Friday, 2 June 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Movie Review)

Spider-Man swings his way back into cinemas this weekend in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. This is the eagerly-awaited sequel to the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a movie that not only introduced moviegoers to Miles Morales but showed us that he was just as capable as the various Peter Parkers that came before him. And like any good sequel worth its salt, this one sets out to expand on the titular Spider-Verse while giving fans more of what they really loved about the first film. But does it manage to achieve either of those two goals or has it perhaps grown too big for its own good?

The film is set a year and a half after the events of the previous one with Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore) still struggling to juggle between schoolwork and his duties as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. In that time, he has amassed his very own rogues gallery of villains as well as some notoriety. He is soon sucked into a brand-new multiverse-spanning adventure with a fresh cast of Spider-People along with some returning favorites. And with a new arch nemesis hellbent on revenge to contend with, Miles would quickly find out that he needs all the help that he can get.

My expectations heading into Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse were about as high as you can imagine being the massive Spider-Man fan that I am. The first film had immediately won me over with its uniquely beautiful animation style which sought to replicate the look and feel of a comic book within a three-dimensional space. But it was its heartfelt story and great characterization that ultimately made it one of my favorite films of 2018, long before it went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. And since then, Spider-Man fans have been treated to gem after gem across the various entertainment media with video games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and live-action movies like the two most recent ones in the MCU.

But just when I thought things had gotten as good as they could get in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the crew at Sony Animation scoffed and asked us to hold their beer. Because you'll have to believe that I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this is now possibly my favorite Spider-Man movie of all time. That's high praise indeed considering that Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 had held the title of my favorite comic book movie since its release in 2004. And much like that movie had managed to take its predecessor to the next level, this one shoots everything that came before it into the stratosphere.

The animation is just as vibrant as it was in the first film with each variant of Spider-Man given their own unique animation style. This extends to the worlds they inhabit as well, with each one sporting a distinct look and feel. It would appear like we've been inundated by a heavy dose of multiversal adventures lately, between the MCU's recent movies and the impending release of the DCEU's The Flash. But nowhere has the multiverse been as clearly and as fully realized as it is here, not even in the Best Picture-winning Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

But the real highlight in my opinion is once again the stellar characterization. Miles is as fully formed as he has ever been and we get to watch him grow even further into his Spider-Man-sized shoes. We also gain new insight into Gwen Stacy's backstory with the film spending a significant portion of its runtime fleshing out her character. The same holds true for several new characters like Miguel O'Hara and The Spot, although fans of the first film might wonder what happened to the likes of Peni Parker and Peter Porker, but at least they'll get to instead witness Peter ParkedCar in all its glory. And no, I'm not making that up.

Another highlight worth mentioning is the curated soundtrack by Metro Boomin, several songs from which could be heard playing throughout the film. The one that stuck out to me the most was Mona Lisa by Dominic Fike, with its earworm melodies fitting the joyous thrill of watching both Miles and Gwen swing through New York like a glove.

The only real criticism I can give to Across the Spider-Verse is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger as it sets the stage for what is sure to be an epic conclusion in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse next year. Its extended runtime also keeps the movie from feeling as punchy and precise as its predecessor even though it does manage to cram in a lot of characterization and world-building into that runtime, not to mention the countless Easter eggs that are sure to have diehard fans going back to watch the movie over and over again.

It's a great time to be a Spider-Man fan and nowhere is that more evident than in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The film serves as another celebration of the webslinger's storied history even as it attempts to tie it all together in its very ambitious narrative web. That it largely succeeds while doing so speaks to a deep understanding of the superhero and his various iterations as well as a mastery of the art of storytelling by all those involved in crafting the film. This is the Spider-Man film to rule all Spider-Man films and one can only wonder where they could possibly take things next.

Friday, 19 May 2023

Fast X (Movie Review)

Dominic Toretto and his family of street racers return in Fast X, the tenth entry in the mainline Fast and Furious franchise. And after watching them literally fly a car into orbit in the last film, my immediate question heading into this one was what new ridiculous stunts could the filmmakers possibly have planned to top that. The keyword here is ridiculous of course, because these films clearly left the realm of plausibility behind several entries ago. But does their pursuit to up the ante with this latest installment come at the price of a sensible script with tangible stakes, or was it redeemed by the power of family?

As is now a tradition in these Fast and Furious movies, Fast X begins by retconning a new villain into the current timeline. So cue a flamboyant Jason Momoa as Dante, son of slain drug lord Herman Reyes from Fast Five, who like those that came before him now seeks revenge against Dom and the rest of the family. But unlike prior adversaries, Dante would quickly prove to be unhinged enough to do whatever it takes to get that revenge, even if it means eliminating all and any that stand in his way.

A film like Fast X almost demands to be appraised by its own rules. Either that or you'll constantly find yourself struggling to grapple with its disregard for basic inconveniences like the laws of physics, or the way our heroes tear through cities full of people without batting an eyelash at the stacks of bodies they leave in their wake. The last film explored the idea that our main characters might even be godlike beings who can perform superhuman feats, and it seems that this one fully embraces that idea, for better or worse.

I guess this is my way of saying if you weren't a fan of the prior entries, then there is nothing in this new one that could possibly work to win you over. You are either along for the ride from the very beginning or you'll feel like you are being dragged along against your will. I find myself somewhere between those two extremes, having enjoyed past entries like Fast Five and Furious 7 while completely hating Fate of the Furious. So I was indeed very surprised by just how much enjoyment I was able to glean out of Fast X.

The plot is just as nonsensical as it has ever been of course, don't get me wrong, and the script almost feels AI-generated at points, with cheesy dialogue and leaps of logic galore. There is a near-constant barrage of meaningless fight scenes that end just as abruptly as they began, making one wonder if they were simply inserted into the movie to keep viewers engaged. The sound mix was also messed up during action scenes, making it hard to hear what characters are saying over the sound effects and music, although I'm not sure if that was from the movie itself or the particular screening I went for.

But it was clear to me that in the midst of all that madness that the all-star cast was simply having a blast hamming it up in those scenes. And it was their enjoyment that I found most infectious, almost making the cheesiness excusable. Notice I'd said almost because there is simply no excuse for some of the atrocities I had to endure during the movie. If you've watched any of the trailers then you probably already know what I am talking about. But believe me when I say that none of those trailers were enough to prepare me for what was to come.

At nearly two hours and thirty minutes, the movie feels overlong. The worst part is that it doesn't even manage to tell a complete story in all that time, as it quickly becomes apparent that this was all set up for another inevitable sequel. And if what Vin Diesel himself had alluded to during the recent premiere of the film is to be believed, then we might be getting not one but two of those sequels. But if you enjoy watching CGI cars and explosions get thrown around the screen with reckless abandon, then maybe that's the exact type of news you want to hear.

Fast X can be summed up in three words: fun but exhausting. It ticks all the requisite boxes that make for some good, mindless action but does so without managing to move the franchise forward in any meaningful way. It makes the most of its worn-out premise by leaning heavily into the star power of its cast members, especially Jason Momoa. The decision to end the film with a literal cliffhanger might not bode well for those that like to have some closure in the films they watch though, but there is a mid-credits scene that will all but ensure that fans will be back for the next round of vehicular madness.

Saturday, 6 May 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Movie Review)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a mixed bag of late. For every Spider-Man: No Way Home, it seems we've gotten at least three less competently put-together sequels like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. This is primarily why I approached Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 with a measure of uncertainty. The first film had taken the MCU in a bold, new direction while its sequel had served as a somewhat worthy follow-up. But given the current direction of the MCU or its lack thereof, the third film definitely feels like it's got its work cut out for it. So does it manage to right a ship that is clearly veering off course or does it succumb to the growing sense of superhero fatigue?

The film picks up right where the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special left off with the eponymous team now taking up residence in the severed head of a dead celestial known as Knowhere. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still struggling to come to terms with the death of the original Gamora (Zoe Saldana), spending his days drinking himself into a stupor. But after Rocket (Bradley Cooper) becomes the target of a mad scientist called the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), through a powerful mercenary named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), Peter must work together with the rest of the Guardians to protect their good friend and comrade.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that a lot was riding on James Gunn to deliver another homerun with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. You only need to look at the box office performance of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to see just how dire a position the MCU is in. Gone is the magic that once drew fans to these movies in record numbers or at least so it would seem. Basically every sequel since Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has seen diminishing returns compared to its predecessor. But I would put that down to the quality of the storytelling in the recent crop of movies, which appears to have taken a nosedive, than any actual sense of superhero fatigue.

The real question then is how does the new Guardians of the Galaxy compare to the old ones. Well, I am happy to report that it compares quite favorably. I might even go as far as declaring that it is a return to form for the overall MCU, although I'll hold off until I've gotten a chance to see The Marvels before making such a declaration. The film not only captures the essence of what made the previous Guardians movies great, namely the top-notch characterization and killer soundtrack, but it also isn't afraid to take audiences to some very dark and disturbing places.

The film functions as both an origin story for Rocket, whose existing ties to the High Evolutionary are explored through flashbacks, as well as a final outing for the current iteration of the ragtag team. So do with that information what you will. Just know that the movie tugs on your heartstrings from the very beginning and it doesn't let up until the very end. It is also one of the most violent movies in the MCU and I could definitely see a lot of James Gunn's sensibilities on display. But it is how he is able to balance all that out that makes him one of the more gifted directors of superhero films working today.

The action scenes are as sharply stylized as they've ever been especially one extended beatdown sequence that was set to the Beastie Boy's "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." Likewise, the entire soundtrack feels meticulously curated by hand, with each song lending the on-screen drama and action additional weight. Considering that this is most likely James Gunn's final contribution to the MCU, having since taken up the position of co-CEO at the newly-minted DC Studios, I would say that he has managed to go out with one hell of a bang.

About the only thing that I can really fault the movie for is that it doesn't always appear to make the best use of some of its characters. The core team of Guardians get to shine of course, even newer additions like Kraglin and Cosmo. But characters like Adam Warlock barely get enough screen time, making them feel tacked on or written into the story after the fact. Some others were just thrown in for a quick cameo with no real bearing on the plot. And while I was never a fan of the decision to bring Gamora back after Avengers: Endgame, I was at least surprised by how her inclusion in this movie had played out.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a near-perfect sendoff for the MCU's most unlikely heroes. The film earns every minute of its two hours and thirty minutes runtime and somehow still leaves you wanting more. This is the most fun I've had with a Marvel movie since Spider-Man: No Way Home and that's including the various highs that came with entries like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It serves as a stark reminder as to why I'd fallen in love with these MCU films in the first place and it shows that there is still some magic left to be found in the aging franchise.

Friday, 7 April 2023

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Movie Review)

In terms of recognizable video game IP, it doesn't get much bigger than Super Mario Bros. This is why from the moment it was announced that the iconic duo would be once again gracing the big screen, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, the 1993 live-action movie had left a bad taste in many people's mouths, even as the trailers for the new one appeared to promise a far more faithful adaptation. But does the new film set a new high score for video game adaptations as a whole or is it the latest victim of the dreaded video game movie curse?

The film centers upon the titular Super Mario Bros., a pair of small-time plumbers from Brooklyn. After getting sucked down a warp pipe during a particularly tasking job, they both wind up on opposite ends of a strange, magical world. There, Mario (Chris Pratt) must not only struggle to reunite with Luigi (Charlie Day), but he must also contend with the looming threat of Bowser (Jack Black), the king of the Koopas whose mission of love and conquest could very well spell doom for the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Since its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Mario games have been known for their imaginative worlds and the cast of colorful creatures and characters that call those worlds home. So heading into The Super Mario Bros. Movie, I was most eager to see all of it brought to life by the talented team of artists at Illumination. And right out of the gate, the movie dazzles in a way that only the very best animated films manage to. The Mushroom Kingdom has never looked as crisp or vibrant, and that extends to its many inhabitants as well, almost making this an early lock for a Best Animated Feature Film nomination at next year's Oscars.

The same attention to detail had also gone into crafting the sound and music in the film, with many recognizable themes by Koji Kondo and others being lifted directly from the games and worked into the overall score. The film also employs all the sound cues one would expect from a Super Mario game, as well as licensed music from popular 80s hits like "Take on Me" by a-ha or Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." But by far the best song in the entire movie was a surprisingly heartfelt piano ballad called "Peaches" by Jack Black. The song channels the actor's singing and comedy chops from his time spent in Tenacious D and it had me in complete stitches all through its performance.

Regarding the voice cast, I think everyone did a more-than-adequate job in their roles. Despite my initial concerns regarding Chris Pratt voicing Mario, I found that his take on the character quickly grew on me and his lack of the stereotypical Italian accent was explained fairly early on in the film. Charlie Day was equally effective as Luigi, although he didn't get nearly as much screen time as the other actor. But once again, the true standout of the bunch was Jack Black, who succeeded in infusing Bowser with his signature humor without compromising on the goofy menace the character is known for in the games.

Speaking of the games, perhaps it is somewhat appropriate that the film had debuted over the Easter holiday since it is absolutely crammed with Easter eggs and references to the various games in the series. I lost count of how many subtle nods to things from the games I could immediately identify, from their various sound bites to all the ones hidden in plain sight. Each scene is practically brimming with so many callbacks that I suspect it will require multiple viewings or rewatches to catch them all. But the ones I did manage to catch during my initial viewing had me grinning from ear to ear.  

About the only thing I can really fault The Super Mario Bros. Movie for is its nearly breakneck pacing. The film hurtles through some of its scenes so quickly that you don't really get enough time to appreciate all of the work that went into them. And while the story itself, like the ones in the games, might also leave a lot to be desired by way of character development or its lack thereof, I still think it manages to tick all the requisite boxes while hitting all the emotional beats one might expect from what is effectively a kid's movie.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a more-than-worthy adaptation of one of gaming's biggest icons. It serves as an overall celebration of the Super Mario franchise with its many Easter eggs and top-of-the-line animation. It is clear that its filmmakers know what their target audience wants and they've gone above and beyond to deliver just that. There is no doubt that this is just the start of something potentially huge for the series though and as such, it should be counted as another win for video game adaptations as a whole. 

Monday, 27 March 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (Movie Review)

The DCEU is officially dead, folks. Or at least it is currently suffering its biggest financial failure in the form of Shazam! Fury of the Gods. I finally got to see the movie for myself this past weekend, after being forced to sit out its opening weekend due to the unrest surrounding elections here in Nigeria. And while I'd thoroughly enjoyed the first film, I had approached the sequel with a healthy dose of skepticism. This was mainly because its trailers and overall marketing had failed to sell it as anything more than another generic superhero flick. But did the actual movie deserve better than the poor hand it had obviously been dealt?

The film continues the misadventures of Billy Batson, a teenage orphan (Asher Angel) imbued with the ability to turn into an adult-sized superhero (Zachary Levi). He now works to protect the people of his city along with his foster siblings, having decided to share his powers with them at the end of the last movie. But as it turns out, the source of those powers can be traced back to a titan named Atlas. And now his daughters, Hespera and Kalypso (Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu respectively), would stop at nothing to get those powers back for their own nefarious needs.

I guess I need to start by saying that I actually enjoyed my time with Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a lot more than I thought I would. The film tapped into most of the things that made the first one so great, like its lighthearted humor and overall sense of charm. And while it lacked the first one's heart and emotional pull, it tries to compensate with more action and spectacle. So if watching a giant dragon wreck an entire city is your type of jam, then chances are you'll find much to love in this Shazam! sequel too.

With that out of the way, it is fair to say that Shazam! Fury of the Gods was pretty much dead on arrival. Not only had last year's Black Adam left a bad taste in many people's mouths, it also didn't help that James Gunn had announced a full reboot of the overall DCEU before the new film even got to see the light of day. All this worked together to make the film feel inconsequential. Most people have already deemed it unworthy of checking out at the cinema. And who can blame them, when the company behind the film itself didn't seem to know what to do with it either?

Between all the delays and shifts in release dates, it was clear that Warner Bros. didn't have much confidence in the film. A part of me feels the movie would have probably done better had it simply been released alongside Avatar 2 in December as once intended when walk-in ticket sales are typically at their highest. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats and those who weren't able to secure tickets to the James Cameron effects extravaganza could have opted to see this one instead.

But hindsight is 20/20 like they say and the fact remains that the new Shazam is going to lose quite a bit of money at the end of the day. What that means for the prospect of subsequent entries or appearances by the character in the newly-minted DCU remains to be seen. But I am now more curious than ever to see how the other remnants of the old DCEU perform later this year. There has been much buzz surrounding The Flash, so I'll definitely be checking that one out on Day 1. As for Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, only time will tell.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods feels like an unfortunate product of an already-dead franchise. This is despite the fact that its filmmakers had done everything they could to craft an entertaining follow-up to the first film in the series. And while it is easy to point fingers regarding its financial woes, it is still a shame that it never got the fighting chance that it so clearly deserved. So even though there is plenty of fun to be had with the movie, especially if you were a fan of the first one, I still find it hard to recommend it over some of the other stellar blockbusters currently playing at the cinemas.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

John Wick: Chapter 4 (Movie Review)

The Baba Yaga returns in John Wick: Chapter 4. And as a big fan of the three prior entries in the series, I thought I knew what to expect heading into this latest one. But as I've also come to discover in my many years as a cinephile, more of the same is not necessarily a bad thing. So the question then is does the new John Wick movie match the thrills of its predecessors, or does it perhaps even manage to find new or inventive ways to exceed them?

The film follows the events of the last one, which if you remember had ended with a battered and bruised John Wick vowing to get revenge against the High Table, the organization that controls the criminal underworld he has been dragged back into. But like all things in life, this pursuit does not come without its own share of consequences. So before we know it, John is faced with his greatest challenge yet, one that would test the bounds of old and new friendships alike. And all that while the bounty on his head continues to rise higher in response to the stacks of bodies he leaves in his wake.

The John Wick films have always had a certain B-movie level appeal to them, with their revenge-driven plots, high-octane action scenes, and impressive stuntwork. But what really works to set them apart from other films of that ilk is their excellent world-building. Everything from the operations of the hotel Continental and the various rules and regulations that govern the High Table speaks to a larger-than-life mythology. And all through the series, the writers and director have always strived to shed more light on its world while gunning to outdo their previous effort.

The same is definitely true of John Wick: Chapter 4, a movie that barely ever takes its foot off the pedal over the course of its nearly three hours runtime. From the moment we catch up with the titular assassin preparing for bloody retribution, to the film's highly-kinetic third act, your mind is barely given any room to wander or lose interest. And while that might sound like overkill to some, it is simply true that its filmmakers know precisely what its audience wants, namely some creative action set pieces and a cast of colorful characters worth investing in.

And the new John Wick film delivers all of that in spades. Each new set piece manages to upstage the last, as though the filmmakers had challenged themselves to find increasingly creative ways for John Wick to dispatch his foes before the whole thing eventually culminates in a surprisingly emotional showdown. A few of those set pieces might seem like variations of what came before, but trust me when I say you haven't seen action done quite like this.

And all of it is framed by some of the best cinematography I have seen in the genre. There is one particular shootout that takes place inside an abandoned building that looks like it was ripped straight out of Hotline Miami. The sound design and music that accompany these sequences also deserve mention, though chances are you might be too busy wincing at the bone-crunching stunts to notice that. The whole thing does threaten to become overwhelming before long, but to simply call the action in the movie over-the-top or relentless does a disservice to the level of love and care that has clearly gone into crafting each and every scene.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is the most fun I have had in a cinema in years. It takes the series to new heights as it builds upon everything that came before it. Most other franchises would be in danger of losing steam or becoming repetitive by their fourth entries, but this one shows that it still has more than a few tricks up its sleeves. So if we don't get any further installments following this most recent round of cinematic bloodshed, then I am at least glad that the franchise has been able to go out with one hell of a bang.

Friday, 17 February 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Movie Review)

Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially begun with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. And while the previous phase did have some highlights like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, I still came out of the whole thing somewhat disappointed. That was mostly due to a perceived lack of direction or much of the connective tissue fans have come to expect from the aging franchise. So does the new film begin the process of righting the ship, or does it merely compound the existing problems of an ever-expanding universe?

The film finds Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) enjoying his newfound fame following his involvement in the events of Avengers: Endgame. But after being stuck in the Quantum Realm for 5 years, he struggles to make up for all the lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who has since grown up to be both a rebel and a brilliant scientist. During one of her experiments, she inadvertently ends up sending herself, Scott, and the members of the Van Dyke family into the Quantum Realm where they encounter an entire civilization of otherworldly beings. Now they must all work together to escape, even as they are faced with their greatest adversary yet.

The Ant-Man movies have traditionally held a unique place in the overall MCU, with their comparatively smaller stakes and focus on a particular blend of action and humor. As such, they've often served as palate cleansers between the larger cosmic-level events that define much of the franchise. All that changes with Quantumania though, a movie that serves as another introduction to Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). For those that remember, he had previously appeared at the end of Loki Season 1 as He Who Remains. But this time around, we see a far more sinister depth to the character.

He is currently being positioned as the next Thanos-level threat in the MCU, at least if the title of forthcoming installments like Avengers: The Kang Dynasty is anything to go by. And on those grounds, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania succeeds in showing us why we should care. It also offers us our first real glimpse at anything resembling some connective tissue between the films in The Multiverse Saga (Phase 4 - 6). Loki had introduced the concept of variants and multiple timelines, while both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had established the concept of parallel universes (or the multiverse as they are known in the MCU).

This one begins the process of tying it all together, even though one could say it does so in a somewhat messy or convoluted way. Without getting into spoilers, the film sometimes felt overwhelming with its various sci-fi concepts and it frequently buckles under the weight of all the exposition it needed to make any of it make sense. But at least it never ceased to be fun or pleasing to look at, with far more creatures on display than any of the other MCU entries. It does lose some of the perspective-shifting thrills of the other Ant-Man films though, and their ability to make mundane objects and everyday settings look large and otherworldly.

The film also had some surprise cameos and returning characters from the prior installments, as well as some glaring omissions. Michael Pena's presence as Luis in particular was sorely missed, especially since the character has pretty much grown to define the tone of the Ant-Man films, with his over-the-top narration and flashback sequences. But I can see why he and the other members of the gang were ultimately left out of the new film even though a part of me wishes they had found a way to fit them in.

Speaking of things that didn't quite make it into the movie, you'll want to stick around for both the mid and post-credit scenes as I believe they set the stage for what is to come during the next two phases. Recent MCU stingers have admittedly felt disconnected from one another so it is nice to see ones that carry enough weight to make me feel eager to see what comes next.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania proves that the MCU still has a long way to go before it can get back to the pure thrills and exhilaration of its glory days. But at least it can be considered another pivotal step in that general direction. It might feel like yet another throwaway film in the MCU but I can see its true importance reveal itself as more information is doled out over the course of subsequent entries. And while it serves as a fun, standalone adventure in its own right, it remains to be seen if the current saga would be taking fans to any kind of a worthwhile destination.

Monday, 2 January 2023

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2023

Welcome to 2023. A new year means a fresh slate of movies to keep us entertained over the course of the next 365 days. Whether you plan on braving your nearest cinema or staying home with your streaming service of choice, there's plenty for you to choose from. But not all movies are created equally and chances are you will not have enough time to see every single movie that releases this year.

This is why I like to keep track of those movies I am looking forward to the most at the start of any given year. Those that read my list from last year might spot a few returning entries, owing to the fact that those movies had been delayed into 2023. Blame it on the lingering effects of cinemas shutting down for nearly a year. But without further ado, here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2023.

10. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Disney kicks off Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania on the 17th of February. But considering just how divisive some of the films and TV shows that made up the fourth phase had proven, a lot is riding upon this one to right the ship and start the new phase on a high note. The Ant-Man films aren't considered top-shelf MCU but I'm still hoping that this one manages to do justice with its introduction of Kang the Konqueror.

9. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Harrison Ford returns to one of his most iconic roles in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The film is meant to serve as his final hurrah as the world-famous archaeologist. It is also the first in the series not to be directed by Steven Spielberg, with James Mangold stepping in instead. And through the magic of de-aging technology, this latest adventure promises to be more in line with the earlier films in the series (because the less said about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the better).

8. The Flash

The Flash is a film that looks like it just can't catch a break. Originally slated to release all the way back in 2018, the movie has suffered numerous production delays. Add to that all the ongoing shakeups over at the newly-minted DC Studios, not to mention the controversy surrounding Ezra Miller, and you have to wonder if it is ever going to see the light of day. But word on the street is that the actual film was received very well by test audiences, so fingers crossed that it finally makes it out this year.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

While there hasn't exactly been a shortage of Guardians of the Galaxy appearances since Vol. 2 (if I'm correct, they've been in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, I am Groot, Thor: Love and Thunder, and the recent Holiday Special since then), the ragtag team is back once again for their next full-fledged adventure. And James Gunn returns to direct after he was briefly fired back in 2018, so we can expect more of his signature humor and focus on fleshed-out characters.

6. Oppenheimer

Not many filmmakers are as ambitious as Christopher Nolan who is known for often pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished with practical effects. For his latest film, he tackles the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man responsible for creating the atomic bomb. So you can bet that I am interested in seeing what wizardry he works up to bring all that to life, short of detonating an actual atom bomb. He did after all crash a real plane for Tenet so we shouldn't put anything past him.

5. The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Video game movies have been faring a lot better than usual lately, with films like Detective Pikachu and the two Sonic movies serving as shining examples. Even more middling affairs like last year's Uncharted have managed to find some level of success at the box office. So the ground seems almost fertile for Hollywood to take another stab at what is arguably the most recognizable video game IP. The last Super Mario film might have been the stuff of nightmares but this new one looks very promising.

4. John Wick: Chapter 4

The Baba Yaga is back to dish out more of his wicked brand of justice in John Wick: Chapter 4. The last time we saw him at the end of Chapter 3, he'd been broken in body but not in spirit. And this time around, he has a fresh batch of goons that would need some knocking around. Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins join the ever-growing roster of assassins with a bone to pick, which means he's pretty much got his work cut out for him, and we are here for it.

3. Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning (Part One)

The first of two new Mission: Impossible sequels is out later this year. And if the trailers and promotional material are anything to go by, then it looks like Agent Ethan Hunt might be faced with his toughest mission yet. Tom Cruise has already defied death more times than we can count at this point, with the insane stunts featured in the last couple of movies. I still get goosebumps when I think about that HALO jump from the last one, so I am very excited to see what he has in store this time around.

2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is another film that got bumped from 2022 into 2023. But between the time of the announcement of its delay and now, we've gotten two further looks (in the form of trailers) at just how the movies plan on upping the ante over the first one. The animation still looks about as breathtaking as it did in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse but it is the action that appears to be on a whole new level. June 2nd can't come soon enough.

1. Dune: Part Two

Denis Villeneuve is already getting ready to take audiences back to the deserts of Arrakis in Dune: Part Two, the second half of his adaptation of the seminal science fiction book by Frank Herbert. The first movie had felt incomplete due to the very nature of the adaptation but it was still able to introduce the members of House Atreides and House Harkonnen, as well as all the concepts that govern the world of Arrakis. So I am hoping that this new one builds off of all that while still managing to tell a coherent and satisfying story. And even though I've already read the book it is based upon, I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious to see how well (if at all) the whole thing comes together.

Friday, 30 December 2022

2022 in Review: Looking Back

We've come to the end of my week-long 2022 in Review series of post. In case you're just joining in, the festivities began on Monday with a reveal of my Top 10 video games for 2022. This was followed by a rundown of my Top 10 TV shows on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I highlighted my favorite songs released during the year, and yesterday, I went over my Top 10 movies. Today, we'll be taking a look back at the things and events that helped define 2022 as a whole.

To say that 2022 has flown by in a flash would be an understatement. I still remember the early days of January like it was yesterday, a time when the news cycle was still dominated by COVID-19 and the latest variant of concern. And now here we are at the tail end of the year, with countries like Nigeria having now lifted most restrictions nearly three years after they were put in place.

This is not to say that the pandemic is officially over as scientists have already predicted that some variants could very well remain with us well into the foreseeable future. But the hope is that the worst of it is now behind us as we continue to push forward as a species. All that said, there were still quite a few other developments that took place during the year that are also worth touching upon.

On February 24th, Russian forces invaded Ukraine following an escalation of ongoing tensions between both countries. This was immediately condemned by several international governments and organizations, with many even electing to impose immediate sanctions on Russia for its actions. This was no doubt in a bid to try and dissuade their government from carrying on with the invasion, except it quickly became clear that the Russian government already had its mind set.

There are of course those who felt such sanctions were a little too reactionary or nothing more than virtue signaling, primarily because there were a lot of innocent Russians that want no part in the ongoing conflict being affected. But I confess that I know nothing about how best such a conflict can be deescalated. I can only hope, like most, that the war comes to an end soon and that peace prevails.

I'm sure you already knew we couldn't possibly talk about things that happened in 2022 without at least mentioning the Oscar slap, right? I mean, no other singular moment had grown in virality on social media this past year as quickly as that one. The Academy Awards were held on March 27th and what was supposed to be a celebration of the very best movies ended up birthing one of 2022's biggest internet memes; Will Smith had walked on stage during the presentation of an award to slap Chris Rock across the face for a joke the latter had just made about his wife, Jada Pinkett.

Will Smith (who went on to win Best Actor for his role in King Richard that night) has since issued multiple apologies for the outburst and is currently serving a 10-year ban from all Academy events and ceremonies. He is still eligible for nominations and awards during that period, although judging from the critical reception of his most recent film, Emancipation, it might take a while before he receives any further love from the Academy. Chris Rock had opted not to press any charges and many people had in fact applauded him for staying level-headed during the televised assault.

The United Kingdom lost its monarch when Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. This was one of those news stories that took some days to fully sink in as she had been the Queen of England pretty much since the day I was born. She was in fact already Queen when Nigeria gained its independence in 1960 which shows how much a part of our collective history she was. So coming to terms with the fact that she was no longer there was admittedly somewhat difficult to process.

I've never been one to keep up with the day-to-day goings-on of the various members of the British royal family but I've always held a certain level of respect for what they represented as an institution. I still remember watching Princess Diana's funeral all those years ago as a kid, as well as her children's weddings more recently, and how the Queen had always been a central figure in those ceremonies. There is no doubt that her memory will continue to live on in the heart's of the millions she'd touched.

I won't even pretend to know anything about the current state of football at this point (or soccer as our American friends call it) since it is a sport I stopped watching nearly three decades ago. But still, the FIFA World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events so it is certainly worth touching upon. This year the tournament was held in Qatar, which necessitated a November kick-off since the weather over there would have been unbearably hot during the summer. 

Nigeria hadn't qualified for the competition this time around but there were other African nations like Morocco who made the cut representing the continent. Argentina had gone on to win the cup in what I learned was a tense final game against defending champions, France. This would mark their third World Cup trophy, or more significantly, their first one with Lionel Messi on the winning team, a player who is generally considered one of the greatest footballers of all time.

There isn't much to report on the home front this year. The YouTube channel has been chugging along as we just crossed the 2,000 subscribers milestone a few days ago. While that might not look like much in the grand scheme of things, it's still 2,000 more than I'd ever imagined getting when I'd clicked upload on my first video. I guess that means my random videos must be resonating with someone. There are a few changes and strategies I plan on implementing next year though, so watch this space.
I've also been seriously considering getting back to writing fiction. I haven't really written anything new since 2015 and it's starting to look like I might have lost sight of one of the things I love doing the most. I mean, that was one of the reasons why I'd started this blog in the first place, to document my journey as a writer, and it's high time I get back on track by churning out new work. But come what may, you can be sure that you'll hear about it first right here.

As usual, thanks for indulging me in my scattershot review of the year that was. I look forward to doing this again next year. Until then, stay safe out there.

Thursday, 29 December 2022

2022 in Review: Top 10 Movies

2022 marked another solid year for movies as the movie industry continued its recovery from the devastating effects of the 2020 pandemic. There were still a few delays sprinkled throughout the year, mainly from Warner Bros. and their planned slate of DC movies, as we watched as Shazam: Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom were once again moved, this time into 2023.

But looking back at my most anticipated movies list from earlier in the year, I am surprised by how many of those movies turned out to be either financial or critical disappointments. I was of course always dubious about the viability of the likes of Morbius, but I was crushed when others like Lightyear and Black Adam had failed to take flight. The year did still have its fair share of surprises though, a few of which have made it into my Top 10.

10. The Woman King

Never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a film by its trailers. At least that was the lesson I'd learnt when I'd watched The Woman King and discovered a film that had a lot more to say than it originally let on. A lot of my love for the movie is due to its excellent characterization and heartfelt narrative. So you can imagine how perplexed I was to discover that much of the discourse surrounding the film at the time of its release focused solely on the Dahomey and their historical role as slavers. But anyone who actually bothered to watch the film would have seen that those aspects were tackled with all the care and attention-to-detail such a delicate subject matter deserves.

9. RRR

In a year that was full of pleasant surprises, RRR was one of the bigger ones. The Tollywood movie is as ambitious as they come, currently ranking as the most expensive Indian film ever made. And all that ambition shows in the form of its incredible production design and stunning visual effects, both of which give some of Hollywood's best a run for their money. But it is actually its endlessly engaging story, coupled with its ridiculously over-the-top stunts, that make it a must-see movie. This is Tollywood at its most excessive and one of those movies you simply have to see for yourself.

8. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

There were a total of three Pinocchio adaptations released in 2022 but only one of them is worthy of inclusion in any year-end list. That is of course Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, a stop-motion animated film that recently released on Netflix following a limited theatrical run. The film boasts del Toro's signature flair for striking visuals and dark subject matters while still managing to retain a lot of the heart found in the source material. I predict we can expect some Oscar love for this version of the beloved classic next year but only time will tell.

7. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was one of my most anticipated films heading into 2022, so it should come as no surprise to find it on my list of Top 10 Movies. Following in the wake of last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home, expectations for this one were sky-high. And the movie didn't disappoint, proving that the MCU still has room for directors with singular visions and signature styles. The sequel saw Scott Derrickson handing over directorial duties to Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame, following creative differences. Apparently, he'd been gunning to make an even darker version of the film. And in a way, a part of me wonders what that other version of the film would've looked like, even though I'm perfectly happy with the one we got.

6. The Banshees of Inisherin

Colin Farrel reunites with Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin after they'd starred opposite one another in 2008's In Bruges. Their latest film is once again helmed by Martin McDonagh and centers upon the growing rift between two men when one of them suddenly decides to end their lifelong friendship. It almost feels wrong to call the movie a comedy at all, since it deals with heavy subject matter like depression, but I don't believe I'd laughed harder during any other film this past year than I did while watching this one.

5. Top Gun: Maverick

I must confess that I didn't exactly have much faith or interest in Top Gun: Maverick when it was originally announced, primarily because I felt it was coming too long after the 1986 original that helped make Tom Cruise a household name. The rest is history now of course as the movie had not only shattered my expectations but also gone on to become the Hollywood star's most successful film to date, as it rose to the very top of the 2022 box office. Most of that was down to how well it resonated with moviegoers of all ages with genuine thrills and some truly breathtaking aerial sequences.

4. The Northman

The Northman was another film that wasn't particularly high on my list of most anticipated movies for 2022. But you can consider me a convert to this artsy historical epic after bearing witness to its splendor and majesty. Directed by Robert Eggers, the film serves as a retelling of the legend of Amleth, a story that had itself served as the basis for William Shakespeare's Hamlet. It is a bloody revenge-fueled story about a young Viking prince on a journey to right the wrongs that befell his family, with an acting ensemble that includes Alexander SkarsgÄrd and Anya Taylor-Joy.

3. The Batman

Much like 2019's Joker, The Batman exists outside of the established DCEU, giving director Matt Reeves a totally blank canvas on which to paint his masterpiece. And so he'd decided to go back to the Caped Crusaders detective roots for his iteration of the character, resulting in a film that owes as much to film noir as it does the classic comics that helped establish Batman as the World's Greatest Detective. The film felt like it had a lot to prove, especially coming in the wake of Christopher Nolan's brilliant Dark Knight trilogy, and it more than manages to do so in its almost three hours of length.

2. Avatar: The Way of Water

Speaking of sequels that took too long to release, Avatar: The Way of Water had garnered a lot of notoriety over the years. This was following several delays and what appeared to be ballooning production costs. But as we all should have learnt by now, never bet against James Cameron, because the finished product more than justifies all the time it spent cooking in the oven. He once again raises the bar for 3D and special effects, but even more significantly, he has crafted a story with enough thrills and emotional beats to resonate with moviegoers. Plus the film has already surpassed $1 billion at the global box office, after just two weeks in theaters, so its overall financial prospects are looking rather promising if you ask me.

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

What else can I say about Everything Everywhere All At Once that I didn't already say in my review of the film? I could perhaps point out how it has since gone on to become the most successful film in A24's entire slate. Or maybe say something about how the film had stayed in my mind many weeks after my initial viewing. For a film that defies classification, what it manages to accomplish is nothing short of remarkable. It has shown that you don't need a massive budget to make a competent science fiction film or one that perfectly captures our existential crisis as we ponder our place in the vastness of the cosmos. The film's greatest accomplishment though is how it does all that without forgetting to still tell an engaging story filled with action, gags, and heart.