Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Yesterday (Movie Review)


It should come as no surprise that I think The Beatles are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I mean, no other band has left the world with such a huge collection of great songs, ranging from the instantly catchy (I Feel Fine, I Want to Hold Your Hand) to masterpieces layered with meaning (Hey Jude, The Long and Winding Road). So when I'd heard that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Love Actually) would be making a film that would serve as a tribute of sorts to those songs, I was instantly sold.

The premise of the movie is simple and interesting enough: following an accident that takes place amidst a global blackout, a struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel) wakes up to find that he is the only man left in the world with any memory of The Beatles and their music. He eventually decides to capitalize on this strange development by passing off some of their music as compositions of his own.

The film proceeds to chart his meteoric rise to superstardom, a rise that forces him to leave his current manager/love interest, Ellie (Lily James), in favor of Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), a cold, calculating woman who manages the likes of Ed Sheeran and sees her clients as nothing more than products to be packaged and sold to the masses. He is joined by childhood friend and roadie, Rocky (Joel Fry). But as Jack would soon find out, there are some things in life more important than money and fame.

Yesterday is a fun romantic comedy with enough reverence for the music of The Beatles to satisfy most of their fans. But anyone expecting anything deeper than that might come out of it feeling sorely disappointed. My main gripe with the movie is the fact that it doesn't even try to explain the reason behind its (almost) sci-fi premise. But I was too busy tapping my feet and singing along to the music on display to care too much about that, which I guess was the point of the whole endeavor.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Movie Review)


Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) comes to an end with Spider-Man: Far From Home, and what a wild ride it has been. It has proven to be the longest of all the phases thus far, with eleven films in total, but also the one with the most consistently great output of films. We were first introduced to the MCU's version of the webslinger in Captain America: Civil War at the start of the phase, where he stole the show with his fanboyish naivety and overall charm, so it sort of makes sense that he would close out the entire chapter in this film.

Serving as both a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming and follow-up to the amazing Avengers: Endgame, the movie finds the self-proclaimed "friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man" (Tom Holland) stepping outside his comfort zone and embracing his newly-appointed role as one of Earth's mightiest heroes. It's been eight months since the Avengers defeated Thanos, undoing much of the mad titan's work from five years prior. But it was a victory that came at a great cost, and Spider-Man: Far From Home wastes no time in addressing the effects of that loss.

I am of course referring to the death of Tony Stark, who you'd remember was both a mentor and father figure to Peter Parker in the preceding films, albeit a reluctant one. It was both touching and funny to see how the kids from Peter's high school are coping with the loss and its aftermath, as they struggle to deal with the sudden reappearance of half of the world's population, an event that they have since dubbed the Blip.

Peter is hit the hardest by all of this though, who aside from mourning Tony's death must also contend with his growing affections for MJ (Zendaya). He eventually decides to tell her how he feels about her during a two-week European field trip with the rest of his class, and the help of best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), except things don't go according to plan when the Italian city of Venice, which they had been visiting at the time, is attacked by a giant water-based monster.

The attack is eventually quelled by a figure dubbed Mysterio, who is actually a man named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllehaal) working with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop a global threat. Both men try to recruit Peter in their fight against the Elementals, but Peter is conflicted between stepping into the giant shoes left behind by Tony Stark and just being the regular teenage boy he desperately wants to be.

If Avengers: Endgame was a celebration of all the awesome movies we've had so far in the MCU, then Spider-Man: Far From Home is our first glimpse at its shining future. The movie further traces Peter's journey towards becoming the Spider-Man fans all know and love, which is bolstered by tremendous performances from its talented ensemble, with Tom Holland and Jake Gyllehaal being the immediate standouts. The story also had enough twists and turns to keep casual moviegoers on their toes, even though veteran comicbook fans would've seen most of those twists coming a mile ahead.

The greatest compliment I can pay the movie though is the fact that it works as a teen/romantic comedy as much as it does a full-fledged superhero film, and I found myself laughing more times than I could control during its runtime. It is also one of the MCU's most technically accomplished offerings till date; I caught the movie in 3D/4DX, so the visuals and experience were that much more impressive and immersive. We really felt like we were up there with Spider-Man, swinging through buildings and generally trying not to take too much of a beating.

As a huge Spider-Man fan, I am still trying to decide if Far From Home is better than Homecoming, or even my all-time favorite, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2. I don't quite have a definitive answer to that yet. There were definitely aspects in this movie that were better handled, and aspects in the last one that I absolutely adored. Perhaps a second viewing would lend more clarity to the debate, but for now, the movie is definitely up there with the aforementioned films.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Toy Story 4 (Movie Review)


I was concerned from the very moment I'd heard that a fourth Toy Story movie was in development. I mean, the third movie had already been sold as the last one in the series upon its release, and it had ended so beautifully that it was always going to be impossible to match or surpass it. Well, leave it to the masterminds at Disney and Pixar to prove us wrong, as they've not only managed to craft a worthy successor, but one that also stands as a beautiful conclusion to the entire series in its own right.

Set two years after the events of the previous film, the movie finds Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the other toys from Andy's room already settled into life in Bonnie's room, the little girl who had taken ownership of them as Andy went off to college at the end of that film. It also opens by shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding Bo Beep (Annie Potts) and her departure from the group.

At the start of the movie, Bonnie is just about to start kindergarten and is struggling to deal with first-day jitters. This is not helped by the fact that she wasn't allowed to bring any of her toys with her. To cope with this, she creates a new toy in class, fashioned out of a disposable spork, some sticks and gum, and immediately grows to love and cherish this new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), above all others. But the toy itself struggles to deal with its newfound role, believing its place is inside the nearest available trashcan.

During a family road trip, Forky ceases the opportunity to act upon his suicidal tendencies, jumping out of their moving RV, and thus leaving Woody with no choice but to go after him. This leads them on an adventure where they come across an assortment of "lost" toys that include the imaginative duo Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), the sweet but sinister doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendrix), the stunt-crazed biker, Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and a certain old flame whose reappearance has Woody reconsidering his place as one of Bonnie's often forgotten toys.

If Toy Story 3 was about accepting the inevitability of growing up and moving on from childish ways, then 4 is about rediscovering your inner child while embracing life and living it to its fullest potential.This is exemplified by its two main leads, Woody and Forky, and the fact that they have so much to learn from one another, despite being at different points in their respective lives. The ending of the movie didn't quite destroy me as much as the preceding one had, but the journey it took to get there was filled with more than enough heart, laughs and visual splendor to please children and adults alike.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Movie Review)


Every other summer, there seems to be that one movie that manages to stay under the radar until just before it releases to rave reviews and strong word-of-mouth, and by so doing becomes a must-see movie event. In 2015, that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Last year, it was Mission: Impossible - Fallout.  For some reason, I really thought Godzilla: King of the Monsters would be that movie for 2019. Sadly, it is not. What we have instead is what is sure to be one of its biggest guilty pleasures.

The movie takes place 5 years after the events of the 2014 reboot to the franchise, in which the titular Titan from prehistoric times proved its place as mankind's greatest defender against others of its kind (but not before leveling both Las Vegas and San Francisco of course). It also pulls double duty by planting the first true seeds for next year's crossover with King Kong from Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla vs. Kong. But don't expect any kind of a strong connection to that movie in this one, other than a few oblique references here and there.

In the aftermath of both films, Monarch, the top-secret organization dedicated to tracking and studying Titans, has managed to develop a device called the Orca, which emits sound frequencies that can be used to control the giant monsters. It doesn't take long into the movie before that device falls into the hands of an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) who plans on using it to control King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon-like Titan who would in turn awaken all the other Titans and bring about a much-needed cleanse of the human race from the world.

In order to stop that from happening, Monarch recruits the help of Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), co-creator of the Orca, whose ex-wife, Emma (Vera Farmiga), and daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), have been kidnapped by the eco-terrorists. He'd lost his son during the attack on San Francisco during the events of the previous movie. But now he must put aside his aversion for the Titans and work together with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to find Godzilla, who is once again mankind's only hope and defense against the incoming Titan threat.

If none of that sounds like it makes much sense, then don't sweat it. The story is more or less an excuse to have skyscraper-sized monsters have a go at one another while wrecking everything in their path. And on those very grounds, the movie succeeds, delivering enough jaw-dropping spectacle to satisfy even the most jaded moviegoers. The problem though is that we've already gotten movies like Pacific Rim that prove that spectacle doesn't have to come at the expense of a good story.

Also lacking are the underdeveloped characters, whose motivations remain unclear or improperly realized for the most part. But it is obvious that the true stars of this movie are the giant monsters themselves, and the fact that each one looks so stunning and has been imbued with its own sense of personality needs to be applauded. I was especially wowed by Rodan, the birdlike Titan whose mere flight overhead is strong enough to cause shockwaves capable of leveling buildings.

Overall, I'd rate 2014's Godzilla higher than this sequel, despite the criticisms leveled against it for spending too much time teasing the fights between its Titans. This is simply because it gave us human characters you could actually invest in, as well as did a better job of balancing their plight with the conflict between the Titans. That said, Godzilla: King of the Monsters did feel like a logical progression from that movie, and one I might come to appreciate even more with a second viewing.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Aladdin (Movie Review)


Of all the movies released during the decade-long Disney Renaissance, the 1992 animated film, Aladdin, was arguably my favorite one. The movie had captured my imagination with its beautiful visuals and unforgettable cast of characters, not to mention its awesome soundtrack. So you can imagine my skepticism when it was announced that Disney would be adapting a live-action remake in their current bid to introduce their classics to a whole new generation. Thankfully, my worries have turned out to be unfounded, at least for the most part.

Aladdin tells the story of a skilled thief (Mena Massoud) that befriends a young woman (Naomi Scott) after rescuing her from a botched attempt to steal some food at the marketplace. Unbeknownst to him, she is actually Princess Jasmine, the daughter of the Sultan (Navid Negahban) of the desert kingdom, Agrabah; having grown weary of her place as nothing more but a price to be sought after by royal suitors, she'd desired to understand the plight of the commoners and help the less fortunate.

Believing that she is nothing more than a handmaiden, Aladdin pays her a visit at the royal palace one night. But he is spotted vaulting the rooftops by Jafar (Marwan Kenrazi), the Vizier and chief advisor to the Sultan, who has also grown weary of being "second place." Impressed by his climbing skills, Jafar captures Aladdin and takes him to the mouth of the Cave of Wonders, where he tells him about the princess' true identity before tasking him with helping him retrieve a sole lamp from its vast vault of many treasures, in exchange for what he'd need to win her affection.

Things don't go according to plan of course, and Aladdin ends up trapped in the cave with nothing but the lamp, his pet monkey, Abu, and a sentient magic carpet they'd found there. He soon discovers that the lamp is actually home to a powerful genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes as a reward for finding the lamp. And with the help of the genie, Aladdin begins his attempt to woo the princess by becoming a prince. But not without having to contend with Jafar and his equally villainous parrot, Iago.

Aladdin is one of those timeless tales that never ceases to amaze in whatever form it is being told in, and I think it is fair to say that Disney has done an admirable job with this 2019 live-action update. The cast in particular needs to be applauded for turning in such good performances, the obvious standouts being the two leads. Even Will Smith's take on Genie wasn't half bad, or at least as bad as we thought it would be after that second teaser trailer. The musical numbers as well were pretty stellar, with some of the most memorable ones feeling like what you would find in a full-blown Bollywood production.

And therein lies my biggest criticism for the movie, the fact that it doesn't lean into its Middle Eastern origin more heavily, with the two leads adopting American accents that felt out of place within its colorful and culturally-rich backdrop. But even that small nitpick couldn't dampen what was otherwise a remarkable if somewhat flawed experience. Overall, it didn't quite reach the same emotional and storytelling heights as The Jungle Book, but I guess we have The Lion King to look forward to for just that.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 6 (Spoilercast)


The final episode of Game of Thrones has come and gone, and once again, it has proven to be quite divisive among critics and fans alike. People have taken issue with the fact that too many subplots have proven to be inconsequential, and with the by-the-numbers approach the showrunners had used with the final two seasons of the show in general. In all fairness though, they had clearly stated that the ending was going to be bittersweet, and the final outcome was precisely that, even if it didn't quite "go out with a bang" like many of us had hoped it would.

Listen to myself, Prince and Comfort (our special guest for the week) share our thoughts on the episode below or over at SoundCloud. You can also listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, so don't hesitate to give us a sub, like, rating or comment wherever you choose to listen. We also look back at the series as whole, and reveal some of our best episodes and defining moments. Regarding the future of this podcast, now that Game of Thrones is over, we are already looking into providing future content by doing spoilercasts for movies and such, so continue to watch this space you must.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (Movie Review)


The boogey man is back for another round of over-the-top action in John Wick: Chapter 3, the third film in the fast-growing franchise about the eponymous hitman who's been forced out of retirement. And as the subtitle, Parabellum, suggests, he is fully prepared to bring all-out war to all those that would oppose him or otherwise stand in his way. And all through the ensuing carnage, he remains glorious to watch as the movie manages not to feel stale in the same way that similar franchises like The Equalizer or The Transporter started to over the years.

The movie opens right where the previous one left off, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run after he is declared excommunicado for killing a member of the criminal underground's High Table on Continental grounds. And with a $14 million bounty on his head, it doesn't take long before all the shady assassins come out of the woodwork and attempt to claim said bounty. Emphasis on the word attempt though, because John Wick is still as deadly as they come, turning even the most mundane objects like a book from a library or a nearby horse into instruments of death.

But in order to put an end to the endless barrage of assassins after him, John Wick seeks out some owed help from the Director (Anjelica Huston), a member of the High Table, as well as Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow assassin and dog lover whose twin German shepherds are almost as deadly as she is. With their help, he hopes to find the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), a senior member of the High Table powerful enough to end it all, a mission that takes him all the way to the deserts of Casablanca.

The High Table itself has already started making moves of its own though, sending out its Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillion) to mete out justice to both Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for helping John, with both men being given seven days to step down from their positions of power or face the consequences of their actions. She also recruits Zero (Mark Dacascos) to hunt down John Wick, a deadly assassin whose skills are only matched by his adoration for John's.

John Wick: Chapter 3 is a more than worthy follow up to the two movies that preceded it. It takes everything that fans love about the first two films, and cranks its up several notches. It deepens the lore behind the rules under which the criminal underground operates, while also shedding more light on John's past life as an assassin in service of that underground. And while the movie delivers enough thrills to be considered satisfactory on its own terms, it still somehow manages to leave you amped up for more of the same and what comes next by the time the credits roll.