Friday, December 21, 2018

Bumblebee


RATING: B

I don't think hardly anyone ever expected the Transformers movies to be classics or anything. But whatever one may think of the movies, most people can probably agree that they definitely could've been better than they have been--if they hadn't been directed by Michael Bay for five movies. A visual effect and sound design wizard, but one of the worst action movie directors Hollywood has seen in recent years. People go to Transformers to see robots fight each other, not for the juvenile/crude humor or for poorly written and unappealing *human* characters. 

But after the main Transformers movies hit their lowest point yet last year with The Last Knight, the series essentially got shelved. Transformers 6 was taken off the release schedule and never returned. The only problem? The prequel spin-off about Bumblebee was already too far long along in production to stop it, I guess. Regardless, it should've been a sad last gasp for a dead franchise. But it turned out surprisingly good. And not only that, it managed to be better than all of its predecessors (not that doing so was an incredibly difficult feat). 

The first good thing about this is that Michael Bay doesn't direct. Instead, he's just the executive producer and he seems pretty limited to just doing the visual/sound effects when needed. In other words--what he should have been limited to doing all along. Instead, Travis Knight directs this film. Unless you watched Kubo and the Two Strings, you've probably never heard of him. But the directorial switch yields an immediate positive effect. 

The first 10-15 minutes of this film alone are some of the best in the entire series. Most of it revolves around a battle at Cybertron, which feels more well done than the version we saw at the beginning of Dark of the Moon. We also get to see (temporarily) more Transformers, who have been redesigned to look closer to their original 1980's counterparts--something that will certainly please fans who have watched any Transformers lore beyond the movies. Then there's a battle between Bumblebee and a lone Decepticon on Earth, and it's pretty awesome. 

But the general plot set-up of this movie has more in common with E.T. or The Iron Giant. (It also takes place in the 80's--so get ready for a lot of 80's music, including Tears for Fears and a brief Rick Astley moment.) Bumblebee is stuck on Earth, and he gets found by a teenage girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) who befriends him. Unfortunately, government/army forces (led by John Cena--yup, seriously) are aware of his presence on Earth and intend to find him. And yes, that does sound a bit like the plot of E.T., doesn't it? 

This may make it sound like there's still more focus on the humans than is necessary. This is kind of true. The difference here is that (in general) it's actually more well written, and there's more heart to it. The humor is actually humorous this time (mostly). Hailee Steinfeld's character is easily more likable than any human protagonist we've had in this series thus far. There are still a few moments here and there that are just annoying and that we probably could've done without, but the fact that they even got us to really like a human protagonist in a Transformers movie is kind of unprecedented. Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky was at least tolerable, but we still were infinitely more interested in the robots than him. (Probably. If you weren't interested in the robots, then heaven knows why you were watching those movies anyways...) 

Regardless, there's still a decent amount of action to go around. Most of it comes at either the beginning or the end, but much of it is still quite fun. The robot fights are a little more fluid than before this time, even relying on martial arts moves. It's also worth noting that there's actually only a few Transformers here with much screen time, which will be easier for casual viewers to keep up with. 

Despite all of the improvements, this film still has its issues. It can move a little slowly at times for those wanting more of the robot action, even if the bond between Bumblebee and Charlie actually mostly works. There are some moments that made me roll my eyes--but most of them were just cliched material rather than straight up insulting-the-viewer dialogue (like Bay's installments often had). And the story they're telling has been done before, even if it's an improvement over what we got previously in this franchise. There's also still some moments where you think "Yeah, that definitely should have killed him/her"--usually in the wake of one of the explosions (which are also toned down compared to other installments) or, in one case, a vicious robot punch. 

Bumblebee's not a classic or even necessarily great, but it is definitely a huge step in the right direction for this franchise. It gets a lot right of what the main installments in the series got wrong, and it proves it's actually possible to make a good Transformers movie (and not just one that's a guilty pleasure). There's still room for improvement, and who knows where the series will go after this (or if it goes anywhere, depending upon how much money this thing makes). But if they keep Travis Knight or any other properly competent director on board, then I'm all for more. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Skyscraper

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RATING: D-

I remember when I first saw a trailer for this movie. It was during the Super Bowl. This was odd, because it wasn't a movie that I (or probably anyone, for that matter) had heard of prior to that. It wasn't exactly a big/highly anticipated movie--which is normally what you expect to see when it comes to Super Bowl trailers. And that trailer... well, it made an impression, though I'm not entirely sure it was a good one. On one hand, it had Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock in it, who's about as charismatic an action movie star as they come even if he's not in very many actually good movies. On the other hand, it also included jumping at least 50 feet from a crane into a giant skyscraper. Not exactly grounded in reality, right? Well, we didn't know it at the time (if memory serves, anyway), but it gets better: he's making that run and leap with a prosthetic leg. 

Somehow I think even the Fast and Furious movies would be raising their eyebrows at such an impossible stunt. But I will give that trailer credit for one thing: it left no doubt in the viewer's mind about what kind of movie it was, for better or for worse. It was a dumb action movie. And based on that preview, the only kind of positive expectations that could be placed on this movie would be that The Rock would make it at least watchable. As previously mentioned, he's a pretty doggone fun action star. 

So what exactly is this movie about, besides being about Dwayne Johnson making an impossible jump from a crane to a skyscraper with a prosthetic leg? Well, the focus is this skyscraper, which The Rock's character--Will Sawyer, a former FBI hostage squad guy--is hired to do a security check for. And this skyscraper, located in Hong Kong, is the tallest ever--taller than even the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. And just on that very day that Sawyer and his family are visiting for the security check and the building is almost ready to be opened to the public--guess what happens? Terrorists attack. Set the building ablaze. With Sawyer's family still in it. While Sawyer is outside of said building. Cue dumb action movie. (And yeah, the plot has been compared to Die Hard.) 

Sadly, there's hardly anything good about this movie. There's a couple of decent fistfights, but most of the action revolves around The Rock doing impossible stunts or people shooting at each other (and being terrible aims). And there are so many tired cliches that are used in this thing--namely, kidnapping good guy's family and threatening the hero--that the storyline just gets annoying. And as previously mentioned, most of the action just isn't that great. Probably the most interesting part is a scene in a hall of mirrors/projections (similar to John Wick: Chapter 2), but even that isn't all that well executed. 

As for the infamous skyscraper jump scene? The good news is, the long jump was *not* Sawyer's original plan. But it still becomes the plan out of necessity. The bad news is... that jump is not even the most unbelievable thing that Sawyer does in this movie. There's a part later where he has to scale down part of the on-fire building and get through some turbines (don't ask why, I already forgot) and get back up. It may not sound that different from Tom Cruise's scaling of the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible 4, but the difference is he had more proper equipment, and the building wasn't on fire and structurally unsound. Sawyer does not have the proper equipment, and the building is on fire and structurally unsound. The result is probably one of the least plausible action scenes you'll see all year. 

Skyscraper is about as good as you were probably expecting--which is to say, not good at all. Unfortunately, even The Rock can't save this. It doesn't help that there is no one else of note on the cast list. Again, though, if you saw the trailers, you probably knew this wouldn't be any good regardless. If you're wanting to see an action film this year staring The Rock, you should stick with Rampage instead. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Announcement

So, I'm making a big change with how I'm doing reviews. Few will probably even see this in the short-term, but I still find it important to explain what I'll be doing on here for the foreseeable future. I don't want to build up the reveal for a long time, so I'll just cut to the chase and *then* explain:

I will no longer being doing weekly reviews. I will also no longer being do movies older than one year; I will focus strictly on new releases in theaters or movies that have been released recently on Blu-Ray and DVD.

The main reason for this is basically that my viewership stats have been declining over an extended period of time lately. It hadn't bothered me much, but now it's gotten to a point where scarcely anyone is reading a new post. And anyone who's ever done any sort of content creation--whether it be blogging, video content or whatever--you probably know that it's frustrating to put time and effort into something and then have hardly anyone see it. I blame this partially on Facebook's algorithms--I post my reviews on a Page for the website there, and in the last year FB has set their algorithms so that Pages in general don't show up as much in a person's News Feed anymore (at least by default, anyway).

With all of that said, I can't really stop altogether. Overall, I enjoy it too much. Movies and writing are two passions of mine, and I find that I kind of need to combine the two--even if not on a timed basis like weekly, at least on occasion. So quitting altogether isn't really something I want to do.

But it still kind of feels like a waste of time at this point to be investing time and energy into writing up reviews for older movies that a lot of people have probably already seen and then have basically no one read those reviews anyway. This is also compounded with the fact that my life is a lot busier now than it was when I first started this site.

So the question is: how often will reviews be now? Well, it's not really a question of how often anymore; it's really just a matter of when I get around to watching certain new movies on my list. I do try to get to movies that I want to see in theaters on the opening weekend. I can also say with reasonable certainty that there should be at least one or two new reviews every month--and on a good month, hopefully a lot more than that. But some months may be quieter than others, and vice versa.

Also in the future: while I won't be doing any more reviews for movies older than one year, I may still drop a rating without a link in the Review Index for movies that I never reviewed that are part of franchises. For example: Ralph Breaks the Internet is about to hit theaters. I never reviewed the original Wreck-It Ralph. I'm not planning on watching/reviewing the new one until it's released on home media, but before then I may put a rating for the original in the Review Index--without linking a review. I may do this for other franchises as well that have new movies coming out but also have missing reviews--simply for completeness and reference's sake.

So, that's the gist of things. I don't plan on seeing any more movies in theaters in 2018, but there should still be a few reviews coming down the pipeline over the next couple of months. Until the next review...

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


RATING: A

It took eleven years and eight movies, but the Harry Potter series finally came to a conclusion. (Well, until the Fantastic Beasts prequels, that is.) It's kind of an impressive achievement to pull off to be able to make that many movies without ever really losing momentum--especially when some other book-to-movie adaptation series don't get the chance to finish, even with less movies. But perhaps that just drives home just how big of a phenomenon Harry Potter was/is. 

Anyone who was disappointed with Deathly Hallows Part 1 due to its slower pace won't be disappointed here. The film picks up right where the last one left off (literally doing a short replay of that film's final scene), and pretty much throws us right into the action. Here, Harry Potter and company are continuing their search to destroy the remaining Horcruxes and defeat Lord Voldemort once and for all. Unlike Part 1, though, there's less searching here and a lot more battling. 

Admittedly, even the first action set piece--a heist scene of sorts--may still feel like just killing time. However, a new destination immediately emerges afterwards for the next Horcrux--Hogwarts itself. And right when they go to find it, Voldemort's forces descend upon Hogwarts to eliminate Harry once and for all--and anyone who stands in their way. 

As such, it doesn't take very long for the big battle to begin. And when it does, even though we don't actually see all of the main war taking place, the film never lets up from there. We don't get a nearly-hour-long battle like in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (and that wasn't even the final act!), but everything that happens from here out is either action or setting up for action, and the only real breaks are for plot twists and needed exposition moments. 

While the first third of the film or so is just fine as far as Harry Potter films go, what follows from there (particularly the final 45 minutes) is so good that it puts almost the entire rest of the film series to shame. Whether it's all the awesome magical battle/dueling scenes, or one of the greatest plot twists ever pulled off late in the game, or also one of the better "apparition(s)-from-the-dead" scenes ever, there's hardly anything to not like here. Yes, we could grump a bit about one of the plot points that allows Voldemort to be defeated--but in all fairness, it was kind of shaky in the book too (regarding that blasted Elder Wand). But what we're given is still so good that one can overlook a couple of the more shaky plot points. Sometimes a film's or book's conclusion can still be great or spectacular--even if it's not quite perfect. 

Probably my greatest gripe of all with this film is how they handled Dumbledore's past. For all of the good that was done by splitting the movie into two parts and not having to cut out important stuff, they still didn't really do this part well. We meet Aberforth, Albus's brother, who attempts to cast doubt in Harry's mind of Albus. And their sister, Ariana, is briefly referenced (book fans will know the importance of all this). But the situation never really comes up again. The idea that Dumbledore isn't quite the man everyone thought he was is, in my opinion, so important in the book--but they touch on it so little in both Deathly Hallows movies. 

But beyond that, there's very little negativity that can be said. This is just a stellar conclusion to a great series. Some film series have a hard time ending things on a strong note--and seldom does a final chapter actually get to be the best one of the series. But perhaps it's easier when the final book of the source material was as good as it is. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


RATING: B+

The first ten minutes of this film -- on a purely cinematic level -- are some of the best in the entire Harry Potter film series. Beginning with a *rusting* Warner Bros level that helps to set the mood, followed by a rousing speech from Bill Nighy's Minister of Magic, Hermione having to wipe her parents' memories (for their safety), and Snape rendezvousing with Voldemort and the other Death Eaters for a creepy set-the-stage meeting--all to some of the best music in the entire series, courtesy of Alexandre Desplat. 

Of course, this is kind of one of the more infamous films of the Harry Potter series--for being the drawn-out prelude to the finale where supposedly not much happens, for being a Part 1 in general, and for being the one where Harry Potter and friends go camping. So such compliments in the first paragraph may seem a bit much. 

Here's the thing--it was a good idea to split this movie into two. Not just for the sake of the cash-grab, but the book is done better justice this way. Because it's a very long book, and a lot of important stuff happens in it. You couldn't have squashed all this into even one 150-minute movie. The final battle in Part 2 would've been very rushed. All the various plot twists towards the end would've been rushed, and some "less critical" ones might have even been left out. And how could you squash the hunt for about four or five Horcruxes into one movie? If you're still annoyed by all of this, you can blame the author for writing the book that way. (And even then, not quite everything got done proper justice--namely Dumbledore's past that comes to light in this book/movie(s).) 

And actually, a fair bit happens in the first hour of Part 1. Aside from what was previously mentioned, we get a pretty good action scene early on involving the "multiple Harry's" gambit, and we get a pretty awesome Ministry infiltration scene, which also shows us Voldemort's grip on the Wizarding World (via his pawns) starting to take full effect in alarming fashion. 

It's after that first hour where the whole "camping trip" starts, and things do admittedly get pretty slow-paced here for a bit. Here's the thing, though--unlike other installments in the series, it's kind of by design here--if that makes any sense. The idea is to instill the dreariness of the situation over lots of minutes of runtime, and to further explore the relationships between the main trio--which is done decently. It does feel like it could've been cut down a bit at times, and the slow pace just might be too much for some expecting more action in a penultimate film. That said, things do kick up again in the final 20-30 minutes, and a lot of interesting/exciting stuff happens there; the origin story of the Deathly Hallows stands out due to it being told in a unique animated style. 

Deathly Hallows Part 1 is, in other words, actually pretty good. The pacing may not be what some would like, but it kind of works in context. And David Yates continues to do a good job at directing. There were a few changes in director early on in the franchise, and I feel that having the same one down the stretch only helped the series. 

And now for the obligatory paragraph about the cast. There's actually not a lot of new faces with important roles in this one. I mentioned Bill Nighy earlier, but he's only onscreen for about five minutes. John Hurt gets arguably even less to do. Rhys Ifans fares better as Luna Lovegood's father, though. With regards to returning members, Helena Bonham Carter gets more deliciously over-the-top in this one. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort is a welcome menacing presence after being gone in the previous movie. Jason Isaacs is also back as Lucius Malfoy, and he does quite well in portraying a more disgraced, desperate version of the character. And of course, Radcliffe and Watson are good as always. 

This probably won't ever be remembered as one of the better Harry Potter films. And that's fine, because it still really isn't. But it's still not one of the worst either--for example, this is certainly better than the previous installment, Half-Blood Prince. And it still does a good job of setting some things up for Part 2. Not really a whole lot more that can be said; this film plays its role, and I guess your opinion of this film might depend upon your opinion of that role it plays. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp


RATING: B

Choosing to release this film two months after Avengers: Infinity War was not a good move. Mainly because Ant-Man is one of the lamest heroes in the Marvel Universe, and his first movie only worked because of the humor angle. I mean, come on; it was hard to not enjoy all the shrinking/enlarging madness, right? Despite all that, what Ant-Man is up to is probably one of the last things on most people's minds at this point. And yet here we are. 

In this film, Scott Lang/Ant-Man is on house arrest because of the events of Captain America: Civil War. And as such, he hasn't really had any contact with Hank Pym or his daughter Hope. But that changes when the Pyms discover there might be a way to bring back Hank's long-lost wife from the Quantum Realm (the place you go when you "shrink between the molecules" in this universe... which basically means if you didn't see the first movie, don't bother with this one). And Scott will be needed for that. But this time, Hope will also be suiting up into action as the Wasp--which is basically the same thing as Ant-Man, only with wings and some weird blasters with vague abilities. 

Anyways, so Scott and the Pyms set out to bring Hank's wife back. However, someone else--a "villain" by the name of Ghost--wants the technology as well to fix her weird unstable condition, which involves... well... ghosting through things. And for some reason, some non-super-powered normal criminal guy played by Walton Goggins wants the tech too, because... uh... you know, I'd already forgotten why before the movie was even over. 

This movie is admittedly pretty enjoyable; they take the best parts of the last movie and use them heavily. Which is to say, all the humor, plus all the shrinking/enlarging action. The latter caps off with a quite fun car chase involving a car that is constantly shrinking and then enlarging back to its normal size. In other words, the best thing about the movie is once again not even really Ant-Man (or the Wasp)--it's just the epic applications of the technology that allows Ant-Man to exist. Between stuff like that and just the often-hilarious dialogue, it's difficult to not enjoy the movie.

With that said, this movie is pretty doggone pointless. It doesn't really contribute hardly anything to the Marvel Cinematic Universe plot-wise; and when they're making us sit through as many movies as they are, that's a problem. If this movie (and its predecessor) stood completely on its own apart from any cinematic universe, I would probably be more forgiving. But I want this movie to mean something, and it really doesn't. Aside from a mid-credits scene which ties the movie to Infinity War, the only critical plot thing that happens here is the retrieval of Hank Pym's wife, which really isn't a good enough excuse by itself for this movie to exist. 

And then there's the problem with some of the characterization. Ant-Man often feels less like a character (except for the scenes with his daughter) than he just feels like Paul Rudd running around in a suit. And furthermore, Scott himself isn't allowed much room for progression; he's still a bit of a screw-up that is constantly being told by Hank and Hope "Shut up, Scott!" or "Darn it, Scott!" (The latter is more often said in less polite terms.) That heavy dose of deprecation gets annoying after a while. And while the Wasp and her actress Evangeline Lilly fare better than last time, it's not enough to bring this movie out of low-tier MCU material. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp will certainly make you laugh a lot. It's hard to not enjoy. But it's also hard to not shake the feeling that it's pretty pointless; and really, that mid-credits scene I mentioned earlier only exacerbates that. This movie doesn't really mean anything. It's a weak attempt to tide us over until Infinity War Part 2. And while it's impressive how Marvel continues to make even their low-tier material above average, I still think it's fair to expect that when they're putting out as many movies as they are these days, that all the movies *mean* something. This is basically one of those episodes of a TV show that you enjoy quite a bit but is still kind of filler. Even in a cinematic universe like this, this still isn't a TV show. Filler "movies" shouldn't exist. But then we wouldn't have a scene where a bug-sized car changes back to normal size while driving under a normal-sized car, thus sending the other normal-sized car flying. So you can see that I'm slightly conflicted here. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Star Wars: Solo


RATING: C

Have you ever been interested in the story of how Han Solo became Han Solo? Or just how he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs? Or just how he got the Millennium Falcon from Lando? Or how he met Chewbacca? No? You're not interested in any of those things? Well, too bad. Because Disney decided to make it happen anyway. In part of their quest for more cash, they have given us the latest "Anthology" Star Wars spin-off movie. Rogue One's existence is at least somewhat excusable, but this latest prequel venture is just pointless. 

The movie is indeed about Han Solo's younger life; basically him trying to get out of the servitude of everyone and everything. Born as an orphan made to steal, and then enlisting in the Imperial Academy at one point... he doesn't really care for any of that. He just wants to be a pilot and to have the universe essentially to himself. Well, him and his apparent longtime friend and now lover Qi'ra. As part of a means to all of these ends, he gets caught up with a group of criminals looking to get their own way to freedom. However, as he gets further into their life, he kind of ends up finding there's not much going back. Or something. 

This is a movie that's kind of difficult to get excited about. For one thing, it really has no reason to exist. No one but the most hardcore of all Star Wars fans would be interested in this. But the biggest problem is the fact that doing a "young Han Solo" movie means that someone besides Harrison Ford has to play the role. And that is just unacceptable. Alden Ehrenreich is okay, I suppose. But he's kind of in over his head here. There is only one Han Solo, and that is Harrison Ford. 

Another big problem is the lengths they go to in order to explain the Kessel Run. They try way too hard to explain one line from the original Star Wars: "[The Millennium Falcon] is the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs." Obviously, there's a problem here since a parsec is in regards to distance, not time. But I really don't think any of us honestly cared that much. I certainly didn't have a burning need to know what exactly the Kessel Run *was.* And while they (maybe?) address the whole "parsec" issue, it honestly doesn't help. And while this isn't the overall point of the movie, it still takes up a massive section of it. And it feels like a waste of time. Oh and by the way, Han Solo's version of the "Kessel Run" is totally impossible too--because it involves driving through a large space maelstrom with tons of large debris and basically no visibility. At least when Solo drove through an asteroid field he could actually properly *see* the asteroids he was trying to avoid. 

And now that we've gotten through that... now I already feel like there's not a lot left to talk about. The movie's highlight scene and set piece is easily the sci-fi monorail train heist scene, which they make fit quite well into the SW universe and is actually quite exciting. But aside from a shocking cameo from an unexpected character near the very end, there's very little else about this film that actually sticks out in the brain. Nothing certainly sticks out as well as Darth Vader's hallway scene in Rogue One, which arguably alone was worth the price of admission there. 

There is some good acting to be had. Woody Harrelson plays a sort of mentor to Han, and he's quite good. Donald Glover also fares much better as a young Lando than Ehrenreich as a young Han. Paul Bettany also delivers an enjoyable performance as a crime lord. Emilia Clarke is fine too, but her character (Qi'ra) gets so confusing at times--particularly at the end--that it still feels like she stands out less compared to any of the three previously mentioned actors. Elsewhere in the movie, there is some decent levity here and there. There's still some good banter between Han and Chewie. 

All in all, Solo really isn't so much a bad movie as it is totally pointless. It's a movie with no real reason to exist other than making money (and even that didn't work). There's enough entertainment that you won't necessarily regret watching it, but you probably won't remember it that well later. As previously stated, it's just not that memorable. If this film accomplishes nothing else, at least Disney is now apparently going to pull back on the "Anthology" films a bit--which is probably the best thing that could've happened. I just do not hardly care about this Star Wars spin-off nonsense. I just want the main episodic movies. So if the failure of this movie means less or even no more of these spin-offs, then that's a good thing. Is this the worst Star Wars movie ever? Hard to say. But it's definitely the most pointless one ever. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

John Wick: Chapter 2


RATING: C+

The first time we saw John Wick, it was a basic revenge movie. "They killed my ____, now I will kill them all." With a ton of headshots, some admittedly pretty awesome fight choreography, some amusing dialogue here and there and a good cast; but not a whole lot of a plot or a soul beneath all that. I mean, it was sort of enjoyable... and I certainly see the appeal. But when the plot is as limited as it is, it's probably going to have a hard time winning me over that much. So what's Chapter 2 like? Uhh... more of the same, really. Only this time we don't have a dead dog to keep us on John's side. Oh yeah, and the final act actually means something this time. So that's cool, I guess. 

The movie opens up actually with a somewhat pointless opening action scene: with John retrieving the car that was stolen from him last time. Seemingly just so he can keep a picture of him and his dead wife he had stashed in the glove compartment. Given that he had pictures at home, kind of feels like a lot of trouble to go to, given that he has to kill about 15 more henchmen and have the car essentially destroyed by the time he escapes. 

But once that's all done with, now he's really done. For good. Or rather... for about 5 seconds until some random criminal boss jerk-face shows up at his doorstep, wanting to call up on a debt that John owes him; more specifically, a blood oath. Left with basically no choice, he obliges on an assassination... and of course, one thing leads to another. And this film kind of ends up turning into the epitome of Al Pacino's words in Godfather Part III: "Just when I think I'm out, they drag me back in!" 

This movie really is a lot more of the same. John Wick shows up. Has to deal with bad guys. So he shoots them in the head. And other places sometimes, if necessary. Sometimes does some hand-to-hand combat. Repeat. A bunch of times. And occasionally a break. There's even another doggone nightclub fight scene. And the plot is still pretty loose. I mean, after John completes his mission, then the guy who commissioned him puts a bounty on him, because... uh... reasons. I guess they couldn't think of much else to keep the plot going at that point. Also, we're still missing some potentially interesting backstory or exposition info on this massive assassin/hitman society that exists in this universe. 

All of that said, what we get is still often pretty entertaining. The action is still very nicely done and choreographed. Chad Stahelski is *very* good at directing fight scenes, if nothing else. Ones that stand out include the two fight scenes between Common's character and Wick, and a late fight scene taking place in a hall of mirrors (it sounds like a bad idea, but it's executed quite well). In general, the fight scenes that involve more prolonged one-on-one fighting fare a lot better. 

One thing that had me interested in this sequel was the prospect of Neo and Morpheus being reunited. Yes, Laurence Fishburne is in this movie that Keanu Reeves stars in. Sadly, Fishburne is only in it for about 10 minutes tops. But he does kind of steal the show by hamming it up a bit. Good news is he'll apparently be in Chapter 3. Now all that needs to be done is to cast Hugo Weaving for the next movie to complete the cycle. 

I'm not really sure at this point if these John Wick movies are just senseless exercises in glamorizing violent killing, or a Breaking Bad/Godfather-esque proverb about choices having consequences that in cases like these can lead down an ugly spiral. Or maybe they're both. The series downplays the latter quite a bit, but it's still kind of there. And it's probably what keeps these movies interesting at this point, because even as cool as the fight scenes are sometimes, I probably would've stopped caring by the end of this movie otherwise. Because John Wick isn't cool or interesting to me just because he's a master assassin. He's interesting because he's not a totally soulless killer; but that soul is fading. Whether Chapter 3 will end with the inevitable culmination of that spiral remains to be seen, but I am a bit concerned that these filmmakers think *too* highly of their character and how many headshots he can get to allow that to happen. And perhaps I'm just reading too much into this nonsense anyway. Ultimately, the average viewer will be watching to see John Wick rack up a high body count once again, and they will be satisfied. Whether that alone is enough for the rest us is another matter. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


RATING: B

In David Yates' first go-around as a Harry Potter director, he had to adapt the longest Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix). And then he chose to make it the shortest movie in the series (at the time). That should have totally not worked, right? Well, it more or less did--somehow. And he got to stay on as director--the first repeat HP director since Chris Columbus, who directed the first two movies. His next task? Adapt the worst Harry Potter book. 

To be clear, it's not that I actually dislike the book version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But compared to the rest of the series, it is a bit more slow-paced and underwhelming and easily my least favorite of the series. Part of the problem is that there actually isn't a whole lot of action scenes--even in the book version. Aside from the finale, most of the plot revolves around the dark past of Lord Voldemort. The rest of the story is essentially a bunch of love triangles. Oh yeah, and then there's this Potions book that Harry ends up with that has some extra material written in it by the "half-blood prince." 

And although there is some very important material in this book/movie regarding the past of Lord Voldemort, there's not so much about what he's up to in the present day. There is a dastardly plot being hatched, but it's being carried out entirely by his minions. And aside from the opening scene, we don't get much of a sense of Voldemort or his Death Eaters causing havoc in the world--even though the fact that he's back is well known and accepted now. In fact, we never actually see present-day Voldemort himself in this movie. Keep in mind that this would be the penultimate movie if not for them splitting Deathly Hallows into two parts; and yet we don't even see the series' main antagonist, even though he's been in almost all the other movies (in one form or another). 

Despite the fact that there's less going on in this movie, it's still surprisingly decent. David Yates arguably actually does a better job at directing this movie, even if the final product isn't as good as the last movie. That doesn't make sense, right? Well, as I've already explained, this is the weakest installment in the book series. Making it *not* the worst movie is impressive. Also, this is actually one of the most cohesive and easy-to-follow movies in the series; people who have not read the books are much less likely to be confused in this movie than in the last few ones. The flow is quite good; no awkward transitions here. And perhaps due to there being more disposable material from the original source this time, very little important material is cut out this time. (I do feel like they cut out more of Voldemort's backstory than they should have, but the two most critical "memories" are kept, so it works for cinematic purposes.) 

Another thing that really helps out this movie is that it arguably has the most levity in the film series. There's plenty of fun dialogue to go around; and little of it even has to do with the often-annoying teenage-love stuff. One of the more standout parts involves Harry being on a "liquid luck" potion, which makes him act a bit silly while still providing him with... well... excellent luck. Also, there's just more time given on screen this time for the protagonists to hang out and crack jokes or snark a bit now and then. It's not overdone, but it is a welcome presence given that the film might very well be a slog without it. 

Still, the lack of action is felt at times. Aside from the final act (and even that doesn't really feature straight-up magical duels like the last one did), the most exciting parts in this movie are an attack on the Weasley's house which is interesting but wasn't even in the book and feels forced in, and a brief duel between Harry and Draco, and... uh... that's about it. I guess this reflects more poorly on the source material than anything when you have to literally invent a whole new action scene for the movie just to keep the audience from getting bored. There's enough interesting stuff going on via the exposition front that the story isn't altogether boring, but it does definitely feel more slow-paced. 

Anyway, I always seem to devote at least one paragraph to talk about the casting, since it's pretty much always excellent. Besides the usual stars whose names hardly need mentioning at this point, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) and Tom Felton (Draco) kind of break out in this movie. Gambon had been fine before, but he gives his best showing as Dumbledore in this movie. And for Felton's part, he hadn't been given much to do for most of the previous movies except "my father will hear about this" scenes, but he finally is given more to do here as his character becomes a bigger part of the plot, and Felton does very well as a result. Newcomer Jim Broadbent is also noteworthy as Professor Slughorn. Also, Evanna Lynch's character Luna Lovegood is sadly a bit underused here, but she's still great when she is on screen. 

Half-Blood Prince still belongs in the bottom half of the Harry Potter movies in terms of ranking. But it's still pretty decent. I do feel like it's about as good as it could have been. Most of my complaints aren't really a reflection of the movie itself, but more the source material. I have to give credit to Yates for doing as well as he did with this; if anything, this certainly proved he was the guy to go with for the final stretch. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Wrinkle In Time


RATING: F

When it comes to movie adaptations of books, I do feel like there's sometimes somewhat unfair expectations from book readers. Basically all the time, book readers go to see the movie and end up saying "the book was better" and trashing the movie. This is not to say that the books aren't better, because they usually are. But I think people just have their expectations too high sometimes for the movies. I've generally come to expect that the movie won't be entirely like the book, and try to enjoy it on its own merits. This usually does work. But one expectation that I do think is definitely fair is for the movie not to be a complete piece of crap that is almost completely irredeemable. 

If you're not familiar with the book, it centers around two children (Meg and Charles Wallace) whose father is missing; and they get visited by three mysterious beings who also want to find him, and in order to do so they must "wrinkle" through time and space to a different part of the universe. Oh yeah, and there's an evil being called "IT" spreading through the universe. Here, it's called "The IT," which is unfortunately probably due to the existence of that other "It" movie with the evil clown.

Here's the thing: if all of that sounded like a bunch of nonsense, don't worry too much about it. Things do actually (mostly) make sense in the book. There isn't nearly as much luck in the movie. There are a whole host of problems with this movie, some related to the book, some not. I hardly even know where to begin.

Let's start with the characters and this movie's interpretation of them, and tie that into the casting. Because that's one of the biggest problems; some characters are butchered from how they originally were from the book, personality-wise. Some are just cast poorly (regardless of some of the ethnicity changes that characters had). At least one is *both.*

Let's start with Meg. The interpretation of her is a little weird. In the book, she's a little bit emotional and definitely quite the vocal person. Here? Uh... not so much. At least for the first part of the movie, anyway. If anything, she's oddly emotionless at times early on. This improves as time goes on, but Movie Meg just does not feel quite like Book Meg. Unfortunately, the cliched treatment her character is given in the grand scheme of the script does not help her out (more on that later). Storm Reid's performance of her neither really stands out nor induces cringes; it's just kind of there. Unfortunately, "just kind of there" isn't a good thing either when we're talking about the lead role.

Then there's Charles Wallace. He gets the worst treatment out of all the characters. The unusually serious six-year-old is turned into something closer to a normal six-year-old; more smiley, outgoing, and annoying. Deric McCabe was definitely a serious miscast there, but the way the character is written kind of makes that a wash anyway. And given the character's importance to the storyline, this *alone* puts the movie in serious trouble.

Elsewhere, you have a more oddball and sometimes unaware version of Mrs. Whatsit (though Reese Witherspoon was actually a decent casting), a Mrs. Who played by Mindy Kaling (aka Kelly, arguably the most annoying regular character on The Office), a mysteriously 50-foot-tall Mrs. Which (at least they wrote her character right otherwise), a non-threatening version of the Red-Eyed Man, and a Happy Medium that is so unrecognizable in every possible manner from the book character that shares its namesake that I don't even know why they bothered naming it the "Happy Medium."

And then there's the messy manner in which the script is written. Seriously, this script is pretty bad. Filled with cliches and things that make no sense (even in the book's universe), I wouldn't blame people who hadn't read the book if they had no idea what was going on. It feels like pretty much everywhere they could screw things up, they did. Even "The IT" (as it's called here) is not really done quite proper justice.

I could go on and on about things that are bothersome about this movie. The ridiculously stupid pop soundtrack that gets thrown in at random points. The fact that the ending part (after the climactic act) is an unnecessary ten minutes long (keep in mind, this movie is only about 105 minutes). The awkwardly put in "run from the storm" scene with the dumbest use of the "do you trust me" cliche that I can remember in a while.

But the deep heart of the matter--the main reason why this movie is so bad--is because of the way it was written and the target audience it was intended for. For some reason, they wrote this movie pretty strictly to pander to 10-to-12-year-old girls and basically no one else. The dialogue, as such, is a bit loaded with self-esteem and empowerment references that pretty quickly just become silly and ham-fisted. When this is what you base the writing of your movie around (especially when this was *not* the sole target audience of the book), it's probably not going to end well.

As depressing as it is, A Wrinkle In Time is the worst book-to-movie adaptation in recent memory. What separates it (in a bad way) from its peers is that even some other movies that were not faithful to their book counterparts were still at least somewhat enjoyable in their own right. This one is not. It's just a mess. A Wrinkle In Time deserved better. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Quiet Place


RATING: B+

I think this is the first actual horror film I've ever reviewed on here. If it wasn't obvious, I'm not a fan of the genre. I never saw the appeal in getting your pants scared off, and even less in the appeal of the gorefests that most horror films these days have become (Saw, anyone?). 

Still, at its core, this really isn't strictly a horror movie. It's also a post-apocalyptic, somewhat sci-fi thriller about alien monsters that have decimated most of the human population... and it focuses strictly on one family trying to survive in this world. Yes, it makes use of horror cliches. But it's certainly not like most horror films these days, which are often one of two things (or both): slasher flicks where the idea is to see how many gallons of blood can be spilled, or films involving demonic supernatural stuff. This film is neither of those. To describe all the genres in one sentence: it's a post-apocalyptic family-survival monster horror/thriller. Oh yeah, and it's directed by Jim Halpert from The Office--oh excuse me, John Krasinski. (He also stars in it.) 

To go further into the premise without using spoilers, these monsters are rather unique ones in that they get by on basically nothing but sound. They're totally blind, but their hearing is way too good--meaning that you have to stay silent at basically all times (there is a caveat or two), or the monsters will hear you. And if they hear you, then they come for you. And when they come for you... well, you can guess what happens next. So this movie isn't kidding about the "quiet" part of the title. Much of the movie is spent in near silence (with most of the actual noise being the music soundtrack or the monster's roars), and basically all communication is via sign language. No one actually speaks out loud until almost halfway through this 90-minute movie. 

And as for the family themselves: we have Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) as the parents; then there's the children, Marcus and Regan (the latter of whom is deaf). Given that they don't speak a lot, one would think it'd be hard to get much character development. But there is some. And it helps that the two parents are both cast quite well.

This movie is actually pretty good. It's got a quite unique idea, and the whole concept of focusing on one family's attempts at survival during a big-picture situation is one that is sadly lacking in cinema. Sometimes it's better to have more characters; other times a more simplistic approach like this really does win. And although it is a tense movie, it's not nearly as much so as one might think from some of the reviews (although it helps if you don't go in knowing literally nothing about it). Another thing I feel this movie does well is that while it does make use of some horror elements/cliches (sometimes to its detriment), it doesn't rely on them; it's merely more of a tool. In that respect, it's not too different from a movie like the original Jurassic Park or maybe Jaws.

The small cast also deserves some attention. Emily Blunt is as good as one would expect by now. However, John Krasinski--who hadn't done much beyond comedy roles like the one in The Office--also really stands out here. He shows some excellent range in this movie (and he does a pretty good job directing too). Also, the more unknown Millicent Simmonds stands out as one of the children (and like her character, is deaf in real life); for someone who's still technically a child actress, she's quite good.

Still, as impressive as this movie is at times, it's still got some flaws. As I previously stated, it does not rely on horror cliches too much; but there are a few that come up (namely lights flickering for no reason a couple times) that made me roll my eyes a bit. Also, the cold opening before the title screen is a bit brutal (psychologically more so than visually) and could easily start some more sensitive viewers off on the wrong foot. Also, the ending is rather abrupt and arguably even somewhat inconclusive. Interestingly enough, a sequel is happening... although I'm not sure they could do a whole lot with that.

Even with those issues, A Quiet Place is still a pretty well-done piece of work. It's arguably one of the better original movies we'll see out of Hollywood all year. It's honestly kind of difficult to pull off a movie without much dialogue and still make it enthralling, but these guys did quite well. I am quite interested to see what Krasinski does next as a director, because it's pretty obvious this guy's got talent beyond his acting abilities. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Rampage


RATING: B-

Here's something interesting: a video game movie based on a video game that a lot of us probably haven't heard of. Or at least, I barely knew about it anyway. The idea of the video game pretty much laid in the title: you rampage, only as a mega-sized animal. Apparently in the original game the monsters were actually transformed humans, but that's ditched here and instead switched to mutated animals. 

The premise here is that some typical evil movie corporation has been practicing genetic editing on animals... for some reason (never really given, other than it's supposed to make them money... somehow?). Anyways, they're doing these experiments in space and after one of them goes wrong and their space station explodes, three capsules of pathogens from their research crash onto the Earth. And when inhaled by animals... well, the effects aren't pretty. 

One of the three mutated animals in question is George, a rare albino gorilla under the care of Dwayne Johnson--oh excuse me, Davis. Anyway, this gorilla is a pretty smart one that's learned sign language; only he's a bit more goofy than Caesar of the rebooted Planet of the Apes. So when he inhales the pathogen and mutates, Davis is determined to fix him... somehow. In addition to George, we have a mutated wolf and crocodile. Together, the three will do quite a bit of... well... rampaging. 

Obviously, this isn't the kind of film that's meant to be an Oscar-winner. What helps set it apart (to a certain degree) is that both director Brad Peyton and The Rock seem to get that, and so they just work to give us a fun popcorn action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. And this works, for whatever that's worth. It's better than some of its peers in that it's not insultingly dumb, and in that it does not waste time on material that has no business being part of the runtime. 

And the action is quite fun, indeed. Most of it takes place during the second half in Chicago, where the actual rampaging takes place. Sometimes the bounds of suspension of disbelief get stretched a little bit (namely when The Rock's character gets shot in the stomach... but shrugs it off later and continues fighting like nothing happened). But when your movie is about genetically mutated animals, you already have to suspend it a little bit anyway. 

As can be expected, Dwayne Johnson is pretty much the star of the movie. While he's never really been in any truly great films, few action actors are as charismatic and fun as he is. And at times, it does feel quite a bit like the script was written around a character that would be played by The Rock. Case in point: one character tells Davis that "you know there are other ways of dealing with people, right?" after he expresses regret in not being able to punch somebody. His response? "I do know that, yeah, but that's not fun." There's not much talent in the cast beyond Johnson, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan does pretty good at hamming it up. 

Rampage obviously is only going to appeal to certain people who are willing to put up with action films like this that just aim to be more fun than anything. In that regard, the film's better than most in its niche. Again, it helps that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. It probably won't be seen as memorable or anything, but if one is able to put up with this kind of movie, they'll probably have a pretty decent time. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


RATING: B+

The Harry Potter filmmakers decided to do kind of a bizarre thing when it came time to do the fifth book/movie, Order of the Phoenix. This was the longest book in the entire series (around 850 pages).... and they decided to make it the shortest movie thus far at 138 minutes. Makes sense, right? Actually, kind of sounds like a recipe for disaster. Particularly considering we had already seen one movie (Prisoner of Azkaban) struggle to tell the story in a relatively shorter amount of time. 

Somehow, it actually kind of works. Or rather, it doesn't fall apart at the seams at least. To be clear, there's still some problems with the way they cut down the book while making the movie. But they got most of the important stuff in there, added a couple of interesting new bits here and there and managed to make the product as a whole flow properly. Unlike Prisoner of Azkaban, it doesn't feel like they just shoved important/random bits from the book and just rolled with it. 

One thing to note about this iteration, though, is that there's considerably less actual action scenes than in previous installments. That's not to say there's nothing happening; on the contrary, we get to deal with the Ministry of Magic turning into semi-dictators as they try to pretend Lord Voldemort's return never happened. But there technically is a somewhat slower pace than in some previous films. 

Still, when the action does happen (most of it being in the final act), it does work just fine. It's a little frustrating that they cut down the Department of Mysteries battle from the book into about a five-minute skirmish, but they do make up for that by having arguably the best magical duel in the entire film series later on (between Voldemort and Dumbledore), and then extending the "possession" scene, which only took up about half a page in the book. 

There are still indeed problems. As previously stated, the fact that the thing's been trimmed is still noticeable. Harry and Cho's relationship is given so little screen time that one would be forgiven for forgetting often that they were even a thing. The Quidditch subplot is cut out completely. And the fact that the rest of the Professors or the school itself try to work against the scummy Professor Umbridge is not given much time either, which would've made for some good comedy in places. (Snape still gets a pretty hilarious deadpan moment with her, though.) And while David Yates' direction is for the most part pretty stylish, some of his depictions of magical spells are a little confusing; as is having some of Voldemort's Death Eater minions just fly around in smoky mists during the final act, which does not help when one is trying to tell who's who.

Something that does help the film out, though, is some of the new castings. We always get a couple to enjoy each movie, but some of the most "nailed it" ones in the series are introduced here. Evanna Lynch couldn't be a better Luna Lovegood. And Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as well as the more insane Bellatrix. And the usual returning stars do great as well (by this point, I probably don't need to name them all). 

Overall, Order of the Phoenix is an enjoyable Harry Potter adaption; even if this version cuts a lot of stuff out. At any rate, it's a lot better than it has any right to be. As previously stated, making the longest book one of the shortest movies just should not work. But it does, and while not many may find the film version of Order of the Phoenix to be one of their favorites, it probably won't show up on their least favorites either. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


RATING: A-

The people making the Harry Potter movies had an interesting task ahead of them when it came time for Goblet of Fire. This was the point in the book series where things started getting a bit darker... so that meant it time was for the series to graduate from PG to PG-13. The idea was, they had to make a more mature and darker Harry Potter film and pull it off well. Oh, and they had another new director. This time it's some guy named Mike Newell. 

This is definitely a better adaption than Prisoner of Azkaban. That one certainly wasn't bad, but among various issues, it kind of felt like it was having a hard time transitioning. And the whole thing felt oddly trimmed and even a little rushed at times. This one certainly is not; at 157 minutes, it's actually the second longest movie in the entire series. 

Let's get the early minutes out of the way first. Because while most of this movie is quite excellent, there is some horrendous editing/rushed storytelling early on. After the vision Harry has in the beginning (and that part is done well), the events of the Portkey and the Quidditch World Cup, up to the Death Eater raid happen all in a space of about under ten minutes. We don't even get the World Cup--instead we get an incredibly jarring transition out of it. For all the good this movie does later on, this sequence of events is horrendously adapted. 

But after that, things go much better. The pacing is pretty good for a movie of its length, and it doesn't feel like they just cut and pasted the most important bits from the book here without regard for flow. As good as Cuaron was at visual set pieces, he just wasn't as good at directing overall. And while the Yule Ball section (which goes on for about 15-20 minutes) feels quite tedious, it's difficult to be bored otherwise. 

The action scenes are quite well done here; the famous/infamous final act in particular stands out. They also kind of updated the underwater sequence; the creatures within (whatever they are, I forget) are more ferocious here than in the book, which works for making the sequence more compelling. 

The cast is excellent, as per the usual. Aside from the normal standouts (Radcliffe, Watson, Rickman, Oldman), we get a couple new faces again. Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody) gets the most screen time out of them, and he does his role quite well. Ralph Fiennes also makes his introduction here; and while he got a bit more over-the-top at times in future movies, he's more appropriately menacing here. David Tennant is also in this one; he doesn't get much screen time, but he makes good use of it. Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) is also back after being gone in the previous movie, and his presence is welcome. I do kind of wish they had cast Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum better, but whatever. Robert Pattinson's (Cedric) presence is a bit jarring (given how most feel about the Twilight series), but he does fine enough here. 

Mike Newell is probably the most overlooked director of the Harry Potter series. He only got one movie, but for the most part he delivered. He gave us the more darker and mature movie that was more appropriate for this installment. And really, he helped transition the series at a pivotal point. David Yates really just had to pick up where Newell left off. As such, this movie--even if it has a couple issues--is arguably one of the better ones in the series. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


RATING: B-

(Preface Note: A few may have noticed that there was no review last week. Based on my stats, that number of people who noticed was indeed likely very few, if anyone at all. Due to family-related reasons, I really had no opportunities all of last week to sit down, watch a movie (especially a long one like this) and then write up a review for it. Things should be back to normal now.) 

The first two installments in the Harry Potter series gave us unusually more reverent adaptions of their source material, courtesy of director Chris Columbus. And despite overall stellar casting, we still did have to put up with some lackluster child acting--particularly in the first one. Now, the third one comes along and things are a bit different. For one, we have a new director in Alfonso Cuaron. And his style is noticeably different. 

For one thing, Cuaron's style is a bit more visually focused at times--and it shows. The visuals and special effects are generally quite improved over the first two movies. Cuaron does give us some pretty impressive shots; there is often a nice attention to detail if one is looking for it.

What is also different here is that this adaption is definitely less faithful to the book. While for the most part it's not too bad (there's even a couple of subtle improvements over the book here and there), there's still some problems. For example, the identities of the Marauders are *never* explained (which I feel is pretty important, given that they're major characters). And while the first Quidditch match appears (and is woefully brief, again showing the film series' ineptitude with portraying the sport), the other two don't happen at all.

Oh yeah, and the dementors are not done justice at all. While they're still menacing, they're essentially just a swarm of flying black ghouls here. It's like they were trying so hard in the movies to distinguish them from the Black Riders of the Lord of the Rings series that they lost their way. (And unfortunately, it only gets even worse from here with regards to depicting the dementors.) 

And really, the sequencing of probably the first two-thirds or so just feels awkward at times. It feels like they just took certain scenes from the book (mostly the more important ones) and just spliced them together without regard for transitioning or flow, and the passage of time is not always clear either. This problem thankfully disappears later, but it's still a little bothering at times. 

So what does actually work about this movie? Still plenty. As previously mentioned, it's a quite nice film to look at. And the final act is done quite well, with the time-travel bits actually a bit improved at times over the source material. And if one has gotten this far (like most have), it'll still be difficult to not be enthralled with the main story-lines, which are still overall quite excellent despite the awkward pacing of the film itself. 

Also, there's the cast to consider. In addition to the usual ones we've already seen (Radcliffe, Watson, Rickman, etc), this one introduces Gary Oldman and David Thewlis, both of whom do great--particularly the former. We also get the first film with Michael Gambon's rendition of Dumbledore, and while his is hardly anything like Richard Harris's version, he's still pretty good and certainly seems less frail. Tom Felton (Draco) also improved his performance over the first two movies, even though he's not really given much to do other than "my father will...!"

Prisoner of Azkaban isn't a bad movie by any means; in fact, it's often still pretty doggone good. It's just a little sloppily written at times. It kind of feels like they were having some growing pains with transitioning the film series from the style of the first two films to the style we got used to in later films. Still, it is generally difficult to go wrong with a Harry Potter movie and even if this is one of the worst of the lot, that doesn't make it a disaster either. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hugo


RATING: B

This film is a little bit of an anomaly. Not only because of its unique premise, but also because it's technically a kids' movie... directed by Martin Scorsese. Director of films such as The Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas. He certainly had never made a movie like this that was geared/marketed towards a younger crowd, even if it was also quite accessible to all ages. (Because it is; if anything it might be better appreciated by some older folk.) 

And because it is such an anomaly, no one knew how to market this movie; this kind of leaves me in a pinch myself on how to describe it. This film is about a boy named Hugo (hence the title) who lives in a railway station... in the clocks. Yup, seriously. That's what he does; he's an orphan that maintains the clocks. And also he's trying to fix this automaton that he has in his possession. (By the way, this takes place in the 1930's.) And there's a mystery surrounding said "automaton" that he ends up getting embroiled into by way of chance. 

There's not a whole lot else I can say about the plot of this movie without spoilers. Because even once the issue of the automaton is more or less solved, the film becomes a bit of a different beast entirely. That's one of the issues with this movie; it's a bit inconsistent in tone. It tries to be sort of a mystery drama at first, then for a bit in the middle I have no idea what it is. However, by the time it's over it's become a sort of love letter to cinema itself. This is a pretty interesting concept to explore. 

This film could actually arguably be described as Tim Burton-esque. This comes with both positives and negatives. As previously stated, it's a unique film and even a bit of a treat to watch at times owing to the spirit of its wonder towards the art of cinema. But there are still some things that don't make much sense. For a film that's mostly quite grounded in reality, there are a couple of scenes where the laws of physics just go bye-bye. And as also previously stated, the tone is a little inconsistent at times. And although it tends to lean more towards being a drama, there's just enough comedy (but not much) that I found myself wanting more of that as well. Example: There's an early scene where Sacha Baron Cohen's inspector character gets part of his leg brace attached to the train and is dragged along the ground in an unexpected slapstick moment. There arguably should have been more of that slapstick, especially since his character is a bit inconsistent. 

Part of what does help this film work is some of the performances. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz are just fine in their child actor roles. But Ben Kingsley takes the cake here, giving one of the more memorable performances I've ever seen out of him. Christopher Lee and Emily Mortimer also do well in side roles. Jude Law's there too, but he's only on screen for about 90 seconds. Sacha Baron Cohen does fine too, despite the writers not seeming to know what to do with his character all the time. 

Hugo is an interesting film to watch, for sure. Those looking for more unique movies may want to give it a shot based on that virtue alone. It's got its issues and the pacing isn't always what it could be. But the direction it ends up going in is pretty admirable. Hugo may not be remembered as a classic, but it's certainly worth a look. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ready Player One


RATING: B+

This film is a bit of a strange beast of a sci-fi/fantasy flick (if it can even be called that). It's essentially what you get when you put Tron, Garry's Mod and Sword Art Online (yes, seriously) into a blender, stuff a crap-ton of pop culture references into it, and then get Steven Spielberg to direct it. It's a strange combination for sure. And what's odder is that the plot of the movie is actually sort of unique--but is also stuffed with all the pop culture references, and while those things do fit in-universe, that does kind of make for a hit-or-miss deal for some.

This movie takes place in a futuristic world (2045, specifically) where the world has pretty much become a wasteland because... uh... reasons. But Columbus, Ohio is one of the main hubs of activity left in America, and yet it has more in common with Detroit or Chicago... minus almost all the skyscrapers. Despite the Earth apparently being in bad shape, there's still good technology available. In this case, most of it refers to whatever is needed to enter the Oasis--a virtual reality where literally anything is possible. (Hence the Garry's Mod thing.) As the main character puts it, real life kind of sucks right now. So everyone just wants to escape into the virtual reality. That mentality is kind of spurred on by the fact that the dead creator of the Oasis has an ongoing quest there which involves finding three keys by way of crazy challenges. And whoever wins this "quest" will inherit control of the Oasis. And pretty much everyone--our main character Wade/Parcival included--wants to win this quest. And because the Oasis is essentially the future right now... that includes an evil corporate dude. The Earth may be a desolate wasteland, but there's still no shortage of corrupt corporate types. 

This is a pretty bonkers movie at times. The scenes in the Oasis are often pretty over-the-top, due to how stuffed they are with... well... a lot of stuff. It would be near-impossible to list all the pop culture references/appearances in this thing; some of the more memorable ones include the Iron Giant, T-Rex from Jurassic Park, King Kong, Chucky, and a mech version of Godzilla. There's way, *way* more and I probably didn't even catch all of the references/cameos. And I haven't even mentioned how jarring it can be to go from the normal live-action real world to the virtual reality world--which looks more like what a modern high-end video game would look like.

Despite how overwhelming some could find this movie... it's actually pretty good. The characters are likable enough (despite some forgettable acting), and the world that exists in this movie is still a pretty interesting one. And despite how over-the-top things in the Oasis can get at times, it will still often be difficult to not get excited at times. And the story itself is pretty interesting, particularly the story of the dead Oasis creator's life which is revealed over time. Despite what the marketing made it seem like, there's a pretty balanced dose between life in the real world and life in the Oasis; and what's going on in either place actually does keep you interested, even if you find the whole "virtual reality" part a bit much. And for all the reveling in the digital reality that the marketing does (and that even the movie does at times), it's really not the kind of movie you'd think it is from that.

This movie is definitely better than it has much right to be. With all the overwhelming stuff that occurs in the Oasis, this easily could've turned into a fun but ultimately hollow fantasy. But despite all on the craziness on the surface, the heart of the movie is a bit of a different beast entirely--and that does help it stand out. There are definitely elements that one could have mixed feelings on--namely whether it relied too much on existing pop culture or not. But at the end of the day, this film still delivers a compelling story, and strikes the right balance of being fun and yet also being serious at the appropriate times. And perhaps it also delivers a cautionary tale to a certain degree--although that part may get lost in the shuffle for some viewers. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mission: Impossible 6: Fallout


RATING: A

Normally if you manage to get as far as *six* installments in one movie franchise (not including reboots), we're not talking about that sixth one being one of the very best in the series. And we're certainly not talking about it being arguably one of the better action movies of the decade. By this point, even if the series in question is still making plenty of money and there are plenty of fans who like it, many others are still lamenting the fact that the franchise still exists. And yet... both Rogue Nation and now this one have made us want more. The fact that the more recent sequels in this series have been this good is definitely improbable; yet it's a trick that Christopher McQuarrie makes look easy. 

The story here involves some plutonium cores that are out in the loose, with certain evil types wanting to use said cores for... nukes, obviously. And while I rolled my eyes at them apparently going back to *that* well again, this isn't another Ghost Protocol. This time, much of the evil plots are a bit more personal. Remember the bad guy from the last movie? Solomon Lane? Yeah, he's back and still alive (a first in this series for a villain). And he is broken out of prison. And his plan involves dealing Ethan a world of hurt as revenge for the last movie--while still dealing the actual world quite a bit of hurt as well, because anarchists gotta do anarchy stuff. 

So how good is this movie? It's pretty excellent. And how good are the action scenes? So good that they make much of Rogue Nation (an excellent movie as well) look like an afterthought. Rarely will you ever see this many action sequences that are this well directed, this well shot, and this exhilarating. I talk a lot about exciting action scenes in movies, but these ones are truly special. Heck, they are arguably some of the best ones I've ever seen. And almost each one is unique and special in its own right. You have the bathroom fistfight scene, which immediately became one of my favorite fight scenes ever. And then you have the excellent breakout and chase scene. And then you have the helicopter scene, which becomes the latest popular example of Tom Cruise's apparent insanity as he continues to do his own dangerous stunts for our enjoyment. And those are just the biggest highlights. 

Really, the action scenes are so great that they can actually make you forget about how convoluted the plot gets for a little bit midway through the movie. There's a lot of names in play and it's pretty easy to lose track of who's betraying whom. And a few characters' motivations and actions are a little confusing at times, but it irons out a bit more clearly down the stretch. Still, even if you're feeling a little confused at times, you'll be wowed pretty shortly by a great action sequence that'll make you forget about it and marvel at how Cruise manages to keep on doing what he's doing at age 56. 

Speaking of the cast, we still have a pretty good one. Besides the typical returning members that do well (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson), there's at least one special mention to be made. Henry Cavill has been merely serviceable as Superman, but he is excellent here and establishes himself as a strong action movie actor as well (when given a better movie to work with). Sean Harris also does well; he was in the last movie too (as Solomon Lame), but he does a good job of seeming more unhinged this time around. The more relatively unknown Vanessa Kirby does well too; her character is unfortunately a little underused. 

With both Rogue Nation and Fallout to his name, Christopher McQuarrie has established himself as one of the better action directors in the business. While I hope to see one more M:I movie out of him (and only one more, for Cruise's sake), I'm very interested to see what he does next besides this franchise. He's going to have a tough time topping himself with whatever he does next regardless, though. The story is nothing special, but that's never been the biggest strength of this series anyway. It's good enough to get by and to prop up the various set pieces that feel intended to dominate the screen here. And while that might be a risky gamble to some, it works for Fallout. Because on a pure action entertainment level, it really does not get a whole lot better than this. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mission: Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol


RATING: B

Here's one of those movies that was never expected to actually succeed... but then it went and beat the odds anyway. At this point in the franchise's history, it was definitely on thin ice. The movies were making money, but not necessarily standing out from the crowd. The one prior to this--the third one--was actually pretty good, but would still probably have ended up forgotten in the depths of movie sequel history if this franchise hadn't exploded onto the scene with this movie (and its follow-up). 

In this fourth installment... when a IMF infiltration goes awry and the Kremlin gets blown up, Ethan Hunt's team is blamed and the entire IMF is disavowed. The IMF secretary privately orders Ethan to continue his mission (basically, finding the actual person responsible). The only problem? No help from the rest of the IMF or CIA this time. All Ethan's got is Benji (Simon Pegg), who was introduced in the previous movie; and newcomers Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Carter (Paula Patton), and a lone train car full of IMF tech. And that's about it. 

Here's the thing about this movie: it's definitely got a couple of the more fun scenes in the franchise, namely the Dubai "scaling the giant building" part. And this one's less focused on Ethan than previous movies, which often works to its credit. The problem? It's got the most cliched bad guy and evil plot of the entire series. The bad guy's plan? Start a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia. Never heard that one before, right? And his reasons, motivations or backstory? Uh... I have no idea. And Michael Nyqvist certainly isn't as prolific as Phillip Seymour Hoffman or even Jon Voight from previous movies. Although in his defense, he's not given much to work with. 

That said, it's not like this movie's not enjoyable. It's a tad slow at times earlier on--it takes 45 minutes to actually get to the part where "Ghost Protocol" is initiated and the plot really starts moving. But the pace is pretty slick from there. Aside from the signature Dubai sequence, the climactic act stands out due in part to its more visceral nature. The sandstorm chase scene (also in Dubai) is pretty nice as well. 

Ghost Protocol may likely be the most overrated movie in the series. But it's still pretty difficult to not like. It might've been better if the villain hadn't been so inconsequential (heck, even the terrible second movie's villain was somewhat more interesting). But what we get is still pretty enjoyable. And it's not often that a franchise with this many sequels actually continues to do well, so that's a positive mark on them.