Friday, 19 April 2019

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 1 (Spoilercast)

Game of Thrones is arguably the biggest TV show in the history of television, and it returned to TV screens and streaming devices all over the world earlier this week for its eighth and final season. The anticipation leading up to this season was huge, so it comes as no surprise that the first episode would break records. I mean, it's been close to two years since the last season and winter is finally here.

So I'd been thinking of starting a podcast for quite some time now, but never really felt I had everything I needed to make sure it was produced at the level where I felt it needed to be. But I've thrown all caution to the wind, and channeled my love for Game of Thrones to bring that dream to fruition.

Below is a link to the first episode of our as-yet-untitled film and TV discussion podcast, where we hope to share our thoughts on the latest films and TV shows.

For this episode, I'd sat down with Prince from The Drunk Pen; you should totally check out his review of the Season 8 premiere as it offers a nice recap of the entire episode. The current plan is for us to have a new episode of our Game of Thrones discussions uploaded to Soundcloud every week, sometime after the new episode airs. And this will continue until the series finale comes along. Thereafter? Who knows. But watch this space all the same.

This is all new for us like I said, so feel free to let us know what you think in the comments section below or over at Soundcloud. And of course, if you happen to dig it, do not hesitate to give us a like and share with your friends.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Shazam! (Movie Review)

The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) continues its ongoing winning streak with Shazam!, the seventh film in its shared universe of movies based on DC Comics superheroes. Directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation), the movie serves as further proof that comic book adaptations do not always need to attempt to be anything more than standard popcorn fare, as it sheds all traces of the dark and somber tone that plagued earlier DCEU entries. 

Separated from his mother at a young age, 15-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has spent most of his childhood bouncing from one foster home to another. He is eventually taken in by the Vasquezs, a couple that is already raising a family of 5 foster kids. This includes Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a paraplegic boy who tries to befriend Billy. Except Billy isn't ready to accept the new family as his own, holding on to the belief that he might still be reunited with his real mother someday.

Billy is forced to stand up for Freddie one day, fighting off a pair of bullies before being pursued by them into a nearby subway. He manages to escape via one of its trains, but he is transported to a magical underground chamber called the Rock of Eternity, where he meets the wizard, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). The wizard informs him that he has been chosen as champion due to the purity of his heart, and subsequently grants him superpowers which transform him to an adult version of himself (Zachery Levi).

Following his transformation into the titular superhero, Billy and Freddie do what any pair of teenage boys would do in that situation: they go to a supermarket and buy some booze. And it is from this point onward that the movie truly excels, as the boys proceed to test and document the full extent of Billy's powers, to increasingly comical results. But the boys soon find out that it isn't all fun and games when Billy is challenged by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a man that was also granted superpowers by magical forces and now wants Billy's for himself.

Watching Shazam!, it is almost hard to believe that the movie exists in the same shared universe as Batman v. Superman. But unlike those earlier movies in the DCEU, the film is not burdened by the task of building a shared universe for these characters to inhabit, and presenting that universe through the lens of a singular vision. This allows it to fully embrace what made comic books such great fodder for kids and geeks in the first place. It serves up the laughs and playful spectacle in equal measure, resulting in what is hands down the DCEU's most fun movie till date.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Us (Movie Review)

Jordan Peele returns to the directors chair with his sophomore effort, Us, a horror film that was released stateside last week but only just made its way to Nigerian shores. The very fact that it is being shown over here is a welcome change, considering the fact that horror movies are rarely ever shown or given top billing at our local cinemas. So it was with equal parts dread and excitement that I had approached the movie, and I am happy to report that it delivered the scares, thrills and twists fans have come to expect.

The movie centers upon Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o), a woman who has spent the better part of her life living in fear and anxiety following an experience she had in a funhouse as a child. She is forced to face her demons, so to speak, when she goes on vacation to her deceased parent's beach house, where the trauma began. She is accompanied by her wise-cracking husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

At first, everything appears to be going according to plan, with the family trying its best to make the most of their vacation in spite of Adelaide's growing discomfort. Gabe even rents a beat-up motorboat, in a failed effort to oneup his friend and rival, Josh (Tim Heidecker), who is also there vacationing with his wife, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and their twin daughters. But things take a dark turn one night when the power goes out and they discover a family of doppelgängers standing in their driveway.

It is almost impossible to talk about Us and the full extent of its brilliance without threading into spoiler territory, but I'll try. The film is anchored by Lupita Nyong'o in the dual roles of Adelaide and Red (her doppelgänger), who gives what is arguably her best performance since her Academy Award winning turn in 12 Years a Slave. It also makes effective use of licensed music, with the Luniz classic, I Got 5 on It, in particular taking on an ominous tone as it is worked into the film's overall score.

The movie is also impeccably shot by Mike Gioulakis, who had also worked on the equally creepy and brilliant horror film, It Follows. And I guess that is the best way to describe Us as a whole, creepy but brilliantly so. It also boasts a twist ending that puts the likes of Glass to shame, one that seems so mind-boggling at first but fits perfectly into the overall narrative once you've given it a fair amount of thought. And it is all these things that come together to make it one of the best movies that has graced cinemas this year and every bit a worthy follow-up to Get Out.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Captain Marvel (Movie Review)

For those of you wondering why I am only just posting this review, this is due to the fact that the release of Captain Marvel in Nigeria was delayed by a week because of last week's gubernatorial elections. An annoying development for sure, considering that we'd all been waiting for it since that post-credits scene in Avengers: Infinity War last year. Thankfully, the excitement surrounding the movie had not been dampened by the delay, with the movie itself proving to be worth the extra wait.

Set in the mid-90s, the movie stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, the US Air Force pilot that would become what is being billed as Earth's mightiest avenger. When the film opens, she is part of the Starforce, an elite squad of soldiers fighting for the Kree Empire in their war against the Skrulls, a rival alien race. She has no memory of her Earth origin, or the origin of her special abilities, but she is trained to control them by her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). During a mission to rescue a Kree spy on a Skrull base, she is captured by the Skrulls and taken aboard one of their spaceships.

Her memories are probed by the Skrull leader, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who is hoping to find information about the whereabouts of a device called the light-speed engine. She manages to break free of her refrains during his probing, and she uses an escape pod that crash lands on Earth, where she meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). She struggles to bring both men up to speed on the war between the Kree and the Skrulls, but it doesn't take long before they are all swept up in the throes of that war.

Going into Captain Marvel, there were three main questions I felt the movie needed to address: who is Captain Marvel? Where has she been through all the global threats the Avengers have been fighting over the years? And is she powerful enough to stop Thanos? The movie doesn't only give satisfactory answers to all three questions, it also poses several questions of its own, some of which can only be answered in a post-Avengers: Endgame sequel. As a standalone movie, it delivers all the action, spectacle and laughs that fans have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), even though it never quite reaches the heights of some of its finer offerings, or even attempts to, which is okay.

It was always going to be tricky introducing another superhero origin story this late into the overall Infinity Gauntlet story arc, but Captain Marvel fits so nicely into the already-established MCU that it is little wonder why her movie hadn't been released sooner, alongside Phase One origin stories like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. The film even has a simple style and tone more in line with the films of that phase. But what it lacks in comparison to some of the more stylized movies of later phases it more than makes up for in the sheer promise of her forthcoming appearance in Avengers: Endgame next month.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (Movie Review)

As readers of this blog might have already gleaned, I have a really strong affinity for works of science fiction, being a writer of such works myself. And Battle Angel Alita, or Gunnm as it is known in Japan, was a cyberpunk manga series that came to my attention when a review of one of my books had pointed out similarities between the two. I was immediately intrigued by its existence, but never managed to get my hands on it to see for myself, until now. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the comic book series.

Set in a far future following an interplanetary war known as The Fall, it tells the story of a cyborg (Rosa Salazar) whose working remains are found in a scrapyard by a scientist named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). She is rebuilt and wakes up with no memory of her past life, not even a name. Dubbed Alita by Dr. Ido, she approaches everything in her new home of Iron City with a childlike wonder. But traces of her mysterious past start to show when she and the doctor are attacked one night, discovering she is trained in an ancient form of martial arts called Panzer Kunst.

Deducing that such encounters might help trigger memories of her past, Alita seeks to become a Hunter-Warrior, a registered bounty hunter that hunts down wanted cyborgs for the government. She also takes an interest in the gladiatorial Motorball, against Dr. Ido's wishes, after she is introduced to the sport by Hugo (Keenan Johnson), a boy she befriends and develops feelings for. But it doesn't take long before her activities are brought to the attention of Vector (Mahershala Ali), a shady businessman who trades in cyborg parts, and his mysterious benefactor, a scientist named Nova (Edward Norton).

The first aspect of Alita: Battle Angel that strikes you is how gorgeous the visuals look. For a movie that seemed to be stuck in development hell for close to two decades, the finished product is remarkable indeed. The film was written and produced by James Cameron, who was originally slated to direct but had to pass directing duties over to Robert Rodriguez due to his work on Avatar and its long-awaited sequels. Neither man is a stranger when it comes to making visually-striking movies, so its beautiful blend of live-action and CGI should come as no surprise.

Much like last year's Ready Player One, the movie also boasts of some excellent world-building, although I guess we have the source material to thank for that. I haven't read any of the comics, or seen its anime adaptations, so I can't comment on how well it has been translated to the big screen. But what has made it over into the movie is very much intriguing stuff, even though it sometimes felt like the movie was barely scratching the surface of all its source material has to offer.

Thankfully, the movie also serves as setup for potential sequels (for better or worse) should it prove successful enough to warrant making one. So here's hoping that it doesn't go the way of Mortal Engines and that it finds a large enough audience.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Movie Review)

In 2014, The Lego Movie introduced moviegoers to the Master Builders of Bricksburg (not to mention the insanely catchy theme song, Everything is Awesome). Since then, we've had two other movies in the Lego Movie franchise, The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, both of which were released to varying degrees of success, but neither one quite reaching the high bar set by the first one. The Lego Movie 2 therefore marks an attempt by the filmmakers to serve up more of the eye-catching visuals and side-splitting comedy that made the first movie so great in the first place.

It's been 5 years since Bricksburg was invaded by aliens from the Systar System, turning the once beautiful metropolis into a post-apocalyptic shell of its former self. It's citizen have since adjusted to life in Apocalypseburg as it is now known, except Emmet (Chris Pratt) of course, who is still holding on to the steadfast belief that "everything is awesome." He is forced to come to terms with the harsh times though when his friends and girlfriend, Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), are kidnapped and taken to the Systar System by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz).

Using his Master Builder skills, Emmet builds a spaceship and embarks on a rescue mission. Except he doesn't get too far into his journey before he requires some rescuing of his own, which comes by the hands of Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), a "galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy and raptor trainer." Meanwhile, Lucy and the other Master Builders are brought before the shape-shifting ruler of the Systar System, Queen Watevra Wa'nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who reveals her plans to unite their two kingdoms, which includes brainwashing them with the aptly-named Catchy Song.

The Lego Movie 2 is everything you'd expect in a sequel to a beloved animated film. It doubles down on the humor and overall silliness of the first film, while also introducing more characters and musical numbers. The animation is also as vibrant and eye-catching as it has ever been, successfully creating the illusion that it was achieved using stop-motion techniques. That said, it was always going to be tough to recapture the same level of fun and childish wonder that made the first film so great, since its sense of novelty is already lost at this point.

Much like the original, events in the sequel are driven by an overarching narrative, which results in even more live-action scenes sprinkled throughout the movie (a decision that had resulted in the first film failing to be considered for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature category). Except here the overarching narrative is not as deep or touching as the one featured in the first film. We do get to see fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph though, who plays the wife to Will Ferrel's The Man Upstairs.

To summarize, if you happened to love and embrace the wackiness of the first Lego Movie, chances are you'd like this one as well. But if you didn't enjoy the first one or you've locked up your inner child and threw away the key ages ago, then there is nothing new here that would win you over.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World (Movie Review)

The dragon riders of Berk are back in the third and final installment of the How to Train your Dragon film series, The Hidden World. It's been 9 years since the first movie first graced the big screen in 2010, and as expected, the quality of the visuals have received a massive overhaul since then, breathing new life into the characters and the world they inhabit. But perhaps even more impressive is just how much those characters have grown and evolved over the course of the narrative.

After becoming chief of Berk at the end of the previous movie, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) continues to fight for his vision of a world where humans and dragons can live in harmony. He does this with the aid of his friends by freeing those dragons being held prisoner by trappers, and bringing them back to his village. Except this results in their village becoming overrun by dragons. It also causes the aggrieved trappers to hire the infamous dragon hunter, Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham).

As if the pressures of keeping his overcrowded village in order were not enough, Hiccup must also deal with the expectation that he take his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferara), as his bride. And he is not the only one being troubled by matters of the heart, as his dragon, Toothless, takes a liking to a female Night Fury. Now it is up to Hiccup to show him how to win her heart, even as he struggles to keep his people safe by seeking out a new home for them in The Hidden World, a dragon utopia his father (Gerald Bulter) had been obsessed with finding.

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World is an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, even though it never quite reaches the emotional highs of the previous one. I tried not to get teary eyed at the ending, but dear Lord, did I fail. There were so many callbacks to the previous films, which makes you realize just how much these characters have come into their own. This is ultimately a movie about letting go of the things we love, as hard as that might seem, and embracing the uncertainty that such a future might bring.

Now this is how you end a film trilogy, unlike that recent movie whose name I would not be mentioning here. To do that would be an insult to the quality of this one. As such, How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World joins the ranks of Toy Story 3 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as one of the most emotionally satisfying conclusions to a trilogy in recent memory.