but offers a fun blockbuster doing exactly what it says on the cover.
            The film smartly serves as a direct successor to the original film (sorry 2 and 3 fans ) by showing what has happened to the park twenty years after the original. Jurassic Park is now Jurassic World and it is a hopping tourist attraction since they must have done a dang good job convincing the public things would be ok this time.  Children ride baby triceratops as rides and guests kayak peacefully down rivers next to herbivore dinosaurs. Things are going great which is a first for this franchise.   To this park comes brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Grey (Ty Simpkins) to see their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who runs the park’s divisions.
            Clare has to deal with the experimentation done to make a new attraction in the fearsome D-rex genetic mutant. She enlists the help of velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) when things begin to go awry as they often do.   Clare and Owen are a pretty solid main cast and especially it’s Pratt who brings his trademark charisma and even a special level of awesome to this role.  There’s a fair share of other great humor from side characters like Jake Johnson as a tech support member of the park who loves dinosaurs in a hyper fan way and Vincent D’Onofrio as brutish security lead Vic Hoskins.
            But while as witty and savvy the dialogue is and shiny the titular creatures are it is admittedly more of the same . The roles of the original film are all filled in this and even similar sequences appear at times.  It cashes in on references and nostalgia to a mostly good but definitely noticeable effect.
            There’s laughs and scares and cool moments but it could have used with some more of the sense of mystery it tries to capture from the original. It appears at times in somber moments but isn’t here enough. Regardless, the action sequences and especially the final battles are thrilling and it’s overall a fun and well crafted movie. 8 out of 10

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tomorrowland Review

Director:  Brad Bird
Cast Headliners: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy
Original Release Date: May 22nd, 2015   

            One always feels an interesting feeling when at the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland or Disney World. It’s an idealized version of the future as seen in its day filled with some great rides (Star Tours) and some lame (Stitch).  But one can’t help but think we are only a part of the way to the future as seen there. We have a long way to go. That’s the theme of this film of the same land. Like Pirates of the Caribbean before it, Tomorrowland is a film that capitalizes on the ambience and theme of that attraction area and turns it into a live action film.
            After a bizarrely 4th wall breaking intro where Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newtown (Britt Robertson) argue how the actual film should be told we are brought to the 1960s. A young inventor Frank goes to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland (how meta!) and makes the acquaintance of the mysterious David Nix (Hugh Laurie) and the equally smart as him Athena (Raffey Cassidy).  Shenangins transpire that leads to him stumbling upon the titular city of the film where skyscrapers rise into the sky and robots fly around.  
            After its all too brief appearance this great world is dropped for a while to show how Casey gets involved in affairs. If I were to share specifics would spoil it and since this movie’s prime strength relies upon the element of exploration. When they do appear, the technology and enviroments brought upon by Casey’s mysterious pin are great. There is a wonderful optimistic sense of things.
            However, Casey’s performance falls into times cheesy and Clooney as the adult Frank isn’t too far behind though it fits with his trademark charisma.  The dialogue feels a bit hammy and some scenes drag out. Action is good but only in the few instances when it appears. But that’s to be expected from a Brad Bird live action film; his snappy style is evident at least.
            While it’s a fun (and mostly family friendly adventure despite the use of “hell” a lot and disingrating robots) and bright burst of optimism it is stopped from greatness by two main things. The pacing is kind of weird and builds up very slowly to be something unique. Then once the crazy other world of science that is the titular city is reached, things take a hard dip into some hard science and a villian’s motivation that is very unclear.  A lot of bang and boom happens, but it’s consequence is not really felt. 
            It’s got some rough spots, but the visuals and unique setting make it not a waste of time by any means. There’s some fun sequences and if one can deal with the stars and story it’s a decent experience.  You are better off taking a trip to the park for something truly magical however. 7.85 out of 10

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Mad Max: Fury Road
Director:  Gerorge Miller
Cast Headliners: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Original Release Date: May 15th, 2015     

     When the original creator and director of franchise comes back for more years since the last entry in a film series there can be some mixed results.  Star Wars and Lord of the Rings did their prequels to mostly fun effect but could not live up to the originals fully. However that is not the case of Mad Max: Fury Road since George Miller has matched and even perhaps surpassed what made the original films so excellent.
            The movie has a unclear point of existence as to where it falls in the time line. It’s definitely after his debut but it’s not really clear if Max (Tom Hardy) as seen in this film is the one’s whos been the road warrior and travelled to Thunderdome as well.  The film is greatly enjoyable even to one who has never seen any of the other’s since it is covered in a brief narration/prologue segment. All one needs to know is that it’s a messed up world.
            In fact messed up is a gross understatement.  The far-future Australian outback desert wasteland is gorgeously realized. This is a seriously well thought out and unique world. From the terrifying hellish domain and attire of the War Boyz enemies to the stunning color scheme and vistas of the wasteland the film is like an exotic fruit flavor one never knew they wanted till now. 
            From the massive Citadel of the vile overlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byne) and its dark chambers to every rusted death trap of a car and vile mutant villain the film sings with life and personality. Even minor minions are memorable (that  guitar player!!) and it truly evolves the wacky raiders of the old films into something not even imaginable before.
            It’s also interesting that Max is tossed around by the plot for a first large portion of the film. He is captured and used as a human blood bag by the Way Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) by being strapped to a enemy car.  It’s wonderful that a film is so entertaining even while its titular hero is a speck on the violent backdrop is occurring.
            The cause for the conflict which takes up the majority of the film is the  Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has betrayed the War Boyz by smuggling the Immortan’s
“breeder” wives away to bring them to a  better life. Theron and Hardy eventually unite and they are also both mostly silent in their roles but totally awesome.  Dialogue is mainly reserved for the minions like Nux and for the wives.
            This isn’t a movie that needs much dialogue since it screams loudly at the viewer through its action scenes. Essentially, the movie is an almost a non-stop string of action. The previously mentioned gritty feeling is helped by the amazing fact that pretty much every moment and prop was physical.  This aspect raises the violence and excitement tenfold.

            Miller has used these interesting puzzle pieces to make an exciting, epic, thrilling, and at times even beautiful symphony of dark post-apocalyptic violence.  While it’s story never really moves above “get chased from spot to spot” and sometimes the spectacle on display is much to handle the film is a expert putting a lot of love into the world he created while still pushing the medium forward in ways like he once did. It certainly is a lovely day. 9.5 out of 10

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast Headliners: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Original Release Date: May 1st, 2015

When reviewing the Marvel Cinematic universe, where can one possibly begin?  There’s been so many years and installments in this meta-tale that to even judge its value is a colossal task that only grows with each new entry in this epic of epics.  Avengers: Age of Ultron has some of the highest stakes in blockbuster history by having to be number two to the amazing reality breaking crossover excellence that was 2012’s film. Joss Whedon and the folks at Marvel Studios give it their best, and oh my what a crazy ride that turns out to be.            
 One knows that said crazy ride is coming by the sheer amount of spectacle that occurs before even the title name pops up on screen. In a perfect breakneck lead-in from Captain America 2, the intro finds the core Avengers team of Steve Rogers/“Captain America” (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/”Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr), Bruce Banner/”Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton/ “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner), and Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlet Johansson) on a mission to take down Hydra once and for all (?!?) at mountain fortress of Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann in a role that is basically a spec of a  blip on the massive radar that is this film). Explosions pop off the screen and there’s superheroic team up moves that will blow one’s mind. There’s hilarious quips intense stakes, and deep mysteries. This is an event that sort of rivals the finale of the last film in scale and it’s merely just the appetizer round.
There’s several aspects that give this film a slightly different identity to the first film and that great aspect can be found in its additional characters. Fringe-morality siblings Wanda Maximoff/”Scarlet Witch” (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/”Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) are dually interesting whether they are henchmen or conflicted rookie heroes. Their powers are quite a fresh sight to behold as well; with SW’s magic and illusions and QS’s faster-than-visible superspeed giving a whole new angle to action scenes.  To get into his specifics would be a major spoiler, but mention has to be made of   Vision (Paul Bettany) as well who steals the scenes he’s in whether it is through minor action, deep words, or mind-blowingly great powers….
The Avengers wouldn’t have to come together without a ultimate threat and this time there’s something incredibly chilling. Tony’s usual experimentation shenanigans with Loki’s old scepter and his drone suits lead to Ultron (James Spader), a fast learning and utterly evil robotic overlord.   Spader performed the voice and motion capture for Ultron and it’s excellent from visual to performance. No matter what “stage of sentience” he’s in there’s always a deep  nuance to how this robot is characterized. Even though he’s a vicious killer who has a plan that makes Loki seem tame; he’s far from cold. Spader delivers lines that make one laugh, make one afraid, and even at times make one feel a slight bit of empathetic understanding. He’s a thrilling villain who is more than a worthy match for the Avengers totally deserving of the title. It makes sense he’s a dark spawn of Iron Man; the heroic charismatic dynamo driving these films.  
While these and other (Andy Serkis as other, other humorous villain Ulysses Klaue in a small bit foreshadowing 2018’s Black Panther!!!!) additions get large chunks of the spotlight there is great improvements to the veterans as well.  Captain America and Iron Man have some of the best dramatic moments as their relationship is tenuously tested which may have future ramifications in addition to the chaos seen here. Black Widow has more insight into her past shown, and a surprisingly natural romance with Hulk. Chilling hallucinations courtesy of the Scarlet Witch are some of the best scenes for those and aid to the film’s darker tone than most in the MCU.  Of course, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie  Smulders), and James Rhodes/”War Machine” (Don Cheadle) all show up and do their usual support actions. Yes, it’s a a bit of a lot to handle as all the appearances mentioned so far isn’t even absolutely everything!
The one veteran who has been given his big shot in this is Hawkeye. This was an amazing choice to have been made for prior to this he existed only as a cameo or a brainwashed villain for the majority of its predecessors.  Renner has a lot of hidden talent that is shown in this movie. He’s funny, he’s got moral lessons to rival Captain America’s, he’s got mindblowing awesome archery skills. Between his much larger( near main-protagonist reaching) levels of focus, some of the best jokes in a movie filled with millions of them, and insights into his past Clint Barton is a wonderfully memorable part of the experience.
A good effort is made to differentiate this film from its previous incarnation through its focus on new characters and dramatic elements. However, it is still a Avengers film through and through.  Asides from the intricate tone the main directorial response from Joss Whedon comes through as “more.”   Instead of basically one extended epic action chunk of the film, there’s over three or four. Things tend to be “extremely crazy” instead of “really crazy.”  The humor comes nearly every line but luckily the writing and pace of it makes it blend seamlessly into the action as is to be expected.   Despite it’s insane ride of awesome, it loses some slight points because there’s the occasional feeling of “been there.” Hulk gets angry again and has to fight his teammates. Nick Fury defends the SHIELD helicarrier control room again.  Team members get into fights that involve more than just words again. There’s scenes of them arguing in a small room again.  While the word “formulaic” is inappropriate considering the excellent blockbuster spectacle that is most of the film it can be said that this is “more of the same.”  
And that trait will end up deciding its spot on the overarching tier of Marvel film quality in the long run. That’s a totally fine thing, as how could one complain about the comics-to-life masterpieces that are this and Whedon’s otherwork. But while it raises the stakes, scale, roster count, and visual quality it just 1% shys from perfection because it isn’t that first time again.  Overall, thank you Whedon for making Marvel dreams come true, and I think new hands will give a fresh perspective as the scales go further on even higher levels. We’re looking at a world beyond just a bickering adventuring family, and I’m so ready.  Make it even fresher.  9.4 out of 10