Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jason Bourne


It's been nine years since the last Bourne movie (because most of us know the Bourne Legacy doesn't count). It's arguably longer than we should have waited, because there was still some room for them to work with. But here we are, with a new movie where apparently they couldn't think of a different name to give it (no "The Bourne ____" this time) and just settled on... "Jason Bourne." 

And nine years later is just how much time has passed in between the movies as well; makes sense, considering Matt Damon does not look as young as he did in the other movies. And nine years later, he's hiding sort of off the grid... whilst still practicing skills by doing street fights, and the like. According to him, he "remembers everything" now; and thus he has no need to go on any more quests. Until his former partner Nicky Parsons approaches him with some new dirty CIA secrets she's uncovered. Which means, of course, the CIA is on their tails. Again. This time led by Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and aspiring agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). So once again, Jason Bourne is thrust into action. 

In this film, some things have changed and some things haven't. This is still Bourne trying to find secrets of his past whilst on the run from the CIA (being led by an older white actor). This is still Bourne kicking everyone's butt he gets the chance to; he still hits hard, despite being older. And of course, there's still a car chase scene. And in one of the few glaring flaws, the movie makes a repeat of a big occurrence that happened in a previous movie (without giving away spoilers), but with a different character. The result (in that particular scene) actually feels uninspired. 

So what *is* different? Unlike the other films, which seemed slightly dated occasionally even for their time (especially Identity), this film freely lives in a post-Snowden world of rampant surveillance and most of the technology you'd expect that goes with that. The other big thing that's different is Heather Lee; a big new wildcard in the Bourne franchise. Unlike pretty much every other CIA guy we've dealt with in the franchise, or even Pamela Lindy, whose intentions were clear, hers aren't always; we're often trying to guess who's side she's on, and ultimately, she seems to have a somewhat different set of intentions than her predecessors making her a very interesting character. 

But in some ways, yes, this is more of the same. But is that a problem when what you've been given before was great before? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Plot has a couple minor holes in it, but it still brings some very interesting new stuff to the table as well. The action and fights are still cool, and Tommy Lee Jones, even if he's playing the same type of character that Brian Cox and David Strathairn did before, he's still great at it. And the car chase in this movie (involving the SWAT truck) is arguably the best one in the series thus far. 

Ultimately, the Bourne franchise hasn't seemed to lose much since Ultimatum; and what it has, it's made up for with its new additions. This movie proves that the series still has plenty to offer, and sets itself up for another sequel, which I can safely say I'm excited for as well. This latest installment is as exciting and fun (if not more so) as any other action/adventure movie you'll see this year. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Star Trek Beyond


Star Trek's still going fifty years after its initial inception; but this is only the third movie since they completely rewrote the timeline through some mumbo jumbo in that first Star Trek "reboot" movie. This is the second movie in the franchise thus to not be tainted by time travel; but only the first one to have an entirely new director (Justin Lin), as J.J. Abrams stepped down to produce instead. 

This particular Star Trek movie takes place three years into the Enterprise crew's five-year voyage in space; and they come into battle with a brand new enemy (one *not* recycled from any older Star Trek material): a swarm of tiny little ships, basically. Led by this alien named Krall (Idris Elba), who is obsessed with obtaining some alien artifact that Kirk has in his possession for his own nefarious purposes. The crew is ultimately stranded on a remote planet, having to depend on other means of fighting for most of the movie instead of using starships to defeat their enemies.

Star Trek Beyond is definitely not as good as the previous installment, Star Trek Into Darkness; part of that reason in general being the fact that Krall has *none* of the presence that Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan did (or even Nero in the first movie), and is easily the most average villain in the rebooted Star Trek thus far. Also, if you had trouble understanding Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (I really didn't), you will hate Krall's speaking voice: a garbled bit of growling. Krall is much better when he's punching people or things.

And though this movie has a tendency to be more frenetic on the action scale than its predecessors, there's a point nearly halfway through where the pace really seems to slow down and I found myself zoning out a little bit. Luckily, the movie made up for that during the second half with some pretty good action/fight sequences, as well as its quite serviceable finale.

There's still quite a bit of witty humor too; mostly coming during conversations between Spock and McCoy. The acting performances are still strong, the new character Jaylah is good, and for the most part it's a fairly entertaining film. Probably the best part of the film is when they incorporate the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" into a fight scene.

Star Trek Beyond's not a classic by any means, but it's enjoyable for most of the way through. There's some parts that are better than others, and one could argue that coming off the heels of Into Darkness, it was going to have a difficult time finding strong ground. But for the most part it doesn't disappoint, even if it's not the best in the series.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Good Dinosaur


Pixar has been skating on thin ice the last few years or so. Sure, Inside Out happened, but I was in the vast minority of people who found it decidedly average--somewhat amusing at best. Most agreed, though, that Brave and Monsters University were definitely below average for them. (And I didn't like either of them particularly.) Now, Pixar brings us their *other* 2015 movie that I think some people actually forgot about because they were more interested in Inside Out--and now, Finding Dory. 

The Good Dinosaur centers around a version of Earth where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed the planet instead (barely), and the dinosaurs instead ended up becoming... farmers, in order to survive. Even many of the carnivores, it seems. (Yeah, that sounds pretty ludicrous.) Arlo is born to one such family of farmer Apatosaurus's--the runt out of three kids. And he seems to be scared of everything and is unable to perform the normal chores. It doesn't seem like he'll do well in life at first, until he's forced to when he's separated from his family. 

Forced to make a long journey home, he'll be accompanied by a human boy named Spot. And if you think the whole "farmer dinosaurs" thing is weird, you'll find this even weirder: humans in this universe apparently act a lot like dogs. At least, that's the way Spot acts, anyway. Meanwhile, Arlo will have to learn to face his fears and all of that stuff before he's able to make his journey home. 

Yeah, that sounds like a pretty pedestrian plot for Pixar. And it is. Probably the most creative thing story-wise about this film is the dinosaur farmers. It's arguably nothing you haven't seen here before (there's some Lion King *and* How to Train Your Dragon parallels here). And yeah, there are some things in this film that are pretty ludicrous--whether they're just dumb (the hallucination scene), or improbable (a dino throwing a stick at a mutant bird about a hundred yards away and striking perfectly), or just the whole "humans acting like dogs" thing. 

Despite all these things working against it, the film actually manages to be pretty decent. Let's start off with the animation. It is *incredible.* The dinos themselves may not seem realistic due to their cartoonish colors (they're still well-detailed though), but various backgrounds or shots of water or a cliff look so realistic you almost forget it's animated for a moment.

The film gets a fair amount better in the second half too. That's when they start featuring more of the action/fight scenes, and there's also a couple unexpectedly heartwarming sequences. There are some moments in this film that are as good as anything Pixar's ever done; it's sadly brought down a little bit by the moments that that are less satisfying or gripping. I wonder if the troubled production where they basically rewrote the whole thing had anything to do with some of the unevenness of this film. 

The Good Dinosaur is the best film Pixar has made in 5-6 years. It's still lower-level Pixar, but it's really the closest they've come yet to shaking themselves out of the funk they've been in lately. And even being the best of a below-average bunch for Pixar, it's still nowhere near as good as over half the films they've done before; nor is it as good as a few of the animated movies Disney's made by themselves during that same time period (Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6). 

But that said, it's really the first film in a while from Pixar that I've actually really felt like I'd want to watch again at some point in the future. It actually gives me hope that Pixar can get back to the level they once were at. And even though this film could've been a lot better, I will still accept it for now, and wait for Pixar's next few movies to come out and see if they fare better. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016



Disney Animation has come quite a long way, if you think about it. One line from Idris Elba's character Chief Bogo says it all: "Life isn't some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go." And I'm actually kind of proud of them. 

Zootopia centers around a fictional animal world where all animals, prey and predator, appear to coexist in harmony; namely in the self-titled massive city which is made up of *fourteen* combined ecosystems/habitats. But guess what? There's still some pecking orders, as the protagonist Judy Hopps, a bunny, will see. She wishes to be a cop, but apparently there are unspoken rules that you have to be a large animal to be a cop. 

So, she decides to take on a missing persons case in order to prove her worth to the police force. She ends up teaming up with a con artist fox (because of course a fox is a con artist) named Nick Wilde to help her close the case, which quickly becomes more complicated than she expected, and more than either of them bargained for. 

Quite frankly, the reason this movie is as good as it is is because of all the humor, whether it's various puns or jokes revolving around certain animal behaviors, literal jokes about animals, real-world references animal-ified and of course, the already-famous sloth DMV scene that almost alone makes the movie worth watching. The plot's basically at first your average cop TV show episode (with talking animals instead), although it has a couple good plot twists near the end, namely revolving around the identity of the surprise villain (something Disney Animation's been pretty good at creating lately). 

So what downsides are there, if any? Well, there are admittedly a couple rather dumb jokes or scenes (the "naturist animals" scene is ridiculous). I was admittedly slightly disappointed that in a film full of animal jokes there was no "lemmings running off the cliff" scene despite lemmings actually being in the movie. (Guess all the implied death would've been too dark for a PG movie or something.) Also, sometimes it feels like this movie is trying too hard to throw in all the social issues/politics references it can, even if there is some creativity in the way they're handled. 

Does that really hold the film back from being great and hilarious? Not really, no. It's still one of the funnier whilst actually being serious animated films I've seen in a while. It's not necessarily the best thing Disney Animation's done in the last several years (Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 still take the cake there), but it has its own place amongst the new age of Disney films that for the most part have been pretty good. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3


It took five years, but they finally managed to get us the third installment in a very humorous franchise about a big fat panda who can do kung fu. The problem is, Dreamworks Animation doesn't have a very good record with franchises that run this long. The third Shrek movie was an insult to the existence of the previous two movies. And as for Madagascar? I didn't even survive long enough in that series to make it to the third one (though I did somewhat enjoy the Penguins spin-off). 

In this particular movie, it more or less picks up where the last one left off; after Po's father (voiced by Bryan Cranston in this movie) realizes his son is still alive, he searches for him and eventually finds him, wanting to take him back to his village and allow him to "rediscover what it means to be a panda." Meanwhile, the latest threat to the Valley of Peace? Kai (J.K. Simmons), a villainous yak who has the ability to steal peoples' "chi" and use it as his own. (If you have absolutely no idea what that means, basically consider it as "life force.")

So now, with the existence of kung fu once again hanging in the balance (just like in the last movie!), Po must build up an army to stand up against Kai (a panda army, perhaps?). And once again, Po will have to learn some new stuff about kung fu and himself (as will the viewers) in order to defeat his latest adversary. 

After keeping things pretty simple for the first two movies, this third installment decides to bring in the freaking spirit realm/world, of all things; as well as "chi." This ultimately leads to things being slightly odder than usual; culminating in a borderline nonsensical ending where basically a thing or two happens and then it's "Yay, we won!" (What? That's not a spoiler. It's a kid's movie; it wasn't gonna end with Kai winning.) 

That said, much like its predecessors, it's still quite a fun movie. The humor is still there, occasionally poking fun at the movie itself (and also making references to previous movies); the fights are still mostly pretty good, and the characters are still fun and enjoyable (save for Mr. Ping, who gets more obnoxious). Involving Shifu more in this movie again (unlike the last one) is also a good thing, and although Kai is far less interesting than Tai Lung or even Lord Shen, he still has a decent presence (maybe it's the green eyes; maybe it's just J.K. Simmons). 

The main area where this one comes up short of its predecessors is the story itself; it's not nearly as interesting as the previous two movies. It's not a bad plot by any means, but it feels oddly similar at times to the first movie and Po's rediscovering of his family wasn't quite as interesting as I had expected (even though there are a couple good scenes with his father). 

It may be the weakest of the series thus far, but that really isn't saying much. It's still quite entertaining, funny and overall enjoyable. It's still better than a lot of other animated films I've seen in the last couple years. It may not be a defining chapter, but it's still one that can fit right into the series and be enjoyed without much issue. They may want to quit now or soon while they're ahead, though.