Monday, December 21, 2015


Not so long ago, on the screen of your computer (which is hopefully nice, and if not, you should ask for a new one this Christmas)...

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh instalment in the Star Wars saga. It brings back original cast members Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) to help transition us into the new generation of Star Wars characters led by Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). There’s also an awakening in the Force and some warring in the stars.

Instead of what the typical “what Star Wars means to me” introduction, here’s what I see Star Wars as in the history of blockbuster cinema. Star Wars (Episode IV/“A New Hope”) revolutionized blockbuster cinema in 1977, and is still one of the best sci-fi/fantasy films. It was followed by Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite Star Wars film) and Return of the Jedi, which cemented the Skywalker story in the hearts of fans. To have Star Wars return to cinemas with follow-up stories is definitely a magical thing that has already proven to unite generations.

Just like his work on Star Trek ’09, director J.J. Abrams revitalizes this series through characters and character relationships. He proves that he understands Star Wars characters and their legacy while also showing the willingness to move forward with it. There’s a mix of the old and the new generation, but the film is quick to emphasize these are very Star Wars characters, but for the new generation.

These are characters from very different walks of life that come together and grow a bond in the heat of the moment. The actors sell the strong bond on their chemistry and facial expressions alone, which is why the emotional connection to the characters is already strong after one TIE fighter fight or one chase scene. It’s also such a Star Wars way to handle characters, but although it may follow the same beats as, say, A New Hope, it’s vastly different, contextually.

Instead of having a Luke Skywalker, The Force Awakens has (arguably) two main protagonists that would run away from the scope of their bigger destiny. Instead of creating a villain reminiscent of Original Trilogy Vader, J.J. executes everything George Lucas wanted Anakin Skywalker to be in the character of Kylo Ren. In just a few scenes, too.  Instead of the film emphasizing the bold spirit of adventure, it actually explores broken families and the severed bond between generations. J.J. and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt goes to Star Wars for structure and recurring themes, but the film is a different story altogether.

One major difference between The Force Awakens and A New Hope is how that film works as a standalone feature while this film is clearly structured as a starting point. Some characters are side-lined in favor of the bigger characters, but their fates are left open for sequel possibilities. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film for me is how a big chunk of Rey’s arc seems edited out, to be saved for a sequel. I feel like the bulk of her arc was intertwined with her (possible) lineage in the overall saga but was removed so that it could be further explored in the sequels. That problem never existed with Luke, because his arc in the first film never depended on future story material. Leaving it open to mystery is definitely J.J. Abrams’ mode of operation. It’s not favorable, but it doesn’t deflate the film.

A Star Wars character that does get his arc serviced is Han Solo. The sequence that introduces (or re-introduces) his character comes naturally and totally fits with the character. His character arc is completely consistent with the character we met in A New Hope and the one he evolved to in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His development may have been different from the one Harrison Ford envisioned back in 1983, but nonetheless, it totally works the same and has the added benefit of fitting in with the larger theme of the film.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is J.J. Abrams’ labor of love. Everything from the set design to the writing of the characters feels like it’s coming from a place of genuine admiration and devotion. Even if there are a few shortcomings, it’s hard to visualize a more satisfying love letter to a galaxy far, far away.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

SPECTRE movie review

I officially start the #LeaSeydouxForNext007 campaign.

SPECTRE is the 24th Bond film, and the fourth film with Daniel Craig as James Bond. This next chapter in Bond's story ("next chapter", yes!) follows Bond as he confronts this shady organization, SPECTRE, and its head, Franz Oberhauser.

Craig's first Bond film was Casino Royale, and as a kid who never really liked the older Bond films, I loved it. It's darker and more serious than most other Bond films and it takes the basic character elements of Bond and deconstructs him and all his in/famous elements, and makes a really compelling character study. It was followed by the messy but still not bad Quantum of Solace and the fun and beautiful Skyfall. With the most recent installment, SPECTRE, I'm reminded why I particularly love the Craig series in the first place.

At first glance, SPECTRE is your standard, old-fashioned Bond flick. It has exotic locations, fast cars, a big, menacing henchman, gadgetry, and most obviously, Bond being suave and deadly. At its core, however, SPECTRE deviates from the norm more than any film in the Craig quadrilogy. Yes, for the first time ever, the term "quadrilogy" is applicable to the usually-serialized Bond filmography, and that is what sets SPECTRE apart.

Bond is back, but he isn't Bond. The aftereffects of the deaths of Vesper (in Casino Royale) and M (in Skyfall) carry over into this film, and even kick-start the story (not unlike the opening of Quantum of Solace). There are some callbacks to previous films here and there, then the film takes the bold move of revealing that all the films are connected (intended or not) through the titular organization. Revealing inter-connectivity is a risky move for a franchise built on serialized, disconnected storytelling, and I definitely would've been bothered by it had it not been the centerpiece to a (mostly) fulfilling culmination of a quadrilogy.

There's two things the Craig Bond movies have been about to me; Bond maybe not needing to live this lone assassin life, and the better portrayals of "Bond girls". In Casino, Bond fell in love with Vesper (Eva Green, the best Bond girl so far) and almost left the spy life to settle down with her. However, she's killed and Bond returns to the spy life. In Quantum, Bond and Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) go on the same "revenge" journey, which ends with a great moment with them in a burning building. In Skyfall, Bond's relationship with M is challenged when he goes MIA for a few months due to mental and physical stress from his job and when a scorned ex-agent of M's returns. SPECTRE excels in and continues the use of both those aspects, having Dr. Madeleine Swann (the amazing Lea Seydoux) being Bond's out of the assassin life. Granted, the film doesn't execute this perfectly, as the relationship between Bond and Swann could've been developed more and the finale could've been drawn out longer to really resonate more, but for what it and was and its intention, it was a wholly satisfying fourth and final part of a larger story.

Other than Bond and Swann and their respective portrayals, there's still much to love in SPECTRE. Director Sam Mendes delivers what definitely is the best Bond opening of the Craig series, utilizing a beautifully done tracking shot for almost half the opening. Following this, the audience is treated with a variety of set pieces and locations, which cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema captures astoundingly, and those completely different locations and set pieces all manage to remain visually coherent with each other throughout the rest of the film.

Dave Baustista enters the frame as Mr. Hinx, and his screen presence is so good. He only has one line, but he's easily the most enjoyable villain in the film. Christoph Waltz' Franz Obenhauser is just fine. Watlz is serviceable in the role, but the film does not do anything to justify keeping the character shrouded in mystery in the film's advertising. They had the opportunity to make a really compelling villain that was tied to Bond's fictional past (another fundamental of the Craig series), but they cop out at the last act and stage a reveal that is unimpactful and unnecessary. Note that I say reveal and not "twist", because it's not a twist. It doesn't change the story or the perception of the story whatsoever. The story cites an irrelevant name and leaves it at that, showing no interest in expanding upon it. It's by far the weakest aspect of the movie, but too insignificant to make a dent in my real liking for the film.

SPECTRE is many things; bold, grand, beautiful, personal, fun, but old-school Bond is not one of them. That is perhaps why I love it and the Craig series so much.

Friday, October 23, 2015

It's Time the World Knew Her Name: JESSICA JONES trailer review

The very first trailer for Marvel's Jessica Jones has been released, and it's like falling in love with Brian Michael Bendis' Alias all over again.

The trailer opens with the very first scene of issue #1 of Alias, the comic that introduced Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). The opening serves the same purpose for the trailer as well, and then we learn later in a conversation with Luke Cage (Mike Colter) that Jessica was a superhero before, but now she's over that part in her life. It's made clear that she's a private investigator and a somewhat gloomy alcoholic. The trailer sets up its tone and main character really well, somehow continuing the darker and more grounded nature of Marvel that was introduced in Daredevil while also showing that it has an entirely different approach to it. Like, if Daredevil was a crime drama, then Jessica Jones is a psychological thriller. It's clearly seen in all the scenes with the series' main villain, the Purple Man (David Tennant), as you see all the pain and suffering his mere presence triggers.

I like that we're adapting Bendis material onto Netflix now, because it allows for the exploration of Marvel's darker material without having that darkness and seriousness as the characters' defining traits. It's an amazing trailer, and I invite everyone to binge watch this series on November 20, because it's about damn time that this character got the praise she deserves.

Marvel's Jessica Jones hits Netflix on November 20.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

THE MARTIAN movie review

They found water on Mars and I found this to be a good movie, so Mars is pretty much on fire this weekend.

The Martian is the Ridley Scott directed film adaptation of the novel by Andy Weir. It stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut accidentally left on Mars by his crew and who has to survive until help gets there. By "there", I mean around 140,000,000 miles away.

I'm not the biggest Ridley Scott follower. Alien is brilliant and one of the best horror movies I've seen, but I'm really only familiar with his post-2010 films, which haven't really gone well with critics. However, I myself do enjoy them, as I do kind of like Prometheus and find The Counselor great. The Martian is no exception to this trend, because not only is it his best directorial effort post-2010 but it also sets itself as a nice counterpoint to Alien, one of the best science-fiction movies.

One of the biggest surprises of The Martian, at least to me, was that it wasn't a survival/thriller as the marketing made it out to be. It's more of a science-fiction/adventure movie than anything, and that's the aspect of this film that brings me the most joy. It's not a story of man struggling to survive on a desolate planet, it's actually a story of a scientist finding hope and new ways to solve problems in order to get back home. And in an age of the hardcore, distressing survival/thriller, it's rather nice to have a film that embraces intelligence, optimism, and exploration so wholeheartedly. In some ways, it's Scott's love letter to Math, Science, and uncharted territories - which pretty much makes it the opposite of Alien. Hopefully, the two prove to be an interesting duology some day.

Scott tackles the dunes of Mars in this film and does a great job directing. He manages to keep most of the film afloat with just Matt Damon, who's a natural. Visually, the film is impressive as well. The locations are really beautiful, the color pallet of the film is visually interesting, and the cinematography is amazing. Thankfully, Scott doesn't get lost in the scope of the film's visuals as it's still very much character driven, something Prometheus (even though I enjoyed) would've benefited from being.

Damon reaffirms his movie star status, while the rest of the substantial ensemble cast turn in good performances. Drew Goddard's screenplay shines the most, as it's equal parts intelligent and witty. The relationships between all the characters is well defined and the cast's chemistry is outstanding. The film is way funnier than anticipated as well, going back to my previous point about the film embracing optimism wholeheartedly.

Truthfully, the only downside was that the pacing of the film was off. It feels like the filmmakers did their best with what they had, but what they had was a story that ranged across several months on two separate planets with a main cast of about thirteen people, so the origin of the shortcoming is quite clear.

In The Martian, Ridley Scott boldly embraces the love for Math, Science, and the adventurous spirit, and makes one of the most spirited and intelligent outer space movies of the past few years.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


My world is fire and blood.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the second film in the Maze Runner series, based upon the YA novel series of the same name. Following the events of the last film, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and company are taken in by Janson (Aidan Gillen), who is protecting them from the Scorch. However, Thomas soon finds out about some things related to his past, which drives the team into the Scorch, where they must survive.

I actually quite dug the first Maze Runner movie. Its approach to the a young adult novel adaptation and thrilling action sequences made it an entertaining watch (and definitely better than those god-awful Divergent movies). But while the first film piqued my interest and excitement for another good YA film series, this second film just threw it aside.

One thing a sequel could (and most times, should) do well is further developing the characters and pushing forward the plot in a coherent and interesting way. This sequel does neither of those. Sure, the introduction of the Scorch and its different areas and factions is interesting, and the somewhat exploration of the mysteries left behind at the end of the last movie is welcome, but those positives are relatively minor, compared to the lackluster characters and, at this time, unengaging plot.

Other than Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the story doesn't really express any interest in developing the main cast. Thomas proves himself to be the one-note main protagonist-type character, and the other characters simply pay service to moving the story along, not really doing anything remotely interesting. 

For one example, the film introduces this one character, Aris (Jacob Lofland), and he plays a pivotal role in the beginning film, but he ends up literally not do anything in the middle portion of the film. He merely stands in the background, among these group of characters, waiting for when the story is in need of him. He ends up getting lines in one scene towards the climax, used for plot purposes, but then he's completely forgotten by the climax and the ending of the film. That's just one of the character mistreatments I can recall from the film, but it gives a good idea to the film's attitude towards plot and characters.

What's even more frustrating is that the film introduces even more characters. Granted, it was a pleasant surprise to recognize talented actors that I've seen in their other works, but none of them add any substance to the film. The film is mostly keen on spending the down time in between action sequences in favor of the less than interesting plot.

Even the action sequences disappoint by failing to live up to its predecessor's. The first action sequence is thrilling, comes together nicely, and ends on a pretty high note, but once they get out into the Scorch, sloppiness kicks in. Most of the action sequences are set during nighttime and staged as running-in-the-dark sequences. It's disorienting seeing the camera shakily follow the runners, equipped with their seizure-inducing flashlights. It's confusing... just like the plot!

The visual style is quite plain. There's nothing visually interesting or appeasing when it comes to the daytime Scorch sets, and the nighttime Scorch sets and creature mechanics look like they were pulled straight out of The Last of Us video game- you'll have to see it to believe it. It may just be the fact that Mad Max: Fury Road came out this year, but there's nothing distinct or good-looking about the visual style of the movie, as the promotional material made to believe.

Somehow, the director of the first Maze Runner film, a film that showed a promising story, cast, and action (for a YA film, at least), delivered a film that's weak on character and story developing, and is just an all-around incoherent jumble of a sequel. It shows little promise, and is a big sprint in the wrong direction.

Friday, August 21, 2015

INSIDE OUT movie review

Foreword: Lava, the short film that played before the movie, was awful. It made me wish they just kept that Secret Life of Pets trailer on repeat instead.

Inside Out is the fifteenth film from Pixar Animation Studios. It centers around Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), the emotions in the head of a little girl who's going through an emotional time as her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Between the merchandising film, Cars 2, the half-great, half-generic Brave, and the completely pointless Monsters University, Pixar hasn't had a good string of films recently. Luckily, they take their "inventive fun + emotional depth" formula literally with this new film to remind us how good they can actually be.

This is a fun movie, with a weird premise, and director Pete Docter manages to thoroughly and coherently establish the premise of this movie in the first ten minutes, and it's all uphill from there. Much like how he approached Monsters Inc. years ago, Docter explains the inner workings of your subconscious in ways that are clever and/or ways that strangely have some weight to them. File this under the The Matrix / Inception category of coherent, imaginative storytelling.

I really liked that the emotions (characters that, for all intents and purposes, should've been one-dimensional) were treated as rounded, three-dimensional characters (some of them at least). Joy has a character arc (not all stories need its characters to have an arc, but her's works really well), Sadness may just be the most interesting of the group, and while I didn't find the character Bing Bong (Richard Kind) all that engaging/accessible, his character really resonated with me by the end.

The film speaks volume as to where Docter came from as a child and where he is now, emotionally, and the same can be said for many who watch this film. Pixar usually finds their wins in the stories that captivate the audience by the emotional depth and sincere life lessons, and this film is where it stands out the most yet works just as well. 

As I said earlier, they turn their figurative formula into a premise of a movie, and it works wonders. (Spoiler parenthesis: I know I sure as hell was impacted by the climax of Joy's arc, where she learns that repressing sadness only leads to isolation, in the middle of a literal forgotten wasteland.)

Inside Out is a film that bathes in its imaginative storytelling and emotional sincerity. I love it. And not just puppy-dog love. I mean, like, create-an-Inside-Out-character-for-this love.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movie review

Ugh, spy movies are cultural genocide.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a film based off the 1960s television series of the same name. It's essentially a buddy-spy action/comedy focusing on American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), who have to team together to stop a bad person from acquiring a bomb.

There have been three spy/secret agent movies so far this year that, whether you like them or not, all have differing approaches and aesthetics to them, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is no different. 

Being directed by Guy Ritchie (more recently known for the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies), the pacing and rhythm of the film is very distinctive of his work that it offers another uniquely entertaining addition to a year loaded with spy films.

I feel that Henry Cavill, in-character, encapsulates this movie, in both the positive and negative sides. He's charming, slick, and suave, yet he's nothing more than those surface characteristics. The same can be said for the movie; it's paced quickly, with snappy dialogue and stylistic and upbeat music, and it's oozing with charisma. The film is basically an invitation for having fun with it, and it works mostly because it's completely accessible.

Two of the three leads, Cavill and Alicia Vikander, create a vibrant atmosphere to let loose, while Hammer just faceplants with his use of a Russian accent. The action sequences are fun at times, with the only memorable ones being the boat sequence in the middle of the movie and a hotel dance/fight sequence with Vikander and Hammer.

Beyond those surface values, however, there isn't much, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since I'd prefer to have my empty films as stylistic and fun rather than dull and boring. Still, the film doesn't try to go beyond that other than several Leverage-esque reveals meant to amaze the audience, that ironically, I found unimpressive. They only make use of editing techniques and camera framing, so they aren't exactly crafting a well set-up for a reveal that's made a big deal of.

There were quite a few tedious scenes that are required to sit through (most involving Armie Hammer, unfortunately). The worst of which was the last act of the movie which is quite hard to follow, with all the moving plot points. It also somehow ends up at a point where the final showdown is one of those aforementioned reveals, just to once again reiterate that the spies are cool.

The film is basically cool guys doing cool things for your viewing entertainment. Going on nothing but style and charisma, the film manages to give an fun little throwback to a 60s spy adventure.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Tom Cruise risks his life multiple times to deliver an entertaining movie. That's true dedication right there.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible series and it sees the return of Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Vingh Rhames and also introduces Rebecca Ferguson into the fold. This time around, the IMF encounter trouble when their agency is dissolved as they try and take down the Syndicate.

M:I is a fun, action/adventure spy series, yet the only one I really like is Ghost Protocol. The trailers of this movie made it seem like it was aiming to recreate the same adrenaline-infusing excitement that Ghost Protocol was able to deliver so well, but in reality, the movie is much, much more than that.

The movie starts off with one breathtaking sequence that lives up to the franchise name. It feels familiar and it fits in the vain of Mission: Impossible. However, almost immediately after, it starts to challenge those very same, familiar elements of the franchise and attempts to tackle big ideas that the series has never dared touch.

Like how Empire Strikes Back challenged Star Wars' adventurous spirit, with Yoda telling Luke that he must unlearn what he has learned, Rogue Nation challenges the main draw of this series, the stunts and action, by raising the point that maybe these dangerous missions are a risky business that could lead to drastic consequences. 

All the action sequences following that first one have weight to them; characters die when minor hiccups in the mission occur, missions fail badly and suffering happens because of it, Ethan Hunt's knack for gambling with people's lives is at the forefront, and characters question the complexity of these elaborate set pieces (which leads to some hilarious banter). It's a fun flip on the franchise's identity while still remaining true to it.

I can't imagine the pressure of following Brad Bird's directing in Ghost Protocol, but director Christopher McQuarrie seemingly pulls it off with ease, offering some of the best action sequences this franchise has had to offer. Instead of going for a rehash of the Burj Khalifa sequence of Ghost Protocol, or even worse, trying to top it (you can't), McQuarrie goes for a variety of complex yet very entertaining action sequences. I'm not quite sure many directors are able to stitch together an underwater break-in scene, a car chase, and a motorcycle chase, but McQuarrie can, and it's one of the best parts of the movie. However, the best action sequence of the film goes to opera fight sequence. There was a point during that sequence where I just couldn't believe what I was watching. 

McQuarrie also gets some of the best scenes of interplay between cast members in the series. As I said, Tom Cruise is a champ. He can carry this franchise until he's 90, probably. Simon Pegg is back in a bigger role, and he's great. I've always loved his brand of comedy, and American filmmakers are now starting to use more of him, so that's pleasant to see. Newcomer, Rebecca Ferguson totally steals the movie however. Her character is intriguing, complex, and more than capable that I would love to see more of her in future installments.Her character works so well opposite Ethan Hunt too. It's Cruise, Ferguson, and Pegg. This is the M:I trifecta that should never go away.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is definitely the most interesting film of the series. It doesn't attempt to rehash or out-do what came before and is more than willing to explore the very nature of this franchise. Plus, the exhilarating action sequences and great performances make it a Summer blockbuster you won't want to miss.

Friday, July 24, 2015

SOUTHPAW movie review

Boxers from Hell's Kitchen always get back up.

Southpaw is a boxing film starring the man, the myth, the legend, Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope, a lightweight boxer who's life takes a turn for the worse, and in order to fix it, Hope must start over and learn the values of a true boxer and a good person.

Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal! He alone was able to elevate this movie to really good quality. Watching Gylenhaal act is like watching the final round of a boxing match between two of the greats (no, not Mayweather vs Pacquiao). He really is so captivating to watch, especially since his role here is a huge departure from his roles in his previous films like Enemy or Nightcrawler. He exceptionally plays the role of an intense, quick-tempered, dull-witted boxer and it's a perfect new addition to his current filmography.

The supporting cast is filled out nicely with the likes of Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, and a few more good actors. McAdams has a memorable presence and she's really talented  in getting me to cry over her in movies. Whitaker is good as the mentor of Hope. However, the real champion of the supporting cast is the child actress by the name of Oona Laurence. She's great and is able to prove that she can hold her own in a scene with Gyllenhaal.

The father/daughter relationship and Hope's struggle with loss and depression are definitely the more interesting parts of the screenplay, but it just isn't a knockout. It's pacing is off, as some characters and subplots enter and exit like a jab, and the movie can't quite shake the feel of a "based of a true story" fare we're so used to (and it isn't even a true story).

Antoine Fuqua's directing is disappointing. The boxing fights are fun to watch, but the whole aesthetic of the film is just so standard and unsubtle that it's hard to really appreciate. The film spends a lot of time and energy on emphasizing character points, tone, and themes (one scene literally has characters spelling these things out) and it doesn't really do anything to help the movie. It actually helps you map out the movie's plot points and exact beats in your head, which was quite easy to do. It was easy to identify what would happen to specific characters, what this character would say to the other character during a particular sequence, and other story beats. It shamefully took me out of concentration on the movie and slight brought down the movie as a whole.

Although not as expertly crafted as previous Jake Gyllenhaal-starring films, Southpaw is still worth going into the ring for because of  fun boxing fights and another amazing Gyllenhaal performance.

Monday, July 20, 2015

MAGIC MIKE XXL movie review

He came, he came, he conquered.

Magic Mike XXL is the sequel to the 2012 film, Magic Mike. This film has Mike (Channing Tatum) come out of his self-retirement to go on a road-trip with his friends, who aim to give one last big performance at the male stripper convention.

Being too young at the time of its release, I have actually not yet seen Magic Mike. I do hear it is a fascinating and nuanced character study of the male entertainer and I am a fan of Steven Soderbergh, so this film, the sequel, certainly had my attention. Now, having seen the film, I can confirm that Magic Mike XXL is in fact a godsend.

"We're male entertainers!" is a line repeated throughout the course of the movie, usually when the group of guys feel anxious or nervous about an upcoming performance. They use it to motivate themselves and remind themselves that they're doing this all for the pleasure and satisfaction of women. That is a vibe that translates throughout the film, and that's an undercurrent that I can honestly get behind.

The film has a lot of love to give to everyone. Especially women. It doesn't matter of the race or what the physical appearance may be. The film's goal, much like the male entertainers themselves, is to give a pleasurable and satisfying experience to the audience just because they deserve it. It's as if the plot itself was designed just to be a fun piece of entertainment, and it certainly succeeds at doing so.

No doubt one of the most interesting qualities of the film is its stakes - or lack thereof. There are no competitors, no race against the clock, no main antagonist. It's just the story of a team who wants to end their male entertainer career with a bang and to give the best damn show possible. It's an admirable feat and the filmmakers pull it off with flying colors.

The film comes to life as the most well-made Step Up movie ever. The filmmakers really have a firm grasp on the tone and identity of the film, so coupled with the raw electric and comedic vibe that director Gregory Jacobs is able to bring to it, the film is able to reach its maximum level of pure entertainment. Soderbergh took on the role of the film's editor and cinematographer this time around, and it's so evidently one of the film's highlights, having some of the most exciting and gorgeous-looking sequences we'll probably see all year.

Magic Mike XXL is undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year so far (per my opinion, of course), so do yourselves a big favor by going out to see it. I don't really support the gender classification of movies, so this comes highly recommended to everyone regardless of gender. It wouldn't be fun to be one of those guys who decline not to see this film because they're still pretty insecure with their sexuality, because those guys are surely the ones who missed out.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

ANT-MAN movie review

It's Scott Lang versus the world in Marvel's newest film.

Ant-Man is the twelfth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it introduces us to the weird hero known as Ant-Man. In the film, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) gives Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) a chance at redemption by teaching him how to control the Ant-Man suit in order to break into a building and steal a weapon from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

The film feels like one director wanted to make a fun Ant-Man movie while another was tasked with making a studio film, which is not at all surprising, given the production problems of the film, but still extremely disappointing.

There are sequences that are just pure fun to watch and are really well-directed too, but for every one of those, there are poorly-directed scenes that are just so bland and boring, filled with jokes that don't work and expositional dialogue, all executed monotonously. You can actually feel the stylistic shift as you're watching. 

Inconsistencies continue further when the film goes out of its way to shove in character/s from different Marvel films all for the sake of connectivity that it loses all identity of itself. It feels like the characters have jumped into a completely different movie, and what makes it worse is that the tie-ins are either inconsequential to the film and just serve as set-up for future Marvel films or just aspects that completely come out of the blue, disregarding the concept of set-up altogether.

The saving grace of this film is that it's presented more as a heist/adventure film than it is a superhero/action movie. There are maybe only two actual fight scenes, including the finale, and even then, the finale doesn't adhere to the formulaic 'save the world' explosion-fest that we're so used to already. The stakes here are more personal, which makes sense because the movie's plot is supported by a familial story and Scott Lang's road to redemption.

The two different father-daughter relationships are developed really well and is one of the brighter spots of the movie. Also, if it wasn't clear before, Paul Rudd can totally carry a movie. Rudd has got the charm, wit, and sincerity that most Marvel leads have, and is also surrounded by an incredibly comedic supporting cast that I'm just glad we have in the MCU.

Ant-Man is the same Marvel fun from the same Marvel studio. It just falls victim to the burden of trying so hard to further develop a cinematic universe that it loses its cohesiveness and individuality.

Friday, July 3, 2015


It's Judgement Day...

Terminator Genisys is the fifth installment of the Terminator series, but instead of being a sequel to the past couple films, its purpose is to reset the timeline of the series. You already know the story. In 2028, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), from being killed by a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), but Reese discovers that the past has been radically altered, and humanity again has the chance to stop Judgement Day from ever happening.

I adore the Terminator series. The first film is among my top five favorite films of all time and the second is absolutely one of the best action films ever made. Although the series has given us the god-awful Terminator: Rise of the Machines and the pretty average Terminator Salvation, I was hopeful for Genisys and its goal of rewriting the future for this franchise. I was very wrong to do so.

If anything, this movie is an example, both on and off screen, of the negative effects of time travel. The film messes with the timeline and the lore... a lot. While I'd be all for taking liberties when it comes to reboots/remakes/resets, I despise the execution of twists and turns that don't serve the story at all. None of the twists or timeline changes in the movie work. They're just there to make the film feel different enough for it not be considered a rehash, but the film ultimately fails at that too because it revisits previous action sequences in the series (chase sequence, attack on police headquarters, facility invasion, etc.), just restructured and reorganized, and even tries to pull off the same one-liners that were delivered all the way back in 1991. The post-Terminator 2 formula this series has been approaching their films (other than Salvation) with has definitely grown old and obsolete.

The time travel in this movie is wonkier than ever as this movie heavily suffers to terrible pacing. All of the previous movies were able to create a straightforward story even when dealing with complicated time travel, while this film is just a mess. It's a series of action scenes that are awkwardly stitched together and it seemingly uses time travel to inform you of which act of the movie you're in.

In its disjointedness, the film loses any substance or thematic weight it could've had (a similar problem I had with the director's last film, Thor: The Dark World). Actually, I'm not even sure it had a story other than the plot of resetting the timeline to the point it barely even feels like a Terminator movie. It really misses the mark with the overarching Terminator themes and also the characters. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney are fine in their roles as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, respectively, but in the end, it didn't even matter. Sarah Connor is some completely different character that is seemingly a weird mix between T2 Sarah Connor and John Connor, and her chemistry with Kyle Reese is awful enough to make you root against their romance. Throwing in the different updates and changes to other characters, it's hard to remember that this is, in fact, Terminator canon and not just glorified fan-fiction.

It's no secret that the Terminator series has an already messy continuity, but this film messes it ten-fold enough to make me wonder if I'll be back for more. Although the last two films were sub-par (I wrote about it here and here, for further context on this next bit), there was enough to keep me interested in the future of the series.With this film, there just isn't any... at all. It has erased The Terminator and Terminator 2 as its two completely stable footing, and now we're left with this as the foundation of future films, which is far from comforting.

The future isn't written and there is no future but what we make for ourselves, so please just write these movies better or just stop making them at all.

Friday, June 12, 2015

JURASSIC WORLD movie review

You thought the Jurassic Park series ended with the third movie, but life found a way. Life always finds a way.

Jurassic World is the fourth installment of the Jurassic Park series. They have finally opened the dinosaur theme park to the public, and shockingly(!), something goes wrong, and it's up to raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) and park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a few other people to protect all the tourists.

Jurassic Park didn't set up a world ripe for sequels (good ones, anyway). I just watched the trilogy for the first time over this past week, and the first film was truly a blockbuster to behold. A simple yet beautiful classic. Its sequels are not as great. The second one is incredibly boring, and while I admit that I really like the third film, it feels like a Jurassic Park one-shot rather than a sequel that expands/adds another layer to what the first film establishes. This time, they've finally opened the park, and it manages to become the series' best sequel.

Fun, fun, fun. That's what this movie is. Simple, old-school blockbuster entertainment that works. It's mostly due to director Colin Trevorrow, who really payed his respects to the original through many different facets, be it the score, some establishing shots, and even through some thrilling set pieces, bu he also wasn't afraid to add some of his own flavor to the film. I love it, the film feels like your back on the island but with a fresh set of eyes, excitedly exploring this new, modernized theme park.

Although it pretty much misses the mark with its corporate desire for profit commentary, I feel its still a worthy summer blockbuster. There are a lot of wonderful moments of joy and wonder throughout the film, quickly followed by sequences that are either so intense or very entertaining (or both at the same time!). It's definitely one of the most fun experiences I've had in the theater all summer.

We've moved away from the Sam Neill/Jeff Goldblum era of the series, and now we're introduced to what hopefully becomes the Bryce Dallas Howard/Chris Pratt era. Pratt, taking time off from leading aliens, is now training dinosaurs, and as expected, he's loads of fun in the movie. He just lends himself extremely well to that with his general likability and his on-screen charisma. The real star of the movie, at least to me, turned about to be Bryce Dallas Howard, who really shines in the film. She's technically the lead character with the main character arc. The arc itself didn't really do much for me, but her acting transition was really good, and she totally steals the finale of the movie.

The rest of the characters are rather forgettable. Their individual character storylines are pretty uninteresting, like Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins' brother relationship, and how the older brother can't talk to girls and the younger brother feels bad about this completely irrelevant parents storyline. It's not really compelling material, and the film even recognizes it, as its pretty much dropped in favor for dinosaur action. There are also forgettable characters such as some scientist guy and also Vincent D'Onofrio's character who are pretty flat. The film has a lot of these characters and rapidly transitions between them in the first act, which made the film unfocused and uneven for quite a length of time as it tried (failed) to develop these characters, but as I said, it later drops the useless material, and from there, it just escalates.

Jurassic World is a simply entertaining blockbuster that, while failing at its commentary, opens up another breathtaking world to explore cinematically. It proves there's definitely still some life in this previously dormant franchise.

Monday, June 1, 2015

SAN ANDREAS movie review

I'm kinda disappointed the Rock didn't punch the tsunami back into the ocean.

San Andreas is a disaster film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson depicting the series of unfortunate events that would (probably not) happen if the San Andreas fault line would go off. It follows rescue pilot Ray Gaines as he is given the chance to reconnect with his wife (Carla Gugino) as they try to save rescue daughter (Alexandra Daddario) from the earthquake.

I was pretty excited for this film, because The Rock has loads of on-screen charisma, so I love it when he stars in over-the-top and cartoon-y action movies like the Fast & Furious series or even last year's Hercules. Plus, who doesn't love a dumb fun disaster movie?

Well, this isn't that. This film is so dull and boring that it managed to neuter the Rock. I don't know how they did it, but they took one of the most charismatic actors working today and gave him a melodramatic role that accurately showcased how not to present the Rock. He's clearly not the best dramatic actor yet the movie gives him loads of scenes that are meant to be emotional, and he just doesn't execute them well. To top it off, they don't even try to build off his charisma or likability. True, he has one nice sequence where he saves a bunch of people, but other than that, he just comes off as stern.

He's terribly miscast, but the supporting cast is rather good. Daddario plays a much needed role after her minor yet notable appearance in True Detective. She plays a capable survivor and she's quite likable in the role. Paul Giamatti may have been the best actor to come out of the film. He's no Ken Watanabe in terms of disaster film exposition, but he was, to some degree, over-the-top enough to make me enjoy and stay awake through all the exposition.

The film could be described as a bunch of well-made, thrilling sequences with a lot of boring background noise in between. There is no denying those action sequences are well-made, but you still have to sit through tediously long conversations for more than half the time (I swear, a waitress stated that she'd read out the specials, and I believed that she would because that wouldn't even have been the most boring conversation of the movie). San Andreas is also another disaster film with the same old family reconnection drama. It's boring melodrama and I've grown tired of it.

There's probably only two ways a disaster film could appeal to me now. It could either be ridiculously fun disaster film, where they don't take the drama too seriously and just focus on the entertainment value or it could go the Godzilla (2014) route by not attempting at giving the characters any deep substance and instead develop the larger, thematically relevant story. Honestly, that masterpiece of a disaster movie is probably the bar I'll set for disaster movies from now on.

San Andreas is harmed by its drive to develop its main characters through its boring, melodramatic story. The action sequences are thrilling, but the Rock is excruciatingly dull. Highly recommended to drink coffee during the calm moments.