Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Top 10 Favorite Films / Video Games of 2016

Top Ten Personal Favorite Films / Video Games of 2016

Ah 2016... you have been rough to say the least. From personally, to politically, to world wise, and entertainment / notable people passing, it was as they say "the worst of times". But removed from its "2016ness",
there was a solid amount of great media this year, let's focus , here, on that. As always,  if it isnt
listed and is considered to be amazing, i havent likely experienced it at all or enough to make a valid
judgement. Things stay cool eternally..

Top 10 Films of 2016:

1.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: For proving that just maybe Disney's plans for a yearly film will work if they are this its classic OT feel even more than TFA, its intense stakes, its new characters and edgy attitude, and!

2.) Captain America: Civil War: For truly bringing together the entire existing MCU to date into a intense dramatic
conflict, and yet also for introducing some new heroes and spideys, for being marvel at its most epic yet.

3.) Deadpool: For delivering on a dream, and being as perfect and funny and crude and zany as it should be.

4.) La La Land: For its beautiful music, directorial visuals/art, and story. Craft!

5.) Hacksaw Ridge: For its great performances, and intense bloody WW2 action, and message.

6.) Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice: For truly starting a new era of DC crossover, bringing a great new Battfleck and intense drama and action.

7.) Doctor Strange: For also delivering a dream, and its surreal visuals and unique action.

8.) Arrival: For its deep intricate intellectual plot, direction, performances, and meanings

9.) Finding Dory: For its charm, emotions, and color.

10.) 10 Cloverfield Lane: Haha what timing, but yes despite the coincedence for its performances, tension, mystery,
and  uniqueness.

Honorable  # 11 to 13:
11.) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them(Vibe!)

12.) Zootopia(Themes!)

13.) Star Trek Beyond(Spectacle!)

NEW RULE( 2015 or prior wider re-releases don't count for me, nor do one night only... sorry,
Will include similiar category in future years...) Doesnt Count Since Originally Released Before 2016/Less Than A Few
Weeks(The Revenant(Leo!), Batman: The Killing Joke(Hammil!!)

Top 10 Video Games of 2016:

1.) Uncharted 4: A Thieve's End: For its incredible visuals, performances, gameplay, and set pieces culminating the series to date both plotwise and game evolution wise.

2.) Battlefield 1: For its incredible visuals, interesting gameplay and varied maps, and touching campaign and not being afraid to go back to roots.

3.) Dishonored 2: For its unique world, deep plot, perfromances, and truly offering varied ways to complete something

(I would put the first two episods of Telltale's The Walking Dead Season 3/ New Frontier here,but since it is episodic
starting this year its kind of hard to put...but woah, choices and emotion and etc..what reminder of quality, and so) 4.) Kirby: Planet Robobot: For its crazy spectacle, music, and level design, fun, and unlockables.

5.) Overwatch: For being an important new change and trendsetter in the FPS genre, colorful visuals, world lore, and polish, and free updates plan.

6.) Gears Of War 4: For bringing back that feel one missed, intense story, and even intenser gameplay scenarios and combat while looking great.

7.) Watch Dogs 2: For being what number one should have been. Wacky, stuff to do, San Francisco adaptation,

8.) Titanfall 2: For its intense and evolved multiuplayer gameplay, smooth performance, and actually a great, well done, varied campaign.

(Would out Telltale's The Walking Dead: Michonne series as well, it all did come out this year, but its a bit hardto quanity episodic point and clicks as games,...but it did have great emotion, action, and vibe and even moreso music..)  9.) Pokemon Sun And Moon Versions: For serving as a tribute to the franchise while shaking up its core formula, a greatvibe, plentiful new ideas offering both the usual new era Pokemon experience while also feeling fresh with features.)

10.) Inside: For its dark ambience, sound design, and intensity.

Honorable  # 11 to 13:
11.) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided(World!)

12.) DOOM(Brutality/Old-Schoolness!)

13.) Street Fighter 5(Changing/Options!)

Doesn't Count But Great Re-Releases/Mostly Same Games/Mobile/Etc:(Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD(Refine!),
Ratchet and Clank (PS4) (Beautiful!),Pokemon Go(Simplistic Popularity!), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered

La La Land Review

La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast Headliners: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Original Release Date: December 9th, 2016 (Seen Later in Month)  

   Damien Chazelle astounded the world with his intense, jazz infused Whiplash in 2014. That film was as infused with as many great soundtrack and visual moments a it was with powerful performances. Chazelle has a touch of directorial gold, and so when he makes a film at the head one should pay attention. He turns his attention to a classic style Hollywood(both in setting and style) musical in La La Land. It is every bit as a treat as the praise makes it out to be.
While evoking the great musical flicks of yesteryear, the setting is in modern times LA. This allows it to take a jest, positive and critical, at SoCal lifestyle which will resonate with those who have any familiarity with the area. Soon after an incredibly bright, rousing opening number we meet our two leads.
The narrative is essentially a standard romantic drama / comedy. The two main leads are Mia(Emma Stone) who is an aspiring actress and Sebastian(Ryan Gosling) who is an aspiring musician. The plot unfolds across seasons and circumstances through their romance. There's other character's besides them but none get much focus aside from the effective use of side characters in musical numbers. Chazelle makes a reunion with JK Simmons to play an effectively humorous jerk of a restaurant owner in Bill. Real musician John Legend (with a kind of different part bringing one of his songs in tow) shows up in a sincere role as Keith who is important to the plot.
The two ones who will stick out are Gosling and Stone. Their rapport, chemistry, and dialogue between each other is great. Both traverse a range of emotional feels, and delight the audience to laugh, feel romance, or cry in their various situations. They both are great singers, dancers, all giving their best. Emma Stone in particular gives a fantastic performance and getrs much of the narrative focus. Her singing as well will leave one with chills.
That is because the music, both instrumental and the frequent (but not overbearing) musical numbers are astoundingly, amazingly gorgeously composed. The soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz will leave one humming forever, dancing forever. From joyous horns, to the frequent use of jazz styles(important to the narrative), to strings and lyrics and more it's both very classic Hollywood and modern artistic flair.

Damien Chazelle also in a way is a musician in his visual style. Even more than Whiplash, La La Land is a work of visual art. Each shot has great cinematography and close-camera-care. The use of colors, sunny LA, set design is all wonderful especially in a key end scene. It is at times surreal and magical, dancing in the stars and so on. These moments make La La Land truly special. While it can be a bit long and typical, it will leave an impact to the viewer through its candy of visuals and music and charm. That's what good movies do. 8.8 out of 10

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Assassin's Creed Review

Assassin's Creed
Director : Justin Kurzel
Cast Headliners : Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed
Original Release Date : December 21, 2016

  Video game films have had overall a , to say the least , hard time reaching success in Hollywood. Games and films can be such different mediums that there's a clash between experiences. Now as for Assassin's Creed there comes an interesting question... How does a linear adaption of one of the most famous open world games work ? It does sometimes....

   After some questionable time jumps between 15th century Spain and the protagonists childhood , we meet the 30something Callum Lynch ( Michael Fassbender ) in the modern day on his death row end. He is saved from his end by Sophia Rikkin ( Marion Cotillard) of the mysterious Abstergo foundation.

  The main crux of the AC series , and here , is that Abstergo has a technology known as the Animus that allows one to travel into a vision and control of their genetic ancestors and learn from them. Sophia and her father Alan(Jeremy Irons) act as the villainous force , wanting Callum to tap into the life of his Spanish ancestor Aguilar(also Fassbender in a silly long costume  wig ), a member of the Assassin's Brotherhood of secret warriors.

  The movie is thus separated into a bit of two disparate storylines.  The 15th century quest of Aguilar and his assassin comrade Maria ( Ariane Labed) is the films best stuff , for the most part . Director Kurzel shows a beauty seen in his past work Macbeth, with gorgeous costumes, scenery , and swashbuckling action. The jumping and parkour and combat is right out of the originals and is solid medieval fare. While it doesn't use its Spanish setting to much more than historical context with some Moors and the Inquisition.  In these parts , Fassbender and Labed are decent in their coolness , and trials against henchmen like the Black Knight ( Denis Menochet, also playing Abstergo security in a bit of cleverness ).  However, while there is some cool stuff it is a minority of the overall film and reaches a cliffhanger that never really resolves itself .

   The modern day stuff is not quite as interesting by any means. While Fassbender is decently cool as Aguilar , his Callum is...not the best protagonist. At times he gives some emotion and coolness, but it's mixed in with silly rants and martial arts visions of the past that are laughable. The enemy Rikkin characters do not impress , with perhaps Irons being an OK exception. Lynch's father (Brendan Gleeson) shows up in a poorly explained moment and is decent but also all too momentary.

  The movie devolves into cheesy mania in the present tense as it goes on. There's side characters who don't do much (such as Michael K Williams ' Moussa), there's ok but silly action and uprisings, there's questionable turns from the games logic and general quality . There's plot holes and cliffhangers here too.

  The movie gets alot wrong from the source, which is a shame. Because the world of the Assassin's and Abstergo / the Knights Templar (!) Has told at at times epic saga . But here there is lack of explanations, mixed bag of acting, and a wonky plot. Buried within though is some cool medieval action and slightly dramatic set pieces . 7 out of 10

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast Headliners: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Many Others
Original Release Date: December 16, 2016

                After years of being in a subdued state (and depending on one’s views of the prequel trilogy, even longer) the Star Wars franchise gloriously returned in all of its beloved space opera wonder in 2015’s The Force Awakens under Disney. Almost immediately after the news of that Episode VII, plans also were revealed for something else… “Anthology” films, side stories in theaters on the years the main episodes were not. Although there is a plethora of precedence (Though no one’s missing out on anything by skipping the Ewoks films or The Holiday Special) this is the first time there’s been a deliberate effort to show as different a perspective as possible to the main saga.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is adapted from a mere line of text from the 1977 A New Hope: “Rebel starships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire”.  It’s with much awesome delight that the movie is far more than just a sentence. The film is a massively fun, action packed, and powerful time within its span and within the Star Wars timeline and franchise as a whole.        
                The film, in the first of many experiments to make it (effectively) unique, drops the classic Star Wars intro story crawl and theme song to a scene in present time. Instead, the franchise’s first ever flashback / time jump is shown before a traditional film style logo. In the early years of the Empire after 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Erso family are in hiding on a remote world. Galen Erso(Mads Mikkelsen) is wanted by the Empire’s Director Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn) to finish the Death Star against his will. Events transpire, leaving new important characters in important predicaments.
                Years later, a now adult Jyn Erso(Felicity Jones) is a prisoner of the Empire. She is rescued by the Rebel Alliance, and finds herself on their base planet of Yavin 4. She soon teams up with more Rebel allies such as Cassian Andor(Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO(Alan Tudyk) and more to find her father and his information on the fearsome Death Star.
                It’s logical that the movie takes a medium between the semi-straightforward adventure style of the Original Trilogy, and The Force Awakens, and the perhaps overly intricate Lucas-style narrative puzzles of the Prequel Trilogy. The first act is an extra-whirlwindy rush of momentary different planets and informants that offers some neat location variety but stops just short of letting what’s going on sink in. Things more than make up for this as characters and elements old and new are brought into the fray.
                The film, as often is with Star Wars, is jam packed with great characters and performance. The core Rebel protagonists in this are not well established heroes, both literally to viewers nor within the film’s universe. They are edgy, outcasts, criminals which makes things interesting. The film is led by Jyn who is certainly her own spin of ‘Wars heroine. While she may lack the charisma of Rey or others, she brings a fierceness , street smarts, and criminal angle that add a slightly dark nuance to her. Felicity Jones gives some decent work at times, including a resounding speech or few. Her best stuff comes when she is with her father Galen and there’s great emotional performances at work between her and Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen is also very fascinating and sincere if shortly in the film.  Some of her other best scenes are with Cassian Andor, the squad leader. Luna brings an edge of his own to the character, feeling so gritty and real in his role as Rebel Captain with a serious attitude and equally dark past.  The “warlike” main trifecta of characters is rounded off with K-2S0. Alan Tudyk extremely shines amongst the cast, delivering what may be the best Star Wars droid ever. He’s almost like a Bender from Futurama or Star War’s own HK-47 from older materials: he’s smart, sassy, a bit mean, and hilarious. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have other humor with its leads, as the writing is great aided by the committed performances. It’s that classic Star Wars feel from a new grounded angle and crew.
                The ensemble cast of characters continue to overall impress from all sides. Soon the main crew grows to include two “Guardians of the Whills”( a lore reference sure to excite deep franchise fans, of which at times things get very deep) in Chirrut Imwe(Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus(Jiang Wen). It’s neat to see Star Wars add two Asian actors in such main roles. Perhaps stereotypically, or perhaps perfectly considering Lucas’ original inspiration, the two play very Jedi-like characters. Yen’s Chirrut is another show stealer, a devoted and humorous blind master of the Force in a new way with his staff and bow. His interactions with the fierce heavy machine gun toting Baze played greatly by Wen are also great.  Others on the protagonist or similar side are less impressive.  Imperial pilot defector (guess you weren’t the first Finn!) Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has his slight humorous and heroic moments but fades into the tapestry of things. It’s really cool to see the connective characters in Rebel Alliance top command of a younger Mon Mothma(Genevieve O’Reilly, from a Revenge of the Sith deleted scene!) and an older Bail Organa(finally played once again by Jimmy Smitts) who are important to the lore but do little else besides look the perfect part and drop some references and plot development.
                A great unique point to the film is found in some of these supporting roles. The most obvious is found in people like Cassian/Jyn/K2 but also in Saw Gerrera(Forrest Whitaker). Whitaker’s character Saw (originally from The Clone Wars animated show but it’s not mandatory plotwise) is crazed and leads an even more reckless independent brand of Rebel-like Partisans. His role is short, not too impactful but some regard of important in filling out the world which honestly makes sense: the Rebels were fractured ,and did bad things of their own. The movie is about shades of grey, moreso than perhaps any of the other 7 main SW main films, and whether it’s via characters or factions. It asks really interesting questions of this famed universe but not without compromising the fun, intensity, and action.
                It’s no surprise that the Empire gets much less sympathetic showtime. This is them at the height of their power, proving once again the elegant and epic-ly grim connections between the Prequels and Originals.  The primary villain is found in Director Orson Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn). Mendelsohn is a unique, often villainous talent and here he brings a powerful evil performance. He will stop at nothing to bring his Death Star and, of particular interest to the audience, impress his Imperial superiors. This allows for the reason to bring in THE Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, so great to be typing that name for the first time in over 10 years in cinemas). His role, possibly more than any similar cameo in recent Hollywood history, must be seen first hand to experience the awesome. That awesome is every bit as intense and evil as the legends, and hearing the familiar JEJ talk will give one chills. One could wish for more , but what we do get is incredible.  Less incredible is the choice to bring back a CGI Grand Moff Tarkin(played here, aside from Peter Cushing’s likeness, by actor Guy Henry).  He too looks just right out of 1977, but is clearly not a real person if almost there. Despite the surrealness , his interactions with Krennic and the Empire perspective moments are solid and fitting to the timeline.

                Once the movie gets going, it gets going to an amazing well done degree. Director Gareth Edwards is known to be a proud Star Wars fan, and like JJ before him, this bleeds through in every heartfelt aspect. The physical props, the sweeping energetic score (not done by Williams but here by an alright filler Michael Giacchino), the future sheen with an analog old school sensibility.. it’s all here. Perhaps even  a bit moreso than The Force Awakens, it feels like its cut out of the same cloth as the Original Trilogy though with its afromentioned unique identity. Edwards as well gives more beautiful  sweeping, natural breathing room to his shots and action moments which is a speck of his style but otherwise blending into the Star Wars taste.

                The visuals , whether they be creatures, planets(which are the most in one film in long time and diverse from ancient Jedi desert metropolis Jedha to tropical Scarif to classic A New Hope forest Yavin 4 and more) to the Stormtrooper armor, guns, vehicles(walkers!!) it’s all  gorgeously shiny yet also real. This becomes especially enjoyable in the action scenes. This perhaps is some of the most action in a single Star Wars film ever. There’s a plethora of ground and space action peppered through the adventurous experience. Dozens of troops on each side and gigantic ships in orbit not seen since Return of the Jedi.  The stakes heighten things even more, and if one desired a Star “Wars” movie, they got it here. One will feel more and more on the edge of their seat as the ending Act 3 explodes into essentially one long, constant, and increasingly epic battle to get those plans via whatever that may entail. Without(as one can assume with the street level heroes…) a lightsaber duel in sight, the ending arc and excitement becomes some of the franchises’ finest . The ending in particular will leave one speechless , and perfectly sets up the future.
                That’s the film’s overall take away. It’s as nearly perfect a tie between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope there can be. There’s some of the varied worlds and political nuance of the PT, with the swashbuckling action and visuals of the OT. Questions are answered and new ones are asked. While at times things can be a bit rushed in both plot and characters, and while there’s some slight mistakes, it’s a movie a Star Wars fan will surely love. It has the very rare aspect of making not just itself a greatly enjoyable ride, but improving the meaning and stakes of the film’s preceding and following it in the Star Wars timeline. It’s the gritty frontline combat movie we always wanted, with a meaningful classic Star Wars lense(although with a only a couple too many other references less excusable at this point) and familiar feel.  Even a non-fan will find a somewhat self contained exciting galactic heist film. The Force, once again, is strong with this one. Disney’s spinoff plan is off to a great start with the one of the best movie prequels ever.  9.77 out of 10

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bad Santa 2 Review

Bad Santa 2
Director: Mark Waters
Cast Headliners: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates
Original Release Date: November 23rd, 2016

 If it weren't for the first Bad Santa, there wouldn't have been the modern trend of edgy comedy films seen in things like The Night Before. Years later, the main crew(and more) return in Bad Santa 2. It earns some gold amidst its stocking of coal.
Years have passed, just as in real-time, since the first film and Willie Soke(Billy Bob Thornton) hasn't changed much from his criminal, holiday posing days or in fact hasn't changed at all. He still is a drunk, a jerk, a pervert, and a comedian. Events transpire to bring him back with his sidekick little friend Marcus Skidmore(Tony Cox) to a charity in Chicago. Events even bring back the now 21 year old boy Thurman Merman(Brett Kelly) with them as well.
There's a lot of pretty good comedy between these three just like the first. The humor is edgy and swearingly vulgar filled but that's what one would want for this film. It also helps that there's a strong new additon in Willie's mother Sunny(Kathy Bates). She manages to even out-darkness Willie. Another ok if barely involved addition is charity director Diane(Christina Hendricks) who is less of a humor and romantic lead than the first film's.
The core scenes where it's Thornton interacting with Cox/Bates/Kelly are realy funny. The larger formula possibly even out-humors the first film. But all of the holiday gimmicked edge has been done before. It's that blend of dark, edgy, and even a bit of dramatic melancholy emotion that stands out.
The core plot runs in circles a bit with some alright moments of action and espionage. Like the first, it's about a heist. Here it's one specific location and tighter knit. But that makes the stakes a bit sillier and lower.

 There's not much else to say about this one. It's got a funny bad Santa in Thornton, with some good new characters like the mom in Bates and the grown up Thurman. But it's more of the same as the first with less of the satire and uniqueness. But one will laugh tis the season. 6.95 out of 10


Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Director: David Yates
Cast Headliners: Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterson, Alison Sudol, Collin Farrell
Original Release Date: November 18, 2016

Another beloved franchise , J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World as it is titled(of Harry Potter), is reborn into cinemas. It's back to that world of mysteries and magic and beasts set just under a world much like our reality. Though with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (connected to the short novella of the same name by Rowling) the movie is not just a spin-off but a prequel as well. This creates an interesting recipe for adventurous shenangins.
The movie is set in the 1926 past, in New York City (introducing America on-screen to the universe) and follows a new leading band of heroes. Watching the other Harry Potter films is not a pre-requisite since the connections are at first tangential. The original novel existed in the HP lore as a textbook that Harry and peers used in their Hogwarts courses. Rowling made a real-world, “in-universe” book (and the story/script for this film) detailing a variety of creature lore from within the world by fictional author Newt Scamander. This film, and it's saga ahead, follow the life of that author, played by Eddie Redmayne as the new protagonist. There's a couple of references and the feeling of being cut from the same ambient cloth as the other films but otherwise it does a pretty good job of standing on its own though it would be helpful to be a fan who knows their Muggles from their Nimbus 3000's.
A large part of the driving force of the film is that Scamander's magical briefcase containing various magical creatures has been swapped with No-Maj(the USA's Muggle term) Jacob Kowalski's(Dan Foglet) and thus let loose into the city. Scamander encounters various new allies and enemies along the way on his quest to wrangle them and deal with the political situation of NYC.
The scenes and aspects which tie to that main creature-fetching arc are great. There's imagination to the various , realistically yet CGI critters, whether they be the adorable gold loving rodent Niffler, the mighty pachedyrm Erumpent, or Newt's personal allies(it's interesting to see his affinity and capability with animals) in the grassy Bowtruckle and avian Swooping Evil. A variety of very interesting, wonky, magical properties and scenarios are used to capture the beasts. Director David Yates fills these and other action and magical set scenes with his trademark franchise touch that will make it feel just like the classics and more.
The core crew takes a bit of getting used to. The absence of staples like Harry, Ron, Hermoine, and Hagrid is felt . But these new characters have their various merits. Redmayne's Scamander will take some getting used to as it appears he is purposefully an outsider with an awkward personality. At least hopefully that's the intention, as at times Redmayne can be hard to hear or moves quickly through conversations before we really get the chance to appreciate him. He is joined in time by the Goldstein sisters. Ex-Auror Tina(Katherine Waterston) has an intriguing premise but that's about all that is memorable. Her sister Queenie(Alison Sudol) brings a vibrant odd charm and telepathic powers that make her additions enjoyable. It's without a doubt that one of the most entertaining parts of the film is Fogler's Jacob. He is great at the “What the heck is all this” normal person role. The movie is perhaps the funniest Potterverse film yet and he is a big part of that. He has great chemistry with all of the heroic quadrio and his presence in future sequels is a much wanted one beyond his good arc in this film.
Various other characters and slightly muddled motivations fill the film besides the beast hunt. There's some various complex factions competing of the (surprisingly and lore enticingly) strict MACUSA(The US's magical society) led by President Seraphina(Carmen Ejogo) versus the fanatical anti-magic Second Salemers led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) with some side elements like USA Senator Shaw( Jon Voight) . It's here the more dramatic and darker elements come into play but feel clashing with the actiony, humorous adventures of Newt and co. It doesn't help that just a little too long yet also too little explanatory time is spent with them with characters that don't make too much of an impact. There is the involvement of Ron Perlman playing a motion capture goblin mobster named Gnarlack though which is entertaining.
A few characters do strongly rise to the surface in the intricate web. Colin Farrel's MACUSA agent Percival Graves provides the strongest intense edge the film. He brings a charisma and attitude that stand out in his side-plot of tracking down mysterious magical events in the city. So too does Second Salemer Credence Barebone(Ezra Miller) who's role must be seen but is unique and effective. And the trailer's do speak of a Grindelwald(Johnny Depp), who's name will be familiar to longterm fans but otherwise must be seen first hand too. By the end of the film, the dramatic threads become pretty epic.
It's a long film but brings back the musical and visual trademarks that will make one feel right back to Rowling's Pottterverse. Just like that film septology , the first one is an interesting introduction but makes one even more excited for where things will go. It's interesting to be transported to a lavish recreation of the 1920s and New York in any case, with an extra dose of magic. There's some strong aspects that one will look forward to more of and things that need to be proven. But for a fan, that makes this required watching, and a mostly exciting visual adventure romp for a first timer. 8.05 out of 10

Hacksaw Ridge Review

Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson
Cast Headliners: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Theresa Palmer, Vince Vaughan, Sam Worthington
Original Release Date: November 4th, 2016 (seen mid/late Nov)

  “War is hell' is a phrase and words that have been explored in many films and media before. Countless tales of heroism, true stories, and sacrifice during World War 2 have been told in Hollywood before. Hacksaw Ridge has something extra notable in it: the protagonist never once touches or uses a gun. How does this happen, and does this make for a worthy premise? Director Mel Gibson tells a overall emotional and visceral tale on what this means to make a pretty unique film.
In essence the movie is a biography of the important parts of Desmond Doss(Andrew Garfield), a Virginian who lives with his brother Hal(Nathaniel Buzolic), and parents Tom(Hugo Weaving ) and Bertha(Rachel Griffiths). Flashbacks show his young childhood, and encounters with the violence, spirituality, and drunkenness of his father which forms his beliefs. World War 2 starts, and amongst family drama he finds himself joining the military even with his pacifistic views that do not permit him to even touch a firearm.
The movie goes through three major arcs and settings that contrast pretty heavily in quality and style from each other. The film's opening 1/3 are set in Virginia and detail the Doss family drama. There's some decent stuff, but at times things can get cheesy. It's unfortunate that the great Hugo Weaving kind of bumbles through his lines here especially since he's a big part of the first third. But he has small moments of effective emotion. None of the rest of this sequence is very memorable but does establish the character of Doss. There's the showing as well of his romance with future wife Dorothy Schutte(Teresa Palmer). This is handled with some slightly awkward chemistry between Garfield and Palmer, and is paired with cheesy music but beautiful visual shots courtesy of Gibson.

The next portion of the film follows in the same trend as Doss goes to bootcamp. Here he meets the strict Sgt. Howell(Vince Vaughn) and stricter Cpt.Glover(Sam Worthington). Suffice to say that Doss's views do not mesh well with the military. It should be seen first hand, but there's an interesting, almost A Few Good Men style legal element here that would make the movie interesting in its own right as a standalone. Vaughan provides some needed comic relief , especially before things get too grim, and shows a bit of a type cast break from what he normally does. Worthington as well gives a ferocity and slight adversary role that's memorable. There's also a pretty good cast of various supporting squad members, from the bullying Smitty(Luke Bracer) to the charismatic “Hollywood”(Luke Pegler).
As with most war epic films, all of the mixed ride of the civilian life is all just set up to the real part of the film, the battlefield. Set in the brutal Pacific 1945 Battle of Okinawa, Doss and crew are sent to the frontlines through what is nearly non-stop action for the rest of the film's long run-time. This is one of Hacksaw Ridge's strongest suits. Mel Gibson is a director that has delivered powerful brutal imagery through Christ in Passion and conflict in Braveheart and Apocalypto. A WW2 film is a natural fit, and the battle scenes are a varied greatness of brutal, exciting, horrifying , explosive, and dark. This is perhaps one of the most brutal war films ever made as it makes Saving Private Ryan seem like it was holding back slightly in terms of gore. It at times may seem excessive, but no doubt this is how it really was and brings the audience to the front line. There are slight moments of obvious CGI but otherwise it's a terrifying, visceral portal to the past. Perhaps the brutal violence helps sell the message as well.
Through this all, it's exciting to see how Doss handles this. The plot is good at making just one titular ridge of “hacksaw” worth the time. This allows Garfield to shine, who is the other main highlight. Andrew Garfield has shown some promise in other roles in his career, but here he has the extended time and material Spider-Man never gave him. He brings depth, emotion, an accent, that makes him transform into the role and feel and cheer for him in his faith. One constantly cares for Doss, and his peers.
Mel Gibson has made one of the new World War 2 Pacific front legends. Although it has its drawbacks, most notably in the buildup and some bit pieces, the violent action and core themes/performance make it unique and commendable. 8.75 out of 10

Monday, November 14, 2016

Arrival Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast Headliners: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker
Original Release Date: November 11th, 2016

                 Without much prior pomp or circumstance, Arrival … arrived into theaters to resounding critical praise. Based upon Ted Chiang’s short story, the movie is about an aliens coming to modern day of our planet. But unlike many films of its type, there is no laser battles or an immediate race to save the world. The film is a puzzle to be solved through a philosophical journey that is not without its sequences of awes and excitement. This all happens from an interesting lens and logical perspective that is not often seen in movies of the genre.
                The film follows from day one as 12 “shells” (black obelisk type floating alien mega aircraft) descend onto the world in various locations. The world feels a sense of panic but moreso in the form of uncertain dread.  Into this situation, Dr.Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a brilliant linguist is tapped by the US military under Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to solve the mystery of the shells and the alien organisms within.  
                The film does a fantastic job at creating a mysterious atmosphere as the shells and their denizens are met and explored. The majority of the film only, and effectively, takes place at one shell site in Montana.  The alien ship feels very real inside despite its almost weird magical properties. So too are the alien “heptapods” mysterious in every encounter, awe inspiringly giant squids that moreso invoke beautiful awe than any more than minimal terror.
                The movie’s themes tackle some fascinating and likely true points. If aliens came to our world, how would nations react? How would human beings react to literally meeting intelligent beings from another world? There’s are explored with deft and sense.  But the core, intriguing idea is to involve language. Whereas many sci-fi films would tap some form of military person or special agent, Adam’s Louise solves the important process of language through surreal visual puzzles. This is a true concern not just for extra-terrestrial cultures but for those on our own world. The movie has powerful themes of the importance of communication.  It’s very neat to see how the puzzles are solved, and while it can be a bit repetitive and lulls in the middle as compared to the first expedition and exciting climax, it does make one think and go “ah!”
                It’s a joy to see Adam’s performance as Louise, as she brings sincerity and wit to the role. The work takes a toll on her, and we see glimpses of lost loved ones to raise the dramatic stakes. Likewise, Renner’s Ian offers slight comic relief and plentiful friendly charm and answers as he works alongside. Most of the cast isn’t anyone notable within the film itself or in casting. Government tie ins in Whitaker’s Colonel or CIA Agent Halper (Michael Stuhlberg) make things serious but don’t show up often. The same can be said for the slightly, but perhaps purposefully disconnected, “antagonist “ in China’s General Shang (Tzi Ma).  The movie does well when it focuses on the core group of the two main leads and their aliens.
                The deep narrative gets better and better as the film goes on. Director Denis Villenueve weaves together news footage, CGI yet realistic creations, flashbacks, and other time lapses to tell the tale. The music also adds well to the ambience, sounding alien in its use of vocals with its orchestrations.  It has a solid level of cinematography and visual craft. However by the end, its twist have an emotional resonance but in retrospect is derivative of such works as those by Christopher Nolan (particularly Interstellar and Inception) but this doesn’t reduce their drama.

                For a film about the language of aliens, the movie tells a very philosophical tale of the relationship of humans.  It’s a mostly unique and interesting ride, and for fans of the genre is worth the time if they have it to spare.  8.45 out of 10

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derickson
Cast Headliners: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Chiwefel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong
Original Release Date: November 4th, 2016

       Just as with 2015's Ant-Man (and to a extent some of the supporting players of this year's earlier Captain America Civil War), the MCU is dipping deep, deep into obscure comic lore. It's surreal (no pun intended) that Dr.Strange has finally gotten a film. The Sorceror Supreme himself, master of magic and dimensions..... somehow exists in this same world but after the past few cosmic adventures, that's no surprise. Benedict Cumberbatch leads his first truly blockbuster film in the lead role, filled to the brim with action and magic, ups and downs.

The movie starts with an often seen trope of (Thor 2, Avengers 1) background setup and action. Quickly and effectively if bit chaotically showing the motivations of villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a fallen dark former apprentice of The Ancient One(Tilda Swinton). After giving audiences a crazy surreal taste (we'll get to more on that later) of the zany magic dimensional combat of the film, things come to a slightly drastic tonal shift.

As with most origin movies, and at first the film falls victim to its tropeyness and stereotypical flow/feel (ahem see Iron Man 1 / Batman Begins did this long first) we meet the civilian life of neurosurgeon Dr.Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who needs no secret identity with what he can do. His arrogance and slight humor at first are decent alongside partner and slight love interest fellow doctor Christine Palmer(Rachel McAdams). A tragic event ruins the use of Strange's hands, leading him to spiritual journey of rebirth and healing.
Much like his character arc, Cumberbatch's performance takes some getting used to and warming up but improves by the end. Although it's an extremely questionable decision, the actor trades his trademark rich British accented natural voice for a very fake sounding American accent. When he's dealing with his doctor prologue stuff, it makes the film feel a bit like a cheap ER show with nobodies. He only improves as the situations get more fantastical. After the event, there are many deep, emotional dramatic scenes which Benedict is great in. And he even becomes decently witty and fearsome in his abilities that one forgets his accent entirely as he becomes “Superheroic” and blends into the tapestry of all. One cheers for him in the end, and will be left anxiously waiting for more of his intelligent witty charm and awesome magic force/dimension warping abilities in future Marvel films(seriously, he makes Vision and Scarlet Witch seem like smalltimers).

The supporting cast is mixed degrees of great to forgettable. McAdam's Christine never quite gets too emotional, deep, or more than some “oh this is all so crazy” reactions towards the weaker end of the spectrum of MCU love interests. As too is Mikkelsen's Kaecilius. Sure him and his evil minions look cool and fierce but there's very little motivation besides some random dialogue bits and he barely gets to interact with the main cast, or even have screentime at all. He's vague , generic, and and decently evil and dangerous in fights but far from anything more than a blip in the film. Consider him at the tier of say Malekith from Thor 2 (though luckily the film is much more varied and quality crafted) and his plans/scenes with his ultimate master Dormammu(also Cumberbatch, Hobbit trilogy style) are more effectively evil.

It's fortunate that once Strange finds the place of magic he finds the film's best supporters as well. Swinton's The Ancient One is a great performance, and a powerful and mysterious character. As always she lives this role,transforms into something one of a kind and fills the movie with deeper, spiritual moments which might inspire even the audience. Mordo(Chiwefel Ejiofor) is a cool and tough teacher of magic, and his character goes through a fascinating arc fitting of the actor's usual intense performance. Wong(Benedict Wong) leads to most of the film's great use of humor in his interactions with Strange, though the film has some pretty solid writing overall.
The story has some really clever scenes of dialogue and events to make viewers understand all this crazyness. Strange's arc of redemption and growth is cool to see unfold, and while it's noticeably too rushed between when he is still learning to going about saving the world it's cool to see the stakes unfold and learn about the deep crazy lore.

Which leads to the highest, majestic highlight of the film... the otherworldly, other dimensionally CGI efffects, panaromas, and visuals. There's so many scenes that use fantastic special effects that are larger than life but it works. There's scenes that are indescribable, setting a bar for psychelia like never before, right out of the 1970s comic glory days. These mind bending “visions” and magic reality bending translate over to the action scenes as well. These scenes are peppered in through the earlier parts but once they get picking up the end is quite amazing and intense. If held back a bit by Marvel film trademarks, the action is, like Ant-Man and some others, wholly, intensely, and greatly unique and “strange” apart in its greatness. Director Scott Derickson must be praised on that.

It takes a bit to get going, and makes some mistakes in character usage and logic. But the great aspects are really good and sets up a benchmark for wanting more in the future. It's a wild , magic ride very worth seeing on the big screen, if the wacky wizard dimensions premise seems appealing. Marvel has another solid one, and although it doesn't rewrite the book its a fun ride, and to a fan of the character a pretty solid adaptation. 8.6 out of 10  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Girl on the Train Review

The Girl on the Train
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast Headliners: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux
Original Release Date: October 7th, 2016
                Much like its heroine, The Girl on The Train is very clear and good in some aspects but gets hazy in quality on others.  It offers a nuanced dark mystery thriller that excels at times but like a train loop it’s about, it can be repetitive and drawn out. But it offers some pretty unique and intriguing aspects in its experience.
                It’s a bit hazy to get of sense of things before truths are revealed, but the film follows the depressive life of Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee who eavesdrops on lives she sees from the train. As with many films, this interesting premise is slightly dipped into before its main plot arc takes over.  Throughout it though Blunt shows herself, as often is the case in her roles, to be one of the film’s strongest aspects.  Blunt’s Rachel, a bit unique amongst many protagonists of films like this, is not the best person. She can, often due to her alchoholism, edgy and mean and even a bad person. But the film makes one root and even feel bad for her at times. This is doubly so because of Blunt’s intense, emotional portrayal from sadness to curiosity to rage. She becomes a mysterious vigilante every bit as curious as the events around her.
                Events transpire which bring her into a love… geometric shape (without giving too much away, as twists always make thrillers all the more interesting) of Megan(Haley Bennett), Anna(Rebecca Ferguson), Tom (Justin Theroux), and Scott(Luke Evans) who are all neighbors in a perfectly typical but underlyinglly dark suburbia.  The supporting cast , like Blunt, is for the most part full of great performers if less so than the main star. Everyone in the film is flawed too. Whether it’s Bennett’s lost Megan, Evan’s charismatic yet grumpy Scott, or Theroux’s friendly yet stern Tom.  Ferguson’s Anna is less notable though competent.  Additional minor character’s decently fill things out like the no nonsense Detective (Allison Janney) or Dr.Kamal(Edgar Ramirez).
                The tone and atmosphere of the film is fantastic as well. This is a very different piece for director Tate Taylor compared to his past work such as The Help. He steps into helming a dark film like this just fine. The visual direction is great, with close views and angles ramping up the always present mystery and occasional intensity.  The score of the film is at times not present but when it is its moody and very good. It presumingly adds to the adaptation of the novel this is originally based upon.
                For all the film’s strengths it certainly isn’t perfect. The plot offers surprises that are at times shocking but also telegraphed a mile awhile. And when it does reveal things, it repeats these revelations again and again. The pacing is also a bit of a ricekty roller coaster, at times somber and emotional but other times pulse pounding. This inconsistency is sparse however for a otherwise good ride.
                The Girl On The Train may appear to be very typical for the genre, but has enough good and even unique aspects to make it stand out.  It’s a slow burner, but offers rewards for waiting it out and characters to like.  7.65 out of 10


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sausage Party Review

Sausage Party
Directors: Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan
Cast Headliners: Seth Rogen, Kirsten Wiig, Michael Cera, many others
Original Release Date: August 12th, 2016

(NOTE: Once again, 3 weeks later oh my... life has been complicated lately. I promise the releases I see ahead will have a faster schedule... )

On the surface, Sausage Party may appear to be a crude bad idea. Seth Rogen and his comedy crew making an inappropriate CGI comedy about talking food. But actually, its an idea that works to some good laughs and some good ideas within if held back by some of its initial limitations. In a good way, it's exactly what it says on the package, pun intended.

Things kick off in an animated world where one can see both humans and more importantly the perspectives of “living” food they eat (though they are for the most part unaware...unless one has seen trailers revealing a fun twist). Through a mostly saccharine but subtle dark musical song we learn that the food await the day they will be “chosen by the gods” and leave the store. It's an almost Pixar take on things, but of course they don't remain happy forever. The initial crew is of hot dogs Frank (Seth Rogen), Barry (Michael Cera), and Carl(Jonah Hill) and Frank's logically bun romantic crush Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Events transpire to them being separated that starts a quest across both the grocery world and the horrible truths of the outside.
The most surprising thing of Sausage Party is that it has a pretty solid storyline with several side-arcs, character development, and occasional deeper allegories (all within the Rogen-level of dumb of course though so things don't get too heady). But there is some exciting twists and action and actions. The movie does some really humorous and neat takes on the food concept with different themed areas, such as liquour aisles being party zones and Mexican food being in an old fashioned style desert. The stereotypes are sometimes crude but also clever interesting characters, such as humorously and truly at war Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz) and Sammy Bagel JR ( a humorous and surprisingly unrecognizable voice of Edward Norton) or Teresa del Taco (Salma Hayek). It's often exciting to see the fresh ideas and takes it constantly introduces.
Truly the voice cast is a highlight as well. Rogen and Wiig's lead both have many great lines and range, and the mentioned supporting cast brings great effort alongside bits by the jerk Douche(Nick Kroll) , Firewater (Bill Hader), Mr.Grits(Craig Robinson) and many more. Often its hard to tell but they all bring a pretty good level of talent.
Besides the food world building and adventure the other strong aspect is often its humor. It definitely, definitely uses its R-rating for jokes trending sexual, substance related, and racial making the film adult in both its subject mater as well as humor. This can also mean at times the film becomes dumb, but for the most part there's many silly laughs whether edgy or slapstick.

For all the good elements it is a shame that the animation is very inconsistent. Some of the food animations are very good and settings, but sometimes thing look “Bargain quality” This is especially noticeable with the human characters who look jarringly worse than their food counterparts. But this movie isn't about looking nice so its slightly understandable compromise.

Overall , it fits right into the comedic staples of Seth Rogen and once again writing partner Evan Goldberg delivered this time through an effective edgy CGI food lens. There's many dumb good jokes and dumb bad jokes and some smart ideas alongside some “Really now” stupid ones. It might not always look pretty, but it offers plentiful dark laughs and even some adventure. 7.8 out of 10

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Suicide Squad Review

Suicide Squad
Director: David Ayer
Cast Headliners: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, many others

Original Release Date : August 5th, 2016
   ( NOTE: Over 3 weeks after release … oh my goodness so late. I apologize, life's been wacky of late...but definitely wanted to get my thoughts in on this important step in the DC verse).

The new DC film universe has been, to say the least, a less than perfect attempt to emulate what so many other franchises are doing and mix its heroes. While the general public and the big comic fans may be well used to and excited for the idea of the foundations of the Justice League to be set, the execution is not tonally right on the mark. The previous two DC films, directed by Zack Snyder, have been received in varying ways, with his take that is simultaneously philosophical and larger than life not creating a fan out of everyone. Suicide Squad is the first movie both without Snyder in the director's seat (instead with Fury's David Ayer at the helm) and for the most part moving the focus from Batman and Superman to something theoretically fresh: antihero supervillians. Here's how it turned out.
The film takes place in the aftermath of Batman V Superman, an aspect which is smartly used as an initial root cause for its events but otherwise is not mentioned very much. Government official Amanda Waller(Viola Davis) seeks to create Task Force X, also known as the “Suicide Squad” of supervillians to do black ops missions or tackle potential Superman-level threats. The team consists of assassin for hire Deadshot(Will Smith), clown maniac punk Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) girlfriend of the not-in-the-team the Joker (Jared Leto), beastly Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje), wisecraking Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), fire powered gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and rope expert Slipknot (Adam Beach). They are supported by the government affiliated expert soldier Rick Flagg( Joel Kinnaman), Japanese swordswoman Katana( Karen Fukuhara), and dark witch Enchantress(Caradelevingine).
It's a film that features DC's largest “ensemble” of characters to date, and perhaps even moreso than many other films. It feels in a way like something such as The Dirty Dozen or The Expendables or the newest Fast and Furious films, though its much more the latter two than the first one in quality. There's a lot of characters and some shine but others fade in the grand tapestry of things . Will Smith and Margot Robbie have had increasingly profilic careers as of late and been alongside each other before, and so it makes sense that they are the mostly shining stars of the picture. Smith's Deadshot is as solidly funny, slickly cool, and even has a slight bit of the charm and emotional heart of Smith's past work. His smartass attitude often delights and makes it the best “Will Smith movie” in years. Robbie's Harley Quinn is as great or possibly even the film's best. She very effectively captures the classic comic charm and manages to certainly make her manic character feel right from the pages. Her design might not be 100% accurate but besides the main heroes of Batman/Superman little is but in terms of personality and dark laughs she carries the show. Perhaps even moreso than her “Mista J” connected to her origin.
Whenever the Joker is in anything its a big deal, and each actor brings something a little new. Jared Leto's performance as the Clown Prince of Crime is very much a mashup of Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's evoking their style but far from their heights with some Jim Carrey's The Mask thrown as well. Take those and add in a “realistic” menacing gang lord angle, and it' interesting take. There are moments which deliver on the Joker mania box. But for someone so connected to Harley Quinn, he and Robbie have some decent moments that fall victim to editing. His appearances are far less than trailers imply, and are mostly restricted to flashbacks which apparently are mostly victim to the cutting room floor. It's an unfortunate trend in Hollywood lately, but while the edits are obvious it does give an reason not to entirely dismiss this Joker. We need to see more, and one will kind of want to since while he doesn't make an impression, one think he maybe can more if he gets to do some more with Batman (There may be at least one appearance by Ben Affleck in this film, short but sweet..)
The other characters are at most decent. Davis' Waller is greatly fierce and at home from the classic media if expected. Kinnaman's Flagg much the same, offering his own source of humor in his seriousness. Characters like Slipknot, Croc, Boomerang, and Katana exist merely for a cool moment or joke but fade to the background. Its surprising that Hernandez's El Diablo has qualities that rival Deadshot's for humor and emotion, making him one of the film's unexpected standouts as well. The villain's identity is an obvious hint, but they are nothing more than a generic evil. The film bills itself as “ the worst heroes ever”, but they are not all the way the best worst heroes with those afromented exceptions althouth the movie makes good use of the dark, edgy villian angle for some lines and themes.
The ingredients are there for what should be some dark cheesy fun but it is prevented from being something greatly unique by its own unique issues. Characters aside, the plot is very simple and very silly. The reason things happen make Snyder's film look like Nolan's when it come's to the way events narratively unfold. The movie also attempts to make use of pop and rock songs to ironically lighten the mood, but it worked so well in Guardians of the Galaxy (an obvious inspiration) because of its placement and balance. Here it feels like someone left an iTunes playlist covering the remnants of what could have been a great movie. Because Ayer's direction can be felt from the visual shots and really fun great action when there isn't some often sub-quality dialogue and pacing at play.

This movie has taken many elements and thrown them into a blender, but it is prevented from execution on what is objectively a good idea of anti-heroes form the comics from some questionable editing and studio involvement. It's great to see these characters for the most part make their debut into this new DC universe, but it's not too surprising of an adventure they have to undergo. But the good is good, and the potential is felt that maybe they could be better used someday... hopefully. A DC or superhero blockbuster fan will certainly have their fun though for better or worse. 7.95 out of 10

Monday, July 25, 2016

Star Trek Beyond Review

Star Trek Beyond
Director: Justin Lin
Cast Headliners: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Idris Elba

Original Release Date : July 22nd, 2016

 Much like the crew in the plot of Star Trek Beyond, what does the film do when it does not have JJ Abrams in the director's helm, as he is only producer here? Well it can be assumed even without watching this that the crew finds a way to heroically perverse to great success, and the same can be said for this film. Justin Lin does a solid replacement job, and for good or less so the entire cast brings that trademark Star Trek feel for a fun if mostly typical adventure.

The film picks up three years into the five year mission of the reboot Enterprise crew. Captain Kirk(Chris Pine) grows slightly tired of life in the stars, and certainly enjoys the chance to reach a rest point at Yorktown space station with his usual crew of Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy(Karl Urban), Uhura(Zoe Saldana), Sulu(John Cho), Scotty(Simon Pegg), and Chekov(the late Anton Yelchin). It's always nice to see the world of ST fleshed out a bit more, though a mysterious visitor brings the crew and ship to another wild jungle planet and the space around it as they go against the fearsome Krall (Idris Elba).
It's a pretty standard formula of good and evil and doomsday devices by this point. It does not bring much new or timeline crossing elements to the picture, and does not get much darker than the tense thriller angle of Into Darkness. But it's a action packed, fun, laugh filled adventure that delivers a a expected but still tasty slice of the goodness of this franchise. The humor and writing are one of the highlights, with many unexpected pairings on their own missions when never knew they wanted but turn out swell, such as Spock/McCoy and (thankfully here a deserving final role) in Chekov/Kirk or the slightly less featured than usual Uhura/Sulu. Whether it's from the charismatic core crew giving humor or just the way scenes often cleverfully unfold there's plenty of chuckles, cheers, and charming heart to be found.
The returning hits their usual notes on par but there is the moderately big new characters as well. Jaylah(Sofia Boutella) is a local of the enemy world and events bring her to ally with the Enterprise crew. She is a great addition in many ways. Boutella never once comes off as anything but genuine with her alien makeup visage, and brings an exotic warrior attitude that leads to humorous moments and cool action. She has a solid core role in the plot and one eagerly anticipates her being in more potential sequels. Meanwhile however Elba's alien warlord Krall is just about decent or so. Purposefully at times hard to understand vocally, his attitudes and motivations never rise above much more than the simpler of the original television series' foes. His backstory is almost an attempt at the tragedy of Nero or the empathy of Khan, but coming from his heavily makeupped/masked visage it's harder to take seriously other than offer a hand to some action and dramatic dialogues.
The action and visual spectacle delivers very well as usual for the series. Justin Lin's trademark explosive style from the Fast and Furious series rarely jumps into the too-crazy of that world (But sometimes does) though otherwise it feels just as it should. Some sequences are a bit hard to follow, but both in space and on ground there are multiple exciting sequences that make the sometimes too long downtime solidly worth it.
Overall Star Trek Beyond is “another Star Trek” in its good and bad. But when it's this legendary franchise, with these actors that is a fine enough thing. It makes some missteps, has some good and ok new additions and ideas. To a fan though, it will bring a solid experience no matter what it has or who's in the director's chair. 8 out of 10

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Infiltrator Review

The Infiltrator
Director: Brad Furman
Cast Headliners: Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt

Original Release Date : July 13th, 2016

                The Infiltrator has two strong aspects going into it. It features a starring role in Bryan Cranston as undercover Customs agent Robert Mazur, and it follows the story of the major 1980s sting operation against Pablo Escobar’s operation in Florida/ the USA. While there’s some good performances and directing to be found, they are at times buried in a sea of other things.
                Cranston’s Mazur is great. In every performance he brings a range, craft, and intensity that always makes him a highlight. When it comes to this film he delivers, and while the material at times is repetitive he is convincing. Especially solid when looking at Mazur’s undercover identity “Bob Musella”. Much like a Heisenberg once upon a time, Cranston is a chameleon able to shift through different situations. Although it’s in his usual style, and almost an inverse of that character’s role, he is a entertaining lead for the film.
                The rest of the cast is for the most part good. The shaky interactions between Mazur and his partner Emir Abreu(John Leguizamo) are pretty decent, although when the latter goes off on his own Leguizamo does not quite carry scenes the same way.  Bit players such as Jason Isaacs as Mark Jackowski, Said Taghmaoui as Amjad Awan, Olympia Dukakis as Aunt Vicky, Juliet Aubrey as Evelyn Mazur are other moderately decent standouts in a sea of even more bit players.
                The film meanders at times, likely limited to its adherence to reality, but a strong aspect comes from the fake romance of Mazur with his “fiancĂ©” Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and the drug powerhouse Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya).  Kruger is solid in a way matching her chemistry with Cranston’s Mazur, both being undercover agents. And Bratt is really good in a sympathetic way, as is his love/hate relationship with Mazur.
                The directing by Brad Furman is competent, with the 1980s singing through in musical  choices. Things get intense when they need to be. At times things can be a bit shaky, but it provides a decent backdrop in some exotic locales for a very dialogue heavy slow burner.
                Ultitmately its slow burn , fact heavy nature will be what one either likes or doesn’t. There’s action at times, but its in a long process with a lot of buildup and little sting. But the Cranston is good when the Cranston is good. 7.65 out of 10 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding Dory Review

Finding Dory
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast Headliners: Ellen Degeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill

Original Release Date : June 17th, 2016

 One might ponder to think, what is about the original Finding Nemo film by Pixar that warranted a sequel? It was no Toy Story level of potential or excellence; it was just a simple story about some fish. But no, Finding Dory proves to be a sequel that is definitely worthy of following on from the first. Sure it offers more of the same, but it reminds that the more of the same is the great visuals, emotion, characters, and laughs Pixar does at their best.
                The nice thing CGI animation is that a sequel can pick up very shortly after the events of the previous film. But it stands alone for the most part on its own, main heroes and a couple cameos aside. The premise is good for this film since Dory the blue tang fish (Ellen DeGeneres) had an amnesiac personality that led to then, and still does in several here, humorous moments. This film takes this implication for her to find her parents Charlie(Eugene Levy) and Jenny(Diane Keaton) who she lost long ago. She gives chase across the ocean to retrace her life, and in turn Marlin(Albert Brooks, nicely reprising his role from the first in a bit of a reduced but still central part) and son Nemo( logically, a replaced young newcomer Hayden Rolence) chase after her.
                It’s a story that’s very much the same idea as the first film. There’s a beautiful, colorful ocean with a variety of fish old and new. There are moments of feelings, jokes especially with the great chemistry between Dory and Marlin once again, there’s some slight adventure.  The film too ultimately has a place to break into in the Marine Life Institute , which offers its own challenges and great new characters.
                The specifics must been seen firsthand in this solid plotline, but Dory has a lead to a large aquarium and medical center for fish in California and must break in. This leads to the dentist office from the first film on a much larger and more exciting scale. She is assisted by a great character, Hank the octopus(Ed O’Neill).  Hank and Dory’s scenes are some of the best of the movie, with them becoming good friends as the infiltration mission goes on. Likewise Marlin and Nemo meet animals such as Fluke(Idris Elba) and Rudder(Dominic West), a pair of seals and their bird Becky, and others in more humorous bit roles such as Bailey(Ty Burrell) the beluga who can’t echolocate and Destiny(Kaitlin Olson) the near-sighted whale shark.  Old or new, large or small the characters are brimming with personality and there’s a nice sweethearted message about accepting one’s shortcomings and respecting other’s for theirs.

                The one attempt to be perhaps different from the first is through very frequent flashbacks to Dory’s past. These make sense in parts but are perhaps overused here and there when more exciting stuff is happening in the present.  But the core plot line, if familiar, is fun to watch and the emotional moments are just as impactful as ever. It picks up on a good premise, and offers a animated adventure worthy of existing within the same. 8.67 out of 10

Friday, June 10, 2016

Warcraft Review

Director: Duncan Jones
Cast Headliners: Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbel, Paula Patton, Daniel Wu, Ben Foster

Original Release Date : June 10th, 2016

                The Warcraft franchise could be argued to be one of the most iconic video game series of all time, helping to define and popularize both the RTS and MMO genres. Its extremely dense and rich colorful world of orcs, elves, dragons, magic, and more could be said to be ripe for a film take. Finally after almost a decade of development and iterations, the movie version is here. And while it is on the upper end of the scale of video game adaptations, it falls victim to those common traits as well. However to a game fan, it’s surreally awesome to see key locations brought to life while also offering some cheesy fantasy fun to newcomers as well. It’s an ambitious undertaking to tackle this franchise, and it gets many things right and wrong.
                Perhaps what sets it apart from most game films is that the story here is largely directly cribbed from the 1994 video game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans with some fleshed out perspectives, retcons, and changes giving a modern look at the “First War” event in the game’s lore from two decades ago. While it is not the most exciting and unique heights of the saga (no cosmic space spirits or pandas here), it is a straightforward base that offers a solid starting point for a film franchise and to newcomers.  The movie, unlike some in the fantasy genre, gives the perspective of two very different factions.
                The orcs (imagine Lord of the Rings’s equivalent mixed with the Hulk from Marvel) are shown in semi-sympathetic light as they invade from their dying world to the human dimension of Azeroth.  There’s noble orcs like Chieftan Durotan(Toby Kebbel) and his wife Draka(Anna Galvin), the conflicted  and awesomely named Ogrim Doomhammer(Robert Kazinsky), and the pure vile evil of war leader Blackhand(Clancy Brown) and the primary antagonist in the warlock Gul’dan(Daniel Wu). All of the orcs are portrayed through motion capture needed for their frames, and their effects and characterization are some of the film’s best aspect. Drawn right out of the game and compelling in their own right, their scenes are intense and barbarically fun. Kebbel as Durotan is a cool sort of progratonist with a motivation that creates empathy for his rebellious reasoning. Most great from the orc side of all is Daniel Wu, who gives Gul’dan a fearsome vile demeanor right from the cd-rom and brings an orc to life to seem real. On their own, they feel like and rival the best of Blizzard Entertainment’s original video game cinematics.
                The film uses an extreme amount of CGI effects, which perhaps makes sense with the source material. But while it makes sense for orcs and other creatures, and the at times beautiful vistas/locales(created 100% right from the World of Warcraft MMO in some cases, which to a fan is the one of the film’s best aspects recreating its vibe) it can be  cheesily jarring when mixed with the film’s weaker aspect, the humans. It ranges from neat to weird to see live actors with CGI medieval armor or riding fake horses alongside real ones.
                That’s not to mention the human characters and actors are mostly lame. The “hero” of the overall film is the knight Anduin Lothar(Travis Fimmel). He gives an ok look into the film and an very slight emotional connection with his son Callen(Burkely Duffield). But he has a weird performance that ranges from extra unlikeable jerk, awkward forced romance nearly Anakin Skywalker tier with half orc Garona(Paula Patton), or lackluster “humorous” moments with mage Khadgar(Ben Schnetzer).  He is not a hero one cheers too much for, nor many of the other humans in the kingdom of Stormwind. Patton’s Garona has some unconvincing makeup clashing with her orc peers and an even worse mediocre performance. Schnetzer’s Khadgar throws a cool spell or two but does not incite laughter. King Llane(Dominic Cooper) and queen Lady Taria(Ruth Negga)  semi-lacklusterly are there to speak exposition text and move scenes along. It’s ironic that these live actors have less impact than CGI creations.  One standout human, interestingly a bit of the magical counterpart to the Orc’s Gul’dan, is the Guardian wizard Medivh, played with game perfect larger than lifeness by Ben Foster who could have used more screentime.
                The director Duncan Jones has never really quite something as visually ambitious and epic scale as this film. He trades in his previous twisting storylines from other works for a mostly straightforward tale setting up decent action. The live and CGI mix becomes more digestable in the battle sequences which is a credit to him but becomes apparent when things slow down. But the thing about game movies is they may always have cheese, coming from a arguably different source of enjoyment than movies. He did what he could and while some pacing and effects mixing are hazy , when it’s good its decent, especially for a fan. But also to his credit, the elements are used as to not be( but almost just barely) overwhelming to an outsider.
                It’s far from a perfect fantasy, game, or overall movie. But that was always going to be the case adapting this huge and varied world. For life fans it will deliver that “feeling” that’s been wanted if making some lore changes and not bringing that same goodness of orcs to all aspects. To an outsider, it’s hyper fantasy to a level even beyond Tolkein may take some effort to swallow but the action and most visuals will excite. Hopefully a potential sequel can learn some things and go to cooler places, and while its doubtful this is the one to kick off the wanted games to movies trend, for what it is Warcraft delivers on the most important aspects it should if not without some moderate missteps. 7.75 out of 10

Thursday, June 2, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

X-Men: Apocalypse
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast Headliners: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Oscar Isaac, many many others.

Original Release Date : May 27th, 2016

 By the ninth installment of a franchise, one might be suspect of its quality. But in the case of X-Men: Apocalypse there still manages to be some mutant surprise. This film follows the “past” timeline first started in 2011 with X-Men: First Class, taking the fight to the 1980s and introducing a powerful new foe from the classic comics. Sounds like a lot to process, and well it attempts to do it mostly with grace however for every greatness there are perhaps a slight thud or fault as well.
The film begins with an exhilarating action opening in ancient Egypt, a fresh tonal departure for this series, as the titular ancient mutant enemy En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) transfers his essence into a new host. He is sealed deep underneath Cairo and the film fast forwards to the 80s after the events of the new timeline seen in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
In the time since we last saw them the mutant heroes and less so heroic ones are scattered across the globe in different places in their lives. Magneto/Erik(Michael Fassbender) leads a new peaceful life under an assumed name with his new family in Poland. Professor X/Charles(James McAvoy) leads his mutant academy with Beast/Hank(Nicholas Hoult). Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) roams the world in search of mutants to help after becoming a matyr in the events of DOFP.  This only begins to cover the tip of the iceberg of characters, like with many films in this franchise.
But while something like the recent Captain America: Civil War shows how to balance a large cast well, this film suffers in part due to a tremendously long buildup time. Layers upon layers of sideplots reach towards a far too simple conclusion. Diversions to include characters such as Stryker(Josh Helman) and Wolverine/Logan(An awesomely brief Hugh Jackman) are ultimately questionable to increase the runtime and cast count. 
Director Bryan Singer does a mostly solid job from a visual cinematic if not pacing standpoint, and handles the 1980s ambience well with musical, costume, and pop culture points that align with the fun inflections seen in First Class and DOFP’s respective decades.  The action can be at times sweet, if perhaps a bit too sparse, and the visual effects have moments of occasional cheese.
                There are the standout elements that are quite amazing. There’s Fassbender’s Magneto. As always, his arc is filled with emotional conflict and intense drama. It’s great to see how this character has evolved over the loose trilogy of this time period. Quicksilver/Peter(Evan Peters) once again has an absolutely amazing hilarious scene(the film has perhaps an increased amount of humor than usual, often through this character and McAvoy’s Professor) that almost makes the price of admission worth alone with his high speed craziness.
 Lawrence gives a surprisingly fresh turn as Mystique if not the best of her career, offering a moral center of the deeper themes . Nightcrawler/Kurt(Kodi Smit-McPhee) is back as a young version of the blue teleporting demon, offering humorous exchanges with his young squad of a re-introduced Jean Grey(a alright Sophie Turner, very much like Sansa Stark and little more) and  Cyclops/Scott(Tye Sheridan, sort of the lead young person).  As mentioned there are so many characters, and people like Storm/Ororo(Alexandra Shipp), Jubilee(Lana Condor), Angel(Ben Hardy), and Psylocke(Olivia Munn) do little for the plot aside from fan service mention/minion work.

For having the film named after him, Isaac’s Apocalypse is…alright. His makeup is slightgly cheesy, and his booming monster voice ranges from menacing and monstrous to laughable. But when it comes time to be powerful and menacing, there are some cool parts and it is interesting to see a larger threat bringing together mutants. For once, a threat worthy of the name in power abilities. However the use of Isaac is questionable, having none of the charisma of his turns in Ex-Machina or Star Wars though continuing their trend of being an acting chameleon.
                It takes a long time to buildup and has little action on the way but its finale is action packed. It offers a lot of X-men comics lore and shoutouts but loses some characters in its journey. However, while it is not the best film in the franchise, it still offers good turns in Magneto, Professor X, Quicksilver and the like and does a solid job at the 1980s to make it worth going through for a fan if not with some slight reservations beforehand. But it is reccomendable to previous fans fsho and far from a  major disaster, make sure to catch up however!  7.9 out of 10

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Review

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Director: Nicolas Stoller
Cast Headliners : Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz
Original Release Date : May 20th, 2016
                Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a movie that sets about to do what it appears to be and little else. In this sequel to the first Neighbors film from 2014, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner find themselves needing to keep their act together with a house sale and new baby on the way. They find themselves in a loose alliance with their old rival fratboy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) after his life goes through some flips to confront the wild new sorority Kappa Nu led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) who have moved next door. Cue thin plot premise for ranging amount of gags and jokes ahead.
                Like the first film, and much of the other work Rogen gets himself involved in, the movie leans towards extreme, crude , edgy, and grossout oftentimes. This can lead to some very funny scenes, especially when involving Rogen’s Mac, Byrne’s Kelly, or the multiple allegiances (it gets a bit messy) of Efron’s Teddy.  Another decently standout member is Ike Barinholtz as their friend Jimmy, seen most memorably in a clown outfit when they attempt to go undercover at a tailgate.   The rest of the supporting cast goes through only brief, sometimes humorous sometimes dumb appearances, such as the original frat boys of Pete(Dave Franco), Scoonie(Christopher Mintz Plasse) and Garf(Jerrod Carmichael) or Officer Watkins(Hannibal Buress) who amount to momentary cameos for fans, that being a loose word for this “franchise.” 
                A large emphasis and perspective is of course placed on the titular sorority  and Shelb/Beth/Nora. Moretz is a ok lead, attempting perhaps to cash in on the shock of seeing her innocent appearance do edgy things from her time in the Kick-Ass movies but it can only go so far before coming off as slightly annoying. Likewise with Clemons and Feldstein (younger sister of actor Jonah Hill, obviously inspired by his past work), who don’t have the best material to work with.  But there are some occasions in the insanity where they are alright.

                The movie moves at a perhaps too fast inane pace, like the first, and also like that goes for a lot of physical gags including some variations on the airbags. But perhaps it’s a stronger plotline here tying it all together that makes for an improved sequel.  There are even specks of deeper  slightly dramatic stuff going on here handled better than the first film. The movie offers lots of edgy “boys vs girls, young vs old” comedic warfare with some crude writing and dumb ideas at times but its target audience should get just about what they want through a alright way to kill some hours and laugh.  7.3 out of 10