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 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'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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 Review

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2
Director: James Gunn
Cast Headliners: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, more others..
Original Release Date: May 5th, 2017

   Everyone expected a lot out of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. No only was it Marvel Studios going for its deepest obscure characters to that point but it also looked wholly , wildly unique. It certainly was with its mix of zany mania, ripping humor, cosmic spectacle, oddness, and retro inspired groovy rock/funk/soul music and colorful aesthetic. With the main big players of director James Gunn and all the principal cast back for the second film in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 hopes were high. How could they follow it going bigger, crazier, more zany? Well they absolutely do, and overall it absolutely works for another amazing cosmic spectacle.
The movie opens , in main part after an important flashback, with the titular Guardians of the Galaxy out on another mission. Everyone's back, wonderfully... from charismatic leader rogue Star-Lord(Chris Pratt), fearsome heroine Gamora(Zoe Saldana), literal-minded brawny Drax(Dave Bautista), tech savy wise cracking Rocket Raccoon(Bradley Cooper), and the now Baby Groot(Vin Diesel, somehow). In what is one of the most wild opening sequences of any film ever, the gang fights a gigantic tentacle monster on floating platforms ….in the background as we get a zoomed in view of tiny Baby Groot dancing to Mr.Blue Sky. Within minutes, the film is off t the hillarious crazy start we'd want.
Events transpire to send the Guardians on the run from both the golden skinned, imperial empire of the Sovereign led by Ayesha(Elizabeth Deblicki) and the piratelike Ravagers from the first film led by the likes of Yondu(Michael Rooker) alongside his underlings Taserface(Chris Sullivan) and Kraglin(Sean Gunn) amongst others. They find themselves rescued / crash landing in deep space having drug along Gamora's cyborg sister Nebula(Karen Gillian) where they meet some mysterious potential new allies in Ego(Kurt Russell) and Mantis(Pom Klementieff).
The twists and betrayals may seem to be overly complex but it is only in the best way. The first film had a relatively simple premise, and this one does when one takes a moment to break it down. The nuance and occasional dark emotions make it “The Empire Strikes Back” to the first film's “A New Hope”, but that is fine for a universe that is essentially Marvel's Star Wars. Although in a post Disney-Star Wars world, the differences are apparent enough to make it special. Luke Skywalker never used a Walkman tape player and electronic football toy game in battle.  It almost makes this feel..Pixar whimsical with its lighthearted moments
The plot flows at exactly the pace it needs to. There's large expanses of exciting action and spectacle that go to a new height than anything seen in the MCU to date. There's quiet moments of deeper themes and character growth. There's twists, turns, betrayals, surprises..constant wonder. Of course, there's humor out the wazoo. The amazing touch of director James Gunn is felt throughout all this. The action is frenetic with amazing special effects. The humor goes for edgy for constant gut busting and ranges “did they just really just say that” to simple charm between all of the characters. The writing, great...characters are shuffled around in interesting ways.
The visuals reach those same psychedelic heights from one whether its in action or wacky worlds/creatures. However one wants music too, and it's there. There's once again a bunch of 1970's and circa round then pop songs. There may be less some less famous but time period fitting cuts, but they are used greatly to make scenes that will stick with the viewer as it combines to make true art.
It's a long, twisting, amazing action and hilarious humor ride but it'd be nothing without good characters.  The great news is that.. everyone has some kind or another chance to shine. Pratt's “Peter Quill” Star-Lord goes for some great lines. However, understandably so, his performance goes for some of the more serious material as it turns out this Ego person claims to be his father. From being skeptical to emotional to hilarious, Pratt does a really good charismatic job once again if at times he gets a bit lost in the spectacle.  As he has his arc with Ego, Gamora faces family troubles of her own when it comes to Nebula. Saldana and Gillian get more scenes to both be fearsome and funny as their rivalry unfolds, touching at times deep but mainly exciting if a bit random.
There's the ones who shine the brightest once again and even further. Bautista's Drax steals the show. His extreme, laughing swagger constantly will leave one laughing and charmed. PK's Mantis is equally delightfully weird with her bug-like antenna and awkwardness in an alien manner and they play well off each other. Cooper's voicework in Rocket may get lost in the tapestry of humor as well but when “lost” leads to some incredible laughs and cool things that's something great as well.  Baby Groot is the show stealers amongst show stealers...the cutest little character ever. It's the “Grootness” one wants, combined with a child/baby. One even senses Diesel's swagger at times amongst the adorable amazingness.
The most surprising source of greatness comes from Yondu. Rooker gives what is perhaps the performance of his career, from a humor an passion perspective. His scenes are the coolest, the funniest, and the most heartful for (some of the many, many) reasons that have to be seen first hand. He even gets a cool new fin to wear.  It's also good to see fellow Ravager Kraglin given a larger role. Sean Gunn is the brother of the director and actually served as the stand-in for Rocket on set so he plays double duty in a way. His role is funnily raised to something of a bit of a main character, and the writing involving him, as everyone, is great.
The new grey to evil sided characters are a bit of a mixed bag from great to hmm. Kurt Russell's Ego is of course amazing. Russell is always amazing in everything and here continues that. He is wise, warm, funny, weird ...just like his so-called son. His role has an extremely important place and got more and more impressive as the film went on, making him a perfect addition for what he is and one of the MCU's most quality ones of his type to date. Sullivan's Taserface is generic evil but the play off of his cartoonish threat and name works and he does alongside. This is a living cartoon after that pokes fun at itself in great in-universe ways.  If there's one not as good character, it's Deblicki's Ayesa in her villainous way.  She has a cool fierce demeanor and imposing speech style. But however she is essentially in the same way as Ronan last film.. a big evil excuse for things to happen. However it's not a detraction by any means and one feels she will have more of a role in future films. Likewise for Stakar(Sylvestor Stallone) who is cheesy but has potential for more along with his other Ravager/deep lore friends...
There's very little wrong with this film. It's long sure but constantly exciting. One will be glad they saw the FIVE credits scenes from funny to deep comic lore related. Sometimes the manic tone makes things a bit unclear if they should be funny or serious, with the two tones mixed moments after each other. But isn't that what most of the MCU is including the first?  These moments are few between the joy.
Joy is what one could describe this sub-franchise with. These movies are living candy. Hours of groovy, retro, cosmic, funny, weird candy. For some time you will find yourself loving it for what it is separate from the dour conflicts and small stakes of the rest of the Marvel universe. Once again a new celing for blockbusters and sci-fi as a whole is uniquely raised. However, when thinking these characters have more adventures ahead, and are going to meet the Avengers sooner than later... that's leaves one so excited for the possibilities. Some say this is more of the same as the first, but when means the emotional feels are more feelisy, the aciton is more wild, and the laughs are more knee slapping, thats a amazing testamant to great blockbuster filmmaking. 9.51 out of 10

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Fate Of The Furious Review

The Fate Of The Furious
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast Headliners: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, many many others
Original Release Date: April 14th, 2017

The Fate of the Furious, or as most will likely call it “Fast and the Furious 8” came from an interesting predicament. On one hand, the previous , seventh installment acted as a form of perfect conclusion to the series and tribute to its late co-star Paul Walker. But also the FnF film franchise , including that film, were tremendous financial successes. So the “last ride” turned out not to be so, an once again this franchise continues on. The stakes are high with it going Brian-less and attempting to raise the stakes and wild mania. Not surprisingly, the film manages to find ways to out-crazy or at least rival the last several and provide plentiful action, laughs, and cheese.
The movie opens up, gorgeously, in Havana, Cuba (actually one of the few every Hollywood films to be shot there). Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) brings in the token street racing scene that still superfluously sticks around in his casual life with Letty Ortiz(Michelle Rodriguez). Even in its mundane-ness this racing sequence is exciting, silly, and outrageous with Dom's vehicle literally flaming from the speed at one point. True fans wouldn't want it any other way. The series continues to embrace its tongue in cheek more and more while also being serious. For the most part, it works.
Events soon transpire to where Dom finds himself enslaved to the evil new villainness Cipher(Charlize Theron). It's up to his old crew of racers / secret agents to save him. The crew this time(understandably minus Brian, who at least gets a fitting mention) includes Agent Hobbs(Dwayne Johnson), Roman(Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey(Nathalie Emmanuel). They are assisted by the CIA in Mr.Nobody (Kurt Russell) and newcomer Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood).
It's an ensemble cast, as is expected, with some more surprises that have to be seen firsthand. With Dom going to the apparent “dark side”, it's interesting to see the role of 7's villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) become noble as he is forced to work alongside the heroes in their mutual enemy of Cipher.
For a series that's about crazy and meatheaded car action it's impressive how intricate its worldbuilding and ramping up of characters is. Existing characters bring their warm, silly “family” together, whether its the great Tej, Roman, Ramsey love triangle or the mocking mentorship of Russel's Nobody to Eastwood's rookie. The writing often leans towards dumb but also can be quite funny and pops with chemistry. Of other note is the love / hate connection between Johnson's Hobbs and Statham's Shaw. Their sequences are both awesome and hillarious which indicates that pairing them was a great idea. It builds on past films in a way rarely seen outside of the likes of those series as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars, and likewise gives moments to shine.
Some characters fade in the rush. Rodriguez's Letty once again brings the same kind of “what re you doing” yelps whilst the villians of Theron's Cipher or persons such as her henchmen Rhoades(Kristofer Hivju) are generic. Although the scale of Cipher's threat and meaning to the story shows where future installments will go. Dom's turn to evil fits Diesel's acting style since in action scenes he doesn't do much anyways. This time there's the addition of extra cheesy, extra weak dramatic scenes of anger and edge that are contrasted with some slight effective emotion.
When one goes for Fast and the Furious films they only seek partially its family of characters. They seek, these days, a epic plot and outlandish action. Director F Gary Gray steps to his take on the director's chair quite well. The movie is cleanly shot with sweeping vistas and solid cinematrophy as has been expected with the last few. There's some poor CGI at moments but there is also some believable practical effects as wel. What is often unbelieveable, and always exciting, is the aciton scenes. Whether its racing in Cuba, avoiding AI smart car swarms in New York City, or re-enacting Mad Max but on ice in Russia with a submarine in the awesomley long ending act there's plentiful and diverse aciton. The film often throws surprises at the viewer. Sometimes the mania gets TOO wild but that's only in that the viewer will be laughing more than ever at the mania. It is entertaining however and they gave a noble attempt at raising the stakes even if it becomes a bit too wild in moments.
8 movies in things become to blur a bit. From the 5th film to now it's been a whirlwind of cars, jokes, and surreal action. However even in its churn the franchise finds ways to entertain through twists, new and nuanced character pairings, and inventive wild set pieces. It's got it's problems over its (perhaps over lengthy) runtime , but it's also pure popcorn fun fans would want. 8.06 out of 10

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ghost in the Shell Review

Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast Headliners: Scarlet Johannsson, Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt
Original Release Date: March 31, 2017
 It’s wild to think this film exists in the first place. An American , live action adaptation of classic manga/anime Ghost in the Shell? That almost once happened under the Disney umbrella? Regardless if it was there or released under who it is now, Paramount, one can assume it’d turn out similarly to this. Ghost in the Shell takes the classic franchise and attempts to both serve as tribute to the original while serving as an entry point for newcomers. It has its ups and downs while certainly appearing shiny along the way.
                In semi-far future Japan, operatives of secret government agency Section 9 do… deep government espionage and anti-criminal work. Their organization is never really explored deeply and as much of the plot happens it just kind of comes and goes.  The Major (Scarlet Johannsson) is both the main protagonist of the film and centerpiece of the unit. She is a living brain in a humanlike body. Which means she is a super powerful android / cyborg with powerful abilities including invisibility cloaking and withstanding pain. Helping her in her unit are various other soldiers and cyborgs including the wisecracking and friendly Batou (Pilou Asbaek).  
                For a movie about humans and cyborgs it’s not too surprising that there is a few stale actors but, not to compare to the original anime film or series, the supporting cast is especially unmemorable. Asbaek’s Batou serves as a fitting version of the original character, with jokes and a fearsome sense to him he brings it his all.   However the rest of the Section 9 / Hanka Robotic’s “crew” don’t really stick, with people like Chin Han’s Togusa, Juliette Binoche’s Dr.Ouelet, and Peter Ferdinando’s Cutter boring with exposition and attempted serious concern more than adding to drama.  Commander of the group above the Major is a well meant Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Beat Kitano) but for some reason he’s the only character in the film who speaks Japanese in a cast of English speakers which creates a dissonance.
                This would be made up for more if the Major was a great protagonist , and she can be in the anime, but here.. it’s varying. There’s been controversy about Johansson’s casting, but aside from that what we do get is….. alright. She really attempts to have no emotion and be robot-like down to some awkward movemonts. But there are moments too where she can be cool especially as some more emotional reveals and stakes happen.  Her scenes with villain Kuze (Michael Pitt) raise his quality as well, they have semi-intense standoffs that otherwise he comes across as silly.
                The script and plot are for the most part mundane. However, they do a good job of making the world easy to understand for newcomers while weaving together elements from the film, series, and original stuff to mostly work. The dialogue and themes aren’t nothing too crazy from what one has seen before and don’t reach their source’s heights but the twists and excitement do have their impact. There is plentiful action and intrigue at least. Although it drags at parts before reaching the good.
                And what a world to learn it is. Director Rupert Sander’s is known for his visual knack, and the same is true here. The vistas and art design of cityscapes and interiors are absolutely a overwhelming sight for the senses. Almost too much in fact, it feels like one is in some sort of Tron sequel at parts. But they are colorful when they need to be, drab when they need to be. This applies to various cyborg people as well. The action Is frenetic. The music has some of the incredible original (mostly in the shot for shot opening sequence which is just as powerful) with original score as well.
                So overall, it’s a film with a deep amount of style, and attempts at substance. Fans of the anime , who don’t mind some changes to casting and plot, will like to see it come to life in  a new way. For newcomers, it’s a competent , shiny, if straightforward action sci-fi to view in one’s free time. It could have been better, but it also could have been far worse. 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kong: Skull Island Review

Kong: Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast Headliners: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, John C Reilly, many more
Original Release Date: March 10, 2017

                The character of King Kong, and he definitely can be a nuanced one despite his simian nature, has been interpreted several times since his theatrical debut so long ago. Kong: Skull Island is the latest take on the mighty gorilla although this time it tackles a new aesthetic and time period: 1970s in the midst of the Vietnam War. At the same time, it also shares DNA in its universe (and style) with 2014’s American Godzilla reboot. Let’s get past the monkey-ing around and dive in to how it turned out..
                The movie opens with a flashback to not the 1970s but instead to the 1940s. In an exciting opening bit two fighter pilots crash land on a mysterious island and soon find themselves fighting not just each other but under the gaze of a gigantic ape, King Kong (you know who he is).  The film jumps to the 70s for its remainder. Members of secretive agency MONARC (the connecting link to Godzilla, aside from a couple other small but well blended dialogue lines) in Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) get approval to launch an expedition to the titular Skull Island. They are soon joined by a large cast of help (echoing Peter Jackson’s 2005 take) including lead human hero and tracker James Conrad(Tom Hiddleston), lead human heroine and war photojournalist Mason Weaver(Brie Larson), and various soldiers such as Colonel Packard(Samuel L Jackson), Jack Chapman(Toby Kebbel), Captain Cole(Shea Whigham), and more.
                It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the 2005 version since it came out in semi-recent public eye and also placed more emphasis on the island part of the Kong saga than most other films of this legend. However, this movie brisks through the build-up (perhaps a bit too quickly) and never makes it back to New York City either (anti-spoilers).  The movie, for the most part better for it, takes place in large part on the mysterious island which earns it its name.            
                As expected considering that there is a lot of action. The island is packed with deadly and cool creatures which seem to go beyond realistic paleontology  to stuff more fitting the science-fictiony “kaiju”verse in a world where Godzilla also exists. The CGI effects on these various creatures, from grassy giant elk to a giant spider to the vicious “Skullcrawlers” are great. This includes of course King Kong himself, made even bigger than most versions to accomdate his likely future ‘zilla foe and motion captured quite believably (nearly up to par with Serkis’ 2005 version) by Terry Notary.  As with that zilla foe, the movie excels when it showcases giant bombastic monster fights between these creatures or against the humans. Mountains tremble and fires light up the screen. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts also provides a clean great take on the intensity of these smash-em-up parts. They have a very larger than life feel to them as well being more like a crazy comic panel than horror or documentary. Colors are bright and movement is fast and surreal. At times this borders on ultra cheese, but is often fun.
                When the action does show it up it is awesome and great. It’s just that , as often can be in a monster movie of this type, the human element is less so memorable. There are so many characters most get lost in the shuffle.  That’s not to discredit it’s highlights of which there are in this star packed cast. Hiddleston is a fine enough charming and cool lead. SLJ’s arc takes an interesting turn. Whigham’s character provides some laughs and interesting perspective. Others like the usually great Goodman and Larson are not quite up to their usual level. And yet further others do not get much chance to shine before disappearing, sometimes literally. 
                Without a doubt though the other person who is the best at “monkeying around” is John C Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a stranded person on Skull Island. His crazed personality offers bountiful laughs (in a film that otherwise has mixed delivery on this with its other characters) as well as tying into a mystical lore of what Kong’s role is. Nearly every seen with him is a delight and he provides almost a version of his Dr.Brule character from television. This levity helps add to the larger than life charm of the film and is a palette cleanser.
                The Vietnam setting also makes it feel like a war film from those days. The costumes, sunset artsy colors , and music add nicely to that feel. While some aspects of it are breezed over, it helps make this take feel unique and strongly feel of the era as well. If only a bit more of its time was used in its execution it could have aided with its impact.
                It can be long, silly in some of its choices and character uses, and miss the mark in some areas to fall just short of deep or epic. But Kong: Skull Island offers simple, crazy monster fights in the moments that are right. It most of all leaves one hype to see the ape again in whatever crossover comes ahead in 2020. There’s a decent foundation to be improved upon for a  future match for the ages. On it's own, you'll have fun.  7.85 out of 10


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Logan Review

Director: James Mangold
Cast Headliners: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Original Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

The character of Wolverine has had quite a journey through the X-men franchise. He's been the protagonist for awhile and the main point of view into this world of mutants. He's been a cameo appearance, or two, in various levels of importance. He's had good spinoffs, he's had bad spinoffs. Throughout it all Hugh Jackman has been an iconic and mostly great take on the Marvel comics 'bub legend. In his central starring role it is with extra emotional attachment that Logan himself in... Logan signals what Jackman has proclaimed to be his last ever take on the character. The end of the old X-men timeline and cast, as it were. It goes out with an incredible bow.
The year is 2029, farther future than any X-men film prior. Now old man James Howlett, aka the titular Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lives in the timeline that has seen no Sentinels pop-up but also dire in its own ways. He and his peers are the very last mutants in a world where they are not entirely hated but moreso forgotten and faded. Wolverine works as a ride service driver by day, and occasionally uses his (slowing-down) metal claw and healing abilities by night. The glory days of his life as a superhero, and even his life in general, are long gone. He crosses the border between Texas and Mexico to visit an even older and frailer Professor “X” Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart back again) who has fits of dementia and lives with guilt over the fall of the X-Men who are otherwise no longer around. They are accompanied by creepy sun-hating tracker Caliban(Stephen Merchant, replacing the prior actor of this character) as their cook and cleaner in a ramshackle junk factory away from the main metropolis's around. Into this depressing dwindling life comes Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) urging Logan to help a young girl she is with named Laura or as comics fan may know her X-23(Dafne Keen) who has some metal claws of her own. If this seems like a recipe for high stakes and powerful themes, it is.
What follows is a thrilling , action packed, depressing, emotional, often adventurous epic tale for Wolverine and crew. Director James Mangold did a great job with action and a certain specific period ambience in 2013's secondquel The Wolverine, and he tremendously further refines his craft here. The movie, like Deadpool prior, is R-rated in the USA and equivalent elsewhere and it perfectly uses it. This is the “bubiest”, “snikt-ist”, “slashing”-est incarnation of the character and his film yet. There is tons of blood, brutal de-limbings and injuries, and f-bombs. It makes action that much more visceral , intense,and dark. However it , for the most part, does not use its rating in an immature or excessive way. The themes in the film are very dark and serious and to have its action be filled with equivalent gore or dialogue with stressful cussing only properly suits the goal and effectively at that. Even blood aside, all (frequent in most cases) action is pulse pounding and exciting, with it focusing clearly on character's at near view.
If Jackman were to give anything less than his full efforts the film would not work as well as it does. Wonderfully, he gives what is a contender for his best take on Wolverine and even role in any film of his career. He is fierce, vicious, scary, awesome. He also comes across as wounded, dying, regretful as is expected from his old lifetime specific here. He also can be charming and funny (there is some moments of well done humor at just the right times). Most importantly, he delivers on being distraught, emotional, and caring . His relationship with Laura is as great as his performance, and hers. The other claw wielder Laura, played by Keen, is great. She is a young actress but has talent far beyond her years. The character talks even less than Logan, but is just as fierce with her own aspects of being someone so young forced to go through this edgy world. Her silence and main character arc will remind one of Millie Bobbie Brown in the television show Stranger Things but perhaps even more impressive or stoic.
To praise Jackman's tribute to his character is to also say the same care was given to performing and sending off the character of Professor X. Stewart is so so great, as he often has been. One will often laugh, be inspired, and feel bad for the old professor. The treatment of him is handled from a tough real life place of those who are getting older, and the even further complicated factor when that person is a powerful psychic superhero wizard. The relationship between he and Logan is just as great and even more interesting than it was in the original few X-men films. Together Xavier, Wolverine, and Laura make a great bunch of characters who play off each other in the epic bloody journey. Merchant's Caliban is part of that core crew as well, although he is mainly reserved for a funny small wisecrack or two or being abused by the enemies without leaving much of other impressions.
The enemy forces of this film may offer fearsome , bullet and blood laden action scenes. Otherwise they are not that over-lackluster but do not overly impress more than “average”. Donald Pearce (Boyd Holbrook) comes off as a bad man, with a kind of sickly charm but does not good enough screen time with Logan to deliver on that as he spends much time shouting orders and moving between locations. His superior Dr.Zander Rice(Richard E Grant) seems to have graduated from “Geneic Evil Scientist Movie Villian Camp 101” with nothing else to say. The other henhmen are generic mooks to be sliced up by the claw-wielders but that's as they should be. There's technically another main villian as well who needs to be seen but their appearance is, although fearsome and fitting, a bit silly in concept as well.
The action, deep getting-older-themes, and darkness set Logan apart from both other X-men films and most superhero genre films at all around today. There is also thematically a difference. There's significant post-apocalyptic and Western influences on the film stylistically, from the beautiful landscape shots to the music. Its pared down, its gritty but its also classic. Old-school and restrained. A clever viewer will notice the use of cowboy imagery and referenced film clips within the film. Wolverine is that classic story of an old sherrif in a changed town, delivered for the most part effectively (despite its inspirations on the journey, some parts in the middle of the quest slow too much down) via the lense of a world of mind powers and metal claws.

The stakes are high as to how they could send off this character. They for the most part highly succeed with the bloodiest action yet, the deepest emotional themes yet, and the most personal stakes yet. If this is the end of the ride for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as they say, it's one we won't forget. The ending will leave one pondering incredibly deep things and reaching for the tissues especially if they ar a longtime fan. Yet also, one hopes this is just the beginning for a rebirth of quality. 8.8 out of 10

Friday, February 24, 2017

Oscar Thoughts / Predictions 2017

  The night of stars, the big showdown of kino (or said to be kino) is here once again.  As usual, here's my predictions, and wants for what I view as my categories of most interest. Let's begin:

Best Picture

* Arrival – Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, and David Linde
Fences – Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, and Todd Black
Hacksaw Ridge – Bill Mechanic and David Permut
Hell or High Water – Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn
Hidden Figures – Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, and Theodore Melfi
La La Land – Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt
Lion – Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Angie Fielder
Manchester by the Sea – Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, and Kevin J. Walsh
Moonlight – Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner

 Who I predict:  This one is a tough toss up, some good films that have done well in various circuits, tossed together here. La La Land has the most nominations here, but most likely fights against Moonlight for also big on the scene. I could see a Hidden Figures, Fences, Manchester by the Sea, or Hacksaw Ridge all most contend for this too.

Who I want: La La Land, my favorite for what I have seen. Arrival would be shockingly cool as well

 Best Director:
* Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Who I predict: Most likely Chazelle or Jenkins due to their other nominations.

Who I want: Chazelle, the magic touch.

Best Actor:
*Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea as Lee Chandler
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge as Desmond T. Doss
Ryan Gosling – La La Land as Sebastian Wilder
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic as Ben Cash
Denzel Washington – Fences as Troy Maxson

Who I predict: This is a tough one, one would predict Gosling or Denzel for their other categories, but also I could see Garfield being a Academy leader, or Affleck. Almost a tie ..

Who I want: Andrew Garfield so we can pretend it was for Silence

Best Actress
* Isabelle Huppert – Elle as Michèle Leblanc
Ruth Negga – Loving as Mildred Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie as Jackie Kennedy
Emma Stone – La La Land as Mia Dolan
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins as Florence Foster Jenkins

Who I predict: I am not too sure, havent seen most of these top contenders in general. Stone for best picture ? Portman..a vibe? Streep?

Who I want: Heck I'll choose... Negga, since people are surprised to see nominated and itd be a big step for agents of shield cast members. And of course Stone for the star of La La Land.

Best Supporting Actor

*Mahershala Ali – Moonlight as Juan
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water as Marcus Hamilton
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea as Patrick Chandler
Dev Patel – Lion as Saroo Brierley
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals as Detective Bobby Andes

Who I predict: Mahershala Ali or Jeff Bridges, heaviest hitters

Who I want: I haven't see Moonlight but Ali seems like a shining part of it. All the others are ones I greatly respect as well.

Best Supporting Actress
* Viola Davis – Fences as Rose Maxson
Naomie Harris – Moonlight as Paula
Nicole Kidman – Lion as Sue Brierley
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures as Dorothy Vaughan
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea as Randi

Who I predict: If Moonlight's entry in SA was strong, here even stronger.. I predict Harris, rivaled by Viola Davis.

Who I want: Viola Davis would be nice .

Best Animated Feature Film
* Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Moana – John Musker, Ron Clements, and Osnat Shurer
My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras and Max Karli
The Red Turtle – Michaël Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer

Who I predict: Zootopia, the strongest of Disney fighting itself but also the highest previous critical praise.

Who I want: Kubo, give Laika a award finally please. Or The Red Turtle for a return of Ghibli

Best Original Score
*Jackie – Mica Levi
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Lion – Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight – Nicholas Britell
Passengers – Thomas Newman

Who I predict: La La Land

Who I want: La La Land

Best Visual Effects
*Deepwater Horizon – Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington, and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange – Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, and Paul Corbould
The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon
Kubo and the Two Strings – Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean, and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould

Who I predict: The Jungle Book, most signs point. Although I could see Strange being Marvel's first win in a long time..

Who I want: Always have to cheer for Star Wars ! Although equally, Strange.

We shall see what happens on this intense night... tune in Sunday the 26th at 7:30pm cst for results.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie
Director : Chris McKay
Cast Headliners : Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifiankis, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes
Original Release Date : February 10, 2017

   2014's The Lego Movie was something quite special. One most likely knows the toy brand, but could one have imagined it was a genre mixing, laugh and meaning filled adventure in the making ? One of the best pieces was THE Batman , so it's with great delight and logical sense he gets his own spinoff film.

    Focusing for the most part on a Lego version of comics  classic Gotham City , the movie opens up with some great 4th wall breaking to show us the life of Batman (Will Arnett ). In a crazy fun opening part , Batman takes down a mega alliance of villians lead by the Joker (Zach Galifiankis)  to save the city. It's through the wild, zany, extreme lense one would want .

   But soon we see the life of Batman may not be all its cracked up to be. The movie greatly excels in these quiet moments as it does the action mania . To see Batman watch movies, make food, practice guitar is comedic gold.
     Soon his lonely existence is joined by others , such as introducing a young Robin (Michael Cera ) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson ).
     For film the whole family can enjoy, it's actually got some nice messages about relationships. Between friends , between enemies, between families. Arnett's Bruce Wayne is as great in battle, being crazy, or his interplay with his peers. Cera's Robin is charming and goofy . Dawson's Gordon, fierce . When these are teamed with each other, especially with the butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes ) the smiles and laughs are off the chart.
  This team up aspect is fun too with the evil side. Zach G's Joker is still evil but also effectly has a bit of feeling bad aspect to him. It's fun to see him interact with a massive stable from famous to obscure of DC characters, such as Harley Quinn, Two Face, Bane and more . Since this is a Lego film, even more join the fun.

  That same craft is evident from the visuals to action . One knows what to expect, and it's a fun batride. 8.71 out of 10

Thursday, February 2, 2017

XXX: Return of Xander Cage Review

XXX: Return of Xander Cage
Director: DJ Caruso
Cast Headliners: Vin Diesel, Samuel L Jackson, Donnie Yen, others
Original Release Date: January 20, 2017

     The XXX franchise has never been one for being good in a manner of quality. Nor has it been one for any kind of subtlety. Much like Vin Diesel's other main franchises in Fast and the Furious and Riddick, it excels when it s going as crazy as it can. The same applies here and this time with the right star in place since Xander Cage was the “best” hero for this series that he deserves mention in the title. Sorry Ice Cube but you'll have to (apparently) step aside. Xander is back to the Zone.
The movie starts with something big involving Agent Gibbons(Samuel L Jackson, once again at his usual decent role in something that's always been a sort of prototypical version of Nick Fury) and one of the many smaller cameo roles in Neymar as himself. It's up to Xander Cage(Vin Diesel) to come out of retirement and save the world. Sounds familiar. In many ways it's very much like the same formula as the last two but particularly the first. It drops plots from being too deep in exchange for crazy fights and varying range of humorous quips.
The film essentially boils down to a tale of two rival agent teams (ala Fast 6). The movie attempts to give Xander his own “Suicide Squad”, replete with derivative introduction scenes and colorful freeze frame biographies. Xander takes lead, always the likable protagonist with his edgy tough guy , slightly humorous attitude and the return of the big fur coat. This is why they brought back Diesel, because it's hard not to like him as any (of his many similar) hero roles. On his side he's got strict leader Agent Marke(Toni Collette who does nothing too special) , wisecracking sniper Adele(Ruby Rose), youthful DJ Nicks(Kris Wu), stunt driver Tennyson (Game Of Throne's The Hound actor Rory McCann, always decent), and “comic relief” tech master Becky(Nina Doberev, a low point). This increased ensemble of characters gives Xander more to play off of and expands the scope of action, and leads to some banter and mixed range of humor. But no one quite leaves an impression as Diesel's trademark Xander.
On the enemy team, there's the fierce woman Serena(Deepika Padukone), brutish Hawk(athlete Michael Bisping), wacky jumper Talon(Tony Jaa), and the main foe Xiang(Donnie Yen). It's great to see Donnie Yen appearing in American blockbusters, as he brings a crazy action and humor presence to rival Diesel's. If anything he's just slightly underutilized.
So while the characters, plot, script and all the expected are cheesy as heck as one would expect (and it runs really long at times too, with plot holes) one can't deny the action and excitement. Director DJ Caruso is a great choice as he brings in a decent competency from things such as Disturbia and Eagle Eye. The movie brought back Xander and it's also brought back its increased use of crazy techno and rock music along with “extreme sports”. The action scenes , when they do pop up semi-often through the “witty” dialogue slog are great. There's some cheesily insane things done from skiing through jungles to riding transforming motorcycles over the water. There's zero-gravity kung fu, there's fist-fights in the middle of rush hour traffic. The variety is impressive.

It's the kind of film that if one turns their brain off and likes the players involved that makes for decent dumb fun. It's not a high bar to pass, but it's likely the best XXX to date. It's script and pacing holds it back from the best of FnF, but it's good to have the good elements back and leaves it for a possibly interesting place in the future. 7.1 out of 10

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Silence Review

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast Headliners: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka
Original Release Date(s): December 25th, 2016 (Limited), (Seen in Wide Release January 2017)

 Director Martin Scorsese needs no introduction. The film legend's latest piece, Silence, could be seen as a bit of a departure from the majority of his work. Rather than being set among-st 20th / 21st century North America, it travels farther into the past and farther away. However there is precendence for this through some of his work like The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Scorsese has thus a connection to religion, explored here through an intense lense. Silence is a film that will stay with the viewer in its power.
The movie is set in the 17th century. In Japan, Jesuit priest Father Ferreira(Liam Neeson) has gone missing in a land where Christians and their priests are being brutally persecuted. In Portugal, Father Valignano(Ciarin Hinds in a very momentary but alright or so role) sends the priests and former students of Ferreira in Rodrigues(Andrew Garfield) and Garupe(Adam Driver) to the East to get him back.
The movie is an epic, dramatic sweeping tale across locations and settings. Whether it be in Portugal, China, or of course the vast majority of the rest of the film in Japan each location is meticulously decorated and shot to bring the viewer back in time. The costumes, the details, the ambiance are so effective. Scorsese and his cinematographic team fill shots with beautiful vistas, mysterious fog, and delicate craft and moving into huts or villages and cities. This realism makes things that much more intense in key moments.
So too does the setting feel alive, as do the supporting cast. Aside from the protagonists its logically a mainly Japanese cast. And from the main supporters to random bit players they are great actors for their parts. There's noble people such as their guide Kichijiro(Yosuke Kubozuka, adding some of the film's only humorous and well done bits), or hidden Christians Ichizo(Yoshi Oida) and Mokichi(Shinya Tsukamoto). There's chilling villains, such as the Inquisitor(Issey Ogata, a standout evil and charismatic performance) and the Interpreter(Tadanobu Asano almost equally evil and charismatic). It makes that some of these characters are not so much named or detailed, as its a film about the differences between cultures, languages, and beliefs in part.
The core priest trio has their own plentiful reasons of benefit. Driver's Garupe is actually in the film for less than one would think but is an interesting companion to Garfield's Rodrigues. The writing, for everyone of course as expected, is well written and deep. The two characters have different approaches on what to do, and have different adherence to the faith. One can see a bit of Driver's now-trademark(thanks Kylo Ren) rage here but he plays someone very benevolent if determined. Neeson's Ferreira too is not so much present often but gives a great performance and plays off Garfield well. Especially as the end approaches their relationship is impactful.
Once again, just like the film Hacksaw Ridge from recently, Andrew Garfield's character and performance is the main highlight. Now here more than ever, he reaches a new height of dramatic skill and talent. All characters have believable costumes and accents, but Garfield especially has a believable emotional journey and character arc. His commitment to faith, his drive to complete his quest, his sadness and happiness is all visceral. He has nuance from the deepest religious rhetoric and seriousness to the even manic insanity. One will feel for his character, and even understand with sadness what he has to do and go through. He has come a very long way from Spiderman indeed. One could not ask for many much better than handling the deep religious themes of the film.
The film's plot and narrative flow are epic and fantastic. While there's essentially no action whatsoever, that does not make things any less exciting or darkly intense. There's dramatic faceoffs, torture, and plans. Its perhaps fascinating that for the most part the circumstances(and some of th characters) were real from history. Perhaps a drawback of the film is its one of Scorsese's longest ever. At almost 3 hours, it's a doozy and at parts it can drag a bit with its rhetoric and walking. But one is never not interested in the drive and excitement of the overarching plot, or in its character's growth.

It took Scorsese multiple decades to finally get this film made in his schedule. One can tell that the wait has paid off in its fine cinematic craft and indepth story and real location shots. It's a dark, religious epic that has character struggles that will stay with the viewer afterwards. Its an emotional tour de force, as one would expect and want. 8.78 out of 10