Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor: Ragnarok
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast Headliners:  Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, many others 
Original Release Date: November 3rd,  2017



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Waititi is a master of directing character centric dialogue and humor, but he is able to step into the shoes of cosmic superheroics quite well. The action scenes are great , from the arena to space dogfights right out of the best of the inspirations. Some are less effective than others, but the best are so good and literally sparking it's alright . So too with the music and visuals, being colorful and retro and believeable. Some are more jarring / cheesy  but they are few . That too may be a point. The synth pieces are seldom but great , with a typical string score between them.
 
   Perhaps the only other drawback is the pacing . A great story of a strange new world is happening with Thor and friends on Sakaar, but while Asgard is eventually brought back into things the plot of Helas shenngins and conquests is less exciting and a roadbump when they appear. The finale makes right for it but any earlier appearances are slightly weaker, as mentioned.

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

   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villenueve
Cast Headliners:  Ryan Gosling, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford,   others
Original Release Date: October 6th, 2017

  Blade Runner is one of THE sci-fi legends of all time. Atmospheric beyond most before or since, its dark cyberpunk world showcased monumental technical achievements by Ridley Scott, perhaps Harrison Ford's most iconic role after Han Solo and Indiana Jones as Rick Deckard, and a nor-influenced, slow burning and deep story on what it means to be truly human. It stood alone in its story aside being a archetype of its genre, but its world provoked questions of what more stories could be told. Blade Runner 2049 answers that question with a film that faithfully matches the tone and nearly almost the quality of the original. 
The year, not surprisingly, is 2049... a far future from our own that is perhaps even more exotic (As the original took place in 2019). The primary setting of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas is either dystopian layers upon layers of cityscapes or the wastelands and junkyards outside of it. As is the original, there's humans, and then there's the bio-android “replicants” who are created for work.  The hero of the tale is K (Ryan Gosling), one of the Blade Runners... as with Deckard in the original a member of the LAPD tracking down replicants who need to be taken out. His mission to take down Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) begins to unravel an intricate spider-web of lost people, miracles, action, and intrigue. 
As with the first the movie's primary joy is via visuals and audio. Director Denis Villeneuve once again delivers incredibly on this front. Modern budget and special effects showcase a breathtaking, dark, and beautiful future world. Landscapes astonish and seem so real despite likely being not so. The neon and blackness of Los Angeles, the sterile coldness of the LAPD, the alien-like wastelands and junk piles, the surreal and monolithic interiors of the Wallace Corporation, and later a trip to the Mars-like  red dusty abandoned city of Las Vegas are intensely memorable and artistic. This cinematography applies in closer scenes as well. Vehicles, robots, holograms are all so lifelike in their mix of futurism yet with an often appearance of retro looks right from the 80s that match that tone. 
Nearly even better is the audio. The score by Hans Zimmer brings to mind the best of Van Gelis' magnum opus of an original via synths, electronics, and strings. Moment to moment sounds pop and rumble no matter what's occuring. A fantastic example of this is during K and Sapper's first brawl, where a simmering pot of food can be heard quietly cooking throughout it all. 
This is an extremely long movie that can be slow moving and at times lost in its slightly philosophical side (as was the classic film). Revelations and twists take tons of minutes and scenes to unfold, slow scenes at that. But it is all for good reason because of the skill at play. Action is infrequent but memorable and exciting. The plot serves as a fitting legacy of the old film while being perfectly fine for newcomers, with some surprising turns. Sometimes the placement of certain scenes or choices is questionable, but these are minor mistakes on an epic great journey. 
They end up as just side dishes to the scrumptious cyberpunk immersion of the main course but the cast of characters and performances are solid as well. Gosling's K brings to mind his role in Drive....silent yet fierce while also being emotional when the time comes. He's likable and intimidating when he needs to be, and as he is a replicant himself that feeling comes through well. His chemistry with hologram girlfriend Joi (Ana De Armas) is great.  Armas is sweet, funny, loving and the two of them's ups and downs bring a bright cheerful core into a dark film.  
There's many bit players who bring it greatly with what they are. K's superior Lt.Joshi(Robin Wright) is commandingly fierce with the occasional stereotypical cop laughs when she appears. Bautista's Sapper is different than most roles...quiet and committed while also tough. Sylvia Hoek's plays a fearsome replicant foe called Luv who has an edgy likable sense to her. Various other, smaller and bit less memorable but still alright roles appear: Barkhad Abdi as black market dealer Doc Badger, Carla Juri as memory maker Dr.Stelline, Lennie James as junkyard owner Mr.Cotton, and even familiar faces like Edward James Olmos as Gaff and Sean Young as Rachel(also via old audio clips).
Two other characters who make the most impact are fittingly enough some of the most important. Jared Leto's Niander Wallace is quickly the villain of the film. He's blind, an CEO and inventor mastermind of an intergalactic company, and sees through hovering creepy drones that float around him. To add to this, he has a god-complex.,..talking wonderfully of “restorming Eden to re-take her”. He is chilling yet in just a few scenes.   Then, there's Deckard himself.
Audiences expecting a lot of Harrison Ford must be patient, as it takes perhaps too much time for him to actually join the epic events of the film . Once he appears every scene Deckard is in is great. Harrison Ford brings that same level of enthusiasm to his return as he did as Han Solo in Star Wars : The Force Awakens. He is tough, inquisitive, and funny.  He and K make a great team, once it finally happens. It's in a way a close and follow-up to the original Blade Runner with important and emotional consequences, yet also hinting at a possible future. It's good that he's in this to tie it all together.

Overall, this serves as a well deserved follow-up to the classic that Ridley Scott would be proud of... smartly done with someone with perhaps even more talent at general filmcraft in Villeneuve. It transports the viewer into a dark, sweeping epic tale of replicants and future cities whether they're a fan of the old or a first timer. It's been done before, but done again with new paintbrushes... it's a new kind of masterpiece. 9.05 out of 10

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle Review

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle
Director: Matthew Vaughan 
Cast Headliners: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Jullianne Moore, Pedro Pascal , Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum,  many others
Original Release Date: September 22nd, 2017



 The first film in this series, 2014's Kingsmen : The Secret Service, was a pleasantly great surprise. It looked decent or so, but ended up being a greatly fun wild mix of action, humor, and larger than life aspects. Of course the announcement of a sequel has to leave one curious with excitement for where it can go. In this second film, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, this potential is definitely reached as a whole.
The movie picks up some manner of time in the wake of the prior film. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now a more experienced and adept agent in the British covert spy society “The Kingsmen”. He works with the likes of his peers including technical support Merlin (Mark Strong), his old friend and fellow agent Roxy (Sophie Cookson), and new leader Arthur (Michael Gambon). Yet between his responsibilities he still has time to see his girlfriend.. the Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom) and his various friends from his home area. Things seem great of course, but an epic , almost 2.5 hour plot unfolds that goes to some crazy, action-packed, and wild places.
Events eventually transpire to where the main team of Eggsy and Merlin must seek out their American counterparts, The Statesmen. This adds to the star-packed cast with their agents such as the charismatic Tequila (Channing Tatum), their technical support Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), leader “Champ” Champagne (Jeff Bridges) , and the badass lasso-wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). They are needed to contend with the insane villain Poppy (Jullianne Moore) of the titular Golden Circle.
This expanded cast does two good things for the movie. It both expands the (ever-more-unrealistic) world's lore into interesting and epic places. It also leads to some interesting and funny dynamics between all the factions. An insane, wacky spy montage of people and places. For as prim and proper the Kingsmen are in their stereotype of England, the Statesmen are as “Murrica” as possible with their whiskey Kentucky operations, cowboy hats and revolvers, and sense of justice. The same hyper pulp applies to nearly every facet of this world.
The characters themselves are a mixed bag of use. Egerton's Eggsy is once again a likeable and cool protagonist, here being much more skilled in battle and dialogue but not forgetting his youthful arrogant roots. His friendship with Merlin is a highlight, and Strong is as wiseand helpful and occasionally as always too. Tatum's Tequila captures the gung-ho nature of his USA peers and has some coolness and laughs however he unfortunately is a bit of a smaller part. The same applies to the supporting staff on both sides of the pond, from Roxy, Arthur, Ginger Ale, Princess Tilde, and the dude Champ not having much more than the occasional drop of exposition or a joke.
There are luckily exceptions to this. Pascal's Whiskey is a highlight right up there with Eggsy and Merlin. He adopts a gloriously over-hammed and just on the borderline of cheesy “cowpoke” accent for this role, and has some action scenes and jokes that stand highly through what his role is. Marketing has spoiled that perhaps Colin Firth's Harry / Galahad may not be as dead as what was shown in the last film. The reveal of why and how is an emotional , and important feels story arc that must be seen firsthand. But be assured that this is done well and he is once again a highlight. Moore's Poppy is an insanely , funnily evil Martha Stewart-esque innocent exterior kind of villian...replite with an old-school diner and town filled with robot dogs and salonists in the middle of jungle ruins. She is a bit over the top , but often intimidates and charms. These aspects of the villianous side are of course more memorable than generic henchmen such as Engel (Tom Benedict Knight) and traitorous Kingsmen Charlie (Edward Holcroft...although who almost reaches Bond villian memorable tier with his metal rockem-sock-em cyborg arm). There is also Elton John as Elton John...who well, it must be seen but he's silly and amazing in what he adds. Various other characters show up as well such as the President (Bruce Greenwood) and Charlie's girlfriend Clara (Poppy, ironically enough, Delevigne) who add to the story in surprising ways.
The plot of the movie is long but as a whole worth it. There are many twists and turns, as with the first one and others of this genre, that keep the interest and stakes going. There's some deeper themes explore with the drug trade , relationships, and amnesia that are explored to various results. Some parts are a slowdown from what's around them, but when the humor , ridiculousness, and action come its worth it.
Without a doubt on those last two points, director Matthew Vaughan delivers once again. There's a style that has become a now-trademark for him via this series and Kick-Ass... Crazy, frenetic shots. Choice uses of popular and original music (even in less fast paced scenes). Constant “really now!?!?” kind of feelings. The scale has been raised from 11 to 12 for this movie in nearly every way, for better or worse. At times this surrealness once again leads to some less than remarkable backgrounds, but when it counts it delivers.

It's a sequel that tries to be “can lightning strike twice”. It almost does, and hits the same level of insanity, brutalness, crudeness, charm, and fun as one would want. Fans of the series will be delighted, and even as a standalone, it's a shiny, crisp, wild spy blockbuster that's packed with memorable moments. Mixing between cheesy and truly great, it's worth the time. 8.1 out of 10  

Friday, September 15, 2017

It Review

It
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast Headliners: Bil Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis,  several others
Original Release Date: September 8th, 2017


The novel and 1990 mini-series It can be said to be one of author Stephen King's most iconic stories. The terror trip of a tale of an evil clown, a band of friends, and a mysterious town is both thrilling and influential on other things. It's understandable that this remake / reboot should be viewed with some manner of hesistance... after all, there's many bad horror and overall remakes of films out there. The horror genre has changed in the past 27 (what an intentional number) years as well, so how does this turn out. It's pleasing to say that this is a well deserved remake worthy of the concept.
The movie, smartly, does not cover the massive volume of the book (which was a multi-episode TV mini-series more than a movie) so thus is actually the first film in a planned two film adaptation. This may confuse casuals who were not aware and has a bit of an obvious “Chapter One” text at the end, but it is also in a way self contained. The film as expected takes place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine in 1988. A boy goes (quite horrifyingly) missing after he's attacked and dragged away by a sewer dwelling circus clown, Pennywise / “It” (Bill Skarsgard). This dark sequence is just within moments of the film, and it is far from the end of the terror train that follows.
Some short time later, the lives of a group of children in the town of Derry are followed. There's the likes of the missing boy Georgie's stuttering older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), and his various friends including fast talking jokester Richie (Finn Wolfhard), fearful Jewish Stan (Wyatt Oleff), and nervous Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) who are eventually intertwined in their lives with new friends in black farmboy Mike (Chosen Jacobs), chubby new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and the only girl in outcast Bev ( Sophia Lillis). There's also periphery characters in the gang of bullies led by Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) amongst some parents and townsfolk.
The film has an ensemble cast of mostly children, and they prove to be greatly casted. As with other incarnations of this story, the overall friendship...whether in juvenile (and often truly funny..at times stupid) jokes or the ups and downs of bonding , between the kids is a strong suit. Every kid has their moment to shine, whether through heroism or horrifying fright. Lieberher's Bill is a sort of protagonist who has some alright moments. Paticuliarly, the main peers in Wolfhard's (purposefully.,... a much different kind of role to his past work in Stranger Things!) annoying comic relief Richie and Lillis's stressed yet tough Bev stand as highlights. Slightly unfortunate is the fact that some kids end up just delivering a line or two and end up as a stereotype as “token black”, “token Jew”, “token sweet fat kid” etc but when they are featured they are alright... hopefully their characters get more to do in part 2.
The movie does a great job in both its whimsical joy and darkest of horror. The camera work and direction by director Andy Muschietti is commendable, with lush outdoor scenery or grimy skin-crawling houses and sewers the quest goes on. The effects on the various monsters and visions are also really, frighteningly real seeming and quality. This I contrasted by choice set design, costuming, and the occasional background music that takes one back to the 1980s. Not to mention that the film's orchaestral score is often solid too. The influence of It was felt in the television show Stranger Things, so its ironic but understandable that the same overall tone is matched here with its look, whimsy, and setting...it's only fitting and full circle that even includes one of the same stars. But on its own, it holds well.
This movie is thrillingly, often jarringly and pulse poundingly scary. At times the repitition of some tactics get old or some choices are silly (come on... that “Dancing” scene? The heavy metal rock fight?). However the film often finds ways to shock... both with (a moderate or so amount of) jump scares and creepy , more nuanced imagery as it should be. All the good things have been said of the film, and not even mentioning the titular Pennywise. Skarsgard is... great in the role for sure. His appearance both neutral and in the many forms he takes is unsettling and demonic. It's hard to compare to Tim Curry in the original, because that was so iconic. Smartly, it's a semi-different role... a darker look (in a darker toned film than its equivalent peers) in costume and more brutal of a character. He speaks much less, but when it does he gives a creepy voice and luckily rare terrifying laugh. His scheming , wretched cunning is a memorable highlight of the film that may haunt the viewer long after. This is alongside some close to taboo other themes that add to the dark tapestry.

The movie has a big name to live up to , but it comes really close to what it should be. The pulse pounding onslaught may at times be overwhelming and repitative, but the scares count when they count...and the heart in the daytime. As its own, it is a quality horror film... and leaves one wanting the next part. 8 out of 10  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Multi-Reviewmania: The Dark Tower/Valerian/Detroit

Multi-Reviewmania: The Dark Tower / Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets / Detroit:

 Every so often (it's been since 2013... hopefully I have enough thorough reviews to allow for this rare exception) I get
so caught up with life, including seeing movies, that I don't have time to break out thorough reviews for all of them. So, it's
the return of a combo review of some recent films, shorter than average... may some truly remarkable things break the article streak,
ahead, perhaps after some rest time... for now very casual.



- The Dark Tower: Context, I'm a fan... A dream to see come to life of Stephen King's transmedia magnum opus. That also carries with it expectations, and paticuliar
letdowns yet joys. In mainly a bad way, attempts to cram sequences and details from across 8 novels into a mostly too brisk
1h 40min while also being mostly an "attempt" at the first book with an extra scooping of the second... This can be messy
and may mess up things for sequels that are unlikely to happen. However, it's cool seeing these things brought to life more or less.
Idris Elba is pretty good as Roland Deschain the legendary gunslinger of alternate place Mid-World... but his badass demeanor
and combat skills fade as he is more of a bodyguard and sidekick to Jake Chambers, a haunted boy played by Tom Taylor to decent
regard but gets most of the focus in an obvious "young adult franchise appeal" move. Their relationship, and some fish out of
water moments that otherwise are the only charm in too much mundane reality, grows and is a highlight. The Man in Black, Matthew
McConaughey, is an accurately vile villian..... charming and devil-ish in demeanor and fearsome in power. It's a shame
so many other elements range from just decent to weak or worse. The "low men" minions are creepy but generic whether
disguised as humans or as beasts on the battlefield. Jake's family plot is muddled, cheesy, and hollow. The citizens of
Mid-World are just as forgetabble aside from slightly noteworthy minor parts like Arra (Claudia Kim), Pimli (Fran Kranz), or
Sayre (Jackie Earle Haley...too little). Mid-World is kind of gorgeous as is The Dark Tower itself, as is the other fascinating odd magic and technology, kudos to the
scenery and effects...but is barely dwelt upon. The action is decent and visceral...but amounts to just a couple sequences in what is
mainly alot of walking and weird lore that goes mainly mysterious.... a bit of a letdown to fans and dense for newcomers though an attempt is made.
Alright soundtrack. Decent stakes, but should have been more. That describes the film...an interesting if slightly cookie cutter
magical sci-fi adventure that could have been so much more if more of an attempt was put into crafting and accuracy. 7.4 out
of 10

- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Directed by Luc Besson of the Fifth Element and others, the French legend...
of course there was alot of hype in this as his return to true science fiction. However, while it has French style imagination and visual
spectacle in pretty good amounts it also has just as much or even more extraneous French cheesy whimsy. One imagines that if
this is just a taste of the classic comic series, there's many ideas to explore...and for sure it attempts to give a look at an
interesting universe. This is brought down by a film that is...mixed in its aspects to say the least. Commendable, unique
creativity in its plethora of places( a virtual reality dimension market planet! a planet of magical ocean pearls right out of a
Final Fantasy video game cutscene! The titular utopia of biomes and species!) and neat alien species, creatures, technology,
and spaceships etc. This leads to some wonderfully colorful and artistic views of beings, landscapes, and costumes. However,
at times this CGI overload (perhaps not since Cameron's Avatar has this much been seen) can appear low resolution or cheesy..
with some muddled people at closer inspection and hazy music. It's a fascinating world, but its plot is filled with useless
side diversions and hardly likeable characters. Leads Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are... mediocrely
decent at best... no doubt with the cheesy script to blame if not also their questioonable talent as seen in other blockbuster work of late.
The likes of Clive Owen, Rutger Hauer, and Herbie Hancock mumble their way through exposition and mundane military chatter. When
the only memorable enthusiastic performances are (arguably diversionary) aliens by the likes of John Goodman and Rihanna, one knows there's a problem with
the kind of heart that lacks within this universe. Sam Spruell is a extremely minor gem as a noble General. Action and
excitement pops up but Besson uses too much whimsy with sometimes too much epic and flashbacks to give a dissonance of tones between
silly and dark. The ambition can be felt, and it has value, but it also has more than a couple weaker areas. 6.85 out of 10


- Detroit: The best movie on this list to be sur..to no surprise. Katheryn Bigelow is a name that always indicates quality.
This, shockingly very true, historical narrative is as dark and gripping as any of her best. Words like dark, dire, and
stressfull are understatements in this tale of race and police struggles. There is an interesting mixture of actual news and historical
footage with dramaticized filmed Bigelow footage (this latter part being the majority). This aids to make it feel real, especially
so given Ms.Bigelow's knack for great camerawork and pulse pounding action / tortue. It starts as a tapestery of moments
in different lives, but ends up becoming a story about the Algiers Motel Incident within the 1967 riots. Some performances
stick out as extra stellar ... John Boyega's committed and stoic security guard Melvin Dismukes, the happiest of youth and
deepest of sorrow in musicians of The Dramatics Morris(Joseph-David Jones) and Larry Cleveland Reed(Algee Smith), and veteran
Greene(Anthony Mackie who gives a familiar to his work in Bay and the MCU but memorable turn). The context is unfortunate, but
racist abusive cop villian Phillip Krauss(Will Poulter)(just like but most of all out of like minded
peers) is a chilling antagonistic performance. Some of the characterization may be extreme, but it adds
to the violent, dark almost horror / thriller tone of the piece. This is real events at the end
of the day though, which makes this drama not a fiction of terror but one people went through on all
sides... with deep lessons to be learned for today's age. Emotional, bloody, violent, tense (aided
by a dark pulsing score)... Bigelow transports the audience back into a long (perhaps a bit
too much..and with some narrow focus that may have been aided by a bit more context) intense
tale of what happened. 8.7 out of 10

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dunkirk Review

Dunkrk 
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast Headliners: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, many others
Original Release Date: July 21st, 2017

 The term “war is hell” is a term that has been explored through many films and media over the years. Particularly in the grand epic stakes of World War 2, where true stories are epic, dramatic, and sorrowful enough to provide inspiring, or harrowing, tales of warfare. Dunkirk names itself after the true Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. Director Christopher Nolan takes his first attempt at a WW2 film, and the result is what one would expect it to be.
The stakes match history: in 1940, British and French forces had been pushed the edge of France (just a short while across the sea from Britain) by Nazi forces. From all sides enemy forces are hunting down the troops, and the situation seems dire.
The approach and intricate touch of Nolan is noticeable right off the bat. The movie plays, like Memento and Inception prior, with time and layers of storytelling. There is the aspect of the British ground forces leaving the beach including soldiers (in a way the main protagonist of ) Tommy(Fionn Whitehead ) alongside Gibson(Aneurin Barnard) and Alex(Harry Styles from pop band One Direction ) under leadership such as Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (James D'Arcy). Separately, there is the civilian family out at far sea of Mr.Dawson(Mark Rylance) and his helpers son Peter(Tom Glynn-Carney) and friend George(Barry Keoghan) who meet an unnamed Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy). Lastly, there's the air battle in the skies above of RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden).
These perspectives play with time and place, with events taking place either one week, one day, or one hour before a nexus point. It is however not really confusing, moreso a narrative puzzle that is intriguing to figure out , as often Nolan has. Things make sense in due time and the escalating tension of the plots is helped by big events ramping up and up. It's neat to see where the plotlines and timelines interconnect into each other once they eventually do.
This strong aspect of the movie ties together even strongly when considering the visual and audio treat of it all. Nolan's directing and camera work reaches some of the highest heights of his career. This ranges in a spectrum from the most real of intimate shots on the frontline, to the most beautiful and grey skies of the air foce combat. When water comes, it is claustropbic. Explosions and bullets seem within inches of the audience's fate. This leads to that “survival” aspect of the film more than most war films. This is aided by an amazing, layered score soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (as he always does) who's ticking strings and other instruments tie into the pulse of what s going down in the desperate stakes. Additionally, the audio design of everything is loud, realistic, and effective. Every inch of this is real and gritty...costumes, grey skies, somber music. It's an intense experience.
“Survival experience” would explain this film in another way in that , while it is brutal and dire, it is not so much a movie about action in that it is about reacting to action in a real way. The German Nazi forces are never humanized (this was apparently done on purposes) and mostly appear off-screen. This gives the movie a haunting, intense quality since danger can come from anywhere anytime, as it was likely on the real location of Dunkirk back then. The threats are fire, water, and so on due to that...it makes war an elemental force which is fitting in many ways. However a possible drawback is, there is not really much of a driving plot or storyline other than “survive and get out”. The vague experiences of the film due lead to some intense situations, but they are sporadic in the waves of conflict rather than having a definning character arc within that conflict.
The performances and characters within the film reflect that. It seems that usually in his films there is the coincidence of strong writing and acting. Even the (many) unnamed characters come across as sincere and momentarily memorable, as per Nolan tradition. No one really gets much dialogue to speak but that is in line with the ambience at play. When they do, there is some memorable players. Whitehead's Tommy is a bit of a generic young everyman but that may be the point..he does alright with what he's given and is an endearing face in the danger. This seem aspect can be seen in those accompianment such as Lowden's pilot Collins, D'Arcy's Colonel, and Glynn-Carney's Peter.
The standouts thus standout even more strongly. Tom Hardy's Farrier speaks perhaps the most little of all, but in his eyes and physical movement he gives a powerful and dedicate performance as any in his career. Branagh's Commander shouts orders and speaks quietly of grim things, but is emotional and sincere within it. Style's Alex shows the pop singer has some great acting talent.. he has a bit of brutish nature and swagger that makes him stand out amongst the British forces. The best dramatic scenes come from Rylance's Dawson (who is extremely wise, determined, and badass) and especially with Murphy's Soldier who is affected by regret and PTSD. The emotional feels will stick with the viewer long after the film in these cases.

In the pantheon of both World War 2 and Nolan films, there's been perhaps some better. It is not a traditional one of either. But what it is, is a finely crafted, slightly surreal and intense tale of courage and survival in a desperate situation. Bravo Nolan at your take. 9 out of 10

Thursday, July 20, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast Headliners: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, various apes and humans 
Original Release Date: July 14th, 2017


The modern reboot series of the Planet of the Apes franchise has trended towards not just decent, but incredible. These new films have tapped into state of the art special effects , dramatic and effective writing, stellar cinematography, and a epic scope to levels that arguably surpass the 70s series by leaps and bounds. War for the Planet of the Apes marks a sort of end of this new take (although as with any of  what is successful in Hollywood these  days, there are plans and likely to be more) on the apes. It ties into the themes, plot elements, and excellence of the series to deliver a fitting conclusion and reach masterful new heights in many areas. The title is war, but if anything, it could be called “Finale of the Planet of the Apes” for its themes and wraparound.
A few years after the events of 2014's post-apocalyptic Dawn (and even further past 2011's apocalyptic Rise), the larger human force teased in the end of that film hunts down the ape community of Caeser(Andy Serkis). The human military still has not learned their lesson to both not put the blame on him, and also to think they can stop him and his simian people so easily. The movie shows its strengths from the get-go with a dark, brutal, intense action battle of human soldier (including traitor “donkey” ape allies)  attacking the apes at their base. From here the stakes only amp up as a tale of revenge and finality is told.
The CGI special effects reach an incredible new height in this film. Serkis' Caeser , as ever, is a monumental achievement of both the visual spectacle of mocapped movement and the dramatic nuance as the voice and face of the role. All of the apes look more real than ever, but particularly Caeser  seems just as real as any human in reality. Moreso than all others he seems like a real prop, a costume, mask or model with his fur and movements and all. This however are all effects of CGI which is amazingly impressive. In terms of a character, Serkis' voice (used now most of the time although there is delicately swift use of sign language as well) performance is stellar. He is gruff yet emotional. When making demands, when feeling sorrow, when being inspired, and even a moment of humor this ape is a legend. One of the greats, and his character arc (And the choices he has to make ) are highly great.
This combo visual / dramatic quality of ape characters is present in most others as well. On his mission, Caeser finds himself joined by a “squad” that consists of the gungho Rocket(Terry Notary), the loyal Luca(Michael Adamthwaite), and the wise Maurice (Karin Konoval...who seems even realer than any other).  The friendship and tactical skill between these forms a strong and memorable bond leading to excitement and emotion. High effort seems to be placed on these ape with the budget, since when there is dozens of apes on screen the effects can be more noticeable as not real. But zoomed in, one would believe these apes are right alongside the real human actors. Some other minor highlights of apes include the sincerity of Caeser's “daughter-in-law” Lake(Sara Canning), albino Winter(Aleks Paunovic) and even the return of  the second film's vile villain Koba(Toby Kebbell via visions).  There's also the important new, non-ape but noble addition of mute young girl Nova(Amiah Miller) who the heroes take under their wing after finding her on the road. Her nuanced, mostly silent performance earns her a place amongst the best of apes. An ape that is just as praiseworthy as Caeser or Maurice is the newcomer of “crazed old hermit” Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). He is from a different culture than the main apes and has a (sign) language barrier. He also is uniquely cowardly, bizarre, and hilarious. His comic relief and charm function blend well into an otherwise grim movie and its interesting how unrecognizable but effective Zahn is in this highlight role.
The human villains (Nova aside there are not really any noble ones this time... the presence of Jason Clarke's character is only slightly missed however in the excellence of the other elements) get strong vile if generalized with one exception characterization.  The legion of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are ruthless, abusive and are as if they are some ancient Roman Legion rather than just generic soldiers. They are a threat to far outdo other human villains across the franchise, well equipped and fearsome.
To oppose Caeser, there's the Colonel... and Woody Harrelson gives a really good performance. It is not often he has played the villain, and he has a knack for it. He is a zealot filled with rage..almost ridiculously so. His stance is manic and Harrelson drips evil and bringing this across. There's even a small bit of sympathy for him in the right moments, and of course humor in a evil way. He ends up being more of a far off character but his influence is felt. One will hate him, and cheer for his hopeful demise.
That brings a fair point... the title is “War” and while there is some incredible, visually stunning action as with the others in this trilogy it comes in ebbs and flows. Do not come into this expecting constant slaughter. It is , once again, a more visceral, slower epic journey. This journey pays off when it needs to though and is no less exciting or intense in its nuance.
The music in this movie is fantastic. Compose Michael Giacchino both uses repeating leitmotifs and surprises with diverse sounding pieces that add to the emotional feels, the excitement, and the unfolding intricate plans with occasional bouts of whimsy and magic. It is a lush, orchaestral soundtrack that highly adds to scenes.
What scenes they are... director Matt Reeves delivers strongly not only on the apes themselves but also on nearly every other aspect. The cinematography is great both intimately up close and from af far. There are breathtaking, beautiful uses of landscapes from surreal coastal beaches and solemn forests to desolate snowy mountains. The tracking when action pops up brings the viewer right into the scene while also being awe-inspiringly larger than life. His touch and style are distinct and it was a smart choice having him finish off the story to new heights.
This is a long, epic movie that can beat times  drawn out but in the end pays off. It helps to have seen the others in the trilogy to understand the stakes and context for what's going on..alongside some references and surprising new twists. It can be heady, but it can also be pure fun...or pure emotional feels. Pure epic is a word to descibe this saga, and this piece of it. Caeser will not be forgotten, and what he did for the apes... and its franchise. 9.12 out of 10

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Director: Jon Watts
Cast Headliners: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, many others
Original Release Date: July 7th, 2017 (My 24th bday, what a party!)



  Another few years, yet another another Spider-Man “reboot”. However with Spider-Man: Homecoming it feels this web-slinger is here to stay via the live action MCU. In a sense this film is interesting as well because he technically made a great and first appearance in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. Now it's time to head back to New York City and give him his own solo adventure / spin-off.
 What is found is a fun lighthearted superhero time. 
 The movie picks up at various reactionary points of the MCU time-line. There's ( a bit surprisingly , for a Spider-Man movie but not for a MCU movie (see Thor 2 etc) a bit of a lengthy intro to the main antagonist in Adrian Toomes aka Vulture (Michael Keaton) who salvages alien gear  and rubble from The Avengers (the first movie in 2012) earning his moniker. Jumping forward , there's the aftermath for  Peter Parker / Spider-Man(Tom Holland) from 2016's Captain America: Civil War battle where he showed up. It's the first of a few interesting uses of MCU connections , and it works to fill in the lore and timeline of the world and give context for how he feels.
Although Peter may have super abilities and a super suit he is also a high schooler. This is the youngest Spidey to date and the movie goes deep on high school, youthful shenangins even more than the Garfield or Macguire films. But it works fine. The balance of Peter and his high school chums (such as Jacob Batalon as Ned, who is one of the movie's comedic and heartwarming highlights) joking around , taking tests, having romance and academic team melodrama against the more superheroic epic story is balanced well. Holland is charming as civilian Peter, having youthful charisma with a knack for science and investigating. These make these scenes, which director Jon Watts calls inspired by classic John Hughes movies, finely tolerable especially when it comes to his jokes with awkward yet hilarious Ned.
For so much casting announcements given in the lead up to the film, most of the high school related cast boils down to some minor , or less than minor, jokes or scenes. Characters like arty sarcastic Michelle(Zendaya,,,who clearly is set for a bigger role in sequels), bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori),  teacher Mr.Harrington(Martin Starr), Principal Morita(Kenneth Choi), Abraham (Abraham Attah), Coach Wilson (Hannibal Burress), and even the “love interest” of Liz Allan(Laura Harrier) are played by talented performers from elsewhere but just give a few lines of jokes or interactions with Peter / Ned etc here. However the writing is for the most part solid whether funny or dramatic. 
Peter's non-HS support crew is a bit more memorable. Aunt May(Marisa Tomei) is as charming as ever and has some memorable lines but isn't in the film that much either. It's good to see Happy Hogan(Jon Favreau) be a semi-major role again , funny as ever. He is the first of some surprising connection and returns. It's a twist to see who “Karen the Suit Lady” (Jennifer Connolly) is but she nearly matches the best of Bettany's Vision/Jarvis from other films. 
So much advertising had been done on how Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) was a big part in the film and... he is for the most part. Whether it's the mentioning of “the Stark Internship' or him offering comedic or action help he is a key if often off-screen part. Downey is as great and charming and funny as ever. It's great to see Spider-Man and Iron Man in action on at least one occasion. Holland's other best scenes as a civilian are with RDJ, and there's some decent emotional feels of him being a sort of father figure , and goal via the Avengers, to Peter. However if the fact that this was “Iron Man 4” or even “Iron Man 3.5” were a concern don't be alarmed, this s still mostly a Spider-Man movie.
The villainous angle similarly ranges from great to slightly forgettable. Michael Keaton is an absolute highlight of the film as the winged (even cooler than Falcon) Vulture. Keaton's Toomes takes  bit to leave an impression as his glimpses are brief aside from some decent effects and action. However, once certain twists and arcs are established, he becomes a fascinating foe to Spider-Man with a logical, emotional, and perhaps even justifiable point of view. He's aspects of Dafoe's Green Goblin, Molina's Doctor Octopus, and some original blue-colorness that gives him better and better scenes and lines . A solid entry in the MCU as a character, and his wing suit gives him combat capabiilities to go toe to toe with Spider-Man.  His related characters end up being generic goons however, such as “the Shockers” (who don't even get  costume, despite merchandise) in Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine) and Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green). There's also the weird mechanic Tinkerer(Michael Chernus) and an extremely small but alright appearances by sequel-set-up  gangsters Aaron Davis(the future Prowler perhaps ) (Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino) and Mac Gargan(the future Scorpion perhaps) (Michael Mando). It adds some layers to give Vulture some lackeys, but luckily he counts more than the minions. 
For all its mostly strengths in characters, humor / writing, drama, and plot the action and spectacle is... decent. No complaints truly, as Watts shoots some solid looking (even non-combat) visuals and scenery. The Spidey suit looks just as good as the best and better at times as does Vulture, Iron Man etc.  However no matter the foe whether thugs or super villians the battles are..... decent if short. They are scattered through the film and raise in stakes at times but aren't as memorable as thebest of them. Occasionally as well the CGI effects aren't as good as other moments, and the music (aside a certain theme showing up) isn't as snappy as past iterations. But it's fun often as well(such as a montage of him , right out of the comics, doing neighborhood heroics) Through it all at least Holland has some decent quips, charm, and acrobatics which make his action / spideylike. These are just minor drawbacks.
New Spider-Man films have and will continue to go a number of ways. His debut in Civil War gave a good head start, and here the promise is mostly delivered on.  It's a typical kind of Spider-Man film, but has good highlights making it worth watching in the general kind of stuff. Fans of the character, or usual MCU movies, will like this. The MCU elements make it special, and even without those the other elements do as well. It ain't perfect, but neither is Spider-Man himself  yet and his its many good aspects..that's the point. 7.97 out of 10.


(PS: Was cool to have one of my favorite heroes on my birthday. Also to have Keaton have been both Batman (lol crossover) and Birdman(heh) over his career) 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver Review

Baby Driver
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast Headliners: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, others.
Original Release Date: June 28th, 2017

 Edgar Wright needs no introduction. Rather his style as a director is so distinct..from the buddy romps of the “Cornetto Trilogy” of Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz / The World's End to the incredibly snappy adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs the World. He has a touch of hold mania in everything he does, so to have him create a new film is always an event. Baby Driver continues the tradition of unique, wild, hilarious and action packed films he has made in the past.
The outset and general theme of the film may seem to be generic, but in time it proves to be have many unique redeeming values. A gang of criminals robs banks and the sort with a getaway driver. This crew consists of our hero Baby (Ansel Elgort) and at various times a rotating roster of no-good doing but often likeable crooks including Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling(Eliza Gonzalez), Bats(Jamie Foxx), and less present but additionally Griff(Jon Bernthal), No-Nose(Flea), and JD(Lanny Joon). They work for the criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Elsewhere in his life, Baby interacts with a mute roommate Joe (CJ Jones) and finds love in waitress Debora(Lily James).
It's both a large and intimate cast depending on the situation. The rotating group of robbers leaves some amiss such as Bernthal but everyone makes an impression across heists. In time the core Baby/Buddy/Darling/Bats dynamic becomes a great thing about the film, right up there with the best of Pegg / Frost in an American, criminal kind of way. Everyone , aided by snappy writing and usually clever humor, gives a great performance. Particularly Hamm, Foxx, and Spacey. The audience will fid themselves constantly jumping between cheering for, hating, and laughing along and with these interesting criminal characters through ferocity and charm. The dialogue delivery can be almost too punchy and stereotypical but that's a bit of the point one imagines. It just adds to the film's style.
The blend of style and performance ties directly into the hero in Baby. He's a great driver but doesn't talk much (one of a few comparisons to the 2011 film Drive...if that is an ice cube, this is a firecracker). An event in his youth left a ringing in his air and so he constantly listens to music to help him focus and balance things out. This is the first sign of the bland of music and happenings... Elgort was perhaps chosen more for his physical charisma than his charm, as he oddly dances around scenes in tune to his music. A t first this will surprise the viewer, and his standoffish personality may leave some distaste. But over time as the action ramps up, so too does it all make sense from Wright's approach..
This is a movie of a few relationships and interplays but a foremost one, and a place where Elgort succeeds as Baby moreso alongside Lily James as Debora, is the romance. There's (but not overbearing) several warm well done romance scenes that provide a good through line to the film. Their moments together are breaths of charming air in the mania and bleeds chemistry. This I the Scott Pilgrim influence coming through and succeeding.
What defines Baby Driver, because it happens so often, is the blend of action and music. The soundtrack is filled with a large variety of pop, rock, funk, etc songs that fit perfectly with where they are placed in a manner t make the Guardians of the Galaxy proud..and then some. More-so than that or others however is that they feed directly into the scenes more than not. Drums become cars crushing into each other. Gun shots become guitar riffs. It's a symphony of action and mania on many clever occasions.
Even on their own the action is incredible. There's plenty of it filled with twists and turns and excitement and blood. Snappy but not hard to keep track of in true Wright style. This cinematic craftsmanship carries into scenes...rotating cameras, close shooting and tracking etc.. it feels real yet surreal in a perfect wild blend.
Constant excitement comes from these musical action moments as well as the plot itself. The trailers appear to give away a lot but in actuality hide so many twists and turns. The plot has many layers, from silly to frantic to even some emotion. The ride runs a bit long and goes in some same strokes, but becomes even more and more worth it. This is best to go in with the blinders on. It will turn out better than expected for one,, and from surprising areas that constantly hide delights.

Edgar Wright has made another wild legend , among-st his best, with this film. The humor, director-ship, story, and uniqueness are high mark. Sometimes the jokes are too silly or it takes some mistakes with character use but these are minor. It's a wild fun film that's worth checking out and is a unique musical highlight of the year so far. 8.75 out of 10

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight Review

Transformers: The Last Knight
Director: Michael Bay
Cast Headliners: Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Isabella Moner, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, many , too many, others
Original Release Date: June 21st, 2017  

  Another couple years, anotherrrrr Transformers film. The ride never ends when these keep making money. But it seems the barrel has really started to be scrapped with this fifth installment with Transformers: The Last Knight. One knows what to expect by now, although this time its wilder than ever for good and bad. It's once again not boring..but that doesn't mean it's any good. Some highest of highs but the lowest possible lows of ever. Where does one even begin.
Much buzz had been made about the mania of the inclusion of King Arthur(Liam Garrigan), Merlin(A very stupidly drunk Stanley Tucci in lieu of his role from the 4th film), and historical / medieval elements. Like many elements of this movie, this is barely involved / pointless and a let down. One of many retcons to the lore is that apparently transformers have been actively involved in the affairs of humanity for all of their history (lol). Merlin had a mechanical staff for his magic that has been lost for ages.
Picking up in the present the world once again (as has happened many times in this franchise) has its stakes changed after the various events of the past few Transformers films. The cast is mainly new, again , from the human side. Cade Yeager(Mark Wahlberg) and autobot Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl)   very randomly make the loose acquaintance of a young orphan girl named Izabella (Isabella Moner) and her bot Sqweeks in the ruins of Chicago. Proceeding back to their home wacky junkyard of side characters they are joined by allies including the memorable Age Of Extinction stereotype autobots Drift(Ken Watanabe), Hound(John Goodman), Crosshairs(John DiMaggio) amongst little seen and less memorable allies like dinosaurs including Grimlock and merchant Daytrader (Steve Buscemi giving at least a Big Lebowski reunion) and the annoying assistant mechanic Jimmy(Jerrod Carmichael).
For some reason even though the Autobots have proven to be nobler than than the Deceptions for many years and films now the US Government has formed the TRF anti-transformer force led by some silly characters (Tony Hale appears as a scientist with some ok jokes) and the return of soldier Lennox (Josh Duhamel). Using their own army of non-transformer robots , walkers, drones, and soldiers they attempt to chase down Markey Mark's Cade and friends. Stupidly, they even temporarily ally with the (once again..what happened to Galvatron/look? The lore is ruined by this point beyond even the X-Men timeline) return of the Decepticons in Megatron (Frank Welker here), who has a new look and a ripoff of the Suicide Squad (who get name cards and music.in front of a crew of literal lawyers..grr... then fade away shortly after).
This doesn't even describe the even further mess of factions present. In Britain, an eccentric member of the “Witwiccan Order:”Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and his bot allies Cogman(Jim Carter) and Hot Rod (Omary Sy) recruit the aid of historian Vivian (Laura Haddock) to solve the mystery of Merlin's staff.  They later fold in the USA characters for an “epic” journey. Elsewhere still, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen)'s cliffhanger from the last movie in space reaches a whimper of a conclusion as he crash lands on Cybertron and is corrupted by his apparent creator the robotic demonic goddess Quintessa (Gemma Chan) as she prepares to collide her planet with Earth. In Cuba, the return of Simmons(John Turturro) literally phones in a cameo and some “humor” after being absent from the fourth film. Even Shia LaBeouf's fate is addressed and cameos this time. Although these elements are not enough to bring back a lost fan if they had left prior to this point.
It's a lot of characters, locations, and places to keep track of  to a level even more overwhelming than ever before in a series that has done so.  Very few elements stick out from this messy yet awesome mess. While Wahlberg's Cade is even more manical and lame than AoE he does have some decent chemistry and interaction with the ok charm and vigor of Haddock's Vivian. For all of the marketing material implying that Moner's Izabella was a main character she appears in barely any of the movie and annoys more than anything when she is present at all. A  zany, odd highlight are the characters surrounding Sir Edmund. It's in a way sad to see the legendary Hopkins choose a role like this and a lot of his lines are cringeworthy. But he also has a manic, zany sense to him that one can tell he had fun doing this role as he does with stupid passion. Carter's Cogman and him are the true pair of chemistry in the film. Cogman is cool, funny, and great.. a sort of C-3PO / K2SO from Star Wars though not as great. Too many swears as ever. The various Autobots and Decepticons give alright voiced performances but fade into the manic fast movie tapestry. Duhamel does litle more than shout orders either, although isnt that what he always did.
A  semi major dissapointment of the movie is Optimus Prime. The series has never really decided whether he should be featured as a leader, a protagonist, or cameo. Its no surprise that him being a villian is not handleed well either. He is barely in it either, his “evil acts” aren't even that destructive with one exception. The lore with him and Quintessa is interestig but also breaks conventions previously established. It's a neat idea but in the end done wrong. Just about anything with lore in the movie can be thought of as such, with a random World War 2 flasbback not adding much to the plot aside setting up no doubt future spinoffs of “transformers across history”
The characters..mostly bad. The humor... occasionally funny, often stupid. The lore and backstory, mostly ruined. The plot, long , often stupid and confusing, and messier than ever. However there are some true redeeming qualities. The mania of puzzle pieces won't leave one bored and laughing in a likely unintended way brings cheesy charm to the movie. The music is lush (although jarringlt mocked at one point in a meta way) and the visuals are mostly great. There's some truly nice visual shots and effects of robotic beings. Yet also, there is just as many or more times where effects are obvious as well..it's a mixed bag. Action is epic in stakes and scale yet confusing. Although sometimes one has to appreciate the explosion mania Michael Bay has going on his directing, as ever.  Although the line between impressive and headache indusing spectacle is an ever thinner one.
This movie takes the previously established characters, lore, and conventions that were already in a blender...and blends them again. New elements are mostly cheesy or pointless, but some things are alright. It's a very bad film, perhaps the lowest quality of the franchise. Yet if one is completely bored, or liked previous entries in the franchise, it somehow still mananges to have some silly redeeming value. Only some... 6 out of 10

Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie
Director: David Soren
Cast Headliners: Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele
Original Release Date: June 2nd, 2017
Seen: Late June 2017


Who didn't read the Captain Underpants series back in the day. It was a staple of late 90s/early to mid 00s elementary and middle schools. It was juvenile, it was silly, and it was full of a lot of charm across author Dav Pilkey's sequels, spinoffs,  and similar works. It is surprising that it has taken this long to get an animated movie but the wait is mostly highly worth it. With a title like “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” one perhaps expects and hopes for more in the future.
The movie , greatly looking with the first of many animation styles (director David Soren of Dreamworks nicely weaves between living comic sketchings, a nice 3d CGI look, even “flip-o-rama” and live sock puppet action) gives the fictional story of what Captain Underpants is. He is a wacky comic book character made by elementary school students George(Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch). Their imagination is as much as their love for pranks which is much to the ire of those like principal Mr.Krupp (Ed Helms) or bully-nerd Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele). There is also the villainous science replacment teacher Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll). A lunch lady Edith (Kristen Schaal) also gets some funny and sweet moments between some unnamed staff. It's a small cast of named characters, but that's fine enough when they are memorable. 
It turns out that the boy's have a magic ring that make Principal Krupp actually believe he is Captain Underpants from their confiscated comics. Helms is great as both the mean Krupp, the babylike yet stereotypically manly / superheroic Underpants, and some fun disguises / other moments. He is adaptable as both and is almost unrecognizable (as he was also solid in The Lorax). Sometimes he darts between the two different roles within moments and it is handled well with charm.  The child characters are funny as well. It's amazing how Hart, Middleditch, and Peele are also unrecognizable and sound just (aside their age-gravelynes of course) like children. Their performance and enthusiasm make it all believable for laughs and wit.   Kroll's Professor P is a generic villain but that's the point  and it gives him the chance to deliver some cheesy lines in a German accent. For readers of the book, they all feel right off the page and for newcomers they're charming / hateable.
The humor is silly and childish but that's the point as well. It will make a kid, adult, or anyone with  a sense of dumb humor laugh. Things happen snappily and quickly. The plot is as simple as can be and almost flows too quickly but it's an excuse to deliver lighthearted charm and wild happenings. The music was partially composed by Weird Al Yankovic and fits well to match the sugar pop colorful visuals. 
There's not much else to this aside some surprising moments of deeper feels and emotion. For fans, they will like the adaptation and some “lore cameos” to the book series (the movie is mostly an adaptation of the first few books with some other call outs) and the capturing the literal toilet humor and schoolyard fun. Non-fans, or those with families and heck even animation fans of all ages will like this breezy wild adventure. It's perhaps a bit too short, simple and fast happening, but it's very sweet. 7.85 out of 10

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast Headliners: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielson,  David Thewlis, Danny Huston, others
 Original Release Date: June 2nd, 2017


Finally after all these years several important marks are made in this film. The first Wonder Woman movie ever in the big screens. The first (to summarize this review) good quality female led superhero movie. It's also the first time DC Comics has a solo, flashback origin movie in the DCEU since Man of Steel's starting it. Wonder Woman does well in most regards and the fact that it is anything but a wreck is something to be celebrated as there were those risk factors either unproven or with poor precedence. This movie is a mix of unique and tropes but the combo makes for mostly fun.
The main arc of the film takes us back to what could be any amount of time to the land of the Amazons on the “paradise island” of Themyscira. The young daughter of the queen gets into various hi-jinks and learns of the lore of this all female  society. This opening portion has some nice colorful visuals but drags on for a bit of awhile and packs the first of many cheesy moments in the film. But how can one not have some cheese when it comes to a mix of pulp , history, and myth in one. There is a standout, painterly sequence where the tale of the fascinating background lore of Ares, Zeus, and the other gods is told.
After some more training an older Diana , as she is known, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) finds her world turned upside down when a  American/ British spy in Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island on the heels of a German army. This is about the last we see of a decent performance in aunt Antiope (Robin Wright, always fierce) and her mother queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, less memorable but also decent). Events transpire to where instead Wonder Woman ends up in the world of the rest of humankind and World War 1.
Here is where the true movie starts both in plot and quality. World War 1 may at first seem like a basic setting (and one of several influences from competitor's 2011 Captain America 1 and even Thor 1 in its fish out of waterness) but it ends up proving its worth. The movie is a fine period piece, with nice background visuals and costuming and feel. This makes it perhaps the most visually distinct film in the DCEU yet for uniqueness.
Whether it be in action, drama, or humor one of the most memorable highlights of the film is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. This was already seen in 2016's Batman Vs Superman but here it is aided moreso but the “origin aspect” as she is more naive both in grounds for character growth as well as some good humor in learning the ways of WW1 Britain . Although her accent gives a stark contrast to most of her co-stars it works considering her homeland, fictionally that is. It does not hinder the several , emotional scenes she has whether confrontational or impassioned. In action, she is sleek and cool looking... the iconic warrior as ever. She doesn't need to talk much, as she carries a presence with her in all occasions much like the best work of one such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Her co-stars are also very solid. Chris Pine is great as Steve Trevor. He brings all of the charisma, swagger, humor, and well meaning as he does in a role like Captain Kirk in the new Star Treks with perhaps a new level of coolness. The “soldier squad”, often a trope of these kinds of movies is slightly extra memorable whether its the charming actor Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), manic sniper Charlie (Ewan Bremner), and the chilled out smuggler Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). The chemistry between heroes is great, particularly between Gadot and Pine. Worth mentioning as well is the brief appearances by assistant Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) who brings some quirky humor. David Thewlis is also great in his role as Sir Patrick Morgan, with some good speeches and an important role that should be seen firsthand as the mostly enticing plot unfolds.
The villains are mostly generic German and some Ottoman soldiers but they are led by some memorable antagonists. There's the odd and vile Dr.Poison (Elena Anaya) and the stoic, if a bit (although not without merit) cartoonishly evil General Ludendorff(Danny Huston). These opponents are typical but effective. Ares may also appear at some point, and when he does his role is fearsome and epic..although that too should be seen firsthand for full effect.
This is actually only the second theatrical film by director Patty Jenkins. Which is surprising, because she has a talent for excitement. For the most part the action is frenetic and plentiful. Special effects at times make things seem right out of the comic panels with vibrant color and crazy movement in a manner much like Snyder although at times more grounded. Select slow motion adds to the importance of scenes. However, the main negative aspect of this movie is that sometimes the slow-down is NOT a plus. Exciting moments will be either disrupted in their midst or subsequently ruined by something that's either too slow or (in one circumstance) too fast in speed. These add to the cheese amongst other things that suspend disbelief in even a comic film.  However these moments do not bring the whole experience down and are in the semi-minority.
Overall this movie offers a fun, exciting , and at times darkly emotional and epic origin story for Wonder Woman. It looks and moves nicely in its high points aide from some weaker or trope-ish portions. The importance of fhis film should be noticed though and that aspect makes things in a way even more enjoyable., Wonder Woman brings a majesty and glory to the war front with her, and one should enjoy these battles in this tale.. and hopes for even better battles ahead. 8 out of 10

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Director: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Cast Headliners: Johnny Depp, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelaro, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, several others
Original Release Date: May 26th, 2017

                It’s an interesting feeling. On one hand, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (the franchise’s fifth installment) is the first one in about 6 years which makes it feel long wanted. Yet also as it is the fifth time around the block, and after rapidly releasing sequels, it feels similar in other ways.  However the combination of these two factors answer the argument well for why there should be another one. It’s a bit silly, very fun, swashbuckling time that ties together all of the films to date and brings in some fresh new tweaks to the familiar formula.
                The main arc of the movie picks up years after the 2011’s On Stranger Tides. Through various vignettes we are introduced to the film’s main heroes. There’s the newer stars in the son of Will Turner grown into an adventurous young man in Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and his love/hate ally Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) the scientist.  Then of course, rounding out the trio is the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who finds himself in the midst of pirating shenanigans with a crew that continues to lose faith in him.
                Against him, there’s a fearsome foe in the (almost titular) Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem). He and his crew, accomplished through gorgeously spooky special CGI special effects in their chopped-to-bits-ness, are ghost pirates who are cursed by a flashback event (including a less convincing CGI Depp) by the efforts of Jack Sparrow. He seeks revenge as the heroes race to find the legendary “Trident of Poseidon” while dealing with the typical multitudes of side plots and characters.  Bardem is a great villain as Salazar. Salazar acts and looks fearsome yet also has a sympathetic side to him. Much like Davy Jones before him (and perhaps surpassing Blackbeard via this nuance) his presence is a rogue factor that lights up the screen. Bardem gave it his all and his a solid highlight of the cast, as are his kooky ghastly crew members.
                The aforementioned other characters are… numerous.  The humor of this film is for the most part in high form though often goes for sillier than ever (especially for Depp’s Sparrow). This most often comes from the delight of his own classic crew of pirates above the “Dying Gull” pathetic ship. This includes the bearded Gibbs(Kevin McNally), the newer addition from On Stranger Tide’s Scrum (Stephen Graham), and the little person Marty (Martin Klebba). The movie really builds on the relationship and plot points of past films for effective writing and humor (it helps to have seen others but it does stand alone in its fun). Everyone gets, as typical for this franchise, a small moment to shine. There’s other characters like the British aligned Lieutenant Scarfield (David Wenham) and the witch Shansa(Golshifteh Farahani) but these never come across as more than generic evil and get (sometimes literally) lost in the flow. Paul McCartney even makes a silly but alright glorified cameo as “Uncle Jack” that is worth it to those who knew.  He had to keep up with the Rolling Stones somehow apparently.
                When it comes to the main cast, they are effective. Thwaite’s Henry is very much like his farther, warm and brave. Scodelario’s Carina matches the similar content and leagues of her past heroines whilst perhaps having more humor and charm than some films in the franchise. Even THE Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Turner (Keira Knightley) show up again which really serves to tie the franchise together although their appearances must be seen firsthand as to why.  Johnny Depp brings the laughs, the swagger, and all of what we would expect as Jack Sparrow and he is a constant delight. Although, and this has been an increasing problem with each installment, he at times is a constantly drunker than ever cartoonish outline of his character who just kind of seems “to be along for the ride”. But the movie around him has the fun to make it work. One wouldn’t want him to not be in these in some way. Barbarossa(Geoffrey Rush) also shows up as now a pirate king of the sea, another instance really tying the series together. Rush is great, as always, at times unlikeable but also at times the most likeable of all. See this to find out way.
                The fun comes in droves via the plentiful action and spectacle. While some CGI effects are obvious, some action goes on too long (and of course the movie is a two plus hour epic but it never feels too wasted), and there are some questionable ridiculous moments the audience will be often smiling. There’s the lush music and scenery. There’s the constant “na-nah-nah” franchise theme that maybe gets used too much but also how could one not enjoy the views. The action is really more over the top than ever and in its madness it’s kind of glorious.

                Overall, it has its problems as a general film but has its strengths as a POTC movie. It’s a sunny, sometimes dark, usually funny and exciting blockbuster. The ties to the past and character growth make it stand out as one of the better if not best entries. This is said to possibly be the last in the series, which in one way would work. But also, it leaves one hopeful for the new heroes and setup for the future..stay after the credits. Either way, a 7.8 out of 10 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Alien:Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant 
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast Headliners: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, others
Original Release Date: May 19th, 2017

        The Alien franchise has been on quite a journey. It's jumped between timeline placement, directors, lore ideas, transmedia and more without any real sort of true consistency. Alien: Covenant is in a way “Prometheus 2” in Ridley Scott's new prequel series that attempt to tell the “definitive” origins and events leading to the classic first ever Alien film. This time, more philosophical elements and ambience of the 2012 film are blended with older-school classic Alien staples to make something that's fittingly messy yet impressive in its carnage like the xenomorphs themselves.
The movie begins with a brief flashback with the android David(Michael Fassbender) and a welcome cameo by his (younger luckily no silly makeup) Peter Weyland(Guy Pearce) as the creator and createe discuss deep manners in a stark beautiful setting. This definitely foreshadows the events to come that are set after Prometheus.  The movie really picks up in setting of a colonization mission by the spaceship Covenant. Another android Walter(also Michael Fassbender pulling amazing double duty) deals with the de-thawing and aftermath of a interstellar accident. The event leaves many crew members dead within the first intense moments of the film. Things soon transpire into unsettling uneasy chillness however there is plenty of excitement in the film ahead.
The main survivors and active de-thawed members of the expedition , aside from Walter, are the human crew of the Covenant. Our protagonists in a sense include Daniels(Katherine Waterston), Tennessee(Danny Mcbride), Oram(Billy Crudup), Lope(Demian Bichir) as main players with very bit roles by others including Karine(Carmen Ejogo), Maggie(Amy Seimetz), Upworth(Callie Hernandez), Jake(James Franco in a all too short blink and you miss minor role), and more.  The thing about most these characters is that...they're hard to tell apart. This is true of many of Ridley and other's takes on Alien and similar sci-fi tales. The human characters mostly serve as cannon fodder and some small moments of ok if slightly stupid humor. They mostly ask obvious questions or die bloody deaths often.
  As with the original Alien(handled well) to Prometheus(handled only a bit less well) the movie is a slow burn. There are large portions on the spaceship before a distress call brings them to a mysterious (and unplanned for) world.  However the mysterious slow burn pays off in time.
It turns out this is the world where David and Dr.Shaw(Noomi Rapace) had gone to after the events of Prometheus. As for the specifics of where they are now and how their path intersects to the newer heroes it must be seen firsthand. For all the deep ideas attempted to build the world, it's a shame that the connective tissue between this film and earlier and later ones is still either vague or non-existent. There's some decent reveals and twists in that regard as to why things went down. But when it appears, and often there's holes whether intentional or not by Ridley, it's often briefly shown or rushed through.
The movie is about the present thus. About showing results rather than giving explanations in terms of the crazy worlds and xenomorphs at play. It's an adventure where the audience is taken along the crew through this horror world.
What a world it is. Without a doubt Ridley Scott is a master of the visual. Whether in very retro inspired spaceships (ala older Aliens) or on the gorgeous mysterious world (ala Prometheus) the visual aesthetic is breathtaking. This is fine craft in a cinematic sense by this director, as always. Lush dark landscapes.  Intense zoomed in views.  When creatures do show up(duh) they appear very much real for the most part aside from some momentary obvious CGI. The “Neomorph” creatures are a scary fresh take on the classic. The classic Xenomorphs also return, with tweaks, to look as awesome as one remember.  So yet also at times this CGI is used for surreal views and unique perspectives.  There are moments of intense, at times shaky at times clear, action. There's more blood than ever to attain that R rating.  That stuff delivers on the true horror , xenomorph bloodfest.
What is less effective is some of the pacing , plot, and performances. There is a sloww buildup that becomes exciting. Then slows down again. Then becomes exciting. Then slows down again. Then becomes the most exciting with the cheese fully reaching its head with almost kung-fu combat going on. Then seems to end the film. Then (pleasantly surprisingly) picks up again before the true end is reached. All over the board persay. The story , as mentioned, can be vague on what we wish we could have learned about the Engineers and reasoning behind the Xenomorphs existence though it is touched on.
Most human characters make very dumb mistakes which can be a detraction. However it also odds to the gory fun. Through all the xeno-fodder, some shine. Waterston's Daniels is an ...alright heroine. She goes through a lot of pain, like Ripley and Shaw did. But she never quite manages to be as charming or badass as either. She's just kind of ...there but gives an attempted alright performance. Crudup's Oram is a solid highlight. He is fierce, strict, and odd as one would want from a commander of such a mission although the focus goes away from him as time goes on. McBride is of course pretty good and actually isn't too much of a comic relief character although he has his funny lines. He's more of a badass himself than anything.  Other usually talented actors, like Bichir and Franco, aren't given enough content to shine. This is especially true for Rapace as Shaw as well especially after she was so good in the first film.
Through it all, the most shining memorable element is both of Fasssbender's performances. Despite looking similar visually David and Walter couldn't be more different. David is the shinier star of the stars.  He was awesome in the first film with his vile cold scientific curiosity. Now that returns and is dialed up another notch plus has the addition of a sense of utter insanity. See the film to see why this is so memorable. Conversely, for every bit as untrustworthy David is, Walter is a good robot person. Even more robotic in his speaking style and mannerisms yet also through his actions he shows more kindness than anyone. The interactions and plot between these two Fassbenders is gold, even in its cheese. It is great that there is the emphasis that there is on them because they are now so important to the overall Alien saga lore. However at times they are lost in the horror/excitment shuffle of things. But when they show up its nearly always amazing.
Overall, this is an interesting new take on the Alien series and follow up to Prometheus by Ridley Scott. If before he was trying something almost completely new, here he tries to bring in some more staple elements and it mostly works. There's still a lot of unanswered questions, and it ends on a bit of a frustrating yet surprising cliffhanger once again. But the blood and beauty are mostly worth it, and it leaves one wanting another film even more to hopefully really get those true answers. Hopefully with more true deep philosophy as well.  8.55 out of 10